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The River Runs Cold

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The woman held the swaddled babe in her arms for Lyanna’s inspection. Cloudy blue eyes peered up at her and the coal-black fuzz on the child’s head, curling softly, reminded the lady of the house of her own husband’s hair. There was little doubt about it, indeed. The child was Robert’s. “And how long ago have you been delivered of the babe?”

“Tis not been a couple of full turns.” That fit the timeline rather well. Lyanna offered a shallow nod. “Begging pardon, I’ve nothing to feed her with and the lord promised help.”

Tall and straight as a spear, the woman watched Lyanna with her dark eyes. Her tightly bound hair fell upon one shoulder in one single golden coil. The colour was most common to House Lannister. Lyanna ought to have known her husband’s stint into the Westerlands would only mean the begetting of yet another bastard.

She sighed softly. “Indeed, he would.” Lyanna stood up from her seat and walked closer to the woman. She bent over the creature cradled in her arms and cooed at the child. “What a pretty girl.” This was perhaps the fourth or fifth bastard Lyanna made the acquaintance of in her three years of marriage to Robert Baratheon.

Her own performance was not quite as stellar in that respect. Lyanna had given her husband one single child and even that one a disappointment to his father. “May I hold her?” she asked, her eyes still upon the babe.

The mother offered a nod and Lyanna took the girl into her own arms, rocking the infant gently. Ymme Lannister, member of a lower branch of House Lannister, had had the ill fate of attracting Robert’s eye when he stood a guest to Tywin Lannister. Being that she’d been widowed recently and had returned to her Lannister kin, she had taken to keeping company with Cersei Lannister. It was that way that Robert came upon her.

For whatever reason, Ymme had not had the fortitude to see through Robert’s sweet words to the despicable character beneath. And she had fallen to his seduction. In simpler words, Ymme had been beguiled by her lord husband, shortly after discovering that he’d left her with more than just a memory for the cold winter nights. And so she was delivered of a healthy babe not much later. The story was very similar to that of all of Robert’s lovers. And the gods knew that they were many.

“My lady, Lord Robert’s vow was that I could remain here for as long as it is needful.” It was a test of sorts. A few of her husband’s paramours had attempted it before. They tried to see how secure she was in her position.

Lyanna looked up from the child and offered the other woman a brittle smile. “I cannot go over my husband’s word. It is for you to decide if you will or will not remain in my home.”

Robert’s romantic liaisons were regularly of short duration, as Lyanna had come to learn. Whatever lover he brought would remain for weeks or a few moon’s turns within Storm’s End, after which they were dismissed with a handful of silver. It usually fell to Lyanna to dispense the sums, as Robert simply left it to Maester Cressen to do, utterly uninterested in the fact that it was Lyanna who controlled the string purses.

Left to Robert, the keep would fall apart around their ears. The man hadn’t a lick of sense when it came to coin and business. He spent more than he had, he was wild and reckless in the worst of ways, and he was utterly unconscious of it all.

“Then I take it my presence shan’t be a burden upon you, good lady,” Ymme continued. She held her hands out for the child and Lyanna relinquished her hold on the babe.

“Not at all.” In fact, she would be only too pleased to have her here. It simply meant that Robert would keep away from her bedchamber. “I will have rooms prepared for you and your daughter then. You may leave.”

Ymme curtsied, turned around and left, a smile upon her lips, certain that she had won.

In the back of her mind, however, Lyanna was quite amused at the whole matter. The higher the climb, the greater the fall, as it were. She had become some sort of matron, to be sure. And her family had had such hoped for her. Oddly fitting, their disappointment was one of Lyanna’s balms.

Daughter of the most powerful Northerner lord, Lyanna had been born to Rickard Stark and his lady wife Lyarra. She’d grown up in Winterfell surrounded by servants and had kept company with her youngest brother for most of her life as before she could truly get to know them her oldest brother had been sent to foster away from home. It was natural that she preferred the company y of Benjen to that of Brandon or Ned, as it was simply that she knew Ben better. That was not to say that she wasn’t close with her other brothers. Blood bound them all quite tightly.

Brothers aside, her status had afforded her many advantages in the face of existence. She’d had the best that education could offer, she’d always been treated courteously and she had never suffered any deprivation. There was only one thing she was asked in return and that was to further the standing of House Stark. Thus it was that she was given in marriage to a friend of her brother’s by the name of Robert Baratheon.

Lyanna had never loved her husband. She had, at first, been charmed by his good looks, like so many others. Robert could be engaging when he tried to be. He was jovial and affectionate, the very best of hunters and quite strong. But what he lacked, in Lyanna’s opinion at least, was a quality that involved character. Not pride, mind, but true character. Robert was concerned with himself first and foremost and what he wanted. Everything and everyone else came second. His wife too was included in this second category.

She would not have minded, of course, if he’d been sincere about the matter. But Robert was a hypocrite. He claimed to love her when he most certainly didn’t. It was true that he’d been fascinated with her, and that she blamed on Ned’s stories of her. It was also true that the man had thought himself enamoured in the first year of their marriage, due to the erroneous belief that he might mould her into a creature of his own making.

But Lyanna had never been particularly malleable. Adaptable was another matter altogether. Robert had been certain he was wedding a simpering enamoured girl. What he discovered was that winter roses had thorns of steel. He might not have made this discovery, however, had it not been for their son.

It could not be said that Lyanna had neglected her duty. She had birthed her husband an heir. Of course, there was the small matter of her not having carried fully to term and their son being daft, as Robert said whenever the discussion was kindled between them. At the beginning of their marriage Robert had been content, thrilled even when she’d announced she was pregnant. He had been ecstatic when she gave birth to a boy and promptly had him named Jon, for Lord Arryn whom he had a strong bond with.

Trouble had not been far behind though. As Jon had grown, it was noticed that the child could not speak. Maester Cressen had tried all tricks of his trade to get the child to form even the easiest of words when it was time for him to speak. But nothing worked. Robert had been so much angered that he’d taken Jon up in his arms and shook him so hard the poor child has started weeping silently and it took Lyanna screaming like a wild creature for him to release the bawling toddler.

Maester Cressen had concluded that Jon was simple and could not be taught words. That had created quite a rift between spouses. Whereas Robert had been pleased with her before and exercised some discretion in his seeing other women, ever since he flaunted his companions before Lyanna rather shamelessly. Even more, he’d insisted that she give him another child. Her failure to do so only aggravated him further.

What would happen, she could not tell. Of late Robert had taken to his hunting trips with much fervour. That left Lyanna mostly alone, much to her delight. She could look after Jon and spend her days with little Renly, playing games. Those two were her second means of comfort.

Renly, though Robert’s brother, was as different from her husband as the moon was from the sun. A child still, the youngest of the three Baratheon brothers was a companion to Jon and did not shun the child despite whatever ailed him. Lyanna could only be grateful to such a person. That was, mayhap, why she’d grown so attached to her good-brother.

No longer in the mood to entertain such thoughts, Lyanna left the small solar behind and walked down the stone halls to the nursery. There she was greeted by the sight of Renly struggling with his reading as Jon sat on the ground and peered at the older boy with an engrossed look upon his features. Renly floundered over one of the words and stuttered out the sounds a few times before he could make out the proper pronunciation.

As if sensing her eyes, the boys looked at her. Renly jumped to his feet and pulled Jon along. “I was reading to him about the Targaryen conquest.” Lyanna smiled and nodded her head. “I think he liked it.” He gazed down at Jon. “You do like it, do you not?” Jon’s head bobbed slightly in response. “See?”

“I see.” Lyanna entered fully into the room and sat down upon a chair, dismissing the septa that was sitting in a corner with her needlework. “May I listen to you reading as well, or shall you read only for Jon?”

“Of course you can,” countered Renly. He pushed Jon towards her slightly and that encouragement seemed enough for her son to trot over to her and begin climbing upon her lap. Lyanna hoisted him up and Renly dragged his own chair closer to them. “So, Aegon had just left Dragonstone.”

Robert’s brother continued reading as Lyanna watched the two of them. Jon leaned back against her, grey eyes blinking every now and again. He truly seemed to like the story. If only he could speak. If only he could tell her that he truly did like the story.

Lyanna wondered, not for the first time, if this was some sort of punishment from the gods. It would be unfair of them, and she truly could not believe them so cruel as to punish a child for something he had no fault in. Thus convinced, her attention was returned to the exploits of Aegon and his two sisters.

Mayhap one day Jon would speak. Until then she would be patient, and she would try her best to encourage him. Whatever the maesters said, her son was not stupid. He could not be; not when a spark of intelligence shone brightly in his eyes.

“Did Harrenhal really burn down?” Renly interrupted himself. He looked intently at Lyanna. “You’ve been there before, have you not, good-sister?”

“Indeed, Harrenhal burned. A ruin it is. Grand, magnificent even, but a ruin.” She took a moment to brush Jon’s hair back from his face. “You might be able to convince your brother to take you there one day.”

Harrenhal was quite a distance away. If good fortune was on her side, Robert might remain there for a few turns. One never knew, of course, when the gods would smile down upon them.

“Truly? Might Jon come along as well?”

Chapter Text

Rhaenys pushed Aegon aside, claiming that it was her turn to look through the far-eye. Rhaegar caught the boy before he could intimately acquaint himself with the ground and steadied him. "Rhaenys," he chided the eldest of his children. "Have a care."

"Apologies, father," she murmured, but did not turns away from her discovery. "What's that one there?" the little Princess questioned, pointing to a group of stars in the middle of the sky.

Rhaegar glanced the constellation and instinctively hoisted Aegon in his lap. "That's the King's Crown. Your lady mother showed it to you last time. Do you not remember?" It couldn't have been that long ago. Or mayhap it was.

His daughter merely shrugged. "And that one?"

"That's the Sow, stupid," Aegon told her before the father could answer.

"I'm not stupid, stupid," the girl countered, turning away from the Myrish eye to glare at her brother. "I'll tell mother."

"Tell her," Aegon dared, seemingly unafraid.

"I will," Rhaenys promised, scowling.

"Enough you two," Rhaegar sighed. "Do you want to see the stars or would you rather squabble?" Elia was too soft on them, he decided. But that was as much his fault as hers, he supposed. He ought to have taken more interest in their education, something beyond simple questioning his spouse.

The two children offered twin apologies, though it was quite clear that neither meant it. In fact, Rhaegar was much afraid that left on their own for a few moments, they would go back to squabbling. He was almost tempted to leave them there and go riding. But nay, he'd promised that they could watch the stars with him. And so they would.

"Now it's my turn," Aegon declared, scrambling off his father's lap and peering through the Myrish eye at the darkened sky. "Look there, that's the Shadowcat." His delight was not interrupted even when Rhaenys pushed against him to see as well.

It was mayhap Aegon that was closest to him in temper. He was also quite interested in astronomy. Ever since he'd discovered the stars he'd been begging either him or the maester to explain things and give answers to a great deal of questions. Rhaenys was more her mother. She was content to sit by the hearth and play with her dolls. In fact, the only reason for which she came stargazing was because of the undying sibling rivalry between her and her brother.

Much as he tried, Rhaegar could not understand that. It had to be because his brother had come when he was fairly grown and he'd never felt the need to compete with Viserys. And Viserys himself rarely exhibited any desire top compete with their youngest sibling. If anything, Daenerys was allowed to win by default in any sort of game they played simply because Viserys could not be bothered to try to win.

His own hellions, on the other hand, could hardly go for a couple of hours without half a dozen spats between them. How in the world were they so belligerent? In the end, Rhaegar was sure he would be driven insane. But until that point, he might as well try to contain them, because the Seven knew Elia could not be bothered. She was of the firm belief that a mother was only to coo at and coddle the child. It was the father who should try restraining the offspring.

At least she had an excuse for refusing strain. His lady wife had recently imparted upon him the very welcome news that she was with child once more. After Aegon had been born, a gruelling feat according to Elia, the maesters had been unsure if she would be able to have children again, due to some internal ruptures. But Elia, with her usual determination, had pulled through every little hardship and gathered her strength to give him yet another child.

It was perhaps one of the admirable traits his lady wife had, her determination. It left him in awe of her, to be sure. Elia and her fragility seemed to less suited to determination and more to laments. Though she did lament from time to time, Rhaegar ascribed that more to their circumstances than to her utmost desire to do so.

"Father, how about that one?" Rhaenys distracted him from his thoughts, pulling on his sleeve with all her might. For fear that she might rip the cloth, Rhaegar gently pulled his hand away as he looked towards the direction she pointed in.

"That one is the Ice Dragon." He traced the shape with his forefinger. "See, there's the head, the body and the tail." Aegon traced the form of it too with a smile upon his lips. Rhaenys simply shoo her head.

"It doesn't look like a dragon to me." She was looking too much into it. "This has grown tiresome. May I be excused father?"

"Go along then, Rhaenys." His words gained him a smile from the girl. She stuck her tongue out at Aegon and then ran off. Rhaegar could hear the sound of footfalls and reckoned that she would be running down the hall towards the stairs. He dearly hoped she didn't knock into anybody. The last thing they needed was someone with a broken arm or leg or, gods forbid, a fractured skull.

There was enough to worry over without the mischief of his children.

Rhaegar glanced at the Ice Dragon. Its blue eye pointed northwards. The North. Rhaegar sighed softly. He ought not to think about her, not now. In fact, it was best if he buried all memories of that cheerful she-wolf who loved winter roses and, once, claimed she could best him at riding. He never did manage to find out if it was true.

"Father, what are you thinking about?" his son questioned, offering a much needed distraction.

"Nothing of import," the Crown Prince replied. "Have you tired as well?"

"Nay, I want to sit here some more. Mother never wants to do anything but sit down anyway." He returned his attention to the far-eye.

As soon as the child had grown too tired, Rhaegar picked him up in his arms and made for the nursery. There he was relieved of his burden by a septa who had been waiting for the little Prince. Rhaegar lingered until he saw the child ushered into bed.

Afterwards he made for his daughter's bedchamber. Rhaenys had already crawled into bed and she'd huddled beneath the covers. The septa in charge of her slept as well. It was time she got a proper companion, someone her age, Rhaegar considered. She would nee a friend, especially considering that Elia would soon be confined to her bed.

Taking leave of his eldest child, Rhaegar made his way to his own bedchamber, fully prepared for a good night's rest. What he'd not counted on, however, was the presence of his lady wife there. Elia has settled herself across the bed, in wait for him, no doubt. Upon his entrance she looked up at him and offered a thin smile.

"Rhaenys tells me she had attracted your ire on this day." She hadn't even waited for him to fully enter the room. It was going to be that conversation once more. Mentally preparing himself, Rhaegar sat down in one of the chairs and waited for his lady wife to continue. She did not disappoint. "I know the King was not best pleased, for whatever reason, but I thought you better. You are her father."

"And you mistake me," he replied curtly. "I did reproach her, for pushing her brother." He would never know how exactly Elia had come by the conclusion that Rhaegar held any misgivings towards their daughter, not did he want to. But the fact remained that he did not. "She needs to learn that some behaviours are wrong."

"It was only child's play." Dangerous child's play. One of them might have slipped and hit their head on the stone. Elia's eyes narrowed slightly. "I am not well, Rhaegar. And this is not helping matters." She'd not been well even during her first pregnancy; the second had been no better and the third seemed to follow the trend closely.

"Is that the reason for which you came here?" He looked away from her momentarily to one of the windows. The curtains billowed. "'Tis cold here. You shouldn't be out in the cold." What with her delicate condition, as she kept insisting.

"I've received a letter from Oberyn," she told him a moment later. "He is to arrive in a moon's turn."

"That is good." At least she would have someone to talk to, since she claimed that it was only Oberyn who understood her. How that could be, Rhaegar was unsure. He'd never claimed to understand Elia anymore than she understood him. "How long is he staying, did he say?"

"Nay, but I'm hoping it'll be until after the child is born." She patted her stomach gently. It was barely visible and her courses still came and went, which was why they'd had such a hard time figuring that she was with child once more.

But the maester assured them that all was well and if nothing intervened, she should be delivered of this third babe soon enough. Rhaegar certainly hoped that that would be the case.

"I am certain he shall agree." He stood from his seat and walked towards the bed. Gently, he helped Elia to her feet and deftly avoided having her lean against him by holding his body just out of reach. "You must be tired."

His reluctant to exchange any sort of affection with her was met with a sigh from Elia. She suspected the cause, he was sure, but she had never mentioned it to him, for the sake of their union. And he'd not brought it up for the very same reason. After all, if his heart was his own, the rest of him belonged to the realm. And as the Prince, he was husband and father and could not, nor would, complicate matters more than they already were.

"I can make my way back on my own," his lady wife announced, pulling her hand away from his. Rhaegar allowed his own hand to fall to his side.

"If you are certain," he allowed. Elia brushed past him, giving one last look over her shoulder, as if to test his willpower.

Rhaegar remained as he was, still eyeing her. Her lips moved in a silent comment he could not make out. She glanced away then and started walking to the door. Before she left him alone in his bedchamber, she bade him a good night, the words nearly lost on him. He murmured his own answer and sat down on the bed as the door clicked shut.

Falling backwards, Rhaegar tried to recall to mind a brilliant smile and shining eyes. He wondered if she'd found happiness and prayed she had. Gods, he'd been a fool to ask her to run away with him. And she had been infinitely wiser by not accepting.

It seemed that a hundred years had passed since then, but in truth it had been much less. Three years or so. Three years too many, according to his wayward heart. He wanted to speak her name out loud but feared to do so. Not because someone might hear, but because that would bring back too many memories.

Slamming the lid down on said memories, Rhaegar took a moment to clear his mind of every remnant. Mayhap in another life the gods would be kinder. Until then he would do well to keep in mind that she had wedded the man her family had been pressing her to join with. By this time she might have as well given him a child or two.

Had she, he wondered. Strangely enough, he'd not heard of it. But that was, in great part, because he tended to avoid hearing news of such nature if it could be helped.

 

 


 

 

 

Lyanna picked up her skirts and sprinted towards her brother before he had even managed to climb down from his horse. Benjen was then treated to a bone-crushing embrace from his sole sister and croaked out something which might have been a greeting. "If you plan to murder me, I daresay you should wait until nightfall," he panted after she'd released him. "Gods, you've a strong grip."

