a/n: first ASoIaF fic. spoilers through robert's rebellion.
they kill us for their sport
Rubies flew like drops of blood from the chest of a dying prince, and he sank to his knees in the water and with his last breath, murmured a woman's name.
(GEORGE R. R. MARTIN, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE)
As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.
They kill us for their sport.
(WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, KING LEAR)
ACT I: MAIDEN
Sunspear is light and spice and filled to the very sky with life. The old men play cyvasse on the streets, the women argue with the merchants peddling their wares—Myrish salesmen with thick accents and meters upon meters of gauzy lace, Lyseni women with flaxen hair and lips shaped like flowers. Elia skips through the streets in her brother's clothes, and does not cough at all.
King's Landing, by all accounts, smells of fish, and fire, and blood.
"I've heard he's a prissy wretch," Oberyn says one morning, voice easy and sibilant, the words twisting, barbaric, on his tongue. He pulls back his bow, and the arrow goes flying into the center of his mark, the end twitching, like a living thing.
She sits beside him, and rolls her eyes. Her lips pop on a sweetmeat. "For the Seven's sake, Oberyn."
"What?" He shrugs. "I don't care. I'm just warning you that I heard he was a prissy wretch."
"Mother would not be happy with you," she says, watching her little brother's hand clench, tense and tight on the smooth wood of the bow, and half feels the length of it beneath her own thin, tapering fingers. "She thinks it's all your fault, the offers of marriage I turned down. And she's right. It is."
The muscles in Oberyn's jaw tense, and she watches, half musing, as his throat tightens and flex. Elia has heard rumors, of course she has. Her brother is sixteen now, a man full grown, and whispers permeate through Dorne like so much thick perfume, lingering—of Lyseni whores and mistresses with the blood of Old Volantis, of poison left to fester on the tips of spears, of her brother's hands dipped in blood. Elia has heard all of these rumors, yet Elia says nothing.
"Shall I sit quietly by, then," he says, "and watch as my sister signs her life away to a House of madmen and narcissists?"
"Gazed in the looking glass lately?" She quips dryly, and laughs when he reaches over to ruffle her hair.
Dorne prepares for the visit of the Targaryen king in a flurry of action and without much time. The Ruling Lady of Dorne orders dresses by the cartload for Elia, dresses of blue and silver and pink and grey, sewed with seed pearls and woven with Myrish lace, stitched by hundreds of busy fingers over a mere month, dresses for feasts, for banquets, for tourneys, but most of all—Elia's mother orders dresses in red, in gold, in black, velvets meant to ripple like fire and samites like the light of the sun, in the colors of Martell, in the colors of Targaryen. Elia says nothing, does nothing, merely allows the seamstress to stitch the fabrics close to her skin, around her tapered waist, her narrow hips, her small breasts. She does not complain, not when the needles prick her skin in the seamstress's haste, not when the fabric closes around her, so tight that she cannot breathe.
"You must look a lady," her mother tells her. "You must waltz out of Dorne in Myrish lace and cloth-of-gold, in red and black and fire, and in blood and you must make them believe you were meant for this. You must shine brighter than a thousand Lannisters, be braver than a million lions. You must make them believe you were born to be a Targaryen. Do you understand me, Elia?"
Elia nods, and later, she will hate how young and weak she sounds in this moment. "Cersei Lannister is more beautiful than me. She is only eleven but everyone says so. How am I supposed to look a Targaryen if I am Dornish? If I am Dornish to the bone?"
The Princess smiles. "What are the words of our House, Elia?"
She swallows. "Unbent, unbowed, unbroken."
"And House Targaryen?"
"Fire and blood."
Her mother stands, walks to her. She is beautiful, her mother. Petite but rounded and womanly, eyes dark and hair dark and skin a creamy brown, stained by the love of the sun. Elia is not beautiful. Elia knows this much.
"Our family stood, when all the other kingdoms fell." The Princess says. "Our House stood firm and persevered when the Targaryens rode dragons and burned entire villages to the ground. We are not conquered, Elia, not like the Starks, or the Lannisters, or the Tullys. The Targaryens abhor weakness, my dear, but we are unbent, and we are unbowed, and we are unbroken."
Her mother cups her face in small, rounded palms and breathes—
"You need only remember this: we are Martells. And we are not weak."
Her first thought is, he doesn't look like a prissy wretch.
Her second is, oh.
The Targaryen Prince is tall, the gossips say. He is quiet and he is solemn and he is his father's right hand man. The Targaryen Prince has silver hair and purple eyes, he is muscled and he is lithe, and he is the victor of a hundred tourneys. Rhaegar Targaryen was born to be king.
Elia does not see him and think, how handsome he is. Elia does not look at him and think, I shall be the envy of every maid in Westeros. Elia does not gaze upon him and think, I can love him, I can love him very easily.
Elia does not think of these things, though they are all true, they are all of them true. Elia looks at him and thinks, I shall be queen one day. I shall leave Dorne and bear his children and one day I shall be queen.
Not the Ruling Lady of Dorne. Not Princess Elia. Queen.
Elia knows what it means to be a Westerosi Queen. What it means to be a Targaryen Queen. To be hailed and adored and wrapped in gauze, to be bedded whenever the king wished, to bear son after son, to be passed from one owner to another, like some piece of meat, bartered and sold and given as a prize.
She looks at her mother. She looks at the Prince. She looks at his father, his eyes heavy with age and greed.
Elia feels a lurch within her own stomach, and feels as if she might be sick.
