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The Crow Speaks Backwards

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"Go along now," Lyanna insisted, pushing her young niece towards an irate looking Septa Mordane. "Do your best by the good septa and I am certain you will find yourself much rewarded." She offered a gentle smile, pushing back an errant strand of hair. It could not be helped that the poor child loathed the sight of embroidery needles, she supposed; even so, she'd best grow used to seeing to her duties, even those as boring as embroidering.

Her son tried to intervene but she shushed him with a sharp look. "Your cousin undoubtedly wishes to be on her way without delay." Thank heavens the older sister was not half as stubborn as the other one. At least Ned had managed to get the rest of his household out of her way.

Lyanna knew her demands struck him as odd. But then, she was doing no more and no less than protecting her child's interests. She turned towards Arya yet again and widened her smile. With a brief pause she leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, "I shall convince your lady mother of the importance wielding something other than a needle carries."

Mood somewhat brightened, the young girl trudged towards the septa awaiting her and was led away without further fuss. Lyanna remained in the company of her son and brother, one of whom crossed his arms over his chest, while the other shook his head with something akin to affection.

Benjen gave her a mocking bow nevertheless, for all the love he bore her, before straightening himself and speaking, "I expect I too shall be sent on my merry way with as much deftness as my young niece. Alas, sister dearest, I've other plans." Thus before she might protest or defend herself in any manner, her rapscallion of a sibling took off.

"Should we not await Ser Jaime?" her firstborn ventured, eyeing the entrance to the crypts with mistrust. "Father said he was to accompany us."

"Should we travel. But I hardly see walking to the crypts as travelling." She nodded her head for emphasis and took Jon's hand with a practiced touch, feeling the calluses and unevenness of his skin, testimony to the many hours of practice with swords and lances. It was with loving adoration that she traced the pattern and with discerning eyes that she took in his reaction. For that reason Lyanna knew, inn her heart of hearts that she had come to the correct decision.

She had waited long enough.

"Mother, be reasonable. The steps are narrow and unreliable. And you, might I point out, are not in any condition to be exerting yourself." His lips thinned in a bloodless line as his eyes narrowed to slits, their cut sharp. "Whatever it is you wish to show me, I am certain it'll keep."

At times she wondered at the implacable stubbornness coursing through his veins. Stubborn as a mule, the boy was. But Lyanna had handled recalcitrant dragons as well as she did ornery ones. And Jon, no matter how unshakable he was to the world, remained her son and thus much at her mercy.

"I shan't argue with you, dear boy. You are coming with me to the crypts and that is it." Without further exchanges forthcoming, she started towards the cavernous space, a spark of something igniting in her chest as she clapped eyes upon the direwolf pup Robb Stark had insisted be given to Jon as a belated nameday gift. "You may bring Ghost along, if you wish."

"Your generosity humbles me," the boy lashed out, picking up his pet gingerly.

How fitting it was that her son clamber down those stairs with a direwolf in his arms. Its stone siblings were like to be pleased. She knew she was. Jon was no Stark, except might be in looks, but even so the old lord of the frozen realm had kept for him a very special gift. One that she herself had kept silent about, hoping that when the moment was right, she would give it to him.

Despite his unwillingness to join her, she was not at all surprised to feel his hand upon her shoulder as he stepped before her, taking the torch from the servant who hurriedly brought it and placing the direwolf in her arms. Rhaegar would likely heap praise upon the boy for his actions.

"If we must dust off the crypts then at least allow me to step before you, lady mother." No matter, they would be returning to King's Landing soon enough. Her husband's tone in his last letter had made it clear that she remained in Winterfell by the grace of her delicate condition. Just as soon as she was delivered of the child, she would be readied for her journey back.

Such was the power of a husband, she told herself, pushing past the bitterness of their parting. They had exchanged words spoken in anger and she still maintained she had been well within her right to make for her kin's home in such circumstances. But even she could see that hiding away was not a solution. She had known the manner of man she was taking up with the moment she chose to go with him. If she'd expected him to change, the by the gods, was she an even greater fool than he was with his belief that she'd been love-struck enough to run off with him.

Then again, Lyanna had sealed her fate long before catching sight of silver-haired princes and their harps. Catching Jon's sleeve, she followed him obediently down the steps, keeping herself as close to his back as her girth allowed. "Have a care, there is a broken step there."

"Aye, mother. I am perfectly capable of seeing that." The small pup she held close to her chest pawed at the mother of pearl beads strewn along her collar. His sharp claws scratched roughly over her skin. Might be he did not enjoy being surrounded by the dead.

She'd had a lifetime of exploring these parts, playing with Benjen in the dark. Sometimes she came by herself, with only a torch and some small candle stubs. It was the collapsed last floor that held her attention for the longest time. She knew all the kings and lords and their kin buried between pillars.

Jon paused, having brought her to her own father's resting place. She touched a finger to the edge of his final resting place. "Good morrow, lord father. It is long since I have come to you. I have brought Jon as well."

Jon was the only child of hers her father ever saw. At times she wished the gods had granted him more days, enough so that he might come to know the other as well. Yet the gods had not allowed her the joy. She glanced towards her son; he had his head bowed, glancing at naught in particular, naught that she might name.

She put Ghost down, allowing the pup to run about and sniff at the various statues. Curiously enough when Jon called to him, the beast ambled to him, meek as a lamb. "We shan't linger. Come. What I wish to show you lies deeper than you'd think.

Obediently, her son placed himself before her, carrying the torch. Ghost came at his heel, keeping pace with his long-limbed pace better than she and her full form could. "And where exactly do you wish to take us?" he questioned, allowing her to lean against him as exhaustion began to creep up upon her. She was either as young as she'd been a two decades past, nor as spry as she was as little as half a decade past.

The scent became heavy with moisture and stagnation the deeper they sank into the bowls of the earth. She placed a hand upon her lips, taking in the scent of rose-oil. It was nowhere near enough for her breathing to be an easy thing and she wondered how Jon coped, but they progressed further and further in, a plume of smoke the only sign of their passing.

She felt Ghost brush against her ankle and heard a short intake of breath coming from the only other soul in her company. Gazing over his shoulder, Lyanna realised the damage to the last of the crypt's floors was even more extensive than she had imagined. One of the pillars holding the roof has collapsed to the side, the runic engravings carved deep within the stone worn and faded. Its twin remained proudly unbowed.

She broke away from Jon and stepped towards the still standing pillar. "The first Starks believed that runes were enchanted. 'Tis said these are spells that bind the souls of the forefathers in service of the living." She traced the form of an unknown rune, staring at the fish-like shape as though it might reveal some hidden meaning to her. "Benjen never wanted to come this far down into the crypts."

"Wise fellow, that uncle of mine." She chuckled at the vehement agreement. "It would be unwise to venture further in. The roof could cave in."

"It shan't. Now, come closer." He did as she bade, bringing the flame with him. "Does this not look as though a fish is swimming upstream?" she asked of the boy. But his answer did not interest her. "The Starks of old burned their dead for a time, did you know? I read of such rituals when last we visited the Wall. Master Aemon, do you remember him, was kind enough to allow me the boon. There are so many books hidden in the dusty library at the Wall. I don't doubt your father would have taken all of them with him if he could."

"Fascinating as this impromptu lesson is, lady mother, I can feel the chill clinging to my bones. Surely it cannot be good for the babe."

"Your brother is surely not as weak as that," she spoke in an authoritative voice. "You have spent so little time in these parts that your warm Southron blood rebels at the cold. Nevertheless, you must endure."

Stepping beyond the pillar, she hugged herself loosely. Despite the words she'd used for her son's benefit, she too felt the cold; it's unnatural grip and intensity ripped a shiver from her, as much of a reaction as she was willing to give and might be even more.

Much like the other levels of the crypts were structures, the chaos before them had once been an orderly row of pillars mirrored of the other side. The left side had been ravaged by time, while the right remained unmolested for the most part. Lyanna stepped towards a wide urn, kneeling so that she might lift its lid. "Grain used to be placed in such urns," she elucidated, "and an old legend speaks of a maiden harvesting wheat when her beauty made a conquest out of a famed hero. Unable to win favour with the maiden's kin, he sought to steal her away. He hid her among the grain in such an urn but she suffocated to death. Her kin elected to bury along with the wheat they considered spoiled."

"My gratitude, lady mother; I shall never be able to see any urn with the same eyes." She ignored the answer and presented him with the lid. "See these?" She traced the small carving of a wheat stalk, "It must have taken much skill to have such detailed ornaments."

Jon took the lid from her, holding it up effortlessly. He gazed towards the urn with undisguised curiosity. But she merely wagged her finger at him and chided softly, "Nay, my sweet, no cheating. You must close your eyes and wait for your surprise."

Once certain he would not peek, she returned her attention to the gauze covering the prize. Without effort she bent and tugged the cloth away, lifting from its spot a well-kept secret. Her breath shuddered out in relief at its good condition. She'd been right not to bring it out.

Turning around with her precious cargo, she called her son's attention to her. "You may open your eyes now."

Eager for the surprise, to say the least, Jon immediately followed her instructions. The look upon his face was payment enough, as far as Lyanna was concerned. Wide-eyed, her son leaned in, reaching out as though through a trance, "Is this truly," he cut himself off, swallowing, throat working visibly.

"Your eyes do not deceive you," Lyanna confirmed, handing him the precious weight. "So much for the wisdom of maesters."

Jon held the round shape against his chest, looking down upon the light-coloured scales with apparent wonder. "But how?"

"I do not know to whom to attribute the parentage. One supposes there is some basis to the rumour that Vermax laid the eggs during his stay, but then the maesters call Vermax a male." And yet she could think of no other dragons that had enjoyed Winterfell's hospitality. Would you believe me if I told you finding dragon eggs has changed my life?"

The boy's head shot up just as his direwolf slammed into his leg. "Eggs? As in more than one?"

"I filled several of the urns with those eggs that had not been crushed by the rubble. As a child I was much lither than I am now. Crawling through cramped spaces was not such a trial." She pointed to yet another collapsed beam. "If you can lift that and clear a path, there should be another egg there."

"If it survived," Jon said, eyeing the beam with steely concentration. "Why you, lady mother? Out of all the Starks within these walls, why you?"

She shrugged. There was no answer she could give that might make sense to him. Might as well attempt to frame it with the terms of truth. "I thought I heard my own lady mother calling me down into the darkness. One day, I heeded the call and climbed down into the blackness." Her eyes wandered to an urn she knew to carry a body and not an egg. "And the rest is history." She took the torch from him.

"You had a father, and brothers." As unhelpful as the remark was, she could not help but feel mellowed by it. Of course the poor boy would not understand.

"But I did not have a mother. All I'd ever wanted was to see her smile. She led me to this finding and I assumed the path I thought might bring her joy." Lyanna cleared her throat and sat down upon a severed stump. Her middle cramped with pain and she sighed. "You are almost a man grown. I believe it is time you knew what I have so long put off telling you." His nod of agreement warmed her some. "Giving you this gift is only part of why I chose to come here of all places. Jon, my dear boy, in my heart I feel the darkness tugging at me. This time its call is to stay."

He blanched, the leeching of colour clear even in the lacking torchlight. "Mother, mummery does not suit you. You have given birth before; surely this time is no different. It must be this heavy air. Let us depart before long, aye?"

Despite his not saying it, she knew her child did not worry about stale air. "We can speak of it, Jon. I am not like to burst into tears, you know." He placed the egg at her feet and turned towards the fallen beam, silence clinging to his like a shield might. "I do not know what you father might have said that you insisted to come with me, but I am not a wilting flower."

He crouched by the beam and tested its weight, lifting the rotting wood. "I doubt I can move this without causing the rest of it to come tumbling down." He glanced over his shoulder. "And I am not avoiding the subject, lady mother, you are the one who chose not to broach it. I was merely doing my best to respect your wishes."

Crossing her arms over her chest, Lyanna narrowed her eyes in a glare. Contrary to her earlier words she did have a good idea of what Rhaegar had been filling the boy's head with. Yet she could not bring herself to say as much to his face. It would lead to a standstill, one which she'd been caught into with his father and she hadn't the strength to justify her actions to the son as well. It had been exhausting enough to speak of it to Rhaegar. She did wish there were a way she might make them understand.

No matter, she had achieved one of her objectives. And she need but wait to achieve the others. It would happen sooner or later.

Jon tugged upon the beam, managing to budge it ever so slightly. However, his success was followed by a rain of dust and pebbles as he jumped back. Instinctively she jumped to her feet, a hiss of pain making it past her lips. "Have a care!"

"It would be best if we left, now." Though he spoke in a quiet vice, Lyanna detected the edge of panic much too clearly for her liking. "Ghost, to me."

She too turned towards the doorway leading to the narrow stairwell. Only that before she might take another step, a sharp pain rippled through her middle, pulsing in sync with the booming ache exploding inside her skull. She heard Jon calling to her and she felt something hard beneath her. Breath cut short, she struggled to gulp in fetid air as steady hands turned her over. She reined in a pained moan and held her arms out for Jon to help her up.

"You must keep still," Jon said, pushed her back. "I do not know if I can carry you up the stairs." He winced as a loud crash drowned out the sound of their breath. He nit his lower lip before his gaze moved away from her and then back to her face. "Keep still," he repeated when she attempted to rise. He did help her rest against the stump.

It was then that Lyanna managed to catch sight of the hem of her skirts. The gold thread no longer reflected the warmth of the sun, but shone with a rosy hue in the light of the flickering torch. Her head swivelled towards the entrance.

"I can stand." If only she made it to the stairs, it would still be safer than lingering. In spite of the protests stumbling past his lips, Jon took her weight against him as much as he could. Ghost had already run to the stairs and rested on the first of them, watching them advance through ruby eyes.

The low pant reverberated through her head and she wondered who it was that breathed so hard only to realise that it was she who made those sounds. Swamped by shame she had the unrelenting urge to hide away her face, but nay, she would allow herself to feel in such a manner once she had the luxury of wallowing.

Her son deposited her upon the first step and shrugged off his cloak, creating a cushion of sorts for her to lie upon. He hanged the sconce upon the wall afterwards and turned with a stern frown to his pet. "Ghost, guard." Lyanna saw him point towards her. "I will try to be as expedient as possible, lady mother. I pray you endure awhile longer."

"I will do my best," she echoed his earlier words.

She heard him clambering up the stairs and closed her eyes against the pain. The darkness called out to her. "Not yet," she whispered back. "I need more time."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ser Jaime Lannister gave him a look as though to question his sanity. Jon flushed and grew flustered under the intensity of the stare and stammered out yet another explanation. "I do not believe the lower levels to be very stable."

"Aye, so I understood," the man drawled, apparently unimpressed. "One wonders though, why Your Grace ever allowed the woman to carry out such folly." He did not wait for an answer, instead picked up his sword which had been resting against the wall, and hurriedly stepped over the threshold, calling out to the first servant he saw.

According to his lady mother, Ser Jaime had been knighted the same year she met his father, at the very tourney responsible for many a tongues wagging. The youngest knight to have ever received the great honour of being numbered among the elite ranks of the Kingsguards; Jon pressed past with a half-baked idea of calling upon the maester. Before he could step too far, a hand clapped down upon his shoulder, pulling him backwards.

"Allow the servants to fulfil their tasks. Let us retrieve Her Grace, meantime." There was no protest he could offer. Jon glanced from the servant hurrying away the lightly garbed Ser Jaime who saw no use to wearing armour, but nevertheless armed himself with a short blade in addition to his steel from a fresh-faced lad serving as squire.

"Was Her Grace injured?" the Kingsguard questioned, his steps carrying him swiftly through the distance between the keep and the crypts.

"Not that I could ascertain." It was a small lie. The rubble that had fallen had not harmed his mother enough to leave her unconscious. Indeed, Jon did not think her affected beyond imbuing her with fright. Was that enough to forge the babe she carried into the world?

He dearly hoped it was not the case. Whatever influence he held over his mother, it was a frail, fleeting thing, meant to inspire a false sense of safety on the road to crushing defeat. Father had a firmer, better grasp on her, for all that was worth. Whatever his thoughts upon the matter, Jon reminded himself, he'd followed his mother to Winterfell in part to satisfy his duty and in part to satisfy his father's exacting demands regarding how his wife might be handled. Confused though he might be at the reasons behind the actions taken by his family, it was not his place to question them.

Together with Ser Jaime, Jon descended into the darkness, the humid, stale air enveloping him within its eerie embrace. There was a warmth beneath the earthen first layer . 'Twas not the natural heat of fire, nor did it carry the likeness of flesh. It was something different, something more, as though being plunged into a timeless, unformed place. Unable to shake off the traces of unease, Jon steeled himself against the feeling. He climbed down the stairs with careful steps , easing further and further into the tunnel.

A dim light flickered down ahead. No sounds reached him, but Jon caught sight of movement. He eased past Ser Jaime who had little protest to give.

"You have returned," his mother spoke, having managed to lift herself into a sitting position. Though her face seemed leeched of blood in the low light, her spirit was otherwise untarnished. It had always fascinated him that one such as his mother, unremarkable by any account, occasionally given to bouts of crippling feebleness, could still drive back the blackest of blemishes. He reached out for her hand, feeling the coldness of her limb with a murmur of agreement. "Your pet has been a loyal companion, you know. I would have been contented to remain with him."

"Your Grace, I fear such would not be allowed," Ser Jaime intervened, lifting his lady mother up without any visible strain. "Pray, tell me, were you harmed?"

"No more than my pride," the woman stubbornly replied, despite the splotches of blood staining the golden embroidery decorating her skirts. The knight stared at the evidence for Aa brief moment but did not seem inclined to press her further.

"What is that?" Jaime Lannister nodded to the egg Jon had placed upon the ground in his hast to make his mother comfortable.

"Something that is for my son to care for, Ser Jaime, and for you not to worry over. Lions have no love for a reptile's eggs, so they?" Though her tone was light, almost as though she jested with the man, Jon could not put out of his mind the look she'd given him.

Having little else to fill his embrace, Jon picked up the dragon egg and called Ghost to hill. Wise enough for his years, Ser Jaime began ascending the stairs, no further words leaving his lips. Jon wondered how much of the episode would make it back to his father's ears. It was not beyond his grasp that the Spider had little birds scattered about the kingdom, nor was he ignorant to the fact that the Kingsguard member in their midst routinely penned information down for his King.

Nor was Jon in anyway put out by these happening. Much as he loved his mother, she was not entirely within her rights to demand what she did of his father. Whatever her beliefs, she must know it was impossible to remain separate from her husband for the rest of her natural life, baring his agreement. And his father had been clear enough in letting her know he made allowance for the recent loss they'd suffered, not for his mother's wishes necessarily.

Shaking his head at the thoughts assaulting him, Jon glanced down at the direwolf ambling up the stoats after him. Assured that he'd not lost the beast, he turned his attention upon the light flooding within from the entrance. They had almost reached the surface.

At the great doors his uncle waited, a worried expression upon his face. "Lyanna, whatever were you thinking?" he demanded of his sister, taking her from Ser Jaime with practiced motions. His mother sighed, but gave no answer, and simply rested her head against the man's shoulder, a mark of trust she had not afforded to the knight. His uncle's eyes fastened to the egg he cradled. "I expect my lord brother shall love to hear of this latest scrape."

Which Jon suspected was not untrue, but neither would it provide Lord Stark with any manner of entertainment. As far as he knew, his uncle would simply see the latest finding in the crypts as another problem to worry about. He knew well enough such an occurrence would bring no one any benefits. His mother's gift was a double-edged sword.

A dragon egg was all good and well. Claiming it since it resided in her girlhood home might even be accepted as just. However it brought about the rather troubling fact that the egg he held was only one, and there were enough Targaryens alive that one small object could become a catalyst for war and conflict. Aegon would doubtlessly like an egg of his own. Rhaenys could easily claim possession by Dornish law, backed by the ever-maddening and incessantly pressuring Dornish faction bolstering the King's ranks. And then his uncle Viserys might ask that the egg be placed with him, might be even attempt to hatch it since his travels to Essos had provided him with more than enough connections to aid in such an endeavour. Aunt Daenerys was not interested in politics and ruling, but the Seven knew no one ever refused power.

The worst, however, was his own uncertainty. As he assisted with carrying his mother to her chambers, Jon considered his sire's ability to manoeuvre his way about court. Ruling was ultimately about making the right sacrifices. If he thought for even a moment that a calcified dragon egg would gain him the upper hand with one of his rivals, there was no doubt in Jon's mind that his possession would be stripped away from him and gifted to awaiting arms.

If there was one thing he and his mother were in agreement over was the inviolable nature of personal property. What was his was only his by whatever virtue he'd obtained it as long as the means were fair. Was that not one of the pillars holding up the wretched realm they all lived within?

"Jon," his mother called, breaking his concentration. She beckoned him forth. "I want you to do something for me. There is an unfinished letter in the small solar. Pen the rest of it for me and have the maester send it as soon as possible."

"Have no worries, mother. I shall carry out your order with utmost haste. You mustn't concentrate on anything other than your health." He took hold of her hand and gave it a small squeeze. Her fingers were still cold.

It was his uncle that entered her bedchamber, leaving both himself and Ser Jaime in the antechamber. The knight gave him an inquisitive look but seemed in no hurry to abandon his post. "I doubt you are needed here, ser," Jon ventured, inclining his head in recognition of the man's earlier services. "Neither of us, I reckon, is knowledgeable in the healing arts."

"One of us, however, is sworn to guard the lady. I imagine her temper shan't be improved if her orders are not carried out and you, Your Grace, I perceive to be in no danger." If only Ser Jaime were not as self-possessed. Jon bowed out lof the impeding conflict. He hadn't the necessary state of mind to battle the man.

He turned around, nearly stepping on the curled up ball at his feet. Ghost jumped to his feet and ran to the side, apparently much more alert that Jon would have given him credit for. It was only in the hallway that he came across his noble uncle, rubbing his forehead, as though in deep thought. His eyes too fell upon the dragon egg which Jon held before him. It was not interest he detected, however, but fear.

"Where did that come from?"

"According to my lady mother, the crypts. Uncle, she says there may be more eggs down there." What would have been the sense in delaying? Sooner or later, he would find out. Best to get the help he needed and see to clearing the rubble away. "I would be much obliged if men could be found to aid in restoring the lowest level. It is crumbling. And should a woman like my mother take it into her head to run about that place, the Mother only knows what manner of trouble might accept such courtship."

"I gather your lady mother is in her chambers?" There was a look about the man's face that he did not quite like. "Master Luwin has been summoned by one of the servants. I understand her pride was injured. And possibly the child she carries. There was blood."

"The midwife from the village then," his uncle muttered.

Jon had naught to say to that. A nod was his answer before he moved past his uncle, more than certain his lady mother would have her hands full for the time being. He was going to complete his own tasks, fulfilling his promise before he repairs to her chambers.

The chamber she referred to as the small solar was an adjacent space to the lord's solar, fitted with a writing table and a couple of shelves. It had been in use during his lady mother's stay as for some reason she claimed she could see to the tasks performed in this chamber nowhere else. If her brother thought it strange he never said it, unlike the man's wife who was not half as shy about the matter. His mother's reply was always been vague.

The door was unlocked, though, for all her secrecy. Whatever was stopping Catelyn Tully from entering, 'twas not of physical nature. He entered, sitting down behind the desk. The dragon egg was placed to his right upon the table, Ghost burrowed beneath the desk, stretching across his feet.

Jon picked up a hazapardly discarded quill and dipped it into the still-uncorked inkwell. Fat black droplets dripped from the thin tip as he raised the instrument from its resting place. He eyed the parchment upon the table. It had been neatly folded, indicating that his mother had written, as was her custom, a description no lengthier than a few lines. The bare bones. Unlike her, Jon was more verbose in his correspondence , might be as a result of his quieter nature.

Although it was no business of his what manner of relationship his parents entertained these days, he could not help but read the terse, sparse lines. There was much to be gleaned about a person by their correspondence. Besides the obvious information, there were the subtler hints, minute details pointing to such knowledge that was not easy to come by. Without a moment's hesitation, he devoured what little he could find in his mother's address.

There is very little to impart which might cause you any surprise. Your son and I dwell in comfort amid my kin and all is as it ought to be. I hope you remain in good health, as well as your heir and firstborn. I keep you all in my heart and in my prayers and have fonf hopes that we shall see each other soon.

I wish you well for the interim.

Your wife

If there had ever been a grand passion between his parents those fire had been long since doused. Not precisely disappointed, Jon put the tip of the quill a short distance away from his mother's last line and in a hand much neater recorded the events of the day.

Once satisfied that all pertinent details had been included, he debated with himself whether to allot a line to the state his mother found herself in. By the time the letter reached King's Landing the matter would no longer be pressing in nature. Yet to send word before he knew the outcome would not suffice either.

Deciding against sealing the note for the moment, he blew softly upon the still-drying ink and glanced down at Ghost. "If only I could be as you, unknowing and uncaring of the world's dangers." Like any child confused at a single glimpse of a complex and complicated world, the direwolf cocked his head to the side, and lolled out his tongue in the manner of beasts. Reaching out, Jon scratched behind his ear, enjoying the way the little creature burrowed into him. There was something about such unconditional affection that touched him.

A knock on the door chased away his mood. He called within however lingered on the other side and greeted his cousin with half-relief and half-frustration when Robb Stark stepped within. He did not need the boy's concern, but accepted it in good faith. "I heard the maester is with your lady mother. Her Grace had a nasty fall?"

"Maester Luwin is indeed with my lady mother. We were in the crypts." Robb nodded and approached the table. "Alysanne's death hit her hard. I should not wish for her to lose another child so soon after her."

"She might not. You know my aunt, Lady Lysa. She bled throughout her pregnancy from the slightest of efforts and it was thought she would lose the babe. But she has not; her son is alive and thriving." Lysa Tully, however, was quite a different stock from his mother. Jon did not point out as much. "She did have to lie abed until her confinement was over, though." A fate Lyanna Stark would doubtlessly submit to if it meant her child's survival. "Proper miffed she was about that."

Of course, in his heart he hoped it was a case similar to Lysa Tully's, that both mother and child would survive, that the three of them might return to King's Landing together. Hope, however, had a way of twisting expectations. "Your aunt is a lucky woman." At heart a skeptic, Jon did not put much stock in hope. Faith was an entirely different matter which engendered not only belief, but also a modicum of intelligence. In a sense, a man had to know what to pray for, whereas with hope one could entertain the most ludicrous of wishes and expect a favourable answer from the gods. Such instances had never made much sense to him. Many desires were unattainable.

To beg the Seven that both mother and child make it out unscathed would only set him up for discontent. The Stranger worked by his own rules and there was never any guarantee he would spare mother or child, and occasionally even took both. Such was the way of it; no matter how hard he pleaded and how sweet his entreaties, the matter was out of his hands. Better not to foolishly make such demands.

"Jon, you can talk to me about her, you know. If you want to." His head shot up. He'd not even realised his eyes had drifted from Robb. His cousin still stood.

"It was foolish of her to try riding an untamed beast." What else could be said about the foolhardy girl?

"Might be," Robb shrugged, "but it must have still been shocking to be the one to find her." His cousin finally sat down, apparently unwilling to wait for invitation.

"I should have been there with her. Had I thought to ride out with her," he trailed off, reminding himself of impossible wishes. "Aegon encouraged her to be brave, to take any challenge which might come her way. He means well; but some trials are best left untouched." It was not Aegon's fault that Alysanne stubbornly took to a suggestion made in jest. And yet Jon wished his brother had never opened his mouth. "Her neck was broken. I do not think she was ever in much pain."

Father had ordered the beast put out. A magnificent horse, but one no one was willing to take another chance on. The order might have gone through as well had Jon not begged to have the creature taken back to the stables. The horse was not at fault either.

"You might have allowed His Majesty to avenge her death," Robb pointed out. "Your lady mother surely deserved the closure."

"Were there the slightest chance that my sister would be revived by such an act, I should have slain a thousand horses." The fault lied with him. He'd taught Alysanne to mount and he'd allowed her to ride with him most days. Had he sent her in the company of their fellow sisters, she might have yet lived. "But I've no wish to speak of my dead sister. Rather, feast your yes upon this," he motioned towards the dragon egg, "and tell me if you have ever seen such a wonder."

Relief passed over Robb's features. "I thought you would never ask." He inspected the scales with such care Jon wondered he did not reach out to touch them.

"Mother believes there are more down there." He might have said something similar to the boy's father.

"And what do you think?" his cousin demanded, interest sharpening his gaze upon his face.

"She knew about this one, didn't she? As soon as I am assured mother is well, I mean to scour the crypts. If there are more eggs there, I shall find them." Gods willing, he would have at least two more to satisfy his closest kin. Let them fight over those. "I might need help."

"I might be willing to offer it for the right price." A wolfish grin stretched Robb's lips.

"A turn's worth of night in the arms of that wench you so admired? The red-headed one."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Viserys laughed, bringing an arm around the whore's waist. He accepted the wine she offered and drank deep from the cup. "And what shall I do with you?" he questioned, thumb stroking over the stone encrusted gold. He kept his gaze locked to Doreah's, a mild smile upon his face. What a foolish girl.

"Anything Your Grace desires," she answered eagerly, blue eyes twinkling with delight at her perceived victory when his hand fell upon her knee, fingers curling over the well-formed bone, over the elegant line. "I wish nothing more but to serve you." And he wanted little else but to tumble her. However, unlike the pillow girl, he had no illusions about the purpose of it, nor was he foolish enough to grow attached.

"Now, Doreah, my girl, is your master not a kind man? Is he not a good host?" He lifted his hand from her knee and pushed back a stray strand of hair, admiring the way firelights played upon her tresses. "What manner of guest would I be if I stole you from his service?" He had no need of a whining mistress trotting at his heels.

Women, for the most part, were trouble. The ones he had no recourse but to endure the sight of proved that. "A very wise guest, I should think," Doreah huffed, throwing her arms about his shoulders and plastering her front to his. Despite her height, she managed to make herself look small and vulnerable. "I would not be much trouble, Your Grace. I shan't demand what cannot be given, nor will I attempt to remain where I am not wanted." She looked up, trying to covey to him sincerity.

He could dismiss her. He could have her beaten for her impertinence. He could do to her whatever he wished. Alas, he would remain Illyrio's houseguest for some time yet and he was not at all certain he wished to pass the night away alone. With that I mind, he gathered Doreah closer to him, before lifting her up in his arms, chuckling at her shriek and the wine spilling from the tipped-over cup.

"It looks to me as though you shall have to prove your worth," he jabbed lightly. For one brief moment, as she grinned up at him he felt a pang in his chest. But then he recalled the sight of his brother as last he'd seen him, after his lady's departure and he slammed a lid upon the wayward feeling, knocking it back into submission. He refused to tie himself to a woman, any woman, no matter her finer qualities. In the end, if he suffered, he would be alone in that.

Satisfied with that for the time being, he placed Doreah upon the bed and began preparing himself for what would follow. Turning from the sight of the disrobing pillow girl, he shrugged out of his own garments, thanking the Seven for the heat that permeated every corner of the continent, elsewise he might have turned into an ice creature.

Following through with an instinct older than he, Viserys satisfied the fleeting desire, taming the passions. Morning found him enjoying the sleep the wicked, not at all bothered when a servant entered, carrying a laden tray. He peered out through one eye and upon seeing no directions would be needed from him, turned on his other side, hiding away from the pouring sunlight.

"Do you know, Your Grace, that the early bird catches the worm?" he heard his companion's voice and recalled that she would not be easily dissuaded. Viserys groaned into his pillow, thinking for a moment to ignore her existence. That would not help matters though, he decided upon further inspecting the solution.

He could give in. He would hardly be the first man to keep a mistress. Arguably his brother dwelled with one for, abiding with nary a pang of conscience. And Doreah was not half as dangerous as Lyanna Stark. Having none of the woman's wits and liking for useless trinkets and baubles, she would likely be placated with a few coin once he tired of her or found himself ordered into marriage with a carping sow, as one was wont to find in the kingdoms.

He shuddered at the thought, forcing himself to rise. Eyes fastening upon Doreah, he flung away the thin golden sheets covering him and rolled out of bed, unashamed of his nudity as he strode towards her. "Dragons have no need for worms," he spoke softly, walking past her towards the servant holding up his clothing.

It took a few tugs to have the creature allow him his way, but since he'd consistently refused to allow anyone to aid him in clothing himself, this time as well he could do as he wished. "I should enjoy some air."

He washed his face and shook his head at the servant's offer to shave him. Ignoring Doreah's attempt to catch his attention, he made his way through the door. His escape assured. Viserys stifled a yawn before rubbing the back of his neck with vigour. He was growing too old for half the tomfoolery he'd enacted the previous night.

The antechamber stood between him and the hall leading to relative safety from Doreah and her demands and Illyrio and his schemes. He would rather take a walk, as he'd said before, than place himself in any of the two's path. Without further thought, he strode into the hall, not surprised to see Ser Barristan staunchly guarding the door. Ever imposing in his knight's garb, the man had lost little by the thinning line of his hair or its whiteness. The truth was he carried his age well.

"A fine morning, is it not?" he asked by manner of greeting, covering up yet another yawn. He would be doing that with gradually decreasing frequency until midday, he well knew.

"Aye, Your Grace." Ser Barristan nodded for emphasis, keeping his eyes upon him at all times.

"I was thinking we could walk. It would be a pity to spend such a pleasant day indoors." Every day was as sunny as the last. It seemed as though the summer would last a thousand years. The long summer that was awaited by all. Viserys clapped a hand upon the older man's shoulder. "Even you must find aught to enjoy in these parts."

"The wine is very fine," the Kingsguard allowed after a brief pause. "Did Your Grace have a location in mind?"

"I cannot claim to." Just as long as it put a sure distance between him and matters he would rather not pursue at the moment, Viserys was more than fine with it. "I hear the market will be filled with wonders. I, for one, could do with a trinket or two to take back."

