Purple Lions Dancing - ofwickedlight - A Song of Ice and Fire (2024)

Chapter 1: Prologue - Viserys

Chapter Text

The shadows hid Viserys quite well, and he tried not to giggle. The cooks were right there, yet they couldn’t see him! Viserys crouched lower, inching toward the candied limes his sister Elia had shipped in from Dorne. They sat on the counter, just waiting to be stolen. Usually his friend-servant Ryn would sneak him treats from the kitchens, but he hadn’t seen her in days, not since she’d accidentally served him and his mother vanilla pudding that’d made them sick. So he’d take these himself.

Viserys snatched several handfuls of limes, stuffed them in his satchel, and ran to his bedchamber. When he found Ryn, he’d share some with her, after he gave some to Mother and Rhaenys, of course. Mother always smiled for him, but she looked so sad when she thought he wouldn’t notice. But she loved Dornish fruits; perhaps they would cheer her. If she never knew he’d stolen them, of course. And if he was set on marrying Rhaenys someday, he had to bestow her with gifts, didn’t he?

A million years later, Viserys made it to his bedchamber. It used to be closer, right next to Mother’s, but Mother moved him nearly a whole wing away after that night when the smell of ash swallowed up the halls, and Father had come into her room. He said things that Viserys couldn’t decipher through the wall, but he sounded excited, like he did whenever he spoke to Viserys of dragons and fire. Then there was a lot of thumping, and Mother’s bed creaking, and Father’s laughing, and Mother had screamed and cried. The morning after, the servants moved his room far away from Mother’s, and then it was Viserys’s turn to scream and cry, but no one paid heed to his anguish, not even Mother.

To this day, Viserys couldn’t understand why Mother didn’t want him to hear her spending time with Father. He hardly ever saw them together, so it had been nice to hear, even though he didn’t exactly know what they were doing. He figured Father had been jumping on the bed, to the point where it’d distressed Mother – she hated when Viserys jumped on his own bed, after all. Or perhaps he was teasing Mother with scary stories. Father seemed to like scary stories. Once, when Viserys had snuck into Father’s solar to show him a drawing he’d made of the two of them riding dragons with Rhaegar, Father was sitting at his desk, muttering to himself about demons. He looked frightened. He was so deep into his imagination that he hadn’t even noticed that Viserys was there.

Ser Jaime, who was the only one in the room besides them, was frightened, too, which shocked Viserys – Ser Jaime was his favorite Kingsguard, besides Ser Arthur anyway, and he hadn’t thought the lion knight was capable of being afraid. Or perhaps he was just pretending to be so for Father’s sake. But he’d looked so nervous when Viserys went near Father. Viserys knew Father was only playing Pretend, and he’d told Ser Jaime so. With a touch, Viserys brought his father out of his pretending, and he looked so happy to see him. Because I saved him from the demons. He’d liked Viserys’s drawing, too. Viserys wished he could be with Father more, but Mother rarely let him. Viserys thought it was because Mother was jealous, and wanted him all to herself, which Viserys didn’t mind overmuch. He wanted Mother to himself, too.

Viserys hid his satchel underneath his pillow. The servants had already cleaned his room; no one would find it there.

The door opened. “Little Prince?” It was Sia. Besides Ryn, she was his friend-servant, too. “Oh, thank the gods, you’ve returned. Where were you?”

Viserys snuck a lime out from his pillow and gave it to her. “That’s where, and you mustn’t tell. Why were you looking for me?”

“Your brother, the Prince Rhaegar, has arrived earlier than expected and –”

“Where is he?” Viserys asked, nearly yelling. He bounced up and down, grinning. “Are you taking me to him?”

Sia smiled. “I must dress you for court, first.” She put him in his finest garb, the darkened deerskin boots Rhaegar gifted him for his last nameday, and a black velvet doublet with a red cape that draped over one shoulder. Colors of the Dragon. “I caught a look at the prince,” Sia said. “He wore his cape just like this. You’ll be matching.” Viserys grinned even harder at that.

Viserys and Sia made their way to the throne room, hand in hand. He wanted to run, but that was unbecoming for a prince, so he didn’t. He hadn’t seen his brother in so long. It was exciting enough for Elia, Rhaenys, and his new nephew Aegon to be there, but Rhaegar was something else entirely. And he was early. Viserys couldn’t be happier.

Sia sucked on the last of the lime as they walked. “My thanks, Little Prince.”

Viserys shrugged. “I want to give some to Ryn, too. Have you seen her?”

For a quick breath, Sia’s grip on his hand tightened. Viserys looked up at her, concerned.

“I cannot say that I have, Little Prince,” she said.

Before Viserys could even comprehend that, they were at the throne room’s doors. The room was just as vast as it always was, the dark, gloomy walls glowing in morning sunlight shining through massive windows with draping, crimson curtains. A throng of lords and ladies swelled up all the space, but nothing overcame the looming presence of the dragon skulls on the wall, watching over them with empty eyes. Viserys stared at them in awe. He had seen them countless times before, but they never grew less glorious.

Not too long after they stepped through, Mother was there to collect him. She looked so pretty, as always. All purple, wearing lavender and a silver crown of dragons in flight. She made her way to him, arms open.

“There you are, my Dragon,” she said. She wrapped a tiny arm around his shoulder, brought him to her hip. The ends of her wavy silver hair tickled his cheek. He’d so loved to play with those tresses, hide behind them when he was younger.

“Is Rhaegar here? Truly?” he asked her.

Mother smiled, her purple eyes warm. “He is. We must greet him.” She offered her arm, and he held it as a prince holds a queen. She thanked Sia, then led him toward the front, near the Iron Throne. The crowd of lords and ladies parted for them like the clouds did for dragons.

Beyond the crowd was the Kingsguard. Only two of them were there. Ser Jonothor Darry and Prince Lewyn Martell stood across from each other, leaving a pathway for Viserys and Mother to walk through. They took their place, on the right side of the throne. Then, the King arrived.

He strode through in the blackest robe, a red sash around his waist, a rope of rubies resting over his long, silver-gold beard. His crown of golden dragons shone brighter than the sun, his light purple eyes twinkling underneath it. Red and black rings glistened on his fingers. Viserys wondered how he was able to put them on without breaking his nails, so long they curved at the ends, yellow and sharp. His dragon’s claws. Briefly, Viserys wondered if Rhaegar would grow claws when he became king, but the thought vanished as Father passed him. Viserys stood up straighter, hoping his father would notice him, but he never did. His eyes were trained on the throne, and though that hurt Viserys, he knew he couldn’t blame him.

Ser Jaime was not too far behind Father, guarding him as he walked. While Father ascended the throne, climbing the endless stairs, Ser Jaime stood at the foot of it. He looked the same as Viserys did whenever he had to hear a lesson that wasn’t about dragons: bored and dreaming. He caught Viserys’s eye though, and winked at him. Viserys smiled back.

Father reached the seat of the throne and sat upon it, waiting for his heir to make his entrance. Not for the first time, Viserys basked in the heaping majesty of the Iron Throne, the blackness of its endless blades glistening in the morning light. He would never sit in it himself, but perhaps Rhaegar would appoint him his Hand of the King one day, or if not Rhaegar, his little nephew Aegon would. I’m older than him, and he’ll be my king. I’ll have to protect him, just as I will Rhaenys.

A commotion took the room, and Viserys knew Rhaegar had arrived. He turned his head toward the entrance, looked past the crowd, and there his brother was. He stood besides his wife, Princess Elia, who held little Aegon. Rhaegar held Rhaenys, and Sia was right, their clothes were matching. Rhaegar wore a black doublet similar to his, his red cape draped over one shoulder. His white hair hung in a loose ponytail, strands dangling beside his face, bright against his indigo eyes. He stood tall, strong, unreal, and Viserys hoped he would look that grand, someday.

Rhaegar and his family made their way to the front, and the usual greetings of court occurred; quick kisses across the cheek, nods, smiles. Elia was the first to greet Viserys, holding his face in her frail, brown hands, and as Viserys smiled at his sister, he wondered again why Rhaegar did not make her his Queen of Love and Beauty. Frail as she was, she was still quite lovely, with her dark, curly hair, even darker eyes, and smooth copper skin. And she loved Rhaegar so, Viserys knew it. But Rhaegar was much smarter than his little brother, so Viserys stopped questioning it. He stroked the soft, pale hair of sleeping Aegon’s head, then Elia went to stand beside Mother.

Somewhere along the way, his sweet Rhaenys had wiggled out of her father’s arms. She ran to Viserys as fast as her little legs could carry her. He hugged her, squeezed her tight, kissed her all over soft, pretty face as she giggled.

“I missed you so,” he whispered into her black curls that were just like her mother’s.

“Me too,” she said.

He let her out of the embrace, but didn’t let go of her soft, tiny hand. Out the corner of his eye, he saw Father shift in his throne, and Viserys looked up to see him frowning at both of them. We made too big of a scene in public. Viserys bowed his head in shame and let go of his niece’s hand. He should’ve known better.

A finger tilted his chin up. A frown formed on Viserys’s face, but it vanished as soon as he saw who it was.

“Viserys,” said Rhaegar, voice as gentle and smooth as Viserys remembered it. “I see you’ve been poking around my wardrobe.” The smallest smile tugged at his lips. Those who didn’t know Rhaegar wouldn’t have even seen it.

“Or perhaps you’ve been sneaking through mine,” Viserys said.

The quietest little chuckle left his brother. “Perhaps. It’s far more dashing on you, I fear.” He placed a hand on the back of Viserys’s neck, his thumb brushing against his ear. Then he held him close.

“It is good to see you, Little Brother,” he said, and the smile that Viserys had been holding in split across his face so wide that it hurt.

After that, it became somewhat boring. Other lords greeted Rhaegar, then finally, Rhaegar and Elia bowed before their king. Mentions of the war came up, and Viserys couldn’t follow most of it. Not that it mattered. The rebels stood no match for his brother; he’d do away with them soon.

“Prince Rhaegar has returned to us, for the time being,” said Father, voice echoing throughout the entire room. “It is good to see he and his heir well. The rebels would see them and my family harmed, but they will not stand long. We are not so easily thwarted. Nor are we weak enough to fall to their pitiful attempts at subterfuge.” He sat back in his throne, and with each moment that passed, he looked angrier. “A few days past, an assassination attempt was made against the Prince Viserys and Rhaella, my Queen, with the foulest of poisons, placed in their food. But poison cannot fall a dragon, and so they stand before you now. Even so, such treason cannot go unpunished.”

Poisoning? Viserys frowned at his father’s words. He didn’t remember being poisoned a few days ago. There was the pudding he and Mother had gotten sick from, but the milk in it was spoiled, that was all. They were only in bed a day, nowhere near to be dying. Viserys looked up at Mother, giving her a questioning look. But she wasn’t looking at him. Her eyes were trained on Father, suspicious and hard.

Father motioned to his gold cloaks, and they brought a girl in. She was covered in filth, shaking with fright, her head hung low, her body weighed down by chains. They threw her down before the king. She looked up at him, brown eyes filled with tears, and Viserys knew her. Ryn.

No. Father was mistaken. Ryn was Viserys’s friend, one of Mother’s best servants … she would never hurt – she wouldn’t –

“You stand accused of attempted murder, of high treason,” Father said, face twisted in a sneer. “Do you deny it?”

Ryn was trembling. “Yes, Your Grace, please. I’ve served your family since I was a girl, like my mother and hers before her. I love Prince Viserys and Queen Rhaella. I’d never hurt –”

Lies!” Father screeched. “That pudding you served was tainted enough to weaken two dragons. Mere spoiled milk could do no such thing.”

Mother squeezed Viserys’s shoulders. “Your Grace,” she said, “Surely there must be some sort of trial put into place before judgment is passed for such a serious crime. Ryn has faithfully served me for years, as did her mother. She has earned the right to –”

“Her treachery has earned her naught but death,” Father snapped, “And queens have no knowledge of law; only birthing heirs.”

Rhaegar stepped forward. Yes, thought Viserys, save her, it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her. I know the law, Father,” he began, “Perhaps we could –”

Father raised a silencing hand. “The Prince of Dragonstone was not here. He does not know. And he is not king.” His pale purple eyes looked down at Ryn, and Viserys had never seen such hatred. “I’ll not tolerate rebel scum in my kingdom. My dear cousin Robert will burn as well, but first, you.”

A scream formed in Viserys’s soul, stormed through his entire being, but Mother trapped it behind her trembling hands, pressed over his mouth.

“Be silent and go,” she said. Then she pushed him away from her, into the crowd, and Sia clutched him into her arms, fled through the servant’s entrance.

Viserys screamed, screeched and roared, a dragon, a mad, heartbroken dragon. He clawed at Sia as she ran, bit her, fought to be free, to run back to his friend, tell Father of the mistake, but even through her blood and tearing flesh, Sia pressed on, carried him to his chambers, held him as his tears drowned him, as he cried, as he feared. The soft silks on his bed soaked up his tears, Sia’s bruised body underneath his as she cradled him. Soon his agony exhausted him, and he let Sia’s heartbeat lull him as silent, shallow sleep took him.

When Viserys awakened in the dead of night, the world smelled of ash, and Viserys understood far more than he ever wished to.

Chapter 2: Jaime I

Summary:

In which Jaime looks without seeing.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Don’t slouch, Cub,” said Mother. She sat in soft sand, her red gown billowing around her in the Westerland winds, and she was beautiful, so beautiful. Her skin glowed in the light, the curls of her golden mane dancing in the breeze. Jaime couldn’t remember her face, so he imagined Cersei’s visage, only a decade older, with laugh lines creasing her mouth, because Mother always laughed. He remembered that. He’d always remember that. He remembered the sound of it too – heavy and melodic, like bells. But Mother wasn’t laughing now. She had an eyebrow raised at him, waiting for him to correct his posture.

Jaime sat up straight. “Sorry.”

An amused twinkle sparked in Mother’s green eyes as she reached for a satchel beside her. She pulled out a book, a thin one made for children. Reading lessons. He was lagging behind, and Cersei teased him whenever she saw him struggling, so Mother had brought him here alone to learn, away from the maester that was meant to report to Father should he fail, away from the shadow of the Rock. She knew the beach calmed his mind, the salt in the air, the roar of the Sunset Sea. He remembered, he remembered.

Mother rested the book on her lap. She leaned back to give it some room, but her swollen belly poked over the edges of it anyway. Tyrion’s in there. And she was nearing his birth. This was one of the last times Jaime had been with both of them together.

“Come closer, Cub,” said Mother. “Words cannot fell a warrior.”

Jaime scooted over to her, grabbing one end of the book as she held the other. He was a child when this happened before, he knew, but here his hands were large, calloused and scarred. The hands of a man. He couldn’t picture himself as a child, not anymore. Childhood was not something he could ever return to, not even in this memory, this haven. The innocence needed to even imagine it had been burned away, just like Rickard Stark –

Jaime’s haven began to fade. Charred flesh overshadowed the smell of salt, screams roared over the sea, and Jaime remembered why he came here. Outside, the throne room was aglow with green, and that serving girl was burning, but none of that mattered because Mother was here, Mother was here, and she was warmer than any fire. Jaime remembered that. He could not think of Rickard Stark, or the one burning now. He would not. Aerys cannot see me here, he cannot touch me, I’m Inside, I’m Inside, I’m Inside. Jaime basked in the feel of Mother’s skin on his, her scent, the safety of her arms, remembered, remembered.

Slowly, Outside drifted away, and once more there was nothing but he and Mother, and the sea. Then, the lesson began. Jaime read with his Mother, and though he knew all the words now, he did not in his memory. Mother corrected him when he faltered, taught him what she knew, and Jaime wondered if Tyrion could hear it, in the depths of Mother’s womb. Perhaps this is why he wields words just as I wield my sword.

When they were done, Mother groomed him like she always did, combed her fingers through his mane that was so like hers. He’d forgotten that he and Cersei inherited their curls from her. Jaime leaned into her touch, eying her swollen belly. He didn’t want to ask her this, but he had before, so he supposed he had to now.

“When is he coming?”

She laughed at that. “So certain it’s a boy, are you?”

“I want it to be.”

“So do I,” she said. “Second sons are essential to any House. And I fear your sister wouldn’t take too kindly to no longer being the only daughter.” Mother mentioned Cersei casually, with no hesitance in her eyes. She hadn’t caught us yet. This was before she knew, feared us, parted us. But Mother had been carrying Tyrion when she discovered the truth of he and Cersei, so it wouldn’t be long now, before she separated them, then left them all behind. But he couldn’t think about that either.

So he didn’t. “If it’s a boy, I can spar and joust with him,” he said, and he shied away from the awful truth of it, the fact that he never could and never would be able to share those things with Tyrion. But his younger self hadn’t known that.

“Oh?” Mother smirked. “No dressing him in Cersei’s clothes?” She tugged one of his curls, and laughed when he pushed her hand away. “Don’t pout, Cub. In return for my silence, I reserve the right to tease.”

Jaime slit his eyes at her and stuck out his tongue, just as he’d done before. He would take all of Mother’s teasing, if it meant staying here forever. All he needed was Cersei there, and Tyrion – but no, not even the Inside could give him that. There were millions of moments that he’d shared with Mother and Cersei, that he remembered, but he had no memories of Tyrion with Mother there too, save for her holding he and his brother with shaking hands as she whispered her last words, and he’d rather see Aerys and his wildfire for all eternity than imagine that.

Mother rubbed her stomach. “It won’t be long now,” she said. “He grows more restless by the day.” From within her, Tyrion kicked. She laughed. “And he demands an audience. Not yet born, and already a Lannister.” She reached out her hand. “Would you like to feel him?”

Jaime did, and didn’t. To remember the warmth of her belly, the life that stirred within her, would only remind him of that life leaving her after Tyrion was born. But he needed her. Through green fire and screaming and a white cloak that choked him, he needed her. So he grabbed her hand.

Mother’s long fingers, thin but strong, wrapped around his, led him to her belly, and he remembered this, the first time he touched his brother. He felt the warmth, the softness, the life separate from his mother. Tyrion felt him too. He kicked.

“I’m going to protect him,” Jaime said, and of all the things that’d changed since he’d said this to his mother, this always had and always would be true.

Mother laughed, but her eyes warmed. “As you’ve said before, and the time before that, Cub.” She glanced at the sea, and suddenly they were at the mouth of the Sunset, the white foam blending with sparkling blue. Jaime looked into the water’s ripples, saw a child’s face staring back at him. He could not return to boyhood, but memories were unchanging.

Mother held him as the water kissed them both. Before, she’d spoken to him, but Jaime couldn’t remember what she had said so long ago, so he had her sing instead. She sang of purple lions, running through the Rock, the planes of Old Valyria. Her voice was as beautiful as the rest of her, deep but feminine, soft and lilting. Jaime closed his eyes, buried his face in the nape of her neck, hummed along. He remembered this song, remembered loving it the most of all her lullabies. He remembered the calmness that’d washed over him like soft rain whenever he heard it, the thrum of Mother’s chest as she sung it. He remembered peace. He remembered happiness. He did, he did. And for a breath, he had that again.

Then, Mother spoke. “Ser Jaime.”

Jaime opened his eyes. That isn’t right. He uncoiled from his mother, studying her. He was nowhere near to be a knight when she still lived. She never would’ve said that.

Mother stared at him with a blank, mad gaze, a gaze that could never be her own, and the air grew hot, searing, blazing. As if he stood before a firestorm.

Jaime’s heart lurched. No, not yet, not yet. It was too soon. Even if he stayed for eons, it would always be too soon.

“Mama.” It came out as a plea. Gods, he was weak.

The beach was smoking, now. Behind Mother, embers floated in the sky, the same green as their Lannister eyes.

Boy,” she said with a hatred that was not from his memory, and Jaime Lannister knew he could go away inside no longer.

He blinked. The throne room met him with a dark, merciless glare, and the smell of burning death invaded him. On the floor, there was naught but ashes. The king stood before him, frowning in disgust, and beside him –

No, not her, not like this. But there she was.

Queen Rhaella Targaryen stood beside her husband, small and beautiful and dead. A crown of silver twin dragons sat upon her head, tails linked, their wings high in flight. Her long silver hair fell in waves, nearly kissing the floor. The paleness of it, along with her porcelain skin, made her amethyst eyes all the more striking, lifeless as they were. Her silken lavender gown, embroidered with crystal, covered every inch of her, save for her face. And I know why she hides. With her fine garb and Targaryen features, Rhaella looked every bit a queen. But she was a wraith. A wraith like him.

Jaime averted his gaze. “Your Graces,” he greeted them both. Out the corner of his eye, he saw Rhaella look away from him, too. She knows what awaits her. She knows that I’ll be there. She can’t look upon the one who has sworn to protect her, but won’t. I disgust her, and I should.

“Escort the queen and I to her bedchambers,” commanded Aerys. His lilac eyes, so pale they were near pink, were even wilder than usual, unfocused. Lust consumes him. It was always so after a burning, and he’d been a fool to think this time would be different. But he’d never had Jaime escort Rhaella to her chambers before – she’d always been waiting for them inside her room, and Jaime would never see her, only hear. Because of this, and Rhaella’s aversion to court, Jaime hadn’t laid eyes on the queen in ages. And it was more agonizing than he could ever have imagined, to have to see her in the flesh, then lead her to suffering instead of salvation.

Jaime bowed his head. “At once, Your Grace.” He led the king and queen in silence. He knew the steps more than his own heartbeat, than his shame. When they arrived at the oaken doors, it was Rhaella who opened them. Aerys grabbed her arm, so small in his large, clawed, scabbed hands. He held her hard enough to leave a bruise, but it would only be one amongst thousands. Jaime’s stomach roiled.

Aerys turned to Jaime, eyes bright with anticipation of what was to come, what he was to inflict on his sister, his bride.

“Stand guard,” he ordered. “Seek leave from one of your brothers at the designated hour.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Jaime said, and then they were gone behind closed doors.

First, as it always was, it was silent, save for the sound of Jaime’s heart pounding in his chest. Then, there it was, her voice. Soft, beautiful, light and pleading, Brother no, Brother please – and then laughter, insane, haunting laughter, and heavy panting, and screams, gods her screams, You’re hurting me you’re hurting me –

Jaime couldn’t stop shaking. His breath left him, hitching in his throat, and his white armor was heavy, so heavy – gods, he’d heard this so many times, why did it still hurt so? His heart was near to bursting, and her pain was endless, and he was trembling –

And then, peace. Flashes of him and Cersei in that inn on Eel Alley, the morning after, when they’d clung to each other in a way they hadn’t since they were children at the Rock, soft morning sunlight on her skin, her smile, their shared warmth as he held her –

No. He couldn’t go Inside now. Not with this. With the burnings, he could flee to his inner haven, escape with no guilt, but that was different; the flames never took those he’d sworn to protect. But this … this was his shame, his failure. With each scream, each cry, Jaime broke his vows. He deserved no deliverance, not from this. For this, he would remain Outside. For this, he would hear.

Ser Jaime Lannister stood guard, closed his eyes, listened. And the morning after, when Prince Rhaegar proposed that Jaime accompany his family on the flight to Dragonstone, he knew he didn’t deserve the escape.

Notes:

I regret nothing. *secretly weeps*

The warmest thank you to everyone who commented/left a kudos, and to janie_tangerine, my wonderful beta. I really appreciate the support. Thanks for making a newbie feel welcome. <3

Chapter 3: Rhaella I

Summary:

After surviving another night of wildfire, Rhaella Targaryen continues her plan.

Notes:

CANON DIVERGENCE NOTE: So in canon, Joanna Lannister died in 273 AC, and the Defiance of Duskendale happened in 277 AC, four years after her death. Here, the Defiance took place when she was still alive.

Chapter Text

The sheets smelled of blood and fire, yet they were cold. He’d left with the dawn, as he always did. After the fire leaves him, he cannot face me. He cannot see his madness manifested, etched into flesh. The next time Rhaella sees her husband, he will avert his eyes, question himself, show his shame, and Rhaella will take that shame, bask in it, revel in it, turn it into her own fire, let it burn away every scream she’d let out the night before, let it turn every cry, every weakness to cinders.

It was not a normal cry that she let out on those nights, she knew. Not anymore. There had been so many burnings, so many nightly visits, that she no longer cried from physical pain — no, those days were long past. Now, it was something more. Now, with each thrust, each bite, every slash of a claw, every manic breath that whipped across her cheek, Rhaella Targaryen mourned. She mourned like madness, screaming into the night. She mourned for those he’d burned, whose deaths had driven him to her bed. She mourned for her brother, the handsome but quick-tempered rogue who’d died at Duskendale. She even mourned her father, the man who claimed to love her most, yet had forsaken her for prophecies, visions of reclaimed glory, and she mourned for her mother and grandfather, who had allowed it. But she never mourned for herself. She wasn’t strong enough for that, not yet.

It was not a normal cry, a normal weakness. It was not even true crying. When Aerys took her, Rhaella would wail, scream, but her eyes remained dry. Even deep in her lament, she would not weep, cry true tears — Dragons breathe fire, not salt, Joanna had said. Still, she hated that he heard it, her agony, her grief, and in the mornings she would see his self-loathing, and triumph. The nights belonged to Aerys and his fire, but with dawn came Rhaella’s victory. The thought of sunrise was the only thing that kept her alive. That, and my sons and grandchildren.

Her thoughts went to Viserys. My poor Dragon. He’d loved Ryn so, and in truth, Rhaella had as well. She was sweet, and loyal, and good. Now, she was dust. That wasn’t the plan. Well, it wasn’t her plan. She could not say the same for the Spider. His liar’s blood makes him unpredictable. And untrustworthy. Rhaella hadn’t forgotten that on the same day Ryn had given them that pudding, Varys had left to rally his ilk for their cause. He could have purposely framed her, to rid me of my friends, to make me vulnerable, solely reliant on him. And to ensure I would go to Dragonstone with Aerys’s madness hanging over us all. Witnessing another horrid death will be sure to lure more people to our side. But no, she could not think of that now. She’d allied herself with Varys and his ilk, despite knowing who he was. It was too late to change that. If I look back, I am lost. There was only the path ahead of her, and the next stage of her plan.

The plan had an outcome that she’d never wished for, but its main purpose was likely to be fulfilled, she knew. There needed to be some false threat to scare Aerys into sending Rhaella away from court. In the caged walls of the Red Keep, with tension and paranoia forever looming above, she would never be free to do what needed to be done. So, she and Varys thought of a way to get her out, on Aerys’s own order. If she and Viserys ate spoiled food and grew ill, Aerys, in his madness, would think of rebel assassins before believing it was a simple mistake. He’d blame some cook for it, and Varys would smuggle them out before their execution. But Ryn loved to sneak food for Viserys, and Rhaella had forgotten that. She’d taken the spoiled food before it was time, and they hadn’t been prepared. Or perhaps Varys had been more prepared than he’d ever been. Either way, because of Rhaella’s oversight, Ryn was dead, and had died so slowly, so painfully.

Rhaella had watched with a forced calm as the flames took Ryn, shrouded and consumed her. She watched in silence with the rest of the crowd, eyes never leaving the greenness that swallowed Ryn’s screams. She watched as guilt tore through her, as dull pain festered in her heart. Years ago, that pain would’ve been stronger, near unbearable, but Aerys had taken so much from her, so many pieces of her soul, that the feeling had become as familiar as her own heartbeat. And nothing would ever be as agonizing as the first he’d taken, the pain that still pulsed in her heart, would always ache, always linger.

Joey. If she were here, she’d tell Rhaella that as unfortunate as it was, Ryn’s death was not wasted. Unlike Rickard and Brandon Stark, Rhaegar had seen this death with his own eyes. If he was set on overthrowing his father before, he would be that much more determined now. Sacrifices must be made. That was what Tywin had said, after Duskendale, and Joey had agreed with him. No, not Joey. When she was with Tywin, she was Lady Lannister, Lioness of the Rock — Tywin’s, not Rhaella’s. Joanna, not Joey. Not the girl who’d drawn her portraits of golden lions with Targaryen eyes, so perfectly crafted that Rhaella half thought she could caress the hairs of the beast’s mane, as she had done so many times with Joey’s own tresses. Look Rhae, she’d said, laughter in her voice, because she always laughed. Our sigil.

Rhaella closed her eyes, let out a harsh breath, rose from her tainted bed. No. She would not think of Joanna now. Her body was already broken and bleeding. She would not make her heart bleed too. Not now. Not when there was so much at stake. He murdered Ryn. He murdered her, but everything else has fallen into place. He’ll ship Viserys and me off to Dragonstone, and I will be free.

Rhaella placed one dainty foot on the cool tiled floor, held in a hiss as knives pierced through her insides. You have felt worse, she told herself, as she had so many times before. You first took his seed at three-and-ten. You birthed Rhaegar as the world burned around you, as fire and blood took your kin. Before and after Viserys, dozens of your babes died inside you, or lived so short after birth that they may as well have. This is nothing.

The thoughts were like a spell in her mind, as familiar as the pain that coursed through her. It was something she’d created after the very first nightly visit, the first burning, when what little innocence she’d had left became ashes, when she realized that this would be her life until she became dust, that Aerys was lost, taken by a monster, and that Joanna’s sweet son was right outside, hearing her shame, and it had all been enough to ruin her. She’d wanted to lay in bed until her body withered, until her soul flew away with all her children who had left her behind. It was only the thought of her living children that made her create the incantation, make her stand, walk, live. It did not help, but Rhaella liked to pretend that it did. Over and over, she repeated the words in her mind, a litany, a twisted poem. Then, she rose.

Leaving the support of the bed, Rhaella took a tiny step. Pure agony burst through the meeting of her legs, and it took all of her will not to cry out. You must walk. If you do not, you will not see him shy from you, from what he’s done. You will not regain your glory. Walk.

So Rhaella walked. She made it to her vanity, listening to the near-silent plop of her blood splashing the tiles. She leaned against the dresser for support, lifted her head, and she’d always forgotten this part, the moment where she would look into the mirror and see herself for the first time.

The thing before her was not Rhaella Targaryen, daughter of Jaehaerys and Shaera. No, that girl had been unbroken, shy but smiling, always smiling. Not this. This was a wraith, a walking corpse that had been savaged. Her neck and breasts were riddled with bite marks, chewed on like wolves had stolen her for feasting. Claw marks ran down her limbs, scraping across endless bruises, and there was blood, so much blood. It dripped from her neck, her breasts, her c*nt. All was tainted by him, save for her flat belly. It was spared, clean, the only spot of white amongst all the red. Rhaella could only laugh at that, and it was the most bitter thing that ever fell through her mouth.

“Sia,” she called. If the woman was not within earshot, some other servant was, and they’d fetch her. All of Rhaella’s maids knew the routine. No one was to see her like this but Sia.

A few minutes passed, and Sia arrived with two large buckets for the bath. She saw Rhaella’s naked flesh, the weakness that covered it, and her hazel eyes softened. “Oh, sweetling.”

Rhaella tried to keep her balance, but was failing. “Bath,” she said.

Sia found a blanket from somewhere, wrapped it around her, and half carried her to the bath. That was her Sia, strong of body but soft of heart. She’d been Rhaella’s maid since her fifth miscarriage, the last one Rhaella had before she’d stopped counting. She was loyal to Rhaella, and Rhaella alone. Not that she’d done anything to deserve it.

Rhaella sunk into the scalding hot bath. The heat soothed her, made her feel whole, made her feel like her skin had turned to scales. Its steam clouded the room, smothering the air. Sweat beaded at Sia’s forehead, frizzing her dark hair, but Rhaella was unfazed. She bathed her body as Sia washed her hair.

“How fares Viserys?” she asked.

For a moment, Sia was silent. Then she pulled back a sleeve, showed Rhaella her arm, and though the water was searing, Rhaella’s entire being was taken by winter. No. Gods, no.

Sia’s olive skin was reddened, marred with teeth marks, scratches, bruises. A map of abuse, written on her body just like Rhaella’s, only the bite marks were smaller, with big spaces where the attacker had missing teeth. Viserys lost another baby tooth just last week.

“No.” It was all she could say.

Sia shook her head. “He was distressed over Ryn. I don’t think he would do it again.”

“I must see him,” Rhaella said. And stop the sickness before it begins.

“He sleeps,” Sia said. “I gave him a bit of dreamwine.”

Gently, Rhaella grasped Sia’s arms in her own chewed fingers, soothing them. “You are too good to us,” Rhaella said. “Forgive Viserys. Death is new to him. And for it to be introduced to him through Ryn, by his own father ...”

“I forgave him as soon as he cried himself to sleep in my arms,” Sia said. “But speaking of the king ... I am sorry, Your Grace, but I must ask. Does he know you’re with child?”

“He does,” Rhaella said. Not that it mattered. This child would die like all the others. Even still, she’d reminded Aerys of the babe, in hopes that it would make him spare her. Seed will only make the child stronger, he’d said, and then, the mourning began.

“I came across the prince Rhaegar on my way here,” Sia said. “He wishes to speak with you in the godswood, before you meet with the king.”

The godswood. The only known place in the Red Keep that deafened the Spider and all his wretched little birds.

“Then I shall,” Rhaella said. Sia helped her out of the tub, dried her with the most delicate care, as if she wasn’t in pain herself. We have both faced the dragon’s wrath, but it should only be my curse, not hers. A cruel mix of guilt and resentment ran through Rhaella as Sia dressed her. It was casual attire, more of a robe than a dress, powder blue, loose and spun with the softest silk. Morning after garb. Rhaella loathed it.

“Go and see to Viserys,” she said. “Bring him to my solar, then return here to prepare me for my audience with the king.”

“Of course, Your Grace.” Sia made her way to the door.

“Sia?”

She turned. “Your Grace?”

Rhaella’s throat clenched. She let out shaky breath. “If he hits you ...”

Sia gave her the saddest smile. “He won’t.”

Rhaella grabbed her gloved fingers, twisting them with her other hand. She always did that when she was nervous. Lorei Martell, her big sister, used to scold her for it. Are you a lost doe, to show such meekness? she’d said once in court, when Rhaella was being shy. No. You are fire. Never show your discomfort, your doubts. Even the smallest flame feigns power when it breathes out its heat. But Rhaella was too weak to even feign strength.

“I was so gentle with him,” Rhaella said. “I shielded him from Aerys’s ways as best I could. How is it that all my efforts may have brought me nothing?”

“Viserys had a tantrum, my sweet queen,” said Sia. “One dire enough to fit the circ*mstance. He is a good boy who loves deeply, as you do. He was mourning his friend. He is not lost to you.”

Rhaella couldn’t speak. If she did, she would weep, breathe salt, and dragons did no such thing. They breathe fire. And that is what I must do when I see Aerys. She gave Sia a nod, closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, there was only her, silence, and the dawn.

*/*/*/*

The godswood breathed a presence that only those with magic in their blood could feel; Rhaella was sure of it. Whenever she stepped foot there, something stirred within her, something old, unearthly, ethereal. Perhaps that was why Aegon and his sisters allowed the wood to remain as they built the Red Keep — they’d recognized the power, and respected it. Or even feared it.

Rhaella herself had lived in the Keep her entire life, and she still didn’t know how she felt about the magic that lingered there. It was a strange mix of awe, fear, reverence. If any deities were real, the Old Gods were one of them; that she knew. The Seven had never made her feel this way, never struck her with such a tangible aura. Because of this, she’d been tempted by the Old Gods thrice in her life; once, after Summerhall; twice, when Joanna died; and finally, after she witnessed Aerys’s first burning, and he’d forced himself on her for the first time. Each time, she’d escaped to the godswood, utterly lost, utterly broken. She would get on her knees, close her eyes, but never pray — she was too afraid to do that. She was always too afraid to do anything.

Rhaegar had never been afraid of the godswood. Rhaella would always find him there, reading his books, silent, serene as the quietest song. It was as such now. Her beautiful firstborn sat on a bench, indigo eyes watching the breeze stir the red dragon’s breath that grew at the base of the oaken heart tree. Pale skin stood in contrast against his dark leather-and-cloth tunic and ruby pendant. His silver-white tresses swayed in the wind, waving like a soft current. My hair. He had no book, but he was in such deep thought, he may as well have been reading. Her thoughtful, clever boy. What were they going to do?

“It is good I did not meet our cousin at the Trident,” he said. He hadn’t taken his eyes from the flowers, but he’d seen her somehow. He could always feel when she was near, and she, him.

“It is,” Rhaella agreed. She traced a finger over the back of his neck, caressing the soft hairs there. It’d been so long since they’d shared a moment alone. She’d missed her son, needed him so. In the prison of the Red Keep, Rhaegar’s calmness was air to the drowning queen. Rhaella longed to take off a glove, feel his skin on hers, ensure that he was truly there, and not some illusion born from her pain. But she knew she couldn’t — her hands were torn, marred, and without the gloves, he would see, and Rhaella needed him blind. Despite his planned treason, Rhaegar loved Aerys still, and he clung to the hope that the man who had raised him still lingered somewhere in the ocean of his madness, holding his head just above water, waiting to be rescued. Rhaegar only knew of the burnings. He did not know of the rapes, the beatings. And if Rhaella had her way, he never would. She had proof that Aerys was lost, but it was unnecessarily cruel to give that same truth to her son. He’s going to overthrow Aerys. That is enough.

Rhaella sat down next to him. Even sitting, he towered over her. “The war is but a distraction,” he said. “There’s so much to take care of here, before more important matters can be handled.”

“What is more important than your father’s madness and our cousin wanting you dead?” She’d grown tired of this. Ever since Rhaegar had crowned Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty at that godsforsaken tourney, he’d been so cryptic with her. If there ever was a time for secrets, it was long past. “If you trust me enough to have me commit treason with you, then why not this?”

He looked at her then, indigo eyes soft. Grandfather’s eyes. “It is not a matter of trust,” he said. “Right now it’s safer for you not to know. Elia and I will tell you everything when we can. All in due time, Mother.”

“Elia knows?” She tried not to be hurt by that, that she didn’t know when someone else did, but it was difficult not to. Of course Elia knows. She should know. Elia was Rhaegar’s wife, the mother of his children, and the only daughter that Rhaella would ever have. That she was Lorei’s child only made her more precious, and she was glad that Rhaegar still saw Elia as an equal, a fellow prince, a partner to confide in, and that Elia would still keep his secrets and involve herself in whatever Rhaegar was scheming, despite the way he’d disrespected their marriage.

Still, there was a time when Rhaegar told her near everything, and as of late, he’d been keeping her half-blind. Quite lovely of him, considering it was him that helped start this war in the first place. Him, and Aerys’s madness, and Brandon Stark’s temper. Rhaella wanted to ask about Lyanna, but she knew he would give her nothing. She also knew that her son was no kidnapper, no rapist, but it was all so curious. Rhaella knew what she was fighting for, but when it came to what Rhaegar fought for — his true cause, not the rebellion or overthrowing Aerys — she hadn’t the slightest clue.

Rhaegar looked away again, resting his hands on his lap. He grabbed one finger, twisted it slightly, before he realized what he was doing and stopped himself. “I cannot deal with the rebels and Father all at once,” he said, changing the subject. “We must rid ourselves with one before dealing with the other.”

“We cannot unite against half the continent with an unfit leader,” Rhaella said. “You know what comes first.”

Rhaegar let out a small, low breath, the little sound he made when he was frustrated. He’s still so quiet. Even as a babe he never cried, only mewled and whimpered. When Viserys was born, he’d screamed enough for the both of them.

“Yes,” he said, “But the rebels need to be occupied while we settle matters here.”

“Leave that to me,” Rhaella said. Varys and his thrice-damned ilk. Rhaegar would not be pleased if he knew that she’d brought the Spider in on their plans, but right now he had resources that they didn’t. But his resources will be our resources. And when we’re done with him, with them, we will bring them to heel, as we should have done long ago.

Rhaegar’s indigo eyes looked down at her again, curious and suspicious all at once. “What have you plotted, Mother?”

Rhaella made her shrug as graceful as possible. “All in due time, Son.”

Rhaegar just sighed. “Pettiness is unbecoming on you.”

Rhaella chuckled. “As is miscommunication on you, my love.” Her eyes fell to the flowers Rhaegar watched, the thick grass, the gnarled roots of the great oak, the smokeberry vines that choked its trunk. Birdsong graced the godswood, the sound of rustling leaves and wind kissing the walls of the Keep joining their chorus. So peaceful. Rhaella closed her eyes, laid her head on Rhaegar’s shoulder. He held her, rested his chin atop her head. They sat there, silent. All around them, the world was still.

Rhaella sighed, savoring it. Outside the wood, there was chaos, but here, with Rhaegar, she was safe. Her body was battered, aching, stinging, and if left to her thoughts she would feel Aerys on her again, laughing, hurting, but with Rhaegar, all of that faded. When he is king, we will have this always, me, and him, and Viserys, Elia, Aegon, Rhaenys. And he will destroy anyone who dares hurt me. But Rhaegar was not king, not yet. And so, they must speak of it.

“Did Rhaenys see anything?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “Her nursemaid had the same idea as your Sia.”

Rhaella nodded. “Good.”

Silence took them again. Leaves fell. The sun grew higher.

“It is one thing to hear of it,” Rhaegar said. His voice was even softer than usual, low, as if he didn’t want the gods to hear, as if he didn’t want to hear himself. “But to actually see it ...”

Rhaella held his hand, giving silent comfort. There was nothing she could say to make this better, nothing that was true, anyhow, and they had both outgrown sweet lies. As Rhaella rested against her son, felt his pain, all she could think was, I understand, my love. I know, I know. My father disappointed me, too. That is why you even exist to sit here beside me, mourn with me.

Rhaegar let out a soft breath. “It will be humane imprisonment,” he said. “He will have an entire hall to himself, perhaps even a whole wing. He’ll be safe, from himself and others. I’ve been researching mind healers from the Summer Isles and Essos. There may be something they can do for him.”

Rhaella let Rhaegar speak his denial. She’d thought the same herself, the first time she saw a burning. He would see the truth when he was ready.

“Well, we haven’t any healers on hand now,” she said. “As such, we must get an ill man who mistrusts us to do our bidding.”

“To send you to Dragonstone,” Rhaegar said. “Yes. I’ve been trying to think of a reason to convince him myself, but the war kept getting in the way. It seems Ryn has provided that for us.” He shifted. “Pardons, Mother. She was a sweet girl.”

Rhaella sighed. If only he knew her involvement with that. “If your father sees assassins in every corner, he shouldn’t have that much of an issue shipping Viserys and I away.”

“If he is having a good day, yes,” said Rhaegar. “But he might be ... especially unwell today, and harder to convince. I have an idea that increases our odds.”

“What is it?”

Rhaegar paused. “You will not like it.”

“There is much I don’t like,” Rhaella said. “Say it.”

Rhaegar twisted his fingers again. “Somewhere along the way, Viserys became Father’s favorite. Having him in the meeting could —”

Rhaella snapped out of his embrace. “No.”

“Mother –”

No.

Rhaegar looked at her, eyes soft again with denial, that blasted denial born from love that only a son could give a father. “Do you think he would hurt Viserys? Truly?”

“He already has. Ryn and Viserys were close.”

Rhaegar sighed. “It’s not an ideal plan, I know,” he said, “But Father thinks there are killers out for Viserys’s blood. Seeing him could spark something inside him, make him determined to send him away, and you with him. And then, when you’re on Dragonstone, I will handle Father, and Viserys will never see him again, if you like.” He held her hands. “Mother, hear me. If Father is madder than I thought, and tries to hurt you or Viserys, I would not allow it. I have many friends here, and if it comes down to it, most of the Kingsguard will follow me. I will protect you, Mother. You must know that.”

A drop of blood ran down from between Rhaella’s thighs, into her smallclothes, and her body cried out to be heard, to be healed, to be saved. And you know nothing, my love. Rhaella fought her tears, the salt forming in her eyes. Fire. You breathe fire.

Rhaegar sensed her distress. He looked away. “Forgive me. I should not have asked.”

“No,” Rhaella said. “You are right. If it increases our chances of leaving, it must be done.” Sacrifices must be made, Tywin had said. “And this may be the last time Viserys sees his father as King. He deserves that. But, I will only allow it if Viserys is compliant. Sia said he was heartbroken last night. If he is too afraid, or too distraught, it will not happen.”

“That’s fair,” Rhaegar said. “And I would like to speak with him as well, if you’d allow it. I hate that he had to see what little that he did. I may be a father now, but that does not erase my duties as the older brother.”

“He would love that,” Rhaella said. She gave him a smile, and hoped it didn’t look too sad.

Rhaegar saw right through it. He stroked her cheek. “This is a heavy burden you carry, Mother. Let me lift it for you. I ... I see you, sometimes. You are not as you used to be.” His indigo eyes bore into hers. “I haven’t been here as much as I should, I know. But I promise, all of that will change soon. Don’t worry about Father. I’ll find a cure for him, and even if I do not, you won’t need to fear him anymore. You won’t need to fear anything ever again. I’m going to fix it, all of it. I promise you, Mother.”

For a breath, Rhaella thought the salt would return, sting her eyes, threaten to spill, but there was only astonishment, fascination. She stared at Rhaegar as if she had never seen him before, and perhaps she hadn’t. She brought her own hand to his cheek, mimicking him.

“How did we make you?” she asked. “Your father and I are so weak. How could we have made one such as you?”

Rhaegar’s eyes warmed. “You are stronger than you know, Mother.” He placed a palm on her belly. “As is the little one.”

A stab of fear went through her at the thought of a strong babe, a babe that stayed, that lived, but it was replaced by confusion. “How did you know?”

A smile tugged at Rhaegar’s lips, that faint, small one that only someone who knew him would be able to see. “I know you,” he said.

Rhaella smiled again, and this time, it was not sad. My son.

The morning sun glowed bright over the wood, too bright. “The meeting will begin soon,” said Rhaegar. He stood from the bench, helped her up.

“I must get dressed,” said Rhaella. “And I will speak with Viserys.”

“Thank you,” Rhaegar said. “And fret not. Even if he means to keep you here, I will find a way out for you, yet.” He bent down to kiss her nose, and then he was gone.

Rhaella lingered in the godswood a bit longer, soaked in all the stillness, the peace. Then, she left to do her duty.

*/*/*/*

Rhaella’s solar was an empty, unfeeling place, as desolate as her soul, and of course it was — no one wanted or needed a queen’s council, her word, the ounce of power that she had, if it was even an ounce. The fact that she even had a solar was a cruel jest all on its own. Still, she had one, and her sweet Viserys was standing there, waiting, as he’d been told to do.

“There you are, dear heart.” She dared not call him a dragon, not until she knew how he fared.

Viserys shuffled his feet, looking at the floor. “Mother,” he greeted, voice far too soft, too empty to be his voice. Rhaegar was the dark, quiet one; Viserys was bright, raw energy, pure fire. Perhaps yesterday has made him wary of fire.

Viserys stood at her desk, watching her. That’s right, Rhaella remembered, We’re in my solar. He awaits an order. Rhaella suppressed a laugh. This was the first, and more like than not, last time her solar would be used as it was meant to be used.

“You may sit,” she said. Viserys did as she bid.

Rhaella made her way to the desk, biting her lip to mute her hissing. It’d taken all of her strength to walk from the godswood to the solar. With each step she took, the daggers in between her legs cut deeper and deeper. Slowly she sat down at her desk, hoping Viserys didn’t notice her hobbling. She didn’t want to upset him more.

She sat down in her plush leather chair, and nearly shuddered at the soft comfort of it. Despite her agonized flesh that begged for rest, Rhaella sat up straight in the chair, her limbs stiff on the armrests.

“There is only one thing that I ask of you, Viserys,” she said. “And that is to be honest. Will you do that for me?”

Viserys nodded, wide lilac eyes dull with grief. His father’s eyes. And if Rhaella had her way, that was all he would inherit from him.

“Good,” she said. “Now tell me true, dear heart. How do you fare?”

Viserys paused, blinked, opened his mouth to speak, but his words were lost to him. He frowned, clenched his eyes, but a tear fell down before he could catch it. Salt.

Viserys sat in his chair, struggling, trying to be strong, and it was all Rhaella could stand.

“Oh, sweetling,” she said. “Come here.” And Viserys ran to her, threw his tiny arms around Rhaella’s neck, shuddered as tears streamed down his face. Rhaella held him, clung to him, ignored her aching flesh as she soothed him. In this moment, she deserved the pain. It is my punishment. I did this to him. Varys was born a serpent, and Aerys is a madman, but I am not mad, only empty. I am responsible for this.

“I am so sorry,” Rhaella said, and she meant it, despite Tywin’s voice echoing in her mind. Sacrifices must be made. She kissed his pale head as he climbed into her lap. Sia said he’d had a tantrum last night, like that of a child’s, but this was not a child’s ignorant misery, where one mourned without truly knowing what it was they’d lost. No, this was a man’s pain, a soft, sobbing sorrow, a sound one only made when they understood everything and wished they hadn’t. Viserys knew that his friend was dead, and that his father was the one who had done it. And all Rhaella could do was hold him. I am nothing. I am in my solar, a place of power, yet I am powerless.

When Viserys calmed, he looked up at her, only a sliver of that adult understanding remaining. Most of it had been replaced by fear. “Mother? Did ... did Ryn do what Father said she did?”

Rhaella let out a breath. She’d told him to be honest with her, and yet it seemed she would be the one lying. Or perhaps not. “What matters is that your father believed it,” she said, “And that is why he did it. He was protecting you.” It was not a lie, but it still left a sour taste in her mouth, to defend her husband.

Viserys considered that. “Do you think she did it? Poison ... poisoned us?”

“No,” Rhaella said. “Do you?”

Viserys frowned, contemplating, struggling. Then, he said, “No.”

“Then that is so,” Rhaella said. She wiped his tears. “We will hold a vigil for her,” she said. “Just you, and me, and Sia. It will be our secret.”

Viserys’s eyes brightened just a bit at that. “She loved the water,” he said, “Can we do it there?”

She stroked his hair. “Of course, dear heart.” Then she gently pushed him off of her. It had been sweet to hold him in her arms as she had when he was a babe, but she feared that if his weight pressed against her broken flesh for one more breath, she would pass out from pain.

“Now, there is one more matter we must discuss that requires the utmost honesty,” she said. “Sia.”

Viserys stiffened. “I hurt her,” he said. “I know. I’m so sorry, Mother. I just couldn’t stand it. I wanted to help Ryn, but I knew I couldn’t, and ... I’m so sorry. Forgive me.”

Rhaella looked into Viserys’s eyes. They were Aerys’s, the same shape, same color, yet Rhaella did not see Aerys. In those pretty light irises, there was only her son. She smiled at him, a small, broken one, but a smile nonetheless.

“It is not me you should be asking for forgiveness,” she said.

Viserys nodded, guilt darkening his face. “I will apologize to Sia as soon as I see her again, Mother. I promise.”

If she was sure Viserys wouldn’t misunderstand the action, Rhaella would have laughed at that. A second promise from a second son. The difference was that Viserys would be able to keep his promise.

“You’ll do more than apologize,” said Rhaella. “You will assist her in her tasks when she will have you, for as long as she desires it. Servants work hard to ensure that we live our lives to the highest comfort. They must be respected, Viserys. Never taken for granted. Do you understand?”

He nodded. “Yes, Mother.”

“Good,” she said. “Now, I require one last bout of honesty today, my love. Are you afraid of your father?”

Viserys’s light eyes grew even brighter. He frowned, twisted at his fingers, refusing to look at her. He let out a sharp breath. Then, “No. And I don’t ever want to be.”

My brave boy. My Dragon. “Then answer me this,” she said. “How would you like to visit Dragonstone?”

*/*/*/*

When Rhaella returned to her chambers, the steam still lingered. Sia was fussing around the room, going through Rhaella’s clothes. “Your Grace,” she said, “My deepest pardons. I meant to have everything clean and ready for you before your return.”

“It’s all right,” said Rhaella. “Cleaning can be done any time. Now, I need you to find a dress that speaks to the king.”

A little smirk pulled at Sia’s lips. “And what should the dress say to him, Your Grace?”

Rhaella’s eyes went to the bath, still filled with the remnants of last night. It had been hot, scalding, yet it had not burned Rhaella. The water was no longer water, not truly. It had thickened, darkened, reddened with her blood.

Rhaella took off a glove, exposed her mangled hand, dipped it into the crimson pool. It should have cooled by now, but the water was still warm. Warm as a fresh heartbeat. Warm as her torn flesh. Warm as Dragonstone.

“That I am Queen,” she said.

Chapter 4: Jaime II

Summary:

Jaime receives mercy.

Chapter Text

Ever since Jaime saw that first spark of green flame, felt that first wave of unnatural heat against his skin, his Kingsguard armor had become a prison – cold, consuming, suffocating, but it was near unbearable now. Atop his exhausted frame, the white metal was heavy and cutting. Sleep had evaded Jaime, as it did every night of the burning, the bedchamber. He’d stayed up with the moon, numb, clutching the blanket Tyrion had given him the day he’d left for Crakehall. Jaime could see Tyrion with the blanket now, grasping it in his small, chubby hands, hauling it everywhere with him, despite it being big enough to swallow him. He’d loved that thing, but he’d given it to Jaime to remember him by, and so Jaime did. In truth, it was more of a rope than a blanket, tying him to sanity, solace, the knowledge that the white cloak had not been his life always. Whenever Jaime touched its warmth, its sweet cotton softness, he knew that he had not dreamed his life at the Rock, that he hadn’t been born into the cloak that strangled him. On his worst days, when the single year he’d spent in the Keep felt as long and endless as eternity, he needed that truth, that solidity.

Jaime let out a shaking breath, forcing himself to stand straight, vigilant. However much Tyrion’s blanket helped soothe his broken heart, it did not give him rest. His eyelids were stones in water, slowly sinking, and his stomach ached from emptiness – he could never eat after a burning, after hearing, not without retching. And so there he was, starving, exhausted, and, dare he say it, unbelievably bored. Varys and his bloody whispers. The Spider stood before the king, talking, and talking, and talking, about rumors, about the war, about what he really f*cking meant when he said ‘little birds’, about his secrets, about his bald head and pudgy belly and lack of a co*ck and disgustingly sweet perfume that made Jaime want to gag, and well, perhaps he hadn’t truly said those things, but after Jaime had tuned out Varys’s soft, wretched droning, he had to think of something to keep himself occupied. When it came to Varys, Jaime would much rather think mocking thoughts than truly contemplate him – he did, once, and it had nearly driven him into a blinding rage he feared he would never return from. Varys was more than a spider – he was one of Aerys’s demons, constantly whispering, pointing out shadowed enemies, fueling his paranoia. Jaime didn’t know why Varys did what he did – to secure his position? Aid the rebels? Cure his boredom? – but he did know that Varys’s council had helped Aerys see enemies where there were none, which had led to the burnings. If Aerys was fire, Varys was the candle sustaining him. So Jaime made certain not think on Varys too much. Otherwise, he would kill him.

Besides the Spider, Grand Maester Pycelle was rambling about something, the brown-nosing c*nt. More mentions of the war came about, bloody Robert Baratheon and his allies. They even discussed the so-called assassination attempt that occurred yesterday, spoke of it with such seriousness, as if that poor girl really was a traitor instead of a sh*tty servant who’d simply given out spoiled pudding, and Jaime could not bring himself to care too much about any of it. Part of him hoped that the rebels really were lazy, dishonorable louts, and had hired assassins to do their job for them. If they managed to kill Aerys, then Rhaegar would be Jaime’s king.

Rhaegar. At the thought, weakness overtook Jaime. He closed his eyes, let himself imagine it. It would be so sweet, Rhaegar’s kingship. The merciless grip his cloak had on his neck would loosen, and he would be honored to wear it, proud to protect his king. He would fight at his king’s side, destroy any rebel who would dare to harm him, and Arthur would be so proud, never doubt him, never regret the day he’d knighted him, and Jaime would never again doubt that day either, never think he didn’t deserve the feeling of Dawn on his shoulders, strengthening him, honoring him. Perhaps then, he would be worthy of the cloak. Perhaps then, he would be free. Perhaps then, he would be happy. Just for a breath. One breath.

Jaime opened his eyes, focused on keeping the pain from showing on his face. He didn’t know why he let himself get lost in daydreams that would never come true. Dreaming is for babes and fools, Father had told him once, when the maester had reported that Jaime wasn’t paying attention to his lessons. Jaime laughed to himself at the very thought. He’d stopped being a babe the moment he’d seen searing greenness peel away flesh and spew out red, but he was indeed a fool to mislike this boring meeting. He should be grateful for boring, he knew. He should take boring over burning. Over raping.

Jaime’s stomach clenched, tightened, and he cursed himself for even thinking of it, but it was back in his mind now, haunting. You’re hurting me, Queen Rhaella had said, before she’d lost herself to mad, pained, wordless screams. You’re hurting me. Jaime’s eyes went to Aerys, sitting in that godsforsaken bladed chair, saw the long yellow claws, imagined them slicing into Rhaella’s flesh, and it was all he could do to stop himself from going away inside again. I can’t escape that, he reminded himself. I won’t.

Moments passed the failing Kingsguard, moments of guilt and torture and steeling his shaking breath, and for once, the world took pity on Jaime. Approaching footsteps echoed throughout the hall, bringing him out of the agony he’d stupidly thrown himself into. Everyone turned their heads toward the sound, watching the figures’ shadows grow larger as they arrived –

And in less than a breath, the world took what little reprieve Jaime had. The princes Rhaegar and Viserys stepped into the throne room, their dark garb and pale features striking in the morning light. But it was not they whose presence made shame spear through him, and though he knew none of this was her fault – It’s mine – Jaime had never wanted to see her ever again. Yet there she was. Rhaella.

She was just as beautiful as the day before, yet there was something different about her. Though she was as tiny as she’d always been, Queen Rhaella did not look small. Her head was held high, her amethyst eyes not dead, but hard, focused. Her silvered dragon crown looked right on her head, weightless, as if she’d been born with it. Her white hair had been put up in a loose, dangling bun, and it made her childlike face appear colder. Jewelry twinkled all over her, red and black and silver, and the gown she wore was like nothing Jaime had ever seen on her. It covered every inch of her, as always, but it was tightly cut, black and crimson, made of silk and snakeskin. Black serpentine scales hardened the gown’s bodice, gleaming in the sun, and if Tyrion were there, he’d swear they came from the backs of dragons.

Yesterday, Rhaella had looked like a queen. Today, she looked like a Targaryen queen.

Aerys shifted in his throne. He glanced at his sister-wife for half a breath, then his eyes darted away from her, faster than a racing heartbeat.

Silence took the room. Then, Rhaella and her sons bowed before their king.

“Your Grace,” greeted the queen. Her back was straight, chin leveled, but her gloved hands were clasped in front of her waist, slightly moving as she twisted at the fingers. She has found bravery, Jaime saw, but it is a new thing to her, fragile. Not that Jaime blamed her.

“Sister,” Aerys greeted in return. He still wouldn’t look at her. Does he mislike her look, her stance, the power she’s giving off? Jaime wondered, Or does he feel shame for what he did, what he’s done? Jaime truly didn’t know.

Whatever discomfort had taken Aerys, Rhaella saw it. She relaxed her shoulders, amethyst eyes glittering, and Jaime could practically feel the smugness, the triumph pulsing from her. She and her sons stayed on their knees, awaiting Aerys’s word.

“Rise,” he told them, and so they did. Rhaella walked in front of her sons, her steps slow and precise. The closer she got to them, the tighter her face looked. She’s still in pain, but fighting it, Jaime realized, and this time the shame was laced with no small amount of awe. This was the first time he’d seen her the day after a burning; her defiance was new to him. He and the other Kingsguard would not defend her, and so, she was protecting herself. Is this how she goes away inside?

When Rhaella reached the throne, she spoke. “Your Grace, we’ve received your summons with the utmost haste.”

Aerys looked past Rhaella, to little Viserys. “Haste is certainly required when traitors and their hired blades are afoot in the Keep,” he said. “Hired blades who wish to harm those of my seed.” His eyes softened as he looked at Viserys, softened in a way that could only be born from love, and Jaime did not want to see this, this normalcy, this humanity. It was an illusion, a trick to lure Jaime into denial, belief that this crowned monster could be cured somehow. Jaime would not be fooled. Nor would he focus on the silly, pathetic emptiness that stirred in his heart at the sight of the utter adoration etched on the Mad King’s face. Father has never looked at me like that. Not once. Not once.

“Viserys,” called the king. “Come here, my prince.”

Jaime stiffened at that, forced himself not to reach for his sword hilt. He wanted that boy nowhere near Aerys. Begrudgingly, Jaime could admit that he’d never seen Aerys even so much as get annoyed with Viserys – he was gentle with him, so different from how he was with anything and everything else that it truly disturbed Jaime. But Aerys’s insanity was a moody, unpredictable one. He could never be trusted, not even with his new golden son.

Viserys seemed to trust his father. Perhaps not as much as he did before yesterday, but it was there still. He only looked back at his mother and brother once before making his way to the throne. His steps were not as eager as they would have been before the serving girl, but Jaime recognized that look in Viserys’s eye as he gazed up at his father, sitting so far above him: fear, mixed with awe, and the desire to please. Jaime knew that look, because that was how he’d looked at his own father, when he was Viserys’s age.

With another beckoning, Viserys carefully ascended the stairs, reaching his father’s legs. He bowed again, rested a knee on the stair. Aerys reached out for his son, more careful than he had any right to be. Gentle as a lamb, he held Viserys’s cheek, mindful of his claws. Viserys’s eyes brightened at the gesture, and he smiled at his father.

“Speak true to your king, and his council,” Aerys said. “Tell us. Do you fear the assassins?”

“The dragon fears nothing,” said Viserys.

Aerys smiled at that. “That he doesn’t. Still, it would be foolish for you and the queen to linger where death has followed you.” He released Viserys, sent him back to his mother. When he spoke again, it was to the entire room. “Until the rebels have been defeated, Queen Rhaella and Prince Viserys will reside in Dragonstone. They set sail on the morrow. Our Master of Whispers will smuggle them out to avoid pirates or sea-faring assassins. Their flight will be kept secret. Whoever speaks of it with anyone not currently in this room will lose their tongues. Does the council have anything to add?”

Rhaella did. “Your Grace,” she began, “I request that Prince Aegon and Princess Rhaenys accompany us, along with their mother, Princess Elia.”

All the shyness Aerys had toward Rhaella vanished like a shadow. His lilac eyes glared into hers, slit and seething. “The Princess and her children will remain in the Red Keep,” he said. “We need Dornish influence in court.”

Jaime bit his lip to stop himself from sneering. He means to keep them as hostages, to keep Dorne fighting for him. As if they wouldn’t fight for the crown with Aegon as the heir. But that was just it, wasn’t it? Dorne would fight for the crown, not Aerys himself. Keeping Elia and her children close kept them from plotting with Rhaegar, who Aerys no longer trusted as much as he did when Jaime first joined the Kingsguard.

Jaime glanced at Rhaegar then, curious about his reaction to his father essentially kidnapping his children. The Prince of Dragonstone was silent as the grave, his stare still as stone as he watched his father. He is thinking, Jaime knew. Rhaegar only spoke when he knew every word he would say beforehand. But what could one say to their mad father, who was intent on holding his own grandchildren hostage?

Rhaella seemed to understand what Aerys intended. She held his stare, unwavering. “Prince Lewyn is that influence, is he not? He will be the link between our Houses in King’s Landing.”

“That link is nowhere near as strong as those that Elia of Dorne and her children have,” Aerys snapped, “And surely not even a Queen Consort can be dull enough to think otherwise.”

Consort. Jaime knew what that meant. Consorts were queen in name only, wives given meaningless crowns to make them look pretty while their husbands ruled. A queer shock of anger ran through Jaime at Aerys’s insult, his belittlement, but Rhaella was unfazed.

“Princess Elia and Prince Aegon are quite formidable links, yes,” she said, “But the princess Rhaenys is not so essential, is she?”

“She is not,” Aerys allowed, “But she will stay all the same.”

Viserys took the tiniest step forward. “Father – Your Grace, I beseech you, allow Princess Rhaenys to join us. If it would please His Grace, I … I would wed her, one day, and –”

Sharp fury brightened Aerys’s eyes as they darted to Viserys. “We are the sons of Old Valyria,” he said, “And our bloodline will not be muddied any further by Dornish filth. Do away with such nonsense, now and forever.”

Viserys’s pale purple eyes shimmered with unshed tears. He trembled, bowed his head, then stepped back in his place.

The queen placed a small hand on Viserys’s shoulder as she spoke. “Scattering the family will confuse our enemies, Your Grace. If the young princess is seen with us on Dragonstone, any spies may yet assume that Prince Aegon is there as well. Such misinformation can do nothing but aid us.”

“Queen Rhaella speaks true, Your Grace,” said the Spider, draping sleeves covering his clasped hands. “Confusion, if used correctly, is a powerful weapon in wartime. To use this tactic effectively, I have a proposal that may intrigue Your Grace, if you would allow me an audience.”

“Speak,” said Aerys.

“Though my smuggling will quiet most whispers, a flight to Dragonstone will be a hard secret to contain – there are too many variables, too many eyes, Your Grace. To take advantage of this, I suggest bringing a decoy aboard. It will be near impossible to find a toddling child with Princess Rhaenys’s look on such short notice, but from far away, nearly any babe could be mistaken for Prince Aegon. If Your Grace would allow it, I could arrange for a pretender to take Prince Aegon’s supposed place on the ship. Princess Rhaenys herself would join her grandmother and uncle, and her presence will strengthen the deception, for every good lie must be laced with truth. With this tactic, the true Prince Aegon will remain in King’s Landing with his mother, your most essential Dornish links will remain intact, and any spies or assassins lingering about will be scattered, and therefore, easier to be caught.”

Aerys stared into the tiles of the floor, silent, considering. “See that it is so,” he said.

Someone cleared their throat, stood up. It was Lord Qarlton Chelsted, the mace-and-dagger Hand of the King. He’d been so silent, so craven, Jaime had forgotten that he was even there. “Your Grace, if I may ask, who will guard the queen and children while they’re in Dragonstone? All of the Kingsguard are fighting afield, save for the three that remain here, and they’re needed to guard you, Prince Rhaegar, and his wife and heir.”

Prince Rhaegar stepped forward then, his words found, ready to be unleashed. “I believe I know who,” he said. “Your Grace, I would ask that you send Ser Jaime Lannister to be the royal guard for tomorrow’s flight.”

Ice spawned in Jaime’s veins, and it took all his willpower not to let out a gasp. No, he thought, I’ve heard wrong. And yet he knew he hadn’t. He’d seen the words fall from Rhaegar’s lips, heard them as clear as he did his own panicked breath, ragged, hushed, hurried. But he cannot mean me. He cannot want me. I’ve wronged him, wronged his mother, stained this cloak with my weakness. He cannot mean me.

Aerys thought it was just as inane as Jaime did. He laughed, a sharp, hideous cackle. “Tywin’s get?” he asked. “No. That one is mine.”

A slight sickness roiled through Jaime, but it was short, faint, killed by numb acceptance. It was true. He was Aerys’s. He knew it since he’d learned that he was only given the white cloak as a means to berate his father. He knew it when he’d see green embers float through smoked air. He knew it when he heard Aerys rape Rhaella, but did nothing.

Rhaella knew it, too. The smallest frown was on her face, purple eyes alight with shock and confusion as she looked at Rhaegar. She gripped her gloved fingers, twisting them. She does not want me with her. She does not want me guarding her, or the children. She knows I’m not worthy of it.

Rhaegar didn’t seem to know, however. He pressed on. “Dragonstone would not keep him,” he said. “It should take no more than a week for him to accompany them, then return. It is no permanent thing.”

Aerys scoffed at that. “There is no need for him to be the one. Send the Dornish one instead.”

Varys intervened. “If I may, Your Grace,” he said, “A small Dornish link is still a link. Should Prince Lewyn not remain here, with his niece and great nephew?”

Aerys waved that off. “Darry, then. It makes no matter. But the boy will stay.”

“House Darry is one of our most faithful supporters,” said Rhaegar. “Because of this, I believe Ser Jonothor should remain with his king. House Lannister, however, has remained neutral. By making this journey, Ser Jaime could prove his loyalty to the crown.”

“He proves his loyalty whenever he does as he is told,” Aerys said.

Varys cleared his throat. “Pardon, Your Grace,” he said, “But I believe I have a suggestion concerning Ser Jaime that may sway you, once you hear of the benefits.”

A mix of confusion and suspicion clouded Jaime’s mind. They are both fighting so hard for me to be chosen. Why?

Aerys seemed both curious and enraged by Varys’s proposition. His lilac eyes flashed to Jaime’s, looking into his very soul with purple fire. Jaime stared back, bit the inside of his cheek, fought the shudder that skittered through his being. If he let it out, showed his weakness, he would never forgive himself.

After a silent eternity, Aerys spoke. “Leave us,” he ordered.

Jaime bowed. “Your Grace.” Then, he walked away, the sound of his metaled boots clanking against the tiles, echoing throughout the room. Jaime left his king, lost sight of him. If Rhaegar and Varys had their way, it would be the last time he’d see him in days, precious, beautiful, glorious days of peace, of water instead of fire. And though he knew he’d done nothing to deserve such mercy, such freedom, a sliver of selfishness took him, and he let himself hope.

Chapter 5: Rhaella II

Chapter Text

Aerys and Rhaegar spoke, yet Rhaella heard nothing. Their words were dull sighs in her ears, eclipsed by the cacophony that was her racing heartbeat, her ragged breath. Jaime. He wants to bring Jaime with us. Ser Jaime. Ser Jaime, the little lion cub that Joanna had presented to court when he was a boy, his tiny hand clasped in hers. Ser Jaime, the knight who Aerys berated and leashed, used in his game to punish Tywin. Ser Jaime, the Kingsguard who stood beyond her oaken doors and heard.

Rhaegar wants to bring him with us. How could he do this? How could he hurt her so? She looked at her son, silently asking why, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was speaking to Aerys, still, arguing on Jaime’s behalf, reasoning why he should be the one to guard them instead of Darry or Lewyn or literally anyone else.

Rhaella looked up at the throne, where Aerys resided. He will not allow it, she thought, and then disgust took her so violently she thought she would vomit. It had come to this – her relying on Aerys to save her. Gods, she was pathetic. She’d played the role of a fearless Targaryen queen, but the mummer’s mask had been shattered, and she could act no longer.

For a breath, a bit of madness claimed Rhaella, and she dared to look at the boy, standing at the foot of the throne. He looked just as despaired as she felt. He is already tasked with hearing me, Rhaella thought. He cannot bear the thought of seeing me, too. And Rhaella couldn’t see him, either. She wanted to look away, but the familiarity struck her like lightning, and she couldn’t, she just couldn’t. The boy stood straight, still, too still, watching Rhaegar with frightened eyes that were the same green as Joanna’s, and gods, please let Aerys stop this.

But the gods had never loved Rhaella. Not when they brought the woods witch and her prophecies to Father’s ear, and he’d whor*d her to Aerys because of it. Not when they rained down flame upon Summerhall. Not when they took Aerys’s sanity. Not when they killed Joanna, or Rhaella’s children, or her freedom. And certainly not now, because they allowed Varys to speak.

“I have a suggestion concerning Ser Jaime that may sway you, once you hear of the benefits,” said Varys. Varys, who had Aerys’s ear like no other. Varys, who would use this proposal to his advantage. Varys, who would most likely betray her. Frost skittered through Rhaella’s veins.

Aerys glared at Jaime, lilac eyes burning. “Leave us,” he ordered, so much disdain in those few words, and despite the anxiety threatening to consume her, Rhaella found it within herself to hate Aerys just a little more. Leave him be, she wanted to say. Was Joanna not enough?

Jaime did as he was bid, left the room, and Varys began his silken whispers. “This is the time to test Ser Jaime, Your Grace,” he said. “See where his loyalties lie. If he is not as devoted as he seems, he may yet grow brave out of your sight and commit treason. If he conspires, especially with his lord father, my little birds will know. And if he does not, then you can rest well knowing the cub does not follow the leader of his pride.”

That was all Aerys needed to hear. He summoned Jaime and gave him the order.

The knight gave his king a humble bow. “I will guard them with my life, Your Grace,” said Joanna’s son, and Rhaella wanted to weep. She could smell the salt pooling in her eyes, feel it brimming, begging to be free, but with her last ounce of strength, she repressed it. Are you a lost doe, to show such meekness? Lorei had asked her once. Yes, Rhaella thought. But not while they can see. And so the grief left her, hid itself until she was safe in solitude. With it gone, something else took its place, something dark and hot and fatal for a queen who was powerless.

Rhaella was angry.

She was angry at her life, her pain. She was angry at her father for putting her on the path to that pain. She was angry at Aerys for falling to madness, for his cruelty to her and Jaime and Joanna. She was angry at Joanna for not being there. But most of all, she was angry at Rhaegar.