She realizes, all of a sudden, that he is bending over her hand, and there is the lightest brush of his mouth over her skin, where the knuckles dent and presses down, his breath trapped between her bones. She presses her lips together, and holds her tongue, but thinks—he touches me as if I am already in his possession. Her teeth close around the inside of her cheek, salty and bitter but she nods.
And says, quietly, softly, almost imperceptibly, once she realizes that the entire retinue of servants, the lords and ladies of houses sworn to both Martell and Targaryen, are staring—
"Your Grace," she smiles, a small, tremulous thing. Her throat works. "We have been so excited for you and your royal father's visit."
Beneath the Spear Tower, the Prince's eyes are a deep purple, flecked with black and gold, as thick a color as ink. He is younger than she had expected, she thinks. He looks, with his silver hair and unlined face, so much like a boy it hurts.
She puts her arm in his, and together they sweep up the steps behind their parents, Elia's train heavy behind her, forcing her spine straight, her chest proud, her chin up, locking her squarely into place.
She puts no ornaments on it, no coyness, none of that flirting lilt that Ashara had tried to teach her. She says, quite plainly, "We are to be married, then."
They are on the top of the Spear Tower, left alone by their respective father and mother, by their servants. They are alone, yet still, as ever, Elia feels the buzz of unnamed presence in the back of her mind, in the ringing of her ears. There are people listening, as there always are. Ears and eyes and whispers, ready to report back to their masters at a second's notice.
The Prince's arm is warm beneath hers, and his other hand tightens on the railing. He does not look at her, instead looks forward, over the city into the deserts and dunes beyond. His lips quirk. "Yes, Princess."
"Elia." She says. "My name is Elia."
He turns to look at her. She keeps her gaze on the distant horizon. "My Lady Elia."
Her hand clenches nervously on the railing, clenches until her knuckles turn white, until her nails dig half moons into her palm. "I do not wish to play coy," she says quietly. "And—as husband, husband and wife, we must strive to be honest with one another, would you not agree, Your Grace?"
"Rhaegar." He murmurs.
"Rhaegar," she says, and marvels. It is the first time she has said it, not in whispers, and not in jest, and not in the low voices of a gossip. For that second, it feels a magnificent thing, to say his name as if she had a right to, as if it was hers, in some part, to say the name and end it on a breath. She pauses. She does not say his name again.
"My Lord." She amends. "Would you not agree?"
"Yes," he says quietly. "I do, Lady Elia."
Her voice is as quiet as his, as low, as controlled. I am a Martell, she thinks. "I know it is silly, to expect more from such a marriage, but—" she winces, hearing her own voice, hearing the innocence in it, the youth. Not for the first time, she wishes she could command words as charmingly as Doran, be as fierce as Oberyn, wishes she could stand as tall and proud as her mother. She removes her arm from his, and when she speaks again, there is a hint of steel in her words. The Dragon Prince tilts his head, observes the length of her through dark eyes. "You do not love me. And I do not love you. In the absence of love I wish for you to be honest with me, Your Grace. When I go with you to King's Landing, will I be second to another?"
She almost doesn't believe herself. The words hang, still in the air, permeating the distance between them, and neither moves to cross it. The nerve, her mother would have said.
Elia, you're being a fool, Doran might have shaken his head.
Oberyn would smirk and say, put him in his place, sis.
The Prince stares at her, unblinking for a moment, and Elia steels herself, wills herself to not drop her gaze. Finally he does, a wry smile playing on his lips. "Have I a reputation for whoring, Princess?"
You've a reputation for brilliance, she thinks. And brilliant men make their own reputations.
"No." She says. "You don't."
He pauses a moment, and Elia holds her breath, thinking that surely, surely he will chastise her. He will tell her not to question him in a voice of steel, he will tell her to never question him, and she will bow her head, and bend to his will, and she will break. I am a Martell, she thinks desperately, yet she knows she is not as fierce nor as strong-willed as her brother. Elia is not a sun. Elia is a star at best.
He steps forward, deliberately crossing the space between them. He does not touch her, and the thin material of his shirt does not so much as skim the front of her gown. She holds her gaze.
"I will be honest with you, Elia." He says. "When you have cause not to trust me, I shall tell you. I want—" his voice breaks. "I want to be a good husband to you. I want to be a good king. I want you to trust me."
He is not charming. He has too much of the Targaryens in him to ever be charming. He is quiet and bookish and serious but he is valiant, and he tries so hard to be honorable it hurts. Elia feels a coiling tension loosen, just a bit, in the pit of her stomach.
He bows over her hand, and it is a different courtesy from the last. His lips do not skim the surface of her skin, not yet—instead he looks up at her, waiting on a breath, waiting for her permission.
She nods, summoning some of her mother's grace in her bearing, holds herself lightly, the line of her nape inclining forward. He presses his lips against the small bones of her knuckles, and almost as a secret, she feels his warm fingers beneath hers brush against the pulse of her wrist.
She leaves Sunspear a month later, and her brother says nothing.
"Don't, Oberyn." She says to him. "Don't make this harder than it has to be."
"I wasn't." Her brother protested, and for a second he seems incredibly young. "He's—well. I'd be lying if I said he was worthy of you, but he's better than a Lannister, at least."
She presses her lips to her brother's smooth cheek, standing on the tips of her toes, and he whispers, in to the thick mass of her perfumed, dark hair—"you must tell me if he mistreats you, sister. If he dares to lay a hand on you, if he so much as looks at another woman, tell me and I shall give you his heart."
Elia says nothing, and her fingers clench tight around her brother's for one, fleeting second. Her hand is the last part of her to leave him.
