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No Featherbed For Me - lit_chick08

Chapter 5

Arya loved the Free Cities with a fierceness she did not know existed. From the moment their ship docked in Braavos, Arya was certain this was where she was always meant to be, not locked up in some holdfast in Westeros feigning appropriate behavior. There was something about Braavos her companions did not like – Arya knew Old Griff began to make travel arrangements almost the moment they entered port – but Arya found herself marveling at everything: the fishermen, the pleasure barges, the House of Black and White, and most especially the Titan looming over the islands.

“The Braavosi believe there is only one god,” Griff explained as they entered the House of Black and White, “and that is the god of death. When someone wishes to die, they can come here and make that offering to the god. And, of course, if you are prepared to pay the price, there are always the Faceless Men.”

Arya watched as an old man, shriveled and hobbled, drank something across the room. He appeared to be younger than Old Nan, and Arya wondered what drove someone to come here and ask for death. She was never devout in the Faith, but Arya knew hardly anyone prayed to the Stranger; she could not imagine Death being the only god.

“Want to make an offering?” Griff teased in a whisper.

“Not today.”

They were walking near the water's edge, Arya feasting on all of the sights, when Griff chuckled. She turned her eyes on him expectantly, waiting for the explanation, and he shrugged, shaking blue hair from his eyes.

“You look at everything as if it is magical.”

“I have never seen anything,” she said by way of defense. “Do you know what girls get to do in Westeros? It's all sewing and dancing and curtsies. I have only seen as much of the Seven Kingdoms as I have because my husband died. If Ned hadn't been killed by the Ironborn, I would have stayed in Dorne the rest of my life.”

“You never talk about him,” Griff pointed out after a moment. “Was he your truest love?”

Arya shook her head, the sea air scattering her hair. “No, Ned was a good man, but, even after being married for years, we were never quite...comfortable with each other, I suppose. He was kind and gentle, but I do not think he knew what to make of me. I think he thought that, if we had children, it would make us closer and calm me some, but I could not do even that.”

“They never quickened?”

It was the queerest thing; when the maesters and her mother asked about the lost babies, Arya could answer as many questions as needed without feeling a thing. But hearing Griff, who continued to insist they were destined to be together and destined to have children together, ask the questions made Arya feel ashamed.

“No,” she bit out shortly, keeping her eyes on the horizon, hoping he would understand she did not wish to discuss her failings.

Arya tensed slightly as Griff stepped behind her, slipping his arms around her waist, his lips against her ear as they watched the Narrow Sea lap at the shore. “Do you see the ship with the silk sails?”

She found it easily, the well-built trading vessel with sails made of multicolored silk. “Yes.”

“Our children's eyes will be the same color purple as that silk.” His large hands settling against the curve of her stomach, he continued, voice as soft and lilting as Nan's during a storytelling session, “Our daughter will come first, and she will be fierce. I have seen it, my love, and our daughter will be a warrior so great, Queen Nymeria herself would tremble.”


“And our son, he will be honorable and wise; he will bring men together and convince enemies to lay down their swords and live in peace. But our youngest, our second daughter, she will be the one who the singers will write songs about, the one who will be made of pure Valyrian steel. She will push the darkness back and bring light to the world.” Tightening his hold on her, Griff brushed a kiss against the side of her head. “I have seen it, Arya. I know you do not believe me, but it will come to be.”

“I cannot marry you,” she declared, reiterating the argument she made during their entire crossing of the sea.

“Your marriage to Renly was never consummated. It could be set aside and you know it.”

Not turning to look him in the eye, enjoying the temporary pleasure that the solidity of his embrace offered, Arya drawled, “Then, by all means, write the High Septon, tell him where we are, and we can receive our dispensation in no time.”

Griff pulled away, his body tight with tension, and Arya knew she had upset him. From the moment they boarded Cinnamon Wind, Griff begged her to marry him, to share his bed; even as Old Griff glowered and raged at his son for bringing her, Griff insisted it was right. And Arya wanted to be his wife and take him to bed, wanted it more than she had wanted anything since she was a child, but the part of her which would always be in Winterfell told her it was wrong.

No matter how far she fled, Renly Baratheon was still her husband and any of Griff's children she managed to bear would be bastards should she ever return to Westeros.

“I will never understand why you insist on clinging to the things which enslave you and slapping away those which would free you,” Griff pronounced, and Arya recoiled from the sting of his words.

Their return to the inn was done in silence.

Arya had never shared quarters with someone until Lemore. When they were very small, her mother tried to put her and Sansa in a room together, reasoning that she and Lysa loved being together, but the plan only lasted a week before she and Sansa were separated, their fighting having driven their father to distraction. Even at court, when it was commonplace for ladies to share beds, Arya always slept alone, none of her sister's ladies ever wanting the pleasure of her company. Once, when she very little, she tried to share Jon's room, but her brother explained it was not proper for brothers and sisters to do so.

Lemore did not wear her septa's robes in Braavos, having exchanged them for plain gowns. When she dressed, Arya noticed the spindly white lines around her midsection, the same lines Sansa complained of after bearing her children, and Arya nearly asked about them; everyone knew septas were not allowed to lay with men, let alone have children. In gowns, Arya saw just how beautiful Lemore actually was; even nearing fifty, Lemore's body was slender with soft curves, her blonde hair always neatly arranged. It was not until they nearly reached Braavos that Arya realized the roots of Lemore's hair was as dark as Arya's own, dye keeping Lemore blonde in the same way it kept Griff's hair blue.

The night of her latest disagreement with Griff, Arya was stretched out on the bed as Lemore began to brush her dyed locks. As a child, Arya used to love watching Catelyn take down her thick, auburn hair, working it until it surrounded her shoulders like a cape; Arya lacked the patience to ever do the same to hers, and, as Lemore carefully tended to her hair, Arya suddenly longed to see her mother.

“You're staring.”

“I'm sorry,” Arya said more from instinct than genuine apology.

“What's wrong, sweetling? Did you and Griff quarrel again?”

Sitting up on the lumpy inn mattress, Arya fiddled with the bottom of her tunic before blurting out, “Are you Griff's mother?”

A hint of a sad smile teased at Lemore's lips but never flowered. Setting down her comb, Lemore turned, meeting Arya's gaze steadily. “Did I bring him into this world? No. Have I raised him since the cradle? Yes. He has not told you this story?”

“He always says he will explain things some day.”

This time Lemore did smile. Settling onto the bed beside Arya, she said, “Well, a man cannot expect you to marry him if he is not honest, though I suspect Griff and I have not done the best at teaching him that particular lesson.” Smoothing her hands over her skirt, Lemore offered, “I can tell you this story if you wish to hear it. But I warn you: you may not like it.”

“I can handle it,” Arya promised.

Taking a deep breath, Lemore began, “When I was very young, I lived in Dorne with my brothers. My entire life I was told how beautiful I was, how special, and it made me vain and selfish. With one brother the heir to our house and the other in service to King Aerys, my father decided to send me to serve as a companion to our liege lord's only daughter. Do you know who that was?”

Arya thought for a moment before blinking in surprise. “Elia Martell was the only daughter of Dorne.”

Lemore nodded, her smile full of infinite sadness. “Yes, Princess Elia. She was nothing like me; though beautiful, she was thoughtful, soft-spoken, and unbearably kind. I was certain it would be torture to remain at her side, but I came to love her ferociously, dearer to me than even my own blood. When her betrothal to Prince Rhaegar was announced, she begged me to come with her to court, and I was so very eager to leave Dorne, to experience everything. Their wedding was the grandest event I ever saw, and I could hardly believe my best friend was going to be my queen.”

Thinking of Sansa and the jewels which she was now draped in, Arya smirked. “I understand.”

“Even then, long before the Rebellion, Aerys was already half-mad, and, as Rhaegar grew older, the king became madder. He was deathly afraid Rhaegar would seek to overthrow him, especially once Elia gave Rhaegar an heir, but it was not his nature. Many things have been said about Rhaegar Targaryen, some of them deserved and some not, but all will agree that Rhaegar only ever wanted what was best for House Targaryen.”

“Were you there, the day he named my aunt Queen of Love and Beauty?”

“Oh, yes. It seemed like everyone in the Seven Kingdoms was there, including your house. All of Elia's ladies were swooning for Brandon Stark, the wild wolf that he was.”

“Did you?”

Lemore's face became infinitely sad as she confessed, “I preferred your father.”

“You knew my father?” Arya gasped.

“I knew them all, my dear: your father, your uncle, Robert Baratheon. I had even met Catelyn Tully once. We were all little more than children then, playing games we did not understand. And, of course, after Harrenhal, everyone in the realm knew of Lyanna Stark. Not a single person could have identified her before that tourney, but no one would ever forget her name afterward.”

“Everyone says I am like her.”

“Do they?” Lemore tilted her head as if considering. “You have her looks, that is plain, but Lyanna...She was a bit wild, but there was a dreaminess in her you do not possess. All of Ned's practicality and ability to see what is true has been gifted to you, and Lyanna sorely needed that.”

