Father would make a better Hand, there was no question about that. He had for twenty years to Aerys, before the spite became too much. “Why not Myrcella? The Targaryens did it.” He looked so blissfully simple about it. “A new Lannister dynasty.” That amused him somewhat, that a line of Emperors sired by pure Lannister seed should masquerade under the facade of a Baratheon name.
The guidance of her hand made a convenient distraction, even as Jaime protested, “I’d rather not.” His fingers swept back, along her waist, unknowing in how to remove the complicated contraption of a dress. He’d figure it out soon enough once he’d gotten her to bed.
"I thought you had more concern for my well-being than that." His lips ghosted over her chin and down her neck, nowhere offended but jesting as per usual. Jaime had none of the drive or the good sense for such a position; he had the good sense to know that, at least. He was built for the field, with a sabre or in a courser.
"Being Hand makes for a suspiciously short life."
What Jaime suggested was ludicrous; while yes, the Targaryens had been known to keep bloodlines pure, it was hardly something the population of the Red Keep would support, let alone the rest of the empire. Too much time had passed since the last Targaryen Emperor, and too much blood had been shed in the name of the Targaryen traditions. It was a new world, and Targaryen traditions counted less than zilch.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, brushing off the suggestion. Jaime was blinded by his own experience, one that yelled that it was fair and normal because it was so for him, and her. Cersei, on her part, knew what they had was unique in its kind, forbidden too because of its rare quality. She would not condemn her children to the same fate.
The talk was making her somber, reminding her of her own unhappiness and how her son would soon enough belong to someone else; whether it was the Stark girl or someone else of her choosing, it made no difference: jealousy coiled in her stomach like a rattlesnake, hissing its outrage at the situation. Unfortunately, there was no way out: an Emperor would need an Empress, and his mother just would not cut it for the rest of his life.
Cersei held the guardianship of the Emperor in her hands, but Jaime wondered how long it would be until their father came to take it from her. Or how long until Joffrey wanted it for himself.
"Other than the usual condescension, no." Amused as he typically was, his reply came out surprisingly stiff. Ned Stark had always found his honor worth shit, but failed to recognize his nonexistent honor was what put Robert on the Seat in the first place. Ungrateful and blind, perhaps. Foolish, definitely.
Aerys Targaryen had been a tyrant.
When Ned Stark dared lower himself to talk to Jaime, it had been mostly criticisms. Firstly that he hadn’t acted to save Rickard and Brandon from the notoriously mad ruler, then that he had acted. Jaime would find the whole thing rather amusing if he wasn’t so damn tired of hearing it all. One self-righteous lord after another shot him eyes like he was a disgrace, but it occurred to him years ago that explanations would do nothing.
He didn’t appreciate the change in subject to the dull northerner, only a distraction from what he’d rather be doing. “No surprise there,” he replied, droll. Cersei’s preoccupation didn’t spread to Jaime, carefree as he was with her in his lap.
Her long golden locks brushed his shoulder when he dared a wry grin. “He’s probably forgotten what cleavage looks like, living in that cave.”
The few months following Jon Arryn’s death had been awful; she’d been sick with worry, as the old man tried his hand at unlikely genetics and asked questions he should not be asking. Cersei had already begun to wonder how to get rid of him when Jon Arryn had drawn his last: a gods given gift, she had thought, a sign they were on her side.
He had been so close to finding out about her and Jaime’s secret, and her concern had been so real, and the idea of someone else looking at her with suspicion bothered her immensely.
Jaime was right: Eddard Stark was self-righteous, and would probably blame her if she stepped on a cockroach. But she couldn’t shake the feeling away, and it made her anxious. Something about Eddard Stark unsettled her and shook her nerves; he was Robert’s friend, never hers, and as such Robert’s death would be a great divide.
“I wish we didn’t have to deal with them,” she murmured, tilting her head to the side and brushing a thumb over his chin. “The North." Cersei all but spit that word with hatred. ”What a joke. As if they commanded any real power.”
With Robert gone, the next move was bound to be hers: everyone expected everything to stay the same, but the smartest players would know everything would change soon enough. The alliance with the North had been precious, when Robert was Emperor, but Cersei couldn’t see how they might benefit from it. Eddard Stark would be no ally of hers, and he would only be a thorn in her side from now on.
“We could get rid of them. Make father Imperial Hand. Joffrey could marry a girl from the Rock. A Westerling maybe.” It was nothing but wishful thinking; rejecting the Starks now would be a mistake on their part, and she was not going to jeopardize her ruling. Joffrey’s ruling.
"Or… you could be the Imperial Hand," she offered, almost mocking him when she placed her had over his and shifted it just a bit higher on her thigh, then her waist. "Imagine that."
