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One to Love

Chapter 9

A year later…

"I can't go on," Rhae moaned softly.

Egg looked at her, then back at the winding pass. "We must go on, Rhae. We can't stop."

Rhae shook her head. "I cannot go on anymore, Egg. I think I'll pass out!"

Her face resembled wax, her eyes were full of fear. Egg grabbed Lightfoot's rein and urged her forward, ordering Wilding the same thing with his knees. Rhae could barely stay in her saddle, so he was careful to support her as best as he could.

Behind them, the echo of galloping hooves became louder. Terrified, Rhae made an effort to urge Lightfoot but the poor mare was already straining her strength. Rhae's heavy body impeded her and she could not turn back. But she could hear that their pursuers were close – for the last few months, she had become adept at recognizing such noises.

Egg leaned from his saddle and turned back, completely unsurprised when he spotted the black portcullis grind over sand, the arms of House Yronwood. He was surprised even less to see that Lord Yronwood was among the men in person.

"Stop!" a voice shouted. "Stop right now! Stay where you are!"

They did not stop. Egg's hand went to the hilt of the sword he'd need to draw out as soon as the pursuers circled them… and it was only a matter of minutes.

Rhae's hands were white against the reins.

Suddenly, someone appeared in their path. A rider. A tall man on a fierce stallion. Both man and horse were dripping sweat. Behind him, a few more men were drawing their blades out.

The man looked at Egg and Rhae and his eyes widened although he gave no other indications of surprise. Had he recognized them? Egg did not recall ever having seen him. He ordered Widling to stop and Rhae did the same. There was no use of running anymore. They were cornered.

Egg dismounted and immediately went to help Rhae do the same. Their pursuers caught up with them. A few of the men leered at the young woman's artificially dark hair and huge belly. Even in this state and shabbily dressed, she was beautiful. Egg had had to fend men off in a good number of the strongholds they had passed through. Truth be told, Rhae had quickly adapted a few tricks of her own to that effect.

Not that any of this mattered now. At least, there will be no danger to our bodily safety, Egg thought. Many of the lords they had run into had wanted to use them – but no one would ever think of harming them. It would have taken a very foolish lord indeed, to do such a thing.

"What's going on here?" the man on the stallion asked.

"This is no concern of yours, Sand," Lord Yronwood snapped. "They were trespassing through the Boneway."

The man looked at him, feigning incredulity. He was only a few years older than Egg, a salty Dornish who looked slightly annoyed. "And that merits the Warden of Stone Way chasing them in person… how?"

"This is no concern of yours," Lord Yronwood snapped. He was about fifty, a man who had spent his entire life in battles. Fighting for the Black Dragon as of last, as long as Egg remembered.

The young man, however, was none too impressed. "It is a great concern of mine," he assured. "Everything is a concern of mine. Especially if there is a woman with child, hunted like an animal in Dorne. My father will not take kindly to that."

Lord Yronwood snorted and placed a hand at the hilt of his sword. His men did the same.

The young man simply raised his eyebrows and motioned to his companions to stay still.

"Would you dare?" he asked coldly. "Would you dare lay a hand upon me? Are you really this stupid to think that such a thing can stay a secret?"

Lord Yronwood hesitated. Then, without saying a word, he rode off with his men. Rhae sagged against Egg and her head almost swam with relief.

"How?..." Egg started to ask but the young man shook his head.

"Quick," he said. "Before Yronwood changes his mind. He's still Bittersteel's man."

Egg drew a hand across his shaven head. Lately, it had not been much help in disguising his identity. And traveling incognito with Rhae – especially after she told him that she was with child – was not as fun as traveling with Ser Duncan. Being constantly on alert, being responsible for someone else – well, he could now understand why Ser Duncan had been cross with him sometimes. For all her best intentions, Rhae could not help but inadvertedly give away clues to their identity, much as Egg had done. And when he told her that, she got angry and they fought. Frequently, one lord or another tried to detain them – despite currently having fallen out of favour with their family, they were still Targaryens and they'd make good hostages against the Iron Throne… or even better pawns in Bittersteel's hands. They needed a place to rest and recover their strength.

It had to end.

Five days later…

As a child, Egg had been at Dorne, along with Ser Duncan. But he never been at Sunspear and he was stunned to see that it was not a city at all, not the way King's Landing was, low and widely spread. They had come through the Threefold Gate but Egg could see miles of alleys and busy bazaars.

He had been at such a bazaar when he had first heard the news about the quickly named Spring Sickness. He still remembered his horror and incredulity at listening to the news about his grandfather and his cousins, his fear whether the others were safe and healthy. Aemon had been at Oldtown, the others at Summerhall. But he had not known it then. And Dorne's isolationist policy meant that no further word had come until the end of the plague, giving him months of sleepless nights worrying whether he still had a family to return to.

