Little attention was paid to powerless queens when a war was in the offing. The men were of course far too busy and matters of war far too complicated to involve a mere woman in, and so she was left alone. Rhaella had long found she preferred it that way. Between the assassin Jaime had thwarted and now the rebellion, she had to endure the touch of her brother only rarely. For the first time in many years, she could wear light dresses without need for makeup and concealers.

The godswood was a fine sight that day, as she took tea with her ladies under the shade of an oak's canopy. It was unseasonably warm, and it seemed like spring might finally be arriving in truth. Even if it wasn't, the simple chance to sit out in public without fear of interruption led to a mood more suited to a gaggle of gossiping girls rather than the reserved ladies that they were.

"...spoke with the Princess," Eleanor was saying, small mouth pursed with amusement as she leaned forward in her seat, "and she said that his shoulders were broader even than Ser Hightower's!" She was a new addition to her anaemic court, from the Reach, and not yet ground down by the realities of the position. If the Seven were kind, she never would be.

"He lacks Ser Hightower's…" Maven said, trailing off as she sought to find the right words. "...distinguished air. His refinement." Near to Rhaella's own age with dark locks to contrast her own pale hair, Maven was the last of her original ladies, the only one to avoid and endure the worst of what the position entailed. It was all she could do to ensure that Maven's Crownlands House was rewarded - compensated - for it.

"The grey in his hair," the last of them, Marielle, said slyly. "The salt and pepper moustache," she continued, mischievous eyes locked on her target. "The experience…in combat."

Maven gave her younger friend an arch look. "You know our Kingsguard are sworn to father no children."

"Much can be done without risking such," Marielle said. "Or so I hear."

"You've been reading 'A Caution' again, haven't you," Rhaella said, setting down her tea on the small ornate table they shared, arrayed to look out into the godswood together. Oh, if any unfriendly ears could hear their conversation, the scandal that would follow.

"Perhaps," Marielle said, tossing her brown braids, done in the style of her Riverlands home. "But I say, I would take blond hair and blue eyes over salt and pepper and brown. Not to mention the youthful vigour." She smiled wickedly.

If this was the tone of conversation she could expect from her ladies the first chance they had, perhaps she should be less glad for the lack of interruption. Although perhaps it was simply a case of pressure released. "Please Marielle," Rhaella said, "I hardly think poor Ser Jaime wishes to hear such thoughts on those he admires."

Standing at the edge of the shade, his back to them as he kept watch on the path, Jaime's white cloak was dappled with sunlight, but still they could make out a slight stiffening of his shoulders as their focus turned to him.

Eleanor gave a dreamy sigh, but it only served to draw Marielle's attention.

"Perhaps there is one who prefers blond hair and green eyes," she said leadingly, earning a flush.

"Oh, don't tease the boy," Rhaella said. She felt old as she said it, knowing that it was Joanna's boy they spoke of.

"I'm not," Marielle said, protesting, though the gleam in her chocolate eyes betrayed her. "I'm teasing Eleanor."

"In that case, carry on," Rhaella said.

"Mari!" Eleanor cried, fussing with her blonde braid.

Maven hid her mouth behind her cup, tittering. "I won't deny this Lord America sounds to be quite handsome," she said, "but did you hear tell of the songs he sings? 'Fat Bottomed Girls'?"

"Maven," Rhaella said, faux primly. "Are we not ladies?"

"Men will have their preferences," Marielle said. "Perhaps we should adapt our own version." She sipped her tea, enjoying the moment of resigned dread from her companions. "We could call it 'Thick Di-"

"Yes thank you Marielle," Rhaella said swiftly, raising her eyes skyward. "Ser Jaime. Perhaps you would prefer to protect us from a distance."

Jaime turned, a faint crease already present in his brow. "Your grace, that would not be proper."

"What isn't proper is the mood of my companions," Rhaella said tartly. "I fear it will only grow worse, and I would not have you forced to endure their admirations of those you look up to." She kept a wry smile on her face, even as she read the thoughts on his own, clear as day, that such a thing would not be the worst he had been forced to witness since donning the white cloak.

"I will do my duty, your grace."

Stubborn boy, she thought, though there was fondness to it. "Ser Jaime, we are perfectly safe," Rhaella said gently. "The Red Keep and all its defences bar the only entrance, and sheer cliffs lay beyond the wall. No assassin is climbing over it."

Jaime hesitated, but ultimately caved before Rhaella's expectant bearing. "Call, and I will hear you," he said. His golden locks fell forward to frame his face as he bowed, before turning and walking down the path a short way, stopping just out of casual earshot.

