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The Death Of Cersei Lannister

Chapter Text

Cersei

"...the Seven guide the princess on her journey..."

There Myrcella was, sitting in that little boat, being rowed away from the only home she had ever known. She was near tears, but she sat erect, proud, the consummate princess, and not one fell. She raised a hand to wave at her brothers, but only Tommen returned the motion.

He sniffled, and a few tears slipped down. The septa at his side leaned down to wipe them away.

Cersei heard Joffrey speak a moment later, but she was more focused on her daughter.

Gold their crowns, and gold, their shrouds...

How could she protect Myrcella in Dorne? The danger was at its worst there. Tyrion had sent her beautiful girl into a nest of vipers. He'd done this on purpose, she was sure, just to keep the girl far away from safety here in King's Landing. Specifically, from the safety of the Red Keep.

There had to be a way to get her back, back where Cersei could keep an eye on the good-for-nothing suitors that came to call. If they would come, they could do so where they could be seen, seen and searched and spied on.

She wanted to sit there for hours, but she couldn't.

So Cersei stood, and headed back with Joffrey and the rest of their entourage.

"Hail to the King!"

She tried not to look at the smallfolk lining the streets. Even with the Kingsguard, and the Gold Cloaks, she didn't feel entirely safe here. They smelled like stale piss and shit that had baked in the sun for days. They smelled of dirt, and filth. Unwashed, and unworthy, she thought.

Someone else called out, "Please, your grace, we're hungry!"

"Please!"

Somewhere behind her, she saw Tyrion whisper something to one of the guards, and he went in another direction with Tommen.

"Are you out of your mind?" she snapped at him, "He could be--"

"The crowd is restless, sister, and you have lost one child today already. I would think you'd prefer not to lose another."

"We have the guards. They wouldn't dare."

From somewhere nearby, she heard, "Bastard!" and a moment later, "Brotherfucker!"

"Twenty guards, perhaps, to how many hungry mouths?"

If only she had more guards, she would have had the one to say that strung up by his own guts. As much as she hated Tyrion, however, she knew (and begrudgingly admitted) that he was right.

A splatting noise sounded off behind them, and Joffrey stumbled. A wad of shit had been hurled. His guards drew their swords as he said, "Who threw that?"

"I want the man who threw that! Find him and bring him to me!"

The smallfolk, already angry, struck at the guards. They were repelled, but only barely.

"Just kill them!" Joffrey spat a moment later. "Kill them, kill them all!"

All hell broke loose. The smallfolk surged forward, and the guards cut down two or three after one of their own was clubbed down with a rock. The sight, combined with their hunger and their rising anger spurred those who weren't already eager for blood into action. The guards who'd held the line broken entirely, and were scattered as more and more enraged smallfolk came forward. Rocks, bricks, the daggers of fallen guards--any weapon of any kind that they could get their hands on, they did.

Cersei looked back, about to go down the stairs and pull Joffrey along with her--but she was stopped by Tyrion.

"Move," he shouted, to her as well as her guards, "Move!"

"But Joffrey--!"

"Clegane will take care of him. Go!"

"But--"

Cersei had never cursed the weak, womanly body she had more than at that moment. The two guards tugged her along with no more effort than if she were a small child, no matter how loudly she screeched at them to let her be sure of Joffrey.

A strike from above--she felt something hard hit her forehead, no doubt thrown from the smallfolk watching from above, and then sputtered as blood began to trickle from the cut. The guards had her arms, and so she couldn't wipe it away.

Halfway up the steps, both guards stumbled, and she jerked around--desperate for a sight of Joffrey. She could hear him, she could hear her precious son, but where? Where was he? Had they got him? All was confusion and chaos. Between the dull colors of the mob and the armor of the guards, she could no more pick him out from the crowd than she could a flea on the ground.

"Joffrey!" she called. No, no, no. This could not be happening. Even with Clegane, her boy was in danger, and all she could do was run. She turned back--

--stepped wrong, and then fell.


Tyrion

As much as he disliked Cersei, it was still a horror to see a body fall like that down a flight of stairs, however small it might be. Her head struck several steps on the way down. But miraculously, once at the bottom, she moved. Barely.

The two guards who'd been hauling her along ran down the flight and quickly leaned down to pick her up.

Her blonde hair was red in the back, and when he saw her moving, Tyrion rushed forward. "Stop, before you pick her up. Try and keep her awake," he barked to the two guards, "A person with a head wound must NOT be allowed to sleep. Do you understand? However much she snaps at you, do not let her sleep."

"No..."

He knelt by Cersei, who blanched at the sight of him. "No. No--"

She raised a weak hand to fend him off, but he moved in close, both hands on her upper neck to steady her head. "Sister, stay awake."

"We have to keep moving!" one of the guards barked.

"Take her then, take her! And try not to jostle her about too much, she may have broken something!"


*Cersei*

She was right. The witch was right. I was right! He means to kill me, she thought.

All the scheming, all the fear, all the keeping him on the outside, for nothing. As strong as she was trying to be, the thought drained her of all hope.

I am done for, was the last conscious thought she had before all went black.

Chapter Text

Tyrion

He dealt with Joffrey first, before directing Clegane to go back out for Sansa. He told the guards to bring Cersei to her chambers and to immediately summon Grand Maester Pycelle to attend to her. Her wound was bad, possibly fatal--almost certainly fatal, but if she could be saved, it was to be done, no matter the cost.

Then he rushed back to see if Clegane had gotten Sansa out of danger. There was a sigh of relief, even as he saw her trembling there, leaning against the pillar.

"The little bird is bleeding. Take her back to her cage," Clegane said.

"Find her handmaid," Tyrion said, "No--take her to her chambers, her handmaid ought to be there anyway. Then come straight back. I am sure the King can spare his dog for that long."

"And you're sure she'll be safe there?"

"Safer than she will down here." He looked to Joffrey, who looked ready to spit venom.


Several hours later, after all had been settled (or at least, enough that Tyrion didn't fear the doors being busted down), he visited his sister's chambers and found them packed.

"What is all this?" he asked the nearest servant.

"If it please you, Lord Hand, the Grand Maester has been following your orders. There have been constant calls for water, rags, extra hands--."

"I'm glad to see there is work being done, then. Where might I find him? In her bedroom?"

"Yes, my lord."

In he went. The fall had been nasty, and he hoped that Pycelle was capable of saving her--and if not that, at least keeping her body well enough that Jaime wouldn't split him in half on sight.

The Grand Maester was mixing together something in a large jar with ingredients from several smaller ones.

On the bed was his sister, clad only in her smallclothes--who being laid on her side, was having some bloody bandages removed from the back of her head. A nasty-looking gash he saw beneath them, slowly weeping blood from its edges. When he noted that only the hair closest to the wound had been cut, he felt a dark humor rising.

If she lives, she will not flay anyone for shaving her head, at least.

"Well?" he asked.

"The wound is deep, lord hand. I, I, I am doing everything possible, of course. Your, your sister's arm was dislocated, but we've corrected that. There are some--a fracture or a break in one of her kneecaps, but I've braced it. Aside from those and the wound in her head, however, there is only heavy bruising."

"And her head wound?" Tyrion asked. "Will she live through that?"

"It was a severe strike, my lord, that fall she took. I have no doubts that, th...that there'll be lasting issues, if she does live."

"Mental? Physical?"

"Both. I know that you have...have studied up on injuries as a matter of course, and that your extensive research has--"

"Pycelle, stick to the subject at hand. Her wound. Can you heal it?"

"I am not sure," the Grand Maester replied, "If she lives through the night, then almost certainly. I am making here a jar of ointment for the area. As it is important to keep clean the wound--"

"Yes, of course."

They were gathering more bandages, and Tyrion insisted on being allowed to stand nearest the servant applying them, that he might gauge the severity of it himself.

It was an uncomfortably-sized dent (was there any other kind, he wondered?) that had been made in her head. But the blood was nearly stopped in its flow.

How Cersei hadn't died yet, though...was a complete mystery to him.

Tyrion thanked the servants and Pycelle, and then left, only to run into Tommen in the corridor.

"I am sorry, my lord Hand," his attending septa said, "But he insisted on coming, and I could not hold him."

"That is quite alright," Tyrion replied.

"Will mother be alright?" Tommen asked. "I asked everyone, but no one would tell me."

Deep breath. He did not like having to do this, but he would not shield the boy from the truth. The sooner he confronted it, the sooner he could deal with it.

"I will not lie to you, Tommen, your mother was hurt very badly. She fell down the stairs and hit her head."

The boy's first response was tears, and as at the harbor, the septa tried to dry them.

Tyrion stepped forward to hug the boy; the embrace was returned quickly.

"We have the Grand Maester working on her, now. The best we have."

"Will she die?" Tommen asked, barely able to speak from the sobs.

"...maybe," Tyrion replied, "We are doing our best to save her. The Grand Maester says that if she makes it through the night, it is likely that she will live. But until then..."

The tears continued, and the boy turned to cling to his septa.

And it was her to whom Tyrion then turned.

"It isn't safe to take him to the Sept of Baelor yet. I do not know the prayers as well as I likely should, but I am certain you can find some suitable one to lead him in. He must get some sleep."

"No!" Tommen cried out. "No! I want to see her!"

"Your mother is bloodied, it would be too--" the septa started, but was cut off by Tommen.

"I want to see her."

Tyrion sighed, and his face met his palm. "Give me a moment, then."

He poked his head back into the room, and called, "The prince wishes to see his mother."

"But Lord Hand, she is--bloody, and in her smallclothes!"

"Then throw a fucking sheet over her!" he snapped. "She might not live the night, and you are worried about smallclothes?"

A half-minute later, the door was opened again and Tommen was lead in.

A sheet had been hastily thrown over Cersei but he could at least get close enough to her to take one of her hands in his own smaller ones.

"Mother..."

"The Grand Maester is doing everything he can, my prince," said one of the servants, "Your mother is in very good hands."

Tommen didn't seem to hear the woman.

He just sat there, staring at her face for several minutes, once in a while saying, "Mother."

After a short period, he let himself be lead away.

Once back out in the hall, the septa looked to Tyrion, and said, "I will pray with him as best I know how, but if I may venture to ask--?"

"What is it?"

"Perhaps he might be allowed to stay the night with you? His grace is not--will be too busy to comfort him, and as he has no near living relatives but you..."

No wine tonight, then, or at least not to the degree he hoped.

"Certainly," he said. "Bronn will be in my chambers here no doubt, simply tell him that Tommen wishes to stay with his family. And--"

Tyrion reached into his pocket and pulled out a dragon, then handed it to her. "--give him that as proof I said it."

"I still do not understand why you trust this cut-throat, my Lord Hand, but I will do as you ask," the septa replied.

"He's not a cut-throat, he is a sellsword. Loyal to gold he might be...but thankfully, I have a lot of that."

The two walked away and Tyrion was left in the hall, alone. He went to get something to eat, and get a moment's peace from all the chaos.

Whether Cersei would live, or die, he did not know. But he knew either way that this was only more on his plate, with the safety of King's Landing hanging still in the balance.

Chapter Text

Tommen

Mother had lived the night.

He had gone down to her chambers again as soon as he could. They would not let him look at the wound, but they would let him touch her hands, and give her water.

They gave him a little bowl of water and a little washcloth, and the Grand Maester showed him how to wet it and squeeze a little water into her mouth.

"Why can't we give her a cup?"

"She is unconscious, my prince," Pycelle said, "To pour water down her throat could mean water in her lungs. That, that, that is what makes us breathe. It could drown her. So we must give her what she needs in small doses."

"And food?"

"That is more difficult," Pycelle said, "We will have to give her small doses, as with the water, but with a mixture of honey and herbs."

Tommen went quiet. He gave his mother the water carefully, in the way that he'd been shown.

"When will she wake up?"

"I'm not entirely certain, my prince. She may not wake at all, or she may wake in a week, or longer. An injury to the head is not as simple as breaking your leg." He took a deep breath as the other servants in the room left, and then suddenly his tone changed. "The head is the place from which all our body's instructions come. How to breathe, eat, and sleep. How to walk. It would be like your brother ruling on his own without the Lord Hand's help."

"He wouldn't be able to rule by himself," Tommen said quietly. "Where did you learn all of this?"

"At the Citadel, my prince, where I learned all the rest of my knowledge. We help those with injuries, and study what happens when wounds like this occur."

He tried not to cry. He knew he shouldn't, he was a prince. His mother said not to show people tears, that they would think him weak. Not that it made him so, but that others would think it.

But this was the Grand Maester, and he was a nice old man. Surely he would not think him weak for crying about his mother's state.

He let a few tears fall, and wiped them away.

"Continue to pray to, to the Mother, my prince." Pycelle slipped back into his stuttering state when the servants returned--with some buckets of fresh water. "And perhaps, if I may suggest, the Stranger."

"Why?"

"You, you remember your l-lessons, don't you? The Stranger's realm is death, and the unknown. Pray to the Mother and ask her to show your own mother mercy, but also ask the Stranger that if she must be taken--she goes without pain. Precious few pray to the Stranger, they might appreciate the company."

Tommen only nodded. He got up to leave when the servants quietly requested it--it was again time to clean the wound.

"Before you go," Pycelle said, with a small smile. "Here, take this."

He handed Tommen a necklace. The boy recognized it instantly--it was his mother's, the one she'd been wearing when she fell.

"I had to remove it yesterday. Perhaps you could keep an eye on it for me."

"Thank you," Tommen put it in his pocket, and held on to it.

He hoped, hoped against fear, that his prayers would do some good.


*Tyrion*

It was far into the evening two weeks later, and Tyrion was at the point of going to bed (finally) when the servant arrived in his quarters.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Lord Hand," she said, "But I have a message for you from the Grand Maester."

"What could he possibly have to say at this time of night? Does he believe I like men? Even if I did, he would not be my type."

"No," she replied quickly, "No, it is not that. The--the Queen Regent is awake."

He got up instantly, inwardly cursing. "How is she? Is she speaking?"

"...the Grand Maester says it is best you come see her yourself to judge that."

Tyrion finished his glass of wine, set it back on the table, and then headed off with the woman. Several minutes later, he was walking into her bedroom.

"Pycelle, tell me--"

She was sitting up, against a mass of pillows, eyes open, but--they were glassy, almost. She saw him, but did not react in the way he expected her to. There were no accusations, no mention of Joffrey, nothing.

He saw another servant offering her water and gruel, but she didn't consume either until the servant lifted the cup or spoon to her lips and poured them in himself. She swallowed--but that was all.

The Grand Maester gestured to him to come over, so they did.

"How long has my sister been awake?" Tyrion asked. "Has she said anything?"

"She has been awake before in the past few days, but there was scarcely time to give her water at those times before she went down for sleep again. Now, it's been perhaps half an hour."

"She hasn't called for wine, her children, anything?"

"Not that I have seen or heard," Pycelle replied, "But we have seen things of this nature at the Citadel. They may recover later, but the initial stages after a head wound are...unpleasant. Responding only faintly to outside stimulus, reflexive behavior, that sort of thing."

"So long as she is eating and drinking herself," Tyrion said. "Do you know how long it will be before she moves beyond this?"

"I can't say, Lord Hand. There was a pattern to recovery, but every person we treated was different. Sometimes the early stages went on for a long while, weeks, months. Others recovered more quickly. The fact that she is able to eat and drink is a minor miracle--not discounting, of course, the work that I and the servants have done for her."

Tyrion sighed. "And I thank you for that work. I will let the prince know in the morning about this. As best I can at least."

He went over to the bed, climbing onto the other side. "Cersei?"

There was no response.

"Sister, come now," he said, hoping that he could at least stir the dislike she'd always shown for him. Hatred had kept her going for so long, after all...perhaps it would help her now. "I am sure you hate having the imp in your room."

Nothing. She continued to take the water and gruel she was being fed, but did not look at him.

"Apologies, Lord Hand," the servant feeding her said, "I was here earlier in the day and she was like this then, too. Perhaps she is too much in pain to speak just yet?"

Tyrion doubted that, but he would not begrudge an uneducated man a guess of that sort.

"If I may?" he prompted, gesturing at the bowl of gruel.

The servant handed it over, and excused himself to get more water.

Tyrion lifted a spoonful of gruel to her lips, and it was only then that she looked at him. Those wildfire eyes were now but dull emeralds.

As much evil as this woman had done, he could not but pity her.

He fed her the rest of the gruel, and then excused himself. As he was leaving, she was laying back down again, and two servants were gently moving her so that she did not lay on her back.


*Tommen*

Grand Maester Pycelle came to him just after lunch, and asked if he might join him. Uncle Tyrion had said he might do this, and that he might repeat things he already knew--that was just the way of men tending the ill. They liked to repeat things so that you remembered how important those things were. That or they liked hearing themselves talk.

"Of course," Tommen said, "Is this about my mother?"

"Yes, my prince. I have...good news, and bad news."

He drew himself up, and tried to look brave. And feel brave. He had prayed so much in the last two weeks, and though he'd barely seen his mother he hoped it was doing her good.

Pycelle sat down in the chair nearest him. "I wanted to tell you this, before you went in to see her. Your mother is awake, but she is still very much in need of help."

"How is that?"

"She cannot feed herself, nor drink by herself. This is common with people who have hit their heads, you understand--as they wake up, their bodies are so busy fixing the damage done that there is little left for other things."

"But can she talk?"

"No, my prince. Not yet."

"Oh..." Tommen took a deep breath. "...t-thank you, Grand Maester."

"I have spoken to your uncle the Hand about this as well," Pycelle said, "And he has agreed with me that if you would like to visit her daily, then you can. She may not be awake for you, but we are sure it would be good for her to see you if she is, or for you to be near in general. But...there is one last thing."

"What is it?"

"She does not yet look at people, unless they are feeding her or giving her water. I do not wish to upset you, of course, but--but I wanted you to be prepared for this."

He wanted to cry, cry as he had done so much in the last two weeks. But his mother was awake. Awake! Even if her head was not working right yet, she needed him.

She needed him to be what Joffrey was not. His brother had scarcely given a thought to her, and had not even tried to visit her. Uncle Tyrion could only do so much, with all the work he had to do. He did visit her of course, but he could never stay long.

It is up to me to be strong for her, Tommen thought, I am almost nine now, and nearly a man.

Chapter Text

Tyrion

*Tyrion*

When his sister did finally say a word, it had puzzled them all.

Tommen had not been in--he was in lessons, but Tyrion was glad that he hadn't been.

As a matter of course, Pycelle and the servants had begun to speak to her, and when Tyrion came to visit, he would feed her at least one bowl of gruel or soup. He asked himself why, but he could never find the answer.

There had been someone new to aid in her recovery, but then, when she had spoken... he had felt less relieved and more confused.


Cersei had been awake. She stayed awake for an hour or so at a time, and they had managed to get her to do so at three times per day at this point, so that they could feed her and get her to use the chamberpot.

Tyrion came in for lunch and found a septa speaking to the Grand Maester in the first chamber.

"Do you have some child somewhere that we don't know of, Pycelle?" he asked.

"Oh! My Lord Hand! N, no, I do not. I thought that it would be best if she had someone to...instruct her, as it were. Young women of high birth, they, they always have one, y-you see, and I thought that it might aid in her recovery. She will need to relearn so much, after all. If you are displeased, I, I can send her away."

"No, that will not be necessary." Tyrion looked up at the septa, "What might your name be?"

"I am Septa Melvine, Lord Hand."

"And I am the Imp," Tyrion replied, "I hope the Grand Maester has told you about the severity of the situation."

"Yes, my lord," Septa Melvine nodded. "It is a sad case, indeed."

"Have you worked with such folk before?"

"Yes, my lord. Extensively so, and once or twice I have had the charge of children unwell in the mind. Violent fits and trouble learning, that sort of thing."

Tyrion, puzzled, looked to Pycelle.

"Many patients with wounds of this nature," Pycelle started quickly, "They, they, they go from silence, to combative fits. I do not know if our patient will, but I thought it best to get a, a caretaker with experience on that head, if it did happen."

"And if she does go in the direction of fits? What does one do when one's charge becomes combative?"

"We hold them until it stops."

"Funny," Tyrion said, "I had heard that it was common practice to simply tie them to their bed, or chair, in some manner."

"That was done, my lord, but I have found my way to work better in the long run. I served a lord once who would not see his son treated 'like some common criminal,' and so this method came to be."

"Very well, then."

Tyrion thanked the two of them, and then entered his sister's chambers.

She watched him as he got onto the bed, and brought the bowl of soup with him.

"Good afternoon, sister," he said.

"Qar."

He almost dropped the bowl.

"No, sister." Tyrion held it steady with one hand, and used it to gesture to himself. "I am Tyr-i-on."

She looked like she was trying to say it, but instead what came out was, "Qar. Sun."

Then her expression shifted, and she was shaking--whether in rage or fear, he didn't know.

"Cersei, come now. Look. Look, I have food."

"Qar! Sun!" she forced out. "Sun!"

The expression on her face was a horrible mix of anger and confusion. She was trying to speak, she was TRYING, but she simply couldn't.

"You will see the sun later," Tyrion said. "You must eat first, and stay strong, or you won't be able to. The sun is fine where it is."

That seemed to calm her down, but still she repeated the word several times before allowing him to feed her.

When she was done, she grabbed the bowl and brought it to her lips, then looked at him.

"Is it something you want?"

She tried to speak--but nothing came.

A hell, he thought, that is what she is in. He had read of this malady once or twice in some of the Grand Maester's books, though mainly as it pertained to the elderly. They knew their words, but somewhere along the way they couldn't make it out the mouth. It was a terrible thought.

When Pycelle entered the room, he made mention of the condition.

"Yes, my lord, that, that, it does happen. The head is mending, but some things can be lost. They may understand, but find themselves unable to say the word they want."

"And is this a lasting condition?"

"It can be, my lord."

"To be stuck in one's mind, with no way of saying what one wants...I would rather drink myself to death than be stuck in such a state." Tyrion shook his head. "Is the prince set to visit later?"

"Yes, my lord, before he goes to bed. What do you want me to tell him?"

"What you have told me, only...in nicer terms," Tyrion said, "He is just a boy, after all. Perhaps something like, her mind is still mending, and not all parts will work at once when it is. I'm sure you will come up with something."

Pycelle nodded, nervously.

A servant entered with a cup of water to give to Cersei a moment later, and once that had been drunk, Tyrion started to get off the bed.

A hand on his forearm.

"Sun," she said again, desperately, looking like she would cry as she tugged at his sleeve. "Sun!"

"Yes, yes, dear sister, I will get you the sun."

Perhaps he could arrange for her to be outside, once she was walking again.

He would eventually look up that word 'qar,' but to his knowledge, of the languages he knew, there was no such word. And in the meantime, there was too much else to do.

Chapter Text

Sansa

*Sansa*

How long had it been, since she had been outside King's Landing?

Too long, far too long. She almost hoped that Stannis's assault would succeed--as stern and unhappy as her father had described the man, he would treat her more kindly than Joffrey had. Perhaps he might ransom her to her brother, then demand fealty, but any king might do that. So long as he did not order his men to beat her, she would be satisfied. She had made a living of biting back remarks, after all, and could play her part to any king that happened along.

Joffrey talked of his mother only when someone spoke of how sorry they were to hear of her injury, and even then only in the past tense. It not only made Sansa sick, but it also made her think of her mother--if her mother were in the shape that Cersei was, she would never want to leave her side.

She could be now, and Sansa would have no way of knowing. No ravens had come, not even to let her know that she was no longer wanted.

Now all she could think of was Stannis and his fleet. There was word that he was fast approaching, and she had never prayed so much before.

To the Old Gods, mainly, of course...but also to the Seven--namely, the Stranger.

Take Joffrey away in the battle, she begged, Take him and give me any man you please, so long as he does not beat me.

No sooner had she finished the prayer than she was summoned to the throne room to meet Joffrey himself. She was there a minute or two before he showed, and was so deep in her thoughts that she was barely conscious of his entrance into the room. She barely heard a word until the latter half of his sentence.

"...my new blade. Heart-Eater, I've named it."

She looked quietly down at the blade.

"Kiss it," Joffrey said.

Sansa obeyed, and then stood with the same calm she always did.

"You'll kiss it again, when I return. And taste my uncle's blood."

"Will you slay him yourself?" she asked.

"If he is fool enough to come near me."

"So you will be fighting outside the--"

"The king does not need to discuss his plans with a stupid girl," Joffrey interrupted.

"You are right, your grace. I-I'm sorry. Of course you'll be in the vanguard. They say my brother Robb always goes where the fighting is thickest."

"He is a mere pretender. And when he comes, you will taste his blood as well."

Sansa only nodded, and then Joffrey turned to leave.


*Tyrion*

He went to see Shae as soon as she could, and as much as she begged him not to, he said he was taking part in the battle.

"You will die," she said, "You will die, and I will have no friendly face here at all to look forward to when night falls."

"I will not die," he replied firmly, "You understand? I will not die."

She was half-weeping, but after one close hug, she let go of him.

And not a moment too soon, because Sansa came back at just that moment.

"Lord Hand," she said quietly, "I thought you had already gone."

"No, my lady, I came to see you before I left," Tyrion said, "To be sure that you and your handmaid went to Maegor's Holdfast with the rest of the noble ladies."

"We shall do that directly."

"May the battle go well," Shae added, "For all of us."

"You are both stronger than you appear," he said quietly, "And if prayer will help us, then pray away, to the old gods and the new."


*Joffrey*

He was not afraid. He was never afraid.

But that creeping feeling in his back was coming from somewhere. His fingers were like ice, the rest of him burning hot.

"If you won't defend your own city, why should they?" Tyrion asked.

He didn't know. And there was never a moment he didn't know. He was always aware, always sure. There was never a moment that he was uncertain, unsure, uninformed.

Until now.

Battles in dusty old books were one thing, but this...this was too real for him.

He didn't know.

"What would you have me do?"

As ugly and disgusting as his dwarf uncle was, Joffrey still knew that the man knew more of battle than he did. And unlike his late father, Tyrion would not chide him for not knowing after the fact.

"Lead! Get down there and lead your people against the invaders who want to kill them," Tyrion said. "Invigorate them by shouting something nasty about Stannis and how you will not allow such a man in your city, and they will rush ahead in defense of that city AND their King."

"What--" Joffrey found his mouth suddenly dry, but he went on, "--what would you say about him?"

"He burned the Seven because his foreign sorceress seduced him," Tyrion spoke quickly, "Stand over them and speak--you'll need to shout--that Stannis is no true king, no true man. He burned the gods of their fathers and the man who sends him to the seven hells shall--"

"Yes, uncle. I can take it from there."

A deep breath, then several more, in rapid succession.

His father had beaten Rhaegar Targaryen at the Trident, had beaten all his opponents. His father would have roared that no man was going to take his city while he still had his weapon. His uncle would have already been in the battle, whooping for joy if his mother's tales were anything accurate.

And Sansa did say that her brother would go where the fighting was thickest. If he could not be braver than a rebel--

"I'm not afraid," he said, unintentionally aloud. "I am not afraid."

He took great strides, inwardly shaking but reminding himself that many men he thought of as fools would do this without thinking. He was better than them. He was better than all of them. He was King!

"SOLDIERS OF THE CITY!" he yelled, voice cracking, "Stannis Baratheon burned the gods of your fathers! He will burn you and your children if his sorceress whore demands it. Do you want a coward like that in the city?!"

Tyrion, at his side, whispered one more thing, and Joffrey added it.

"But these are brave men he's brought with him, so let's go KILL THEM!"

There was a roar of approval, and then the door broke down, and Stannis's forces began to rush in.

He swung his sword, and luckily connected with an enemy's throat, spraying blood all over his armor. Stannis--he had to find Stannis, if he could slay the man himself, no one would ever question him as King again.

Chapter Text

Joffrey

"COME ON YOU BASTARDS, GET UP THOSE LADDERS!"

From behind, the swing of a sword, and a scream as the body of the shouter tumbled back.

Joffrey watched as Tyrion cut the man's leg off and stabbed him when he fell back.

"That is how you kill, Joffrey. Find a weak spot, strike, and make sure they don't get back up! And if you lose your sword, your dagger--"

"I knew that!" he snapped. But he saw the next soldier coming; Tyrion gestured with his weapon towards the man.

Joffrey held his breath and rather than swing--stabbed.

Right in the man's face. His blade went right through the man's nose and into one eye, and blood began to pour out from the wound like a small river. He fell--and Joffrey stabbed him again, but deeper, and in the other eye.

When he pulled out his sword, it was covered in blood.

He'd killed someone, and he'd never felt so enraptured with a sensation. A man was dead because of him. An enemy had been struck down, because of him.

"Now go do that to more of them!" Tyrion called out, "And we'll heap the skulls of all your kills at the foot of the Iron Throne!"

He liked that idea, the idea of showing everyone who came to petition him what happened to those fool enough to fight him up close.


*Tommen*

"Sun."

"No, mother, it is dark outside," Tommen said. "Septa Melvine, why does she keep saying that?"

"Perhaps she is not saying sun, but son," came the reply.

Tommen got up onto the bed, and curled up to his mother.

"Son..."

He put his arms around her, and hugged her, and she returned the motion. But she didn't look at him, or say anything else.

After a moment, she let go.

"Don't worry, mother," he said, "Uncle Tyrion will make Stannis and his soldiers go away."

Silence.

"I'll protect you, no matter what." He took her hand in his own, and touched it to his face.

"Son. Qar."

Uncle Tyrion had told him that that was what mother called him. Qar. He didn't know why. Was she asking about Joffrey and uncle Tyrion, maybe?

"You want to know about Joffrey?"

"Son. Qar. Qar."

Her hands were shaking, and she was almost crying--tears were beginning to well up in her eyes.

"Joffrey is outside trying to make sure Uncle Stannis doesn't get in here," Tommen said.

"Son."

Tommen hugged her again, and said, "I'm here, mother. It's okay. I'm here. Your little cub is almost grown. I won't let the bad men get you."

"Son."

She did not speak it again after that, but as he rest his head against her chest, he could feel her racing heartbeat.


*Joffrey*

Every muscle was protesting. But he had killed four men, and so he barely noticed the strain from the high of it all. He rushed forward, calling for Stannis. "Where are you, you coward?"

"Your grace!" a soldier called from atop the walkway of one of the walls, "We've cornered him up here!"

Joffrey was up the nearest ladder--breathing hard by the time he got there due to his armor, but he made it. "Where?!"

The soldier pointed. Some of Stannis's men were trying to get him back towards another ladder, but there were groups of soldiers down at the bottom of it. And the next one.

"Let me at the traitor!" he screeched, "Clear a path! Clear a path for your King!"

He got to the front.

Stannis glowered, but stepped forward. "I knew that it would come to this."

He was breathing, hard, and judging from his sword had been no less prolific in his slaughter.

"Perhaps we may settle this in single combat, uncle," Joffrey said, "When I win, I will be gracious enough to give your men quick deaths."

"Just raise your sword," Stannis replied, "When I win, I will make sure to show your mother what her sins have bought her."

Joffrey took a deep breath, looking first at his sword, and then at Stannis. Heart-Eater. He'd called it that for a reason, and now he'd make that reason happen.

CLANG

He rushed forward, his sword meeting Stannis's and falling back briefly.

"You have no skill with the sword," Stannis said. Their blades met again, singing that keen sound of metal on metal. "Your mother should have known better than to put one in your hand."

Weakness. His uncle had said to look for a weakness. ALL men had one (except myself, Joffrey thought).

But it took time to look for one, and time was one thing he didn't have a lot of. He found himself on the defensive--Stannis's strikes were coming hard and fast, and when he blocked the latest one, he stumbled back and fell, dropping his sword.

"Right where you belong," Stannis said, "On the ground before your true king."

He moved to Joffrey's side, and his sword moved...

Joffrey saw red and in anger grabbed the dagger at his side, struck up that thing he always called an armor skirt, aiming for Stannis's gut--

--but he got at the thigh instead, and his blade was buried hilt-deep in flesh.

"I AM THE KING!" he screeched. Then he drew it out, intending a second strike. Blood gushed out, coating his hand, the blade, the ground, in a horrible wave of scarlet gore.

Stannis stumbled, gripping the hilt of his sword with one hand, a point near the end of the blade with his other. And then he fell forward, the tip of it aimed squarely at a point between Joffrey's eyes.

The head was pinned to the stone beneath.

King Joffrey I, of the House Baratheon, saw and heard no more.

Chapter Text

Tyrion

To his father's credit, Tyrion thought, he did at least come to see Cersei.

"And she has been like this for some time?" Tywin asked. He lifted a finger, and moved it in front of his daughter's eyes. She followed, but didn't say anything.

"Yes, father. The Grand Maester has been doing all he can, and has even gotten her a septa for further recovery."

"And what good will that do her, if she never moves beyond this?"

"He wished to be prepared. The septa he got is well-trained in difficult cases, and has had the charge of those with injuries such as this before."

Tywin seemed a little more gruff than usual, and when he spoke up a moment later it was easy to see why.

"It seems you have handled this well enough," he said. "I will expect you to continue doing so, now I have returned. You will no longer be needing the Hand of the King pin, and I will expect it on my desk by the end of the day."

"Yes, father. If I may--with Joffrey's passing..."

"Tommen will be king, obviously," Tywin replied, apparently calmer now he'd got the compliment out. "It has been settled between the Tyrells and I that Lady Olenna's granddaughter Margaery will marry him." Tywin stood, and moved to the desk in the corner of the room. He seemed to be looking over the ointments that the Grand Maester was having the servants use on Cersei's wound.

"What about the Stark girl?" Tyrion asked. "We cannot simply leave her be, and I doubt you would return her to her family out of the goodness of your heart."

"That is what I came to see you about."

"Me?" he asked, "Father, if this is a jape, it is a bad one."

"It is no jape," Tywin replied, opening one jar. He made a face, and then checked all the others. "What would I gain from simply giving Robb Stark his sister back?"

"And what would you gain by marrying him to your second son, who is deformed and not even set to inherit?" Tyrion asked. He would think of something, he had to. Sansa deserved better than him (or Jaime for that matter). "Do you not see the insult that would be to their house?"

"Be silent." Tywin replied sharply, but then his train of thought seemed to shift. "If not you, then who?"

His father had never been so amenable as he was right at this moment (puzzling, after that earlier unpleasantness), and Tyrion was more than a little baffled by it. But he was never one to let such opportunity pass him by.

"Willas or Loras Tyrell--"

"Not Loras," Tywin replied quickly, "I believe we both know why that would never work."

"Willas, then. I highly doubt you would want to marry her to Jaime, or that you--"

"Me?" Tywin huffed; if he'd been another man Tyrion would've sworn he'd laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. "You make far too free with your suggestions."

"I was merely listing bachelors that I know of," Tyrion replied, "You happen to be one of them. Lancel..."

"Lancel is unlikely, but a better choice, I suppose, than--"

"Wine," Cersei said. "Wine."

Tywin looked confused, for the first time that Tyrion had ever seen.

"She does this, father," he replied, "The Grand Maester seems to think that she connects a word she strongly relates to a person and repeats that word almost like a name. I assume because she remembers that most about them. Joffrey and Tommen are 'son', that sort of thing."

Tywin shook his head.

"At any rate," Tyrion went on, "Marry Lady Sansa off to a firstborn son in our family or a highborn man that you trust, who is likely to inherit something of real worth. You could resolve the war with Robb Stark. Stannis may have been battered but he will be back, and the sooner we resolve this mess before winter, the better."

Things had gone chaotic in the battle, after Joffrey had fallen. Stannis had been dragged away, bleeding profusely--but no word had yet come that he was dead. Could he have survived such a wound, with such a loss of blood?

Tywin did not reply positively to that. But Tyrion also noticed he didn't make any cutting remarks, or issue any outright orders.

So hopefully, he was thinking about it.


*Davos*

Stannis was dead, there was no mistaking that. But some of the more lunatic, er, faithful of the soldiers insisted that if they got him back to Dragonstone the lady Melisandre could do something for him. What they expected her to do with a corpse he wasn't sure, but he knew it couldn't be anything good.

The Red Woman was in fact waiting for them at the harbor, and seemed anxious to get Stannis "someplace more private." Mention was made of the Lord of Light in such frequency that Davos couldn't help but let his mind (and eyes) wander.

Even the bloody Lord of Light himself would want to gouge his ears out after hearing her talk, he thought. The crowd of people at the docks wasn't massive, but it was big enough that he could amuse himself by picking out faces he knew. A dock worker who he'd given tips to regarding the perils of smuggling, a sailor who he'd delivered a letter for once, some others who he'd met in his days as a smuggler...

Most of the crowd followed Melisandre and the litter that Stannis's body was strapped down to, including (he finally noticed) Selyse. That left mostly dock workers and sailors.

And one small hooded figure, standing near three large crates marked with a peculiar gray shape.

"Excuse me," the hooded one said in a soft voice, "But might we speak?"

"I have to help them attend to Lord Stannis," he replied, about to walk past, "I'm afraid I can't--"

"Please, Ser Davos."

The voice shifted higher, and the little hand grabbed him by the sleeve.

His eyes widened, and he knelt. It was Shireen.

"Why are you here?" he asked, "Do you have any idea how easy it would be for someone to kidnap you and demand a ransom from your family?"

"No one will ransom me," Shireen replied quietly, "Please, Ser Davos, we have to go. We have to go now."

"Go--go where? Why?"

"You...you know how the Red Lady sees future in the flames?" she asked, "She told me before father left for the battle that I could do it too, if I just..."

She shook her head.

"She doesn't know anything about the future," Davos replied. "And even if she did, that's dark magic she plays with. You don't want any part of that."

"I did do it," Shireen went on, "And I saw...I saw something in the fireplace."

"Why did you not tell your mother? Surely--"

"I saw them burning me," she said, voice suddenly choked with sobs, "I saw mother and father both, in the snow, burning me. If...if I stay, she will make them kill me. Please. Please, save me, Ser Davos, no one else here will help me."

Even if it was true--where could he take the girl? It was hard enough to hide a normal highborn person, but someone with Shireen's malady? How could he ever hide her? He tried to think where they might be able to go. Surely she could not see where safety was, too...

"We have to go," she said.

"Princess, if you're worried about dyin', you're only more likely to do it out there," Davos replied, gesturing vaguely out at the water.

"No," Shireen insisted. "I saw that too. We'll make it. Please. Please, we have to go now or they'll burn me."

Her voice grew only more and more desperate as the sentence went on, and finally, he agreed.

"Alright," Davos finally said, "I hope you have all you want and need with you, because we won't be able to come back."

Shireen gestured to the crates beside her.

"How did you--?"

"I paid a guard to bring me crates to fill and then again to bring them down," she said, "I told him that it was the lady's gift to the survivors, wine and such. I told him I would tell the lady of his faithfulness, but he had to go back to his post."

Then Shireen smiled at him.

He saw Salladhor pass by, and called him over.

Seven save us both, Davos thought, as the pirate approached.

"And Ser Davos," Shireen said, "I know the safest place for us right now, too."

How he hoped she did.


*Tyrion*

"I'm to be King, uncle," Tommen said quietly, "I'm too young, aren't I?"

"Yes, you are. But that is why your grandfather will assume the role of Lord Protector for the time being. He will rule in your place, and teach you how to do it, until you are old enough to do it yourself."

"And Lady Margaery?" he asked. "What about her?"

"She will be your wife," Tyrion replied, "She is pretty, don't you think?"

He was glad it was Tommen marrying her, and not Joffrey. Margaery was far too nice--even if it could be superficial at times--to ever be wed to Joffrey.

"Yes, she is," he said quietly.

"Your grandfather is not particularly nice," Tyrion said, "And you know this. But he is nothing if not able to rule. He kept the peace for quite some time as Hand to the last Targaryen King."

"He should be King," Tommen replied. "Not me. He knows what to do. And what about mother? How will I see her if I am studying to be King all day?"

"We will find time for you to see her, don't worry."

"Does she...does she know Joffrey is gone?"

"Not yet," Tyrion said. He was still trying to work out how to get her to the Sept without her being seen. He knew that she wasn't yet able to face the public, and to see her precious eldest son dead...

That was when he looked down at the doll in his hands. The Grand Maester had said it would be a good idea to get her one--she may not remember yet who she was exactly, but she did seem to know that she was a mother.

He'd found it in a tailor's shop. Carved from a fallen weirwood limb, if the merchant was to be believed, something about favoring it for dolls and sourcing it from northern merchants and all that rot.

There was a sort of bonnet covering its head but removed, it showed blonde hair ("collected from some local women," the merchant said). That was important, Tyrion thought. If it was blonde she'd think it was hers for sure. He'd got several little gowns for it and a gold cloth to swaddle it in, paid, and then left.

And now here he was, feeling foolish.

Tommen was lead off by his septa, and Tyrion was free to see his sister.

"Cersei," he said, cradling the doll as he entered the room.

"Qar."

"Yes...yes, Qar." He stood beside the bed and showed it to her. "Cersei, this is yours."

She looked confused.

"Here."

He held it up, and she took it, staring at it for some time before touching its face.

"Four?"

She looked at Tyrion.

"Four?"

He had no earthly idea what this was about, so he did what he always did now when she asked.

"Yes, Cersei. Four."

She smiled, and looked back down at her doll, cuddling it close.

"Four," she said softly, stroking the little wooden face.

It was a sad sight, Tyrion thought, but also sweet. Perhaps it would make Joffrey's loss easier.

Chapter Text

Catelyn

She came to Robb just after midday, and found him reading a letter.

"From King's Landing," he said automatically, before looking up.

"What is it? What's happened?"

"Joffrey is dead," Robb replied, "But Stannis's fleet has been decimated, and Tommen is now to be King."

"What happens now?" she asked. Sansa, that was what she wanted to know about.

"Tywin Lannister sends word that he wants to conduct negotiations with us, and bring an end to the war."

"And how does he mean to do that?" Catelyn asked. "This is a trap, Robb, mark my words. Your list of allies is thin since you married Talisa. And consider that he still has Sansa and Arya."

Robb was silent for a moment, and then sighed.

"As you said, mother, my list of allies is thin. If you had only kept Jaime Lannister where I put him, perhaps this would be less daunting than it currently is. Instead, I have to go into this with nothing on my side to offer. Tywin Lannister is not a doting father, but I imagine he will have hard words and many demands for the family that may have lost him his eldest son."

"I did that for Sansa and Arya," Catelyn replied, "If you would just listen to me, you would understand--"

"I understand that we are all in danger because of your impulsive decision. It coming to this is as much your fault as anyone's. If I still had him, we could have them both within a matter of weeks. Instead, I have to pray that he is feeling generous when we meet him, and that he will not immediately take my head for losing his son."

Catelyn went quiet. All she could think of were the houses of Reyne and Tarbeck, and how even at such a young age, the blazing wrath of Tywin Lannister had burned them away.

She had sent Brienne along, and hoped that that would be enough.

Because if it wasn't, she might have doomed them all.


*Sansa*

Sansa still wanted to go home, but with Joffrey gone and Cersei crippled, things were not so bad here as before. She still had guards, but there were no more calls to bring her to the throne room so she could be beaten. No more insults, snide remarks, threats. It was almost nice.

But she knew she was being watched at all times, so when the Tyrells asked about Joffrey, she was hesitant to speak.

"Come now," Olenna said, "I am sure no one will think the less of you for giving an honest opinion on the little boil."

"Grandmother!" Margaery said, "It's not right to speak ill of the dead."

"And why not? He isn't here to hear it, and it's even less right to outright lie about the dead. Tell us, though, my dear--am I right in guessing that my dear granddaughter is better off with the second son?"

Sansa took a deep breath, and gave a quick glance around. There didn't seem to be anyone close. Perhaps...

"Yes," she said softly, leaning forward. "Joffrey was very cruel. Tommen is young, but he's very nice. He thinks Lady Margaery pretty, and he will be easy to get along with."

"What will they do with you now?" Margaery asked, "I mean that politely, of course. Have you heard anything?"

"Oh...no." Sansa shook her head. "I expect that I will be told at some point if they find me a match. But I'm more...hopeful, now that Joffrey is gone. There can hardly be anyone worse that they could hand me off to."

Baelish, for example. Tyrion had told her the other day that the man had made some noise about possibly gaining her hand in marriage, but then there'd been some discussion about Lysa Arryn and needing to secure the Vale, and that had been that.

She'd almost been relieved. Her mother had seemed to like him, but there was something about him that she found discomforting. He wasn't cruel--in fact, he always seemed to smile when he looked at her.

But there was that feeling, still.

"Why don't we get off that nasty subject?" Olenna suddenly said, "Perhaps we might ask about the soon-to-be Queen Mother. We've heard very little about her condition, you see. She is still alive, is she not?"

"Yes," Sansa said quietly, "But Lord Tyrion says that it will be some time before she is able to entertain guests of any kind."

"How terrible," Margaery replied, "I wonder if I might visit her..."

"That would be out of the question."

The deep, firm voice sounded off behind Sansa, and they all looked back.

"Lord Tywin," Olenna said, "You gave us quite a fright, sneaking up like that. Though how you managed that in a black doublet when everything else here is bright, I can't imagine. Perhaps my eyesight is beginning to go."

"Oh, stop, grandmother, he knows you're lying," Margaery said. "Lord Tywin, please, how is my goodmother-to-be?"

"Unwell," Tywin replied evenly, "She would not be able to speak to you, even if you were to go."

"How sad. I should have liked to meet her before marrying his grace."

"Perhaps in the future." Tywin paused, and then spoke again, "Lady Sansa. I have matters to discuss with you regarding your family. If you would accompany me?"

His tone gave no room for any protest, and so she stood, and took his arm.

"It was lovely speaking," Margaery said, "Please, do join us again."

Sansa made a weak smile, and then went off with Tywin. Not until they were well out of earshot did he speak again.

"I imagine you have been wondering what will happen to you, now that it is no longer possible that you will be queen," Tywin said.

