“don’t worry mother, your daughter is a soldier”
281 AC, Oldtown
They were close to landing. Oldtown and its mighty Hightower were visible for a while now, the city was waiting for them with all its glory. Their mortal enemies for centuries, bound up with blood by the line of Maekar and Dyanna but still mortal enemies nevertheless, were going to land in their city for the first time in years.
The last that happened, was years ago. The last Dayne who had entered this city with an invitation from the Hightowers, the last Dayne who looked to the city from this angle, the last Dayne that the city had welcomed with respect was Dyanna Dayne, the Princess of Summerhall.
The Queen that they should’ve had.
She was a remarkable woman who had too much love in her heart and with her stubbornness she managed to convince her husband Maekar -not that it was a hard task for her, no, Maekar was lots of things -stern, angry and stoic, but he was also a love sick puppy when he was around his wife, to attend to the feast of the little Garmund Hightower’s fourth name day.
So that her sons could have a friend.
Daeron, Aerion and Aemon, all were a little …different from each other.
Daeron was the one that was blessed with dreams and cursed with nightmares, the one that was solemn even at his early age, the one that had to endure terrible headaches that could go for days when he was only a boy of nine.
Aerion was the one with the rage -though no one had any idea where that all came from, he was the one with the sword training, he was the one who spent time with the unhatched dragon eggs the most, he would stare them for hours and hours without talking or moving and no one would have any idea what he could be thinking, he was the one with the energy that was just too much for a boy of five.
Aemon was still a baby -just passed his name day, yet he was the quiet one with bright blue eyes. Looking around as he could see and understand everything. As he was bright even then.
Dyanna was bored in Summerhall amongst the loud Stormlanders and stoic Valyrians. She had missed her home. Maekar always loved Starfall more than the little Valyrian city that was made in a castle that they’d been living in. A few months has been spent there, the warm climate and the peaceful environment gave its fruits and now Dyanna was with child again. The Maesters had told her to not go on such a journey but they said the same with the newborn Aemon and everything turned out fine.
Maekar’s ancestors had been flying with their newborn babies. A little ship travel wouldn’t hurt anyone.
And as they had reached Oldtown, the Lord of Oldtown and his lady wife welcomed them in the harbour. Hightowers didn’t like either Targaryens or the Daynes so while Maekar and Herbert sulked and argued and threatened each other with sharp knives, Dyanna and Mellendora just rolled their eyes and travelled through the city.
But then her due time came and a beautiful, healthy girl was born amongst the Hightowers. Maekar always wanted a daughter, and so did Dyanna. Boys were trouble, boys were always a lot harder to raise, and boys were headaches. Especially when you have three and all three are different from the others. But a girl? Maekar felt blessed and he wept at night, in secret. But his love for the Hightowers didn’t last long. 16 years to be exact -16 years and Maekar was seen swearing to carve out Garmund Hightower’s heart out.
So that he could feel what he was feeling.
How dare he to ask for his daughter’s hand?
But Maekar threw tantrums, cursed and threatened everyone, and begged his daughter and in return he got a laugh as a reaction. Daella was his heart, a blessing after three disappointing sons, the most living memory of his beloved Dyanna. He gave duties Garmund in the capital to be able to see his daughter but in the end, Herbert died and Garmund had to go back to Oldtown as its lord and Daella followed him with her first child in her belly.
Oh the little Arwyn, Maekar’s favourite grandchild. None of the others managed to capture his heart in their little hands like her.
Not sweet Vaella who had been in this world only a little.
Not poor Maegor who was ripped from his birthright because of a name.
Not charming Gerard who people were glad that Maekar never saw his grown-up self because he would just fall onto his sword after seeing the monster he became.
Not emotional Duncan who he never managed to feel close to for various reasons.
Not stoic Jaehaerys who did not even have one thing in common with Maekar.
Not distant Shaera who would rather stay quiet than talk.
Not brave Daeron whose name reminded him of his own father and the troublesome relationship they had.
Not little Rhaelle who was always the odd one out.
Not fierce Aethan -though he came close, who he at least tried to bond a little.
And definitely, not cautious Lucerys who was terrified even from his own shadow.
And then there was Gerold whom he never got to meet. A little warrior.
Maekar would kill himself the moment he saw his favourite daughter’s son would serve Aegon’s bloodline. Aegon would only be a usurper in his eyes and after everything, anybody who stood close to him would be erased from his heart.
Six children Dyanna had born for him. Four sons and two daughters.
Daeron whom he never managed to help, was always alone and never bonded with his family.
Aerion whom he never managed to help but was also never alone. He was friends with Garmund till the end. He, Garmund and Daella were the perfect trio. Daella might be his favourite daughter but Aerion was his favourite son.
At least his madness only hurt him whilst Aegon burned down his legacy.
Aemon whom he always felt guilty about, the one reason -despite everything else, Aemon was the one reason that was standing why he would never forgive his father. Aemon had a family but was forced to live alone.
Daella, whom he loved the most, had the most loving family. But the deaths of her brothers one by one broke her and after Maekar and Aegon’s ascending she couldn’t live more than five years. She cursed Aegon’s rule and closed herself to Oldtown. Aerion was her brother, mad or not, his son should’ve been the king and after the grave insult, Daenora just took the boy, too heartbroken to stay and vanished. House of the Dragon had to endure a weakling like Aegon’s rule just because of a silly name.
Aegon went from being his favourite to his least favourite. With every passing day, he started to dislike him even more. He never forgot that he had to slay his own brother because of his shenanigans. Every time he looked at Aegon’s face he saw Baelor’s death and his even more insufferable actions made him lose his all respect. If he could live another moment he would spend his last breath to disinherit Aegon and all his line.
Rhae, with whom he was just never close. She was always too eager to leave her home, because of Aegon’s influence. He didn’t like his family so he taught his opinions to Rhae. No one on his side so he raised one. And then married her off to Addam Velaryon.
And now a few generations later a Dayne was entering Oldtown under peace flags.
“Are you alright?”, she put a hand on his back. His hands were tied at his back, face stoic, he was watching the approaching harbour. “You don’t seem well.”
“I don’t know Larra.”, he took a troubled breath. “Ashara wrote me another letter.”
“What does she say?”
“That boy the prince send is returning back to the capital to deliver his report to the king’s council.”, his tongue hit the roof of his mouth. “She promises that Elia will do anything to prevent it until the prince returns.”
“Why do we fear from this report, Andric.”, she asked harshly. “Tell me again.”
“I have nothing to fear because I did nothing, weird enough. And I am sure that report will only prove our innocence but…”
“Are you fearing what it will mean to rest of the Dornish Lords?”, she read him well. “They are under Aethan’s influence -or maybe they seem to like it, I am not sure. And Yronwood rallies them, you have no allies outside of the Torrentine and you fear that everyone else will think you only found innocent because Arthur is the prince’s best friend and Ashara is Elia’s.”, she raised her eyebrows briefly and let out a long sigh. “Oberyn being at the capital, near Ashara, doesn’t help either.”
“If I did something; I would have owned it. But I was cornered.”, his face got darker. “Who the hell is Aethan and Yronwood to corner me? How could I even let that happen?”, he sent a disgusted look to the harbour. “And now Doran sent me here, against my will, to play the clown to those people -as if he doesn’t know about me and Leyton.”
“Stop thinking about Yronwood, Andric.”, she ordered. “Aethan is a loose dog and Anders has been trying to usurp the Martells for a quite while now. He fears that you are going to support Doran against him and he knows the Torrentine will follow you -that is why he is trying to throw you from the cyvasse board. And the rest are tend to follow him because they don’t like how much your family raised its station ever since Lady Dyanna married Prince Maekar. And now, you are the future Prince of Dorne’s best friend.”, Andric snorted. “Ashara is the future queen’s best friend and still might marry Oberyn and Arthur is the future king’s best friend. Like it or not, people are jealous of you.”
“And you are forcing me to stay silent.”, he turned to her and hissed. “I could have crushed them all by now.”
“Yes you could.”, she agreed. “Anyone with a brain can crush Aethan and Anders is not that much of a problem because you are not his main enemy. With secret deals or promises, you two could fight on the same side but what was the point?”, they were facing with each other now and she held his hands. “I do understand that you are trying to do everything yourself and do not want anyone else to take the credit for it but please my love, for once, just let other people fix it. You cannot fight in every battle. Let your siblings’ closeness with the future monarchs create a shield between you and the rest of the Dorne. Use this as a leverage.”, she sent a look to the harbour. “And the Hightowers? Leyton? I like them as much as the next Dornish but why would you make an enemy out of them when you can be friends?”
“Friends with Hightowers?”, he asked, befuddled, he wondered if Larra hit her head somewhere. “The day I became friends with Leyton Hightower means the dawn will never come back again.”
“Your wife is not with us.”, she sent him a wink. “For the first time in ages, we get to be alone, together, in a new scenery, with only friends, family and allies, no one else is here to chastise us.”, she held his face between her hands. “A vacation, think it like that. Let us enjoy the festivities, let us enjoy the air of spring in Oldtown, let us enjoy the wreck they have become, let us be lovers without anything troubling us. And in the meanwhile, let us know if there is a chance to make allies out of them.”, she straightened her spine. “Also, it is not Leyton Hightower who sits on the seat of Oldtown now, no? It is his regent.”, a knowing smirk appeared on her lips. “His sister, whom you helped greatly.”, an idea started to form in Andric’s head.
“No.”, he shook his head. “No.”
“Yes.”, she pressured. “She is young, inexperienced, cornered by all sides, and in need of an ally. If you approach her with an open heart, it is more than likely that she would return it.”
“After everything Aethan and Yronwood said and did, making an alliance with them, with my border neighbours would prove them right.”
“I disagree. We cannot harm Aethan and Anders, or anyone directly, yes?”
“Yes.”, he said with a hesitant voice, he didn’t like what she could possibly imply.
“But accidents happen every day to everyone.”, she suggested, putting her hands on his chest. “Maybe she would arrange an accident on them if you ask nicely.”
“You want me to blackmail a child into killing someone very important on my behalf?”, he took a step back.
“The moment someone dies, they are going to blame either you or me. I am offering you a third way. Make her do it and we would hit three birds with one stone.”
“I still think this is a horrible idea.”, she huffed.
“I still think you are getting engaged with Edwell Celtigar is a horrible idea.”, Arvel answered without looking at her. “But I am keeping my thoughts to myself, I suggest you do the same.”
“Leyton is going to kill all three of us and bathe in our blood.”, Doric took another sip from his cup. “Who exactly is coming now?”
“The Torrentine Lords.”, she was anxiously waiting, she already had too many problems to deal with.
“The full list included; Lords Andric and Calder Dayne, the latter’s wife Lady Linden Santagar, Lady Larra Blackmont, Lord Dagos Manwoody and his wife Lady Davina Dayne.”, Finnan said dutifully. “We had summoned Lord Quentyn Qorgyle but he refuses to sleep under the same roof as Lord Dayne.”
“Where is Ser Arthur?", she wondered. “Half of his family is coming here in a few minutes. Why isn’t he here to welcome them?”
“He is a kingsguard.”, Arvel shrugged. “Maybe he has his duties.”
“I doubt our uncle or his grace would do such a thing.”
“Maybe he doesn’t want to.”, Doric offered another explanation. “Oberyn once told me that he has a strained relationship with his brother. And the rest of the family didn’t take it well, his decision of being a kingsguard. Maybe it’s a two-way stick.”
“Might be.”, she murmured. She sensed the tension when she informed him -and the rest of their already there guests, and she saw the small twitch on the corners of his mouth but didn’t put many thoughts into it. “Let's hope they will not create any problems.”