"His hair is quite lovely," Eleanor allowed, watching after him. "As are - other things." She spoke clearly, not hushing her voice.

The four of them watched after the young man, but there was no embarrassed twitch to his shoulders, no hint that he had heard.

Rhaella breathed out a sigh as a touch of tension left her. Simply being able to talk about something so inconsequential and trivial a knight's handsomeness was freeing. Too often her ladies would have to censor themselves for fear of her brother, and how he might take a misheard word or twisted conversation.

But that was not why she had sent him away.

"You should turn him," Maven said now that they were sure he was out of earshot. "You've not had a chance like this before."

"I will not do that to Joanna's boy," Rhaella said. "He will not inform on us; that is enough."

"You need an agent in the Kingsguard, Rhaella," Maven said, abandoning her tea as she leaned across the table. Her aquiline nose gave her gaze a piercing mien. "If you asked him, he would not say no."

"But I am," Rhaella said, and this time her tone was final, a strength to it that would have startled any of those outside her circle.

Maven sat back in her chair, lips pursed. Eleanor and Marielle lacked the long familiarity their seniors shared, and only watched. "Very well."

Marielle shifted, drawing their attention. "Going back to fair blue eyes-" the words caused Maven to roll her eyes, as was surely her aim "-I confirmed Lord America's contribution to the taking of Gulltown. He somehow infiltrated the city and opened the main gates."

"Do we know how?" Rhaella asked.

"It was one of the wild rumours, actually," Marielle said. "He swam out to sea and then to the docks, creeping through the town. He's said to have subdued the gatehouse garrison alone before opening the way."

Rhaella pursed her lips, disquieted. Of all the possibilities, she had hoped it would not be that one.

"That is not ideal," Maven said, tapping one finger on the table.

"Why so?" Eleanor asked. She was frowning slightly, trying to puzzle out Maven's reasoning. "If we know to watch for such ploys…"

"It is because he is capable of it at all," Maven said. "He did not gain entry through bribes or secret passages."

"He could do it again," Eleanor said, realising. She was young, not slow. "He could do it here."

Rhaella and Maven shared a glance. "He may well have done it here," the queen said.

"Wh- the hostages," Marielle said.

"The guests," Maven stressed.

"Yes of course," Marielle said, though her tone was absent. "Varys still doesn't know how he gained entry?"

"Nor what happened to the servants they replaced," Maven said. The king's fury had been heard throughout the Keep.

"Where is he now?" Rhaella asked.

"The Stormlands," Marielle said. "He escorted Lord Stannis home and professed his intent to join the fighting there."

"I will write Father, once they push into the Stormlands," Eleanor said. "A knight like Lord America will surely be notable."

At least Lord America could not repeat his deed in King's Landing while he was fighting in the south. "A more distant concern then," Rhaella said. "Have you heard from your mother?"

"Highgarden is as beautiful as ever, she says," Eleanor said. "And Aunt Olenna's thorns are still as sharp."

Rhaella couldn't help but feel amusement at the mention of the woman who was almost her own aunt. "Honed on the lords and ladies that had gathered there, no doubt."

"Still gather," Eleanor said. "The vanguard or vanguards have departed, but the main body still lingers."

"They will have to leave soon or risk provoking his grace's ire," Maven said, frowning. "Do they mean to pin Baratheon in place through the threat of their coming?"

"Mother says they are moving, but slowly. The first camp was still in sight of the castle towers, the army is so large," Eleanor said.

"But they do march," Rhaella said.

"They do," Eleanor said. "The Reach remains loyal." She leaned in, tone lowering. "Mother mentioned overhearing Lord Tyrell speak of a meeting with the Prince, and having his trust."

Rhaella could not help but worry. Rhaegar had been riding from lord to lord and running the ravens ragged, but little seemed to come of it, something that sat strangely with her. "Does she know of what they spoke?"

Eleanor shook her head. "I am sorry, your grace. I could raise it with the Princess?"

"No," Rhaella said, thinking on the offer only for a moment. Her ladies making inquiries of that sort would draw attention immediately. "What of the Crownlands?"

"Mustering still," Maven said. "They point at the readiness of the rebels as proof of their perfidy."

"Meanwhile loyal Riverland Houses find themselves beset," Marielle said, mouth twisting. "At this rate, they will move only when the rebels are prepared to war in truth."

"Sluggishness seems a common malaise amongst loyal lords," Maven said. "I've heard no whisper of Lannister men, and the Dornish are…Dornish."

Rhaella could not help the disapproval in her gaze at her old friend's words. Lucilla had been as much a friend to Maven as to her and Joanna.