She was angry that he wouldn’t tell her the secrets concerning Lyanna. She was angry that he would volunteer Jaime without her blessing. But that was not the source, not the heart of her anger. She was angry that he didn’t know her, that he would even think for one breath that she would want this, or be compliant of it. And when she saw that she felt even angrier than she did when Rhaegar dishonored her daughter and started a war because of it, Rhaella realized that she was not angry. She was furious.

“Your Grace,” said Rhaegar, and it took all of Rhaella’s will not to start screaming at him right then and there. “I would request that you allow me leave to visit Dragonstone.”

So he does not intend to completely destroy what we discussed. This was part of the plan, to have King’s Landing believe Rhaegar was in Dragonstone to aid his father’s cause, when in truth he would be away to rally their allies, and attempt to gather more. He was following the essentials of the plan, but at that moment Rhaella could not bring herself to care.

Aerys cared, however. “You have only just returned. One would think the crown prince was eager to be away from his king.”

Rhaegar did not take the bait. “Never, Your Grace.”

“Then for what purpose?”

“I must see for myself that all is well with my castellan, Your Grace,” said Rhaegar. “The island must be at its peak in order to accommodate our family. And I should be there to ensure that they’re prepared for any naval attacks from the Stormlanders.”

Aerys sat back in his chair of blades. Slow slivers of blood oozed from newborn cuts on his arms. He stared at Rhaegar for the longest time. Then, he said, “Go, then. That is an order to you all. This meeting has met its end. Leave me.”

And so they did.

Rhaella walked right past her eldest son, eyes straight ahead, fingers clenching each other like a vice. Viserys followed her, and he was nearly skipping, he was so ecstatic. “I can’t believe Ser Jaime is joining us!” he said. Nearly everything he said was something of that nature – what he and Ser Jaime were going to do on the journey, what they’d do on the island, the things they would say and the things they would play, Ser Jaime and the Kingswood Brotherhood, Ser Jaime and Ser Arthur and the Smiling Knight, Ser Jaime’s shiny sword, Ser Jaime, Ser Jaime, Ser Jaime, and while Rhaella was relieved that Aerys’s disdain for Rhaenys had not killed his spirit, she simply could not handle him now. Her body was screaming, and her heart was weeping, and she wanted to scream and weep along with them. She knew she couldn’t channel her frustration to Viserys; he was a child, and Jaime was a golden knight to behold in any boy’s eyes. But she could not hear it. And so she sent him off with the first maid she saw before making for her bedchamber.

Sia was already there, waiting for her, but Rhaella did not see her – she only saw the bed. Rhaella passed Sia, limping, tried to reach her bed — please be clean, I can’t see him now, I need it to be clean, please, please be clean — but then a stab splintered through her c*nt, and she could walk no longer.

Sia caught her before she fell. She carried her to a nearby chair, sat her down, gave her a bit of wine that Rhaella knew had milk of the poppy in it. Not that she cared. It would do nothing. No medicine could cure her pain; it was within her as sure as her own blood.

When Rhaella finished the wine, she bent over, hiding her face in her lap, covering her head with her arms. Jaime. Rhaegar wants to send Jaime with us. She would have to be near Joanna’s son, see him standing there with her bright mane and vibrant eyes, and know that he knew what was done to her on the nights of wildfire. The shame roiled within her, drowned and consumed her, and though her eyes were dry, she choked out a pained sob.

Sia held her. Gentle, so much so that it was almost enough to render Rhaella undone. She removed the crown from Rhaella’s head, mindful of ripping her hair. Then she kissed her temple.

“Come, Your Grace,” she said. “You must rest now.” She stood Rhaella up, let her lean on her. The two women made their way to the bed slowly, as the milk of the poppy drained Rhaella. In between her legs, Rhaella was still aching, but where the pain once felt like daggers raping her all over again — not daggers, she thought, his claws — the agony had been reduced to a miserable pulsing.

They made it to the bed. Silken sheets met Rhaella with a loving embrace, and she whimpered at the relief. Sia shushed her as she pulled off her slippers and loosened her bodice. When Rhaella was in nothing but her smallclothes, she laid down, and the sleep that was claiming her felt like the sweetest death.

“My son does not care about me,” she told Sia.

Sia pulled the covers over her, up to her chin. “That doesn’t sound true.”

“But it is,” she said, yawning. “And I am pathetic enough to be agonizing over this. He is only a boy. I should not be afraid of a boy. I wasn’t afraid when he first joined the Kingsguard. I was happy. I thought Joanna had sent him to protect me. I thought that our children would finally be together, be friends. I was not afraid. But that was before he knew, Sia. Before he heard. You haven’t even heard. But he has. And now I must be with him. And I cannot bear it.”

Sia undid her hair, pulled all of the pins out of it. “You have bore many things and live to tell of them. Do not fear.” She climbed in the bed with her, draped an arm across Rhaella’s chest. Rhaella snuggled up to her as best as she could while under the covers. “Sleep,” she said, “And explain this to me when your mind is not scrambled from the milk.” The world grew darker, slower. Rhaella closed her eyes. “Sleep now, sweetling. I am here. Sleep.” So Rhaella did.

*/*/*/*

Hazing night gloomed through the darkness of her chamber, and with the light of the moon, Rhaella rose. The sheets kissed her with its silken softness, soothing her. As they fell from her, she saw that she was naked. The flesh was tender, smelled of tea and roses. Sia’s salve. It was of Myrish make, just like Sia, and it healed her after the burning nights. Sia had stripped her, covered Rhaella in the salve while she slept. Its sweet coolness calmed her, body and mind, and she knew she was ready to see her son.

Rhaella left the bed, slow and careful, as to not wake Sia. If the woman awoke to see Rhaella sneaking about, she would fret, make her rest. And she would be right to – while the salve had soothed her, she would not heal without sleep. But true sleep was not something she could have now. They sailed for Dragonstone in the morning, and with Joanna’s son so near, she would be too anxious for sleep. And she needed to see Rhaegar. She needed to know why.

Rhaella put on the silk robe-dress she’d worn that morning, tied her hair in a loose braid. Then she went for Rhaegar’s bedchamber. It was ages away, even beyond Viserys’s wing. She’d made sure not to put the brothers too close; otherwise, Viserys would visit with Rhaegar long enough to lose his sleep. And on the far side of the Keep, farther than where Viserys resided, there was no chance of Rhaegar hearing. He had hurt her that day, yes, but she could never hurt him. If she had no other power within her, could do nothing else, she would keep Rhaegar deaf. Even if she was furious. Even if she was shamed.

By the time Rhaella entered her son’s hall, the overexertion had taken its toll. The dull ache in between her legs had grown sharp again, and a trickle of blood wetted her smallclothes. She was not meant to walk after a burning, she knew. She needed to be on bedrest for at least a week, perhaps even more now that a babe was in her, for what little that mattered. But she kept going, and then, she reached it.

The doors to Rhaegar’s chamber had a slight amber glow bleeding through its crevices, and Rhaella knew he was still awake. She went to the doors, pushed them softly as to not make a sound, and then –

“You worry so, Father,” Rhaegar said, and Rhaella’s blood went cold. She gripped the handle like a vice, looked through the crevice as far as she dared. Then she saw it, and it was more devastating to see than hear.

Aerys and Rhaegar sat over the edge of Rhaegar’s bed, candlelight shadowing their faces. Aerys looked as he did when last she saw him, the same long pale hair that tangled like vines, the gauntness, the claws, and yet he was not Aerys. Aerys was wild, burning, hating. The man sitting beside her son was none of those things. He was quiet, frightened. His hands cupped his knees, and it looked as if he was trying to keep himself from shaking.

“Don’t placate me,” he snapped, but it sounded weak, forlorn. “I know what I am now. What they have made me become.”

Rhaegar was confused. “They?”

“The demons,” Aerys said, and he could fight the shaking no longer. He looked at his son with wide eyes, purple and lonely and terrified. In the candlelight, his unshed tears glistened. “They are in me, eating my mind. Ever since the dungeon, they’ve been in me. They dance before my eyes when no one is looking.” A clawed hand grasped onto Rhaegar’s. “My son,” he said. He sounded so small, so desperate. “My brave boy. You must stop them. You must save me. Please.”

Gods. Rhaella’s stomach turned, roiled within her, and her eyes stung, but she would not look away. She needed to see this. She needed to watch.

Rhaegar’s own hand was trembling, but he held on to his father’s like it was a port in a storm. “I will,” he promised. “I’ll find a cure, and all will be well. Please don’t fret, Father. I beg you.”

Aerys shook his head in distress. “No. No cure. You must end it. End it, please. It must be you. I would … I’d rather it be you.”

Rhaegar took in a sharp breath, and suddenly his eyes were glistening, too. “I … I can’t do that.”

“You must,” Aerys said, frantic. “Now, while they’re gone. They so rarely leave me, but right now they’re gone. It is only me, now. I must die as me.” Salt streamed down his skin, clear and shining. He looked down, afraid, ashamed. “Please, gods, just let me die as me.”

At that, Rhaegar was undone. “Oh, Papa,” he said, and then he grabbed his father, held him like a son, held him like a babe. Aerys buried his face in his son’s neck, and wept.

“I’m sorry,” Aerys said. “Forgive me. Forgive me.”

Rhaegar shushed him, laid him down on the bed, rested his head on his lap.

Aerys clung to Rhaegar’s arm. “Don’t … don’t leave me.”

“I won’t,” Rhaegar whispered. He stroked his father’s hair. “Don’t be afraid. I will fix it. I will fix it.”

It was Rhaella’s turn to start shaking. She pulled away, averted her eyes, but looking away could not deafen her. Aerys wept, his agony ringing in the quietest little whimpers, and Rhaella listened. She listened as the tears drowned him. She listened as it slowly died, went from light wails to soft sobbing. She listened as nothing sounded from within the room, within her mind, within her heart. And when the silence seemed to seep into her very soul, she entered.

Rhaegar sat on the other side of the bed, watching his father sleep. A near empty glass of wine sat on the nightstand, near crimson in the candlelight. Dreamwine, Rhaella knew.

“Is this a mercy?” he asked her.

Rhaella walked to the bed, stood over her husband, watched him. Despite the age of his frame, wrinkled from madness and fear, Aerys looked like a child. Dried tear streaks crusted on his wizened face, salted and white, and he trembled still, even in his sleep. The demons have found him. Rhaella looked at her husband’s eyes. The lids were closed, shutting him in, trapping him in the darkness of his mind, and Rhaella feared him no longer. There was nothing within her, nothing but pain and emptiness and mourning.

“No,” she said. There was no mercy in abandoning a man to insanity, whether it was now in his slumber, or in the isolated wing that he would be trapped in after his dethroning.

“I know,” Rhaegar said. He spoke in soft murmurs, husky and pained. “And yet …”

Rhaella went over to Rhaegar’s side of the bed, climbed over the sheets and held him from behind, pressing her nose against his ear. “And yet you are his son,” she said. “You could not bear it. I know, dearest.”

Rhaegar rested his cheek on her forehead. “Has he ever done this before?” he asked. “Become … aware of his illness?”

“Not that I have seen,” she said. And I hope I never will again. The sight of it was near enough to break her. Facing the wrath of the monster in her brother’s flesh was something she could endure, but seeing flashes of her brother’s ghost, rising from the ocean of madness that had claimed him long ago was too much. Knowing her brother was good and truly dead was what kept her from going half mad herself, but this … no, he is gone. What we saw now was only a remnant. And when Rhaegar takes his crown, I will never have to see it again.

“There must be a cure,” Rhaegar said. “There must be.”

“I wish that there was, my love,” she said, and was surprised that she meant it. She and Aerys had never loved each other as man and wife, and what fondness they had for each other as siblings felt like another life, a distant dream, but this was an end she never would have wanted for her brother.

Rhaegar let out a soft breath, never taking his eyes off Aerys. His fingers held and caressed the ends of Rhaella’s silver braid. “You’re cross with me,” he said.

Rhaella bit her lip. After what she’d witnessed, her anxiety concerning Jaime seemed small and pathetic – just like her. But she was already lying to her son about what his father did on burning nights, and she could not bear to do so again. “Yes,” she said.

He wrapped her hair around his finger. “Tell me.”

Rhaella took in a deep breath. Then, she asked.

“Why him? Her … her son?” Rhaella dared not speak Joanna’s name in Aerys’s presence, even while he was deep in slumber. The name was not just a name; it was an oasis, a light, a power strong enough to wake a dying man, and Aerys had been dead for years.

Rhaegar did not need to hear the name to know who she meant. He looked at her then, indigo eyes still glittering from unshed tears, brow furrowed. “You don’t want him guarding you?”

“That isn’t …” Rhaella’s words left her. This is silly. You’re being silly. “I only wish to know why.”

Rhaegar gave Aerys a quick cautious glance, then back to her. “There’s no love lost between him and Father, and he seems to approve of me. It’s more like than not that he’ll want to join us. His support may even pull the West out of neutrality.”

Rhaella suppressed a laugh. Of course it was politically beneficial to their cause. It was not the first time politics had caused Rhaella pain, and most like it would not be the last.

Rhaegar’s eyes turned soft. “And I thought it would please you,” he said, voice gentle, “To be near her son. To see me and him grow close.”

Rhaella looked away as the salt invaded her again, swelled up in her eyes, because it should please her, but it didn’t, because Aerys ruined it as he ruined everything else, because Jaime heard her, and despite the endless, aching years, there were times when Joanna’s death felt like only a breath ago, and Jaime was hers, curled locks like gold and bright emeralds for eyes, and gods, how many times would she nearly weep today? Aerys had cried enough for the both of them. Aerys had done what she could not.

Rhaegar tried to soothe her. “I can ask him to send Lewyn instead, but he might grow suspicious if –”

“No,” Rhaella said. “I can handle it.” She would have to. She would have to do her duty.

Rhaegar looked unconvinced, but did not press her. Silence took them then, strangely peaceful. Outside, the night was in its final hours. Moonlight blended with the candle’s amber glow.

“Have you had the chance to speak with Viserys?” she asked.

“A bit,” he said.

“Come with me to his chamber,” she said. “He’ll be so excited over the voyage that he will not be asleep, I promise you.”

For a breath Rhaegar looked tempted, but then he tensed, and Rhaella knew the answer before he spoke. “I said I wouldn’t leave him,” he murmured.

Pride and pain drowned Rhaella all at once. My son. “And I won’t leave you.”

And so they stayed, Rhaegar and Rhaella, mother and son. They laid down, and Rhaella held her son a little tighter, pressed herself closer to his back. Rhaegar relaxed at the embrace, holding her hand as he did when he was a child.

When sleep took him, Rhaella stayed awake; she would never sleep with Aerys so near. She curved her body around Rhaegar’s, inhaling his scent, feeling his strength, hearing his breath. With the closeness came wishes, yearning, dreams, and for a breath, just one breath, Rhaella let her son’s denial take her over, and she pretended. She pretended that her father had not forsaken her, that she’d married by choice, and that Aerys had been worthy of that choice. She pretended that all her children had lived, and they were right down the hall, waiting for her. She pretended that it didn’t hurt to think of their names — Shaena, Aemon, Daeron, Aegon, Jaehaerys. She pretended that the babe inside her was as strong as Rhaegar claimed. She pretended that her body did not ache like long stabs cutting through her, that her family was happy and normal, that her life wasn’t agony. But she did not pretend that Joanna was alive. She was too afraid to do that. She was always too afraid to do anything.

Rhaella stayed with her son and husband. She stayed as they rose and fell in their slumber, one shuddered and quick, the other quiet and calm. She stayed as the silence nearly killed her. She stayed as the thought of King Rhaegar strengthened her. And when the breath of moonset crept through morning light, it was her who left with the dawn.

Chapter 6: Jaime III

Chapter Text

The shift in Jaime’s life from one dawn to the next was jarring enough that he would’ve been afraid, had he not been so amazed. Whereas Aerys’s end of the Keep was isolated, dark, Rhaegar’s hall lived in sunlit color. It overlooked the Blackwater, and with that came life — seabirds calling, ships groaning, bells singing, water roaring. The air was thick with sweltering salt, and if it smelled a bit cleaner, fresher, Jaime would be able to close his eyes, bask in its scent, pretend he was back at the Rock, back home with Cersei and Tyrion. The faint stench made that impossible, but it was an odd comfort, to know he almost had the option to pretend King’s Landing was only a nightmare he’d had while sleeping in Cersei’s arms. With Aerys, Jaime wouldn’t have even had the thought, cherished the hope of it. Only here could he dare. If Aerys’s domain was a desert, then Rhaegar’s wing was an oasis, and Jaime drank from its serene pool like the dying man he was.

Jaime’s peace must have radiated off of him, because the little princess Rhaenys was quite pleased with his presence, and her bright, near-toothless smiles were all for him. She kept sneaking peeks at him standing guard near the dining room’s outer pillars.

“Ser Jaime needs breakfast too,” she told her mother.

Princess Elia Martell sat near the head of the table, tending to Prince Aegon as he cooed in his bassinet. Her dusky skin glowed in the morning light, blending beautifully with her russet robe-dress, and her dark eyes glittered with amusem*nt. “That he does,” she said. “Ser Jaime, come join us.”

A sudden shyness took Jaime. “I could never impose, Princess.”

“It is good that you aren’t, then,” she said, full lips playing at a smile. “Come. Visit.”

Jaime left his post and sat across from the Dornish Princess and her children. He nibbled on a few things — toasted sweetrolls, a bit of bacon that was far spicier than he was used to, and poached eggs. Jaime had been too nervous to eat last night, too anxious to sleep that much either, and his stomach was still too tight for him to feast now. But he didn’t want to offend his princess, so he ate enough as to be polite.

Elia poured him wine that was nearly as dark as her Martell eyes. “Are you excited for the journey, Ser Jaime?”

“I am, Princess, thank you for asking,” he said, though he knew that was the wrong word. He’d been excited when he first held a sword in his hand. He’d been excited when Mother told him he was going to be a big brother. He’d been excited when Cersei kissed him for the first time, not as a sister kisses a brother, but something more. He’d been excited when she came to him with that ill-fated plan of hers, the one where they would finally be together after he joined the Kingsguard. He’d been excited when he went on those quests with Arthur, proved himself, received knighthood with Valyrian steel. Jaime felt nothing like he did during any of those moments. He felt relieved, and grateful, so utterly grateful.

Still, as grateful as he was for this oasis, these sweet splashes of water amongst fire, he could not help but feel cautious, hesitant, as if the water would burn away, mist into the air at any moment. We haven’t left yet. Aerys could revoke his order and demand that I stay. And because of that, he would drink his fill so that when it was time, he could survive the flames once more. Or perhaps drifting in cool waters would do nothing but make it hurt that much more the next time he witnessed a burning. Would he be able to go away inside after tasting freedom?

Little Rhaenys was blissfully unaware of his fears. “Viserys said that you would play Dragons and Dragonriders with him.” She spoke well for a three year old, but her Rs sounded more like Ws.

Jaime chuckled. “I would.” Jaime was more than familiar with the game; Tyrion loved it almost as much as his books. He said I could only be Sunfyre, because of my hair, he remembered. For a brief moment, Jaime wondered who was obsessed with dragons more — his brother, or Viserys.

Rhaenys’s dark eyes sparkled. “I want to play too,” she said.

“Then it shall be so,” said Jaime, giving her his most charming smile. “I am sworn to follow my princess’s commands.”

Rhaenys beamed at that, her little brown face sweet with happiness, and gods, would he truly have this for an entire week? Let it be so, he prayed, to the Seven or Red God or whoever was listening.

Elia laughed at them both. “Oh, not you too,” she said. “She already has every other man wrapped around her finger.”

“So I’ve heard,” Jaime said. Everyone knew that Princess Rhaenys was quite friendly and affectionate to all around her. Aerys had complained of it to him, once. Dornish behavior, he’d said with a sneer. Nowhere near to be flowered, and already she has the makings of a slu*t. She will riddle this Keep with bastards, you’ll see. But Jaime only saw a little girl with apple crumpet crumbs on her cheeks, and a face that was her mother’s writ small.

Elia wiped Rhaenys’s face with a handkerchief and gave her a scolding look. Rhaenys ate her next crumpet slower. “Have you ever been to Dragonstone, Ser Jaime?” asked Elia.

“I have not, Princess. But I’ve heard that it’s beautiful, and can’t wait to see it myself.”

Elia scoffed at that. “Beautiful in a macabre way, I suppose. It is too dark, too dreary for me. And damp. Nothing like Dorne. I fear I’ve yet to grow accustomed to it.”

“I’m accustomed,” Rhaenys said, grinning. “And I love it.”

“Of course you love it,” Elia said, feigning dismissiveness, “It’s all you’ve ever known.”

“That’s not why, Mama,” Rhaenys said, and this time, it was her giving out a scolding look. “It’s because I have dragon’s blood.”

“Oh,” Elia said, stifling a laugh, “I see. My apologies.”

Jaime hid his laughter too. “Is it dragon’s blood that makes such a happy Princess love such a sad place?”

“I think so,” Rhaenys said, as serious as can be, “But it may be because I know why Dragonstone looks so sad all the time. It’s because of the monsters. They’re all around the castle, even all the way in the air at the top of the towers, and they hear Papa’s sad songs.”

“Oh?” Jaime encouraged her.

“Yes,” Rhaenys said as she rocked her little brother’s bassinet. “Papa’s songs make them cry. That’s why it’s so wet all the time. But because the monsters are made of stone, they can’t cry themselves, so they make the sky cry for them. I know this because they told me, and they told me because I’m their friend. I told Papa, too, because I wanted him to play his songs where only I and Mama could hear them, so the monsters wouldn’t be sad anymore.”

“And what did he say?” asked Elia.

“He said he thinks there’s a chance that his singing makes them sad, but he also thought it could be because of all the magic on the island.” Rhaenys gave a little pout at that, her eyes suspicious. “I think he just said that so he wouldn’t have to sing so low.”

Elia met eyes with Jaime then, and he saw the laughter in them. Jaime was quite amused himself, and oh, if only he could guard them always, Elia and her children. If only every hour of every day was this safe and serene and good.

But would I deserve that? he asked himself, and when he heard soft footsteps pad against tiles, he was reminded of the answer.

Queen Rhaella stood at the entrance, Prince Viserys at her side, both of them guarded by Ser Jonothor Darry. At the sight of them — and Darry, who was the acting Commander while the White Bull was away — Jaime stood.

The three newcomers looked at Jaime then, and their reactions to his presence were as different as night and day. Viserys looked glad to see him, smiling and bright-eyed. But Darry, f*cking Darry was giving him the most disapproving glare, and Jaime was stuck between feeling smug at the sight of it, or not giving one single sh*t. Darry had wanted to join Prince Rhaegar, and he had not taken kindly to the news that it would be Jaime instead of him. Now, he’d taken Jaime’s place as Aerys’s guard, which was why Jaime had the privilege of seeing to Elia and the children. While Jaime knew it should not have been him that was gifted a week of peace, he was glad Darry had not been chosen. Once, after a green night, Darry had stood guard with Jaime, outside Queen Rhaella’s oaken doors, and they’d both heard the screams. Jaime reminded Darry of their vows to protect Rhaella, and Darry ... well. Darry was a c*nt. But Jaime stood for him all the same. He stood for his queen as well, and when he saw her expression, he nearly faltered.

Queen Rhaella was not pleased with Jaime’s presence, that much was obvious. Her purple eyes met his for half a breath, wide and wild, and then she blinked, fought back her reaction, called upon her poise. At the sight of it, her false neutrality, a pulse of emotion ran through Jaime, not shame, but hurt. Does she truly hate me so? If she did, Jaime knew he couldn’t blame her for it; if he were in her place, he would not want to be near someone who heard him when his walls were down, who had the means to protect him, but couldn’t, no, wouldn’t. Even knowing she had the right, it didn’t feel good, to know she may have such contempt for him, and he’d earned every morsel of it. Or perhaps it is only awkwardness she feels, Jaime hoped. He could understand that as well. When it came to Queen Rhaella, awkwardness was something he had in abundance.

Rhaenys was the first to speak. “Viserys! Grandmama!” She was about to jump out of her chair, but she caught Elia’s raised eyebrow, and stayed put.

Rhaella gave Elia a half-hearted look of disapproval. “Come now, daughter.”

Elia was unmoved. “A princess must learn patience.” She went to her good-mother and held her. “Good morning, my sweet.”

Rhaella returned the embrace, and her face turned soft, loving, open — nothing like the expression she wore only moments before. Jaime had only seen her look at her sons in that manner.

After greeting Viserys and Darry, Elia led the queen and prince to the table, holding both of their hands. Elia was short herself, but she was taller than both Rhaella and Viserys, so it looked as if she were bringing a second pair of her and Rhaegar’s children with her. Viserys and Rhaenys sat next to each other, their grins as wide as every window on the Keep, and Rhaella made her place at the head of the table, right next to Elia’s chair ... and Jaime’s.

So near Jaime, Rhaella looked unsettled, though she did seem to be more at ease with her family. Jaime was still standing, waiting for her to give him some sort of command — resume sitting, return to your post, leave your post, something. Rhaella looked up at him, let out a faint, shaking breath, and smiled. It was a false smile. Not one made of feigned kindness, no, but calmness. She did not want to be near Jaime, but she didn’t intend on making that clear to him. Does she do it to spare me, or does she only wish to keep up appearances?

“Ser Jaime,” she said, and it was the first time she’d said his name since the first night he ever guarded her door, or even spoke to him at all. She said it so gently, so kindly, that if Jaime were blind, he would believe that he’d wrought no pain upon her. “I was not aware you would be guarding us before our flight.”

“Nor was I, Your Grace,” he said, and he really hadn’t been. At dawn, he’d made his way to Aerys before Lewyn told him where the king wanted him. It had been a greedy thought, considering the week of freedom he’d been given, but he was glad he didn’t have to lay eyes on the king at all today, or at least, not for long. Jaime imagined Aerys would come to see them off before they set sail, but that would be nothing compared to guarding him.

Once again, Rhaenys took him away from thoughts of her grandfather. “Ser Jaime is having breakfast with us,” she told Rhaella. “I told him he needed it, and he and Mama agreed.”

Rhaella’s smile for her granddaughter was infinitely more genuine than the one directed at him, but her eyes still showed her discomfort. “Is that so?” she asked. She looked back at Jaime. “Then by all means, Ser, resume your meal. You may sit.”

Jaime did as she bid. He made sure to only drink his wine. His stomach was doing too many flips to hold more food, and he feared he would retch if he so much as ate a single bite.

“Your Grace,” said Ser Darry, “Forgive me, but I think it unwise to allow Ser Jaime to feast while on duty. Should he need to act quickly, the food will slow him down.”

Embarrassment and anger ran through Jaime, and he bit his tongue to keep from speaking. He was a lion, but this was not the time to let Darry hear him roar, not in front of his charges. Normally Darry’s obvious pouting and distaste for Jaime would’ve been amusing, even revive some of the arrogance that Aerys beat out of him long ago, but for him to express his opinion for Jaime here was something else entirely. As if Rhaella needs another reason to doubt me.

Rhaella herself seemed unfazed by Darry’s suggestion, however. “Oh? How odd,” she said, voice nothing like it was when she spoke to Elia and Rhaenys, or even Jaime. It was still sweet, even gentle, but there was something lying underneath it, like honeyed poison. “I have seen Ser Jaime spar, and he seems to be a quick draw.”

Jaime’s stomach was doing full acrobatics now. She’s seen me spar? When? He would have noticed if the Queen of Westeros attended one of his sessions.

Ser Darry gave a nervous laugh at that. “Of course, Your Grace, but sparring and truly fighting are different things entirely, and —”

“So I would imagine,” said the queen, short and curt, yet somehow still pleasant. Her purple eyes were hard as she looked at Darry, even a bit cold. “And I’m certain Ser Jaime would know that from experience. He and Ser Arthur faced the Kingswood Brotherhood together, did they not?”

Darry paused at that, confused by Rhaella’s defensiveness of Jaime, and, in truth, so was Jaime. “Yes, Your Grace,” he said, “Though I would say it was more Ser Arthur’s victory than anyone else’s.”

Jaime’s skin was hot, near scorching, and he hoped he wasn’t blushing. He looked down at his plate, squeezed his wine glass tighter. c*nt.

“I’m not certain Ser Arthur would agree with that,” said Rhaella, “Considering it was Ser Jaime’s ability during that crisis that made him deem Ser Jaime worthy of knighthood. I also don’t think he would have endorsed a warrior who is slowed down by a bit of bacon and eggs. Do you truly think that is so, Ser Jonothor?”

“For a more seasoned warrior, Your Grace?” he asked. “It is less likely. But Ser Jaime is still quite green. There are things he has yet to learn as a warrior that other Kingsguard would know as well as their own breathing.”

“So did Ser Arthur err to knight one so young?” Queen Rhaella asked. “And endorse him to be his Sworn Brother, as well?”

Darry balked at that. “I would never mean to undermine Ser Jaime’s skill or place on the Kingsguard, Your Grace. Nor do I question Ser Arthur’s decision to knight him. I only wish to ensure that you are protected as efficiently as possible.”

Queen Rhaella’s purple eyes darkened, flashed, stormed. She lifted her chin, smiled, and it was just as false as the one she’d given Jaime, yet it was not the same. The smile for Jaime had been a polite one, hiding her discomfort, her tension. It feigned calmness. But there was nothing calm about this smile. It was small, but stretched, like a dam holding back a river of rage. But the rage was not in her face. It was all in her eyes, and they were staring right at Ser Darry.

“Protect me?” she asked, calmly, too calmly, quiet and cool. “Are you certain that’s your wish?”

Jaime could practically feel Darry’s silent scream, felt it as he screamed his own, because he knew what Rhaella meant, and Darry knew too, and gods, he was a fool to think he didn’t deserve this week away from Aerys. If the queen meant to remind him of his failure as she did with Darry, then he’d earned every moment.

Darry seemed to think he deserved Rhaella’s disdain too. Or perhaps he was only ashamed in front of his audience. “Yes, Your Grace,” he said, stiff. “That is all I want.”

Darry’s lie only seemed to make Rhaella angrier. She was silent as still winter, watching Ser Darry with unmoving eyes. Viserys was giving his mother a concerned look, detecting her shift in mood but not understanding the cause of it, and Rhaenys was utterly confused, but she was smart enough to feel the tension. Elia was the only one truly aware. She reached for her good-mother under the table, placed a frail hand on her knee. “Ser Jonothor,” she said, “You have my utmost gratitude for sending my mother and brother to me safely.”

Rhaella relaxed at her daughter’s touch. “Yes. Our thanks,” she said, without sounding thankful at all. “You may take your leave of us, Ser. I am certain my husband misses his loyal guard.” Somehow she’d made loyalty sound disgraceful, even though she’d spoken politely. But to be loyal to one such as Aerys is a disgrace, Jaime told himself.

Ser Darry heard the insult just as Jaime did. He bowed stiffly. “Your Grace.” Then he turned and left.

Elia spoke as soon as he was out of sight, before the silence could overtake them. “Are you hungry, Mother?” she asked, putting food on Rhaella’s plate before she could even answer.

Rhaella made a sound between a scoff and a laugh. “My son has spoken to you, I take it.”

“He has,” said Elia. “Now, try the eggs. I ensured that they were poached, just for you. Did you enjoy them, Ser Jaime?” Both women looked at him.

Jaime struggled to keep his eyes on Elia, not the queen. “I did, Princess. Thank you,” he said quietly, and he cursed himself for being so bloody bashful. You cut through the Kingswood Brotherhood like paper, yet you cower before a princess and queen who only want your opinion on eggs?

At Jaime’s answer, the queen cut through her eggs. “I will try them then,” she said. Then she eyed Elia. “On his word, not yours.” Elia only laughed at her, and from then on the breakfast was a lighter burden than it was before. Princess Elia was quite charming, witty and good-humored, but it was Viserys and Rhaenys that were the true delight. They bombarded him with a plethora of questions and tales and sweetness, and their bright-eyed curiosity and innocence reminded him of Tyrion. The roiling in his stomach eased, and he managed to eat most of his meal. It could never subside with Rhaella so near, however. She was nothing but courteous to him, and whenever he did mistakenly meet her gaze, there was no anger or disdain in her eyes as there was for Darry, even though Jaime was just as guilty. Jaime was lost between wondering why, and even being a bit suspicious, and just accepting the gift of exception she’d given him.

Viserys caught his attention — again. “Ser Jaime?” he asked, eyes filled with so much admiration Jaime didn’t know whether to feel insanely proud or insecure. “Is it true you fought the Brotherhood without getting a single scratch?”

Jaime grinned, contemplating if he wanted to exaggerate a bit or continue his best behavior around Rhaella, but before he could respond, a thick, warm aroma flooded his nostrils. Servants brought out a second helping of the apple crumpets that Rhaenys had ate nearly all herself. It was fresh, sweet, wafting through the air, and they all sighed in pleasure at the smell. Except for Rhaella. Out the corner of his eye, Jaime saw her stiffen.

The servants placed the platters on the table. Rhaella gripped the arms of her chair, suffering in silence.

“Your Grace?” Jaime asked. “Are you well?”

Rhaella nodded, tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace.

Viserys frowned. “What’s wrong, Mother?”

Elia laced her hand in Rhaella’s and stood them both up.

“Don’t worry, sweetling,” she told Viserys. “She ate too quickly, most like. I’ll freshen her up in the privy.”

“I can stay with the children, and send for Prince Lewyn to guard you,” Jaime said, figuring the queen did not want to be near Darry, “Or — the opposite of that.” Bloody idiot. “Whatever you’d like.”

Elia and Rhaella were already halfway near the exit, Rhaella clinging to her good-daughter’s arm, eyes closed, pale brow furrowed. “Our thanks, Ser Jaime,” said Elia, “But this is women’s business. I can handle her myself. Would you take the children to the ship? It should be arriving any moment now. We’ll meet you there, with my uncle in tow.”

Before Jaime could protest, at least try to compromise by asking them to take maids with them or washerwomen or something, anything other than them being alone — they were gone. So Jaime did as he bid, and after Aegon’s nursemaid carried him away, Jaime took the children to the ship.

*/*/*/*

As they were being smuggled out, they could not leave through the main docks. Their path lay below. Jaime had Rhaenys in his arms and Viserys beside him as he led them through the backways of the Keep. After several times of reassuring the children that Rhaella was fine — was she? Elia named it women’s business, and that could only mean a handful of things they started to see the journey with their favorite Kingsguard as a thrilling adventure. When they passed the old servant’s quarters, a flight of stairs met them, descending into endless darkness. The only glow from the deep, narrow crevice came from a torch resting on the wall, the one spark of life in the hall. Bloody Varys.

Jaime looked at the torch, then Viserys. It would be safer if Jaime held it, but with both of his hands full he wouldn’t be able to hold onto Viserys. With no child in his arms, Viserys would be able to hold the torch and Jaime’s hand at the same time.

“Have you ever held a torch, my Prince?” he asked Viserys.

Viserys looked up at the torch, firelight making his lilac eyes look like the sky at sunset, an array of pink and purple and orange. Targaryens. Nearly two years he’d spent in their presence, and he still wasn’t used to their Valyrian looks. “Once,” his prince answered.

Jaime carefully took the torch out of its sconce, mindful of Rhaenys. He handed it to Viserys. “A second time for a second son. Hold it tightly.” When he was sure Viserys had the torch secure, Jaime offered him his free hand. “Grab on. It can’t well be a grand adventure if one of us falls or gets lost, can it?”

So the three of them descended hand-in-hand, and in the blackness that threatened to swallow them whole, the torch was a sun in a sea of night. Rhaenys did not speak her fears, but her little hands clung to Jaime’s neck with strength a three-year-old should not have. Jaime bounced her a bit, as much as he dared while on the stairs. That was what he’d seen his Aunt Genna do to Tyrion and his little cousins when they were upset, and what was good for lion cubs was good for dragonlings too, because Rhaenys calmed.

The air grew damp as they went, their feet making little splashes where they stepped. They followed a curve in the pathway. A sliver of daylight met them, and Jaime heard the call of the Blackwater.

“I think we’re getting closer,” said Viserys.

“As do I,” said Jaime. He grinned at Rhaenys. “The adventure’s nearly done, I fear. But I must thank you for your bravery. I would not have been able to press on, otherwise.” She giggled at that.

When they reached the end of the tunnel, they were met with a grotto illuminated by sparkling waters. A ship groaned on its surface, large but unassuming, unmarked, like a merchant’s ship — perfect for smuggling royalty. Varys stood beside it, his arms clasped over his gut, hands hidden by draping long sleeves, as always. His stance was calm, cool, as if he was not responsible for Aerys’s paranoia growing, as if he had not played a part in creating Jaime’s misery and the slow, searing deaths that Aerys’s victims endured, as if he wasn’t a f*cking murderer. “Ser Jaime,” he greeted. “My Prince and Princess. I am glad to see you’ve arrived safely.”

Jaime smiled at the Spider. Small and stretched, like Rhaella to Darry. “And it was all thanks to your wondrous torch, my lord. But I must ask, will the queen and princess follow our footsteps? I should hope not, given that you only provided one light.”

“I gave the Princes Rhaegar and Lewyn an alternative route than I did you, as to not draw attention. They will have the appropriate lighting, I assure you.”

Your assurances mean nothing to me, you whispering snake, Jaime wanted to say, but again he held his tongue. “How considerate of you,” he remarked instead, and he hoped he’d voiced his disdain without being too obvious. Cersei was the twin who was gifted at lacing venom with politeness, not him. Sarcasm and outright aggression he could handle, but there was a certain finesse to court-speech that he never could master.

Varys did not reply, only nodded and let out that little laugh, that f*cking titter, and before Jaime could even fathom how enraged he was, he heard metaled footsteps. Rhaegar, he knew, and he calmed himself. He turned to see his prince. Rhaenys grew restless in Jaime’s arms.

“Papa!” she said, and Jaime let her down, but held onto her hand. Even with torchlight and the natural glow of the grotto, it was still dark, and her three-year-old legs probably weren’t coordinated enough to walk on such rocky terrain.

Prince Rhaegar came further into view, flanked by Prince Lewyn, his wife, and his mother. Queen Rhaella looked better than she did before, but there was still a slowness to her steps. How long does it take her to heal? Jaime wondered, but he found himself feeling sick at the mere thought of it.

Rhaegar drew closer to them. A softness took his face as he laid eyes on his daughter, but he did not reach for her.

“Lord Varys,” he said. “You have my gratitude for ensuring my family leaves the city discreetly.”

The Spider bowed. “I only live to serve, my Prince.”

“And my House is grateful for it,” said Rhaegar. His eyes met Jaime’s then, and Jaime hoped he was standing straight enough, didn’t look as nervous as he felt. “Ser Jaime,” he began, “You’ve guarded my daughter and brother well and led them here safely, as I knew you would.”

Despite Jaime’s heart fighting to switch places with his stomach, he smiled. “You’re too kind, my Prince.”

“Ser Jaime took me and Viserys on an adventure!” Rhaenys told her father.

Pure love and amusem*nt took over Rhaegar’s face as he looked at Rhaenys, and there it was again, that empty longing and jealousy blooming through Jaime like rotten thorns — did Jaime say sweet, innocent things as a toddling child, when he was too young to remember? And was Father charmed by it, smile at him for saying them? He should not care if he did or didn’t. And Jaime didn’t care. He didn’t. He didn’t, and he hadn’t since Tyrion was born and he’d had to focus on protecting him, on keeping his promise, his first vow. But gods, he’d never seen the face of an enraptured father until Rhaegar and bloody Aerys of all people had shown him, and after witnessing it, he wished he never had.

“An adventure, you say?” Rhaegar said. “How exciting. Does this mean you’re pleased with Ser Jaime guarding you on Dragonstone?”

Rhaenys squeezed Jaime’s hand and pulled on it, bouncing up and down. “Yes!”

Jaime laughed at that. “It’s good to be appreciated.” He let her go, and she and Rhaegar met each other halfway. Rhaegar scooped her up, and Rhaenys held him close. Then he brought her to her mother, and spoke with the ship’s captain.

Elia and Rhaella approached them then, and Viserys hugged his mother tightly, too tightly. Jaime could see the pain in Rhaella’s eyes, but she did not tell her son to stop.

“Are you all right now, Mother?” he asked.

Rhaella stroked his hair. “I am now that you’re with me, my Dragon. Did you and Rhaenys thank Ser Jaime for accompanying you?”

Jaime blinked. “That isn’t necessary, Your Grace. It is my duty to do so.”

“Even still,” she said, “We must show gratitude to all who serve us. Viserys is learning that lesson now.”

Viserys frowned at that, embarrassed. “Mother ...”

Elia laughed. “Don’t be embarrassed to let Ser Jaime know you’re being punished and why that is so. Lions are not so easily tamed.” She looked at Jaime. “I am sure you were not a perfect child, Ser Jaime.”

Jaime laughed at that. “I wasn’t as rebellious as you may think, but no, I most certainly was not.”

“That’s why Ser Jaime and I get along,” Viserys said. “All troublemakers are friends.” He and Jaime grinned at each other.

Elia ruffled Viserys’s hair as he giggled. “Enough, you.”

“So, children,” said Queen Rhaella, “What should you say to Ser Jaime?”

“Thank you, Ser Jaime,” they said together.

Jaime bowed his head at them, smirking. “You are most welcome.”

The servants came in then, maids and cooks and seamstresses, and it was nearing their departure. As their luggage was placed on the ship, Elia put her daughter down, and reached for the satchel strapped to her back. “I’ve something for you,” she said, and a little black kitten peeped out of the flap. Rhaenys gasped, held her cat, and snuggled him. “Balerion!”

“You may take him with you,” said Elia as Viserys and Rhaenys played with the feline.

Rhaenys contemplated that, her face frowning. She looked tempted. But then she handed Balerion back to Elia. “No. He has to protect you and Aegon while me and Papa are away,” she said, and if Jaime hadn’t been taken with the girl before, he sure in all the Seven Hells was now.

Elia’s dark eyes shimmered, but she contained herself. “I know he’ll be as strong and brave as the dragon he was named after.” She hugged her daughter again, kissed her hair.

Prince Lewyn gave Rhaenys a mock look of offense. “Surely a Kingsguard is a better guardian than a kitten. Even one named for the Black Dread.”

Rhaenys considered that. “Don’t worry Great-Uncle, you can help him protect them.” Everyone laughed at that, even Prince Lewyn.

“I’m sure you’ll be a great assistant to him, Prince Lewyn,” said Jaime. Besides Arthur, Lewyn was the only Kingsguard he got along with, and their humor was similar.

Lewyn pointed at Jaime. “Never begin something you can’t end, Lannister,” he said, smirking. Then Rhaegar gave the signal to them both. “The ship is ready, Your Grace,” Lewyn told Rhaella.

Elia gave her daughter another hug. “Promise you’ll be a good princess for your papa and grandmama. And Ser Jaime. No trouble, do you hear me?” She looked at Viserys. “That goes for you too, Brother.” She reached for him, and held them tightly in her frail arms.

“We’ll be good, Mama,” said Rhaenys.

“We promise,” said Viserys.

Elia kissed them both again. Then she called for Rhaenys’s nursemaid. She held a pale infant in her arms — Aegon’s decoy.

“Do you remember what we told you?” Elia asked the children.

Viserys nodded. “He’s not Aegon, but we must pretend he is.”

Rhaenys understood as well, but she didn’t look happy about it. “He’s my Not-Brother,” she muttered.

“Yes, dearest,” said Queen Rhaella, “But you must not say that around anyone. Don’t fret. You’ll be able to see your true brother soon enough.”

Rhaenys frowned. “Are you sure that Mama and Aegon can’t come?”

Elia ran a finger through the dark rivulets of Rhaenys’s hair. “For now, I cannot. But your brother and I will see you soon.”

Rhaenys wasn’t too pleased with that answer, but before she could cry, Queen Rhaella said, “It only gives you and I more time to be together. Your grandmama has missed you so. Have you missed me?”

Rhaenys sniffed and rubbed at her eyes. “Yes.”

Viserys squeezed her arm. “And you and I can explore the island with Ser Jaime. An adventure, just like what we did today.”

She brightened a bit at that. “Really?” She looked at Jaime.

“Of course,” Jaime said, “And to be honest, Princess, I don’t think your brother would like that overmuch, being so young and all. But you and Prince Viserys are the proper age for any quest, I’d say.”

Rhaenys beamed. “Let’s go now!”

“The adventuring can wait until you’ve reached Dragonstone,” said Elia. “And after your nap. It’s nearing the time. Go on, now.” She gave Rhaenys a final kiss, and sent her off with the nursemaid. Elia gave her good-mother a hard glance. “And she is not the only one who needs rest.”

Rhaella sighed, but before she could respond, Rhaegar returned to them. “It’s time,” he told them.

Viserys frowned at that. He looked around the cave, eyes searching through the people. “But Father hasn’t come to say goodbye. Where is he?”

Tension swelled over the adults. Prince Lewyn answered. “His Grace is ... unable to attend. But he wishes for your safety, otherwise he would not send me to ensure that you’re sent off well.”

Viserys’s mouth tightened, and his eyes shimmered, but he said nothing.

His mother sensed his distress and caressed his cheek. “Why don’t you make sure Rhaenys finds sleep well on the ship, dear heart? I will meet you shortly, and read you one of your favorite books. How about the one that has tales of all the dragons living during the Dance?”

Viserys still didn’t look happy, but he nodded and left for the ship.

When he was out of earshot, she asked, “What was the true reason that my husband won’t see us off?”

Prince Lewyn sighed. “His Grace was not eager to leave the Keep.”

The queen nodded. “That is what I figured. One would think being below the Keep would not be as harrowing as going outside of it.”

“The Keep makes him feel safe,” said Rhaegar, soft but defensive. Jaime heard the pain in his voice, and he didn’t know whether to pity his prince or be angry with him. He couldn’t imagine what it felt like to see your own father descend into madness, but he also couldn’t imagine letting said father remain on a throne that gave him power to inflict that madness on innocents, either.

Queen Rhaella did not address her son, only grazed a gloved finger over his wrist. “Prince Lewyn,” she said, “I believe my son and good-daughter wish to say their goodbyes now.”

Lewyn stepped back. “Safe journeys, Your Grace.”

Rhaella nodded at him. “Thank you for everything, my friend.” She looked at Jaime. “Ser Jaime? Would you care to accompany me?”

Jaime’s stomach jumped. It was one thing to be near the queen when surrounded by others, and another to be alone with her. “Of course, Your Grace.” He guided her to the ship, her tiny arm wrapped over his armored one. He made sure to make his steps look naturally gradual, as to not make it obvious that he was only trying to match her injured pace.

Once they reached the deck, Rhaella was guiding him more than the other way around. She led him to an empty end of the ship, quiet and lonely. Rhaella leaned on the edge, staring into the distance. She was silent, unmoving, so Jaime was silent as well. Her silver-white hair stirred in the slight breeze waving from the cave’s mouth, and in the glimmering blue light, her amethyst eyes glowed a deep violet, glittering like two purple skies, lit with infinite stars and a full moon —

Jaime blinked. I’m staring like a dullard. He followed his queen’s gaze. She was watching her son and good-daughter across the way. Elia looked distressed, worried, but Rhaegar leaned down, rested his forehead on hers, caressed her cheek with gentle fingers, and she relaxed under his touch. Her brown skin and midnight hair blended with his paleness, and the two princes were sun and moon merged as one.

At the obvious affection glowing from his prince and princess, Jaime was more confused than charmed. Rhaegar cared for his wife, yet he had found a mistress in the Stark girl. And Elia seemed to have forgiven Rhaegar for his infidelity and public disrespect. Jaime knew the Dornish had different views on extramarital affairs than the rest of the continent, but surely she couldn’t have been pleased that the world knew of Rhaegar’s affinity for wolves, along with speared suns?

“I would like to apologize to you,” said the queen, and Jaime nearly jumped at the break of silence.

He frowned. “Apologize? For what, Your Grace?”

Rhaella’s eyes stayed on her eldest son. “Breakfast,” she began, “My … poorly contained distaste for your Sworn Brother.” She glanced at him for half a breath, then became fascinated with the ship’s railing. “I ... can imagine it was not a good first impression.”

Jaime laughed before he could catch himself. She looked at him, and Jaime couldn’t tell if she was offended or simply curious. He straightened his face. “Pardons, Your Grace. I only laugh because of the stark difference we have on that … impression.”

She frowned, but it was one of confusion, not anger. “You ... you were not offended by ...” She trailed off when Jaime shook his head.

“Offended by your honesty, Your Grace?” Jaime guessed. “Or your blatant dislike for Ser Jonothor?”

Rhaella made that little sound between a laugh and scoff. Her posture relaxed a bit, but she still looked sheepish. “I suppose.”

“Then you needn’t worry,” said Jaime. “True honesty is rare at court, so it was quite a delight to hear. That, and knowing someone shares my dislike for Ser Darry is more like to make my day than offend me.”

Rhaella smiled, that faint, barely-there pull of the lips that Jaime had seen on Rhaegar’s face so many times, but she still wouldn’t look at him. “I am glad I have one less thing to fret over, then. There are so many things I must worry for as of late.”

“If it is the war you speak of, I wouldn’t fret too much, Your Grace,” he told her. “Your son will finish this. And should he call me, I will fight at his side. All of my Brothers would.”

Rhaella did look at him then. Amethyst eyes met his Lannister green, gazing deep, as if she’d seen him for the first time and couldn’t believe what she saw. Then the purple hues shimmered silver with unshed tears, and gods, what had he said to upset her?

Before he could even think of how to respond to that, a woman approached them. She was beautiful, around the queen’s age or a bit older, with a foreign look about her — dark olive skin, long black hair, tall, shapely, but toned. A Dornishwoman? Whoever she was, she was getting too close to the queen. Jaime stepped toward her, intending on putting Rhaella behind him before asking the woman who she was, but Rhaella stopped him.

“It’s quite all right, Ser Jaime,” she said. Somehow her tears had vanished, and there was no sign of upset in her voice. She’s had much practice in hiding her pain, Jaime knew, but Rhaella spoke again before he could delve deeper into that darkness. “This is Sia, my personal maid and companion. She is welcome around me and the children always.”

“Understood, Your Grace,” he said. He regarded Sia. “Pardons, my lady.”

“No pardons needed, Ser,” she said. “I’m glad my queen is being protected by one so steadfast.” She turned her attention to Rhaella. “Forgive me for interrupting, Your Grace, but Prince Rhaegar has boarded, and the Prince Viserys wishes to be with you as the ship departs.”

“Of course,” said Rhaella, and they all joined her son.

The ship’s departure was smooth and quick. Jaime stood by as Princess Elia and Prince Lewyn grew smaller and smaller, their arms waving farewell. Rhaella and Viserys watched until they were out of sight, until the Red Keep became a faint shadow in the light, and then, a ghost. When there was nothing between them but water and sky, Rhaella had Viserys fetch his dragon book, intent on keeping her promise. When the boy left, she shuddered and gripped the rail like a vice.

Jaime held her steady. “Your Grace?”

“It is the rock of the ship,” she said. “I’ve not been on the water in a long while.”

Sia did not look pleased at that. Rhaella stopped her before she could speak. “Sia,” she said, and her voice sounded final. “Perhaps you could see to Rhaenys?”

Sia pressed her lips in a tight line, but she said nothing, and did as she bid.

Viserys returned with his book, and Rhaella read to him until dusk. The gentleness in which she spoke, and the way she and Viserys sat close to each other, held the book on each end conjured old sights and sounds that pierced his heart, and he had to look away. Those memories were only good for use against Aerys, his wildfire, and nothing else.

The sound of an opening door took him from his struggling. It was a servant. “Supper is ready, Your Grace.”

Rhaella looked at her son. “Put your book back in your chamber, then go to the dining room. Ser Jaime and I will meet you there.”

“Yes, Mother,” Viserys said, and left.

Rhaella rose from her seat, slowly, like she was decades older than she actually was. She caught Jaime’s eye, and gave him a tired smile. If she was thinking of how their last exchange ended, it did not show on her face.

“Dragons,” she said. “Ever since my son has been old enough to obsess with them, I’ve heard and spoken the word far too much.”

Jaime raised a brow at that. “Even for a Targaryen?” He let a little grin pull at his lips, hoped it eased the tension.

A soft smile graced the queen’s face. “Especially for a Targaryen.” She reached for his arm. In the fading light, her hair glowed like snow.

Jaime made sure her grip was steady, then led her to the feast. “I know how you feel,” he said. “My brother Tyrion loves dragons as well. It’s why I’ll be well versed in playing Dragons and Dragonriders with the children.”

Rhaella seemed amused by that. “And how many dragons can a lion name?”

“Only one,” said Jaime, smirking. “Sunfyre. He was the only one I was allowed to portray. We share the same coloring, I’m told.”

They drew closer to the dining entrance. In front of them, a servant lit a torch on a wall. Firelight flickered and hazed in the darkening sky.

Rhaella’s injured steps slowed even more, faltered, stopped. She gazed into the flames as if in a daze. Fiery amber shined off her Targaryen eyes, mirroring the sunset above — purple, orange, pink. Her grip on Jaime loosened. “Sunfyre,” she said, softly. Then she fell.

It was slow and fast all at once. Rhaella was falling, her glowing hair like silk veiling her, and Jaime’s veins were ice and daggers, and she was in his arms before she hit the deck, but she wasn’t moving, and her eyes were closed, and her neck was limp, and her skin was so feverish he could feel heat blazing through her dress, his armor, and Jaime’s throat was raw from screaming.

“Your Grace?” he heard himself ask. He called for Prince Rhaegar, the servants, the sailors, everyone, anyone. A horde came running, and they screamed along with him. Jaime heard chains rattling, robes rustling, and he was being interrogated. He heard himself answer, and answer coherently, but his mind was not there, and his shield wasn’t, either, because it was not even a full day that he’d personally guarded her, and he’d failed again.

The questioning ended, and Rhaella was taken from him, lifted like the delicate thing she was. Rhaegar held his mother, cradled her. “See to the prince,” he’d ordered before he left for her chambers, and it was only then that Jaime noticed Viserys was there, crying and screaming for his mother, and his misery brought recollection to Jaime that he was almost too weak to fight off. It’s different, he told himself. She’s not dead, the maester said so. He does not cry for the same reason I did. With that thought the memories faded, and he had the strength to take Viserys in his arms and bring him to his room.

Viserys tried to escape his hold, but Jaime’s grip on him was merciless. “Calm yourself,” he said, though he wasn’t sure if he was speaking to Viserys or himself. “You must be brave.” Viserys let Jaime hold him then, fighting his tears, and when they reached his chamber, Sia and her dreamwine awaited them.

After Viserys was asleep, an epiphany came to Jaime. His feet took him over, walking while his mind floated into nothing. When it came to Rhaella, there was only thing he’d done and done well. And he would do it now.

Jaime reached Rhaella’s closed bedchamber doors. Behind it, there was silence — silence, beautiful, merciful music of nothing, no screams, no laughs — but the door’s brown, paneled patterns were orange in the firelight, built and born of strong wood, and Jaime knew that the gods hated him. Oaken. A sound left his lips, and he could not tell if it was a laugh or a sob. But he would not leave. This was all he could do for her. And he would do it.

Ser Jaime Lannister turned his back to the doors, and stood guard.

Chapter 7: Rhaella III

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Fire. It surged, stormed, lived through her being, and Rhaella Targaryen burned. She drifted in black nothingness, still and quiet as death, but where moonlight embraced the dead, she was all sun. Her eyes were purple cinders, her breath steam. Blazing tendrils of her hair floated, swimming through the darkness. Her flesh was naught but black mist and smoldering embers, her heart flaming light, beautiful as sunrise, glorious as dawn. Rhaella was fire, and fire was Rhaella. Fire was life. Fire was truth. Fire was all, and no, this was wrong, the dragon dreams could not have found her again, not again, not ever again —

Don’t be afraid. It echoed through the void, through her soul, and Rhaella knew it was her child. Shaking hands reached for her womb, and as she held herself, her grasping fingers turned to talons.

Don’t be afraid, said the babe again, so Rhaella became brave. This child had come to her before its demise, had asked one thing of her, and she would do it, she would do anything for it, anything, anything.

Then believe, she heard. It was a blend of voices, the child’s, and Rhaegar’s, and Rhaella’s, all above the guttural growls of ...

The darkness shifted. Rhaella felt heat that was not her own, a force she could not fathom, a power she had never known, but her blood did. It sang in her veins, waiting. An enormous portion of the black lifted, formed into red, a dark slit spiking through the middle. An eye. A dragon’s eye. Balerion’s eye, and Rhaella realized that she was not surrounded by darkness, but the colossal coils of his body.

Balerion’s massive tail encircled her, cradled her, towered over her like scaled mountains, like home, and Rhaella wanted to weep.

You’ve forgotten your blood, he said. His voice was a soothing rumble that Rhaella felt in her very core, and though his speech was low, echoing growls, she understood every word. You’ve forgotten what you carry. You carry my seed. You carry fire. You carry strength. That strength will pass through your loins, and it will live. Believe.

Rhaella stared into that eye, that crimson pool of fire and blood, and she dared not believe. He was the Black Dread, but only so to her ancestor’s enemies. Never to her. And yet ...

I cannot believe, she said to Balerion, to the babe, to herself, to the world. I did before. With every child, I believed. And I received naught but death. I cannot believe.

You must, said the dragon. You are fire, and fire cannot kill a dragon. She will not burn. Believe. And then he opened his great mouth, and it was like gazing into the eye of the sun. Firestorms raged from his maw, misting and clouding in his throat like breath, his massive sword-like teeth shining black in the radiant amber light. The heat embraced Rhaella, graced her with its majesty, its power, and Rhaella inhaled it, let it fill her soul, let it renew her blood. This was the glory of Aegon, Visenya, Rhaenys. This was the past, the legacy. This was fire. This was blood. Rhaella beheld the flames, watched as it danced and roared and lived, and waited.

A shadow emerged from the flames, and despite being a small wisp in Balerion’s monstrous jaw, she belonged there. She stopped near the edge of the dragon’s teeth, unburnt, and for half a breath Rhaella thought it was her as a child, the princess she’d been before she was forsaken, but no, this was not Rhaella. She resembled Rhaella, tiny and pale and beautiful, but she was strong, stronger than Rhaella could ever hope to be. Rivulets of silver-gold danced in the gust of Balerion’s heat, her violet eyes gleaming, and Rhaella knew her like her own heartbeat. Daenerys.

Daenerys reached for her mother, tiny arms graceful and radiating warmth. Rhaella went to her. Daenerys’s little palms rested on Rhaella’s belly, her touch gentle. She looked at Rhaella with violet eyes that were so like her grandmother’s.

Don’t be afraid, she said again, voice calm as still waters, and Rhaella was not afraid. She wouldn’t be afraid ever again.

Rhaella brought her hands to Daenerys’s. They were no longer talons, but human hands, still bitten, still slashed and bruised, but the smoke wafting from her skin shrouded Aerys’s marks upon her, and the embers made them glow with strength and fire. Rhaella placed them on Daenerys’s skin, marveled at the softness of her. She felt like Rhaegar had as a babe, and Viserys, and her three sons that had lived long enough for her to know them. Daeron, Aegon, Jaehaerys. It did not hurt to think of their names. Not now. Not with Daenerys.

I do not fear, she told her daughter. And I believe.

Daenerys smiled at that, a faint one, the same as Rhaegar’s. She rested her cheek on Rhaella’s belly, closed her eyes, and Rhaella sensed heartbeats. Heard them in the air, felt them in her womb. Life. Daenerys’s life.

My daughter. Rhaella carried a daughter inside her, and she would live. Amber tears fell from her Targaryen eyes, glowing like the blood of the sun, burning like dragonfire. Then, she awakened.

*/*/*/*

Firelight greeted her, but it was weak, nothing like before, and she nearly cried at the loss. She reached for her belly, but felt no heartbeat. The vision is over. I cannot feel her as I once did. But she was there. If Rhaella knew nothing else, she knew that. And she would never doubt her again.

Rhaella sat up in her bed, her body aching, but she barely felt the pain. A dragon dream. A vision. It had been decades since she’d had one. As a child, Rhaella dreamed of what would come to pass — insignificant things, like what would be prepared for dinner the following night, or what she’d wear to a ball, and then, after her first moon’s blood, the visions strengthened. She dreamed of one of her cousin’s handmaidens dying, and she did. She dreamed of a beautiful lioness for two nights straight, once where she ran across an infinite sea of dragon scales, twice when she grazed her golden fur in Rhaella’s grasping fingers, gazing at her with emerald eyes, shielding her from the world, and not long afterward Joanna became her lady-in-waiting. You are Daenys the Dreamer reborn, her grandfather told her, but that didn’t stop him from forsaking her. One night, she’d dreamt of a green, monstrous dragon that burned all before him with flames like jade, and after his rampage was done, he pinned her with his claws and savaged her. The morning after, it was announced that she and her brother were to be married. And on thelast night of her dying maidenhood, the eve of her wedding day,she had seen Summerhall burning behind closed eyes. A swarming firestorm, devouring the worldand claiming her soul. Butit was Aerys who claimed her in truth, because when he took her maidenhead on their wedding night,the visions abandoned her, just like Mama and Papa and Grandpapa had.

So why now? she wondered. How? Was it Daenerys? She had no visions while carrying Rhaegar or Viserys. But Rhaegar and Viserys were sons, not daughters. Perhaps I’ve passed on my power to her. Or carrying a girl-child triggers the new visions. Yet she had no visions when Shaena was inside her. But my sweet Shaena was born dead. She never truly lived. Daenerys lives. And Daenerys ... was a dragon.

Realization came to Rhaella then, and she nearly lost her breath. The woods witch, that godsforsaken, wicked, vile woman that’d given her father means to ruin her — was Daenerys the one she’d seen in her dreams, the hero born of Aerys and Rhaella’s bloodline? The Prince that was Promised? No, that’s Rhaegar. But Rhaella had not felt like this while carrying Rhaegar. She was happy with Rhaegar in her womb, yes — she and Joanna had spun fantasies of raising him together, making him lion as well as dragon, and he would be a valiant hero to protect Rhaella, bring the realm into a new era after his crowning. Most of that had come true, or was becoming true. There was a power in Rhaegar, one that men saw and beheld. And he knew his sister would live before Rhaella did. Power recognizes power. And yet ...

The opening door took her from her musings. It was a maester, his robes and chains speaking with every step he took. He sat down beside her bed, pale hair and purple eyes shining in the candlelight, and she knew him to be a son of Valyria.

“You are awake, Your Grace,” he said. “That’s good. You gave us quite a fright.”

“A fright?” For a moment, Rhaella did not understand, but then she remembered. I fell. Supper had begun, I was with Jaime, and I fell. She’d been tired, so tired. Aerys had took her, mauled and mangled her, and she’d evaded sleep for over a day, too anxious, too uncaring for the babe she was sure would die no matter how well she took care of herself, and the crackle of the torch’s flames had been the most beautiful lullaby. After that, there was darkness, and then, the dream.

“Where is my son?” she asked the maester.

“He’s been at your side faithfully, Your Grace,” said the maester. “He only left once, when I gave you a full examination and tended to you, to respect your privacy.” He paused. “Are you ... Your Grace, forgive me, but ... are you aware that you’re with child?”

“I am,” she said. With a child that will live. “And so is the king and crown prince.”

“The king is aware?” He tried to look neutral, but sheepishness overtook his face. “Your Grace, the ... your wounds ...”

“It’s all right,” she said, even though it wasn’t. It killed her to know that someone other than Sia had seen her. “Will the child slow the healing process?” She spoke in an unsurprised, neutral tone, to let him know the rapes were nothing new to her. With all the scars on her body, he should be able to tell, but she wanted no pity from him.

“It might, Your Grace,” he answered. “Your body is recovering from exhaustion and fever, along with your ... injuries. Pregnancy tends to prolong ailments or make them more severe, so it may take you longer to recover. Or mayhaps it won’t. Your fever was quite high, but it vanished just as quickly as it came. You may be on the mend quicker than we know. At any rate, I took the liberty of giving you stitches, as well as cleaning you, but it seems you had already had some treatments, internally and externally.”

“Yes. My maid tends to me during times such as this,” she said. She would be damned if Grand Maester Pycelle ever touched her after a burning night, and while this man seemed kind, she did not want him touching her either. “And unless it is something outside of her abilities, I would prefer her to continue doing so.”

“Understood, Your Grace,” he said.

“How fares the child?” she asked, and though she already knew the answer, her chest swelled with fear.

“I’m glad to say that the child is well,” he said, and to hear it said aloud made her want to weep and laugh all at once. “But you did collapse from exhaustion, as well as your injuries. I must advise that you remain on bedrest for the remainder of the voyage, for the child’s sake as well as yours.”

“And may I ask what that remainder is?” she asked. “How long was I asleep?”

“Nearly a day, Your Grace,” he answered. “And we should arrive in Dragonstone tomorrow, if the winds are fair.” He smiled at her, his lavender eyes just as otherworldly as hers, and she had to ask.

“Pardons, maester, but would you happen to know if you’re of Valyrian ancestry?” If he was not a dragonseed, a Targaryen bastard, then perhaps he was a Celtigar or Velaryon before acquiring his maester’s chains.

He nodded. “You’ve a keen eye, Your Grace. Before I forsook my surname for chains, I may have ridden a few seahorses.”

Rhaella considered that. Seahorses, the sigil of House Velaryon. Lucerys Velaryon was the Lord of Driftmark, and Aerys’s Master of Ships. When the rift between Rhaegar and Aerys became clear, Lucerys made it known that he supported Aerys. So why would Rhaegar have a maester born to that House?

“Maesters forsake their surnames, but not their first, correct?” she asked.

The Velaryon maester chuckled at that. “I am called Emrys, Your Grace.” He bowed his head at her, and she caught the make of the chains that glinted at his chest. Silver, black iron, bronze ... and Valyrian steel.

“I thank you for your service, Maester Emrys,” said Rhaella, “But I’m afraid I must disobey you just a bit. I will refrain from walking as much as I can, but I’d like to sit on the deck and enjoy the sun while watching my son and granddaughter play.”

“Understandable, Your Grace,” he said, “But please do try to be at ease as much as possible.”

“Prince Viserys and Princess Rhaenys will make me more at ease than this room ever could,” she said. “If you are done, I would like to see my eldest, now.”

Rhaegar came as soon as he was summoned. His indigo eyes bore into hers as he sat at her bedside. “I’m not certain whether to be livid that you put yourself into this position, or relieved that you’re well,” he said.

Rhaella sighed and rested her head on the countless pillows behind her, ensuring the covers hid her well. Her shift was thick and long-sleeved, but her wounded hands were naked. “Why not be both?” she said. “That was how I felt when I learned you were alive after the war started.”

Rhaegar sighed at that, his gaze falling to her belly. “Maester Emrys said you and the babe were well, but I would hear it from your tongue.”

“He speaks true. I am well, my love.” She smiled at him, as much as her tired muscles would allow. “And so is your sister.”

Rhaegar’s eyes widened, alight with confusion, but hope. He looked at her, questioning.

“I saw her, Rhaegar.”

Rhaegar frowned at that. Then, he understood. “A dream?”

She nodded.

“How is that so?” he asked. “You said your dreams left you after I was conceived.”

“They did,” she said. “But they’ve returned somehow. I don’t know if she sent it to me, or if it was my own power. But she was there, Rhaegar. I saw her, felt her. She told me the same thing you did, that she would live. You were right.”

Rhaegar reached for her under the covers, placed a protective hand on her belly. “I’m glad that I was.”

Rhaella kept her bitten hands hidden under the sheets and rested one on his, just as she did with Daenerys in her dream. Rhaegar’s hand was not soft as his sister’s was, but steady, strong, smooth. Rhaella felt every line of his skin, every vein, let his touch soothe her, let herself bask in the first true moment she had with her eldest and youngest child. She closed her eyes. Then, after peaceful breaths of shared silence, sleep tried to claim her, so she focused. There were many things she would ask of her son before her slumber.

“The children were not frightened, were they?”

“Rhaenys did not see, fortunately, and she knows nothing of your collapse,” answered Rhaegar. “But Viserys saw it. He was quite distraught, to say the least. I left him with Ser Jaime so that I could take you to your bed, and Sia gave him dreamwine. When he woke, I allowed him to see you.”

Rhaella thought of her Viserys crying for her, and her heart ached. “Oh, my Dragon. He does not know of the child, does he?”

“No. I thought you would want to tell him.”

“I do,” she said. “And I would like to see him when we are done.”

“It’s quite late,” said Rhaegar. “He sleeps.”

Rhaella looked out the little window her chamber had, and sure enough, the sky was pitch black. “He is not still upset, is he?”

“When he sat in here with me, he was coping. Ser Jaime kept him distracted otherwise.”

Jaime. He was with her when she fell, she remembered that, and now that she was more alert, she thought she recalled something else ... mailed arms catching her, holding her close ...

“Is he well?” she asked. “Ser Jaime?”

“More or less,” Rhaegar said. “He stopped you from falling, so I would say he did his duty well enough. He’s said nothing of it, but I know he worries for you.”

At his words, memories came to Rhaella. After the fall, but before she succumbed to slumber. Fire cradling her, darkness clouding her, sleep swarming in, but beneath that, screaming. Jaime’s screaming.

“He was terrified,” Rhaella said, more to herself than Rhaegar. Poor, sweet boy. “I ... I must see him.”

“You would only need to call him over the threshold to do that,” said Rhaegar. “He’s been guarding your door since you collapsed.”

Rhaella blinked. “What?

Rhaegar nodded. “I’ve ordered him to eat, and sleep. He obeys, but he only rests for an hour or so before returning to his post. I thought of ordering him away for good, but ... I think he feels he must do this. To atone.”

Rhaella’s heart skipped a beat. No. Gods, no. It can’t be. It couldn’t be what she thought it did. It couldn’t be. If it was, then Rhaegar would know, and he would not be so calm now. But what else could Jaime feel he needed to atone for, if for not protecting her when Aerys —

Rhaella closed her eyes, clenched the sheets with a fist that was out of Rhaegar’s sight. Then she looked at her son. “Atone for what?”

Rhaegar let out a quiet sigh. “He panicked when you fell. I suspect he feels that he did not act quickly enough, or steadfast enough. He is young, but he takes his station seriously.”

Or he suffers from guilt, and it consumes him, Rhaella thought. If that was what drove him to stand by her door, inflicting self-torture by depriving himself of true rest and food, then she must put an end to it. That, and the tension that stood between them.

“Does he stand guard now?” she asked.

“He was when I arrived,” Rhaegar said.

“Send him in when we are done,” she said. Before Daenerys gave her courage, the thought of speaking such intimacy with Joanna’s son would have made her want to hide. Part of her still did, but it was faint, a small wound bled from the broken-hearted princess that still lingered within her. She had been there for years, and always would be, most like. But she must be brave now.

“What will you tell him?” asked Rhaegar.

“To rest.” Amongst other things.

“He is not the only one who needs rest,” Rhaegar said, eyes examining her.

“Yes,” she said. “Your Velaryon maester told me as much. Why is he here, Rhaegar?” And why does he have a chain link made of Valyrian steel?

“To serve,” answered Rhaegar. “His family does not follow Lord Lucerys’s loyalty to Father wholeheartedly. Some of them support me. But Lucerys doesn’t know that. Any information from King’s Landing that he passes to his brother Emrys or any other Velaryon on our side will be given to me. This way, we will have news on Father, and the state of court.”

Rhaella nodded as unease and guilt pulsed through her. He doesn’t know I have Varys to give us information. But Emrys was infinitely more trustful than the Spider and his sinister blood. House Velaryon had been undoubtedly loyal to the Targaryens since the Conquest, and they were kin — true kin. But there were other ways to gain information besides this.

“That is not the only reason you’ve acquired Emrys,” she said, and it was not a question. Rhaegar had surprised her in the last year or so, when he strayed from Elia and started a war, but she still knew her son. He would not have allied with a House in the middle of a schism merely to acquire spies and nothing more.

“No,” Rhaegar allowed, “It isn’t. I will tell you his part in this, just as I will about Lyanna, when it is time.” He stood up. “I’ll bring Ser Jaime to you, but please don’t keep him long. You both need rest.” He leaned over her, kissed her forehead and nose. Rhaella said nothing and returned her son’s affection, caressing his cheek and hair; she was too tired to be frustrated with Rhaegar’s secrets. She watched as he turned his back to her, making for the door. His loose white hair swung behind him, and in the candlelight, it glowed like the sun.

“Rhaegar,” she said. He stopped, turned to her.

Rhaella looked into her son’s indigo eyes, held his gaze. Then she smiled. “Her name is Daenerys.”

Rhaegar smiled back, soft, warm. “It’s perfect,” he said. Then he left.

A few breaths later, Jaime entered. His stance was befitting of a knight, tall and straight, but it was stiff, as if he would shatter at the slightest touch. The white armor of the Kingsguard shined amber in the candlelight, nearly as gold as his mane. Lannister-green eyes stared into hers for half a breath, before he bowed. “Your Grace.”