There would be no horses or strange beasts. Alysanne would have doubtlessly loved a new creature to add to her collection of strange beasts to parade about and give her father reason to grey before his time. The younger Rhaella took care of her departed sister's pets out of duty rather than love. She was a much milder creature, her sole seemingly to make life as easy for those about her as she could manage. A much too serious child frightened of very much and trusting very little. It had always been a thing of wonder to him that she and not bonded that much closer with her his brother's second son. They were two bird of a feather, after all.

Illyrio's servants offered the use of a litter, which was politely refused and then the use of a guard to which Viserys answered that he could be placed in no better hands than his knight's before, amid many a protest, he left the merchant's estate in search of adventure and a few gifts to take back home.

To his credit Barristan Selmy regarded the whole outing with greater understanding that Viserys thought possible from a man of his experience. "Each age brings its own set of joys," the Kingsguard revealed when pressed to, "and you are not all that different from another man I recall being quite enamoured of indulging in a moment or two of adventuring."

Pausing midstep, Viserys wondered at the implications. Instead of asking for clarifications, he settled for a brisker pace, weaving through the throngs of people. The morning sun cast its glow upon the waking world, insistent and demanding. Merchants were already pushing their carts about, fishwives praising their wares in loud voices. For himself, he watched the procession with passing interest, thinking that he hadn't long yet.

While his brother's last letter had not demanded his return, the words rather implied an impatience which would not be tested lightly. But then Rhaegar had always been stubborn to fault. It showed in his various dealings with the lords of his court, it showed even in his dealings with close kin. Viserys half expected Aegon to rebel against his father's strict control. But that one had too much of his father in him to outwardly display resistance.

Rhaenys was the one more likely to protest for she was not quite as calculated as her brother and prone to following the unfortunate example set by her beloved uncle. The Red Viper had certainly taken his revenge for the humiliation his sister had endured. Of course, he'd likely not stopped to think the woman had been well-compensated for her loss, but then one should not expect miracles.

Delving further into the lively hustle and bustle, he paused every now and again to admire some piece or another, mind still returning to his brother's urgings that he settle his affairs and return to court.

Was it marriage the King had in mind? He'd certainly been afforded more time than Rhaegar ever had. And he'd had leeway enough to satisfy a hundred sons over. Rhaegar had only specified two conditions his potential bride should adhere to. The first was that she could not be of common blood and the second was that she be decently dowered. Having already assured his brother he meant to chase no Jennys about the countryside, Viserys was not awfully concerned in that regard. Sooner rather than later he would return to court and he had a mind to allow Daenerys to come up with suggestions. That girl was running about court; she ought to know which one of the present females would make a good candidate.

And if it came to it, he would simply close his eyes and sign whatever papers his brother put before him. That was easiest, was it not? Certainly very few men of means were handed a partner of their choosing. His brother had only managed to snare the she-wolf because the both of them were utterly mad. And look where that landed him. Reduced to pining after a woman whose concerns were as far from her husband as could be.

With a shake of his head, Viserys continued his perusal. Lyanna Stark might not be a bad woman, or a bad mother, but she was certainly a bad spouse. For whatever reason, her heart was shut away behind thick stone walls as far as her husband was concerned. He recalled the young woman who had arrived to King's Landing in garbs fitting a devout sister. She had smiled to him and looked upon his brother with such warmth that even an innocent such as he'd been was left in no doubt as to where she stood. And he certainly recalled that his brother's joy had been far from feigned in those first moon turns. Even after their firstborn came along, there had been little doubt those two held one another in deep affection.

What had changed?

"Your Grace?" A hand pressed down upon his shoulder. "Are you well?"

"Lost in thought," Viserys chuckled. "I don't suppose you've any idea about what might constitute a good gift for my good-sister?" The Kingsguard blinked. He offered no answer. Viserys sighed; he wondered what the chances of escaping unscathed were if he offered Rhaegar a leash, to keep his wayward companions close, of course. Dare he go so far?

In the end he settled for more conventional gifts, fearful that not all hearts were as well-disposed as his towards a drop or so of silliness. Best not to make his brother's situation any harder than it already was. Not to mention he had no notion of when precisely his good-sister would return. Last he'd heard she had written that she was with child, yet again, and could not be expected to make the journey back. A good enough reason to remain safely sequestered in her brother's keep. Only that knowing his brother Viserys doubted her plan would last beyond the birth of her babe should she attempt extending her stay even further.

And even a saintly fellow like Eddard Stark was bound to tire of the woman's strange ways before long and have her packed off. Which would please his brother; in the end the devil one knew was preferable to the monster one did not. For himself, Viserys knew all manner of dangerous creatures and he was, fortunately, a diligent student of history. Naturally it followed that he would avoid the pitfall of so many predecessors and leave the court to his brother's capable hands.

It was not long after his return that he found himself in the company of Doreah once more. The pillow girl lavished her attention upon him, sweet smiles and bright eyes brought together in a concentrated effort to plead her case, whichever that might be. "Your Grace was gone for so long, I feared I was to be left behind after all," she admonished softly, her meaning clear enough even without the slight pause she added for effect.

"Doreah, Doreah; do you not know that one should not put too much pressure on the person you're trying to convince of doing aught you wish?" The girl gave him such a look that he could not help but chuckle. "A wise woman does not try to run before she can walk."

"A wise woman does not allow an opportunity to pass her by either." She did not force his hand any further though, which was just as well for before long their conversation was interrupted yet again.

To say he was mildly intrigued would be a lie; the moment Ser Barristan announced he was being asked for an audience, Viserys saw his chance. Doreah was sent on her way. "I should like you to remain in this chamber, ser. One never knows, does one, what dangers lurk in these parts."

The Kingsguard offered a vague answer, which might have been agreement. It seemed he had no wasted his time by visiting the temples. Pleased with the outcome, Viserys leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes for but a moment, concentrating on the light sound of footfalls without. They were almost enough to make him doubt he was hearing anything at all. The creak of the door could not be mistaken however.

When he regained his vision an interesting sight awaited him. He'd seen servants of the Red God before. The so called Lord of Light, God of Flame and Shadow, Heart of Fire. A rather pompous name for a rather pompous minor deity whose very name suggested trickery. But then Viserys was not particularly picky. Not at this stage at any rate. He allowed himself a short stretch of lips and accepted the woman's bow with a nod.

"I feel as though I have seen you somewhere before," he commented, eyeing the heart-shaped face intently. "Have our paths crossed before?" She was tall for a woman. He would have remembered someone of her uncommon description, he was sure; but though the sense of familiarity did not dissipate, nor did it deepen.

"It is in the nature of kindling to seek fire, Your Grace," came her answer, her voice surprisingly deep. She did not avoid his gaze, in fact seemed to search for it, holding it with her own. It would be a lie to claim himself undisturbed, yet he could hardly allow this stranger to best him.

"Kindling," he repeated. "I've no time for games. Why did you request an audience?" Whoever this woman was, whatever manner of god she served, she was trouble; that much he could tell with one single look.

"I wish to be of service." A simple, likely answer. "There are things in this world, Your Grace, one could not withstand without divine support. I mean to keep a lantern flickering in the sea of darkness I see ahead. Troubled time are coming."

"There's trouble as long as there's life." Viserys stood. He took a step towards her, more at ease once he towered over her. With all her height, she remained beneath dragons. "That still does not answer my question. Your vocation, whatever it might be, does not necessitate that you serve me, does it?"

"On the contrary, Your Grace, the flames have shown me the path. And I can lead you upon it." How awfully tempting. Viserys turned away from her, catching the Kingsguard's stare with his own. The question in his gaze was met with a slight shake of the head. "I have a story to tell Your Grace."

He laughed, unease settling low in his stomach. Despite the clear warning his knight offered, he could not help but turn back towards the copper-haired woman. "Only children are amused by tales. I am not in need of amusement."

"And you are no child either. Your Grace, it would be wise to listen nevertheless. The tale I bring concerns a great power, dark and cold and long since dead, and yet not and the hero who opposes it." He knew that story.

The one advantage his brother's folly offered was that a Northern bride brought with her enough chilling accounts of the living dead to keep one awake for nights on end. "As I said, I am a little too old for such tales. If that is all, then you may leave." The last he'd listened to tales of the long night he'd been a child in truth, clutching at the storyteller's skirts half-afraid the creaking without the small, dimly lit chamber was caused by strolling corpses. Lyanna Stark had stroked his hair in motherly fashion before assuring him such creatures were the stuff of legend and would not come to bother him.

"I am a learned woman, Your Grace. And more importantly a patient one." She nodded as though to signal she was taking her leave of them. For the time being, in any event. "If you have need of me, I shan't be far." He dismissed her with a flick of his wrist. Ser Barristan followed her.

What a strange creature. He did not like the look of her one bit. It was almost as though the warmth of the copper and red hues hid something beneath them. In before he might come to any manner of decision, a servant insisted upon disturbing him with yet another latter, lately arrived from King's Landing.

The previous letter had not arrived that far back. It must have been written shortly after the other one requesting his return. This one too bore his brother's seal, but within it he found no words. Rhaegar had sent him a single piece of a Cyvasse set Viserys knew only too well.

The ivory dragon had been broken in two uneven halves.

This was no mere request on his brother's side that he conclude his travel and return. He studied the bigger half of the ivory piece, running the pad of his thumb along the carefully carved lines. "I wonder how far he'd be willing to go." Might be he should test his brother's mettle.

Even if it was only smoke and ash, it was better than anything Pycelle had to offer, assuming the old fool knew not to endanger the she-wolf. He'd best see about preparations. Viserys tucked away the letter and placed the two halves of the dragon in his inner pocket. If ever there was an exciting time to be alive, this had to be it. Dorne would rejoice, the North would divide itself along old lines and his brother would have his hands filled. The prospect of returning home was sounding better and better with every passing moment.

 

 

 

 

 

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Aegon gave a low grunt as his brother's weight settled in his lap with all the finesse of her hammer stroke. Nevertheless, he anchored the boy against him and made a shushing sound. "But I was quiet," Gaemon whispered, lips pursing in a mutinous little look he'd perfected almost as soon as he could produce sound.

"We shall just have to be quieter then. You don't wish to disturb Alys, do you?" he questioned, keeping his voice as gentle as possible. Aegon carded his fingers through his brother's hair, pushing the unruly strands back with a firm stroke.

Gaemon's pout loosened. He turned towards the marble effigy of his sister. Aegon watched the unmoving carving with minute attention. It was the details of the face which concerned him, chiefly the eyes. A cold slab of rock could never compare with the flashing and twinkling of his sister's eyes. The shape of them was right though, light crinkles just at the corners, as though a threat of a smile lingered about.

The Alysanne before him was about as tall as she'd been in life. He knew father had insisted that the measures be exact. It showed in the long limbs and slim waist. If he stood, she was taller than him on her pedestal.

"Can I still tell her I miss her?" Gaemon interrupted him yet again, tugging on his arm. "If I do it very quietly, she won't mind, will she?"

Gaemon did not truly miss Alysanne. The vast number of years between them had ensured he rarely saw much time in her company and she rarely sought him out outside of the rare moments when mother insisted they sit together. But his brother was a gentle-hearted child. "Aye. She would be glad to know you miss her." Plucking one of the roses he'd meant to put beside her urn, Aegon placed the stem in his brother's hand. "Give her this as well."

The boy buried his nose between the petals and dragged in air. "It smells nice."

It would have looked even nicer in Alysanne's hair. Aegon chuckled and ruffled Gaemon's hair, sending him off with a gentle shove for good measure. He regretted the winter roses had wilted so soon after he'd placed them there, but they would have to make do, it appeared. Then again, if Alysanne had been fussy regarding the mount she rode, she loved all flowers equally.

His brother placed the rose at the effigy's feet and took hold of one outstretched hand, his small fingers wrapping around the slim digits, almost as though he were willing the spirit of the departed back.

Standing from his seat, Aegon walked past the child, into the narrow gap holding the urn with Alysanne's remnants in it. He knelt by his sister's ashes and placed the flowers near her, taking care to let the petals brush against the gold ornaments. "The horse is doing well. Father won't let anyone ride it, of course, but he'd being fed and cared for."

He imagined, for a moment, the look on Alysanne's face whenever she found something she disagreed with. "Rhaella won't enter the stables either. She said she would care for every other beast, but not that one." Might be he should go further into detail, but Aegon did not think she would care to be burdened with so many trivial matters.

"Jon will no doubt come see you once he returns." Instinctively, he reached out, stroking along the jagged lines, considering the design. He withdrew. "I have to go. You know Gaemon is about as patient as a colt on his first legs." He withdrew.

True to description, his brother had wandered off, staring with undisguised interest towards the other narrow gaps; his curiosity carrying him from one entrance to another. Aegon smiled, recalling a day long past when he and Jon had done the same. It had been summer and father had decided that they ought to learn before long that some truths could not be avoided.

He'd been amazed that an entire human body could fit in such a tiny container. In his mind, for some reason, great kings and queens were of impressive proportions; in other words, of sizes to match their worth. He even betted Jon they would find bones the size of a human arm. Of course his brother had gone along with him and they'd even tried to unseal one of the urns.

Father's chagrin had been blatant that day. Naturally, the septon serving that day had treated the moment with appropriate levity, which in turn transformed the King's vexation to amusement. They were not even lectured. A happy ending to their somewhat morbid adventure.

"Gaemon, come out from there," Aegon urged his sibling, holding one hand out. "I promised Rhaella I would have you back in time for lessons."

A groan rang through the hall. "I don't have to listen to her." His brother emerged from the darkness nevertheless. "Lessons are boring." The complaint resonated with Aegon's own experience. It was one thing to broaden one's knowledge on one's own. Maesters cramming useless notions in one's head, however, was an entirely different kettle of fish.

He should not be telling Gaemon as much though, else the little imp would take it into his head to bedevil his poor tutors. Rhaella swore she didn't know what to do with the tyke half the time. "Have I ever told you the tale of the falconer and his pet?" The child shook his head. "Well then, come sit here and I will tell you."

Clearly excited at the prospect of hearing a tale, Gaemon hurriedly climbed into his seat and leaned in, as though to better hear the story. "A long time ago, there lived a man. He dwelled alone in his humble home, except for one other creature he kept for companionship. A mighty falcon. One day, the falconer took out the bird, allowing it its flight. But unlike their many past outings, the falcon did not return back to his master until well into the day. Our falconer, tough concerned, said little. And the next day, the creature woke him early and flew away, failing to return until sundown. On the third day, the falconer decided he would sit atop his hillock and watch for the falcon. Upon returning to his home, he found the roof had caved in and walls crumbled. Only then did he understand that the eyes of his falcon, superior to his own, has seen the danger and attempted to warn him."

"But we don't have falcons," Gaemon frowned. "Alys said not to touch hers." He kicked his heels against the wood of the bench, nose scrunching in silent worry. One of the traits he'd observed in his younger siblings was their love for tales and the nearly obsessive necessity to grab bits and pieces of said stories then apply them to their own life. The younger ones, much like Gaemon, tended to miss the forest for the tress, which was to be expected. They were just children.

"I am certain Alys would not mind our using hers." One day he would understand, and when he did, Aegon expected it would only lend itself to the bettering of the kingdom. "What say you, young Gaemon, would you not enjoy relieving Rhaella of her burden and taking care of Patches?" The irritating bird would doubtlessly peck the poor boy's fingers a few times before they got used to each other, and one could hope that happened soon enough. He ruffled his brother's hair again and gave him a small smile.

"Then Patches would be mine, aye?" The more he knew of responsibility, the better. "I will take care of him. If Alys doesn't mind."

"Why not ask her?" That suggestion was enough for Gaemon to comply. Left to watch an approaching septon, Aegon stood to his feet, wondering why it was they were being sought out. The apologetic expression on the man's face gave him some inkling as to what was going on.

"Apologies for intruding, Your Grace," the septon began, glancing towards the younger Targaryen with a smidgeon of unease. "I come from Sunspear bearing greeting from Her Grace, Lady Elia and your uncle, Prince Doran."

"I hope the both of them remain in good health," Aegon returned dispassionately. "It has been some time since I've had word from either."

"Indeed, Your Grace, both your mother and your uncle are in good health. As for word, I was tasked with delivering this." Extracting a sealed letter from his sleeve, the septon held it out with great care, stare travelling to where Aegon knew his brother was. "For Your Grace."

He accepted the letter more out of filial duty than any desire to hear from his kin. It was not as though Aegon was displeased with receiving knowledge of that corner of the kingdom. Yet the many plots he had had to stop thus far were not endearing him to the notion of further contact with his mother and uncle.

"Should Your Grace wish to send a reply, I am your humble servant," the man said.

Aegon gave a slow nod before dismissing the septon and retaking his seat. He broke the seal and unfolded the letter, knowing he was safe enough. Gaemon returned to him, presumably with a reply from their sister. "What is that?"

"A letter," he answered. "What did Alys say?"

Brightening at the question, Gaemon vigorously nodded his head. "She said I can have the falcon, but I must take good care of it." Grabbing onto his sleeve, the child tugged with unexpected force. "Will mother allow it?"

"We will talk to her, have no fear." Lady Lyanna had never struck him as particularly unreasonable. Sure enough, Alysanne's abrupt departure had shaken her and might be engendered within her a more pronounced streak of protectiveness, but even so that had manifested in her retreating from father's court rather than imposing restrictions of her children. "Jon will help as well. Now, see if you can find Baelor the Blessed for me, will you?"

Though a murmur of protest left the boy's lips, Gaemon acquiesced in the end, taking off on slightly unsteady feet. Aegon motioned for a young septon passing by to follow in his brother's wake. "Keep him occupied for a while."

"Aye, Your Grace."

His orders carried out, Aegon returned his attention to his mother's correspondence. A lot of it was ordinary enough in nature that he found himself thankful. His pleasant disposition might have even lasted in spite of one or two questionable choice words were it not for the last few lines.

I have heard it said His Majesty was sorely vexed with that woman. Is it possible that he considers abandoning her in her brother's care? Surely, she finds Winterfell a suitable home for herself. Do let me know, in what manner His Majesty wishes to proceed.

His lips compressed in a thin bloodless line as he crumpled the letter into a tight ball of wrinkles. The momentary anger flared to unimaginable heights. His sister was dead. Alysanne had been given to the pyre and his mother's sole concern was whether the King had yet to tire of his wife. He might have laughed, except that he was bound to attract attention in so doing.

The letter could not have arrived at a more inopportune moment. Nary a fire was nearby for him to relieve his frustration. Aegon shoved the mangled missive in the inner pocket of his doublet with a sound of disgust. He debated upon whether he should write his answer as soon as he arrived to his chambers, but decided, quite firmly, against it. No matter his personal beliefs, he was the Crown Prince and the Dornish faction did have its uses. Proper words had to be used, strung together craftily.

He would not mention the letter to father either. The man was wretched enough as it was. If only Lady Lyanna could find it in herself to forgive and forget. Whatever words had been spoken between them, Aegon would be willing to bet his own life that his father loved the woman. But even such a love could be stretched thin over years and disputes and misunderstandings.

Yet Aegon did not understand it. Not at all. Why would father allow her to leave in the first place? She'd been sick, barely even getting better. It could be argued she hadn't even been in her right mind. Having lived a certain number of years, Aegon well understood that two people very much in love could easily fall victims to their own weaknesses and misgivings.

Moreover, he'd sent her off with Ser Jaime. Ser Jaime whom he'd heard Lady Lyanna praise on numerous occasions. The same Ser Jaime whom the court whispered was much too close in age to the Queen, much too close for it to be mere duty, and in the end simply much too close. Courtiers were simple people; but they had a knack for unearthing secrets. And if he heard the rumours, so had father and Jon. Rhaella he was not certain about, but she always made a point of keeping their mother company whenever Ser Jaime was assigned to guard them.

It all came back to that blasted tourney. Ser Jaime had been knighted at the very event where father met Lady Lyanna. The lady and the knight were indeed very close in age, a year or so apart if he had his dates right, and, well, Aegon was not blind. Ser Jaime certainly had his charm and he trusted that if he were a woman, he too would give a sigh or two as he'd seen Rhaenys do. But was that enough to sway Lady Lyanna? Did she contemplate the man with a woman's eyes, or had she simply forged an easy camaraderie with a peer who just so happened to be a Kingsguard?

It would be a lot easier if he could at least ascertain Ser Jaime's interest in Lady Lyanna. At least that would be a start. However, whenever he gained the courage to do so the whole world conspired to put an end to his investigation. Which left the lot of them, truly, nowhere. Aware he would not find the answer in Baelor's Sept, Aegon chose to return home with Gaemon in tow, entertaining the child throughout their ride back.

Several servants waited to greet them in the courtyard, but among them were two of his sisters. Rhaenys and Rhaella , one had come for him, the other for the child, and he very nearly wished one of the two away at the moment. Nonetheless, he hurriedly dismounted, placing Gaemon in Rhaenys' arms.

"If you would be so kind, sister. I must ask Rhaella something," he told the eldest, contriving to forge a convincing smile.

"But, Aegon, I have been waiting all day to speak to you," Rhaenys complained, clearly dismayed. "A servant can take him to his lessons." She put Gaemon down. The child looked between the three of them.

"Gaemon will miss his lessons if you do not hurry," he stated simply, before taking Rhaella's hand and placing it upon his arm. "Would you care for a walk in the gardens?"

"I should love to take a walk with you anywhere, brother," his sister answered glibly, her flattery indicating her current mood. There was a high chance she would accommodate him if he approached her right.

Wasting not a moment longer, he marched the both of them to the gardens, leading the way to a secluded part which constituted Lady Lyanna's little walled corner. A secret garden for a secret plot; how very fitting. "Has your lady mother written?" he questioned without preamble.

"A reply to father? I do not believe so. I have heard naught in any event." She worried her bottom lip between two rows of small teeth. The delicate bite reddened the skin where she applied pressure.

"To you." If she thought she could misdirect him so easily, she had another thing coming.

"How mistrustful you are. She has not written to me except to say that they'd arrived well and to give me some instructions should the children need me." She was not far from being a child herself, Aegon considered, one-and-ten. "Jon wrote to tell me how he enjoyed our uncle's hospitality."

"I do not like this. She has to return soon, Rhaella. Elsewise, we only give fodder to gossips." Something dark flashed in her eyes and she bit harder on her lower lip. Indents marred the skin when she released the abused flesh. "The danger is not only for her; Jon and you, and the rest of the children."

"Father trusts her, Your Grace." She drew back, almost as though she sought an escape. "He will never believe her guilty of aught she hasn't done."

"What does he believe her guilty of?" If it were him, he would simply take care that Ser Jaime became a non-issue. A dead man was a man who caused no trouble after all. Alas, the situation was delicate. She turned her face from him. "Don't do that. I want to help you."

"A wise man does not step between husband and wife."

"And a wise woman does not let a marriage fall apart," he retorted.

"I do not have all the details," Rhaella warned, her brow furrowing. "And there are some bits of information I find at the very least questionable." He nodded. Something was better than nothing. Anything was better than nothing. "Do you recall when the accusation was bandied about that our mother had practiced witchcraft to entrap father? Well, it seems it was more of a promise than a spell."

"And that is the cause of all this?"

"Apparently. Uncle Viserys told me that he once heard father and Ser Dayne speaking of this promise. Ser Dayne asked father whether he even knew what he truly needed. I surmise she must have promised to give him what he needs."

"What does he need?" He knew the answer though. Aegon refused to believe that such a reason had poisoned the well.

Rhaella glanced down at the ground, one foot giving a small kick. "What all Targaryens need."

"That's ludicrous," he raged against her assessment. "Have you seen father with Gaemon? Does that strike you as a man displeased with his lot?"

"I am not mother, Aegon." She was right, of course. Whatever Rhaella thought was indicative of her opinions, not of mother's. "Despite her promise Visenya died within a year of her birth and then Aelyx as well. I think Alys was the last straw for the both of them and every little bit of frustration came pouring out."

"And Ser Jaime?" He held his breath, catching Rhaella's gaze with his own.

"Just an ugly rumour as far as I could make out." She took hold of his hand. "Your uncle is not helping matters." Aegon could do little but nod. "Can you not write to the Princess? Surely she would not refuse a request from you."

"That is not how any of it works, though, I suppose it does you credit that you are so very trusting." There was no use in burdening her with more knowledge than strictly necessary. "I wish I could say mother accepted the loss gracefully and was contented with some day being the King's mother."

Rhaella's shoulders drooped. "You need not say more. I understand." Her forlorn expression pierced him. In an effort to console her, Aegon wrapped her in his arms, patting her back gently.

"I need you with me on this, Rhae. You and Jon and me, we can solve this if we put our minds to it." He felt her arms hug back, her hold firm, almost as firm as he believed Lady Lyanna's hold was on their father. If he had the right of it, they could, at least, bring some closure to the whole situation.

"I am." A simple enough answer. Aegon believed her. Rhaella pushed away from him gently, allowing their eyes to meet once more. "I wish they would just let us live as other siblings do." Her lips lifted into a pale imitation of a smile. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

It was often the case that Alysanne's more flamboyant personality cast her younger sister into shadow. Aegon would be lying if he said he'd not granted the other more attention for the simple reason that Alys had walked through life as though she attended a banquet at every moment; she had been pretty and happy and unmarred in ways Rhaella was not. For she, like he and Jon, chose to lift the world onto her shoulders.

"We are of the same flesh and blood." Even as he spoke he knew countless siblings had fought before for thrones. "I trust you."

She finally let him go as he did her. They widened the space between them and gave each other a decisive nod.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poor knowledge of carpentry translated into a somewhat lacklustre understanding of what precisely it was to estimate the time it would take to complete a task. Jon accepted the failing with a flicker of annoyance and sat down upon the bed's edge, eyeing the sleeping woman as his hand pressed down upon her shoulder. Unfortunately, the pressure was not quite enough to wake her.

"Mother, come now; you mustn't sleep the day away." It was the blasted draught the maester had made for her. Rousing her was growing more and more difficult. On the other hand, witnessing her pain when she was conscious was no amusing thing either. Yet she needed to be awake for him to speak to her.

Her eyes opened slowly, as though the effort was too much to undertake. The lids fluttered for a brief moment before they parted and her gaze focused upon him. His mother produced a soft sound, a dull sort of sigh which reverberated between the two of them before vanishing into thin air. "I am awake." A hand came up to press against her temple. "I do believe these potions are not best suited to put me to sleep, after all. My head is pounding."

"Are you feeling well, mother?" He placed his own hand upon her forehead, feeling for any sign of a fever. He found little to inflame his fears. "They tell me the changes I asked for in the wheelhouse are almost done."

"Changes?" Jon frowned. Sleep must have addled her. The maester had confided in him that at times those who took such potions suffered a sort of confusion. And she'd only been taking it for a few days. It did not bode well for the rest of their stay.

"For us to return to King's Landing." Much as he enjoyed their stay, he would feel a lot more comfortable knowing her in the care of masters for whom he could vouch. Jon moved her hand away from the side of her face. "I asked for the benches to be removed so you may lie down comfortably. It is best for the babe that you do not ride."

It would be best for the babe that she not move at all. Jon was starting to believe the creature deserved very little of the care mother poured over it for all the trouble it caused. "The maester thinks that even at its most comfortable the journey would prove uncomfortable, but, lady mother, surely we have what we came for."

"You are in such a hurry to return." She smiled, her confusion palpable. Nevertheless, no questions regarding his intentions were posed. "Have you received word from your father?"

"Nay, mother. The crows do not fly that fast." Had she forgotten that as well? Gently, he helped her up, pulling one of the pillows so she might rest against it comfortably. Did she want to hear from father in the first place? Jon patted her hand gently. "We managed to clean the lower levels of the crypts." Which was what he'd come to tell her in the first place. It was a much more comfortable subject.

Mother's head shot up at the sound of that. "How many?" Jon pursed his lips, not precisely taken aback by the thin strand of anxiety she heard buried beneath the candid anticipation.

"Three. A perfect number by all accounts." The number of magic and ancient songs. The woman's reaction was to frown, which Jon had not precisely anticipated. "There were five in total but the fallen pillar managed to somehow crush two. I expect the sheer weight caused the shell to crack inwards. It does not seem to be that case that a weapon was used of any of the two."

"That's not right. The calcified shell should have protected the egg." She placed her hands in her lap, fingers curling around the sheets. "Are you certain it was the pillars?"

"What else could it be?" He dearly hoped an implausible suggestion was not coming. Jon prepared himself, nevertheless, for the occurrence.

"Could they have hatched?" It was his turn to frown.

"That is not possible, mother. You said it was during your childhood that you found the egg you gave me. How could you have wandered around and missed a dragon, had any of these hatched?" He stood from his seat, pacing back and forth, along the length of the chamber. "Even a newly hatched dragon, according to what we know, should be at least the size of a rat. And we do not have any difficulties with spotting those."

"But Jon, the last ever attempt to bring them back ended in a tragedy. Dragons need fire, aye? There was never a fire in the crypts as far as I know and trust me, any such event would have been mentioned." Which made sense. Jon shook his head in silent dismay.

"Some of the graves have holes in their walls, lady mother." Even good stonemasonry work sometimes failed. "Perhaps the answers are not there simple because we have not looked for them."

"Do not disturb the dead. Those graves have been sealed for a very important reason, my son. You would be well advised to leave the departed to their sleep." Her fingers twisted the quilt tightly around her fingers and his mother presented him with the bone-white sight of her face. "Whatever the mystery between the broken eggs, if the answer is not apparent, we must simply move on. Promise me, Jon."

"Very well, lady mother, I won't touch the graves." The tension is her shoulders mellowed. "What shall we do with the other two eggs?"

"Your father will have the final say on that. I assume he will simply place them with the rest of the Targaryen trove." He swallowed the words of protest crowding upon the tip of his tongue. "I know that look. You cannot keep all three of them, son."

"I have brothers and sisters. And the eggs were in Winterfell. Does that not say aught?" It was more the principle of the matter. "Father would listen to you, if you wished to speak to him upon the matter, lady mother."

"Forsooth I shan't. You know very well what I think of matter of the realm." He continued to pace, yet his steps slowed. Presumably that gave his mother yet another reason to chastise him. "Aegon is your father's heir, Jon. And for good reason. The body needs both a head and a heart, but can do little with a head and no heart or with a heart and no head."

Unable to help himself, Jon chuckled. The bitterness filled him, twisting into an ugly thing. "Lady mother, I was not born to be a heart anymore than I was born to be a septon. Give that honour to someone else. Anyone else."

"Your father wanted to name you Jaehaerys." Jon did not pause midstride, but instead turned on his heels, giving the woman his back. He watched the door, considering whether he could make an escape before mother had Ser Jaime fetch him back. "The Conciliator bore the same name and your great-grandfather after him. Both were good, righteous kings. Men worth admiring."

"Yet I am Jon and not Jaehaerys. Was I named for Jon Waters then?" He heard her laughter and frowned, very nearly turning on her. "You might have done me the favour of naming me Daemon. At the very least the Martells would have reason to worry then."

Cloth rustled behind him. "That is a horrible thing to say." Unexpectedly, warmth spread against his back. His mother's arms pressed down upon his shoulders, her weight forcing him to push to the side in order to regain balance. "Aye, Aegon is named after a great conqueror. He was named with the throne in mind above all. But you too are named after a king."

Concern corrupted the core of anger mounted at the forefront of his attack. Jon tensed, hoping that he would be strong enough to keep them both from falling. "The Neck yet belonged to the Marsh kings in the days of King Jon. Not long into his reign, his realm was beset by sea raiders. Though the foe numbered less than Jon's army, they had superior weapons. The King's first attempt to drive them out ended in a bloodbath, with his own army nearly halved. The head would have counselled surrender. Yet he took the broken men he was left with and called upon every single creature capable of bearing arms, and mounted another attack. He built Wolf's Den to honour that victory."

Unable to resist her urging, Jon turned around. Mother cupped his face between her palms. "Jon Stark is nowhere near as well known as Aegon the Conqueror. He is a mere King of Winter whose name might have well been forgotten were it not for a thoughtful Stark who carved the name at the base of his effigy and the record kept at Winterfell. Nevertheless, it is to men such as him that you and I owe our lives; to men who in times of hardship know that reasoning does not always provide a good answer."

She stroked his cheek gently. "You will never take the Iron Throne, my love, not because you could not; I know the man I raised, if you truly wanted to, you would find a way to it. Even so, know that I will not accept that of you."

"Then what am I to do with the rest of my life. Kick my heels and wait for some fool to come a-raiding?" He could feel his control crumbling. "Aegon will have his throne. Father has his heir and you have your wish. What do I have?"

"You will know when the time is right." He pushed her hands away from him and took a step back. "Jon. Have some patience."

"I have been patient," he protested loudly, forgetting for the moment that the chamber was guarded. "You bring me here and put a dragon egg in my arms, but claim I am to follow in a Stark's footsteps. All my life you've had me play second fiddle to my brother; I am not to outshine him in any manner, else it might incite the envy of others, you say. But what if I want that? What if, just for once, I want father's praise as well?" He did not even realise he'd raised his voice so far above normal until the last words reverberated in his own ears.

His mother stepped towards him, lips parting as though to answer when a small cry broke the tense silence settling between them. On instinct, he rushed forth, catching her by the elbows, yet the fatigue along with her added weight sent the both of them to the ground. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to cushion her fall. His chest filled with pain, vision flashing white.

The door opened with a screeching sound, followed by the tiny noises of metal gliding along metal. Jon caught a glimpse of gold and green before his sight blackened and his mother's weight was lifted up. He dragged in mouthfuls of air, slowly regaining his lost senses as the knight's voice captured his attention.

"It would be better if Your Grace kept to her bed," the slow rumble held aught almost mocking about it. "'Tis dangerous to tempt fate." Jon stood up unassisted. He watched the man and women. "Neither of us wants to be on the receiving end of the King's wrath."

"Very well, ser. Say no more." She tugged the covers over herself, covering all in sight. "If you would be so kind, I should like to rest a bit."

Ser Jaime accepted her answer with a sharp nod. He turned to Jon and gave him an expectant stare. "Your Grace, your cousin was looking for you. He said you might wish to see him once your other business is at an end."

