Chapter Title: Baelor Hightower
Fandom(s): A Song of Ice and Fire
Word Count: 2,287
Summary: Five people who loved Elia Martell in secret, and one who told her.
When the West Wind Moves
ii. Baelor Hightower
ii. Baelor Hightower
His father thinks it too bold of the Martells to visit the Reach, to pursue his heir’s hand for their daughter. What folly. House Nymeros Martell is historic, the only liege Aegon couldn’t conquer, with the blood of Princess Nymeria flowing through their veins, the blood of royalty. Just a few generations back they married into the Targaryens themselves. If they were good enough for kings, why not Leyton Hightower?
Still, though Baelor may be his family’s heir he is no more than that yet, and so must defer to his father in matters of betrothal—no matter his own opinions.
His parents are haughty when they greet the Dornish party, petty prejudices running deep, but Baelor greets them with courtesy, offering Princess Loreza and her consort his own chambers and Princess Elia and Prince Oberyn their best guest rooms. It warms him to the Princess, he thinks, for she at least engages him in genuine conversation, whereas it is naught but overly polite repartee between her and his parents.
By the fourth day, he is resolved to beseech his lord father for the engagement. Somehow without his knowledge, the princess had enchanted him beyond measure, his nights plagued by dreams of her beauty, his days filled with her sharp tongue and easy grace. Half the Hightower echoes him, and he catches her in turn talking amiably with any servant she passes, playing come-into-my-castle with his youngest siblings, and plucking wildflowers to thread through her hair.
It isn’t until the end of the first week that his father and the Princess drop their pretenses and cut to the reason for the visit. They, his mother, and the prince consort sequester themselves away, leaving him to entertain the rest of the Dornish at dinner. It is not hard; Princess Elia seems to have taken a liking to him, if not as much as he had to her, and Prince Oberyn’s japes are side-splittingly ribald. They sup on sumptuous fare, the cooks sparing no expense, but halfway through, his stomach begins to revolt.
With dread, he remembers the biscuits little Denyse had begged him to eat earlier that day. She’d helped make them, she’d said, and he’d dutifully eaten three of them. Appeasing his sister was all he’d cared about at the time; he’d forgotten all about how an excess of heavy breads doesn’t sit well with him.
Not now, of all times, he bemoans. To his great misfortune, it is when the conversation lulls that it happens. Perhaps it would have gone considerately unmentioned—had Oberyn Martell not been sitting across the table. “Baelor Breakwind we should call you,” he chortles. He fills up Baelor’s goblet of wine and adds, “Oh, don’t make that face, it detracts from your handsomeness, ser.”
He doesn’t want to sneak a glance at Elia because he’s afraid of what he’ll see, but he does it anyway and wilts at the amused smile she poorly conceals behind her hand. He had meant to be the model host, proud and refined, not subject to the same rudenesses of other men. It hadn’t been on purpose, but nevertheless, it had happened.
Sensing his discomfort, Alerie steps in as hostess, her warmth leeching the awkwardness from the room. His cheeks are still aflame, though, and suddenly none of the rest of his food looks appetizing. He fills up on wine, a strong Dornish red brought out from the cellars for the occasion.
When at last dinner comes to an end, he excuses himself with every intent to submerge himself in a blazing hot bath and try to forget everything. Only before he can, Elia gently pulls him aside. “Would you take me up the tower?” she asks.
Embarrassment renewed, he mutters, “I’d have thought you’d want to be rid of me.”
“Why would I—wait, that?” She scoffs impatiently. “Ser Baelor, I grew up amongst two brothers and scores of men in Sunspear’s employ. I care not about what happened at dinner, and you shouldn’t either. Oberyn tries to make me laugh, that’s all. You are not the first man to whom he has given an unfortunate nickname on this trip, and I doubt you will be the last. In fact, yours is one of the tamer ones, so I’d count yourself lucky.”
Her words mollify him some. “Then that is what I shall do, my lady.”
“Excellent.” She links her arm up with his and asks again, “Shall we? Doran claims you can see all the way to the Wall, and I’d like to find that out for myself.”
It’s slow going since she has to stop to catch her breath every so often, but he doesn’t mind, for it gives him the opportunity to talk to her at length. She is winded when they reach the top of the stairs, which soon vanishes as soon as she goes to the railing and looks out at the whole of Oldtown. He stares at her profile, her full mouth parted in awe, the breeze caressing her hair away from her face, and for half a second his heart stutters.
“Gods be good,” she gasps. I could say the same. “Not even the Palestone Sword compares to this.”
“No, I should think not,” he says, coming up next to her and leaning against the rail. “This is five times that height.”
Her childlike wonder has him smiling. Most people who weren’t raised in the Hightower have a similar reaction, but many had also had taller structures than the Palestone Sword to compare it to—and none were half so beautiful as she. The privacy they have up here emboldens him, and he takes her hand, using it to point out the various sights in the distance, each of which impresses her more than the last.
“I could look at this view forever,” she remarks, breathing in deeply the crisp air. The scents and sounds of the city far below them have disappeared, leaving them only with the gusting of wind and the heat of the dying sun.
“You can, princess.”
Instead of getting an agreement or a blush as he’d hoped, her face falls. “Oh. Yes, I suppose.” She picks at the peeling paint on the railing for a few minutes, and then looks back up at him. “Ser Baelor, you are a wonderful man, and I think I could be very content here with you. Even if this is the Reach.”
He chuckles obligingly at her jibe. “But?”
She exhales heavily. “But I could never love you, for my heart belongs to another,” she says, so matter-of-fact, like no argument could be brooked against it. “My mother will make a match for me regardless, I fear, but I think it only fair to be honest with you.”
