The lorn Targaryen residence would always be a source of comfort to his melancholia. The soft winds that blew throughout the old ruins, the charred walls and cracked ceilings. Soft and broken, Summerhall embodied him and he embodied Summerhall, both forlorn and destined for doom. The sweet melancholy and longing sorrow of his harp filled the empty fortress with music, the hollow walls bouncing the music off making it sound ethereal and haunting.
Ser Barristan Selmy would usually be sitting beside him on some fallen debris, sharpening his sword on some whetstone, eyes fluttering up when Rhaegar hit a particular note or lyric. But today was different. His knight now currently stood vigilant outside the haunted old keep, keeping watch of their horses while the prince ventured into the castle alone. He had another dream again, another vision that called him to here.
It wasn't something unfamiliar to him, in fact he’s had these strange dreams since the moment he was conscious enough as a child to recall them clearly. In some dreams, a battle plays out in front of him, on a rushing trident with men garbed in leather armor, and the river is always partially frozen, the cold numbing his bare skin. Or at least he thinks he’s bare when these things partake. Other times he dreams of a cold barren land, perhaps even more wintry and barren than the northern kingdom, and he thinks that’s because he’s never actually in Westeros when this particular dream happens. He sees beautiful creatures-beautiful men some would say, but they are to inhumane and for that he knows they are monsters- with pale blue skin and striking blue eyes, that move with a grace and ease that even the most proper southern ladies couldn't master, and their movements unnerve him. Though in most dreams, he dreams of a man, older than time itself, twisted in roots beneath the earth. The man is always trying to tell him something, but Rhaegar’s never close enough to hear, like a shadow attached to the old man's background. He always hear’s ravens in that dream,or perhaps they’re crows cawing into his ear.
The dream that led him here however was new. It didn't happen instantaneously, no. Other dreams, premonitions if you will, had to occur before he had enough faith in his uncanny visions to embark on such a folly search. Minor things, like predicting what someone will say before they say it because he knows he’s seen and heard them say it before or recognizing a new face and name he knows he couldn't have known. And now he lurks through a fortress, searching for something he truthfully doesn't believe is there but knows he has to see for himself lest he go insane. And his family was prone to either madness or greatness, there’s no middle ground with that one.
He follows the paths he followed whilst dreaming. Down dreary halls with fallen chandeliers and burned paintings. There’s one strewn on the floor near a corner that leads to another hallway, an old Targaryen prince or king with half his face missing because it went up in flames along with everything else. That’s something he remembers seeing and he follows it. In his dream, it had decorated the wall, right before everything turned into fire and ash around him. How many more webs will he have to traverse, literally and figuratively before he gets to them?
The round stone larger than his hands, that he held in his very palm, warm and alive. He went further down the hall, until he saw the makings of long dark burn marks that years of rain could barely wash away. The trail grew wider in width as he made his way down the corridor and pass the threshold of what used to be wide double doors, and into a wide spacious room, darker than the night itself. Rubble and debris littered the ground, and the only source of light was the beams from the setting sun pouring through the cracks of the ceiling. It held a beauty to it, in a gothic way.
Rhaegar took a deep breath, inhaling the stale smell of smoke and wildfire, the taste sour on his tongue. This is the only place it can be. He retraced every step he took in his dreams, followed the gut wrenching feeling that could only be his instinct. In his dreams the stone had came to life with the sounds of crackling, coming to life as flames roared around it, as agonizing screams filled the air along with the scent of fire and blood. How ironic.
His long spindly fingers began to dig through the debris, staining his pristine skin dark. It has to be here, he can’t be insane, that was one thing he refused to be. He thought of his father Aerys then, his dwindling sanity and lapses of madness. Glassy lilac eyes staring down at him with suspense. It made him move about frantically, beads of sweat rolling down his brow, that of a man on the verge of panic, though he was barely a man grown. He dug deeper, like a stray dog searching for his bone. He lifted wooden debris, splinters filling his fingers. Dust gathered up in the air, but he paid it no mind.
A part of him hoped that his father's madness was only rubbing off on him, and that the terrifying visions were not true, yet he didnt think madness was contagious. The other however, hoped beyond hope. What boy did not want to see a dragon? Especially a boy whose family once controlled them. Rhaegar searched to the point of fatigue, until his silk tunic clung to his body like a second skin from the sweat, until his fingers began to bleed and his nails crack under pressure, way past the point of weariness and wariness.
