“Don’t argue with me,” Edda snaps, hands shaking slightly as she helps Lyanna out of her mail shirt, stepping over the discarded armor. She all but yanks the gloves from Lyanna’s hands, balling them up in her fists. The shaking stops. Eddara is the eldest daughter of Rickard and Lyarra Stark, and she has never been permitted to be timid. She lets the fear settle around her shoulders like a damp cloak, acknowledges it, then keeps going. The deserted glen is quiet at the moment, but she can hear the distant sounds of the tourney fair; the chatter of people, the neighing of horses, the flapping of tents and banners in the warm wind.
Stripped of her crude, motley armor, her battered helm tucked under her arm, it seems almost impossible to believe that the mystery knight could have been Lyanna at all. Her sister is just four-and-ten- ‘nearly five-and-ten, my name day is in three moons’ she will insist, but four-and-ten all the same. Lyanna is no waif but she is hardly a big, bulky girl, either. She stands average in height and slim of frame. Had Eddara not grown up with her, not seen Lya playing with swords a thousand times, not seen her skill with a bow and her command in the saddle, for there is no finer horsewoman in the North, save perhaps the Ryswell sisters-
Well, it would be almost impossible to believe any highborn maid could ever masquerade as a knight, even if only for a day. Edda is still slightly incredulous that she was not immediately found out, that Brandon seemed utterly taken in, that Robert raised no suspicions as to the true identity of the small figure who came charging into the joust, roaring through a borrowed helm. What if someone saw her preparing for it? What if someone has deduced the truth of the matter? Even now, any lord could be whispering in the King’s ear. Even now, this could spell disaster for all of them, not just her sister.
Lya stares back at her indignantly, chewing on her lower lip the way she used to as a little girl. Their sisterly relationship has been a series of unpleasant interruptions. Edda was four years old when she was born, old enough to feel some inherent sense of protective duty, old enough to hold Lyanna in her arms and kiss her downy scalp, to remember the weight of an infant in her small lap. They were very happy, the sisters Stark, and then came baby Benjen, who they both could fuss over and tease, uniting them even further against Brandon’s exasperation and irritation- what had he done to deserve two giggling, scheming sisters?
Then Mother died five years after that. Brandon was eleven and already off to Barrowton to foster. Perhaps that made it easier for him to bear, not having to see the sickness take her. Or perhaps it made it harder. Made him harder, colder. Eddara can’t be sure. But she and Lya and Ben- they were all together for it. Edda was ten, Lyanna six, Benjen just five. They all grieved differently. For Edda it was easiest to just… carry on, don’t think too much about it, to pretend that everything was fine, that this was alright. Lyanna was angry. So very angry at a world that had ripped her mother away too soon. Ben cried, and hid, and clung to her or to Father, who was broken by his own grief.
Six months later Edda was sent to the Vale, her betrothal to Elbert Arryn declared, to learn something of their customs, their people, to study under the tutelage of a septa, to spend time in the household of Jon Arryn, which would someday be her own. It was part relief to be out from under the cloud of grief looming over Winterfell, part further heartbreak to leave her siblings. Lya was even angrier. With Father for deciding her fate, with Edda for obeying him without objection, with Benjen for being too young to really understand. With Brandon for never being there. Eddara supposes she was angry, too. Angry to be shipped off across the Bite to a strange land full of strange people, angry to be taken away from her family when she would not even be wed for years, angry to leave behind the wolfswood and the godswood and everything she loved about her home.
But the Vale was not the prison she’d dreaded. She cannot say she and Elbert were fast friends- he was a twelve year old squire when she arrived, more interested in running about with Robert Baratheon, another ward of his uncle’s, then making time for his shy northern betrothed, whose dresses and ornaments must have seemed plain and homespun in comparison to the regal finery of the other noblewomen. But Jon Arryn was kind. Kinder than he had any right to be. He took interest in her, encouraged her, arranged for her to study with a septa who did not sneer or condescend to her. He gave her a goshawk for her eleventh name day, a fine new saddle for her twelfth. She would spend hours in his library, reading to her heart’s desire, or simply wandering the airy corridors of the Eyrie, marveling at the unbroken stretch of blue sky through the windows.
Elbert and her may have never become good friends, but he was never cruel, either. As time went on he made the correct polite overtures, they sat beside one another at feasts and dinners, danced together, exchanged small gifts and the proper compliments. And it was not as though she’d been chained to some beast of a boy. Elbert was perhaps not as handsome as Jon Arryn was said to have been in his youth, nor as striking in look as Robert, but he had fine wheaten blonde hair that curled atop his high brow, a good, if slightly hawkish, nose, took interest in his studies, particularly history, and enjoyed riding and hunting as much as her.
She knows it may never be love, knows he is not particularly attracted to her, knows he’s had his share of whores- how could any friend of Robert Baratheon’s not- but that is alright. She can live with that. He is respectful and courteous of her, and if sometimes, she wishes for more, well, that is just that. Girlish wishes. This marriage is an important alliance for House Stark. She does not dread her wedding day next year, even if she does not anxiously await it. She knows what to expect by now, and she doubts there will be any sharp disappointments or nasty shocks. Life is usually predictable, in Eddara’s experience. Not often joyous, perhaps, but safely predictable.
Mayhaps that is the problem between her and Lyanna. Nothing about Lya is ever predictable, nor would her sister want it to be. Lyanna is impulsive where Eddara is cautious, bold where she is reserved. Nothing is a suggestion with Lyanna, nothing is a request. Lyanna demands life live up to her expectations, however unrealistic. Edda could never truly hate her for it- Lya is a dreamer, it’s in her nature. She loves songs and stories, loves tales of heroes and villains, loves it when the warrior slays the beast, when the village is spared destruction, when the city is saved, when the lovers reunite and vow never to be parted again. But sometimes Edda does resent her for her heady expectations. Sometimes she wishes Lya had been born first, so she might get some sense of what it is like to feel responsible for everyone, to feel burdened, to feel guilty.
