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Castle Darry sat stout on the horizon as they neared the end of their second month on the Kingsroad. It was certainly not among the more impressive keeps Lyanna had seen in her fourteen years -- in fact, it was smaller by far than all the northern castles she had visited. Castle Cerwyn and even Torrhen’s Square seemed more remarkable than the compact home of the utterly southron House Darry.

Martyn Cassel, who had volunteered himself as her and Benjen’s guardian, ensured that she knew not to expect any hospitality from the residents of the castle. “We ought to keep to our camps and let the southrons keep to their hearth,” he had told her with a meaningful look. “They’d have had to play host to more parties than us by now, and I’m rather inclined to believe that they may not have much courtesy left for ours, more strangers than friends that we are.”

Lyanna had not seen much sense in it. “But the Tullys will be joining us,” she had countered. “The Lannisters, too, Brandon said. Surely the Darrys will not insult three Great Houses all together? Their own liege lord, even.”

She had received only a dismissal in return. One of the things she most disliked, truly, was being treated as a child that she was not, and Martyn, who had been a part of the Stark household from before Ned’s birth, saw her as just that. She was four and ten, not a swaddling babe! Nearly a woman grown, wedded and bedded, though Lyanna loathed to think about that.

Robert was going to be at the tourney, she knew. She had known that ever since the raven had first arrived addressed to her lord father bearing the seal of House Whent of Harrenhal. Her betrothed would never miss a chance to be among the greatest knights of the realm, fight for glory and of course, feast and wench endlessly without anyone asking him to stop. Perhaps he would even father more bastards. Gods, what am I to do with him? Lyanna cursed. Her distaste for him had not faded with time; as a matter of fact, it had only grown. Even if her family - save for little Ben, of course - refused to see the vile, unappealing side of the Lord of Storm’s End, she could see it as clearly as one could see snow in the North all of winter. 

The wolf-maid shrugged the thought off. I shall not worry about this just yet, she decided. For now I shall think of the greens of the Riverlands, the wonders of Harrenhal and meeting Ned again.

Her second brother would be meeting them only at Harrenhal itself. Though he was now eight and ten namedays old, he preferred the breeze of the Eyrie, his foster home, to the cold of Winterfell -- something she had never truthfully understood. Along with Robert Baratheon and some of his other foster brothers, he had departed from the Vale and made better time than Lyanna’s party, thus proceeded on without waiting. She had felt incredibly disappointed at learning the news.

That disappointment had gone only when she was assured that Brandon’s party would still be meeting them per schedule. Lyanna’s eldest brother had accompanied them until the Crossing of the Green Fork, from where he had journeyed hard for Riverrun, stopping only a few times. While he did not boast of any sort of affection for his own betrothed, Catelyn Tully, he had admitted to Lyanna that she would make a good wife and Lady of Winterfell when the time came. Lord Tully always delighted in welcoming his daughter’s husband-to-be, and Brandon had reasoned it would not hurt to visit once before the wedding and accompany the Tully party to Harrenhal.

Her hope had been that he would have reached Darry, their rendezvous point, before her and Benjen. “We wouldn’t have to wait, then,” she had explained to her younger brother when he had asked why. He was only eleven namedays old, a pup still, and he did not quite share the impatience she often felt.

Alas, they had been the first to arrive. The restlessness caused Lyanna frustration so when a man arrived to tell that Brandon was nearing their camp among a group of Tully-Lannister riders, she rode out with Ben to meet them halfway.

Nothing could match what Lyanna felt when she was riding. The horse galloping, the wind brushing past, the myriad of smells that she encountered… Her father often thought her a fool to demand more freedom, more independence and chided her, saying that she knew naught of such things. He was wrong, though, because Lyanna knew freedom very well -- she knew it as what she felt every time she was on a horse.

Ben and Martyn Cassel’s son, Jory, rode hard behind her to catch up. The sound of their horses’ hooves banging sharply against the River Road, however, did not slow Lyanna down one bit. She saw the sigils at a distance soon enough and put a name to them. The leaping silver trout of the Tullys on waves of red and blue. A proud golden lion on red; House Lannister. The white Lydden badger on fields of green and brown. The prized red stallion of the Brackens on yellow and brown. The shimmering purple unicorn of House Brax on cloth-of-silver. A burning orange tree on smoke; House Marbrand. A black dragon on white quartered with two golden eyes and a gold ring on black; House Vance of Wayfarer’s Rest. A silver Mallister eagle on a purple field. Finally, a staunch grey direwolf on white: House Stark. Brandon, Lyanna thought, speeding up toward the banner of her own family.

Her brother’s eyes lit up with joy on seeing her, his dark hair windswept and his long nose looking pronounced in the afternoon sun. The other lords and knights and retainers with him were all immaterial to Lyanna when she eventually closed in on Brandon. 

“Lya!” he exclaimed, laughing heartily, when her horse came to a stop near his. “Oh, Lya, my little wolf!”

Lyanna narrowed her eyes. “I’m not little, Brandon,” she snapped. “Is this any way to greet your favourite sister?”

Her brother laughed again. “You’re not my favourite sister,” he said. “Ned is.”

She couldn’t help but grin. Even though it had been scarcely weeks since they’d last seen each other, she had missed him. Brandon was the brother most like her -- “wolf’s blood,” her father said. Lyanna fought with him most among the family, but he thought like her, behaved like her. How could she not love having him around -- when he was not thinking from his loins, that is?

By the time Ben and Jory caught up, the two of them had traded some more quips. It was almost as though they had never been separated.

“Benny!” Brandon greeted when the youngest Stark joined them. He looked around Benjen, as though searching for someone. He gave Jory a nod, but turned to his brother with feigned puzzlement. “Where’s Old Nan? Thought she’d be with you, pup,” he japed.

Benjen punched Brandon lightly and frowned at him. “It’s Benjen, not Benny,” he said. The heir to Winterfell laughed in response and as did Lyanna, ruffling Ben’s hair. “Sure it is, Benny,” she smirked, knowing how much her little brother disliked being called that.

Jory’s nervous glances towards the rest of the party brought the Starks out of their reunion. Lyanna looked behind and first spotted a red-haired girl looking mildly amused beneath the Tully banner. She knew exactly who that was.

“Lady Catelyn!” she beamed. “Brandon’s told me much about you.”

The girl widened her eyes in surprise. Lyanna thought she looked less Brandon’s age than her own, and wasn’t quite as striking as her brother had described her to be, not at first glance at least. The blonde knight riding beside her, who again looked of a similar age with Lyanna, began sniggering. He was clad in red and gold, Lannister colours, with the sigil of a lion on his cloak. Lyanna remembered Brandon telling her that Catelyn’s younger sister was betrothed to the Lannister heir who would be journeying with them from Riverrun, but there was something absurd about the situation that she could not quite put her finger on.

Lady Catelyn rolled her eyes at the Lannister and gave him a slight push, something else Lyanna found absurd. Brandon had described his betrothed to be very prim and proper, and somehow the familiarity she expressed with her lion friend did not seem like something the woman her brother had told her of would do.

The mystery was solved seconds later when Brandon intervened. He held a humoured look on his face, and combined with the looks everyone else in the party bore on their faces, Lyanna thought herself quite lost.

“May I introduce you to Lady Lysa Tully,” Brandon smirked, referring to the girl Lyanna had thought to be Lady Catelyn, but was in fact her younger sister. He then turned to the blonde knight Lady Lysa had shoved. “And Ser Jaime Lannister, heir to Casterly Rock, her betrothed.”

Lyanna felt herself go red in the face. Stupid, she cursed herself. “I’m sorry, my lady,” she apologised. Brandon hadn’t said much about Lysa Tully, but she found herself hoping that she wasn’t some uptight southron girl like the Waynwoods she had met in the Vale once. They were to be family soon, after all, and Lyanna had no desire to make an enemy of any of the Tullys.

“It’s alright,” Lysa Tully assured her. 

Ser Jaime Lannister still wore a smirk on his face. “A pleasure to meet you, my lady,” he chimed, with a small bow. He was handsome, Lyanna saw, with golden hair and green eyes like all Lannisters and sharp features to top it off. She wondered if he was as good with a sword as Brandon, or if he was as fond of wenching and drinking as Robert. Somehow she doubted it.

“Catelyn stayed back at Riverrun,” Brandon explained. “She’s preparing for the wedding. Only her sister and her uncle accompanied us.”

As the group approached the camp, Brandon introduced Lyanna to more men and women, or rather, they introduced themselves while Brandon looked on and shared a jape or two with his friend Jeffory. Ser Gerion Lannister, Ser Jaime’s uncle, was a jovial man who she decided she liked. Ser Brynden Tully, or Ser Blackfish as everyone called him, seemed even more interesting. Ser Addam Marbrand and Tytos Brax were part of the Lannister party, both heirs to important castles in the Westerlands, and Leranne Lydden and Alysanne Lefford were two girls that behaved more twins than the cousins they were. Lord Jason Mallister, Brandon’s friend Jeff’s older brother, was an imposing man with scarcely more than a brief greeting. Ser Karyl Vance had a winestain birthmark on the right side of his face and half his neck, which made Ben dub him “Bloodraven Vance”. This caused many of the House Vance retainers to begin looking at Lyanna’s brother with disgust. 

“Don’t bother,” Lysa Tully advised Ben when she noticed. “Brynden Rivers did not treat the Vances of Wayfarer’s Rest well after one of the Blackfyre rebellions. They only dislike that you compared their lord’s heir with him.”

Lyanna looked on as Jaime Lannister snorted. “Don’t ask her how she knows such a thing, or why,” he told Benjen. “I don’t think she’ll be able to answer anyway.”

Lysa, as she insisted on being called, gave her betrothed a look. “It’s not a very knightly thing to be jealous of maidens, Jaime,” she replied swiftly.

He smirked. “My fair maiden, what’s to say it wasn’t meant as a compliment?” he questioned. 

Lysa raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t reply. Lyanna thought she could see a smile forming on the Tully girl’s lips as Jaime Lannister’s handsome face broke into a grin.

“Will you be riding the lists, ser?” Lyanna asked the blonde. His grin didn’t fade as he turned to her.

“Riding the lists? Oh, I intend on winning them,” he declared confidently.

Lysa was not impressed. “Yes, yes. You’ll ride the lists, win and then crown yourself the Queen of Love and Beauty, won’t you? Or maybe you’ll crown one of those Kingsguard superheroes of yours. Arthur Dayne? Isn’t that his name?”

Ser Jaime stared at her with mock hurt. “I don’t idolise him that much,” he protested. Then frowning, he conceded, “Alright, perhaps I do. What is it to you? Are you by any chance envious?”

There was a troubled look on Lysa’s face. “No, I…” she trailed off at that, turning her eyes away. Ser Jaime scowled.

“Lysa, if this is about --” he started, only to be cut off.

“It’s been more than a month since you first told me,” Lysa said calmly, slowly looking back at Ser Jaime, whose smile was utterly gone from his face. He opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again, thinking better of it. 

Lyanna turned away from the two of them, conversing in low tones. She had no desire to bear witness to any quarrel between betrotheds. The two of them seemed like nice enough people to be with, but fights like that quite bored Lyanna. She went to Brandon’s side instead, where he was delighting Jory with the plight of some ward of Lord Hoster Tully’s.

“He wished to challenge me! Me! Barely five and ten namedays old, smaller than Benny here, and he wished to duel me to death for Catelyn’s hand,” he guffawed.

“What did you do to him?” Lyanna asked her brother, curious. “You didn’t kill him, did you?”

Brandon snorted. “I would have, and I wanted to, but Catelyn’s sister and Lannister thrashed some sense into him. There wasn’t a moment he didn’t glare at me, to be sure, even after Ser Blackfish chastised him.”

Jeff Mallister nodded. “We even planned to show him his place, Brandon and I did, and we would have had Lady Catelyn not stopped us. The boy should have known how far above his station he was trying to reach.”

As it turned out, ‘Littlefinger’’s grandfather had been a sellsword who had been granted land on the Fingers in the Vale for loyal service to the crown. By the time the sun went down, Brandon had told her every detail of the pranks he had planned to pull on the boy. Benjen was left wide-eyed as Lyanna’s stomach ached with laughter. Eventually many others joined them by the fire -- genial Tytos Brax, rangy Ser Addam Marbrand, and Ser Gerion Lannister who ended up telling those gathered about his exploits in Casterly Rock as the youngest sibling of five. Lysa Tully, otherwise not much of a participant in the conversations, persuaded her uncle Ser Blackfish to speak of the time he had camped at High Heart with Lord Tully and Lord Whent when they were barely of age.

“We’ll go to High Heart after the tourney, Lya,” Ben said, determined. “Before Brandon’s wedding. We’ll camp under the stars like Ser Blackfish.”

The time between Harrenhal and the wedding was much of a blank slate, and Lyanna knew she wished to do just Ben had said. The two of them were to stay with the rest of the Tully party for a half a moon’s turn after the tourney had ended, after which they would ride for Riverrun. A month hence Brandon and Catelyn would be married. She knew not what Ned planned to do in the interim, but Brandon had a half-made plan about going off with his friends for a trip through the Riverlands. Was she able to convince both of them to not leave her and Ben alone, she decided she would demand a night at High Heart. The wolf-pack under the stars, Lyanna thought. It almost sounds like a song.

When she went to bed that night, she once again thought of how splendid the tourney was sure to be. Only one supper she had had by the fire alongside some people she barely knew, knights and lordlings and ladies alike, and it had delighted her more than she would admit. The tourney at Harrenhal would have hundred more people to meet, all of them more exciting than the next! That was not even to speak of the jousting and the melee. As long as Lyanna stayed away from Robert, she knew she would enjoy herself. 