The night finally settled upon the sky like a cloak on a maiden, and Ser Barristan would come searching for him soon, and urge him to let go of his quest in favor of returning to the Red Keep in one piece. He had to hurry, already so much time had been wasted.
It had all been hopeless at one point, at one point he wanted to give up, until his fingers ran across something that wasn't damp or brisk. It felt smoothed and sultry, a solid surface that expanded further into the dirt. The ground erupted with dirt as he pulled the stone to the surface.
The young boy stared in awe, for even in the dark it glowed starkly in his hands. A beautiful crimson stone, as dark as red wine or blood, with black highlights on each scale. And he could feel something inside of it stir, as he felt something stir inside of him.
On the journey from the Dornish marches, back into the vile sanction of the Crownlands, he retrieved many inquiring looks from Ser Barristan, and even more inquiring questions. Despite Rhaegar’s hazard state, he almost seamed gleeful, with a ghostly smile etched onto his face. His indigo eyes glistened with mirth and satisfaction, but beneath all that was trepidation.
As he carried the aged egg wrapped heavily in his cloak, as his horse trotted along the desolate road, he thought on his dreams. The ice monsters with their cruel beauty and menacing eyes, the battle on the bank of a rushing river, the twisted old man that withstanded in the essence of time itself. What was he to make of them? Rhaegar was agnostic when it came to gods, but the dreams had to have a meaning, a message he has yet to decipher, and there must be a god or gods bestowing them upon him. They want something from him, for them to have given him this gift he carried, both the stone and the visions, and rarely do the gods give gifts without a price.
The court was used to Rhaegar’s closed offness. The indescribable need to be alone, save the times he strolled the garden with his mother or spared with his friend Arthur, the new foster. But now they whispered among themselves, as if he does not have eyes to see them whisper or ears to hear them utter his name beneath their breath, for the prince has locked himself within his study.
No amount of prodding and badgering from Maester Pycelle, or inquiring concern from his mother and Barristan, or the pleas of boredom from Arthur Dayne could take him from the confines of the small library he’s turned into his place of study. And the center of his study is the scarlet stone he’s become frighteningly infatuated with. He’s shown no one yet, not Rhaella, and most definitely not Aerys. Though Rhaegar reckons it's only a matter of time before the Spider and his little birds catch wisp of his secret and spoil it to their king. What will his father do when he finds out? Will he take it away from him? Will he return it from where it came, out of fear or the unshakable memory of Summerhall? Something coiled inside of Rhaegar, something possessive and desperate. The idea was ludicrous, and outright mad, but he wanted to hatch it. The Tragedy of Summerhall was a better enough example of what can happen to those who try to hatch eggs unguided. Though he wouldn't be unguided, he reassured himself he would not follow his great grandfather's mistakes. He would have his tomes, and knowledge from Targaryens of Old in written form.
Some tomes stated that most eggs were hatched when placed in the cradle of a baby Targaryen, which obviously the theory in question would remain unknown given that he was no longer a babe. Other, more reliable sources stated that it required old magic, a sacrifice in fire and blood. His stomach lurched at the thought.
For days he lingered in the room, sleeping all day and reading all night, and in between that scrutinizing his pretty stone as if the answer lies within its crimson surface. And then it came to him in a dream, a dream that paralyzed him with terror when he woke. He knew what he had to do then, for only the blood of the dragon could wake a dragon.
He took the dull butter knife from the tray of food brought to his room daily, and when that did not suffice he used the valyrian steel dagger his father gifted him for his 10th nameday, with reluctance. The steel would sting at his skin, cold and biting as it drew blood out of the thin cut.
The egg resided within the small hearth in the study, resting in a nest of wood and flames. He spilled his lifeblood onto it, as much as he could give before nearly fainting.
His days returned normal in the eyes of others, but in truth it couldn't have been more obtuse. Rhaegar had given his mother a fright, and when she smiled down at him with relief and love as they took their daily path down the garden, he felt nothing but guilt. If only she knew he drew a knife to his skin every night, sacrificing his energy and blood for the sake of hatching a dragon. Would he be any different from her grandfather in her eyes? Sacrificing himself for a lost cause. The dragons are gone from the world, and may very well remain extinct. It was common knowledge throughout the seven kingdoms, and everyone accepted this as truth. But they haven't seen what he saw, they knew nothing of his visions.