You will be married soon enough —He deterred his gaze away from his own reflection, on to his mother’s catching her green eyes in the mirror. It bothered him a little, that she would bring up the subject of a wedding at the day of his coronation but his mother was a woman, and it seems as though the extravagance of lions and champagne are all that seemed to preoccupy her mind. He smirked. Funny how, stood on the platform that elevated him the ground as the tailors had worked on his suit earlier, he was but a bare inch taller than Cersei.
"You mean, marry the Stark girl," he said fixing the cuffs of his sleeves. (Lion shaped, golden cuffs to match his stag brooch). Joffrey raised an eyebrow inquisitively at Cersei.
The reminder of his betrothal to Sansa Stark leaves him indifferent. It had been his father’s idea in the beginning, of course; a marriage to secure the alliance with the North, between his family and Ned Stark’s, and Joffrey, ever so determined to please Robert, had agreed then. After all, an emperor needed an empress and Sansa Stark was, he supposed, pretty enough to do.
(Pretty, but boring. But if his own parents could endure years together without an ounce of affection, he could endure a lifetime with the Stark girl. Robert had whores to bed, plenty enough to keep him satisfied.)
"We allow the northerners too much power," he continued. That had been his father’s mistake, being too closely affectionate with Ned Stark. "First Eddard Stark as the Imperial Hand and his daughter as future empress."
He grimaced, before turning to look at Cersei now. It was a pity; that he should be stuck with the Stark girl as if that was the only choice he had. Future Emperor of the Seven Worlds and it seemed as though his options were but very limited. There was the younger Stark girl. She was enough trouble at is. For now, of course.
"They think themselves equal to us. Once I’m Emperor, I will show them what it means to be truly loyal to the crown," he added. "I’ll double their taxes, and command them to supply men to the royal army."
Her son had always shared her contempt for the northeners. Their reasons might be different, but the result was in similar reluctance to the tasks ahead. Cersei didn’t want Joffrey to marry the Stark girl, no more than he himself wanted to.
Following Jon Arryn’s death, Robert had dragged them all to the farthest corner of the westerosi system, all the way to the planet of the Winter; he hadn’t seen fit to tell them why, but not a soul alive had forgotten of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark’s friendship. When the old Arryn had died, Robert’s choice would be in the North.
Granted, Eddard Stark wouldn’t have been Cersei’s first choice: Arryn’s wife was a Tully, sister ot Eddard Stark’s own wife, and Jon Arryn had already posed a threat with his inappropriate questions, long before his demise. The death had been a mercy on her, and Cersei had been thankful to whoever had freed her of that burden. One more day and Jon Arryn might have learnt the whole truth.
Still that meant she was destined to break bread with the Starks and the likes of them, and that didn’t sit well with her either. (There had been that whole accident, back on the planet of the Winter, the one with the child. Jaime had taken care of that, rash and stubborn.) The point her son was making was not without fundament, but it dripped juvenile arrogance and a green idea of power.
“The North is dangerous,” she agreed, “they are wild, most of them savages. Most of them are not that different from those people beyond the Belt.”
Cersei remembered Winterfell; a great station, but stern and rigid in its exterior, lacking the lush and luxurious elegance of the Red Keep. Everything on-world had been just as bland, dreadfully boring to say the least. Sansa Stark had stood out, that much she remembered: when compared to her younger sister, Sansa was almost out of place. Pretty enough to marry the future emperor. Robert had proposed a joinery without consulting her, but she could not have denied it even if he had.
“But they are loyal, and not to us. You may force them to supply forty-thousand men to the Imperial Army, but If you raise their taxes, they will rebel. And if that happens, who do you think those people will fight for, the emperor or their lord?”
excuse me who are you
Of all the things she was not prepared for in the Red Keep, the heat hit Margaery first. She had expected the station to be cold, isolated in space as it was, but she found the metallic hallways warm, warm enough to make her wish she was wearing something aught than black. And yet, black she wore. Margaery was lucky that Olenna had thought to have mourning clothes packed. The sleeves were three quarter length, the skirt a-line and to the knee, the neckline demure, and yet suggestive with a sweetheart shape, enough to let anyone who watched her know that she was young, and beautiful, and the shoes, of course, were killer. All she wore around her neck was a peridot stone, large enough to prove her wealth and station, resting just above her bosom, and in her hair a band of black topaz, simple, but with a clear statement, alluding to the crown she wished she wore.
