Home. It had been weeks, months even, since he had last been here. His home. Dorne. This place had been his home for more than a decade. It had been more of a home than the Westerlands had ever been. Casterly Rock had been a cold place... ever since his mother had died. His hard and emotionally cold father had never made that castle a home. He was glad when his father had sent him to Lord Crakehall, so he could serve the lord as a squire. Eventually his path lead him to another place that could never be home, the Red Keep of King Aerys. Another place that he was glad to leave behind, though the circumstances were dire.
But then he came to Dorne. A place where people mistrusted him at first. But he earned their trust and gained something that he had missed for too long. A family and a place to call home... And now... now he was back, but this home felt bereft of the happiness he had once created here.
One of his children was dead. His daughter was gone, murdered by the king's men. And Arthur had not come back with them, as his sadness and anger would have overwhelmed him otherwise. The happiness was gone and he did not know if it would ever return to these halls. His youngest children, Damon and Myra, had already caught on that something was amiss. Their mother's sadness could not be hidden, but so far they had not told the children that their sister was gone. He couldn't bring himself to do it. Like when his own mother died, he tried to push the truth away. He tried to hide beneath a brave mask. On their entire way home he had not allowed himself to feel the sadness... but here... at home...
The sweet call of alcohol was tempting, but he knew that his duties would not allow it. Weakness was not something that he was allowed to show openly. His people still needed him to be strong. Rhaenys would need him to be strong. But that was easier said than done.
They had only been back for less than a day and he was already struggling. It was in this dark night at the Water Gardens, that he sought solace in the embrace of the darkness, as he wandered around the pools. Usually the center of life here, they were deserted at night. Almost, at least.
"I had not expected to find you here, cousin," Jaime said, as he saw Daven sitting on the edge of one of the pools.
"Jaime," Daven said somberly, "I see you can't sleep either."
"No. Coming back was... difficult."
"How is you wife?" Daven asked, though the question here was how she was holding up. Jaime did not answer him, instead his gaze wandered towards the waters of the Summer Sea. It went without saying that Allyria was not in the best shape right now. She was mourning, but tried to be strong for the sake of her remaining children. But the loss of a child is never easy for any parent, he and Allyria were no exception to that. "That bad, huh... Listen, Jaime, I am sorry... I failed you. You trusted me with your daughter's safety and I messed it up... I..."
"It is okay, Daven," Jaime sighed, as he finally looked at his cousin, "I should have been more careful... I should have... Sending Joanna to the Tyrells was a mistake. She would have been safer with Rhaenys. Where all of us would have been together to keep her safe."
"I will avenge her, Jaime. The Starks and that fat king, they will pay for her death." Daven declared with a fervor that Jaime had not expected to see in his cousin.
"You already did. You killed that Kingsguard knight who was responsible for her death. And you captured that northerner, who was involved."
"That man, what will happen to him? Did he spill something of value for us to know?" Daven asked, completely ignoring what Jaime had told him.
"Not much. He was the captain of Lord Stark's household guard, but he wasn't privy to many secrets. Or he is too loyal to talk. We will see if Prince Doran knows other ways to get answers. But truth be told, I doubt that torturing him is worth the time and hassle. But he denies his lord's involvement in the fire, just like Eddard Stark's daughter... Maybe... maybe Nymeria has some ways to get answers. She has offered to try and find out everything this man truly knows. She does have her own... unique methods." Not to mention that she was just as affected by Joanna's death as Rhaenys was. Nymeria had watched over both younger girls for several years now and she would do whatever was necessary to find those who are responsible for Joanna's death... then she would avenge her friend, no doubt about it.
"And you believe them. I can see it in your face, even now, when the shadows of the torchlight hide most of it."
Jaime chuckled lightly, amused by his cousin's observation. "For all we know about him, Eddard Stark is too honorable to resort to killing innocents. That is more the kind of action I would expect from his insane friend. They were right, you know, Robert Baratheon hates Rhaegar's legacy so much, that nothing will stop his rage."
"Then he must be stopped." Daven concluded.
"Yes. Robert took the crown by force, but he could only keep it by buying his subjects love with lavish feasts and tourneys. But soon we will see how loyal the lords of Westeross really are to their warrior king."
"But Lord Tywin won't join us here... he can't."
"No. Father has already invested too much into the rule of the Usurper. The day he decided to have Rhaegar's wife and children murdered, my father has chosen his side." Jaime replied stoically. He was unsure how he should feel about his father any more. Understanding Tywin Lannister had never been easy. But ever since he had met him at Highgarden, there was one question that would not leave him alone. If he had to choose, would Lord Tywin choose his rebel son and his heirs or his powerful daughter, whose son could be king one day?