“I am not arguing with you,” Lyanna retorts now, reduced to a tunic of Benjen’s and baggy trousers tucked hastily into her mud-splattered boots. Her hair- a darker shade of brown than Edda’s, and much thicker and curlier to boot- is contained to a ragged braid pinned into a bun at the back of her head, smushed flat from the helm. Her face is red from exertion and excitement, her nose practically twitching like a rabbit’s, her dark, thick brows furrowed in frustration. “I am only trying to explain-,”
“Explain what?” Edda snaps, trying her best to fit the deconstructed armor into the large wicker basket she brought with her. “Explain why you decided to put all of us in danger today? Are you blind? Can you not see this was neither the time nor the place-,”
“The time nor the place for what?” Lyanna hisses back at her, infuriated. “To stand up for what is right? To defend a loyal friend of our family? You know what they did to Howland! They humiliated him! Degraded him! Spat on his honor, his pride, knew he could not hope to beat them in the joust-,”
“Well, you certainly decided that for him! Do you think he will feel honored that a woman-,”
“That a woman what?” Lyanna barks. “That a woman can fight as well a man, if pushed? That a woman could ride in the joust, and win?”
“Believe me,” Edda says, “defeating the likes of a Frey, a Blount, and a Haigh is hardly the same as going up against a knight of a great house. You are lucky you were not seriously injured, or killed! What would we have done then? Brandon would have killed them, Father would-,”
“Do not speak to me about Father!” Lyanna’s hands are in shaking fists at her sides. “Father has already seen fit to sell me like a sow at market, I’ll not have you dragging him into my- imagined death either, Edda!”
“Is that what this is?” Edda is suddenly more tired than angered. “Some… what, some delayed rebellion against your match? What, did you hope to joust against Robert next, and defeat him, and win your own hand in marriage? Lyanna. This must end. This- this scorn for him-,”
“I do not respect him,” Lyanna says, “and I will never respect him through your eyes, either. You are blind to it, because you knew him as a boy. Well, he is not a boy anymore, Edda. He is a man, and a man can be held responsible for his deeds-,”
“As can a woman!”
“I am not ashamed,” Lyanna all but growls. “I will never be ashamed of doing what is right!”
There is the sound of hoofbeats nearby. They both flinch, reflexively, ducking down a little. Edda is relieved Lyanna’s clothes are muddy browns and greens, that her own dress is a plain pale grey-blue. It would not do for them to be spotted right now. It would not do at all. Perhaps she is so angry because some small part of her is envious of Lyanna’s daring. Because some small part of her wishes she could ever have the nerve to do such a thing, to play that part, to pick up a sword and go riding off to demand justice, to help restore a friend’s tarnished honor.
But that’s besides the point. What’s done is done, and if Lyanna must understand why this can never, ever, happen again.
“The King is wroth,” she says in a lower, colder sort of voice. She sounds less a sister and more a lady now, she knows it. Robert calls it her Stark voice, says it’s bad enough to send shivers down a man’s spine. That made her laugh, once. The easy sort of laughter that would emerge around him, without fearing what people thought or how they saw her. It’s always been easy to laugh around Robert. Easy to pretend. Easy to ignore his digressions. Lyanna is not wrong. Edda is not called upon to respect him, as a future husband. He is simply… a friend, if a woman can even say such a thing of a man like him. She might feel very differently, in Lyanna’s position. No, she would. She loves him like a brother. That is different. You can forgive a brother for things you could never accept in a husband, in a lord and master.
Lyanna is looking at her in alarmed confusion now, and Edda is gratified by the brief flash of fear in her sister’s grey eyes. “The King is wroth,” she says again, “and he names this deception and treachery. He has sent men to look for the Knight. For you. If he were to discover it was a woman of House Stark, he would take it for a grievous insult. He already has. He believes your Knight an enemy. You know- you are old enough to know, by now, Lya, what the Targaryens do their enemies. What he does to his enemies.”
“I can- I meant no… It was not about them,” Lya says, in a much smaller and younger sounding voice, as the enormity of the situation crashes over her like a wave. “If I could… I can explain, that-,”
“You will explain nothing,” Edda says. “You will never speak of this again. To anyone. Even Ben.”
Lyanna reddens further. “Don’t be cross with him, it was my idea-,”
“He is three-and-ten, not a little boy anymore,” Edda says. “He ought to be thrashed for going along with this, for encouraging you. This is- it’s not about Howland anymore, or those squires, cowards though they were. It is about us. Our family. Our lives. You are playing with our lives, you and him, like children waving about a lantern in a barn. Gods be good, Lya. This must end. Not the swords, not the shields, the- you must learn to think before you leap! There are more ways to take a stand, to demand justice, than with a sword in hand. If you would only listen to me-,”
“You are not my mother!” Lyanna snaps. “You think you are, but you are not! Ever since Father sent you to the Vale, to the Arryns! You come back and you- you speak to me as if I were a child, as if I were some ignorant little girl you must educate at every turn-,”
“Then stop acting like an ignorant little girl!”
For a moment she thinks Lya might slap her, and Edda doesn’t know what will happen then. A proper fist fight, likely. She may be the most subdued of her siblings, but Father can still recount the time when Brandon pulled her braids for the last time, and she responded by socking him in the stomach, then shoving him to the ground to finish the beating. It had ended with both of them rolling about, eight and seven years old, shouting and scratching and rubbing dirt on each other.
Lyanna is silent, studying her with a newfound sort of anger. It is not just the anger betwixt two sisters, but betwixt two women who no longer understand each other. The trust is eroded, Eddara thinks. She doesn’t know how to make it come back, doesn’t know how to make things easy and pleasant between them again. Perhaps they are just too different. Each unhappy in their own way. Submitting to expectations has not made Edda any happier. Fighting them- well, see where it has gotten Lya.
“Where is the sword?” she finally asks.
“Already hidden,” Lya bites back.
Eddara closes the lid on the basket, the small leatherbound shield the last to be packed in, and tosses her cloak at her sister. Lyanna catches it easily, one-handed. “Put that on, pull your hair down, and go straight back to our tent. Do not talk to anyone, do not look at anyone. I am taking this to the lake, and I am throwing it in. I’ll come find you later. If anyone asks where you were during the joust today, you-”
“Tell them I was watching the mummer’s show in the Whent’s gallery,” Lyanna replies, glowering. “I’m not stupid.”
