She could hear him on the other side of the door, yelling at old Maester, promising torture and bloodshed. She could hear every word and in her mind's eye she saw his face contorted in rage. He'd had gone hunting and left her on her own to endure another tragedy. Moisture gathered on her lashes. Somewhere close by servants were scurrying about, trying to avoid anything potentially life-threatening. Another yell mixed with imprecations followed. She shut her eyes and burrowed deeper in the warmth of her coverings, feeling her sorrow running down her cheeks. It hurt, the pain visceral, cutting a path through her.
A whimper drew forth from her lips. Rhaella Targaryen was cursed. She could feel it. She could feel the putrid stench of despair enveloping her. The rivers of her tears grew even stronger, salty water leaking down her porcelain skin. Never had there been a woman less happy than her, she was sure. Small sobs escaped her lips. She just wanted to close her eyes and never open them again. It should have been easy. But she could not do it, for the life of her she couldn't. Whenever her lashes pressed tightly together she would remember that tiny face, blue. Why had the skin been blue? It should not have happened. It should not. The gods were unfair. It should have been her they took, not her poor, innocent daughter. It was not fair. A mother shouldn't have to suffer thus. Had they no hearts? Had they no eyes? Rhaella's sobs grew louder. Did they not know that there she lived only for all these children that they took from her. It was odious, preposterous and cruel. It was cruel to promise life and give death. It was cruel to rob a mother of her delight in the last hour.
Her sweet Shaena was dead. Her poor, sweet babe. She hadn't even held her. How could a child leave like that, without ever knowing the loving touch of its mother? The maesters should have saved her. They should have done sometime other than crowd around her and wipe the sweat off her forehead. If they had, her Shaena might have yet lived. Rhaella's teeth clenched together in barely-suppressed rage. Her anger sparked, burned and consumed. It extended towards all and any who had been with her in those dark moments. And towards those who had been absent. Where had they been? Why hadn't they helped her? Her mind was running around in circles, grasping at straws, trying to make peace with something that her heart shunned.
Yet she could not dismiss the feeling of inadequacy that had taken over her. If only the Stranger would hear her prayers and the earth would open up and swallow her whole. Rhaella shifted, curling into herself, arms wrapped tightly in a hug. She felt so alone, devoid of power, dead on the inside. She wanted and wanted, but she did not know what. She wanted her Shaena back, but then she wanted her brother to comfort her. She wanted to hold her son, but she did not wish for him to see her thus.
The door opened. Rhaella did not respond as her name was called out. She did not even turn her head. Yet she could hear the sound of footsteps and her brother's familiar presence made itself known. "Rhaella." He was standing just behind her. "Sister."
"Where have you been?" came her voice, thin and weak, strained for pain. "Where have you been?" Something akin to anger coloured her words as twisted around to face her husband, her King, the man who had left her on her own. "You weren't here."
"I am here now," Aerys tries to shush her. He sat on the edge of her bed, upper half twisted her way. A gentleness shone in his eyes, one which Rhaella had not seen in some time. He patted her hair gently. "I cam as soon as I heard. I am sorry."
"She was our daughter, Aerys. And she's dead." As dead as their own father who has forced this upon them, as dead as the grandfather who refused to hear their pleas and stop the madness. She's dead. Shaena is gone. Out of their grasp.
Aerys gathered her in his arms, forcing her frame upright. "There will be other children, Rhaella." They were capable of producing living offspring. Rhaegar was proof of that. Their eldest son, her beautiful boy. "It shall be fine, sister. It shall. We need but time." Silence fell between them like a heavy curtain.
At a long last Rhaella spoke again. "The witch might know something." The feared witch, the same witch who had whispered in their father's ear about prophecies and promised princes and a reign of dragons to last a thousand years; a cursed creature that had crawled out of some swamp and saw fit to sway the mind of those willing to believe her words. That creature was her only hope, Rhaella thought bleakly, and if she had to give her the heart within her chest she would. Anything for the nightmare to stop.
At first, Aerys regarded her with a shocked gaze. "We shan't," he said, voice firm. "Her very words are poison, her breath an insult to you and me. I will not put my faith in her hands." But his sister knew that in such moments he was as vulnerable as she. If only she twisted the knife a but deeper.
"Brother, I beg of you. I shan't rest easy until I have the answers. If you can find it within yourself to take pity of me, a poor grieving mother, then let us see the witch. Mayhap she knows of a cure." But Aerys would not hear of it. He cursed and raged, leaving her side. Utterly hopeless were any of her attempts, for her brother did not wish to hear one more word. He left her where she sat, storming out the door.