"And you are still a child," Lyanna offered in response. She accepted his own embrace with infinitely more grace although, after many hours on the road, Benjen boasted a ripe scent of horse and dust which almost made her sneeze. "But as you see, I already have two little children with me. You shan't be feeling lonely at the very least."

Benjen, as he was wont to react, pinched her cheek and ducked when she swatted at him. "Too slow. You've not been practicing then."

"There is very little time," the mistress of Storm's End agreed. "Come now and your companions must be tired." Benjen had brought along a number of three squires, friends he'd made at the home of their uncle. "I see Harry has been treating you lot well. Look but at Oren." The company laughed.

Oren, member of House Caron, was a healthy lad of a near height with her own husband, a bit heavier though. For all that he had a heart of gold and tended to look at her as if she'd hung the moon the sky. Lyanna liked him well enough and approved, heartily, of Benjen's friendship with the young man. If anything she wished Ned had found such a friend. Oren bowed at her.

Harren Hasty, the second of the squires, was a lad on an age with Benjen, but a full head shorter. He had a quick wit and his skills as an archer were incomparable. A bit arrogant, but well intentioned and never cruel, he was a jester and liked little better than to make those around him laugh. He bowed to her as well and went as far as to drop a kiss upon her knuckles. Lyanna accepted the gesture in good faith.

"I say, Harren, what would that betrothed of yours think to see you flirting so with poor, old me?" question had the boy blushing, but he did not accept the jest meekly.

"You are clearly not poor, my lady, if the silver thread in your dress is anything to go by." He eyed her from head to toe. "And not old either."

At that Benjen cut in. "Leave my sister be, lout."

"There, 'tis nothing," Lyanna laughed. "Winsten Wylde, why are you hanging back? Do you fear I shall gobble you up?"

Winsted hastened to deliver his own bow. The only fair-haired member of the party, Winsted was quite tall, though not nearly as tall as Oren. He was best with a sword out of them all, if memory served and he was also the one about whom Benjen had once written as wanting to join the Watch.

"There, there Winsten. I reckon you've not taken your vows yet," she jested, patting his shoulder lightly. "Now that we're all here in one piece, I do not doubt hunger abounds. So here," she beckoned a servant forward, who distributed wine, bread and cheese as appetizers.

Afterwards the guests were led into the hall where they were served with a thick broth which none of them protested to. Lyanna tried not to laugh when Renly came up to them and, seeing them eat the food with such zest, allowed for the first time that he might like it too. As a general rule, Renly disliked broth. Because Robert had once sad it was horrid. But now that he saw others gulping it down, her good-brother was more than pleased to do so well.

Looking over her shoulder, Lyanna noticed that Jon too had descended from the nursery. She smiled at him encouragingly and rising from her seat, walked towards the entrance. Benjen who had been watching her rose as well and, upon seeing Jon, hurried to fall in step with her.

"Gods be good, he's grown so much." Last he'd seen the boy, Jon had been a babe, swaddled at his mother's chest."Look at him. He is your very image." The she-wolf wondered if she was just imagining the relief in his voice.

Jon took a step back at his uncle's approach and Benjen sighed. "That scary, am I?" he asked of the child, kneeling before him. "I don't bite, no matter what your lady mother says." The child said nothing. Benjen looked, with puzzlement, at his sister. "He does not speak?"

Forced into the admission Lyanna shook her head. "Not a word yet. But I keep hope that someday he shall."

"It's likely that husband of yours; must have scared the words out of him," the youngest of the Stark siblings grumbled. Then, as if all clouds had been banished, he grinned at Jon and held his arms wide open. "Come here, you, and I will give you a present."

At that her son took a hesitant step forth, followed by a second and then a third. He, taking great pains by the look on his face, made his way to Benjen and accepted the embraced dealt to him with a look of astonishment that nearly made Lyanna cry. He was not used to receiving affection from men. The gods knew Robert rarely wanted to even see him. Which was for the best.

Benjen picked his nephew up and spun him around a few times before they returned together to the long table. Jon was introduced to his uncle's companions and they were all, without exception, unbothered by his silence. Or if they were, they had enough presence of mind not to show it.

Lyanna settled herself next to Benjen who had perched Jon on his lap and was feeding the boy pieces of bread dipped in broth. "What was that I heard about a gift?"

"I've not brought a gift for you," Benjen quipped, holding a hand out over the table towards Winsten. "Hand it over," he prompted.

Lyanna watched with curiosity as Winsten searched the content of his satchel to pull out a small wrapped parcel. That he handed to Benjen. Her brother placed it on the table and allowed Jon to open it in his own time.

Her son stared at the present, then at her, as if to ask for permission. Lyanna gave him a smile and a nod. That settled, Jon's small hands started unwrapping. Renly, who was close himself, peered at the present with much interest as well. Inside the package was a set of carved animals, quite small and dainty. Lyanna saw horses, wolves, birds, a stag as well and even a dragon.

"And, of course, for my favourite good-brother," Benjen continued as another parcel was brought out. Renly looked just about ready to jump on Benjen's lap as well. He was gifted with a miniature bow. "Old Wylde was only too happy to have these made for me, especially as it gave him a reason to fleece me of my coin."

Winsten, whose uncle they spoke of, did not have a problem joining them in their laughter. "Only because you are so easy to fleece," he replied to Benjen with impertinence.

The children were much too busy with their toys to pay them much mind and before long they'd skipped away to the nursery or the yard. So it was that Lyanna was left in the company of her brother and his party. They passed the time by sharing amusing stories of their travel down the Kingsroad. Some of them were amusing, other were incredulous and a few, but not too many, nearly made Lyanna lose her seat from so much laughter.

The meal done, all but Benjen opted to retreat. Her brother, though, simply took her by the hand and together they walked to the gardens. A light snow had started falling, so little but bare trees were to be seen. Still, both of them being of the North, they found little trouble in pacing the length of the yard.

"How have you been, truly?" Benjen questioned at a long last. Lyanna should have known she could not simply hide from him what she felt.

"Wretched. Is it that obvious?" Her answer had Benjen shaking his head. "I've been as well as can be expected, Ben. He is not much worse than I imagined."

"The pig," her brother scowled. "I did try to change father's mind, Lya."

"I know." This was no fault of her brother's. Benjen truly had made a attempt to end the match, but fate had conspired against him. "If I am lucky, the fool will drink himself into an early grave, before I have to sell every last piece of silver in the keep."

"That bad?" Considering Robert's coffers had been full at the death of his father, Lyanna would rather think it was worse. Benjen looked surprised. "He didn't seem like it."

"I try my best to make ends meet," she shrugged.

"You know, he and I are not truly kin." The words made Lyanna shudder. It was not the first time he'd made her such an offer. Something similar had left his mouth on her wedding day and she had refused him with another, more urgent matter in mind.

"I know you love me, Ben, but you must never say something like that again. If the drinking does him in, then I'm not opposed." She pressed a kiss to her brother's cheek and ignored his pout. He could be so childish at times. "Better you tell me how aunt Branda fares; she's not written me a word since Jon was born." Aunt Branda had been unable to attend to her as she herself had been in confinement at that time.

"She is well. I'm surprised she's not written. I thought her quarrel was with father." Well that was unexpected. At the look on her face, Benjen clarified. "Apparently mother left a will of sorts and some matters were thorny; father's words, not mine. I don't know any more than you do."

"I'd say you do; but just a smidge." They laughed. "Say, I've heard that Ned has finally convinced Lady Ashara to wed him."

Robert rarely made a point of informing her of what went on in the realm. If he could help it, he chose to leave her in the dark. Fortunately, Catelyn, Brandon's wife, was much kinder and wrote to her with regularity. Though the amassing of information was slow, she still had some, which was the point.

"You've heard correctly, sister mine. Finally, he has managed it." Much to the relief of everyone, Lyanna was certain. "And it's only taken him half a decade."

"Now, now, Benjen," Lyanna chided It was true that Ashara Dayne had proven herself resistant to their middle brother's charm and that had been a source of amusement to them for almost as long as it lasted. But Ned had convinced her in the end. "What manner of brother are you?"

"The very best I should say." His elbow knocked against her ribs warningly and Lyanna mirrored his gesture. "Oh, so it's like that." For her audacity, the she-wolf was treated to a handful of snow to the face.

Not one to be cowed so easily, Lyanna repaid her brother back in kind. "Aye, it's like that. I might be a wee bit rusty, but I've not forgotten it all, I can assure you."

A war of snowballs ensued, much to the delight of the siblings. It reminded Lyanna of better days. She even managed to catch Benjen off guard and pour a handful of snow down his back.

"That's cheating," he complained, struggling to get the snow out before his skin froze. "You never did know how to lose gracefully."

"On the contrary. You are the one who never learned. And you accuse me of cheating." Laughter rang throughout the yard.

Chapter Text

Waking with a start, Lyanna felt her whole frame grow tense. Instinctively she opened her eyes to peer into the void of darkness before her. Without even the frail light of the moon as aid, it was difficult to make out much of anything. Lyanna broke out in a sweat.

She expected at any moment that the bed would dip under additional weight and she would be unceremoniously dragged on her back any moment by pawing hands she’d come to know better than she would have wanted to. Robert was as considerate of her between the sheets as he was outside the bedchamber. It usually made Lyanna want to smash his head against a wall. Alas that was beyond her powers.

Thankfully, no pressure came upon her shoulders. No wide palms pulled her backward. The stench of wine or mead did not fill her nostrils and there was no weight coming down upon her to pin her to the mattress.

Shoulders slumped and a small sound of relief left her lips.

And then something moved. There was a shadow moving through the sea of darkness, wading between other shadows and steadily approaching the foot of the bed. But it did not belong to her husband; it was too small. Like that of a child. With a start, Lyanna realised that it was her son.

Throwing aside the covers, Lyanna crawled to the foot of the bed and hoisted Jon up until he was safely in her arms. She inhaled his scent and brushed her lips to the top of his head. ”My sweet child, what is the matter? Are night terrors troubling you?” It was not unheard of with her son. But it did not seem to be the case. His hair was not damp and his breathing was fairly regular.

Mayhap he’d just wanted to stay with her. Whatever the case, Lyanna was glad to have him. She dragged them both to where the pillows were and allowed Jon to find a comfortable position, before pulling the furs over both of them and settling down. Her arm came to rest protectively around her child, pulling Jon into her front. His breath splayed warm against her skin even through her shift. There was something comforting about having her child in her arms. It told her that the most precious person to her was safe. It gave Lyanna strength. For in truth, it was in Jon that she found the power to brave a lifetime with her wayward husband.

Her fingers combed lovingly through her son’s hair, the slow rhythm meant to lull him off to sleep. And Lyanna did know when the child finally closed his eyes in slumber. It was then that she herself could drift off into the world of dreams where she was safe from the unpleasantness of the waking world and all that it contained.

Somewhere in the distance the wind was howling, but Lyanna barely made that out, warm and comfortable as she was in the safety of her bedchamber.

But the coming day dawned grey and dreary, treating Lyanna to a concert of a violent gale whistling through the walls. Jon slept through it all, apparently undisturbed. That, the mother reckoned was due to his young age and, presumably, lack of sleep. She left him slumbering, cocooned in warmed furs in order to set about her morning routine.

Lyanna washed her face diligently with water from the jug on her bedside. She pulled out a heavy dress from the trunk at the foot of the bed and changed into the garment all the while shivering at the cold. Storm’s End was vastly different from the keep of her girlhood. Where Winterfell was warm even during the harshest of winters, Robert’s keep by the sea did not offer the same comfort. So Lyanna hastened in tying her girdle about her middle and, after finding her silver comb, went on with her business.

With a soft kiss to her son’s forehead, Lyanna went out of her bedchamber into the hallway. She considered for a moment the possibility of waking Benjen up, but discarded the notion in favour of her other duties. So the mistress of Storm’s End made her way to the kitchens where the cook, a round, balding man, gad already begun his work for the day.

The smell of fresh bread wafted through the air. It was at that point that Lyanna realised she was quite hungry. The servants murmured their greeting upon taking notice of her, but as most had their duties to attend to, Lyanna was free to sail past the cook and see to her own preparations.

Normally, the lady of the house could simply command the kitchens to bring out a specific food. But Lyanna had learned, not long after becoming a wife, that there were times when one could not be too demanding. Apparently, Lady Casanna, her predecessor in position of Lady Baratheon, had been well-loved by the servants for being a gentle, kind soul. The anniversary of her death, recalled with startling clarity by all within the keep. Her lord husband was mourned with equal fervour by the very same servants. Lyanna knew not the true nature of these two long-departed figures, but far be it from her to insult anyone by interrupting their mourning. As such, she was pleased enough that they continued on with their duties and she, in deference to this custom of their, would give aid in person on this day. If that did not make her as well-loved as Lady Casanna had been, it at least gave her enough leeway for the rest of the year and ensured that the servants thought kindly enough of their mistress.

So it was that the she-wolf passed some time until she reckoned that her guests would wake. Fortunately for her, Lyanna knew her brother well enough to correctly guess his habits. Not that they’d changed excessively, to be sure. That was, mayhap, the very best thing about knowing one’s siblings.

Once done, Lyanna left the kitchens with instructions that the inhabitants of the keep were to break their fast within the hour. She made her way back to her own bedchamber to see that her son had woken and was strolling down the hallway towards his rooms, presumably for clothing more appropriate for the day. Lyanna took his hand and, without a word, guided him to his destination.

There, the septa charges with looking after the two boys took him in with a look of relief upon her fleshy face. “I thought he’d been stolen away, my lady.” Then two women shared a smile.

While not keeping with the Faith, the she-wolf had raised no opposition to having her son thus educated. She was no longer in the North where the old gods ruled. Besides, Jon could decide for himself when he was old enough what his beliefs were. For the time being, though, he would know about both.

“Nay, merely restless.” One last smile was delivered to her son before Lyanna passed into the other room to rouse Renly from his slumber. Unlike Jon, her good-brother rather liked sleeping and would do so late into the day if not otherwise obligated. “Up you get,” encouraged she, shaking the boy’s shoulder gently.

Renly murmured in protest and tried to hide away his face in the pillow. But Lyanna was having none of that. She yanked the pillow from under his head and demanded, once more, that he wake up. “Come now, Renly. Do you not know what day this is?”

Likely he did not. Robert made it a point of being within the keep on this particular day, and by that mostly Renly pieced it all together. More morose than ever on the anniversary of his parents’ death, Robert had a tendency to share with his younger brother all sorts of tales before finding his comfort at the bottom of a wine cup.

After much insistence, she managed to get the boy on his feet and left him to the septa. Lyanna went into the main hall where her brother and his companions were seated at the table, servants milling about, bringing out food and drink.

Proper greeting were exchanged before they returned to their own conversations. Lyanna seated herself at the head of the table and, as Benjen was closest to her, entertained her brother with conversations.

“I have to say,” he interrupted with a smile, “that your skills have much improved. My sister is no longer a child.” He wiped away an invisible tear and Lyanna resisted the urge to smack him.

“You thought to find me unchanged then?” she questioned, observing from the corner of her eye that her son and good-brother, along with their minder had entered the hall.

“Not unchanged. I was complimenting you, daft woman.” Benjen reacted as if it was the most natural occurrence in the world when Jon made to climb ion his lap and took the boy up without thought. “Must be the positive influence of being a mother.”

“I reckon you are right,” Lyanna agreed, waving away the septa who looked appalled at the child’s behaviour. “Let us break our fast then.”

The atmosphere was relaxed enough, the food was adequate and Robert was conspicuously absent from the table. It was as good as it would get, Lyanna knew. She knew it was mayhap harsh of her, but she prayed Robert had been detracted from returning by some tavern where he could drink to his heart’s content. It was to be hoped that it was the case.

The last to arrive was her husband’s mistress. Ymme Lannister spoke little and had the good sense to sit well away from the others. Benjen had given her a dark look for which Lyanna chided him half-heartedly. “Leave her be.“

“But she is sitting at this table.” His pointing out of the breach of conduct received a shrug from Lyanna.

“As mistresses go this one is better than some,” the she-wolf assured her brother. “Besides, she’ll be leaving soon. The least I can do for her is let her go with a full stomach.”

“You are too kind,” her brother grumbled. “I would have had her thrown out on her ear.”

“Small allowances have to be made.” And he knew well enough why, Lyanna was certain. With an indulgent smile, Lyanna filled her brother’s bowl once again, as Jon had emptied it during their conversation.

“He sure has an appetite this morning,” Benjen laughed.

“He has an appetite every morning,” the mother declared. “Both of them do,” she nodded towards Renly who was busy cramming as much bread in his mouth as he could. “To see them eat you would think we keep them hungry for days on end.”

It was natural, of course, that they would eat as they did. Children tended to run around, after all, and consume much of their energy in play. Hunger was a logical outcome of that. And they were growing. Lyanna supposed that if she thought hard enough about it, she would remember that as a child she had been much the same along with Benjen.

“I am much aggrieved that I have to depart so hastily then. I would have liked to see the truth of your words with my own eyes.” His hand caught hers beneath the table, offering an encouraging squeeze in response to her frown. “Uncle Harry will have out heads if we keep him waiting for much longer, I reckon.”

“And he would be right to do so. You lot need to learn that rudeness doesn’t pay,” she replied in jest. “When do you plan to leave then?”

“By midday.” With that answer, Jon was deposited on his mother’s lap and Benjen broke his own fast. “I’ll get aunt to write to you as soon as I can.”

“That is good of you.” Lyanna saw to her own food and enjoyed what remained of her time with her sibling.

As with all good things, her brother’s visit came to an end by midday, as he’d planned. Jon was, of course, the most distraught. He had developed a rather speedy but strong attachment to his uncle and it took more than a dozen promises of an eventual visit, a bit of coaxing from Lyanna and Renly to get the poor child to let go of Benjen’s leg. Her brother had been flattered, frankly.

Lyanna had seen the four of them off and was much relieved when, even after they had left, there was still no sight of Robert. The mother returned to the children and, as per custom, decided that they should all go to the small sept. Renly had been informed of the importance of the day at some point during Lyanna’s absence and he was quite in favour of her decision.