She wondered if there would be a mystery knight. She voiced such to Lady Lysa the next day when they had started their journey on the Kingsroad.

“I don’t know. Does it matter, either way?” the Tully girl shrugged, puzzling Lyanna. “Mystery knight or not, they’ll do the same as everyone else in the end.”

“You aren’t fond of tourneys?” Lyanna asked.

“They just don’t appeal to me so much. Grown men wildly hacking at each other, endangering lives? Not really my idea of sports, or entertainment at all.”

Lysa Tully, she decided, was bit of an absurd person. She was ladylike to an extent, opinionated to an extent, friendly to an extent -- she was a lot of things, in fact, but all only to an extent. Whenever Lyanna spoke to her, she answered and later even started asking questions in return to keep their conversation going, but she did not try very hard to hide the annoyed or judgmental looks that often came upon her face. Lyanna almost decided she would ignore that, but then the younger Tully sister gave Brandon a firm look of distaste which Lyanna did not like at all.

“Why did you look at him like that?” she snapped, unable to take it anymore.

The redhead looked at her strangely. “What are you talking about, my lady?”

“Brandon,” Lyanna emphasised. “I saw that look you gave him.”

“I don’t think I know what you are talking about,” Lysa insisted.

“Oh? Well I think you do, my lady. How dare you slander my brother like that?” she replied.

Lyanna was certain she would have made the riverlander apologise to Brandon if not for the interference of Brynden Blackfish, Lady Lysa’s uncle. He must have seen an argument in the making and thought to prevent it, calling out for his niece just in time. 

“-- can’t go around glaring at everyone and everything plainly because you do not like their ideals, Lysa,” Lyanna heard him say in low tones when they had camped later. “Harrenhal may be your cousins’ home, but you are not going to have the freedom there to do as you please. It will not be Riverrun or Casterly Rock, and it would do you well to remember that, lest you make yourself enemies before you know how to handle them.”

“You’re just like Lady Genna, Uncle,” Lady Lysa had replied bluntly.

Lyanna never learnt who Lady Genna was, because in that moment Ben came rushing to her. “Lya! Lya! You must see this!” he jumped, pulling her to an opening where Ser Addam Marbrand was wrestling with Jeff Mallister. 

“A dragon on Marbrand!” one of the Lydden retainers announced proudly. 

“I’ll take that,” said Jory. “Mallister’s got a hungry look about him tonight.”

Marbrand tackled his opponent to the ground and for a second it almost looked as though he had won until Jeff grabbed his leg and pulled him down. The two of them struggled against each other, the spectators increasing by the minute.

“Jeff!” Lyanna cheered. “Show him his place, Jeff!”

The way some of the men surrounding the two wrestlers sniggered at her was irritating to no end. She knew they felt that as a woman she did not belong in their world; that her life was embroidery and dance, not swords and lances. She was a woman, they insisted, and a woman’s duty was to bear her lord husband an heir and raise his children. Why does there need to be such distinction? Why can’t men and women be equal and be allowed to do as they so wish?

Lyanna rode better than Ned and had a keener way with a bow than Brandon, but her father would never let her fight in true like the warrior women of Bear Island or like the Queens Visenya and Nymeria. “A lady’s war is waged in the birthing bed, Lya, not on a battlefield,” her father had told her more times than she could remember. “Why can’t it be waged on both?” she had asked indignantly, but he had not given her a true response, only another insistence that a sword had no place in a woman’s hand.

It’s not fair, she thought. Women never get a choice. Not even about who they marry.

Her sweet brother Ned had always spoken highly of his friend, Lord Baratheon, but even then Lyanna had not been impressed one bit by the blue-eyed, raven-haired stormlord. “The guardsmen say he has a bastard in the Vale,” Jory had whispered to her during the feast, but even before she had learnt that, Robert had seemed like a hollow, careless man -- he claimed he loved her without really knowing her, made suggestive gestures to serving girls at Winterfell and had not put his goblet down from dusk until dawn. She could not fault him for being fond of women and wine, for Brandon had shown already that he was, too, but Lyanna also hated how he treated her as though she was a thing to be admired from afar. I am a woman, damn it, she wanted to scream. She hated thinking of the fact that she would soon have to wed the man.

“You’re not afraid, are you?” Ben asked her when they were three days away from Harrenhal. “About…”

He trailed off, but Lyanna knew right away what he was talking about. “I’m not scared of Robert, Benny,” she said with narrowed eyes. I’m not scared of Robert, but I despise him all the same. I am worth five of him. Ned told her often that his dear friend would not remain the same after their marriage; that he would change his ways for her, but she was sure it was not quite so simple as that. If he does not respect me now, he will not respect me when I am his wife.

Lyanna knew she was not the only one with a difficult betrothal at hand. Brandon’s old sweetheart, Barbrey Ryswell, had recently found herself pushed into an arrangement with his foster brother, the new Lord Dustin. It had been a sudden match that Father had said had been forced on Lady Barbrey after Lord Ryswell had realised that the was no chance left for his daughter to become Lady Stark. Jory had told her once that there were whispers about Willam Dustin favoring men in his bed to women, which had certainly not helped matters.

Ser Brynden Blackfish’s tale about his refusal to get married, too, Lyanna knew well. A part of her dreamed of a world where she would refuse to wed Robert and her father could do nothing about it. After all, a marriage at swordpoint was no marriage at all. Father will disinherit me if I bring shame House Stark by doing such, she thought. Then perhaps she could flee to Essos and train as a bravo in one of the Free Cities. Myr and Lorath sounded far better places than Storm’s End, anyway. Perhaps she could disguise herself as a man there and be a sellsword in Bittersteel’s Golden Company. She could watch the Dothraki fight up close, with their arakhs and scythes… Lyanna could even try to be a Faceless Man!

But in the end she was only Lyanna Stark, the third of Lord Rickard and Lady Lyarra’s children, sister to Brandon, Eddard and Benjen. Her dreams of ending the betrothal to Robert Baratheon would have to wait until the greatest tourney in living memory was over and done with.

The next few days passed as a blur of grasslands, smells of pretty southron flowers, days riding by the rills between Darry and the God’s Eye and nights along the fire. Regular entertainment was provided in the evenings by Jeff Mallister, who challenged more than a handful of knights and men-at-arms to wrestling matches and won nearly all of them. He eventually got so overconfident that he even asked Ser Brynden Tully for a match and was soundly defeated, to his own embarrassment and everyone else’s relief. Brandon and he soon decided to drink to his loss and ended up telling bawdy japes that Lyanna found herself laughing to until she was too tired even to go back to her tent to sleep. 

Another evening, Brandon and Jaime Lannister dueled each other and to the surprise of the northern party, the Westerlands heir easily won against her brother, near four years his elder in years. It was the only time Lady Lysa joined the spectators, not actually cheering for her betrothed but merely watching with amusement on her face. Lyanna privately thought the amusement was more because of Brandon’s loss than Ser Jaime’s victory and resisted the urge to confront her about it, but only barely. The Tully girl didn’t engage much with others at all -- she sticked to the Blackfish, Ser Jaime, his uncle, and the Marbrand heir, sometimes humoring clingy little Alysanne Lefford with her attention. The day after their argument she had tried to seek Lyanna, but had received naught in response. They might be family once Brandon and Lady Catelyn wed, but the wolf maid had no fondness for people who decided they were better than everyone else around them. It was a wonder Lannister put up with her; then again, Lannister was much the same anyway. Lyanna rather hoped Lady Catelyn was unlike her sister, otherwise she might be eaten alive by northern lords like the Greatjon and his uncles.

Harrenhal was a black monstrosity seen from miles away, but the fierceness it possessed was toned down when she saw the colourful tents that had been put up beside the God’s Eye lake. Sigils and banners were everywhere Lyanna looked, gaping at the sight before her. Knights and retainers flooded the grounds in their finest as women held close to each other and laughed merrily. Ned is there somewhere. Some of the arenas were still being set up outside the castle which was a ruin in all but name, with five towers protruding from the remains. What dragons leave behind in their wake, Lyanna thought. She pitied House Whent for having to call the dilapidation a home.

While Martyn Cassel and few other northern men left for the grounds with their riverlander and westerlander counterparts to erect tents, Lyanna and the other higher-borns entered the wreck through its largest gate to gain the guest right, even if it was merely a formality. Waiting for them in the courtyard, having been alerted by a rider, was a small group of people raising a banner of black bats on a field of yellow. The tourney’s hosts.

The woman at the head, Lady Whent, looked to be of an age with Lyanna’s lord father, with greying red hair and a calm disposition. Besides her were two men Brandon’s age, both with brown hair, and a very comely maiden as old as Lyanna herself. Everyone dismounted and greeted the Whents, curtsying and bowing, exchanging pleasantries with Lady Shella and her children; even little Ben and Brandon did so. Lyanna found herself growing impatient.

“My brother Ned,” she said to one of the brown-haired men after a clumsy curtsey. “He arrived with Valemen no more than two days ago. Do you know where I can find him?”

He looked startled, but recovered quickly. “Eddard Stark? Yes, he’ll be with Lord Baratheon and Ser Elbert on the grounds. He likely knows not about your arrival.”

She paced to Brandon, who was making the Whent girl -- Alysanne? Alyssa? -- blush as red as her hair. Ben was looking on besides him, ever the wolf pup.

“Brandon!” she hissed. “Come, we’ll search for Ned.”

“It seems my family has need of me,” Brandon smiled at his newest acquisition. “I believe we shall see each other around, my lady.”

Lyanna dragged her brother away from the red-faced girl, who was approached by a delighted-looking Lady Lysa and the man Lyanna had asked about Ned. 

“What would Lady Catelyn think if her sister told her you were seducing her cousin?” she asked him. Brandon rolled his eyes.

“I wasn’t seducing her,” he said. 

Lyanna gave him a look. “Sure you weren’t, brother. Sure you weren’t.”

“You know you love me, Lya,” Brandon laughed.

“If you keep this up, you’ll be of a level with our dear Robert, and you know just how much affection I bear for him,” she replied sweetly, cracking both her brothers up even more.

The siblings Stark made their way out of the gates of Harrenhal and onto the patches of fresh grass outside. The view was truly nothing like Lyanna had seen before, and the sheer amount of Houses that seemed to be present shocked her in part. It looked like each of the Lords Paramount had brought contingents to Harrenhal, other than House Greyjoy that is. The sun and spear of the Martells, the rose of the Tyrells; the sword and star, the golden tree, the striding huntsman of their bannermen… And finally near the center of the camps, Lyanna spotted the falcon and moon of House Arryn, the runes of House Royce and the stag of House Baratheon. She knew that was where her brother would be.

“Ned!” she called out, rushing towards the banners, Brandon and Benjen tailing her. The frock she’d had to wear instead of more comfortable breeches was making it difficult, but she ran nonetheless, calling for her brother.

When he appeared from the tents, Lyanna saw his usual solemn expression waste and be replaced by genuine joy. 

“Lya,” Ned let out, pulling her into a hug. “I’ve missed you so much.”

She hugged back tightly. “I’ve missed you too.”

Ned lifted Benjen up and tickled him, and then hugged Brandon. The wolf pack reunited, Lyanna thought, smiling. Just as it should be.

It seemed though that she had jinxed their reunion, for soon after, Robert Baratheon arrived at the scene, already looking half inebriated. Lyanna had to hold back a frown as he laughed with Brandon, tickled Ben just as Ned had done, and gave her a wide smile.

“Lya,” he said, bowing to kiss the back of the hand she had offered him. Don’t call me that, she wanted to snap. Don’t act as though you’re my family, because you’re not, and if I can help it, you never will be.

It would have hurt Ned, though, had she said something like that. Her sweet brother could not see Robert’s vices as she did, and truly hoped for them to have a happy marriage. He disapproved of her hatred of his friend, insisting that Robert wasn’t as bad a person as she saw him. But he is, Ned, why don’t you understand? she wanted to say. She could not for the life of her find the strengths in his character. He was kind-hearted, she supposed, but what good was a kind-hearted husband whose heart was open to every woman in the world? What good was a kind-hearted lord who spent most of his time away from his own lands while his younger brother ran them in his place? What good was Robert at all?

The Stark encampment was set up after some time, and Lyanna sat talking with her brothers as sundown approached. Ned had moved his belongings from Robert’s tents, and told him that he would be spending time with his family, but Lyanna was still nervous about the oaf joining them for supper. Truthfully she did not mind most of Brandon's and Ned’s friends -- Jeff Mallister was always a good source of entertainment; Kyle Royce always had a wicked jape up his sleeve; Elbert Arryn was a sort of unremarkable person who laughed at everything others said but never said much himself. Denys Arryn was older than all of them, but when he joined, there were always haunting stories he narrated about his childhood living in a lonely holdfast in the mountains. Brandon’s squire, Ethan Glover, was a boisterous boy her age, who if a bit overwhelming, was enjoyable to be around. It was only Robert. It was only him she did not want with them.

“Why does it have to be him?” Lyanna had asked her father when he had told her about the betrothal. “Why can’t it be another of Ned’s friends?”

“His House will bring us much influence in the south, Lya,” Lord Rickard Stark had said pointedly. “No other match will do the same.”

Lyanna had been certain that wasn’t the entire answer, and even now she doubted it.

“The king is yet to arrive,” Ned was telling the others. “Prince Rhaegar and his wife are to come with him. Lady Whent told us the tourney will not start until they are here.”

She scoffed. “It’s not our fault they’re late to arrive,” Lyanna said. “Why should we wait for them to come?”

Ned gave her a warning glance. “Had King Aerys heard you say that, I reckon he’d have had your tongue cut out,” said Brandon

Ben was confused. “Why would he have done that?” he wondered, looking between his siblings.