Behind her, the Prince waits, and takes her hand. Beneath his pale, Targaryen fingers, Elia feels Dorne being rubbed away from her, little by little.
They arrive in King's Landing two months later.
It is altogether different from Dorne. The food is bland, tasteless, with no seasoning apart from salt and a little pepper. The women are quiet, silent except when spoken to—even the Queen Rhaella—yet when Elia looks them in the eyes, she feels the hair on the back of her neck rise. They are wolves, and lions, and foxes, and snakes—beasts, all of them. They smile, bright and blooming when it suits them, but behind it there is the promise of blood.
I am a Martell, she thinks. I am the sun. All beasts bow to the sun.
She marries the Targaryen Prince on one of the last real summer days, when the light filters through the great windows of Baelor's Sept and falls against the marble floors in long, lazy stretches of gold. Elia wears an airy confection constructed purely out of white samite and Myrish lace, her hair piled high on top of her head, so it seems as though she is wearing a crown already.
The red cloak she wears is heavy behind her, emblazoned with the sun and spear of House Martell in gold, as bright as Targaryen hair. Elia walks the length of the Great Sept alone, and she feels the gaze of a thousand guests, resting cold and heavy against her skin like Valyrian steel. She holds up her chin, and thinks, I am a Martell.
In front of her, seemingly a thousand leagues ahead, he waits for her, his hands clasped in front of him. There is the slightest hint of a smile on his lips, but Elia does not return it. She must be a Queen today. She must be more than a princess, more than a bride, more than a piece of meat sold for an iron chair. She lifts her chin and her eyes are hooded. She wants, more than anything, to halt the breath in their throats, to make these people start and sigh.
She rests her hand in his, and turns her face to the light filtering through the great window above them.
"Don't be nervous," he murmurs, his words hushed and barely there.
I am not nervous, she wants to say. I am a Martell of Sunspear.
He says his vows evenly, calmly, and loud enough so that it carries, through the length of the sept though he does not raise his voice any louder than necessary. People hear him because they stop, and lean forward. People hear him because when he is speaking, it feels as if there is nothing more important on earth.
Elia does not stutter. Elia does not whisper. Elia does not choke. Elia says her vows lightly, gracefully, and she notices, out of the corner of her eyes, her Prince turning away from the High Septon to look at her instead. He looks at her and does not seem to see anything else, and for the first time there is something almost like pride, like desire, in his eyes.
Elia is not beautiful. She is not striking; she is not one to make a man stop in mid-stride. But for that second, as she stands up tall—never as tall, no, not yet—and says her vows and claims Westeros for her unborn son, she feels more than beautiful. For that second Elia is a goddess. For that second she is above mortal men.
I am unbent; she thinks as he unclasps the cloak of House Martell from her and replaces it with the black cloak of House Targaryen, as his fingers brush ever so slightly against the long column of her throat.
The High Septon pronounces them man and wife, and she thinks, I am unbowed.
Around them the crowds erupt, and stand as a whole. She feels heady with victory as she allows herself, finally, to lean into her husband's arm, and the crowds roar. Martell, they chant. Targaryen, they shout. The sounds of it thunders against the cavernous heights of the sept, surrounds her, engulfs her, and Elia allows her eyes to fall closed, lets the roaring crash against her, tide after tide.
I am unbroken.
ACT II: MOTHER
Elia waits, quiet and solemn and still in the chamber.
She must please him, that much she knows. She must be warm, must be welcoming, must be dutiful, must be demure, must be exuberant, must allow him to do whatever he wishes to her, to use her body as he sees fit. Elia's body no longer belongs to herself, that much she knows. Elia's body is his vassal, his banner house, to be called on whenever he desired.
She feels, rather than hears the steady footsteps echoing down the halls outside the rooms. Elia closes her eyes, takes a deep breath and with steady hands, unclasps the heavy gold sun and spear pendant from around her neck, and sets it down. She reaches into the center of her elaborately piled hair and pulls, very precisely, a single pin loose. Slowly, like an unfurling flower, her hair tumbles down, thick and curled and heavy around her, scented with roses and oranges, falling to the curve of her waist. In the light of the low-burning candles, her hair is limned in Martell gold.
She turns around just as he enters, and her lips do not quite curve when she sees him. She knows the picture she creates, knows how like a coquette she looks, with her tumbling dark hair and sun-kissed skin, her nightgown of Myrish lace open and inviting. She watches his eyes catch at the length of her, watches the muscles in his throat work.
You must make him want you; her mother's voice comes to her. Your bedchamber must be his only solace.
"Rhaegar," she says.
Hesitantly—it is the only time she has ever seen him hesitate—he steps forward, as if he is unsure of his own feet, as if he stands on a precipice, feet edging against a thousand foot drop. Her lashes graze the top of her cheeks as he brushes back a curl of dark hair, leans forward, and breathes against the curved rise of her lips, "may I?"
Her breath catches.
(The next morning he says nothing, merely brushes his thumb over the curve of her chin, the rest of his hand splayed against the column of her throat, and presses his forehead to hers.)
Elia becomes a Targaryen in a Targaryen court.
She wears her thick, dark Dornish hair in the Northern style, piled on top of her head with a single braid draped around the curve of her breast. She has not let it down in public since she left Sunspear, and in court, out of the corner of her eyes, when she glimpses Aerys eyeing her with grim approval, she lets her mouth curl, and quenches the fire in the pit of stomach, her Dornish soul.