“If you were Elia's lady, how did you come to know my aunt so well?”

“That is part of the story,” Lemore said, a touch of chastisement in her voice. “As I was saying, after Harrenhal, Elia knew Rhaegar wanted Lyanna Stark. There was never great love in Elia's marriage; respect and affection, certainly, but never passion. And Rhaegar insisted there needed to be a third child, a child Elia would never be able to bear. When he told Elia of his plans to bring Lyanna into their marriage like the Targaryen kings of old, all she asked of him was a promise that Aegon would come before any of Lyanna's sons in the line of succession.”

“Wait...Elia knew?”

Lemore nodded. “Elia and Rhaegar loved each other in their own ways, but Elia would have done anything for the prince and princess. She could suffer the embarrassment of another queen if it meant protecting her children, and she trusted Rhaegar to protect their children.”

“But if Elia knew, if Lyanna went with him voluntarily, then why - “

“Because it was to be kept a secret until they were married, until Lyanna was swelling with a child. No one expected Brandon to ride into King's Landing calling for Rhaegar's head; no one thought the Mad King would burn Rickard Stark alive and start demanding heads. And certainly no one expected for Jon Arryn, the most peace loving man in the Seven Kingdoms, to call his banners.” Her violet eyes locking with the grey of Arya's, she declared, “The Rebellion was just as unkind to those who swore fealty to the Iron Throne as it was to the rebels who fought for it.”

“What does this have to do with Griff?”

“I am getting to that, my dear.” Folding her hands over her midsection, Lemore explained, “My parents insisted I return to Dorne, but Elia was essentially a hostage in the Keep. I pleaded to be allowed to stay and I would have, but then I found out I was pregnant. The moment my brother learned of it, he vowed to put me on a horse and send me to Dorne, making me vow to never reveal the father, who had turned rebel during the war. And the night before I was to leave, Elia came to my chambers through a hidden passageway with Aegon in her arms. 'You must take him,' she begged me. 'He must be kept safe in case Rhaegar falls.' She explained how the Spider found a common boy who had Aegon's look to take his place and once the war was over, Aegon could return. It broke her heart to not be able to send Rhaenys away as well, but she was too old and people would know the difference. So I did what I had always done: I served the woman who was to be my queen.”

For a moment Arya could not breathe as her brain puzzled out precisely what Lemore was telling her. Finally, her voice sounding uncharacteristically small, she asked, “Are you telling me that Griff is Aegon Targaryen?”

“The sixth of his name,” Lemore confirmed.

Arya was silent for an indeterminable length, the weight of everything crushing her from all sides. She had fled her marriage, her family, and her country with a Targaryen. Even if she returned to Westeros, even if her family forgave her, the Iron Throne never would. Robert still raged about the Targaryens, and Arya knew from listening to conversations not meant for her ears that the king was constantly plotting how to eliminate Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen from the face of the earth even though they were no threat. No Targaryen was allowed to live under the reign of King Robert.

“What happened to your baby?” Arya found herself asking even as her mind reeled.

“She stayed with my parents, who claimed her as their own; my mother had a stillborn daughter weeks before I gave birth, and we simply claimed the stillborn was the child I carried. Even her father thought she died, which was for the best. He was newly married by that time, and his honor was about to take a brutal pounding as it was. And so, once Robert was proclaimed king, I boarded a ship with Aegon and made for Pentos.”

“What did people think became of you?”

“They thought I killed myself from grief. The only ones who knew differently were my parents, who knew of Aegon, and they never told a soul.”

Realization dawned immediately. “You're Ashara Dayne.”

“Once I was,” she admitted, weariness creeping into her eyes. “But I have been Septa Lemore for more of my life than I ever was Ashara Dayne, so who does that actually make me?”

“If you're Ashara, then Allyria is your daughter.” Sickness roiled in her stomach. “Who was her father?”

The older woman sighed heavily. “You know who her father is.”

Arya got off of the bed, pacing the creaking floor for a moment before exploding, “If Allyria Dayne is the child my father had with you, then who is Jon's mother? Everyone has always said it was you!”

“Is this an answer you truly want, Arya? Think hard,” Ashara urged her, “because this is knowledge which cannot be unlearned.”

“How could it possibly be worse than what you have already told me?!”

Beautiful face pinching in regret, Ashara nodded absently. Finally, she said, “Ned came to Starfall to return Dawn to me. He traveled with the crannogman who fought with him at the Tower of Joy, and he carried a baby in his arms. I summoned Wylla, a wet nurse in our service, to care for the baby while Ned and I talked. He saw Aegon and knew what I had done, but he was still so raw from what the Lannisters did to Rhaenys and Elia. I started to explain, to beg him to keep it from Robert, and Ned started to cry. I was so stunned and then he told me that the baby was Lyanna's, the third child Rhaegar wanted so desperately.”

Arya felt lightheaded as she perched on the edge of a chair.

“He swore to Lyanna that he would protect her son, keep him hidden so he could live a happy life free of the Iron Throne. The baby had the Stark look; there was not a drop of Rhaegar to him. But Aegon...Ned swore to me he would never tell anyone of Aegon if I would never tell anyone of Jon, and then he left to go North to your lady mother.”

“That is why he never told Jon,” Arya mused aloud. “It was too dangerous.”

“Arya, you must understand - “

“Why were you in the Stormlands?” she demanded, her anger starting to rise again. “If everything was so dangerous, why come to Storm's End?” When Ashara said nothing, Arya felt overwhelming rage rising within her. Getting to her feet, she threw open the door of their room and hurried downstairs to where Griff - Aegon, she reminded herself – was having a drink with Haldon, Duck, and Old Griff.

“Arya!” Aegon greeted with a grin. “Join us - “

“Ashara told me everything,” she cut in, wiping the smiles from everyone's faces, “and you owe me an explanation right now.”

Old Griff bristled, opening his mouth to snap at her, but Aegon got to his feet, silencing his false father with one hand. Arya jerked away when he reached for her elbow, stalking out of the inn and out into cool night air. She could feel him at her back, cautious and quiet, courteous even in this, and Arya felt her heart breaking.

Tell me you did not beg me to come with you because you want revenge, she wished to plead. Tell me you had no idea who I was and, once you did, you loved me too much. Tell me I did not betray everyone I loved and pissed away my honor for a game.

“I wanted to tell you,” he began.

“Then you should have told me!”

Aegon lifted his face towards the sky, the moonlight making his skin luminescent. Closing his eyes for a moment, he finally said, “I have never been called by my name. I was nearly two-and-ten before Ashara and Jon told me I even had another name. The entirety of my life has been spent acting like I am Griff of Tyrosh while trying to remember I am really Aegon Targaryen, a boy who died twenty-six years ago.”

“Why did you come to Storm's End?”

“Because it was my duty.” Aegon looked at her, his face twisted in a complicated mixture of pain and anger. “When I had my fourteenth name day, I was summoned to Pentos for a wedding. It was the first time I ever met my aunt or uncle. While Daenerys married Khal Drogo, Viserys told me about the Rebellion, about my family. He leaned across the table and told me what was done to my sister, how Gregor Clegane bashed in the head of the boy who was supposed to be me before raping my mother with that poor boy's blood still on his hands. 'They have made us beggars when we are gods,' Viserys said to me. And I believed it.”

“So you came to Westeros to fulfill your destiny?” Arya growled.

“When Dany married the khal, it was supposed to be so Viserys could return to the Seven Kingdoms with an army. My survival pushed him back in succession, and he was enraged. For all of his threats, Viserys will not kinslay, and the Dothraki swore no promise to put me on the Iron Throne. My existence took his throne and his army, and he sold Dany for nothing.”

“What does this have to do with anything?”

“They killed my family, Arya!” Aegon shouted, startling her with the thick emotion in his words. “My mother, my father, my grandparents, my sister...They thought they killed me! What am I to do, spend the rest of my life living with nothing because the Usurper took everything?!”

“I cannot - “

“What would you do if you were me?” Aegon challenged, seizing her shoulders tightly. “If someone put your entire family to sword, took Winterfell and the North, took even your name, what would you do?”

“I would kill them all,” Arya answered without hesitation.

Releasing his hold on her, Aegon flexed his hands as if he wished to grab her again before gritting out, “I am the rightful king of the Seven Kingdoms, and I cannot even use my own name. I went to Westeros to see King Robert, to see the man who destroyed my family, and then I found...”

“Found what?”

Aegon laughed mirthlessly. “I found a fat, old man who turned a prosperous kingdom into a debtor's nightmare. I found Tywin Lannister to be a miserly bastard and the evil Eddard Stark to be a good man who is doing his best to hold the realm together. I found that, for every bit of knowledge Viserys tried to bestow upon me, only few were true, and I found there are no smallfolk sewing dragon banners in hopes of our triumphant return.” Face softening, he murmured, “And then I found Eddard Stark's daughter in a godswood, so beautiful and free that I understood what must have driven my father to pursue your aunt.”

