It was unprincely to sulk, Rhaegar knew.
But with his father attending Lord Whent’s tourney, his hands were tied. So he just braced himself for whatever it may come and hope that the Lords of the Realm would see his father’s state and come to him.
He heard giggles behind him, he turned and found that it was Elia and Lady Ashara. His lady wife and her companion were lovers he knew, but he didn’t care. They did not love one another, he was fond of Elia and wished for the best and knew that when the time came, she would make a fine queen. But there was no passion between then, no grand love, so who he was to deny her companionship? Lady Ashara was a good choice for lover, discreet, funny, smart and loyal, he could hardly fault Elia for choosing her.
He himself had no lover, not for the lack of want. There were many, both men and women who would take the chance to share his bed should he allow it. But, something held him back. Like there was something out there he was meant to find.
He sighed and hoped that at least the tourney would provide a distraction, if only momentarily.
It was on the third day of the royal retinue’s arrival when he noticed it. His cousin, Robert, was pretty much dragging another man around. A friendly arm tossed about the man’s shoulder and they both seemed to be getting along just fine.
The man was tall, not as tall as Robert and much leaner. Dark hair and long of face, he couldn’t distinguish the man’s eyes from the distance, but the man dressed in several shades of grays and white, there was a pin on his shoulder that he couldn’t quite make. He shrugged, Robert was always good at making friends.
On the third day, Arthur had accompanied him for a walk around Harrenhall, when he crossed paths with Robert, “Cousin!” Robert was all exuberance. “Look who it is, Ned! None other than my cousin.”
The second man bowed, “Your Grace,” he addressed him quite formally. “Eddard Stark, at your service.”
Ah, so that it was who Robert was dragging about yesterday. He was taller up close, and his eyes were smoke gray and solemn. “Well met Lord Stark,” he returned the greeting. “I did not know you had met my cousin already.”
“We fostered in the Eyre together, your Grace.” Ned replied easily.
Well now that made sense. He knew that his cousin Steffon had sent Robert to foster, but he had not remembered that Lord Stark had also done so. “He’s been a good foster brother, I hope?”
Robert took a few steps forward and smacked his arm, “Aye, cousin, I have. Ned over here is my brother in all but blood. Honestly, I get along with him better than with Stannis.”
No surprise there. “Well then, I am glad to hear of it cousin, Lord Stark, if you excuse me.” He continued with his walk, leaving the two men behind.
“…I can’t believe what you did Lyanna, tossing wine on Benjen in front of the King, Prince Rhaegar and Princess Elia, alongside the whole court!”
Rhaegar paid attention now, it surprised him hearing Lord Stark speak, he could clearly hear the anger in his voice.
“Oh come now, Ned, don’t be like that, it wasn’t so bad!”
“No?” Ned hissed and Rhaegar had to do his best to keep listening, even when he knew he should not be. “Your behavior reflects not only you, but father, the North and House Stark. Not to mention, your betrothal to Robert, do you want them to say that you can’t behave in society?”
“You should be. Do not make me write to father.”
It was then, when he decided to keep his eyes on Eddard Stark
“Your eyes continue to wander to the table where the Starks sit,” Elia’s dulcet tone brought him back to reality. “Should I be worried?”
“Not at all,” he turned and faced his wife. “You have nothing to fear from the Lady Stark, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Elia nodded sagely, “Good. Then, if that is the case, you may continue to observe. Ashara speaks well of Lord Eddard,” her voice turned mischievous then. “Poor man, his elder brother had to ask Ashara for a dance on his behalf.”
He smiled, “Ah yes, he seems quite… quiet. Unlike Robert, they fostered together I believe. I wouldn’t have expected they’d get along, but… they do.”
“Ashara says his siblings call him the Quiet Wolf,” Elia turned and looked at the Stark table. “I think it suits him, a wolf is no less a wolf because he’s quiet. In fact, I’d be worried more about him than his siblings.”
He could see the wisdom on her words. He observed Eddard once more, he was talking with Robert, Eddard’s face had lost the seriousness and was quite animated, lips were curled upwards in a faint smile. “The Quiet Wolf indeed,” he said.
“You should court him, I think he could be good for you. At least he doesn’t seem to dislike me as Lord Connington does.” Elia had drawn near and whispered those words in his ears, then she gave his cheek a quick kiss. “You have my permission to misbehave.”
He snorted, bless Elia Martell.
The following day, he found himself quite unexpectedly in company of Eddard. He had been reading in Lord Whent’s library, when Eddard had walked in, stopped when he had seen him and made the motion to walk out, “Forgive me your Grace,” Eddard bowed. “I did not know you were reading, I will leave you to your peace.”
“There is no need to leave Lord Stark,” he stopped him from leaving. “If you are here to read, I would welcome the company.”
“My thanks your Grace.” Eddard began to look through the shelves before selecting a tome and sitting near the fire to read.
Curiosity got the better of him, “I must confess Lord Stark, I didn’t take you for a reader.”
Eddard looked surprised. “It’s a pleasant way to spend time, it drives Robert crazy in the Eyre. Brandon and Lyanna can’t stand still long enough, only Benjen sits still for the stories.” Eddard’s face had softened a small bit speaking of Robert and his siblings. “But I quite enjoy it.”
He nodded, “I understand, I enjoy reading myself, much to the worry of certain people.”
“If I may be bold, your Grace,” at his nod, Eddard continued. “Better a learned king than not.”
He blinked surprised, that was unexpected. Many men would scoff at his interest in books, he still recalled how many had said that he was Baelor the Blessed come again, and the relief that washed over them once he took up the sword. Interesting. “Perhaps so, not many would agree.”
Eddard frowned, “Then, they don’t know anything. A king should care for his people, how can one do that in times of peace, if he doesn’t know or understand anything other than battle?”
Well, now, this was an interesting turn of events. His curiosity, already spiked grew. He arched an eyebrow, “True enough, Lord Stark.”
“Ned, if it pleases your Grace.”
He nodded, “Ned, then you may call me Rhaegar.” He hesitated, then asked. “Would you tell me of the North and Winterfell, Ned? I am afraid I have not had the chance to see it. All I know is what I have read and what my uncle Aemon writes from the Wall. I would hear it from one of its people.”
“Winterfell is home, Rhaegar…” Ned began and he watched as the serious man began to lighten up, his usually solemn face seemed younger as he spoke of his home, his father and sibling. Of the Godswoods and the Weirdwood tree, of the Wolfwood where they have hunted, of the summer snows and the blue roses, of the hot water springs underneath Winterfell and the hot water that flows like blood between its walls.
It was an astounding transformation and he felt himself being pulled in. He felt lost in both Ned’s eyes and his words. Winterfell and the North came alive, and it seemed so had Ned and a part of him that had been dormant, awoke.
And for once in his life, he craved.
He wondered if this was what Elia felt for Ashara. If this is what Jon felt for him. He didn’t know. But one thing was perfectly clear to him, a Quiet Wolf had caught his eye. Elia had given her blessing and wished him well. He was thankful for that, he could only hope that Ned would like him too.
And maybe, if he allowed himself to hope and be greedy, maybe they could know love.
In the tourney of Harrenhall, in the year of the false spring, Rhaegar Targaryen crowned Princess Elia Martell as Queen of Love and Beauty. And when his retinue made its way towards Dragonstone, it had a new member: Eddard Stark.