The gods choose him for a reason, for a purpose, no one could possibly understand that. He hid his scars from prying eyes, blanketing himself in dark cloaks and oversized tunics that swallowed his form. He couldn't risk his father catching a whisk of it nor his mother, and he’d be embarrassed and ashamed if Ser Barristan ever saw it. What would the knight think of him, if he knew? He’d think the Targaryen madness was finally taking over, that's for sure.
He swallowed his pain whenever he stepped into the training yard, his scars reopening with every fall and hit from Arthur’s blade. His friend often teased that the prince was losing his touch. The two used to beat each other equally in bouts, neither opponent better or worse than the other. Now though Rhaegar felt light headed and clumsy during their bouts, and just the thought of sparing made him nauseous, yet he persisted with the art of war. If he discerned anything from his dreams, it was that he needed to prepare for the wars to come, and with his fathers declining state and the growing hostilities between Aerys and Tywin, he knew it was only a matter of time. There was also the monsters that constantly plagued his dreams at night, filled with smell of rot and frost. Deep down, he knew that those were the real foes he would need to fight. The Great War, one for the dead against the living. It was something that now filled the center of his attention. Within the small little library, in the isolated areas of the Red Keep, laid correspondence between Aegon and his older brother Aemon, of a strange prophecy, one that he vaguely remembered from his studies.
They needed this dragon. Not just for the sake of House Targaryen, but the realm, the world.
All around him the world was blanketed with inches of snow, stained in blood and covered in bodies. They wore pelts of fur, and their skin was pale. But that might have something to do with the fact that they are all dead. That's what it smelled like, death. Like a butcher's workshop, a meat house with the produce put on display.
So many bodies that stretched far and wide near the bank, and on the docks stood a man, a creature. Skin an icy blue with piercing eyes that ringed with triumph. Rhaegar stood in a small boat, with others behind him, faces he couldn't see and voices he couldn't hear because all was silent. The air was tense, a foreboding that lingered as the wind whispered in his ear. The thing locked eyes with him, and only him, soulless and empty as it stretched out his arms. It reminded him of the statue of Baelor, the Targaryen kings arms opened in a savior like stance, welcoming all the faithful who step into the sanction of the Seven. The monster did the same thing, coldy regal and ethereal as any king, as it accepted the souls of the dead and ressurected them into moving carcassas with no consious. The fate of the world if he didn't fulfill his destiny. The thought filled him with dread, that he would have to face it alone, and when he woke he weeped into his pillow. Rhaegar had never felt so alone.
The young boy choose staying awake into the late hours of night and early wake of morning in lieu of sleeping. Of braving another dream. No matter how much he tried to get use to them, he was beyond terrified. A terror that crawled at the surface of his skin, making the hairs on his neck stand, a terror that seeped into his flesh and deep into the marrow of his bones.
As the months rolled by his dreams became more graphic, more vivid, to the point he understood exactly what was going on with a sharp clarity. He dreamed of dying on the Trident, of having his chest smashed in by his cousins war hammer before screaming out a woman's name between the blood in his mouth and the agony in his chest. He dreamed of his mother dying in a bed of blood, as a frightful storm raged outside the monstrous castle of Dragonstone. He dreamed of wars waging long after his death, of a boy king crueler than death and another of a boy king who smelled of death, with the body of a man and head of a wolf. The screams of young maidens piercing the air, two burning alive, another crying in terror, another dropping dead from poison soon after. The wails of women mourning their dead sons. So much pain and misery, so much death. He couldn't take it anymore. All these faces and names he couldn't place, all the events that have yet to happen, his own death.
And more than that his body was exhausted, and the childish part of Rhaegar feared he’d soon run out of blood if he continued on with his sacrifice. “Please,” he whispered, he pleaded teary eyed as he stared at the flames, at the petrified stone within. “Please,” his voice wavered with emotion. This can't all be for want, all that dried blood staining the surface of his egg, all those dreams. That cant be for nothing, his sacrifice has to mean something. “Gods please,” he cocuned his head between his arms, rocking back and forth on his bare feet.