Eddara flares her nostrils at her in response, then heaves up the basket. It’s heavy, but the armor was cheaply constructed, and her arms are stronger than they first appear, under her gowns, from years of hunting and riding and climbing. Lya was not the only one who had an unusually active childhood, for a lady. Mother and Father felt it made girls unnecessarily frail and sickly, keeping them locked up inside all day. Eddara may not be particularly tall or thick-limbed, but she can hunt and hawk and clean a kill as well as any man, even if she does not brag about it.
“Be careful,” she says, and sets off in a southerly direction, towards the lakeshore of the God’s Eye.
“Edda!” She could have sworn Lyanna called after her, uncertainly, but when she turns around all she sees is her sister retreating back towards the road. With any luck, she’ll run into Benjen, and the two of them together may avert suspicion.
Eddara keeps moving, careful to stay out of sight, especially of any riders in colors of House Targaryen or the Crownlands’ prominent houses. The presence of the basket alone does not incriminate her, but it is obvious from her dress that she is a noblewoman, not a laundress, and she’d rather avoid any questions or odd looks at all. Fortunately, the melee is occurring at the moment, or the archery competition- she can’t remember which- so most people should still be congregated at the stands, even if the excitement of the day is largely through.
There will be yet another feast tonight. She enjoyed the last two, but finds herself dreading this one. What if the King makes an appearance, and levels some sort of public accusation? What if someone else is falsely accused? Can she bear to see an innocent man put to death, to save her family’s lives? Lyanna could not. If Aerys accuses some poor knight or squire, Lyanna will stand up for them, Lyanna will expose herself, expose them. Eddara can see it now. Brandon will go for his sword at the slightest provocation, the Tully sisters will be shrieking in terror, Benjen will be white as a sheet-
They say he had Lady Darklyn burned at the stake. She cannot even think of Lyanna in such conditions, of her brave sister- for Lyanna is brave, even when it is folly. She is brave, and she would not hesitate to sacrifice her life for someone else, even someone she barely knew, so long as she felt it was the right thing to do. Her convictions have always been strong, as Father would say. Perhaps that is the trouble with her and Robert. Robert also has strong convictions, only they tend to change on a daily basis.
Mostly, he wants to be loved, Robert. Edda can see that. He wants Lyanna to adore him as so many others do, wants her to admire him for his strength and beauty, wants her to break that icy shell and smile at his compliments, and not out of stiff politeness. Robert is used to getting what he wants, and when he does not he can turn sullen as a child. It was amusing when they were younger; Eddara would stifle a smile to see him stomp his feet and go red as a beet whenever Elbert beat him in something or if he were embarrassed. It is less amusing now that they are older, when he should act more a man and less a boy.
Lyanna is right in that Edda excuses too much from him. But it is not so easy to stamp out affection, even when it is perhaps undeserved. Robert always paid her attention that Elbert did not. Elbert was polite, always unfailingly polite, but Robert was interested. In what she had to say, in what she did. Wanted to hear about the North, about Winterfell, about her family. Especially about her family. She could see the longing in his blue eyes, sometimes. He just has his brothers, and one is just a little child, the other… well, it is well known he and Stannis were never fond of each other, even before their parents died. Elbert was courteous, but Robert found her intriguing. No one had ever found her intriguing before.
Even when he was being crude or belligerent, he still would look to her for a response, wanted to see what her next move would be, what she would say, if she would chastise him or ignore him or smile at him. There was something a little thrilling about it. But that is all. It can never be more than that, nor would it ever be. He is promised to her sister. She is promised to Elbert. Robert is a whoremonger and his temper is frankly untenable and he does not always keep his word. They are not children anymore. It is time for him to grow up. He and Lyanna have that much in common, at least.
Through the lush green treeline, the sapphire hue of the massive lake becomes brighter and brighter. It is a lovely afternoon, rich with birdsong and sweet smells, and the lake seems to gleam like a jewel, even more so besides the somewhat sinister shadow of Harrenhal. Edda has been inside the castle many times by now, but still finds it slightly uncomfortable. How can the Whents call such a place home, when there are so few of them, and so much of it? Not to mention all the talk of the ghosts and shadows. Lyanna and Benjen found the tales delightful. Brandon found them amusing. Eddara doesn’t like to think much about ghosts. She used to dream that Mother came back to her, in the months after her death. It wasn’t frightening, just sad and empty feeling, a hollow pain in her chest.
The lakeshore is quiet, at least, and mercifully deserted, although the sands are covered in foot and hoofprints. Eddara heaves the basket down with a grunt, and breathes heavily for a moment, in and out through her nose, feeling the warm southern sunlight on her skin. They say winter is ending. She hopes they are right. It will make the travel easier, in another six months, when they are back in the Riverlands for Brandon’s wedding. Then hers, shortly thereafter. She doesn’t feel sick, not really, just… empty. It will be alright. She loves the Vale. It’s not her home but she has come to feel a kinship with it all the same. Elbert and her… it will be easier once they are established in their household. Once they have children. She knows she will enjoy children, will enjoy being a mother.
Lyanna’s words echo in her head again, and she closes her eyes, then opens them. She’s wasted enough time as it is. Eddara crouches down, opens the basket, and begins to take things out, lifting up her skirts with some struggle to wade deeper into the water. She doesn’t want any of this washing right back up on shore, after all. She spreads out as much as she can, trying to dump the armor at different locations, without falling in herself, of course. She can swim, but wool is heavy when wet, and she doesn’t feel like coming back to the campgrounds looking like a drowned rat.
Edda calms as time goes on without any interruptions or distant shouts of alarm or anger. She saves the helm and shield for last- she can’t be sure why. Out of some begrudging respect for Lyanna’s daring perhaps? For she did ride well, and even through her fear and anger, Edda was… She should not say proud, but there was some pride there. That she knew it was a Stark under that armor, fighting for the sake of honor. More pride there than at any of Brandon’s successes at the jousts. She knows she is not being fair to him. But as much as she has argued and bickered with Lya as of late, she remains much closer to her than to Brandon. Brandon has little use for sisters, beyond the odd teasing or brotherly lecture. She knows it may be different once they are all wed. They will see so little of one another it will make any reunion sweeter.