In other words, he ought to find himself some occupation outside his mother's chambers else he would have the man's aid. Jon clenched his teeth against the wave of annoyance and crossed his arms over his chest mutinously. "Robb can wait."

"Your Grace." A chill ran down his spine. Jaime Lannister was an impressive man; not an imposing one, but certainly someone whose striking appearance could not easily be put out of mind. At times though, a spark in his gaze reminded Jon that in spite of his appearance, Jaime Lannister was the youngest knight to have taken the white and certainly did his position justice. He'd seen him and Ser Arthur clash in the courtyard. "Your cousin is waiting."

A brave man would have dismissed the words. A suicidal man would have stepped around the knight. Jon, however, proving once again he was the head and not the heart, retreated to the safety of the hallway with a murmur upon his lips. Ser Jaime followed, his footsteps heavy and firm, almost as though we was warning Jon against any folly. Once without, he met the man's stare. "Has it occurred to you, ser, that you've no power over me?"

"His Majesty tasked me with protecting your lady mother. I am simply following orders." The knight's gaze fell to the ground. "After she has rested, she may wish to speak to you again. If that is the case, I shall retrieve you."

"Father placed my mother in your care, not me." His brazen response was met with an indifferent shrug. And even that he considered a mistake given what he'd heard. Less so what he'd seen. "Might be you should consider that the greatest danger to her at the moment has naught to do with her current condition."

"Whatever is between you and your lady mother, Your Grace, it has naught to do with me. I am simply here to ensure her safety. If there is any danger you wish to make me aware of, you need but say so."

"Ser Darry or Ser Whent would have gladly taken the journey here. You requested it of the Lord Commander."

"I have never seen Winterfell before. I thought it a good enough chance."

"And how are you enjoying it then, ser?"

"'Tis cold."

"Scenery aside, why did you request it of Ser Hightower?" It did not help matters that he was being evasive.

"I already told you my answer, Your Grace." Jon took a deep breath and gave a slow nod, waiting for further words. Ser Jaime, however, had naught else to say.

Given little else to do, he departed, fully intending to find Robb and distract himself, or at the very least pretend that was the case. Jon ambled down the corridors, taking the few turns he needed to reach the lower levels where Robb could be found at the time of the day.

He was not disappointed.

His cousin was in the company of his eldest sister who seemed to brighten at his arrival. Jon gave her a perfunctory bow and squeezed her hand ever so gently when she reached out. "How is aunt?" Sansa asked, turning wide blue eyes upon him. "She must be feeling cooped up."

"She is resting. Might be you would keep her company in the evening. I find I must oversee the final preparations." His cousin frowned.

"So you truly have settled upon leaving? Maester Luwin is skilled and he would not fail his duties. And the gods know he's delivered his fair share of babes. You cannot go amiss if you place your trust in him."

"My gratitude, cousin, but I have made up my mind. All my brothers and sisters were born in King's Landing. I would not break traditions, if it can be helped. And my mother would feel more at ease as well. She is a creature of habit, you know." In many ways, he was not lying to her. "It will be a pity, however to be so soon parted."

"Aren't you exaggerating just a tad? She can't be that interesting." Robb cut in, a grin upon his face. Sansa turned to him with an inarticulate cry of rage. "I am only telling the truth. You know how mother feels about lying, Sansa. I am sure our cousin will agree that one must endeavour to always be truthful."

"I daresay some might place more importance on survival," Jon replied smoothly, raising Sansa's hand for a brief bow, meant to soothe her temper. "I myself think diplomacy the best path. One does not have to lie, nor must one abandon one's principles."

"Such a glib tongue. You'd better stop before my naive sister is taken in by your charm."

"Robb, stop it!" He drew back just in time to avoid having the girl collide with him in her hurry to reach her brother. Thankfully, Robb was served precisely what he deserved by his irate sister.

He chuckled at their banter and took a seat opposite Robb, leaning sloppily against the table. "I expect that will serve as a very important lesson to you, Robb; never challenge your sister."

"How can you say that to me? I've done naught to her." Despite the words, he was still fending his sister off. "If anyone is challenging anyone here, then she is the challenger."

"Have you mush for brains? If anyone is at fault than that is you." She sat down in her own seat, pursing her lips in obvious dismay. "Why can I not have a brother like His Grace?"

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Someone who is kind and considerate, mayhap." She stared pointedly at her brother. Jon kept his smile to himself. Kind and considerate were two words he would not associate with himself.

"You must be blind," Robb retorted. "Look what you've done to my poor sister. Next she'll be telling us all about how Rickon is a sweet babe who never gave anyone a moment of trouble. As though we're daft enough to believe that."

"I cannot reason with you this day." Sansa rose from her seat. "I will leave the two of you to whatever schemes you must carry out." True to her word, she took her leave in a flurry of skirts.

"I take it you still want to explore the crypt?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daenerys beamed at the dismounting Jon, eyeing the young man he'd brought along, presumably from his uncle's home. She approached the dusty duo. Meantime she nodded for the wine and to be brought along. "I see you wasted no time returning to us," she commented to her nephew, taking his hand in hers for a warm squeeze. "And you've brought guests?"

"My uncle's heir, Robb," Jon clarified tersely. "Robb, Her Grace Princess Daenerys." He combed his fingers through his hair, glancing away from her towards the wheelhouse having its horses removed.

"Your Grace," the aforementioned Stark heir greeted her, giving a bow to go along with his words. Then Robb Stark followed his cousin's line of sight. Jaime Lannister had dismounted as well, his tall frame hunched over slightly as he invaded the interior of the wheelhouse. "One of my men can do it if you wish."

"Do what?" Daenerys looked between the two men ignoring her. Her nephew had no answer to give as Ser Jaime withdrew, her good-sister in his arms. It took no more than a moment for her to note the woman's drawn face, along with the uncommon pallor and beads of sweat dotting her forehead. Unwittingly she gasped, attracting an audience. "You said naught of her state in your letter."

"You read the letter?" If he thought she would not get her hands of the letters, he did not know her well enough. She gave him a searching look, debating whether she needed to explain it to him. "Tell me you have not spread its contents about court."

"My brother is loving, but kind and tolerant may well be beyond him." Much like his father, Jon responded to her words with a flinty stare. He turned towards his cousin and gave a shallow nod before moving towards the knight holding his mother.

Unwilling to allow her sole source of information escape, Daenerys placed a hand on the Northerner's man arm. "I pray you, ser, can you not tell me what has brought my good-sister in such low spirits. My brother sent her to her kin with hopes she would return to us in better condition."

"Your Grace, you honour me too greatly, I am no knight. However, I shall do my best to satisfy your curiosity regarding my aunt." She cocked her head to the side. While she had never addressed the woman as aught else but Lyanna, it was strange to hear someone else speak of her so informally. But then they were kin, by some manner or another; naturally Lyanna would allow such lax manners. "The lower levels of the crypts collapsed, my aunt having the misfortune of being struck by debris. Initially His Grace wanted to remain in Winterfell but decided against it because of the babe."

"Was the babe harmed?" As a little girl she might not have given such a matter much thought beyond feeling pity for her good-sister's loss, but she was old enough that the horror of the situation dawned upon her. After all, Alys's death was fresh in the mind of them all.

Before an answer could be given though, the conversation was interrupted by the soft bickering between said good-sister and her ever-present guardian. Ser Jaime Lannister frowned at the woman he carried so diligently. "The maester was clear, you are not to strain yourself."

"A few steps will not cause me to keel over," the woman argued, a red flush bleeding into her pallor. "I demand you put me down."

"Lady mother, no more arguments," her son cut in. "Ser Jaime is doing his duty."

"His duty is to the King," Lyanna protested, a sigh making its way past her lips. "And fortunately for me, I am not he." Which was true enough, given however the influence she exerted over her brother, Daenerys did not see any reason to hesitate with her own intervention.

"Good –sister," she greeted, walking past her nephew and placing a hand on the woman's shoulder, "you must not worry us so. Allow Ser Jaime to carry you, for our own comfort if not yours. I shall, meantime, take His Grace to the great hall. His Majesty is yet holding court."

"If you are all set against me." Daenerys breathed out in relief as the knight strode hastily away before Lyanna could change her mind. She remained with Robb and Jon and found her companion was still holding the wine-filled cups. "Have some wine before you greet my brother," she offered, knowing that such directness would not be refused.

If Robb accepted her offering with gratitude, her nephew initially stared down into is cup, swirling the Dornish brew with a subtle hint of distrust clearest in the downward direction the corners of his mouth took. "You need not fear I added to much spice to it."

When finally he did take a sip, his face exhibited slight annoyance. Daenerys smiled innocuously at the reaction, knowing she had encouraged it with a hint more of cinnamon than strictly necessary. "You have outdone yourself," he murmured in the aftermath, handing the still-full cup over. "Lady Agnes, you too are very kind to be waiting upon us in this dreadful cold."

Agnes Bar Emmon flushed red at his words and smothered a giggle before she offered any manner of reply. "Your Grace, 'tis no trouble. Your journey has been doubtlessly long and tiring."

"Speaking off," Daenerys interrupted, leaning closer to Jon, "these brooch has to be repined." Without further ado, she carefully arranged his cloak, brushing travel dust off of him as she did so. "Prince Oberyn participates in the talks of the day."

"As grateful for the warning as I am, I've no intention of doing else but greeting His Majesty and being on my way. As Lady Agnes so aptly observed, my journey has been long and tiring. And my cousin should like his rest as well, I don't doubt."

"I make no complaints over my current position."

"Come along then, best not to keep you too long." She took hold of Jon's arm and dug her nails into the cloth covering his flesh I silent warning. "Agnes, pray extend proper courtesy to our kin, would you?" She turned a smile upon the other young man, taking note for the first time that he was rather handsome despite not bearing any manner of resemblance to her nephew.

Together the four of them made for the great hall. For herself she was content to hang upon Jon's arm, conscious of the many eyes upon the couple of them. "What are you trying to do now?" her companion questioned his hand covering hers for all of a moment before he drew back. Fortunately for her, Daenerys had no time to answer before the crowd parted, whispers mingling in a swirl as they head for her brother and the select group about him.

Aegon broke away first, a grin upon his face. "Took you long enough, brother." He slapped a hand over the other's shoulder.

Jon chuckled, completely breaking away from her. Daenerys smiled at the obvious camaraderie between the two as she listened to the answer. "Shall we make a race of it the next time?"

"I've an image to protect, Jon." They both laughed.

"Where is your mother?" As greetings went, her brother's lacked a certain something; warmth. Daenerys almost gave herself away. She caught the telling reaction at the last moment however and managed to rein in her grimace.

The smile melted off Jon's face, his expression morphing back into the serious mien he sported so oft. "We thought it best to allow her some rest. I expect she is in her bedchamber."

"Rest?" Daenerys gave her brother's heir a sharp look. Aegon pursed her lips at her, but mastered a neutral expression before long. "The road is a long one, after all."

He might have wished to expand more upon the notion but for a shower of gasps and shrieks interrupting him. Daenerys looked behind her in time to see a sleek creature delving through the throng of people, its stark white fur somewhat shocking against the richly coloured cloths it brushed. A similar being of darker colouring advanced upon the other's heels.

"Ghost, to me." The words were not loud, certainly not spoken in an imperative manner. The beast paused in its trotting and perked up before its tail started wagging. It broke into a run until it reached Jon, whereupon it began circling him in excited joy.

"Grey Wind, come here, boy," Robb Stark followed his cousin's example. His pet expressed its delight by leaping onto him.

"What is the meaning of this?" a familiar voice interrupted the moment of silent awe. "These are not the stables where beasts may congregate." Oberyn Martell stepped towards them. A low growl filled the hall, reverberating threateningly as through the premises. The lithe pet at Jon's feet barred its teeth. Ghost he'd called it. Ghost's fur stood on end, his tail held rigid, ears perked up.

Its close kin though not as obvious, padded slightly in front of its master.

"A gift from my cousin," Jon answered, reaching out to pet the head of the wolf, as he nodded towards Robb. "The servants must have encountered some trouble." Under his ministrations, the creature calmed down. "I beg your pardon, Your Majesty," he spoke, turning to face his father, "Ghost is not used to such company as abounds here. Given time, I am certain he shall settle down."

"It might be prudent to back away," her brother managed in a quiet serious voice in spite of the smile threatening to shatter the illusion he projected so diligently. Daenerys, never quite as good at the craft as her brother did not manage to smother her own amused reaction. Ghost stared fixedly at the Dornishman. "I assume it will listen should you call it after you."

"He will listen." He proved his point by having Ghost sit at his feet. "However, I am certain we will all feel relieved once he is safely out of the way. Your Majesty, I request your permission to retreat along with Robb."

"You may."

"I will go with my brother," Aegon announced despite the somewhat shocked expression his uncle sported.

Daenerys turned her attention to Robb whom she found to be enduring pangs of confusion. Having questions if her own, Daenerys took possession of his arm and said to her brother, "I will visit with my good-sister as well, if Your Majesty permits."

"Very well." She did not have much time. Rhaegar was naught if not determined. He would see to it that his business was taken care of and then he would head for his wife, of that she was certain. Meantime, she might as well determine the sort of atmosphere awaiting.

"Tell me, Robb Stark, how come you have made the journey to King's Landing with my dear, dear nephew?" she asked as they left the hall, whispering breaking out in their wake. Aegon and Jon walked before him, caught in silent conversation. She could hear Agnes walking behind them as well. A pity Rhaenys had not felt well enough to attend court. Her reaction would have doubtlessly been entertaining.

"The letter explained the reason I was sent here," the young man answered, looking at her as though she'd spoken out of turn. "I understood you were familiar with its contents."

"That is precisely my point; were there a letter I would have been familiar with it. To be perfectly truthful, I am completely in the dark. Take pity on me." They might not look alike, but they certainly offered similar mannerism when trying to avoid a question. Robb Stark avoided her gaze while he cleared his throat. She tugged on his arm. "You have seen Oberyn Martell, have you not? That man is not to be trifled with. I cannot help Jon unless I know his situation."

"Begging your pardon, Your Grace; my cousin will reveal the state of things in his own time. I cannot go against him in this." The trouble with men was that their friendships tended to cement insurmountable boundaries; she would need more time than she currently had to interrogate him.

"I see. Forget I asked," she replied with deceptive calmness. "Although I do not see why Jon does not trust me. He's treating me as though I were Alys." A sharp breath intake was enough to make her realise what she let slip. "Pray do not think me insensitive. Alys was a dear, sweet girl; but she did have an unfortunate tendency of babbling. One could never entrust her with a secret."

"I did not know her, Your Grace, but I do know her brother loved her dearly." Precisely that; Jon hadn't the sense of a gnat when it came to his sisters. "That aside, we cannot speak ill of the dead." His frown put her on edge. Daenerys almost withdrew her hand from his arm, yet decided against it at the very last moment.

"You are correct, of course." Her nephew would invariably come up against their Dornish kin. Inevitably he would turn to Viserys when her brother returned and Viserys would tell her all she wished to know. Was it possible there had been no letter? Certainly, Rhaegar was more withdrawn than Viserys; he could at times be frustrating with his tendency to keep his knowledge to himself. But surely he would tell them, especially considering it concerned Lyanna. And he had seemed taken aback by Jon's claim that she needed rest.

"Do not concern yourself over such matters, Your Grace; Jon will clarify and explain as such as you wish, I've no doubt. He does not mean to keep anything from you, but for the need to find a perfect moment he would likely confess the whole of it."

And would likely be a heap of ashes before that happened. "If you are certain, I suppose I shall have to make do with that." Lyanna might know a thing or two. Stopping midstride, she put her foot down, causing her companion to halt as well. "Agnes, would you be so kind as to make certain our guest is taken care of, I just remembered I promised I would visit with my good-sister."

She took off past her nephews, ignoring Aegon calling after her. That one had best mind his own business. The way he nosed about, he was bound to step on a few toes. It was difficult enough keeping the Dornish faction at bay without having to worry about him as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhaegar expected the sour look his wife threw him as soon as he walked into her bedchamber. Lyanna laid upon the bed, resting against a mound of pillows, her visibly altered form a reminder, bitter in its own way, that the corporeal part was the only piece of her he had. That he could mould, change in appearance and at times bring to his side. He stared contemplatively at the furious little moue she sported and waited for a word. A sign. Any sign. But she held his stare, frosty as winter morning. Some walls not even the best war machines could bring down.

He remained standing before her, mute. As tough struck dumb he could do no more than stare back. He hadn't any anger to wrap protectively around himself. After all, this on he'd chosen with his own hands. Rhaegar took a step forth, the heavy, awkward limbs upon which he advanced presenting themselves as stiff and painful.

It seemed to him that the turns apart had wrought such severe changes upon Lyanna. Her face was not quite the same. She seemed somehow sharper. Like a starved wolf. His mind warned of danger.

She broke first. "Where are my ladies-in-waiting?" Lyanna demanded, eyes narrowing. The hum of strong emotion stretched between them. Rhaegar felt naked before her stare. Not precisely ashamed, but vulnerable nonetheless. He was shieldless in the thick of battle.

"They were not suitable company to you." She cocked her head to the side, lips pulling in a thin line. "They failed in their task." She continued to gaze at him. "There will be other companions, more suitable ones. You may pick whoever you like."

"I liked the companions I had," his wife pressed, dealing him one of those blows she delivered so well. Rhaegar did not wince, though he wished he could. Instead he leaned in to press a kiss to her lips, as though there was not an ocean between them. "Don't do that." He drew back just when she reached out. Her hand stretched towards him, fingers not quite reaching as he took another step back. "Why are you doing this to me? What am I being punished for?"

"Am I doing a thing to you?" he questioned, a tendril of resentment wrapping around him fit to choke the life out of his body. "Is having anything you could possibly wish for a punishment?" A small sigh left her lips. "I was not aware you had a monopoly on grief."

"That is not it. I needed time. We both needed time." The plea in her eyes went unanswered. "But I came back. I am here now."

He huffed. "You would not have returned had you not endangered yourself. I know you, Lyanna. Remember that." He seated himself in a chair, far enough away that she would have to leave the comfort of her bed to reach him. "Would you have even told me about the child, had Jon not forced your hand?"

"What are you insinuating?"

"It is not an insinuation." Lyanna gaped at him and for a moment he thought she might throw over one of her pillows. The red skin of her cheeks deepened colour as time trickled by. "You had best think of your ladies-in-waiting choices; elsewise you will have to make do with mine."

"That is not fair. I stood beside you for all these years; through everything." Their gazes met yet again and held. She was breathing hard, as though putting her sentiment into words depleted her of strength.

"You did not have much of a choice, I suppose." Rhaegar tried not to remember those first few years when they had still been happy together. Although happiness felt like such an insipid name to ascribe to what he'd felt. It was his own fault for thinking he could outrun his own destiny.

"You're wrong. I did have a choice. I could have left whenever I wanted." She was lying. "I should have never told you my thoughts, I can see that now. It will forever come back to that for you." His wife crossed her arms over her chest. "Is it not enough that I came to love you in my own time?"

It was his turn to cock his head to the side as he considered her and her words. "You lied to me."

"That is not true. I never spoke words I did not mean." They were treading old ground. Rhaegar did not suppose he could pull out of the argument at that point.

"That is even worse. I cannot trust anything you do. Do you honestly think the words matter that much?" He stood without meaning to and began walking back and forth. "That is might be the worst of it. I do not know where I stand with you, nor can I trust your reactions to guide me. I forever end up wondering when it is you'll grow tired of playing these games and leave. You have what you want, after all."

"You can lie that fear to rest. I am not leaving." Her insistence should have convinced him. Why then did his mind continue to whisper of betrayal? "The past cannot be changed. I wish I'd known you were a kind man and given you my heart first of all. But that is not how it happened. I did not set out to deceive you and I did not think you'd care. I was wrong. What more do you want from me."

"Nothing. I want nothing from you." He stopped before her. "I no longer want anything from you." She breathed harshly, looking hurt. The words had been meant to cut, but even so he felt rather hurt himself.

"Must you be so cruel? I was young and stupid, I admit that freely. But can you not find it in yourself to forgive youth's folly?" He didn't want her crying. Women and their tears. "I tried my best not to engender any regrets. I never put my children before yours and I made certain truly gave all my duties my very best. And I do love you, you daft man, irrespective of your opinion on the matter."

"Might be I did not want you to be so aware of the divide between our children. Might be I wanted you to not remind Jon he was the second son so very often. Might be I simply wanted to be a father to the boy." To her credit, the intentions behind her actions had not been born out of cruelty. "I listened to you because you are his mother; because I owe you that much. And I have somehow managed to alienate the boy. I do not even know what to say to him for fear of driving him away further."

He touched a hand to the top of her head, unable to help himself at her forlorn expression. Stroking her hair easily he continued, "He resents me. Might be he is right to."

"He doesn't. Jon is simply confused."

"I am glad you always concentrated on him, though. I could be a father to all our other children. That should be enough. But it isn't." His motion stopped midway. Rhaegar sat down upon the edge of the bed, facing Lyanna. "I am tired of chasing the ghost of what was. And no matter how I try, I do not think I can forgive." He withdrew his hand.

"I love you." She was trembling so hard, the motions very nearly rocked her. "I truly do."

"And I never stopped." His gaze fell to her rounded stomach. Another child. "I do not know that such is enough though."

"What are you saying?" Worry crossed her features. She was correct to be worried. "Is this about reinstating Elia Martell as your queen?" So she had heard. Rhaegar gazed wordlessly at her, waiting for a reaction. Anything to give him hope. Anything he could hang on to. Despite his words, he would willingly accept a confirmation of his own desires. "Don't. Or at the very least do not send me away." She grabbed hold of his arm, her nails digging into his flesh. "Please."

"I do not go back on my word. I told her when I sent her back to Dorne that she had absolute freedom to do as she wished. If she spent all these years hoping I would change my mind, that is her problem." For a brief moment disbelief threatened his shaken wife's features. "Nevertheless, I am yet undecided about us."

"What?" She was alert yet again. Rhaegar patted her hand.

"Choose your companions with care for they will be those around you until your confinement is over." Shock registered upon her face. "Had you not gallivanted about ruins and injured yourself, I would not have had to do this. As matters stand, I cannot allow you to further endanger yourself or the child."

"Are you saying you will not see me?"

"By and by, lady wife."

"Can you not let go of your anger?"

"Why would I? It's adequate protection." He stood and walked to the lancet, staring without. "Jon wished to speak to me, but before that I do have an important matter to discuss with you."

"Is that not what we have been doing?"

"I have decided it is time we saw to the matter of succession. I have written to Stannis Baratheon and Lord Tyrell. It is my expectation the answers will arrive back shortly and though you will be still resting by the time of their arrival, I should like it if you made yourself available for discussions."

"Lord Tyrell's daughter is the more appealing choice, if we look at prospects. She will bring a full purse with her, I don't doubt. And I have heard she is quite the beauty. Aegon will doubtlessly be pleased."

He interrupted. "Margaery Tyrell is not being considered for the position of Crown Princess. I mean for Jon to wed her."

"He cannot." Rhaegar glanced over his shoulder, seeing her struggle out of bed. "Rhaegar, that is madness. The Reach will never agree." He said naught to that. "As for wedding Aegon to Robert's niece; the poor thing was afflicted by greyscale as a young child. Your son will see it as an insult. Dorne will see it as an insult."

"Relations between the Crown and the Stormlands have been strained for too long a time. The Reach is an ally. There might be Lady Olenna to contend with there, but it is her son who makes the decisions and I trust his vanity more than I trust her powers of persuasion. Lady Margaery weds Jon."

"Jon is too young to wed. Likewise, Stannis' daughter is yet a girl. They could make a match of it when they are ready to settle down." She must know she could not dissuade him. "The Martells are giving us enough trouble as it is. Why would you court even greater dangers?"

"Do not waste your breath, lady wife. I have already decided upon my course of action." She placed a hand upon his arm, trying to tug him away from his spot. He went more out of fear that she might strain herself. "The Tyrells wish to capture a few more pieces. I am not averse to it. However, I am not blind to the manner of man their lord is. He will have his prince, and I will strengthen my support. And Jon will have his allies, if he is smart enough to use this to his advantage."

"What will Aegon have?"

"The throne. A wife from a good family. He will be no worse off. I trust him to be able to look beyond appearances." As reassurances went, he was aware it was not the best. There was, of course, a good chance Aegon would not see beyond the girl's ruined face. And another good chance he would resent his brother's fortune, if one could call it that, in wedding a beautiful woman.

"Your intentions could be misread."

"Do not make yourself ill over it. You must think of the babe."

"I am thinking about all of my children."

"I must be going."

It would be useless to continue. He had come to her because he wished to know where he stood. And he did.

His feet carried him without conscious command. The door to his solar was wide open when he arrived and upon the table stood a small coffer. He recognised the design. The chest had been made for Lyanna as he recalled. He stepped within, for a moment ignoring his son who was standing by the lancet, watching him with care. Nary a word passed his lips as he approached the unmoving object and placed a hand upon the intricately carved wood. He walked around the table to his chair, fingers moving in a stroke along the sturdy material before leaving it all alone.

"Now then, what was so important that it could not wait?" he asked of his son. Jon did not hurry with his answer. He turned towards the world without, glancing up at the clear skies before returning his gaze towards him. Rhaegar did not push further but simply leaned back in his seat, waiting.

"There is aught I have kept secret from you, Your Majesty. Mother and I, we thought it best the revelation come from us." He drew near as well, turning the chest so it might face him. Without looking, he unlatched it and pulled up the lid revealing the contents of the box.

Dumbstruck he stared at the velvet-lined inside, not quite able to believe his eyes. "They were in the crypt. Mother told me she'd found several as a young girl. She hid them and bade her time. I suppose she knew she would have need of them someday. I managed to clear out the lower level, but only these three survived."

He reached for the first one. The scales were cold beneath his fingertips, scratching against his palm. The weight was adequate. Their firmness convincing. He inspected it closer still. Was that the sign Lyanna had spoken so reverently of? Summerhall had been filled with them, or so his mother had claimed before her death. He'd never taken Lyanna to Summerhall though she'd asked it of him. His answer had been that when thing settled, they would go. But she had Jon and then Visenya and the ruse came tumbling to the ground, leaving behind only the tangles of a conflict.

They seemed real enough, he had to give her that. If it was some manner of ploy, it was certainly well put together. "She did not tell me about them. Why?"

"We were unsure of how Your Majesty wished to proceed. I thought it best discretion be exercised. Inevitably we could not keep it from all souls but to the best of my abilities, I tried to conceal the fact as best as I possibly could." Jon picked up an egg as well. He did not scrutinise it quite as hard as he himself had.

"And what would you have me do with them?" Of course, once he made it known, no one would give him a moment of peace. "Might be place them in your keeping?" He placed the egg back next to its brethren.

"I couldn't say, Your Majesty." Too much like his mother, but with nowhere near enough polish to fool him.

"Pick one." He gestured from the eggs in the chest to the one he was holding. "Whichever you like best of the three." It did not matter in the end. All knowledge of hatching the eggs had died with his great-grandfather.

"Your Majesty, surely this will give rise to protest." He put the egg he had been holding back. "I have already caused a stir." Not untrue, but certainly not something they could not face. Just as long he was more malleable than his mother.

"A very unexpected occurrence. I understand the wolf was a gift. A nice gesture on your uncle's part."

"It was Robb who insisted. Mother was quite adamant we not return with Ghost." Knowing Lyanna, he could well imagine how that conversation had played out.

"So you brought two of them." An act of rebellion as it were. Rhaegar smiled, not bothering to hide his reaction.

"It's safer. For the better part of our journey Ghost stood guard near mother."

"Choose one. As for consequences, you need not bother." Something like understanding flashed in his son's eyes. Had he an inkling? His hand reached out, settling over the middle egg; the one Rhaegar had put down. "That one?"

"This one," Jon confirmed. His hand was shaking.

"It is yours." The boy drew his hand back as though he'd burnt himself. But then, predictably enough, he picked up his prize. "If that is all, then you may go."

"Nay. There is one more thing." Having not expected it, Rhaegar gave the boy a stern look. "A question rather." He nodded, waiting for the other to speak his mind. "May I have Alys' horse? I want to train him."

One would think that being presented with not one but three dragon eggs in just as short amount of time would desensitise him to shocking occurrences. It was not the case. Alys' horse; the creature had been locked in a stable, under strict orders not to be walked. If he was fed and cleaned after, it was because Jon had pleaded for the beast.

"You are not asking me such a thing. It killed your sister."

"She fell. That was not the horse." Blood rushed through his veins, the motions pounding like drums. "Alys loved that horse. She would not wish to see it punished."

"I kept the fiend alive. That is more than enough leniency. Do not ask for more." For the length of a heartbeat Jon looked as though he might protest. But the words died upon his lips.

"Very well, Your Majesty." It was far from over. Rhaegar did not doubt an assiduous campaign would soon be carried out on the horse's behalf. He hoped he might be able to refuse and continue doing so indefinitely. The beast was not getting out of its stall if he had a say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The circle of lit candles stood in the middle of the room. Within the circle a small bow rested, its rim stained red. Rhaella glanced up at the lancet, glad the shutters had been drawn over it. Even through the wood, cold air invaded the chamber, threatening to blow out her candles. She frowned. The cup was not deep.

"Quit staring at that," Elaena snapped, tugging her hand away. Her sister wrapped a wide ornate strip of cloth around the wound.

"Ela, that's your ribbon. You'll stain it." Despite the words her kin did not let up. In fact, her younger sister rewarded the pertinent observation with a grim look which might have frosted the Trident over.

"I wish you wouldn't do these things. How are we supposed to explain this?" In spite of the censure suffusing the voice, Rhaella was not at all chastised. "'Tis bad enough without your interference. Our poor septa would be beside herself if she ever found out. And think only what should happen to us if word got to father."

"I did not mean to cut my hand. 'Twas but a moment of carelessness." She was usually not so clumsy with her knife. But she could not help that she'd been distracted. The distinct cawing without had done the harm. "Pass me the garlic" Elaena scowled but Rhaella merely held her hand out in silent demand. The mixture of honey and garlic soon found its way into her grasp. "That should do it, don't you think?"

"She lied to you," her sister insisted. "And more the fool you if you believe the gnarly old vagabond. Maesters distrust magic for good reason."

"They distrust it because they cannot understand it." She neared the circle and knelt, pushing the contents of the small contained into the bowl. Ground garlic covered in stick honey dripped forth. "All we need now is a pinch of salt. If you would be so kind."

"There is no such thing as a protective spell," Elaena went on even as she thrust the salt at her. "That charlatan fleeced you. Besides, how will you convince mother that a scrap of cloth is tantamount to her wellbeing? It is ludicrous and I should not be surprised in the least if she refuses to entertain such notions."

"The witch promised it would work. That aside, mother does not need to wear it. It simply needs to be upon her person."

"How will you convince her?" Elaena took the remaining salt away along with the empty contained. "Father does not look too kindly upon woods witches. I doubt he'd put too much stock in their advice."

"I will think of something and father needs never find out. Only until the child arrives, you know. I simply mean to make certain they are safe."

"I imagine the guards posted at her door go a long way to fulfilling your wish. We'd best put these away before we're caught." True to her word, she picked up the first candle and blew it out. "You might help."

"Ela, truly; it is just a bit of harmless ward setting. The worst they can do is chastise us for wasting perfectly good honey." Not precisely true, but still it was not as though the good people of Westeros were aware of her moonlit trips. And she has simply requested something to keep those she loved safe. "I could make one for you, if you wish."

"Do not trouble yourself; I am in no danger. You, on the other hand, shan't hear the end of it if word gets out. Isn't it enough that Jon insists on being unconventional with that creature he brought along? Must I have a witch for a sister as well?"

"Hush, Ela. From what I heard that creature gave our esteemed Dornish guests a fair salutation. As far as I care to know, at least." Elaena laughed, slapping both her hand upon her mouth but a moment later. "Targaryens rode dragons. I doubt a wolf would be considered all that eccentric."

"I wish father would allow me to attend court. He's wasting it on you instead. I wanted to see the wolves and cousin Robb, I believe Dany said he was called." Instead Elaena was kept busy with lessons and other activities befitting her station. And it was not so much their father orchestrating the whole of it.

"You goose, you can't even execute a proper curtsy without tripping over the hem of your skirts." She glanced down at her own skirts. Thankfully, she'd managed not to stain them. Although, considering that, not unlike Jon, she favoured the blacks over cheerier palettes, it was not much trouble even if she did occasionally forget herself. She was glad father allowed her to sit within her chambers when she wished it.

Elaena, on the other hand, bedecked in soft violets and blues very much put her in the mind of court dealings. "Can do," her sister disagreed with the earlier statement, her lips arranging themselves in a pout. "But he could have at least allowed us to see mother. Gaemon has been miserable all day and says he won't cheer up unless he sees her."

"Mother is resting. Might be we shall see her at supper." She could arrange to have a servant carry the token to her mother's chamber, meantime. Considering mother's companions had all been dismissed and no new ones were on hand, a servant would have to do.

"But you know," Elaena added slyly, "I don't think it's mother you're wanting to see." Rhaella's head shot up at that. She offered her sister a cold, inquisitive stare. A dare to go on. Elaena smiled innocently, twirling an errant curl around her finger. Instead of giving in, her sister merely cocked her head to the side, "At the very least now I shan't have to endure your constant sighing."

"I do not sigh, constantly or otherwise." Her clipped response did not seem to help matters. Ela rolled her eyes and gave an unladylike snort. "I do not."

They continued tidying the room in companionable chatter afterwards, with Ela knowing better than to broach any sensitive subjects. Still, every now and again, her sister gave a knowing look, testament to the fact that it was rare enough secrets were kept between them. It was not precisely that Rhaella was loathe to discuss the subject itself; as long as she'd been aware of her feelings, she'd known 'twas but a dream with no hope of fulfilment. It was simply easier to avoid wistful thinking than to endanger her heart.

After all, who knew what the future held.

Having put the candles away, locking them safely out of sight, she inspected her sister's hair. Once giving up the ribbon securing one of the many intricate loops making up her coiffure, Elaena had doomed the whole of it. "Do you want me to braid it?" she nodded towards the mess.