The septon serving the keep knew well enough not to interrupt these moments. He retreated somewhere away from sight and left the visiting trio to light their candles. Lyanna sat down on one of the benches and watched Renly murmur his prayers. Jon was too busy inspecting a painting the father to give much thought to anything else.

She did not pray. There was a time for it, and this was not the time, as far as she was concerned. Lyanna rarely went even to the godswood of Storm’s End. It felt like a pale ghost of the godswood of Winterfell as she had not felt any sort of pull towards it. Besides, she was not sure how the people would take it if their lady was so outward with her belief in the old gods.

Done for the time being, Renly sauntered off to Jon and together they inspected the Seven to their heart’s content. Lyanna indulged them until she saw they were growing bored. Bored children tended to cause trouble. As such, she declared the visit over and allowed them to run off to their play. Soon enough they would be found out and Renly would be taken in for lessons, much to his annoyance Lyanna was sure.

Once those two were out the door, the septon reappeared, as if summoned by the aid of sorcery. Lyanna inclined her head towards the man and waited for him to approach her. Septon Merret had long since passed the prime of his life. A gentle-spoken man with an oddly thick voice that seemed at odds with him thin frame, he had been the one to perform the wedding ceremony.

“My lady, you have not forgotten.” The old septon seemed inordinately pleased for it. “I feared that since my lord had not returned the day would pass unobserved. May I have a word?”

“Of course. You can always come to me,” Lyanna assure him.

They sat down on the bench together. The scent of tallow was heavy in the air when the man began to speak again. “Beginning pardon, I have spoken to Lord Robert before he left for his hunting trip and I was promised people to help with repairing the rooftop.” A cough interrupted his speech. “These old bones are not what they used to be, dear lady.”

And it was winter besides. Lyanna gave a nod of her head, understanding perfectly well his meaning. “I am certain it merely slipped his mind, good septon,” she made the excuse for Robert. It could not be very far from the truth though. “I shall see to it that you have your help as soon as possible. A mason, a carpenter and some strapping workers should see to this well enough, I think.”

Standing to her feet, the she-wolf brushed lint of her skirts absent-mindedly “If that would be all” she trailed off expecting that there might be something else the man wished to request of her. But Septon Merret shook his head. “Then I ought to go now. You may expect the workers in three days at latest.”

And she would have the time to search the coffers for money. Lyanna supposed she might find enough to fulfil these needs. Or at least she deeply hoped so. She could, of course, write to her lord father and request a loan, but that would take time.

With such thoughts upon her mind, Lyanna saw herself off to the entrance. She did not look back, nor though to. In fact, the gust of fresh air that blew in her face when she stepped out of the small sept was quite welcome. It washed away the strong scent of tallow that had permeated her very being during her stay within those walls.

Looking at the sky, Lyanna could already tell that a storm was fast approaching. The wind had picked up speed besides and the banners were fluttering madly upon their perches on the walls. She signalled a servant who was crossing the yard over. “Ethan,” she began, beckoned the young boy closer, “go find your mother and tell her that when she makes for home, she is to stop by the mason in the village and let him know I’ve need of him, the carpenter and some workers.”

“Aye, m’lady,” the boy answered, giving her a stiff bow. Lyanna thought he looked rather pale but she sent him off to his business and continued on her way.

She entered the main hall of the keep where other servants were about. They were occupied preparing for the coming storm by the looks of it. They could be quite fierce, as Lyanna had learned. Jon had been born during such a storm if she recalled correctly. It was rather amusing to contemplate as her poor son was, frankly, terrified of storms. A smile touched her lips at the thought. It was very likely that Jon would find his way to her bed on this night as well and Renly would be close behind no doubt, as they shared the dislike of storms.

All the better in an angry gale kept Robert far away for a little while longer as well.

The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully for Lyanna. She had received some complaints of stray dogs stealing poultry, mediated a dispute between two neighbours and made sure nothing was lacking within the keep before she went in search of coin to solve the septon’s troubles. To her luck, she found that Robert had discovered just one of the hiding spots for coin that Lyanna had employed in order to keep the savings from him. The other was untouched and by the looks of it there was enough to pay the workers. Feeling all the better for her discovery the Lady of Storm’s End returned to her small solar just as Betha, one of the maids, was making a fire. The girl was left to her work, as Lyanna needed to look over some deeds.

She had just finished with those documents when, all of a sudden, the door to her solar was thrown open and a one of Robert’s squires stepped in.

Ancel Meadows, a youth of some four-and-ten years, naturally shy and quite composed, had just burst into her solar looking rather like the hounds of hell were nipping at his heels. Naturally, Lyanna was startled by his entrance.

“My lady,” he began, without even waiting for leave. The snow-covered cloak upon his shoulders and his pallor suggested that he had ridden hard for some worrying reason to reach her. “I beg your pardon but my lord Robert had been gravely injured.”

It took her more than a couple of heart-beats to react. Ancel, however, had started speaking so fast that Lyanna could make out little but h it had been a sort of accident. Finally, tired of the constant stream of words, she snapped, “Ancel, enough!” She took a deep breath. “Now, tell me clearly and slowly what has happened.”

He looked dazed, but somehow, finding the strength within himself, Ancel manage to coherently put the case forth to her. “We were returning to the keep and one of the boys was trying out his bow, but the dratted fool shot the arrow toward my lord’s steed. The horse spooked.” There he paused, as if the memory was suddenly too much to bear. “Poor beast, took such a fight that it sped past a line of trees and somehow encountered a boar. My lord was pierced before we could get to him after the horse threw him off.”

“Is he–,” she trailed off, not quite managing to get the word out; not because of some pity that might have nestled within her breast for Robert, but for fear. Fear that he might appear in the doorway at any time.

“I cannot say, m’lady. Last I saw he yet lived.” But he’d been likely riding for some time and injured as Robert was, they could not make a speedy journey. Besides, there was still a storm which might break over their head at any time.

The enormity of the news finally hit her. Lyanna, having stood to her feet in the meantime, braced herself against the desk for support. “Take some men and see what can be done.”

Chapter Text

Elia smiled indulgently as her son scrambled in her lap. Aegon nestled against her, happy enough to have his hair brushed back lovingly. And, as a mother, Elia wished little more than to express her love for her children. Thus Aegon could always expect a loving touch from his mother.

Rhaenys was standing by the door, visibly excited. In fact, her whole frame was shaking with unadulterated delight. If Rhaegar kept them waiting any longer, Elia expected that at any moment her daughter might start jumping from one foot to the other.

“Rhaenys,” Elia called her attention the moment the girl’s hands grabbed fistfuls of her skirts puling on the Myrish lace. The delicate stitching might be ruined from all that tugging and the gods knew Rhaenys did not need anymore ruined dresses during the harsh winter when travelling was exceedingly difficult in the face of snowstorms and foul weather.

Understanding at once her mother’s meaning, the young girl pouted. She let go of the material bunched in her fists and put her best mien suggesting innocence. “Apologies, mother. I just want father to return.”

“Do you, indeed?” the older woman questioned, one eyebrow raised. “I am certain you must by the way you are acting. Alas, you father shall return when he does and not a moment earlier. Do come and sit with me, dearling.”

It was not as if standing by the door would help with any sort of progress. Elia beckoned Rhaenys over a second time, patting the wide space next to her in silent invitation. Seeing as she could not win against her mother’s demand, the daughter sighed, but nonetheless climbed next to her mother.

“Do I have to stay?” Aegon questioned a few moments later, as if to dispel the silence hanging between them.

“Of course,” Rhaenys answered him. “If I have to go stargazing with you, you have to with me when I play the harp.”

”That is not fair,” the boy complained. “I did not say you had to stay with me.”

“Aegon,” Elia cut in gently, “you shall stay right here with us. Your father would not be pleased to hear of you complaining so.” It was the brother’s turn to pout. Alas, Elia was not in any way dissuaded by that. “My decision is made. Now, both of you must get along. Come, children, do not be stubborn.”

Rhaenys and Aegon shared a look, silent understanding passing between them. It seemed that the task was not as impossible as they’d wished to present it. Pleased with that, Elia looked towards the door expectantly. Childish glee aside, Rhaegar was bound to return at any point and then they could spend a few moments together as had been promised.

Whenever matters of state did not weigh down upon him, Rhaegar would spend his afternoons with them, her and the children. It was one of the moments Elia favoured most. There was something to be said about their bond. So, as always, she waited.

As expected, the door opened with a loud creak and Rhaegar stepped in. One of the servants followed him in, carrying a harp. The instrument was deposited near the chairs and the servant was then dismissed.

Barely waiting for anything else, Rhaenys jumped down from her place next to her mother and raced to the harp. Rhaegar chuckled at her enthusiasm and shared a smile with Elia. It might just turn out that Rhaenys’ greatest passion would be music. Aegon rolled his eyes but was quickly sorted out by a stern look coming from his mother.

“I thought you would never come back,” the daughter said, grabbing onto her father’s arm tightly.

“I have returned as you can well see, daughter,” he answered, picking her up. She laughed. Rhaenys was truly most pleased when she was showered with affection. “What shall we do now?” The teasing was met with a grin from Rhaenys and a groan from Aegon.

“Play the harp,” the young girl declared without paying her brother any mind. “I think I can play the whole song this time.”

“Do you?” Rhaegar put her down. “Let us play it together then.”

Pleased with that Rhaenys did not hesitate to climb onto her father’s lap as soon as he was seated. Rhaegar placed his hands over hers and guided her fingers to the strings. If Aegon had inherited the Prince’s love for stars, Rhaenys had his love for music. And she was good at it, despite Aegon’s complaints.

Father and daughter waded through the melody one string at a time. The tempo was decidedly slower than what Rhaegar usually played, but Elia rather thought it suited well enough. The melody itself was one of those haunting exercises in melancholy her husband was so find of. It was simply beautiful.

“Very good,” Rhaegar complimented after the performance was done. “Would you like to play it again?” Rhaenys gave an almost shy nod and her father drew back, leaving her entirely on her own.

Brow furrowed, Elia’s daughter began the performance anew. She struggled through the first part, but under the encouragements of her parents, her confidence bloomed well enough that fear dissipated. From there on the melody flowed mostly smoothly, with one or two small interruptions to allow for remembrance on the child’s part.

Even Aegon seemed to be enjoying himself by the end of it, much to the mother’s delight. It was truly the very best feeling in the world to see them so. Elia leaned back against the headboard, Aegon following the movement. If all went well, then by the end of the year her daughter would be playing all day long.

Elia eyed Rhaegar. He was staring at her. She could not tell what he was thinking of, yet she did not worry. He looked at ease.

The tune came to an end and Rhaenys received her praise. The child fairly glowed with pride at her accomplishment.

“Look!” Aegon exclaimed suddenly. “’Tis no longer storming.”

One of the many grievances of children during violent storms was that they could not run about and play outside. With the storm gone, Elia knew it was only a matter of moments before the son and daughter insisted upon going outside.

True to prediction Rhaenys relinquished her hold on the high harp and rushed to her feet in a movement so fast that she nearly fell back down. “Marvellous. Can we have a snowball war? I will defeat you this time, brother of mine.” Her assurance was met with a scowl from Aegon.

“You shan’t,” he promised, determination clear in his voice. “Father, may we?”

Twin stares of a pleading quality concentrated their combined power of Rhaegar. Elia stifled an amused giggle at her husband’s expense. He looked from her towards the children. “I suppose you might,” he began, and then, to Elia’s surprise, included her as well in the scheme, “as long as you convince your lady mother to join you.”

Caught in the trap as well, she no longer felt like laughing. Instead, Elia tried to steel herself against the onslaught heaped upon her. Alas, she could not possible refuse. Not when both her children united their forces.

“I do not know; ‘tis so cold.” She tried to avoid their pleading gazes.

“A thick cloak should take care of that,” Rhaenys replied.

“With fur,” Aegon added.

They continued to give her reason upon reason for which she should join them. In the end, Rhaegar too sided with the two. “We shan’t be long. A bit of fresh air would do us all a world of good.”

Thus decided, the children were passed on to their septa to be properly attired for their frolicking in the snow. Rhaegar left to find his own garments and Elia simply called upon her companions. With the departure of Ashara, she’d been left with no one of particular good qualities, but they were tolerable.

Elia bade them to search for her thickest dress. She was then bundled up in it and a cloak was wrapped tightly around her. The fur trimmings were wide and the inside was woollen and soft, retaining heat. It ought to keep her well protected from the cold. Pleased enough with that, Elia dismissed her ladies-in-waiting, assuring them that they would not be needed.

“When I return, however, I should like some mulled wine.” She trusted that her order would be carried out and left her women to their own.

Rhaegar awaited her in the hallway. He offered his arm and together they descended lower. Not unexpected, they were met by Rhaenys and Aegon who had probably ran all the way down the steep stairs with little heed to any danger. Elia would have chastised them, but the two children took off as soon as they saw their parents, assured that the couple would follow them at their own pace.

Which they did.

The coolness of the yard struck her hard when she first stepped into the open space. Elia shivered involuntarily. “’Tis much too cold, Rhaegar,” she complained, drawing herself into his side.

“Give it time; you shall grow used to it,” he assured her.

Before them, Aegon and his sister had already begun amassing small amounts of snow into tight balls, flinging them at each other. Rhaenys’ first attack caught her brother in the shoulder, Aegon retaliated by aiming at his sister’s head, but the snowball smacked her middle instead. They flung snow back and forth between the two of them, exuberant and loud, filled with joy at being outside.

“Should we join them?” Rhaegar asked, a small smile on his face.

His playful moods were few and far between. Elia was tempted to refuse, but she hanged her mind as her lips opened to form that refusal. “Aye, let us do so.”

Having picked up upon the conversation, Rhaenys ran through the snow to them and wrapped her arms around her father’s torso. Aegon gallantly accepted to partner their mother with nary a protest although at a close perusal one could tell he was not extremely pleased with that.

“Come, father,” Rhaenys urged pulling Rhaegar away to another side.

Aegon led Elia away as well to his own side.

Separated from his spouse, Rhaegar followed Rhaenys to what she’d designated to be her camp. “I truly want to win this time,” she was telling him, pacing back and forth, flattening the snow beneath her boots.

“Then we had best observe the enemy,” Rhaegar suggested. They both turned to observe as Aegon and Elia were arming themselves with snowballs. “It seems they are preparing a fierce attack.”

Following the brilliant example given by their adversaries, father and daughter worked upon their own weapons. The confrontation was just around the corner, after all, and no one wanted to lose. Once a sufficient amount of ammunition had been produced, it was time to launch the attack.

Rhaenys lifted her hand to throw the first snowball, but Rhaegar caught her just in time. “Nay; first, we determine their own strength.”

Aegon, who had lifted his own snowball in retaliation, could not stop in time. As a result, the snowball sailed through the air and nearly came in contact with his sister. Luckily, Rhaenys had pulled back so as to avoid it.

“Did you see that? He replies on his right hand. We should try to catch his left side.” That particular piece of advice doled out, Rhaegar guided his daughter hit. Her attack was a success.

Time for speech was past. Of course, Elia and Rhaegar left most of the snow flinging to the children, they intervened only once in a while and even then more to make sure there were no injuries than anything else.

It went on and on until the siblings were exhausted. Aegon was the one who capitulated, much to Rhaenys’ delight. “We won, father. We won,” she exclaimed, jumping up and down in joy.

“So we have,” Rhaegar agreed, brushing away snow from his shoulder. “Come along then; we have been out in the cold long enough.”

Chapter Text

Maester Cressen had not allowed Lyanna much time to assess the state her lord husband was in. In fact, she had just caught a glimpse of him as he was being hauled up the stairs by two men. It was quite difficult to tell how much damage he had sustained or if he would pull through.

The trail of blood marking the stairs suggested that he would not. But who could tell? “Betha,” she called for the servant girl, remembering that she had seen her trailing the men. The girl appeared from behind a corner, looking shy as ever. “Have these stairs scrubbed clean,” Lyanna ordered. In fact, she was tempted to clean them herself for want of occupation.

At that moment, the door to Robert’s bedchamber opened and Ancel stepped outside, drawn and pale. Lyanna dismissed Betha to her task and stepped towards the young man. “Tell me young Ancel, how fares Robert?”

“The wound,” the boy whispered. “He lost much blood. Too much blood. Maester feared that when we cut the boar’s tusk, splintered have embedded themselves within the wound.”

“Infection?” Lyanna questioned, daring to hope. She might have taken more pity upon Robert, but from what she’d been told he had been searching for trouble. His hunting companions had advised him not to chase the boar. The dangers were known to him. That he had gone and injured himself despite knowing very well these risks spoke of his own foolishness if anything.

If indeed the wound was infected, but Lyanna suspected it was much too soon to tell, then there was little enough to be done. Of course much depended on how the injury had been cleaned beforehand. All speculations aside, were Robert to die, Lyanna could finally begin working upon filling the keep’s coffers once more.

It was mayhap the biggest of blessings that Robert had been a squire for Jon Arryn before wedding her. Had he been allowed to touch the funds his parents left behind, the gods only knew how they would have survived. Shaking the thought away, Lyanna concentrated on Ancel and his explanation which, as always, was more than convoluted. Was it so much to ask for that her husband’s men be clear?

Very few people could claim a dislike of Robert. At least very few of those who knew him passingly. Among his own bannermen some admired him and some did not, it was true. But it was in his squires that he’d found lasting devotion. For whatever reason, these young boys seem to think Robert a worthy model. Mayhap to them he showed something worthy of admiration. Far be it from Lyanna to judge them. Yet, she could not help but be a bit disappointed that, from within the whole keep, it was only she that was gladdened by the prospect of Robert being laid to rest.

With a small sigh, she accepted Ancel’s story and sent him off to rest. “You have done quite enough for one day. I shall remain here.”

For what felt like a veritable millennium, Lyanna stood in the hallway. It had little to do with her concern for Robert and much to do with a sharp instinct of self-preservation. As wife, even if she despised her spouse, the world was not to see a shred of it in her countenance or behaviour. She was, first and foremost, Lady Baratheon and as such it was imperative that she keep herself in a state that suggested control, at least over her own emotions,

And truly, she might have engaged in violent spats were that her will, or she could well complain to others of mistreatment, yet what would that gain her? Robert, for all his faults, had yet to harm her in a physical manner. By inciting his wrath, she put herself in the way of harm, and, more importantly, Jon. Nay, it was for the best that she deal with Robert on her own.