“They have the same potential of creating problems as the Marcher Lords, sister.”, Doric, always a Dornish defender, tried to calm her. “Lords Swann and Dondarrion are already here -and Randyll is here too with his Florent betrothed.”, his tongue hit the roof of his mouth. “And Alekyne is coming here -we are also surrounded by Reacher Lords. Tyrells, Cranes and the Fossoways are kin, yes, but now our aunt is here with Arys -you haven’t seen them both yet, I venture,”, he sent her a judging look. “Paxter too is coming, I heard and the worst; the Velaryons are here. Mathis too on his way and the Celtigars will fill the castle in a few days, his grace is here, doesn’t seem like he is leaving soon. The whole castle already turned into a circus even before the arrival of the Dornish.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Did we even meet those people? I had seen a few of them in the tourney, yes, but didn’t meet them.”
“I know Andric.”, Arvel shrugged. “He is an old face.”
“I know Lord Manwoody and his wife -I stayed in their keep with Oberyn before.”, Doric took another troubled breath. “Leyton is going to have our heads on a spike when he finds out Andric Dayne wined and dined under his roof.”, Atera shivered and Arvel sent him a look.
Her mother had been executed, so it wasn’t a lovely pun to make.
“I was planning to have my betrothal this week too.”, she said with a quiet voice after Doric tried to fix his mistake. “Since we are crowded and all, the entire attention would be on me.”
Arvel and Doric shared a look. “Are you serious about marrying this guy?”, Doric asked as if he truly thought this all was some kind of a ruse. “Edwell Celtigar, truly?”
“Yes, brother.”, she rolled her eyes. “We have been betroth for almost a week now. We’ll have the betrothal this week and I think I can prepare a wedding in a fortnight.”
“A fortnight?”, Arvel scowled with a high-pitched voice. “There is no need for a rush, sister. At least wait until Leyton wakes up.”
“I cannot.”, she said firmly and the Dornish Lords appeared on top of their horses. “There is no time.”, she narrowed her eyes a little and turned to Finnan. “A black portcullis grill over sand,”, she said with a questioning tone. “Yronwood, no?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“But we didn’t invite them?”
“No, his grace the Prince of Dragonstone asked as a favour due to a political issue between Lords Dayne and Yronwood.”, he too seemed surprised.
“And yet, they are here.”, she concluded -she hated when unexpected happened.
“It seems so, yes.”
She bit her tongue and put a smile on her face, there was nothing else to do now but she was going to make them regret coming here.
“Lord Dayne.”, she deepened her smile when they dismounted their horses inside of the courtyard -Garth had escorted them here since Baelor was still acting like a moody child. “Welcome to Oldtown.”
“She is so aggressive, so moody these days.”, she whispered without looking at him.
“Isn’t it just normal Atera? Classic sternness of her?”, he wondered back. “I mean she isn’t doing anything to be aggressive. She supposedly is the regent and all but she doesn’t go to council meetings, the whole city is trembling apart and she doesn’t even have a clue.”, he sounded annoyed. “I am not sure which one of them is worse; her or your brother.”
“Oh my brother for sure.”, Alerie sent Mace a look. “He is acting like a child, embarrassing us. Prefers to drink himself to death instead of owning up to his mistakes and trying to prove to the world that he is innocent. Atera is a different story. Vortimer,”, she pointed to him. “is cuddling her, hiding the dangers of the situation from her, and creating an illusion to seem like he is handling everything but in truth, he cannot do it because he is not a Hightower.”, she sighed. “Look at her now, she is joining all these events with an obvious fake smile. She lost too much weight and barely eats.”
“Maybe it is better for her not to join the council then. How can you trust her judgement when she is like this?”, he sent her friend a worried look. “I thought she was getting better after that horrendous week of picking fights with everyone.”
“Me too. When she agreed to go to the Sept, I was even happy because I thought she would finally see the situation but even now, she relies on others and turns a blind eye.”, she shook her head. “Maybe I made a mistake.”
“You made the right call.”, his eyes found the Dornishmen around and he made an untasteful sound. “Look at him.”, he pointed out Andric Dayne. “Left his wife at home and brought his mistress.”
“Poor Lady Cassella.”, she agreed. “The humiliation she has to endure goes beyond disgusting now.”
“I do see why he would be so enraptured by Lady Blackmont, but-“, Mace knew, even before he finished his sentence, that he had said something wrong.
Alerie’s neck snapped towards him and she widened her eyes with fury. “What did you say?”
“Nothing.”, he said swiftly. “Does Vortimer calling me?”, he tried to pretend to leave but Alerie held him tightly by his arm.
“What is that? Are you emulating a man like him?”
“Why would I emulate a Dornishmen.”, he grimaced with objection.
“I don’t know.”, she leaned on him. “You said that you can see why he is so enraptured by her. Elaborate that comment further.”
“I think we need to go and mingle with the people as the Lord and Lady of Highgarden.”, he tried to close the subject. “You know, as my wife, as the only woman I am enrupted for,”, he too widened his eyes in a playful way. “you truly must go and talk with those poor lords.”
“So you are not enraptured with her.”, she pointed out her direction with her head without she took her eyes off of him.
“You are too focused on the words.”, he rolled his eyes. “I would never, ever, do such a thing like this to you. Don’t you know how much I love you?”, he lightly tapped her nose and earned narrowed eyes.
“And I would never, ever, act like Lady Cassella.”, she smiled sweetly at him. “I wouldn’t endure it. “Do you know what I would do?”
“I would wear my best gown,”, she leaned further with a wide smile and Mace relaxed. “you and I would go and join one of those fancy dinner parties you love so much, we would smile happily to others, and then I would tell you ‘lets go and take some fresh air in the balcony’, and then-“, just before their lips touched she snapped her fingers. “boom!”, she yelled a little to his face and Mace took a step back with widened eyes. “I throw you from the balcony -just like Atera threw Rhea from the tower. How did you like that scenario?”, she smiled and he seemed unimpressed. “My beloved husband, the father of my precious children… Died, just like that, all of a sudden and now I am a grieving widow and that woman you dared to look twice follows you to the seventh hell while I stay as the Lady of Highgarden.”, she briefly raised her eyebrows while her smile got erased. “Do not even dare to imagine pushing your luck, husband.”
“Wouldn’t even dream of.”, he faked a smile and took a sip from his wine.
The next day, he approached her while she was walking in the gardens. She was wearing a courtly blue and gold dress with a proper corset an all. Her hair was in a shape of a tidy braided bun -which made her look older, and she was wearing a gold jewellery set. Alea and Finnan were behind her, watching her every move and she was reading a book.
“Lady Atera.”, a very familiar roll of words caught her attention though the voice and the looks were wrong.
“Lord Dayne.”, she said with a pensive surprise and bowed her head as a sign of respect -he followed her movements and was wearing a purple long jacket with gold strings. “Good morning.”
“Good morning. May I accompany you on your walk?”
Alea and Finnan shared a look and Atera turned to look at them with a thinking pout. “Why not?”, she shrugged, Leyton was too ill to notice it, after all, she gave the book to Alea but then Andric added.
“Alone, if it is suitable?”, he cursed himself mentally, he hated to be in this position but Larra was right at the end of the day. They needed to send a message but could not do it themselves.
Caesar Yronwood -Anders’ brother, should not come here and stay at home instead. Now, he was going to get hunted when he himself was on his way to hunt.
Atera raised an eyebrow but she was intrigued. “Of course.”, she agreed. Alea seemed like she was going to object but Atera didn’t let her. “Can you please go to my brother’s side? He surely is expecting you.”, this was a little game Alerie started and they were playing.
If it would be known that Leyton was still unconscious, Velaryons would have the right to take the regency, so now, they all were acting like he was alive and well -Atera didn’t know he truly had woken up. No one but Alea and the Maester knew that.
Andric offered his arm to her and they started to walk. “What a fine morning.”, he forced himself to say. If she was another Dornish, he would be straight with her but he couldn’t handle the softness of the Reachermen, didn’t want her to be scandalized. “I heard a storm had been covering the city but now the sun is bright and well -you must have missed it.”
“I spent a year at Dragonstone.”, she reminded him -his sister was there too. “I am used to not having the sun at all times.”
“Please forgive me, Lord Dayne,”, she interrupted him with a deep breath. “but these morning walks are the only time I have for myself. You are already invading it but at least do not torture me with this unnecessary weather talk. Say what you have to say -I imagine it is something clever.”, she narrowed her eyes playfully. “Or a threat?”
“A favour.”, he answered with raised eyebrows. “In return for a favour, I did for you.”
“Oh?”, she pursed her lips. “Does it count as a favour you did for me, though? It was more like my cousin and his friend who asked for your help. I was a little unconscious, to ask for it myself.”
Andric snorted. “I made the favour to you though, at the end of the day. And then I provided a ship for you in your travels-“
“It was mostly for his grace th-“
“-and then,”, he raised his voice a little. “lost it, which was not nice. So now, you are in debt to me.”
“And what do you want in return?”, she knew inviting them would be a problem. “Gold? Soldiers? Formal peace?”
“I gave you a life.”, he stopped walking. “And now, I want you to take a life for me. Death in return of breath.”
Atera seemed speechless for a second, the surprise was truly readable on her face. “I am not a murderer.”, she said with a stone-cold face and a shadow of mockery passed through on his face.
“Where is Lady Rhea?”, he asked and her face got tense, she was looking like a sculpture. “You see, you are in the middle of the storm, everything happens around you this is why you are becoming numb to it after a little while, you got frozen inside of it. The sun might have come for your city but not for you, it is obvious.”, he seemed pitiful. “You cannot live under the shadow of your sins forever. Or else, everyone would be able to use it against you.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”, she managed to mutter with barely moving lips.
He took a deep breath. “For the rest of us, that storm never happened, the world still is turning -hence we can hear what happens truly.”, he sent her a pointed look. “People are gossiping, whispering tales about how the might Lord of Oldtown got cuckolded by his own cousin and how got poisoned by his wife -how his sister killed the said wife.”, Atera was shaking her head while ordering every muscle in her body to calm down. “I do not care about this gossip, I only care about your end of the deal -you owe me blood.”
“Who?”, she forced herself to ask, or else, Andric Dayne would become the second name on the list of the people she murdered.
“Caesar Yronwood.”, he straightened his spine. “I would be very welcome if it wouldn’t be tied to me.”
“Or else?”, she gritted her teeth.
“You see, I do not value gossip because it is all made of lies.”, a dark smile appeared on his face. “But in my case, all the rumours are true.”
“What did he say to you?”, he literally jumped around the corner before Atera turned and she flinched with the unexpected move and gasped, putting a hand on her heart.
“What the hell are you doing?”, she asked with panic, trying to calm herself down. “You’ve been giving me headaches, making me fear that someone always can turn right around the corner and kill me and now you jump unannounced?”, she asked frantically. “Did you ever hear something called ‘common sense’, Arthur?”
“What did he say to you?”, he didn’t comment on her words, he was focused on an entirely different matter.
“None of your business.”, her panic turned into anger and she pressed every word, and made a move to walk away -she needed to see Malora immediately but Arthur moved with her and stand in front of her, didn’t dare to touch her though.
“Atera, please, I must know. What did he say to you?”, his jaw was clenched and she could feel his anger but it wasn’t toward her no, but to his brother.
“Why you don’t like your own brother?”, she wondered. Families -especially siblings, were made to stand together.
“He is not a very likeable person.”, he said almost immediately after her sentence ended. “He is not a friendly person too.”, he sent her a look. “As you stated, anyone can kill you, Andric is one of them.”
Atera wanted to laugh at his face because she didn’t think Andric Dayne would kill her, not when he needed her. “Have you ever heard something called guest rights?”, that’s all she was thinking about it ever since he threatened, he ordered her into this. “He cannot harm me, I cannot harm him. He only wanted to have a friendly walk, that’s it.”