"Yes, my lord," she said quietly. "I assumed that I would be married off to someone, to benefit the crown."

"And what do you hope for in marriage?"

It was a strange question, but easy to answer.

"I ask very little in a husband, my lord," Sansa replied, "I want only a man who will treat me well."

"Is that all?"

"That is all I have come to want," she said, "I will do my duty without complaint, if only I am given to someone who is not cruel."

"Like Joffrey?"

She didn't respond. She couldn't. When she tried, her voice refused to say the words. Olenna and Margaery were one thing, Lord Tywin was another.

"It is no secret, the way he handled you," Tywin went on, "You need not try to conceal that he did. It would be like trying to convince the world that my second son is not a dwarf."

There was silence for a while.

"Have you..." Sansa stammered slightly, almost afraid of the answer she might get, "...have you chosen anyone for me?"

Please, she pleaded, He could be any man, any man at all, as long as he doesn't do what Joffrey did.

"I thought at first of betrothing you to Tyrion," Tywin said, "But as my second son so eloquently put it, it would be an insult to your house."

"Lord Tyrion is kind, at least."

Tywin didn't respond to that; he merely went on with his own train of thought. "Then I thought of Ser Loras, or perhaps his brother Willas, since he is the elder. I noticed that you got on quite well with Margaery and her grandmother."

"I would not say no to either of them," Sansa said, "I've heard much of them, and all of it good."

"But you know why I cannot allow you to wed either of them, of course."

She thought for a few moments, and then suggested, "Because you want something on hand to ensure my brother's loyalty, and you can't have that if I am in Highgarden."

"Exactly."

She took a deep breath and tried to force her tears back. Would she never see the North again?

"Why are you telling me all this?" She asked, desperate to distract herself. "The Queen said little about you, but she gave the idea that you do not share your plans with anyone."

"I will tell you as soon as I finish speaking about your options," Tywin replied. When she didn't say more, he went on, "I thought that Jaime would be a good choice."

"But he's been held hostage for so long, and you have no idea when or even if he will return." It didn't take a maester to know that much. And Ser Jaime...to wed her to the Kingslayer would have been almost as much an insult as wedding her to Tyrion would be.

Tywin did not say anything to that, but she knew from the tightness around his eyes that she'd hit the mark.

Her father used to do that when she asked difficult questions--questions relating to his older brother, for example, or why Jon was allowed to do this or that when he was only a bastard.

"Who does that leave?" she finally asked.


*Catelyn*

She was summoned to Robb's tent shortly after the midday meal, and could see that he was tense. He hadn't touched his own food, and was only barely sipping at the mead someone had brought him.

"What news?" she asked softly.

"The Old Lion will meet with me," he said.

"Not in King's Landing, I hope."

"No, no, of course not. We will meet at a point between Harrenhal and King's Landing. I won't go on about all of the terms, but I will tell you that you will be joining me."

"You want me there?"

"As it is you who released Ser Jaime, I believe he would appreciate hearing your reasoning from your own mouth, and not second-hand. Perhaps that might help our case and keep something from happening to Sansa."

"But to meet him like this--you could be walking into a trap!"

"What other choice do I have, mother?"

Robb sighed. "I want an end to this war. You told me yesterday that our list of allies is thin, and if I can make peace with Tywin Lannister, I'll do it."

He would never have said that with the other lords in the same tent, Catelyn thought. He only admits it to me because I am his mother.

"What will this peace cost us?" she finally asked. "Do you have any idea?"

"He did make two demands in his letter, and noted that they would be only the first two of many. One is his son."

"What?" she asked fearfully, "What is it he wants, besides that?"

They could not give him Jaime at this meeting...

Robb took a long drink before answering.

"He wants Sansa's hand in marriage."

Chapter Text

Bronn

*Bronn*

A ride to the Twins was about as pleasant as picking fleas out of his cock hairs. But Lord Lannister, oh, he'd promised it would be well worth his while, and so here he was.

Take your time, Tyrion had said. Father wants to be sure that Walder Frey is convinced. Spend as much time there as you like, but be gone before Robb Stark arrives

Promises, promises, but at least now he'd get one of them fulfilled. And not even due to Tyrion's work, but that of his father's, if what he'd been told was correct. He'd have to be extra clean next time he spoke to the man. Maybe he'd even swipe a scent jar from Tyrion so he could smell noble, too.

"We're almost there, Ser."

The man who'd been sent with him (and who he assumed had been told about all this as well), some grey-faced servant he'd almost call too fat to be in the saddle for so long, was the one to speak.

"Yes, I can tell by the sound of the river. D'you think I'm deaf?"

"Ser, this is important. It's--it's vital that you speak respectfully to Walder Frey. He's been laughed at for too long and he's especially prickly now that Robb Stark jilted him."

"If I have to hear that one more time I'll offer to feed you to his dogs. If he's got any." Bronn said, "You've got the letters and all that?"

"Had them the entire journey. Nicely tucked away."

"Just make sure they stay that way. I don't want you digging around in your tits and coming up empty."

They passed several guard patrols, and Bronn had to listen to servant talk about how they were sent by Tywin Lannister, very important message for Lord Frey, here was the sealed scroll, no they couldn't read it themselves, et cetera. He thought if he was them, he'd have probably run the fat fucker through halfway down his third sentence.

Then they came to the gates of the Twins.

"Who goes there?"

"A couple of fellas on urgent business from Tywin Lannister," Bronn said, "There's a message needs reading, that we didn't want to send by raven for him."

"We're Freys, you can hand it to us," said the first guard. "And we'll deliver it."

"You're a Frey, I'm a Rivers," said the other, "I need this more."

"Look, you two can argue all you like, nobody's laying a dirty finger on this but your father," Bronn said, "Now open the gate for us."

After more grumbling from the two guards, they were lead in. Some daft-looking cunt inside said he'd go alert Lord Frey of their presence, and let them know when they'd be allowed in.

"Any chance of a meal in here?" Bronn asked the fat servant.

"Unlikely," came the reply, "Walder Frey is not known for his generosity."

"Cheap bastard."

Thirty minutes later, they were shown in.

Walder was the oldest guy Bronn had ever seen, by a long shot. Spotty about the head, with enough loose skin at his neck that made Bronn wonder if it was even possible to cut the man's throat. And not a tooth in his head. A vulture without a beak, Bronn thought. Or maybe a turtle out of his shell.

"I've been told you've got a message from Tywin Lannister," Walder coughed, giving both of them a glare. "What, ravens not good enough for Lord High and Mighty?"

"His lordship has had ravens shot down of late, with their messages stolen," said Bronn's fat servant, "And this one was too important to risk losing."

"Out with it then! I don't have all day. I was on course to have nothing to do the rest of the evening, and I have a wife wants seeing to," Walder replied. "So out with it! What's this message? And don't read the titles, I know who and what I am, and who and what he is. Get to the point!"

The fat servant obeyed. "Lord Lannister would like you to publicly offer to forgive Robb Stark, in exchange for the opportunity to revenge yourself on him."

"Oh really? And how might he expect to do that?"

"Simply ask for his uncle Edmure Tully of Riverrun as a bridegroom in exchange, and for him to personally attend the wedding, along with his wife. You must also be sure that Robb's army attends, so that they might be taken care of."

"Lord Lannister had better be able to provide assistance."

"That he will, Lord Frey. You will have his assurance and aid in this matter, and your reward will be full control of the Riverlands, through the daughter that Edmure will marry."

The fat servant read further particulars from a second scroll, and then looked to the man for his response.

"A sweet deal," Walder said, "A sweet deal indeed. Fine, I'll agree to this. Give me the paper, I'll write my reply on the back. No sense in wasting any of my own."

The paper was handed over, along with a pen and inkwell. The reply was soon written, and then handed back.

"There."

That was when he looked up, spotting Bronn. "And you, who in the seven hells are you? His bodyguard?"

"Yes and no. I'm here to make sure he don't get carved up like a game bird, and to witness what's said for the lords."

"You didn't answer me. Your name, halfwit."

"Ser Bronn of the Blackwater," Bronn said, "I'd say at your service, but I've already pledge m'service to the Imp and his house."

Bronn could see the wheels turning in the old man's head almost as soon as he finished his sentence. Hell, he thought, maybe even before that.

"You a bachelor, then? Got no wife in your bed?"

"Plenty of women in the bed, but not a wife, no," Bronn replied, giving the words he'd been told to say. "Been promised a noble wife by the Lannisters, but they've been slow in deliverin'."

"That's the way of the Great Houses. Think they can make you wait as much as they damn well please. Well, well, we might just be able to solve this particular problem for you, then. Perhaps as a token of our little agreement here today. I'll let you take a look at my girls, and you can have any of 'em you want, so long as when you leave you take her with you."

"A wedding would take time, Lord Frey--" the fat servant said.

"I'm not talking to you!" Walder snapped, then looked back at Bronn. "I suppose you want a dowry, too?"

"O'course. You can't expect me to take a cunt off you for nothing."

That made Walder laugh. "And right you are. It's a good thing, marrying, for what's between your legs. But damned if buying the cow isn't expensive. Fine, fine. I'm in such a good mood, I'll even give both of you a dinner, and have the ladies trotted out all nice and ready. I'll warn you, though, not too many of 'em is blessed by looks."

"Long as they're trueborn, they could be hairy as bears for all I care."


*Jaime*

"I had the idea that you were favoring my father's side in this war," Jaime said. He was riding beside Lord Bolton. And wobbling a bit in his saddle. But at least he was staying up.

"Your father's side and Stark's side are about to become one and the same," Roose replied. "Lucky, indeed, for the both of us."

"I must have misheard you. My father would never--"

"Your father has decided that he will end this war himself. It begins with negotiations, and with you there things will be far more favorable for the north."

"I can't imagine that Joffrey would allow that. Even if my father would."

Roose shook his head. "Again, your knowledge is outdated. King Joffrey has died. He passed in the battle against Stannis, slaying the man himself if your brother is to be believed."

"Cersei must be beside herself," Jaime said.

He could easily imagine it, could see her crying, demanding anyone who'd ever even thought of pledging themselves to Stannis be put to death. Vengeance, she'd call for vengeance. Fire. Fire and blood.

All that talk about the Mad King made you think of a Targaryen, he thought.

Roose paused as if to say something, but seemed to think better of it and stayed quiet.

They rode over the last hill and arrived back in camp. The first person he saw that wasn't in armor was Lady Stark.

"So sorry to have disappointed you," Jaime said, "But as you can see, Bolton's men were quicker than that big wench and I are, particularly when I'm unable to defend myself."

He waved his bandaged stump in a mock sort of greeting.

"Who did that?" she asked, paling on sight of it.

"Some of my men. Not by my order, I assure you," Roose said, "I've...secured them to be disposed of at Lord Tywin's pleasure."

Brienne soon came up, and gave a low bow when she saw Lady Stark. "I have failed you, my lady. I am sorry."

"It was not your fault," she said, "Though at least one of my daughters will be safe now."

"My lady?"

"All will be explained soon enough."

Jaime could see how unhappy Lady Stark looked, but in a rare moment of social intelligence, decided he'd rather wait and see what this was all about.

Either way, he would soon see Cersei again, and things would go back to normal. Sans his sword hand.


The ride to the meeting point was too long for Jaime's taste, but soon enough he saw the standards he hadn't seen in ages. Never would he have thought that he'd so look forward to seeing the Lannister lion.

After the customary check of weapons, Jaime, Lady Stark, Brienne, and the rest were shown in to the main tent. There, reading a letter, was Tywin Lannister.

"Lady Stark. Please, you and your son should be seated. And you as well--?" Tywin looked at Brienne, and Jaime could see his father give pause. Could he not tell she was a woman?

Brienne stood tall and proud, and said, "Brienne of Tarth, Lord Lannister. Daughter of Selwyn Tarth."

Tywin nodded, and then turned his gaze to Jaime. If he reacted at all to the stump, it was only in a slight paling of his face. "I see you return my son to me with a vital part missing. Would someone like to explain this?"

That was when Roose spoke up. "My hunters captured him, and this maiming was certainly not done by my orders. I shall be happy to hand them over to you."

"That will not be necessary. I have other uses for them. Everyone else, take a seat."

Ale was brought in at this point, and a small meal. As they were all finishing up, Tywin (who had had the least, and finished first) spoke up.

"Now, to business," he said, "First of all, I have a letter from your daughter."

This he handed to Lady Stark, who read it in silence.

Tywin went on, "I will not be wasting time here. You all know what I want. But what does the self-styled King in the North want?"

"To remain independent, no doubt," Jaime said, "And probably to execute me as well."

Tywin gave him a look, and Jaime went silent.

"I want vengeance for my father," Robb said, "That is what I wanted when I started out."

"And the Kingship just happened by accident?"

Robb took a deep breath. "Yes, actually. There was...an argument of sorts about which side we should support. Someone shouted 'King In The North'..."

Jaime studied his father's face. It showed nothing. What he wouldn't give to know what he was thinking...

"And you felt compelled to listen to keep the loyalty of your men," Tywin went on. "I can give you part of your vengeance, though you will be renouncing your crown. We will allow you to keep your status as Warden of the North, however."

"What of my sisters?" Robb asked.

"As for your elder sister, you have already heard my terms. My reasons for desiring Sansa as my wife should be quite obvious."

"You what?" Jaime couldn't stop the words from coming out. "Father, she is more than forty years younger than you. And you have heirs already!"

"And would you be willing to leave the Kingsguard and take your place as my heir?"

Jaime's first thought was of Cersei. He shook his head.

"I did not think so."

"Tyrion--"

"Be quiet, Jaime, or I will be happy to let the Starks keep you."

Cold as ice, Jaime thought. He went quiet one more time.

Tywin looked back to Robb and Lady Stark. "As I was saying. The reasons in favor of marriage to me are numerous. I am nothing like her father, but you can be sure that she will not be mistreated as she was with Joffrey. As for your younger sister..."

There was a pause.

"She escaped the guard sent after her around the time of Eddard Stark's execution. We presume she will be heading North, if she has left King's Landing."

"My daughter, alone out there--" Lady Stark began.

"Lord Varys will be more than happy to assist you in locating her. If anyone can help you find her, it is him," Tywin cut her off. "I will be willing to lend you his aid, as well as hand over Ilyn Payne and Meryn Trant."

After a pause, he explained.

"Joffrey may have given the order to execute Eddard Stark, but it was Ilyn Payne who carried it out. And as for Meryn Trant, I imagine you have plenty to say to a man who would beat your daughter in front of the entire royal court."

"A lot indeed." Lady Stark's fists were clenched and her knuckles white.

Jaime could barely believe what he was seeing. Since when was his father so diplomatic? What had happened in King's Landing?

"You will, of course, be able to see Lady Sansa yourself when you come to King's Landing for the wedding. It will take time to arrange, so I expect you will be able to return to the North, clean up that mess, and come back to the capital."

"With her gift," Robb replied, nodding.

The talks went on for several more hours, with this detail and that being hammered out. But finally, the talk came around to Walder Frey.

"You have quite angered the Lord of the Twins," Tywin said, "And you will not be surprised to know that he is planning to revenge himself on you."

"Is that so?" Robb asked. "By what means?"

"Means of my own devising," Tywin replied. "I find the quickest way to quash a plot is to be involved in it yourself. It is vital that you listen to everything I say, or you will not live to see the North again."

Robb started to speak--but fell silent again at the stern look in Tywin's eyes.

"When you head back toward the Twins, you will encounter messengers from some of Frey's sons. Perhaps some of the sons themselves. They will give you a list of demands--that Lady Stark's brother marry a Frey bride, that you apologize publicly to him, and that you attend the wedding personally."

"This seems a light punishment so far, but it cannot be that simple."

Smarter than he looks, Jaime thought. Of course it wouldn't be that simple.

"At that wedding, you, your wife, and your mother are slated to die. But given our agreement here, that will no longer be necessary."

"What will happen now, then?" Robb asked.

"I have already arranged for soldiers of my own to be at the wedding in various disguises, as well as a group nearby. Part of this plot involved murdering your army as well, you see, and even though your men will be on alert now, I find it better not to trust to the toughness of northerners when it comes to treachery. You will be sure that they are prepared to fight."

Robb nodded.

"Every Frey son able to wield a sword will be present. I need not tell you what comes next."

Jaime noticed that Robb stayed quiet after that, as well. There was another question to ask, but Robb, he imagined, knew he would not like the answer.

"If I may, father," he said suddenly, "If you intend to wipe House Frey off the map, who do you plan to replace old Walder with?"


*Bronn*

He didn't think much of the food or the ale, but he'd eaten and drunk worse in plenty of other places.

Walder showed up just as the food was being finished, pushed along by a squirrelly looking servant, possibly a son.

"Thought you had a wife to fuck," Bronn said, taking a swig of ale.

"These women can't keep up with me," Walder grumbled, "And I'm always eager to get rid of a daughter. Or a granddaughter."

"You planning to trot 'em out like horses, then?" He couldn't help but laugh. "Like a bunch of prancing ponies?"

"Might as well be, for all the good they do me." Walder looked up at the one pushing him, "Call 'em in."

A group of ten women were lead in. Most, as the old fucker had told him, weren't blessed with looks. And most didn't look so happy to be there.

Weaselly, almost, though not as wrinkly as Walder.

Then seven more.

"Sorry, father," a man outside the door said, "But they insisted on getting it over with."

"Fine, fine," Walder snapped. "Get 'em all in, then."

"Seventeen?" Bronn asked. "The dressmakers must love you."

"And I hate them. Well, this isn't all, but you can have a look regardless."

The new group was not much different than the old, but two in particular were.

There was a rather pretty one, and when Bronn asked her name, Walder answered.

"Walda. They do that, you know, name them after me to try and get me to like 'em more. And it doesn't work. Fair Walda, they call her. You won't want for jealous looks with her."

He looked over the others, asking names--quite varied, though he imagined with as many as Walder had put into his women, one tended to get weird with them after a while. An Alyx, Perra, a pair of twins named Serra and Sarra, Della, and Arwyn. He completely ignored the ones clearly too young to have bled yet, and finally, the last.

"You, what's your name?" Bronn asked. He'd liked Fair Walda well enough, but this one, she had a real figure. Legs that went on for days, and tits he immediately wanted to tug out of that tiny gray dress and squeeze.

There was a giggle, and the girl stepped forward and curtsied. "Amerei Frey, Ser. Grandfather tells us you're a knight."

"Oh, of course," Bronn said, "You fancy knights, then?"

"They're so dashing," she replied. "And you must have so many stories to tell."

Bronn then looked to Walder. "This one's bled, I assume?"

"Oh, certainly. She is eighteen. But a widow, though, and far from maiden."

One of the girls muttered "gatehouse", and Walder glared.

"So you've had a man at you before. D'you like fucking?" Bronn watched her face, and noticed that she didn't blush a bit when she replied.

"Yes, Ser." There was another giggle. "Some might say too much, but they're the ones missing out on the fun."

"We should get on very well, then," he said, "Nice to meet a girl with a healthy appetite."

He'd heard of Gatehouse Ami, of course, anyone who spent any time at all near the Twins had. And maybe she was a bit of a slut, but he liked that in a woman. The idea of marrying one that would just lay there while he took his rights was dull. With this one, at least, he wouldn't want for sex. Maybe he could save a bit of coin on whores, too....

"I'll have her, then," Bronn looked to Walder.

The servant at Bronn's side shook his head. "We'll need time to prepare a maiden cloak, of course."

"Oh, of course," Walder said from his place. "Provided he has the coin for the tailor."

"I have plenty of coin," Bronn replied. "You just get her ready and I'll have her off before you know it."

"Thank the gods for that," Walder said.

Chapter Text

Tommen

His grandfather had said that it was best that mother see the body now, than wait and let it molder. She would never be ready in time, before he became unrecognizable, and so it was best that she get this trauma dealt with sooner rather than later.

Tommen did not entirely agree, but he was ready to get it over with.

It was far into the evening, and the Sept of Baelor had been fairly well cleared away. Septa Melvine and two trusted Red Cloaks had been put there, in case his mother went into a fit.

"Mother?"

She looked at him, but it was like she looked through him. Was she really seeing him? Or maybe she wasn't really all there, maybe she was thinking about something else. Maybe she hadn't heard him.

Maybe he should have told them to let her take the doll with her.

One of the servants, a nursing mother herself, had managed to persuade her that the baby needed feeding--said he was a strong prince, in fact, but he needed to eat to stay that way.

"Son," she'd said after being told that. That had satisfied them all.

And that was it. She kept looking out the little window of the litter and saying it, repeatedly, but she was otherwise calm.

Up the stairs of the Sept they were carried in that litter; Tommen noticed his mother wincing every time there was a bump.

Her knee, the Grand Maester had said. It broke when she fell, and he'd braced it so it would heal--but it hadn't healed right.

Wasn't forgetting everything a bad enough punishment?

They arrived.

The door of the litter was opened, and one of the Kingsguard who'd followed them there offered his arm to her to help her up. Another wince. And another came with every step she took.

Then they went into the Sept. Every step down, there was a slight whimper from his mother--but she did make it all the way down.

There, in the center, was Joffrey's body. Stones on his eyes, stitching on the scar of the wound that had killed him, and the crown on his head.

"Son."

Strange to Tommen was how his mother rushed over to Joffrey's side, and began to shake him.

"Son. Son."

"No, no, mother, don't." Tommen looked to Septa Melvine for help.

"No, my queen," Septa Melvine said. She stepped closer. "No."

"Son!" the reply was mad, almost. Her hand pointed at Joffrey, and then she tried to shake him again.

It was dead silent for several minutes, until finally one of the Red Cloaks spoke up. "My daughter did the same thing with my mother. She'd...died in her sleep, poor girl thought she was just pretending to be asleep."

"Son." There were words behind this, more of them, but Tommen could see her struggling to form them. They wouldn't come. Then she tapped the crown on Joffrey's and looked at them. "Son!"

Everyone stood quiet, watching.

Touching crown. Shaking him. "Son. Son."

"He will not wake, my queen," Septa Melvine said. She took a deep breath, took both of his poor mother's hands in her own, and looked her dead in the eye. "Your son died fighting Stannis."

"Son. Son."

She was crying almost immediately, crying and shaking her head. "Son. Son."

More effort to speak. More words that did not come.

She grabbed Joffrey's body by its collar, and tried to haul him up into a sitting position. The stones and the crown both clattered onto the floor, and she caught a glimpse of the scar between his eyes.

Horror. Tommen was sure he'd never forget the look on his mother's face; colored drained, eyes wide.

Then, unexpectedly, she bolted. A panicked look crossed her face and she went for the steps--the two Red Cloaks followed after, and caught up to her before she could get even halfway up. They got her back down the stairs, despite her struggling to get free.

"Son! Son!" she kept crying out. "Son. SON!"

She jerked about, tried stomping on their feet, growing more and more desperate, and more and more combative as the seconds ticked by.

"No," Septa Melvine said. She stepped forward, and wrapped her arms around the struggling woman's shoulders, and held her in a tight hug.

The Red Cloaks let go of her. But they stood close by.

"SON! SON!"

Now she was screaming, screaming and struggling. Trying to get her hands up--but she couldn't.

But Septa Melvin held her closely, for what Tommen thought felt like forever, until the fit passed.

Then the septa looked to the two Red Cloaks. "Back into the litter. She should go back to her quarters, I think this was too much for her."

Then, against a background of wailing, they obeyed, leading her back.

Septa Melvine looked to Tommen. "I told your grandfather this would not be a good idea."

Tommen followed his mother back into the litter, and sat as close as he could to her. He hugged her, tried to tell her that he was still there, that he wasn't going to leave her. That his brother was still there, too.

The doll. She thought it was real. If he treated it like it was real too, maybe it would help her.

She wouldn't let the doll out of her sight for even a minute when she got back. A bit of bread and cheese was eaten with her free hand while it was in another. When the nursing mother from before offered to "feed" the doll she refused, and instead turned away to do it herself (Tommen avoided looking, of course). She insisted on taking it with her when she went to the chamberpot, even.

And she even fell asleep with it in her arms.

I wish I could do more for you, mother, Tommen thought as he was leaving.


*Sansa*

Tywin was not what she would have expected in a husband, and yet, here she was. Wearing a ruby necklace he had given her, as a sort of engagement gift. He'd told her that he was going to tell Robb that this was the price for peace. He needed a wife to give him an heir to Casterly Rock, and Robb needed an ally in the south. It seemed like a good trade.

He had promised her that she would see the North again--not for some time, but she would. As his wife, as Lady Lannister, so that the northerners would not get any foolish ideas. Until the wedding, she was to stay with Lady Margaery in the Maidenvault.

The Maidenvault, she had read, was once used to contain Baelor the Blessed's sisters. Unwillingly, of course. She wasn't sure how she felt about all of this, to be honest, but things were better than they had been in a long time. And Tywin--while he was not overly gentle or kind, he could speak softly to her. He promised that he would never behave as Joffrey did, never raise a hand to hurt her.

And that had made her feel both relieved and worried at the same time. What kind of husband would he be?

"This is rather exciting," Margaery said to her suddenly, breaking her out of her mental reverie, "We shall be close as sisters, with both our husbands here."

"Indeed, Sansa replied, smiling a little weakly. "Though with a small difference, as your husband will be young and mine old."

"Age is just a number, my dear," Olenna piped up from her place at the end of the table, "I think you will find a man eager to get heirs on you will seem younger than he is."

"Grandmother!"

"It's the truth, dear. He may not be vigorous prince you wanted, but he is not dead yet."

"But what do you know of his character?" Sansa asked. "I spoke with him a little, but..."

"I know enough," Olenna replied, "To know that Tywin Lannister takes care of his own. He may not be the sort to give you flowers and poetry, but you will find yourself well cared for."

"Did I hear my sainted father's name?"

Tyrion's voice sounded off behind them, and a few moments later he was sitting in the table's only spare chair. "No need to provide me with a breakfast, I've already had mine. I merely wanted the company of three good ladies."

"You seem to be in a good mood this morning," Olenna replied "Did you have an entire brothel at your disposal last night?"

"You wound me, Lady Olenna. No, no, I've merely been sending ravens most of the morning, doing my work, and generally making myself useful."

"And that made you call your father sainted?" Sansa asked.

"I heard he gave you a keep of your own," Margaery said. "But no more than that. Perhaps you'd like to share which it is?"

"A double-edged sword," Tyrion replied. "But something that's to be mine all the same. Harrenhal."

"A dark place," Olenna replied, "I've never heard of anyone keeping it long."

"I thought that was to be Lord Baelish's?" Sansa asked.

"You must have misheard," Tyrion said. "At any rate, father has given me a free hand there. I do not intend to follow its previous holders to the grave, nor to allow it to ruin me. There is plenty of coin to be made there, for all. I simply need to not be an idiot."

"And to find a proper wife," Olenna replied. "A maiden of noble birth and house, and so on and so forth."

"Yes. I don't look forward to the hunt there," Tyrion replied. "Can you think of many women who would want to marry the Imp?"

"You are a perfect gentleman," Margaery protested. "Any woman should be happy to be your wife."

"Perhaps we could help," Olenna said. "The Tarly family has a sweet daughter. I could write them a letter. Or you could take one of Margaery's cousins off my hands."

"Your direction might be the only thing that would persuade Lord Tarly to part with his daughter to the Imp," Tyrion said. "I've written letters to several vassal houses, but I don't expect favorable answers. If you'd like to write the families of these cousins you mentioned, you might do that too, but you may run into trouble for the same reasons I am."

"What do you want in a wife, if you don't mind me asking?" Margaery spoke up here.

"One who enjoys her books, preferably, though I will be willing to give on that so long as she's intelligent. Meaning no offense, because all the ladies at this table are all quite bright, but there are so many others who can think of nothing but their jewels and their gowns."

Sansa, for a lack of anything to say herself, studied Tyrion's face. She could see something in it, something not quite right. He seemed jovial enough, but...but the smile didn't quite reach his eyes.

"Something on your mind, my lady?"

"Oh--" she startled, noticing that he'd seen her looking at him. "I was just thinking how strange it is that I am younger than you and yet will be your goodmother."

"I could have had worse," he replied. "You're a gentle girl. I hope you can do my father some good."

Sansa was about to speak, but someone came running into the room.

A boy, not quite a man, came in. P...P, something, she thought.

"Slow down, Podrick!" Tyrion said. "Is Stannis at the gates? Is someone dying?"

Oh, right, Podrick.

"No," the boy said, breathing hard, "It's...it's...his grace has asked that you come to...come...he wants your help. He...he says it's a matter he needs your advice on."

"Alright, alright, I'm coming," Tyrion got down from his chair and headed for the door. "What's this about?"

"It's--Shireen Baratheon, m'lord. She--she's there with...with his grace...begging...begging for safe--"

"She is?!" Sansa stood up, and headed after them. "Please, my lord, let me come with you. If this is true, the presence of another lady might make her feel more at ease."

She said her goodbyes to Margaery and Olenna, and then headed off with them.


*Tommen*

There were many times of late that made Tommen wish he were older, and this was one of those times. His cousin looked so scared, and clung to the hand of the man that had come in with her.

He sat there on the throne, feeling more useless than he ever had before. He was king, but what good was that? Could being king make Shireen feel any better? Not just by being king. No. He needed--he needed his uncle.

Tyrion appeared, thankfully, and came up. "I was told you needed my help, your grace."

"Yes, uncle," Tommen said. "I wanted to be sure I was...acting wisely in this matter. Please, cousin, tell him what you've told me."

Shireen looked to Tyrion and curtsied. "M...my lord."

"Go on, my lady."

"I...the red lady, the...the sorceress that my father had," she said quietly, "You've heard that she's burned people and that she burned the statues of the Seven."

There was murmuring in the crowd.

"But I...I heard that she was going to burn me, and...and I had to get out of there. I didn't know what would happen, but--but anywhere is better than there, where she could burn me for my king's blood."

"King's blood?" Tommen asked.

"She burns people who've got blood from Kings. I--I think any king, whether he declared himself king or he was born royal, or like me where their father did, it doesn't matter. She burns them to the Lord of Light that she worships, and he gives her things."

"And you thought she would burn you because of Stannis's loss?"

Shireen nodded. "Please, cousin--"

"Who is this?" Tyrion asked, looking at the greying man standing by her.

"Ser Davos. He used to serve my father," Shireen said. "He's the one who saved me."

"My thanks, Ser Davos," Tommen said. He did not have to be clever like his uncle to know what to say here, and he was thankful. "You did not know what would happen to you here, but you came anyway, to save my cousin's life. I thank you."

"I couldn't let 'em burn a little girl. I threw my lot in with Stannis because I owed him, but his debt don't go this far. You can lock me up if you want, just please make sure that she's safe here."

"We will do that, Ser Davos," Tyrion said. "You guessed correctly, unfortunately. My father will want to speak to you, but if you're useful he will most likely let you live."

Davos looked a bit green at that, Tommen noted. But when Tyrion ordered the guards to see him to a cell, he went peacefully.

"I want him to look well when grandfather returns," Tommen said to the guards who were leading Davos, "So don't put him in a black cell."

"Yes, your grace."

Shireen was left alone.

"If I may, your grace," Sansa spoke up, "Would it be alright if I asked Lady Shireen to stay with your future queen and I in the Maidenvault? She would be safest there."

"Granted," Tommen said.

He couldn't help but smile when he saw Sansa introduce herself to Shireen. His cousin looked so scared, but Lady Sansa seemed to make her feel better almost at once.

The two left with their guards, and Tyrion walked up closer to the throne.

"You handled that very well."

"T-thank you, uncle. I'm sorry to have called you here, but--I wanted to be sure I had you here in case I didn't know what to do."

"That is what I am here for, your grace," Tyrion said, "Help if you need it. A good king should never be above asking his advisers for help."

"Grandfather said that, when I went to see Joffrey's body with him," Tommen said quietly. "That I should listen to my councilors. But how do I become a smart, good king in my own way if all I do is listen what others tell me?"

Chapter Text

Shireen

The crates she had brought with her were delivered to her room, and she asked for an hour to set it up to her liking, before the servants got to it.

"I could help you," Sansa said, "Are you sure you don't--?"

"Yes," Shireen replied, "I...I spent a long time having my room arranged the way someone else likes it. For the first time I have the chance to do it myself, and..."

"Alright, alright. But I'll be back soon to see you, alright? We need to pick out a nice new gown for you."

"Something bright?"

"Of course. Maybe a red, to go with your dark hair?"

"I would like that."

Sansa smiled as she left, and Shireen did in response, but she shut the door behind her and turned quickly back to the last of the crates. The other things had been sensible items--mostly books, paper, pen and ink, gowns, and the one or two sets of jewelry she'd been allowed.

The third crate was smaller, and she had been careful to keep it close during the trip to King's Landing. Now, she would be able to stop worrying.

Her mother had always seen her as a burden. She didn't have to say it--Shireen had always felt that Selyse was eager to marry her off, seclude her in some distant keep so that the son that was yet to come wouldn't have her to compete with.

She had to give them a reason to keep her there.

And thankfully, she had that.


*Some Weeks Prior*

When her father had first gone off to take King's Landing, and after the Red Lady's visit, she was left fairly well alone--so long as she only left her rooms at night, and was quiet in how she moved about.

She wanted to be alone, to have someplace that wasn't her room, to read, to think, to simple be. Of late it seemed like only the sept lay empty and quiet.

And it was there that she had gone, had been going, since this whole war had begun. Hardly anyone seemed to go, since the Red Lady had burned the Seven. Now all that was left was a dusty, untended sept and the pedestals where the statues of the Seven had once been. Her father's absence simply made going easier.

And quiet. She had visited here only a handful of times when the Sevens' statues had first been taken, and came now every night, sometimes staying for hours. Reading, or writing her father a letter. It was what her books called an "oasis."

Tonight, she had brought along The Princess And The Queen, and had nestled herself with a pastry behind the pedestal at the very back of the room.

The Dance was a war unlike any other ever fought in the long history of the Seven Kingdoms. Though armies marched and met in savage battle, much of the slaughter took place on water, and especially in the air, as dragon fought dragon with tooth and claw and flame. It was a war marked by stealth, murder, and betrayal as well, a war fought in shadows and stairwells, council chambers and castle yards, with knives and lies and poison.

That sounded like what was happening now, Shireen thought. Except for the dragons. There had been so much talk about King Robert's death, how he must have been poisoned, some (including her father) said he'd been gored while hunting. Then there'd been her uncle Renly; some said dead by one of his Kingsguard, a rare few others said it had been some black magic, or perhaps poison to slow him and the blade to finish him off.

All this for the Iron Throne.

After she had read a while, the candle in the candleholder she had brought for light was beginning to get low. Sighing, she closed the book and reached down for the handle--cringing as she slipped and burned her palm on the candle's flame. She jerked back, and the candle fell over.

The flame went out, but she was able to get to the door well enough on her own. The melted candle wax had probably spilled on the floor and would go hard, but she couldn't go back in and see right away. Tomorrow, she thought, I will bring a knife with me so I can chip it off. The Seven aren't here anymore, but it doesn't mean I have to make a mess in what used to be their house.

Shireen was more careful the next night when she went back with a slightly fatter candle. She lit it and set it down next to the hard, dried wax, and then looked curiously at the remnants. That was less than she remembered there being...

She set her book aside and took out the knife, then started to chip away at the dried wax. The first and second shoves pushed up most of the wax. The third--

THUNK

The knife had gone between the stones!

Shireen pushed down on the knife--and the stone came up. With some effort, a whole small row of them came up. It was a little heavy, but she managed to move the section off to one side.

A hiding place in the sept? What would they have put here? She was so glad she'd come now!

She brought the candle closer, and gasped.

There was a hollowed-out section of the ground beneath. Something was in there, but it was hard to tell.

She reached down, barely able to see even with the candle, and felt her hands brush over paper. She pulled it up, and found that it was a folded letter, which she promptly unfolded and read.

281 AC

To Rhaenys, to Aegon, and to the child yet to come

If you are reading this, and I am not here, then you must have seen me coming in here and looking at this location, then going in after me. If that is what has happened, then come and speak to me after you re-cover this little spot. We have much to talk about.

If I am here with you, then we are sharing in something quite special. These may not be what they have been to us in the past, but they serve as a reminder of what we Targaryens once were. And as a warning to what we should not attempt again. I might not have been the future king, were it not for the tragedy at Summerhall...and I want no repeat of that here.

It is Summerhall where I found what ruined us, and it is because of Summerhall that I hide them, for reasons I spoke of above.

To conclude--the dragon must have three heads. Anything else I will explain to you myself.

Your loving father, Prince Rhaegar

Shireen reached a hand down, and rummaged around in the space. Then her heart practically leaped into her throat when her hand touched something solid.


*Tywin*

He was getting old but his work was never done.

There were so many things to demand his attention--left, right, center. Keeping Tommen safe. He had left his most trusted Red Cloaks in the capital in addition to the Kingsguard, and every moment he was away was a moment of anxiety. Not that he would admit that to anyone.

Getting Jaime back and making sure his arm didn't come off from the rot of a wound he wasn't entirely sure had been properly kept. There was a man who claimed to be a former maester, but he'd had his chain taken away. Tywin promised him that he would be rewarded for continued monitoring of Jaime's stump, though he didn't say how.

Ensuring his daughter was cared for. The woman was a virtual invalid now, and judging from the raven he'd received, hadn't taken well to seeing Joffrey's body. No matter. She would have had to see him at some point, and it was better to do it now than wait and hope that Joffrey's face didn't rot away before she recovered. If she recovered. Tyrion, at least, was keeping him updated on all of her progress.

That had been a surprise. Tyrion, who had never done much at all, had come through in a way Tywin had never expected. He had organized defense of the city during the Battle of Blackwater. He had managed to act quickly, to save Cersei's life by quickly calling Grand Maester Pycelle, had arranged constant care. Had kept things with Joffrey steady, up until the point the idiot had run off to get himself killed by Stannis. Had kept Tommen going, after losing his father to death and his mother to something almost worse, after getting a crown he'd never expected thrust on his head.

He had sent Tyrion south because he'd had no other option. And Tyrion had come through...

...in every way that Jaime had not. Even in making allies of his own, and sorting that situation with the cutthroat. Bronn was not a bright man, but the Twins would not require being bright to operate. No matter, even if he needed help there would be a maester, and Tyrion close by at Harrenhal to keep him in line.

Then there was Jaime. The son he had groomed for everything from the beginning, even now, still had little interest in his duties.

While Tywin had sat there negotiating with the Starks, all Jaime seemed to do was make what he must have thought was witty commentary.

"...and Sansa Stark and I will be wedded soon after."

"Such a young woman, father! I didn't know you had it in you."

Tywin was about to speak up--but then Catelyn did.

"My lord, would you rather not have a woman of greater age and know-how?" she asked. "I have practice in running a keep, and I've brought five children into the world."

"That is true, my lady. And if circumstances were otherwise, I would consider you the better option. But I will not take a mother from her young son."

"My lord, my younger sons are dead," Catelyn replied, "And I would be glad if you did not mention them again."

Tywin drew a letter from the bundle of them he was holding in one hand, and gave it to her. "I think you will find that at least in one case, you are mistaken."

Catelyn hurriedly opened the letter and read it quickly.

"What is it, mother?" Robb asked.

"It's--it's from the Umbers. They have Rickon. He--he went there, with that wildling woman. He's--"

She was half-crying, and Tywin looked to Robb.

"You'll pardon me for ignoring your mother's tears, but that letter means something else for you."

"What, why? What does it mean?"

"I was given that letter by Roose Bolton. It was sent to him."

"What? Why is he--who would--?"

"It seems that Smalljon Umber does not hold you in the same regard his father does. I expect you to handle this, because I do not intend to lose an ally that I've just made."

"It seems that he intended," Roose spoke up, "To send Rickon to Winterfell, where my bastard is currently teaching a lesson to that stain, Theon Greyjoy."

"Did you persuade him not to?"

"Yes," Roose replied, "I told him I would come to retrieve the boy personally."

"It seems that will be our first stop on return to the North, then," Robb sighed.

He could see Robb giving him a nervous look. Perhaps the Young Wolf knew what Tywin expected him to do, and perhaps he was quailing, mentally, at the thought of it.

"Without a doubt the Smalljon will lose his head," Roose added, "I can imagine his father will have much to say about his son's treachery. He does, however, have a younger brother that will no doubt be more...cooperative."

"The Greatjon is in ill health," Robb replied. He looked at Tywin. "I know what you will say, my lord, but I want to ask it anyway. If you were in my place, how would you handle this?"

"I would wipe the Umbers from the face of Westeros," Tywin replied evenly, "You may consider that extreme, but you will note that to date no one has dared to defy my house."

"But the children, too?"

"Think rationally, Lord Stark. What does an angry son do when his family has been killed? He takes vengeance."

"The Greatjon has been one of my strongest allies," Robb protested. "I can't slaughter his entire family because his son plotted to betray me."

"His son would have handed your brother over to a butcher," Tywin countered. "Save the Greatjon and this boy if you insist, in the interest of keeping the Umber forces at your side. Foster the boy at Winterfell, perhaps--but keep a closer eye on him than your father did with Theon."

This seemed to be agreeable to Robb. But Tywin had made a note on Ramsay, and he knew he had to deal with Roose's bastard.

"Bolton," he said, "This bastard of yours, what are you planning to do with him?"

"I had intended to legitimize him," Roose replied. "He is holding Winterfell well. But..."

"But?"

"As you said, he is a butcher. I get ravens quite often detailing what he's done to young women, servants, with his hounds."

"And this is a man you intend to make your heir? Did you not recently marry?"

"I am old, Lord Lannister," Roose replied, "I wouldn't live to see new sons to adulthood."

"I am older, and I intend to see new sons grow. If I can do it, you can do it. Lord Frey has outlived quite a few wives, and if he can live to see ninety, so can we. Lord Stark--deal with this butcher. Lord Bolton--put a child in your new wife, and put an end to all this."

The full negotiations lasted several days, but at the end, a new alliance was forged, and Tywin and Jaime were able head back to King's Landing. With the addition of Brienne of Tarth, who Catelyn told him had sworn to keep her daughters safe.

She was a severe looking woman, but a capable warrior, it seemed, so he told her she would become one of Sansa's guards. And it was beside Jaime of all places that she rode.


"You have done quite a job here, father," Jaime said, "I am sure Tommen will be relieved to know that you're taking care of things so well."

Tywin didn't answer.

"Did I say something wrong, father? You barely let me speak at all!"

"Because you do not know how to speak when negotiating," Tywin replied. "If I had let you talk, you would have us going into another war."

"A war we would win!" Jaime protested.

"If I can arrange peace, I will. Do you think I enjoy being at constant war? The realm needs this over as soon as possible."

"Is that why you sent uncle Kevan with some of our forces to accompany Robb Stark?"

"It is. If you had paid attention you wouldn't have had to ask the question."

"Father--what did I do wrong here, exactly?"

"Exactly?" Tywin gave him a hard glare. "Last I looked, kinslaying was a crime above all. Alton may not have been your brother or cousin, but he was still a Lannister. And by killing your guard, you provoked the Karstarks into murdering my brother's two sons. Lancel has taken to a life of religion, and sworn off his family name. Now he is left with nothing but a four year old girl to maintain his line. Do you understand?"

"Father, I was trying to get back to--"

"I don't care what you were trying to do. Your younger brother has done more for this family in the last year than you have in your lifetime."

"Father, I--"

"Not another word."

"I saved your life!" Jaime spat. "Fine, I murdered Alton. Fine, I cost Kevan two sons. But don't tell me I've never done anything for you!"

Tywin was struck silent.

"When you marched on the city, Aerys commanded me to bring him your head," Jaime said, "Do you think I killed him for no reason? Is that not enough? What about the entirety of King's Landing? What about the wildfire he planned to detonate? Is that not enough for you?"

"And you did not bring this to my attention because...?" Tywin asked. "I understand saying nothing to Eddard Stark, but why not your own father?"

"I don't know," Jaime replied. "All your talk of loyalty. If Eddard Stark judged me unjustly, so would you."

"Jaime," Brienne said quietly from his other side.

"You have heard this tale as well?" Tywin asked.

"Yes, my lord. Your son was delirious from fever at the time, so he may not remember."

"And you wonder why I do not trust you," he looked back to Jaime. Then his glance turned to Brienne. "You will say nothing of this to anyone."

"Of course not, my lord."

Strange how he believed her.


They reached King's Landing in the early morning, and Tywin went straight to the Tower of the Hand to see what needed his attention. He made a mental note to promise that his second son by Sansa would marry Kevan's daughter, and therefore the Lannister name would not be gone over by the girl's future husband.

Then he started going through his letters.


*Shireen*

When Tyrion told her that his father had come back, she wasted no time in asking to see him.

"You really shouldn't be eager to talk to him, you know," Tyrion said, "He has had a lot of bad news recently."

"I must see him," Shireen replied, "Please. I have to thank him for letting me stay, and--and ask him about releasing Ser Davos. He's a good man, really, and I don't want them to take his head."

She knew she had to be strong, she had to talk to one of the most fearsome men in all Westeros--and maybe the most powerful, too.

When Tyrion came to escort her to the Tower of the Hand, he found her with a bag at her side.

"If you plan to bribe him with gold, you'll find he's got enough of that already."

"It's not gold," Shireen said, "It's something better. It's something even he doesn't have."

"There aren't a lot of things my father doesn't have," Tyrion said. He followed her up the stairs.

She could see he was curious--and she didn't blame him. She'd have felt the same way.

They were let into the room and Tywin looked up at her, gesturing to the seat on the other side of the desk. Tyrion took a seat. She did not.

"You'll pardon me for not sitting down right away, my lord," Shireen said. "I have something I need to give you first, to, to pay you, to thank you for letting me stay here. Well--two things. I would like if I could keep one."

"Whatever for? Have you stolen plans from your father, and you want a sample of his handwriting to remember him by?" Tywin asked.