She was not a child any longer to run to her father or her brothers whenever something was not as she willed it. Life left little to her own decision, but so as the fate of most noble children of Westeros. Duty bound everyone in some manner and those who refused the chains, refused society itself. They were thus free to live in seclusion. Lyanna had little taste for seclusion. As such, she had to accept her duties.

“M’lady,” a familiar voice brought her out of the meditative state. Lyanna looked to where Betha stood with a slightly worried look upon her face. “The stairs have been cleaned.”

“Good.” She was about to send the girl on her way. “What is the matter, Betha?”

“Little Renly insists that he be allowed up to see Lord Robert.” The servant girl looked down at the floors.

The children had been confined in the nursery. As measures of protection went, it was a tad exaggerated, Lyanna was aware. Yet both Renly and Jon were so young. She had meant to protect them from the ghastly sight a wounded Robert was sure to present.

“He is not to be allowed out of the nursery and neither is Jon, with or without their septa. Is that clear?” Jon was not very likely to be at all interested in coming to Robert’s sickbed. Just as well, for Lyanna wished him nowhere near it. “When Maester Cressen permits it, they shall be allowed to visit and not a moment earlier. Rely my words to the children.”

Betha bobbed her a curtsy and went off to fulfil the request. In the meantime, Lyanna was brought parchment, a quill and ink as she had earlier requested. With utmost haste she scribbled a note addressed top her brother and directed one of the servants to ride after the company of squires departed in the evening.

“They have a few hours’ advantage, Moren, I know. But if you take the best horse, you should be able to catch up to them.” Just to be sure, she slipped in some coin. “Be off then.”

In the eventuality that Robert perished, it was best to be prepared.

At a long last, the door to her husband’s bedchamber opened and Maester Cressen beckoned her forth. “My lady, I should like a few words.” He stepped into the hallway and closed the door in his wake.

“I am listening,” Lyanna offered. She was more interested in entering the room and seeing with her own eyes what state Robert was in. Some things, however, were not to be rushed. This was just one of the many.

A grunt left the maester’s mouth. “Apologies, my lady. Lord Robert’s injury is truly terrible. I have done my best to cleanse and patch it. I fear, however that the cut is much too deep.” He then explained that the muscle itself had been sliced through, the boar’s tusk having speared through flesh and even deeper into the bone. “Small splinters of bone have spread through the wound. Some so small that nothing may pry them out.” Ancel had been wrong, it seemed.

“What changes are there of a recovery?” she brought herself to ask. Cressed had been very clear in his rendering of Robert’s suffering, yet Lyanna wished to have verbal assurance.

“None, I should say. If I may be so bold, my lady, you ought to write to Stannis. He should not wish to be the last to know.”

A pang of shame momentarily brought heightened her colour. She had not given one thought to Stannis. The second brother of her, Stannis Baratheon had been a dour young man when she and Robert became husband and wife. It seemed to her that he did not know how to smile, an odd thing as even she, wretched as she had been on the day of her wedding, had managed a smile or two.

He’d not written to Robert and had never once visited Storm’s End even if, as a squire, he would have been allowed to make the trip. Renly barely remembered him and Jon not at all. Lyanna could not be certain if there had been a row between brothers that kept him away or his own desire. Dare she then bring him back?

“I daresay the thought has merit,” Lyanna allowed in the end. “If you think it best that I do so, then I shall write to him. I trust I may now go in and see my lord husband.”

”Indeed, although I advise caution, my lady. He is not himself and may speak harsh words.” The warning was dismissed swiftly. Robert had spoken more than enough harsh word to her for Lyanna to mind a few more.

“You may rest now, maester. I shall sit a while with him.” Without waiting for anything else, Lyanna left the older man standing in the hall and entered Robert’s bedchamber.

The door closed behind her with a barely there thud. Yet it somehow sounded like a knell in the deafening silence.

On the massive bed rested the frame of her husband. Lyanna scrunched her nose at the prevalent smell of blood. Without doubt, Robert had been fed a great quantity of milk of the poppy. He was quite ineffectual, she had to remind herself, stepping closer to his bedside. A sliver of fear threatened to end her progress. Lyanna braved the nausea and general distaste she held towards her spouse and pushed herself further.

Robert had been covered with a thick blanket and his eyes were closed. One leg had been left out in the open and upon it Lyanna could make out a fair number of scars. There was, however a fresh wound that the maester had just stitched. The angry red line cut from his knee downwards.

Lyanna was not interested in that wound, though. What she wished to see was the injury dealt to him by the boar. She approached cautiously and lifted the blanket gently to peer at his midsection. A bloody mess was what greeted her vision. Although bandaged, the wound continued to bleed, as proven by the fact that the silk which had been used was already damp with blood. The gore left Lyanna thoroughly unimpressed, but assured of Robert’s demise. She allowed the blanket to fall back into place.

Walking towards a jug that had been left upon the table, she dampened one of the cloths conveniently near it and strode to the invalid once more. She might have left the bedchamber as soon as she had asserted his state, but that was liable to raise suspicions. Instead she bent over him and washed away at the sweat that coated his forehead.

The coolness of the cloth’s touch must have jolted him awake, for Robert opened his eyes. For a brief moment it seemed as if he might seat up, but all that he did was release a deep groan of pain. “Bloody seven hells,” he spat out. “Are you trying to kill me, woman?”

Nay, but she was praying he would meet a swift end. “Lord husband, what words are those?” She hoped her inflection was as absent as any sort of affection for him was. “I pray you move no more unless ‘tis pain you are wishing for.”

Injured he might well have been, but his mockery was still intact. “A bit late for confessing eternal love,” he snorted. “You might have been this caring when I was well.”

It was truly tempting to smack him over the head. But Lyanna decided that another manner of brutality was needed. “I was just as caring as you were,” the she-wolf snapped at him without an ounce of regret. "But I, unlike you, my lord, never lied to you about my feelings.”

Confusion registered upon his features. “Lie?”

“Lie indeed. The reason for which I was not caring is the same for which you act as you do. If it is the truth you seek, I am inclined to give it to you, my lord. There is no love between us.”

“You lie,” he said weakly, too weakly.

“You are master of lies in this house,” Lyanna disagreed, continuing with her task. “You lie to me and you lie to yourself and you lie to those women who share you bed.” It might have been that he was too weak to reply or that he realised the truth of her words, but Robert made no response.

A puff of steam escaped from between his lips. His blue eyes shone with a strange light. And finally, after a long silence, he said, “I loved you, Lya. I loved you.”

“You loved Lya. I am Lyanna.” He did not understand, she could tell. “You loved a maiden who loved you back and was sweet and kind and gentle. But, Robert, I never, not once, gave you my heart.”

“You are my wife,” he insisted tiredly. As if that was reason enough to make two individuals love one another. If he had not been Robert and she not Lyanna, love might have had a hold upon them.

“And you my husband. It does not change the truth of my words.” She pulled away from him. His hand instinctively reached out to clasp hers, but Lyanna would have none of it. It was a saddening sight to see the hand fall back lifelessly upon the mattress. “Why did you never once try to learn the true me?”

Would she have forgiven him then, Lyanna wondered. It was difficult to gauge what might have been. It was even more difficult to know if she would have allowed herself to forgive him. Mayhap she might have. It was to all people to think of themselves as being good and forgiving, after all. Yet that did not necessarily make it the truth.

And as she thought of it, a scary notion entered her mind. A thrill of sorts; the thrill of knowing the burden of being Robert’s wife gone. That she could feel as she did upon the matter frightened her and disgusted her in equal measure/. Aye, Robert had not succeeded in moulding her to his own whims, yet change her he had.

A small sad shake of her head upon reaching the table and letting the cloth drop into the pitcher was all the reaction Lyanna had to that thought. She could not remain in Robert’s presence any longer or she might say things she would regret.

The man was dying. What use was there in needling him with past mistakes? What was done could never be undone.

“Master Cressen shall send someone to sit with you, lord husband. I must see to the children.” The flimsy excuse rushed past her lips and, knowing Robert could offer no protests, Lyanna hurried outside the door and into the hallway.

The sconces burned bright upon the wall. Her eyes rested upon the flames for a few moments.

It was all in the hands of the gods now. Without even one look back, she walked away.

 

 


 

 

 

Strong for a child his age, Renly had caught onto her skirts, pulling upon the thick material with enough strength that Lyanna feared he might rip her garment. The septa was trying to calm the child, but he was having none of it. “I want to see my brother,” Renly cried, unimpressed with the efforts of both women.

“He is unwell,” Lyanna tried to disabuse him of that notion. “And he needs his rest. Child, understand, your brother would not wish for you to see him thus.”

There was nothing they could say though that might calm him. In the end, one of the other servants had to pry him away from Lyanna and carry him into his own bedchamber. Renly kicked and screamed all the way, and though the she-wolf’s heart ached for him, she knew very well that he could not see Robert. Not unless Maester Cressen called for them to do so.

“Make sure he is fed and the goes to bed,” Lyanna ordered the septa. “I shall take care of Jon. If there is any problem, do not hesitate to come to me though,” she further instructed.

“Aye, my lady,” the woman agreed and quickly followed after the departed servant and her charge.

Lyanna could hear Renly’s cries for some time longer. She did not give in, however. Nay, she had to hold her ground and see them all through to the best of her abilities and there was truly no reason to subject anyone to more suffering than strictly necessary.

Jon, in opposition with his uncle, was quiet and meek as always. He stumbled his way towards her, catching onto the front of her skirts and burying his head in the dark material. Lyanna’s hands cupped the back of his head in a gentle manner. “I know it is difficult,” she said, “but we must do out best.”

He likely did not understand. Lyanna knelt so the difference in height between them might be evened. “Are you frightened?” she questioned. A hesitant nod was the answer received. “I thought you might be.” She wrapped both her arms around him and gathered the child to her chest. If it was she who needed the comfort or him, Lyanna was unable to determine through the utter chaos that went on inside of her.

“Let me tell you a secret,” she spoke once more. “I trust you shall never betray this knowledge, but I am frightened too.” Of a great many things. Her strength was drawn from Jon. “But if we are together, it is not so very scary, is it?”

She pulled back to watch him shake his head. “There then. Let us stay together and whatever comes we shan’t face it alone.”

Jon pushed himself back into her embrace, clinging tightly to her shoulders until Lyanna had no recourse but to lift him in her arms and carry him all the way to her bedchamber.

Luckily for her, after a light meal brought up to them, Jon fell asleep.

As for herself, she could not sleep one wink. It was not night terrors that kept her awake. Lyanna was certain that at any point Master Cressen might send for her. Thus she elected to remain awake, if only to dull whatever reaction she might have to his arrival.

Yet hours passed before she was disturbed. And when the door opened, it admitted in Sera, another of the servant girls. “M’lady, begging pardon, but your brother has just arrived. I did not know if I was to allow him in your private chamber.”

“Benjen is here?” She had forgotten about the letter. The memory of it sprang to mind though at Sera’s nod. “Very well, Sera. Send him in. And do go back to sleep. You look exhausted.”

To his credit, Benjen had returned alone. He entered her bedchamber with as little noise as possible. Upon seeing her, the younger brother drew Lyanna in his arms without a word. Mayhap he understood better than she did that what she needed was true comfort and not merely empty platitudes. He exerted a steady pressure upon her and Lyanna allowed herself to relax in his embrace.

After what felt like a lifetime he let go in order to sit down upon the edge of the bed. “Gods,” he breathed out at a long last. “You look terrible.”

The inappropriate usage of humour wrenched a smile from her. “You look frozen.” He might have been as well too, after so many hours in the saddle in the cold of winter.

“I though that servant was pulling my leg when I first read the message. What happened?” His took her had in his, the cool skin brushing against hot flesh.

“It was an accident. He was felled whilst hunting.” The details came to her as well, but by that time her vision was blurred and her head was pounding as if someone was striking it with an anvil. Benjen listened to her without interrupting. He was willing to sit through it all and just hold her hand.

It occurred to Lyanna that it was the reason for which she favoured him the most out of all her brothers. Ned would have pressed her for details and Brandon would have likely tried to minimise these unpleasant truths. But Benjen simply listened, waiting for an opportunity to point out the silver lining to her thunderous storm cloud.

“I say you trust in yourself, sister. It was not I, or Ned, or Brand or father who saw you through this whole ordeal. Of course I shall always be with you; you needn’t even ask. But trust in yourself.” He pulled her into his side and loved over her head at the sleeping child. “There is strength in you yet, Lyanna Stark.”

She rested her head against his shoulder with nary a word and they waited together in complete silence for Maester Cressen to make an appearance or for some servant to be sent. It did feel good to not be alone.  

The good maester did not disappoint. A bit before sunrise, soft knocking on the door announced the arrival of another person. The door opened to admit in the man. Cressen looked upon the siblings and then to the child on the bed. “My lady, forgive the disturbance. It is time.”

Lyanna shook her son gently, waking him from his slumber. “Come, Jon. ‘Tis time to see father.” The boy’s lips flattened in a straight line at that, but Lyanna simply lifted the blanket off of him and pulled him to his feet. “Lead the way, master,” she said.

Into the hallway went the four of them. There, the septa and Renly were already waiting for them. The two children drew one next to the other and made the journey to Robert’s bedchamber together. Lyanna, for her part, relied very much on Benjen.

When it came to gaining entrance, however, she denied needing his aid. “I shall be fine,” Lyanna promised. Whatever waited for her beyond the door, she would be fine. She believed that.

“I am here if you need me,” Benjen reminded her one more time before she left him in the corridor with Maester Cressen. This was to be the last time words were spoken between she and Robert. It ought to be private.

Renly ran forth and it was quite clear that he was beyond pleased to be received with warmth by his older brother. Robert’s impending doom had mellowed him some. Or mayhap it was the milk of the poppy. Whichever the cause, Lyanna held Jon back as the brother shared a last farewell. Only when they were done did she approach.

Hoisting Jon up in her arms, she waited for Robert to say what he wished to say. The child watched him curiously, but with a good dose of wariness. “Son,” the injured man began, “I am not long of this world. And you, my heir, shall have to make do without my guidance. But before I leave I should like to hear you speak.”

Stunned, Lyanna began to protest, but she fell silent just as quickly. Mayhap that was exactly what was needed to convince Jon to speak. “Come, Jon. Speak,” she encouraged, noticing that Robert’s mood was quickly turning sour.

The young boy opened his mouth. No sounds came though. His lips moved, but there were no words coming forth. Knowing that the attempt had failed, Lyanna looked at her dying husband. She half feared his reaction.

But Robert was much too drained to do anything more thank shake his head. “Even now you disappoint me. Take him away. I’ve no wish to see him.”

A knot formed in Lyanna’s throat. “May the Father judge you justly,” she told him, allowing Jon back onto the ground. The boy immediately his himself behind her. Lyanna hoped he was not weeping.

They stood around the bed and watched together as Robert’s eyes fell closed. His chest stopped moved and all sounds ceased.

For some unfathomable reason Lyanna was filled with pity.

Slowly, one by one they made their way out of the room. Jon held tightly onto her skirts and even Renly took her hand. It seemed that he was no longer upset with her. Benjen stood before her, a question in his eyes. Lyanna merely shook her head.

“It is very late,” or rather very early, “and I trust we are all tired. Maester, be sure to send for the silent sisters.”

Maester Cressen offered a nod and returned into Robert’s bedchamber intended on verifying for himself whether the young man had died. Knowing the master and the devotion he had for Robert, Lyanna was certain that if any possibility of preserving him showed itself no efforts would be spared. As for herself, she was much too tired to think of anything but her bed.

The septa had been waiting as well. She took both Renly and Jon with her. The children followed without a protest. Both were weeping, yet no one but she knew they were doing so for very different reason. “Forgive me, I seem to have forgotten to have a bedchamber arranged for you.”

“Nay, ‘tis well. I’ve sent one of your maids to do the task. You needn’t worry for me, Lyanna. Let me see you to your bedchamber.” His gracious offer was promptly accepted. Lyanna feared that if she set to walking on her own her legs would give way hallway through. She truly felt that weak. “Come then, sister. Let us be on our way.”

She had seen a man die before her. Lyanna truly had no words. It seemed to matter less and less that she had loathed him while he lived. Robert Baratheon had died before her. And she could but watch. To be so entirely powerless; it was frightening. Death was frightening. She dearly wished she could do anything but feel sorry for Robert. Even the reminder that he had brought it upon himself failed to ease the tension gathering within her.

Once she stood before the door of her bedchamber, Lyanna bade her brother a good night. His reply was lost in a whoosh of swishing skirts and the sound of a door closing.

Lyanna changed out of her dress, the motions foreign. She drew on a nightshift and looked at the bed. It seemed strange to her that the change she felt had yet to reach her own private space. What a curious thing. She slid into bed and drew the furs over herself.

It began with a lone tear but soon enough she was lost at sea and no matter what comfort her mind whispered, tears kept pouring forth. The curious thing was that she was neither sad nor joyful. She felt empty; cheated even. Of what, she could not say.

The sun must have crawled halfway up the vast expanse of the sky by the time she finally managed to sleep; yet the emptiness did not release her even in slumber. A poor experience, some might say.

Chapter Text

Fulk, the mason that resides in the settlement near Storm’s End, arrived early in the morning. Lyanna had still been sleeping at that time, but her brother saw to waking her up despite the protest of Beth. And well he’d done, Lyanna thought. She would not fall in exhaustion because of one night of poor sleep.

She made her way to the small solar used for conducting business. Fulk was standing on his feet near one of the walls, his gaze respectfully upon the ground as she entered. He had been joined by Wyat, the carpenter,. The other workers were presumably to be found down in the yard or mayhap the kitchens. Pleased enough with a general notion rather than an accurate one at that point, Lyanna bade them a good morning.

Wyat looked at Fulk and the mason returned the gaze. “Speak freely,” Lyanna said, observing the two men. “I hope I have not inspired such awe in you as to render words impossible.”

“M’lady,” began Wyat with a bow, “forgive the impertinence. We were merely surprised at having been received thusly.”