"Is that not strange?" Eleanor asked, hesitant.

"How so?" Rhaella asked, gaze cutting towards her young friend.

Eleanor disguised a swallow behind a sip of tea, but answered. "The Dornish are the Dornish, as Lady Maven said, and the kingdoms know of the disagreements between His Grace and Lord Lannister, but the Reach and the Crownlands…"

"Armies as large as those of the Reach are cumbersome," Rhaella said, mind elsewhere, remembering a conversation with her brother in the early days of their marriage. He had tried, once…she shook herself. "As for the Crownlands, well. I do not know war, but I suspect rushing into the teeth of the Riverlands and the Vale would be seen as unwise."

"Even so," Maven said. She chewed at her lip as she thought, a habit since she was a girl. "If only we had an ear on the Small Council meetings," she said, pointedly not looking at Rhaella.

Just as pointedly, Rhaella took a sip of her tea. It had frustrated her, once, that the extent of her intelligence gathering was little more than overheard gossip and reports that should have been hers to ask for, but it was a fact of her life. There was quiet for a moment, only the rustling of leaves and the distant chirp of birds.

"And…the other matter?" Rhaella asked at length.

Her three ladies shared discomforted looks.

"The chief gaoler still guards his remit jealously," Maven said.

"Princess Elia knows little," Eleanor admitted.

Worry sprang from Rhaella's lips. "You didn't ask-"

"She raised the issue," Eleanor was quick to assure her. "She wondered if Lady Lyanna might be prompted to join your court or her own."

With a husband that supported her and two strong children, Elia was much better positioned than Rhaella, even if her brother held their mixed blood in contempt.

"Is it not likely the girl was never held here?" Marielle asked. "Surely we would have found some trace of her presence." Despite her words, her tone was doubtful.

"I pray it would be so," Rhaella said. She worried for the girl terribly, and not knowing made it all the worse. She felt guilt, too; was her own respite paid by the suffering of another? Her brother had sworn not to stray from their marriage, but that was before he had been swayed by Jaime's cunning. No, not his cunning, his vigilance, she reminded herself. Careless thoughts led to careless words. "How is your uncle, Mari?" she asked, turning her thoughts elsewhere.

"Uncle Jon is on the mend," Marielle said, accepting the diversion like the prior topic had never been. "His nose, however, will never recover."

"How terrible," Eleanor said. "Lord America was wrong to treat him so harshly."

Rhaella and Maven shared a look. Lady Hayford had not been shy in describing the injuries done to the knights sent after the foreign lord, eager to lessen the social burden on her husband for his own injuries at the hands of the man. That it had led to half the city knowing in excruciating detail how 'Lord America's Ride' had ended was an unfortunate side effect.

"He is fortunate," Marielle said. "Such a blow could easily have killed him." Then, like it was being pried from her with pliers, "the minstrels do sing a rather dashing song of the affair, however."

"I heard," Eleanor said gloomily. "It is very dashing."

Talk meandered away from serious matters, what little information they had gathered spent. The chance to speak freely was not a chance to be missed, and if their conversation perhaps strayed deeper into topics they had misled Jaime into assuming they first spoke of, none would tell. By the time their morning tea was over, Rhaella felt lighter than she had in some time.


After tea came lunch, but that was not an event she wished to dwell on, for all that her brother was much distracted these days. Watching little Viserys follow after his father in hopes of his attention like a stray dog waiting for table scraps was difficult, but it was better than having him exposed to the truth of his behaviour. Once the stilted meal was over, she took to the battlements for a stroll, as had become her habit, accompanied only by her protector.

The breeze was bracing, and the wine-dark sea roiled out in the bay. It was a much finer view than looking out over the city, densely packed and unwashed, a monument to what the smallfolk would reduce to without a competent guiding hand. The scent of ocean that drifted over the parapets was a relief from that, at least.

Rhaella turned away from the view, and towards her companion. "I am told Ser Darry will be returning to duty in full, soon."

"He proved himself to the Lord Commander this morning," Jaime said, stepping in pace with her, and her hand in the crook of his elbow.

It had taken some short weeks to accustom him to it, rather than walking silently at her back, but she had lured him in with tales of Joanna. They had always spoken of having a son of hers serve as cupbearer at court, but life had gotten in the way. The current situation was a poor consolation.

"That is well," Rhaella said. "I did not like Viserys going without a knight of his own."

Cat-green eyes flicked to her. "The Lord Co- that is, I don't-"

"Do not fret, Ser Jaime," Rhaella said, hiding her amusement behind a courtly visage. "I know your brothers have their own duties."