“Andric doesn’t have friendly walks, my lady.”, Arthur straightened his spine. “And even if he was that kind of a person, he wouldn’t do so with a Hightower.”
“Don’t you think you are a bit overreacting?”, she tilted her head. If he was that dangerous, then why didn’t he kill Yronwood himself? “He seems like a normal person.”, if normal people did employ their hosts to kill a fellow countryman.
“Normal? Andric?”, he grimaced.
“More normal than Ashara?”, she offered with a small smile but Arthur was not having it. So she rolled her eyes and let out a breath. “He wanted to talk about the relationship between our regions, now that I am the regent and Leyton is still healing. He wonders what would be my politics about him.”
Not even a muscle in his face moved and his eyes, his wonderful eyes, were looking at her as if he knew she was lying. “Be careful around him.”, he warned her. “Whatever he asked you to do -don’t, please.”, he added rather emotionally. “It would not end well for you.”
“He didn’t ask anything, I assure you.”, she felt terrible to lie at him. Like there was a sudden pit of fire in her stomach and she wanted to take back and scream the truth at him but it passed a second later and she played it nonchalantly. “There is nothing to worry.”, he growled as an answer but left -to his brother’s side, she ventured.
“He is right you know.”, she flinched again a second after, watched the way Arthur left and when she tried to walk again, this time Oswell appeared. “Lord Dayne is not a man to mess with.”
“Ser Oswell.”, she said with the last remnants of her patience and forced herself to speak. “How lovely of you to state your opinion when I didn’t ask for it.”
He smiled while wrinkling his nose -he was cute, she had to admit. “For Arthur, Lord Dayne is a sore subject, Lady Atera. It is not our place to warn you about who to talk to and who to not talk but at least, be careful.”
“He told me,”, she said when he turned to leave. “that all the rumours about him were true.”, she said with a questioning manner. “What rumours?”
“That he is going to burn in the seventh hell for the things he had done.”, he shrugged. “Or some sort of thing.”, he sent her a measuring look. “Why did you invite him?”, he didn’t have the kindness of Rhaegar or the subtleness of Arthur. He was past the times when he worried about what to say.
“I didn’t.”, she felt like answering. “My brother did. To thank him for helping me.”
“Your brother, Ser Arvel I am guessing, right?”, she nodded and Oswell had to supress a smile. “I am not Arthur, I don’t do this courtly manners, Lady Atera. So I am going to tell this with an open heart; your brother is not a good man.”, he tilted his head. “You can be sure that he knows Lord Dayne’s reputation and there is another reason for wanting him in here.”
“You know nothing of my brother.”, but she was glad that he understood he was a rat.
“No, I don’t but I know a liar and a deceiver when I see one.”, he sent her a look. “Everyone thinks it is you who invited him and the others in his envoy, not Ser Arvel. And everyone thinks you have done it to insult your brother, Lord Hightower’s, memory or wishes or some sort of thing. Arthur is too focused on his brother’s presence here, he doesn’t question it. I suggest that you do.”
“He wanted me to kill Lord Yronwood.”, it wasn’t a wise thing to do, confess a possible murder to a fucking kingsguard but as much as she got to know Ser Oswell in Dragonstone, he wasn’t the kind of man who would rat her out. “As the return of his favour.”
Oswell grimaced. “I also suggest you keep this from Arthur. He would not like it.”, then he narrowed his eyes. “I do not take you for an assassin, please do not get me wrong but, will you do it?”
“No.”, she shook her head. “Of course, I will not.”
She was going to kill Lord Yronwood.
Not because she feared Lord Dayne but because this would give her great leverage. He could think all he wants that she was returning his favour but in truth, she was gaining something against him. This wasn’t going to level them, when she finished the act, she would have one point and zero.
He would have to do something for Atera.
She wasn’t okay with murder though, no. It disgusted to even think about it, she still couldn’t shake the trauma of Rhea, she still couldn’t look from the windows, she still couldn’t face Rhea’s children and she still couldn’t face with Jacen -or Arwyn, or Gerold or Arys.
Her grieving might have stopped when she lashed everything out to Leyton but her pain was far from over. She was a mess, and she was aware of it. She knew that the silence in the keep meant only bad news, she knew a storm was coming, and she knew everyone was lying to her.
She was just too tired to do something about it.
“I need your help.”, she burst into Malora’s chambers.
Alerie was a hysteric person ever since she was born and Baelor was born without a brain. Malora on the other hand, had a different condition -one that none of the Maesters knew about. She didn’t speak until she was six, even now, she would speak too less that people would get surprised to hear her. She always had less appetite, sleeping troubles and a lack of emotions. Atera didn’t remember a day that she laughed. And she had this thing, where she just closed herself off. People would talk around her and she wouldn’t hear it, zone herself to her books or her tasks.
She was better in the last year. She actively joined a tourney and didn’t leave Alerie alone with the whole Rhea thing but it seemed the last incidents affected them greatly. All of her nieces were locked in her chambers without knowing what was happening. It seemed both Rhea and Jacen, thanks to the Gods, were too busy with other things they left them alone. The younger ones took it better -she had no idea how Lynesse and the boys took the news, she didn’t even know if they knew their mother died or not, and frankly, she didn’t care, but Malora closed herself off again.
“Who did you kill this time?”, it was unexpected, she was sitting on the divan and reading a book, she said that in a pensive way and without looking at her.
“No one.”, she scoffed.
“Why do you need my help then?”
“When did I ever come to you when I kill someone?”, she was overly puzzled. “When did I ever kill someone?”
“I need mandrake.”
Malora raised her head a little from her book and frowned to herself, then raised her head with confusion. “Are you trying to have a miscarriage?”
“What? No?”, she refused it with a grimace. “Why would I?”
“Mandrake is used for it.”, she explained rather harshly. “For that or as poison.”
“I need it for my moonblood pain.”, she closed her eyes and admit it, knowing this would raise a few questions.
“Your what?”, Malora raised her eyebrows. “I thought you stopped having them?”
She started having her monthly periods when she was six and ten -already a few years later than Alerie, Malora and even Denyse and Leyla did. And it never was easy. From the first time; it was irregular and painful to a degree that she had to take milk of the poppy to sleep. Her blood was dark and she would bleed too much that she would have to use enough cloth to make a blanket from it.
She didn’t have a mother but well, Leyton had six daughters. He had read books about it -though there were too few, and he did not mention it to Arwyn and Olenna due to her request. She didn’t want them to know. He had personally summoned the Archmaester and made him examine her and he found nothing wrong with her. He couldn’t give a reason for it, just allowed her to have the milk of the poppy if the pain was unbearable.
He also informed Leyton this might affect her ability to have children -which Leyton didn’t believe was true.
She would have them six times at most in a year in the beginning but now, this was the first time it was happening in the past eighteen moons.
And she was freaking out.
“I thought so too.”, she managed to mutter.
She woke up in great pain and thanks to her luck Arthur was not there but Finnan entered the room with a sword in hand due to her screams. Alea had brought cloths and get rid of the traces of the blood -one would think she was attacked with a knife, but she could swear half of the blood inside her veins were on the bed. She prepared a hot bath to lessen the pain and forced her to eat as much as she could.
Then she wore a corset because her breasts were aching too much, and a fluffy skirt to hide the many clothes and the pants she wore underneath her skirt. But now the pain was unbearable, Andric Dayne had fucked up her entire day and she just couldn’t bring herself from drinking the milk of the poppy. She knew this was a health thing but for some reason, she didn’t want anyone to find out about this and think her weak.
“Mandrake would not do.”, Malora looked up and down. “Accidental poisoning is not uncommon with that. I’ll prepare a tea, but you know it will not work.”
“That’s why I asked for mandrake.”, she gritted her teeth. “It is a sedative, is it not?”, Malora didn’t answer, just looked at her face without any emotions. “Send it with Alea, will you?”, but before she managed to leave the room, she got frozen on the spot.
“Why did you kill Rhea?”
“Excuse me?”, she turned to her with a cold look.
“Why did you kill her?”, Malora asked again with a judging look. “I talked with Alerie, you promised Mace and Paxter that you would not. Why did you then? Broke your promise?”
“I had to kill her.”
“Or else your father would have forgiven her.”, she snapped. “I am sorry if I ruined your plans of playing the house with your dear stepmother but I am not going to apologize.”
“What are you going to tell my father when he wakes up?”
“To be fucking grateful.”, she leaned forward and said with a cold smile-like mouth twitch and a few tears in her eyes. “If he is alive, it is thanks to me.”
“And we all are alive, but not thanks to you.”, she lowered her face again, and kept reading her book. “Because you are too afraid of taking the lead.”
The celebrations of the wedding took place that night. The preparations were excellent but not perfect as Atera would like them to be. This idea had come from Arvel too, to make the Reacher Lords accept him and his wife and his children and Atera found nothing wrong in it -obviously much to others’ irritation.
They did not like that she was this welcoming to a man that was exiled by their lord -they didn’t care he was her brother. There was a great dais above the steps in the great hall, where Cerissa and Arvel sat. On her side; Atera was sitting next to Prince Rhaegar, the guest of honour it seems, and her aunt. And on his side, there were Doric and Gerold.
And on the floor, there were two long tables on two sides of the room. The Hightowers and the Reacher Lords were mixed on both with the addition of the Marcher Lords. Everybody was having fun, such a night was necessary for both of them, the music never stopped and the loud chatter continued for the evening.
“Baelor stop looking at her or you’ll catch his attention.”, Garth whispered into his ear. “It is not the right thing to do-“
“There is something wrong in them.”, he turned to him with a stern face. “With both of them. I remember Arvel, I wasn’t as young as you and Atera, and the man I remember is not him.”
“Maybe he had changed?”, he took a troubled breath. “You know, that’s what people do?”
“And her?”, he continued without listening to him. “She says that she is Pentoshi and a stranger to our customs yet look at her.”, he delicately pointed out with his head, his eyes were on her. “Speaks with a perfect accent, and fits right into the picture.”
“Are you thinking that they are liars because …she knows about our customs? Have you been drinking again?”
Baelor turned to look at him in an unimpressed way. “No, I am not sad anymore, brother, thank you for your concern.”, he mocked and Garth sent him a fake smile. “But the Arvel I know would never come here, would never help us, would never bring his wife and children here (he wouldn’t have a wife and children, to begin with), he would never ever invite the Dornish and the Marchers and he would never be this …close with Atera.”
“With his sister?”
“Arvel hates her.”, he was looking serious now. “I would like to warn Atera but she would never believe me and neither Alerie nor Malora remembers those times well but Arvel hates her.”
“How can you be this sure?”
“He tried to kill Jenica when she was pregnant with her.”, he deadpanned and Garth’s eyes widened. “He blamed grandfather for what happened to his mother -that’s why he got exiled in the first place. And he was never allowed to be alone with Atera -not that he tried. But he never hid his displeasure of her and was happy to see Jenica get executed. Something fishy is happening.”
“Don’t you think Atera is capable of sensing something is wrong? You know what she always says ‘I know everything’.”
“She doesn't know shit.", he snapped. "She is acting different too.”, his eyes found her radiant figure this time. Wearing a sleeveless court outfit with a corset, coloured of dusty rose and filled with rich silver embodiments, blonde hair curled up in a loose bun and a small tiara that matched her other jewellery was resting on her head. She was drinking something from her cup -he didn’t know what it was just that it was not wine. “She is careless.”
“She is exhausted.”, Garth fixed him. “She is taking revenge on Alerie. She didn’t want that ring and now does nothing in return.”, Baelor seemed like he was going to say something but decided not to. When he returned to his food, he felt Arvel’s gaze.