He supposes he should have known. Such a woman could have never gone unclaimed for this long. “Who is he?” he asks. “The heir of some great Dornish lord?”
“No,” Elia chuckles, “nothing of the sort. And I’m sure you wouldn’t like him.”
“I wouldn’t? Why?” She hesitates, clearly distrustful of sharing this particular information. “I’m very good at keeping secrets, you know. Ask Mal or Alerie if you don’t believe me.”
She sees something in him that sets her to softening. “Arthur Dayne,” she answers, his name carried away by the wind.
Dayne. The Hightowers are not quite so full of enmity towards the former Torrentine kings as the Tyrells of Highgarden, but even so, every Reach child grows up with brutish stories of the border lords—true or otherwise. But this Dayne, he knows. Or knows of, rather. Everyone does. The last Sword of the Morning had died some eighty years past, Dawn’s pale blade hidden from the world for generations, lying in wait for the next worthy wielder.
Until a few months prior, when word caught on like wildfire about the sixteen-year-old second son of Starfall. Baelor had seen him in tourneys, before any ancient swords or titles, and he remembers noting the man’s skill, even then. He’d seemed to prefer the joust, but to Baelor’s eye, the mêlée would have been the better place to show off his talent. Although, granted, mayhaps he’s the sort to not want others to know how he fights in case one day he must oppose them on the battlefield. He can respect that.
How exactly young Arthur Dayne had beguiled the beautiful princess in front of him he couldn’t begin to say, for she doesn’t seem the type to be seduced by martial skill alone, but it’s not his place to ask. “I hope he knows how lucky he is.”
Elia shoots him an impish grin. “Worry not, my lord. I never let him forget it.”
“Good, that’s…good.” He pauses, then asks, “If Ser Arthur is your lover, why are you endeavoring for a betrothal elsewhere? Forgive me, but aren’t the Dornish less traditional on espousals?”
“Mother isn’t,” Elia sighs. “Not for me, anyway. But if none of these work out, then perchance she’ll consider an option of my choosing.”
So this was doomed from the start, Baelor realizes. Even if by some miracle we were to wed, I would never be more than a duty to her.
Still, it’s not her fault, and anyway, it’s rare for highborns to find love of any sort; Baelor can’t well begrudge her for it. “Then may the gods bring you all that you want and more,” he says, drinking in the sight of her.
She rises up to her toes and kisses him full on the mouth, her dainty hands clenched in his doublet. She tastes of spice and salt, and he forgets himself, pulls her flush against him. He wishes he hadn’t, for it merely has him thinking of how wonderful it would be to be able to do this whenever he pleased, to kiss such a woman at any given moment. To sleep next to her night after night, her thick hair spilled across the pillow.
He’s not a simpleton, though. He knows the difference between a kiss and a kiss, and this is definitely the former. “For what it’s worth,” she says once they break apart, “I wish you every happiness, Ser Baelor. I hope you find a woman worthy of your goodness.”
He nods cordially, but half of him wants to tell her he doesn’t care if she loves another, he wants to take her to wife anyway. Starfall is a thimble compared to the Hightower, and for all she knows, Arthur Dayne could turn sour over time: a boy of six-and-ten is not the same as a man of twenty-six or thirty or fifty. Being nice isn’t a requisite to be the Sword of the Morning, after all. He’ll let her go for now, though. Maybe if the Princess refuses Ser Arthur outright…maybe it would be him Elia chose and one day he could call himself her husband.
It doesn’t go as planned. When all is said and done, he receives only a polite letter of acknowledgement from the Princess, and his and Elia’s attempts to maintain a correspondence peter out after a while. In the months to follow there is no news of Elia being betrothed—to him, or to anyone else.
A few years down the line, his father finds him a different candidate, one of Andal descent, not Rhoynish. She’s gracious and gentle, this Rhonda Rowan, and handsome besides. She is white as snow compared to Elia and very eager to please, as if she knows who came before her. A bit too eager, in the beginning, but after the vows are exchanged and she makes her home in the Hightower, she becomes more enjoyable to be around. He’s not sure he’ll ever come to care for her beyond what he has to, but she’s a kind woman with a knack for politics, and he’ll make do.
Elia enters his thoughts less and less over time, until the proclamation that she is set to marry the crown prince, and it is not jealousy he feels but sympathy. He’d known something had changed between her and Ser Arthur, given that shortly after Elia returned to Sunspear it was announced he would succeed the deceased Ser Roland Hunter in the Kingsguard, but he can picture with perfect clarity her smile when she’d spoken of him. And it all makes Baelor wonder whether Prince Rhaegar would be enough for her—for what could the bookish prince offer that she hadn’t already tasted from the dashing Sword of the Morning?
He and Rhonda travel to the capital for the wedding, and though Elia is thoroughly welcoming, she hardly has time for more than a dance and a quick conversation before she’s swept elsewhere. She doesn’t seem miserable, exactly, so he decides not to be the one to make her so with his concerns. At Harrenhal, he itches with the urge to sink his fist into Prince Rhaegar’s jaw, repeatedly, for the public humiliation the man had wrought on his wife, and it is only by virtue of Alerie’s calming words that he refrains from doing exactly that.
It would be the last time he saw either of them; not that he knew it then.
Less than a year hence, Prince Rhaegar abducts the Stark girl, war tears the realm apart, and King’s Landing is chewed up and spit out by Tywin Lannister’s men. The fates of Elia and her babes spread to every corner of the realm, and it’s so grisly, so horrifically unnecessary, that he goes to the very top of the Hightower where she’d once stood and screams until his throat bleeds.