Edda picks up the round shield, runs her bare hand across the crudely painted white tree with the laughing red eyes and mouth. It looks torn between triumph and derision. She can see why Aerys, in his paranoia, might take it for an insult. A symbol of the North, mocking this very southern event. At the first tourney the King has deigned to attend in years. There are whispers, of course. She is not deaf to them. Whispers that some would prefer Rhaegar come into his seat a little sooner. The King’s health is very poor, but he is not nearly as old and wizened as he looks.
He could reign on for another decade, two decades, growing more and more unstable. Father has taken her more into his confidence than most would a daughter. Lyanna swears Edda is his favorite. There is a reason beyond sheer ambition that Rickard Stark hopes to have a Tully good daughter and Baratheon and Arryn good sons. A united front, down the eastern coast, from Winterfell to Storm’s End, only interrupted by the brief stretch of the Crownlands. Still, she prefers not to think of such things. She supposes that is a luxury afforded to her as a woman. Brandon would say so. Elbert might agree. Her nails scrape across the painted wood. She tightens her grip, and readies herself to fling it as hard as she can, out across the lake.
Her blood runs cold. Edda turns quickly, lowering the shield. She did not hear hoofbeats, and the soft earth and sand muffled any footfall. It is not Richard Lonmouth or Myles Mooton, nor is it one of the Kingsguard, clad all in white. The man who approaches her, dressed in simple black and silver, not in the armor nor the saddle, bearing no weapons beyond a slender sword at his hip, is none other than the Crown Prince himself. For a few moments she thinks she forgets to breathe.
She has never been this close to Rhaegar before, nor any Targaryen. In the spring sunshine, his hair seems a thousand mixed threads of silver and gold, glowing in an almost unnatural manner. He is tall- not as tall as Robert, but of a height with Brandon, perhaps an inch or two taller- although leaner in build than both of them. Everything about him is beautiful. His skin is untouched by sun or scars, his nose is perfectly straight, his mouth as pretty as a woman’s, his neck graceful as a swan’s. He carries himself not with any particular pride or arrogance, but almost… Sad is not the word for it, nor is furtive. Melancholy, perhaps? As though he were ever so slightly stooped by some invisible weight. You would not think it from his shoulders, though. Even his shoulders are somehow graceful.
And his eyes- she has never seen so dark a purple before, not even in fabric, only in violet flowers or indigo. For a few moments she simply stands there in numb shock as he approaches, struck by his beauty, petrified with fear, frozen with panic- what should she do, what can she do, what must she say to convince him this is some misunderstanding- the shield is in her very hands, she is a Stark and the shield is in her hands- yet she cannot drop it, either. Nor can she run. Eddara stares, and then, resisting the urge to babble, drops into the deepest curtsy she can manage under these conditions, until her knees nearly brush the sandy silt.
“My prince,” she says, keeping her gaze level with the ground, ignoring the sweat beading on the back of her neck, the weight of the shield in her one hand.
Rhaegar is not his father, she tells herself. They all say it is true, that the prince is much more- that he is intelligent, and well-spoken, that he conducts himself with chivalry and honor. It is well known. Perhaps he can be reasoned with. If she can only convince him that- that there was no offense intended, that it was little more than a jape, that- she sounds like Lyanna, she realizes, dread curdling in her gut. She sounds like a little girl. Ignorant, foolish, naive to the ways of the world.
“You may rise,” he sounds almost taken aback by her display of humility. Perhaps he expected her to react defensively. Perhaps she should have. Has she already sealed their fates with that curtsy? Eddara has never been to any true court. The Eyrie is so small, it hardly counts, and Winterfell has had many guests over the years, but it is nothing like the Red Keep. If he thinks her ill-mannered, or insolent-
“My lady,” Rhaegar says, once she is standing again, still careful to keep her head slightly bowed. “I confess this is… not what I expected to behold, when I brought my horse to water.” He pauses, and then adds, almost as if- as if he thought he might… cheer her, slightly, for his tone is a little dry, “You see, my father has commanded me to lead men to search the forest and stop travelers along the road, but I felt Moondancer deserved a break, after so many hours in a muggy wood.”
Edda stares at him in confusion, until he smiles slightly, and says, “My horse.” She sees it now, a fine, almost ghostly white destrier, grazing much further down along the shore. Moondancer. Wasn’t the name of one of the old dragons, during the Dance? She swallows hard. He seems bemused by her continued silence.
“You are afraid,” he comments, after another awkward moment. “That’s wise of you.” He hesitates, then says, “My father, he is in one of his tempers, I confess. This tourney has done little to soothe his moods. My mother counselled him to remain at court with her, but…”
From what Eddara has heard of Aerys’ treatment of the queen, for there are whispers a-plenty at this tourney, she finds that very hard to believe. She would certainly not be urging the King to stay with her, were she his poor wife.
“Well,” Rhaegar says, “I suppose I am trying to say that you are right to be afraid, my lady. But I will do my best to reassure you, nonetheless. I mean you no harm.” He raises his hands. “I am merely… curious as to how this came to be. You, here, with that particular shield. I had my theories- we all did- when we saw the Knight ride out today, but I must admit you featured in none of them, Lady Eddara.” He pauses again. “That is your name, is it not? Eddara of House Stark? You are the elder daughter?”
“Yes,” Edda says. She was afraid it would come out a whisper, but to her relief her voice sounds a little firmer and clearer than that. “I am Eddara Stark.” What would Lyanna have done, had he found her here instead? Argued with him? Raised her voice? Gods, it does not even bear thinking about. He might not be so patient, so soft-spoken, were it her wild sister here in her place. Lyanna might not have curtsied at all.
“And… may I ask to whom this shield belongs?” he inquires, politely, but there is an expectant look in those lovely dark eyes.
Her mind goes blank for an instant, and then, without thinking, her lips form the words. “It belongs to me, my lord.”
