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Thanks to everyone who reviewed. Thank you, Oberon Sexton, for your constant interest in this story.
One to Love
Two months later…
The storm came without warning. Aelinor did not feel good, so the royal family took their dinner in her private chambers, away from the noise and smells of the great hall, cutting off the fifteen courses to five and the flattery to a conversation that sometimes dropped to nothing but was otherwise calm and uninhibited.
"We should do it more often," Aerys said. "Honestly, I can't remember the last time the five of us had a dinner together alone. It would have been before Daemon decided that he wanted the crown… I doubt he knew how uncomfortable it was, really."
"There aren't five of us," Maekar said, almost inaudibly.
Aerys was stunned, having belatedly realized his mistake. Aelinor glared at him and for a moment, looked at Maekar with aching tenderness. Rhaegel closed his eyes. It was true, when young, the five of them had treasured the very few chances they got to dine together alone, far away from families, court and politics. But time had changed everything and besides, there weren't five of them any more. Baelor was no longer.
It was just an accident, a word spoken out of habit, much like the mishap Maekar's blow had been. But it hung among them heavily. They could no longer look at each other.
"Ah well," Rhaegel finally said. "I can certainly see your point. I like knowing the faces of my table-companions and in the Red Keep, these folks keep changing from dinner to dinner. Meal to meal, even."
Aelinor smiled at him gratefully. This evening, Rhaegel did not look mad at all. For first time in weeks, he was neatly dressed and trimmed, his typical Targaryen good looks shining through the gauntness of his face. His eyes were the thing that looked most changed, though. Her heart leapt with joy at seeing that today, there was life in them.
"Do you remember how we used to hide in the shadows in the gallery and aim balls of bread at them when they were passing for the banquet hall?" she asked.
"All too clearly," Maekar muttered. "And how Mother caught me once. You were somewhere off for a few minutes when she stormed over me. Ah, the earful I got."
"But you behaved like a true knight, right?" Rhaegel asked. "You didn't sully a lady's reputation?"
Maekar made a face. "I got closely acquainted with Mother's hairbrush… for combing my hair not. But no, I did not involve, um, a lady."
The others looked at each other. At one moment or another, each one of them had learned that their mother had had various ways of using her hairbrushes.
"Well, I once got caught by Grandfather," Aelinor announced. "He looked at me, laughed, said that I was a girl of fire and promised not to tell Mother or my septa…"
Aerys shook his head. A flame of mirth sparkled behind his very weary eyes. "It just figures that you'd get caught by Grandfather who'd think it funny while we'd get Mother and the hairbrush."
Aelinor smiled. "Some of the lords and ladies at court could still use some balls of bread, I think."
"Starting with the King's Hand," Maekar muttered. Aerys and Aelinor both gave him a quick look and he raised his hands in surrender. "Just checking," he said. "I won't try anything like this, I promise," he added with a straight face.
"Careful," Rhaegel said. "Your ghastly secret will be out, brother, if you are not careful. The court might learn that you actually have a sense of humour and then where will you be?"
Aelinor shuddered and dramatically held a hand to her chest. "My heart, please, Rhaegel…"
A discreet knock at the door made them look that way with a distinct feeling of regret. The servants had been instructed not to interrupt them, so the fact that they did probably indicated that their nice evening was over.
"What is it?" Aerys immediately asked before the servant could rise from his bow.
"Your Grace, Princess Daella just arrived in King's Landing… I mean, Lady Baratheon," the man checked himself quickly. "She begs the favour of being received immediately."
Aerys frowned. "Did she? She specifically stated that she wanted to see me?"
"Actually, Lady Baratheon wanted to see her father but she was told that His Grace was here, so she…"
"I understand," Aerys said. "Very well, my beloved niece is always welcome here. Tell her that we can't wait to meet her as soon as she sets a foot in the Red Keep."
When the man left, Aerys looked at Maekar. "Were you expecting her?" he asked.
Maekar shook his head. "I had no idea she had left Storm's End. I don't like the sound of it."
"Oh the sound," Rhaegel said. "It is not to be liked, for sure. It is a ghastly thing. I dreamed of a girl chased by a scream…"
His eyes were wide and full of fear. The decline was sudden and rapid. The entire evening, he had looked calm and sane and now…
"There was darkness," Rhaegel said. "And she was running, running, and the scream was racing her… Something bad will happen. I dreamed of Aegon, our Aegon…The world has gone dark, darker than even before the First Men, if his father and uncle could do something this savage to him…"
Aelinor sighed and vowed again that should she find out who told Rhaegel about Aegon's punishment, she'll make them regret ever having a tongue. They had been so careful not to upset Rhaegel with the ugly side of reality. All for nothing. His declines were now more often and more severe. Still, she had thought… She silently reached for Maekar's hand under the table.
He caught her hand and squeezed it soothingly. He was no less stunned than his sister – and utterly confused. Rhaegel's moments of sharp clarity made the times when madness consumed him even more insufferable. And now, Daella… Whatever had brought her here could not be good news.