“Ser Jaime,” she said. She sat up against her pillows, tried to appear as proper as one could while on bedrest. “It is good to see you. Please, sit.”

Jaime did as he bid, sitting as far back in the chair as he could. He gave her an awkward smile, then looked away, taking interest in the candles burning on the nightstand, and gods, he truly was a half a boy still, wasn’t he? His height and armor masked his youth at times, but here, so close to him, with nothing to distract her but flickering candlelight and the sound of the Blackwater lapping at the walls, she saw him. He should be six-and-ten, or seventeen, depending on when his nameday falls. She wouldn’t ask him which. It would embarrass him, most like.

“How do you fare?” she asked.

He looked at her then, blinking. Then he let out a little laugh. “Pardons, Your Grace, but shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

She smiled. “You should, I suppose. Ask away.”

Jaime laughed again, and it was less nervous this time. “Very well,” he said. “How do you fare, Your Grace?”

“I’m faring quite well,” she answered. “As is the babe.” Jaime was her guard. If anyone outside of her family should know, it was him.

Jaime’s eyes widened at that. He took in a sharp breath, looked at the candles again. He is thinking of how she was conceived, Rhaella knew.

She gave him a gentle smile, hoping to lure him from his thoughts. End the tension. I must end it. “Come now,” she said. “With the way I behaved the day we left, you must have at least suspected.”

He looked sheepish. “I did, Your Grace. I don’t imagine the smell of apple crumpets could fell you otherwise, but —” He stopped, flushed, smiled a little half-smirk that showed his nerves.

She decided to help him. “Apple crumpets are only a weakness for young princesses and pregnant women, I believe.”

The smile he gave her was more genuine, and his posture relaxed a bit. “Most like.” His eyes met hers, and this time they lingered, soft and sincere. “Congratulations, Your Grace.”

“Thank you,” she said, “And now, I would like an answer to my question.”

“How do I fare?” he asked. He picked at the curls of his hair. “Huh. I believe that question isn’t as simple as you’ve made it sound, Your Grace.”

“It isn’t?” she asked. “Would that be because you haven’t been eating and sleeping as well as you should?”

He looked away, gave her a half-smile that was stuck between nervous and playful. “Mayhaps.”

Rhaella raised an eyebrow at him. “And mayhaps you’ve been standing guard at my door ever since I fell?”

For a moment, Jaime said nothing. He shifted in his chair, then looked at her. “Is that not my duty, Your Grace?”

Rhaella’s heart was lost between warming and weeping. Look at your sweet boy, Joanna. “Yes,” she allowed, “And no. Ser Jonothor’s words were said for all the wrong reasons, but he spoke some truth. You cannot guard me or anyone else if your body is slowed, and lack of sleep and food would do that to even the strongest man. You must take care of yourself before you can do so for others. I’ve just learned that myself, the fool’s way. I would ask that you learn from my mistake.”

Jaime nodded at that, eyes downcast. “I understand, Your Grace.”

Rhaella looked at Jaime, watched as the candlelight made the spun gold of his hair shine like flame, and she knew she could avoid this no longer. “That was not the only reason I summoned you here,” she said. “There is something we must discuss.”

Jaime grew stiff again, but he did not cower from her. His eyes met hers, the green in them unwavering, determined. He was stone silent, waiting for her to speak, and he looked every bit like a condemned man at the gallows.

The hard blankness of Jaime’s face made Rhaella falter. He knows what I speak of, she thought, And he fears. Rhaella didn’t want him to be afraid of her. She would take his disgust, pity, even indifference ... but never that. For them to coexist as guard and charge — and ally, if he agreed to support Rhaegar’s coup — there could be nothing standing between them, especially not it — that unspoken beast they both shared, created by her screams and his duty. Every night that Aerys came into Rhaella’s rooms to take her, Jaime had stood guard at his king’s command. Rhaella knew that he heard her agony, and she knew that Jaime was aware of her knowing — otherwise this tension would not be so tangible. She thought that perhaps they could go on as if it never happened, but if he was neglecting his health to prove himself to her, then it could not be ignored. But as Rhaella stared into Jaime’s eyes, saw the panic he was so desperately trying to hide, she knew she could not be blunt with him. He seemed clever enough. He would understand.

“Ser Jaime,” she began. Part of her had wanted to say his name without the title, to rid them both of formalities, but she wasn’t sure how he would react to that. “I want you to know that you needn’t feel uneasy with me. We aren’t so familiar with each other, I know … but, you’ve made quite the impression on my family, and I trust their judgment. Rhaegar has a good opinion of you, as does Elia. You’ve guarded Viserys and Rhaenys wonderfully so far, and they’re quite fond of you already. They all welcome you with open arms, and I’m glad that they have. But you were sent here to serve me personally, and I would like to think I get along well with all of my personal servants.” She shifted in her bed, took a deep breath. “King’s Landing is behind us. But Dragonstone is new, and as such, I believe we should start anew with it. If ... if it is all the same to you ... I would very much like it if … we would become friends.”

Jaime was not as stiff as he was before, but the tension was still there, claiming his frame. To Rhaella’s relief, there was no outright rejection in his eyes, but what was there distressed her. The green of his irises were alight with confusion. Does he not understand why I would want peace between us? Rhaella looked at his ungloved hands. They were such lovely things, long and nimble but strong, calloused and scarred, golden-brown in the candlelight. She wanted to hold them, reassure him, tell him she bore him no ill will. You are Joanna’s son. I could never blame you. I could never hate you. Not ever. Not ever. But if she touched him, he would see her tainted flesh, and that would only deepen the chasm that divided them. Aerys had ruined this, as he’d ruined everything.

Before Rhaella could revoke her offer, Jaime looked down and away from her, his hair falling over his face. It was a shy move, nearly timid, and this was not his true self, Rhaella knew it. Once, she’d snuck her way into the training yards to catch a glimpse of him outside of Aerys’s domain. He’d been sparring with Prince Lewyn. Rhaella stood in shadow, but Jaime was all sunlight, dancing with his blade like it was one with his frame, effortless, teasing Lewyn with lighthearted japes. He’d been all grins, true, bright grins, and he laughed, loud and brash and joyful, as Joanna had done. It was nothing like he was now, desolate, quiet, uncertain.

As Rhaella watched Jaime think, she wished she had truly known him before the burning nights. There was a time where they may have had the chance to, and Rhaella hadn’t taken it. It was not long after he’d joined the order, the first and final time he’d guarded her and Viserys before Aerys stole him. She had been too shy to befriend him then, and he had been sullen and quiet, albeit respectful. She’d later learned that he’d wanted to compete in the tourney at Harrenhal, but had been sent away by Aerys instead. After that she did not see him overmuch, until the burning nights. The Jaime that existed before that first night of wildfire was lost to her, it seemed. But this Jaime was just as precious, if not broken. But Rhaella was broken too. She hoped he would say yes. She hoped he wanted to say yes, that he wouldn’t think he was being ordered to befriend her. She hoped that one day, he wouldn’t be so haunted by her and her husband.

Jaime sat up in his chair. He was frowning, but it seemed to be more directed at himself than her. Then he gave her a smile. It was small, but warm, and calm, and sure. “I would be honored, Your Grace,” he said, and he sounded so sincere Rhaella wanted to hug him. Instead, she sat up as well, leaned as close as she could to him without exposing her hands. She returned his smile, soft and open.

“You do not guard him, now,” she said gently, and she hoped he understood. “You guard me.” You are safe now. He cannot hurt us here. And if Rhaella had her way, he would not hurt them ever again.

Jaime looked at her then, really looked at her, and she knew he understood. The green of his eyes had grown soft, and there was something within them Rhaella had not seen before, something new, something fragile and rare and greater than all the magic in Valyria. Trust, all for her, and like her daughter’s heartbeat, Rhaella felt it. It pooled in her bones, her soul, and she cherished it like Rhaegar’s songs, like Viserys’s smiles, like water and air. The oaken doors that hung between them faded, dying darkness in dawn. As Rhaella stared into those eyes, those shining rays of trusting emerald, a sun rose within her, lighting her with truth. She had done nothing to earn his trust, but she would.

She would.

*/*/*/*

Deafening silence took the ship as the world grew grey, and Rhaella was home. She stood stiff, leaned over the railings, waited. With each breath, each wave, each tendril of wind, her freedom drew near, restless, lying within reach. It lied in gloom, in stone dragons sitting atop endless spires. It lied in heat and rain. It lied in volcanic mountains, melancholy, mist, magic that kissed and graced her, and when the scent of sulfur and brimstone filled her senses, Rhaella felt a presence. It was no creature, no man, but an omen. A herald. A beginning. Her heart beat like drums of war.

Jaime and Rhaegar sensed it too. They stood at her sides, watched as she did, saw the dark waters and smoking mountain, the shadow of the fortress.

Gods,” Jaime whispered.

Rhaegar’s eyes never left the island. He smiled, a faint pull of the lips. “Not quite,” he murmured.

“Not quite indeed,” Rhaella said. They stood in silence a little longer, bracing themselves. Behind them, all stood still, awaiting command. Nothing sounded but the sighing wind and yawning waters. Then, it relented.

“Sia has the children,” said Rhaegar, “And it’s a long walk to the port.”

Jaime considered that, then eyed Rhaella. “Do you need to be escorted, Your Grace?”

Rhaella looked at the two of them, Joanna’s son and hers, her Kingsguard and her King. They stood tall, strong, beautiful, silver and gold, lion and dragon. Jaime’s white armor shined against Rhaegar’s black and red gleam, and through the clouds and gloom, they were darkness and light.

“Yes,” she said, and took both their hands.

Notes:

This chapter was quite a struggle to write, so I would love to hear what you guys think of it. Was the dream ok? Did everything else work? :O I hope it was to your liking. Either way, it's always a pleasure to hear from you all. Every comment makes my day. :)

Chapter 8: Jaime IV

Notes:

So I think I have the coolest readers ever. So many of you guys left the most awesome comments on the last chapter telling me in detail how you feel about the story and characters so far. It really made my day, to hear all of your thoughts. Your wonderful comments and support are one of my motivations to see this story through! <3

Also, can we talk about how unexpected (but awesome) it is that you guys like Rhaella so much? :O I never thought that she would be as popular as Jaime, but it seems like she's captured all of your hearts. It's quite a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. Here's hoping she keeps you guys invested (along with everyone's favorite lion cub)!

Chapter Text

Dragonstone loomed over them in silent darkness, and Jaime was lost between terror and awe. Endless spires stabbed the glooming sky, clutched by the talons of stone dragons roaring at the clouds, their wings high in flight; hordes of them snaked around the fortress, still as death, staring, staring. Wisps of firelight glowed amber amongst the darkness, swimming through the air like an array of lost souls, trapped in the stone. Haunting, unholy, beautiful, all encased by massive black walls shaped like wings.

Even the island itself was unnatural. The sun had forsaken this place, if it ever even knew of its existence. The world was riddled with grey, smoke and haze sighing through the air like cursed breath. The ghost of rain clung to Jaime’s skin with a promise of more to come, and the soil beneath his feet was blacker than it should have been, hard like stone and warm, too warm. Behind the great fortress, a heaping volcano lived and breathed, the fumes of its sulfur and flame burned into the island’s scent. Nothing sounded but its faint hissing, and the waves of the Narrow Sea kissing black shores. The otherworldliness of it all threatened to overwhelm Jaime, and he knew why a Dornish woman like Princess Elia could never be at ease here. This was no place for speared suns, nor lions for that matter, and yet, as Jaime gazed into the island’s depths, he strangely felt as if he were home again. The Rock was vast and vibrant, cast in the purest of sunlight, and Dragonstone was smaller, born in shadow and smoke, but they both shared an aura of ancient mystique, beauty, strength, legend. It humbled Jaime, reminded him that there were many before him, and many who would come after. That there were things greater than himself.

A small bit of cheers took him from his thoughts, and he looked around — he’d been admiring what lied ahead instead of what was right in front of him. At the docks was a quaint little village and marketplace, and its people had come to welcome them. Some of them had the same pale hair as his charges, and he briefly wondered how many Targaryen bastards had been conceived in the centuries they’d ruled the island. The villagers paid him no mind, though — all their love was for Prince Rhaegar and his family. Their smiles were wide and beaming, brightened by joy and the utmost loyalty — nothing like the expressions of those who dwelled in King’s Landing. Just from their sheer glee, Jaime knew that Rhaegar had been good to his people. If he ruled the whole of Westeros instead of this one island, we’d all have those stupid smiles on our faces. The only thing preventing it was Aerys’s continued existence. As Jaime felt the happiness brimming from Rhaegar’s smallfolk, he hoped the king’s death would come sooner rather than later.

Rhaegar gave them a small smile, waved a hand out at them. The crowd parted for a small group of men on horseback. At the lead was a man who looked to be nearing forty. He dismounted, stepped in front of Rhaegar. His hair was dark, but his eyes were a bright purple. He bowed. “My Prince. Your Grace. I am glad to see you’ve arrived safely.”

“Lord Celtigar,” Rhaegar greeted. “It seems you’ve cared for the island sufficiently. Thank you for meeting us.” He turned to Rhaella. “Mother, this is Lord Luciyan Celtigar, my castellan.” Lord Luciyan bowed again at Rhaella.

Rhaella nodded at him. “You have my utmost thanks for tending to Dragonstone while my son was at court.”

“It was my honor and duty, Your Grace,” he said. “If it pleases you both, we shall accompany you to the fortress.” They brought horses to them as the servants removed a wheelhouse from the ship’s storage. Sia arrived with Rhaenys, Viserys, and the false Aegon, leading them to the wheelhouse. Rhaenys, who was ecstatic about being home, went in with no protest, but Viserys was hesitant, eying Rhaegar, Jaime, and their horses.

Rhaegar noticed. “Would you like to ride with one of us, Brother?”

Viserys looked quite tempted, but he looked at Rhaella, and shook his head. “If Mother is riding in the wheelhouse, then I should be with her.”

Poor lad, Jaime thought. Ever since Rhaella woke from her collapse, Viserys had been more protective than ever. And when he learns of the babe, he’ll be even more so, Jaime suspected. He just hoped the boy wouldn’t worry himself to death over it — Jaime was doing that enough for the both of them.

Rhaella looked at Viserys with loving eyes. “I told you I was well, dear heart.”

“I know,” Viserys said, but he grabbed her and led her to the wheelhouse anyway. Rhaella let him, looking back at Rhaegar and Jaime as they went. She met eyes with Jaime, gifted him a little smile that was free of Aerys and all he’d put between them, and for some odd reason Jaime’s ears began to burn. He hoped they weren’t red, and he hoped Rhaegar wouldn’t see.

The prince didn’t notice Jaime’s foolishness. He mounted his horse, motioned for Jaime to do the same, and they were off.

Rhaegar and Jaime rode behind the wheelhouse, steady and well-paced.

“How has the island treated you so far, Ser Jaime?” Rhaegar asked, and that damned little ball of nervousness rolled through Jaime, as it always did whenever his prince regarded him.

Jaime sat as straight as he could in his saddle, looked at his prince. He let out a little laugh. “As well as it treats any other outsider, I suspect.”

Rhaegar chuckled at that, soft and breathy. “I understand what you mean. My Elia feels the same. This place was changed by the Valyrians, so I imagine that only those of their blood would truly feel at ease here. Still, I hope you will not detest your stay here.”

“Oh, never that,” said Jaime. As unsettling as Dragonstone was, it was leagues and eons above King’s Landing. “The place is strange, but the people certainly aren’t. I’m honored to be here.” More than you could ever know.

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Rhaegar. “I must join my castellan in the front, and there will be a meeting between my lords and I when we arrive at the castle, but I hope that you and I will have a chance to truly speak soon.”

Jaime’s stomach did another flip, the millionth one since he’d been tasked to go to Dragonstone — at this rate, it could keep a bloody acrobat on its toes. “As do I.”

Rhaegar nodded. “Good. In the meantime, you should stay with the wheelhouse. The children are quite taken with you.”

Jaime smiled. “Not nearly as much as I am with them, my prince.”

Rhaegar seemed pleased with that. He left Jaime, trotted up beside the wheelhouse’s window to squeeze Rhaenys’s outreaching hand, and sped off to the front.

Jaime did as Rhaegar bid him, stayed guard by the wheelhouse. A sudden wind breezed through the island, and Queen Rhaella’s silver tresses waved out of the window like silken ribbons. As Jaime watched them dance in the wind, he knew that even without Rhaegar’s order, he would have stayed. She was so near him, and yet there was no fear, no tension, no shame roiling within him. She had freed him of that the night before, when she lay in her sickbed with a kindness he’d done nothing to earn. You do not guard him now, she’d said. You guard me. Jaime knew what she meant. In Aerys’s absence, Queen Rhaella was sovereign, and in the week he’d be away from King’s Landing, he answered to her. For a week, there was no order preventing him from protecting her. For a week, they were both free. For a week, they could even be friends.

Part of Jaime had not wanted it, the queen’s friendship. It would be a sweet thing to have, but once their week of freedom was over, it could easily be soured. Robert Baratheon and his rebels could not fight forever. They’d be done away with eventually, and then, Rhaella and Viserys wouldn’t have a reason to stay in Dragonstone, would they? They’d return to King’s Landing, to madness and fire and oaken doors, and it would destroy Jaime, to hear the screams of a woman who was not only his charge, but his friend as well.

As Jaime sat at his queen’s bedside, her offer running through his mind, shame and confusion had threatened to take him, disbelief that she had wanted to befriend one as false and useless as him, but the thought of hurting her with rejection overshadowed any and everything else. He’d looked up at her, saw the soft openness in her face, her true sincerity, and said yes before he’d known it — I would be honored, Your Grace, because it was an honor, that she’d accepted him, perhaps even forgiven him. An honor he did not deserve, but an honor still. Fear stirred through him, but then she’d smiled, and all his hesitance faded. With that kind, beautiful smile, the queen had doomed them both. Doomed them to nothing but more pain when the rebellion was done, heartache and shame, and guilt, oh, the guilt. But somehow, as he’d looked into those soft unearthly eyes, he felt as if a week was longer than eternity, that rebellions were unending. He had not been afraid. He had trusted her. And so, he would regret nothing.

Rhaella didn’t seem to regret anything either. She looked out of the window, waved a dainty hand at Jaime, a small but inviting smile on her face, as open and warm as it was before. Jaime smiled back as his ears burned again — must be the dampness of the island disagreeing with me, he told himself. Rhaella beckoned him with her hand, calling him to the window, but shyness took him, as it had ever since he’d been guarding these people, and gods, what was it about this family that made him so bloody awkward?

Rhaenys and Viserys had no time for Jaime’s hesitance. They poked their heads out the window too, peeping over the pale crown of Rhaella’s hair. The brightest grins graced their faces as they looked at him.

“Ser Jaime!” Rhaenys yelled. “Come here!”

Rhaella, absolutely scandalized by her granddaughter’s directness, frowned at her and grabbed her arms to get her attention. Jaime could only laugh as he rode his horse up beside them.

“Rhaenys,” she scolded, “We do not bark orders at anyone, especially our friends.”

“No,” Rhaenys said in agreement. “We roar them, because dragons roar, they don’t bark.”

Viserys shook his head. “No, Rhaeni. We only roar at our enemies.”

“If there’s any roaring to be done, I’ll be the one doing it,” said Jaime. “It is the words of my House, after all.”

His voice caught Rhaenys’s attention. She beamed at him. “Hello, Ser Jaime!”

“Hello yourself, my Princess.” Jaime said, laughing. “Your Grace, my Prince.”

Rhaella looked amused, but she would not relent. “Rhaenys, apologize to Ser Jaime for yelling.”

“I’m sorry, Ser Jaime,” said Rhaenys.

“You’re quite forgiven, my princess,” Jaime said, grinning. “But think nothing of it. I was raised amongst demanding women. To hear that again makes me feel at home, if I’m truthful.”

Rhaella let out that little scoff-laugh of hers. “You are referring to the Lady Genna, I presume?”

Jaime blinked at that. “In part, yes. Definitely. You know my aunt?”

“She is not a woman to be forgotten, no.”

Jaime was going to inquire further, but Rhaenys was not interested in this conversation. “Ser Jaime, are you going to take me and Viserys on an adventure today?”

Viserys brightened at that. “Yes, will you?”

“Of course,” Jaime said, smirking at them. Something about this place left Jaime as curious as Tyrion, and he was quite eager to explore it. He couldn’t be too daring with a pair of royal children in his care, but he’d be glad to have them with him all the same. They were one of the reasons his week had been sweet so far. “I’ll be your humble escort. If Her Grace permits it, that is.”

The children looked at Rhaella, hopeful. Rhaella frowned.

“I’m not certain about today,” she said. “We’ve only just arrived. They need to get settled in.” She looked at Viserys. “And you wanted to go to the water with me and Sia for our friend, remember?”

Viserys saddened at that. “Yes, I remember.”

Rhaella’s eyes softened. “Have you changed your mind about that, dearest?”

Viserys shook his head. “No, of course not. But ... if we don’t stay out long, I can make it in time for that. And dinner.”

Rhaella was considering it, but she still looked unsure. Jaime intervened. “I would return them far before nightfall, Your Grace.”

Rhaenys nodded at that. “Yes, he will, Grandmama.”

Rhaella chuckled. “Very well. But it will be the last one for a few days. Viserys has work to do with Sia.”

The children smiled, quite satisfied with their win.

“Do you want to come with us, Grandmama?” asked Rhaenys.

Before Rhaella could answer, Viserys shook his head. “No. It’s too dangerous.”

Rhaella looked like she wanted to laugh, but she held it in. “I thought dragons laughed at danger.”

“Not sick ones,” said Viserys.

Rhaella stroked Viserys’s cheek with a small finger. “I’m not sick, dear heart.”

Viserys wasn’t hearing it. “But you were last night. It’s too soon for you to venture out into danger.”

Jaime raised a brow at that. “Even with you and I to defend her, my prince? You must have quite an adventure in mind.” In truth, he did not want the queen to join them either. He didn’t know much about pregnant women, but he knew they needed rest, and Rhaella had already fainted once.

Rhaenys answered for her uncle. “Quite an adventure, yes! I want to show Ser Jaime and Viserys something. And you too, Grandmama.”

“I would love to join you all,” the queen said, “But I’ve many things to attend to today. Another time.” She looked at Viserys before he could protest. “I’ve been away from this island too long, sweetling. I must become reacquainted.”

And acquainted they were. The fortress met them with a dark allure, even eerier than it was from afar. The gates were massive, shaped like a dragon’s maw, with bars mimicking monstrous jagged teeth. Lit braziers glowed amber from beyond, making the gate look alive and roaring, ready to consume them in its flame. Rhaella and the children looked most pleased with it, all eager to enter the unnatural fortress. But it wasn’t unnatural to them, was it? Targaryens. He would never get used to them.

Jaime opened the wheelhouse and helped all of them exit. His horse was taken, and he brought them all to the brink of the entrance. Sia took the children to their rooms. That only left Jaime and Rhaella.

“You mislike it, don’t you?” she asked.

Jaime was about to lie, but he stopped himself. “I’m … not sure yet, actually.”

She hummed. “Well, hopefully after exploring, you might appreciate it. In the meantime, it should take an hour or so for the children to get settled in. While they’re doing that, I’d like for you to rest.”

Jaime didn’t know whether to laugh or be embarrassed. Rest. His queen was quite concerned for his welfare. Should it not be the other way around? She was right when she said that he could not guard her properly if he was unwell himself, but it was still so strange to know that she cared, and even stranger that he no longer cared to question why.

“I will rest as much as I can, Your Grace,” he promised her, “And I’ll return the children in time.”

Rhaella’s eyes met his. In the grey world, her amethyst eyes were the only splashes of color. It was such a striking contrast that Jaime nearly became lost in them, until she spoke again. “I know you will,” she said, and she sounded so confident in him that it was almost enough to break him, which was silly within itself. Remember yourself, Lannister. She’s only saying she trusts you to return them for bloody dinner, not guard them from true danger. She has no reason to believe in you. But her eyes were so soft as she looked at him, and she was smiling ...

Jaime looked away from her. “Well —” He cut himself off. His voice was shaky, for some reason. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I hope you settle in well, Your Grace.” That was still far raspier than it should have been. Damned weather.

She nodded at him. “You as well, Ser Jaime.” A group of castle guards found her, and she was gone.

Jaime stood at the threshold of the fiery gate, a lone lion before a dragon’s mouth. The amber light of flame gazed into him as much he did to it, more mesmerizing than frightening. Even here, amongst the soothing waters of freedom, there was fire. Not Aerys’s fire, no, but fire all the same. But what else could I expect from bloody Targaryens? Jaime laughed. Then, he entered.

*/*/*/*

“That way!” Rhaenys yelled, and, after remembering her grandmother’s scolding, whispered, “I mean ... that way.

Jaime suppressed his laugh. “And which way would that be, Princess?”

Rhaenys shifted in the seat she’d made of his shoulders and leaned on his right ear, pointing a chubby brown finger past his face. “That way.”

So they went that way, over dark plains of brimstone and to a patch of slumping willow trees. The fortress was still in sight, a watchful shadow in the distance, and though they were farther from the volcano — Dragonmont, the children had told him passionately — the smell of brimstone and sulfur was somehow even more intense. Jaime’s nose and eyes were irritated from it, but Viserys and Rhaenys were not affected. It left Jaime wondering if Targaryens truly did have dragon’s blood — these plains looked like what he imagined could be the giant, burning remnants of a dragon, scorched and smoking and moist like sweltered mist, yet the children inhaled it as if it were the clean air of Casterly Rock. Viserys, who’d taken the lead, looked back and saw Jaime wiggling his nose, and laughed at him.

“If you sneeze, you have to keep us out longer than you told Mother,” he declared.

Jaime scoffed. “If I sneeze, the two of you will be blown into the sea, and you’ll have more important things to worry about than breaking curfew. I doubt dragons like water very much.”

“Cats don’t like water either,” said Rhaenys. “So you couldn’t swim and save us.”

“He’s not a cat, Rhaeni,” said Viserys. “He’s a lion. There’s a vast difference.”

“Lions are cats,” said Rhaenys, as if she were a scholar tutoring a pupil. “They’re just bigger, that’s all. Ser Jaime is a cat too, like Balerion. But he’s yellow instead of black.”

Jaime plucked Rhaenys off of his shoulders so that they could rest. “It’s true,” he admitted as he took their lunch out of Viserys’s satchel. “My kin and I are more cat than human. We train ourselves to walk on two legs so that we may blend with the other Houses, but when we are alone in the Rock, we run on all fours, and spend our days jumping from the lowest mines to the highest hall. I even have fur and claws, but I keep them trimmed as to not frighten my peers. All Lannisters do it.”

Rhaenys let out a little gasp, her dark eyes huge with awe as she looked at him, but Viserys was skeptical. He frowned and shook his head, lost between denial and fear. “You ... you lie.”

“Lannisters lie,” said Jaime, giving the prince his most toothy grin, “But not about this.”

He still wasn’t convinced. “If you’re a cat, then how can you speak?”

“Because I’m a lion,” Jaime answered, “And lions are clever cats.”

“How has no one discovered this in the thousands of years that the Lannisters have ruled the West?” Viserys asked.

Rhaenys answered for Jaime. “Because they’re clever, Viserys.”

“And because we Lannisters have ensured our true nature is kept secret,” Jaime said. He huddled close to them and whispered, “I’m sharing the secret with you both because I trust that you’ll protect it, as I protect you. If we’re to be fellow adventurers, we can’t have secrets amongst each other, can we? But you must tell no one. If word ever spread, it would cause a great ... uproar, don’t you think?”

Viserys’s eyes became as wide as his niece’s. He blinked, and looked at Rhaenys. As their eyes met, silent speech flowed between them, just as it had with he and Cersei when they were that young.

After a decision had been made, Viserys looked back at Jaime, and nodded. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We won’t tell anyone.”

“My Prince and Princess are too kind.” Jaime bowed as much as he could while sitting down, biting his lip to keep from laughing. He hadn’t been able to fool Tyrion like this since he became a little older than Rhaenys. Viserys nearly caught me, though. Tyrion would want to show him all of my tells. He knew the prince would get along famously with his brother, what with their love of dragons and books and curiosity. Jaime hoped that they could meet, somehow. Perhaps Father wasn’t as angry as he was before, and he would allow Tyrion to visit him at court —

The mere thought burned away in wildfire. Tyrion could come nowhere near court, not while Aerys still ruled. Only a few hours on this bloody island, and already I’ve forgotten. And he’d only been away from King’s Landing for two days. If he’d gotten this spoiled this quickly, how would he survive returning after a week?

His lunch became quite a sullen affair after that thought. The children took no notice; they were too busy talking amongst themselves, speaking of childish, nonsensical things with such seriousness that it did lift his mood somewhat. When they were all finished eating, it was Viserys’s turn to decide their direction.

“But I wanted to show you something,” Rhaenys said, pouting.

“All right,” Jaime said, “Do you remember where this thing you wish to present is, Princess?”

Rhaenys scrunched up her little face, thinking hard. “No.”

Jaime picked her up and placed her back on his shoulders. “Then mayhaps you should let the prince take us somewhere while you think.”

“Mayhaps,” said the princess, in her best imitation of an adult, and with her permission, they resumed their adventure.

Viserys took them deeper into the patch of trees and into a ravine, shallow but long, filled with a sea of what appeared to be crushed coal that was divided by a narrow stream. Rhaenys squealed in delight, and Viserys looked as excited as she sounded.

“Could we play here?” Viserys asked.

Jaime inspected their surroundings. It was much warmer here than it was above, which was already warmer than it had any right to be, but he had forced himself not to think on that too much, and the children didn’t seem to mind. They were perhaps an hour or so away from the castle, there were no villages nearby, and the people here were loyal besides. It seemed safe enough.

Jaime set Rhaenys beside her uncle. “It seems like the perfect field for a battle, wouldn’t you agree?” he asked them.

Viserys’s eyes brightened. They were lilac, just like his father’s, but different, somehow. “What sort of battle?”

Jaime walked toward them ominously, eyes slit. “A battle ... between a rogue dragon and his prey.”

It took a moment for his words to register. When it did, they bolted.

Jaime let out his best Sunfyre roar — it’d been years since he’d done it for Tyrion, he was out of practice — and ran after them. He chased them through the stream, through black dust and warm earth, the sweating air beading on his skin like hot mist as he ran, their screaming laughter filling his ears, and gods, how could a sunless island be so warm, so bright? How could such sweet innocence live before his eyes after the white cloak blinded him? The day was naught but clouds, thick breaths of grey steam, yet Jaime ran in clearest summer. Only Cersei and Tyrion could make it clearer. Only —

Black powder burst through his senses, and he stopped running. One of them had picked up a clump of the soil — coal, ash, whatever it was — and thrown it at him. They’d missed his face by a mile, but his white chestplate was splattered with dry blotches of black. All he could hear was his own sneezing and the children’s hysterical laughter. He fell to his knees, reaching for the sky with an anguished fist, just like those horrible actors did in the plays his Aunt Dorna loved so much, when their characters died.

“Stained armor!” he croaked. “My one weakness!”

Viserys stood over his dragon’s corpse, giggling. “Dragons don’t speak, Ser Jaime.”

“Clever cats do,” said Jaime, smirking. He was about to make another retort when he saw that his princess was not by Viserys’s side. He sat up, looked past the boy’s shoulders. Rhaenys was a little ways behind, her brown arm blackened by the dirt she’d thrown. Her dark eyes stared into the soil resting in her tiny palm, and she was quieter than any three-year-old should be. Her brow was furrowed, but she didn’t look upset, merely deep in thought.

Jaime went to her. “Is there something wrong, Princess?”

Rhaenys’s frown deepened as she gazed into the soil. Then she closed her fist, let the ash fall, and looked up at him.

“I remember where to go,” she said, and she sounded so sure and determined that Jaime had no choice but to take her.

She led them through the ravine, downstream. As they ventured, the air grew warmer, thicker, still. Before, he’d heard water misting through the air, faint birdsong, hissing snakes, the distant crackle of flames, the sigh of the sea. Now, there was nothing. Nothing but black earth and grey skies, and the base of a colossal cliff as dark as Dragonstone Castle, glistening in a light that was not there.

Jaime stopped a good distance from the rock, waiting for Rhaenys to give him another direction. She gave none. Instead, she tried to wiggle off of his shoulders as Viserys let out a curious gasp.

Jaime frowned as he let the princess down, wondering what they could both be so excited about. There was nothing here but the outskirts of the woods, and the rock. It’s a pretty enough rock, he thought, but this can’t be what she wanted to show us, surely.

“Where are we going now, Princess?” he asked.

Both of the children looked at him in utter confusion.

“We’re here, Ser Jaime,” said Rhaenys.

“Yes,” said Viserys. “Can’t you see it?”

Jaime frowned, scanned his eyes over the area, and the enormous rock that stood mighty, proud, ominous. He couldn’t see it, because there was nothing to see.

He looked back at the children and laughed at them. “If this is your attempt at a trick, I must say it’s quite amateurish. I’ve much to teach you.”

Viserys raised a brow, expression stuck between disbelief and laughter. “I thought cats had good eyesight.” He turned and pointed. “It’s right there.”

Jaime played along. “Really,” he drawled as his eyes followed the point of Viserys’s pale finger, “You should try —” His breath vanished, silenced him. The world fell to black and grey flashes through his wild blinking. He rubbed at his eyes, looked again. And it was still there.

On the face of the rock was a cave entrance. Small, black, unassuming, open, existing where it had not existed before —

Jaime shook his head. No. I simply missed it, somehow. He blinked again, frowned, looked away, looked back. It was still there. As if it had been there all along. And it had been there, he told himself. The day here is dark as dusk would be anywhere else. I just didn’t see it.

“Do you see it now, Ser Jaime?” asked Rhaenys.

Jaime could only nod.

“I want to explore it,” said Viserys.

“Yes!” said Rhaenys, bouncing up and down. “Please, Ser Jaime?”

Jaime found that he had trouble saying no to his princess. He took them to the cave’s threshold, not a step further. He peered into the black depths of its mouth, searching. It was smaller than it appeared, more a cove than a cave, like a tiny pool carved into the rock’s feet. He could barely see anything, save for the silver-white glint of the walls, glittering as if sunlight was there to make it so. Somehow, the air was even more still inside, the silence of the cove deafening, the warmth it exhaled like that born of a waking fireside. It unnerved him, and Jaime Lannister would not be cowed. From the determined look of the children, neither would they.

“Looks rather small,” said Jaime. “But I’ll go first.” He took out his flint and lit the small lantern that was in Viserys’s satchel. Then he crossed the threshold, inspected the silent cove. It was even smaller than it appeared, empty save for its glistening walls. He beckoned the children in, and they came running, so excited to see ... well, nothing really, besides the —

Something sparked in the firelight, and Jaime’s sword was in his hand before he knew it. His eyes snapped toward the sight, searching, but there were only the walls. At the flicker of the lantern resting on the floor, the walls sparked again, as if they were alive and singing.

Jaime brought his lantern closer. With each step he took, the sparks grew, faster, brighter, happier. Jaime drew as near to the walls as he dared. He assumed it had been made of black granite, or even the fabled dragonglass, but now, so close, he thought perhaps not. The walls looked like no gem or stone he’d ever seen. Its pattern was serpentine, infinite patches of little cracked squares woven together like a hardened blanket. Outside of the lantern’s light, they glittered and glistened silver, and it was black, soulless black, darker than the fortress, darker than a moonless night. Unnatural as it was, it was familiar, somehow. Like ... snakeskin. Or —

Jaime wrenched himself back as if he’d been burned. “Children,” he said. “We must return to the castle.” Dragonglass, it’s just dragonglass, he told himself. He’d never seen dragonglass; perhaps it looked like —

“Viserys? Rhaenys?” He was louder than he meant to be, more desperate than he intended. Silence answered him. Silence where there should have been childish chatter, and two other people breathing.

Through sweltering heat, Jaime’s blood ran cold. No. He turned around. Nothing met him, save for glittering walls.

Jaime’s heart plummeted to his feet. He ran out the cove, snapping his head in every direction. More silence, more heat, more nothing, but that was impossible, because there was at least a mile of openness between them and the woods, and the cove was one room, and —

How did — where —

Viserys!” Gods, he’d lost them. He’d lost them. Rhaenys!

Nothing.

Jaime’s breath evaded him. It only came in shallow flutters, stabbing through his throat like tiny knives. Despite his trembling limbs, he managed to return to the cove so that he could retrieve his lantern — they were gone, and night would come soon enough, and he needed the light to search for them, gods they’re gone, they’re gone

“Viser —” It came out as a rasp, his raw throat stinging him, swallowed his speech. “Rhae —”

“What’s wrong, Ser Jaime?”

His heart ceased. Stopped, halted, faded. It was his spirit that spoke. “You,” he rasped as he looked at the prince and princess, standing in the cove. “How .... where did ...” The cove was one room. There was nowhere they could’ve gone. Nowhere.

Viserys and Rhaenys looked at him in concern and utter bewilderment. Viserys pointed behind him. “We were in there,” he said.

Jaime followed the finger, and there it was, his madness, laid out before him in a pathway guarded by two stone dragons. It was right near the main entrance for all to see. And yet it had evaded his sight.

Mad. I’ve gone mad. Cold numbness claimed his entire being.

Jaime knelt before his prince and princess, held them each by the shoulder. “It’s not my place to give you orders, I know,” he said. “But you mustn’t ever run off like that.”

They both looked so confused, and it was starting to queerly enrage him. Rhaenys blinked her pretty Martell eyes, big and innocent, and he could tell she was trying to understand. “But I only wanted to play with the monsters, Ser Jaime,” she said. “They told me to —”

Jaime scowled and snatched his hands off of them before he could squeeze too tightly. Mad as he was, he could never deliberately hurt them. But he had no time for her daydreams, not now, not when he wanted nothing more than to hack something to pieces with his sword — preferably a man of blood and flesh, one who would fight back with steel as sharp and laced with pain as his, one who would scream and bleed and die and take every ounce of Jaime’s weakness down to all seven hells with him. One who would do what Jaime could not. He dug his mailed fingers into the soft earth, stabbed and gutted it as his hands closed into fists.

“Rhaenys,” he said, far too drained to temper the sharpness in his voice. “It is the only order I will give you. Heed it.” He looked at Viserys. “Both of you.” He looked away from them before he could see any tears form in their eyes. The sight of that would kill him, and they would never be able to return to the castle on their own.

“Yes, Ser Jaime,” they said, and though he did not see the tears, he heard them. Somehow, that was so much worse.

Jaime stood up. “We must take our leave,” he said. “Prince Viserys, I would ask that you stay in front of me the entire journey.” Jaime saw the timid little nod out of the corner of his eye, and when he held the princess in his arms, she did not snuggle up to him as she used to.

*/*/*/*

The feast’s music was joyous and colorful, but Jaime barely heard it. He sat near the end of the table with Rhaegar’s lords, picking at what was left of his food. He’d forced himself to eat a good portion, remembering his queen’s orders to take care of himself. You cannot guard me or anyone else if your body is slowed, she’d said, but even with a full belly and rested eyes, he was still quite piss-poor at guarding, wasn’t he?

I’m mad, he told himself, for the millionth time since leaving that f*cking cove. I’m not blind. So I must be mad. He thought going away inside had protected him from Aerys’s insanity, but it had done nothing but prolong it. Out of the flames of King’s Landing, it had shown itself. In front of the children, no less.

Something in him wanted to worsen his lament — that wonderful self-loathing of his, come out to play, he suspected — and he looked over at the table of honor. The Queen and Crown Prince sat in large dark chairs in the middle of the table, watching the performers dance to celebrate their arrival. They were flanked by a handful of castle guard. They’ve already found replacements. Rhaenys sat on her father’s lap, entranced by the dancers’ vibrant ribbons, but Viserys, sitting next to his mother, looked quite distraught. Rhaella, concerned, leaned her head down, whispered to her son. Viserys’s worried eyes flickered to Jaime, and so did Rhaella’s.

Jaime looked back at his food. She knows now, Jaime thought. He’d snapped at children far beyond his station, then lost them. That could not go unpunished, he imagined. He wondered if Rhaella would send him back to King’s Landing early, and have Darry guard them instead. And mayhaps that was for the best. Darry was a c*nt, but he seemed sane, at least. Like I was once.

Once, but no more. Jaime was mad. He had to be. It was the only explanation for why he didn’t see that path in the cove, or even its entrance on that wide, flat surface of the rock. How else could he not have seen? For half a breath, Jaime thought of tales Tyrion had liked to read to him, odd tales of castles in the northern swamplands that moved ... but no, that was foolish to even think of. And just like a fool, he’d taken his frustrations out on the children. What an entry this will make in the White Book, he thought, bitterly. Ser Jaime Lannister, knighted by Ser Arthur Dayne and inducted into the Kingsguard at five-and-ten. Stood by as his king raped his queen. Lost track of his royal charges because he arrogantly wanted to explore a place in which he didn’t belong, and then yelled at them for his own folly. Wouldn’t Arthur be so proud?

Jaime felt eyes on him again. He looked up. Both of the children were looking at him, but when he caught their eye, they looked away. They fear me, he knew. Viserys doesn’t even fear his bloody monster of a father, yet he fears me. A flash of anger ran through Jaime at the boy, and that only made him hate himself even more.

Jaime gulped down the rest of his wine. He hoped Rhaella and Rhaegar would let him apologize to the children before they sent him away. He hoped he would be allowed to see them again, someday. They may not like him anymore, but they’d still given him something wonderful, something precious and pure, something he would keep in his heart and mind forever, use as a shield when Aerys burned and raped his way through his reign: peace. It was a debt of unspeakable quantity, and Lannisters paid their debts. He needed to tell them that. He needed them to know what they’d done for him, though he knew they’d be too young to understand.

The hall quieted as the feast neared its end. Jaime gave another glance to the table of honor. The royal family was gone, save for Rhaegar and Rhaella. His prince stood to address his lords and ladies.

“My daughter and brother have gone to retire, as will my mother and I,” he said. “But please, continue the festivities. We thank you for this most generous welcome.”

Everyone applauded, and the dancers gave an encore performance. Jaime sat in a daze, watching them wave their ribbons like it was a part of their bodies, much like he did with his blade. The graceful movements were near hypnotic. Aunt Dorna would love this, he thought. And Aunt Genna would spend most of her time rolling her eyes at Dorna’s enthusiasm. Aunt Dorna’s soft nature annoys her, yet she’s always the quickest to defend her against anyone else who would berate her for it, Jaime remembered, and he ached for home.

Perhaps he could send a letter to his dear Auntie Gen before he was dismissed from the island. Since he’d been in the Kingsguard, she and Uncle Gerion were the only ones who wrote to him; they were the only ones allowed, Jaime suspected, or at least, the only ones who did not care about Lord Tywin’s order to act as if he didn’t exist. Not too long ago, Uncle Gerry had sent him a box of trinkets from Essos, with a letter from Tyrion hidden inside the velvet lining. As happy as that had made him, he’d still hoped there was something from Cersei, but no. He hadn’t heard from her since their plan backfired so spectacularly. Jaime still couldn’t decide if that was a good or bad thing. He longed for Cersei more than he did his stolen innocence, but it would hurt him even more to only be able to read her words, and not hear them pool from her beautiful lips. He suspected she felt the same; it was why they’d rarely written to each other when he squired at Crakehall, after all.

Still. He wondered if he should write to Uncle Kevan as well, ask him to report to Lord Tywin of his wayward son’s failures. Mayhaps then, Tywin would think him punished enough, and allow his family to write to him openly. And mayhaps that f*cking cove really did move, just like in Tyrion’s storybooks.

“Ser Jaime?” It was more melodic than anything the musicians could muster. Lilting, soft, yet he heard it somehow. His stomach performed somersaults.

Despite the lump in his throat, Jaime managed to look up at his queen with a straight face. It nearly faltered when he saw her. The dark hall was all stone, black and dim, only lit by fire and moonlight, yet in the shadows, she shimmered. Her gown was the sheerest of silver, long and flowing, gleaming like starlight. The bodice dipped near the slope of her breasts, the entirety of her bare skin covered by a large necklace of amethysts shaped like diamonds, the same shade as her unearthly eyes. Silver-white tresses fell loose in rivulets, nearly to the tail of her dress that hugged her hips but fanned out near her feet. Like a mermaid, Jaime thought. Despite her winged crown, she looked like she was queen of the sea, not dragons.

Jaime swallowed and stood. It wouldn’t do to sit while his queen was standing. “Your Grace.”

Queen Rhaella folded her hands together, rested them on her waist. To Jaime’s surprise, she was not wearing gloves, but there was crystal lace covering most of the back of her hands, tied around her middle fingers. Her other fingers were hidden with diamond and amethyst rings that looked too big and heavy for her dainty hands. She was healed enough to leave her gloves behind, but not enough to show herself completely. But she was healing, and he’d seen it with his own eyes. That’s the one good thing that will happen to me tonight, knowing she’s safe. Hopefully in a few more days, she’d wear lace and jewels merely for fashion, and not to hide her husband’s marks upon her. Not that I’ll be able to see it.

“There’s something that I’d like for you to see,” said the queen. “Would you care to walk with me?”

“Of course,” he said, though he was quite confused. She didn’t look displeased with him, though if Viserys told her what happened earlier, she definitely should. Perhaps she’s keeping up appearances. She was good at that. And yet, as he went to her to offer his arm, the gentle look she gave him was only for him, not the crowd. She reached for his forearm, and for half a breath her fingers brushed against his wrist. Her skin felt more delicate than he could fathom. Like feathers, or silk, or —

“Ser Jaime?” she asked. He nearly jumped.

“Yes, Your Grace?”

Her eyes were light with amusem*nt. “I asked if the food was to your liking.”

“Right,” Jaime said, even though he hadn’t heard that at all. “It was quite good.” He smirked at her. “I even managed to uncover most of my plate while I was at it.”

She let out a breathy scoff-laugh. “I would prefer if the entire plate was uncovered, but that is better than nothing, I suppose.” She pulled on his arm. “Come.”

Rhaella led him through the dark hallways, down the serpentine stairway that was cradled by the tail of a stone dragon, and despite his Lannister hair, he did not look too out of place, what with his dark tunic and boots made of red leather. In the darkness, Rhaella looked celestial, moon and starlight shaped into flesh.

“You look quite lovely, Your Grace, if I may say so,” he told her, though ‘lovely’ was too weak of a word, he decided.

A tinge of rose bloomed upon Rhaella’s pale cheeks, or mayhaps it was only the firelight. Whatever it was, it was gone in a blink. She gave him a shy smile. “Thank you. You look handsome as well,” she said, though she looked quite taken aback by the compliment. Is she not used to others noticing her beauty? he wondered, but he knew the horrid answer as soon as the thought came to him. He’d heard that Rhaella Targaryen had been the court’s delight as a princess, and even in her early years as queen, but she became a shut-in after Aerys fell to madness. When she did show herself, she was so silent and shrunken that no one focused on her beauty, only their pity for her. Perhaps she really hadn’t heard a compliment in a long while. If she doesn’t plan on banishing me, I will tell her every kindness I think of her while I’m here. As he’d never thought one bad thing about her, he certainly had plenty to share.

They neared a side entrance that led out to a private beach. Rhaella handed her crown to a servant, then led him to the threshold. Their feet met soft white sand, and the sea sang and crooned. From the other side, Rhaella’s beautiful foreign maid, Sia, came walking out with the young prince. The maid looked forlorn, and Viserys looked even more distressed than he did at the feast, holding something in his hand that Jaime couldn’t identify from so far away. They did not see him.

Jaime frowned, about to question Rhaella, when she released his arm. “Stay here,” she said, gently.

So Jaime stayed. Rhaella joined the maid and prince by the edge of the sea. Viserys held his mother, buried his face in her belly, and Rhaella held him back, stroked his hair, caressed his cheek, and those torturous memories swarmed him again, struck him like lightning, and he remembered how it felt to be that small, to be held that way, have the ends of long tresses kiss his face, be warm, be safe, be loved, but then he blinked, and the embrace was over. Viserys bent down, putting the thing he was holding on the water. It floated. A little boat, made of ... wood?

Sia kneeled by the boat with what seemed to be a flint in her hand. The boat lit aflame, glowing like a little orange star as the sea took it away. The three of them held hands, watching as the boat drifted and burned. Viserys was speaking, but Jaime couldn’t hear what he was saying; he could only see the sadness in his face. When the boat surrendered to the flames, wisped into ash, Rhaella kneeled down to level with Viserys, and kissed his forehead. She told him something, and the boy nodded. They embraced once more before Sia took him away.

When they were gone, Jaime went closer, figuring it was appropriate now, but then, Rhaella moved. She took off her slippers and walked into the sea, deep enough for it to encircle her calves. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, waved out her silver arms, smiled. Glowing white hair danced in the breeze as moonlight beamed down upon her, sparkling black waves swaying around her, and she looked like some sort of water nymph, calling the sea and wind with her power, basking in the moonlight that strengthened her, and he really should not have let Tyrion read all of those bloody stories to him all those years ago.

Jaime let her have her moment of peace, let the moon and sea soothe her. Then he went to her.

“I thought dragons wouldn’t like water,” he said.

Rhaella kept her back to Jaime, turned and lowered her head. Her eyes were open, and the smile was still on her face, soft, yet sorrowed. The wind blew her hair over her face like silken veils. “I am no dragon,” she said, and it sounded much too sad to be a jest.

“Your Grace —” Jaime stopped himself. He was about to ask if she was well, but she obviously was not.

“I am only queen when I need to be,” she said. “Outside of those times, you may call me Rhaella. If you like.”

She really wants friendship. She meant it, truly meant it. Jaime’s stomach did another flip. “As you wish,” he said. “Is it one of those times?”

The queen considered that. “I’m not sure,” she said.

“All right. For now, you’ll be Your Grace, just to be safe.” He smirked at her, though he knew she couldn’t see it. “For future reference, Jaime can most certainly be said without the ‘Ser’ prefacing it. Especially when I’m off duty. Not that you needed my permission not to say it, but, since we were on the topic and all ...”

Her smile widened a bit, and for a breath, she looked happier. Then she sobered. “Did you enjoy the vigil?”

“I had an inkling it was something like that,” Jaime said. “Who was it for, if I may ask?”

“Ryn,” Rhaella said. “The serving girl. The reason why we’re here.”

Jaime tensed. Ryn. The serving girl, the so-called assassin, the one who burned while he rested in Mother’s arms, smelled her scent, heard her sweet song. He hadn’t known her name, until now. “I wasn’t aware you and the prince were close to her.”

“We were,” Rhaella said. “I was. To her, and her mother, and her grandmother. And Aerys burned her anyway.”

Jaime’s hands trembled. He closed them into fists. If she wanted to talk about it, then he would listen. “Yes,” was all he could say.

Rhaella lifted her head and stared into the sky, her face blank. “You’ve not lost someone to the fire yet, have you?”

“No, Your Grace.” Not yet. Not ever.

“It was my first time,” she said. “My first friend. But Ryn was not the first to die. She is yet another pile of ash amongst countless others. And I am not the first to mourn, either. I am one among many. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, suffering under he who swore to protect them, defend the realm. And they are powerless to stop it. They can do nothing.” She frowned, as if she were thinking, contemplating something. Then she turned to him. “But we can.”

Jaime’s heart skipped a beat. What is she about to ask of me? Whatever it was, it was treasonous. Hope swelled within him, hope and happiness and fear. Does she want me to kill him? For half a breath he considered it, and he knew that if she asked it of him, he would. For her, and every scream that rang from behind oaken doors, he would. His debt to her far outweighed his vow to Aerys, and Lannisters paid their debts.

Rhaella stepped out of the water, twisting at her fingers. “I was going to propose this with Rhaegar present,” she said. “But he does not understand. Not like we do.”

Jaime stared at Rhaella, watched her with unwavering eyes. He figured Rhaegar only knew of his father’s abuse to the realm, and nothing beyond that. And he figured Rhaella was the one shielding that truth from him, as she tried to shield Viserys.

“No,” Jaime said. “He doesn’t.”

Wind pulled at Rhaella’s hair, and the sea rolled and sighed, lapping at her feet, as if it were calling her back. “And he never has to,” she said, “Not if he is King.” She drew closer to him, locked her Targaryen eyes with his Lannister ones. “Ser Jaime,” she said, and his name had never sounded more powerful. “Will you join us, to make that so?”

Jaime gazed into the eyes of his queen, she who’d birthed his king, saw the determination, the strength, the trust, and when he said yes, it was the truest thing to ever fall from his breath.

Chapter 9: Rhaella IV

Notes:

Sorry for the long wait! Life got in the way. :/ I also didn't want to update until I had a backlog of chapters, but that didn't work out.

To make up for this, however, I wrote the longest chapter yet, so hopefully it's a nice trade for the wait. I hope you guys like it. Most of you say you like Rhaella, so hopefully 12k words of her POV will be a treat for you. :) And, hopefully, the long chapter will tide you over until the next update, which might be a while. I hope you guys understand!

Please tell me what you think of this chapter (if you want to, of course). I love hearing your thoughts and feedback. Thanks for all your support and awesome comments! Best readers ever <3

Chapter Text

The slumber was better than Rhaella had expected it to be. She sat up in bed, shifted, waited for her body to scream and cry, but it was only a faint whimper. The Velaryon maester, Emrys, had tended to her well, it seemed. Her stomach didn’t threaten to fell her with morning sickness, and she was lighter than she’d been since she’d learned she was with child. Daenerys knows that I believe, now. She is content. And so was Rhaella. No longer was she trapped in Aerys’s grip, his claws, his teeth, his madness. Now, she was cradled by the Narrow Sea, and the hallowed ground of her ancestors that warmed her blood like no other. Now, her daughter was well, and her son would be king, and Jaime was allied with their cause. Now, she was free. And our other allies await.

Rhaella pulled the covers back, placed her feet on the floor. There were no knives in between her legs, no pain save for a dull ache that would leave her within another day or so, most like. She stood, walked over to her vanity with an ease she hadn’t felt in days. When she met eyes with her reflection, she thought she might have seen Rhaella Targaryen, seed of Jaehaerys and Shaera. Not much, only a glimpse. A whisper, flickering underneath the wraith that Aerys had made. Healing, rising to the surface. She is here, Rhaella knew. As Daenerys grows, so does she.

She sent for Sia and a bath, and they both came swiftly. Her friend came in with buckets, stone-faced and silent, filled up the tub with no greeting or reprieve. Rhaella sighed, undressed herself, and sank into the water. It was beautifully burning. She is not angry enough to submerge me in cold water, at least. Rhaella could not object to Sia’s upset. She’d deprived herself of proper rest, and pushed Sia away when she had only wanted to help. Her collapse must have truly frightened Sia. Rhaella knew she would be worried out of her mind, had the tables been turned.

“Forgive me,” Rhaella said as Sia bathed her. “I was foolish, I know. I am sorry.”

Sia kept washing her. “I follow my queen’s commands,” she said, flatly.

Rhaella sighed. “It will not happen again, I swear it. She ... I dreamed of her, Sia.”

Sia stopped washing. “Her?”

“My daughter.” It felt so good to say it aloud. So good.

“What sort of dream?” asked Sia.

“The old sort.”

Silence.

“The sort that died with your maidenhead?”

Rhaella nodded. Before any of them could continue, a knock on the door stopped them.

Sia helped her out of the tub, gave her a robe to put on. As she went to the door, she gave Rhaella a glance, and she knew they would speak more of her dream later. She opened the door, and Viserys came in, carrying some of Sia’s supplies. When he saw his mother, he held her tight enough to choke a bear, but her body did not protest from his touch as it had before. She relaxed into his embrace, his softness.

“Such a strong embrace, for one who saw his mother only last night,” she teased. Ryn’s vigil had taken a toll on Viserys, and so Rhaella had stayed with him in his chambers, held him in her arms until he fell asleep.

“I wish you had stayed with me,” Viserys said, “So I could protect you.” He buried his face in her belly, unknowingly nuzzling his sister. I should tell him now, Rhaella thought. Though that may make him worry for me more than he already is. Yet, as Rhaella saw her youngest children so close to one another, she knew it was the right time to tell him.

“I am well, my dragon,” she told him. “And I will take care of myself from now on, I promise you.” She gave Sia a quick glance, letting her know she had not just said that for her son’s benefit. She stroked Viserys’s hair, eying his cleaning supplies. “I’m glad to see you’re taking your punishment seriously.”

A little blush took his cheeks. “Yes. I helped Sia wash your dress, and I have to clean the tub once she drains it.”

Rhaella nodded. “And now you understand how precious she is, don’t you?”

Sia laughed. “He’d better.”

“I do,” Viserys said, smiling at her.

Rhaella caressed Viserys’s cheek and looked at Sia. “Perhaps you should see to Rhaenys, Sia. There is something the queen must tell her prince.”

Sia gave them both a curtsey and a knowing little smile. “Of course. But if the prince has finished speaking with Her Grace before I’ve returned, he should not forget to join me for more cleaning.”

Rhaella chuckled. “I would never allow it.”

When Sia was gone, Rhaella sat her son on her bed, and put her hands on his shoulders. “Tell me, dear heart,” she said. “Why do you think I was ill, on the ship?”

“Rhaegar said you were tired,” Viserys answered.

“And I was,” said Rhaella, “But that isn’t all. I was more tired than usual because my body isn’t just mine, anymore.” She smiled at him, ran a hand over her stomach. “A babe grows in my belly.”

Viserys gasped. “A babe?”

“Yes,” Rhaella said. “You’re going to be a big brother.”

Viserys’s eyes widened, brightened and shined like two pink gems. “Truly?”

Rhaella smile widened. “Truly.” Truly. This would be no miscarriage, no stillbirth, no remnant of death swelling within her. This was Daenerys, and she was real.

Viserys bounced on his seat, beaming. “Oh! I can’t wait for him to grow up, Mother. We’ll be the best of friends, like Rhaegar and Arthur. I’ll teach him about dragons, and I’ll show him how to ride, and ... and ...” His face scrunched up, as he tried to think of other things he could do with his brother.

Rhaella laughed. “Would you be disappointed overmuch if you were getting a sister instead?”

His excitement did falter a bit. “A girl?” He considered that. “Well, that’s not so bad. I’ll just have to be more careful with her, that’s all.”

“You could still teach her about dragons,” Rhaella said. “And show her how to ride.”

“Yes,” Viserys agreed. “And I’ll protect her. Just as I protect you and Rhaenys.”

Sweet boy. Rhaella caressed his cheek. “I know you will, my love.”

Viserys eyed her belly. “Is she really in there?”

“Yes, she is,” Rhaella said, amused. “Just as you and Rhaegar were once, and like Rhaenys and Aegon were in Elia’s belly.”

Viserys gasped in wonder. “When is she coming out?”

“Eight moons or so,” she answered. “And you mustn’t tell anyone of it for now.”

“Why?”

Because we’re at war, she thought. Because it is too early, and I will not tempt fate by announcing a new heir so soon. She’d done it once before, with a babe that ended up dying in her womb. Never again.

“It should be kept secret, for now,” she answered. “Only a few here know: your brother and Elia, Sia, Maester Emrys and Ser Jaime. Only speak of it around them. Do you understand?”

Viserys nodded, eyes still alight with happiness. “Why can’t Sister come out now?”

“Children need time to grow, my love,” said Rhaella. “And her name is Daenerys.”

“Daenerys,” he said, as if he were coming acquainted with it. “Like the princess who married into House Martell.”

Rhaella hummed. “The very same.”

“Elia would like that,” he said.

“She would,” Rhaella agreed. “Do you like it?”

Viserys nodded eagerly. Then a thought came to him, and his face grew serious. “Are you ... is she hungry? Do you need to lie back down?”

Rhaella held his face, brushed back a stray silver-gold curl with her thumb. “I am fine, dearest. Carrying a child is a state of being, not an affliction. I must not overexert myself, of course, but I am not made of glass, and neither is your sister. Fret not.” She kissed his forehead and stood up, then made her way to her closet. She held up two gowns that Sia had put in the front for her. One was draping velvet and doeskin. The other was lace and snakeskin, long, with a high neck that was quite serpentine. Both gowns were the colors of their House.

“Which one would you prefer I wear?” she asked Viserys, though she already knew his answer.

Viserys pointed at the snakeskin gown. “That one,” he said.

Rhaella put the gown on the bed. “I don’t even know why I asked,” she teased.

“You should already have known which one, Mother,” he scolded in his best stern-but-gentle voice that Ser Barristan used with him and Rhaenys and Rhaella when she was young.

Rhaella feigned a cough to hide her laugh. “And why is that, my love?”

“Because we are dragons,” Viserys answered, and he had never sounded so sure and proud. “Always.”

Rhaella looked at the gown that sloped over her bedcover. Its black snakeskin glittered in the firelight. She wondered if it truly did look like dragon scales. Only her ancestors would know, but for Viserys’s sake, she hoped it did. And she hoped she would pass for a dragon, when she put it on. I am meeting with our allies. I must look the part. I must show them the queen, and not the wraith. I must support my king.

“Dragons, always. You are right,” Rhaella told her son, because she knew that he was. Even if it was impossible. Even if it hurt.

When Sia returned to dress her and style her hair, Rhaella was ready. She took a deep breath, let the black and red envelop her. It is nothing, really, she told herself. Only a meeting about tactics. After the last string of her corset was tied, the last bit of her hair braided, she stood, but dared not look in the mirror. In Sia’s hands, the dragons on her silver crown twinkled.

“You look beautiful, Your Grace,” said Sia. “Beautiful and fierce.”

“Like a dragon,” Viserys reminded them.

I am no dragon. Rhaella said nothing, only smiled faintly. A knock on the door saved her.

“Your Grace?” It was Jaime.

Rhaella nodded to Sia, and she went for the door. Beside Rhaella, Viserys shifted nervously. That’s right, Rhaella remembered, Something happened between them yesterday. From what Viserys told her, Jaime thought he’d lost them, and had gotten a bit stern as a result. She could tell that Jaime was on edge at last night’s feast, most like from fear that he would be punished. That certainly would not be the case. She planned on speaking with Jaime about it after the meeting with Rhaegar was done, as well as settling things between Jaime and the children. It had warmed her heart to see them together, and she would see it again.

Jaime stepped in her chambers, slow and a bit wary. He gave her a small bow.

“Your Grace,” he greeted. He saw Viserys, gave him a hesitant little smile. “My Prince.”

“Ser Jaime,” Viserys said, though he didn’t sound as excited as he normally would.

Jaime looked back at Rhaella. “You summoned me, Your Grace?”

She had, after he’d agreed to join her and Rhaegar. “Yes,” she said. “Rhaegar is holding a meeting. I would like for you to join us.”

For half a breath, his eyes flashed with surprise, and a bit of fear, but he reined in his emotion. He nodded. “Of course,” he said, clear and steady, but his posture was stiff. Not as stiff as it was when they spoke on the ship, but stiff nonetheless. He’s never delved into politics before, Rhaella realized. Jaime joined the Kingsguard at fifteen, and before that, squired in Crakehall, or so she’d heard. Tywin never truly had the chance to hone him as Rhaella knew he would have wished to.

Rhaella herself was a novice in the game of thrones — she was no Queen Alysanne, to be so loved and respected by her husband that he would share his rule with her. Even before his madness, Aerys rarely sought her input on stately affairs. In the few times he did, however, he would always listen. And the last time he listened to me, it ruined us both, Rhaella knew, but no, she could not think of that now — that had been eons ago, and it could never be undone. If I look back, I am lost. Regardless. Despite her so-called experience, she knew she was barely any better at this than Jaime was. We shall learn together.

Sia put Rhaella’s crown on the vanity, then held Viserys’s hand. “I shall take the prince for more cleaning, if it please you, Your Grace.”

Rhaella nodded, and then there was only she and Jaime. The white metal of his armor flickered amber in the candlelight. Rhaella wondered if she should have told him to don Lannister colors, or at least attire appropriate for such a meeting. Somehow, she doubted he would have appreciated such an order. He seemed to take great pride in being a Kingsguard.

“Thank you for coming,” she said.

He gave her a little smirk. “I can hardly deny my queen, can I?”

Rhaella chuckled. “No, I don’t think you would. Especially not now.”

“Now,” Jaime said, as if he were just remembering that he agreed to commit treason with her the night before. “Right. Is that what this meeting is about? If I may ask.”

Rhaella nodded. “Our king wishes to discuss what to do next.”

Jaime blinked. “Our king,” he repeated with a whisper laced with so many things — disbelief, reverence, relief. Then he laughed. “I’m sorry, it’s just ... it hasn’t really sunken in yet. King Rhaegar.” He said the title as if he were testing it on his tongue.

“I know what you mean,” she said. “I’ve known for some time now, and I’ve yet to become truly accustomed to it.” The thought of her son ascending the Iron Throne, her freedom growing closer with each step he took made her heart jump like racing rabbits. It’s Jaime’s freedom too, now. She imagined that they were more anxious about the coup than Rhaegar himself was.

She was about to offer her arm to Jaime, when she saw that her fingers were bare. The bite marks on some of them were faint, but still there. She went to her jewelry box, pulled out a few rings and put them on. She turned to give her arm to Jaime, but then she saw his face. He was frowning. She drew closer. “Jaime?” she asked. “What’s wrong?” He hasn’t seen the marks, has he?

Jaime blinked up at her, surprised, though Rhaella didn’t know why. Oh, she realized, I didn’t call him Ser. She hadn’t even thought to omit the title — she just did. Perhaps it was because in this moment, he was not a Kingsguard, a knight, but a boy. He looked so young, with his face drawn in worry. Joey used to have that same little frown on her face, the same amount of crinkles in her brow when she was fretting. Jaime shrugged and bit his lip, worried and twisted at it, and gods, it was nearly identical to the way she had done it — bottom lip half inside his mouth, the right side of his teeth sinking into it.

Rhaella placed her hands behind her back to hide the trembling. You cannot think of her now. You cannot. She was meeting with her king. She had to focus. She would be useless to Rhaegar if she lost herself to mourning. Was it foolish to befriend her son, to invite this pain upon me? Rhaella wondered, but no, she could not think of that either.

Jaime saved her from her thoughts. “It’s nothing,” he answered softly. He looked away from her. “I was only thinking of ... His Grace. Does he know I’ll be there?”

Rhaella frowned at that. Does he fear Rhaegar’s rejection? “No,” Rhaella said. “I haven’t had the time to speak with him. But remember,” she added as he saw the worry in his eyes, “It was him who requested that you accompany us here in the first place. He wants you there. Do not worry.”

Relief washed over his features before it was taken by an arrogant laugh. “Lannisters don’t worry. We plan.” He offered her his arm. “Come now, Your Grace, before they start without us.”

Rhaella smiled at him and took his arm. They made their way out of her bedchamber and to the foyer of her chambers. The plush softness of her bedroom rug turned to hard stone, and she laughed at the feeling of it brushing against her bare feet.

“I forgot my shoes,” she told him. He laughed too and let her go. She went to the vanity, where they were hiding underneath. She sat down, slipped them onto her feet, then noticed the crown, glinting silver on the mahogany wood. She took it, set it upon her head carefully. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jaime watching her.

“You look radiant, Your Grace,” he told her, and by the gods, he sounded like he truly meant it. “Very queenly.”

“Oh.” Rhaella played at the lace on her sleeves. She didn’t look at him, hoped her cheeks didn’t look as fiery as they felt. This is the second time he has flattered me. Why? She didn’t ask him, though. She stood up and faced him. “Thank you,” she said, then reached out her arm to him before they could dwell in his kindness any longer. “Let’s go.”

Jaime held her. Despite his armored hand, his touch was gentle. Rhaella wrapped her fingers around his mailed arm. Outside laid the start of a beginning, treason and games. But Rhaella was not afraid. She looked into the mirror, eyes taking in the sight of red and black and silver. In the reflection, there was not only Queen Rhaella, but Princess Daenerys, ready to join their king.

*/*/*/*

“Where will you begin?” asked Luciyan Celtigar.

Rhaegar’s eyes loomed over the Painted Table, the map their ancestor used to conquer the realm. What they were doing was nowhere near the feat of Aegon’s, Rhaella knew, but a stream of pride ran through her all the same, at the sight of her son planning his tactics with the ancient table.

“The Reach,” Rhaegar said. “Mace Tyrell is bound to be anxious. He is the strongest supporter my father has, and yet he nearly stands alone. He may yet believe he has better odds rallying for us. I will convince him.”

“How?” asked Celtigar. “He’s not like to switch sides without some sort of promise. What are you prepared to give him in return for his alliance?”

Nerves spiked through Rhaella’s skin at the thought. “The Tyrells only have power because our family gave it to them,” she said. “Mace knows that. His lady mother, however ... she is brazen enough to ask for a favor of unreasonable proportion.” Marriage. The Queen of Thorns would definitely take this as a chance to make her grandson Willas the husband of a princess, or, most like, her new granddaughter a queen. Rhaella did not want marriage forced upon her grandchildren, as it had been with her and Aerys. If she had her way, all of her babes would be able to choose their mates. Rhaenys and Daenerys especially. Aegon was the future king, and Viserys a prince. Men. Even after marriage, they would have freedom, but wives did not have that luxury. If a woman’s husband was cruel, marriage was endless torture in which she could never escape. Rhaella would not condemn her sweet girls to the punishment she’d been sentenced. And she would not see any of the children betrothed before they weren’t even old enough to understand what marriage truly meant.

Rhaegar understood his mother’s wishes. He let out a quiet hum. “I’ve taken Lady Olenna’s ambition into account. That is why I already have favors ready to offer before she can propose her own. I’ll promise to lessen the Reach’s taxes, and take one of Lord Mace’s younger sons as my squire, when they are old enough. I will offer to enlist one of them in my Kingsguard, if they desire it. And I will give Lord Mace a seat on my Small Council. A fair offer.” Fair enough in return for no marriage agreements, he left unsaid. He met eyes with her for a brief moment, and she gave him the slightest nod to show her gratitude.

“Fair enough, yes,” said Emrys Velaryon. His maester’s chains clinked as he spoke. “But perhaps not enough, I fear. Robert Baratheon’s army still outnumbers ours, even with the Reach’s immense force.”

“As of now, yes,” Rhaegar allowed. “I plan to treat with the few Stormlanders that have not followed my cousin. Once I have them and the Reach secure under my banner, it should be a great enough force to sway those loyal to my father to our side. Perhaps even bring others out of their neutrality.” His eyes met Jaime’s, and everyone knew what he was going to ask next. Jaime especially, judging by the stillness of his frame. Rhaella’s own breath had faltered.

“Ser Jaime,” he began. “Is it possible that your lord father would call his banners in my name if the odds are in our favor?”

And there it was. She’d known that it would come to this. Tywin. But it had seemed so far away, and now that the idea of allying with him was voiced in a war council, it could no longer be avoided. Part of her wished that Jaime would dismiss the idea, that Tywin would never follow any Targaryen after Aerys stole his heir and deprived his daughter of being queen, that she would never have to see Joanna’s husband again, but that was the weak half of her, that wraith, that afraid, broken thing that was conceived by the wood witch’s prophecy, birthed at Joanna’s last breath, and flowered on the first burning night. She has no place here. Rhaella bit the inside of her cheek, focused on the weight of the crown on her head, thought of the child growing in her womb. This is Queen Rhaella’s domain. Queen Rhaella, and Princess Daenerys.

Jaime’s lips quirked in an easy smirk, but the green panic clouding in his eyes betrayed him. “Anything is possible, Your Grace,” he said, “But I wouldn’t rely on it. My father is a lion above all else. He will do what he can to preserve the West. If remaining neutral will achieve that, then there is nothing anyone can say or do to sway him.”

Especially not you, Rhaella knew, and her heart ached for him. She’d seen the look in Tywin’s eyes when Aerys declared Jaime as his guard, saw the cold green flames within them, blazing stronger than any wildfire Aerys could ever conjure, knew the rage in them, and, most frighteningly, the betrayal. Tywin and Aerys had stopped being brothers the moment Aerys shamed Joanna at her own wedding, but even beyond that, even after Duskendale, a connection still lingered between them. The faintest ribbon, tethering them to one another, thin, frayed at both ends, stretched and stretched, weeping threads of an eon’s worth of brotherhood, of friendship. Holding on, even after everything. When Aerys stole his heir, it had finally snapped. Tywin Lannister had short patience for mercy, and long, long memories. He would never forgive Jaime for serving Aerys. Nor would he forget what Aerys had done. And though Rhaella was sure it would delight him to see Aerys dethroned by his own son, he would have no use for Rhaegar unless he made his daughter Cersei a queen, his future grandson a king. With Elia and her children, that could never be so. Were it not for them, Rhaella would support the match, just as she had before, when it had been proposed to her, all those years ago. It was what she and Joey had fantasized of as they lay in the glow of morning, young and stupid, delusion hazing over them like the sweetest smoke. Grandchildren, with manes as golden as the sun, eyes shining amethyst. Purple lions ... but Aerys had ruined that, as he’d ruined everything, and she would think of it no longer.