If he is shocked, it does not show much, beyond a slight raising of his very pale eyebrows. In the light, they are so pale he almost seems to have none at all. It would look silly on another man. But there is nothing silly about him, as incredible as this entire encounter even is. At any moment, she keeps expecting Ser Oswell Whent or Jonothor Darry to ride up on them. But all remains quiet and peaceful. Does he do this often, go about with no guards at all? Does he not worry for his safety, or is he so confident in his abilities as a knight?
“To you,” he says. “The shield is yours, is my understanding correct? You… painted it?”
“Yes,” she says, looking directly at him now, unblinking. She was always a terrible liar, but there was always a choice, then. There is none, now. “I stole it from my brother, and painted it in the dead of night.”
He does not break his gaze, no more than she will break hers. “I see. And why would you do such a thing, my lady?”
“Because I meant to use it to ride out in the joust,” she says. “As the Knight of the Laughing Tree.”
His mouth opens slightly, but no sound emerges for a moment, until he replies, “And so you did.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“You are the Knight of the Laughing Tree. You disguised yourself as a man and entered the lists?” His tone is caught somewhere between skepticism and… wonder?
“Yes,” she nods in a clipped fashion.
His brow furrows. “Lady Eddara, why?”
“To avenge the honor of a friend,” she replies, and it is almost too easy to slip into the role. To… well, to pretend she were like Lyanna. That she did such wild things without hesitation. That she was so ironclad in her convictions. That she… that she still had dreams. It is alarmingly easy, to pretend. “The squires of those knights beat and humiliated a loyal ally to House Stark, Lord Howland Reed. They mocked his home, degraded his people, the crannogmen. He is northern, my prince. He knows little of tourneys or jousts. Someone had to fight for him. Someone had to see justice done.”
If she sounds strong enough in this, convincing enough, can he be made to see that it was no insult, that it was no provocation, that he need not tell his father any of this? Is she a good enough actress, a good enough liar? Lyanna would be incredulous. Elbert would be horrified.
“You did,” he says, voice slightly hoarse. He seems to evaluate her in new light, now, the lines of his brow smooth out again, unblemished, pristine. “You saw justice done, my lady, and quite well, I should say. I tried to advise my father that doubtless it was no slight upon us, but as of late, he sees enemies everywhere… even amongst those who love him best.”
“I apologize,” she doesn’t wait for him to jump to any further conclusions. “You must believe me, my prince. I sincerely and humbly apologize for any offense I may have caused. It was not my intent. I only thought to defend a friend. I mean no ill will towards House Targaryen or the Iron Throne. House Stark remains loyal to your father’s rule. We have always been loyal.” And so they have, since the time of Torrhen. Rebellion has never come from the North.
“You have,” he agrees, to her tentative relief, and then, “I believe you, my lady. You have an honest way about you. It makes me think we ought to have more northerners in our court, if you are all so upright and sincere in your convictions.”
“You honor my people, my lord,” she murmurs, inclining her head, praying this will be the end of it.
Rhaegar glances out across the lake, shadowing his eyes with a hand. “Did you throw the sword in, as well, my lady?”
Her heart pounds. “No. I hid it already, it… it was one of my brother’s. They know nothing of this. I acted alone, my lord.”
“A brave undertaking, to do so by yourself,” he observes. “Honest and brave, my lady. Although perhaps not wise. Had another man found you, I cannot say what would have happened. My father means well,” here his tone changes slightly, and she does not think he entirely believes what he is saying, “but in his pursuit of justice he can often be… zealous.”
“I humbly beseech your forgiveness, my lord,” she says. “It was wrong of me. It did not befit a lady, my actions.”
“I disagree,” he says mildly, “it may not have been wise, but I think it was noble, and therefore very befitting of a lady, Eddara Stark. Some women in our history have carried steel, have they not, and ridden to war? They say there are northern shieldmaidens here today. The Mormonts, I believe?”
She thinks briefly of Maege Mormont and her young daughters; Dacey is the eldest of them, of an age with Benjen, who already carries a morningstar. Men laugh and jeer to see it, but they will not be laughing long, if she grows up as fierce as her lady mother.
“That is their tradition on Bear Island, my lord,” she says carefully.
“And the mountain clans, I had heard some of their women also went to war,” he continues with interest. “Was your grandmother not a Flint?”
He knows his genealogies very well. Eddara is not sure if she should find that flattering or not. “She was,” she acknowledges. “Lady Arya of Clan Flint. She never rode to war with my grandfather, but she was known to… to be skilled with a bow and a falchion, my lord.”
“Do you hunt, my lady?”
The question causes her to blink. “I do, my prince. I carry a bow on hunts, aye.”
“A bow and a sword, it would seem.” Is he japing? She can’t tell.
Eddara swallows again. “Just… just this once, my prince.”
“But you must have learned how to wield it somewhere.”
“From… watching my brothers, and… playing at swords with… with other children, on occasion,” she says cautiously. “It was just… it is just something I would sometimes practice, in private.” Lyanna and her, racing through the godswood, sticks clacking together. The once Robert offered her his sword as a jape, when they were four-and-ten, and then guffawed as she held it, not entirely improperly, and gave an experimental slash to the cold mountain air. Elbert had looked at her as though she had grown two heads, and Robert had quickly retrieved his blade. He always preferred a hammer or axe instead, anyways.
“You are modest,” Rhaegar says. “But you are also skilled.” He reaches slowly for the shield; Eddara gives it to him, trying to keep the unease from her face. Then he smiles, glancing down at the weirwood tree. “And a talented painter, to boot.”
“You are very kind, my lord.”
He turns from her, and hangs the shield in a nearby willow tree, its branches extending sadly over the blue waters, then turns back to her. “I will help you dispose of the rest. Let us leave the shield, as something of a memorial. Such valor should not be readily forgotten, I think.”
Eddara does not move, eying him warily. He exhales. “You have my word that I will not tell my father any of this, my lady. Forgive me my curiosity. It’s in my nature, to question. To learn.”
She barely hears any of it after ‘You have my word’; her legs shake slightly in relief. “Thank you,” she says, hoarsely. Gods be good. It is no casual thing, for a son to hide a thing like this from his father, particularly not when said father is the king. That he would willingly help her conceal it, guard her identity- Lyanna’s identity- she feels almost grateful. As if she could embrace him, however ridiculous that sounds. No. She should be grateful. He could easily have brought her to his father in shackles. Had all of her siblings summoned. They might have all died by duskfall.