Aerys stood up. "Come on," he said to Rhaegel. "I'll bring you to your chambers to rest."
"No, I'll do it," Aelinor said. "I think there's another thing you need to do."
Maekar did not know what she meant but he didn't like the look she and Aerys shared. Rhaegel stood up meekly and followed his sister outside. Whatever waited for them with Daella's arrival, it was not for him to see. He was too… good, too kind. They needed to protect him from the ugly side of life to the best of their ability.
"So?" Maekar asked as soon as Rhaegel and Aelinor left. "What is it?"
Aerys was silent.
"What is it that you are both afraid to tell me? Gods, Aerys, right now I have no tolerance for dancing around the matter."
"Don't I know that," the King murmured and sipped his wine.
Still, he was silent. Maekar waited.
"I've been carrying a letter from Aegon in my pocket for two days now," Aerys finally said. Maekar, who had been crossing the room, froze. "I didn't muster the courage to tell you. He is in Dorne, with Maron and Daenerys, and he will stay for a while. Rhae is with him, she also scrawled a few lines to me…"
Maekar stared at him, his eyes almost black. He now understood why both Aerys and Aelinor had delayed telling him what was going on. The fact that his children had chosen to contact their uncle and not him did not bode well for their relationship in the future.
"May I see the letter?" he finally asked.
"No," Aerys said. His voice was firm but his face betrayed a brief glint of compassion for his hard, proud brother. "The letter was addressed to me."
Aerys sighed. "You won't ask me how they fare, will you, Maekar? Well, I'll tell you anyway. They are both fine, from the sound of it. They have had some rough times but it's all in the past now. Dorne agrees with them. They are resting and awaiting the birth of their first child. From what I could gather, Rhae looks as if she's carrying a bear cub."
That was not the smartest thing he had ever said and he regretted it immediately. Naeryne had died giving birth to a child too big for her. It was too late to take it back, though, and if he started to say that nothing like that would happen to Rhae, things would only get worse. Maekar's concern would only grow. And he couldn't do anything to help Rhae. No one could. Aerys silently prayed for a safe delivery, a live mother and child.
Aelinor came back, tired and saddened. "He is calmer now," she said as soon as she entered. She looked as she was about to cry and Maekar did not have the heart to snap at her. "Daella?"
"Still nothing," Aerys said and she took her seat back.
They waited silently.
Finally, she appeared in the doorway, still in her traveling attire, and dropped a low curtsey – as low she could with her bulging belly. As soon as she looked up, they realized that their fears had been justified. Daella's normally serene face was white and terrified, her lips bloodless and bitten all over, her indigo eyes swimming in shadows darker than even them.
"My little one!" Aelinor cried and stepped to embrace her. "What happened to you?"
Daella looked at her and her eyes were suddenly alive with fear that made their hearts stop. "Help me," she whispered. "For gods' sake, help me."
For second time this evening, they were interrupted by a servant. "Lord Baratheon…"
"He is here!" Daella shrieked. "Father! Don't let him in, please…"
"We won't let him in," Maekar promised. "Come here, child. What happened? Why are you here? And has he been… chasing you?"
He caught her chin and forced her to look him in the eye, although she tried to look away. "What happened?"
Something in the way she winced made Aelinor squint at her. "Maekar," she said calmly, "I think we'd better call a maester."
A few hours later…
The Grand Maester looked at Aelinor. "I'd really recommend the potion I mentioned, Your Grace. Her ribs are in a bad way and her insides…"
The Queen shook her head to chase off the waves of pain. "But it is so potent… The baby…"
The old man sighed. "Your Grace," he said softly. "There is nothing that anyone can do about the baby."
The two maid-servants hovering over Daella, who was only half-conscious, started bawling.
"Stop this wailing," Aelinor snapped and looked at the Grand Maester. "Do whatever you need to help her."
She stroked Daella's hair away from her forehead and cursed Lord Baratheon – definitely not under her breath. Why such a thing had happened to Daella? Daella who did not have a violent bone in her body? Like Rhaegel, she was one of the people who were good to the world and expected the world to be good with them. If someone hits her, she'd only look at them and wonder why, Maekar had said once when his children had started showing what their tempers would be. Aelinor was sickened at how he had hit the mark.
Maekar and Aerys were waiting for her in the antechamber. She looked at them. "The babe is dead," she said bluntly because she couldn't bear to beat around the bush. "Has been for weeks. She has not felt its movement since the last beating Baratheon gave her. He killed their child with his fists."
"Damn him," Aerys whispered. "I'll have him quartered for that, I swear."
Maekar, however, kept himself under stoic control. "And what happens now?" he asked.
Aelinor looked aside. "And now, we wait for the birth."
Maekar stared. "But… but if the child is dead…"
"It still needs to get out," Aelinor said simply, trying to downplay the cruelty of the situation: Daella would be forced to wait for the labour to start, to go though the pain of childbirth to expel a baby she would have to bury…
Maekar still stared at her, not saying a word. When he came to his senses, they had to stop him from going near Baratheon for five days straight.