witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (2024)

Chapter 1: AEMOND I


Babygirl Aemond not only dragged me back into my asoiaf era, but he managed to drag me into fanfic writing again. His power? Unmatched. It was inevitable I ended up making a time travel fic featuring him as an unhinged male lead.

Queen of my heart, mama’s favourite war criminal, and canon-typical shenanigans. Let’s see how it goes, yes?

The GOT era is more book-canon, while the HOTD era is more show-canon.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (1)

part i: pages turned with the bridges burned (everything you lose is a step you take)


chapter one: Aemond I


Aemond died in a blaze of dragonfire, with blood in his mouth, and pain—agonising, excruciating, savage pain surging through him like calamitous quakes of the Doom.

He remembered the heat of Vhagar’s roar, the cool kiss of Valyrian steel, and the gentle, sweet embrace of the waters of Gods Eye as they closed above him—pulling him down, down, down, deeper into their crushing depths.

You have lived too long.”

On that much we agree,” Daemon replied, sad and tired. His uncle was nine-and-forty where Aemond had not yet turned twenty, a young man in his prime.

Aemond smiled. Sharp and cruel—vindictive. “I’ve made a promise to my sister, sweet Helaena, whose son was murdered before her eyes on your command: my face is going to be the last thing you will see before I’ll kill you, Nuncle. This I vow.”

An eye for an eye, a son for a son, a prince for a prince—land turned to ash and rivers ran red when the dragons danced.

Aemond’s fingers grasped the short chains which fastened him at the belt to Vhagar’s saddle, desperately working at the buckles. Vhagar was sinking to the bottom of Gods Eye, the blood gushing from the wound on her neck boiling the lake’s waters, and Aemond with them.

Vhagar, kostilus!” he screamed, but no sound came out. Air escaped his lungs as water rushed in. “Sōvegon!

All men must die.

But Aemond was a dragon—in heart if not in body, in spirit and blood if not in tooth and claw—and dragons could live forever.

Death cannot kill what never dies.


“How much further?”

“Not long now,” he assured, her clammy hand gripped tightly in his. For all that he was smaller than both his older siblings, Aemond was twice as fierce.

The torchlight flickered, painting dancing, ghoulish shadows on the walls, and dimmed to barely a wick of flame, plunging Aemond and Helaena into almost tangible darkness. They were deep in the cellars beneath the Red Keep, searching through a maze of passageways with only a ball of blue thread tied to Helaena’s waist keeping them from being utterly lost.

Aegon had told them they would find wild dragons beneath the keep, and thus deeper into the cells they went. Curiosity spurred her, desire drove him. Neither Helaena nor Aemond rode a dragon: the egg laid in Helaena’s crib had tinted grey and turned to stone; whilst Aemond had never been granted one. Dragon eggs were a scarce commodity and at the time of his birth, there had been only two in the Pits—one untouchable, and the other had been granted to Jacaerys, even as the boy was still in womb. King Viserys deemed his dead first son by the late queen and the firstborn grandson take precedence over the second son from his second marriage.

“I hate the dark,” Helaena complained.

“History was made at night. Only in darkness we are revealed,” Aemond quoted, sanctimoniously.

“Who said that?”

“Some dead man,” came his flippant reply. He spun around, turning to watch his sister, and smiled warmly. “I’ll share a secret: I hate the dark, too. Does it ever feel to you like it’s watching you back? It does to me; I loathe it.”

“No,” Helaena said, wide eyes blinking owlishly. “Why would it? Darkness is merely the absence of light. When darkness rises, so does light to meet—”

From behind them, a sudden rush of hot air swept through the narrow passageway, extinguishing the remnants of a torch Aemond held, and whatever else Helaena meant to say had been drowned by a terrible, woeful roar resounding through the lower cells of the keep, slicing through the air like steel. The stones themselves shook, groaning; dust and debris falling like rain onto the siblings.

Vhagar, Aemond realised, wildered of thought, and made a move backwards, only to be caught at the wrist by Helaena.

“You can’t,” she said, shaking her head. In the pitch darkness, Aemond could not see his sister, but he felt the brush of her long hair across his cheeks all the same.

“Helaena, let me go! She’s calling me.”

“You closed an eye for her, brother. I won’t let you give her more.”

“I didn’t close any f*cking eye, Hel. Both of my eyes are open. Let me go,” Aemond hissed. He tugged and pulled, but his wrist was caught in a vice of Helaena’s iron grip. His struggles were fruitless; Aemond’s elder sister seemed a force of preternatural, insurmountable strength.

In the distance, Vhagar’s roars turned to piercing, desolate howls. It felt like his own heart was sobbing, tearing itself in twain. “She’s crying, she needs me.”

Helaena said nothing; she ran down a pitch black corridor, pulling Aemond further into the bowels of the Red Keep, further and further away from the sounds of distant baying.

As they descended the ancient stone steps, walls rumbled and pounded like a heartbeat. He could feel something grow warm within his chest and echo every pulse, reverberating through him, clawing into his bones, and etching itself into his marrow. Aemond was not sure how long they ran for—it felt like hours, it could have been minutes.

He staggered, tripping over a rock.

When he looked up, they were in the Great Hall.

The throne room’s walls were lined with dragon skulls: as black as onyx, polished smooth—the bones shimmered, coated in black diamond dust. Green flames of wildfire flickered behind their empty eye sockets, making gruesome shadows leap and dart on the marble walls: dead men laughed merrily, missing limbs with leeches crawling out of their open mouths; devils danced, black as night, tongues long and serpentine. From behind long, curving teeth, sharp as daggers, a light simmered—warm and red and full of threat.

Aemond swore the dragon skulls watched him; Balerion the Black Dread’s huge open maw curved into a wicked grin and—

“You must wake the dragon from the stone.”

He spun around and saw his sister standing at the foot of the Iron Throne.

Except, it was not the Helaena who took him by the wrist and dragged him through the labyrinth beneath the keep. The sister before him was a woman grown: small of stature and much rounder where Aemond was all sharp angles. Her face wan and waxen, knuckles bruised like violets, her silver hair thin and matted. She looked as wearied and wretched as Aemond felt.

He took a step towards her and suddenly he was in front of her, grasping her fingers betwixt his own. “Hel—”

“You broke your promise, as I dreamt you would,” she whispered, sorrowfully, eyes distant. “You will not come back. I hold my hands over the ears of my heart, so that I do not hate you, brother.”

He staggered back, as if struck. Whatever words he meant to say, died in his throat. Sweet Helaena was his favourite, most treasured sibling—strange and misunderstood, tormented by her dreams. Hers was the embrace which offered him solace and forgiveness, hers would be the only hate he could not bear.

“In a moment, I’ll take a step forward and fly. In a moment, you’ll fall and rise…but before destiny must come to pass…let me have this,” she muttered, reaching around and guiding him into an enclasp, small hands wrapping themselves behind his back. Aemond drew her closer still, until they were chest to chest, calloused palm brushing through her hair. Inexplicably, his heart was weeping.

She whispered something tender into her shoulder.

Aemond paused his ministrations, failing to catch her words. “What?”

Suddenly, the tall, narrow windows lining the eastern and western walls burst open sharply. The glass cracked and shattered all at once. Aemond moved to shield his sister, just as the glass scattered through the Great Hall and dug into his flesh—his arms, his legs, his face. The wind howled and a cold unlike any Aemond knew before swept through the hall.

“Helaena—” he started, but stopped, violet eye growing wide and fearful.

His sister was a phantom in the carnage, whole and untouched. She passed through his arms like a ghost, gliding over shattered glass. She swept her arms wide, like a bird taking flight, pointing to what lay beyond the Great Hall’s walls. Aemond’s gaze followed the movement, expecting to see King’s Landing, instead he saw…

An open sky, blue as the sapphire in his eye.

For a passing moment, he could almost believe he was on dragonback, drifting above the clouds, so high up his line of sight was. Somewhere unseen, a soaring bird cried. As far as his eye could see, the horizon was bleak and inhospitable: a perilous, rocky mountain range. Row upon row of snow-capped grey-green peaks.

To him, it was beautiful.

A hand touched his bicep and when Aemond looked down, Helaena was staring at him—through him. All trace of the girl she was was gone, before him stood a wraith wearing his sister’s skin. “Your song is not yet finished, Aemond of House Targaryen. You must wake the dragon from the stone.”

Wake the dragon from the stone, echoed the skulls of Balerion and Meraxes.

Wake the dragon, the skulls of Arrax and Caraxes jeered.

Stone, stone, stone, sang the Meleys’ skull.

“Fire and blood, brother,” Helaena reminded, and gave him a shove.

Too startled to even scream, Aemond toppled backwards out of the window and empty air. There was nothing to grab on to and no dragon to ride. Aemond dove through the sky and sharp mountains rushed up to meet him.

Aemond felt his head crack open, brains spilling out.

In the distance, a wolf howled.


Aemond jerked violently into wakefulness, his heart rabbiting in his throat.

A dream, he thought. Only a dream.

Yet the dream was kinder than the reality: his body was a patchwork of sharp pain and throbbing aches—breathing hurt, pulling at his chest and back; his limbs felt numb and heavy, useless; a stabbing headache almost felled him senseless. All the same, Aemond pulled himself up into an upright position, muscles stiff with exhaustion, cataloguing the state of his body and his surroundings. He was on a thin, straw cot and with a low, smothered groan, he swung his legs off the edge of it, until he felt the cool, wooden floor with his bare feet.

It was dark, wherever he was. Pitch-black. He may have one eye, but his night vision was sharp, able to see clearly in low-light conditions, yet he could not even pick up on vague, shadowed shapes—

He was blind. The realisation swelled inside of him with mounting ghastly horror, not quite registering as reality.

“You’re awake, princeling,” a voice spoke, low and craggy.

Aemond sprung into action, heedless of his injuries. He got to his feet and lurched in the direction of the voice, tackling the person gracelessly. They both fell to the floor with a resoundant trump. Aemond’s hips bracketed the intruder, squeezing their body beneath him with his knees, caring not for the fight they put up. His hands roved until they found purchase around a skinny neck—his grip strong and steady, despite the claws raking his forearms till they drew blood.

“Where am I?” he hissed, breath laboured, and fingers squeezing lightly as incentive for a truthful answer. Necks were funny things; fragile, vulnerable, and easily breakable.

“Riverlands,” a woman wheezed—for Aemond now realised it was a woman he was grappling with, old and small and wizened. “A boy went to fish and instead found you unconscious at the edges of Gods Eye—how you swam to shore, no-one knows; in full plate of armour it is miraculous you haven’t drowned—and took you to me. Battered and blue, not an unmarred spot on you, but alive. For three days and four nights you stayed in this room until your fever broke, nursed and cared for. Ah,” she rasped, chuckling, “I see you’re doing better. How’s that bruised shoulder and hip, and the cracked ribs? Giving you trouble? If it is a tumble you wanted, you need only ask. I wouldn’t have said ‘no.’ You’re a pretty thing, princeling. All silver hair and sensuous lips. A kiss from you would be sweet. Aye, a long, sloppy kiss would be payment enough.”

The disgust Aemomd felt must have shown on his face for the old woman cackled. “I’m old, too old. No-one has kissed me for a thousand years. It’s hard to be so old. I’ll have a dance then, a dance with a dragon ought to satisfy me.”

Aemond’s patience was begging to wear thin. “You’ll get no kisses from me, or dances. Lest you wish to be parted from your life, you’ll answer me quick and true: has anyone else been found? A man, tall like me, silver haired and in black armour?”

Daemon, Aemond thought, darkly. Where was Daemon? Last he had seen his uncle, the man was driving Dark Sister through his sapphire eye, just as Aemond himself was burying a dagger to the hilt in his uncle’s belly. Still, Aemond lived, thus it stood to reason Daemon could, too. If he did, Aemond would not know peace until he took his uncle’s head. He was a kinslayer already, cursed and damned; what was adding murder of another member of their rapidly dwindling family tree to his list of sins?

“There was no-one but you and the boy around for miles. If the waters of Gods Eye rejected anyone else, they are now food for fishes.”

The woman’s words eased some of the tension out of Aemond’s shoulders. His other eye was a worthy exchange for Daemon Targaryen’s life. Helaena would not thank him, but their mother would.

He eased his grip on the woman’s neck, but kept his hands there, forefinger on her pulse. It was a surprisingly strong and steady heartbeat for one so old, unflinching under his questioning. He had not discerned any falsehoods from her; however, it disquieted him how unperturbed she was by his menacing.

“And my dragon? Where is my dragon?

“What dragon? There are no more dragons, princeling.”

“Where is Vhagar?” Aemond growled. “Where is my dragon? She would not be parted from me.”

“No… you were parted from her,” the woman said, mournfully, her touch on his forearm almost comforting, “my girl was taken from me, too, by another prince. She danced in a castle and now she dances with ghosts, and all I am left with are sorrows and insurmountable grief.”

Something sour and discomforting settled in the pit of Aemond’s stomach even as recognition bloomed. If there was one type of woman he knew how to agnize it was a witch.

You shall return,” in his memory Alys proclaimed after he kissed her, wildfire-green eyes alight with purpose and conviction. “I have foreseen it.”

“Tell me,” he said, softly, releasing the old woman and moving away, “what happened?”

“I dreamt of you, dragon prince, star child,” the woodswitch said, in lieu of an answer. “The fates are cruel to have led me to you—princeling, blood of the dragon, son of woe and strife. Before your time is out you will gorge on pain. You’ll lie with a serpent and drink from her poison, the taste of it sweeter than honey. She’ll bring you joy, or she’ll kill you, dark heart. The debt has not been paid and your fate is not set in stone.”

Unconsciously, Aemond touched his uncovered eye. “A debt…”

“Oh, you’ll see daylight again,” she snorted, ungracefully. “You’ve hit your head something fierce and blood pooled in your skull, the pressure of it made you temporarily blind. You’re lucky the blow you suffered had not made you go soft in the mind.”

“What are the news from King’s Landing? How is the King?” Aemond prompted, trying to steer the conversation where he wanted it.

“The king is dead,” the woodswitch said and Aemond flinched. “Aye, kings are dropping like flies. The kraken king, the flower king, the wolf king, and the lion king—the stag king is not long to live neither.”

Aemond’s temples throbbed, his head started spinning. The clarity of mind and strength he’d gained with the rush of blood was waning, and his injuries and blood loss were catching up with him. “Kings?” he muttered, thinly. “There is but one king—my brother, Aegon.” And that usurping whor*, his half-sister Rhaenyra, but she was no Queen. Aemond refused to name her such.

He tried to get up from where he was sitting back on his haunches, but his legs buckled. He gritted his teeth, grasping for purchase blindly until he found a wooden stool and used it to haul himself to his feet. He staggered and felt calloused hands grasp him at the forearms.

“All sorts of people are calling themselves kings these days,” the woodswitch explained, taking Aemond’s hand and guiding him to the cot. “There are as many kings in the realm these days as there are pennies.”

She put him to bed, drawing blankets over him, and put her hand on his forehand, her touch pleasantly cool. As he drifted off, he could hear her voice in the distance, whisper softly:

“Peace, princeling. In the darkness, you shall meet your creators: monsters born and monsters made. Who will you see there in the darkness? When no-one is watching, who will you be?”


Artwork credit to baiyun_cat on twitter.

Chapter 2: AEMOND II


hahaha, I hadn’t even realised there are other Aemond/Sansa fics until I published chapter one and then hit the ship tag to see if witchcraft showed up. I’m happy I’m not the only one who sensed the potential of the pairing. A huuuuuuuuge thank you everyone who read the first chapter ― I’m overwhelmed by the positive response, and the feedback has been lovely and very encouraging. I’m glad this niche idea found a receptive audience as I am very excited to write it. ❤️

Regarding face claims… Aemond is Ewan Mitchell, who else would he be? However, I tend to fancast book!Sansa as Angelina Michelle. It’s not really necessary to picture her as such if you do not wish, I just wanted to provide an option.

Please, enjoy the photoshop edit I made for the fic. :3

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (2)


chapter two: Aemond II


Aemond missed Vhagar like one would miss a limb.

He had searched for her: he called every passing shadow from a cloud her name; looked for the patterns of her scales in rolling green hills; sung to the wind in High Valyrian, in hopes of calling her forth. In the dark, Aemond pored over the loss of her.

The kernel which sprung and grew in the cage of his ribs—the second heart that beat in tandem with Vhagar’s and marked him as her partner; the golden thread that lingered in the back of his consciousness, a line from him to her. Their bond had blossomed out of the deepest recesses of his blood—it has always been there, had always meant to be there between the two of them. Aemond had nursed and cultivated their connection: the dragon and her rider, mirrors of one another, two halves of the same ancient piece of magic. The fire and the indelible rage they shared had bounced off the chambers of their hearts and amplified in an inferno of fiery resonance. The fierce, undying loyalty which lived within them only strengthened with every choice they made in tandem.

Vhagar had been his salvation—she’d saved him when he hadn’t known he was drowning. She had been a constant companion to Aemond’s every thought for almost ten years, and he grasped at the fellowship she provided, starved for affection and comfort. The light of her flames had staved off the darkness in the recesses of his mind; the heat of them had warmed him from within. When they took flight, Aemond was his freest—just them and the endless expanse of blue sky. It eased his worries and tamed her rage; soothed the wildfire in their soul.

Vhagar had chosen him, the only one who had ever done so of their own volition. She’d claimed him for her own; they were inexorable—bound to live and die by their loyalty to one another.

The loss of her was insuperable, it cleaved him in twain.

She must be dead, he concluded, grimly, miserably. She would never leave him of her own free will.

Aemond Targaryen was a dragonrider no more.

He could barely remember who he was without Vhagar. The boy he had been before he claimed her was dead—he had died that night at Driftmark when his nephew took his eye, and his Lord Father showed the truth of his heart when he chose Rhaenyra and her bastard spawns. When, in a chamber full of knights and nobles, only his mother had fought for him—protected him, demanded justice in his name. It branded him. The surety and strength of her resolve—her fierce, singular love for him. The way she pressed, unhinged and wronged by all to get revenge for his loss.

Aemond had loved her for it, would always love her for it—he had done everything and anything to be worthy of that devotion. Everything that he was—dutiful, disciplined, determined, and devastating had been to protect his family, no matter the cost.

Even wounded, alone, and dragonless—he would make it back to them. He had to.

“You’re not doing it correctly,” Jeyne huffed, her words lisping. “Here, let me show you: it’s like a snake, see? Left and right, in and out.”

“How clever, little one, asking a blind man to see,” Aemond said, humourlessly.

“Oh,” the girl said, her excitement dimming.

He was not blind, not truly. The woodswitch had been right and his vision was returning—bit by bit, he was seeing more of the world each day. Presently, he could distinguish light easily enough, but objects in his eyesight remained blurry and unfocused. More suggestions of shapes rather than true silhouettes.

He remembered that first dawn a sennight ago, waking up alone and seeing nothing. The witch was gone—vanished; as did Aemond’s earlier composure in the face of being crippled further. Cold dread swept through him like a rush of water, terror galloping though his veins. He had viciously punched himself in the head, striking at temples, rubbing and clawing at his eye—again and again and again, willing it to work as it should with all his might.

It had been a deep, heart-clenching fear of his: blindness. Being a learned scholar meant nothing if he could no longer read; talent at swordsmanship was useless if he could not see his opponents. Riding the biggest dragon in the world did not matter if he could not direct her.

One-Eyed Prince to a blind beggar.

For he was a beggar. Staying on an isolated farm in Riverlands, unmoored and anonymous. Aegon would chortle with malicious glee if he could see Aemond now: Prince of the Realm being put up in a barnyard with livestock and made to labour for peasants.

Eyes closed, he worked: deft fingers weaving the hazel rods in and out of the vertical uprights spiked into the base stretched on the earthen floor. There was little farm-work a blind man could do, but to earn his keep and meal, Aemond was building hazel hurdles—light-weight, free-standing fences—with the youngest of the family, Jeyne, a girl of eight.

The eldest child, a mute boy by the name of Jonos, had went fishing as he oft to do; as he did when instead of trout, he’d fished Aemond out of Gods Eye and dragged him—unconscious and in full armour—to the woodswitch, who passed through the Harrenhal lands bimonthly.

Aemond owed him his life, and Aemond One-Eye took his debts and grudges to the grave and back.

“—it matter, for all men must die, and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife!

“Must you disturb my peace with your infernal screeching?” Aemond asked. He detested The Dornishman’s Wife—it was Aegon’s favourite, and he insisted the bard would play it at every feast, often bellowing along the bawdy lyrics. Aemond himself preferred gentler, more mournful songs, such as No Featherbed For Me, On Misty Mourn, and The Winter Maid. “A bear must have stepped on your ear, girl, for you make a poor singer, and—” he ran his hand down the length of the hurdle “—a poorer weaver still. You must tighten your end of the fence, it’s loose and shoddy.”

Jeyne huffed in irritation, but Aemond could hear her get to work.

“Does your mother know you sing bawdy songs to strange men?” he asked, curiously, in spite of himself. He highly doubted a no-nonsense woman like Pippa, who’d slapped her husband with a wooden spoon for ‘using improper language at the dinner table’ would be tolerant of her daughter’s behaviour.

“You’re not a strange man.”

“I am a man and I am very strange indeed.”

“Not strange at all, I think you’re very pretty,” the girl replied, primly.

Aemond rolled his eye, wondering if the child was soft in the head. He’d witnessed on many occasions how his facial scars scared court-ladies witless. His grandsire called them unseemly and prompted Aemond to wear the leather covering at all times. “Your taste in men will get you in trouble once you’re older.”

Jeyne tugged on the sleeve of a simple linen shirt her father, Humfrey, lent him. “How so?”

Aemond considered the question. He knew how Aegon would answer it, so he said exactly the opposite: “A man like me is worth little and only is useful as his skills, and I have no skill for farming. You’re better off finding a shepherd like your father or a blacksmith—they are never out of work.”

“That doesn’t sound right. Not the farming bit—you’re rotten at it.” Aemond briefly recalled his unsuccessful attempts at milking the cow and the goat, planting seeds and tending to the garden—and concurred with Jeyne’s unfavourable assessment, albeit begrudgingly. “But binding your worth to your usefulness. That’s too muh—muhser—”

“Mercenary,” Aemond supplied.

“Yes, that. People ought not to be only means to an end, or so Momma says.”

“Your mother sounds wise.” Even if she was dead wrong. Aemond’s worth had only been measured by his merits—his achievements and abilities catalogued and weighted, their value determined by their utility and profitability. His prowess on dragonback, his erudition, his dangerous proficiency with a sword, his aptitude for martial matters, the competency with which he carried out his duties and more—they were all tools in service of Aegon’s crown. Everything about Aemond was honed and sharpened with the explicit goal to be of benefit to the family’s cause.

“Besides,” Jeyne huffed, “I don’t want to marry.”

Aemond stretched an hmm noncommittally.

“And I don’t want to stay my entire life on a farm. I want to go on adventures; be as bold as Lann the Clever and as noble as Aemon the Dragonknight.” Aemond’s fingers twitched. The unease that had been steadily pooling in the pit of his stomach since he’d awoke surged with renewed dread. “I will fight pirates and—”

“Who is Aemon the Dragonknight?” Aemond croaked.


Whoosh, swish, whoosh.

Round and round Aemond’s dagger danced and spun deftly through his fingers. Tossed up, caught by the tip of the blade, flipped, and spun again. Jeyne had left, called by her mother to help with supper, whilst Aemond had been left to his own devices.

Whoosh, swish, swish, whoosh.

The girl had proved to be woefully uneducated. Smallfolk often were bereft of basic schooling—the majority of them were illiterate for they lived humble, simple lives, but there were limits to how ill-informed a peasant could be. Aemon the Dragonknight, according to Jeyne, was the noblest, truest of knights, in courtly love with Queen Naerys who, in Jeyne’s own words, was the most pious, gentlest of queens. She provided no further elaboration no matter how much Aemond probed. It grated on him, but songs and tales were all she knew; no facts, no dates, no clear details.

He made a mental note to bring up to the Small Council the standardisation of education for smallfolk. They need not all be scholars, or even literate, but it was a gross failing on the part of the noble lord responsible for the region that the commoners under him did not even know the names of the Royal Family and instead worshipped some folk hero of dubious origins.

Still, he felt uneasy.

Aemond trusted rationality and reason over feelings, but he was a Targaryen—they were an intuitive and suspicious breed. Something was afoot; a scheme, a plan, a trick—and it rankled Aemond that he could not puzzle it out.

To figure out a strange plot, he thought, the dagger spinning through his fingers grew faster and faster. Look at what is happening and ask who benefits.

Where was Daemon?

If the woodswitch was to be believed, he was dead, killed by Aemond’s blade. However, Aemond himself had suffered a fatal blow, and here he was—revived, whether it be by magic or fortune. His uncle was a spiteful creature, clinging to life like a co*ckroach; he was opportunistic, brimming with ambition, and eager to suck on the tit of power—yet, he was not without low cunning and excelled at quick turnaround tactics. Daemon scattered his forces, ravaging the lands like a thief in the night at random locations, and sowing chaos and disarray.

Aemond approached warfare methodically, with the same single-minded, tenacious perseverance he handled everything—burning and killing stronghold after stronghold, leaving only death and destruction in his wake. He razed the Riverlands on dragonback, hosting naught but ‘corpse feasts’ for the scavengers—Daemon could not elude him if Aemond left him no place to hide.

Their cat and mouse chase had culminated in the battle above Gods Eye.

The events of the battle flashed; in his mind’s eye, Aemond examined his memories, inspecting each detail, reflecting on them thoroughly. He knew not for how long he fell into the bout of introspection; his withdrawal into himself was not unusual—even his family was past the point of concern when it came to his brooding.

When Aemond finally looked up, it was dark out.

He sighed, and tucked the slim, short dagger back into his boot. It was no use dwelling on the hypotheticals: if Daemon lived, Aemond would chase him to the ends of the earth and rest not until he squeezed the life out of his uncle with his own two hands.

Jaehaerys, Maelor, Helaena, he recited the mantra. An eye for an eye, a son for a son, a prince for a prince—Aemond One-Eye paid his debts in sanguinary.

Rhaenyra grunted and farted soundly.

The bloody beast.

The past sennight, Aemond spent sleeping in a barnyard, on a bale of hay, surrounded by livestock. Out of boredom, he’d named all of them his own private, spiteful little names. The pregnant old cow with milk-heavy tit* was Rhaenyra; the three pigs in a sty he’d named Aegon, Jacaerys, and Lucerys; the old, cantankerous goat was Otto; and the co*ck with half his feathers plucked was Daemon. The sheep at the pasture were Corlys, Rhaenys, Baela, and Rhaena; the young tomcat that lived on the property was Daeron; and the various chickens in a coop Aemond called after members of Small Council and Aegon’s court. No creature was named after his mother nor his sweet sister.

A cry pierced the quiet of the dark—short and stifled.

Instantaneously, his muscles locked into place, readying for a fight. An instinct embedded deep inside his marrow, self preservation at its finest, honed to a razor point edge. A foundation upon which he’d cultivated himself—nothing in this world would ever show him mercy, and Aemond would not offer it in return.

Aemond unfurled himself from his crouched position, stretching his long limbs to their full length, hand falling on the pommel of Dark Sister, hanging at his hip, fingers wrapping around it in a grip ingrained deep in his muscle memory. The Valyrian steel longsword had been found with him, clutched in his gauntleted hand—it was his now, he supposed. A gift from Daemon, he thought, darkly, just as the dagger in his boot from a gift from Lucerys, who used the short blade to take Aemond’s eye.

With short, decisive steps he made his way towards the main house, the route fresh in his memory. Tucking himself into a shadow outside a window, he strained his hearing, his sharpest sense, and listened keenly.

“—please, please, he’s just a boy,” Humfrey pleaded. His words were slurred and muffled—someone had broken his teeth. From deep inside the house, Aemond could hear Pippa’s muffled sobs.

“A boy who stole from us,” a man sneered.

“Aye,” another echoed, laughing in a wheezing manner. “Stole from us. We’re king’s men, you see. Good king’s men, all for Tommen.”

“Mercy, please,” Humfrey cried, “he didn’t know. Mercy, ser, I beg you.”

“You’re traitors and lawbreakers, so thank your gods it is us, the king’s honourable soldiers, who you are dealing with. It’s more than you’d get from the outlaws.” The first man spoke again. Only two opponents: a taller man by the door and the one with the weaselly voice at the centre of the room. He heard no sounds of horses—these were foot soldiers, then. “Give us your gold—a humble thanks for our services, and we’ll spare your lives.”

“And my son?”

“He’s a thief, and you know what must be done to thieves by the king’s law. We’ll take the hand which dared to covet what was not his.”

Aemond knelt down and pawed at the ground with his free hand, until he found a sizable rock. Standing up, he flexed his fingers on the pommel of Dark Sister, adjusting his grip. With his lone eye shut, it was easy to focus on the weight of the weapon in his hand. There was but one light source in the house and in the darkness of the eve, the enemies were likely to be as blind as he.

“No!” Jeyne shouted, high and fierce. “He didn’t steal anything! Jon found the helm on the lake’s shore!”

A slap resounded, then a thud.

“A likely story as ever,” the first man snorted, likely the leader of the two. “A gold plated helm in the hands of a peasant. No, this here is a Lannister helm, if I had ever seen one. I am a good Lannister man, I shall return it to its rightful owner.”

Aemond slid into the house like a knife between ribs, soft and smooth. He threw the rock at the oil lamp which hung from the wooden ceiling, breaking it and plunging the hut in darkness.


Quiet as a shadow, quick as a snake.

Dark Sister cut through the man by the door like an oar through water, effortlessly slicing him in two. He was dead before the halves of him hit the floor.

Aemond steadily advanced onto his next opponent, his sword already moving in an upwards slashing arc aimed to open him up from groin to chin, only to be met with a clang of steel. Aemond smirked and pushed his sword up and up and up, using his superior height and strength to press the other man backwards. He didn’t need to see to know the man was frightened—he reeked of it; fear clung to him like the smell of waste clung to King’s Landing.

Behind him, he sensed something moved.

With a snarl, Aemond kicked his opponent in the stomach and with one fluid movement took his head. He spun on his heel, turning, sword raised—

Only to find Jonos standing, shaking, a pitchfork clutched in trembling hands.

Aemond snorted, lowering Dark Sister. “What were you going to do, boy, skewer him like a roast?”

Jonos did not move.

Aemond could not see him in the darkness, could not make out his expression in his blindness. He tilted his head curiously, his long hair brushing the knuckles of his swordhand; and waited.

“You’ve killed them.” Humfrey gasped, horrified. Pippa sobbed all the harder, perhaps in relief or in hysteria. “They were kingsmen.”

Aemond hummed in distaste. These wastrels, undeserving of even air, were not Aemond’s men—not Aegon’s either. “They were barely soldiers. Looters and deserters, nothing more.”

“What if they were not?” Humfrey defended. “If someone knows they went here…enquiries about their whereabouts…and you slaughtered them. Murdered them in our home.”

“They’ll come for us,” Pippa wailed. Aemond’s lip curled, he wondered why had he ever considered her a sensible woman. “They’ll kill us.”

“No,” Aemond drawled, like he was explaining to a very small child. “These two,” he kicked the corpse closest to him, “were trying to kill you. I saved you.”

He walked forward, grabbed the pitchfork by a tine, and yanked it out of Jonos’s grip. He hadn’t expected simpleminded peasants to fall upon their knees and crumble with everlasting gratitude, but the lack of even a sliver of appreciation was beginning to grate on him. Did they yearn for death?

“If you’re so afraid someone will find the bodies—strip them, burn the clothing, throw the armour in the lake, and feed the corpses to the pigs.” He hummed in consideration. “Take the coin. No need to waste resources.”

“We’re not thieves,” Jeyne spoke softly for the first time, her cheek red and swollen from the blow she was dealt. Distantly, Aemond wondered if the girl satiated her thirst for adventure—if she treasured her quiet, simple life more.

Aemond rolled his eye, but did not comment further. Frankly, he did not care. These people were not his to protect. Instead, he gestured to Jonos, “Fetch me my armour and be quick about it. Put it in a sack along with provisions.” Then, he added, smirking: “The golden helm, too. Isn’t that how these cutthroats marked you? You were flashing that thing around.”

“You can’t stay here no more,” Humphrey rasped, getting to his feet before helping his wife stand.

“Wasn’t planning on it.” Aemond bent down and unbuckled a scabbard off a dead man’s belt. It was a tad too long for Dark Sister, but it would do. He sheathed the Valyrian steel longsword and clasped his hands behind his back.

The song of bloodlust had cleared his mind, calmed his spirit; the brief flash of violence had been exhilarating. He felt like himself for the first time since he awoke.

In the darkness, he smiled, co*cksure and cruel. “Your son has saved my life. I saved yours. The debt has been repaid.”


Cue obligatory Zuko Alone reference.

Re: Aemond’s temporary loss of vision. There are a few reasons for that—it’s both a convenient plot device and a useful tool to utilise to examine Aemond’s character. Plus, I’ve had personal experience with temporary blindness and while, yeah, you can see light and see vague shapes of things—enough to manoeuvre more or less—it’s f*cking terrifying. And Aemond already has trauma from losing an eye, permanent blindness would naturally be his deepest fear. …I had to feature it. 🙈

My goal is to finish the fic before season two comes along and wrecks all of my hopes and dreams. Then, it’s going to be me, my eight million saved Aemond tiktok edits, and my delusions against the Dance and vilification of my babygirl. 💀 With that in mind, I don’t have an update schedule, but I’m hoping to writing a chapter per week at the least, maybe faster updates if I can write them quicker. Hahahaha…ha. 🥹🥹🥹

Unless plans change, Sansa ought to show up in the next chapter.

Chapter 3: AEMOND III


Someone said Aemond is in his ‘f*ck around and find out’ era and that is 100% correct. Babygirl has two settings: angst and bloodlust.

ALSO!!!!! LOOK!!!!! AT!!!! THIS!!!!! BEAUTY!!!!!!!! Lucife56 drew a beautiful fanart of Aemond and Sansa. It’s beyond gorgeous. I’m deeply flattered and happy they made it. 💕💖💕

UPDATE: JenMania/JenManiaArt on twitter drew a gorgeous art of Aemond, inspired by this chapter. It’s insanely beautiful. (This is me time travelling from the future, because in chapter 6, I mentioned it’s a WIP.)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text


chapter three: Aemond III



Aemond firmly believed his power lied in his control: in the iron-fisted self-command he cultivated; in the prodigious talent he was blessed with and honed to a razor’s edge, until he became a master of all his undertakings; in his keen sense for weakness—an ability to find faults within any armour and pierce where the wound would be the hardest, would bleed the longest; unearth and exploit the deepest hurts.

His father, however, always said no chain could hold a dragon for long.

No amount of perceived self-restraint could contain the volatile, quicksilver rage of a Targaryen. Aemond was the true blood of the dragon: vicious and relentless, patent in his savagery. His temper did not rise, it roared into a pure, white fury that had his blood running hot as magma, boiling and sizzling as it rushed through his veins thunderously and gave him wrath as a weapon—and with anger came a terrible, dark clarity and a coldness that burned like no other.

The scroll crumpled with his fist.

‘Tis I who should be‘tis I who should be‘tis I who should be—the bitter, covert truths danced viciously in his head. Had he caused this? Had he brought it into existence with his secret wants and desires? His traitorous, covetous heart?

The muscle in his jaw twitched, the spite shimmering behind his gaze shifted, churned—turned darker, bloodier. His mind went to his poor sister and mother, his young niece and nephew, his burnt, bed-ridden brother—trapped in King’s Landing, at Rhaenyra’s tender mercies.

Daemon had tricked them. Aemond and Cole had come all the way to Harrenhal with half of the King’s army, and found it empty of his Uncle. Aemond’s hands began to shake, the strength of his grip on the pommel of his sword turning his knuckles chalk-white.

There was a nagging voice, deep inside of him, which told him it was folly to leave King’s Landing without Vhagar’s protection—that Daemon and his host had been a trick, a mere shadow of true danger. Yet he had not listened. He allowed fears of others to sway his resolve, to convince him it was the right course of action to quash his Uncle early in the war, to crush Rhaenyra’s strongest, quick and brutal.

You’re the boldest of us, the sharpest sword. Ser Criston cannot best Daemon alone. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon. Bring me his head, brother. For my son.”

It was Aemond’s fault, whatever happened to his family henceforth was his fault alone.

His eye swept the courtyard.

Everyone his forces found at Harrenhal were kneeling: soldiers, servants, lord Simon Strong and his grandchildren. The man was an ancient, crumbling relic—a granduncle to that snake Larys, an odious wart at his mother’s side.

Aemond circled the prisoners, a hunter eying his prey. “Lord Simon, you’re much shrewder than I was led to believe. Much more ambitious, too.”

“Pardon, my prince? I do not know what you speak of.”

Aemond tilted his head to the side, his long hair sweeping off one shoulder. His voice was calm and even, almost pleasant—conversational. There was a half-moon twist to his lips that did little to thaw the coldness in his eyes. Beneath his cool and collected demeanour, there was an undercurrent of pure, unadulterated rage bubbling beneath the surface.

“You’re a traitor, my lord Strong. You have conspired with my Uncle, and now you must answer for your crimes.”

The hate in him burned.

The traitors would, too, he decided. Every. Single. One.

‘Tis I who should be‘tis I



Aemond’s mother was fond of saying he was the mastermind of his own destruction.

Stubborn beyond measure and too proud to yield, she lamented, her fingers soft as she combed his silver hair. With a wit too sharp and quick for caution, and a bold and fierce nature—a courage that rose in the face of danger and adversity. You do not shrink, my son, neither at duty nor before trouble; uncompromising and righteous, and, more often than not, at the root of your problems.

That was why when Aemond found himself in the middle of nowhere, hungry and without shelter or proper clothing—he knew it was his own damn fault.

A sensible man would have stayed with the peasants on the farm till mourn and not traversed through the woods at night; would have outfitted himself better than in leather riding-breeches and a white cotton shirt with a wide neckline and loose sleeves; would have taken a blanket and a sleeping-roll, or a cloak, at the least. But cleverness was not sensibility, and Aemond, in full possession of the former, had never claimed ownership of the latter.

He looked down, mouth twisted, and his stomach churned with hunger…and disgust.

The snares he’d set caught his dinner—a scraggy brown squirrel. Significantly worse than rabbit, but much better than eating rats. Aemond had grown accustomed to tolerating all sorts of indignities during the war, including eating stingy rodent-meat.

In the approaching twilight, the low burn of embers in his temporary campsite was barely visible. He threw a few dry sticks into the ash pit, feeding the fire, and settled on the ground next to it, putting his back to a broad tree trunk, and took the dagger out of his boot, skinning his quarry.

Aemond carefully pulled the pelt off the muscles and tissues, exposing the pink sinew and red flesh. Gutting was next, exposing and removing the organs and intestines, then washing the meat. It was mindless, tedious work, but it gave his hands something to do.

Aemond buried the waste and remains in the ground, and skewered the squirrel on a long, sharpened stick and settled it between the two forked sticks speared into the ground on either side of the fire pit. Aemond settled back against the tree trunk and watched as the flames danced inside the fire, changing colours and shapes, blackening and breaking the wood that fed it. He flexed his swordhand, working the muscles.

After two days of traversing through the woods, by his own calculations, it would take him half-a-day to reach Harrenhal.

There Alys waits for me, he thought. Alys, with her unwavering, devout belief in destiny, in her fires and her visions—in his illustrious purpose. Many called her beautiful, and Aemond supposed she was—beautiful and terrible, and in her wildfire-green eyes burned with the fervour of their flames. Alys would wait for him, no matter how long he was gone. She would search for the news of his family in her fires and assuage him of his worries.

Your son will be king.”

Aemond sat and stared into the fire, the words haunting him.

He was Prince of the Realm, but first and foremost, he was a second son with nothing to his name but his empty title, his wits and his sword, and the oldest, largest dragon in the world. Now, not even that.

Vhagar made him more than the redundant prince, the one-eyed menace, lifted him out of his loneliness and misery, and shaped him into a legend. There was a persistent, dull pain, just under his ribcage—a feeling of endless emptiness; a missing piece where a shard of Vhagar’s heart had resided. He loved her dearly, his Great Lady, his perfect old girl.

A twig cracked in the fire and instinctively Aemond’s hand went to the pommel of his word, but the woods were still, filled only with the sounds of nighttime fauna. He checked on his dinner and found the meat ready. As he ate in silence, Aemond stared up at the night sky, trying to discern the stars. The night was black and moonless, and the sky was clear.

He had learned his stars as a boy—names of the twelve houses of heaven and the rules of each; the seven wanderers sacred to the Faith of the Seven, and the known constellations. He could see the Crone’s Lantern—four bright stars enclosed in a golden haze, pointing westwards; King’s Crown, Shadowcat, and Ghost. He searched for the Ice Dragon, his gaze roaming across the velvet-black, chasing the blue star in the rider’s eye—but Aemond found it not, and wished he had a Myrish far-eye at hand.

The moss on the trees pointed him northwards, but using stars as a guide was surer, truer—the way he’d learned to travel on dragonback.

No matter. He would reach Harrenhal one way or another.

Hunger sated, Aemond put out the fire, and settled against the rough bark, willing himself to sleep.

Your son will be king.



The word rolled in his mind like a polished marble. When Aemond finally succumbed to slumber, he dreamt of home.


Midday found Aemond exhausted and bone-tired.

His body ached. His wounds were still fresh—he favoured his left side due to the extensive bruising, the blow to the head he received left a throbbing headache in the back of his skull. His eyesight was almost fully back, but everything was still on the wrong side of blurred—as if he had opened his eye under water.

Sleeping on rough, cold ground was poor enough, but during the night, clouds gathered and the sky wept, chilling him to the marrow. The undergrowth beneath his feet was pliant and moist—sleek and dripping from the rain; rich and fragrant with petrichor. The dense canopy blocked most of the sunlight and shrouded Aemond in violet dusk, casting long shadows on the ground before him and obscuring all that laid beyond the surrounding trees.

It mattered not. Clear sight was not a prerequisite for him to achieve his destination…

…or at least that was what he told himself before he tripped over the exposed roots of an oak tree.

Rest it is, he decided.

It took him ten minutes to reach a slender, curving creek he heard from far away, it ran deep with clear water and was bracketed by tall grass. Aemond dropped the sack he carried with his armour and threw the walking stick he carved from a branch of a breech tree. He unbuckled Dark Sister and his daggers, removed his leathers and boots, and with one smooth motion, rid himself of his soiled shirt and then his eyepatch. He wore no smallclothes, he usually did not, and walked into the stream naked until the waters reached his navel.

The water was cold—it chilled his insides and bit his skin, sending a shiver through his limbs, yet Aemond had felt refreshed and invigorated. He washed his shirt the best he could and used the wet thing in lieu of a proper rough-spun cloth to clean himself with. Aemond dipped beneath the surface once, twice, thrice; until his hair was thoroughly wetted and washed. He rose, combing through his long silver hair with his fingers, as water ran in rivulets down his back and chest, and wished he at least had a bar of soap. It would not do to catch lice in the wilderness.

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (3)

Once he emerged from the creek, Aemond hung the shirt on a low branch to let it dry, and went about his business: braiding his hair in a queue down his back, putting his leathers and boots back on, and securing the weapons about his person. He forewent the eyepatch—his was an old wound, scarred many times over, but it benefited from fresh air.

He pulled a rosy apple from his sack and bit into it. With his blood cooled and his mind clear of bloodlust, Aemond could admit he had been, mayhaps, less than gallant to the smallfolk family that pulled him from a lake and nursed him. He would see to granting them a reward—a boon worthy of attending to a prince.

He tipped his head back and enjoyed the peace of the moment. How the sunlight streamed through the canopy above, the gentle sound of the rippling of the running water, and the sweet, chipping song of a nightingale. He felt something brush against his knee—a butterfly. It was a pretty thing; five-inch wingspan and bright, iridescent blue colouring. Something like a smile curled his mouth. Helaena would have loved to see this specimen. He wondered if he should capture it, to gift it to his sister for her vast collection.

As soon as thought came, it vanished, and all joy with it.

His sister found no delight in insects and beetles anymore, she had found neither joy nor sorrow in anything—she became a haunted thing, small and silent. She did not hate him, though he wished she would—she suffered his weeping regrets and his wretchedness with a soft hand and an empty visage. She gave him her affections and accepted his devotion as if nothing changed—yet Helaena drifted through life like an unmoored spectre, untethered by anything, even her remaining children.

Jaehaerys, Maelor, Helaena.

Aemond could not save them, but he strived to avenge them. A pitiful exchange: bloody vengeance would not breathe life back into his nephew and it would not restore Helaena’s mind. Yet it was all Aemond could offer—he did not sow, he was merely a reaper of debts.

Did death buy life?

Did penitence provide redress?

Aemond had never been religious. The closest he’d kept to faith was the ability to name all of the gods of Old Valyria without fumbling neither order nor pronunciation. Beyond that, his interest in the Faith had always been purely academic. He wondered, though, if his mother had the right of it: if duty and sacrifice were the only two pillars on which one could uphold one’s virtue. If honour was neither in what one did or what one said—but the choices one made. Over and over and over making the difficult choices—the strength to choose the lesser evil and live with the consequences.

Aemond did not think he had any honour left in him. But he knew duty intimately—he built himself around its unyielding bones. It seeped into him like poison: it was in the milk he suckled on as a babe, in the honey he ate, and in the wine he drank. Duty was at the core of his devotion; it would guide him home and would see to the fulfilment of his oath—it was all he had left.

Duty and vengeance—the two great fires that burned within him, giving him purpose to make it through the war.

As he dressed himself and adjusted his eyepatch, he heard muffled shouting. Immediately, his hand fell on the pommel of Dark Sister as a dark hum thrummed through his body. He strained his hearing. There—southwards, in the distance: a clamour, a cheer, and a piercing shriek.

The air was warm and heavy with the scent of flowers, the greenwoods were tall and in full bloom, and Aemond’s heart was beating a thunderous drum within him. Every step was light, quick, soundless; every step brought him closer to the commotion and disquietude swelled in him like a dragon’s flame sac.

He knew what he would witness before he approached the clearing.

In the space between two tree trunks he could see a glade of redwood and in it were eight men, one of whom was a corpse. One was rummaging through a fallen knight’s armour; a thin, reedy man leaned against a log and belted out uproariously a second verse of Brave Danny Flint. His voice drowned the piercing, wailing screams of a girl; three more were pinning her to the ground as a red-headed man fumbled with the laces on his trousers. The last man was an ugly bastard—tall and broad, with a face like a maggot’s backside. The only one of the outlaws to be armoured, he sat on a stump and drank from a wineskin, and watched it all unfold.

Seven, Aemond noted, hollowly.

The girl wretched her leg out and drove the heel of her foot up into the face of a man closest to her. He stumbled back, swearing profusely—she broke his nose, his blood spilling onto her skirts. He growled and kicked her in the ribs hard enough to crack them. The girl yowled in pain, but tried to kick another assailant all the same. She scratched and bit a third man, before he stuck her across the cheek with a fist. Her head lolled back precariously, but the blow didn’t quiet her—if anything, she shrieked the louder, unhinged in her despair.

Seven, and Aemond was wounded and tired and half-blind—at a significant disadvantage.

Who will you see there in the darkness?

The men’s rambunctious laughter echoed, lecherous and foreboding. The girl’s screams reached a fever pitch. She howled, fierce and wild—desperate.

When no-one is watching, who will you be?

Aemond was Prince Regent, Protector of the Realm: he was his brother’s sword, his mother’s shield—he was the crown’s Valyrian-steel dagger in the dark. He might have lost Vhagar, but there was one thing he was good for—had always been good at: fighting.

Aemond answered the call of the blood-song with a soft hiss of unsheathed Dark Sister.

He had no choice.

He gave no warning.

In battle, honour was for those who could afford it. Aemond did not step out into the clearing, sword in hand, and alert the men to his presence. Instead, he yanked a dagger out of his boot and sent it flying. The blade buried itself to the hilt in the eye socket of a lanky man closest to him, dropping the body with a thud and a cut-off verse.

The six remaining outlaws scrambled for their weapons, but Aemond was already darting out of the woods. Dark Sister sang prettily as she cut a man open, navel to sternum, before he had a chance to bare his steel.

Aemond ducked under a swipe of the enemy’s sword and rolled, Dark Sister slashing close to the ground and cutting a man at the ankles, felling him as he clutched at the stumps and screamed a bloody murder. Another man dove for him and Aemond spun, turning his attacker’s momentum against him and driving a knee into his stomach, and then slammed a dagger he plucked from his belt, to the hilt, into his neck before yanking it out—all in one smooth, unbroken movement. The man crumpled, dead, and Aemond kept moving.

Dark Sister was unlike any sword Aemond handled before—lighter and stronger than any castle-forged steel, it cut through bone and sinew as easily as it would butter. The blade yearned for lifeblood, quivered with thirst for it, and it was Aemond’s duty to satisfy its dark desires. His duty…and his pleasure.

The red-headed man clutched at his unfastened breeches with one hand as he swung at Aemond in a clumsy, slow arc and he parried effortlessly. The blade flew from the attacker’s hand and victory pulsed through Aemond like sweetwine. He slashed at the man and he toppled backward. Before he could rise, Aemond was upon him, planting a boot on his chest and driving a sword through his skull.

Worthless, all of them.

Had he truly been concerned over the number of these scum? Ludicrous. f*ck the numbers, f*ck the disadvantages; that was the Seven’s way of ensuring those who faced him had a chance at a fair fight. No man could withstand a dragon, and these were not men—merely gutter rats, squabbling between themselves amongst the waste.

The remaining two circled him—a short, skinny man and the big, ugly bastard in armour. Aemond watched them curiously, the pupil of his eye blown wide, expression manic. He was born for this—for fighting, for killing. Blood-song roared to a crescendo and the fire coursing in his blood answered in earnest; Aemond spun a dance with death.

Aemond’s movements were those of a dragon through and through—brutish and quick; aiming for low, dirty jabs instead of the rolling, graceful fighting style he’d been taught in a practice yard. His was not a swordplay learned to show off at tourneys, it was a style of a one-eyed boy who had grown up fighting for everything in his life. A dangerous proficiency honed to a deadly precision and strengthened by trials of war, where the only art to a weapon was to swing it hard enough to ensure it cut through bone.