In his wake was but torchlight and deathly silence. Pain flared in the Queen's breast. A cold shiver ran down her spine and her hand came up to rest on the smarting spot. A ghost must have stepped over her grave, she thought. Dour and quite without any power left, Rhaella fell back under the covers and prayed. She played her husband would understand and she asked the gods to help her in this. "You have taken from me what I love. 'Tis time to be kind now. Merciful Mother, be of aid to me." Her whispers were almost loud into the dark night, but not enough to attract attention.
The gods were strange rulers of their realm. They only granted some requests and even those in ways know only by them. Had the Queen expected a clear response to her supplication, she was to be disappointed for these beings of the ether did not change the King's mind.
If anything, Aerys had grown pensive throughput the night and the light of day did not seem to help his mood. Rhaella avoided speaking with him. When he was in such dark a mood, caution was her fondest ally. But she decided then and there that with or without him, she would see the witch and she would find the answers she desired.
It did not take long hours of preparation, nor did she have to search for the despicable creature. The witch had long since made her home at court and she had been waiting to be summoned. Or so she led Rhaella to believe when she came into her chambers.
"I have been waiting for you to summon me," the old woman spoke in her slightly throaty voice. "You are searching for a cure, are you not?" Rhaella merely nodded. "You wish to have children again." That had not been a question, so no answer was given.
The witch stepped closer and Rhaella forced herself to remain still as the woman took her hand. "But what is this? Look how pale you are." Her hand was lifted into the air. "The fire is too strong within you, child. It burns away your babes."
Horror painted the Queen's features. "What mean you, witch? I burn them I kill them?"
"Aye, your womb, the forge of souls within you, 'tis too hot a place – a desert for them." Beady eyes stared at her accusingly, the frail cries of babes ringing in her ears. Rhaella pulled away.
"You lie!" she accused the woman. "Cursed witch, you wish to pour poison in my ears. y brother was right–"
"Your Majesty, I do not lie. But I do know of a way to help. A balm." That made the Queen pause in her tirade. Interpreting the silence as a conformation of curiosity, the witch started speaking once more, "There is but one thing to be done, Your Majesty. You need ice to quell the fire within you, for ice burns strong as fire."
"Ice?" Rhaella questioned. The witch had gone mad, she though. Aerys had been right. "How would ice help me? And where would I find ice in summer?"
"Oh, 'tis not the frozen water I speak of," the old woman laughed, "nay, I talk of the old blood of the North. That is the line of ice, my lady. You need one such as yourself to lift the curse."
"So it is a curse," the Queen spoke to no one in particular. "Who would wish to curse me, witch?"
"I know not. The curse is old. Older than I, Your Majesty. I cannot fathom who has placed it upon your house. I can only give guidance in lifting it." The witch ceased speaking, waiting for the decision of the one who had summoned her.
For her own part, Rhaella could not help but think on what she'd heard. A curse. Ever since her son was born, her womb has refused to quicken and give healthy children. Rhaella had prayed to the Mother. She had Septons bless her. She had tried everything she could. Yet it would seem that only the old witch could aid her. And so she was to listen.
"What must I do?" Anything, she promised to herself, anything at all she would do. "Where am I to find one such as me?" And who could possibly be one such as her?
"There is, far in the North a beautiful sort of flower. 'Tis native to those lands. This blood is called a Winter Rose. Its colour is the most beautiful shade of blue any flower had ever been painted by the gods. She is the queen of her frozen lands. But Blue Rose I wish you to find has no thorns, not does she grow like vine on stone walls. Nay, this rose has two legs and two hands in its veins is the blood of kings as sure as the sun rises in the East." The explanation flowed quickly past her lips, leaving the Queen somewhat dazed.
Rhaella sat down, trying to gather her thoughts. "You mean to tell me that what I search for is in the North. A child, then. A noble child of the North. A member of House Stark." History names the Stark as King in the North before Aegon's conquest. If royal blood ran through any veins then it had to be through the veins of the Starks. And if the child was like her, then it must mean 'twas a daughter of House Stark that would be her salvation. "But how would I bring her here?"
"You are the Queen, Your Majesty. What doors are locked to you in such matters?" Indeed, 'twas so. And yet, she would need more than a crown to call a noble daughter out of her parents' home. If indeed, Lord Stark did have a daughter.
"I shall write. I shall send a raven." She stood to her feet, ecstatic, full of joy and relief. The curse was at an end. She could feel it, truly she could. Her salvation had arrived. Tears filled her eyes.
Aerys had gone, Rhaella knew not where. However, his absence did not bother her at all. In fact it gave her the needed opportunity to write to Lord Stark, inquiring after a daughter. The matter had been carefully thought over. The Queen had composed and ripped apart a thousand letters in her head. She had chosen words and words, not knowing which sounded better, which would plead her case in an appropriate manner.
