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Beneath the Gold, the Bitter Steel. Beneath the Bitter Steel, the Good Heart

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Victory should not have tasted bitter.  The Bastard had finally left. He had ran off to  Essos, a boy of four and ten. In his little farewell letter, he said he was going to  squire for a Knight in the Golden Company, and when he returned it would not be as a bastard, but as a Knight of the free brotherhood of the Golden Company.    He promised Sansa, silks from Myr, and velvet form Loras. He promised Robb, armor from Qoher and Bran, climbing boots and claws from Norvos.

 

He promised Arya he would commission  a sword for her. A sword!

 

If it weren’t the fact Jon Snow’s absence made her children sad and her Ned wroth with her she would be happy.

 

But still her victory was bitter, and the promise she made to  the Seven as a boy loomed over her like the Titan of Braavos.






A month later a variety of packages, all neatly stacked in the back of a very large carriage was trotted up to the gates of Winterfell.

 

Ser Rodrik said the packages came off a ship from White Harbor, The Ship was from Tyrosh.   The Captain told the customs master that a member of the Golden Company,a pretty boy with a long face and curly black hair asked the packages be delivered to Winterfell, and that the boy has given him a bag loaded with Volantis silver to see it delivered.

 

There was a letter, sealed with the spear and  gilded skull sigil of the Golden Company.

 




To my father, Lord Eddard of House Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Lord Paramount of the North and Warden of the North, his wife, Lady Catelyn Stark nee Tully,  my brothers, Robb, Bran and Rickon, my sisters Sansa and Arya, and my father’s ward, and my brother Robb’s closest friend, Theon of the House Greyjoy, future Lord of Iron Islands and Lord Reaper of Pyke

 

It has been four months since I swore my oaths beneath the skull of Captain-General  Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers. It has been a rather busy four months. The Golden Company has been on content campaign, at the behest of Braavos, who is paying the Company, and by extension myself, after my expenses for food, lodging clothing, arms and armor have been deducted by the Company paymaster to make war upon Volantis.   

 

Our Company did not fight alone, aiding us in fulfilling the contract, were the Company of the Rose, the Wolf’s Pack and the Brave Companions.   Opposing us on the field of battle, were the Second Sons, Stormcrows, and some two dozen lesser bands, seven of which were slaughtered to the last man and woman.   We did not have the numbers to sack Volantis, but we carried out a raid in force, that left us with a great deal of plunder, as well as many liberated slaves, to fill the ranks.  About a week after we left Volantis a great many slaves rose in revolt. Something we took great joy in.

 

Essos is too warm for my liking,  Volantis was particularly unpleasant.  I have told many men and women of the under settled land of The Gift,  It is my hope that many escaped slaves will make their way there and perhaps bolster the Night’s Watch strength by working the land or taking the black.  Perhaps you could ask Uncle Benjen to ask Lord Commander Mormont to send some of the recruiters to Essos? There are great many Eunuchs about in the Free Cities, as well as other who have nowhere to go.  If I were in their shoes, I would rather die an honorable death serving the realm of men than begging for coppers amidst slavers and sickness and tavern wenches.

 

Forgive my Jape at your expense Theon, but you would enjoy Lys, nothing but prostitutes and liars and bullies who need their faces smashed into the cobblestones.

 

The Golden Company is a very uncouth group, but to dismiss them is the bitter dregs of failed rebellions against House Targaryen, and would be usurpers and bastards like myself would be a mistake.   There is honor and discipline in their actions. The knights may curse and jape and the Men at Arms may spend their gold on baubles and women and men to warm their beds, but these men in their hearts, are good.  They dream of Westeros and home. The have families and people they are willing to kill and die for. The knight I squire for is named Ser Franklyn Flowers. He has served twelve years beneath the gilded skulls.  He is not a particularly handsome man, and he resembles nothing of the Knight’s of the songs you love so much Sansa. But he is gallant, he understands the pain of being judged by how the Gods brought you into this world, and not by your virtue as a man.   He carved through seven men to rescue Ser Tristan Rivers when he was dismounted, and I have seen him shrug off arrows to shield a young slave girl. He has done right be me when I asked to join the Company, and as his squire, I swore to the Old Gods I would do right by him.

 

Anyway, I made some promises about what I would send you all,  and I have fulfilled them, It was quite satisfying to use money acquired from Illbegotton means to  bring smiles to family’s faces. There are a great many dead slavers in Volantis, and they had plenty of coin.   

 

For my father, and Robb,  Armor from Qoher, the only better armor you’ll find is of Valyrian Steel.

 

From my sister Sansa, and her mother,  Jewelry, silks, bolts of cloth and tapestries from Myr and Loras.   Two of the necklace have small blades, concealed within. The world is a cruel place and there will not always  be good men with stout hearts and skill at arms around. I have attached a list of poisons Maester Luwin would be capable of brewing to  coat them with at request of Lady Mudd, Serjeant Jon Mudd’s mother who recommended I purchase such jewelry.

 

For my brother Bran,  climbing gear from Norvos, as well as a number of books from Tyrosh that I thought you might like.  

 

For my sister Arya, I have commissioned a sword, so she may defend herself and those she loves.   This blade is based off a Braavosi design, it won’t cut a man’s head off but it can poke him full of holes if your fast enough.  Have Ser Rodrik drill you on the basics, and practice every day and you will be as good as Queen Nymeria or Visenya, if not better.  

 

For Theon, I had a recurve bow commissioned, as well as a variety of arrows, and arrow heads of exotic materials.  

 

In the event of my death, the Captain-General shall send a Raven informing you all of such,  any funds and items in my possession shall be shipped to you, as well as my bones, if the circumstances permit it.

 

I plan to  return to Winterfell when I come of age and am knighted.

 

All my love,

 

Jon Snow.

 

Arya reached for the sword Jon had gifted her.   She drew it slowly, taking in every inch of the blade.

 

“That doesn’t  look like a sword.”  Sansa said. “It looks like a long sewing needle.”

 

Arya laughed.  “Then that’ll be its name.”






“Do you plan to legitimize him?” Catelyn asked that night.   Ned stared at her, his grey eyes both soft and hard.

 

“When Jon returns to  Westeros, I plan to tell him, you and his siblings who his mother is.  He deserves the truth.”

 

“I do not care who his mother is  What if he asks you to legitimize him?  He’s send us gifts, He seeks Knighthood.  By the seven, Ned he’s joined the Golden Company.   What if he returns to Winterfell to take what he thinks is his?”

 

Ned  let out a slow breath and clenched his right hand.

 

“Catelyn, we both know Jon would never harm his family. I have asked you not to hate him just for being born.   Jon is my burden, my mistake. I swore to his mother to protect him. And I failed him by making him feel like he  had to run across the Narrow Sea.”

 

“The only reason I have allowed him to  remain here is because of the love I have for you and the happiness he brings to my children.”

 

Ned’s gaze darkened.  “He is my family. Cat.  The Stark blood runs in his veins just as much as Robb and Bran.”

 

“He is a sign of your infidelity.  I understand we were not meant to be wed originally, but you swore to be faithful, and you were not.  You brought him here, raised him alongside our son. A bastard. He looks like more like you than Robb Ned.  All it would take for one rumor that Robb is a bastard, and he would have all the support he needs.”

 

“Listen to  yourself Cat.  Jon would never betray Robb.   And if Jon does bear any ill will towards you, he would keep it to himself.  You’re the mother of his siblings, and he has always been polite to you.”

 

“If he returns, I do not want him to stay.”

 

Ned sighed again.

 

“I do not intend to legitimize Jon.   When Jon returns he may intend to join the Night’s Watch,  or perhaps as a Knight he will join a house in the south. He may travel to  Dorne, where there is less stigma against bastards, but I will not force Jon to leave Winterfell.  If he wishes to stay he stays. Let that be the end of the discussion my lady.”

 

Catelyn took his hand in hers.

 

“Fine,” she said softly.

 





To my brother Jon, future knight of the Golden Company

 

How are things in Essos Snow?  I hope your not too bored over there.   I wish I could be there with you, but as heir to  Winterfell, and Theon’s only friend, I have my responsibilities.    Sansa has already made a variety of dresses with the material, and she loves the necklace you sent her.    Mother is quite worried about Bran climbing with the claws and boot spikes you sent him, father arranged for bran to  spend a few days with House Flint of the Mountains so he may test them out. He enjoyed himself, but it was at mother’s expense.  Gods she was worried. Arya misses you a lot but father misses you more. On the day, we received your gifts, I saw him go to the crypts after supper.  I swear by the gods he was holding back tears. We all pray for your safe return when you are knighted.

 

Come home soon,  Arya wants to spar with you.  And I want my brother at my right side again..

 

All my love,

 

Robb




To my father, Lord Eddard of House Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Lord Paramount of the North and Warden of the North, his wife, Lady Catelyn Stark nee Tully,  my brothers, Robb, Bran and Rickon, my sisters Sansa and Arya, and my father’s ward, and my brother Robb’s closest friend, Theon of the House Greyjoy, future Lord of Iron Islands and Lord Reaper of Pyke

 

I regret to inform you you and I will have to go to Bear Island a day or two after my arrival to Winterfell.  In my first battle as a knight of the Golden Company, I encountered Sir Jorah Mormont. I could not convince him to take the black to  atone for his crimes, and had to kill him. I plan to return his body and the House Mormont’s ancestral blade Longclaw to Bear Island in person. Father, when I return, I would like to discuss who my mother was.

 

I pray things are going well in Winterfell.

 

Ser Jon Snow







“Open the gates!”  Jory ordered.

 

Sansa was somewhat disappointed  when her brother entered the gates of Winterfell.  When they’d read his letter about him being knighted, she expected him to  arrive in gilded plate, every inch a hero from the songs.

 

Instead Jon rode up to  Winterfell on a unbarded horse,  a Mule, with a coffin secured to his side.    He was clad in black leather and knee length fur lined boots.  He wore a cloak of chainmail and black wool with a pin in the shape of the Golden Company sigil.

 

His gauntlets and greaves were polished steel, and judging by the scuff and hammered out dents, well used.

 

Across his waist was a crimson sash, with two daggers tucked in it andA longsword at his hip.  Longclaw, the Valyrian steel bastard sword was strapped to his back.


 

Jon dismounted.

 

“Father, Lady Stark.”

 

Ned embraced him.  “You've grown up son.”

 

“It has been three years, father.” Jon said.

 

“Aye.” Ned said with a sad smile

 

“I always said black was your color.” Robb said with a smile as he hugged his brother.

 

Arya lept into Jon's  arms. Jon smiled for the first time since he arrived in the North  and mussed her hair.

 

“I missed you little sister.”  Jon said.

 

“Can we spar?” She asked.  “Well I certainly didn't send you a sword for you to shave your legs with it.” Jon said as he ruffled her hair again.”

 

Bran was the next to hug Jon.  “Since you're a knight, does that mean I can squire for you?”

 

Jon swore he saw a vein bulge in Lady Stark’s neck.

 

“I’ve not even been a knight for a year Bran.”  Bran smiled the grin of a boy who idolized his older brother.  “You’ll be a great knight. You’ll be almost as good as Barristan the Bold.”

 

Jon laughed and turned towards Sansa.   He was surprised when Sansa pulled him into  a hug.

 

“It’s good to see you again Jon.”

 

“You too Sansa, i’m glad you enjoyed my gifts.”

 

“The silks and jewelry were marvelous.” Sansa said. She was was wearing the necklace with the hidden blade he had sent her.

 

“Come, we shall feast and you can elaborate on the tales we read in your letters. Afterwords, I will tell you about your mother.” Ned said.





Arya, knew something was nagging her father.

 

She knew because he drunk three goblets of wine.  Her father was not one to indulge in drink.

 

She was so happy to have Jon home.

 

“How long will you be staying?” she asked.   Jon looked to his father and her lady mother.  “I must leave for Bear Island before dawn. If I am allowed, I would like to stay in Winterfell.  But if my presence is unwelcome, I can rent a room at Winter Town. I plan to stay in the North at least a month,  The Golden Company will be mustering in Tyrosh by then.”

 

“Why would you rent a place at Winter Town? This is your home.” Arya said.

 

“I'm not a Stark Arya. Your father letting  a bastard like me live with his trueborn children is rare.”

 

“You’re my brother.” Arya said.

 

“You will always have a place here Jon.” Ned said as the servants cleared away their lunch.

 

Ned rose.  “You’re a man grown now Jon.  I… It’s time I told you who your mother was.”

 

He turned to Catelyn, than to his trueborn children.

 


“Follow me to the crypts. All of you.”

 




Jon hated the crypts.   Ever since his fifteenth name day.  He had dreamed of the crypts.

 

The statues of the crypts had haunted at him,  cursed at him. This is not you place, the King and Queens in the North and Lords and Ladies of Winterfell would say to him     Jon would have been excited, once at the prospect of finding out his  mother. Now, he felt a strange source of emptiness.

 

The seven of them stood before the statue of Lyanna Stark.

 

In the torchlight, Eddard Stark, looked far older than his five and thirty years, and Caitlyn's face was as stony as the statues surrounding them.

 

Robb and his other siblings looked concerned.

 

“ Besides me only two people still live who truly knew your mother.” Ned said.   “Your Uncle Benjen, and my good friend, Howland Reed.”

 

“When you mother lay dying, she begged me to protect you.  When you ran off at three and ten, I was prepared to have men find you and bring you back, but Howland Reed remind me, you were like your mother, that you couldn’t collar a wolf.” Ned said with a sad smile.

 

The Lord of Winterfell turned to  the statue of his long dead sister.

 

“What I am about to tell you, cannot leave this room. If word go out, it would bring death to our house and suffering to the North.”  Ned said.

 

“Jon… You are not my son.”   Jon’s blood ran cold.

 

“Your mother was my sister Lyanna Stark of Winterfell.  Your father.. Your father was Prince Rhaegar Targaryen of Dragonstone, “

 

Jon sank to his knees, his head spinning.   He looked at the statue of his Aunt- no of his mother.

 

“So i’m not just a bastard, i’m a bastard borne of rape?”  Jon said weakly, unable to rise.

 

“You were not a product of rape Jon, Lyanna loved Rhaegar for a time, before he betrayed her trust and had her imprisoned in Dorne. Rhaegar had you legitimized as a Targaryen, and your mother named you Aemon, but she wanted you raised as a Stark, she begged me with her dying breath  to raise you in Winterfell.”

 

Jon rose, but he could not speak.  Arya hugged him and clung to him like a leech.  “I don’t care if you’re a dragon. You’re my brother.” Arya said.

 

Caitlyn looked to Ned, than the statue, then she stared at Jon as if she was seeing him for the first time.  “God’s forgive me for being unable to love a motherless child. .” Caitlyn said “There's nothing to forgive Lady Stark.” Jon said softly.

 

Jon looked Robb, than at his Uncle.

 

‘“Father.”  Robb said. “You should legitimize Jon.”  “Please father, Jon’s a knight and you said Prince Rhaegar legitimized him.” Bran said.

 

“I’m not a Stark.” Jon said hoarsely.

 

“You are.  Your mother was a Stark. Your father, our father is a Stark.” Sansa said in a tone that would brook no argument.

 

Ned sighed. “I will write to the King,”




Bear Island was rich in Bears and Trees, but poor in aught else.  Nevertheless the Island and it’s people were no less impressive. Mormont Keep was a heavily fortified Longhall that had been rebuilt and expanded many times over.  

 

Two figures waited for Jon Snow at the docks.  One was a hairy, dark skinned balding man clad in chainmail.  His beard was cropped and his eyes beady. He hefted an axe and had a longsword and obsidian dagger at his hip.  His kite shield bore the sigil of House Stane of Driftmark, a house that resided on Skagos.

 

The other was an Auburn haired young woman clad in furs and boiled leather. A greatsword was strapped to her back.

 

“I’m Valeria Norrey, Captain of Lady Mormont’s Household Guard.  This is Ulric Stane, our Master-at Arms.”

 

“Ser Jon Snow of the Golden Company.”

 

“Is that what’s left of him?”  The Skagosi asked.

 

“Aye,”

 

“You did what your father couldn’t Snow.”  The old northman said gruffly.

 

“I had no desire to kill him, I tried to convince him to take the Black, “

 

“He had nine years to take the Black. Even if him taking it defeated the purpose of Ol’ Jeor joining the Watch, it would have better then running to  Essos. ”

 

“Enough of that  you old Unicorn, let’s escort him  to Lady Mormont.” The young woman said.

 

The hall of Bear Island  was austere, even by Northern Standards, a sign of Bear Island’s Genteel poverty.    Shields decorated the walls, Jon saw the shields not just of House Mormont, but the shields of extinct houses, like House Hoare, Greyiron, Greystark and Woodford, even a shield bearing the Golden Dragon of those that supported Aegon II.

 

Lady Maege Mormont, was a big boned woman with grey hair. Her face was lined not just with age, but with laugh lines as well.  Surrounding her were her many daughters, The oldest a year older than him, the youngest a child of nine or ten with piercing eyes and a stern complexion

 

“The prodigal son returns.   You put your father in quite a tizzy when  you left boy.”

 

“That was not my intention Lady Mormont.”

 

“And what was your intention? Did you father tell you he was going to  send men to drag you back to Winterfell? Wasn’t till Howland Reed, asked to  speak with him in private, that rescinded the order.”

 

“He did. My lady.”

 

Lady Mormont looked at him.   “Your prettier than Ned was when he was   lad. He and your Uncles were quite a catch back then.  Shame Brandon got himself killed and your Uncle Benjen joined the Night’s Watch”

 

Maege Mormont sipped her ale

 

“But your eyes aren’t like his,  their like his sisters. Wild, angry, make you want to piss yourself at times.”  

 

Maege sighed.

 

“Enough small talk.  Dark wings have brought dark words.   And the sins of the past have come back to roost in our keep.  Tell me Ser Snow. How did my nephew die?”

 

“As my letter said, he died by my hand on the field of battle.  I killed him by slitting his throat. He fought well, my lady. It was the hardest battle I ever fought.”

 

Maege sighed.   “Tell me of your duel.  I want a blow by blow account for my Maester.  Jorelle, fetch Ser Snow, bread and salt. Lyanna get him  a drinking horn and a chair. ”

 

When this was done, Jon sipped  his ale and began.

 

“ The Golden Company and I were under contract in  Qorth, one of the Free Cities. We had been hired, along with a few other bands to protect them from a Dothraki horde under the command of Khal Drogo.  The Khal was working for The Beggar King.”

 

“The Beggar King?’ One of the Mormont girls asked.

 

“The Mad King’s son Viserys, my lady.  He’s twice as mad as his father. He tried to hire us, but he had no plan, no gold, only promises he could not keep.  Viserys wed his own sister to the Khal in exchange for his support. What he didn’t understand you can’t conqueror Westeros with only 40,000 screamers, even if they would cross the sea.”

 

“And Jorah?”  

 

“He had sworn himself to  Viserys’ service in exchange for a pardon.  We fought when he led the host that broke through one of the gates.   He cut down ten men before we met. We were both on foot. We locked blades. He was the better swordsman, he broke my shield and almost took my left arm off.  We dueled for another three or five minutes, before he disarmed me. “

 

“I thought that was the end, so I decided I’d take him with me.  I drew my dirk and flung myself onto Longclaw. He sheathed it inside my chest,  I was face to face with him, when I jammed my dirk in his left eye socket. He fell on his back.  I was on my knees, trying to breath as I pulled the sword out. He wasn’t dead my lady. He rose and came at me with a dagger.   He was on top of me, he jammed it in my right hand, when I tried, to grab his arm. I punched him in the face. I pulled the dagger out of my hand, and buried  it in his throat. He was still trying to choke me with his right hand and before he died. “

 

Jon drained his ale.

 

“After that I stood over his body and Longclaw, killing any Dothraki who wanted his body or the sword,  I took two arrows to the back, but I made sure Ser Jorah’s body and Longclaw were taken to the rear when the healers carried me off the field.”

 

Jon unstrapped Longclaw form his back and offering the blade hilt first to Lady Mormont.

 

Maege took the blade.  She held it sadly. Her eyes staring into the dark steel.

 

Before she could, reply, the doors to the hall burst open.  A household guard was panting, “My lady! It’s the Silence!  Euron Greyjoy is here!”

 

“Boy hand me the scabbard!  Ulric, Dacey, Alysanne you’re with me Valeria, get my daughters to safety, then get over here to help repel these damn krakens.” Maege bellowed.

 

The She-Bear sheathed Longclaw and left it on the table.  Jon followed her outside the keep, his sword drawn.

 




All Mormont’s learned to fear Kraken’s, but all Mormont’s learned that Kraken’s could be killed.

 

The Silence hit the beach with some 200 Ironborn. House Mormont was a small house,but a proud one and every Bear Islander fought with the strength of ten mainlanders.  

 

As such for every Mormont who fell, three Ironborn did as well.

 

Maege Mormont, had a reputation as a terrifying warrior,  quicker than lightning, with her mace, able to shrug off wounds that fell lesser men, a force of nature on the battlefield, that Lord Stark could rely upon to smote the enemies of the North.

 

But Jon Snow, was something else entirely.   Dacey had expected the boy to be decent in a fight.

 

She had not expecting him to be almost as terrifying as her mother.  Jon Snow, may not have been a Stark, but he was as much a wolf as they were.   A bloody- handed bitter, rage filled wolf, only collared by discipline and honor.  His dark eyes smoldered with a cold fury as he stabbed bashed and when necessary bit through the Ironborn swarming over Bear Island.

 

Jon snarled as he spat an Ironborn’s ear.   “I don’t see Euron Greyjoy!” he yelled.

 

Dacey blocked an axe blow and buried her mace in an Ironborn’s chest.

 

“There’s no  way he’s not leading this raid Snow!”

 

“If we’re lucky your mother’s killed the fucker!” the Bastard knight roared as he buried his sword in an ironborn’s chest.

 

“Here we stand!” the cry went up from the Mormont’s lines as they pushed the Ironborn back.  

 

The Ironborn were silent as they reorganized and made a second attempt to break through the ranks of House Mormont.

 

“Hold the line!” Maege Mormont ordered.  “Ser Snow, Dacey, hold the right flank, Ulric, Eddara, you have the left! Here we Stand!”

 

“Here we Stand!” the men and women of House Mormont choused.

 

“Here you die! I always wanted a Mormont girl to warm  my bed! That’s the only reason I came to this shithole excuse of an island!” Euron Greyjoy bellowed.

 

Euron made Dacey’s skin crawl.   He was a tall man, with hair as dark as tar and a blue eye that glinted with madness.  His left one was obscured by an eye patch. He wore black scaled armor of Valyrian Steel under a black longcoat. Like his brother Victarion,he favored a two handed battle axe.

 

“The fool’s not wearing a helm, go for his head.” Jon said.

 

“Neither of us are either.” Dacey said with a grin.

 

“True.” Jon said, as he braced himself for the reaver’s charge.

 

The ground shook from ninety charing ironborn, unlike most Ironborn, there were no battle cries or curses spewing from their lips, Euron Greyjoy had a habit of cutting out the tongues of those sworn to his service.

 

Jon hacked and slashed his way through the Ironborn with  controlled fury. His sword rose and fell, rose and fell. Not every swing, killed his enemy outright, but every blow  stained the dirt of Bear Island with blood.

 

Dacey lost all sense of time,  all that mattered was the knight at her side and the enemies in front of her that needed to die so her little sisters could be safe.

 

“Dacey!”  Dacey turned, her morningstar twirling in her hand.  She hardly recognized her sister Alysanne under her coating of blood and grime and sweat.

 

“It’s Euron, he broke through the left flank! He’s heading for the keep!”

 

Dacey’s blood ran colder than Ice.  “Get Mother and Captain Valeria quickly.”  She ordered Dacey turned and saw Jon already running in the direction of Mormont Keep.

 





Jon  burst into  Mormont Keep,  the two guards at the doorway were already dead.   He cursed. He thought of his sisters, then he thought of Maege Mormont’s youngest daughters.    They had been given daggers and told to hide in the cellars close to the great hall of the keep.  

 

Jon Snow do you swear before the eyes of gods and men to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to protect all women and children, to obey your captains, your Captain-General and your rightful Queen, to fight bravely when needed and do such other tasks as are laid upon you, however hard or humble or dangerous they may be?      Ser Flowers had asked him.

 

I do.  He replied.

 

“Then rise Ser Jon Snow of the Golden Company.

 

Jon saw Euron Greyjoy just step into  the Great Hall, his axe and armor wet with blood.   One of his subordinates, held little Lyanna Mormont, who was squirming and cursing him.  Judging by a hastily bandaged wound, she had stabbed him Her older sister Jorelle was held by another Ironborn, an ugly man missing an ear and with rheumy black eyes.

 

“Put them down right now, and I will ask Lady Mormont to be lenient and let you take the Black.”

 

Euron laughed.

 

“Been a while since I killed a member of the Golden Company.  Beneath the Gold the Bitter Steel! That’s your motto in it!” Euron said with a mad laugh.

 

“If you know those words than your know the other words we live by.   Our word is as good as gold.” Jon said darkly. “If you do not let those children go and throw down your arms,I give you my word that you will die.”

 

“What is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger boy.” Euron said.

 

“And now it begins.”  Dacey whispered. She prayed to the old gods, her sisters and mother would survive this day.

 

“No my lady.” Jon Snow said solemnly.  “Now it Ends. “

 

Jon lunged forward and bashed Euron with his shield, he that smashed the pommel of his longsword into  Euron’s face, breaking his nose. Euron stumbled back, and then caught Jon’s next blow with his axe. He swiftly regained the intiave driving Jon back with a wild energy that sent the young sellsword’s blade spinning out of his hand.  Euron’s second blow dug into Jon’s shield, and split it in half horizontally, sending the young sellsword crashing to floor.

 

“Not again.” he groused.

 

Euron’s crushing,blow had left, the reaver off balance and overextended.  Dacey darted forward, ready to pulp his head like a Dornish melon.

 

Instead, Euron stabbed her in the belly with the serrated spike mounted at the bottom his axe handle.  He then headbutted her, sending her stumbling back, Dacey barely had enough time to get her shield up, Euron’s swing nearly knocking her on her back.

 

It was in this moment,  screams erupted from mouths of the two  ironborn raiders. The one holding Lyanna had a bloody nose while the other one had a knife in his eye socket courtesy of Jon Snow.   The two young girls were scrambling to their feet. Jon drew the second dagger from his belt and charged the remaining ironborn raider.

 

Dacey let out a sigh of relief as she and Euron continued to trade blows.   Her little sisters had a chance to get to safety. She blocked another blow, and then struck him in the chest.   The Valyrian Steel didn’t break, but Euron fell back a bit. Dacey aimed her next blow at his head, but Euron blocked the blow with the shaft of his axe, the wood splintering and snapping under the strength of the blow.  

 

Before Euron could react. Little Lyanna Mormont leapt upon Euron’s back and tried to jam a knife into Euron’s eye socket.   Euorn grabbed her with his right hand and threw her to the ground. He kicked her in the chest.

 

“I’m going to rape your pretty older sister in front of you you little mongrel!”  Euron snarled he rose his axe high.

 

Jon Snow, tackled him to  the ground, raining punch after punch on the man’s face.  Jon drew his second dagger, still stained with the Ironborn with the bloody nose he killed moments earlier.  Jon brought the blade down, ready to finish what Lyanna started, when Euron grabbed his right arm and socked him in the face.   The two men grappled until Euron put Jon’s right arm and a lock and pulled it out of its socket. Jon howled in pain. Euron snatched up Jon’s dagger and buried it in Jon’s belly.   Euron pulled the blade out and stabbed him again.

 

“I’m going to kill, you Slowly, and  painfully. I’m going to take your cock, then i’m going to take your tongue.  Then i’ll take your feet and make you watch as I rape every single woman and this fucking island. Then i’m going to  put your eyes out and tie you to the bottom of my ship. And then i’m gonna send of what’s left of you to Eddard fucking Star-”

 

Thunk!

 

Euron collapsed with  a groanthe back of his skullbeen caved in with a morningstar.

 

“My thanks.  My lady.” Jon said as he slid his arm back in his socket.  Dacey offered a hand to to help pull him to his feet






To my father, Lord Eddard of House Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Lord Paramount of the North and Warden of the North, his wife, Lady Catelyn Stark nee Tully,  my brothers, Robb, Bran and Rickon, my sisters Sansa and Arya, and my father’s ward, and my brother Robb’s closest friend, Theon of the House Greyjoy, future Lord of Iron Islands and Lord Reaper of Pyke

 

Father, shortly after I arrived at Bear Island to  return Ser Jorah Mormont’s body and Longclaw, Ironborn led by Euron Greyjoy, raided Bear Island.  The raid was repulsed, and Lord Greyjoy was killed by Dacey Mormont.

 

Theon, I offer my sincere condolences, for your Uncle’s passing.  I tried to convince him to surrender, and take the Black, but he refused.  I have had his remains cremated, and will return them with me so you may scatter them yourselves.  

 

I will stay at Bear Island a few days  to assist in rebuilding and such.

 

All my love

 

Ser Jon Snow of the Golden Company.




 

“That bastard!” Theon snarled.

 

“Theon, Jon did not kill your Uncle.” Robb said  softly

 

Theon ignored him.  “How much more am I going to lose to you Starks?!  My brothers and my life weren't enough?”

 

“You have a life here.” Robb said.

 

“If you call being a prisoner in a gilded cage a life.  I spend an extra hour at the brothel with Ros, your Lord father sends his household guards  to take me a trueborn son of a Lord Paramount, back to his cage, while his bastard gets to spend three years in Essos.”

 

Robb held his tongue.

 

“I wonder how many whores Snow's fucked.” Theon said as he took a swig from a wineskin.

 

Robb sat next to his best friend and held out his hand for the wine skin.

 

“I'm sure my brothers fucked many whores.  He did go to Lys.” Robb said .

 




“I don't believe  you.” Dacey Mormont said.  She was dressed in a dress of green and black wool.  The two sat in Dacey's modest but spacious chambers

 

“You can believe me or not, but it's the truth.” Jon said as he sipped his ale.