She wears heavy dresses in the Northern style, of samite and cloth-of-gold and Myrish lace, but no more silks, no—she does not wear any more silks, any more veils, not even in the privacy of her own chambers. Rhaegar has married a Dornish princess, yes, but Dornish princesses do not become queens. Elia puts her silks and her veils away, and dutifully, every morning, tells her handmaid to braid her hair, and corset her into the heavy folds of her dresses, red and black and gold. She is a Targaryen now. She must be.
The first time Aerys gives a man to the fires, Rhaegar stands by and says nothing.
The man shrieks and screams and calls for mercy, from the gods or from Aerys, Elia is not sure. She stands beside Rhaegar, her sleeves slashed with red and black, her bodice of cloth of gold, tight against her heart, and she says nothing either, bites her tongue until her teeth is stained red.
I am a Targaryen, she thinks. I must do as the Targaryens do.
Rhaegar says nothing, but from the corner of her eyes, Elia sees the muscles of his jaw tighten, sees his throat flex, and she is begging, silently, desperately—say something. Please, Rhaegar. Anything.
The king—the Mad King, Elia thinks spitefully—holds open his arms, face canted towards the terrible light of the flames, the shadow of the man's writhing body flickering over the King's pale face.
Fire. Fire and blood.
"He was a traitor," Rhaegar says afterwards, and his voice shakes, as if it is taking every ounce of his self-control not to scream. "A deserter from the Night's Watch. He had to die."
Elia nods, says nothing, and watches silently as her husband drops to his seat and runs a shaking hand through his silver hair.
("You shall have warmth," Aerys had said. "You shall have all the heat you desire, craven, and more."
Rhaegar had started forward, as if he meant to protect the man, champion the man himself, but he had stopped at the last second, and slowly, Elia felt a bit of herself shrivel, shrivel and curl up, and die.)
"I will change this." Rhaegar says now. He does not look at her, and his voice is desperate, begging her to believe. "I will change this when I am king. There will be no more—" he chokes on the words, on his righteousness, and Elia feels something almost like disgust inside her heart. "No more fires. No more burning. I will be a good king. A merciful king."
Elia wants to love her husband. Elia wants that more than anything else in the world.
She steps forward, between his legs, and drops a kiss on the top of his head. His hands are hard, clenching, grabbing at the back of her dress, and she allows him to lift her skirts. She does not look him in the eye. Not anymore.
Elia begins to wait.
"How beautiful you are," the ladies of the court simper. "Our dear Prince is a fortunate soul."
Elia smiles, inclines her head in thanks, and kisses them on the cheek, lips close to their ears as if she meant to hiss. She goes through all the motions, and the realm echoes with praises for her.
The smallfolk speak no tales of her, not in the way they do Aerys or his recluse wife. Instead they speak of how she visits the Great Sept of Baelor every day to pray for the good of the realm, to pray for her lord husband, to pray for her womb to quicken with his seed. She is a good woman, they say, a gracious woman, a gentle lady, who shall be a great mother. The smallfolk love her, and cheer for her in the streets, and from Dorne her mother writes letters of congratulations.
They love you, the Ruling Lady of Dorne writes. I have heard the whole of King's Landing prays for your health. Do not give them any reason for complaint. Do not let them have any reason to mistrust you.
You are a woman, is the silent message. It is thrice easier to hate you than it is to love you. And thrice then easier to cast you off.
Elia busies herself with sewing in her solar, with smiling courteously—never with a hint of coquettishness, she is a woman, after all—at the competitors in the tourney. She smiles graciously as she accepts her wreaths, as she is pronounced the Queen of Love and Beauty by other men, but never once does she meet anyone's eyes but her husband's. Never once does she allow anything to brighten her smile but for him. Never once does she allow her heart to quicken, but for him.
She is a woman, after all. A woman who will one day be queen of seven kingdoms, and this is not Dorne. She has no rights here, no rights except for what her husband allows her—she knows this. She must be without flaws; she must reside as easily on the pedestal as if she was born to it. Before she becomes the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, she must be the Queen of Pragmatism, the Queen of Patience, the Queen of the People. Love and beauty has nothing to do with it.
Elia smiles, and obeys, and waits.
"The Greyjoys are restless," Rhaegar says to her suddenly one evening, over the top of a map of the Narrow Sea. The thought seems to have just occurred to him, but she has been watching him, discreetly, over the past hour, and his eyes had been thoughtful, roving over the map as if he does not see it.
Elia's fingers pause, ever so slightly, and then resume their steady rhythm, in and out, in and out, needle passing through and above the piece of cloth in her hand. She does not look up. "They have rebellion on their minds, I have heard."
He sets down the map. "From whom?"
She tilts her head at him. "I have been conversing with Lord Varys. He has been very helpful in informing me of the customs of King's Landing. Occasionally he tells me more."
Rhaegar does not reply for a moment, and she thinks, perhaps she had misjudged him. Perhaps he does not like a wife who troubles herself with the affairs of state. Perhaps he likes her as a Dornish princess, naïve and childlike, whose only thought is seduction.
"What do you suppose should be done?"
Elia has learnt to school her features. She has learnt, over the six months since her wedding, to silence her eyes as she does her tongue, has learnt to quiet herself during one of Aerys' rages, has learnt to ignore the stench of fire in the throne room. When I am Queen, she thinks, and studiously ignores the way the flames make the old king's eyes brighten, when I am Queen, your son will be the Targaryen star, and you, old man, shall be a blight, you king of ashes and bones. No trace of you shall remain.
Now, the tiniest trace of surprise crosses her face.
