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XXIX – Cersei
"I want her dead!" Joffrey spat, slamming his fist down on the table. "I want her dog of a husband dead, I want those traitor uncles dead and I want her unborn children dead! I'll kill them all myself, the throne is mine!"
The Queen Regent watched on as her son fumed at the head of the table, keeping the members of the small council on edge. Cersei Lannister loved her son more than many others but Elyana was her firstborn, her dark maned lioness, and although she did not want her as queen she could not fathom the idea of her daughter's head decorating a spike. She had waited half her life to be queen, playing her parts – the dutiful daughter and adoring wife. She had suffered Robert's drunken behaviour and Jaime's jealousy and the quiet mockery of Stannis and Renly and Varys. Everything she had done, everything she had been through was for her to be queen and yet all her daughter had done was leave the city and that same title was willingly given to her. Elyana has defied me, she thought bitterly, and yet I want nothing more than her safety. The girl had to be subdued and brought back to the city. So long as Cersei Lannister lived her daughter would not be queen but she would be alive.
"The throne is yours, Joff… but Elyana is your sister, she's being manipulated by the Starks. She's not a threat-"
"Not a threat? What exactly is it that you think she's doing, Mother?" he snarled. "That bitch has an army and now Stannis has joined her… she is a threat. She's a threat and a traitor and she will die for her crimes!"
The Spider intervened, "With respect, Your Grace, your sister is quite beloved by the smallfolk and those who have joined her. If you remove her, then you remove a possible tool to use in your favour and ignite further rebellion. If she was alive, captured and held prisoner… imagine the possibilities."
"Lord Varys is right, Your Grace. Your sister is a tool for you to bend to your will. If she was to bend a knee and swear fealty to you then the others would follow," Petyr Baelish added with a thin smile as he shifted in his seat.
Joffrey appeared to calm but a nerve in his forehead still twitched, "I don't want a tool, I want my sister dead – like the other traitors."
Cersei turned her face away from her son, her jaw clenching at his words. Elyana was her daughter, her sweet child, and in a brief moment of rage Cersei considered slapping her son across the face. She didn't expect him to understand their bond as mother and daughter, no one would understand it for none of them saw it. No member of the council saw her dress her pretty girl for grand occasions, no lord had seen how her daughter latched onto her as a child or how important they once were to each other and moreover, no one had ever seen how alike they truly were. Not even Elyana knew how alike they were, only Cersei saw it. That's what they were - dutiful daughters, the girls who married kings, the girls who protect their own fiercely and fight for what they truly believe is right. Elyana had disappointed her, she had committed crimes against her but she was hers and the punishment she would have to bear should be one given by her mother.
"As do I, sweet boy. I want her dead," Cersei lied glibly. "We all want the traitors dead but she is off great worth to you alive. Take away everything holds dear and then capture her, let her live her days out here – without her lover, her friends… and make an example out of her."
Her son's lips curled up and Cersei knew she had planted a seed in his mind. The deed was done, her daughter would live. "Yes, yes. That's quite the idea, Mother, but we can do more. Lord Baelish, how much coin does the treasury have to spare for a bounty?"
"Enough, Your Grace."
Cersei sat up in her seat, staring at her son with an eyebrow raised. Men who sought bounties were not knights or high lords, they were renegades and vagabonds. Her daughter would not return to her the dark-haired lioness she was, these men would rape and ruin her more so than any wolf could. Her blank expression turned into a scowl and Cersei asked her son impassively, "You can't intend to put a bounty upon your sister's head, Joff? It will attract sellswords and others of ill repute, they'll murder Elyana before you get a chance to use her against our enemies."
He rose from his seat and paced around the room. Joffrey's lips were in a thin line and his brow was furrowed but once he reached his seat again, he smiled at them. "I intend to bring my sister back, Mother, by any means necessary. Lord Baelish, put a bounty on the heads of all the traitors – Robb Stark, Ser Anders, Stannis, Renly… 100 gold dragons to whoever brings me their heads. As for my sister… 1000 gold dragons to whoever can bring her to me. I care little for what condition she arrives in but I want her alive."
"Bounty hunters won't bring Elyana back alive," Cersei said, her scowl ever present. "They'll bring you a corpse. A corpse that will rot and be of no use to you. You won't be able to crush the north with dead body."
"Then what do you suggest?" He snapped.