They spoke of Robert’s death. They must have heard of it from some of the servants upon arrival. Lyanna squared her shoulders, eyes fixed upon the two men. “There are instances when it is of more help to continue of, even if the pain is tremendous. Now, my good men, let your minds not be diverted by anything but your work.”

Her response had clearly worked in her favour. The carpenter offered an understanding nod, while the mason’s countenance softened a smidge. Lyanna continued her explanation, “Septon Merret is experiencing some trouble with the sept’s rooftop. It might be that the frost has eaten through the wood or some other cause, but it is caving in. I should like it repaired as soon as possible.” Such a job would have called only for the carpenter. The Lady of Storm’s End followed with, “In addition, I want stone pillars replacing the wooden ones.”

“M’lady,” the mason spoke, “’tis good a plan. It’ll be at least a few days to make the pillars. As for carrying them up, a horse and cart do not come cheap.”

“The expanses shall be paid by me,” Lyanna clarified. “I do not care overly much if it takes three days or a blessed seven, only that it be done soon. The sooner, the better. All I need to know is if you are willing.” Their response came in the affirmative. “Master Fulk, you may leave. Master Wyat, I should like to have something improvised until a more permanent solution can be found.” Drawing a few coins from a small pouch, Lyanna handed them to the man. “On this very day, if you please.”

“My men and I shall be on it,” the carpenter promised, hiding the coin away from sight. “M’lady.” He bowed his way out of her solar and was off to carry out the orders he had received.

Lyanna stifled a yawn with her palm. She might have returned to her bedchamber, but it was soon that the silent sisters arrived as well. There were seven of them, shrouded in grey, their faces covered so only the upper half of their face could be seen. Two of them were young, about Lyanna’s own age, the rest were dried crones. They spoke not a word as was their custom and Lyanna did not engage them. Instead, she sent Beth to show them the way to where the body lay.

Maester Cressen, however, was to act as a bride between them. He approached the lady of the house, question upon his lips. “My lady, the sisters need to be told whether you would prefer having the body stuffed with salts and herbs or have all flesh stripped from bones.”

Whichever was less expensive, Lyanna was tempted to answer. Robert’s flesh would rot away regardless of how much salts and fragrant herbs were crammed inside of him. And those cost a pretty coin. Coin which Lyanna had little of. She might supply the herbs, of course. But that would mean emptying the pantry of the keep. It was something she was not wiling to do. Robert had been a blight upon her life when he lived to whore and gamble. She would not allow him to waste away anything else. They lacked the means.

In fact, Robert should be grateful that she hadn’t merely ordered a whole dug in the earth and thrown him in it. Or mayhap she ought to dump his body into the sea so fish may feast upon it. Lyanna shook the thoughts away firmly. Duty, she reminded herself, was important.

“The flesh shall be stripped from his bones. There is little reason to have him stuffed.” Maester Cressen nodded along with her words, but Lyanna was not certain as to his reason for agreeing. “Beetles, not boiling, good maester.”

Boiling could, if not done expertly, weaken the bones. While Lyanna had little issue with Robert’s bones crumbling upon mere touch, she rather thought his brother might. Beetles were a safer choice. A bit more expensive, to be sure, but necessary.

“If my lady should like to observe them at their task,” the maester offered. He left her after, to her own thoughts.

In theory, the cost of a funeral was a bit less than that of a wedding. The decorations were not needed. But the food and wine and a septon to speak were still necessary. She would need to send men out with the news of Robert’s death and also send a raven to King’s Landing so the King or his Lord Hand might issue a charter recognising Jon as the new Lord of Storm’s End and granting him, officially, the title.

If the gods were good, she would be met with no difficulties. Lyanna retreated to her bedchamber, trying to think of anything that she might have forgotten to arrange for. To her great luck, Beth just then entered with a tray of food.

“M’lady, apologies, but I could not find your mourning dress.” The girl arranged the tray upon a low table and remained by it, waiting for Lyanna’s reply.

Of course she hadn’t found such a dress. Last Lyanna had been in mourning was as a child. Quite simply put, she was in need of a new dress. “Have the seamstress sent to me,” she ordered sending Beth on her way.

Lack of hunger had her eating sparingly from the food prepared for her. Knowing well she could not linger in her room for an eternity, Lyanna left their comfort for the nursery where the two children of the keep were carefully watched by their septa.

The sombre mood had infected even that part of the keep. It would have been, of course, rather foolish to have expected anything else. Renly gazed sullenly at the rest of the world and made it clear to all and sundry that he was to be left alone.

Her own son had sought refuge in one corner of the room with the wooden figurines Benjen had brought him. As for Benjen, he was keeping Jon company, sitting on the ground as if he were a child himself. Her arrival was dutifully acknowledged by the septa, nodded at by Benjen, received warmly by Jon and ignored entirely by Renly.

“So this is where you have disappeared, brother mine.” Lyanna sat herself down next to the two of them. She brushed a strand of hair out of Jon’s face and looked over her shoulder at Renly who was hard at work, inspecting a suit of clothing.

“He needs a bit of time,” Benjen advised. “He will come to us when he is ready.”

“I wish it wasn’t so hard on him. Have you written to father?” She picked up a carved lion and turned it over in the palm of her hand.

“I have. It is unlikely that he should attend, though.” The journey was too long. “But Brandon and Catelyn will no doubt be sent here with condolences and monetary aid.”

Within the keep it was not much of a secret that the departed Lord Baratheon had been too free with his coin. It was impossible not to observe. That, however, did not mean that Lyanna approved of having the fact made known to all of the real.

“Never worry, sister,” Benjen whispered lightly. “I’ve not detailed more than I ought to. But Brandon shall ask questions, I hope you know.”

“He is within his rights to,” Lyanna huffed unapologetically. She was pleased, however, at the thoughtful gesture. “I’ve not yet sent the men out. How many do you think would be willing to attend the funeral?”

“A great many.” They both grimaced.

“I ought to have wedded the Bolton babe,” the she-wolf snorted.

“The Bolton babe, as you call him, outraced you, if I remember correctly,” Benjen teased good-naturedly.

“He was three and Brandon was steering the horse,” Lyanna pointed out, a flush upon her cheeks.

“He still won,” her brother argued.

That was one of her failures that she would be teased for even when her hair turned grey. Lyanna considered herself to be an accomplished rider. Indeed, out of her three brothers only one had ever bested her. And that was Brandon. Still, Ned and Ben showed little to no compunction in teasing her. It had been as they were making their way to Riverrun that it had happened.

Lord Bolton had caught up to them upon the road. For some reason he had brought his son along. Little Domeric showed a strong fascination for horses. Brandon, of course, would not pass an opportunity when it presented itself. He wagered Lyanna that the boy could outride her. She had accepted, sure that even with her brother’s help, the boy would not win. And she had been wrong, fact which was still the subject of many a joke and teasing in her family.

Not that she had minded overly much. After all, each and ever one of her brothers had their own moments which made them eligible for teasing. And two out of three was not bad at all.

She was about to make a reply to her brother’s assertion, but Jon chose that moment to stand to his feet. Lyanna, realising that his gaze slid to a point behind them, turned her head to see whatever it was that Jon saw.

Renly had closed his book and was staring at the three of them with uncertainty painted upon his features. Once upon a time Lyanna had been told that the Stark siblings together presented an awe inspiring sight, a united front most thought impossible to break. Personally, she though that people read too much in the similarity of their features, but she remained aware that even so, they were rather close. Intimidatingly so, as had been said.

Pasting an encouraging smile upon her face, Lyanna twisted the upper half of her body towards the older boy and held her arm wide open. Renly hesitated but a moment, yet once he started he ran straight into her arms. The she-wolf nodded towards the septa signalling that she was not needed for the moment.

The woman left with a nod of her own, but knew better than to speak. The door closed behind her with a soft sound.

Warm, wet droplets landed upon her neck and shoulder as Renly hid his face away. The child did not wish to be seen crying. Lyanna rubbed his back soothingly, at the same time aware that the pain would not go away.

Jon pressed into her side and she expanded her embrace to claim him as well. Her eyes found Benjen’s and in her brother’s gaze she could see reflected understanding and pity.

“Why did he have to die?” Renly muttered. “It’s not fair.”

“We do not always understand why the gods do as they do,” Lyanna answered back just as softly.

 

 


 

 

Oberyn enveloped his older sister into a loving embrace. His paramour, the infamous Ellaria Sand watched brother and sister with a soft smile upon her face. Rhaegar observed the scene as well. For some reason he had thought that Oberyn would not bring her to his home, but then again Oberyn Martell had never been shy, nor particularly fond of following rules.

Rhaegar was not shocked. His own father had kept mistresses throughout much of his childhood and his mother had not one word to say of it. In fact, he suspected that Queen Rhaella hadn’t much cared as long as the mistress was not chosen from amongst her own ladies-in-waiting.

“Good-brother,” Oberyn greeted, as always half-forcing himself into civility.

Responding with a shallow inclination of the head. When exactly it was that he had noticed that, Rhaegar could not tell. But it seemed to him that the Dornish Prince took care to project an image of confidence and superiority. A tactic of intimidation, certainly, and effective on those who did not know better. It mattered not to Rhaegar what the Red Viper thought of him. Let the man disdain him, for his own opinion was just as low.

Far from having to do with the state of his good-brother’s amorous escapades, for Rhaegar seldom judged a man for what he could not help, it had everything to do with his choices when it came to facing enemies. Oberyn Martell was infamous in his own right for having duelled with a man and slain him with poison.

Poison was coward’s weapon or a desperate man’s. Since the Viper could not be called desperate, the only one other option remained. Yet he had to keep whatever he thought to himself. For better or worse, the man was his wife’s brother and she was extremely fond of him, faults and all.

“Come, brother,” Elia urged, barely sparing a glance to the paramour. “The children shall be glad to see you.”

Ellaria took the reaction with a smidge of surprise. Unwilling to risk any sort of discomfort, Rhaegar stepped in and offered the woman his arm. “You and I must learn to be invisible to them now that they are together once more. Siblings tend to exclude all others when they are as close as my wife and good-brother, my lady.”

The Dornishwoman slanted him a curious look. Her hand rested on his arm. “Do you not know, Your Grace, that I am no lady?”

“Mayhap not, but I suspect you do not protest the address.” At that she smiled.

He supposed that some might consider her charming. But it was rather her eyes and her smile that made it so. It was the sort of beauty that bloomed from within. Rhaegar looked away from her face and ahead at Oberyn and Elia who were laughing about something. He wondered for a brief moment why it was that the Dornish Prince did not wed her.

Rhaegar and Lord Uller’s natural daughter walked together in comfortable silence.

 

 


 

 

Elia sighed, still lying upon the bed with a cross look on her face. “You’ve still not forgiven him, I see.” It was difficult to explain to her brother why she had reacted as she had. “Years have passed since. Why hold this grudge so close to your heart?”

“Because, sister, he has shamed you before the realm,” Oberyn replied, arm settling around her shoulders. “Do you not remember how they cheered for him even as he gave her that crown of roses?” It always came back to that godsforsaken crown of roses, blue winter roses for a girl too young to understand anything.

Elia supposed that if Lyanna Stark had been horrified at the gesture, she would have felt slightly vindicated. But the girl had looked mesmerised instead. There was no outrage on her features. That had been what hurt the worst of all. Her reaction. Her husband’s gesture was not unheard of and Elia supposed that courting the power of the North through that girl had been as good a plan as any. The trouble was that what had been a simple means became an end in itself.

She was not blind, nor was she simple. She knew Rhaegar very well. She knew why he had acted like he had after Aegon was born. He looked at her and saw Lyanna Stark. Or wished she were that wretched child at any rate.

When he left she told herself that upon his return she would demand that he take her back to Dorne. When he had returned she no longer wished for Dorne. She wished for him. And when he remained with her, Elia finally understood that he had chosen duty. It had stung; but it had been her victory, her bitter victory. She had Rhaegar. She and not Lyanna Stark. He would never love her. But that did not matter.

“Not even her betrothed took as much offence as you do. As you can well see my husband is with me and that girl is far away in a castle by the sea.” Elia offered a brittle smile to accompany the words.”All is well, brother. I shall be a mother soon.”

Oberyn’s shoulders slumped. He looked as if he wished to share something with her, but he seemed to decide against it in the end. “I know. You shall finally give him the third head of the dragon,” he mocked.

“Come, come. No man is perfect.” She regretted having told her brother about the three-headed dragon. She had minded it very little and had been much amused when he used his wit against those who courted her. But Rhaegar was her husband. It was another matter entirely.

“I should think that this one is, by the way you are willing to excuse every mistake.” He let the issue go though. Even Oberyn knew that there were some limits not to be crossed. “I ought to leave you to your rest.”

Elia kissed his cheek and sent him on his way. “Go then. Your beloved must be waiting.”

He chuckled. “Ellaria always is.”

 

 


 

 

The day of the funeral dawn unnaturally cheerful. A pallid sun was shining weakly upon a grey expanse of sky. Most of her late husband’s bannermen had arrived, including Lord Rogers and her aunt Branda. Harry had offered to shoulder some of the financial burden, but Lyanna had refused, knowing well enough what sort of message that would send out.

Aunt Branda would not be denied, however. She had brought sheep to be used in the kitchens and refused to even hear about taking them back. In the end, Lyanna had accepted, keeping in mind that she would have to repay the kindness at some point.

The mourners had begun their litany of cries, each one weeping louder than the other, mayhap hoping to gain some extra coin. For her part Lyanna had carefully supervised the crafting of a formless heavy dress of pure black to aid her in the part of looking a distraught wife. A golden girdle at the waist was the only adornment she wore. Her hair, usually caught kept in the southron style had been allowed out of its confinements to signify loss. The heavy curtain had another role; it would serve her well indeed in hiding her features from those who observed her like vultures.

Everyone that had gathered in her keep wanted to see Lord Baratheon’s distraught wife crying over his remains. Summoning tears, however, was a task she could not complete. Even trying her hardest, she only managed to gather some moisture upon her eyelashes. The sleepless nights and hectic schedule, though, had given her a worn appearance. Accentuated enough, she would manage even without the tears.

Lyanna bowed her head as Septon Merret began speaking over the din. She was the closest one to the coffin, given her status as Robert’s wife. Next to her was Jon, then Stannis and Renly. Her brother had declined standing at the front, declaring himself more than pleased to remain with Uncle Harry and Aunt Branda. Since there was no changing his mind once it was made up, Lyanna had accepted it with a nod.

That left her in close proximity to the older of Robert’s two brothers. Stannis had been nothing if not morose since his arrival a couple of days past. Lyanna could not be sure of his intentions, but by the way he gazed at her and Jon, she would not allow herself to grow too comfortable in his presence.

The septon clear his throat. Realising that it was time to relocate Robert permanently, Lyanna walked closer to the pit dug for him and took a fistful of earth from the mound. She released the black, healthy soil upon the carved lid, watching as it covered the likeness of Robert’s face.

“Fare thee well,” she whispered to the lifeless form, resisting the urge to wipe her hands upon her dress. Forgetfulness could be a sign of pain, she supposed. Lyanna turned away and took her son’s arm, helping him do the same. Stannis and Renly followed suit, as close family members were to do. Afterwards the gravediggers took over, covering the rest of the pit with spadeful upon spadeful of earth.

She would have liked nothing better than to leave everything else to someone other than herself, but disappearing to her chambers was not a solution. Lyanna called her guests back to the main hall for food and drink. Since they had travelled so far, it was only expected.

“Good-sister,” she as stopped midstride by Stannis taking hold of her arm. Lyanna turned to face him, a question in her gaze. “I would like to have a few words with you as soon as possible.”

“Of course. After the guests have been settled,” she promised. Her mind was already racing with possibilities. “Good-brother, come along and help yourself to something to eat as well. You have lost weight since last I saw you.”

He hadn’t. Or at least Lyanna could not tell if he had. But showing some concern could not hurt. He would brush it off as female silliness, she knew. But others would not. And that was what she needed. Stannis shook his head and left her without another word.

But Lyanna was not to remain alone for long. Although Benjen had taken both Renly and Jon, vowing to watch over them, Lyanna had her aunt to keep company with. Aunt Branda drew her arm through Lyanna’s and patted her cheek gently. “Such a tragedy,” the older lady murmured.

Branda Stark had been the more beautiful of the Stark sisters in her youth. She had had an ample chest and wide hips along with a slim waist. Her hair had been a shade darker than Lyanna’s, but now it was laced with silver streaks. Her waist had thickened and her hips had widened further. She was no longer a youthful girl. What had remained was her height. She towered over Lyanna still in the same way she had towered over her mother, Lyarra. It was Lyarra that Lyanna took after in looks and her father in temper.

“Indeed,” Lyanna allowed. She pressed herself lightly into her aunt’s side and they walked together into the main hall where the mourners had gathered. Wine and food had been left at their discretion. The mood was appropriate sombre and conversation did not rise above a murmur.

Satisfied with her accomplishments, Lyanna passed from one person to another, accepting condolences and exchanging a few words, using the opportunity to commit the lords and ladies to memory. Likely she would have need of their support at one time or another. Sooner even than she might wish, if her suspicions regarding Stannis were true.

Lady Peasebury, a widow herself, took Lyanna’s attention for the moment. “I was not much older than you are now, my lady, when my husband died,” she said, “but I still miss him to this very day. What a good man he was.”

“As I shall miss my own good man,” the she-wolf replied, her thoughts not at all upon Robert. “The loss is great.”

“Indeed it is,” Lady Peasebury agreed. “The only thing one can do is go on.”

Lyanna nodded her head.

 

 


 

 

A draught of wind rattled the shutters. Rhaegar turned around in his bed, a half-formed curse upon his lips. Just as he was about to release the frustration the door creaked open. He stopped mid-movement and looked at the source of the sound.

There, in the doorway, stood his daughter in her shift with a fur drawn across her shoulders. He sat up and lowered his feet to the freezing floors. Rhaegar stood to his feet and walked towards the scared looking child. He knelt in front of her and took her in his arms. “What are you doing out of bed at this hour?” the father questioned gently, lifting her off the ground. Her feet had to be icy.