Aemond spun out of the way of the ugly one’s attack and twisted, slamming a blow against the short man’s shield, breaking it, and sending him staggering backwards. Aemond turned and caught an overhand from the ugly bastard, the brutal strength of it reverberating through steel and bleeding into his arms. He gritted his teeth and pushed him off, Dark Sister swiping up to meet the rush of his counterstroke with an edge of the blade and sweeping it aside. He gripped his dagger and slashed at the brute’s neck as he retreated, the edge of it nicking the man’s skin and drawing a beaded line of blood.

A whoosh of air tickled Aemond’s nape as he ducked under an arc of an axe and sidestepped a sword thrust. He had no shield to catch the blows—he had to be nimble and he had to be fast. He weaved in and out, his braid whipping behind him like a silver snake, sliding from under the blows, spinning and twisting away from the edge of the blade—turning his opponents strength and speed against them; using their lack of cooperation to his advantage.

Aemond evaded the short one’s sidestroke and answered it with a sweep of his sword against his leg, wounding him deep and drawing a gush of red. The appendage was almost severed at the knee; the man stumbled dazedly, but caught himself, sword sheathed into dirt as a crutch.

Bastard!” he boomed. “f*cking c*nt! I’ll twist your head off, you f*cking freak! I’ll—”

Whatever else he promised to do to Aemond was cut short when the girl who they intended to assault and brutalise whacked him across the face with a thick tree branch, the blow was so sound his jaw cracked from the might of it. She stood, wild-eyed and breathing raggedly.

“I…” she rasped, but Aemond paid her no mind.

He sent his dagger flying and it found purchase between the man’s eyes. Words gurgled in his mouth as blood bubbled. He fell on the ground, dead, but Aemond had already turned away.

He wasted no opportunity and advanced at the remaining opponent. He was a head taller than Aemond and twice his weight, armoured in dark steel and wielding a heavy, two-handed broadsword. Up close, he was even uglier than Aemond realised. A truly disgusting visage of mangled flesh and pale features. His broad, pallid face broke into a snarl as he gave a malevolent hisssssssssssssss.

“Oh? What’s this? A plea from a rat?” Aemond taunted, mouth twisting into a cruel, exhilarated smile. “So you do know you should address your betters humbly. Here I wondered you haven’t got the brains to grasp who’s above you on the pecking order.”

His stamina was dwindling; he was favouring his bruised side heavily and his vision began to swim. From somewhere, Aemond was bleeding—he could feel his shirt getting soaked and clinging to his abdomen. No matter, this merely evens out the odds.

He was a dragon. No mere rat could kill a dragon.

If he cannot withstand a drawn-out battle, then he must fight a battle of wits.

He lunged, Dark Sister flashing, nicking at exposed skin, and moved sideways, then backwards, then sideways again—always slashing; at his face, at his legs, at his arms. It did not take long for his opponent’s blows to come more slowly as his sword grew heavier. Aemond turned and circled, feet quick and nimble, drawing him closer and closer to the roaring flame in the firepit. He slid sideways, Dark Sister arcing with the movement, slashing at the breastplate, and took two quick steps backwards. The ugly brute wretched his sword up one more, hissing, and lurching after him…

…and Aemond kicked up a swipe of embers from the fire into his face, and leapt to meet the rush of the blade, both hands on Dark Sister’s sword hilt. The man howled in pain as ashes burned his eyes and then screamed all the shriller when his headlong charge brought him right onto Dark Sister’s point. Valyrian-steel sword punched through cloth and mail and boiled leather, straight and deep into his bowels and out his back, rasping unpleasantly as it scraped along his spine. His sword fell from limp fingers, his knees gave out, his legs began twitching as his bowels emptied—all that was holding him up was Aemond and the sword he impaled himself on.

Aemond drew their faces close and watched, transfixed, intoxicated, as light left those moonstone-pale eyes. “If you see my Uncle, tell him Aemond One-Eye sends his regards, will you?” he whispered.

The man said nothing, as all at once, it was a corpse that Aemond was supporting, the weight sagging heavily against him. Aemond dropped him, Dark Sister sliding out of his belly with a soft ‘pop’.

He took a step, and staggered—his knees threatened to buckle, but he managed to keep himself upright. Aemond turned, a question on his lips, lone eye dark and gleaming, when a swinging tree branch rushed up to meet his face.



lmao, Aemond can’t catch a break, can’t he?

In Fire & Blood, Aemond, angry after hearing the news of the fall of King’s Landing, believes Simon Strong is a traitor as he had too easily yielded Harrenhal to Daemon. He kills him in a forced duel and feeds his corpse to Vhagar. Then orders the executions of the remaining Strongs at Harrenhal, except for Alys Rivers. I wanted to write all the gory bits, but it felt organic to finish the segment where I did.

Should I start a ‘number of people Aemond unalived’ tally board? The body count keeps climbing and we’re only on chapter three… Ah, oh well, a day in the life of a war criminal. He is, admittedly, turning into a Blood Knight in this fic, oh my…

I asked my friend what Aemond could do in a forest after he hunted and had introspective angst, and she was like “mmmmm? wash his face? or something?” And then I realised it’s a prime opportunity for fanservice. Very brief since fanservice is kinda hard to write if you don’t have a secondary character doing the ogling (and the fishies that got a faceful refused to share their thoughts in a POV :/), so here we are. At least I managed to squeeze a hair braid cameo in there.

This update is late because I’m working on another Aemond/Sansa fanfic and I’m steadily growing obsessed with that AU. It’s going to feature a pre-war crimes Aemond, who is a bird of a different feather compared to certified, card-carrying, anime-villain-looking, scary-sword-swinging war criminal we have in this fic.

Anyway, did you know I actually hate writing? Despise it with my whole chest. But gotta be your own hero and all that. hahahahaha, send help. 🥹

Chapter 4: AEMOND IV


Next day after publishing charm, I got a covid booster shot and I’ve been a wreck since. Apologies for the late update, I’ve been hibernating. 💀

Once again, I would like to thank all of you for the unflagging support. I appreciate everyone who’s been reading the story, commenting and leaving a kuddo when they can. I’m astonished that this frankly unhinged and wild AU is resonating with people enough to keep all of you engaged and interested in finding out what will happen next. I’m grateful for everyone’s support. I always wanted to write a story like this and it means a lot to me that people are interested. I hope I can continue to deliver chapters that meet your expectations.
witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (4)
Aaaaand I made another gif-edit. It’s not my best work, ugh, but here we are. I need to be stopped, tbh. 😩

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (5)


chapter four: Aemond IV



Aemond’s head snapped to the side from the sudden force. The tree branch was solid and thick, the width of his forearm, and the girl had swung it with all her might—the strike she delivered cracked against his cheekbone unpleasantly, reverberating through the bones of his skull, and made him briefly see stars.

His mouth twisted into something that was half smirk, half snarl—the pain of the blow certainly chased away a scrap of ever mounting fatigue, however briefly, and roused him once more.

Aemond wiped the blood from his split lip and turned, finding her staring at him, frozen. Her eyes had gone wide, with shock or fear, he could not tell. He was somewhat pleased to see she had the presence of mind to not drop the branch—little good the makeshift weapon would do her now, however. Aemond sheathed Dark Sister and yanked the branch out of her grasp, throwing it into the fire behind him.

His nostrils flared and his lips quirked at the corner in dark amusem*nt. The action made his face throb all the harder where she had struck him on his scarred side—no doubt an ugly bruise was forming there. The blow had exasperated his headache to the point it hurt to blink. Pulse of pain crystalised and transformed into waves of heat, shooting stabs resonating through his teeth and skull—clearing his mind of the haze of fighting. With lucidity returned sharp rationality, and concern blossomed.

Aemond set his anger aside and prowled closer—crowding her space, towering over her like a vulture. She was a decidedly tall girl, only two handspans shorter than him. Aemond lowered his head down to peer into her fair, fine-boned face. Her eyes were wild and shaking; pupils blown wide, black eclipsing all colour. Her body quivered with fine trembles. Her skin was pale and clear, her lips were a rosy bud, her nose a delicate point, her cheekbones were high and prominent, razor-edged and sculpted from marble. Yet her expression was cut from stone and ice—impervious and hollow, devoid of feeling.

A rare beauty, acutely striking and fresh as a rose bloom. A maid no older than six-and-ten—and one accustomed to violence; to seeing it, to being on the receiving end of it.


“I apologise,” she whispered, voice thin, but surprisingly steady. “I sincerely beg forgiveness for my rash deed. I acted foolishly, after you had so bravely rescued me. It was…” she licked her lips, “a very trying experience…and…ummm…it heightened my emotions. My blood ran hot from fear—it muddled my mind and clouded my good sense. I had not thought before I struck you. Please,” she added, sweetly, pleadingly, beseeching him with her dark gaze, “please.”

Aemond hummed in acknowledgement—in consideration.

His eye roved about her person. Noting the bruises blooming on her cheek and neck, the finger-shaped marks on her reddened wrists; the torn skirts and the muddied bodice of her dress. She gasped when he grasped her chin gently between his forefinger and thumb, and turned her face to study the violently purple contusion on her cheekbone from where her assailant had struck her. He prodded the area lightly with his fingers. She let out a sharp hiss, but did not flinch from his ministrations.

“Tender, but the bone is unbroken,” he concluded with a murmur.

They stood in proximity—closer than what was appropriate. He could feel her tattered exhales, the breath tickling the skin of his sternum. Heat poured off him, even as the fire in his veins cooled—leeching him of strength and vigour. He was drenched in other men’s blood and guts; and as he withdrew his hand, his thumb smeared blood on her chin—a stripe of ruby against the snow.

Aemond stepped backwards and tension seeped out of her body, shoulders sagging. She had been afraid he would strike her or, perhaps, she feared he would—no, Aemond did not permit himself to finish the thought. Instead, his eye cut to hers, and a question he did not particularly desire to voice rattled behind his teeth.

The girl pursed her lips, understanding his intent. “I am…” she stopped, took a deep breath. Her hands flexed into white-knuckled fists at her sides. “Unharmed. There is no permanent damage.” Her eyes latched onto his and she stared intensely at him—deep into the darkly churning violet. “You have intervened before anything of consequence has occurred. I thank you, good ser, for your knightly valour.”

Aemond tilted his head, relief rushing through him. “The lady speaks so sweetly after she wished to knock my head off.”

Colour rose to her cheeks. A pretty sight. “I have apologised.”

“I have heard your apology. I have yet to decide whether to accept it.”

Aemond firmly clasped his hands at the forearms behind his back. His eye swept the clearing, noting the thoroughly dead seven bodies while the last man whose legs he took was moaning and slowly bleeding out. It would be a kindness to slice his throat, and Aemond intended to deliver him this mercy. “If you wish to make amends, go to the twin redwoods at the edge of the glade, collect from there the bag with my things, and bring it to the horses—”

“Horse,” she interjected. “Singular. The other one was slayed during the ambush.”

“Then we shall have meat for dinner.” If the prospect of consuming horse-flesh displeased her, she did not show it. The girl permitted so little emotion to flutter across her face, it intrigued him. “Do you know how to cook?” Her gaze strayed to the left. “No it is then. Well, if you cannot cook I doubt you know how to skin a quarry. We have a fire going, but it could use more kindling—can you collect some?”

She nodded in affirmation, though the corners of her mouth tightened almost imperceptibly. Aemond revelled in finally evoking a response and wondered if it was because she was displeased he was treating her like a servant girl, or because she did not like to be ordered around like a incompetent child. Little bit of both, perhaps. She looked and carried herself like a highborn, though she did not dress the part.

While the girl set to the tasks he’d given her, Aemond embarked on cleaning after himself. He approached the dying man and studied him—clearly Westerosi and dressed in plain, rough-spun clothing with no identifying sigils. An outlaw, most likely, or a mercenary—though the state of the men’s steel did not speak of a heavy purse.

“Mercy, please,” he wheezed, clutching at the weeping stumps his legs had become. Dark Sister cut through the shins cleanly. “I—”

Aemond took a dagger from his belt and drove it through the man’s neck. He had never cared for rapists and would not concern himself with hearing the last words of one. Whatever the man meant to beg for, only Stranger would hear now. He knelt and cleaned the steel against the man’s shirt, then he went through his pockets—finding five silver stags and thirteen coppers, a dagger at the belt with tolerable balance, and a wooden carving of Crone. Aemond left the corpse his religious icon, tossed the sword and the dagger into the centre of the clearing, and pocketed the money.

Methodically, Aemond attended to the rest of the dead men and he collected his daggers from the skulls of two of them. By the time he was finished, he had a purse with eighteen gold dragons, twenty-five silver stags, and close to forty copper coins. A set of blue-grey steel armour, six swords, one axe, one bow and quiver, and five daggers were piled at the centre of the clearing. He left the men their mementos and personal effects, but he had taken the clothes off their backs—a clean shirt from one, a leather jerkin with minimal blood spatter from another, and a worn, sturdy oilcloth coat from the man closest to him in build.

The sun was beginning to set by the time Aemond finished dragging the bodies to the edge of the clearing. The big, ugly brute’s corpse was the heaviest—near two-hundred-fifty pounds after Aemond stripped him of his armour. He assessed the dead. Burning the bodies would draw unwanted attention—the smell of burnt humans was incredibly distinctive. Leaving them to rot would be preferable, but it would no doubt attract wolves and scavengers. It would be best to depart from the campsite before nightfall.

Aemond dusted off his leathers and uncurled his spine, tense muscles screaming in protest. He rolled his neck and shoulders, joints cracking like logs in the fire. He was acutely aware of how blood and sweat had soaked through his clothes, drenching his chest and back. He looked down and found his shirt was more red than white. Gingerly, he lifted the clothing and examined his side, prodding it gently—was he bleeding unchecked or was he simply drenched in the blood of other men? Aemond could not tell, it hardly hurt.

He tugged his ruined shirt off and threw it on the ground beside the pile of corpses. Looking over his shoulder, Aemond found the girl had finished the tasks he’d set her to, and was kneeling by the body of the fallen knight, her hands clasped and her head lowered in a prayer.

Aemond ambled over, limping slightly, mindful of the tendon he had pulled in his bruised hip. He loomed over the girl’s shoulder as he examined the corpse, the end of his swaying braid tickling her cheek. The knight was not a tall man, no more than five-foot-two, and slight of build. He had a wearied, fox-faced countenance with a sharp, long nose and a shock of bristly orange hair.

Originally, Aemoned had supposed the girl was a highborn maiden eloping with a lover of a lower status, but the knight did not have the look of a man who would be able to charm and seduce a lady of such surpassing beauty. Unless she was a gullible lackwit. Aemond’s eye strayed to the girl, appraisingly. Her oak-dark plait shined warmly in the firelight, the considerable length of it twisting down the unbent line of her spine. They spoke briefly, but she did not strike him as unintelligent.

In fact, in the wake of a spell of bloody ferity and near violation, Aemond, quite frankly, expected blabbering hysterics. Instead she had comported herself with remarkable composure and eloquence—a behaviour equal parts impressive and perturbing.

Thus, he dismissed the idea of a torrid romance between the pair.

“Do you grieve for him?”

The girl’s lips trembled, but she kept her eyes firmly shut and fingers clasped as she beseeched the Seven to guide the dead sod’s soul. “It is not for me to grieve for a man I have known for less than a moon—yet his passing is not unnoticed and not unmourned. Ser Shadrich was no true knight, but he had tried to save me all the same. May Mother grant him mercy, may Stranger soothe his soul.”

She got to her feet and faced him, fixing her bright gaze on his—she had starlit eyes, as rich-blue as sapphires. In the waning twilight, she shone. “May I seek my saviour’s name?”

“You may seek, yet you shall not receive.”

“What am I to call you, good ser?”

Aemond’s mouth curled. “My lord shall suffice.”

“My lord,” she echoed obediently forthwith, “do you intend to bleed to death?”

Aemond was a true dragon, resistant to heat and flame for the inferno of rage and bloodlust inside of him roared as hot as dragonfire, eclipsing all else. That burning fire in his veins gave him strength, kept him relentless and fierce—yet it was a perilous and double-edged gift. In the heat of battle, it made his mind blind to pain and body far too tolerant of injuries.

He had nearly forgotten about the cut he received, insensible of it as he was. His nostrils flared and he tapered his gaze in contemplation. Cauterisation would not work on his flesh and he did not relish the notion of suturing his own wounds again. It had been many a moon since he had only himself to rely on for Alys was a gentler hand with a needle than he. “Does the lady have boiled wine?”

She shook her head, firelight reflecting in her eyes. “No, but the lady has firemilk, a needle, and a thread. The septas praised me for having a steady and deft hand.”

Aemoned considered her for a prolonged moment—if this was a trick, he could not discern the intent. Did she know who he was? He doubted it. His silver hair had turned pink from blood, his clothes were simple and displayed no sigils, and Aemond was regarded by the court to be the least charming amongst his brothers—infamous for his singular eye and sapphire, rather than any particular comeliness, and an eyepatch was hardly a defining feature in times of war. She had not reacted upon seeing him—there had been no spark of recognition in the fathomless blue of her eyes.

He gave a sharp, brief nod, and the girl’s visage brightened with a shy smile. She was more uneasy than he, Aemond realised, though she hid her fears well.

She bobbed a shallow curtsey—an action which made Aemond’s eyebrows shoot up—and determinedly walked over to the dappled grey palfrey that had belonged to the dead knight. She had the foresight to tie the mare to a tree trunk and leave her grazing not far from the firepit. Aemond’s eye followed her figure. She spoke clearly and eloquently with crisp diction. She was no serving girl, no mere peasant child, he could not ascertain the need for the pretence of humble birth she put forth.

Half confused, half intrigued, he trudged after her. His exertions aggravated the wounds he suffered from plunging into the lake with Vhagar—his muscles were stiffening and the side that bore the brunt of the fall ached terribly, it felt like it was on fire. Fighting seven men had no doubt exacerbated and inflamed every injury he had.

Aemond situated himself on a log by the firepit and watched as she approached, a brown-leather saddlebag clutched in her pale hands. She knelt on the ground before him, making Aemond belatedly realise he ought to have offered a cloth for her to spread on the dirt—alas, he had no cloak to spare, and her dress was already muddied and beyond saving. She opened the satchel and took out a clouded, milky bottle of pale red liquid—firemilk, no doubt—a velveteen sewing pouch, and a bar of soap. She washed and scrubbed her hands thoroughly, carefully pouring water from a waterskin.

“My lord,” she called, eyes cast downwards, and handed him the waterskin, no doubt suggesting he clean the area around the injury of dirt and sweat and blood. Aemond snorted softly, finding it amusing the girl was bold enough to try to take a man’s head off with a tree branch, yet unwilling to gaze upon his bared chest. She took great care to look only at his face, but the position they found themselves now—her kneeling between his open legs, his abdomen in her direct line of sight—was assuredly compromising and would be scandalous if anyone were to come across them at this moment.

Aemond had never been particularly mindful of a maiden’s delicate sensibilities—he never had to be. His life was not flush with female companionship as some other men’s. At court, he primarily kept company of his beloved sister and mother. It was his princely duty to entertain noble women—flatter the ladies with sweet words, thoughtful compliments, and genteel manners. However, Aemond showed little interest beyond perfunctory courtesy in the women who swooned at Aegon’s pretty face, heedless of his reputation and proclivities. Most highborn girls barely spared a glance Aemond’s way, for all they saw was the dark strap of his eye patch and conjured the worst horrors beneath it—and those that did look, tended to linger around the training yard when he practised with the sword, tittering and blushing behind their hands, but never approaching. He had been engaged to Floris Baratheon once, the prettiest and most charming daughter of that bleating fool Borros, but Floris was more child than bride, chosen by Aemond for her sweet disposition and young age as a means to delay the wedding for as long as possible. And Alys had assuredly not been an untouched maiden when Aemond met her.

Regardless, it was no great hardship for him to extend courtesy. The rules of appropriate behaviour were instilled in him since birth and although they were exercised very little during war-time, it would be dishonourable to act an uncouth scoundrel and push the boundaries of propriety for brief, tactless amusem*nt, with a girl who was a victim of near brutalisation mere hours prior. If she wished to observe decorum and grant him a modicum of modesty, Aemond would comply. He took the waterskin and a white, large strip of cotton she had no doubt ripped from a spare shift in her satchel, and set to cleaning himself.

After a few minutes, Aemond had successfully rid of blood and dirt his face, his neck and hands, and most of his torso—revealing a gash at his side. It was, naturally, on his blind side, the predictability of it almost made him roll his eye. The wielder of the blade had gotten a lucky swipe, nicking him from bottom of his ribs at his side to the middle of his abdomen, though thankfully the slice was shallow and cleanly cut.

He set the waterskin and the now thoroughly bloodied cloth aside, and observed as the girl prepared the needle—purifying the edge of it with a lick of a flame and then dipping it into firemilk.

“Are you familiar with the art of healing?”

“No more than in passing, my lord. I have been taught how to clean and bandage a wound.” She glanced at the muscles of his exposed chest, dark eyebrows knitting. “As for suturing…it cannot be harder than sewing leather.”

“I fear I am much more sensitive than lamb-hide and would appreciate a delicate touch.”

The smile she gave him was tentative, and her eyes were wide and nervous; all the same, she squared her shoulders and set her jaw in a stubborn jut. She handed him a clean cloth and poured pale red firemilk into the long gash. Aemond swallowed a hiss—the fluid was cold and burned on contact, pale fizzing foam bubbling up on top of it. He swiped the excess with the cloth, and she repeated the process several times until all debris had been removed from the laceration.

She threaded the needle, pinched what little skin and flesh his stomach yielded, and began to mend the wound. Aemond could feel the needle weave in and out of his skin, the prickle of it sharp and piercing—and to him, negligible. He had always been good at dealing with the physicality of pain, with suppressing and ignoring it. If his mouth twitched, threatening to tighten into a grimace, no-one but him knew or saw. To pass the time, Aemond rolled his eye downwards and studied the girl from his vantage point: the flickering flames cast dancing shadows across her features, hollowing out her cheeks to almost gauntness, saturating her skin and hair in rufescent gold. She had long, lush eyelashes; they cast feathery shadows and fluttered like wings of Helaena’s butterflies each time she blinked.

Her brow furrowed in concentration as she carefully and efficiently sewed. Her hands were soft and cool—gentle. Their touch on him was not unpleasant. She had not lied: she was well-practised and nimble-fingered, her stitches were small and neat, perfectly even. The wound would scar no doubt, but into a thin, white line and if Aemond applied oils as it healed, the skin would remain supple and flexible—the girl was doing goodly work and the scarring would not affect his fighting.

The girl. He couldn’t keep calling her that, could he? It felt unkind.

Aemond cleared his throat, catching her attention, even as her eyes stayed steadfastly latched to her work. “The lady is solicitous and gracious, yet I do not know my carer’s name.”

“You do not know it because you never asked.”

“I am asking now.”

Her eyebrows twitched and Aemond almost smiled. He had trouble reading her—she had a beguiling grasp on self-possession. Her face was as obscure as clouded ice: her thoughts and temper left not a ripple upon it. He was beginning to find unexpected delight in coaxing out reactions out of her—just like he had in wheedling affection out of withdrawn, waspish Vhagar in their first year of bonding.

She looped the thread into a knot, and snipped off the end with a pair of silver scissors. Her lightsome fingers flitted over his abdomen, inspecting her work. “You declined to give your name.”

“My name is a privilege, yours shall be a gift.”

“A gift earned on what merits?”

Aemond hummed, a touch mockingly. “Does the lady assign such little value to her life?”

“Will you lord your rescue of me over my head in perpetuity? It is most unchivalrous.”

“I fear chivalry has not been laid at my feet for many years, my lady. I shall hold you to your debt until you have repaid in equal value. Your aid and caring hand have been much appreciated, yet they do not equate in value to your life.” His braid fell into her lap like a hanging rope as he leaned down, crossing the space between their faces, close enough to see she had a splattering of tiny, pale freckles across the bridge of her fine nose. “Thus, my lady, your name?”

Aemond studied her face intently, searching for familiar signs of falsehoods. He was an old hand at discerning bitter truths from honeyed lies. Her face told him which she was on the edge of choosing.

He raised an eyebrow coolly—in warning. The girl wrinkled her nose in displeasure. With a pleased hum, Aemond leaned back.

“My name is Alayne Stone,” she finally said, smoothly, cautiously. “Natural daughter of Lord Petyr Baelish.”

She handed him a small, stoppered clay jar containing a mustard seeds poultice, and Aemond nodded his thanks, scooping up the ointment with his fingers. Interesting, he thought, spreading the poultice over the stitches. A bastard girl with the manners and bearings of a highborn lady—a muck covered precious jewel. It would be a shame not to pick up this little Stone which practically rolled herself under his feet.

“Never heard of him,” replied Aemond, flippantly, applying the padding and tightly wrapping the bandages around his torso.

“Father was born a humble lord of the Fingers, however, on merits alone he rose to being named Lord Protector of the Eyrie and the Vale of Arryn, and was granted the title of Lord Paramount of the Trident and named Lord of Harrenhal by the King’s decree for his…battle valour.” There was no pride in Alayne Stone’s voice, only matter-of-fact stolidity. “Perhaps you have heard of Father’s less than savoury moniker: Littlefinger?”

Aemond hummed in contemplation, his mouth flattening into a tense line. “Can’t say that I have.”

Lord Protector of the Eyrie and the Vale of Arryn?

Lord Paramount of the Trident?

Lord of Harrenhal?

Aemond got to his feet and began to put on the clothing he appropriated from the outlaws, his mind awhirl. What had Aegon done in Aemond’s absence?

As far as he knew, Lady Jeyne Arryn, the Maiden of the Vale, was Lady of the Eyrie, Defender of the Vale, and Warden of the East. Despite her bitter contempt for Daemon, Jeyne Arryn had banded together with Rhaenyra, who was an Arryn on her mother’s side. Vale stood with the Blacks—how had Aegon managed to win it to their cause; to unseat its Lady? Moreover, who in the Seven Hells was Petyr f*cking Baelish? Jeyne Arryn had no children, her heir presumptive was her first cousin, Arnold Arryn, who had twice rebelled against her and thus was imprisoned in the Eyrie’s sky cells, no doubt going mad. If he was unfit, then the seat would go to his son, Ser Eldric Arryn. Not some no-name lordling from the bloody Fingers.

Aemond could not even begin to fathom what set of asinine events would cause his c*nt of a brother to name one minor lord from bumf*ck nowhere both Lord Paramount of the Trident and Lord of Harrenhal. He could feel a new, viler headache brewing on top of his existing one.

His eye cut to Alayne Stone. She perched primly on the log he had previously occupied, long dark braid thrown over a slender shoulder, and was putting away the supplies into her saddle-bag.

“How did the daughter of Lord Protector come to be accosted by outlaws?” Aemond asked, pulling at the sleeves of the oilcloth coat he acquired. It was too short for him, loose at the waist, and tight at the shoulders, but he would make it work. “Bastard you might be, but I doubt your father would send you to his castle with only one knight as protection during these tumultuous times.”

“Father has not sent me here,” she replied, voice distant and detached. “When I said Ser Shadrich was no true knight, I meant it. He had come to Gates of the Moon seeking a ghost and had found me instead—a girl he abducted for ransom. My father was born a humble lord, yes, but he rose to prominence and great wealth. Everyone knows Petyr Baelish’s coffers are second only to Lannisters.”

Aemond spun on his heel and stared at her. “Abducted for ransom?”

She hummed softly, twisting her fingers in her lap. “He wanted a six pound sack of gold dragons for me.” Aemond whistled. “Yes, precisely. Quite a hefty sum for a baseborn daughter, beloved by her lord father or not.”

In spite of himself, Aemond’s eye drifted over to the corpse of the knight, and his hand reflexively tightened its grip on the pommel of Dark Sister. Alayne’s thoughtful gaze traced his line of vision. “Peace, my lord. Ser Shadrich had taken no liberties, despite his mercenary intentions—or perhaps, because of them. A ruined daughter is of no use to any one, especially if her honour is already blemished by her lowly birth. My father is no fool; he will make sure the septas and the Maester are quite thorough in their examinations before he hands over a bag of gold to ransom my person.”

The dispassionate, unperturbed quality to the tone she adopted when she spoke about herself in terms of use and value rankled Aemond, souring his mood. He was greatly averse to the transactional and remunerative aspects of brokering a marriage—ever since Helaena married Aegon, as it had been Aemond who had to console his sister after her bedding and it had been him who had to fish his brother out of his cups lest he drown himself for true in misery. Perhaps, earlier than that, even; since his mother.

Ever since he had been a babe, their mother had taken solace in Aemond’s company and his embrace—seeking him out in her moments of weakness, drawing strength from him like one might draw water from a well. As a child, he had prided himself on being his mother’s sole comfort—her knight and prince. As he grew older, he had come to realise that his mother sought his support not because she loved him best, but because Aemond was the only one of her children willing to give himself to her and duty, piece by piece. She had exorcised her nerves and fears to him, vented her frustrations and ire, and he had taken it all—absorbed it and kept it close, nursed it like a festering wound. By the time he was four-and-ten, Aemond knew more of his parents’ marriage than Viserys did himself. Including how Alicent Hightower found herself the King’s bride in the first place.

Alayne’s mouth tightened, her spine straightening resolutely as she misunderstood his scowl. Something in Aemond softened at the sight, prompting him to soothe and be kind, but…he did not know how to express the sentiment. Should he kneel before her and take her hands? Then, what? From experience, he knew gentle words and understanding would work best, but she was neither his sister nor his mother—she was a stranger, as he was to her. Compassion from him would sound hollow and perfunctory.

Instead, at a loss, he turned away. He stood with ramrod-straight posture and clasped his hands at the forearms behind his back, staring into the fire—focusing himself on what was truly important, what mattered above all else:

His family.

“What happened for King Aegon to award your father these…lofty titles? One does not receive a boon as grand as lordship over Harrenhal overnight.”

“Pardon?” she asked, blinking owlishly.

Aemond clicked his tongue. “I asked: what of Aegon?”

“Prince Aegon?” Her eyes rounded to the size of saucers. Aemond did not understand where her airheadedness emerged from—she had shown a clever, subtle mind just moments prior.

“King Aegon, Lady Alayne.”

“There hasn’t been,” she began slowly, as if the words were foreign in her mouth, too big for her tongue, “there hasn’t been a King named Aegon since Aegon the Unlikely, the Fifth of His Name.”

Ire shot through him—tinged with something else; something wary, something fearful. “I am asking about King Aegon Targaryen, the Second of His Name, son of Viserys the Peaceful.”

“My lord…King Aegon the Elder has been dead for a hundred and seventy years.”


*sings ‘I Wanna Be Your Slave by Måneskin’ off-key* I’m a killer, who’s searching for redemption. I’m a motherf*cking monster, who’s searching for redemption— Oh, is this the fic vibe? 👀 hint hint, nudge nudge. Anyway, I made a spotify playlist. >:3

I can’t tell if Aemond’s interactions with Sansa were him flirting or he was just being a weirdo. And I’m the one writing him. But he is acting like a proper red-flag manhwa male lead; the best thing a love interest can be in his eye, is interesting. That’s how you know she’s got him hook, line, and sinker.

Time to address the ages. The HOTD timeline is super messed up, but the most credible source narrows Aemond down to 19ish at the time of episode 10. In the book, during the Battle Above Gods Eye, Aemond was freshly 20. I’m ageing him back down to 19 for minor plot reasons. In GOT, during season 8, Sansa was 18-19, which puts her Alayne Stone stunt in season 4 to be at 15-16. In the books, during her time in the Vale, Sansa is 13, pretending to be 14. I am not romancing a thirteen-year-old in the fic. She’ll be 16-17 at the start of the story (let’s just pretend the War of Five Kings went on for longer and pad the run time of her King’s Landing arc, as well as extend the Vale arc; suspend your disbelief, time is a construct.) Proportionally, everyone else from the GOT-timeline is also three years older. AFFC and ADWD are canonically set in 300 AC, but I’m moving them on the timeline to 303 AC. Overall, this is technically a Winds of Winter fic, but I moved some minor events around and hand waved away timeline constraints for the sake of plot. 🥴

I have a twitter account now: slaymond_. I post nothing of consequence; just engaging with the community, make occasional gifs, and talk too much about my cat.

P.S. The other Aemond/Sansa story I was talking about, drop and speak a charm, has been published, but now I have a third AU brewing. I want to be free of this pain. (If things go according to plan, that one will be a two-shot, maybe a three-shot, and will come out around New Year’s/January, as a holiday special. Errrr. IF things go according to plan, big if.)

Chapter 5: AEMOND V


*coughs up a lung* On the day I posted the last chapter, I came down with a terrible, miserable flu…or so I thought. Turns out, after three years of being covid-free, I caught covid in the very clinic I went to get my booster shot. 💀 What sort of dramatic irony bullsh*t is this? *wheezes* Death would have been kinder. Anyway, I’m writing while suffering in a sickbed—it’s been three weeks, but I’m still ill. 😭 Let’s see how coherent my last braincell is.

I actually wrote a much longer chapter, but towards the end ran out of spoons and for the past four days, have been trying to drag myself to the finish line to no avail. The struggle was real. 😩 Hence in order to actually give you guys an update before the end of 2022, I decided to break the chapter in two parts. It does mean I am somewhat unhappy with the end result, but it’s better to give you some content rather than nothing at all.

As always, thank you for everyone’s interactions. I always enjoy reading your opinions and speculations. 💕

P.S. I own the bluray now. I no longer have to suffer making gifs with subpar webrip footage. FREEDOM NEVER TASTED SO SWEET. 😩

UPDATE: OH MY GOD. Amaati on twitter drew this gorgeous, stunning, incredible art of the dagger scene. 🥺💕 Please go check out her account, she makes beautiful art.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (6)


chapter five: Aemond V


“King Aegon had died in the year hundred-thirty-one,” Alayne hesitantly informed him, wringing her pale hands, but Aemond barely registered the words.

The world slowed down, and the surrounding sounds turned dull and reverberated through the air with a thick, hollow quality—he felt as if he was underwater, drowning. Alayne said something and reached for him, her voice echoing—ringing dully in his skull like the bells of Grand Sept. Words fluttered through Aemond like night moths; dark and soft, and carrying betrayal.

The king is dead, the woodswitch had told him in his delirium.


No. No. No. No. No. No. NO. NO.

The simmering unease that bubbled in the pit of Aemond’s belly for days now had finally burst and overflowed, surging a spear of renewed dread through him and sending a shudder through his limbs.

There was a fleeting, blazing moment where time crawled to a halting stop. In all probability, it was just Aemond Targaryen’s heart.

Suddenly, sounds and senses charged him like an avalanche—a rush of blood hammered in his ears and terror gripped Aemond’s heart in a vice. Then, the impulse to rage, to hurt, to burn pierced through the fog of it. Rage was a familiar, ghastly beast which dwelt within, locked in a cage of his ribs—it earned for blood, it demanded fire.

It would get neither.

He clenched his jaw hard; it sent a muscle in his cheek twitching sporadically, molars threatening to break from the strain. Rage was a shield and wrath was a weapon, but he loathed to let them control him—Aemond struggled for self-command and quashed his dark desires. In their absence, an eerie and deathly calm settled over him. It was a false serenity, as perilous as a sheet of summer ice over a frozen river—perfect and cool, and belying the turbulent ferocity beneath the icy surface.

Aemond spun on his heel to face Alayne, an unravelling braid whipping behind him. He thought of Aegon, with apple blossoms in his hair; of Heleana, her lips warm and sweet against his cheek; of Daeron and his crooked smile. His hands began to shake and Aemond gripped his forearms all the harder behind his back, and stalked towards Alayne, long legs crossing the distance in a moment. She had gotten to her feet and was moving to get to the horse, but Aemond was swifter.

He was upon her in a heartbeat, crowding her space—manoeuvring her without touching. Alayne walked backwards and stumbled, tripping over her own feet and tumbling onto a tall tree stump with a shaky squeak. Aemond kept one foot on the ground and planted the other between her open legs, fastening her skirts in place; he turned his knee outward as he leaned forwards, bending at the waist—leather breeches pulled taut and shimmering against the burning fire at their side. Alayne arched rearward and away from him, fingers digging into the wood beneath her, and the back of her skull hit the rough texture of a tree trunk behind her. She stared up at him, eyes wide and perilously blue.

Aemond pinned her down and loomed over her like a great bird of prey—dark and menacing, expression uncannily mild. It was a habitual mannerism of his; a predatory, ominously intimate gesture, and never failed to strike fear in the hearts of men. The air between them was charged and tense, and for several moments, neither spoke nor seemed to breathe.

“Was that a jest,” he finally asked, in a disarmingly soft voice.

“No,” came the reply, more exhale than a word.

Aemond tilted his head sideways and hummed in contemplation. “I have been told I’m a humourless bore, you understand, and the things I do find amusing are strange and peculiar. I fear I am unable to comprehend the depth and width of your scintillating wit.” His violet eye was singularly focused on her and overwhelming in its intensity—as equally bright and hazardous as the firelight reflecting in it. “Would you care to expand, mmmm? My Lady Stone?”

“My lord,” she licked her lips—ripe as dew speckled raspberries. “Please.”

“Please, what?

“I…I do not understand,” she said, distress clearly present in her features, yet her tone remained steady, even if she could not make herself talk louder than a hushed whisper. “What is it you want…what is it you ask of me…my lord.”

I want you to tell me the truth,” he bit out.

“I did not—I would not lie to you.”

“You almost did,” he corrected, and leather creaked as his fingers dug mercilessly hard into the sinews of his forearms—the prickle of pain centred him; tightened the grip on his fury. “When I asked your name. I would not have you spinning tales now.”

“I promise I will not.”

“On your honour?” he snorted.

Alayne gave him a queerly sombre look. “On my life.”

Aemond’s mouth curled upwards and his eye tapered in mimicry of something that could have been mistaken for warm sentiment if not for the unabating, illimitable rage burning fiercer than dragonfire in the depths of his sole violet eye. There was little doubt in his mind that she could discern the creature of wrath that had been roused within him—the malevolent, virulent thing that was pulling at the chains of his fraying self-control, frothing at the mouth to get out and unleash chaos.

“I enquired about our dear and merciful monarch—King Aegon.” He leaned in and a stray strand of his pale hair grazed her cheek. “Yet I was met with vile lies and deceits.”

“I did not lie,” Alayne repeated much more firmly, a stubborn tilt to her jaw. “It would seem my lord is remiss with his histories.”

“A gross display of arrogance, but, please, proceed to edify me.”

“King Aegon Targaryen was found dead with blood on his lips in his litter. He is believed to have been poisoned, though by whose hand remains unknown.”

Aemond did not seem to breathe or blink—he locked eyes with her, in stifling, dreadful, hateful silence. Wood in the firepit cracked and splintered, and in the distance a fox cried.

“What villainy has sprung from a mouth so sweet,” he finally said, expression almost rueful; tone persistently and uncomfortably soft-spoken. Smoothly, Aemond plucked a dagger from his belt and expertly twirled it in his fingers.

Merely an incentive, he told himself. Threat of harm often served more use than violence itself.

Alayne’s breath hitched as her gaze fixed on the movement, and he could almost feel the blood dash desperately through her jugular vein—however, she pressed on. “The Dance of the Dragons concluded upon his death and the throne was succeeded by King Aegon the Unlucky, Third of His Name.”

“Aegon; Rhaenyra’s welp by Daemon? Not Rhaenyra herself?”

“The Half-Year Queen was already dead by the time the last of her siblings died.”

Siblings, the word snagged his attention like a rusty nail caught on Myrish lace.

“What,” Aemond sighed, feather-soft, “of Queen Helaena?”

Alayne knitted her dark eyebrows, genuine confusion colouring her fine features. “Queen Helaena Targaryen killed herself moons before her husband’s death.”

What remaining control Aemond had on the malicious monster dwelling in his heart snapped like a threadbare rope. He swiftly spun the dagger about his thumb before the hilt settled familiarly in his palm and turned the blade on her—pressing the sharpened edge to the white column of her neck.

“Shall I take thy lying tongue, my Lady Stone?” Aemoned hissed, nostrils flaring, fire reflecting on the castle-wrought steel and in his fevered, blown-wide eye—the pupil was a pinprick of black in a sea of deep violet, and there was entirely too much white of the eyeball shown. “Should I cut it out at the stem and shove it down your pretty throat?”

“You will not hurt me,” she asserted with great certitude, unexpectedly emboldened.

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (7)

“You are a traitor to the realm—” Alayne markedly flinched, incidentally drawing a bead of blood against his blade, but Aemond was too lost to his anger to care. Hate twisted his mouth, painful as a sore on a tongue; and scorching rage pooled at the back of his throat—burning, clawing, tearing through him like a frenzied beast. “—you named your King and Queen dead. All on some whimsical, ill-conceived fancy—”

“They are dead!” she shrieked, hands flying up and grasping him by the shoulders, pulling him down—and Aemond’s left hand shot out to steady himself against a tree trunk—closer to her, as if trying to make him understand her through sheer will. “They have been dead for a hundred-and-seventy-years!”

“They cannot be!”

“You’re insane!” she shrilly screamed, scrunching up her face. “Mad! Deranged! Who cares about dead Targaryens?!”

I DO!” Aemond roared, and ripped off his eyepatch, throwing it on the ground behind him. Firelight caught his sapphire, reflecting brilliantly off the facets of the gem. Alayne’s eyes rounded in shock; they were as blue as the sunlit sea, as blue as Tessarion’s scales, and Aemond could see his own shaking, wildered reflection in them. “I care about them more than anything else in the world!

The king is dead.

You broke your promise, as I dreamt you would.

The king is dead.

You will not come back, brother.

The king is dead.

The king is dead.

The. King. Is. Dead.

Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.

A heavy, suffocating silence settled between them—it stretched and yawned as the minutes dripped away like sand grains.

“You cannot tell me my family has been dead for more than a century and expect me to believe you,” Aemond whispered, voice a trembling croak. His insides writhed like eels and twisted in knots. “I refuse to believe you.”

Mother, Aegon, Helaena, Daeron. He loved them. He has always loved them. He could never will their death—he could not fathom it.

Alayne did not say anything. She simply stared right into his scarred face; colour high on her cheeks, burning blue eyes cutting into him—as razor-sharp as the dagger Aemond steadily pressed to her slender neck. They saw right through him, straight into his haunted, weeping heart.

A silent moment passed and when it reached him, Alayne’s pale hand on his marred cheek was soft as a kiss and tender like a bruise—Aemond froze under the gentle touch.

“I am sorry this is happening to you,” she said, a strange understanding etched into her expression.

The downward twist of his lips was a tired, worn thing. Aemond could feel the anger bleeding out like strongwine from a pierced skin—leaving him cold and empty. His mouth felt dry and tasted of blood; he parted it, but sorrow robbed him of the capacity to form words. His eye burned.

Alayne Stone’s face was clear and glowing like the moon’s beam on a crystal pond; and for the first time since they met—transparent with her feelings and emotions. He watched her, having a vague notion that he should observe and absorb—learn the pattern of her solicitude and make it his own. For unless they were powerful, volatile passions, he could no longer discern his own feelings behind the stoicism of self-discipline.

Her face reddened under his scrutiny and she dropped her hand, eyelashes fluttering. “You do not trust me.”

“No,” he said at last, having compartmentalised his emotions. He could still feel her touch on his flesh—it seared him, set the places her fingers lingered ablaze. It made him uncomfortable in his own skin. “I have no reason to trust you.” Then, a realisation struck and a dark humour laced his tone: “Moreover, it seems the lack of trust is mutual, sweet lady.”

Aemond’s abdominal muscles clenched. He could feel the sharp tip of a steel dagger brush against the inner side of his upper thigh. He held a dagger to the pulse point on her throat; in turn, Alayne could open him up, groin to navel, and leave him bleeding to death. She had probably swiped the dagger off his waist without him noticing when she drew him closer during their argument—it was a sly, quick-fingered tactic and Aemond was impressed. She was sharp-witted and keen on surviving.

Clever girl, he reflected with a momentarily flush of delight, before the misery of his circ*mstances smothered it.

Alayne’s gaze dropped to look at the space between their bodies. The dagger hilt was held clumsily and inexpertly in her hand, but she had the guile and the daring to steal it and turn it on him in the first place—that alone was admirable.

“Can you fault me?” she muttered, surprisingly timid.

Aemond exhaled an amused huff. “Not at all.” He twisted the dagger in his hand and sheathed it in one smooth motion, before stepping a pace away. “‘Tis was a fair exchange of targets: your throat for my co*ck.”

She blushed deeply at that; a rosy bloom crawling from her cheeks down the length of her neck and dipping into the tops of her swelling b—Aemond sharply cut off that line of inquiry, and instead pulled his eye back to her face.

“If you were afraid, you should have stabbed me.”

“And waste all the good work I did by sewing you up?” she replied, smiling shakily.

“No, I suppose we couldn’t have that, my lady,” Aemond drawled.

Her fingers flexed around the dagger and slowly she turned the weapon in her hand, proffering the hilt towards him. Aemond plucked the offering with a hum and slid it back into the gilded scabbard at his belt.

Alayne stared at her lap, head bowed, twisting her fingers. Aemond gazed down at the top of her head, watching the way shadows of the eve and firelight turned her oak-dark hair bronze, the way golden light shimmered on the rufescent curls. Deep in thought, he rested one hand on the pommel of Dark Sister while the other reached up and kneaded the sore muscles of his neck.

“What year is it?”


“Ah, f*ck,” Aemond groaned. Anger had seeped out of him like poison, sorrow was extinguished like a snuffed out flame—he was numb and tired. A sack of skin wrapped around cold bones.

“Do you believe me now?”

“I don’t want to. However, I cannot fathom a feasible reason for you to extend a jest to these proportions. Thus, the alternative, however impossible, however improbable—must be the truth.”

Aemond sighed and dragged a hand down his face, realising with a start he was without his eyepatch. He barely remembered throwing it away—it must still be somewhere on the ground behind him, but Aemond was too spent, both physically and emotionally, to care enough to search for it. He stretched his neck, cracking the joints, and shuffled over towards Alayne. Her spine jolted upright at his movement, but she did not otherwise protest when he sat down on the ground by her feet.

The tree stump was tall enough that when Aemond tilted his head against it, the back of his skull rested on the edge. He stretched his long legs and crossed them at the ankle, folding his hands in his lap. His hair brushed her knee, and her calf rested flush against his left shoulder and bicep—even through layers of cloth, Aemond could feel the tantalising heat emitting from her body. Strangely, it grounded him; helped him keep his head clear.

“You are Aemond One-Eye,” she said, wondrously, peering down at his angular visage with curious, cat-like eyes.

“I’ve always hated that epithet,” he laughed bitterly. “There were a million things people could have chosen, but they focused on the disfigurement.” Still, Aemond One-Eye was better than Aemond the Kinslayer or Aemond the Accursed or Ravager of Riverlands—if only marginally.

So many names, he thought, and all of them hateful and monstrous.

“A Targaryen prince.”

“Yes, we have established that.”

“A dead Targaryen prince,” she emphasised.

Aemond raised an eyebrow and clicked his tongue. “Death cannot kill what never dies.”

Alayne’s nose wrinkled, rather charmingly. “I do believe the proper words are: What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.”

“Your working theory is that I was resurrected by the Drowned God?” Because Aemond had died. He could recall it in stark, miserably vivid clarity now. Daemon had impaled him through the sapphire eye with Dark Sister and Aemond had drowned with fallen Vhagar, her blood boiling the waters of Gods Eye and him alive in his steel armour.

It was a painful, agonising death.

It was well worth it—to be able to see the light leave Daemon’s eyes as Aemond buried a dagger deep within his uncle’s belly. To hear his screams as he plummeted to his death.

Aemond had died with his dragon—his dearest friend, his kindred spirit, the other half of his soul.

Daemon died alone.

The knowledge offered some degree of comfort.

“Do Targaryens even believe in the Drowned God,” she asked, tilting her head quizzically.

“My mother used to say there is a god for every Targaryen. After all, Old Valyria practised a polytheistic religion with more gods than a man knows what to do with, so each of us could pick a deity to worship and still have more than enough left over. The great House of Dragon is not a particularly religious one. Ever since Jaehaerys the Conciliator, the Faith of the Seven has been more integrated into our family, but a majority of us kept the Old Gods, to various degrees of religious fervour. None were more adherent to the Old Ways than Daemon, though. The man loves—loved his bimonthly goat sacrifices.”

That elicited a luminous half-moon of a smile from her—a pleasing sight.

“And yourself?”

Aemond rolled his eye, casting his thoughts to the memories of seemingly endless hours of kneeling in the Sept. “I suppose I keep the Seven, primarily, for the sake of my mother; and I pray and give offerings to Vhagar, the goddess of war and battle strategy. After all, my old lady is named after her.”

“Vhagar the Terrible?”

Aemond did a double take at her words. “Is that what they call her these days?” he sneered, insulted. “She is Vhagar the Green Queen, Vhagar the Glorious—the oldest, largest, finest dragon in all of Westeros. Even her old age and battle scars could not mar her beauty: her of gleaming sea-green scales, equal parts blue and green, and burnished bronze wing membranes; her eyes are a bright emerald green which matched the colour of her flames. Vhagar is a singular dragon. To name her terrible is…repugnant and disrespectful.”

Head tilted back, Aemond watched the myriad of stars twinkling above them—scattered across the inky velvet of the night sky and shining like diamonds. Finally, he asked: “She’s dead, isn’t she?” Alayne nodded, mute. “I suspected as much. She would not tolerate being apart from me for long. My jealous, precious, perfect girl.” He gave a hollow laugh, tinged with hysteria. “It’s all bones and ashes now. My dragon, my family—our legacy.”

The knowledge settled in him, dropping into his belly like a leaden stone. Beneath the brittle, icy layer of his skin, Aemond had become a creature of sorrow and dust, dirt and bitter longings. There was an empty place where his heart once was—a carved, bloody hole: deep and yawing.

His eye flickered and caught Alayne’s scrutinising stare—there was something dark and tender in her gaze—compassion? pity?—either way, Aemond could not withstand it. He turned his head away and faced the flames.

There was silence then, save for the crackling of the fire in the pit.

Her hand hovered over him. Aemond could feel the warmth of it—the phantom touch of her long fingers poised over his ear, the suspended heat of her over the cold sapphire in his socket. Eventually, she pulled away. He did not know if he felt relieved or robbed.