Perhaps Tywin would settle with being named Rhaegar’s Hand, she thought, but it was fleeting. Tywin’s pride would not allow him to accept only that, and nothing else. Not after the way Aerys had treated him. He would want Jaime back. And even with that, he would still want Cersei to be queen. Would Jaime even want to go back? Be dismissed from the guard? Were it to happen, he would be the first to leave the guard without dying. Even with Rhaegar’s honorable blessing, it would be a shameful thing.

Rhaella glanced at Jaime. His fingers were grazing his cloak, and though his face was still, calm, his eyes were far older than they should’ve been. He was thinking about it too, Rhaella suspected, and he would not want to leave, but was this truly a life for a boy of sixteen? Seventeen? Burdened with fear, shame and fire? Loveless, childless for all eternity? King Rhaegar would not hurt Jaime as King Aerys had, and yet the damage had already been done. Should they treat with Tywin, and he requested Jaime returned to him, perhaps she would advise Rhaegar to allow it. Being Tywin’s heir could not be easy, no. But at least then, he would have a future. But should it not be his choice? And did she truly want Joanna’s son taken from her so soon, when they were just starting to —

Her son saved her from her thoughts. “There must be something that could sway him,” he murmured, eyes boring into the table, and Rhaella knew they were sharing the same thought. He did not seem to like the idea much, either, because he did not voice it. “At any rate, we still need to keep the rebels occupied while we treat with the Tyrells, and the Stormlanders.” His eyes met Rhaella’s. “Can we still depend on that from you, my queen?”

“Yes, Your Grace. It should arrive soon.” The distraction. Varys had given her the latest news on it before they left. His ilk was on their side. For how long, she did not know. But she did not intend for them to betray her before she betrayed them.

Rhaegar nodded, and said nothing more. Part of Rhaella was surprised that he had not questioned her on who these people were, and where and how she’d gotten them, but she knew her son trusted her. She only hoped she had not ruined that trust with her scheming.

Lord Celtigar looked as if he wanted to inquire further, but Rhaegar spoke first. “It is agreed then. I will leave for the Stormlands in a day or so, perhaps a bit longer if the ships need more preparation. Then, the Reach. Lord Celtigar, your time as my castellan was most appreciated, but now that the Queen Mother is here, she can fulfill the role while you accompany me.”

Rhaella’s heart pounded like a thousand drums, yet somehow she was able to speak through it. “I would be honored, Your Grace,” said the queen. Through her hard, clear voice, she heard that wretched wraith whispering underneath — You should not choose me, I can’t, I am no ruler, I am nothing, I will fail you, please don’t, I can’tbut she knew better than to listen to it. She had never ruled anything in her life, no, but she had sat in her grandfather’s lap as a child, ages before this one, in those short, beautiful years before he’d forsaken her, and he had told her how the realm lived and breathed. She’d seen the change he wrought, the laws that had nearly heralded the dawn of a new age, a step toward equality for the lowborn, those that had served them for so long. And she’d witnessed Tywin Lannister undo every law with his heartless cunning, years later. She’d seen him play their brother like the prettiest lute, plucking at the strings of his jealousy, his arrogance, his impatience. She had learned from them both, her kind king Grandpapa, and her brother’s cruel Hand. She had survived King’s Landing, that stinking cesspit of shrouded enemies and brown-nosing users, and Dragonstone was an island of the sweetest serenity. She had survived the demon invading Aerys’s corpse, and Rhaegar had asked this of her so that he may focus on ridding her of that creature, once and for all. This was nothing, only the beginning of the end. She could do this. She would do this.

Rhaegar nodded at her, a softness in his eyes for her that only she would be able to see. “We will have a feast tonight to announce your ascension,” he said. “If no one has anything to add, then I would say this meeting has come to a close. Are there any final thoughts?”

Jaime had one. He looked at Rhaella and Rhaegar. “I would remind Your Graces that I was only meant to escort you to the island, not stay. Would it not look suspicious if I’m here for too long? How am I to stay here without alerting King’s Landing?”

Rhaella raised a brow, and allowed herself a little smile. “Well, surely you couldn’t leave with those shattered legs of yours.”

It only took a moment for Jaime to understand. His eyes lit with mirth. “Yes. Also my ruptured lung and crushed liver.”

Maester Emrys sighed. “I could send the raven now, Your Grace,” he said, eyeing Jaime. “Withdrawing the lung and liver reports, of course.”

Rhaegar hummed, his lips pulled in subtle amusem*nt. “See that it is done. In the meantime, Lord Celtigar and I will make preparations with our naval captains at the docks.” He nodded at Jaime, and inclined his head in a slight bow toward Rhaella. “Your Grace. Ser Jaime.”

Rhaella gave him the same slight bow royalty gives to one another, subtle and poised, despite her jumping heart. I am only Queen Mother, yet he bows. Rhaella tried to remember if Aerys ever bowed to her. Once, at the Summerhall vigil, and twice, when they presented baby Rhaegar to court. Two decades ago. And it was done more out of his respect for her as his sister and wife, not his peer. Rhaegar did it because he saw her as his equal. My son.

Rhaegar and the other council members left, leaving Jaime and Rhaella alone. Despite the meeting going rather well, Jaime still seemed somewhat troubled. It wouldn’t have been noticeable to Rhaella if he wasn’t mimicking her again. Joey. The slight chew of his lip.

Before she could even begin to respond to that, Jaime raised a brow at her, a little smirk playing at his lips. “Now then. Was that so terrible?”

Rhaella blinked. “What do you mean?”

Jaime shrugged. “I mean that you attended this meeting somber and worried, but you ended it as the ruler of an entire island. Forgive me, but it seems as if you fretted over nothing.”

Rhaella laughed. “Pardons, ser, but I don’t recall being nervous about it.” Outwardly, anyhow.

Jaime gave her a look of feigned concern. “You nearly forgot your shoes, Your Grace.”

Rhaella scoffed. “If I did, it may have been because I was being hurried by a lion dressed in white.” She offered him her arm as he chuckled. “Come. Walk with me. You can continue to place your past nervousness onto me as we go.” She took him out of the room and led him down the torchlit hallway, giving her crown to a servant as they went. It was a pleasant walk, quiet but not awkwardly so. They left the tower and made their way outside, and Dragonstone entranced her as it always did. The scent of ancient smoke and brimstone laced with sea-salt awakened something in Rhaella’s bones. Watery air kissed her skin, hot and steaming like breath, and she almost felt like she could grow wings and fly.

“I just love it here,” she told Jaime. The words left her before she’d known it.

Jaime let out an amused scoff. “Targaryens. His Grace said that only your people could appreciate this place.”

“Valyrians,” Rhaella agreed. “But is it so terrible for a Westerman?” She did not want him to be uneasy here, but judging by Elia’s reaction to the island, there was nothing for it.

Jaime eyed the world around him, suspicious and wary, and Rhaella knew he wouldn’t answer her question. “The Stormlands are welcoming to every man, wouldn’t you say? And the Reach. Have you been there before?”

So that is what troubles him. He wants to leave with Rhaegar. “Never the Reach,” she said, “But I visited the Stormlands many times, when I was younger.” When Steffon was still alive. She remembered the last time she and Aerys visited their cousin in his homeland, back when they were all young and oblivious. The Stormlands had been crisp and green, misty from all the rain, but that had not stopped their games. They’d escaped the watchful eye of Ser Barristan with Steffon’s tricks, and then, Rhaella fled from them. She’d hid from her brother and cousin, underneath vines and draping leaves, muffling her giggles with her tiny hands. But they had found her, as they always did, and they chased her until her laughs left her breathless. On their way back to Storm’s End, Steffon had carried her on his shoulders, strong and broad even then, and he had teased Aerys with any and every jape he could think of. And Aerys hadn’t raged at the insults, hadn’t demanded him thrown into fire for his insolence, nor had he seen enemies hiding in every blade of grass. He’d simply laughed, and returned the jests. After that, they’d spent the journey plotting on how to placate Ser Barristan. Rhaella had been so happy that day, so content with the two of them. So safe. They are both drowned now, Rhaella thought. Steffon to the sea, and Aerys to madness. And now, our sons are at war.

The ground grew softer as they made their way to the beach. Not the one where she’d held Ryn’s vigil, but a more private one, cradled by the dark walls of the fortress. Stone dragons watched them from above, their wings looming over the lip of the wall, their eyes on Rhaella as if they could truly see; the princess that still lived within her hoped that they could. She led Jaime onto the sand, not too near the water, but close enough. The sand here was black, far darker than sand should be, finer too, and in the soft, dreary sunlight, Rhaella could have sworn she saw it glitter. It should have frightened her, Rhaella knew. This entire island should. And yet, as her feet kissed the sand, she felt more at home here than she ever did in King’s Landing. She knew it was magic, and she wished she truly understood it. Uncle Aemon would. For a moment, she wished that he was here with her, basking in charred earth and smoked air, not surrounded by endless frost. No Targaryen belonged so far North.

And no Lannister belonged here. Jaime followed her faithfully, walked through the sand as she did, feigned being at ease, but his eyes were hard and watchful, as if they were on enemy territory, as if he trusted nothing but her and himself. Perhaps he would be better off leaving with Rhaegar, Rhaella thought, sadly.

“I think you would like the Stormlands well enough,” she told him. She may as well speak of it; he would not on his own. “It has as much rain as Dragonstone, but it is vast and open, as I imagine the West to be. And there is much to be learned in the way of politics if you attend Rhaegar’s treatments with the Stormlanders, as well as the Tyrells.”

He laughed at that. “So I’m to be whisked away with His Grace, am I? I don’t recall being invited to come along.” He grabbed the hilt of his sword, almost absentmindedly, in the same way Rhaella might twist at her fingers. “Which is just as well. I’m his sword, not his Hand. I doubt our king will need that while meeting with the Tyrells. And if he does, Arthur will be there, won’t he?”

He said it with such a flippant disinterest that Rhaella almost believed him. Are all Lannisters so great an actor? she wondered, but then she knew that was not so. Genna was too blunt to perform, Kevan too honest, Gerion too uncaring, Tygett too angry. But Tywin was a master at hiding the monster that lay within, disguising it as mere ruthlessness, and it had taken Rhaella far too long to be able to tell what Joanna was truly thinking behind her flirting, clever mask of japes, arrogance and allure. It rarely cracked, and only then by her cruelty, or her heartache. Eventually, Rhaella grew to understand the mask. But it never became fully clear for her, only faint.

With Jaime, she suspected that she would have been fooled, had Rhaegar not told her that Jaime had asked Rhaegar to let him fight at the Trident, before Rhaegar decided not to meet Robert there. He had told her of it because he knew it would please her, and it did as much as it worried her — the thought of Joey’s son and hers, side by side at long last … but risking their lives in the process. Still, even though it had warmed her heart to hear it, she had not been surprised. She’d seen how Jaime reacted to Rhaegar’s presence, and she felt his sincerity and determination when she asked him to join them. He would follow her son anywhere, whether it was to battle or to court. And Rhaegar knew that. So why not invite Jaime during the meeting? There had to be a reason. Rhaegar had a reason for everything he did.

“Arthur, or Ser Gerold, or Ser Oswell will meet him, I suppose,” she told him. “It wouldn’t be fitting for a king to go unaccompanied by at least one Kingsguard.” And yet, he’d returned to King’s Landing without any Kingsguard protecting him. He’d left Arthur somewhere that he would not tell her, Gerold and Whent as well. That secret would have frustrate her, were she not hiding her alliance with Varys.

“Nor is it for a queen to be unguarded, I imagine,” Jaime said, and he sounded like he didn’t know whether to be bitter about that or not. Rhaella tried not to be hurt by it. He was a young knight, with an expert swordhand and a thirst for battle, adventure. He would not find that with an old, pregnant queen, and children far too young for him to truly befriend.

“You are right,” she allowed. Perhaps that was why Rhaegar didn’t ask Jaime to come with him, so that he may protect her and the children. But they were safe here — as safe as any place during war could be, anyhow — and Rhaegar was king. He needed a Kingsguard with him on the voyage to the Stormlands, regardless of whether Arthur or another guard was meeting him there or not. And Jaime wanted to go. I will speak to him of it after the feast. For now, she had another matter to deal with.

She took Jaime closer to the water and kneeled where the seafoam kissed the shore. It muddied her dress, but Rhaella didn’t care. It was the queen’s dress, not hers, and the meeting was over.

“Did you know that Viserys used to like water?” she asked.

Jaime frowned in confusion at the change in subject, but he answered. “I did not, Your Grace.”

Rhaella grazed her fingers through the water. It was warm, warmer than it should be. “He outgrew it before you joined us, I think. He never learned to swim, but he loved to walk through the water, splash and play in it. About a year or so after my cousin Steffon drowned, I took Viserys out to a private beach not too far from the Keep while I had a picnic with my ladies in waiting. He had the merriest time. Running, jumping, laughing. And then, all of a sudden, he fell face forward in the water, just as a wave was rolling in.” She could remember the fear convulsing in her belly as she saw him being drawn out further to sea, the rawness of her throat as she screamed. “Ser Barristan saved him, of course, but that didn’t stop me from screaming at him, and one of my ladies, who had seen him go out too far, but said nothing. I even yelled at Viserys, even though he wasn’t really old enough to know better.”

Jaime gave her a knowing little smile. “And you would say that this is comparable to when I yelled at him and Rhaenys yesterday?”

Rhaella shrugged. “It is a close enough comparison. I yelled because I was frightened that what happened to my cousin would happen to my son. And because Viserys is my son, I want him to be safe. For a moment too long, I thought he was lost to me.” She stood up and touched his mailed arm, wished it was bare, if only for this moment. “Viserys and Rhaenys are not your children, but they are your charges. It is normal that you fear for their lives, and react when you think them in danger.” And you were a child when you said your vows, and half a child now. This is a heavy burden for one so young. She would not dare say it aloud, though. He would take it as condescendence, or worse, pity.

Jaime eyed her dainty hand on his strong arm, face unreadable. Or perhaps Rhaella did not want to read it. She let him go, gave him a reassuring smile. He is not your son, she scolded herself. He is a knight of the Kingsguard. You must treat him as such.

Jaime returned her smile, an easy, mischievous grin specifically made to lighten their conversation. “As my queen says,” he said, “Though I’m not certain the children would see it that way. If someone told my younger self that Uncle Tygett yelled at me for jumping over bannisters and giving beets to my grandfather’s lions because he cared, well ... something tells me I would not believe them.”

Rhaella frowned. “Beets?”

“Oh, yes,” he said. “They’re quite revolting. The scum of the earth, actually.” He said it so seriously — as if the nastiness of beets were fact, not opinion — that Rhaella could not help but chuckle.

“Then why feed it to your lions?” she asked.

Jaime shrugged, grinning. “So I wouldn’t have to eat them, of course. I used to hide them under my shirt, wrapped up tight in napkins. Then, I’d sneak into the lion’s cages and throw them over. Rolly and Surly didn’t seem to mind the extra dinner. As a matter of fact, I’d say they appreciated it.”

Rhaella couldn’t wipe the smile from her face. “The lions were named Rolly and Surly?”

“Not originally,” Jaime said. “Grandfather Tytos named the lion Lann, after our House’s founder, except that Lann was clever. His leonine namesake was quite the opposite in terms of intelligence. And plump. He so loved to laze around and use his fat rolls for pillows, so my sister and I renamed him accordingly. And Joy was anything but. She was as mean as they come, so we gave her a truer name. In hindsight, it would have been funnier to keep her name as it was, but we were too young to understand irony, you see. At any rate, she was gentle enough when you fed her.”

Rhaella’s smile widened. “Why would Lord Tygett mislike you feeding them?” she asked. “I don’t imagine he would be overly concerned with your diet.”

“Oh no, he didn’t care about that one bit,” Jaime said. “And I suspect if Rolly hadn’t keeled over while feasting on those beets, he would have continued not caring.”

The laughter bubbled, reaching the surface in such a way that Rhaella couldn’t hold it in, and she was full on laughing.

Jaime gave her a scandalized look. “Your Grace,” he said, “I am shocked by this uncouth display. The untimely death of such a glorious creature — especially one that is my House’s own sigil — is nothing to laugh at. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you knew little in the ways of politics. Sort of like how Rolly knew little in the dangers of overeating.”

Rhaella laughed even harder. It feels so good. She’d forgotten what it was like, to truly laugh. Her stomach was jumping, but in a good way, and her smile was wide and open. There was salt in her eyes, but the warm, happy kind. The kind she did not have to hide, that she could let fall with no shame. The kind that had grown rare when Rhaegar was still small. The kind that had forsaken her completely after Duskendale.

“I’m — I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes. “It’s — oh.” She took a deep breath, calmed herself, looked up at Jaime. When she saw the exaggerated disapproval on his face, she burst out laughing again. Soon Jaime couldn’t keep up his act, and he was laughing along with her.

“That was — that truly is awful,” she told him afterward, still smiling. “I’m sorry for your lion. He sounds like he was very sweet.”

“Never fret, Your Grace. I will forgive the insult. Though I do wonder what His Grace would think of you.”

She let out a breathy, tired chuckle, then beckoned him to walk with her again. “He would regret my partnership, most like.” She looked into his bright green eyes, alight with mirth, glittering like the most flawless, mischievous emeralds. “What happened to Surly, dare I ask?”

“Oh, she’s still alive,” he said, “But nearly ancient, meaner than ever, and not a lover of yours truly, I’m afraid. She blames me for her husband’s loss too, you see. I wouldn’t be surprised if she and Uncle Tygett conspire against me, one day.”

Rhaella giggled. “And it would serve you right.”

More feigned offense. “Now, that’s unfair. I didn’t make him eat the food.”

“No, you simply threw food at an animal that quite obviously loved eating. Do you ever regret what you did?”

Jaime shrugged. “I do miss the old fat cat, of course. But then I think of the taste of beets, and I don’t feel as bad.” He made a sour face. Rhaella laughed again.

“You’re awful,” she said. “Remind me to never let you feed Balerion.”

He grinned. “If you make sure the kitchens never serve beets when I’m around, you’ve nothing to fear, Your Grace.”

An encasem*nt of dark willows met them, swaying in the breeze. Rhaella took Jaime through a narrow pathway between them and near the other side.

“You’ve nothing to fear, either,” she told him, gently.

Jaime looked at where she’d taken him, and blinked. Beyond them was a lagoon, a deep, beautiful blue that sparkled like starlight. At its cool mouth sat Rhaenys and a servant, with a handful of guards standing watch in the distance. They hadn’t seen them yet.

Jaime eyed Rhaella. “You tricked me,” he said, though he didn’t sound too upset about it. As a matter of fact, he almost sounded impressed.

Her smile was sheepish. “I did. I hope you aren’t cross with me.”

Jaime watched Rhaenys laugh and play. Then he sighed dramatically. “Ser Jaime Lannister, the Young Lion of the Kingsguard, is hesitant to speak to a three year old girl. Wait until Arthur hears this.”

Her smile turned into a small grin. “I won’t tell him.” She pushed the willow leaves back and stepped through, and waited for him to follow. He did, but he didn’t look too confident. Rhaella understood that. She’d been just as nervous when she had to apologize to Viserys, after he’d nearly drowned. Seeing Jaime’s discomfort made her almost reach for his hand, but she felt the guards’s eyes on them. With them watching, Rhaella dare not touch him in such a way — castle guards, seeing the queen holding Tywin’s lost heir as if he were a child? That would humiliate Jaime. And even without the guards, you could not do that. He is a knight of the Kingsguard. Rhaegar’s Kingsguard.

Rhaella reached for his arm instead, held him more appropriately. “Come now,” she said to him, her smile gentle. “It will be easy to sway her; she adores you. Just give her a simple apology. Make her laugh, as you’ve made me laugh.”

The lightest of reds burned through Jaime’s golden-brown skin. He let out a short laugh and looked away from her. “Somehow I doubt she’d appreciate dead cat stories.”

“Most like,” Rhaella said. “But you’ve other things to say, I’m sure.”

Rhaenys spotted them. “Grandmama!” she yelled, all the way near the mouth of the lagoon.

Rhaella sighed at her loudness. “It seems you’ll not have to begin anything, after all.” She and Jaime made their way to them. Rhaenys ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, then held onto Rhaella’s knees. Rhaella picked her up and held her close, burying her nose in her dark silken curls. She smelled of citrus, sharp and sweet. Her grandmother Lorei smelled the same way. Rhaella wondered how much Dornish perfume Elia had put in Rhaenys’s luggage.

Rhaenys held her back, her little hand holding Rhaella’s cheek. “Did you come to play with me?”

“Not this time, dearest,” she said. “I have to return so that I may prepare for tonight’s feast. But Ser Jaime could play with you for a while. Would you like that?”

Rhaenys gave Jaime a quick, nervous glance, who was standing back in the same distance most Kingsguards did to allow for privacy. She shook her head.

“I can’t,” she said.

“Why not?” Rhaella asked.

Rhaenys brought her face up to Rhaella’s ear. “Because Ser Jaime doesn’t like me anymore,” she whispered, and it sounded so sad Rhaella held her closer.

Rhaella stroked her hair. “Never that, my love. He likes you very much. Why don’t you speak with him and see?”

Rhaenys looked a bit uneasy, but she agreed. Rhaella held her tighter, then let her down; she was starting to get tired. Still, she would hold her whenever she could. It would not be long before Rhaella’s belly made it impossible to carry anything, and Rhaenys was growing everyday.

“Go on then,” she told her. “Say hello. It is only polite.”

Rhaenys did as she was bid, and made her way to Jaime. Jaime met her halfway, the most charming, handsome smile on his face, as if he hadn’t been nervous moments before. He has inherited her mask, Rhaella thought, and she didn’t know whether she found it sad or endearing.

Words were said between the knight and princess, out of Rhaella’s earshot. At first, Rhaenys looked a bit reserved, but after Jaime kept on, Rhaenys became more open, giggling and nodding at whatever Jaime was saying. Rhaenys reached for Jaime’s hand, and they were friends again, just as Rhaella knew they would be. Rhaenys was far too fascinated with Jaime to not forgive him, and she suspected Viserys was the same. There had been times when Arthur scolded Viserys, and Viserys still loved him best out of all the Kingsguard.

Rhaenys and Jaime walked over to Rhaella. “Ser Jaime and I are going to look for seashells!” she told Rhaella.

Rhaella gave Jaime a quick approving look, before smiling at Rhaenys. “That sounds lovely. Will you find an especially pretty one for me?”

“Yes!” she said, beaming.

Rhaella leaned down and kissed her granddaughter’s forehead. As good as it was to see Jaime with Rhaegar, it was just as sweet to see him with the children. “Enjoy yourselves,” she told them. “Ser Jaime, be sure to return her in half an hour or so. You all must get dressed for the feast.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” he said. He gave her a quick bow and took Rhaenys further down the beach.

Rhaella turned and saw the servant there, standing humbly with her hands across her stomach. She gave Rhaella a deep curtsey.

“Your Grace,” she greeted.

“Hello,” Rhaella said, eying the woman, and she recognized her. She was small and pale, with brown hair so long it touched her calves in a thick braid. Her face was pretty enough, but in a plain, typical sort of way. She had a look that would blend well in a crowd, the perfect features for a spy. That must be why Varys chose her.

“Forgive me, but I do not remember your name,” she told the girl.

“I am called Alyx, Your Grace.”

“Alyx. Tell me, how is the babe?” The child was no kin to Rhaella, but he was in her care, and he was pretending to be her grandson. She had to see to him while he was here.

“He is a sweet child, Your Grace. Healthy and quiet.”

“Are you his mother?” She doubted Alyx would speak truthfully with her — she was Varys’s servant, after all — but it was a common enough question to ask.

“No, Your Grace. I’m yet unmarried, and childless.”

Rhaella sized the girl up. She tried to remember if she’d seen her around the Keep, but the girl looked fairly young, around eighteen or so, no older than twenty. Rhaella only knew the older servants. Anyone Alyx’s age would have started serving after Aerys went mad, and Rhaella kept to her chambers.

“How long have you served in the Keep?” she asked her.

“It should be three years in a few months, Your Grace.”

Rhaella didn’t know if the girl was lying. In the past three years, Rhaella had seen naught but rabid lilac eyes, red blood and white seed pooling through silken bedsheets, the wraith in her mirror, the flames of jade. No serving girls. But whether the girl spoke true or not, Rhaella would not allow Rhaenys to be near a girl introduced to them by Varys.

“Why were you attending to Rhaenys? she asked. “Where is her nursemaid?”

“She has grown ill, Your Grace,” said Alyx. “The maester says it’s just the change of environment. I had just put the prince Aegon to sleep, so I thought I would take Princess Rhaenys to the beach as her nursemaid was supposed to. I hope I did not offend.”

“It’s all right,” Rhaella said, even though it most certainly wasn’t. “But from now on, you will not attend the princess, only the prince. If Rhaenys’s nursemaid is unable to attend her for whatever reason, you will have a guard escort her to me, or my servant, Sia.” Or anyone but you.

Alyx nodded. “Yes, Your Grace.”

“Ensure that the prince is well rested in time for the feast,” she said. He needed to be seen in public for this decoy plan to work. Rhaella hoped that there were no rebel spies there, though. Hoped that Dragonstone was a haven for those loyal to her family. But even allies could be gossips. “And put him in his finest garb.”

“As you say, Your Grace.”

Rhaella called for the guards. “One of you will escort Alyx to Prince Aegon’s chambers,” she ordered. “The rest, with me.”

They took her from the lagoon, past the willows and onto the black sand, closer and closer still, into the shadows of the fortress.

Rhaella put up a hand, and the guards halted. Far beyond them, over the sand, below the horizon, black towers stood strong as a dragon’s might. It was the same as it had always been, ancient and majestic and built with her blood, yet it was different somehow. New. It is mine now, Rhaella knew. I run its halls, its servants, its life, its blood, its fire. Rhaella never ruled anything in her entire life. Yet she had this island. Not forever, but for long enough. For as long as Rhaegar needs me.

One of the guards grew anxious. “What’s wrong, Your Grace?” he asked.

Rhaella looked at her fortress. It met her with a dark, beautiful gaze, as foreboding as it was welcoming. The stone dragons stared at her, stared and stared and stared, and Rhaella knew they saw her. Knew they accepted her.

“Nothing,” she said, smiling. “Nothing at all.”

*/*/*/*

The gown was too snug.

Rhaella pulled at the edge of her bodice as discreetly as she could, sitting in her chair of honor, with hundreds of lords and ladies watching her table. Still tight. She pulled at her sleeves. The fabric still held her like the strongest snake, coiling around her with scales of embroidered velvet. And this dress does not even have snakeskin. She’d had to change for the feast. The gown she’d worn to the meeting would have been more suitable, and she would have saved it for this occasion, had Rhaegar told her of his plans to make her castellan beforehand. As it was, she’d already been seen wearing the dress, and it would not be fitting for a queen to wear the same gown that she’d worn earlier that day to a feast. And she’d even gotten the thing dirty, to Sia’s disdain. Now, she wore one of her grandmother’s gowns. It was a beautiful thing made of crystal and lace, and hardened velvet, with a pattern of glittering ruby wings spanning from shoulder to shoulder. The collar went up to show off her neck, but Rhaella had covered herself with an onyx and ruby choker shaped like a dragon — an old nameday gift from Lorei.

The dragon tails of Rhaella’s crown dug into her scalp, but she dare not fidget with that, not with everyone watching. She pulled at her bodice again. It was not even tight, in truth; she and her grandmother were of a similar size, though Rhaella was shorter. It was the people that made her feel trapped. Rhaegar had not made the announcement yet, so they did not even know to look at her, but Rhaella knew it was coming. She’d kept a look of calm on her face throughout the feast, a smile here and there to those who approached her, despite the nerves skittering throughout her belly.

She knew it was silly, to be so shy when she’d spent a lifetime at feasts and balls. But none of those occasions were made for her, save for her own wedding, and she had gone through that day in a daze, barely seeing those who surrounded her. She was in no daze now. Now, these people were here for her. Now, she was not in Aerys’s shadow, quiet and afraid. Now, she was the ruler. Yet it was not the thought of ruling them that put her at unease, but being at the center of their attention. I will have to speak, she knew. After Rhaegar announces me. What would she even say?

“The time approaches,” said her son, gently and only for her.

Rhaella took a small sip of her wine. “I know.”

Rhaegar kept his eyes on the crowd. Under the table, his fingers grazed hers. Then, he stood up.

“My lords and ladies,” he began. He said it calmly, quietly, yet somehow, everyone heard it. The music of chatter and laughter left as if it were never there, along with the soft hum of lutes and drums. This is part of his power, Rhaella thought. His allure.

“It pleased me to reunite with you all, despite the brevity of it. But I must announce that I am departing once more, to end this war. My castellan, Lord Luciyan Celtigar, will be joining me. As such, there must a new castellan to rule Dragonstone while I am unavailable. After thorough contemplation on who is best suited for this assignment, I came to the conclusion that there is no one more fit for the task than our queen.” Rhaegar eyed her. “Your Grace?”

Somehow the room was even more silent than before. Rhaella’s eyes scanned the crowd, saw the surprise on all of their faces; some were mixed with acceptance, and others doubt, hidden behind false smiles. Sheep, Joanna would have called them. Lions do not concern themselves with their opinion. But Rhaella was no lion.

She returned their smiles, pulled at the skirts of her gown. They were not wrong to doubt her, she knew — she had hidden away for so long that most people only knew her as the young princess-turned-queen that she used to be. Still, she had been well loved, once. When Aerys still allowed her to walk the streets of King’s Landing to see the people, feed them, clothe them, they had called her the Good Queen, just like they did her ancestor, Alysanne. They smiled when she walked by, gave her gifts and well wishes. The highborn had nothing but good will toward her as well, no ill gossip, no manipulations or plots. She had been loved, yes. But just because a queen was loved did not mean that she would be accepted to hold power over those that loved her, even if that power was only temporary and given by her own son. These people were fiercely loyal to her family, and they would prefer her over any other woman, but Rhaella wondered if there would have been any amount of doubt on their faces if she had been Rhaegar’s uncle or brother, rather than his mother. She knew the answer, and it saddened her more than it angered her.

Joanna had been angry about it, Rhaella remembered. She’d written many a furious letter to Lorei, ranting about the Westermen that questioned her and whispered behind her back when Tywin had left her in charge of Casterly Rock. Lorei knew that Rhaella wanted news about Joanna, even after the way they had ended things, and so she had told her everything. It’d taken quite some time for Joanna to prove herself so that the Westermen would follow and respect her. And Joey wasn’t even a woman; she was a lioness. I have dragon’s blood, but I am no dragon. And yet I must prove myself. Starting now.

Rhaella stood up beside her king, eyed her subjects. “I am most honored that the prince has given me this duty,” she said. Her voice had never sounded so loud, so true. “Dragonstone is the home of my ancestors, and so I will ensure that its prestige is preserved, along with the safety and happiness of its people. I doubt there is anyone who wants my son’s fortress well kept more than I, and because of this I will be fair with any grievances its inhabitants may have, and aid the war effort in anyway I can. I swear this on my honor as a Targaryen, as the blood of Old Valyria, and as the Queen of these Seven Kingdoms.” I must remind them of who I am. I am the daughter of the old king, wife to the mad king, mother to the true king. I am their queen, twice over. They will remember.

And so they did. They stared at her with awed precision, looked at her with new eyes, as if they saw her for the first time. I’ve been hiding so long, they had truly forgotten me. For that, she had no one to blame but herself, not even Aerys. She should have been stronger. She should have been brave. But Rhaegar had been away from her, here on this island while she was trapped in the Keep, and Daenerys had not yet found her womb, filled her with knowing and hope and bravery. She had promised her daughter she would not be afraid, and she meant it.

The people seemed to sense it, too. They clapped for her, and it sounded sincere. They may not have accepted her fully yet, but they did not expect failure, either. They remembered her, now. And so do I. She was the queen, and until Rhaegar ascended the throne and gave Elia her place, she would be the only one. She could hide no longer, and, with the strangest realization, she found that she didn’t want to.

Rhaella did not hide from her subjects when they came to give her their congratulations and support. Some kneeled before her, some bowed, some merely kissed her ring. They would have to give their official allegiance another day, when she sat on the same throne Aegon did before he decided to conquer Westeros, but this was well enough, she decided. She did not want them to grovel for her; Aerys had done that with their subjects enough to sate what little arrogance she had for a lifetime. She did not want them to placate her. She wanted them to see. And she wanted to see herself, too. See that she could do it, see her prove herself, as Joanna did. She was no lion, or dragon, but she was fire. And she would burn that wraith, once and for all.

*/*/*/*

“You doubted yourself,” said Rhaegar.

Rhaella leaned over the balcony rails, the wind from the sea sighing through her hair. Moonlight beamed upon them both, making the water gleam as if souls floated beneath the surface. Souls from the war. She looked past the horizon, looked for shadows in the distance.

“I did,” she said. There was no use in lying about it — he knew her too well.

Rhaegar’s long, elegant fingers gripped the rail along with her. The hands of a bard, not a warrior, though he’d trained in swordplay quite vigilantly. She hoped he would play for her and the children before he left.

“It never mattered, though,” he said. “I knew you could do it. And now, so do they.” And so do you, he left unsaid, but they both knew she heard it.

The pride that swelled within her was almost embarrassing. It should not be like this, she knew. The mother being praised by the son. And yet Rhaella basked in it. Pleasing her son was a difficult task, even for his mother. Rhaella had always sought it, even when he was a child. Perhaps it was because he did not give compliments to flatter, or to be kind. He only said them if they were true. Rhaella allowed a little smile to paint her face.

“Why did you not ask Jaime to accompany you?” she asked.

“It would not have been appropriate to ask in front of you all,” he said.

She frowned at that. “Why? You know how deep his loyalty goes. He would have jumped at the chance to go with you.”

Rhaegar eyed her with his indigo gaze. “And leave you and the children unguarded? I doubt that very much.”

Her frown deepened. “I don’t understand.”

“Mother,” he said, “Jaime did not ask me to take him with me, when he had no trouble doing so when I was preparing to leave for the Trident — in front of Jon Darry, no less. Yet he said nothing today. It’s led me to believe that he’s unsure of his place, that he wants to leave with me, or remain here, but fears offending one of us, perhaps. I am his king, and you are his queen. He must guard me, but he was originally sent here to guard you and the children, and in that case I have no intentions of reneging on Father’s orders. Jaime knows that.”

“Gods, you’re right,” Rhaella realized. And here she was, thinking she could read him so well. He was just as good at hiding his thoughts as his mother. But it made sense. Jaime wanted to protect them both. Sweet boy. “But what does His Grace want?”

“I think I would enjoy it if he came along,” Rhaegar said. “I like him well enough, and he has sworn to protect me and my family; for that alone, I prefer we be close. But Arthur is quite fond of him, and I know what he is to you. For your sake, and Lady Joanna’s, I would know him.”

Salt brimmed at her eyes — the bad kind. She gripped the rail as hard as she could, bit the inside of her cheek, and it went away. Rhaegar had told her that he remembered when Joanna was Rhaella’s lady-in-waiting, when they had pretended that no one in the world existed but the three of them. Rhaegar was four when Joanna left, but he had seen her again some years later, when Aerys took him to the Westerlands. She had doted on him when they were around each other, Rhaegar had said, but in truth, he seldom saw her. Hiding from Aerys, Rhaella knew.

“So you’ll take him to the Stormlands and the Reach?” she asked. Anything to turn her mind from that.

“I will present him with the choice,” Rhaegar said. “Ser Barristan can be summoned anytime to see to you and the children. Regardless of whether Jaime stays here or not, you will be guarded. Still, I do plan on speaking with him about it. We do not talk as much as I’d like.”

“No,” Rhaella said. “You don’t.” And if Jaime left with Rhaegar, that could change. He could become just as close to Rhaegar as Arthur was, and wouldn’t that be a sight? Arthur had become something like a son to her, and it would be a wonderful thing, to know the three of them cared for each other as friends, rather than guards and charge.

“Since you’re speaking with him anyway,” said Rhaella, “You should know that he seemed quite uneasy when you asked him about Tywin.”

“Yes,” Rhaegar said. “He was also upset when I told him I couldn’t take him to the Trident because Father wanted to use him as a means to keep Lord Tywin obedient.” He sighed. “I forget how young he is.”

And I can never seem to forget it, Rhaella thought. Jaime was too young for that cloak, but it was done now, and it was up to them to ensure that he was always well enough to wear it. Vows were a shared thing between guard and charge. Her grandfather had told her that once, but she had never understood it until she saw the frigid stances of the Kingsguard when Aerys burned his first victim. They vow to protect us, he’d said to her, But there is a vow the protected one makes as well, spoken or unsaid, to never give their guardian orders that would dishonor them. We must never forsake each other, my Ember. But Aerys had forsaken them, forsaken them all, and so did Grandpapa.

“What is that?” Rhaegar asked. There was a slight panic to his voice.

Rhaella followed his gaze, beyond the balcony, to the midst of the sea. Shadows. Great shadows, sailing toward them, swift as a storm. In the moonlight, Rhaella could have sworn she saw hints of gold gleaming through their darkness.

They come from Essos, she knew. Of course they did. Somehow, her smirk was smug and bitter and amused all at once.

“Your distraction,” Rhaella answered. It was strange that out of all the deceitful filth in the world, Varys was the most reliable one.

Rhaella’s son turned, looked at her, saw her with new, confused, proud, horrified eyes, and somehow she knew this night was only just beginning.

*/*/*/*

I am dreaming, Rhaella knew. She knew it because it was the brightest of day, not past midnight, when she’d retired to her chambers. She knew it because she was in Dragonstone, yet the sky was cloudless and blazed with fiery sunlight that hazed around her, so hot the air could have been Balerion’s breath. She knew it because her skin was as smooth as Princess Rhaella’s, silky and unmarred by the demon that had taken her brother, but it glowed as if her blood was made of firelight. She knew it because Daenerys was before her, glorious in her childlike form, silver-gold hair glowing like a halo, her violet eyes glittering.

Her daughter sat astride a great lion, mighty and more beautiful than any true lion could be, strong and majestic, with a mane as grand and golden as the sun above them. Daenerys and the lion stared at Rhaella, purple and green eyes more knowing than they had any right to be. Then they turned and left her.

Rhaella followed. She followed them through the dark fortress they called home. She followed them through grass soft as sand. She followed them through slumping willow trees, through black soil, through chasms of coal and charred earth. And then, they found it. A mountainous cliff, blacker than her brother’s heart. At its glittering base was an opening crevice. It was small, barely there, faint … and yet it felt just as vast and powerful as Balerion’s maw.

Daenerys gave her one last look before she and the lion disappeared into the cave.

You belong here, said an echo. It was Rhaella’s own voice, no — her soul, ringing throughout her being, channeling ancient secrets from so long ago she could not even fathom it. It began as a whisper, the quietest little hum, the faintest breath, and then, Rhaella began to speak them, bright, loud, until they sang within her mind, her heart. And Rhaella heard it. She heard it all, the beauty, the truth. And it was true. All of it.

All of it.

All of it, and when Rhaella Targaryen opened her eyes, she knew what must be done.

Chapter 10: Jaime V

Notes:

This update was far sooner than I suspected. Hopefully I'll be able to stay on this track if things are as light for me as they were this week.

I'd love to hear from you guys, as always! <3

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The steel gleamed dark in the morning haze.

Jaime frowned into its silver face as he twisted the hilt. The sparring yard still slept, empty, dark — grey, like everything else on this f*cking island. He had no one to spar with, and fighting dummies was rather dull. He should not have come so early, he knew, but it’d been too long since he’d wielded a blade, and he hadn’t been able to sleep all that well. Too much pent up energy. When he’d closed his eyes, he could only think of the Reach, and the Stormlands. My place is there, with my king, Jaime thought, but then, unbidden and annoying, Jon Darry’s voice corrected him. Your place is where your king says it is. He’d told Jaime that when Jaime protested being left behind at the would-be battle of the Trident, and he’d been right, the bloody c*nt. That would not keep Jaime from thinking about it, though. Never say Lannisters aren’t stubborn.

“The dawn is a different beast here, isn’t it?” The voice was smooth and soft, quiet, unmistakable.

Jaime turned and bowed before his king. “Your Grace.”

Rhaegar walked over to Jaime. “There’s no need for such formalities outside of necessary occasion, Ser Jaime. I can’t remember the last time Arthur bowed to me, save for at court.” He eyed Jaime’s sword. “You aren’t acquainted with the weather here. The sun only beams overhead nearly an hour later than it would in King’s Landing. Even then, it is rather dim. Still, most would wait until then to spar.”

Jaime looked at the open ceiling, saw the grey clouds veiling the sun, just as Rhaegar said. Bloody island. “Then why did you come here, Your Grace?”

“At first, to think,” Rhaegar answered, “But then I recalled Arthur saying the two of you sparred in the morning. I assumed you would continue that habit here.”

Arthur speaks of me with Rhaegar? Jaime bit his lip to keep from grinning. “Old habits are hard to break,” he said, casually.

“Some are there for a reason,” Rhaegar said. “This one need not be broken.” He drew his own sword. “That is, if you’re still of mind to spar.”

Jaime blinked at Rhaegar’s blade. “You want me to fight you?”

“It would not be the first time I’ve fought one of my guards,” he said.

Jaime hadn’t known that, but he supposed he and Arthur sparred all the time, and Ser Barristan and the White Bull had been old enough to be a part of Rhaegar’s training when he was a child. Still ...

Rhaegar saw his hesitance. “I would ask that you fight me as you would any other opponent, Ser. Otherwise, I learn nothing.”

“You think I could teach you something?” Jaime was an exceptional warrior, one of the best there ever was, and he would only get better with time, but he couldn’t imagine that he could teach Rhaegar anything. Rhaegar, despite his youth, carried himself like an old sage. It seemed to Jaime that there wasn’t anything he didn’t know.

“We are all novices and masters alike,” said Rhaegar. “Knowledge hides itself from no one.” His indigo eyes glittered as he stared at Jaime. “Shall we begin?”

Jaime fell into his fighting stance. “As my king says.”

And so fell the dance between lion and dragon. Jaime attacked first. It was a fast hit, but soft, despite what Rhaegar had asked of him, but he was curious to see what his king was capable of. Rhaegar dodged the blow, as graceful as a calm river. Jaime tried again, a bit faster, and Rhaegar evaded that too, just as easily. He is defensive, rather than offensive. There was nothing wrong with that, Jaime supposed. Especially for one who has guards to fight in his stead. Me in particular. But Rhaegar had not asked Jaime to follow him.

Jaime swung then, as quick and relentless as Rhaegar had commanded him to be. Rhaegar blocked it, and the lovely scream of steel biting steel rang throughout the courtyard. Jaime pushed Rhaegar off of him — he was far stronger than his king. Rhaegar slashed at him, almost as quick as Jaime. Jaime countered it like it was nothing, but Rhaegar recovered with a swiftness that made him grin. His king struck at him again, and Jaime came alive. On and on it went, them cycling, testing each other, their steel roaring, Jaime’s soul beaming with each strike, each slash and parry, until Jaime knew it was time, and he went for the kill. He landed his king, kicked his sword out of reach, and pointed his blade at Rhaegar’s throat.

“Yield,” Jaime said, and it sounded like an order. He smirked. “If you’d like, Your Grace.”

The corners of Rhaegar’s mouth twitched. “I would.”

Jaime helped him up. “That was an excellent fight.” It really was. Jaime was far more skilled than Rhaegar, but his king had still been talented enough to be interesting. Jaime could still hear his blood singing.

“It was,” Rhaegar agreed. “You are as skilled as Arthur says, and I’m certain you’ve improved since he saw you last. He would be pleased.”

The biggest smile rose in Jaime’s throat, childish, giddy, proud. He restrained it to a demure quirk of his lips. “Thank you, Your Grace.”

“Your swordhand will be more than formidable in the battles to come,” said Rhaegar.

And yet I’m not formidable enough to guard you in the Reach. The thought came unbidden. Jaime forced himself not to scowl. He knew it was not so big of a matter, like it was when Rhaegar wouldn’t allow him to defend him at the Trident, and yet he couldn’t help but wonder whether Rhaegar would have asked him to go had he said he could convince Lord Tywin to join their cause.

That’s not why they wanted me as an ally, Jaime told himself. Rhaegar wouldn’t do that to him, and neither would Rhaella — it wasn’t within his queen’s nature to manipulate, Jaime thought, and he would like to think that Rhaegar liked him well enough, valued him enough to want him at his side. But the thought still lingered in the back of his mind, that bitter pit of worthlessness that Aerys had spawned the moment he told Jaime he’d only made him a Kingsguard to insult Lord Tywin. In the Mad King’s sneering, lilac-eyed gaze, Jaime saw truth: he was a lion first, and Kingsguard second. Or Kingsguard never, said the bitterness.

“Yes, Your Grace,” said Jaime, though he’d waited too long to speak.

Rhaegar eyed him, face emotionless. He was always so good at that, molding his features into unmoving, silent stone. There was a time when Jaime found it strange, perhaps a bit unsettling, but he’d grown accustomed to it ages ago. It was just how Rhaegar was, along with his unnatural silence, and his ability to be thousands of leagues away, even when he was surrounded by people. Jaime’s king was odd to be sure, but most Targaryens were in some sort of way, Jaime had noticed. It was their right as royalty, he supposed, and he would much prefer oddness to madness.

“There is something you must see,” Rhaegar said, finally. He took Jaime to the balcony that overlooked the fortress’s personal docks. Jaime looked at the shores, saw what lied below. Ships. Hundreds of them, grand and golden and filled with countless warriors.

It was a while before he was able to speak. “... Well then. Who are they, might I ask?”

“The Golden Company,” Rhaegar answered. “They are the distraction our Queen Mother has provided. They will face the rebels while I gather allies.”

Jaime blinked. “How did the queen ...”

“How did she befriend a sellsword group that was literally created to fight against our family?” Rhaegar asked. “I admit I have no idea. She has her secrets, just as I do. But she has done us a great service. You in particular, I should say.”

Jaime frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I was considering having Ser Barristan take your place as the Dragonstone guard, should you accompany me to the Reach and Stormlands, but that would leave the battlefield without a key fighter. However, there’s more than enough of the Company here to defend them without Ser Barristan having to leave his post, so even if you leave, the queen and children will still be guarded, and the battlefield well kept by a Kingsguard.”

“You say this as if it’s my choice whether I leave my post, Your Grace,” Jaime said. He hoped it didn’t sound too accusatory, but Rhaegar had a habit of assuming that everyone shared his thought patterns, and it had led to many miscommunications amongst him and the Kingsguard. Jaime had heard the White Bull grumble about it enough.

“Normally, it would not be,” Rhaegar allowed. He watched the golden sails billow in the wind. “I believe I’ve offended you, Ser Jaime.”

Jaime looked away. So, he hadn’t been hiding himself well enough. Or Rhaegar was too perceptive. No matter; everyone couldn’t be a strange, stone-faced dragon. Regardless, he didn’t want to speak with Rhaegar about this, because it was stupid, and his king had far better things to concern himself with than Jaime’s foolish feelings. Jaime wasn’t even sure what he was feeling. Offended? Perhaps. Angry? Most certainly. But he wasn’t sure if he was angry at Rhaegar or himself.

“Offended, Your Grace?” He would let Rhaegar lead with this. For all Jaime knew, his king could be speaking of something else entirely.

“I’ve not spoken to you as much as I should have,” admitted Rhaegar. “Forgive me. There are not enough hours in the day, especially during wartime.”

Oh. That was not so bad a topic. “I understand that, Your Grace,” Jaime said. “You needn’t apologize for it.”

“Perhaps not,” Rhaegar said, “If it hadn’t caused other issues. I asked you about your lord father, yesterday, during the war council.”

Jaime went stiff. “Yes.”

Rhaegar looked at him. “I hope that hasn’t led to a misunderstanding of your place here. I inquired about Lord Tywin with you because you are his son, and that connection does give you more insight on that particular situation than anyone else. But your allying with us does not depend on the action or inaction of the West. It is solely based on your own merit.” He put his hand on Jaime’s shoulder. “Regardless of what Lord Tywin does, you are my Kingsguard, Ser Jaime. I’ve not forgotten that. And neither should you.”

My king. Jaime’s chest tightened, and his eyes stung, stung like they hadn’t since the first slew of green embers kissed his face with the cruelest caress, and Seven Hells, was he a warrior or a distressed maiden? You will not cry, you simpering fool. It’s not worth crying over. Nothing is. But to hear Rhaegar say it, and mean it, after Aerys had ...

Jaime blinked, and hoped it only looked like the wind affecting him. “I won’t, Your Grace.” And he wouldn’t. It was an order from His Grace, and let it never be said that Jaime Lannister did not follow his king’s orders.

Rhaegar gave his shoulder a gentle pat before letting go. “Good. Now, as for your post. The current journey to the Reach and Stormlands are of a diplomatic sort — no fighting whatsoever. If everything goes to plan, there is no dire need for a Kingsguard to accompany me, though I may summon one of your brothers to meet me there. That is one reason why I didn’t outright ask you to accompany me. The other is because of my family.”

“I see,” Jaime said, and he did. That was why he’d never protested his post to Rhaegar in the first place. He’d been assigned by Aerys to protect Rhaella and the children, and though Aerys was no longer his king, his last order was one Rhaegar and Jaime both agreed with.

“They are the future of my House,” said Rhaegar, “And with Mother’s pregnancy, their protection is even more vital. I trust you with them, and they are fond of you besides. Guarding them may not be exciting by a warrior’s standards, but it is an important assignment.”

“Forgive me if it seemed like I was implying that I mislike the task, Your Grace,” he said. “I only wish to see you all looked after, I suppose.”

Rhaegar smiled that barely-there smile of his. “And it is a good thing that you do. But I’ll be fine — for this journey, anyhow. When the true battle comes, have no doubt that I will call you.”

Jaime returned the smile. “I know, Your Grace.”

“Still, with the arrival of the Golden Company, you can join me knowing that my family is well guarded,” Rhaegar said. “The choice is yours.”

It was kind of Rhaegar to give Jaime the choice, or at least, the illusion of one, but they both knew which one was the right one. Rhaegar didn’t need him overmuch for a diplomatic tour, and Jaime did not like the idea of Rhaella and the children being watched by sellswords one bit. As a matter of fact, the more Jaime thought of his queen surrounded by strange, gruff men with loyalties only to their pockets, the more he loathed the idea. No. Rhaella would be just fine here with him, and so would the children.

“I’ll stay here, why not?” Jaime said. “It’s clear that this island loves me.”

*/*/*/*

Rhaenys held up a red seashell. “This one?”

Jaime shook his head. “No. It wouldn’t fit him.”

Rhaenys frowned, her lips pushed into a pout. “But red is a part of our House colors.”

Jaime yawned and stretched over the sand he’d made into a makeshift lounge. “Well, yes,” he said, “But does it match his eyes? I think not.”

Rhaenys let out a sigh that sounded far too exhausted for a three-year-old, as if she were the adult and Jaime was the spoiled, picky child, and it was all Jaime could do to not burst into laughter. That seashell was the fifth one Rhaenys had presented to Jaime, and Jaime had turned it down, mostly to tease her. Rhaegar would love any seashell his daughter gave him, Jaime knew, but he was curious to see how dedicated the little princess was to this. Judging by the way her little brow furrowed as she scoured the shore, she was pretty damned determined to find the perfect parting gift for her father.

“Do you see a light purple one?” asked Jaime. Rhaella would like that color. She’d asked Rhaenys to bring her one the day before, but they hadn’t been able to find one to Rhaenys’s liking at the time. More shells had washed up since then.

Rhaenys looked around. “No, but look!” She picked one up and showed it to him. It was beautiful, smoothed by the salted sea, and shined a verdant emerald, flickers of light wavering through it.

“It matches your eyes,” Rhaenys said, pressing it to his cheek and near his eye, as if he could see the comparison.

Jaime smiled at her. “So it does.”

Rhaenys held his hands, gentle as a lamb, and placed the shell in them. “For you,” she said, and a warmness bloomed in Jaime’s broken heart.

His smile turned into a smirk. “Isn’t my princess so kind to her cats? Balerion will be jealous when he sees.”

Rhaenys hadn’t thought of that; her eyes widened. “Oh no. Please don’t tell him.”

Jaime pretended to think about it. “Hmm. For you, I won’t.” He winked at her, and when she gave him enough giggles, he wrapped his gift in his handkerchief as carefully as he could, then placed it in his satchel. “My most humble thanks,” he said as he stood. “Now, let’s see about dear papa and grandmama.”

He took her further down the beach, where the tide was a little stronger. There was a plethora of seashells and washed up starfish, just as he suspected. Rhaenys marveled at all the life lying in the sand, her dark Martell eyes wide and sparkling, and no, he definitely didn’t regret staying.

Rhaenys found another one quite quickly. It was a deep purple, as deep as Rhaegar’s indigo eyes, with bits of black rippling through it.

“This one,” Rhaenys said, and she sounded so certain that Jaime could not deny her.

Viserys joined them soon enough, relieved of his cleaning duties for the day. He and Rhaenys bound seaweed with their shells to make necklaces, and bestowed them upon one another. Courting gifts, Jaime thought with a laugh. Perhaps Rhaegar would let them wed, if they still wished it when they came of age.

Viserys spoke to Jaime politely enough, but he still wasn’t as open as he should have been. I haven’t apologized to him yet.

Jaime took him aside while Rhaenys placed starfish in random patterns. “You see that Rhaenys is my friend again, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Viserys.

“Would you like to know why?”

The prince nodded.

Jaime gave him a little smirk. “It’s because I explained to her what happened in the cave, you see. It was my cat-ness getting the best of me, I’m afraid.”

The prince frowned. “Cat-ness?”

“Exactly,” said Jaime. “Most cats are mean by nature, as I’m sure you know. Lions, especially. We get into these moods sometimes. I was having a bit of one the other day.”

Viserys didn’t really laugh, or even get concerned, as Jaime expected him to. He looked deep in thought. “Oh,” he said.

Jaime shrugged. “Worrying for you may have added to my being irritable,” he allowed. “Just a bit.”

Viserys smiled up at him then, but he still seemed somewhere far away. “My family has something similar. Or at least, Father does. Dragon-ness ... but he calls it Waking the Dragon.” The boy explained it with such innocence, and somehow, he didn’t hear Jaime’s stomach lurching.

Viserys kept going. “It happens to him all the time.” He reached for Jaime’s arm. “Don’t fret, Ser Jaime. I understand.” Viserys’s lilac eyes — Aerys’s eyes — met Jaime’s, and he truly looked like he did understand, gods damn him.

The beach became a blur after that.

Jaime gave the children to Sia not too long after, then made his way to his chambers, quiet, shaking. The air in his lungs threatened to fade. Waking the lion. The phrase looped in his head, merciless. f*ck you. Jaime didn’t know why it bothered him so much — that entire cat-moodiness nonsense had only been a jape. And yet ... to even be compared to Aerys for one breath, even by a lie ... and seeing Viserys, that good, kind lad, so accustomed to madness, so adapted to evil —

Jaime clenched his fists so hard he broke the skin on his palms. He needed to hit something. No — he needed to kill something. Someone. Aerys. But he would settle for sparring. He had to. But he needed to breathe first, and he couldn’t do that here.

Jaime opened his chamber doors, calm as a whisper, despite his pounding heart. He clutched at his vanity, dug his nails in the wood, bowed his head, tried to grasp the breath that evaded him. Rhaegar is your king, he told himself. Rhaegar is your king. Rhaegar was Jaime’s king. The thought was the oasis it had always been, the coolest water, the sweetest mist, yet it did not cease the sound of flames crackling just out of earshot, the unnatural heat on Jaime’s skin despite the coolness of his bedchamber. The Dragon awakened. Rickard Stark’s screaming, and the silence in that throne room as he burned, the utter loudness of its quiet. Brandon Stark’s bulging eyes as the noose-cord squeezed

Cersei. The name was a prayer. A pleading. Cersei, Cersei, yet he knew he could not go away inside, not if it was like this. Not if Aerys was only in his mind. It was impossible to look without seeing when there was nothing to see. But he would still try. He had to. He had to, because that morning on Eel Alley had been the last time he’d known true peace. Wrapped in his sister’s embrace, staring into eyes that were so like his, smelling the lingering, laced scent of his seed and her maiden’s blood, her smile brushing against his. They had held each other so close, it’d felt like they were truly one. Like the halves of their shared soul had finally merged, reunited at long last. They’d inhaled each other’s breath, and Cersei’s golden hair was soft as silk, and her skin was warm, but Jaime’s flesh was searing as it beheld the wildfire’s breath and Rickard screamed and Ryn cried and Aerys laughed and —

Jaime clenched his fists even harder, sunk his teeth into his lip. I am a Lannister of Casterly Rock. A lion, a cub no longer. And yet he’d never felt so childish. Only children feared what was not there. Aerys was in King’s Landing, but somehow, his fire had stormed across the Blackwater and burned through Jaime. Somehow, Jaime was still his.

But Rhaegar is my king. When this coup was done, Aerys would never burn or rape again. Rhaegar would not allow it. Rhaegar would do what Jaime could not. He would sit his royal arse on that hideous f*cking throne, and then, this thing within Jaime would finally die. This ... fear, this pain, this ...

This.

Father does not fear Aerys. The thought did not make Jaime brave, only angry. Father feels no pain. And that only made him hurt worse. But Jaime knew it for certain — Father was too strong to feel pain. Even when Mother died, Tywin Lannister never anguished. During that time, Jaime never saw pain in his father’s mourning eyes, only fury. Cold, dark fury. A silent rage that had frightened Jaime to his core, because there was an emptiness in that rage, a darkness, the ghost of a love that had died with Lady Joanna. But no pain. He was too strong for pain, unlike his heir. His former heir.

What would Father think of Jaime now? He’d be disgusted, most like. But perhaps it would sway him to give Tyrion a chance. Jaime’s little brother may have been a dwarf, but he was no failure, and more clever than Jaime could ever hope to be. Clever enough to not fear shadows from across the Blackwater.

Jaime bit down harder on his lip until it bled. The red, metal taste calmed him. He was a warrior, and warriors understood blood. They understood blades. Aerys had blades spiking through his hideous throne, but he knew nothing of true steel. It was something he could not take from Jaime. One of the few things he had not. One thing he will not.

At the thought, Jaime’s breath found him. His skin cooled. The sounds of the throne room died. He was alone.

Jaime wiped at his face. His hand came back dry. Good. Tears were weakness in a man, Father had told him, when he’d found Jaime weeping for his mother, lying still and dull on her bier. That was not the only thing you told me that night, my lord, Jaime thought bitterly, But at least I’ve not failed you in this one thing.

These dark thoughts could be killed in the sparring yard, Jaime knew. He went to the door. When he opened it, he jumped.

“Ser Jaime,” said the queen. She stepped back. “My apologies.”

Or perhaps sparring is not needed. Jaime leaned back over the threshold. “It’s no trouble, Your Grace. Is everything all right?”

Rhaella met his eyes. There was something in them that had not been there the day before. Jaime could not place it, and he didn’t know whether to find it curious or unsettling.

“Yes,” she said. She looked and sounded so sure that Jaime decided to lean more toward curious. “I must speak with you, but if this is not an appropriate time, then —”

“You’re the queen, Your Grace,” said Jaime. “Any time you wish is appropriate. One of the many perks of being royalty, I’d imagine.” He gestured for her to come in.

Rhaella obliged. “My blood does not exempt me from being considerate,” she said with a lazy smile. “Or at least, it shouldn’t.” She looked around Jaime’s chamber, but he could tell she wasn’t really seeing it. She seemed ... distracted, but aware at the same time. As if she knew something he didn’t. In that moment she reminded Jaime of Rhaegar, when before, the two shared no differences beyond their subtle smiles and pale features.

“What would you like to discuss, Your Grace?”

Rhaella looked back at him. “Discuss,” she mused. “That was not the right phrase. There is something we both must see. Do you care to go riding with me?”

It was only then that Jaime noticed his queen’s appearance. Instead of skirts and silk, Rhaella was dressed in riding leathers. Her vest was a deep black, her arms covered with thin red sleeves ... but what was most jarring were her legs. Jaime had never seen Rhaella in pants before. The dark leather revealed legs that were just as short as the rest of her, but slender, shapely. It hugged her hips, showing off curves that Jaime had not known was there. And her hair. It wasn’t made into an elaborate style, woven with jewels, her dragon crown resting on her head. It was simply tied into a ponytail, the pale rivulets of her tresses flowing down her back like a silver waterfall.

Rhaella did not look like a queen. She just looked like ... Rhaella. And Rhaella was quite lovely.

“Of course,” said Jaime, voice far too raspy for his liking. “But where to?”

“We will see when we get there,” she said.

So they made their way to the stables to fetch a horse. He let Rhaella pick one for the both of them, but when he began to pack her things on it, she stopped him. “I would like my own horse,” she said, and there must have been something in Jaime’s expression, because she quickly added, “I mean no offense, it is only ... I haven’t ridden in a long time. I would like to do it again.”

Jaime understood that. He knew what it was to sit a horse and revel in it. Back home, he and Cersei used to race as fast as their horses could carry them, the Western winds roaring through their hair as they laughed. It’d had been long time since he’d had that. That rush. That freedom. His Sworn Brothers were allowed to ride through the fields of the Crownlands when they were off-duty, but Jaime never was — Aerys misliked his toy being too far from him. Rhaella hadn’t been allowed to leave the Keep either, not since Jaime became a Kingsguard. Arthur told him that she once loved to visit the smallfolk of her city, gift them with food and clothes, toys for their children. Sometimes, she had even ridden her horse out to the outskirt villages to see her subjects there, but after Aerys’s madness grew deeper, so did Rhaella’s prison. But Dragonstone was no prison, and Jaime would not deny her even if he could.

The ride away from the fortress was a quiet one, but not uncomfortable. It didn’t seem like Rhaella wanted to talk overmuch. Her face was set in a curious frown, as if she were trying to remember where she wanted to go. Something about it concerned Jaime — just a bit, he was no worrying hen — but he followed her with no complaint, wondering what she wanted him to see. He hoped it wasn’t too far from the fortress. He didn’t like being away from the fortress, which was a strange enough thing, considering he did not care for the castle either. But being on its outskirts was something else entirely. Jaime did not like this island. He liked being with Rhaella, though. Well enough, anyhow. She wasn’t bad company at all.

“His Grace told me that you hired the Golden Company to distract the rebels while he went on his ally search,” he said. “That was well done.”

Rhaella didn’t look as pleased about it as he thought she would have. “Let us hope so,” she said.

Jaime only nodded. If she did not want to speak of the Golden Company, then he would not press it. He found himself glancing at her outfit again. “Are those leathers new, Your Grace?”

Rhaella looked down at herself. “Oh. No. They’re ...” she shrugged. “I’ve had them for years.”

But they looked new. Probably because she hadn’t worn them for years, because she had no reason to, because she’d been forbidden from leaving the Keep. The thought of it spawned a rage in Jaime that surprised even him.

“You should wear them more often, if it please Your Grace,” he said, if only to temper himself. “They look quite dashing on you.” And they truly did. For a brief moment, Jaime imagined Cersei wearing those same leathers, but red and gold instead of red and black. But no, that wasn’t right. It would have looked just as beautiful on his sister, but Cersei preferred clothes that were sleeveless or deep cut, anything that revealed her lovely skin. Not that Jaime minded.

Unbidden, the thought of Rhaella wearing one of Cersei’s revealing garb ran through Jaime’s mind. His ears burned.

Jaime bit his cheek to kill the image. He had been away from his sister too long, and this was proof of it. You must respect her. She is your charge, your queen who is not only carrying the next prince or princess, but old enough to be your mother. And she is not Cersei. Jaime looked away from his queen, ashamed. And what you saw was untrue, and you bloody well know it. In his mind’s eye, Jaime had imagined skin as pure and soft as that on Rhaella’s face, but he knew what he would see if she truly did wear one of Cersei’s clothes: scars. Bites. Cuts upon cuts upon cuts. After what Aerys did to her, she probably never wants a man to see her as a woman, even in their thoughts. Jaime would not blame her if that were true.

Rhaella could not hear his disrespectful thoughts, thank the gods. “They are only leathers, Ser Jaime,” she said. There was a faint blush to her cheeks, and she sounded as if she couldn’t tell whether to feel shy or dismissive.

Does she truly feel unease at being complimented? Jaime didn’t understand. He had only commended her on her garb. “Are they? They look rather roguish to me. You don’t plan on luring me to the woods and robbing me, do you? You and the babe?”

That got a laugh out of her, just as Jaime had wanted. A genuine laugh, accompanied by a bright smile, the same one she’d given him when he told her about Grandfather Tytos’s lions. It was a lovely sound, light and fluttery, like birdsong. When he’d heard it the first time, he had decided that he would draw it from her as much as he could.

“I would not do that to you,” she said.

Jaime smirked at her. “Wouldn’t you? I doubt a queen needs sneaking boots otherwise.”

Rhaella looked down at her boots, sleek and stopping at her knee. “They are not for sneaking.

“They look pretty sneaky to me,” said Jaime. And they hugged her calves quite nicely, but that was neither here nor there. “I’m starting to feel a tad overdressed for the occasion, Your Grace. It’s quite difficult to sneak in armor, I imagine.”

“Well, every rogue needs a good warrior to accompany them, do they not? That is what the stories would have us believe.”

“So you are robbing someone?” Jaime sighed. “Well ... I am sworn to keep your secrets.”

Rhaella giggled. “There will be no robbing.”

“No?” Jaime gave her a disappointed look. “A pity. Though perhaps it’s for the best. I’d be no use to you like this, weighed down by metal. Warriors are no sneaks.”

Rhaella raised a disbelieving brow. “But aren’t cats sneaky by nature?”

Jaime groaned. “The children told you about that?”

Rhaella grinned. “Of course they did. It’s not everyday that a prince and princess receives a shapeshifting lion as their guard.”

“Those little lizards,” Jaime muttered, but that only made Rhaella smile more. A little embarrassment was worth that, Jaime decided.

“Well?” Rhaella asked.

Jaime frowned. “Well, what?”

“Are cats sneaky or not?”

Jaime scoffed. “Not in armor. No creature is.”

Rhaella hummed. “Somehow, that feels like an excuse. Perhaps even a lie.”

Jaime rolled his eyes. “Says the Bandit Queen.”

Rhaella laughed. “And what of it?”

“Bandits are not known for their truth, Your Grace. And I would remind you that I have no coin on my person. I carry only my sword. Which you already have through my vows, metaphorically speaking.”

“I wouldn’t rob you,” said Rhaella.

“Who, then?” Jaime asked. “Where are we going? Give me a hint, at least.”

Rhaella did not respond, her smile fading. Jaime waited for her to speak.

“Would you believe me if I said I did not know?” she asked, quietly.

Jaime raised a brow at that. “I would ask how you are able to lead us, first.”

Rhaella considered that. “It’s ... I know what I’m going to, but I don’t know where. If that makes sense.”

“Oh, it doesn’t,” said Jaime, cheerfully. “Whatsoever. But I am not the philosophical type. My little brother might understand it, though. He is ten, yet he’s read far more books than I ever could, most of them written by old scholars. Me? Not so much.”

Rhaella nodded. “Tyrion.” She said his brother’s name with what sounded like a strange finality, a gloom, but Jaime must have misheard. She knows him, Jaime couldn’t help but notice, even though he knew he shouldn’t have been surprised. She was the queen, and Lord Tywin had been Aerys’s Hand for years. Of course she knew Tyrion, by his name if nothing else.

“I did not know he was well read,” said Rhaella. “I wish I could hear his opinion on this, then.”

“So do I,” said Jaime. If only so I could see him again. “But I’m afraid I’ll have to do.”

“And you will do more than fine,” said Rhaella. “There is a reason I asked you to come with me.”

“And what might that reason be, Your Grace? Besides my being your designated guard and snarker, of course.”

For a while, Rhaella didn’t answer. Jaime heard nothing but running wind, the sighing sea, the soft pads of horse hooves on black earth.

“Have you ever had a dream that felt true?” she asked. “Or that it would become true?”

Jaime thought of that. Dreams. When he was young, pleasant dreams came to him more often. He could not remember them, but he imagined they were of knights, of lions and golden swords, of splendid jousts and Cersei’s smile. Jaime remembered the dreams he had now. Now, he dreamed of fire as green as his eyes, of roasting flesh, of howling wolves tethered to burning chains, of oaken doors that trapped Rhaella’s screams. But those dreams were mere echoes of what he’d witnessed while he was awake — things that had been, not what was to come.

“Do you speak of visions, Your Grace? Prophecy?” If she was, he certainly could not help her. And if she was, then this ride would be far more than he’d anticipated.

“I am not sure if those are the right words,” she said. “Not in this instance, anyhow. Do you know anything of it?”

“It’s magic,” said Jaime. “Or at least, that’s what my Uncle Gerion would say. He believes in that sort of thing. It’s why he goes on his adventures, seeking things that are mystic and lost.”

“Do you not believe in it?” she asked. “Magic?”

Unbidden, Jaime thought of the cave, that f*cking rock with sparkling stone and passageways that were there but not there — no, that couldn’t have been ... I just wasn’t looking hard enough. Jaime shrugged. “If it does, I wouldn’t know about it, Your Grace.” He would leave it at that.

“Fair enough,” said Rhaella, “But would you trust it if you did?”

Jaime stopped his horse, and looked at her. “Your Grace ... is this your way of telling me that you’re ...” It couldn’t be silly to ask, right? She was a Targaryen, a goddess among men, if the old stories were to be believed, and this was bloody Dragonstone, where nothing made sense.

Rhaella gave him a little smile. “A witch? No. But ...” she hesitated. “Has your brother ever told you of Daenys the Dreamer?”

“I don’t recall her, no.” Jaime remembered most of what Tyrion read to him. “My brother is more fascinated by dragons than their riders.”

“Daenys lived in the time before my family conquered Westeros,” she explained. “When the Targaryens were still dragonlords in Valyria. She dreamed of the Doom that would destroy her homeland. She told her father, and they fled here, to Dragonstone. Twelve years later, Valyria fell. Because of her vision, my House became one of the last surviving Valyrians.”

Jaime blinked. “And so ... you are telling me that you have this power. To see what will happen ... before it happens. In your dreams.”

For a moment, Rhaella looked as if she wanted to flee, but she met his eyes, and her stare was unwavering. “Yes.”

Jaime didn’t know what to say to that. Was there anything to say? Besides the fact that his queen could be m—

No. He wouldn’t even think of it. The only mad Targaryen was Aerys. Him, and no one else. Least of all Rhaella.

Rhaella’s smile grew sad. “You do not believe me.”

Jaime opened his mouth to protest, but she stopped him. “No, it’s all right. It would be stranger if you accepted it outright.” She got off of her horse, took a few steps through the dark soil. Jaime followed. They were on the brink of the willow forest, its slumping cluster and limping leaves dark and dead looking. Rhaella watched it, the sea wind blowing through her hair. She reached down and grazed her dainty fingers against the earth, gently, as if she didn’t want to hurt it. She stared at it, still and attentive, as if she were listening to something. Then she rose, and met his eyes.

“Jaime,” she said. It was the second time she had said his name without a title, and, for the second time, Jaime decided that he rather liked it. “If you saw magic with your own eyes, would you fear it?”

Jaime held her stare. In the grey gloom, her Targaryen eyes nearly glowed. Purple. Bloody purple. Unnatural, like bonding with dragons, or dreaming of the future. Seven f*cking hells. “I seldom fear anything, Your Grace.”

Rhaella’s eyes glittered. “Then let me show you,” she said.

Their horses took them through the willow wood and to the ravine, the same ravine he had visited with the children just a few days ago. Jaime hoped Rhaella would stop there, but of course she didn’t. She went in the direction of the rock, her expression growing with realization the closer they went to it.

Finally, when the ravine was at its end and the stretch of empty land met them, she stopped. The black cliff was in full view, looming over them, mountainous. The cave entrance was still there. Because it had always been there, you blind idiot.

Jaime looked at Rhaella, hoping this was not what she wanted to show him. Judging by the dawning look on her face as she stared at its dark glory, it most certainly was. Bloody wonderful.

“I’ve been here before,” he told her.

“With the children?” Rhaella asked. “I figured.” She looked at the rock again. “This is it, Jaime. This is the place.”

And there it was. Jaime sighed. “Are you sure you don’t want to rob me?”

Rhaella smiled, but it looked anxious. “If nothing comes of this, I will feel robbed, I assure you.”

Jaime didn’t know which option to hope for after that.