“I had a bad dream,” she murmured into his shoulder as he adjusted her weight in his arms. “I don’t want to sleep alone.” Rhaegar imagined that she was pouting. Unfortunately he could not see as closing the door had cut off the light coming from the sconces hanging upon the corridors walls. “Can I stay here with you, father?” Her fingers dug into his tunic.

He didn’t have the heart to refuse her request. “Of course you may. Now, let us get away from the chill and frost.” He settled her upon the bed and Rhaenys crawled under the covers and furs, taking one of the pillows in her arms and hugging it to her chest.

Rhaegar wondered briefly if that dratted cat of hers had followed her inside. Balerion, as he was called, the tom that drove all the keep insane, was wont to follow Rhaenys around from time to time, especially given that she had outgrown the desire to ride him. He was mostly a kept pet these days with a too great appetite for duck; much to the cook’s annoyance.

His daughter twisted the covers around herself as she turned about. “Father,” she called out to him. Their close proximity made seeing her outline easier. “Father, can we have another snowball war? I want to beat Uncle Oberyn this time.”

Chuckling at her idea, Rhaegar reached out to ruffle her hair. “You would like to win a war against everyone, would you not?” If only true war were as easy. “If that is what you wish for, Princess, I shall do my best to see it done.”

“Aegon should be in our camp this time. Mother can have Uncle Oberyn and Aunt Ellaria.” It seemed that the idea was not entirely of her own making. He should have expected it.

“Am I to understand that your brother has already agreed?” The question was me3t with a brief silence and a motion of the head.

“He agreed,” Rhaenys confirmed verbally as well. “But it has to be soon.”

“I see. We shall discuss this in greater detail on the morrow, Rhaenys. Now it is time to sleep.” She accepted the command with a drowsy murmur and was soon won over by slumber.

For his own part, Rhaegar remained awake.

 

 


 

 

In her free years as the de facto ruler of the Baratheon household Lyanna had not once been summoned, except for those visits to her husband’s bedchamber that were mandatory. That her good-brother would dare undermine her authority as Lady Baratheon by summoning her was preposterous. It was insulting. And she would not stand for it.

Lyanna thought about refusing his summons. She could, in fact, keep to her own chambers and avoid seeing him. However that would be the course a recalcitrant child would take. It was simply not appropriate. Instead she ordered Beth to tell her good-brother that she would see him in the glass chamber. A new addition to the ancient keep, the glass chamber had been a gift of sorts from Robert to Lyanna when they had become husband and wife.

It was among her favourite rooms, but she had left it bare for that very reason. Nothing of Robert’s represented something of value to her, thus nothing entered the room. Thus it would make for a splendid meeting place, if indeed her good-brother came.

Stannis did not keep her waiting long. But it was clear from the look on his face that he was determined to pay her for what he must have perceived to be impertinence. Lyanna raised her chin in defiance, knowing very well what sort of man he was. She’d heard enough from Robert to form an accurate opinion.

“Let us hear what is so important that you would address me in such a manner,” she spoke, suspicion creeping upon her like a vine.

“Your son is not fit to become the next Lord of Storm’s End,” Stannis announced. The words felt like a slap to her face. Certainly, Lyanna knew that Robert thought Jon unworthy, but she hadn’t thought he’d gone to his brother with such tales.

Fury boiled beneath her calm veneer. “I would thank you not to speak without knowledge. My son is more than worthy of his position.” She longed to slap him in the face and call for Benjen. But that would not help.

“Worthy? My lady, I do understand that you wish to protect your son, but the boy is daft.” Her teeth clenched tightly to hold back her words of anger. Stannis continued. “Since his rule could lead to a disaster, I must intervene. I am the rightful heir.” There was only one reason for which Lyanna had not yet thrown him into the dungeons. She wished to hear his solution. “Give Storm’s End to me, my lady, and I shall make sure nothing is lacking for the child. He shall have anything he desires.”

“And what ought I do in this case. I seem not to figure in your scheme,” she answered.

“Return to your father’s home and seek another marriage. You are young and charming, my lady.” And eligible to produce a few more children.

“If I refuse?” Lyanna questioned.

“I shall go to the King,” Stannis warned, sensing her intent. Lyanna had not believed the rumours that he had a stone where his heart should be. More the fool her. They were true.

“I shall fight you every step of the way.”

Chapter Text

Jon pushed against Betha’s bulk, trying his best to evade her grip. Mother had been clear that he ought to stay with the servant girl and not leave his bedchamber. Jon could not understand why she’d said it. But he could not stay with Betha either. She snored. Loudly. His ears rang with the unpleasant sound and his nose scrunched at the foreign scent. Moving beneath the covers, he managed to duck beneath her arms and, finally, after what seemed to have been an eternity, managed to reach the end of the bed.

Pushing the covers aside, Jon looked back at Betha, trying to assess, through the thick darkness, if he’d somehow disturbed her rest. The servant let out a loud snort and turned on her back. Initially having flinched at the sound, Jon relaxed when he understood that she still slumbered. Carefully, keeping his eyes on Betha the whole time, the child stepped onto the heavy trunk at the end of the bed and then climbed off of it onto the ground.

A sound of discontent left his lips as his feet met the solid, freezing floor beneath his feet. He hurried along onto a carpeted portion of the floor and, lowering himself on knees and elbows, began searching for his shoes. Mother would have left them near the bed. Betha had been less so inclined to keep order. She had simply flung them away and Jon hadn’t thought at that time to watch where they landed. Left with no alternative, he felt his way through the dark, fingers tapping against the ground gently.

In his path were a good number of obstacles, discarded toys that no one had bothered to put back in the trunk. Despite frustration gathering with him, Jon managed to stop himself from making any sounds. If Betha awoke and found him on the ground, she would resume her vigil. And he did not wish to remain with her any longer.

That was not to say that Jon had anything against the young woman. Betha had been his mother’s closest servant since Jon could recall. She was good to him and Renly too, bringing lemon cakes from the kitchen or raspberry tarts. But the bedchamber felt stifling for some reason. If only he could get out the door and roam the keep for a little while, then he’d come back tired and more than willing to sleep.

With a sigh of relief, Jon felt the familiar shape of a small show filling his hand. He traced the form with both hands to determine which foot it ought to be on, then pulled it on. The other had to be nearby. He did not have to search long for it, for Betha had thrown both his shoes together. It had landed beneath one of the stool. Jon pulled the twin of the first show on as well.

He could leave the chamber without fear of frostbite.

Ambling to the door, Jon pushed his weight against it, hoping the squeak would not be too loud. A muted groan rang through the room. Without waiting to learn if Betha had been woken or not, Jon hurried out into the hallway and closed the door softly in his wake. A few moments were dedicated to hiding behind a corner and watching for the servant girl to come out of his bedchamber. Nothing happened.

Certain that he had escaped, Jon congratulated himself with a proud nod of the head and walked away from his hiding place. He’d not be gone long, Jon promised to the empty air around him. Just to the godswood and back. The sept would be warmer, but Jon decided against it reasoning that Septon Merret might catch him at it and bring him back to Betha himself. And that would only mean that mother’d find out he’d gone against her word. The last thing the boy desired was to upset his mother.

Carefully stepping along the corridor, Jon tried his best to keep to the shadows, just in case he was not the only one who could not sleep. The stairs were the tricky part. Having been built narrow and sharp, time had dulled them to the point where a wrong step could mean a broken skull. Thankfully, Jon knew well enough what to do or not do. He took the stairs one by one, resting his weight against the wall for support. Soon enough he reached the bottom of the stair and, much to his relief, there was no one to be found down in the narrow hallway.

Still, Jon would not risk being caught. He followed another one of the corridors; one that mostly servants made use of. It led to a small yard where the birds were kept. It could be hoped that they all slept. The child had no desire to fight any winged beast.

As he had suspected, there was no sign or any creature, winged or otherwise, keeping such late hours. Jon could make his way through the yard undeterred and when he reached the gate that led into a lager garden there was no one to stop him. Delighting in the freedom, Jon opened the gate and passed into the wintry garden on the other side, locking the door behind him.

The garden had once belonged to his grandmother, Lady Cassana. She had kept flowers of all sorts in it, along with fruit bearing trees. Since her death, however, no one had taken care of it and much of its life had drained away. Jon knew that his own mother used the garden, but unlike her predecessor, she kept in it herbs when the weather permitted. There were a few trees that had been saved as well. Mother had promised that when summer finally came he and Renly could climb up the tress all day long if they wished. If only summer would come faster.

Jon gasped as his foot landed off the frozen path onto a pile of snow. Its chilly bite around his ankle brought tears to his eyes by its suddenness. It was too late to turn back for a torch or even a candle. And if he had light, it would likely lead other to him. Shaking the snow from his leg, the boy began walking once more.

The godswood was just past the herb garden. Mother would sometimes visit it, but she’d never taken him along. Jon had tried to come with her once, but she had merely shook her head, a gentle smile on his face and ordered whatever lady had been with her at the time to take him back. Since then, Jon had not tried to accompany her. Though, determined to visit the godswood as well, he had taken to doing so late in the night.

Uncle Benjen had told him that in Winterfell, the home in which his mother had been raised, there was a godswood larger than any other in the Seven Kingdoms. He’d also spoken about the heart tree, a weirwood with a melancholy face. Uncle Benjen had said that Jon had a solemn face as well, like the weirwood of Storm’s End, while mother’s face was melancholy.

When presented with the child’s confusion, his uncle had dutifully explained that melancholy was a sort of sadness, and in his words it appeared who missed another person greatly. Jon hadn’t known what to think of that. He knew not who his mother could be missing, but mayhap uncle spoke of their other brothers.

Still, his mother was not melancholy at all times. She smiled and laughed, especially after Benjen’s arrival. Jon liked it better when she laughed with him. It looked genuine. She rarely seemed happy when father was at home. That might have to do with his father aptly being named a storm lord. He yelled and thundered starting rows whenever he could.

Jon remembered that one night he’d slept very poorly. Naturally he’d gone in search of mother, but when he had reached her bedchamber she was not there. He had thought of returning to his own bed, but then he remembered that she might be with father. Thus he’d made his way to the other chamber. Mother was there indeed and by the looks of her she had been crying. Of course, as soon as she had noticed him his mother had left her position next to her sleeping husband, picked him up into her arms and carried her in his own rooms.

Never did she tell him why she was upset. But happier days followed as his father left for one of his usual trips and mother would spend her time with him and Renly, much to their delight. Jon liked it better so as well. If father was not within the keep, no one tried to force him to speak, nor was he chided for the smallest of mishaps.

But mother had said that father was never coming back. Jon doubted that was the truth though.

Having reached the final gate, Jon pushed against it as it to test its strength. It opened to him without even a sigh of protest. The boy entered the third and final garden, closing the gate in his wake. Without looking at anything but the weirwood, the boy walked among the tall grass, trying to keep brambles from scratching him. Those were quite annoying. The thorns were often difficult to get out from beneath the skin and last Jon had been stung by one, it had taken his mother and a servant woman a good hour to calm him down enough to work a needle into his skin and rid him of the pest. Renly had laughed and laughed until he was ought of breath. Although afterwards he did help Jon avoid the particular bush.

Shaking away the memory, Jon smiled at the solemn face of the weirwood and brushed away the snow from its gnarled roots. Were they any higher, they might have made for a good seat. As it was, Jon suspected that sitting down would only mean he’d be seeing the maester afterwards.

Red eyes stared down at him and a thick red line where the mouth ought to be presented an unsmiling face, nearly devoid of all emotion. Looking with more attention, Jon realised that this face too had some sadness to it. Around the eyes; it was harder to detect, but it was there.

The boy touched a hand to the bone-white, cold bark. He wondered if the tree could hear him even though he did not speak out loud. These were old trees with many secrets. Uncle Benjen had said so. Mayhap if he stayed long enough the tree might tell him a secret or two; like where father had gone and how long he would be away this time. Surely a mere box would not stop him from coming back. And how could mother possibly think that it was wide enough to hold him?

He stared back at the tree, willing the bark to come to life and speak. But nothing came. The wind rustled through the leaves burgundy, thin, paper-like silhouettes barely discernible by the light of the moon. Lingering longer would be foolish. The cold was already seeping through his clothes and his teeth would start clattering soon. It was best to leave the weirwood with its secrets and find his way back to his bedchamber before anyone noticed his absence.

With one last look to the tall tree, Jon turned around and walked up to the gate. He passed into the second garden and trailed his way up the path. A long way ahead something caught his attention. Jon stared at the small point until he realised it was moving closer and that it was no mere dot, but a flame.

Instinctively, he hid behind one of the bare trees, hoping that he would not be noticed in the darkness. He stood where he was, not daring to move an inch.

 

 


 

 

Ellaria sighed, turning on her side to look at Oberyn. “You shall catch you death,” she warned without much concern. Her lover hardly had any need of her to look after him. “What are you thinking about that you won’t move out of the gale’s way?”

It was damnably cold. She wished Oberyn hadn’t managed to talk her into joining him. At least Dorne could be counted on to not freeze her very soul. Ellaria sat up, drawing the covers around her, wounding them tightly around her naked form. She left the relative comfort of the bed to move to the Prince’s side.

Placing a hand on his shoulder, she attempted to gain his attention, but Oberyn continued staring outside. The gods knew what he found so interesting out there. Ellaria leaned her body against his, enjoying the warmth he exuded. “Nothing to say?” she pressed further.

His muscles jumped beneath her palm. “What do you want me to say?” he questioned, his voice barely above a whisper. It was clear that he had been leagues away in thought. Ellaria absentmindedly drew a pattern across his back, fingers stroking skin hotter than hers.

“Whatever it is that you have on your mind,” she answered, abandoning her pursuit to press her body as close as she possibly could to his. “I mere want to know what has you so distracted.”

Normally, after a bout of lovemaking Oberyn was likely to be in a mellow mood. Granted, it was not always the case, but Ellaria had come to expect it all the same. Instead, she received a man in a sour mood for all her efforts. Scowling at the back of his head when he refused of offer an answer, Ellaria pulled back and sauntered to the bed. Let him freeze by the window if that was his wish.

It would serve to teach her a lesson. Why hadn’t she just stayed at home with little Elia? Her daughter should be missing her as much as Ellaria missed the little one. She ought to have taken her father’s advice and look elsewhere for a partner. It certainly would have been less of a headache. So on and so forth continued her thoughts and she settled herself down upon the bed, trying to ward away the chill of winter.

At a long last, Oberyn seemed to have desisted in his pursuits. He turned towards her and walked to the bed. “I’m just worried for my sister.” He slid beside her under the covers. Since she’d left him his skin had cooled somewhat. Ellaria hissed in discomfort. “She doesn’t seem truly happy.”

It would not behoove her to roll her eyes at such genuine concern. But Ellaria nearly couldn’t control herself. “I thought she looked pleased enough. You worry over naught. You’ll see.”

He said nothing to that. One of his arms caught her around the waist and pulled her into his side. It seemed that his amorous mood had returned. Ellaria laughed softly and pushed him onto his back.

 

 


 

 

Great-uncle Harbert was a hard man. Stannis had known him all his life. Moreover, he knew that Harbert would never tell him a falsehood, or something he thought to be a falsehood at any rate. After all, when mother and father had died and Patchface had been recued, it had been Harbert who suggested the fool might be in too much pain because of the deteriorated state of his mind. Such a thought could only come from a sincere mind.

At any rate, Harbert had not set foot without Storm’s End in more than five and ten years. He had had plenty of time and opportunity to watch his brother and his lady wife. He ought to know everything there was to know about the two of them.

Stannis himself had little knowledge of Lyanna Stark. Last he’d seen Robert, his brother was cursing her for a cold bitch, in his own words. Apparently, the bliss they’d shared on their wedding day had turned sour much earlier than expected. But Stannis supposed the fault was as much Robert’s as it was his bride’s. His brother had never been concerned with what other felt and thought. If he could satisfy his need then all was well in the world. If not, woe to him who stood in his way.

Lady Lyanna had seemed to Stannis one of those characters unlikely to be bowed over. He had known when first he met her at that tourney at Harrenhal. Unnoticed most of the time, Stannis had many an opportunity to watch her interact with Robert. The more his brother pushed, the more she opposed him, whether it was in accepting a flower or going for a ride. Lyanna Stark was stubborn to a fault, sometimes dangerously honest and not at all in love with his brother.

Certainly she had not been impolite. But Stannis had lived around Robert long enough to know what a woman in love looked like. By contrast, Lyanna had seemed more interested in Robert’s steed than in the man himself.

It had come as a surprise to Stannis that she would agree to wed Robert as fast as she had afterwards. She’d been a girl of five-and0ten and her husband as many children as she had years at that time. Or mayhap Stannis remembered it wrong. But the gods knew no one could keep count of Robert’s bastards.

It had been at the wedding feast that Stannis became unshakable in his belief that the latest Lady Baratheon held nothing like love in her heart for Robert. It had been the look on her face when she was being led away to the bedchamber. Brides could be expected to be bashful, joyful or scared, for the most part.

She had been neither. But the girl had squared her shoulders and marched on as hands pulled at her skirts sleeves. Disgust was the most apt description of what had passed on her face. Certainly she had it quickly hidden behind a placid mien. But Stannis had noticed.

“Tell me, uncle,” Stannis began, pacing the room up and down at length, “did my brother and his wife get along well?”

Harbert snorted and downed his wine. “Not since the little one was born. Your brother was pleased enough to have the lady breeding as fast as she had. But the child is not well. It put a strain between them.”

So it had, Stannis had had a letter from his brother, when Lady Lyanna had announced her pregnancy, detailing all he would teach the child that was to arrive. Afterwards, when Jon was born too early and had little in the way of voice, Robert had been distraught. Or rather angry. Stannis had had another letter then.

“A strain?” the younger Baratheon prodded.

“My lord was angry. Angry at her.” That sounded just like Robert. Stannis could more than believe that he would have blamed Lyanna. As if women could possibly have any control over such matters. “It wasn’t long until he was trying to her with child again. ‘Twas more than once that he stormed away after hearing her monthly blood was upon her.”

How peculiar. Lyanna Stark looked to be a healthy woman. Surely breeding would not be a problem with her. “Has the lady taken anything special since her arrival here? Teas, tonics, the sort.”