"I guess it doesn't matter anymore. I'm here now. I won't disappoint you again, Jaime. I swear that I will avenge your daughter." Daven said, before he stood up and walked away. Jaime only watched him silently, unsure whether his cousin's fervor was a good or a bad thing.
Not a fortnight of planing had passed, before new arrivals caused much commotion at Sunspear and the Water Gardens. Knights and lesser lords, who had once been loyal to House Targaryen, had begun to return to their former masters. One after another they came and pledged themselves to Rhaenys' service, eager to reclaim the honor they had lost when the rebels won the war.
Another self important lord had just arrived, or so Jaime had been told by Obara, so he was on his way to the shadowy terrace, where Rhaenys and Prince Doran would usually receive guests at the Water Gardens.
In the past few days since his return, some of the life had returned to this place, servants were running around, busying themselves, children were once more playing at the pools. It was almost as if the somber atmosphere of their return had all but vanished, though there still was that gaping hole that no one dared to mention. He saw his youngest children among the playing children. They were happy, swimming in the pools with their friends. His youngest daughter, Myra. Beautiful young Myra, a perfect little Lannister, with the golden hair and green eyes of her father. She saw him and waved, but she wouldn't come. His children had learned early in their lives, that their father would come to them, whenever he had time to spend with them.
He sighed as his thoughts drifted towards his oldest son. He hoped that Arthur was alright. It was right to send him away with Oberyn. Though the dornish prince was a hothead at times, he would make sure that Arthur would not seek vengeance... at least not blindly. This was not the life he wanted for his children, this danger and all. But he knew that all of them would have to pay the price for being on Rhaenys side and he was willing to pay... or at least he was at that time. Now it was too late for second thoughts.
He looked down, when he heard the animal that demanded his attention now. Down there, right in front of him sat the black menace of Sunspear. Rhaenys favorite pet and ever loyal companion for years. Balerion, the strange tomcat, that had followed the princess all the way from King's Landing. The cat wouldn't allow anyone but Rhaenys to touch it and would leave bloody scratches on everyone else who dared to try. And now the scruffy cat sat in front of him, looking almost expectantly.
"Just what do you want me to do?" Jaime wondered briefly, before the answer presented itself, in the form of one Arya Stark.
"There you are. You won't get away this time!" The young Stark girl said, as she tried to catch Balerion, who only moved behind Jaime's legs to avoid capture.
"Just what do you think you are doing?" the Lannister knight asked sternly.
"Catching the cat!" Arya replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Jaime really did not understand this girl at all. She was in many ways similar to Oberyn's daughters, but at the same time there was a strange fierceness in all of her actions, that lacked the passion all Sand Snakes had inherited from their father, but held something different, that he couldn't describe.
"This is Princess Rhaenys' cat. You will leave this animal alone." He ordered.
"But Elia said I have to catch this cat. Every Sand Snake has to capture it at least once!" Arya replied stubbornly.
It was in moments like these, when Jaime questioned the wisdom in Rhaenys' decision to allow Ned Stark's daughter to run around relatively unchecked. Of course there was always someone following the girl, but the amount of freedom she was given, was not what he would have expected for a hostage during a war. Rhaenys obviously had a plan for this girl, but so far she had not been very forthcoming with information regarding that plan. But worse than allowing her to be on her own, was that Arya had somehow ended up in the company of Oberyn's younger daughters... a dangerous mix, no doubt. Deep down he knew that underestimating this girl would be a mistake. He knew that she had already tested the boundaries of her freedom and would continue to do so in the future.
"Balerion will not be bothered. And no matter what you do, you can never become a Sand Snake." Jaime told her, his eyes meeting the gray eyes of the girl. But all he found there was defiance.
"Because Elia has failed to tell you that Sand Snakes are not chosen, they are born. All of them are daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell." Jaime replied, "Now go back to Elia and tell her that she is not supposed to sic people on Balerion, just to satisfy her wish for vengeance against this cat." He knew well enough why Elia had done this. She had tried to catch Balerion herself in the past, but none of her attempts ended with success. All she got were painful scratches and a fine scar down her collarbone. Balerion was truly a menace, but so was Elia.