“He’s not entirely sane,” Brandon told him matter-of-factly, while on the receiving end of another of Ned’s warning glances. “What? It’s true!”

“It is not our place to judge,” the Stark spare said quietly.

“Doesn’t Prince Rhaegar ride the lists?” Lyanna questioned, changing the topic. She had heard the prince was a very handsome man, accomplished in many arts, including war. 

“Aye,” Ned confirmed. He tended to be the Starks’ source on knowledge about the south, having been bred south of the Neck himself. “He’s even won before, I believe.”

“Do you think he wins only because his opponents don’t want to beat a Prince of the Realm?” she prodded. It seemed like something most of the southron knights would do. Had I been born a man, I would never hesitate to defeat a foe, prince or not. Ned shrugged in reply.

“I’m going to ride the lists, when I’m older,” Ben announced. “Will you be jousting, Ned?” he asked.

Lyanna’s elder brother gave a slight smile, but shook his head. “I’m not much of a horseman,” he said. 

“And you, Brandon?” Ben turned to the eldest Stark present. 

“I will,” he nodded. “Willam and I jousted much in Barrowton, and I want to see just how good I am.”

That was something Lyanna admired much about Brandon: his eagerness to prove himself, to see where he stood among everyone else; his thirst to improve and be the best. She liked him most for that rather than the ample wolf’s blood Father claimed she and Brandon shared.

“There’s always the fact that when I win,” her brother said then, “I can finally crown Ned my Queen of Love and Beauty, as he deserves to be!”

Lyanna laughed, joined in by Benjen. Ned accepted the jape in good humor and smiled faintly while Brandon described the crown of roses in great detail. Yes, she decided. The wolf-pack together. This is how it should be.

Chapter Text

A part of Jaime failed to understand why the venerable Lord Whent had chosen to extend the invitation to his great tournament to even the lowest, most incapable of knights. These men, calling themselves names such as Ser Harlan of Rook’s Edge and Ser Pate of the Red Lake, barely deserved to be anointed by the seven oils, fumbling and incompetent as they were. The practice yards at Harrenhal tended to be full of them, walking around as though they had been knighted by the Sword of the Morning -- quite certainly a few of them had not been knighted at all, let alone by Ser Arthur Dayne himself. It made him rather irritable at times, being challenged to a fight by some upstart thinking he could defeat a Lion of the Rock. Most ended up bruised and bloodied, glaring and cursing as though the doomed fights were Jaime’s fault.

“I’ll bet ya’ half a bag o’ gold dragons I can take down your bloody breeches when I cross swords with ya’,” boasted Ser Mern of the Straits to a fellow hedge knight of his. Jaime smirked at his tall claim. Indeed, Lord Whent had made a mistake in letting such men participate. 

Not to say that there weren’t those around who made for good swordplay, for there were plenty when they distanced themselves from the wine and the whores that had found their way to the Gods Eye. A Ser Myles Mooton had been a particularly tricky duel -- the man had once squired for Prince Rhaegar, which showed in his deft movements and silent footwork. Jaime had taken more time than he would have liked to spot the man’s weakness, but when he had, there had been no stone left unturned. Victory had tasted sweet for a few moments until Ser Richard Lonmouth, also once-squire to the dragon prince and Mooton’s brother-in-arms, had challenged him in an attempt to seek revenge for his friend’s defeat. This had been far more difficult than the previous match, and Mooton had tired Jaime with his agility and countless feints. It had been a convincingly lost duel in the end.

Why would King Aerys be willing to raise me to the Kingsguard, alongside the Sword of the Morning and Barristan the Bold, if some stormlands knight can beat me in a practice yard? The question refused to leave even as Jaime searched the Flowstone Yard for someone who could spar with him. It was a pity Addam was spending the day with his Kenning cousins. Preston Greenfield, a Lannister guard Lysa called ‘the Sneering Ser’ and always seemed wary of, was crossing his broadsword with Lewys Lydden, heir to Deep Den. Lord Lefford looked to have gained an upper hand against Ser Norys Payne. A man with the sigil of a porcupine was trying, and failing, to defeat a Jast knight.

Perhaps Tytos Brax is ready to entertain me with his sloppy stance and clumsy swings… or perhaps not. Jaime was not a fan of the Hornvale heir at all, not with how he had once implied to his companions that Lysa resembled a crab and then gone on to tell her everything about how they might have been betrothed in another life. He was a lying cunt who had unfortunately accompanied them on more than half the journey to Harrenhal. There was some pleasure in thrashing him even though he was not much of a fighter, but Jaime reckoned that after the disaster that his previous partner, a Frey, had been, Brax could wait.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Lysa’s uncle with his squire. The Blackfish was a man he truly looked up to -- a knight in every way; a man who had won glory fighting beside Ser Barristan himself. Between his first visit to Riverrun and the journey from Riverrun to the tourney, Jaime had sparred with him many times. That Ser Blackfish was a great swordsman was an understatement -- he was a legend, in every meaning of the word. He was one of the men Jaime would never be ashamed of being trounced by. Sure, he hoped to win each time they faced each other with a sword in hand, but even when he lost he didn’t feel as miserable as he felt when he lost against near anyone else.

“Ser Brynden!” he called out. The black trout of Riverrun looked up questioningly. “Would you fancy a spar with this humble cub?”

“Humble cub my arse,” the Blackfish replied, but grabbed a sword from his Piper squire all the same. Jaime grinned. Mayhaps today I shall match you.

He had barely blocked a blow to his thighs when his opponent spoke, focused on what was at hand yet managing to sound intimidating. “Lysa told me, you know,” he said. “My moody little niece, she did not want to, mind you, but I coaxed it from her anyway.”

Jaime’s first instinct was to curse loudly, which he did. Loudly and clearly. The Blackfish grunted and went to strike his right.

“She told you?” he asked, disbelieving. Lysa had promised him not to. She had encouraged him to tell his uncles and aunt, but she had herself told him she respected his wishes to keep everything quiet and would let him make his own decision. What she was so annoyed about nowadays was how close it was to the king’s (and Cersei’s) arrival -- only a day -- and that he had not made up his mind yet.

“Aye,” confirmed Ser Brynden, his sword meeting Jaime’s own. “Every word. And let me tell you, boy, you better make up your mind fast, otherwise you might end up in a right mess. Our king isn’t one for tardiness, as I’m sure you know.”

He did know. He had met Aerys Targaryen before, a man with long, dirty hair and sharp, unclean fingernails. “King Scab,” people called him in the capital, for how he repeatedly cut himself on his own throne. Most could not wait for him to die so that Prince Rhaegar could ascend in his place though none said it aloud. And if Cersei gets her wish, she will be Queen when the Stranger takes that man and Princess Elia as well, Jaime thought,a sour taste in his mouth.

“Are you…” he hesitated. “Are you going to discourage me?”

Brynden Blackfish gave him a pointed look. “I’m only going to ask you to think about it very, very carefully, boy. The Kingsguard maybe one of the highest of honors there is, but it too comes with a price. You may be a knight, but a man grown you are not. Are you ready to give up most of all you have to your name for a white cloak and a treasured oath?”

Jaime realised just how similar that was to what Lysa had told him when he had showed her the letter. “Is being a bodyguard to some incest-born king really worth forsaking so much of your life?” she had asked him incredulously, and though she had advised him more practically after that, her first statement had stayed with him more than the rest. Was being with Cersei (if she married Prince Rhaegar -- an uncertainty at best) better than being at the Rock, which was his home, with Tyrion and his uncles and Lysa herself? 

He loved Cersei; he always had. Mayhaps he always would. He could not imagine her married to anyone, let alone Prince Rhaegar, who she considered better than him. Jaime remembered even now how he had felt with her in his arms more than half a year ago, after he had fought against the Brotherhood beside four of the Kingsguard. It had been her suggestion that he be one of them, so they could be together even after she was wedded and bedded. Every night he thought about her, golden hair and green eyes just like his own. “We came into this world together,” she had whispered to him. “We have been far too long apart. Swear an oath and that is all it will take for us to be united again.”

Swear an oath, and that is all it will take. But it was not so easy, and Jaime knew that now.

Ser Brynden proved better once again that day, and departed the grounds with another pointed look thrown towards him. I will beat him one day, he decided. Him and Ser Barristan and Ser Arthur and the White Bull. I will show everyone that I’m just as good as they are.

Had he not known about Cersei's intentions and the king's own, he might have been so bold to say they were already accepting him as an equal; the appointment letter being proof. In his heart of hearts, however, Jaime knew it had nothing to do with skill or being deserving of the post. Aunt Genna and all his uncles had insisted that this was all King Aerys’ idea of snubbing his lord father. Even Lysa had implied so -- “No man in his right head would make an inexperienced fifteen year old his bodyguard,” had been her words. “Don’t you have any faith in me?” he had asked her, mocking hurt. “And here I was thinking myself your knight in shining armour.” She had slapped his arm and told him she was being serious. Jaime wondered what Lysa would say is he told her that the letter, at least partially, was his sister’s doing.

His uncle was sitting with a pair of Dornishwomen when he arrived near their tents. The younger of the two was giggling loudly at whatever jape he was telling, while the other was looking on blankly and rather bored.

“Jaime!” called Gerion Lannister. “You must meet these beautiful ladies I have the pleasure of being in the company of.”

Cersei had once ranted to him how the Dornish were all harlots, and Jaime thought the giggly woman looked exactly as his sister had described, with her long lashes and revealing clothes. The other women was less conspicuous by far.

“Uriella Sand,” introduced the giggly one. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ser Jaime. Your uncle had told us much about you.”

Jaime rather doubted that.

Uncle Gerion laughed. “Nephew, have you ever been with a Dornishwoman before? You haven’t, have you? I am of a mind that Lady Uriella will not mind your company.” His gaze went to the sulking woman. “Oh, and this is Lady Ellaria. I have not been able to charm her yet -- yes, I am not believing that either, trust me -- but perhaps you’ll have better luck?”

“I am due elsewhere, uncle. Try not to have too much fun without me!” He had no interest in bedding some woman from the bottom of the country as of now, pretty though she was. His uncle nodded, laughing and went back to narrating the story of how he had got out of a spot of trouble with a Myrish merchant on a trip to the Free Cities.

“... but that is not all, I said to him. I shall even get you the hide of a lion from my homeland, so you may never forget that a Lannister always pays his debts!” 

The booming laughter did not fade until a while later when Jaime emerged from his own tent to see his uncle with an arm around Uriella Sand, whispering to her softly, Lady Ellaria nowhere to be seen. 

Father would suffer from a stroke if he saw this, he thought. Lord Tywin Lannister had forever disliked his youngest brother’s antics, and forever sought to chastise him for them. Not that Uncle Geri ever listened -- he insisted that there had to be at least one offspring of Tytos Lannister who enjoyed every pleasure of life. He never refused any opportunity to show his brother just how different they were. Will Tyrion and I be so different from each other when we’re older? Jaime wondered, though he knew they were already very different in their personalities -- where he felt at home with a sword in hand, his brother had had to accept from a young age that warfare could never be his skill and much like Lysa, he tended to favor reading most of all.

Lysa. He remembered the first time he had met her, fresh from his knighthood at Riverrun. She had looked so suspicious of him from the very moment she had set her blue eyes on him -- even when he had smiled at the thought of being reminded of Tyrion on seeing her rather high-spirited brother, she had narrowly demanded of him the reason for his amusement. “Why, nothing, nothing at all,” he had replied. Lysa had been quiet during the feast despite her sister’s nudging, though as he had found out later, she had in fact been listening to him tell her family about the campaign against the Kingswood Brotherhood. When he had been attempting to explain one of the ambushes led by Simon Toyne, she had suddenly put in how it hadn’t been an original move at all; in fact, it had been lifted straight off the pages that described the First War for Dorne. After that it had not been an unpleasant evening at all -- Jaime speaking of more such tactics used by the men of the Brotherhood, and her comparing it to her book-learnt knowledge of combat and terrain-based warfare.

Still, it never failed to amuse Jaime how little Lysa knew about arms themselves. One of her companions had gifted her a sleek dagger on her nameday, and it had fallen upon him to explain to her how there were specific ways to use it. She had been utterly bewildered and then completely mocking of the art of weapons. He had slowly watched his reserved, bookish betrothed unfold in the Stone Garden, and soon practicing with the dagger had stopped being the only thing they did. They had talked about more things than he could recall. In those moons, ofttimes he had even deigned to forget Cersei, with all her extraordinary radiance, for pretty red-haired Lysa who had been far kinder and far more understanding of Tyrion than his own sister had ever been. Under the shade of a yew tree, she had pulled him into a kiss that he had run away from. Cersei, he had thought then, just as he did now.

She will never forgive me if I choose not to become a Kingsguard, Jaime thought, as he made his way to Falena’s Hall in the Whents’ accursed castle, named after some woman Lysa could no doubt narrate the entire story of. He had been invited there for supper by the reigning Queen of Love and Beauty from the King’s Landing tourney -- Ser Oswell’s niece, Lady Shella’s daughter and a cousin of the Tullys, as it so happened. She was about his own age, and had given him a conspiratorial smile when she had told him the venue, saying that she had not “invited just anyone.” For the life of him he could not recall her name, though he knew of her four brothers. The eldest twins, Sers Edwell and Orwell, were utter fools and as bad as Tytos Brax on the yard. Ser Marq, who Lysa had told him much about, was a man shy and quiet, masterful with his bow but not a third as good with a sword in hand. Jaime remembered meeting the youngest, Arlan, in King’s Landing, as he was a squire still, serving his uncle Oswell and dreaming of Kingsguard glory himself one day. What he would kill to receive the letter I did.