She shook her head. And then she put the bag on his desk and began to empty it.

Tyrion gasped, and even Tywin could seem to find no words.

Bloody brass, silver white, and ocean blue. Three dragon eggs, stone, but dragon eggs all the same.

Chapter Text

Tywin

"Where did you find these?" Tyrion asked.

"In the Sept," Shireen replied. "I wanted to be somewhere that wasn't my room. I spilled candle wax one night, and came back the next with a knife to clean it up...and as I was chipping away at it, I found a secret little hiding spot. When I opened it, I found a note from Prince Rhaegar saying that he was saving these for his children. He must've found these at Summerhall when he visited."

"Makes sense," Tyrion said, "I recall hearing that he loved to go."

"Why did you not give them to your father?" Tywin asked.

"He was already gone," Shireen replied.

"You do realize the value of these eggs?"

"Of course," she said softly, "Why do you think I gave them to you?"

Tywin simply nodded. "You asked to keep one, and I can't think of a reason to deny it. Or rather--keep two, but we must hide them a little better than Rhaegar did. It will take time to find who is interested enough in the second egg to want to pay the price it is worth."

He would let her keep the bulk of the sum paid, of course. It would no doubt be helpful when she assumed ladyship of Dragonstone.

"Generous of you, father," Tyrion said. "And what will you do with the third?"

"You've always wanted a dragon," Tywin replied. "That egg may not hatch, but it is the closest thing you'll get. Take one."

Tyrion stood, and looked at each of the eggs in turn. Tywin noted that he chose the silver-white one, and thought how it matched (most of) the hair on Tyrion's head as well as a hunk of rock possibly could.

Then he looked back to Shireen. "Put the others back in the bag. I assume you have salves for your face?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Put the eggs in with the salves, then. I will come up with a better place to put them soon."

"Alright, my lord. Thank you." She looked to Tyrion, and smiled. "It is pretty, isn't it?"

"Indeed it is," he replied.

She left, and then Tyrion seemed to feel emboldened to speak up.

"If I may, father, why the sudden generosity?" he asked.

"Generosity?"

"My own keep, a dragon egg...you have given me more consideration since your return than you have my entire life. I swear I will never prod you for answers again, on anything, if you will answer this one."

Tywin paused.

"I sent you south because I had no better option at the time," he said, "And I knew you would at least do your job, even if you were to bring that whore with you."

"You knew I would?"

"You are my son, regardless of how I might feel, I know you," Tywin replied.

"You still haven't explained. You used to say that we weren't supposed to expect praise. When I'd want rewarded for completing whatever task you gave me, you'd tell me I wasn't a performer or a dog who'd done a trick and I shouldn't expect--"

"Tyrion, I want you to listen to what I'm about to say, because I'm never going to say it again."

"And if I tell anyone you'll deny it?"

Tywin looked down at the letter he was writing. "I'm sixty-seven, Tyrion."

"It's your age that's making you this way?"

"It's that everything I have tried to build for your brother and sister has fallen apart. Jaime should be at Casterly Rock, with me, already married, already a father. He should be arranging marriages for his children. It's that your sister was Queen and turned Joffrey into a worthless king. She should've raised a strong son, a capable one. Now she's an invalid and she may never fully recover."

There was a pause.

"Joffrey is dead, and Tommen is too young to be king on his own. My work goes on. And when I was laying out my plans to deal with all this to my brother, do you know what he did? He pointed out that every plan I was making involved relying on you in some way or another. I shouted, but--in time, I realized what had happened. You--you are the only one of my children I can count on anymore."

"Jaime is back now, though," Tyrion said. "Surely you can convince him--"

"He's refused to do his duty as my heir. I have no other choice."

He had to rely on Tyrion. The one he had always expected to disappoint him had done anything but.

"I stand by my decision not to give you Casterly Rock, but I will no longer pretend that you have no value to me."

"Coming from you, father, that is like 'I love you.'"

Tywin sipped at his wine and sighed. "All I ask from you right now is that you turn a profit on Harrenhal."

Here he laid out the situation, and though Tyrion was already aware, he listened. Tywin spoke of the debts that the crown had incurred, and spoke of his plan to have those debts to both himself and the Iron Bank paid back. "Have you wasted all your money from your time as Hand of the King?"

"Of course not, father. Since being in King's Landing I've been very conservative. You've heard of the Halfman's penny, I presume."

"Then go to Harrenhal as soon as you can, and set up there. I'll give you a division of Lannister soldiers to start, and I expect to have a steady stream of taxes coming in soon after. Establish a whorehouse if you want, something to rival or outdo Lord Baelish's establishments in King's Landing. If anyone knows how to handle whores, it should be you."

"And what about smallfolk? There are plenty there, but not enough. Fields are going unharvested due to a lack of able hands to pick the crops. We can thank the Mountain for that, I suppose, he must have frightened them off."

"I've already arranged that, as well," Tywin replied. "Lord Varys has a list of names for you of all the smallfolk that will follow you to Harrenhal. Former farmers, whores, and others displeased by city living. Mothers who want a safer place to live for their childrens' sake, that sort of thing."

"They all know Harrenhal is cursed," Tyrion said, "I doubt that many will want to move."

"You would be surprised what the smallfolk think they don't want, but come to accept. Promise them a better life and they'll agree to nearly anything."

"I see," Tyrion replied. "Well, father, you certainly have set me up with quite a nice arrangement for me here. This is a lot of faith you're putting in me."

"And a lot on your shoulders."

"How soon will I be leaving, then?"

"In a fortnight," he said, "We will see to Tommen's nameday, and his wedding."

"Forgive me, but--who will tend to Cersei? I've been the only one able to do so of late."

"I'm seeing to that now," Tywin replied. He was glad Tyrion had thought of his sister--at least someone was thinking of the family besides himself. Kevan could hardly do it, having lost as many sons as he had...

"I will make you proud, father."

He stood, taking the dragon egg with him when Tywin started to go through his papers again.


It was about teatime when Tywin entered the Maidenvault. He'd told Sansa to expect him, and so when he found her, he found her with several plates of finger foods and tea ready for the both of them.

"Lady Stark," he said, sitting two seats away from her. A demure distance. Respectable. He wanted to be make sure that anyone watching saw he was treating this betrothal seriously.

"Lord Lannister," she replied. "I am glad to see you here; I was beginning to wonder when you would show. I would have had wine ready, but I've no idea what sort you prefer."

"None at this time of day," Tywin answered, "I need my head as clear as possible."

After a few more pleasantries of this sort, he went to business.

"I wanted to discuss our marriage with you. Something new has come up that I'll expect of you as Lady Lannister."

Sansa nodded for him to continue.

"I am sending Tyrion to Harrenhal to establish a Lannister hold there. This is good for our family, but it will present a problem here."

"The Queen Mother," Sansa replied. "Is she well?"

"Not as well as we might hope," Tywin replied, "She is recovering, but slowly. Until now, Tyrion has made it his business to see to her care."

"And with him gone, and me in a position as the Lady of your house, you will expect me to take care of her?"

"There are maesters and servants to do the bulk of the work," Tywin replied, "But for her to truly recover, she must have the company of a lady. You and Shireen Baratheon can go to see her, perhaps arrange to have tea with her on a daily basis. Make her feel like a lady, the Grand Maester says, and she may recover more quickly."

"Speaking of Shireen," Sansa cut in, "When we are wed, where will she live?"

"I will allowed her to stay in the Maidenvault," Tywin replied, "Margaery will be in the Red Keep, near but not with Tommen. I think it best that ladies, however close, must have distance between them."

"It will give her a space to be a lady on her own. I think she will do well."

"I'm glad you agree. Now, I would like to ask of you...though within reason...what will you expect of me as your husband?"

It was a question, he decided, that he had to ask. Not out of any tender feeling for her--love, if it came at all, would come later, though he did like her to start with--but to put her mind at ease. She had likely heard that he was a hard man, a man who gave orders and expected absolute obedience. And he did, but he would not like to inspire fear in his future wife.

"I know you will be very busy as Lord Protector," Sansa said quietly, "But I would like time at night, even if it is not every night. Time for us to talk about the day, about what upset us or what went well, or...I know you are not a man fond of heart to heart conversation, but I would like to know your mind at the end of the day. I would like to be able to help you, in the way that a wife does when her husband has many demands at his time, many orders of business to take care of. I simply want to be able to talk to you."

"I am not a man, as you just said, accustomed to such talks," Tywin replied, "It will take time for me to get used to that form of expression. And I will not be able to share everything right away."

"But you can promise me to try. That is all I ask. That you try."

"I can promise you to try."

She smiled, a beautiful smile, then.

"Perhaps we may begin now," Tywin said, prompting her again, "Lead the conversation as you would want it to go."

Her eyes seemed to light up, and she started by asking, "Has today been very busy, my lord?"

Awkward--for both of them, perhaps, but it was a start.


*Shireen*

You can do it too, the Red Lady had said. Anyone can look into the fire and see the future. The Lord of Light shows more to his faithful, but anyone can ask his help and receive it.

Shireen still saw the Red Lady saying it, clear as day in her head. Anyone can do it. And she had, she had seen in the flames what they would do to her if she didn't leave--and where to go when she left.

Tywin Lannister had told her that afternoon that he had spoken to Ser Davos, and that he would be released from imprisonment due to saving her, and bringing useful information about Stannis's remaining forces. He also promised that Ser Davos' remaining family would be escorted to King's Landing, so that they might be safe from retribution, should anyone have found out about what he'd done.

And she had thanked him.

That had been that. She had seen her death, and the safe place, and it had all come true--for both of them.

Now it was time to try something bigger.

The leeches wriggled, and she looked down at her legs, then felt for the one she'd attached to her cheek. She had lied to the Grand Maester and told him that it was to keep the blood flowing there, and he had offered to do it himself. But she'd told him she could do it herself, as she had done it many times before. He'd then asked her to demonstrate by attaching one to his arm, and when she pried it off him safely he had handed her a basket with three wiggly leeches and that had been that.

She had read about the tragedy at Summerhall many times, but there had been word about wildfire being involved, and that being the true cause for the blaze. If so, she had only to act carefully.

The fire was hot. Good. Shireen took the two dragon eggs and set them in the fire, then took a deep breath. She hoped it would work, even though the other one was in Lord Tyrion's possession. If so...what a surprise he would have.

The leeches had been on for long enough to get some but not a lot of her blood, she was sure. She took the knife, and pried the leech on her left leg off, then tossed it atop the blue dragon egg.

"Lord of Light, take this King's blood," she said, trying to sound as hard and full of belief as the Red Lady always did. "And hatch for me this dragon egg."

The leech burned.

Then she touched the one attached to her jaw on the side with her greyscale scars, and pried it off with the knife. "Lord of Light, a second gift of King's blood, that you will hatch this dragon egg for me."

She threw that leech on the fire as well, but this one went atop the red egg.

It, too, burned.

Then the one on her other leg. "Lord of Light, with this gift of King's blood, hatch for me the dragon egg held by Lord Tyrion of House Lannister."

She tossed it into the fire, behind the two dragon eggs.

Then she remembered. She had to say what the Red Lady said. What would she say, to make dragon eggs hatch?

"O Lord of Light, give me fire made flesh, for the night is dark and full of terrors."

The leech burned with the rest.

Shireen took a deep breath, shut her eyes, and believed as hard as she could.

Then she walked away from the fireplace and got into bed.


*Tywin*

Sansa had clearly been visited by the dressmaker, he could see. He'd had the man visit her some time ago and measure her for new gowns, and today she was wearing a red gown with gold trim that had her looking every inch the Lady of Lannister. Her fiery hair was half up and half down, a style, he noted, that some of Margaery's cousins were copying.

"Lord Tywin!" Olenna called out, "To what do we owe the honor of this visit?"

"He must want to see his betrothed," Margaery said, "She does look wonderful, my lord, does she not?"

Tywin gave a nod, but refused to smile.

"And how are you today, my lord?" Sansa asked. "I have heard that the royal wedding is coming along nicely."

"Thanks to the Imp," Olenna replied. "Expensive affair, royal weddings, and yet somehow, he has managed to pay for it."

"He is twice the financial mind that Baelish is," Tywin said, "But I will not bring that name into conversation again."

He would rather not ruin anyone's appetite, after all. The name seemed to make most women in the city feel ill at ease and he expected that they would be no different.

"Quite a public compliment you gave him," Olenna said. "It's always good to see a second son get his due in a sensible way. Loras, for example, he has to act silly with his lances and his swords and such things--makes a fool of himself, all for some attention."

"Loras is an anointed knight," Margaery replied. "Please, grandmother. He tries his best."

Tywin caught Sansa's eye. Her smile was awkward, as if she knew how he felt, as if she could see he was uncomfortable with the chatting. And she was right--but somehow, having someone else there to bear it with him made it easier.

"Let us talk about something else," Sansa said suddenly. "Perhaps my future husband would be kind enough to explain to us what the people who have come to petition him have said today. What news is there?"

She sat up straight, she used a firm, proper tone. A small act, but one he expected she would be able to repeat and expand on in the coming days, weeks, and months. She was a lady, after all, a lady learning her new role.

A lady in all the ways he wanted.

Chapter Text

Podrick

His eyes grew large when Tyrion brought the dragon egg in.

"My lord, what--where did you get that?"

"Shireen Baratheon," Tyrion replied, "It seems the late Prince Rhaegar found some at Summerhall, and she turned them over to my father as payment. He gave me one of them, though I'm still puzzled as to why."

It was the most beautiful rock Pod had ever seen. All silvery-white, like he'd heard Targaryen hair was.

"A dragon egg as heirloom of the Lannisters of Harrenhal," Tyrion said. "I like the sound of that."

"A dragon egg," Pod said. Now he felt dumb for not seeing it before. "It won't hatch, will it?"

"Oh no, Pod, no. It's turn to rock after centuries, it would take a miracle to wake dragons out of stone."

"Dragons? Are there other eggs?"

"Yes, of course, Pod. She brought three, after all."

"A fortunate number," came a soft voice from further in the room.

When Tyrion looked up, he saw Varys approaching him.

"Good to see you again, my friend," Tyrion said. "And to what do I owe the honor of this visit?"

"I thought you may like to know what wagging tongues are saying on Dragonstone," he replied. "Lady Baratheon's flight is known to the entire court there now. Including Lord Stannis himself."

"But Stannis--he couldn't have lived through all of that," Tyrion said, "I saw Joffrey stab him in the thigh. He was spilling more blood than--well, however it was accomplished, it doesn't bode well. What else can you tell me?"

"Lady Selyse Baratheon has died," Varys went on, "It seems that she sacrificed herself to the Lord of Light. Some say to save her husband's life."

"Well, at least we have now only Stannis and the Greyjoys to deal with. Our alliance with the Starks is looking quite strong."

"Just what the realm needs to push back these last resistances. Oh, and something else you may like to know...about your sellsword friend."

"Ser Bronn?" Pod asked, going for the wine and a glass. "Is he well?"

"More than well," Varys said, "It seems that everything went according to your father's plan. Walder Frey offered Ser Bronn a daughter as wife, and he took one."

"Which one?" Tyrion asked, taking the glass of wine Pod handed him. Then he took a large sip.

"Amerei Frey."

Tyrion spat his wine out, and Pod rushed to clean up the mess.

"Bronn married Gatehouse Ami? Is he mad?"

"Perhaps he simply sought a wife with the same sexual appetite as he," Varys said. "Either way, his claim to the Twins will be quite strong with a wife of Frey blood, so you will have a most convenient neighbor."

"Indeed," Tyrion said. "Thank you for letting me know all of this, Lord Varys. You are far more pleasant to converse with than Lord Baelish, and you smell better, too."

Varys gave a bow, and then left.

Once the wine was cleaned up, Tyrion changed his shirt, and turned to pod.

"Let's go see my brother, Pod. We've got to take him to see my dear sister."

Pod nodded, but then looked away. It didn't matter if the rumors about the two were true or not--any man would hate to see his family in such a condition as the Queen Mother was in.


*Jaime*

He'd been pacing for a while now. They hadn't let him in to see her, and without his sword hand he couldn't force his way in there, either. The two Red Cloaks would have made short work of him, if he'd tried, or at least given him a good thrashing.

But then Tyrion had said he would take him in to see her--he had been caring for her since her accident, he said, and with him there no one would stop Jaime.

It had changed. It had all changed. Cersei wasn't constantly present and demanding things, Tyrion was trusted, father was remarrying, and had promised to knight Brienne after he married Sansa Stark. Nothing made sense anymore.

Tyrion had already told him that Cersei had suffered a fall during the Riot, and that her mind had suffered. But until his visit that was all he had--that she wasn't who she once was. That could mean anything. She could be reduced to a simpleton, or merely mute.

He was impatient--and ready to go the second Tyrion appeared.

"I want to see her, now," Jaime demanded.

"That is what I'm here for," his brother replied. "But Jaime, you have to understand--she may not recognize you now. We're still not sure of the extent of the damage."

"But you said she was recovering."

"She eats and drinks and shits on her own, and sometimes she talks, but never with many words," Tyrion replied, "Pycelle tells me that this is a miracle of recovery in itself."

"Does she know you?"

"I assume so. She calls me 'Qar' now, though."

"Qar...?"

"I don't know it either."

Jaime puzzled in his head as they walked. He had heard it before as part of something; it sounded vaguely Valyrian. Perhaps Rhaegar had used it...

Then it hit him.

"I once heard Prince Rhaegar teaching his daughter to say ;little sibling' in Valyrian," Jaime replied. "The word was valonqar. Perhaps that is what she is trying to say?"

"Perhaps," Tyrion replied. "I rather like it, even if it is her simply calling me her baby brother. It's much better than 'imp.'"

They entered Cersei's chambers. Pycelle was there, and he tried to lay out to Jaime just how the situation was and how Cersei had progressed so far.

"I find it hard to believe she's in such a state," Jaime said. "She's a strong woman. She wouldn't--"

"Jaime," Tyrion said. "It's true. Listen to the man. There are things you'll need to know to speak to her."

"Such as?"

Pycelle went on. "You m-must not move too quickly around her, and especially not around her doll."

"She has a doll? Why?"

"My-my lord, many patients ill in the mind are given d-dolls. They d-d-do not remember many things, but, but they do recall the good feeling of being a parent. So we give them the doll, and they care for it like one of their own. It is a way of keeping them occupied."

Jaime nodded. It seemed this really was true, then, if all these measures were necessary. He had lost her, before he could get back to her.

With Tyrion close behind, he entered her bedroom.

She sat at the table near her bed, with her back to the door. There was also a septa at the same table, who kept trying to bring her attention to the plate of food before her.

"Son, son," Cersei was cooing. It looked like she was holding something in her arms.

Likely that damn doll, Jaime thought

"My dear sister," Tyrion said. "You have a visitor."

He walked closer, and Jaime followed. Now he was closer, he saw a section in the back of her head--the hair was shorter in one section, but a rough braid had been turned into a bun and was covering most of it. A nasty wound, Tyrion had said, but it still looked so now.

Cersei looked up with a smile at Tyrion, and gestured with the doll at him. "Qar!"

"Yes, he is looking very good today!" Tyrion said cheerfully. "You fed him, I see his little belly is fat. But sister--you should eat, too. You would not want to waste away!"

"Son, qar."

Two words, Jaime thought, horrified. That seemed to be all she knew. Two words. The woman he loved was now on the level of a child. There seemed to be nothing of her left. The Cersei he knew would never actually smile at Tyrion, much less let him this close!

Then he stepped forward.

Cersei looked up at him, paled--and clutched the doll close. "Push!"

Jaime stepped closer. "It's alright, Cersei. It's me. Don't you remember me?"

"PUSH!" her eyes were wide in panic, and she hurried to her feet to get away from him, shielding that damned doll the whole way. "Push!"

"Cersei, please, I won't hurt you, or--"

She was trying to speak, it seemed; she looked like she was about to be sick. But the words didn't come. Only that one, as she ran to the corner and hid behind the Red Cloak that stood there. She looked out from behind him at Jaime, fear in her eyes.

"Push, push!"

"Sister, it's alright," Tyrion said, going over to try and calm her down. "He won't hurt you."

Now she was weeping, pressed into that corner. "Qar, push. Push."

"What in the seven hells does she mean by that?!" Jaime snapped. "Cersei, I'm not pushing you!"

The wails only grew louder, and the septa hurried over to calm her as well. She shooed Tyrion away, and his brother soon came back over.

"Why does she keep saying that?" Jaime asked. "What did I do? She must remember me, to react at all, but why that way?!"

"I don't know, brother. Please--whatever's wrong, you can't be here now."

"Tyrion, you can't--"

"I know what she means to you," Tyrion dropped his voice. "But she's not the same person, and if you stay here you'll only do her more harm than good."

Jaime stormed out. It was worse than if he had come back to find that she had married again, or taken another lover. This wasn't the woman he loved, this wasn't the Cersei he knew.

How much more did he have to lose before the gods were done punishing him?


*Pod*

It was well past the midnight hour, but he was running towards the Tower of the Hand.

Tyrion had yelled at him to go fetch Lord Lannister NOW, so here he was, running as if his life depended on it. He was barely dressed, and hadn't even had the chance to freshen up a little.

Not that he knew what it was about, of course. Lord Tyrion had waddled into his little room off to the side and shouted, and he'd asked what it was about, but there hadn't been a reply. Just to tell Lord Lannister that it was an emergency of the highest order.

He didn't run all the way there, of course, but despite his pacing he reached the Tower of the Hand breathing hard. The guards, thankfully, let him through when he told them why he was there.

If the run and walk and distance hadn't done him in, the stairs certainly messed his legs up good. He reached the top, and a servant got him some wine and a bit of bread, then sat him down and told him to wait.

Twenty minutes later, Tywin Lannister walked into the room. A little tired looking, perhaps, but as regal as ever.

"I sent you to squire for my son," he said, "I do not think a squire's duties include bothering me late at night, do they?"

"It's not that, my lord," Pod replied, "Lord Tyrion says it's an emergency of the highest order."

"Is that all he said?"

"Yes--I--he told me to run to see you, to fetch Lord Lannister immediately, and he wouldn't let me ask any questions."

Tywin's brows perked up at the mention of 'Lord Lannister' but he said nothing, merely walked with Pod, grumbling a little under his breath. At least Pod thought that's what he was doing--he could swear he heard "imp" under the Lord's breath, so he assumed they must be complaints.

They came a short time later to Tyrion's door, and when it opened, Pod (of course) let Tywin enter first--nervous about the argument he was sure would soon follow.

"Tyrion, you had best have a good reason to summon me this late in the evening," Tywin said, "I do not take lightly to have what few hours I do sleep disturbed by every small thing that happens to look like a problem to you."

Pod looked up. Tyrion was over by the fireplace, well within earshot, but he hadn't answered.

"Answer me right now," Tywin demanded, walking closer. "I want to know what exactly is so important that you must have me woken from my sleep at this hour!"

The tone that followed struck at Pod's soft heart. It was sad, almost mournful.

"Father..."

"Is your sister dead?"

Tywin and Pod both walked up, one on either side of the chair Tyrion was seated on.

"Father," Tyrion said, his voice choked with apparent sobs, "Is this why you hated me?"

Both gasped, Pod perhaps more loudly than Tywin.

In Tyrion's left arm, happily nibbling at a blackened bit of bacon in his other hand, was a silver-white dragon hatchling.

Chapter Text

Tyrion

Tyrion had awakened from a dead sleep to the sound that had at first shocked, then delighted, then wrecked him entirely.

A dragon. A dragon! His own dragon! When he got out of bed and went over to the fireplace, which it had just crawled out of--it had looked at him and stumbled forward, making a sound like a loud squeak. Then more of a caw. He extended his hand to it and it crawled up his arm and onto his shoulders, then onto his head when it found his shoulders to not be big enough.

For a minute or two, he'd been happy. A dragon. Finally, a dragon of his own! He'd thought that only the Targaryens could--

But then it had struck him, and he felt the dread in his chest. Only one of Targaryen blood could tame a dragon--even if it were newborn.

He must be...

...you killed your mother, the memory flashed in his mind with Tywin's voice, ...since I cannot prove you are not mine...

...cannot prove...

It all made sense now. It all made sense.

Why his father hated him so much. Why he always put him down. Why he never praised him. Tyrion had heard of how Aerys had fancied his mother--Kevan had informed him on that head, when no one else would. But to think it would go this far--to think that he was not truly Tywin's son.

"Pod!" he shouted, leaping from his seat and going over to the boy's room. "Pod, wake up!"

"My lord!" Pod sat bolt upright, eyes wide as plates, but he didn't look over.

"Go fetch Lord Lannister immediately. There's--there's an emergency of the highest order that needs his attention."

He'd run quickly back, not eager to see Pod's searching gaze on the hatchling. There was a lump in his throat as he walked back, and his shoulders heaved with the effort of holding back the tears.

The hatchling made its little sounds again, and he took a deep breath. Something to do, he needed something to do. It needed food. He could feed it, yes. That would keep him from falling apart right now.

He went over to the tray that he'd had Pod leave for him as a midnight snack. A small bundle of grapes, a glass of wine, some bread, and--ah, yes! The bacon. Burned black, just the way he liked it. A dragon would need meat, and this would do.

Behind him, Pod hurried out the door.

Tyrion finished half the glass of wine and then grabbed the bacon, before going over to his chair in front of the fire.

"I suppose you must be hungry," he said, taking a deep breath. When he waved the bacon in front of its face, the silver-white dragon dragon reached out for it and took a bite. Then he lowered his hand to his lap, and it crawled down there, gnawing eagerly at the burned bacon once it finished its first bite.

It took such small bites, and seemed to eat slowly--and he heard Pod's knock at the door by the time it reached the end of the strip of bacon.

He heard the boy's steps. And then...

...what was he to call the man now?

Tywin protested, but seemed to go silent when he stepped up.

"Father..."

Tyrion took a deep breath, but that didn't stop his grief from moving into his tone, or the lump in his throat from making him sound like he was about to cry, "Father...is this why you hated me?"

He had never seen that expression on his father's face. Shock, horror.

It took nearly a minute for Tywin to speak again.

"Podrick," he said, "You have done your job for the night. Go back to bed, I must have a talk with my son."

Podrick stood silent for a minute, staring, but he soon obeyed, giving only one look back as he did so.

"It finally makes sense," Tyrion said, "You hated me because I wasn't your son. I killed mother the day I was born and you were saddled with a bastard. A bastard you were forced to call your own."

"Tyrion--" Tywin started, "--I--"

For another minute, there was silence broken only by the little dragon finishing its meal. It stood up on Tyrion's lap, flapped its wings to steady itself, and then curled up.

"Get it over with," Tyrion said.

"I did hate you, yes, for years on years," Tywin replied, "But it's also true that more recently I've come to appreciate your intelligence, your value to House Lannister. You have been more loyal to me than those who bear my blood."

"But--"

"Tyrion, unless you plan to turn Blackfyre, I don't see the problem. I can't erase the past, but I can forge you a future."

Tyrion took a deep breath. "No. I...I don't plan to turn Blackfyre."

"If the sheep figure it out, I will have Tommen name you Lannister, publicly. Because that is what you are. Even if you are not my son, you are still a Lannister."

Tywin spent half an hour like that, comforting him in the only way Tyrion figured he knew how--by telling him that no, he would not take Harrenhal back, he was still going to get the soldiers and the right to the place. He still had a position of importance; he was well-trusted by the crown, and so forth.

Tyrion still felt unsettled, uneasy, out of place, half-ill, but at least now he knew he would lose nothing more than he already had.

His father might be acting in his own interest for all he knew, due to the dragon, but coming from Tywin all he had said was like hearing 'I love you' stretched out.


*Shireen*

She wanted to dance and sing. It had worked, it had worked! They had come!

She was not the helpless greyscale-scarred princess she had been before. Now, she had used the red god's fire magic, the blood magic. Now she had dragons.

They had stayed near the fireplace, and when she woke up to check on them, they immediately stumbled in her direction, making their little cries.

One all bloody brass, even more brilliantly so than its egg, and the other a deep, deep ocean blue. And they were hers.

She would have carried them in her arms, but they crawled up, insistent, it seemed, on being on her shoulders. Brass on the left, blue on the right, and their tails, she could feel, linked behind her neck.

No sooner had they done that, though, than she heard a knock at the door.

"Come in!" Shireen called.

"My lady, it is time for breakfast," came the servant's voice. The older woman stepped closer--and then screamed.

"DRAGONS!"

Before Shireen could say any more, the servant bolted, running straight back out the door like an absolute madwoman, wailing about the dragons.

The hatchlings had reared their heads back, and didn't move--but they did squeak out their little sounds and flap their wings. Maybe they had felt threatened, she thought.

"It is alright," she said aloud so they could hear, "She has never seen something like the two of you before."

Shireen took a deep breath, and walked out with her head held high.

There were gasps, a stammering, pointing, even a scream--but she ignored them all, and proceeded to breakfast.

Of course, Sansa, Margaery, and the rest...they gasped, too, but she minded them less than the servants. They at least didn't point or scream at her.

"Tywin told me what happened, and I didn't believe it," Sansa said, gesturing--Tywin was seated beside her, calmly drinking from a small glass of wine. "How did--?"

"How did you do it?" Olenna spoke up. "I only just learned of them yesterday, and now we have a living and breathing pair of dragons!"

"What an exciting time to be alive," Margaery added.

"I would like to know how you did it myself," Tywin said, "Dragon eggs that have been stone for over a century do not simply stir into life without reason. Perhaps the Targaryen girl's dragons hatching have had a marked effect on the others."

"Perhaps," Shireen said. She didn't know if she should tell him--or if she should, not in front of so many people.

"What do they eat?" Margaery asked.

"Meat," Tywin added. When the others had all looked at him, he went on. "It seems that in addition to the two here, the egg that I gave to my son has hatched as well. It seemed fond of it--though cooked, or rather, burned, as I saw this morning."

"I suppose that makes sense for an animal that can breathe fire," Olenna said.

Margaery got up and moved to the seat nearest Shireen, which had been empty, and took her plate with her. Smiling, she took a bit of ham that she had been nibbling at, divided it, and looked to Shireen. "May I?"

"Of course," she replied. "I didn't look to see if they had teeth yet, but in case they do--"

"I'll be careful." Margaery held the bits of ham out to the little dragons, and each gobbled down what they were offered--the red one sniffed at her fingers for more, but got none. "Ah! What a lucky time to be in King's Landing!"

"I feel that I am the lucky one," Shireen replied. "If I had stayed on Dragonstone, things would not be as pleasant."

Tywin was quiet for a moment, and then , "Speaking of Dragonstone, Lady Baratheon, we have received a letter from your father."

"My father is dead," she replied quietly, "I saw his body."

"It seems that you saw wrong," Tywin replied. "That, or his shadowbinder has bargained with her red god for his life."

She didn't reply to that. It was possible, she thought. If I can wake dragons out of stone, then the Red Lady could make my father live again.

But that made her feel no safer with him.

"What does he say?" she asked, trying not to sound scared. The dragons moved down to her lap, nudging at her hands--and having lost her appetite, she tore the ham on her plate apart and fed it to them.

"He demands the return of his daughter and heir," Tywin replied, "From what I could judge of his language, I believe your father is under the impression that Ser Davos kidnapped you."

"I wasn't," Shireen said. "Can you tell him that? The Red Lady reads all of his letters, too, so add in that--"

She took a deep breath.

"--that I saw that they would burn me in the flames."

"You...what?" Sansa asked.

"It's something the Red Lady would believe," Shireen said quickly, "She came to me after my father left, and said that anyone could look into the flames and see the future, as she did."

"Will they believe that, truly?" Olenna asked. "I know nothing of this Red Woman, but I've heard enough of Stannis to know that he is a skeptical man."

"You didn't see him, before the battle," Shireen replied. "You didn't see my mother. They burned the Seven from the sept to the red god. They did things...things that no one of reason should do."

Then she looked back to Tywin.

"Please, my lord, do not send me back to him. I will write you the letter myself to send along."

"He will come for you, I am sure," Margaery said, "My father would come for me in the same situation, red god or not."

I can't go back, Shireen thought, They will burn me. Whether there or in the snow, like I saw in the flames.

"Lord Tywin," Olenna said suddenly, "Would you consider that our little lady here is under your guardianship? Or perhaps your grandson's?"

"Why do you ask?"

"The reason I ask is that it may behoove you to, and pardon my interference, little one, arrange a marriage for her. Give her some extra protection, you understand."

"Married? Me?" Shireen asked. "I will only be fourteen my next name day."

She saw awareness in Tywin's eyes, though. Maybe the idea had not occurred to him until now.

It was not that she didn't like the idea of marriage, but as yet, no man had shown interest in her. There had been offers, but they were made by the fathers of potential suitors. None of those men seemed inclined, on meeting her, to cooperate with the idea.

Who would want her, as she was? Dragons or not, she had no keep or wealth of her own at the moment. And that was not even touching her greyscale scars...

"That is something to consider," Tywin said. Then he looked at her. "It would give you more protection. But you would need a second or third son to marry. A firstborn would have a keep of his own to inherit."

"Perhaps Ser Jaime," Sansa said. "If you do not mind the suggestion, since you have decided that our son will inherit Casterly Rock."

"No," Tywin replied, "Despite his injuries, he is still a member of the Kingsguard."

"He could be unnamed," Sansa countered.

"What about my brother Loras?" Margaery suggested. "He is very handsome, Shireen, and a kinder man you will not know."

"But he likes men!" She stopped cold after saying that, and quickly added, "I'm sorry, my lady. I meant no offense, but if I do become the Lady of Dragonstone, I will need to have children, won't I?"

"No, it is quite alright," Olenna cut in, "You speak as if we don't know of it, but we do. He would do his duty, even if his preference is men."

"And he is capable with a sword," Margaery nodded, "So able to defend what is his."

"Very well," Tywin said. "Present that option to Loras. There will no doubt be others who will make offers, considering the dragons, however. I will have to sort through them on her behalf."

"I will do that," Olenna said. "Come, Margaery. We will be seeing the King afterwards."

That left Shireen alone with them, with Sansa, Tywin, and their guards.

"Do you really mean to marry me off?" she asked.

"Only to help you," Sansa said. "You are alone here, compared to the rest of us. And if you did choose Loras, you would have a close connection to the future Queen. That is more than can be said for some other potential suitors."

"It's not that I don't want to," Shireen replied. "It's just that..."

She trailed off.

"I would offer my brother's son," Tywin said, "But he has taken to a life of religion and renounced his title. And his other two sons..."

"I heard," Shireen said, "I am sorry to hear it. To lose three sons, nearly grown--no father should have to suffer such a thing."

There was a nod.

"Loras would be a good choice, but I will look for other suitors. To appear as if you are weighing your options, you see. You must not show your intent, if you can help it." Tywin said.

"But would you like Loras?" Sansa added.

"I do not know him yet," Shireen replied. "They tell me he is good, but..."

She looked down at the dragons.

She needed someone who would consider them, too. Someone who would not want her just for them. It would be them--Dragonstone was a poor prize, even for a second or third son.

They looked back up, curling up to her warmth, like babes to a mother.

Amongst all the other concerns, she realized she had not yet named them. The red one, the one with the blood brass color...it made her think of the Red Lady, the way the fire light made her look like she was armored in it.

Redlady, she thought, She would have burned me, but she also told me I could see the future in the flames, and I would not have known about what king's blood could do without her. I would not have the dragons without her.

Then she looked at the other. Dark, ocean blue, with an almost black coloring in its wings. A deep blue... she would have called it Seasmoke, but that name had already been taken by a dragon years before. Her mind wandered. Her father, Dragonstone, Storm's End, the water. The bay. Blackwater Bay, the sea...

...dark seas, shadows, night...

...long night...winter, storm...seas...

That's it, she thought, stroking the dark one's head, Winterstorm.

"...my lady? Are you alright?" Sansa's voice broke her out of her reverie.

"I'm sorry," Shireen said, "I was coming up with names for them. I'm very sorry to have ignored you. What was it you were asking?"

"We were asking if you would like to start coming to court," Tywin said.

"Oh yes, of course," Shireen replied with a smile.

"We will expect you to keep the dragons in some kind of harness," Sansa added, "If you bring them, that is."

"What if someone steals them? I wouldn't want someone to--" Shireen stopped.

"A simple rope tied around one leg would be sufficient," Tywin replied. "Or perhaps a collar about their necks with a ring in it, to tie the rope to. Such a thing would be easily replaced as they continue to grow."

"What will you want me to do if they get much bigger?"

"We will decide that in the longterm when Dragonstone's lordship--or ladyship, rather, is settled," Tywin said. "For the time being, I can have an initial structure made in the dragonpits, whereupon I expect them to be moved should they reach a hunting dog's size. When you are moved to Dragonstone--the problem will solve itself. I recall reading that they nested there, and it should not be too hard to have places made for them to be kept."

Shireen nodded, and looked down again at her dragons.

A future was being made for them. For her. And maybe it was not entirely of her own design, but she had seen that Sansa was good to her, and that Tywin seemed to at least be a little concerned about her well-being.

Her father had been concerned now and again, but he was always so busy, and then...and then he had turned to the Red Lady and her fire god, and she had begun to fear him. Her mother never really had, and now that she was gone...it almost made her feel bad, that she felt nothing for the loss.

Tywin liked things to be the way he thought they ought to, but people here seemed to like and respect him--and if Sansa trusted him, so could she.

"Now," Tywin said, "You said you would write that letter. I expect it to be on my desk by day's end."

"Yes, my lord," Shireen said cheerfully.


*Tyrion*

The little dragon would not stop following him.

It had snapped at Pod, at first, but when it figured out that Pod went where he went, it settled in the boy's arms or on his shoulder quite easily. It still preferred Tyrion, but (he imagined so, anyway) for height's sake, preferred the young squire.

He felt better after that talk with his father, better than he had in a long time. Tywin had insisted upon him still calling him father for the time being. If it became an issue among the court, he would deal with it then. But for now, the word remained.

"Is it hungry, Pod?" Tyrion asked. He saw the little thing nibbling on Pod's ear, which had prompted his question.

"I just fed it, my lord. I don't know why it would be."

"Doesn't it hurt?"

"No, my lord."

He could see Pod wincing, however, and promptly called up to the dragon.

"You do not nibble ears, especially not my squire's," he said.

It made a little growl at him--but it left Pod's ear alone after that, and curled up in his arms.

"Are you sure it's wise to visit the Queen Mother right now, my lord?"

"I visit her on the daily, I don't see why I should stop now."

Pod seemed to want to say more, but didn't.

Tyrion came down the hall towards Cersei's chambers--and went on in.

She was seated in the room beyond at a table with Septa Melvine (who looked perturbed, as per her usual mode of operation when the unexpected happened), upright and drinking from a glass. A breakfast was on a plate before her, half eaten. And as always, the doll was in one arm.

"My dear sister," he said, "It's good to see you well."

She looked over his head, worry in her eyes. "Push?"

"No, sister, no push."

He still couldn't figure that part out, but given Jaime was not there, it didn't matter. For the moment, anyway.

Tyrion closed the door behind him--but almost as soon as he did, he heard the dragon begin screeching.

"One moment," he said to Cersei. He opened the door back up, poking his head out. "Pod, keep it quiet!"

"I'm sorry, my lord, it--"

The dragon leaped, from Pod's arms to the ground, steadying itself with its wings; before Tyrion could close the door, it was inside.

There was a moment of panic, and he picked it up--

"Pince!"

He turned to see Cersei, hoping that tone of voice was excited, rather than frightened, and thankfully, he was right.

"Pince," she said again, pointing at the dragon. Then she shook her head, looking upset. "P. R....r...."

"Prince?" Tyrion asked her.

She nodded, smiling.

On a whim, he came closer. Pod followed, and brought another chair over to the table for him to sit on.

When he was seated, Cersei leaned forward, hand out, to touch it.

Perhaps she did not believe it was real?

The dragon climbed atop the table. Cersei's hand, somewhat clumsily at first, touched its head.

To his surprise, it nuzzled against her fingers.

"P...rrrrrr..."

As she pet the dragon, the anguished look crossed her face again. She could not seem to say prince, and it so upset her. Perhaps if he came up with something else, something without an R...

"Impwing," he suggested. After all, he was called the Imp. Why not call his dragon by that name as well?

"I...I..."

"That's it," he encouraged.

"Immmmm...."

"Immm-puh," he said.

"Immm...puhhh....w...w..." Cersei kept trying, encouraged by him, until she finally got it out. "Immmm-puh-wee--n--guh. Imp-wee-nguh."

"Very good, sister."

"I agree," Septa Melvine said. "This was an awful chance, you know. In future I would like to be told about any unexpected things to enter these rooms."

"Impwin-guh!" Cersei called out.

Tyrion could see the septa wanted to be mad at him, but given how Cersei had latched onto the new word, had succeeded in saying it so quickly--he had the feeling that she would let the matter lie.

Chapter Text

Melisandre

Selyse had seen Stannis's corpse and immediately asked Melisandre if there was anything that she could do.

"There is a ritual, my lady," she had replied, "But...it would require a life, and I have never performed it myself."

"But you know what to do?"

"Yes, my lady," Melisandre replied.

"Then I will give the Lord of Light my body and my blood," Selyse said, "My husband can find another wife, but we cannot so easily replace our King."

She seemed all aquiver, excited, almost happy.

"You go to your death, my lady. I repeat it one last time, to be sure you fully grasp what you offer."

"I understand," Selyse said. "I ask only one thing of you."

"What may that be?"

"That you have my husband near," she said, "So I may keep my eyes on what I give my life for. Not that I am unfaithful, but--"

"But you want to have an object to focus your faith on. That is understandable."

And so Selyse had gone the next morning. She dressed all in red, and wore no jewels save her crown. To Melisandre's surprise, she asked to be bound.

Willing spirit, weak flesh, no doubt. Anyone could offer their lives, but when it came to painful dying, anyone might react like an animal and struggle.

Melisandre bid the Queen's men to stand around Stannis's body and pray.

She said the words, lit the fire, and watched. Watched as Selyse's prayer faded into a scream, watched as her clothes and then her hair burst into flames--but the fire was high, nearly as high as when they had burned the gods.

Melisandre would never admit it, not to anyone--but when Selyse's screams fell into silence, and there was a gasp from behind--she was shocked. She knew to say the words, she knew the ritual, the arrangements, everything...

...but for it to reverse death was her biggest surprise.

King Stannis was alive again.


He saw the smoldering flames at the post, and was informed of his wife's sacrifice...he bowed his head, briefly, but then went straight to business.

Starting with the letters.

Stannis received one from Lord Baelish ("of the Vale" he noted in the initial titling) that Ser Davos had come to King's Landing with Shireen, and that it had not been of her own choosing.

"To think that I trusted that smuggler," Stannis said, "He pledged his loyalty to me. I raise his family, give his sons a future, and this is how he thanks me? By stealing my only heir?"

Melisandre had said nothing to that. He sent off a letter a day later, demanding his daughter's return, among other things.

But then, the reply from Shireen came, and...

Her letter changed everything, for Melisandre, at least.

There had been three small chunks of rock attached as well as three little bits of what he assumed were leather, and he hadn't given them much mind--at first.

With Melisandre nearby, he read the letter aloud, which was as follows:

To my father, Stannis Baratheon, Lord of Dragonstone, et al.,

I have been told that you think I was kidnapped, and let me speak to that first: I was not. In fact, I had to persuade Ser Davos to help me leave Dragonstone, and I have been treated well since I arrived in King's Landing. You may not believe it, father, but I was in danger there on Dragonstone. I saw it in the flames.

"She what?" Melisandre asked. "That--I told her that anyone could see things in the fire, but to think that she actually looked..."

Stannis wasn't entirely sure of this--of anything, really, and went on:

I looked and I saw that I would be burned, so I ran. Please do not blame Ser Davos, he was only doing as I asked.

"Burned," Stannis said. "She saw she would be burned.

Melisandre didn't like to think of it, but she considered--had Shireen still been there, Selyse might have tried to burn her in her place--King's blood, and all that. So there was something to this vision that Shireen had had...

On he read:

I will not return, not while you follow the Red God, not while the Red Lady is still there. Mother called me stubborn and sinful, and perhaps I am for disobeying. But I would rather disobey from King's Landing, than there, where you would have burned me.

I will stay in King's Landing, along with the three dragons I hatched.

"Dragons?" Stannis asked. "Davos must have put something in her tea for her to think such a thing."

But in Melisandre there was planted a seed of doubt. Not in the dragons, but in herself. "Pray read on, my King. What else is there?"

Lord Tywin says that he will attach the bits of the three eggs that I gave him, as well as three scales that they shed. Red brass, ocean blue, and silver white are their colors, father. Dragons. I hatched dragons! I wish you could be happy for me. Redlady, Winterstorm, and Impwing would have loved it on Dragonstone.

Stannis looked at the chunks of rock attached, and then what he'd at first taken to be leather, in the colors Shireen had described.

He didn't bother to read the rest of the letter--he tossed it aside, and Melisandre took it up and read the last line:

The Red Lady would no doubt be pleased that I did it with King's blood, my own blood.

Your daughter, Shireen Baratheon, Lady of Dragonstone and Storm's End

And suddenly it all became clear to Melisandre. It was not Stannis, not Stannis at all!

I have seen it in the flames, read of it in ancient prophecy. When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone. She thought back to what she had said, and then a moment later, there was another sting. Only king's blood can wake the stone dragon. From his king's blood and his untainted fire, a dragon shall be born..

Azor Ahai...it was not Stannis, but his maiden daughter. Shireen had not only looked into the fire, but taken the lesson about King's blood to heart. Reborn, in a way, a way that she had never expected. That letter was not the language of a frightened girl.

"What will you do, my king?" she asked Stannis. Perhaps he did not believe the letter so much as she did?

"I will retrieve my daughter," he said, "One way or another."