“I apologise,” he said, voice low—hushed and hoarse. “It was—” Ungallant? Unkind? Indecent? None of the words which sprang to mind conveyed the magnitude of his regret. “—ignoble of me to turn my anger on you.”

“I understand.”

“Your understanding does not excuse my behaviour.”

“I forgive, then.”

“Your forgiveness is too swiftly granted.”

She let out a tiny, quiet laugh. “What is it you want me to say?”

“I don’t know,” he confessed.

“Then, what do you want to do?”

Aemond did not know how to answer that question either. He did not know anything. He wished for—something. Repentance. Recompense. Redemption. Restoration. Return.

He was dreadful at expressing his feelings—what eloquence of tongue he may have possessed utterly escaped him whenever the subject arose. To be easily influenced by the irrationality of fickle feeling was poor self-governance. He harboured an instinctual mistrust of emotions and half of the time, he could not intellectually comprehend what he felt. Instead, as he grew older, he learned to bury them deep inside his heart and dismissed them until whatever slight or hurt or disappointment he suffered had passed and was forgotten—washed away by the sands of time.

In the end, all things were transient.

His nature was analytical in its core—emotionally detached, blatantly and astutely clever, and uncannily perceptive. Not many things withstood his will and dedication. However, true intelligence was the ability to adapt—it was a weak mind which could not accept change.

Yet how did one adapt to the end of the world?

How did one overcome the end of an era?

Aemond wished to go home; he could go anywhere he wanted, however home was forever lost to him. He was longing for someone he never was, for someone he never knew; yearning for a place he cannot reach—the haunting of it would not let him go.

Except… maybe…

“What do I want to do?” he echoed, getting to his feet. A torrid hope bloomed in him. “I want to go to Harrenhal.”


It took them most of the night to walk to Harrenhal.

The dappled grey palfrey that had belonged to the late Ser Shadrich was a young mare, no more than four-years-old, and in good health. However, she was not strong enough to carry two people and all of their belongings; thus instead, Aemond had volunteered her as a pack horse while he and Alayne travelled on foot. She was named Skyfall, Alayne informed him, helpfully, for the white star marking between her eyes.

Skyfall was laden with four saddlebags; a sack containing Aemond’s armour; three more makeshift sacks made out of spare cloaks, of weapons and armour Aemond had taken off the outlaws; and, after a brief argument with Alayne, a sack containing Ser Shadrich’s weapons and armour. Alayne stated they ought to leave Ser Shadrich some dignity, but Aemond argued they had no shovel to dig the man a grave, he would not burn the body for fear of starting a forest fire and they had no time to wait for hours for the man to turn to ashes anyway. Moreover, he was not inclined to show respect to the remains of someone who abducted a young girl. Leaving his body to the wolves was what the false knight deserved.

Alayne gave him a flint-eyed look at that. “It is unbecoming of the Prince of the Realm to loot the dead,” she sniffed haughtily.

“It is unbecoming of the Prince of the Realm to starve,” Aemond contended, clicking his tongue and packing the last of what he deemed ‘spoils of war.’ “Although half of these are subpar, the other half is proper castle-wrought steel—it will fetch a good price with a blacksmith. It is better to plunder from the deceased than to steal from the living.”

Alayne clearly held contrasting opinions regarding decency and propriety, but refrained from imposing them on him. She simply wrapped herself in Ser Shadrich’s old cloak, stating her own had been torn and ruined by the outlaws, and if Aemond was looting dead men for coin, she might as well benefit, too. The cloak was thick and sturdy, and of a fine, dark-green fabric which suited her complexion well, even if she was far too tall for the garment.

It took Aemond more than an hour to prepare them a dinner of roasted horse-flesh—he had cut the tenderest parts and broiled it on a skewer. Alayne ate her share readily, even if she looked like it was her first time eating a meat quite so lean and sinewy. Majority of the horse would be wasted and likely eaten by scavengers, but Aemond had salted what meat he could preserve, swaddling it in paper and cloth, and packed it away inside a leather satchel. Afterwards, the pair of them broke down the campsite quickly enough; putting out the fire and getting on the move before true night fell.

Presently, they trekked through the dense forest in front of Skyfall, with only a single torch lighting their way. They walked for hours and Aemond could hear Alayne’s laboured pants behind him—she was likely unaccustomed to lengthy physical exertions, yet she followed his lead without a sound of complaint.

Alayne clutched his hand in hers—or, perhaps, it was the other way around. Her fingers were cold, and absentmindedly, he rubbed them with his own to chase some warmth into them. Her presence was strangely inspiriting, her touch both soothing and grounding. Aemond could feel her breath ghost his shoulder and it consoled him—reminded he was not alone in this unnatural situation he was not wholly sure he believed in.

A treacherous part of him still harboured a wild, ruinous hope that Alayne Stone was mad and played a cruel jest on him with her tales of death and resurrection.

Aemond wished he could wretch that shrivelled, bleeding heart of his, and bury it.

“Not long now,” he whispered, reassuringly, watching as the tall spires of the monstrous castle emerged into view over the tops of trees—five twisted fingers of black, misshapen stone grasping for the sky. “We’re almost at our destination.”

“What is it you seek?” Alayne muttered, stepping carefully over a fallen sapling.

Alys, Aemond thought, but instead said: “Answers, mayhaps. Harrenhal is an old castle, steeped in magic.”

“Magic? What magic? Harrenhal has withered every hand to touch it. It is an ill place. Cursed, they say.”

“Your father is Lord of Harrenhal.” Aemond raised an eyebrow, glancing back at her.

Alayne blinked up at him placidly. Her face was opalescent in the moonlight, striking and haunting in its stillness—framed starkly by the dark cavern of her cloak’s hood.

“He was named Lord of Harrenhal. Father has not stepped a foot in the castle, nor does he ever intend to,” she sniffed, the corners of her mouth drooping, and adopted a peevish, contemptuous tone. “What did he describe it as? Ah, yes: cavernous halls and ruined towers, ghosts and draughts, ruinous to heat, impossible to garrison. No, Harrenhal had served its purpose to him.”

Exhaustion seemed to have loosened her tongue and gave her wit a sharp, trenchant edge. She blew a lock of stray hair and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, making a disgruntled face when it came away sleek with sweat. “Being named its titular lord has elevated Father’s social position enough to marry late Lysa Arryn, the widowed Lady Regent of the Vale of Arryn.”

“He sounds like an ambitious man,” Aemond muttered. He placed his feet firmly on the one side of a bank and, holding Alayne’s hands tightly, helped her jump smoothly over the muddy ditch.

“Ambitious?” Alayne scoffed, a frown knitting her brows. She hadn’t retracted her hands from his grasp and Aemond could feel her slim fingers tremble. “Petyr Baelish is the face of avarice—he is a grasping, rapacious man. Covetous of everything he believes he was denied. He seizes things which do not belong—”

She cut herself off and drew a sharp breath. Then, Alayne stepped closer, her chest almost touching with his, and peered up intensely into Aemond’s violet eye. Colour high on her cheeks and eyes moist, she looked half-wild—ardent with unshakable conviction and mad desire to impress upon him her words.

“My prince,” she whispered hotly, and Aemond shivered. He had heard the title his entire life, yet tumbling from Alayne’s lips it sounded neither trite nor unpleasant. “My prince, you do not know what sort of man my father is, but I do. I know him very well. Littlefinger is first and foremost a flesh peddler—a whor*monger. That is how he made his fortune: he’s a brothel proprietor, catering to a vast range of tastes, indulging all sorts of perversions. He will sell any thing—any one—if it means he will acquire his objective.”

Aemond frowned at that kernel of information—for his mind traced the logical pattern of Alayne’s conviction and postulated a very probable conclusion of how she came to be quite so adamant about the depth of her father’s sins. It sparked immediate distaste, but soon was overshadowed by a flare of foreign emotion. It set Aemond’s teeth on edge and left a sickening, sharp taste in his mouth akin to the flavour of rotting flesh. It made him want to reach for Dark Sister and inflict unpleasantness on something or someone.

Alayne persevered, ignorant of his inner conflict. “Ambitious is too small a word for a man who crawled from being the smallest of small lords of a few rocky acres and an unnamed old flint tower as a seat on the smallest of the Fingers—to Lord Protector of the Eyrie and Regent of the Vale. A man who made his bastard daughter step-sister to the Lord Paramount of House Arryn, and, upon his wife’s death, a de facto Lady of the Eyrie.”

Aemond was no stranger to aspiring, power-hungry kin. “You do not trust him.”

Alayne looked down at their entwined hands and Aemond thought she would let go, but instead she squeezed his fingers tightly.

“I love Father,” she began, stiltedly. “Mother died giving birth to me and entrusted me to the Faith. Upon my…flowering…I decided I did not wish to be a septa and wrote to him. Father only then learned of my existence and handled it better than most men—he took me in, named me his daughter and heir. Bastardborn I might be, but I do not doubt his affections.”

“And yet…?”

“And yet only a fool would trust Littlefinger.”

“And you are no fool,” he surmised.

“I try not to be,” she said, small and broken—voice sad and faraway. “A pretty little fool, with a head filled with songs and stupid dreams that will never come to pass.”

There was a time, when he was a friendless, bullied child—before Vhagar, long before his brother’s ascension—when inferiority was the instinct, the foundational belief; the bone-deep assumption that he would never be enough. Such doubts never went away, not truly—they lingered like ghosts in the back of his mind, haunting and wretched. Aemond wondered who made her view herself less than she was.

Her admission kindred her to him and he wished he could offer some degree of comfort. Yet he was at a loss at what to do. Helaena would have preferred a kind smile; his mother a warm embrace—Alayne was congenial company, yes, but a stranger, and he would not take liberties even in sympathy. Thus, he let go of one of her hands and turned away to pick up the torch from where he had speared it into dirt.

When his eye was not gazing upon her pale face, he found himself bolder in his speech—more earnest. “I think you’re resoundingly clever, my lady, and certainly the farthest thing from a fool. Alas…” he spread his hands, shrugging with exaggeration, “What do I know, I’m a man out of time. Perhaps people of Westeros have advanced in the past hundred years and you’re only remarkable by my grotesquely outdated standards.”

“Right,” she said, faintly sniffling before giving a short, small laugh—voice breathless and tinkering like silver bells. “I keep forgetting I’m in the company of a dead man.”

“How easily forgettable I am,” Aemond drawled, feeling warm in spite of himself, and tugged on her other hand to lead her further towards the looming shadow of the massive castle.

“I beg your pardon, my prince,” she said with false solemnity. “Please, excuse this remiss of your most humble servant.”

Aemond gave a low hum of amusem*nt. “I shall try, just this once—”

“You are as magnanimous as you are gracious, Your Serene Highness.”

“—however, you must recompense for your negligence,” continued Aemond with a smirk. “Whatever shall you do to redress this slight, mmmm?”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something suitable,” Alayne replied, liltingly, the corners of her eyes crinkling. There was a lightness, a brightness, about her that was infectious—she seemed to float; radiant and lovely as the dawn.

The sight warmed something in his belly and Aemond mirrored her smile.

Beautiful and brave, and bastardborn.


Next chapter: Aemond is entering his Sadmond era.

The start of the chapter was an exercise in me trying to straddle the fine line of having a red-flag male lead and making sure he’s not too red-flag in his behaviour so he can remain a viable male lead.

“Hate twisted his mouth, painful as a sore on a tongue; and scorching rage pooled at the back of his throat—burning, clawing, tearing through him like a frenzied beast.” Fun fact: I woke up in the middle of the night just to write this line down. Covid was ravaging my throat and I took that as ✨inspiration✨

I do have a fool-proof plan: anything that didn’t vibe, I’m blaming it on covid-brain. Hahahaha, genius. 💀 Would really love to hear everyone’s thoughts and feelings about the chapter as I got quite insecure about it—both in terms of content and quality of writing. Given how in my head it’s not finished due to how I broke up my original chapter in two halves…I am not confident if the end product delivers the emotional impact I envisioned. 😩

Thank the lord for Sapphire Sisterhood—Nat and Tishi. They are not reading the fic, but they are with me, every step of the way. My emotional support fellow unhinged babygirl enthusiasts. ❤️🔥

P.S. Happy Holidays! Hope everyone is having a good time. 🎄✨🥂 This is the last update of 2022. As I mentioned before, the next chapter of witchcraft is halfway done, so expect it soonish. I also wish to work on an update for charm and that holiday special mini-fic I promised, so look forward to those. See you all in the New Year! 🎇
witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (8)
witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (9)

Chapter 6: AEMOND VI


Thank you everyone for your kind words and concern. Covid has thankfully passed, with only a few lingering after effects. 💕💕

Hahahahaha, update soon I said. 👀💀 I’m a lying liar who lies. I’m on a trip right now, visiting family whom I haven’t seen in eight years—I was flying international on the 5th, and planned to finish the chapter during the 9 hour flight. That didn’t happen. Instead I slept while listening to Taylor Swift’s entire discography. 🫠

Then I think I hit a bit of a writer’s block? I had 3k works sitting in my doc for two weeks and I couldn’t progress anywhere with them. Writing some segments was like pulling teeth. (And I literally had three of my wisdom teeth pulled.) I was also just extremely busy during the trip—life didn’t just happen, life completely annihilated me. Doctors are a lot more accessible here and sometimes cheaper, so for three weeks, when I wasn’t visiting friends and family in a parade of endless luncheons and dinners—I practically lived in the hospital. 🥴😭

The update is dedicated to Tishi and Nat, my beloved Sapphire Sisters; and to JenMania/JenManiaArt on twitter, who kept feeding me crumbs of her ongoing Aemond WIP [1, 2, 3, 4] and sustaining (or ruining, depending on the perspective) my sanity. Jen is a tireless Sapphire Wolf advocate—please check out her twitter account. She’s doing the Lord’s work with all her Aemond/Sansa WIPs and Aemond content. 🥺🥺🥺

P.S. For my absence, have an extra long chapter. Enjoy. 💕
P.P.S. I’m flying back home today. Going back to my GMT timezone.
P.P.P.S. Aemond/Sansa is not a crackship. It’s a ✨rarepair✨ I’m dying on this hill. Fight me. (งツ)ง

UPDATE: OH MY GOD. cyeco-13 on twitter drew this beautiful, touching, stunning art of the crying scene from chapter 6. 🥺💕 Please go check out their account, they make gorgeous art.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text


chapter six: Aemond VI


In the darkness, the prince and the bastard were two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their clasped hands—a tether, a chain, a claim.

The moon hung heavy in the sable sky, round and pale like a milk-maid. It turned their skin as white as snow with its ethereal light. Their breath misted in the air, condensation crystallising on eyelashes; cold seeped into their throats and bones with every inhale. Aemond’s heart shivered and Alayne’s lungs rattled; they drifted towards monstrous Harrenhal like a pair of wraiths—exhausted and haunted.

“If your father isn’t occupying Harrenhal, who is?” Aemond asked, dragging himself forwards through sheer force of will.

He had vastly underestimated the build-up of fatigue in his aching body and how freezing nights in Riverlands could be. It must be autumn, he decided, for summer nights never felt this bitter.

Alayne bore the chill of the night with admirable grace. She was as cold as the dead to the touch, but did not tremble. She had grown tired from their trek—Aemond could tell from the swaying slowness of her gait and by how readily she used the crook of his elbow for support.

It was an impulsive, foolhardy endeavour: hiking through woods in the dead of night after both of them were injured and wearied by the day’s trials; stumbling and limping their way to Harrenhal. However, Aemond persevered—he refused to give up. He had to try, he told himself, cradling a flame of desperate hope.

“Recent accounts relay the castle is garrisoned by a regiment known as the Holy Hundred and their leader, Ser Bonifer Hasty, was appointed as castellan until my father comes forth to claim the castle.”

“Which he does not intend to do.”

“Indeed, Father will not do so for as long as he can help it,” she agreed with a sigh. “Thus the garrison consists of a group of one hundred soldiers pious in their unyielding faith to the Seven. If I recall Ser Bonifer the Good and his holy men joined the War of Five Kings under Renly Baratheon’s banner, before switching loyalties to his brother, Stannis; and after the Battle of the Blackwater, they endorsed the Lannister regime.”

He quirked a pale eyebrow. “Their loyalties are fickle?”

“In a way,” Alayne murmured, casting her eyes downwards, eyelashes fluttering as she minded her steps over an uneven terrain. Aemond had tied up Skyfall further in the woods and snuffed out the torch’s flame so as to not be spotted by a sentry—their approach was illuminated only by the moonlight, making walking a difficult venture. Her fingers tightened on his, as a rock nearly rolled her ankle. “Not many could afford to be a staunch supporter—not when the Realm had a king in every corner, fighting for a crown. The Holy Hundred are, however, rumoured to be well-disciplined and have a spotless reputation.”

Aemond hummed in contemplation. “The Holy Hundred—a peculiarly straightforward name. They pray dutifully, I presume, but can they fight?”

“Father says they are better known for their lovely, tall geldings than their battle prowess. As far as he tells it, they did not disgrace themselves in the Battle of the Blackwater, but did not distinguish themselves either.”

“A hundred men of unknown skill, but no doubt great valiance, if my experience with the devout is anything to go by.” Aemond pursed his lips into a thin line. “I fear even with Dark Sister in my hand, a single, one-eyed man will not be able to fight off an entire company.”

Alayne’s brows knitted as she stared up at the dark, dizzyingly looming walls of Harrenhal from the edge of the woods, where Aemond and she crouched in thornberry bushes. “Had we come here for naught, my prince?”

“No. It merely means you and I cannot take Harrenhal,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Alayne’s head whipped in his direction so fast Aemond feared she would snap her neck; her eyes boggled. “You…considered seizing Harrenhal? By yourself?

Aemond glanced askance at her, unperturbed. “I did it before.”

“With a dragon!” she hissed, nails digging into the firm muscle of his bicep. “Not merely a fancy sword and a bastard girl as reinforcements.”

“No matter,” he dismissed with a shake of his head. “Presently, conquest is out of the question, thus you and I shall use stealth and sneak in.”

Alayne coolly raised an eyebrow. Ire made her bolder and freer with her emotions—Aemond found he quite liked that. “My prince, pray tell, how shall we achieve such a feat?”

He smirked, and eased himself out of her grasp. He unfurled himself to stand at his full height—tall and proud. Alayne mirrored him, getting to her feet. “You said it yourself—Harrenhal is impossible to garrison. I say this from experience: a hundred men cannot hold it. Nor patrol it properly, for that matter. Harren Hoare built a truly monstrous castle, and he was as paranoid as Maegor the Cruel. Harrenhal is brimming with a network of secret passages and tunnels.”

Aemond leaned in conspiratorially, his nose close to the shell of her ear and his hair brushed her cheek. In the dimness of the greenwood, his violet eye gleamed bright as a polished blade—reflecting the moon’s pale light.

“Using one such passage,” he said, softly, “we shall infiltrate the castle.”

Some time later, at the hour of ghosts, when the clouds swallowed the silver moon, Aemond and Alayne found themselves skulking by the postern east gate—cloaked in shadows, wrapped in darkness. When the guards changed, Aemond took Alayne by the wrist and they darted from the forest towards the gate, then turned sharply left before reaching it.

“Fifteen paces away,” Aemond muttered, and measured the distance. Once by the outer wall, his fingers roamed the stones, while Alayne cast furtive glances around them, afraid of being spotted.

“Hurry, please,” she whispered pleadingly, clutching at his shoulder with grasping fingers, but Aemond ignored her in favour of tracing his thumb over the rough stone, searching for the indentation.

To him, it was only a handful of moons ago, when Alys showed him Harrenhal’s deepest secrets—the myriad of hidden passageways snaking through the gigantic castle. In reality—or at least, according to the reality Alayne adhered to—it had been almost two centuries ago.

Time and elements had weathered the stone, degraded the markings and grooves left by the masons even further. Aemond took a sharp breath when he finally found the lever and pressed down on it. He heard the mechanism turn and click, before he pushed on the stone with all his might until it groaned and shuddered, shifting under his hands. The tall slab of stone slid out of its niche and sidled to the side, opening up a hidden passageway—it loomed like a great, cavernous mouth.

Aemond hastily ushered Alayne into the gap and quickly walked through the threshold behind her—it was like stepping into the darkness of a grave.

The air was cold and stale—damp; saturated in dust and wet rot. Aemond strained, gritting his teeth, and pushed the heavy slab of stone back into its place, closing the entryway behind them and shutting out the remnants of light, plunging them into thick, almost palpable darkness.

He stood, breathing laboriously and rested his forehead against the cool stone. He was beyond sapped: his shoulders ached, his ribs hurt; he yearned for a steaming hot bath and a feather-bed. Finally, he asked: “You all right?”

“Yes,” Alayne whispered, needlessly—the walls of Harrenhal were incredibly thick; even if they screamed till their throats were ragged, no-one would hear them.

“It’s all black. I can’t see at all,” she marvelled, and Aemond could feel her hands ghost over the broad planes of his back until they found purchase at his elbow and fiercely clutched him there. “It’s like I’ve been rendered blind.”

“I should be quite familiar with the feeling then,” Aemond drawled, straightening up.

Alayne gave a stifled, unladylike snigg*r. Aemond did not think he was being particularly witty, thus perhaps, the lady’s nerves were getting to her. He turned and carefully positioned himself so his left hand would touch the outer wall. He walked forwards, making sure to not let go of the wall, and Alayne’s breath hitched, her grip on him tightening. Unconsciously, he flexed under her touch.

“It’s like a tomb,” she softly said, and Aemond nodded, though he knew she could not see him. “Like we’ve been buried alive.” A moment passed and she continued, with a tensity to her voice that told him she was truly afraid. “We shall not suffocate, will we?”

“There are vents in the walls—too narrow to be of any consequence, but deep enough to ventilate the passageways with fresh air.” Darkness emboldened him and Aemond forewent propriety, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her close, tucking her into his right side. He did not wish her to get lost, and she did not object to his manoeuvring. “Thus no, worry not, my lady. We shall not run out of air.”

They walked abreast down a sloping corridor in silence for what felt like hours, though it must have been minutes. Alayne’s breaths were short and quick, her rib cage expanding and deflating beneath his palm in rhythm with their steps. For a girl who was quite tall, she was a small, sparse thing—he could feel her bones, barely concealed by the lean layer of muscle under skin. Aemond could hear a faint, faraway echo of dripping water, the subtle noise of their footfalls, and the steady sound of their breaths. Soon, he felt the stone wall change from smooth to rough, and paused.

“There are stairs here,” he said, and cautiously inched his foot forward, feeling out the ground. “Walk behind me.”

They carefully descended the ancient stone steps, going down at an agonisingly slow pace in stifling pitch-darkness—their tread quiet and controlled. Aemond kept both hands on the walls to steady himself. Alayne took care to avoid his heels, but she must have miscalculated a step for she keeled forward with a sharp yelp.

Aemond’s body broke her fall.

He was thankful the sudden force of her momentum had not sent him staggering, otherwise they both would have hurled down the stairs and into the abyss, no doubt breaking their necks in the process.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, voice low.

The darkness had heightened his senses: he could feel her face pressed into the back of his neck, mouth flush against the sensitive skin; her hands gripped his shoulders, fingers digging into the solid muscle; the full weight of her body leaning against his back for support. He could hear the fluttering pulse of her heart, feel the stir of her ribcage against his spine.

“No,” she murmured, breath hot against his nape. “I’m sor—”

“It’s not long now, I think,” he interrupted her, fingers clutching rough stone as a muscle in his jaw twitched and his face flushed. “We are more than halfway down. Can you stand?”


She righted herself and they descended the rest of the way without incident. Once on solid ground, Alayne pinched the sleeve of his coat between her forefinger and thumb, but otherwise initiated no contact. Her falsely nonchalant pretence at decorum made an amused smirk creep on the corner of Aemond’s lips—he found her embarrassment rather charming.

They walked in silence deep beneath the colossal curtain walls, below the cellars and the vaults, below the dungeons and the crypts. Aemond felt a cold draft waft from the right side of the corridor and steered them in its direction, his mind clearly recalling the pathway Alys had shown him as if he’d seen it only yesternight.

“Not long now,” Aemond assured. “We’re almost there.”

“Where are we heading?”

“The Tower of Ghosts.” Where Alys’s workroom was located.

Alys, he brooded. Alys, Alys, Alys.

His friend, his advisor, his paramour, his bastard witch—the woman who saw fragments of his past and future in her fires; who convinced him he was meant for greater things than to die as an expendable second son in his brother’s war. Alys unflaggingly trusted her visions and staunchly believed in his supposedly august destiny.

How wrong she was about his fate.

How right she was about the ravenous dark within him.

Did holding secrets in his heart make them any less true? Did keeping desires rattling in the cage of sharpened bones make them any less potent? If one never told, never spoke of them, would they become only a shadow of a dream, an echo of a nightmare half-remembered?

Let no light see them, Aemond beseeched. My black and deep desires.

Alys’s prediction pulsated at the forefront of his mind as he and Alayne came to a stop in front of a wall, and Aemond’s hands roved across it, hunting for purchase. “Look for a ladder,” he instructed curtly.

“Look he says,” Alayne huffed quietly, her steps muffled as she moved along the wall. “It’s darker than in the deepest pit of seventh hells. How does one look for anything?”

Aemond rolled his eye. “Search then.”

“Yes, Your Grace. As my prince commands.”

He smirked. Although the lady’s words were courteous, the snide tone she adopted was anything but—somehow, it amused him.

Soon, Aemond’s hands found a series of slick metal bars firmly affixed to the stone wall. “Come here,” he beckoned. “Follow the sound of my voice.”

He heard the rustle of her skirts and sensed Alayne’s presence by his side. Aemond guided her hands to the ladder and wrapped her fingers around a bar. “Climb up. You’ll go first so I can catch you if you slip.”

Alayne hesitated.

“Are you afraid of heights?” Aemond asked, concerned.

“No,” she said, however her voice sounded genuinely distressed when she continued: “If we are to climb this ladder all the way to the surface…will the tunnel that we ascend be terribly confined?”

Aemond hummed in thought. “It’s more of an upwards shaft than a tunnel, however it is twice as broad as the width of my shoulders. Are you afraid of narrow spaces, my lady?”

“Well, I am certainly not overcome with ardent fondness for them,” she replied tartly. Aemond heard her take a series of deep, steadying breaths before she turned towards the ladder and began her ascent.

“Yes,” Alayne muttered softly. “I can be brave.”


It took them almost half an hour to climb up out of the tunnels and to the surface. Alayne had almost slipped once and Aemond caught her with a steadying hand to the back of the thighs. Afterwards, she doggedly persisted to ascend without break. It was an admirable quality—how purposefully resolute she was, once she set her sights on an objective.

It took them even longer to reach the top of the Tower of Ghosts. It was the most ruinous of Harrenhal’s five immense towers—standing dark and desolate behind the remains of a collapsed, abandoned sept where only rats had come to pray since the time of Conquest. Empty and deserted, with not a soul in sight but the two of them.

Alys’s workroom was at the topmost story, however Aemond and Alayne reposed at midpoint, in one of the many abandoned chambers. It had been a favourite of Aemond’s to sequester in, back when he held the castle. Derelict and in disrepair, the balcony ruined, the stone melted from the heat of the dragonflame. The walls were covered in moss, and wild ivy snaked and climbed them—dripping off the ceiling like viridescent tears. One could stand by the gaping mouth of the terrace and look down on the castle below.

Aemond used to do a running jump off the platform, launching himself into the open air and landing on top of Vhagar’s back, as she glided through the towers below.

Harrenhal is broken and ruined, but not destroyed, Aemond mused. Much like me, I am not destroyed either.

“I do not care if you have to fight a hundred men to get us out of Harrenhal, I am not going through the tunnels again.”

A swirling wind gusted, drawing a high shivery scream from the gaps in the weathered stone, and Aemond’s gaze was pulled away from the view of the castle’s ghastly towers to Alayne. She perched primly on a fallen piece of stone wall and attempted to comb through her long hair with her fingers, snagging on tangles.

Aemond raised his head from where he was sprawled on the cold ground and pointedly quirked an eyebrow.

A beat of silence.

“Ahem. I would prefer not to go through the tunnels again, my prince,” she amended, abashed.

“No matter,” he drawled, laying his head back down and staring at the moss-slathered stone above. “We shall exit using another route.”

“I suppose,” Alayne added, softly, timidly. “I could brave it if we had a torch.”

Aemond hummed noncommittally, mind turning inwards, and he slinking back into his wonted quietude.

He was beyond exhausted; hanging onto consciousness through sheer stubbornness and spite. He took off his eyepatch, stuffing it into a pocket, and ran hooked forefingers over his eyebrows, smoothing out the muscle, trying to ease away the headache. The pain in his bruised side swelled to a smarting burning and the pain due to his cracked ribs ebbed to a dull throb. His body was rigid from tension and the points of it that were in contact with the floor ached—his shoulders, his spine, his hips; stinging with a soreness familiar from a thousand swordplay mistakes.

Pain was good—it meant he was still alive. Pain was an intimate, almost comforting companion. It was his shadow since the loss of his eye, and as long as it would not spill over a threshold, he could bear it with grace, tolerate its sempiternal presence—banish it from his mind and disregard its effects, giving no indication it affected him.

Pain was life and life was pain, Alys used to say, the edge of her blade as sharp as her smile as she slaughtered chickens and gutted sheep for their entrails. Scrying demanded blood and sacrifice, and Alys strived to see much and more.

She could not still be among the living—it had been a hundred-and-seventy years. Alys was a great many things, but a sorceress to rival the mages of Old Valyria she was not. True magic was beyond her reach. Yet still, he burned the flame of hope and it turned his mind into solid smoke.

Hope was a treacherous and ruinous thing—it did not stop Aemond’s heart from gorging on its poison.

“Has the keep always been this dilapidated?” Alayne asked disdainfully. In the thick darkness of the hour of the wolf, Aemond could hardly make out her fine features. “For a castle heralded as the strongest in the realm it is a ghastly ruin—even its floors are crumbling.”

“A strong castle for the Strongs,” he snorted, tone dark. “I do wonder if old Jaehaerys was tickled pink by the irony.”

“Yes,” she murmured, smooth brow furrowing, “yes, you must have known them—Lyonel Strong, and Harwin Breakbones, and Larys Clubfoot, too.” She glanced at him, askance. “You’ve killed them.”

Aemond hummed, mouth a twisted curve. “It is certainly quite ambitious to presuppose a ten-year-old child could kill Ser Lyonel and Ser Harwin both, though I am flattered by your estimation of my abilities.” And the less that could be said about the blight on humanity that iswas?Larys Strong, the better, he privately added.

Alayne blanched. “No…no, my prince, I meant…Lord Simon Strong and his grandchildren.”

“Mmmm, quite right. I put them all to the sword.” He propped himself up on his elbows and tilted his head to the side, fixing Alayne with one shrewd eye. His expression was devoid of the humour which laced his tone. “Does it offend you, my lady, that I slaughtered them in this very castle? Do you fear me, mmmm?”

He could not help the awful energy surging through his veins—the want to push away, the urge to frighten. “You should be scared of me.”

Alayne sat stiff as a corpse. In the violet dusk of predrawn, her blue eyes glowed. They pierced him, staring through.

“No,” she whispered at last, soft and sure, “no, I do not fear you. I do not believe you will hurt me.”

Aemond clicked his tongue and laid back down. “You ought to be afraid. A healthy dose of fear never harmed anyone. After all, I am a vicious, unforgiving man.” He consciously flexed the fingers of his right hand, squeezing and spreading until the skin tingled, and the old scar across his palm began to itch from the strain. “Or so I’ve been told.”

“Yet you saved me all the same.”

“Does a good deed negate the bad? Does a rescued maiden outweigh a slain lord? Make no mistake, my lady, a virtuous knight I am not. The biggest misfortune for my enemies—is that they are my enemies. For Aemond One-Eye, life ends in blood, as it began.”

A moment passed and when he glanced at Alayne out of a corner of his eye, she fidgeted under his scrutiny, wringing her hands. Aemond had grown familiar with monsters living inside his head, yet he wondered what she made of them. “Ask me. I can feel the question burning your tongue.”

She leaned forwards, eyes boring into him, stare keen and intense. “Why do it? Why eradicate an entire House? Extinguish them root and stem?”

“What do the histories say of it?” It piqued his interest, the notion of his name being immortalised in the annals. He wondered what they said of him—nothing good, most likely.

He was the villain of this story.

He was the villain of every story.

The Dance of the Dragons, A True Telling, by Grand Maester Munkun claims you have slain the Strongs of Harrenhal in misguided anger after hearing of the fall of King’s Landing to Rhaenyra’s forces,” she recited from memory, voice high and plummy. She seemed to have a rather thorough education in history for a girl raised to be a septa. “Septon Eustace’s The Reign of King Viserys contended that you judged Lord Simon as a traitor for too-easily yielding Harrenhal to Daemon.”

Aemond’s lips twitched. “I ought not be surprised Eustace penned a book—he was always a ponderous old codger. In a way, both are true. In a way, neither are. I did exactly what Munkun and Eustace alleged: I received news of King’s Landing’s fall and named the Strongs Daemon’s collaborators. Yet why kill them? Why not confine them to the dungeons like Cole had advised? Anger was part of it, yes—a burning, savage anger. However…”

His words tapered off and he ran a hooked finger down the straight bridge of his nose in contemplation. “At the end of all things, there are only two reasons why a man does anything—love or hate. Thus, I shall tell you a tale, Lady Alayne, one of love and woe.”

Aemond swiftly got to his feet, ignoring the aches and shooting pains his body protested with, and walked over to the hole in the wall where the balcony was, clasping his hands firmly at the forearms behind his back. He stared out into the night for minutes, collecting himself, before at last he began:

“My sister Helaena is the purest, kindest soul. As children, the two of us lurked on the fringes of the court, ostracised and misunderstood; it bonded us, made us each other’s favourite sibling. She loved me dearly and I love her most. Helaena had not hurt a single living creature in her life. Sweet as summer and gentle as the dawn, she is the light of our House—a precious treasure.”

He recalled the endless hours he and Hel had spent in the gardens, engulfed by the perfume of spring flowers, sequestered under a peach tree. His head laid in her lap, forehead and nose pressing into her thigh, contentment shimmering in his chest at being with his sweet sister as she read to him—a golden, perfect haze of childhood enveloping the memory.

“If there is any fault which could be laid at her feet it would be becoming our brother’s wife, not that either of them had any particular choice in the matter. I would have married her if I could, if only to spare her the pain and the indignity a union with Aegon had brought her,” Aemond trailed off, lost to his memories. “Our brother…Aegon is not a good husband. Neglectful and dismissive—he ceaselessly insults her with his whoring and drinking, and Helaena bears it all with grace and gentility. Their children thought I was their sire, so little did he spend time with them, so rarely they saw his face. Perhaps, had she married Jacaerys like Rhaenyra had intended, she would have lived a kinder life.”

He recalled the blinding sweetness of Helaena’s smile when Jacaerys asked her to dance, the effulgent joy that brightened her entire demeanour in the way sullen, selfish Aegon could never coax out of her.

There had been a time Aegon had been obsessed with Helaena—back when they were small children. Aemond remembered it hazily and poorly, for he was younger than both, but he could recall how Aegon would treat their sister as a doll, a precious toy, doting on her like a hoarded treasure. Aegon had been enchanted by the notion that Helaena was made for him, born to be his—his sister, his bride, his wife, his and only his. He loved her, until he no longer did—until he became disenchanted.

The more Helaena grew to be her own person, with likes and dislikes contrasting Aegon’s, whose demeanour and personality that matched quieter, more reserved Aemond—the more Aegon grew to resent her. He named her weird and an idiot, and begrudged their union.

“For all that he was a self-absorbed prick, Jacaerys would have been a gentler husband to my sweet sister. Though, I do not think their ending would have been a happy one. With King Viserys’s death, even without Aegon’s crowning, Rhaenyra would have inevitably faced the consequences of her choices. Viserys had shielded her tirelessly, refusing to entertain the notion that her Velaryon sons were Harwin Strong’s bastards. But they were—it was plain for all to see. Mayhaps, had he acknowledged their baseborn nature and legitimised them, Jacaerys’s claim could have been more secure. However, that would mark Rhaenyra as an adulterer. The Faith would never permit an adultress to remain the heir much less sit the Iron Throne—they would declare it as an insult to the Seven and the realm.”

Legitimisation of him and his brothers would have negated their mother’s claim, while remaining unlegitimised Jacaerys would have faced opposition from all sides. By the laws of the realm, bastards could not inherit and him being Rhaenyra’s heir would have set a dangerous precedent. The Council would not permit such and no amount of resistance from Rhaenyra would have swayed them. If a bastard was allowed to inherit the throne over trueborn claimants, it would spark a slew of unruly bastards to pop out and stake claim to what was, by rights, their trueborn siblings’. The arbitrary worth of an heir did not matter, to do such was a political nightmare waiting to happen. Moreover, Daemon would never suffer any of the Strong bastards to inherit over his own trueborn sons.

“Ultimately, had Jacaerys married my sister, Helaena would have been a prisoner—vulnerable, exploited, and under threat. A pawn in the great game. It seems such is my sweet sister’s fate—to pay for the crimes of others.”

Alayne still sat on the stone, spine straight, feet tucked to the side of her skirts, looking up at him from underneath her full eyelashes. Yet out of the corner of his eye, Aemond could see she had begun to subtly shake, tremors echoing through her body like ocean waves breaking against a shore.

She knew what was coming, the gruesome tale he was sharing.

“A son for a son, Daemon had proclaimed—and delivered on his bloody promise. In his youth, my wayward uncle had gained the name Lord Flea Bottom, though he persisted in calling himself Prince of the City. Regardless, the man had connections in low places and had enlisted the services of a pair of cutthroats, a butcher and a ratcatcher, who crept into the Red Keep, unseen by any guard, through hidden passageways.”

Alayne’s voice was a ghost of a whisper. “They had stolen into the Dowager Queen’s chambers.”

Aemond nodded, pursing his mouth into a grimace. “Bound and gagged my mother like she was a pig on a market—and waited. For my sister. For her children.”

In the months since, he had grown to wonder if their true quarry was Aegon, however, since the coronation, his brother was accompanied by the Kingsguard wherever he went. But—but—but—he knew Daemon, understood him on a fundamental level.

His Uncle would always wound where it would hurt the most, where the cut would bleed the longest, suffering would be the deepest.

“Blind to the lurking danger, Hel appeared at the Tower of the Hand as dusk was settling over the castle; carrying Maelor in her arms, Jaehaerys and Jaehaera clutching at her skirts. The twins were six, Maelor only two. Jae liked to ride on my shoulders and play at knights, Haera enjoyed it when I braided her hair into intricate designs. Maelor loved horses—I would carve him figures to play with: mythical winged horses and unicorns of Skagos.”

“Please,” Alayne exhaled, eyes round and moist.

He looked away from her, staring into the violet sky, words pouring out of him like spilled gold—as a familiar sensation of numbed detachment washed over him, even as a repugnance burned a path down his throat, passing through his heart and shackling his limbs. If he permitted himself to feel it again, that terrible night, he would be lost.

A wife is not a son, they said when Helaena pleaded for the men to kill her instead—it has to be a boy. Choose. You see, that is the true face of innocence—babes. That is what Daemon decided Rhaenyra was owed.” Alayne let out a whimper, but the sound fell on deaf ears. Aemond was too lost in his memories to register her distress. “If Helaena did not choose, Jaehaera would be raped; if she did, she would condemn one of her sons to death. In the end, she did make a choice—little Maelor, for he was too young to understand what was going on, but old enough to comprehend the words when the ratcatcher told him his mother wanted him dead. It was cruel, but it was cruller still when the butcher swung his sword and cut Jaehaerys’s head with a single blow.”

He would never forget, for as long as he lived, the ear-splitting, heart-stopping wail of grief tearing itself out of Helaena’s throat as she clutched her son’s decapitated body. Aemond had wrenched his sister’s hands from where her fingers were shredding her cheeks into bloody rivulets. She did not beg or plead or weep like their mother did. Helaena’s howls of agony transcended words. Her screaming was inhuman—raw and animalistic.

An ode to Daemon’s cruelty.

The butcher had been seized two days later, trying to spirit out of King’s Landing with the head of his nephew in a saddle sack. That was the only time when Aemond ever saw eye to eye with Larys Strong—when they questioned him, in the dungeons. Aemond had burned out his eyes with a hot poker, and Larys had plucked off his fingers and toes, one by one, as he asked his questions: Who sent you? Who hired you? How did you get into the Tower?

He had confessed easily and quickly, naming his accomplices and employers, but they had managed to extend his life for thirteen nights for no other reason that raging was better than weeping—and Aemond had a lot of rage. Rats danced and chewed and clawed at his belly for days before he succumbed to longitudinal impalement—a slicked up metal rod was shoved up his arse, and as pull of gravity took hold, he slid along it until it run him through and pierced through the collarbone.

The butcher died in agonising pain, as he deserved, but not before Aemond got his true name out of him—his name, and his family’s. On the sixteenth night since Jaehaerys’s death, Aemond came to his mother with a bloody sack over his shoulder—in it were the heads of the butcher’s three sons, two bastards, wife, and mistress. A gift she readily welcomed, for a mother’s rage was fiercer than a brother’s.

But no-one’s pain was greater than Helaena’s.

“My sister died that night,” he said, hollowly, to Alayne and closed his eye, willing himself blind. “Afterwards, she would not eat, she would not bathe, nor leave her chambers—she was no longer able to stand to look upon Maelor. It fell to mother to care for him and Jaehaera.”

“It is possible to love someone so strongly, so fiercely,” Alicent Hightower told him as she brushed Aemond’s unwashed hair with shaking fingers and kissed his blood splattered brow, “one buried one’s heart with them when they were gone. This is the strength of the love a mother has for her children, my sweet. Remember that.”

“The crux of it, Lady Alayne, is that the cutthroats might have done the deed and Daemon had commanded it, but true fault lies with me—I might as well have wielded the blade myself.”

He had never told this to any other person before, confessed of the hopeless, tremendous guilt which swallowed him. He could not wash Jaehaerys’s blood clean from his hands; it saturated into his flesh, his very soul. It was his honour and his duty to protect his family, he was meant to save them—not condemn them to further misery.

“I swore myself to them. I am my brother’s sword, my mother’s shield, my sister’s knight—yet I failed them on all accounts.” He flexed his fingers, misery pulling downwards at his lips. “It was my debt Helaena was paying, it was my mistake she was facing the consequences of.”

Aemond was not a dreamer or a soothsayer, but had always been uncomfortably perceptive, and ever since Storm’s End, he had known, with an extreme, almost preternatural degree of self-certainty—how he would die. The knowing of it, the seeing, made him invulnerable to a degree—unable, unwilling, undestined to die anywhere else and anyhow else, but with a blade in hand, battling Daemon in a lake of fire.

As long as Daemon drew breath, his family would never be safe.

Aemond could no more escape his future than the moon could roll off the starry sky. They were connected by an inescapable thread in the fabric of the world—fated to be each other’s doom, for neither could live while the other survived.

The two princes were skewed reflections of one another, even as the similarities between them run only skin-deep. Daemon Targaryen was a tapestry woven from threads of mayhem and chaos, his nature as mercurial as any of the dragonlords of Old Valyria—he was a sword which cut both the enemy and the wielder. Aemond had a seemingly infinite capacity for patent savagery, but contrastingly was singular in his purpose, striking in his righteousness. Devotion shaped him, love bound him, loyalty chained him—he was a dragon in human skin living in duty’s shadow.

Daemon did the things he did because he could.

Aemond did the things he did because he must.

“After Jaehaerys died, my fate had been sealed and my future was wiped clean. I was living a living death, trapped between two worlds—one dead, the other dying. Whatever dreams I had, whatever I might have hoped for—ashes in the wind. That dreadful night, more than one heart perished, and I gained a new duty to my family. An eye for an eye, a son for a son, a prince for a prince—blood spills until the debt has been repaid.” Aemond locked his jaw so hard his teeth clanked and sent a muscle twitching. “I’m a patient man, Lady Alayne, and my fury is illimitable.”

“You wanted to make him pay,” she whispered, lips parted, cheeks flushed, a queerly fervid sparkle in her eyes. “You would have given your sister his head.”

“Yes. That, and much more,” he said, voice deep and low; slyly sliding his eye off her, water gliding over stone, as the sapphire in his eye glinted darkly. “Love makes monsters of us, sweet lady, and I love most monstrously.”

With the first spike of dawning piercing through the haze, bracketing him between its pale light and the darkness of the ruined chambers, Aemond looked even taller with his hands clasped in a white-knuckled grip behind his back—a looming shadow and starlight made flesh.

“I slew the Strongs on a suspicion of aiding Daemon—it set an example. Shield my uncle, and you will face utter annihilation. Daemon wished to hide and thus I left him no place to hide—no place to seek shelter, to find allies or help. He would face justice, one way or another. I burned the Riverlands, acre by acre, stronghold by stronghold. I would have burned the entire realm, all Seven Kingdoms, to protect my family—to save them.”

The more Aemond spoke, the closer he leaned towards her. His shoulders shook with the fervour of his conviction and his bruising stare bore into her, wanting to make her understand. Alayne swallowed audibly and nodded, the movement causing a full curl of hair to fall across her breast. Aemond studied her before pulling away, both body and eye.

When he spoke next, his voice was soft and calm; his countenance solemn once more. “However, the world is not about what we want. It is about what we must do. When honour has died; when love has withered—all we have left is duty and justice.”

“Was it justice or was it vengeance?”

“Both,” he chuckled humorlessly. “They are not mutually exclusive, my lady.”

Alayne’s expression did not lose its naked interest, but her lips were pressed into a line as straight as the arrow she aimed at him with her words: “You razed an entire kingdom in the name of duty.”

“I had set myself on a path, Alayne Stone, and until I reached its end, I knew more blood must be spilled, so the blood already spilled would not be in vain.”

She turned away from him, pursing her mouth, and Aemond watched in heavy silence as daybreak shattered the shivering night. Violet sky was painted with broad strokes of burnished bronze and orange shafts of crepuscular rays refracted through the woolly clouds. The rapidly brightening dawning sky was dipped in lavender and honey—gentle rose-gold light bathed the grounds outside the castle’s high walls.

Aemond’s heart stuttered in his chest, his mouth went dry, and cold sweat broke across his back.

A yolk-yellow beam shone into the chambers and splinched the prince across the torso in twain. The twitters of sparrows and finches nesting on the apple tree by the sept beneath overcame the mournful dawn song of the lark. Outside, glittering resplendently under the sun’s first shy rays, rolled a golden sea of canola blossoms. The surrounding landscape was quilted by blue flax fields and patchy islands of tall green woods. He could see the pin-prick black dots floating through the flowers—farmers working the fields.

Tis was a pretty, serene picture.

Aemond clenched and unclenched his fist, reflexively working the scarred tissue of his right hand, as certitude washed over him in heart-stopping waves of hurt and cold horror slithered into his belly.

His mind grew slow, dazed, confused; and a dreadful cold crept deeper and deeper, settling in his bones, engulfing his heart. He could hear it beat wildly in his chest—a clamouring crescendo of blood rushing roaringly in his ears. His head felt fuzzy, the height at which it sat on top of his body suddenly dizzyingly high; and he swayed a little, before Alayne’s hand darted out and wrapped itself around his bicep to keep him steady.

“My prince,” she asked, unsure.

Aemond’s jaw muscles clenched and unclenched. He had burned the grounds outside the castle—the fields, the pastures, the farms. Vhagar’s flames bathed the ground in green fire. It had been weeks ago, when he had returned to Harrenhal to retrieve Alys, but no soil would recover from dragonflame in such a short amount of time. No crops would grow atop ashes.

“I had hoped…” he began and abruptly cut himself off.

I had hoped you were lying.

I had wished it was all a falsehood, a mad delusion.

Some things were too terrible to grasp at once. Other things—indelible in their naked horror—were too terrible to really grasp at all. Aemond had tried to shield himself, to unlearn the truth; he clung to a desperate, ruinous hope with the alacrity of a drowning man. Now, in the stark light of dawn, realisation came: he had deluded himself. Hope was devastation, and to bestow it where none should be was cruelty incarnate. It birthed disappointment and resentment and rage—it made one’s heart a harbour for misfortune.

“I slew a thousand enemies, but it did not save my family,” Aemond murmured, the surety of it lodging in his throat like a bone. “Now they are lost to me forever.”

He looked down to where Alayne was looking up at him. She had astonishingly vivid eyes—they were a violent, brilliant hue of sapphire-blue, and captivating with the depth and range of naked emotion they conveyed. Alayne’s gaze was as soft as stars that shone at night, and she looked at him like her heart was weeping alongside his.

“How did they die,” he rasped, hoarse and defeated, his mind floating outside of his body. He felt hollowed out, barely registering anything aside from the cold waves of pain welling up inside of him like the coalescing of a thunderstorm.

“Prince Daemon,” Alayne began and Aemond jerked, but she kept one hand on his bicep and put the other on his wrist, fingers wrapping around a pulse point, and anchored him. “He did not survive the duel. His bones were found at the bottom of the Gods Eye lake. Vhagar’s saddle chains a noose around his neck, a dragonbone dagger lodged between his ribs. Prince Aemond’s body—your body—was never found, and neither was Dark Sister. Most historians believed you had unchained yourself in the last moments of the battle and when you fell, your body was carried away by the currents. I suppose…I suppose you and I know now the truth of the matter. You survived where everyone believed you did not.”

Aemond wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it, but could not find the strength to utter a sound. I survived, he thought, bitterly, but I have not been spared.

Alayne bit her lip, full, dark eyelashes fluttering, and he waited, chest tight, breath a stone in his throat. “At sunset of the day you flew into the skies above Gods Eye, Queen Helaena threw herself from the window of her room in Maegor’s Holdfast, and died on the moat’s spikes below with her throat impaled.”

In a moment, I’ll take a step forward and fly. In a moment, you’ll fall and rise…”

Aemond closed his eye, expression pained, but made a gesture for Alayne to continue.

“Prince Daeron had perished during the Second Battle of Tumbleton, though it is not known exactly how he died. Most reliable sources state that a burning tent collapsed on top of him. King Aegon is believed to have been poisoned, though the culprit remains unknown. The Dowager Queen was confined to Maegor’s Holdfast and remained in her chambers for the last year of her life; she died during an outbreak of the Winter Fever.”