Her heels sunk into the plush red of the carpet as she waited outside the Empress’s chambers. In her note to Cersei Lannister expressing her most sincere condolences, she had requested a private audience, and surprisingly enough, it had been granted. Margaery was unused to the silence. Usually, her retinue accompanied her, the endless static of tittering and giggling filling each room, but here she felt the quiet sink into her. So still was it, she felt the AIs, no, the station itself might hear her thoughts should she dare think them too loudly.
With a quiet hiss, the doors opened. “The Empress Regnant will see you now.”
Stepping into the room, Margaery was struck by the opulence of it, the room was gold and red, the Lannister lion winking from the corners of each fabric, the golden chairs clawed and maned in golden fringe, and in the center, black dress long and dramatic, her blond her impeccable and unmistakable.
Graceful as a dancer, Margaery dipped into a low curtesy. “Your grace. I am so sorry, your great loss is felt by the whole System. You must be devastated.”
After the burial Cersei had returned to her chambers, the only place where she could lap up the upcoming opportunities that would follow her husband’s death. Meanwhile, under the tall dome of Baelor’s cathedral, the White Band stood vigil around the Emperor’s bier while the building’s doors were opened to the public. Without Jaime to distract her, she could enjoy a few moments to herself, to think of all that the new day would bring.
When Pycell-E slid over to where she sat, reminding her of her scheduled appointment for the evening, she threw her head back and murmured something about incompetence. Even the note had smelled of roses, written in tall, neat handwriting, the stench of Highgarden all over it; Cersei had never liked roses, they had thorns and she was wary of getting prickled, with skin as delicate as hers.
Olenna Tyrell had been at the funeral, wrinkled and looking far too healthy for Cersei’s liking: she just couldn’t trust any woman whose skin hung lower than her veil. But The Reach was big, and its resources fundamental to the Red Keep. As Empress Regnant, Cersei expected she would be forced in many directions she would not enjoy: it fell on her to change that, and exploit them to her gain. In that spirit, she had accepted the condolences, and the request for a meeting.
The old Tyrell matriarch had entered the cathedral surrounded by a retinue of granddaughters and nieces, one walking right beside her; the most beautiful of the flock, with bright eyes and rosy cheeks. Cersei’s skin had crawled at the sight, for motives unknown to her: the girl walked well, and her curtsey was appropriate. Even the grief on her face when the priest had listed Robert’s great deeds, it had seemed genuine.
In the middle of the room, with the well-practiced darkness of mourning veiling her features, Cersei welcomed the young woman. She’s but a child, but not void of passion. With her arms outstretched toward her, she beckoned her forward, clasping her hands over hers and nodding with gravity.
“The world as I know it seems darker,” she agreed with the saddest smile, “He was fearless, and I felt safe with him.” What a load of bullshit, he couldn’t have protected me from a bug of your prideful rose gardens. “I know my son will be grateful for the sympathies of the Planet of the Reach. Lannisters and Tyrells, he knows well how important our friendship is.” Cersei leaned in to kiss the girl’s cheek, her small hands tight in her grip.
In a twisted way he admired her for being bold enough to kill the man who’d hurt her, especially after she’d managed seventeen years of restraint. Currently he couldn’t see that behind his pissy attitude, spurned and stubborn. Jaime marked Robert as his kill from the very beginning and only Cersei’s insistences had managed to hold him off from being twice a traitor to the Seat. “I’m not sulking," he countered, coming off like a child who had just missed the ice cream truck.
The seductive tilt as she walked, intentional or not, did not pass Jaime by. It briefly reminded him of the benefits of Robert’s death; things could finally be as they should. The slightest of balms to his frustration, he found himself tugging her down to his lap. “I waited almost two decades to slit his throat,” he complained in blatant contradiction to his hand, which slid down her hip to her thigh. Two days after her husband’s death and she’d already abandoned black in favor of their family colors, red silk keeping him from her skin.
"The least you could do is pretend you didn’t enjoy taking that from me.” He sounded more bitter on principle now, even whilst he leant back an inch and flicked both his brows up. The fight wouldn’t last, even Jaime knew that much. He could only stay grumpy so long about the how of it all when he now had her all to himself.
The complicated design of her dress was a hindrance, but an obstacle he was able to tackle with his lips on her chin and nose near her ear. “You’re free now,” he pointedly observed, developing a smug expression in place of his rebuffed one.
No more Robert.
In her gown, Cersei was all the empress she should be; the long red skirt pooled at her feet, soft silk but tight, clinging to her legs like a mermaid’s tale, a moderate trail where the crimson faded into gold, fierce imagery of the restless Lady of the Rock.
They had called her light of the west, comparing her to a bright star in the dark sky that surrounded them. A shining beauty when she’d hit puberty, a bright light in the dark when she’d become empress. That had died soon enough, with Robert’s debauchery: the people didn’t love their empress any more than they loved their emperor.