*Shireen*

Ser Davos had been let out, just as Lord Tywin had promised her, and when he came to tea in the gardens the next day, she got up to give him a hug.

"I'm so glad you're here," Shireen said, "Were you treated well? Is your family alright, do you know?"

"They are well," Davos said with a smile, "Thanks to the Lannister soldiers."

There was a little cawing sound from Redlady, who scrambled onto Shireen's head until she parted with Ser Davos.

"I see his lordship was not lying about the dragons, either."

"No," Shireen said, "Sit, sit. They don't bite, not unless you move too quickly at me."

"So this is the illustrious Onion Knight," Olenna said. She had just joined them a few minutes ago, and was only just now settling. "Is it true what they say about your right hand?"

"True indeed, my lady," Davos raised his right hand for her to see. "Begging your pardon for the ugly sight."

"You certainly risked much more than your fingers by doing what you did," Sansa said. "How glad we are that you saved Lady Shireen!"

"I might say how glad I am that she has been treated well. It--it hasn't always been that way," he replied.

"Come, sit with us," Shireen said.

"My lady, no. I am common and barely a knight, I belong at a bench in a tavern, not at a fine table with noble ladies."

"Your lady has given you an order," Olenna said, giving a laugh. "And she has dragons, so you had better obey."

Davos took the empty seat beside Shireen, and she could see it made him uncomfortable--but she wanted him to feel welcome.

"I only wanted to come to inform you that my family sent me word and will soon be on their way," Davos said, "And to thank you for speaking up for me."

"You saved my life, Ser Davos. How could I do less?"

The chatter went on after that, most of it bright. One face, however, did not look kindly on Ser Davos, and that was the face of Sansa's guard. She gave Davos a suspicious look, a look of mistrust.

Shireen had never seen a woman so large--and in trousers and armor, too! She would have asked after her, had not Margaery appeared with Ser Loras.

"Lady Shireen," Margaery said with a smile, "May I introduce my brother, Ser Loras."

She had heard of how handsome Loras was, but to see him in person made it all the more real. Brown curls that framed his face well and hung in his eyes, and his eyes! A sort of deep gold, almost brown, and beautiful to look at. Now she understood why everyone was speaking of him so well--at least in looks.

There was half a smile on his face, even, and she was returning it--

--but then he turned, and that sweet expression was twisted into a sneer.

"An innocent girl is one thing, but how can you let a murderer join you for tea, grandmother?"

His eyes burned at the woman in armor, who didn't move from her post a few feet behind Sansa, but did reply, "I did not murder King Renly, Ser Loras."

"Then who did? Only you and Catelyn Stark were in that tent. It could only have been one of you."

"It was neither," the woman replied evenly, "It was a shadow with Stannis's face."

Ser Davos looked up then.

"You must think me a simpleton, if you believe I am fool enough to--"

"It's true," Davos said.

Loras looked at him. "And who are you, that you know?"

"I am Ser Davos, and until recently I served Stannis Baratheon. I know of the shadow because it was me who ferried the Red Woman under Storm's End. I was with her when she birthed that horror. It did have Stannis's face, because she used her magic on him to make that thing she called a son of shadow and smoke. And she did it to kill Renly."

Loras took a deep breath.

"Be angry at me if you wish," Davos said, "She has nothing to do with Renly's murder."

"Well!" Margaery said, taking her seat beside Olenna, "Perhaps we might all sit down and...get a little friendlier, now we have...that sorted out."

Shireen could see that she looked upset, but she didn't let it look like that for long.

Ser Loras turned towards her, "My grandmother tells me that we may be betrothed, should our...families...agree."

"Yes, Ser," Shireen replied, "I know it would be much to ask of you, considering that my father...that my father is responsible for your liegelord's death."

She knew there was more to it, much more than that. Or at least she had heard the rumors.

"You had nothing to do with it, my lady. If I was to blame you for his death, then I would also have to blame the King for his brother's sins, as well."

"And that we cannot do," Sansa said, "The King is a gentle soul."

Davos got up as Loras moved closer, and offered him his seat; there was no seat for him otherwise.

"Whom do you serve now, Ser?" Loras asked him.

"I serve Lady Shireen," Davos replied, "I have had my fill of the Red Woman and her red god and her black magics. If I had known what she was to do, I would never have aided her in it."

Loras nodded, but said no more--and Davos excused himself, then left.

"It is nice to meet you, Lady Shireen," Loras said. "Let me be the first to assure you that I will make few demands of you, should our...families...come to an agreement. I would not want you to think of something between us being solely for the use of Storm's End. Though I would not mind making a life there...I made many a happy memory in that keep."

Shireen nodded. She had before only thought of Dragonstone--for all her newfound confidence, there was still that sticking point. She had expected that due to her father's betrayals, that she would only have Dragonstone. But Lord Tywin had promised that if she pledged herself and her keep to the crown, speaking for the Stormlands at Tommen's coronation on his nameday, that she could have her uncle's seat instead. It was bewildering, but not unwelcome.

"I hope to make many myself," she said. "Though I have more than children of my own to think of."

She gestured to her dragons. "The red one is Redlady, and the blue, Winterstorm."

Loras nodded, but didn't reach out to them. "Do you believe they will get much bigger?"

"I do not know yet," she replied, "They may grow very little, or they may grow to be the size of Balerion himself. I do not know. Perhaps Dragonstone would be the better choice to house them if they get to that size."

"I am sure adequate housing could be made for Redlady and Winterstorm at Storm's End."

"For a keep you would be much better served by Storm's End in any case," Olenna added. "It has rich, fertile lands, and is well-located. The dragons would still have half the sea to fly over. Dragonstone--well, you would have little besides the harbor and the nests for dragons."

And, Shireen thought, If I marry Ser Loras, there will be no siege from Tyrell and Redwyne forces. She bore them no ill will--war was war, after all, but it was certainly something to consider. Lord Tywin had told her that she would be free to choose Ser Loras if she wished--he wanted, he had explained, to make the alliance with the Tyrells a solid one, and this would certainly help.

But he had also given her other options. Rickon Stark, though little more than seven years old, was a younger son and had the blood of a proud, old family. A marriage to him would come later, but would bring her closer to Sansa and the North.

There were smaller families with second or third sons available as well, but Lord Tywin had suggested Loras or Rickon above the others for a reason. They were the best choices, alliance-wise--and he had impressed upon her that as a lady ruling a keep in her own name and not her husband-to-be's, she would need to think about such things.

She tried to think of what her father might say if it came out that she was thinking of marrying Ser Loras. What would he say? What would he do?

She realize that she didn't know.

But when had she ever known her father's mind?


*Melisandre*

Another letter had arrived from Shireen, and she was eager to see what it said.

"She insists," Stannis told her when she asked, "That she is well, and she continues to say that she will not move from King's Landing."

"What does she say of the dragons?" Melisandre asked.

"That they are well. She speaks of only two, however...it seems that one has bonded with another, from what I can judge."

"But he does not say with who?"

"It is named Impwing. I do not need to ask with who. Perhaps there was a time when I might have depended on the Imp, but that time is long past, and his allegiances, trueborn or no, lie with his family. Tywin Lannister sent a letter informing me that with things as they were, it would serve my best interest to surrender. With three dragons in King's Landing, with the Tyrells and Starks on his side, in addition to his own forces."

He sat looking at the map, and sighed.

I can no longer help him, she thought. If I had only seen the truth sooner, perhaps I could have. Now my work will be all the harder.

Chapter Text

Sansa

She and Shireen had had to speak to Septa Melvine for nearly an hour about Cersei's condition. It was serious, the septa said, and she had a list of things to do and not do, so as to avoid unpleasant situations. Not that Cersei would mean for things to happen, but when she was frightened, or too much went on at once, she could begin having her fits.

Brienne, who followed Sansa near everywhere, stood quietly by.

"Does she know we are coming?" Shireen asked.

"Yes, my lady. She does know about that. I was...reluctant to allow you, because of your dragons, but when Lord Tyrion mentioned that there were two others, Lady Cersei begged to see them."

"She did?" Sansa asked. "What words did she use?"

"She used but one word, and a lot of gesturing with her hands. Lord Tyrion was there, as I just said, and he mentioned other dragons to her. She touched Impwing, and kept bringing her hands back towards herself and saying, 'More?'"

"Even a damaged person can be in awe of dragons," Sansa replied.

"It should make her happy," Shireen added.

Satisfied, Septa Melvine said, "I will go in and announce you. Wait for the knock, then enter."

She went into the room, and left them out in the hallway.

"My father said such terrible things about her," Shireen looked up at Sansa, "Lady Cersei, I mean. That she was cruel, and mean, and...some other things I won't say."

"She is none of those things any more, from what Tyrion has told me," Sansa replied, "More like a child than anything else. So long as we are nice, all will be well."

The knock at the door was heard--and then they were let in.

Cersei was seated at the table, dressed in a lime-green gown; there were pink flowers running about the neck, all the way down to the point of the V in the neckline. And of course, as always, she had her doll in her arms. Today she seemed to have swaddled it in a sky blue cloth.

It looks like something Myrcella would have worn, Sansa thought. Cersei looked young, bright. Almost happy.

"Ladies Sansa and Shireen have come for their visit," Septa Melvine said.

There were no words, but Cersei did raise a hand in what Sansa assumed must be a wave of greeting. No demands, like she half-expected. No upset looks, no calls for wine. It was the quietest she had ever seen the woman.

But then Shireen stepped out from behind her with Redlady and Winterstorm on her shoulders. And Cersei came alive.

"More!" she said suddenly. Then she started making grabbing motions with her hands, towards herself. "Eat."

The two of them walked over to take seats at the table, in the midst of which were a variety of cooked meats--fish and boar, primarily. There were other, lighter dishes, but she seemed especially keen on pointing this one out.

"More," Cersei said, gesturing at the dragons, then at that plate. "Eat."

"She invites you to let them eat," Septa Melvine said, "Let me move the plate to the floor. Dragon or no, a beast's place is not on the table."

She did exactly that, and the two fluttered down to start their meal.

"More," Cersei said.

"It is good to see you, my lady," Sansa said.

There seemed to be a struggle. Perhaps for a word, she thought, they had told her that it happened often. She would know what you said, but have trouble thinking of the right word to say.

"Good..."

Anguish crossed Cersei's face. She looked left, right, her hands moving back and forth, head rocking.

"Another word, my lady," Septa Melvine said quickly. "When one will not come to you, stop and use another."

Cersei stopped cold. Then something unexpected happened--

She cooed--a throaty sound, almost like a purr.

"What is she trying to say?" Shireen asked.

Or more like--

"My name?" Sansa asked. "Were you trying to say my name?"

Cersei nodded, eagerly, and made her noise again.

"Why did she make that sound?"

"She used to call me little dove, and that's the sound doves make," Sansa replied.

"D...D..."

Cersei made the sound, trying, Sansa imagined, to say the word.

"D..o..."

"Dooooovvvveee," Septa Melvine said slowly, encouraging as she could be.

"Doooo...do...dovvv..."

"Dove," Sansa said gently.

"Dovvvve," Cersei finally said. "Dovve."

"Very good, my lady," Shireen added.

Cersei then looked to her, and then at the dragons, still feasting on their plate, then back to Shireen. "More?"

"I think she's asking if they're yours," Septa Melvine said.

"Yes," Shireen said with a bright smile. She pointed to one, "That one is Redlady," and then the other, "Winterstorm."

There was a blank stare.

"Fire and Ice," Shireen said. "Is that easier?"

Cersei nodded, pointing first to the fireplace, and then to Sansa.

Then she pointed to Shireen.

"Use your words if you can, my lady," Septa Melvine said.

"...." Cersei struggled, but managed, "You?"

"My name is Shireen," Shireen said, "My father is Stannis Baratheon."

A nasty look crossed Cersei's face. "Bad."

Then a confused look appeared--but only for a second, because in the next moment she was getting to her feet and rushing into her bedroom.

Septa Melvine followed, looking half-panicked.

But it turned out that that was entirely needless. Cersei returned from her bedroom with a brush and a handful of red and blue ribbons in her free hand.

"Lady!" she said in an insistent tone.

"Is something wrong?" Sansa asked her.

"Son," Cersei said. She gestured with her arm that held the doll, then made the cooing sound in her throat.

"I believe," Septa Melvine said, following close behind her, "That she wishes you to hold her baby for her."

"Oh, of course," Sansa replied. She took the doll, and held it delicately--watching in amazement as Cersei began to brush Shireen's hair.

"Lady," Cersei said. She kept brushing for several minutes, then twisted red ribbons around the two outer bits of hair, and a blue around the inner.

Septa Melvine quietly mentioned that she had been showing Cersei how to braid her own hair, after she became irritable when the servants did it.

"It looks very nice, my lady," Sansa said. Then she looked to Shireen, who had appeared shocked at first. But given that Cersei was moving relatively slowly, she didn't seem to mind.

That was how they spent the next hour.

Shireen's hair, Sansa thought, had come alive from the previous brown, and now was streaked in red and blue.

"Lady," Cersei said, once she was done; she touched the ribbons she'd put into Shireen's hair, then pointed to the dragons. "Fire. Ice."

Shireen thanked her, and the smile it brought to Cersei's face made even Sansa feel hopeful. The queen mother had never smiled like that before.

"Very lovely, wouldn't you say?" Sansa asked Brienne.

"Yes, my lady," came the reply, "She seems to be quite proud of it."

Sansa could not know Cersei's mind, not wholly, but when she looked at the woman, looked at what she was doing, she could hazard a guess. Somewhere inside that broken mind, Cersei knew she had a daughter, maybe, and she missed having her close.

Shireen was as good a way for her to show her motherly tendencies as any.


*Bronn*

He'd never been so sore in all his life.

The wedding was fairly small, but it had free food and drink, and Amerei had looked good, draped in the black cloak shot with woven green flames around "the bottom hem" as the tailor said. In addition, there were three arrows aimed down at the flames--when Bronn said he'd only fired one to light the fire, the tailor had said, "Three look better."

He said the words, and just like that, he was a married knight. The bedding ceremony, now, that was a lot of fun, women stripping him, and men stripping his new wife--and by the time they were at their bedchamber, they were both naked as the day they were born.

Amerei looked over his chest eagerly when they were alone. "You have so many scars..."

"Comes of being a sellsword before a knight," Bronn said. "I worked hard to get where am I, y'know."

"Now come and work hard for me," she replied, flouncing off to bed, tits bouncing. "How do you want to have your new bride, my lord?"

They fucked half the night. First she had him over her, "to make it proper," then she used her tits to keep him going, then she let him get his head between her legs. Then she returned the favor--and stuck two fingers up his arse. He was about to protest, but within a few seconds he'd finished so hard his knees were weak, and he'd filled her mouth.

"Thought that was supposed to go in you," he said, breathing hard, looking down at her.

Amerei opened her mouth, showing him the white remains on her tongue. Then she closed her mouth and swallowed. "It just did, my lord."

She asked for his fingers in her then, and an hour later, his cock was right back up, which started a whole other round...

Sore. He was sore. But he had thoroughly bedded his new wife, and that was that; she had curled up to him at the end and said that she had never been so satisfied.

It was the same the entire way back to King's Landing (a trip he only started when word came from Robb Stark that he was fast approaching the Twins). They would make camp and the second that she had him alone in his tent, she was on top of him, riding him into the ground. Even the most desperate whore never fucked so well.

Oddly, she'd want to talk afterwards.

"I am glad you chose me," she said. "A girl of my reputation, you know. Not that I much mind, but I am always reminded of it."

"You enjoy it, and so do I. Marriages have been built on worse. But I will let you know, I expect you not to fuck every knight you come across now."

"And what shall I do if my lord husband must be away?"

"I'll hire some whores. Women. Wooden cocks and fingers and tongues can do more than you might know."

"I know that well," Amerei said, "Though I have not yet had the pleasure of being bedded by another woman. It sounds...strange, but if it can feel just as good, why not?"

"I'll round up a few when we get back to King's Landing," Bronn said, "And you can see what you like in women."

From there she began to ask about him.

"Your house sigil, it looked so different from the ones I know. Most have a tower, or an animal...some are weapons, but I haven't seen many arrows, nor wildfire."

"A long story for another day," Bronn said, "The short of it is that my mastery archery helped King's Landing keep Stannis and his lot of fire-worshippers out."

"I suppose that's why you call yourself Blackwater."

"Better than some of my other options. I didn't want to sound like some old man. Ser Bronn Blackwater, now, that made me sound dangerous, I fancied."

"And your house words?"

Bronn looked at the tent flaps just past his feet; they were waving in the wind, and there was rain beginning to fall. And he thought.

What should his house words be? If only the Imp were here, he'd have some suggestions. That was what the little cunt was best at, doing the smart things.

These words would be what stayed on after he died, after his sons had their castle and kept it on through the next generation, and the next. The words were what his house would be known for.

Well, I should probably put in something about swords, even if there's an arrow on my banner. Wouldn't be anywhere without my sword.

Swords, arrows, fighting, blood, the Imp, Lannisters, gold...swords...

"By sword and bow we rise," Bronn finally said. It was as good a thing as any to put on a banner, and it would look better for his grandchildren anyway if he didn't put something too common on it. Long, but good. Decent.

Fine.

He nestled himself into his wife's tits and went to sleep.


Some days later, he arrived in King's Landing. The fat servant went to report to Lord Tywin, and Bronn himself went after Tyrion, his wife on his arm.

They were shown into the room, and Tyrion walked in a few minutes later.

"You look well," Tyrion said, "If a bit tired."

"I'm afraid that's my doing, my lord," Amerei curtsied, "I take it you know my husband well?"

"Know him well, his house is sworn to mine!" Tyrion could not but laugh. "Yes, my lady, we know each other well."

"I already told all I know to that fat man you sent me out with," Bronn said, "But here's what he told me to give you."

He handed a wad of letters to the Imp, which Tyrion started to look over.

"I presume the trip was pleasant?"

"Exhausting!" Bronn said, "Even with horses, it seems that road gets longer all the time."

"You can go, Bronn. If I need anything, I know where to look for you."

"Of course you do."

But for different reasons, now. He lead Amerei off, and headed straight to the nearest brothel.


*Sansa*

She was invited to dine with Lord Tywin, and she came dressed in a gold-yellow gown that she paired with a sapphire necklace. As always, Brienne stood close; the woman watched every movement.

He came in and sat down, and after a minute or two of eating, he began the conversation.

"How did the visit with my daughter go?"

"Well, my lord," Sansa said, "Lady Cersei got very excited when she saw the dragons."

"As she did with Tyrion's," Tywin nodded. "I have heard that her vocabulary is improving. Did she add any new words during this visit?"

"Fire, ice--Shireen told her those names because she thought your daughter would be able to say them easier. Then there was Lady--that's what she calls Shireen--and Dove."

"Dove?"

"She used to call me little dove, before you came. At first she made that sound that they make, but we helped her to say it."

"It seems the Grand Maester's idea of a septa is working well, then, if she has improved enough to be able to learn so quickly," Tywin said. "I presume she has done the bulk of the work in this regard."

"From what she has told us, yes," Sansa said. "Though Lord Tyrion does make his visits as often as he can to talk to her."

"What happened after that?"

"Shireen told Cersei who she was, and that she was Stannis Baratheon's daughter. Oh, yes. The next word, it was 'bad.' She didn't seem to like hearing about Lord Stannis. But then she looked at Shireen, and rushed off for the ribbons and brush."

"I heard about that. And saw the result."

"I may be wrong, but I believe she did what she did because she remembers being the mother to a daughter. As Shireen hasn't got a mother any longer, I saw no harm in allowing it to happen. It did them both good, I think."

"She took an interest in someone else," Tywin said, nodding. "I have done some reading on the subject of late, and it agrees with what the Grand Maester has said, and that you have seen. That it shows improvement in one's functions."

"Please, my lord," Sansa replied, "I do not mean to tell you to stay out of things regarding your family, because I know how well you care for them all--even if it is hard for you to show that care. But you are Lord Protector, you are instructing Tommen in Kingship, you look after the defense of the city, and all those things that a King must do. In addition, you asked me to look after her."

"Speak plainly, Lady Stark."

"You have so much to do as it is," she said, "Let me handle this one thing for you, the thing that you asked of me. I do not ask you to put your daughter's health out of your mind, but I ask that with so much else to worry over, you do not trouble yourself overmuch with this."

It did worry her--increasingly. Tywin was always tending to something, always planning or plotting for the benefit of his family, and now in addition to all of that he sat the throne for Tommen. He was a strong man, a cunning man, but even one like him must have help.

"And if there is anything else I might do for you, you have but to ask."

The first visit had gone well, and Septa Melvine had already been informed that she would take Lord Tyrion's place. Tomorrow, she would begin in earnest.

Chapter Text

A Girl

The room was dark as she cleaned it, and many were the dead faces that looked down. Floor to ceiling they were set in their places, it seemed, even in the pillars surrounding that central platform.

Other people might have been afraid, but a girl was not.

There were faces with eyes that did not open. Faces that did not judge. Faces that did not say what a girl should or should not be.

A girl often wondered why she had chosen to come here, a place so quiet she could hear every footstep. A place with none of the girl's friends, or family--but the girl had no answer to give herself.

She would ask a man why he had given his whole self, thinking perhaps he could give her the answer that she didn't have for herself.

But the only reply was, "A man made a decision. Maybe he wanted to see more of the world. Maybe he was a common criminal trying to escape the reach of the law. Or maybe he was only lucky, like a girl."

"Didn't a man have family? People who cared for him? People that would have missed him?"

"A man may have had such people, yes," came the reply, "But no more. Does a girl wish to have a name again?"

"I don't know."

There was a sigh. How could it be explained to him?

"Perhaps a girl is restless," he smiled. "She is young, after all. A man has a remedy for this problem, perhaps. The Many-Faced God has those who have paid their price to give him names from places far-away. Perhaps a girl would travel to send the Many-Faced God those names."

"Where will a girl travel?"

"To Astapor. Perhaps farther, if your names have moved on." a man replied.

"So far! What names were given?"

The man smiled.


*Hot Pie*

"Bring the tray out, we've got more!"

The innkeeper Masha called out, and Hot Pie came waddling. "Lots of meals being yelled out, what's going on?"

"Northern soldiers," she said, "Word is that Robb Stark is going home to Winterfell."

"Robb Stark himself. That's a surprise."

He hadn't given it much thought, but then, anything beyond the kitchen wasn't really much of a concern to him anyway. But this...to meet Robb Stark, a real lord! He had been a King, but the last group of sellswords that had come through had put an end to that rumor. He'd agreed he wasn't really a king anymore, and Tywin Lannister was letting him go home in peace.

And maybe...

"So just you keep doing that sorcery you do in the kitchen, you hear me?"

"Yes, ma'am. They'll get my best, I promise."

He was at his happiest in this kitchen, as Masha had found. And to keep him that way she had enticed him, further, with the idea of marrying her grand-niece Jeyne. The woman had bled, and was suspicious of most men, but was fond enough of the fat cook he had become to at least not glare so much when she caught him looking at her. And that was more than could be said for most.

"I haven't got a name to give her," he'd said, and Masha had replied that he could take Jeyne's.

That was an idea. He had a job, a job he liked a lot, and now there was the idea of getting married, even if he had to take his wife's name. It was a far cry from going to the Wall--and he wanted to keep it that way.

The evening wore on, and there was a lot of cheering at one point. Hot Pie poked his head out of the kitchen when he was told that this next meal--venison pie with leeks and onions, with some baked finger-shaped, honey-slathered pastries on the side--was for Robb Stark and his lady wife. He decided that he had to take the chance, and offered to bring the meal himself.

"I want to meet the man that used to be a king," he said as an excuse, and waddled out into the dining area with the tray.

But that wasn't it. He had a little something weighing on his conscience, and he wanted to relieve it. Something that Gendry had said, just after they'd run off from Harrenhal.

"Lord Stark," he said, setting the tray down on their table, "And Lady Stark. Thank you for coming."

"We were glad to," Robb said, "From what the innkeep said, she has the best cook in Westeros. That must be you."

"Well, I don't know if I'm the best, but I'm good," Hot Pie replied. "M'lord, I have to say something, and I beg you won't send me to the Wall for it."

"And what might that be?" Robb asked.

"I saw your sister," Hot Pie said.

Robb sat up straight, and called to the guard standing next to Hot Pie to go fetch his mother. There was a nod and then the man ran off.

"Where--when?" Robb asked.

"It was--it was two, three years ago," Hot Pie said. "I wish you'd let me say that before sending him off."

"Is she here?"

"No, m'lord. I saw her in Harrenhal. There was a man that come from the Wall to get some boys together to go there for the Watch, and there was this boy that said his name was Arry. But then we got caught and taken there. I didn't know until we were leaving Harrenhal that it was your sister, m'lord."

"Why did she part from you?"

"There was those that would've killed us at Harrenhal, but Tywin Lannister came in and made them stop. When he left, Arry--your sister, Arya--thought we should leave, and we did. She had help from a friend, she said."

That was when Catelyn showed up. Hot Pie repeated everything, and felt a twinge in his gut as Catelyn's face crumpled.

"My Arya," she half-wept, "Gone, alone!"

"She isn't alone," Hot Pie said. "Gendry told me about her after she left and made me swear not to tell anyone, but she didn't go by herself. And I thought since it's been so long it wouldn't matter if I told someone else. And you're her family."

"Who did she leave with?" Robb asked sharply.

"Arr--Arya said it was a Faceless man."

He didn't know exactly what they were, but he knew they killed people. And that was it. She'd told Gendry, who had told him.

"She said she was going to go with him," Hot Pie went on, "He killed all the people that got us out of Harrenhal. She didn't look scared at all, m'lord, m'lady."

Robb was still pale, but he managed to collect himself. "Thank you for telling us."

Hot Pie nodded, and headed back to the kitchen.


*A Girl*

The journey had been long, but a girl had made it. First to Astapor, but the names were not there. Not anymore. Then to Yunkai, but again, the names were missed.

But she did find the names again. It was easy.

They were in Meereen. She was in Meereen, wearing first the face of a desperate freed slave. Many had come here, scared to stay where they were, following their savior to safety. But then...then she had met the goatherder.

The words rung in her head, the last words of this man, this one who had so wanted peace. And for a price he was more than willing to pay, she gave him the peace he desired.

There was grief, such grief--grief that reminded a girl of things she did not want to remember. A girl could feel it, and remembered a time long ago, a time in a festering stinking city, a time--

She clutched close the bundle that the goatherder had been carrying, and asked around until she was directed to the Great Pyramid where the names were to be found.

A girl found a great line, and joined it at the back. And she waited. She waited, until night fell and the sweltering heat turned to a chill and the goatherder whose face she wore chilled at the touch of cooler air. The girl beneath found comfort in the cold, yet she shivered anyway.

"You stand before Queen Daenerys..." the dark woman then spoke the woman's titles, ending with, "...Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons."

A girl walked up the stairs with the shaking legs of the goatherd, bowed, and placed the bundle on the floor. And then she said the words that the goatherd had said, the words that even as he died, were on his lips, "Mathash cha yeng we yedhrol. Ye sovla. We shindhol shpa chnyeny. Mathash cha yeng we yedhrol she... nya pikh. Nya pikhisht...!"

"He came from the sky," the dark woman said, translating, "The black one. The winged shadow. He came from the sky and...my girl. My little girl."

She cried the tears that had stained the goatherder's face, even in death.

Chapter Text

Tyrion

"Is he getting heavy, Pod?" Tyrion asked. He looked back at the boy, who was holding a snoring (and rather fat-bellied) Impwing.

"Only a little, m'lord. I think he may be...a trifle overfed."

"Perhaps we can find him some mice to chase," Tyrion said. A fat dragon would hardly put one in awe...

Impwing had been fitted with a leather collar as his father had suggested. The collar itself had a metal ring in it, and attached to that was a decently long chain of silver links, the handle of which was firmly in Pod's left hand. Not that it needed be held too tightly, it seemed the little thing slept quite a bit during the day.

He'd have to go see if there were many books relating to the care of dragons in the library...

"Or pigeons. We have plenty of them about the city," Pod said.

"Get a bundle of them, and release 'em inside. S'not like you have to clean up the mess," Bronn said. He'd been mostly quiet, and kept taking swigs from his waterskin; Tyrion was increasingly suspicious that it held ale.

"I don't want to let him out and about alone until I'm sure he won't behave badly." The last thing he needed was to hear about how it had bitten or killed someone's chicken or, worse, a child. He'd only just got the thing, he didn't want to lose it.

He was standing out here, feeling more like an idiot every minute. Tywin had asked him to greet Doran and the Martell retinue, and every time he saw banners that even slightly resembled the Dornish one he'd have to get right up and stand at attention...only to sit right back down a minute later when it turned out to be someone else.

It was also a good way, Tywin had told him, of showing the lords who would be in attendance for the coronation and wedding that those in King's Landing now had dragons on their side.

Very subtle, Tyrion was thinking.

After what felt like forever, he did finally see the Dornish approaching, and once more he sprung to his feet.

As Pod was naming off the houses represented by the varying standards, Tyrion looked for the Martell standard--and couldn't find it. So when the first riders approached, he went to give them a long, flowery greeting, hoping he could see what the reason for it was.

Then when that failed to go over, he said, "Forgive me, I don't see Prince Doran in your company."

"The Prince's health forces him to remain at Sunspear. He sends his brother, Prince Oberyn, to attend the royal wedding instead."

"And," Tyrion glanced behind the man, but did not see Oberyn. "Where is the Prince?"

"He arrived before dawn," the man replied, "Our prince is not a man for welcome parties."

Tyrion directed them to the servants standing ready who would show them to their quarters, and then turned. "We have to find Prince Oberyn before he kills someone."

"In a city this big?" Bronn asked. "How d'you propose to do that?"

"He's famous for fucking half of Westeros, and he's been on a long and unpleasant road. If you were him, where would you go?"

"I'd go to sleep, but I'm getting old."

Back they went, with Pod following closely behind.


As the two Lannisters left, one bleeding rather profusely, they saw Oberyn, who began with, "Ellaria Sand, my paramour."

The woman, well-tanned, beautiful, and dark-haired, kissed him, and for several seconds that was all that happened. But finally, Oberyn did part from her, gesturing to Tyrion.

"The King's own uncle Imp. Tyrion, son of Tywin. Lannister." He said, before turning to face them. "Or are you? The dragon, it confuses the matter. Perhaps Tyrion, son of Aerys. Hill."

"That is a matter for--future debate," Tyrion said. "My nephew's coronation and wedding are soon to follow and I would rather not have unpleasant rumors spring up just yet."

"I am no man of these northern places," Oberyn replied, "If you are indeed the son of Aerys, you are a bastard, yes. But this does not matter to those in Dorne; it is too bad you were not born there."

"Tyrion Sand has a lesser ring to it than Lannister, but no doubt if I were Dornish things might have been a bit easier. My life so far has been unpleasant enough as the Imp, but were I a Waters or a Hill or a Blackfyre, I would no doubt not be alive to speak to you now."

Oberyn said nothing, but he nodded.

"Perhaps," Tyrion said, "We could have a word in private?"


*A Girl*

The opportunity was too tempting to resist. She heard already of the Harpies and their uprising. All it took was the idea that a poor "freed" slave, a young man destitute and living on the streets, wanted things to return to the way they were, and she was pointed towards a source.

The source was, in fact, a whore, but she was more than sympathetic.

"The dragon queen, she has ruined many lives," the woman said, "Slaves are made to be slaves. How do you expect the Sons of the Harpy to help you?"

"I do not ask them to help me very much," a girl said, in the voice of the first face she had taken, "I ask how I may help them. My master was an assassin and promised me things would be as they were if I could help him arrange the Queen's death."

"And your master, what does he want?"

"An opportunity," a girl said. "My master tells me that the queen's black dragon burned a child alive, and it is said that she will this very night lock her other two dragons away."

"How may we help you there?"

"My master would ask, where would she do such a thing?"

"The catacombs," the whore replied, "There is much room there, even for growing dragons."

"There are many guards there?"

The woman smiled.


The dark was more comfortable than a girl imagined it would be. It reminded her of a time when she chased cats in near darkness, even...

...but there were things to do here and a girl could not dwell on the past. That was not her anymore.

So she sat, and waited, taking the time to eat from what she had managed to steal from the market, and drink from her waterskin. All she had now to do was wait, and keep her eyes on the bolt.

It may have been only minutes. Maybe hours. Either way, it felt like much longer.

And then the stone at the entrance began to roll, and a girl heard the calls of the dragons.


*Tyrion*

"King Tommen I, first of his name..."

Tyrion stood in the balcony, as did Cersei and Septa Melvine. Tywin had requested this so that Cersei would be able to see Tommen crowned--but also so that she would remain calm.

"Son," she said softly.

"Yes, sister," Tyrion said. "He is only nine, and yet he is King."

"Son," Cersei said again, in a sadder tone. "Son..."

"Father will advise him," Tyrion replied, "And you know that he looks after his family."

She didn't reply.

"He will be a strong king, my lady," Septa Melvine said.

They stood, watching, as various lords and ladies of different houses pledged themselves to the crown, not the least of which was Shireen Baratheon. She said the words, and bowed; incidentally it seemed that this made the dragons on her shoulders bow as well. A happy coincidence, Tyrion thought.

He had to make his own way down, to pledge "the Lannisters of Harrenhal" to the crown, but was back up a minute or two later.

Cersei was looking at him. "Where?"

"Harrenhal, sister. Would you like to see where it is on the map?"

"G...go? Qar? Go?"

He had been trying to break the news to her, ever since Tywin had told him about it. Either she did not remember, or like a child, did not want to remember, thinking that if she didn't acknowledge it, it wouldn't happen.

That was his guess, anyway.

"In a week's time," he said. "But I will write to you very frequently."

"No." she said, "No. No. No--"

She was shaking again, trying to speak, but as so often happened lately, the words would not come.

"No...no read."

"If your eyes pain you, the Septa can read them to you. Perhaps in time you can come and visit."

"Qar go. No. More."

Brother is leaving. No. And...something about Impwing, perhaps?

He almost wished that he could take her with him, but most people he spoke to about it seemed convinced it would only do her more harm than good.

He wished they took the same view about allowing her to attend Tommen's small nameday celebration. It would take place in the gardens directly after the coronation, and he wasn't at all sure she could handle being around any strangers...

Chapter Text

Tommen

"Son..."

Cersei had been eager to hug Tommen when he had come to her quarters, and though her smile was a little weak, she seemed happy overall. They had finally managed to persuade her that the doll was safe with a wet nurse again, and so it was with the servant who had been nursing her own baby.

"It's good to see you, mother."

She touched the crown on his head, and hugged him again.

"Mother, did the septa tell you?" he asked her, knowing that she had. "It's my nameday, too, and we're having a little party in the gardens. Grandfather says you can come out to see everyone, if you want. You can see my betrothed."

"Girl?"

"Yes, mother. A Tyrell," Tommen said, then added, "Their sigil is a golden rose. Can you say rose?"

"R....r...rose. Rose."

"Her name is Margaery," he went on, "And everyone keeps saying how lucky I am, because she's very pretty and the common people like her."

He would be married to her in a few days, but he wouldn't be doing "his duties" for six or seven years. Grandfather said when the time came, it would be explained to him.

"M....M..." Cersei tried to say the name. She struggled--until she didn't. "Rrrrrose. R-r-r-r-rose. Rose."

"That will do," Septa Melvine said. "Shireen, are you almost done?"

Shireen was behind Cersei, carefully brushing her hair, and glanced up to reply. "Yes, I'm sorry. There were a lot of tangles back her around...around where she hit her head, so I had to go a little slowly."

"Does she get upset when you brush around there?" Tommen asked.

"Quite often," Septa Melvine said, "It's not hard to work around, however. We just need to start at the bottom and work our way up in small increments. You should remember that, your grace, should you ever be blessed with a daughter. Dragging a brush through her hair top to bottom is very painful."

Winterstorm hopped from Shireen's shoulder to Cersei's, and mis-stepped--slipping down onto her lap and dragging its silver chain along with it.

"Ice," Cersei said easily, stroking its head as he fussed and righted himself.

And just like that, her attention was turned over to it. The septa had also told him that this would be a problem, that she would need to be reminded of things rather frequently. Something interesting might draw her, and she would entirely forget what she was doing.

"We should be going," Septa Melvine said a few moments later. "Come, my lady."

"Son?"

"Yes, mother," Tommen said. "Remember? It's my nameday. We're having a party in the gardens."

Cersei finally did stand to leave with them, still carrying Winterstorm. The dragon yawned, looked about--for Shireen, Tommen imagined--but when he saw her, remained comfortably where he was.

"My lady," Shireen said, "If you would hold this for me?" She gave Cersei the handle to Winterstorm's harness. "It's to make sure he doesn't fly away and get hurt."

"Ice. Son."


Tommen followed the septa's lead, and followed her to the corner of the gardens where grandfather had suggested Cersei be kept for the majority of the party. "You just sit here, mother. See, there's a very nice view of the water."

"Water?"

Cersei made a motion like she was lifting a cup to her lips.

"Oh, no, you can't drink that kind, mother."

"Water." she repeated the motion, and pointed at a passing servant.

"Oh!" Tommen said, suddenly understanding. "Of course, mother, I'll get you some water."

He called to the servant to do so, and then looked to Shireen. "Would you mind staying with her? It will keep Winterstorm happy, and maybe...well, maybe make her feel less alone. She seems to like you very much."

"Of course," Shireen said. "Will Sansa be by soon?"

"She will," Tommen replied, "She's with grandfather right now, talking about when they're to be married."

"Dove," Cersei said quietly.

Still no word for grandfather, Tommen thought. Why not?

"They're delaying it for some months, I've heard," Shireen said. "So her family can attend. Your grandfather says they're going to bring her some weirwood saplings, so she has a piece of home."

"I know she'll like that." Tommen nodded. A moment later he got up. "I'll see if I can tell Lady Sansa to join you when the meals are served. I need to speak to grandfather anyway."


*A Girl*

There were footsteps, quiet ones, and the sound of the dragons as they came further into the room.

There were rats aplenty down here. A girl had taken the bodies of the six or seven she had managed to catch in a curved line past the pillar she was standing behind. The dragons, no doubt attracted by the scent of blood, headed straight for them.

The first wolfed down two before stretching its neck out for the next. A girl stuck out her arm, squeezing tightly and drawing her razor-sharp blade across its scaled neck. Blood sprayed out, all over her clothes. But she didn't have time to waste--a moment later, when the other one, the green one, came clambering forward to get at the rats. But then it saw her--with her arm around the other one's neck.

"Viserion? What's wrong?"

Footsteps.

A girl acted as fast as she could, grabbing and pulling the green one's head forward by the fins on its head. It struggled--and with the gold one trying and failing to bite her and burn her with its fire, fire spilling out the wound in its throat, a girl struggled to make the second wound. But she did make it, and once more blood gushed out all over her.

Then the footsteps grew closer.

"Viserion! Rhaegal! What are you doing?"

The silver-haired girl met her eyes when she stood to full height and for one moment they stared at each other.

Then she saw her dragons struggling for their last breaths, and looked at them in shock. It was that horror, and only that horror, a girl thought, that saved her plan. She had the knife in her hand, still wet with the dragons' blood. She moved forward, stabbing the silver-haired girl in the circular gap at the front of the dress where flesh was bared, wrenching the knife as far up as she could--

"My children. Why...?"

That was all that the silver-haired girl got out. After that, she coughed, and the blood spilled from her lips--her throat was choked with it, and she could speak no more.

A girl held her as she fell, and looked down at the sadness, the horror, in the silver-haired one's eyes.

A girl stripped down, and stole the clothes of the silver-haired one, putting on her the clothes she'd been wearing. Then she lay her down in the puddle of the dragon's blood...

And when the silver-haired one and the dragons moved no more, a girl drew out another knife.


A girl wept the tears that the silver-haired one had been about to shed, mere moments before her death. She told the woman Missandei, and then the one called Grey Worm, of her losses, and asked that no one disturb her that night. She needed to mourn. She needed to cry.

A Son of the Harpy had been waiting for her in the catacombs, had attacked her children--and had died in the process.

The man Daario came to see her, but she wept into silk sheets that she needed to be alone to mourn the death of her children.

She had only three, and two now were gone.

The next morning, a girl asked that the masks of the Sons of the Harpy that had been caught so far be handed over to her. She put a string through the eyes, and had the decoration strung from her balcony.

And that night, she returned to the whore with the face of Daenerys Targaryen in hand.


*Tommen*

When he returned to his mother, he had Lady Margaery on one side, and her grandmother Olenna on the other. Septa Melvine had given them the same talk she had given Shireen and Sansa, and still seemed nervous, but she'd allowed it.

"It's a pity, to see a woman reduced to a state like this," Olenna said as they approached. "She seems to be recovering so slowly."

"A blow to the head is not easily cured, grandmother," Margaery replied, "There are more than a few people in Highgarden who received such injuries, and never recovered. Septa Melvine says it was a miracle that Lady Cersei recovered as well as she has in the time since her injury."

"Yes," Tommen added, "The Grand Maester does not see her every day anymore, since she has mostly learned to take care of things. He checks on her, but the septa does the rest. If you see her struggle for a word, you should suggest an easier one. And don't move too fast around her."

"No need to worry about that," Olenna replied, "I believe my days of running after things are long over."

They approached the table where Cersei sat with Winterstorm in her lap.

"Mother," Tommen called out to her, taking Margaery by the hand and leading her forward, "This is Lady Margaery Tyrell."

"T...Ty..."

He saw his mother stammer, saw the humiliation in her eyes as she couldn't form the word. She wrapped one arm about the dragon, and--

"They call me the rose of Highgarden, my lady," Margaery said, smiling and taking the seat across from Cersei. "Is that easier?"

"R...rose. Rose." There was a pause, and then Cersei looked at Tommen. "You? Rose?"

He figured she must be asking why he had brought Margaery over, so as Olenna took a seat beside his mother, he went on, "She is going to marry me, and be Queen."

There was a long pause at that, and a puzzled expression crossed Cersei's face. She looked down at Winterstorm as if lost in deep thought. "But...ice? Dove? Queen?"

"Lady Sansa? Oh no, mother. Grandfather said she's going to marry him."

Cersei looked back up, seeming only more confused. "Why?"

"Uncle Tyrion can tell you," Tommen said quickly. "I'm sorry, mother. Grandfather doesn't tell me why he does things."

"But Lady Sansa and I are getting along very well," Margaery said, "It is very nice of you to think about her."

Shireen spoke up now, as Redlady began to wake up from her nap. "She has been very thoughtful of Sansa lately."

"A welcome change," Olenna finally spoke up, "From her relative disinterest in most things, at any rate. If I'm correct, it took her well over a year to get to this point?"

"Yes," Shireen answered, "She's very nice, really, she just needs time to remember things and get used to you."

"But she does seem to like the dragons," Margaery said. "I see your little blue one loves her."

"Anyone might like dragons," Olenna added, "But whatever helps her get back to herself, as they say."

Cersei looked over to her at that. "You?"

"Olenna Redwyne," came the reply, "Our standard is a bunch of grapes. No more interesting than the golden rose of Tyrell, I suppose."

"Gr...apes," Cersei managed, "Rose? You?"

"Oh no, not me. I married one, so I suppose the law calls me a rose, but the grapes are my own family."

"You? Rose?"

"Grandmother," Margaery said, "She is my grandmother, my lady. My father's mother."

Tommen was happy to see a light of recognition in his mother's eyes. He was even more so to see how patient Margaery was with her, even when getting such simple one- and two-word replies.

She will be a good wife, Tommen thought.

He looked at his mother, surrounded by Olenna, Shireen, and Margaery--actually having conversations, with no fits in sight.

And he was happy.

Chapter Text

Tyrion

The wedding was extravagant, and the reception, even more so, but once everyone could be mobile, things began to calm down.

Tommen and Margaery were given their gifts, and sat at their high table chatting and getting to know one another when there was a lull.

Tyrion had Pod bring the book that was his gift forward, and set it down on the table.

"A book, uncle?" Tommen questioned.

"The Lives Of Four Kings," Tyrion said, "Grand Maester Kaeth's history of the reigns of Daeron the Young Dragon, Baelor the Blessed, Aegon The Unworthy, and Daeron The Good. It is a book every king should read."

Tommen paused, and thought for a moment before answering. "Now that the war is won, we should all find time for wisdom. Thank you very much, uncle. I shall begin reading it tonight."

Tyrion bowed, and went back to his seat. He watched as other gifts were brought, more gifts than Tommen likely knew what to do with, more than he would ever really use or need. But the boy king accepted them all gratefully, and thanked each person who came forward.

Afterwards, most everyone got up. Some to dance, some to chat, but all were mingling in some way. Tyrion saw his father talking to Varys and decided he'd go and visit them.

But as he approached, Varys left.

"Something you want to keep from me?" he jested. "No, no, I know you keep many things from me, don't even answer that."

"Merely some news," Tywin replied, "The wedding of Edmure Tully to Roslin Frey has happened."

"And how did that go?"

"Robb Stark lives, and Lord Frey is no more. His daughters and granddaughters have been spared at Robb Stark's insistence, apparently, but every man who sprung from Lord Frey's loins is now deceased."

"How very fortunate. Shall I tell Bronn that his castle is free for the taking, then?" And possibly also console his wife. For all her sexual obsession, Amerei did love her family...

"I've already told him," Tywin replied evenly. "I will be in contact with the maester there as well. And I expect you to visit there as soon as you have settled into Harrenhal."

"To make sure he isn't creating a mess of the place?"

"That and to see about marrying off those girls. Robb Stark has taken a group of them in as attending ladies and companions for his wife, and promises to find them husbands in the North."

"Ah," Tyrion said, "Placate them with husbands, I see. Have you told Lady Sansa about all of this yet?"