 

“But you said you went to Lys? Couldn't you get  a girl there?” Dacey asked with an arched eyebrow.

 

Jon sighed and put down his Drinking horn.   “I’m a bastard my lady. Any children I'd have would be Snow's.   I was lucky to have a father who took responsibility for his mistakes.  Most bastard aren't so lucky.”

 

“If you gave me children they'd be Mormont’s.”  Dacey blurted out.

 

Jon choked on his ale.  “I had no idea you had-   That you desired me My. Lady. “ Jon fumbled with his words.  

 

Keep you eyes on her  face, not her teats. You damn fool.

 

Dacey rose and let her dress slip to the floor.  “I want you Ser Jon Snow. Your loyal and your brave.  You stayed to help mend nets and chop down trees and tell my little sister stories.”

 

“I'm a knight, my lady.  It's my duty.”

 

Dacey smiled.  “I know you want me.  So unless you're joining the Night's Watch or have a pretty Dornish Woman you're looking forward to-

 

Jon kissed her.  Then as soon as he did he broke it.

 

“ I don't deserve you my lady. Surely you have no shortage of suitors?  You could marry into of the Mountain Clans or House Glover. You could marry my brother.  Be the Lady of Winterfell.”

 

Dacey kissed him back. She tugged at his shirt.  Jon gently pushed her back to remove his shirt. Dacey eyed his body, which was canvassed in scars.

 

“I don't want to be the Lady of Winterfell.  I want you Jon. You think you'll be a Snow after what you did today? There’s no way your father doesn't legitimize  you.”

 

Jon looked at her.

 

I was born a legitimized bastard.  I'm half a dragon. I can't put her and her family in danger.

 

Dacey , say my father legitimized me.”  which he plans to , Jon thought  “I'm a sellsword.  I have no lands, no titles.  What makes you think your mother will allow us to wed?  Your her heiress and a legitimized bastard isn't as worth as much as a trueborn son.”

 

“You wouldn't be just any legitimized bastard. You’d be a Stark.  My mother would have no objections to that. You're a good man with a good heart. You returned my Uncle's body and my family sword.  You fought by my side. You helped save my sister's from thralldom. And you stayed afterwords to help us rebuild and get everything back to normal.  

 

I'm not saying we need to wed first thing on the morrow, I'm saying I want you Jon Snow and if you get legitimized I'll ask my mother to broker a betrothal and we can wed in a year.  And if your father doesn't feel like giving you what's your due, after he made the decision to raise you among his trueborn sons and daughters… We Mormont’s are skinchangers. We turn into bears and find mates in the woods.  Everyone knows that.”

 

Jon’s resistance crumpled.  Dacey was beautiful with her muscled well developed body .   She could fight, she didn't give a rats ass she was a bastard.   How could Jon ask for more?

 

Jon kissed her again and  then with a gentleness that surprised himself he liberated Dacey of her small clothes.

 

Jon kneeled before Dacey and gently slid her tongue inside her.  

 

Dacey let out a sequel of pleasure. A soft   Ah sound escaped her throat.  In a few moments she climaxed.

 

Jon rose and licked his lips.

 

“Please bend over my lady.” he said huskily.

 

Dacey obeyed and  buried her face in the bearskin pelt she used as a blanket.  She then let out a muffled scream of pain and pleasure as the bastard son of her liege lord sodomized her.



 












   

 

 

 

        

 

  
















   




  




Chapter Text

Jon Snow awoke to Dacey Mormont’s arms. wrapped around his waist.  It was an odd feeling waking up after sharing a bed with a woman, but it was one he could get used to.  Dacey let out a little grunt as she sat up

 

“Good morning Ser.” Dacey said with a smile.  Jon rose, suppressing a shiver as he dressed. He took in every inch of the she-bear’s body as she ran her hands through her hair.

 

“ I should go.” Jon said.

 

“Aye  no need to cause a ruckus just yet.”  Dacey said as she moved to kiss Jon.

 

John lost himself in Dacey’s eyes. He let his hands wander.   “ For someone's first time you were pretty good last night.” Dacey told him when they broke apart

 

“Was that your first time as well?”  Jon asked. “Only if dreams count.” Dacey said with a laugh

 

“Am I dreaming right now?” Jon thought.   Will I wake up in my tent still a  Squire, not knowing my father was a Targaryen and my Mother was someone I thought was my Aunt?

 

“Next time, I want your sword in my cunt, not my ass.” Dacey said.

 

Jon smiled as he opened the door

 

I have let a wolf slip its leash. Dacey thought


 

Jon’s last breakfast at Bear Island was a happy affair. Laughter and smiles filled the hall, Lady Mormont and her house were not a dour people.

 

Jon broke his fast on Cod and dumpling stew, venison, and seasoned onions in butter.  Mulled wine, as well as a glass of tyroshi brandy recovered from the Silence helped wash it down

 

A great deal of treasure had been taken from The Silence.  There was enough coin and other valuables to fill Bear Island’s coffers five times over.   Dacey had claimed Euron’s Valyrian Steel armor for herself, while Jon claimed only an ancient warhorn, six feet long, dark as night, banded with  red gold and Valyrian Steel.

 

There’d been Obsidian weapons too, those had been sent to the Night’s Watch.

 

“Will you speak to Lord Stark about having Arya fostered here?” Lyanna asked.

 

Jon looked to  Dacey than back to the little she-bear.  “I give you my word Lady Mormont.  My little sister would be happy here and she would learn a lot.”

 

“It would be good to have someone besides my sisters and Freida to spar with.” Lyanna said with a smile.

 




Arya grunted in pain as Jon’s boot dug into her chest.  “Get up sister. Don’t make me drag you up.” Jon said.  Arya snarled as she leapt to her feet.   Jon had returned late in the evening from Bear Island, but he promised her after he lesson he would spar with her.  

 

Although it was less Sparring and more Jon knocking her around and constuctivly critiquing her bladework. 

 

“Abandon your fear little sister.” Jon grunted as they locked blades again.

 

“I’m not afraid!” Arya growled as she dodged another blow, her shoes slidng in the dirt of the training yard.   “Then why is your sword shaking?” Jon said as he knocked the blade out of her hand and held it to her throat.

 

“Again.” Jon said.

 

Arya snatched up her blade and they resumed their dance   “Focus Arya When you dodge,  you don’t let them cut you. When you protect someone, you don’t let them die.  When you attack KILL! ” Jon roared as he sent Arya sprawling into the ground again.  

 

“Otherwise, you will be captured, raped and killed.   We live in a cruel world little sister.”

 

Arya rose again, the sour taste of her own  blood on her lips .  Jon was an entirely different person when he picked up a sword.  He put aside all notions of honor and mercy. She had more bruises from his fists and the pommel of his wooden sword than the actual blade.

 

She lunged again,Jon dodged and rang her head like a bell.  Arya stumbled back  as she fell to  ground again. 

 

 When she got her bearings back, Arya scooped up some dirt in her hand and tossed it in Jon's eyes. Jon staggered back, with a grunt of annoyance, as Arya jammed her wooden sword into his torso.   She stabbed him again and again before rapping it across the top of his head

 

Jon laughed.   “I yield Arya I yield.”

 

Jon rose with a smile.   “Your opponents will always underestimate you little sister  Always keep that in mind.”

 

Arya smiled back.

 




To  Dacey of House Mormont, future Lady of Bear Island

 

It’s official now, I am no longer a Snow.  It’s an odd feeling to say the least. All my life, I wanted to  be Jon Stark, and now I am. Lady Stark and I still avoid each other, but I think she has less scorn for me now.    

 

I will be returning to Tyrosh, for a few months, The Golden Company musters in Tyrosh, and I owe it to them to  wage war for them one last time. I plan to return before Winter comes. I have spoken to father  regarding Arya’s fostering, and he thinks it would be good for her.  He did say he wanted to wait a year though.

 

If you would still  have me as your husband, I would be honored.

 

Say hello to your sisters for me.

 

Ser Jon Stark of the Golden Company

 


 

To  Ser Jon Stark of the Golden Company

 

Of course I still want to marry you you fool!   I spoke with my mother and she agreed to broker a betrothal.  We will travel for Winterfell soon, Lyanna shall accompany my mother and I, so she can meet your little sister.  She will be ecstatic to spar with her.

 

You better return alive my sellsword knight,  otherwise The Wull’s son shall warm my bed and give me strong sons and daughters!  

 

All my love

 

Dacey Mormont

   


 

To Lady Dacey of House Mormont

 

My heart is glad to hear you still want me to serve as your husband.  Today was a good day. Our casualties were few, while those hired to oppose us have suffered many.   In addition, I acquired a sword of Valyrian Steel sword from a Lysene sellsword who no longer had need of it.  The blades name is Truth, and it was in the possession of House Rogare before their extinction.

 

Our current contract with the city  of Pentos will be fulfilled within a week or two. . A contract with the free city of Myr is being considered, but I will be bound for White Harbor by the time it is finalized

 

All my love.  Ser Jon Stark of the Golden Company

 




To my berthroad Ser Jon Stark

 

I’m glad to hear that  you will be returning to the North soon, my bed has been cold long enough. Our visit to Winterfell was quite productive.  Lyanna and your sister Arya were thick as thieves and got into all sorts of mischief. Your sister fights well, you and your Master-at-arms taught her well.

 

Your other sister Sansa is a sweet girl.  She was gushing about how romantic it was, you fighting overseas in foreign lands, longing to return home to the woman you love.  With the way she was talking you think she was the one getting married!

 

Your brothers Bran and Rickon  are sweet boys. Bran taught Lyanna how to climb.  The boy is like a squirrel, and  I have no doubt he would try and climb the Red Keep or the Hightower in Oldtown.  Rickon is a wild boy,  Your father should send him to foster with the Umbers or Skagosi houses, when he's older. He'd  do well there.

 

Lady Stark seemed quite annoyed you would be getting married before her eldest boy.  While she did not openly scorn you, she seems to have only a grudging respect for you.  Her attitude is understandable of course, but it made for somewhat cold company at times.

 

The Greyjoy boy your father took as his ward was very sullen, and was deep into his cups throughout our entire stay.  I know I killed his Uncle, but he hardly said a word to anyone. He greeted my mother and I politely but never even made eye contact with us afterwards.

 

Congratulations are in order for acquiring a Valyrian steel sword of your own.  Hope you won't have to use it too often.

 

Praying for your safe and swift return.

 

Dacey Mormont

 


 

To my betrothed Lady Dacey of House Mormont.

 

I am glad things went well with my family and gladder to hear Arya has found a kindred spirit.

 

I bear no ill will towards Lady Catelyn, my presence in Winterfell is an insult to her.  As for Theon, I have tried to sympathize with him, as he is paying for the sins of his father, and not been to his home, since he was a young boy.  But he has grown more and more intolerable as he and I have grown older.   I hope he will depart from Winterfell for good now that he is a man grown.

 

On the Morrow I leave to return to The North.   My final battle with the Golden Company occurred near Pentos.  We were under contract to help put down a rogue magister who wished to  wage war against Braavos. The entire conflict barely lasted two hours. Afterwards a Pentoshi Magister named Illyrio Mopastis, feasted the officers of the Company.  Myself and a few other men and women who had distinguished themselves on the field accompanied them.

 

Apparently King Robert’s Master of Whispers is good friends with Magister Illyrio.  Lord Varys had accompanied the King’s Hand on official business with the prince of Pentos. What  that business was he would not say, but it must not have been imortant if Varys could make time to feast with his fat friend.   Lord Varys was fine company, although his reputation precedes him.  For that I do not trust him, no matter how good company at the banquet table he was.

 

I look forward to seeing you and your family  again.

 

All my love

 

Ser Jon Stark of the Golden Company

 




Jon sighed as the ship docked at White Harbor.

 

He felt lighter then he had in years.  In a few months he would be wed and for the second time he would be returning to Winterfell.

 

And the documents confirming his parentage, their seals carefully restored did not feel so heavy in his doublet.  

 

He would tell Dacey the truth the next time he saw her.

 

But the rightful Queen knew  he had no designs to take the Iron Throne.

 




“And you are sure this cannot wait until the Morrow?”  His queen asked him.

 

If I could have told you earlier I would have your grace.  But this cannot wait. I leave for Winterfell tomorrow.”

 

His queen’s expression darkened.  Daena Blackfyre first of her name, rightful Queen of the Nadals, First Men and Rhoyar, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm had never been to her family's  ling abonded keep near the Blackwater Brush. She had been born in Tyrosh and traveled from place to place. Rumors of a warrior maiden wielding the Conqueror’s Sword whispered in the alehouse and wine sinks of the free cities spread like wildfire.   Jon had seen her take to the field with the Company when he was fifteen but he had never spoken to her, for she vanished shortly after.

 

Daena was of average height, with classic Valyrian features and a well muscled form.  She wore a black nightgown of Tyroshi silk. Across her lap was Blackfyre.

 

Jon was an unusual man, for he was one of the few men and women fighting in the Golden Company that had a home to return to.  

 

Jon pulled the documents out of his doublet and handed them to her.   

 

“Rhaegar Targaryen's seal.  Unbroken. The paper is almost two decades old and rather musty.”   Varys said softly.   Jon had been suprised to learn Varys truely served House Blackfyre.  

 

It was hidden under my mother’s tomb in Winterfell.” Jon said.

 

Daena broke the seal and unfolded the paper, her eyes scanning the old parchment.

 

“If this is true, when did you plan to tell us this?”  Daena asked coldly

 

“I only found out a month ago, and in my defense neither you nor your brother were around Your grace.  I figured it would be best I tell you before I return to  the North.”

 

“I thought you intended to  stay Ser Snow. You would make a fine Captain, and  The Golden Company and House Blackfyre will need good men  and women in the days to come. And you do realized how suspicious this sounds. Revealing your parentage and then leaving?”

 

“I gave three years to  the Golden Company already your grace.  I spent a month with my family, then left and spent three months fighting under Ser River’s skull.   Winter is coming. I would like to wed before the snows fall, I want to  help my sister with her blade and needlework  I want to  ride and spar with my cousin .”

 

“And how can we trust you?”  Daemon Blackfyre,  Daena's younger brother and known as Daemon The Younger to  differentiate him from his namesakes.  Asked He was an inch taller than Jon.   He was a skilled rider, swordsman and Jouster, but even better with bow of Weirwood and obsidian    

 

“If i’d wanted you  dead I could have slit your throat and  taken your heads and Blackfyre to King’s Landing and been legitimized a lot sooner Your Grace.  But I didn’t.    I could have kept this a secret like my Uncle wanted me to, but I came to you unarmed and unarmored.  But I didn't  I put my trust in you, a stranger,  a woman I only heard about in hushed whispers around the campfires.”  

 

Jon fell to his knees and offered his neck to her

 

“If you think I'm a turncloak. If you think I'm an oathbreaker, a man who would usurp his rightful Queen’s throne, than kill me yourself. Take my head with Blackfyre.  I told you the truth. All I ask is that you place your trust in me, or you strike hard and true and send my valuables to Winterfell so my family and betrothed can have them.”

 

Daena looked to her brother then to Jon.

 

“Your mother.  What did she name you?”

 

“She named me Aemon.  After the Dragonknight.”

 

Daena sighed.

 

“Why did you join the Golden Company Jon Snow”

 

“Because I was a bastard. Because I was a bitter boy who wanted to be a hero like in the songs my sister Sansa loves so much.  I wanted the honor and glory of being a brother of the Golden Company. I wanted to be a knight so people wouldn't view me as a stain on Eddard Stark's honor.  I wanted to be free. Free to live and love and die for a cause worth dying for. Have I come to the rightful place or not Your Grace?”

 

Jon felt the tap of  a blade on his shoulder.  

 

“You were legitimized by an illegitimate king.   I Legitimize you as a Stark and when When the clarion call is sounded you shall serve as my sworn sword.”

 

“Your Grace, I am not worthy. “ Jon said.

 

“ This is not a promotion. This is a burden I place on your shoulders.  You shall send me reports on the comings and goings of the North. You may be ordered by me  to draw steel against good men. Your loyalty to my house must eclipse that of your family. Every action you take in my name may be considered treason by your House.” Daena said.

 

“You have proven  yourself the rightful Queen to me your grace.  When the time is right I swear to you my father, Eddard Stark  will swear loyalty to you and House Blackfyre. I give you my word that I will prove myself worthy of the trust you have placed in me.”

 

“And I swear as the Queen you choose to serve I will do the same Ser Stark.  Arise kinsman, cousin by the blood of the Dragon.”


 

Jon smiled as he stepped off the boat. There was a chill in the air.

 

Winter was coming.

 

Chapter Text

Arya's stitches were crooked again.

 

Arya suppressed a frustrated groan.  If her older brother learned how to sew as part of his squire’s duties so could she.

 

The Septa tutted.   Arya could tell she was about to say something mean. Something that would make her force back her tears when the door opened

 

“Arya, Sansa I saw Jon! He'll be at the front gate any minute now!”  Bran said cheerfully.

 

Sansa beamed and rose in a flurry of Tully blue and grey skirts .

 

“Come on Arya!”  Arya rose and followed her sister.

 

Jon was home.  He could help her with her sewing and bladework.  With Jon home, everything would be fine.

 





Sansa thought Jon looked more like a knight then he did when He returned  to Winterfell the first time.

 

Jon wore a golden  yellow surcoat over  chainmail and black breeches.  He had added blue grey steel pauldrons and wore a cloak made from the pelt of a bear that had Dacey gifted him when he left Bear Island.

 

He had a new sword at his hip. The scabbard was black leather with mother of pearl and gold and bronze  inlays. The guard was silver while the pummel was jet black shot through with veins of gold.

 

A warhorn was slung at his side banded with red gold and Valyrian steel.

 

Jon dismounted a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

 

I was wrong, he doesn't look like a knight.  He looks like a prince. A man almost a king.  Sansa mused.

 

She wondered as her father hugged her brother and her younger sister leapt into his arms,  if Jon ever considered if he would sit the Iron Throne.

 

And Robb tells me life isn't a song. Look at our cousin, the secret Targaryen prince, raised as a Stark. Loyal and brave and kind like Ser Duncan the Tall, as fierce as Theon Stark, as heroic as Brandon the Breaker, who slew the Night's King with a flaming sword.  Sansa thought.

 





After Jon visited the crypts to pray(and return the proof of his parentage) he sparred with Arya for a half an hour. After that the Stark family enjoyed a nice lunch. After that, Bran and Rickon had their lessons with Maester Luwin, while Jon took a nap in his room.   Late in the afternoon, Dacey arrived at Winterfell, and the two went out riding.

 

“‘I’m glad you came Dacey.” Jon said as he dismounted to  sit and rest against a great oak tree.

 

“We’re to be wed in a month and duty has kept us apart for too long.” Dacey said as she moved to  sit next to the man she loved

 

“Aye it has, I’m sorry I could not be here for your mother’s visit.”

 

“She was cross, but she understood.” Dacey said.

 

Jon looked relieved.

 

“Arya is excited to foster at Bear Island. I have no doubt father will be getting missives  of the mischief she will cause.” Jon said with a laugh.

 

Dacey laughed too.  

 

“Arya told me you told her Bear Island was harsh but beautiful, and that you would little of value there beyond good people and food.”  

 

“Was I wrong?” Jon asked dryly.

 

Dacey blushed.  

 

“Not at all.” Dacey said as she leaned in to kiss his cheek.

 

Jon rose.  “We should head back.” His smile was replaced by his usual brooding mask.

 

When they returned to  Winterfell, Jon took her hand in his and asked him to follow him down into the crypts.

 

Dacey nodded and followed her soon to be husband into  the dark, cold chambers below Winterfell.

 

The two stopped in front of the statue of Lyanna Stark.   

 

“I should have told you this when you first expressed  interest in me.” Jon said.

 

“Lord Stark,  He’s not my father.    My mother- Jon looked in front of the statue.”

 

“My mother was Lyanna Stark.  My father. My father was a fool.    My mother fell in love with Rhaegar Targaryen, put her trust in him, and he betrayed her  Locked her away. Sided with the man who killed her father and brother.”

 

Dacey looked at Jon.   “ I heard rumors that your mother was Ashara Dayne.   My mother thought you were the bastard of Brandon Stark, but when my mother asked your father, he said your mother was a wet nurse by the name of Wylla.  But if your mother was Lyanna, there have been Targaryen’s who never had the Valyrian features, and if you had purple eyes Lord Stark could pass that off as you being Ashara Dayne bastard. I suppose your lucky you never had that silver hair.”  Dacey said.

 

“Just answer one question for me.   Do you want the Iron Throne?” She asked him

 

Jon turned from  Lyanna’s statue to  face her. “No. I just want you.  I want our families to be safe and happy.  I’d never fight for that hunk of metal.”

 

Dacey let out a sigh of relief.

 

“That’s good.  I’d be a terrible queen.”

 

“I’m surprised you still want me.” Jon said.

 

“You know nothing Jon Stark.  Every girl wants a Prince for a husband.” Dacey teased.

 

“I’m not a prince-

 

“No, you’re a good man, with a good heart and a good sword arm.    You’re a knight. A brother of the Golden Company. You’re a good big brother.  And you’re my future husband.” Dacey said.

Jon smiled and hugged her.  Dacey hugged back and kissed him deeply.

 

“Just one more month.” Jon said as he broke the kiss.

 

“I don’t I can wait that long.” Dacey said.

 

“You do realize we’re going awfully fast in terms of Betrothals.” Jon said softly.

 

“Not fast enough.” Dacey said and kissed him again.  

 


 

 

“Don't look away. Father will know.” Jon said softly.

 

Ice descended with a thunk sound as  the Night's Watch deserter was executed.

 

Bran turned to his brother. “You did well.” Jon said.   He urged his horse forward, leaving Bran behind to soak up father’s wisdom.  

 

“Dragon for your thoughts?”  Robb asked.

 

“The deserter.  He died without any fear in his eyes.”

 

“He died well.  Remember when we were Bran's age? When father executed that rapist in Winter Town? He kept begging and screaming as he was dragged to the block.”

 

“You misunderstand me Robb.  The man's eyes had nothing in them.  Nothing at all. I've seen that look too many times to count.” Jon said.

 

Robb paused for a moment to digest his cousin’s words.

 

“In all the stories you told about your time with the Golden Company you never did tell me what your first kill was like.”  He said.

 

Jon brooded for a few moments, then spoke evenly.  “I cried afterwards. The man was a Bravo, he shit himself when he died.  They never bring that up in the songs Sansa loves so much. The thing that keeps you awake at night though is how easy it is take a life.  Put a sword in a man's hand, give him something to hate and something to love, something or someone worth dying for and killing becomes as easy as breathing.”

 

Robb could do nothing but nod solemnly.

 

The two spurred their horses swiftly  outpacing the rest of their party They raced for a few moments,the wind blowing  in the two brothers hair when Jon saw something that made him almost tumble from his saddle.

 

Half-buried in bloodstained snow was they largest she wolf  Jon had ever seen. Ice had formed in its shaggy grey fur and maggots crawled and slithered in its eye sockets.

 

Robb called out for his father

 

“It’s a freak.” Theon Greyjoy said as he dismounted

 

It's no freak," Jon said calmly.

 

"That's a direwolf. They grow larger than the other kind."


"There's not been a direwolf sighted south of the Wall in two hundred years."  Theon snapped


"I see one now," Jon replied.



Bran tore his eyes away from the dead she wolf and gave a cry of delight as one of her pups was handed to him

 

The pup was a tiny ball of grey-black fur, its eyes still closed. It nuzzled blindly against Robb's chest as he cradled it, searching for milk among his leathers, making a sad little whimper sound. Bran reached out hesitantly. "Go on," Robb told him. "You can touch him."

Bran gave the pup a quick nervous stroke, then turned as Jon said,

 

"Here you go." His half brother put a second pup into his arms. "There are five of them." Bran sat down in the snow and hugged the wolf pup to his face. Its fur was soft and warm against his cheek.

"Direwolves loose in the realm, after so many years," muttered Hullen, the master of horse. "I like it not."

"It is a sign," Jory said.  Jon nodded in agreement. No doubt about It, this was a sign from the Old Gods.


Father frowned. "This is only a dead animal, Jory," he said. Yet he seemed troubled. Snow crunched under his boots as he moved around the body. "Do we know what killed her?"

"There's something in the throat," Robb told him, proud to have found the answer before his father even asked. "There, just under the jaw."

His father knelt and groped under the beast's head with his hand. He gave a yank and held it up for all to see. A foot of shattered antler, tines snapped off, all wet with blood.

A sudden silence descended over the party. The men looked at the antler uneasily, and no one dared to speak.

Eddard  tossed the antler to the side and cleansed his hands in the snow. "I'm surprised she lived long enough to whelp," he said. His voice broke the spell.


"Maybe she didn't," Jory said. "I've heard tales . . . maybe the bitch was already dead when the pups came."

"Born with the dead," another man put in. "Worse luck."

"No matter," said Hullen. "They be dead soon enough too."

Bran gave a wordless cry of dismay.

"The sooner the better," Theon Greyjoy agreed. He drew his sword with a grin that was too eager for Jon's taste. "Give the beast here, Bran."

The little thing squirmed against Bran  "No!" Bran cried out fiercely. "It's mine."

"Put away your sword, Greyjoy," Robb said. For a moment he sounded as commanding as their father, like the lord he would someday be. "We will keep these pups."

"You cannot do that, boy," said Harwin, who was Helen's son.

Jon resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

"It be a mercy to kill them," Hullen said.

"Hullen speaks truly, son. Better a swift death than a hard one from cold and starvation." Eddard said.

"No!" Bran cried out.


Robb resisted stubbornly. "Ser Rodrik's red bitch whelped again last week," he said. "It was a small litter, only two live pups. She'll have milk enough."

"She'll rip them apart when they try to nurse."


"Father" Jon said.  He saw Bran looking him with desperate hope. "There are five pups," he told him. "Three male, two female."

"What of it, Jon?"

"You have five trueborn children," Jon said. "Three sons, two daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord."


"You want no pup for yourself, Jon?" he asked softly.


"The direwolf graces the banners of House Stark," Jon pointed out. "I am a legitimized bastard."

Their lord father regarded Jon thoughtfully. Robb rushed into the silence he left. "I will nurse him myself, Father," he promised. "I will soak a towel with warm milk, and give him suck from that."

"Me too!" Bran echoed.

The lord weighed his sons long and carefully with his eyes. "Easy to say, and harder to do. I will not have you wasting the servants' time with this. If you want these pups, you will feed them yourselves. Is that understood?"

Bran nodded eagerly. The pup squirmed in his grasp, licked at his face with a warm tongue.

"You must train them as well," their father said. "The kennel master will have nothing to do with these monsters, I promise you that. And the gods help you if you neglect them, or brutalize them, or train them badly. These are not dogs to beg for treats and slink off at a kick.  A direwolf will rip a man's arm off his shoulder as easily as a dog will kill a rat. Are you sure you want this?"


"Yes, Father," Bran said.



"Yes," Robb agreed.



"The pups may die anyway, despite all you do."    "They won't die," Robb said. "We won't let them die."



"Keep them, then. Jory, Desmond, gather up the other pups. It's time we were back to Winterfell.”



Halfway across the bridge, Jon pulled up suddenly.  "What is it, Jon?" their lord father asked.



"Can't you hear it?

"

"There," Jon said. He swung his horse around and galloped back across the bridge. They watched him dismount where the direwolf lay dead in the snow, watched him kneel. A moment later he was riding back to them, smiling.

"He must have crawled away from the others," Jon said.

"Or been driven away," their father said, looking at the sixth pup. His fur was white, where the rest of the litter was grey. His eyes were as red as the blood of the ragged man who had died that morning.

"An albino," Theon Greyjoy said with wry amusement. "This one will die even faster than the others."

Jon Stark gave his father's ward a long, chilling look that sent a shiver down Robb’s spine . "I think not, Greyjoy,"   “This one is mine.”

 


 

Jon Snow was disappointed by King Robert.  The man who had killed his blood father was a man as huge as the Greatjon Umber, but in fat and not in muscle.   His wife Cersei Lannister was a beautiful woman, but her eyes held nothing but spite and cruelty.

 

Jon bit back  a snarl as he, Dacey  and his siblings sat down for the feast.   His dreams in the days leading up to the King’s arrival had been disjointed things.  Sometimes he dreamt of Dacey claiming him as her husband and him claiming her as his wife, and awoke with a warmth between his legs.  Sometimes he dreamt he was Ghost, hunting prey and awaking with the taste of blood on his mouth. Sometimes he dreamt he was Bittersteel himself,  old and tired, killing Unsullied with a young maid with purple eyes and blue hair who wielded Blackfyre with an icy smile. Once he dreamed he was Aegon the Conqueror, the first Targaryen king, accepting the surrender of Torrhen Stark, the last King of Winter, but instead of biding the man to  rise, he took the man’s head,and burned Winterfell to the ground.

 

The worst part of the dream was that he awoke smiling.  He had spent an hour in the Godswood in prayer that day and made himself a very strong nightcap later in the evening .  

 

Dacey looked radiant clad in a gown of green and black, with a white lion pelt Jon had hunted and killed himself draped over it.  Sansa and Arya did as well. Sansa was clad in a fine grey and blue gown of velvet and fine spun wool and silk. Her crimson hair was done up in two braids.  Arya was clad in grey and white, her dress trimmed with fox fur and her hair done up in a long braid with a winter rose in it.

 

The king’s children did little to keep his blood from boiling.   Just staring at Joffrey, with his wormy, pouty lips and his disdainful eyes too damn similar to his mother’s made his choler rise.  Myrcella was an insipid little thing, nothing like Jon’s sisters who were She-Wolves to the core. Tommen was a plump boy, with long curly  hair, the only compliment Jon had for him was that he seemed a kind enough lad.



