Chapter Title: Rhaegar Targaryen
Fandom(s): A Song of Ice and Fire
Word Count: 2,743
Summary: Five people who loved Elia Martell in secret, and one who told her.
When the West Wind Moves
v. Rhaegar Targaryen
v. Rhaegar Targaryen
He doesn’t know what to expect from her, in truth. Her delicate health is the worst kept secret in Westeros, but there are no rumors about her personality, whether she’s kind or curt, whether her preferences lie in hawking or embroidery, whether she can sit a horse or heft a spear. No, nothing of her character, only her frailty. His mother had tried to put him at ease, but it rang hollow. The Princess of Dorne had been her lady-in-waiting once upon a time, and she’d even briefly known Elia and Oberyn when they came to King’s Landing as toddlers to escape the Stepstones threat during the war.
Only his mother hadn’t seen any of them since before Rhaegar was born, so gossip is all he has to go on. He himself had met Oberyn here and there at various tourneys, and the Red Viper had always been vicious in his repartee but courteous enough otherwise, and a fearsome opponent in the joust. He was ferociously protective of his sister, anyone could see that, but at the time, Rhaegar hadn’t needed to know anything about her, so he’d never asked.
He tries Arthur, knowing that his oldest and dearest friend had squired in Sunspear and remained there until he donned the white cloak at seventeen. By virtue of proximity alone, Rhaegar figured Arthur would have been at least nominal acquaintances with her. Except when he broaches the question, Arthur turns even more taciturn than usual and offers nothing Rhaegar couldn’t have guessed for himself.
Which leaves Prince Lewyn, the newest member of the Kingsguard and already one of its most consummate warriors. Rhaegar doesn’t know him especially well, but he’d knighted Arthur and is uncle to Oberyn, so Rhaegar suspects there’s quite a bit more behind the Dornishman’s show of perfect manners. As it happens, Prince Lewyn sings Elia’s praises, extolling her every virtue and, he notes, not once mentioning her health. It’s Prince Lewyn’s testimony that allays the dragon’s share of his trepidation.
The king had balked, of course, until Lord Steffon and Lady Cassana returned unsuccessful and dead from their voyage to Essos, and there was no other passable choice in his mind. Certainly not after he had summarily refused Lord Tywin’s suggestion of Lady Cersei as a bride. Rhaegar was no particular fan of the Lannisters, but Lady Cersei did know how to navigate court, and her family’s prestige and wealth would have been an asset.
Nevertheless, the match was struck and Rhaegar met her nine months before they were due to be wed, at Lord Robert’s tourney. She was genial, but seemed irked about something the whole duration, and altogether was not what Prince Lewyn described.
But then she comes to King’s Landing a month before their wedding, and over time he does begin to see it. He sees that her politesse is her armor, her cleverness her sword, and beneath all the requisite etiquette, in her eyes there lingers astute intelligence. She knows how to play the game, and would bow to no courtier.
The insinuations follow her to Dragonstone, snide insults about her narrow hips and how back in Sunspear she would sometimes be laid up in bed for weeks at a time, but try as he might, Rhaegar can never find the source. It bothers her, he knows; it’s on full display in her tight smile, the strained lines by her eyes, the subtle straightening of her back. She shoulders the burden herself, refusing to accept any reassurances despite the fact that he means them.
It seems irrelevant that she’s not as robust as other maidens, for it is everything else she has that interests him. When the time is ripe for him to depose his father, he’ll need a queen who can be his equal, his counsel, like King Daeron and Queen Mariah of old, and her mettle promises her to be exactly that. While the maester had said pregnancies would require careful monitoring, he hadn’t said she couldn’t bear children. As far as he’s concerned, having a wife who falls ill on regular occasion is an acceptable loss.
It strikes him one day that she stirs something within him. He’d never had much interest in women (or men, for that matter), not in the way the stable boys and randy knights did. The prophecy interested him, knowledge interested him, learning what made or broke kings interested him. His body had done all the work on his wedding night, fortunately, and a moon’s turn later the maester determined Elia was with child.
As the months pass, as her stomach swells with a little boy or girl, he finds that her brightness puts the sun to shame, that he seeks to make her happy, that between her beauty and her fire, he’s often wanted her, as a husband wants a wife. Summerhall has been a pall over his existence from birth, yet the goodness inside of her somehow eases his melancholy. He doesn’t think it’s love, exactly, not like he’s read about, but no longer does his marriage feel like such a chore. No longer does he fear that the stiff propriety between them will last forever. He would not be his father, and she would not be his mother.