"I was about to do that, before I was so rudely interrupted. There is one other thing, however. I spoke with Prince Oberyn, only to see that you had done so already."

"And what did you discuss?"

"What else would this man want to discuss with me? His sister," Tywin huffed ever so slightly. "I told him the truth of the matter, that I said nothing at all about Elia Martell to Ser Gregor, but he is still out for blood."

"What do you plan to do? Is there any way I can help?"

"No," Tywin replied. "There is no need for that. I gave him what he wanted. Tomorrow he will have his chance to fight the Mountain and get his revenge. All I had to do was let Clegane know that the Red Viper wanted to fight him...and he agreed to it. He seemed eager to 'finish the job.'"

"And this buys you what, exactly?"

"He merely agrees to hate Lannisters...more politely, and quietly, from his place on the small council."

That was that taken care of, then. Oberyn would represent Dorne, fuck his way through every brothel in the city, and Bronn...well, Bronn would no doubt want to leave as soon as was possible, so he could start fucking his new wife in his castle. The Twins needed work, of course, but that bridge was easy money, and any repairs needed would be paid for very, very quickly. It was one reason why he'd been able to sell Bronn the idea, 'just raise the gate and stick your hand out for the money they'll give you to cross your bridge.'

He bid his father goodbye, and took no more than twelve steps in the other direction before coming face to face with Olenna Tyrell and a young woman who was on her arm. On the girl's other side was a stern, rather unpleasant looking fellow. Older, and disapproving.

"Lady Olenna," Tyrion gave a little bow. "What a pleasure it is to meet you."

"As it is to see you," Olenna replied, "I did make a bit of a promise to you, and I'm here to fulfill it. Tyrion of Harrenhal, may I introduce Talla, of House Tarly and Horn Hill."

The girl made a slight face when their eyes met, but Tyrion was more than used to this from women. It was natural to cringe as such ugly features as his. It was what they did afterwards that mattered. "A pleasure, my lady, and an honor."

He kissed Talla's hand, and she managed to smile.

"A pleasure," she said in a soft voice. "To...to meet you, I mean, my lord. I've heard...a lot about you."

"It is only because Tywin Lannister claims you," said the man beside her, "That I allow the idea of this marriage to be entertained at all, Imp. By all rights you should not even be afforded that luxury."

"Father, please," Talla said quickly.

"Yes, let's leave that nasty business aside, Lord Randyll," Olenna said, "As it stands, our Imp is set to receive rather a large keep."

"A derelict keep, granted him only because someone must occupy it. Large does not mean good."

"I am a Lannister, and coin is my business," Tyrion said, "Give me a year, and I will have the keep and its surrounding areas thriving. Two, and you will hardly recognize it. Five...and it will be one of the most famous keeps in all of Westeros."

"Large words for a small man," Randyll said, "I suppose only time will tell. I will not have my daughter the lady of a crumbling ruin."

"Of course not. Your daughter deserves the best sort of keep to call her home!" Tyrion said jovially. "Should we come to an agreement, I would take great care that she would not lay her head down in one."

Talla, he noted, looked rather embarrassed at her father's outbursts. But she did seem to look kindly enough on him. She was young, he thought, and maybe she didn't like that he was a dwarf, but he was certain--

"Father! A dragon!" Talla pointed behind him in surprise at the dragon perched on Pod's shoulder.

--that if nothing else, Impwing could help him. A dragon was a better wingman than nearly anyone else alive, except perhaps for Pod.


*Jaime*

He had come out in his armor and with his metal hand and tried to enjoy himself, he truly had. Tommen, advised by Tywin, had dismissed him from the Kingsguard, but he still insisted on doing his duty this one last day.

It was better than sitting in his chambers alone. It was better than being there with his thoughts of Cersei, of how she could not look at him without fear in her eyes.

Something else. He had to occupy his thoughts with something else. Perhaps in time she might remember him. Perhaps in time, things could be as they were. But until then...

He sighed when a servant approached, informing him that his father wished to speak to him.

"And what of the king?" he asked, "Am I to take leave of my watch of him?"

"Lord Lannister has already arranged a replacement," the servant said. "And...his lordship seemed very insistent. He is presently about to take a walk with the Lady Olenna, if you wish to locate him."

Jaime gave a sigh, and headed off to find his father. What did his father w--

He bumped into someone, and stumbled back, snarling when he righted himself. "Watch where you're--"

HISSSSSSSSS

"I'm sorry!" came the small voice, "I'm so sorry, he grabbed my ear, and--"

"Lady Shireen," Jaime said quickly. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize it was you."

She looked so strange with her hair done up in ribbons and the dragons on her shoulders, but he kept that to himself. It seemed the girl was a bit of a court favorite now, all things considered...

"If I may," he said suddenly, "How is my sister? I tried to visit her, but she took it into her head to be frightened of me and they won't let me back in."

"She is well," Shireen replied. "Though she doesn't speak in many words. She has taken an interest in hair braiding, as you can see."

She gestured to her own hair.

"She never liked to do that before," Jaime replied, "Perhaps the strike to her head has given her simpler tastes."

"The septa says she likely enjoys being able to use her fingers again. For a long time they said she could barely lift a spoon without shaking. She still can't write, but she can braid."

What a fate, Jaime thought. The Cersei he knew would rather die than go through being brought so low.

"And she is happy?"

"I think so," Shireen replied, "She is always glad to see the dragons, and your brother Lord Tyrion. Lady Sansa and I visit her every day now, and she greets us with smiles."

He looked away.

"I'm sorry," she added.

He could never begin to tell her, or anyone, how much this was all hurting. His sword hand, the love of his life...everything that mattered to him was gone now.

There was a squeak, and then a clattering sound.

"Winterstorm!"

Jaime jolted slightly, jarred by the sound, until he realized it was Winterstorm climbing up his arm and onto his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," Shireen said, "He must like the sight of your armor. It's very shiny, and they like shiny things."

The thing sniffed at him--his ear, his hair. He turned his head and met its eyes, and the thing made its little sound at him again.

"Come back down, Winterstorm," Shireen said, "You can talk to Ser Jaime later. Come, come."

It tried to bite his armor once before flapping down to her shoulder again.

Loathsome little beast, Jaime thought.


*Tyrion*

He got some more time with Talla later on in the evening. She was not, perhaps, the most well-read girl. But he saw that she was perfectly nice and able to speak intelligently, and that was half the battle. Should it work with her, he could give her books to read, things of intellect to pursue. Something to impress that father of hers that so disliked him.

Randyll Tarly, Olenna had told him, would be a tough nut to crack. But if he pulled the magic that he'd spoken of, the man would at least be willing to give him his daughter, if not overly approve of the match.

He'd seen Shae watching the girl, when she was present, and he knew...he knew he'd have to speak to her about it later.

Tyrion lay with her the night before his departure, after fucking her like it was his last night alive. He had told her of this impending departure many times, and she was resigned, but...

"It is not fair," Shae said, tears wet in her eyes. "I will lose you, because I have no second name to make me worth your time."

"Shae," Tyrion replied, "Please, no one is more sad about this than I am. I don't want to leave you either, but...I would not make you follow me and become a servant to my new wife. Neither of us would like that."

"No," she said, "No, and I would not go for that, either."

"If there is anything I can do for you," he said, his own throat aching from holding back his grief, "To...to improve your lot in life, to make things..."

"There is nothing you can give me but time," Shae said. She lay her head on his chest, and he felt her tears.


Tyrion had one more goodbye to make before departing, and it was one that was almost as difficult as the one with Shae.

He opened the door to his sister's quarters, and walked inside, clenching at a large rolled up paper in one hand and a golden locket in the other.

"Qar!"

Cersei greeted him as always, but on seeing his face--she seemed to feel his discomfort.

"Qar?"

"It is time for me to leave, sister," Tyrion said. "I came to say my goodbyes."

"No. No. Qar no. Go."

"I must go," Tyrion replied, "Father has given me a very--"

"No!"

He took a seat beside her at the table, and looked her right in the eye, trying to keep his tone as even as possible. "I have been telling you that I must go for some time now, my dear sister. I know--I know the Grand Maester says you have been having trouble remembering some things, so I come to tell you one more time."

"Where?" she asked. "Wh...where...qar...go?"

"Harrenhal," Tyrion said. He opened the rolled up piece of paper--it was a map, fairly sized. "You see, this is where we are right now."

He pointed to King's Landing.

"King's Landing."

"K...k...king."

"And this is where I am going." Tyrion pointed to Harrenhal. "Harrenhal."

"H...Harren....Harrenh...."

"Harrenhal."

"Harre....harrrrrrrrenh...harrennnnnnhal."

"I will write you letters as often as I can," he said, "You may not be able to read, but your septa can."

"No read. Qar. Go." There was a pause, then. "Im...Impwin...Impwinguh?"

"Yes, he goes with me too. Though I will leave you a piece of him."

Tyrion handed Cersei the locket on its fine chain. It was a sort of diamond shape with the likeness of a lion's head carved into the front. He opened it and showed her the white dragonscale inside. "There, you see?"

"Impwing?"

"Yes, one of his scales," Tyrion said. That seemed the best way for her to remember him--though the septa and Grand Maester alike told him he had been around her too often over too long a period for her to forget.

His sister smiled then, the most genuine she had ever given him.

Chapter Text

Robb

The Frey girls were a grey lot, especially after the death of their fathers and brothers. The eldest few, it seemed, had (reluctantly) accepted the truth: that the murder of their brothers was the work of Tywin Lannister.

They had at Robb's (and Catelyn's, and Talisa's) urging told the same story to their younger siblings: Walder had betrayed Lord Tywin; he and their fathers and brothers and nephews and uncles had paid the price. They, the girls, were being spared because of Robb's urgings. Some had been taken into their mothers' families--others had been allowed to leave their families and come North.

It pained Robb to see them afraid, and he asked his mother and wife to help them as best they could. Whatever their male relatives had done, they were innocent.

Perhaps most tragic was the case of little Shirei. She was the youngest of old Walder's daughters, a girl of ten who chose to come with them and her sisters and nieces rather than stay behind. And yet--she seemed to think she needed to earn her keep as well as a woman twice her age.

He found this out when he went to his mother's tent to take his breakfast there--only to find Shirei pouring Catelyn some wine.

"You are not a servant, my lady," Robb said. "There's no need to behave as one."

"I tried to tell her this, Robb. She wouldn't believe me," Catelyn added.

"I thought--I thought if I made myself useful," Shirei said quickly, "F-father always said you have to make yourself useful or people won't want you around. And--and you've given us coats and shoes and heavy dresses for the cold weather, and that must be costing you a lot of money--"

"Your father was a man who only saw people as objects to use," Robb replied.

"There were a lot of my brothers to use. And they always wanted to do what he said."

"And what do you want, my lady?"

Shirei paused, looking half stunned, and Robb wondered if anyone had ever asked her that before.

"I don't want a keep, m'lord," she said, "But I'd like it if I didn't have to share a bed with three other girls. I always cleaned up after everyone so if you need a maid--"

"I meant more when you are older. Such as in, a husband."

"Father always said he'd give us to whoever would have us."

"And what do you and your sisters actually want?"

"Men who won't growl and glare at us like father, or the one he called Black Walder."

There was something more in her eyes, but Robb did not pry.

She went quiet after that, and excused herself, running out of the tent.

Robb shook his head. "What am I going to do with them, mother?"

"What you said you would do, Robb," Catelyn said.

How he wished it was just so easy. The girls were trueborn, and he'd confiscated somewhat of Walder's gold and silver to serve for dowries, but still...

"I want to say, mother, that we should be at Winterfell in a fortnight," he said, "I've had some offers from--"

There was a fuss outside the tent, and a moment later Greatjon Umber bustled in, and behind him a knight dragging one of the Frey girls. Or rather, woman. She looked closer to his mother's age than his own.

"What is it now?" Robb asked, "Was she caught thieving?"

"I did no such thing!" the woman said, "Your lord here was too blind to see he was about to eat a poisonous fruit!"

"I know a plum when I see one, you daft woman," Greatjon replied, "D'you think I'm stupid? I try to stay healthy long enough to sort out that little shit of a son of mine out, and this is--I don't take manhandling from women, and I don't want 'em slapping perfectly good food out of my hand!"

"Do you have the fruit in question?" Robb asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

Greatjon lifted it; both Robb and his mother sighed and shook their heads. It was near-black, perfect and lovely looking.

"Umber, that's a bloody belladonna fruit!" Robb replied, "This woman just saved your life, and you've dragged her about like she was trying to poison you."

He looked to the woman, and nodded.

"Thank you. Regardless of his growls, I am grateful. He's getting older--"

"A load of shite if I ever heard it," Greatjon said.

"--and his sight is not what it used to be, miss...?"

"Tyta," she said quietly.

"Umber," Robb turned to him, "I realize you don't want to admit it, but you're not in the best of health. You could use more help."

"I tried to tell him that," the knight behind her said, "But he wouldn't listen. Lady Tyta's done him much good since we left the Twins."

Begrudgingly, the Greatjon admitted it was so. She and one of her sisters had attached themselves to the Umbers as servants; Tyta herself to the Greatjon himself as it was she who had helped the Maester do much of the care of her father in his last years (because she had no husband, Walder demanded she take the role of assisting the man, it seemed). She had quite the bit of experience in elder care, and seemed to know a number of cures for his various aches and pains and coughs.

"Perhaps we've found her a husband, then," Catelyn said with a small smile.

"Already had a wife," Greatjon murmured. "And I got a maester at home to wipe my arse when I get stuck in a chair like that two-faced Frey--"

"Jon," Catelyn scolded gently.

"She's too old, probably had a couple husbands already."

"Not so, my lord," Tyta replied, "I am called Tyta the Maid for a reason. 'Tis hard for Frey women to find willing men, especially when more, usually prettier, were never far behind."

There was more grumbling, but it seemed that the Greatjon was at least considering it. If he agreed, it would be one less thing to worry about.

They received a raven from Winterfell seven days later, however, that added more back on.


*Jon*

News from the capital and from his brother had changed a lot of things for Jon. He felt--less guilty about staying at the wall, perhaps, though for the last few days there had been very little to be grateful for.

He had gone out to negotiate with the wildlings, but no sooner had he reached camp than Stannis Baratheon rode in as well. With his small army and his Red Woman, he'd taken Mance Rayder, forcing Jon to kill him on the pyre itself.

How foolish I am to think that the Wall would be easier than home, he thought that night. He had to lay there, wondering why Stannis had come. He was all but defeated, his claim tossed aside in favor of Tommen. He had even lost his daughter, if the ravens were correct.

In the end, he decided that it must be honor. Perhaps Stannis felt he'd lost some in the battle, and this was the way to regain it?

The next morning, he found himself joined at breakfast by not only Stannis, but the Red Woman and Sam as well.

He hadn't even been Lord Commander for two days, and already, all this...

"My lady," he said, before turning to Stannis. "My lord. I am glad your forces arrived, but--"

"We are not here for niceties, Snow," Stannis said, "We're here to take you south."

"I'm a man of the Night's Watch," Jon replied, "I've taken vows, and been elected Lord Commander. I've no more right to go as I please, certainly not with negotiations to settle."

"Someone must tell the south of the threat," Melisandre said, "Your elderly maester sent ravens out, but a live example will be better than mere letters. Seeing is believing, after all."

"I took. A vow." Jon repeated. "Take some of the wights yourself, you've more need of a reason to be accepted by the south again. I have to arrange this whole business with the wildlings coming south of the wall."

Stannis didn't seem to have a reply to that--at least not right away. A tense silence passed, and then he added, "Snow, you're in danger. Do you think the brothers of the Night's Watch will take well to your plan?"

"Your concern is kindly," Jon said, "But I can tend well enough to my own safety."

Looking at Stannis, Jon again wondered why he was there. He would almost hazard that the man didn't know, but that couldn't be right...

"Snow--"

"I'm a bastard, Lord Baratheon," Jon said, "So even if I were to bring the wights--my point is that it will take a lord to get their attention and hold it. I never had the ability to speak and be believed by such folk, and on top of all of this, I'm young. You, on the other hand--you're a seasoned man of war, of speaking to those who don't want to hear what you have to say, and you have reasons to go south, more so than I do."

The argument went on for some time, but eventually, Stannis did get up and leave. And before the door shut behind the two of them, Jon heard little snatches of their first sentences of conversation.

"...he will not listen..."

"If you ever wish to...again, you will wait....will not be long..."

He spent the day in arranging the movement of the wildlings through the gate, eager to avoid the look of the other men of the watch as long as possible. He didn't quite believe what Stannis had had to say about it, but having heard it...

...he was suddenly more alert to the glares.

It wasn't until far into the night that he finally did head off for sleep, and only then because Sam insisted that the Lord Commander could hardly command if he didn't get his rest.

And so he slept.


Jon woke in front of the Wall. He stood there all covered up in furs, and for once the cold did not seem to touch him. The snow was falling, and all was silent around him.

But then he looked at the Wall, really looked at it--and it was if it had turned to a thin layer of pure ice. Not thick and white, but clear like glass....and on the other side, there was a figure, robed in blue hazy darkness.

"Come on through," he called, "The wildlings can come. You'll be safe here."

I am not welcome. The words, he heard in his head, but his ears weren't convinced they'd heard them. It was a sad voice nonetheless, sad and weary.

"You are," Jon replied. "If you don't come now, the wights will get you."

I am not welcome.

He stepped closer, and raised his hand, placing it against the icy Wall.

The blue dark around the other one cleared, and Jon stumbled back, practically choking.

Himself. He was seeing himself on the other side! That wasn't possible!

You are not welcome, either. The lips continued to not move yet the words still came. Then the other Jon raised voidlike eyes to meet his own dark ones, and then his hand to the same spot as Jon's. Are you?

"I--"

Jon stumbled again, falling onto his back, and when he tried to rise, he found that his foot was gone, boot and all. He panicked, shaking as he noticed the nothingness spreading further up, more and more of him vanishing as the seconds ticked by. He looked up to the other Jon, who was suffering the same. And yet the other was merely letting it happen as black tears fell from his eyes in an inky mess as more and more of him was erased.

"What's happening?"

It was all he could get out before the erasure reached his mouth and silenced him entirely.

They will do it--

Jon woke in a sweat, gasping for air, and feeling for his limbs and mouth. The fire had gone out, and he reasoned that that must be why. It had to be the hypothermia setting in. A proper fire would set things right.

So he lit the fire, piled on the wood, and climbed back into bed.

But the dream returned.


*Jaime*

To be a Lannister was to be a man with power...or so he had always thought.

But now he barely had anything. Tyrion had sent word that he was close to Harrenhal, and that if his elder brother wished to join him, he was welcome to.

No doubt Father would be pleased by that, Jaime thought. He sat in a chair on the docks, watching some of the distant ships passing. Playing at a game only dull little girls played, he thought. Yet here he was.

He was a Lannister, but he was less so now than Tyrion or Kevan, or any of his cousins. He'd disgraced the family--they ought to have been grateful, he had once thought. Not so now.

Kingslayer, kinslayer...

...so many sins laid at his feet. So many deserved. Was he as bad as Aerys, now?

...perhaps now was the time to...just give up...

"Get up," he heard from behind him.

"This is the crippled section," he quipped with an edge in his voice, "Y'going to torment a poor crippled man?"

He turned--to see Brienne.

"I thought you had a job to do," Jaime replied, "Guarding father's bride-to-be."

"Your father has given me a second job," Brienne said, "Or perhaps we can call it training instead, so that my skills do not rust. One learns best teaching, after all."

"You? Teach me?"

"Many men learn to fight with their left hands, and your father demands that you be among them."

"My father doesn't give a mummer's fart about me," Jaime said.

"Your father does not want his eldest son to fade away 'like a thrice-widowed woman' as he put it. Now come with me."

With nothing better to do, Jaime obeyed, and they soon found themselves by another spot in the water.

"Folk will hear us. Might think we're fucking. You sure you want people thinking you've fucked the Kingslayer?"

"No one will hear us here," Brienne replied, "Your brother's man, that Ser Bronn, he assured me no one above heard anything from this place."

Jaime wanted to do nothing more than go back to the docks and drink himself into a stupor. But as before, for lack of anything else to do, and thinking he was already here so why not, he took up the practice sword and began.

It was less difficult than he thought, but he was still sure that his good arm and his legs were covered in bruises by the end of two hours. But Brienne didn't mock him, didn't laugh at him...she merely said that he had work to do and that he would see her again the next day at the same hour.

"And perhaps, if I may make a suggestion," she said, "You might see about getting your other arm fitted for proper armor. Perhaps a blunt object or a macelike addition could be made as well?"

"Splendid idea," Jaime groused.

He was sure she was muttering to herself as he left, but he thought more of himself a moment later. Usefulness, that's all it was. His father likely wanted him to keep his bride-to-be's guard on her toes by keeping her skills sharp. To make sure she was as good as she appeared to be. There was no way he would believe the story that Brienne had apparently been told.

But at the same time...

Jaime shook his head. It flipped, it flopped, as it had continued to do recently. As, he was sure, as it would continue to do. He was worthless, he was golden, he deserved to die, he should be worshiped.

Make up your mind, he told himself. The moment he was back to his room, he went straight for the wine.

Jaime started and didn't stop; in fact he did end up drinking himself into a stupor. He fell asleep as he was sure Robert had on so many occasions, falling onto the bed with all his clothes still on and reeking of wine.

"Kinslayer kingslayer," he hiccuped, "Worthless savior..."

He shut his eyes, still half-praying they wouldn't open.

Who would miss him anyway?


Jaime woke with a yawn, and startled when he realized where he was.

The Sept of Baelor, and in his Kingsguard armor.

A king is dead, he found himself thinking. That is why I'm here.

He went down the steps, and found to his surprise that Aerys was resting in the center. Underneath him were sheets of Lannister red and gold. Then Jaime turned, and saw that all the Sept was draped in tapestries of their colors, tapestries that covered up Targaryen ones.

"Why...?"

He had done it, he thought. That must be why. I am dreaming, and thinking of how guilty I am. It must be--

Then he blinked, and people were swarming around, murmuring prayers and speaking amongst themselves.

"Covered in Lannister colors," he heard someone say after a quick prayer to the Father, "How did they think they could hide him?"

"He's not hidden," Jaime answered, "You can see his face!"

But the person did not respond.

Another said, "Look, look at this! Red and gold everywhere! Who are they trying to fool? He is no Lannister!"

"He's a Targaryen!" Jaime insisted. "Are you bloody blind?"

"He wished he were," yet another said.

The crowd grew louder, and forth came the Silent Sisters. But they did not come to stuff Aerys with herbs. No, no, they were carrying torches.

"The King always wanted a pyre, and now he shall get one," someone said.

And so Aerys was lit--the fire roared up, consuming the Lannister tapestries, burning them all away until nothing but the Targaryen ones remained. The Sisters burned, and then the people, but their bones stood in place, and the talking still continued.

Even he burned--and though he screamed, his flesh roasting away until nothing but bone and his armor remained. And then...then his armor began to crack and fall off; the shiny white shifted to black, flaking off and falling to the ground.

Jaime woke with a scream, and stumbled to the privy to be ill.

He spent the rest of the night hunched over that stinking opening, praying he wouldn't go back to sleep.

But in the end, he did.


*The Younger, More Beautiful Queen*

She was beautiful, but then, she was Queen.

She had gained so much, and the people adored her. No one could hurt her. No one would want to hurt her, not here. Not now.

Her hair was brushed until it shone like silken metal, her gown a bright blue to make her look a living sapphire. She was queen. A beautiful queen.

Friends loved her now, too. Young and old alike, they cared for her. And not just because she was queen.

He never would, but that did not matter. Not with the ladies. Not with the others.

Hands on her neck. But no, no, that was not possible. Not now. They were protecting her now. She had cried, and hands were there, but they had not done what the witch had said.

The hands had not done it. She had. There had been tears in her throat, tears enough to choke, tears that could not be shed.

Younger, more beautiful.

The hands had not done it. They had lifted her up. The hands had not done it.

The three would be dead

Gone.

The ugly queen was gone. The beautiful queen was here. She was bright, they told her so. And young. She had not looked so young in a long time, the septa said.

With smiles, Cersei greeted herself in the mirror, and cuddled the son in her arms.

Chapter Text

Reek

"This is bad news, Reek, is it not?"

Ramsay smiled at him, and he nodded.

"I can't think Lord Stark will be happy about what you've done. Thankfully for you, it is not Lord Stark we are going to meet first."

He looked up.

"My father will be coming to see us first. They are on their way to fetch Rickon Stark. It seems...it seems, Reek, that you lied to me."

"I d--I--" What could he say? No one was supposed to find out about that--or--if they did, it was supposed to be too late.

"Are we going to lie again, Reek?" Ramsay flashed his smile once more, "You know I really don't like having to get angry. I don't think it suits my face very well to sneer."

"I only pretended it was them," the words came tumbling out. He kept his eyes on Ramsay the whole time as more and more of the word vomit came, hoping, praying that he would say enough to satisfy the man. "--and if Robb--"

"Robb? You know better than to refer to a lord that way, Reek."

"I'm sorry."

And he was. Gods, he was sorry, but that wasn't going to change a thing for him now. Robb was within a week of Winterfell, and he knew, he just knew he'd take the full brunt of wrath over all of this. Ramsay would say the things he would say, and he would live, because he knew how to talk to the lords. Even if sometimes he did talk too much about dogs and hunting and how fun it was to run after prey and--

He shook it off. As best he could, anyway. Ramsay already took up so much of his mind as it was.


Roose Bolton had been the one to send that raven, and the first to turn up at the gates of Winterfell some time soon after midmorning two days later. He was welcomed in, and Reek noticed that Ramsay was glancing at those around his father.

"Greetings, father," Ramsay said, "I had heard you were riding elsewhere. Is it not so now?"

"You would be surprised what one can accomplish in one's name without being there," came the reply. Roose then looked to him, and then back to his son. "And this is how you expect Stark to meet the man who betrayed him?"

"You must admit it is some of my best work," Ramsay replied, "And what does it matter if he looks worse for the wear? Stark should be happy, I made it easier for him to get what he wanted."

"I believe he expected to be able to speak to Theon about it. Not...this."

"What is there to speak of?"

"He might want to know why it happened, to start with."

"It doesn't matter why it happened, only that it did," Ramsay shrugged.

Soon after, Reek was allowed to leave the room. He went straight to the dogs, who barked and yipped and cover his face in wet kisses--it only made him wish more for what he knew he'd never get now.

Not again.

Never again.

His mind tossed, and turned. He thought of Robb, of Rickon...of Bran. What would they say when they came back? What would they do?

Robb would ask him why, and...

No, he thought, My name is Reek, it rhymes with weak.

And he was weak, if nothing more he had learned that from his time with Ramsay. Weak. He couldn't face Robb, he had been thinking it since Ramsay got that raven and told him that "Lord Stark and his wife" were soon to be home.

I can't face Robb.

I can't, I can't.

He thought of what Ramsay might do. He might offer to have the hounds dispose of his Reek. He might--he might offer to flay him. But Robb wouldn't do that. He wouldn't allow it.

Or would he?

The thoughts whirled faster in his mind, each more horrible than the last. Robb would come home, and he'd be more than happy to let Ramsay keep his precious Reek. In fact, he'd congratulate him for such an act of service. He might even want to watch the next round of punishment that was to come.

He might participate, even.

You murdered two innocent boys when you couldn't find my brothers, accused the Robb in his mind, as he readied a savage knife. You'll be lucky if I let you go to the block at all.

You're lucky you weren't killed.

You're lucky...

"Be quiet," Reek whined, pressing his hands over his ears.

He couldn't...he just couldn't...

Reek smiled for Ramsay when he was summoned again; he played his part to the letter. Promised he would be good, that he would take every sin that had been committed in those walls on himself, that he wouldn't say a word about any of the things Ramsay himself had done. He'd participated after all, so it was like he'd done them all anyway. He had killed those people, burned the keep...

I'm sorry, Robb.

The maelstrom grew only worse as the hours passed, and halfway through the night, Reek would leave the kennels with a hunting dagger he'd found under a stack of bowls used to feed the dogs.

Ramsay and his father would the next morning find Reek's cold body under the watchful eye of the weirwood tree--and beneath him, what had been a puddle of blood.

"The coward's way out," Roose would observe in a letter to Robb.


*Jon*

The dream had stuck with him more than he'd thought it would. You are not welcome either, that voice kept saying in its sad tone. You are not welcome, either.

Either. That was the thing that kept popping up. This man, this...this other him in his dream, it was like it was trying to warn him. He didn't know him in the least, and yet still, this was happening.

He asked Maester Aemon, who had little enough to say on the subject.

"Dreams are dreams," he said, "And as much as we can learn about ourselves or others from them, sometimes they mean nothing more than that we worry too much."

"But haven't you ever had a dream that...that was--that told you something you needed to know? It wouldn't repeat for no reason, would it?"

"There was a man here once," Aemon replied, "A man who came to me swearing he had seen his death in his dreams. It was cold, and snowing, he said, and he froze to death. I told him that perhaps he would die that way, but that moment could be today, or fifty years from now. That he would have to learn to live with that fear. It did not comfort him at first, but over time...as all men here do, the fear of it lessened. Though it never did go away."

"How did he die?"

"He died of the cold some time after his fortieth nameday," Aemon replied. "He was a ranger, you see. Sometimes the dreams are right. But you cannot live worrying that they are, or it will consume you."

Jon shook his head. If the maester thought that was helpful, he was wrong, but at least he had tried to help. It was more than could be said for most others.

At least there was Olly. The lad had been quieter of late, but Jon could understand why on that head at least. The boy still hadn't found it easy to accept that the wildlings were coming south of the wall, and was speaking less and less to him as time went on.

And even less did he accept Jon's other order.

They stood at the moment before a wagon cage, one of those that had brought in some of the more violent prisoners to join the Watch some weeks back. It had sat empty since then, until tonight.

Two men of the Watch and a wildling, dead, had been put into it by Stannis, with Jon's permission. And now...and now, they were upright again, hissing, swiping at one another with empty hands and gnawing with ineffective teeth. For everyone's sensibilities a sheet had been thrown over the cage, but the very thought of it stoked the ire of more than a few people.

"Why did you do it?" Olly asked him.

"We need the help of all the Seven Kingdoms for the battles to come," Jon said, "The best way to get it is to show them what we face."

"But why not make them all wildlings?"

"Because--because they might think it more serious if done this way." Stannis was convinced of that much, at least. If it was all wildlings, the lords and ladies might justify continuing to ignore the problem due to it being 'a problem for the savages north of the Wall, and nothing else.' But with men of the Night's Watch, it could be framed more as a problem of the entire continent. At least that was the case Stannis seemed to make.

Olly left to get his dinner, and Jon went back to his ravens. There was one that had him smiling despite things being so grim--a letter from Robb, speaking of the beauty of a wife he had married, of the child they were to have. How he wished Jon could be there to meet the woman, to see Rickon again.

It was a spot of comfort in darkness. If things didn't look so bad, he would easily have agreed to go down and visit them. Benjen had done it many a time, after all.

But there were much bigger things to think of here, now. The safety of every man, woman, and child, wildling and Westerosi alike, now rested on his shoulders. As the Lord Commander it was up to him to start solving this problem, and he was damned well going to do it.

He was in his thoughts so deeply that he didn't even notice the bot returning to set the tray on his table. He startled--

"Olly! I didn't expect you back so quickly."

"The kitchens said they knew you'd take a meal at this hour, I would've been sooner, if one of the others hadn't stopped me."

"Is something wrong? Have there been any fights?"

"No," Olly replied, "The wildlings haven't given trouble. But one of them said he saw your uncle Benjen. Recently."

"Which one?" Jon rose to his feet and followed the boy out the door, completely forgetting about his meal.

"I didn't ask his name. He's out where you started training us. I told him to wait."

Benjen, Jon thought. His uncle was there, alive. What had he seen? What could he have to say?

He pushed through the small crowd in the training yard, imagining that they must be suspicious of the man. He didn't come back right away; maybe they thought he went over to the wildlings. Maybe they suspect him as much as they do me.

But when he reached the front, all that was there was a grave-marker.

Traitor

Jon barely had time to turn towards the others, barely time to reach for his dagger before the others were coming forward with their own. There wasn't even time to scream.

The first in his chest from Thorne, "For the Watch."

The second, Marsh, "For the Watch."

The pain rose, so great he couldn't even call for help.

The last stab came from Olly. "For the Watch."

As he fell, they left him there, staring up at the sky, blood slowly leaking out of his wounds into a bright staining puddle on the snow.


GASP

When he woke, he was convinced that he was in one of the seven hells. The room was in near complete darkness; his vision was swimming and his wound was--

--not hurting.

Jon would have thought it was a dream, if not for the fact that when he reached up to feel his chest, there was the line of a scar to greet his fingers.

So it was real. It had happened. But then how--?

The door opened and in walked Melisandre, followed closely by Stannis.

"How?" Jon asked, but found himself coughing. When he recovered, he tried again, "How did you do it?"

"I've--I did it once before," Melisandre said quietly, "I needed things then that I did not seem to this time. The Lord of Light must have--"

"Must want something of you," Stannis finished quickly.

"The others," Jon said, "The others, they stabbed me. It wasn't wildlings, it was..."

"We know. We've had them locked up for doing it. Thorne confessed all, and it wasn't long before the rest did too."

"I believe it falls to you to sentence them," Stannis said, "As soon as you have dressed and eaten, I suggest you see to that."

"I'll do that," Jon said. He felt his scar again, and took a deep breath.

No reunion had ever been so sweet as that of his own with Tormund and Edd. They embraced him like a brother, and both seemed to smile, if grimly.

"They think you're some kind of god," Tormund said, pointing to the awestruck wildling crowd behind him.

"Well, I'm not," Jon replied.

"I know you're not. I saw your pecker, no god's got a pecker that small."

There was an awkward laugh, but a moment later, Jon stood straight and looked at the two of them. "Take some of the wildlings and get the traitors from their cells."

Thorne and the rest were brought up; they paled on sight of Jon but said nothing.

"Hang them," Stannis said quietly.

"Burn them," Melisandre suggested.

In the end, Jon did only the first.

He asked each of the men, meeting their eyes one by one as he did so, to state their last words.

"You shouldn't be alive! It's not right!" said the first.

"Neither was killing me."

The next begged that his mother would be written.

"I had a choice, Lord Commander," Thorne said when it came his turn, "Betray you, or the Watch. You brought an army of murders and raiders into our lands and I pray if I could do it again, that I would choose the same. I fought, and I lost. Now I rest. But you know there will be more like me, more who want to remind you that wildlings are not our friends. You will be fighting their battles forever."

He walked on. Olly didn't say a word, only glared with the fury of a young boy who'd lost his family to those he now saw himself surrounded by.

Jon shut his eyes for just a moment, then opened them again and walked on. His breathing became labored; the decision was not as easy as he thought, even being the victim of what they'd done. They thought they were doing the right thing, as much as he did. Olly was only a boy...but still, he had passed the sentence.

His heart was racing, but Ned Stark's words rang in his ears.

In one swift movement, he drew Longclaw and sliced clean through the rope in front of him. There was a clunk--and then the sound of gagging and kicking feet. Jon forced himself to look at their bodies until they stopped moving, and stood there only a few seconds before turning to walk back towards Edd.

"Should burn the bodies," Edd observed.

"You should," Jon said. He took a deep breath and removed his cloak, thrusting it into Edd's arms.

"What d'you want me to do with this?"

"Wear it, burn it, whatever you want," Jon replied. "You have Castle Black."

He looked at Stannis and Melisandre at the far end of the crowd, and headed in their direction.

"My watch is ended."


*Oberyn*

"You were foolish," Ellaria said. She sat watching as the Grand Maester changed the bandages on Oberyn's leg and wrapped them up good and snug as the others had been against the wood that made up his splint. "You are lucky that all he damaged was your bone."

"Lucky indeed. Better my leg than my cock, my love," Oberyn said. "A broken bone is a small price to pay for vengeance."

"You got a great deal of that to-today," Pycelle cut in, "I have--have never seen a man of that size go down so hard."

"You were watching, were you?" Ellaria asked.

"Why, yes. It was my job to tend the winner," Pycelle replied. "Whoever he should be. As-as-as luck w-would have it, it w-was the Prince."

"How long should I expect to be lame?" Oberyn asked him.

"T-two moons." Pycelle looked to Ellaria. "If you want to h-help him, my lady, you will be sure he does not stand on it. If you do not d-d-do as I say, his leg could heal wrong, and he could have a permanent limp. It w-would be a shame if he could no l-longer fight with the spear as he does."

"I can manage that," she nodded. "I will have some of our boys see him to his chambers."

Pycelle nodded, and left.

"It will be a trying time," Ellaria said, "Looking at you like this, like your brother in his chair. A sad thought."

"It will be no harm," Oberyn replied, "I am sure Doran will find it amusing. Perhaps justice. I did make jokes about his chair, you know."

Ellaria kissed him, and he returned it happily.

He would never be wholly satisfied with what he had gained today, but it would have to be enough. A promise was a promise; the killer of his sister and her children was dead, and he would not make moves against the Lannisters as he had thought to before.

Rest well now, Elia, he thought. Your justice has been served.


*A Girl*

Meereen was burning.

The very afternoon she was leaving the city, the face of Daenerys Targaryen stowed safely in her bag, the Unsullied had discovered the body of the dead Queen in the catacombs. The entire city must have witnessed her body being returned to the Great Pyramid--the streets were crowded, packed, and a girl found it hard to get through in time.

The flap of wings was heard, and then--and then--

Fire and death from the sky. The crowds that had formed for mourning, filled with fear and despair but still, were now running for their lives. Men and women trampled one another in panic, screaming for mhysa, screaming for salvation, for help, for anything to save them from the blazing wrath of the dragon.

When she reached the gates, a girl saw that even the guards had abandoned their posts, and kept moving. The dragon, it seemed, was only interested in the city itself. They must have put the queen's body on a balcony, or in a public space, she thought. Fools. What fools, they had given the gods their own names from such a deed.

Some distance away, she looked back from behind a stone near the water. Drogon circled, blasting the streets with fire, incinerating cloth and wood and flesh. He bathed the pyramids in it as well, and chunks fell, tumbling to the ground and pinning folk to the ground.

Mhysa, they cried, Mhysa!

But no one came.

No one answered their cries.

"A shame that they did not know it would happen."

A girl looked in the direction of the voice.

"How did you--?"

"A man wanted to see how a girl would fare," came the reply. "It seems a girl has done well."

If one could call it that, she thought.

"We should leave," he said soon after. "No one is safe here."

A girl followed him, looking back with wide eyes. Not until they were what a man would call a safe distance away did he speak again.

"Is a girl not curious?"

"About what?"

"Why the black one was not on the list?"

"No," a girl replied, "Men have their own reasons."

But she could guess it was related to money.

"And you have yours," a man said. "Tell me now, this disharmony in you, is it ended? A girl is no one now."

A girl looked down at the clothes she was wearing. The dagger at her side, that she had used to kill the queen and her dragons. The bag of faces, the leathery handful of dragon scales in her pocket. The dust, the blood on her feet.

Then she looked back up at a man, and raised her dagger.

"A girl is Arya Stark. And I am going home."


*Jaime*

Despite the training with Brienne, Jaime could not stop himself from falling into the same trap as Tyrion had.

The wine dulled it all, and though he hated himself more at the end of a night, that brief dull was enough to keep Jaime coming back for more. He continued to sit on the docks, playing that same stupid girl's game, brazier lit to give him light and warmth at night...

...and tonight was no different.

Jaime felt especially cold, so he was holding his hands over the fire lit in the brazier. The golden one did him no good warm, but it felt better to be able to do that instead of holding one hand up like an idiot.

He spotted one ship, sailing in the night, and thought, Delivering a load of coal, perhaps...or silver, or gold. We are Lannisters here, after all.

Jaime took a swig from the bottle at his feet, and then looked up again. He probably has a lot to do, with all that. Got to hire men to secure it, to guard it, to keep it from just...up and walking away...

Another swig, and another. And another.

Bet he's in on the thieving of his own ship, too...

Another, and another still.

It's all a plan between that captain and the pirates that get after him...

The brazier was warm, the air was cool, and his head was nodding. The more he murmured, the less loud he got. Until his head dropped, and he dreamed.


YOU TOOK HER FROM ME

The thought was strong, stronger than he'd expected it to be. Jaime thought he must be awake for a moment, but there was no ache in his head, no pounding, no bad taste in his mouth.

He was flying, and looking down at a city aflame.

BURN THEM ALL, came the thought.

THEY TOOK HER FROM ME. BURN THEM ALL.

There was a thunderous roar, and then a surge of sorrowful fury.

YOU TOOK HER FROM ME

The rage surged through him and carried out through his jaws, searing the streets with fire. His heart was breaking, broken. They had taken her from him, they had taken the only thing in the world that he loved and cared for, and he would see them all burn for it!

YOU TOOK HER FROM ME

It repeated, endlessly, like his flight-circles and blasting flames. They had taken her from him, and they would die for it. They had taken her and they would suffer for it, every last one of them.

The grief grew, and grew. More burning, more destruction, more screaming, but none of it soothed the pain in his heart. The pain in his--


--hand!

Jaime jolted awake, suddenly stone-cold sober, and jumped up with a scream. The fingertips of his normal hand were merely singed, but the leathery fabric about his golden hand was burning. He pulled it away, and watched, briefly transfixed as the flames licked at the gold. But he regained his senses quickly, threw it to the ground, and stomped the fire out.

He was shaking, badly, but relieved that the fire was out.

Jaime took several long, deep breaths, trying desperately to slow his racing heart. And when he could re-attach the golden hand again, he looked back at the city.

No flames.

"I swear I'm never finishing the bottle myself, ever again," he muttered under his breath. He stood, kicked the bottle into the water, and headed back for his quarters.

Chapter Text

Robb

With the Lannister forces accompanying them, Robb allowed the Greatjon and his attending forces to go on ahead. It was for the best, given what the man had to deal with.

Ramsay, it seemed, had expected a fight. They arrived at Winterfell to find it shut, and though the siege lasted only a day and a half, it was still longer than he wanted to wait. Were it not for his remembering those secret tunnels, it might have stretched on even longer.

They made it, though. They made it, he thought, that was the important part. They were in quickly, quietly, almost before Ramsay could rally his men. Yet he did rally them, and despite the element of surprise being against him, did manage to take down ten or twelve men.

When they finally got to Ramsay himself...

...his arrest was paid for in even more blood. He took four soldiers down on his own, and was verging on a fifth when he was finally stopped and clapped in irons.

It was not a painless victory, but it could have been far worse. He was relieved to finally bring Ramsay to the courtyard--to the block.

"I thought men of my ilk were sent to the Wall," Ramsay said, "Bastards you don't want around anymore. I wonder what your brother would think of this?"

"You conspired to commit treason," Robb said. "Jon has done no such thing. Now--if you have any last words, I'll hear them."

Ramsay was pushed to his knees. "Kick a man long enough and it doesn't matter how good he is. He will snap. And you'll find your brother snaps as easy as anyone else. Like my Reek, for example..."

Robb moved to the side, and raised his sword.

"Good luck with my father."

The sword came down, and Ramsay's head rolled forward.

"Well," someone behind him said, "That takes care of that, my lord."


He went, as his father always had, to the godswood, and sat as his father had always sat by the weirwood tree to clean his sword. It was easy to feel that the man was still here, maybe just behind him. Telling him that he might have made some bad decisions, but that he would make smarter decisions in the future.

That he'd come home, and all would stay well now he was here to tend things again.

Just behind his seat was where they had found Theon's body. And even now, the grass was stained clean up to the point where it met the water.

Why did you do it? he asked in his mind. Were you so afraid of facing me?

Ramsay's men, a few of them anyway, had detailed the twisted things done to fiddle with Theon's mind. The man didn't call himself Theon anymore towards the end, he called himself Reek. He'd agreed that he would take the fall for everything, even the things that he had not done. And then he had killed himself, right here in front of the heart tree.

Perhaps it was the only place he felt safe enough to die.

As he was finishing up, he heard footsteps behind him.

He looked up--saw Talisa, and smiled.

"How are our wounded doing?" he asked.

"Well," she replied. "I hate to disturb your cleaning, but I have two letters for you. Both appear to be from your brother Jon."

"Read them to me, if you would."

Talisa took the only other seat near him, and opened the first. "To Robb - I am coming south on something that concerns the whole realm. Whatever you may have heard about the wildlings, whatever your concerns about them may be, I let them south because of something worse. And I bring proof. Stannis Baratheon rides with me - it seems he wishes to deliver his surrender in person. Signed, Jon Snow, former Lord Commander of the Night's Watch."

"Former?" Talisa asked, "I was under the impression that you cannot simply resign from the post."

"Perhaps he was ousted for letting the wildlings come south," Robb replied. "Whatever the case, Jon would never leave his duty without reason. He took father's lessons to heart, maybe even more than I did. Now, the second?"

She opened the second one. "To Robb - I have visited the Umbers first, and found their forces hostile. I am sorry, tell the Greatjon I am sorry. Whatever judgment is passed on me for what I've done I will take, but Rickon and Shaggydog are safe--and you must be sure my cargo gets to King's Landing. Signed, your brother Jon Snow."

"I need to write a letter to the Greatjon," Robb groaned. "I want you to take these letters back and burn them. Old gods preserve me if my mother reads either of them..."

He knew exactly what she would say, to both. That Jon had finally done what she had always feared he would, that he was going to take the North from the Starks. That he was siding with Stannis and starting with the Umbers because of their proximity to the Wall...

...and he could tell her she was wrong until he was blue in the face, but it wouldn't do a bit of good. He didn't want to deal with that until he absolutely had to.

It would be soon, but not today.

Gods, not today.

He went up to his quarters and composed two letters back, one to the Greatjon and another to Jon himself.