—my son, my precious boy, my shining star, Alicent Hightower wrote in her last letter to him; the one he kept wrapped in silk and hidden in a breast pocket, pressed against his heart. I love you and your siblings more than I ever loved anything or anyone elseI love you more than the sun, the moon, the stars in the sky; more than my own life. You must take care of yourself, and survive. I will see you soon.

His heart was dying, shrinking. The unceasing and soul-wrenching pain exposed his festering grief’s secret hiding places. The desolation within him birthed a gaping, hungry chasm which left no feeling in its wake—an endless, ravaging void that made him numb and dead. His mind shifted inward, turning memories over, wanting for them to glitter like precious stones.

I’ll keep you alive even if it’s the last thing I do.”

Are you making an oath? Is this a show of knightly valour? Pledging your sword and shield to your king? Catch me, someone, I’m swooning.”

Aegon’s lilac eyes danced with mischief. In Aemond’s memory, his brother looked brighter, more alive than he had been in truth. At the time of his coronation, Aegon was ashen and sickly, his skin waxen and his hands shaking from overindulgence in drink.

I mean it, brother. As long as I’m alive, I won’t let you die.”

Except he did.

Aemond died, and his family soon followed.

One by one, they tasted Stranger’s kiss.

Aemond thought not of the Aegon he saw last; of the horrifically burned, broken thing sewn together by milk-of-the-poppy and spite—more corpse than man. Of Helaena, catatonic and hollow-eyed—a ghost with a barely beating heart. Of Mother—auburn hair prematurely turning as silver as her childrens’, face lined with grief and despair, her nails drawing blood as she begged Aemond to save them. Of Daeron, face tight, cheek bruised, skin sallow—tired and afraid, asking for guidance, begging for strength; and to Aemond still that four-year-old child, crying in the back of a carriage as he was taken away to Oldtown.

That was not how he chose to remember them.

In his mind’s eye, they were hale and hearty, whole and happy—smiling, laughing. Bright and perfect.

The memory of them filled Aemond with a vast, immeasurable longing. He’d missed them achingly and dearly. He missed them more than he thought he would. He yearned to see them all again.


The most cursed of men.

This was to be his punishment then—to move further from them than he thought he could; to tolerate a land empty of them, to live in a world bereft of family.

Before your time is out you will gorge on pain, the woodswitch had promised, naming him dark heart, son of woe and strife.

Aemond took a deep, tremulous breath, letting his grief and distress pass over and through him—ocean waves over smooth stones at a beach, unfailing and sempiternal, until nothing remained. Let it go, he told himself, let it go, let it go, let them go. He pressed the heels of his hands into the sockets of his eyes, pushing in the eyeball and the gemstone, taking solace in the dull ache of pain it sparkled in his skull, and repressed the urge to scream.

“The things we love destroy us every time,” Alayne murmured, voice ghostly.

Aemond’s head snapped in her direction. He wanted to get angry at her—for the presumption; for the assumption that any loss she might have suffered equated itself to his monumental pain, to his insurmountable grief. But her face looked up at him like a blooming rose bud, expression open and raw. Faced with earnestness, his anger never had a chance to rise and all fight left him, leaving only grim misery behind.

A flicker of understanding darkened her eyes and stark sympathy took over her features. In the morning light, she looked pale, mysterious—a lily, drowned, under water.

It drove a confession out of him: “I would have gone with them to the end; into the very fires of the deepest of seven hells.”

“I know,” her voice was petal soft. Then, tenderly: “My prince, you’re crying.”

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (10)

Alayne smoothed a thumb over the underside of his eye, where sapphire tears flowed out of the ruined socket—blue blood leaking out of the sparkling gemstone. Aemond instinctively jerked away from the touch, though she did not pull away. Instead, her fingers latched onto the sharp ridge of his cheekbone, heel of her palm hooking under the cut of his jaw—cupping the cheek.

Vengeance cannot heal, cannot stitch back a broken thing, cannot breathe life into a corpse. A knife to the heart cannot unmake sorrow wrought. Grief was not a linear thing, and sometimes, one needed to make a connection. He stared, her burning blue eyes a focal point, so he would not lose sight of himself, of what he needed to comprehend.

If he knew how it all ended, would he do it again?

If he knew he would never see them again, would he ever leave them?

Resilient and unyielding, his mother had always described him as. He was Aemond One-Eye. He would get through this. He could get through anything—endure anything, survive anything. He was a true dragon, and dragons never died.

Except his Queen of All Dragons did, and now he had nothing left. The hurt of her passing cleaved his soul in twain. His arrogance, the steadfast belief in his own righteousness—deep-seeded pride and self-confidence. He owed it all to Vhagar.

He was a wraith without her, a shadow of a god.

“You said,” he murmured, wearied—sapped and drained and shaking. He could not stop weeping, it leaked out of him like blood out of a slain doe. “You said I survived where everyone believed I did not. That’s not quite right. I did not survive—for how can I live when everything I am has died? I am Prince Regent, Protector of the Realm; I am Vhagar’s rider; I am my family’s dutiful son. However, everything I love is dead—perished; ash and bone.” He gave a hysterical, bubbling laugh, choking on tears. “Even hateful, miserable Daemon is gone. So what am I to do with my life? I have no goal, no vengeance to fulfil, no family to protect. Who am I without them; without the people who shape me?”

Revelation came like death—unwelcome and sudden, though one knew all along it must occur. He had to let the past die.

Aemond’s violet eye was as vacant as his heart, seeing nothing.

He took a step forward.


FYI, I’m 100% blaming Daemon for Blood and Cheese, no two ways about it. That was just Sadmond talking and projecting self-loathing angst. It’s delicious and good for character exploration, but I believe in Daemon slander for B&C.

I’ve drained Aemond. He’s utterly exhausted, both mentally and physically. Yet babygirl persists. Terminator wishes he had his resolve and stamina. Also, I read a post talking about how as long as a lacrimal gland is still intact (and Aemond’s seems to be), people can still produce tears. Guess who got hurt in the process of writing babygirl cry out of his sapphire, huh? GUESS. (Apparently Nunu also read that post, so if anyone needs a visual of crying Aemond to sob over, here you go.)

Aemond is platonically hand holding, platonically putting hands on her waist, platonically staring into Sansa’s eyes—it’s all very platonic and practical, done for very logical reasons. 😤 My headcanon is that Aemond unconsciously flexes his muscles when Sansa touches him, so she can feel up that sweet, sweet muscle definition. 😏 Which is… frequently, actually. It’s such a teenage boy thing to do, I couldn’t help myself. Plus, I will take any and all opportunity to squeeze out fanservice, let’s be real.

Secret tunnel, secret tunnel through the mountain. Secret, secret, secret, secret tunnel! Oh, yeah— *narrows eyes in suspicion* Did I put an ATLA The Cave of Two Lovers reference in there, huh? Do you reckon that “love is brightest in the dark?” Somewhere, in the background True by Cary Brothers started playing for Aemond and Sansa.

A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing,” and I think it is doubly so for Aemond. He is not good at being alone. Aemond needs someone to be the centre of his orbit, someone to anchor him—to give him a goal. So guess on whom our baby duck—I mean, babygirl—I mean, One-Eyed Visenya will imprint on and use as a focal point of this new life? Hmmm, I wonder… 🤔

You know how in some ships, you have a clear favourite and the other half of it you love, but not love love? That is not the case here. My favourite character in GOT is Sansa, my favourite character in HOTD is Aemond—I adore them both equally, for very different reasons. I really like writing from Aemond’s POV because in majority of the stories I’ve read involving him, he’s the guy who romances the MC, not the main character himself. I wouldn’t say it is rare to have a character study fic involving him, but it’s not exactly common. And I really, really enjoy writing from his POV—he is a perfect amalgamation of traits I seek in fictional characters I like and delicious, explorable trauma. I’m not saying writing him is free therapy for me, but I am saying writing him is free therapy.

The way I rewrote this chapter three times and I’m still not happy. 😩 I pulled the vibes by their ears, trying to drag them into the text. Feedback is appreciated as I wanna know if it passed the vibe check. Anyway, will the next chapter be finally Sansa’s POV? Who the heck knows? Not me.

Chapter 7: interlude: ALICENT


Update? At last? Astonishing. Sorry, I had one of my regularly scheduled depressive episodes, so I was not at all productive. Although I still can’t tell if it was depression or autistic burnout? Both? Who can even tell the difference? Either way, February was a completely dead month for me.

Honestly, I’m blown away by the positive response to the last chapter. Thank you so much! 💕💕💕 It makes me really, incredibly happy to see people enjoy my work. I appreciate everyone who has been reading the story, and engaging with it when and if they could. Thank you again! 🥺💕✨ witchcraft originally started as a Crack Treated Seriously type of story, but I accidentally fell into Character Analysis land simply because I’m absolutely normal and hinged levels interested in Aemond as a character.

Because the fic thus far was from Aemond’s POV it’s by default is a Team Green fic—expect Team Black slander. Do I hold the opinions Aemond is voicing? Not necessarily. (Or at least, not all of them. Daemon slander is very real and personal.) But I am, personally, Team Sapphire and a Rhaenicent truther, thus I guess I’m more Green-adjacent than anything. Plus, it really does not help how much fandom toxicity and some fan behaviour has put me off Team Black, iykyk. (Obviously not everyone, but twitter is a hellhole. 💀)

Someone asked me if I read other Aemondsa fanfics and the answer is ‘sadly no.’ I’m sure they are all lovely stories, but I do not wish to read other people’s characterisations or plots and unintentionally internalise them. When I say I wanted to write a fic like this for a long time—I mean literal years. It just took Aemond appearing in my life for me to get my ass in gear and write it. 😅

Honestly, I’m not reading fic at all right now. I’m a terrible Aemond girlie. All I do is fantasise about my own stories and procrastinate.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text


interlude: Alicent


“I love the bones of you. I love the bones of you. I love the bones of you,” Alicent murmured, twisting her fingers and rocking in place. “I love the bones of you.”

The bitter, cutting truth: love alone could not sustain.

She loved Rhaenyra. Madly, deeply, devotedly—like she was a religious icon. Loved, loved, and loved; and she lost her. To the crown; to Daemon; to war; to death.

She loved her children. Entirely, consumingly, singularly—more than any one or any thing she had loved before. Precious Helaena, beautiful Aegon, sweet Daeron, and brave Aemond.

They haunted her, she could almost feel them. In life, her children perpetually frequented her rooms, spending all of their spare time with her. Without them, the apartments felt empty and uncomfortably chilling.

Every scrap of her children had been taken from her—wrenched and torn away.

Even their faces, for Alicent could no longer recall them. The shape of Aegon’s jaw, the slant of Helaena’s smile, the shade of Aemond’s eye, the timber of Daeron’s voice—they had vanished from her mind.

In her memories, her children were faceless wraiths. Shivering echoes and mist-cloaked shadows.

This was how it felt to be Alicent Hightower, forever:


Because herself was all she had ever had.

In her dreams, Alicent sat under a weirwood tree, surrounded by ghosts.

When the fever came, she embraced it.


The chapter was a result of the following conversation:

me: I’m tempted to write a short interlude of Alicent and Rhaenyra reuniting in the afterlife. 😆
Nat: Omg. Do it. Do it. 😈

Then I massively f*cked it up by turning something that was supposed to be semi-fic-canonical and wholesome, into another angst session. 😭 Thank the lord this one was super brief.

Anyway, the actual chapter seven is actually already finished and is currently undergoing editing. I’ll post it tomorrow or the day after, so keep an eye out.

P.S. I stayed up all night watching Taylor Swift’s concert from other people’s tiktok lives and answering comments. *cries in international swiftie* 😆 Did anyone score tickets? Or listened in the parking lot of the stadium of Swift City? Or like me watched other people’s livestreams?
witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (11)

Chapter 8: ALAYNE I


Wooo! I actually held to my promise and did post when I said I will. Remarkable.

BLOODY HELL. Amaati on twitter drew this gorgeous, stunning, incredible art of the dagger scene from chapter five. Aemond and Sansa look so good, their faces and expressions are amazing. 🥺💕 Please go check out her account, she makes beautiful art. She’s on tumblr, too!

OH MY GOD. The WIP Jen (JenManiaArt on twitter) was working on turned out to be a gorgeous art of Aemond, inspired by chapter three. It’s insanely beautiful. Check out the full size picture and the close-ups [1 and 2]. I am absolutely floored. Aemond looks heavenly and the art itself is incredibly atmospheric.

Arianne Martell on ficbook started translating the fic into Russian and by golly is Волшебство твоих губ a stunning translation. Although I’m fluent in Russian (English is my third language, hahaha, you can probably tell by some of the phrases I use), I do not think I could have done a better job—her translation is organic and beautiful, with an outstanding competence in psycholinguistics. Truly, she did a marvellous job, and if you have a ficbook account, please leave a like and/or comment. Thank you. 💕

I used an AI vocalise part of Aemond’s speech from chapter 6. I highly advise you to click the link and listen to the audio file, I have not known peace since. Actually, I now have a whole thread of me going feral with the AI. (I should get back to making AI sound files.)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (12)


chapter seven: Alayne I


“You’re probably going to have a castle,
and a prince and a princess,
if you’re looking at a fairy tale.”
— J.J. Abrams.

Dawn spilled in a flood like a hundred golden dragons pouring out of the sun. Cracked fissures of crystal light splintered the heavy darkness of the chamber and saturated them in a resplendent aureole, gilding the edges of their figures.

Bathed in golden haze of sunrise, Prince Aemond was ethereal and beautiful: his hair shone a molten silver, the chiselled angles of his face softened and blurred like a watercolour painting. His eye was wine-dark and sea-rough—locked tightly with Alayne’s bold stare and frightfully thrilling in its intensity. The sapphire in the other gleamed; she could see her likeness echoed in the depthless blue gem.

The prince looked unmoored—robbed of purpose, of will to live.

Without thought, she reached up and cupped his face, cold palm flush against the wet, heated cheek. He leaned into the touch, closing his eyes, and her thumb smoothed gently over the delicate skin under them—he was crying, and she thought she did, too.

There was no veil of darkness to hide the impropriety of skinship, no veneer of necessity to afford decorum, yet there was no-one here but them to see the indiscretion, no-one but her to bear witness to his stark, raw grief.

Prince Aemond responded to kindness like a wild, starved animal. He hungered for it, coveted it rapaciously—put his lips to the vein of sympathy and gulped it down like sweetwine. He hoarded every scrap of compassion like precious treasure. It hurt Alayne, pained her as sharply as a dagger to the heart, unravelled her at the seams—to see Sansa reflected in him.

She wanted to stay trapped in the amber of this moment, pour silver over his misery until it shone and glistened—preserve and dwell in the honeyed heartache for eternity. She wished to revel in his free-flowing feeling: decant the heady lament and get drunk on it; devour the unfettered anger and make it her own.

She wanted to hide, to escape the sorry sight of him. His sorrow was a twin to hers and evinced shadowed, private griefs which lay heavy in her breast. His suffering unearthed a tender wound she tried to forget, picked at a scab that never healed.

They shared a frightful symmetry: tragic and cursed; tormented and in half agony, half hate. They were broken, haunted things existing in the space betwixt the moon and the stars—their hearts a shrivelled cherry pit wedged between bone and marrow; their hopes a misery that bloomed darkly in their body.

He was her wretched mirror.

She hated seeing.

She could not stop looking.

A mournful, guttural sound crawled out his throat: a frantic sobbing laugh. “Who am I without them,” he asked and the words resonated through her, rippling in rolling billows. “Without the people who shape me?”

Aemond pulled away from her and took an unseeing step forward, towards the edge of the broken platform. Panic speared Alayne’s heart and a startled cry lodged in her throat.

No, he can’t

Heedless of all else, Alayne lunged, pulling at him with a crushing embrace, and Prince Aemond gave an undignified squawk of surprise. He tried to turn about and walk them back, but tripped over her skirts and they tumbled backwards from the terrace onto the hard stone floor of the chamber with twin groans of pain.

“Are you all right?” she gasped, pushing herself up.

“Yes,” came a hoarse croak from somewhere beneath her.

She breathed out, her heart a stone lodged in her throat. “Good, good…that’s good.”

A moment later, Alayne shifted and put her knees at the side of his waist when she realised she was crushing his ribs. Her hands roamed for purchase—they found it and, as if acting of their own will, the heels of her palms struck sharp and hard the firm flesh beneath.

“What were you thinking!” she seethed, suddenly insensible with a burning flare of outrage, and hit him a few more times. Alayne was not certain what possessed her—boldness, madness, or perhaps terror was galloping through her veins. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!

The last exclamation was punctuated by the flat of her hand cuffing his windpipe, and Aemond made a strangled sound caught between a grunt and a question. She tried to yank his hair, but he jerked away and was on her in a flash. He switched their positions, swiftly overpowering her, and planted Alayne on her back. Raised above her, Aemond put his weight on the forearm by her head while his other hand caught Alayne’s wrists, holding them tightly to her chest.

“Please enlighten me,” he rasped out, breathless and rumpled, nostrils flaring, “as to what have I done to deserve such abuse upon my person?”

“You were about to walk off the ledge!” she accused, huffing. She struggled to get her hands free to no avail—his hand circled both her wrists and rooted them in place.

Aemond tilted his head curiously and spidersilk hair unfurled into a dishevelled curtain around them. There was no menace in his voice—only interest. “Is that what you think I was doing?”

“Oh, were you taking in the scenery,” Alayne mocked, voice tight and scornful. “Thousand apologies, Your Grace. I should have let you drop off the tallest tower of Harrenhal, my mistake.”

“Technically speaking, the tallest tower is Kingspyre Tower.”

She did not reply; instead, Alayne tried to knee him in the groin. Aemond shifted his position, putting a thigh between her legs, and dropped his hips, pinning her. Her chest heaved, ribs and breasts straining against the boning of her stays, and her shoulders strained, pushing to no avail. Alayne struggled in vain; he was twice her size and weight—impossible to bulge. She was thoroughly ensnared beneath his bulk.

It was foolish sort of bravery to rebel when at the mercy of another’s strength.

Stupid, prideful girl, Petyr whispered in her ear. You never learn, sweetling.

A different man would have cracked her across the face for her pluck, but Prince Aemond merely clicked his tongue in disapproval. “The lady’s wit might be as sharp as her temper, but let us not test the sharpness of her knees, mmmm.”

He took a moment to study her. His melancholic visage was troublingly close, sharp nose inches from hers, but Alayne paid hardly any mind to such trivialities. She was far too preoccupied with her vexation and mulishly pinched her mouth into a grim line. Her behaviour was improper and unbecoming of a lady. Patience and endurance were her greatest virtues, however, it would seem she could not wrangle her ire, could not subdue her distress.

A darker, more intimate feeling had exhumed itself from the graveyard of her heart—the fear of loss, of loneliness; of being abandoned to scavenge for scraps of mercy. It made her go feral with fright.

Alone, locked in a cage, Petyr’s phantom fingers traced the edge of her collarbones and wrapped around her throat. That’s all you ever are.

Aemond swirled his tongue into the side of his cheek and spoke next in a calm, anchored tone: “My legacy is one of retribution, revenge, and blood. I did my duty. I fulfilled my vengeance.” He paused, his grip on her wrists an iron band. “Pray tell what do I have left?”

“Me.” The reply came quick and easy, and as cutting as a slap. “You have a responsibility to me—for me. You dragged me into this cursed castle, you are accountable for getting me out.”

“Thus your solution was to smack me into compliance?” he asked, a previously comported expression suddenly coloured by dark amusem*nt. “How positively heartless… I should reconsider entangling myself with such wickedness. I am a decent man with no taste for depravity, raised proper under the Seven’s holy light…”

Her mouth had grown sharp and mean, and words which sprung from it thrived like weeds—turning seeds of fear into a field of anger, spreading hate through her like a wildfire, like a disease. “If you desire death, I shall aid you in reuniting with your dragon, my prince. Her bones rest at the bottom of Gods Eye and so shall yours—I’ll pile stones in a sack and wrap the nose around your neck myself. But first, you will get me out of Harrenhal, you wretched, awful man.”

“Awful…yes, I am indeed quite awful to tease a lady so, am I not?” he chuckled and his wine-rich gaze traced the angry blush across her cheeks. His eye met hers, steady as a heartbeat, and lingered.

The prince’s mouth curled upwards, the purse of it drawing her attention—the curve of his top lip was sharp and precise, like how a child might sketch a bird in flight. “Ah, you would kill me. You have that look in your eyes—from the forest. When you tried to bludgeon me with a branch and turned a blade against me. Savagery becomes you, my lady.”

Alayne stubbornly set her jaw and glared.

Aemond tended to catch her off-guard: she turned a little more bolder, a little less vigilant; every reply came unrehearsed and unprepared. Years of survival and she was becoming undone because she could not withstand a man whom she knew scarcely a day. He provoked her, made her lose her good sense and abandon fear. She could not help but react to him: speaking when she should have stayed silent; turning insolent when she should have been compliant.

Prince Aemond inflamed her.

It drove her mad, how easily he could see through her—straight into her graceless, hungry heart.

He gave a considering hum. “Fear not, I do not plan to shuffle off this mortal coil quite yet. To die after I have outlived my odious uncle? Preposterous. I must thrive, so I can spite him in whichever pit in the deepest of Seven Hells he ended up in.”

“Good,” she breathed out, relief a sudden torrent rushing through, flushing out the earlier pique and distress, and settling down her shrivelled, fraying nerves.

She felt wrung out, squeezed free of bile. Anger was a secondary emotion—a defence, an armour around a fragile heart. Anger blazed in a flashfire and in the ashes of its wake was bared the hidden reason underneath: fear and grief.

“Despair is the darkest of emotions, one must never give into it lest they surrender to one’s lowest instincts,” she added, casting her mind back to grey-tinted memories of King’s Landing and the Red Keep’s temptingly high walls. “Suffering is transient, but death is terribly, intolerably final.”

The girl Alayne had been had pictured it, once: dying. To fall, to soar—to be done with all of it. Let everything carry on, but with her gone. She had a clear vision of her non-existence in this life, but then her heart was overcome by smouldering enmity and resentment at seeing those who murdered her family trump over her lifeless body—vultures feasting on a corpse of a felled wolf.

She could not bear it. She could not stand it.

Aemond raised an eyebrow quizzically. “One would imagine a once holy sister to be much more tolerant of humanity’s voyage to the far sweet land. Do the Seven no longer teach of the peace a soul finds in the gentle surcease of the afterlife?”

“Peace?” she scoffed, unthinking. “Will a soul ever be able to rest peacefully in defeat? No, I believe not. You must never give your enemies the satisfaction of your demise.”

“Enemies…how curious a word choice,” he said slowly. His eye tapered, the violet iris regarding her shrewdly, suspiciously.

Prince Aemond was insufferably observant and far more cunning than most—and unfortunately, every inch as clever as he thought he was. The purse of his mouth quirked up into a knowing, almost indulgent smile, and her breath caught. Sansa felt a girl again—looking at Robb, looking at Jon.

The moment hung suspended between them; a charged slice of eternity.

“What have you lost,” he finally said, soft and gentle, dipping into a hush, a hiss; and leaned towards her, his breath a caress against her cheek and ear—his words bruising like a kiss, “that you so desperately wish to get back?”

Everything, she thought, wildered. Everything and everyone.

“Nothing, my prince,” she murmured, her heart a rattlesnake.

The urge to fly was strong, but she fought and stayed firmly rooted. She stared right back at him, being careful not to blink so he would not think she was pulling a trick. Alayne Stone had no family but Father. No mother, no siblings, no home to miss and mourn.

I am Alayne, who else would I be?

Prince Aemond laughed lowly, deeply; the sound reverberated through his chest and into her bones—a river flowing through them. “Liar.”

“I am not,” she lied.

“If you’re not lying to me,” he reasoned, “then you’re lying to yourself.”

Alayne slowly blinked. Shafts of sunlight slanting through the broken balcony shifted and new shadows cascaded over them. They transformed Aemond’s face: it became gaunt and smooth as a dragon’s skull, and the sly slash his mouth had curved into, reminiscent of it, too. She felt like he would devour her whole.

Sun escaped the confines of a passing cloud and just as quickly the vision came, it passed—the prince’s coolly proud features were human once more.

“But that’s all right,” Aemond added, pulling away, the sapphire in his eye a fallen star. “Keep your secrets, Alayne Stone.”

Then: “If I release you, will you try to strike me again?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Are you quite certain?” he probed, tone sickeningly amused. “I take no pleasure in being hit. It is not among my proclivities, you must understand.”

Alayne felt herself flush brightly from chest to ears and tilted her head away.

“Ah, how demure you have become all of the sudden. You shock very easily.” He clicked his tongue, the twist of the mouth now almost disgustingly smug, and rolled off her, getting to his feet in a smooth, unbroken motion. “I suppose you think that was obscene. Or perhaps an invitation to discover where my tastes lie, hmmm?”

She cast her eyes sideways, eyelashes fluttering, and cautiously rubbed her wrists—despite the firmness of his grip on her, there was no bruising or damage; just a dull soreness. “I do not think anything at all, my prince.”

“Now, we both know that is a bold untruth,” Aemond said. “There is an entirely too great a deal of thought going on in that lovely head. Playing a fool suits you ill, my lady.”

Alayne refrained from speaking, taking his proffered hand, and Aemond lifted her up with one arm. Once upright, she gripped his forearm, solid and steady beneath her fingers, and willed herself to say something, anything at all.

Acrid shame burned a path through her throat and into her heart. What had she done? If Petyr was here—if he had seen—


“Feeling less murderous?” Aemond asked with the same teasing lilt he had fallen into. If nothing else, he seemed to derive a great deal of entertainment from the situation.

Alayne looked up and gathered her courage. “Yes. I sincerely and deeply apologise for my unseemly behaviour and striking you, my prince.”

“Ah, a familiar scene and familiar words. What am I to do with you, Alayne Stone?” He gave a low, long hum and Alayne held her breath. “However…I am sorry, too…for frightening you. I suppose that was the root of your outburst. I shall forgive you, if you forgive me.”

She blinked owlishly. “Seems hardly a fair deal.”

“Yet those are the terms of my trade,” he said, suavely, and extracted his arm out of her grip before he proffered it to her, palm up. Alayne gently placed hers in his and he ducked his head down, brushing a quiet kiss across the knuckles.

“There,” he concluded, straightening up, his thumb lingering against the slender length of her fingers. “All is forgiven.”

Alayne had only begun to register the warmth, the sweetness of the gesture, when he dropped her hand and stepped away from her. He stood with his spine ramrod straight and his shoulders squared, as if one might forget the breadth of space he occupied if he did not claim every bit of it at all times.

“Besides, your actions have quelled my torment,” he nonchalantly added, adjusting the cuffs of his coat. His eye strayed somewhere left of her head and a flush mantled the tops of his cheekbones. “Dampened the fire of my misery. One can hardly give into throes of mourning in the middle of enemy territory, can they? Regardless, I quite like you like that.”

“Like what?” she asked, trying to hold on to her wits—the prince was bounding through the conversation at the speed of a galloping destrier. “Unhinged?”

Aemond smiled, lips half parted to reveal sharp white teeth. “Delightfully spirited.”

Her frown was like a steep, jagged cliffside.

Alayne Stone was a simple bastard girl. She shaped herself to be a courteous, poised creature with an equanimous disposition and no ambitions above her station. Her passion was slow to rise and quick to forgive, and she seldom spoke her mind—she’d been complimented many a time by Father on her very distinct lack of ill-temper, of fierceness, of bite.

I was not always like this, she reflected, distantly; it is someone I became. She had been the lost girl, the dying girl before—broken bird in a golden cage. What little teeth she had, what tender courage, were made out of bones and cinder.

Alayne’s smile was a small, sad thing; ephemeral as a snowflake. “I would not describe myself as such.”

“No?” he asked, perplexed. “Perhaps you do not see yourself clearly, my lady. I’ve only ever seen you be brave.”

“You only have a little eye, are you quite certain it sees all?”

Aemond exhaled an amused huff. “Ah, an eye jest—a man can die and live again, but those will be as constant as the sea tides.”

He walked towards the edge of the balcony and beckoned her to join him. Alayne charily stepped forwards, fairly certain he was not going to hurl both off the tower, and grabbed the edge of the stone wall, her grip a vice. She followed with her eyes where he was pointing—down below, into the courtyard of the ruined sept, where witch hazel bloomed. The star-shaped blossomed burst in gold, copper, bronze, and scarlet; a staggering, resplendent cacophony of colour and beauty.

“Alys had planted those,” Aemond remarked with glacial impassivity, “a dozen lifetimes ago, but they are still here, caught in the cycle of blooming and waning.”

The wind howled, whistling through the castle’s derelict towers, and tousled Alayne’s torn, soiled skirts. She stayed silent, waiting.

“When someone dies,” he continued in the same morbidly detached tone, “they settle in the hearts of those they left behind. They live on as a memory, but that, too, will eventually wane. That’s why people desire to leave something behind in this world, so others don’t forget them.”

A family. “A legacy.”

He nodded. “You asked me what I thought back then, and the answer is—I doubt I thought anything at all. Despair is seductive and the edge is tempting in its freedom. One step and all struggle ceases meaning. However, stubbornness and spite are powerful motivators, and I did not come this far, to only come this far. I defied fate, my lady, survived my doom. The truth is, I don’t even know myself anymore. But I am all that is left of my family and I must go on in their stead.”

She looked and saw him for what he truly was: of two hearts and of two minds; faithless and hollow. Just like her.

Sorrow bonded them; they were kindred by devastating grief calcifying into bruised, gnawing hurt—an aching pain that will never leave, would not scar.

What comfort it gave; what misery.

“It is a great burden—to be the last of anything,” Alayne whispered and wrapped her arms around herself, fingers digging into her sides, scraping at the jutting bones. She had prided herself on her lithesome, sleek figure, but right now it felt like beneath her thin, cold skin she was nothing but dust and dirt and dead dreams.

The world moved on, but she lived in that sunlit morning, forevermore. The memory of it crisp and glass-like; a burning wound, a weeping cleft. The sight of a murder of crows slanting through the bright-blue summer sky, the gleeful clamour of the encircling crowd, the sound of Valyrian steel hissing as it sliced the air, and something bloody rolling down the steps of the Great Sept.

The sun set on her that day and winter rooted in her bones; it was all she had known since. The shroud of sadness was her daily mantle, heavy and imposing. Did Aemond feel the same? Was he being haunted by his family the way the girl Alayne buried deep was haunted by hers? Saw them in every passing face? Searched for them in the shadows? Heard their voices in the howls of the wind? Dreamed of them only to have every scrap wrenched away by morn?

Aemond gave a contemplative hum and glanced at Alayne’s profile askance. “It is the oldest tale in the world: someone has to leave first, and someone is inevitably left behind.”

Alayne unwound her arms, aching bones trembling. She tentatively reached out and took his freezing hand; skin against skin, blood and bone.

“Life is suffering and pain,” she whispered, delicate as a sigh. “The world cares nothing about one person’s misfortune.”

Prince Aemond had a pleasant voice; low and soft-spoken, husky around the edges and heady as dreamwine. “Indeed, my lady. The land teems with bitter ghosts—cursed by sickness, by famine, by war. And yet this is a world where you must continue to move forward—a wandering without end. Is that not the cruellest thing?”

She swayed on her feet, transfixed; entranced by the cadence of his words. A sense of loss. A sense of scale.

Life is not like the songs, sweetling, Petyr whispered.

It is not, she agreed. Songs make sad tales sound sweet.

“But still, we wish to live—we find reasons to keep living.”

Alayne squeezed Aemond’s fingers and let go.


“We must look a fright.”

In the harsh light of the day, the two of them looked no better than filthy beggars. Her dress was torn, muddied, and bloodied; the cloak hid the worst of the tears on her bodice, but it was too short for her frame and the strip of a bare leg could be seen through the ripped slit in her skirts each time she took a step.

Prince Aemond was marginally better, but his clothes fit him horrendously: the jerkin had a long, bloody slice in the front, indicative of where its previous owner received his fatal wound; and the oilcloth coat was sewn for a slighter man—too short in the hem and sleeve, too tight in the shoulders, creaking and threatening to rip at the seams with every movement.

If they got caught, it would do them no favours to look like this. However, if they got caught, the prince’s distinctly Valyrian hair would do them even fewer favours.

In their struggle, Aemond’s hair had unfurled out of his braid and streamed across his shoulders in tousled waves. Alayne watched as some of the pieces flew sideways in the chilled breeze, trailing like silver ribbons through the air. He looked at the state of their dress with the same cool, contemptuous detachment he reserved for most things. If not for the perverse smirk at the corner of his mouth, he could be mistaken for a pious monk.

She supposed she understood: she used her curtsies as a shield, her lady armour, and she learned to use her charm as a sharpened weapon. Prince Aemond seemed to hide behind indifference and dark amusem*nt—cloaked himself in the cold air of superiority that was in stark conflict with the glimpse of warm devotion she had witnessed. Whatever vulnerability he had previously expressed was now shuttered off behind an impregnable solid wall of ice and stone.

Aemond clicked his tongue. “How fortunate for us that we shall not be entertaining company in our current bedraggled state.”

Alayne glanced over her shoulder, gaze searching for shadowed figures of knights who would come to arrest them and throw them into dungeon cells, and inched closer to Aemond. The halls of Harrenhal were frightening and derelict, and the prince declined to light a torch, instead preferring to guide them to the top of the tower by memory and touch alone. The Tower of Ghosts was sparsely peppered by narrow windows and time had worn its passageways into disrepair—Alayne feared in the dark, they would step into a cleft or a crevice and break a bone.

She had dared not cling to Prince Aemond’s sleeve, though the urge was hideously potent. He had worn himself to a shadow—looking as haggard as Alayne felt; his limp was far more pronounced now than it was in the hushed darkness of the night and from the way he moved, she could see his ribs troubled him. Alayne could not decide what was more monstrous: his physical strength or the perseverance he was displaying.

Still, they worried her, his wounds. Aemond refused to address them, citing they did not have time to concern themselves with convalescence. Alayne clutched the rip in her skirts with cold fingers, her concern coloured by guilt and shame—she misliked inflicting harm and she’d done it thrice in a span of a single day.

A coward, an idiot, and a liar. You can do nothing right, you stupid girl.

“Oh?” she said, a breathless laugh masking her unease. “Here I thought we were going to meet the Witch Queen of Harrenhal.”

“Ah, another unpleasant sobriquet,” Prince Aemond noted, frostily. “Though I suppose I can hardly argue against it. Alys is—was indeed a witch, though not nearly as demonic as her reputation suggests.”

“It was not just rumours?”

“She had a gift of scrying and could perform some sorcery,” he crisply informed her, “but true magic was out of her grasp.”

“I suppose true magic is beyond everyone now, my prince,” Alayne murmured distractedly. “They say magic left the world the day the last dragons died.”

Aemond’s steps staggered to halt and he spun on his heel to face her. His pupil quivered and Alayne could see her own hazy reflection in the glassy violet of his eye. “The dragons are dead?

“Yes,” Alayne confirmed, her every word had been a kindling. “The last of the dragons died during the reign of Aegon the Unlucky. The Targaryens have never managed to recover after the Dance of the Dragons.”

“Dance of the Dragons…the war of succession…caused the extinction of dragons…” Aemond’s visage twisted with palpable pain and his breathing turned erratic. He clapped his hands on his face and dragged them down, fingers snagging on the strap of the eyepatch, heels of his palms pressing into the eye sockets.

Alayne approached him, hands hovering in the air, unsure of what to do. She swallowed her guilt, like a sword to the pit of her belly. Aemond took a deep, steadying inhale, straightened up, and squared his shoulders, visibly willing the studied nonchalance back onto his visage.

“The more that you say, the less I feel I know. I do not want to hear the details of this now,” he moaned, miserably. “I do not think my mind can take any more shocks today.”

Aemond suddenly looked very lymphatic, almost like a cadaver, his skin waxen and covered with a sheen of sweat. She’d dealt him another devastating mental blow.

Is this what you’re doing, sweetling? Is that what you wantto ruin him? Like you have been ruined? Petyr asked, soft and hazy like a festered kiss.

His eye refocused on her face and Aemond called her name. “Would you be so kind as to regale me with inconsequential information? Something distracting.”

Alayne searched for an appropriate subject, but ended up blurting out the first thing that came to mind: “We are in a liminal space.”

“Oh?” he asked in a tight voice, cracking the fingers of his right hand, one by one. “What is that?”

Alayne grabbed his hand and put it between her own before he broke his fingers with the force. “I read about it in a book,” she explained and pulled him forwards. They really should reach Alys Rivers’ workroom before the prince crumbled under the weight of emotional damage and collapsed on her.

“It is a place of transition—a space in between two defined spaces. It can be a physical place, like we are in now: a passageway. Or it can be an emotional state.”

“How apt a topic,” he coolly remarked. Alayne could almost see the process of him packing his feelings into a small, hidden box and turning the key. “Tell me more.”

His long legs bridged the space between them in a single stride and they walked abreast. He took his hand out of her grasp and instead tucked her into his side, calloused palm placed firmly on her shoulder. It was a strangely comforting gesture, but then again, she truly did detest the dark. Alayne always felt like something watched her from the shadows—lurking, waiting, its gaze hot and viscous.

“It is something where the world does not feel real as you are leaving the familiar behind and waiting for something new to begin, though you do not know what it is yet.” Alayne continued in a steady tone. “The hour before dawn is like that: yesterday is over, but tomorrow has not yet begun—hovering in a moment of ambiguity.”

Aemond gave a contemplating hum. “A threshold of a sort, a time of transformation.”

“Yes. It is also when contrary states draw near each other into a state of transition. Because of that, these liminal times are believed to be powerful times for acts of sorcery.”

“The Faith certainly has undergone a radical metamorphosis in the last hundred years if it encourages young novices to study books on witchery,” he noted offhandedly, conversely a sly look crept onto his face.

Alayne felt a heat slither up her neck like a serpent. “Ah, the Faith does not carry heretical texts, my prince, however the library at the Eyrie is vast and late Lord Jasper Arryn was fascinated by the occult. He believed all sorts of things are possible with magic.”

“As do you, I presume.” His white teeth flashed in the dark. “Or is it a secret?”

“If it is a secret,” she said, mimicking Margaery Tyrell’s pleasing lilt, disinclined to share the true reason for her inquiry, “then why should I tell you?”

“Why indeed,” Aemond snorted, unbothered by the deflection. “Secrets are jealous things, my lady—dance with the one and all of them will want to have their turn. They permit no fraternisation, suffer no betrayal.” His steps came to a sudden halt. “Speaking of secrets, we’re here.”

Alayne glanced around, seeing nothing but an empty corridor, a barred window the width of her cupped palms, and a weathered statue of the blind Crone holding a lantern tucked away in an alcove. “How do you know?”

The prince wordlessly reached up to an ornate, rusted sconce and turned it counterclockwise until it hung upside down. Something clicked behind the stone wall and Alayne heard a whirring sound before the floor shuddered and the statue slid out of its place, revealing a dark, oak door behind it.

Alayne looked up to find Aemond staring down at her with an atrociously smug look. “One must always look underneath the underneath.”

“A secret chamber,” she giggled, half impressed, half stupefied. “Why am I not surprised?”

Prince Aemond silently dug through the Crone’s lantern and fished out an old iron key. “I did mention Harrenhal is steeped in magic.”

“Yes, the magic of outstanding engineering.”

With an amused huff and a large hand at her back, Aemond ushered Alayne through the threshold and into the sooty darkness of the chamber. There were no windows inside, thus the prince used strike-a-light on a piece of flint and lit a torch he’d been carrying, bathing the surroundings in soft glow, warm like buttered yam.

The room was cold as a tomb—and just as preserved. Cobwebs swathed the corners and a thick layer of ashy dust smothered every surface and object: shabby books and aged wooden shelves cluttered by glass jars, clay pots, stoppered jugs, and an abundance of vials and boxes—all containing the secrets of ages beyond her, a series of stories frozen in time. At the centre stood a large desk made of burr walnut, the wood soaked in red and marbled by swirling grain patterns.

Alayne sneezed once, twice, thrice and rubbed her nose frantically—she had been sensitive to dust her entire life, it made her go mad with itching.

Aemond rummaged in his coat pocket and produced a handkerchief, handing it to her. “You should wrap this around your nose and mouth, to help you breathe better.”

She eyed it suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you took that off a corpse.”

“All right, I won’t tell you.”

With a sour grimace, Alayne gingerly pinched the edge of it and examined the cloth. It looked and smelled clean, but… She sighed, resigning herself, and folded the cloth into a triangle, tying the ends at the back of her head. “What exactly are we looking for?”

“Not certain.” Aemond had already crossed the distance to the desk in two long strides and was rifling through the rolls of aged parchment on top of it and through the drawers. “Anything that looks suspicious.”

Alayne cast a dubious glance at the chamber. “Practically everything here.”

“Take anything which seems useful then.”

She walked up to the closest shelves and searched through the contents on it. “There is not much…most of it are dried herbs and plants—ah, it’s worse, it’s century-old remnants of what were once dried herbs and plants, and they smell ghastly. A mortar and a pestle…melted candles…a collection of bird skulls…hazardous-looking tonics…”

She froze, her eyes rounding.

“Are those…preserved organs?”

Aemond looked at where she was pointing. “Ah, yes, most like for scrying. Though I do believe a freshly slaughtered carcass is best for divination. However, I think some offals are used for medicinal purposes, too. Consuming organ meats from animals supposedly supports the same organ in the human’s body.”

“And,” Alayne stuttered, boggled out of her mind, “and the embryos?”

“They are not human,” Aemond pointed out helpfully.

“I can see they are not human—they have tails! I just…I don’t know why they are here.”

Aemond co*cked his head to the side, lips pursed in consideration. “...anatomical study?”

Alayne sharply turned away and adamantly tried to ignore the grotesquely pickled body parts. She sorted through an assortment of crystals—cracked obsidian, marbled carnelian, shining citrine, creamy rose quartz, small pebbles of amethyst, and a smooth egg of lapis lazuli. The deep blue stone was flecked with gold and it enchanted with its brilliant colour. She turned it over in her hands, spinning it; the stone felt warm to the touch.

Alayne slipped it into her dress pocket. The stone called to her, she knew she had to take it.

Next she examined a series of plain wooden boxes. In most, she found more remnants of powders and dried flora; though others housed bones and teeth, tufts of fur and hair, feathers and plucked beaks. She very carefully closed those, put them back, and pushed them out of her mind.

At last, at the very back of a shelf, she found a small beech box, decorated with a burned in design of a sprawling elm tree. Alayne opened it and gasped.

“My prince,” she called, hushed and delighted. “I believe I found items which belong to you.”

Aemond closed the drawer he was rummaging through and crossed the distance to her. Once the box was in his hand, he took out the contents, examining them. First came out a heavy signet ring—black as the sable night, made out of well-polished dragonbone, and engraved with the Targaryen coat of arms: a three-headed dragon breathing flames. Then, the prince fished out by its chain a beautiful locket pendant: made out of blackened gold, at its centre, the pendant bore a raised three-headed dragon of a lustrous yellow-gold, the eye of each head was studded with a ruby, a sapphire, and an emerald, respectively.

Lastly, at the bottom of the box, resided a slender stack of bone-brittle letters bound by a dark-green ribbon. Alayne wordlessly untied the knot behind her head on the handkerchief and handed it over. Aemond delicately wrapped the letters in the cloth and deposited them into his coat pocket. He studied the jewellery for a long, leaden moment before he gently put both items into the palm of Alayne’s open hand.

She blinked, eyelashes fluttering. “My prince…?”

“Keep these for now,” he instructed her and turned away, expression unreadable.

Confused, Alayne did as she was bid—she unclasped the chain and threaded the ring through it, before putting on the locket and hiding it underneath her dress collar. The pair of them resumed their search from the chamber, working in silence, until Alayne shrieked in surprise.

“How morbid,” she muttered with a disgusted shudder, and shoved the disturbing object deeper on the shelf, trying to banish the grizzly sight of it from her memory.

“I can hardly believe you married a woman who had multiple jars of eyeballs,” she added in a pointedly arch tone.

“Strictly speaking, Alys and I were not married,” he murmured, scanning contexts of parchment after parchment with a progressively darker frown.

Alayne raised an eyebrow. “She named herself your widow.”

“I suppose, in a way, she was. Ours was a union of ambition. She was my staunchest ally and supporter, but Alys’s true loyalties have only ever lied with herself—and her visions. She was not a woman one loved, she was a woman you believed in.”

“And…did you believe in her?”

“I believed what I wanted to believe,” he whispered, bright violet eye fixed upon a roll of parchment in his shaking hand.

Alayne carefully approached him and placed a gentle hand on his forearm, but the prince seemed to be unfeeling to everything. She glanced down at the text, managing to glimpse only one line out of many: time flows on, both present and past

Prince Aemond crumpled the parchment in his fist, a furious look on his face. “You are a very curious creature, aren’t you?”

“Apologies, my prince,” she said, dipping her head, and stepping away. “I shall curb my impudence.”

Alayne was bastard brave and clever, she reminded herself, wanting to hit herself over the head. Be brave, be clever, stop being an idiot.

Aemond rolled his eye. “Whoever told you to do that?” he asked and hooked the crook of his finger under her chin, tipping her head upwards; gaze catching hers. “Curiosity is an admirable trait—it speaks of a nimble mind. Only fools and dead men cease their probing inquiries.”

“However,” he added in a languishing tone, releasing his hold on her, “if you may hold unmolested secrets in the prison of your skull, then so am I permitted this luxury.”

Even as he said that, the prince’s lips pursed into a firm, thin line—silent as a grave, but he betrayed himself in other ways. He clenched and unclenched his fist, chattering nervously with his trembling fingertips; anger oozed out of him at every pore. Whatever he had read, it impaled him through the heart, cracked his face around the edges.

Aemond Targaryen was a violent and ruthless warmonger, but depravity and degeneracy had never been laid at his feet the way they were at his elder brother’s or uncle’s. Accounts of him varied; some described the prince as an austere, stoic scholar with few passions aside from his dragon mount, Vhagar the Terrible. Others claimed Aemond Targaryen was more beast than man—his heart black, his temper ill and quick. Historians universally agreed, however, that Prince Aemond was a devoted son and brother—loyal, cunning, calculating, and a dangerously proficient swordsman.

Men called Joffrey Lannister gallant and praised his spotless virtue. Men named Robb Stark a savage who could shift into a monstrous wolf. It was the victors who shaped the tales that the realm retained. Alayne knew neither of these men, but Sansa did, and Sansa remembered.

I am looking at Aemond Targaryen, she thought, a king’s son and a king’s brother, and a king who might have been.

A man named Kinslayer.

A man that did what Sansa prayed for Robb to do; a man who awoke to the aftermath of that devotion.

What would it be like, she wondered in the quiet recesses of her mind, to be on the receiving end of that. What would it be like, she marvelled, the dark want a secret she kept tucked deep inside her chest, to see one’s bloody vengeance fulfilled, to redefine the meaning of retribution for aeons to come.

What would it be like, to never be afraid again?

“You must focus, my prince,” she implored, lying through her teeth, lying in her heart, “and give chase to ghosts lest they drag you into a grave after them. It does one no good to dwell on the past.”

A change rippled through him at her words.

The prince co*cked his head to the side and took a long, measured moment to study her—the movement smooth and serpentine. There was something cold-blooded about him then, almost eerie. His features were svelte, cold, razor-sharp—as if he was cut from marble, from ice. With his eye lightened to a burning lilac and alit with feverish gleam, Prince Aemond appeared biting and freezing as the moonlight on a winter night.

The beautiful prince of a dead girl’s dreams, seen through a glass, darkly.

“Let us depart this cursed castle, Alayne Stone,” he finally said in a deceptively lazy drawl.

Aemond carefully straightened out the parchment in his fist before folding it delicately into a square, and tucking it into a pocket. He absentmindedly touched his eyepatch, fixing it in place. “You were right—‘tis a haunted place.”


update: *The beautiful prince of a dead girl’s dreams, seen through a glass, darkly. — To see “through a glass”—a mirror—“darkly” is to have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality. The expression comes from the writings of the Apostle Paul; he explains that we do not now see clearly, but at the end of time, we will do so. (“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”)

Lmao, this chapter really said both Aemond and Sansa are The Archer, this is me trying, evermore, and Anti-Hero girlies.

Aemond: 😰😭💀😳🥺💔
Sansa: he’s just like me fr

Admittedly, he is having the worst day of his life, while Sansa is soaking in that grief and voyeuristically watching him process everything as some sort of unhinged free therapy. She is seeing herself in him and it’s stirring up a lot of emotional baggage. Girl is dragging around buckets of untreated trauma and pretends it doesn’t exist. Neither in King’s Landing nor in the Eyre was she able to express her grief—so while watching Aemond go through the process, she started mirroring him and that immediately made her uncomfortable with her own repressed feelings. Frankly, I’m surprised everyone expected her to be normal. She’s making Aemond look well-adjusted.

Though, let’s be real, they are both unhinged. Sansa and Aemond have a very interesting dynamic right now: very intimate and melancholic. She’s emotionally stable, but physically vulnerable; he’s emotionally vulnerable, but physically able. Each of them has a certain power over the other—even if they are ignorant or unwilling to wield it against the other person. However, she is acutely aware of her own vulnerability and the prospect of being abandoned to fend for herself made her go feral.

A reviewer said that Aemond’s love language is touch and he does it with Sansa without realising it; and I 100% agree. I took one look at Aemond’s posture and body language on the show, and decided that is a touch starved man, and he will be subconsciously betraying his interest blatantly with a lot of skinship.

To everyone who thought Sansa will reveal herself as a Stark to Aemond: I am sorry. This won’t happen for a while. Alayne Stone is one of my all time favourite storylines in the books and I really like how pretending to be her affects Sansa. I always found it a shame that a lot of fics that I read have Sansa move on from that persona too quickly, either to get to Winterfell or because her love interest recognised her. So we’ll be seeing a lot more of Alayne Stone than you might have anticipated. Plus, I enjoy the dichotomy between her calling herself Alayne, but sometimes slipping up and referring to herself as Sansa.

To be honest I don’t fully like the way this chapter turned out, but c’est la vie. I never like what I write. At this point, it’s a worn out bit that I second guess everything and only ever see the flaws in my work. But the show must go on and the clowns need to be clowning—it’s me, hi, I’m the clown.