After the young Stark girl had left, he continued on his path to the princess. As usual there was a huge commotion around her. Knights, lords, servants, all were drawn to her and hovered around her, ever mindful of her wishes. It was almost sickening to watch sometimes, when these people tried to win Rhaenys' favor. Not fifteen years ago all of them had denied all loyalties to the Targaryens and bent their knees to the Usurper and now they came back, swearing that their undying loyalty had never wavered.
He wondered which lord Rhaenys had to meet this time. The guest had obviously not arrived yet, so Rhaenys was still talking to her uncle and her future husband. Willas Tyrell had quickly proven that he had a good head on his shoulders and knew more about politics than they had expected at first. With every passing day, Jaime's conviction, that this match was the best Rhaenys could have hoped for, increased more and more. And Doran felt the same, that much was obvious. Under other circumstances, Willas might have just as well wed Doran's own daughter, Arianne... in a world where the Targaryens prevailed and Rhaenys would have married her own uncle, Viserys.
He did not join Rhaenys, as it was obvious that she was in an important discussion with the two men, so he sought a different company for now. After looking around, in an attempt to find someone to talk to, his only viable option turned out to be Ser Barristan, who never strayed far from Rhaenys, ever since that last attempt on her life. Ever vigilant, though he had forgone his heavy Kingsguard armor in favor of a lighter Dornish armor that was better suited for the heat.
"Ser Barristan," Jaime inclined his head slightly in greeting. He knew that Barristan Selmy was not very fond of him, but their joint duty to keep the princess safe forced him to be at least cordial. He didn't answer though and only nodded back in recognition. "Everything calm so far?"
"Only the same as usual. None of these men would dare to hurt the princess." Ser Barristan replied gruffly.
But of course no one here would dare to hurt Rhaenys. Not with all these guards around her. And though most of the loyalists did not trust him completely, Ser Barristan the Bold did have a deterring effect on all those who would wish Rhaenys harm. The princess had been right to pardon him, Jaime knew that much and did not object, though he knew that she would have listened to him, had he voiced any concerns about this. But personal feelings aside, having this man on Rhaenys' side was very much preferable to having him as an enemy.
Then the guest arrived and the murmurs started. And Jaime knew why. For a moment it was as if he had seen a ghost, but that moment passed quickly and he realized that it had just been his mind playing tricks on him. But he watched this guest with great interest, none the less.
It was a handsome young man, with silver-gold hair and a narrow, bearded face. He looked friendly, though his gray-green eyes betrayed his own cunning. There was this glint that obviously told them that this man should not be underestimated. Only belatedly Jaime's eyes left the man's face and wandered, until they found the sigil of his House. An old family, one whose fate had been entwined with that of the Targaryens for centuries.
"Your grace," The man said, as he bowed deeply, before he smiled widely at the princess, "My name is Aurane Waters, I am here on behalf of my half-brother, Monford Velaryon, the Lord of Driftmark. On behalf of House Velaryon, I am here to pledge our loyalty to you and your family once more." He spoke silkily, every word carefully chosen as it seemed. And Jaime couldn't help himself but dislike the way this man looked at Rhaenys. He was a bastard, but one who obviously did not know his place in this world.
"I welcome you, Lord Waters. Your family has served mine for a long time and our fate has been entwined since the days of Aegon the Conqueror. But tell me, why are only you here and not your brother?" Rhaenys asked, he voice and posture neutral so far. She always feigned indifference, so she wouldn't insult any of these lords by playing favorites so early in this new war.
The bastard of Driftmark sent the princess another dazzling smile, before he answered, "My family is in a very precarious situation at the moment. We served your father until his death, then your grandmother until hers. But after the Usurper had taken the throne, he sent his bitter brother to rule Dragonstone in his stead. This man, Stannis Baratheon, still rules there to this day, which makes it hard for us to rise against our common enemy, without having to fear the total annihilation of our old House. Even with our allies from House Sunglass, we do not stand a chance against all those traitors who now serve the Baratheon brothers. We have to keep up appearances... for now at least."
"I see. So your brother's men will fight for the Usurper, at least until they get the chance to join our cause." And everyone would believe that the bastard had tried his luck with a different master, so he could gain himself titles and riches, once his family was gone.
"Yes, your grace. It is unfortunate, but we have to do this, unless we wish to end the history of House Velaryon." Aurane said almost sadly, "But as a sign of our loyalty to you, I come bearing gifts for your upcoming wedding to Lord Tyrell." He gestured for one of his servants, who came with a silken bag. Aurane took it from the boy and approached Rhaenys with it. Everyone around was on high alert, when the bastard got closer than allowed. Jaime and Ser Barristan already had their hands on the hilts of their swords, but one gesture from Rhaenys told them to abstain from any rash actions. Aurane obviously saw this as his sign to act pulled something from the bag. And suddenly everyone fell silent. No more whispers, no more people talking all around them. Only the sounds of the playing children in the distance could be heard now.