“Stop.” Crossing her arms across her chest, hurt swelling in her chest, she snapped, “You lied to me!”

“But what difference does it make if I am Aegon Targaryen or Griff of Tyrosh? The man I am has not changed, only the name.”

Tears slipped from Arya's eyes, burning their way down her cheeks. Aegon reached out, brushing them away with his thumb, and she wanted to pull away, to slap him, to run him through with Needle; but what was worse was that she didn't truly want that. She wanted him to hold her and comfort her, to press kisses to her mouth and swear he would never tell her a lie again.

You are as stupid as Lyanna ever was.

“I love you,” Aegon swore, cupping her face between his palms, his face more open than Arya had ever seen it. “I have loved you from the moment you showed up at our house and called me craven, and I know you love me, Arya, I know it. We were meant to find each other.”

“I have to go home,” she whimpered, tears falling freely now. “I cannot put my father through this again.”

“You are already gone,” he pointed out, a hint of desperation to his words now. “Connington says they all believe we have run off together, and all they know is I'm a sellsword. They will never know who I truly am.”

“Until you charge into the kingdoms with your uncle to take back the Iron Throne!”

“If I swear to you that I will never make a claim for the throne, will you stay?” Her eyes widening at his words, Aegon rushed on, “I will swear it, to the old gods and the new if you wish it. All I want is you. Let Viserys have all Seven Kingdoms if that's what he wants.”

There had been a time, be it ever so brief, when Arya harbored a secret hope Gendry would make the same offer. She would lie in her bed in Winterfell and imagine Gendry returning to the North, declaring he had denied his birthright, given up the throne, and was content to live out his days as an armorer if only she would join him. In her fantasies, they lived the rest of their days at Winterfell, Gendry working with Mikken in the forge while she helped to run Winterfell.

But Gendry never made the offer and Arya never wanted to be a queen, so here she was, on the streets of Braavos with another prince who was willing to give her everything she ever wanted.

”Go as far away from my husband as it takes for him to forget he ever knew Arya Stark,” Sansa once said to her. Arya wondered how far she would have to go before she forgot Gendry Baratheon.

“You will never pursue the Iron Throne?”

“Never,” Aegon vowed.

They would never forgive me anyway, Arya rationalized as she nodded, allowing Aegon to take her into his arms, his mouth seeking hers.

A fortnight later, as Arya Stark made vows of marriage to Aegon Targaryen before Jon Connington, Ashara Dayne, Haldon Halfmaester, and Rolly Duckfield, she knew she was as well and truly orphaned as her new husband.

Aegon wanted her with a passion which was almost violent. In those first months of marriage, as they traveled from Braavos to Lorath and on to Lys, Arya felt as if she spent more time out of her clothes than in them, Aegon's hands always reaching for her, his mouth constantly coaxing her into pleasure. At first it embarrassed her, the way Connington would glare at her as Aegon would tug her towards their cabin on the ship or Duck would smirk knowingly; she was always taught that what a lord and lady did together was private and should be conducted as such. When she was newly married in Dorne, Ned blushed every time he came to her rooms during that first year, and seldom did he linger in her bed, both of them unsure what to do once or how to behave once they were done. Towards the end of their marriage, they were more comfortable with each other, but never was there real passion between her and Ned.

With Aegon, it took next to nothing for the passion between them to spark. Arya found herself eagerly meeting every kiss, arching into every touch; she could hardly breathe some days, so hungry and desperate for her husband, sinking her teeth into his shoulder or the pillow to muffle her cries. If she allowed herself to think of home, she knew Sansa would think she was wanton and shameful, but Arya Stark of Winterfell died the moment she left Storm's End and the Arya she was now reveled in the absolute freedom she possessed.

“I know what you're doing,” Arya gasped one morning as the sun began to filter in through the small window of their cabin, rising and falling atop Aegon's body.

Aegon laughed breathlessly, his hands gliding up her sides, encouraging her movements. “I should certainly hope so.”

She slapped lightly at his chest, moaning as he palmed her breast. “You cannot get a child on me. It will not take.”

Arya cried out in surprise as Aegon suddenly flipped her onto her back, catching one of her legs behind the knee, holding her leg high against his chest as he stroked into her. “I shall be most happy to prove you wrong.”

They were in Lys two months before Arya realized she was pregnant. Her moon blood had never come regularly, so Arya did not consider it odd when two moons passed without bleeding. It was only when nausea began to nearly incapacitate her, her breasts so tender to touch she cried when Aegon cupped one, that she realized what was happening inside her body. She did not want to tell her husband, waiting for the bleeding to start as it always had; the longest of her pregnancies had not even lasted four moons, and Aegon so fervently believed she would bear his children.

Only Ashara noticed the differences in her body, brewing her tea to help with her sickness. As Arya emptied the contents of her stomach into a basin, Ashara sat beside her, rubbing her back soothingly; the gentleness of the older woman's hands made Arya start to cry, a sharp longing for Catelyn piercing her heart.

“He will hate me when I bleed,” she whimpered into Ashara's lap, letting the woman card her fingers through Arya's long, damp hair.

“You won't bleed, sweetling,” Ashara tried to comfort her. “And even if you do, Aegon will not love you any less. He did not marry you for your womb.”

“I could not give Ned a baby, and it made things so difficult between us. I do not want - “

“Hush,” Ashara murmured, pressing a kiss to Arya's forehead. “Just rest. I will pray enough for the both of us.”

She was nearly four moons into her pregnancy when the swelling of her stomach could not be hidden from her husband any longer, her belly starting to round from the child growing inside. Arya was barely able to finish her sentence before Aegon was on his feet, laughing in excitement before shouting out the news to everyone. He bought everyone in the Lyseni inn drinks to celebrate his first child, and Arya wished he would stop, still terrified she would lose this child as she had the first three.

Their ship made port in Pentos when the baby quickened. So startled by the flutter of the child in her womb, Arya gasped, grasping her stomach and stilling in her tracks, causing Haldon to crash into her back. Aegon immediately stopped, holding her elbow and demanding with panic in his voice, “What is it? What's wrong?”

Arya was surprised to feel tears on her cheeks. “It moved. The baby moved.”

Pure happiness shone in Aegon's eyes. “Of course she did. Didn't I tell you she is a warrior?”

For the first time, Arya knew unequivocally she was going to be a mother. As they rode towards the mansion of some friend of Aegon's, Arya found Jon Connington watching her with narrowed eyes. Aegon was laughing at something Duck said, the two men riding ahead to lead the way, and Arya was surprised when Connington brought his horse next to hers and advised, “This is not Westeros, Your Grace. You would do well to remember that.”

She hated how Connington refused to call her anything but “Your Grace” now that she knew Aegon's identity; with all their secrets in the open, Arya saw how everyone, even Ashara, deferred to Aegon, referring to him as “our king” and “Your Grace.” As far as her companions were concerned, Aegon was the King of the Seven Kingdoms and she, the queen.

“I do not know what you mean, Lord Connington.”

Jon's eyes darkened considerably as he gritted out, voice low enough so Aegon could not overhear, “Do not play the confused lady with me; it insults us both.”

“Then what - “

“Viserys Targaryen has spent nearly thirty years waiting for the return of his family to the Iron Throne. An intemperate youth became an unbalanced man, but Aegon loves him well despite counsel to do otherwise. Viserys spent fourteen years believing himself to be the rightful king, and he will stop at nothing to put Aegon on the throne with himself as Hand.”

“Aegon will not try for the throne.”

Connington glared at her. “Be that as it may, Viserys is still Aegon's heir. When he sees that you are carrying the next Targaryen prince or princess, you will become an enemy, and Viserys is a vicious enemy to have.”

Gripping Winter's reins a bit tighter, Arya snapped, “I assure you, Lord Connington, I am no less vicious as an enemy than the Beggar King.”

Arya thought she may have imagined it, but she could have sworn there was respect in Jon Connington's eyes.

As the mansion rose before them, guards in pointed hats everywhere, Arya urged Winter forward until she had sidled up next to Ashara. “Who lives here?”

There was a twist of distaste to her mouth but Ashara's words were utterly bland. “Magister Illyrio Mopatis. He is a friend of Lord Varys's. When we first fled Dorne, Illyrio hosted us until Aegon was about seven.”

“Why does Varys want the Targaryens as kings?”

“I have long since stopped trying to discern the motivations of men when it comes to the game of thrones.” Ashara brushed a stray lock of hair from her eyes with a sigh. “But Aegon is fond of him, and he has offered his home as a safe place to deliver your child.”

“Are there dangerous places for me to have my child?”

Ashara looked at her for a long beat, a hint of sadness in her face. “You carry the rightful heir to the rightful king of the Seven Kingdoms, my dear. Already there are whispers about Aegon's existence and soon they will reach Robert, who has made his feelings for dragonspawn well-known.”