"They shall be crushed easily," she says. "If they are to rebel. The Iron Islands are no match for House Targaryen—but that outcome is to be avoided. We must avoid bloodshed whenever we can."
She knows what he will say before he says it. She watches the curve of his mouth and the way his eyes catch the light, and she knows—he is loyal, and he is a Targaryen, and he is Aerys' son, for better or for worse—
She knows this.
"Perhaps we should send an envoy. I will speak to my father of this," he says, and Elia swallows her tongue, bows her head, and acts the ever dutiful wife.
She births her first and only daughter in a bed of blood.
Weak, Pycelle says, and Elia's lashes quiver, silent against her cheeks. She is too weak. The birth was too taxing.
You foolish, stupid old man, Elia thinks, her mouth opening on a sigh. Rhaegar's hands closes around hers, and she wants to shake him off, wants to feel the wind on her face, wants Dorne, wants a thousand things other than him.
He comes to her bed every day, when she is too sick to move, and his pale fingers dance over his silver harp, same shade as his hair. She smiles for him, sits up for him, even when the pain stabs sharply at her stomach, and does not allow herself to slump back into her bed until his footsteps fade away. She is to be queen. He must believe her to be indomitable, even when she isn't, and she must wait. If her husband sits, idle and dormant, while his father grows madder by the hour, well, then so must she.
He does not tell her of the men his father gives to the flames, does not say a word of Tywin or the growing chasm between the Targaryens and the Lannisters, does not say a word of anything besides their daughter, besides her health but she knows—she knows what goes on outside her rooms. Elia has other visitors, birds who perch on her window ledge and spiders that creep in the corners of her rooms, and in her bones, Elia feels a storm coming.
There are times when she is certain he loves her, loves her enough that he seeks to keep these things from her, loves her enough that he does not drag her out of her bed and makes her stand in court, loves her enough that he does not allow himself to notice when her eyes are a little less than kind, when her mouth curls instead of curves, but other times—other times she is sure of a far crueler thing.
He does not need her, not truly, not in the way he needs his harp or needs his men or needs a son to follow after him. They do not miss me, she thinks. He does not need me.
If she can disappear for months at a time without any consequence, then what is she, truly? The absence of her does not so much snag in the tapestry of court, does not so much as stick out, like a stray thread or the smallest gnarl. How easily they can replace me, she thinks, and not lose a thing.
If Dorne was to lose her Ruling Lady for even a week, she would fall to tatters, would shrivel and destroy herself. But Westeros can lose Elia and simply shrug, simply cast off her corpse and buy a new Princess.
I am not in Dorne, she thinks desperately. I am a Targaryen in King's Landing, I am a Targaryen Princess, and I am going to be Queen. They shall need me then, they must.
Elia wants to matter. Elia wants to change things at a word, at a single command, as her mother had, but Elia is a Targaryen now, and her words are not Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken. Her words are Fire and Blood and this is what they don't emblazon on their sigils—that fire and blood and the cries of their enemies belong only to the men, that the women have no words, and certainly no sigils.
Rhaegar's visits grow scarcer and scarcer, and like a wanton, destructive thing, Elia reaches out for him. She begins to love him just when he begins to stop.
(She is tired of waiting. She has been waiting her whole life.)
Her second child is named for a king.
This boy is a true Targaryen—no trace of Martell in him, all silver hair and eyes, dark and deep and purple, like his father. Elia presses kisses to the boy's cheeks, whispers, I love you, I love you, I love you.
I will raise you right, she thinks.
Rhaegar loves the boy more than anything else in his life. He holds the boy close; one finger curled against the length of the boy's cheeks, and says, Aegon.
The Prince who was Promised, he takes to calling the boy.
"You will rule over the Seven Kingdoms," he tells the boy, fingers splaying absently over his harp. "You will unite the entire realm as they have never been united before, you will bring upon us an age of prosperity and wealth and peace, another Age of Heroes. You will be the King of kings."
That night she lies next to him, his hand curled around the bone of her hip, his head cushioned on her stomach, beneath the rise of her breasts, and she breathes the words, soft and light. A test. It is only a test.
"I love you," she whispers, the words heavy and still and tepid in her mouth. Not like the songs. Never like the songs.
Rhaegar's lips twitch, his eyes remain closed. If he hears her, he shows no signs of it.
The next morning he rides out for Harrenhal.
ACT III: CRONE
(This is the truth of it—
Rhaegar Targaryen does not meet Lyanna Stark first at Harrenhal. He does not see her in the stands, dressed in blue and the staunch dignity of the Starks, and become instantly smitten. He does not ride towards her as a man towards the beacon at the end of a tunnel; he does not forget his lady wife in the face of Lyanna Stark's beauty.
He sees Lyanna Stark ten miles from Harrenhal, rides up on a hill and sees a girl—just a girl, though the singers tend to forget this—on a white horse, galloping hard and fast towards the forests beyond, her breath catching in a wounded laugh.
When she falls, she falls hard, back to the ground, spine crashing against the thick grass of the land. For a second Rhaegar's breath stops, until she laughs, hard and bolts up, hand rubbing the back of her head, her thick dark curls tangled and cut with blades of grass. He gallops hard down the hill, and shouts to her.
She says, in a voice of infinite exasperation, "Seven hells, I'm fine."
She gets up, muttering, and sprints hard for her horse, catching the animal on the reins and swings herself up on to the saddles, dress hiked up around her pale thighs. "What's your name, then, ponce?"