When they reached the entrance, Rhaella approached it slowly, as if it would come alive and devour her. And maybe it would — it was a magic rock, right? f*cking magic, like the Others and merlings, snarks and grumkins, and those moving castles from Tyrion’s storybooks. Were the moving castles real too, then? Seven hells. I spent half a breath suspecting Rhaella, but I’m the mad one. He didn’t even have proof that magic was real. She could be tricking me. Or someone is tricking her. Or she was right, and this island was about to get even more unlikable for Jaime.

Rhaella touched the wall of the entrance gently, just as she did with the soil behind them. Soft, almost loving. It unnerved Jaime. “Have you been here before?” he asked, if only to disturb the quiet.

Rhaella’s eyes never left the dark stone. She looked lost between fascination and wonder. “No,” she answered. “I never explored the island as much as I wanted to.”

Jaime followed her grazing fingers. Where she touched the stone, Jaime could have sworn he saw amber firelight flickering beneath its black surface. A trick of the light, he wanted to say, but there was no f*cking light on this bloody island. Jaime’s swordhand twitched. He wanted to back away, but he couldn’t move — magic? But no, it was his own cowardice.

“Jaime.” His name had never sounded so soft. “You don’t have to do this with me.”

Don’t I? “Am I not sworn to follow my queen’s orders?”

“I’ve given you no orders,” she said. “Only follow me if you wish it.”

Jaime wanted to scoff at that. As if he would let her go in that bloody cave by herself, especially after seeing it burn

But it hadn’t burned by itself, did it? It had reacted to her touch. As if it had felt her. As if it was awakened by her.

This place was changed by the Valyrians, Rhaegar had said.

The air was warm, and yet Jaime’s entire being was swarmed with cold.

Jaime looked at his queen, really looked at her. She was so tiny, but with the determination on her face, she may as well have been ten feet tall. Targaryens. All Jaime’s life, he’d heard about their dragons, their power and beauty, their superiority, how they were the blood of Old Valyria, the blood of the dragon, and as their guard he’d spent two years of hearing it firsthand, by brownnosing lords and Grandmaester Pycelle and the Mad King himself. As he grew older, he’d dismissed the praise as exaggeration, and after becoming a Kingsguard, horsesh*t, and some of it still was, but gods, Aerys was not lying. If they weren’t the blood of the dragon, they were still something. Something he could not comprehend, did not want to comprehend. Something evil, part of him wanted to think, but he knew that couldn’t be true. Not if it was within Rhaella. And she had wanted him here.

The dragon fears nothing. That was what Viserys had told his father, the day before they’d left the city.

And neither does the lion, thought Jaime. He stepped forward. “Consider my wish granted,” he said. His voice was far steadier than his racing heartbeat. “Should my queen lead the way?”

Rhaella smiled at him then, and for a moment, Jaime could not speak. It wasn’t even a big smile, or a particularly bright one, but it was warm, and intimate, as if she’d done it only for him, and it reached her eyes in a way he had never seen before. Happy. She’s happy. Rhaella was happy, and Jaime knew he would do anything to keep her that way. Even if it meant venturing into a cave he knew he had no business being in.

When they entered the cave, it was the same as it had been before, only Jaime could see the pathway Rhaenys and Viserys ran off to. Harmless, so far, but Jaime kept a hand on his sword hilt all the same. It was quite dark, but Jaime dare not light a lantern unless Rhaella asked him of it. He remembered that strange sparking the walls did in reaction to the flames, and while he was a brave lion, he was not a stupid one. It did no use to go looking for danger. Well, more than I already am.

Rhaella inspected the walls as intensely as Tyrion did his books. “It’s so beautiful.” She sounded breathless, fascinated, in complete and utter awe.

Jaime gave the cave another look. The glitter of the rock was lovely, and terrifying, but it wasn’t enough to warrant that reaction. There was nothing else to see. “Sure,” he said, “If you like darkness.”

Rhaella didn’t seem to hear him. She walked up to a wall, petted at it, but it didn’t glow, thank the gods. She turned, looked at the wall beside her. She frowned at it, looked deeply, as if the wall had something on it that the others didn’t. Then she stepped towards it, and walked through

Rhaella!” He’d screamed it before he’d known it.

Rhaella jumped, looked at him. “What’s wrong?”

Knives pulsed through Jaime’s throat, his heart. He tried to speak, but nothing would come. All he could do was stare.

Half of Rhaella’s body had been devoured by the stone, blending with her pale skin like some horrid plague. Glittering blackness waved over her, through her, in her. Jaime would have drawn his sword if there was something to fight, but it was a wall. And Rhaella was inside of it.

“Jaime.” His name had never sounded so calm. Jaime felt his pulse slowing. “Tell me what you see.”

How can she not feel it? Jaime inched toward her. If the f*cking wall came alive, he would have to be near enough to save her. “The wall.”

Rhaella turned her head to look at the wall, and her face was swallowed by —

Don’t,” he said. She looked back at him. “Stay still.”

Rhaella did as he bid her. “I am well, Jaime. Unharmed. Please tell me what you see.”

“You’re — you’re going through the wall. Like a ghost.”

Rhaella frowned at that. She made to turn her head, but then she remembered herself. She looked at him, patient and calm as a serene river. “May I move, Jaime?”

Jaime drew closer. “Only to me.”

Rhaella went to him, slowly, as if she feared he would break if she moved faster. When the last of the black left her, Jaime grabbed her and pulled her behind him, let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

Rhaella held one of his hands. “Jaime.”

Jaime looked at her. She was not afraid at all. She was only focused on calming him, as if she wasn’t just being eaten by a —

Rhaella clasped her other hand over the hilt of his sword, where Jaime was clutching it. “I am fine, Jaime.” Gently, she tried to peel his fingers from his sword. Jaime let her do it. She cradled his other hand, caressed the white metal covering his skin. Jaime wished he could feel it.

“I am fine,” she said again. She stepped back so that he could inspect her. “Do you see?”

Jaime looked her over. She was unmarred. “Yes.”

Rhaella didn’t let go of his hand. “I’m going to go back, now.” Before he could protest, she shook her head. “You must see it for yourself, Jaime. Please trust me.” She pulled him toward the wall, gently. Jaime let her.

She stopped right at the wall, looked at him, and slowly reached out the hand that wasn’t holding his. The wall swallowed it, just as it had before.

“Do you see the same thing?” she asked.

Jaime could only nod.

Rhaella took her hand out as if it were nothing. “There is no wall here, Jaime.”

Jaime blinked at her. Then he laughed. “No. No, that’s ...” But what else could it be?

Rhaella looked on the other side of the cave, where Rhaenys and Viserys’s pathway was. “Tell me everything that happened when you and the children found this place.”

And so he told her. The entrance he had not seen, the small cove that looked empty, the sparking walls, the pathway that appeared out of nowhere.

“You said you did not see either entrance, at first,” said Rhaella. “What happened before you did?”

Jaime tried to remember. “The children told me where it was.”

“Both times?”

“Both times.”

Rhaella considered that. She grasped his shoulders with her tiny hands, and put him right in front of the ghost-wall. Then, she pointed.

“Look there,” she said.

Jaime looked at the wall. At first, there was nothing. Then, the blackness shimmered. Shimmered, like ripples on black water, like mist in the night. Then it faded like a dying breath. Darkness met Jaime, as dark as before, but deep, hollow. Not a wall. A pathway. A f*cking pathway.

“Do you see, now?” Rhaella asked.

Oh, Jaime did see. He saw that there were things in this world far beyond him. He saw that he knew nothing. And he saw that he did not belong here.

Jaime wanted to tell her that, or something close to it, but he could not muster the strength. “f*ck.” That would have to do.

Rhaella understood that. “I ... I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know about this. Or ... at least … I don’t remember knowing about it. So many things slipped away from me as soon as I awoke.”

Jaime ignored that. There was only so much he could process. “What was that?”

Rhaella closed her eyes, frowned, as if she were trying to remember something. “It’s ... a spell,” she said. “A glamour.”

Jaime blinked. “A glamour.”

“A spell used to hide things,” she explained. “My ancestors must have cast it so that outsiders could not go where they were not wanted. But they made it so that their kin could undo the affects for those they trusted.”

Jaime studied her. “But you’re only guessing.”

Rhaella nodded meekly. “I was unaware of this place until I dreamed of it. In the dream, I learned things about my people that had been lost for centuries — our culture, our gods, our magic. I remember knowing it all when I slept, but now ... I will have to relearn it as I go. Or hope that I have the same dream again, but that is unlikely.”

Jaime didn’t say anything. Rhaella grabbed his hand again. “This is a lot to take in, I know. I am new to this myself. But I’ve always known about magic, and I have dealt with it my entire life, in one way or another. This is not something you were raised with, so ... I understand if you want to leave. I will not force anything on you. But I must go further, Jaime. I need you to understand that as well.”

“But why?” he asked. “What do you need to find here?”

Rhaella frowned again, looking frustrated. “I don’t know for certain. All I know is that I am meant to find something here. I know it, Jaime. I can feel it in my bones.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. It’s ... difficult for me to explain.”

Difficult to explain to an outsider, you mean. “Why bring me, then? Why not Rhaegar? He studies magic, I know that much.”

Rhaella averted his gaze, twisted at her fingers. “Rhaegar wasn’t in the dream,” she said, blushing. “You were.”

Jaime was a lot less resistant after that.

They went through the de-glamoured hallway, the darkness engulfing them like a draping shadow. Rhaella went for her lantern, lit it, and the walls did not spark for her, no. They beamed. Crimson runes appeared on the dark walls as if they had always been there, and perhaps they had been — with f*cking glamours everywhere, it was hard to tell. They shined upon Jaime and Rhaella, their red glow like rubies, shaped into a written word. Part of Jaime could only think of how much Tyrion would love those runes, how he would spend hours upon hours deciphering them, and then wear Jaime’s ears off to tell him what he’d discovered. The other part of him was so on edge that he wanted to brandish his sword, but what would be the point?

Rhaella seemed to notice his distress. Under any other circ*mstance that would have bothered him, but down here, he couldn’t bring himself to care. “If it makes you feel better,” she said as she led him down the path, “Nothing will harm us here. I know it.”

“I can believe that for you,” Jaime said, “But me? I am Lann the Clever’s descendant, not Aegon the Conqueror’s.”

“No,” Rhaella allowed, “But you are dragon-friend. This place welcomes you, as it has me.”

“And you just remembered that now, did you?” he asked blandly.

Rhaella only smiled and kept going.

As they ventured deeper, Jaime noticed they were going downhill. The air grew thicker, warmer, like a merciless furnace. Jaime’s sweat filled his armor. Rhaella, however, looked just as comfortable and unblemished as a fish in water. Bloody Targaryens.

Finally, the path led to an open room. It was not a cave, however. It was an armory. The most magnificent armory Jaime had ever seen. The walls reached high to the heavens, gilded with ruby trims, and the black walls held gorgeous designs that Jaime didn’t understand. The floor was immaculate black stone, far smoother than that of the walls above them, so reflective Jaime could see himself as if he were standing atop a mirror. It was a majestic room that sung of a mystical time far before this one ... but it was empty.

“No,” Rhaella said. She walked further into the room. “There has to be something here.”

Jaime found himself disappointed too. He could only imagine the remarkable Valyrian steel blades that once resided here. “Perhaps you weren’t meant to find something in this room, but the room itself. It’s an amazing armory. I’m sure Rhaegar could find good use for it, especially with this war happening.”

“It could be useful, yes,” she said. “But no. If this was what I was meant to find, I would know it.” She looked through piles of dust and old crates. She found nothing, and she looked so upset that Jaime had to do something. He walked to a random corner, toward a crate ... and heard an echo.

Jaime stomped his foot. There it was again. He crouched, inspected the floor. One of the stones was bigger than the other. He moved it. Below it was a massive chest, made with what appeared to be Valyrian steel.

“Your Grace, I found something!”

Rhaella made her way to him as he pulled the chest out. “Do you think this is it?” he asked her.

Rhaella opened her mouth, but didn’t speak. Jaime could practically hear her heart pounding.

Jaime tried to open the chest, but there was lock on it. After all these centuries, it had not rusted.

Before Jaime could speak, Rhaella touched the lock, and it snapped open with a faint, crisp sigh.

“I don’t know whether to be impressed or annoyed by that,” he said.

Rhaella could only laugh. She put her dainty fingers underneath the lid, tried to lift it, but it was too heavy. She let out a little oof as it slammed back down.

Jaime smirked. “Looks like magic does not fix everything.” He lifted it for her, looked in the chest, and, gods.

In the chest were weapons — a bow, blacker than the darkest night, trimmed with lavender, and a dagger, with a black blade and a ruby hilt shaped like a roaring dragon. But what mattered most was the sword. By all the heavens, it was glorious. Sleek and gleaming, black streaks spidering through a blood-red blade that could only have been forged in the fires of Valyria. The tip was slightly curved at the end, like a snake’s fang, and the grip was a black dragon with glittering ruby eyes, its wings draping over the hilt. Jaime had never had so much trouble controlling his hands. Would his queen let him wield it, if only for a moment?

The queen had her own fascination. She picked up the bow as if it were a babe, grazing her finger down its spine. “Oh,” she whispered.

“It’s beautiful, Your Grace,” he told her. Rhaella only nodded as she inspected it. She handled it as if she was familiar with it, as if it wasn’t her first time holding a bow.

“Do you know much about archery, Your Grace?”

Rhaella looked pained for a moment, before fighting it. She smiled. “I did, very much,” she said. “When I was younger.” When my husband still allowed me to train, she left unsaid.

Jaime swallowed his anger. “Well, there’s no better time to relearn than when we’re all killing each other. You should take it, Your Grace.”

Rhaella looked as if she wanted to protest, but then she put the bow on her back. Somehow, her little smile made this whole f*cking day worth it.

“So?” he asked. “Was that it? The thing you were meant to find?”

Rhaella’s smile turned sad. She shook her head. “No. But it is enough for now.” She grabbed Jaime’s dream sword, looked at it, then held it before him. “And so was this.”

Jaime blinked at the sword. “You ... you can’t be serious.”

“Why not?” she asked. “You are an exceptional swordsman, Jaime. If anyone deserves this sword, it’s you.”

She had only spoken the obvious, but Jaime’s ears burned nonetheless. He looked away, shrugged, laughed. “That may be true, but my colors are red and gold, not red and black. Should King Rhaegar not wield this sword?”

Jaime’s queen still held out his sword. “Rhaegar was not in my dream,” she said. “You were.”

Nerves skittered all through Jaime’s body as he reached for the sword. When his fingers clutched the grip, it felt right in his hands. So right. While he was not a dragon himself, he would use this blade to defend them. It was fitting.

“Thank you, Your Grace,” he said, smiling. Gods, he hadn’t smiled genuinely in such a long time. It felt good. “I will earn this sword. I swear to you, I will.”

“I know,” Rhaella said. As she looked at him, her purple eyes seemed to sparkle. They were such pretty eyes. They’d always been pretty, and yet …

Jaime looked down at the dagger. “What of this?” he asked. “We were meant to find this too.”

Rhaella frowned, then feigned dismissal, but Jaime saw the want on her face. “Viserys could use it when he is older, if he likes.”

Jaime gave her a knowing look. “Was Viserys in your dream?”

Rhaella looked as if she were about to argue, then stopped herself. “No.”

“Then it’s for you.” He gave it to her. “Perhaps after the babe is born, I could show you how to use it. Robbers need to know their daggers, don’t they?”

Rhaella gave him a put-upon sigh. “If you insist.” She looked around the armory. “These weapons are a great find, but they are not what I dreamed of. We must search further.”

Jaime raised a brow at her. “You mean when you’ve rested and gotten some food in your belly, and I’m not wearing armor that makes me far more likely to die from heat exhaustion? Tomorrow, you mean? That is when we must search further?”

Rhaella looked sheepish. “Yes.”

Jaime stood up. “Tomorrow sounds lovely, Your Grace.” He offered her his hand, and they went back the way they came.

As they ascended, a question arose in Jaime, one he couldn’t focus on when they first came down here. “So, about your dream. What did I do in it?”

“Nothing too specific,” Rhaella answered. “You just led me to the cave.”

“How could I have done that? It’s not as if I knew anything about it.”

“No, but you were meant to get that sword, I imagine. It was only to show me that I must bring you with me.”

“I suppose.” He said it as if they were discussing breakfast instead of magical dreams, but if it was wrong that he had accepted this, he couldn’t bring himself to care. “It’s still odd that I led you to it. After what happened with the children, I wanted nothing to do with this place.”

“But you knew of its existence, and I did not,” she said. Then a little grin took her features. “And its not as if I could’ve asked you anything. You were quite fearsome. I feared a swipe from your paw if I dared to question you.”

Jaime frowned. “I had a paw? Why?”

Rhaella giggled. “Because you were a lion, of course. A rather majestic one, and a noble steed at that.”

Steed? Who was ri —”

“My daughter, of course. Daenerys. She was in the dream too. But she did not speak to me as much as she did the first time she visited me, I’m sad to say.”

Jaime blinked. “Daener — you spoke —”

Rhaella shrugged, but that little grin was still on her face. She has been around me too long, and we’ve only been friends for a few days. “I had to tell you sometime. Better now than later, yes?”

“Never,” Jaime said, cheerfully. “Never is always better.”

Rhaella only laughed at him. Bloody Targaryens. Still, when they reached the surface, and the soft misty air of Dragonstone kissed Jaime’s heated face, he figured that maybe this island wasn’t too horrible, after all.

Notes:

***

Time for reader questions, because I'm bored and have a lot of free time to write this! (Non-joking ones in bold)

1. What did you think of the chapter?

2. What should Jaime name his new sword?

3. On a scale of 1-10, how shook was Jaime after seeing proof that magic exists? I'd say a decent 7.

4. What's up with the Golden Company?

5. Are Rhaegar and Jaime gonna become besties?

6. Just how serious is Jaime's mancrush on Rhaegar and Arthur? (I'M MARKING THIS AS A SERIOUS QUESTION I DON'T EVEN CARE)

7. Just how cute are Rhaenys and Viserys?

8. Is Rhaenys/Viserys the best background ship ever?

9. What's going on with Rhaella?

10. What does she need to find in that cave?

11. Is she female Legolas now?

12. Was her riding outfit really that hot?

13. And is she gonna bang Jaime, or nah?

14. Are you guys enjoying the slow burn - not just the relationship between J/R, but the story pacing?

15. Did Jaime's PTSD triggering kill you like it killed me?

Seriously though, I'd love to hear what you guys thought of this chapter. It was so fun to write (except for the scene where Jaime's PTSD was triggered. That was not fun at all).

I really liked hearing your theories on Rhaella's dream, so I'd love to see what you guys think is going to happen next. Thanks for the support!

Chapter 11: Rhaella V

Notes:

Just wanna let you know that I haven't forgotten about naming Jaime's Valyrian steel sword! I saw all of your names, and I love all of them, (especially the petty suggestion to name it Brightroar just to piss off Tywin - I love you guys, lol).

You're welcome to leave more names until it's time for me to choose. :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“He is staying,” Rhaegar told her.

Rhaella smiled, leaned her head back, watched the heavens. For once, the clouds had spared Dragonstone. The softest yellow haze gleamed through the gloom, veiled sun glowing upon them on the open balcony, sweet and as generous as it was allowed to be on such a melancholy island, and Rhaella loved every breath of it. She relaxed in her lounge, basking in clearer skies. Rhaegar sat beside her, nursing a glass of spiced lemon-wine — a Dornish flavor that Elia had shipped in by the loads.

In the private courtyard below them, Jaime ran and jumped and roared, with Rhaenys — pardons, Queen Rhaenyra on his back, commanding her Sunfyre as they battled Viserys. Rhaella hadn’t been able to catch who Viserys was portraying — the second Aegon, most like. When Viserys played Dragons and Dragonriders, he insisted on being historically accurate. If Jaime was Sunfyre, then Rhaenys must be Rhaenyra, and Viserys must be Aegon. But Sunfyre was Aegon’s dragon, not Rhaenyra’s, so why did —

“You’ll pay for stealing my dragon, fiendish pretender!” Viserys yelled, and that answered that.

Rhaella reached for Rhaegar’s glass. He handed it to her. She took a sip, sighed. It was almost as divine as the last one Lorei brewed for her, all those years ago. Almost.

“I figured he would,” she said. For now, anyway. There were no battles awaiting Rhaegar in the Reach or Stormlands. As soon as true glory came calling, Jaime would leave to defend their king, with the steel of Old Valyria in his golden hands. Part of Rhaella wished she could see it. “But I thank you.”

Rhaegar trailed his fingers down the glass. “I offered to have your sellswords take his place as your guard. He did not seem to like the idea overmuch.”

“Truly?” A warmness sighed in Rhaella’s heart. Sweet boy.

She eyed Rhaegar, saw the contemplation in his expression. “You were testing him.”

Rhaegar hummed. “And he passed. Any Kingsguard who chooses to leave his queen with sellswords is no true Kingsguard at all. Even sellswords the Queen herself allied with.”

A stillness took them, save for the jumping nerves in Rhaella’s belly. Be calm, my sweetling, she told her daughter. I alone must lie to your brother. Let me bear it.

“Where did they come from?” he finally asked. An obvious and simple question, asked purposely to ease her into the upcoming inquiry.

Rhaella took another sip of his wine. “From the East,” she answered. “That is where the Company has always resided, no?”

“Yes,” he allowed. Ever since they were formed for the sole purpose of destroying us, he left unsaid. He called in a servant to fetch them a small lunch — buttered bread with strawberry preserves, candied limes, Dornish sausage, more of Lorei’s wine. On a small plate only for her, there was a dollop of mashed apples, riddled with cinnamon and pepper.

“You still crave that, don’t you?” Rhaegar asked.

“You remembered.” Of course he did. Rhaegar had been there to see all of his siblings grow within her, and with each one she carried, she would eventually crave peppered cinnamon apples, mashed into a fine paste. Strange, she knew, but delicious nonetheless to her pregnant body. It was so early with Daenerys that she hadn’t craved them yet, but the smell of them did have her mouth watering. Rhaella would have smiled at her son’s thoughtfulness if she didn’t think it would come out as a grimace.

They ate in silence, the sounds of Jaime and the children playing filling their ears. If he knew we were watching, would he stop? Rhaella wondered. She hoped he wouldn’t. Seeing Jaime with the children brought a joy to her that she could not describe. It is what Joey and I wanted. Close enough, anyhow. And when the Golden Company did what they were meant to, Rhaella would have it even more: their children together, untainted, unthreatened by war. If, not when, a voice told her. Her doubt. She took another sip of her wine, hoped her hand wasn’t shaking too visibly.

“I had Lord Celtigar check our treasury,” said Rhaegar. “He said there was nothing untoward in the accounts, that the balances all fit as they should.” How did you pay them? he left unsaid.

“I would imagine the vault in King’s Landing is a few coins lighter,” Rhaella said, a bit too quickly. And I would imagine even more that Varys did not have to pay one single groat to those traitors.

For the longest time, Rhaegar said nothing. And with each silent breath, Rhaella’s guilt grew. She knew what her son truly wanted to ask, what he refrained from asking, because he sensed she did not wish to speak of it. He will not ask because he trusts me. It was a beautiful thing, Rhaegar’s trust. But still, she could hear the unspoken voice pressing her. How did you ally yourself with the Golden Company? Why do they fight for their oldest enemy? Why did you keep them secret? How? How?

“I would imagine as well,” Rhaegar said, even though it was clear he did not. He watched his daughter play. “Rhaenys asked me about Elia, last night.”

“Did she?” A small pang ran through Rhaella at his words. Oh, my sweet dragonling. Rhaella missed Elia too, and worried for her even more. She and Aegon were still trapped in King’s Landing, still buried under Aerys’s flame. “She was not too upset, was she?”

“Not overmuch, once I told her that Elia and Aegon would be returning to us soon.”

“Soon? Was that a lie?”

Rhaegar grimaced. “Only a half-one, perhaps. I will bring them here, but not as soon as we would all like.”

“How?” Rhaella asked. “We could smuggle them out, but once he realizes they’re gone, that would be the end of it. His suspicions may turn to us, and that would reveal our intentions before we’re ready.”

“True,” Rhaegar said, “But if they’re gone, he’ll have no leverage over Dorne, and they would be able to officially join us.”

“He would still have Lewyn,” Rhaella reminded him.

Rhaegar’s eyes grew gloomy. “I wish my good-uncle no harm, you know this. But Lewyn would sacrifice himself for Elia and Aegon, if it came to it.”

“It must not come to that,” Rhaella said. Aerys’s jealousy and hatred for all things Dornish had driven her and Lewyn apart over the years, but he was still Lorei’s blood, still Rhaella’s friend despite everything, and she would not see him thrown to Aerys’s mercy. “We can save all three of them. There must be a way.”

Rhaegar let out a quiet, exhausted sigh. “There is one, I’m sure. But I do not know of it.” He gazed at his plate then, eyes distant, shoulders stiff.

“You miss her,” Rhaella said.

Another quiet sigh. “I do.”

Rhaella wrapped her hand around his. “Write to her.”

“I did,” he said. His lips quirked. “Well, not entirely. I helped Rhaenys scribe a raven to Elia, to help ease her mind.”

Rhaella chuckled. “And what did she say?”

Rhaegar’s eyes glowed with love and mirth. “She told Elia of the adventure she and Viserys had. Then she requested a full report on what Balerion has been up to in her absence. After finishing her letter, she begged me to tell her what I knew of cat-people. I asked her where she’d even heard the idea, but she insisted it had to be kept secret.”

Rhaella giggled. “A secret she has already told me. Jaime told the children that he’s a lion in human form. They’ve been amazed ever since.”

Rhaegar smiled softly. “He is good with them.”

“He is,” she agreed. As a big brother should be, she could almost hear Joanna saying.

“He’ll look after you well while I’m away,” Rhaegar said. “At any rate, I must meet with the Company, now that they’ve all landed.” He met eyes with her, Grandpapa’s indigo irises gazing into hers. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me, Mother?” Will you speak the truth now? he left unsaid.

Rhaella caressed his beautiful face. “Yes.” Varys is our ally. Varys is our enemy. And our ancestors see me. Daenerys sees me. They found me, awakened my magic. I dream again. I dreamed of our old glory. It lives beneath us, and I found it, my love. There was a bow, a beautiful bow made for my hands alone, and I want to show you, though I know I cannot. There was a Valyrian steel blade worthy of song, but I gave it to Jaime, not you, because I did not dream of you, because if you know that your obsessions of magic and prophecy are true, you will abandon the rebellion and stay here forever, and we will never be free of Aerys. Forgive me.

Rhaella squeezed his hand. “I don’t want you to leave.” It was the only truth she could give him.

Rhaegar gave her a little smile, the one reserved only for her, though she could feel his melancholy. He brought her hand to his lips. “I won’t be leaving just yet.” He stood and offered her his hand. “The meeting grows nigh. Join me?”

No, said the wraith. The mere thought of facing their potential undoing made her want to close her eyes to the world. But that was the cowardice of the wraith, and the wraith was dying. I must lie to Rhaegar, thought Rhaella Targaryen, But I made a promise to Daenerys, and that is something I will never break.

The queen took her king’s hand. “Of course. They cannot move without our order, can they?”

*/*/*/*

The Golden Company’s leader was Myles Toyne, and it was all Rhaella could do not to let out a bitter laugh. Myles Toyne, of House Toyne. House Toyne, which had a forebear that was tortured and killed by Rhaella’s forebear, Aegon the Unworthy, all for bedding one of Aegon’s many mistresses. The same Toynes that had just recently led the Kingswood Brotherhood, only to be destroyed by Aerys’s Kingsguard, and promptly exiled to Essos because they’d had the luck of being judged on one of Aerys’s good days — those Toynes. Of course. We have to deal with someone who has good reason to hate our family. Good show, Varys. She had to jest to herself about it, because if she lingered on what she had done, on what she may have brought upon her family, she would grow madder than Aerys. If I look back, I am lost.

Myles gave Rhaella and Rhaegar a stiff bow. “My prince,” he greeted. “Your Grace.”

Rhaella forced herself not raise a brow at Myles’s title for Rhaegar. Is he truly unaware of Rhaegar’s coup, or does he only pretend? Rhaella suddenly felt very tired. “Ser Myles,” she said. “We thank you for coming so swiftly.”

“We take our contracts seriously, Your Grace,” he said. “I must ask, who do I report to? Pardons. Prince Rhaegar may be the royal heir, but it was the queen who sent for us.”

It was Varys who brought you, and you know it. She waited for Rhaegar to speak, but he said nothing. He gave her a look, and she knew what he was telling her. This is your move. Play it.

“You answer to me, as well as my son.” She searched his eyes for any malice toward his Targaryen masters, but there was none. That did not put her at ease.

Myles nodded. “Yes, Your Grace. Where are we needed?”

Rhaegar reached over the Painted Table, pointed toward the Riverlands. “That is where my cousin is currently camped. Send most of your men there, then scatter at his outposts. Do whatever you can to keep the rebels focused on you while I’m away. If they somehow receive word of my tour and decide to follow me, stop them as best you can and send word to me immediately.”

“Understood, Your Grace,” he said. “And where do you need the remaining men?”

“Here,” Rhaegar said. “Guard the ports, the villages, the fortress.”

“Only leave two-hundred men,” Rhaella added. She had to ensure they did not outnumber the Dragonstone guards. “Keep a quarter of them to protect the fortress. Have the rest of them guard the smallfolk.”

“Yes,” Rhaegar said smoothly, though she could practically hear his thoughts racing in his mind. “If necessary, they will cooperate with Ser Jaime to keep the island and my family secure.” He looked at Jaime. On the other side of the table, Jaime gave Rhaegar a swift nod.

“It will be as the queen and prince says,” said Myles.

Will it? “We’re hosting a feast to give my son a good send off,” she told him. “You and your captains may join us, if you’d like.”

“I would, Your Grace,” he said, and that was that.

After the meeting was over, Jaime led her to the training grounds. “Two-hundred men,” he mused. “Quite a small number in this instance, wouldn’t you say?”

Rhaella raised her brow at him. “Would you?”

Jaime smirked. “If I trusted them? Yes. But if I mistrusted them enough to look at their leader like I wanted to leap over my ancestor’s table and claw his eyes out, then I would say two-hundred is too immense of an amount.”

“I did not look at him like that,” Rhaella protested.

His smirk deepened. “Didn’t you? You forget that I was raised amongst women, Your Grace. Lannister women, at that. You were being subtle enough, I’ll grant you that, but I know the look of an angry woman when I see one.”

Subtle enough to not alert my son, I hope, Rhaella thought.

“So,” Jaime said, “Are dragon claws sharp, or blunt? I can never remember.”

“Are lions blind?” She tried to sound annoyed, but she couldn’t help the little smile that took her face. “I’m afraid you saw nothing but your own imagination.”

“Of course, Your Grace,” Jaime said, humbly. “You are right.” They walked in silence for a moment. Then, “So would you go for his eyes, or his throat?” He ignored her sighing. “I think throat tearing is more of a cat thing. Do dragons have a thing? Besides fire, of course.”

“We only need fire,” she said. “Nothing more.”

“I tremble with fear,” Jaime said in a dramatically dark voice.

Rhaella had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. Gods, she’d laughed more in these few days than she had in years. “You should never mock your queen’s House, Ser.”

Jaime’s smirk turned into a full on grin. “Oh, never that, Your Grace. I was only acknowledging your greatness. For nearly three centuries, we’ve all bowed before you. The little birdies and fishies may be having a tantrum now, and they’ve let themselves get led by wolf pups and deer … but they’ll bow again eventually. And then there are those who follow you even now. Roses … suns …” He paused. “Sellswords.”

Rhaella sighed. “You will not let this go, will you?”

Jaime pretended to consider it. “No.”

“I could order you to,” she said.

His grin only widened. “But you won’t.”

“How far are we from the training yard?”

Jaime laughed. “As if I couldn’t interrogate you there.” He walked in front of her a bit so that he could get a good look at her. “Is it sellsword prejudice? Most people have that, I’ve found.”

“Sellswords are not known for their loyalty,” she said. “They are a fickle people. Knowing that, who wouldn’t be mistrustful of them?”

“But these aren’t just any sellswords,” said Jaime. “This is the Golden Company. They never betray the one they’ve made their contract with.”

I know, Rhaella thought, and that is what I’m afraid of.

“Allow me my caution, anyway,” Rhaella said. “I am old, as well as pregnant. Those two things combined would make anyone a bit irrational, I would say.”

Jaime scoffed at that. “You’re young enough to be pregnant. I doubt many old women could say the same. And you don’t look your age, besides.”

“And what does a woman my age look like, pray tell?” she asked. “Wrinkles upon wrinkles? Hair thinner than a starving man?”

Jaime’s smile turned a bit sheepish. “It’s … come to my attention that what I said was not as kind as it sounded in my head.”

“Ahh.”

“Still. Your firstborn has been of age for quite some time, and yet you could definitely pass as his —”

“Aunt?” Rhaella shook her head. “If so, I would barely pass for it, but I will accept the thought. Certainly not his sister, as I know you were going to say.”

“I was going to say aunt.”

Were you?”

He went to make a remark, then closed his mouth. “Aren’t queens supposed to be kind?”

“Aren’t lions supposed to be clever?”

Jaime’s grin returned. “My queen is cruel. But I never claimed to be clever. Witty? Yes. Absurdly handsome? Of course. Owner of one of the greatest swordhands in all of Westeros? Without a doubt. But my siblings are the clever ones in our little pride of three, my brother most of all.”

The mentioning of Jaime’s brother sprang a jolt through Rhaella’s heart. Tyrion. Joanna’s second son. Joanna’s last child. The son she died birthing. The son who had been born twisted and stunted, whose very existence made Aerys laugh. He thought the boy was Tywin’s punishment from the gods. He laughed at Tywin’s pain. And that night, when his madness faded and he realized Joanna was truly gone, he wept in my arms. Rhaella remembered it as if it happened mere breaths before. Her brother’s quiet sobbing, lilac eyes as pained as they were after Summerhall, his still human-like nails gripping her arms, clinging to her. She’d clung to him just as desperately, despite her disgust for him, despite her rage. She was never yours, Rhaella remembered thinking as she held Aerys close. Nor was she mine. She died a lion, and we live as fools. She was never ours. Joanna had never been theirs, but Rhaella shared her grief with Aerys anyway, because he was the only one who understood. We understood each other. He knew of my grief, but he did not hate me for it. Instead, he kissed me. And I wanted it. I led him to my bed, and he wanted it too. It was the first time in a long time that they’d shared a bed together, and one of the last times Rhaella went willingly. My big brother, come to protect me again. She’d even grown pregnant from it, but the babe died in her womb, died like Joanna did. Fitting. Rhaella smiled, and hoped it hid her pain.

Jaime wasn’t looking at her, though. His Lannister eyes were far away, a sad smile on his face. He loves Tyrion. And he misses him. For half a breath, Rhaella considered bringing Tyrion to court to visit Jaime, once Rhaegar’s kingship was settled, but no. Even if Tywin allowed it, she could not bear it. The child was innocent in Joanna’s death, Rhaella knew, but how could she look into his eyes and know it was his birth that had —

No. That was the wraith, only the wraith. She would see Tyrion one day. She would. Joanna died to give him life. He was the last thing she ever did. I must see him.

Jaime took her from her thoughts. “Back to the matter at hand. Pardons if you mind me saying so, Your Grace,” he began, moving his shoulders in a slow, awkward shrug, “But your beauty makes your age quite irrelevant, I’d say.”

Rhaella’s heart skipped a beat. Gods, does he truly believe it? Whenever Rhaella looked into her mirror, she saw nothing but dull purple rocks where her sparkling amethyst eyes used to be, weighed down by circles burned into her skull by the endless agony that was her life. Her cheeks were not as rosy as they were in her youth, but pale and papery. If she still smiled as much as she did in her youth, she would probably have laugh lines around her lips, but Aerys had ensured she would never have those. Underneath her clothes was even worse. Even if she did not have the scars her husband gave her, she still had sagging breasts, and a pudgy belly riddled with spidery stretch marks left by all of her children, alive or dead. Of course Jaime couldn’t know of that, but her aging face revealed his lie well enough.

Rhaella was too empty to thank him, as she had with his other compliments. “How old do you think I am?” she asked instead.

Jaime was about to answer, but he stopped himself. “I would guess, but as I feel this may be a trap, I would remain silent, Your Grace.”

That brought a smile out of her. Damn him. “It is not something you should have to guess, now that I think of it. I am of the royal bloodline. My birth was announced and recorded before I’d finished my first cry. Your maester did not tell you of Aegon the Unlikely and his descendants?”

“Oh, he did, I’m sure. But we’ve already established my lack of cleverness.”

“So we have,” Rhaella said. The training yard was right ahead. “From your not-so-witty banter, I take it that you’re no longer cross with me?”

“Firstly, I’ll admit that I have been far wittier in the past than I’m being currently, but I did manage to make you laugh quite a lot in this little conversation about hating sellswords and accidentally insulting your age, so I’d say you’re the last one who can call me out on such things. Secondly, I was never cross with you.”

“No?” Rhaella asked. She was referring to their new weapons, of course. Jaime had wanted to flaunt his newly acquired Valyrian blade by taking it with him everywhere, and of course, sparring. Rhaella had forbidden him. “If Rhaegar learns of the cave before he leaves, he will stay here and research until the end of his days,” she had told him. “We must hide our weapons until he is well away.” Jaime had not liked that order overmuch. Rhaella couldn’t say she did, either. Ever since she’d held her bow, gazed into its glowing purple veins that were the same shade her eyes had been, felt its power singing through its dark metaled wood and into her skin, she had wanted nothing but to pull its strings and let arrows fly. But she knew she must wait until Rhaegar was not there to see it. Not only because we need him for the war, she thought, unbidden, But because he wasn’t in the dream. It had bothered her more than she could say. Rhaegar was her firstborn, her Promised Prince, her hero, her king. How was he not meant to —

I must not question it, she scolded herself. His path lies elsewhere. A path of diplomacy, of kingship. A harbinger of peace had no use for a blade, and that was what her son was. Jaime was a warrior, though, and it was only fitting that he wielded a Valyrian blade to defend Valyrian royalty.

The true question was, why was Rhaella given a bow? She was no Visenya, no warrior queen. She was an excellent archer, or had been, but it had been only for pleasure. Rhaella loved the freedom of archery, the strength it took to shoot. She loved that it rewarded her natural patience and focus. She loved the thrum of a pulled string, the song of arrows soaring through the air. But it was a silly thing, a mere dream. And Aerys had awakened her from it when he forbade her from practicing.

Perhaps that is why Daenerys wanted me to find it, she thought. So that I may find myself. Whenever a bow was in Rhaella’s hands, she was never afraid. She was brave. Fearless. And I promised her I would never be afraid again. The bow was the key to that. It couldn’t be for fighting purposes. She was not Visenya, and even if she was, she had Rhaegar to protect her. And Jaime.

When they reached the sparring yard, Jaime found her some shooting gloves. They were a bit too small for her — fit for a child — but they would do for now. He set up an archer’s board for her, and gave her a wooden longbow from the armory. It was well made, but compared to her true bow, it may as well have been old firewood. It is what I deserve, she thought. I’ve no right to use the real one until I’ve regained my skill.

“When was the last time you used a bow?” Jaime asked her.

Rhaella couldn’t remember exactly when. It was after Aerys grew mad, after she’d had so many miscarriages she’d stopped counting. During that time, Aerys had grown suspicious of Rhaella, believing that their children were dying due to her being unfaithful. One of the men he suspected she was bedding was her archery trainer. To Rhaella’s surprise Aerys did not kill the man, but he did torture and exile him, and imprisoned Rhaella in Maegor’s Holdfast to ensure she stay faithful. Four years he kept me there. Four aching, silent, lonely years, and even after being convinced of her faithfulness and releasing her, Aerys never allowed her to train again. “Women have no use for such things, anyway,” he had sneered at her, even though it was him who had gifted Rhaella her first bow on her tenth nameday, and had smiled when she’d hit her first bull’s-eye. “And any man who would give his wife the opportunity to be a treacherous whor* is a fool.” But we live as fools, Brother.

“I’ve forgotten,” she said to Jaime. “Long before Viserys was born.” A morsel of shame crept into her voice unbidden, but it was too late to take it back, and she knew Jaime heard it. She had forced herself not to think of her bow, how much she had loved it, how good she was at it. She had not thought of it in years. She’d almost forgotten that she had even been an archer. Now that she was forced to remember, however …

Don’t listen, she begged Jaime, even though she knew he already had. He already knew of the pathetic wraith that lived inside her — how could she reveal it to him again?

A rage flashed in Jaime’s wild cat eyes, like emeralds set aflame, and for a half a breath, Rhaella thought she was seeing Tywin. Or Joanna, the night she left me.

The night you made her leave, the cruel part of her reminded her, but no, Rhaella could not think of that, nor could she think of Jaime’s anger. Was he truly angry for her? For what Aerys did to her? He is his mother’s son. It angered her, too. No, it enraged her. Rhaella remembered the quiet green storm in Joanna’s eyes as she saw that first bruise on Rhaella’s shoulder, the black, wild wrath in them. She remembered the look, remembered it like she remembered to breathe, because that was what ruined them all. That was what led to the wraith. But no, she could not think of that either.

The fury in Jaime’s eyes vanished as quickly as it came. He gave her a quiver with a handful of arrows in it. “Well, it’s never too late to relearn, I imagine.” He was attempting to sound lighthearted, but Rhaella could still hear the rage snapping just behind his teeth. It cannot be undone, sweet boy, she wanted to tell him. There is no need to mourn for me. Still, the fact that he cared made her want to cry.

Rhaella put an arrow over the string, let it rest. Somehow, it felt as if she hadn’t been parted with one for years, but only a few breaths. My old friend.

“I was as good with this as you are with your sword.” It came out as a whisper. A sad, pathetic whisper.

“That’s quite a boast, Your Grace,” Jaime said. “And since you seem so excited over being reunited, I’ll ignore you comparing archery to my swordfighting.”

That was so unexpected that she could only laugh. “You think it a lesser art form?”

“No. It takes skill and time, just as swordplay does. I simply hate archers.”

“Most swordsmen do, I imagine.”

“Oh, yes. But if Her Grace can impress me, I just may allow my opinion to sway for her.”

Rhaella lifted her arms, tested the string. “Then I’ll be sure to shoot for you, and only you, Ser,” she said flatly.

Jaime snorted. “Very sarcastic, Your Grace. Are you sure you’re not a Lannister?”

I was once, she wanted to say, but she knew that wasn’t true. “Quite,” she said instead. “You are more than enough, I’d say. Now please, I must focus.”

Jaime nodded and said nothing more. Rhaella pulled back the string. The slow creak sounded just as lovely as Rhaegar’s harp, and the sharpness of it pushing through her gloves felt sweeter than spring after the coldest winter.

Rhaella trained her bow on the bull’s-eye. Hello, old friend.

Hello, me, a deeper part of her said.

Rhaella let out a sharp breath, then let the arrow fly. It soared straight and true, perfect, its flight a beautiful whistle, and ended with a dull thump … right above the eye.

Jaime laughed. It was a light, happy one. A proud one. “Excellent shot, Your Grace.”

“I was aiming for the eye.” She hoped she didn’t sound too disappointed. Too childish. But the last time she shot a bow, it’d followed her every command.

“Technically, you hit it,” Jaime said. “Just not the pupil. It’s quite close, Your Grace. Especially for one who hasn’t trained as long as you have.”

Rhaella knew he was right, but she couldn’t shake her upset. She would not accept this. I will try again and again until I am me once more. She would reclaim herself. She would. Daenerys sent this to her for a reason. I made a promise. I will not break it. But she didn’t want Jaime to leave, either. He was in the dream. This is our journey.

“The feast isn’t until tonight,” she said as Jaime walked toward the board. “And we have more than enough time to search through the cave.” A blush was taking her cheeks, and she didn’t know why. Foolish thing. You’re embarrassed over nothing. “Until then, I would stay here and practice … but … you don’t have to —”

Jaime plucked the arrow out of the board and returned it to her. “I know,” he said.

*/*/*/*

Rhaella’s body hurt in all the best ways.

Her arms ached from bow training, her legs were tired from exploring the caves, and her head and heart were reeling from all the knowledge she’d uncovered, the discovery. The pain is worth it, she thought. And it would mean nothing if it did not hurt. Nothing worth having came easily.

And nothing worth having comes within a day, she could not help but think bitterly as she ate her steak. Despite several hours of searching, Rhaella and Jaime still had not found what she was meant to discover in those caves. They uncovered incredible things, yes — fine jewelry like she’d never seen, portraits of ancestors far before Aegon the Conqueror’s time, shrines to the Valyrian gods he had forsaken, a grand library filled with books in Old Valyrian so ancient she could not read it, even an untouched deposit of dragonglass — but not what she needed. Not what she’d dreamt of. Still, exploring the might of her ancestors was no small feat, and the more she thought of it, the more honored she felt.

“You’re in deep thought,” said Rhaegar. He sat next to her in the chair of honor. The room was loud and cheerful as their lords and ladies feasted, but somehow, she had heard his soft voice.

“I think of our family,” she said, and though it technically was not a lie, the guilt still choked her.

Rhaegar sighed. “I think of them too. It is why this must be finished as soon as possible.”

“Charm the Stormlanders and the Tyrells in the way only you can, my love, and we’ll be closer to ending it,” she said.

Rhaegar said nothing, only gave her a small, sad smile. He is melancholy, she knew, But he always is, in his own way. Just like her.

On the other side of her, Viserys tapped her arm. “Mother, may I say hello to the Golden Company leaders?”

Rhaella eyed them, sitting in the corner far from the table of honor. Myles Toyne was among them, laughing with his subordinates. They looked jolly enough in their yellow and gold garb, friendly enough, but that meant absolutely nothing.

“No, sweetling,” she said. “This is a feast to honor your brother. You must stay at the honored table. Do not speak to them unless I or Ser Jaime or your brother am with you, do you understand?”

Viserys wasn’t pleased, but he nodded all the same.

“Grandmama,” Rhaenys called to her from beside Rhaegar, “Is Ser Jaime sad?”

Rhaella looked over to where Jaime stood guard, not too far from them. His eyes were slightly drooped, and he did look a bit gloomy, but it was from exhaustion, Rhaella knew.

“No, my sweet. He is simply tired.”

“Why?” she asked.

“We went out exploring.”

That got her family’s attention. “Exploring?” The children asked at once. Rhaegar quietly observed them.

“Yes,” she said, but it was Rhaegar’s reaction she was looking for. Of course, he gave her none.

“Where did you go?” Rhaenys asked.

“We only explored the island, dearest,” she said.

“Why couldn’t we come?” she asked with a pout.

“It was far too dangerous for children, I’m afraid,” she placated her, “But Jaime can take you two adventuring soon, I am sure of it.”

“Dangerous?” Viserys didn’t like that. “Mother, you shouldn’t do dangerous things. Not with my sis —”

Rhaella shushed him. “Quiet, remember?” The feast was loud, but it was never safe to speak of such things in a crowded place.

“Sorry,” he said. “But still, I don’t think you should be doing things like that.”

“Ser Jaime was there to protect me, my Dragon. You needn’t worry.” Rhaella stole another look at Jaime. His white armor gleamed silver amongst the dark walls, the golden curls of his mane framing his handsome face nicely. In the dimness, it was like a spot of sunlight in gloom. He caught her eye then, gave her a sleepy smile. From so far away, Rhaella could not see the green of his eyes, but she was sure they were twinkling.

Rhaella returned his smile. Our sons are so beautiful, Joanna.

When the feast neared its end, their subjects toasted them. “To the prince and Her Grace!” One said. “Glory to the dragons!”

They cheered and cheered, and Rhaella could only swell with pride. They know he is king. They feel it. They just know they can’t say it aloud yet.

After the toast, Rhaegar took them to his chambers. They were the largest bedchambers in the entire fortress, grand, dark, though Elia had added a little Dornish light to the décor. An assembly of sitting pillows were in a quaint cluster, yellow and orange like the Martell sigil. Rhaella sat the children down on them as Rhaegar fetched his harp.

“What will you sing for us, my love?” she asked her firstborn son.

Rhaegar sat down, strung the strings of his harp absently. “Whatever you’d like.”

Before she could reply, Rhaenys did. “Could Ser Jaime hear it too?”

Rhaella frowned and looked at the front of the chambers. “He didn’t follow us. I will fetch him.”

She found him just outside the door, standing guard.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Jaime looked confused. “… My duty?”

“You needn’t do that now, Jaime,” she said. She found that she rather liked saying his name without the title. It made the fact that he was here with her more real. “Won’t you come and join us?”

Jaime blinked. Then a faint blush took his cheeks. Or perhaps it was only the firelight. “Pardons, Your Grace. I was under the impression that it was only a family affair.”

You are family. “We want you there,” she said. Then she quickly added, “Rhaenys asked for you herself.”

He laughed. “And I could hardly deny the youngest princess, could I?”

“Never,” she agreed. “Go and remove your armor, then find some castle guard to watch the door. You are relieved for the night.”

When Jaime returned, Rhaegar was ready to perform. He plucked at his harp, humming. Rhaenys gave him a stern look.

“Papa,” she said in a scolding tone. “Remember your promise.”

Rhaegar’s eyes lit with mirth. “I would never forget, my melody.”

“Promise?” Rhaella asked.

Rhaegar’s lips twitched, but he said nothing. Probably because he knew Rhaenys would be eager to explain.

“Papa’s sad songs make the stone monsters cry,” she told them. “So I made him promise to sing his sad songs low, so that only we could hear them.”

Rhaella bit her cheek to keep from laughing. “That is very considerate of you, to think of them.”

“Quite,” Jaime agreed. “Be careful, Your Grace. Should it rain tomorrow, we will know why.”

“I will be, Ser,” Rhaegar said, humor in his eyes. “You needn’t worry.”

“Dragons have excellent hearing,” Viserys said. “What if they hear you, even if you’re quiet?”

Rhaenys hadn’t considered that. “Yes, what if?”

“They won’t,” Jaime said. “The stone would muffle it out. It’s only the louder singing you have to worry about.”

The children looked so relieved that Rhaella couldn’t help but chuckle. “Why don’t you start, Rhaegar?”

So Rhaegar did. He sang sillier songs for the children that made them giggle. He sang a few for Jaime and Rhaella, mature songs that were still appropriate for children to hear. When it was time for the children to sleep, he strung his harp slower, in a way meant to lull.

“There is one more I would sing for you,” he said. “Something new.”

“Nothing sad, I hope,” Rhaella said. “It will only make me miss you more.”

He gave her that perfect little smile of his. “It is somewhat sad, but grand as well, both light and dark. It is a new song. The song of ice and fire.”

So he sang, and he sounded more beautiful than he had that entire night. His voice was somehow light and deep all at once, heavy and kind, dark and rich and so lovely and lulling that Rhaella was lost between weeping and falling into slumber. She relaxed her head against the pillow, held Viserys and Rhaenys close, let her eyelids fall.

When she awoke the next morning, she was in her own bed, and she wondered which one of her knights carried her there.

*/*/*/*

The sea knew its king would sail upon it. It was calm and beautiful, midnight blue in the grey haze, and oddly quiet, just like its master. The wind sighed softly, blowing through Rhaella’s hair. The sensation calmed her well enough to not make her squeeze her son like a child in front of all his subjects and men.

Rhaenys asked what she could not. “Are you sure you have to leave?” It was the millionth time she’d asked it, and each one was valid.

Like every other time, Rhaegar smiled at her. “I am, my melody.” He put a hand over the seashell necklace she’d made for him. “But your gift will help me think of you every hour. And I will write to you as soon as I can.”

Rhaenys accepted that, though she still looked quite distraught. “Will you bring Mama when you come back?”

Rhaella’s heart broke, and she wanted to intervene, but she knew she could not. Rhaegar needed to learn how to speak to his child.

Rhaegar stroked Rhaenys’s face, his pale hand contrasting beautifully against her brown skin. “I will try, my melody. But I cannot promise. I can only tell you that you will see her soon.”

Rhaenys nodded, her dark eyes shining with tears. “Are you sure that I can’t come with you?”

Rhaegar nodded. “It’s too dangerous for a young princess to travel with me while our cousin wars with us. But when the war is over, I will take you sailing. Would you like that?”

Rhaenys smiled, but it looked more like a grimace. “Yes.”

He bent down, kissed her forehead, and held her. “I love you, my melody,” he whispered to her. “Do you know that?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I love you too.”

“Do you promise to be sweet to your grandmama?”

“Yes,” she said. “But when will you come back?”

“I will return to you as soon as I can. In the meantime, wait for my letter.”

She nodded, and kept clinging to him.

Rhaegar called Viserys over to him and held him along with Rhaenys. “Be well, Brother. It would be good for you to learn how to defend Mother and Rhaenys while I am away, wouldn’t it?”

Viserys nodded eagerly. “Yes, I want to learn.”

“Ser Jaime can teach you.” He and Jaime shared a nod.

Viserys beamed. “I’ll make you proud, Brother. I’ll be the next Dragonknight, you’ll see.”

Rhaegar kissed him, then sent the children to Sia, who took them away, as Rhaenys may grow inconsolable if she saw the ship leave the harbor.

Rhaella made her way to him. “Send a report as soon as you land,” she told him.

He gave her that little smile she loved so much. “Is that not what a king does for his castellan?”

Rhaella’s heart skipped a beat. She had not forgotten she was castellan and would fulfill her duties once Rhaegar left, but to hear it said aloud again, by her king …

She hugged him. “I will miss you so.”

He rested his forehead against hers, rested a hand on her belly. “I will return soon, with an army to put an end to this. Do not fret.” He kissed her nose.

Rhaella wanted to hold him forever, but she knew she couldn’t. So she let go.

Rhaegar gave Jaime another look, then placed a hand on his shoulder. “Ser Jaime.”

Jaime’s eyes were alight with love and respect. “Your Grace.”

Rhaegar gave Jaime’s shoulder a little pat, and it seemed as if unspoken words were said between them. Then he ascended the ship.

As Rhaegar’s ship left harbor, so did Rhaella’s power rise. Castellan. I am castellan. The thought made her want to smile and hide all at once, but when she turned to see her smallfolk and lords watching her, looking to her, following her, Rhaella Targaryen chose smiling. And when she made her way to the throne room, sat upon the dark serpentine stone chair shaped like the power of the House, the throne that held the might of Aegon and all the dragons before him, she smiled even more.

*/*/*/*

After the lords and ladies welcomed her to court and pledged their allegiance, it was time to hold court. Rhaella’s veins tinged with lightning. She was ready for this, and yet she was not. Her opinion was rarely asked for, let alone her law. Rhaella had never had a choice in how things would be, only in how she could react to them once they happened, and even then that was limited. She had never had a choice, except for that one time she did, when she’d ruined everything —

Gods, not now, I cannot think of that now. She would not. She was not thinking of it, and yet her hands were shaking. I will not make a mistake as I did then. This is nothing compared to that. She let out a shaky breath, hoped no one could see her fear.

Jaime saw, of course. He caught her eye, gave her a kind, encouraging smile. It was so different from his smirks that Rhaella was taken aback. His face was so different when it was genuine and not teasing. Just as beautiful, but in a different way. Softer. Open. He believes in me, Rhaella knew, As does my daughter. And so she must believe in herself.

Court began simply enough. The first man was a pig farmer who’d had one of his pigs killed by a neighboring farmer’s dog. The man wanted reimbursem*nt from the dog owner, but the dog owner had no coin. To solve this, Rhaella decreed that the dog owner would give a small portion of his crops to the pig farmer until the debt was fulfilled. The cases afterward were just as easy.

The last one tested her. A whor* was accused of spreading pox amongst her patrons. The men accusing her wanted her punished, as well as reimbursem*nt from the brothel owner. Of course this would happen on the first day a woman becomes sovereign, Rhaella thought bitterly. There was no solution she could come up with without seeming biased to her fellow women or an enemy of her own sex, she knew.

“What is your name, girl?” And she was a girl, at that. She could have been no older than sixteen.

The girl shook. “It’s … I’m called Lara, Your Grace.”

“You needn’t fear me, Lara,” she told her gently. She looked at her court. “None who are loyal to the dragon should fear him.” Or her, she wanted to think. But Rhaella was no dragon.

“Yes, Your Grace.” Lara sounded a bit braver now.

“Tell me, Lara. Were you aware of any ailments you had before you served these men?”

“I didn’t, Your Grace,” she said. “I swear, I didn’t.”

Rhaella believed her. “And you,” she spoke to the leader of the accusers. “Your name?”

“Will, Your Grace.”

“Did you or your friends take another whor* to bed before or after being served by Lara?”

“No, Your Grace.” He looked at Lara with a barely contained sneer. “It was her. It was this whor*. I know it was.”

“Then you and any other patron that was served by her will get complimentary healing from the castle maester, Emrys,” she said, with a tone of finality. “The brothel owner will pay for the services Maester Emrys will have to perform.”

Will looked stuck between confusion and anger. “But Your Grace — begging all pardons, but what about our coin? The owner shouldn’t be selling whor*s to f*ck if they have rotten c*nts, should he? He should pay us for that!”

I think I’ve found a replacement pig for that farmer. “He should not, it’s true,” Rhaella said, coldly. “Nor should you befoul my throne room with your hideous, disrespectful language. I should have your tongue.”

Will’s eyes turned as big as plates. “Your Grace, I —”

“I should,” Rhaella said. “But I will not. Nor will I have the brothel owner reimburse you. When you lay down with whor*s, you take the chance of picking up what the last man left behind. When you all took Lara, you also took a gamble. And you lost that gamble. That is not the trouble of Lara, of the brothel owner, and it’s certainly not mine. Speak no more.”

Will was silent. He looked infuriated, and humiliated, but he was silent. I am queen, and castellan. He may hate a woman ordering him, but he must accept it. Now that she thought of it, Rhaella was glad this case came to court when she was in power. She did not want to think of what Lord Celtigar would have had done to this girl. He did not seem an unkind man, but men tended to lack empathy for the woes of whor*s. They did not understand what it was to be trapped, to be used. Some women didn’t either, Rhaella imagined. Some women were treated well by their men. Lara was not one of those women. Neither was Rhaella. Not anymore.

“Lara,” she called to the girl.

Lara jumped. “Yes, Your Grace?”

“You will report to Maester Emrys when this is done, to be healed. You will report to him every month to ensure that you’re healthy.” A thought came to Rhaella. “Every girl who works in your brothel will do this. And the brothel owner will pay for it. Every single visit. Understood?” Rhaella was of half a mind to take the girl in as a servant, but that would be pushing it too far with her court. She was being too kind to the girl as it was. Perhaps she could seek her out when the attention on her died down.

Lara gave her a weak curtsey. “Yes, Your Grace. Thank you, Your Grace. You are as kind as you are beautiful.”

“Go,” Rhaella told her. “When Maester Emrys is done tending to you, I’ll have a few guards escort you back home. Do be careful.” Be safe. “This court session has reached its end.”

She scanned the crowd. Most of them seemed to accept her decision, but some looked disapproving. I cannot please everyone every time, she thought. I must do what is right … unless there is no other choice.

As soon as he could, Jaime took her by the arm to take her to training. “Good Queen Rhaella,” he said, an easy smirk on his face.

“They called me that, once,” she told him. And I will make them say it again.

*/*/*/*

A fortnight later, and Rhaella could have sworn her belly was starting to grow.

It was still too early, she knew, but she thought her stomach poked out all the same. Or perhaps it only felt like that because she was hiding in a tight space.

Rhaella squeezed herself further in the small crevice of the garden’s wall, and suppressed a giggle. She was enjoying herself far too much, an old woman playing a child’s game, but she could not bring herself to care. This was the first time in a long time that she was free of law, of figures, of worries of her court’s disapproval, of —

“This is your hiding spot? Truly?”

A high-pitched eep escaped Rhaella before she could catch it. She was about to run, but a metal hand clasped her shoulder. “And now you try to flee instead of accepting defeat? For shame, Your Grace.”

Rhaella wriggled out of Jaime’s grip. “You peeked.”

Jaime tried to look offended, but his bright eyes betrayed him. “Has it truly come to this? Accusing me of cheating instead of admitting defeat? I beg you, Your Grace, stop while you have some morsel of dignity.”

“You peeked,” Rhaella insisted. “There is no way you would have found me so quickly unless you peeked.”

“I will neither confirm, nor deny,” he said, grinning. “At any rate, now you must join forces with me to find the little lizards.”

“I thought you wanted me to maintain my dignity,” she muttered.

Jaime feigned a sigh. “You’re definitely a Lannister, somehow. Maybe some distant ancestor we don’t know about. It would carry through the generations. Lion’s blood is quite potent, you know.”

“I can see that,” she said. She walked away.

“Wait!” Jaime ran up to her.

“Don’t yell,” she scolded. “We can’t reveal our position.”

“They couldn’t do anything even if we did. If they ran, we’d catch them.”

“But the point of the game is to find them, not catch them. And I know exactly where they are.”

“Oh? Do tell, Your Grace.”

“Any place that would make them dirty, and big enough to hide the two of them. They would never hide separately — that’s their weakness.”

Rhaella took him to the back of the garden. The earth was being dug up there to make room for a pathway. Down in the little hole were two child-shaped bundles, covered up by leaves. Every now and then, the leaves would shake and giggle.

Jaime winked at her, then walked around the hole. “I just don’t know what we’re going to do, Your Grace. I can’t find the children anywhere.”

“Keep searching, Ser,” she said. “We can’t lose hope.”

“Oh, but I fear that I have lost hope. It’s as if they’ve disappeared. Oh, my prince and princess, where could you be?”

“Rhaenys! Viserys!” They called at once. One of the leaves giggled even more, but no one answered their calls.

Jaime inched closer to the pit. “You know, Your Grace, missing the children is making me … quite antsy.”

“What do you mean?”

“It means that the wilder side is calling to me. The lion-side. It makes me want to …” He stopped.

“Run?” Rhaella suggested.

“Hmm … no.”

“Hunt?”

Jaime shook his head, as if the children could see him. “Close, but no. It makes me want to … what’s the word? Oh, I remember. Pounce!” And he dived into the pit, scooping the children in his arms as they scream-laughed and tried to escape his clutches. Rhaella laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe.

When they sent the children away to Sia, she and Jaime sat on a bench. “Has my queen had enough of ruling yet?”

“Yes, and no,” she answered. It was exhausting, frustrating … but it was also exhilarating. People listened to her now, even if they misliked what she said. What she said mattered. What she did mattered. It hadn’t mattered since she’d ruined them all, but now, with her duty to Rhaegar, she could do something right. “And what of you?” she asked. “How are those shattered legs treating you?”

Jaime blinked in confusion. Then he laughed. It was obvious he’d forgotten about it, though how he could forget his excuse to stay on the island away from Aerys was a mystery to Rhaella. “They leave me in terrible agony, of course.”

“You could have fooled me,” Rhaella said. “Perhaps you should cry about it. That will convince the public for sure.”

He grinned. “Oh, I’d cry oceans, if not for my claws. They’d cut my face to ribbons if they had to wipe my tears. Tears are quite vexing that way.”

“So you’d cry, if not for your lion’s blood?” she asked. “Do all Lannisters feel this way?”

Jaime scoffed. “Any good Lannister.”

“The same is so for Targaryens,” Rhaella said. “Dragons breathe fire, never salt.”

Jaime smiled. “Poetic, and clever. I like it.”

“Of course you would.” Rhaella laughed, but it failed to sound humorous. “It was your mother who told me that. She … she hated when I cried.”

A silence took them then. A dull, torturous silence that was short but went on for years. Jaime’s little smile was still on his face, but it didn’t reach his eyes, and he would not look at her. Gods, how do I fix — stupid, foolish, pathetic thing, of course he wouldn’t want to speak of — why would I even — how could —

“That sounds like something she would say,” Jaime said, a bit too suddenly, and a bit too cheerfully. “Or at least, from what I remember of her.” He shrugged and fished something from his satchel. “At any rate, there’s something I should gift to you. Or re-gift you, as it were.” He handed her the dagger that they’d found in the caves, the first time they explored it.

Rhaella frowned. The last time she’d seen it, it was under her vanity, in a box separate from her bow, which she kept under her bed. She’d refused to use her true bow until she’d mastered the art again, and the dagger was … well, she had no need of a dagger. She was no Visenya. Still, the dagger had felt right in her hands …

“How did you get this?”

“Don’t be cross, but I found Viserys playing with it. He said he found it by accident, while fetching something for Sia.”

“And not the bow?”

“He only confessed to the dagger. I made him promise he wouldn’t do it again. Forgive him. He’s just been excited since I’ve been training him.”

Rhaella unsheathed the dagger, twisted it in her hands. Its blade was a beautiful ebony, and sharper than anything she’d ever seen, ever known in this life and the last. Sharper than Jaime’s sword. Sharper than the Black Dread’s fang. As her fingers trailed the face of the blade, something surged within her. Something ancient. Something hers. In one gentle caress, the blade sliced her open. Rhaella gasped. The smell of blood wafted through her senses, as if she were a she-wolf among slaughter. No, not a wolf.

Rhaella bled and bled, more and more, deeper and deeper, until the black blade wept crimson tears. Colors of my House, thought Rhaella Targaryen. Colors of the Dragon.

“Your Grace!” Jaime gripped her arm. He was wearing armored gloves, but his touch was gentle. He was always gentle with her. You needn’t protect me from this, sweet boy, she wanted to tell him, but the dance of red and black had stolen her breath.

Jaime tore a bit of his handkerchief off and made to wrap it around her finger, but Rhaella had already put it in her mouth. Her blood tasted of salt and smoke and metal. Not any metal. Valyrian steel.

Rhaella put her free hand on Jaime’s arm, touching him just as sweetly. “It’s fine,” she told him. “It’s fine.”

*/*/*/*

Rhaella dreamed of Tywin and Joanna that night.

Her dream was not in the dark of night, however. It was broad daylight, yellow sun shining through the windows of the Red Keep like all the gold in Casterly Rock. That part was not right. They’d come to her lit by candlelight, not the day. They could not speak of it during the day.

Rhaella stood at the foot of the long table, as she had in life. The Lion and his Lioness were at the head, as they were born to be. Tywin sat in his great chair, staring into Rhaella’s soul with frightening green eyes that managed to be both cold and burning. They were the same verdant shade as Joanna’s, Rhaella knew, yet she found Joanna’s beautiful, and Tywin’s demonic. No, they weren’t identical, she reminded herself. Tywin’s green eyes had flecks of gold in them, whereas Joanna’s were all emerald. And yet she was golden all the same.

Joanna stood at her husband’s side, so gorgeous and identical to the true Joanna that it was painful. She wore a red gown that hugged her willowy, svelte frame, her golden curls running past her waist like a great mane, her long, graceful arm draping against the back of her husband’s chair. A little smile was on her face, aimed at Rhaella, only for Rhaella. It was a beautiful, terrifying one, one that promised both love and revenge and neither all at once. It led to our end, Rhaella knew. All of us.

Neither Tywin nor Joanna spoke, as they had in truth. They simply stared, and stared, and stared, and Rhaella knew this was no dragon dream, but a nightmare.

The lions kept staring, silent, as silent as Joanna’s grave, but they did not have to speak. Rhaella already knew what they would say.

Sacrifices must be made, Tywin Lannister had told her, and Joanna had agreed.

Rhaella’s eyes snapped open with a jolt. She leapt out of bed, pulled her bow from under the bedskirts, gripped her dagger —

And that was when she heard the scream, and the blade went to her throat.

Notes:

Hello my beautiful readers. :)

So it turns out that you guys LOVED answering my questions, and as a result I got way more dialogue from you than usual! I received more comments on the last chapter than I have for any previous ones. It was a wonderful surprise!

I love talking with you guys and hearing your thoughts, so I thought I’d give you another round of questions. Hopefully thinking about these questions will ease your mind about that huge cliffhanger I left you on. Here we go!

Serious Questions

1. What did you think of the chapter?

2. What do you think will happen next?

3. Who do you think is attacking Rhaella / the castle?

4. Does it seem like Rhaella is a good castellan / ruler (so far?)

5. Did you like how she handled those court cases?

6. What’s up with the Tywin/Joanna/Rhaella situation? What do you think happened with them, and what happened that Rhaella thinks “ruined them all?” And did you catch the references she made to this in her previous POVs?

7. What’s the deal with Joanna/Rhaella? (I’m not asking you if you think they were romantic or not, btw. They definitely were, that’s never been a secret. They’ve been listed in the tags since the beginning. I’m asking what you think happened between them)

8. What’s the deal with Joanna/Aerys? Do you think it was a mutual relationship, or only Aerys’s delusion? (I mean … he cried for her, so obviously he cared, or was mad enough to think he cared … right?)

9. What do you think the entire past story with Joanna/Rhaella/Aerys/Tywin is? (You might end up answering this with 6-8, but I thought I’d add it here anyway)

10. What’s up with that dagger scene?

11. Do you guys have any questions about the magical shenanigans? Are you still understanding everything okay? (considering the bits of information you have at the moment?)

12. Is there something you would like to see in future chapters? (Something reasonable – no joke answers if you can help it) For example, a few readers requested more Jaime & Rhaegar scenes, and they got their wish in the next chapters. I was already planning on writing more Jaime/Rhaegar scenes, but still.

13. Do you guys like the term of endearment Rhaegar gave Rhaenys? He loves music, so I thought “melody” would be sweet and in character.

14. Whose POV would you like to see in the next chapter – Jaime’s, or Rhaella’s? I usually do it in A-B order, but that’s not a rule set in stone.

15. Are you ready for the faster plot pacing? It will start in the next chapter!

16. Do you have any questions about the story that you would like to ask me? If so, please ask and I’ll answer to the best of my ability. I don’t give out spoilers, btw. Just thought I’d mention that because I know some authors give spoilers if their readers ask for them.

Not-So-Serious Questions

1. HOLY sh*t WHAT WAS WITH THAT ENDING YO

2. Are Rhaella's dreams also an alarm system I mean really

3. Do ya’ll wanna play hide-and-go-seek with RJ and the kids? Cause I kinda do.

4. If Rhaella is female Legolas now, then who is Jaime? (You don’t have to use LOTR characters for this question if you don’t wanna, lol)

5. Are Rhaenys and Viserys still the most adorable Targs to ever Targ?

6. What song requests do you have for Rhaegar?

7. So when is Jaime/Rhaella gonna happen?

8. What is Jaime/Rhaella’s ship name? Jaella? Rhaime? Any other suggestions?

9. What’s Joanna/Rhaella’s ship name? I have some ideas: Rhaejo, Joella, Rhaeanna (my beta likes this one cause it makes her think of a modern AU where they’re both Rihanna stans lol) I think Rhaejo is my favorite one.

10. So who carried Rhaella to her bed? If you think it was Jaime, what do you think the servants were thinking when they saw that lol? (Guys what if the servants ship them now)

11. How long do you guys think this fic will last before turning into full on smut? I NEED TIME FRAMES, PEOPLE

12. Was Joanna a player? Seems like she had quite a few people wrapped around her finger, eh? Is that where Cersei inherited it?

13. Are you devastated that I left you on a cliffhanger? I’M SORRY OK IT JUST KINDA HAPPENED PLEASE DON’T HATE ME

14. Do you have some not-so-serious questions about the story for me? If so, PLEASE send them my way! Reading your reactions to the last batch of silly questions was hilarious. I wanna join in on the fun too. :P

Chapter 12: Those Who Roar

Notes:

Trigger Warning: Please take another look at my archive warnings, for they will both be portrayed here.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Jaime

It was near the hour of the wolf when Jaime grew restless. His guarding shift had only just ended, but he knew sleep would not come. The rushing thoughts wouldn’t let him.

Mother hated when she cried. He couldn’t stop thinking of it. As Jaime had stood guard outside Rhaella’s door that night, he wondered if he should ask her about Joanna Lannister, and the woman she had been before she became Lady of the Rock. He wondered if he wanted to know. And he wondered if thinking of Mother was an excuse to not think of that godsforsaken dagger, and the way his queen’s purple eyes clouded as she stared into its black depths. Her numbness, even as she watched her blood slithering down the dark face. The red on her lips after she tasted the open flesh of her finger.

I’m overthinking it, he told himself, for the umpteenth time. It was a lie, he knew. But lies were the only thing keeping the shiver from his spine.

Jaime left his bed, pulled on a thin tunic, boots over his sleeping trousers. He walked over to his armoire, pulled it back …

And there she was, his beauty. Wrapped in silk, scabbard gleaming in the moonlight, even through the thin shroud. He could never think about this too much, at least.

Jaime unraveled the silk, held the sword gently, as if it were a babe. And perhaps it was, the only one he would ever have. A silly thought, but then, the only thing a Kingsguard had that could truly be called his was his sword.

Jaime unsheathed the blade, just a bit. The crimson metal twinkled, as if it were smiling at him, and the spidery black streaks glittered.