He prays until his knees go numb when Rhaenys is born, the babe healthy but Elia’s life squarely at the whims of the gods. He doesn’t know which one to pray to so he prays to all seven, even stumbles into the foreboding godswood to try his luck there. A week after the birth she finally wakes for good, exhausted but alive. She has the same look on her face as he did when she sees the child, for there is not a speck of Targaryen in her. Not in her olive skin or amber eyes or black hair or dimpled cheeks—but she has ten fingers, ten toes, and an ample set of lungs, and that’s all he cares about. Whatever his father’s disparagement, he loves every inch of her.
And watching Elia feed her at her own breast, her level of tranquility in doing so, it gives him that same feeling as before: a quickening of his heart and a coiling low in his belly. He even endures a trip to Dorne to present Rhaenys to the Martells, though he burns horrifically in the ruthless heat and the food flavored with dragon peppers and snake venom sears his tongue. She loses her pallor while they’re there, her sleep is restful. For those reasons alone, he extends what was supposed to be a sojourn of three weeks to three months.
The husband in him feels guilty when she tells him she is pregnant again, for it has been scarcely more than half a year since Rhaenys was born; the man who’d read that ancient scroll is elated. Elia carries a boy, he knows it, and the birth would not only bring him with only one head of the dragon remaining, but provide him an heir in the meanwhile. The Long Night would not come for years yet, and he’s well-aware his father yearns for any excuse to name Viserys as his successor. A son he could mold into his own creature, not the disappointment he has in his eldest.
Retrospect is a cruel mistress, and if he had the chance to do things over again, it would be Harrenhal he started with. He hadn’t honestly intended his awarding the crown of winter roses to Lyanna Stark as a slight. The prospect hadn’t even occurred to him until she bluntly pointed it out. He wanted to reward the wolf maid for her valor and justice, and the crown would be the only honor she could receive. It had begun everything, inserted Lyanna into his awareness, but it wasn’t a matter of lust.
After that, nothing is the same. Where Elia had before looked upon him with fondness, had slept with him at her side, now she is colder than the Wall. Unfailingly polite, but no longer does he see her laugh, no longer does she jape with him, no longer is he welcome in her chambers. Meals are glacial affairs. It doesn’t help matters any that her entire retinue is Dornish, every one of whom regards him with scorn.
The loss he feels most acutely is Arthur, who becomes less friend and more stoic Kingsguard. Over the years, it had been easy to forget Arthur was Dornish, even with the accent that marked him as different and the distinctive ancestral sword he carried. Lewyn is better at concealing his consternation, but not good enough. Rhaegar would wonder later whether it was this icy reception from every Dornishman and -woman that ultimately nudged him towards Lyanna, or whether destiny would ensure the same end was reached no matter the path.
It is the Stranger alone he prays to when Aegon is born, for Elia’s condition declines so rapidly no other god could save her. Just as he’d anticipated, it is a boy the maester places into his arms, a boy as opposite in appearance to Rhaenys as the sun from the moon. Aside from the dimples in his cheeks and the shape of his nose, he is Rhaegar in miniature, with the same silver-blond hair and indigo eyes. His prince that was promised.
For a few blessed moments, he is optimistic. He has two healthy children, two of his needed three, and Elia is alive. She wouldn’t be wroth with him forever; he could piece things back together. Strictly speaking, a happy marriage isn’t part of the prophecy, but he wants what his parents never had, he wants stability.
And then the maester approaches him after a fresh examination of Elia, grave as a Silent Sister.
“The babe was twisted in the womb, so I had to use an experimental procedure from the Citadel in order to extract him,” he explains. “I had to cut her open.”
He is glad he hadn’t known that until now. He’d have in no uncertain terms agreed to such a risk otherwise. “But she survived. She’s on the mend, isn’t she?”
“Aye, she’s a fighter. But there is swelling and scarring, I’m afraid, from Princess Rhaenys’s troublesome birth and this operation. Conceiving again would be…difficult. And dangerous besides. If the gods saw fit to grant you another child, I fear the princess would not survive the delivery.” The maester must see the devastation in his expression, for he hastily adds, “But the babe is perfectly well, as is his sister. Pardon my candor, but I am of the opinion there is no need for Princess Elia to return to the birthing bed, even if she were able.”