"If you'd be so kind. I might be too young to attend court, but I am certainly going to make a good impression at supper." A good thing then that Rhaenys had taken the attention of most young attendants for the past several days, thus sparing her sister any notice. Jon's return had certainly given their eldest sister enough drive to last her a lifetime. The way she struggled to garner support, one would think she meant to lead a military campaign and not mere revelries.

Elaena found herself a chair to sit upon and removed other combs and ribbons, allowing the mass of ringlets to fall down her shoulders. "Did I tell you about the dream I had last night?" she asked, picking lint off her skirts. The one trouble with Elaena was that she more often than not presented herself in a somewhat troubling light, insisting she talk about her dreams.

"Wait, let me guess. You saw," Rhaella paused, making a show of diving an answer, "a stack of lemon cakes as high as a mountain." Laughter came from her sister and she followed her lead.

"Not precisely. I dreamt of a bloody antler, if you must know. No lemon cakes were in sight, I am sorry to report. There was, however, what seemed like a pack of wolves." Elaena attached some meaning to those visions. She claimed she could understand half of what she saw.

"Masters frown upon divination as well," Rhaella reminded her. "Seers have been known to feed the fire or a pyre or two." It was more teasing than outright threat, since they knew well enough not to speak of such things without their chambers. "I could ask the witch about it. Might be that she can interpret its meaning."

"Not this night, surely. There is still too much excitement regarding mother's return. I say you wait a few days until matters have settled," Ela advised, gathering her ribbons and combs. "Should the guards endeavour to be more alert, you might get caught."

"The guards don't know about the hidden tunnels." She was more or less certain Aegon and Jon knew, but as far as she could tell the secret did not go further than close family. And since neither brother had until that point caught her she did not see the point in worrying. The less they knew, the less they'd worry, after all. "Apart from which I do not know how much longer the witch will remain in these parts." At the look upon her sister's face she turned to cajoling, "Don't you want to know what the dream meant?"

"It did not seem like a nice dream. Might be I am better off not knowing." Her sister stood, moving to the small chest they kept their numerous trinkets in. Rhaella followed, pulling up the lid.

"Careful now, it would be a pity to break a leg." There was no protest from the other. She simply deposited her possessions with utmost care before dusting off her hands. "You could come with me. There is no danger, truly."

"I don't want to know what the dream means. I tell you, there was blood." Obstinate as a mule, Ela raised her gaze to hers. "A bad dream is just a bad dream. No sense in giving it too much import."

There was sense. Elaena was just too young to recall there had been Targaryen who could read the future. The old witch had told her there were ways one could go about finding out. She had not attempted any of those tricks, not quite confident enough in her success to take the risk. "You are not making sense. 'Tis either that you believe or you do not. Which is it?" Might be Ela was one of those who had a knack for it.

Mother had told them about seers as well. No matter what the Maester Pycelle said, she had seen things defying the meagre explanations thus far offered by the most brilliant minds of the realm. If she knew the future, she might give warning. Of course, it would have to be carefully crafted warnings, more in the vein of mindless suggestions. 'Twas not so bad still.

"I do not believe in that. Next you'll be telling me how snarks and grumkins lie under my bed waiting to snatch me up." Jon and Aegon had certainly scared them enough times with such tales. She supposed they teased Gaemon as well when she was out of earshot. The Seven only knew poor Gaemon was more brave than sensible, which meant she'd yet to observe such goings-on.

Nevertheless, if she had known Alysanne would be riding to her doom on the day of her death, she could have made the horse throw a shoe and have the saddle checked and go along, though she did not relish the thought. Alys would not have liked it any better, but she'd have been alive. All complaints would have been meaningless.

"Might be they are." Elaena snorted, pushing feebly against her shoulder. Rhaella shook her hand off but did no more. "Are you prepared to go now, or should we linger here longer?" She glanced towards the door, wondering whether she ought to braid her own hair. Mother could surely like t better if she did, but then they were not entertaining. It could even be that the simpler Northern style would not be frowned upon in the least.

"Can you not wear something a little more cheerful?" Once more she inspected her kirtle. "Might be a red sash instead of the blue one? 'Tis all so dark. A little bit of colour might even attract some attention."

"I do not want attention." She narrowed her eyes in warning. The truth was she did not deal well with any manner of acute perception, wilting under the strain of it as a flower did beneath the desert sun. If she could get away with keeping to the shadows she would. Alysanne had always been more than pleased to compete with the likes of Rhaenys, which she did with great success if Rhaella could say so herself.

"I meant a particular someone's attention." Good to know her sister could still scheme. "What could it hurt?" There was that. Rhella felt herself relax.

"It will be difficult enough to explain this," she nodded towards her wounded hand. "I do not wish for further questions."

"Still, you might listen to me every now and again. I should like to see you in something other than black."

"Black is the colour of our house."

"There is no rule against wearing other colours that I know of," Ela laughed. "And should we not accustom ourselves to other colours beside? You shan't always be a Targaryen, Rhae. Some dashing knight will notice you despite your reticence."

"Of course I shall always be a Targaryen. Marriage will chance naught." Marriage had certainly not changed mother's allegiances that Rhaella could tell. "Why are we even discussing marriage. Neither of us is old enough to go through with any such scheme. And Rhaenys would have to wed first."

"Says who, stupid? Rhaenys does not wish to wed." She had said so on more than one occasion but Rhaella rather thought it bluster. "I certainly shan't wait after her and neither will you if you've a lick of sense."

"Ela, you're just a child. It will be years and years afore father lets you wed."

"Still, these things have to be carefully planned, Rhae. Do you not wish to know all you can about the man you'll wed?" Nay, in fact, the less she knew the better. Rhaella shrugged. A disappointed look crossed her sister's face. "Well, I do. Tell you what, I shall come find this witch of yours with you, if you convince her to look into my future."

"I thought you did not believe in any of it."

"I don't. But it can't hurt."

Naught could ever hurt Elaena, Rhaella decided with a shake of the head. She dusted off her skirts more out of habit and a need to occupy her hands than reason. Her sister followed her example despite the pristine state of her garb. "The faster we arrive, the faster we can eat."

"You're just saying that because uncle has yet to arrive."

"'Tis not my fault he is the most entertaining one." Uncle Viserys should be on his way in any event. Ravens did not travel the fastest but it had been some time since father had written and their uncle was certain to heed him.

"I wonder what gifts he's bringing."

"Is that all that matters to you?"

"Of course not. I also hope he's in good health. He promised to dance with me, you know."

"Aegon or Jon could dance with you."

"Aye, but Aegon always tugs me too hard and Jon never wants to dance." Complaints, complaints. A good thing she was not partial to dancing herself. "Father rarely dances with anyone other than mother, if he does at all." Not in public, at any rate. Father was not averse to dancing with them just as long as the purpose was of serious nature. And even mother danced for the most part with men other than their father. "Standing still at the table is too boring."

"Jon would dance with you if you'd actually wait for him to ask instead of grabbing onto his arm and making loud demands."

"I did not."

"Did too. I heard you all the way at the other end of the hall." She hadn't. But the scene playing out had spelled the matter clear enough. "He dances with me." And he'd danced with Alys as well, just not as oft as Aegon.

They removed the bolt from the door and made their way into the corridor. "He dances with Rhaenys as well. Not as though it matters."

"Wait the next time." Ela rolled her eyes.

Before she could get a word in, their mindful septa, who had possibly been sleeping by the way her garb presented itself, appeared, her arms full of a still sleepy Gaemon. "You are all ready, good."

"You can leave Gaemon to us," Rhaella said. "The walking will wake him for certain."

"Your Grace, I cannot do that. I shall wake His Grace and bring him in. Can I trust you have no need of me?" She'd not noticed Rhaella's bandaged hand. She breathed out in relief and nodded her head, trusting Ela to follow her example.

"Come on, Rhae," Ela tugged on her arm, "we should hurry before Aegon and Jon eat everything between the two of them. Might be Jon will bring the wolf as well, then we'll truly have naught to show for cook's effort."

"Which should please cook," Rhaella could not help but point out.

"But not our stomachs." Thankfully, they'd already started walking by then.

Elaena agreed. "We could sneak in for some lemon cakes."

"No more lemon cakes, Ela."

"But they are so good."

"If I hear about lemon cakes one more time, I will never let you have another one."

"You were the one who brought them up in the first place."

"When have I ever?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"I'd have thought you more resilient," Rhaenys observed good-naturedly, pressing his hand with her own. "And yet you return to us after so short a stay with your kin that I must wonder." Her smile was no less brilliant then her dark gaze and Jon was reminded, not for the first time, nor the last, he suspected, that his sister was not to be underestimated.

"Neither of us is entirely free in their choices," he replied just as easily, with a grin of his own. "I understand, though, that I am needed, Rhaella complained I've gone too long and she cannot be expected to assume my duties." Nor would he wish it of her. Good as Rhaella was, her soft nature did not lent itself to the more brutal aspects of court conflict; not, at least, without proper shielding.

"Speaking of choices, I was wondering if you've any idea what exactly it is you will be doing?" Their eyes met and held, the push and pull of children at war not unlike the early games of childhood. Nut they were not children. She continued to goad him. And one of these days he would forget she was his sister, and might just even answer in kind. "Aegon will soon have Dragonstone in his keeping. He shan't be here much longer."

"A proper lordling, that one," Jon jabbed without much thought. "As for myself, I shall do as I've always done. You know me, Rhaenys, I haven't our brother's talent, nor his patience." She made a thoughtful sound, the corner of her mouth dropping slightly. Jon knew that look. It was an expression indicative of the plotting she'd done in his absence. Though not as subtle as she wished to be, his sister remained very much frightening in her ability to bring him to awareness.

"I've been thinking." So had he. Somehow, though, he reached the worrying conclusion that their individual thought process carried them not on converging paths, but rather on distinct roads. He submitted still to her ersatz sisterly concern with a vague notion of hope attached to this meekness. Not unlike the cruel Maegor, he saw himself surrounded by shadows meaning to visit pain upon him; yet in his innocence, he believed a lack of transgression could impress upon these immutable convictions at the very least a smidgeon of doubt.

After all, was it not the mark of the unknowing to be so convinced in the power of justice. Fairness would dictate he not be put under suspicion in the same manner it asked of his fellow man to proceed with caution. Then again, Jon had long suspected it was the very notion of enmity which lent Rhaenys her strength, her absolute conviction that she was in the right and it was simply the rest of the world that had turned against her in some bizarre conspiracy to see her robbed of, well, quite frankly, Jon saw naught he needed from her.

"So I understand; what have you been thinking of?" There were things he would never understand; quite beyond his meagre possibilities. Jon watched the young woman, unable to believe she was the same person he'd played and laughed with as a child. Due to their close age, the two of them and Aegon had been constant companions in a sense. Before each understood precisely the position which had been assigned for them and acted in accordance to such rules as governed the bonds between them.

He supposed it began with his own lady mother ever so slowly eroding the tied between him and Aegon. For whatever reason, his brother remained perfectly insensitive to his mother's manoeuvres, yet Rhaenys seemed to catch every little instance. And thus she'd begun building her own walls.

"You could very well ask father for a position in the Kingsguard. Prince Aemon served with the greatest knights of his age. There is no reason why you should not be afforded the same consideration." She brought her hands together before her, all the better for him to notice her fingertips were stained. And that was not ink, if he didn't miss his mark. Jon wondered at the wisdom of refusing her outright.

"As far as I know, dearest sister, the Kingsguard has a fixed number of members. There are seven of them even now." They'd reached the end of the small path. "Shall we return?"

"If 'tis agreeable, let us speak here a short while longer." He nodded his heads for lack of a better response. He much doubted she'd let up and to bring the whole conversation before Aegon or father would not work in his favour. "Of course, you would not need to assume the role immediately. But I you cannot deny some of our knights are not young men any longer."

"Regardless, they are each and every single one, an example every knight is expected to follow. I would hardly dare compare myself to any of them." Heavens, even Ser Jaime, the youngest and, ostensibly enough, the one whose merits had been debatable before he took his vows, was like to lay his flat on his back within minutes. Or rather, as far as anyone knew.

"Modesty becomes you. But my uncle would stand behind you, I am certain. And Ser Arthur can surely be convinced. That ought to be more than enough support." There she went, deciding other people's future for them. "Say you will at least consider it."

A trap well placed. Jon considered her for a brief moment before nodding his head apathetically. There was little reason in giving her cause to grow angry. "There is a chill in the air and I should like to avoid all head colds if at all possible." To prove his point he allowed himself a visible shiver. She would not know 'twas not the cold that caused it.

"You never change, do you, Jon?" Rhaenys laughed, resembling more the girl he used to play with than the severe young woman well-caught into the trap villainy and treachery pervading the fabric of their society.

Unable to answer in a satisfactory manner or even to satisfy himself with a cutting remark at her expense, he simply motioned weakly with his head, glad when she questioned little. He wanted time to think, time to consider what his next move would be in light of all the planning going on around him. Rhaenys had been rather straightforward, but even if she herself wished him safely removed from the spheres of influence likely to turn him against his brother, some might wish for a more permanent solution. He could think of one or two names. Bristling at the thought, Jon carefully extricated himself from further conversation with his eldest sister, pleading a case of fatigue. Whether she believed him or not, Rhaenys allowed his retreat with a sharp look of triumph.

He avoided Aegon as well, deliberately blinding himself to the obvious disappointment the other so readily exposed to the outer-world. It was as though Aegon had never quite learned the rules of the game. Either that or he deliberately bent them. Jon told himself it did not matter; the game forgave no transgression.

Once within his chamber, he found Ghost perched upon the wide bed, hand dangling over the edge. The direwolf did not acknowledge his entrance, apparently more caught up in his own dreams. Jon moved around the bed, making for the trunk at its foot. Without further ado, he lifted the lid and pulled out his most prised possession.

The scales gleamed with untapped potential. All he needed was to hatch them. A faint chuckle dusted itself across his lips. Summerhall had burnt down for the ambitions of former dragonriders. It could simply be that he was dealing with a futile quest. Although the thought of a dragon lent him a fraction more confidence. He should dearly enjoy the slow death of a few rumours.

Weighty in his hands, the treasure gave no sign of being aware of its master's turmoil. Ghost, however, had finally lifted his head, training his eyes upon him. Jon reached out, allowing the beat to give him an affectionate nip. "Not too hard now, boy." He'd seen what the teeth of a direwolf could do. The egg was placed back in its original place and Jon carefully handled the latch. "There we go." He stood, forcing himself to move away from the chest and its contents.

Baring some unfortunate incident, he would not have to face either of his older siblings. The younger ones, however, he would not vouch for. With that in mind, Jon saw to the necessary preparations, wondering briefly if he ought to encourage such behaviour in the first place.

True to form, a knock on the door announced the arrival of one disgruntled Elaena. She'd not even waited for him to open the door. A pout stuck firmly to her face, his sister began, just as he'd expected, with a demand. "You have to tell Rhaella that she must not allow Gaemon anywhere near Alys' birds."

His surprise was not much expanded when Rhaella followed, Gaemon in her arms. Jon sighed. "Rhae, Ela, Gaemon. Can we not discuss this on the morrow?"

"Absolutely not. Just tell him," Elaena pointed at their brother, "that he cannot have Alys's birds and we have nothing more to discuss." She crossed her arms over her chest and stamped her foot at his non-reaction. "Jon!"

"Now what exactly is going on here?" He took Gaemon from his sister, allowing the boy to settle comfortably against him. Ghost clambered down from his spot upon the bed and came sniffing about. Gaemon flinched. His wide-eyed stare fixed upon the creature. "He won't hurt you."

Rhaella took hold of Elaena's shoulder when the other seemed inclined to step in. "There, there; give me your hand." Gaemon allowed his wrist to go limp. Jon led it near Ghost. "See? He's just curious about you. Aren't you curious as well?"

Gaemon bit his lower lip. He hesitated before splaying his fingers out. Ghost's nose touched the middle of his palm. A giggle broke through the boy's nervousness. And then he nodded. "Naught to fret over, is there?"

He set Gaemon down upon the rug, encouraging him to play with Ghost, who, having found someone within his own age-range, proceeded to wiggle to and fro excitedly. Seeming to understand whatever it was the wolf tried to convey, Gaemon playfully lunged at him.

"Boys and dogs," Elaena managed after a moment of stunned silence.

"I think our Gaemon will do just fine, Ela. If he can handle that, he can handle anything." Ghost's paw came down upon the child's back, just as Gaemon stood, upsetting the wolf's balance. Ghost growled in protest and Gaemon produced a similar sound.

"Except that the wolf won't try to peck his eyes out." It might just claw them out. The rough and tumble play would sooner or later result in some injury.

"Then he'd best learn to defend himself," Jon silenced the fretting Elaena. "If Gaemon wants to care for the hawk, as long as he is watched, I do not see that there is anything to worry about."

"He could be hurt. Do you not understand?"

"Ela, you could be hurt walking down the stairs. If you wish to keep an eye on him, do so. But if you mean to impede him, step aside." Thankfully for all of them, Gaemon was much too busy with Ghost to pay them mind. "It is a good opportunity for him."

"Aegon suggested it," Rhaella told him with a small smile.

"There you go, Ela. If Aegon said he could have the hawk, we might as well bow to his wisdom." Alys had had an affinity for those creatures; doubtlessly she'd trained them well, irrespective of her slip with the horse. "I trust this discussion is over for now?"

Elaena begrudgingly accepted his verdict while Rhaella nodded her head approvingly. Jon breathed out in relief, grateful for the opportunity to prove some worth even in such small measure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Relief wound itself tightly around Viserys, much like an unwanted embrace. He did not flinch from the uncomfortable warmth settling within his breast at the sight of his brother and the man's beloved. The rightness of it should have soothed his nerves. Instead it served to put him in a position of wary curiosity.

"Took you long enough," his brother commented, putting away his quill with a soft smile. The sort of smile Viserys saw only by and by. "I sent you that latter moon turns past."

"Alas, one depends on fair wind for safe arrivals." Without waiting for an invitation, he took a seat near the bay window where his good-sister rested. Rosy light filtered through the stained glass, the warm, predawn colours adding a cheerful note to the bleak grey of her kirtle. "Good-sister, you look radiant."

"That would be the light," she commented back tartly, holding her hand out for him to grasp. He gave the limb a light, affectionate squeeze. "Although, considering you have given me only the faintest of compliments, I am forced to wonder at the sincerity of your words."

"I am allowed to take such liberties? My lady, I must stress the fact that your husband is here before us." He rose nevertheless and leaned in kissing both her cheeks, for which she rewarded him with a warm smile, carrying memories of childhood and something akin to nostalgia. Turning with a look of faux guilt, he addressed his brother, "'Twas not my doing. You saw she was the instigator."

"I am under no illusion regarding my wife." The smile melted from Lyanna's lips. She assumed a more austere expression before shifting her attention to the folds of her skirts, pleating them and stroking the creases away. "How were your travels?"

"I write to you of that, Your Majesty." He sat back in his chair, wondering if he ought to ask about the obvious gulf between husband and wife. He cocked his head to the side. "Did you not receive any of my missives?"

"None of your missives mentioned the companions you'd bring back."He spared only a moment to the surprise on his good-sister's face. But then Rhaegar had the little birds twittering to him while his poor good-sister was forced to make do with her own capacity of ferreting out secrets. "Might be ypu should like to tell us a word or two about them."

"I hardly think your wife would welcome such talk."

"And you needed two?" the woman managed.

"I needed only one. The other is some manner of priestess. I thought her a worthy curiosity and thus brought her back with me. I can hardly credit all the fuss." He looked down at his lacquered boots.

"A curiosity," his brother repeated.

"Indeed. Spend but a few moments in her presence and you shall understand. Although, I should caution great care. I have yet to meet a fire that did not burn." His good-sister moved with some difficulty from her bay window seat.

Lyanna had never been graceful in her pregnancies as far back as Viserys could remember. A marked difference from his brother's erstwhile wife. That one was the epitome of grace even at the height of a tirade. Nevertheless, as he watched her carry her weight, he could not help but smile. She might not be graceful, but she was arresting. "I do believe I am a proverbial third wheel. If Your Majesty would be kind enough to excuse me."

"Of course, lady wife, just as soon as you have given me the names of your preferred companions." Her moue fell yet again. So there was some manner of argument going on between them. His brother stared expectantly at the woman. When she neglected to offer him anything of value, he waved her back to her seat. "Rest. 'Tis not good for the babe to strain yourself."

"'Tis also not particularly helpful to the babe that I be badgered constantly. If I said it once, I said it a thousand times; I do not need new companions. The ones I had were suitable."

"Why would my good-sister have need of new companions?" Viserys gave up his own seat for Lyanna. Clearly, she desired to defy her husband, and the least form of it would be choosing a different seat than the one he'd indicated. Best to keep the conflict upon a smaller scale.

"How else is she to keep entertained during her confinement?" That again. Little wonder the woman was on edge.

"Might be she need not be confined at all, Your Majesty. After all, my good-sister is the picture of health." But might be the picture was treacherous. Viserys contemplated for but a moment the fear he saw in his brother's eyes. "The brightest minds are available to see to her needs should a situation arise in any event."

Despite his words, his gaze moved surreptitiously to the other in the chamber. The light had waned some and he could see that what had seemed a healthy glow was becoming paler and paler yet, as though she were in some manner of pain. Granted, he did not imagine the additional weight to carry around was pleasant necessarily, but she had had children before and none had seemed to affect her quite in such a manner.

"I am well and need not be kept like a child to my own bedchamber." Rhaegar opened his mouth, to contradict her no doubt, but she carried on without waiting for him to interrupt. "But if it puts your mind at ease, Your Majesty, I am willing to submit. But I am not giving up my companions."

"You will do what I tell you to do."

"Not at all. I find myself much in disagreement with Your Majesty."

"At times I think you forget to whom you speak."

"I am never given the opportunity to, Your Majesty."

His brother's face caught fire. Viserys was fairly certain it would not be long until the pressure got to him. "Are you that bent on dragging the whole ugly business before others?"

"I have nothing at all to hide," she spoke in a firm voice. "Methinks it would have served me better to remain with my brother." She made to stand.

"Sit back down." She hesitated. "Now." His wife obeyed, though her expression indicated she would not give another inch. "I am not done speaking to you."

"Speaking at me is more like it," the woman snapped back.

The volley between spouses made him increasingly nervous. As a general rule, he abhorred confrontations and would have left, yet the notion's appealingness paled ever so slightly at the ire his brother displayed. The man's anger could just as easily be turned upon others. The way Lyanna got under his skin; if only he were able to so easily rankle others.

"You are deliberately being difficult," his brother bit out.

"I would not be so very difficult if you left me be. Why is it never enough with you? No matter what I do, it never goes any way to alleviate a thing." She crossed her arms over her chest. "In any event, Your Majesty, if you think the situation not worth the effort, you've a viable alternative to fall back on. It is certainly not right to expect you to sacrifice yourself in such a manner."

They were not truly discussing confinements or the changing of her retinue. Viserys felt just a tad slow for not having caught on sooner. The fascinating thing was that he was in equal measure mesmerised, just as he was taken aback. Damnation, could he hiss only chance to understand what it was that kept to obviously very stubborn people together yet apart. To his luck they both seemed to have forgotten his presence.

"Leave you be," his brother snorted. "And what should you like to do? Visit Baelor's Sept, might be. You'll be disappointed to find the pillars are sturdy there and you aren't likely to need much rescue from your valiant knight."

She flinched. For the first time, Lyanna looked genuinely hurt. "That is beneath you, Rhaegar. Ser Jaime has no part in this."

"But you, of course, may bring Elia into the discussion without fear of repercussions."

"I have yet to hear any attempts at persuading me I should turn my attention to another, or at the very least," she paused, "how did he put it," she mused before finding the answer, "aye, or at the very least find a respectable match."

"And I told you to discount such discourse if you happen to hear it."

"You act as if you are not permanently tied to her. As though two children are not an unbreakable bond." Her eyes shone with unshed tears. "I chose you in spite of the very real possibility that you can, at any time, change your mind about me."

A dark chuckle came from his brother. "I must have dreamt you telling me you chose the most likely father to a hero. Elia wanted a crown; at least she had the decency to be honest about it."

A hero? It kept getting better and better. Viserys was not at all certain he could guess where the whole thing was going. If anything, he was more certain than ever that the cleverest of creatures could be unbelievably, bafflingly stupid in some regards. As if one could elect to step in the shoes of hero or knave at birth. But then Rhaegar had believed his son to be the prince that was promised. Why should Lyanna Stark not believe herself capable of creating a hero as well?

"Is that so wrong then?" The challenge in her words caused a brief silence to fall between the three of them. Not that Viserys had been contributing to the conversation. He looked from one to the other. "Am I to have planned no further than birthing you children and mending linens?"

"Aye, gods damn you, woman."

How fascinating. Viserys heartily wished there were some way to for him to be in possession of all the knowledge. Lyanna, meantime, stroked her middle with some speed, indication enough that his brother's words did not simply entered through one ear and passed through the other. She was considering his accusation. And even more, seemed mollified.

"I am not responsible for your insistence that I be put on some pedestal. Whatever you may think, Your Majesty, I am a flesh and blood woman. And there is nothing I have to reproach to myself."

"One of these days, lady wife, you will have pushed me too far," Rhaegar warned. Then, as if finally recalling his presence, his brother sighed loudly. "I would beg your pardon, brother, and your understanding in this matter. What you have just heard is not for the ears of anyone else."

"My lips are sealed." It was neither the first marriage he saw disintegrating before his own eyes, and he imagined, it would neither be the last. "Might be my good-sister should like to retire now, brother. This manner of discussion is bound to tire her out."

"You are correct, of course," Rhaegar allowed. "Lady wife, we will discuss this further at a more opportune moment. Pray, give some thought to my request. This is the last time I ask." Her jaw set, Lyanna gave an unwilling nod and stood, hands worrying the Myrish lace adorning her kirtle. "Go now. Just go."

She left, though not without one last long look to her husband. Whatever the meaning behind that was, Viserys could not decipher. Something told him he did not wish to at any rate. Left in the company of his brother, without the shield his good-sister provided, Viserys found himself more or less compelled to put a question forth, "How is it that whenever I witness such arguments, they are between people who should know much better?"

"Do not start with me. This is no concern of yours." In spite of such words, the King of the Seven Kingdoms looked lost.

"But it is. Alas, I know when not to push." He held his hands up, palms facing his brother in a calming manner. Having convinced himself the danger was past when his sibling declined to respond, Viserys tucked out the small gift he'd been sent. The broken halves of the figurine clattered upon the table. "Yet I remain perplexed. Why was I called back?"

"There is an issue I need your aid with." The white dragon was retrieved by its owner and tucked away into a small carved box. "I have received favourable answers from Lord Tyrell and now from Stannis Baratheon as well; if all goes well I do not doubt we will have ensured long-lasting ties." Much needed ties, considering some bridges had been burnt in the past. Viserys nodded understandingly. "I have not, however, received any manner of answer from Jon Arryn."

"Arryn?" he could not help but repeat. "You are not considering a match with the Arryns, are you? You cannot possibly; Jon Arryn is quite possibly the closest man in the kingdoms to Robert Baratheon."

"Jon Arryn is not an unfair man." His brother frowned. "If I did not think it necessary, I would not push for it." There were other strong houses he could parlay with, surely. Viserys shook his head. "You will take Jaime Lannister with you and address my request to Lord Arryn in person."

"And which unfortunate soul is to be sacrificed to the beast?" Had he planned to give Alysanne's hand in marriage? Little wonder the girl had acted out, insisting to go riding on her own. But then, might be he was reading too much into the matter.

"You believe this is an easy choice for me? I have protected my children for as long as it was within my power to do so. Rhaella will doubtlessly enjoy the change of scenery." The worst possible choice. Viserys fought back his first reaction. It was unfortunately a hurdle he knew his poor niece would have to jump.

"Elaena would fare better," he offered. "She shan't be easily cowed."

"Sometimes I do think you underestimate her." Far be it from him to naysay a father who, at the end of the day, ought to know his own children. But Viserys could not quite knock the notion that Rhaella, though dutiful girl and resigned by nature, would suffer needlessly were she to take on such a match. "After you have convinced Arryn, send word. Rhaella will follow shortly. The sooner this matter is concluded, the better."

"Have you spoken to my good-sister about this notion of yours?"

"To what purpose? House Stark has too long been without the necessary connections to be of aid in this." Not to mention the tiny problem of the woman's actions having scandalised quite a few people with her choices.

"You see, this is quite beyond my understanding. Would it not be better to convince Doran Martell to consent to a marriage between his eldest son and Rhaella. It shall naturally not bruise his pride too much as his heir is bound to find a husband of her own whom will doubtlessly sire a few children."

"I have my reasons for not pursuing that path."

"And might these reasons revolve around your first wife?" His brother gave no indication that was the case, but Viserys was not about to give up his line if inquiry. "Are you might be afraid some harm will befall your daughter?"

"Of course not. Rhaella is simply more suited for the match I propose." At that very moment it came to him. Viserys realised his brother had not refused a match with House Martell. He had simply denied Rhaella the possibility of such a match.

"Who would be more suited to a match with House Martell, then?" he pressed, his mind having already found an answer. "It occurs to me Rhaenys took well to her uncle's court. But even more, I hear she and her cousin, Arianne, have become fast friends."

"Small concessions must be made every now and again," his sibling allowed, toying with one of the many quills which found little use beyond decorative purposes during their discussions. "All the better if Rhaenys finds the Dornish court comfortable."

"You do not think her words have some sway over her brother?"

"If they do, Rhaella shall counter then, I've no doubt."

"Best you wed her to Stark's heir then. We should not wish to tear anyone from their own." She stood, moving over to the lancet. Without, the waning light drained beneath the horizon line. "Sometimes I tell myself you are not at all like father, whose one moment of weakness saw to laying the foundations of a very difficult situation indeed. And then you will do something like this. And I am forced to reassess my beliefs."

"The further one is from the throne, the more possibilities one has." Certainly not a lie, but cold comfort nonetheless. "I shan't speak to either Lyanna or Rhaella until we've an answer from Arryn. Can I count on you?"

"And Ser Jaime?" The King regarded the change of subject with a flicker of annoyance. Viserys could not find it in himself to care.

"He will remain with my daughter until she is well-settled, after which I shall send proper replacement." His brother could be so blind when it suited him.

"Send Ser Arthur or Ser Jon. It shall seem a strange thing to be sending Ser Jaime away when court is abuzz with rumour." And admission, even. One which could shake poor Lady Lyanna not only off her pedestal, but off the face of the earth.

"You will have to trust that I know what I am doing. Now, I ask you one more time, can I count on you?"

Something in the man's voice forced a favourable reply to his own lips. "You know very well that you can. Yet I cannot keep from voicing my worry at this, Your Majesty. I beg you would reconsider."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grey Wind wrestled Ghost to the ground, playfully nipping at his throat. Jon chuckled at the display and nudged Robb. "If I did not know any better, I would think the creature takes after its master." His kin deflected the words with a shake of the head and a snort of amusement.

"I think he simply feels stifled. Her Majesty was right in suggesting we leave them North. Winterfell is eminently more suited to offering them space." Not that the Red Keep was particularly small. Jon had wiled his days away in even more crammed abodes. The trouble was, Robb was not entirely wrong. Not only was the lack of space a problem, but the reception suffered as well. Naturally two direwolves were not necessarily endearing to lords and ladies and while the close family had accepted the beasts, Jon had begun to question his own decision.

"They will both adapt, I do not doubt, and Grey Wind shall be ever pleased once he returns to his home." He poured himself some more wine. "Speaking of home, how do you find the keep?" His own duties had kept him more in the company of his brother, although he had gone riding with Robb. The trouble was that being joined by a gaggle of sisters and brothers, he could not quite find the moment to ask for a honest opinion.

"It is a beautiful home. But I warrant 'tis closer to the beauty of winter than you first let on. Somehow, in spite of all the fires burning, I find this place to be cold." For a while he had thought he was the only one feeling such things. A mark of his impiety, doubtlessly a further strain upon the already burdened relationship of his parents, adding to the uncertainty-dominated atmosphere. He was glad 'twas not simple insanity which brought him to such a conclusion. "Although I should not wish you to believe there is aught lacking."

"A contradiction worthy of deep pursuit." He downed a mouthful of his wine, allowing it to wash away some of his anxiety. "We cannot all of us boast such good fortune as you." Robb simply shrugged at that and reached for his own cup. "I saw my aunt was rather taken with you during our ride." That proved to be just the thing to unbalance the other.

Robb gave him a strange little look before shaking his head. "If she has an interest, surely it is not I me. It was she spoke of."

"Trying to pry information from you I do not doubt." His kin hesitated. He gave a slow nod and his expression exhibited just a drop of guilt. "Would your father be against such a match, do you think?"

"With Her Grace?" Obviously, he must have not been clear. Jon gave his companion a meaningful look. "I do not see how you would go about justifying such a union in the first place. Your lady mother is herself a link between our houses."

"A tenuous link at best," Jon corrected. Again Robb had guilt to offer. Jon ignored it. "To my mind, however, Winterfell has protected something very precious to my house. As such it seems only appropriate that a reward be bestowed."

"Your gratitude is reward enough, Jon." Grey Wind ambled towards his owner, having tired of playing with Ghost. Robb scratched behind his ear.

"For you. But I mean to reward House Stark. Since the manner of my mother's elopement brought little but grief, I thought we might see to it that the houses be brought together through more cheerful means. My aunt is not spoken for, and as far as I know neither are you."

"I cannot vouch for my father's plans, but as far as I am aware no negotiations have taken place." A perfect opportunity in other words. "'Tis not that I do not appreciate the thought, but have you considered Her Grace will not accept the match herself if it is put to her?"

"Dany? I doubt it. That girl has been waiting to wed since she understood what that was. In all fairness, I did not bring you here simply so that you may admire the tapestries hanging in the hall. You've seen how matters stand." In spite of Robb not being able to see it, he was fairly certain he had guessed right that there was an attraction between the two.