He is not wearing his helm, nor his armor, but is wearing plain cloth and wool, though if the girl is looking she would see him for what he truly is. He hears himself say, through the roaring of his ears, "Rhaegar."
She does not courtesy, does not smile, does not bow, does not do anything other than grin, and say, "like the prince. Original."
She is not as beautiful as the songs will later claim. Her face is too long, her eyes too wide apart, but when she smiles, people tend to forget. She smiles that way now, teeth bared, no hint of a girl about her. Her lips spread wide, and curled like a wolf's snarl.
"Rhaegar," she bites out, laughs hard. "Ponce Rhaegar!"
She kicks hard at the horse, and it sprints off, hooves a white blur against the green ground.
This is what they do not write of in songs—
Lyanna Stark is not a victim. Lyanna Stark is not a weakling, the pretty face about to bring the seven kingdoms crashing down, about to stain the realm in Targaryen, Lannister red.
Lyanna is a dreamer before she is anything else. She does not dream of jewels or of dresses, of ponies or handsome knights. She dreams of a red castle, a distant Prince, but most of all she dreams of a crown.
Away from Winterfell, she has dreamed on more than one occasion, away from this gray waste and this summer snow and away from it all.
She is not blind, after all. What maid can look upon a man with silver hair and indigo eyes, and not know him for what he is? And so she falls, and laughs, and smiles, and more than that—she knows this, knows this no matter what anyone says—she is alive, more alive than his Dornish wife will ever be.
When she rides away on her white mare, breath coming so fast she thinks she might burst, she rides away with a Prince watching her, his heart in her hand.)
When her husband rides away from her, rides away without so much as a glance in her direction and places the laurel of blue roses in the lap of a girl, a child, Elia stands up.
The stands are hushed, a thousand lords and ladies watching with their hearts in their throats, waiting, waiting for a scream, tears, a show. Elia sweeps her skirts behind her—gold today, Martell gold, thank the gods—and turns away just as Rhaegar looks up towards her. She does not bother to be gracious, does not bother to be beautiful, does not bother to be a Princess, a Queen-in-waiting. Elia lets her mouth curl in the ugliest curve possible and sweeps away from her elevated seat in the stands, her dress a trail of blazing light behind her, and all her women follow. For the first time, Elia feels a queen.
She is sick of waiting. By the gods, she is sick, sick and tired and exhausted and spent.
She dismisses her women in a voice of steel, save Ashara, and waits until their timid steps have faded away in the great halls of Harrenhal before she grabs a vase from her nightstand and heaves it, all her strength behind her arm, into the wall. It shatters on impact, a great loud noise and oh—she is making a sound, the mouse queen is making a sound, she is there and tangible and substantial and she is not waiting, not anymore—
She falls to her knees, an ugly, wracked sob torn from her throat.
Her fingers dig at her skin, leaving bright red marks behind and Ashara kneels beside her, pulls her head into her breast, whispers promises and vows and threats towards the Stark girl in Elia's ear. She hacks out dry sobs, her throat numb and burning beneath her hand.
After what feels like a thousand years, Elia stands. She stands and her eyes are dry again. She kisses Ashara's cheeks, says, "A bath, my love," and thinks—
I am a Martell.
Lyanna Stark arrives in her rooms, and the girl's face is pale, eyes like the flowers Elia's husband had gifted her just a day prior, hair tumbling down her back, full figured and lithe even in the most graceless of ages.
(She does not hate Lyanna Stark. Does not feel anything for her except for envy—not because the girl has her husband's love, now, not because now the world will always remember her, a siren, a temptress, while Elia will always be that Dornish Princess, unable to hold on to her husband. No. Elia envies her because the girl had not waited, had not waited the best part of her youth away, but had instead pounced, jumped on her prey, had taken the direwolf on the banner of her house and made it her own.)
Elia forces herself to smile. Gestures to the seat next to her, pours the girl a glass of milk of the poppy, smiling serenely as the sun outside falls through, like a promise, like a threat.
Ashara, on Elia's other side, drips her cup of Arbor gold, and her purple eyes narrow over the edge of her glass. Elia pushes back her loose hair, falling in dark, heavy ringlets around her face, and for the first time in years she can breathe—her lungs are no longer accosted by corsets, instead she breathes easy as a newborn babe, her skin covered in only a thin gown of yellow cloth and silk.
"So, tell me, Lyanna." She says to the wolf girl. "How did you meet my husband?"
She does not stress her words, puts no special cadence on my or husband, but speaks the words easily, as Oberyn might. The wolf girl looks up, and her eyes are bright. "I met him a few hours before the tourney, my Lady. I was out riding."
Elia smiles. "And are you a good rider, Lyanna?"
She shrugs, a modest thing. "I'm capable on a horse, my lady. I can hold my own."
"Horse," Ashara says lowly, the word hissed and its meaning warped under her breath. "Indeed, my Lady."
Lyanna looks up then, and there is a curl to her lips, a curl that Elia recognizes, with a bite of her tongue.
"Ashara, please." Elia says quietly. "Leave us."
"You must tell me the truth, Lyanna," she says to the girl once they are alone. "I beg you, do not lie to me. Do you mean to take the Prince away from me?"
Lyanna looks down at her interlocked hands. She does not reply.
"Please, Lady Lyanna." Elia says. "Please. I need the truth. I need you to be honest with me."
A long silence. And then—
Lyanna speaks, her voice low and quiet and full of purpose. "He will not be taken, my Lady."
Ah, Elia almost says, watching the sharp lines of the wolf girl's face. So that's how it is.
She looks up.