He would go mad, he knew, if he had to go through more of this. He’d truly go mad. Despite himself he fell into the lulls of sleep, and accepted and expected the inevitable of braving another one of those cursed dreams. However, it was not to be. At least not tonight, for the gods have decided to take pity on his doomed soul.
In this dream, this sweet blissful dream, he could fly. In this dream he soared high in the heavens, practically a god himself. His mind was cleared from all worries and fears, the dwelling dread that his soul carried like chains. For a brief moment he was free, as he drifted in the golden hued clouds, the warm sun kissing his bare back.
Then suddenly, the sky began to crack, or at least it sounded like crackling, and then he jolted out of his dream. His dusky eyes ogled the shell with adept attention, his heart thundering in his chest, so loud it resonated in his ears. The crimson shell began to crack in the bright roaring flames, a slick little muzzle poking out. Please , there was no need to plead but he continued with each crack in the red exterior, until tiny little squeals filled his bedroom, until the membrane of red wings appeared out of the confines of its prison. The serpentine creature stepped out of the flames unscathed, spreading its wings with unhidden pride and glory, as if its waited for this very moment in time and history to appear. To show the world that the age of dragons was not yet finished. The last dragon, it was the last dragon, and it was his. He knew it was true when the hatchling cock its head curiously before half flying and jumping into his lap, knew it when it nuzzled its wet head against him. Rhaegar had never felt this whole, had never felt this much joy, and he weeped with happiness, laughter on his lips. Of course, like most things, it would not last.
He stood in the kings solar, infront of his fathers large ash wood desk. Varys stood on one side, and Tywin on the other. In the center sat his father, baring his oppressive gaze down on his son.
“Is it true?” it was an opened ended question, with many alternate answers. What was true? What did his father speak of? Did he know? For a brief, sudden moment he thought they knew of little Dawn, with her red wings that mirrored the sky when it began to set.
“I don't understand father,” he shook his head in fake confusion, eyes wide and brow furrowed. Rhaegar would feign his innocence to the end.
Aerys rose, and for a moment he looked like his former self, a youthful fearsomeness even with his growing beard. He sauntered over to his son, yanking up the sleeves to his black tunic, revealing the cuts that decorated his skin. For a moment he paled, and his heart fluttered with true fear and shame. He heard Varys gasp, something Rhaegar knew was an act and he fell under Tywin’s scrutiny, the cynical man always calculating and plotting. Rhaegar snatched his arms away without thinking, wriggling out of his fathers iron grasp. Though in the end, Aerys let go on his own volition, almost in disgust.
“What the seven hells is wrong with you boy?!” his finger was pointed narrowly in Rhaegar's face and he couldn't help but to flinch. “Answer me!”. How could anyone answer such a question, and how could anyone give the only explanation that Rhaegar could offer.
“I-” but Rhaegar was rendered speechless as his father struck him, the taste of iron on his tongue. His father had never struck him before, and his chest clenched after he fell from the impact. He looked at the imposing figure that stood over him, really looked at him, and didn't recognize the stranger at all. Rhaegar would not cry, but he wanted to. Father had never hit him before. He stared at him with suspicion, and even yelled at him sometimes, but never went beyond that. Perhaps it was only a matter of time. But father never… He would not cry, he willed himself not to. There are worse things in the world than being struck by your father , he told himself, like a hammer crushing the ribs in your chest. Rhaegar remembered the sickening crunch of his bones, the blood that filled his mouth, the name on his lips. He could still feel the teeth shattering collision. Or watching as monsters from legend slaughter thousands of men, women, and children. That was far worse.
“If you want attention, attention is what you’ll get,” Father had never beaten him before, until he did.
He goes to Dawn for comfort, his little she-dragon, lost in transfixion at the graceful movement of her long neck and tale.
Aerys had made sure to hit him in less noticeable places, leaving his face unharmed to stay the whispers of court, but his body hurts all the same. But all the pain in his limbs couldn't match the hurt he felt in his heart. His father's eyes had darkened from his dilated pupils, and his ringed hands came down hard. When that wasn't enough, he found his belt more useful. What made it even was worse that Varys and Tywin remained in the room whilst it happened. Was his father making an example at Rhaegar's expense? A show of power, of if I’d do this to my son what do you think I'd do to you if you displeased me? It didn't matter to him what the reason was, only that it was embarrassing to have Tywin looking down at him with a gleam of satisfaction in his golden speckled eyes, and to have Varys standing there, pretending to have pity. Anger coiled inside of him at the thought, and anger was a rare thing for Rhaegar to feel.