P.S. Aemond is sun in Scorpio, moon in Capricorn, and Aquarius rising. Sansa is sun in Sagittarius, moon in Cancer, and Libra rising. I have decided this.

Chapter 9: ALAYNE II


Hello! I live! Idk what happened there with my writing plans. In April I was studying for my exams. In May I had my exams and then I got pretty sick. In June…I just…didn’t wanna do sh*t. The UK isn’t built for hot summer weather, iykyk. But then I got a comment saying ‘hey, I’m rereading this again,’ and I went ‘oh, sh*t’ and tried to get my act together to update. I guess the point of this is that object permanence is not my strongest suit, so occasional toggles and reminders would really help in keeping me motivated and productive.

That lapis lazuli sure caught everyone’s interest, huh? Well, who am I to confirm or deny the speculations about it. 🤭 Although everyone hyper fixated on it so much that I haven’t seen anyone comment on something else I planted in the chapter. But, don’t look too closely at anything. Do you honestly think I’m good enough a writer to be foreshadowing things? 👀

idk how I’m going to watch future seasons of HOTD and not expect Sansa Stark to show up in the future to romance Aemond. Like???? The brain-rot is real, guys. I’m all for Alys Rivers, but also, where is my Alayne Stone? 😩

The chapter is extra long as a way to compensate for the long wait. 💕

P.S. This gif edit has to be my favourite one. The sadness in their eyes is unmatched. :3

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (13)


chapter eight: Alayne II


A resurrected prince, a princess in disguise, a cursed castle—does it not sound like the start of a song?

If it did, it was no song Alayne Stone cared to sing. She wrapped the plush, dark-green cloak about herself more securely, grasping at the collar of the garment with a pale hand. Alayne was brought up piously and gently, she reminded herself. She could sing and play and dance, but she was no princess. Alayne’s heart gave no shelter to hope and harboured no dreams.

Once more, she and Prince Aemond skulked through the abandoned halls of Harrenhal, except this time, he limped a pace ahead of her, with a torch in hand—illuminating their pathway. Despite the chill wafting from the old stones, the air was muggy and frowsty. It made the fine hairs at the back cling to her nape with a clammy flush and exasperated the suffocating, sweltering silence which hung between them.

They walked the corridors for what felt like an age. All the while, her gaze firmly fixated on the broad plane of his back; on the tense hunch of the shoulders; on the tousled silver hair, speckled sunset-pink and garnet-red; on how it curled at the ends from sultry dampness. Alayne could not tell if the prince was upset or frightened or angry. It stirred a queer discontent in her.

“My prince,” she softly called, fingers nervously flexing, and cut herself off, unsure of how to proceed.

Aemond made the decision for her.

He stopped and watched her keenly over his shoulder, patiently waiting for Alayne to join him at his side. Torchfire cast shadows on his chiselled features and the scarred side of his face twitched, but his expression was cut from granite—betraying nothing.

It was like watching Blackwater Bay on louring night. One could feel a storm brewing: the charge of lightning, the distant roll of thunder, the building deluge in the air, but the open ocean waters were smooth like glass, dark like wine, and deceptively calm.

His eye, however, was still alight with that burning, savage feeling.

The look of it gave her courage. She borrowed this feeling from him, and made it her own.

“Shall we wait till nightfall,” Alayne asked, voice as steady as her heartbeat, and put her hand under the proffered arm, delicately curling her fingers over the elbow. “I imagine there’s a protocol to these things. Creeping in the dark, skulking through clandestine passageways—surely, such undertakings adhere to an intricate code of conduct.”

Aemond raised a curious eyebrow. “I recall the lady saying she would rather I slaughter a garrison of men rather than she step a foot into the tunnels again.”

“If needs must,” she sniffed.

“Do needs must?” he softly pressed, lowering his face towards hers.

Alayne could envision it: the slow, tortuous descent into the underground tunnels. The endless darkness and the stale, festered air—heavy and humid; suffocating and oppressive. Like a damp palm pressing down onto her lungs, drenching her skin with sweat and dirt and grime.

Prince Aemond swayed on his feet, his complexion as pallid as a ray of winter sun—half a corpse, half a god. Alayne imagined him succumbing to blood loss and falling into unconsciousness deep in the bowels of the catacombs. They had no food, no water, and she would not be able to drag him out—he was solid as a rock and twice her size. She pictured herself sitting by his rotting body; alone in the pitch black and wasting away. She could weep and scream, but no-one would ever hear her. She’d become another ghost of Harrenhal.

A shudder rolled through her, down to her marrowless bones and her blood flowed cold. Alayne had called the tunnels a tomb and if the two of them went down there again, it would surely become their grave.

“No,” she whispered, fingers digging into the solid forearm beneath. The taste of her fear was sour and pungent. “Not if there are alternatives available.”

“Then we shall seek a different path,” the prince declared and proceeded down the corridor—straight-backed, but slowly and limping badly. Alayne wondered who was truly holding whom up between the two of them. She glanced down at his abdomen. It was hard to tell on the dark cloth, but she prayed he had not pulled his stitches and reopened the wound.

“What path?” she muttered, clutching the tattered fabric of her skirts close. “We’ve trapped ourselves within this wretched castle, no better than mice in a labyrinth of…of…”

“Despair?” he mocked, the corner of his violet eye crinkling.

“Of starvation!” Alayne scowled up at him. The prince kept her on his right side—she was always in his line of sight. “You ought not make light of the matter, my prince. We must leave soon, lest we never leave at all. We’ll perish and fuse into these ugly stone walls like mould.”

Aemond clicked his tongue. “The lady certainly possesses a silver-tongue and a flair for dramatic imagery. I have no doubt our untimely passing will artistically enrich the castle—what remarkably striking fungi we shall become.”

“...I hate you.”

“You don’t hate me, you hate the situation. You find me amusing.”

“That’s a lie. I find you annoying.”

Aemond snorted and said in a flat tone, “No, please stop. You’re hurting my feelings.”

Alayne huffed, fighting a twitch of the mouth and feeling a fool. It was not funny. He was not funny.

Some time later Aemond halted and sheathed the torch into a sconce and guided them to a long window. It was one of the broader ones, the width of Alayne’s torso, and like most windows in Harrenhal, unglazed and simply barred with iron rods on the outside. They could see both the sprawling Outer and Middle Wards from their vantage point, bustling with people and livestock and wagons.

“See that,” the prince murmured, bending down closer, his hair brushing her neck. He pointed beyond the colossal length of the Kingspyre Tower, at a massive, round stone building with a domed roof and smoke billowing from multitudes of chimneys. “It’s the kitchens.”

Alayne raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Are we to sneak into them and purloin food? Shall we scavenge for scraps like a pair of rats?”

Prince Aemond exhaled an amused huff. “Would that be not the most shocking of transformations? Prince Regent and Protector of the Realm to Rat King of Harrenhal. Alas, Lady Alayne, as entertaining as such would be, that is not the plan. The Wailing Tower houses storerooms on the ground floor. We shall slip inside of them and hide there until evenfall. Come the night when the castle slumbers, we shall infiltrate the kitchens as servants and abscond through the northern postern beyond.”

Alayne sharply turned around and faced him. Striking lobelia-violet eye stared back, the torchlight a shimmering flicker of auburn within it. “My prince, I say this with utmost respect in my tender heart: you are insane.”

Aemond had the audacity to throw his head back and laugh, pale throat bared and white teeth flashing.

That was it, Alayne thought. Audacity.

Prince Aemond had it in spades. It was not simply that he was fierce and brave—it was that he had the nerve to carry through. She supposed he had to be bold to claim the oldest dragon in the world at ten namedays. However, it was one thing to read about it in a Maester’s dry account, it was quite another to come face to face with a person like this in flesh and blood.

More dragon than man, with more fire than fear.

It made her want to match that daring.

“It would not work,” she challenged, swiftly pivoting and almost knocking his chin with the top of her head. “We are trespassing in an occupied fortress. If they catch us, they’ll kill us. Moreover, the Holy Hundred are just that—a hundred.” Ninety-two men-at-arms to be precise. “How many servants do you suppose they have? It would not be easy for two new faces to slip by unnoticed.”

Aemond clicked his tongue. “Does the lady have a suggestion she would like to share, hmmm?”

Truth be told, despite her assertions, Prince Aemond’s plan had merit—disguise oneself and steal away. In spite of the risks, it was safer than going through the tunnels again. However, Alayne was the acting Lady of the Eyrie, and she took great care to remember all of the servants’ names and their faces and what they shared of their lives during idle chatter. People appreciated small courtesies, and Alayne appreciated discerning which of the handmaidens in her employ were spies for Petyr and the Lords Declarant. Servants gossiped more than fishwives and they were quick to catch on when something was amiss in their ranks.

And the kitchens are too large and too far away for a wounded man to make it safely unnoticed.

Alayne drummed her fingers on her thigh and stared out the window in thought. The yards below were growing crowded: townsfolk and farmers mingling freely with merchants and men-at-arms. Daytime had come in earnest and the air was filled with the sound of sword and axe, the rumble of wagons and marketplace clamour, the barking of dogs and shrieks of playing children.

The Holy Hundred had been sent to restore the king’s peace to the Trident, and Alayne recalled Ser Shadrich telling her in passing how Ser Bonifer Hasty had opened up the gates of Harrenhal to smallfolk. Bonifer the Good had declared that the Riverlands had suffered profoundly during the War of Five Kings with many a town and village razed, and offered shelter and provisions to those who lost their homes.

Ser Shadrich had thought it was stupid: more useless mouths to feed and clothe and house. Alayne thought it was resourceful: Ser Hasty was securing the stronghold. The surrounding lands subject to Harrenhal were some of the richest and most fertile in all of Westeros—bracketed by the watersheds of both the Trident River and Gods Eye lake.

There is a tool for every task, and a task for every tool,” Tyrion had once told Sansa. Even women and children could tend to crops, even a cripple could work as a craftsman—and every single one toiling directly for the castle, untaxed and unmolested.

Alayne watched the guards wave through farmers’ carts overflowing with carrots and sweet potatoes, corn and beetroot and apples. An idea sparked through her head, and, after a moment, it caught the tinder of a plan and started to flicker. She smiled like a blooming springtime rose.

“My prince,” she breathily called, caught up in the elation. “How good is your Riverlander accent?”


“This is not what I had in mind.”

“Hush,” Aemond called. “Turnips are not supposed to talk.”

“These are cabbages, not turnips,” Alayne muttered under her breath, but the prince ignored her. As he should—the Gate Keep fast approached and with it, the flock of guards clothed in red cloaks for Warrior and mustard-yellow doublets for Father.

Alayne had curled herself into the tightest ball she could, buried herself among the produce, and full-heartedly prayed to Mother. Gentle Mother, strength of women. Help your daughter through this fray. Please. Please, let it work.

She felt the wheels jerkily come to a halt and heard Prince Aemond speak to the guards in a low, soft-spoken voice with the lenited consonants and rolling trill characteristic of a Riverlands accent. He sounded natural, too, exhibiting a surprising skill at mimicry—and Alayne wondered if he had a musically attuned ear or any sort of instrumental aptitude. Before she could pursue the line of thought further, she heard one of the guards pull open the oiled cloth and look inside the wooden bed, examining it.

She tensed.

Someone poked with a spear the burlap sack at the bottom of which she hid. The leaf-shaped blade pierced a cabbage mere inches above her head, then penetrated the sack again so close to her face she could feel the sharpened tip brush against her nose.

Alayne dared to neither breathe nor blink nor think.

“All good!” one of the men shouted after pulling the spear out and snapping the tent flap closed. “Let it through!”

The wagon advanced slowly and a shadow fell over it, cold and long. The gatehouse was twice as large as Gates of the Moon—its stone discoloured and fissured. So thick were its walls that it had a dozen murder holes and twice as many arrow loops. It took them eight minutes and twenty-three seconds to cross it and emerge into the sudden sunlight of the road outside.

It took forty more minutes until Aemond told her it was safe to come out, but Alayne laid there under a heap of cabbages for ages longer. He called her name thrice unanswered before he stopped the wagon and approached the back, pulling the tent flap open. He discarded cabbage heads on top one by one, tugged the edges of the sack down until it pooled around her, and tried to pry her hands off her face, not ungently. Alayne shook her head fiercely, refusing to let him see, refusing to say anything at all.

Aemond made a noise, half a huff, half a grunt, and smoothly scooped and lifted her up. He settled Alayne down on the edge of the wagon bed, her skirts snapping like banners in the autumn winds. He sat next to her in silence, shoulder brushing hers, and his hand awkwardly hovered over her head for a heartbeat until he finally began to stiltedly pet her hair.

A slice of eternity passed.

Alayne said nothing. Her shoulders trembled, bones jittering like loose teeth. It was a small thing, merely a spearhead to the face. She had braved worse, endured greater horrors and graver humiliations, but at the sight of bared steel, memories swept through her in a dramatic rush. The coil inside of her broke loose and with it a flood of fear—a great, roaring tidal wave of accumulated nerves and stress engulfing her.

In my experience, girls like you don’t live very long,” Ser Shadrich had told her, so matter-of-factly that it made her burn with shame—made her simmer with hate. “How will you fight? Where will you run? You’re a maiden in a tower, waiting to be rescued, waiting to be stolen. A lovely jewel that shall fetch me a plump bag of gold from the Spider.”

Of course, he still thought that even as she surreptitiously collected nightshade to slip into his mead. She never got a chance to, though, as Ser Shadrich was pulled off his saddle and stabbed through the mouth by a hairless creature more nightmare than man. Ser Shadrich had died as a knight, sword raised in protection of her honour, and she wondered if he had been stronger, better, fiercer—he would have rescued Alayne like the Hound had once rescued Sansa.

She thought of—she remembered—

King’s Landing,

and the bread riots,

and the men.

That night in the forest, she had been afraid—terrified beyond the point of desperation—but more than that, she had been angry. So full of helpless rage she thought she would swallow the world whole. And then Prince Aemond killed the bandits and she hadn’t been afraid at all.

Was that only yesterday? It felt a lifetime ago.

He’s a killer, but he saved me all the same. A dark heart, a bone-deep kindnesshow painful it is, to be at war with oneself.

“It was a stupid idea,” she finally whispered. Alayne had pulled her hands off her face only to realise she had been weeping. Her palms and her cheeks were sleek with tears.

She wondered if this was it—all she was and ever would be. A weeping, wounded creature upon whom violence was exerted. Time was moving past her in an endless, flowing stream, but she was standing still, firmly rooted to the past by her own inadequacies. She wished she could fade away—disappear. Living made her feel ashamed.

“Nay. It was a good plan. It got us out, safe and sound,” Aemond soothed, still stroking her hair. A calming, repetitive motion that helped to ground her. “The fault lies with me. I told them it was bruised produce, unfit for purchase and will go to pigswill. Said they could check it if they wished.”

His hands raked through the thick, matted mass and brushed tangled curls away from her face. He parted it into five sections before pulling it back with nimble fingers into a long, heavy braid. “I did not think they’d prode the sacks with a spear.”

He tried to wipe the tears away with a sleeve of his burrowed tunic, but Alayne slapped him away, glaring up. Aemond caught the blow cat-quick, exhaling an amused huff, and cupped her freezing hand between his own. Her fear condensed into a smooth pebble and fit in the tremble of her clenched fist, and he slowly pried it open and chased warmth into the flesh.

“I can still feel the tip of the blade.”

Aemond peered closely, scrutinising her face. “There’s nothing there, I promise,” he assured her, his eye slanted in a squint. “No nicks. No grazes. Just a bit of smudged dirt.”

Alayne rubbed at her nose vigorously. “Stupid unwashed cabbages.”

“Are you feeling better?” he asked, the sun prisming to make him strangely soft and blurred around the edges—almost glowing.

“A little,” she sniffled, half lying, hiccuping and wanting to hit herself over the head for being a mewling fool. “Thank you.”

She could not bear to look at him. Joffrey liked to tell her she cried prettily and Alayne was in no hurry to test if Prince Aemond was another one in a long line of men who enjoyed her tears. Still, he held her hand so very gently. Aemond was never deliberately unkind to her—it made her ache with wistfulness, with longing for her brothers.

A burning question dripped from the edge of her lips, but Alayne’s tongue wrapped itself around it and swallowed it like a stone.

Why, why, why, oh why?

Instead, she stared out into the distance from whence they came. Even from miles away, the enormity of Harrenhal was still hard to comprehend. It covered thrice as much ground as Winterfell, and its black stone buildings were so much larger they could scarcely be compared. Harrenhal had seen more horror in its three hundred years than Winterfell had witnessed in eight thousand. A monstrous, cursed castle that passed judgement on all who passed beneath its gates.

It is not without beauty. Singularly lonely and that loneliness belongs to utterly itself. A little like hell: almost romantic, Alayne reflected, looking at the five immense towers piercing the endless, cornflower-blue skies. There is no other castle like this in the whole world, but I never want to see the bloody thing again.

“How long do you think we have before they discover the theft?”

“Theft?” Prince Aemond snorted. “We simply borrowed a means of transportation.”

“My prince, you have no intention of returning it,” she told him, dryly.

“It’s an extended loan,” Aemond clarified, aglow with shamelessness, and Alayne ducked her head, laughing, her spirits lifting. “Furthermore, the man was compensated handsomely for his troubles. Five gold dragons for a rackety wagon and a crowbait mare? If anyone was presented with a deal like this, they’d be lining up for us to burglarise them.”

“Five gold dragons for the horse, the wagon, the clothes, the produce and provisions, and for the blow to the head,” she corrected, smiling still.

The plan had been straightforward: Harrenhal was teeming with smallfolk and it was easier to leave the castle posing as a farmer than it was to steal away at night when the guards were on high alert. In theory, it was simple. In practice, Prince Aemond had incapacitated a cabbage farmer with a blow to the head and hid him away in a cavernous vault close to the entryway to the Tower of Ghosts. Alayne was reasonably certain he would be found.

The prince pilfered the man’s clothes, smudged his face with dirt, hid a tightly wound braid beneath a woollen cap. Alayne found it disgusting that even now he was still absurdly handsome. The unfairness of it stung.

“I still think you didn’t have to fetter the poor man. He looked scared out of his wits when we ambushed him.”

Still, she was relieved the prince had not advocated for murder at any point. She did not think she could endure the moral ambiguity of killing a farmer who bore them no ill will so early in the morning.

“I don’t know. Last time I fought an old man, we killed one another,” Aemond drawled lazily. “Didn’t want to take any chances.”

“That’s not funny,” Alayne snigg*red.

“Made you laugh, though,” he said, getting to his feet and helping Alayne down from the wagon bed.

“That’s not a grand achievement,” she told him, tugging her bodice up and wrapping her cloak tighter around herself. In the daylight, her dire state of dress was that much more obvious. “I have a notoriously poor sense of humour. Dull and witless, people say.”

Prince Aemond snorted, not looking in her direction, the tops of his high cheekbones pinking from the sun. “Dull and witless are certainly not how I would describe a lady as lively as yourself. I’d like to meet the people who judged you thus, they seem to have fewer eye than I.”

Limping, he guided Alayne around the wagon, with a firm hand on the small of her back, and towards the narrow front bench. He opened it, extracting his bundled clothes and sheathed Dark Sister. “In truth, had we not stunned the man, he would have squealed faster than a pig.”

“Leaving him unbound would have bought us time only until he awoke. Bribing him would have lasted until he snitched on us to the guards at the gate,” Aemond continued, slowly pulling off the rough-spun tunic, grimacing as the movement aggravated his ribs. “It was safer for us to do as we did.”

He distrusts everyone, Alayne reflected, turning away from the display, red-cheeked and twisting her fingers nervously, and perhaps for a good reason. He shouldn’t trust me either. No good has ever come from trusting me.

She listened to the rustle of clothing and the quiet sigh of relief when the prince unwound his hair. Surreptitiously, Alayne searched her skirts for a hair comb before remembering she left it in Skyfall’s saddlebags. Turning around, she found him unfastening the buckles of the horse’s harness and pulling the breastcollar off the old mare. “We’re not taking the wagon?”

“I’m not a wainwright to repair it and even if I was skilled enough, I cannot perform miracles—look,” Aemond pointed at the discoloured timber, cracked with fissures and splintered, “the wood is rotting.”

“Perhaps five dragons was indeed too generous a compensation,” she murmured, mouth tugging downwards in displeasure. Her gaze slid over to the draught horse. She was no great beauty—rangy and haggard with a faded chestnut coat. Alayne felt a sharp needle of sympathy pierce her heart at the sight of the wasted creature.

“We’re not leaving her here, are we? The wolves will eat her.”

“There’s not much for them to eat,” Aemond admitted softly, checking the horse’s legs and hoofs.

He yanked several fistfuls of dry grass out of the ground and began to carefully brush the mare down, smoothing out the coat and the foamed sweat, gently going over the raised patch of welts from where the skin chafed from the harness. “But no, I’m not leaving her behind. We could use a pack horse.”

“I wonder what her name is,” Alayne murmured, carefully stoking the horse’s snout. The eyes staring back at her were large and dark, moist and wearied.

“Keffel. Screw. Old Nag.” Aemond’s expression was flat, unreadable. “Something equally callous and unimaginative.”

“That’s cruel.”

“It’s truthful. A man who would not tend to his horse would not think to name her. She’s actually not that old, probably around fifteen. You can tell by her teeth. But she’s led a hard life and hasn’t been cared for well. It’s astonishing she doesn’t have fleas or mud fever.”

Alayne crooned nonsensical sweetness to the animal, still methodically petting her, before finally speaking: “She reminds me of a septa I knew.”

“Name her after the woman then.”

“I do not think Septa Mordane would appreciate such,” Alayne confessed, doleful. “She would find a way to rise from her grave and scold me for the impropriety.”

The prince quietly hummed. Somehow, his nonchalance gave her courage to continue. “She was a good woman. She cared for me, taught me much and well. I think of her fondly, when I think of her at all. Quite terrible of me, isn’t it? To remember someone only because I miss them. To mourn their passing not for their sake, but for the sake of me who loved them.”

Aemond said nothing at all, just looked at her with that burning violet eye, aglow with intensity—it was like being stripped raw of skin and sinew and bone. His stare pierced into one’s heart, rummaged in one’s soul.

Unable to withstand him, Alayne turned away.

If I could do it all again, I’d go back and change everything. I’d be so much better I swear. Please, please, please.

Who are you praying to, sweetling? Petyr whispered, honeysweet. The gods have no love for you. They are right in their judgement, of course. Who would ever love you?

She closed her eyes and dipped beneath the surface of her mind—into a remembrance. Swimming in memories of things she had and of things she lost. Soaking in the loveliness, the loneliness of summers’ past. Drifting past ghosts of the dead, their arms outstretched, dragging her into the undiscovered country. Drowning beneath the pressure of the words rattling behind her teeth.

She felt the rush of blood and, suddenly, she was eleven—she was not scared to death; she had dreams again.

In her mind’s eye, she stood on the walls of Winterfell by the east gate, looking southwards. Dusk had long since fallen: the sky was painted with broad strokes of pink and purple and burnt orange. Soon, she and Father and Arya and Bran would travel down the curve of the valley. The kingsroad stretched out as far as the eye could see; narrow, pocked with weeds and ditches, and full of promise. Moat Cailin was down that road, and beyond it laid Riverrun and the Eyrie, and so many other places; Casterly Rock, the Isles of Faces, the red mountains of Dorne, the hundred islands of Braavos in the sea, the smoking ruins of old Valyria.

The world was down that road… and soon Sansa would see it all.

She was leaving Winterfell and her girlhood behind, but King’s Landing was waiting for her.

She would be princess, and then she would be queen. She was happy.

She was the ever-living ghost of what once was.

What have you lost that you so desperately wish to get back?

Everything, she echoed, screaming in her mind. Everything and everyone. And most of allmyself.


It was not long before they made their way eastwards to the clearing where they hid away Skyfall and their provisions. The wagon had been abandoned on the opposite road, and Alayne hoped if any of the Holy Hundred would go searching for them, they would follow the false trail west.

The pair of them sat atop the mare and Prince Aemond held her loosely about the waist with a large, warm hand—they had no saddle and Alayne was not an experienced horsewoman. They rode slowly at a sedate pace so as to not overwhelm their mount.

Alayne squirmed in her seat until at last, she could no longer bear it. “What is prodding me in the back?”

Aemond looked down at her, eye blown wide. “What?”

“Something hard is jabbing me in the spine each time the horse moves.”

“I—” He paused. Swallowed. “Are you quite certain?”

“I feel a bruise forming—I am very certain.”

“Do you think it is a dagger?” he asked, voice thin.

“No, it’s far too lumpy for that.”

“...well, it’s not me I can assure you,” he informed her in the oddest tone.

“Of course not. How could it be? It’s clearly something metal.” She shifted her weight. “Is it a belt buckle… no… your belt doesn’t sit low enough for that. Perhaps a—”

“Cease your writhing, I beg of you.” Aemond unwound his arm from around her and plunged it in the space between them. Alayne felt his knuckles brush her spine before they latched onto an object and extracted it, dropping it in front of her. “There, it was the money pouch. Mystery solved.”

Alayne searched her skirts for her own coin purse. Opening both, she counted the coins: nineteen gold, thirty-three silver, and fifty-one copper. “Perhaps it was too generous to leave that man that much coin. Between the two of us, we have less than twenty gold.”

“It was,” Aemond agreed. “I told you it was too much. You can buy a good knight’s horse for three gold. What will a farmer do with five?”

“We did thieve him,” Alayne pointed out and he rolled his eye. “And a good price for a knight’s horse is one gold and hundred-and-fifty silvers, not three gold.”

“Seven hells, we made the man rich.” He laughed humorlessly. “What is the current deflation rate?”

“Subject to change. Not long ago, there was rapid inflation. During extreme food shortages, a side of beef cost a golden dragon.” Aemond let out a low whistle and Alayne continued. “Now, a golden dragon can buy you a pretty serving girl’s maidenhead.”

He looked at her in palpable disgust. “How do you know this?”

Alayne shrugged delicately. “My father is a, ah, brothel proprietor. It is not by choice I was imparted with this knowledge.”

“There must be a more savoury way to teach you economics,” he muttered, blowing a strand of thistledown-fine hair out of his face. “So what can twenty gold buy us?”

“Depends on the region, and tragically, Riverlands are in a state of crisis. The war ravaged their food stocks and now it is operating again on a barter system. How much is a goat? It costs three chickens.” She drummed her fingers against her thigh in thought. “Twenty gold could be enough to buy us passage on a ship, or twenty gold could just barely buy us provisions and a night at an inn. We won’t know until we do.”

“Then we best discover soon for I have no wish to tend to fields like a common farm hand to secure us coin.”

“My prince, I say this with utmost respect—”

“I have an inkling you are about to say something distinctly disrespectful.”

“—but can you even tend to a field?”

“I can,” he defended himself. “Now that my eye is better, I can tend the ground as well as any man.”

Alayne gave a low hum of disbelief, but pried no further. If the prince said he could do it, chances were he would find a way. Aemond was the sort who could do anything he set his mind to, regardless of difficulty or hardship. An admirable quality.

She began recounting their coins—arithmetic was never her strongest subject and she wanted to make sure she had not miscounted their funds—when a hand darted out in front of her, lightning-quick, and plucked a coin.

“How passing strange,” Prince Aemond murmured softly and Alayne looked down at what he was grasping between his fingers—a tarnished copper star coin, worn smooth at the edges, and minted with Fat King Robert’s profile. “A Baratheon king.”

He took a deep, shaky breath, the exhale of it rattling against the back of her head, and Alayne’s heart stuttered. She felt something—a ghost of a fellow feeling; a kindred sense of displacement. Her heart cradled it tenderly, like one would a candle in a storm.

“What a brave new world I’ve come to,” he said, rolling a coin across his knuckles before it flipped and dipped into the money pouch nestled between Alayne’s thighs. “I have a strong suspicion I am enquiring after something I shall not enjoy hearing the truth of, however, tell me, sweet lady, what has become of the great House of the Dragon?”

Alayne froze. She had nearly felled the prince with the report on the dragons’ demise, it made her fear how he would react to the fate of his house. She wished she could find a way to say it gently, to make it sound sweet. No-one had ever told her terrible news gently—much to her sorrow.

The words were too cumbersome for her tongue, too large a devastation. She cast her mind back to King’s Landing, and closed her eyes, forcing the words to tumble out like broken teeth. “…the sun has set on the Targaryen dynasty, my prince.”

A sharp breath. A soft exhale.

“Indeed,” Prince Aemond confirmed, smacking his lips before flattening them into a tight, grim line. His fingers flexed on the horse’s reins, knuckles leaching of colour.

He did not crumble under the staggering blow. She supposed he was prepared for it. “I utterly despise this confirmation. It feels like I’ve fallen into a nightmare. One emotionally deleterious catastrophe after another. Will the terrible news never end?”

Alayne’s hand on his was soft and gentle—consoling. “I fear not, my prince. A hundred and seventy years is a long time.”

“Ah, tragic,” he sighed, exhausted to the bone. “I do believe some history lessons would not be amiss, Lady Alayne.”





“She’s in her twilight years.”


“Now you are just insulting me.”

“Then pick a name!” Alayne cried in exasperation. “All you do is criticise!”

“Autumn,” Aemond decided. He stood waist-deep in a creek, water running in rivulets down his bare chest and back, and soaped his long hair for the third time, washing out the dirt and blood. “Happy now?”

“Ecstatic,” Alayne grumbled.

He sighed. “Do you plan to be obnoxious the whole day?”

“Yes,” she called loudly over her shoulder. “I rather thought I would. Do you mind terribly?”

Aemond muttered under his breath something too low for her to hear and Alayne rolled her eyes, ignoring him. She was hidden in a thick copse of sourwood trees, nestled in a nook and curtained off by an improvised screen made out of her cloak, saddle blanket, and Prince Aemond’s coat—steadfastly doing her best to mend her single, insufferably damaged dress.

The bodice she had once delicately embroidered with river pearls was torn in the middle. Her skirts were torn to mid-thigh, and the prince had volunteered his purloined jerkin as cloth for repairs, however, the visual contrast of studded leather and brown lambswool made Alayne want to laugh. The leather immediately drew the eye to the areas where the dress had been savaged and made it a singularly hideous piece of clothing. However, an ugly dress was better than no dress at all.

They recovered Skyfall from where they had left her for the night and proceeded further into the woods. Breaking camp whilst still in the vicinity of Harrenhal was, perhaps, the least prudent decision they made that day—and they made a lot of unwise decisions already. If the Holy Hundred followed up on the cabbage cart theft, they could follow their tracks, and discover them both tired and indecent and ill-prepared for a fight.


However, both Aemond and Alayne were proud and vain creatures, fatigued to the extreme and unwilling, or emotionally and physically unable, to proceed on their journey without resting and washing dirt and blood off themselves. Alayne privately reasoned that if they were thrown into dungeons, she would at least enter them with her dignity intact—and not be spilling out of her dress like a debauched strumpet.

She was clad in only a diaphanous linen shift and silken smallclothes—dark hair wet and clinging to her neck and breasts, and pooling around her thighs. The prince was even more improper, having brazenly stripped down and entered the river bare after she had finished her wash. Alayne’s gaze resolutely did not stray in his general direction. She anchored it firmly on the sewing in front of her, preserving her dignity. The obscene sounds of water swash and ripple around a body filled the air, however, and lit her ablaze with a foreign heat.

She ignored it.

She was good at ignoring things.

Alayne stabbed the needle through the brown skirts harder than necessary and ardently wished the cabbage soup would boil faster in the pot. Minutes trickled down like grains of sand and she wondered many times did a man feasibly need to soap his hair to prevent lice, when at last, the prince gave a low groan of relief and stepped out of the creek.

Alayne listened to the creaking of leather as he put on his trousers and boots, and to the almost soundless steps as he approached the grazing horses. She was not good at ignoring things, she concluded, hands stilling, fingers gripping the cloth. She sneaked a look over her shoulder, peering into a narrow slit between the tree trunk and the thick wool of the saddle blanket.

She had not studied the man too closely back when she was mending his wound, too preoccupied with her sewing, but now in the golden light of day—she could see all of him in stark, crystalline clarity.

Prince Aemond was naked to the waist, unfastened black leathers riding low on lithe hips—she could see the exposed shallow scoops of hip bones, taut muscle stretched across them, and fine silver hair trailing from navel down into dark depths of the trousers. His arms and chest bore silvery scars and the wound he received yesterday was an angry red slash at his side, but everywhere else the eye could feast, there was an expanse of pale, supple skin. Broad back rippling with luscious, corded muscle and tapering into the sleek curve of a trim, narrow waist; and upper arms which were smooth and sinewy, defined from swordsmanship.

There was a clinking of a belt-buckle and long fingers worked to fasten Dark Sister onto his hip. Alayne watched, enraptured, feeling half-mad, half-starved—as a water droplet carved a path from the edge of his neck across the sharp ridge of the collarbone and down the swell of a pectoral muscle. She wondered what would he do if she went over there and—

Ashamed, Alayne yanked herself out of her vulgar thoughts and buried her flaming face in her hands, praying to Maiden, Mother, and Crone—anyone who would listen and chastise her for the unseemly leering. She wished one of the Seven Hells would open up right then and there, and swallow her whole.

She had not outgrown her girlhood weakness for pretty things, and Aemond Targaryen was pretty indeed, ludicrously so.

Not pretty, she corrected, wanting to crawl out of her scratchy, heated skin. Obscene. Unholy.

“Are you quite finished?”

Alayne’s heart dropped into her stomach like a laden stone. Had he seen her gawkish ogling? Oh she would not recover from the colossal embarrassment if he did.

What?” she squeaked.

“Your dress,” the prince clarified, slowly pulling on a billowing linen shirt with a wide, plunging neckline. “Have you finished it?”

Alayne looked down at the garment in her lap. It was nearly done. The ragged slit now stopped at her knee, but she had run out of leather to patch it with. She ignored her sewing scissors, grabbed the thread and ripped it with her teeth, before knotting securely the end.

“Yes, almost,” she called, breathless and gasping.

She yanked the laces of her stays tight and secured them quickly, before hastily pulling the dress over her head and dragging it down the length of her body, over the clammy shift. It had somewhat shrunk in size after her mending—straining visibly around her chest and the tops of her breasts swelled over the scooped neckline, but even this infringement on propriety was better than looking like one of Petyr’s whor*s, with her flesh and undergarments half-exposed.

Alayne tumbled out from behind the curtain, her feet bare, her wet hair clinging to her flushed skin. “I’m here,” she panted.

Prince Aemond turned to face her. He had taken his eyepatch off before bathing and the sapphire in the socket shone brilliantly in the midday sun. He gave her a cool, languid look and arched an eyebrow, humming lowly.

Oh, she remembered, gathering her wits and immediately sobering up. He was cross with me.

And I was vexed by him, too, she recalled, though she was no longer. Her irritation had steamed off her like condensation and only the ghostly vapour of petty capriciousness remained.

The history lessons did not go well.

Alayne had presumed the prince would enquire about his niece and nephew, or mayhaps Alys Rivers, however, Aemond had refused to even speak the children’s names. Surely he must know, she thought, or suspect in part what happened. But much like Alayne herself, Prince Aemond was resistant to learning of the terrible truths about his family until he steeled himself for the heartbreak.

It was easier to disconnect oneself from the tolls war took if deaths one heard of were merely names on a page. She had not cared much for the passing of the Karstark brothers beyond a twinge of sympathy for men who were her distant kin. Contrastingly, hearing of the deaths of Jory and Ser Rodrik and Maester Luwin had carved her hollow with grief.

Thus, they spoke naught of the Dance of Dragons and instead Alayne relaid briefly the histories of the eleven kings whose reigns followed his brother’s.

She could not gauge who embittered him with dislike more—Aegon the Unworthy, or Daeron the Young Dragon. Recounts of both’s reigns had infuriated him, for vastly different reasons. He deeply misliked Aegon III and Viserys II; curled his lip over Baelor the Blessed; was indifferent to Aerys I, Maekar, and Jaehaerys II; and got the strangest look in his eye when he heard of Aemon the Dragonknight. He hated Daemon Blackfyre by the virtue of his name and seemed fascinated by Brynden Rivers—though Alayne knew little about Bloodraven beyond the perfunctory. Daeron the Good, Aegon the Unlikely, and the Blackfyre Rebellions, however, sparked a great interest in him.

As the tale went on, it grew increasingly clear that Prince Aemond tolerated a lot, but he could not suffer the brutal, scrutinising way historical reports dissected the Targaryen dynasty. To avoid misdirecting his ire and quarrelling with her, he threw himself into a river to cool his anger, but instead of the prince, it was Alayne who got distracted and lost her fighting fire.

“Tidy yourself up,” Aemond commanded, authoritative and curt, not even looking in her direction.

She was not a daughter of a high lord or a sister to a king—she was Alayne Stone, a bastard girl. He was a prince of blood and breeding, and she was beneath him, she urgently reminded herself, and thus should not care if he used a brusque tone or ordered her around like a common servant. She ought to acquit herself of the spiteful craving for a petty squabble. It was neither proper nor ladylike, nor something a simple girl like Alayne Stone would dare to do.

I must be Alayne all the time, inside and out.

Tight lipped, she put on her boots, took out a comb from her saddlebag, and began to languorously brush her long, damp hair. The comb was ivory, carved with dragonflies and inlaid with moonstones—a present from a woman with pretty auburn hair and loving hands, from a woman long dead. Alayne’s hair was soft and smooth, and the gentle curl of it would not suffer the harsh lye soap without frizzing hideously, thus she took a vial of sweet almond, nettles, and rose oil and combed five drops of it through the locks.

She watched as Aemond squatted before the simmering pot, lightly stirring the cabbage and onion soup with a sharpened stick. His molten-silver hair was dark and wavy from moisture, but he did not seem particularly concerned as it spilled down his back. She wondered if he wanted his hair brushed and oiled, too, but refrained from asking.

Time had passed like that, in sweltering silence, as Aemond cooked them dinner, and Alayne finished attending to her hair before pulling out two wooden bowls and wooden utensils out of their provision bags. They appropriated what little vegetables and provisions the farmer had kept in his cart, leaving only the wagon behind. Alayne washed them in a river and handed them to Aemond who pulled the pot from the fire and liddled the soup into the bowls.

The prince sat on a mossy patch of grass, back to a tree trunk, and long legs outstretched. Alayne sat primly on a low boulder next to him, ankles crossed beneath her skirts. Autumn sun streamed gold through the canopy above and sunbeams danced at their feet.

They ate in a secretive, ruminating hush, lulled all the further into quietude by the muffled clink of spoon against bowl. A chorus of chaffinches broke into song and Alayne wondered if the two of them would ever speak to one another again. The prince wore his muteness like a familiar cloak, slender features smoothed out in rumination, whereas Alayne’s skin itched with discomfiture.

She opened her mouth.

How are

Do you

Good soup

Closed it. Opened it again and stuffed a piece of boiled cabbage into it. Chewing, she tried to convince herself this was for the best. If Prince Aemond dealt with his anger in proud silence, simmered in it like a broiled fish, then she was safe from it being unleashed unbridled onto her.

Except he would not, she knew with queer surety. He was strangely kind to her. Like one would be to a bird with no wings—a sad little thing, the suffering of whose existence one wished to alleviate with melancholic gentleness.

“Had they not loved us? Do they not miss us?” Aemond finally asked, once they finished eating, tone purposefully composed and controlled, picking up the discussion where they left it off last. Uncurling his spine, he straightened up to his full towering height.

“How could my house just—” he cut himself off, jaw tight and sharp, bone-deep misery etching itself into the planes of his face.

Loved? Mayhaps, Alayne could not say what dwelt in the hearts of men. But miss? She could not picture it—the vision the prince was hoping for: of his people secretly toasting to the exiled dragons’ health, sewing red-and-black banners, and crying out for the dead kings.

“The common people pray for rain and healthy children, a fat purse and a summer that never ends,” she finally said echoing the words her father—her true father—had told his children more than once. “The common people wish for peace and prosperity. It matters not to them who sits the Iron Throne.”

A dragon or a stag or a lion? Could one even tell the difference between them? A beast is a beast, no matter its shape.

“Had not Aegon the Fifth been a king of the people? Had they not championed him?”

“Aegon was the king who cared about the smallfolk most, yes,” Alayne began slowly, rummaging through her memories. “But he spent much of his reign dealing with uprisings. The people loved him for the rights and protections he granted, but the high lords felt encroached on their dominion over peasantry and curtailed by the reforms.” She had not had the heart to tell him that the rights and protections King Aegon V had granted and bestowed upon the smallfolk were later undone during the reign of Aerys II, by the king and his hand, Tywin Lannister.

“If he had dragons—”

“I fear for the realm if men like Aerion Brightflame had dragon mounts,” Alayne said, thinking of Joffrey Lannister.

“Was that the c*nt who drank wildfire?”


Prince Aemond gave a low, exhausted groan, dragging a hand across the back of his neck. She watched as he folded his anger away, wiping its traces from his visage. It concerned her to think of how much of himself he kept concealed. It made her want to crack his ribcage open, tear out his beating heart and taste it—to pry out the deepest parts of him with grasping, hungry fingers.

“It is exceedingly difficult to process that the golden era of my House had ended within my lifetime,” he told her, tersely, shoulders tense. “The age of dragons ended with the death of my family—the war had culled them and it was my nephew who had poisoned the last dragon.”

“Twas just a rumour, my prince,” Alayne said, not unkindly.

The purse of his mouth drew her attention to how moist the lips had become from the swipe of a pink tongue. “If the little Egg is anything like his smirking c*nt of a father, then he would have, without a doubt. Daemon would have ripped his own mother’s throat, if she crossed him. The man had venom of spite running through his veins, not blood.”

He hated Daemon the same way Sansa hated the Lannisters.

Passionately. Unyieldingly. Implacably.

Alayne clasped her hands in her lap, twisting the fingers, and a warm breeze blew through the glade, tousling her hair. Courage tightly screwed, she reached out and grasped his fingers loosely, stopping him. Casting her eyes downwards, mask splitting at the seams, she said what she wished someone had ever told her.

Aemond froze midstep. Looked down at the top of her oak-dark head. There were gleaming droplets of water in his hair still and one slinked down the side of his neck, rolling into the front of his dipping shirt.

Thirteen heartbeats passed.

“Everyone carries the dead beneath their skin,” he softly added, in a hushed and calm way that was achingly gentle.

She glanced up and found him staring at her—his violet eye was an opal, burning bright. “They burrow there like leeches, bleeding the heart.”

Bleeding, bleeding, always bleeding out.


“How did it all end?”

Aemond and Alayne rode atop Skyfall at a pace so slow and leisurely, it was practically pleasure riding. Newly named Autumn walked along with an easy, steady gait, seemingly unbothered by the four saddlebags, and six sacks of loot and provisions she was ladened with. Despite their unhurried speed, they put a good amount of distance between themselves and Harrenhal, that Alayne no longer feared the Holy Hundred would come for them.

Skyfall was a young palfrey and a knight’s mount—strong and able, she carried two people with the sort of cheerfulness that could only come from genial nature and good exercise. The saddle, however, was not built for two people. Made of leather and with no front-facing metal plating, it was incredibly deep seated, slanting upward at the pommel and the cantle at an almost uncomfortably steep angle.

Instead of sidesaddle, Alayne sat astride in front of the prince, her skirts hitched up and pulled up to her knees, the front pommel splitting her thighs at the apex and the leather horn digging into her navel. Alayne was nestled in the middle, cradled by the prince’s thighs at either side, and her back was flush against his front. It was not uncomfortable, she cavalierly decided, forgoing any sense of propriety—even if it did mean she could not make a movement without brushing against some part of him.

Aemond rode with the casual ease of someone born in a saddle, but when Alayne turned around and peered up at him, she could see the tension in his jaw. He gave no indication of pain, but she assumed the rocking rhythm of riding could not have improved the condition of his bruised and strained hip, much less the state of his ribs or the abdominal wound.

Alayne opened her mouth to enquire, when the prince coolly asked his loaded question. He was back to that soft-spoken, measured way of talking that belied his infernal rage. He was enigmatic: reticent and tightly controlled through sheer strength of will, yet bold and passionately tempestuous all at once. She was, however, unafraid—the flames of his choleric temper touched her not and instead warmed her from within like a furnace.

How did it all end? With fire and broken oaths, and the realm bathed so far in blood, that sin had plucked on sin.

“House Targaryen had been deposed twenty years ago,” she dutifully recited her girlhood lessons, “by Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, and Jon Arryn.”

“Robert Baratheon,” Aemond said, slowly, as if tasting the name and finding it bitter on the tongue. “The king on the coin.”

Unlike her limited interest and cursory exploration of the minutiae of Targaryen histories, she was intimately familiar with the details of Robert’s Rebellion, having been thoroughly educated by Maester Luwin as a child. “He had the better claim out of the three. His paternal grandmother was princess Rhaelle Targaryen, the youngest daughter of King Aegon the Fifth. But it was the right of conquest which won him the Iron Throne.”

“It would seem, the destruction of the Targaryen dynasty was a lingering death, a slow slicing. We conquered Westeros on dragonback with fire and blood and an iron fist, but after the last dragon died, it was a matter of time before the realm slipped through our fingers, too.” Prince Aemond was exhausted and drained of fight, there was no aggression left in him to inflict upon the world, and his biting fury existed impotently with nothing to fuel it but disappointment at his successors. “How did the Storm King’s uprising begin?”

“Ironically at Harrenhal,” said Alayne and Aemond gave a low hum of amusem*nt. The shadow the biggest castle in the world cast was long indeed, and they seemed to be unable to escape it. “The castle’s lord arranged for a grand tourney to celebrate his daughter’s name day. An ostentatious proclamation of wealth and splendour, for the event lasted ten days and ten nights.”

Skyfall trotted uphill, and Aemond loosened his grip on the reins and leaned forwards, to keep the balance and take some of the weight off her hindquarters. His breath was warm and steady when it ghosted the back of her ear, and she could catch the faint, clean scent of rosemary that clung to his hair and skin, and, and, and—and Alayne’s heart stuttered at the proximity.

Once the horse found her legs on flat ground, his hair brushed her neck, smooth like liquid silk, as he leaned away. “Continue,” Aemond instructed, and Alayne recovered her voice. Somehow.

“It was the year of false spring, though the realm knew that not yet, and the people were joyous,” she said, slowly, tripping over her words, before finding her footing, “but all smiles died when after winning the final tilt, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, rode past his lady wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, and laid the laurel of queen of love and beauty in the lap of a young Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, the betrothed of Robert Baratheon. Some believe Robert grew resentful of Rhaegar henceforth—whether it was due to the crown prince slighting Lady Lyanna’s honour, or due to the insult the action paid to Robert himself, I cannot say. In the end, it matters little, for at the coming of the new year, Prince Rhaegar, accompanied by two of his father’s Kingsguard, had carried off Lady Lyanna.”

Prince Aemond’s chest expanded before he exhaled. “I see,” he drawled, darkly.

“Prince Rhaegar was a man grown—three-and-twenty, married with an infant son and a young daughter. He had no business being involved with a maid of four-and-ten, much less abducting her.”

“A young girl, pushed into an older man’s bed at fourteen by her father. Her body ravished, her future stolen,” he said, soft and measured, the flat undertone dripping with cold disdain. “A familiar, tragic tale.”

“My prince,” Alayne said, confused. “Lord Rickard Stark betrothed Lady Lyanna to Robert Baratheon. He had no ambitions regarding the Dragon Prince.”

Aemond’s cheeks hollow sharply as he pursed his lips. “Ah, my mistake. I was thinking of someone else. Please, do continue. Lady Lyanna was abducted and thus her brother and her betrothed rose in rebellion to free her?”

“As romantic as it sounds, armies do not ride to war for little girls,” sighed Alayne, delicate and bittersweet. A waxy glim of grim resentment sprouted between her ribs years ago, burning long and steady beneath the edge of her heart, blackening it.

You’re here to answer for your brother’s latest treasons…”

She caught herself picking at her nail beds and stopped, stilling her hands atop the saddle’s horn. “No, the North rose up because King Aerys had murdered their liege lord and his heir. After that, lord Jon Arryn—”

“No,” Aemond said. He had a perversely insatiable need for information. “Go back. Expand on that.”

She could have taken mercy on him and insisted on sparing the gruesome details, but her splintered heart had grown teeth and a horrid, wicked part of it hungered to sink its fangs into him. Into any thing or any one at all, if it would stop her from feeling so wretched at this moment.

Alayne twisted her tongue, smoothly as crimson silk, words flowing out of her like a river. “King Aerys was more than mad—rumours say he believed himself to be a dragon reborn and what he feared, he killed with fire. When Lyanna’s older brother and heir to Winterfell, Brandon Stark, arrived at King’s Landing and demanded Prince Rhaegar answer for his crimes, the king arrested and charged him with treason. When Lord Stark, Warden of the North, answered the king’s summons and arrived at court, he demanded trial by combat. King Aerys granted him this request and Rickard Stark, dressed in steel armour, was brought to the throne room where he had thought he would fight one of the Kingsguard. However, fire was the chosen champion of House Targaryen.”

Aemond’s hands flexed, tightening around the horse’s reins, knuckles bleaching, but he did not interrupt and she continued. “Rickard Stark was suspended from the rafters and a blaze was kindled beneath him by the king’s pyromancers. Fire is a mighty champion indeed, it finds guilt in the hearts of even the most innocent of men. As the account goes, Brandon Stark was brought into the throne room, his hands chained behind his back and his legs unbound, and was strapped into a Tyroshi strangling device. A sword was placed just beyond his reach. He could save his father, if only he could reach it. And to reach it he tried—strangling himself in the attempt, while Lord of Winterfell was slowly cooked to death in his armour.”

If she thought to shock him, it was unsuccessful. Prince Aemond’s face was all hard lines and hollows and shadows—and his composure was unsettlingly unrattled. He was unnerving, almost sinister, in his restraint and mastery of self. Perhaps he had seen worse—done worse—on dragonback, commanding one of the biggest specimens of the most dangerous creature in existence whilst waging war on these very lands.

Alayne will never know. Terror of the Trident, the prince was no more; and the men who had burned the Riverlands in the last war were beasts of a different nature.

“Unlike lords, families do not die so easily, and thus, King Aerys demanded Lord Jon Arryn present him with the heads of his two wards, Eddard Stark, the new Lord of Winterfell, and Robert Baratheon. Eyrie is proud and impregnable, and its lord is prouder still and had no sons of his own. He loved Eddard and Robert, however; and when King Aerys issued the order they be put to death, he refused and raised his banners in revolt, beginning what would become known as Robert’s Rebellion. Lady Lyanna’s abduction may have been the inciting incident, but it was not, by any means, the reason for the usurpation.”