There were a number of household knights and guardsmen standing by Falena’s Hall. A brief glance told Jaime that they were men from all around Westeros, which made him wonder just who the Whent girl had called. He had his answer on entering: the hall was flooded with men and women wearing finery of a variety of colours, few of them dancing to a tune played by a hook-nosed musician while others sat the long tables adorned by lace cloth, talking and laughing loudly. It was more a feast than any supper, he realized, somewhere his Uncle Gerion would have felt at home. He could see his host at a distance, blushing in conversation with the arrogant Stark heir; Leranne Lydden and Alysanne Lefford being entertained by twins whose sigils showed that they belonged to some lesser house from the Reach or another. There was a girl with a broken wheel embroidered on her dull dress who was sipping copious amounts of wine near him and examining everyone in the room with interest. Jaime thought he would try to find Addam or Lysa, but it was the latter who found him first.

“There he is,” came a teasing, mocking tone from his right. He turned to see his betrothed seated besides her cousin, Ser Marq Whent, and a girl who could only be a Tyrell from the amount of golden roses that lined her rich green gown. Lysa had the top half of her curly red hair tied in a knot while the rest flowed freely at the front. Her cheeks were flushed from the wine she had obviously consumed already. Jaime privately thought it made her look rather innocent and child-like.

“What took you so long?” she asked when he approached. He shook his head. There was no question why Aunt Genna was wary of how informal the Tully girl could be.

“It doesn’t do for you to be so impatient, my dear intended. It is rather unbecoming of a lady,” he replied, bowing to kiss the back of Lysa’s hand after she curtsied. They had taken to following this more as mockery of the custom than respect for it, and anyone with half a mind could have guessed their true intentions -- which Ser Marq and the Tyrell did. Whent snorted, nodding silently to Jaime, while the buxom, doe-eyed girl giggled prettily, covering her mouth with her hand. Now that was someone he would never like to marry.

“Oh, may I present Lady Janna Tyrell,” Lysa introduced. “Lady Janna, I am certain you have heard of Ser Jaime, who is to be my husband in the future.”

Or perhaps not. Janna Tyrell smiled at him and offered her hand. “I have heard many tales of your bravery against the Kingswood Brotherhood, Ser Jaime. Lady Lysa has told me much of you as well. It is an honour to put a face to the name.” He had no doubt she had indeed heard of him before; after all, his lord father had once received a letter from Lord Tyrell, offering his sister’s hand in marriage to him. Jaime was suddenly glad the offer had not borne any fruit. Lady Janna was comely, without question, and a part of him swelled at the mention of her knowing about his role in the defeat of the bandits, but he decided he preferred Lysa’s bluntness and quick opinions to other women’s insincerities.

“My lady,” he greeted the reachwoman still, remembering his courtesies. “I assure you that whatever less than complimentary things you have heard about me from Lady Lysa are false. I urge you not to believe them.”

She laughed again, this time not bothering to cover her mouth. “Why, good ser, your betrothed has only been kind about you. She certainly must believe you to be the Dragonknight reborn.”

Jaime was horrified. For a moment he nearly froze. She cannot know, there is no way, none at all. No one knows. As a boy he had ever dreamed of becoming a second coming of Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, and at the feast after he had been knighted -- a day after he and Cersei had coupled and she had suggested him the possibility of a Kingsguard spot -- he had dreamed once more. A white sword, in love with his sister, a queen. It had seemed just so like how he had then expected his life to be. Now that seemed a lifetime ago, but if this Tyrell girl had any inkling… No, it was not possible. It couldn’t be.

“Janna!” Lysa protested. “Don’t say things like that. Jaime’s head is already so full of his own praise; you mustn’t add fuel to the fire.” 

Another thing he had quickly learnt about her had been how she often tended to use absurd words. 

She frowned, but then leveled her face only to roll her eyes at Lady Janna. “Don’t encourage him, is all. Heavens know what he will do if he thinks he’s of a level with the Dragonknight.”

The subtle implication did not surprise Jaime. Lysa had taken to such insinuations of late, reminding him sorely of Cersei. He wondered if the reason he would not truly mind marrying her had anything to do with how she was like his sister -- his lover -- in some ways while utterly unlike her in others. They were both not good when it came to people they did not like -- Cersei had made her distaste for some of the bannermen’s wives and daughters no secret; likewise was Lysa’s disapproval of Brandon Stark. Both of them had a tendency to be impatient, as Cersei had been to be with him while he had squired at Crakehall, as Lysa still was regarding his sluggishness about the Kingsguard letter. The difference between them was also stark in Jaime’s mind: how Cersei’s insults to him tended to be uncaring, throwaway words while Lysa’s were always teasing and carefully thought out. How Cersei did not hesitate to compare him with Prince Rhaegar while Lysa steered clear of comparisons altogether. Cersei was someone who could burn the world down to have her way while Lysa would think of a hundred ways around the problem. 

This is wrong, he thought, as he watched Lysa and Janna Tyrell talk about something or the other, Whent listening on. The courses of food had come and gone without him paying attention at all. I told Cersei I would be a Kingsguard so we could be together again. I shouldn’t be thinking of Lysa. She would be perfectly fine without me; perhaps even get a husband who would love her like I love Cersei.

Jaime brushed the thought off. It turned out that Lysa was disputing jousting with Lady Janna. He might have joined in, had it been another night -- it was an argument he had often had in the past with her -- but he was not truly feeling much like arguing. He was too weary to entertain more of make-a-choice-faster quips from Lysa, especially in the presence of this Tyrell girl she seemed to have befriended of late. Too many people already knew about the appointment letter. Which reminded him… 

“Lysa,” he interrupted suddenly. She turned to him, a smirk playing on her lips.

“Oh, I see you can still talk. I was worrying some cat might have got your tongue, ser,” she japed.

“No,” Jaime frowned. “I was just… Thinking.”

Lysa must have sensed that something was wrong, because she turned to her companions. “Marq, Janna, would you excuse us for a moment?” 

The two of them nodded, Lady Janna smiling secretively at Lysa. Ser Marq gave him a slight glare, and Jaime could feel it at his back even as Lysa grabbed his arm and led him to the doors of Falena’s Hall. There were still men and women, none looking more than twenty-five namedays old, dancing in a clearing to a vaguely familiar song. The Stark girl, Lyanna, was clumsily being twirled around by a red-faced Lord Baratheon, much to her obvious displeasure. A woman with a dress identical to Lady Janna’s -- her sister, perhaps -- was laughing at something Brandon Stark was saying, his Mallister friend -- Joffrey? Jeffory? -- at his side. Lady Ellaria from earlier in the evening was being courted by Prince Oberyn Martell, who Jaime recalled meeting years ago. The others were mostly faces he had never seen before, though he noticed some looking at him too carefully for his liking.

“What is it, then?” Lysa asked when they were out of the hall, her arm and his intertwined. The feel of her body so close to him made him nervous. The guardsmen did not bat an eye when she signaled him to a balcony at the end of the corridor, and he turned to head in that direction.

“How did you --” Jaime started to question, but Lysa did not let him finish.

“-- know that you wanted to say something? I’m not stupid, Jaime. Forgive me when I say this, but you thinking is not something that happens everyday.”

She smacked him playfully, her eyes meeting his. He stopped at the door to the balcony and pushed it open, letting the cool air engulf them.

“Lysa, why did you tell your uncle?” he said finally. It still grated him. She had promised she would keep it to herself.

Her amusement faded into mild discomfort. “It’s not like he wouldn’t know soon enough,” she answered. “Our beloved king will expect an answer from you when he arrives, and when is that? Tomorrow, if you’ve forgotten.”

Tomorrow. Cersei will be here tomorrow.

“He... Your uncle spoke to me,” Jaime told Lysa. Her eyebrows shot up.

“What did he say?” she enquired. Everything you said when I first told you about the letter.

“He… He only told me to consider my choices carefully.”

“And have you?”

“Yes,” Jaime replied. Then again… “No. I… I don’t know,” he admitted.

It should not have taken so long. He should have sent a raven to King’s Landing with his acceptance as soon as the appointment letter had arrived, and this time would never have come. Cersei would have been pleased, too. Everything would have been just as it should have. “The Lionknight,” his sister had called him his last night at the capital. The Lionknight he would have been.

He had not done that, though. He had mulled over the contents of the letter for far longer than he ought to have, and then had gone to Lysa with it. She had said so many things that had stung so much, yet made just as much sense -- Why would the king want to take an heir to one of his most important states as his guard? Does your father even know about this? He does not sound like someone who would agree. He would want you here at the Rock, not playing bodyguard with the royal family. Why would King Aerys want you in an order which consists of some of the most famous men in the country? There must be another reason. I have a lot of faith in your ability, Jaime, you know that, but this is a tad too much, even for you.

All his uncles had said the same, even Uncle Geri. “There’s another game at play,” he had asserted, in a rare moment of seriousness. There is, Jaime had thought. And it is Cersei’s game, so we may be united again. Now that he had pondered about it for so long, he could only think about how possible that even was -- if all went according to her plan, she would have her precious silver prince for a husband. She would have all the power she desired. Would she even have need of him? Even if she did, he would have to share her. She would bear another man’s children. Was being her dirty secret really worth it?

Jaime’s gaze fell on Lysa. He remembered a frightened Tyrion telling him about an old woman who had supposedly attacked them in the woods. He had talked to Lysa about it, and afterwards she had given him a sad look, telling him that she had truly meant it when she had kissed him in the Stone Garden. It was the same sad look he saw on her face now.

“I suppose you won’t know what to do until the last moment,” she stated. Jaime bit his lip and turned away. There was a pang in his chest. He was not feeling good about this at all.

“I suppose,” he shrugged, shoulders heavy.

The two of them were silent for what felt like hours, eyes on the Gods Eye lake and its Isle of Faces, thoughts far away. It was Lysa who broke the quiet, clearing her throat.

“This might be our last time properly together, then,” she said. “If you choose the Kingsguard, we won’t…”

“Yes,” Jaime said. Kingsguard members were to be celibate. If he donned the white the day after, being with his sister would be one thing, but with his former betrothed another entirely. 

It was difficult to think about. Lysa had become a constant in his life in the half year he had known her. He had grown close to her without ever meaning to, and Tyrion had taken to her like he had taken to no other Lannister. If he left Harrenhal for King’s Landing beside Ser Arthur and Ser Barristan, he would be leaving her behind. She would not be welcomed at Casterly Rock; her future would be thrown once again in the hands of her lord father, who she had admitted to not having a good relationship with.

“I wonder who dear Lord Hoster will send me to,” Lysa mused. “He won’t be able to tolerate me at Riverrun once Cat’s married and packed off to the north with an arrogant husband and his snotty sister. I’m afraid I’m far too much like Uncle Brynden for his liking.”

As far as Jaime was concerned, being like the Blackfish was not a bad thing at all, but then again, all knew how much Lord Tully and his brother fought.

“Perhaps he’ll send me to Hornvale, to wed Tytos,” she snorted.

Jaime widened his eyes. Hornvale? “He wouldn’t make you marry Brax,” he scowled. It was hard to forget when that idiot had called Lysa a crab. He had felt so angry, so furious -- he had watched the younger Clegane brother, a squire still, thrash the man with naked glee. He had then taken twice the amount of pleasure in thrashing Brax himself. To imagine Lysa wearing the cloak of a unicorn was painful.

She raised an eyebrow. “I know him, Jaime. He’ll do whatever he thinks is best for Riverrun or the Riverlands, but never for his own children. Not even Cat. Hell, he’d make me marry Lord Weasel Frey if he thought it would give him some sort of advantage.”

Lord Frey? Jaime felt sick. “He wouldn’t,” he said. “He wouldn’t do that. He’s your father.”

He could have almost sworn he heard Lysa say “he’s not”, but it might have been a trick of the wind. What she said more clearly was, “Tell me, Jaime, if it ever happened that your father’s life depended on marrying your sister to an old, wrinkled lord well past his prime; if he knew it was the only way to save himself, what would he do?”

Father always said Cersei is meant to marry Prince Rhaegar, he thought. Even though he is a man married with a daughter and another child on the way. He did not say that aloud. Thinking about the other man his sister dreamt of at a time like this did not feel right.

“This is not a world where women can do what they please,” Lysa was saying. “There is a world like that, where people can marry for love without thinking of consequences and where women get the respect they deserve, but this is not it. I don’t know if it ever will be.”

Jaime would have quite liked living in a world like that. Mayhaps everything would not have been so muddled up then. His choice would not have been so damned difficult to make. 

“There is no choice at all,” Aunt Genna had argued, when he had shown her the letter. “You are not going to become a bloody Kingsguard, Jaime. Not even if that poor excuse of a king wills it. Let him think he is getting back at your father for some imagined slight. Even he can’t demand you take the white if you’re married.”

He had not told that part of the conversation to Lysa. His uncles had all agreed; it was better to conduct a wedding and consummate it before King Aerys had the chance to foil everything. He would not be able to touch a married man to force him into white armor. It was an easy solution, and sensible -- Aunt Genna had insisted that it was the correct path to take. “I have long been apprehensive about the Tully girl,” she had said to him, “But she’s got a spine of her own, and will make a worthy Lady of Casterly Rock in time. She’s fond of Tyrion, and you especially. You must wed her at the earliest.”

“What if I want to be Kingsguard?” he had argued. “It is my decision to make, not anyone else’s.”

My decision and mine alone, Jaime thought. Not Aunt Genna’s, or any of my uncles’, or Lysa’s, or Cersei’s. Not even bloody King Scab's.