Cersei couldn’t have cared less, as she had never loved the people: they were inconvenient and unimportant. Power, she knew, was about more than what people loved: it was about what people dreaded. Threats had served her way better than acts of kindness: then again, she could not remember an act of kindness. I did not kill my stunted brother, did I? That was a kindness.
Jaime pulled at her waist and she sat in his lap, legs to the side like she’d been taught when her first SEP-Ta showed her how to ride a horse, back on the Rock. Tywin had been furious, and ordered for a replacement immediately: ladies didn’t need to ride horses, and Cersei would always have a cruiser at her disposal.
The green of his eyes blended well with the white suit and golden hair, an embroidery of purity for a man who had no purity left in him whatsoever. Except the love for her, that one was pure enough: violent and destructive, but unblemished.
She touched his lips briefly before turning her eyes to the wide rectangular window just behind him; the Keep was orbiting fairly close to the Reach, and its greenery shone against the Black.
“I am,” she murmured, resting her own hand over his on her thigh, thinking back on the humiliation she’d suffered at her husband’s hands, frequent and outrageous and not limited to words and threats. The universe on display before her lay at her feet, and that thrilled her beyond words. Already people were gathering on every planet to come and pay homage to the new emperor; they would kiss his hands and bow, but all the while swearing loyalty to her, the Regnant.
“Has Eddard Stark said anything to you?” she asked, sudden remembrance of something that had nagged her during the ceremony. “Throughout the ceremony he never once took his eyes off me.” Cersei was used to men gaping, they had looked at her with hungry eyes since her breasts had started showing at the age of eleven. Eddard Stark’s scrutiny had felt different.
He felt the prick of a needle at his elbows, and it was enough to unsettle his nerves. “I will have every single one of your fingers cut off,” he hissed, the threat cut short as he caught his mother’s figure enter the room. He curled his fist into a ball as Cersei approached him, sighing at the sight of him. (Joffrey noted that his mother had never reacted at the sight Robert this way and that pleased him) Still, he flinched away from her touch, scowling at every motherly touch as if he was just a boy.
“Learnt my lines?” he repeated, the tone of his voice slightly edging on to mockery and arrogance.
(The truth was, he learnt his lines. Memorized them, know them off by heart? That was different. What if he fumbles, stumbles, forgets? He doesn’t dwell on it because if it does, it will happen)
“You think I’m a child…” he frowned, but Joffrey was not looking at Cersei. His gaze remained fixed on his own reflection. “Of course I know them, mother.”
The plain dismissal in his voice was not enough to make her falter; she understood it, even cherished it as a sign of that peculiar arrogance of youth. Cersei had been determined and adamant as well, when she was a child, not at all unlike her son.
Robert had lacked many things in the marital department, but what he had lacked as a ruler was the strength to be such. Not a physical strength — he had too much of that; he lacked the motivation, and the vehemence that would have brought the kingdoms to heel. He had relied on charisma for too long a time,and for some five years it had been enough to earn him support. After he had won the kingdom at last he had kept relying on that charisma, long after it was dead and gone, along with Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark and all those epic tales of love and vengeance that had etched his name across the galaxy, a hero.
No one saw a hero in Robert Baratheon anymore, not when he stumbled drunk from the Celestial Seat or when he stared openly and avidly at women’s tits. Joffrey was different.
Joffrey was elegant in his movements, and aristocratic in its well-spoken words; no one would make fun of him, and no one would laugh behind his back like they had with her late husband. Her son’s crown rested on a golden trestle, beautiful and lean, and way more dangerous than Robert’s; Cersei could picture it on Joffrey’s head already, a display of what an emperor should be.
Young, brave and valiant, an emperor whose rule would shake the system and remind even the farthest planets of the Lannister’s real power. The Red Keep would be feared, as would his commander, and no one would ever dare rebel again. Fear was a powerful determent.
“You will be married soon enough,” she began, with a smile meant to cover her contempt. A poor attempt really. “One year maybe? It would give us time to prepare the greatest feast the Red Keep has ever seen. We will ask your grandfather for a pride of lions, from the Rock. Real lions, not those terrible holos.”
One year, Cersei wagered, would be just enough to think of other options. Or maybe she would use the extra time to submit Sansa Stark to her whims, and be sure she would not be a hinder when she was crowned. The crown might rest on the young Stark’s head, but the power would reside in Cersei’s hands.