"Of course," Jaime said, looking forward once more, vigilant even as they walked along the ramparts.

"Ser Hightower was going to have Ser Arthur watch the prince, but His Grace insisted on their presence," Jaime continued.

Meanwhile Ser Martell guarded his niece, not that her brother would trust the man with his son. "Has there been word from Ser Whent?" she asked idly. "It seems my son cannot spare a moment to write his mother."

"This morning, actually," Jaime said, happy to have an answer for her. "He and Prince Rhaegar have finished their business in the Reach and mean to ride south to treat with Lord Yronwood."

"A prod to Prince Martell, no doubt," Rhaella said. "If Lucilla were still with us, nothing of the sort would be necessary."

"I remember her," Jaime said, speaking slowly as he turned a memory over. "I only had seven years, but I remember she seemed very strong to speak with my father as she did."

"She threatened him, you know," Rhaella said.

Jaime's head swivelled back to her. "What?"

"In that very godswood, once we knew his intent to court her was serious," Rhaella said, gesturing to the canopy that brushed against the inside of the ramparts. "Your mother and I were hiding in some nearby bushes, while Lucilla spoke with him as only a woman of Dorne could."

"I, I can't imagine," Jaime said. Despite the ease with which he wore the white armour, his youth still shone through.

She was hit by a sudden pang of yearning for a daughter she had never come to know. Shaena would have looked darling on his arm, had she but lived. Her courtly expression did not falter a jot. "Neither could he," she said, putting on a smile. "He was not much older than you are now."

Jaime seemed to be struggling to comprehend the idea of Tywin being threatened or being young.

She took pity on him, but still laughed softly at his expression all the same. "And what of Ser Selmy?" she asked, as if giving him a respite by returning to the previous topic. As if she hadn't been building towards it over the conversation. "Has there been word?"

"Not since Lord Darry's message," Jaime said. "But St- Lord America would not allow a hostage to be harmed."

"You think highly of him," Rhaella said, sidetracked despite herself.

"He is a cunning warrior," Jaime said, "but - I know he has chosen to side with the rebels."

"You may speak freely, Ser Jaime," Rhaella said, squeezing his arm.

Jaime hesitated, but only for a moment. "He was not yet knighted when last I spoke to him, but already he held closer to a knight's oaths than some others I have met."

Long practice kept Rhaella's feelings for those other knights from showing on her face. "Lord America is an easy man to admire, from what few tales I have heard," she said. "Though those tales tend to grow in the telling."

"I believe them," Jaime said. "The tales say he killed the Smiling Knight with a single blow, and he did."

"A single blow?"

"He punched him in the throat. Once."

That was two occasions now that she knew of where what sounded like an exaggerated tale was no exaggeration at all. Perhaps there was something to his downing of near seventy men at Harrenhal, too. "Then perhaps it is less of a shock that he was twice victorious against Ser Selmy."

Jaime only nodded, mind clearly filled with imagining the scene.

"Has the Lord Commander decided on a replacement, yet?" she asked, tone idle.

"There won't be one," Jaime said absently.

Rhaella missed a step. "I beg your pardon?"

Her sudden slowing was matched without thought, but still her tone surprised him. "His Grace was furious at Ser Barristan's abduction," Jaime said. "He refused Ser Gerold's request to recruit a new brother." He did not sound aggrieved by the decision.

"I see," Rhaella said. Refusing to replace a Kingsguard in these circumstances was not unusual, especially a man of Selmy's skill and renown, but it was not practical, and not what she had expected. The Kingsguard were a limited resource even at their peak, and with Whent following her son around the countryside they were down to four - five, with Darry recovering, but should another be removed...her pulse quickened. There was an opportunity to be had, but she was too blind to know for whom. The arm she held stopped, jarring her from her thoughts.

"I will protect you, Your Grace," Jaime said, an intensity in his gaze. It was a yearning for something, nothing material, but something that could only be striven for.

"Oh Jaime," she said. If only Joanna could see him now. "You already have."

Jaime's expression faltered, but smoothed quickly. "It is my duty as Kingsguard."

"I am confident in your abilities, even with absent brothers," Rhaella said, allowing him the redirection. Words were left unsaid, but now he knew that she knew. She wondered how he would respond, and ignored the voice that sounded like Maven in her thoughts.

Joanna's boy only bowed slightly, moving to resume their walk, but it was not to be. Instead, she guided them to lean against the merlons, looking out over the bay. For long moments they simply took in the view.