He would have done it for Cersei. He would have done it to be close to her; to be with her. He would have done it to stand as an equal to all those knights he had looked up to from when he had been a young boy. But that would mean leaving Lysa alone to her lord father’s mercy and Tyrion, whose existence Father already loathed, as heir. 

When Jaime had asked his sister to run away to the Free Cities with him so that they could be together, she had laughed at his suggestion as one would at a jape. She did not only want him. She also wanted Prince Rhaegar and the power she could get from a Targaryen marriage. He loved her and wanted what was best for her -- he wanted his beautiful sister to get what she wanted and be happy. But if her happiness would cost Tyrion’s and Lysa’s… 

He glanced at his betrothed. She was still staring at the lake in front of them, her hands on the balcony railings and her hair windswept. Her Tully blue dress clung to her as the delicate little chain she always wore glistened in the moonlight. The voices in the corridors had increased, but Jaime couldn’t care less for them.

Cersei will have to learn to accept my decision.

“Lysa…” he murmured.

“Hmm?” she hummed absently, slowly turning her head to face him. 

"Don't marry Brax, or Lord Frey, or any of the others," he blurted. He had to say it before he changed his mind again. Lysa opened her mouth to argue, but he cut her short. "Marry me."

Chapter Text

He was in conversation with bright, courteous Lady Janna when his cousin arrived back to Falena’s Hall without her betrothed. Marq Whent could see Lysa had been outdoors (or perhaps just the balcony) for her vivid red hair was no longer in the style she had worn it in for Anisa’s little feast. She looked somewhat flustered, he realised on further observation. A faint blush had crept up her cheeks that combined with her silver-blue dress made her a live sigil of House Tully. Oh, my dear cousin, what have you got up to now?

Marq excused himself from Janna Tyrell, who actually seemed disappointed at his leaving. From his evening with her he could tell she was not an unintelligent girl -- quite perceptive, in fact, and very fair to look at with her doe eyes and rather… prominent assets. Why she would be keen on him, though, was something he had not been able to decipher. He was but a third son, after all, with no land to inherit and a better future at the Citadel or the Wall than anywhere else. That she and Lysa had become fast friends was not a surprise, but her eagerness to involve Marq in their discussions and later conducting one with him alone was... Something to ponder upon, he thought to himself. Later, perhaps, after I’ve found out just what my cousin has done.

Lysa carried herself differently. That was another thing he noticed; along with how her pale blue eyes were glazed over as though she were deep in thought. Yes, something was definitely up with Lysa. It had to have something to do with Jaime Lannister, but what exactly?

The Whent was not prepared for what it turned out to be.

“We… Jaime and I have decided to get married,” Lysa confessed, almost shyly, when he questioned her. “Tonight, or tomorrow. Before the king’s arrival.”

He frowned, not sure he had heard clearly. Married? His fourteen nameday old cousin, leading him to the doors of the hall, noticed his silence and sighed.

“I know what you are thinking, Marq, but --”

“Do you?” he cut in, stopping to examine her. Lysa’s face betrayed no falsehood, but the blush had faded away for most part. Married, Lysa, really?She bit her lip.

“There is a reason,” she told him. “I’m not being rash. This isn’t like what happened with that Frey knight.”

He was almost tempted to remind her of the consequences of the incident with Hosteen Frey, or the incident with that thieving smallfolk. They were both prime examples of Lysa showing her thoughtless side, often a little too bold for his liking. When Marq had first met her, he had not seen that part of her, not until much later. Shirei Rivers’ arrival had only inflamed those aspects of her personality. He had hoped that time at Casterly Rock would help her learn better that she could not afford to turn out like that filthy horse-friend of hers, and it had looked for the past week that it had, but with this sudden marriage business, of all things…

Mayhap it is not her doing at all, Marq mused. Jaime Lannister is impulsive enough for both of them, and Lysa’s more than a little taken with him.

“We’ll see about that,” he muttered. If this was a folly, he would have to stop it -- the last time Lysa had done anything without Lord Tully’s consent, she had been punished enough and sent away as well. She was as close to him as his true sister was, which was enough reason to reign in this youthful desire of hers. There was something he couldn’t put his finger on, though -- she was already betrothed to the Lannister boy; she would be marrying him soon enough. Why now? Something had to have happened. Marq could feel the gears turning in his head.

“I’ll tell you everything, I swear,” she assured him. “Let’s just get to the Kingspyre first. I’ve told Jaime to meet us there with his uncle.”

The Kingspyre Tower was the best of the five at Harrenhal, its spirals relatively less destroyed than that of, say, the Widow’s Tower which it connected to via a stone bridge. From the inside as well it was a better place to live in, which was why Marq, his sister, his brothers and parents all had chambers there. By virtue of being the daughter of a Whent, Lysa had been given a room there, too, just as Ser Brynden had by virtue of him having been the knight-master to not one but two sons of Harrenhal -- Marq himself, and his eldest brother, Edwell before him. This was where he and Lysa walked to, the silence between them stony as the walls of the castle. Their being silent was not an uncommon thing at all, but there was more tension in the quiet now than had ever been before.

She truly means it, Marq understood. She truly means to get married as soon as she can, and there is a reason to it, not just some wish to evade a larger celebration or any flimsy excuse of the sort.

“Do you know what this entails?” he asked finally, startling his cousin. “Are you ready for what being Lady Lannister will mean? Marriage isn’t just speaking some words, Lysa.”

For a moment she did not respond. Her eyes stared unflinchingly at her feet until she suddenly turned her head to face him. “I know that,” she said. “But… well, this is the only way.”

The only way for what? Lysa let out a heavy breath. “Marq, I know what I’m going to have to do. And I… I may not like it, but I’ll have to accept it, someday. Why not now?” There was a slight upturn of her lips. “Besides, it’s Jaime, not some stranger old Lord Hoster picked up for me. It could be much, much worse.”

They reached Ser Brynden’s room to find him in the process of writing a letter. When he looked up from the parchment and saw Marq uncomfortably standing next to a flushed Lysa, his eyes flitted between them suspiciously.

“Out with it,” he commanded, never one to beat around the bush. It was him Marq had learnt from, after all. “Now.”

Lysa seemed to lose her eloquence at that moment. She mumbled a garbled string of words, including ‘wedding’, ‘king’, ‘bodyguard’, ‘Lannister’ and ‘celibacy’. The Blackfish, with his keen listening and apparent knowledge of the reasoning that had led up to his niece’s hasty decision, deduced much from those and gritted his teeth, turning away. He took a deep breath and shut his eyes for a brief second.

Then, glancing back carefully at Lysa, he said, “And you are sure you want this?”

She nodded back without hesitation. Ser Brynden sighed in mild frustration . “You know, he might risk the king’s ire more by doing this. Not only by denying the man a hostage against his Hand, but also by uniting two Great Houses in the realm without him having any idea. He’ll know of the betrothal, to be certain, but he will not like that you two did not await his arrival to say the vows. His Grace is not entirely… sane, Lysa. Have you even considered the fact that you are not a woman grown yet, barely only flowered? What makes you think you are ready to be wedded and bedded?”

“What can the king do if Jaime and I are already married? There’s nothing he can do to change the fact,” Lysa protested.

“No,” Ser Brynden conceded. “Not that fact.” He proceeded to detail more reasons why he thought reconsidering their options was a better idea. Lysa argued with each of his points, never losing her temper, but with a somewhat leisurely annoyance even a deaf stranger would have been able to spot on her face.

Marq watched the scene unfold before him, and piece by piece, everything became clear by his former knight-master and cousin’s back-and-forth dialogue, sometimes interspersed with a small explanation or two in his direction. Kingsguard. He shook his head. That blonde-haired fool ought to have realised earlier that the offer was not quite so genuine. He ought to have conceived this brilliant idea of marriage a moon before, so it could have been executed before the king even started his journey here.

He did not appreciate this situation at all. There were far too many things out of place nowadays, Marq realised, not the least of which was this tale about a boy barely knighted, who had seen perhaps seven and ten namedays at best, being offered a white cloak. His uncle Oswell was a Kingsguard as well, but he had earned it after years of brilliant outings at melees and the kind of experience one received only on winning a war. Jaime Lannister, a Kingsguard… the idea was far too absurd to swallow. He was a great swordsman for his age, no doubt -- far better than even Marq himself -- but he was nowhere near the level of the White Bull or Barristan the Bold. Marq found himself wondering when the boy would turn up, so that he could catch him unawares and beat him up for being so slow and unintelligent when it came to this damned Kingsguard appointment.

He looked at his cousin in disbelief. Lysa, are you truly going to spend the rest of your life a man who wouldn’t know hidden intentions even if they stared at him in the face and smacked him in his thick skull with a greatsword?

The fact that the king and the Hand were at odds was not entirely surprising. Marq’s younger brother, Arlan, squired at court and had mentioned something of the sort in a letter home. Another memory resurfaced within him -- that of his sister, Anisa, telling him of their uncle Oswell’s visit home while he had been at Riverrun. It had bothered him for a long time, but never so much as now. We do not have enough coin for a tourney like this, but what if it was another who gave Father the money? Someone like Tywin Lannister, who has so many mounds of overflowing gold that one wouldn’t be missed at all? What if there was a motive for gathering so many lords in the same place away from the capital?

Marq tried to push the thought away from him. Too many questions, not enough answers. This will have to wait.

Ser Jaime Lannister walked in unabashed with his uncle, Ser Gerion, a while later when Lysa and her own uncle were still trading the advantages and disadvantages of this half-baked plan to evade the king’s apparent insanity. Marq watched silently as Gerion Lannister proved to the four other people in the room that he was not, in fact, overly concerned about the matter at hand.

“Oh, Tywin will be so pleased,” Ser Gerion smiled brilliantly, confusing Marq with his light, careless tone. He seemed to be honest in his statement, and at the same time there was a slow peek on his part at his nephew’s fumbling shape that spoke of something else. The golden-haired knight then proceeded to make himself home on a chair by the fireplace, pouring a glass of Arbor red. Between sips of the wine, he hummed a vaguely familiar tune quite melodiously. Marq realised it was none other than ‘The Rains of Castamere’, which greatly glorified Lannister ruthlessness. Not that I should have expected any better.

Ser Jaime shrugged at his betrothed while Ser Brynden scrutinised Ser Gerion before looking away sharply. This was Marq’s cue.

“This isn’t getting anywhere,” he put in. The other four occupants in the room instantly turned to him, Ser Gerion as well. The Blackfish looked relieved, causing Marq to almost smile. This is what happens when a person who is normally quiet and aloof opens his mouth, he thought to himself.People listen.

“You did not promise the king anything, Ser Jaime,” he pointed out. “He can do nothing if you say you do not wish to become a Kingsguard. Ser Brynden is right -- it might infuriate him more that the heir to Casterly Rock wed a lady from a Great House without him finding out until after it was done. It isn’t just common courtesy to invite an overlord for a wedding such as this; it is an unwritten rule.”

Lysa appeared to genuinely consider his logic as her betrothed looked dumbfounded. Ser Brynden nodded. Gerion Lannister continued to hum cheerfully, which Marq actively attempted to ignore, afraid as he was of his mask of neutrality falling in the face of aggravating men pretending to be a third their age. Seven hells, what does he achieve by dumbing himself down to the levels of a common court fool? He’s losing his dignity, but for what gain?

“The king is a mad man,” Ser Jaime reminded. “He’s --”

Marq’s cousin interrupted him. “No, wait, Jaime,” she frowned. “What do you propose we do then, hmm? You can’t deny the man is off his rocker, Marq, and he’s the king. There’s a lot of things he could do if he was displeased at being denied.”

“Yes,” Marq agreed slowly. Lysa was still quite naive and spoke in the absurdest ways, but she was generally rather sensible -- it was what he so liked about her. “But there’s not a lot of things he can do without creating terrible political situations, not only for himself but also for his family. You forget that Prince Rhaegar is going to be present at the tourney as well. Ser Jaime, you must have met the prince. Do you truly believe he would let his father do something so drastic at all?”

Assistance came from an unexpected source. Ser Gerion snorted from beside the fireplace, his speech only slightly slurred. “Nephew, nothing will happen to you or to Lysa as long as your father remains Hand of the King and the supreme power in King’s Landing -- and believe me, King Aerys is not about to remove him so soon. The man is paranoid, but he knows how valuable my brother is.”

It did not take long after all for the Lannister heir to see sense as well, spurred on by Lysa and their uncles. A counter-plan was evolved, for which Marq volunteered his sister’s help and assured his former knight-master that his lady mother would certainly be ready to fund the costs of the day after, so Lord Tully could repay her later. He personally suspected that she would not charge interest, thinking it her duty to her sister, the late Lady Tully, but kept it to himself. The Harrenhal treasury and its matters were intended to be a mystery to him, after all, as evidenced by his father not telling him about the gold required for the tourney. Whether or not the Lady and Lord Protector of Harrenhal thought it wise to waive off interest from extended family was not his business to speak of.

Eventually it seemed clear that Ser Jaime had inherited the trait of ignorance from his father’s youngest brother. He grew increasingly disinterested with the matters at hand, and took to staring off into space like a lovesick bard would. Lysa did not pay attention to his lack of interest, busy as she was with Marq’s sister Anisa organising a Tully wedding cloak out of Ser Brynden’s existing cloaks and her own. Just as I thought, Marq considered the westerlands knight dryly. Decide you wish to get married, but leave the planning to others. He then wondered how much of his cousin’s fondness for her soon to be husband was plain infatuation and how much of it was something more... real.

Marq had been with women before. He knew infatuation, and he knew lust. There was something about the way Ser Jaime acted around Lysa that gave off the impression of a different story behind his facade. It was not even close to as obvious as, perhaps, Robert Baratheon’s attraction to other women while he spoke of his betrothed, but there was something odd there nonetheless. He better hope it is nothing that sullies my cousin’s honor, or he will have Ser Brynden breathing down his neck and myself loosening arrows from a distance.