The grey storm clouds that forever hovered above the dreary field of his life darkened, and his rage mirrored that of the Valyrian flames.
Inhaling and exhaling, he clenched his hands tightly, the muscle on his knuckles constricting on the bone. Dawn screeched loudly, nudging him with her head. He ran his fingers down her silky spine. “Please be quiet,” the last thing he needed was for one of Varys little birds to report this to the Spider and by extension his father.
Aerys would kill her, that he knew for certain, or use her for his own ambitious gain. To reign terror upon those he feels are deserving of such pain. And if she wouldn't bend to him, he’d kill her out of jealous rage. Tywin would be more than happy to comply, and perhaps Varys as well. “I can't let them take you. I won't let them take you, but you have to be quite,”
Dawn seemed to understand him, for she quieted beneath the soothing of his hand, and a spark of happiness ignited within him. Rhaegar felt there would always be a mutual understanding between them. He had begged her to hatch, desperate and depraved, and she answered his cry for help. The tomes say that dragons are intelligent beings, perhaps even smarter than humans. Rhaegar couldn't help but agree.
Dawn enjoyed stealing pieces of meat off his plate, and sometimes he’d hide her in a nestle of blankets and take her to the oldest parts of the Red Keep to pray on mice. He always did so when he managed to dodge the step of the guards his father ordered to dog him. It was a dangerous feat, but one he was willing to take. Dawn grew bigger everyday, and it was only a matter of time before she grew to the point of no longer being hideable.
Rhaegar was no longer allowed around knives, the only exception during meals. Aerys had also ordered for guards to supervise him whenever he seeked to eat alone in his room. He made sure to never do that, lest they spot Dawn, earning more of his fathers suspicion and ire.
The hardest part of the days was looking at his mother, and seeing the disappointment and pity, her sad smile that didn't reach her dark eyes. What did she think of him now? What of Ser Barristan? He carried the same look as well, always asking if anything ailed him, if he was okay, whenever the king wasn't present to hear. Rhaegar didn't need pity, pity wouldn't keep the terrors of his dreams at bay, pity wouldn't change his destiny.
At least Arthur was the same old Arthur. Though Rhaegar guesses he hasn't heard of the princelings strange indulgences, yet, or maybe it was something he expected of Targaryen’s. The fabled madness that ran through his bloodline. Anyone can go mad, no matter their heritage. There were fools and madman littered all across the slums and gutters of Kings Landing, all across the Seven Kingdoms, noble and lowborn alike. But people paid that fact no mind, they only believed what they wanted to believe.
Rhaegar was not mad, Dawn was proof of that, and when he finally had enough courage to write his great uncle Aemon, who responded back in kind, he knew for certain that he would not end up on the list of mad Targaryen kings.
Aemon tells him of Dragon Dreams, the same prophetic dreams that made his ancestors flee Valyria before the Doom. The older man told him of Bloodraven, the man who had a thousand eyes and a gleaming red one. Wargs, greenseers and dreamers. He wasn't any of the former but he could claim the latter.
In return Rhaegar spoke of his dreams in great detail, of the glacial monsters that haunted him, of times yet to come, of his own death at the banks of the trident. Aemon’s script had became haggard with every raven sent and received, as if nerves rattled him as he wrote, and then Rhaegar garnered more courage and told the older man of Dawn. There was no harm in it, not really. Afterall, who would believe the whimsical tale of an old Maester half a world away, royal blood be damned? And Rhaegar burned each correspondence besides, saving all the information he attained to memory alone.
But the letters halted instantaneously after, and whenever he went to the ravenry, he left empty handed. Despite his uncle's old age and being so far away, Rhaegar had enjoyed Aemon’s conversation. It was better than the ones he had with flatteres and his father by half, and there was still so much he needed to learn from the elderly Targaryen.
Days had turned to weeks, and weeks had turned to months, until the year itself passed by and then more moons passed. It was on his thirteen name day that Aemon finally responded.
Please tell me you would not play a cruel jest on an old man’s heart? It read, the letters smudged and tear drops stained onto the parchment. It had been then that he decided he would go north, to...celebrate his thirteenth nameday, and visit his aged uncle at the Wall. He would speak to Aemon in person, for words on a piece of paper alone would never be able to convince him.