"Is that..." Rhaenys dared not finish that sentence.
Aurane's smile couldn't widen any more. "Yes, your grace." He dropped the bag and handed Rhaenys the gift from Driftmark. A dragon egg, covered in golden scales. Rhaenys took it from his hand, her fingers shaking slightly. "House Velaryon has guarded this egg for nearly two decades, ever since your father had found it on the Dragonmont. My family had been tasked with keeping it safe, but we felt that the time has come to give it back to the true heir of Prince Rhaegar."
"My father..." Rhaenys was speechless, as she looked at the egg in wonderment. "How... why..."
"I can only guess, as it was my late father who had received it from yours. But from what I have learned, Prince Rhaegar did not wish for this egg to fall into the hands of King Aerys. So he had us guard it until the day he could reclaim it. He had found this egg during his early years as lord of Dragonstone, in an old, long abandoned wild dragon nest. It may very well be the last egg that has ever been laid in Westeros."
"I... I thank you and your family, Lord Waters. I don't know how to repay your for this service to my father..."
"A place at your court, your grace, I couldn't ask for more." Aurane asked almost humbly, though his request was far from humble. He presumed much for a bastard and in most parts of the realm he would have been denied due to his status... but Dorne did not treat bastards like all the other kingdoms did. And Rhaenys was raised as a Dornish princess.
"Of course," Rhaenys mumbled, her eyes still glued to the golden egg. "You may stay. We shall find you a befitting occupation here, Lord Waters."
"Thank you, your grace. You honor me," Aurane bowed deeply, before he turned around left.
Jaime could only watch the man leave, unsure whether he should trust this bastard or not. There was obviously more to Aurane Waters than meets the eye. The man had a hidden desire and he would have to find out what that is. No one hands over dragon eggs without expecting a greater gift than just a place at the princess' court. That egg could have earned him a fortune in the Free Cities. Enough to buy him titles and lands and honors there, that no bastard would ever receive in Westeros. But what could this man hope for?
In the end the decision had been easy and unanimous. A choice of logic, cold and calculating, devoid of the emotion that should accompany such a life changing event and bereft of the pomp that this event should have for a girl of Rhaenys station. The princess would marry Willas Tyrell much earlier than expected, in an effort to prove the union of Dorne and the Reach to all those who still doubted the conviction of the Targaryen loyalists.
There had been little time for preparations or inviting all the guests that would usually come to such an event. Not even the family of Lord Willas would attend, leaving him only with the few people he had brought with him from Highgarden to join the celebration. But all of this would have mattered little to Rhaenys. It was the somber mood that crushed any positive feeling this day should have invoked.
Jaime remembered his own marriage, at the exact same place. The Sept in Sunspear. The few Dornish Lords who had attended at that time had called it a wedding of tears. Rightfully so. He had been apprehensive of marrying and his wife to be had just lost half of her family to the war. They were not happy, far from it. It had been one of the saddest and most tragic events that the Sept had seen. But they did their duty and from duty arose so much more. But now there would be another unhappy ceremony, overshadowed by death and war.
Jaime was on his way to Rhaenys chambers, as she had sent for him, only hours before the ceremony. He did not know why she had insisted on him coming alone, but he did not question her. At least not on this day, which was so difficult for her.
Her chamber was well guarded, as usual, but none of these guards would lift a finger to stop him from entering. What fool would suspect him of wishing her harm, after all he had done for the girl? No one.
He knocked once, before he entered. The princess stood before a large mirror in her chamber, maids hovering around her, lead by Allyria, who smiled weakly at her husband. His wife still struggled, but she tried to be strong for her children and for Rhaenys. But some days he feared that everything would be too much and she would crack under the emotional pressure.
"My lord, you shouldn't..." One of the maids started, but Rhaenys quickly silenced her and sent all the maids away for the moment. Jaime knew that his presence was hardly appropriate, seeing as the princess was less than partially dressed at the moment. But it bothered neither her nor Jaime that he saw her like this. He had been one of those who had raised her and in that capacity he had seen her nude on more than one occasion. Though he had not, ever since she had gone through her adolescence. She had turned into a beautiful woman, much like her mother. The same unblemished, olive colored skin and silky black hair that Princess Elia had. Willas better be glad, for he was about to receive a treasure of the rarest kind, Jaime thought sourly. After all these years, giving Rhaenys away was like giving away one of his own daughters.