"Your mother and I sailed out on a skiff once," Rhaella said, staring out. "Never again; it was such a spectacle. A small vessel only large enough for the two of us and three poor sailors, meanwhile we were surrounded by three warships bristling with men and ballista to protect us."

"Whose idea was that?" Jaime asked. He tried to maintain his knightly demeanour, but the thought of the spectacle had his lips twitching all the same.

"The outing? Lucilla's," Rhaella said. "The warships? Aerys and Tywin. There would have been more, but the captains realised that they had both given the same orders…"

Sharing tales of her friend with Joanna's son was a poor salve for losing her to the childbed, but it was something, and it eased the guilt that came with using him to her own ends. She hoped she would understand, but it was a price she was willing to pay if not.


For all that the lords and ladies disdained the mummers and whores, Rhaella thought, they were surely the more skilled at putting on masks. The stench of smoke and burnt flesh filled the Great Hall as the court of King Aerys II gathered at his pleasure, though they did not fill it nearly as much. There were not even whispers as they waited on their king, as he gazed at the blackened spot that had once been a man. Wild hair was pushed back behind his ears, matted and rank. Tap tap-tap-tap went yellow nails on iron. Beneath it all was the queer stench that lingered after wildfire did its horrid work.

Aerys pushed himself up and off the Iron Throne to survey his court, though the motion was marred by the wince he made as he cut himself on it. None dared react as he made his way down the steps of the throne, stopping between two of his Kingsguard, Hightower and Dayne. Their white armour gleamed with polish, though it was scuffed with smoke.

"Thus comes to those who break the laws of my Seven Kingdoms," Aerys began, speaking down to them all from the throne dais. His voice started thin and reedy, but strengthened as it tried to fill the hall. "So it has been, and so it will always be."

From her position amongst the rest of the court, her ladies at her back, Rhaella watched and waited. She knew her brother, and he would not have gathered his lickspittles and toadies for a simple execution. Though for very different reasons, hers was not the only court that had lessened.

"There are some who think themselves above the laws of my Kingdoms," Aerys continued, contempt curling his lip. "They cloak themselves in arrogance and false injury to hide their treason, and make demands of their rightful ruler. Of your King."

He paused, as if expecting outrage, but there was none. Beside her, Rhaella heard Lord Merryweather swallow.

"These outlaws have been indulged for long enough!" Aerys said, arm slashing down in a harsh gesture. "They may have discarded their own when they broke my Peace, but I did not punish them as is my right. A good King loves his subjects as his children, and I hoped that they would recognise their treason and repent, but even a King's love has limits. I hear of the suffering of my people in Gulltown, of loyal Houses in the Riverlands, and I say no more. No more!"

"No more!" one lord tried to cheer, but it was strangled in the silence of the hall.

Aerys did not seem to notice. "Unruly children must be punished, and I can no longer spare them from the consequences of their actions. Though I was wise to see their looming treachery and prepare, I had still hoped to spare them this. A hostage has only one purpose, and the time for that purpose has come."

Rhaella went still. She had met Rickard Stark once before. If his child was killed, she would fear for her own.

"However," Aerys said. "However…a hostage may only be executed once," he said, his tone one of solemn wisdom. "But kept alive, their family may be shown the error of their ways many times."

She swallowed, her throat uncomfortably dry as she tried to rein in her imagination.

Aerys clapped his hands once, and it echoed through the hall. A servant emerged from a side entrance, and there was a ripple of movement amongst the court and the sound of cloth shifting as all turned to watch them approach the throne dais. They bore a cushion of red and black, and on it was a severed foot.

"My loyal lords are besieged, and my armies subject to the tyranny of distance," Aerys said. "We shall see how rebellious these outlaws feel once they see the consequences of their actions." His voice was gloating, and the blank faced servant held the cushion high for all to see.

If Aerys said anything after that, Rhaella couldn't remember. Her throat seemed to seize up, and she had trouble breathing. When the spectacle ended, Aerys was escorted away by his Kingsguard, and she by her ladies. All she could think of was a similar cushion in grey and white, with the foot of a young boy upon it. No, the Starks would not use a cushion, they would use a heart tree…

Vaguely, she heard Maven dismiss Eleanor and Marielle, before the oldest friend she yet had sat at her side in her rooms, holding her hands clasped in her own. The rest of the afternoon passed in a daze, but by the time the sun began to set she had mastered herself. She thanked Maven, another tally in a debt that could never be repaid, and dismissed her in turn. Tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow they would begin to deal with what her brother had wrought. The Septas that watched over her each night were summoned, and she prepared for bed.

She was almost asleep when she heard a key turn loudly, unlocking the door that separated her suite from that of her brother's.