“You need a name,” he muttered. But he hadn’t thought of one yet. Still, unnamed as it was, it deserved all the attention it could get. The queen had forbidden him from wielding it while His Grace was on the island, but the king had left a fortnight ago, and the castle slept, anyhow. No one would see him take it to the training yard. The blade would cut through any dummies or posts like paper, but he could at least give it a good cleaning, see it shine even more under the stars. And something about this night called to him, anyhow.

Valyrian blade in hand, Jaime left his chambers. The door closed behind him, its heaviness echoing throughout the corridor. The hallway was dark, dark as it always was, torchlight flickering over the stone walls as they always did. But it was empty, too empty. The utter silence swallowed him like a beast, and the shiver he’d been ignoring for so long stabbed deeper in his being.

“Oy! Ser Jaime!” a voice echoed from his right. Jaime turned, hand clutching his sword, but he relaxed when he saw the three-headed dragon sigil becoming more visible as the soldier approached him. A castle guard, then.

“…You,” Jaime greeted. He’d eaten in the mess hall with the island guards once or twice, and while he’d gotten along with them, he couldn’t pretend to know most of their names just yet. “What are you doing out here so late, pray tell?”

“Night duty,” the guard said. He noticed Jaime’s attire. “Couldn’t sleep, ey?” He didn’t sound like the other locals, but the island did lure outsiders looking for work.

“You could say that,” Jaime said. “Where’s your post?”

“Ehh, that way,” he laughed, without pointing into any direction.

Jaime looked the guard over. His face was completely unremarkable, in a way that Jaime couldn’t remember if he had seen him before or not. He was helmetless, revealing dark hair. Most guards were descendants of Targaryen bastards — a clever way to ensure loyalty, Jaime supposed — and had fair hair as a result. But not every island dweller shared the blood of his king. Still …

“A nice supper that was earlier, wasn’t it?” Jaime asked him. “The cooks spoil us.”

“They do, Ser.”

Jaime sighed. “The beef stew could have used a bit more salt, though.”

The man nodded. “Aye, it could have. But I still ate every bite.”

They’d had fish for supper.

Jaime let out an easy smile, placed a casual hand over his hip, right next to his sword. “We shouldn’t complain, though. It makes sense that they’d save the best for our Queen.”

The man smiled back. “Aye, Ser,” he said, darkly. “They would.” The torchlight flickered over his armor, and then, Jaime saw it. Black metal, crimson … with a splash of wet red over the collar.

Jaime felt the arrow’s flight before he heard it. He yanked the imposter in front of him, forcing him as a shield, and when the arrow plunged through his neck, they descended. Doors slammed open, liars in dragon’s armor swarming him — four, six, ten of them. Ten men who would see him killed to reach the queen and children without challenge.

Jaime leapt at them, and the clash of blades rang in red and silver light. His sword hummed in his hand as he slashed and parried, the blood of his unarmored flesh slinging through the air along with theirs, and he would have felt alive if he weren’t so enraged. The narrowness of the corridor was to his advantage, and he kept them in a line as best he could, evading, then charging. He slew five of them in a fast haze, and then a new one came from behind. Jaime managed to dodge before the blade could open him from shoulder to groin, but it still sliced through his arm. Jaime let out a raging roar, and hit the coward in the nose with his elbow, knocking him back. Jaime slipped away and ran him through, but another came and kicked him in the shin, hard.

Jaime stumbled to his knees. A kick to the ear sent Jaime full to the floor. His head swam, and his ear rang. He didn’t let go of his sword, though.

This is the Young Lion?” one of them mocked. The leader. “Rather toothless, if you ask me.”

“As toothless as ambushing one unarmored man with ten so-called men?” Jaime laughed through bloody teeth. “You waited until the guards got drunk before you killed them, didn’t you? I doubt they would part with their armor so easily. What’s the amount of co*cklessness required to join the Too-Craven-to-Fight-Honorably Guild?”

A mailed backhand across the same ear, and Jaime saw stars. He slumped against the wall, heard the distant clatter of steel falling.

A cluster of shadows loomed over him, their footfalls echoing all around him. “We can’t kill you,” one said, “But we can make you wish you were dead.”

Jaime went to clutch his sword, only to realize his hand was empty. His eyes searched through the darkness. The red glimmer was eons away, just out of reach.

Jaime let out a breathy laugh. It sounded far away, muffled, like he was underwater. “So this isn’t a pitiful assassination attempt on me? How disappointing.” He met eyes with the man, gave him a dangerous smile. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to kill me if you want to reach the queen, or the prince, or the princess with your limbs intact. See your dead friends for reference.”

They laughed. “Lying Lannister,” said the leader. “You only killed as many as you did because of your Valyrian steel.” He glanced at where Jaime’s sword lay. “Who gave this to you? Your precious queen? We heard how you follow her about, like a duckling rather than a lion. Quite pathetic, for Tywin Lannister’s grown son to seek a mother.”

“Or maybe he wants to f*ck her,” one of them suggested.

The leader shrugged. “If he does, I couldn’t fault him for it. It’s the technique I don’t understand.” He walked over to the blade.

“Maybe she likes the whole ‘son’ routine,” said the other. “Maybe it makes her old c*nt wet. You know how Targaryen queens are. Incestuous whor*s, the lot of them.”

Jaime sat there, said nothing, did nothing. His eyes raked over the remaining men. The one closest to him — the one who insulted his queen — had a dagger strapped to his waist. The other four were looking at their leader with mirth, convinced they had already won. Fools.

The leader looked at Jaime then, a smirk on his face. “Regardless, he won’t be needing his sword anymore.”

Jaime smiled again. “By all means, take it.” The moment you do, I will take that bastard’s dagger and carve it through all of your co*cks.

The leader nudged the blade with his toe. As he kicked at it, Jaime thought he could see a storm brewing in its red face — crimson clouds misting in the metal, black streaks flashing like lightning. Or perhaps that was his own rage he was seeing.

The leader reached for the blade, wrapped his fingers around the hilt in a gentle grip —

Then the blade came alive with brilliant red light, and the world as Jaime knew it ended.

Red lightning skittered over the blade, beautiful, bright, merciless, the song of it crackling over metal like both beauty and war. It raced from the blade and into the man’s skin like a burning parasite, pulsing in spidery veins of amber, of black, of red. Crimson light devoured the hall, drowned them, and the dragon on the hilt glowed its ruby eyes, and the man screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

Jaime and the men watched as the leader convulsed, his agony echoing through their hearts, and Jaime was lost between fear and calm. His breathing was slow, and his heartbeat was still, but his muscles were taunt, and his eyes were stinging, and part of him was back in that throne room with Aerys and Rickard Stark. Part of him wanted to scream along with the man, to run, and run, and run — but he did not. He stayed. And he watched.

As Jaime watched the red lightning dance and burn, watched the leader’s armor melt into his skin, he felt oddly familiar with it all. As if he knew this would happen. As if he had no reason to be afraid. I cannot fear what is mine. The thought came unbidden, but he knew it was true.

Red light faded as the sword consumed the man. His skin was charred, and his eyes were crumbling embers, glowing, glowing like mad, glowing like death. Then the screams died as if they were never there, and he fell, body black and smoking.

The men were still in shock, but Jaime wasn’t. He kicked the man-with-the-dagger in his leg with all of his might. When he fell, Jaime snatched his dagger and ran it across his throat. As the blood sprayed on his fellow dead men, surprising them, Jaime lunged for one, snapped his neck. Then he stabbed one in the heart, then another, then another.

Jaime stood amongst the slaughter, warm, wet, red. All was silent, save for his rasped breath, and the hiss of a smoldering corpse.

Jaime walked over to the burnt shell. What was left of his flesh was coal, now, dust. Soft, black — just like the soil in the ravine, and the cave, but Jaime couldn’t think of that now. The remains of his melted armor glowed red, like an unnatural blacksmith’s forge had consumed it. Beside his crumbling hand, the sword lay calm and unlit.

Jaime grabbed the hilt before he knew it. As the dragon’s wings pricked his wrist, he realized what he’d done. Terror spiked through his veins, and he stood there, frozen. He waited for the end, the redness, the lightning, the fire, but nothing came. Nothing, save for the rightness that soared through him whenever he touched it. The enemy awakened her, Jaime thought, But she sleeps for me. That knowledge came to him as naturally as his name. He knew it as he knew to fight, to breathe, to love Cersei and Tyrion. Magic. f*cking magic. Gods. The blade began to quiver, and it took a breath for Jaime to realize it was because he was trembling.

Jaime looked at the corpse again, the black dust shaped in the imitation of a man. Rickard Stark’s body had looked nothing like this one, thank the gods. Otherwise Jaime didn’t know what he would have done. Succumb to his cravenness, most like — he was nearly being consumed by it now.

I cannot fear what is mine, he thought again. And the sword was his. His queen had given it to him. A Valyrian blade to defend Valyrian royalty, he remembered thinking when he’d taken the blade from her hands. An evil blade.

Jaime sheathed the sword on his hip. When he wielded it, it killed like any other sword did — without burning. And he would wield it, to save his charges. He would not burn anyone. He would not be Aerys. And he would not think of this until Rhaella and the little lizards were safe. For now, that must be enough.

Jaime was near the exit of the barracks when a man wearing bloodied dragon’s armor came upon him. He put his hands up just as Jaime pointed his blade at his throat.

“Praise be to Her Grace,” said the man, panicked eyes jumping between Jaime and the sword.

Jaime didn’t relent. He gave him a quick look over. His hair was dark, but his eyes were purple, and his face did look familiar. “What did we have for dinner?”

“Smoked fish, Ser. With cranberry pie for desert.”

Jaime lowered his sword. “Where is the queen?”

“I don’t know, Ser,” he said. “I’ve just been attacked myself, and I was off duty anyhow. I came here to find Captain Harys, but he’s dead, his armor stolen. I am his successor, but any men I would command here are either dead or unconscious. The imposters must have poisoned our ale.”

“How many have you seen? Do you have any idea of who they are? Rebels, cutthroats?” Aerys’s men? part of him feared, but no, Aerys couldn’t suspect Rhaegar’s treason. Could he?

“Five ambushed me and Ser Ian,” explained the guard. “Ian got two of them before they got him. I didn’t leave the rest alive for questioning, I’m afraid.”

“Neither did I,” Jaime sighed. He should have, he knew that now, but he never thought clearly while fighting. “If the attack just happened, the guards outside the barracks may not be hit yet. We need them to sound the alarm. How skilled is your swordhand? Don’t lie.”

“I’m one of the best in the guard, Ser.”

“Then you and anyone you trust will secure the queen. I will find the prince and princess.” Jaime knew Rhaella would want him to save them first.

“Of course, Ser. But what of the Golden Company?”

Rhaella had made it clear that she didn’t trust them. This could very well be their betrayal. “Only deal with the guards,” he said. “I’ll handle the Company.”

They left the barracks. “What do they call you, Captain?” Jaime asked as they journeyed to the royal residency.

“Tymothy, Ser.”

“Well, Tymothy, if we come out of this alive, I’ll be sure to congratulate you on your promotion.” He had to talk. Silence made him think of Rhaella and the children hurt, the smoking corpse, the evil blade strapped to his hip.

Tymothy didn’t reply to that. “You should find some armor, Ser. Even with your skill, every man needs protection.”

“There’s no time,” Jaime said. Still, he could feel his flayed arm stinging, the blood oozing from the little cuts those bastards had managed to inflict on him.

They made it to the gate, where two men stood guard. Jaime and Tymothy ducked behind a wall before they could spot them. “Do you recognize them?” Jaime asked.

Tymothy squinted. “It looks like it could be Aeryn and Jace.”

It was Aeryn and Jace, thankfully. Once Jaime sent them to sound the alarm and gather the remaining guard, he and Tymothy went to the royal hall, where Rhaella and the children should be. Part of him wanted to shout for the guards, but he kept silent. If any intruders were there, they might start killing if alerted to his presence.

They turned the corner, only to be met with nothing. The hall was empty, and silent. No guards, no blood, no screams.

“Check the queen’s chambers,” he told Tymothy, as he went to Rhaenys’s room.

The last time he’d visited Rhaenys’s chambers, it had been warm and light, even after sunset. Now, it was too empty to belong to his little princess. Too dark, too swelled with fear. Not destroyed, but still touched by enemy hands. The bedskirts were askew, the desk twisted from the wall. The armoire had been yanked out of place, tilting over the open window, its doors ajar. Moonlight hazed through silken curtains as the wind brushed at them, their soft fluttering the only sound in the bedchamber. The loneliness of it all confirmed what Jaime already knew. Someone had been looking for Rhaenys. Someone had wanted to hurt her.

Jaime swallowed his rage. It would do nothing for him now. “Rhaenys?” he whispered.

Silence answered him.

Jaime went deeper into the room. “Rhaenys? It’s Jaime.” Nothing.

Jaime looked around the room. There was nothing that had been unturned – everything in the room looked picked over. Jaime could only hope that she’d escaped somehow, with Sia, or a guard, or anyone else. Those bastards had better pray that she did, thought Jaime Lannister. If they have her, I’ll give the bards enough material for something even darker than The Rains of Castamere. That, he promised.

Jaime went closer to the armoire, hoping she was hiding behind it, or underneath it. The window curtains kissed his face as they danced in the night wind. Jaime looked behind the armoire, but to no avail. He was kneeling down to look underneath when he heard it — a soft sob, stirring in the breeze.

Jaime snapped his head toward the window. No. Gods, no.

Jaime ran to the window, looked out of it. Island and sea met him, deep below. There was no balcony, no leverage, save for a curving sill not fit to hold anyone. Still, he had heard her. “Rhaenys!”

“Ser Jai —” Another hiccupped sob.

Jaime looked down, following the voice. The sill was no sill. It was the curve of a gargoyle’s wing. Far below that was the head. On its great shoulder, next to the roaring mouth, was a shadow, small and shaking.

A cruel mix of relief and terror pooled in Jaime’s heart. “Rhaenys.” How did she get there? He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Don’t fret. I’m coming.”

Before he could think of it, Jaime climbed out the window and landed on the thin wing. The high air was cold and thin, and the full moon was so close it was more like a giant blank face than an eye in the distance. No one should be so high that it looked like that. No one, save for dragons, or griffons, or crows. Not lions. Lions had no wings.

It’s like climbing the Rock, Jaime told himself, but while Jaime had climbed many tall peaks at the Rock without fear, he had never balanced on anything this thin, or this high. Jaime’s heart pounded in his ears, and yet, Rhaenys’s sobs were all he could hear. Lions may not fly, but this one would.

Jaime leapt down to the end of the wing, near the shoulder. His legs caught the wing well enough, but his hand missed. He tilted over, the dark world turning with him, before righting himself with his other hand. It happened quicker than a breath, but it was enough to frighten Rhaenys. She let out a cry.

“Never fear for me, my princess,” Jaime said, though he was close to retching himself. “I’m a cat, remember? Cats can climb anything.”

That seemed to calm her a bit, but she still clung to the gargoyle’s fang, her thin nightgown fluttering in the wind. If I don’t get her, the chill will.

Jaime gave the gargoyle’s stone head a lookover. It was nowhere near big enough for him to get closer. She would have to jump. f*ck.

“Dragons are even better,” he told her. “They can fly. You haven’t forgotten that, have you?”

Rhaenys sniffed. “No.”

“If you jump to me, I can return us both to your room. Would you like that?”

Rhaenys’s dark eyes were big, endless as two black pools, silver tears shining in the moonlight. “Bad men are there.”

“Not anymore,” he told her. “It is only you and I, now. I can take you there. You need only jump.”

Rhaenys looked at him, then the long fall below them. “I’m scared.”

“I know, sweetling. I am too, even though I’m a cat. We all get afraid sometimes. But you have to be brave now, and jump. I won’t let you fall. If you come to me, I will catch you, and keep you safe. I swear it to you, just as I swore it to your papa and your grandmama. Do you believe me?”

Rhaenys nodded.

Jaime smiled at her, and reached out his arms. “Then jump.”

Rhaenys slowly unraveled from the gargoyle’s fang. Then she closed her eyes, and jumped.

Jaime caught her, clinging his legs around the wing to steady them both. She buried her face in his neck, shaking, gripping him with a surprising strength. Her skin was cold, but her tears were warm.

Jaime shushed her as he held her close. “I have you, my princess.” He hadn’t spoken this softly since Tyrion was a babe. “No need for tears.” He stroked her dark curls, hoped it calmed her enough for what he was about to say. “There is one last thing I need you to do for me. Do you understand?” She nodded against his neck. “I’m going to lift you toward the window, so that you can reach it and climb in. Dragons have claws even sharper than a cat’s; you could do it with no trouble. Hmm?”

Rhaenys looked up at the window, terrified.

“I will be right behind you,” he assured her. “Lannisters lie, but not about this. Will you do it?”

Rhaenys looked at the window just a bit longer. Then she frowned at it, and gave Jaime a look so determined it did not fit on a child’s face, her Martell eyes focused and hard. “I can do it,” she said. Unbowed, unbent, unbroken. His princess was the sun as much as she was a dragon.

Jaime lifted her up, slow, steady. When he was sure she had a good grip, he gave her a good push until she was in the room. Getting himself up there was more difficult, but he managed. He landed with a thud, muscles as limp as a noodle. Rhaenys crawled over to where he lay, resting her head on his chest. She was still shaking.

Jaime kissed her hair. “You did it,” he said, and he wasn’t sure if he was talking to Rhaenys or himself. He sat up and wrapped an arm around her. Rhaenys snuggled into his embrace, then gasped.

“Ser Jaime, you’re bleeding!”

Jaime looked down at himself. Yes, the wounds from the hallway fight. Adrenaline had numbed the pain, and most of the wounds bled no more. He’d forgotten.

“Don’t fret over me,” he said. “I’m all right. A few bad men got me, but they’re gone now.” He spoke again before she could think on it further. “How did you even get out there?”

“The bad men came,” she said. “Sia told me to hide, so I did, behind the big thing with my clothes in it. But they came closer, so I ran before they could see. The monster told me to jump and hide with him, so I did.”

“Did Sia say where she was going?”

“To find Viserys and grandmama.”

Jaime accepted that. Sia was tall and quite toned for a woman; Jaime suspected she had some sort of training. Perhaps she had found someplace safe for them, though it was unlikely she would willingly leave Rhaenys. Still, Jaime could only hope.

Jaime stood up and peeked out of the door. Tymothy was coming, along with a handful of guards.

“Listen, Rhaenys,” Jaime said. “I need to go and find Viserys and your grandmama. The castle guards will protect you while I’m gone, and as soon as I can, I will return to you. Do you understand?”

Rhaenys clung to his leg and shook her head.

Jaime put a gentle hand on her hair, just like he used to do with Tyrion when he was upset. “I have to find them, so the bad men won’t,” he explained. “I swore to keep them safe, too. Remember?”

Rhaenys accepted that, but she looked in desperate need of another hug, and if Jaime were perfectly honest with himself, so did he. So he gave her one, then brought in a few guards to take his place in her room.

Tymothy met him outside. “The queen and prince weren’t in their rooms.”

Jaime ignored the pulse in his belly. “Were there signs of struggle?”

“Not in the prince’s room,” he said, “But the queen’s chamber was quite disheveled, and —”

Jaime barged into Rhaella’s room before he could say more. The chamber was a mess. The bed’s mattress was nearly flipped over, and the vanity had fallen. Drops of blood stained the walls, and on the middle of the floor, in a lone island of purple and black, lay Queen Rhaella’s Valyrian bow. They have her.

“Send the Company captain to me,” ordered Jaime, smoothly, despite his grit teeth. They have her. Blood slithered from the palms of his clenched fists. “Have your men scour the island for smugglers. Destroy any boats that are unfamiliar. Do not stop until you’ve left them stranded. Every single one.” They will pay the debt. Every single one. None of them would survive this. None of them would escape.

None of them.

Rhaella

“Drop the bow,” he ordered.

Rhaella didn’t move. Her throat teased the edge of his blade, and her ear was moist from his breath.

I will not die this night, she told herself. Daenerys still grew in her womb, and she was meant to live — destined to. Rhaella could not die while Daenerys was still inside of her, would not. This is not my fate. I’ve nothing to fear. “And if I do not?” she asked. Her voice was unwavering and clear, like it was when she held court. “You’ve no orders to kill me. Otherwise, I would already be dead.”

“This can go easily, Your Grace,” he said her title with mocking scorn. “Boring. Or, we could make it entertaining.”

The muffled sounds of Sia’s screaming amongst scuffling and angered grunts reminded Rhaella just how entertaining this night could be. She said nothing.

“But I’d imagine you’d want this to be a dull affair,” he said. “Do as we bid, and it will be.”

Sia burst through the doors, manhandled by two bruised men garbed in castle guard armor. Her nightgown was slashed in tatters, dripping and drenched with blood, but Rhaella saw no wounds, save for her swollen cheek. That was her Sia. Brave and strong.

“Where are the others?” asked Rhaella’s captor.

One of Sia’s captors jerked on her arm. “This foreign bitch killed them.”

Rhaella’s captor laughed. “The weakest fall first, sad to say.”

“The strong wouldn’t need two of his men to restrain one woman,” Sia snapped. “You spineless —”

One of them twisted her arm so savagely Rhaella was surprised she didn’t hear it crack. Sia’s scream was a mix of rage and pain. She struggled to get out of their hold, a furious scowl on her face. Rhaella met desperate eyes with her, trying to calm her. The queen may be indispensable, but her maid certainly wasn’t.

Rhaella’s captor held her closer. Gentle, nearly like a lover, if not for the blade at her throat, the nails digging in her side, and for half a breath, Rhaella thought she smelled wildfire burning. “This is your maid, is she not?” he whispered. “A scrapper. But even foreign whor*s bleed.”

One of the men put a blade to Sia’s neck. One red teardrop streamed down her brown skin, gleaming.

“This is your last chance to keep this night dull, Your Grace. Drop your bow.”

Sia gave her a defiant look, but Rhaella ignored it. She let her bow fall. Just the bow, only the bow. The clang of it hitting the stone floor sounded like crying. Crying for her.

Rhaella’s captor chuckled. “There’s a good queen.” He dragged her away from her bow and to her table. He released her and walked on the other side of the table, shadows hiding his features. “You’re welcome to sit, you know. Wouldn’t want a woman of your age and stature to be uncomfortable.”

Rhaella remained standing. “What do you want?”

Rhaella thought she could see a smile through the darkness. “Just a pleasant chat. It will kill time while we’re waiting, wouldn’t you say?”

“Waiting for what?” she asked, though she already knew. She couldn’t very well be a hostage in her own fortress – it wouldn’t be an impossible thing, but an unfeasible one. They wanted to take her somewhere.

“The signal, of course,” he said, “But you already knew that.”

“Where is my son?”

He shrugged. “We don’t have him yet, but we will. Your grandchildren, too. We’ve more than enough men here passing off as your own, and children are trusting enough.”

Jaime has them, Rhaella told herself. She had to think that, otherwise she’d go mad. He will take them somewhere safe, and then he will find me.

“Don’t think the search will buy you time for a daring rescue, though,” he said. “We’ll leave without them, if we have to. You’re more than enough, I’d say. Take pride in that.” He sat down. “We’ll be taking you from this place soon, Your Grace, and it would do well for you to answer any questions I have. We know your sweet prince confides in his mother like a co*ckless craven, so do tell us. Where is Lyanna Stark?”

Moonlight stirred in the room then, and Rhaella got a good look at her captor’s face. He was ruggedly handsome, dark haired, with grey-blue eyes and an unkempt goatee. A Stormlander all the way, mayhaps even a Baratheon bastard.

Rhaella could only laugh, soft, and bitter.

“My cousin sent you,” she said. “Of course.” It hurt her as much as it disgusted her, to know that Steffon’s son had been reduced to this. She sat down. “You will not believe me, regardless of what I say.”

“Perhaps not,” he allowed, “But I must report to my king, all the same.”

Your king. Rhaella’s dagger pricked underneath her stocking. She was thankful she wore her thicker gown to bed, elsewise he would see it. Or perhaps he did, and was waiting for her to brandish it so he would have an excuse to kill Sia. “My cousin is in the line of royal succession because my Aunt Rhaelle’s blood runs through his veins, yes. But he cannot be king unless all of his cousins are dead. Does he mean to kill us, then? All of us, even the children?”

Her cousin’s servant leaned over the table, a smirk on his face that reminded her of Steffon’s. So he was a bastard, then, a Storm, hopefully born from some distant uncle or so; Steffon and his father had loved their wives too much to stray from them. “You want to change the subject,” he said. “But that won’t happen. Answer, or she dies.”

Rhaella sat straight in her chair. “My son is no raper, no kidnapper. If Lyanna Stark left with him, it is because she wished to. He is no monster, to steal maidens out of their beds.”

Storm hummed. “So where is she, then?”

“My son has not told me of Lyanna’s whereabouts,” she said. “I don’t know where she is. I swear it on the old gods and the new. I swear it upon my children, and my grandchildren.”

Storm looked into her eyes, then, as if he were searching for a lie. For the longest time, he said nothing. Then he sat back. “A pity.”

“I will go with you in peace,” she said, “So that I may tell my cousin this myself.”

“How charitable of you.”

“I’ve naught to do with the actions of my son, or my husband. Lord Robert has no reason to be hostile to me.” Rhaella pulled at her fingers. She needed to say something, anything to give Jaime time to save her. But she was not good at thinking on her feet — that had been Joanna and Lorei’s talent, never hers. “If I may ask, Ser … does Lord Eddard know of this assignment of yours?” If anyone had the right to rebel against her family, it was the Starks. But she had heard that the young lord was honorable. She couldn’t believe that he would agree to use Rhaegar’s family like this, but then again, love could make one do dishonorable things, and war was kind to no one.

Storm shrugged. “The wolf isn’t my king. His orders mean nothing. And you may have been a queen once, Your Grace, but this is not your interrogation — it’s ours. Tell me, why is your son in our land?”

“Is this why Robert sent you?” she asked. “Because he learned of my son’s whereabouts?” Rhaella wondered if she should tell him the truth. It would mean nothing in the long run; if she had her way, he and his men would not leave this island alive. Still, she could not risk it. “He is looking for allies — Stormlanders that have not turned traitor.” A half-truth was good enough. “His intentions weren’t to plan an ambush, or anything dishonorable. It is a tour — nothing more, nothing less.”

Storm stared at her again, silent as the night. He made to speak, but the bells stopped him.

Grand and darkly the alarm bells chimed, echoing throughout the island, the fortress, their souls. Rhaella knew the sound instantly. Jaime.

A little smile came to Storm’s face, though she could see the anger in his eyes. “Looks as if we’ve been compromised.” He looked at one of Sia’s captors. “By whom would you say, Brother?”

One of the men looked out of the window, scowling. In the light she could see him clearly. He resembled Storm well enough.

“It’s Tywin Lannister’s whelp,” he said. “I know it.”

Rhaella knew it too. She bit her lip to keep from smiling.

“Well,” said Storm, “This night just became interesting.” He stood up, face darkening.

Rhaella stood with him, slowly, to calm him. “Yes, but not by my volition. I’ve honored your rules. Keep my maid alive, unharmed and untouched, and I will follow wherever you lead, peacefully.”

Storm considered her a moment. His brother spoke for him.

“Your lot sounded the alarm,” he said. “That stops any peace between us. As far as I’m concerned, your maid is forfeit. If it were up to me, I’d give this whor* a good f*cking and let her bleed out while you watch.”

“A shame that it isn’t up to you then, Brother,” said Storm. “Find your respect. She’s old enough to be our mother.”

Storm’s Brother scoffed at that. Storm ignored him and offered Rhaella his hand. “I will honor your deal well enough, Your Former Grace.”

Rhaella looked at his hand. He had touched her before, when his blade was at her throat and his arm was coiled around her. A mere hand was not so bad as that, and yet the thought of his skin on hers again made her remember claws in her flesh, smoke choking her, dry pale hair raking across her face, creaking beds and laughter and rancid breath rasping You are mine, Sister —

Rhaella backed away. I will not die this night.

Storm merely chuckled at her rejection. “Let’s take our leave, then,” he told his men. “The old queen’s chambers are not so welcoming these days.”

They took her and Sia out of her chamber and through the halls. She walked by Sia’s side, or as closely as she could with the captor still restraining her. They caught each other’s glance, and Rhaella hoped she could understand: the children?

Sia’s eyes darted to Rhaenys’s room, and back again. Rhaella had to fight the relief pooling from her heart. When they passed Viserys’s room, Sia gave her the slightest shrug, barely noticeable. Storm’s Brother noticed. He seized her arm so hard that Rhaella thought he would rip it out of its socket.

“Stop!” Rhaella said, and it sounded like an order.

He just laughed at her. “She still thinks she’s queen, Brother.”

“She remains so in this one thing, Brother,” said Storm. He beckoned Rhaella to him. “Walk beside me, Your Former Grace. Oh, and I should warn you — if you yell out again, the deal is forfeit. Your sweet maid might be stronger than any proper lady, but she can’t hope to fight all of us.”

“Six of you came into my room,” said Sia. “Yet only three of you came out. And there are three of you here. Do traitors not know their numbers?”

Storm’s Brother made to backhand her, but Storm stopped him with a hand.

“I do rather like her,” Storm said to Rhaella. “But she would do well to remember that Dornish tongues are only good for one thing.”

Rhaella’s stomach churned. “Be silent, Sia.”

“Listen to your queen, Dornishwoman,” said Storm.

Sia scowled at Storm, stared at him with eyes that growled I am Myrish, you c*nt, but she said nothing. Rhaella gave her an apologetic glance, and looked at her no more — her defiance shamed her. I am not afraid, yet I have no courage — not like Sia does. If she did, she would have used her dagger by now.

The last few steps were made in silence. As Rhaella passed the corridors, she expected to see carnage, death, slaughter, but there was nothing, nothing but the dim flickering of torchlight and ghoulish emptiness.

“What did you do to my guards?” she asked.

“The question is what they did to themselves,” said Storm. “Your men should really pay attention to what they drink.”

Rhaella knew that wasn’t the whole truth. She saw the blood on her captors's armor, the battered state of the metal. They fought for their disguises.

“You needn’t have killed them,” she said. Most of her guards were descendants of Targaryen bastards — dragonseeds. They were her true kin, lowborn or no, and they were loyal like no other. Even the guards she shared no blood with loved her and her family. She cherished them all, and she would not see them harmed, especially for Lyanna Stark.

“We didn’t,” he said. “Only those whose armor we needed.” He opened the doors that led outside. “Silence, now.”

She was led toward the guard’s barracks. The plaza was vast and empty, not even echoing with crooning owls or the late drunken laughs that she knew her men liked to make when they were off duty. The air was torrid and dry, drier than it had ever been, yet feverish. Or perhaps that was Rhaella’s own flesh, simmering in its own anxiety. Out the corner of her eye, Rhaella thought she saw a pale shadow running just out of sight — Jaime? But no, it must have been the moonlight.

Two guards were standing guard at the bridge. As they drew closer, they smiled at Storm.

“Well, sh*t,” one of them said. “You have her. When the bells went off, we got nervous.”

“You were ordered to stay no matter what, and so you did,” said Storm, condescendingly. “Good on you for not committing treason. Have you any news?”

“No one has approached us,” one said. “We heard commotion in the barracks, though. Wasn’t sure if it was from our end or theirs.”

“Most likely theirs,” said Storm. “The alarm wouldn’t ring otherwise. You didn’t spot Jaime Lannister?”

“If he left, it must have been through the other wing. It’s been quiet here on the enemy side, so far, Ser.”

“That’ll change soon, I’m sure,” said Storm, and somehow, Rhaella could tell he was speaking to her.

“Keep your posts, and send word when they come,” he ordered them. “Hopefully we’ll get a good show before we take our leave.”

They crossed the bridge and approached the mess hall. The doors were tall and ominous. Silent. Dark.

“Where are you taking us?” She had to ask, though she already knew the answer.

Storm laughed. “To your guards.”

Then he opened the doors, and the silence that surrounded the fortress died.

There was nothing but red. Red, and firelight, and death. It brewed over a monstrous heap of naked flesh, all crimson, save for the pale hair on their heads, or the purple eyes staring into nothing. Her guards. Her kin.

“We had to hide them somewhere, didn’t we?” Storm asked, casually. “Dead looks different from passed out. I wouldn’t recommend eating here anytime soon, though.”

Rhaella said nothing, only stared at the great hearth, the flames illuminating the corpses, the hall, the world. All dragons return to the fire, she thought. Even bastards. But Rhaella was no dragon.

“Well, do come in,” Storm said. “I shouldn’t have to invite you into your own hall, do I?”

Rhaella walked in, wouldn’t look at him.

Storm took her to a table. “Here,” he said as she sat down. “Not only is it clean, it has the best view.”

Rhaella looked out of the grand window. It was slightly ajar, with ropes hanging from it. Outside, far below, there was a ship, a ship that certainly should not be there. Off to the side lay a cluster of rocks that she knew led to a cave. A smuggler’s cave. From where she sat, she could just make out the shadows of little boats.

“That’ll be your home for the next month or so,” said Storm. “Not fit for a former queen, mind you, but comfortable enough. We’ll wait a few moments more for one of your sweet children to arrive, and then we’ll climb you down.” When Rhaella didn’t respond, he scoffed. “Are you truly so upset about your guards, then? Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I heard you had a reputation for kindness, when people cared enough to know you. My father said they called you the Good Queen, once.”

Rhaella kept her eyes away from him, kept them on the shadows off the moonlit sea, on the ship that was to take her away. In the darkness, amber flickered. Amber flame. A flame that should not be there. A flame that was hers.

Rhaella looked at Storm then, met Targaryen eyes with his Baratheon ones. “And they shall call me so again,” she said.

Before he could speak, the darkness beyond the window burst into gold, burning gold, Lannister gold, and Rhaella smiled when she saw the realization on her hostage’s face.

Storm jumped out of his seat, looked out the window, saw his escape burning in the night, and the playful cruelty left him then. He turned to her, eyes furious, and he was not the man she’d known before.

“Conniving bitch,” he said, low and laced with malice.

“I had naught to do with it,” Rhaella said, “But you would do well to remember where you are, Ser. Stags are not known for their swimming.”

Storm stared at her, grey-blue eyes as bright as the hearth behind them. Then, he spoke. “Neither are foreign whor*s,” he murmured.

For a breath, one hitched, blessed, frozen breath, Rhaella did not understand. Then she did, and everything happened at once. Her dagger was in her hands, grazing his cheek, and a sharp backhand sent her crashing into the hearth’s mantelpiece, headfirst. She collapsed in the ash, the clatter of her falling dagger louder than her cries. Firelight swarmed her, and the world spun and twisted.

Just above the crackling flames, there was the creak of the window. “Bring her,” said Storm.

Sia’s screams were somehow terrified and defiant all at once, roaring under the flames. She and the men struggled against one another, thrashing and bleeding and glowing in amber light. Rhaella tried to scream for Sia, but nothing came out. Her head throbbed like madness, and the room was spinning, bright, hot, and vomit invaded her tongue. She tried to stand, but she was too weak to. Weak. I am always too weak.

They dragged Sia closer to the open window, closer and closer and closer. A gentle breeze rolled in, stirring through Sia’s hair like the kiss of death, and gods, gods, Jaime

A pale shadow charged from under the table, the same one Rhaella saw before. Silver flashed in his hands. “Get away from them!” he screeched. Rhaella recognized the voice before she did his tiny frame, and her heart plummeted in her stomach.

Viserys was quick as lightning. He dodged their attempts to grab him, and plunged his kitchen knife into the leg of Storm’s man, drove it deep, and the man was so surprised he stumbled from Sia.

That was all Sia needed. She snatched the knife out of his leg with her free arm and slashed it across his throat. Viserys screamed as the blood spurted out, as the man fell and died. Storm’s Brother grabbed Sia by the throat and threw her into the wall. She landed limp, unmoving. Then both brothers turned to Rhaella’s son, fury on their faces.

Viserys backed away from them, more frightened then she had ever seen him. Her son. They were going to hurt her son.

Amber glowed before Rhaella’s eyes, glowed and glowed and glowed, and the heat was simmering. Remember your words, a voice said to her. Whether it was her ancestors’, or Daenerys’s, or Balerion’s, or her own, Rhaella didn’t know. Heat stabbed through her like lightning, and the room grew silent — deaf, save for a faint, wet sigh, like water running. Rhaella looked down at her hands, clenched around her dagger. On its dark face, Storm’s blood danced and fell and cried. One drop, one mere drop, and yet it clung to the blade like a lover, staying on the ebony even when it streamed near the edges.

Remember, she heard again. She twisted the bloodied blade toward the hearth. For a breath it reflected the firelight, gold and amber and beautiful, and below the dancing flames, embers sparkled like burning stars. They all sang to her, called for her, and the red blood shined in the firelight, shined, and shined, and shined, and Rhaella Targaryen remembered.

Fire and blood. The thought was a whisper, yet it felt like a roar.

“Mother!” Viserys cried, and Rhaella could be weak no longer. She grabbed the burning embers and pressed them against the blade.

Storm staggered just as his brother kicked her sweet boy in his beautiful face. They fell together, Viserys limp and asleep, Storm in a sharp gasp. He gripped the floor, convulsing so violently he looked possessed. Rhaella could hear his heartbeat more than she could her own, pounding in her ears, pulsing at her mercy, racing and jumping and frightened. He was burning inside, Rhaella knew. Burning from his boiling blood. But it would not kill him — she only had one drop, and it was not infinite.

Storm’s Brother stared at him in horror, frozen. Confused and helpless, he held his brother, tried to hold him still, to no avail. Then the blood on Rhaella’s blade seeped into the dying embers, and Storm grew still.

Frantic, Storm’s Brother put an ear to Storm’s heart. When he heard what she did — a slow, terrified beat — he calmed, just a bit. For a moment he looked scared, like a lost boy. Then he turned his eyes to Rhaella, and his understanding eyes lit with rage.

“Witch!” he snarled, and charged toward her.

I will not die this night. Rhaella grabbed a fistful of embers and threw them at him. The hot ash hit him on his metaled chest, did nothing to stop him. Rhaella’s heart rose in her throat. She threw the dagger in the flames, went to grab more embers, but he was on her before she knew it. He stomped on her arm. The crunch was almost as loud as the crackling flames, as her screams.

“You’ll pay for this, you f*cking c*nt,” he growled. He kneeled over her and rammed his fist into her face. The spiked metal smashed her nose, and she couldn’t breathe. She gasped to take in air, and he forced his mouth onto hers, shoved his tongue down her throat. He tasted of death, and sourness, and smoke, somehow.

Salt stung Rhaella’s eyes. She bit his tongue, the blood flowing into her mouth, and his backhand made the world fall and descend. He climbed on top of her, towering frame pressed against hers. One hand wrapped around her neck, choking her. The other ripped through her skirt and reached between her legs, and he was no longer Storm’s Brother, but Her Brother. An old scent invaded her, a scent of smoke and ash and burning flesh and jade flames, and the memories froze her.

The first finger invaded her, and the metal was just as sharp as Aerys’s claw. The stone floor was soft, like her bed in the Red Keep, and the sting was an old enemy, come out to play. The pain was familiar, and so much, so much, but she did not scream; rage brewed within her at her fear, at her weakness, and it silenced her.

Remember your words, she heard again. Was it Daenerys?

I am trying, sweetling. She was trying. She was trying, but all she could remember was Aerys, and the demon that claimed him. The demon that claimed her, on the nights that burned green.

Her Brother pressed his nose onto her broken one, making the blood run past her ears. “You Targaryens are unnatural,” he whispered against her lips. “Bloody monsters. King Robert will kill the Mad King and that craven Rhaegar, but I’ll handle you, and then I’ll rip your little princeling to pieces. I’ll die here, but I’ll be damned if I don’t take you f*ckers with me. But before I kill you, Your Grace, I’ll remind you of your place.” He skewered more metal inside her. “You’re not queen.” More. “You’re nothing but an old whor*. And old whor*s get f*cked.” More. He rammed his mouth against hers again, and Rhaella tried to think of the taste of Joanna’s last kiss: wildberries from the West, and wine as red as her Lannister gown, and wondrous laughter, laughter and gold and beauty. No, Rhaella remembered. That was how their first kiss tasted, not the last. The last was made of pain, of longing, of darkness and tears and mourning. And now, there was only smoke in her mouth, smoke and ash and rancidness. Now, she was only the forsaken princess, the wraith who knew nothing of fire and blood. Salt blurred her vision, and her heart ached, and ached, and ached.

The metal raped her harder, and Rhaella heard Aerys. We are one, Sister, he’d gasped as he thrust into her, as his claws flayed and stabbed her. We are fire.

The metal hand at her throat squeezed and squeezed, until her breath grew thin, and her amber vision splintered with black. Death, she would have thought — would have even yearned for — if Daenerys were not inside her. I will not die this night, she knew, but perhaps the Queen would perish, and the Wraith would take over once again. The thing that had known her place and stayed in it. The meek creature that had never dared to be strong, because she knew it was hopeless. You thought you could free yourself from men’s cruel unwanted touch when you crowned your son, Rhaella could hear the wraith saying. You thought that you could rule, that you had power. You thought that you mattered. You forgot your place. You forgot, you forgot, you forgot.

She did forget, didn’t she? How could she have forgotten? How could she not remember?

Remember your words. Rhaella’s dazed eyes went to the hearth. The flames still danced, still sung, still called to her. It swarmed through her dagger, burning, searing, yet the dagger was unmarred. But it was Valyrian steel, and she was only made of flesh.

We are fire, Aerys had said, but it was delusion, spawned from a madman.

Remember your words. The blood from Her Brother’s bitten tongue still lingered in her mouth, blood that she refused to swallow, refused to let fall inside of her. It was the only thing of his that did not taste tainted. It was pure, and red, and hers, now.

You are fire, Balerion had told her in her dragon dream, when Daenerys had first spoken to her. You are fire, he’d said. The hearth’s flames sang, and danced, and beckoned, and the blood fused her mouth with steel. Not Valyrian steel, but mundane, inferior steel. Steel her people ruled for centuries. Steel she would overcome. Fire and blood. My words. Mine. How could she have forgotten that so easily, so soon? The words had not changed. The words were ancient, true, infinite, unyielding. It was only she that must not change her belief in them, remain faithful to them. Rhaella had survived Aerys for a purpose. Her daughter grew inside her for a purpose. She’d been set free for a purpose. Her power had returned for a purpose. The words were as true for her as they were for Aegon, for Rhaenys, for Visenya. She had known that, and this creature had robbed her of it. She had allowed him to rob her of it.

Never again.

Never again.

Rhaella took a breath and spat his blood into the fire.

The flames roared and brightened and swelled in glorious light, and Storm’s Brother screamed. He backed away from her, freeing her of his invasion, but his hand was still on her throat. He wrapped both hands around her, and squeezed with what strength he had left. It was not much. Still, he held on, his blue eyes bright with pain and rage. He feels his death nearing, she knew. But the blood that burned now had been diluted with her saliva. She would need more blood to kill him. And he would die. He hurt Viserys, and Sia, and he’d made her forget who she was now, what she’d become. He must die. He must die.

Quick as dragonflight, Rhaella snatched the dagger from the flames and pressed it against his face. His screams grew louder, but he wouldn’t let go. Rhaella pressed it harder against his flesh, harder and harder, the heat burning and surrounding them both like dragonfire. The smell of burnt flesh clouded her nostrils, and in the far distance she thought she felt pain — pain from in between her legs, or her throat, or her face, or her arm, she didn’t know, but she held on.

Storm’s Brother could no longer take it. He released her throat and went to grab her dagger, but Rhaella threw embers, right into his eyes. He recoiled from her fully then, howling like a dog, reaching at his eyes.

Adrenaline rushed through Rhaella then. She sat up and stabbed the small opening in his armor at the meeting of his calf and thigh. It coated the blade red, red, red and black, black and red, just like Balerion. My colors. Mine. On the hilt of her dagger, the dragon stared at her with ruby eyes, and she could have sworn they glowed.

Rhaella stabbed the other leg so that he could not stand. Then she stood, put her bloody blade over the fire, and let it burn.

His cries rang throughout the hall. He collapsed, thrashed and convulsed, and his suffering was Rhaella’s triumph. But it was not enough. Rhaella removed the dagger from the fire before all of the blood could burn. She looked at the blade, its beautiful darkness that gleamed with pure redness, and she felt it again, the dagger’s power. It filled her like a beacon, dark and sweet and hers — the same as before, and yet, more. Before, there had been no fire to show her the truth, no blood of the enemy coating the blade to show her the way. Now, she knew. Now, she understood.

Rhaella walked to her enemy. The fire had left him, but he was still exhausted, still pained, still weak. Their eyes met. Salt fell from his blue irises, but Rhaella Targaryen’s eyes were dry as Balerion’s bones. Cry, she thought. Cry the tears I shed for years. Cry what I cannot.

He tried to sneer at her, but it came out as a defeated grimace. “Evil bitch.” His voice reached for a growl, but it only managed a hateful, defeated whimper. That within itself was vengeance in its own way, but the blood of her womb still dripped down his metal claws, and he was still breathing.

Rhaella sat astride him, right on his calves, and slowly pushed the dagger through the metaled collar near his neck. It did not pierce flesh, but the heat of the blade melted the armor. Liquid onyx poured on his skin.

His screams were like nothing human. He thrashed and struggled, but so had Sia, when he pulled her to the window. He cried, but so had Viserys, when he kicked him like a rodent. He begged, but so had she, on the green nights, when Aerys would come into her room. Rhaella kept going. When the glowing hot armor was cut down the middle, Rhaella pushed it out of the way so she could reach his skin. It was a runny mess of melted red and black metal, of burned flesh, and sinew. Rhaella stared at the gore, calm as still firelight. This needed to happen, she knew. All of this did. She thought that to understand, she must dream again. But she needed no dreams, only fire and blood. He had made her forget, but he would make her remember, too.

Rhaella sunk the blade through his groin, and his agony graced her ears. She did not need to start at his co*ck, she knew, but he had hurt her son, and Sia, and her

Rhaella shook her head of the thought. He had touched the wraith, not her. She was not the wraith. She was a queen, a Targaryen Queen. She knew this, but she didn’t remember. She needed to remember.

Rhaella carved the dagger upward, through his belly and toward his heart. His blood was stifling on her skin, and the breath of the hearth embraced her with a loving hold. The thrashing underneath her was like a dance that she controlled, and his heartbeat pounded in her ears, just as his brother’s had. Soon his screams died out, and his heartbeat slowed, and Rhaella knew he was almost gone.

“Thank you, Ser,” she told him, softly. “You did remind me of my place. I am your queen, the descendant of Aegon and Rhaenys, the daughter of Old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. I had forgotten that, but you made me remember. And your death will bring about our new glory by restoring the old.” Saying it aloud made something ring in her mind, flicker like the tiniest glow of candlelight. A word. The word of power. The word of ancients. It was so faint she could not understand it, but she knew she would soon.

Rhaella looked at the dagger’s hilt, the red rubies of the dragon’s eyes.

“You’ll help me remember,” she whispered. “You’ll help me remember everything.”

Rhaella pushed the dagger up, cut, and cut, and cut

And then his heart was in her hands, and the fire consumed it in a storm of gold and red.

Notes:

****

So this chapter took a lot out of me, mentally and emotionally.

I hope you guys are okay with this chapter’s content. I was really worried while writing it, and had to take several breaks because of the content, but I think it serves the narrative, as well as Rhaella’s character development. Also, GRRM’s magic seems to be awakened by trauma, if Dany and Bran’s journey are anything to go by. Even with those reasons, I hope I did the subject matter justice, and I hope you guys feel the same. I love Rhaella, and I try to write her PTSD with sensitivity because she's a rape survivor, and that is a serious subject that should be treated with the utmost respect. I hope you guys can see that in my writing.

I will say that so far, I don’t plan on having any more non-consensual scenes in this story. There will be plenty of graphic violence, though probably not as gruesome as what Rhaella did at the end. I hope you guys didn’t think that was too much either, but hey … Fire and Blood, bitches.

Just so there’s no confusion, here’s a disclaimer: Robert didn’t order for Rhaella, or the children to be hurt. He just wanted hostages – and answers. I don’t want you to think I’m demonizing him. I’m not a fan of Robert at all — like, at ALL — but I still don’t want him to be OOC. Lyanna is still alive in this fic, so at this point I don’t think he’d wish harm on Rhaegar’s family (besides Aerys), or think of them as “dragonspawn,” whose lives mean nothing. He ordered a clean kidnapping. No child beatings, and certainly no sexual assault or attempted murder.

Questions

1. Did you guys like the chapter? Tell me what you thought of it.

2. Did you like having two POVs in one chapter?

3. What do you think will happen next?

4. Were the fight scenes okay? I’m always nervous about those.

5. What do you think of Jaime’s sword, now?

6. What’s going on with Rhaella? (Magically or character wise?)

7. What do you think of Rhaella in this chapter?

8. Did you expect the attackers to be Robert’s men?

9. Has Rhaella gone dark?

10. What do you think of the magic?

11. What do you think happened in the ending?

12. In the last chapter I said the plot pace would speed up. What do you think? Did I deliver?

13. Whose POV should be in the next chapter?

14. Do you have any questions for me about the story?

Lighter Questions

1. You guys have read A LOT of words in this fic. Do you have any favorite moments / chapters, so far?

2. There’s a reference to one of Jaime’s children in this story (not necessarily this chapter) can you tell me what it is? Anyone who can will get a shoutout in the next update. :)

3. There are specific references and parallels to Dany in Rhaella’s chapters. Can you name some? You’ll get a shoutout if you can.

4. Did you like Jaime’s big bro moment with Rhaenys?

5. How cute is Rhaenys?

6. How are you guys liking protective!Jaime?

7. Wtf, Robert?

8. Is my Jaime not badass enough / too badass? I think Jaime in his prime could kill that many dudes even if he was unarmored, but hey, maybe you think differently.

9. How many times has Jaime showed that he’s a Tyrion stan in this fic? You can estimate.

10. Rhaella told us what Joanna’s kisses tasted like. What do you think Jaime’s kisses taste like? (Cersei is a way too easy answer, btw)

11. Would you want Viserys to be your bodyguard?

12. Is Viserys’s training with Jaime paying off or nah?

13. Does Rhaella / that ending have you shook?

14. So is Robert trash, or is he TRASH?

15. How many f*cks did Sia give in this chapter?

16. So can Rhaenys fly or nah?

17. When is Jaime gonna get to Rhaella already?

18. What will Jaime be thinking when he sees Rhaella / the mess hall?

19. Who knew the Targ's House words were literal amirite?

I left so many lighter questions because … well … I think we all need it. Especially me. Rhaella’s section killed me, guys. Hopefully I can revive myself to give you the next update. Thanks for being so cool. I could not ask for better readers.

<3

Chapter 13: Those Who Roar II

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Rhaella

Crimson flesh shriveled and merged with flame, and Rhaella Targaryen was alive.

Fire streaked through her skin, thrusting through her like a lover, kissing and touching and loving and gods, gods. Blood and pleasure pooled between her legs as the life filled her. His life.

Only death can pay for life, she heard in the distance, in her mind, in her heart. This death would heal. This death would renew. This death would restore, restore all, body and mind and soul.

The heart burned, and burned, and Rhaella’s memory rose like an awakening child. Her soul sang with the flames, and all the pain from before died in soft whispers, and it was so good, she knew so much, she had returned, she was home, yes, yes, yes. The ecstasy of it all threatened to drown her. She arched her back, tried to writhe, gasp, moan, but the power had stolen her breath. It claimed her, held her, flowed through her veins like all the might of the dragons before her. The air was amber, and her heart was aflame, as it had been eons ago.

Embers reawakened, said Visenya.

Ash restored, said Rhaenys.

Fire reborn, said Aegon.

Your words, said Daenerys.

Fire and blood, Rhaella knew, yes, but there was the other word, sighing just beyond the firelight. The word of power, the ancient word, the word that fueled her blood. What was the word?

The flames bloomed brighter, and Rhaella understood. The word meant nothing. Not yet. Not until she found it — what she’d dreamed of, what she’d sought for so long. What was it?

Ours, said her ancestors.

Mine, said Balerion.

Mine.

“Tell me,” she rasped, and the fire answered.

Jaime

The sword sang.

Its song was not evil, unnatural, wrong — it was a song of red, of rage and revenge, and Jaime Lannister sang with it. He was painted in blood, and heat, and adrenaline, and his queen was still missing.

“Report?” he asked as the footsteps approached him.

“We found the prince Aegon in the east wing, Ser,” said one of Myles Toyne’s captains. “He is secure.”

Prince Aegon? Jaime frowned, and then he remembered. The decoy. That didn’t matter now. “What of the queen, and Prince Viserys?”

“Aside from Prince Aegon, the east wing is clear of any royalty.”

Jaime clenched the hilt of his sword, watched blood flow down black and red metal. “As is the west wing, and the first floor, and the towers.” He stepped over the mass of men he’d just killed, looked at the horizon. Just underneath the paleness of the moon, black smoke danced. “You checked all of the boats before burning them, I hope?”

“Empty, Ser.”

Jaime held in his curse. His eyes met the lifeless ones of the body next to his feet. It was one amongst many, so many. Under nearly any other circ*mstance, Jaime would have reveled in his skill, basked in his own aliveness, but now, he could only think of the prince and queen. Could they be off the island so quickly, swept away by sea? But no, the full moon would have revealed any fleeing ships that escaped their fire. They couldn’t be outside the fortress, either — Jaime had caught wind of the attack too soon for the imposters to escape with his charges. Not soon enough, a part of him said. It could only take half a breath for any one of those savages to hurt Rhaella, or Viserys, or the babe — gods, the babe —

Jaime sunk his teeth into his lip to halt the scowl. He looked up again, the distant smell of smoke calling to him. The moon clouded with darkness. “What section of the castle is nearest to those burning ships, Tymothy?”

“The guard’s barracks, Ser,” he answered.

“You and I didn’t search through every inch of the barracks when we first left it, did we?”

“No,” said Tymothy, “But I sent my men to scour the area we left untouched when you were tending to Princess Rhaenys, just for good measure.” Tymothy’s bastard Targaryen eyes flashed. “They should have returned by now.”

“Where did you send them?”

“The mess hall.”

Jaime looked at his sword. Under the moonlight the blade gleamed and shined, not with flames, not with fire, but blood, only blood. He could not bear fire or red lightning or smoldering corpses, but he knew blood. Blood, he understood. And blood I will have.

The mess hall. That was where they ran, where they fought, where they stormed. And when their feet touched the bloodied stone of the bridge, the horde met them, garbed in red and black.

Rhaella

Have I grown wings? she wondered. She was floating, mind airless, soul soaring, yet her knees still graced the floor. Her skin was warm, warm like Joanna’s arms, dry and kissed with the softest dust. The hearth’s flame calmed to a low sigh, its amber glow caressing her. It sang still, a deep, sweet croon, a loving lullaby. Rhaella’s eyes drooped.

Only dragons have wings, Daenerys said, or was it her own voice? Rhaella did not know. But the words were true nonetheless.

And only dreamers can see, my sweetling, she told her daughter. I can fly in my dreams. I must sleep.

Not yet, Daenerys said. Yet Rhaella’s eyes were weighed stone, and her soul was sighing, and the amber haze was glowing, glowing, glowing …

A sharp yank of her neck jolted her. Rhaella felt her gasp more than she heard it, and the world turned inverted as her scalp stung in a faint, dull pull. Her hair. Someone was pulling her hair.

Someone was touching her.

The mere thought of it made a part of her scream, but somehow the panic did not feel like her own — it was a mere echo, ringing within her. It is the pain of the woman not burning, she knew, somehow. The pain that will return to me when all is done.

Her neck pulled back again. Rhaella tried to find her captor, but she could barely see through the haze. The shadow loomed over her, dark and silent in the amber light, and then, the eyes. Blue, grey-blue, bright and beautiful and Baratheon. Storm. She had not killed him. She had sacrificed his brother, not him. Yes.

“Aren’t you impressive?” he asked. Somehow, his voice was light and hateful all at once. “Perhaps my lot was wrong to side with Robert, kin though he may be.” He squeezed her hair harder. “Or mayhaps he’s right that he would see you all dead.”

Rhaella stared at him. Her blood was rushing to her head, but she barely felt it. She barely felt anything — not pain, not hate, and certainly not fear. “My cousin is not idiotic enough to openly kill children and an old, pregnant queen himself, no matter how much he hates Rhaegar,” said Rhaella. She spoke softly, in a deep murmur. She did not have to raise her voice; those with true power never needed to. “Hence why he sent you to steal me. I’m worth more alive than dead.”

Storm let out a breathy laugh. It sounded far away, like a lonely echo. “So we didn’t have to wait for the brats to be found. There always would have been a child. Clever witch.” He paused. “Or maybe it would have all been for naught. Most of your children died in the cradle.”

“Not this one,” said Rhaella. “You will, though.”

Steel kissed her throat. Cold, small and inferior. Mundane steel, then. Nothing.

“I might,” he said, casually, “But not before fighting to live.”

Rhaella watched the silver of his blade glint in the firelight. In its reflection, she saw eyes. Eyes framed by blood and soot. Eyes that were purple and aflame and ash all at once. Eyes that couldn’t be hers, but were. “You would threaten me?” she asked. “Have you forgotten the pain already? What I did to you, and your brother?”

Another soft laugh. “Did you forget what my brother did to you?

There it was, that echoing scream again. Her heart may have pounded in her chest at his words, but it was so faint she couldn’t tell. “It needed to happen,” she said. Her voice was soft, but the screams were deafening. “As did his death. Yours, too.”

Storm clutched at her hair harder. Her scalp pulled, but it did not hurt. The heart was done burning, but she was not. She burned, and floated, and drifted.

“The Witch Queen lies,” he said. “I watched you. You need my blood, and that dagger. You have neither.”

Rhaella turned her eyes to his boot, where her dagger lay underneath. So, she couldn’t gift him his brother’s fate. No matter. There were plenty of other ways to die, and Rhaella thought she might have had plans for this one, anyhow. This will all end, and soon, she told herself. Jaime is coming. She knew he was.

Behind them, the door opened, the sounds of clashing metal whistling through the air. “Ser!” a man yelled. “They’re here, a whole pack of them.”

“Jaime Lannister?” Storm asked.

“He hasn’t been spotted.”

Yet he’s here, Rhaella wanted to say, but her mouth was clay. She needed to sleep. But she knew Jaime would find her. He wouldn’t leave her. He wouldn’t leave her.

Storm cursed. “Assume formation. Tell them I have their queen.”

A swarm ran in then, filling the mess hall with black and red that shone a hideous brown through the amber shimmer. Imposters, daring to don the dragon. False dragons, lying dragons, but where was the lion?

Storm yanked her head back, jerking on her neck. “Stand,” he ordered.

Rhaella was so lightheaded the pulling only felt like more floating. She stood as best as she could, faltering, stumbling, drifting. Sleep. She needed to sleep.

Not yet, she told herself, but the thought was distant, like looking through mist. Yet Rhaella did not close her eyes. She couldn’t dream without seeing Jaime first. She had saved herself, but he was coming to save her, too, and she needed to see it to believe it. No one had tried to save her in years, not since Joanna. No one knew. No one cared. Does he care?

The doors burst open like stones shattering. Coldness brushed against her throat, and then, they swarmed. Dragon and dragon, hers and his, and then, through the far open window, the shimmer changed. It was bright, warm, safe, its light more gold than amber — beautiful, strong, glorious gold, and though moonlight gleamed from the distance, Rhaella only saw the sun. Do lions have wings? she wondered … and then she realized they didn’t need to.

Jaime

Sea’s wind whipped and danced through his flesh, moonlight bathing his bloodied hands and the dark walls before him. Just above that lay the end. He need only reach it, only reach them. Her.

Jaime clutched the stone walls. It was good that he had no armor. He would not be able to do this, otherwise. He’d shimmied on the tower’s wall moldings just below the bridge to reach the window. He knew he couldn’t storm in with the others. The mess hall was the perfect place to hold hostages, and her captors would know they’d lost the battle the minute Jaime’s men arrived. They would be daft not to use Rhaella’s life as leverage, and they would succeed with that … if there was no one there to ambush them.

Jaime grabbed the stone sill, pulled himself up just to see —

And … gods.

The mess hall was chaos. Naked corpses lay in a bloody pile, fresh and grotesque. Near the sill lay Viserys and Sia, silent and still — unconscious, he told himself — sprawled beneath Jaime’s men. Black and red faced each other in silent rage. Their weapons were brandished, their stares unwavering, but Jaime saw none of them — only Rhaella, and the mere sight of her rendered him lost between wanting to slaughter them all and to run to her.

His queen stood in a lake of ash that graced her feet and dusted the ends of her nightgown. She slumped in her captor’s grip, drenched in blood from head to toe, soot darkening her skin, and at her neck, a silver blade glinted. But somehow, that wasn’t what filled Jaime with horror and hatred — it was her eyes. Amethysts had become purple clouds, just as they had when she’d stared into the dagger the day before, but it was worse, now. They were distant, faded, inhuman, as if she saw no one, nothing. As if she’d gone away inside.

What had they done to her?

“It seems we’ve reached an impasse,” said her captor to Jaime’s men. Playfully, like it was a f*cking game. He clutched Rhaella tighter, seized her like a ragdoll, and Rhaella did nothing, didn’t move, didn’t flinch, didn’t blink, and Jaime could nearly feel the man’s blood running through his fingers and down his blade as he plunged it through his f*cking gut —

Jaime dug his nails into the stone. Not yet, he told himself. He was rash and reckless, he knew, but he had to be patient.

“Release Her Grace,” said one of Toyne’s captains, “And we will allow you to live.”

Rhaella’s captor laughed. “And I thought the Golden Company were honest sellswords. You’ve been allied with lying lions too long, I think. Speaking of lions … if there is chance for peace, where is Lord Tywin’s cub?”

Jaime’s swordhand twitched. The guard nearest to his window — protecting Viserys — caught his eye, and they exchanged the slightest nod. The prince still lived. Good. And now, his mother.

Jaime looked at the window on the other side of the hall. Not in position yet.

“Ser Jaime still searches for the princess Rhaenys,” said the captain. “Even still, my men are more than capable of ridding you of yours without his interference. Hand over Her Grace, unharmed and untouched, and we will accept your surrender.”

The man eyed them all. “I want a ship,” he said. “Well supplied, safe, and large enough for all of my men. No tricks.”

“We will only give you your life.”

“And yet I have your queen’s life in my hands,” he said. “It seems a reasonable exchange.”

Jaime saw a bundle of dark curls peak over the sill on the other side of the hall, Targaryen eyes shining in the moonlight. Tymothy. He gave Jaime the slightest nod, and Jaime knew it was nearly time.

Jaime looked back at Rhaella. She must have felt his gaze, because her eyes met his. Jaime tried to smile at her, but he feared it came out as a grimace. At his presence, he’d hoped to see those strange eyes become familiar, light with relief or humanity, but she simply stared at him in confusion, as if she were struggling to see … or as if she didn’t know him.

Rage and fear roiled in Jaime’s being. Patience. Patience.

Endless moments later, Tymothy gave him the signal, and Jaime climbed into the window, landing as quietly as he could on the stone floor. He was not trained for subterfuge, he knew, but he was unarmored and out of the enemy’s sight; they all stood with their back to Jaime, watching his men. Rhaella and her captor stood just across the way, but the hearth’s shadow hid him well.

On the other side, Tymothy leapt in, then another, then another. Jaime crouched down and snuck through the darkness as sleekly as his lion’s blood allowed. Tymothy met him on the other side, bow and blade at the ready.

“A bastard’s life has no value compared to a queen’s,” said the captain.

“And what of a former queen?” asked the captor. “Regardless of what you do with me, King Robert is winning this war. You may as well let us go free. I could leave Westeros entirely, forsake this entire bloody thing. I’d go far from here, far from your cause. You need only accept my offer. I could go to Essos, or the Summer Isles …”

Or the Seven Hells, Jaime thought. He inched closer.

The rebel paused, waiting for the other side to speak. Jaime’s men did not answer. “Or I could slice her neck open and have our deaths mean something,” he said. “It’s no matter to me. I imagine it does to you lot, though. It’s either the ship, or your queen, Sers. Make your choice.”

So Jaime did. He gave the signal, and everything happened at once. Tymothy’s arrow flew — right in the rebel’s swordhand. He gasped and stumbled, loosening his hold on Rhaella, and that was when Jaime lunged for him. He struggled with him for half a breath before throwing him into the wall, then drew his sword to block a random blade from the enemy’s side. Jaime made short work of the soldier, putting one protective arm in front of Rhaella and gutting him with the other. Jaime’s men roared, and the chaos began.

Beneath the scream of swords and cries, Jaime found his queen. He wrapped his free arm around her and brought her to the darkest corner, holding her close to him. Tymothy’s men surrounded them, holding off the few stragglers that managed to get close to them. In the shadows of their men, Jaime crouched before his queen, shielded her body with his. Rhaella’s head leaned against his arm, purple eyes blinking. They were a bit clearer now, but still hazed. They looked into his, and Jaime knew she saw him.

“Jaime,” she said. It was faint and rasped, but somehow he heard it.

“Yes, Your Grace,” he said. He inspected her. She was covered in blood, but it was so dim he couldn’t tell if any of it was hers. “Are you injured?”

Rhaella frowned, as if she didn’t know how to answer. She grabbed his arm, and he felt the heat through the fabric of his sleeve. Her skin was hot, too hot, like she had high fever.

Jaime looked into her eyes again. They were brighter than usual, with pupils far smaller and longer than they should be, more oval than round. Had they drugged her? His heart skipped a beat.

Rhaella squeezed his arm. “Jaime.” Her voice was soft mewls, ragged and whispered, and it was not a sound Jaime wanted to hear from her ever again.

Jaime held her shoulder. “I’m here, Your Grace.”

Rhaella took in a shaky breath. “I knew it. I knew.” Her gaze slid away from him, as she blinked some more. “I … I need to sleep.”

Jaime didn’t know how to respond to that. “We need to bring you to safety, first,” he told her. His hand was still holding her shoulder. Even through the silk of her gown, it was like grasping heated iron. She’d felt like this before, once, when she’d fainted on the way to Dragonstone. When she was having a vision, Jaime knew, but she was awake, now. Still. Magic. Jaime remembered the pile of ashes at her feet, the pile that was deep enough to be human remains, and the Valyrian dagger with a dragon hilt that twinned his own evil blade’s, but he could not think of that now.

Rhaella’s eyes found his again, bright and worried. “The children?”

“Viserys is being guarded,” Jaime told her. “Rhaenys is safe in her room.”

“You saved her.” She said it as if it wasn’t a question.

“Yes.” Jaime glanced back at the fight. They were winning. “As soon as it’s safe, I’ll take you and Viserys away from here.”

Rhaella’s eyes glazed over. “Away,” she said. “Yes. With you. But I must sleep first. Not yet.”

“Not yet,” Jaime said, frowning at her state. This isn’t natural. “Did he make you drink something?” He could only hope for something as simple as milk of the poppy.

Rhaella’s eyes drooped for a second, before she snapped them back open. She’s exhausted. “No,” she said, clearly.

“Did he hurt you?” He tried to sound calm, but the rage betrayed him.

For a breath, Rhaella said nothing. Then she looked into his eyes, and all the haze was gone.

“He is nothing,” she said, and she had never sounded so regal, so strong. A part of Jaime felt proud. Still, the lack of answer was unnerving. Whatever he’s done, he will pay the debt, Jaime swore. All of them will.

Heavy thumps took Jaime from his thoughts. Jaime looked behind him as the guards encircling them fell, one by one. Knives and arrows protruded out of their eyes, their throats, and Rhaella was unguarded. Half of the enemy charged for Jaime and his queen.

Jaime jumped to his feet. “Tymothy!”

Arrows flew, and Jaime’s men rushed to replace Rhaella’s guards. Jaime stayed near her, killing those who were able to evade the arrows and dare attempt getting close to her. For eons, moments, breaths, there was blood, blood and death and slashing and thrashing and metal —

Then the sharp swish of the rebel leader’s blade whipped at Jaime’s right, and he knew it was the end. He raised his sword just in time, and nothing lived in the world but the clash of red and silver, sparking through bloodied torchlight.

Jaime pushed Rhaella’s captor off of him, then slashed at him. The man evaded it well enough, stabbing and slashing with a fierceness that Jaime hadn’t seen since the Smiling Knight. Jaime blocked and dodged every blow — Jaime was better than him, but he was still unarmored, and needed to be cautious, especially with this one. The bastard fought like a defeated man. Like a dying man. Jaime would have respected it, if he weren’t so eager to see him skewered and bleeding.

“It seems we’ve left the impasse behind,” Jaime said to him as they fought. It was hushed and hissed, only for his ears.

The man only laughed, breathy and quiet. “Not your queen. She’s at quite the crossroads. You know what she is, don’t you? My brother was unfortunate enough to find out.”

Jaime’s feet swept through the ash as he circled him. Ash that had been a man once. Ash Rhaella had made.

Jaime smiled at him. “Oh, never fret. He deserved it. And you’ll be joining him soon, anyhow.”

Another laugh. “As will you, I imagine. Not now, but soon enough. The Rains of Castamere is nowhere near as scary as demons.” He grinned. “Should be quite the journey. But I’m sure she’ll make the trouble worthwhile. She’s a sweet one. My brother got a little taste before —”

The screech of breaking steel rang throughout the hall. Jaime’s arm shook and pulsed as half of the man’s blade fell, his crimson Valyrian steel shining unbroken and unyielding. Silver steel clattered to the floor, and the hall was silent. Not silent enough — his enemy was still breathing.

Crying rings of ripped silver still screamed through all of their ears as the man gaped at his severed blade. Jaime longed to run him through right then and there, but no — he needed to see his death, and the one who would bring it. He needed to learn.

Jaime whipped around the rebel and slashed his sword across his hamstrings. He gasped and fell to his knees, but jabbed at Jaime with the serrated remnants of his sword. Jaime dodged it and rammed his fist into the bastard’s face with all of his might, sending him crashing to the floor. Jaime stomped on his swordhand, and when he felt the snap, he kicked the broken blade away. Then he plunged his red sword into the bastard’s leg, and started punching, down, down, again and again and again. He didn’t even hear the screams, only the roaring in his head, the rage, and he didn’t feel his pain in his fist, only the sweet pulse of the nose crunching on his knuckles, the stab of broken teeth, the wetness of spit and blood flying —

“Ser Jaime.” The voice was peace in a maelstrom.

Jaime stopped. He looked up.

Queen Rhaella stood before him, bloody and black and brave. Beside her were her men, holding the remaining rebels at swordpoint, on their knees. Her expression was stoic, but kind, and only for him. “He must have a proper execution,” she said. “As must they all.”

Jaime’s queen spoke softly, gently, but he heard the order. He stood, drew his sword from his enemy’s leg, felt satisfaction as the bastard groaned, sheathed it.

Rhaella walked closer to where her prisoner lay. He blinked up at her, dazed and bleeding. She looked down at him with unfeeling eyes. “I told you to remember where you are,” she murmured. “You didn’t. But I did.” She looked away from him and turned to her men. “Seize them.”

And so, their men hauled the rebels away, to the dungeons.

When it was done, Jaime and Rhaella went over to where Viserys and Sia lay. Rhaella kneeled before them, caressing their faces.

“With your word, Your Grace, we will take him to Maester Emrys,” said one of the men that was guarding the prince.

Rhaella said nothing. She wrapped her arms around her son, held him close and stood with him in her arms, carrying him like a babe. His long, seven-year-old legs dangled past her hips.

Jaime frowned. “Your Grace —”

“I can do it,” she said. She looked at the guards. “Thank you for defending us. Please take Sia to the best guest room available, and find the best healer beside Emrys to tend to her. She hit her head quite roughly.”

The guards nodded, but one spoke up. “You needn’t thank us, Your Grace,” he said, “But please, allow a few of us to accompany you to Maester Emrys.”

“Ser Jaime will take me,” she said, softly.

The guard frowned. “I mean no offense to Ser Jaime, but it would be safer to have more than one —”

“Ser Jaime will take me,” she said again. “No one else.” She turned without another word, adjusted Viserys on her right hip, and offered Jaime her arm. Jaime took it. It was normal temperature again, to Jaime’s relief. It’s the only normal thing I’ve seen this night, he thought, unbidden, but no, he couldn’t think of it, the ash, the crumbling black corpse, his fire-and-lightning sword and her hazing eyes. He had to get both of his charges to the maester. Protecting Rhaella and Viserys. That is all that matters now. Yet it remained just beyond his thoughts, burning.