With a cold hard look on his face.
“Have you ever eaten a duck this good?”, Alysanne spoke while chewing. “It is more than great.”
“No, I have not.”, Leyla rolled her eyes. “It is just food, sister, stay silent and eat.”
“And do not speak while you are chewing.”, Denyse sent her a scolding look. “You are not a child any longer.”
“I have seen soldiers today, in the courtyard.”, she rolled her eyes to her sisters and then turned to her uncle Vortimer. “They didn’t look happy.”
Her uncle was always a stern man with a serious attitude -like Malora but unlike her, he was capable of feeling human emotions. “I am handling it.”
“But isn’t my aunt supposed to handle it?”, she questioned. “She is the regent after all.”
“Your aunt is busy.”, Vortimer managed to excuse it, next to him there was Leyton’s uncle Brenton Fossoway sitting and he didn’t want him to know Atera wasn’t fulling her duties well. “I am helping her in a few matters.”
“She is busy with what?”, she asked again and Vortimer sent a small smile to Brenton, who was watching the scene with amused eyes.
“State matters.”, he leaned on and whispered to his niece’s ear. “We shall talk later, alright?”, Alysanne rolled her eyes and muttered an ‘alright’.
“You don’t have to hide it from me.”, Brenton said, bringing his fork to his mouth. “I am a part of this family as much as you do.”
“But Atera is not.”, he turned to him with narrowed eyes. “At least, that’s what you think, no?”
“No.”, he frowned. “I understand why you might think so but all of my personal grudges died with Jenica back in the day. I have no hostile feelings against that poor girl, only my pity.”, he patted his shoulder. “You are a good man, Vortimer, be there for her truthfully. Cuddling her from the cold truths of the world will not help her. And now with that betrothal of hers…”, he shook his head with frustration. “Even I can say she deserves better. Be a guardian to her in Leyton’s absence -because we both know neither Arwyn nor Gerold will.”
“You are so beautiful.”, he leaned on with a whisper and she turned to look at the black-haired man. “Like the sun has floated into here and exploded.”
“Ser Jacaerys.”, she offered him a fake smile and he brought her hand to his mouth, and placed a lingering kiss. “This behaviour is unacceptable for a betrothed woman, I employ you to stop it.”
“I haven’t seen your man in here.”, his eyes fell to her hand. “Or a ring on your finger.”
“He went to Claw Isle to bring his family and the ancestral marriage ring.”, her eyes were burning but she was biting her tongue. “And we’ll have our own betrothal ceremony later this week. You can see plenty of him there.”
“We had something, Atera.”, Jace sat on the table with comfortable movements and her eyes roamed around the room. “In the capital? We kissed.”
“And then we stopped.”
“Because Alerie interrupted.”
“Because I almost died only a day ago.”, she snapped when her eyes found him again. “And you were thinking only about yourself, as usual, as you always do.”, she raised her chin with a defiant manner. “I am done with you, Jacaerys. And I am going to be a married woman soon, thanks for your father’s plotting. Stay away from me or this time I will open Baelor’s eyes for good.”
“I miss our mother today.”, on the dais Arvel leaned to a solemn-looking Doric. This was basically his wedding day, yet, there was no happy family member. “She would have loved this.”
He forget Doric was the wrong brother to talk about their mother. She had died, under very questionable circumstances, when he was five.
No happy memories were there.
“A gift for your wife seems in order, brother.”, instead Doric whispered back. “Will you do the honours? Or shall I?”
“What gift?”, he asked back. “I don’t know of a gift.”
“I shall do it then.”, he patted his shoulder and stood up, making a gesture to the servants. “For our new sister!”, he exclaimed and everyone looked at him, Cerissa was waiting expectedly and the door opened.
A peacock started to walk with a leash around his delicate neck.
“A peacock, truly?”, Mace asked Alerie and his wife had to bite inside of her cheeks to stop herself from laughing, she looked adorable that way and Mace couldn’t help himself, leaned on her and place a kiss.
“Atera started to have her moonblood again.”, Malora said out of nowhere, she was focused on the walls for the past half an hour, thinking about something. Both Alerie and Mace snapped out of their little bubble and turned to her with shock.
“Did she?”, Mace asked.
“How do you know that?”, Alerie asked at the same time as him.
“She asked for painkillers today.”, Malora looked at them weirdly. “I prepared her a herb tea but she is in pain. She decided to take milk of the poppy tonight.”, she looked to Alerie directly. “Can you talk with Uncle Gerold and specifically place Ser Arthur at her door tonight?”
“Of course.”, she managed to mutter and turned to her husband. “What do you think of it?”
“About Atera’s moonblood?”, he whispered the word, grimaced and drank all of his wine. “I want to think nothing of it.”
“But you think of something?”
“I am thinking why she hasn’t used this as an excuse for not marrying in all these years.”
“My father thinks otherwise and since the Maesters cannot assure us, he convinced her to stay silent.”
“Just when she announced her betrothal…”, he shook his head.
“If you think she made it all up and was having it all these years, I want to tell you that this is not something she can fake it, honey.”, she sent him a loving look. “But I do agree with the irony of the timeline of the event.”
“Maybe it is because she was too stressful in the past year and now she is rather relaxed?”, he shook his head to himself. “Wait not, the opposite. Maybe she is having it when she is stressed?”
“I doubt it is the latter.”, Alerie rolled her eyes. “Let us talk about something else, but I will bring the Maester to her tomorrow morning for sure.”
Atera had watched the whole interaction -as she did watch everything that night. She was in pain, she couldn’t focus well, didn’t have an appetite at all and would probably faint if she would dare to dance -she had to refuse many offers for that until Doric cleared his throat and started to send wrathful looks anyone who dared to approach her -except Jace. It always amused him when she put him into his place.
She thought she could end the night on a good note, despite all. If she hadn’t seen the way Lord Dayne raised his cup to her with a smirk.
“May I enter?”, he knocked that night, when they all left for their chambers. “I wish to speak to you on some matter.”
“Of course.”, she was walking inside the room when he entered, hoping the motion would help her pain, Alea had gone to bring her milk of the poppy from the Maester. “Something happened?”
Vortimer stood in front of her, there was a weird look on his face. Then he started to lean forward with slow movements but she was too surprised to understand what he was doing. Within seconds his lips were on hers -it was more like a peck, truly, not an actual kiss and he straightened his spine again as if she burnt him.
“What the fuck was that?”, she said with an open mouth and a generally befuddled face.
“You don’t have to marry him.”, he seemed like he swallowed a disgust out of his face. “If you feel the need to marry someone for protection, for the good of your family, you can marry me.”
“Lucerys wouldn’t stop.”, she said, unblinking.
“No, but he would channel all of his anger towards me and you would be safe.”
“I proposed to you once and now I am doing it for the second time, Atera.”, he interrupted her. “So if you are going to give another speech about how I do not have to do this; I already know it.”, his face softened and an understanding look crossed his eyes. “I am almost forty, darling, I am way passed the age where people can force me into things. I know how honour means a little in reality. I am doing this out of a sincere place.”
“So you want to marry me?”, she seemed very heartbroken -for some reason Vortimer couldn’t understand. “Someone, who cannot and would not give you heirs?”
“I have many nephews.”, he shrugged. “And three beautiful nieces. Surely one of them can inherit Red Lake. Lineage does not matter to us the way it matters to you.”, he took a deep breath. “As I said, there are only a couple of years till forty. If I wanted a child, I would have it by now.”
“You want to marry your best friend’s sister then?”, tears started to form on her face but Vortimer weren’t sure if they were real or an illusion due to lighting.
“The said best friend married my sister when she needed help and I couldn’t provide it. I would be only honoured to do the same but none of these are the reasons for this proposal.”, he hesitantly held her hands. “You know me, I am a rational man, I always was and it is not going to change now. I do not love you as it matters and I doubt I’ll ever will but I do love you and I care about you greatly -as a friend. I want to do this for you. You can have all the freedom you want in this world if you chose to marry me. I am not going to force you into anything. But Edwell Celtigar is not me. He is going to use you.”
“And you will not?”
“I am going to return back to my castle and you can do whatever you want to do.”, he tilted his head. “Fuck whoever you want to, if you wish.”, he shrugged. “I would understand if you wouldn’t want to do it with me, I am old after all, and am your brother’s best friend. It would be weird for me to.”, he held her chin between his fingers delicately. “We are friends, and I know if he weren’t engaged with Lady Mina already, Paxter would make the same offer too. I know you are enjoying this, or you think that you enjoy but I also know there is a part of you that hates the entire situation. I just want you to be happy.”
“You are not the key to my happiness.”, she shook her head. “I just wish you could see that.”
“And he is?”
“He is the decision I made.”, she nodded to herself and took a step back, pulling herself from his touch. “With the good and the bad, I chose to do this. I am not going to stop it because I find an easy way.”
“You are only going to hurt yourself.”, Vortimer’s face fell. “I do not want that for you.”
“Maybe,”, she raised her voice but then closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “maybe you and Leyton need to stop for a moment and ask me what I want for myself instead of declaring that you know it better.”
“I would never dare to claim such a thing.”, he shook his head. “But it is not a weakness, asking for help.”
“I thank you for your concern, I truly do.”, though her face implied otherwise. “But I do not need your help.”
Vortimer seemed like he was going to say something but chose not to. “My lady.”, he bowed to her instead. “Have a good night.”
After he went a tear fell from her eye and due to holding a cry back, her throat started to hurt unimaginably. She turned around and threw herself to her bed, screaming into the pillow. And stayed like that until Alea returned with the milk of the poppy and Ser Arthur next to her.
Andric woke up with a loud knock on his door and Larra jumped between his arms.
“What the fuck is happening?”, she managed to mumble with still-closed eyes and messy hair. “Did Caesar come here to kill us?”
Andric groaned and rubbed his eyes. He was lucky that he at least was wearing pants -Larra even less. And pulled his long robes before he opened the door. “Why on earth do you let that-“, he was complaining to the guards until he opened the door and met with the familiar blue eyes.
The eyes of his mother -and his own.
“Ser Arthur is your brother, my lord.”, one of the men said, unimpressed with his lord’s brother’s behaviour this early in the morning. “Who are we to stop him?”
Andric looked at both of them longly but said nothing. His problems with Arthur were his problems with Arthur, it did not concern two guards. “Get in.”
“Do you have company?”, he asked with a cold tone despite Andric’s rather friendly gesture towards the inside of the room. “Unwanted, company.”, he elaborated, knowing Andric would not count her as a company.
“Larra is inside of the room, if she’s whose you are asking.”, he sent him a wide smile -fake, of course. He was wondering why he was here but he most definitely was not awake enough to deal with his brother’s moodiness. “Dearest?”, he called inside. “Are you decent?”
“For Arthur?”, they heard her answering back. “Always.”
If his brother had been a bad man, he would grimace with disgust. Instead, he pushed Andric’s chest and got inside the room. Angry he may be, was still a gentleman, a lord’s son, a knight. “My lady.”, he bowed to her deeply, she was a Lady of the Torrentine in her own right, her title deserved such respect even though she, individually, did not.
“Arthur.”, she sent him a charming smile -one that he did not reoccupied. “Good morrow.”
“Would you like to speak alone, or?”, Andric drank a shot of alcohol to wake himself up.
“No, I would like to speak to you both.”, Arthur stood in a respectful distance and tied his hands at his back.
He was not going to punch his brother, no.
“Uuuu.”, Larra narrowed her eyes and smirked. “With both of us, is that so?”, she then sent a look to Andric. “I feel we both are going to be reprimanded, don’t you think so Andric?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to taunt him, honey.”, he made a gesture towards her. “Let us hear what he wishes to say first.”