Rhae touched his hand. "What's wrong?" she asked.

He shook his head and smiled. "Nothing."

His concern was growing, although he tried to rein it in. He did not fear that the Martells would detain them. Maron Martell was a steadfast supporter of the Targaryens. But that meant he could take their verdict literally. He could banish them from Dorne – and they would find themselves stuck. Rhae would give birth in less than three moons – and she was obviously not one of those lucky women who were healthy, bright and cheerful till the end. She didn't need more travels and unrest. She needed a place to rest. There was no way she could tolerate a new travel through the Red Mountains – and a ship was out of question. Even if they could fly, they would have had trouble finding a place where people were not afraid of the King's wrath – as if Aerys would really want for his niece to give birth in a ditch like a stray cat! No one would take them in if they found out who they were – and people usually found out. If they didn't, they still wouldn't take them in – no one wanted strangers, one of them a woman with child who was of no use at all.

They were now in the Old Palace.

The fact that they were accompanied by Alor Sand was the only reason they could pass by the guards who looked with suspicion at their hooded faces and bowed heads. Alor led them through a wide court, up a winding staircase, through a long gallery with a ceiling of glass and finally, through a great oak door that led into the family's private chambers.

"Where is everyone?" Alor asked the first servant they encountered. "I must talk to my lord father immediately."

The man bowed, not looking at Alor's companions. "The Prince is in the Tower of the Sun, dealing with matters of…"

"I see," Alor said. "Well, we won't disturb him, then. What about the Princess?"

"She is in the library with the children."

Alor nodded. "Very well. Let's go."

Egg and Rhae followed him, slightly perked up at being between stone walls that kept the hear at bay… a little.

"What if they refuse?" Rhae asked, very softly.

"Don't think about such things. They won't," Egg said and tried to believe his own words.

The library was a vast room with more books than they had expected – huge shelves lining the walls, thick leather-cased volumes. The high windows were opened, the curtains fluttered from the breeze that did little to disperse heat.

Daenerys Martell stood in front of a table. They had not seen her in many years but she was impossible not to recognize, a Targaryen through and through. Of course, she was no longer young but she was still beautiful, very regal… and not looking like a woman who had provoked a war because she had been in love at all. She was looking at a map of the Seven Kingdoms and explaining something to three children – all dark-haired and olive-skinned. The oldest was about fifteen and the youngest eight or ten.

"No," she was saying. "No, there were seven kingdoms. Kingdoms of the Vale and Sky, Kingdom of the North, Kingdom of the Rock…"

"Kingdom of the High Horse," Alor cut in and four heads turned simultaneously.

"Alor!" Daenerys exclaimed and hurried to him. "Alor, where have you been a whole year? We were already setting up a mourning!"

"I want to see him, too!" the youngest girl exclaimed and jumped at Alor at the same moment her mother opened her arms for him.

"I am happy to see you too," he said and embraced them. To the boys, he gave only a grin. "I am sorry it took me so long to return. It's good to be home."

For Egg and Rhae who had been standing unobtrusively at the door, watching the cheerful welcome, his last words were like a cold wind, like a tub of icy water. They were so far away from home when they needed it most.

"I've brought someone to you, my princess," Alor said formally, and Daenerys looked at him, surprised. Then, she noticed the newcomers and her confusion grew.

"I met them by chance," Alor said softly. "Lord Yronwood was trying to capture them."

Egg and Rhae took their hoods off and made a step forward. She stared at them, shocked. "Aelinor?" she asked uncertainly.

The young woman shook her head. "Rhae," she whispered.

Daenerys took herself in hand. "Rhae," she said. "Of course it will be Rhae. I take it Lord Yronwood was not simply been… insistent… in offering his hospitality?"

The look in their eyes told her everything she needed to know. They had been hunted down like animals by one lord and chased away by another, trying to find a place in a world that did not want them, except for taking advantage of them. It must have been even harder when she started to show, Daenerys thought and for a moment almost laughed at the idea that Aerys would actually want Rhae to be deprived of any compassion and care at the hardest moment in her life.

Rhae couldn't find it in herself to answer questions.

"We just don't have anywhere to go," she said simply and her face crumpled.

Daenerys looked at her, examined her state and made her decision.

"Well, you do, now" she said and embraced her. She felt how the younger woman relaxed against her, lightheaded with relief. "Now you do, my dear," she said again and nodded at Egg to come and take Rhae before she collapsed.