“Nay. Healthy as a horse, she is, Always was.” That sounded just about right. Stannis nodded his head. Harbert filled his cup once more. “Never known her to be laid in bed with fever or the sort.” He took a sip of the newly filled cup. “She just never took to seed, was all.”

It was unlikely that she would have not wished to consolidate her position with more than one child, Stannis decided. Harbert claimed she never took anything as well. An unfortunate accident then that she hadn’t managed to have more than one child by his brother; someone more suited to ruling.

“Were they ever happy together?” Stannis questioned at a long last. “Or did they fight every opportunity they got, after the child’s birth?”

“Apologies, ‘tis not my place to speak so, but you know your brother’s habits as well as I,” his great-uncle proceeded, “the girl didn’t. There was always an argument with them. Once–“ there the man stopped himself.

Stannis waited for a few moments but seeing that Harbert had truly stopped he pushed further. “Tell me.”

“The child had just turned two of age and the maester was looking into what the matter was with his voice.” Harbert looked outside the window, as if trying to bring the incident to mind. “My lord lost his temper and started yelling at the child and shaking him. His mother cut in too quick for any of us to intervene.” Reluctance stopped the story once more.

With a sigh of frustration, Stannis insisted to know everything. “What did my brother do?” Clearly the lady had thought to protect the child, so it could not be she that had wronged anyone in that.

“I’d never seen him push any woman so savagely before. She nearly dropped the infant. Lucky for her, others were nearby to help.” A rather unpleasant development. It seemed his brother had been worse than Stannis would have supposed; lashing out at women and children.

“And afterwards?” There were so many things that did not make sense. “Was he violent towards her?”

Harbert blinked slowly. “You ask me if he beat her? I know not. It is not common to see the girl licking her wounds in public. If he touched her, she never said a thing.”

Gods damn it all. Of course she would not. Lyanna had too much pride for that. And even if she did not have that large quantity of pride, she would have likely known that violence against her would be the business of her brothers and father. Yet she’d called upon none of them.

“I see. You may go now,” the young Baratheon sent the man on his way. “I wish to be alone.”

It made very little sense one way or the other. A great many things she might be, but his good-sister was not in fat an idiot. She had used Robert’s attachment to her to enter into the folds of House Baratheon. She had birthed an heir as well. Her behaviour was beyond reproach in that respect. After all, no one expected a lady to love her lord.

The question remained, however, was if she had loathed her husband enough to plan his murder? And if so, why she had not used other means than the ones she’d chosen. Stannis leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes. He needed more proof if he was to make his case before the King. No one wished to be whipped for slander. Nor would he muddy the good name of his house with unfounded accusations.

Slanderous accusations were treated with utmost seriousness. One could not simply get away with making false accusations. When Stannis had been young, he had joined his father and brother at court. There he’d seen the Lord Hand, Ser Tywin, dealing with a man guilty of slander. It had been nearly painful to watch, but Stannis had understood, even then, why it was that too free a tongue could cause such trouble. After some deliberation he had decided that Tywin Lannister had chosen a fitting punishment for the crime.

He would need to ask the lady herself about Robert’s behaviour. Possibly even Maester Cressen. The man had to know something, given that he was forever around her. If she had been abused, it might have given her enough reason to turn against his brother. Especially considering the delicate situation her son was in.

If indeed she was innocent of all involvement then Stannis would need to turn his attention to convincing her of leaving Jon in his care and House Baratheon in his hands. She could be free to return to her own people. Or if not she might wed once more.

 

 


 

 

The door opened with a creak of protest. Rhaegar would have liked nothing better than to ignore it and lie abed as he was. But, knowing that Rhaenys might be woken from her slumber if much fuss took place, he rose to a sitting position and looked in the direction the sound came from.

Elia stood in the doorway. She looked at him expectantly. Rhaegar left Rhaenys to her slumber, climbed carefully out of bed and walked to his wife. She waited for him in the hallway, arms crossed over her chest. “You did not come to me,” Elia accused softly. “I waited for you.”

“You should be resting,” Rhaegar reminded her upon a sigh. Her placid mood must have gone a-begging since he’d last seen her. And he had been certain she would have much to speak of with her brother. Alas, it seemed he was not to be spared. “You could catch a chill out here.” His warning was met with a scoff.

“I am not a child,” she answered, taking him by the arm. “Has Rhaenys come to you again? I vow I do not understand her. I tell her to come to me and instead she finds you.”

“Would you like me to move her?” The question slipped out before he could think better of it. Rhaenys might be disappointed by such a decision. Elia, however, seemed inordinately pleased by the suggestion. Her grip on his arm tightened slightly, as if she were trying to rely a message.

Rhaenys had been climbing into his bed after a night terror for as long as she could walk. Even as a babe, she had been known to quiet down in his arms more often than she did in those of her mother. Rhaegar had never been bothered by the fact. He could not, for the life of his, understand Elia’s apprehension. She claimed it could become a bad habit for the child. Still, it seemed strange to Rhaegar.

“I should be thankful if you did,” she said in the end, letting go of his arm.

“Very well.” He wondered if going to her might have placated her. It was difficult to say. Elia’s moods could be a tad unpredictable at times, especially given her state,

The maester had advised that she was not to be agitated overly much. He claimed that keeping her in a calm state was a key ingredient to the success of the third pregnancy. Rhaegar was less optimistic. To his mind, his wife had been calm enough during the first two pregnancies as well. It had not seemed to help her cause very much.

Buy mayhap a man of learning such as the maester knew better.

He entered the bedchamber once more and with utmost care took his daughter in his arms. Rhaenys murmured softly and burrowed into him. Once they were in the corridor, Elia led them to her own bedchamber. Rhaegar placed Rhaenys on the bed and drew the covers up to insulate her.

“I shall be going now.”

 

 


 

 

He would have done well to stay abed and keep away from the dangers of the night. Alas, Jon had not done so, thus left himself exposed. He peeked from behind a tree only to see a couple walking down the path. A woman and a man, both dressed well.

One of them Jon recognised as being the new mother. The woman who had come to Storm’s End with her daughter. He believed she was a Lannister. The other person, a tall, young man, was unknown to Jon. He must have been introduced to him at the feast; but there had been so many people. Jon only remembered Aunt Branda and Uncle Harry along with a few others.

The woman was speaking in hushed tones. “I’ve put it there. When they look they are sure to find it,” she said, her soft voice holding a note of pleasure. Jon frowned. Something seemed to not be right.

The man chuckled. “And well you’ve done. It is high time you left here, my lady. Have the widow give you coin. She is unlikely to refuse you with the state her household is in.”

“And my daughter,” the Lannister questioned. “What am I supposed to do with her?”

“Were you not going to give her away?” the other answered by his fashion. “Leave her here. One of his bastards is working for the blacksmith. Another is helping in the stables. I’m certain his lady wife shall take this one on as well.”

“Very well then. I shall do as you say.” They walked along the path further and further away, leaving Jon in the dark. He could no longer hear their voices.

But he could clearly see they were making for the godswood. Jon breathed in shakily. What were they doing there? He decided to follow.

And so he did. The two people had stopped before the heart tree as he hid himself into some bushes. They could not see him with only one sconce of light. Jon watched as they dug a hole near the roots of the tree and dumped something in it.

Earth was quick to cover the contents. The woman was swiftly sent back, the man lingering behind for a few more moments. Jon held back a sigh and kept himself as still as possible.

At a long last, he was left alone in the godswood, free to find out what had been buried.

Jumping out of his hiding spot the child leaped to the roots and felt around for a slight rise in the level of the ground covered in soft earth. Once he found it, his small hands set to work. He dug until something solid stopped him.

Once he released the object from its confinement, the boy realised it was a box. Curious, he opened it. Alas, inside there were only a few slips of paper and an odd necklace.

He was about to close the lid when suddenly he realised that he knew the necklace. Jon pulled it out and inspected it in the moonlight.

It was mother’s necklace.

Chapter Text

Maester Wyman gave the young woman a long look. Lady Ashara merely smiled, lips curving prettily. “Hush, maester. You mustn’t tell anyone you have seen me here.” She picked up her skirts and hurried down the hallway to what was the guest bedchamber of one young Notherner.

He ought to have known that Lady Ashara would no do as her brother had told her. Lord Ademar might rule Starfall, but he certainly did not rule his sister. The girl, though beautiful beyond word, lacked any sort of discipline. The maester shook his head.

It had been clear the moment of Eddard Stark’s arrival that she wanted him. In fact, he was the first man to have travelled so far for her. It was mayhap one of the qualities the lady appreciated. Even the young Allyria had been charmed and had insisted, promptly, that when she too had a betrothed, he would have to make a long journey for her. Needless to say, Lord Ademar had not appreciated the example the older sister set before the younger. Allyria was much too young to be thinking about betrothals.

That, however, did not change the fact that Ashara was flouting her brother’s rule.

Assured as she was that no one would disturb her, she had taken herself off to her lover’s room. Maester Wyman sighed. It would be best that he pray the gods Lord Ademar never caught wind of it or the currency of the bride price would be blood, not coin.

It was true that the best knight was the younger brother and while the maester had little doubt that Arthur would stand in to protect his sister’s honour were he bade to, he was far away in King’s Landing, serving under the madman that sat the throne and had other troubles plaguing him. Yet, Arthur was also the more balanced one. He could be counted upon to not rush headfirst into a conflict.

The man made for the stairs leading to his own quarters. He had little doubt that work awaited him. The quicker he got to it, the faster he could claim to have seen nothing at all out of ordinary. Strange customs ruled the land of Dorne, made even stranger to the eyes of one from the Westerlands. But he’d grown used to it during his service, more or less.

Still, he remembered that it had been quite shocking for him to come to Dorne as a young man from the relative order of Oldtown and enter what seemed to be a continuous parading of broken rules and scandals.     

Finally reaching his chamber, the man opened the door and, much to his surprise, saw a raven upon his desk. The bird must have lost its way. The rookery was in a different direction. Since, however, the bird had come all the way and Maester Wyman’s eyes were as good as ever, he approached the creature with a quiet step, so that he might take from it the message it carried.

“Let us see what dark wings have brought us,” the man said gently. There was a wide spread belief that dark wing brought along dark words. Mere superstition, of course. Sometimes news was pleasant and sometimes it was not. But it stood to reason that news was always necessary. It paid to be informed and even one such as Lord Ademar, content to keep to his own lands in lieu of attending the King at court, wanted to know of the latest happenings.

The raven cawed, flapping its wings irritably when Wyman made to grab him. It narrowly escaped capture and lunged for the maester’s hand. Thankfully, he was not witless enough to keep still. Another croak escaped the dark beak.

“What an unflattering temper,” the maester muttered under his breath. “Now see here, crow, you be warned that I shan’t tolerate this.” Seeming to take the words for insult, the little beast hopped a few paces in indignation, fluttered its wings once more and let out a shrill sound.

Only the did it occur to Maester Wyman that having missed the rookery, it had also missed its meal. “I see. ‘Tis food you’re after then.” He had his own meal and Wyman supposed he could spare a bit of meat in order to distract the bird. Which was exactly what he did.

He cut away a small portion of meat and set it before the hungry feathered terror who then proceeded to stab at it with its beak and rip small pieces one at a time. Wyman forewent observing in detail the feeding. Instead, he walked behind the bird and grabbed at its body. The raven’s first instinct was to flap its wings wildly and try to escape. But soon enough Wyman had it soothed and took from its leg the message.

The small roll of paper in his possession, the man allowed his feathered companion to return to the meat. He had his own matters to deal with. Carful of the thin paper, Wyman unrolled the parchment and concentrated upon the small letters.

With a start, he realised what it was that he had read. Dark wings, dark words seemed to apply to perfection this once. So it was that he left the raven with his meal and began his journey through the keep anew. The only matter that needed deciding was to whom he would first make.

It would not do to keep his lord in the dark, the man decided after some deliberation. Thus it was Ademar Dayne he would be disturbing first. That ought to give the lovers some time as well.

The maester leaned his weight against the wall halfway down the stairs, breathing in heavily. If only he were ten years younger. Or a dozen. Alas his legs were old. Yet he had a task and could not delay it forever. Maester Wyman continued to his lord’s bedchamber, knocking gently upon the door when he reached it at a long last.

From within the sound of movement could be heard. Maester Wyman was reluctant to guess who it was that moved about, but by the light step he inclined towards Lady Gysla. A daughter of a Gargalen knight without lands of his own, Gysla had caught the eye of Lord Ademar at the feast honouring the birth of Prince Quentyn Martell. Since then he had pursued her incessantly despite many directives that he ought to do otherwise. It had been somewhat of a scandal that he took her to wife, refusing to wed the Uller bride that the Prince had had in mind for him. Alas it was done and Lady Gysla presided alongside her husband whether it was pleasing to others or not. And truth be told, though she’d yet to give her husband an heir, the two of them were well-matched.

Again, the sound of cloths wishing pulled the maester out of his thoughts. The door opened slowly and the lady’s familiar square face listened in the torchlight as she put her head out to greet him. “Maester Wyman, we were not expecting you at this late hour.” She invited him in with a delicate motion of the hand.

Wyman heeded her instructions. Lord Ademar was seated in bed, no doubt less than pleased at the intrusion. “Well, maester, what brings you here?” he demanded despite his lady wife’s frown at the manner of address.

“News from the Stormlands,” Wyman answered, pulling out the rolled paper.

“What Stormlands, man? What care have I of the Stormlabds?” Clearly he had interrupted a very pleasant night for his lord. Maester Wyman raised one eyebrow at the other man. Ademar sighed. “Give the message to me.”

It was Gysla who took the paper from his hands and handed it to her husband. Having little interest herself in what was written, she waited patiently for her lord o make out whatever there was to understand of it. True to his own nature, Ademar lost some of his sternness as he read. It was clear to the maester that he had made the right choice.

“So Robert Baratheon is dead. Why doers this message arrive so late though?” Even if it had arrived the day the man died, it would have still been impossible to arrive in time for the funeral. Ademar shrugged at that. “Her brother shall want to know.” Soon enough he would be a good-brother to the woman as well.

“Indeed,” Wyman agreed. “I though my lord should know first.” He approached the bed and took back the message. “I shall have this taken to Eddard Stark then.”

“You do so, maester,” the lord dismissed him.

Wyman turned around and walked out the door, but not before he caught a sigh from the lady and a gentle murmur from the lord. Those two quickly mingled together. The maester shut the door in his wake, careful not to make too much noise. There was no sense in waking the whole keep up.

He went on his way, towards the bedchamber of Eddard Stark.

 

 


 

 

Ashara breathed out in relief when Maester Wyman went on his way without asking her what she was doing out in the hallway late into the night. He was a good man and she’d known him since she was a girl, but even so, she was far from prepared to explain herself to him. That knowing look on his face, however, suggested that even if he had stopped her, she would not have had much explaining to do.

That was the trouble with Wyman. He knew them all too well to have need of anything explained to him. Ashara sighed. It mattered little what Wyman thought. The one person she needed to avoid was Ademar. Her brother would make her a widow before she even managed to exchange her vows in he caught her. She stifled a giggle at the thought and told herself that Eddard Stark stood a good chance to win. There were hidden talents beneath that serious mien of his. Furthermore, Arthur had always been the better fighter of the family and he was in King’s Landing. Calmed down by the train of thought, Ashara continued her way down the winding corridor, glad for the peace and quiet.

She took a turn to her left and entered a smaller corridor after making sure it was deserted. And then her journey had reached its end. She stood before Ned’s bedchamber. Her hands rose to tap against the door, but she suddenly felt foolish. There she was, standing in the hallway in a light kirtle, taking a risk. Ought she have waited?

Nay; the answer came to her in a flash. She was done waiting. She had waited because Elia had felt insulted. Despite Rhaegar Targaryen’s explanation that he needed the North on his side Elia had felt the need to let him know just how much she cared for his plans. Ashara had felt bad for the both of them.

Then she had waited because Aegon had just been born and Elia needed a friend. Rhaegar had taken himself odd to the gods knew where after Aegon’s birth and she had has little choice but to remain by Elia’s side. She could not bear to leave the woman alone.

Afterwards it had been her own family that made her wait, for want of information on her beloved Ned. That had culminated in having the man follow her to Starfall and negotiating with her brother himself. Ashara had barely managed not to ask him to run away with her, her patience wearing thin. But somehow she had managed.

The Dornishwoman had understood it all well enough which had been her reason for complying. She had stood by her friends when they had need of her and she’d offered what comfort she could. And finally it was her turn to receive love and comfort from a man of her choosing.

Squaring her shoulder, the noblewoman tapped lightly against the door and without waiting for any sort of reply opened it before anything could stop her.

“Ned,” she whispered softly, entering the bedchamber with a carful step. The dimly lit corridor stood in contrast with the darkness of the room. Mayhap he was asleep. Disappointment gripped her. “Ned,” she tried again, a bit louder.

From within the blackness, a sound reached her. Ashara stiffened. She pushed the door so as to close it and the darkness engulfed her too.

“Ashara?” her betrothed’s drowsy question came. “What in the name of the gods?” The second question was clearly not addressed to her. She heard Ned move about and within moments a few candles had been lit, providing a great aid to her vision.

“It’s cold in here,” she observed, hugging herself for warmth. “Why isn’t the fire light?” They were in the middle of winter.

Eddard chuckled. “It doesn’t seem cold to me.” He walked around the bed towards her. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Well, I shan’t be going away,” she announced, wrapping her arms around him, pleased to find that he was quite warm. Ashara could safely conclude that those who said he had ice for blood clearly knew not what they spoke of. “Unless, of course, you wish me to.”

“Gods, no.” This would hardly be the first time he disregarded rules. Ashara smiled at him.”Should I fear for my life, though, fair lady? You brother is very likely to disagree with me on your staying here.” And right he was. Ashara shook her head tough.

“We shall be wedded as soon as it can be arranged. Ademar can disagree all he wants.” She had listened to other for much too long. “Besides, I seem to recall a brave knight capable of defending himself and others who is more than a match for my brother.” Ashara delighted in his response to that. This was one more secrets they shared, one that Ashara had sworn not to speak of to anyone. Anyone other than him, that was.