But it was the King and Queen that made  Jon wroth and lustful for blood. Thoughts of Elia Martell who did not deserve to be dishonored by her her own husband, who had been murdered for the crime of wedding a Targaryen and bearing children with the blood of  the dragon, little Princess Rhaenys, who had been stabbed almost a hundred times, and her younger brother Aegon, his skull bashed open, flooded his mind. Wine and boar's ribs and onion in gravy would not sate Jon hunger .  Only blood would.

 

 He wanted to split Robert Baratheon in half from shoulder to groin with Truth  and watch his guts spill out. He wanted to go blade to blade with Jaime Lannister and take his sword hand and his head and send them to his father.  He longed for a dragon of his own so he might burn the mighty Tywin Lannister alive. He wanted to sack Lannisport with the Golden Company and a Northern and Dornish host.   He looked at Cersei and wondered if she would look at Sansa, with polite disdain if she was forced to wear a Septa's robes.

 

He drank deeply of his third cup of wine.  This would be his last cup of the evening. Robert was already drunk, his voice booming,  his laugh making Jon's ears ring.

 

All hail Robert Baratheon the  first of his name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.   Jon thought sarcastically as he drained his wine.  

 

“I confess I’m curious on how you two met. It sounds like quite a story Ser Snow, my apologies Ser Stark.”

 

Jon ignored her intentional mistake.  “I slew her Uncle, Jorah Mormont, who had dishonored her house by selling slaves many years ago and made off with their ancestral blade, I returned his body to Bear Island.”

 

“He was a pretty lad, polite too. But by the gods, I didn’t think you’d fight as half as well as you did that day. He was carving through krakens almost as well as my mother and I.  When Euron Greyjoy tried to carry off my little sisters. Jon went blade to blade with him and bought me enough time for me to end his miserable life.” Dacey said with a smile

 

The queen arched an eyebrow.  “You slew him Lady Mormont?”

 

“Mormont women are warriors. Your Grace.  The ironborn would come while the husbands were out fishing and it was either fight or be carried off to  thralldom, defilement and death There’s a carving at the gate to our keep a woman with a battle axe in one hand and a suckling babe in the other.” Dacey said as she took  a sip of her wine.

 

“How fascinating.” Cersei said in a polite tone that made Jon’s skin crawl.

 

Jon rose and excused himself politely citing his need for some fresh air.  He felt a pang of guilt for leaving his father, who had been stoic ever since he emerged from the crypts with the king and seemed amused at his childhood friends behavior, but Jon consoled himself that Robert's  lack of virtue would disillusion his Uncle, and make it easier for him to declare for Daena Blackfyre, Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.




Jon suppressed a sigh .  He did not wish to leave Winterfell.  But duty demanded he accompany his father and siblings to King’s Landing.  He would not leave his pack alone in the Lion’s Den Autumn would gracing them with her presence soon enough.  Then Winter would come.

 




“I will return.  I do not when but I will return to you, alive or dead.I give you my word.” Jon said.  Around them men were following orders. Mules and horses were being saddled and other last minute preparations were being carried out

 

“And your word is as good as gold.”  Dacey said with a grin. “ Be safe in the viper’s nest they call a capital.  Come back so we can wed. Come back so you can put sons and daughters inside me.  Come back so we can fight together and grow old together.” Dacey said.

 

Jon kissed her forehead. He held her close.  

 

“As you command my lady.” Jon said.







.









Chapter Text

 

"You better put on something pretty," Sansa told her sister. "Septa Mordane said so. We're traveling in the queen's wheelhouse with Princess Myrcella today."

 

I’m not.”  Arya said, trying to brush a tangle out of Nymeria's matted grey fur. "Mycah and I are going to ride upstream and look for rubies at the ford."

 

 "What rubies?"

 

"Rhaegar's rubies. This is where King Robert killed him and won the crown."

 

Sansa regarded her scrawny little sister in disbelief. "You can't look for rubies, the princess is expecting us. The queen invited us both."

 

“Don’t worry about her Sansa, I can keep her out of mischief.”

 

Sansa turned and saw her brother striding towards them clad in a grey leather vest  and a cloak of chainmail and cloth of gold. He had Truth at his hip and his usual  crimson sash with two daggers in it. Sansa noted he had another dagger tucked into his boot.   Her brother had not been happy since the King’s arrival, and Bran’s injuries, had weighed heavily on him.  Not to mention having to leave Dacey.

Family, Duty, Honor  Sansa thought.   Jon’s duty to his family dictated he accompany them to King’s Landing.   Dacey’s duty dictated she return to Bear Island to help her family.

 

“Go enjoy your time with the queen. Sansa.  Keep the necklace I gave you on you.”

 

“Always.” Sansa said trying to  force her frustration down. Why couldn’t Jon insist Arya accompany her? Why was he so overprotective of her?  She was to be the Prince’s wife. No one would dare hurt her.




Jon drank deeply from his wineskin(that was filled with sweet Tyroshi Brandy) as Arya and her new friend Mycah sparred.  Arya wasn’t battle ready yet, but she was learning well. Her new friend Mycah was a good lad, even though he was lowborn.  Jon would have to speak to the boy’s father and inquire if they wished to come North. There was plenty of land in the Gift, or they could find work at Winterfell or another Northern Lord’s household.

Jon’s brooding was interrupted by the trotting of horses.  

 

He saw Sansa and Joffrey appear.    He suppressed a groan of displeasure.

 

Arya turned and had her weapon knocked out of her hands by  a blow to her fingers.

 

Joffrey turned to Sansa.   “Who is this?” he asked

 

"He's the butcher's boy," Sansa said.

 

"He's my friend," Arya said sharply. "You leave him alone."

 

"A butcher's boy who wants to be a knight, is it?" Joffrey swung down from his mount, sword in hand. "Pick up your sword, butcher's boy," he said, his eyes bright with amusement. "Let us see how good you are."

 

Mycah stood there, frozen with fear.

 

Joffrey walked toward him. "Go on, pick it up. Or do you only fight little girls?"

 

"She asked me to, m'lord," Mycah said. "She asked me to."

 

“He’s telling the truth, your grace.  The boy did no wrong. Put away your steel.”  Jon said softly.

 

“ I don’t take orders from you Bastard.”  Joffrey snapped.

 

“Aye you don’t. But I am a Knight, and what you are doing is unchivalrous.  Is that really the impression you want to give my sister. Your betrothed?”

.Jon said.

 

Joffrey ignored him

 

"Are you going to pick up your sword?"

 

Mycah shook his head. "It's only a stick, m'lord. It's not no sword, it's only a stick

 

"And you're only a butcher's boy, and no knight." Joffrey  lifted his sword and laid its point on Mycah's cheek below the eye, as the butcher's boy stood trembling. "That was my lady's sister you were hitting, do you know that?" A bright bud of blood blossomed where his sword pressed into Micah's flesh, and a slow red line trickled down the boy's cheek.

 

"Stop it!" Arya screamed. She grabbed up her fallen stick.

 

“Enough your grace!”  Jon barked.


"I won't hurt him . . . much," Prince Joffrey told Arya, never taking his eyes off the butcher's boy.

 

Arya went for him.


There was a loud crack as the wood split against the back of the prince’s head.  Joffrey staggered and whirled around, roaring curses. Arya swung at the prince again, but this time Joffrey caught the blow on Lion's Tooth and sent her broken stick flying from her hands. The back of his head was all bloody and his eyes were on fire. Sansa was shrieking, "No, no, stop it, stop it, both of you, you're spoiling it," but no one was listening.

 

Joffrey slashed at Arya with his sword, screaming obscenities.   Jon moved to draw his sword when Nymeria sank her teeth into the prince’s arm.   Joffrey fell with a holler of pain.

 

“Nymeria!” Arya cried.  


The direwolf  opened her mouth and and moved to Arya's side.   Arya moved forward, but Jon grabbed her by the scruff of the neck.  “Enough Arya. “ “Mycah, Sansa come here!” Jon ordered. Sansa was in tears and Jon briefly hugged her before moving to check on the prince

 

The prince lay in the grass, whimpering.   His wound was bleeding, but upon closer inspection the wound was not that bad.

 

“Get up boy.  Your wound is but a scratch.”  Jon growled. He was still seeing red.  The little shit had drawn steel against his sister and an innocent boy. His actions made his sister Sansa cry.

 

Joffrey will never be worthy of my sister’s hand.




"What in all the seven hells am I supposed to make of this? He says one thing, they says another."  Robert growled.

 

The hall of castle Darry was full of people.   Knights, men at arms,  free rider.    Jon and his sisters, father, and Mycah stood before the king and queen.

 

“I want the wolf’s pelt as compensation.” Cersei said.

 

“With respect, the wolf was only defending my sister.” Jon said.

 

“Your grace, Lady would have done the same for me.  I know the Prince did not mean any harm.” Sansa said. Her cheeks were wet with tears.  

 

“Robert you cannot be serious.”  Ned said.

 

“"Enough, Ned, I will hear no more. A direwolf is a savage beast. Sooner or later it would have turned on your girl the same way the other did on my son. Get her a dog, she'll be happier for it."

 

Jon’s face contorted in anger.

 

"I demand trial by combat. I will not have an innocent life taken because of apathy, pettiness and cruelty.  Let the gods decide if Nymeria lives and my sister’s honor remain untarnished.”

 

The crowd began to mummer. 

 

“What does honor have to  do with this Ser Snow?” Cersei said.

 

“My brother’s a Stark!” Arya snapped.  Ned told her to hush.

 

“You’re calling my sisters,one of them your future daughter in law, a liar.”  Jon said in a growl as harsh and savage as the one his direwolf companion could produce.

 

The mummering stopped


“Seven hells.” Robert grumbled.  “Clegane-

 

“My brother will deal with this bastard.  When the royal family is engage in a trial by battle, A Kingsguard must represent them in a trial by battle ” Cersei snapped.

 

“Just get this over with.” Robert growled as he shifted in his chair, his belly rising and falling with every wine stenched breath he took.

 

Ned moved to  interject, but Jaime Lannister and Jon were already moving to  face each other.

 



Jon studied his opponent, sword in hand.   Jaime Lannister, was tall, clad in the enamel plate and snowy cloak of kingsguard.  His golden hair that fell and tumbles, arrogant smirk and gaudy, golden sword clashed with the ideal of the humble, austere knights, that were chosen to  be a sworn brother of the White Swords

Like his nephew, Jon felt his blood boil and a sense of revulsion coil in his throat, when he looked upon Jaime Lannister.  

 

‘That’s Valyrian Steel.”  Jaime said aloud.

 

“Aye, her name is Truth.”  Jon said as they circled each other.

 

“A rather apt name considering our situation.”  Jaime said with a sneer.

 

“Aye, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry you found yourself in this situation.  Just because you're the Queen’s sister and the Prince’s Nephew does not mean they should use you to deal with the problems they cause.” Jon said politely

 

“A Bastard, even a legitimized Bastard’s word is not much.” Jaime said.

 

“Neither is an oathbreaker’s.” Jon said with a snarl as the lunged at each other.  Their blades clashed in a shower of sparks that illuminated the hall.

 

Jaime smiled the smile of who enjoyed the art of battle.  Jon could see that lust for battle in his green eyes

 

“You’re very good.” Jaime grunted   “Who taught you how to fight bastard?”

 

“A true knight by the name of Ser Rodrik Cassel.” Jon said , as he parried  one of Jaime’s blows.

 

“And who knighted you?”

 

“Ser Franklyn Flowers.”  Jon replied as sweat stung his eyes and drifted down his cheeks.

 

“The Bastard of Cider Hall?” Jaime said with a laugh.  The two disengaged, both panting with exertion.

 

“Aye.”  Jon said as he lunged at the Kingslayer.   Jaime was good, but ironically Jon had more experience.  Jon had been forged and reforged in the battles that raged across Essos.  For three years straight, he had bled, shit himself, cried and cured from Tyrosh to Slaver’s Bay.  Ser Lannister had not seen battle since the Greyjoy Rebellion, and any foe he had faced had been in the tourney,

 

There is always someone quicker and stronger , Ser Rodrik had once told Jon and Robb. He’s the man you want to face in the yard before you need to face his like upon a battlefield.

 

Jon was almost disappointed in the Lion of Lannister.  If he had the chance to spar with Barristan the Bold every day to  improve his skills, he would have taken it.

 

I wonder if he can fight as half as well with his left as he can with his right.  Jon thought as he parried.

 

Still, Jaime was the more skilled swordsman, with plenty of natural talent, and the benefit of squirng for Ser Arthur Dayne.  One of the finest knights who ever lived. Jaime had been taught by the best instructors gold could buy, taught by the finest knights who ever donned the White Cloaks.

 

But Ser Duncan the Tall was one of the greatest of the Lord Commanders of the Kingsguard, and he was squire for a Hedge Knight   Jon thought.


Jaime rained blow after blow, his golden sword trying to break Jon's guard.

 

The two locked blades again.

 

“It's a good thing your nephew has such a resemblance to you.” Jon said.

 

“Why is that a good thing?” Jaime said.

 

“I can pretend you're him.” Jon said softly.

 

Before Jaime could reply. Jon's left hand lashed out and punched him in the face. There was a crack of bone as Jaime staggered back, his sword slipping out of his grasp.

 

Gripping Truth in two hands, Jon plunged the Valyrian Steel into Jamie’s torso.  The Kingsguard made a wet hacking sound.

 

“You… You avoided a vital spot.” Jaime rasped.

 

Jon yanked the blade out.  “Aye, Pick up your sword or yield. Ser Lannister.”

 

Jaime bent down and picked up his sword.  The duel resumed with renewed fury. Jamie inflicted a cut above Jon’s forehead that sent blood spilling into Jon’s eye.  Jon retaliated with a slash that left the crown on Jamie’s enameled plate chipped.

 

Jaime’s injury had weakened him, but he was still a better fighter than Jon.  He raked his blade across Jon’s torso, knocked his blade out of the young knight’s hand and then plunged his blade into Jon’s left shoulder.  

 

Jon screamed in pain  as Jaime wrenched the blade out with the flick of his wrist.  Jon staggered forward, than with all the strength he could muster, headbutted the Kingslayer breaking the Lannister’s nose and sent him crashing to the floor  the blade clattering to the ground.

 

Arrogant bastards never expect a headbutt or a punch in  a swordfight. Being a knight is more than fancy plate and fair maidens.   It means fighting for your life, those your vowed to protect and those you vowed to  serve. Forgot honor, forget decency, when lives are on the line, only winning matters.   

 

That was what Ser Fossoway had told him after they sparred for the first time.   

 

Jon dropped to his knees and straddled the Kingslayer.  With his good hand he punched the Lannister in the face, splitting his lip and soaking the floor with even more blood.  With his good arm, Jon drew his dirk from his belt and held it to the knight’s throat.

 

“Yield Ser.  Yield or I will slit your throat here and now.”  Jon said

 

“Would you really?”  Jaime said with a blood stained smile.

 

“I would weep no tears at your passing. Ser Lannister.  You are an oathbreaker.”

 

“I killed a madman who burned your grandfather and Uncle alive and killed hundreds of  innocent people boy. Yet I’m the one spat upon for doing what needed to be done. You all act as if I killed a sweet kitten and not a man who deserved to die ”

 

“Did Princess Elia Martell and her children deserve to  die? Kingsguard are sworn to protect to royal family are they not? Yet you sat on the Iron Throne, while a false knight slew those your swore to protect  How do you sleep at night, knowing you sat on your ass, while your father’s bannerman murdered your charges? ”

 

Jaime was silent for a moment.

 

“I yield.” he said.

 

Jon got off him and helped him to his feet.

 

“I pray next time we see each other, it is not as foes. Ser Lannister.”

 

Jaime only grunted in reply.

 

Jon looked at the king and queen, then the crowd.

 

"This wasn't for your entertianment, this was done for Justice and Honor.  You all may have forgotten what those are."

 

"Mycah, with me,  once my wounds are treated, I'll be speaking to your father about becoming a page for Ser Rodrik. "

 



“How could you lose?” Cersei snarled.

 

“ I underestimated him. The bastard's not like his father. “ Jaime said with a wince of pain.

 

“Do you  understand how humiliating that was watching-”

 

“Why did you even want the wolf dead in the first place?  Ned’s daughter did speak the truth, the animal was only defending its mistress.”

 

Cersei remained silent.

 

“Seven hells Cersei, angering the Starks will not make things easy for Joffrey.  Robert loves Ned like a brother. You are lucky he did not feel like arguing with you,  if Robert begins to suspect-

 

“He won't. It's been seventeen years, the problem is if the “honorable” Lord Stark gets any ideas. He has no love for us.”

 

“Well neither of us have done much to endear ourselves to him.  Perhaps we’'ll get lucky and whomever poisoned poor old Jon Arryn will take care of the good Lord Stark.”  Jaime said.

 

There was silence  between them. Jaime shut his eyes for a moment.   In that moment, the ghosts of the past whispered.

 

Burn them All!

 

Where’s my sister!  Where have you taken her Rhaegar!  Answer Me! Come out and die you coward!

 

We swore to protect her.

 

Not from him.

 

When the battle's done I mean to call a council . Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but ... well, it does no good to speak of roads not taken. We shall talk when I return.

 

Jaime opened his eyes and winced in pain.  The wound the Bastard of Winterfell had dealt him had reopened.

 

“Arthur Dayne once told me Blood is the seal of a knight’s devotion, but I have no desire to bleed to  death. Go summon a Maester sweet sister.” Jaime said with a grunt of pain.

 

He thought back to  the duel in the main hall of Castle Darry.  He thought of the righteous anger in the bastard’s eyes.

 

By what right does the Wolf judge the Lion?   Jaime thought.

 

He bit back another grunt of pain.

 

In the name of the Warrior I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father I charge you to be just. In the name of the Mother I charge you to defend the young and innocent. In the name of the Maid I charge you to protect all women....  Ser Arthur Dayne intoned.




Jon knew he should be saving his Tyroshi Brandy.  He had brought seven bottles with him. One had gone to  the cellars of Winterfell, Another had accompanied Dacey back  to Bear Island. Yet after today’s events and the wounds inflicted upon him, he needed to get good and bloody drunk.  Gods knew when he would get the chance after how despicable the King,Queen and “Gallant” Joffrey acted. Jon would have to be even more vigilant in regards to threat if he wanted his sisters to  be safe. Arya would not be ready for the field of battle, for some time and Sansa may be a she-wolf, but her skills did not lay in arms.



“How could you be so foolish as the face the Kingslayer.  He could have killed you.” his father said.

 

Jon sighed as he sipped his brandy.

 

“And how could you not argue with your friend, not to kill Nymeria?  You could threatened to resign your handship, Or break the betrothal between Sansa and Joffrey.  You could have told them if Robert. truly loved your sister he would not let the wolf be executed.” Jon shot back as he took a sip of he brand

 

The decision was not mine to make Jon.  It was Robert’s. He is my king and yours.”

 

Robert Baratheon is not my king. Jon though and took another sip of his brandy.

 

“Why did you really accept Robert’s offer. What are you not telling me father?”

 

Ned looked at he nephew for a moment.

 

“What I am about to tell you, cannot be told to anyone, we are going to  a dangerous place, and those claim to be our friends, may be in fact our enemies.”

 

“I give you my word.”

 

“The night the King arrived, Catelyn’s sister Lysa Arryn sent us a message.  She claimed the Queen murdered Jon Arryn. She did not say why, but Robert could be next.”

 

“Well I can’t say I blame her, given His Grace’s actions at the Feast.”

 

“That’s not the point Jon.  The Lannisters have always been ambitious, Why Cersei murdered Lord Arryn, I don’t know, but as Robert’s Hand-”

 

“Why would the Lannister’s murder Jon Arryn?  They already have everything they want, what would they gain from murdering him?”  

 

“I do not know, but when we get to the capital we can investigate and hopefully uncover the truth before whatever plans they put in motion unfold.  I pray we are not too late, I have seen enough war in my lifetime, I have no desire to call the Banners or have to face the Kingslayer on the field.” Eddard said.

 

Eddard

 

“When you two dueled, you asked him how he could sit on his ass while those he swore he protect died.  Why did you mention it to him? Do you hate him?”

 

Jon sighed.  “I do not hate him because he is a kingslayer. A man makes the title, the title does not make the man.  As a Kingsguard, Jaime broke his oath when he slit the Mad King’s throat, but as a Knight he upheld his vows.  Yet he broke those vows as a knight when he sat the Iron Throne and did nothing to aid my half siblings and Princess Elia.  Had he not broken those oaths, they might have lived. The Targaryen dynasty might have been permitted to continue to rule and you would have not to sully your honor, and hide my parentage.”

 

“You don’t know that.” Ned said softly.

 

“You’re right, but either way there are members of my family I will never know.   My very existence is a product of broken oaths, father. If people did not swear oaths they could not keep, the world would be a happier place.”

 

“Winterfell would have been less happy without you.”  Ned said.

 

“Aye, but perhaps things would have gone better for my siblings.”

 

“Perhaps not.” Ned said with a sad smile as he ruffled his  son’s hair.

Chapter Text

There was no other way to say it.

 

King’s Landing was a shithole.

 

The city stank worse than any battlefield Jon had ever been on.  The buildings were a mismatch of different eras and styles that made Jon's eyes sore.  

 

How could anyone choose to live like this? Jon thought as they rode through the streets soaked in shit and past small folk who lived a wretched existence.

 

The foul odors receded as they entered the Red Keep, but the air was still far from pure.  

 

A royal steward approached his father and  told him that Grand Maester Pycelle had convened an urgent meeting of the small council.  

 

"It will be convenient on the morrow,"  his father snapped as he dismounted.

 

The steward bowed very low. "I shall give the councillors your regrets, my lord."

 

"No, damn it," Ned said. I "I will see them. Pray give me a few moments to change into something more presentable."


"Yes, my lord," the steward said. "We have given you Lord Arryn's former chambers in the Tower of the Hand, if it please you. I shall have your things taken there."

 

"My thanks," Ned said as he ripped off his riding gloves and tucked them into his belt. The rest of his household was coming through the gate behind him. Ned saw Vayon Poole, his own steward, and called out. "It seems the council has urgent need of me. See that my daughters find their bedchambers, and tell Jory to keep them there. Arya is not to go exploring yet." Poole bowed. Ned turned back to the royal steward. "My wagons are still straggling through the city. I shall need appropriate garments."


"It will be my great pleasure," the steward said.

 

“Stay out of trouble son.” Ned said  to Jon as he went on his way.




After getting his own things squared away, Jon made his way to the throne room.  It was quiet. No Kingsguard or Gold Cloaks in sight.

 

The Iron Throne was an ugly thing, a heap of swords melted into an uncomfortable chair by dragon fire.  yet something in his blood stirred as Jon took in the sight of the Iron Throne. A warm feeling tingled in his loins, his heart hammered in his chest.   The Throne had a welcoming presence, it beckoned him to come and sit.

 

You are the son of the Prince of Dragonstone, by all rights the throne belong to you.  Not to Robert Baratheon, Not to Daenerys Targaryen and certainly not to Daena Blackfyre.  A seductive voice in the back of his head whispered.

 

You could be another Jaehaerys The Conciliator, Another Maekar,  Another Conqueror. Dacey could be a queen. And perhaps you could take multiple women to wife, like Maegor the Cruel did.  Take Daena and Daenerys and give them your seed so they will give you strong sons and daughters. You can appoint honest and men and women to  the Small Council and you can give white cloaks to true knights.

 

I don’t want  the throne. Let someone else sit in the damned thing.   Let me have Dacey. Let my family be safe and happy I am no ruler.  I want no title or honors or office.  

 

Liar, you have wanted this your entire life.  You are the blood of the dragon and the blood of the wolf.  Conquest, ruling, they are in your blood. The wolf does not apologise when it feasts upon its prey. Neither does a dragon.  This keep is called the Red Keep. Make it live it up to its name. Fill the halls with the blood of the craven and the cruel.  Proclaim that you are Aemon Targaryen, honor and duty to both your houses demand it.

 

Jon shook his head.

 

Duty demands  I fight to sit Daena Blackfyre upon the Iron Throne.  That I serve the North and its people. That as a Knight I honor my vows.  That I accept the my father Eddard Stark may sit this throne but I never shall.  It’s better this way. I have all I ever wanted. I have the name Stark, I have the title of Ser.  I have a beautiful, strong woman that I love with every fiber of my being who will be my wife.

 

But you want more.   You want the Lannisters and those who serve them brought to justice  and gone for their crimes. You want to shed their blood. You want to taste it on your lips on the field of battle.  You want those who looked down and spat upon you to bend the knee and acknowledge that you are their better.

 

You were born to rule.

 

I was born to serve.   I was born to be a brother, a husband and a father.  I was born to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  To counsel, to support.

 

Why not both?   The part of him he would never acknowledge  whispered.

 

Jon sighed.  His left shoulder throbbed from the wound, Ser Lannister had dealt him.  He clenched and unclenched his left fist and walked out of the throne room.

 



It was an odd choice of gift.  Wouldn't a Baratheon stag pendant be a better choice?

 

Sansa had been summoned to  meet with the prince, who had delivered an apology that was so fake, it took all of her control not to  wring him by his neck in front of his mother. He had given her this ugly golden pendant and swore he we would always love her

 

Oh why couldn’t Joffrey have been gallant and noble?  Why couldn't he be like Baelor Breakspear?

 

Her heart had lept with joy, when he mother and father told her she was being bethroed to  the prince.

 

Now her heart ached with the pain of shattered dreams.   Cersei and Joffrey both may have been beautiful, but their hearts were black and evil.  

 

Sansa slammed the door to her chamber shut, and held back tears.    She hugged Lady, burying her face into her Direwolf’s fur.

 

I must be strong.  As strong as my lady mother.  Sansa thought as she dried her tears.

 


 

“You look like you swallowed a lemon.” Lyanna said as she looked up from her sewing,

 

“I just received a letter from Jon.”   Dacey said.

 

“Well what happened?” her little sister asked

 

“Aye, it turns out our future king, really is a little shit.  Jon says he attacked Arya and her friend, Mycah while they were sparring.  Nymeria bit the prince, and the boy’s mother called for the wolf’s death. Jon had to fight the bloody kingslayer, he says it’ll be almost a moon before he’s back to full fighting strength.”  

 

“Lord Stark isn’t happy either.  According to Jon, everyone on the Small Council, but Barristan the Bold is a sycophant or has their own plans, the Crown is some three million Gold dragons in debt, and there are fucking Lannisters everywhere.  The only good thing Jon says that’s happening is a tourney, he’s hoping that’ll cheer up Sansa. Poor girl is stuck having to spend a few hours with the prince and the queen, at least evey day.”

 

“That does sound terrible.” Lyanna said.  “You should sew Jon a favor or something to cheer him up, especially since that cloak you sewed him is too hot for the South.”

 

Dacey smiled and ruffled her sisters hair.   Yes it would only be a month, maybe two before Jon and his family could come back to Winterfell and they would be wed.  She would sew him a favor he could wear to tournaments when he was fully healed. She would be so busy the time would breeze by.  She would be sewing and mending, chopping down tress, hauling in nets and helping her mother teach Lyra and Jorelle and Lyanna how to fight.

 

Dacey retrieved black, green, red and black cloth and got to work unable to fully supress the mix of giddyness and fear she felt in her heart.



If this was his last lunch with his sister, than it was the best lunch he ever had  Daemon Blackfyre thought as he took a last bite of his honeyfinger.

 

“Has there been word from Haegon?”  he asked.

 

Daena leaned back in her chair, watching the galleys and cogs load and unload  It was a beautiful day in Tyrosh, Daemon wished he had the talent to describe it in words, but his older brother Haegon was the one for a talent for poetry and singing,.

 

“He's well. but I think Arianne’s impatience is rubbing off on him.”

 

“They are impatient because they are in love and wish to have trueborn children.”

 

“Well they’ll have to wait until you meet Daenerys Targaryen and we can arrange a marriage.  Until our house and House Targaryen are reconciled, we cannot launch our attack.”

 

Daemon sighed.  “And if Daenerys isn’t willing to listen to reason?”

 

“Then we will fail yet again.  We cannot take Westeros with just Dorne, our friends in the Reach and a handful of houses in the Riverlands.  When the Lannisters get rid of Robert Baratheon, they will start a fire that will engulf all of Westeros. We have to be able to put the fire out, or it will burn all of us.”

 

“And what of the Starks sister?  You legitimized Jon Snow, but he was already legitimized by Robert.  His Uncle is Baratheon’s best friend, how do you know he will not support Robert’s brother Stannis? Or reveal that out cousin isn’t a bastard, but the son of Rhaegar Targayen and Lyanna Stark?  The Pact of Ice and Fire, Cregan Stark made during the Dance of Dragons was never fulfilled. Why should the North support us, when they can back Daenerys and have children with Stark blood ruling Weseros?”

 

“Because Jon Stark doesn’t want the throne, he wants to  wed the woman he loves and lives his life. He fought for four years under the skull of Ser Rivers,he put his trust in us.  If the North had to choose between the Blackfyres-Targaryens and a Lannister bastard born of incest who will they choose, regardless of Jon Stark’s choose to support us or not.”

 

Daemon sighed.and rose.

 

“ I best finish packing, I have a long journey ahead of me.”

 

Daena hugged him and kissed his forehead the way their father did before his death.

 

“We all do little brother.”  

 


 

 

 

She had dreamnt she was a she-bear.  Strong, powerful, quick and deadly.     Dacey wasn't a skin changer like her mother and younger sister Alysanne, but they way she felt in her dream, was the way she described it.  

 

"It's a mix of feeling totally focused and hazy, you feel light as a feather and heavy as a block of stone."   Alysanne had told her once. 

In the dream she chased after a direwolf that looked like Ghost, were it not for the streaks of crimson and black in its coat.  At her side, another direwolf, its pelt grey as clouds heavy with rain, pursued the direwolf with her.

 

A forest of weiwoods surrounded them.   Each one had a face carved into them.  Some were judgmental, other happy or sad.  More than a few held expression of madness.

 

Snow began to  fall as they came to a riverbank.  Yet no water flowed, only the unmistakable crimson of blood. 

 

The White wolf lept across the river bank and paused to  sniff the air.