“Thank you,” Eddara says, again, almost insistently. “Prince Rhaegar. You are- I will not forget your mercy, in this.”
“Mercy?” He seems to almost chuckle, at that. “Call it respect, my lady. Admiration, even. Were you a man, I feel you would make a valiant knight, one I would be honored to name.”
A wave of guilt, at that. His admiration, his respect, it is founded on lies. Lyanna did this, not her. Edda was trying to protect her, and so she has, but- she does not deserve his admiration for it. She has done nothing but lie to him since he came upon her. Still, it was what must be done. She will just have to bear with it, and thank the gods that it came to no more than this. Once the helm has been sunk below the glassy lake surface, he turns back to her.
Eddara chances a brief smile of gratitude at him. She does not want him to think her cold and too proud to properly acknowledge what he has done for her, for Lyanna, for House Stark. He smiles back, and it is so warm, despite his cool looks, that it sets off a strange pang in her chest. She clamps down on that, unwillingly. She is not immune to beauty, and he is truly lovely. And that is all she must think. No more than that.
“I hope you have enjoyed the tourney, thus far,” Rhaegar says. “Despite your friend Reed’s misfortunes.”
“Very much, my lord.” She clasps her hands together in front of her, wonders if he will simply dismiss her now. He cannot be seen to escort her back to the camp, people would take notice, and it would be completely improper, no matter how innocent it was. “It is my first grand tourney. There were a few at the Vale… but none of this size nor stature.”
“The Vale,” he hums thoughtfully. “I have always thought it a beautiful realm. Doubtless you do as well.” The humming quality of his voice ends, and his tone seems to- not darken, but sober slightly. “You are promised to Ser Elbert, Lord Arryn’s heir?”
There is a prickle of trepidation along the back of her neck. “I am, my lord.”
“I have seen him here today,” Rhaegar says. “He has conducted himself well. You must be proud, my lady.”
“I am very proud,” she replies quietly. “Elbert is a fine knight.”
He studies her for a long moment, then says, “And you are happy with this betrothal?” It is a polite inquiry, no more than that, surely. Still, she feels a tightening in her stomach.
“Very happy,” Eddara forces a slight smile. “We have known one another for years now. And your cousin, my lord, as well. They were my constant companions during my years at the Vale.”
“Yes,” he says, “Robert.” That is all. Then, “And when shall your wedding take place, my lady?”
Does he expect her to invite him? Eddara struggles to compose herself. “In eight moons’ time, my lord, after my brother weds Lady Catelyn. My… my family is so looking forward to the celebrations.”
Rhaegar inclines his head. “I am sure. And you are, too?”
Does he think this was some rebellion against Elbert, similar to what she accused Lyanna of? Does he think it some desperate cry of rage, that she… that she was trying to signal something, some discontent? “I am,” Edda says firmly. “I have great love and respect for Lord Arryn and my betrothed, my lord. The Eyrie has become like a second home to me.”
“Does Ser Elbert know of your… interests here?” He gesture to the shield in the tree.
Eddara sucks in a breath, then says, “...No, my lord, but I am… I am ready to set such things aside. I am ready to be a wife and mother.”
That is not a lie, she tells herself. That much is true. She is eight-and-ten. She is ready to be wed. She is ready to do her duty. She has always done her duty. It is not a lie.
He is silent again, just looking at her, as if searching for something, and when she says no more, Rhaegar says, “Very well. I should not keep you any longer, my lady. We would not want to worry your kin.” He bows his head to her. “I thank you for the conversation, and your honesty. It was… very enlightening.”
And then he simply… goes. Leaves her where she is standing, off to retrieve his now very well-watered horse. Eddara stays there for a moment longer, then picks up her damp skirts, and hurries back in the direction of the campground, her head swirling with a hundred thoughts. She is lucky. Extraordinarily lucky that it played out in that manner, that he was intrigued, not enraged, that he did not take offense, that he was so complimentary of her instead. But she does not feel reassured, either, even if- she will not deny it was flattering. He is the Crown Prince, and he is beautiful, and charismatic, and so eloquent. Speaking with him felt… felt easy, in some sense, like a familiar song. But it was not real. None of it was real. He thinks it was, thinks her honest and true, but she is anything but that.
At least he gave his word he would not tell, and she does believe him, trusts him in that much, at least. House Stark owes him a debt, now. But it will have to go unpaid. The best thing to do would be to put today out of her head entirely, pretend it never happened, like in the wake of Mother’s death. She almost hopes he is not in attendance at the feast, as he was last night. Edda still remembers his song, and Lyanna’s unexpected tears, although she was far from the only woman in the hall weeping by the end of it.
Still, Lya was never a weepy girl. It had disturbed Eddara, that she might be crying over more than just the music, which was about a love that was no more, which could no longer be. The song wasn’t really about a person, she thinks, not a lady, but a… a feeling that could never be replicated. Like childhood, or… a certain place at a certain time. Perhaps that is what Lyanna was crying for. In three moons she will be five-and-ten, and next year, when she is six-and-ten, Father will see her wed to Robert. Edda will have had two more years a maid than her sister. Robert is impatient to marry, would likely wed Lyanna now if he could. Is that what made her weep, thinking this might be the last time they are all together like this, in the dying days of their childhood?
A lump forms in Edda’s throat. It makes her want to cry, too.
The feast that night is no less grand than the one the night before. There are eight more days of the tourney to attend to, more jousts, more archery, more mummer’s shows and vendors displaying their wares. Rhaegar does not attend that feast the second night; they say he is taking his meal privately with his lady wife, the Princess Elia. Edda has only seen the woman a few times, up in the stands. She only gave birth to Prince Aegon but eight weeks before, and they say her health is ever frail, but she insisted upon coming to Harrenhal with Rhaegar. Edda admires her for it, for such unspoken devotion to her husband, to presenting a united front. The little prince and princess are back on Dragonstone, she supposes, but it will not be so long without their parents, will it? Travel is much faster than it has been in some time, with the weather so fair, especially travel by sea.