“Do you wish to take the black, boy? You won't escape me that easily,” Aerys had cackled at his own joke, sitting proudly upon his throne of twisted swords. To others it seemed as if father was joking with son, but it held darker undertones. Do you wish to escape my wrath, my fist and the back of my hand? Or is it the belt and lash you wish to dodge? The fresh scars that cascaded down his back was proof enough for it. Yet, by the will of the gods themselves, Aerys relented at Rhaegar’s request for the love and respect that he had left for his grandfather's family, the little there was that remained.
He was almost a man grown, and for that reason alone he traveled lightly. As light as travel can get for a prince. His entourage contained Ser Barristan, and his friend Arthur Dayne, along with serving girls and maids, and a few extra guards to watch him closely. They left from the docks of Kings Landing, on a galley called the Sleeping Maiden. Why did sailors always name their vessels after maidens with bawdy euphemism? Rhaegar didn't know, nor did he truly care. What he truly cared for was Dawn, who now dwarfed the small hounds in the kennels, seemingly increased by the span of her leathery wings, making up the bulk of her size. All the little details that were unnoticeable before were noticeable now, like the black spines that ran up and down her long back, the small little horns beginning to sprout around her face, and the frills that flanked her back. Red with black highlights, just like the shell she hatched from, as red as the dawn. Dawn was absolutely stunning, and she knew it to. Dragons were forever prideful creatures, human and animal alike. The she-dragon loved travel, loved to spread her wings in the open air without worry, but he always made sure she stayed clear of the retinue during the day. At night, she slithered into his open cabin window below the deck, and curled next to him. She was prone to doing so, when Aerys blows were to much and Rhaegar cried himself to sleep she would crawl by his side or head by instinct alone, until she began sleeping beside him regularly. She’d even nibble at his fingers and nip at his ears whenever she sensed his troubling dreams, his savior and escape. What would he do without her? He couldn't have left her alone in Kings Landing, with Varys and Tywin lurking around and Aerys right after. It was to risky, far more dangerous than bringing her with, and he had done so with much precaution.
Once they’d docked at White Harbor, after a two moons journey, and spent a fortnight at New Castle with the Manderlys, they embarked on the Kings Road.
“We’ll head to Winterfell first, Your Grace. The Wall is a long way from where we are now, and we won't make it their overnight,” his knight had reasoned, eyes mirthful, though Rhaegar was anxious to see his uncle. Dawn wasn't the only one who needed to get out of the Red Keep it seemed, and Ser Barristan was finally acting normal again. Rhaegar thanks whatever gods there were for it.
The relationship between Rhaegar and Arthur also improved. The two boys became as thick as thieves, laughing and jesting and playing games on the road. The young Dayne had regaled him with stories of the Water Gardens in Dorne (where children could be children, noble and lowborn alike), and his friends Oberyn and Elia. He claimed the former was a fierce spirit who loved his sister dearly, and the latter was sweet and gentle, though her meekness was not her weakness. He spoke of his little sister Ashara fondly, and Rhaegar felt a little envious. Aerys loved Rhaella not, and the feeling was mutual, everyone knew it. They already had one heir, there was no need for another apparently. It was safe to say that Rhaegar would not become an older brother anytime soon.
Rhaegar found that he had more in common with the boy than he initially thought, and when he told him of his family's sword Dawn Rhaegar had to bite his tongue to prevent him for revealing his secret.
It felt good to escape the foul stench of King's Landing, to be free from the oppressive vipers pit that he called home. The worst part about the journey, was that sooner or later it would end.
The Kings Road is desolate in comparison to the road that traveled south. In the north, it is a rare thing to see another traveler on the road and every few miles they seemed to delve into more wilderness instead of inns. Whereas in the south there are inns and brothels every few miles, with merchants and common travelers passing by. He found the north’s calm isolation quite accommodating.
He could feel Dawn nearby, perhaps soaring above the tree line to stalk some prey.
They had all been in for a surprise when snow started to lightly fall, though luckily they had all bought northern wear after being warned of the shifting weather by Lord Manderly himself. To say the least, their furs and cloaks weren't nearly enough, so it would be an understatement to say Rhaegar had been joyous to see open plains that transitioned into rolling hills with light snow, and with it the magnificent size of Winterfell's stone grey walls, larger than the Red Keep by half. Even on top of the hills his entourage rested on, he could see the longitudinal sphere shaped towers that peaked.