 

Before Dacey and the grey wolf could join him, she felt something heavy slam into  her.   She felt the sharp pain of claws tearing into her flesh.   She roared at her attacker, a  golden lioness, its eyes full of contempt.  Pieces of a dead stag hung  in its jaws .  At her side was an older lion,  its mane grey and its eyes cruel.

 

Across the bank she could see the white wolf snapping at another lion,  This one a great white beast with emerald eyes flecked with gold  its's paws encrusted with  blood that dried a long time ago

 

She saw other lions emerge from the trees.

 

Above she heard a  great roar that shook the trees.  She looked up  above and saw  two  three headed dragons, one black, the other red. They  circled above, waiting to swoop down upon them 

 


 

Dacey awoke sweating and shaking, the furs and pelts she had draped over her sheets sliding to  the floor as she sat up, her heart racing. 

Cursing, the young warrior rose to  seek out the chamber pot.  She shivered and winced as her bare feet clapped across the floor. It was getting colder with every passing day.

Winter is coming. Dacey thought as she opened her chamber door.   She hadn't experienced winter since her eighth nameday. 

They  had a decade of summer,  did that mean there would be ten years of Winter?

She hoped not, Winter was cruel mistress, especially in the North.  She had no desire for her child to  experience the first years of its life dealing with the biting wind and the merciless cold. 

 

Her thoughts were dark as she answered the call of nature.  Would their be a war in her lifetime?  Jon's parentage was grounds for one, and Dorne still clamored for justice for the murder of Elia Martell and  her children.   Not to mention the Ironborn had received a slap on the wrist for the destruction and horror they  had wrought many years ago.

In a moon or two, Jon will come home.  We will wed and consummate our marriage and have a feast at Winterfell and one at Bear Island.   I'll give him as many children as I can and we will raise them to be great warriors and leaders.  Some may become brothers of the Night's Watch, be knighted or even join the Golden Company or the Company of the Rose.  One of my sons or daughters may even  wed one of  Jon's sibling's children.   And if war does come, Jon and I will fight side by side as husband and wife should.  I don't give a damn who sits the Iron Throne, just have them be someone who's not mad or a fat, drunk lecher, and let me and my  wolf  live in peace. 

 

   












 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 







.








Chapter Text

 

Jon awoke to  a rapping at his chamber door.  He groaned and rose. He had barely shut his eyes.  His shoulder wound throbbed and he was exhausted not just from the remainder of his journey, but from following Arya around in her explorations of the red keep.   Ghost awoke as well, his crimson eyes the only source of illumination in Jon’s chambers.

 

“Jon it’s me.”  his father said.

 

Jon felt a pang of relief.  He did not have it in his heart to  try and convince Arya that she shouldn’t go  sneaking around the Red Keep.


"Did I say it was? I'm leading you to the dungeons to slit your throat and seal your corpse up behind a wall," Littlefinger replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "We have no time for this, Stark. Your wife awaits."

 

Jon let his hand slide to his dagger.

 

"What game are you playing, Littlefinger? Catelyn is at Winterfell, hundreds of leagues from here." Ned growled

 

"Oh?" Littlefinger's grey-green eyes glittered with amusement. "Then it appears someone has managed an astonishing impersonation. For the last time, come. Or don't come, and I'll keep her for myself." He hurried down the steps.

 

Jon felt his choler rise,  he had no love for Catelyn Stark and he would be a liar if he did not fantasize about snapping back at her for the way she treated him, but Littlefinger had no right to speak of her as if she was some pillow slave from Lys.

 

At the foot of the steps was a heavy door of oak and iron. Petyr Baelish lifted the crossbar and gestured Ned and  through. They stepped out into the ruddy glow of dusk, on a rocky bluff

 

“Follow me. There are niches cut in the rock. Try not to fall to your death, Catelyn would never understand." With that, he was over the side of the cliff, descending as quick as a monkey.

 

Ned and Jon  studied the rocky face of the bluff for a moment, then followed more slowly.  The niches were there, as Littlefinger had promised, shallow cuts that would be invisible from below, unless you knew just where to look for them.   Jon cursed as he almost lost his footing.

 

When at last he reached the bottom, a narrow, muddy trail along the water's edge, Littlefinger was lazing against a rock and eating an apple. He was almost down to the core. "You are growing old and slow, Stark," he said, flipping the apple casually into the rushing water. "No matter, we ride the rest of the way." He had two horses waiting. Ned mounted up and trotted behind him, down the trail and into the city.

 

Finally Baelish drew rein in front of a ramshackle building, three stories and timbered.  Jon heard muffled laughed and moans of pleasure from inside.

 

Eddard Stark dismounted in a fury. "A brothel," he said as he seized Littlefinger by the shoulder and spun him around. "You've brought me all this way to take me to a brothel."

 

"Your wife is inside," Littlefinger said.

 

. "Brandon was too kind to you," His father said as he slammed the small man back against a wall and shoved his dagger up under the little pointed chin of the Valeman.   

 

Jon turned and was about to  advise his father if he was about to slit the Master of Coin’s throat he should have looked for an alley to dump the body first, when   an urgent, familiar voice called out. " No my Lord, He speaks the truth."

 

Jon hardly recognized the man who taught him to take lives.  Sir Rodrik was clad brown roughspun, instead of his coat of plate and boiled leather and he was clean shaven.

 

"Your lady awaits you upstairs."

 

Ned was lost. "Catelyn is truly here? This is not some strange jape of Littlefinger's?" He sheathed his blade.

 

"Would that it were, Stark," Littlefinger said. "Follow me, and try to look a shade more lecherous and a shade less like the King's Hand. It would not do to have you recognized. Perhaps you could fondle a breast or two, just in passing  The same could be said for you Ser Stark.."

 

Jon tried to suppress the hardening of his cock  as they weaved through pretty young girls clad in thin wisps of silk and satin.     No one paid Ned his nephew, or the man the least bit of attention. Ser Rodrik waited below while Littlefinger led him up to the third floor, along a corridor, and through a door.

 

Inside, Catelyn was waiting. She cried out when she saw him, ran to him, and embraced him fiercely.

 

"My lady," Ned whispered in wonderment.

 

"Oh, very good," said Littlefinger, closing the door. "You recognized her."

 

"I feared you'd never come, my lord," she whispered against his chest. "Petyr has been bringing me reports. He told me of your troubles with Arya and the young prince. How are my girls?"

 

"Both full of anger.  Had it not been for Jon, Lady would have been killed at the Queen’s command and one of Arya’s friends, would have been murdured." he told her. "Cat, I do not understand. What are you doing in King's Landing? What's happened?" Ned asked his wife. "Is it Bran? Is he..?

 

Jon felt his breath hitch.   Bran could not be dead, he couldn’t be dead.

 

"It is Bran, but not as you think," Catelyn said.

 

Ned was lost. "Then how? Why are you here, my love? What is this place?"

 

"Just what it appears," Littlefinger said, easing himself onto a window seat. "A brothel. Can you think of a less likely place to find a Catelyn Tully?"

 

He smiled a smile that had no mirth, and Jon could not help but notice, that he had referred to Lady Stark by her maiden name.

 

If only good Ser Rodrik had come a few moments later.

 

"As it chances, I own this particular establishment, so arrangements were easily made. I am most anxious to keep the Lannisters from learning that Cat is here in King's Landing."

 

"Why?" Ned asked. He   and Jon then saw her hands.   Jon had seen wounds like that, in his time in Essos,  there was only one way you could obtain wounds like that.

 "You've been hurt." He took her hands in his own, turned them over. "Gods. Those are deep cuts . . . a gash from a sword or . . . how did this happen, my lady?"

 

Catelyn slid a dagger out from under her cloak and placed it in his hand. "This blade was sent to open Bran's throat and spill his life's blood."

 

Jon saw the familiar smokey gleam of Valyrian steel.  

 

Ned's head jerked up. "But . . . who . . . why would . . . "

 

She put a finger to his lips. "Let me tell it all, my love. It will go faster that way. Listen."

 

So Eddard and Jon  listened, and she told it all, from the fire in the library tower to Varys and the guardsmen and Littlefinger. And when she was done, Eddard Stark sat dazed beside the table, the dagger in his hand.



Painfully, Ned forced his thoughts back to the dagger and what it meant.

 

"The Imp's dagger," he repeated. It made no sense. His hand curled around the smooth dragonbone hilt, and he slammed the blade into the table, felt it bite into the wood. It stood mocking him. "Why should Tyrion Lannister want Bran dead? The boy has never done him harm."

 

“Agreed, I spoke to Lord Lannister at the feast.  He seemed the only decent person in that house of craven jackals.”

 

"Do you Starks have nought but snow between your ears?" Littlefinger asked. "The Imp would never have acted alone."

 

Ned rose and paced the length of the room. "If the queen had a role in this or, gods forbid, the king himself . . . no, I will not believe that."

 

"Most likely the king did not know," Littlefinger said. "It would not be the first time. Our good Robert is practiced at closing his eyes to things he would rather not see."

 

“For once we agree upon on something Lord Baelish, Robert Baratheon has no reason to  want Bran dead, but the Queen has no love for us, and not once in their entire history have the Lannisters of Casterly Rock have  hesitated to kill children.” Jon said.

 

Ned had no reply for that.

 

Littlefinger sauntered over to the table and  wrenched the knife from the wood.

 

"The accusation is treason either way. Accuse the king and you will dance with Ilyn Payne before the words are out of your mouth. The queen . . . if you can find proof, and if you can make Robert listen, then perhaps . . . "

 

"We have proof," Ned said. "We have the dagger."

 

"This?" Littlefinger flipped the knife casually end over end. "A sweet piece of steel, but it cuts two ways, my lord. The Imp will no doubt swear the blade was lost or stolen while he was at Winterfell, and with his hireling dead, who is there to give him the lie?" He tossed the knife lightly to Ned. "My counsel is to drop that in the river and forget that it was ever forged."

 

Ned regarded him coldly. "Lord Baelish, I am a Stark of Winterfell. My son lies crippled, perhaps dying. He would be dead, and Catelyn with him, but for a wolf pup we found in the snow. If you truly believe I could forget that, you are as big a fool now as when you took up sword against my brother."

 

Jon bit back a laugh.

 

"A fool I may be, Stark . . . yet I'm still here, while your brother has been moldering in his frozen grave for some fourteen years now. If you are so eager to molder beside him,  far be it from me to dissuade you, but I would rather not be included in the party, thank you very much."

 

"You would be the last man I would willingly include in any party, Lord Baelish."

 

"You wound me deeply." Littlefinger placed a hand over his heart.

 

Would that we could actually shed your craven blood you lout. Jon thought.

 

"For my part, I always found you Starks a tiresome lot, but Cat seems to have become attached to you, for reasons I cannot comprehend. I shall try to keep you alive for her sake. A fool's task, admittedly, but I could never refuse your wife anything."

 

"I told Petyr our suspicions about Jon Arryn's death," Catelyn said. "He has promised to help you find the truth."

 

Jon felt the all too familliar urge to  strike Lady Stark rise up.

 

"Very well," he said, thrusting the dagger into his belt. "You spoke of Varys. Does the eunuch know all of it?"

 

"Not from my lips," Catelyn said. "You did not wed a fool, Eddard Stark. But Varys has ways of learning things that no man could know. He has some dark art, Ned, I swear it."

 

She ‘s not wrong.  Magic still slinks about in Essos if you know where to look.

 

"He has spies, that is well known," Ned said, dismissive.

 

"It is more than that," Catelyn insisted. "Ser Rodrik spoke to Ser Aron Santagar in all secrecy, yet somehow the Spider knew of their conversation. I fear that man."

 

Littlefinger smiled. "Leave Lord Varys to me, sweet lady. If you will permit me a small obscenity—and where better for it—I hold the man's balls in the palm of my hand." He cupped his fingers, smiling. "Or would, if he were a man, or had any balls. You see, if the pie is opened, the birds begin to sing, and Varys would not like that. Were I you, I would worry more about the Lannisters and less about the eunuch."

 

"My lady," he said, turning to Catelyn, "there is nothing more you can do here. I want you to return to Winterfell at once. If there was one assassin, there could be others. Whoever ordered Bran's death will learn soon enough that the boy still lives."

 

"I had hoped to see the girls . . . " Catelyn said.

 

"That would be most unwise," Littlefinger put in. "The Red Keep is full of curious eyes, and children talk."

 

"He speaks truly, my love," Ned told her. He embraced her. "Take Ser Rodrik and ride for Winterfell. Jon and I will watch over the girls. Go home to our sons and keep them safe."

 

Catelyn glared at Jon for a moment   "As you say, my lord." Catelyn lifted her face, and Ned kissed her. Her maimed fingers clutched against his back with a desperate strength, as if to hold him safe forever in the shelter of her arms.

 

"Would the lord and lady like the use of a bedchamber?" asked Littlefinger. "I should warn you, Stark, we usually charge for that sort of thing around here."

 

"A moment alone, that's all I ask," Catelyn said.

 

"Very well." Littlefinger strolled to the door. "Don't be too long. It is past time the Hand, his bastard and I returned to the castle, before our absence is noted."

 

Catelyn went to him and took his hands in her own. "I will not forget the help you gave me, Petyr. When your men came for me, I did not know whether they were taking me to a friend or an enemy. I have found you more than a friend. I have found a brother I'd thought lost."

 

Petyr Baelish would prefer to be more than your brother Lady  Stark.  Jon thought.

 

Petyr Baelish smiled. "I am desperately sentimental, sweet lady. Best not tell anyone. I have spent years convincing the court that I am wicked and cruel, and I should hate to see all that hard work go for naught."

 

"You have my thanks as well, Lord Baelish." Ned said in an apologetic tone that almost convinced Jon of its sincerity.

 

"Oh, now there's a treasure," Littlefinger said, exiting.

 

When the door had closed behind him, Ned turned back to his wife. "Once you are home, send word to Helman Tallhart and Galbart Glover under my seal. They are to raise a hundred bowmen each and fortify Moat Cailin. Two hundred determined archers can hold the Neck against an army. Instruct Lord Manderly that he is to strengthen and repair all his defenses at White Harbor, and see that they are well manned.  Give orders to Howland Reed to call his bannerman too. And from this day on, I want a careful watch kept over Theon Greyjoy. If there is war, we shall have sore need of his father's fleet."


"War?" The fear was plain on Catelyn's face.

 

"It will not come to that," Ned said is he took her in his arms again.

 

"The Lannisters are merciless in the face of weakness, as Aerys Targaryen learned to his sorrow, but they would not dare attack the north without all the power of the realm behind them, and that they shall not have. I must play out this fool's masquerade as if nothing is amiss. Remember why I came here, my love. If I find proof that the Lannisters murdered Jon Arryn . . . "

 

He felt Catelyn tremble in his arms. Her scarred hands clung to him. "If," she said, "what then, my love?"

 

"All justice flows from the king," he told her. "When I know the truth, I must go to Robert."




“Lord Baelish was lying to us.”  Jon said as they entered Jon's chambers.

 

“His story about the dagger belonging to Tyrion Lannister is a fabrication.”

 

“How can you be sure?” His father asked.

 

“At the feast, when I left to get some air, we spoke at length and  he told me all dwarves are bastards in his father’s eyes. In addition, House Lannister's heirloom blade has been missing for centuries. Lord Tywin would be quite eager to get his hands on a Valyrian steel weapon, be it a sword, or enough daggers he could melt down to reforge into a new sword.”

 

“Also why would Tyrion bet against his own brother? And why would Lord Baelish bet a dagger of Valyrian steel over the outcome of a tourney?  More importantly, how could Lord Baelish get his hands on such a weapon? The man's lordship comes from his role on the Small Council, not the lands bequeathed to him. And Valyrian steel blades aren't exactly something you can buy in the bazaar with a few silver Stags and some coppers.  Not to mention he suggested we toss the dagger away.”

 

“But the man is Catelyn's childhood friend. Not mention Jon Arryn appointed him to his position.”

 

“But he has no love for you father.  You wed his childhood friend, a woman you didn't even know, a woman you were not even originally betrothed to.  And he runs a brothel, men like that aren't exactly paragons of virtue.

 

Eddard nodded. “We have no shortage of foes in this cesspit.”

 

Jon smiled grimly  “Our blades will be red when this is all over  Tomorrow I'll follow up with the Master of Arms.”

 

“Tread carefully Jon.”  Eddard said as he rose to leave.

 

“You too father.” Jon said.

 


 

The next morning Jon made his way to the Master of Arms chambers.

 

Aron Santagar was one of the handful of Dornishman Jon had seen in the capital and the only one that was highborn.

 

What Can I do for you my lord?” The Master at Arms asked.

 

“My name is Ser Jon Stark.  I came at the behest of my father regarding a private matter.”

 

“We all serve at the Lord Hand’s pleasure. Bar the door will you?”

 

Aron Santagar was  a tall man with narrow features and flinty eyes.  He had the swarthy complexion of those with Rhoynar blood in their veins.  His armor was enameled and his beard was pointed.

 

“I suppose you're here to follow up on the Valyrian Steel dagger stolen from my armory?”

 

“I am.”  Jon said.

 

“Good, only four people have acess to the royal armory besides myself.  The King, The King’s Hand, The Queen and the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.   None of them came to the armory before they set out. So either the Queen hired someone to  sneak in to steel it, or we have a third party.”

 

“I cannot blame the queen for wanting her husband dead, my bethroted and I had to share a table with him when he visited Winterfell.”

 

“An unenviable position.”  the knight said as he poured himself and Jon a goblet of wine, than added water.

 

Jon took the goblet than hesitated.

 

“Relax, we both serve the same Queen.” Aron said and drank.

 

Jon coughed.  “And how many serve our Queen in the Red Keep?”  

 

Aron sighed.  “Not enough, the Lannisters and their puppets circle like vultures, the leal and justice seeking do not reside here Ser, but when war comes, they will answer the call .”

 

I sure hope so.  Jon thought

 

“This blade was used to try and slit my brother Bran’s throat.  And whoever wanted him dead may be connected to the murder of Jon Arryn.”

 

“Would that the Keep was made of wood and you had a match.”  Aron said.

 

“Indeed, My family and I seem to have found no shortage of rats since our arrival.”   

 

Jon finished his wine and rose.

 

“Thank you for your time Ser if you need anything-.”

 

“I made sure to get my wife and children out of here.  I will not have them meet the same fate as Princess Elia and her babes.”

 

“Their killers will meet justice one day Ser. It may be long overdue, but there will be justice.”

 

Aron nodded.




Eddard Stark carefully turned the page of the ponderous tome that lay on his desk.

 

Why did Jon Arryn want a tome on the Lineages of the Houses of the Seven Kingdoms?

 

The Seed is Strong

 

What had Jon Arryn meant by that?  

 

Ned poured himself some wine.   Gods things had gone from somewhat tolerable to worse, all in the span of a few days.  

 

A queen as kind as Maegor,  My brother in all but blood and king almost as fat as Aegon the Unworthy.  A council of sycophants and schemers and me the second most powerful man in the seven kingdoms and the most powerless.

 

If Robert and his son do not shape up who will take the throne?  Robert told me a war was coming, and he’s right. Will my sons have to march to war?  Will my daughter by wed for the sake of an alliance and not to someone they want?

 

And Jon?  Will he be forced to bear a crown?  Will he have to set aside the woman he loves and wed his aunt to ensure stability for the realm?  

 

Promise me  Ned. his long dead sister whispered with her dying breath.

 

Promise me.

.Cersei let out a sigh of relief as she entered her chambers.  Jaime followed behind her.

 

“God’s I just wring that simpering little whelp by her pretty long neck!”  Cersei said.   

 

“Please I would find Sansa Stark more tolerable than Ned Stark’s bastard.  He stood right next to me,  the whole time you were spending time with your future goodaughter and never uttered a word, till he bade us good night. “  

 

Cersei recalled the night of the feast.  Ned Stark’s bastard was a sullen, stoic thing, only smiling when that harlot from that shithole island opened her mouth.   Hell the only time the bastard showed any emotion was the anger in his tone when demanded a trial by combat that night at Castle Darry.


“He hates us.” Jaime said.

“Of course he hates us. He’s a bastard who thinks he’s a knight. Catelyn Stark should have smothered him in his cradle.” Cersei said as she poured herself some wine.

 

“I wonder who his mother was?  It couldn’t have been Ashara Dayne The boy’s pretty but he doesn’t look Dornish.”

 

“Probably some whore.” Cersei said dismissively

 

“Doubtful, I wonder if good old Ned fucked his own sister.” Jaime said as he moved to shed his enameled plate.

 

Cersei laughed and sipped her wine.

 

It doesn’t matter who Jon Snow’s mother is. He’s just a bastard.  He’ll marry that whore of his and go back that shithole of an island soon enough.”  

 

Jaime looked lost in thought.

 

“What is it?” Cersei asked.

 

“ If there is a war, do you think Ned Stark will send his bastard to  hire the Golden Company?”

 

“Don’t be an idiot.  As if the honorable Ned Stark would hire sellswords.  Even if that frozen wasteland had enough gold to scrape together to hire them, I doubt the Golden Company would come to  Westeros. Their sellswords, their dishonorable, loyal only to their purses, and the Blackfyres are dead and buried, The day the Golden Company returns to  Westeros is the day dragons fly again.” Cersei replied.

 

“True.” Jaime said as he moved to unlace Cersei’s gown.

 

Chapter Text

 

Ned sighed wearily as he sat down  and waited for Jon and Jory to appear.

He opened The Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms, With Descriptions of Many High Lords and Noble Ladies and Their Children, by Grand Maester Malleon and thumbed to the entry of House Lannister.  The tome didn’t make for light reading, but Ned’s foster father and mentor had asked for it, and Ned felt certain he had reasons.   Although what Jon Arryn wanted with a tome composed when Aegon the Unlikely was still at his mother Dyanna Dayne’s teat Ned had not idea.

 

“I've promised the City Watch twenty of my guard until this damnable tourney is done," he told his Captain.  ."I rely on you to make the choice. Give Serjeant Alyn the command, and make certain the men understand that they are needed to stop fights, not start them."

 

Ned opened a cedar chest and removed a light linen under-tunic. "Did you find the stable-boy?"

 

"The watchman, my lord," his son answered said. "He vows he'll never touch another horse."

 

"What did he have to say?"

 

"He claims he knew Lord Arryn well. Fast friends, they were." Jon said with a cynical snort

 

"The Hand always gave the lads a copper on their name days, he says. Had a way with horses. Never rode his mounts too hard, and brought them carrots and apples, so they were always pleased to see him."

 

"Carrots and apples," Ned repeated.

 

Ned had tasked his son to make discrete inquiries into the remaining members of Lord Arryn’s household

 

Ser Hugh had been a cunt. Brash and arrogant, but with no skill to back it up. Jon wanted to beat him bloody for his attitude.  The newly minted knight wouldn’t last a day in the Golden Company.

 

The serving girl had  been pleasant. She told him Lord Jon had been reading more often than usual,  he was melancholy over his young son Robert’s frailty, and had been unusually gruff  with his lady wife.

 

The potboy, now cordwainer, had never exchanged so much as a word with Lord Jon, but he was full of oddments of kitchen gossip.  Jon knew from experience that gossip was always useful. “The lord had been quarreling with the king, the lord only picked at his food, the lord was sending his boy to be fostered on Dragonstone, the lord had taken a great interest in the breeding of hunting hounds, the lord had visited a master armorer to commission a new suit of plate, wrought all in pale silver with a blue jasper falcon and a mother-of-pearl moon on the breast. The king's own brother had gone with him to help choose the design, the potboy said. No, not Lord Renly, the other one, Lord Stannis.



"The lad swears Lord Jon was as strong as a man half his age. Often went riding with Lord Stannis, he says."

 

"Where did they go on these rides?" Ned asked.

 

" The boy swore by The Seven that they visited a brothel."

 

"A brothel?" Ned said.

 

"The Lord of the Eyrie and Hand of the King visited a brothel with Stannis Baratheon?" Jon’s father looked at him as if he’d grown a second head.

 

  Robert's lusts were the subject of ribald drinking songs throughout the realm, but Stannis and Jon Arryn were cut from different cloth.

 

"The boy say Lord Arryn took three of his household knights with him, and the boy says they were joking of it when he took their horses afterward."

 

"Which brothel?" Ned asked.

 

"The boy said he did not know.  He told me his knights would."

 

"A pity Lysa carried them off to the Vale," Ned said dryly.

 

"The gods are doing their best to vex us. Lady Lysa, Maester Colemon, Lord Stannis . . . everyone who might actually know the truth of what happened to Jon Arryn is a thousand leagues away."

 

"Will you summon Lord Stannis back from Dragonstone father?" Jon asked



"Not yet," Ned said. "Not until I have a better notion of where Stannis stands.  As you said earlier, there’s no shortage of foes for our blades. “

 

Why did Stannis leave? Had the Lord of Dragonstone played some part in Jon Arryn's murder? Or was he afraid?  Ned found it hard to imagine what could frighten Stannis Baratheon, who had once held Storm's End through a year of siege, surviving on rats and boot leather while the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne sat outside with their hosts, banqueting in sight of his walls.  Or had Stannis left to protect his daughter Shireen?

 

"Bring me my doublet, if you would. The grey, with the direwolf sigil. I want this armorer to know who I am. It might make him more forthcoming."

 

Jory went to the wardrobe. "Lord Renly is brother to Lord Stannis as well as the king."

 

"Yet it seems that he was not invited on these rides."

 

Neither Ned or Jon  liked Renly. Sure he was friendly and smiled a lot, but he untested in war, and seemed more concerned with the recent trends in fashion than his duty as Lord of the Stormlands and Master of Laws.

 

Jory held out the doublet, and Ned slid his hands through the armholes

 

."Perhaps Lord Stannis will return for Robert's tourney," he said as Jory laced the garment up the back.

 

"That would be a stroke of fortune, my lord," Jory said.

 

Ned strapped Ice across his back, more for it’s reassuring weight  than for practicality. In the narrow alleys of King’s landing, the Dirk on his belt would be of more use.

 

Jory draped Ned's cloak across his shoulders and clasped it at the throat with the Hand's badge of office.

"The armorer lives above his shop, in a large house at the top of the Street of Steel. Alyn knows the way, my lord."

 

Ned nodded.

 

"The gods help this potboy if he's sent us off haring after shadows." Ned said

 

It was a slim enough staff to lean on, but the Jon Arryn that Ned Stark had known was not one to wear jeweled and silvered plate. Steel was steel; it was meant for protection, not ornament. He might have changed his views, to be sure. He would scarcely have been the first man who came to look on things differently after a few years at court . . . but the change was marked enough to make Ned wonder.

 

"Is there any other service I might perform?"

 

"I suppose you'd best begin visiting whorehouses."

 

"Hard duty, my lord." Jory grinned. "The men will be glad to help. Porther has made a fair start already."

 

Jon rolled his eyes

 




Ned, Jon and two of the Household Guard trotted through the streets of King’ Landing.  

 

Jon hated this city.  He hated the smell. He pitied the smallfolk crammed into this shithole of a city.  He’d seen slaves in Essos who lived better lives than some of the peasants they passed.

 

About twenty minutes into their ride  they entered  the Street of Steel.   Father and son dismounted and entered the most popular and expensive blacksmith's shop in Westeros.

 

“Wine for the King’s hand and his son.” Tobho Mott said.

 

Toho Mott was a tall wiry man, clad in satins and velvets embroided with silver accents.  He was balding and spoke with an Qohorian accent. Jon noticed he was missing the middle and ring finger on his right hand.

 

Tobho’s servant girl, a pretty willowy thing with brown eyes and red hair smiled shyly at Jon as she poured the three of them each a goblet of Dornish red.

 

"If you are in need of new arms for the Hand's tourney, you have come to the right shop."  Jon actually needed a  proper suit of plate and blunted arms for the melee, but that could wait until the actual business was concluded.

 

"Did you make a falcon helm for Lord Arryn?"  Ned asked with a charming smile.

 

Tobho Mott paused a long moment and set aside his goblet.  "The Hand did call upon me, with Lord Stannis, the king's brother. I regret to say, they did not honor me with their patronage."

 

Ned looked at the man evenly and remained silent.  

 

"They asked to see the boy," the armorer said, "So I took them back to the forge."

 

"The boy," Ned echoed. He had no notion who the boy might be. "I should like to see the boy as well."

 

Tobho Mott’s eyes narrowed . "As you wish, my lord," he said, all trace of joviality gone.

He led Ned and Jon out a rear door and across a narrow yard, back to the cavernous stone barn where the work was done. When the armorer opened the door, the blast of hot air was worse than any Jon had dealt with in Essos.  In the barn, a forge blazed in each corner, and the air stank of smoke and sulfur. .

 

The master called over a tall lad about Robb's age, his arms and chest corded with muscle. "This is Lord Stark, the new Hand of the King," he told him as the boy looked at Ned through sullen blue eyes and pushed back sweat-soaked hair with his fingers.  The boy had thick shaggy dark hair, although unlike Jon’s it was not in curls.

 

"This is Gendry. Strong for his age, and he works hard. Show the Hand that helmet you made, lad." Almost shyly, the boy led them to his bench, and a steel helm shaped like a bull's head, with two great curving horns.

 

Ned turned the helm over in his hands. It was raw steel, unpolished but expertly shaped. "This is fine work. I would be pleased if you would let me buy it."

 

The boy snatched it out of his hands. "It's not for sale."

 

Jon chuckled.

 

Tobho Mott looked horror-struck. "Boy, this is the King's Hand. If his lordship wants this helm, make him a gift of it. He honors you by asking."

 

"I made it for me," the boy said stubbornly.

 

"A hundred pardons, my lord," his master said hurriedly to Ned. "The boy is crude as new steel, and like new steel would profit from some beating. That helm is journeyman's work at best. Forgive him and I promise I will craft you a helm like none you have ever seen."

Jon doubted Tobho did much actually crafting, due to his missing fingers.

"He's done nothing that requires my forgiveness. Gendry, when Lord Arryn came to see you, what did you talk about?"

 

"He asked me questions is all, m'lord."