She thought on how her daughter could be brought back to her for Elyana would not be obliging. Then it struck her, "Coin and promise can move even the most honourable of men. Keep the bounty for the others but send someone your sisters knows, someone she trusts to retrieve and capture her. I have no doubt that even some of her men will defect for the right reward, you just need someone of a high ranking and it should all fall into place. I know your sister, I know my daughter. Despite what she may think, she's still a naïve girl… she'll see allies when she is surrounded by enemies and when she does, then you strike and end this war."
XXIX – Elyana
Elyana chuckled lightly as her lips met her husbands and his grasp on her thighs tightened. Their bodies were entangled and covered in a thin layer of sweat as she straddled him. He watched her intently as she gently bit down on his lip and then kissed his nose before resting her forehead against his. She gazed down at Robb tenderly and with a free hand, pushed back his sweat-lank hair from his face. His eyes were half-lidded as he rubbed her back and beamed at her. It was a rare moment when they were at peace and an even rarer one when they were alone for so long without being uninterrupted. Elyana rose momentarily, changing her position so that she was nuzzled beside Robb. Instinctively, he wrapped an arm around her and for a brief moment it was almost as if the war had been won and they were in Winterfell but that illusion was quickly dispelled. Light seeped in from the windows and made the shadows of the furniture dance across the room. The world outside of Riverrun was trying to break through, trying to remind them that this bliss and tranquillity was only momentary but Elyana knew better, their bleak reality always lingered in the back of her mind. The moment she would leave this soft featherbed and the arms of her lover, duty would call and the war would continue on until one side met their bloody end.
"We could stay here, you know. Stay in bed until someone comes calling. It could be hours from now maybe even days," Elyana purred as she looked up at her husband. She jested, "Or we could just stay here for a little while longer and before Stannis barges and grinds his teeth, reminding us that it is 'our duty to be awake now.'"
Robb frowned and then yawned, "Speaking of your uncle… I'm still not sure of him, El. He could have sent word before he arrived, he could have done anything but show up the way he did. It just didn't seem right. It's been a few days now and his reasoning for being here is still unclear. I know he's your family… but what if he wants the throne for himself? Even worse, what if he's working with Joffrey? Can we trust him, El?"
If Elyana was being truthful she truly had the faintest clue whether or not they could trust her uncle. Stannis' presence had caused quite an alarm and though it was still early, few men were willing to trust her uncle and many a lord had warned them of him. His men did nothing to reduce these suspicions – the lords of the narrow sea were decent enough but the Myrish and Lyseni sellswords he had with him put everyone on edge. This is my uncle, she thought, this is one of the last loyal members of my family. She had known Stannis as a strict and unforgiving man with a rigid sense of duty but then again, she had known Jaime as a protector and Renly as her loving uncle and they had both betrayed her. No one knew what Stannis wanted from them or if he wanted anything at all but it didn't make sense for him to betray her now. Stannis Baratheon was unlike his brothers, he never cared for glory but he did take his duty and oaths seriously.
"I don't know if we can trust him. He's not our enemy but hasn't proven himself our ally yet. I think we just need to be careful until we know what he wants."
"Yes, we'll be careful," he said with a tight-lipped smile that made him look more serious than content.
She kissed his chest and smiled up at him, "I love you, Robb Stark but you worry far too much. Everything will be fine but if you keep looking so distressed, I'll have to lock you up in this room and fix you myself."
"And I love you, El but you're not very good with threats, are you? That's not the worst fate that could befall a man. Perhaps I'll keep looking troubled then," Robb grinned wolfishly and was met by a playful slap.
Elyana moved away from him and rose from the bed with an equally spirited grin on her face, "You should keep those thoughts to yourself, King in the North. I've no interest in sharing a bed with someone who thinks so lowly of me and my threats."
The cold air of the room against her skin made her skin rise but Elyana proceeded to move around the room with a slight bounce in her walk. With a smirk plastered on her face, she bent to pick up items of clothing from the ground and watched as the eyes of her husband followed her around the room. Quickly grabbing her night gown off the ground, she slipped it over her head and looked over her shoulder to see Robb still lying in the bed and watching her with a certain fire in his eyes.
Pursing her lips, she winked at him, "Better get dressed, wolf. I'm feeling like another bath, that last one was… invigorating. Of course, you can go threaten someone since you know everything about it."
"Gods, you're a tease," he said with a chuckle as he rose. Her back was turned to him but she could hear his footsteps behind her. It was not long before his arms were wrapped around her waist and his beard was brushing against her neck. His tone was light and Elyana knew that he was smiling at her, "Please forgive me, Elyana Stark. I don't want to leave this room yet, I'm more than happy to stay here with you if you'll have me."