No, you wouldn’t see the need, I suppose. He’s kept the prophecy under wraps, sharing his belief in it only with Arthur and Elia herself, plus Uncle Aemon on the Wall. “Thank you for your assessment, Maester Terwyn. May I see her?”
“Yes, she is awake. Though she is in a fragile state—please take care.”
He does. He tells her the name he settled on, and when she asks him to play something, he answers her honestly. “He has a song. He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” She is within reach, but it is as if she has slid behind a watery veil, her face obscured by what he knows is his Visenya. “There must be one more. The dragon must have three heads.”
She begins to yell at him, but he can’t hear what she’s saying, so he just reiterates, “There has to be another,” and plucks out a tune on the silver strings of his harp. It is one he hasn’t played before, an improvisation that speaks of sorrow. I could not play a happy melody if I tried, he muses. I don’t have it in me.
It is when she threatens to bar him from seeing their son that he snaps out of his fugue and sets her straight on that account. She concedes, if only to follow up with a threat of barring him to see her.
In a kind of desperation she paints him a pretty picture, one in which it can just be the four of them, his prophecy set aside, and for an instant he wonders whether that could really be the case. Maybe she’s right, maybe he did misread the scroll again. Maybe there only needs to be two heads after all, and he could content himself with watching Rhaenys and Aegon have the idyllic childhood he’d always wished for. But then a chill slides down his spine, a harbinger of the Long Night foretold, and all he can do is walk out the door.
What hadn’t already unraveled does so quickly thereafter. Lyanna Stark replies to his letter, Ser Oswell is set to meet them in the Prince’s Pass, and Arthur agrees to accompany him to the riverlands, albeit with a brooding, insolent resentment that Rhaegar tries to ignore. The wolf girl contrasts in every way to Elia, brash where his wife is subtle, fair where she is golden, and while Lyanna is the one he needs to mother his Visenya, he contemplates how she would comport herself as queen. The smallfolk might appreciate one who spoke her mind, but to what extent? As much as Rhaegar despises many aspects of court, most of those are necessary evils. Lyanna would have to conform, and he doesn’t know that she could without breaking first.
But she’d have to, wouldn’t she? He’s not a dullard, he knows Elia would not forgive him for this. For all his desires to have a better marriage than his parents, he has a wife that despises him. What would it take to placate her? The solution dawns on him in a trice:
She’d withstood Dragonstone and King’s Landing, but she hadn’t enjoyed it. The cold seeped deep into her bones, the food was bland, the fashions too restrictive. I could grant her leave to return to Dorne, but then what? She wouldn’t consent to separating from both of our children. A compromise, mayhaps…but if Aegon were to stay here as my heir, in return I’d have to let her take Rhaenys, my little princess…
But that’s a quandary for another day.
The stars in Lyanna’s eyes fade once her womb quickens, once she’s apprised of his motives that have nothing to do with saving her from an unpleasant betrothal. On more than one occasion, he sees the judgment in Ser Oswell, but at least he is cordial; that’s more than he can say for Arthur, who had long since erected a wall between them. Rhaegar does not question his loyalty, not for a single second, but he fears he may have ruined the friendship that had been forged half a lifetime ago.
Maybe I did err, he ponders in the dead of night. Maybe I could have done this differently. I never wanted Brandon or Lord Rickard to die, I never wanted this upheaval.
But the gods cast him down anyway, good intentions or no. He goes to war because it is necessary, because he was the impetus behind it. He says goodbye to his family, hugs Rhaenys so tightly she protests, and promises young Jaime Lannister that changes will be made once Robert Baratheon is dealt with.
That doesn’t come to pass. He’d misjudged the storm lord’s wrath like he’d misjudged so much else, and his sword rises too slowly to parry the blow. He’s knocked off his destrier into the river, unbearable agony rippling through his chest, and he realizes that he’s going to die. There won’t be any changes made, there won’t be any sending Elia back to Dorne, there won’t be any opportunity to know his third child. Nor, really, his eldest two.
Lyanna flashes before his eyes—Lyanna from before, from when she looked at him in awe, not enmity—yet it is neither she nor the baby girl she carries that he thinks of at the end. He thinks of dark hair and darker eyes, of grace, of strength, and he thinks it such a sweet irony that of everyone who pitied her, it is she who will outlive them all.
It is her name he says with his last breath, an apology that’s far too late.