 

"What sort of questions?"

 

The boy shrugged. "How was I, and was I well treated, and if I liked the work, and stuff about my mother. Who she was and what she looked like and all."

 

"What did you tell him?" Ned asked.

 

" I told him she died when I was little. She had yellow hair, and sometimes she used to sing to me, I remember. She worked in an alehouse."

 

"Did Lord Stannis question you as well?"

 

"The bald one? No, not him. He never said no word, just glared at me, like I was some raper who done for his daughter."

 

"Mind your filthy tongue," the master said. "This is the King's own Hand." The boy lowered his eyes. "A smart boy, but stubborn. That helm . . . the others call him bullheaded, so he threw it in their teeth."

 

Jon bit back a laugh.

 

Ned gently, almost affectionately  touched the boy's head, fingering the thick black hair. "Look at me, Gendry." The apprentice lifted his face. Ned studied the shape of his jaw, the eyes like blue ice.

 

Realization and horror dawned on both father and son.

 

."Go back to your work, lad. I'm sorry to have bothered you." He walked back to the house with the master.

 

"Who paid the boy's apprentice fee?" Eddard asked lightly.

 

Mott looked fretful. "You saw the boy. Such a strong boy. Those hands of his, those hands were made for hammers. He had such promise, I took him on without a fee."

 

“I doubt that very much.” Jon said coldly as helped himself to another goblet of wine.

 

"The truth. " Ned urged. "The streets are full of strong boys. The day you take on an apprentice without a fee will be the day  dragons fly again. Did Lord Arryn pay for the expenses of his training?"

 

" No he did not.  It was a lord," the master said reluctantly. "He gave no name, and wore no sigil on his coat. He paid in gold, solid bars from Lys and Pentos.  It was twice the customary sum, and said he was paying once for the boy, and once for my silence."

 

"Describe him."

 

"He was stout, round of shoulder, not so tall as you. Brown beard, but there was a bit of red in it, I'll swear. He wore a rich cloak, that I do remember, heavy purple velvet worked with silver threads, but the hood shadowed his face.  He had a mix of a  Crownlands and Vale accent.." He hesitated a moment. "My lord, I want no trouble."

 

"None of us wants trouble, but I fear these are troubled times, Master Mott," Ned said. "You know who the boy is."

 

"I am only an armorer, my lord. I know what I'm told."

 

"You know who the boy is," Ned repeated patiently.

 

"The boy is my apprentice," the master said. He looked Ned in the eye, stubborn as old iron. "Who he was before he came to me, that's none of my concern."

 

Ned nodded. He decided that he liked Tobho Mott.

 

"If the day ever comes when Gendry would rather wield a sword than forge one, i’ll take him as my Squire  He has the look of a warrior.” Jon said with a smile.

 

Mott nodded.

 

“My thanks Master Mott  I do not require any arms or armor, but If I have need I will come to you."

 

Mott nodded, doing his best to hide his disappointment

 

“Fortunately for you Master Mott, my son does.” Ned said.

 




Ned sighed and poured himself another glass  of wine.

 

“What would Jon Arryn want with one of Robert’s bastards?” he said aloud.

 

“A better question is who payed for Gendry's fee  Apprentice fees aren't cheap Especially for men like Mott.”  Jon said with a glare toward the ponderous tome Ned had left open on his desk.

 

“We’re missing something Jon, I just don’t know what.  Why would Lord Arryn care about the hair color of Gendry’s mother?” Jon said.

 

“Perhaps he wished to keep an eye on them, in case they needed to be legitimized.”  Jon said cynically. “Lord Stannis has only a daughter, Lord Renly is unwed, and Lady Lannister only bore Robert Baratheon two boys and a daughter.”

 

Ned choose to ignore Jon not using Robert and Cersei’s proper titles.

 

“Truth be told, it might be better to  focus on ensuring Sansa and Arya’s safety and let this Lannister scheme play out.”  Jon said as he picked up the book and began thumbing through its brittle yellow pages with exaggerated care.

 

“Do you really want the Lannisters to go unpunished?” Ned asked.

 

“I would nothing more then to  see justice done, but all we have is lies and theory.  We cannot make accusation on that and hearsay. If we cannot stop the fire from being lit, the best we can do is get out of the way and then try and put it out.”

 

Eddard looked at Jon, his time in Essos had done him well, but it also  seemed to have loosened his morals as well.

 

“ We cannot stand by- “

 

“I’m not saying we should stand by. Father   I’m say we be patient, try to catch those responsible in the act, or wait for them to  act. For when they do their guilt will be visible. You’re the Hand of the King, that’s the last thing the Lannisters ever wanted.  They’ll be on edge.”

 

Ned sighed.   “We’ve come to  a wretched place Jon. Everyone here is a liar, or corrupt, or both. And Robert isn’t the man I grew up with anymore.”

 

“Maybe he never was.”  Eddard said softly.

 

“Father.  If you think Robert Baratheon is worth fighting for, I’ll bite my tongue and fight for him. But if not, well we both know there are other options.”

 

“I won’t-

 

“Daenerys Targaryen still lives, and I've heard rumors.  Rumors House Blackfyre still persists.”

 

“All I want, is for us to be safe and happy, father.  I want you to grow old. I want Arya and Sansa to find good men.  I want my sons and daughters to plays with Robb’s son’s and daughters.  Does it matter who sits the Iron Throne as long as there's peace and prosperity?”

 

Ned sighed.

 

“Is there something you’re not telling me Jon?”

 

“No.  I’m just speaking the uncomfortable truths.  You made a hard choice one to keep those you love safe.  You and I may have to make more of them.”

 

Perhaps your right.” Ned said.

 

Jon rose and turned to leave.

 

“I hope I’m not.   I pray I’m not.”

 

Ned sighed again.  That night he dreamed of dragons black  and dragons red.   He dreamt of wolves and lions tearing at each other.   He dreamed of a rotting stag and  a laughing bird.

Promise me Ned.   His long dead sister whispered.  

 

Promise me.


 

The next morning , Eddard Stark awoke with tears in his eyes, the smell of Winter Roses in his nostrils and the overwhelming desire to  set King's Landing aflame and return to  Winterfell with his children.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"Steady now."  Dacey said softly.

 

Lyanna inhaled, then exhaled as she knocked her arrow.   

 

Both sisters were clad in leathers wool, and boots lined with doeskin Dacey wore the white lion pelt Jon had gifted her.  Little Lyanna wore a bearpelt cloak with hood lined with fox fur.

 

Lyanna's target was an old Elk.  It's skin was lined with scars and its right eye had been clawed out.

 

"Aim for right between his eyes. " Dacey ordered softly.

 

Lyanna inhaled, then exhaled, and let the arrow fly.  The shaft buried itself in the animal's right eye, with a  wet thlop! The Elk twitched, then died.

 

Dacey led her youngest sister over to the fallen creature.  Lyanna gently yanked the arrow out.

 

"Well done." Dacey said and ruffled Lyanna's hair.

 

The two sisters knelt besides the Elk.  Dacey guided Lyanna through the process of skinning and preparing the Elk's body for transport back to Mormont Keep.  

 

"Dacey can I ask you something?"  Lyanna said as they began their half an hour trek back home.

 

"What's on your mind little bear?" Dacey asked.

 

"Do you think you and Jon falling in love was destiny?"

 

Dacey paused.  

 

"What makes you think us meeting was destiny?"

 

"Well Jon, came back with Longclaw and Cousin Jorah' s body  He's a Knight, and a Stark, not to mention he's half Targaryen. "

 

Dacey gave the matter some thought.  

 

If Jon hasn't gone to Essos he wouldn't have ran into Cousin Jorah.   If he hadn't slain him and brought Longclaw back we'd never have met.   If he hadn't done that he wouldn't have impressed me on the field. Or fought Euron Greyjoy, or stayed a few days more to help us.

 

"I'm not going to deny the Gods had a hand in us meeting.  But I invited Jon into my bed. I chose him, and he chose me.  We live in a cruel world, little sister, girls, even she bears like us, rarely get to choose who we spend the rest of our lives with.”

 

Lyanna looked at her.  “The I am glad you choose Jon over Lord Umber’s or Lord Glover’s son.”  

 

Dacey laughed and ruffled her sister’s hair.

 


 

Jon awoke,the next morning with  the taste of blood on his lips.

 

Not my lips, Ghost's lips. He thought .   His wolf has been prowling the streets of King's Landing feasting on prey, human and animal alike.  He remembered the face of one of them. An ugly man with rotting teeth, who was half drunk.

 

He rose and ate hearty on sausage,  thick black bread and mutton chops with olives and peppers, washed down with blackberry wine.  

 

He was somewhat disappointed his father  had managed to convince Robert not to fight in the melee, it would have been fun to knock the fat stag on his ass.

 

The hours before the melee passed by slowly. Jon sat with Sansa for last of the jousts.  He laughed so hard he almost burst into tears when Sandor Clegane unhorsed Jaime Lannister, but his mirth had faded when Sandor Clegane's brother squared off against the Knight of the Flowers.

 

It had been Gregor Clegane who murdered his brother and sister and their mother Elia Martell.    Further darkening the matter was that it was the man who sired Jon, Elia's husband and father of her children who knighted Gregor Clegane.

 

I will kill him.  One day I will kill him and give his skull to  Dorne . I did not know them, but they were family, they were part of the pack.       Jon thought.

 


Arya watched as Jory helped Jon don his plate.   The armor was plain steel. Jon wore a grey surcoat with the Stark Direwolf in white, over it, along with a cloak of chainmail and leather secured with a pin in the shape of Golden Company Sigil, at his hip was an arming sword, and in his hands was a blunted bastard sword,

 

“I can’t wait to  see you win.” Arya said with  a smile that melted Jon’s heart.

 

He tightened the favor Dacey had sent him around his sword arm.

 

To my dragonknight, his betrothed had written in her blocky heavy script.    Dacey’s favor was a strip of wool sewn from different scraps, just long enough to serve as a kerchief  Half the cloth was green and black, the other half, grey and white, separated by a diagonal band of claret crimson.

 

Jon donned his greathelm and made his way to the field.

 

Jon was just one of forty competitors, a mix of  Lords, knights, yeoman and other warriors.

 

Jon's first foe was a Reachman,wielding a mace and buckler.  Jon had to bite back a laugh at the man's clumsy strikes. Dacey and her mother macework was death in the form of art.

 

Jon easily dodged the blow, then dealt him a strike to the head that would have split his skull in twain had he been wielding Truth.

 

Jon found himself in his element, as he hacked and slashed through a variety of foes.   He could hear the crowd hoot and scream as blood soaked the sand and flesh and bone were pulped.    Jon needed this. He needed to vent his rage, he needed the crowd’s adulation. He needed to prove to everyone in this shithole of a city he was more than Ned Stark’s bastard.  He was a Stark. He was a Knight, He would soon be a husband and a father.

 

Jon lost sense of time.  He disarmed a knight bearing the sigil of House Lannister of Lannisport, than paused to let his foe retrieve his blade.   The knight wore a half helm, and he smiled at Jon’s chivalric gesture.

 

The knight grasped his longsword by the blade and made a wild swing with it.

 

Jon was familiar with the technique.  In Essos, grasping your sword by the blade and using the pommel or crossguard a hammer was called the Mordhau or Murder- thrust.   Ser Rodrik said the technique should be reserved for if you had a thrusting sword with a broken point or you were unlucky enough to find yourself using a blade that had rusted.  In his time with the Golden Company, Ser Flowers had been quite fond of the technique, and had drilled him on being able to counter it,  

 

Jon dodged the man’s swing, then lunged forward and bashed the man’s jaw with the pommel of his sword.  Jon proceeded to trip the man, and leveled his sword at the man’s throat.

 

Jon smiled as the man indicated he yielded.  

 

The melee began with forty men.  The number twindled to thirty than twenty,  

 

Jon found himself  clashing with a comely man bearing the sigil of House Dondarrion.

 

“You’re Lord Beric Dondarrion?”  Jon asked.

 

“Aye and you’re Ser Jon Stark.  Your reputation precedes you.”

 

“In a good way?”  Jon asked as they locked blades  

 

“From what I’ve heard. Yes.”

 

“And what have you heard?”

 

“That you’re a former member of the Golden Company,  that you helped slay Euron Greyjoy. That you fought the Kinglslayer to  save the life a direwolf.”

 

“My betrothed, Dacey was  was the one who slew Euron Greyjoy.  As for fighting the Kingslayer, If our good queen Cersei, could accept that her son could be wrong, I wouldn’t have had to  fight him.”

 

Beric laughed as he parried one of Jon’s blows.

 

Jon spied a purple strip of cloth tied to the Lightening Lord’s sword arm.

 

“Are you betrothed as well?” Jon asked with a grunt of effort.

 

“Aye.” Beric replied.  “To the kindest, strongest, most beautiful woman a man could ask for.  Allyria Dayne of Starfall.”

 

“I pray she makes you happy.”

 

“She already has, not to mention she’s letting her nephew squire for me.” Beric said as dodged one of Jon’s swings.

 

Jon cursed as Beric struck Jon in the shoulder, then in the helm.  The young Lord bashed Jon with his shield, sending him stumbling back.

 

Jon recovered quickly and retaliated with a flurry of blows.  With the longer reach of his blade, Jon negated the advantage of Beric’s shield and send the young lord crashing the ground.

 

“Yield my lord.”  Jon growled as he held his sword to the man’s throat.

 

“I yield.” Beric said with a disappointed look in his eyes.

 

“There will be other melees my lord.” Jon said with a smile.  

 

“Aye.”

 

Jon moved on to his next foes.  First he faced a Frey with a flail.  Then he had to deal with a knight of House Moreland wielding a warhammer

 

After another hour of fighting Jon found himself facing the only other man still standing, Thoros of Myr, a fat red priest who fought with a flaming sword.

 

The priest was swift despite his bulk and Jon found himself hard pressed to hold his own.  Every blow of the burning blade blackened and seared his armor. Jon’s bastard sword was shattered in a single blow and liquid fire dribbled down his chainmail cloak, forcing him to  discard it as it set alight.

 

How the fuck is that not illegal for tourney use?   Jon  thought as he snatched up an abandoned falchion and blocked another blow.     Beneath his helm, sweat stung his brow. Jon’s arms shook with exhaustion as he parried another blow, the Falchion quickly being  rendered useless.

 

By the old gods, I’m going to need a miracle here.    Jon thought as he drew his blunted arming sword from the scabbard and twirled it so he grasped it by the blade.

 

“Yer the best fight i’ve had in a while good ser!”  The priest laughed.

 

Jon put every last bit of his wavering stamina into  dodging that damn flaming sword.

 

Fortunately for Jon the Old Gods’ were smiling on him that day.    Thoros aimed a blow at Jon’s head, hoping to set his helm aflame,  Jon ducked low, and tripped the red priest with the pommel of his blade.  The flaming sword slipped out of Thoros’ calloused fingers Jon then smashed the pommel of his blade on the red priest’s belly with a primal  yell. Thoros spat blood and bile. Jon raised the sword of the finishing overhead strike, but Thoros rolled out of the way and drew his dirk.

 

Thoros lunged, dirk searching for a gap in Jon’s armor.   The young knight cast his sword to the ground and grabbed the priest’s knife arm.

 

Jon headbutted him  The clang of steel on flesh and bone filled the arena.   Jon raised both hands and boxed the Red priest’s ears. Stunned and disoriented, Thoros stumbled back, as he struggled to  remain standing.

 

With the last of his strength, Jon seized Thoros by his messy  bun and smashed his knee into the man’s face.

 

Incapacitated, his robes stained with his own blood and vomit his nose broken, having swallowed two of his own teeth and  developing a lovely black eye, Thoros yielded to Ser Jon Stark.

 



“I told you he’d win!”  Arya exclaimed.

 

“I have not doubt our brother would win.”  Sansa snapped Sansa had been the very model of how a lady should conduct herself at a tourney.  Arya on the other hand had been bouncing in her seat as soon as the first blows landed.

 

As his daughters jested with one another.  Ned let out a sigh of relief. He had almost forbade Jon from fighting in the melee, for fear of the Lannisters seeking retribution for Jon saving Lady.     But winter was coming, and Ned would let his children be children before those dark days came.

 

Let Jon earn a bit of glory and renown.  It will do him some good. Ned thought



 

He and his six knights had been on the road for three weeks now.   

 

Daemon Blackfyre and his closest companions had taken ship from Tyrosh to Bravoss.  Than they sailed to Lorath. From Lorath the sailed downriver, changing boats every time they stopped  to avoid anyone who could be following them. Then they sailed upriver to the Free City of Qohor. There they rested for two days, then set out for Vaes Dothrak

 

Daemon was tired, and he couldn’t fully suppress the sense of nervousness he had.   

 

If  Viserys and Daenerys’ Targaryen reject our offer, It will be difficult to  take back what is ours. Black or red a dragon is still a dragon. Family is still Family, we must be united, or none of us will return home.

 

Daemon sighed and pulled his cloak tighter around him to ward off the evening chill.

 

Winter is coming  Those were the words of House Stark. Daemon thought of his distant  cousin, who seemed to have little dragon in him.

 

We are dragons cousin.  Don’t be a wolf, be a dragon.  

 

Daemon then fell asleep, praying he would not be murdered by his own family,or that he would have fight Ser Jon Stark.

Chapter Text

 

"You will dishonor yourself forever if you do this." Ned said,

 

"Then let it be on my head, so long as it is done. I am not so blind that I cannot see the shadow of the axe when it is hanging over my own neck."



"There is no axe," Ned told his king. "Only the shadow of a shadow, twenty years removed . . . if it exists at all."



"If?" Varys asked softly, wringing powdered hands together. "My lord, you wound me. Would I bring lies to king and council?"

 

"My little birds would not dare deceive me," Varys said with a sly smile.    “Daenerys Targaryen  is with child."


"So you say. If you are wrong, we need not fear. If the girl miscarries, we need not fear. If the babe dies in infancy, we need not fear."

 

"But if it is a boy?" Robert insisted. "If he lives?"

 

"The narrow sea would still lie between us. I shall fear the Dothraki the day they teach their horses to run on water."

 

The king took a swallow of wine and glowered at Ned across the council table. "So you would counsel me to do nothing until the dragonspawn has landed his army on my shores, is that it?"

 

"This ‘dragonspawn' is in his mother's belly," Ned said. "Even Aegon did no conquering until after he was weaned."

 

"Gods! You are stubborn as an auroch, Stark." The king looked around the council table. "Have the rest of you mislaid your tongues? Will no one talk sense to this frozen-faced fool?"

 

Varys laid a soft hand on Ned's sleeve. "I understand your qualms, Lord Eddard, truly I do. It gave me no joy to bring this grievous news to council. It is a terrible thing we contemplate, a vile thing. Yet we who presume to rule must do vile things for the good of the realm, however much it pains us."

 

Lord Renly shrugged. "The matter seems simple enough to me. We ought to have had Viserys and his sister killed years ago, but His Grace my brother made the mistake of listening to Jon Arryn."


"Mercy is never a mistake, Lord Renly," Ned replied. "On the Trident, Ser Barristan here cut down a dozen good men, Robert's friends and mine. When they brought him to us, grievously wounded and near death, Roose Bolton urged us to cut his throat, but your brother said, ‘I will not kill a man for loyalty, nor for fighting well,' and sent his own maester to tend Ser Barristan's wounds." He gave the king a long cool look. "Would that man were here today."

 

Robert had shame enough to blush. "It was not the same," he complained. "Ser Barristan was a knight of the Kingsguard."

 

"Whereas Daenerys is a fourteen-year-old girl." Ned knew he was pushing this well past the point of wisdom, yet he could not keep silent. "Robert, I ask you, what did we rise against Aerys Targaryen for, if not to put an end to the murder of children?"

 

"To put an end to Targaryens!" the king growled.

 

"Your Grace, I never knew you to fear Rhaegar."  Eddard said as he fought to keep the scorn out of his voice, and failed. "Have the years so unmanned you that you tremble at the shadow of an unborn child?"

 

Robert purpled. "No more, Ned," he warned, pointing. "Not another word. Have you forgotten who is king here?"

 

"No, Your Grace," Ned replied. "Have you?"

 

"Enough!" the king bellowed. "I am sick of talk. I'll be done with this, or be damned. What say you all?"

 

"She must be killed," Lord Renly declared.

 

"We have no choice," murmured Varys. "Sadly, sadly . . . "

 

Ser Barristan Selmy raised his pale blue eyes from the table and said, "Your Grace, there is honor in facing an enemy on the battlefield, but none in killing him in his mother's womb. Forgive me, but I must stand with Lord Eddard."


Grand Maester Pycelle cleared his throat, a process that seemed to take some minutes. "My order serves the realm, not the ruler. Once I counseled King Aerys as loyally as I counsel King Robert now, so I bear this girl child of his no ill will. Yet I ask you this—should war come again, how many soldiers will die? How many towns will burn? How many children will be ripped from their mothers to perish on the end of a spear?" He stroked his luxuriant white beard, infinitely sad, infinitely weary. "Is it not wiser, even kinder, that Daenerys Targaryen should die now so that tens of thousands might live?"



"Kinder," Varys said. "Oh, well and truly spoken, Grand Maester. It is so true. Should the gods in their caprice grant Daenerys Targaryen a son, the realm must bleed."

 

Or a daughter . Ned thought.  

 

Littlefinger was the last. As Ned looked to him, Lord Petyr stifled a yawn. "When you find yourself in bed with an ugly woman, the best thing to do is close your eyes and get on with it," he declared. "Waiting won't make the maid any prettier. Kiss her and be done with it."

 

"Kiss her?" Ser Barristan repeated, aghast.

 

"A steel kiss," said Littlefinger.

 

Robert turned to face his Hand. "Well, there it is, Ned. You and Selmy stand alone on this matter. The only question that remains is, who can we find to kill her?"

 

"  Or how,  so many ways.  So many ways. Poison . . . the tears of Lys, let us say. Khal Drogo need never know it was not a natural death."

 

Grand Maester Pycelle's sleepy eyes flicked open. He squinted suspiciously at the eunuch.

 

"Poison is a coward's weapon," the king complained.

 

Ned had heard enough. "You send hired knives to kill a fourteen-year-old girl and still quibble about honor?!" He pushed back his chair and stood. "Do it yourself, Robert! The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword! Look her in the eyes before you kill her! See her tears, hear her last words! You owe her that much at least."

 

"Gods," the king swore, the word exploding out of him as if he could barely contain his fury. "You mean it, damn you." He reached for the flagon of wine at his elbow, found it empty, and flung it away to shatter against the wall. "I am out of wine and out of patience. Enough of this. Just have it done."

 

"I followed you into war twice.  I will not follow you now."

 

For a moment Robert did not seem to understand what Ned was saying. Defiance was not a dish he tasted often. Slowly his face changed as comprehension came. His eyes narrowed and a flush crept up his neck past the velvet collar. He pointed an angry finger at Ned. "You are the King's Hand, Lord Stark. You will do as I command you, or I'll find me a Hand who will."

 

"I wish him every success." Ned unfastened the heavy clasp that clutched at the folds of his cloak, the ornate silver hand that was his badge of office. He laid it on the table in front of the king, saddened by the memory of the man who had pinned it on him, the friend he had loved. "I thought you a better man than this, Robert. I thought we had made a nobler king."

 

Jon Arryn would have been so disappointed,

 

Robert's face was purple. "Out," he croaked, choking on his rage. "Out, damn you, I'm done with you. What are you waiting for? Go, run back to Winterfell. And make certain I never look on your face again, or I swear, I'll have your head on a spike!"

 

Ned bowed, and turned on his heel without another word. He could feel Robert's eyes on his back. As he strode from the council chambers, the discussion resumed with scarcely a pause. "On Braavos there is a society called the Faceless Men," Grand Maester Pycelle offered.

 

"Do you have any idea how costly they are?" Littlefinger complained. "You could hire an army of common sellswords for half the price, and that's for a merchant. I don't dare think what they might ask for a princess."

 

The closing of the door behind him silenced the voices. Ser Boros Blount was stationed outside the chamber, wearing the long white cloak and armor of the Kingsguard. He gave Ned a quick, curious glance from the corner of his eye, but asked no questions.

 

The day felt heavy and oppressive as he crossed the bailey back to the Tower of the Hand. He could feel the threat of rain in the air. Ned would have welcomed it. It might have made him feel a trifle less unclean. When he reached his solar, he summoned Vayon Poole. 

 

"You sent for me, my lord Hand?"

 

"Hand no longer," Ned told him. "The king  has made a decesion than I cannot morally stand by. We shall be returning to Winterfell."

 

"I shall begin making arrangements at once, my lord. We will need a fortnight to ready everything for the journey."

 

"We may not have a fortnight. We may not have a day. The king mentioned something about seeing my head on a spike." Ned frowned. He did not truly believe the king would harm him, not Robert. He was angry now, but once Ned was safely out of sight, his rage would cool as it always did.

 

Always? Suddenly, uncomfortably, he found himself recalling Rhaegar Targaryen. Fifteen years dead, yet Robert hates him as much as ever. It was a disturbing notion . . . and there was the other matter, the business with Catelyn and the dwarf that Yoren had warned him of last night. That would come to light soon, as sure as sunrise, and with the king in such a black fury . . . Robert might not care a fig for Tyrion Lannister, but it would touch on his pride, and there was no telling what the queen might do.

 

Not to mention Jon is quite wroth with  my wife for her somewhat reckless action.

 

"It might be safest if I went on ahead," he told Poole. "I will take my Jon, my daughters and a few guardsmen. The rest of you can follow when you are ready. Inform Jory, but tell no one else, and do nothing until the girls and I have gone. The castle is full of eyes and ears, and I would rather my plans were not known."

 

"As you command, my lord."

 

When he had gone, Eddard Stark went to the window and sat brooding. Robert had left him no choice that he could see. He ought to thank him. It would be good to return to Winterfell. He ought never have left. His sons were waiting there. Perhaps he and Catelyn would make a new son or daughter, neither of them had grey in their hair yet .  Jon could finally wed Dacey Mormont, and, he had no doubt the two of them would have many children. The thought of another son or daughter, as well as grandchildren to indulge did much to lift his spirits after his emotionally draining argument with Robert

 

And yet, the thought of leaving angered him as well. So much was still undone. Robert and his council of cravens and flatterers would beggar the realm if left unchecked . . . or, worse, sell it to the Lannisters in payment of their loans. And the truth of Jon Arryn's death still eluded him. Oh, he and his son  had found a few pieces, enough to convince him that Jon had indeed been murdered, but that was no more than the spoor of an animal on the forest floor. He had not sighted the beast itself yet, though he sensed it was there, lurking, hidden, treacherous.

 

Jon was right when he said they was no shortage of foes for our blades, I just didn’t expect one of them to be my childhood friend.

Ned recalled Jon's words from the night they met Gendry. 

“No.  I’m just speaking the uncomfortable truths.  You made a hard choice one to keep those you love safe.  You and I may have to make more of them.”

Ned sighed.  At least if he took  a ship he could stop at Dragonstone and speak with Stannis Baratheon. Pycelle had sent a raven off across the water, with a polite letter from Ned requesting Lord Stannis to return to his seat on the small council.   Lord Stannis shared the secret Jon Arryn had died for, he was certain of it. The truth he sought might very well be waiting for him on the ancient island fortress of House Targaryen.

 

And when you have it, what then? Some secrets are safer kept hidden. Some secrets are too dangerous to share, even with those you love and trust, but he had shared the truth regarding, Jon’s origins to his wife and children, and that was a dangerous secret as well.  Ned slid the dagger that Catelyn had brought him out of the sheath on his belt. The Imp's knife. Why would the dwarf want Bran dead?  Jon had spoken highly of the Imp.

Could Robert be part of it? He would not have thought so, but once he would not have thought Robert could command the murder of women and children either.  Ned thought back to terrible day of the Sack, Jon’s older sister stabbed half a hundred times, his older brother Aegon’s head smashed apart like a rotten cantelope.  

 

He summoned Vayon Poole again and sent him to the docks to make inquiries, quietly but quickly. "Find me a fast ship with a skilled captain," he told the steward. "I care nothing for the size of its cabins or the quality of its appointments, so long as it is swift and safe. I wish to leave at once."

 

Poole had no sooner taken his leave than Tomard announced a visitor. "Lord Baelish to see you, m'lord."

 

Ned was  vert tempted to turn him away, but thought better of it. He might as well wring as much usefullness  out of the scheming snake before he took his leave of this gods dammed city. "Show him in, Tom."

 

Lord Petyr sauntered into the solar as if nothing had gone amiss that morning    He greeted Ned with  a smile.

 

If only Brandon had killed him that day, or  I had slit his throat when I had the chance. 

 

Ned greeted him coldly. "Might I ask the reason for this visit, Lord Baelish?"

 

"I won't detain you long, I'm on my way to dine with Lady Tanda. Lamprey pie and roast suckling pig. She has some thought to wed me to her younger daughter, so her table is always astonishing. If truth be told, I'd sooner marry the pig, but don't tell her. I do love lamprey pie."

 

"Don't let me keep you from your eels, my lord," Ned said with icy disdain. "At the moment, I cannot think of anyone whose company I desire less than yours."

 

"Oh, I'm certain if you put your mind to it, you could come up with a few names. Varys, say. Cersei. Or Robert. His Grace is most wroth with you. He went on about you at some length after you took your leave of us this morning. The words insolence and ingratitude came into it frequently, I seem to recall."

 

Ned did not honor that with a reply. Nor did he offer his guest a seat, but Littlefinger took one anyway.

 

"After you stormed out, dramatically I had to convicne them not to  hire the Faceless Men," he continued blithely. "Instead Varys suggested we will quietly let it be known that we'll make a lord of whoever does in the Targaryen girl."

 

Ned was disgusted. "So now we grant titles to assassins."