"With or without such a link between us, I would still come to your aid." Heartening as such words were, Jon could but smile and nod, his dismissal clear. Robb's gaze narrowed. "Whatever grudge my father may hold against His Majesty, you should know by now that I am not my father anymore than you are your own."

"I am not speaking of forcing your hand. But I do want you to consider the issue. I will bring it forth to His Majesty." Daenerys, of course, could well be convinced to go along with the scene if he presented it to her in such a manner as to entice her cooperation. Which he could do if he managed to have a few moments with her. And doubtlessly he would. Daenerys was likely to keep company with Rhaenys or her brother. The first he could push away with a few words and the latter he would simply as for a few moments with his aunt.

"Very well, if you've set your heart on this, then I don't suppose I can change your, although, I do believe you might wish to broach the subject with your lady mother first. She ought to know how to put the issue to His Majesty."

"We shall see." Ghost settled himself at his feet, paws pushing into his leg as the wolf lied on his side, apparently more comfortable with such a position. Jon nudged Ghost with his foot, but instead of a pertinent reaction he got a yawn for his efforts. Satisfied with even that much he returned his attention to his cousin.

Grey Wind carried himself in a much prouder manner, tapping Robb's knee with his paw. Before the poor man could do aught to dissuade his pet from further disruption they were interrupted by slightly less amusing means. As families went, his close kin had long ago decided they could come to him whenever they felt like it. What he had not expected and gave him quite the cause for worry was that he was faced with both of his older siblings.

The latter of the two was dragging the firstborn within with enough force that Rhaenys nearly tripped. And for once Aegon's features lost their customary calm, giving way to worrisome ire. Ignoring, most conveniently, Robb's presence, Aegon stated the cause of his arrival without hesitation. "Rhaenys has something to tell us about Rhae and Ela."

Tugging her wrist free at long last, Rhaenys growled at her brother before turning an apprehensive eye towards him. The apparent hesitation was not helping her case, neither with him, nor with her sibling, as he prodded her gently. "Stop that!" she snapped. "Before I tell you anything, Jon, I should make it clear that I was against it from the very beginning. Alas, I chose to keep quiet because I did not think Rhaella would go over my word. She ought to know better."

"It would serve you better to tell me what it is Rhaella has done and what Elaena has to do with it." He rose, Ghost moving alongside him. "Robb, you may retire."

"On the contrary, cousin. I mean to remain precisely where I am." Jon pushed back the urge to turn on him for the blatant refusal. More pressing matters were at hand.

"Go on then, dearest sister." His urging resulted in a deep blush breaking over her skin.

"You will recall, of course, that a few turns past we visited the orphaned children. With our duties done we decided a walk in the market would be just the thing. I turned for only a moment, I swear, but when I looked back, I saw she was speaking to this unkempt hag who must have not seen an ewer of water in nigh a decade. Of course I pulled her aside and questioned her. It turns out she has known this woods witch for some time. You will not believe how difficult it was to pull even that from her. Seeing myself in such a situation I insisted to go with her when the witch suggested what she called a scrying session. And after returning to the keep, I made her promise she would never return to that woman's abode on her own."

The wall of words hit him hard, but more so the distinct worry crawled its way within him, curling into the pit of his stomach, a hot stone burning his insides. "I assume correctly that side-stepped the stipulation of her promise? But did Elaena not know of this interdiction?"

"Elaena did not seem interested in any of it. I did not think to say a thing to her beyond congratulating her on the appropriately amused reaction she had to the whole episode." That, at least, made sense.

"Father is still in the great hall. If we hurry, we may solve this matter before it gets out of hand." The trouble was, it was already very much out of hand. Jon sighed and nodded his head tiredly. "Might be our cousin would agree to return to the great hall and make it known to Her Majesty that she is to keep him there longer."

"I would rather come with you to retrieve Their Graces. My aunt would doubtlessly be put out by such knowledge." Aegon looked like he wanted to protest, but Jon cut him off.

"I suggest we make for the stables. The less time we waste, the better. If you would accompany Her Grace to the stables, Robb. Aegon, I wish a word with you." Robb likely understood it was more of an order than a request. He complied with nary a sound, though Rhaenys gave him a bitter look. Once alone, he asked, "How did you come about such knowledge?"

"I simply happened by it. To be entirely honest, one of the servant girl came running into the hallway, all in a panic, crying about sorcery and witchcraft. She found a mandrake bathed in milk beneath Rhaella's bed and claimed the thing had eaten the girl. The commotion attracted Rhaenys and the rest you know."

"The servant girl?" Disconcerting as her finding must have been, Jon would see her safely contained. At the very least until he could find some way to deal with her. Of course he could deny all knowledge of her accusations, even go as far as having his sisters deny it too. Surely father would not throw them to the wolves, as it were. But he could be pressured into giving some of them up if he thought it might solve matters. After all, it was better to save at least a few than none.

"I've given orders that she keep quiet. Rhaenys took her to her chamber and left her in the care of Theia. For the moment, we are safe." Theia. A good choice. That one had no compunction about following orders; furthermore, she enjoyed her position of power and was not like to allow the servant girl even the slightest change of escape.

As safe as they could be in any event. Jon stroked the back of his neck, uneasy. "How could I have missed it?" Rhaella of all people? The quiet sister, kind and entirely too easy to forget. He should have seen it coming, of course. Quietness did not mean a lack of thoughts. Jon grew more and more annoyed at himself. Aegon was not supposed to know more than him about his own sisters. Rhaenys neither.

"We all missed it. The important thing is to solve this now." The ever perfect Aegon, forever ready to aid.

"A mandrake bathed in milk. Do you know anything about that?" They began walking to the door. Ghost attempted to follow, but Jon sent him back.

Aegon shook his head. "The servant girl said it was also wrapped in cloth, much like a child would be. I cannot think of a purpose such a thing might serve. But it seems to me we shall need to have a care with this. Relations are already strained with the Citadel."

"I will take care of it." Rhaella would hear something of his mind as soon as he got his hands on her. Might be something of a good tug on her braids as well. It should work to help her understand her mistakes. Elaena he would have to think about. The simple truth was, Ela was nowhere near stupid enough to not envision their taking off would cause some trouble should they be found out. The servant girl, of course, would have to be questioned about the state of the chamber. That might work to clarify some of the matter.

"Jon," Aegon called placing a hand upon his shoulder. "We will take care of it." Aye, so they would. That did not mean he had to like it one bit. Being indebted to his brother was worse than any punishment he could conceive of, and having spent some time picking his own brain as to what could be the worst possible such penalties, he would have some idea.

Having no way by which to make known his thoughts upon the matter he chose to keep his counsel instead. There would come a day when he might tell Aegon just were they stood in truth. Until then, it would serve him best, Jon reckoned, to go along easily. He locked Grey Wind and Ghost within the chamber, closing his ears off to whines and barks.

The stable hands yet awake regarded then with a decent amount of worry. Jon imagined that if he were a servant, he too would find fault with such decisions as late night rides. It occurred to him that Rhaella and Elaena had not, then, made use of horses. Two girls, walking along in King's Landing to the gods knew which part of the town. He almost suggested they go to father and have him sort the matter out. Alas, if father knew than mother would as well. There would be cause for quarrel between them yet again. And he would once more be the seed of discord.

Jon walked to his sister's horse. The beast, having woken at some point, kicked at the ground angrily. "Bring my saddle," he requested of the closest stable hand. The boy's face paled, his freckles standing out even in the low firelight.

"Begging pardon, Y'er Grace, but we have strict orders. Thoas is to remain here."

"Jon, now is not the time to worry about that bloody beast," Aegon attempted to pull him away.

"I ride Thoas, brother," he replied in a determined manner, jumping the wooden wall into the stall. "With or without a saddle." He stroked the beast's neck, feeling the muscles tense and relax under his ministrations.

"Father was clear about the horse." For all intents and purposes, Aegon seemed poised to remind him about the orders. Not because he would derive some sort of pleasure from thwarting him, but simply because faultless Aegon could not envision breaking the rules anymore than Jon himself could envision closing himself off to all signs of danger and blindly carrying on.

"Father is not here." He unlatched the door of the stall blindly, whistling gently. The steed followed him obediently. "And I will not see the poor creature tortured any longer." He moved away, leaving Thoas to his own devices while he retrieved his saddle and bridle from the stall of his own horse, a horse that apparently was much too lazy to be bothered with his master's approach.

Given he knew his way around horses better than he did around his father's court, he was not surprised that Thoas gave him no trouble. A benefit of the education his mother bestowed upon him. Meantime, the others had their own horses prepared. Jon mounted, allowing Thoas to familiarise himself with the new rider. An ornery beast by nature, the horse did not seem to appreciate the added weight. Indeed, Alys would have been somewhat more comfortable a burden.

Thoas reared back, hind legs bending slightly. Jon braced for the lift, holding tightly onto the reins. "East, boy. Easy." But Thoas was not giving in. Jon squeezed gently. "Down." Thoas's hooves touched the ground, but instead of calming, he sprang forth and nearly sped into the stable doors. Fortunately, he was saved from a few broken bones by a smart stable hand managing to open the doors at the last moment.

In the yard, Jon had a better time of subduing the horse. Thoas kicked and jumped, but he was the better of the two and won the skirmish even if with some effort. His success was met with exasperation from his elder brother. "You madman! You might have died," Aegon yelled over the distance between them. Mounted on his horse, he stood before the stable doors.

"A comet may land at any moment and plunge us into a hell of fire as well," he answered. Thoas neighed and pounded against the ground, making his impatience known. Or might be his incredulity at the idea of a comet smacking into them. The horse might be surprised to know that it was not outside the realm of possibility. "If we could be on our way, Your Grace," he continued, tugging on the reins to calm the beast.

Aegon dug his heels in the flanks of his horse, spurring the beast on. Smaller and somewhat slimmer than Thoas, his brother's steed pranced towards them. Rhaenys and Robb followed, the first bearing her annoyance with no elegance to speak of, the second more at ease but by no means relaxed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"Your Majesty seems in fine fettle," remarked the ever jovial source of comfort which was her good-brother. Lyanna gave him a small half-smile, albeit her attention did not stray from her husband. For the past hour he had been deeply caught in his conversation with the ever so lacking in charm Jon Connington. That she had been thrown over for the company of the man hurt in part because of the closeness of that relationship and in part because she was not quite as blind as she might have wished to be. "But I wonder at your reluctance to accept my invitation."

"My dear Viserys," she answered, looking away from her husband for a brief moment; that much she could afford, "I did not mean to slight you in the least. But though you might find some indulgence for me within your heart, I am not so certain others shall." She patted the obvious bulge protruding from beneath her skirts. Even a higher waistline failed to help. Having been ever the beneficiary of fertility, what had once been youthful svelteness expanded, even more so with a babe in womb. Once upon a time Rhaegar would have jokingly teased her about waddling about as a duckling might. She could not accept further disapproval from him. "Best I stay put."

"Nonsense," her good-brother protested. She eyed him with undisguised suspicion. As a child he'd been an overly perceptive boy, ready to use even the hint of a good mood in his favour. "But if Your Majesty feels too burdened at the moment, then I beg to be allowed to sit down as well. At least until matters calm some."

A decent sister would have encouraged her brother to go and have his fill of dancing with the pretty girls swarming about. Lyanna did not feel decent at all. She felt lonely and alone, missing what should have been close at hand. Viserys gazed at her with unfamiliar eyes in a very familiar face. She could almost convince herself it was her husband sitting down with her, choosing her company, even if for a little while. With one last valiant effort she said, "If you wish so."

The grin her good-brother sported widened. "I was actually interested in having a conversation with you, dearest good-sister. About my guest. You know the one. She has been most insistent in pressing her case to me and in good conscience I cannot put her off much longer. Not when you look so out of sorts."

She laughed, not entirely certain what her answer should be in this case. He was not speaking of his little amusement, she gathered, but of the tall, imposing figure forever bedecked in red. "I shall grant her an audience if I must, but I do this for you." What could a priestess possibly tell her, do to help her? She reached out for her tea, missing the taste of honeyed wine but knowing she could hardly indulge at the moment.

"It is enough for me that I've your promise. Would you be more amenable to at least a walk in the gardens? We needn't stray far, but this heat, I vow, it makes my head pound." He was trying so very hard to distract her. Her poor good-brother should not be disappointed. Biting into her lower lip, she struggled between two impulses. On the one hand, she could not watch Rhaegar from the gardens, on the other not seeing Rhaegar might help calm her raw nerves.

"Very well, just a quick walk to the small garden and back." She rose from her seat with some difficulty, brushing the creases away from her skirts. To no avail, having folded and refolded the pleats, she had done the material a good turn. Strange that, how she had hardly even noticed crumpling the Myrish lace. The gardens her good-brother spoke of were not precisely that. It was simply that without the great hall there was a large terrace covered in plants of all sorts, an improvement over cold stone, but nowhere near the grandness of a true garden. Nevertheless, it found favour with those who wished for fresh air, or a moment of solitude. Or both.

Viserys offered his arm, impeccable in his own garb. Were it not for the eyes, too light a violet to be Rhaegar's, she could have been forgiven for thinking he was her husband. Alas, one must make do with what one had. She placed her hand upon his arm, enjoying the steadying effect it had on her. The sound of metal scratching against metal mad her turn. Ser Arthur Dayne inclined his head.

"I shan't go far, Arthur. You may remain as you were." The knight simply shook his head with a gentle reminder that h had been given his orders. "Ser Jaime can come with us if anyone must. I cannot believe that the night air would you much good after recovering from a head cold."

"I must insist, Your Majesty." She understood even if he did not elaborate and looked to Jaime only to see him shrug.

"If you must," Lyanna allowed none too happily wondering what bat had got into Rhaegar's belfry. She had thought his accusations of infidelity a slip of the moment, words spoken in anger. "Let us away then before my poor good-brother is laid low by his sore head."

Allowing her to dictate the pace, Viserys patted her hand gently with his own. Truly, she did not know why it was she took such comfort in the small gesture.

The cool night air convinced her she should not spend much time without, not only for Arthur Dayne's benefit, though she did not wish him any ill, for he only followed orders. Her breath misted before her eyes. Lyanna looked up, expecting to see the subdued glow of the moon and instead a gasp left her lips, propagating without her volition in the available space. "What is that?" She pointed to the sky.

"Father's beard," Viserys murmured from her side. "'Tis one of those blasted comets. No doubt the masters in Oldtwon are busily charting the thing's direction." He seemed none too pleased with that. It was not precisely that Lyanna had never seen a comment before. But this seemed somewhat different. Instead of the usual reddish glow, it shone a cool, even icy colour. "We shall be hearing all about it before long."

"Sometimes I wish I were more proficient in reading the skies." Some put great stock in the starts and even claimed they could predict one's destiny upon their basis. She simply enjoyed the way they looked.

"A Myrish glass should is all you need."

"Would that such were true." She eyed the rapidly moving object and blinked when the blue flared, slowly bleeding into warmer tones. "I wonder why it did that."

"Some mysteries are bound to remain unsolved." She could not disagree with that logic. And she would not try to, though he nature inclined towards a different answer. Instead she produced a thoughtful sound, glancing over her shoulder to Ser Arthur. The cold was creeping beneath the wool of her kirtle and she imagined it would not be along afore she set to shivering herself.

"It might be good then to return. I have no use for new mysteries." Viserys gave a low chuckle and pushed her gently towards the knight.

"Ser Arthur, I should like to explore the mystery for a few moments longer. If you would be so kind as to take Her Majesty back." Seeing as there was no way the man could refuse, Lyanna found herself on his arm as they made their way back through the small corridors towards the main hall. A frown contorted her features when she finally glanced up into his face.

"Ser, have you even harmed someone?" The knight paused, sporting a forbidding look for a brief moment before it melted into concern.

"It is within the nature of my position that I will harm others from time to time, though I try to tell myself I do not do so without cause." A balanced response, just as she had expected. But he had misunderstood her.

"Nay, I mean, have you ever harmed someone you cared about?" She paused to draw breath and her courage. "Even without necessarily meaning to?" He gave a hesitant nod. "Can one make amends? Would one be forgiven? Would you forgive someone who harmed you?"

"That would very much depend on what harm has been done to me," he answered, tugging on her arm to set her walking once more. "Every person has their own limit, Your Majesty." He was distinctly uncomfortable. Lyanna winced inwardly. Out of all the men she could have approached with this notion. But what was she to do when Rhaegar insisted she be kept away from a man who might answer her directly.

She dared not pose further question for fear of brining suspicion upon herself. Alas, upon her return she found Rhaegar has returned to the foot of the throne. He was not, as far as she could tell, preparing to ascend, thus she gingerly picked her skirts up so she might hurry her pace. He looked as though he were waiting, and she hoped he waited for her. Whatever the case, her superior wisdom kept her from questioning anything.

In the low glow of sconces she could make out a slight flush to his skin, indicating that he had indulged as she had not. Having had years to familiarize herself with the man's behaviour, she breathed out a sigh of relief. Drink made him mellower, as could be ascertained by the almost friendly look he gave her when she and the knight approached. Rhaegar dismissed Arthur and addressed her in a low voice. "I am ready to retire, lady wife."

"I as well, Your Majesty," she replied breathlessly, anticipation stealing away any crumb of control she managed to gather. Silently, she prayed he might make some comment which would indicate he desired her company. Whether it was the wine or his own mind which brought the notion, he did not disappoint.

"Come along then." H offered her his arm and she clutched it with might be too much strength. "Tired are you, lady wife?"

"I feel a bit lightheaded," she murmured. Lyanna hoped he would assume it was fatigue rather than unrelenting joy. Her fingers trembled slightly and she fought to keep her eyes from them. If she paid them no mind, he wouldn't either. She heard the knights behind them and knew she should not cling to her poor husband as an octopus might, but she could not quite help herself. His mood, sweetened by whatever he had consumed, coupled with her own need for affection and the tragic lack of it affected her. He drew her securely into his side, a knowing smile upon his lips. Nevertheless he did not dispute her claim.

He led her through the hallways and kept a most impressive command of himself as he did so. For someone who had obviously imbibed, he was certainly doing a very good job of it. "Do you know, I find myself wondering just how unwise one can be in certain situations," he told her. They were nearing his chambers and he had yet to send her on her way which more or less made his intentions clear. "I also wonder whether I would forgive myself a lack of wisdom."

"If you do not forgive yourself no one else shall," she put it to him as gently as she could. Her answer must not have been what he was looking for as he sobered for a brief moment, regarding her with the usual disregard he had cultivated later in their acquaintance. As quick as the change had been it melted into an inscrutable expression.

"Your making so much sense somewhat scares me." He said not a word to the knights as he guided her into his chamber. Lyanna stepped over the threshold, annoyed when her train caused her to fumble. She glowered at the piece of flimsy cloth and tugged on it.

The thin line of Myrish lace ripped with a satisfying shredding sound. Pleased that she had exacted her revenge, Lyanna turned around to glance at her husband, noting that the troubles of the day were weighing down on him. "Your Majesty," she prodded, hoping to distract him from whatever it was that bothered him, "it has been some time since we were alone like this."

"So it has." He moved around her, tugging on his upper garment. "You seemed out of sorts." And he had decided the best way to lift her spirits was to give her his undivided attention. If he was frightened by her wisdom, she trembled in her boots at the notion of him being so capable of reading her wishes. Nevertheless, she approached and helped him tackle the tunic, more for familiarity than anything else.

"Very perceptive," she noted in a mellow manner. "I suppose I should have known better than to expose myself to the revelry. But I thought it might serve me better than to sit in my chambers."

He took hold of her shoulder and turned her around. Having opted for Southron fashion for the effect of it, Lyanna heartily regretted it once she realised he would have to go through at least three layers of cloth. But how could she have foreseen the change in their situation. The outer layer fell to the ground and she kicked it away, wondering if she could repair those tears in the lace or if she ought to give it away. The thin cyrtle beneath was dispatched of too, leaving her in only her thin chemise.

Unwilling to give more than that for the moment, Lyanna edged away from him and made her way beneath the covers. She heard him chuckle and settled against the mound of pillows, closing her eyes, waiting for him to join her. The subtle scent of spices wafted through the air. She felt his weight settle next to her, the dip of the mattress as he lied down. Heat radiated off of him and she turned instinctively in his embrace, wondering for how long her luck would last.

"Wherever have you gone now?" he questioned gently.

"I am here." Lyanna opened her eyes. His familiar gaze settled over her and she pressed further against him. A yawn caught in her throat. His fingers splayed against her back, just under her shoulder. Using a good portion of her courage, she leaned in to press a soft kiss to his lips, a reminder, a promise of sorts even.

He returned the gesture. It reminded her of better days. She just wanted to sleep there, tucked against his side, safe and sound, well-protected. A woman and a man in their proper state of being. She could not recall having felt better in a long, long time. But then happy as she was, she was also unrepentantly greedy. Her arms locked around his neck, locking her lips to his in a somewhat aggressive manner. Words were superfluous.

Rhaegar responded in kind but managed to shift their positions, supporting her weight. She began protesting, some of her sense returning. But he simply grinned up at her, hands holding her firmly by the hips. "You damn me with faint praise, lady wife. I assure you the burden is of no consequence." Not wishing to seem as though she were giving in too easily, she put up a second, less energetic protest. Then promptly accepted his decision.

A throat clearing broke the bubble of her excitement, hitting against her with enough power that she flinched, looking up to see one of Rhaegar's squires. Her annoyance must have shown, for the youth had the good grace to blush to the tips of his ears. "Begging your pardon, Your Majesties. His Grace, Prince Viserys, insists that you are needed."

She was about to send him on his way, with a blistering ear if need be. Viserys could handle any situation he might encounter on his own. Before she could go forth with her plan, however, Rhaegar pulled her off him, gently placing her to the side. "What does my brother want?" He rose from the bed, and Lyanna clutched the covers to her chest, wondering why the gods were ruining her plans. Nonetheless, she cocooned herself in the covers and followed her husband's example, putting away her resentment for the moment.

"It appears we are missing several individuals, Your Majesty." She stiffened without meaning to. Missing some individuals could mean a lot of things. "The Crown Prince, Princess Rhaenys, Princess Rhaella and Princes Elaena are not in their chambers. Additionally, Lord Stark's son is missing as well. We found the beasts locked in His Grace Prince Jon's chamber."

"What?" Her reaction grated against her own nerves. Lyanna winced and hugged herself. "What are you saying?"

"Another thing, Your Grace, one of the stable hands insists that the beast you ordered confined to his stall was taken by Prince Jon."

Her husband's reaction remained stoic throughout the whole ordeal. But Lyanna was not at all deceived by his silence. He was hard at work, possibly thinking of what to do. The squire opened his mouth and she gave a low moan of distress, her knees going weak. She sat down upon the edge of the bed, covering her face with her hands. If only she could block the sounds as well.

"Where have they gone?" Finally he spoke. To Lyanna it sounded like a death kneel. She simply wondered whether it was her death or her son's. She wilted even further. Somehow, though, she managed to keep her fear at bay long enough to take a deep breath.

"According to Princess Rhaenys' ladies to a woods witch." Lyanna jumped as she heard the sound of ceramic breaking against the floor.

"Leave us," Rhaegar spoke softly. "We shall be with my brother in a moment." The squire made no further comment and took his leave. Lyanna waited for the other shoe to fall.

In the end, he turned his attention upon her and she fought the urge to shrink. At least he was decent. It would have been so much worse to witness unbridled ire. "That horse. That damned thing," she managed through her closing throat.

"The horse is the last of his problems," Rhaegar replied evenly. He pulled her to her feet. "I cannot let this stand. And I will not allow you to evade your responsibility either." He was being remarkably calm.

"What are you going to do?"

"We," he corrected. "We will find out precisely why they thought they could go against the rules."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aegon would have cautioned his brother against further displays of skill, but his attention snapped to the bright star in the sky. The reddish glow, somewhat tampered by the glow of its brethren strewn all around it, flared gently. He did not like one bit the look of it. Instead of ruminating on the dangers of comets, he turned his attention back to Jon, pushing Alys' horse harder and harder still. His own beast was breathing hard, muscles bunching. They would not last much longer if they kept such a pace.

Gazing at Rhaenys, he ventured a question. "How close are we?" She narrowed her eyes, presumably against the cutting wind and pursed her lips ever so slightly. Having already given to Jon all the coordinates she could think of, she likely did not enjoy being pestered for any further knowledge.

"Close enough," she answered. Aegon could not say what compelled her, except that her mien softened and she gave a light shake of her head. "He's going much too fast."

He found he could do little but shrug. Anger tumbled off of his brother and only a fool would attempt to slow him down. And Aegon had serious doubts Thoas would stop without Jon wanting the beast to. "Not as fast as he would wish."

Digging his heels in his horse's flanks, Aegon struggled to keep pace with Jon. Reaching his brother proved to be much bother for too little reward. "Jon, are you trying to break your neck?" he questioned, over the wind howling in his ears. "More importantly, are you trying to break ours?"

His brother glowered, but otherwise ignored the question. As Rhaenys has said though, having entered the ring of trees sometime past, the distance was closing fast between them and the woods witch's hut was melting away. He merely hoped none of them would lose their head from a well applied branch to the face. Thankfully, it seemed to be the case that a small structure, in the fashion of a molehill, split the dark, mostly for the fact a soft, golden glow came from behind a gap in its wall, likely indicating there was no true door to the small hut. He wondered whether the door had been taken down by some poor peasant afraid his cows had been cursed or if it simply was that the witch had never had a door to begin with.

Jon was slowing down. Aegon muttered a curse under his breath at his brother's deftness on a horse and wondered not for the first time whether he should have pressed for a few lessons from the esteemed Lady Lyanna himself. It would certainly help, he though, if he were not forever holding his breath every time Jon recklessly both himself and the steed. Although even Lady Lyanna might look on with some worry. In the end he could but sigh and bring his own mount to a halt. Jon waited for no one. He dismounted with a few graceful moves and tethered Thoas to a thin branch which would likely result in the horse pulling the tree down rather than being kept at bay.

Thoas' nostrils flared and he kicked at the ground, hooves splitting the soft earth. Aegon moved his own horse a safe distance away, noting that there was a distinct lack of stillness. The leaves rustled, a cool offering aid, the horses neighed and most of all fire crackled. Naturally, a woods witch would not meet much difficulty obtaining wood, but the sound was so loud he had to wonder at its source. Annoyed when his thoughts strayed to impossibly unlikely reasons, he turned towards Rhaenys, meaning to aid her down. Alas, his sister had found aid from Robb Stark.

Far be it from Aegon to resent Jon camaraderie with his kin, but did the man have to trail after them as though he were part of their inner circle. Without doubt Jon would have protested were he to suggest they bring Quentyn along. Sudden movement commanded his attention. Aegon was looking in his sister's face. Rhaenys grimaced softly.

No sooner had he regained his concentration that quiet shuffling indicated their presence had been noted. Turning on his heel, Aegon pinned the figure emerging from the dimly lit hovel with a hard stare. White-faced Elaena met their arrival with wide eyes and shortness of breath. In fact, he thought it a slightly exaggerated reaction.

"Jon!" the girl cried out, lunging for her brother. "What are you doing here?" What a strange reaction, to single out only him. Jon must have thought the same, for he caught her mid-distance and lifted her off the ground. Her feet kicked helplessly.

"What am I doing here?" Might be fear was not an exaggerated reaction. Jon gave the girl a good shake. "Mother's mercy, you must have gone daft." If she hadn't she was sure to in the near future. "Where is the other one?" Elaena, however, clamped her lips shut and shook her head. Instead of asking her once again, Jon simply passed her to Rhaenys who had ventured closer.

He strode forth. Aegon followed, not entirely certain he could leave him be. Beside, Elaena had looked truly frightened and it made little sense that her sister had not come out with her. The interior of the small abode was just what he had expected, save for the body lying in the middle of it, with the hunched form of his sister hovering over it.

The filth surrounding him made his skin crawl. As a general rule, he could not abide such chaos and the added insult of disgusting odour was not helping matters. "What is going on here?" he finally found his voice.

Rhaella jumped, guiltily gazing up at them. Biting hard into her lower lip, she stood gently, as though any sudden movement might frighten the corpse at her feet. "We have to go." In spite of her appearance, her voice was steady.

"That is not an answer," Jon railed. Nevertheless, he knelt by the body, placing his hand upon the woman's forehead.

A gasp from behind preceded Aegon's realisation that Rhaenys had entered as well. "Is she dead?"

"We have to go," Rhaella insisted further, stepping around Jon. "Now. As quick as we can." She sounded desperate enough, for whatever reason. However, Aegon could not foresee any leniency in the near future. Jon shifted, attracting his attention.

"She is," Jon confirmed, standing. "And we are not leaving until I know what your purpose was in coming here." He turned upon Rhaella who shrank from him. "What happened?"

Their sister hugged herself. Poor protection as that was it seemed enough for her to proceed, "She was scrying. Whatever she saw did this to her." She nodded towards the corpse.

"Scrying?" That came from their Stark kin. He sounded scandalised rather than curious. And even someone as accepting as Aegon himself found it difficult to accept such an answer.

"She was old," Rhaenys cut in, "'tis not such a surprising thing that she would fall so suddenly." Her voice was shaking. "We had best cover her with something and send men here come morning. Better to put some distance between us sooner rather than later."

"Jon has the right of it. We cannot leave until we know precisely why you came here, Rhae." Woods witches could be useful in a variety of situations, none of which gave Aegon much confidence. At the same time, being that it was Rhaella he was speaking to, he found himself standing before her incredulous of the whole matter at hand.

Before he could say anything further though a shriek came from without. Aegon turned instinctively, searching for Elaena. All that managed to do was upset his balance and he found himself falling. A strange occurrence, made even stranger by a wave of unbearable heat and further noise. And only then did he realise that the ground was shaking. It was impossible that all of them had fallen.

Scrambling off the ground, half afraid that whatever had caused the disruption would see even more damage visited upon them, he grabbed at Rhaenys' arm and pulled her after him, feeling her stumble in his wake. A deafening sound followed, like nothing he had ever heard before. It seemed the heavens had decided to rain flint and stone down upon them, strong light blinding him. In that moment of incomprehensible confusion, he clung to his sister, doing his best to find solid ground and protection.

Aegon opened his eyes slowly. He noted the strange bent of a tree and the fact that but one horse remained out of four. Thoas sat before Elaena, as though resting after a hard day's work. The girl had her fingers curled in his mane. A short distance away from her, Robb Stark dusted himself off, bewilderment playing upon his features.

Muscles corded at another sharp sound. This was rather than surrounding him, like a pack of hungry wolves, struck from behind. Unlike the din from before, booming and all-encompassing, the blast rattling his brains inside his head put him in the mind of a smack. Forcing himself to his feet, Aegon turned to look at the hovel. The blood froze in his veins.

"Jon! Rhae!" He headed for the wreckage, his side exploding with pain. Aegon ignored the ache and pushed on. He could almost make out the form of his sister, more by the discrepancy in height from one collapsed side to the other. "Rhaella!" he tried getting an answer.

Rhaenys, fleeter of foot for once, jogged to the mound of earth and bits of rock. Thankfully no great boulder had landed upon the heap. His sister frantically removed handfuls of dirt, throwing back small rocks. A hand broke through the layer of grime. Aegon took hold of it and tugged until he managed to free Rhaella. Filth-streaked faced and shaken, Rhaella managed a few words of gratitude as she was given into Rhaenys' care.

Jon was there as well. Alas, unlike Rhaella, he could not quite manage to move. Unable to make out just what was wrong with him, Aegon took hold of his shoulder. Another set of hands grabbed at the other shoulder. Robb Stark stood shoulder to shoulder with Aegon, waiting patiently for a sign. "The horses?"

"Her Grace said she would look for them." Not understanding to which of his sisters the man referred, Aegon simply gave a nod. A groan came from Jon, reminding him that there was little time for senseless prattling.

Together with the Northerner heir, he managed to dislodge Jon from the debris. His brother showed no gratitude, but instead gave a long-suffering moan. However, he did open his eyes, which gave Aegon reason to hope whatever wounds he had sustained, they had not been particularly grievous. While his brother pulled himself together with the aid of his kin, Aegon turned to survey his sisters. Rhaenys was tugging on the reins of a horse, muttering inaudibly. Rhaella sat in the grass next to Elaena who was still clutching Thoas, seemingly lost in thought. Godsamercy, what had that been?

It seemed not only his brains had been scrambled, but his horse had taken off. Aegon gave a low whisper, hoping to attract the beast's attention. What he did attract, however, was a very distinctively-garbed number of knights. A low groan stuck in the back of his throat. Of course someone had told father. He kept a steady gaze upon the approaching figures.

"This gives a whole new meaning to bringing the house down," Oswell Whent noted drily, appearing for all intent and purpose as though he went through similar experiences every single day. Aegon blinked uncertainly, the absolute normality of his reaction stark in the abnormal situation. "Your Graces have been very busy, I see."

Jonothor Darry, meantime, had lifted Elaena in his arms, speaking in a low voice to Rhaella who was still sitting in the grass. Rhaella looked from the knight to the horse and then back to the man. Aegon rubbed his side absently, hissing at the slight ache. Nowhere near enough to indicate a break but sufficiently disruptive to be annoying. Grumbling under his breath, glanced at the destruction they would soon leave in their wake. Should he indicate that a body remained buried beneath the rubble? The witch was already dead.

Jaime Lannister was the last to arrive. He eyed their surroundings, vaguely irritated. Whether that was because of the circumstances, or because of the fact he had been dragged from what must have been a warm bed, Aegon could not tell. He did not necessarily need to know either. The knight stopped before him, a question upon his lips. "How is it that no matter your age, you children still manage to find trouble?"

"Trouble finds us." He winced at the slight crack in his voice. "This one we did not court, I swear." Ser Jaime gave him a blank look, indicating he did not much care for an explanation. Just like him to so easily dismiss another's words. "How did His Majesty take it?"