"Jaime... Allyria... when you see me now, like this... what do you see? Please, answer me truthfully," Rhaenys pleaded, her eyes fixed on her own reflection in the mirror.
"A friend. A beautiful young woman on the day that will change her life for ever," Jaime replied quickly, confused by the question.
Rhaenys sighed, shaking her head softly, "Why do I feel like a monster then? Here I stand, having maids care for me in preparation for my wedding, when countless people in the Reach and other parts of the realm die in my name."
"Rhaenys..." Allyria said softly as she approached the girl and engulfed her in a motherly hug.
"All these people fight and die because they believe in you and your family." Jaime said.
"No. They die because their lords tell them to. They fight because their lords tell them to fight for Rhaenys Targaryen. They bleed and die for me, yet I will never be the one to rule all of them. Those people don't know who I really am, they don't know that not I but Viserys will sit on the throne, should our war succeed. They know nothing, yet they die for me. One girl that will never be allowed near the battlefield. I will never share their pain, I will never see their pain. But everyone will fight and die for me..."
"You are a symbol to them. The Usurper may have been popular among the lords of the realm and the smallfolk of King's Landing, but only because he bought their love. The people away from the capital all suffered the same. But all of them grew up with the stories of Aegon and his dragons. To the smallfolk the rightful ruler will always be a dragon and never a stag, like Robert wants them to accept. The people know that the throne belongs to your family and that Robert's rule in unjust. Right of Conquest or not, the Baratheon's were never meant to rule." Jaime said deliberately.
"I am a fool, Jaime. I played a game that I do not understand. The Game of Thrones was not meant to be played by foolish children like me. In the end he was right, the path I have chosen is truly paved with the dead bodies of those I love..." Rhaenys muttered.
Jaime looked worried at her, as he heard that last statement. Though he had not idea who HE was, it was worrying to hear such dark thoughts from her.
"But... no more. I have lost enough family members in this conflict with that detestable man. No more." She suddenly looked at him with a fire burning in her eyes that Jaime knew from the past. It was the same fire that he had seen in her father's eyes, the day he left King's Landing to stop the rebel army at the Trident. The same conviction to fight for what she believed in, though she was not born as a warrior. He hoped that she wouldn't fall like her father had. He did not even wish to imagine what the realm would turn into, should they loose to the Usurper and allow the man to continue to do as he pleases. The realm would not be able to survive another decade under such an incompetent ruler.
"Jaime, I desire to learn how to fight. I may never be allowed to participate in any open battles, but I want to be able to defend myself properly. The little I have learned from my cousins is not enough. At the moment I am just a weak girl, who has to rely heavily on those around her to keep her safe. And though I will never be a queen, I wish to be strong enough to do the warrior queens I descend from proud." The princess said with conviction. "Joanna died because I was too weak to confront my enemies before they had a chance to strike, but I wish to learn, so no one else will have to die as long as it in my powers to prevent it."
"If that is what you wish, than I will see it done." Jaime wasn't sure why she was suddenly so keen on fighting, but he couldn't deny the logic in teaching her how to defend herself better. But maybe her sudden change of conviction was caused by golden egg that sat on the table not far from her, shimmering in the sunlight, almost tauntingly.
"Good." Rhaenys sighed in relief, "But for now, let's get ready for this wedding. If it really needs for me to wed Willas to be able to get justice for my murdered family, than so be it... I just had never expected it to be like this. Rushed... and without my siblings."
"You will be fine. And though he isn't here, Arthur will return soon enough, with another army to support your cause. You will never be alone, Rhaenys." Allyria assured the girl.
Jaime meanwhile walked over to a door that allowed access to a small balcony and stepped outside. From there he had a spectacular view on Sunspear and the sea beyond the city walls. He looked to the east, where his son had been sent to and caught himself muttering a brief prayer for his son's safe return. The war had just begun, but he would feel much better with his son back by his side, where he could keep an eye on him. But at least he had never been more convinced that the decision he had made so many years ago had been right. Saving Rhaenys had changed his fate and that of many others. And now he was able to serve a dragon that was worthy of deference. This Lion would never abandon his duty. And he was sure that Rhaegar would be pleased. Jaime had not failed him completely and his daughter was on her way to become a true ruler. House Targaryen would rule once more and everything would be as the gods had intended.