 

Littlefinger shrugged. "Titles are cheap.   The Faceless Men are expensive. If truth be told, I did the Targaryen girl more good than you with all your talk of honor. Let some sellsword drunk on visions of lordship try to kill her.  Truth be told I'm suprised the Golden Company did not slay her in vengence for all the Targaryens did to them and House Blackfye?  I do recall you son served beneath the golden skulls did he not?  Anyway, its most likely he'll make a botch of it, and afterward the Dothraki will be on their guard. If we'd sent a Faceless Man after her, she'd be as good as buried."

 

Ned frowned. "You sit in council and talk of ugly women and steel kisses, and now you expect me to believe that you tried to protect the girl?   And since you brought up the Blackfyres, you do no one version of the tale said Daemon did not rebel till Daeron ordered his arrest.  Robert will have started a war because of his madness "

 

Littlefinger laughed.

 

"Do you always find murder so amusing, Lord Baelish?"

 

"It's not murder I find amusing, Lord Stark, it's you. You rule like a man dancing on rotten ice. I daresay you and your bastard son will make a noble splash. I believe I heard the first crack this morning."

 

"The first and last," said Ned. "I've had my fill."

 

"When do you mean to return to Winterfell, my lord?"

 

"As soon as I can. What concern is that of yours? "  Ned said.

 

"None . . . but if perchance you're still here come evenfall, I'd be pleased to take you to this brothel your man Jory and your son has been searching for so ineffectually." Littlefinger smiled. "And I won't even tell the Lady Catelyn."






Ned and Jon Stark found Littlefinger in the brothel's common room, chatting amiably with  a whore. By the hearth, Heward and a buxom wench were playing at forfeits. From the look of it, he'd lost his belt, his cloak, his mail shirt, and his right boot so far, while the girl had been forced to unbutton her shift to the waist. Jory Cassel stood beside a rain-streaked window with a wry smile on his face, watching Heward turn over tiles and enjoying the view.

 

Ned paused at the foot of the stair and pulled on his gloves. "It's time we took our leave. My business here is done."



Heward lurched to his feet, hurriedly gathering up his things. "As you will, my lord," Jory said. "I'll help Wyl bring round the horses." He strode to the door.

 

"Your business," Littlefinger said lightly, as he sauntered over to them "or Robert's? They say the Hand dreams the king's dreams, speaks with the king's voice, and rules with the king's sword. Does that also mean you fuck with the king's—"

 

"Lord Baelish," Ned interrupted, "you presume too much. I am not ungrateful for your help. It might have taken us years to find this brothel without you. That does not mean I intend to endure your mockery. And I am no longer the King's Hand."


"The direwolf must be a prickly beast," said Littlefinger with a sharp twist of his mouth.

 

“You should know that better than anyone m’lord.”  Jon Stark said calmly.

 

Littlefinger’s smile vanished.

 

"Chataya runs a choice establishment," Littlefinger said as they made their way downstairs and exited the brothel. "I've half a mind to buy it. Brothels are a much sounder investment than ships, I've found. Whores seldom sink, and when they are boarded by pirates, why, the pirates pay good coin like everyone else." Lord Petyr chuckled at his own wit.



A warm rain was pelting down as they walked to the stables. Ned drew up the hood of his cloak. Jory brought out his horse. Young Wyl came right behind him, leading Littlefinger's mare with one hand while the other fumbled with his belt and the lacings of his trousers. A barefoot whore leaned out of the stable door, giggling at him.

 

"Will we be going back to the castle now, my lord?" Jory asked. Ned nodded, lost in thought



The girl had been so young Ned had not dared to ask her age. No doubt she'd been a virgin; the best brothels could always find a virgin, if the purse was fat enough. She had light red hair and a powdering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and when she slipped free a breast to give her nipple to the babe, he saw that her bosom was freckled as well. "I named her Barra," she said as the child nursed. "She looks so like him, does she not, milord? She has his nose, and his hair . . . "

 

"She does." Eddard Stark had touched the baby's fine, dark hair. It flowed through his fingers like black silk. Robert's firstborn had had the same fine hair, he seemed to recall.

 

"Tell him that when you see him, milord, as it . . . as it please you. Tell him how beautiful she is."

 

"I will," Ned had promised her. That was his curse. Robert would swear undying love and forget them before evenfall, but Ned Stark kept his vows.

 

"And tell him I've not been with no one else. I swear it, milord, by the old gods and new. Chataya said I could have half a year, for the baby, and for hoping he'd come back. So you'll tell him I'm waiting, won't you? I don't want no jewels or nothing, just him. He was always good to me, truly."

 

Good to you, Ned thought hollowly. "I will tell him, child, and I promise you, Barra shall not go wanting."

 

She had smiled then. And Ned wanted to weep.

 





"Lord Baelish, what do you know of Robert's bastards?" Jon asked

 

"Well, he has more than you, for a start.  I sure hope not. Their an old saying about angry she bears,you know."

 

"How many?" Jon pressed, ignoring the jape.

 

Littlefinger shrugged.

 

."Does it matter? If you bed enough women, some will give you presents, and His Grace has never been shy on that count. I know he's acknowledged that boy Edric, Lord Renly’s ward at Storm's End, the one he fathered the night Lord Stannis wed. He could hardly do otherwise. The mother was a Florent, niece to the Lady Selyse, one of her handmaids. Renly told me over a glass of arbor gold and some  shrimp that Robert carried the girl upstairs during the feast, and broke in the wedding bed while Stannis and his bride were still dancing. Lord Stannis seemed to think that was a blot on the honor of his wife's House, so when the boy was born, he shipped him off to Renly."

 

He gave Ned a sideways glance.

 

" Varys has told me he heard whispers that Robert got a pair of twins on a serving wench at Casterly Rock, three years ago when he went west for Lord Tywin's tourney. Cersei had the babes killed, and sold the mother to a passing slaver from Lys. Too much an affront to Lannister pride, that close to home."

 

Ned Stark grimaced. Ugly tales like that were told of every great lord in the realm. He could believe it of Cersei Lannister readily enough . . . but would the king stand by and let it happen? The Robert he had known would not have, but the Robert he had known had never been so practiced at shutting his eyes to things he did not wish to see.

 

" Perhaps you can tell me why would Jon Arryn take a sudden interest in the king's baseborn children?" Ned asked

 

Littlefinger shrugged and adjusted the mockingbird clasp on his cloak. "He was the King's Hand. Doubtless Robert asked him to see that they were provided for."

 

“It had to be more than that, or why would the Lannisters kill him?" Jon asked

 

Littlefinger laughed. "Now I see. Lord Arryn learned that His Grace had filled the bellies of some whores and fishwives, and for that he had to be silenced. Small wonder. Allow a man like that to live, and next he's like to blurt out that the sun rises in the east."

 

Before Ned could answer,   Jory cried out in  alarm.



Jon  glimpsed steel plate over leather, gauntlets and greaves, steel helms with golden lions on the crests. Their  crimson cloaks clung to their backs, darkened and soggy from the rain. T here were twelve at least, a line of them, on foot, blocking the street, with longswords and iron-tipped spears.

 

"The wolves are howling"  their leader said. Jon bit back a curse as Jaime Lannister revealed himself.

 

Littlefinger  walked forward.  "What is the meaning of this? This is the Hand of the King."

 

"Was the Hand of the King."   Ser Lannister was unarmored, but not unarmed.   "Now, if truth be told, I'm not sure what he is."

 

"Lannister, this is madness," Littlefinger said. "Let us pass. We are expected back at the castle. What do you think you're doing?"

 

"He knows what he's doing," Ned said calmly.

 

Jaime Lannister smiled. "Quite true. I'm looking for my brother. You remember my brother, don't you, Lord Stark? He was with us at Winterfell. Fair-haired, mismatched eyes, sharp of tongue. A short man."

 

"I remember him well," Ned replied.

 

“As do I, he was fine company at the feast.” Jon said.

 

"It would seem he has met some trouble on the road. My lord father is quite vexed. You would not perchance have any notion of who might have wished my brother ill, would you?"

 

"Your brother has been taken at my command, to answer for his crimes," Ned Stark said.

 

"Be grateful it was us and not  the Dornish who took him. Your house's recent penchant for oath breaking and child murdering has left them little love for the Lions of the Westerlands." Jon said.

 

Jamie's face darkened,  he dismounted and drew his golden sword in a flurry of motion.

 

"Show me your steel, Lord Eddard. I'll butcher you like Aerys if I must, but I'd sooner you died with a blade in your hand!!!"

 

Jon drew Truth and strode forward.

 

"If you want to kill my father, you have to go through me first Ser." Jon declared.

 

"You think getting lucky when we fought and winning a melee makes you skilled enough  to best me bastard? Don’t make me laugh. I learned from the White Bull and Barristan the Bold . I learned from Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning , who could have slain you  with his left hand while he was taking a piss with the right. I learned from Prince Lewyn of Dorne and Ser Oswell Whent and Ser Jonothor Darry , good men every one.  If we cross blades, you will die.  It would be such a shame for your betrothed and her little sisters you helped save to hear you died face down in the mud in this shithole of a city.”

 

“And yet, here you stand, a false knight still drawing breath.  You should have taken the Black Ser Jaime, at least then you would die with some honor instead of dying an oathbreaker.” Jon countered.



"I will bring the City Watch," Littlefinger  told Ned, he then turned and fled.

 

Cowardly cunt. Jon thought.

 

Ned cursed, if they had had enough time to mount their horses they could have avoided this encounter..

 

"Kill me," he warned the Kingslayer, and Catelyn will most certainly slay Tyrion."

 

"Would she? The noble Catelyn Tully of Riverrun murder a hostage? I think . . . not." He sighed.

 

"But I am not willing to chance my brother's life on a woman's honor." Jaime slid the golden sword into its sheath.

 

Jon let out a sigh of relief and sheathed his blade as well.

 

"So I suppose I'll let you run back to Robert to tell him how I frightened you. I wonder if he'll care." Jaime pushed his wet hair back with his fingers and smiled

 

"Still . . . we wouldn't want him to leave here entirely unchastened.   So… kill his men."

 

Two spears ended  Wyr and Hewards lives before they could draw their swords.

 

Jon and Jory drew their blades  as seven of the Lannister men rushed them.  Jon slew two and Jory slew three of them. Jory charged foward, a battle cry on his lips.

 

Jaime smiled and locked bladed with the valiant young Captain.   Jon rushed to aid him, but Jory was killed in seconds by a swift dagger thrust to  eye.

 

Jon heard a wet clang from behind him.  Eddard Stark had unleashed Ice, and the Valryian Steel Greatsword had cleaved the two remaining Lannister men in two.

 

“We’ll take him together.”  His father told him.  Jon nodded.

 

The Kingslayer smiled.  He was quick and lithe in his movements  He moved too confidently for a man fighting two opponents with Valyrian steel swords.

 

Jaime dodged and parried, darting in out of the controlled swings of Ice and relentless blows of Truth.

 

Ned went for a crushing overhead strike, only for Jaime to dodge and leave the blade  digging into mud instead of flesh. Before Ned, could wrench Ice out of the muck, a spear slammed into his leg, forcing him to his knee.

 

“Father!”  Jon screamed.  The Kingslayer smiled and with a flick of his wrist disarmed Jon.   The young knight went for his dirk, but before he could reach it, Jaime buried the sword that slew Aerys Targayen into Jon’s chest.

 

Jon scream of pain was drowned out by thunder.  

 

He staggered forward as Jaime yanked the blade out and let Jon collapse in the muck.

 

“You…. You avoided a vital spot.”  Jon rasped.

 

“Indeed I did.  Consider us even Ser Stark.” Jaime said.   He then marched over the man who speared Eddard’s leg and backhanded him.

 

“I want my brother Lord Stark.”  Jaime Lannister snarled as he mounted his horse.  “I want him back.”

 

Ned  tried to rise, only to collapse.. The rain continued to fall, and there was a flash of lightening in the sky.

 

Littlefinger and the City Watch found him there in the street, trying to  crawl to Jon.

 

"Save him.”  Ned said hoarsly  “Save my son. I promised her-

 

The last  of Ned's strength vanished

 

When he awoke, his vision was stained red,  Grand Maester Pycelle loomed over him, holding a cup, whispering, "Drink, my lord. Here. The milk of the poppy, for your pain." He remembered swallowing, and Pycelle was telling someone to heat the wine to boiling and fetch him clean linen.

 

Ned slipped into unconsciousness, again, the scent of Winter Roses filling his nostrils.















 








.







Chapter Text

 

Consciousness slammed into Jon’s chest with the force of Dacey’s morningstar.

 

His eyes shot open and he sat up in his bed

 

Ghost awoke as well, his red eyes staring at him.  

 

“You’re awake!”  Sansa cried.

 

“Brandy.”  Jon croaked.

 

“Water first, you fool.”  Sansa said, her eyes bloodshot from tears.

 

“How long….”

 

“Three days.  Lady and Ghost were howling when they brought you and father in.” Arya answered.   His sister was clad in blue gown with a grey man at arm’s smock thrown haphazardly over it.

 

“Has father-

 

“He’s still asleep, Drink.” Sansa ordered.

 

The water slid down his throat.

 

“No one took Truth or Ice-

 

“Arya has been keeping an eye on Truth for you.   Lord Poole has Ice.” Sansa said as she lifted another cup of water to Jon’s lips.

 

Jon’s chest ached.  He had been stripped naked but for a loincloth and the silk sheets that covered him.

 

He looked down at the linens wrapped around his torso.

 

Another scar.  A good thing Dacey won’t mind. Jon thought.

 

“Bring our brother some of that Tyroshi Brandy. Arya.  Three Fingers should do it.” Sansa ordered.

 

Arya did as she was commanded  and handed the goblet to Sansa.

 

Sansa held the goblet to Jon’s lips, then yanked it back  dainty.

 

“Lord Baelish told us you and father were at a brothel.”  Sansa said coldly,

 

“It’s not what you think Sansa.”  Jon said,

 

“And what am I to think?  That my father has forsaken his marriage bed? That my brother,  an anointed knight was having gutter born wenches spread their legs for him when he is  to wed a lady of noble blood? Every since we’ve arrived at King’s Landing you and father have been running around this city like chickens with your heads cut off.  You’ve hardly spent any time with us save for meals, Arya’s lessons with Lord Syrio and escorting me to my torture sessions with the Queen and Joffrey.”

 

Jon sighed.

 

“What I’m about to tell you cannot leave this room. Swear to me by the gods old and new you will not tell a soul.”

 

When his two sisters did as they were bid, Jon told them of how their parents received a letter from Lysa Arryn, regarding the murder of Jon Arryn.  How their good uncle had been apparently keeping tabs on King Robert's bastards, how Lord Varys had told them about his suspicions that Lord Arryn had been poisoned.  He told them that their mother had arrested Tyrion Lannister for his role in a Lannister plot to kill Bran.

 

“None of this makes sense.”  Arya said.

 

“No it doesn't.”  Jon said as he drained the brandy in a single gulp.

 

He sank back into the pillows, thinking about poor dead Jory, and the little girl who’d given birth to a King’s bastard.

 

The Kingslayer’s words came back to him.    Jon didn’t want to think how Dacey and her house reacted if he had died that day.  Gods he missed her terribly. He wanted nothing more to take a ship to White Harbor and ride to  Deepwood Motte so he could sail back to Bear Island.

 

He wanted to spar with her, love her, give her as many children as his seed could give.  He and his father were rudderless here at King’s Landing. They needed Maege Mormont’s gruff wisdom  They needed little Lyanna Mormont’s fierce and honest candor.

 

He thought of something Ser Flowers had told him during a raid that had almost gone wrong.

 

“You know what they say lad, if you’re going to  fuck up, get it out of the way early.”

 

Jon sighed and threw back the sheets.   He needed to rise. He could not lay abed when there was treachery afoot and his father lay injured himself.    Jon had to keep his sisters safe, as well as assist Lord Poole and Alyn in the running of the Stark Household here at King’s Landing.   

 

Jon threw on a black doublet with a white direwolf sewn on it, as well as trousers and a grey and red cloak he pinned with a gold clasp in the shape of the Golden Company insignia.

 

His chest  ached with pain.  Ser Lannister would regret  sparing his life. For Jon was a Dragon as well a wolf.

 



"Lord Eddard," a man echoed from the dark.

 

Groaning, Eddard Stark opened his eyes. Moonlight streamed through the tall windows of the Tower of the Hand.

 

"Lord Eddard?" A shadow stood over the bed.

 

"How . . . how long?" The sheets were tangled, his leg splinted and plastered. A dull throb of pain shot up his side.

 

"Six days and seven nights." The voice was Vayon Poole's. The steward held a cup to Ned's lips. "Drink, my lord."

 

"What . . . ?"

 

"Only water. Maester Pycelle said you would be thirsty."

 

Ned drank. His lips were parched and cracked.

 

“My son?”

 

"Ser Stark lives, he awoke a few days prior.   The king left orders," Vayon Poole told him

 

"He would speak with you, my lord."

 

"On the morrow," Ned said. "When I am stronger." He could not face Robert now.

 

"My lord," Poole said, "he commanded us to send you to him the moment you opened your eyes." The steward busied himself lighting a bedside candle.

 

Ned cursed softly. Robert was never known for his patience. "Tell him I'm too weak to come to him. If he wishes to speak with me, I should be pleased to receive him here. I hope you wake him from a sound sleep. And summon . . . " He was about to say Jory when he remembered. "Summon the captain of my guard."


Alyn stepped into the bedchamber a few moments after the steward had taken his leave. "My lord."

 

"Poole tells me it has been six days," Ned said. "I must know how things stand."

 

"The Kingslayer is fled the city," Alyn told him. "The talk is he's ridden back to Casterly Rock to join his father. The story of how Lady Catelyn took the Imp is on every lip. I have put on extra guards, if it please you."

 

"It does," Ned assured him. "My daughters?"

 

"They have been with you every day, my lord. Sansa prays quietly, but Arya . . . " He hesitated. "She has not said a word save to your son since they brought you back. She is a fierce little thing, my lord. I have never seen such anger in a girl."

 

"Whatever happens," Ned said, "I want my daughters kept safe. I fear this is only the beginning."

 

"No harm will come to them, Lord Eddard," Alyn said. "I stake my life on that."

 

"Jory and the others . . . "

 

"I gave them over to the silent sisters, to be sent north to Winterfell. Jory would want to lie beside his grandfather."

 

It would have to be his grandfather, for Jory's father was buried far to the south. Martyn Cassel had perished with the rest. Ned had pulled the tower down afterward, and used its bloody stones to build eight cairns upon the ridge. It was said that Rhaegar had named that place the tower of joy, but for Ned it was his most painful memory. They had been seven against three, yet only two had lived to ride away; Eddard Stark himself and his closest friend Howland Reed.


"You've done well, Alyn," Ned was saying when Vayon Poole returned. The steward bowed low. "His Grace is without, my lord, and the queen with him."

 

Ned pushed himself up higher, wincing as his leg trembled with pain. He had not expected Cersei to come. It did not bode well that she had. "Send them in, and leave us. What we have to say should not go beyond these walls." Poole withdrew quietly.

 

Robert had taken time to dress. He wore a black velvet doublet with the crowned stag of Baratheon worked upon the breast in golden thread, and a golden mantle with a cloak of black and gold squares. A flagon of wine was in his hand, his face already flushed from drink. Cersei Lannister entered behind him, a jeweled tiara in her hair.

 

"Your Grace," Ned said. "Your pardons. I cannot rise."

 

"No matter," the king said gruffly. "Some wine? From the Arbor. A good vintage."

 

"A small cup," Ned said. "My head is still heavy from the milk of the poppy."


"A man in your place should count himself fortunate that his head is still on his shoulders," the queen declared.

 

"Quiet, woman," Robert snapped. He brought Ned a cup of wine. "Does the leg still pain you?"

 

"Some." Ned answered.

 

"Pycelle swears it will heal clean." Robert frowned. "I take it you know what Catelyn has done?"

 

"I do." Ned took a small swallow of wine. "My lady wife is blameless, Your Grace. All she did she did at my command."

 

"I am not pleased, Ned," Robert grumbled.

 

"By what right do you dare lay hands on my blood?" Cersei demanded. "Who do you think you are?"

 

"The Hand of the King," Ned told her with icy courtesy. "Charged by your own lord husband to keep the king's peace and enforce the king's justice."

 

"You were the Hand," Cersei began, "but now—"

 

"Silence!" the king roared. "You asked him a question and he answered it." Cersei subsided, cold with anger, and Robert turned back to Ned.

"Keep the king's peace, you say. Is this how you keep my peace, Ned? Seven men are dead . . . "

 

"Eight," the queen corrected. "Tregar died this morning, of the blow Jon Snow gave him."

 

"Abductions on the kingsroad and drunken slaughter in my streets," the king said. "I will not have it, Ned."

 

"Catelyn had good reason for taking the Imp—"

 

"I said, I will not have it! To hell with her reasons. You will command her to release the dwarf at once, and you will make your peace with Jaime."

 

"Three of my men were butchered before my eyes, because Jaime Lannister wished to chasten me.  My own son almost died a few feet in front of me. Am I to forget that?"

 

"My brother was not the cause of this quarrel," Cersei told the king. "Lord Stark and his bastard were returning drunk from a brothel. His men attacked Jaime and his guards, even as his wife attacked Tyrion on the kingsroad."

 

"You know me better than that, Robert," Ned said. "Ask Lord Baelish if you doubt me. He was there."

 

"I've talked to Littlefinger," Robert said. "He claims he ran off to bring the gold cloaks before the fighting began, but he admits you were returning from some whorehouse."

 

"Some whorehouse? Damn your eyes, Robert, I went there to have a look at your daughter! Her mother has named her Barra. She looks like that first girl you fathered, when we were boys together in the Vale.  Jon Arryn and your brother have been keeping an eye on her and the others you’ve sired." He watched the queen as he spoke, trying to gauge her reaction

 

Robert flushed. "Barra," he grumbled. "Is that supposed to please me? Damn the girl. I thought she had more sense."

 

"She cannot be more than fifteen, and a whore, and you thought she had sense?" Ned said, incredulous.

 

The king glanced at Cersei. "This is no fit subject for the queen's ears."

 

"Her Grace will have no liking for anything I have to say. " Ned snarled.  "I am told the Kingslayer has fled the city. Give me leave to bring him back to justice."

 

The king swirled the wine in his cup, brooding. He took a swallow. "No," he said. "I want no more of this. Jaime slew three of your men, and you five of his. Now it ends."

 

" Now it ends? Is that your notion of justice?!" Ned flared. "If so, I am pleased that I am no longer your Hand."

 

The queen looked to her husband. "If any man had dared speak to a Targaryen as he has spoken to you—"

 

"Do you take me for Aerys?" Robert interrupted.

 

"I took you for a king. Jaime and Tyrion are your own brothers, by all the laws of marriage and the bonds we share. The Starks have driven off the one and seized the other. This man dishonors you with every breath he takes, and yet you stand there meekly, asking if his leg pains him and would he like some wine."

 

Robert's face was dark with anger. "How many times must I tell you to hold your tongue, woman?"

 

Cersei's face was a study in contempt. "What a jape the gods have made of us two," she said. "By all rights, you ought to be in skirts and me in mail."

 

The king then proceeded to backhanded her.

 

"I shall wear this as a badge of honor," she declared.

 

"Wear it in silence, or I'll honor you again," Robert vowed. He shouted for a guard. Ser Meryn Trant stepped into the room, tall and somber in his white armor. "The queen is tired. See her to her bedchamber." The knight helped Cersei to her feet and led her out without a word.

 

Robert reached for the flagon and refilled his cup. "You see what she does to me, Ned." The king seated himself, cradling his wine cup. "My loving wife. The mother of my children." The rage was gone from him now; in his eyes Ned saw something sad and scared. "I should not have hit her. That was not  kingly."

 

Ned was torn.  On one hand, part of him had taken some satisfaction in Robert striking the bitch.  On the other, a man, should never strike his wife in anger.

 

"Your Grace," Ned Stark said, "we must talk . . . "

 

Robert pressed his fingertips against his temples. "I am sick unto death of talk. On the morrow I'm going to the kingswood to hunt. Whatever you have to say can wait until I return."

 

“A letter came to  me. A coded letter from Lysa Arryn  She claims the Lannisters murdered Jon Arryn.”

 

Robert stared incredulously, than laughed.   

 

“So that’s why you’ve been running around whorehouses?  Because Jon’s mad bitch of a wife, claims he was murdered?”  

 

“She went to  great pains to have the letter sent.  I ordered the arrest of Tyrion because just days after we left Winterfell, a catspaw came to slit the throat of my son Bran.  My Master at Arms came to the city with the blade he used, and met with Lord Baelish and I. Lord Baelish swore the blade was the Imps. ”

 

“And the Lannisters murdered Jon and than ordered someone to slit your own son’s throat?’  Robert said, clearly unconvinced.

 

Robert stood up.

 

He pulled the heavy silver hand clasp from a pocket in the lining of his cloak and tossed it on the bed. "Like it or not, you are my Hand, damn you. I forbid you to leave.  Investigate into Jon’s supposed murder all you like, since your so convinced about it."

 

Ned picked up the silver clasp. He was being given no choice, it seemed. "The Targaryen girl—"

 

The king groaned. "Seven hells, don't start with her again. That's done, I'll hear no more of it. "

 

"Why would you want me as your Hand, if you refuse to listen to my counsel?  We reward virtue and skill, not the murder of children ."

 

"Why?" Robert laughed. "Why not? Someone has to rule this damnable kingdom. Put on the badge, Ned. It suits you. And if you ever throw it in my face again, I swear to you, I'll pin the fucking thing on Jaime Lannister."

 

“Since he has abondend his post, as your Kingsguard  I think he would make a poor Hand, not mention Warden of the East.”

 

“Name the Warden of the East yourself than.  Name you bastard Warden for all  I care.” Robert growled as he left the room.

 

Ned considered the matter.  There was no way in seven hells, the Vale would have accepted Jaime Lannister, as Warden let alone, Ned’s son.   Jon was legitimized bastard, knighted not in the light of the seven, but on the field by a fellow knight and sellsword.


Ned summoned Vayon Poole and commander a letter be drafted to his good sister and to Lord Yohn Royce.  Lord Royce was a good man, his competency or the highness of his blood would not be doubted. He would serve as Warden of the East, and advisor to  Lady Lysa in her role as regent for her son Robin. In the letter he sent to Lord Yohn, he told him that it would be best the Lady Lysa be convinced to marry  an Arryn of Gulltown, for the Lady Lysa was still young enough to bear children. With Robert Arryn, young and sickly, and his heir Harry Hardyng, just a boy of thirteen,  the Vale needed House Arryn to be strong and united. Winter was coming, and every passing day brought the increased chance of war.

 

Ned cursed.  

 

How did this all go so wrong Lya?   When did my best friend, become a fat irresponsible lout?  I was blind Lya. So blind. Almost twenty years I kept my head in the snow and threw myself into my duties as a Warden, as a husband, as a father   I was blind to pyre being made beneath me, and here it is about to be lit and burn us all.

What do I do Lya?  Robert never deserved the throne, and neither does his son,  but one cannot remove them on the grounds of ill virtue and cruelty.  Lord Stannis is too inflexible to rule, and Lord Renly, Gods old and new help us if he took the Throne.  He has never seen battle, he struts about with sycophants from the Reach, not to mention the rumors, he prefers men in his bed to women.  He would be another Aenys or Viserys II.

Speaking of Viserys, from what Jon’s heard of Queen Rhaella’s youngest son, he would not be the ruler Westeros needs.   His younger sister could be, but would the Seven Kingdoms allow a Queen to rule them?

 

And what of the rumors Jon told me, that House Blackfyre still endures?


Chapter Text

Daemon suppressed a shudder of nervousness as he and his companions were ushered into the throne room.

 

Either he would leave having made history or  fail utterly and possibly die a painful death at  talons of the three dragons circling above  the city.

 

He had arrived at Vaes Dothrak a week after Daenery’s and her late husband’s Khalasar had quit the city.   Viserys Targaryen had succumbed to the madness that had plagued his house for generations. Apparently he had threatened to  cut out his sister’s unborn child, and had been killed by having molten gold poured over his face.

 

He had rumors that Daenerys husband Khal  Drogo had fallen in battle two weeks later, and that his wife had thrown herself and her dragon eggs onto his own funeral pyre.  When the fires had gone out and the smoke cleared, Daenerys Targayen stood unharmed, with three baby dragons curled around her.

 

Those rumors had led him to Astopar, and from Astopar to  Yunkai.

From  Yunkai he had followed a trail of carefully controlled destruction and conquest.   Whispers and tall tales of a dainty silver haired young woman with a purple eyed baby, who the Dothraki claimed  was “The Stallion who Mounts the World” strapped to her back and an army of Dothraki and Unsullied liberating slaves, his guideposts.

 

Daemon’s long hunt for the woman  who was the be his bride had come to  end in Mereen, and now he had been granted an audience.

"You stand  in the presence of Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen. Queen of Mereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, The Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains."  A dark skinned woman who must have been from Naath due to her accent announced

 

Daenerys Targaryen wore no crown, no gaudy robes or rubies.   Her silver hair was done up in an intricate set of braids and she wore a simple sleeveless white gown

 

The herald did not declare Daenerys Targayen Queen of the Andals Rhoynar and the First Men, Daemon wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.  If the last trueborn Tarageyen did not want to return to Westeros, Daemon might as well fall on his sword and save his foes the trouble.

 

“My name is Ser Daemon Blackfyre.”  He let his words linger for a moment before continuing.   Daenery’s hadn’t ordered her Unsullied and Dothraki raiders to cut him and his companions down where they stood.  Then again, most people believed House Blackfyre to have died when Barristan the Bold had slain Maelys the Monstrous with a single swing of his sword.

 

And it never occured to  Jaehaerys II that slaying the male line would not end House Blackfyre.  Everyone forgets about the women. My grandmother and her older sister were the last of the Black Dragons, they struggled to survive, and the burden of carrying on the fight was placed on their shoulders.  While the Targaryens grew fat and mad, they bore the burden of survival, and the sacred intertwined duties of vengeance and justice. Daemon thought

 

“I never received a formal education, but I could have sworn that the last Blackfyre was Captain-General Maelys the Monstrous, who was slain during the Wars of the Ninepenny Kings.”