There was Lysa, and then there was Anisa. His sister had not been more than a passing acquaintance of their cousin, especially after the incident with Brandon Stark. Yet Anisa had, in the face of a wedding, forgotten her doubts towards the Tully and was eagerly helping with the preparations. Her sheer fascination for nuptials had taken over, and Marq’s sister was finally getting her wish of being a part of organising them. She had been denied the opportunity for years -- Edwell and Orwell had only ever rejected proposals for themselves, while she had herself not been allowed to court the man she was so entranced with. After Theomar Smallwood’s betrothal to a Swann girl, Anisa had been upset for days, flirting with the guests and arranging small feasts to cover her disappointment. This new development was another distraction keeping her sane. Marq was thankful for it.

I denied her a wedding too, he remembered guiltily. First by my cowardice in the face of that damned Baratheon and the second… He felt pang in his chest, at which the third Whent son instantly brushed the thought off. It was his cousin’s wedding they were planning, after all. Lysa Tully’s wedding to Jaime Lannister, which would be the host to not only more than half the lords of the realm, but the Targaryen king himself -- that was, if the madman decided not to snub it.

The Lady of Harrenhal employed several available labourers from the nearby Harrentown for considerable prices so they could help prepare the Sept in the short hours available. The food for the wedding feast that was to follow would not be a concern, as it was settled -- cooks, entertainers and serving staff had been hired for the tourney’s commencement already, an event which would now be merged with the celebration of Lysa and Ser Jaime’s union. Anisa picked out the singers she thought were best to sing at the dance, along with the already paid-for fire-breathers, flame-throwers and the like, all eager to prove themselves before the king. Marq’s disbelief at the amount of coin his father had already spent and would certainly continue to in the next week did not vanish. To his relief, though, his cousin and her betrothed both refused to hire the company of dwarves that had volunteered their comedic talents, as well as a lot of other extravagances the feast could certainly do without.

“Weddings shouldn’t be so complicated,” Lysa groaned. “This is all just useless.” She had argued with Anisa, calling the flame-throwers and stilt-walkers unnecessary and “more fit for a circus than a wedding”.

Marq nodded quietly. Indeed, she was right. Weddings and marriages and betrothals, they are all more trouble than they are worth.

“You’re saying that now,” Jaime Lannister snorted at his wife-to-be. It was well past the hour of midnight, and he was the one least involved in the organisation as well as the most tired, for some reason. “Cersei said that too, before Uncle Tygett got married. Once she’d seen a wedding for herself, all she did for days was imagine how her own would be.”

He trailed off, glancing away with a curious look at an exhausted Lysa. Marq looked up from the invitation he had just about finished tracing -- addressed to Ser Baelor Hightower, heir to the Hightower, and his most esteemed lord brothers and lady sisters -- and focused on his soon to be good-cousin.

“You have to be convincing enough, Ser Jaime,” Marq said. “You should be able to --"

“-- to make King Scab believe it was his own idea, if it comes to that. I know.” Ser Jaime fidgeted with his doublet. He seemed far less proud than usual.

“He’ll be fine,” Gerion Lannister piped up from where he had been assisting Anisa with some fabrics, a glass of Arbor wine still in hand. It had come as a surprise to Marq when he had offered to do more than just sit around and jape drunkenly. The guest chambers beside Ser Brynden’s, which were being used for the night, filled with the Laughing Lion’s roars every now and then, but he had been more manageable than not. Anisa charming the man had only helped.

“He will,” Lysa agreed. “Jaime can be rather convincing when he wants to be.”

Marq found himself hoping to all the gods, old and new, that they were right. But even as the sun arose the next day, he could not steer away the sinister feeling at the pit of his stomach.

Preparations went well into the morning, with Lysa still getting her bridal dress readied and Marq’s lord father negotiating matters of money with Ser Brynden -- a meeting only the eldest two Whent sons were invited to, not that they bothered gracing it with their presence. Marq assisted the steward and the maester with last-minute work for the king’s arrival while Anisa skipped around the castle, excited for the upcoming event as well as the arrival of their younger brother. Their lady mother glowed as well -- Arlan was yet only four and ten namedays old, but he was without doubt her favoured son. The best-looking, the best mannered, even the best fighter of the lot when he had not been anointed yet. Marq was not resentful, but it did irk him that Arlan had the potential for a better life ahead of him, despite being a fourth son. In a few years he would surely be a strong contender for a position in the Kingsguard, when Ser Jonothor Darry or the White Bull passed. Marq on the other hand would not be much more than a landless knight, a guard captain at best. It was why he had long desired a future at the Night’s Watch, where all were treated equally and had an equal chance of moving up the ladder.

Had I been the eldest, things would have been different, he thought, gazing at his elder brothers as they climbed atop their horses, preparing to ride out to the king’s approaching party. Both of them looked half dead from their trip to the alehouses the night before, fitting right in with Robert Baratheon and the Stark heir. Ser Elbert Arryn and the second Stark brother both looked sober and solemn, a direct contrast to their companions. Lord Tyrell tutted at them, waiting impatiently for the departure of their small welcome guard assembled to accompany the royal family from the Kingsroad junction to Harrenhal. Lord Arryn, arrived only recently from the Eyrie, stood a distance apart in soft conversation with Ser Brynden, Lord Tarly and a smirking Prince Oberyn Martell. At Marq’s side, Ser Jaime sat lazily on the back of his palfrey, looking into the distance.

The Whent hesitated. He did not have the highest opinion of Jaime Lannister, and it was likely that the reverse was true as well. He did, however, wish only the best for him, as it would soon mean wishing the best for Lysa. So when Ser Jaime caught Marq looking and turned questioningly, he received a nod in response -- a nod that was intended as a reminder, an encouragement, and somewhat a sign of good faith as well.

The greens passed them by on their ride, spring blooming in its full spirit. Whatever other reservations Marq had about the tourney, one thing was for sure: the time of the year his lord father chosen was the best for such an event. Trees, young and ancient alike, blossomed with vigour before the assortment of lords, knights and squires as the grass beneath them shined vividly in the sun. And whatever else, Lysa could not have chosen a better day to speak her marriage vows.

Sigils started showing at noon. Suns and spears, seahorses and triple spirals were the only ones that stood out amid the sea of black and red, signifying the king and the family he had brought with him. So dragons come to Harrenhal at last, after years away, Marq thought. I wonder what devastation they will leave in their wake this time?

Indeed, his home did not have a good history with Targaryens at all. It had been built only to be run to the ground from fires of Balerion the Black Dread; not all that many years later had House Harroway been extinguished on the command of the Cruel King. House Strong had had an even worse fate by their years of mingling with the royals, House Lothston as well. Each time a king, a prince or a princess had visited, there had been a mishap or the other. Marq dreaded to think what it might be this time. He was not one to put his belief in superstitions, but when there was solid proof of it, he was inclined to agree. There was also the fact that he privately was not a fan of the line all of Westeros paid fealty to, which only aggravated his apprehension.

The king and the silver prince in all their magnificence -- if it could be called that -- were not enough to assuage Marq’s fears, either.

They were contrasts to each other in appearance, which everyone could certainly be able to see. Aerys was thin and brooding; Rhaegar was tall and graceful. Where his father was dirty, with long, uncleaned nails and yellowing hair, he was the very image of regality and serenity. His violet eyes sparkled as he glanced around and smiled. Yet there was, Marq felt, something unsettling about the Crown Prince’s way, just as frightening on its own as the king’s icy disposition. Or perhaps it is only me, he considered, and what I wish to see. He noticed how none others seemed particularly affected.

“Your Grace. My Prince.” Edwell bowed, getting down from his horse before the two most important men in Westeros. “We welcome you to our humble lands.”

Orwell did the same, though with less control over his actions. A light snort was heard from slightly behind where the king stood, and Marq looked to see where it had come from: his uncle, standing proud in his white cloak. The third Whent son soon followed his brothers and bowed to the royals, all the while feeling a million eyes on him. There were lords, knights and retainers surrounding the king, and a wheelhouse not far behind, likely carrying the Dornish Princess and her ladies, perhaps even little Princess Rhaenys. Marq observed two Kingsguard other than Ser Oswell Whent; a large old man and another, slightly smaller but not much younger, beside him -- they were Ser Gerold Hightower and Ser Barristan Selmy. From the corner of his eye, he could see two other bright white cloaks fluttering with the wind by the wheelhouse -- the Martell knight, and either Arthur Dayne or Jonothor Darry, for one of them was likely to have been left in the capital with the Queen and the Lord Hand. Prince Oberyn was growing impatient even as Prince Rhaegar spouted to Edwell about how pleased he was to see the welcome guard; Lord Tyrell slightly less so, glancing suspiciously at King Aerys. Robert Baratheon looked to be in better senses, Brandon Stark as well. Lord Arryn and his heir watched the exchange in silence with the Stark spare, their faces unreadable.

“It is a great pleasure to see Harrenhal for ourselves, good sers, I assure you,” Prince Rhaegar was saying softly. “Both His Grace and I were delighted at the invitation. To bear witness to the greatest tourney in decades at this magnificent castle of yours, is an honour.”

Before either Marq or any of his brothers could answer, the king grumbled.

“Take not my son’s words as they are. assure you, sers, that it is this keep I have come to see, the supreme display of a dragon’s might, not anytourney.” His eyes narrowed darkly. “And perhaps some of what goes on behind the farce.” 

Prince Rhaegar threw an apologetic look at Whent brothers, then turned to his sire. “Father --”

King Aerys Targaryen dismissed his son with a lazy wave of his hand. “Well, we best get going. Rhaegar would not wish to miss any bit of the scheming that is going on at Harrenhal this very moment, now, would you, Rhaegar?” Not waiting for an answer, he continued, this time ordering about his guards. “Selmy, fetch me Lord Varys. I want him with me at all times. You as well, Hightower, I want you beside me every moment of this tourney. My Kingsguard must protect me from threats, yes?”

“Of course, Your Grace,” the White Bull, Gerold Hightower, said. Ser Barristan went to carry out the command, directing his horse to the window of the wheelhouse to locate the Master of Whisperers Marq had already heard much about and seen once before at court. Aerys nodded approvingly.

He then looked around the lords and knights assembled in the welcome guard. Marq climbed back atop his horse, as did the many who had got down to bow properly. All the while his eyes followed the king’s, as quite a few others’ did, until they stopped, settling on the one person Marq knew would be the most hard-pressed to speak to the Targaryen monarch. There’s your chance. Easier than expected, wasn’t it?

“Yes, as I was saying… the Kingsguard must protect a king from threats, and the king’s family as well. Ser Jaime Lannister, you are the son of my noble Hand, of my most leal servant these past years. I would have you ride with me.”

Thus it started. Lord Tyrell looked positively affronted, as if a personal insult had been done to him when Ser Jaime had been chosen to be at the king’s side. Lord Arryn’s eyebrow was raised conspicuously. Prince Rhaegar seemed worried, politely brushing off Robert Baratheon to once more protest his father’s words.

“Your Grace, I --”

“You what, Rhaegar? Do you want young Jaime to ride with you?” Aerys scoffed. “If that is the case, I will have him decide. Who will it be then, boy? Who would you like to ride beside?”

This is not good.

The knight concerned was uncomfortable, for obvious reasons. Ser Jaime’s golden hair, brighter under the sun, swept with the wind as he looked between the king and the prince, and squirmed slightly. Marq marveled at how in a single day, less than that even, the Lannister had become more subdued in his personality. Was it the impending marriage doing that to him, or something else? At the same time, he also prayed the knight had at least some good sense and tact, and once more, that Lysa and Ser Gerion had been right in putting their faith in him, just as he had done not long ago. Pull off your talk with the king well enough, wed my cousin and be faithful to her. That is all I ask of you. I might even stop considering your shortcomings if you succeed in all that, Lannister. Just do this much.

The westerlander turned to Prince Rhaegar, and Marq almost cursed. What are you doing? he thought, but that fear proved unfounded when Ser Jaime said, swallowing, “I am… honoured that you… wish me to ride with you, my prince, but it is His Grace whose command I am sworn to obey.”

That could have been much worse, Marq decided. Unfortunately for Ser Jaime, the king was equal amounts pleased and displeased at the words. “Yes, yes, you are sworn to obey me, boy, but tell me, what is it that you want, inside? As Tywin’s son, I expect nothing but loyalty from you; absolute loyalty, do not get me wrong -- however, a king must listen sometimes; hear the wishes of those beneath him as well, if he is to be loved by the masses. I taught that to my son. What do you wish for, truly? For yourself, for your king… for your realm?”

If Prince Rhaegar had unsettled Marq before, King Aerys positively unnerved him, as did this bitter attitude of his towards his heir. The man seemed to flit between futility and depth of a matter, between arrogance and humility, between practicality and whims, all in bare seconds. He was volatile, possibly temperamental, a man careful to the extent of paranoia and yet utterly careless when he deemed it something he could get away with. Dismissive. Doubting. He spoke of Tywin Lannister as his most trustworthy champion, but there was something in his voice as he said it that suggested that maybe he didn’t completely believe it himself either.