She had always prided herself on her ability to take bits and pieces of fact, and weave it into masterful conjecture, but for the account of Robert’s Rebellion, she need not employ this skill. Alayne continued plucking her bloody tale out of the tapestry of histories. Interlacing the narrative threads one by one in an intricate assembly—guiding the prince through the battles: of Gulltown, at Summerhall, of Ashford, of the Bells, until the culmination of the violence at the Trident and the brutal sacking of King’s Landing.

She was fully engrossed in her recitation: energetically gesturing with her hands; a rose-bloom mantling her high cheekbones; her eyes ablaze with vivacity, with fervour. She had always loved stories—reading them, telling them, singing them; and Aemond was an attentive, engaging company. He asked questions and gave his opinions. Even if he enjoyed the topic of the recount not, he appreciated the skill with which it was relayed.

“—and so ended the war that put an end to three hundred years of Targaryen regime and ushered in the reign of King Robert of the House Baratheon, the First of his Name. However, it is said his rule was under the auspices of House Lannister.”

The wind caught a lock of her hair and it fell into her face, curling sweetly across the blush of her cheek. Prince Aemond plucked it off and tucked it behind her ear. “Let us end today’s lessons here, sweet lady, and discuss the perfidious Lannisters another time.”

Alayne stared up at him, eyes blue and wide, lips parted. The past several hours were a blur—she had gotten drunk on her own excitement, on the delight she felt from talking about what she enjoyed and being paid undivided attention to. Her blood was high and lively, and it spread itself in the flush galloping across her skin and in the roar in her ears.

“Here,” he said, handing her a waterskin.

Alayne accepted it readily, gulping the water down in a haste. Her throat was parched, her tongue was dry, but more than that, she wished she could drown herself right then and there. Has she slipped up? Had she said more than she intended? Alayne could not recall. Fool. Fool. Fool.

She handed the skin back to Prince Aemond and wiped her wet mouth hastily with the back of her hand. Her vision swam and she swayed in her seat, almost pitching forwards and off the horse before a hand shot out, snake-quick, and caught her about the waist. The touch was not unkind and it steadied her—made her feel almost safe.

Aemond drank from the same waterskin slowly, taking small, measured sips; and eyed her warily, concern a glowing ember in the violet. “You’re exhausted,” he observed, matter-of-factly. “When was the last time you slept?”

Alayne flattened her lips, hands gripping the prince’s forearm, fingers digging into the muscle. She was so tired all of the sudden, as if she had been leached of strength and vigour. She took a deep, shuddering breath, feeling like she was about to cry, but, no, it was merely exhaustion catching up with her in leaps and bounds. When was the last time she slept? Yesterday? The day before that? She could not recall. It has been an age since she last rested.

That’s not true. I’ve been asleep half my life, and I’m finally waking up.

Her body flushed hot and cold, like a fever. The world pulsated, light and colours prisiming, ephemeral fireflies flicking in and out of existence. Alayne shook her head to clear it, and slumped against the firm, well-built chest. The rumble of his laugh was a rich, deep sound that reverberated—a vibration that echoed out of his breast and into her spine, raising the fine hairs at her nape.

“You should sleep.”

“It’s still daylight,” Alayne protested, her eyes already closing.

Little fool, Petyr’s voice thinly hissed. What does a man do when left alone with a pretty girl?

A man might do many things, she told him, dozing off. Dark or pleasant, depending on the man… and on the girl. Prince Aemond, however, will do none of them—she was certain of that, at least. Trust was a heavy word, but she had faith. She believed—she wanted to believe. In that glimpse of goodness, in that spark of honour. Treacherous hope grew inside of her like a sickness.

Aemond said something. Perhaps a name.

Alayne looked up, head lolling back and dropping on his shoulder. Her mind was soft and hazy—sunshiny. The sun has settled itself over his shoulders like a mantle of glowing silver and set his hair ablaze into a crown of white fire. She squinted her eyes just right: backlit by the light, the prince shone luminescent from within.

Burning bright, Sansa’s mind rustled, drifting off into dreamless sleep. The brightest star. It shall never set, it will never fall.


Here’s a little inspirational moodboard picture. I wanna be in their romance era so bad. *cries tears of blood* But we gotta character develop more first… 😪
witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (14)

Aemond: she has such pretty eyes and shiny hair 🥺
Sansa: 👀 tiny slu*tty waist [insert unhinged demonic noises]

I’m a Cancer, okay! These are my emotional support fanservice bathing scenes! Who would I be without them?! 😩 The fanservice was brought to you by I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault), which is how Aemondsa ended up in their slu*t era, with all those pirate shirts Aemond is spotting and tavern wench garb Sansa frankensteined her dress into. Equal opportunity boob exposure, I say. Speaking of, I feel like Aemond has a very specific hyperfixation when it comes to what he is attracted to most—probably something like neck or collar bones or something. Sansa is a tit* girlie though. She appreciates a goodly swole chest.

ngl, she is getting more and more unhinged. I can’t tell who’s more insane—me or Sansa. There is just so much to unpack with her and the weird relationship she’s creating with Aemond’s trauma and anger. Someone help her. How did the war criminal come out as the more well-adjusted one in the duo?

In any case, here is a visual aid for Aemond’s bathing scene. Click at your own risk, though I highly encourage you to. Have these reference pictures, too. You’re welcome. (No, Sansa didn’t see the lightsaber. Only fishes—who are still keeping mum, the bastards—and us, but in a visual aid, not actual text.)

How much can twenty gold dragons buy Aemondsa? I actually don’t know. Inconsistency in the value of a gold dragon is one of the most consistent things about asoiaf, lmao. George really said ‘f*ck economics’ and peaced out.

This chapter was a bit different from the previous ones and imo not my best work, but I am tired of it, so we’re getting what we’re getting. It’s less angst, and more vibes and adventuring. Hope it wasn’t disappointing. I feel like I’m constantly being compared against myself and I’m in some sort of competition to one-up myself with every new instalment. It’s a bit messing with my head 🥴🥴🥴

Regardless of that, I’m thankful for everyone’s kind words and encouragement. 💕

P.S. I’ve been so delulu lately, I’ve actually circled back into manifesting. So in the spirit of that, leave a comment about what you’d like to manifest in witchcraft. I can’t promise anything, I do have an outline I need to follow. But no man is an island and there are plenty of things I haven’t thought of yet. (Before anyone mentions: yes, we will see Dany and Aegon. Eventually. This is a TWOW fic, after all.)

Chapter 10: ALAYNE III


I BEAT THE ABANDONED WORK ALLEGATIONS, YEEHAW!!!! Just to make something clear (cause like… the tags… the comments… all of the comments… the reddit thread… I see them all…) I am not abandoning this work.

If ever there comes a time I am unable to continue it, I will do the bare minimum and let people know in an update. However, I am really, really invested in this fic for a variety of reasons. If you want some sort of tangible proof of this claim, then, not only am I commissioning art pieces for this fic, but it also has actually inspired talented artists to draw gorgeous pieces of their own volition that they were kind enough to share with me. That’s an incredibly touching and beautiful gesture. Who would abandon a fanfic that has been gifted art? An absolute heathen. I’m never doing that. Thus, please, stop with the abandoned work accusations. Sometimes I just get distracted by other projects and get wrapped up in real life responsibilities. 🥹

Having said all that, thank you so much for everyone’s kindness and support! I really appreciate you all sticking with the story and with me. 🥰🥰🥰

Several of you have commented regarding Aemond reacting to Aemon the Dragonknight’s name, and there is no hidden deeper meaning—it’s merely a reference to chapter two where he first heard about ‘the noblest, truest of knights’ from Jeyne, the common peasant, and decided that he’s a folk hero and that smallfolk needed better education.

Speaking of education. Everyone is noting that Sansa is letting her trauma slip through the mask and Aemond might be picking that up. (Is he? Who knows…) But her most important—and continuous—slip up is that she is absurdly educated. And Aemond—someone who is not only highly educated due to his status, but also actively pursuing education recreationally—is definitely noticing that. The math ain’t mathing when it comes to a bastard girlie of a petty lord raised in a sept. That’s all I’m saying.

Also, lmao, I found everyone’s reaction to the Money Pouch Scene entertaining and diverse. I like that everyone has a different interpretation of the scene. 😆

Sansa, discovering she likes Hot Men™:
witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (15)

MOTHERCRACKER, WOW! cyeco-13 on twitter drew this beautiful, touching, stunning art of the crying scene from chapter 6. 🥺💕 Please go check out their account, they make gorgeous art. They are on tumblr and instagram, too!

Art at the start of the chapter is my commission of Aemond and Sansa, vaguely inspired by witchcraft, drawn by vunnen on instagram and twitter. Look at how cute they are! :3 (No, the art does not signify that Vhagar comes back. Sadly, meemah is dead. ❤️🩹)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (16)


chapter nine: Alayne III


Prince Aemond had not slept in three days.

That alone did not disturb Alayne; the restless quietude with which he comported himself however had.

For days, Skyfall studiously carried them at a steady, incessant pace through rolling, grassy lands and greenwood alike, further and further north-east and away from the looming shadow of Harrenhal castle. They stopped only to rest, and even then, it was Alayne and the mares who reposed. Prince Aemond would hunt or brush down the horses, cook or break camp. He would talk seldomly and he would not sleep. In the soft gloaming dusk, wrapped tightly in her bedroll, Alayne would lay in smokefall stillness—listen to the hush of the surrounding forest land and watch him across the dying flickers of glowing embers.

The prince was haunted.

His face wan and hollowed by grief, bruised from exhaustion—visage pained and coloured with inquietude. At night, he would sit, back to a tree trunk, snugly wrapped in shadows, and stare vacantly into the remnants of the flickering flame—his dark gaze smouldering and anguished. Peace had abandoned him completely, but he was not ruined yet. Aemond was denying himself the devastation of dreams, and the tortuous despair of longing for things lost would either condemn him or remake him anew.

The sight of Prince Aemond suffering stirred her; an echo of past sorrows welled up and spilled out. Loss connected them, tethered them. She only needed to look upon him and she would find a mirror of her own pain reflected back, desperate to be unleashed. At the thought, Alayne’s cherry pit heart fluttered against her ribs in something halfway between anticipation and sympathy.

She dreamt each night of some version of herself. One that made different choices. One that might not have gained, but one that did not lose.

When she dreamt, she forgot her own name.

Alayne had the heart of a viper, hissing and spitting poison. Yet, despite her contradictory feelings, it was beset with a concern so deep it left her throat aching. Still, she struggled to find the words to reach out to him.

Sitting astride Skyfall, Alayne rocked gently back and forth in the saddle as the mare trotted smoothly up a steep hillside. Prince Aemond sat behind Alayne, rigid and sombre, silent as a tomb—his arm firmly wrapped around her waist, a vice holding her in place. She sighed and put her palms over his hand, where it was splayed across her ribcage, long fingers cupping the bottom of the ribs through her dress and stays—his hands were scorching and she prayed her own were steady.

She closed her eyes, breathing in deeply and willing herself into composure. “How much longer? My legs are going numb.”

“Not long now,” he assured her, voice hoarse from disuse. “Harroway should lay beyond the hill.”

Behind them, Autumn whinnied, tossing her head, and Alayne chuckled softly. “Yes, I quite agree, sweet girl. I would like some rest, too.”

Aemond exhaled an amused huff. “Let us hope there are rooms in the inn and hay in the stables.”

“A warm meal would not be amiss, either.”

Aemond co*cked a brow. “Do I not feed you, my lady?”

He did. However, he was still a prince and unaccustomed to servitude. Whoever had taught him how to cook, had imparted the mechanics of it, foregoing all sense of taste or flare. His cooking was edible and filling, perfectly serviceable in achieving the objective of keeping one alive and in good health. The kindest word Alayne could spare to Prince Aemond’s meals was that they were bland. They were not, by any stretch of the imagination, appetising.

Alayne could not say these things. Who was she to criticise a skill she herself lacked?

“One grows wearied of stringy rabbit and cabbage soup,” she told him archly instead, turning her head to look upon him and was pleased to see his morose expression crack a fraction. Encouraged, she pressed on: “I’ve been dreaming of honeyed duck and roasted onions, dripped in gravy, of ribs roasted in a crust of garlic and herbs, and baked apples with yellow cheese and wallnu—ow!

Aemond pinched the side of her waist and when Alayne tried to wiggle away, his arm tightened around her, pulling her back.

“All right, all right,” she giggled, ticklish and giddy, swatting his fingers away. “I concede. No more talk of delicious food.”

“Please, don’t.” His mouth twitched, complexion lighting into bemusem*nt, and Alayne’s heart tripped and soared. “I can feel my stomach devouring itself. I’m hungry enough to eat a wolf.”

“My prince, I fear wolves are inedible.”

“I must be thinking of lamb then,” Aemond murmured and Alayne chuckled, low and soft.

Her hands were still atop his, slim fingers absentmindedly brushing over the strong knuckles and joints. The prince had splendid hands, beautiful hands: smooth and masculine, with long and shapely fingers that flowed into large and sinewy hands. A sharp jut of the wrist bone; strong, corded forearms covered in translucent hair; and blue veins pumping blood beneath pale skin. He had very firm and flat palms, skin tight like a war drum and callused from swordfighting. The right hand had a singular, jagged scar running across the palm—stark-white against the skin and old. It looked deep and sawtoothed, and Alayne wondered where he got it from.

She was engrossed in studying the shape and size of his fingers compared to her own when they rode into town with the midday sun.

Harroway was an unremarkable town eastwards of Harrenhal and northwards of Saltpans, and sat along the Trident, upriver of the Ruby Ford. In the Riverlands, there had never been a settlement large enough to be called a city, likely due to the factious history of the region and a tendency of the River Kings of old to refuse charters which might have given middling towns like Fairmarket and Harroway leave to expand and develop. Nevertheless, in the years since the River Kings ruled the lands, Harroway had managed to grow populated enough to warrant its own bustling marketplace and high-traffic trade routes, thus Alayne and Prince Aemond had concluded it would be the best destination for them to unload his loot.

“That, and Harroway is the closest point where we can ferry across the Trident,” Prince Aemond added, as Skyfall leisurely carried them beyond the beaten forest path and across the town line.

Alayne had not known that. Ser Shadrich had piled his armour high atop the horses and forced them to swim across the Trident, where the river was the shallowest, further upstream, closer to the curve where it branched off into Red Folk. He had feared Alayne would drown, but the girl she once was had swam for hours in the hot springs in Winterfell’s godswood during summers and her mother had been a Tully of Riverrun—she refused for the Trident to close above her head and drag her down.

Water embraced her with open arms, welcoming the river’s daughter back—it would never bring her death.

“It is actually surprising how little Westeros as a whole changed in almost two centuries,” Prince Aemond noted, looking around the settlement. “The language, the landscape, the infrastructures,” his eye curiously followed the curved lines of a milkmaid who herded a flock of goats across the road, “even the fashion remained much the same.”

“Is it not too premature an assumption?” Alayne asked, intrigued by the topic in spite of herself. “My prince, you’ve only had me for company. Perhaps you’re drawing conclusions from conjecture.”

“Mayhaps,” Aemond agreed, inclining his head. “Yet, I cannot shake the sense of dissonance. One would expect a hundred-and-seventy-years to have impacted the land in palpable ways.”

Prince Aemond made for a terrific conversationalist, Alayne was pleased to discover. He was remarkably erudite: in possession of a palpably intelligent mind and was well learned in a broad variety of subjects. The prince had an inherent passion for intellectual stimulation; a rousing interest in judging another’s philosophies and ideologies, discussing their values and convictions for no deeper reason than simply insatiable curiosity. He had a wonderful quality of being emotionally detached in his examinations—little of what she said affronted him and he derived enjoyment from her challenging his opinions. Thus, Alayne had permitted herself to guard her tongue less and less with each passing day.

“Should it have changed drastically? Before the Conquest, the Seven Kingdoms remained the same for thousands of years. Change on a large scale as a continent is slow and gradual.”

House Stark was over eight-thousand-years-old and were Kings of Winter since the age of Heroes. House Hightower of Oldtown was even older than that—a proud, ancient family that existed since the Dawn of Days. Alayne doubted the prince would forget his maternal family’s august history.

“Unless there’s a war,” Aemond pointed out with a raised brow.

“Unless there’s a war,” Alayne agreed, for war was the harshest instrument of change.

“Nevertheless, one should think there ought to have been some enterprise and edification. Between my brother and now, there have been what—thirteen kings on the Iron Throne?”

“Fourteen, if one counts young King Tommen.”

Aemond clicked his tongue in disapproval. “And yet, no notable advancement in the way of living, of neither noble nor smallfolk. Do you not find it strange how static our society is? The lack of palpable development in our civilization?”

The question seemed rhetorical and thus Alayne did not answer—what was she supposed to say? She had never given the subject any substantial thought. Westeros was not a place where change was easily evoked: the people here were headstrong and set in their ways; the land craved stability and order. She had always presumed this to be the truth. The prince seemed different, perhaps because he had a point of comparison for his ruminations.

Alayne wondered what it was like for him. Did he find it strange to be a man out of time? The world had changed; went on and carried on; moved on without him. No family, no allies, no roots; Prince Aemond was alone. And yet, from the prince’s perspective, the world had remained eerily the same. He was a stranger in a familiar land.

“Last time I was here, Harroway was in the possession of House Roote. Their sigil is a brown two-headed horse on a field of green,” the prince explained, ducking his head as they passed beneath the hanging sign advertising a smithy. “Inspired, Lord Roote had built docks on either side of the Trident and threw a chain spanning the river. He had constructed a unique, two-headed water-horse ferry, in honour of his house—the vessel was perfectly symmetrical and ideal for transporting large quantities of goods. If they still make them in such a fashion here, maybe we shall ride one across.”

“Are you certain we shall find the town much the same as you left it?”

“Of course not,” Aemond said matter-of-factly. “Vhagar and I burned it down.”

Alayne’s eyes rounded in shock and she choked on a startled laugh. “My prince, you reduced the town to naught but ashes and you ask why there are no signs of tangible advancement. Is one, mayhaps, related to the other?”

Aemond cast her a measured look, his violet eye aglow with good humour. There was a degree of unapologetic shamelessness to him Alayne found intriguing. “One can entertain two contradictory ideas in one’s mind simultaneously and still retain one’s ability to function. In stating two apparently opposing truths, neither ought to be a lie. Instead, they coalesce into a higher truth, in which the contradictories become two sides of the same truth, without reconciling either of them.”

His words strung and drew a queer tension in Alayne, and something buzzed at the back of her mind. However, before she could respond, Prince Aemond pulled on the reins and brought Skyfall to a stop. The palfrey halted, trotting slightly in place, and the prince leaned forwards, one-handedly clenching the pommel between Alayne’s thighs to keep the balance as he swung a long leg over the back of the saddle. A soft huff of an exhale ghosted Alayne’s nape, and, all too quickly, Aemond pulled bodily away, hopping onto the ground with a fluid, graceful motion.

There was no hesitation in the way his hands moved, and when he helped her dismount off Skyfall, Alayne very pointedly avoided thinking how warm and big these hands were; how they easily circled her waist, gripping her at the sides, and lifted her into the air quite effortlessly. Aemond smoothly settled her onto the ground, holding her until she steadied, the toes of her boots brushing against his own. His arms pulled away and, slowly, Alayne looked up.

The prince was exceedingly, absurdly tall and although Alayne was a handsomely tall woman herself, the top of her head only reached the tip of his nose and she had to tilt her head up to gaze upon him. His hair was awfully distinctive, thus he had braided it into a plait and hid it beneath a woollen cap. However, the day’s riding had jostled the disguise around and a stray lock fell out from beneath it. It snaked down the scarred side of his face, curling around the high cheekbone and beneath the strong line of his jaw, and—

Alayne blinked, eyelashes fluttering, colour mantled high on her cheeks, bright blue eyes wide and earnest. He looks very lonely, she thought, dazedly, her breath knocked out of her all of the sudden. Lonelier than he let on. Lonelier than he realises. He’s as lonely as me.

The midday sun reflected off his pearlescent hair and casted the prince’s sharp cheekbones in stark relief, shadowing the livid scar. Alayne reached out and tucked the loose lock beneath the cap, thumb unwittingly brushing against the edge of the eyepatch strap, pinkie grazing against the tip of an earlobe. Prince Aemond regarded her through pale eyelashes, reticent and intense. His gaze was cool and assessing, and did not stray away from her face. Yet despite the vigilance, he stood at ease, shoulders relaxed and stance loose, and curiously permissive of both her touch and the forwardness of it.

“There are few outside of Lys and Volantis who have the silver-gold hair of Old Valyria, and certainly none in Riverlands, my prince,” Alayne explained in an unruffled tone of voice. Her face was clear and still as a mountain lake, carefully neutral, even as her fingers lingered against the wool before she drew her hand back. “The better part of valour is discretion, and we must be careful.”

Aemond clicked his tongue, lip curling in scorn. “The Targaryens are exiled from Westeros. Who would believe there’s a prince dressed like a beggar?”

“Not many, I suppose,” she admitted; however, gnawing concern remained, “but I would rather we not find out how many cutthroats might be interested in your person.”

Aemond gave a low, noncommittal hum, and rubbed his stiff wrists and sore shoulder joints, turning away from her. Alayne registered the dismissal and took a step backwards, tucking her hands behind her back, lest they get brazen again and act discourteously. She watched as the prince tried to stretch his back and winced when the movement pulled sharply at his wounds. Riding horseback had no doubt left his injuries aching and inflamed.

Sleepless and wounded, the prince persisted in their journey, seemingly indefatigable. Not for the first time, Alayne wondered if there was truly no end to the bottomless well of his monstrous strength or if he was pushing himself beyond his limits out of terrifying tenacity. Frankly, imaginary cutthroats were the least of their concerns. What was she to do if he thoughtlessly exerted himself to his utmost, keeled over, and died?

She grimaced at the thought.

“You need not worry,” Aemond said after a prolonged, laden moment. He looked at her over his shoulder and something gentled in his sharp face, the violet eye growing less guarded. “I have no intention of dying. If men come after me, I shall simply have to kill them all.”

Alayne rolled her lips inwards, trying to keep her composure. “My prince, I do not think resorting to indiscriminate bloodshed is the answer.”

“You are absolutely correct,” Aemond told her with utmost sincerity. “It will have to be very discriminating bloodshed.” He widened his stance and clasped his hands behind his back, co*cking his head to the side as he leaned down towards her. “Adversaries only.”

“That is not what I meant—”

Aemond gave a cutting smile, fetching dimples bracketing the stretch of pink lips over bared white teeth. His violet eye was tapered into a squint—star-bright and dancing wickedly with mischief. “Something I have learned in my life: violence cannot resolve everything in the world. However, it is the solution to most of the problems.”

Alayne huffed a laugh, tittering like a snake to a charmer’s flute, in spite of her better judgement. She should be horrified, not enlivened. Such fragrant audacity ought not be amusing, not when it was paired with brazen ferity. The prince was as equally patent in his savagery as he was unnerving in his restraint—the duality of him, the diametric disparity of two extremes, made one wrong-footed. Petyr would advise her to act with caution. Instead, Alayne proceeded to firmly ingratiate herself with a man named Kinslayer, a dragonlord who had ravaged the Riverlands with fire and blood.

If the prince thought her clever he must not see her well at all, Alayne idly reflected with self-derision.

“And how is violence going to solve our problem of dwindling supplies?” she asked with a lilt, arching her eyebrows dramatically and rounding her eyes. Weak autumn sun caught her oak-dark hair and lit it from within like a rushlight, the top of her head gleaming rufescent. “Is bloody carnage going to feed and water the horses?”

Aemond clamped his lips together, pushing them into a bemused purse, and exhaled a huff. “I said most problems, not all. Besides,” he added, off-handedly, “it solved your problem, had it not?”

Alayne had nothing to say to that, but she privately ardently desired to kick him in the shin for his smugness. It was really a singularly insufferable trait of his.

Straight-backed and narrow-waisted, the prince took both Skyfall and Autumn by the reins, and offered his right arm to Alayne. She instinctively took it, her fingers latching onto the crook of his elbow. Although the limp in his gait was less pronounced—a sure sign the hip was slowly healing—the rolling swagger and halting way he put weight on his injured leg spoke of how much it troubled him. She ought to find for him a Maester or a healer of any sort, since the prince clearly had no intentions of minding his health.

They walked slowly, until they reached the closest building.

The inn before them was a moderately sized structure of pale stone lined with dark, hardwood planks and a thatched roof—it looked rustic and folksy, quaintly welcoming. It was near impossible to see through the small, shuttered windows, but noise spilled out from within; laughing voices and the sound of someone singing. Above the thick, wooden door a sign hung: an unfamiliar coat of arms was blazoned across the old, splintered wood—a diagonal line of flames divided a black castle on a field of orange, it ran left to right and counterchanged, the castle orange and the field black.

Prince Aemond gave a scornful snort, his lip curling with a sneer. “Our Favour Burns Bright,” he mocked. “If the proprietor wishes to bring fortune with the sign, they are sorely mistaken.”

Alayne frowned, confused, and turned her face up at him, a question thrumming at the edge of her lips.

“Do you know how Harroway got its name?” Aemond unexpectedly asked, pausing in his tracks, the horses whinnying at the sudden stop. “No? It was named after a former lord that ruled these lands. House Harroway had once been considered the luckiest in the land—they were granted Harrenhal and not two years later, Prince Maegor Targaryen took its daughter as his second wife.”

“Alys Harroway,” Alayne gasped, eyes widening, her body tensing. Who did not remember Maegor the Cruel’s infamous wives?

The prince gave a low hum of confirmation. “The whor* of Harroway, the High Septon called her. Another notorious Alys of Harrenhal, entangled with a Targaryen prince, is that not a curious coincidence, mmmm? Well, it matters not. In the end, Alys Harroway had given birth to a stillborn monstrosity, eyeless and twisted, and was proclaimed an adultress, aided and abetted by her father, Maegor’s Hand.”

“He had been flung from the Tower of the Hand. The Queen’s sisters were cut down by Kingsguard; her brothers, uncles, and cousins were put on spikes that lined Maegor’s Holdfast,” Alayne continued, woodenly.

The girl who had been a prisoner in King’s Landing had no friends and few ways to pass the time—ghosts and books were her only company for days at a time. She had read of Alys Harroway and she remembered the bitter cruelty of her history well. At the time, with Joffrey’s shadow looming over her like a noose, the Queen’s miserable fate seemed almost prophetic. “The Queen had been subjected to fortnight of agonising torture—and after she expired, her body was cut into seven parts and mounted on spikes above the seven gates of King’s Landing.”

“King Maegor had earned his sobriquet the Cruel many times over,” Prince Aemond somberly agreed. “The Iron Throne had never had a more cruel or unforgiving king. Every Harroway he could find was executed—in King’s Landing, in Harrenhal, and in Harroway Town, too.”

“Whole House extinguished for allegations of adultery.” Alayne could not help but disapprove.

Aemond raised an eyebrow curiously. “You do not think adultery is a sin? She cuckolded a king.”

Allegedly,” Alayne heatedly insisted.

“Allegedly,” Aemond acquiesced and looked at her expectantly, waiting for an answer.

Alayne’s fingers involuntarily tightened their hold on the swell of his bicep. “I was raised to be a septa; I think many things are sinful, adultery among them. Chief, however, is the practice of laying the crimes of others on guiltless children. What blame did Queen Alys’ younger siblings and cousins carry in the affair? Her aunts and uncles at Harrenhal? The distant kin at Harroway? They were made to suffer and punished harshly for things not of their doing.”

“You’re not wrong… and yet… There is little kindness to be found in Targaryen blood and the temptation to meet wrongdoings with cruelty is too potent—a dragon cannot deny its nature.” Aemond spoke with solemn gravitas of truth. Or, at least, the truth as the prince saw it.

“You are not cruel,” Alayne countered immediately.

Aemond’s mouth twisted into a mocking smile, but his violet eye softened. He looked down at her ruefully, almost kindly. “I do not think you know me well enough to judge, my lady.”

Alayne pursed her lips into a stubborn pout, but amended her statement all the same: “You have not been cruel to me.”

“And does that absolve me of the cruelty I begot on others?” Aemond asked, tone mild and soft-spoken, broodsome visage coolly comported. Yet, there was something brewing beneath the surface—a volatile intensity, simmering. “A snake might shed its skin, but a shadowcat cannot change its spots. The things I have done, they will always be a part of me.”

The things I have done and failed to do will always be a part of me, too, Alayne agreed.

The things that she lost, the people she could not keep—it all washed over her in a dramatic rush and suddenly she was angry again. It leaked out through the broken cracks of her like pus from a foul wound and a corner of her mouth involuntarily twitched. Her memories and failings haunted her like an unuttered curse.

The heat of her passions must have shown on her face, for the prince leaned in close—his eye examining her with a singular focus and cataloguing the minute changes of expression. Aemond caught her eyes, his gaze was open and interested, uncoloured by suspicion. He looked at her directly and Alayne swallowed thickly. He was dreadfully observant and intuitive, and could extrapolate a lot from very little.

Half of her wanted to shrink beneath the weight of his gaze, another desired to flourish.

Alayne curled her free hand into a fist, pushing her nails into the flesh of her palm. She reined in her fraying feelings and an iron curtain had been drawn behind her eyes, and her face lost all and any expression. Her stare locked with his: blank and reserved. Her eyes were an intense, captivating blue of the endless expanse of sky above the tundra—they were cold like it, too.

“The past remains the past, my prince,” Alayne Stone said in a voice that did not sound like her own. “We can learn from it, but we cannot change it.”

Aemond tilted his head to the side. “You always respond in ways that exceed my expectations,” he observed, mildly.

For a moment, silence hung between them, tense and charged, the air thick with indecision. Then, the door to the inn burst open suddenly and a man stumbled out, drunkenly swaying, clutching a tankard in one hand. Warm light spilled out onto the cobbled road, casting faint shadows and illuminating their profiles in stark contrast.

Aemond’s cheeks hollow out when pursed his mouth, the lines of his pink lips sharp and precise. He glanced at the midday sky. “We best come in now. There will be rain later.”

Alayne tilted her head up, searching the clear blue sky for signs of changing weather. “How are you certain?”

“The birds are flying low,” he explained and led them to the inn’s stables.

There were three more stabled horses there, and a boy, just a shade younger than Alayne, sullenly shovelling hay. He wrinkled his nose at the sullied state of their dress when she called him over, while Aemond took the leather saddlebags with Alayne’s belongings off Autumn and threw them over his shoulder, taking the sack containing his armour in hand. The poor mare was still laden with two more saddlebags of their camp gear, and three makeshift sacks containing weaponry the prince had pillaged from the outlaws.

Straightening to his full height, Aemond loomed over the stableboy and pointed a raised finger. In clipped, precise tone, he instructed to feed and water both horses, and to unsaddle, wash, and brush down Skyfall only. And if even a thread of burlap would go missing from their belongings, the prince added, the menace of his words palpable despite the soft-spoken way they were delivered, he would see that the boy would be lashed in the town square.

Terrified, the stableboy sloppily fell into half a curtsey, half a bow. Alayne snickered quietly and watched as he swiftly scampered off, only to dash back when the prince pointedly coughed into his fist and called him back. Aemond pressed a bronze halfgroat coin into the boy’s dirty palm and commanded him to treat the horses kindly; told him that he would be back soon for Autumn and to keep her saddled.

The prince spoke and carried himself with an indubitable sense of unquestionable authority and deep-seated self-assurance that could only have been borne of noble blood. Even dressed in rags, smeared with dirt and bruises, one would be hard pressed to mistake Prince Aemond for anything other than a royal—someone who was accustomed to being heard and listened to, and promptly obeyed.

This posed a complication.

“My prince.” Alayne pinched the edge of the sleeve of his coat between her forefinger and thumb, once they left the horses in the stables and walked towards the inn’s entrance. “You’re too striking.”

Aemond’s head whipped in her direction, he stared at her, blinking rapidly. “What?

“You look exactly like a noble in disguise,” she whispered under her breath, briefly glancing up from beneath her lush eyelashes. “You ought to make yourself smaller. Hunch your shoulders, loosen your stance, slur your speech.”

To his credit, Aemond took to counsel well and immediately changed his posture: back rounding, shoulder slumping forwards; his hips rolled in a way that made his gait slower and less purposeful, and he tucked his chin down. It did little to dampen his aura and only somewhat suppressed his looks, but a little was better than nothing at all.

They entered the inn through the heavy oak door, richly decorated with carvings. Inside, dark wood beams supported the shadowed ceiling and lanterns hung from them. Rounded, white stone walls were littered with hunting trophies—skinned hide of a black bear; a gigantic brown moose head above the fireplace mantle; several bone-pale stag antlers; mounted heads of a hog, a fox, an owl, and a long-toothed hare. The tavern was packed: long tables lined the floor and smaller tables were tucked into corners, and all were occupied by villagers and travellers alike.

Behind the bar, the innkeeper was grinding leaves and spices with a mortar. She was of an age with Lady Anya Waynwood and was a short and stout woman, handsomely buxom and with bare arms chiselled enough to rival a seasoned knight’s. A long, thick braid of yolk-yellow hair, shot through with ashen grey, was thrown over a shoulder. Her eyebrows flashed up and held as she watched them approach—drifting into the warmth of the tavern like a pair of haggard beggars.

“Greetings,” Aemond said in a soft, lilting brogue. “M’lady and me would like to have two rooms to stay the night.”

Alayne kept her expression carefully neutral. She had noticed it before, when they were leaving Harrenhal, but Prince Aemond had a surprising skill at mimicry—his accent sounded unexpectedly unaffected. Perhaps the prince had a gift of tongues? She suspected he had an aptitude for music: when she sang on the road to pass the time, he easily whistled the accompanying tune and effortlessly pitched it in the right note.

“Yer look a fright,” the woman said with a rolling trill that was even more pronounced than the accent the prince was putting on. She wiped her hands on a rag and put them on the bar, splaying thick, scarred fingers as she leaned forwards to peer up at them.

“Run into a spot o’ trouble on the road?”

Feeling the innkeeper’s shrewd eyes on her, Alayne gave an affectedly-shy, half-moon smile and fastened her dark-green cloak around herself tighter in an attempt to conceal her bedraggled dress. She stepped behind the prince, who shifted his weight and obscured her from prying eyes.

“Aye. Couple of brigands had tried to have their way with the lady and I cut them down. But not before we lost the rest of our men. A shame that; good lads they were.”

Aemond did not raise his voice louder than a measured murmur, but it still drew plenty of attention. He was stoic beneath it, whereas Alayne shrinked further into herself. Her palms broke into nervous sweat and she furtively wiped them against her thighs. The number of tightly-packed strangers around them made her tense and uneasy.

“The roads ‘ave been dangerous since the old king died. Yer travellin’ far?”

“North,” Aemond stated, nonchalant. Alayne’s blood froze and she forced the gallop of her heart to calm. “The lady’s father is a merchant at Duskendale and arranged a marriage. There’s a petty lord waitin’ for her at Seagard.”

“That’s a good piece off, yer’ll need provisions.”

Aemond dipped his chin. “Aye, we’ll take kindly to supplies for the road.”

“Yer want to stay the night?”

“A night, perhaps more. The travel has been hard and the lady needs to rest.”

“We don’t ‘ave two rooms available, but we ‘ave one and it’s big enough for two—it’s got two beds even.”

Aemond glanced uncertainly at Alayne and she shrugged, helpless. It was either that, or one of them would have to sleep on the floor by the fire. Which was leagues preferable than sleeping in the stables with the horses, as she did not fancy being alone and unprotected at night.

“We’ll take it,” the prince decided. “And call for a hot bath immediately for the lady.”

“It’s a silver stag for the room,” the innkeeper said, crooking a finger.

Aemond’s eyebrows shot up.

“It’s a big room,” she shrugged, dark eyes beady and shrewd as they flickered between Prince Aemond and Alayne. The two of them stood a shade closer than a merchant’s daughter and her mercenary guard ought to, and Alayne’s fingers were still clutching the edge of his sleeve. “I’ll let the bath be free, just for tonight. Seein’ as the girl looks ‘alf-frozen to death.”

“You have our gratitude for your generosity,” Alayne murmured, bashfully, and demurely cast her eyes downwards. She shifted restlessly on her feet.

The innkeeper’s wrinkled face softened a fraction and a well-meaning smile bloomed. “Call me Greta, lass.” When Alayne merely blinked at her owlishly from behind the prince’s shoulder, Greta faced Aemond again. “What do I call yer?”

“The lady is one Miss Jonquil Basil of Duskendale,” Aemond said, utterly brazen-faced.

A corner of Alayne’s eye involuntarily twitched. She mutely gawked at the heap of herbs lined on the worn wooden surface of the bar: coriander, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, chives, and basil. Should she be grateful there was no parsley to catch the prince’s eye and call her such?

“And yers, laddie?”

“Call me Wick,” Aemond continued in the same unabashed tone. He ruffled surreptitiously through the coin purse at his belt and produced a shiny silver stag coin. Theatrically rolling it across his knuckles, he flipped it onto the bar, where it bounced once and rolled smoothly towards the innkeeper’s awaiting palm. “I haven’t got any other name.”

Greta clicked her tongue and a girl no older than twelve summers popped out from the door behind the bar. Her hair had been shorn off, with only a downy layer of close-cropped brown covering her scalp, and she gaped up at Alayne—mouth falling open, eyes wide and rapt. Whatever she saw in Alayne’s face must have warranted earnest attention, for the girl tugged on her skirts and gave a rather charming, gap-toothed grin. Alayne smiled kindly at the girl, but dared not to touch the child, fearing lice.

“My granddaughter will take yer upstairs and show yer to your room,” Greta said, swiftly pocketing the silver stag. “I’ll ‘ave serving girls bring up a ‘ot bath in a trice.”

Aemond turned sharply, the ill-fitting oilcloth coat fanning out behind him with a dramatic flourish, and followed the girl towards the back of the tavern and up the narrow stairwell. Alayne trailed behind them quietly, drawing her hood lower and cloak tighter, as to escape the probing looks of the drinking patrons.

She had no reason to be fearful, Alayne fervently assured herself. Not all men were callous and ungallant. Not all of them lusted after her and sought to hurt her. She looked like a vagrant—who would be interested in a shabby girl like her? Nevertheless, the trepidation in her persisted, her heart rabbiting in her throat with a shuddering alarm. She tried so very hard not to think of dying Ser Shadrich and that redwood glade, and the men—

Aemond glanced at her over his shoulder, pale brow furrowing. “Do not be afraid,” he murmured, soft and low, and extended his open hand back. Alayne grasped it closely and firmly, seeking solace. Palm pressing against palm, cold fingers squeezing his.

He was warm, she noted with relief. The prince’s touch was gentle, grounding. His way of speaking was measured and soft-toned. She should not let that fool her—even the sweetest of smiles hid daggers, and a kind disposition often than not belied covetous intentions. A man’s warmth was nothing more than a whim. She best remember that.

Remember, sweetling. Nothing good has ever come from trusting.

She had not always been like this, she was sure. She used to know who she was, who she was meant to be and what she was meant to do in life. She had once been a girl—a real girl, with hopes and dreams, and joy. The years had turned her into a mockery of herself: a sad, wretched, broken thing. Puppet, dancing on strings to a macabre tune; discarded and left alone to rot in the darkness. She became someone who waited for people to hurt her, and when they inevitably did—there was a brief, blazing moment where she felt a certain smugness at being right. And, after, all she felt was pain and all had was sadness.

“Afraid?” Alayne laughed, thinly, brittly. “I do not know the meaning of the word.”


“Wait here for a moment.”

Aemond instructed quietly as soon as Greta’s granddaughter—what was the child’s name?—turned a corner, heading back towards the stairwell. With a firm hand, he lightly pushed Alayne against the wall next to the entrance and slipped into the room with quick, soundless steps. In the current political climate, paranoia was not an unfounded trait. Whether it was presently justified or not, was an entirely different manner. Alayne had not found the prince’s manner overbearing, however she supposed it was because her own anxious distrust ran bone-deep.

She peered around the edge of the wooden frame. Wickedly sharp dagger in hand, Aemond moved methodically about the space the innkeeper allotted them, investigating for potential threats—the ceiling was low and the prince ducked under the wooden beams supporting the slanted roof above. At last, he deposited the sack containing his armour by the fireplace and stopped by one of the bigger windows, calling for her to enter.

“We’re in a good position,” he said, peering down from the second floor window, as Alayne stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind her, barring it immediately out of habit. “Right above the stables. It might not be the quietest or the most sweet-smelling location, but it provides an excellent escape route.”

The chambers were spacious enough; there was a plain cot tucked into a corner, a large fireplace to the other side of it, and a round table with two chairs next to it. Across from the big window was a narrow door and beyond it, was a room similar to the main one, except the space was smaller and the bed was bigger.

Well, Alayne confirmed with relief, the innkeeper did not lie: there are two beds.

She glanced at the prince over her shoulder, closing the door to the adjacent chambers. “Pray, is there cause for concern?”

Aemond gave a low hum and sucked on the inside of his cheek, hollowing it out. “Not immediately, no. However, one must ensure at least two ways for swift egress in dire need.”

Alayne had heard the sentiment once or twice, but there was only one way to exit her chambers in the Red Keep alive—through the door she entered. If she wished to leave in a different state, the only way out was the tower window. She had wished she could change into a wolf and grow wings, and fly far away.



“You spoke.”

Alayne swallowed thickly. “I wondered what it would be like to have been born a bird. Untethered and roaming the wild skies.”

“Ah, I cannot say I ever pondered such,” Aemond said, opening the shutters to air out the room.

A cool breeze swept in, carrying the scent of fresh hay. A blinding shaft of sunlight blazed through and cascaded over Alayne. She squinted against the glaring brightness—the light burned her, its heat raising the fine hairs on her skin, and she took a step back into the cool darkness of a shadow.

“You rode a dragon. I imagine a humble bird pales in comparison to the might of a dragon.”

“I was not always a dragonrider,” he admitted, wistfully and gently like a sigh, and it occurred to Alayne that the absence of Vhagar the Green Queen was felt keenly by him. The loss of her was far sharper than the loss of a limb or an eye. Perhaps her death had fractured Prince Aemond in a similar manner Lady’s passing had fractured Sansa.

“I claimed Vhagar and took to the skies for the first time when I was ten. Before that, I have been bound to earth as any other man. It is in human nature to long for that which we do not have. The sky is a frontier unconquered.” Aemond paused and a tentative tendril of pure joy seeped into his tone. “And, oh, is flying glorious.”

Something stirred inside her chest—an ugly beast, dark and jealous; and the ember Alayne’s tender sympathies extinguished like the morning mist at dawn. Spite reared its head and enmity burst in her chest like a crushed skull, boneshards of bitterness ricocheting against her ribs.

“Be it a dragon or a bird, they have more right to it than us. They were made to fly. We were not.”

Aemond turned around, the midday light bracketing him from behind, casting his face in shadow. “The dragons ruled the skies and House Targaryen ruled the dragons.”

A pause. He blinked, eye wide and unsuspecting. Then:

“The dragons are dead,” Alayne murmured, a soft sound like a snake’s hiss.

She could feel the immediate, flash-fire flare of his temper and looked up at him from beneath the curl of long eyelashes. His sharp jaw was firmly clenched and a muscle in his cheek twitched. The skin around the edge of his eye tightened and his entire body went rigid with suspended tension.

When she spoke, it was not with her own voice. It belonged to someone else. “Your House is dead. Your family is dead.”

How do you find enjoyment in the memory of things you have lost? What do you have left to be proud of? You’re just like me. Mad like me. In pain me. We are not yet corpses, and yet still we rot.

His long legs covered the distance between them in a single stride. He crowded her space, towering over her like a vulture, and glowered down. His eye bore down on her with unnerving intensity—bright and violet, framed with a fan of long, pale eyelashes. Alayne was close enough to count them. In a strange moment of twisted savagery, she was relieved he did not have the other. She could not imagine the unbearable intensity.

The prince’s voice was a ragged, guttural sound; the scraping of rocks on a shore. “Do you enjoy provoking me?”

It was hard to tame a wild thing—something cornered and frightened, and prone to lashing out. A snake may shed its skin, but never its poison; and the girl Alayne once was had exchanged her timid heart with that of a venomous viper. Much like a rose bloomed surrounded by thorns, a sharp and mean streak emerged in her. She had grown fangs and yearned to sink them into the tenderest of flesh. There was a deep longing for ruin; a want to goad the temper and prod the gnawing aches. A want to hurt—to push the prince to his limits. How much can he bend before he breaks? How much did it take to unmake a person? If he crumbles and shatters, will she see all the broken parts of her reflect in him?

Alayne’s expression smoothed out: still as an undisturbed lake, cold as a pristine mountain top. She was not there, she was not in her own body. “My words are not untrue.”

She might have wondered where this courage had come from, to speak to him so frankly. But it was not courage that spurred her on—it was something else; a disparate, perfervid feeling. Their faces were close enough for her nose to brush his and his breath feathered over her cheek. The barely restrained heat of his body pulsated.

“You do not have a dragon anymore, my prince. You may never be a dragonrider again.” The words tasted like ash on her lips and she savoured the way they burned a path down her throat. “Without your dragons, you Targaryens are just like everyone else.”

Aemond’s stare was blinding—it set her aflame. His eye had dilated; the violet waning into burning, translucent lilac, and became but a faint sliver surrounding the cavernous black of his pupil. Alayne could not tell what he was thinking, but she supposed he wished to strike her for her impertinence. Men’s tempers were mercurial and subject to their whims. Alayne was not accustomed to being hit, but Sansa had taken mailed fists of knights to the face—she could withstand his violence.

Aemond’s hand lifted. Alayne closed her eyes, blazing smugness at being right radiating through her, and prepared herself for the blow.

Instead of striking her, Aemond’s hand was placed around her throat, one long finger placed flush against the line of it. It was a feverishly warm and loose pressure, and he did not squeeze.

Alayne opened her eyes and gazed up at him. Aemond’s face cut a harsh visage, yet there was no malice left in it. Instead, he observed her with brazen curiosity. The weight of him anchored her back to her body.

“Your pulse is steady,” he noted coolly, his eye settling on the curve of her rosebud mouth. Her throat bobbed beneath his fingers as she swallowed. “Are you not afraid?”

“I’ve been leached of my fear,” Sansa said before Alayne could stop her.

Inside Sansa, something seethed. Some feral beast clawed at her ribcage, trapped and fettered, and hungry. Her heart was in her throat, beating a thunderous drum against his palm.

Prince Aemond was not the one to put the darkness inside her chest; he has not shaped it. He had merely called it forth and given it form. She permitted him liberties no other man had earned with her before. She allowed skinship—his hands on her person: fingers around her wrist; a stroke of knuckles against her cheek; palms on her waist and hips. His hand on her throat was a novel and bold move, one which did not displease her. It was shameful, perhaps, that Sansa enjoyed it.

The moment hung, suspended in repose: darkness and luminance, quietude and bloom. Something unspoken.

Aemond’s gaze fervently roamed her face, searching for… something. An emotion fleetingly flickered across his face and Alayne’s belly jerked like it was ravaged by fire ants: it was not surprise, not shame, not pity—it was recognition. Immediately, his countenance gentled imperceptibly, the burning eye growing less searing, the pupil dilating.

He had that look again. From the forest. From the glade. Wine-dark and tender like a flush of a fresh bruise. A grim, awful understanding flowered; rooted in sympathy, in shared pain.

And just like that, Aemond folded his temper away, concealing himself within the impliable folds of self-restraint. Without a single word, he withdrew, clasping his hands behind his back as if she was the one who burned him.

Alayne’s hand flew to her throat—pressing hard against the places she was touched; soaking in the lingering warmth.

Aemond turned away, glancing outside of the window at the heavy fruit of the sun. He shifted his weight, bones audibly grinding, body taut as a drawn bowstring. The chiselled angles of his face made all the harsher by the mouth that was pursed into a flat, grim line. He hummed lowly and, finally, levelled his eye on her pale face.

“Suffering in silence festers nothing but rot and breeds resentment,” Aemond murmured, not unkindly; voice a soft and gentle drawl that was in juxtaposition with the ferity of his gaze. “Pain is a poison and it demands to be felt.”

Her tongue darted out of her mouth, wetting her lips, and abruptly Alayne Stone’s entire being shifted. She transformed: sultry and enticing, and suddenly older. Her posture loosened, body becoming pliant and yielding. She pressed her shoulder to the wall, leaning her hip against it, curving the line of her lithe waist as she crossed her arms under her breasts. She had put the pieces of herself back into their places; seized her feral feelings and choked them to death between her cold fingers.

Don’t waste your pretty face, sweetling, Petyr instructed. Use it.

“Should Your Grace not take his own advice?” Alayne asked in a honeyed voice, dripping with saccharine sweetness. “Lest your body putrefies from the pain of holding your wounds together.”

Aemond gave her a squint-eyed look and huffed an exasperated sigh. “You enjoy talking in circles. The moment I feel I have grasped onto something real, you twist away from it like sylph on a zephyr. It’s like trying to hold onto gossamer threads.”

She shrugged delicately with one thin shoulder, feigning nonchalance, and smiled prettily, perfect dimples rounding her cheeks like ripe apples. Men always liked her smile.

“I suppose,” she drawled, coyly.

Aemond hummed, a touch mockingly. “Pretence suits you ill, Lady Stone.”

Alayne’s smile faded like a dying ember. A corner of her mouth twitched, threatening to yank her expression into a sour grimace. Aemond was unblinkingly staring at her, lush mouth tugging into a perversely smug smirk. A glimmer of satisfaction twinkled in his violet eye and Alayne felt like she lost a battle she had not known she was fighting.

“You are very entertaining when you’re angry. As sulky as a little bear cub,” he told her with blatant amusem*nt.

Vexed in spite of her better judgement, Alayne pouted and felt a rush of blood heat her cheeks, which only seemed to derive the prince more enjoyment. She suppressed the urge to stomp her foot and instead fidgeted under his scrutiny, wringing her hands, searching for something clever to respond with. A tangled curl of dark hair fell in front of her eyes and she tucked it behind her ear bashfully.