 

“It is hard to  slay a dragon, you should know that better than anyone my Lady.   House Blackfyre almost met its end that day, but the female line survived.  My Grandmother and her older sister, worked tirelessly to rebuild our house. “

 

“So you might rebel against my house and seize the Iron Throne for yourselves.” Daenerys said coldly.

 

“I did not come here to debate the past with you.  I came here at my Cousin, Queen Daena Blackfyre’s behest, to  offer my hand in marriage to formally reconcile our houses so we might both return home.  Black or Red, a dragon is still a dragon. Family is still family. Your brother Rhaegar, sired a Dragonseed, Ser Jon Stark.  He served with honor and distinction beneath the Golden skulls before he returned to Westeros. He awaits for both our Houses to come home so we might take back  what is ours.”

 

“And why should I believe any of this?  Why should I abandon Mereen to fight for a home I’ve only read about, for a people who never truly cared about my house?  My brother Viserys was told people were sewing dragon banners and making secret toasts to his health. He was stupid enough to believe them.  How do I know you’re not some murmur hired by the master’s i’ve deposed to deceive me and slit my throat?”

 

“Our houses hate each other, but I came here despite the rumors,  despite knowing you could have your dragons burn me or your men kill me and leave my corpse for the crows.  I came because honor and duty compel me to. Robert Baratheon slew your brother let the murder of his wife and your niece and nephew go unpunished.  He has grown almost as fat as Aegon the Unworthy and is drowning the country in debt. Are you going to let the work of Aegon the Conqueror, of Jaehaerys the Conciliator, of Daeron the Young Dragon be undone?  As long as House Baratheon remains in power, you and your child will never be safe. If we join forces we can beat them."

 

And what's stopping me from killing you right now? Why do I need your help when I have the better claim?” Daenerys asked.

 

“Because my older brother Haegon is to wed Arianne Martell.  Because we have friends in the Reach and Riverlands. Because my cousin, your nephew is working to convince his Uncle to support  us and when he does the North wil side with us, along with the Riverlands and the Vale of ArrynBecause this is a chance for my children and children’s children to grow up in their homeland,  and not fear red dragons lurking in the dark as I did. This is a chance for our family to reconcile and work together and not spend and other three generations killing each other.

 

Daemon unslung the clothwrapped sword slung across his back and offered it hilt first to her.

 

If  returning Dark Sister  to Daenerys Targaryen did not convince her of his sincereness nothing else would.

 

Daenerys breath hitched as she recognized the blade.   “Where did you find this?”

 

“A man in the Watch who fought under Haegon I took it from Bloodraven.  A balm for five failed attempts at claiming what was ours by rights. We had no right to this sword though, and as a gesture of good faith, return it to you.”

 

Daenerys gently took the sword and gave it an experimental swing.  

 

“Taking back the Iron Throne was my brother’s dream, not mine.  All I ever wanted was home, and for a long time that was a house in Bravoss with a red door.”

 

“Home for me was my mother’s apartments in the archon’s palace and the docks of Tyrosh ." Daemon said with a sad smile.

 

Dany smiled and the tension  in the hall ebbed away.

 

"Walk with me Daemon Blackfyre.  Come and meet my children and tell me of your cousin's plans to take back our home."

 


 

“I never thought dragons would exist again.” Daemon said as they stood just outside Mereen.   The six knights Daemon brought with him Daenerys Bloodriders and the commander of the Unsullied, a handsome man by the name of Grey Worm surrounded them .

 

“No one did. The last dragon died centuries ago.” Daenerys said as the great black and red beast she named in honor of her late husband landed.

 

The two other dragons, one green, the other cream.

 

“I named them for my brothers, Rhaegat and Viserys."  Daenerys paused.  "I'm assuming your mother named you after Daemon Blackfyre?”

 

“The third, not the first.  He was the only Blackfyre who died honorably in  battle against House Targayen.”

 

“Did you mother wish for you to  die fighting my house?” Dany said with  a raised eyebrow.

 

Daemon laughed bitterly, remembering  how he and Haegon begged the servants to let them see their mother as she lay dying in her bed from the rot.   His mother was a strong fearless woman. Gentle to her friends and merciless to her foes. It had hurt to see her wither and weaken till she was nothing but an ashen husk, coughing up blood and bile in  a room that stank of her own shit when they had carried her body out.

 

“My mother wished  many things for my brother and I Lady Targaryen.  I can assure you that was not one of them.”

 

“And what did she wish for you and your brother Lord Daemon?” She asked.

 

“For us not to live in fear like she did.  For us to make peace with House Targaryen. For our children to grow up in Westeros and not in the servants wing of the Archon of Tyrosh’s manse.”

 

“Why make peace with us?  The legitimacy of your claim rests on the illegitimacy of my house.” Dany asked

 

Daemon shook his head.  “ Daemon Blackfyre’s mother was a Targaryen princess, had the dragons not died she would have rode one.  Had her Uncle not robbed of what was hers by rights she would have been queen and my ancestor would have been a Targaryen, not a Blackfyre.   Daemons’s father was a Targaryen. He had every right to take the name Targaryen. But he didn’t because he knew that would increase tensions between him and King Daeron II and things were already tepid enough between  the two. Especially after your namesake was betrothed to Prince Maron.”

 

“My brother says Daemon Blackfyre loved my namesake.  That that’s why he rebelled.”

 

“A pretty lie.  Daemon loved Daenerys, but not romantically.  He saw no political advantage to her marriage when her brother had already taken a Dornish woman to wife.  Why should the Dornish get a Targaryen Princess, when a child with their blood would one day sit Aegon the Conqueror’s Throne?  Not to mention those that murdered his mother’s beloved older brother, the first Daeron had gone unpunished. How could he protect his little sister if she was going to be sold like a broodmare to those that many in the rest of Westeros still saw as unconquered foe that had taken their husbands and sons and grandsons?”

 

Daenerys nodded in understanding.

 

“And now you have come all this way to ask for my hand in marriage?  Would you have asked if my husband Khal Drogo still lived?”

 

“That depended.  My brother Haegon is the romantic one in my family, but I am not blind to true love m’lady.  If your husband, Dothraki he may have been.truly loved you, and you loved him, how could I interfere with that?  But if he was like most Dothraki, if he was cruel, if he hurt you, I would not stand by. I am a Knight. I swore beneath the gilded skulls as my Aunt Adrastia lay Blackfyre upon my shoulder and my brother and cousin Daena watched to  protect all women and children.”

 

Daenerys stared at him in surprise. “ “ My-  Drogo was like most Dothraki, but at the same time he wasn’t.  He could have been a better person, had we more time together. But his death gave me my dragons. And he gave me my son Rhaego.”

 

“The rumors that led me here said the Dothraki believe his is The Stallion that Mounts the World.”

 

“He will be.”  Daenerys said with  a proud smile. “He is growing quickly. I thought I had given birth to  a stilborn baby, A Witch tried to kill him in my womb, but he lived. I nursed him along with  my Dragons and although I thought he would not live long. He endured.”

 

“As have you I can I Imagine.” Daemon said.

 

Daenerys smiled, then strode to Drogon, the bells braided in her hair ringined as her braid swayed in the wind.

 

“Come on.”  Daenerys said as she mounted the dragon.

 

“You wish for me to join you?” Daemon asked.

 

One of his knights chuckled.

 

There was a mischievous glint in the Mother of Dragon’s  purple eyes.

 

“Don’t tell me you’ve never dreamt of riding a dragon before Daemon Blackfyre?” She said with perfectly innocent smile.

 


 

Daemon has ridden horses,  he had loosened arrows from the back of war elephants.   

 

But he has never ridden atop a dragon.

 

With great caution, he wraps his arms around Daenerys Targayen’s waist.  She is thinner than he is, and there is no saddle, making things far awkward.

 

Daenerys smells of roses and silk.  Daemon smells of sweat and mail.

 

With a single word of Valryian, Drogan roars and they  are soaring. Higher and higher they go, and Daemon begins to  shiver from the wind, Daenerys is unaffected despite the chill. She lets out a whoop of delight as they fly over Mereen and the surrounding fields and villages.

 

Seven times they circle Mereen,   Up everything is small.  It feels glorious to look upon the world the Seven gave them from up here.   Daemon thought.

 

“This is…

 

“... Amazing isn’t it?!” Daenerys yells as she guides Drogon in for a landing where their companions are waiting for them.

 

“Indeed.” Daemon says.  The sense of Euphoria is still strong, but the urge to  vomit has begun to encroach.

 

Daenerys dismounts with grace.  Daemon stumbles off and it takes every bit of will he has not to upchuck the hardtack and dried peaches he had for breakfast.

 


 

The next day,  Daemon finds himself slaying slavers with bow and arrow.

 

Many are unhappy with Daenerys Targaryen.   She has freed slaves, humiliated powerful men, endured  trials and tribulations she should have died from.

From dragonback Daenerys burns the fleets of New Ghis and Yunkai, while her Dothraki and Unsullied slaughter those unfortunates who made their way to the docks.  Daemon slays them from afar, for his Lance Broken.

 

He will run out of arrows before he runs out of targets, but it does  not matter. The Good Masters cannot sustain a beachhead with their fleets burning.  Their sellswords and slave soldiers fling themselves onto Unsullied Spears with the desperation of doomed men.  The Dothraki lash out like the bite of a snake, hacking with their arakhs and glaives, then darting back behind the shield wall to harass their foes with bow and arrow.

 

When his arrows are depleted, Daemon gestures to his knights  and a portion of the Dothraki to form up behind him and draws his sword.

 

Daemon has hand picked each knight for their skill and loyalty.   Ser Franklyn Flowers, who was master to his Cousin Jon Stark. Ser Rolly Duckfield who squired for the Captain-General    Ser Richard Stone, a man skilled in the use of flail and sword. Ser Pykewood Peake, A man who bloodline could be traced back to the members of House Peake who fled with Bittersteel and Queen Rohanne to Tyrosh ,  Ser Vaith Shawney who was also a Septon. Ser Deynes Osgrey “The Golden Claw” who had been a squire during the War of the Ninepenny Kings.

 

Each one of them was a hero in their own right,  all loyal the Golden Company and to his cousin Queen Daena. Bards would sing songs of them and women would name their sons after them one day.

 

“Beneath the Gold!” He bellows.

 

“The Bittersteel!”  His men chorused back.  

 

“Drive these slaving scum back into the water!  Let the fishes feed upon their bones!” Daemon shouts as he urges his horse forward.

 

Daemon’s charge turns a slow slaughter into  a rout, then a massacre. Men fled into the water, risking death by drowning over death by dragonfire, spear and arakh.   Daemon cuts down half a hundred fleeing men before the day is won and their are no more foes left for them slay.

 




That night despite still reeking of blood and sweat and in need of a bath.  Daemon is invited into the Queen’s chambers.

 

“I have given your offer some thought.” Daenerys says as she nurses Rhaego at her breast.  The boy is beautiful, with long curly hair and his mother’s purple eyes.

 

Daenerys is naked but for  a Hrraker pelt and the purple silk sheets of her bed.

 

“I know it’s a lot to consider.”  Daemon said softly.

 

“It was, but I am confident in my choice that you will be a suitable husband and Lord of Dragonstone.” Dany said as she gently tugs her half asleep babe off her breast.

 

She rises and places her son in a crib of wood and stone filled with furs and cushions.

 

Daemon cannot help but admire what he sees.  He knows she is doing this on purpose.

 

“Do you like what you see?” She asks him.

 

“I do.”  he admits.

 

She strides across to him and kisses him.   Daemon is ten and seven. He has never kissed a woman before

 

“You brought a Septon with you, so tomorrow we will wed, and then we will take back our home."

 

Daemon looks at her, she is three inches shorter than him, but she carries herself with confidence and grace.

 

“I will fight to put Daena Blackfyre upon the Iron Throne, let her sit it and rule.  But Dragonstone is mine by rights. My house were Lords and Ladies of Dragonstone before Aegon the Conqueror was born.   No one shall have it but you, Rhaego and I. Any other children you give me will have Mereen and Astapor and Yunkai.” Danersy said.

 

“More than fair.”  Daemon said his face flushed with  relief and a sense of gidyness that came with young love.

 

“We will take back what is ours with Fire and Blood Daemon Blackfyre.  The Lannisters, the Baratheons and those that support them will face their long overdue justice.”   

 

“And what then?” Daemon asked.

 

Danerys  kissed him again.

 

“The say Dragons plant no trees.   Let both our houses prove them wrong.” Daenerys whispered as she tugged at the strings of  his jerkin.

 


 

Jon found it ironic one of the few places where he could speak the truth in King's Landing was in the shadows.

 

Jon and Lord Varys walk in the shadow of the skulls of long dead dragons.  No one would find them here.

 

“With Daenerys wedded and bedded, things are going just as planned.  Even better since she has three almost fully grown dragons.” Varys said with a rare smile.

 

Jon made a noncommittal grunt.  The dragons would be useful, but people needed to  see the Blackfyre-Targaryen alliance as liberators, not tyrants, and he still wasn’t sure if his father’s growing disillusionment with Robert Baratheon and the suspected role the Lannisters.

 

“Let’s not mince words, how long do I have to  convince my father to support Daena Blackfyre?”

 

“I estimate a month, two  at best, factoring the logistics of three dragons, sixteen thousand Unsullied and almost five times as many Dothraki making their way from Mereen to Tyrosh, not to mention however long it takes the ships we commissioned from the Arsenal at Bravoss to arrive.”

 

“The ships you commissioned, I had no part in your schemes, until I revealed the truth of my parentage to you and Daena.” Jon said.

 

“True, the Gods do work in mysterious ways.  I knew Rhaegar planned to sire children with Lyanna Stark, but I believed any potential child had died when she did. But I must say to disguise the last male heir to the Iron Throne as a bastard.”

 

Jon knew where  Varys was heading.

 

“I am betrothed. Daena’s hand is better spend on securing other house to our cause, not tying up claims.”

 

“True, but who would be the kind of man our Queen needs?”

 

“My brother Robb.  The Vale has no suitable sons,  Haegon is to wed into Dorne. The Tyrells have Willas, but he is too old and already stands to inherit Highgarden.”

 

“True  Varys said.  “And it will invest the North in the continuation of House Blackfyre.”

 

Jon sighed.  He was tired of lies and the schemes.   He’d rather fight a hundred men alone then lurk about in the shadows.  But it was necessary if he ever wished to wed Dacey, for his siblings and father to be safe.

 

“We need an indisputable reason to raise arms against House Baratheon and Lannsiter. Joffrey is cruel like his mother, but he is no mad king yet.”  Jon said.

 

“Despite the rumors, Ser Stark, I am no sorceror. My little birds sang that Jon Arryn was murdered by the tears of Lys, but beyond that they have not uncovered anything else.”

 

Jon gritted his teeth in frustration.  “We best return to out duties before we are missed.”

 

“Indeed.”  the fat eunuch said with  a smile. Jon had no love for  Varys, his queen trusted him, but that did not mean Jon had to.  Varys was a fire and fire burned both the brave and craven alike.



“I heard you sent Lord Beric to bring Gregor Clegane to justice.”  Jon said as he strolled into his father’s solar.

 

“Are you going to agree with Sansa and say I should have sent Ser Loras Tyrell instead?”

 

Jon laughed bitterly.

 

“Not for the reason she would have.   I would have given Lord Beric the command, but allowed Ser Loras his chance to gain glory.   After all if the Mountain so much as touched him, Highgarden would be quite wroth.”

 

His father shifted uncomfortably in his seat, then poured two goblets of honeyed wine from  a jug and gestured for his son to sit.

 

“I wanted to ask you about those rumors you heard in Essos.”

 

Jon sipped his wine.  His father slid a piece of parchment across to him.

 

The ones you heard about House Blackfyre still enduring. His father had written.

 

“There’s truth to  theres rumors.”

 

Jon took another sip of wine and grabbed a quill.

 

Varys serves Queen Daena Blackfyre, rightful heir to  the Iron Throne. She knows the truth about me. Her youngest cousin Daemon recently wed Daenerys Targayen.  His older brother Haegon is betrothed to Princess Arriane. Daenerys has Dragons Three of them. The invasion force musters in Tyrosh.  A month, maybe two until their ready I suggested that Robb wed Daena Jon wrote.


Ned read the text, his eyes widening.

 

If things go wrong, can you get Sansa and Arya to  Tyrosh?

 

Jon smiled.

 

You have my word father.  He wrote.     I’m sorry for not telling you sooner.”  Jon said aloud.

 

Ned shook his head and smiled sadly.

 

He scribbled on the paper and handed it back to Jon.

 

She would be proud of you Jon.

 

Jon smiled and rose.  He crumpled up the parchment and tucked it in his pocket so he could dispose of it later.

 




Sansa awoke early in the morning so she could watch Lord Beric form up his men. They rode out as dawn was breaking over the city, with three banners going before them; the crowned stag of the king flew from the high staff, the direwolf of Stark and Lord Beric's own forked lightning standard from shorter poles. It was all so exciting, a song come to life; the clatter of swords, the flicker of torchlight, banners dancing in the wind, horses snorting and whinnying, the golden glow of sunrise slanting through the bars of the portcullis as it jerked upward. The Winterfell men looked especially fine in their silvery mail and long grey cloaks.

 

Alyn carried the Stark banner. When she saw him rein in beside Lord Beric to exchange words, it made Sansa feel ever so proud. Alyn was handsomer than Jory had been; he was going to be a knight one day.

 

The Tower of the Hand felt empty with everyone  "Where is everyone?" her sister wanted to know as she ripped the skin from a blood orange. "Did Father send them to hunt down Jaime Lannister?"

 

Sansa sighed. "They rode with Lord Beric, to behead Ser Gregor Clegane." She turned to Septa Mordane, who was eating porridge with a wooden spoon. "Septa, will Lord Beric spike Ser Gregor's head on his own gate or bring it back here for the king?" She and Jeyne Poole had been arguing over that last night.

 

The septa was horror-struck. "A lady does not discuss such things over her porridge. Where are your courtesies, Sansa? I swear, of late you've been near as bad as your sister."

 

"What did Gregor do?" Arya asked.

 

"He burned down a holdfast and murdered a lot of people, women and children too."

 

Arya screwed up her face in a scowl. "Jaime Lannister murdered Jory and Heward and Wyl, and the Hound murdered Mycah. Somebody should have beheaded them."

 

“Everyone gets what’s coming to them one day sweet sister.” Jon said as he strode into the chamber.”   He was dressed in a brown tunic and black studded leather with cloak of cloth of gold secured with a crimson direwolf clasp.  Sansa noticed he had three gold arm rings on his sword arm

 

“I’d like a word with my sisters in private Septa.” Jon said with a smile on his lips, but in a voice that said this was not a request, but an order to  be obeyed without hesitation.

 

The Septa rose and Sansa swore she muttered something about “Upjumped Bastards”

 

Jon sat down and poured himself a horn of cider.   Sansa couldn’t help but notice how tired and sad her brother looked.  In that moment he seemed older than their father.

 

“Father is planning to  send you and Arya back to Winterfell.  As we speak he’s arranging a fast ship to  get the both of you and I to White Harbor. After our encounter with the Kingslayer, it's no longer safe in the capital.  Not that it ever was to begin with.” Jon said.

 

“The King will be furious with  father. Not to mention the Queen…”  Sansa grabbed her bladed necklace. “She would never allow it,  I’m her son’s betrothed.”

 

“That’s father’s problem.  I’ll be damned if I let the Lannister’s use you and Arya  as hostages. Ever since we got to King’s Landing there’s been  a brewing storm. The Lannisters already took one family from me. I won’t let them take another.”

 

Sansa looked down in her lap.    Jon was right about the brewing storm.  Joffrey and Cersei had been nothing but polite and courteous, but how long would that last.  And if the Lannisters murdered her Uncle Arryn…. Then there would be war. “

 

“I’m not strong enough to  face the Kingslayer again.  At best I would drag him down to  the Seven Hells with me.” Jon sai

 

“But the Kingslayer fled. There’s no one who could beat you.”  Arya said.

 

Jon gave a dry bark of laughter.  Sometimes he forgot how young Arya was.


“Ser Barristan Selmy, The Hound too.”   Jon said.

 

“Ser Barristan would never-”   “He’s a Kingsguard Arya, they are sworn to obey the King, nobody how wrong the order is.”  Jon said.

 

“ And Joffrey is nothing like his father.   He’s cruel and he’s a liar. He’s more of a lion like his mother than a Stag.”   Sansa said.

 

Jon shot up from his seat.  “That’s it!” he exclaimed. He kissed Sansa on the forehead and made his way to the door.   

 

"Where are you going?" Sansa asked.   

 

"To see father.  You just helped me figure out why  Jon Arryn was murdered."

 


 

Storms were rare in Bear Island.    They’d get rain and snow and sleet, but Dacey could count on one hand the number of times they’d had storms.  Actual thunderstorms with the booms! And crackles of lightning.

 

“Storms like this are a bad omen.” her mother said as she looked up from the fish she was preparing for dinner.


“Really?” Lyanna asked.  She looked up from her book, while Lyra and Jorelle stopped arm wrestling.

 

“It was storming like this when my mother received word of the Tragedy of Summerhall.  When my father and Uncle died too. And when we received the call to arms when Mad Aerys burned Lord Rickard and Brandon alive.” Her mother said.


Dacey shivered despite the blazing hearth.    Winter was coming, and tensions between House Lannisters and Stark grew with every day.   As if they needed any more bad omens and portents of doom.

 

“You think a war is coming?”  She asked her mother.


Maege snorted.  “I know a war is coming my little Dacey Macey.”  She said with a sad smile that made her seem very frail. As if her strong, ferocious mother  would burst into a thousand pieces.

 

Dacey did not argue.   She merely went back to kneading dough for bread.  If there was a war, House Mormont would answer the call.   There was no point in worrying about Jon, who was so far away he might as well still be in Essos.  If the Gods were good, Jon would survive and they would fight side by side together as husband and wife should.  And if the Lannister’s murdered her betrothed. Well there was more then one way to skin a cat. The North Remembers after all, if Jon Stark died, he would not go unavenged.



 








Chapter Text

 For the first time since his arrival in King’s Landing., Eddard Stark was at peace. He sat in the Godswood leaning against the oaken heart tree.   The pain in his leg had lessened somewhat, and he no longer needed the cane, but Eddard knew it would be another moon till he was fully healed. Time he knew he did not have.

 

Cersei Lannister came alone.  She was not dressed in crimson silk and myrish lace, but in leather boots and hunting greens. When she drew back the hood of her brown cloak, he saw the bruise where the king had struck her. The angry plum color had faded to yellow, and the swelling was down, but there was no mistaking it for anything but what it was.

 

"Why here?" Cersei Lannister asked as she stood over him.

 

"So the gods can see."

 

She sat beside him on the grass. Her every move was graceful. Her curling blond hair moved in the wind, and her eyes were as green as the leaves of summer. 

 

Cersei was beautiful, but beauty could not always shroud evil.

 

"I know the truth Jon Arryn died for," he told her.   He said this calmly, but Ned was anything but calm. What she  did was undeniably heinous and selfish, but Eddard would be lying if what she had done had made to unenviable task of convincing his people to support House Blackfyre and House Targaryen less of an uphill battle.

 

"Do you?" The queen watched his face, but Ned’s stoic features betrayed nothing. 

 

"Is that why you called me here, Lord Stark? To pose me riddles? Or is it your intent to seize me, as your wife seized my brother?"

 

Jon had advised him to do that .   Ned had refused. He would give her one chance,  and if she spurred his attempt at mercy, he would take her head himself and let Robert spend the last days of his reign dealing with the outcome of his wife’s actions before the Dragons came to burn his fat ass alive.



"If you truly believed that, you would never have come."  Ned said sternly,

 

"Has he done this before?" He asked, her, trying and partially failing to inject some sympathy into his voice 

 

"Once or twice." Cersei admitted.

 

Ned exhaled softly,   Anger at a man he once regarded as a brother churned in his gut.

 

 "Never on the face before. Jaime would have killed him, even if it meant his own life." Cersei looked at him defiantly. "My brother is worth a hundred of your friend."

 

"Your brother?" Ned said. "Or your lover?"

 

"Both." She did not flinch from the truth. "Since we were children together. And why not? The Targaryens wed brother to sister for three hundred years, to keep the bloodlines pure. And Jaime and I are more than brother and sister. We are one person in two bodies. We shared a womb together. He came into this world holding my foot, our old maester said. When he is in me, I feel . . . whole." The ghost of a smile flitted over her lips.

 

"My son Bran . . . "

 

To her credit, Cersei did not look away. "He saw us. You love your children, do you not?"

 

Ned bit back a snarl,   He may have been dubbed The Quiet Wolf, but his wrath was just as terrible as his brother Brandon’s.  His fury was a cold one and it was taking a great deal of effort to hold it in check.

 

Robert had asked him the very same question, the morning of the melee. He gave her the same answer. "With all my heart."

 

"No less do I love mine."

 

"All three are Jaime's," he said. It was not a question.

 

"Thank the gods."

 

The seed is strong, Jon Arryn had cried on his deathbed, and so it was. All those bastards, all with hair as black as night. Grand Maester Malleon recorded the last mating between stag and lion, some ninety years ago, when Tya Lannister wed Gowen Baratheon, third son of the reigning lord. Their only issue, an unnamed boy described in Malleon's tome as a large and lusty lad born with a full head of black hair, died in infancy. 

 

Thirty years before that a male Lannister had taken a Baratheon maid to wife. She had given him three daughters and a son, each black-haired. No matter how far back Ned searched in the brittle yellowed pages, always he found the gold yielding before the coal.

 

"Almost  twenty years," Ned said. "How is it that you have had no children by the king?"

 

She lifted her head, defiant.

 

 "Your Robert got me with child once," she said, her voice thick with contempt. "My brother found a woman to cleanse me. He never knew. If truth be told, I can scarcely bear for him to touch me, and I have not let him inside me for years. I know other ways to pleasure him, when he leaves his whores long enough to stagger up to my bedchamber. Whatever we do, the king is usually so drunk that he's forgotten it all by the next morning."

 

How could they have all been so blind? The truth was there in front of them all the time, written on the children's faces. Ned felt sick. "I remember Robert as he was the day he took the throne, every inch a king," he said quietly. "A thousand other women might have loved him with all their hearts. What did he do to make you hate him so?"

 

Her eyes blazed like wildfire

 

"The night of our wedding feast, the first time we shared a bed, he called me by your sister's name. He was on top of me, in me, stinking of wine, and he whispered Lyanna."

 

Ned Stark thought of pale blue roses, and for a moment he wanted to weep. "I do not know which of you I pity most."

 

The queen seemed amused by that. "Save your pity for yourself, Lord Stark. I want none of it."

 

"You know what I must do."

 

"Must?" She put her hand on his good leg, just above the knee. "A true man does what he will, not what he must." Her fingers brushed lightly against his thigh, the gentlest of promises.  

 

"The realm needs a strong Hand. Joff will not come of age for years. No one wants war again, least of all me." Her hand touched his face, his hair. "If friends can turn to enemies, enemies can become friends. Your wife is a thousand leagues away, and my brother has fled. Be kind to me, Ned. I swear to you, you shall never regret it."

 

Ned thought of what Jon and Varys had told him,  of Daenerys Targaryen wedding a Blackfyre. Of the Dragons return to the world.

 

He  smacked her hand off his thigh.

 

"Did you make the same offer to Jon Arryn?"  Ned said coldly. 

 

She slapped him.  

 

"I shall wear that as a badge of honor," Ned said dryly.

 

"Honor," she spat. "How dare you play the noble lord with me! What do you take me for? You've a bastard of your own.. Who was the mother, I wonder? Some Dornish peasant you raped while her holdfast burned? A whore? Or was it the grieving sister, the Lady Ashara? She threw herself into the sea, I'm told. Why was that? For the brother you slew, or the child you stole? Tell me, my honorable Lord Eddard, how are you any different from Robert, or me, or Jaime?"

 

"For a start, I do not murder children for the pursuit of power.  Listin welI, Cersei Lannister, for I shall say this only once. I could take your head right now, with a smile on my face.  I could throw you and your children in Black Cells. But I am a Stark of Winterefell, and unlike your House we are merciful.”

 

“When the king returns from his hunt, I intend to lay the truth before him. You must be gone by then. You and your children, all three, and not to Casterly Rock. If I were you, I should take ship for the Free Cities, or even farther, to the Summer Isles or the Port of Ibben. As far as the winds blow."

 

"Exile," she said. "A bitter cup to drink from."

 

"A  far sweeter cup than your father served Rhaegar's children," Ned said, "and kinder than you and your brother deserve. Your father and your brothers would do well to go with you. Lord Tywin's gold will buy you comfort and hire swords to keep you safe. You shall need them. I promise you, no matter where you flee, Robert's wrath will follow you

 

The queen stood. "And what of my wrath, Lord Stark?" she asked softly.

 

"You should have taken the realm for yourself. It was there for the taking. Jaime told me how you found him on the Iron Throne the day King's Landing fell, and made him yield it up. That was your moment.  All you needed to do was climb those steps, and sit. Such a sad mistake."

 

"I have made more mistakes than you can possibly imagine," Ned said, "but that was not one of them."

 

"Oh, but it was, my lord," Cersei insisted. "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."

 

Eddard  thought of his children.  He thought of sweet, fierce Dacey Mormont, and his sister’s son and how Cersei’s actions had put their futures in jeopardy.  Put his pack’s life in danger.

 

He thought of Cat, and of  Ashara Dayne, and the dead daughter he had given her that night in Harrenhal.  Old Nan had told him of a tale of a wolf and his folly in trying to grasp a star.   He never understood why Old Nan had told him that tale, till Ashara Dayne turned away from him and his sister’s baby and flung herself into the sea.

 

Finally he thought of three  dead knights, who had been forced to break their vows due to the madness of their King and his heir, and his sister’s final words to him.

 

Promise me, Ned.  