Rhaegar stands, still in the doorway of her solar, her ladies shocked to silence behind him. Ashara, behind him, looks at him through hooded eyes, as if any second she planned to jump forward and skewer him with his own sword. Elia meets his eyes plainly, and says nothing, merely sits back, fingers drumming against the arms of her chair, and waits.
Rhaegar steps forward. "Lyanna—" his voice breaks slightly. "Perhaps you should leave us. The Princess and I have much to discuss."
Elia's lips curve, and she tilts her head to one side as Lyanna stands and courtesies, her hands quivering.
"So good of you to have me, my Lady," the wolf girl says in a thin voice. "Really. Such a pleasure—"
"You must come see me again, child." Elia interrupts, never taking her eyes off her husband.
The door slams behind the wolf girl and Elia sits still, her heart pounding in her chest, as thick and hard and bright as the sun of Dorne. She lets her breath out through her nose, and no, Elia is not waiting, not anymore, never again—
"Yes, Your Grace?" She says. Oberyn would be proud.
He closes the door, thick and heavy behind him, and she watches his fingers twitch, as if wanting to curl into a fist. He does not turn around.
"I told you once," he says in a hoarse voice. "I told you once, that if you had cause to distrust me, I would tell you."
Elia says nothing. Her nails dig, hard and red into her palm, and she says nothing. She feels as if she is looking down on herself from a great height, as if she is altogether removed.
"I want her." Rhaegar says finally. "I want her as I wanted you."
She feels something twist in her chest, and takes a low breath, during the space of which the two of them break and crack and fall back again, fitting each other in all the wrong places. Elia says, quietly, "Do you love her?"
"I chose her." He says. "It was a choice. I chose to ride down to her, I chose to talk to her, and I chose to give her the wreath. I had a choice, Elia. I've never had a choice with anything else my whole life, but I had a choice with her. My whole life I've put my duty before myself, I did as my father wished, I put the seven kingdoms before anything I wanted. I needed to choose something, just once; I needed to have a choice. I chose her. You have to understand."
Oh, Rhaegar, she thinks in pity. You beautiful silver fool.
You never had a choice at all.
What a child he is, to think that he is alone in this collective misery, to think himself a martyr for his realm.
"So you chose Lyanna Stark." She says. "You chose the wolf girl, and she is the only choice you've ever made. That is fit for a song, Your Grace." She stands, and she feels infinitely light, as if she can jump of the edge of a cliff and fly instead of fall. "Let me tell you of some other choices you could have made. You could have chosen to say something when your father gave that deserter to the flames. You could have chosen to close the wound between House Targaryen and House Lannister. You could have chosen to recognize your father's madness. You could have chosen to do a thousand things differently, and you didn't. Instead you only choose now when it's a woman, a child."
Her voice does not rise. She is calm, she is reasonable, she is gentle, almost. She speaks the way her mother used to, the hint of steel in her voice, her hands cradled in the crooks of her elbows. Her back is straight, her spine curved inwards, and her chin is high, as if she is walking in between the thousands of guests at the Sept of Baelor again, the world hushed, waiting for her every step.
I am a Martell.
"Elia." He says.
"You told me once that you would be a good king, a merciful king. That you would be a good husband." She says quietly. "You've failed in both respects. Go, now, Rhaegar. I am tired. I've no more sympathy for you."
He lifts his hand half way, as if he meant to touch her, and then he drops it, limp and useless.
He leaves. Elia closes her eyes, and breathes deep. She does not cry. She is quite wrung dry of tears.
When she opens her eyes again, she is still whole. She is still living. She is still here.
I am not bent, she thinks. I am not bowed. I am not broken.
When Brandon Stark comes to King's Landing and stands at the base of the Red Keep, roaring, Elia is in her chambers, teaching Rhaenys to sew.
She knows the boy by name and reputation, of course. Handsome, in that cold Northern style of the Starks, brash and good with a sword but not much with his brains. Rhaenys purses her lips, brow furrowing together.
"Who is that loud man?" She asks her mother, pushing her thicker, blunter needle valiantly through her own piece of cloth. "What is he saying?"
"Shhh, love." She says to her daughter, pushes back a strand of the girl's dark, Dornish hair. "Ashara, my dear, who is it?"
Her friend does not speak, but the goblet of Dornish wine in her hand drops, clatters to the ground. Elia stands up, but does not drop her sewing. "Who in the Seven hells—"
"Rhaegar!" Stark howls up at the Keep. "Rhaegar Targaryen!"
"He is calling for father!" Rhaenys jumps up, delighted. "Will they joust, mother?"
Elia feels the blood run from her face, and unbidden, her needle presses into the ball of her thumb. A drop of blood, bright and alive, beads against her skin.
"Rhaegar!" Stark roars. "Come out to die!"
"Gods," Ashara whispers, and clutches at Elia's arm. "Gods, what has he done?"
("Choose me," Rhaegar says to the wolf girl. Above him, the moon falls through, through the shattered windows of the abandoned sept, and seems to light his face in song. "Lyanna, choose me."
He needs her to choose him. He had chosen her, had chosen her above everything else, above his honor, above his duty, above—
He stops. He does not finish the thought.
"I am betrothed," the girl says, something desperate and caught in her voice. "I am promised to Robert. I am claimed, Rhaegar, please, do not—"
"I love you," he says, and is surprised by the despair in his own voice, is surprised by the way he mouths the words, difficult and snared yet so, so sure of himself. As if he had known it was doomed and twisted, yet cannot help himself. He has heard it, these words, the exact same cadence, and now he needs the wolf girl to respond. "Lyanna, I'm not asking you to think. I'm asking you to choose. Listen to your heart. Choose me."