Cold fury filled her body at what Ashara was suggesting. “Let him come. I am not Elia Martell, and my sword cuts as well as theirs.”

Illyrio Mopatis was a terribly fat man; even in fine silks with rings upon every finger, Arya could not see anything but a fleshy man sweating in the warm spring afternoon. He inclined his head rather than take the knee, and Arya suspected it was because he would not be able to get back to his feet if he went to the ground. The man beside him was tall and very thin, almost no muscle to him; he was outfitted as richly as Illyrio, his silver hair well-kept and cut neatly to his chin, but there was a coldness in his eyes which Arya instantly distrustful.

This was Viserys Targaryen, and he was looking at her as if she was the vilest evil he had ever seen.

Aegon embraced his uncle tightly, clapping him upon the back, and, even with his hair still blue, Arya could see the resemblance between them. Her husband was more comely, taller, and well-muscled but there was a shrewdness in Viserys's face which Aegon lacked. In the months since leaving Storm's End, Arya was surprised to find Aegon trusted with surprising freedom, especially when it came to what little family and friends he had. She had overheard enough of the fights between Aegon and Connington to know that Connington did not think Viserys was trustworthy. Only the night before she had heard Connington entreat, “If you must ally yourself with anyone, it should be Daenerys!”

Arya was far more interested in Daenerys Targaryen than Viserys. She remembered reading about the Dothraki in a book of Maester Luwin's once when she was young; when he found Arya with it, he snatched it away and said it was inappropriate reading for ladies. In retrospect, Arya knew it was the illustrations rather than the words which concerned the maester.

“So this is your bride,” Viserys drawled, displeasure written plainly on his face. “And you've got a child on her as well. How wonderful.”

“Viserys - “ Illyrio began.

“In case you have forgotten,” the exiled prince rushed on, “things did not end well for House Targaryen the last time a Targaryen took a Stark from a Baratheon. I had hoped you would be smart enough to not let your cock get you into trouble.”

Arya bristled at the words, but Aegon was already retorting, the hint of threat in his tone, “And I had hoped you would be smart enough to not insult my wife.”

Viserys looked at the both of them for a moment, lilac eyes flickering back and forth, before sighing, “Well, I suppose trading one Stark queen for another will help the transition when we take the throne.”

Arya decided in that moment that she despised Viserys Targaryen.

The larger her stomach became, the more Arya longed for her mother and even for Sansa. Illyrio was a wonderful host and treated her nothing but kindly, Aegon was happier being in a place he did not have to hide, and Ashara provided her as much support as any mother would, but Arya wanted Catelyn's hands smoothing hair back from her forehead, wanted irritatingly upbeat Sansa there to tell her everything was wonderful. As her child grew, so did Arya's homesickness, some days crippled with longing for her father, Robb, Bran, Rickon, and most especially Jon Snow.

He may not be my true brother, but I will never love him less for it. And when I see him again, I will tell him what Ashara told me so he can know that his mother did want him.

There was a fountain in the yard, a young bravo with his sword drawn poised above the water, and Arya found herself preferring to spend her days near the water than inside listening to Viserys and Illyrio prattle on about birthrights. Her stomach was too large for her to ride, her back screaming in pain from even walking, and Arya anxiously awaited the baby's arrival.

Aegon came to her at midday bearing a plate of fruit and cheese with a jug of iced honey milk. She smiled in thanks, gratefully devouring the food, and Aegon settled his hands on the small of her back, massaging the ache away. Arya moaned in relief, leaning back to fully put herself in his arms, and Aegon complied, bearing her weight against his chest as his hands settled on her belly. Immediately the baby began to dance, and her husband chuckled.

“She knows it is me.”

“If only she would come out and meet you.”

Aegon pressed a kiss to her temple. “I know you are uncomfortable, but it will be worth it.”

“You must think me so ungrateful. Three babies lost and now, when I'm finally able to carry one, all I have done is complain.”

“No,” he argued softly, “I think you are the most amazing woman I have ever seen, and I feel so blessed that you are my wife and the mother of my child.”

“You have to say that so I do not bury my dagger in your chest while you sleep.” Snuggling closer to him, she confessed in a tiny voice, “I miss my family.”

“I know.” As the baby kicked more powerfully against his palms, Aegon asked, “Do you hate me for taking you away?”

“You did not take me anywhere. And I certainly would not be having a child if I had stayed in Storm's End. I just...” Toying with the cuffs of his shirt, trying to find the words to describe what she was feeling to a man who had never known his parents or siblings, Arya finally settled on, “Every time I see something new or exciting, I wish Bran or Jon was here. Every time I am lonely, I reach for Nymeria only to find she isn't there. I love you and I love our child, but it is like I killed Arya Stark to become Arya Targaryen.”

“Oh, I hope that is not true because I fell in love with Arya Stark. I want our daughters to be like Arya Stark. And some day I hope to take you home, which I cannot do with anyone but Arya Stark.” Tears began to swim in Arya's eyes as Aegon pressed one hand to the rise of her stomach, his other arm sliding around her shoulders to hold her tightly against him. “You are my winter bride, my direwolf; promise me you will never try to become a dragon.”

“And if our children are more direwolf than dragon?”

“Then they shall be the fiercest pack of wolves to ever roam the earth.”

In the end, they were both wrong. After nearly two days worth of labor, their daughter emerged from Arya's body shrieking at the indignity of it all. Once Aegon said all of their children would have eyes as purple as his own, but the baby's eyes were a deep brown, wide and surprisingly alert for a newborn; a cap of silky black hair covered the baby's head, and her skin was a warm shade of copper Arya recognized from her time at Sunspear.

“She is a viper,” Ashara laughed through her tears, cleaning the baby thoroughly as Haldon saw to Arya, bundling the baby tightly in the soft blanket of crimson and black she worked on during Arya's pregnancy.

When summoned to her room, Aegon cradled their daughter carefully in his arms, eyes shining with emotion, and Arya could see there was even a peculiar emotion flashing over Viserys's usually unpleasant face. Arya watched as Ashara stood on her toes, brushing a kiss to Aegon's cheek before sweeping a touch over the baby's head.

“Your sister looked much the same when she was born.”

“Rhaenys,” Aegon sighed, a combination of sadness and joy twisting his features, and, as he lifted his eyes, Arya nodded minutely, already knowing the question.

Against Arya's wishes, Illyrio held a grand celebration for the birth of Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, inviting the other magisters and even the prince of Pentos, feasting and dancing taking place until the early hours of the morning. Aegon assured Arya that his old friend only wanted to honor their daughter, rationalizing it could also serve as their wedding feast, but Arya saw it for what it was: an announcement.

Illyrio Mopatis announced to the world that Prince Aegon Targaryen was alive, wed, and now had a healthy heir, and Arya knew word would reach King's Landing, would reach Robert. She may not have known the king well, but she knew the double insult of fleeing with a Targaryen and bearing his child would earn her his eternal enmity, would make she and Rhaenys targets of the Iron Throne until there was no choice but to retaliate to protect themselves.

Arya had no use for the game of thrones, but she would be damned to all seven hells before she would allow her and her child to be used as pawns in it.

Daenerys Targaryen, khaleesi of the Dothraki, rode onto the grounds of Illyrio's estate with her khalasar six moons after Rhaenys's birth perched atop a horse as silver as the hair which flowed over her shoulders. Arya did not know what she had been expecting Aegon's mysterious aunt to be like, but it was certainly not this.

When standing upon the ground, Arya saw Daenerys barely reached Viserys's shoulder. Her silver hair was bound in a thick, oiled braid which hung over her shoulders, two bells tinkling as she moved; her eyes were as violet as Viserys's and Aegon's, but her skin was not as fair, the sun having darkened it. She wore leather riding pants and a painted vest in the Dothraki fashion, enough skin on display to scandalize even the whores of Westeros, but there was still something regal about her. Arya knew from Aegon that Daenerys was nearly two years younger than he, that she had been traded in marriage to Khal Drogo at thirteen and bore his son, and that she and Viserys were often combative with each other, but this small woman did not appear intimidating, especially when she allowed Aegon to scoop her off of her feet like a child.

Now that Aegon washed the blue dye from his hair, Arya could hardly tell where his silver hair ended and Daenerys's began as their heads inclined towards each other as if to whisper secrets. Aegon spoke of Daenerys with such great affection, his aunt who, like him, remembered nothing of their family, and Arya thought of Jon Snow on the Wall, thousands of leagues away, the brother she loved the best who was truly Aegon's brother.

“We shall visit him some day,” Aegon swore one night as they lied in bed, Rhaenys between them. “Our family will be whole again.”

Pulling back from Aegon, Daenerys made her greetings to Illyrio and Jon Connington before pressing a cool kiss to Viserys's cheek. “I am happy to see you are well, brother.”

Viserys said nothing.