It lacked the grandeur in comparison to a castle like Casterly Rock or Highgarden, but it captivated him nonetheless. How long have the walls stood, how many Stark lords and before that Stark kings grazed the halls, long before Aegon the Conqueror came into existence? Before the Andals invaded? Winterfell held a dreamy like essense to it. For it smelled of pine and purity, it snowed during summertime, and when night fell the sky would come to life again with the enigma of northern lights, drifting in the sky like colorful waves. They had nothing like that in the south, and it all felt surreal.
Lord Rickard Stark seems to be carved of stone, like a statue within a crypt, and Rhaegar wouldn't be surprised if the older man actually mirrored any of his ancestors beneath Winterfell. Despite this, his eyes are gentle if not kind, and welcoming if only a little wary of his visitor. When was the last time anyone of the royal family visited their bannerman in the north? The young prince could only think centuries.
The Warden of the North stands in an impressive assembled line. His children stood horizontally in a fortified line, as if they were preparing for battle, starting from the eldest to the youngest. There was Brandon Stark the future Warden of the North, with his wild dark curls and fiery blue eyes. The boy shook his hand with much strength and energy, and smiled with enthuse and curiosity. Rhaegar could already tell the heir had a wild spirit. Then there was little Eddard Stark with brown hair as fine as his father's straight locks and impassive grey eyes. He seemed to have a more quiet soul and paled in contrast to his older brother with his hard indiscernible face. Almost as if he was trying to imitate his lord father, and Rhaegar found that quite amusing. And then there was little Lyanna, who looked like a boy more than she did a girl, with her long freckled face and short hair. She was a proud little thing, in the way that she stood tall in front of him, daring him to cast judgment, and when he bent down to her level to take her hand she gripped it with much fervor, more so than her eldest brother, and smiled a toothy grin, missing teeth and all. One that he found childishly charming, and he couldn't resist letting out a laugh, something often foreign to him, and ruffling the girls wild hair.
The last one was Benjen, a boy of five, and Rhaegar thinks he is sweet and kind, in the way that only children of five years can be. He doesn't hesitate to smile or greet the young princeling, and Rhaegar internally thanks him for it.
“What brings you this far north, Your Grace?” it was the first time Lord Stark sought to address him, and all chatter stops at the table. They all sat in the Great Hall, amongst a long trestle table.
For the bulk of his conversations he was consistently engaged with the Stark children, whom asked questions about life in the south while he inquired about life in the north, clearing up some of the biases the other had for the opposite side. Ser Barristan was more often than not pulled into the conversation, and he didn't miss how the young Stark boys, eyed the white knight with admiration, even Eddard Stark whom had no qualms with finessing a tale or two. And Lyanna didn't hesitate to engage Arthur with a one on one conversation the moment he spoke of the warrior women in Dorne.
The lord’s eyes still contained that small gleam of wariness, “I plan to visit the Wall, my lord,” he vaguely wonders if he knows that already.
“The Wall, hm?” he muses, taking a light sip of ale before gently sitting it down. The mans grey eyes seem to search him, and it makes the younger boy tenese in a way not even his father could make him. Rhaegar feels Ser Barristan tense beside him as well, and beneath the table he grips the handle of his sword. “Do you plan to take the black?” he says with good humor.
“The gods know I’d rather than being in Kings Landing,” he responds rather honestly, perhaps to honestly, and his face is as serious as ever.
The impossible happens, and Lord Stark smiles, even chuckles though only lightly, but his children follow along with him, more loud and sure, and the three southerners laugh as well, but theirs is a nervous and uncertain one.
“Aye, wouldn't we all? My time in King's Landing was brief the last time I visited, but it was enough for me to become well acquainted with its like,” the lord finally halts his laughter and his smile, though the kindness doesn't fade away. “You're quite the serious one Prince Rhaegar, much like my Ned,” the second son blushes at the comparison. “Well, I hope your journey is safe and well, and that you find what you seek at the Wall. Until then, my halls are open to you should you ever need them,”
“Thank you, my lord,” and Rhaegar tries not to sound to obviously relieved about it.