Marq did not spend the ride back observing others, as he generally did when he traveled in a group. He could vaguely recall the Arryns and the Starks together, Robert Baratheon in conversation with Prince Rhaegar, and the Martell prince at the back by the wheelhouse, in which his lady sister sat with her companions. Other than that, the journey was a muddle of thoughts -- overanalyses of what the king and the prince had said to each other, what it might mean for the rest of them -- and the conversation between Aerys and Ser Jaime. The Lannister, normally confident and cocksure, had been forced to think not only twice but thrice, even four times before speaking as Lysa had been sure to tell him. It was something that had not done good for his mood. The king’s own mood swings continued as well, his extremities visible for the world to see. Seven hells, how is Westeros still intact, with this man as king? Surely the Darklyns weren’t the only House discontent with him… 

“I wish for peace most of all, Your Grace,” Ser Jaime had said, replying to the king’s question after a moment of thought. Marq wondered about that.How long is peace going to last, when there is so much tension brewing behind the wings? He had had his doubts for a while, and the king’s words about the tourney being a farce merely confirmed them. All the vices of the eunuch spymaster of the king’s set aside, there was no doubt that Lord Varys was competent in his work. It could have been a throwaway statement; Aerys’ paranoia at work, of course, but somehow Marq did not think it was as likely as his other deduction. There was something to happen in secret at Harrenhal. But what? And why?

The theory was further confirmed when Aerys said, “I was informed that this tourney is not all it seems, which encouraged me to pay a visit to Harrenhal myself. A king must deal with traitors himself, after all. What say you to this, Jaime Lannister?”

The king’s knight companion shifted in his saddle. The discomfort on his face Marq could see. “I do not believe any would dare rebel against you, Your Grace.”

“And yet someone did, not so long ago,” Aerys challenged.

“A rebellion Your Grace squashed, without much effort.”

His Grace looked surprised. “Yes,” he agreed, with an upturn of lips. It was the Hand who squashed the rebellion, but I must admit that was a good move on your part, Lannister. “That I did.”

There was a lapse in the conversation. Marq abandoned his approach at eavesdropping quietly and in a spur of bravery, turned to the heir to Casterly Rock, frowning at him. The knight looked up, and his eyes widened with understanding.

“Your Grace, there is something I wish to speak to you about.” 

“Yes, boy?” Aerys distractedly urged him to continue. Lord Varys, on the king’s other side in front of Marq, perked up his eyebrows. Marq watched.Now or never, Ser Jaime.

“Your Grace, I…” he hesitated for a brief moment, and then took a deep breath. “I wish to ask for your blessing, Your Grace.”

The king was suddenly interested. “My blessing?” he asked curiously. “Is this about the offer I sent you? You have decided to take it up, yes? I had planned to ask you about it soon enough, but now that you have brought it up yourself, well…”

Seven hells! Ser Jaime shook his head, grimacing. “Your Grace, I apologise profusely, but --”

Aerys instantly darkened. “What?” he snapped. “What is it?” By the seven, it is like this man can change between two sides of the same coin at will!

“Your Grace, while it is an honour that I was deemed worthy of a white cloak --”

“Honour,” the king repeated incredulously. “Honour, he says. If you want to deny me, boy, be forward about it, just as I’ve been with you. Just as I’ve been with everyone, mind. They speak to me with their silky tongues and their sweetened words, and they think I know not what they do when my back is turned. I know, oh, I know. Don’t I, Lord Varys?"

"Indeed, Your Grace," said the eunuch, right on cue, bobbing his head in false respect.

"It irks me," the king continued, "That they cannot be straight with me as I am with them. And it irks me more that you are in their league now as well.”

His grumbles were loud enough that others in the party looked in the king’s direction. Marq did not know who “they” were, but it seemed King Aerys was not done yet about them.

“It is peculiar that they told me you would decline. How did they know, I wonder? How did they know that my most loyal servant had a most disloyal son? 'Tywin’s boy will do well for the last white cloak,' I said, and received naught in response. Explain to me, Ser Jaime. Why? Why would you deny your king?”

Prince Rhaegar then seemed to appear from nowhere, for the third time voicing his protests. “Father, I am certain Ser Jaime has a fair reason --”

“Oh, I’ve had enough of your interjections for the day. Do remember you are not going to be king for a long while yet,” King Aerys scolded. He once more looked to the red-faced, fumbling Lannister. The entire party at the front had by now turned their attention to the unfolding spectacle.

“Go on, then, boy. Tell me. What is it that you deem more important than a white cloak? So important, in fact, that you reject a king and a position of unparalleled greatness, all at once?” the king demanded.

Marq cursed and cursed and cursed. Ser Jaime gripped the reigns of his horse tighter.

“Marriage,” he blurted. What he said next took less effort. “Family. A lady.”

There were a lot of ways the king might have reacted. He could have cursed, raged, ranted, and even taken extreme measures had he willed it. Yet in those moments, Aerys Targaryen did the strangest thing of all. He smiled.

Chapter Text

Smiles, as Marq Whent had come to understand, were of different kinds. A loving mother’s, a proud father’s, an approving mentor’s, a gracious sibling’s, a thankful subject’s -- they were the ones that came encased in warmth and were delivered with pleasure. A new lover’s, a brother-in-arms’, a trusting liege’s -- these were tentative, with the potential of growing into something cherished. There were smiles of mischief, that his elder brothers had cast at him more often than not. Smiles of innocence. Smiles of appeasement; of pure, unhindered bliss.

And then there was the king’s crooked, considering upturn of lips that brought a shiver down Marq’s spine. Dear gods, what cruel jape was at play when this man was sent down to the realms of men?

Ser Jaime was the most taken aback of any in the group. “Your Grace…” he began, unsure.

“Yes,” Aerys said, snapping back from whatever insanity had been flowing through his mind. “Oh, don’t be so stunned, boy. Marriage, you say. A lady. I had been young as you once, you know. Not to say I am not young anymore, for I am so! I have long to live yet, as certain people ought to remember.”

Thus the king began again, the momentary lurch of foreboding forgotten within his insinuations and snideness. Each remark he made was thrown towards his imaginary rivals, or to where Prince Rhaegar rode, looking unaffected and unbroken despite the blame game that was being played. Ser Jaime cautiously mentioned the wedding that awaited at the castle only for King Aerys to laugh, “Oh, it is not me you must worry about, boy. It is another, who may find gossiping around with his upstart friends more appealing than watching the Hand’s son speaking his wedding vows.”

Marq was reproachful of the mad glint that had formed in the king’s dull violet eyes. Another time, the man grumbled the goodness of his intentions to all who wished to listen. “I only meant to teach a lesson! None must be so bold so as to face the dragon’s wrath without fear. Yet they decide that am wrong. Me! Now, boy, you must be a better heir to Tywin than that, mustn’t you?”

“Of course, Your Grace,” Ser Jaime said, betraying only veiled discomfort atop his palfrey. Prince Rhaegar intervened then, suggesting that perhaps his kingly father ought to conserve his energy for the true arrival at Harrenhal.

“The lords and ladies might wonder where their king’s words disappeared to, Father,” the silver prince said with a soft smile, which Marq was sure must have brought many a maiden to her knees. Might be that it shall do the same for Lysa, he thought unreasonably. She succumbed to Lannister, after all.

“Just as they might wonder where their prince’s place did,” King Aerys returned with a frown. His pet eunuch, mildly unhappy outside of the wheelhouse, tittered enigmatically. 

There was, however, a decline in complaints after that. It seemed that despite the visible discord between the heir to the throne and his father, there was to some extent an understanding there. Boundaries. Marq hoped they would help temper the fickleness of these royals in the days to come.

When Harrenhal did approach in the horizon, the noblemen that had never seen it in true found their voices stuck in their throats. The towers rose into the skies, the bat sigils above floating so high that everyone had to crane their neck to fully admire the sight before them. Lord Lucerys Velaryon, who looked to be another of the king’s pets, stuttered in his speech before crooning about Balerion’s might. Lord Celtigar praised the dragons of Aegon the Conqueror as well, enraptured by the burnt mess that was the seat of Marq’s lady mother. Prince Rhaegar did not especially make the effort of commenting on the castle while the Targaryen madness that had manifested in the king made itself known prominently in the second coming of his frightening upturn of lips. It made the Whent wonder, somewhat worriedly, just what went through the man’s mind at times like these. 

In the hours that he had been away from his home, the courtyard had been transformed into an even livelier version of what it had become in the days since they had begun receiving guests for the tourney. A plethora of banners hung high behind the nobles that had gathered to greet the arriving company. At the fore stood the Lady of Harrenhal herself, Shella Whent, beaming radiantly beside her cousin and husband, the Lord Protector.

Marq had always known that theirs was a marriage of convenience; tying the bloodclaim of a cadet branch of the house to that of the main line. Their mother had once told his sister Anisa of how she had not particularly got along well with their father as a youth. In the years after their betrothal had been arranged, though, and Uncle Oswell had taken the white, the relationship had come to one of mutual understanding. As Marq’s eyes flew to Lysa’s figure bringing up one end of a row with Janna Tyrell and a few Vale maidens, he felt a pang in his chest. When your infatuation fades and you feel only disappointment for this boy you wish to marry, how will you face it? Will you accept your mistakes and move forward, reconciled with your past, understanding of your husband? Or will you see your future differently?

What will be my part in it?

He would miss her. He knew that now, faced with inevitability. Marq doubted his cousin could change her mind, though; not now that everything was near ready and the wedding a certainty. Harrenhal was abuzz with an air of festivity and celebration, and in the middle of it, Marq felt out of place. Unneeded. Perhaps even lost.

“Chambers have been prepared especially in your honour, my princess. If you wish so, my son Marq can show you to them.”

Duty, however, called for him, and he followed through with it.

Elia Martell was an olive-skinned beauty, graceful and delicate in her expressions. Her lush Martell hair gleamed as her dark eyes sparkled, amused. She seemed more curious than anything else about being a guest at a castle with such a dark history. The princess did not let her pregnant belly hide her; as a matter of fact, she shined through despite it. Her impeccable courtesies only served to alleviate her further in Marq’s eyes. Many might have dismissed the Dornishwoman as insignificant, but he knew, without doubt, after observing her for a good few minutes, that she was one woman who embodied what a Queen ought to be.

As he escorted Princess Elia’s entourage to their rooms in the Kingspyre, he connected names to the faces of her ladies-in-waiting. The eldest among them was the most beautiful by far, her haunting eyes a shade deeper than traditional Targaryen violet and her hair an ebony sheath she had arranged into an elaborate style. In spite of himself, Marq could not help looking at her a moment longer than was appropriate. Her pale, almost northern cheeks... Her full lips...

“Captivated, are you, Ser Marq?” Lady Ashara Dayne laughed, noticing his straying eye. There was an intriguing look on her face, something akin to delectation. He flushed, caught in the act. 

By the Seven, Marq, get a grip on yourself. Now that it had come up, he could not let go of the memory of the last time an unacquainted lady had been so forward with him. Mary Mertyns had asked him to a dance so many years ago on the grounds of Storm’s End, and he had acquiesced then, giving in to her irreverent person and ever-inquiring nature on the first night of the tourney. For days he had been embroiled in paradise.. and then Robert Baratheon had appeared.

“-- Men who so rely upon a woman’s company,” the then Stormlands heir had japed, a brief glance to Marq. They had been younger then; barely three and ten or perhaps a nameday more. 

“I am my lord father’s heir,” Mary had whispered the day before Baratheon had made his opinions known. “Your mother would approve of the match, surely.”

He had looked to the two of them and chosen to walk away to his knight-master instead. I will never rely upon a woman’s company, he had decided then. Not if it means that I will earn only scorn for it. His stand had only strengthened the concluding feast of the tourney. Marq’s friendship with Lady Mary that had encompassed two weeks at the time had turned to ashes in his mouth on seeing her arm in arm with Baratheon. 

He had undoubtedly been a different man then. Turning back time, an entirely new set of circumstances might have been created. Wasted opportunities. Irrevocable actions. But he had chosen to forget, looking only to libraries and knowledge hence. Until Riverrun...

Realising that Lady Ashara was yet laughing, the Whent brought himself out of his stupor. “I -- I apologise, my lady,” he said, flustered. The comely Dornishwoman let out another musical laugh at his expense.

“Leave the poor knight be, Ashara,” Princess Elia scolded, though not without her own smile. Two other ladies, crownlanders by their insignia, let out short sniggers.

The future queen turned to Marq. “I do so apologise on the lady’s behalf, good ser. I am afraid she has a fondness for teasing men.”

“And here I was thinking my antics delighted you, princess,” Ashara Dayne giggled in response as Marq shook his head.

The familiarity between the princess and her lady-in-waiting was strange, but he ignored it in favour of the other strange occurrence: that of the last of the women glaring daggers everywhere around.

She was barely a woman, truthfully; about Lysa’s age at least. Yet her radiance, too, shined through in her hair, glittering like spun gold, and her flawless, doll-like skin. The emerald green confirmed what Marq suspected: this was none other than the sister Ser Jaime had mentioned before.

Ceranne… Cerenna… no, Cersei. That was her name. She did indeed resemble her twin brother in appearance; overwhelmingly so. Marq did not have a hard time imagining what a frustrated, hateful Jaime Lannister could look like, and in her state of anger, Cersei Lannister mirrored that image very much indeed.

It was not particularly hard to deduce just what had stirred the girl’s nerves so. Yet another person unhappy about what the day entails. Marq did not even blame her. To have something so big about a loved person sprung up so suddenly…

He sighed. It does not do to dwell on such thoughts, Marq, he repeated to himself. Lysa has chosen. All you can do now is support her in that choice.

Sunlight melted into evening soon enough, all gathered at the castle and invited for the event slipping into some of their best clothes. The hastily refurbished sept in the Tower of Ghosts displayed a cascade of colours and a myriad of voices. Harrenhal had been many things over the centuries, but Marq found it hard to remember an event when it had been this vibrant; this celebratory. His parents’ wedding had been a dull affair, as was often told in the keeps, while his aunt had wed Lord Tully at Riverrun itself. The early Whents and the Lothstons before had considered Harren the Black’s last mark on the world as an inauspicious place. Marq was not one to trust in superstition so easily, but many other nobles did trust in it and did so fervently, as he learnt.