She turned her head slightly so that she could see him. Her smile mirrored his, "You're forgiven… but I'm afraid we probably will have to leave. I'd imagine that Stannis had already riled up someone and if he hasn't, then he will. You said it yourself, we don't know what he wants but I intend to find out."
Once they had dressed they both left their chambers to go different ways. Until they ended the war, she imagined that it would be like this for some time – their private interactions would remain brief and secondary to war councils, meetings and their duty. I need to end this war, she thought as she navigated her way out of Riverrun, I cannot live as an insurgent leader travelling forever. There would be a day when she would bear Robb's children, she would have her own little wolves and Elyana refused to even think of them living on the run and being hunted by their enemies. Her father had done it, he had gone from rebel to king. Victory was in her blood and even if it meant having to battle her grandfather, lay siege to her uncle's lands and slay her brother as her father had Rhaegar Targaryen, she would have it.
Stannis was easy to find, he was the only high lord that refused to stay within the castle and often spent time hovering over the map on the war table. When Elyana found her uncle, he was in the war tent with only Davos Seaworth by his side. Elyana had met the slight man on a few occasions, he was an honourable sort, despite being a smuggler and he was loyal to only one. Neither of them smiled at her although the Onion Knight bowed his head and departed quickly. There was a tense feeling in the room.
"You're looking rested, uncle. I hope you're well."
"There's no need for pleasantries, Elyana," he said dryly. He scowled and looked around the empty tent, "Why aren't your men here? If we stay in the Riverlands any longer Tywin Lannister will march upon us with a stronger and larger army than before. We should be planning out next move and pushing to take King's Landing."
"It's still early, uncle," Elyana said in a scolding manner. "My men fought well in taking back Riverrun, they deserve rest if we are to match the Lannisters on the field again."
"When your father rebelled, there was no time for rest. When Storm's End was under siege, my men and I did not rest. You rule these men as if they were your friends when they are soldiers –weapons to be used against your enemies. The Queen cannot afford to have friends, only subjects and enemies. If you keep coddling them they will become weak," her uncle sized her up with a look of dissatisfaction on his face that could've brought shame upon the most righteous men. "But you are a woman, the gentle sex. I cannot expect you to rule your men as a man should."
Her brow furrowed and she glared at her uncle but managed to remain calm. He spoke of her men but it felt as if he was addressing her directly, "These 'weapons' are my kinsmen, they fight and die in my name. I will not treat my men like nameless animals. I will not deny their rights as a tyrant would. If that makes my men weak… if that makes me weak then you do not know what weakness is, uncle. I rival any man."
"Do you? Have you ruled over a region, Elyana? Or taken a man's life? You never fought Aerys or Rhaegar. You never survived a siege or commanded a royal fleet or subdued an island of Ironborn. You're an inexperienced girl who's only had but a taste of what real war is. This is exactly why I'm here," Stannis said stiffly.
"You do not know me, uncle. I have ruled in my own right long before you came to me, I've done more in months than others have done in years and I have taken many a life, directly and indirectly. If you have come all this way to criticize and provoke a child then know that you have done so in vain. I am not a girl, I am Queen and if you think otherwise then I suggest you march your men south to my brother for he will be far more merciful than I to those who betray me."
Stannis did not move and when he did, he raised his hand and pointed at her. Had she not been so livid perhaps she would have been confused by his words, "This is the leader I would follow, not the meek girl who entered this tent and did not immediately command it."
"What?" Her nose scrunched up and her brow furrowed.
"You're Robert's daughter and heir, Elyana but you're also a child," he said tersely as she rolled her eyes. "Albeit, a child with some qualities of a leader. I had thought you different to your father though, wise enough to acknowledge and accept assistance but you argue and stand baffled before me. You're more like him than I remembered."
She sighed, "I argue because you insult me but I am no fool, say what you will and I will hear it."
"The throne is yours. That is law. But you are not ready to rule this kingdom. You are sympathetic when you must be harsh. I have learned that sometimes it is more useful to be feared than liked," Stannis began to pace in the tent, circling the war table like a vulture. "You are beloved by the smallfolk, the men who fight for you would willingly give their lives if it meant you would live longer and the lords you command would burn their lands to the ground if you said so. These people love you but your enemies do not fear you. Having an army is one thing but would you fear shepherd leading armed men to battle?"
Elyana thought on her answer, "No, I wouldn't."