Two weeks later, he received replies. The Greatjon's letter was first--he groused about his son, about not keeping his affairs clean himself, but he did praise Jon for having the grace to let him send his son to the Wall, rather than going ahead with an execution. There was mention of Stannis, but "he was allowed to keep his head for reasons Snow will tell you later."

The second letter was from Jon, and was short and sweet. He was coming to Winterfell; Rickon and Shaggydog were with him.

Thank the old gods, Rickon was coming back.

Several of his siblings had been lost, but he would have Rickon and Jon back.

He let his mother know at the noon meal.

"Rickon! home at last!" Catelyn said, "I will sing Lord Umber's praises from here to--"

"It's not Lord Umber bringing him here, mother. It's Jon."

"Jon? What?" her eyes flashed, and relief shifted quickly to thinly-veiled disgust. "I thought he was supposed to be at the Wall!"

"He comes on an urgent matter, mother, as Lord Umber assures me. And--" He didn't want to say it, but he knew if he didn't tell her it would only make Jon's arrival worse. "--Stannis Baratheon rides with him, intent on bringing his surrender straight to Tywin Lannister."

"Robb, you fool!" she said, "Don't you see what he's doing? He's going to--"

"Stop. Now." Robb summoned every bit of his father's sternness that he could muster, and went on, "If Jon says that he comes for good reason, then I believe him. I want you to control this temper of yours and leave him be."

"Robb, I'm only trying to protect you."

"Jon wants nothing from you, or the rest of us. And you can't even give him that. He brings Rickon, can you not even be grateful for that?"

He left at that, unwilling to hear more protests. This was a happy time, and he would not let his mother spoil it.


The guards were told to alert him the moment Stannis's standard was seen, and when the time came he had Talisa join him in the courtyard, along with Dacey and the Mormont forces, and Kevan with his Lannister forces. Robb's mother was on his other side, practically bristling as the flaming heart standard came through the gates.

Beside the bannerman rode Stannis, a robed woman Robb assumed must be his red witch, and on the woman's other side, was Jon, with Rickon seated just in front of him on the horse. On either side were their direwolves, Ghost on one and Shaggydog on the other. Behind them there was a row of three covered wagons surrounded on all sides by mounted soldiers.

Robb came over, and helped Rickon off the horse.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes," Rickon said, "Jon Umber said he was going to sell me to the Boltons, but then our Jon came in, and everything was okay."

"Rickon," Catelyn suddenly cut in. She practically ran up to take the boy in her arms in a tight hug. "Rickon, you're alright. You're really alright!"

He hugged her back; then Ghost and Shaggydog padded forward, sniffing at Grey Wind.

Then Jon and Stannis dismounted.

"Jon," Robb said, quickly hugging his brother, "Thank you, thank you for bringing him home."

"The Greatjon said he would do it, but I thought that--that since I was coming anyway, and he had his son's betrayal to sort, that I should."

"To the Wall with him, then?"

Jon nodded. "Every man there is needed right now."

"Then why aren't you there?" Catelyn asked, courtesy thinly stretched over a sneer.

"The vows of the Night's Watch are for life," the red woman said, "And Lord Snow died when his brothers betrayed him."

Robb looked up, confused. "Then how--?"

"I prayed to the Lord of Light," the red woman said, "As I did with Lord Stannis. I prayed, and his fire returned. If you do not believe him, you can look at his wound."

"Tywin Lannister said the same happened to you, too," Robb looked to Stannis.

"It is so," came the quiet reply, "I came back to Dragonstone cold, and woke warm."

"And the rumor about your wife?"

"She gave her life, that Lord Stannis might live," the red woman said. "I did not burn her against her will."

Robb had heard of Selyse Baratheon's religious zeal. He could believe she was devoted...but to give her life to the flames? He still suspected both of them, and the anger already rising lead him to speak up, "Give me one good reason why I should not have have the both of you clapped in irons and taken such the whole way to King's Landing."

"This is why," Stannis gestured to the covered wagons, then spoke to the driver of the first one. "Uncover it."

Robb saw Rickon shrink closer to his mother as the driver moved to obey.

There were sounds...disturbing sounds...coming from beneath that cover. And when that cover was pulled back--

A hiss, a screech, and four arms reaching out of a cage. They stank horribly, and sounded even worse. But the worst of all was their eyes--the piercing, deadly blue eyes that he almost feared to look directly into.

There was not a living soul among them that did not flinch or pale at the sight.

"What in the seven hells are these?!" Catelyn cried.

"The white walkers," Jon replied, "Or rather, the dead that raised because of them. Every man that dies beyond the Wall becomes one of them, and another body in the Night King's army."

"That's just..."

Robb tried to say it was just a fairy tale, but the words refused to leave his throat.

"I never thought they were real..."

"I thought so too, until I tried to save the wildlings at Hardhome," Jon replied, "I'd faced them before, but...but...Robb, if you had seen him...if you had seen what I had seen..."

He didn't want to reply, but he had to. "What did you see, Jon?"

"The walkers slaying the wildlings, the...the Night King, approaching, standing there just...staring at us...he raised his arms, and...the dead all rose," Jon's words seemed almost to choke him. "The women and children and men all alike, stood again, their eyes all the same color of blue. Rising like them."

He pointed at the dead in the wagon.

"We have to get word south," he went on, "I intend to go to King's Landing and bring my case before whoever will listen, so long as they all understand that something must be done."

"But if you have the wildlings--and the Wall still stands?"

"I need more than what we have in them," Jon said. "We need seasoned men at the Wall. The castles are so poorly manned, and my brothers at the Wall will barely tolerate the presence of the wildlings, let alone work with them. Please, Robb. I can't stay very long. The sooner I move south, the better."

"Give us another two weeks," Robb said, "We are going to go south as it is, for Sansa's wedding, and we may as well go together. In the meantime I can let the northern lords see these dead men. Maybe then they'll understand."

"Thank you, Robb. That's all I ask. That the lords see them, and send men--and supplies. With the wildlings at the Wall now, our stores are going to dwindle quickly."

There would be time for comment on the wedding later.

"If I may, Robb," Dacey Mormont spoke up, "I would go with you as well. I know as well as any Stark the tales of these beasts. My mother has claimed to have seen them when she has gone beyond the wall."

"Your mother has gone beyond the Wall?" Robb asked. "Good. Good, that may do us some additional good."

He would take whatever he could get, with a threat of this magnitude.


*Tyrion*

"...so, m'lord, the land is mine. They left it, and I settled there in their absence."

The man had a good point, of course. Tyrion could admit it to be so. But he looked at the older man whose property it had been, and the maid at his side, and the solution presented itself.

"He has a daughter," Tyrion said, "Perhaps you could compromise by marrying her. That way you would solve two problems, and have more hands to work the land."

The man didn't like the idea at first, but a second glance at the daughter changed his mind. She didn't speak up against it, and he took that as approval. He (and the older man) took the judgment, and left.

Likely as not they would be back with another squabble, but at least that one had gone more peacefully than he'd expected it to. It was the most contentious thing he had dealt with so far, but by no means difficult. Tedious, but he found himself much enjoying it. These were problems a lord dealt with, had to see to, and he was finally being allowed to show his ability.

"You're doing quite well," Maester Tothmure said, "If I may say so, my lord."

"With your help, of course," Tyrion replied quietly. "I know about these people only what I have read, which is good but not ideal. You live among them."

"Not as well as some, but I thank you for your compliment. I have tried to keep myself abreast of the comings and goings as best I can."

"Now if you can find me a wife, I will think you a true wizard."

It was a joke he kept making, that was less funny by the day. Vassal houses had panned out--Gregor Clegane's widow might have served, but it seemed that she had a nearly year old babe and a problem with fear that did not stop with the death of her husband. She might have done fine, but he'd heard the woman was frightened of every touch now, even the maester apparently had trouble with her. The reply had come from said maester, and he had replied that on hearing the proposal, the woman had gone shaky, and had a crying fit later on. She was too afraid of men to want to wed again, at least so soon, he said.

He had also stayed in contact with Randyll Tarly, but he wasn't entirely sure that that would work either. Talla was a nice girl, but Tarly kept an iron grip on everything he considered his, and was loath to part with anything of the sort that had any value, particularly to the infamous Imp. So he was working his way both further north and south with his ravens.

The Riverlands had some promise, of course, but he was not the sort to put all his eggs in one basket these days. Many girls were too young, like Marissa Frey, Bethany Blackwood or Eleanor Mooton. On top of that, he did not like the thought of wedding a Frey at all. But supposed he could, if no better option presented itself. Those girls would perhaps not be as afraid of him as Clegane's widow might, but it was uncomfortable, the idea of wedding maidens who had likely only recently had their blood. He did not want or need a frightened girl (and such a girl deserved better anyway), he wanted and needed a woman grown and able to help run his keep. And his wife would need a man able to give her the time to adjust that she deserved.

She did not need to be his equal in wit and personality, but she had to be capable, and learned. It was a problem that never left his mind--he was almost constantly busy, how could he find a trueborn woman, confident, able, and willing to have him?

The next few petitioners had mostly petty squabbles. There was a dispute between brothers as to whom their departed family's fishing boat belonged to; he had them agree to use it on alternating days. A merchant claiming he had been cheated by a lord, and the lord, summoned, admitted he had not had the silver on hand to wholly pay the man; it was agreed he would give the first a cow and two chickens to finish his payment.

When the line of petitioners finally came to a close, he demanded an accounting of what had been spent so far on the upcoming fair.

It had been his idea, but Pod had helped him flesh it out. The market stalls that were to be allowed to set up just outside of and within the keep's walls and taxed at certain rates, the whores from Harrentown who required guards to be sure of their safety, the tourney that had been set up for the knights--and the one that was to be set up in the bear pit for brawlers of all classes, the food that would be required...the list went on, but with the promise of so much merriment and so many people on the road these days (he was certain to set up entertainments near the road itself), it was easy to see that it would do well. Pod had even thought to organize the giving away of some rowboats, chickens, and bolts of fabric to bolster the smallfolks' enthusiasm for the event. It would be extra coin, but the boats would pay for themselves in time, as would the chickens (provided they weren't eaten). The fabric was hit or miss--but it seemed only fair, Pod said, to give something for the women as well.

All that settled, he was free to have dinner, and shortly afterwards, head to the enormous solar to tend to his letters.

"Rather a good day, if I do say so myself."

"Indeed, m'lord," Pod said, "You handled everyone's concerns fairly. And Impwing behaved himself very well."

The little dragon, now almost too big to carry, trotted along beside them now, cawing every so often. When they reached the solar, Tyrion asked Pod for a bottle of wine and a glass, then went to his desk.

Atop were two letters, one from Bronn, and the other from his father. He took the one from Bronn first, as it was on top.

To Lord Lannister of Harrenhal, etc, etc

Still not used to this business of writing letters. I let the Maester do most of the letter writing, though I keep an eye on what he does say. I made a point of writing to you myself, for obvious reasons. Would you believe--he insists on checking my letters as well, to be sure I don't misspell anything? He says a lord has to look it in his letters.

To answer your last, my wife has got used to it, though it was hard to get it through her head that I didn't take part in the killing of all the men in her family. She still fucks like a beast, got two live-in whores to make sure she don't get fresh with any of my knights or vassal boys. Had to swat a few for trying to get their hands on her, though. They know I don't play now.

The debt's paid up, Imp. I'll like it here. I charge half what old Frey did to cross. It's still a lot from what the maester says, but people thank me for it.

-Ser Bronn, Lord of the Crossing

He was doing well, then. That was good to hear--and even better to hear that he was taking his Maester Brennet's opinion and experience into account. That would help Bronn more than he was likely aware of.

His reply was as follows:

To Lord Blackwater of the Crossing,

It's good to hear that you're doing well, Bronn. Listen to your maester--he may irritate you, but he is there to help you.

I'm also pleased to hear that you agree our debt has been paid. You should have no trouble at all amassing enough gold to swim in for the rest of your life. Enough to keep yourself pickled for the rest of your life. And enough to pay for the children you'll father on your wife. With her appetite, you will certainly not want for heirs.

-Tyrion Lannister, Lord of Harrenhal

Then he looked to the letter from his father, skipping past the titles.

I am glad to hear that your taking of Harrenhal was done with no loss of life or excessive cost. Endeavor to keep it that way.

Things are equally well here. Robb Stark has informed me that the traitor Ramsay Snow has been dealt with and Winterfell is now once again in control of the Starks, and that in two weeks' time he will be on his way for the wedding between myself and his sister Lady Sansa.

However, he says that there is a grave matter he will bring to our attention, and that his brother Jon Snow will be coming with as well. His letter was long, and he lacked the space to go on, but he ended with saying my brother would tell me the rest. No doubt because he felt I was more likely to trust my own brother than him.

Kevan informs me that the white walkers have returned, and that this Jon Snow, along with the forces of Stannis Baratheon, are coming south to alert the Seven Kingdoms of the peril they face--and moreover, that they have proof to show in the form of risen dead men. I need not go on about this, but I expect you to see these dead men yourself and give me a report on whether this is some elaborate ruse that Stannis's red witch has used to bewitch everyone.

And if it is true, then I wish you to start making use of your dragon's fire as soon as he begins to produce it--as an aside, Shireen Baratheon's dragons have begun to do so, if only in spurts. These dead men, from what Snow says, are susceptible to flames, so it seems that he will be even more useful than we first thought--should they prove to be real.

To conclude in other matters, continue to organize your fair, take in the taxes, and keep yourself as a Lannister should.

-Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King, Lord Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Lord of Casterly Rock, etc.

The bit about Robb Stark was good news, but the next bit--the mention of white walkers made him feel cold, colder than he'd been even during his visit to the Wall. Jon Snow didn't seem the sort given to flights of fancy, but then, he had not known the lad for very long. It was Robb Stark believing him, and Stannis apparently thinking enough of the situation to throw their lots in with him, that gave it an air of seriousness. Risen dead men...

When Pod returned with the wine, Tyrion said, "Make a note, tomorrow we need to do some research. The library here is not what I would call very extensive, but there should be some information."

"On...on what, my lord?"

"The white walkers."

"Yes...yes, my lord." Pod looked as if he wanted to say something, but it was throttled before it could come out.

What a good lad he was.

"You can go now," he said, "Get a bath and some rest."

There was a quick bow, and then he left.

Tyrion began to compose his reply after pouring himself a glass of wine.

To Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King, Lord Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, etc,

I am glad to hear that the Starks have returned to Winterfell. The North will no doubt be pleased to have them back.

I will be certain to report to you the truth of the matter regarding these dead men, when I see them. Should they prove to be real I will render aid to the best of my ability, including Impwing's fire when he begins to produce it.

He is an extraordinary beast, you know, and I would be grateful if you could have the Grand Maester get some lads to copy some of the books on the development of dragons in the Red Keep's own library. I did not have the time to do that myself (though I did read them frequently before leaving), and did not want to outright take them as I thought Shireen Baratheon might need them as well. It is extremely curious, the connection I have with the little thing. At times when I sleep, I could swear a third of my dreams have me seeing through his eyes, a thing that puts me in mind of the tales the northerners tell. I believe they call it warging...but I will stop there, as I know you are not one for strange tales.

Yours, Lord Lannister of Harrenhal

He would send the letters on the morrow. For now, there was wine and bed.

It was much the same for little Impwing, who leapt to the desk and demanded his own share of the glass; Tyrion thought wryly to himself that of course it would develop a taste for Arbor Gold...


*Tywin*

Lady Sansa remained the perfect lady, and a valuable future addition to his house.

She continued to care for and report on Cersei, who though she was still not able to receive many guests, was doing well enough that her sentences were becoming more complete. Sansa had become quite close with Septa Melvine, and there seemed to be no detail that he asked for that she could not then report to him.

She conducted herself as a proper lady, displaying confidence that he had not thought he would see in her when he'd first arrived in King's Landing after the Battle of Blackwater Bay. She took what he gave her as a household budget, and did not squader every copper, but instead always seemed to have some left over--but that was not to say that she did not keep both herself and Cersei in the proper gowns. She kept the tailors busy--perhaps not so much the jewelers.

And she tended to Shireen Baratheon as well; the young woman's fourteenth name day had come and gone and every day she looked more the lady that she was to be, once this situation with Stannis was solved.

He shook his head as he arrived at the doors to his daughter's quarters. He knocked three times, as Septa Melvine had said, and entered when the door was opened.

Today, only Sansa had come to visit. She was seated at the same table as always, with papers in front of both herself and Cersei, with the latter holding a quill.

"I hope you are well today, Lady Sansa. And you as well, Cersei."

Sansa looked up and managed a smile; his daughter did not, and seemed to be more focused on the paper in front of her.

"Kind of you to join us, my lord," Sansa said, "I would get up to curtsy, but your daughter needs my help."

"And what might you be doing?"

"I am trying to show her how to write her name. She seems to recognize it if it is written in large enough letters, but her hands can be twitchy, or slow to grasp the quill properly."

He came closer, looking over Sansa's shoulder, and saw the paper Cersei was attempting to write on. It looked like a child's first attempt at letters; they were badly formed, sometimes wobbly. The C was writ small in many of the attempts, and in others looked like a sideways v. Some of the e's were tilted up or backwards, and the i's looked in most cases like the business end of a sawmill blade. But it was still a development.

"And her last name?"

"We have not got that far yet," Sansa replied, before looking to Cersei. "My lady, your father has come for a visit."

Cersei looked up, and the quill fell from her hand. "F...f..."

"Faaatherrrr," Sansa said slowly.

"Faa....faa...th...th...fatherrrrr."

He sat on the opposite side of the table, and bid Sansa to continue, that he might watch.

The side of his daughter's hands were smudged with the ink, so there was a fair amount of smudging going onto the paper. But she kept trying, kept going, until she got a second column of "Cersei" written down on the front side of the page. There was still some wobbliness, some backwards letters, and such, but with Sansa's little corrections, they were marginally less frequent toward the end.

When they stopped, Septa Melvine came forward to clean Cersei's hands of the ink, and Tywin took a closer look at the paper.

"Did you start her writing, or was it something she expressed interest in?"

"The latter," Septa Melvine said, "Lord Tyrion, he wrote a letter to Lady Cersei and I read it to her. She grabbed a paper and kept making the motions of using a quill, and so Lady Sansa volunteered to sit with her."

"Is it not your job to see to that?"

"I thought she might prefer to have me close by to assist her," Sansa said, "That is not to say that the good septa does not do her job, but I like to aid her myself twice a week, to see if she does as good under my instruction, as she does with her septa's. And if she were deficient in...for lack of better term, the ability to perform her task in front of others, it might help her to make a habit of doing it in front of others."

He nodded. "And what else have you helped her in?"

"Reading. As I said, she must have large letters, but I wrote her out several sentences and over the past moon I have been able to get her to read them."

"Is she able to do so now?"

Sansa was slow in taking the paper Cersei had written on, and said, "Would you like to read now, my lady?"

"Read...pa...paper?"

As Sansa began to write, Tywin kept his eyes on his daughter. She did not seem to acknowledge him at all, as if she did not know him from the servants. The septa had said this could happen with some people, but she seemed to remember her brother and sister and several others, at least by some defining word. What was different about them?

He saw what Sansa had written below when she finished, though it was upside down from where he sat. 'Cersei, daughter of Tywin, of the House Lannister.'

"There you go," Sansa said to Cersei. "Can you read that?"

Cersei looked down at the paper. "Cer...cer...Cersei..."

There was an almost painful pause. She rubbed her eyes.

"D-daww...daw-ter...daw-ter of...of, of...T...T...Ty, Tywin...of the..."

Another pause. This one shorter than the last. She stumbled more than he thought she might, but he reminded himself to not expect as much from her.

"...house...house...L..L-l-l..."

Cersei cringed, but at Sansa's gentle urging went on.

"La...law....Lann...nnnn...Lannissss...Lann-ist-er."

"That was very good," Sansa said, smiling. "Can you tell me who Cersei is?"

Tywin saw his daughter pause...and then lay her hand over her chest.

"Yes, that is you," Sansa said, "Now what about Tywin? Do you know who that is?"

Cersei paused. She looked down at the name, and then up, first at Septa Melvine, then Sansa, and then Tywin himself.

He waited.

When she looked several more times, he spoke up. "I am Tywin," he said, "That is me. I am your father."

She looked confused. She was studying his face. Then, of all things, she touched her hair.

"Y..yellow."

Then she pointed at him. "Yellow."

"Golden," Tywin corrected. "Your hair, and my hair, are golden. It is a kind of yellow. A better yellow."

"Gol...gold...golden."

He stayed through the mid-day meal, and watched his daughter's clumsy attempts to eat with a knife and fork. When she could not manage that, she was allowed to have her food between slices of bread instead, and to drink her soup directly from the bowl. He prompted her several times to name certain things, and though she required help with "fork" and "spoon" and "salmon" she stumbled only a little with most of the other words.

It had been over a year, and she still had not fully recovered. Perhaps she never would, but he could see she was in good hands with her septa, and Lady Sansa.

When he rose to leave, however...

"Golden," she said, looking at him. The paper with her name on it, written over and over--she seemed eager to give it to him. "Golden? Good?"

He did not need explanation to know what that meant.

"Yes, Cersei. Good."

It was not true, but he had increasingly learned that to answer otherwise could crush future efforts. A lesson, he told himself, that he had fumbled with for far too long.

He asked Sansa to join him in breaking fast the next morning, and then went to the Hand's tower, to his solar, to check for his letters.

There were a dozen or so having to do with business of some variety, but at the bottom of the pile was a letter from Tyrion, which he opened and read carefully.

"Good," he said to himself. Tyrion had promised to do exactly as he had been asked, not that it would be otherwise. He would see these supposed dead men, and send a raven if it were really as the Starks had said it was.

That last bit, though...At times when I sleep, it said, I could swear a third of my dreams have me seeing through his eyes, a thing that puts me in mind of the tales the northerners tell.

Perhaps it was a trait of the Targaryens...

He put it aside, to be answered at a later time.


The evening meal was done, and the letter answered, when he received a visit from Varys. The man shuffled in looking as calm as he ever did. Not even when delivering bad news did his air of complacency shift, as it might for most other men who came to see him.

"Lord Varys," Tywin nodded, as a servant brought him the first of two glasses of wine he would drink that evening (as he did when he felt the strain creeping up on him). "It is rather late in the day for you to have cause to see me. I assume there is good reason for it."

"Indeed, my lord," Varys said. "It regards your son, Ser Jaime."

"Has he attacked anyone?" Tywin sipped at the wine, but rather more quickly than usual.

"Only the Red Cloaks who come to bring him back to his quarters when he falls asleep on the docks. I chanced to see him tonight, as I have seen him twice per week for the last moon."

"And you come to report he has drunk as much as his brother or the late King Robert did? Or that he broke the arm of some guard?"

"No, my lord. But there is something you may want to hear regarding what he has been saying."

"Surely he did not confess to the untrue allegations regarding King Robert's children?"

"No, my lord. It is a curious thing, you know. My little birds heard him when he was awakening from one of his sleeps. He fell into it from the drink, and when he awakened began to speak of a dragon and fire."

"Doubtless a nightmare about the Mad King," Tywin said. He finished the glass, and gave it to the servant to fill again.

"Perhaps. The little bird that he saw heard him ranting as if he were the Mad King, apparently. There were some words about the people of the city spitting on his name. That he saw through the eyes of a dragon now, and he would bring it here and burn them all if they didn't stop. A hallucination, I believe, but one that seemed to make him think he was capable in delusions of grandeur."

Tywin's hand, loose around the refilled wine glass that had just been handed back, went slack and dropped it entirely. It shattered against the floor, scattering glass and wine everywhere.

"Clean that up," he said quickly the servant to, "And get me another."

Then he looked back to Varys.

"He sees through the eyes of a dragon? Even more reason for it to be a nightmare of the mad king. Coupled with his anger, it is doubtless that he sees himself as exacting some form of justice."

"Doubtless," Varys echoed. "Regardless of the reason, I thought you might like to know of his condition."

"I would. And I am glad you told me. I'll have him confined to his quarters if he can't behave like a man instead of a drunken fool."

Varys left soon after. But Tywin stood at the window looking out, confidence in his eldest son growing only more full of cracks. The language was close to Tyrion's, when he spoke about his dreams and of Impwing. Too close.

He decided it must be the drink that put the idea into his head, and after standing there some time, went back to his desk. He had the second glass of wine, drunk much slower than the first, and decided to look over the letters he had written back to those he had received, to be sure there were no errors.

A seed of doubt had been planted, but he was Tywin Lannister, and he would not be fool enough to let it take root.

Chapter Text

Sweetrobin, Loras, Tyrion, Catelyn, Tywin

*Sweetrobin*

Uncle Petyr had been very nice when he'd first got to the Vale. And his mother had been happy--she said that Peter was a nice man, very nice, who would take care of them both. And at first things had been good. Uncle Petyr had told him he'd convinced his mother that he was to learn to use a sword, and really start to be a man.

"Your mother loves you," Petyr had said when they had a few minutes alone, "But she doesn't want you to grow up."

"Why not?" he'd asked.

"She fears many things. Some women think that if they can keep their children close and not teach them the things they need to know, the child will not leave them."

"But I would never leave mother!"

"You can tell her that all you like, but she will not believe it. You know she lost six babes before you, and losing babes hurts women in ways you and I will never know. Women like that--they are afraid of every dark shadow their children pass by."

"How do I make her not afraid?"

"You can't. But I'm here now, you know, and that will help her."

"...how?"

"Your mother cares a great deal for me. Not in the same way as you."

"She says she loves you," Robin agreed. "That you'll take care of us."

"That is what I said I would do," Petyr said. "Now. Take your sweetsleep, and we will talk more in the morning."

"But I already--"

He had already had his sweetsleep. His mother had given it him not long before uncle Petyr had come in.

"Now, my boy. You need to rest."

Uncle Petyr stayed to see him drink it, and then left.


The days wore on, and each one saw him more and more tired. This afternoon, he was supposed to train with Ser Royce and one of his household knights, but even though he was attacking like they said, he kept dropping his sword, or taking hits on the leg.

When they stopped for water, Ser Royce took him aside. "I know your muscles are weak, Robin, but you must try harder."

"I am," he protested, "I'm just so tired...I sleep all night and I'm still tired!"

"It is because you are not used to the extra activity. Your mother should have allowed this much sooner than she did."

"No, it's because of the sweetsleep," Robin said, rubbing his eyes. "Mother gives me some, and then Uncle Petyr comes later and gives me more."

"He what?"

"He always comes after my mother and gives me more sweetsleep. And I tell him I already had some but he says it's to make me sleep well, he watches me drink it, and--"

"And how long has he been doing this?"

"I don't know...since he came back? A little bit after."

"It will hurt you, if you keep taking it like this," Ser Royce said, "The next time he gives you some, I want you wait until he is gone, then go to the privy and make yourself sick."

"You mean vomit it up?" Robin asked. "How?"

"I'll show him," the knight who'd been training him said.

"But shouldn't I sleep?"

"Of course you should. But sweetsleep will hurt you in the amounts you're taking, and Baelish knows that."

Robin paused. The wheels turned, but slowly. That meant...that meant...that uncle Petyr knew it would hurt him.

"Why would he give it to me if he knew it would hurt me?"


*Loras*

Shireen was a sweet girl.

He happened to be at lunch with her when Lord Tywin came to discuss her father's surrender with her, and though she was afraid, she didn't let it show. The dragons curled at her feet looked up, perhaps sensing her fear, but did nothing...though they did seem a bit restless.

"He really plans to surrender and give up his claim to the crown?" Shireen asked.

"Yes," Tywin replied, "He is making his way south with Robb Stark. There was some...news that changed his mind about pushing his claim."

"What news?"

"That the white walkers have returned."

"That can't be right," Loras said, "They--they're just myths."

"Robb Stark's bastard brother insists that they are real," Tywin said, "And there are claims that he brings risen dead men as proof. I insist upon your not spreading this."

"There is no need for you to worry about that," Loras replied quickly. "This is not the sort of news that would be well received unless there was proof, and nobody wants a panic. And--you are quite certain it is real? Not some ruse conjured up by the red witch?"

"My son Tyrion will see their caravan shortly, and send word of it. Then I will know for certain--we already received Maester Aemon's ravens, but more proof than that is needed for people to understand."

"They intend to bring the dead men here?" Shireen asked. "Why?"

"That is the work of Jon Snow," Tywin said. "He claims it is the reason he allowed the wildlings to come south, and claims it is necessary to bring them here so that the lords of Westeros see and understand the problem."

"I see. What--what will you do with my father, once he's here? Will you--will you execute him for making war against you?"

"No," Tywin said, "I am reserving judgment...for now."

He bid them adieu, and then left.

Loras could guess Tywin's mind, at least a little bit. If the stories were true, then he would need a man like Stannis. If...if, if. The thought was chilling. If Snow was really coming here with the dead...

"Ser Loras?"

"Yes, my lady?"

"I hope...hope you don't mind me asking, but..." Shireen shifted about. "...would you mind if I asked you about Lord Renly?"

His chest tightened at the thought. But it wasn't the girl's fault. "What do you want to know?"

"How did you know you loved him? I--I've never even thought about why men would look to other men that way."

"I barely know," he said, voice suddenly full of emotion. "I had fallen before I even knew why. He was handsome, he was gallant, he had a gentle heart. He was willing to negotiate, he and I enjoyed some of the same things..."

"But how did you decide? That--that you wanted a man."

"I didn't decide, my lady. It simply happened, it is just the way Renly and I were. No one chooses to be this way."

He found himself smiling in spite of the pain in his heart. She was not judgmental, like her father had always been...she simply let things be as they were.

"I want to ask you a question, Ser Loras. And I will not be mad if you answer honestly...in fact, I would prefer it."

"What is it?"

"...do you want to marry me?"

Loras paused, blinking. No, he thought instantly, no, I don't.

But his family, save Olenna, continued to press him at least weekly, sometimes daily, to ensure his suit was a successful one. The Stormlands, his father had said. You only have to give her a son or two once you are wed, and then there will be no more need to do your duty. Then the Stormlands are yours.

Ours, you mean. Grandmother wouldn't push me like this. He thought of that often. Grandmother did not seem to care if he married at all. He was the third son, he could bite pillows all he liked. Shireen was a nice girl, and she wouldn't demand very much of him. He had only to be gallant and charming and she would love him.

"I can understand if you don't," she said. "I know that you said you would not mind living in Storm's End as...as I assume that is where you loved my uncle Renly, but...it would also hurt, wouldn't it? And--"

"Do you intend to refuse me?"

"I only want to save us both some troubled, if you don't really want to marry me. My father is coming, and I would rather save you from him if I can. He'll be angry if he hears that I intend to wed you."

"I am not afraid of your father, my lady."

"But would you want to wed me?"

"It--no," Loras said in a low, shaky voice. "My family wishes me to, but...I would rather you marry someone who may actually come to love you, in the way a man should love his wife. Some marriages can build to love, but ours--ours would never be able to. I could be the greatest of friends to you, but no more. I can't change what I am, or what I want."

"Would you want to live in Storm's End anyway?" she asked. "I could always take you in as a captain of the guard, commander of my armies, or something of that sort."

"I'm not sure my family would allow that. They'd sooner send me to the Wall."

"Still, if I could find a place for you, I would be willing to have you there."

Again, Loras smiled.


*Tyrion*

Stannis made camp along with the Stark forces, and when Tyrion came to see him (Impwing trotting along beside him, of course), he was seated with Robb Stark and his family. Catelyn on one side, and Jon at the end, on Talisa's other side.

"Greetings, my lords, my ladies," Tyrion said, "I am glad you've come peacefully, it would be rather unfortunate if we were to meet again in battle."

"Indeed, Lannister," Robb replied. Then he looked at the dragon. Grey Wind went to sniff at it, but Impwing hissed. "Come back, Grey Wind. He is no harm to you."

"How long will you be staying?"

"Two nights," Robb said. "If that is agreeable. We need to replenish our water skins and such."

"You will certainly find that easy enough to do here," Tyrion replied, "I'm certain you saw the fair I was setting up from the road. There are stalls being set up, and if your men care to, they can replenish themselves there as well."

"Thank you."

There was an awkward silence--but Stannis spoke up. "I believe you will want to see our cargo."

"Indeed," Tyrion said, "My father wants to know if what you claim is true. Let us see these dead men."

Jon stood to leave when Stannis did, and Tyrion followed them out of the tent.

"You have seen my daughter recently, yes?" Stannis asked him. "How well is she?"

"She is very well. Lady Sansa has taken her for a sister, and she wants for nothing. She spends much time with my sister." He could see Stannis bristle at that, and tried to soften it. "There is no need to worry. My sister is not who she once was. She is barely capable of writing and speaking her own name, much less anything threatening."

"And Lady Sansa?"

"Is as kind a lady to your daughter as you could wish for."

That was when Stannis looked to Impwing. He looked gloomier than usual for a moment before saying, "Her dragons, they have not hurt her?"

"No, of course not. If anything, they would be defending her. There has been no cause for them to, but they are not shy about baring their teeth and spouting little fires to keep those she is afraid of away."

Do you understand, now? he thought, looking the still brooding Stannis.

A short walk later, they were in front of the three covered wagons. Three of Stannis's men moved away when told, and one of them moved up to lift the sheet.

"Certainly smells dead over here," Tyrion said. "I hope they don't need feeding, too."

No one responded to the joke. And when the sheet was lifted, he couldn't laugh as he'd planned to.

Four rotting, stinking, moving corpses. Each one blue-eyed, each one bursting into anger when they sighted living people. They reached through the bars, some with hands, some with stumps.

Tyrion couldn't say a word.

How could he? Hearing that they had come was one thing, but seeing these dead things, these dead men, seeing them moving...that was quite another.

"So they are real. How are they defeated?"

"Fire," Jon said beside him, hand on his sword hilt, "Fire, Valyrian steel, and dragonglass."

"Does it truly end them, or does it merely remove their ability to move?"

"It ends them, once and for all. Lord Stannis has told me there is much dragonglass on Dragonstone, so I'm hoping that we'll be allowed to mine it."

"I see no reason why it should be otherwise," Tyrion said. He stared for a while at the dead men, and then looked to Jon. "I will be writing to my father tonight. You can count on my advising him that this threat is real."

"That is all I ask, my lord. That you tell him the threat is real."


*Catelyn*

It still pained her, to see Robb getting on so well with Jon.

She tried to tell herself that it made him happy, that Jon had asked for nothing, but still it was at the back of her mind. Every morning, he was present at their breakfasts, every evening, their dinners. He was training with Robb, practicing swordplay as he had in times past.

And he was keeping his distance from her.

Dark, and gloomy, she thought. He knew how little she cared for him, and he was giving her what she wanted...but that, too, hurt her, and she had no explanation for it. There was a disappointment in his eyes, a sadness, and yet a grim seriousness that bound him to his duty.

She received the same look when, on her entering Robb's tent during midday, he gave her that same look and left. Mournful, serious, dutiful, like...

...like Ned.

He was so like Ned in personality, it hurt to look at him.

Ned, I wish...I wish I could have loved him. Maybe you would still be here if I had.

She still had Rickon, at least. Rickon, who seemed fascinated with Ser Kevan, but was still young enough to want his mother most of the time. It felt good to have a child come to her again, wanting her attention, wanting to tell her about his day. That was the one joy for her, because of late it seemed no one had much reason to see her.

Jon disliked her, Robb disliked her in his own way for shunning Jon, and Talisa disliked her for how she'd behaved since the moment the woman had married Robb.

But there was Rickon. And Sansa.

Dear Sansa, who they'd given to Tywin Lannister. Lady of Casterly Rock, that was a lofty title for her daughter, but Tywin was so cruel, and so stern...nothing like the man that she had envisioned for her daughter. Nothing like the man Ned would have wanted for her.

The letters all said he treated her well. That everything was well, in fact. She had done such growing in King's Landing, in the danger she'd been in. Danger she should never have had to face.

Her thoughts kept her up long into the night, but she did, eventually, sleep.

Thinking that she could better understand her sister's desperation now.


*Tywin*

The letter told the tale he had expected to hear.

The dead are real, Tyrion had written to him. They are real. Snow is not lying, nor is it a trick of Stannis's red woman. It may best if mining could be started at Dragonstone without waiting to get Stannis there, considering the dead can be ended by it. Truly ended--a stab or a wound and the unlife fades from them..

He expected it, but...

The dead were real. The dead were real, and this was another war, just as soon as the first had been ended. Once again, his attention was needed for a problem that could not wait.

True, the dead were beyond the Wall. But when he tried to convince himself that the problem did not yet need consideration, a sinking feeling overtook him. And while he wasn't a man who relied on his gut, something about this time...

They had the numbers, and they would soon have the dragons. Shireen's were spouting fire now and then, and were growing all the time. Large housecats at this point. Another thing to think of, their new home in the Dragonpit. The structure had been refitted, but there was still much work to be done.

Work, work, work...he kept it all going, somehow, but he felt it creeping up on him. It was never done. Never done.

Glad he would be when Kevan returned. The man was invaluable, and would relieve a little of this burden that had been put on his shoulders. And with Stannis back on their side, he could stop worrying about rebellion...at least from everyone but the Iron Islands and the Targaryen girl. Snow could give more relevant advice on the issue of the dead men. He'd fought them, after all.

Things were going to get better, he simply had to wait.

Halfway through a letter, he looked up to see Varys entering the room.

"Is my son behaving like an imbecile again?"

"No, my lord, I bring good news this time. May I sit?"

Tywin nodded, and Varys took the chair on the other side of his desk.

"Now, what is it you want to tell me?"

"I bring word of the Targaryen girl," Varys said.

"She is coming across the sea, then?"

"No, my lord. She is dead."

"Dead? How?"

"The going talk is that a son of the Harpy, a faction in Meereen that favored slavery and was very put out when the dragon queen put a stop to the practice. She and two of her dragons were slain."

"And the third?"

"Burned the city," Varys said. "It was several days before the beast finally left the city."

"And where is it now?"

"No one is certain. My little birds have reported sightings here and there, some along the cities in Slaver's Bay, some nearly as far as Valyria. The creature has made no permanent home yet, it seems."

"I would like to stay appraised of it, then," Tywin said. "The last thing we need is for that creature to cross the Narrow Sea and burn King's Landing to the ground."

He would have to be sure that the city had enough archers for the event. Perhaps some training exercises with high targets...

Varys stayed long enough to inform him on several other items. Bronn's successes, Tyrion's successes, it was as if the world had known that he needed the good news. It seemed to be everywhere. Bronn listened to his maester, Tyrion's fair was looking to go well, Sansa had managed to take Cersei for a walk without incident.

Exactly what he needed.

But then, just as the spider had been about to leave, the door to Tywin's solar had burst open and it all went south. The servant was breathless and half-dazed; he had another offer the man some water, and after a pause there were finally words.

"Dragon, my lord. Dragon. Big black one."

"Where, when?"

"The harbor," he said, "There's--there's--there were ships docked, but it didn't seem interested in them."

"Ser Jaime was at the docks today," Varys said quietly.

The panic set in before Tywin could stop it. Automatically his legs stood him up, carried him out the door, down the hall, out of the Tower of the Hand. His muscles ached, his lungs screamed, but he did not stop moving until he neared the harbor.

"Jaime? Jaime?"

He hardly knew what he felt. The panic was tinged with fear, fear of losing his eldest son. A disappointment, but his son all the same, a man who had lost his sword hand, and even his love, if those disgusting rumors had any truth.

"Jaime!"

Answer me, please, Tywin thought. He stepped out--

And he saw the beast. Big, black, beating its wings, and staring down at his son, at Jaime, who sat in a chair at the end of a stone dock. It landed on the outcropping of rock just past the end of the dock, and moved one wing down against the stone to steady itself as it leaned its long-necked head down to inspect the human before him.

"Jaime!"

Jaime's stump reached out to the thing, as its head reached out to him. It sniffed--

--and then nudged.

Tywin's racing heart did not stop its rapid pulse; he breathed roughly, walked closer. The beast ought to have attacked by now. Eaten Jaime, thrown him into the sea, something. Not just stand there staring at him.

"...lost, too..."

He knocked over two bottles as he moved down the dock, and tried to steady his breathing as he got closer to Jaime and the dragon. Heaven and earth, what was he thinking?

"Jaime," he said once more.

"Father..."

The beast sniffed once more. But he made no moves to attack, and his son seemed comfortable enough to turn away from the creature. Another nudge, this time at Jaime's back.

"I supposed I've disappointed you once more."

For the first time in his life, Tywin truly had no words.

Chapter Text

Drogon

Mother.

Mother.

Mother.

Mother is hurting. Mother needs me!

He had flown, flown fast and against the wind to get back to her. That place with the pointy buildings and the people his mother hated. But when he came back...

She was on that balcony where he had last seen her, laying down. Asleep, maybe? But he had leaned down to smell her, and smelled death. When he nudged her, she did not move...and he felt the cold from her.

Mother is gone

He had roared, louder than he ever had before. Stones rattled, and the big bronze thing mother had covered up with the red dragon fell again. Then he looked down, and...

...and...

YOU TOOK HER FROM ME

Why weren't you there to protect her?!

The one in armor, the one who stayed very close to mother. Hair on his face, but it was not white like the other one mother liked. He came out, and stood by the body, his face wet...

Drogon leaned forward--

The one in armor drew his sword, and swung at Drogon, screaming something he couldn't understand. He nicked him, just enough to draw a little blood.

He roared again, and fire surged out of his mouth. The one in armor fell atop mother, screaming, but still clinging to her cold body. Then mother burst into flames, and Drogon drew his head back...but it was too late.

WHY WEREN'T YOU THERE TO PROTECT HER?

And then, a connection in his head. It was strange, but the grief was familiar. You took her from me, it seemed to say. They all took her from me; I should have let him burn them all. BURN THEM ALL. It was so strong a feeling, and his own desire for blood rose too high to resist.

He leaped into flight and circled the city once before bearing down and bathing the streets, the flames, the pyramids, everything in flames. His throat burned raw, but he kept going; mother was gone and it was all their fault.

There were arrows, but they glanced off his hide. Men hucked spears, but he dodged them, and burned the men down to nothing but bones.

Another face and another, more faces, more dead, more burning, suffering, death--but nothing could fill the hole that mother's death had left.

He felt for the presence in his mind, finding it hard over a background of screams. Someone who felt like he did. Someone who knew the same pain, who hurt the same hurt.

Drogon turned west.


*Tywin*

He stood in utter shock, silent for the gods only knew how long, watching. Watching as Jaime touched this dragon and remained unburned, uneaten. Untouched.

"You know, don't you," Jaime said. He looked amazed, astounded.

Is he talking to it?

The dragon nudged him again, then made a strange sound--like the caw of Shireen's dragons, but much deeper.

There was a moment happening here. Tywin could obviously see that.

"Every time I close my eyes I see her as she was. Beautiful, smiling..." Jaime spoke up again.

The deep caw sounded off again.

"Nothing helps. Nothing's going to make it better...I just...have to wait..."

Tywin tried to speak, but again found his words stolen. At once he felt the absurdity of what he'd done, rushing down here all on his own with a blade. What did he think he could do against a beast that looked like Balerion reborn?

About that time, some Red Cloaks, and Gold, showed up. Swords drawn, shields up, fear in every face.

"Should...should we attack it, my lord?" one asked.

"No," Tywin said. "It seems to be--to like my son."

My son. If he is my son. He would have to find out. Tyrion he expected, but Jaime...Jaime, his golden son, his first born...his pride...

"My lord, Ser Jaime--!"

Tywin looked up, and saw Jaime clambering onto the dragon's neck. "What do you think you're doing?!" he burst out. "Jaime, get down from there!"

"I'm--" Jaime stumbled on his words, face crumpled, as he settled into place, "I'm--I'm going to see my brother."

"You can't expect to ride it!"

"I can and I will. I'll come back, I just...there's too much for me here. I need--I need to be away from her, from everything..."

The dragon's wings beat hard as he took off into flight, and Tywin looked, still amazed, still broken at the thought of what had just happened. Jaime was flying away on the back of a dragon.

He dismissed the Red and Gold cloaks--after giving orders to have them be sure a panic wasn't being stirred--and marched straight back to the Tower Of The Hand.

Tyrion, he wrote scribbled onto the first piece of paper he could get his hands on. By the time you get this Jaime will already be there. He's not well. That dragon he's riding--

He paused. What could he say? What could he DO?

--it is the dragon queen's last remaining. She is dead and her last dragon seems to have taken a liking to your brother. Simply--be careful of it. And please, make sure Jaime doesn't do anything rash. If anyone can help him now, it is you..

He signed his name, sent the raven, and took a deep breath. Then a glass of wine, and another.

It was all too much for him to handle, but handle it he must.

There must be an explanation. Jaime, my own Jaime, he couldn't be Aerys's. He just--couldn't be. Tyrion is one thing, but my Jaime...

He would look it up in the library later. He would do something. Jaime was not Aerys's son. He was not Aerys's son. He couldn't be.

But if...if...

If...

He refused to believe it. The dragon had lost his mother, and Jaime, if the rumors were true, had lost the woman he loved. It would make sense for two wounded souls to bond, even without Targaryen blood.

More wine, but only half a glass. He had to think. Tyrion could talk sense into Jaime, he was sure of it; the Imp was more full of brains and sense than either his brother or sister these days.

The rest of that glass, and then another.

Another Targaryen. If this was true, there was a second, no, a third Targaryen. Four if he counted Cersei.

A meeting, a meeting that happened more than twenty years ago. Blurred images crawled into his head like the creeping, unwelcome dead. A conversation with a dead man.

I didn't order this massacre, Lord Stark

But you have done it before

That was a family in open defiance. This was a different thing entirely.

And what of--what must I pay you for your silence?

He'd figured it out, astounded that no one else had yet. How could they not see it? How could it not be on at least one other person's mind?