Ser Karyl Vance of Wayfarer’s Rest and his good-father, Lord Goodbrook, both grumbled about how disliked by the gods weddings were that had clearly been organised bare days before. Two Waynwood ladies from a cadet branch considered loudly in the garden about not attending altogether, eventually won over by a collaboration of their elder sister and Marq’s own sister Anisa. Lord Celtigar of Claw Isle, a member of the king’s retinue, voiced his opinions about the Harrenhal sept. But they were not the only ones wondering about the sudden nature of the event.

“Fools, the whole lot of them,” said the dowager Lady Tyrell when she was being escorted to the ceremony, uncaring of eavesdroppers. Her son, daughters and good-son, Lord Redwyne, all accompanied her, and Marq even received a half-apologetic smile from Lady Janna when she realised that he had heard the old woman. “Not that I could have expected better from that oaf Blackfish. Not after he spurned my sister so!”

He did not doubt the words ‘Kingsguard’, ‘Hand of the King’, ‘Jaime Lannister’, ‘the Tully girl’ and ‘Casterly Rock’ would be often heard in gossip circles in the coming days. Lord Tully would most certainly find himself astounded -- he had been a man to speculate about Marq’s own feelings for Lysa months prior. I wonder what he will think of this development. There would not have been hesitation on his part in saying that Hoster Tully would have been the biggest supporter of the wedding had he been at Harrenhal.

In the Lord Paramount’s absence, though, the duties of the father of the bride had been undertaken by Ser Brynden. While Marq’s mother and father busied themselves in smothering his recently arrived brother Arlan, normally a squire in the capital, Marq himself assisted his former knight-master in his duties. Gerion Lannister, never serious and ever joking, proved to be useful in organising the train-carriers from among Westerlands youth. Immediately after, of course, the man decided that he was more interested in talking to a giggly Dornishwoman than doing anything productive.

When the time crept closer to what had been arranged and the guests seemed more or less gathered, Ser Gerion was nowhere to be seen. Neither was, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, Ser Jaime himself.

“By the Seven, where is he?” cursed Ser Brynden. Lysa was being helped into jewellery by Anisa, just about ready to face the septon.

Marq sighed. “I’ll fetch him, Ser,” he assured the Tully knight, and with that, set off to the locate the wayward bridegroom.

A chamber in the higher floors of the Tower of Ghosts had been given to the Lannister for the eve, and Marq frustrated himself climbing to it from the sept, which was at the very bottom. The stone walls, lined with the occasional tapestry or banner, seemed to mesh together. Only moments left now…

How could I let her to do this? For so long he had kept those thoughts away, and now he knew it had been wise. Marq’s head felt as though it were on fire. His rationality was gone. Why could I not just tell her, be plain about it?

He could hear a raven croak in his mind. ‘Craven!’ came its voice, and Marq remembered only the moments he had spent alone with his beautiful cousin, listening to her view of the world and telling her his own. That was the thing about her: she was never reluctant about new things; about knowledge and learning. Ever since that first time in the library, he had cherished conversations with her. She had her shortcomings; her flaws and her weaknesses, but who did not? For Marq, it did not matter. Lysa Tully was unlike any lady he had met; a breath of fresh air in his life of a mediocre third son. 

In the end, however, that is all I am. A third son. Not a lord and not an heir; not even a knight who can hope for a better tomorrow. I’m just a spare of the spare… and if Jaime Lannister makes her happy, even if only for now, then it is my duty to respect that. She does not answer to me…

A loud sound interrupted his thoughts in the corridor outside the room allotted to Ser Jaime, The shatter broke through the silence that had been reigning in the top flights of the Tower of Ghosts, resonating within the ashen walls. Marq knew his lady mother was sure to be angry over how someone had dropped glassware on the floor inside. But who? My soon to be good-cousin?

The door was closed, but upon edging cautiously closer, he heard an agitated voice escape from the chamber. Perhaps Ser Gerion did indeed come here. Marq frowned.

There were more murmurings inside. With another cautious step, he went close enough to the door to make out the words that were being spoken.

“-- is and always has been permitting of the match, Cersei.” That was Jaime Lannister, but he sounded more… strained. More restrictive. Apprehensive.

The other person in his company, his sister Cersei, seemed to stomp her foot against the floor. “No, what did she do that you were so bewitched?” she demanded. “That fish-whore, in those rags of hers, what did she do?”

There was a pause on Ser Jaime’s part. “It’s not like that, Sister --”

“Of course it is! What else could it be?” Cersei Lannister was not one to be patient. “What did she do, Jaime? Tell me. Don’t be like Father! Don’t hide things from me, Jaime, please just --”

I shouldn’t be doing this, Marq thought. I shouldn’t listen. Their quarrel is their own. I shouldn’t…

But they were talking about Lysa. How could he not?

“Cersei, I…” Ser Jaime trailed off in response. Another pause. “Lysa isn’t the bad sort. And Tyrion…” His tone was almost pleading. 

“The imp?” questioned Lady Cersei, with even more contempt than before. “So it’s him, isn’t it? That wretched, ungrateful dwarf -- what does he have anything do with anything?”

The heir to Casterly Rock hesitated. “Cersei, you have to understand.”

There was another loud crash inside, jerking Marq from his position beside the door. This time, it seemed, one of the Lannister twins had dropped a goblet or something of the sort.

“Understand? Understand, Jaime?” The noise of flesh slapping against flesh. “How could you? No, how dare you? You promised me, remember? In King’s Landing, after your Ser Arthur knighted you.”

Lady Cersei suddenly spoke in a deeper voice, seemingly attempting to imitate her brother. “‘I swear it, sweet sister, I’ll be your lionknight.’ What happened to that, Jaime? Or have you forgotten that, too, like you’ve forgottenseven entire years?”

A thought took Marq by surprise, and he couldn’t help but shiver at it. Lady Cersei had reacted to her brother’s impending marriage as he might have to Lysa’s had he been more the more vocal sort. He had kept everything so repressed, so contained… but Lady Cersei’s speech reminded him far too much of what he had thought at first.

“I will never marry someone my father wants me too,” Lysa had scoffed, so many moons ago in Riverrun, as he had tried to tell her what a woman’s duty ought to be. ‘Jaime Lannister is a bit of a sycophant’, she had written once from Casterly Rock. What changed since then? What happened to your words, to the hours we spent together?

Once more, Marq bit back his words. It is her choice and hers alone. My duty is to respect it.

Yet Lady Cersei being so reminiscent of his own mind confused him. He did not understand it, and things he did not understand were things he did not like. The Targaryens marry brother to sister, and have done so for the longest time. Is it possible that Lady Cersei…

No, Marq thought firmly. It was a bizarre consideration. A Lannister loving her own brother in the manner of the dragonlords of old was an unthinkable feat. It had to be Lady Cersei feeling betrayed by the spur-of-the-moment plan.Just as I was.

“I’m sorry. I can’t…” Jaime Lannister muttered; quieter, fainter.

Lady Cersei’s voice shockingly softened. “You can, Jaime. You can say no. His Grace will surely accept you to his Kingsguard, even now. You can change things.

Marq could have shouted on the spot had he not kept his cool. No, you idiot! Lysa wants to marry you! She wants to save you from the Kingsguard, not condemn you to it! You cannot change things now! You cannot say no!

The door handle tempted him. I could barge in now, drag him out… 

“Jaime?” Lady Cersei asked again.

But the Lannister knight did not respond. There was an agonising burst that was heard courtesy of his sister, followed by the sound of another goblet slamming down. Flesh slapping against flesh; feet stomping the floor. In that moment, Marq Whent almost desired to join Cersei Lannister in venting out everything he felt inside.

“Fine!” she screeched. “Have it your way then. Go fuck that fish-whore for all I care. Perhaps that disgusting, ugly brother of yours can join in. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

He quickly hid himself behind a pillar on the other side of the staircase as Ser Jaime’s sister walked away, uncaring of the noise the door made as it banged against the doorframe. With a blur of glistening blonde hair and a bubble of rage around her, she disappeared into the darkness, leaving Marq alone in the corridor.

She had called his cousin a whore… I shouldn’t have listened in. He felt uncomfortable, as though he had committed a sin. But that was nothing compared to what Marq felt when he walked inside Ser Jaime’s room to see the knight clutching his head, blind to the world around him.

He cleared his throat. Perhaps this is the devastation the dragons will be leaving behind this time. A half-hearted wedding, inauspicious from its conception, he decided darkly. I am sorry, Lysa. I am sorry.

“I can’t…” the knight was still murmuring. 

“Ser Jaime?” Marq asked, his discomfort clear.

The bridegroom, dressed in Lannister finery, did not look up. A trance had taken him, capturing him in it. “I can’t,” he muttered.

“Ser Jaime?”

At this second call, at least, the addressed listened. “I… Ser Marq?” he questioned, puzzled. 

“It is time, Ser Jaime,” Marq responded simply, choosing to ignore the disheveled appearance of the knight before him.

“Time for…?” 

Seven hells, Ser Jaime, could you not even pretend to be eager for the wedding? Marq shook his head in disbelief, wondering what the world had come to. Why would you wish to become this boy’s lady, Lysa?

“The wedding,” he answered.

“Right.” Jaime Lannister blinked. He doesn’t want to do it. “Of course…”

Accompanying the groom to the sept proved to be silent but tedious. Marq found it hard to think in those moments, hollow and numb as he felt. She chose him, he repeated to himself. She chose him.

But what did Lysa know? She’s just a girl. A girl who has seen four and ten namedays, but a girl still, whose duty was to marry a respectable lord or heir and bear him children -- a duty she had already taken steps towards.

It was difficult to fault someone only doing their duty, but the thought nagged him nonetheless.

The sept itself, when they finally reached, was packed with impatient noblemen and women. Lady Tyrell was fanning herself in the heat. The Starks seemed most uninterested in the proceedings. Robert Baratheon and his group of friends japed around amicably. Lord Arryn, Lord Royce and other more serious men waited in peace, conversing so softly that their voices were irrelevant when taken with the others in the seven-sided sept. The royal family, it seemed, had only recently arrived, and Princess Elia was steadying herself in her position in the front row beside her princely husband. The White Swords of the Kingsguard stood tall and attentive in their shadows, but the strange part was King Aerys not being present.

Marq’s heartbeat escalated with dread as he quietly walked to a place beside three of his siblings and both his parents. Ser Jaime driftingly took his place at the septon’s side, flanked by Arlan, Marq’s younger brother, who proudly held the Lannister cloak on an argent pillow. Another glance further down the row revealed that Lady Cersei, just as Marq had seen her moments before, was being urgently whispered to by her uncle Ser Gerion, who bore an expression of pure boredom on his face. The Lannister twin went to retort, likely with anger, but whatever she was about speak, she did not find the opportunity to -- for it was at that very second that the doors of the sept opened, and in walked the bride, led to her future by Aerys II Targaryen himself.

Where is Ser Brynden? Marq frowned, a million thoughts rushing through. It was supposed to her uncle leading Lysa in, not the king. But that is a thought for later, with a proper explanation no doubt. As of this moment…

She was beautiful. He could never deny that, not even if she were put next to Ashara Dayne or Cersei Lannister or even Elia Martell. Now, in a Tully blue gown and jewels befitting her station, Marq admired her even more. The silver maiden cloak sagged her shoulders, and even awkwardly balancing herself on the king’s arms, looking slightly uncomfortable in the attire, she was the most wonderful bride he was sure he would ever see.

King Aerys escorted Lysa to the altar, and as did the two young Westerlands girls chosen to carry the train of her gown. As soon as they had taken their places, Lord Commander Hightower of the Kingsguard following the king, the ceremony began.

Ser Jaime and Lysa first took the seven vows, looking upon each other, her a tad more eager than him. Then came the seven blessings, the seven promises and eventually a wedding song was played; one of the better music troupes that had arrived at Harrenhal engaging the gathered crowd into a rendition of Jenny’s Oldstones Heart

Soon enough it was time. The demure septon raised his voice and asked, “In the light of the Seven, I call upon any who protest the union and challenge it in the face of gods and men. Speak now, or forever hold your peace.”

Speak now, or forever hold your peace. 

Deafening silence. Marq dared to sneak a glance at the king, who did not look to bear any animosity from the distance. Perhaps this wedding was for nothing, after all. A farce; a mummer’s farce.

He did not move. He did not speak. The septon continued, turning to Ser Jaime. “You may now bring the bride under your protection,” he said.

Perhaps it was what Marq’s eyes had wished to see, but in the moments of exchanging the Tully cloak for a Lannister one, there was only hesitation and reluctance in the groom’s movements. Arlan helped him, but even then Ser Jaime fumbled, avoiding everyone’s eyes.

He would have rather become a Kingsguard, Lysa, Marq desired to scream as he watched his cousin beam at her almost-husband. But it was too late already.

“With this kiss I pledge my love, and take you for my lady wife,” vowed the heir to Casterly Rock.

“With this kiss I pledge my love, and take you for my lord husband,” said Lysa simultaneously. 

Marq froze. The two of them kissed, chastely and appropriately, yet it was a kiss too much. Their hands were placed together and the cloth dipped in the seven holy oils wrapped around them. Man and woman, husband and wife; one for all of eternity.

The septon looked to the gods above. “Here in the sight of gods and men,” he declared, following through with a meaningful gaze at the two before him, “I do solemnly proclaim Jaime of House Lannister and Lysa of House Tully to be man and wife, one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever, and cursed be the one who comes between them.”

And cursed be he indeed.