Lyanna doesn’t eat much that night, and is quiet and sullen the next day. Ben is very subdued as well, to the point where Robert japes he must still be nursing all his drink from the night before, and Brandon and Elbert laugh as well. Edda forces a smile, for Howland keeps looking at her curiously, and tries to tell herself to just enjoy this, to exist in the moment, where they are all together. She should spend more time with Catelyn; they are to be good sisters, and while Lyanna is always polite to her, she does not show much interest in the other girl, either. It is not that Catelyn is boring, it is just that she in unfailingly gracious and composed and has little interest in hunting or songs and stories, although she does like to ride.
They ride quite a bit, around Harrenhal, up and down the lakeshore, her and Catelyn and Lyanna, over the next few days. The younger Tully girl, Lysa, is much less fond of horses, and far more fond of watching the men spar. Edda knows she should feel jealous when Lysa gawks at Elbert, but it is mostly bemusement. She seems so young, even younger than Lyanna, who is two years her junior. Catelyn says Lysa’s head has always been in the clouds. Edda can relate to the feeling of being the grounded one, the sensible, practical sister. The one putting an end to all the fun and antics.
The seventh day of the tourney is the last of the joust. It is down to just six contestants now, four of them Kingsguard. Ser Arthur Dayne, who makes Eddara feel small and girlishly flustered whenever he so much as walks by, gleaming in his armor. Ser Barristan Selmy, who may be white of hair but who is not yet past his prime, living legend that he is. Ser Oswell Whent, uncle to Lord Whent’s daughter, the reigning Queen of Love and Beauty. Ser Gerold Hightower, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, one of the fiercest warriors in the land. Lord Yohn Royce of Runestone, Bronze Yohn, who she knows well from time in the Vale. Brandon, her own brother, who has vowed to crown a blushing Catelyn if he wins, and of course he’s certain he will. And Rhaegar himself.
If Ser Arthur wins, it is a certainty he will crown his beautiful sister Ashara. Eddara spoke to her once, at the first feast, and found herself almost tongue-tied. Ashara’s beauty is arresting, and she speaks and laughs so quickly it is almost overwhelming, all her sly comments and ringing compliments. If Ser Barristan wins, mayhaps he will crown Princess Elia, as the highest ranking woman in attendance. If Ser Oswell triumphs, of course the crown will remain with his niece. Yohn Royce will crown his pregnant wife. Brandon will give the winter roses to Catelyn, and Rhaegar, if he does win, will of course crown Elia, especially with her so recently in the birthing bed for him. They say there was scarcely any time betwixt the end of her confinement with Princess Rhaenys, and falling with child again.
Eddara had not thought Rhaegar the sort to be so insistent on having one child after another, especially given his wife’s health, but mayhaps it was an accident. These things happen. She once overheard Mother mentioning that she had not meant to fall pregnant with Edda so soon after Brandon’s birth, in laughing tones. Eddara hopes Elbert is not of that mindset. Of course she wants his children, it is her duty to want his children, but she would like some time in between. They are both young and healthy. They have all the time in the world to make more Arryns.
On their way to the stands, she falls back slightly behind the crowd, only to find an arm slip around hers. Lyanna, looking to make friends again. Eddara wants to be cold, but decides against it. She has learned her lesson. And she is right, Edda cannot play at being her mother forever. She smiles tiredly at her sister. Lya leans her head against her shoulder, although they are near the same height. “I’m sorry,” she says quietly. “Thank you, for… for helping me.”
I was trying to help us all, Edda wants to say, but instead she just replies, “That’s what sisters do.”
“You are the best of them,” Lyanna tells her, genuinely. “I love you, Edda.”
“I love you too.” Eddara pats her shoulder. “Now come on, let’s make sure no one’s stolen our seats.”
When she first watched a joust, she used to fight to hide her flinches whenever a man fell or was wounded or a lance snapped in half, but now Eddara almost looks forward to them. Not the violence, but there is something thrilling about it all the same, being in a crowd like this, sitting in their private box.
Eddara catches a glimpse of Elia Martell settling into her own seat, across the aisle and to their left, and smiles politely, although she is not sure if the princess sees her or not; she is speaking quietly with her uncle, Ser Lewyn, her constant companion this past week. Edda supposes it must be lonely, on Dragonstone, even if she has her ladies like Ashara for company. They say Rhaegar travels often, to Summerhall and other places, plucking at his harp. She learned to play the harp while in the Vale, although she cannot say she is very good with it. She prefers the bells.
Rhaegar seems a different man entirely from the one who spoke to her so cordially on the lakeshore, clad in his intimidating black armor, atop Moondancer. He rides very well; she’d never noticed how well before, and never seems to hesitate, even when up against such formidable opponents. Robert did not make it to the final tilts, to his annoyance, but he doesn’t seem that put out about being in the audience with them, speaking loudly with a half-listening Benjen and a bored-looking Elbert, occasionally trying to draw her or Lyanna into conversation. Lyanna keeps shushing him, to Edda’s amusement. It’s like watching a puppy shush a bear.
Royce is defeated first, and Elbert cheers gamely for his fallen friend all the same, and Edda with him. “He rode well,” she tells her betrothed, and Elbert nods without looking away from the circuit. Next, Brandon’s lance is shattered. Lyanna shouts out as if taking personal offense to it, ignoring Catelyn’s scandalized look, although she herself is white-knuckled. Benjen curses under his breath, and Eddara elbows him subtly. Now only the Kingsguard are left. The crowd goes quiet and still.
Hightower and Rhaegar go up against each other thrice, but on the third tilt, Rhaegar triumphs. Then it’s he and Dayne, and Eddara finds herself almost wishing Ser Arthur would win, so she could see the sun glint off his raven black hair with that milky pale streak through it when he takes off his helm. He does not; Ashara can be heard calling encouragement to him as his squire helps him up. Brandon rejoins them in the stands, sweaty and red-faced but overall still in good spirits. He’s always been a better loser than Robert, at least.
