The day would be dark and windy, that much was clear even this early in the morning. The walls of the Red Keep suddenly seemed too great, too gray, too menacing. Like a prison. The Red Prison.
Elia of Dorne shuddered, the fear that she had so firmly locked within herself struggling to get out. Could the Red Keep turn into a real prison for her and her children? Was it possible? No, she told herself. There is a prophecy – But then, she saw the charred remains of Lord Stark and Brandon Stark's face that she remembered being so alive, so eager with internal flame dead, screwed in agony, and the purple marks on his neck. Oh yes, it is possible. Neither a day had passed without her regretting ever going to that part of the palace in that accursed day.
The baby in her arms stirred and she held her breath, but he did not wake up. Sighing, she turned around and found herself face to face with her husband. For whatever reason, he had carried Rhaenys here, in her mother's bedroom, and had left her sleeping on the great bed. Elia moved past him and placed Aegon in the cradle. For a moment, she stayed bent over him to make sure that he was comfortable, giving Rhaegar time to notice, as he had done many times before, how different the two of them were – the silver-haired baby and his olive-skinned mother, dark of hair and eyes. A sudden thought sprang to his mind, making him shiver: that was the Red Viper's sister. She even looked like him, with the same profile and colouring. Yet, she had none of the poison that he had come to associate with his brother in-law… or did she?
"I suppose you think me a cruel husband," he said.
She stood up and looked at him. "Why should I? You've always treated me kindly."
Comparing my treatment of you to that of my royal sire's of my mother, I suppose I have, Rhaegar thought. What a wonderful example the King has set! Yet, her calm demeanor could not fool him: he knew her well enough to notice the hurt and insult raging inside. As kind and forgiving as she was, she was a wife whose husband was leaving today to fight for another woman – or at least, the world thought so. It was not entirely untrue, either. No woman could take that lightly. Maybe he shouldn't have come here, after all. She would undoubtedly go outside to bid him farewell, as his princess, his future queen was obliged to; he could save both of them the embarrassment of this scene. He had had enough of this with Lyanna – she loved him, but she could not easily overcome the result of their disappearing together. She had been terrified to learn the fate of her father and brother; that had drifted a ridge between them, love or not. He could only be grateful that she never knew the way they had died. His father had become so unstable that Rhaegar was actually scared of what he would find at his return. I should have acted earlier, he thought, but there was no use of belated remorse now.
"Why did you bring her here?" Elia asked, nodding in their daughter's direction.
Rhaegar smiled slightly. "I found her in my own bed when I came back to my room."
Of course. They had told Rhaenys that her father was leaving this morning and she had waited for him in his bedroom, while he had spent the night in Elia's own. Strange to think that last night, there had been none of the awkwardness that now hung between them.
Again, Elia went at the window, staring outside. How beautiful she is, Rhaegar thought. One would not turn their head after her sighing but one would never get tired of staring at her, either. Unobtrusive, quiet, caring. She was like air – if she disappeared, he wouldn't even notice. Until the next time he drew breath, that was it.
She was still staring in the walls of the Red Keep, waiting to compose herself. Never speak in anger, always try to make judgment in sound mind – that were the rules that Elia Targaryen lived by. And he admired her for that. But he had needed something more. And he had taken it.
And now the whole kingdom was paying the price for his infatuation.
It's not a mere infatuation, he reminded himself. There was this prophecy. Yet, suddenly he felt the terrible doubt rising again in his chest: what if he was mistaken? Would the Seven Kingdoms pay the price for his mistakes? Would his family? He looked at his children with a stab of fear that they might not grow up at all.
Because of him.
Elia finally turned round and went to him. Her eyes were clear, her face free of the anger that he had previously felt within her. "Be careful, Rhaegar. Robert Baratheon is dangerous."
He nodded. "Yes, I suppose he is. But he won't win."
"He fights for love and men who fight for love are the most dangerous of all."
"Maybe," Rhaegar agreed. He thought of Lyanna, far in the south. He looked at Elia, at their two children. A slow smile curved his lips. "But I, too, fight for love. And I've got more to lose than he has."
Elia looked aside. She supposed that he was right. He fought for love – and in the entire world's eyes it would be for Lyanna Stark's love. And what about him? She wasn't sure. Yes, there was the prophecy, but with her female intuition she had felt that her husband's interest in the girl went far beyond that. Not that Rhaegar would ever tell her, of course, but she did not need words to know that Rhaegar felt for Lyanna Stark passion that he had never felt for her. Oh he was always gentle, caring, trusting. But not loving. Not really happy. What had she done wrong? Why wasn't she good enough for Rhaegar not to look aside? All she had been trying to do since her wedding was to be a model wife, a perfect crown princess. And Rhaegar seemed to appreciate her efforts. For a while, she had truly believed that the two of them could be happy. But then came the prophecy – and the Stark girl.
She tried to shake these thoughts off. It was hardly the time to dwell on their worst time – Rhaegar was going to a war! Yet, the bitterness of the memories kept burning in her throat – the shame of being overlooked in the tournament, the humiliation of walking in the palace with her head high while everyone whispered behind her back about her husband running off with another woman.
Rhaegar's hand moved to caress her hair, but then he slowly withdrew it, suddenly afraid to disturb her. She seemed so distant, so lost. He wanted to tell her to leave immediately, to send her and the children away to safety in case that something went wrong. But he couldn't. He had tried to talk to his father, only to realize that the King feared him as much as he did Lord Tywin Lannister. No, Elia, Aegon, and Rhaenys would stay here to serve as hostages for Dorne's loyalty… and Rhaegar's own? At least Lyanna was safe in the Tower of Joy.
But it would not come to that. Rhaegar would win. The prophecy was clear and it had to be fulfilled. He looked at Rhaenys, his hand gently touching her cheek. She was still sleeping, as innocent as her little kitten. As Aegon. Two heads of the dragon… and the third should come soon. That was the way it was destined to be. Elia herself, with her elegance, with the manners of a lady brought up in a royal house, with her calm, yet firm temper would make a far more popular Queen than the hotheaded and inconsistent Lyanna.
He just had to win this war.
"I must go," he said. "Will I see you, in the yard?"
Elia nodded and stood up to see him off. "Of course, my Lord."
Rhaegar was already at the door, when he suddenly turned back. "You know," he said, "when it was time for me go get married, they sought for me a princess, a queen. Despite your delicate health, despite Lord Tywin Lannister, they chose the Dornish princess. And they were right; if I had to take a wife today, I would choose you again. Farewell, Elia."
"Farewell, Rhaegar," she echoed.
She stayed where she was long after he had left; then she busied herself with tucking the children in. There was a slight smile playing on her lips and the day suddenly did not look so dark anymore. How could I think that I was an ill-fated wife, unloved, she thought. When the danger came, the truth came also: we've loved each other. And we've been walking together without even knowing it.