She cants her face up to his, tilted to the light of the moon, and her lips part.
"Rhaegar." She says.)
Elia stands in court, tall—no, not enough—and still, in the absence of her husband.
"My King," she says dutifully, bows low. "My Queen."
Aerys sneers at her. "Martell," he hisses. "Do not think I mean to overlook your involvement in this—take no heed of Stark. This is your fault as much as it is that wanton girl's. If you were not so weak, if I had not, in my infinite kindness, decided to gift you my son in marriage despite your frailties, this would not have happened. Take note!"
The King's voice rises into a scream. "You were not my first choice, girl!" Spittle comes flying from the Mad King's mouth, and the barbs of the Iron Throne digs against his white, thick arms. Elia stares him in the eyes, and she does not move an inch. "Targaryen blood was always meant to stay pure, not be riddled with your Rhoynar filth!" He spits at Elia's feet. "Without a Targaryen Princess, I should have married him to the Lannister wench, a healthy, purebred girl, not you, Martell, never you!"
Elia inclines her head. "Indeed. Your Grace, I have come to ask for mercy."
Aerys bites out a laugh. Beneath the throne, a knight, newly appointed to the Kingsguard, bites his lip and looks down, his heavy gold hair falling to shade his face. Elia recognizes the Lannister cub, and says nothing.
"Mercy? The dragon is no merciful fool, girl!" Aerys snaps. "If your Dornish uncle, you Rhoynish bastards so much as think about betraying House Targaryen, I will send you children back to them in pieces, and all of King's Landing will see your head above the Red Keep, punished like the traitor you are."
For a second Elia sees red. Her breath comes in heavy pants, and her breasts rise and fall beneath her gown. Her voice, when she speaks again, is low and shaking. "I have come to ask for mercy for Brandon Stark."
The court is silent. The court is still.
"You are a good king, Your Grace, a merciful king." She says, and the words catch in her throat. Lies, all of them. She would rather see him burn. "Your reign has brought peace and stability to this realm, a peace that has never existed since before Aegon's Landing. I implore you, Your Grace, the Stark boy means nothing. Let him take the black, my king. Send him to starve and freeze at the Wall. Do not let him start a war."
The golden cub at the feet of Aerys's throne looks at her, through dark and heavy eyes. Ah, she thinks. So that is what Cersei Lannister looks like.
"Teach the Starks a lesson, my King." She says. "Do not destroy them."
Aerys stumbles forward from his throne, lunges. "You mean to teach me how to rule?" He snarls. "The Dornish bitch means to rule my kingdom in my son's stead? Have you no shame, no honor, you weak, Rhoynish wench?"
"Your Grace," she does not beg. She does not fall to her knees. "Please."
"I should strike you," Aerys says. "I should teach my daughter-in-law some respect."
Five hundred men stand there and watch.
(All the great knights of the Seven Kingdoms, you think anyone says a word, lifts a finger?)
Five hundred men, and this room is as silent as a crypt.
Later, she pulls the Spider aside and says—
"I need you to save my children."
The next morning, there is a different babe in Aegon's cot. Elia never sees her son again.
The Lannisters, defying nature, break through the gates of King's Landing in the dead of night, and Elia reminds herself that Tywin Lannister has always been more of a snake than a lion.
(The songs will say that Rhaegar Targaryen dies with a woman's name at his lips, the syllables murmured ever so easily around his mouth, dies for honor, dies for a woman's love, no matter what the Baratheon king will claim.
The songs will make him into a hero.
Thousands of miles south, a wolf girl waits for him in a Tower and a wife is caught, trapped in his father's castle. Rhaegar falls, one knee hard against the stones of the river bottom, and thinks, I will make things right.
There is blood creeping into the corners of his eyes, sweat pasting his hair to his forehead, his armor heavy, so unimaginably heavy and each blow is harder to parry than the last, each lash of his sword slower—
There is no grand victory for either king-in-waiting. By chance and fate and fortune, Robert's hammer slams down, slams Rhaegar's black armor into his chest, and rubies, Targaryen rubies, Martell red, fall, scattering into the river, bright and myriad and real as blood, and a last breath comes wheezing from Rhaegar's lips—
The two names, in the end, are not that different after all. It is the same wistful push of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, same pull of air between the lips, same in how both names seem to end in a breath.
Not that different after all.
A last plea, it might have been, a last call for forgiveness. Either way, it doesn't matter. Rhaegar Targaryen dies before the word even crosses his lips.
This is not a song.)
The mountain of a man breaks through Elia's door, and her daughter is hidden, her daughter is safe, they will not hurt her daughter—
(Below her, in the throne room, Jaime Lannister with his golden armor and his white cloak is advancing quickly upon the Mad King, and quick, quick, he slides his sword across Aerys Targaryen's throat, as easy as a knife through butter, and, surprise, the king is dead, long live the king.
The Lannister cub smiles, cut gold, and seats himself in the Iron Throne. Brandon and Rickard Stark, he will say later, and think, no, no, lest I forget—Elia Martell.)
The giant grabs the baby from the cot, and without thinking, without so much as a blink, he dashes the babe's head against the wall, blood running Lannister red. Elia feels her stomach lurch, feels her throat beginning to constrict, but Elia lifts her chin, stands up brave, thinks, I am a Martell of Sunspear, thinks, I am not weak.
The giant strides forward, and she thinks—
Elia smiles, and stands up tall.