"Now you are interested in the consequences?" The man shook his head. "A little too late for that. His Majesty will doubtlessly have a few words to say to you all." Aegon clenched his teeth together, in part to keep from voicing his frustration. "If Your Grace will excuse me, I must make certain everyone is in some satisfactory degree of health."

A snort escaped him and he shambled towards Rhaenys. His sister rubbed the back of her neck, looking as tired and put upon as he felt. "How is this for an eventful evening?" he questioned with a listless chuckle.

"Now is truly not the time for humour, Aegon. We could have died." She had managed to get some dust off her skirts but she still looked worse for wear. But at least she was alive. And he was alive. And everyone that mattered was alive.

"And unlike the old hag, we would have likely felt the terror of it too," he continued in the same vein. Come, come; this is nothing to father's ire and you know it." He pushed down the thought of his sire's rage. No use in thinking of what had yet to come.

"You never let up, do you?" Despite the words, her mood was somewhat lighter. "We should at least prepare some manner of coherent excuse for father to hear," she ventured. Her horse neighed softly as though in agreement.

"Much too late for that." He would not believe them. Might be more importantly even if he did believe they'd had noble intentions, Aegon was supremely aware of the fact he was returning his sisters bruised and battered, looking as though they'd crawled through muck. "It's a miracle we still have all out limbs. But in all fairness, how that will help when we are locked away never to see sunlight again I do not know."

"You never know. Father might prove more understanding than you think. After all, the girls were missing and we acted with the best of intentions." She looked at the crushed hut. "Even if the outcome was less than brilliant. Besides, we did not do anything wrong. Unless you believe whatever the witch had been doing caused all of this and our sisters helped."

"You do not think it is possible?" That anyone could have such command over nature's forces should not be possible in the least. And yet, to have such a timing, what else could it have been? Aegon blinked slowly. His side was not the only thing that pained him.

Rhaenys took a few moments to contemplate her answer. In the end, upon a sigh, her voice barely a thread, she said, "I wish I knew."

Having finished his inspection of horseflesh and non-horseflesh, Jaime Lannister hauled Rhaella to her feet, announcing that lingering would do them no good. Aegon thought for a moment to protest. But Ser Jaime was unshaken by recent events and he did not feel at all the thing. Besides Jon was closer and he had little reaction other than a glower. Rhaella did not seem particularly distressed either at the rough handling. Likely as not she took it for punishment. His poor misguided sister; she had no idea what a true sanction entailed.

"Should we not mention the body?" Rhaenys asked gently.

"Bless me, but I think we ought to wait. She's just a woods witch." A witch who had brought some sort of curse upon them and nearly had them crushed by a tree. Aegon was not feeling particularly charitable. Might be on the morrow, with some sleep. If he was not confined to his camber for all eternity that was.

"I have a bad feeling about this." As predictions went, he could live with it. It was just vague enough that he might find some manner to weasel his way out of trouble should he be able to convince father the situation was just one big misunderstanding. "Would that this unpleasantness were over."

Oswell Whent approached, whistling. He had somehow managed to find Aegon's horse too. "If 'tis conclusion you're wanting, Your Grace," he addressed Rhaenys with a slight mocking bow, "if might help to beg some mercy."

"From father?" his sister asked, perplexed.

Whent chuckled. "From the Mother, lass. His Majesty is not like to have a drop of it and he was in a fine temper when we were sent off."

"Leave off, you old bat," Darry interrupted. "'Tis not like to be worse than a healthy walloping, Your Grace."

"I beg your pardon?" Poor Rhaenys, she failed to realise Whent and Darry were finding considerable amusement at their expense.

"A few strokes of the cane, might be," Whent continued, his expression giving nothing away. "A sure method."

"Not quite as sure as you might think," Aegon cut their jest off. "Seems to have no effect on some."

When shrugged unapologetically while Darry raised an eyebrow. Good heavens, they would be very fortunate indeed if a few canes were all they got for their stellar effort that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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His mood, as his wife would put it, had not improved very much since finding out that his children were happy to get up to all sorts of mischief, without any consideration for decency or even their safety. At the moment he teetered between ordering them all horsewhipped and begging the gods for their safe return.  

It was Lyanna’s hand on his arm that kept him from leaping out of his seat as soon as the troublemakers were brought before him, or carried in the case of one. It appeared their small adventure would not be forgotten anytime soon. Slow-unfolding terror seized him as he managed to get a better and more comprehensive look at his children. Mud-caked, dust-covered and bruised; the picture they presented sent all the blood to his head in a painful rush of anger. Small fingers squeezed his wrist, nails digging into his skin. “You will splinter the wood,” his wife whispered urgently into his ear. Only then did he realise he had indeed been gripping the finely carved wood with such force. Rhaegar unclenched his fingers from around it and settled for glaring at the bedraggled and dishevelled group before him.

“Leave us,” he said to the three Kingsguards who were hanging back, awaiting their orders. For a brief moment it looked as though Rhaenys wished to speak. The full heat of his glare turned upon her, daring the girl to make a sound. Not a peep came forth. And the men left. Struggling to remain seated when all he wanted to do was take a came to each of the five before him, he concentrated on breathing for a few moments. The silence as broken by Lyanna’s shifting, her chair giving a low creak.

And so the tension burst with Elaena flying into a storm of tears and Aegon turning to comfort the girl. “There, there, you poor thing. Are you in pain? Let me see.” Rhaegar, not quite as green, recognised that the girl was frightened rather than hurt. Had she been wounded, she would have been sitting before a maester as she had her ears blistered.

“Quit your snivelling, girl,” he spoke, he cut her short. Something in Elaena responded to the sharp command, for she wiped away her tears, smearing the grime upon her cheeks. “Aegon, leave her be.”

“That is what got us in trouble in the first place,” Jon spoke. Rhaegar grinded his teeth together, trying to keep a lid on his temper. It appeared they did not quite comprehend the trouble they were in.

“How can you say that?” Aegon protested over Rhaella’s head, glaring daggers at his brother. “You’re always yammering on about how they are your sisters and none of my concern. Yet suddenly they have magically become my responsibility.”

“This is precisely why I am saying it, you dolt. I leave for a few turns and look what happens,” he gestured to the girls with an angry move. Rhaella flinched, guilt skittering across her features. “How can I be expected to trust you when you don’t even know what goes on a few chambers down from your own?”

“Not like you knew any better. Must be very difficult seeing past your own pettiness,” Aegon taunted. Lyanna gasped from her seat and Jon lunged for his. Not even his wife’s grip could stop him from standing then. Rhaenys hid her face in her hands as Rhaella did a fair impression of her mother with Elaena giving a small shriek.

But his sons were already rolling on the ground by then, more than pleased to ease the tension between them with their fists. “What the bloody hell would you know?” the younger snorted, avoiding a hit aimed at his face. He returned the favour, managing to catch Aegon on the chin. And that was when the elder of the two became serious, punching Jon in the gut, sending him rolling over. Well and properly enraged, he grabbed at his brother’s hair, “I am trying to help you. Stop being so stubborn for once in your life.”

“I don’t need your help,” Jon ground out, kicking into his brother’s side. Aegon grunted in reply and clenched an even tighter fist in his sibling’s hair. His other fist crashed into Jon’s face and blood rushed upon its retreat. Frozen in his spot, the heir to the throne stared at the rivulet of blood as though he could not quite understand what had caused it.

Past time they be pulled apart, Rhaegar considered as he walked to the door and tugged it open. Darry and Whent stepped within, surveying the scene. While the first seemed somewhat put out, the latter appeared to be in his element, no doubt on account of his somewhat unique penchant for finding amusement in very nearly all situation. Fortunately, he did know not to voice his sentiment and Rhaegar overlooked the reaction. Each knight grabbed at one of the boys, not even having to fight to tear them from each other’s throats. They were deposited back in their seats. Darry and When shared a look before departing at a slight nod.

“Rhaegar, might be-“ He cut Lyanna off with a firm shake of the head. With a mother’s instinct, she would doubtlessly plead for leniency. And while as a father he might well be inclined to show some understanding, if he did not take a stand at the moment, he would never have the opportunity to do so again.

“A more disgraceful sight I have never seen.” All of his children were looking at him. Rhaenys seemed remorseful, her jaw slack, as though she prepared to ask forgiveness. Elaena reached for the brother closest to her, Aegon, and half-hid into his side, suggesting that he had been right to read fright in her reaction rather than pain. Jon’s gaze hummed with suspicion and vague resentment as he staunched the blood, while Rhaella winced and looked away after a short moment. Aegon’s jaw tightened, but he met his own gaze steadily.

He continued in the same vein as before, struggling to keep from ringing a peal over their heads. “I thought to at least listen to your reasoning for such blatant disobedience. But it is clear I need not have bothered.” No one moved.

Aegon broke, “Father, if you would just-“

Rhaegar held a hand up. “I do not believe I will.  Since you insist upon acting like children, then you will be treated as such. In consequence, you may each take to your own chamber where you may occupy your time with contemplating your actions. Lady wife, I trust you will oversee the carrying out of these instructions.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Lyanna acquiesced. Only when she spoke did he realise she had closed the distance between them and was standing at his side. Rhaegar looked down at her. Somewhat pale, but seemingly determined, she addressed the children in a firm manner. “Let us see you to your chambers. Come along now.”

In orderly manner, they filed without once Lyanna had opened the door for them, waiting in the hallway when she turned to speak to him. “I will return in a few moments, Your Majesty.” He nodded, finding his seat once more. So much for good intentions, he thought to himself, watching his wife close the door.

How could the situation have gotten so out of hand? He’d known, after all, that both his boys were proud, each in their own manner. And he should have foreseen the effects of isolating one from the other. Rhaegar shook his head, reaching for his wine. He downed the entire cup without a moment’s thought.

Before long, Lyanna returned. But she was not alone. Clinging to her was their youngest child, weighing her down with what must have been a demand for comfort. Rhaegar moved to take the boy from her, a silent admonishment upon his lips. “You are not supposed to lift him up.” Gaemon latched onto him, apparently pleased with any comfort he could get. “And you should know better than to ask your mother such a thing in her condition.” Nevertheless, he sat down, resting the boy on his knee. The one child who had done nothing to court his ire. Almost nothing, he corrected a moment later.

“But mother looked as though she needed a hug. And I wanted one as well,” Gaemon explained, furrowing his brow gently.

“Did you now?” Rhaegar questioned. The tension eased ever so slightly at his son’s nod. “Why is that?”

Gaemon shrugged and leaned into him. His mother took up the task of answering, “I am afraid he was awake and saw much of the proceedings regarding the others. Took a bit of a fright at their appearance.” He stroked the boy’s curls as he considered the reply.

“I trust you sent someone to look at Jon,” he managed. Lyanna nodded, eyes falling to Gaemon just as soon. He could not speak to her with the child in attendance. He wondered if she had deliberately brought him along. Be that as it may, he enjoyed the throwback to their first years. Oft had it been that Lyanna joined him in the solar or he her in the nursery where they would just sit together. “Now then, Gaemon, do you believe your mother still in need of a hug?”

The boy’s head shot up. He looked from one parent to the other and Rhaegar could swear there was something almost scheming about it. “Aye.” Allowing the child the liberty to move, Rhaegar watched as she jumped from his knee and ran to his mother, wrapping his arms around her. Gaemon frowned before letting go. “The babe wants a hug as well. Said it is only fair as I got one.” He rocked back and forth on his heels.

“Is that so?” It was quite clear what his son aimed at. Rhaegar stood, approaching his wife gently. Lyanna looked between the two of them without offering either encouragement and protest. He put his arms around Lyanna’s waist loosely. “Like this?”

“Move in a bit closer,” Gaemon instructed. “Like when you hug me.” He did. “Like that!” Their son burrowed his way into the embrace as well. Lyanna giggled at long last, dispelling any worry he might have had.

“The babe is certainly very glad with such attention. And would be gladder still to have some sleep.” Gaemon gave a small protest which Rhaegar assured his son would not work. If it had been Lyanna’s intention to delay discussion even further, she would have intervened.

As it was, Gaemon was pressed into the care of the septa waiting in the hallway, in the company of the knights. The woman took him and nodded her head at whatever instructions Lyanna gave her. His wife, meantime, straightened herself and joined him upon her former seat when all was said and done. “I hope I do not miss my mark when I conclude you have a few things to say to me.”

“I rather thought the words spoke for themselves. In any event, I suppose I should be glad it came about as it did. Better now.” He reached out, tugging her hand from her lap. “This cannot go on.” She accepted as much.

“I will speak to Jon.” Her fingers tightened their hold on his hand. “I will make certain he is not to go over your words ever again.”

“Bother my word.” His temper flared. “Those two fair tore at each other before your eyes and you think I care Jon took that horse?” Mollified his wife tried to draw away. Rhaegar did not allow it. “I thought you would know better than to sow the seed of discord.”

“I never meant for it to happen like that.” Lyanna looked into his eyes. “I would never encourage one brother to turn on the other, surely, you know as much.” Yet despite that the brother had done precisely that. “I do not know what possessed Jon to act as he did, but I promise it shan’t happen again. He ought to understand that is not how one treats his betters.”

Not entirely sure he’d understood hr right, Rhaegar worked through her words once more. “His betters?” The words echoed between them. “Forgive me, lady wife, but I hope you did not use such unfortunate phrasing in our son’s hearing. Whatever edge one has on the other, both are our children. We agreed.”

“I didn’t want him to think he had right to go against the established order.” Rhaegar gathered she spoke of Jon from her pained expression. “I feared some unscrupulous individuals would not fail to take advantage and with matters being as they were I did not wish to encourage any observable achievements.”

He shuddered as though someone had stepped on his grave. She was not telling him what he thought she was. Surely Lyanna, who had grown with brothers, knew that a man lived and died by his accomplishments. She would ask not her son to seem a lesser man, not in the eyes of his own father. And yet that seemed to be what she was saying. “You did not encourage him to be something he is not.” It was not a question as much as it was him sincerely hoping that was not the case.

Twin spot of colour adorned Lyanna’s cheeks. “I thought it best.” That was quite the tangle. Heat gathered at the back of his neck, the scalding feeling uncomfortable for more than one reason. “But don’t you see, this was the only way I could protect them?”

Little wonder they were at odds more often than not. Blaming his wife would have been easy. Only that much as he wanted to do so, he realised with a stab that she had only gone as far as he had permitted. Which faced him with yet another problem. Rhaegar signed deeply. “Did it not occur to you that I was not about to abandon you, either of you?”

“You could have. You may yet, if you so please. It wears one out after a time, all the wondering. At the risk of bringing further wrath down upon me, I built my life around this.” Her vague gesture held his attention for a split second. He recognised for a first that the explanation itself was satisfactory. What had changed? After all, it was not the first time Lyanna was telling him such a thing. Yet somehow the moment felt a decisive one.

If he closed the door, it would be bolted shut. Nothing would ever open it again. The prospect was terrifying. Such a choice changed everything. He breathed in and out to steady himself. It was either that or set an insurmountable divide between them. Lyanna’s hopeful gaze caught his own. “Aegon inherits the throne by virtue of being the elder. I had hoped you would not let such a thing weigh upon you anymore than you would let it weigh upon him. Furthermore, I have no wish to see my children come to blows.” She relaxed visibly. “It might be a good idea to make clean breast of it now we have come to this.”

“To all of them?” Doubt marred her features. Her hand rested upon her swelling middle as it oft did when she chose to fret over a matter.

“Aegon and Jon at the very least. Rhaenys, if you wish it.” She hesitated. “What is it?”

“Nay. I was simply thinking that it will be a difficult thing for them to accept.” He shrugged, What they made of it could not be helped. “I do not relish lowering myself in their esteem.” Unfortunately he could not promise their understanding, not when he himself had spent a fair dozen years digging his heels in, refusing to do the very thing.

“One can but try.” Word inherently lacking in meaning. He knew it alleviated none of her fears, but still he persisted in speaking. “I think, my lady, it is past time we made for bed. All this sitting up cannot be doing us any good.”

“To what purpose, Your Majesty?” she reverted to her formal approach, “The sun will rise soon enough.” He looked to the lancet for confirmation and wondered how much of the whole affair had spread throughout the keep.

“Much as I should like to say I will suffer no ill effects from lack of slumber, Lyanna, you did wed an old man.” She chuckled, apparently finding some amusement in his assertion. Nevertheless, denial was fast upon her lips.

“I know not what to say to you when you act so. Very well, Your Majesty, let us do as you say.” She yawned. He’d been right after all in pressing for his way. Lyanna had a certain predilection toward worrying. It was the last thing he needed.

Without further ado, he brought her from his solar to the bedchamber where she scrambled for the bed, without giving a thought to her garb. She did kick her slippers off belatedly, more habit than conscious behaviour he would guess. Rhaegar, not quite as tired as he had suggested, simply set about making her more comfortable before he looked to his own comfort. She was asleep by the time he took another look at her.

Predawn light played shyly upon Lyanna’s relaxed features. He walked over to the lancet, drawing the curtains, not entirely certain as to why he had left them open in the first place. Once he’d managed isolating them from the rest of the world, he gave a small prayer that no more trouble would force them to bestir themselves before slipping into bed. He held Lyanna gently, half afraid she’d wake. But all she did was murmur incomprehensively before burrowing into him, fingers gripping blindly at his shoulder. Content with that much, or rather forced by circumstances to be, Rhaegar smothered a sigh and closed his eyes, allowing his thoughts to wreak havoc, as they tended to do without anything else to occupy his time.  

   

           

 

 

 

  

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Rhaenys rolled onto her side, a small twinge keeping her from becoming comfortable. Her palms itched from all the rubbing she’d been doing and she could scarce keep still. She clenched her fists, hoping to get the blood flowing. Whether that helped or not, she could not precisely tell for her mind was only superficially aware of that particular inconvenience. What took up the lion’s share of her thoughts was the state of her brothers’ bond.

She had sensed in Jon a kind of coldness, one which she had not expected from a boy who had grown at her side, a coldness which she had not thought to see erupting into violence anymore than she had expected Aegon to lose his head and allow himself to be pulled into a display of barbarism. Those being the facts, however, she could no longer pretend the situation was well in hand. Nor could she, Rhaenys realised with some apprehension ask from any advice from her mother. Not only would such missives be intercepted before long, but they stood to incur father’s wrath. Beside which, if word spread of the current strained bonds of the royal family, she had little doubt there would be any hesitation on her kin’s side. They would pounce and they would produce grievous wounds.

With one last sigh, she rolled to the edge of the bed and stood to her feet. Small steps took her to the only possession she might amuse herself with, by royal order. Rhaenys picked at the pages of the Seven-Pointed Star with reluctance, before she began thumbing slowly through them. In the absence of light she had to make do with memory. Thus memory carried her though the lines of a particularly convoluted genealogy. Why they had thought to put that before the more appropriate cosmology, it remained a mystery. Nevertheless, she took her comfort in the name of great and lesser heroes, with the understanding that where there was yet life a way existed. What she had to do was find some way to bridge the chasm between her brothers.

Having eliminated mother from her scheme entirely, she could safely do the same for her uncles. Which left her with several individuals willing to help, should she present the situation in a certain light. Thus her mind led her forthwith to the cousin she liked best. Quentyn, without doubt, prevailed upon any other of her kin through the very essence of his nature. And best of all, his ambitions were limited to Dorne and Dorne alone. Yet how to ensure his attendance, and most of all his compliance. Rhaenys wracked her brain for some indication of desire on his part. They must have been in the company of one another for what amounted to a lifetime. There had to be some little favour she could do. A small ripping sound warned that she stood to lose her masterfully decorated Book. Rhaenys withdrew her fingers from the page and smoothed it over gently. What did her cousin desire?      

“Your Grace, truly, this is not the time to be pacing,” a sleepy complaint came from within the darkness. She recognised Theia’s form as she rose from her place. The one allowance which had been made for her with the understanding that should further mischief occur, she would lose her companion. “A long day awaits.”

“I cannot possibly sleep,” she answered, returning to sit upon the edge of the bed. She sat down and reached for her companion, grasping her hand in his. “Now more than ever, I cannot concentrate on my own wants and needs.”

“Your Grace, when was the last time you did.” The slight note of amusement dissolved into a loud yawn, presumably muffled by a well-placed palm. Rhaenys followed her companion’s outline. “Very well, Your Grace, what is it that keeps you up at this ungodly hour?”

“What do you think I could offer my cousin, Quentyn, for his aid?” Having long since grown used to blunt questions and grand intentions, Theia’s first response was a mere sigh, the sound cowering in the shadows of her expectations.

“His aid in which matter precisely?” the other demanded after a short moment of marvelling at what Rhaenys presumed must have seemed like tremendous naivety. Having neither the motivation, nor the intention of explaining herself, she simply turned to smoothing her skirts, to buy herself some time. “If I did not know any better, I should think Your Grace is planning on doing something truly unwise.”

“Are you saying riding off with nary a guard in sight was not that?” Sensing her advantage she pressed forth. “Well, I suppose I must allow there is a chance what I plan to do is even more lacking in wisdom. But I need my cousin, at the very least.”

“Your cousin is not the issue, Your Grace, nor is obtaining his aid as difficult as you insinuate. You should be aware, though, that your cousin is as much bound to his house as you are to your own.” And there came the one issue she did not quite know what to make of. Prince Doran’s heir, as it happened, was not the steady Quentyn but rather his sister.

“Leave that to me.” She had no idea how she would go about it. Nevertheless, she had to try. “You have had some time to observe him.”

“If you were smart, Your Grace, you would look to transferring the reins of power into his hands.” The first option coming to mind was unconscionable. However, any other would mean a life-long fight on her hands. “Should that work, he will be bound to repay the debt. Or might be you may otherwise persuade him.”  

“I doubt any attempt on my part will be met with much enthusiasm. And we do speak of Dorne. I fear even outright action would lead to naught.” But there was a slight chance. Might be a slight chance was all she truly needed.

“You underestimate yourself, Your Grace. Should you apply yourself to the task with a minimum of enthusiasm, I doubt a refusal would come your way.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was fretting. Rhaenys could not help herself. Aegon and Jon stood side by side, the air between them fairly crackling with unspoken unease. The past turn had been spent more with watching for signs of conflict rather than working to build some understanding among all siblings. The unfortunate thing was she could not tell whether either brother was willing to let the matter go.

Aegon had refused to confide in her. Whatever it was father and his lady wife had spoken of to him, and to Jon, if she understood it well, he would not allow her to partake in that knowledge. His rejection hurt. No matter, she told herself, leaning slightly to whisper to Theia as the courtiers moved around them, “I vow this waiting is killing me. Do you think it is a broken wheel or wilfulness?”

Theia chuckled. “More likely, ‘tis a matter of presentation. Tyrells are known to preen. I do not expect one to appear before us afore they are certain not a hair is out of place.” Her companion snorted. “I heard the youngest son is quite charming.” It was her turn to scoff. “Not that he could match any of our princes.”

“Theia, it warms my heart to hear you say so.” She glanced at her brothers once more Aegon had crossed his arms over his chest and he listened with a frown upon his face to what she assumed was prattle and gossip. And men insisted they never went about spreading such drivel. Why, he was holding conversation with that horrid Rosby squire. Jon kept his position as well, though he seemed to be giving less attention to the squire. “But I have had my hair pulled enough times to know there is very little charm to these boys.”

“One may always prevail upon Lady Lyanna to seek a more chivalrous education for the next son.” Rhaenys’ turned to face Theia with a question upon her lips. “I take it you did not know. Well, allow me to enlighten you, there is a small bet going on. On the one hand, some are putting their coin on Lady Lyanna keeping with tradition and delivering another boy, while others feel a daughter would further her cause just as well.”

“My gods. Do not let father hear of this. He would be incensed.” In any event, she could see how that might amuse Theia. “Although, if you care for my opinion, I feel a son would be a most welcome addition.”

“Why a son, Your Grace?” Interest bloomed upon her companion’s face.

“To put it simply, the more of them there are, the more Aegon and Jon will be preoccupied with them. Sisters and daughters, much beloved as they are, will inevitably spend a lower amount of time with their brothers and fathers.” She nodded to herself after giving her siblings another discreet glance.

“I doubt either of those two would spend much time in the nursery. Come, Your Grace, as soon as a squalling infant is placed in their arms they simply won’t know how to act. I have brothers.” Theia shrugged at the look Rhaenys gave her.

“It is entirely possible that is the case in some homes, but I must confess Lady Lyanna kept us about her most of the time. As such, I can promise you, both Aegon and Jon have held squalling infants and know how to go about soothing tempers.” Her explanation was met with a raised brow.

“Except each other’s,” Theia deadpanned after a brief moment of silence.

Unfortunately, Rhaenys did not quite manage to find any argument with which to defend her brothers. She nodded instead and turned her attention towards the end of the hall where it seemed, at long last, the arrival of a very special guest.

Never in her life had Rhaenys seen a Tyrell. For whatever reason, she had simply not been about to make the acquaintance of one. Although she had heard enough about one Lady Olenna to regard the occurrence as more of a warning rather than an opportunity. Safe to say that the old woman approaching, squired by two young men was that very same Lady Olenna. Rhaenys blinked, rising surreptitiously on her tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the young couple trailing in her wake. In Uncle Viserys were here he would doubtlessly find some amusement in that entrance.

“Theia. I am joining my brothers. Someone must save them from that Rosby boy before he talks their ears off.”

“If Your Grace so desires.” Rhaenys stopped her reply before it reached her lips.   

Once in her brothers’ company, she stepped between them, shooing the squire away. “One should think you are facing the Stranger, the way you look.” Her words were met with a glare from Jon and a grunt from Aegon. Neither, she was sorry to see, were willing to engage in civilised conversation. Must have been why they were forced to endure gossip.

Quite interested in the proceedings, Rhaenys watched as Lady Olenna, announced with enough pomp that she could barely keep from smiling, brought forth her grandchildren. They were Lord Tyrell’s youngest children, and twins of all things. Uninterested in the young man, she settled her gaze upon the girl. Margaery, wasn’t it?

Measuring her reaction against her brothers’, she noted that Jon was slightly more interested than Aegon. The strangest thing, that. Nevertheless, she clutched at the younger’s arm. “Have a care, brother dearest. I’ve heard roses have thorns. Should hate for you to suffer injury.”

“I am not like to,” Jon assured her. His interest, she saw, did not translate into any manner of visible indication of his opinion. Suspicious as he was, Rhaenys had not expected him to relax, although Lady Margaery proved a brave little thing by pinning the three of them with a curious, if not daring gaze.

Aegon chuckled. “You have my condolences, brother,” he spoke to Jon. “For a moment I feared you would have my envy.”

“You may give me both along with your congratulations, if you so wish” Jon replied. That had to be the most words they had exchanged of late.   

To her somewhat horror, the old lady turned to gaze upon them as well. Some people had a certain way of gazing at other; a bit like a dissection. Rhaenys felt her smile freeze upon her face.  “Are you certain you want those congratulations?” Aegon taunted gently, although Rhaenys was unable to detect any bite behind the words. She looked up into the elder brother’s face. Aegon was holding Jon’s gaze though, a knowing look plastered, most infuriatingly, firmly upon his face.

Jon, however, did not rise to the obvious bait, which Rhaenys wondered at, although not in a manner apt to indicate a complaint. She was, on the other hand, more than happy to complain as soon as she realised the grandmother and the twins were making their way towards them. There was something she did not quite like about the old biddy.

“I have always been curious as to what the gods would reward a man with for his adultery,” the lady spoke. Tyrells; pretty, vain and apparently not very bright. She aimed the words at Jon and Rhaenys found that her hand fell to her brother’s to give him a gentle, warning squeeze. For a brief moment she thought Jon would answer her with fury by the colour flooding his face.

Somehow, he resisted the urge. “We all have our moments, my lady. Myself, I ponder how one might go about driving a man mad enough to ride to his death oft enough.” Rhaenys heard Aegon cough. She too found herself experiencing a moment of joy at the unexpected turn.  

“Grandmother,” the girl intervened when her kin opened her mouth yet again, “His Grace is surely undeserving of your pestering.” Rhaenys amended her earlier opinion. Some Tyrells had both beauty and some sense.

“Don’t take on so, girl,” the elderly woman snapped. “A few words never hurt anyone.”

“My lady is gracious,” Aegon cut in, eyes twinkling with obvious amusement, “but as your grandmother suggested, my brother is not like to take her words amiss.”

He was rewarded with a shy, sweet smile. But the she turned her gaze upon Jon. “Be that as it may, my lack of response could well be taken amiss.” She curtsied belatedly. If she continued in that vein Aegon would truly have to swallow his words and allow that Jon deserved congratulations rather than condolences.

Jon, for his part, gave the girl little for her effort, although he regarded her in a contemplative manner, which, Rhaenys granted, was better than suspicion. Likely as not, Lady Margaery though so as well, for she widened her smile just a fraction before looking at her and Aegon once more.

“How do you find King’s Landing?” Rhaenys addressed as a general question, willing Lady Margaerys to answer rather than her grandmother.

Unfortunately, the gods were not smiling down upon her. “Noisy, crowded. The stench has worsened. The keep, however, is quite removed from such unpleasantness.” Lady Olenna seemed inclined to be discontented.

“And glad we are to be quite removed, as my lady puts it.” Aegon, by far the more diplomatic of the three, had his own mission in mind, it seemed. “And there is quite the nice breeze should one choose a seat on the balcony.”

The old woman grumbled, but she seemed glad enough to clutch onto her brother’s arm while her beady eyes narrowed upon him. Aegon smiled down politely. “Some wine and cheese would not be amiss.” And she looked particularly regal as she said the words. “Come along, Loras, you must help me find those dastardly boys. It seems they have melted away.” One should think she was descendant of kings and not her brother.

Their leaving allowed her to remain in company with Jon and Lady Margaery, both of whom were seizing the other up with such subtlety that Rhaenys found it within herself to summon a bit of worry. “Apologies,” the girl finally gave in, “my grandmother can make quite the impression upon first encounter.”

“I expect she has the age to carry off what others might find to be outrageous behaviour,” Rhaenys offered in a manner close to Lady Margaery’s.

“Indeed, my lady, no harm done,” Jon said at long last. Which seemed to be just what the lady waited to hear for she exhibited an expression of utmost relief.

“I am ever so glad, although I should warn that my grandmother has a certain fondness for outrageous behaviours. Should one not allow her to needle them too much, I am confident she shan’t insist.” What a peculiar thing to say. Rhaenys watched her brother for a reaction.

“I cannot answer for all dragons, my lady, but I believe Rhaenys and I shall manage admirably well. What do you say, sister?” Warmed by his including her, she gave a heart nod.

“Then all is as it should be.” The girl looked about, presumably attempting to find her brother. Or her grandmother. Then, as though having found what she wished, although Rhaenys caught sight of neither, she leaned in and spoke in a low voice, “I was hoping to see Lady Lyanna, but it seems to me she is not within the hall.” The underlying question lingered between the three of them for a few moments.

“Heavens, you are not like to see her about,” Rhaenys took upon herself to answer. “Her condition hardly permits her much movement. Although I assume you will sooner or later be called to her.”

“Meantime you may amuse yourself with joining the rest of the court in their bet,” Jon suggested, a slight edge to his words.

“You knew?”

“What bet would that be?”

Her brother answered the second question. “As to whether we are to celebrate a new prince or a princess.” And then to Rhaenys he said, “I put a Dragon on having a new brother. Aegon is erroneously expecting a sister. I am looking forward to my victory.”

“But Your Grace, how could you possibly tell?” Lady Margaery inquired.

Jon shrugged. “An inkling.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Ludicrous,” Jon murmured under his breath. The acolyte looked up with some worry from his powders and concoctions, a silent question upon his lips. As he was not about to make a clean breast of it to the man, Jon merely shook his head. He tapped the bridge of his nose gently. Pain spread beneath the pressure, forcing his hand to retreat.

“Your Grace might wish to abstain from aggravating the wound. It will take some time to heal.” Broken noses usually did. He made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat, somewhat put out that he hadn’t managed to impart upon his brother a like penalty. A pity that. It might have worked to wipe away some of Aegon’s smugness.

Ghost, meantime, pressed his head again his own leg, one paw covering his foot while the other was somewhere behind the chair’s leg. The creature seemed content to chew upon a thick bone one of the servants had brought up with his meal. In a way, Jon was glad no one had had enough courage to take Ghost from him. He reached down and petted the wolf’s head, noting the gently swaying tail as he did not. In spite of his apparent indolence, at the slightest sound, the beast stiffened and sniffed the air, jaws slowing their work upon grinding the bone to dust.

The acolyte finished his work as well and placed a small cup before Jon. “That should help with the head, Your Grace.” Ever respectful the man bowed his way out of the chamber, leaving Jon with only Ghost for company and the comfort of milk of the poppy.

Much in the vein of a child discovering scabs could be prised from their place, he returned to the broken bridge, gently framing it between thumb and forefinger. Naturally, he was assailed by another volley of pain which he dismissed with some difficulty. If he drank the draught he might be able to sleep awhile. Granted, he would be keeping his head over a bucket once he woke, but at least the pain would leave him be for a while.

The way he saw it the choice before him were difficult, bad and worse. He could endure the pain until his body inevitably grew so used to it that it no longer bothered him. And he had managed admirably well for the last few days of solitary confinement. Or he could take the concoction knowing fully well it would make him sicker down the line. And the came his last option, trying to sleep. Only that had as a result the strangest dreams he’d ever had. He contemplated taking the dreadful poppy only for the benefit of full night’s rest. Alas, one did not have the guarantee it would work.   

Whatever had happened in those blasted woods, something had changed. He’d felt it in that moment when the small hut was collapsing under the weight of a felled tree; when he’d made a grab for Rhaella, meaning to bear her to safety. He had ended before Elaena, of all people without the faintest knowledge of how, shielding her. And that was not the strangest thing. Jon could have sworn that in that moment he’d had fours, very muscular, very horse-like legs. And terror had swamped him. Not his own, although he was aware of some worry on his part. Feelings of great fright and some resentment burrowed their way within his own mind, mingling with his own sentiments.