When Daenerys turned to Arya, she immediately beamed at Rhaenys, who was wide-eyed and staring at her great-aunt. “Oh, Aegon, she is beautiful. I had thought she would look like us, but she must take after your mother.” Stroking the smooth skin of Rhaenys's arm, the khaleesi lifted her gaze towards Arya. “And you must be Arya Stark.”

“I am happy to meet you, Princess Daenerys.”

With a small roll of her eyes, she waved forward a pair of men from the group. “I insist you call me Dany. We are family now.” Resting her hand upon the arm of a tall Dothraki boy, she introduced, “This is my son Rhaego and my most loyal knight, Ser Jorah Mormont.”

“Mormont? Of Bear Island?”

The bald man nodded. “I once was the Lord of Bear Island, Your Grace, until my exile.”

Arya searched her memory for a mention of Jorah Mormont but found nothing. “I am quite familiar with the women of Bear Island. Dacey Mormont is one of my brother's most loyal bannermen. They fought well during the Second Ironborn Rebellion.”

If Jorah appreciated the compliment, he gave no indication, and Arya found herself swallowing nervously. She was never much good at pleasantries and courtesies; that was always Sansa's forte. But whether she liked it or not, to these people, Arya was the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and she wanted to make a positive impression. She thought of how her mother used to greet her father's men at Winterfell, how quiet and dignified she always seemed.

Quiet and dignified was not Arya's way; it was why she had never wanted to be queen.

Rhaego moved forward, his serious face softening as he looked upon his baby cousin. Arya saw his eyes were Targaryen purple, startling against his dark features, and, though barely three-and-ten, she could already tell he was powerfully strong. “It is an honor to meet you, Queen Arya.”

She tried not to shift uncomfortably beneath the title, but it did not sit well with her. Still she smiled weakly and offered a courtesy in reply, rubbing a soothing hand against Rhaenys's back as she began to fuss.

As Illyrio insisted they head inside for food and drinks, Arya found herself hanging back with Ashara, bestowing soft kisses to Rhaenys's silky hair. The older woman wrapped an arm around Arya's shoulders, squeezing her lightly, and, for a moment, Arya pretended Ashara was her mother.

“All a bit much?”

“I was not supposed to be a queen,” was all Arya could manage. “Sansa...” She inhaled the sweet scent of her daughter, her small face finding the crook of her shoulder to rest. “I wanted adventures.”

“I guarantee you, sweetling, that with the Targaryens, adventures is all you'll have, for they know not how to live in peace.”

Arya could feel the rapid heartbeat of her Targaryen daughter against her chest and shivered. Adventures were fine for her, the she-wolf of Winterfell, Ned Stark's incorrigible younger daughter; she did not just welcome adventure but ran at it full-speed.

But peace was all any mother wanted for their children, and Arya prayed Rhaenys would never know the upheaval of her father's life.

At night, she was a wolf: howling, prowling, deadly. She still carried the broken leather around her neck from where the men had tried to pin her and failed. No man could contain her; she was unstoppable.

The water of the Trident tasted fresher than the waters further south. Here the forests were thick and full of her smaller cousins. They hunted as a pack, but they could never be her true pack. Two of her brothers were in the North, one was with the lions, and her sister allowed the men to hold her; only her smallest brother was here and sometimes she screamed to the moon for him but he never answered.

No one ever answered. They had forgotten about her, their wild sister.

Tonight she and her cousins felled a stag, slow and fat. She tore into its belly, taking the choicest meat before leaving it to her pack mates, the blood warm in her mouth. Her stomach was full but her body still cried out for exertion; there was no fun in killing something so easily. She wanted a fight, hungered for it; none of her smaller cousins could best her.

The noise was small but she heard it. There, through the trees, was another stag, this one younger, faster. She took off without hesitation, chasing it through the trees, saliva building in her mouth. Leaping with all of her might, she opened her jaws, certain they would close around the young stag's hind leg, but a sudden burst of speed sent her prey loping into the night, leaving her angry and disappointed.

She howled into the black sky but, as always, no one answered.

Dany and Aegon were riding when Viserys came to Arya in her chambers. Having just bathed Rhaenys, Arya was pressing kisses to her soft belly, her own laughter mingling with Rhaenys's giggles, when she looked up to find the Beggar King watching from the doorway. Quickly getting to her feet, flustered at being caught so unguarded, she managed, “Do you need something?”

“Oh, I was hoping we could talk. I feel like in all of your time here, we have not had a true conversation.” Arya watched as he stalked across the room, perching on the opposite end of her bed. His fingers brushed against Rhaenys's skin, but the gesture hardly seemed affectionate. “You know, I remember when Elia birthed Rhaenys. What I remember most is how disappointed my father was that she was not a boy.”

“Viserys, I do not - “

“Aegon's birth made everyone much happier. A perfect heir for the perfect prince. Obviously you never knew my brother, but he was an extraordinary man.” Viserys's face darkened. “And then he destroyed a 300-year-old dynasty for some Northern slut's cunt.”

Arya recoiled from the words, her fury immediate and all-encompassing. “Don't you ever - “

“Shut up, you stupid whore!” Viserys snapped, startling Arya with the venom in his voice. “You think I am going to let you do to House Targaryen what your aunt did? I have waited twenty-five years to go home, and I will not you ruin that. Aegon will sit the Iron Throne or we will all die trying, but, when I die, it will be in Westeros. If you get in my way, you will wake the dragon and there will not be words for what I will do to you. Do you understand me?”

“I understand you.” Coming around the bed, Arya saw Viserys blink in surprise, clearly not expecting her to approach him. “Now let me be clear. My husband may love you, but I see you for exactly what you are. Mayhaps your threats and talk of waking the dragon scares others, but I am no silly woman. I am the blood of the wolf, Winterfell, and the First Children, and if you try to do harm to me, I will make what Jaime Lannister did to your father seem like a pleasant alternative. Am I clear?”

Viserys stared at her with startled eyes, obviously trying to gather his words, when Aegon entered the room, stripping off his top shirt, stopping when he saw Viserys. “Oh, am I interrupting?”

“Not at all,” Arya lied smoothly, scooping Rhaenys off of the bed. “Viserys was simply keeping me company while I tended to the baby. I was telling him of the North.”

Aegon smiled, reaching out for Rhaenys who squealed in delight at the sight of him. “Do you mind if I steal my wife from you, Uncle?”

“Of course not. I shall see you at dinner.”

The moment the door to the chamber closed, Arya said to Aegon, “I do not want to stay here any longer.”

Her husband did not look up from Rhaenys, who was scooting her way up his chest to try to reach his hair. “Connington thinks - “

“I do not care what Connington thinks!” she interrupted, already tired of this argument. “You promised me before Rhaenys was born we would not stay in Pentos indefinitely, that you would still show me the Free Cities. Well, we have been here nearly a year, and the khalasar is returning to the Dothraki Sea in a fortnight. I wish to go with them.”

He laughed in disbelief. “You wish to ride with Dany's khalasar? Are you mad?”

“I am an excellent rider, and women with babies ride as well. Rhaego told me they're going to Vaes Dothrak. If we truly wish to leave, we can always board a ship.”

“You are an excellent rider, but the others are not.”

“Then they can ride in a cart!” Frustration mounting, Arya complained, “If I wanted to sit in a manse all day, I would have remained in Storm's End.”

Aegon sighed, closing his eyes for a moment before admitting, “Dany said you hated it here. You should have told me.”

“And say what, I hate the only place in the world you feel safe?” Arya crossed to the windows, staring out at Pentos. Finally she confessed, “They do not like me.”

“Of course they - “

No, Aegon, they don't.” Wrapping her arms tightly around her middle, her eyes never wavering from the landscape, she stated, “They look at me and see my aunt. I am the reason you do not wish to pursue what is rightfully yours, and they all blame me for it.”

“I would rather have you than the throne.”

“That is what worries them.” She turned to face him, her heart heavy. “They hid you your entire life, teaching you what you would need to rule so you could avenge your family. And I do not begrudge you your vengeance; if what was done to your family was done to mine, I would burn the world to the ground. But you won't take your vengeance because of me.”

“I won't take my vengeance because it would get us nowhere,” he countered, sitting up with Rhaenys tight against his chest. “Let us say I do what was always planned. I take the Golden Company, Dany's khalasar, and whatever other sellswords Illyrio's gold can purchase, and I march them into the Seven Kingdoms. Then I do what Viserys has always wanted me to do. I wipe out Houses Stark, Lannister, and Baratheon. What do I do then, Arya? Do I march into the Red Keep and do to your sister and her girls what was done to my mother and sister? Where does it end?”

“You truly do not want the throne?”

“You and our children is all I want,” Aegon swore. Rising to place Rhaenys in her cradle, he tugged at Arya's hips and implored, “Come here and I will show you.”