“Stay away from her.”, his voice cut their banter like the Dawn itself, sharper than the Valyrian steel.
“You need to be more spec-“
“Atera.”, he snapped, interrupted his brother. Both Rhaegar and Oswell warned him not to do this but he couldn’t stop himself. “Stay away from her. What kind of a game you are playing, I do not know, but she is not going to be a part of it, hear me?”
The light smile on Andric’s face disappeared and both brothers looked so similar with their cold faces. “It is none of your business, Arthur. Who is she to you?”
“My duty.”, he answered plainly and Andric narrowed his eyes. “Her life is ensured to me, I am her protector. And I am not going to let you harm her.”
“I have no intentions of harming the girl, do not be mad.”, he scoffed angrily. “I just asked a favour, in return for one. See it as a debt to be paid.”
“Andric,”, he deadpanned. “we both know your favours. She already has many problems, she doesn’t have to deal with yours too.”
“You are a kingsguard, or have you forgotten it?”, Andric snapped back. “She is your duty today, yes, but tomorrow? Can you guarantee it? No. But I’ll be your brother till eternity, nothing you can do could change it. So step the fuck out, Arthur. I gave her an offer, and she accepted it. It is between us, has nothing to do with you, do not be this emotional.”
“I made my warning.”, he sent a disappointed look at him. “You harmed her already once.”, he nodded and Andric’s whole face darkened immediately, Larra rushed to his side with widened eyes. “I am not going to let you do it for the second time.”
“I have been gone for less than a month and is this what I am returning to?”, he yelled with ferocity while dismounting his horse and Mace grimaced. “Edwell fucking Celtigar? How did you let that happen?”
“I am not her guardian and have absolutely no right to make such a decision for her.”, Mace rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I could hold her on a sword point and make her change her mind. We are not happy with it either.”
“Well, you should have written to me earlier, I would knock some sense into her.”, he made a move to enter the castle but Mace put a hand on his chest to stop him.
“Have you two talked after what happened?”
Paxter’s face fell. “I do not want to talk about what happened. I do understand why it happened. I moved on from it.”
“She doesn’t know that though, does she?”, he sent him a look. “You need to at least tell her that. Pretending nothing has happened would damage both of you.”
“I will talk with her after I knock some sense into her.”
Mace stopped him once more. “You are already later, Pax.”, he shook his head solemnly. “The betrothal is tonight, it is happening right now.”
“Fuck off.”, Paxter pushed him but then his face fell. “Truly?”
“Truly.”, he nodded. “Not even you can stop it right now.”
“Well a betrothal isn’t a marriage.”, he managed to say after a few minutes of rubbing his face, screaming to the dark sky and kicking the steps. “A betrothal isn’t a marriage, I still can stop this from happening.”
“I hope you can, cousin. I truly do, but now, you must act like a normal human being -according to your station and join us for the dinner.”
“Has she come yet?”, he asked desperately. “Maybe I can talk with her still if she didn’t?”
“The night just has started and she is getting prepared herself in her chambers. She didn’t want Alerie or any of the girls -only her maids but I think Lady Oakheart is planning to visit her, I am not sure.”, he sent a sympathetic look to Paxter. “You cannot see her now. If she cancels the betrothal tonight, everything would be even worse. She must do this now and you must let her. Tomorrow is going to be a new day where you can talk with her thoroughly.”
“Is she ready?”
This was the night of her betrothal -a little ruse to strengthen her hand and to gain time, yet she felt like dying on the inside. When her aunt entered the room, Alea, Adelaide and Bella, all took a step back so she can see her.
Her dress was simple, everybody knew she wore far more extravagant ones than her nightgowns but it was chosen by Denyse, when she realized her reluctance and it actually belonged to Alerie. It was a cream-coloured, zig-zag collared, silk dress and she wore a golden belt just below her ribcage -on top of her wound. The zig-zag strings on her collar were filled with small gold embodiments. Her hair was braided in a complex way all through to her waist and she was wearing a golden band on her forehead, instead of an actual crown or a tiara.
“She is, Lady Arwyn.”, Alea answered but her worried eyes were focused on her friend. Even Bella and Adelaide -who didn’t know her better, were feeling sorry for her.
“You look beautiful.”, her aunt say with disinterest, their last talk took place at Claron’s funeral and both said things they didn’t mean and many more happened in the meantime. Yet, she was the eldest female family member she had. She took her long transparent and jewellery-filled (pearls as buttons and many silver threads mixed with gold and made her wear them. “Now it is complete.”, she tried to smile, she had no idea what was the game in here, she knew there was a game, there had to be, still she felt sad and pulled her niece into a hug. “Everyone is waiting for you, we must go.”, but then Atera’s breathing got faster and she sent a look to Alea. “We are not going to leave this room before you feel ready.”, Atera closed her eyes and nodded with calming breath. “Leave us.”, she said to her maids, it seemed that they needed to have a talk as an aunt and niece. “Do not hold it back.”, she ushered her. “Cry if you are in pain, it would only relax you and take the ache from your heart. You must send your burdens away with your tears.”
“I need to sit.”, she managed to say, felt overly lightheaded and Arwyn lead both of them to her bed.
“This isn’t a game?”, she asked a while later, Atera’s cry had stopped but she was looking at the bed with unfocused eyes.
“It is but if I will lose it?”, she whispered. “Everyone hates me, everyone against me, everyone tells me that I think that I am smart but I am not. What if I played the game on myself?”
“And what if you didn’t?”, she wondered. “No one is powerful enough to change one’s destiny, Atera. Most of the time, we nobles do not even have the right to choose but you manage to come this far. You are never going to prevail if you do not have the guts to finish it.”, she placed a hand on her cheek. “This is merely a betrothal, not a wedding. I will interfere if things go this far and you lose, I promise. But until then, we must live what is in our destiny.”
“What kind of a destiny is this?”, she asked desperately, this betrothal wasn’t the only cause of her grief but she was not strong enough to talk with Arwyn about the other matters. “What is my crime, what have I done to deserve this?”
“You mustn’t rebel and accept the future with open hands in order to have a piece of mind in this realm.”, she hated the advice she gave.
She lived a life where she was loved and where she loved back. She went against all odds in order to marry the man she loved.
And now it was her children who put Atera into this situation. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to talk on that matter.
“I am doing this for my family, aunt.”, she forced herself to smile. “I will be patient for all to come, do not worry.”
Arwyn wiped the tears from her face in a motherly way. “Your uncle insisted to walk you to the feast.”
“He did?”, she let out a cry-laugh and Arwyn pulled her into a hug. “How lovely for him to offer this now after all the things he said to me.”, she took a deep breath and stood up, she faced worse than this, she was not going to cower now. “Tell him it is unnecessary, please. It is not a wedding but a betrothal and he gave up all his family rights the moment he took the white cloak.”
Arwyn sent her a look. It was a curse that affected generations. Her father couldn’t get along with his siblings, she couldn’t get along with hers and now Atera was having problems with hers.
“No matter what, he is still your uncle and wants what is best for you.”
“And you all collectively think that I do not want what is best for me?”, she turned to her with judging eyes. She was so sick of everyone seeing her as a child. This was happening because she wanted to, not because someone forced her into it. “I hope his thoughts would not change when I invite my family to my wedding.”
Arwyn’s face changed. “You do not mean-“
“I mean exactly them.”, she deadpanned. “They are my grandfather and my uncle, of course, they are going to be at my wedding. If you can all tolerate Lucerys and his demon spawns for Baelor, you can tolerate my family for me too.”, she snapped and turned to look to the mirror, fixing her dress. “I am ready, aunt, we can go.”
Servants, some lesser ladies with no noble blood threw the gold into her feet with every step she took towards the great hall, she was unhappy but at least she still was rich and important.
The betrothal was short, just some vows and the signing of the contract happened and with no time, Atera was left alone at the dais, sitting, sulking.
“Poor girl.”, Rhaegar couldn’t help but say. Both Arthur and Oswell were next to him -they all were pretending the whole Rhaella subject never happened. They had to show a united front.
“Gerold is fuming.”, Arthur said, without taking his eyes off her. She was looking too beautiful to be this sad and only the sight of her was causing an ugly ache in his heart. “No one is happy with this union.”
“Has she said anything to you?”
Arthur sent him a weird look. “Why would she say something to me about this matter?”
“I don’t know.”, he mumbled, almost sounding jealous. “You two seem like friends now after hating each other for moons at Dragonstone.”
Arthur and Oswell shared a look but on the inside, everything in Arthur was alarming. What did Rhaegar see? Did he realise Arthur’s lingering looks or the way his eyes found her every time she entered a room? Or has he heard the way he confronted his own brother for her? What did he know?
“You sent us here together.”, he chose to play nonchalantly and tried to ease down the adrenaline. “We had no other choice but at least to be friendly.”
“Hmm.”, he turned at sent him a fake smile. “Of course.”
“Congratulations, Lord Celtigar.”, Baelor said with a cold tone and a smile that matched. “We are family from now on.”
“Thank you, Ser Baelor.”, he accepted it, breaking eye contact with Lucerys who sat on a different table. “I pray to the Mother to bless our union with a happy one.”, he turned to look at Doric who was sitting with a murderous expression. “What do you think Ser Doric? You are going to be the only siblings whose not married. Can we expect happy news soon?”
“These matters are all about luck.”, he answered after Arvel squeezed his arm harshly with a threatening smile. His dark eyes looked up and down. “It shouldn’t happen with threats and plots and schemes.”, Arvel kicked his feet under the table and Doric turned to him, and drank all his wine without breaking the eye contact.
“I do agree.”, Garth nodded and Baelor sent him a secret mocking glare. “It is not a right match if one needs to use such sideways.”
“My lady?”, Alea approached her with a wave of sadness. “Would you like to retreat to your chambers?”
She was sitting on the dais, watching the crowd with unseeing eyes. “These all are happening for me, I must be happy.”, she managed to say with a hollow voice. “Must I not?”
“You must rest. You got tired a lot.”, she said firmly. “I am sure that Lord Celtigar would understand.”
“Perhaps.”, she muttered and then abruptly stood up, and left from the back without saying anything.
“Finally all those fuckers are happy.”, Garth took a sip from his cup. “It’s been a long time since I last saw them like this.”
“Thanks to the Gods.”, Daven raised his cup and cheered. “The excitement of thinking they are too close to get rid of Atera must be strong.”
“Not everyone is happy.”, Victor frowned. “I don’t know what game she is playing but giving this much power to Edwell Celtigar is not wise.”
“She is obsessed with keeping Baelor therefore the Velaryons, away from the regency.”, Garth shrugged. “It seems she is ready to sacrifice herself.”
“You shall not worry.” Arys interfered. “Atera sees things we don’t and hears things we cannot. If she made such a dangerous move, it means she has a plan on her mind. She is not actually going to marry him. And even if she does not,”, he looked to the other men. “my sword is always ready.”
“I would say get in line.”, Garth humoured. “Paxter is there, Doric is there, Baelor is there -even Jace is there and I guess,”, he grimaced with confusion. “Alea is on the list too.”
“I didn’t doubt it for a second.”, Arys snorted. “Those two have a shared ferocity that we mortal men only dream to reach.”
“Lord Crane?”, at another spot in the room, Edwell approached the older man. “It is such an honour to see you at my betrothal.”
“Atera,”, he turned to him with a firm tone. “is not only the apple of Leyton’s eye, Lord Celtigar, I do care about her a great deal too. I am here for her, not for you.”
“Yes, yes,”, he nodded. “I heard how much exactly you care about my fiancée.”, he shook his head with a playful manner. “I heard you proposed to her.”