 

Unwilling to suppress his rage any longer.  Ned wrapped both of his hands around Cersei’s throat and lifted her off the ground.

 

“For the sake of your children.  You will flee with them. Or you will die.  House Lannister has made too many enemies out of too many good men and women.  And when the truth is revealed, no one will kneel to you and your children, or House Baratheon.  You will have started a war that will end in fire and blood. And even if you do win your victory will be hollow.  Your actions will bring you only tears and bitterness.”

 

Ned released Cersei, and she fell with a gasp to  the ground.






Bring him here," Robert's voice called.  

 

Eddard strode in, not quite able to process what he was seeing.





"Ned," the king whispered when he saw him. His face was pale as milk. "Come . . . closer."

 

His men brought him close. Ned steadied himself with a hand on the bedpost. He had only to look down at Robert to know how bad it was. "What . . . ?" he began, his throat clenched.

 

"A boar." Lord Renly was still in his hunting greens, his cloak spattered with blood.

 

"A devil," the king husked. "My own fault. Too much wine, damn me to hell. Missed my thrust."

 

"And where were the rest of you?" Ned demanded of Lord Renly. "Where was Ser Barristan and the Kingsguard?"

 

Renly's mouth twitched. "My brother commanded us to stand aside and let him take the boar alone."

 

Eddard Stark lifted the blanket.

 

They had done what they could to close him up, but it was nowhere near enough. The boar must have been a fearsome thing. It had ripped the king from groin to nipple with its tusks. The wine-soaked bandages that Grand Maester Pycelle had applied were already black with blood, and the smell off the wound was hideous. Ned's stomach turned. He let the blanket fall.

 

"Stinks," Robert said. "The stink of death, don't think I can't smell it. Bastard did me good, eh? But I . . . I paid him back in kind, Ned." The king's smile was as terrible as his wound, his teeth red. "Drove  the knife Jon Arryn gave me right through his eye. Ask them if I didn't. Ask them."

 

"Truly," Lord Renly murmured. "We brought the carcass back with us, at my brother's command."

 

"For the feast," Robert whispered. "Now leave us. The lot of you. I need to speak with Ned."

 

"Robert, my sweet lord . . . " Cersei began.

 

"I said leave," Robert insisted with a hint of his old fierceness. "What part of that don't you understand, woman?"

 

Cersei gathered up her skirts and her dignity and led the way to the door. Lord Renly and the others followed. Grand Maester Pycelle lingered, his hands shaking as he offered the king a cup of thick white liquid. "The milk of the poppy, Your Grace," he said. "Drink. For your pain."

 

Robert knocked the cup away with the back of his hand. "Away with you. I'll sleep soon enough, old fool. Get out."

 

Grand Maester Pycelle gave Ned a stricken look as he shuffled from the room.

 

"Damn you, Robert," Ned said when they were alone. His leg was throbbing so badly he was almost blind with pain. Or perhaps it was grief that fogged his eyes. He lowered himself to the bed, beside his friend. "Why do you always have to be so headstrong?"

 

"Ah, fuck you, Ned," the king said hoarsely. "I killed the bastard, didn't I?" A lock of matted black hair fell across his eyes as he glared up at Ned. "Ought to do the same for you. Can't leave a man to hunt in peace. Ser Robar found me. Gregor's head. Ugly thought. Never told the Hound. Let Cersei surprise him." His laugh turned into a grunt as a spasm of pain hit him. "Gods have mercy," he muttered, swallowing his agony. "The girl. Daenerys. Only a child, you were right . . . that's why, the girl . . . the gods sent the boar . . . sent to punish me . . ." The king coughed, bringing up blood. "Wrong, it was wrong, I . . . only a girl . . . Varys, Littlefinger, even my brother . . . worthless . . . no one to tell me no but you, Ned . . . only you . . . " He lifted his hand, the gesture pained and feeble. "Paper and ink. There, on the table. Write what I tell you."

 

Ned smoothed the paper out across his knee and took up the quill. "At your command, Your Grace."

 

"This is the will and word of Robert of House Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and all the rest—put in the damn titles, you know how it goes. I do hereby command Eddard of House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Hand of the King, to serve as Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm upon my . . . upon my death . . . to rule in my . . . in my stead, until my son Joffrey does come of age . . . "

 

"Robert . . . " Joffrey is not your son, he wanted to say, but the words would not come. The agony was written too plainly across Robert's face; he could not hurt him more.  Not when he had already betrayed Robert and his house So Ned bent his head and wrote, but where the king had said "my son Joffrey," he instead declared all his children were illegimtiate bastards born of incset and that Stannis was the right. The deceit made him feel soiled. The lies we tell for love, he thought. May the gods forgive me. "What else would you have me say?"

 

"Say . . . whatever you need to. Protect and defend, gods old and new, you have the words. Write. I'll sign it. You give it to the council when I'm dead."

 

"Robert," Ned said in a voice thick with grief, "you must not do this. Don't die on me. The realm needs you."

 

Robert took his hand, fingers squeezing hard. "You are . . . such a bad liar, Ned Stark," he said through his pain. "The realm . . . the realm knows . . . what a wretched king I've been. Bad as Aerys, the gods spare me."

 

"No," Ned told his dying friend, "not so bad as Aerys, Your Grace. Not near as bad as Aerys."

 

Robert managed a weak red smile. "At the least, they will say . . . this last thing . . . this I did right. You won't fail me. You'll rule now. You'll hate it, worse than I did . . . but you'll do well. Are you done with the scribbling?"

 

"Yes, Your Grace." Ned offered Robert the paper. The king scrawled his signature blindly, leaving a smear of blood across the letter. "The seal should be witnessed."

 

"Serve the boar at my funeral feast," Robert rasped. "Apple in its mouth, skin seared crisp. Eat the bastard. Don't care if you choke on him. Promise me, Ned."

 

"I promise." Promise me, Ned, Lyanna's voice echoed.

 

"The girl," the king said. "Daenerys. Let her live. If you can, if it . . . not too late . . . talk to them . . . Varys, Littlefinger . . . don't let them kill her. And help my son, Ned. Make him be . . . better than me." He winced. "Gods have mercy."

 

"They will, my friend," Ned said. "They will."

 

The king closed his eyes and seemed to relax. "Killed by a pig," he muttered. "Ought to laugh, but it hurts too much."

 

Ned was not laughing. "Shall I call them back?"

 

Robert gave a weak nod. "As you will. Gods, why is it so cold in here?"

 

The servants rushed back in and hurried to feed the fires. The queen had gone; that was some small relief, at least. If she had any sense, Cersei would take her children and fly before the break of day, Ned thought. She had lingered too long already.

 

King Robert did not seem to miss her. He bid his brother Renly and Grand Maester Pycelle to stand in witness as he pressed his seal into the hot yellow wax that Ned had dripped upon his letter. "Now give me something for the pain and let me die."

 

Hurriedly Grand Maester Pycelle mixed him another draught of the milk of the poppy. This time the king drank deeply. His black beard was beaded with thick white droplets when he threw the empty cup aside. "Will I dream?"

 

Ned gave him his answer. "You will, my lord."

 

"Good," he said, smiling. "I will give Lyanna your love, Ned. Take care of my children for me."

 

The words twisted in Ned's belly like a knife. For a moment he was at a loss. He could not bring himself to lie. Then he remembered the bastards: little Barra at her mother's breast, Mya in the Vale, Gendry at his forge, and all the others. "I shall . . . guard your children as if they were my own," he said slowly.

 

Robert nodded and closed his eyes. Ned watched his old friend sag softly into the pillows as the milk of the poppy washed the pain from his face. Sleep took him.

 

Heavy chains jangled softly as Grand Maester Pycelle came up to Ned. "I will do all in my power, my lord, but the wound has mortified. It took them two days to get him back. By the time I saw him, it was too late. I can lessen His Grace's suffering, but only the gods can heal him now."

 

"How long?" Ned asked.

 

"By rights, he should be dead already. I have never seen a man cling to life so fiercely."

 

"My brother was always strong," Lord Renly said. "Not wise, perhaps, but strong." In the sweltering heat of the bedchamber, his brow was slick with sweat. He might have been Robert's ghost as he stood there, young and dark and handsome. "He slew the boar. His entrails were sliding from his belly, yet somehow he slew the boar." His voice was full of wonder.

 

"Robert was never a man to leave the battleground so long as a foe remained standing," Ned told him.

 

Outside the door, Ser Barristan Selmy still guarded the tower stairs. "Maester Pycelle has given Robert the milk of the poppy," Ned told him. "See that no one disturbs his rest without leave from me."

 

"It shall be as you command, my lord." Ser Barristan seemed old beyond his years. "I have failed my sacred trust."

 

Eddard sincerely hoped Daena Blackfyre would be the kind of ruler worth a legendary knight’s like Ser Barristan’s service.

 

"Even the truest knight cannot protect a king against himself," Ned said. "Robert loved to hunt boar. I have seen him take a thousand of them." He would stand his ground without flinching, his legs braced, the great spear in his hands, and as often as not he would curse the boar as it charged, and wait until the last possible second, until it was almost on him, before he killed it with a single sure and savage thrust. "No one could know this one would be his death."

 

"You are kind to say so, Lord Eddard."

 

"The king himself said as much. He blamed the wine."

 

The white-haired knight gave a weary nod. "His Grace was reeling in his saddle by the time we flushed the boar from his lair, yet he commanded us all to stand aside."

 

"I wonder, Ser Barristan," asked Varys, so quietly, "who gave the king this wine?"

 

Ned had not heard the eunuch approach, but when he looked around, there he stood. He wore a black and red velvet robe that brushed the floor, and his face was freshly powdered.

 

"The wine was from the king's own skin," Ser Barristan said.

 

"Only one skin? Hunting is such thirsty work."

 

"I did not keep count. More than one, for a certainty. His squire would fetch him a fresh skin whenever he required it."

 

"Such a dutiful boy," said Varys, "to make certain His Grace did not lack for refreshment."

 

Ned had a bitter taste in his mouth. He recalled the two fair-haired boys Robert had sent chasing after a breastplate stretcher. The king had told everyone the tale that night at the feast, laughing until he shook. "Which squire?"

 

"The elder," said Ser Barristan. "Lancel."

 

"I know the lad well," said Varys. "A stalwart boy, Ser Kevan Lannister's son, nephew to Lord Tywin and cousin to the queen. I hope the dear sweet lad does not blame himself. Children are so vulnerable in the innocence of their youth, how well do I remember."

 

Certainly Varys had once been young. Ned doubted that he had ever been innocent. "You mention children. Robert had a change of heart concerning Daenerys Targaryen. Whatever arrangements you made, I want unmade. At once."

 

"Alas," said Varys. "At once may be too late. I fear those birds have flown. But I shall do what I can, my lord. With your leave." He bowed and vanished down the steps, his soft-soled slippers whispering against the stone as he made his descent.

 

Eddard cursed, If Jon had not vouched for Lord Varys, Eddard would have found an excuse to slit the eunuch’s throat.. 

 

Cayn and Tomard were helping Ned across the bridge when Lord Renly emerged from Maegor's Holdfast. "Lord Eddard," he called after Ned, "a moment, if you would be so kind."

 

Ned stopped. "As you wish."

 

Renly walked to his side. "Send your men away.  Your bastard too."



Jon opened his mouth to protest, but Ned shook his head.    The young knight shot Renly a cool, contemptuous glare and then turned to follow  Cayn and Tormund.

 

 The two Lords, met in the center of the bridge, the dry moat beneath them.

 

Lord Renly glanced warily at Ser Boros on the far end of the span, at Ser Preston in the doorway behind them. "That letter." He leaned close. "Was it the regency? Has my brother named you Protector?" He did not wait for a reply. 

 

"My lord, I have thirty men in my personal guard, and other friends beside, knights and lords. Give me an hour, and I can put a hundred swords in your hand."

 

"And what should I do with a hundred swords, my lord?"

 

"Strike! Now, while the castle sleeps." Renly looked back at Ser Boros again and dropped his voice to an urgent whisper. "We must get Joffrey away from his mother and take him in hand. Protector or no, the man who holds the king holds the kingdom. We should seize Myrcella and Tommen as well. Once we have her children, Cersei will not dare oppose us. The council will confirm you as Lord Protector and make Joffrey your ward."

 

Ned regarded him coldly. "Robert is not dead yet. The gods may spare him. If not, I shall convene the council to hear his final words and consider the matter of the succession, but I will not dishonor his last hours on earth by shedding blood in his halls and dragging frightened children from their beds."

 

Not when I have already betrayed his trust by pledging my aid to  a Blackfyre restoration. 

 

Lord Renly took a step back, taut as a bowstring. "Every moment you delay gives Cersei another moment to prepare. By the time Robert dies, it may be too late . . . for both of us."

 

"Then we should pray that Robert does not die."

 

"Small chance of that," said Renly.

 

"Sometimes the gods are merciful."

 

"The Lannisters are not." Lord Renly turned away and went back across the moat, to the tower where his brother lay dying.

 

By the time Ned returned to his chambers, he felt weary and heartsick, yet there was no question of his going back to sleep, not now. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die, Cersei Lannister had told him in the godswood. He found himself wondering if he had done the right thing by refusing Lord Renly's offer. He had no taste for these intrigues, and there was no honor in threatening children, and yet . . . if Cersei elected to fight rather than flee, he might well have need of Renly's hundred swords, and more besides.

 

He clenched his fists,  he should not have choked her.  The vile woman knew she could get under his skin because of his outburst.

 

"I want Littlefinger," he told Cayn. "If he's not in his chambers, take as many men as you need and search every winesink and whorehouse in King's Landing until you find him. Bring him to me before break of day. Summon my son as well.”  Cayn bowed and took his leave, and Ned turned to Tomard. 

 

"The  Wend Witch sails on the evening tide. Have you chosen the escort?"

 

"Ten men, with Porther in command."

 

"Twenty, and you will command," Ned said. Porther was a brave man, but headstrong. He wanted someone more solid and sensible to keep watch over his daughters.

 

"As you wish, m'lord," Tom said. "Can't say I'll be sad to see the back of this place. I miss the wife."

 

"You will pass near Dragonstone when you turn north. I need you to deliver a letter for me."

 

Tom looked apprehensive. "To Dragonstone, m'lord?" The island fortress of House Targaryen had a sinister repute.

 

"Tell Captain Qos to hoist my banner as soon as he comes in sight of the island. They may be wary of unexpected visitors. If he is reluctant, offer him whatever it takes. I will give you a letter to place into the hand of Lord Stannis Baratheon. No one else. Not his steward, nor the captain of his guard, nor his lady wife, or the good Ser Davos but only Lord Stannis himself."

 

"As you command, m'lord."

 

When Tomard had left him, Lord Eddard Stark sat staring at the flame of the candle that burned beside him on the table. For a moment his grief overwhelmed him. He wanted nothing so much as to seek out the godswood, to kneel before the heart tree and pray for the life of Robert Baratheon, who  for all his flaws,had been more than a brother to him. If Jon’s and Varys’s plans went awry, if House Blackfyre and Targaryen failed, men would whisper afterward that Eddard Stark had betrayed his king's friendship and disinherited his sons. That he betrayed the realm to support traitors and villains.

 

 He could only hope that the gods would know better, and that Robert would learn the truth of it in the land beyond the grave.

 

Ned took out the king's last letter. A roll of crisp white parchment sealed with golden wax, a few short words and a smear of blood. How small the difference between victory and defeat, between life and death.

 

He drew out a fresh sheet of paper and dipped his quill in the inkpot. To His Grace, Stannis of the House Baratheon, he wrote. By the time you receive this letter, your brother Robert, our King these past seventeen years, will be dead. He was savaged by a boar whilst hunting in the kingswood . . .

 

The letters seemed to writhe and twist on the paper as his hand trailed to a stop. Lord Tywin and Ser Jaime were not men to suffer disgrace meekly; they would fight rather than flee. No doubt Lord Stannis was wary, after the murder of Jon Arryn, but it was imperative that he sail for King's Landing at once with all his power, before the Lannisters could march.

 

Ned chose each word with care. When he was done, he signed the letter Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Hand of the King, and Protector of the Realm, blotted the paper, folded it twice, and melted the sealing wax over the candle flame.

 

His regency would be a short one, he reflected as the wax softened.  Cersei would no doubt be mustering her pawns to try and stop him . But Ned  would not slink away like a coward. He would raise hell in the Red Keep, while  Jon got his daughters to Tyrosh.

 

There was a knock on the door, and Ned bid his son and Lord Baelish enter.

 

Lord Petyr was clad in a blue velvet tunic with puffed sleeves, his silvery cape patterned with mockingbirds. "I suppose congratulations are in order," he said as he seated himself.

 

Jon was clad in Black, with a crimson sash tied around his waist.  

 

Ned scowled. "The king lies wounded and near to death."

 

"I know," Littlefinger said. "I also know that Robert has named you Protector of the Realm."

 

Ned's eyes flicked to the king's letter on the table beside him, its seal unbroken. "And how is it you know that, my lord?"

 

"Varys hinted as much," Littlefinger said, "and you have just confirmed it."

 

Ned's mouth twisted in anger. "Damn Varys and his little birds. Catelyn spoke truly, the man has some black art. I do not trust him."

 

"Excellent. You're learning." Littlefinger leaned forward. "Yet I'll wager you did not drag me and your son here in the black of night to discuss the eunuch."

 

"No," Ned admitted. "I know the secret Jon Arryn was murdered to protect. Robert will leave no trueborn son behind him. Joffrey and Tommen are Jaime Lannister's bastards, born of his incestuous union with the queen."

 

Littlefinger lifted an eyebrow. "Shocking," he said in a tone that suggested he was not shocked at all. "The girl as well? No doubt. So when the king dies . . . "

 

"The throne by rights passes to Lord Stannis, the elder of Robert's two brothers."

 

Although he will never sit it.  Eddard thought.

 

Lord Petyr stroked his pointed beard as he considered the matter. "So it would seem. Unless . . . "

 

"Unless, my lord? There is no seeming to this. Stannis is the heir. Nothing can change that."

 

"Stannis cannot take the throne without your help. If you're wise, you'll make certain Joffrey succeeds."

 

Ned gave him a stony stare. "Have you no shred of honor?"

 

"Oh, a shred, surely," Littlefinger replied with a smile. 

 

"Hear me out. Stannis is no friend of yours, nor of mine. Even his brothers can scarcely stomach him. The man is iron, hard and unyielding. He'll give us a new Hand and a new council, for a certainty. No doubt he'll thank you for handing him the crown, but he won't love you for it. And his ascent will mean war. Stannis cannot rest easy on the throne until Cersei and her bastards are dead. Do you think Lord Tywin will sit idly while his daughter's head is measured for a spike? Casterly Rock will rise, and not alone. Robert found it in him to pardon men who served King Aerys, so long as they did him fealty. Stannis is less forgiving. He will not have forgotten the siege of Storm's End, and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dare not. Every man who fought beneath the dragon banner or rose with Balon Greyjoy will have good cause to fear. Seat Stannis on the Iron Throne and I promise you, the realm will bleed.”

 

"Now look at the other side of the coin. Joffrey is but twelve, and Robert gave you the regency, my lord. You are the Hand of the King and Protector of the Realm. The power is yours, Lord Stark. All you need do is reach out and take it. Make your peace with the Lannisters. Release the Imp. Wed Joffrey to your Sansa.. It will be four years before Joffrey comes of age. By then he will look to you as a second father, and if not, well . . . four years is a good long while, my lord. Long enough to dispose of Lord Stannis. Then, should Joffrey prove troublesome, we can reveal his little secret and put Lord Renly on the throne."

 

"We?" Ned repeated.

 

Littlefinger gave a shrug. "You'll need someone to share your burdens. I assure you, my price would be modest."

 

"What you suggest is treason."

 

"Only if we lose."

 

"You forget," Ned told him. "You forget Jon Arryn. You forget Jory Cassel. And you forget this." He drew the dagger and laid it on the table between them; a length of dragonbone and Valyrian steel, as sharp as the difference between right and wrong, between true and false, between life and death. 

 

"They sent a man to cut my son's throat, Lord Baelish."

 

Littlefinger sighed. "I fear I did forget, my lord. Pray forgive me. For a moment I did not remember that I was talking to a Stark." His mouth quirked. "So it will be Stannis, and war?"

 

"It is not a choice. Stannis is the heir."

 

"Far be it from me to dispute the Lord Protector. What would you have of me, then? Not my wisdom, for a certainty."

 

"I shall do my best to forget your . . . wisdom," Ned said with distaste. "I called you here to ask for the help you promised Catelyn. This is a perilous hour for all of us. Robert has named me Protector, true enough, but in the eyes of the world, Joffrey is still his son and heir. The queen has a dozen knights and a hundred men-at-arms who will do whatever she commands . . . enough to overwhelm what remains of my own household guard. And for all I know, her brother Jaime may be riding for King's Landing even as we speak, with a Lannister host at his back."

 

"And you without an army." Littlefinger toyed with the dagger on the table, turning it slowly with a finger. "There is small love lost between Lord Renly and the Lannisters. Bronze Yohn Royce, Ser Balon Swann, Ser Loras, Lady Tanda, the Redwyne twins . . . each of them has a retinue of knights and sworn swords here at court."

 

"Renly has thirty men in his personal guard, the rest even fewer. It is not enough, even if I could be certain that all of them will choose to give me their allegiance. I must have the gold cloaks. The City Watch is four thousand strong, sworn to defend the castle, the city, and the king's peace."

 

"Ah, but when the queen proclaims one king and the Hand another, whose peace do they protect?" Lord Petyr flicked at the dagger with his finger, setting it spinning in place. Round and round it went, wobbling as it turned. When at last it slowed to a stop, the blade pointed at Littlefinger. "Why, there's your answer," he said, smiling.

 

"They follow the man who pays them." He leaned back and looked Ned full in the face, his grey-green eyes bright with mockery. "You wear your honor like a suit of armor, Stark. You think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down and make it hard for you to move. Look at you now. You know why you summoned me here. You know what you want to ask me to do. You know it has to be done . . . but it's not honorable, so the words stick in your throat."

“Your right Lord Baelish.  My honor does weigh me down at times, but it does shield me, and you have neither honor or armor to protect you.”   Ned said softly.

 

Before Baelish could reply, he felt the kiss of steel at his throat.  Jon stood behind the Master of Coin, his expression betraying nothing.  Ned rose and picked up the Valyrian Steel dagger. 

 

“Were it not for my son and his counsel, I would have believed your lies.”  Ned said coldly,

 

“You helped the Lannisters murder Jon Arryn.  You’re the one who sent a catspaw to murder my son.  And from what I’ve seen, you’ve played no small role in spreading poison and rot in King’s Landing,” 

 

Jon removed the blade from Littlefinger’s throat, but before he could speak, Jon clasped his gloved hand over his mouth.

 

“I told you Brandon was too kind to you.”  Ned said.

 

“I will not be as kind.”

 

Lord Baelish began to thrash, but Jon held him firmly.

 

“In the name of Daena Blackfyre, the first of her name.  Queen of the Andals, The Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.  I Eddard of the House Stark do sentence you to death.”

 

Baelish’s eyes bulged in his sockets

 

Ned buried the dagger in Littlefinger’s belly.  He withdrew it, then plunged in into his belly again.  He did this three more times, than gestured Jon to release him.

 

Baelish collapsed to his knees.

 

“Lord Stark.” The Lord of the Fingers rasped weakly.

 

Ned slid the blade across his throat.

 

There was a rapping at the chamber door.  Jon opened it, and Lord Varys entered, flanked by two servants.

 

“Treat his body with respect.  He may have been a man I hated, but he is still a Lord.” Ned said in an oddly calm tone.

 

“Of course.”  Varys said. One sevant began wrapping Littlefinger’s body in sheets of dark cloth, while another began wiping up the blood. 

 

Ned retrieved a handkerchief and began wiping blood off the dagger.

 

“And now it begins.”  Eddard whispered.



 



 











 

 

Chapter Text

"So you're  telling me, that King Robert's children, aren't really his children?  Their his wife’s bastards due to her sleeping with her own brother?" Gendry asked.

 

"Correct."  Jon said as they made their way through the tunnels  beneath the Red Keep.

 

"And you're not Lord Stark's bastard  but his sister and the dead prince Rhaegar?" 

 

"Yes." Jon said.

 

"And you and a lot of other people have laid the groundwork for a Blackfyre Queen  to take the Iron Throne?" 

 

"Anymore stupid questions?" Arya asked her brother's new squire.

 

Sansa let out a long suffering sigh, while Syrio Forel made an amused tsk tsk. 

 

"I forgot to mention this when you showed up, but your one of Robert Baratheon's many many Bastards. That’s why Lord Arryn and Lord Stannis came to your shop.”  Jon said casually

 

Gendry sputtered as he came to  terms with how undramatic, Jon delivered the revelation that turned his world upside down.

 




Eventually the tunnels led to manhole cover in  an alleyway not too far from the docks. Jon let out a sigh of relief they were no vagrants or Gold cloaks around.   If they were lucky they would make it to the Queen Rohanne with no problem. It had taken too damn long to move through the tunnels, but without them, there was no way in hell Jon would have been able to get his sisters out of the Red Keep.  Granted he hadn’t planned on Tobho Mott actually taking him up on the offer to have Gendry squire for him, or for the former First Sword of Braavos, his father somehow had managed to convince to teach Arya to  tag along, but Jon was glad for their presence.

 

He adjusted the pack on his back.    There wasn’t much in it, just the Bearskin cloak Dacey sent him, his gold arm rings for his years of service,  some tunics and an extra dagger.

 

Arya was in boy’s garb,  with her hair having been quickly cut short by Jon’s dirk.   She had Needle at her hip, the sword he had commissioned for his little sister obscured by a plain brown cloak Jon had snagged from a pile of servant’s  laundry in the Red Keep.

 

Sansa was in her plainest grey gown with  a hooded dark blue cloak obscuring her crimson tresses.

 

Jon knew the disguises wouldn’t last though.  It was only a matter of time before the Lannisters figured out they were missing and began tearing King's Landing apart to find them.  

 

 

The five of them  weaved through crowds of  smallfolk. The number of Goldcloaks on patrol was a bit higher than usual, which made Jon nervous.  

  

They kept moving, the docks almost in view.   A few minutes passed. Jon could see the Tyroshi Galley that would take him and his sisters to safety.

 

Then he bumped into Sandor Clegane, who had five gold cloaks with  him. Plus a Gold Cloak Lieutenant in full plate with a bearded axe slung over his shoulder. 

 

Sandor Clegane eyes widened in surprise.  With a bestial roar he bitchslapped Jon and sent him sprawling onto the ground

 

“Think ya could run ya dumb cunt!” Clegane bellowed in his thick Westerlands accent.

 

“That was the idea.” Jon said as he drew Truth.

 

“I’m going to  enjoy killing you bastard.”  Clegane said with an ugly smile.

 

The Bastard Knight and the Lannister Lackey’s blades smashed into each other with the clang of steel on steel.  

Clegane was taller, stronger , and had the better reach with  that greatsword of his, but Jon was more agile, and had the blade of Valyrian Steel. Not to mention he was unburdened by plate armor.

 

Rather than try and seize the initiative, Jon focused on blocking or dodging Clegane’s strike’s.  

 

“Stand and fight you cowardly cunt!  Weren’t you part of the Golden Company?!” Clegane snarled.

 

The force of Clegane's blow sent  Jon flat on his ass.

 

"Jon!" Arya cried. His little sister rushed Clegane.

 

The brute pivoted.  Needle pierced Clegane's plate but drew no blood.  He laughed cruelly and kicked Arya in the chest. His little sister gasped and wheezed as she lay on her back.  Clegane stomped towards her, only to be intercepted by Gendry. The young squire’s Warhammer smashed Clegane’s greatsword from his hands. 

 

Clegane briefly panicked then smiled as the arc of the hammer left Gendry exposed and overextended. 

 

Clegane set upon the inexperienced squire with his mailed fist, delivering a flurry of punches to Gendry’s face and chest,  Sandor than seized Gendry by his shaggy locks kneed him in the groin, hoisted him above his shoulders like a pit fighter from Lys and flung him into a fruit stand.

 

Clegane than drew his arming sword, as Syrio gracefully stepped foward to  duel The Hound.

 

“Do you know who I am?”  The Bravossi master asked. 

 

“Some dead man.”  Clegane replied as he lunged forward with his blade. Syrio dodged the blow.  The Bravossi’s eyes narrowed. His rapier searching for weak points. 

 

The two combatant's movements, were so swift, Jon could barley track their moments.   Syrio was cool and precise, Sandor a barley controlled fire.

 

Jon circled like a wolf, waiting for the moment to  strike.   

 

Sansa found the moment before he did.    With a snarl she lept upon Sandor’s back and jammed her bladed necklace into his right eye socket.

 

The Hound screamed in agony.  He dropped his sword and thrashed about, trying to shake Sansa off.

 

“You Bitch! You-”

 

Sansa stabbed him in the other eye, digging the blade of the necklace deep into the socket.  The Hound screamed and toppled forward. Sansa rose quickly, smoothing her skirts like the proper lady she was.  

 

Jon laughed as Arya gaped at her sister in shock. 







With the groan of a man emerging from a very good dream. Eddard Stark awoke.   

 

His cell was dark and damp, his leg throbbed with his pain, and his stomach growled.

 

His dream had been a happy one, of a feast at Winterfell with all his family.   His brother, sister and father had been alive and not dead and gone.  Robb and Jon and the rest of his children were there as well. And all of them were wed and had their own children with them.

 

Ned hoped his actions today made that dream one step closer to reality.

 

He had denounced Cersei and her children.  With his guard, and the Gold Cloaks who could be trusted, he had tried to take them into custody. 

 

He had failed of course, but he had made quite the scene.  Ned regretted having to break Ser Barristan’s nose in the scuffle that had ensued. 

 

He heard footsteps, a pair of them to  be precise.

 

Lord Varys and Ser Santagar stood outside the cell door. 

 

“Are you ready to get out of here Lord Stark?”  Varys asked. 

 

Ned smiled as he staggered to his feet.