Nothing, Lord Stark. Nothing. One living cannot replace two lost, but I can give you my silence in exchange.

Tywin rubbed his eyes, and made for the privy. The wine, he had drunk too fast. It was threatening to come back up.

But if asked by someone who demands an answer, what will you say?

The wine came up just as he reached the privy, and only barely did he avoid making a mess on the floor. He vomited as his own words rung in his head, the words that he had spoken more than twenty years ago.

I will tell them once, and warn them that their tongues will be cut out if they ask again. The boy is not Jaeherys Targaryen or Blackfyre or Sand, he is a bastard born to Ned Stark. He is Jon Snow.

Chapter Text

Sweetrobin, Shireen, Tyrion, Jaime

It was hard to accept it.

Yohn Royce had to work on him for nearly two weeks to get him to fully understand, and even then...he didn't like it. It didn't fit with what his mother said...but the man had things to say about his mother, too. Things about how fragile her mind had been, about how the deaths of six babes affected her. It was common for women to get this way, desperate for any form of love, after so much loss.

And she seemed obsessed with uncle Petyr. Perhaps because she knew him as a girl, because she liked him. It was hard to see that someone was bad when you had built up this image of them for so long. He distracted himself during this talk by looking over the pretty purple flowers that were growing in one corner of the practice yard.

"Stay away from them," Yohn Royce said, "Those are not harmless violets."

"Shouldn't we tell mother?" he asked, scrambling up and away from the flowers. "Won't she believe me?"

"We've no proof, and your mother is much too attached to him to believe much ill."

So uncle Petyr wanted to hurt him, but they couldn't tell mother...because she wouldn't believe it without proof.

"What about mother? Will he do anything to her?"

"That I am certain of," Yohn Royce said. "His marriage to her bought him access to you, and should you pass, he would be free to influence the next Lord of the Vale."

"Can we..." Robin dropped his voice to a whisper. "...can we do something about him? Without telling her?"

"We can, but we must be careful."

"How do we do that?"


*Shireen*

It was hard to see Olenna alone, but she managed it by asking to go for a walk with her, saying that it was about Loras. Not until they were a good distance away from her "flock of hens," as she called them, the dragons toddling along behind them, did she speak.

"Thank you for coming with me, my lady," Shireen said, "I could have done so with your son, but..."

"But heaven knows you don't want to be seen with the fathead," Olenna quipped. "If you want to be seen with a man, he should be handsome, I think. Like Loras...I assume that you have word about your lack of engagement."

"He's told you about--about how we won't be?"

"He tells me everything," Olenna replied, "I proposed the match because his father wished it to be presented as an option, and because I believed he would say no anyway."

"You seemed eager about it."

"Only to satisfy appearances, I assure you. Loras is the third son, it hardly matters to the house if he does not wed. His preference removes the concern of a cadet line of Tyrells as well. And I know he would far prefer to stay in the south rather than do something like go to the Wall."

"You never struck me as the type to care about appearances..."

"Mace insisted," Olenna shrugged. "He insisted I at least make the suggestion...and if I did not, he would've bothered me forever, and I would rather not suffer that fate."

Shireen giggled.

"I came to ask you if Loras might...join me at Storm's End in a different capacity, but if you dislike Lord Tyrell bothering you so much, that may be unwise of me to ask."

"A knight of your household, I imagine? Mace would never stop groaning."

"Master-at-arms," Shireen said, "He is good with his sword, and is fair that I have seen. He knows the people of Storm's End near as well as any native...he would have no other obligation demanded of him."

"He may well enjoy such a thing," Olenna replied, "I can present the idea to Mace, but it may take some doing."

"I would be grateful. I get along with him, and I'd like to have someone I like as being in charge of training new folk to serve under me."

She returned Olenna to her ladies, feeling good about what she had just asked. Now she just had to find Loras...

...which she did in one of the open areas of the garden; he was training with Brienne. Swords flying, clanging against one another, moves that she could only ever dream of making. Such strength they showed...

She had been amazed at lady Brienne could do it at first, but then, she was a large woman. She looked built for fighting, with her stature.

What luck. She'd been meaning to ask the large woman for a lesson or two. When she looked at Redlady and Winterstorm, she thought--suppose they don't grow large enough to fight for themselves? Or what if they do, and I fall from them and find myself surrounded by bandits or some such...and I have no practice with a weapon? I should have that practice--I should know how to use some kind of weapon, at least, for their safety, and mine.

Guards or no.

"Incredible, is it not?"

Shireen looked up. The voice had come from Oberyn Martell, who for once was not accompanied by Ellaria. She hadn't seen him, strange as that was, but he had been sitting and watching the fight.

"Oh, yes, certainly," she said. "Sometimes I could watch men fight, but I could never see them up close. Mother was always afraid I might be corrupted somehow...or that I might get hurt, being too close to them."

"Your biggest hurt in relation to most men could be the desires they have," Oberyn said. "You have heard, I suppose, of what happened to my sister in this city."

"I've heard whispers," Shireen replied. "It was terrible, what happened to Princess Elia and her children."

"If," Oberyn said, "If she had had better guards, or if she had had Dornishmen about her, it would never have happened, but that hardly mattered when the Mountain scaled Maegor's Holdfast, and bypassed them almost entirely. If she had known what to do with a blade herself, perhaps..."

He looked away.

"...but she was too delicate for so much."

"I'm not," Shireen said, "I had greyscale, and I lived through it. And I am stronger than everyone thinks."

Oberyn smiled. "You are a fighter already, having survived it. Perhaps--perhaps I might make an offer to train you in other matters."

"If you mean to wed me--"

"No, my dear. You are far too young for that, and I do not believe either your father or Lord Tywin would approve such a match. What I mean is, should your dragons ever get large enough to ride, a sword is perhaps not the best weapon to wield astride them."

"How did you know that is what I was thinking of?"

"I did not," he replied evenly, "But I thought I would put it into your mind if you did not. A girl alone should know how to defend herself, and a lady to rule her own keep, in her own name, should know it even more."

There was such a sadness in his eyes, Shireen thought. He was thinking of his poor sister, who he'd wished had been able to wield a weapon in her own defense. If, if...his mind must be filled with ifs.

"My father will be here soon, and he wouldn't approve. But I would like that," Shireen smiled.

He left her be, to seek her first lesson from Brienne, but he promised to return the next evening (with plenty of witnesses to assure everyone he had no intentions on her).

Brienne was resistant to the idea at first. "Stannis will not approve, my lady."

"And if he doesn't?" Shireen asked, "He made it necessary for me to leave in the first place. I don't--I don't want to be helpless again, not like I was before. Please, my lady."

"Perhaps it would be better if you took instruction from Ser Loras--"

"No, my lady. You. Father cannot accuse you of anything, with Ser Loras he could think he was taking aims at the Stormlands."

Brienne, resigned, agreed. Loras fetched a pair of training swords.

There was no actual fighting, but Brienne did show her how to stand, and how to hold it, and what certain blows might look and feel like. Then she and Loras would strike those blows as example.

So the rest of the lesson passed, and when she was heading off to dinner, she made certain to thank them both.


*Oberyn*

The letter came shortly before he normally retired to bed.

Lord Oberyn, it said,

Here is the information you requested. I would ask that you do not spread that I am the one who gave it to you, but as you and I both well know, you can be discreet, when it is called for.

Oberyn glanced over the list and instructions that followed, squinting at the small handwriting and murmuring certain lines as he looked, "...pine resin...beeswax...olive oil..."

"Come to bed," he heard Ellaria say in her luring tone. "My love, we are waiting for you."

"Coming." he called back.


*Tyrion*

He did not like this idea at all, but there was no one more qualified to advise him on the matter. No one with such knowledge of the nearest families.

Tyrion took a deep breath, and entered the room.

Inside, Lady Catelyn sat with Talisa, Dacey Mormont, and several Northern guards.

"Lannister," Catelyn said. "To what do I owe this visit?"

"I would like to ask your advice," Tyrion replied. "I have a unique problem that I believe you would be of some help in solving."

"And what problem might that be?"

"I need to choose a wife, you see, and I've been advised to look within the Riverlands families. I will not impose on you for very long."

She looked put out, but resigned, and gestured to him to sit in the only other chair at the table.

"You are a Lannister," Dacey said, "Surely you can find some woman willing to wed you."

"Still, it is best to make an informed decision," he said. Gods, the woman was tall. And wielded a sword, too--but she was northern, and Mormont to boot. It was like that, that far north. "I would prefer to avoid the Frey girls, if possible. My father did kill theirs, after all."

Catelyn looked thoughtful. "The first that comes to mind is the Blackwoods. They have a daughter, Bethany, but she is still quite young. A girl of eleven or twelve."

"Too young," Tyrion said. "I need a wife grown, able to take her place as soon as may be, in the interest of having a woman to run the household. Not in three or four or more years."

"The Brackens?"

"They claimed their daughters were all promised to other men."

""Smallwood?"

"It seems Lady Carellen charmed her way into the heart of some Fossoway," Tyrion said. "She was at Oldtown for the War, you understand."

"The Mooton girls are all too young for you," Catelyn said. "As is Jeyne Goodbrook..."

Other names were brought up, but only gave more dead ends. Many families she named had daughters of the right age, but most had been married to Freys, or denied they were available altogether.

Tyrion shrugged when she did. "I expected as much, but I thought, still, that you could help me."

"You could always ask my mother if you might marry one of her daughters," Dacey said, "The ladies of Bear Island are tough, and learn early. I'm not so sure they would care for a Lannister, however. Nor that such would be accepted by the expectations of a fine lady of a high lord."

"If you or any of your sisters would have me, I would not be shy of asking," Tyrion replied. "Delicacy is necessary in a wife, but not mandatory at all times...and I have heard nothing but good of the Mormont spirit."

How could he not, with so many Northmen about...

"Indeed," Catelyn said. "Dacey has been at Robb's side as long as any northerner, and fought through every battle."

"But to counteract these advantages," Dacey said, "A Mormont girl could give you no large dowry. We could give you weapons, perhaps, but no gold."

At this point, he would be willing to forgive that. His father, however...

"Are you not your mother's heir?" Catelyn asked her.

"I am," Dacey replied. "But I have sisters."

Is she offering? Tyrion wondered, No, no, she merely makes a polite suggestion. This stunning creature is not only too tall, but too beautiful for me as well.

It was just ambiguous enough for him to wonder...

He thanked them for their time, and then left the room, still puzzling.

But he was not left to his thoughts long. Shortly before coming back to his solar, Pod appeared, waving a letter. "From your father," the boy said breathlessly.

Tyrion took it, and read:

By the time you get this Jaime will already be there. He's not well. That dragon he's riding, it is the dragon queen's last remaining. She is dead and her last dragon seems to have taken a liking to your brother. Simply--be careful of it. And please, make sure Jaime doesn't do anything rash. If anyone can help him now, it is you..

He could hardly believe what he was reading, and half wondered if his father had been drunk when he wrote this...but that couldn't be. The legendary Tywin Lannister did not get as drunk as it would take for that particular mindset. But if a dragon had turned up, and if Jaime HAD mounted it...

Gods what that that would do to the man!

No Jaime. No dragon.

Yet, he thought.

"Let's go outside," Tyrion said.

If the letter had gotten here--BEFORE the dragon, then that could only mean it wouldn't be long before it actually DID appear.


*Jaime*

Pain, in his stomach and his head.

The dragon had made like he was going to go back over the sea, but Jaime could almost feel his hunger, and swerved him back towards King's Landing--they battled it out in thought for what seemed like hours, but in the end, Jaime did win. They turned instead to the Kingswood, and the dragon had his fill of boar, and then, finally, he managed to persuade it to turn back north.

He vomited once, when the dragon turned round, spinning, and shivered in the sudden cold of the air.

"Harrenhal," Jaime said, "Harrenhal, five towers, one of you burned it when you first came here. Biggest towers in the Seven Kingdoms."

His stomach was growling in addition to the pain by the time he spotted the towers on the horizon. He took a deep breath, thinking only of Tyrion. Tyrion, his mind said, trying to get the dragon to listen, he's a dwarf, and he has a little white dragon at his side.

The towers were below them now. The dragon pulled into a dive, and Jaime's stomach leaped into his throat. He vomited again when it swept up near the bottom of the dive to land in the huge courtyard of Harrenhal, and the burning rose again...but then the dragon lowered his head and his wings, and Jaime rolled off him and hit the ground.

A strange little cawing. A white blur over his head.

"Jaime!" he heard Tyrion call. "Jaime, are you alright?"

"Never better," he replied, coughing and spitting bile, "Thought...thought I'd come see you..."

Chapter Text

Tywin, Oberyn, Shireen

*Tywin*

It had been two bad nights, and bad rest, before he got himself back onto an even keel. He'd neglected to spend any time with Sansa, or even to answer his letters.

But today, he had to get back on track. After going through several letters of business, he came upon one from Tyrion.

To my father Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King, Lord Protector Of The Realm, etc,

The Riverlands have panned out in terms of my looking for a wife. Either they are too young and haven't bled yet, or their families insist that they are promised to other men. However, I spoke with Maege Mormont while she and the Mormont forces were here, and she would be willing to part with any of her daughters to me, so long as they will have me. The eldest, Dacey Mormont seems for some reason inclined to look well on me, though why I have no idea.

So I put it to you, if you will allow it, I would have Lady Dacey as my wife. She is capable with weapons but also graceful with dancing and gowns and such, and can behave as a proper lady. She is old enough to not be intimidated by the lords as well, a thing I find especially valuable.

I have heard of the rumor that all of Maege Mormont's children are bastards fathered by a wildling (as I assume you have), but she insists that the rumors are untrue, and that they were trueborn daughters born of a marriage with a cadet member of House Flint.

Your son, Tyrion Lannister, Lord of Harrenhal

He'd heard the rumors, alright, and under most circumstances he would likely have turned down this match. But Tyrion had kept him abreast of the difficulties of his finding a proper wife, and at this point in the venture he knew Tyrion likely wasn't going to be able to do any better. He could choose the young ones, the ones who had barely bled, surely, but they would suit him far less and be much less useful than an older bride. And a bride, at that, capable of understanding the intricacies of defending a keep.

He would have to make a point of getting to know this Maege Mormont, and her eldest daughter, while they were in King's Landing for Sansa's wedding. Then, after that, he would make his judgment.


*Oberyn*

"You should know better, love," Ellaria said, worry in her eyes. "You could become ill from this. The Mountain was less dangerous."

"So long as I follow the instructions to the letter, there is no danger." Oberyn looked over the jar of pastelike liquid he'd created, and gave a wry little smile. "I forged a silver link, I know what I am doing. It is all very simple. At any rate the true risk is minimal at this point. It is only vanity I hope to save."

"Simple isn't the problem," she protested. "And even if minimal, it's still there..."

"So long as I follow the instructions to the letter, everything will be fine. And if anyone knows anything about cleanliness after a mess, it is us."

"If you insist," Ellaria said, pressing a kiss to his hair and moving around to the back of his wheeled chair. "Your heart will kill you one day, I know it."

"Do you have my change of clothes?" he asked the the young man that was following them. "And the implements, and the bag for disposal?"

"Y-yes."

It was well into the night as they set off towards the Maidenvault. The steps were difficult to deal with, but Ellaria and the young man with them helped him down them all the same.

The door they needed was halfway down, past the door to Sansa's. When the guard patrol went around the corner at the other end, Ellaria was the first to get down the hall and into the room. Around the corner the young man watched, careful to note the time it took them to get there and back three more times before he felt brave enough to push Oberyn down to the door they needed.

Door closed--

"Alright," Oberyn said to the young man, "Your job now is to keep track of where the guards are, so we don't run into any of them when we come back out."

"Of course."

"Prince Oberyn?" The soft little voice sounded off. "I didn't think that you would show..."

"I keep my promises, little one," Oberyn grinned.


*Shireen*

Shireen would only have King's Blood until her father came here in . Until he surrendered, and said he wasn't a King anymore. And if that was the case...she should take advantage of it as much as she could until that point.

She had put two leeches only onto her skin this time, and when the time came, when her guests were gone, she insisted on disposing of the more flammable garbage herself. She washed her scars frequently, and for the servants' sake would throw the cloths she used into a sack for disposal. This would be only a little more to throw away.

"I give you this king's blood," she said, tossing the leeches onto the fire, on top of the remains. Her guests hadn't known she'd do this--no, they knew they were helping her, but they were only the first step. "Clear it, and leave no scar."

Redlady and Winterstorm stood by. Thankfully, they seemed to have understood that her guests hadn't meant to hurt her, but given she was still in pain, they were very close, heads nuzzling against her legs.

She felt...something...after she stood there, reciting the words one more time. There was a rush of warmth, all over her body, a warmth that did not pass away when she left the fire and moved over to the basin of water to wash her face. If anything, she got warmer--and nowhere did she feel more hot than her face and neck, on the left side.

"Thank you," she said, to empty air. The dragons curled up, Redlady by on the left side of her head, and Winterstorm on her chest, and like that, they all fell asleep.


The surprise came the next morning; she woke even before the servants came in to see her, when the sky was still a little dark.

Shireen got out of bed, still feeling a little warm, and rushed over to take a glance at her face in the looking-glass.

She gasped.

The scars left from Oberyn's operation were gone, as were the patchy rashes underneath.

The skin that had once been covered in grey stony patches was smooth and clear as she had asked.

But now it was a deep red, like the color of a Dornish wine.

Chapter Text

Sweetrobin

Robin looked again at the red berries. Yohn Royce had gotten them off a ship not too long ago, and said that they would be helpful.

"Are they safe to eat?" he asked.

"Yes," Yohn Royce said. "Sweet, but also bitter like our special ingredient."

Robin ate one of the berries; and while he swallowed it fine, his face was all screwed up afterwards. "Bitter. Like you said. But how do they help?"

"Well," came the whisper, "When one eats the purple flower, he will taste it bitter. Then his tongue will burn, and then it will become numb."

"And?"

"And we will grind it up and put it into a pastry. You will have one too, but it won't have the flower, so he won't suspect. When you eat a pastry too hot, what happens?"

"My tongue burns, and then it's all weird."

"And what does that mean?"

Yohn Royce seemed to want him to figure this out himself. Maybe it was to test how smart he was. Thankfully, he had the answer.

After a little thought, Robin said, "If somebody eats a purple flower pastry that was too hot, he won't notice the burning and weird feeling."

"That is so," came the reply, "Or rather, he won't connect it to poison. He'll just think it's because what he ate was too hot."

Robin paused, looking down again at the berries. He seemed almost sad, but...

...he understood his part. Mother always said that a scorned youth was a future enemy, so maybe that was what happened to Uncle Petyr. People made fun of him (Yohn Royce's men did it all the time) and he got angry and did something to make himself more powerful. But Yohn Royce said that even if people hurt you, any bad decisions you made were on your own head, and not those other people's.


He merely had to wait now. Uncle Petyr always said, when you committed to a plan, you must do whatever you can to make sure that it didn't fail.

The plan Yohn Royce had made was good. But he wanted to make sure.


*Oberyn*

He sat now before Tywin Lannister, a man who had never looked more confused (or upset), than he had ever seen before. Who had demanded an explanation.

"Stannis's daughter was no longer contagious," Oberyn said, "And that in itself made the entire operation safe."

"Suppose you had been wrong?"

"I know more than you think of keeping clean during such an operation," Oberyn said. "I forged a silver link, as I am sure you know. I read the book from the maester who came before me, who invented this method--and it is true he died in greyscale, but this was a special case."

"And you are quite sure it is all gone?"

"Quite. The instructions I received were just as I remember them from the book. All I needed was to come with a sharp enough tool, and be careful to wash and clean what remained underneath with the contents in this jar."

He gestured at the jar; he hadn't used it all. The side had a label with its ingredients, and Tywin was looking over it.

"To think that we had a cure all this time for greyscale..."

"The maesters did not like the thought of anyone attempting it on an active infection, given how the inventor of the cure died. So while they did not hide the book it was found in, they discouraged everyone from trying to use it."

"And the redness on her face now?"

That, Oberyn was not so sure of. Her skin had been a bit blotchy when he had left...but the girl was well now, so he said, "I had to take an extra layer of skin off. It is not much, of course, but she will likely be red for some time. It may be permanent. But she is not hurt by it."

"I see." Tywin looked away from the jar and back up at him. "I suppose this has something to do with her...lessons. Did you think that I or that Stannis would allow this if you gave her a gift like this?"

"Perhaps," Oberyn replied. "I have eight daughters, Lannister. I did not want any of them to be defenseless. Nor do I want the same for her."

"She is not your sister. Shireen Baratheon is well guarded."

"So was my sister Elia."

After a moment of silence, Tywin replied, with an almost angry resigned tone, "Your point is taken."


*Sansa*

Sansa waited, suddenly unsure of what to feel. She'd wanted her family for years, and now...they were actually going to be here. She'd expected to be excited, but...instead, she was almost anxious.

Tywin had had her wait in the Small Hall in the Tower of the Hand, where a feasting table had been set up. It was large enough to fit everyone (everyone who mattered, anyway) and their important guards, and she was at the highest table, though of course not at its head. She was to look the part of Lady Lannister--in other words she was to set aside her modest taste and look as if she had already taken her place. So she sat there, in a gown of light plum silk crowded with Myrish lace about the neck, and the sleeve-ends. Her hair half up, half down, and a diamond pendant at her throat, on the end of a golden chain.

She sipped nervously at a glass of Arbor Gold, careful not to take too much. Just enough, she thought. Just enough to gain a little courage. Of late she had drunk more than she ever had before--not to the point of drunkenness, but enough to think in a quiet corner of her mind that she could now understand why Cersei had drunk so much before her accident. It numbed her, it made this whole thing more bearable.

They had not seen her in that long time, either. They barely knew her now. Before, she was just a silly girl, dreaming of the golden prince, not knowing what she had wanted was full of poison. Now she was here--and while she did not entirely want to be here, things were not as bad as before. Tywin treated her with respect; he did not beat her or have her beaten, he spoke softly to her at times, he let her practice her hand at running a household, he left Cersei's care to her. He trusted her with those things--and he did not trust so easily.

He knows me, she thought. Tywin knew she always acted the proper lady, and that was what he needed in a wife. Not a silly, empty-headed girl who wanted the prestige only, but a woman who would take her duty seriously and make him glad he had chosen her.

He would be here soon.

Sansa sat as straight as she could when she saw the door creaking open at the end of the hall. First there came Robb, and a dark-haired woman she supposed must be Talisa, the latter of whom was sporting a sizable belly.

Then came her mother, and Rickon...

She saw shock in all their eyes when they looked at her--Tywin had told her that on the off chance they did not recognize her, her family would be told where she sat and what she was wearing, that they might properly identify her. And she surprised them all.

I look nothing like I used to, Sansa thought.

She rose from her seat to go meet them, with a stride of confidence that she had been building for a long time.

They were silent--maybe wondering what they could say. Apologize, maybe? But they could be afraid to do it. Afraid of the guilt that they were likely feeling, afraid of what she might say to them as a result. Or they might be waiting for her anger to burst out at them.

I thought I'd be overjoyed.

She had expected to want to run to them, cry from the happiness, but...

...Sansa realized hardly knowing them and being upset for so long that they had tossed her to the lions had had a definite effect. She DID know them, but it didn't feel the same. There were enough people around, also, that she didn't quite feel comfortable rushing over.

What's wrong with me?

Her mother did hug her, did whisper a half-tearful apology, but let her go, so Robb could do the same. It was...it felt...

...somehow so hollow...

Then she turned to Talisa, who smiled a little and said, "You are as beautiful as they have told me the entire way here."

Rickon was next, and for him she found a smile. "You look very well. How is Shaggydog?"

"He's fine," Rickon said, "They wouldn't let me bring him in, he had to stay with Grey Wind and Ghost."

"And where are they now?"

Grey Wind, and Ghost. Jon was here, too, she'd nearly forgotten. Gods, if only she could see Jon now, she would apologize for all her previous behavior.

"The Kingswood," Robb said, "King Tommen was insistent on it, and Tywin Lannister agreed. The King said he wasn't old enough to hunt there yet anyway and if our wolves managed to kill a few boars, he would not mind getting some secondary revenge for his father's death."

More guests came in, and she moved off to the side of the room with them to avoid being overheard; Brienne as always her shadow.

"We never--we never meant to leave you here," Robb said, "I just--I just didn't--"

"I wasn't important enough to surrender for."

He stumbled--but couldn't come up with anything else. It was so. She had not been enough to risk, when held against everything that might have been gained. Or lost.

"It's--it's why I sent the Kingslayer away," her mother said, "He swore that he would help you, and Arya."

"Arya's not here. I haven't seen her in--since before father was--"

"She left," Robb said, "We met a cook at the Crossroads Inn along the way who claims that he met her in Harrenhal, and that she left with a Faceless Man."

"To--how? Where?"

"We don't know. Tywin Lannister offered us help from the spider's little birds, but all we could get from them is tracing her as far as White Harbor. If she made it that far, she's likely in Braavos..."

Arya had always been strong, Sansa thought. Her mother didn't look as if she believed Arya was alive, but SHE knew better. Braavos, she thought. Arya probably would feel safe there, and if she went with a Faceless Man she probably intended to become one. Maybe that was the only way she felt safe.

She'd be fine. Arya always was.

"Has Tywin Lannister treated you well?" Catelyn asked. "No one has--touched you?"

"Yes. King Joffrey--when he was alive, he'd have me beaten, but nothing has been done to me since his grandfather returned. He's--he's treated me as if I am already a part of his house. I've wanted for nothing, and he's trusted me with some important things."

She glossed over Joffrey, as best she could. That felt so far behind her, and she wanted to keep it that way.

"What sorts of things?" It was sad, how desperate her mother sounded. To hear that things were normal? She couldn't say.

"I've been helping the septa take care of Lady Cersei, for one," Sansa said. "You've probably already heard about it. She fell, and now, she's...it's very sad. But she's so different from the way she was before; she needs to be carefully watched."

They let her talk about Cersei for a bit, then Catelyn spoke up again.

"And Shireen Baratheon? Is it true, what they say about her and her dragons?"

"It is," Sansa said, "They're sweet little things, a little demanding, perhaps, but--"

That was when Tywin entered the room, and they all had to take their seats.

Tywin at the head of the high table, Sansa on one side. On his other was Robb, then Catelyn, then Rickon.

"Stannis," Tywin said, "Will be in shortly."


*Stannis, earlier*

The wagon convoy was told to keep its unpleasant cargo in the Dragonpit, inside the half-finished structure for Shireen's dragons and it was there that it and "the Queen's men" stayed.

"I am Stannis Baratheon, Lord of Dragonstone. Let the High Septon, Baelor the Blessed, lords and ladies of the court all bear witness to what I say...King Tommen, first of his name, is the one true heir to the Iron Throne, and by the grace of all the Gods, is Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm."

He would kneel, he would kneel and call Tommen king, but would not lie and call the boy a Baratheon, when he clearly was not.

The boy's feet did not even touch the floor. But his surrender and kneeling was acknowledged in the yet-unchanged voice, no doubt according to what he'd been told to say by his grandfather. "I will restore the lordship of Dragonstone to you, Lord Baratheon. That is your boon...and your punishment."

"And what of Storm's End? It has always been a Baratheon seat."

"That shall be your daughter's. She shall be Lady of Storm's End and rule in her own name."

"Pardon me, your grace," Gods, such a bitter thing that was to say, "--but my daughter is a maid of fourteen. You cannot expect her to know such things as are necessary to rule."

"And I am a boy of nearly ten," Tommen interrupted. "But I sit on the Iron Throne. Lady Shireen came here afraid for her life, and asked my family for a favor we have no reason to take back. That she does not go with you so long as you follow the red god, and so long as your red god's priestess is with you. You may be allowed to instruct her, but you will not be alone with her again."

Shireen still feared him. He had expected such, but at the same time...he had hoped...

"Am I permitted to see and speak to my daughter?"

Tommen gestured to the balcony, and directed four Gold Cloaks to escort Stannis and "his red priestess" there. Shireen was there on that balcony, turned away, presumably talking with someone. He saw the right side of her face, and took a deep breath. She looked so much older than the last time he had seen her; in posture and dress alike she looked the lady she had been born to be.

He was excused, and the next petitioner came forward, the last of the day.

Up the stairs Stannis was directed; Shireen did not look up at him yet, though when he saw the dragons he barely thought to look at anything else. The size of cats they were, with little leather collars and leads of silver chain, linked together. One bloody brass and the other a deep blue like the color of the ocean. They sniffed, and turned to look at him--he thought with suspicious little eyes, given the noises they made at him. As much her guard, he guessed, as the two Red Cloaks behind her.

"No, no," Shireen said. "There is no danger."

"Shireen," he said quietly.

She turned--and he had to throttle a gasp. The greyscale he had expected to see was gone entirely, and in its place a strong deep redness had taken the skin. Flawless, but still a shock.

Melisandre was not nearly so able to keep silent. "Child," she said, "The lord of light has touched you."

"You were not hurt?" Stannis cut in.

"No, father," Shireen replied quietly, "I wasn't hurt at all. It was cramped getting here, but they have only helped me since."

"And who--how did--?"

"Prince Oberyn. He was studying to be a maester when he was younger, and forged a link in medicine. He told me that even though the greyscale was...inert, I think was the word he used...he had read in a book how to remove it."

"And you trusted him?"

She just nodded.

"And what did he ask in return for his service? Did he ask your hand in marriage?"

"No," Shireen replied, "He says I am too young for his taste."

She had fallen into this conversation so easily; he was actually quite proud of her for that. Once he established that she was well, he'd wanted to see what had been going on with her, if she had decided anything. To other concerns.

The dragons cawed.

"And them," he heard Melisandre say, her voice awed. "Your letter was right?"

"Yes," Shireen replied, "Three leeches. I said the words you said and tossed them in the fireplace and when I woke up, they had come."

"What words?" Melisandre asked. "What was the last thing you said during the burning?"

"Give me fire made flesh, for the night is dark and full of terrors."

Melisandre looked stunned, but she said no more.

"Where are they keeping you?" Stannis asked. "Are you in good quarters?"

"Yes, father," Shireen replied, "But I'm not allowed to tell you where I'm staying."

There was so much he wanted to say, but he would not do it in front of so many other people. So he moved on to his last question.

"Tywin Lannister tells me that you have been allowed to look through a list of approved suitors. Have you--did you choose any for further consideration, before I came?"

"No. I was going to make time to meet Rickon Stark when Lady Sansa's wedding occurred, but there were no others that...would serve. If you'll--pardon me. I've arranged to have tea with Lady Cersei."

"With them around?" Stannis gestured to the dragons.

"She loves them," Shireen said, "Come along, Redlady, Winterstorm."

She does not even need me anymore, Stannis thought as he watched his daughter walk away. It stung greatly; his daughter, so young at heart and in mind when last he'd seen her and now--now here she was behaving like a woman grown; she walked like a woman born to rule. Was it the dragons? Was it the company of women like Lady Sansa? The promise of the seat of Storm's End?

Either way, his daughter was changed, and he had been too ambitious to see it.

Chapter Text

Walda, Arya, Cersei, Davos, Shireen, Jon, Catelyn

*Walda*

Walda was happy.

She had never expected to marry well. Perhaps Lord Bolton was a dark, dour sort who had chosen her only because of her grandfather's dowry offer, and maybe his keep was a bit frightening. But still, he was nicer to her than many other men she had been paraded before, and he was handsome in his own way. He did not make japes about her weight and as she did not pry into his duties, found that he left her to hers.

She had asked him, a fortnight ago. He was watching her as she finished the last of a pork pie. And feeling that he was watching her, feeling the shame that her family had instilled in her, Walda asked if he minded that she ate as much as she did.

And he had replied, "Give me a healthy son, wife, and you can eat as much as you please."

Roose had been at her nearly every night, and though he was rough in some ways Walda found it to be exciting. The only ecstasy she had known for a long time was found in a pie or a cake or a well-roasted haunch of pork, but now she had the marriage bed. Even after her moon blood had stopped, when the maester told her that she was with child, she had enjoyed that pleasure with her husband. Now, perhaps, she could understand Amerei a little bit better.

How lucky they both were.

She thought about that a lot since hearing the news. Her father was not the brightest man, nor the wisest. But he did not deserve what had happened to him.

It was grandfather's doing. He had wanted revenge for the slight Robb Stark had shown him, Roose told her, and since the Starks and Lannisters were to be allied, this plot was to be quashed. Lannister men had carried out Lord Tywin's judgment; every Frey son was put to the sword. She grieved for the kinder ones, and the younger ones, but it had felt almost inevitable to Walda; grandfather was never been happy with what he had. He always wanted more, more, more. And all the men of the family died for it.

Too much like Harren, before Aegon came, she thought. Grandfather, you killed your own family. Why couldn't you see what you were doing? It was you who killed my father. It was you, not Tywin Lannister.

If Tywin was the lion who had devoured them, Walder was the one who had herded them into the den.

As Roose was out for the day, Walda busied herself first with letters to what relatives remained to her that she had a particular fondness for. Tyta, Roose had told her, was soon to wed the Greatjon of house Umber. A death wife, he called her. The Greatjon was old, and was not like to ride out to war again, dead men or no. And he would wed her aunt in the Northern way, beneath a weirwood heart tree.

This was not the south, after all. Roose himself had married Walda a second time in this same fashion--she was to be a northerner's wife, and so she would wed in the northern way. It was again dark, a little ominous, but she was growing used to that here. These northerners were more serious than those in the south; and the Bolton weirwood, with its carved face that glared out at the small gathering, was no different.

Tyta reported much the same of the Umber's weirwood heart tree. It looked to her displeased, but her husband to be was there often, praying and asking the old gods for forgiveness in not seeing what his son was becoming, was planning.

Her aunt was doing well in other ways as well--she had made a friend in Smalljon Umber's wife, who was left a widow after her husband was sent to the Wall for his treachery. Walda sent congratulations on this upcoming wedding, and advised her to keep up this friendship as best she could.

We are strangers in this cold North, she wrote, Their gods do not know us and neither do the people. We are Freys, it is too much to expect them to love us. But perhaps we can make them like us.

Then she composed a letter to Amerei.

She congratulated her sister on becoming the Lady of the Crossing, and could not help but add, Father would have been proud of us both, Amerei, in his own way. He always did his best to please grandfather, but it was always in vain. He's paid for that misplaced loyalty in blood.

Perhaps now, mother will leave us both be. Does she bother you as she used? I have had precisely one letter from her since arriving from the Dreadfort, and she could not resist telling me that Lord Bolton will want me to lose the weight. I would tell her that it is hard not to lose weight in this terrible cold, but I won't give her the satisfaction.

Her mother would never bother her in person again, though at Roose's urging she would send her letters for the sake of appearance. But never having to see Mariya again was almost as good a victory as being the lady of such a place as the Dreadfort.


*Arya*

White Harbor was not like Braavos too much, but as a port city she found that she could do at least some of the things that she had done in the other.

When she decided to go home; she knew she wasn't going to go straight to Winterfell, just in case. And when she heard the news that the castle was burned while Robb had been in the south, she felt proved right.

So she stayed, making sure to inquire about the Starks and Lannisters, wearing at different times the face of a Westerosi sailor who had died at sea and the Meereenese goatherder.

The news was encouraging, but confusing. Robb Stark was the lord of Winterfell again, after a brief period as King in the North. Sansa was to marry Tywin Lannister, to keep the peace that had been formed. The former Queen was a halfwit. The list went on, and on, but then came the mention of dragons. She had to debate whether or not it was a good idea to go south, or to make her way to Winterfell and wait there.

She decided to do neither. She had already had enough of dragonfire, of scorching flame, running blood, and choking dust. Best to stay away. She would wait for news that Robb was coming home, and then she would go out to join his host as it made its way towards Winterfell, to be sure there was no trouble.

That would likely not be for at least a moon.

In the meantime, though she was no longer just a girl, she still had what the Faceless Men had taught her. And as long as she had that, she would not go hungry even with the dwindling coppers in her possession. With a thick round branch she found under a fallen tree, she cut and carved little shapes in the dead of night, unseen in the alley she had chosen. And she thought of Jaqen.

Many names for the Many-faced god are offered daily, Jaqen had once told her, and with a smile had added, There is a saying among Faceless Men and cut-throat alike. So long as two men are left alive, one will want another dead.

Arya had a cup of ale and an eel pie from the tavern she next went to, then asked the barkeep what the word around town was. "And not the Starks," she said, in the face and voice of the Meereenese goatherder, now dressed in sailor's clothes. "I mean feud. I come from Bay of Dragons, where Dragon Queen's beast burns the city. I want not to hear of war, but small fight."

"Me and the next tavern over," he said, "But I don't suppose you need to hear about that."

"There is nothing of interest in northern port to me, and my ship stays here some time." Arya replied, "I will listen if you speak. Did someone cheat you?"

The barkeep spun a tale for her; it seemed that the next nearest tavern was owned by a treacherous sort who had indeed cheated him. Cheated and stolen from him, something to do with sources of ale and disappearing bottles. Stunts had cost him many coppers, and more silver than he wanted to talk about.

"I am likely to lose everything if he continues. City guard can do nothing; he hides his theft too well."

"It is too bad you do not have Faceless Men here," Arya said. "They would remove this man, if you paid."

"I haven't got enough to pay with, thanks to this thief," the man replied. "All I could offer was a room and one meal a day."

All she needed to hear. She handed him a carved skull, one of the fruit of her labor with the branch, saying, "I can do this for you. When the other is found I will return and claim my reward, and you will destroy this token."

It took only one face to grant this man his desire, and to give the Many-Faced God another name. The face of freed slave-girl of Meereen was put on, and the thief was more than happy to disappear into the back room with her.

Arya cut his throat and left him bleeding on the floor, gurgling for help with blood on his lips; in the wound she left one of her wood skulls. The cook would find him soon enough, and call for the guards. A strange girl from Essos had been seen entering the back room with him, but no such girl was seen leaving, whether through front or back of the tavern.

The next night Arya slept under the first barkeep's roof, with hot fish soup in her belly.


*Cersei*

Something was wrong.

They loved her, all of them, but when she tried to speak all she could see on their faces was...was...

She could not even think without trouble. They thought she could only speak some words, and that those were all she knew. They were wrong.

But when she tried to say the other words, they did not come out right. And each time she failed, she wanted less and less to speak. It was easy for Dove to say she could do it--when she wanted to say 'Cersei, you look well today' that was what came out her mouth. But for her...

Something she did not see and could not feel stopped words. 'Dove, I am glad you are here' turned into 'Do--ve, glad here.' She fell on a word and each one after it was worry in her head. She saw their eyes when she failed and that was more worry. And rocking. She rocked, not knowing why.

So she stayed silent as much as she could. The words wouldn't come out wrong if she didn't say them.

But they wanted her to. They said she needed to learn, to get better. Every day they asked her to do it more.

But she did not think about this feeling of being stupid for very long. When it hurt most, all she had to do was wait. Fits turned into just anger and anger turned to contentment, then to fits again or heights of joy in less time than it took to walk through the garden.

Another reason she stayed quiet.

If she told them her moods churned like rapid ocean water, Golden might never let her leave her rooms again. Rooms that were her--

--her--

--Every day I lose more words.

Holding close her babe in her dark room, Cersei wept. Golden faded in her mind and turned into thought of Dove.

Dove would come when it was light. She would smile. And help her write.

Lady, too. Lady's face was red now. Lady would bring book and--read. Help her read.

Every day more of mind is lost. What is use of trying when only more is lost? Mind is slipping.

And Son. Son, he did not see her much. He might come today, and that would make her happy too. For a little bit.

I am beautiful, and I am queen

Tears still stained her face when contentment came again.


*Davos*

His wife had been worried beyond belief when she arrived in King's Landing with their younger sons. There was no argument about whether or not what he'd done was right, but she had asked repeatedly if he had been treated well. How they had fed him, how he had been housed.

Even when he answered her in the positive, she still was reluctant to leave his side. His younger sons were less so, once they had seen him and been told he was well. It was Tywin Lannister, he told them. Nothing was wrong, but Lannister was always very cautious.

When he gave them both shed dragonscales from Redlady and Winterstorm, it erased their fears altogether.

Shireen had offered to reward or compensate Marya for Davos's absence and endangerment of his person, but this was refused.

"He did for you what he would do for any young lady," Marya said, "He has a soft place in his heart for such, and as I have given him no daughters, he must get his fill of fathering one elsewhere."

"Perhaps you will yet bear him one," Shireen replied.

"I think not. But it would make me happy."

There was some discussion here that Davos tried not to listen to as he stood some small distance away. Something about moonblood not coming every month and how it was a sign of impending loss of fertility.

Perhaps it was the reason he did not hear or see Stannis coming.

"My daughter seems to do well with your wife," the voice said. "With everyone, in fact."

"She--she was always very kindly, my lord. She makes friends easily."

There was a pause. "I have already spoken of this with Tywin Lannister, but I want to hear it from you directly. I mean no--I must ask this, to ease my own mind, not because I still suspect you. You did not kidnap Shireen?"

"No, my lord. When we brought your body back to Dragonstone, she was there at the harbor in a little cloak. Begging me to take her to King's Landing. That she had seen you and Lady Selyse in the flames, burning her, and that we had to leave, and we had to leave now."

"You have saved her," Stannis said, "No doubt had she stayed, my wife would have had her burned to raise me from the dead instead of giving herself. I should have known better than to trust Baelish, that rat."

"Why do you say that, my lord?"

Not that he'd blame Stannis. He had heard of Baelish, and nothing about the man's reputation spoke him to be good. Friendly, certainly, but--not the kind of man one would generally see as truthful.

"He lied to me," Stannis replied, "He told me that you kidnapped Shireen. That you intended to ransom her."

"A lie that she set out to correct as soon as she got wind of it," Davos replied. "Your daughter, she has been busy since arriving here, as you can tell."

"I can see that. Dragons I did not expect. Friendship with Lady Stark, and...the former Queen. Where my daughter goes, she finds only more friends." Stannis paused, and if he were any other man, Davos would say his tone was sad. "I have missed so much, Ser Davos."

"But you don't have to miss any more. Tywin Lannister only said you couldn't be alone with her. He didn't say you had to stay away entirely."

Silence.

"At any rate," Stannis went on, "Your service is pledged to her now, as she is the lady of Storm's End."

"My lord--"

"Simply do as you have been doing," Stannis cut him off. "You have been more a father to her than I."

"That is not true," Davos replied. "And it is never too late to fix your mistakes."

"I do not intend to give up."

But Davos could see in Stannis's eyes that he was certainly tempted to.


*Shireen*

She sat at the docks, by the water's edge. Here the dragons were allowed to be off their leads. If they misbehaved it would be back on--but they did not. She could not particularly explain it, even, but when she told them they were not to harm people, they listened. And so they relished the open sea air.

Redlady came back with half a burned fish still in her mouth, and sat at Shireen's feet eating it, while Winterstorm harassed a gull over head.

"They are something, aren't they?"

The pleasing voice sounded off, and Shireen shut her book and turned to see--Varys.

"Lord Varys," she said with a smile. "This is unexpected. I did not think you took notice of me."

"It is hard not to take notice of you," he replied. "The daughter of Stannis Baratheon, once an unfortunate child suffering from greyscale. Now the keeper of two dragons and Lady of Storm's End."

"Have you come just to congratulate me?" she asked.

"No. May I sit?"

"Yes, please do."

Varys took the seat nearest her, and said, "I do not come to spy on you, and I hope you believe me. I come to advise you."

"Advise me? On what? Being the lady of the Stormlands?"

"On this red magic I have heard of your using."

"I--I meant no harm by it, my lord," Shireen said. "The Red Lady said I could see in the flames, and I tried the leeches to see if blood would work too. And it did."

"I know," Varys replied. "A child does not begin with intent to harm. But it can very quickly go there, and that is what I want to warn you away from."

"You don't like magic, do you?"

"It is magic that made me what I am today," he said, for the first time since she'd met him displaying some emotion in his voice. It was a mixture of sadness with notes of soft anger. "You have given the world dragons, like Daenerys Targaryen did before the Faceless Men left her to die in Meereen. Your face is restored, even improved. I advise that you stop here."

"I haven't done anything with the leeches since--since I asked for my face to be fixed," Shireen said.

He had advised the Mad King, she thought. Maybe he was afraid that she would become like him too, if she didn't stop giving blood to fire. Maybe he thought she would start burning people when she got older.

"Do you look into the fire?"

"Sometimes," Shireen said. "I don't ask for anything now. I was afraid I might hurt myself if I used the leeches too much."

"And the things you see, do they happen?"

She paused.

Then she looked at him. "I don't know yet."

For several minutes he sat there with her. Watching Redlady half-dozing in the sun, and Winterstorm devouring his seagull.

"I have things to see to," Varys said when the blue dragon landed, rising to his feet. "I mean well, my lady, I can promise you that. I think your father and Ser Davos agree that it would be a tragedy if you leaped into a second fire after escaping the first."

"Thank you, lord Varys. I understand what you're trying to do. I don't want to be like the Mad King."

"I don't believe any of us do, my lady."

Then he nodded, gave a small bow, and left.


*Jon*

He stood there as the three covered wagons were rolled into the room. Lords and ladies gave a wide berth as Stannis's chosen soldiers, formerly "the Queen's men", stayed as always packed close around it. There were noises, but not so loud as usual.

"Approach, Jon Snow," Tommen said. "I've been told that you have come all the way from the Wall to bring news that concerns the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms."

Jon took a deep breath. Robb had given him a nice looking tunic and breeches and boots and he felt like a trussed up ham standing here, addressing the King. A mere boy, perhaps, but with Tywin Lannister for a Hand, he was better off than most. The Old Lion was many bad things, but he would not fail to ensure that his family survived.

"Yes, your grace," he said, looking up at Tommen. "I come regarding the white walkers."

"A tale I have been told before," the boy king said, his tone even. "You claim that they have returned?"