Now it is just Rhaegar and Ser Barristan, the final tilt. Somewhere above them, the King must be watching as well. Eddara wonders if he is proud of his son. He must be; everyone seems to agree that Rhaegar is all any father could desire; clever and strong, gracious and modest. The horses charge, a great cry goes up, and Rhaegar’s lance clips Barristan, nearly knocking him from the saddle, and dislodging his shield. The stands erupt in roars, none so loud as the smallfolk, who love Rhaegar best. He is generous with his donations, they say, and known to treat his servants well.
“Damn,” Brandon says, “I could have sworn Selmy had him.”
“Pay up,” Elbert is smirking. “A wager’s a wager, Stark.”
Gradually the crowds quiet again, respectfully, as Rhaegar wheels Moondancer round to face the box, and approaches, the crown of roses dangling from the end of his lance. Eddara watches his dark figure draw closer and closer, and worries if she looks nervous, suddenly, or otherwise flustered. No. Her face is not even hot, and no one is looking at her, but at Princess Elia, who is smiling at something her uncle has murmured in her ear- a jape, maybe?
Rhaegar never reaches her. There’s a low hum of confusion as he stops short, reigning up his horse, and Lysa Tully gasps. Edda looks around with everyone else, and then Lyanna grabs her arm, hard, her fingers digging into the sleeves of Eddara’s dark green gown. The end of the lance is pointed directly at her. Frozen once again, she watches in shocked silence as it draws nearer, and Rhaegar deposits the crown of roses in her lap. She can’t breathe. Everyone is staring. All the smiles are cracking in half. “Eddara?” Robert asks, hoarsely.
Rhaegar tips his helm to her, and rides on.
She can’t breathe. She feels as if someone had just deposited a live viper into her lap. It feels heavy, far heavier than it has any right to. What should she do? He is the Crown Prince. She cannot- She cannot even bring herself to look in Elia’s direction. What must she think? “Stop looking at her!” Lyanna snaps, too loudly. Benjen’s eyes are wide. Only Howland has kept a completely neutral expression, as if he is just letting it all wash over him without comment.The whispers are surging, murmurs from every corner, she feels as though a thousand eyes were upon her- and they must be. She knows she is scarlet, now. They will all take it for confirmation of… something.
“I don’t know why he did that,” she finally manages to say. “I- I don’t- he should not-,” He should not what? The Crown Prince may do as he pleases, and he may crown whichever lady he pleases, even if it spits in the place of decorum, of decent manners, of expectations. Gods, what must Elbert think? What will Brandon tell Father? The Tully sisters are looking at her as though they’d never seen her before. Robert has jumped to his feet, his fists clenched.
“Sit down,” Elbert says stiffly, curtly, under his breath. “For the love of the Seven, sit down, Robert, before the King takes it as an insult.”
“There has already been an insult,” Robert snaps back.
“Sit down, please,” Eddara chokes out, and he does, scowling.
“Let’s go,” Benjen is saying. “Can’t we just- let’s leave, Brandon, come on-,”
“What was that about?” Brandon takes her firmly by the arm, lowers his voice so he is not snarling in her ear, but it is far from comforting either. “Eddara. Tell me now. What did he mean by that?”
“I don’t know,” Edda says, hoping he takes her desperate tone for honesty, rather than guilt. “I- Brandon, please, I don’t know-,”
“Have you spoken to him before?” Elbert is looking at her closely, as if examining for any cracks in her mask.
She shakes her head. “No. I swear- I have not, I swear it, we’ve never spoken-,”
"Your sister is telling the truth," Howland says, quietly. "She is not to blame." Eddara could kiss him on that cheek for that unfailing show of support.
More lies. There is a horrible sort of understanding in Lyanna’s eyes. ‘No,’ she mouths, and Edda knows she must realize what happened that day, after they went their separate ways. But she says nothing, thankfully. She says nothing. “We’ve never spoken,” Eddara says again, firmly. “I can’t imagine what he meant by this.”
Slowly, the stands are beginning to disperse, painfully slowly. She can still feel the scorching heat of so many gazes on her; confused, shocked, angry. “Elbert,” Edda says, reaching for his hand. “You must believe me, I-,”
He jerks away. “Of course I believe you,” Elbert says coldly. “You would never lie to me.”
The guilt is searing again. It’s not all her fault. How was she to know? She frantically rifles through her memories of their conversation. What did she say, what did she do wrong? Did she encourage this, somehow? Was she too familiar? No. He cannot have- it cannot have been an overture. Rhaegar is not- he is loyal to his lady wife. He is not like the King was as a young man. She would have heard rumors of that, by now. Perhaps he meant it as… as some sort of innocent… acknowledgement- But she cannot- If he wanted to acknowledge her… her feigned bravery, somehow, he could have sent some sort of secret note, or message, or left some signal- there was nothing covert or secret about this.
This was all but an open declaration of- of she does not even know what? Admiration, as he said? Respect? He should have shown it another way. He crowned her his Queen of Love and Beauty. She doesn’t want to be anyone’s queen of- of anything. She just wants everything to be as it was. As it always has been. She cannot touch the crown. But she cannot just toss it over the side, either. Someone will see, will report it back to him, or the King- what if he changes his mind? What if he tells Aerys the identity of the Knight? So she does nothing. She sits there, silent, surrounded by her silent friends and family, until they finally stand. She picks up the crown in her hand, and just lets it dangle limply from her grip.
Rhaegar is surrounded by the Kingsguard, his helm removed, his hair shining once more in the sunlight, as they leave the stands. They are not at all close to him, to Eddara’s relief, for gods only know what Brandon or Robert or Elbert might do, but they are not so far away, either. She stiffens, ducks her head like a child. She can feel him looking at her from here. Lyanna sidles up to her protectively, takes her free hand in her own like they were children once more. “He should not have done that,” she whispers to Edda.
Eddara is silent. Lyanna hesitates, then asks, “What did you tell him?” Her breath tickles Edda’s ear.
Edda just glances at her, feels she can communicate it with a single look. They are still sisters, for all their spats and differences. Lyanna draws back a little in shock, understanding. “No,” she says, “oh, Eddara, no-,”
“Yes,” murmurs Eddara. And the terrible truth of it is, she would do it again.