They left the mess hall behind, crossing the bridge. Night still reigned, the moon high and full, beaming down upon them. Rhaella’s pale skin gleamed in its light, blood and soot shining, black and red and white blending in a way that was both beautiful and disturbing. Jaime wasn’t certain if he liked it or not. Rhaella looked wrong this way … and yet, it was fitting. Were her House’s words not Fire and Blood? Was she not a Targaryen? Was she not a queen? But was she not a woman as well, gentle and kind, with a laugh he so loved to bring out of her? How could that same woman burn —

No, he would not even complete that thought. It was treasonous, traitorous, and wrong. And he had brought this upon them both. She had to do it. She had to defend herself, because I wasn’t there. I should’ve been there. If he’d been there, then they wouldn’t have ever hurt her. They wouldn’t have touched —

That was a lie, Jaime told himself. That bastard was one to play mind games. Jaime saved her before they could have … no, he wouldn’t even consider it. He couldn’t have let that happen to her again. Not again. Not ever again.

“He cut you,” Rhaella said, suddenly.

Jaime blinked. “Did he?”

“On your side,” she said. “I saw.”

Jaime touched the side where the rebel stabbed at him. Sure enough, there was a light sting there, and a wetness underneath the fabric.

Jaime shrugged. “Just barely. I didn’t even feel it until just now.”

Rhaella stopped walking. Jaime followed suit. “What is it?” he asked.

“Your arm,” she said, eyes filled with horror, as if she hadn’t endured horror that night herself. As if he was the one who needed to be protected. She reached for his arm, where the first group of attackers had sliced deep into his flesh. Her touch was the lightest, gentlest graze, but it still stung. Jaime clenched his teeth, but he didn’t pull away from her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. Her eyes sparkled in the moonlight. “I just …” She shook her head and let out a deep breath. Underneath Viserys’s weight, her arm trembled.

“He’s too heavy, Your Grace,” Jaime said, gently. “Let me take him.”

Rhaella rested her chin on Viserys’s pale head, then buried her nose in his hair. She held him a bit longer before giving him to Jaime. Jaime held his prince close, as gentle and careful as he could be. They’d broken the boy’s nose, Jaime could see that clear as day. It made him wish he could have killed all of them himself, but his queen was right. There needed to be an execution.

As Jaime settled Viserys in his arms, Rhaella looked pleased by the sight. Jaime was glad to see something familiar in her eyes. He worried for her. She was no longer dazed as she had been before, but there was something disquieting about his queen. She was too … calm, strange, as strange as her demeanor was the day they’d first explored the cave, but more … he didn’t know what. But it unsettled him.

Rhaella seemed to sense his unease. She held the uninjured part of his arm, gentle, so gentle. “This will be over soon, Jaime.”

Will it? He said nothing, only gave her a small smile.

From the look on her face, she didn’t believe him one bit. “We should go,” she said. She let go of his arm, and Jaime’s chest tightened at the loss. But he followed her.

As the knight escorted his queen with the prince in his arms, Jaime wished he could carry Rhaella too. He wished he could change time and be there on the hour they came for her. And he wished he knew what he was so f*cking afraid of.

*/*/*/*

Despite the blood and bruises, Viserys looked peaceful. Milk of the poppy wavered from his sleeping breath as he sighed through his slumber.

“His nose should be healed within the next month or so,” Maester Emrys told them.

Rhaella said nothing, only kept her nose buried in his silver hair, running her fingers through it.

Maester Emrys gave Jaime a quick questioning look. When Jaime gave him no answers, he looked back to his queen. “I must tend to you now, Your Grace.”

Rhaella stiffened, but she didn’t look away from her son. “See to Ser Jaime, first.”

Jaime made to protest, but Maester Emrys beat him to it. “Your Grace –”

“Ser Jaime, first,” their queen insisted.

So Emrys tended to Jaime. He was mostly well, save for the deep cut on his arm, and shallow cuts here and there. Emrys put stitches on his arm and wrapped it in bandages. “It is done, Your Grace,” Emrys told Rhaella. “Now please, allow me to tend to you.”

Rhaella stiffened. “I am well.”

“You’re covered in blood, Your Grace.”

“It isn’t mine,” she said, voice toneless.

“All of it, Your Grace?” He gave her a small looking glass.

Rhaella raised the mirror, looked at herself. Behind her, Jaime saw her reflection. Dried blood ran in streams from her nostrils, unhidden in the torchlight. The sight of it made him want to find her captor again, but Rhaella only stroked her nose with a lone finger, then gazed at the red crust on it in utter confusion.

“For your sake, and the child’s, I must inspect you,” said Emrys.

Rhaella didn’t look at Emrys, or Jaime. She stared at her feet, face hard and blank all at once, and for half a breath, Jaime thought he saw the mirror in her hand quiver. Then she laid down on the bed next to her son, staring just past Jaime’s shoulder.

Emrys checked her arms first. His hand was gentle, but it was as if he was touching a pale statue. As the maester inspected her, Rhaella was still as death, unmoving, eyes never leaving just beyond Jaime’s shoulder. In those purple depths, Jaime saw something familiar, something that was there just weeks before, in King’s Landing — not exactly, but close enough. Too close. And you know why.

Jaime moved closer to the bed, slowly, to see if he was welcome. Rhaella caught the movement, her eyes moving to his bare hands, and her posture softened, just a bit. Jaime sat in the chair on the other side of her bed, resting his hands on his lap. Rhaella’s eyes stayed on them like a hawk, as if they were all that existed in the room. Emrys touched her on her arms, her legs, and still, Rhaella stared at Jaime’s hands.

When Emrys finished, he looked wary, confused. “Were you beaten, Your Grace?”

“Yes,” Rhaella said. Casually, as if he’d asked her about the weather. Jaime clenched his jaw.

“And yet your body looks to be recently healed in some places, and unhurt in others.”

Rhaella looked into Emrys’s eyes then, unearthly to unearthly, purple to purple. “I told you,” she said. “I am well.”

A silence went through them then, queen and maester, speaking in words left unsaid. Even if Jaime could hear them, he knew they would be beyond his understanding, or at least, something he wished he didn’t understand.

He wasn’t surprised when Rhaella gave him the dismissal. “Ser Jaime,” she said, eyes not leaving Emrys’s, “I will stay here for the night. Bring the princess to me, then rest. The execution will be at dawn.”

Jaime said nothing, only bowed and left. The echo of the closing door rang of all the secrets between them, secrets that would burn bright as wildfire sooner than they could both run from it.

Rhaella

“May I ask how?” asked Emrys.

Rhaella eyed his maester’s chain. “How is it that you have Valyrian steel hanging from your neck?”

They both knew the answer to that. Magic.

“The chain means you’ve mastered it,” Rhaella said, “But only through books. Only through words.” She needed a word, but not yet. Not yet.

“Never in practice,” Emrys agreed.

“But it is why you’re here,” Rhaella said. “Why Rhaegar wanted you in his service.”

Emrys didn’t even try to deny it. He nodded.

“While he is away, you will serve me,” said Rhaella.

Emrys considered that. “When will I know?”

When. That was the question to end all questions, save for why. Rhaella did not know. There was so much she didn’t know, and yet, she knew everything.

The queen looked into her maester’s eyes. Amethyst and lavender, Targaryen and Velaryon. Valyrian and Valyrian. “When I call you,” she said.

Jaime

There was silence in the courtyard. Silence, and grey, and heat, stifling in Jaime’s heart, burning over the quiet waves of the Narrow Sea, its black shores kissing black sand and black souls.

They stood in a line, the rebels. Nooses snaked their necks, their heads bowed and eyes hateful … save for their leader. He stood in the middle, accepting, waiting. His neck was untied, but his hands were tethered to the beams above, and his eyes were watching — not the guards, not the smallfolk that swarmed them all, but their queen. Jaime watched her too. Waited.

Amidst the encircling crowd and guard, there was a boulder, dark and glinting in the morning light. In the sea of peasants, it was an island, and Queen Rhaella owned it. She balanced on it proudly, high above the rest of them, her black and red robes flowing in the sighing wind, silver braid draped over her shoulder, dragon crown shining. On her back gleamed her Valyrian bow, as black as the night, as purple as her eyes.

“The night was not kind to us, my kin,” she said to the crowd, the pale heads below. Her voice was soft and loud all at once. “Our cousin, our enemy, sent Baratheon bastards to capture the princes, the princess, and myself, all to dishearten our king. And he did not do this through honorable means, no. He used trickery, lies, deception. These men masqueraded as our own, as our kin, so that we would embrace them and trust them, only to reveal themselves after deceiving and poisoning. They killed many for their disguises, committed every treason, destroyed any goodwill our king may have had for their rebellious stag. They were monsters. They were filth. And they were thieves. They took lives, lives of those we loved, and will not be able to see ever again, until the next life.”

Jaime looked at the pyres surrounding them, the guards lying there in the finest garb. From the top of the gallows, they were tiny and pale. Jaime had never seen so much death, never heard such somber silence, not since Lady Joanna’s vigil. But this silence was different from that. This silence, he awaited. This silence, he embraced, because he knew it ended in vengeance. He felt the anger from the smallfolk as they listened to their queen, as they stared daggers into the men next to Jaime. Soon, he thought. Soon.

“We endured much loss in this night, yes,” said Rhaella, “But just as the sun rose despite it, so shall we. And so shall Robert Baratheon fall. But first, his men.” She caught Jaime’s eye, nodded.

Jaime pulled the lever, and the floor fell from beneath the rebels and their bare, bloody feet. Nothing sounded, save for sighing sea and gasping, choking, rasping. On, and on, and on. Then, death. Everywhere, nowhere, save for the one who still lived.

Rhaella brandished her bow, aimed it. Her face was stone, her eyes gems, her skin moonlight, her hair water. The leather of her robes gleamed in dawn’s light, dragons on her crown blaring like white fire, and Jaime had never seen her be so terrible, so strong, so beautiful. A warrior queen. She only needs a sword, and she’d be Visenya reborn. But she was not Visenya — she was their queen, Jaime’s queen, and she would not be cowed. Still, there was something missing in her gaze. Something that made him fear.

Queen Rhaella pulled the string back further. Somehow, Jaime heard its smooth pull of its thrum above all else. Jaime held his breath, waiting. And part of him, dreading.

Rhaella

The string’s thrum rang through her. Light, radiant, like Rhaegar’s harp. Morning grey glinted on the sharp tip of her arrow as it stared at Storm, standing amongst his dead men. Even in the distance, Rhaella could feel his silence, his acceptance. He was ready to die. And Rhaella was ready to live.

The heart, Rhaella knew. It must be his heart. It must always be the heart.

Rhaella clutched the bow harder. Its cool heat hummed and sang and waited, just as she had been waiting for so long.

Rhaella trained her bow at her enemy. “Hello, old friend,” she murmured. No one heard her, save for Daenerys, and the dragons, and the gods.

Hello, me, the deeper part of her said. She believed it, now. I must. Last night happened for a reason. All of it. All of it, so that she could hold her true bow in her hands, feel its power, her power. It had to happen for this moment, and many moments to come. Starting now.

Rhaella pulled the string further, and released.

The arrow soared, a black, lean blur underneath grey clouds, flying like a song, roaring and living and glorious. It was a sigh, a scream, a laugh, cutting through the air like the thunder of wings, and Rhaella was breathless. This is it, she knew. This is how I fly.

The song ended with a wet plunge and fell with red, and it was done. Crimson oozed and merged with black metal, shining, shining, and despite the distance and sea and breaths, Rhaella heard it swim. It was done. She had done it.

The bow is truly mine now, Rhaella knew. I have earned it. And so would she earn the rest. She need only dream it.

Jaime

“We’ve claimed our justice,” said the queen, “But we must not forget those who were taken from us.”

She gave the signal, and the guards went to the pyres, torches ready. Jaime stood on the gallows, watching.

“I’ve not forgotten their names,” she told them. “And I will speak them for all to hear — their loved ones, and the gods. They died for me, and my children, and our realm, and they will be honored today.” She eyed one of the pyres. “Daemon Waters.” Ser Daemon’s pyre burst into flame. “Ser Rhaedyn Waters.” Ser Rhaedyn began to burn. “Ser Daegon Waters.” More flame. “Ser Tomas.” More. “Ser Braeden.” More. More, more, more, until the grey world was alight with amber, and the scent of burning flesh choked Jaime. It is different, he told himself, just as Rickard Stark flashed before his eye, just as his swordhand threatened to shake. It is, it is, it is. And yet, the stench was the same — the same as Rickard Stark’s, and Ryn’s, and the man his Valyrian sword had taken.

Jaime wondered when he would be able to take the burned corpse out of his room and drown or bury it somewhere. He’d hidden it after Rhaella had dismissed him, just behind his armoire, and stared at the tall doors that covered it instead of falling asleep.

Jaime clutched the hilt of his sword. He had used it to defend his queen. Now, he wanted it gone. But there was still vengeance to be had, and a war to be won. He needed it still. Her needs outweigh mine.

When the bodies were naught but ash, Jaime went to his queen. He, Tymothy, and a handful of men made their way through the crowd, the people respectfully parting a way for them. The entourage was probably an unnecessary measure; if there were smallfolk existing that would never harm Rhaella, it was the adoring islanders, who loved their queen who looked so like most of them. Still, he would take no chances. There could easily be another imposter in the crowd, waiting. The anxious part of Jaime regretted that they allowed the smallfolk to crowd the boulder so, but Rhaella had insisted. “It is their vengeance as much as it is ours,” she had said, when he and Tymothy and even the Golden Company objected. “I would have them mourn with me.”

Jaime met the team that surrounded the boulder, then climbed up a bit to meet Rhaella. She joined him, resting a tiny hand on his shoulder to support herself while she climbed down. Jaime held her gently as she descended. The leather of her robes was cool and dewy on his bare hands. He had not worn his gloves on her request. “It is only an execution,” she’d told him, softly. “You won’t need them.” Still, he wore the rest of his armor, and his white cloak.

“Where to now, Your Grace?” he asked.

Rhaella let out a sigh, and she had never looked more tired. She didn’t sleep either.

“Just … inside,” she said. “I will know what to do then.” She looked at one of the guards. “Tell Maester Emrys that he is to send a raven to my son, informing him of the incident.” When the guard left, Jaime and the escorting guards took her away from the crowd, toward the fortress.

Rhaella walked close to Jaime, so close he had to be careful where he stepped. So close, he could get a good look at her. She was cleaned of blood and ash, her pale skin blotched with greyish purple shades around the eyes, circles running deep into her skin — she’d had the circles as long as Jaime had known her, but they were much more prominent now. She tried to walk like a queen, keep her head held high, and she managed it, despite her slumping eyelids. She bit her lip as she suppressed a yawn. I must get her to rest. Someone needed to get some sleep between the two of them.

But how do killers sleep? This was not the first time Jaime thought of that question. He had blurted it out to Arthur, when they’d killed the Kingswood Brotherhood members together. Those men were Jaime’s first kills, the only lives he’d taken before Robert’s rebels, and after three nights of hellish dreams and sleeplessness, he’d been exhausted enough to ask Arthur the question without caring about any lost pride. Arthur had given him a pained, suppressed look, the same look Jaime imagined he’d given Tyrion when he asked Jaime why his legs wouldn’t grow. Arthur’s Valyrian eyes wouldn’t look at Jaime as he quietly considered his words, just as he always did. Then, under the crackling of the campfire, he’d said, soft and blunt, “With time.” But with the babe and the stress of war, did Rhaella have time?

They were nearly inside when Rhaella stumbled over a rock. She let out a little gasp as she tilted, hands already out to break her fall, to protect her child. Jaime reached for her, but before he could catch her, Tymothy was on her.

“Careful, Your Grace,” he said, gently. His metal hands held her steady, grabbing her arm, the bare part of her neck —

And Rhaella was awake. She whirled on Tymothy faster than Jaime had ever seen her move, and backhanded Tymothy so hard the leather of her glove cracked against his jawbone.

Stunned silence took them all. Tymothy held his face, looking at his queen with shock, even a bit of hurt.

Rhaella’s eyes widened. “I’m … please forgive me, Ser Tymothy.” She made to step toward him, then thought better of it. “I … I haven’t slept. I … forgive me.” Shame took her features. You know why. Jaime’s stomach lurched.

Tymothy shook his head, gave her a reassuring smile. “There’s nothing to forgive, Your Grace. I understand.”

Rhaella didn’t appear to accept Tymothy’s forgiveness, judging by the humiliation and guilt pooling in her eyes.

“Perhaps Ser Tymothy and his men could rest, Your Grace?” Jaime asked. “It’s been a trying time for all of us.”

Rhaella nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, you all deserve it. You are dismissed.”

Tymothy gave her a bow and left with his men. Jaime got her inside quickly enough.

“I need to see the children,” she told him, as soon as they were alone. Jaime obliged without a word, escorting her there.

Viserys had been moved to one of the guest rooms in a wing that had been untouched by Robert’s men. Rhaenys slept next to him, clinging to his arm like a lifeline. Little lizards.

Rhaella sat on the bed, slowly, as to not wake them. Still, Viserys’s lilac eyes fluttered open, wary and confused.

Rhaella shushed him before he could speak. “It’s all right, my love,” she said, sweetly. “You’re safe now. We’re all safe.”

Viserys blinked, looked at Rhaenys, then back to them. “They’re gone?” he asked.

Rhaella nodded. “All gone. They can’t hurt anyone anymore.”

Viserys considered that. “Did I protect you, and Sia?”

“You did,” she said. “You were quite brave.”

Viserys tried to beam at that, Jaime could tell, but he only managed a sleepy smile. “Did you hear, Ser Jaime? I was quick, just like you taught me.”

“I heard, my prince,” said Jaime, smirking at him. “You’ve done well. But perhaps you could leave the saving to me and my brothers, from now on? Just until you’ve completed your training, of course. It wouldn’t do to have the Kingsguard upstaged by the one we’re supposed to protect, especially when he’s still an apprentice.”

For a moment Viserys looked like he wanted to protest, but he was so tired he could only nod.

Rhaella climbed over the bed to hold Rhaenys in her arm and Viserys’s head on her chest. “Go back to sleep, my Dragon,” she told her son, stroking his hair, and suddenly Jaime was back in the Rock, laying in his bed of childhood dreams, where hands as soft as Rhaella’s had petted his hair as they soothed him to sleep … except these hands were nowhere near as tiny as the queen’s. They were long, and elegant, and beautiful, and they’d combed through his and Cersei’s locks as moonlight poured through the open stone above them. Sleep, Cub. The voice was heavy but soft, rich and sweet, and the faintest whisper, echoing through memory. Jaime bit his lip.

“You didn’t sleep,” said Rhaella, after Viserys fell back into slumber.

How do killers sleep? Jaime shrugged. “I tried. I couldn’t.”

Viserys’s silver curls wavered through dainty fingers. “I didn’t even try,” she said. “Not yet.”

“Then you should,” he said. “If not for your sake, then the babe’s.”

Rhaella gave him faint smile. “I know. I will.” A pause. Then, she patted the bed, next to her foot. “Will you sit with me, before I do?”

Jaime sat down, waiting for her to speak. She looked at him briefly, then brought her eyes back down to Viserys’s head.

“How are you faring?” she asked.

The laugh escaped Jaime before he could stop it. He hoped it didn’t sound bitter. “I should be asking you that.” But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t dare. He already knew the answer. You know why.

Rhaella rested her chin on Viserys’s head, idly stroking Rhaenys’s cheek. For a second she smiled at nothing, and it was one of the saddest things Jaime had ever seen. Then, she said, “I only wanted to tell you that you …” She stopped. “You are very protective.”

Jaime’s ears burned. “Should I not be?”

“No,” Rhaella said. “It’s — I like it.” She blushed. “I meant — it is kind. You are kind, and …” She looked away from him even more. “I …” She let out a deep breath, and met his eyes. “I wanted you to know that you saved me. And that I’m glad. And I thank you.”

Jaime’s eyes stung. He bit the inside of his cheek until he tasted copper, let himself focus on the physical pain than what was raining within him. “You needn’t ever thank me for honoring my vows, Your Grace,” he rasped, but what vows had he honored? What had he done, truly? The princess was alive, but distressed from the gargoyle and the men who had pursued her, and the prince was beaten bloody. And the queen … gods, his queen. There were no oaken doors between them now, and he’d still let her be violated. He’d still failed.

Purple sorrow dimmed Rhaella’s eyes. “But you don’t think you saved me.”

Chills spiked through Jaime’s spine. He said nothing, but he looked away from her gaze, like a f*cking coward. Perhaps I am wrong, he told himself. Perhaps he lied. Perhaps. Perhaps. And yet she acted as if …

“Jaime.” His name had never sounded so gentle. “Please look at me.”

Jaime could not deny his queen. He looked at her.

“What is it?” she asked, sad and kind all at once. She didn’t sound like a queen questioning her guard, no. Jaime recognized that tone. Sleep, Cub.

The bedsheets crinkled under Jaime’s grip. He set his jaw, tempered his breath before he spoke. “When I fought him,” he said, voice cracked and husky and traitorous, “He told me … about his brother.”

For half a breath, purple panic sparked through Rhaella’s eyes. Then the emotion left as quickly as it came. She looked away.

“Oh,” she said, so softly Jaime thought he imagined it. “I understand now.”

Jaime didn’t. He said nothing.

Rhaella took in a slow breath. “He did not fully … it was only …” Her hands trembled. She lifted one up and gestured it to Jaime, then looked away again before their eyes could meet.

Just his fingers. Only his fingers. That did not comfort Jaime. In fact, it made him want to find that monster’s ashes and restore him to life so that he may kill him again, and again, and again. Jaime’s own hand grew numb as he clenched it into the tightest fist. The sheets tore under his grip.

“Jaime …” Her voice was still gentle, but pained now. “This isn’t like King’s Landing.”

“Isn’t it?” He’d said it before he’d known it.

Rhaella shook her head. “It isn’t. That place is behind both of us now. I told you that.”

Yes, she had. Back in the ship, when she awoke from her vision. He’d sat at her bedside, but farther than he was now, sitting in his chair as he tried to temper his fear and shame. She had comforted him as she was now. But it was all for naught.

“You found Rhaenys,” she said. “And if you hadn’t arrived in time, Viserys and I may have been stolen, or worse. We are all alive and here, at peace, because of you, Jaime. The fact that you … that this pains you as it does … it shows me how much … that you’re the only …” Another slow breath. “I’ve never seen you as you were last night, Jaime. You were even braver than before, strong, and fierce, all because you wanted to protect us. And you did.

Jaime’s vision blurred, and his throat tightened. He stared at the door, away from her. I don’t deserve you, he wanted to tell her, but his tongue was dry and thick, and his jaw was clenched so tight he thought it would snap. Forgive me. But she already had, the moment she’d looked into his eyes on the Blackwater, and asked for his friendship. Damn her.

Rhaella wasn’t finished. “You did what you swore to do, Jaime. It’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault. It … it was different than … before. It had to happen. It needed to happen.”

All Jaime’s unshed tears vanished as he looked back at her. “What?” he croaked.

Rhaella twisted at her fingers. She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “It needed to happen, for my sake. I’d forgotten who I was. He reminded me, and now he is gone.”

Gone, she’d said. Gone, ash, soil in the wind. All by her hand, all because she had been …

“It needed to happen,” she said again, voice soft and desperate and lying and sure all at once. “It did. I needed to remember.”

If Jaime spoke, he would vomit. So he just nodded. His hand and head and heart ached and ached.

The silence went on for years, until Rhaella said, “You should sleep, now.”

Do killers sleep? Do failures accept? Does magic have mercy?

Jaime stood. He bowed before his queen’s bedside, slow and deep. When his face reached her arm, he leaned over and brushed his lips against her knuckles, fainter than a babe’s breath. “Your Grace,” he said. He turned.

“Ser Jaime,” she said just as he reached for the door.

Jaime stopped, looked over his shoulder.

Rhaella still wouldn’t look at him. “There is a spare room across the hall,” she said. “I know the guard is heavier here, but … if you would like …”

“Would you?” he asked, softly.

For half a breath, Rhaella hesitated. Then she looked into his eyes and nodded.

Jaime gave her a half-smile. “Then I will.” And he left.

Jaime closed the door to his new chamber, a ragged breath leaving his lungs. She was not lost to him. Not completely. She had met his eyes with a familiar gaze, not that of the woman she’d been last night, or the execution. He may yet sleep tonight, knowing she had not changed for good. It is only the magic, he told himself. The magic, and the shock, and the pain. It could not last forever. It couldn’t.

Jaime removed the armor pieces he could undo himself, and lay in the bed. There was darkness in the room, curtains shielding his eyes from moonlight. It was silent, too silent, and out the corner of his eye, he saw it. The blackened corpse, staring. Judging. Burning. Or perhaps it was only the shadows.

With time, Arthur had said. Jaime knew that. Yet still he did not close his eyes.

Jaime leaned over to the nightstand and pulled out the flint that was in all the bedroom drawers. Sparks flew as he lit the lone candle, standing high and thin on the wood. Firelight pooled over black stone, making it into a dull amber that was just orange enough to mirror the gold-gilded walls of Casterly Rock. Just enough to fool Jaime. He closed his eyes. The covers were just warm enough to where it could have been Cersei’s embrace, and his pillow could have very well been a soft round belly filled with Tyrion, brushing against him as the child’s bed creaked under the weight of a woman. A breeze rolled in through the curtain, stirring through his hair like her fingers. Far below, the sea sighed and crooned, just as her voice did when she’d sing her stories, her lullabies that told of dreams and heroes and purple lions. Singing … singing …

And then, when the songs were done, she would speak. Sleep, Cub. So Jaime did.

*/*/*/*

He’d felt the footfalls in his sleep, and the sword was in his hand before he opened his eyes.

Jaime gripped the hilt, aimed —

And the moonlight revealed her. Tiny, pale, eyes wide, but she did not scream. The red blade pointed straight at her belly.

Jaime yanked it back as if he’d been stung. He sat up in his bed. “Your Grace —” His voice choked over the lump in his throat, his thrashing heart. “Gods, I’m sorry, I thought —”

Rhaella clasped her hands in front of her belly, and shook her head. “No, it’s all right. You are alert. It’s — it’s a good thing.” She was breathless, but even still, her voice was meant to calm him, like he hadn’t been that close to f*cking murdering her. “I knocked on the door, but you didn’t answer. So I opened the curtains in hopes of waking you. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

f*ck. f*ck. Jaime took a deep breath. He had allowed her to be violated the night before, and nearly skewered her and her child in the next. If there were a single cruel bone in Arthur’s body, he would laugh at Jaime before denouncing him. f*ck.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. She inched a little closer to him — to show Jaime she did not fear him, he knew. “I’m sorry to … perhaps I should have waited until morning, but I don’t think I can.”

“What is it?” he asked, if only so he could keep himself from being angered by that f*cking apology.

Rhaella looked away, that hesitant look on her face, the expression she wore whenever she was thinking. She’d had that same look when she brought him to the caves the first time, and —

No.

Jaime eyed his queen. She wore her riding leathers, had her hair in a tight ponytail. On her back was her Valyrian bow.

No.

I need to sleep, she had told him, while she was in a daze. It was not just nonsense — it was true. It was well past midnight, well enough time for her to have slept, and dream. She had, and now, she was ready to go. Magic. f*cking magic.

Rhaella looked back at him, unearthly eyes glittering amethyst in the moon’s glow. “I envisioned it, Jaime,” she said, and though her voice was hushed, he could hear the excitement and wonder in her voice. He’d never heard her sound so awed. “I know what to do, now. And I would have you come with me.”

“It’s too dangerous, Your Grace.” He would try. He knew it was futile, but he would try anyway. “There may yet be rebels on the outskirts. We haven’t fully searched the island.” There would be no reason for the rebels to be so deep in the island, or even be able to find that place, but it was the only excuse he had.

Rhaella shook her head. “They wouldn’t be able to find it, and even if they could, they are all dead, Jaime. We did that.”

We did indeed. The blackened corpse flashed before Jaime’s eye, the endless depths of his crumbling eye sockets staring into Jaime, the red lightning and flame that had consumed him from within. Had the man who touched Rhaella burned the same way? Jaime hoped so. Still, Rhaella speaking of what she’d done so casually disturbed him, justified though she may be. She had done it because he wasn’t there, anyway. She was right to do it. And yet, it was fire. Fire Aerys would have loved. But dragons had no reason to hate fire, not like a lion would — or a wolf.

“Must it be done now?” he asked, knowing he wouldn’t be able to sway her. “It’s safer during the day.”

“I will be busy in the day,” she said, and Jaime cursed because he knew she was right. “What with dealing with the aftermath, and holding court. I will not be able to get away. It must be now.”

“What is it?” he asked. “The thing you must find? Did you see it?”

“No,” she said, “But I know what I must do to get it.” She hesitated. “I know how I must sound. But I know I must do this. I must find it. And I would rather do it with … I would rather not go alone.” She gave him a little smile. “Not that you would allow me to.”

Jaime let out a breath, stared at his sword. Red and black, the blade of the dragon. This is who I serve.

“Is this it?” he asked, softly.

She blinked. “What do you mean?”

“When you find this, will that be the end of it? No more dreams?” No more magic? No more strangeness and blank stares? No more fire and blood?

Rhaella frowned in confusion, taken aback by the question. For a moment she did not speak. Then, “I don’t know.” She sounded uneasy at the thought, but Jaime didn’t know if it was because she wanted the dreams to stay or go. “But this … it’s important to me.”

Jaime knew it was. And he also knew he couldn’t deny his queen.

Jaime stood. He was tired. So tired. “I will take you.” He walked over to where his armor stood, made sure not to look at her. He didn’t know what he’d see if he did. Rhaella always seemed to sense what he was feeling, and if she did now, she may feel guilt. He never wanted to be the reason her eyes dulled like they did after she’d hit Tymothy. Still, her magic unnerved Jaime. At first he thought he didn’t mind her abilities so much, but after last night … if her visions, or anything in that cave had led to that witch-woman who’d been covered in soot and blood …

That was your fault, he reminded himself, as he put on an armor piece. None of this was Rhaella’s fault. None of it. And as disturbing as Rhaella’s magic was, it made her happy. He remembered the look on her face after she found her weapons. He would see that face again, especially after last night.

“I can help you,” Rhaella said, gesturing to his armor.

For some reason Jaime hesitated at the thought of it, but he nodded his head and let her. Silence took the room as she dressed him. He’d slept in his underclothes and greaves, so there wasn’t much to put on. Still, Rhaella was slow and careful. The tips of her hair brushed against his bare arm, and she smelled powdery, misty, like flowers near a spring. It was a soft scent, nothing like Cersei’s, whose smell was strong and sweet, like the smoothest wine that he loved to drown in. Jaime’s skin prickled where Rhaella’s tresses caressed him, and though her scent was gentle, it threatened to smother him. His ears burned.

“You don’t have to wear this, you know,” she said.

“I know.” It would be difficult to travel in those heated caves with armor, but he wouldn’t dare leave himself undefended after what happened. He needed to be prepared to save her.

They said nothing else as she dressed him. She tended to him until every part of him was armored, save for his hands. When she was done, Jaime led her outside. He told the guards that the queen could not sleep and asked for a quick journey through the island to ease her mind — though no one would be able to stop her, save for their king, it would do no good to sneak her out.

When they made it outside, Jaime began to lead her to the stables, but Rhaella stopped him. “I must go somewhere else first,” she said, and led him to the gallows.

In the torchlit shadows, the corpses hung from their nooses like black lumps, save for the leader, whose heart had been taken, not his neck. Rhaella walked over to him, and pulled out the black arrow that had ended him. The firelight revealed blood that glistened as if it were still wet, as if he’d been killed just moments before, not hours. Jaime forced himself not to think about it.

Rhaella put the arrow in her quiver, and then they made their way to the stables. When they reached it, Jaime fetched the same horse Rhaella used before, before she stopped him. “We may use the same horse this time, if you’d like,” she said.

Jaime didn’t say yes right away, like he should’ve if he didn’t want to offend his queen. He didn’t say anything. He just prepared his horse, and helped her climb on. She sat in front of him, but he gripped the reins, and they were off.

As they rode, his arms leaned past her hips, and as time went on, they grew stiff from holding them away from her body. It was all for naught, though — they were still touching. Every now and then, with the gallop of the horse, their legs would brush against one another, leather and metal scraping and padding, or their hands would bump. To stop it, he held himself as still as he could without losing control of the horse, and soon his whole body was aching from the strain. The last and only woman I shared a horse with was Cersei, he couldn’t help remembering as the wind blew Rhaella’s hair against his cheek, And we certainly didn’t try to keep from touching. Cersei was his, though, just as Jaime was hers. Cersei was also not his pregnant queen whom he had failed yet again, who had only known the horrors of men, never their gentleness. It’s different.

There was nothing different about the rock, however. It stood dark and ominous as always, lovely and unsettling in the moonlight. Rhaella eyed it with a look of determination as he helped her out of the saddle. When they entered it, she didn’t walk with a slow studious approach as she had before, but with an eagle’s eye, hunting for what she’d dreamt of. She put a hand on the wall, and it glowed with encased firelight, just as it had before, only brighter.

Rhaella pulled out the bloodied arrow, and drove it into the glittering stone. It slid in like a knife in flesh, soft and slick. As she pushed it all the way to its fletcher, the wall hissed.

Rhaella pulled the arrow out. It looked no different to Jaime, still black and dripping with blood that should have long since dried, but Rhaella was staring at it in wonder. Another glamour, then, he supposed — and if there was, he was glad for it — or perhaps Rhaella was simply fascinated but what she’d just done. Jaime thought he might have been impressed or at least curious, if he didn’t feel like he was going to jump out of his skin.

“It’s through the same corridor,” she told him, and took him to the pathway where the crimson runes that Tyrion would love painted the walls. Instead of going down to where the armory was, however, Rhaella went closer to the runes. Though she had no lit torch this time, the closer she got to the runes, the more they glowed. Rhaella pawed through her leathers until she brandished her dagger — her Valyrian dagger — and pricked it on her finger. Then she took her bloody finger and traced one of the runes, her blood dark against its natural red glow. Then she held the stone wall and pressed it in, shaping it like it was soft clay, and somehow that was more terrifying than anything else.

“How …?” he croaked out, but she didn’t hear him. She pushed the wall until her arms made a deep incision into the stone. Then she waded her arms as if through water, and the wall pushed out like double doors. Beyond that lay darkness, but Jaime could tell it was hollow. Part of him wanted to clutch at his sword hilt, but not even that was a comfort, not anymore.

Rhaella stood before the grand entrance, tiny before the towering gape. “Jaime. Do you feel the heat?”

Jaime drew closer. There was a draft from the darkness, a sweltering heat, moist and stifling, like breath. “Yes.”

“This is where I go,” she said.

Jaime eyed her. “There’s something a bit too singular about that sentence.”

Rhaella looked behind her shoulder, but she didn’t look at him. “I will be safe here, I know,” she said, “But it may be too hot for someone who isn’t …”

“Someone who isn’t one of you,” Jaime finished for her.

Rhaella met his eyes then. “If it becomes too much for you,” she said, “Then I order you to tell me and leave. My life is not in danger, but down here I’m not certain if yours would be. The heat affected you in the other areas, and those were not nearly as intense.”

“Our king ordered me to guard you,” Jaime said, and though he said it softly, they both heard the no underneath. Rhaegar’s word outweighed hers, and this time, Jaime was glad it did.

Rhaella didn’t fight him. “So you will stay, then?” She sounded neutral, but he could see the light in her eyes. Unnatural eyes. Targaryen eyes. This is who I serve.

“I said I would take you there, Your Grace,” he said. “Lannisters lie, but not about this. Unless I fall dead from heat exhaustion, of course. Then there would be a lot of lying going on, I’d imagine.”

He expected her to at least chuckle — in these endless nights, it had been too long since he’d heard her laugh — but instead she held his arm. “Don’t even jest about that,” she said. “We will both survive this, and it will be worth it, Jaime. You’ll see.”

So Jaime began to see. With her hand on his arm, she led him down the deep, dark pathway. With each step, the air grew hotter and hotter.

“Do you mind if I have a light?” he asked, if only to hear something other than his racing heartbeat. “I think it’s only fair that I see my sweat as well as feel it.”

Rhaella stopped and put her free, bloody hand on the wall, and it bathed the hall in glowing redness. The runes were here too, but different. They were on the walls, on the ceiling, on the floor. Rhaella ignored them, following the emptiness ahead. Soon they were going downhill, and Jaime tasted and smelled nothing but wet salt spewing from his skin. The small, selfish, self-preserving part of him considered what his queen had ordered, to return upward if the heat overwhelmed him … but no, he would never leave her. If he died here, then so be it.

Briefly, Jaime wondered how Arthur would react if he did die here, in this way. I killed dozens of rebels the night before, Brother, Jaime might have told him, if he’d died and found some way to manifest as a ghost to visit Arthur — after seeing to Cersei and Tyrion, of course. But I’m afraid the night after I survived a fairly grueling battle, I ran out of sweat because our queen wanted to explore a cave that may or may not be demonic. The thought of Arthur shaking his head at dead Jaime’s shenanigans made him forget his burning skin for a moment … until he remembered that Arthur would have been quick enough to save Rhaella. Then his skin just felt worse.

It wasn’t long before they reached a dead end. Stone, glittering stone, all around them.

“It’s here,” Rhaella whispered as she stared at the walls, and Jaime didn’t know if she was speaking to him, herself, or the stone before them. She caressed the walls, studying them. Jaime wondered if Rhaella would push it like she did the one behind them, but instead, she took out her bow, chose the bloodied arrow, and aimed it at something Jaime couldn’t see, far above them. Then she let the arrow fly, perfect and true. It hit the top of the wall, sinking into it as easily as it had before, the wall hissing —

Then the arrow melted, and everything changed. The stone wall parted, oozing and bleeding like flesh as it pulled apart, dark and steaming, breathing out an air so hot Jaime thought he was standing in a merciless furnace. The stench of sulfur took his senses, and his eyes stung. He backed away, wrapping an arm around Rhaella’s waist to take her with him, but she put a gentle hand on his coiling arm before he could take her too far. Jaime held on to her, but he didn’t look away from the wall, couldn’t look away. It was disgusting, and frightening, but unreal, a sight to behold. They watched as the wall died, separating …

Then, sparkling black mist wavered in the air, revealing a silhouette of the vision, what they’d searched for, and Jaime Lannister was speechless.

So was Rhaella. A deep gasp left her lips, and she kneeled before the sight. She reached for the shapes in the mist, yearning, seeking, but not far from where her pale hands seeped into blackness, Jaime saw smoke. True smoke, from fire. And fire burns.

“Your Grace!” he said, pushing his hands over her treasure to protect her, but the pain was instant, and it was searing. Jaime cried out, seizing his arm back from the hellfire, but Rhaella didn’t seem to hear him, or see him. She kept reaching, unhurt, the heat either embracing her flesh, or bowing before it. Then she curved both of her arms around the mist as if she was holding someone, someone grand, someone precious and powerful and found after being lost for so long. Then she cradled them close to her chest, closer and closer and closer, like Viserys and Rhaenys and Aegon.

Queen Rhaella Targaryen withdrew from the mist, the smoke, the unseen fire, and then, Jaime saw it — the glory, the beauty.

The terror.

Dragon eggs.

Notes:

Reader Questions

1. OHHHH sh*t GUYS AMIRITE

2. AHHHHHHHH

3. (Seriously though tell me what you guys are thinking about this painfully long chapter and everything it entails. I love to hear your thoughts and engage in dialogue with you all)

4. I was thinking of starting a Tumblr specifically for my fandom writing, whether it’s about this fic or any other fic I decide to write, metas, answering reader questions, update reports, etc. Is that something you guys would be interested in?

5. Do you guys want detailed reader questions for the next chap / future? A lot of you answer my questions, so I’m guessing you like them, but I also kind of want to see what you guys are thinking without my “influence,” which is why I thought it would be a change of pace to lighten up on the questions this time. Especially this one, cause this chapter was a BIG one, y’know?

6. Also this chapter is pretty shippy I think – the shippiest chapter so far, maybe. So … to my readers that are always talking about Jaime/Rhaella marrying and having little purple lion cubs and running off into the sunset (please don’t stop doing that, I love it lol), are ya’ll content with the amount of shippiness here? I mean, there was a lot of touching. And feelings. Of course it could have been shippier, but, y’know. Slow burn and all that.

7. If you got story related questions to ask me, please ask ‘em!

8. Dragons?

Really, you guys are the best when it comes to your comments. You always have something interesting to say, so I wanna read what you guys are thinking. Thanks for sticking with me and putting up with my inconsistent updating schedule. :)

Shoutouts from last chapter’s questions:

Golden_Daughter is awesome for finding the reference to one of Jaime’s children! So, in ch. 9 of PLD, Jaime mentions to Rhaella that he hates beets:

“[Beets are] quite revolting. The scum of the earth, actually.”

“[…] make sure the kitchens never serve beets when I’m around […]”

— Jaime Lannister, PLD, Rhaella IV

I wrote this to reference the best of JC’s kids, Tommen, who is very anti-beets:

“I don't want to eat beets."

"When I'm king in my own right, I'm going to outlaw beets."

— Tommen I, The True Kitten King of Westeros, AFFC, Cersei V

Golden_Daughter actually reread my fic to look for this reference, which is so cool to me. Thanks GD! <3

As for the specific references and parallels to Dany in Rhaella’s chapters, I was hoping that someone would mention actual lines that Dany and Rhaella share in their chapters, such as “If I look back I am lost.” BUT that’s no big deal because a lot of you guys got the other parallels between them, such as:

· Abusive brothers

· Character development from meek person to strong / confident

· Becoming rulers

· “I AM THE BLOOD OF THE DRAGON / BLOOD OF OLD VALYRIA”

· Dragon dreams / magic

· Dragon dreams specifically affecting personality traits / actions

· Blood + fire = rebirth (specifically coined by the_Masked_Felon)

Those were the parallels that I saw you guys list, and they are all correct (honestly these parallels are canon, I just incorporated them into my fic)

Here are the parallels that were missed (so far)

· Married at 13

· Stillborn babies / fertility issues

· Survived great fires (Summerhall / Dany’s dragon hatchings)

· Gave birth during a crisis (Rhaella had Rhaegar at Summerhall, Dany had Rhaego during a blood sacrifice)

And honestly I may have forgotten a few of them, but those are the main ones.

Shoutout to Ernest_Shippinglane89, Allineedarebooks, and the_Masked_Felon for listing the parallels / references! You’re all amazing! (If I missed you in the shoutouts, please let me know and I’ll add you!)

Also, if you like this fic, you can submit it to be promoted on asoiafrarepairs.tumblr.com, an ASOIAF blog about fanfics with rare ships. Give them a brief summary of the fic, tell them why you like it, and they might post about it! <3 Thanks again for being great readers!

Chapter 14: He Who Burns

Notes:

Just from the title of this chapter, you might have an inkling as to whose POV this is.

On a serious note, just to make this clear: the tag Aerys Is His Own Warning has been listed on this story since the beginning.

That tag goes into full effect for this chapter. So, I’m giving another warning for Aerys Targaryen and everything that comes with him, which includes but probably isn’t limited to:

· Mentions of rape / spousal abuse

· Racism

· Misogyny

· Disturbing imagery

· Violence

· General creepiness

It was quite unpleasant to write, but I did my best to keep Aerys in character. So, here’s the warning. You were warned with the initial tag, and you’re being warned again, now. Read at your own risk.

On a less serious note, here’s a new POV that absolutely no one asked for so … surprise? And I apologize in advance DX

Chronological note: This chapter takes place on the same day that Queen Rhaella executed Robert’s men and found the dragon eggs.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Slivers of sunlight peered through blackness, now. Orange hues of sunset, bright like fire, shimmering like flame. High above them all, the dragon thought he could feel its heat, running through his soul, simmering in his blood. It glinted off the black blades of his throne, the darkness of his scabs —

My scales, he reminded himself.

The king nodded. His scales, yes. He already had those, and claws as well. Soon he would grow horns, and wings, too. Not now, though. Now, he must sit. Sit, and wait. And listen.

“Pardons, Your Grace?” It was Grand Maester Pycelle. Sitting far beneath him with the rest of the council, old and dull and irritating.

“I said nothing,” the king snapped. His jaw and throat were oddly tired, though.

Pycelle’s brow tightened as if he didn’t believe his king, but he didn’t argue; he simply bowed his head and turned back to the council. He knows not to question me, thought the king. All of them do.

“We will begin at your order, Your Grace,” said Lucerys Velaryon. He sat in front of the dark, draping curtains. The sunlight shined gold off his Valyrian hair. My kin, thought the dragon. Now that Rhaegar and Viserys were gone, they were the only two left in this Keep worth a damn. The only sons of Valyria. That half-bred wretch sleeping in the nursery at Maegor’s Holdfast didn’t count.

His father did, though. Rhaegar. My son.

“Where is he?” he demanded.

Silence answered him. A shameful silence. A frightened silence.

The king scowled at his servants. Still, they did not speak.

“Answer your king,” he commanded. Or burn. The dragon bit the inside of his cheek to repress a smile. It had been too long since he’d seen true flames, felt its breath dance over his scales, inhaled charred smoke misting from roasted flesh.

Lucerys’s voice saved them all. “He is not in Dragonstone, Your Grace.”

“Of course not,” said the king. “He should be at sea, returning here, to his post.” To me, a faintness whispered. Only so that I may watch him, the king told it. He is not to be trusted.

Lucerys closed his fist before opening it again. He is nervous, the king knew. They all are. What do they have to fear? There was nothing to fear, unless Rhaegar was … unless …

Aerys’s heart lurched, and there it was, the weakness. The panic. Swarming, stirring within him. He fought it before it could show on his face, burned it, grit his teeth. The dragon fears nothing. Nothing. “Where is the prince?” It sounded too desperate for his liking.

“Sailing for the Stormlands,” Lucerys said. “He may have already landed.”

Sailing. Not dead. Sailing. He let out a quiet breath ... and then he truly realized what Lucerys said. “Why is he in the traitor’s land?” Rhaegar had no reason to be there. None. None.

“We’ve … been working to gain intelligence on the situation, Your Grace,” said a man sitting next to Lucerys. The king frowned at him. Who was he, again? Oh, yes. The new Hand. The one who had replaced Tywin, or the one after …? It didn’t matter. What did matter was that this Hand was short where Tywin was tall, stout where Tywin was toned, dull where Tywin was golden. And there was no challenge in his stance, nor his eyes. A weakling. But then, that was what a Hand should be — compliant and subservient. Not forgetful of his place. Not Tywin.

“And you’ve learned nothing? Truly? You come to me with nothing?” They wanted to wake the dragon, didn’t they? The king scowled. “Where is my Master of Whispers? He should know, if no one else. Why isn’t he at this meeting?”

“I …” the Hand gaped like a fish. “I summoned Lord Varys as I did everyone else, Your Grace. I don’t know where he is.”

Tywin would know, Aerys thought as he sneered at the imbecile. Tywin knew everything, even when he shouldn’t.

“How is it that the Hand knows nothing? Is there any word from Dragonstone? Do they claim ignorance as well?”

“Our last raven from them was the one informing us of Ser Jaime’s injury, Your Grace,” said the Hand. “Nothing recent.”

The reminder of the news that Tywin’s little golden lion cub had gotten his legs shattered by a horse would usually make a little laugh bubble inside of him, but not now. He stared daggers at the Hand, and wished he had already grown into his power, achieved his true form. Then he would burn this wretch with his own breath, consume them all, and fly over the Narrow Sea himself, to find his son, to see for himself that he had not betrayed —

Must not think that. Must not. And yet …

The Hand held his gaze, though his eyes were bright with fear. Tywin wouldn’t be afraid. He would stare at me in silence, cold and still as death, challenging me. What a pathetic creature this new Hand was.

“Pardons to His Grace for our lack of information,” said Pycelle, “But we’ve been trying to —”

“You tried, and you failed,” the king growled. Or you know why he’s there, because you’re allied with him, because Rhaegar has … “Leave me. Now.”

They left. Only the silence remained. The silence, and the sunlight, and the hitched breaths, running from his throat. My boy. Why would he be in the Stormlands, if not to … why? Why?

You know why, echoed a voice. The voice. Enraged, yet delighted. Beautiful and evil. Guttural as a dragon’s growl, yet feminine nonetheless. And not a dragon — leonine. No.

No.

“Be silent,” he hissed, as loudly as he dared. He couldn’t be too loud, not with the dragon skulls above him, seeing him, judging him. If they think me weak, they will disown me. But she always made him weak. Always.

A lovely, taunting laugh spewed through his being, because she always laughed. Do you deny it, then? Why else would he take his fleet to the Usurper’s land, if not to ally with him? If not to destroy you?

The king grit his teeth, said nothing. Silence could kill her, at times. Make her the memory she was meant to be, not the demon she had become. So many demons. So many.

The king stared into the hollow eyes of the dragons above him, still, silent.

It was futile. He wants our throne, she said.

“My throne,” he snapped. “Mine.” Not hers. Not theirs. Not now. They had reached for the blades together long ago, hands clasped as they floated through the distant dreams of powerless, foolish children … but Father had robbed them of it. Father, and Grandfather, and the witch.

Another laugh. His throne, now. He will come for you.

“You know nothing,” he said, but did she truly? Rhaegar had been suspect for too long. Far too long. He had been plotting, scheming, just like so many of them, like all of them. Planning his father’s demise. Waiting.

And now the waiting was over. He was in the Stormlands, no doubt allying himself with Steffon’s unworthy whelp. He had finally done it. He had turned on him. Aerys let out a deep breath, shuddered —

And there were the blades. Red streamed down his pale flesh, and his stomach lurched. It is a good thing, he told himself, for the thousandth time, the millionth time. More cuts mean more scales. It is good. It is good. But it wasn’t good. Rhaegar. His firstborn, a traitor.

The laughter was so cruel. So beautiful. Not just him. They are all traitors.

Yet again she was right. Traitors. All of them, traitors. And you were the first of them, whor*.

“Ser Darry!” The king’s voice rang throughout the throne room, booming like a roar. A dragon’s roar. I am strong still. I am still claimed. He would manifest into his true form soon, and then none of this would matter. But for now, Rhaegar’s betrayal could not go unpunished.

The Kingsguard’s posture stiffened. “Yes, Your Grace?”

“Summon the Princess of Dorne immediately.” The whor* that haunted him wasn’t the only one dwelling within the dragon’s Keep. Oh, no. There was one who had actually managed to slither her way into his family, and she would give her king answers.

*/*/*/*

Elia Martell was a weak, unassuming thing, frail and short and brown. Pretty enough, he supposed, for one so Dornish. Not as Dornish as her whor* mother, who ruled in a way no woman should rule, and had not only put untoward thoughts into the minds of her betters while serving as a handmaiden, but schemed to join their Houses once more, muddy the dragon’s blood even further with Nymeria’s brood. Still, as insufferable as Loreza Martell was, there was a strength in her that no one could deny, and it didn’t seem to pass to her daughter. That was good.

“Your Grace,” Elia said, quiet and humble and kneeling before him.

“Princess,” he greeted back, fighting a sneer. Though the Dornishwoman was a true princess now, however begrudgingly, it never ceased to irk him that the Martells claimed the title of Princes. Only dragons breed princes. No one else. A misstep, for his ancestors to allow them to keep their customs after they merged with the rest of the kingdoms. It had always made them forget their place. He would remedy that.

“I received the most interesting news from my council,” he told her, “About the prince Rhaegar. Would you know anything of it?”

Elia kept her head bowed, her demeanor cool, calm. Too calm. She is hiding something. “I would not, Your Grace.”

“He is in the Stormlands. Far away from you.” He grinned at her. “And his new wolf-woman.”

The king gave credit where it was due — the Dornishwoman showed no pain on her face, nor shame … no emotion at all, save for the chewing of her lip. “I see,” she said, quietly. Nothing like her mother, who had been too f*cking loud for her own good.

Aerys ran a claw through his beard. It was the closest thing he had to a maw … for now. Soon. “You see more than that, I should think,” he mused.

Elia glanced up at that. “Pardons, Your Grace?”

The taunting laugh fluttered just past his ear. She mocks you.

The king bit back a growl. “Did you know of the prince’s whereabouts?”

Elia shook her head. “I did not, Your Grace.”

Lying bitch. “How not?” he asked. “Did you not receive a raven from him recently?” The message read of nonsense about their eldest brat, the brown one that looked nothing like a dragon, yet dared to be named for Queen Rhaenys. Cats and silliness and other childish things — code words, most like.

“I did, Your Grace,” she allowed, “But it —”

“Spoke of his treachery?”

She went still as death, her ugly black eyes gazing. “Your Grace?”

The king stared at her. Then he motioned for his guards.

They brought the group in, frightened and filthy and pathetic. Elia watched them, fear finally threatening to betray her face. She knows, said a deeper voice. One of the demons. The king could almost feel its fang grazing his ear. She lies. Rhaegar betrayed you. She knows.

“Do you know who these people are, Princess?” He didn’t give her a chance to answer. “Spies. Traitors.

One of the spies shook his head frantically. He was cleverly dressed as a peasant. They always were. “Your Grace,” he whined, “Please, I beseech you —”

The king gave one of his guards a glance, and they smacked the traitor. Hitched breaths and fear filled the room.

“Any who turns their back on the dragon must face his breath, good-daughter,” he said. “And yet … I can be quick. Merciful.” He held in an anticipated breath. Not mercy, no. Practicality. Burning them would only stir his inner dragon, make him crave the bed, and he was a faithful husband, now.

Faithful, but not weak. “Tell me what you know of your husband’s plans,” he said, “And the alliance between our Houses shall stand. You shall receive a far greater mercy than I would bring upon these spies.”

Elia’s eyes raked over to the traitors, lingering, then back to the floor. “I know nothing of any plans, Your Grace, only that the prince is loyal to the realm and —”

She knows. “You know only what he tells you, whor*,” the king snapped, “Which, judging by your ravens, is quite a lot.” She lies. “Tell me, and I won’t have that Dornish skin burned even darker.”

Elia was trying not to shake, but the dragon saw it. The dragon saw everything. “Your Grace,” she said, voice somehow smooth and strong despite her trembling, “I would ask that you —”

“You summoned me, Your Grace?” It was Varys, fat and bald and late. Elia relaxed upon seeing him, though her eyes remained alert.

The king studied him. “Yes. Hours ago.” He should have been angry, but … it was Varys. His Spider. His whisperer. His bringer of truth. He will tell me Rhaegar is not with the Usurper. He will … he will …

Varys moved further down the path. In his flowing robes, it seemed like he was floating. “My utmost pardons, Your Grace,” he said. “I was conversing with my little birds, and thought my information would redeem my lateness. It is about the prince Rhaegar.”

The king held his breath. “Speak.”

“The council has told you of the prince’s whereabouts, I know,” said Varys, “But not his reasoning. He is doing reconnaissance, Your Grace.”

The breath threatened to spill out and bloom into a laugh, or even a joyous cry. Aerys bit it in. No, they couldn’t. They couldn’t see. They couldn’t see his weakness.

“Reconnaissance?” He hoped it didn’t sound as relieved and frightened as it felt.

“Yes, Your Grace,” Varys said, “Upon the rebels. Most like he seeks to aid the Tyrells in their taking of Storm’s End, or threaten the neutral Stormlords into joining us. But he is no traitor, as the former vague story might have one believe. Nor is his wife, the princess.”

Aerys swallowed. “You are certain of this?”

“As I am the moon shall rise, Your Grace. My little birds do not lie.”

No, they didn’t. The Spider was a master at his craft, and one of the few the king could trust still, even in spite of his Essosi heritage. He was right. Rhaegar didn’t hurt him. He didn’t. He wouldn’t.

Unless Rhaegar lies to fool Varys, said the deep one. The Spider can only weave what is given to him.

No, Aerys thought. No. The Spider is never wrong.

The whor* beside him said nothing, only laughed, because she always laughed.

The king clenched his knee. “Guards,” he commanded, “Remove the princess from my presence. Leave me. All of you. Leave me!”

He put up a hand when he saw the prisoners being escorted out. “Not them,” he said. “End it.”

The blades shined silver against all of the prisoners’s necks. Blood gushed from their flesh, red and spraying and falling and filling the air with metal and copper and oh yes, yes, yes. Blood, he had blood now. He only needed fire. He could almost see the jade, the black smoke, inhale the burning flesh. He had the blood, he only needed fire and blood, his words, he remembered, remember your words, and oh, his co*ck was stirring, foolish, foolish, burn them burn them BURN THEM

The king climbed down his throne. “Take me to my chambers,” he commanded Darry. He had sworn before the gods to be faithful, but his talons would bring him no sin.

*/*/*/*

Moonrise settled in when he closed his chamber doors, but the sky was not as dark as his want. He pulled at his clothes, practically tore them as he undressed and landed on his bed. He could still smell the copper, see the redness before his eye. So beautiful. He yanked his outer robes off, and the stench met him. He didn’t wash anymore, couldn’t wash, because dragons were fire, not water. I smell of sulfur, he thought as he pawed at the clothes near his crotch, and then a memory took him. We are both beasts of prey, my prince, said a breathy moan, long ago, whispered through flowing golden curls as full hips rolled atop his —

A laugh. The king not only thinks of me, but uses his hand? Truly?

Aerys paused. “You used your hand on me many a time, whor*.”

She hummed. Did I?

“You did.” She did. She had. She had done that, and more. He remembered. The demons could not make false memories. They couldn’t. They couldn’t.

They could, she said, and he could practically see the tip of her canine tooth pricking her soft pink lips as she smirked. She always smirked when she knew something her opponent didn’t. When she won. He could always hear it in her voice, too, see it in the cruel glint of her eyes. Her eyes. They were emeralds, almost wildfire, but not quite. Not quite. Almost. Just as she had almost been a dragon, but spurned his silver in favor of more gold. And because of that, she did not burn when she died. Lions do not burn; they rot in stone forever, far beneath their sacred, bloody, barbaric Rock.

Aerys’s co*ck was limp now. “I should have burned you while you still lived,” he said. Not only her. Tywin too.

She laughed. Only dragons have the power to burn.

“I am the dragon,” he snapped. “The blood of the dragon.”

If he says it enough, will it become true? she asked, but the question wasn’t for him.

It is not what he says, said the deep one, But what he will do.

Laughing. And yet he does nothing while his own son conspires against him.

“He does not.” Aerys’s voice was shaky. Dragons didn’t get shaky. “Varys said.”

Not even Varys knows the mind of a dragon. Rhaegar betrayed you. You know it to be true.

He did. He knew it in his heart. Rhaegar had turned on him. And she had turned on him as well. The queen.

Your sister, she reminded him. And of course she has. How could she not, after what you’ve done?

Aerys’s heart lurched. “Still so protective of her now, whor*? Even in death?”

The laugh was slow, more amused than it had ever been. I am not dead. I will always be with you.

“Leave me!”

How can I? You summoned me again with your lust. I make you hard, as I made her wet. Did you ever manage that? Could you have, when you savaged her?

And then he saw her, before his mind’s eye. Tiny, pale, unmarred, with eyes of amethyst and hair waving like water. The queen. No, the princess. His little sister. Ellie. Smiling, reaching for his hand. Play with me, brother. Gods, he had loved her. It had been a pure feeling, untainted and protective and right, until Father, and Grandfather, and the witch. He kissed her palm and held her hand back, because he did anything to keep that smile on her face. He didn’t have claws yet. Nails. Her skin was soft and clean as she laced her fingers with his, and he ran with her, picked her up and swung her around as she giggled —

And then he was grabbing her. Gripping so hard his fingers pressed pale skin red. Digging with his dragon’s claws, cutting her, her blood pouring into his mouth as he bit her. His thrusts were wild, and she was dry as dust until she bled there too, and there were no giggles, only screams, only pleas, you’re hurting me you’re hurting me —

“No!” Aerys shook his head. Clear the pictures. Clear them. He blinked. There were no memories now, only his chambers, blurred through burning tears. “I’ve done nothing. That wasn’t me, never me, it was the —”

There are no demons, she said. Only you.

He let the tears fall. Could he have done that? Could he have hurt his —

No. He couldn’t think of her. He couldn’t think of her. “I’ve done nothing.”

As you did nothing in the dungeon?

The room grew dark despite the candlelight, pitch, soulless blackness, the air cold despite the hearth. No, he thought. I am a dragon. Dragons do not get locked away. Dragons do not fear. And yet the walls became moldy stone, black and encasing, and chains rattled around his wrists, cutting into them like the blades of his throne, and it was dark, and it was endless, and he was alone, and how could Tywin abandon him like this?

Not only Tywin, she said. All of them. A soft step thundered beside him, and a scent wavered through his nostrils. A familiar scent. A scent of decay, of sweetness. The scent of Summerhall. The scent of his dead children. The scent of his soul.

Aerys turned, and saw her. Tall, yet hunched. Beautiful, yet rotting. A gown of crimson and gold draped her withering frame, crumbling with age, and her curls were faded and thin. She stared at him with emerald eyes that were dull, yet still held that glint, somehow. The glint of his expense. Of her victory. As she gripped his chains with fingers of black and bone, she smiled, and her godly face stretched and sloughed and swelled with worms.

All of them, said Joanna Lannister. Even me.

Aerys screamed.

He screamed, and cried, and begged, and could not even pretend he was roaring, because dragons did not cry. Dragons were not mad. Or were they? Was this how it was to begin, his transformation? Was this the sacrifice needed? Pain? Aerys didn’t know. All he knew was that it hurt. It hurt so much.

He barely felt it when the white armored hands found him. “Your Grace!” said Ser Darry. Or was it Ser Barristan? Aerys could hardly look at the old man anymore. Too much shame, especially when Rhaella was near. Too many memories. A second father feels as much shame as a true one. Was it the White Bull, who had known Aerys as a prince too? Or was it Tywin’s boy, the one with Joanna’s face? The one Aerys had stolen to make Tywin hurt as he had been hurt? The one who belonged to Aerys like no other, whose emerald eyes widened in horror and fear as the dragon surrounded him in jade light? They see me. The words echoed through his mind. It was his voice, his voice alone. Only him. Only Aerys Targaryen. He brought his face into his knees, hiding himself. They all see me.

“Varys,” he wept. “Find Varys.”

The metaled hands left him, and he was alone. But when had he not been? Since the kings before him forsook him? Since Joanna turned on him? Since Summerhall? Since Steffon drowned? It was not Duskendale. That had been the end, not the beginning. Or perhaps there was no beginning. Perhaps he had always known what he was. He knew it as a prince, when he reveled in seeing the brokenhearted eyes of former maidens after he grew bored of them. He knew it as a newfound king, when he obsessed over putting Tywin in his place, only to obsess over winning him back. He knew it whenever he struck and berated Rhaella, then pleaded for her forgiveness, only to do it all over again when the darkness claimed him. He knew it during Duskendale.

He hadn’t known it when he used the wildfire, and unleashed his madness upon his sister. But he had known it as he rested in his son’s arms, felt his strength, his love, his ignorance. Rhaegar only knew of the wildfire. Not his mother. He didn’t know.

But Aerys knew. And that’s why he had wanted Rhaegar to end it. End him. I must die as me, he had told his son. And it was still true. He had returned to himself now, if only for a moment. Just a bit. Just a bit. And it was agony.

Gods, how could he end it? He was a dragon. Fire could not fell him, nor poison, nor sickness. If he were to fling himself from the window, he would only grow wings and fly. There was only one thing that could free him — a blade.

But Aerys was afraid of blades.

Rhaegar isn’t, he thought. Rhaegar fears nothing. Rhaegar will end it. He will slit my throat and let my blood flow free into the flame. He will save me. He said he would fix it. He will, he will. He is my firstborn, my pride, my joy, my boy, my sweet boy —

Our undoing, said the demons. Our traitor. Rhaegar betrayed us.

“No.” It was the weakest plea. “He wouldn’t. Not even now. Never.” And yet his heart still ached from the truth.

The creaking of opening doors and wafting perfume was as distant as another life. “You summoned me, Your Grace?”

Aerys wiped his tears on his sleeve before Varys could see. Dragons breathe fire, not salt, Joanna had said. But she had said it to the princess. Not to him. Never to him. Were the memories of her truly his madness, and nothing more?

“I did,” said Aerys. “Did you bring it?”

“I did.” Varys moved, his flowing robes shifting with every step as he placed the gift down on the nightstand.

Aerys didn’t look at him. “And it will soothe me, as you said?”

“It will open your eyes,” said the Spider, “Reveal you to your truth. Once you know the truth, what is there to be wary of?”

Many things. Everything. Aerys closed his eyes, clutched his legs to keep from shaking. “You are a good servant,” he said. A great servant, the best servant. The only one who hadn’t abandoned him. The only one he could trust. “Leave me.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Aerys saw his Spider bow. Then, there was nothing. Nothing but him, and the vial.

Aerys turned, eyed it. It was filled with blue, deep blue, beautiful and pure and endless, like Steffon’s eyes, and the waters that took him.

Aerys reached for the glass, held it. The liquid danced within the clear walls, thick and slow like honey. Glittering like starlight. Calling. Singing.

Aerys put the vial to his lips, drank it —

And it choked him. He gagged as vileness invaded his tongue: ink and rancid meat, the last breaths of every one of his lost babes, the ash of Summerhall, and the worst, Rhaella’s tears. He fought to keep it down, shuddering as he swallowed —

Then, it was better. No — glorious. Streaming through his being, pooling him with life as its tendrils streaked through his soul and cradled his heart, burning, and he tasted honey and sweetness and smoke, molten silver and fiery gold, Rhaegar and Viserys’s breath, Ellie’s palms and Joanna’s wetness, fire and blood.

Then it was done, and as he felt his head fall unto silken pillows, the world turned black. Blacker than a moonless night. Blacker than the Black Dread. Blacker than the dungeon, and yet he was not afraid. He awaited something. A sign. A light.

As if on command, a firestorm took the darkness, bright and amber, vast and searing as it swirled around him. It reached for the dark heavens, a fiery behemoth, roaring and burning and beautiful. It was not jade, no. It was something even greater. Something ancient. Something his.

Within the depths of the firelight, he saw a shadow. No — a mirror. Him. His eyes were purple cinders, his flesh smoldering embers, his breath steam. He was burning, dying, living, and the fire was his. He was fire. Fire was life. Fire was all. Fire was truth.

And within that truth grew shapes — silhouettes. They were burning too. They were more shadows, more life. Not just any life — a woman. She held a cluster of pearl-like things, faceless yet pretty. They were all lovely, dark, powerful, and the light danced around them just as they danced for him. It cradled them, embraced them. As if the fire worshipped them. As if the fire was their strength. As if the fire belonged to them, too.

The woman’s blank, dark face shifted, and her blackness brightened with amethysts. Staring at him. Seeing him. And he saw her. He saw her as he never had before. We are fire, the demons had breathed upon her scarred, bleeding flesh as they took her on the nights of jade. Their blood holds power, echoed the witch to Jaehaerys, and suddenly he knew. He had always known it, but it was clear to him now, burning through his spirit hotter than Balerion’s breath. It needed to happen — all of it. Summerhall, the demons, his pain and hers, intertwined in infinite misery. It was all payment, all lessons, all for this moment. This destiny. Their destiny. His destiny.

Fire and blood.

Not just fire.

Blood as well.

Only death could pay for life.

I see, now, thought Aerys Targaryen. I see.

The pearls cracked with a boom to break the world, and as screeching cries pierced his soul, the Dragon King smiled.

Notes:

Yeah … so you know how GRRM said he felt like he needed a shower after writing Cersei’s chapters?

SAME

I felt so wrong after writing this, especially the Elia section, I’M SO SORRY ELIA FORGIVE ME YOU DESERVE BETTER THAN WHAT I HAVE GIVEN YOU

Being mean to Elia was the hardest part for me to write ugh I hate this BUT I think this chapter has conjured up some questions so let’s dive into them

Reader Questions

1. I’ll probably regret asking this because no one asked for this chapter or deserved it for that matter BUT … what did you think of the chapter? *hides*

2. What’s Varys up to?

3. Do you think Elia has a plan / is in on someone else’s plan?

4. What do you think the Tywin/Joanna/Aerys/Rhaella situation was, now that you’ve seen Aerys’s view on it?

5. Do you think Aerys/Joanna actually happened, or was it all just in Aerys’s head?

6. I was kind of iffy about how to write Aerys’s character, especially his mental illness. What do you guys think of it?

7. What do you think Aerys’s vision / the ending of the chapter meant?

8. YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU GUYS RIGHT?

9. I’m so sorry do you accept my apology ;____;

FYI since it's been a while: for those who have forgotten and may be confused, Dragonstone sent a raven telling the Crown that Jaime got his legs shattered, so that they would have an excuse to keep him on the island longer, and Aerys wouldn't get suspicious.

A note for people who aren’t familiar with book canon or book readers who have forgotten: the drink Varys gave Aerys is called Shade of the Evening. It’s a mystical wine that gives you visions. Most people who drink it in the books are magic users.

----

Also: my tumblr is ofwickedlight. It’s a multifandom blog. I’ve written ASOIAF meta on there as well — just two, so far, about Jaime. One about his mostly positive masculinity, and one about his female influences who shaped his mostly positive views on women.

If you’re into the MCU, I’ve written a few thoughts about Loki. Here’s a masterpost of the things I’ve written and posted on Tumblr so far.

You can drop by my Tumblr to ask me questions about the fic, or just to say hello, or tell me I’m trash for publishing THIS chapter of all things after a 2 month hiatus and honestly you’d be right to tell me that because I am trash for doing this and I’M SORRY AGAIN

I reblogged a meme that listed fanfic questions to ask me, if you’d like. If you don’t want to ask the ones listed, you can shoot me your own question about the story. If it isn’t spoilery, or inappropriate, I’ll answer :) I'm also doing the unpopular fandom opinions meme. Here's the ones I've answered so far. It's been fun, so drop in on that too if you want.

Also, about the next update – I have a Secret Santa I signed up for, and some Christmas gift fics that I want to write for some friends, so that might take up my free time, and you might not get another update this month. We’ll have to see, but I really appreciate you guys sticking with me this long. Thank you so much. <3

Chapter 15: Rhaella VI

Notes:

Sorry for the month long break! I tried to have something posted by my birthday, but that didn’t work out DX I have this just in time for Valentine’s though!

In my defense, while PLD was waiting for an update, I wasn’t completely gone from Ao3. Tumblr’s ASOIAF Rarepairs group had a Secret Santa event for the holidays in 2018, and I wrote an Aerys/Rhaella gift for chillyravenart. It’s called When Our Light Falls. It goes through the life of Rhaella and Aerys, and follows them as their relationship becomes ruined by Aerys’s mental illness. Rhaella is the POV. I consider it a spiritual predecessor to PLD (I even put a few references to some things that happened in it in this chapter). Rhaella and Aerys’s characterization are the same, but there are events in the story that didn’t happen in PLD and vice versa. I had to keep it as a standalone considering it was written for an event. However, if you’re a fan of my take on Rhaella, and want to read a story about Rhaella’s life as Aerys grows more mentally ill over the years, you should enjoy it!

For the Jaime/Brienne shippers or lovers of crackfic — I also wrote a holiday gift for my beta, the lovely janie_tangerine, who is as talented as she is silly. It’s the most meta fic to ever meta, and consists of the in-universe characters shipping Jaime/Brienne and conspiring to bring them together. Lots of fourth wall breaking jokes, lots of madness lots of fluff between Jaime/Brienne. If you want to laugh and have a bit of fluffiness on the side, here it is: All Aboard the Wenchslayer. Even the title screams crackfic. XD

So, here's the new chap! <3

Chronological note: This chapter takes place on the same night that Aerys Targaryen dreamed.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

In the beginning, she dreamed of darkness. Darkness, and there was nothing. Nothing but her, and the emptiness, and the eggs, cradled in her arms like the precious babes they were. Rhaella stood in the void, looked into the nothing — black, and vast, and warm. Too warm. Too much. Too …

And then, fire. Swarming, seeking and swallowing and wrong. It was hot, searing, agony, nothing it should be. Amidst the flame stood a figure, darker than the depths engulfing them. A shadow. A man.

A monster.

The cruelest jolt spiked through Rhaella's heart. Fear. An old fear. The fear that had been born in the salt and smoke of Summerhall. The fear that had gripped her tight since Duskendale. The fear that birthed the wraith. Rhaella tried to lift her feet, tried to run, tried to escape, flee, but her limbs were chained. Her breath broke into pieces, and as she pulled at the chains, yanked and fought and failed, the flesh on her arms burned and melted and sloughed, and her screams echoed throughout the maelstrom, and, and —

And there it was. Eyes. Eyes as pink and fiery as sunset. Eyes that had been pretty to her, once. Once, in her past life, the naive princess who had hurt and died so that the Queen could live. She would gaze into those eyes and feel safe, loved. But now … now, the eyes lived. The sun sets for you, they seemed to say. Like they knew her.

Like they knew.

Like they’d seen.

And then, the eggs. They burst in Rhaella’s arms, split and cracked and shattered, slashing her skin into rivers, and she was burning, but she could barely feel it, could only stare at the figure in the distance — the shadow, the man, the monster who burned with her. He was staring back. Hearing. Feeling.