Later, as Aegon napped beside her, Arya wondered if he was being honest with her. If anyone had done to House Stark what had been done to House Targaryen, Arya did not doubt she would go to the ends of the earth to avenge them. She would beg, borrow, steal, murder, sell her soul to the Faceless Men, anything to see those who wronged her were punished.

Arya was beginning to suspect Aegon was a much better person than she was.

Viserys exploded when Aegon announced they were going to accompany Daenerys to Vaes Dothrak. Even Daenerys, who usually wore such a placid expression, flinched back from her brother's rage as he leaped to his feet, shouting her displeasure. Arya saw Connington watching Viserys with wary eyes, and Duck's hand fell to the handle of his dagger, poised and ready.

“You're the King of the Seven Kingdoms and you're going to go marching through the grass with savages?!”

Rhaego and Daenerys both bristled at the slur, but Aegon remained in his chair, sipping his wine. “I have seen the Seven Kingdoms, Uncle, and there is no want for a Targaryen king there. The people may not love Robert, but they adore Prince Gendry, who is a good man. Our house's time has passed.”

Viserys turned purple with rage. “Did she tell you that?” he spat, pointing at Arya. “Everyone in the world knows she was fucking the Usurper's son before she ever moved on to you - “

“That is enough!” Aegon shouted, pounding the table with his fist, the dishes all jumping from the force of the blow. “If I ever hear you speak of my wife that way again, I will tear the tongue from your mouth!”

“Why don't we all calm down?” Illyrio suggested, clearly trying to alleviate the sharp tension.

But Viserys would not be pacified. “You are just going to let the Usurper sit upon our throne, his reign financed by the man who ordered your mother raped and murdered, who had your sister run through half-a-hundred times?”

“Stop this,” Daenerys ordered.

“You are a disgrace to your parents' memory and to House Targaryen. Wander the damned grass all you wish with your wolf bitch, for you are clearly not a dragon!”

With Viserys's departure, a heavy silence fell over the room. When the meal was done, Aegon disappeared with Connington and Duck, and Arya found herself being invited to join Daenerys for an evening walk. As the moon turned Dany's hair to silver, the khaleesi said, “You must forgive my brother. He is harsh and he is cruel, but he only wishes to go home.”

“Don't we all?”

Daenerys's smile had the faintest air of mocking. “You chose your exile, Arya. If Willem Darry had not spirited us away from Dragonstone, we would have died as well. Viserys was only nine when the Rebellion ended our family, and I do not think Aegon or I will ever truly understand what it has been like for him. My parents, Rhaegar, Elia, Rhaenys, they are just names to us, stories we have been told, but they were real to Viserys. Even when I was small, he made sure to tell me tales of them so I would understand why the Iron Throne was ours by rights.”

Arya shifted uncomfortably beneath Daenerys's gentle gaze. “I am sorry for what happened to your mother and brother, to Aegon's mother and sister, but your father - “

“Was a mad man,” she cut in. “I understand that. Viserys said it was only vile stories told by the Usurper, but I have seen madness in my brother. With absolute power, undoubtedly it would have grown as it had with my father.” Her face hardening, Dany continued, “But what Jaime Lannister did to my father is a disgrace and Robert Baratheon sitting on his throne makes me ill. We do not deserve to die in exile, beggars and sellswords and khaleesis. We are the blood of the dragon, and the dragon does not cower before any man or beast.”

“My sister is Prince Gendry's wife,” Arya softly shared. “Her daughters are my nieces. My father is the Hand to the king, and my brother Bran is the truest friend of Prince Tommen. By going to war, you ask me to stand idly by and let the people I love be slaughtered.”

“I ask nothing,” Dany argued. “Should Aegon have need of my khalasar, he will have it. Should he need the gold to buy 50,000 swords, I will find him it. Do not misunderstand, Arya: my clothing, my language, and my son may be Dothraki, but I am the dragon's daughter.”

“If you want Westeros so badly, why not ride for it yourself? Why bother with Aegon at all? That was the plan originally, was it not?”

“No man will follow Aerys's son while Rhaegar's son is an option.” Daenerys stopped, meeting Arya's gaze unwaveringly. “I do not wish House Stark ill. I have spent enough time talking with Lady Ashara to know what spurred your father's treason to the throne. And I see you love my nephew well and you birthed a beautiful daughter for him. You call your sister the future queen, but you are the true Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Hiding in the Dothraki Sea with my khalasar will not make Robert Baratheon forget that.”

Aegon spent their last nights in Pentos in his solar, locked behind the doors with Illyrio, Viserys, Daenerys, Connington, Duck, and Haldon; Ashara kept Arya company, doting upon Rhaenys as if the baby was her trueborn granddaughter, but she did not provide Arya distraction. If there was one thing Arya could identify, it was being dismissed.

Whatever House Targaryen was planning, Arya Stark was not to be a party to it.

There was peace in the Dothraki Sea Arya had not found since Winterfell. As far as the eye could see there was grass swaying in the breeze, grass of every color, some as tall as ponies; seated atop Winter, Rhaenys bundled against her chest in some Dothraki contraption, Arya felt as if the entire world was available to her.

“You ride well, my lady,” Ser Jorah complimented as the khalasar moved slowly towards Vaes Dothrak. They were still a half-day's ride from the city, and, though she loved to ride, Arya was anxious to be able to rest her sore legs.

“Thank you, Ser Jorah.”

“And how is the little princess today?”

Arya glanced down at Rhaenys, who blinked up at her with the bottomless brown eyes which seemed to already hold infinite knowledge. “Happy as can be expected.”

They rode in silence for about a league when Arya asked, “Ser Jorah, why were you exiled?”

The bear of a man was quiet for a moment before admitting, “I attempted to sell men who were bound for the Wall to slavers. Your father would have taken my head had I not fled.”

“It is a crime to sell slaves.”

“You do not think there are slaves in the kingdoms, lady?”

“Only wives.”

Jorah laughed, a short, brusque sound. Arya saw Daenerys glance over at them, a flicker of jealousy flashing over her face before dissipating; she knew from her conversations with Daenerys that Khal Drogo died when she was still swelling with Rhaego, and Arya knew better than anyone what loneliness could do to a person. There were certainly worse choices Daenerys Targaryen could make than sharing a bed with her sworn shield.

When the Dothraki city came into view, Arya gasped aloud, stunned by the sight of a place so contrary to everything she knew. Rhaenys began to wiggle in her carrier, and Arya kissed her sweaty forehead, brushing her daughter's thick hair from her brow.

“I know you are too small to recognize this, but you are seeing something few women ever will,” Arya murmured, urging Winter to keep pace with the khalasar. “I once thought I was lucky for having seen four of the Seven Kingdoms, but you will see the entire world, my girl. And I shall never tell you no simply because you were born a woman.”

Rhaenys blinked as if she understood, snuggling into Arya's chest. Her daughter was nearing her first name day, already pulling herself upright on two feet whenever possible, and Aegon laughed that Rhaenys would be the first baby to ever run her first steps. It made Arya ache to know her daughter, so smart and willful, would never know her grandparents, uncles, or aunt; she thought of Sansa's girls, doted upon within the Red Keep, and wished Rhaenys would know that sort of love.

“Is it how you imagined?” Aegon asked as he helped her down from Winter, Arya's legs screaming with soreness.

“I do not know what I imagined,” Arya admitted, “but it certainly was not this. There's...I've never seen anything like it in my life.”

Aegon smiled, unwinding the fabric which kept Rhaenys fastened to her chest. Immediately she began to reach for her father, and Arya thought of how happy the sight of Ned made her as a child, how much she loved to be swept up into his arms and carried on his shoulders. Sansa had always been their mother's daughter, but Arya, Arya was always Ned's.

“I promised you adventures, and I always keep my promises.”

A Lannister always pays his debts, Gendry used to say with a sarcastic roll of his eyes, the maxim of his mother's family amusing him. If she tried, she could remember the way he'd smirk when he said the words, the irreverence in his tone which drove Queen Cersei to distraction.

She missed Gendry. She would never be able to admit it aloud, but the mere idea of Aegon and his sellswords riding into King's Landing to kill him gave Arya nightmares.

“You will be treated as the king and queen you are,” Daenerys assured them after explaining how no blood could be shed while in Vaes Dothrak. “And you shall be my honored guests for as long as you wish to remain with us.”

Arya was embarrassed to confess that life was harder in Vaes Dothrak than she expected. For all of her playing at being anything but a lady, she had never slept outside before, thin tents protecting them from the elements, only pillows and furs on the ground to serve as beds. Aegon smiled knowingly those first few weeks in the city as she tried to find her way, waking in the morning with knots in her back from the hard ground, learning to enjoy the horseflesh they served; Daenerys had clothing in the Dothraki fashion made for her, and, though never particularly modest, Arya blushed like a maiden the first time she wore her painted vest with nothing beneath it.

“If you wish, we can always ride for Volantis and take a ship back to Pentos,” Aegon offered after a moon with the Dothraki.