Strange and incomprehensible as it sounded, Jon was fairly certain he had somehow entered Thoas’ body. And he dared not say a word. What delight that should bring to some faces, that the King’s second son was a madman. That would doubtlessly justify an increase in attention paid to his siblings. And Rhaella, who was the reason why they had taken off as they had in the first place, had been made vulnerable by her own actions. Whether there was genuine guilt to be assigned, he could not say. But the Faith frowned upon witchcraft in the same measure that the old gods did. If a case was to be made, she could hardly win with such odds against her.

Ghost wines softly, having finally managed to break the bone in uneven halves. He chewed upon the greater one, attacking the bits of meat clinging to the crown with relish. “Easy, boy,” Jon found himself cautioning, “you wouldn’t want a splinter stabbing you in your throat would you? Best to just chew carefully now.”

He reached out for the cup and brought it to his lips. The scent of spices momentarily dulled its pain by sheer strength, forcing his attention away from the break. “And I will try not to choke upon this.” He toasted the beast silently. The taste, bitter and sharp, played upon his tongue. His throat clenched against the intrusion just as his stomach revolted and forced the liquid down, wincing all the way. The paw upon his foot moved slightly to the side just as he managed a good enough control of his breathing that he might avoid dousing the poor creature in the disgusting substance. “Truly the most horrible of all medicines,” he complained breathlessly. “I tell you, I would rather have my nose broken again.

No reply came from the wolf, and no answer ever would. Thus Jon left his seat for the bed, angling himself so he might keep an eye upon the hunters giving chase upon the ceiling. Or rather that was what he thought they were doing. Those paintings could use another coat of paint, for he was fairly certain they had seen none in a good few years.    

Further weight settled upon the bed. Ghost curled around him, placing his head upon Jon’s shoulder, wet nose moving against his throat. He chuckled at the sensation and brought a hand up to scratch behind his ear. “Good boy,” he murmured, wondering just when the poppy would begin to dull his senses.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ser Arthur Dayne gave him a look of slight amusement. “Your Grace, you may wish to leave the creature behind.” Ghost stood between them, eyes trained upon the knight. Despite the man’s relaxed demeanour, Jon had to wonder what needled the wolf. “Her Majesty is not like to enjoy its presence in is present mood.” Good, the man was not unaware of Ghost’s feelings upon having his master taken away. Jon chuckled and patted the wolf’s head, commanding him to sit.

“He shan’t follow, ser, you need not worry.” Ser Arthur gave a nod and invited him to step without. Ghost, as good as Jon’s word, did not follow. Which was a relief as he did not think either his legs or his stomach could endure having to chase Ghost down the hall.

“If one were to worry, one would not worry about the wolf. Your Grace does not look quite like the thing.” The words gave him pause. He’d thought he’d managed to hide the extent of the influence of the milk of the poppy.

“I assure you, ser, I am fine.” He maintained the man’s gaze, allowing him to have the inspection he so clearly desired. No doubt something to speak of to his father. If ever there came a day when such words would not be beneath the man’s notice, Jon amended.

Arthur Dayne, famed knight that he was, proved his prowess when Jon least expected it though. “I do not mean your countenance, lad.” That, he suspected, he could not avoid answering to anymore than he could keep from breathing.  

He felt the scared child he’d once been, clinging to his mother’s skirts as she spoke of fantastical creatures roaming the land. Might be more importantly, he hurt and had no notion of how to end the pain. “Would that I were,” he finally managed past the thickness of his own tongue.

The knight took him at his word and clapped a hand upon his shoulder. “My father once told me the greatest characters are seared with folly and lined by wisdom. The mark of a truly great man is being able to learn from past mistakes.” An encouraging squeeze came upon the heel of that bit of indirect advice and Jon had to confess he felt slightly better having heard some understanding and compassion underlying the steel of the sentiment.

They walked together.

“Your father sounds like a fine man,” he noted softly, realising there was something wistful about his own voice. He’d wanted such a relationship with his own father. Someone to impart wisdom.

“Aye, well, He was; these words I got from him whenever he was done trashing me for whatever trouble I’d brought him.” Recognising the attempt to ease his mood, Jon chuckled.

“It is hard to think you were ever at the mercy of another, ser.” That tended to be the case. In the face of great men one did at times forget that they were still just men. His musings were interrupted when he realised they’d reached father’s solar.

“I assure you, Your Grace, I required a firm hand and any lesser a man might have found himself overwhelmed.” That was the last he heard of the knight before the man knocked and opened the door for him, urging him within.

Not entirely certain of his reception, Jon shuffled his way within on a slower pace. The first person he took notice of his father, sitting behind his desk, for once no piece of paper or clutter in sight. Mother stood behind him, her hands resting upon his shoulders. It looked as though he’d been summoned before his brother. Father did not stand, but he acknowledged Jon’s arrival with a nod of the head and an invitation for him to sit.

“Aegon will be arriving any minute now,” mother spoke, gently releasing her hold on father. She walked around the man and made straight for him, leaning over slightly to better inspect his wounds. “It’s healing nicely,” she said, presumably of his broken nose, “I doubt you could have been any luckier than you have been.” No broken nose would have suited him just as well. Jon did not speak, however, knowing that doing so would not help his case.

The sound of squeaky hinges announced Aegon’s arrival. Mother stepped away from him and turned her attention upon his brother greeting him with as much warmth as she’d ever exhibited. Huffing to himself, Jon crossed his arms over his chest. Best not to give himself away before they’d even begun.

Aegon occupied the seat at his side, this time sitting close by without a drop of hostility in sight. He was, however, reserved, which Jon noted with slight apprehension. His brother looked as though he were sitting before the council waiting for some manner of verdict.

Mother returned to father’s side. She sat down and placed her hands in her lap, indicating without a single word that Aegon was not the only alert individual. “Now then, since we are all comfortable,” father began, “I would like an explanation for this latest debacle.”

Jon allowed Aegon to explain. And his brother did so with a considerable amount of detail, leaving nothing of account out and making certain he presented facts rather than opinions. Relief washed over Jon. For a brief moment he’d considered the option that Aegon might try to assign more blame to him than necessarily merited. Thankfully, his brother had his sights on another matter entirely. “So you see, Your Majesty, I only thought of my sisters, as did Jon, I am certain.”

“A fair explanation,” their father allowed. He turned his attention upon Jon. “Why then, do you think, there is such animosity between the two of you when you report common goals?” Somewhat mollified by such direct confrontation, Jon wilted in his seat. Their father was not about to let up though. He shrugged. “Might be the time has come to clarify some matters between us.”

“If Your Majesty thinks it wise,” he replied.

Mother straightened, squaring her shoulders. Jon was aware Aegon observed her as closely as he had. “Your Majesty, if you would allow me. I believe it would be fair that I make the first step.” Father acquiesced. “You may be aware that in the lifetime of your grandfather some conflicts shook the realm, not the last of which was the so called Duskendale defiance. That is, I believe, the true point from which one should begin.”

“The King was captured by the then Lord Duskendale,” Aegon spoke, might be in a bid to prove his knowledge.

“Indeed. My father was never the same,” their sire added.

“The situation grew worse and worse until his rule was no longer feasible. It was that which brought your father and me together.” The King gave a nod. “While the story is not unknown to you, I should like to clarify my reasons for pursuing this liaison in spite of the many and obvious obstacles and barriers.” Not the least of which being that their father was well and truly married. Jon settled into his seat more comfortable, on some level, aware that what they would be hearing would be somewhat of a defining moment, for better or worse.

“You see, Jon, when we were in Winterfell, I explained to you I found a number of dragon eggs in the crypts. To me that was, I suppose, a sign. I took it to mean an encouragement.” Her skin coloured as she struggled for words. Their father did not interrupt but he did put an arm around her shoulders. “Keeping this in mind I was naturally very pleased when I finally got my chance to meet Rhaegar at Harrenhal.”

“I doubt that was the first ever tourney my lady attended,” Aegon mused.

“The first ever my lord father allowed me to attend, Your Grace. My brothers, of course, were given ample opportunity, so I never understood why he would keep me from going. But he did.” He’d not imagine as much; Jon had always assumed his mother had been ever as exacting and demanding as a girl as she was in her later years, going about, doing as pleased.

“But you were betrothed, were you not, lady mother?” Jon questioned, recalling.

She shrugged. “Aye, my father and Lord Steffon Baratheon had worked an understanding between them. Robert knew long before me and I found not long before making for Harrenhal. I can only assume my father saw some wisdom in not placing me in proximity of my betrothed.”

“My lady, are you trying to justify your choices to us?” Well, at least Aegon had enough courage to ask directly where she was getting at.

“In a manner of speaking. But my point is, I thought I would simply attempt to gain what I wanted, possibly give your father what he wanted. Although that was not my objective.” The wishes of their father were well known to both of them.

“You wanted a son?” Jon had never doubted his mother had wanted him. It seemed so very strange that he had to bring himself to ask the question.

“Indeed. That was the case.” Understanding downed upon him. His mother, warm and loving as she had been throughout his childhood, supportive and encouraging, had started out with at least the vague intention of walking back on what was, he assumed, a deal between them. Jon caught his brother’s gaze. Seeing a healthy amount of shock in them, he felt even more unsettled.

His brother exhaled loudly. “But your family, surely they could have not agreed to such a scheme.”

Mother smiled sweetly. “My family is many things, but I rarely confided in them about any plans I made. Certainly, I was not about to tell them of my intentions. So you see, Your Grace, they could not have persuaded me otherwise.”

“And Robert Baratheon?” She’d never truly spoken of the man.

“I never gave him any thought. A more compassionate soul might have, but I confess, Robert was my father’s idea of a good alliance, and I never quite bothered to look past that. He did not figure in my plans at all.” Such candour would have been appreciate if only it were not coming from one Jon had grown used to looking at as a victim of circumstances.

“I still do not understand,” Aegon managed after a moment, “my lady, clearly you found persuading my father a manageable task, but any child of yours, in such circumstances, would have been  a,” he trailed off, apparently unable to speak  the harsh word. He cleared his throat. “A child needs a certain amount of support.”

“I suppose I always expected I could turn to my father for that. Alas, it was rather Brandon who found out about this little affair and he took it before father with nary a hesitation. And, well, my father was not quite as appreciative as I thought he would be. I had certainly ruined any chance I had with Robert and found myself in an unfortunate situation to say the last. He nevertheless allowed that we might come to an understanding with the Crown, or rather your father.”

“Until that point, Lord Stark had kept out of the realm’s affairs. But since he felt the only way to ingrate himself was by aiding me in my campaign, he agreed to do so were I to take full responsibility for the situation his daughter found herself in.” A situation he had contributed towards.

“If Lord Stark did not agree to such a scheme, my lady, and I beg your pardon for asking such a question; why would such a path be preferable?”

“I can explain it no better than to say it was my desire to contribute in some manner, and I thought the best course was to do as I did, with or without the support of those around me.” Aegon did not press further, but Jon had a thought of his own.

“Be that as it may, but you were not alone in contributing to the situation. Why did you agree, Your Majesty, to what had seemed like a rather suspicious proposition? I believe we can all agree, it is somewhat strange to be looking into conceiving a daughter and the solution falling in your lap.”

His father experienced no such reaction as his mother. “Your lady mother gave all appearance of support from her father and I could not very well ask the man to his face. Nonetheless, I allow it was neither the best way to proceed, nor the most morally unshakable position to take. In truth, the possibility having presented itself, I found myself content with your lady mother for a partner and did not quite expect the situation to degenerate as it did.”

“Degenerate?” Aegon echoed.

“Aye. Initially, Elia allowed that a daughter might be conceived without the marriage and she understood I would have some responsibility for the mother, alas, when Jon was born, I expect she took offence. You see, I never put it to her that a son might be born, because, truly, I had thought there would be a daughter. Incredibly short-sighted as it may be, once your brother had arrived I could not take it back and claim no responsibility.”

“And Your Majesty refused to back down, resulting in the separation?” Aegon’s guess must not have been far off because their father patted mother’s hand reassuringly.

“Seeing as Elia was in a poor state of health and both incapable and unwilling to pursue another pregnancy, anymore than I was willing to take such a risk, thus I proposed to her that she could leave for Dorne and I would apply to the High Septon to have our covenant broken. At the pressure of Elia’s kin, the man refused, of course, and I, in retaliation, made it common knowledge I wedded Lyanna by common law. As I hoped it would, that sent her running to her brother’s keep.”    

“And you sent Rhaenys and I to her as well.” Aye, that had been about the time Jon was four years old or so.

“After a time. It took us a while to work out where we stood, but having accepted her defeat, she was only too glad to have you on her own terms.” But that had been about the time the relationship between his parents deteriorated. And no wonder with such tremendous pressure upon it. Knowing what he knew, Jon did not think he would have had the strength to carry such a responsibility as his father had. “And Lyanna was ill at the time. I thought you would find better care in your mother’s home rather than here, where so much was happening.”

Jon leaned back in his seat and considered his father’s words. “And all this for what?”

“Hope. I hoped that whatever I and she would have to endure for our actions, it would be worth the result. You are my son as much as Aegon. Order of birth is in itself an accident, but since it is the criterion by which we convened to name heirs, Aegon will someday have the throne. That does not speak to my love for any of you.”

“I want both of you to think upon this conversation, in solitude, preferably along with the reason for which you have been placed in your chambers.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lady Margaery was pretty, considerate and oh so sweet his teeth ached. Jon would have thought it better if there was something between them, preferably an impenetrable wall which would allow him to observe without having to interact. “Your Grace is very certain of the fact the babe will be a boy. I cannot see what would lead to such a conclusion other than the natural male desire for heirs.”

He very nearly laughed. “To tell you the truth, lady, my own mother has been calling the babe a he. She speaks of my brother and I do not see the sense in contradicting her. Nonetheless, you mistake me, and I find it so very strange that you would think to tell me my own wishes.”

Abashed, Lady Margaery gave him a wide-eyed look. He’d seen that one before upon his mother’s face in the better moments of their rubbing along. And he had that to look forward to. Jon had the urge to strike back with a brutal answer to the blatant attempt at manipulation. Such wars were not at all ones he wished to take part in. Alas, his father dictated that he must.

“Your Grace,” she spoke in a breathy manner, the words dwindling into silence. She would do, he supposed, just as well as any other. The Tyrells had coin and standing, she would likely bring men into his service as she would possibly prove herself an asset beyond such gains. If he could trust her enough. It did not speak well to their beginning that she would know him for less than a day and attempt to twist him around her fingers.

“My lady, a word of advice for your stay at court, do not think you may get by on a smile.” Her gaze dropped and her smile faltered. “This is a harsh world and no matter how well insulated you have been until this point there will come a time when that shield falls away.”

She nodded, watching him intently as though she understood something about him for the first time. “It is kind of Your Grace to concern himself with my continued wellbeing. Not many men would take notice or even care for the missteps of others enough to correct them.” He gave her no reply beyond gently guiding her on a narrower path. How fitting that a rose should be losing thorns in a garden. He was not willing to prick his thumb.

He did not correct her assumption that he cared either. Likely as not she was trying to get under his skin. She did not need a hero anymore than he wanted a wife to bolster his standing. “Might be we should return, my lady; the wind is rather cold.”

“I am no hothouse plant, Your Grace. A little wind will not strike down any of my boughs.” He allowed her that much, appreciating the consistent courage if not the honesty. Her fingers tightened their hold on his arm, the pressure nearly painful.       

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elaena nibbled on her lower lip, making soft sucking noises to Rhaella’s utter annoyance. She looked at her sister, admonishing her silently. But her poor little sister would not be cowed. “Must you do that? I cannot concentrate on as much as a line.” She had been reading the same one five times over and it still made little sense to her.

All things considered, their father had been less severe than she had envisioned. Thoas was back in his stable, Aegon and Jon managed to get along without jumping at each other’s throats. Rhaenys was doing her best to obtain an invitation for her cousin to join court and at the same time convince her cousin to hie himself away from his father’s keep.

She and Elaena had been placed in the septa’s care, with strict orders that they ought to learn a few more passages from the Seven-Pointed Star. She strained her eyes further and attempted yet again to understand why it was that the hero was being admonished for accepting the reward he’d received from the lady of the keep.

“Elaena,” the septa called the younger’s attention, attracting Rhaella’s as well. “My girl, are you unwell?” For her part, Elaena shook her head. “You look a little pale. Might be you should like a drink.” That was not so much a question, as an order. Before Elaena could offer any reply to that, the woman asked the servant girl to pour. With the cup in her hands, her sister could do no more and no less but drink the contents in a few gulps. “That’s a good lass.”

Rhaella returned her attention to the passage she’d been studying and grew further annoyed by the content. “As for you, Rhaella, you might as well tell me why it is that you glare at the good Book with such undisguised hatred. It is not very well done of you.” She half expected the woman to waggle her finger in her face. Fortunately, the good septa resisted temptation and Rhaella glanced up from her lines.

“I find it very difficult, ‘tis all.” The explanation earned her a strange little look. She was not certain how to interpret that, but she allowed it to pass with no question for she perceived that some manner of clarification would be forthcoming if she only had the patience for it. Thus she did her very best to satisfy that. A gleam in the septa’s eyes had her straightening her back. Her attention snapped completely to the woman, latching onto the small, knowing smile so late to appear.

“That is good, Your Grace. It is the point of such tales to present one with some potential for contemplation.” Whatever the case she had no desire to lose her mind finding the answer to the knight’s dilemma. “Your Graces might wish to consider one can only find the answers one is looking for.”

“What if there is no answer?” Rhaella insisted. “What if one cannot divine any underlying motive guiding all such actions? I propose the Father might simply amuse himself at the suffering of his creatures fully comfortable in the knowledge that no such ills could possibly touch him. What does he care, after all; he will never have to make any manner of choice. ”

The woman chuckled gently. “I perceive we are not speaking of the Father, but rather of a father.” The creaking coming from Elaena indicated that she too had begun paying attention to the conversation. “Your Grace, might be you should be clear about what troubles plague you.”

“No troubles plague me. What I should enjoy is to learn why the Father in whose name the knight ostensibly wages this war will not aid his creature.” Two could play that game and she reckoned that even without the benefit of many years behind her, she might still win the game, if not the entire war.     

The septa tasked softly. She did not stand, however, but maintained her seat, changing only her position from a relaxed one to something a little more severe. As though she were preparing to give a sermon. “Your Grace, pray pay attention to what I am about to say. Better yet if both of you pay mind.” She took a deep breath. “There is a time for and a place to question the motives of our betters. And there is a time and place for doubt. However, if you take out your belief from the foundation of your very core, then doubt is all you have. And that is not the life you wish to lead.”

It did so happen that at times a person came along who put in perspective what had, until that point, been a mere cluster of disparate bits and pieces of information. And in doing so shifted one’s world on its axis. That was precisely what it was that happened in that particular moment, her nail scarping against the title of the nameless hero, her heart hammering in her chest as the words sank in. “Faith gives one purpose,” the woman continued, her mien as serious as it had ever been. “If your knight, as in the wrong as you might consider him, lacked the faith then all his actions would doubtlessly be motivated by malice. If one does wrong with the best intentions it is not quite the same as one being monstrous from a place of undiluted darkness.”

“But wrong is still wrong, no matter where one gets their motivation from,” Rhaella argued, the fire not entirely gone from her. After all, she was arguing for her future as much as she argued against the hero. “It is all the same to me if I am struck because there is an intent for correction or if I am struck from mere malice. I shall still be in pain.”

“Are you a child, Your Grace?” The question did not strike her as entirely serious. “Can you not see beyond your own pain? Difficult as it might be, and I will be the first to tell you that it is a most difficult endeavour, one will not always have the luxury of looking only to their own desires.” It was not untrue and she would have gladly accepted the burden were it not so closely linked to small debacle which had placed nearly all her siblings in trouble.  

“Is it so very monstrous for one to wish a life of peace in their own home?” She did not want to see the Eyrie, she had little enough wish to impress anyone with her knowledge of the Seven-Pointed Star and, most importantly, she would rather swallow a vial of Nightshade than part from her family just when fences were being mended. Could father not wait another year or two? She was hardly long in the tooth and her bridegroom was even younger than her if she had the right of it.

“Hardly that,” the septa allowed. “Although one’s comforts will be paltry consolation when the Father smites one down into smithereens. None who have lived outside the gods’ law came to a happy end and it is folly to believe oneself so far removed from godly influence that one might get away with such a scheme. Retribution might not be swift, but I do promise it shall be merciless.”

“Is one to live in constant fear then that their better will exert such unrelenting influence in all aspects of one’s life?” A foolish question that. Rhaella knew, before opening her mouth, that she was deliberately conflating two characteristics which neither went together, nor bore fruit by union. Unless one considered revolt a fruit. That was an entirely different discussion.

“Leave off, Rhae,” her sister finally found her voice. “You are acting worse than Alys when she was refused some frippery or another. There is no point in debating the Father’s legitimacy in this decision. In fact, it should be enough that he gave the man choice in the first place.” Elaena remained slightly flushed by the end of her pronouncement, indicating that her exertion was as much a thing of pain as it was of wisdom.

“What are you saying?” she demanded of her sister, snapping her gaze upon the girl. Elena raised her eyebrow at her in a haughty manner as though she had figured out an answer and merely wished to taunt her with so much before revealing what it was. “Well?”

“Only what you need to hear. The hero may choose to make amends when he finds himself in the wrong or he may turn his back on the gods. It is that simple.” Part of her wanted to protest. But was that not the truth? She could string the words together in a thousand ways and the conclusion would not change.

“One can mistake the road yet still be worthy,” the septa intervened, ostensibly to keep them from arguing in truth. ”Finish the tale, Your Grace, and I guarantee you will understand perfectly there is greater wisdom in the gods’ plans that can be gleaned at a glance.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Deceit was as easy to some as breathing. Viserys, nevertheless, forced himself to put on a benign smile for the benefit of his hosts. The little Arryn heir was frankly nothing like he had expected and he had half a mind to write to his brother that Jon Arryn had very good cause not to hurry with his answer. Robert Arryn was currently engrossed in a tantrum, refusing all his mother’s attempts at soothing.

“If you cannot control him, take him to the nursery,” the grandfather insisted. Viserys hadn’t the courage to suggest they send for the boy’s father. Arryn turned clear blue eyes upon him once more, his mien no more and no lea than carved in stone. “I tell her she spoils the boy and she sets to weeping about her poor, tender son.” Disgruntled, the lord of the keep reached for his goblet. “Much as His Majesty’s offer brings me joy, you have seen Robert. He is no more fit to be tied to a lass than I am to take to the jousts.”

“My lord still has excellent form. And I assure you, ‘tis fair possible one may still joust beyond one’s best years. Case in point, our Ser Barristan .” Arryn gave a low chuckle. “We would feel better for having a bargain struck between us. House Arryn has ever been a friend of the Crown.”

“’Tis not within me to refuse such an agreement, but Her Grace is young and so is my son. She will doubtless meet her fair share of gallants at court. It might serve her better to choose one of them for her betrothed.” Viserys found he could not precisely blame him. He might waste some time explaining Rhaegar and Lyanna’s circumstances, but he could easily bring out the matter he’d thus far been reluctant to address.

“Rhaella is a shy, sweet girl. She would not step without the bonds His Majesty set,” except for when she did, gallivanting off in search of witches, “I trust that once a decision had been reached she would see it trough. But my lord, there is an easy solution to this dilemma. If, of course, you would be willing to host and feed a swarm of locusts alongside my family.”

“That bad, are they? Court in my day brought one at least some pleasure to compensate the dullness.” Viserys thought of his own little distraction. He would have to send her off soon. She was growing rather clingy and he had some serious plans to contemplate.

“It’s not so much a matter of dullness. I fear one cannot find a moment of peace these days.” Jon Arryn’s lips quirked in a faint smile. “But I am sure my lord is no stranger to any of that.” He might be somewhat rusty though. Viserys reached out for his own wine, looking up at the sound of footsteps.

Lady Lysa returned, her expression indicating fond exasperation. Red ringlets fell around her face and small beads of sweat decorated her forehead. Had she wrestled the boy to a better mood? Viserys shifted uncomfortably in his seat when she occupied the chair closest to him. She sat at his left, leaning in a show of accommodating manner, “Allow me to pour you some more, Your Grace.”   

Her bosom, impressive though it might be, was not precisely the sight Viserys desired at the moment. He could not help comparing her to his good-sister though as he accepted her offer with a polite nod. As he’d heard it the poor woman had suffered some miscarriages as well until she managed her son and she too had the misfortune of a thickening waist for her efforts. Although, for some reason, she seemed to have aged in a much more rapid manner than Lyanna, although he knew them to be very close in age to begin with. “My lady is most attentive,” he murmured for a show of gratitude, relieved when she drew back.

“Lysa, I understand you have yet to resolve the small matter I spoke to you of. Might be your time would be better spent on that and disciplining that boy of yours.” The words did not have the woman budging. It appeared Lord Arryn was no more master of his own house than any man.

“My lord, you ask the impossible of me,” she complained. Before Viserys could as much as blink, she turned towards him. “Your Grace would not believe what he has asked of me. You know, might be, that Robert Baratheon squired for my lord in his youth.” He nodded, daring a glance at his host. The man sighed, but did not interrupt. “And I assume you know he has bastards from here to Dorne. Well, my lord asks that I find a suitable partner for one such creature, mind, after she went and did herself a bad turn.”

“Mya does not deserve your scorn, lady,” the head of the household admonished. “She is a hardworking girl and deserves a home of her own.”

“She is intractable, hoydenish and rude. You would have better luck wedding her to a mule than you would to a man,” Lady Lysa snapped. “Her father should be considering her situation in the first place. What business if she of ours?” It was certainly good to see that the Red Keep did not boast the only troubles in the realm.

“Her mother worked in this keep and earned her right to our protection.” Lord Robert Barathon was indeed known to pick his lovers with very little discrimination as to their status. Although he suspected the woman was left more or less ruined when he eventually defected. And with an infant to show for it as well.

“Can you not wed her to another one of your retainers, my lord? Baseborn or nay, if Lord Baratheon were to dower the girl, I am certain some man would be happy to take her.”      

Lady Lysa snorted. “He will not part with as much as a halfpenny for the girl. And certainly no decent man would take her after she entertained Corbray’s squire. You do her no favour, my lord.”

“Neither do you with such careless words. Mya is to have a decent match. And that is the end of it.” The man’s face was gaining colour, indicating might be mounting frustration to go with the earlier annoyance.  

How entertaining. One so rarely found such marvellous scenes to witness. Viserys leaned back in his seat, swallowing his first reaction which had been, naturally, laughter. He did not laugh at the girl’s misfortune. For if what Lady Lysa said was true and it was kown, it stood to reason that few men would venture to take her to bride. Yet if she was Robert Baratheon’s get, she might yet have some redeeming qualities. He frowned gently so he might mask his glee at the prospect of a mummery unfolding before him.   

“As my lord says, although this undertaking shan’t be easy at all.” Hateful woman; she actually had the gall to put such a light upon the situation before she had even begun looking into the matter. Little wonder Arryn’s heir found his peace fighting mountain clans and the gods knew what else. If he had such a wife he would hang for murder. His sole consolation would be that the woman would no longer live to strike terror into the hearts of honest men. Truly, how did some of them become so very repulsive? “Might be Your Grace has knowledge of some young man looking for a bride?” He barely resisted rolling his eyes.

The way he saw the situation, the poor girl might as well throw herself into the arms of the first man willing. It was certainly better than being under Lysa Arryn’s thumb. “I am afraid I have no knowledge of such. It is not a subject which comes up with any manner of frequency, I admit.” If he had known anyone, he would have recommended them just to spite the woman. That might have wiped away the cruel little smile she sported.

It was not too late to decamp and join Elbert Arryn in his quest to rid the smallfolk of needless torture and suffering. The more he thought about it, the more appealing the notion of swinging a sword became. Although one ill could be just as well traded for another. He perused the woman before him at length.  She, ever observant, rolled her shoulders back putting some emphasis on her ample charms.

Jon Arryn cleared his throat. “Your Grace was saying?”

Well-disposed towards the man for at least attempting to foil the woman’s obvious ploy, Viserys gave him his attention. “Simply that having no reason to find the match wanting, I shall write to my brother. But I should like to do so with news to brighten his mood as much as possible. At your earliest convenience, of course.” His poor, sweet Rhaella. Viserys half-decided it would be better to simply beg his brother to give the girl to him. He would spare her at least cruel treatment.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lifting the flagon of ale to his lips, Viserys watched a somewhat stocky figure approach. Let it never be said that he eschewed his duties as a knight and turned his back upon the hopeless. Robert Baratheon’s daughter, he was sorry to report, had little one might consider remarkable. There was something almost boyish about the way she presented herself, although one would certainly not mistake her for a lad. Shaking his head, Viserys drove the thought away. Boyish or not, there was some value to her, if only she chose to apply herself a little.

He took another drink from his ale, enjoying the sweetness of the brew. The woman was closer now, allowing her to inspect more than just her form. She was tall, not quite as tall as priestess he’d brought back, but she could put a knight or two to shame. And that, he supposed, quite thinned the number of her suitors. Her coal-black locks might have been pretty, were they at least an inch beyond her ears. Her hair was cropped short, the fashion more suited to a lad. He did woner what that squire had seen in her appearance. As for the rest of it, he supposed her mouth was tolerable, but rather thin, looking as though she were lose them in the thinness of a straight line, although she did not hold a pinched expression. There was something almost mirthful about her, which presented in the gaiety of her step as well.

Thus if she were not quite beautiful, then she was charming enough to merit some consideration for that alone. Viserys leaned against the building, continuing to sip his ale. Lord Arryn had revealed that she usually served the Royces, but from time to time served as guide for those wanting to climb from Vale to the Eryie. Ostensibly, she had come with a fresh-faced lad who seemed none too awed by what was before him. Some youth on an errand. Carrying a message or some such, Viserys decided, eyeing the pouch the boy reached for from time to time.

He and Mya exchanged words, a smile fluttering to life upon the young woman’s face. Viserys considered the cameo she presented him with, face turned just so. Aye, he supposed he could better understand what that squire had seen in her. Nevertheless, the boy should be trashed to within an inch of his life.  At long last the companion parted ways, with Mya allowing a few men to reach for the burdens of her mules. She spoke to them as well, making a few gestures. Once more she maintained a happy face about her.

Jon Arryn had known her mother, or so he said. The poor creature had caught an ague not long after her daughter was born, although as far as Viserys could trace her husband had been responsible for a number of reported ailments that the servant woman suffered; thus that illness could have well been belated revenge on the fool who had dared cross her man. His flask was nearly empty. Viserys shook it gently to gauge the level of the liquid.   

His thoughts returned to Mya Stone whim he avidly observed. As to why Jon Arryn had not kept the girl about his own keep rather than sending her off was anyone’s guess. Whatever the case she was the child of a dead woman and a man who had so many bastards he likely did not remember their number, let alone their names and descriptions.

Finally, she turned towards him and encountering his form, she froze. Viserys stared back unabashedly. Her eyes were a deep blue, the colour strong and striking. Eyes like those might well make up for any other deficiencies of her presentation. He studied her lazily, unbothered by the almost skittish way in which she drew one of her mules closer. If her looks marked her a bastard of some far away lord, the his looks, Viserys supposed, must mark him as well. He doubted she failed to recognise his colours. He downed the reminder of his drink and stuffed the cork back in its nook, hooking the flask in its customary place.

There was no time like the present, he told himself, stepping away from the wall as he straightened his back. With nary a word and some curiosity to sustain him, he approached the girl and her mules. She drew even nearer to one of the animals, busying herself with checking the saddle. Knowing avoidance when he saw it, Viserys acceded to her wish to not be engaged. At least for a few moments. Unlike her, he had more than one mission to accomplish. He would test the waters, and if all went well than he would see to finding some man willing to take her off Arryn’s hand and conscience.

He simply walked around her, settling his attention on a spotted little mule looking well-weathered. He reached out and patted the back of its neck gently, massaging against the slightly rough coat. If he did not miss his guess the beast was old and worn and would not last through a harsh winter. Nonetheless, he found some joy in bestowing his attention upon such an uncomplaining subject. The mule leaned slightly into his touch, although the poor animal must have drunk ale as well by the way it leaned left and right by turns. Viserys glanced down. A patch of red caught his attention. He knelt so as to better inspect his discovery.    

It was a wound. Viserys was unable to measure its depth although it looked fresh to his eyes, which meant the beast had lately acquired it. Holding back from touching it, he climbed back to his feet and turned his head so that he might face the girl. She was gazing at him intently. Strange that he hadn’t taken notice. Usually he was more aware. “Your beast here has an injured leg,” he told her simply.

“Right nasty cut,” she answered, making him aware that she knew of the wound. Viserys shrugged. “’Tis dangerous to kneel by them. One never known when they shall decide to kick.” She patted the mule closest to her, a white creature of some beauty, if one discounted the fact it was a mule.

He chuckled. She made no jest, but he could see something dark in her gaze. Something that very nearly dared him to kneel again and catch his death of a hoof to the head. No doubt it would split his skull open. He supposed he could appreciate the spirit if not the sentiment. A small smile curled his lips. There was no like reply from her. “How come I did not see you on my way up?”

It was her turn to shrug. The movement, dainty in spite of the garb she wore, insinuated it was more of a practical choice than aught having to do with preference. He allowed the silence to return between them, petting the mule he had at his side in a gentle, soothing manner. “Old, is he not? Should you make his last days on this earth so cruel?”

“I daresay a beast of burden does not mind.” The deep pitch of her voice was another remarkable thing about her. “If he does, he will do so knowing he has been useful.” At the same time she eyed him up and down, a vague hint of apathy surfacing faintly before she had the time to mask it. Likely as not she might believe him offended by her lack of admiration. And were she a woman to inspire interest in him, Viserys surmised he might have well been that. As matters stood, he accepted the result of her assessment with a quirk of his eyebrow. She dropped her gaze away from his, as though belatedly remembering her place. “Begging your pardon.”

“Your Grace,” he indicated. At her confused look, he clarified. “When you address me, you must call me Your Grace.” She blushed furiously and frowned at the same time. A rare treat indeed. “I should like a few words with you, Mya Stone.”