Vortimer was old enough to roll his eyes at this pathetic attempt. “I merely wanted her to know that if she felt the need for marriage all of a sudden, I would be more than happy to provide her needs. It is my duty against my best friend and to my region.”, he looked down on him. “Other than that, she is no different than my nieces in my eyes.”, he managed to say it with a straight face and not grimaced with disgust only because he knew that Celtigar didn’t know about their brief affair, or else, he would never say such an expression. “Any who shall think to use her for their own political agendas and ambitions would face me before anyone else.”
“I do understand your concerns, my lord.”, he was playing the friendly one. “But I must require for you not to heed the gossips about me. I am intending to be a dutiful husband to Lady Atera. I am not going to disappoint her -or you, for that matter.”
“This might be all that I hope.”, his face was straight. “You are going to join House Hightower as a brother-in-law, we, unintentionally, will be tied to through this title. You know that my sister once was married to Leyton and bore him four children -my nephew and my nieces, whom I love more than the world itself, we’ll see other many more times in the future. I would hope to have a civil relationship to prevent any inconveniences.”
“Marrying a Hightower, of course not as same as marrying a Targaryen, yet, it holds a certain uniqueness. You should be grateful for the power, influence, and most importantly the richness this match will provide to you and act according to your future wife’s station -this is all I can advise you.”
“An advice, I am going to take it seriously.”, he said but his smile disappeared when Vortimer turned his back -he had to get rid of him first, it seemed.
“Were you seen leaving your chambers?”, she asked the other night with a deep breath.
Malora wanted to get involved with this herself.
“No.”, she said simply. “There aren’t many guards and servants in my quarters to begin with.”, she shrugged. “So what is the plan then? Are we going to sneak to his chambers and slit his throat?”
Atera sent her a shocked look. “Why would we do such a thing?”
“Because I was very content with poisoning, it would be clean and would be over.”
“Poisoning won’t do.”
“And the reason for it is?”
“You talk too much on these days, niece.”, she turned to her with a fake smile. “I am not sure whether I like it or not.”
“It’s thrilling, I am excited.”, she answered with her same usual stoic face. “I never killed a man before.”
“I never killed a man before too.”, she narrowed her eyes. “But, we must put it on a show, poisoning won’t do.”
“Ah, to outsmart Lord Dayne?”, she suggested, they were walking towards the east wing -where Alerie’s chambers were resided in. “I don’t see the actual logic behind it though. He did you a favour and now you are returning it and then he’ll owe you something? How does that work?”
“What Lord Dayne did as a favour, cannot be known. If the Dornish Lords -if the Martells, would know about his involvement with such a delicate political issue in the Reach -in Oldtown no less, it would end them because all of the Torrentine Lords are forbidden to interfere in order to prevent incursion. But this? Everyone will know Caesar Yronwood died and he is going to be the prime suspect, he’ll need my word to save him. Therefore he is going to owe me something.”
“And you are going to ask what?”
“I’ll decide later on.”
“Do you think it is wise to have a deal with such a man?”
“Andric Dayne is one of the biggest threats against your father and unlike the Velaryons, he actually does have a brain inside of his head and troops that are close to our borders. It would be wise to keep him at an arm’s length with friendly -forced if we have to, intentions. Don’t you agree?”
Malora didn’t answer that. “What is going to happen then?”
“I am not sure.”, she mumbled, they were getting closer to Alerie’s chambers, and she wanted to join too. “I told Alea and Finnan to fix it without us knowing the details of it. So it is not actually going to be my murder. So I am not actually going against the Guest Right.”
“And they agreed?”
“Finnan is new, and it is his job to follow my orders. Alea on the other hand, only agreed so I wouldn’t have to do it myself.”
“Why are we going to Alerie’s chambers then?”
Atera rolled her eyes. “It seems she never killed a man before too and wants to witness it.”
“Why on earth did you tell it to her?”
“I took one walk with that man and suddenly everybody heard of it.”, she said with tension. This could hurt their plan but technically she wasn’t involved with it too. They could prove nothing. “Alerie asked and I answered -it’s not like your sister can damage me more.”, she wasn’t sure if the ring was squeezing her finger or her heart.
“Ah, there you are!”, Alerie walked towards them with excitement. “Now, what are we going to do?”
“Act like adults on a mission, not a five-year-old who saw chocolate, to begin with.”, Atera condemned her. “Why can’t you live events like normal people do, for once? Soemone is going to die, Alerie. It is not something to be excited about.”
“But the thrill of doing something we shouldn’t is satisfactory enough.”, she replied back. And then her smile turned into a cold one. “You are not the only one who can kill people as you wish, after all.”
“I killed that whore in order to protect this family-“
“She would be more useful to us if you simply didn’t.”, she snapped back, her warm expression turned into the Hightower coldness. “You know this too. You cannot justify her death by using the family because the opposite would keep us safer. I am not saying you did something wrong.”, she stated with a frown. “But you did for personal reasons, for personal vendetta, not for the family.”, she took a step forward. “As I would too, if I were in your shoes. I just do not want you to lie about it.”
“Believe into whatever you wish to believe.”, she raised her chin. “I did it for the family.”
“Maybe we should stop discussing her death in public where anyone can hear us.”, Malora warned them both. “Nobody knows that she is dead, except the inner circle. We should not talk about our crimes out loud.”
Oh, yes, and there was that too.
Vortimer decided this would be wiser.
“Two nieces joining their aunt for a night walk is not a crime.”, Atera was the first one to take a step back and scoffed.
“No but murder is.”, Malora said calmly.
“Does Mace knows about any of it?”, Atera questioned her.
“Gods, no.”, she rolled her eyes. “He thinks I am here to talk to you about the betrothal.”
“Happened last night and ended already.”, there was no room for discussion in her voice. “There is nothing to talk about.”
“He wonders if the marriage will follow.”
“That’s what everyone wonders.”, Malora mumbled, now they were walking towards the main hallway.
“This is why betrothal happens, no?”, Atera rolled her eyes. “Of course, it is going to follow. In a fortnight.”
“A fortnight?”, Alerie couldn’t help but yell and a few eyes turned to them while both Atera and Malora gaped at her reaction. “A fortnight?”, she whisper-yelled while Atera sent smiles to prying eyes. “Wait until father wakes up.”
“I do not have the luxury to wait until your father wakes up, you truly cannot be this stupid, Alerie.”
“Make him wait.”, she ordered. “You can do it if you are as clever as you say.”
“Send your grandfather and useless uncles away, if you can.”, she ordered back. “They are the root problem of everything.”
“It is Baelor who keeps them here.”, she hissed. “Because of you.”
Atera let out a laugh. “It is not my fault that he was born without a brain inside his head.”
“It is a sin to curse your own blood.”, Alerie rolled her eyes. “Yours are getting bigger and bigger every day.”
“Killing someone to right a wrong isn’t murder therefore it isn’t a sin. It is justice and justice can never be a bad thing.”, Atera rolled her eyes and they finally reached the corner Alea told them to go. She had no idea what was going to happen. “Now, we must scream I guess.”
Before Alerie managed to finish her sentence something fell just behind them and she let out a loud scream, Malora took a step back with a deep scowly and Atera gasped.
“Guards!”, she acted swiftly a moment later, forced herself to yell loudly, and shared a look with Finnan who threw Caesar’s hanging body from a few floors above. She had a thing where she could not yell, where her lungs didn’t work when she was truly shocked. “Act shocked.”, she said to Malora who was looking at him with disgust.
“I am shocked.”, Alerie yelled with tears in her eyes.
“Good but I was talking to your sister.”, she whisper-yelled to her and shook Malora. “Act fucking shocked.”
Malora let out a yell -which was so fake that even Alerie stopped her cry to look at her.
“My lady?”, the guards entered with worry -as did a few noblemen, they all gasped at the sight.
“He jumped.”, Alerie breathed out, her vision got blurred and one of the guards had to hold her. “We saw the entire thing, it was awful.”, she took her handkerchief and started to cry into it.
Atera wanted to throw up but kept her composure and Malora seemed overly disturbed. “Take him out.”, she managed to say, placing her hands on her stomach while Finnan and Alea rushed to her side. She saw the way Andric Dayne looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Send a raven to Lord Yronwood at once and investigate what happened.”
“It is a tragedy.”, they were all sitting in the green room in the morning, -Atera, Alerie, Mace, Malora, Finnan and Alea, Vortimer and Denyse, even Paxter and Rhaegar and a very angry-looking Arthur. “He was young, I believe.”, Malora said, shaking her head.
“Did you do this?”, Mace whispered into Alerie’s ear and she looked at him with her fluffy reddened eyes.
“No. Why would I?”
“Why did Atera do it then?”
Alerie closed her eyes and tears fell. “Long story.”
Vortimer was watching Atera with unblinking eyes while she drank lavender tea. “We all know how some lords in here solve their problems.”, he said harshly. “Maybe he had an argument with someone.”
“Wasn’t it obvious suicide?”, Denyse asked her uncle. “It is such a shameful way to go -and a mortal sin.”
“Yes.”, Alerie realized what she was trying to do. “We can surely press for an inquiry but I doubt the Yronwoods would like that.”
“There might be a charge of murder.”, Rhaegar muttered, looking at Arthur, he didn’t think Atera had to do anything with this but Andric was the prime suspect.
“If so, we just need to raise troops.”, Vortimer said nervously. “Caesar Yronwood was here to join the Faith.”
“He was what?”, Atera asked abruptly, sharing a look with wide-eyed Alerie.
Vortimer sent her a rage-filled look. One bad decision after the other and now, the threat was bigger than he could press. But before he managed to open his mouth the door opened and the High Septon entered with many faith guards next to him.
“Atera Hightower you are under arrest-“, she stood up with a pale face. “-for the murder of Rhea Florent, the Lady of Oldtown.”, the teacup fell to the floor while she gaped and froze. “You are going to be trialled for murder, homicide and sororicide, and will be punished accordingly.”
“What are you talking about?”, Mace asked, as the only one who was able to speak.
“Your mother-in-law, Lady Rhea Florent has been murdered by the hands of that woman, we have enough suspicion to go for a trial, Lord Tyrell.”
“I am the regent of this city, you have no power to do such an act.”, she tried to keep her composure.
“Not for long.”, he answered back. “You are also under arrest for the death of Caesar Yronwood. We have witnesses who claim it was Lord Dayne’s doing and you were privy to every detail. Arrest her already!”, he yelled and the guards drew their swords -as did Finnan.
Atera shared a look with Vortimer, everything was about to get very ugly.
“I doubt you have such a jurisdiction, High Septon.”, Rhaegar felt the need to speak. “This is the Regent of Oldtown you are accusing. The Faith does not possess power over House Hightower.”
“There is a time for everything, your grace. And now, it is time for us to go to war. Everyone must pay for their sins under the eyes of the Gods. Doesn’t matter if they are noble or royal,”, he sent him a look. “ no one is above the Gods.”
Atera made a hand gesture to Finnan to lower his sword. “You are going to regret it.”, she managed to say.
“I doubt so. This mistake is going to be your undoing.”
“You have no proof.”, she was sure of it. “You are never going to win this and I will come after you.”
“Lies!”, she screamed while frantically walking towards them.
Two guards acted quickly and caught her. She was yelling and screaming, cursing the Gods and the men who dare to blame her. Her tiara fell down to the ground, the sapphires shone under the sunlight, her clasps that were holding her braids got broken and fell to the ground while her hair fell to her shoulders.
“They all are lies, and you all know it! This is all your game, your whispers, none of it is true!”, her eyes were teary and red as her face blushed because of anger and panic, red dots started to appear on her neck and she was trying not to cry. “Let’s all be honest,”, she said finally, looking directly into the High Septon’s eyes. “This isn’t about the ‘crimes’ that I had committed, this is all happening because I am a woman. A woman in power, that is your issue.”