“No,” Arya stubbornly argued, lacing up her vest after nursing Rhaenys. “I wanted to come here and I will remain here.”

“There is no shame in returning to civilization.”

Huffing angrily, Arya quickly wove her hair into a loose braid. “You frustrate me to no end!”

She found Rhaego with some other Dothraki boys of his age. Marching up to the young prince, his friends' eyes widening at her brazenness, Arya declared, “I need to learn to speak Dothraki. Will you help me?”

By the time her stomach began to swell again, Arya was able to hold entire conversations in Dothraki while Aegon could only look at her in amazement.

Arya swore she saw respect in Connington's eyes, but the man would not pay her a compliment if the world was ending.

Her son entered the world in the dead of night, as quiet and peaceful as a godswood. Where Rhaenys had shrieked and wailed, announcing to the world that she was there and would not be ignored, her boy calmly looked around with lilac eyes and easily allowed himself to be readied for his mother's arms. Ashara mopped Arya's brow with a cool cloth, her words soft and comforting as Arya collapsed back onto her elbows, the strength leaving her body. While her labor with Rhaenys was twice as long, her son had been turned the wrong way in the womb, requiring Haldon to turn him; Arya was certain she was going to die before ever birthing her child, the pain more intense than any she could ever remember, and all she could think of was Lyanna Stark.

“Rest, child,” Ashara murmured, slipping another pillow beneath Arya's head. “Your son is here and healthy. Just sleep, my girl. I will see to him.”

The fever came on two days later, Arya awaking to a throbbing head, her body wet with sweat. Daenerys's handmaids immediately fetched Haldon, and Arya could read the worry in his eyes even as he cleansed her with cool water. She swallowed the herbs the halfmaester gave her but almost immediately they came up, her vomit decorating her bed. When Ashara and Aegon entered the birthing tent, Arya vaguely saw her husband's face, the tight concern on his face, and she murmured, “Where's my son?”

“With the wet nurse, my love,” Aegon answered, stroking her soaked hair tenderly. “He is a good, strong boy.”

“A name...”

“I have been calling him Aemon.”

“The Dragonknight,” she whispered, remembering Old Nan's stories, how Sansa would plead to hear about Ser Aemon and Queen Naerys.

She closed her eyes as Aegon and Haldon began to talk, her husband sounding progressively more distressed. Arya wanted to open her eyes, assure Aegon that she would be fine, but it felt as if her body would not cooperate with her mind.

“I want to go home,” Arya managed before sleep took her.

She had not been here in so long, but she remembered the way to the pen where her sister was kept. During the day, men prowled, their bows at the ready to harm her, but night hid her better, allowed her to creep and sneak. Her smaller cousins waited in the Riverlands, but she wanted her sister. Her little brother had gone away to join their other brother with the lions, and she could not feel them anymore.

Her sister was tied near the horses, and they all began to panic at the sight of her. She had no time for horses, not tonight. At the end of the stables was her sister, tethered with a strap, and immediately she bent to gnaw at the leather to free her sister, who jerked her head and bared her teeth.

Her stupid sister did not even understand she was trapped. The men had tricked her, made her think she was free when she wasn't.

The leather came apart in her mouth, but her sister did not budge. She nudged at her sister's ribs with the flat of her head, but all her sister did was snap at her with jaws as powerful as the ones in her own mouth. If she was one of her smaller cousins, she would have pinned her sister to the ground to show her who was in charge, but that was not their way.

Men were coming closer, shouting at the horses, and she ran, her powerful legs carrying her away from her stupid sister. One of the men tried to hit her but she was too fast, too strong. As she ran from the city, she hoped her sister would follow, but the only ones like her were far away.

All she wanted was her pack to be whole again.

When Arya woke, she felt as though her mouth was as dry as the Dornish deserts. She tried to sit up, struggling to raise herself, but her arms felt weaker than silk. As she tried, the Dothraki woman seated beside her pallet gasped, immediately calling out the flaps of the tent, her voice high and urgent. Arya tried to discern what she was saying, her brain feeling fogged; she thought the woman was shouting, “Alive! Alive!” but Arya could not raise her head from the pillows to ask why her livelihood was so remarkable.

Aegon was the first through the entryway, Haldon quickly following with Daenerys, and Arya felt his tears fall onto her face as he pressed anxious kisses against her skin. Haldon nudged him away, pressing tentatively against her belly and breasts; Arya wanted to protest the treatment, but she could see from the intense expressions on the man's face he was checking for something.

“I'm thirsty,” Arya managed, and Aegon instantly was raising water to her lips, carefully ladling it past her lips. She felt as if she had not drank anything for months and soon Aegon exchanged the water for mare's milk.

“You gave us quite a fright,” Daenerys said, a kind expression on her beautiful face.

“Did I bleed?”

“You have been asleep for nearly two moons,” Aegon revealed, brushing hair away from Arya's face. “Only milk and honey has kept you alive.”

“Two moons?” she echoed, mind racing. “What happened?”

“Birthing fever,” Haldon answered. “We gave you every remedy I knew and a few Dothraki ones as well, but nothing seemed to break the fever. As the khaleesi said, Your Grace: we were all concerned for you.”

“The baby...”

“He is fine,” Aegon quickly assured her, kissing her forehead. “I have never seen a babe so strong and healthy, and Rhaenys has not let him out of her sight.”

Haldon swore the infection had passed, but it weakened her considerably. It was weeks before Arya was able to stand and even then only with assistance; the first time she held Aemon in her arms, Ashara had to keep her hands beneath his body, Arya's strength so tremulous she feared she would drop him.

If Rhaenys was a Martell, Aemon was pure Targaryen, bright lilac eyes and silver hair as soft as feathers atop his head. Whereas Rhaenys had always been a demanding baby, Aemon was as peaceful as a septon; even when hungry or wet, he barely did more than whimper. Of course, he rarely had a chance to do even that, for everyone was quick to pick up the little prince and satisfy his wants. Ashara teased that no baby was ever so beloved, so cherished as sweet Aemon.

“I have seen many babies in my life, but none which so sweet a temperament. Aegon was a happy child in the cradle, but he was always so quick to let you know when he was displeased. Did your mother ever say what sort of babe you were?”

Robb once told her that, after she was born, he and Jon called her “little monster,” for all she did was scream for the first few moons of her life. If anyone had inherited her temperament, it was high-spirited, willful Rhaenys.

“I feel like a cripple,” Arya complained one evening as Aegon carried her to sit outside beneath the moon, her legs having been exhausted by her insistence to walk unassisted earlier in the day.

“You are still recovering. You do not have to exert yourself every day.”

As he settled her gently in the soft blue grass, sinking down beside her with a skin of fermented mare's milk, Arya groused, “I hate to sit still.”

“And I hate to see you still,” Aegon countered, “which is why you must let your strength return rather than risk your infection recurring.” Wrapping an arm around her much slimmer shoulders, he whispered, “I could hardly breathe when you were asleep.”

Arya laid down, resting her head in his lap; Aegon's fingers instantly began to card through her thinned hair. “My brother Bran used to climb everything: trees, Winterfell's walls, anything he could get purchase on. When he was seven, he slipped when a stone broke and fell so far. For a fortnight he slept, and Maester Luwin swore he would never walk again but Bran insisted he would. It took him over a year but soon he was running as quickly as he ever had, shimmying up the walls and driving my mother mad. He was knighted during the Ironborn Rebellion.”

“I would like to meet him some day.”

“Sometimes Aemon reminds me of him. I think it is because he is so peaceful. Bran was always the most relaxed man.”

“I confess I'm jealous. I look at our children sometimes and I wonder if they are like my parents, my sister, but I have not a single memory of them.”

“What is your first memory?”

A warm smile stretched across his face. “Ashara playing with me in this light snow. It was before we met Connington, back when it was only us and Illyrio. Sometimes at night I would climb into her bed, and she would hold me tight against her chest. She always smelled of cinnamon, and she would sing me songs.”

“You love her well.”

“She is the only mother I have ever known. She gave up her entire life for me. I always swore that, if I became king, I would treat her as if she was the queen mother. Rhaenys is already calling her grandmother. Or, at least, I think she's calling her grandmother. She speaks more Dothraki than Common Tongue, and half of the time I can't understand a word of it.”

Arya chuckled, turning her eyes up towards the stars. She tried to imagine the horror on Sansa's face should her three prim daughters ever meet Rhaenys with her dirty feet, brash manner, and thickly accented Common Tongue. “I fear I may be teaching her all the wrong lessons.”

“You are a wonderful mother, the sort who sees who her children are and lets them be it. Rhaenys and Aemon will never grow to be like us, hiding who they are or having to pretend to be someone they are not. If our daughter wishes to swing a sword, we will teach her; if our son wishes to become a septon, we will allow it.”

“And if they grow to want to be the princess and prince they are told they are?”

Aegon looked down at her, fire in purple eyes. “Then I will win them a throne.”