The witch had merely watched her with her unsettling gaze. "Why write a letter so long for such small a request. Demand the child and the child shall be yours." But those words Rhaella did not trust.
"If someone demanded my son, you can be sure I would not simply give him to them. I wish Lord Stark to know that I mean his daughter no ill, but I need her." She could not bear to think of the child's mother though. As a mother herself, Rhaella knew what atrocity it would seem in the eyes of Lady Stark.
Though daughters were sometimes offered in other houses as cup-bearers or sometimes ladies-in-waiting, they were typically older than what she imagined Lord Stark's daughter was – if he did have a daughter, that was. Frustratingly enough, no one seemed to know if Rickard Stark did have a daughter. Everyone knew he had sons – two, three according to some, but no one ever mentioned a daughter. So it fell to the Queen to ask or make demands or handle the situation as she pleased.
But if the daughter did exist and Lord Stark accepted the Queen's terms, she swore in her letter that she would grant him whatever he wished of her, if only he asked. It was, of course, a dangerous offer. But Rhaella was convinced that if she gave her brother healthy children, he would be willing to bestow a gift upon her. And with that gift she would reward Lord Stark.
As for the daughter, the Queen would see to it that she receive the highest honour possible. For the person who had lifted her curse was worthy of a crown and may other riches besides. I have a son, my lord, she'd written, her quill flowing easily on paper. What else could a father desire for his daughter? Aye, the Starks were an old house, with a strong name and vast lands. They were the most remote up in their northern lands and the Crown had not bothered with them. It was time to turn their head towards the North though and seek an alliance with them.
It had been attempted once, a long time ago. The feat had belonged to one of Rhaenyra's sons by her first husband, Laenor Velayrion, Rhaella could not recall his one the boy. But nothing had come of it. Perhaps the second time around the result would be more to the satisfaction of all involved. A Stark and a Targaryen, ice and fire – just like the song of old. How wonderful that would be.
"Mother!" The loud sound of her son's voice broke her out of her thoughts. Rhaella looked down towards the source. Rhaegar was looking up at her, holding a slim volume in his hand. "You said you would read it to me." He held the book towards her with all the grace of an eight year old.
With a small sigh, Rhaella took the volume. It was Valyrian poetry. Or at least what had survived of it through the writings of maesters and other poets of Essos. Rhaella leaves through the pages, searching for something appropriate. Rhaegar had been most insistent in his desire to learn Valyrian, but his father hadn't allowed it, saying that Rhaegar would learn only when it was time for him to. Rhaella, on the other hand, had been more understanding. It was no easy work teaching the complicated language to a child, but her son was quick enough. A maester would be able to work wonders with him, she was sure.
Rhaegar could sit and listen to her for hours on end, lost in his own dreams, Rhaella would sometimes think as she spied his expression. Clearly, he would not give up the notion of learning. The common tongue posed little problem to him, and she knew that he had already hidden under his bed a tome containing the history of their house. The Seven help them all when the boy finally discovered the true content of all the volumes he brought to her. Suppressing an amused smile, Rhaella continued reading.
"Valar morghulis," her son carefully repeated after her. "What is that, mother?"
"It is a saying that translates to 'all men must die'." Rhaella lowered the book onto her lap. "Traditionally one answers to it with valar dohaeris. All men must serve. They greet each other with these words in Essos."
"Why don't we do the same?" The questions made the Queen blink. Rhaegar, however, had donned his most serious mien and was waiting patiently for a reply. The minds of children, Rhaella considered, were strange indeed and quite curious of the most unusual things.
"High Valyrian is less usual in Westeros, my son. One must speak the language of the people one rules. It creates a bridge between us all." And very few people did have a good, expanded knowledge of that tongue.
"But may be speak it here?" he insisted. "How am I to learn it if I do not practice, mother?"
"Your father shall be cross with us if he hears, love. But I am willing to keep the secret, if you are." Rhaella leaned in towards him, holding out her hand in an inviting gesture. "Remember, a Prince is only as good as his word."
"I do promise mother. He shan't hear a word of it from me." There was something inexplicably sweet about the way her son pouted. Rhaella nodded her head in acceptance of his words and took his small hand in hers.
"Come, I have just remembered that I have the loveliest little play in one of those drawers. Would you help me find it?" she asked, gently guiding Rhaegar out of his chair.
"Is it in Valyrian?" How typical that question sounded to her ears.
"Indeed it is. There is much to learn from it too." So mother and son started their search.
On the small table a piece of paper lay forgotten for the moment, the plea written in black ink soaked forever into the whiteness.