"No, you would think that this leader is easily crushed. This shepherd is loved but what have they done other than shield their flock? You are Queen now. You need to set an example for your enemies and those you serve. You need to be equal parts loved and feared because this," He tapped the map on the table. "This is yours by right and if you do not rule this kingdom impartially, being a virtuous leader that passes harsh justice when they must, no man will destroy you but that jagged throne will."
The tension that had been present in her shoulders seemed to disappear. Stannis wasn't trying to pick a fight with her, he was trying to tell her something and although his methods of getting a point across were distressing, the man had a point. This, however, did not mean she would take his advice completely for fear was not a tactic she wanted or needed to use. Men and women feared Aerys and now they fear Joffrey. They're tyrants, Elyana thought bitterly, I will not become the very thing I seek to remove.
Elyana relaxed as she met her uncle's gaze, "I see your point but I will not compromise who I am."
"I'm not saying that you should. I'm saying you need to be harder than you are now. You don't need to burn villages and murder children – you need to show strength and when the time comes, you need to show cruelty. You've captured Lannister men but they eat and drink the same food as you. What will you do when another Lannister soldier murders someone closer to you? Will you feed him and keep him and love him like your own?"
In a cold manner, she responded, "Never. I will bring that man to justice."
"You will, as it is your duty to do so. This is your kingdom, those who commit wrong in it cannot roam freely and without consequence. Every man and woman shall reap what they have sown, from the highest lord to the lowest gutter rat. There must always be justice, even if it is brutal. Do you see this, Elyana?"
A single, sharp nod was all she could bring herself to do. Elyana had much to consider but Stannis pulled a seat and pushed it towards the table, repeating that action for another. He sat down, motioned for her to sit beside him and continued, "Good, then you've learned your lesson. Now, sit."
Obligingly, Elyana took a seat beside her uncle and watched him intently as she did so. She was still somewhat angry with him but there was a quiet part of her that adored the man now more than ever. She wasn't a child that grew up on tales or had her mother doting upon her, Elyana had grown up in grand libraries and in the royal court. She had seen people throw their lives away upon making one foolish move and knew better than to turn her uncle's wisdom away. It seemed she and Robb had their answer about Stannis after all. He was strict and never cheerful but Stannis Baratheon knew what he was doing. If he wanted to kill any of them, he would have done it already. Unless Stannis had learned how to lie on his way to Riverrun and was deceiving her, he was someone she felt that could trust.
He passed her a piece of parchment, ink and a quill. With an eyebrow raised and a curious look gracing her face, Elyana inquired, "You want me to write something?"
"Not something," he said seriously and tapped the paper as his thin lips formed a straight line. "I'll have a man make multiple copies to send once we're done but you'll write a letter declaring yourself and your husband the true Queen and King of the Seven Kingdoms. The King can make adjustments before it is sent. Those who have remained neutral will swear fealty, if they do not they are traitors. Those who have sided with another but defect will be pardoned and those who do not bend a knee…"
"Are our enemies and will die a traitor's death," Elyana finished, nodding in agreement.
"Yes," he said curtly. "But if you are victorious before their defeat, you will pardon them as well but you will never forget what they are. When this war is over, ally or not, you will scour this kingdom clean as your father should have. Do you understand? This is not a simple task for a girl, Elyana. There will be sacrifices but you must remove those who have tarnished this kingdom with treachery, no matter how close to your heart they may be. This is a task for the Queen."
"Then I shall willingly accept this task, no matter the cost," she paused to think on all the people she had lost. This war was far from ending and the stench of death was ever-present. There could only be more loss but Elyana would not let another man, woman or child die in vain. "I shall accept this task and I will not forget those who made my kingdom bleed."
A/N: Hello there lovely readers! I think it's safe to say that I'm back now from that not so minor hiatus! Hope I haven't left you hanging too long and I do hope you've enjoyed this chapter. I intended for this one to be a transition into season/book two and I hope that I've sent the tone for things to come! And by that, I mean that things have gone far too well so far and it's right time for a bit of doom, gloom, betrayal, madness and glorious death! Stannis was a difficult one to write but I hope I've done him justice, he'll certainly be around for a bit.
So, let me know what you're thinking, good or bad, anything at all! You guys know I love hearing for you all. A very very big thank you to those who have followed/favourited/reviewed this story! The reception to the last chapter was tremendous and I cannot express how grateful I am for such lovely readers! You're all out of this world and I do hope I can continue to entertain. Hope you're all well and as amazing as ever! x