She held his gaze for a long moment, trying to ascertain how deeply his sentiment was felt. Finally she queried, “Are all of you still plotting how to take back the Iron Throne?”

“We do not have to discuss this now - “


He tugged a bit on her hair, a pinch of pain shooting through her scalp. Finally he said, “Robert has offered a lordship and lands to any man who brings him my head. Gods only know what he would give someone for you or the children.”

“You mean to invade,” Arya interpreted.

“I mean to never let what happened to my family to ours. If I have to take that cursed throne to do it, so be it.”

“You swore to me - “

“Then my honor is bruised but better it than your body after Gregor Clegane finds you!” he fiercely spat. He urged Arya to sit up, getting to his feet. For a moment he paced back and forth before exploding, “You will never understand what it is like to have everything taken from you, to be stripped of even your name! I am the rightful king!”

“You sound like Viserys,” she accused.

Aegon's face twisted in fury, an expression she had seen a scant few times and only when their fights became tremendous. “I am Aegon Targaryen, the Sixth of his Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm! I am the blood of old Valyria, of Aegon the Conqueror, the son of Prince Rhaegar and Princess Elia, and I will not pretend that I am anything else any longer!”

“But you promised me - “

“I will not have our children wandering the Free Cities as beggars, dying their hair and answering to false names! I will give them a legacy, the one my mother died to protect, and I will never understand why you would deprive them of it!”

“Because I will not murder my family so that ours can sit on thrones!”

Aegon threw the skin of mare's milk to the ground, angrier than Arya could ever remember seeing him. “Do not pretend as if it is your family you are so concerned over! I know it is him! You must have called his name half-a-hundred times in your fever, crying for him as if he was going to come save you.”

“This has nothing to do with Gendry,” she swore, half-believing the lie even as she flushed in embarrassment at having called out his name. “I gave up my family for you. I married you. I had children with you.”

“But you still dream of him.”

“I cannot control a fever dream, Aegon! You cannot hold me responsible for something so ridiculous!”

Aegon knelt before her, and Arya was shocked to see tears coursing down his cheeks. Clasping her face in his palms, he entreated, “You must understand: I am all that's left of them. Robert, the Lannisters, they murdered them all, and I lived for a reason. It cannot be so I could fight other men's wars for gold.”

Her heart breaking, Arya felt tears of her own welling. “Please do not ask this of me. Do not make me choose.”

Sorrow and resignation filled his face. “I am not asking, Arya. Once your strength has returned, you and Ashara are taking the children back to Pentos, and I am taking my armies west. A king does not ask his queen before he does what needs to be done.”

I am not your queen. I will never be your queen. “Take me back to my tent please.”

That evening, as Rhaenys and Aemon slept beside her, Arya plotted. She loved Aegon; Arya did not doubt that. He was the first man she truly loved as a woman, the first man she chose, and she would have lived happily enough in the Free Cities with him and their children. All she had needed was for him to maintain his promise, to forget the useless Iron Throne which had done nothing but wreak havoc on both of their lives.

Arya never wanted a crown and wanted one for her children even less.

I am a Stark of Winterfell, she recited to herself as she drifted off to sleep, Rhaenys's warm breath against her face. I am born of snow and ice, the daughter of Eddard Stark. This is not my place, and the dragons will swallow me whole.

That night she did not dream one of her wolf dreams; instead she dreamed of the skulls beneath the Red Keep, massive jaws opening wide as fire burnt her alive.

Aemon's first name day came and went before Arya's strength fully returned to her. They were the most frustrating months of Arya's life, her body never feeling so unwieldy, her balance and coordination seeming to be the last to return. When she finally sat Winter after so long, Arya felt as if she was learning to ride all over again; Ser Jorah made her start with an old mare before gradually working her way back to Winter. Even then Arya found herself nearly thrown the first time, clutching the reins with a hint of desperation, horribly embarrassed when Connington had to calm her horse and help her down.

“You can ride my pony,” Rhaenys offered, her Dothraki impeccable and earning Rhaego's amused chuckle. If Rhaenys adored Aegon, she positively worshiped Rhaego, never venturing far from her cousin's side. Only the night before she had proudly announced that she was going to marry Rhaego and become his khaleesi.

“No, I can do this,” Arya assured her, swinging herself into the saddle again. “And then we will ride together.”

It bothered Arya that Rhaenys only knew her as weak, only saw her as someone who needed others to help her around, who had to ride in the carts like an invalid. She wanted her daughter to know she was strong, that she was a direwolf of the North who sat a horse better than any of her brothers, who was wild and fearless.

Arya needed her children to know she was Arya Stark of Winterfell, not some impotent queen to be moved about like a piece on a cyvasse board.

When Aegon announced they would ride for Volantis in a fortnight so she and Ashara could board the ship to return them to Illyrio, Arya nodded, feigning compliance more than she ever had. She ate at the feast held in their honor, watched the men battle and the women dance, discussed weapons with Daenerys's bloodriders and teased Rhaego; for the first time in her life, she was as comely and proper as Sansa, the sort of lady who would make a fine queen.

Aegon smiled at her with such love in his eyes, it almost made her regret what she was going to do.

He came to her tent that night, the children staying with Ashara, and Arya trembled as he removed her clothing, at the slow, tender way he tended to her. As he moved above her, their hips moving in tandem, Arya felt tears hit her suddenly, spilling down her cheeks so quickly she could not hold them back. Aegon whispered her name, his lips catching each drop, assuring her they would see each other again; there was no doubt in Arya's mind he loved her with everything he had, and it broke her heart all the more.

I could have been the greatest wife to you if you had only kept your word, she wanted to sob. We could have raised our children and grown old together. If you had forgotten about the damned Iron Throne, life could have been a song.

But life was not a song. Arya knew that better than anyone.

Rhaenys clung to her father at the docks, sobbing and pleading to remain with him, fighting like all seven hells were chasing her; only after Aegon removed the chain he wore, the one with a pendant which bore the sigil of House Targaryen, and placed it around her throat with a promise to see her soon did Rhaenys go into Ashara's arms. Aemon stared at his father placidly as Aegon pressed a kiss to his forehead, and Aegon removed the dagger at his hip, the ruby-encrusted Valyrian steel which Illyrio gave him as a wedding present, pressing it into Arya's hand and making her promise to give it to Aemon should something go wrong.

“Should I fall,” Aegon said as Arya balanced Aemon on her hip, “Viserys and Daenerys will keep the charge. Connington has my words; you are to be regent until Aemon comes of age. I know you think he hates you, but he would be a true and loyal Hand.”

“We do not need to discuss this now.”

“When else will we discuss it?” Aegon kissed her softly. “You have the best instincts of anyone I have ever met. As long as you trust them, you will be the grandest queen the Seven Kingdoms has ever known.”

She struggled to nod. “I will do my best.”

Aegon turned, gesturing for one of the Dothraki men to bring something to him. For a moment Arya thought it was Blackfyre, Aegon's blade, but the hilt was different, more elegant somehow. As her husband withdrew it from its sheath, Arya instantly knew it was something else entirely.

“Aemon the Dragonknight carried this blade,” Aegon explained, a smile playing at his lips. “It was originally Visenya Targaryen's, used when she helped the first Aegon conquer the kingdoms. You know its name?”

“Dark Sister,” Arya supplied, genuine awe in her voice.

He nodded. “I do not know how Illyrio came by it, but he did. And I want you to have it.”

Instantly she shook her head. “No, it should be carried by a Targaryen - “

“You are a Targaryen now,” Aegon cut in. “You are my wife, now and forever. I carry Aegon's sword, and I wish for you to carry his wife's. If trouble should find you, your Needle will not be enough.”

Standing still as Aegon fastened it around her waist, Arya found herself short of breath. “I love you. Please never forget that.”

“Never,” Aegon swore, his kiss lasting longer, a touch of desperation to it. Pulling back, brushing one parting kiss against Aemon's brow, he playfully ordered, “Now get on that ship or I will never let you go.”

Rhaenys insisted on remaining on deck until her father disappeared from sight. It was only when the sea was all which surrounded them that Arya broke, sobbing pitifully, clutching Aemon to her. She cried tears she did not know she had and, when she thought she ran empty, they began again. Ashara took the children to her cabin, leaving Arya to her grief, but nothing could make it abate.

Why you could not keep your promise?

Ashara came to her when the children were asleep, her beautiful face looking at her knowingly. “We are not going to Pentos, are we?”

There was no point in lying; she would find out soon enough. “When our ship docks in Braavos, the children and I will be changing ships. You do not have to accompany us.”

“I love those children as if they were my own blood.”

“As you love Aegon.”

For a moment Ashara was quiet. Then she asked, “Do you plan on betraying Aegon's plans to King Robert?”

“Of course not!”

Her smile was bitter. “I am quite familiar with the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect her children. What happens in Braavos?”

“I buy us passage to the only man I trust to keep us safe.”

“And where will we find this man?”

“Castle Black.”


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