“Jonquil Basil? Really?” Alayne asked suddenly with a stilted laugh. “Were Peony Pickleweed and Marigold Fern spoken for? Hyacinth Chive too refined?”

Aemond frowned with a surprisingly childish puff to his cheeks. “Jonquil is native to the Riverlands and it is a pretty enough flower to be a popular name for a maid. Merchants tend to adopt names indicating their trade. A herb and spice merchant would be rich enough to entice a lordling groom for his daughter. It’s logical.”

“It’s well reasoned, mayhaps, but your naming sense is atrocious. Wick.” Alayne gave a little snicker, genuinely amused. “A Valyrian name might not be the most judicious choice, but naming oneself after a candle…”

Aemond adopted a put-upon expression as he rifled through the saddlebags he deposited on the bed earlier. “How hard it is to please you, my lady. My cooking is subpar, my ethics are lacking, and now my naming sense is under attack. Are you satisfied with nothing?”

The quick repartee and witticism came easy, now that the prince had ceased resisting her manoeuvring and played along. All Alayne had to do was slip on a mask of someone cleverer and far more charming than her—a beautiful girl with all the world’s graces at her command.

“Women are very complicated, you know,” Alayne said with a knowing half a smile, half a smirk, that she practised in the mirror often to get just right. “Pleasing us takes practice.”

The prince made a throaty, strangled sound that he disguised with a choking cough. Alayne watched, amused, as he fished out Alayne’s coin purse and deposited most of the coins from the one at his belt into it. His proud profile remained resolutely stoic, but a ruddy flush mantled the top of his ear and the highpoint of his cheekbone was dusted a fetching shade of pale pink.

Aemond straightened and took off his woollen cap; unbraided his hair and shook it out, ruffling the roots and combing through the length with his fingers. When Aemond turned to face her, he did not look her in the eye, and somehow that made Alayne giddy with satisfaction.

“I am leaving to sell our—”

Your loot.”

“—our spoils,” Aemond stressed with a heatless glare, clicking his tongue in disapproval of her cheek. He quickly braided his hair with nimble, clever fingers into a tight plait and corded it, hiding it beneath the cap again. “When I’m gone, you—”

Whatever else he meant to say was cut off by a sharp knock on the door. Brow furrowed, Aemond approached the barred door, shoulders tense, swordhand falling on the pommel of Dark Sister at his hip.

“What is it?” he called, curtly, free hand flexing into a fist.

“Bath for the miss,” a high, girlish voice called.

Aemond unbarred the door and stepped away, clearing the way and letting two serving girls pass through the threshold, carrying a large copper tub. He leaned against the edge of the door, hands seemingly nonchalantly placed on his hips, close to the vicinity of the sword pommel, and watched their movements, hawk-eyed. One stoked the fire in the hearth and deposited a stack of clean linen towels on a chair, whilst the other filled the bath with piping-hot water brought up from the kitchens and scented it with a pinch of sage. Afterwards, the two girls curtsied clumsily and hurried out of the room. When the sound of their footsteps died down, the prince turned to face Alayne, who stood by the fireplace and observed the entire affair with far too much mirth.

“Bar the door behind me,” Aemond commanded, adjusting the collar of his coat and tugging on his cuffs—he was busying his hands. “Let no-one in. I’ll give three knocks: two long, one short; and you shall know I have returned.”

He left without sparing Alayne a glance. A moment later, she heard his boots thunder against the stairwell steps.

That’s amusing, she noted with a wry twist of the lips. Prince Aemond grew prickly when embarrassed. He was a bit like a cat in that regard. If she was still the type of girl who considered such things, she would think it a little cute.

Dismissing the errant thought, Alayne closed the door tightly and barred it soundly. Then, after a moment’s pause, she dragged one of the chairs and propped it against the hinges. Straining, she heaved the heavy sack containing the prince’s armour and deposited it on top of the chair. If someone willed it to break in, she doubted an old chair and some weight would stop them, if an oak bar did not—but a little added protection soothed the disquiet mind.

In the corner of the room, fire danced merrily in the ingle and the copper bath steamed by the hearth. Alayne closed and locked the window shutters, and took out the lye soap and her oils from the saddlebag. She began to carefully unlace her dress and folded it up. She was right: it was singularly ugly. However, it was not entirely unsalvageable.

The ragged slit on the skirts ran to her knee, and she would have to trim and hem the rip, and dye it a darker colour to hide the stains and the contrast in material. The fabric was still thick and warm, and she could tailor it into a feasible riding dress. She unlaced her stays and took a deep, measured breath—she had been forced to tie them too tightly and the ruined bodice strained mightily to keep her breasts contained. She scrutinised her work; she would have to rip the stitches open again, but the snug fit of the dress could be rectified with an extra swathe of fabric.

Alayne let her shift drop and it pooled at her feet, followed by her smallclothes. The chambers had no looking glass, but she examined her figure with her eyes and with her hands. She put her palms flat against her ribs, feeling the slow and steady expansion and contraction of her lungs beneath the skin. She dragged them down the cinched dip of her waist, scraping her nails over the jutting scoops of hip bones. Her fingers latched onto the sleek curve of the hips and dug into the smooth, supple flesh there—firmly, painfully.

There was a bruise the shade of a ripe pomegranate covering quarter of the side of her thigh and edge of the buttocks from when she was pulled off her horse and roughly thrown onto the ground. A dark, purple-black bruise on her stomach from when she was kicked in the ribs. She had long legs—lean and lithesome, and they were covered in scrapes. Finger-shaped marks on her left calf and right ankle; scraped knees from when she tackled Prince Aemond at Harrenhal three days ago.

A bruise is a lesson, Arya used to say after she came back from her dancing lessons, tired and battered, and smiling blindingly bright. And each lesson makes us better.

Sansa had tried so hard to hold onto her sister’s words when she was in King’s Landing, but it was a difficult thing—no matter what Sansa did and what she learned, she never seemed to become better. In the end, she had grown used to being covered in bruises and quietly wiping the blood off her lip.

It’s a useless thing to dwell on, Alayne told herself and stepped into the steaming bath with a sharp intake of breath.

The water was scalding hot, but she did not flinch. She liked the burning, scorching heat of it—it made her feel clean, made her feel better. She sat down in the middle, curling her long legs towards her chest, mewing softly as the hot water smarted against the thin cuts on her shins and thighs. The tub was tall enough to be filled with water up to her chin.

From far away, a clap of thunder resonated through the air and, beyond the closed shutters, heavy rain broke out.

Alayne took a deep breath and submerged herself fully. Underwater, she opened her eyes and stared upwards at the ceiling where nebulous, dim shadows danced; puppets on strings.

For a moment, Sansa allowed herself to wallow in the complex emotions galloping through her breast—twisting and straining, burdening it with their putrid weight.

Her life had changed. Her heart had changed. Her soul had changed. She had turned into a ravaged ghost, haunting herself. Became a decaying corpse of who she used to be. What was left of her was a void filled with polished regrets, and sentiments left aching and tender like a broken bone. She tore herself down to be built back up again in the image of someone else, of someone new; someone stronger, wiser, better.

Sansa had always been soft; a candle-lit flame in the night. No glorious sunset as Robb; no fierce forge-fire as Arya; no ever-burning lamp as Bran. She was bright and singularly lovely, but small. As a girl, Sansa was loved, but she was no-one’s favourite: not her parents, not her siblings. Maester Luwin and Septa Mordane favoured her, but that had to do more with her talents and her skills, and less with herself. People enjoyed the smoothed down version of her they held in their head—for in her heart of hearts, she was not brave and she was not strong.

Being Sansa Stark had never been enough.

Not for anyone to stay. Not for anyone to help. Not for anyone to save her.

Is it all lies, forever and ever, everyone and everything? she had asked Petyr once.

Almost everyone. Save you and I, of course. Littlefinger responded, smiling.

She felt a stirring of a white-hot anger inside her chest again and forced herself to stay underwater longer despite her burning lungs, her swimming vision. Rage burned inside of her with impotent furry. It has been this way for years: she was always angry and she was always helpless to do anything. She had nowhere to direct this burning resentment, this livid feeling beyond despair—nowhere but inwards, nowhere but to curl this blackened anguish into herself.

She was an amalgamation of her hurt; a revenant beast sewn together of old wounds and bygone aches, constantly picking open the raw scabs on her heart. She did not recognise herself anymore—did not know who she was when she was not in pain.

A sob welled up in her throat and she pushed it down, harshly, and emerged from beneath the surface with a violent burst and a ragged gasp, water trailing down her skin in running rivulets and swirling eddies. She sat in the hot water, a removed observer, untethered to her own body, and watched numbly as curling tendrils of hair floated on the surface of the water like tentacles of a kraken and painted odd shapes. A curl floated and formed into a star, and she stared at it, transfixed, as minutes trickled by.

Sansa Stark forced her sadness and her ire into a small steel box, and lowered it into wet ground, burying it in the woods, covering it with rotting leaves.

She slapped her face with both hands—hard and fast.

Alayne Stone sat up straight, grasped the bar of soap, and began to fervently scrub at her milk-pale skin, reddening it. If she was in the Eyrie, the bathwater would have been laced with salts and with sweet orange oils, and she would have had spiced, olive-oil soap to cleanse her skin and lavender oil to wash her lower lips with. Instead, Alayne scrubbed her long, dark hair with the harsh lye soap and then rubbed a few drops of her cleansing geranium oil into her scalp, and gently combed out the snags with her fingers.

She washed her limbs and her feet, her back and between her legs with a wet cloth, cleaning away the dirt and the sweat. She soaped up her breasts and cupped them—they sat high and proud, pillowy to the touch and much too full to fit in her open palms. Alayne was well endowed for a girl her age, even if her tit* were less impressive than Myranda Royce’s ample bosom. The hot water had flushed them a pretty shade of pink and they floated in the bath, covered with soap suds.

Alayne squeezed one, then the other, weighing—they felt heavy and sore, and the nipple was tender to the touch. Her moon’s blood must be coming soon. She glanced at the ruined underskirts. Perhaps she would have to cut them up and boil them clean, and repurpose them into smallclothes lining for the blood.

When she was done, Alayne stepped out of the frothed up water, and dried her hair and body with a clean towel. She eyed her discarded underthings distastefully, and took out her spare silken smallclothes and the remnants of the shift she had previously torn up to bandage Prince Aemond. It was a pretty, diaphanous thing—all of Alayne’s underthings were pretty and well-made, she could not tolerate it otherwise—sewn out of quality linen, but after her impromptu alterations, it barely covered her mid-thigh.

Alayne straightened and tugged on the hem self-consciously. It blessedly had a modest neckline and covered her fully, chest and shoulders both, but the amount of leg and thigh exposed made her feel like one of the licentious girls Petyr housed in his brothels. She frowned and tugged on the hem again—it did not miraculously yield more fabric.

She drummed her fingers on her thigh in thought, before she took her soiled underclothes, dumped them in the bath, and got on her knees to wash them with soap in the water. It was not ideal, but it was better than not having a spare set of smallclothes. After she was done, she put a chair close to the hearth and hung her linens from the back of it. The heat of the fire should dry them quickly enough, she hoped; she shuddered in mortification at the prospect of the prince coming back and seeing her underthings. Alayne considered washing her dress, too, but decided against it—it would require a fast river stream and a washing board to get all the dirt out of that garment.

There was not much else left for her to do. She glanced at the shuttered window, wondering what Prince Aemond was doing—when shall he return.

Alayne did not dare call for serving girls to empty the bath, not when she was alone and barely clothed. Instead, she sat down at the edge of the bed and meticulously brushed her hair, combing drops of sweet almond, nettles, and rose oil through the locks, until it flowed silk-like, running down her side and pooling on the bed; a dark river gleaming in the firelight. Alayne would have to darken it again soon—she could see it shine rufescent around the edges and she worried the red would soon begin to creep back at the roots.

Alayne picked up her dirty dress from the floor and went through its pockets, making sure she did not leave anything inside, before she folded it up neatly and emptied out her saddlebag, rummaging through her belongings. She stuffed the dress to the bottom of the flat leather satchel, gently put away her hair oils and ivory comb.

Next, Alayne opened the velveteen sewing pouch and extracted the carefully wrapped in cloth letters, the locket, and the signet ring Prince Aemond entrusted her with.

She considered the bundle of letters, examining them with a shrewd eye. This was the first time since their discovery Alayne was left alone with the prince’s belongings. She should open them. Take great care in remembering how they were sealed and wrapped, and after reading and committing to memory their contents, reseal them precisely the same. Petyr had taught her information was an invaluable source and that Alayne should always strive to know more than her enemies and allies alike.

She slowly traced a tip of a fingernail along the edge of the stack. Through the thin cotton of the handkerchief, she could see the vivid dark-green of the ribbon the letters were bound with. She felt a covetous hunger; an ache to probe into the deepest recesses of Prince Aemond’s heart and unearth his secrets. Crack him open like a ripe fruit and pick at him with ravenous fingers.

With a gentle sigh, Alayne pinched the stack between forefinger and thumb, and delicately placed it back into the velveteen pouch.

It would be dishonourable to repay trust with a betrayal.

Alayne regarded the jewellery next. Prince Aemond may keep the secrets of his letters, but he had given her the pendant and the ring himself. He could not fault her for her curiosity. The signet ring was beautiful: black and gleaming, and heavy in her palm. Alayne deposited it back into the pouch, for the lack of intelligence it supplied her with. The pendant came next. It was rather big, the length of Alayne’s thumb, oval in shape, and bore a raised three-headed dragon of a lustrous yellow-gold, its eyes studded with jewels. She inspected it, turned it around in her fingers, until she found a latch on the side and realised the pendant was a locket.

Alayne opened it: inside were three things.

First, two meticulously painted portraits. They were exquisite, finely-made, and highly detailed—so lifelike Alayne felt the figures might step right off the canvas.

One of them depicted two women who could only be Queen Helaena and Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower, sitting side by side in a settee. Mother and daughter had the same gentle features, soulful eyes, and melancholic demeanours. Queen Helaena was silver made flesh and Dowager Queen was the sombre shadow to her daughter’s moonlight. In her lap, the Queen had a pair of young children, a boy and a girl, with the same white-gold hair as her, while Alicent Hightower cradled a babe no older than three months.

The other portrait depicted four men: in the centre stood young King Aegon, cherubically handsome, unburnt, and uncrowned. Behind him, with his hands resting on the king’s shoulders, towered Lord Otto Hightower and it struck Alayne, now that she saw him and Prince Aemond side by side, how alike the two of them looked. The prince and his grandfather shared the same long, sharp face, tall nose, and clean-cut bone structure. The Prince Aemond in the portrait was already taller than his elder brother and stood rigidly to King Aegon’s right. He was younger than the one she came to know—there was a childish softness to his cheeks and jaw. On the king’s left stood a young boy, no more than three-and-ten, and he was the only one smiling. Prince Daeron reminded Alayne of sweet Tommen Baratheon, with his lamblike eyes and kindly disposition.

Third thing inside the locket was a perfectly preserved lock of pale hair, tied off with a simple purple ribbon. Who could it belong to? One of Aemond’s siblings? The Queen? The King? Young Prince Daeron? It was hard to tell, there was only so much variation in hair colour a portrait could portray.

Gingerly, Alayne ran a finger down its length—it felt silky and dewy soft to the touch. A child’s hair.

A lump formed in the back of Alayne’s throat and her eyes stung.

Suddenly, this felt too personal. She had witnessed too much, glimpsed something she should not have. The memento exposed the raw parts of him she had no right to know.

Her eyes fixed on the portraits of the children: the twins, Prince Jaehaerys and Princess Jaehaera, smiling in their mother’s lap, and the swaddled babe, Prince Maelor, sucking on his thumb. Children; innocent babes, dead before their time. Murdered. Like Sansa’s own sweet brothers, Bran and Rickon, who had been murdered in their home, within the high walls of Winterfell.

The land teems with bitter ghosts. And yet you must continue to move forward—a wandering without end. Is that not the cruellest thing?

She was going to be sick.

Alayne rolled into a ball on the bed, drawing her knees up to her chest. She felt faint and her heart lodged itself in her throat, pulse hammering through her skull. A cold wave washed over her and she felt a heaviness settle on her chest, pressing down on her—fist into flesh. Bile rose up her throat and Alayne forced it down, feeling lightheaded as tremors shook her body.

She wanted home, but there was nowhere for her to go. Winterfell was burned and desolate; Bran and Rickon dead and cold; Arya was lost to her. Robb had been betrayed and murdered at the Twins, along with their lady mother.

Let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go, I should let it go.

Her lips trembled and she buried her face in her fists, praying and begging for release. She would be happier, she thought. If she could forget all of it—if she could forget her past. If she would embrace being Alayne Stone, a bastard daughter of a petty lord. Marry some handsome blacksmith and birth healthy babes.

However, each time she closed her eyes, she could see it all, crystal clear: Winterfell. Home. Its dark towers cloaked in light summer snow and steam rising from the pond in the godswood. Her parents, smiling. Robb with snowflakes in his hair. Arya’s laughing face smeared with dirt. Bran chasing Summer and Rickon tugging on her skirts, his gap-toothed grin crooked. Jon Snow with his calflike eyes, handing her a carved wooden figure of a horse. In the distance, Lady was howling.

Some memories do not soften with time. Some grow edges like daggers—and they cut one to the bone.

She would rather die than let this go.

She will never let them go.

Clutching the pendant in a white-knuckled fist close to her heaving bosom, Alayne rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling with sightless, burning eyes, her jaw clenched tight. She was not certain how long she laid like that, but after some time, she realised she had been weeping.

A curse can be many things—a girlish wish left out to spoil in the southern sun, putrid and soft, leaving behind only the rotting corpse of a dream. Or a poison chalice at a royal wedding, filled to the brim with blood of innocents and a perfect alchemy of calcified desire and oxidised envy.

Sometimes, a curse was a wolf-girl with big leather wings like a bat and a gentle heart that had gorged itself on pain and turned to glass. Sometimes, a curse was a hope—a glimmer of a chance.

There was a sharp knock on the door—two long, one short—and, slowly, jerkily, like a puppet on slack strings, Alayne Stone rose upwards and sat down, firmly planting her bare feet on the wooden floor.

She felt disoriented, consciousness muddled and slow—like she was waking up from a deep, dreamless slumber. Her limbs felt heavy and trembled under their own weight. Her skin was feverish and clammy. Her head throbbed and reverberated with dull hurt. A bloody hunger gnawed at her belly and her bones ached with growing pains.

But grow she must; for if one did not grow, they began to rot.

She was done rotting.


If I haven’t replied to your comment, I’ll do it shortly. I’m still working through them all. 🙏

Ngl, I lost my touch. Nothing made me feel more incompetent and inadequate, and like a complete fraud than this chapter. 😔 It was intended to be a lot longer, but I was trying to drag myself towards the finish line that kept moving further and further away. So instead of struggling, I cut it on a point I felt could work as an organic end. It does mean I am not entirely happy with the end result, but it’s better to give you some content rather than nothing at all. 🥹

Sansa has more issues than Vogue magazine and needs a lot more therapy than I am capable of providing. She’s compassionate and sympathetic, but there is an undercurrent of meanness. It’s very much an unhealthy trauma response—an almost self-sabotaging desire to ruin something, to be proven right in expecting the worst. That way she can say ‘yes, I was right, he is exactly like all the others.’

Aemond and Sansa are in their ‘getting to know each other’ phase. It’s not enough that they find each other interesting, I gotta keep showing the reasons why. I think this is very important in romance stories, even more so here than in a regular fic because they are a rare pair—I have no established dynamic to fall back on. It’s me vs the world and I’m converting all of you into Aemondsa shippers, one reader at a time. Thus, while we have romantic undertones, we don’t have any real romance quite yet. Tragic, I know.

Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift is the height difference I’m working with in my head, when I write Aemondsa, even though it does not entirely make sense. (Twitter is still figuring out how tall Ewan is—my money is on 6’1-6’2, but there are no official stats.) But the ‘dismounting the horse’ scene made me sit down and actually calculate the heights because I’m bad with visualising that—and I ended up with an approximate 6-7 inch difference. Here are some visuals, and I can’t believe this couple is the closest reference point I found online, yet here we are. (The type of weird and arguably unnecessary research I spend my time on…)

I’m not allowed to take long breaks from this WIP anymore, other projects cannot take precedence again. I say a lot that witchcraft is my Free Therapy fic, but lmao, it unironically is. I unpack so much in it. Updates might be slow, but it’s never getting abandoned. Encouragement and support to keep me on track and focused on witchcraft would be appreciated. 🙏

With that in mind, I gotta mention it again. It has… not been helpful receiving some of the comments that I got. Seeing “it’s embarrassing, get yourself together” and “you’re not busy, go update” was not encouraging. I know that a lot of people like and care about this story, and I am truly very, very grateful for that, but I would appreciate a bit of understanding towards the author. Thank you. 😔🫂

P.S. I have written a Halloween oneshot, a Halloween mini-fic, a vampire au oneshot, and began a Sansa Hightower au series! All Aemondsa.
P.P.S. My friend Jen (edrurzys on ao3/myladyvhagar on twitter) is writing an Aemondsa fanfic I’m obsessed with called burning through the bloodline, if anyone is interested in checking it out. (It’s great, I promise!)

Chapter 11: ALAYNE IV


Sansa: So what if he’s a war criminal? At least the war criminal has a job. At least he’s active in the community. :/


I don’t want to jinx myself, but look at me go! Still beating the abandoned work allegations. And y’all might think I am joking, but I start working on the next chapter a week after I publish the previous one. It just takes me this long to write. 😭

Alayne Stone is one of my favourite storylines in the series. I adore the concept. I so very rarely see it explored for long periods of time in fanfics, usually she unveils herself as Sansa fairly quickly, which I think is such a shame and a missed opportunity. Sorry to disappoint anyone who’s waiting for Sansa to lose the hair dye—she will not be doing that any time soon. I’m milking Alayne Stone for as long as I can.

Look at this gorgeous artwork of Aemond and Sansa from lonelymagpies on twitter! 😍💗 Arianna outdid herself with this piece and I’m so thankful she accepted the commission. The vibe is ‘what if witchcraft was a bodice-ripper romance, except it’s Aemond’s bodice shirt that’s getting ripped off’ and, oh boy, does Swolemond lose his shirt in the art. 😙😏 I’m obsessed with this piece. (It’s also available on Instagram!)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (17)


chapter ten: Alayne IV


“What do you get from loss?
You get awareness of other people’s loss,
which allows you to connect with that other person,
which allows you to love more deeply
and to understand what it’s like to be a human being
if it’s true that all humans suffer.”
— Stephen Colbert

In the Riverlands, there was an old proverb: death knocks thrice. In the North, smallfolk knocked thrice upon wood to ward off evil spirits. These cultural differences mattered not, for in the end, the sharp rap of knuckles against wood came: two long, one short.

Prince Aemond has returned.

Alayne staggered towards the door on unsteady legs, swaying like a newborn calf as she walked. With each step, strength flowed back into her body and her mind grew clearer. The disorientating haze of crying oozed out of her—birch bark tar, thick and oily, and rot-black. She put her hands on the oak bar and pushed it up. Then, abruptly, stopped. She froze in place, deer-like in her alarm.

Alayne looked down at herself and shuddered: she had swathes of pale skin exposed—the lean line of her leg; the supple, rosy flesh of her thighs. Her smallclothes were conspicuously visible through the ivory, gossamer fabric of her too-short shift. She flushed in mortification, bright and hot; her cheeks radiating a scalding red.

Half bare, half wet, sleep-rumpled and blushing, with her damp hair loose and tousled—in that moment, Alayne Stone truly looked like a daughter of a whor*monger.

Through the thick door, Aemond’s voice was muffled and muted. “Jonquil, let me in.”

“My—” Alayne faltered, catching herself. “Wick. Wick, is that you?”

“Who else would it be?” Amusem*nt crept into the prince’s tone. “Are you, sweet Jonquil, perhaps awaiting another?”

Alayne ignored the jest and rubbed her sweaty palms against her bare thighs. “Give me… give me a moment.”

There was a spell of heavy silence.

Alayne,” Aemond called, lowly and gravely. The oak door strained under the weight of him pressing against it. “Are you well?”

She hastily glanced about the room, noting all of her discarded things. “I am, be assured. I am merely… unseemly. Indecent for company,” she stuttered, flexing her cold fingers nervously. “I shall unbar the door. However, prithee, do not enter until I call.”

Hastily, she lifted the hefty bar and propped it against the wall. Grunting under the weight, Alayne hauled off the burlap sack containing the prince’s armour and put it in a corner by the fireplace. Dragged the chair back, too. Alayne rushed to yank her smallclothes from where they hang over the back of the other chair, drying by the heat of the hearth. Still clutching the prince’s golden locket, she dashed about the room, gathering her things.

Previously, she had unlaced her stays and carelessly dropped them on the floor. Hers were voguish and expensive; shorter than was traditionally done, stopping at the curve of the waist, and dyed ivory in colour with Arryn-blue trimmings and fine pale-pink embroidery; lined between the layers with flexible whalebone reeding to support her breasts and posture. It was a far too fine a garment for a bastard girl, but Alayne refused to compromise on the craftsmanship and comfort of her underthings. If there was one frivolity Petyr encouraged, it was the clothing Alayne commissioned for herself.

Furthermore, she had privately reasoned to herself when she had purchased the garment, who would see that she wore delicate underthings beyond her station beneath her simple, modest dresses?

Prince Aemond might see Alayne’s heart hammered in panic. She stuffed her dry smallclothes into her satchel and hastily hung it off the footboard bannister. She viciously kicked the damp towel under the bed. Tripping over her own feet, she banged her knee noisily against the edge of the bathtub. The racket of it blared through the room resoundingly and Alayne cursed loudly, not even bothering to rub the knee that would doubtlessly bruise come morning.

She dived head first across the bed to snatch the stockings from where she thoughtlessly tossed them in a corner. Alayne balled them up and stuffed the bundle into her unlaced stays. Hugging the armful close to her heaving bosom, she shimmied down the bed on her backside, her shift riding up her thighs scandalously—

The door slammed open, rattling on its hinges.

Prince Aemond thundered in, sword drawn and dripping water all over the floor. Dark eye rolling wildly, he looked around the room, seemingly in pursuit of something. Alayne sat on the edge of the bed, stiff and frozen, embarrassment anchoring her to the spot. Having conducted its search, Aemond’s gaze settled on her—his eye was wide and confused in his wan, pale face. Nonplussed, he lowered his sword and raised his other hand, fanning his long fingers awkwardly in a greeting.

A moment passed.

Get out!” Alayne shrieked with an intensity that sent her lungs to near bursting and hurled a pillow at him. It him square in the face with enough force to make Aemond drop his sword as he grunted in genuine surprise.

With previously unprecedented levels of athleticism and speed, Alayne vaulted off the bed and launched herself across the room. She hurtled into the adjoining chambers and shut the door behind herself with a bang. It was a skinny piece of wood; it shook and shivered in its frame.

“I asked for you to wait,” she wailed in distress, a hot flush of humiliation crawled down her neck and across her chest.

The floorboards creaked as Aemond approached the second chamber. “I heard a noise.”

Alayne put her back to the door, bracing herself against it—her muscles tensed; legs bent at the knees; hips pressing firmly against solid wood, pushing most of her weight backwards. “Yes! That was me!” she cried. “I hit the tub by accident!”

“I had thought—”

She let out a screech of frustration and stomped her foot. “I do not care what you thought! I had asked you to wait! You! You! You, dastardly knave!

“Do not shout at me,” Aemond warned, frustration creeping into his voice.

“I am not shouting!” Alayne shouted. “I am communicating my displeasure!”

“With what: top of your lungs?” Aemond inquired, peevishly.

Alayne turned mulishly silent. She crossed her arms over her chest, hugging her stays closer. Aemond heaved a deep sigh and the door groaned when he leaned against it.

Alaaayne,” he drawled, dragging her name out. “Forgive me. I had not meant to upset you.”

“We oft undertake deeds misaligned with our intentions, yet the outcomes hold fast,” she sniffed, haughtily; her pertinaciousness making her indurated to his cajoling.

Aemond gave a small, tired laugh. “You are most obstinate.”

“Justifiably so!” she heatedly cried out, but eased her weight off the door and turned, pressing her ear to it. Alayne could hear the prince’s breathing through the wood: slow, deep, and laboured. He was exhausted.

When Aemond spoke next, his voice was drained of fight: “Open the door, Alayne. I wish to make amends.”


“I have not returned empty-handed. This—what did you call me?—dastardly knave came bearing a gift.” A beat. Then, gentler: “You will like it. I promise.”

Alayne pursed her mouth, hesitating, but stepped away nonetheless. Still clutching her clothes, she unlatched the door. Slowly, it creaked and cracked open some—just enough space for Prince Aemond to slip a hand through, holding a parcel wrapped in an old, worn cloth. Alayne took it and he withdrew. She could hear him stepping away from the chambers, pausing for a heartbeat, and walking off towards the fireplace.

Tentatively, Alayne opened the parcel.

Inside was a dress.

Alayne placed the half opened package on the edge of the bed and extracted her bundled stockings of grey lambswool from the bundle she was holding. She had worn them on the road for too long and they needed a long wash in cold water before she could wear them again. Thus, Alayne balled them up and neatly hid them under the corner of the bed. She put on the pendant she was still clenching in her hand, tucking the locket between her breasts for safekeeping, before methodically lacing up her stays, fastening the garment securely for support. She would have to remove it for the night in a few hours, but could not bear to face a man with merely a dress pulled over a simple shift.

Alayne blushed, thinking about what had happened earlier; the mortification of it, if not the ire, still lingering.

She took out the dress and stepped into it, pulling it up her hips and tugging it over the shoulders. It was tight in the bust and loose in the waist. However, the hem and the sleeves were a perfect length. The previous owner must have been Alayne’s height and general build, which was most important in a garment, and she could easily tailor the ill-fit.

The fabric was a summer sky made tangible: rich Arryn-blue in colour, thick and silky to the touch. Alayne ran a hand down the brocaded silk of the bodice and the skirts. It was a winter dress: there were two layers of skirts for warmth; soft fabric clung to and covered her shoulders and collarbones; the sleeves were long and slim, fastened tightly with a freshwater pearl button at the wrist; the neck was high and fastened with a row of freshwater pearl buttons on the back, too. There was an extravagant triangular cut-out from the top of the bodice to the throat that exposed a generous amount of cleavage; accentuated further by twin serpents crawling up the clavicle towards the neck, embroidered in rich, silver thread and surrounded by an adornment of ripe blackberries.

She wrinkled her nose and tried to tug the neckline of the bodice up—to no avail. Her breasts were pushed up high and full, the soft mounds peeking from out the bodice, their tops mantled a healthy blush-pink from her recent bath. The amount of décolletage displayed was fashionably coquettish, though the tightness of the dress made her ample bosom a rather more prominent feature than she had in most of her dresses. However, it was neither outrageously scandalous nor uncomfortable, and the neckline was high enough to hide the lace trimmings of her shift.

It was more of the type of fashion one of the Tyrell girls would wear rather than one of Petyr’s creatures. Thus, appeased by the conclusion, Alayne decided to leave the dress be. She swished the skirts, back and forth, enjoying how prettily the fabric shimmered. The dress was beautiful and very finely made. It laced up in the back and was difficult to put on without the aid of a handmaiden. A garment more suited better for a tourney than for travel—a young noblewoman’s dress. She wondered how it came to be in Prince Aemond’s possession.

The thought of him procuring clothing from a seamstress made her laugh.

She had no ribbons to tie her hair with, thus she pushed it out of her face, tucking it behind her ears and smoothing down the unruly curls at her temples with her palms. The rest of it tumbled down her back in loose, damp waves, the ends reaching the back of her knees.

Alayne straightened her spine and pinched the delicate skin on the inside of her wrist to re-focus herself. She smiled; once, twice, thrice—broad and full, dimpled and pretty. The well-practised motions eased her face free of awkwardness and tension, and she willed herself into composure.

Alayne Stone opened the door and found Prince Aemond crouching by the fireplace, his back to her and stirring the embers with an old poker. At the sound of the door creaking, he tensed, his blind side facing her. Alayne walked towards him with quick, soft steps. She rounded the table, coming at the prince’s right side and eyeing the careful way he fed timber into the fire.

“I have enquired after an additional supply of firewood with the proprietress,” he explained. “Hoarding coin would do us no good if either of us falls ill.”

When Alayne did not reply, Aemond glanced over his shoulder and looked up at her through a fan of pale eyelashes. He suddenly blinked rapidly, adopting a funny, slack expression; his violet eye blown wide.

“What?” Alayne asked after a moment, suddenly self-conscious; fidgeting and squirming under the weight of his stare.

“The dress,” he stuttered. Aemond coughed into his fist and tried again, in a firmer, calmer tone. “The dress… It, ehm, suits you well.”

Alayne looked down and ran a hand over the delicately brocade silken bodice, preening and flushed with pleasure. “Thank you for it.”

Aemond rose slowly, each movement purposeful, stretching the time to gather himself. He steadied himself on his feet and wiped his ash-covered hands on his leathers. “I had a notion you might have no other clothes to change into.”

Alayne beamed up at him, bright and gleaming. “I appreciate the kindness.”

He hummed in acknowledgement, deep and rich. Adjusted the cuffs of his coat. “Think nothing of it.”

Alayne reached out and grasped his wrist, pressing her thumb to the inside of it. She was all blush-rose cheeks, raspberry-ripe lips, oak-dark curls, and watercolour eyes—her upturned face lit with a luminous glow.

“No,” she stressed, gentler and honeysweet. “Thank you and… I unreservedly apologise for my earlier behaviour.”

The window shutters rattled from the howling wind of the storm outside and the sound of a log splitting in the hearth filled the silence that hung betwixt them.

His hand was stiff and chilled from the rain, and she rubbed it between her own to chase some warmth into the skin. Aemond messily wiped his face with his other hand and pushed his sodden hair back. His eye briefly flickered down to her face, his gaze lingering on the redness of the fine skin around her eyes, before it strayed somewhere left of her head. He seemed to want to say something, but chose against it, the edge of his mouth twitching involuntarily.

Perhaps he had taken offence at her actions. Petyr would reprove her for behaving like a petulant child, so easily shamed over something as trivial as a mere flash of skin, and aver she had justly earned the prince’s disdain.

The thought soured something in Alayne, twisting her stomach unpleasantly with a foreign, noxious feeling. She tried her best to dismiss the bubbling consternation and instead, she peered up, examining the prince closely. She had failed to notice before, when he stormed into the chambers, but Aemond was soaked from head to toe; his coat and clothes clung to his form, the fabric adhering to the contours of his body. His hair was free of the cap and the wet braid hung in a messy, half-undone queue past his shoulder.

Unable to stop herself, Alayne snickered. Loudly.

Aemond clicked his tongue in disapproval. “Find my state amusing, don’t you?”

“Indeed,” she laughed, her fingers still wrapped around his wrist. “You bear a striking similarity to a drowned rat, Your Grace.”

“It was pouring out there,” he explained, with a degree of impishness that was at odds with how he was drenched to the bone. “You are quite fortunate to have stayed behind: dry and warm, and—”

At that, Aemond shook his head wildly, raining droplets all over Alayne, who yelped and giggled.

“That’s not fair!” she cried out, shielding herself from the onslaught; yet, she did not step away.

“I fear life is not fair, my lady,” he told her, a touch too smugly for it to be a tolerable tone. “The torments of mortal coil never cease.”

“Yes, yes. However, some valiant souls endure the strife and suffering of the world with grace and humility. Whilst others,” Alayne pointedly scanned the prince from the top of his silver head to the toes of his muddied boots, and feigned disdain, “with decidedly less elegance.”

Prince Aemond barked a laugh, sharp and quick; starlit eye sparkling and fetching dimples bracketing a charming lie of a grin. The infectious, scintillating atmosphere emboldened her and somehow, Alayne found herself saying, “Come, I shall help you disrobe.”

Aemond paused, canting his head to the side. “Pardon?”

“You will be afflicted with ill humours if you stay in these freezing clothes.”

Alayne put her hands on his shoulders before he could collect himself. Without preamble, she officiously turned him around and tugged at the coat, trying to pull the garment off. Oilcloth or not, it was sodden; the rain had drenched through the fabric. It was already a size too small for him, tight in the joints and strained at the seams, and now it had seemingly shrunk as it clung to Aemond’s shoulders and limbs with a tenacity. Growling, she gave a final jerk and yanked the coat off.

Aemond grunted. She almost wrenched his shoulder out of socket with her ministrations. He stepped away, rubbing his sore joint. “Did you have to be this rough?”

“It shrunk, I think,” Alayne commented, ignoring his complaint. She shook the coat out, trying to get all the water out of it. “How could it even shrink? What is it made of?” she asked no-one in particular.

Aemond wrung out the edge of his shirt, twisting the cloth and squeezing water out of it—a small puddle had pooled by his feet. “Does it matter?”

“It does if you wish to wear it again.” She pinched the sleeve between thumb and forefinger, and rubbed it, leaning in close to examine the fabric. “Cowhide, I reckon; it’s tough and textured, and tanned only enough to be malleable. Leather is a porous material—comfortable and breathable, yes, but permeable to moisture. Treating it with wax and painting it with linseed oil is supposed to reduce the absorbance.”

Alayne clicked her tongue at the shoddy work—that was what they got for looting outlaws with little money and absolutely no decency or taste. “This craftsmanship is severely lacking. As Septa Mordane used to say: poor work always shines through and a miser pays twice.”

Alayne stopped abruptly, catching herself in a disturbing realisation she sounded as shrewish as her old septa, cheeks flushing out of mortification. She looked up and found Prince Aemond studying her with the singular, clinical focus of a Maester dissecting a fresh cadaver.

She blinked, eyes owlishly round, puzzled by the scrutiny. “What?”

Aemond gave a low hum, but did not choose to comment on his interest otherwise. Instead, he continued trying to wring out his clothes—the shirt was a lost cause; it was wet and clinging to every swell and dip, and acquired a certain translucent flimsiness that was bad for the heart.

Alayne ignored the plash of water that was accumulating around him and no doubt ruining the inn’s wooden floors. Stepping pointedly around it, she grabbed her satchel from the footboard, and extracted her spare hair ribbons from it. With quick, deft fingers, she braided them into a makeshift half-rope and looped it through the sleeves of the coat. Then, Alayne grabbed one of the chairs and stood on it, tying the ends of the rope to hooks for lanterns fastened into the ceiling—hanging the coat up to dry in the out-of-the-way corner between the window and the fireplace.

Finished with her work, she hopped off the chair and dusted off her hands. She caught Prince Aemond watching her curiously and explained, matter-of-factly, “If the leather isn’t dried properly, it can become stiff and hard, which would ruin the garment. One cannot dry it with a direct application of a source of heat, like leaving it by a fireplace, or it cracks and shrivels.”

“Fascinating,” the prince observed, blandly.

“You do not have to be so dismissive of it,” Alayne huffed, peeved. “Taking proper care of one’s clothes is important.”

“I am not. Being dismissive that is.” His tone was calm, idle; even as he pinned her with a shrewd look, his gaze dissecting and percipient. “You constantly act like your every move is under scrutiny and everything you do is judged, weighed, and found wanting—like all anyone would do is criticise you for the smallest misstep. Thus, you criticise yourself first, to forestall the reproach of others. Tis why you are defensive of things you care about.”

Alayne stilled. His words hung between them, charged and astute. The gimlet-eyed stare levelled at her was watchful and aglow with intensity—it flayed raw, rummaged in one’s soul. That burning violet eye could consume; swallow her whole if she let it.

There was a half-moon twist to Alayne’s placid smile as she gathered herself, clasping her hands in front of herself demurely. “I fear you strongly misunderstand me, my prince. I am far less complicated than that. I am a simple and shrewish woman, nothing more.”

“Mmm,” Aemond hummed, noncommittally. “I do not know if I would agree with such reasoning. However, if you are content with this line of thinking, then far be it from me to sway your belief.”

Whatever Aemond Targaryen did, he would always be dangerous, Alayne reminded herself. It was neither the sword nor the capacity for violence she ought to fear. It was the man… and the mind.

Alayne spun on her bare heel sharply and picked up one of the sacks the prince brought back. She hurried into the adjoining chamber, gathered her stockings, and stuffed them into the empty sack. She took out her ruined dress out of the satchel and proceeded to do the same to it. Alayne surreptitiously looked over her shoulder and found the prince seated in a chair, bending down at the waist, and attempting to unlace his boots.

When Aemond asked her what she was doing, Alayne replied, hand still rummaging in her satchel, “I intend to send these to the washerwoman, and to call for hot water for a bath for you.”

She finally managed to locate her coin purse and extracted five copper stars, pocketing them. “Strip, Your Grace.”

Prince Aemond stilled. Glanced up. Raised an eyebrow archly, the corner of his mouth curling up like a hook catching on flesh. “That’s rather forward.”

Alayne ignored the insinuation and barreled on. “Have you procured new clothes for yourself?”

“Well, no—”

Her forehead knitted in confusion. “You purchased the dress.”

“I had not purchased it, strictly speaking,” Aemond informed with a huff, struggling with his boots. “The marketplace was closed; it is open every third and fourth day of the week, it would seem. And I was told there is no seamstress in this town.”

Alayne watched Prince Aemond. He appeared unbearably tired; it made her teeth ache to look at him and recall the number of his sleepless nights. In a gesture she had not done since she was a young girl and her lord father had returned from surveying the Wolfswood, wearied and chilled, Alayne sank to her knees in front of the prince. Her long, loose hair pooled around her like an ink spill—an oak-dark river flowing down her back and lapping at the blue-sand shores of her dress. With effort, she managed to tug one boot and placed it by the fire to dry.

Impelled by a prickling at the back of her neck, Alayne peered up from beneath a plume of sooty eyelashes and found the prince staring at her, eye dark and hazy. Backlit by the warm, golden glow of the fire, his countenance was inscrutable.

“Well,” she prompted, yanking at the laces of the other boot, pulling them free of knots, “how did you get the dress?”

Aemond nodded, as if she had never interrupted him, and continued, tone even. “I had fortunately located a peddler on my way to the blacksmith’s and traded for it. It was no doubt purloined from a noble lady. I traded an axe for it, which, frankly, is not the true worth of a garment as fine as that. However, not many peasants can afford costly clothes, and I imagine the man thought he swindled me, not the other way around.”


“As they say, a huckster may prey upon credulity and inexperience.”

Alayne laughed lightly. “Whose?”

Aemond adopted a thoughtful expression. “In this case, his own, I reckon.”

She tugged the second boot off, deposited it next to the first one, and folded her hands in her lap. Inexplicably demurred, Alayne glanced down, noting the grey wool stockings he wore beneath tight leather breeches were threadbare and riddled with holes. She took note to procure sundry pairs for the both of them, once the marketplace was operational.

“And the man had no other clothing to offer?”

“None in my size, no.” Aemond clicked his tongue. He placed his elbows on his knees and leaned forwards, the end of his braid brushing against Alayne’s forearm. “Although I do admit, I think I would have looked rather ravishing in a red silk gown. Alas, it was far too small on the shoulders and the hemline was unseemly short.”

“Ah, I am certain it would have brought up your complexion wonderfully, my prince,” said Alayne, giggling, and Aemond exhaled in the barest hint of a chuckle.

The action made Alayne keenly conscious of the position they were in. She was not quite kneeling between his legs—as she had done once, in the forest, when treating his wounds for the first time—but Alayne was acutely aware of the proximity. His face was close enough that she could feel his breath puff over the top of her head. The prince made a small sound she could not decipher and she peered up again, finding him swaying in place a little, his eye turning unfocused even as he lazily blinked down at her.

She best get some food in him before he keeled over and expired, she decided, and patted his knee, signalling her intent to stand up. Aemond jerked back, pulling away and putting distance between them. Alayne got to her feet, and busied her hands and eyes by straightening her skirts.

Aemond sat with his elbows pressed into his thighs, long fingers steepled beneath his chin—his face upturned, blinking up at her slowly and dreamfully. Broodsome, handsome, and moon-pale her prince was, with a sulky mouth and a darkly fathomless eye. His shirt was still wet and distractfully clinging, unlaced at the neckline and dipping low and wide; exposing the sharp lines of collarbones and an indecent expanse of the broad, damp chest. The sight felt intimate, indecent, intriguing.

A thought came, unbidden: He has nobody else in this world. Just me.

Alayne swallowed thickly and quickly turned away. She muttered something about dinner and washing, and Seven knows what else—all the while, wishing a lightning would miraculously, blessedly strike her down from above.

Without a grunt, Aemond stood up and adjourned to the second chambers, staggering as he walked. Since he took the sack with him, Alayne supposed he would deposit what clothes he could spare off his person for her to take to a washerwoman. Meanwhile, she crouched on the floor and stretched her arm out to fish out her own boots from where she kicked them under the bed. Alayne hastily tugged them on and threw her cloak on; it was a deep green, with a large hood, and covered her dress and hair fully.

No sooner than she was done, the door to the adjoining chambers opened and Aemond extended a bare arm through the gap, holding the sack. Alayne took it and Aemond loosely grasped her wrist, stopping her. Through the crack, she could see his face—pale and wan, and shadowed by bruises.

“Be careful,” he instructed.

Alayne leaned in close, amusem*nt pulling at her mouth in spite of herself. “You’re being overly cautious,” she whispered, conspiratorially.

“Is there such a thing? We ought not be complacent simply because we do not know who our enemies are.”

We? Alayne wondered, distractedly. Then: enemies? “I am going to find the proprietress. I shall return before you miss me.”

Aemond fixed her with a put-upon look and shut the door in her face. A nervous giggle bubbled out of Alayne and she covered her mouth, habitually biting on her thumb. She walked out of the room and closed the door behind herself. She pulled the hood low to hide her face and silently creeped down the narrow stairwell.

Downstairs was packed to the brim. Eve had come and with it a new wave of people, intent to eat and drink, and be merry. Villages and travellers occupied the tables lining the floor, sitting close enough for their shoulders to brush as they conversed and laughed. A buxom woman stood by the fireplace and boisterously sang Her Little Flower, to the uproar of the men surrounding her.

Serving girls bustled between the patrons, with food and ale piled high on wooden trays. Alayne caught the eye of one—a lanky maid with butternut-blonde hair who had brought her bath in earlier—and beckoned her with a crook of a finger. The girl put her empty tray on the curve of her hip and grabbed the elbow of a shorter girl. Leaning in close, she whispered something in her ear as they both glanced at Alayne. Staring straight at her, they giggled in unison, hiding their titters behind open palms. Alayne felt the back of her neck flush from embarrassment. As soon as the feeling came, a hot flare of irritation replaced it.

She straightened her spine and squared her shoulders back. Alayne pursed her lips in disapproval and beckoned the girl again, the snap of her fingers sharp and commanding. When the serving girl approached her, Alayne looked down the length of her nose.

“Empty the bath and ready hot water for a new one,” Alayne instructed coolly in her lady’s voice—a haughty, authoritative tone that brooked no contradiction and did not suffer the shade of failure.

The girl, who was younger than Alayne and not quite so tall upclose, blinked up at her. She immediately fell into a sloppy curtsey, casting wide eyes downward and shrinking into herself. “Yes, m’lady.”

Alayne clicked her tongue and softly tapped the girl’s wrist, bringing her attention back to her face. “Not a lady, but you may call me mistress Jonquil.”

“If it please you, mistress.”

Alayne peered around the ballister. “Where’s the washing done?”

“In the back… past the kitchens.”

“Take me there.” Without waiting for a reply, Alayne swept past, her cloak fanning out behind her with a flourish, and made her way towards the kitchens. The serving girl hurried after her, still gripping the empty tray with both hands.

Alayne walked with precise, purposeful strides at a pace that was neither slow nor too hurried; yet still she felt the clammy weight of curious eyes on her person. The interest made her skin prickle and the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention. Anxiety was a stone on her chest, a rope around her throat. She felt sick.

I am Jonquil Basil, Alayne reminded herself, smoothing out her face into a practised mein of apathy. Not a soul was seeking Jonquil Basil, a mere merchant’s daughter of little import and a single guard.

She strode past the unoccupied bar, but once she approached the entrance to the kitchens on the side of it, Greta emerged from beneath the counter, wiping her hands on a rag.

“Jyzene,” she greeted the serving girl, raising her eyebrows in befuddlement, then her dark eyes fixed on Alayne. “And Jonquil Basil of Duskendale,” the old woman drawled. “To what do I owe the pleasure of yer company?”

Alayne dropped her sack on the floor and clasped her hands behind her back. She tilted her chin up, the cavern of her cloak’s hood shadowing most of her face, leaving only her slender jaw and full lips starkly visible in the light. “I require the services of a washerwoman.”

Greta dragged her gaze down the length of Alayne’s muddied cloak. Studied the sack at her feet. “Jyzene, did the lady request anything of yer?”

Jyzene bit her lip and looked at Alayne out of the corner of her eye. She nodded, slowly. “To fetch fresh bath water.”

“Get to it.” Greta clapped her hands. “And be quick about it, girl.”

“Wait,” Alayne suddenly called, catching the girl by the wrist. “Bring my guard clean clothes, whichever you have that will fit. And take his to be washed.”

Jyzene’s butter-blonde head bobbed into an even slopper courtesy than before. With a final glance at Alayne, she scurried off, skirts pulled high and ankles flashing. Alayne watched her go, before turning her attention to Greta.

The old woman peered curiously into the sack, humming under her breath. “I shall have these cleaned in the washhouse in the morrow.”

Alayne crooked an eyebrow, taken by surprise. “A washhouse? Progressive.”

“We get plenty of travellers. It pays better to ‘ave a private washhouse, than to depend on a watercourse,” Greta remarked. “You ought to get that filthy cloak washed, too. There’s mud and blood on it.”

Much to her credit, Alayne did not stiffen. She did, however, surreptitiously peer around. No-one was watching her anymore, however it did not mean her face would not draw attention—and with it would come the inquisitive, prying stares. People who would remember her, they could talk of her. Whispers and rumours were how Ser Shadrich had found her. And if a hedge knight could find Alayne Stone in the Vale, who was to say a different hired blade might not find Jonquil Basil in the Riverlands?

You’re a maiden in a tower, waiting to be rescued, waiting to be stolen. A lovely jewel that shall fetch me a plump bag of gold from the Spider.