"I do. Maester Aemon of Castle Black sent the ravens, but he is over a hundred years of age, so I have come to bring the proof."

"What proof do you bring?"

This had been arranged beforehand by the Old Lion and Jon thought one last times over what he had been told to say.

He turned to look at the driver of the wagon, and nodded at him.

Then he looked around at the noble lords and ladies.

"I do not bring today a white walker, but what becomes of those whom they reach. Any man, woman, or child who dies beyond the Wall falls into the power of the white walkers."

"And what results?" someone called.

The covering of the wagon was torn off and the still dead stirred into life. They leapt against the bars that kept them inside the wagon, screeching with rotted throats and reaching with stubs and arms.

There were gasps; Jon was sure he heard at least one or two women faint. He looked briefly at Tommen, who had the pale of terror on his face.

Then he looked back to the crowd, gesturing at the wagons of the dead. "This is the fate of every man, woman, and child in Westeros if the Wall is not manned. If supplies are not secured for the Night's Watch. A shield to guard the realm of men, that is the oath that is taken, but a shield is no good in the arm of a broken man on the point of death from starvation."

"I have been told," Tommen said evenly, voice only a little shaky, "That you invited the wildlings south of the Wall for this reason. Is that so?"

"Yes," Jon replied. "There are many who disagreed with that decision, and were circumstances different I would not have done so. But every body that remains on the other side of the Wall becomes meat in the army of the White Walkers and I could not in good conscience do that to the people of Westeros. The wildlings have also fought the dead as long as they have shared the land. They know how to fight these creatures and how to avoid their dead turning against them. When fighting a common foe, you make what allies you must."

"A wise decision, but not an easy one. I commend you for it. Some decisions are not well-received, no matter how vital they are."

There was a pause, and then Tommen spoke again.

"Tell us, Jon Snow, is there any way to end these creatures?"

"Yes, your grace."

He drew out his sword, and said, "This is Longclaw, gifted to me by the previous Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont. Valyrian steel. It is the first of three ways."

There was a gesture to the closest Baratheon soldier. He and two of his companions reached in, grabbing arms or feet of the dead and hacking them off with their swords.

These were then tossed on the ground in front of Jon. He stabbed the first, a wriggling, disgusting foot--and it stopped moving.

"The second way is by dragonglass, of which I am told there is an abundance on Dragonstone." Jon drew from his side a dragonglass dagger. Then he leaned down and stabbed the next, a hand. It too, stopped moving.

"And the third?" Tommen asked.

One of the Baratheon soldiers moved at that. He had been holding a lit torch; a moment later he had handed it over to Jon.

"Fire, your grace."

The flames licked at the moving hand, and soon it like the other two had stopped moving.

"I thank you for the service you have done in bringing this to the crown's attention," Tommen said. "But I must ask what I am sure all the lords in attendance are thinking--the Wall still stands, so why is there such a great need for aid against these creatures? Even with a dwindling Night's Watch the Wall will keep them out, surely."

"It will do no one any good if the enemy is lined up to the horizon. They do not sleep, your grace. They do not need food or water or clothing or rest of any kind. They have the time and the numbers, and we do not."

Tommen paused to consult briefly and quietly with Tywin, whom he gestured up the steps. Then the Old Lion moved back down the steps to his previous place.

"The crown will agree to your request. Mining of Dragonstone will be permitted; a raven will be sent this evening to its castellan. Plans to send supplies and soldiers to the Wall will be made by Houses Baratheon and Lannister. Other houses will be required to do so as well."

"Thank you, your grace."

"I ask you, Jon Snow, for bringing a matter of life and death to the crown's attention, what would you ask in return?"

Jon was stunned. He had not even thought of reward in coming here...

"My uncle Stannis has been given his post at Dragonstone, which he held previously, though he lost it for treachery. Is there anything which you would ask? Lands? Silver?"

"Nothing, your grace. I ask nothing. My concern is not for myself but for the Seven Kingdoms and beyond."

"I have something to ask--for my brother, if I may speak, your grace," Robb cut in.


*Catelyn*

"And what is it that you ask for on your brother's behalf?"

Catelyn watched as Robb stepped forward, made his bow, and spoke.

"Two things, your grace, if you would be gracious enough to grant them. First, I ask that Jon Snow be made free of obligation to the Night's Watch. He was slain by his sworn brothers for allowing the wildlings to come to our side of the Wall, raised again by the priestess of R'hllor, and by the terms of his vow is released. But we ask your leave, regardless."

"It shall be granted," Tommen replied. "What is the second thing you would ask of me?"

She knew. She knew what Robb was going to say before he said it, and it took everything in her to not scold him, to scream at him, for the dumb act.

"I would ask that you name him Stark, your grace."

Again, Tywin Lannister whispered to the boy. This went on for a minute or two, and then Tommen gestured.

Tywin moved down the steps until he stood in front of Jon, and said, "The King is willing to grant both of your requests, and to give you one thing more. As Lord Protector, I have been given the authority to act in King Tommen's name in this matter."

He drew his sword. "Kneel, Jon Snow."

That Lannister gave him what I never would,, she thought. You would have been so proud of him. Standing there and asking nothing, and thinking only of his duty to the realm. Seven hells, Ned, he truly is your son.

"In the name of the Warrior," Tywin said, "I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father, I charge you to be just. In the name of the Mother, I charge you to defend the innocent."

Catelyn could not even find the words. As much as she misliked Jon, she could not deny that he had already done all of those things. He had braved the dead men. He had been just in judgment of the treachery he had suffered and in the matter of the wildlings. And he had defended the innocent, if what Stannis Baratheon said was true. Women and children saved, so many of them, at Hardhome, though they were from beyond the Wall.

"Arise, Jon Stark, a knight of the Seven Kingdoms."

Chapter Text

Sansa, Tywin, Sansa

*Sansa*

No one had ever asked her if she wanted to marry Tywin. When first he told her it would happen, she thought that if she had been asked if it was something she wanted, the answer would have been no.

Now? She wasn't sure. She had been in the south so long, and suffered so much before Tywin had come. And then once he had, things had improved, drastically. Now she was more in the vein of 'uncertain' about him.

Still, it was to happen. Shae had been the one to get her up early and bathe, brush her hair, and so forth.

"You are certain about this Lannister?" Shae asked in that soft accent of hers.

"Surer than I was about Joffrey," Sansa said. "Tywin is not a very kind person, but he won't hurt me."

I'm too valuable to him, she thought. And he realizes that.

Today, she would become Lady Lannister. Today, she would become what her mother had always wanted for her. Just not with the man she'd envisioned.

When Shae had finished with all of that, others came in to her on with the white gown she was to wear, and the grey-white maiden cloak that had been brought from the North.

"You are very beautiful, my lady," one said, "Lord Lannister will be very pleased."

Sansa took a deep breath when the door opened. Her mother and four Red Cloaks were there.

"It's time, Sansa," Catelyn said. There was a weak smile on her face and her daughter could tell this was not happiness, but resignation.


Upon arriving to the Sept, it was Robb who escorted her to Tywin and the septon.

Her stomach seemed to be turning, and she felt a rise of nervous nausea, so high that she could not focus on the words being spoken. But it passed, and she recovered in time to hear, "...you may now cloak the bride and bring her under your protection."

The grey-white maidencloak was dropped from her shoulders, and Tywin was able to attach the red-gold cloak about her shoulders.

"With this kiss, I pledge my love..."

He was old, he was so old, but he was the safest course of action. And she had come to like him in a way. Her father had once told her that though she would most likely have to marry for duty, he would find her a husband she could at least like at the start. For if you liked him, you could build to love. As he had with her mother. Brick by brick, day by day.

"...and take you for my lord and husband..."

Father, I hope you are with me. I hope I haven't disappointed you.

If she could only have a sign.

She hardly heard Tywin's words, then the words of the Seven. She looked up--and their lips met. It was chaste in its way, but it lingered.

Then he moved away, and the septon spoke again. Sansa felt shaky.

I'm no longer a Stark, she thought, knees trembling, I'm not a wolf. I'm a lion now.

As they left the sept afterwards, Sansa stopped briefly on the steps outside, struck by a sudden feeling of sorriness.

...and failure? I failed, she thought, No. No, I didn't, what is that?

She tried to shake it off, but the ill feeling lingered, only fading when she and Tywin were off the steps entirely.


*???*

I'm sorry I failed you


*Sansa*

The banquet that followed did much to lift her spirits. Her family was present, all of her favorite foods were served, and the lemon cakes she was so fond of were quite plentiful. Tywin, severe as always, sat beside her, eating quietly and saying little.

He promised to talk to me, she thought, trying to amuse herself, Not to the rest of the world

As she was watching her brother and mother and the rest of her family, a servant announced that it was time for the giving of gifts to the bride and groom. Tywin rose from his seat and said, "I have a gift not for my bride, but for her family. Those with gifts for the bride only should give their gifts first, to allow time for me to retrieve it."

There was murmuring as he left. But Robb started, gesturing to two northerners to come forward, with two bagged and wrapped items. "To my sister Sansa, I give this reminder of the North. Though your home is now the south, we want you to have these reminders."

He stood and took the first bag, unveiling--a weirwood sapling. A small strip of white wood sprouted from the tied bag at the bottom with three small sprouts, and tiny red leaves forming on each one.

"This one is to be planted in the godswood of King's Landing," Robb said, "As you are expected to be here for some time."

Sansa's hands covered her mouth; tears stung at her eyes as she looked. It was such a small thing, but at the same time...home. She would have a piece of home when they left. "And...and the other? Where will it be taken?"

The other was unveiled in similar fashion.

"To Casterly Rock," Robb said. "Kevan Lannister assures me that there is already one at Casterly Rock, but twisted. This will not replace that one, but having two will surely brighten things there."

"Thank you, Robb," Sansa replied, smiling. "I have missed the weirwood at Winterfell, and to have one here and at Casterly Rock will mean the world."

Next came two gifts from her mother, the first a beautiful necklace that had belonged to her grandmother, "Sent from my brother Edmure," Catelyn said, "He begs your forgiveness for not being able to attend himself."

The second was a pair of beautiful gowns of deep green and blue, baggier in the front and overall light. Gowns for pregnancy, Sansa recognized, made light to keep her cool in warm weather. But pretty all the same. "Thank you, mother."

"I will have more made for you," Catelyn said, "It is hard enough to be with child, but in the wrong conditions it can be unbearable. Heavy gowns, for example..."

They were so beautiful, but still practical. Like her mother, Sansa thought. The woman to had to know that as a Lannister, her daughter would not want for luxuries, and thus pass on giving her jewelry. Her uncle Edmure, perhaps, had no idea what to give her and likely took direction.

There were several other gifts--a pretty little dagger from Maege Mormont, and a pair of thick bearskin cloaks.

"For the coming winter," Maege said, "Nothing is better than bear to stay warm. My husband always said so."

Sansa couldn't help but laugh. "He enjoys being the husband to a bear, then."

"Aye," Maege said, "As I hope you will enjoy being the wife to a lion."

She was glad Tywin hadn't been there to hear the humor, though when Maege sat back down he did reappear.

"I bring my gift now," the Old Lion said, "And I present it not to my wife, but to her family. Lord Stark, if you would stand and meet me."

Robb stood, moving in front of the table.

He looked so unsure, Sansa thought.

Tywin drew the sword from the sheath, and turned it, steadying the blade with his other hand. "I present, Lord Stark, the Valyrian steel sword that was your father's, and his father's before him."

"Ice," Sansa said under her breath. She'd wondered about it--worried what they would have done with it. Now it made sense.

"I thank you, Lord Lannister," Robb said, taking the sword, giving only a little under its weight. "House Stark is grateful to have its ancestral sword returned."

He planned this, Sansa thought, he must have. Tywin must have wanted to have it be public, to show the peace that had been decided between their houses.

Then there were more gifts. Fine gowns for her and doublets for him and rings and necklaces and foods of various kinds--from Oberyn, there were several crates of lemons, oranges, and other citrus fruits.

"You shall drown me in lemons, Prince Oberyn," Sansa smiled. "I am grateful you have brought so many."

"You are not the only one with a fondness for lemons," he replied.


*Tywin*

The pie was slow in coming; some error or the other in the kitchens. One hour, the cooks said, promising it would be worth the wait.

Normally, Tywin would be upset. But he had things he wished to discuss with certain people, and without the delay there would not be time today.

You can always do it later, he thought. But no, you have to do it now, so you can rest later. But later never comes, does it?

It would have to, tonight. He'd have to make it so. Not only did he have to think about himself, but Sansa as well. She would be fearful, fearful and exhausted, once he had taken her maidenhead.

Tywin saw the crowds scattering to walk about for private conversation, and after leaving Sansa to speak with her family, walked off in Maege Mormont's direction.

He caught up with her between a red and a white rosebush. "Lady Mormont, if I might have a moment of your time."

"I suppose this is about my daughter, Lannister?"

"Indeed," Tywin said, "My son writes that you would consent to a match between any of your daughters and himself, should they choose him."

"That was what I said, yes."

"Perhaps I might ask why?"

"Do you think I have aims at your gold? Is that the reason you ask?" Maege looked up at him, suspicious. "My daughter and I have little enough love of gold or silver, except that which the Ironborn manage to carry away."

The Ironborn, of course. He had almost forgotten about them. Only almost.

"What can you give, and what do you expect in return?"

"I can give you weapons, furs, and my daughter. She is trueborn, no matter what the bawdy tales say. I took my vows before a heart tree with her father the same as any other northern bride."

"I am glad to hear that. Now, you can give weapons and furs, you say?"

"Bear Island does trade with the wildlings," Maege said, "They give us their furs and weapons and occasionally goats, and we give them such as they couldn't find north of the Wall."

"And they do not attack you?"

"Sometimes they do, but it is never the ones we trade with. So long as we do not overreach or attack, the ones willing to trade were fair to deal with."

"I see," Tywin nodded. "It is the Ironborn that give you more trouble, then."

"Aye. Of late they have been attacking us more and more often. So far we have been successful in beating them back, but we have had to rely on the more...friendly...wildlings for that when the Ironborn ships come for us."

"I see where you would benefit, then. But your daughter, did she make this suggestion?"

"She seemed interested enough to help her family." Maege paused.

"Interested? She is interested in my son?"

"'A man of large personality,' she told me, 'If not stature.' He had her laughing quite often, in the two days we spent at Harrenhal."

A man who could make her laugh, then. He had been told this by his own lady mother, when she was pregnant with his youngest brother.

You love father?

Yes, Ty. Always.

Why?

He makes me laugh.

It sounded so strange to him, then and now. Were circumstances different, he would have turned this match down as he had one with the Dornish and his elder children so long ago. Cold and immediate. But things were not with Tyrion as they were with his other children at that point. He had little luck so far arranging matches on his own, and if a woman trueborn and noble would have him, she would have to do. No matter how much the deal was weighted in the direction of the woman's family.

And since the Lannister fleet was close to full capacity, it would give one more reason to strike back at those foul Ironborn who had burned that fleet during the Greyjoy rebellion.

"I will agree to this match. Before you leave, I will give you a document stating such, and you will be free to have your eldest wed my son at the soonest possible time."

"And the Iron Islands? No, I shan't even ask. I have heard The Rains Of Castamere several times at this wedding."

"That, we shall decide in the future. But you have more daughters, Lady Mormont. I am sure you could spare another as a noble of the Iron Islands."

He could install Kevan there, perhaps, as its lord paramount, or some other person who could be trusted. Someone experienced with ships. Something to be decided later, there was enough to keep track of right now as it was.

"You'll scatter my girls to all corners of Westeros at this rate, Lannister. But I don't deny my Alysane would love to blacken the eye of the Ironborn herself if given the chance."

Let the rebel Ironborn drown in their sea, Tywin thought, Let them be wiped from the memory of all Westeros. I will not suffer them any longer.

The islands, empty of the Greyjoy scum. He could always install a lesser family at its head, but in these times he would not rely on an upjumped family of a people intent on invasion of all of Westeros. Better Lannisters, or families they were linked to.

Jaime, he thought. Jaime would be helpful in this fight and make things easier for the war against the dead if--

That reminded him.

"I have been told, Lady Mormont," he said suddenly, "That you have been north of the Wall. Is that so?"

"It is, Lannister."

"And have you seen the dead, with your own eyes? Before this cargo?"

"I have. At a distance many times, and up close, once. It was during the last winter, and the customary trip to trade with the wildlings was made into the stay of a fortnight, until the worst of the storm cleared and the ice could be properly broken up. One of the wildlings, a grizzled old man, complained of the cold before he lay down to sleep. Some time during the night he must have died, because he woke everyone with grunts and growls. Blue eyes, terrible eyes, that hated with cold fury. The others rushed forward and dragged him toward their camp fire, and the screeching...by the old gods, the screeching..."

"I presume when they burned him, the...unlife left him."

"Yes. They left him to burn, to be sure."

Unsettling. But necessary.

He thanked Maege, and left her to her daughter.

Tywin had not intended to speak to Catelyn Stark, but when she crossed his way at the fork of a path before him, he called out to her.

"Lady Stark, a word, if you will."

"Lord Lannister." Catelyn took a deep breath and fell into step beside him. "What is it you wish to speak about?"

"The welfare of your family, if I may be so bold."

He had thought on this for a long time. Deliberated what he should say, and to whom. And in the end, he had decided that one person only needed to hear the words at this point in time. Enough to prevent trouble.

"Have you discovered another plot?" she asked.

"No."

Tywin lead her off to a quiet path, and as he spoke next, he kept his voice low. "I have a gift for you as well, Lady Stark."

"Why are you speaking so softly?" she asked him.

"Because what I say to you must reach no other ears."

"What is this gift, then?" The shadows of the nearest trees fell over her face when they stopped. The last passing couple was gone, and they were alone.

"Your husband did not betray you."

"What? How could you know that--?!"

"Quiet, Lady Stark," Tywin replied, "I know because anyone with half a brain at that time, who saw Eddard Stark as he returned from Dorne, could know that he had not the inclination for making bastards. He had his errand, his duty to attend to. Did you never wonder why he was in such a hurry to return the infant to Winterfell?"

"No. He would never tell me about it. He--grew angry with me, when I asked."

"Robert slew one Targaryen, my son another, and Gregor Clegane, Rhaegar's wife and children. He would have made it a priority to have any remaining killed--had he known of them."

"But my Ned went to retrieve his sister, he said so--"

Tywin could see the wheels turning in her head, but then they stopped entirely as they struck realization. Shock spread over her face.

"That is my gift to you, Lady Stark. The knowledge that your husband did not betray you. He was trying only to save his sister's son."

"If...if...this is so...then why--why wouldn't he tell me?"

"I cannot say. Perhaps at first because he did not know you. And then, perhaps, because of how much you misliked the boy. Perhaps he was afraid of what you might say."

Catelyn paused, and then he turned away to walk back with her.

He had half-expected her to ask why they had not named Jon a Targaryen instead of a Stark. But she had to know better, he thought. No one wished the name to return, even if the dragons had returned.

And Jon, in any case, had always been a Stark.


No sooner did he part from her and return to the crowd when a Red Cloak rushed forward to meet him.

"My lord, we've been looking for you. Something--needs your attention."

"And what might that be?"

Did the demands never end?

"A knight begs accommodation for the night," he said.

Of course. Several knights had asked the same favor at Tommen's wedding, knowing the old superstition. It was considered ill luck to refuse a knight hospitality at one. At least it was only one this time.

"Is it someone I know?" he asked, "Let us see this knight."

The Red Cloak lead him across the gardens and he had to refuse talking to several people as he passed them. He was finally stopped by a scattering of blue violets, and looked with mild curiosity at the hooded figure before him.

"Which Ser might you be?"

The figure looked up and spoke in a deep voice. "Ser Barristan, my lord."

"Ser Barristan--"

The hood fell back, revealing a face greatly changed from the one Tywin remembered. He was burned on one side, the left side, opposite to that which the Hound had had. And his burns went farther down--all the way down his neck and likely, Tywin guessed, to his shoulder and possibly even farther. The hair on that side of his head was gone as well, but he had combed some other over it in a vain attempt to hide the worst of the burns.

Tywin paused, considering his options, but settled on, "Why have you returned?"

"Because the King who dismissed me has passed. Because the Queen I chose to serve afterwards has died. And because I want to serve my King again, if he will have me."

"You have come at an opportune time, Ser Barristan," Tywin said. "My son has been dismissed from the Kingsguard. And the manner of your dismissal was--poorly done. I am sure King Tommen will be glad to have you."

There was no reason to doubt him, Tywin thought. The man ached to serve, and with Tommen, he would be better put to use than he would in Essos, being some slaver's hired sword. He had not been treacherous in any form, and to have him back was a boon greater than he could hope for.

"There is much we must speak of, Ser Barristan," he said, before reaching into his pocket for a few pieces of silver. "You are welcome to join in the feasting while you are here; these are for your stay in an inn tonight. Tomorrow I will have King Tommen re-welcome you to the Kingsguard."

"Nothing would make me happier, my lord. Thank you. And congratulations on your marriage."

Such simple pleasures, Tywin thought, watching as Ser Barristan left.


The bedding ceremony, he had vetoed entirely. Sansa was too skittish and he was too old to put up with such a thing. So it happened that they entered his chamber in the Tower of the Hand fully clothed.

"What have you been told about the marriage bed?"

"That it--will hurt, my lord, when you take my maidenhead, but not after that. That I would lay on my back and you would use me."

"It can be far more pleasant than that, if you learn," Tywin replied. "And in these quarters, you may use my name."

"Thank you--Tywin."

"You can undress," he said, taking a deep breath. "I will make this hurt as little as possible, but that requires work from you."

He watched as Sansa slowly removed her gown. The samite fabric pooled on the floor at her feet, and a few moments later she turned. "The--smallclothes as well?"

Tywin had entered this marriage for political reasons, but even he could admit that he had been very lucky in his choice. Sansa's skin was perfectly smooth, unblemished save for a few freckles here and there. Admiring her body still, he kept his eyes on her breasts when he said, "Yes."

His cock twitched when Sansa's smallclothes hit the floor. Breasts, perfectly round, capped with rosy nipples, and lower down, between her legs, he saw the little tuft of red curly hair. Unseen by any but other women, until him.

"Lay down on the bed," he said. "And make certain you are comfortable."

"Are--are you going to inspect me?"

"No," Tywin replied. "I am going to undress, but while I am doing that you will be getting yourself ready for me."

He stepped forward, spreading her legs as delicately as he could, then reached forward, pressing against that little nub above her womanhood--

Sansa tensed.

"Did that hurt?"

"No, I...it felt--"

"Good?"

She paused briefly, but answered, "Yes."

"I want you to reach down," he said, "While I am undressing, and stroke that place with your forefinger, or middle finger. You may need to take a few moments to find where it feels best, but it will be on or around that little bud of flesh."

Sansa blushed, but she reached her soft white hands down, awkwardly brushing where he'd told her to with the forefinger of her right hand. He watched her for several seconds as she found the best place to touch, and when she made a little gasp, he turned away to disrobe himself.

Tywin was slow about it. Doublet removed, and put aside as it should be. Boots neatly beside the desk in the corner. Breeches laid over there, folded.

And as he removed his own singular pair of smallclothes, he heard Sansa gasping.

"What's this?" she asked, when he looked over. "I feel...I feel so warm, and...I'm..."

"Wet?"

"Yes."

"It means that you're ready," he replied. "If you are wet, it will hurt you less to take me."

He was ready, too.


*Sansa*

His body was not what she had expected. There were scars on his chest here and there, scattered underneath the faded silver-gold clusters of hair.

But south...

It was like a worm, or perhaps a snake, raised to attack, and she couldn't help but look away from it when he joined her on the bed.

"There will be time for familiarity later," Tywin said, "But for the moment, you do not have to look at me if you do not care to."

"Thank you," Sansa replied quietly.

She did manage to look up as he positioned himself over her, and to meet his eyes when she felt the head of his length pressing against her entrance.

He didn't move into her all at once. Instead, he eased the head of his cock into her, giving her a moment, she guessed, to get used to the feel of him. It didn't hurt yet--instead, it was more like he was stretching her inside.

A moment later, however--

Sansa felt a twinge of pain, but no more as her new husband filled her entirely, and she looked up, half amazed. "That--that barely hurt at all."

Because he made me ready, she thought, At least he was considerate of that.

There was something pleasant about it, as gentle as he had been. Some good feeling that came from being filled with him, though she couldn't guess what it would lead to yet.

Tywin's hips moved against her almost stiffly for a few moments, thrusting his manhood and filling her again and again until he began to go more steadily. And as he moved, she felt the pleasure rising, a tense knot in her gut that she couldn't push back.

"You feel--" she said, almost breathlessly, "--it feels good."

"Good," he grunted.

He did not seem eager to talk, and as he began to thrust into her more quickly, she could understand why. If he was feeling what she was--if the same pleasure that filled her was filling him--she could understand.

When she stifled a moan, he whispered in her ear to encourage it. And when she gave him the moan she wanted as he sheathed himself within her again, he thrust in all the more quickly. He liked it, she decided, he liked to hear that she enjoyed his attention.

The pleasure leaped higher on the next inward thrust, and her sounds moved up as well. "Please..." she said, looking up at him, "...what is...what is this?"

Tywin did not answer her. His eyes were half closed, gaze focused down at her body.

--a brief flicker of feeling nothing rose, but then it struck!--

Sansa shuddered, giving off an, Oh as the knot in her gut pulled tight, and released. A flash of ecstasy struck and seized her with its lusty fire, burning outward from the place where they were joined to flood the rest of her body. Three seconds, four...five...and then it fell back into a dreamy warmth that left her feeling completely relaxed.

She hadn't known it could be that way. Could feel so good.

But he did, she thought easily, looking up. His turn came next, and it was his pleasure that would count here.

There were little aftershocks as he continued his invasion of her, but soon enough she could feel him tensing. Was he--?

Tywin's eyes shut, but Sansa could see him, feel him, shuddering as well. And inside, from his cock, she could feel a series of pulses that must be his seed spilling into her.

When he reopened his eyes he met hers, and withdrew from her. "You are mine now, Sansa, in earnest."

She was surprised yet again when he did not order her to leave the room; she would daresay he seemed to enjoy that she wished to curl up to him afterwards.

It was good after all, she thought, resting her head on his chest and feeling drowsiness rising.

Sansa Lannister slept then, next to the husband she had not expected to enjoy.

Chapter Text

Brienne, Tyrion, Robin, Gendry

"In the name of the Warrior I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father I charge you to be just. In the name of the Mother I charge you to defend the young and innocent. In the name of the Maiden, I charge you to protect all women...."

She had never wanted to smile and yet been unable to so much as she had right then. She kept the serious look on her face as Ser Barristan's sword touched each of her shoulders alternately.

Lord Lannister had done her an honor, she thought, by having Ser Barristan knight her. If only her father could be here to see it. No doubt he would be very proud...and he would be proud as it was, when she sent her next letter and signed it Ser Brienne.

Lannister was many bad things, but serve him well and he kept his promises to you.

She was allowed to stand and realized that the smile on Ser Barristan's face was a genuine one.

The small group that had served as witnesses began to disperse; he spoke once they were gone.

"A break with tradition, to be sure," Ser Barristan said, "But change is necessary, with the darkest nightmares of children now a waking reality. Perhaps there will be more lady knights, by the time all is said and done."

"My father's maester always said that we needed to change and grow," Brienne replied, "And that if we did not, we would perish."

"A wise man," Ser Barristan said. "You have come farther than I believe even he might have thought. But don't think yet that the struggle for respect is over. That war will never be over, and you will have to fight until the day you lay down your sword."

"I would rather die with it in hand than put it away and fade, witless and feeble like some old man. I mean no offense to you."

Ser Barristan only laughed. "I take none. I wish the same for myself. Perhaps you could help me keep my skills sharp."


*Tyrion*

"You wish to do what?" Tycho Nestoris did not look upset, and Tyrion counted that a victory.

"Establish a...smaller branch of sorts, of the Iron Bank here," Tyrion said, "Surely you see the benefits of ready capital in an area so rich with farms--for both sides. A man gets a loan so he may purchase five chickens and two goats, sells eggs and milk, and prospers. As does the bank, when he repays that loan."

"Smaller loans," the long-bearded man nodded, "Not a new concept to us, of course. And where might you be offering to put this bank?"

"Where the ruined sept was," Tyrion said, "I have cleared the remains away, and have the materials to construct a new building."

"And I am the first person you make the offer to?"

"Perhaps not the first I considered, but certainly more beneficial to the people."

"I can quite agree," Tycho replied, "It would be my pleasure to suggest this to my superiors. But of course I must ask you other questions that they will ask me--such as who will pay for the construction? What of the tax rate we will be charged?"

"You would be expected to pay the same as any other merchant. The construction of a bank with vault will be relatively easy, considering. I could make the offer of paying for the construction of the building itself, while you and yours handle the building of the vault inside."

"I am fairly certain my superiors would agree with that, but I will not speak for them until I am certain."

"Will you be staying in Westeros, or will you return to Essos to speak to your superiors of this?"

"I'll be leaving. Your father has given us the first repayment, and I intend to see it delivered. I can put this to them then, and have news to you relatively soon. Now, one last question--what of the dragon? We are in Harrenhal, after all, and the presence of a black dragon is...unnerving."

"The dragon will not be a problem," Tyrion said. "He is...bonded, for lack of a better word, to Ser Jaime, who has had no trouble controlling him."

"He has not harmed the grounds in any way?"

"Torn up some trees in the godswood, perhaps. But Jaime has told me he's merely making a proper place to sleep." Tyrion said.

"A dragonpit of sorts. That will make many feel more comfortable."

"I considered putting it within the walls of the main keep, but I still do not know how large the big one will get. It seemed the least risky option."

"You ought to have been a banker, with risk assessment like that, Lord Lannister. You would have made a wonderful addition to our ranks."

"Perhaps if this does not work out, I will give it a try. Good afternoon."

Tycho Nestoris gave a little bow, and headed out, leaving Tyrion alone.

He thought on Jaime for a little bit, and on the black dragon, too. His brother had come to Harrenhal hungover, in pain, and completely airsick, asking Tyrion for...well, to help him, that was all he could understand.

The black dragon had nosed Jaime's weak body, and snorted at Impwing as the littler dragon flew up before him. It had screeched, and he'd snorted again.

The little one had then flown straight back to Tyrion.

It became abundantly clear that Jaime needed something to do. He was drunk so often after that, and more than once did he hear of Jaime half-sobbing and with blonde whores in his bed.

The very morning of the meeting with Tycho Nestoris, he had finally sobered up properly.


*Earlier That Day*

"I don't know what to do," he said. "Without her, I--"

"--you feel lost?"

"I don't know who I am without her."

"You are Ser Jaime Lannister. Kingslayer. Dragon rider."

"Kinslayer," Jaime replied bitterly, "In more ways that one. I--I couldn't have ridden the big one if I wasn't--"

"Jaime, this is not helpful. You need to focus on something else. You are a swordsman even without your right hand. Are you not? And now you have the dragon. The Golden Lion of Lannister astride a dragon would frighten any of our enemies."

"A lion under dragon scales," he hiccuped. "What am I? What am I supposed to do with that?"

"Jaime!"

"What?"

"Think what a dragon and a swordsman are good for, and then do that."

"Killing things," he said. "I hear the dead have returned. Maybe I should go to the Wall..."

"...perhaps the Iron Islands first. The Greyjoys have given us an endless amount of trouble of late."

Jaime paused, and then seemed to smile.

"Something funny, brother?" Tyrion couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the man smile like that.

"He would like that," Jaime said slowly. "I can't explain it. He wants to burn people, but he wants them to deserve it."

"Give us time to figure out what father's plan is, then," Tyrion said. "And as soon as we know what it is, we'll tell you. I can't say if Greyjoy or the dead will be what happens first, though."

Jaime seemed happier, or at least less weepy, after that. He'd gone to the godswood with the dragon, working on that 'dragonpit' he'd talked about, although it was really more like a burrow or a cave.

For the moment, Impwing was content to stick close to Tyrion himself. That, he suspected, would change as he got bigger. The two got on reasonably well, as the little one always seemed to know that though Tyrion was in charge, the bigger dragon was the superior of the two of them. The alpha wolf, if they were wolves.

He had tried feeding them together, and noted that the bigger one would share his food--perhaps share was not the right word, though, considering how little Impwing ate in comparison. That was encouraging, but he made a note to keep an eye on them.

Tyrion walked out of the keep and over towards the entrance of the godswood, thinking. Feeding Impwing was one thing, but adding the big one was another. Rabbits, he thought. Rabbits could be a good way to bolster what they could be fed. There were not many in the godswood at present, and they bred very quickly. As for the bigger one...he would have to think about that.

Perhaps he could introduce more boars to the godswood, too...

Suddenly thirsty, he decided to head towards the well for some water, but no sooner had he gotten some than one of the guards from the gatehouse area gestured to him.

Gods, what was it now?

He approached anyway. "Something wrong, Ser?"

"No. Well, yes. We've a woman asking shelter--"

"Could she not go to Harrentown?"

Surely they would find room for her, one way or another. Many women were on the road these days.

He expected a young, perhaps not beautiful, but determined sort of woman. He did not, in fact, expect what he got, which was a woman so very stooped and short that she could almost meet his eyes. It was not often that he met another dwarf, and she looked so grieved that he immediately felt for her.

"The weather is cold, my lady, and you do not look well."

"What is well?" the dwarf woman said, "I have not been well for many a year."

"My guards tell me you beg shelter."

"I ask shelter and more," she coughed here, "And I can pay for it, but not with gold. Oh no, Lord Imp, not gold."

"What is it you want?"

The woman took a deep, raggedy breath. "A warm meal in my guts, a cup of wine, a song, and a warm bed to die in."

"I can have the maester--"

"No, I have seen it long before this day. Two lions astride dragons in the house of Harren's ruin, and then I, with my old bones, come to draw my last breath."

"You are a fortune-teller, then?" he guided her away, towards the Hall of a Hundred Hearths. There was always some kind of food cooking there, he could see to it she got some. This woman, she looked--broken, and he had a tender spot for broken things.

"Ha!" The woman half-cackled, "If I were only that, I would not have seen all that I have. I see, Imp, I SEE, more than you would ever want to know."

"And that, I imagine, is your payment?"

She only nodded. They reached the Hall of a Hundred Hearths and he had Pod (who had appeared from seemingly nowhere. How DID that boy get around so quickly?) get her a large bowl of stew and a cup of wine from the brewhouse.

"There you are, my lady," Tyrion said, "You have your meal and your wine, and I am sure that your body thanks you for it."

"As I thank you, Lord Imp. If you would give me my song, I can give you my news."

"What song would that be?"

"Do you have any men that know my Jenny's song?"

"Jenny of Oldstones?" Pod suddenly spoke up.

"Yes, boy. You know it?"

"Yes, m'lady. Shall I sing it for you?"

She smiled, a weak frail old smile, and Pod began.

"High in the halls of the kings who are gone..."

It was beautiful, even Tyrion could agree so. When did his squire become so talented a singer? It was as if he was practiced at it.

The old woman seemed to be half-weeping by the time it was over. "Such a pretty voice, boy. You ought to have been a minstrel."

Pod turned red at that. "Thank you, m'lady."

The woman paused, looking into her cup. "Two dragons I dreamt, in a house of lions. A maid of stone with a flaming heart, flying with the wolf, but another wolf soon after, chasing a snake in the grass and its dancing fire, with the music of dragons in the air. Then more dragons came, until I thought myself deaf from the loudness of their cries. A line--a great line I dreamt, man and bear and lion and fish and wolf and dragon and more, too many to count. The Seven I dreamt too, the red god, the old and dark gods, all standing together."

"Against what?" Tyrion asked, reasonably certain of the answer.

"Death itself I dreamt," the woman's voice was softer now, "A death with no mouth, screaming agony out as it walked into darkness."

Here she went silent, but only for a moment.

"Jenny," the woman said, staring into her cup. "My dear Jenny..."

He had Pod direct her to a suitable room, but the boy said later that he had to carry her the last half of the way. The maester came by later but said there was nothing more he could do for her.

She died during the night, the name of Jenny still on her lips.


*Robin*

You are still quite small, Yohn Royce had told him, and your mother and Baelish see you as still a child, with a child's understanding. But that is your advantage.

He was cute and adorable, and they didn't see him as somebody who could think much or make plans.

For two weeks now he had made a habit of having those red berry pastries with Uncle Petyr when he came in to give him the sweetsleep late at night.

"You know your mother doesn't want you having sweets this late at night," uncle Petyr had said that first time.

"I know, but I wanted to eat one without people watching me. Everyone always watches me when I eat and I don't like it."

"You are your father's heir. They think you should have no sweets at all. And no sweetmilk, on top of that."

"Well I want them. I'm always hungry at night when you wake me up."


He'd thought he would do it tonight. But tonight, his mother had not come in alone. Sooner than he'd expected.

"Mama," he said, mimicking the smile on her face. "You look happy."

"I am happy, love," his mother said. "We have some good news for you. Come in, my dear."

Uncle Petyr appeared in the doorway a moment later.

"What's happened, mama?"

"You are going to be a brother," she said, "I am with child."

"That's wonderful, mama."

I have to protect mama from him, Robin thought, Yohn Royce says he is only using her. She loved me when papa was gone. She can have the baby to love when uncle Petyr is gone.

"Do you know if it's a girl or a boy?" He questioned, keeping his eye on the plate by the window all the time.

"No, love," his mother said, "We won't know that until it is born. I wanted to talk to you about that, you know, because as an older brother you will--"

Pause.

"Robin, what is that at the window you're looking at?" Her voice was half-stern, not angry, but a bit sharp.

He looked down.

"What is it, Robin?"

"Sweets, mama."

"You know you aren't supposed to have them," she said, "Not this late at night."

"They're for me," uncle Petyr said quickly, giving a strange smile Robin didn't like as he went across the room to retrieve them. Then he went back and sat down. "Robin feels he has to bribe me for stories at night."

"Wherever did you get that idea, love?"

"Not a lot of people talk to me," Robin said. "That aren't knights I mean." He made sure not to look when the first pastry was eaten. Don't look, Yohn had said. It's a way of making sure that something is being done, but if you do that then they could get suspicious. He'd realized

"I can have someone fostered here, if you wish," his mother said, "You should have the company of more children your own age. It is a pity that the King is the King, or we could have had him here. You got on well with him when we lived in King's Landing."

He nodded.

You must not show him that anything is wrong, Yohn Royce's words rang still in his head, Focus on a toy. Pretend how tired you are, perhaps yawn.

Then the second pastry.

Two...wasn't that too much?

No, too much wasn't possible. There could never be too much. Now he was sure.

The plate came back down, and Robin decided to look up at him, using that tone of voice that always made his mother happy. "Do you want a daughter or a son, uncle Petyr?"

"I would be happy with either," was the reply. "Perhaps a son with my business sense. Or a daughter, with her mother's beauty."

His eyes looked far away.

"We should go, my dear," he said a moment later. "Our little lord needs his sleep, after all."

"Of course."

Robin's mother stood, leading uncle Petyr back out.

"Goodnight mama. Uncle Petyr."

Goodnight.

He wanted to say something more. Mother, I've done a bad thing. I'm sorry. I've been bad, mother.

But he stayed quiet.

This is for your own good, he remembered his father saying once, while scolding him for some bad thing he'd done. He remembered a wrinkled old face and rough hands.You don't always understand why, but I do it to help you.

Robin lay back, yawning. He hadn't been given sweetsleep, but he felt sleepier than he had in ages. He would ask Yohn Royce about that in the morning. He hadn't really done all that much today,

He hoped it would work.

From the screaming he heard the next morning, he knew it had.

This is for your own good, mother. You won't understand why, but it's to help you.


*Gendry*

Tobho Mott had found him almost as soon as he came looking around for a smith to work for, some weeks back.

"Boy, what are you doing out here? Come back with me."

"I will if you answer a question," Gendry said. He'd wanted to protest but he hadn't had much luck. "Why did you sell me to the Night's Watch?"

"I didn't sell you," Mott said, "You were in danger, boy, and you must've known that. I've heard there was trouble from the Gold Cloaks for some time, I've no idea why. I was--trying to protect you."

Gendry took a deep breath.

Mott wasn't the most pleasant man, but he could believe that was the case, after what he'd learned. After what he'd escaped.

He still didn't know why the red woman had done it, had let him go. They had kept him locked up down in that wretched cell, and brought him out only to give him more leeches. When she'd come to him again...

...he hadn't asked why. Why she let him out, lead him to the shore, to a rowboat. Why she'd told him to go straight back to King's Landing. That she had seen in the flames he was safe. That she had seen in the flames that the Lord of Light had a purpose for him, a purpose outside of being leeched. That he would be happy if only he could see what was planned for him in the grand scheme of her god in his battle.

He'd told her that was a load of shit. But he had taken the boat, too. And in a damn rowboat where else could he go besides towards King's Landing?

The rowing had taken too long. And the walking, even longer. But he'd gotten there.

And now he was here again, back at the forge, working at what made him most happy. King Robert was dead, and so was whoever had ordered him dead, it seemed, because no one had yet come back to the smithy to have him killed.

He thought about it now and then. A king's son. A grand thought, from a safe place. But the whole business of being hunted merely for being the man's son, despite never knowing him, put him off from thinking on that too often. Let the others have to fight for their lives and deal with those pompous, smug, stuck up lords. He was happy here, with his hammer and the smithy.

And Mott, in a way.

Mott was slowing down, so spent most of his time dealing with the customers. That left Gendry to do most of the work.

Today was a minor exception. A rather nervous looking fellow with brown hair and a sack in his hand had come in a half hour after Mott had left for the market. "This Tobho Mott's?"

"It is," Gendry said. "He's off getting some fish for dinner, but I can help you, I'm his apprentice. What is it you need?"

"Some proper armor," the man replied, "A replacement for my sword."

He held the sword up.

"Be expensive," Gendry said, trying his best to imitate Mott. "This is not a roadside smithy, after all. And it could take a bit."

"I can wait," the man replied. "I've the time for it. As for payment..."

He stuck his hand into the bag, and pulled out rather a strange looking rock. A strange sort of grey, like the color of the ashes that fire left, with streaks of orange almost like incomplete swords. And...egg shaped...

There was a tug inside him, almost immediately.

"Might I hold it first?"

It was handed over. He held it, looked down at the thing. "If this is real," he said, "Why is a suit of armor and a sword all you want for it? You could go anywhere here and get a fortune. You could go across the Narrow Sea and get a whole palace for it, like as not."

"I'm no fool," the man said, "If I take it to a rich man and ask to be paid, I'm as like to be gutted as not, with winter so close. I might get that before I even get to someone to sell it to--you know how the cut-throats are these days. I'd like to keep on living, thanks, and I'll do it better if I've the tools for it. Let someone else sort that out, if I have a sword and a good bit of armor I can do the rest."

"Perhaps a bag of coppers, too," Gendry said. "At the very least."

He knew what he held. Everyone knew of the dragon eggs, of their value. He might see it the same way as this man--

"What's this about, then?"

Mott reappeared with a small basket of fish, and looked at them both with suspicious eyes.

"Trying t'get some armor and a new sword," the man said. "And I've paid, so I--"

Mott spotted the egg, and his eyes widened. He looked back with no small alarm at the other man. "Where did you steal THAT from?"

"Summerhall," the man said. "And I didn't steal it! Lots o' folk dig around in there looking for precious gems. Been years but people still find things, now'n again. I rode here as fast as I could with it when I found it."

"So no angry lords are going to appear in my shop, asking for answers? Why haven't you gone to some--"

"He doesn't want to try looking for someone to sell to," Gendry said. "Thinks he'll get split open like a purse if he tries."

There was a pause.

"Alright, fine, we'll take it," Mott said. "But don't go blabbing about it to anyone, either of you."

He told Gendry to put the egg away and to get to work on the sword, and that he would show the man around to the armors already available in the shop. Of late there were more sellswords than usual in the city, more guards, more traffic in the harbor from Essos, and so sales of armor in general increased. He hoped he wouldn't have to smith an entire suit of armor; maybe the man would be happy with one of the few that were set out for display. (Always a good idea, Mott said, to show the quality of your work before they buy).

It was the right color, Gendry decided, so he put it down in the forge, right with the coal and after some pushing around it looked to be right at home. Then he set to work on the sword.


It took a week for the sword to be properly done, and Gendry could not help but be proud of it. He pricked his finger on the end, trying to check the sharpness of the blade, and winced only a little. This was some of his best work, he decided.

"Quite a bit of work there," he said. "Now what are we going to do with the egg?"

"We'll figure that out soon enough. With something so valuable, you can't rush to look for a buyer. There are not many who are both willing and able to pay the price without trying to cheat you or kill you. This close to winter--"

"I know."

Gods, was he tired of hearing about winter. That was all anyone seemed to talk about; that and the dead men. Dead men, alive. The white walkers, real! it was enough to make his head spin. And he was no coward--but he was glad to think that he would likely not be called away from the smithy. Skill like his would be needed, if all that was said was true.

He was not craven. But Mott said it was easy to call a man craven when you are not the one facing what he does. And to be happy with what you had, if it was useful.

The man talked, entirely too much.

He reached down for the egg, and wondered what it would have looked like in life, had it hatched. Like a chunk of ash with reds everywhere, maybe?

It was hard to say.

The blood smeared on the outside of the egg, and the touch burned--he drew his hand back, chiding himself internally.

That was a stupid move, Gendry, he thought. You little bastard, you burnt my finger! If you were awake, I swear I'd...

Waking up.

He shook the thought off and rather than emptying the ash, covered the egg with it. Better off that way, he decided.

The man came for his sword a few minutes later, and was gone almost as soon as it was put into his hand. The forge cooled, and Gendry went to bed.


"Seven HELLS!"