“A woman is weak by nature, therefore, cannot possess power.”, the High Septon answered with his sly smirk. The line sounded terribly similar to Atera. “If you go against the laws of nature, you must be prepared for every possible outcome. And here is yours, you will go down and many others did before you.”, he stopped for a second, an evilness covered his facial expressions. “As you know well.”
A realization crossed her face. She smiled bitterly. “I am not my mother.”, she pressed every word and watched the way the man’s face got darkened with every of them. “I will not go down quietly.”, she continued, taking a step forward. “It is not that easy!”, she yelled and then pushed the guards while screaming at the top of her lungs. “Let me go!”, the scream was so loud and wild that the guards let her go with panic. “I can walk myself.”, she said to the High Septon and looked into his eyes with the promise of vengeance in hers.
Then she turned around elegantly, her hair was a mess, her throat had already started to hurt because of all the yelling, and the lump in her throat was killing her. Her face was red with anger, and her neck was filled with red spots because of the panic and fear. Her eyes were filled with tears and she was gritting her teeth so hard so that she wouldn’t cry, but it hurt. A maddening headache was hitting her from the back of her head and yet she straightened her spine and walked with stern steps while holding her skirt and clenching it between her hands. Even through the fabric of the gown, her nails were sinking deep into her hand and the pain was helping her to go through this walk of defeat.
She looked like the Lysene Goddess of War, with her deep blue dress and open shoulders, golden v necklace with a huge sapphire on the middle of it, golden long earrings with also sapphires in the middle, rings filled with the same gems and hair that looked like a mess. She was like all the broken queens of old, having a piece of them in her soul.
The Conqueror by her own rights, Visenya, the legendary warrior queen, Nymeria, The Black Queen, Rhaenyra and The Green Queen, Alicent, The Queen Who Never Was, Rhaenys, The Queen in the West, Rhaena, the Witch Queen, Alys…
She spend her entire life trying to emulate them, she wanted to be them, and she dreamed to be them. Being someone who affected the course of history, a woman with power, being able to change the story is told… Becoming someone was all she ever wanted.
She often wondered about their problems and issues, surely there were people, men, who thought they were not enough. People tried to steal their birthrights, they downplayed them, insulted them, humiliated them, and treated them like they were nothing important and yet generations later all of those men were forgotten and only the names of these women lived.
While going to her chambers with a straight face while trying not to have a panic attack or a mental breakdown, she wondered what would people say about her generations after. She would not marry and have a child, there would not be a bloodline coming from her and now in the short distance to her defeat, she thought what would be her legacy. Would people remember her? Or would she become just another name on the page without a voice that people look down upon? Like many others before her, like Laena Velaryon and her daughters? Like Aliandra Martell, Jaehaera Targaryen and Larra Rogare, like Naerys Targaryen? Born with a great name and a great potential and let it all go to waste because she had been broken by men, defeated by men, brought to her knees by men?
Was it all who she was? Another name on another page. Worthless, meaningless, unimportant. Thought she was so clever but in truth was nothing more than a pretty face. Mad and weak, weak and mad, wasn’t allowed on the board, fade away before she got to play the real game. Never taken seriously by a world full of men, just because she was a fucking woman.
She had wanted to be Alicent Hightower, the woman who orchestrated the whole Dance because of her ambitions because she wanted to protect her family. But along the way, she had become her mother. A little replica of her. Thought breaking rules would give her freedom and now she was going to rot in a tower cell, waiting desperately for the execution, dying a little every passing day, and losing her sanity, her personality, everything that makes her who she is, and being long dead when the executioner’s axe hits her pretty little neck.
Her mother was the anger in her words and the sadness in her silence, the grief in her eyes and sorrow in her face, the fear in her tears and hurt in her smile, the ghost in her heart and emptiness in her bones, the voice in her head and the claws in her mind.
Everything she had done in order not to become her, every path she took, every choice she made, every decision, every turn, every word… in the end, they all made her who she is and who she is, is her mother.
Jenica Westerling once walked down the same path, she made similar choices, she broke the same rules, she defied the same men, and she fought in the same war with all her heart to protect herself, to protect her family.
To win the game.
And she had lost the war in the most definitive end. She swore not to be like her, there was nothing in this world that scared her more than the mere thought of having even one similarity with her mother and now at the dawn of the day she had realized that she was her mother.
Was there any free will? Any right of choice? Was someone’s path had been already decided, was every thought of having a decision a lie? Was she always meant to be her mother? Then what was the reason for it all? Why she had to walk from this path if it meant death to her anyways? Why the Gods had led her to believe, to hope, that she could become someone just to take it all away from her and sentence her to a forbidden ending just like her mother?
No, she thought to herself. I am not my mother. I will not give up the fight, I will not go with grace.
But did her mother go with grace? What did she even know about her mother? What would people even know about her in the future? Losers would become a simple name on a simple page, she promised herself to be a chapter, not a footnote and now the end had come to an end.
Or was it?
Atera entered the room with great panic and the moment she opened the door a sharp pain hit her from her stomach, she bend forward while holding her stomach with her two hands and gasping loudly. She was still trying to hold back her tears and was biting her lips to not to scream. She pressed her hands to her stomach with great pressure but the pain only got worsened so she screamed loudly and fell to her knees. She was crying and could not breathe, she hit the ground a few times while loudly crying, and one hand was still holding her stomach.
The door swung open and a frantic-looking Gerold entered the room, behind him there was her family. Alerie and Malora stood in front of the door while Baelor and Garth entered, they all were looking at her with wide eyes. Mace and Paxter were still in the trial room with Vortimer, trying to calm everyone down
“I am not her!”, she repeated the line over and over while Gerold quickly bend the knee in front of her. They all knew the breakdown was coming but nothing had prepared them for this. “I am not my mother, I will not die like her, they can’t do that, I will not allow it!”, she was shaken a lot, paler than the winter snow, her teeth were hitting each other because of the coldness she felt. She was sweating but was never cold this much. Her eyes were wide, and cold tears were falling down from them. She was hugging her stomach and was going forward and backwards while trying to stop her shaking movements. “I am not her, I will not die!”, she repeated over and over again while Gerold tried to calm her down.
“Enough!”, he finally yelled. He was a soldier, he was a commander, he witnessed panic attacks before, mainly with Oswell and knew what to do and how to do. Atera kept shaking but her whispering ended, she looked at her uncle as if she was wakened from a trance. Gerold held her pale face between his hands and looked directly into her blue eyes, lighter than the Narrow Sea itself, she was right, there was nothing Hightower about her in her looks but she was a Hightower in heart and in soul through and through.
And Hightowers lighted the way, not get burned while reaching there.
“As long as I am alive, no one can hurt you.”, he said sternly, put a little pressure to his hands and shook her head a little. “Do you hear me? Do you understand? I will burn down the world if it means that you will be safe. You are not your mother and never will be and I will protect you the way I couldn’t protect her.”, his eyes were burning too but his words worked a little.
Atera’s frantic breaths calmed a little and she closed her eyes, a few seconds later the tears started to fall down and she started to cry silently. Gerold hugged her tightly, pushed her head to his chest, and let her ruin his coat. His left hand was hugging her neck and the other was caressing her hair. He held her between his arms while her shaking movements end.
“Malora,”, he said finally without turning back to his grand niece. “please prepare something for your aunt, to calm her down.”
Both Malora and Alerie were traumatized. Both were older than her and yet both felt younger. Always. They lived their life, they were aware of everything, they didn’t had the luxury of turning a blind eye but they never suffered for the game. It was always Atera who sacrificed herself and then acted like nothing was wrong. Seeing her in this state, completely broken, destroyed them.
“S-Sure.”, she stuttered and then looked to her sister, they locked their eyes and Malora dragged her from her hand.
It took nearly an hour for Atera to calm down and in the meanwhile Malora prepared her tea to ease her nerves and calm her down. All of her allies were in the room, Doric and Arys entered while she was still crying and a very tired Cerissa and Arvel entered shortly after she calmed down.
No one was talking though all of them were thinking something. She was sitting in front of the fireplace, crossed her legs on the floor, a shawl on her shoulders and the teacup in her hands. She was watching the flames without blinking, her eyes were burning and so does her face, there were still tears in her eyes, and her lips and the tip of her nose were red because of all the crying. She felt like a mess, she was a mess. Broken on the floor, thinking everything and nothing at the same time.
“I can fix this.”, she finally whispered and half of the people took a deep breath. Every time she fixed one problem two others were created and it all lead to this one moment.
Alerie and Malora were sitting on her bed alongside Baelor, Arvel and Paxter were outside on the balcony, Atera was on the floor, Doric and Gerold were sitting on the couch and Garth was sitting on the arm of the couch, Cerissa was sitting on the chair of her desk, Arys was also on the floor on the left wall with Arwyn standing next to him, Mace was walking back and forth, muttering to himself.
“They let you leave now because they don’t have proof.”, Mace muttered. “That is obvious. They will not arrest you now, or tomorrow, but it is easy to make up proofs. He is not going to let you walk away from this.”
“To put it on a show.”
“To put it on a show.”, Mace repeated Garth.
“This means I have a few days.”, her throat was hurting and her voice was weak, she was whispering.
“You don’t have shit.”, Garth snapped. “This is the end of the line, in case you hadn’t realised it yet. There is no turning back from this.”
“I can fix it.”
“How many times have you said that in the past month?”, he angrily questioned her. “And how many times you couldn’t?”
“Garth you are not helping.”, Gerold warned him.
“On the contrary,”, he deadpanned. “I am the only one who’s helping her. All of you chose to stay quiet or worse, you all encouraged her to make vital mistakes and then judge her for it. I am the only one who is warning her.”
“I do not need your warnings or tip-offs. I can fix this and I will.”
“And how are you planning to do that?”, Paxter asked, coming to the room, while Garth snorted and got up from the couch, started to walk like Mace. “Everybody hates you Atera, all of your allies in this world are in this room right now.”
“I don’t need any allies, they never did anything remotely helpful.”
“Just because Vortimer tells you nothing about the truth, doesn’t mean you are in a position to win.”, he yelled at her, his face falling. “There are too many things you don’t know.”
“Let’s review,”, Mace said nervously. “There are two thousand traitors in your army who are secretly preparing for a military coup to dethrone you, who already betrayed you and your family. They were ready to bend the knee to the Ironborn just to get rid of you. The High Septon himself hates you, he would choke you to death himself without any struggle and he can give a homily in any second to execute you -not that he already didn’t. The people hate you and blame you for everything. They see you as a monster, a usurper who tried to kill her own brother, who started a war, who murdered their gracious lady. The nobles in the court hate you, they hate your guts because you try to command them as a woman, you insult them and humiliate them because they all are useless but they would also rather bend the knee to the Ironborn just to get rid of you -of course, the same goes for the smallfolk and for the High Septon. Your sworn houses, the majority of them, also hate you and mind you, those people are with armies. The young Cuy is too excited for his own good, he agitates the other houses. You don’t have one single ally outside of this room and now Arvel is here with his Braavosi navy, you had wined and dined with Dornish inside of the castle your brother was fighting for his life, and people see you as weak and traitor. There are half a million people in this city who would start a race to see your head on a spike. How can you fix this?”, he spatted the last line.
She could swear that she saw her father, standing in front of her. She blinked a few times but he didn’t disappear, looked at her with disappointment.
“What are you doing?”, he said once more. “Why are you still holding back?”
“You said yourself,”, she said as if she was in a trance. “they see me as a monster, as someone I am not.”
“Don’t you realize what they are doing? Have you forgotten what they did to your mother?”