Smiling.

We are fire, Sister, Aerys Targaryen echoed through the darkness, and the smile grew wider.

The wildest shriek flew from her body in rapid wings, rising through her throat like smoke, choking her, and she thrashed, and cried, and no, gods, no

“Your Grace!” Hands were on her. Touching her, trapping her. She cried out, fought to no avail, because he’d found her. He’d found her, even with all the flames, and the darkness, and the eggs —

“Your Grace, wake up.” The hands held her down, shook her. One gripped her shoulder … and then, the other cupped her cheek. It was soft and rough all at once. Strong in its gentleness. Cooler than the fires that had burned her dragon’s blood, but warm, warm like life, warm like love. Not the hands of a shadow, a monster. The hands of a savior. Her savior.

Rhaella opened weary eyes. Golden beams met her sight, lights of amber and sunrise and sunrays, shaped into a beastly face framed by a curled, golden mane, and set with cat green eyes that glittered brighter than the most flawless of emeralds. A lion. The most beautiful lion she’d ever seen. The lion that Daenerys rode when she’d visited her mother last, golden and glowing and staring at her.

Rhaella frowned, blinked, and the lion was gone. Jaime was there, though, had stolen the lion’s place. He stared down at her, eyes alight with worry, and he should be worried, terrified, because she’d been seen, and she couldn’t breathe, and he knew —

Wait.

Jaime.

Jaime was here.

Jaime.

Rhaella sat up, clung to his arm. “Jai —” She choked on air, her swirling nausea, her racing heart. Her hands were shaking, but his were steady, steady as a protector’s should be.

Jaime moved, and one half of Rhaella’s face felt colder. He’d stopped cupping her cheek, moved his hand to her arm. Rhaella grabbed his wrist, tried to move his hand back, but she was too weak. Weak. That was why Aerys found her. She was always too weak.

“It’s all right,” Jaime told her. “You’re safe.”

Rhaella blinked, looked around. She was in bed, in her bedchamber, under the silence, under the peaceful moonlight. Sheets held her in a cool caress, covered her legs and belly, and her arms lay atop of it, painless underneath her silken sleeves. Unburnt. She was unburnt, yet she was warm, warmer than she should be, because Jaime’s arms were near laced with hers. He was close, so close their body heat had merged. The chains were gone. No chains. Only Jaime’s arms.

His warmth made her lucid. She gripped him, looked into his eyes. “I’m awake?”

His emerald eyes bore into hers. In the moonlight, they nearly glowed, like a cat’s. “Yes,” he said. “You were dreaming, Your Grace.”

A dream? Rhaella closed her eyes, shook her head, tried to speak, but she couldn’t find her words through the lump in her throat. No. It was no dream. It was real. Rhaella had seen him, heard him. It was no dream. It was Aerys. It was Aerys, and he had seen her. The dry sob left her throat before she could catch it.

Fingers graced her hair, the locks that fell past the nape of her neck, clasped it gently, almost as gentle as the hand on her arm. Her neck, the same place Storm’s breath tainted her. The same patch of skin that poor Tymothy had held before she’d slapped him, yet her blood didn’t spike with cold as it did those times. Now, she was warm there, too.

Rhaella opened her eyes. Jaime was still there, sitting on the edge of the bed, eyes softer than she’d ever seen them. “Your Grace,” he said, even softer, “It’s all right.”

His voice was so gentle Rhaella could only stare at him, couldn’t speak. Gentle, so gentle it couldn’t have been real. And yet ...

Jaime. Rhaella held his arm, pressed her nails into his skin, felt them sink into his flesh. He winced, but didn’t move from her touch. Touch. She was touching him. She felt him. Felt him, because he was real. He was here. He was really here, and he was warm, so warm, nothing like Aerys, nothing like —

Rhaella let out a shaking breath. “It isn’t,” she said, because it wasn’t. It wasn’t all right, and it never would be again.

Jaime drew closer then, closer than they’d ever been alone, closer than she’d been to any man since … since … but he wasn’t hurting her, no, he was so worried, so concerned. She could see it in his face, feel it in the softness of his touch. He wouldn’t hurt her. Never. Never. Aerys was the one. He was going to hurt her. He was going to hurt them all.

“What happened?” Jaime asked her. His breath clouded against her cheek, warm like the rest of him. The last breath that’d heated her flesh had been foul and smothering, hazed through long pants, like a manic dog. I’ll remind you of your place, he’d snarled before his metal claws invaded her, but she couldn’t think of that now, because he was dead, ashes, and Aerys still lived, unburnt, seeing, and it was he that would remind her of her place, now.

Jaime was silent, more patient than she deserved. He had asked her a question, and he deserved the answer. But she couldn’t speak it. Speaking it would bring it into existence. Perhaps if she kept silent, it would remain a dream, as Jaime thought it was. But that was folly. It would happen, regardless of whether she let the truth escape her lips. And yet, she could not speak. Gods, she had been foolish to think it was over. That she could keep her promise to her daughter. Just when she thought herself strong, and new, she was reminded of the truth. I am afraid once again, sweetling, she told Daenerys. Forgive me.

Jaime’s hands were still on her. Steady and strong and soft, and to her utter shame, she knew that if it weren’t for their touch, if it weren’t for Jaime, she may have flung herself from a window as soon as she awakened, ran and jumped and flew and died before she could think of the consequences of it — the fact that she would have abandoned her sons, her grandchildren, Sia, Jaime, everyone she loved. The fact that she would have killed Daenerys, murdered her sweet daughter, her strong, precious, beautiful babe, when she knew the child was meant to live. But death was better than this, part of her thought. Better than feeling this again — the fear. The weakness she had lived for eons. The undeath. The wraith.

And yet, it would be a selfish thing, to leave her loved ones behind. And even worse, a forsaking of her duty. She was a mother, a queen. She needed to live for her children and her subjects, even if in fear. I must not think of it anymore. It didn’t matter, because she hadn’t woken up alone — she awoke with Jaime. Even if I fell, he would catch me. Rhaella knew that. As she felt his rough, soft palm press against her hair, her neck, her arm, she knew that. And it gave her courage. Just a bit. Just a bit.

“I saw him,” she said. Her voice was raspy, and her throat burned, as if she’d been screaming for centuries. Perhaps she had. “I saw him, Jaime.”

Out the corner of her eye, Jaime was still as death. Rhaella turned so she could see him. His face was stone, but Rhaella could see the tightness of his jaw, the wildness in the green of his eye. He knew who she spoke of, even though she didn’t say the name. She didn’t need to speak it. She didn’t need to speak the name ever again, not to Jaime, because he knew. He knew more than anyone, besides her.

“Him,” Jaime said, dully, like an answer instead of a question.

Rhaella nodded frantically. “I saw him.”

“In a vision?” he asked.

If it were any other time, Rhaella would be ecstatic that he had accepted her power, believed in her enough to not doubt her, but now, she could barely think.

“Yes,” Rhaella said, and it sounded like a pathetic mewl. But she wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t. Not because of Aerys. “And he saw me. He — he knows about the coup, or —” The eggs.

The eggs.

Rhaella leapt out of bed, ran toward the stone bath in the room connected to hers. Jaime followed, called for her, but Rhaella didn’t hear. The eggs, Aerys saw them, he may have taken them already, he may have —

Rhaella hopped in the deep tub, pulled back the rocks that linked it to the dark stoned walls. Pulled, and they were still there, waiting for her. Three perfect, scaled pearls, shrouded in darkness. Through the black, she saw one gleam in the moonlight, the same emerald as Jaime’s eyes. The second was black, streaked with amethyst, and the last, the largest, the colors of her House. Even from their hovel, Rhaella could feel their heat calling to her, pooling over her skin. Yes. They were safe. They were safe.

Rhaella held the one that mirrored Jaime’s eyes, held it close to her heart. “They’re still here,” she sighed.

“The island has been secured, Your Grace,” said Jaime. “No one will come here without us knowing.”

Rhaella nodded, put the egg back in its place beside its siblings. She didn’t look away from them.

There was silence between them, her, and Jaime. Then, “You’re certain of this?” he asked, softly, still so softly.

“Yes.”

“When?”

When. That was the most important question. When. “I … I don’t know,” she said. That was the most terrifying part — her ignorance. He could be sailing for the island right now, as she kneeled here, cowering. Sailing to take her, to take the island. The island. Their island. Theirs. Hers, and Jaime’s. Their haven, their safe place.

The nausea took her again. She shook her head, shut her eyes. “I don’t know when. But he’s coming. He’s coming for me, Jaime.” Another sob left her.

Hands found her then, gripped her shoulders, and her heart calmed, breath caught. Rhaella opened her eyes, saw emeralds staring into her with the fiercest glow.

“He won’t reach you,” Jaime said, voice caught between a snarl and a whisper, and Rhaella had never heard him sound so vicious. His brow was furrowed, and his jaw was set, and he was enraged, but … not at her. For her. “Not while I draw breath. If he ever tries to hurt you again, I swear upon everything and everyone that I love that I will kill him. I will destroy him. I will slit his f*cking throat.” The hatred consumed him, and he gripped her tighter, as if he feared she would fade away if he didn’t hold her more.

His eyes fell to his grasping fingers, wild, then softened. He raised one hand, cupped her hair again, the back of her neck. “I’ll protect you from him,” he said, gently now. Gentle. He was always so gentle with her. “And anyone else who dares to try to hurt you. I swear it. I wasn’t there for you before, but I’m here now. I’m here. I swear it to you, Your Grace.”

Rhaella’s heart wasn’t beating. Hitched breath skittered through parted lips, and she was speechless, gazing. Gazing, and she couldn't look away. Couldn’t look away from Jaime, or those glowing eyes. They were alight with protectiveness, shining for her. For her.

For her.

Sweet boy. The world blurred, and Rhaella bit her lip as she felt it — the salt. Rising, pooling in her eyes, unshed.

Jaime pulled away, his touch leaving her, and she had never felt so cold, so lonely. “Forgive me. I didn't mean to upset —”

She was in his arms before he could finish. Burying her head in his chest, pressing her nose to his heart, hands clutching his sleeves. His sleeping tunic was soft, and underneath it, he was strong. Warm, and everywhere she felt him, so was she. Her back was untouched, cold, and she needed him to shield her, but his arms stayed at his hips, stiff. Hesitant, and for half a breath, they stayed there. Then he moved, and his arms were around her, and he cradled her, and held her, and she was safe. Safe. The last sob left her, one final, aching sound, and then, peace. I could hide here forever, she knew, and he would let me. But they did not have forever, could not. A few breaths would suffice, though. Just a few.

Rhaella pressed her face against his chest, deeper and darker, until there was nothing in her world but him. And perhaps he was always the only thing in her world, since the nights of jade, and the oaken door, and her screams. He was the only one who understood, like she did. The only one who cared. The only one. Jaime and Rhaella, keepers of ash and pain. Only them. Only them.

Jaime held her tighter, and she felt him shudder, like a silent sob leaving his body. He needed this too, Rhaella knew, and she wrapped her arms around him until she was holding him just as dear. She let out a long breath, closed her eyes. Jaime. He would protect her. Jaime would protect her. He’d sworn it to her, swore it like only a knight can swear to a queen, and —

A knight.

A knight of the Kingsguard.

And her, the Queen.

Rhaella let him go, pulled away, looked anywhere but at him. Outside of his arms, it was winter. She held herself. “I’m sorry,” she said, because she shouldn’t have done that. Jaime was a Kingsguard, not her son, or her lov ... she shouldn’t have done that. She shouldn’t have, but Aerys, gods, Aerys —

The lightest tinge of pink bloomed over Jaime’s golden skin, and he didn’t really look at her either. He smiled, though. Shrugged. “You needn’t ever apologize to me for anything,” he said. “Arthur says that a Kingsguard and his charges should have a trust between them like no other.”

Despite her own blushing, she couldn’t help but smile at that. “You are fond of him.”

Rhaella could have sworn he turned even pinker at that, but it went away when he shrugged again. “Well, he did knight me.”

“And he was right to do so,” Rhaella said, and though there was a smugness to his smile, Rhaella saw the sheer brightness in his eyes, at her words. He’s truly dedicated to his vows. Arthur saw that in him. And so did Rhaella. “He was also right about the trust between Kingsguard and their charges. It … it should be a sacred thing.” Sacred. She had believed in that, once. Once, she had trusted the Kingsguard, once, when she was the princess, and the newborn Queen. She had trusted them. And more than that, with some of them. She had loved Ser Barristan as a daughter loves a father, and there was many a time where Ser Gerold was more of a grumpy uncle than the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. She had trusted them with her safety, and her innocence, and her heart, and they had protected her, until Aerys, and they … they …

Rhaella forced the thoughts away. Jaime wasn’t Ser Barristan, or Ser Gerold. He would never betray her. And she would not think of them.

“I … perhaps I shouldn’t have apologized for …” Hugging him. I hugged him. It was not so terrible of a thing — how many times had she hugged her other Kingsguard, before they forsook her? Jaime shouldn’t be any different than them. But somehow, he was. Rhaella looked down, shook her head. “It’s just … I hate being so afraid.”

For the longest time, Jaime said nothing. Then, “I dream of him too.” It was spoken quietly, like he feared saying it any louder would summon Aerys.

Rhaella looked at him. “Truly?”

Jaime nodded. “Not anything … magical, of course.” He said magical as if the word literally hurt to speak. “But dreams, nonetheless. Nightmares.”

“Oh, Jaime.” Her heart ached for him, and she resisted the urge to reach for his hand. He may have needed to be held as much as she did, but he was still a Lannister, and they had their pride. If he rejected her, she wouldn’t be able to … she couldn’t ...

Jaime gave her that lopsided half-smile meant to show nonchalance, but this time, it came off as a grimace. “Not as much as I did at court, mind you. But … still.” He sighed, ran long fingers through his curls. “Gods. I’ve never told anyone this.”

Somehow, Rhaella knew that. “Because no one else would understand.”

Jaime set his jaw, scowled at nothing. Then his face fell into soft sadness. “I wish you didn’t.” It was the deepest murmur, a soft, pained, bitter whisper. All for her. Sweet boy.

Rhaella gave him a sad smile. “And yet, I do. But I am no longer alone. That is not a bad thing.”

Jaime nodded, and a silence took them. Not an uncomfortable one, but a tense one, nonetheless. A restless one. It had to have been only an hour or so since they’d returned to the castle, after venturing through the caves, and finding the eggs. She’d had a short sleep, before her vision. But Jaime ...

Rhaella frowned. “How was it that you were the one to wake me?”

“I was awake,” Jaime said. “I heard you.”

“You weren’t sleeping,” Rhaella pointed out. “Were you … were you dreaming? About him?”

Jaime hesitated for half a breath, before saying, “These past few nights haven’t been kind to any of us, Your Grace.”

He’s hiding something from me. It hurt more than it should’ve. “That they haven’t,” was all she said. Her eyes went back to the eggs, sitting in their hiding place. She ran a hand across the emerald one, grasped it, but didn’t bring it to her. Everything that happened led to finding you, she thought, running a finger down its scales. She could only hope it was all worth it.

She glanced at Jaime, and for a second, she caught him looking at her caressing fingers with an unease in his eyes, but it vanished from his face as soon as he caught her looking. Rhaella frowned at that. Did he fear the eggs? Or her? Gods, she couldn’t bear the thought.

“Jaime?” she asked. “Is … is there something you want to tell me?” A flash ran through his eye then, a green panic, and she hated herself for putting it there. “You — you don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to. I only … I just wanted you to know that you can trust me, and … should you wish … if you wanted to, you could tell me anything. If you wanted.” Gods, she sounded foolish.

“I know,” Jaime said, but said nothing else. The hurt must have shown on her face, because he said it again. “I know.”

Rhaella nodded, tried to hide her expression, because she didn’t want to guilt him into anything. Still, she couldn’t help but see the turmoil and exhaustion ghosting over his frame, haunting his eyes. His shoulders were somehow slumped and stiff all at once, and his fists were clenched, and —

“Jaime — you’re burned.” She gripped his wrist before he could speak. Sure enough, a red wrinkled patch lay on his palm, tender and soft. It was quite minor, but still — Jaime was hurt. She looked at him, waiting for an explanation. He just stared back in confusion.

“You didn’t know?” he asked.

Rhaella frowned at that — how could she have known? She didn’t answer him. She stood, pulled him up with her — or rather, Jaime allowed her to pull him. She led him over to a filled hand basin, picked it up and put it on a nearby counter.

“It’s all right,” Jaime told her. “I already cleaned it. It’s not that bad — it probably won’t even scar.”

He was right about that — it was more of a light scalding than a true burn. But still. Still. “I know,” she said. She dipped her hands into the basin, cupped the cool water, and poured it over his palm.

Jaime hissed, a mix of pain and soothing. Rhaella softened her touch even more, let the water graze and kiss his skin as she traced it with her fingers. The tension left Jaime, but she felt his eyes burning into her as she worked, watching her.

Rhaella never met his gaze. Silence took them. Silence, and the water dripping, and dripping, and dripping. It was a trance, a song. A song that had been sang to her long ago, once. Once, when her first child died in her womb, and the blood drenched her hands, and Aerys washed it all away, gentle as a lamb. That was when her brother was still gentle with her. When he was Aerys, but still had a bit of Ery within him. Ery, the boy he was when they were still young, and Father and Grandfather and the witch hadn’t changed them both. When he loved her, still. When he cared. And because he cared, he washed her. Washed her hands. Washed their babe away. The water was clear when he started, Rhaella remembered, but it turned pink, then red, then … no, she couldn’t think of that. She couldn’t think of that ever. That babe was long dead, long lost, and Aerys had joined it years ago. Both dead now. Both gone. But one ghost still haunts me.

The water was still clear when Rhaella was done. She chose her best towel, patted it over Jaime’s hand, dried it as best she could without hurting him. When all the droplets had been soaked away, she wrapped him up in a light bandage, wrapped until the light redness was covered. “There,” she said. “It should heal faster now.”

Jaime closed his fist, ran a thumb over the bandage. “Thank you,” he said, but he sounded distracted. Far away. Uneasy, still. Tell me, she wanted to beg him. Please. He knew one of her greatest shames, and they shared so much pain, so much. She didn’t want him to hide from her.

“You’re welcome,” she said, and said no more. Jaime let out a deep breath through his nose, kept staring at the bandaged hand.

Then, “Rhaella.” It was soft on his lips, but firm. Her name.

A jolt ran through Rhaella’s belly. Jaime had only called her by her name once before, when they were in the caves for the first time, and he was frightened for her. But that was instinct, a fear that made him forget his formalities. This, though … this was conscience. Chosen. Rhaella.

Bright emeralds met her eyes, and she could only blink, until she realized. He had not just said her name. He was asking her something. For the longest time, she couldn’t find her words. “Y … yes?” Stupid. She had asked him to call her by her name eons ago, when they’d first landed on the island. She shouldn’t be surprised. And why was she so nervous, all of a sudden? This was Jaime — no one to fear.

Jaime glanced back at his hand, as if he were contemplating something. Then, he met her eye again, and spoke. “Do you truly not remember how I burned my hand?”

Rhaella frowned. “No, I … was it during the attack?” She didn’t remember any fire during the attack, save for the flames Jaime ordered to destroy the Usurper’s ships, and the hearthfire she claimed for her own.

Confliction took Jaime’s face, and silence took him again. He sunk his teeth into his lip and twisted at it, in the same way Joey used to, the same exact, godsforsaken way, and no, no, she couldn’t get upset by it, not again. Jaime wanted to tell her something, and his needs outweighed her grief. Her pain. I must be attentive. Supportive. I must not waver. Still, her hands shook, and she had to bite the inside of her cheek to stop herself from looking away.

“The eggs,” he said, finally. “It was when you found the eggs. I saw the smoke, and I thought you would be hurt if you touched them. So I tried to get them away from you, and, well …” He waved out his bandaged hand.

Rhaella could barely process what he’d just said. The eggs. She remembered seeing them, being filled with the utmost joy when she saw them, because they were her House’s glory, the key to everything, the heart of her visions, what she was meant to find. She remembered feeling their aura even before she touched them, that beautiful heat like fire’s breath, kissing her, beckoning her. And when she touched them, it was the sweetest warmth she had ever known. Not hot enough to burn, but enough to sense the potential life.

She did not remember Jaime touching them. She did not remember Jaime crying out in pain, as he would have, with a burn that large. Still. The eggs. The eggs had burned Jaime. Hurt him. They hurt Jaime. They hurt Jaime, and she hadn’t even known, because she had been enraptured with —

“Oh, Jaime,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I — I didn’t know. I …”

Jaime shrugged. “I figured you didn’t,” he said, and there it was again, that confliction. Confliction because he feared her reaction to what it was he wanted to say. Rhaella misliked that. She didn’t want her servants to fear her, for any reason. She’d had enough of fear for a lifetime. And Jaime … she couldn’t bear it, if Jaime feared her.

“Jaime …” she began, “Do you … do you dislike my magic? Or … or the eggs? Is that what you want to say?” She hoped it wasn’t, though she knew it was. She liked sharing this new side of herself with Jaime. Besides him, and Sia, there was no one else she could tell. Sia, being raised to be superstitious, was quite tolerant of who Rhaella was, had always been open to it. But Jaime … Jaime was different. If he … if he thought she was a monster, or …

“That’s not it,” he said, and the relief nearly drowned her. “Your magic pleases you. I would never …” he sighed. “I’m only concerned. You’ve been … strange, since the attack, and even stranger when we searched for the eggs.” His eyes met hers, and she saw the truth of it there. He was truly terrified for her. Terrified, and she didn’t know what to think of it. Strange? She didn’t mean to act strange. She just … she wanted … it was Storm, and his brother. They had come for her, and her children, hurt her, and Sia, and Viserys, and then, the metaled fingers, and the fire. The fire was there, and so was Daenerys, and they both spoke to her, wanted to protect her, and she was the blood of the dragon, and it happened so fast. So fast, and she had used the fire, and the blood, and the dagger, and then there were ashes, and she had killed him — Not a killing, the cruel part of herself reminded her — sacrifice — and then the bow was in her hands, and she was executing Storm, and two men were dead because of her, and she had never killed anyone before … or at least, she had never succeeded in killing — but gods, no, she couldn’t think of that right now. Couldn’t think of it ever, because that was what led to all of this. Ancient mistakes should remain ancient.

Jaime was still there. Still watching her. Waiting for her to say something. But what could she say? He was right. She hadn’t been herself. But had it been the magic that changed her or … or the fing —

She didn’t know. She didn’t know, but it was over now. She had protected herself and her family, she had the eggs, and it was over. She couldn’t think of it anymore. She couldn’t.

“I understand, Jaime,” she said, and she did. She really did. She would be concerned, too, if their roles were reversed. And she was glad that he cared. So glad. But she couldn’t think of it now. “But you don’t have to worry. So much … so much was happening, and I — I didn’t know what I was doing. But I’m … I’m happy that you … that you care. And I’m … I’m just so grateful for you, Jaime.” He had to know that. She had to tell him.

Jaime didn’t say anything, but a softness took his eyes, and a blush graced his cheeks, and he smiled. It was a small smile. Shy, almost. Humble. A rare sight, on his face. A lovely sight. Then, it was gone, taken by a scowl.

“You shouldn’t be,” he said.

She blinked at that. “Why?” How could she not be grateful to him, after everything he’d done for her, everything he was to her?

“Because I lied to you,” he said. “Or rather, I was prepared to lie. To keep something from you. But I can’t lie to you. You should know.” His voice threatened to waver, but he kept it steady. “You should know.”

Rhaella stared into those young, honest, haunted eyes, and knew she had to free him. “Show me,” she said.

*/*/*/*

The corpse felt alive, somehow. Stiff, staring with hollowed eyes that were black and empty and endless. Crumbling as its charred coal-like skin fell into soft, dark ash. Staring. Staring.

Rhaella stared back, didn’t move, didn’t breathe. The sword had done this. The sword she had given Jaime. The magic.

The magic.

“Oh, Jaime,” she said, eyes not leaving the hollows.

“He grabbed the hilt,” said Jaime. His voice was hushed, panicked. “I didn’t — I didn’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t have let him grab it. I wanted him dead, but not —” A hitched breath stopped him. He clenched his fist, said nothing else.

Rhaella held the fist with both of her hands. Cradled it. “I know.”

Jaime didn’t look at her. Only the corpse. Only the ash.

“Jaime,” she said. Green eyes looked from the blackened corpse hiding behind the armoire, to her. “You’re not him. You’re not.”

The emeralds shone with wet silver then. He clenched his jaw to keep the tears in, and it was almost enough to break her. You sent him to protect me, Joanna, but it is too much. For me. For him. For anyone. For anyone, but Jaime was so young when he entered Aerys’s flame. Only five-and-ten, considered a man grown only to those who had not carried a child within their belly to know how long it truly takes for a human to grow, or those who had forgotten what it was like to be five-and-ten themselves. At that age, one thinks they’re ready for anything, that they’re strong enough. But they aren’t. Not ever. Rhaella’s own life changed for the worst when she was only three-and-ten, and two years later, after mourning and miscarriage and lost love and all the things a woman would know, she still had the heart of a child, and ached for Grandpapa’s arms, even though he’d been ashes in the wind by then. Even though he’d forsaken her. Five-and-ten was nothing. The last years of a child. Not a man. Never a man.

And yet, there Jaime Lannister was. And he didn’t deserve it. Not one whiff of burning flesh, not one sight of floating embers glowing green, nor a dry, shrill cackle, or the screams that flew from her throat before she could stop them, echoing through jade nights. He did not deserve it. He did not. He did not. Yet, here he was, trying not to cry because he had burned someone alive, as Aerys Targaryen burned. Made them scream, as Rickard Stark and Ryn had screamed.

Rhaella pressed her finger into the slight opening of his fist. Jaime didn’t fight her. He let her pry him open. Reach for his palm, his fingers. Make his fist a lacing of her hand and his.

They were intertwined, now. He felt her. Now, he must hear her.

“You are not him,” she said. “If you were, it wouldn’t haunt you so. And it wouldn’t have been an accident. I know, Jaime. I know more than anyone. I know him. And I know you. You are not him.”

One tear fell then. Just one. He looked away from her, but nodded.

Rhaella watched the tear fall, amber in the firelight, gleaming on his golden skin. She was close enough to see it leave a shining, salted mark as it descended. Close enough to see that he did not have golden flecks in his eyes, like Tywin did — just green, only green, as green as Joanna’s. Close enough to reach out and cup his cheek to comfort him, as he did with her, when she awoke from her vision and was near mad from fear. Close enough. Close.

Slowly, Rhaella unraveled a hand from his, and reached for his face. Held him. He closed his eyes at her touch, calmed.She stroked a thumb across his cheek, felt the wetness on his skin, smelled the salt. Dragons breathe fire, never salt, his mother had said, but Jaime was no dragon. It was the dragons who had done this to him. Not just Aerys. Her. She had done this to him. She had brought this fear upon him, awakened what should have remained in slumber after he left King’s Landing. It was her fault. Hers. And now, she would fix it.

“You don’t have to be afraid anymore,” she whispered, and she didn’t know if she was speaking to Jaime or herself. She left him, then, as much as it pained her to walk with emptied hands. Stood over the corpse.

“Ser Jaime,” she said. “Look away.”

Ser. Jaime knew what that meant, heard the order. Even though she could tell he wanted to question her with every fiber of his being, he did as she bid. Good, and loyal. Too good for her. Too good for anyone.

Rhaella watched the corpse, eyes following the soft crumbling blackness that fell with each breath she took. She had burned a man even worse than this, she knew. Burned him from the inside out. Made his blood boil. Heard him scream. Carved into him like a squealing boar and pulled out his heart like it was nothing. And when she burned the heart, he burned too. She had watched him burn. Watched his flesh melt and slough. Watched his bones soften, dry, fade. And she had felt nothing, still felt nothing. Not for him. Not for his brother. And not for the hollowed eyes of the man who saw her now. Felt nothing, because it was fire that took them all, and fire was a part of her words. Had always been her words, would always be her words. She was the blood of the dragon, and dragons did not fear fire. They can know mercy, though. These men were not like Rickard Stark, or Ryn, who had been undeserving of their fates — they had hurt her, and Sia, and her children. Hurt Jaime. And she had hurt Jaime, too. She gave him the sword. Gave him fire, when he wanted nothing to do with it. She hadn’t known. But she should’ve. She had hurt Jaime.

Rhaella stepped closer to the corpse, kneeled before it. Then, she pulled it apart.

Dust pooled through her hands. Dust, and ash, and soft, and black. The blackness of Dragonstone’s soil. Of Aerys’s heart. She brought it to her, scooped it up in one heap. Then she took a knapsack from one of the drawers, and put it all in.

“Ser,” she said. “You may look now.”

Jaime looked, eyes searching. He frowned. “Why did you —”

She reached for his hand. “Come with me.”

Jaime stared at her hand for half a breath before taking it. Soft, rough, warm. Jaime.

He let her lead him out the room, out the hall, outside, to the beach. To the sea.

“Only water cures fire,” she told him. “This is where he goes, now.”

Jaime stared at the knapsack, then the distance, the moon shining off the water. His golden curls blew in the wind, covering his face, but he was silent, and she could sense his unease.

“Only if you wish it,” she said. “There are no more orders.”

Somehow, Rhaella heard his deep breath over the roar of the tide. He grasped the sack, and started walking. It was only when he got far enough, and her arm rose, that she saw their hands were still linked. Jaime looked back at her, gave her a little smile, and Rhaella followed. They stepped past the seafoam, to where the water lapped at Jaime’s calves and Rhaella’s thighs. He’d taken her all this way, but he hadn’t offered to let her hold one side of the the knapsack, help him free themselves of the ashes. That he must do alone, Rhaella knew. So she clung to his arm, watching as he turned the sack over, let the blackness billow in a dark cloud to meet the sea. It swirled and spread, but it was no match for water and moon. The waves swallowed it, merged it with the sea, fated it to be nothing but salt and darkness and depths for all time.

“It is done,” said Rhaella.

Jaime dropped the sack into the water. “So it is.”

“He’s gone forever,” she said, “And we’re still here. My children, and Sia are still here. Because of you, Jaime.” She watched as the sack sunk, joined the ashes. “He is undeserving of your empathy, yet he has it. It is a gift. A valuable one.”

Jaime gave her a halfhearted smirk. “You think too much of me.” He sounded tired. So tired.

“And you, too little,” she said. Then she pulled on his arm. “Come. Let’s go home.” Spikes took her body as soon as she said it. Foolish, stupid, but it was too late to take it back. Too late. She looked up, searched for a reaction, any reaction.

There was a pause, for half a breath, an eon, never. Then he looked back at her, and smiled. His eyes were glittering in the moonlight, the white rays gleaming off his skin, and he had never looked so content. So beautiful. “As my queen says,” he told her, and when she smiled back, she found that she was not so afraid, not anymore.

*/*/*/*

“From the princess Elia,” said the courier.

A pulse ran through Rhaella at the words. Elia. Her daughter. Her eldest.

She rose from the bed, careful not to wake Viserys and Rhaenys, or Jaime, who slept on the lounge on the other side of the room. She couldn’t sleep without him. She knew she couldn’t, so she brought him here, and he had followed without orders. Yet, even with him here, the sun rose too soon, and it was blinding, and she smelled of seasalt and exhaustion and anxiousness. It was making her delusional. Surely she hadn’t received a message from her daughter, trapped in King’s Landing?

The dream. Aerys. He saw me. This could be the beginning. He comes for me. Whether I fear him or not, he comes for me. Elia could be the weapon he uses against her. Her beautiful, clever Elia, and sweet Aegon. What if the letter was Elia’s hand, but not her words? What if it was Aerys, forcing Elia to —

You fear no longer, she reminded herself.

Yes. No fear. There was no reason to fear. She had promised Daenerys, and she had shed all her fears with Jaime. Jaime would protect her. He promised. And Elia was more than resourceful. She could’ve found a way to contact her. There is nothing to fear.

Rhaella opened up the door just a sliver, so the courier couldn’t see inside. With the note in hand, she sat at her desk, saw the Martell seal on the back, peeled it open.

Dearest Mother,

I hope you are well. I’ve missed you dearly. I miss your sweet voice, and all the songs you sang to me and the children, when we would play together. In your absence and my loneliness, I sing the songs you sang to myself. I sing of theparanoid Jade, who grew suspicious of Silver’s ascension, but was quelled by spiders. However, it is a song I grow tired of, I fear. I was hoping you could remind me of another song of yours, about the Sun Dragon that was ready to fly soon. Do you remember it? I would assume not. Your memory slips, my dear.

Let’s make a game of it. Tell me how long it took you to remember the words, and I shall tell you my guess. While we women wait for the war to end, we only have our wit, and our numbers.

I love you so much, my Queen, my Mother. Write back soon.

Rhaella’s smile threatened to take her entire face. Her Elia. Her darling, clever girl.

What was a dragon without his princess in the tower?

One ripe for slaying.

Rhaella stood, walked over to the hearth, dropped the letter. The fires lapped at it, shrouded it in amber and gold. Burning, like the fires in her dream. Burning.

He sees me, Rhaella knew. The parchment crumpled, glowed, blackened. Became dust.

But I see him, too.

Notes:

Please tell me what you guys thought of this chapter! One of my favorite things about writing PLD is hearing from my readers. :) I hope you liked the sheer shippiness I threw in, along with the plot. You know it's a slow burn fic when hand holding and a hug is considered a milestone. XD

Chapter 16: Jaime VI

Notes:

!!!!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

Today, it’s been exactly one full year since I published Purple Lions Dancing. In that year, this fic has acquired:

115,580 words

8,750 hits

303 kudos

115 bookmarks (private bookmarks included)

175 subscribers

Not too bad for a rarepair fic written by an author that's new to the fandom, if I must say. ;)

But yes, 110k words later, PLD is well into its journey, with a long way to go.

As a gift to all of my lovely readers, I’ve written a chapter that is sort of a continuation of the last one in terms of shippiness. PLD is a slow burn, and you guys have been waiting long enough for something a bit less ... subtle, shall we say. ;)

Another thing to consider in celebrating PLD’s birthday is a Joanna/Rhaella prequel fic that I wrote last month, told from Joanna’s POV and set during her and Rhaella's teen years. It was really written for Femslash February, but for those who haven’t read it yet, hey, maybe it’ll feel like another gift, I don’t know. :P

At any rate, you guys should subscribe to the Purple Lions series, so that you won’t miss any new stories set in this universe — I plan on writing more of them in the future!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

When Jaime opened his eyes, a pair of wide black ones were staring back at him, sparkling.

“Ser Jaime!” Rhaenys said in a shout-whisper. She half climbed onto his lap, little hands gripping his shirt, face bright with awe.

Jaime blinked, gave her a groggy smile. “Princess. Aren’t you a sight to wake up to?”

“A good one?” she asked.

Jaime sat up on the lounge, stretching his arms out. “Always,” he said.

Rhaenys beamed at that. “Why did you sleep in grandmama’s room?”

Jaime’s ears burned at the thought. Rhaella, moonlight glowing in her hair as she stood in front of her chamber doors, fingers twisting in nervousness, her head bent down shyly. “Jaime?” she’d asked, and it had shocked him, just how new his name sounded every single time she spoke it.

He had thought to say her name back, but no. He had said her name earlier that night, and she had permitted him to speak it in what felt like eons ago, when they’d stood at the mouth of the Narrow Sea and she asked him to join King Rhaegar, but somehow, it had felt wrong to say it over and over again without precedence. Like, if he spoke it casually, it lost all meaning, and he wouldn’t be her servant, but someone equal to her. But he wasn’t, and she wasn’t. She was his queen, and he was a knight of the Kingsguard, and he followed her faithfully, and he wanted her to know that. He always wanted her to know that. So, he’d said, “Your Grace? What is it?”

Rhaella had kept twisting at her fingers until she'd seemed to realize what she was doing. She had rested her small hands at her waist. “I wanted to know if you would stay with me.”

Jaime’s heart had skipped a beat, and his stomach flipped, but that was stupid, because surely she hadn’t meant … anyhow, he must’ve looked disgusted, or at least surprised, because her pale cheeks burst with pink, and she looked away. “I — I only meant — it’s just, the night is so young, still, and … my dreams …” Her eyes flitted down to his shoes, and she looked so distressed Jaime had to calm her.

“You needn’t explain,” he’d told her, giving her a reassuring smile. “Of course I’ll stay.”

A bright smile took her face, and she let out a sigh of relief. Relief that she hadn’t been rejected. If Jaime weren’t sure she would have taken it the wrong way, he’d have laughed at that. Relief. As if I’d ever deny her. He couldn’t before, and he surely wouldn’t now. Not after she’d stood beside him in that sea of ashes, the warmth of her arms still clinging to his skin despite the cool air. She had hugged him. Clung to him, and he’d held her back, held her as desperately as she did him. She smelled of smoke from the caves, Jaime remembered, but not just smoke, no. Somehow, that soft powdery smell was just underneath, that misty scent like springwater. It was strong, strong to the point where it had been all Jaime could breathe. It was strange — he’d never been so close to another woman before, save for Cersei. Of course, he’d hugged his Aunt Genna and Aunt Dorna before, but never for so long, and never so close. And somehow, it hadn’t felt like he’d been hugging his aunt, even though it should have. Somehow, it had felt different. Somehow …

Jaime shrugged at Rhaenys as he held her steady. “Your grandmama was having nightmares,” he told her, “And she needed us to keep them away. That’s why she fetched me. You ...” He tapped her on the nose as she giggled, “And your uncle.” Jaime looked past Rhaenys. Viserys was still asleep, bandages wrapped around his swollen nose, but Rhaella was awake, standing over the hearth. In the light of day, her sleeping shift looked far thinner than it did last night. As sunrays peaked through silken curtains, the shadow of her legs darkened, every shapely curve soft and dark, and she picked up a fire-poker, bent down —

Jaime’s eyes went back to Rhaenys, ears burning. “And it seems we did well,” he said, voice cracked and pitched for some reason, “Considering how well rested she seems.” He stretched again. “I’m not too well rested, though.” He yawned, long and deep.

Rhaenys scrunched up her face, leaning away from him. “Your breath stinks.”

Jaime laughed. “It’s lion’s musk,” he told her. Then he leaned into her face, sighing a huge gust of air at her.

“Ew!” Rhaenys rubbed her nose and slapped at Jaime’s wrists. “Grandmama!” she called out.

Rhaella kept her eyes on whatever she was burning. “Yes, my love?”

“Ser Jaime put his breath on me!”

Rhaella looked up then, face stuck between confusion and amusem*nt. When she spotted Rhaenys on Jaime’s lap, she laughed. “Well, it serves you right for getting in people’s faces when they’ve just woken up.” She poked at the shriveling blackness in the flames.

Rhaenys pushed out a pouting lip at Rhaella, but when she saw that her grandmother’s attention was elsewhere, she looked back at Jaime. “Do I have dragon’s musk?” she asked.

“Well, let’s see.” Jaime grinned. “Lay one on me.”

Rhaenys got up in his face in the way he’d done to her, then sighed at him, making a raspy noise along with it, mimicking a roaring dragon — and yes, her morning breath was quite deplorable, for one so small.

“Ugh,” Jaime said as the rank heat brushed against his cheeks, “That’s dragon’s musk, all right. And quite a terrible one, at that. I think my eyes are watering.” He blinked dramatically, and she giggled at him.

“Let’s breathe on Viserys!” she said.

Rhaella stood up. “All right, that’s enough of that,” she said sternly, though Jaime could see the smile threatening to pull at her lips.

In the bed, Viserys yawned. “What’s this about dragons?” he asked, trying to sit up.

Rhaella went over to the bed and gently laid him back down. “You mustn’t move too much, sweetling, remember?”

Viserys frowned. “Mother?” He looked around. “What am I doing here?”

She stroked his hair. “I had Ser Jaime bring you here.”

Rhaenys hopped out of Jaime’s lap to join Viserys on the bed, giving him a healing kiss — she’d been fawning over him ever since he’d been injured. “We needed to rescue grandmama from her bad dreams,” she explained to him, “Like Ser Jaime rescued me.”

Jaime’s chest tightened at that. Ever since the rebels attacked, Rhaenys was even more attached to Jaime than usual. Not that Jaime minded; the admiration sparkling in those dark eyes was proof he hadn't completely failed, that night.

Rhaella met Jaime's eyes, smiling, before she spoke to Rhaenys. “Exactly like that,” she said, “And the two of you did a wonderful job. But the day has come, now, and there is work to be done.”

“What sort of work?” Viserys asked.

Rhaella kissed his forehead. “Not children’s work,” she said. Jaime knew what she meant — a meeting about the attack. “So, you will stay here and rest.”

Before Viserys’s pout could set in, Jaime went over and nudged him on his shoulder. “Rest sounds good, wouldn’t you say, my prince? You’ll need it to have the energy to get back on our training, after all.”

A bright smile took his face then. “Yes! So I can be a strong knight like you and Ser Arthur.”

Jaime laughed and ruffled his hair. “Just wait until the Sword of the Morning hears that the prince himself placed us as equals.” Not even the prince’s words could make it true, though. Arthur would have been fast enough. But no, Rhaella had forgiven him for that. She is too forgiving.

Rhaella put the covers back over Viserys and gave him the medicine that would put him back to sleep. From the bed, Rhaenys reached over to tug on Jaime’s hand. “What work are we doing?”

Jaime picked her up. “Not children’s work, the queen says.” He looked at Rhaella. “I imagine she’s going to the nursery?”

Rhaella nodded. “A servant should be here to take her any moment, now.”

“But I want to play with Ser Jaime,” Rhaenys said, pouting.

Rhaella went over to them and stroked Rhaenys’s cheek. “Ser Jaime can’t play with you all the time, sweetling. He has duties, remember?”

Rhaenys nodded. “I know. To protect us. But he can do that while playing.”

“She’s got you there, Your Grace. I am an expert multitasker,” Jaime said, smirking at Rhaella as she sighed. “However, perhaps it would be better for me not to show that off just now. There’s many grown up things to attend to, today, I’m afraid.”

Rhaenys blinked up at Jaime. “Do you promise to play with me soon?”

“I swore to heed my princess’s commands,” Jaime reminded her. “If you wish it, it will be so.”

That seemed to cheer her up a bit, and she didn’t pout when the servant came to retrieve her.

“May I get a hug before you leave?” Rhaella asked her.

Rhaenys went to her and clung to her legs. “Can I at least stay with Viserys?”

“You may visit him when you’ve washed up.” She bent down to kiss Rhaenys all over her face.

Rhaenys giggled at the little pecks. Then, “Why doesn’t your breath smell like dragon’s musk, Grandmama?”

Rhaella gave Jaime a halfhearted look of disapproval, and Jaime couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s because I washed up,” Rhaella told her, “Which is what you will do when you go to the nursery. Go on, then.”

Jaime was still smiling when Rhaenys left. Rhaella sighed as she sat on her sofa. “You are a terrible influence,” she said.

Jaime relaxed on the sofa across from hers. “I try.” He sized her up. She looked soft, as soft as she always did, but her eyes were far lighter, and her shoulders weren’t as slumped. Like a weight had lifted from her shoulders. Jaime knew the feeling; there had been a darkness hanging over him since the attack, but the blackest of it had washed away in the sea, and Rhaella had given him that. She seems washed away, too.

“Did you sleep well, Your Grace?” She looked it, and he hoped she had. Jaime himself had slept better than he had since he could remember, on a soft lounge in the corner, with the smell of mist and powder wavering through his senses, even stronger than the smoke and seasalt.

“I did,” Rhaella said. “And you?”

Jaime nodded. “Fairly well, yes.”

She smiled. “I’m glad.” She rubbed her arm, and they said nothing. Jaime brought his attention to the end table near her sofa, counted the swirls in the dark wood. More silence. Why does awkwardness come so often, between us? he wondered. Jaime had never been one for shyness, but it came easily to his queen, and it was contagious, somehow. So he said nothing, and waited for her to speak — he could sense when she wanted to say something, but was trying to muster the courage.

Then, “Jaime?”

His name. “Yes?” His voice cracked oddly, again.

“I just wanted to thank you for staying with me,” she said. “And … and bringing the children. It was kind of you.”

Jaime shrugged, but his neck felt strangely hot. “You shouldn’t thank me for that. I wanted to do it.”

She blinked up at him then, eyes purple and pretty and owlish, and Jaime realized what he said. “I just meant that it was no trouble. And you had just helped me, after all. I was raised to honor my debts.”

Her shoulders slumped a bit at that, and her lashes lowered, and that hadn’t come out right either, had it?

“I still would have done it even if I didn’t owe you,” he blurted, and that had come out wrong, too. “That’s not what I meant. I …” He frowned at the cushions beneath him, and the back of his neck was on fire. “Bloody hells. Perhaps I didn’t sleep so well after all.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her shaking, and then he heard the little sounds of her laughter, like birds chirping. Her tiny hand covered her giggling mouth, eyes bright and laughing at him.

Jaime sighed with feigned annoyance, but he couldn’t stop his smile. “Yes, yes, the wittiest Lannister got a little tongue-tied for the first and only time in his life. Laugh it up.”

She did, for a while, before calming. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that I understood what you meant. But I wanted to tell you that I’m grateful, all the same.”

Grateful. She had used that same word last night, but it had been even more than it was now, powerful and so lovely, and it had stolen his breath. I’m just so grateful for you, Jaime. She had said more than that, too. And he’d told her more, in return. Had shared with her all he’d been hiding for two hellish years, two lifetimes. Had rendered himself bare to her, until there was nothing, nothing but numbness and one tear that had streamed down his face when she’d said you are not him. Had held her, as she buried her face in his chest.

Jaime’s ears burned again. He scratched his flaming neck. “You’re more than welcome,” he said. “I’d do that, and more, if you asked.”

He realized how that sounded, but he found that he didn’t care. Rhaella didn’t seem to, either. She smiled at him, and it was so soft and pure, reaching her eyes, and he couldn’t look away. He could never look away, when she smiled. It’s because it’s a rare sight, he told himself. Or at least, a new one. Before Rhaegar brought Jaime into his coup, Queen Rhaella did not smile. Her demeanor was one of the dead, silent and unmoving, her pain hidden behind dull purple eyes and a still mouth. But now … now, she smiled, freely and often, and it was sweet to see. She was so pretty when she smiled. Pretty, and young, and carefree. How could Aerys be so mad as to not want to keep that smile on her face, draw out that fluttery laugh of hers that was so much like birdsong at every turn? Jaime didn’t know. But he knew that he would savor those smiles, and create them as often as he could. She deserved it, and it was the least he could do for her. Lannisters paid their debts, and Jaime would always owe her, always.

A faint blush had taken Rhaella’s cheeks, as she watched herself twist at her fingers. She isn’t used to this, he knew. Someone protecting her. She’d had no one, in the Red Keep. Not Rhaegar, because he hadn’t known. Certainly not the Kingsguard. Not Jaime. Jaime had been stuck on the other side of the oaken door — we are sworn to protect her, but not from him, Jon Darry had said. But he was here now. Still, the fact that she’d been alone, even before he’d joined the Kingsguard, filled him with rage. I should speak with Rhaegar about the Kingsguard’s vows, but I can’t stress its importance unless I also tell him about what Aerys did to her. Rhaella didn’t want Rhaegar to know, but the abuse had happened for as long as it did because the Kingsguard belonged to the king only, not the queen. If their vows extended to the king’s family, she could have been saved. Surely, Rhaella would want to ensure there would be no queens that shared her fate, generations from now? It’s her life. It should be her decision whether Rhaegar knows.

But still, though. Still.

Morning light streamed through the windows, softening the rose that’d bloomed over Rhaella’s cheeks, reflecting off her amethyst eyes, making her hair mirror white gold, and she was so soft, and tiny, and delicate, and gentle, as gentle as her sweet nature, and gods, Jaime couldn’t understand. Couldn’t fathom how anyone could want to hurt her. Not even a madman. I told her I would slit Aerys’s throat if he tried to hurt her again, Jaime remembered. And he had meant it. He’d meant it with every fiber of his being. But if Jaime did right by her, it wouldn’t come to that. I failed her before, too many times. I mustn’t do it ever again.

Purple eyes blinked back up at him, wide and embarrassed, and Jaime realized he’d been staring. “So, what were you burning?” he asked, quickly.

Confusion took Rhaella’s face for a moment. Then she looked at the fire, and her eyes brightened. “Oh!” she said. Then she bit her lip and looked over at Viserys. He’d stirred at her raised voice, but didn’t wake.

Rhaella stood up and went over to Jaime, sat next to him. A wave of powder and mist sighed through his nose, and the ends of her snowy hair brushed against his skin. Soft and smooth, like silk. He had felt it when he held her, last night. Had rested his cheek against the crown of her head, and closed his eyes, because her scent was lulling, and her hair was softer than the feathered pillows back in his chambers at the Rock. It was so lulling that he may have stayed like that for the rest of the night, if she hadn’t pulled away from him.

The shift of the cushions took Jaime from his thoughts. Rhaella leaned over to him. “A letter,” she whispered. “From Elia. She’s ready to plan an escape.”

Jaime straightened at that. “Truly?” he asked, voice just as hushed.

Rhaella nodded. “She wrote in code, asking me how long it would take for us to bring aid. I was thinking of sending the guards you worked with during the attack to steal her and Aegon. Do you agree?”

“Tymothy’s group?” Jaime nodded. “Yes, that could work. He proved he’s good with stealth missions.”

“Exactly,” Rhaella said. “And I trust them. Tymothy and the others are my kin, and loyal. They may not know that Elia is their Queen just yet, but she is the Lady of Dragonstone. They would want to save her.”

“It seems a solid plan,” Jaime said, “Except for the fact that none of them have been to the Red Keep, I’m guessing.”

Rhaella let out a shaky sigh. “That is a concern. But they’ll have help on the inside. Elia has her ladies, and there may yet be servants that would risk it for us.” She looked uneasy then. Afraid. She and Elia were close, Jaime knew. He couldn’t imagine how terrifying it must be, to plan this, knowing that if it went wrong, she could lose her good-daughter and grandchild.

Jaime’s hand moved on its own. Reached for her, clasped his palm over her hand. Her skin was soft, warm, like it’d been last night, and his hand was big enough to hold hers like a shield.

Rhaella stiffened, but didn’t pull away. And somehow, Jaime didn’t either, even with her wide eyes staring at his hand, a blush taking her cheeks again. This is nothing, he told himself as his stomach flipped. Nothing, compared to last night, and she’d held his hand too, then, so he could do it in return ... couldn’t he?

“It will work,” he told her.

Rhaella smiled, squeezed his hand, and suddenly she didn’t look worried. Yes, he thought. Yes, he could.

“That wasn’t all she told me,” Rhaella said. “In the letter. Apparently, he … he suspected Rhaegar of treason, but only for a moment, and without any proof. It was just a fit of his madness, and he was able to be convinced of Rhaegar’s loyalty.”

“That’s good,” Jaime said, “But I’m surprised anyone was able to convince him of anything. The only one he even remotely listens to is ...”

Rhaella looked uneasy again, and Jaime had his answer.

He frowned. “The Spider threw him off Rhaegar’s scent?”

Rhaella looked away. “It seems so.”

“Strange,” Jaime said, “When he’s usually the one feeding his bloody paranoia.”

Rhaella shrugged, her hair swiveling with the movement. “I think even he knows not to take it too far.” She looked at him. “But do you know what this means, Jaime?”

Jaime blinked. “... Our treason lives on?”

She smiled a bit at that, but shook her head. “It means that he doesn’t suspect us, like I thought. Not now, at least. I may have misinterpreted the dream.”

“Or it could have just been a nightmare, this time,” Jaime said.

Rhaella’s smile turned sad. “Would that it were. But even still, I feared he may initiate some attack on the island if he knew of our plans. He doesn’t. That is a comfort.”

“Comfort’s good.” He wanted to ask her what the dream meant, if it didn’t mean Aerys knew about the coup, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask it. Whether it was because he didn’t want to upset her, or because he was still trying to process the fact that the Queen Mother could dream of the future, he didn’t know. Visions, caves, and dragon eggs. If he thought of it more than a few breaths, he feared he’d go mad, or worse, turn craven. Still, as Jaime watched his queen, he knew that, even mad or terrified, he wasn’t leaving. This is who I serve.

“Oh,” she said, “Speaking of comfort … I wanted to, perhaps, talk to you about the sword.”

The sword. Jaime’s stomach twisted. “What of it?”

Rhaella shifted in her seat. “I don’t mean to … it’s just, I was thinking, there might be a way to stop it from … you know.”

“Stop it?” Gods, he didn’t dare hope. “How?”

“It’s forged with magic,” Rhaella said, “Through the knowledge of my ancestors. But anything that is made can be unmade, surely. Maester Emrys is an expert in magic. Perhaps he could figure out a way to turn it into an ordinary blade — or, as ordinary as Valyrian steel can be. What do you think?”

Maester Emrys. A Velaryon, Rhaella’s distant kin. If anyone knew how to fix the blade, it should be him. But Jaime didn’t know the man, had only spoken to him in passing. No one knew the truth of the sword except Jaime and Rhaella. The truth. That Jaime had … that he had burned

Only Rhaella knew. She knew, and she’d taken the ashes to the sea with him, and he’d washed it away. But still. Still.

There must have been something in his face, because Rhaella added, quickly, “Or perhaps he could find a way to destroy it, if you’d like. Or we tell him nothing, and leave it be. It’s your decision, Jaime.”

Jaime gaped at her. “Destroy?” Evil or not, that sword was beyond priceless. The fact that it had some sort of spell cast on it made it even more unparalleled, not to mention what it meant to Rhaella and her House. “You’d do that? Truly?”

For only half a breath, Jaime saw hesitance in Rhaella’s Targaryen eyes. Then, they lit with determination, and she nodded. “If you wished it,” she said, “I would. But I gave it to you, besides. It’s your sword. You should be the one to decide its fate.”

Jaime let out a shocked sound between a scoff and a laugh. “Perhaps it’s just my Lannister blood making me say this, but … the thing is priceless. You’d destroy it just because I —” For him. She’d destroy it for him? No, that didn’t make sense. “You could set the Crown’s treasury for generations with this. But forget that, it’s your family’s sword, it has bloody fire in it, that’s not something you can just —”

“Jaime.” It was calm, but firm, and capable of silencing Jaime, as it always was.

“If you want the sword destroyed, then I will have it destroyed,” she said. “I understand the value of it, and its importance to my House, but you mean more to me than —” She bit her lip. “Your happiness is more important to me than any sword could be, Jaime.”

Happiness. Jaime’s happiness meant more. No. Jaime meant more. She is not only my queen, he knew, suddenly. I am her guard. And she had given him the sword. His sword. His sword that he used to defend his charges. His sword, that Rhaella gifted him. A gift that didn’t mean as much to her as he did. Her guard.

No. No, he wouldn’t destroy it. Couldn’t. But …

“Emrys,” Jaime said, finally. “Do you trust him?”

“I do,” she said. “Perhaps not with everything, but … yes.”

“And if we ask for his help, would he have to know about ...” Jaime’s voice was smaller than he would’ve liked. “He doesn’t have to know what I did, does he?”

Rhaella’s eyes softened. “No, of course not. Only you and I know what happened, and it will stay that way, for as long as you wish it.”

Then it will stay between us forever, Jaime thought. He only wanted her to know. No one else. No one else could understand. No one else could understand any of the things he’d told her.

Jaime went to speak, until he noticed just how much heat was simmering through his skin. Their hands. They were still holding hands.

Rhaella noticed too. She blushed and pulled her hand away from his, placed it right beside him. Their thumbs were still brushing, but Jaime found that he didn’t mind that, overmuch.

“If you trust him,” Jaime said, “Then so do I.”

For a moment, Rhaella’s eyes bloomed with wet silver. She nodded and looked away, a shy smile taking her blushing face. “I’m glad,” she said, pushing her hair back. “As soon as the meeting is over, I’ll ask Emrys for help. If all goes well, he might have an answer for us in a day or so.” She stood. “In the meantime, you should clean up for the war meeting.”

Jaime laughed. “Is this your way of saying I smell?”

“Well …” Rhaella smiled teasingly, “You were sweating a lot in the caves. And we did go out into the sea.”

“It’s not my fault you can’t handle my lion’s musk.” Jaime stood.

She rolled her eyes and chuckled. “It’s not me I’m worried for. It’s the others, at the meeting. They wouldn’t be prepared for it, I fear. For their sake, you should wash up.”

Jaime gave her a quick bow. “As my queen says,” he said with a smirk, then headed for his chambers, where his bath awaited. My chambers. The thought came to him so easily, and he hadn’t even lived in the fortress for a whole month yet. He’d resided in the Red Keep for two years, but even before Aerys showed his true self, Jaime never thought of his bedchamber in the White Tower as his. But here … yes. The chamber was his, the one right across the hall from his queen’s. He didn’t know if he was to sleep here for good, or if, once the island settled down from the attack, he’d be moved back to the guard’s barracks. The barracks, where his old room was. The room he had liked very much, until he’d hid a burned corpse behind the armoire.

Jaime made his way across the hall, entered his new chambers. It was much larger than the one in the barracks, and grander. Not as grand as what he’d had at the Rock, but enough. And even still, he was reminded of his rooms at the Rock, all the same. Casterly Rock is my home, Jaime knew. But Rhaella had said something differently, last night. Let’s go home, she’d said, holding his arm, and Jaime hadn’t felt the need to correct her. Even though he didn’t know if Dragonstone was a second home to him, it was close enough to one that it didn’t matter. The strange island was growing on him, that was certain. Even with its magic and secrets that were never meant for lion’s eyes, it was better than the Keep.

No, more than better. A new territory. And lions protected what was theirs.

*/*/*/*

Jaime couldn’t figure out if he liked Emrys Velaryon or not.

That was probably because he hadn’t really done or said anything to make Jaime dislike him. His lavender eyes were kind, and his quarters were neat and tidy despite the rows upon rows of books and scrolls that adorned the walls, vials of herbs and potions. As his pale fingers studied the cursed sword, he’d spoken with knowledge and conviction, and he seemed like he genuinely wanted to help.

But that was just it. He was too interested in the sword. And when he’d reached out to touch the blade, there wasn’t an ounce of fear or hesitation in him, despite the fact that he knew it had the power to burn people alive. He is the blood of Aegon, just as Rhaella is, Jaime thought. Of course it doesn’t worry him. This is their world, not mine. And he was a maester, besides. Their kind was always thirsting for more knowledge, getting lost in their fascination and curiosities.

Still, though. Still.

“It seems to be blood magic,” Emrys said, after examining it. “That’s what my research led to. Aegon’s ancestors bound this blade to their blood, and therefore, their will. Because of this, only those of their bloodline, or those they trusted, could wield this blade without its fire being called.”

“That’s what I figured,” Jaime said, without thinking.

Emrys and Rhaella looked up at him.

“Oh?” Emrys asked. “How so?”

Jaime bit the inside of his lip. f*ck. He’d known why the sword’s fire was summoned as soon as it had fled, and the corpse fell. Had felt the answer, in his mind, knew it like he did a memory, or an instinct. The rebel was Jaime’s enemy — Rhaella’s enemy — and that’s why he burned. But should he tell Emrys that?

Jaime’s eyes flitted to Rhaella’s. She gave him an encouraging smile, nodded.

So Jaime spoke. “I just knew,” he said, and shrugged, despite his lurching stomach.

Emrys’s Valyrian eyes gleamed. “Because the sword spoke to you?”

It had. It f*cking had. “I suppose it did,” Jaime said, “If you want to be dramatic about it.”

“How is that possible,” Rhaella asked Emrys, “When the blade is bound to our blood?”

Emrys hummed and gripped the sword’s hilt. “It’s bound through our blood,” he said, “And therefore, our will. You were the first of our people to touch this blade in centuries, Your Grace; it became yours. But then, you gave the sword to Ser Jaime, willingly and freely. The sword sensed that, and recognized your trust in him. That is why he remains unburnt.”

Trust. The sword functioned through trust. Rhaella’s trust. It burned those she deemed unworthy. But it didn’t burn Jaime, because Rhaella trusted him. She trusted him.

She trusted him.

“So what does this mean?” Jaime asked Emrys. “Can the fire be stopped, or not?”

Emrys shook his head. “The blood magic was intertwined with the forging of the blade. If there was a way to undo the spell, it is lost to the blacksmiths of old.”

Jaime held in a bitter laugh. “Of course. So I only have the options of no longer wielding the sword, or risking setting aflame any harmless fool who may fancy stealing it, or even touching it out of curiosity. Quite the dilemma.”

“Not necessarily,” Emrys said. “You could master it.”

Jaime frowned. “Pardon?”

“Her Grace gave you the sword,” Emrys said. “It was her will that you wield it, and so, the sword follows your will. So, if it is your will for the sword to not burn those who touch it, even if that person is an enemy, it shouldn’t.”

I’m fairly certain it wasn’t my will for that rebel fellow to burn alive right before my very f*cking eyes, Jaime wanted to snap, but he kept silent. Emrys was clever; he’d probably suspected that Jaime had triggered the sword’s magic, but still, Jaime wasn’t going to confirm anything. And besides, what the maester was saying made sense. Jaime had seen the rebels as his enemy, and he’d wanted them dead. That had been his wish. The sword sensed that, and acted. But if he actively ensured it never burned anyone …

But how the f*ck could he do that? “Would you mind elaborating on that, as if I were five years old?” Jaime asked. “I won’t be insulted, I promise you.”

“Now that you know how the sword works,” Emrys said, “You can control it, and its magic. If you keep your mind steady while fighting, and focus, the sword shouldn’t burn anyone, if that isn’t your will.” Emrys paused, face lighting with a realization. “Or, it could burn as hot as you want it to. Perhaps you could learn to make the hilt hot to the touch for those you don’t want to touch the blade, as a warning, but not so hot that they would be gravely injured, or killed on the spot. Changing the temperature would require plenty of skill, I imagine, but theoretically, it could be done.”

He seemed way too excited about the idea of that, and Jaime decided that yes, he didn’t like Emrys Velaryon very much, Rhaella’s kin or no. “I’d prefer stopping it completely, if you don’t mind,” Jaime told him. Anything else would be manipulating the magic, using it, and … no. “I don’t need any otherworldly forces aiding me in battle. My swordhand’s magic enough, I’d say. Is that something I could do sooner rather than later?”

“You should,” said Emrys, setting the sword down. “But even still, it will take patience.”

Rhaella’s tiny hands wrapped around the sword, and Jaime had to bite his tongue to stop himself from yelling — he knew it wouldn’t burn her, but still, still.

Rhaella was unafraid, though. Her amethyst eyes gazed into the blade, hands running over it. Then, “Maester Emrys,” she said, “Pardons, but may we have the room? Only for a few moments, and then, we’ll leave you to your duties.”

“Of course,” said Emrys. “I’m needed in the infirmary, anyhow. Have the room as long as you need.”

“Give Sia my love,” she said. “Tell her I will visit her soon.”

Emrys bowed, then left. There was only Jaime, and Rhaella. Jaime, Rhaella, and the sword.

Rhaella’s eyes went from the blade to Jaime’s. “What are you thinking?” she asked, and she sounded nervous.

Jaime gave her an easy smile. “About bloody Targaryens,” he said, “And their silly magic.”

She let out a little laugh at that, and all the unease left her face. As if, if he’d had any negative feelings on the sword, it would reflect how he felt about her. Silly magic for a silly queen.

Jaime put a finger on the face of the blade, not too far from where she was holding it. “You don’t think it will be terribly annoying, do you?”

She blinked. “What do you mean?”

“To control it,” Jaime said. “I do fear it might be quite a chore.”

Confusion was on her face for a bit longer, but then she understood. “Do you mean … you’re going to keep it?”

“How could I not?” Jaime laughed. “I think you’ve known me long enough to know that I don’t accept defeat. I would never discard a sword that poses such a challenge.” And you gave it to me. If Rhaella hadn’t trusted him, Jaime would have burned, burned like the rebel and Rickard Stark and Ryn, but he was here, unburnt, alive, because of her trust. Because she wanted him to wield the blade to protect her.

No. He wouldn’t discard the sword, not now, not ever.

Rhaella brightened at his words, but then she remembered herself. “Jaime,” she began, softly. “You don’t have to —”

“I know,” Jaime said. “I want to.”

“Truly?” she asked, and he could see the hope in her eyes.

Jaime smiled at her. “Lannisters may lie, Your Grace, but I’ve actually been quite truthful with you. Yes.”

She laughed. “Well, then …” She reached her tiny arms out, presenting him with the sword. Giving it to him. Again.

Jaime reached for it, his hands clutching the sword right beside where she held it. Jaime stared down at its elaborate sheath, the crimson and black metal peaking out at the meeting of blade and hilt. You will not defeatme again, you f*cker.

The blade seemed to hear him. It fit perfectly in his hands, and, just as the first time he’d held it, it felt right, as if it were meant for him.

And it was, because his queen had given it to him.

“It’s yours,” Rhaella said.

Jaime chuckled. “So it is.”

“Have … have you thought of a name for it?” she asked.

Jaime watched the sunlight shine off his sword. In the rays of dusk, the blade shined and blazed, blazed like the fire that would have consumed him, if it hadn’t been for Rhaella. Rhaella, and her faith in him. You are not him, she’d said when the corpse of ashes was in their midst, and she was right. He wasn’t Aerys. And with tamed fire in his hands, Jaime Lannister would prove it. Prove it like he didn’t in that throne room, when the walls were bathed in jade, and the embers were floating green, and Rickard’s screams burned hotter than the flames around them. Prove it like he should have when he stood behind those oaken doors. Prove it to himself. Prove it to her.

Jaime met eyes with Rhaella. Purple, and soft, and trusting. Trusting, and Jaime smiled. “Queensgift,” he murmured, and as soon as it left his lips, he knew nothing felt sweeter. Truer.

A small gasp left Rhaella, like a butterfly’s flutter. Then, her amethyst eyes glowed, and she beamed at him. Beamed, bright, sweet, warm, and Jaime thought that his queen’s smile wasn’t so rare these days, after all.

*/*/*/*

Seven nights later, Jaime dreamed of his bed in Eel Alley.

He lay across the pillows, sheets caressing him as he was penned down by long golden legs, straddling him. Cersei. She prowled over him, her curls and skin glowing with sunlight, her eyes glittering emeralds, just like his own. Gods, he had missed her.

And she had missed him, too. Needed to reclaim him, make him hers, like the lioness she was. No. A goddess. She held his co*ck, caressing and clenching mercilessly to make him hard, then she rose and sank down on his face, trapping him with her thighs, smothering him with her pretty c*nt. Taste, she ordered, and Jaime obeyed. He slurped and licked her, devoured and savored her, and she tasted divine, and her moans were music, and he missed her so much, he did

Then her perfect thighs freed him, and she ignored the pleas he’d moaned as her sweet juices coated his face. She reared back, her smile oddly soft for one of Cersei’s, and then, she sheathed herself on his co*ck. Down, slow, down, yes, soft and slick and heat. Then, faster, deeper. Jaime groaned as she rode him like a savage, her hips slamming onto his, her full round beautiful breasts bouncing with their rhythm, and she laughed, laughed like birdsong, and gods, gods.

He was nearing. He was near, he could feel it. She reached for his hand, held it. Lovely hands, perfect hands, but the skin was pale, not gold, and small, dainty. Soft. So soft. So soft, and Jaime’s heart was breaking all while being reborn, and he didn’t understand it, but somehow he knew she did, because only she could understand him, only her, no one else —

Jaime was building. Building, and the air, the very world was hot, searing, and the walls around them changed, shabby rotten wood turning to dark cobblestone, but that didn’t matter, because Cersei was above him, and he was hers, and he was inside of her, and they were one, and he loved her, and she felt so good, always, always —

The dainty hand squeezed his, tender, kind, grateful, and Jaime was undone. He came with a roar, seed spurting out of him and into her sweet womb, filling her, and her skin was fire, and he was fire, and the world was fire. Jaime filled her with him, filled her with everything, his seed, his soul, his heart. Everything. He’d give her everything, and deny her nothing.

Cersei sat still above him, taking it all in, and she was glowing silver, now. Silver, and white, like moonlight, like stars, and she looked so tiny, now, but she was his, and more. A goddess. She was a goddess.

When Jaime was spent, Cersei lifted herself off of him, and took him into her mouth. Jaime tried to gasp, but it was so hot, he could barely breathe. She licked him, kissed and sucked, her juices and his seed shining on his co*ck and her glowing mouth, and gods, her mouth was even warmer than her c*nt. Warm, everywhere she was warm, and soft, and he loved her. He tried to tell her so, but the air. It was thick and powdery, misty, and as he inhaled it, his heart felt like it would burst.

Cersei kept sucking. Taking him fully into her throat, in and out, over and over like waves of the sea. As her head bobbed, her hair swiveled and swirled, as white as the glow around her, flowing like a silver river, shifting like snow. The ends of her tresses kissed his skin, and somehow, that felt better than the sucking.

Jaime sat up and reached for her locks, held it, caressed it. Soft and smooth, like silk, and it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever felt. The most beautiful, the most perfect, until the hands, those small, soft, dainty little hands. They found him again, laced their fingers with his, and it was over. Jaime peaked with a cry, tears beading in his eyes. It was all right that he was crying. He could cry in front of her, because she understood.

Jaime closed his eyes, slumped over the bed, legs draping the edges. His feet sank in cool water, and he smelled seasalt. Salt. Salt, like his tears. But she was here, so he could cry. He could cry.

Small hands cupped his face as his body shuddered from his climax, and he leaned into the touch. Then he opened his eyes, and the Narrow Sea met him, with Dragonstone in the dark distance. His bed floated in the endless waters, the moon lighting the way, ashes floating on the dark waves, but it didn’t matter, because his goddess was still there — he could still see her silver glow, there at the foot of the bed.

Jaime gazed upon her. His seed had fell on her godly face, dripping down her cheeks and lips like white teardrops, and she was beautiful, so beautiful. Then her light began to fade, but Jaime didn’t care; goddess or woman, he loved her. Jaime placed a hand on her cheek, smiled at her —

And his heart stopped.

The light was gone, now. Gone, and it had revealed her. Revealed that it wasn’t the glow that made her silver, and white, with hair like moonlight. Revealed whose hands were still holding his as unearthly amethyst eyes gazed and saw him.

As Jaime’s seed gleamed on Queen Rhaella Targaryen’s face, she smiled, soft and sweet and all for him.

It was the utter chill that awakened him. The chill, and the gasp, and the thrashing heartbeat, and his achingly hard co*ck, pushing against wet sheets.

No, Jaime thought.

Gods, no.

Notes:

I think you mean yes, Jaime. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

So yeah, that’s your anniversary gift. I hope you guys liked it and bottom!Jaime and his subconscious wet dreams

But nah seriously, I gave you guys pretty much everything you guys love: Targ kid cuteness with Viserys and Rhaenys, Jaime/Rhaella tooth-rotting fluff, and ... ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) a little bit of what ya'll have been wanting for a while now.

Did you guys like the kid cuteness?

Did the Jaime/Rhaella fluff soothe your sweet tooth for now?

Did that smut quench your thirst for Jaime/Rhaella, even though it was only a dream?

I hope it did. <3

Also, thanks to Xanevus for suggesting the name for Jaime’s sword, Queensgift, all those months ago! And thanks to everyone else who gave me suggestions, I loved all of them! <3

P.S. My Jaime is a bottom and craves being topped, in case ya'll didn't notice

I mean duh Cersei trained him well but Rhaella is more than up for the task

Targs were born for riding dragons, taming a lion is nothing, Rhae could own that lion dick like a pro once she gets over her shyness

Smut spoilers, Jaime and Rhaella are gonna verse each other when it finally happens

They're both bottoms, so they'll compromise and switch between dominant and submissive roles so they'll be able to please one another

There, another little anniversary gift for ya'll, sex spoilers even though I don't like giving any sort of spoilers YOU'RE WELCOME and I seriously love all of you thanks for not killing me because I haven't even given ya'll so much as a kiss or even made Jaime and Rhaella consciously aware of their attractions in 115K WORDS but hey HUGS, HAND HOLDING, AND SUBCONSCIOUS WET DREAMS ARE THE FUTURE OKAY LET THIS SLOW BURN BURN SLOWLY

Anyway, please give me comments on this chapter, guys, I'd love to know what you thought about it! <333333

P.P.S. Be sure to check out that Joanna/Rhaella prequel fic if you want to know more about their relationship, get a few questions about Aerys/Joanna/Rhaella/Tywin answered, and see how Rhaella was as a teen! She's an actual Disney Princess okay. I love her. DX And I love Joanna, too, as awful as she is (she's awful in the best way imo). It's written from Joanna's POV, I hope you all like her.

Purple Lions Dancing - ofwickedlight - A Song of Ice and Fire (2024)
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