Ser Dontos had sold her to Littlefinger for a promise of ten thousand dragons. Ser Shadrich had plucked her from the Bronze Gate on a dream of a six pound sack of gold dragons. He had spoken of it at length as he had dragged her down the Mountains of the Moon—fantasising of getting paid by the Crown for the Good King’s murderess. It made Alayne spitefully wish she had killed Joffrey, if she were to die for the crime.

The innkeeper must have seen the hesitation on her, for Greta’s wizened face gentled. She put the sack with the washing on the bar and took Alayne by the elbow. “Come, lass.”

Alayne’s brow furrowed, but she acquiesced, permitting herself to be led towards the stairwell and tucked her into an alcove landing. Greta gave her a kindly smile and she gestured with her hands. “Go on.”

Alayne swallowed thickly and, tentatively, lowered her hood. She unmade the clasp at the neck and folded the cloak neatly before handing it to Greta.

Ah, there yer are, lassie,” the innkeeper crooned, peering up into Alayne’s face with unabashed interest. She lightly tucked a lock of thick, dark hair behind Alayne’s ear—gentle and motherly. “What an exquisite girl. Lovely as a flower. He named yer well.”

“Yes,” Alayne agreed, clasping her hands at the wrists about the waist. She straightened her spine and subtly pulled away from the touch. “My father was prudent to name me after the jonquil flower. The name befits me.”

Greta gave an indulgent smile and patted Alayne’s hand with a rough, weathered palm. “Quite right, child.”

Alayne’s breath hitched, but she caught the gasp before it was heard and eased the tension out of her muscles, breathing deeply and evenly. She regarded the innkeeper with a level look and tilted her chin up almost imperceptibly.

“A dinner would not be amiss,” Alayne smoothly suggested and took Greta’s hand. She opened the older woman’s palm and put the five copper star coins she had in her dress pocket. “For two.”

Greta flattened her mouth, studying Alayne shrewdly for a prolonged moment. She smacked her lips and closed her fist around the money. “Yer man ‘as already ordered dinner for the two of yer when he sweeped into ‘ere like a bat out of Seven Hells and drenched to the bone. Yer overpaid,” she added, rather reluctantly, and did not volunteer the money back.

A corner of Alayne’s mouth twitched and lifted into a private, secretive smirk. “The rest is for the washing.” A pause the length of a heartbeat. “And… for your discretion.”

Greta stuffed the money into her apron quicker than one could blink. “I’ll send some meat up and tankards of the good mead. Something hearty to warm the bones.”

Alayne’s pretty smile grew warmer as she nodded. “Much obliged.”

She turned, putting her foot on the first step and ready to walk up the stairs onto the second floor, when Greta reached out, grasping her by the wrist, stopping her. Alayne glanced over her shoulder, puzzled.

An indeterminable expression warred on the woman’s face, before it settled into something… kind. “Yer gently-born and yer man might be smooth-tongued, but he’s a prickly sort. Yer ought to be careful of even the hooded hawks when hunting.”

“He’s not that bad,” Alayne immediately defended. “He saved me.”

He helped me. He keeps helping me. Even when I’m being awful to him. Even when he gains nothing in return.

Greta regarded her with a shrewd eye and let go of her wrist. “If you say so, lass. I’ll send a meal for both of yer shortly.”

Alayne licked her lips and nodded. She watched as the innkeeper retreated towards the kitchens, a strange unease twisting her stomach in knots. Even when caught, do not abandon the lie, Petyr had advised her. Embrace it, insist upon itmake it your truth. Steer the other party into believing it is their mind that is false in doubting you.

Indeed. Alayne and Aemond were a merchant’s daughter, Jonquil Basil, and her lowborn guard, Wick. It did not matter what some old woman insinuated, Alayne decided as she made her way back to their rooms. It mattered what Alayne and the prince insisted was the truth—and their coin would buy the woman’s silence. After all, the solid weight of a gold dragon was the mightiest of forces. Life has proven that time and time again.

She knocked on the door of their shared chambers and waited for a beat. When no response came, she tentatively pushed and it swung open without resistance. Alayne crossed the threshold, shutting and barring the entered behind her. She noticed the hearth had been cleaned and a fresh pile of wood was stacked in the corner. The large copper bathtub had been moved. Candles had been brought and lit on the table.

“My—Wick,” Alayne called, conscious of how she tripped over the unfamiliar name once more.

“In here,” came the prince’s muffled response.

Alayne approached the adjacent chamber—the door of it was cracked open slightly and muted sounds of water sloshing could be heard from within. She instantly flushed, a burst of colour rising to her cheeks, as an obscene visual of chiselled ridges and lithe limbs emerged in her mind’s eye, unbidden. The memory was sinful and she felt mortified for acting like a deviant by giving into her baser curiosities back at the riverbank.

She cleared her throat and avoided looking through the gap. “I presume the serving girls did a satisfactory job?”

“Tolerable.” There was a sound of water spilling onto the floor and the slow drag of a body against the metal roll rims.

“My prince, have you taken the soaps? I shall fetch—”

Aemond cut her off, voice a low rasp. “I have. I am not incapable of fending for myself.”

Alayne pursed her mouth, halfway between bemused and nettled. She pressed her shoulder and hip against the wall, letting it bear her weight, and rested her temple against the doorframe. She wondered if she should mention the interaction with the innkeeper and the vague sense of disquietude her words had evoked. Was she truly suspicious of them, or was it merely the meddling of an old woman?

She twisted a lock of her hair around a forefinger, contemplating her choices. Absentmindedly, she let her eyes wander, lazily scanning the chambers. Her gaze settled on one of the prince’s steel swords propped up next to the main entrance; Dark Sister conspicuously absent. Aemond must have taken it with him whilst he bathed. She could not decide if the prince’s reservations were prudent or paranoid—Aemond was awfully mistrustful.

Alayne was mistrustful, too.

She did not trust anyone.

She did not trust herself.

Nothing good has ever come from trusting, you remember that well, sweetling, don’t you? A bag of dragons buys a woman’s silence for a while, but a knife between the ribs buys it forever, Petyr softly reminded her, his mint-fresh breath a feather-light brush against her ear.

Alayne shivered. She curled her hands into fists, pressing her fingernails sharply into her palms. Violence should not resolve everything in this world.

When she spoke, her tone was soft and considering: “Has the ferry been rebuilt?”

“Oh, are you still lurking by the door?”

“As likely a place for me to be as any,” Alayne huffed, unamused by the derision.

Aemond clicked his tongue. “To address your inquiry: yes.”

“Would Your Grace care to enlighten me with the details?”

There were indistinct sounds of washing, before a loud splash and splatter—the prince must have dunked his head underwater. Alayne waited for him to emerge and once he did, Aemond answered: “The Trident is presently at low tide. I was told we shall have to wait three nights, at most, for the tide to rise high enough for a boat to carry horses across.”

Alayne traced a groove in the door with a tip of a finger and hummed softly under her breath. “It would seem we shall have to patronise the inn a while longer then…” She straightened her spine and clasped her hands, having found her resolve. I see what I must do now.

Without a parting word, Alayne swept away, leaving the prince to his bath. She opened the shutters to air out the room—cold and fresh wind sweeping through the space. It had stopped raining; with thin droplets dripping from thatched roof and the hardwood planks lining the outer walls. The air was rich and fragrant with the deep, earthy smell of wetted mud—potent and heady, inhaling it made her feel lightheaded.

Twilight had fallen. The sky was clear and dark: a deep, dusky purple littered with tiny silver stars and illuminated by a waning, topaz-yellow crescent. The shimmering shine of it pulled at her, enthralling and bewitching. Forgetting all else, Alayne leaned out of the window, a forearm laying flat on the edge, her breasts resting on top of it. She propped her head up with the palm of her hand and a stray tendril of her unbound hair fluttered in the cool night breeze. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath.

It was easier to breathe under the calming light of the moon. Yet a darksome feeling bloomed in her chest. She felt too large for her bones sometimes, like she was something enormous and grotesque crammed into a thin shell; skin stretched raw and cracked over the hideousness of her. Alayne stared out into the hungry night and could feel something building up in her throat, welling up in her eyes—

The draft had suddenly slammed a shutter against a wall and the sharp sound of it pulled Alayne out of her dazed lull. She quickly closed the shutters and whirled around.

Prince Aemond stepped through the threshold, ducking his head as he passed under the wooden frame, and shut the door behind himself. He staggered forwards and leaned against a wall, easing some of the weight off his bruised hip, and pushed a damp forelock out of his eye.

“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath shan’t cure, but I know not of them.”

The serving girl had supplied him with fresh clothing: a pair of woollen brown breeches that were far too tight-fitting on the thighs and a simple linen tunic that might have once been dyed a vivid verdulet, but now had faded to a dull greenish-blue. It had stained dark at the shoulders from the damp hair—droplets of water rolled off the ends of it and dipped down the open collar of his tunic, wetting the visible strip of pale skin stretched over the sharp collar bones and bared chest.

Alayne’s tongue clove to the roof of her mouth. Even dressed shabbily in ill-fitting garments and ladened with exhaustion, the prince was a singularly striking person.

“Come,” she authoritatively called, having found her voice. She picked up the remaining three fresh towels from the bed. Alayne crossed the room with quick, decisive steps and drew the chair closer to the fireplace, patting the back of it. “Sit. I shall dry your hair. You’ll catch a chill leaving it wet.”

“This sounds familiar,” Aemond murmured, ambling over and visibly favouring his bad leg.

“My prince?” Alayne asked, pocketing the ivory comb and the vials of oils from her satchel.

“Ah, nothing at all.” He waved her confusion off and sat down in the chair, leaning back and extending his long legs towards the hearth. “Shiftless musings of a tired mind.”

The inn’s towels were threadbare, cheap things—thin woven pieces of linen that had stained grey from use. Alayne draped a dry cloth over the prince’s shoulders to soak up the dampness on the tunic. She carefully lifted his hair, letting it fall over the back of the chair, and not particularly caring how it dripped water on the wooden floors. The prince’s hair had turned dark like blackened silver and it spilled down his shoulders in wet waves, sticking to the steam-flushed skin of his cheeks and the strong lines of his neck. The fine hairs on his nape glinted gold in the warm glow of the firelight.

Alayne’s tongue ran along the seam of her mouth, wetting the lips. “Close your eye,” she murmured, strangely hushed and demure.

Prince Aemond complied, spent and yielding, and tilted his head back for better access. She sectioned his hair into parts and began to sedulously dry each segment by lightly pressing it into the towel between her hands and patting it down, root to tip; gently wringing and squeezing the excess moisture out as she worked her way down the length. This went on for some time and afterwards, as her hands moved methodically, her mind wandered.

Alayne’s own hair was healthy: lush and silky, smooth and cool to the touch—an enviable product of meticulous care. It was thick and heavy, like her mother’s had been, and there was far too much of it. It curled conspicuously into big waves and, if left unattended, was prone to frizzing. Aemond’s hair was finer and softer than her own. It absorbed moisture more easily, too. Curling visibly when it was wet and straightening from the weight of its length as it dried. As pleasant to the touch as she imagined it to be. Many a maiden would be pea-green with envy over fine hair like his, and Prince Aemond clearly took great care in maintaining it.

After she was finished, Alayne pulled out the ivory comb from her pocket and began to languorously brush Aemond’s long hair until it shone pearlescent in the firelight, methodically combing drops of sweet almond and nettles oils through the locks.

“You have lovely hair, my prince,” she said, in spite of herself, admiring the glossy lustre.

“I have my sister’s hair,” Aemond replied, in a low, soft undertone. His eye remained closed. He was right next to her, but he felt far away.

Alayne frowned, her hands stilling. In the portrait, his sister’s hair had been white-gold, not silver. “Queen Helaena—”

“No. My other sister—my half-sister, Princess Rhaenyra.” He bit out the name like it was a foul curse. “My mother would often comment on the resemblance. She was Rhaenyra’s lady-in-waiting before she was the Queen, you see, and was intimately familiar with the princess’s person.”

Aemond’s nostrils flared and his mouth twitched involuntarily. The long lines of his body tensing, stiffing, curling into themselves. “My mother loved my hair. When I was a child, she would come by my rooms and brush it before bed—it was our special time together. As I have grown older, the ritual has fallen out of practice, but I have never neglected my hair.”

His jaw muscles clenched and unclenched. After a laden moment, came a much softer admission: “It was the one thing my mother liked about me.”

A cold wave washed over Alayne’s body. Her tongue felt too cumbersome to wield and her hands curled, fingers twitching as the smooth locks slipped out of her grasp like running water. “My prince, I—”

Aemond tilted his head further up and the back of it pressed into her belly. He was close enough for her to feel the heat his body emitted. His good eye snapped open, looking up at her like a blooming morning-glory—catching and anchoring her gaze. Alayne had grown accustomed to the singular, compelling intensity of his mien, but the violet stare she was met with now was vacant of all emotion. Something fleeting passed over his expression and his countenance turned inscrutable, giving nothing away.

His throat was long and pale—exposed. The pomegranate bobbed once as he swallowed before speaking once more. “Alicent Hightower loved her children. She loved us and she could be as fierce as a dragon. But she did not like us. Love and like are two very disparate things, and absence of either is felt keenly. Yet… Rhaenyra had always had both—from both the King and Alicent alike.

“Mother had a weakness for her.” A pause. A rattling exhale. “Even after everything.”

Unthinkingly, Alayne gently stroked his hair, nails ghosting over the scalp, and waited for him to continue. When he did, his tone was unbothered and steady—almost careless. “I cannot truly fault Alicent’s lack of feeling: Aegon was a nightmare, I a menace, Helaena was withdrawn, and Daeron was sent away to Oldtown when he was a babe. We were too needy and too much for her to bear.”

“All mothers love their children,” Alayne whispered hoarsely, thinking of Catelyn Stark, of Lysa Arryn, of Cersei Lannister. “They might not love their husbands, but they love his children. There is happiness to be found in such love.”

Prince Aemond’s upturned face was wan and solemn, and brittlely vulnerable. The pinched curve of his mouth oozed petulance and an artless, melancholic air clung to him. “My lady mother wed the King when she was four-and-ten. She had Aegon within ten months of her marriage. At eight-and-ten, she was already round with me whilst Helaena was still but a suckling babe. By the time Queen Alicent Hightower was four-and-twenty, she was a mother of four and a nursemaid to a putrefying relic thrice her age. My lady, I cannot imagine there is much joy to be found in motherhood that was forced upon you.”

Aemond had no lids to blink with on his scarred socket, and Alayne stared into a distorted reflection of herself in the sharp, polished facets of the shining, fathomless blue of the sapphire—it glittered like the sea after a storm.

“My mother was strong, but she was a child,” he rasped out. “A child bride; a child birthing other children. What could she do? Her hands were too small to hold us.”

All of us were too young for what happened to us, Sansa thought, sorrowfully. Me. My brothers and sister. The dragon prince. The Hightower queen. War unmakes children.

Alayne opened her mouth to say something—anything at all. Eloquence had always been her strong suit, but in unguarded moments like these she struggled to make a connection, to find the right words to reach out to a person. As the seconds dragged on, whatever vulnerability Prince Aemond expressed had melted away like the morning fog. Once more, he folded into himself and withdrew somewhere she could not follow.

A sharp knock on the door echoed through the room. Startled, Aemond straightened up and reached for the scabbard at his waist that was not there. He cursed under his breath and moved to stand, but Alayne put a hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him down.

“Peace, my prince,” she placated. “It is the maids with the supper.”

Without sparing him another thought, she gathered her skirts and hurried to the door. “What is it?”

“Dinner, m’lady,” a thin voice replied.

Alayne unbarred the entrance and opened it. “Jyzene,” she greeted, unsurprised.

“Mistress.” The serving girl attempted to curtsey whilst holding a wooden tray ladened with food. The pewter tankards wobbled and Alayne quickly reached out, steadying them.

“Careful now,” she murmured and smoothly stepped aside, letting Jyzene pass through the threshold.

Jyzene slowly approached the small, round table, eyes fixed on the teetering plates, and carefully deposited the tray on it. Only then, she looked up and recoiled in surprise when she saw Aemond. The prince reposed in the chair like he was a king: booted left foot propped up on his right knee; elbows nonchalantly resting on the armrests; long, spidery fingers absentmindedly flexing—and his face and head were covered completely by a white linen towel.

Jyzene gave a small, skittish giggle and immediately clasped her hands over her mouth. Alayne’s gaze snapped to her, whip quick, and a corner of her eye twitched involuntarily.

“You should take your leave now,” she instructed and began to herd Jyzene out of the chambers. “Tell Greta we are grateful for the meal.”

After Alayne shut and barred the door behind the girl, she whirled around. She marched up to the prince and snatched the towel off his head.

Aemond was smirking up at her roguishly, a dimple hiding in the corner of his mouth. “Embarrassed?”

“No,” Alayne denied, even as her cheeks heated at the sly edge to his tone. It was less embarrassment she felt and more brittle nervousness.

“Then what is it?” Aemond asked, leaning forwards. He pressed his elbows into his thighs and steepled his fingers in front of himself.

“She… she keeps… giggling.”

Aemond gave her a flat look. “Giggling.”


“And that is an issue?”

“Not in itself, no.”

He considered this. His lips twitched. Then: “It agitates you.”

“Wouldn’t you be, too? She did it now and in the tavern before. Every time she looks at me, she snickers. It’s maddening. What if she noticed something?”

“Alayne, the girl must be three-and-ten at most. What could she possibly have noticed?”

“Haven’t got the faintest,” Alayne huffed and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “But doesn’t it bother you?”

“It certainly bothers you, doesn’t it?” Aemond concluded, raising an eyebrow archly. “Not knowing something. Being caught wrong-footed by a person.”

Alayne gave him a withering glare. “Stop that. I am not a riddle to solve.”

“No,” he drawled, tone full of mirth, peering up at her with an inquisitive tilt of the head. “You are certainly more interesting than a mere riddle.”

The observation made a pleasant spark of warmth quicken in her chest, it kindled a flush of satisfaction even as Alayne charily examined his expression closely, searching for some form of deception—she found none. It made her strangely curious: did she really know anything about him? His likes, his dislikes; what happened in his past… A part of her wished to know, to unravel him. Prince Aemond was as much a mystery to her as she was to him.

He blinked up at her slowly—thinking something over. Having formed a decision, Aemond got to his feet and staggered over to the foot of the bed. He picked up one of the burlap sacks he brought back. Plunged his hand inside, fishing for something. When he turned around, her breath was knocked out of her.

The prince held a crossbow.

“Along with the dress, I got you something else,” Aemond began, his eye cast downwards as he carefully unwrapped the weapon out of a thin, linen cloth. “It’s called a latchet crossbow*—a newfangled Myrish design, I am told. Moderately powerful: about a hundred-and-fifty yards range and two-hundred-eighty pounds in draw weight.”

Alayne’s heart rabbitted in her throat and she broke out in cold sweat. Her body stiffened—she was a corpse; a carcass stuffed with old fears and ancient memories.

Aemond quieted, stopping in front of her, the crossbow spanning the space between them. He pursed his lips, tongue darting out to lick a corner of his mouth. Before Alayne could comprehend it fully, he turned the weapon around: the lath was pointing into his belly and he carefully settled her cold hands onto the stock until she bore the full weight of the weapon. Once she held it in place on her own, he let go.

“It’s quick to reload—look,” he continued, not meeting her eyes, focusing on the reload mechanism, “there’s an inbuilt co*cking lever and a top trigger to release the bolt.” He guided her hands through the mummery motions of drawing the co*cking lever, pulling the sting, and attaching it to the catch above the trigger.

It was frightfully easy, Alayne concluded, detachedly; to wield such a weapon.

She must have spoken out loud, as Aemond answered matter-of-factly: “It requires less training and only some experience, thus I suppose it is regarded as lesser.”

“A coward’s weapon,” she murmured, voice hollow.

“An efficient weapon,” he corrected with a snort. “I believe an armament should match the wielder and a crossbow is rather a good suit for you. It won’t pierce a knight’s armour, but it is decent defence. Deadly at close quarters and portable.”

Alayne looked up at him, wide-eyed. “What am I to do with it?”

Aemond frowned, puzzled. “To protect yourself, no?”

The numbness seeped out of her like bitch sap. Alayne closely examined the crossbow in her hands. It was longer than her forearm, but less cumbersome than expected. The stock was polished cherry wood and bone detailing. There was a carving of a falcon’s head on the prod, its beak open in a silent cry. It was so very different from Joff’s—small and simple; unadorned by neither gold nor velvet.

“It’s nice,” she offered, lamely. “Thank you.”

Aemond raised his eyebrows sarcastically.

Alayne shrugged delicately. “I do not know how to use it.”

“I will teach you.” Aemond’s voice was deep and soft-spoken. He regarded her through a fan of pale eyelashes, his expression inscrutable. “You owe me a debt. One I intend to collect eventually. Thus, I have a vested interest in your continual good health.”

A long, curling forelock fell across his smooth forehead as he leaned close to her. The firelight sparking in his silver hair, his violet eye alight with mirth. “You said it yourself: I have a responsibility to you—for you. Should I not have interpreted that as a command to keep you alive and unharmed, hmm?”

The air shimmered with tension and something else; a quiet, magnetic intensity of sorts. Aemond stayed silent, waiting. Holding her insistent gaze with his own. She wondered what he was seeing there. If he was seeing her as she was or as she wanted to be? If she did not know better, she would think—

Alayne rolled her lips, licking them, and pushed them into a pout. “My prince, has anyone ever told you, you can be positively unbearable?”

Aemond’s mouth twitched with amusem*nt in the way she had become accustomed to. “Routinely.”

She thrust the crossbow into Aemond’s hold. “Kindly, put this away before one of us loses an eye.”

Aemond ducked his head and had the cheek to chuckle, low and breathy, but did as he was bid. Alayne turned to face the table and began to unload the dishes from the tray.

“Brass-necked and not a lick of shame,” she muttered, sourly, kissing her teeth. She felt strangely on edge, her body flushing hot.

A pretty dress. A useful weapon. He indulges me.

As quickly the thought blazed, it petered out—smothered.


Dinner was a quiet affair.

Greata had been true to her word—the meal was hearty. The kitchens sent up bowls of rich venison stewed with ale, onions, and turnips; a plate of buttered carrots and sweet pumpkins; a basketful of barley bread-rolls; and two large tankards of spiced honey mead. Despite her hunger, Alayne chewed slowly and ate neatly, as did Prince Aemond—refined manners were hard to shake, she supposed, even when one was famished.

“You were right,” Aemond pronounced abruptly with a put-upon sigh, sloping up the remaining bits of stew with a bread-roll from the bottom of the bowl.

“Often am,” Alayne quipped, the mead in her belly warmed her from within, turned her mood light and her tongue brazen. “However, for the sake of clarification—to what in particular are you referring to?”

He shook his head in resignation. “The common people seem to care very little that the Targaryens were overthrown.”

“Your Grace, I beseech thee to speak true: have you been making unwarranted inquiries and breeding suspicion,” she asked, anxiously. She speared a bit of carrot on the point of her dagger and ate it with small, delicate bites.

“Rest assured, I have not.” Aemond reclined as best he could and outstretched his long legs towards the hearth. He pinched the bridge of his nose, blunt nails digging into the bone. “I simply… listened. Down in the tavern, men were toasting to kings—dead ones, mostly. They had much and more to say about the great Demon of the Trident… and the Mad King.”

The soft, butter-yellow glow cast ghoulish shadows onto his proud profile, highlighting the hollows of his cheeks, the sharp cut of his jaw, and the dark, sooty bruises lining the hard sapphire in the scarred socket. Darksome and sunken-eyed, Prince Aemond looked as if he would gladly leap facedown into a shallow grave and let someone pile the dirt in afterwards. She felt exhausted merely by looking at him.

“I suppose you think it unjust,” Alayne asked, because she was nothing if not a glutton for punishment. “The three-hundred-year-old reign of House Targaryen ended with a whimper in a single year.”

Aemond pinched a silver stag out of seemingly thin air and rolled the coin across his knuckles, before flipping it onto the table. It landed between them: Robert’s head on one side, the stag on the other.

Instead of answering her directly, he asked: “What do you do when the wound festers and the flesh turns putrefied? When the blood turns black and noxious?”

“You cut it out.”

“Is that not what the rebels did? Removed the decaying corpse of a failing dynasty?” Aemond curled his lip. “Fat load of good it did them. The Baratheon King left the realm in shambles, with vultures fighting over a bleeding land.”

“King Aerys failed to treat his lords justly. His moods were capricious, his behaviour erratic—” she abruptly cut herself off, remembering Alayne was not a highborn lady, niece and granddaughter to murdered lords, but a naturalborn daughter raised humbly in a sept. The common people rarely suffered King Aerys’s whims, and the years of his reign were years of peace and plenty as far as most smallfolk were concerned.

Aemond’s expression soured, cheeks hollowing, nostrils flaring; his entire mood shifted—the lightness he carried was gone. “In any case, the collapse of the Targaryen reign meant one thing.”

“Which is?”

He gave a soft, discerning hum. “Rhaenyra’s blood was weak. Too weak to hold the realm together. Too weak to keep the throne.”

The warmth the mead had sparked in her belly had all but vanished and her blood had turned cold. It was not weakness the blood of the dragon bred, it was madness. “My prince, King Aerys burned people alive.”

I burned people alive,” Aemond pronounced, deep and calm. His jaw was firmly set even as a muscle in his cheek twitched and his fingers flexed into a fist atop his thigh. “On dragonback. Drenched them in a field of fire: on the battlefield; in their holdfasts; in their beds. It mattered not where—they perished all the same, consumed by the flames.”

It was different, she thought, defensively, the hairs on the back of her neck rising. It has to be different.

Prince Aemond turned to look upon her, meeting Alayne’s gaze straightforwardly—his violet eye was inscrutable and devoid of passion. In it she could see the shadow of what he was, a reflection of who he had been: Terror of the Trident, who descended from the skies atop monstrous she-dragon Vhagar, pouring fire and death upon the lands, bathing them in the fury of his vengeance.

“Fire is a terrible way to go, Lady Alayne,” he told her, softly, his gaze gouging out her soul. “And I have wielded it against man and stone alike with impunity.”

Every time a Targaryen was born, the saying went, the gods would toss the coin in the air and the world would hold its breath to see how it would land.

“What is my name?”

Her lips trembled.

“My name, lady.”

“Prince Aemond of the houses Targaryen and Hightower.”

He gave a low hum. “Try again.”

“Aemond… the Kinslayer.”

“Yes, Aemond the Accursed. I have learned very young that instead of being afraid, I should become something to fear.” Aemond’s cheeks hollowed sharply as he pursed his lips. He fixed her with a level look—his gaze reminding her of a hawk on the prowl for a rabbit. “You must never forget that, Alayne Stone.”

Madness or greatness. Where did his coin land?

She wished she could say something—anything at all. But the words would not come. King Aerys saw daggers in his shadows. Prince Aemond saw the world as his enemy. Was there a difference? Did it matter? The dead were dead all the same.

She gathered her fraying courage and told him as much.

“We were at war and it was a military campaign. I killed and maimed, and ruined lives. I drenched myself in sin—all in the pursuit of an enemy most foul.” His mouth curled in a hateful sneer, gaze shifting inwards and turning introspective.

Aemond had a palm resting on his knee, fingers squeezing as he churned his thoughts over. He pressed his other hand against his thigh, methodically cracking the joints in his knuckles one by one; these were small motions, acts of thinking. He was making a decision, she understood, though it was beyond her what was on his mind—it felt like watching someone rise from the grave.

She briefly wondered what would happen if he carved out every last emotion he did not desire until naught remained but his control. Would he shatter that as well? Splinter it into smaller, more manageable fragments? Would his tight-fisted grip on himself turn brittle and snap? In a dazzling moment, she felt half-mad and half-starved, and wished to push him hard enough to discover the limits of that restraint.

When Aemond spoke next, it was with unshakable, adamant belief: “Should the origin of an action be taken into consideration, or only its consequence? Intention is a symptom and requires an explanation—it has no meaning in itself alone. Effect, however, outweighs the intention. Every man has a personal moral responsibility for his actions. We must never lie to ourselves, my lady, even if we permit the rest of the world to embrace those lies.”

What is evil? Petyr put the question forth, as he had many a time in his chambers in the Eyrie.

Sansa knew the answer she was trained to say: Whatever springs from weakness.

What is good? Alayne Stone echoed the question.

In her memory, Littlefinger smiled, the movement not reaching his cold grey-green eyes. Whatever augments power. Happiness is dependent on power increasingwhen that which resists is overcome. Seek not contentment, but more power; not peace, but war.

Remember, little dove. The weak and the stagnant shall perish: crushed beneath the boot of the ambitious. Cersei Lannister hissed into her ear, her breath hot, her slender fingers dead-cold where they wrapped around Alayne’s shoulder, long nails digging in. It is the prerogative of the strong to devour the weak. And what is more harmful than any vice? Sympathy for weakness

At her muteness, Aemond gave a low hum of consideration, still steadily watching her, lynx-eyed. “The beast which weeps after a kill is no better than the beast which does not. Guilt does not purify. Regret does not absolve. Is it your wish of me to justify what I’ve done? Give some pretty and noble reason for the bloodshed to make it more palatable? I cannot. I would not change anything I did, even if I could.”

Alayne straightened, pitched her shoulders back with fluid grace and tilted her chin up defiantly—marrying her gaze to his. She would be brave. “A man once told me: the world is built by killers, and I better get used to looking at them. I suppose he was right.”

I have seen it before. The same eyes in different faces. The same dark hearts in different people.

“I strongly differ from that judgement,” Aemond hotly pronounced, expression cutting. “In a world suckled on the gore of war, strength is justice, weakness is a crime, and the people are cursed. Strife moulds us, woe tempers us, but it does not build us. To build something one must nurture it, raise it—strengthen it. It requires patience and resilience, and dedication. A prosperous realm is not built by killers. It is built by justice, it is built on duty.”

Boldness rose in her like a tidal wave and crashed her reservations to smithereens. “You roasted the flesh off your foes and called it justice.”

“Yes. I did.” Aemond’s pink lips stretched over bared white teeth and he gave her a positively ferine grin. The look in his eye was unfathomable—indescribable. “Tis the family way. The burn in the blood. It drives one to do great and terrible things.”

In that moment, Alayne understood with a terrible, crystalline clarity that Prince Aemond was not mad. He was, in fact, perfectly sane. His every choice: the righteous ones, the kind ones, the brutal ones, the ugly ones—were made of sound mind. Bold, willful, unfettered; he made himself what he was by sheer strength of purpose. Prince Aemond saw himself as the roaring crescendo of the great blood of the dragon, and became the pinnacle of both its righteousness and its iniquity.

Aemond’s heart was at conflict with itself, embroiled in turmoil, full of contrasts and dualities, but he was not torn by them; his choices were his own. It was not madness or circ*mstance or teachings—it was him. He remained steadfastly unflinching and true to himself, no matter what aspect of his personality he wore. His true self was someone willing to both tolerate and inflict pain to achieve his ends. Someone who would wage war on many to save a few. Someone who would slaughter on the altar of his obsessive devotion, burning down the world for love.

A vicious dragonlord. A dutiful prince.

It occurred to her that she should be frightened.

She was not.

Instead, she understood.

Spark of empathy burned through her and in the ashes of her misgivings sat her past and cradled a baneful impudence to know what it would be like to be the cause and not the reaction. To believe in one’s own justness enough to accept oneself and one’s actions, and live with the ugliness of truth. All she had were her private grotesqueries: loneliness, sorrows, and regrets. She collected them like pretty shells on a beach and they poured out of her hands like golden sand.

This life I have. It isn’t how it was supposed to be. But this is how it is.

She wondered if she would ever find the words to speak, the language to express the things which haunted her the most. Had she wanted less—had she ignored the gnawing hollows in herself, burning to be filled with light—would she still have them all?

Father. Mother. Robb. Arya. Bran. Rickon. Lady.

“Do you still think of them?” she whispered, in spite of herself.

His countenance was solemn and grim, and the violet of his eye had turned glassy and far-away. Words rattled behind his teeth and the admittance came reluctantly—softly and full of hurt: “Every day.”

The girl she once was, had a sister—a wild and bold wolf-child, and a more slippery memory than the actual girl. Alayne Stone had no siblings, but in her heart of hearts, she missed Arya all the same. If you had a sister and she left you—did you stop having one? Did you stop having brothers if they died? Or were you always someone’s sibling—part of a pack? Did Prince Aemond miss his kingly brother?

She asked him.

Prince Aemond’s face turned stony. “I hated Aegon. He shrunk his duty and left me alone to clean up his messes. He was a c*nt and a wastrel, a drunkard and a wretch—unworthy of his name, much less the crown bestowed upon him. He was perverse in nature and in humour, and his appetites could only be satisfied by wreaking havoc upon others. I hated being around him. Aegon had a way of making people feel… small.”

He stopped. Looked away. Pursed his mouth.

“Yet, I loved him, too. Love him still,” Aemond finally sighed, soft and gentle, and dreadfully solemn. “He was a monumental pain, but he was my pain: mine to tolerate, mine to protect. Aegon was my older brother and my King. The brother who stayed, who never left. The King who supported me when no-one else did, who stood by me when he should have turned away. He and I were much the same—strangled vines of a poisoned tree, but in his own strange way, Aegon was a better man than I. Dead, alive: he is my brother. He is as much a part of me as my own bones. How can I not miss him?”

The corner of his mouth pulled downwards into a grimace, as steep as the edge of the world. “Isn’t that the ugliest, damndest thing: we can never love someone as much as we miss them. I would give my swordhand to see him again. I would sell my soul for another minute with all of them.”

Aemond leaned back in his chair and took a deep swig from his tankard of mead. “Family makes us mad, Lady Stone, but it’s the only thing we ever truly have in this world.” The look in his eye was terrible and knowing. “How do you live with them? How could you ever live without them?”

Sansa had been chewing on her memories of Winterfell for years, sharpened teeth tearing into the sweetness of her girlhood—they should have lost their flavour long ago. Instead, they grew only more mournful every day. Her loneliness aged like oak-baralled sweetwine, turning her head heady with yearning.

It surged up in her now, spilling out of her moist eyes and trembling fingers, rippling off her cool skin like rising steam—words heaved out of her gullet like bloody innards of a gutted fish: “Sometimes… you can only feel someone by their absence, by the empty spaces they left behind—and there is a hollow carved inside of you, in the shape of somebody you loved.”

Sansa scraped her teeth along her bottom lip, her tongue feeling thick and unwieldy. “There is so much love left for them… it gnaws at the bones and devours the marrow… It begs to be freed, but… where is all that love supposed to go?” Her breath hitched. “There is nowhere for it to go. The finality of death is something nothing in the world can undo, and all you are stuck with is the profound ache of all your love.”

Her vulnerabilities were dearly guarded secrets, she closed her fists around them and tucked them close to her heart. Opening up made her feel like an unfurling rose bloom—bare and soft, and tender to the slightest bruising. Yet, she persisted. “I have not known my mother. But I was raised with care, under Mother’s guiding light and in her image, by Septa Ca—Karolyn. She was kind and loving, and strong. She forgot more grace than I can ever learn in my lifetime.”

Mother taught me everything I know. She held me when I cried and soothed my brow when I was sick with fever. She brushed my hair and kissed me often, and told me she loved me. She smelled richly of agarwood and sweet beet-sugar, and a faint fragrance of heliotrope blooms that she grew in the glass gardens clung to her skin. When she smiled, you could glimpse the bottom tooth she chipped in girlhood. Her hands were warm and soft, and her voice had a rasp to it.

I will never see her again.

Tears welled up in Sansa’s eyes and Alayne took a rasping breath to compose herself; chest expanding, straining against her dress. “She is dead now. I have not seen her in years before she passed. I always thought there would be enough time to tell her all the things I felt, but…” A rattling exhale. “It is mortifying to be the last one who remembers, but the memory of love is all we have.”

Her ribs ached with sadness, yet speaking felt like expelling blackened rot—letting go of something stagnant and suffocating, and finding peace in grief. “When someone’s gone, their memory is all that’s left of them. The only way they are remembered is if someone shares their tale.”

The prince canted his head to the side, keen-eyed and serpentine. She was not sure if he voiced the words; had his tongue roll over the shape of them and pushed the sounds out of his throat—or had she felt the unspoken echo of them with her body, soundless reverberations resonating through the air between them.

What tale is there left for me to tell? I am a relic of remembrance, the burning look in his eye seemed to say. Something undead. Something unalive. A ghost of a grotesque past.

She reached out. Grabbed his wrist. Wrapped her fingers around the bone. Felt the heartbeat stutter beneath warm skin. “I see no ghost. There is only the man.”

A corner of his mouth twitched. His eye went black, the firelight a shimmering auburn within it. A heaviness settled in Alayne’s stomach—not dread, not fear, but something different; nervousness, perhaps. A feeling of being seen and discerned. She swallowed it and demurely cast her gaze downwards, eyelashes casting long shadows on her cheeks in the butter-warm candlelight. Slowly, she unfurled his fingers, and traced the lines on his palm, the pad of her finger grazing the sensitive skin, feather-light and gentle.

“Speak of ghosts no more, my prince. We may be all but songs in the end, and your song is not over yet,” she murmured, hushed and husky.

And my song is not over either.

Alayne stared at the distorted reflection in the curvilinear pewter belly of her tankard: Prince Aemond made for a haunting figure in the flickering candlelight; his wan face shrouded in thought, the sapphire glowing like a star—the shade of Stranger stalking in his shadow and casting him half in dark, half in light. She could feel his gaze boring into her, yet she dared not to raise her eyes.

She was accustomed to being looked at, but she was not seen—sea glass, weathered to crystalline transparency. Was the rage brewing in the hollows of her ribs her mother’s? The resentment blackening her heart, her brother’s? Was it mayhaps some inherited creature, or a darkness she spawned all on her own?

Misfortune preyed on the prince and her both—found them young and sank into them like a body sunk into the swamp. It turned Sansa into an idea of sorts; she became a silver looking glass reflecting back the private, uncompensated hurts of her tormentors. It shaped Aemond into someone who cloaked himself in a burial shroud of horror and wielded terror like a dagger against foe and ally alike.

Alayne rolled her lips inwards, lest the words rattling behind her teeth escape, when abruptly a jarring thud of a crash rang through the air. Aemond shot to his feet with striking agility, jerking his hand out of her hold, and marched towards the door—the dagger with which he ate his dinner clutched in a fist.

There were muffled noises coming from the corridor beyond their chambers—stumbling footsteps and indistinct voices—and, then, the unmistakable sound of retching, followed by an outraged cry of a woman. Unease left Alayne in a smothered giggle; hysterics of a passing drunkard were an unwelcome disturbance, but ultimately, not a threat.

Aemond sighed, tension bleeding out of his shoulders, and sluggishly stuffled over back to his chair, slumping in it wearily. He spun his dagger deftly around a thumb and speared it into the table, sharp point down, burying it an inch in the wood. Reclining back, he rested his skull on the back of the chair, staring upward at the ceiling. He pinched the skin between his eyebrows, smoothing out the pain knot with thumb and forefinger. All the while, ignoring her—turning away from her. Whatever vulnerabilities they had previously shared have been smothered and shuttered off.

The intent was clear: the conversation had come to a swift end.

Alayne sipped at the remnants of her mead cautiously, aware of her low tolerance for liquor. Petyr was partial wines, particularly Dornish vintages, regarding ale as unrefined and crude on the palette. In her girlhood, Lord Stark would let his children sample a cup of beer on rare occasions. Robb and Arya, and even petulant Jon Snow enjoyed the taste well enough, and before the memory of them all made her sad, she sunk it deep within herself.

“It is not going to help,” Alayne commented, idly, emboldened by the drink.

Aemond did not acknowledge her. He pressed his thumbs into the hollows of his eye sockets, right where the bridge of the nose curved upwards into the brow bone. His expression had been getting more pinched as the headache that had been brewing all eve, gained its sails and now it was as dark as a stormcloud. Stubbornly, he said nothing and refused to ask for aid, accepting the pain as an old acquaintance. It set her teeth on edge.

Alayne decisively set her tankard down and got to her feet, crossing the distance between them with quick, sure steps. She stopped behind him and placed her hands on his broad shoulders.

“Hold still,” she instructed, moving his hair out of the way.

Aemond blinked up at her, confused. “What are—”

The rest of his question were swallowed by curse and he involuntarily jerked his shoulders. Rather unceremoniously, Alayne put her thumbs on either side of the spine at the base of his neck, hooked index fingers pressing their knuckles into the sides—she squeezed the firm muscle between them as she bore down and moved her thumbs upwards towards the skull, flattening the flesh with as much pressure as she could exert along the way.

Aemond groaned lowly in relief.

“See,” Alayne said, smugly. “Isn’t this more effective?”

He acknowledged her with a low grunt and otherwise made no movement to reject her. She used her hands to deftly manipulate the muscles of his back: she pinched the knotted muscle at the side of the shoulders where it curved into the neck between her knuckles and her bent thumb, before lifting the skin and the muscle as much as she could off the bones, massaging the flesh and wringing the tension out. The girl she once was used to doing it for her brothers after long hours in the training yard: kneading skin and muscle was akin to kneading dough—an odd comparison given how she had never kneaded dough in her entire life.

She pulled at the laces of the tunic, widening the scope of the neckline to expose more of the supple flesh beneath and gain better access. Alayne was close enough to glimpse a sprinkling of pale freckles on his shoulders from the sun; the dark dots of moles on the side of his jaw, side of the neck, and at the nape. Swallowing thickly, she cast her eyes away from the indecency.

“You have strong fingers,” Aemond distractedly observed, eye closed.

“I play the high harp, my prince.”

“A strange thing for a would-be septa to practise,” he murmured.

“A welcome thing for the Lady of the Eyrie to be skilled at,” she countered. She had been skilled enough at the harp at Winterfell and Father had promised to find her a proper master at court. But he never did, and then Margaery’s cousin, Lady Leonette, had kindly given her some lessons. Later, Petyr had overseen her education and turned her into a true courtly songbird.

Her fingers worked in a soothing rhythm, squeezing and releasing; moving down from the base of his skull down to his shoulders, and up again. As she worked, she began to softly sing the lullaby Sweetrobin loved to pass the time: All the world will be your enemy, prince of a thousand enemies. But first they must catch you. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and you will never be destroyed.

Touching Aemond was akin to touching a furnace, his skin practically burned against her own. She was distantly aware that if he moved backwards only a few inches, his back would be pressed against her belly. When she leaned forwards, bearing down on a particularly stubborn knot, a loose curl of her hair brushed against the exposed parts of him. Aemond gave a strange, timid shudder and Alayne wilfully ignored it, focusing on her movements.

Her fingers slid over a group of knotted muscles and slowly rolled over them, pressing them into the bones. She dragged her hands up and starting from the base of the skull, moved upwards towards the top of the head and then the hairline: making small, circular motions on the scalp with her fingers and lightly, rhythmically tapping the forehead and the brow bone with her fingertips.

Her touch was calming and deliberate, a gentle drumming that soothed the pain. Alayne continued moving in pattern from shoulders to scalp for what must have been half an hour, until she began to feel that the strained areas turned relaxed and pliant, and a healthy pink flush mantled the tops of the shoulders. Aemond did not answer, instead his head lolled to the side and Alayne had to nudge it back straight.

“My prince,” she crooned, leaning in close, her voice barely more than a breath.

“I am not asleep,” he rasped out, sluggish. “But I’d rather stay here by the fire, if it is all the same to you.”

Alayne pursed her mouth in discontent and instead of answering, circled the chair to stand before him. She wrapped both hands around a bicep and, with a determined effort, lifted him to his feet.

Aemond swayed unsteadily, his eye half-closed, but she steadied him with a firm grip. “Come,” she murmured softly. “You must take your rest in a proper bed, lest all my hard work be wasted.”

She guided him across the room towards the adjacent chamber, leading him by the hand to keep him from stumbling. The steps were slow and heavy, and Alayne began to wonder if her fears from when they reversed through the tunnels of Harrenhal would come to pass and she would have to bodily drag an unconscious man twice her size.

Once inside the second chamber, she led him to the bed and eased him down onto the edge of it, the straw bedding dipping under the weight of him. The blankets were made of heavy wool, not the furs she was accustomed to, and Alayne pulled them down to see fresh linens beneath. For the second time that night, she found herself on her knees, removing the prince’s boots with efficiency, fingers deftly undoing the laces. She could feel the loaded heaviness of his gaze on her, but resolutely kept her own eyes on the task. He was easier to manage when he was like this—tired and pliant, and unguarded in the way only men could afford to be in the bedchamber.

He murmured something incoherent and by the time she had finished pulling the second boot off, Prince Aemond had closed his eye, his head dropping to the side and hanging at an awkward angle. Alayne got to her feet, clicking her tongue, and pushed him back into the bed. He toppled like a felled oak and even before she finished pulling the wool blankets over him, Prince Aemond was fast asleep, his breathing deep and even.

The novel sight of him resting gave her pause and she quietly perched on the edge of the narrow bed, hip pressing into his shoulder. Sleep robbed his features of worry and stolidity—he looked at peace and painfully young. It was strange to reconcile that the man named Ravager of Riverlands was as much a child as she, only a few years older than Alayne. His long silver hair fanned across the pillow, a stray lock fluttering across his lips with every exhale. Alayne tucked it carefully behind the shell of his ear and ran a cool, gentle hand through the length of his hair, knuckles softly brushing against the line of his throat.

His face was incomparably suave; well-defined features, a tall, straight nose, a strong brow, and a shapely, almost petulant mouth. Prince Aemond was a devastatingly handsome man, made all the more darkly charming by the scar bisecting the high plane of his cheek and the many-faceted gemstone in the empty socket. She had always gravitated towards the romantic and the tragic: Florian and Jonquil, Lady Shella and the Rainbow Knight, Aemon the Dragonknight and Queen Naerys, and Symeon Star-Eyes.

Prince Aemond was a little like the blind knight: one eye a brilliant sapphire, the other shone brighter than a star.

He is violent and hard and unforgiving, but not cruel for cruelty’s sake. Duty and devotionhe clings to these ideals like a man drowning. And it is love that drives him. An unsparing, brutal love that wounds him with the same blade it cuts down his enemies.

A beast.

A man.

An opportunity.

The prince was beautiful and brave; however, that did not mean he was good. He treated her chivalrously and kindly; however, it did not mean he was not violent. Beneath the disillusionment, he was imbibed the ascetic ideals of a sworn knight: he longed for honour and decency; wished to be a righteous champion who lived for his oaths. Prince Aemond was a monster, too—and that alone meant he would not die easily.

Menwomenthey risk so little. They spend their whole lives avoiding danger, and then they die. Petyr murmured against her ear, leaning in close. She could feel his beard against her jaw, smell his mint-laced breath. I’d risk everythingto get what I want.

“I know,” she whispered, her body cold.

Tell me, daughterwhat do we want?

Everything buzzed on the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed it.

Sansa Stark sat at the edge of the bed and stared at sleeping Aemond Targaryen. Did she conjure him from her dreams? Did she solicit him from the darkness? He was akin to a shining light in the night, a golden thread of hope. She wondered if she could do it. Take the risk and jump off a cliff of her reservations—seize the opportunity before life snatched it away the way it had taken everything and everyone else from her.

Petyr put a cold hand on her shoulder and wrapped the other around her throat—squeezing, choking. All men have a weakness for a pretty face, and whose face is prettier than yours, sweetling?

Charm him. Entrance him. Bewitch him.


If I still have not replied to your comment, I shall do my best to do it soon. I am rather behind on my inbox messages. Please, forgive me. 🙏😔 I am genuinely thankful and appreciative of every message I received. I often re-read favourites of mine to motivate myself to continue working on the fic. I want to put proper effort into responding to all of you.

*latchet crossbows are from the 17th century, but I took one look at the proper medieval crossbows and realised I did not want to deal with the cumbersome logistics of carrying around a goat’s foot lever.

Baths sure became a frequent plot device for me, huh. Anyway, He’s a visual of Alayne from the last chapter. Never doubt I’m an equal opportunity boob enthusiast.

Yes, I gave Sansa a boob window. Yes, Aemond now has to look above her head so he does not look down. I’ve been testing him with wardrobe malfunctions and now he has walked himself into a new problem of resisting the hypnotic pull of a goodly chest. God gives the toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. 😔✊ (It’s his own damn fault, too. He could have checked it before he got it. He really did this to himself.)

To help visualise it, I imagined it as this dress, except boob window is part of the actual dress (like these) and not just created through a gap between the bodice and the shoulder-cloak-garment-thing. The colour of the fabric is Arryn Blue like here and the embroidery of snakes at the collar looks like this.

Aemond and Sansa arriving at the completely erroneous conclusion as to why the staff is side-eyeing them is like two dumbasses telling each other “exaaaactly.” FYI, the reason the inn’s staff is acting shifty is because they think these two eloped, causing Sansa to have a massive misunderstanding regarding why the serving girls keep staring at her and Aemond, and giggling like mad. Girlies are the first Westerosi Aemondsa shippers, meanwhile Sansa is sweating buckets.

Yeah, Petyr is paraphrasing and cannibalising Nietzsche, while very specifically misunderstanding Nietzsche’s point, but it’s okay, Westeros is not ready for true Nietzscheanism.

A reviewer asked for Aemond and Sansa to talk about their mothers. I do fulfil people’s wishes… if not in the most orthodox ways. That bit about Aemond having Rhaenyra’s hair is technically at odds with my previously existing headcanon regarding what the Targaryens look like, so it’s partly ‘Aemond’s hair is the same texture as Rhaenyra’s, he just misinterpreted what Alicent told him, every time, lol’ and GRRM’s favourite technique of ‘two people remember the same event differently.’

We see the world through Aemond and Sansa’s eyes, and neither is a particularly reliable narrator. They do let their opinions and biases colour their experiences. It may seem like Aemond is self-aware, but it is because he self-intellectualises, not because he actually achieved self-understanding. These are two different things. Meanwhile, Sansa is stuck in a shame spiral and also is in deep, deep repression. Aemond and Sansa are true neurodivergent icons—they met, trauma dumped, and decided they are besties.

Next chapter: Aemond POV!

P.S. My friend Jen (edrurzys on ao3/myladyvhagar on twitter) is writing yet another Aemondsa fanfic featuring mermaid!Sansa, if anyone is so inclined to check out what the water gave me, they would not regret it because it is a beautiful work. 💗

witchcraft in your lips - slaymond (aemondtargaryen) (2024)
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