“...yes?”, Mace stopped in his tracks and turned to her with worry and nervousness.
“What I did do to your mother?”, his face got darkened with anger. “She was weak.”, he spat. “And she died for it. Do you wish to be like her?”
“There is nothing I can do to change that now but one thing.”, she was shaking, closing her eyes tightly to get rid of the voices in her head.
“Which is?”, Doric whispered. He knew what was it.
“They think you are my daughter. And they are right.”
“No.”, she whispered, shook her head, Gerold sent her a worried look.
“You and I are more similar than we think, daughter. You are my creature. Go and prove them right, go and make them regret it.”
“I’ll become the monster they think I am.”, she said without thinking and saw the way her father’s satisfied smirk before he disappeared.
She was losing her mind.
“No way.”, Gerold snapped and got up from his couch. “I will not have you massacre the entire city.”
“I will not massacre the entire town. I only need to get rid of a few people.”
“You told me to take action.”, she turned to look at her uncle. “I am taking action.”
She woke up the next day with the best night's sleep she had in nearly two years. Alerie had stayed with her and they fall asleep, hugging each other as they did when they were very young.
When she woke up, Alerie was still sleeping so she watched the ceiling in silence, thinking about the events. The answer was simple and clear and was in front of her the whole time but she was reluctant to murder someone. Rhea was an exception, she had deserved everything that happened to her and now the rest would follow her.
She stood up quietly but Alerie woke up. “Can you do my hair today?”, she asked with a lovely tone. “The way you like it? The braids and such, flowers and jewels? I must look beautiful.”
“You always look beautiful.”, Alerie yawned while rubbing her eyes. “But I will. Which dress you’ll wear?”
“The blue one, as usual.”
There was another colour she wanted to wear but she was afraid of it. Afraid of its meaning, afraid of what would she become if she wore that colour. It was stupid, she knew, to be scared of a simple tone, but the symbolism meant everything in the Reach and she was not ready for such a power move. She was still trying to hold onto the innocence she had lost long ago, pretending to be someone she is not. What actually scared her was to realize that there was no fear in her heart at all. The moment of realization that she knew this day would come eventually, the fear of realizing that she wasn’t just ready but she was expecting it and that she was okay with it.
Maybe she was truly the monster they all thought she was and she was the last one to realize it.
Alerie helped her to get rid of her nightgown and she sunk into the boiling bath Alerie made it prepared for her. There were lilies, irises, violets and rosemaries in the tub. Alerie didn’t want any maids and first washed Atera’s hair delicately, massaged her scalp to get rid of the headache that lasted long since the evening and then took a washcloth and then carefully but a little harshly washed her arms and back and legs. When the bath grew colder -which meant the exact heath that Alerie took her bath and even then felt too hot, she helped her to get out of it safely.
First, she wore her small clothes and then Alerie tied her corset not so tightly, then she wore the first layer of her gown, she was supposed to look like a proper lady today but Alerie missed her original gowns. The blue satin fit to her perfectly and ended right above her ankles, then she had helped her to wear the skirt, which was not that puffy but wasn’t going down without any puffiness at all, after tying it and securing it to her corset she finally helped her wear the little coat that matched with the skirt and covered her arms and shoulders and ended it in her waist. She was not going to wear a belt today and while she was trying to wear her shoes, Alerie chose a sapphire jewellery set, a lavishing necklace with three big sapphires and six small ones, long silvery sapphire earrings, and multiple rings.
She finally sat down in front of the mirror and Alerie made a complicated braid bun to her hair, filled it with silver chains, little violets and a sapphire tiara on the top of it. Then applied a little make-up, a cream to make her skin look more alive, a soft blush to her cheeks, mascara a little, pinkish lipstick and white eye shadow.
She never looked more regal than she was now.
They locked eyes from the window and Alerie put a hand on her shoulder, Atera held it. “Come with me to Highgarden, let me save and protect you.”
“You know that I can’t.”
“Atera, if you stay here you will die.”
A wave of anger passed through her eyes and she stood up and turned to Alerie. “And is this your bright plan? Run? And left behind all that I have, all that I am?!”, she yelled with a broken heart and tears filled her eyes. “I have been alone since the moment I was born.”, she put a hand to her long-healed wound that still hurt from time to time. “I had to flee from my home once, with no plan to return, I had given up and embraced the death like an old friend but I had life.”, her voice was venomous and filled with pain, and words came harsher than usual and her voice was thicker. “I couldn’t even manage to die because the Gods you believe with your whole heart weren’t done with me. I kept on fighting, lost my purpose and find it again. Call me ambitious, call me an idiot, call me blind or reckless or impulsive or whatever the fuck you want but know one thing, I will not flee from my own home again. No one can force me to do that and if I am going to die because of it then so be it!”, she let out a sorrowful chuckle. “I already died the day I was born, unloved, unwanted. I was a disappointment to the whole world even before I let out my first cry, even before I took my first breath in this world simply because I was born from my mother. I endure everything and everyone and I tried so hard-“, her voice cracked and a few tears fell from her eyes. “-so hard to be enough but I was never. I never managed to be sufficient for anyone in my life, not to your father, not to your uncles, not to your sisters or brothers, not to Jace, not to anyone. I am a failure, a mistake, a disappointment so long that I forgot what it meant to be someone else. I will not betray myself once more.”
“You said that you are not her!”, Alerie said while crying, desperately holding her hands. “But you share the same pride and arrogance. I remember that she knew the end was coming and yet she refused to run away, she refused to obey and where is she now?”
“And my father chose to run away, he chose to obey, where is he now?”, she spatted. “I once read that every child has to fight with their parents’ sins till the rest of their days and that their end will be because of the same cause.”, she shrugged while biting her lips. “I am so much more than that. Call me willful, I never refused it. Call me blind, and maybe I am. But if there is one thing I am not is that being a coward. I will fight till the end and even if I lose, I will lose with dignity.”
“You will die.”, she pressed every word.
“And the life will go on for everyone.”, she smiled through her tears and pain. “I am not my mother. She gave up in the end, we all know that. I will not and if I am destined to share the same end then so be it.”
She send one last look to her niece and left the room. Closed her eyes and took a breath, calmed herself down and erased every trace of the conversation from her face. She straightened her spine and held her head high, everybody was looking at her, whispering about her but she never broke her focus and went directly to the council room, and opened the doors.
Everybody looked at her with horror and shock, no one dared to mutter a word, and utter silence reigned over the room and she idly walked to the head chair and sat down, looking to every member of her council.
“Where should we start?”
Her door got knocked impatiently and she had only a little time to wake up and turn her position to sitting on her bed.
“What?”, she managed to ask while yawning and rubbing her eyes. Have they come to kill her this late?
“My lady.”, Finnan bow his head with nervousness. “His grace, the Prince of Dragonstone.”, he left the room without waiting for a reply and Atera’s movements stopped for a second.
Who died? was the first thing she thought.
“May I enter?”, the silver prince asked almost in a green colour, seemed like he was just minutes away from throwing up.
“O-of course, your grace.”, she cursed herself for stuttering and then immediately stood up, and tripped onto her own gown but managed not to fall. She had a terrible heartburn and the back of her head started to pulse due to being awakened in such an alarming way. “Finnan.”, she called him back, her voice was shaken. “Wake Alea up and tell her to bring us lemon balm tea.”, she managed to say while the prince basically threw himself onto the chair.
“Yes, my lady. Anything else?”
“No.”, she dismissed him pensively with the back of her hand, her eyes never left the prince’s troubled face, he was rubbing his forehead. She was wearing a light teal, extremely inappropriate, nightgown with thin strings, an open back and a slash that reached to her upper tight when she walked. She took her robe with quick movements and tied it securely. She and the prince were most definitely not close enough for such a visit at this hour, it was scandalous even for Atera. If the prince’s presence would be known, no one could ever stop the gossip. She walked towards the prince, near the door. “Your grace,”, she said carefully, she was so confused and wanted to pass out due to the immense pain in her body. “is there something wrong? Has something happened? You look …devastated.”
Rhaegar kept rubbing his forehead for a while, the silence was ruling the room. “My father is getting married.”
She let out a muffled gasp and lost her balance, fell to her bed securely. Her glass-like blue eyes were as wide as they could be and her brain was completely frozen this time. She felt that all she could do was look at the prince.
“With who?”, she managed to ask a few minutes later, her lips didn’t even move at all. Alea already entered the room and gave the tea and left it with a deep worry. Both of them were probably looking terrible, neither looked at the other.
“Cersei Lannister.”, he said with a pathetic chuckle and his face took the shape of a cry for a second but he rubbed it with sharp movements.
“It will take too much backlash.”, she managed to say, swallowing down the rising fury. Cersei Lannister? That little rat? “The queen died less than half a year ago.”, she finally had the courage to look at him. “He is going to wait for sure, yes? She was his sister first and wife for more than two decades. Surely he would do the courtesy of waiting for an appropriate time first.”
“He is not going to wait.”, he sighed and held out the letter. “This came from Elia.”, he pulled another from his pocket. “And this from him directly. He is planning to marry her in a fortnight.”, she let out a high-pitched gasp this time, understanding why the prince was green-like, she too had a desperate need to throw up. “I am to return back to the court, to join the wedding. I already sent word to your uncle, Oswell and Arthur, I am leaving with the first lights. I must stop this before it even begins.”, he pinched his nose tightly.
“No one can stomach such a thing.”, she stood up and said with a dark fervour. “The queen was not much beloved amongst the nobles, yes, but the smallfolk? They adored her, they valued her greatly, disrespecting her memory with the daughter of Tywin Lannister -who is ultimately a hated figure in the realm, in this short notice would-“
“You are smarter than that.”, he interrupted her and lowered his hand with a quick move. “You should be smarter than that.”, he stood up and approached her with a dark face and tied his hands behind his back. “I am trying to get to know you ever since we met at Starfall.”, he spat. “Yet, you managed to play me, I admit that, I respect that, but it ends tonight.”, he straightened his back. “You are not stupid, every act you made proves that. Yet, you cornered yourself. I can easily choose to believe that you are just a cold-hearted, scheming murderer -and believe me, I have enough proof for that and left you here to be destroyed by the Faith. Or,”, he took another step. “you are going to show me your true colours now and I am going to help you.”
Her brain was truly frozen, or else she would never accept such help.
“The nobles would prefer to betray the memory of an insignificant queen to anger a very much alive and mad king.”, she said simply. “The king’s court turns into a cesspool more and more every day. He is not the same after the whole shitshow in Duskendale and Tywin Lannister uses this to grasp the power and now his feeble-minded daughter will become the queen. You must kill her.”, she spoke very swiftly without blinking and barely moving her lips, shrugging with a serious expression. “If she gives birth to a son, they will get rid of you, and your daughter and your brother and your father and your wife because they fucking hate her. If she gives birth to a daughter, then they will marry her with Viserys and will turn brother against brother, will create another Dance, another Blackfyre Rebellion-level catastrophe and make no mistake, the whole realm will bleed because they will have many supporters.”
“He wrote to me and told me that he sees my mother in her.”, he whispered. “He says that Cersei is like an antidote that heals him.”
“How can he compare an elegant true-born princess like Queen Rhaella to that scheming little witch?”
He took another step towards her, there was barely a distance between them, yet he whispered as quietly as he could. “I am going to force him to abdicate with a Great Council.”
“Would never work, this story will end with a war.”
“Then I am going to go against him with a sword in my hand.”, he said fiercely. “I need every ally I can have, yes, but only a few have the right to sit on my council. I would like to see you there but with only one condition; you are going to follow my every order and no more impulsive mental breakdowns. Agree?”, he took a step back, and straightened his spine.
She remembered being filled with great hope at that moment, she had no idea she made the worst mistake of her life.