She raised her eyes to his once more. “You have had them,” the woman said. As an afterthought, deliberately, he was certain, she added his title with none too much grace. He would have laughed were he not after making a certain impression.

“And I would have more.” She opened her mouth but no words came until in the end she was forced to seal her lips. An uneasy nod signalled her answer. “You look as though I have asked for something unconscionable. Never fear, I have the purest of intentions.”

“So they all say,” she allowed.

At that he did chuckle. “It is to your detriment to compare me to other men,” he assured. “But I suppose I had best prove it. Words are wind, after all.” Surprisingly enough she narrowed her eyes suspiciously as though she did not quite believe he meant the words. Or the sentiment behind them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“And yet you will tell me, for all you profess reluctance. How has this come about?” Lyanna trained her gaze upon her eldest surviving daughter, holding her accountable, for that was what she had heard thus far. Finally able to investigate without pulling off a scab, she was not about to let the chance slip past her.

Rhaella flinched but flattened her lips, her tractability diminished in the aftermath of her brush with, well, Lyanna had no other name for it but death. Her sister fidgeted in her seat, looking as children sometimes did when they were on the verge of giving away some secret of great import.  “Might be you can enlighten me, Elaena,” she addressed her second daughter at length seeing she would not win with the elder.

“We did not mean to cause trouble, lady mother,” Elena assured her, words she had heard before. She held back from interrupting, settling herself more comfortably in her chair. “But you’ve little idea of what has encouraged such a venture. Now that it has come to this, I’ve a confession to make.”

“More confessions?” she asked gently, half-fearing what her daughter might spill forth left to her own devices. “If you must, then by all means.” She motioned with her hand for the girl to continue, which Elaena seemed to both relish and fear by the reaction she presented her with.

“Rhaella only wished to aid me, for you see, lady mother, the simply truth is I’ve been having the strangest dreams and could not interpret them to any good sense. My sister offered a solution and I could not help but insist upon taking it.” Rhaella speared her younger sibling with a meaningful look, but she noted no words passed the girl’s lips. But that was a good sign. Rhaella could oft be brought to her knees from an overly abundant sense of caring rather than brute force. Her course becoming clearer, Lyanna cocked her head to the side, awaiting further revelations. When Elaena failed to indulge her, she simply encouraged the girl to further confession. “I thought I must be mad to be having such nightly vision, alas, the witch assured me ‘twas not a matter of madness as much as a matter of godly communication.”

Softening somewhat for the girl’s benefit, Lyanna leaned din towards her, reaching out to hold her hands in hers, “Elaena, whatever that woman told you, you mustn’t take it to heart. Such creatures will do whatever they can to earn their keep and if convincing a child she has the Sight will do so, then she likely won’t hesitate. I expected you to know better.”

“I know what I saw,” Elaena insisted, her nails digging the thin flesh of her hand. “Moreover I was right. I was right about the three little flames, just as I was about the forest fire.” She startled to hear the child speak so.  Beside herself, her daughter continued to list a number of dreams which made sense to her, no doubt, but none to Lyanna. Thus she was forced to interrupt her. Unwilling to lose her advantage, she gave a firm shake of her head.

“Nay, Elaena. Such blatant fabrications do not stand to aid your sister. In fact, if you insist upon acting in such fashion I shall be forced to dole out further punishment.” That seemed to have an effect. Rhaella straightened in her seat and her case transformed, leaving more iron where the soft lines of worry had been.

“She does not lie, lady mother. Not one word she speaks is untrue, except for insisting that we for see the witch. Elaena told me of her dreams, but it was I who insisted we ask the woman for help. I thought for certain one who claims to see beyond the mist to the true purpose of things will know whence such visions come, or if not, at least what they wish to say.” Her eyes sparked with a fire Lyanna was unused to seeing in her daughter. She had seen it elsewhere thought. A shiver of unease shook her. “My sister has the Sight and ‘tis no fault of hers.”

“How would you know the quality of the creature’s craft? Many claim they can see one’s fate at a glance.” At least for herself she had made her own. Looking from one daughter to the other, Lyanna considered going to Rhaegar with the knowledge. He had elected to concentrate on the feud between Aegon and Jon, allowing Rhaella and Elaena’s transgressions to fall to the wayside. And she well wished she had followed his example. Seers and visions were dangerous things.

The priestess had claimed to speak her god’s will as well. She had promised Lyanna a future of glory should she give herself over to the Lord of Light and not for a moment did she doubt the woman believed her own words.

“There were three flames and my brother bore three dragon eggs back to us,” Elaena spoke, “and then I dreamt of horse draped in red cloth and Alysanne perished. I saw lastly a sapling basked in soft twilight glow. By midnight it stood as high as a man and come morning it stood above all, giving gentle shade. The witch told me–“

“Enough, Elaena. You know not of what you speak.” They were just dreams, a mere coincidence. No good came of ascribing further meaning to figments of one’s imagination.  “In fact, I can prove to you there is no such thing as dreams which predict the future. You may consult with any maester you wish upon this matter.”

“That is not fair,” Rhaella cut in. “The witch knew of the comet, and she made sense of Elaena’s dreams. If anyone has to provide proof than it is not us.”

“I cannot allow you to condemn yourselves with your own two hands.  There will be no more talk of woods witches or the Sight. Have I made myself clear?” No response came. “Have I made myself clear?” Lyanna repeated.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She had a nice, easy laughter, akin to a summer breeze if ever Lyanna were inclined to make a comparison. She could not help but laugh alongside the girl, relieved, if not truly pleased about the match her husband had settled on. “I am glad to find Your Majesty so well disposed towards us,” the lady commented gently, passing her a cup which had just been refilled. “Although I think it a silly, silly thing.”

“It is somewhat of a tradition, I surmise.” She took a sip of the brew, swallowing daintily. “And since it harms no one, I let it slide. You see, my experience has taught me that there is no use in trying to stifle the curiosity of other. They will gossip. They will spread rumours. And they will certainly bet amongst themselves. It hurts me none to be part of such dealings.”

Lady Margaery conceded with grace, although she still did not seem very pleased. Lyanna decided against pressing for an answer. After all, it was very much like a young maiden to shy from the overt, somewhat rude attention such a bet insinuated. “And of course, I expect my husband will be made plump in the pocket by this venture, which ever increases my joy,” she said for a closing argument.

That her companion seemed to find rather interesting. “His Majesty took on such a bet as well?” While not aghast at the notion, she did frown gently.

“Not in his own personal name, of course. But there are ways. And he has done so for ever single occurrence. Have you put coin down yet?” It never failed to amuse her how the courtiers scrambled about, asking this knowledgeable woman or that, whether she would have a boy or a girl. As if that much could be predicted.

“His Grace advised me to put coin down on the child being a boy.” Lyanna nodded her head encouragingly. “But I do not think I shall. I am no betting woman, truth be told.” Now that was a lie, if ever Lyanna had heard one. Still, she felt compelled to not provoke the child by outright confrontation. “Whatever the babe is born as, I shall be very happy to see him or her healthy.”

“You do not enjoy risk, yet here you are, about to wed my son.” Lyanna supposed there was some similarity there. She’d never enjoyed the thought of matrimony yet she’d settled fairly easily into hers. “Methinks there is some inherent contradiction to such a statement.” She smiled at the girl to indicate she did not admonish her in any way.

“Nay, Your Majesty. I said I do not enjoy gambling. But a little bit of risk taking offers worthy rewards and is in truth no gamble. Your son strikes me as a young man with enormous potential. Any woman would be glad to have him.” She accepted the answer with only the slightest sliver of disbelief.

A small twinge of pain stabbed at her abdomen, distracting her attention momentarily from Lady Margaery and their discussion. Her hand patted the spot with care, pressing gently upon the tender area until the pain flared. She breathed in through her nose, swallowing the sigh threatening to overtake her. “One may look at the situation in such a light,” she managed after a moment. “But let us not speak of such things. I was wondering, rather, if you would enjoy taking up a few on the reins I am at this time unable to grab hold on.”

“Who does not enjoy taking up worthy causes? But I thought Her Grace, Princess Rhaenys sees to these matters in Your Majesty’s absence.” Well informed as she was, she had perhaps missed one crucial piece when making her reply.

Lyanna gave her a small smile and inclined her head to the side thoughtfully, “I know she will be very pleased you thought so. “She has always been a dutiful child.” Might be more so than any of her brothers. Rhaenys lacked whatever it was that made Aegon so very joyful, or the ambition which pushed Jon towards his achievements. She had mastery over her own notions nevertheless and, to Lyanna’s mind, had set for herself a number of goals in the name of duty.

“I do Her Grace no favours. ‘Tis simply a matter of truth,” Lady Margaery insisted. Something in her gaze shifted. Unable to decipher what it was she saw in that moment and not entirely certain it too precedence over the conversation, Lyanna forced her attention away from the girl’s gaze and looked towards the door, a sense of anticipation knotting within her.             

“Her mother impressed it upon her that there was very little outside of duty she need concern herself with.” Oft she’d wondered at that. Elia had had the perfect chance to nurture in her children a hatred for the woman who had usurped her place. Why she hesitated to do so when she clearly desired her husband back made little sense to her. Alas, she shied from delving deeper into it. There might well be answers there she had no wish to hear.

“I thought the children were raised here,” her companion commented with a hint of confusion.

“For a time. Rhaegar sent them to their mother as well. We did not feel it right that they should cut all bonds.” Her explanation was accepted.

“Your Majesty, I will be frank, I admire the courage, but I do not understand why you would willingly put yourself in such a position.” A question for the ages. Lyanna declined to answer the implied query and Lady Margaery mayhap sensing her reluctance took it upon herself to change the subject. “I’ve noticed Your Majesty has been eyeing the door. Are we waiting for someone?”

“How ill-mannered of me to have been so transparent.” She nevertheless looked towards the door once more. “Now that you have caught me I suppose there is nothing for it but to confess.” Before she might do that, however, she was interrupted by the door opening and Rhaenys stepping in, followed by her sisters. “I thought we might visit all of us together.”

Lady Margaery rose from her seat, greeting the new arrivals most becomingly. Pleased with the apparent harmony, Lyanna relaxed in her seat, trying not to notice the increasing pain in her abdomen. So much kicking about was not natural.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Hush, Gaemon, lest you frighten the stag away,” Rhaegar whispered to his son, silencing him for the time being. The boy looked up at him. Though he ought to be riding his own horse by his age and not be anywhere near the hunt, he hadn’t had the heart to leave him behind when the child had begged to come, bolstered by his mother, who had made similar demands, allowing that upon his return she would discipline him should he prove too much of a burden for his father. That resulted in Gaemon acting quite the angel. Not that he generally misbehaved.

“Look, father, the deer.” His son jabbed his finger in the general direction of trembling leaves. Rhaegar trained his gaze upon the spot, making out the beast before it leapt.

“What say you then, son, that you shoot the first arrow?” Distant barks reached his ear. The hounds must have chased the poor creature this close to them. Gaemon nodded eagerly, so Rhaegar gave him his bow.  Too small a child to wield the weapon alone, Gaemon nevertheless exercised a correct grip upon the curve, drawing back the string.

“Like this?” The child struggled to hold position. The arrow would not strike its quarry at so low an aim. Rhaegar moved his arms gently around his son , placing one hand over his for a better grip, drawing back the string further with the other and rising the bow ever so slightly so the arrow may sail unhindered.

“Just like this,” he spoke gently, feeling Goldtorht shift impatiently, presumably under the weight of two riders, although the horse must be truly spoiled should he take umbrage at the feather-weight of a child to the usual fare he was used to. “Easy, boy. Sagon iedrosa.” The command had the desired effect as the steed halted its fidgeting, allowing him to return his attention to the quarry. “Now, train your sight upon the creature and take proper aim,” he advised his son. “A deep breath,” he continued, inhaling alongside Gaemon, and then he spoke again. “Now release.”

The arrow flew from its place, hastening as though the hounds of hell gave chase. It disappeared into the foliage. Something hit the ground. The baying of dogs grew closer and closer and riders approached from behind. Rhaegar glanced over his shoulder, unable to help a smile at the sight of his sons, apparently locked in in tight competition. A race, by the looks of it. And he should caution them to better behaviour.

Lady Margaery Tyrell rose behind, keeping pace with Rhaenys. They held easy conversation from the looks of it, sharing some manner of jest. Both laughed, with the latter eyeing her brothers from time to time. ‘Twas good to know he wasn’t the only one who worried.

“We thought you’d taken the Southron road, Your Majesty,” the firstborn spoke, his face flushed from exercise and excitement.

“So I should have had your brother not noticed we had company. I thought it a good moment to further his training in the art of the hunt.” He nodded towards the child indulgently.

“I took down a stag,” Gaemon declared, flashing his brothers a wide smile filled with pride. “He was this big!” As children did, Gaemon spread his arms wide, obvious to the danger.  The bow followed its master’s motion. Rhaegar simply secured him firmly with one arm, maintaining hold upon the reins.

“Careful now,” Jon admonished the boy, “you’ll take someone’s eye out with that.” He nevertheless reached out and patted his brother’s head. “Wouldn’t want to add us to your list of felled quarry, now would you?”

“Never you mind that, Gaemon,” Rhaenys spoke, having finally arrived with Lady Margaery in tow. “Best you show me this beast you have taken down.” She leaped down from the back of her horse unaided and held her arms out so as to take Gaemon down with her. Rhaegar relinquished hold of his son, placing him in Rhaenys’ arms before dismounting as well. Meantime, his daughter turned to teasing Jon, “Fie! Shame on you, ser, to be speaking such words. I did not see you having anything to show for your hours on horseback.”

She laughed gaily as her brother swatted playfully at her. “Only because I was not allowed to bring Ghost,” he excused his perceived tardiness, jumping from the back of his horse to assist Lady Margaery to the ground. Rhaegar gazed away from the two, allowing them a moment.

Aegon chuckled at something Rhaenys retorted but kept his seat, noting that there were more than enough men to tie the stag to a horse, any horse, but preferably his own. “I think not,” Rhaegar answered to that. “The honour is Gaemon’s after all. ‘Tis only fair the horse that bore him forth carry his game. Down you get now.”

Obedient, Aegon dismounted, tugging on the reins so as to have the horse following at a slow pace. He fell into step beside his son and waited for it seemed that the boy’s gaze trained upon him egged a moment’s attention. “Your Majesty, I cannot help but be uneasy. Stannis Baratheon fails to present himself before us and he should have arrived long past. Any word as to the reason of this delay?”

“Any number of matters may slow such a journey,” he answered thoughtfully. “’Tis likely the man attempts to convince his brother to come as well, for he thinks to gain further favour by breaching the rift between us. I would have told him he did it for naught, but Baratheons are such that no amount of persuasion will work until they have made their attempt. In that, Stannis is much like his brother.”

“I only wish to see this matter to its end,” Aegon clarified. Rhaegar knew he was not entirely pleased with the arrangement, but to his credit, he managed to temper that with his usual cheery nature. “And I should feel much better once this weight has been lifted off of me. But why should he men to bring his brother to court? I thought Robert Baratheon would cause more trouble with his presence than with his absence.”

“I do not know what the man means to do once he had put us face to face. I assume, he believed Lord Robert to be over his hurt.” He himself would likely have not been, and the gods knew there was enough pride between all noblemen that only the most dire of circumstances could have made him swallow his fury and relent. It had to be noted no dire circumstances were in sight at the moment and he should not enjoy provoking a man without cause.

“Do you suppose him to be?” Beneath the words lingered more than simple curiosity. “Might be Lord Robert does not wish for this alliance and has spoken to his brother of it. I reckon that might account for the delay as well as anything else.”

“Your words give me cause to ponder. But more so the fact that you may have the right of it. Alas, Aegon, between Lord Baratheon and I, ‘tis me that holds more sway. As such, were Stannis in doubt, he might know better than to listen to his brother.” The bond between those brothers had never been particularly strong and he did not think he did it any favours by overestimating it. “Why is it that you have taken such interest in this matter?”

His son pursed his lips in a telling way. His eyes followed the path his younger brother had taken. “I fear there are those who would use current circumstances to cause mischief.” Rhaegar held back from questioning him. But Aegon it seemed would not hide from him such knowledge as he did possess. “I know not how to explain this, but my instinct tells me aught is amiss with our Tyrell allies. Father, do you not think it strange that Lady Olenna would sit at your table, yet will not interest herself in my brother at all? Yet Lady Margaery continues to temper her whenever they have words.”

“You think it some manner of ploy?” For himself, he had not paid the woman mind. Olenna Tyrell was a wily one, and generally her schemes revolved around accruing more power for her house. He had simply assumed she would be pleased with her catch for the moment and henceforth he would monitor the situation if need be.

“I think they are deliberately trying to gain my brother’s favour through whatever means they can conceive of.” As to why that should unsettle him, Rhaegar did not have to guess. He nodded his head in understanding.

“If it comes to that, then you will know, but I urge you not to be hasty. You are not the only one who has grown at court. That is, unless you feel you cannot trust your brother in spite of the new understanding between you.” His gaze questioned even as his lips remained sealed.

“I know I can trust Jon. I know that much and it should not bother me that others scheme, for he is righteous even in his blackest mood. And yet a wife changes everything, does she not?” 

“For some,” Rhaegar allowed after a moment to better ponder his answer. “Although one cannot say at a glance what manner of influence a woman shall wield over her man. If you believe yourself endangered along with Jon, then you must caution your brother.”

“But father, there us another matter. Jon likes the girl. That much I can tell. How would it be fair to quash the chance of peace for what is not even certainty on my part.” The dilemma was not quite as severe as Aegon would make it. Rhaegar did not tell him as much. There were times when one had to find their way on their own. “Might be if I could observe them further and make up my mind over the state of this affair.”

“Doubtlessly that is a wise course and would serve you well.” Patience was the antidote to many a mischief.

The fallen deer lied upon the grass, flattening it beneath its weight. Gaemon was already crouched before the creature, poking and prodding, asking his sister a thousand questions which Rhaenys received with a smile and a nod, not even bothering to offer any manner of reply. Jon had a hand placed upon the boy’s shoulder, complimenting him for his aim.

Lady Margaery kept herself somewhat separated from the group, regarding the fallen beast with a contemplative look. “It looks as though His Grace is shaping up to be a true mater of the hunt,” she said, this addressing not to her betrothed, but to him as he came to stand by her side. Aegon on his other side regarded the dead carcass as well, nodding on his part.

“His Grace needs only a little temperance in regards to the compliments he gets, afore they elevate his consequence beyond bearing,” he said, giving the young girl a smile. She returned the gesture with a light chuckle.

“Your Majesty does not believe in offering encouragements?” The question had him gazing at his sons, all of them so preoccupied with the deer, even Aegon. “My brothers were oft on the receiving end of such for their feats.”

“As long as the feat merits it, then of course one must offer words of praise. Otherwise ‘tis best one settle for humility.”

“Your Majesty is wise.”

“Age, not wisdom. One gains practical knowledge as one advances in years. The truly wise doubtlessly have other means by which they reach conclusions.”  That too she accepted but something in her gaze warned that she’d read might be more than he would have wished her to.

Yet it seemed she had little more to say for she returned her attention to Jon, stepping over to his side, bending to whisper something. His son glanced up at her and gave a distracted answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The small bundle in his arms twitched and shivered, plump fists raised in midair, fingers curled tightly. The boy’s tiny mouth opened in a weak, mewl-like sound. Rhaegar rocked his gently. He seemed a hearty lad for all that he remained mostly silent. “Where is my lady wife?” he questioned, giving the child back to the midwife whose ashen face could be taken as either indication of exhaustion or trouble. “I ask you again, my lady wife, where is she?”

“Your Majesty, begging your pardon, but my lady is not–“ She flinched. “’Tis ever saddening to give such news. My lady laboured hard for this child and by the grace of the gods she remains with us. But I fear her time is ended.”

He walked past her almost before she’d finished her little declaration. The door leading to Lyanna’s bedchamber had been shut but upon applying soft pressure he saw it open without protest. And his wife was there. As expected, upon the bed, cleansed and wan. A look he’d seen upon her before. For this was not the first child she’d given him.

At his arrival the woman tending to her rose, shaking her shoulder gently. “My lady, the King is returned.”

With great labour she managed to open her eyes. Her gaze was clouded, as though she’d drunk a cup of Milk of the Poppy. Might be she had. Rhaegar dismissed the bondswoman and sat down at Lyanna’s side, taking her hand in his. “What is this I hear that you’ve no more strength to fight?”

“Such is my fate.” She spoke with difficulty, the words slurred. Beads of sweat clung to her forehead. He protested without second thought, but she interrupted, placing her fingers upon his lips. “Speak not, husband, with orders that I stay. None may evade the Stranger when he is bent on having his prize.”

“It is you who should not speak folly. You have pulled through worse.” She chocked upon a chuckle but declined proper answer.

Her hand well upon the one he held, fingers curling gently into his flesh. “I do wish you would go to your son.” His refusal was swift. “Rhaegar, do you not see? That child shall lose his mother before the new dawn. I would not have him lose his father as well. He needs you. They all need you.”

He knew what she said. He even knew she had the right of it. “Take care of them. I would have you promise me this.”

A vow that he would not carry his sorrow onto the child. And yet had she had no child her life would not be fading. “Promise me,” she whispered insistently.

Powerless in the face of her request, he gave him and gave her the promise she desired, alas his heart grew heavy at the thought of leaving her. Yet with his vow to bolster her, she stood a little straighter and declared her wish to see the other children. The older ones before the younger, for those she wished to speak to and the others she wished but to see one last time.

Never before had she spoken of passing and thought he had oft feared she would one day give in, Rhaegar had convinced himself ‘twas an impossible outcome. The gods would not be so cruel as to take her after she had escaped the cruel touch of death for so long. Yet there she sat, his wife, wan and drawn, so cold he feared his heart may freeze as his gaze lingered upon her.

He left, only because of his promise, with a mind to return. At the door his children waited. Rhaenys held Gaemon in her arms, wiping the boy’s tears with her thumb. He would not grow quiet though anymore than a hungering babe would and thus she had no recourse but to pass him to Elaena as he made known to them Lyanna’s wish.

“She is not going to die, is she, father?” Rhaella questioned, grabbing hold of his sleeve. “She cannot possibly leave us now.” Her fingers dug into his skin as she pressed against him. She wept I earnest and it was all he could do not to follow the example she set.

“Calm yourself, Rhaella. Your lady mother would speak with you and ‘tis my command you attend her.” The girl somehow managed to give him to understand she could not bear seeing her mother like that. “She wishes to see you. You will go to her. And that is the end of it. That goes for all of you.”

As per his promise, he found his way back to the newborn. The servant woman in whose care the babe had been left, the same one sitting by his wife’s side when he’d entered, gave sombre greeting along with some expected news. “My lady did not name him, Your Majesty. She said it fell to the father to choose a fitting name for him.”

Rhaegar, though he had no wish to, forced himself to hold the child once more. He had to, else he feared he would never be able to do so again without the cloak of bitterness choking any hint of affection he might have developed for the tiny, helpless mite. He was Lyanna’s last gift, the last piece he had of her, the last bit to endure.

He was warm and soft, hardly proving a burden to hold. Eyes the colour of a mournful sky regarded him from a rounded face. His mop of dark curls, his nose, the grip of his hand upon Rhaegar’s finger. He was so much like his mother children and yet so very different, for he was the last. A mother, his own had once told him, recalled her firstborn always. If that was so, then a father recalled the last, for though he loved no child better than he did the other, there was something to such logic which held him arrested.

His promise must have a name.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nu on theostrum licgeth hlaefdige se leofa, 

leofaelee byrthrena.

ne sceal hearpan sweg dryhtcwene weccean;

ne winfae´t gylden aewan sceal healdan,

ne anmod uhtfloga geond healle glidan,

ne se cenene mearcweard  beagsele restan.

Manncwealm hafath aethelee cwene forth onsended

giedd sculon singan - gliwmenn sorgiende

on Readweallaestene - thaet heo ma no waere

heora dryhtne dyrest - ond maga deorost.    

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“It is certainly a great task to find comfort in such cold places.” Jon stiffened at hearing human speech. Usually when one secluded himself from the rest of society, it was properly understood as an indicator of unwillingness to engage. Certainly the rest of the keep’s inhabitants understood it. He gave a disgruntled look over his shoulder. “Little wonder when struck by such cruel glances.”

He knew who she was. Mostly as she was difficult to miss. The priestess his uncle had found in the gods knew what dusty corner of the world and he’d brought here on their doorstep. It would have been polite to acknowledge her words. Instead he treated her to an ornery glare. “The pain must eat away at you.”

Were he some rotten apple on the side of the road, he might have been warmed by such compassion. “Better pain  than vanity,” he answered, returning his attention to the carved face and his prayers.

The swish of skirts disrupted the silence. “I did not know her well, the King’s wife. But she was kind enough to grant me some of her time. There is something of her in you.” Gritting his teeth against a retort, Jon rose to his feet and turned to look into her face. She was talk, standing above him in height. Beautiful, coldly so. Whatever was there beyond the flames of her eyes? “But there is fire there as well. Fire the likes of which has been long awaited. She did not see the greatness in you.”

“Might be she had good reason.” He’d wracked his brain ever since trying to come up with a way to let go of his anger. In light of her passing, Jon could not help but feel selfish. Her last wish was that he might be a good brother.

“The smallest spark in an ocean of darkness is dearer than a mountain of gold. I saw you, Jon Targaryen, in my dreams. And you were flying.” The shock registered a moment later. “Aye, I see the look upon your face and sense the doubt in your heart; but by my oath you flew, flames following your bidding. The God of Light speaks to me.” He’d known a few people who’d spoken to the gods before. Most of them lied in their graves.

Steeling himself, Jon drew his shoulders back. “The gods are many. A smart man does not choose to serve only one to the detriment of the others.” He made to move past her, yet her hand shot out and the grip of her fingers was so strong, he barely budged.

“My god is the God of Light. And he can turn your deepest sorrow into your greatest strength.” She leaned in, red lips prominent against alabaster skin, like the petals of a flower opening to the rays of the sun they moved. “The night is dark and full of terrors and when it falls it shall drown out all but the most stubborn of sparks. He spoke to me of you, the might arm which cuts the dark.”

“Are you suggesting I fit some manner of prophecy?” He would have laughed had he the strength to do so. Pushing her hand from his shoulder he dusted the spot off as though her insanity might rub off on him. “Be gone with you before I decide I would do more than use my words to flay you.”

“I do not ask that you grant me your trust for nothing. I can prove to you His power.” Unable to immediately find an appropriate response to such stubbornness he bought time by combing his fingers through his hair.

“No petty trick you might show me can convince me.” For the first time she smiled, a chilling sight. The blood rushing through his veins froze for the predatory nature of the gesture was not lost on him.

“I beseech you, grant me but one chance to prove myself to you. He can rid you of the most bothersome pest you have encountered or raise you to the heavens, as you would have it. Pray, let me but prove myself as you would allow anyone wishing to enter your service.” There was no danger to a little bit of foolery, was there?

Deciding he would humour her for a moment, he spoke, “Rid me of a pest, you say? Poison would work just as well.”

“The mighty warrior does not concern himself with the measly worm.” He nodded. He could hear her out. At least that might prove entertaining. “You must but say a name and make a sacrifice to Him and He will answer you.”

“What sort of sacrifice?” Coin was the first which popped into his head. “Is my uncle not taking care of you?”

“His Grace is a truly gracious host. As for a sacrifice, a little of yourself. That is all.” She looked at him in a meaningful way. Understanding dawned upon him and he returned the favour. “Just once and you shall know His power.”

On the one hand he could join Aegon and suffer the scrutiny of the Dornish, or he could take the offer placed before him. After all, she was offering with what he presumed to be full knowledge of the situation ahead, although a small voice in the back of his mind warned against rushing into such a situation. “I am soon to wed,” he warned, nevertheless, something of his usual wariness returning in a moment of clarity.

“I serve the Lord of Light, Your Grace, and his chosen. Earthy status is immaterial.” Yet strangely enough she had somehow equated a prince with the anointed of a god. Funny that. “Who is it that you would have me rid you of?”

Dare he speak the words? The woman actually seemed serious and she half feared she would poison wines are such. The voice of reason rose in rebellion at such a though. “Prince Oberyn Martell.”

“Meet me after darkness falls in the gardens, Your Grace.”

A sense of disquiet crept within him disturbing the fine hairs at his nape.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Viserys reached out for the small, cold hand of his good-sister, finding it a much too strange sensation that her fingers did not curl in loving strokes. He reminded himself that she was a corpse, after all, and could not help being glacial. A small smile twisted his lips at the unintended pun, his thoughts did at times mock him into a queer state. The stiffness of her limbs had passed, the skin was still soft, even if warmthless and sallow in colouring. She looked, his mind drew up a blank for a first, eyes roaming the prone figure.

Dressed in stately fashion, she looked every inch the queen she’d never quite been named. She wore her husband’s colours, something the good lady had done from time to time during her life was well. Whether it was pride or mere adherence to tradition, Viserys was not certain. There were still so many things he did not understand about his good-sister. In her own way, she’d ever been a walking contradiction, severe in her insistence obedience and strangely willing to betray that very ideal. Although, might be she had been loyal to entirely more elevated gods than he’d ever heard of. Viserys blinked gently at the face of serene acceptance.

“Confounded woman,” he whispered, “could you not have parted with at least some crumbs of understanding?” Light played upon her flesh making it seem as though she smiled. She had smiled oft as a young girl, for truly when his brother had taken up with her she’d been no more than a girl. Unfailingly charming, sweet-natured to a fault and entirely too aware of her strange lure; she’d played her part masterfully, if he said so himself.

Or so his brother thought. Rhaegar thought a lot of things. Most of them were unforgivably stupid. He would never say as much to his face; nevertheless, there it was. His brother, whom Viserys had once thought beyond the reach of anything as mundane as maidenly snares, had gone and stumbled over his own feet, falling in a graceless heap at the feet of his good-sister. He’d had help, of course. Lady Lyanna was nothing if not helpful. Would he have fallen for her in his brother’s stead. He turned the thought this way and that, drawing his hand away from her touch to reach out for her powdered cheek. They’d applied the scented dust to her flesh to keep it from decaying. It did nothing to help with the colouring, but it kept odours at bay. Which might as well be a good thing, considering his brother was becoming increasingly unwilling to depart these chambers for his own.

Truly, he felt bad for having slipped that bit of sleeping powder in his wine, but it seemed prudent to force him to rest. There were some knots his brother still hand to untangle before he could fall upon his sword and into his wife’s embrace. Afterwards, well, some other industrious Viserys had already laid out a possible path for him.

Would it not gall his good-sister beyond words? All her charitable work on his brother’s children amounting to absolutely nothing; all her worries for nothing. His fingers lifted, dusted with the chalky powder.  The flesh beneath discoloured at the lightest of pressures. Colour flooded back in its own time. Fed up with such simplistic inspection Viserys pulled out the small knife from his sleeve and leaned over the table, glancing at the space where ear met throat. There was a bruise there. Just like the woman had said. He turned his attention to his good-sister’s fingernails.

It made sense. Whoever had gone on to speed the woman along her way had chosen a very opportune moment. His knife cut along the nail-line. Certainly he was rewarded with further confirmation. What he needed to determine was whether he brought the knowledge to his brother or kept it to himself a while longer.

“Poor Lady Lyanna, you were so very certain, were you not, that your luck would hold out?” He sighed to himself. “But if the situation is as such, who would have enough courage to put themselves into such a position?” The obvious answer would be Oberyn; a history of such would certainly lent credibility to such an accusation.

He would not be so careless, though, would he? Oberyn was not precisely an idiot. Vindictive, ill-tempered and a hazard to anyone around him, but not stupid enough to so blatantly challenge Rhaegar; or if he were, his brother had kept him in line well enough for too long a time to simply spring him on the poor lady.

“What do you say to that?” he asked the dead woman as thought she’d been part of the earlier process. “A poisonous snake; well, you ought not to have stepped upon its tail, lady. Always aim for the head. Safest option, do you not think?” She gave no reply, predictably.

A sound from behind announced the entrance of another. Viserys glanced over his shoulder in time to catch his niece in the production of a grasp. “Uncle, what are you doing?” Her eyes fell to the knife, or rather returned to it. Round as saucers, her eyes were. He gave her a little grin and lifted a finger to his lips.

“Close that door, Rhaella, and lower your voice.”   In her state, she went along with the demand. “Your lady mother never did appreciate disturbances. Just because she cannot speak for herself, we should not disregard her preferences.”

“My lady mother did not appreciate sharp blades being waved in front of her face either,” the girl responded primly. He beckoned her closer. As if tugged by the motion of his finger, she stumbled ahead.

“What do you know, silly child?” he pressed when she’d reached close enough, trustingly allowing herself close enough for him to grab. “You barely even knew her.” He straightened, keeping an eye on her.

“She barely even knew me.” For the first time he saw something other than softness beneath her mask. Dare he dig deeper? Dare he make an insinuation?

“Come then. I will leave the two of you to it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Hi everyone,

Sol here. So, I’m sure you’ve heard about the new link-tax and copyright reform the EU is looking to introduce into the member states of the union. To those of you who haven’t or are not from the EU, basically this new piece of legislation is looking into regulating all activities dependent on content (be it videos, songs, news articles, books etc). They would do that by monitoring what the users of a platform post and if copyrighted content is determined to be used, it would be considered criminal activity.

The only way it wouldn’t be deemed criminal activity is if the users paid a tax (hence why we call it a link-tax).

The vote will be held on the 20th of June and in case the law gets passed, I think it’s obvious I won’t be able to post anymore on any platform (be it this or FF.net or some other site). So what happens is this:  I am starting to archive all of my fics. Those of you who want to request a certain fic can find me here.

Further updates information is: here.

Questions are welcome, but for discretion’s sake, sensitive ones are better posted on discord, or if you must on my e-mail address.

Thank you for your time and sorry to bring you somewhat unpleasant news.

P.S. Every story with more than 20 subs will get a post like this. If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. I’ll take them down after the 20th.