Her smile did nothing to deter his dissatisfied pout, corners of his mouth tense with stubborn anger. “It should’ve been me,” he insisted, headstrong in the privacy of the Empress Regnant’s chambers. Jaime kept walking, hoping he’d release some of the pent up energy in the distance between the door and one of the spherical chairs that hung from the ceiling. Gold on the outside but black silk on the inside, he wondered how long it would be before Cersei had it reupholstered.
The thing swung an inch or two with his momentum after he sat, rocking the image of her side to side. Her regal posture appeared effortless today and he knew she was happy, or one step closer to it. “One more day couldn’t have hurt.”
Thinking back about the day of the accident, Cersei found herself cheerful; it had been a glorious day when Robert had come into the big dining room announcing he would go hunting in the Battle Arena. Cersei had made a point of looking him up and down, to make a point, training her eyes on the fat stomach, poignant. She had asked him if he thought it wise, and Robert had laughed in her face. Stories of his Rebellion were not enough, not when he was three times as large, and twice as old.
It struck her suddenly that it would be now or never, like a bolt of lightning. Pressing on, she’d told him he shouldn’t do it, knowing he would do the exact opposite. When he made it clear he would be facing the Arena in the afternoon, Cersei insisted he should use the lowest settings, start it off as a training session. Robert had stormed off, moaning about wives and nagging and blue balls.
That afternoon she’d called her brother, asking how long it would take him to return to the Keep, but the answer had been disappointing: the time to act was now, and she couldn’t wait three days. Robert would be going into the Battle Arena in the afternoon, and she’d needed someone ready, who would not ask too many questions, and eager to please.
Their cousin Lancel had been the obvious choice. She’d instructed him, told him it was for the good of the family; she’d even told him he was her only hope at avenging her honour, now that Jaime was away. And Lancel had always dreamed of being Jaime. It hadn’t been difficult, after that, to spike Robert’s wine with the poison; from what Lancel told her later that evening, the emperor had been so weak and slow that the artificial beast had barely growled at him before tackling him to the ground and slashing his stomach open.
The rest had been a slow agony on a bed, sheets red as the blood seeped through the bandages.
“On the contrary, one more day and Robert might never have gone into the Arena. It was the perfect timing.”
With a tired sigh she walked up to him, each step a sway of her hips; she bent over, her hands on each side of the armchair, nails sinking into the golden velvet.
“Stop sulking,” she exhaled.
The imperial palace was buzzing with the loud chattering and persistent noises of various machinery; beneath her feet she could feel the pulsating vibrations of the soul of the Red Keep, the wheels whirring and the fuel burning in the engines, perpetual and steady. The entire ship seemed to be alive with the expectant bubbling that preceded the beginning of a brighter day, the coronation of a new emperor, and with it the dawn of a new age.
With a quick sweep of her hand, she threw the trail of her red gown behind her, as she walked across the main hall fast.paced and purposeful, followed by two members of the White Band. Jaime was not one of them. They reached the Celestial Seat room, but walked right past it, and her steps grew quicker. The guard on her left was breathing heavily, and Cersei glanced over her shoulder to see him red in the face.
"Trant, you do not seem to fare well in that white suit."
"No, your grace. I mean, yes, your grace. I fare-"
"That was not a question, Trant."
Cersei stalked down the corridor with long strides, burdened with a destination and a proper meaning. When she saw the large door of Joffrey’s chambers she slowed down, realizing soon enough those would become the emperor’s chambers. For such a long time her chambers had held that title, and it felt bizarre that her son would rob her of that. She didn’t dwell on that, as it would serve her nothing. No one dared to stop her when she waltzed right in: her son might be on the cusp of a coronation, but he was still a boy of fifteen, and Cersei was now the Empress Regnant. More so, she was his mother.
Inside, Joffrey was surrounded by a small crowd: three tailors, all crouched by the emperor’s feet for any last-minute fixes to his outfit; the imperial smith, an old man of seventy-three who had modelled the new crown on Robert Baratheon’s old one, adding a twist of claws across the branches; a counsellor, repeating the ceremony steps one by one, as if her son had any intention of listening or paying attention. There were other people too, an impressive amount of lackeys and servants of any kind. They all spread and let her walk through the human sea.
She seized her son up and down, clasping her hands at her breast with a soft sigh; she brushed her fingers against the golden brooch on her son’s chest, ignoring the annoyance on his face. He was a boy, after all, struggling and striving to get rid of her mother’s grasp. It was natural, she kept repeating to herself every time he shrugged her off. It was normal.
"A true ruler," Cersei said at last.
"May I have a moment with the emperor?" she added, turning to the present company with a steely smile that promised no compromises. They swarmed like flies to the door, leaving the room in a single wave. When they were alone Cersei allowed herself one last proud look.
"Have you learnt your lines?"