“Hush,” Ned chided softly, not truly distressed. “Need I remind you of your oath?” He pulled her away from her position and sheltered her from the cold in his bed. It seemed to strange to her that the chill of the night did not seem to affect him. She supposed that the North was much colder. Dornish winters were much kinder and warmer, according to anyone from maester to peasant. It made sense that Ned would not frightfully cold.

That only made Ashara wonder how she would face the cold of his homeland when the finally made for Winterfell and, possibly, for their own keep thereafter. It was bound to take her some time to grow used to the frigid temperatures.

“Why do you look so glum?” he questioned, joining her on the bed, though not under the covers.

“I am thinking of how I shall transform into an icicle,” she replied, a twinkle in her eyes. “I don’t suppose I’ll be allowed to keep a blanket about me at all times.”

He looked amused at her prediction. “You shan’t freeze. I promise you. There are more than enough ways to keep warm.” The promise behind the words was quite clear to Ashara. She offered him an encouraging smile. Seeming to understand her well enough in his own right, Ned shook his head. “Ways that you shall learn after I have fastened my cloak around your shoulders.”

“I am disappointed,” she pouted, pushing against his shoulder in jest. “Where had my daring knight gone to, I wonder?”

“He is gone into hiding if my lady must know and there is little chance of his revival anytime soon.” His voice was light, but she could make out the determination nonetheless. Ashara sighed softly and patted his arm gently.

The tourney of Harrenhal would be much discussed trough their lifetimes not only because the Crown Prince had seen fit to name a Queen of Love and Beauty that was not his wife, but also for the appearance of a mysterious knight who had gallantly defended the honour of a man he owed nothing to. Ashara suspected that it was one of the many reasons she fell in love with Eddard Stark. A strong arm and a strong character; he was a rare find. And all the more precious to her for it.

“I think that what the knight did was very brave,” the woman commended him gently. “ And I for one am very thankful that he decided to do what he did.” She rose from her position to plant a kiss to Ned’s cheek. “I am very, very proud.”

“Try telling that to the King,” he jested in reply, though not without warmth. “It is best for all of us in the knight is forgotten.”

Aside from Ashara there were very few people who knew the knight’s secret. Lady Lyanna was one of them. In fact, the younger Stark sister had played a great part herself in concealing the identity of the knight and nearly paid for that, according to her brother. Benjen Stark as well had done what he could to help. But that, Ashara suspected, was the nature of the bond between the Stark siblings.

Their actions might have angered a madman that thought all the world wished to see him reduced to a corpse, yet that did not change the fact that they had been brave and good. Sometimes the right path was not the easy path.

“For the rest of the world, he shall be,” Ashara promised. “But not for me.” A smile bloomed upon her lips. “I was tempted to demand you take off your helmet when you burst into my tent.”

“It was very good of me then to have read your thoughts and renounced it myself.” Ashara thought to reply to that with some clever retort, but nothing came to mind. For the moment she was simply glad to be with him as they were and little else mattered besides.

Reality, however, had a way of pulling them back in. A sharp knock on the door alerted them to the presence of another.

“Ser Eddard,” Maester Wyman’s familiar voice came from without, “I must speak to you. It is urgent.”

Ned rose from his position next to Ashara and made for the door. He opened it to the old man, but remained there to block both his path and his view. “What urgent business brings you here, good maester?”

The elder scoffed. “Let me in, boy I know very well who you keep company with inside the bedchamber and had I wanted to cause trouble I would not have come alone.” Ashara flushed haring the words, but was not surprised when Ned allowed Wyman entrance. They had not been doing anything wrong after all.

She let the comfort the bed as well to step towards Ned. It was indeed curious that the maester had come so late into the night. No doubt the news was grave, or the matter urgent. For Ned’s sake, she hoped it was not bad news.

“Speak then,” Ned prompted.

“There has been a letter from Lady Baratheon.” It took Eddard a moment to react to his sister’s title. “It has arrived not long ago and I thought it best that you have it now rather than in the morning.”

Ned took the proffered rolled piece of paper and opened it. Ashara stood by his side and peered at the paper as well. She would be his wife soon enough and had every right to know of his troubles. What se saw, however, was not what she had expected.

“Maester, this says that Lord Baratheon is dead,” she gasped. How could he be? Ashara had seen Robert Baratheon at the tourney. The man had been healthy as a horse then. “

“Is this all? Did my sister offer nothing else?” Ned questioned, handing the message back to the maester. To his mind it seemed much too little.

“Nay, ser. But I suspect her reason for writing was to encourage a visit.” Wyman looked from Ned to Ashara. “My lady, you had best be in your own bedchamber come sunrise.”

She gave a sharp nod of the head, signalling that she’d understood and Maester Wyman needed no more in order to retreat and leave the two of them alone. Ashara pressed herself into Ned’s side. “I am sorry you have received such news. I know you counted Lord Baratheon among your close friends.” She was unsure if she ought to remain with him longer or leave him to his own grief for a short while.

Ned settled it for her though. He wrapped an arm around her. “It is so difficult to believe. Robert is dead.” And his sister was a widow. What unfortunate circumstances. “I have to leave on the morrow, Ashara. I have to go to Lyanna.”

“I know.” She hesitated but a moment before making her request, “Take me with you.”

“You know I cannot,” he answered.

“You can. Let us be wed in the morning and then be on our way.” She squeezed his hand tightly. “Ned.”

“The feast,” he reminded her gently.

“Damn the feast. I want to help.”

 

 


 

 

Benjen yawned and combed his fingers through messy hair, hoping to make it presentable with as little effort as possible. Mornings had been sent as a punishment from the gods to the humankind, he was certain. Man had done something terrible to deserve such torture. Alas, nothing was liable to change even if he did contemplate the matter over the course of his whole life.

He saw to dressing himself and the made his way to the dining hall. All the other lords, ladies and sers had gathered there. Lyanna presided over the gathering. To her right Stannis Baratheon was seated. He looked at the gathering through stern eyes. The dour mood brought a grimace to Benjen’s face. If anything was missing then that had to be the children.

But Benjen knew well enough that at formal gatherings it was required that children to kept separate from adults. Likely they were to be found somewhere in the nursery, driving their poor septa to the brink on insanity. Without thinking of the matter any further, Benjen sauntered up to his sister and joined her at the table.

“I see you’ve kept me a seat by you,” he greeted her, stretching over her hand to reach a late of cold food. “Still trying to charm the whole world, sister?”

Lyanna scowled lightly at him, then desisted, as if remembering herself. “It is a pleasure to see you as well, brother.” She allowed him to take the cheese from her plate without a murmur of protest. Had they been in Winterfell, she might have asked him if he was a mouse.

“Good-brother,” Benjen greeted Stannis with a slight nod of the head. Stannis nodded back, but said nothing, Instead he chose to ignore the world for a good cup of wine. “Charming,” Benjen muttered.

“None of that,” Lyanna warned, slapping her hand to his thigh chidingly. “Have you slept well?”

“I have. Or rather I would have if people learned to keep to their own bedchambers at night.” At the curious look his sister gave him, Benjen responded with an impudent smile. “Don’t tell me you haven’t heard them.”

“I was exhausted, Ben. I’ve slept through the whole night.” Her explanation attracted Stannis’ attention and Benjen noticed it. Lyanna was unaware, however. “The very thought that I shall get no rest today as well makes me wish I had gone Robert’s way as well.”

“Now, good-sister,” Stannis cut in, “why wish such things? There is still much to do.”

Lyanna turned towards the man. “Indeed, you are right. ‘Tis the fatigue speaking.”

There was something about the way the man stared at his sister. Warily, Benjen glanced from one to the other. Lyanna lacked her usual warmth and something told him that being overworked had little to do with it.

“No doubt,” Stannis agreed.

Something was going on. And Benjen would find out what, even if he had to drag it out of Lyanna himself. It was a good thing he’d written home to have them come.

Approach the matter he did, when he got the chance.

“Well?” Benjen demanded, clasping Lyanna’s arm tightly with his hand. They had managed to escape the other inhabitants of the keep and have a few moments of privacy. ”Will you tell me what is going on or shall I find out from Stannis?”

Lyanna flashed him an angry look which he dismissed with a glare of his own. “Stop acting like this. I am trying to help you.” She had always been stubborn. “Would you rather tell Brandon?” For a moment he thought she might nod, but instead his sister sighed. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

“I know. How could I possibly doubt that?” Her shoulders slumped. Rarely did Lyanna allow others to see her weakened and uncertain. But being that it was Benjen before her and not some stranger, she basked in the comfort he offered. “I never doubted you.”

“Because I am always there for you.” He offered a small smile. “Now tell me before the horde happens upon us.”

“Gods, I do not even know what to say, Ben. I never thought anyone could plan what my good-brother is planning.” She looked away from his face, towards one of the windows. “He wants to take Jon from me.”

Stunned into silence, Benjen mulled the words over. How could Stannis possibly contemplate something like that? “But Jon is your son. Stannis has no right.” After all, though none knew it, Robert had lent nothing to Jon but a name. That had been all his contribution amounted to.

“I know not why he does what he does, but it is clear he wants me out of the way. He thinks my son is daft, not fit to rule.” Her face darkened the next moment. “Of course, how could I have been so foolish? Benjen, my son is an obstacle to him.”

“Nay. Lyanna, nay. That would make him a kinslayer. I doubt he could ever.” But did he truly? Men had killed for less. “Do you think he suspects?”

“Nay. He does not. His only opposition is that Jon is not whole of mind.” Even as they knew that not to be the case, Benjen was well aware that proving it would be difficult. Mayhap if they could get him to speak somehow. “I do not know what to do. Jon wouldn’t speak even when Robert requested it with his dying breath.”

“But he can understand what is being said to him.” That did not help much. Benjen looked at the ceiling. “I shall return to Winterfell and demand that father come here. If there is anyone whose word might weight anything, then it is father’s.”

“Do you think he would be willing to leave Winterfell to you?” she snorted.

“He’ll have no other choice,” Benjen responded. “Father does care, Lyanna. He’ll come and he’ll help. I will make it so.”

“I am glad you are by my side.” Her arms embraced him. “Have I told you that on this day?”

“There will never come the day when I am not so,” he promised.

 

 


 

 

Renly saw Jon from the corner of his eye frantically waving his hands. Thankfully the good septa was much occupied with her reading that she did not notice. He had to do something in order to rid them of her. Renly gave his nephew a small nod of the head and turned speculative eyes to the woman. He knew fairly well that Jon would have already stared the journey to his chamber.

Letting out a heavy sigh, Renly allowed himself t fall limp to the ground. Startled by the sound of a body hitting the floor, the septa interrupted herself mid-sentence and seeing her pupil on the ground let out a shriek. “Renly,” she called, hurrying over form her seat to kneel at his side. “Renly, can you hear me?”

Unsure if he ought to pretend unconsciousness for much longer, Renly allowed one of his eyes to open. “I am tired,” he spoke softly, as if those few words ate away at his energy. “I am so tired. I wish to sleep.” Suspicion crept upon the woman’s face at that. Renly doubled his efforts in response. “Pray allow me to retreat. Just for this day. I shall be well on the morrow.”

It was mayhap on account of having recently lost his brother rather than any extraordinary acting skills that the boy was allowed to go to his own bedchamber. Whatever the case, Renly was more than pleased to leave the female tutor to her own device. He couldn’t wait to see what Jon needed him for.

When he entered the bedchamber, Jon was already on the bed, a multitude of sheets spread upon the mattress about him. Renly closed the door and barred it. “What have you there?” he asked of the younger body. In reply, Jon held up a familiar necklace.

“That belongs to my good-sister,” Renly observed. He picked up one of the discarded papers. “Jon, where do you have these from?”

Jon shook his head and handed him another paper. Understanding this to be a question of sorts, Renly shrugged. “I do not know. They seem to be accounts.” He took another sheet of paper from her child. “Fifty gold pieces,” he murmured. It was not very much, but there seemed to be a lot of papers.”

Looking upon another one, Renly immediately noticed that it was different. The paper did not carry Lyanna’s name, but that of her brother.

“I think we should take these to your mother,” he said then. Whatever they were, they clearly belonged to his good-sister and she would want them back. “You did not take these from her chambers, did you?” Once more, Jon denied by shaking his head. “Let us go then.”

The two of them gathered the papers and folded them neatly. Renly lifted the bar from the door and they made their way into the hallway.

As soon as they started walking, however, great-uncle Harbert spotted them. “You two rascals, should you not be at lessons? Let us see what your uncle had to say to that.”

Chapter Text

Rhaegar stared at the sealed letter that had come during the night. Maester Emyl had not broken the seal to read its contents, as had been agreed to beforehand. The three-headed dragon imprinted upon the wax awaited the moment it would take flight. The letter had to be from his lady mother, Rhaegar decided. The King would not bother to have more than a few words written and those could be carried by ravens. In contrast, his mother never seemed to tire of writing.

That might well be because of the conditions she was kept in, Rhaegar mussed. He had been rather young when it started and at first did not even see the implications behind his father’s actions. Rhaegar had known, from a very young age, that his father held little enough affection for his lady wife. Likewise, his mother did not love the husband given to her. It was not out of ordinary and the lack of love between parents had been compensated heavily with love for their son. It had not lasted though. As all good things were wont to, the peace faded.

His mother suffered several miscarriages and drew away from her husband. In turn, the King found himself mistresses. The relationship between them continued to deteriorate to the point where they actively avoided one another for as long as they could and met in the interest of conceiving a child.

Those children that were born to them were either dead before drawing breath or died young. That fact further pushed the King and his Queen apart. His father had been certain at that point that someone was plotting to have his children killed. He had held everyone in suspicion from common servants to his wife. No one was exempt. It was truly frightening that he saw enemies where there were none and shadows where there was light.

Little wonder that bit by bit each and every one of his father’s trusted men were alienated. That had not stopped Aerys, however. If anything, to his mind it proved that no one could truly be loyal to him. That had been, mayhap, one of the greatest reasons for which he brought along the Spider. Varys, the Master of Whisperers was a dangerous man; not only for his position at court, but because his loyalty could never be counted upon. Rhaegar expected that his father had thought the man incapable of conjuring up any further lies than the ones he worked with.

Rhaegar was far from certain that the former was the case. Varys presented a high risk for the very fact that he held nothing in his heart. As a general rule, people were interested in something above all else. Some held ideals close to heart such as peace, honour, valour. They guided their lives upon these principles and expected the rest of the world to rise to those standards. Others wished for material gain, coin, precious stones, costly fabrics. His father’s man wished for none of those. A man who wished for nothing and had nothing to lose but still held sway was someone to be reckoned with.

Alas, not even Varys managed most times to quell the King’s suspicions. The Prince wondered if he even tried.

Of course, in the end, his lady mother had given birth to a viable son, to little Viserys. But it had been too late to salvage anything. Not even the birth of Daenerys returned the King to his former state. By that point, however, everyone had given up on the King, even the most optimistic of the courtiers.

That did not mean any of them had stopped trying to further twist the King’s mind. After all, a king ruled by his heart was a king easy to manipulate. There was so much to be obtained from a man who did not know when to stop giving or when to allow a free hand. It was all a matter of catching him in a good mood and avoid having one’s head chopped off or having one’s tongue removed. Ser Ilyn Payne came to mind. A shudder ran down Rhaegar’s spine. The man ought to have minded his words. The truth was as dangerous as any lie at court and no one was immune. Ser Payne had had the misfortune of being heard, was all, and had paid for his folly.

The thought that he himself might have proceeded to a folly of his own unsettled Rhaegar. He had little excuse in that. The blame was his. It was good that at least the other person involved had had the good sense to deny him. Though it had hurt it had been the right choice. After the break had mended, Rhaegar had understood that.

He sighed and gazed at the letter once more. In truth there was very little desire in him to break the seal wax and seen the contents. He knew well enough the song that would be sung. His mother had little but hardship in King’s Landing and any attempt to see her to someplace else was met with a firm refusal from the King. That was what Rhaegar had never understood. Why did the King keep her so close to him if he did not desire her presence? Queen Rhaella was hardy interested in state affairs; she had never been involved in any plot, nor was she likely to unless the King somehow threatened the children. That was his mother’s mission as far as she was concerned, to protect her little ones.

If only his father would leave her be. Rhaegar picked up the letter, turned it in his hand, lifting it towards the stream of light spilling forth through the window. Then, after allowing a few moments to pass, Rhaegar broke the wax seal and spread the sheet wide. It was time to see what news came to him from King’s Landing.

His mother’s familiar hand began as these letters always did, inquiring after his health and that of his family.

 

 


 

 

Elia pulled the fur around her shoulders and smiled at the other woman. “I have heard you have a daughter by him already,” she said. From the corner of her eye she watched Rhaenys who sat before the fire and practiced some lesson or another that the septa had explained to her. She ought to have been doing so somewhere else, but given her sudden fascination with Ellaria Sand, Elia could not refuse her child. After all, nothing bad could possibly come out of a short acquaintance; what with Elia being present at all times near her daughter. “She was born early in the year, was she not?”

She could not understand what Oberyn saw in her. Certainly, Ellaria Sand was a warm creature, but beyond that she lacked stunning beauty to recommend her, wealth of her own and, mayhap most importantly, her father’s backing in a political sense. Bastards could do great things, as most any other person, if they had backing. But then again, Elia was certain Oberyn had chosen the woman because of that and not in spite of it.

Her brother had this desire to shock the world around him, whether he was climbing a tree to high or keeping a permanent companion close enough in description of what was expected from him, but not nearly so. When her own lady mother had lived, Elia remembered that the woman had wished to see her younger son wedded to Cersei Lannister. The possibility of Elia wedding Jaime had been left open, but mother had wished for the Lannister daughter.

Oberyn had not wished to hear a word of it. He had been determined to refuse the association. Alas, Lord Tywin had done it for him by insulting Dorne with his offer. Since then he had found himself a long string of lovers and had caused more trouble than advisable. Mother had died without having seen him wedded, much to her regret.

Elia was a different case altogether. She did not have her brother’s desire to appear daring. She had always followed her mother’s example of seeking the highest possible alliance available. Oberyn might be content to live his life free of any sort of responsibility, but Elia wanted more. She always had.

When any sort of alliance with House Lannister fell, naturally their lady mother had turned to House Targaryen. It was fortunate that the Mad King was frantically searching for a suitable wife for his son to put an end to Tywin pressure. The small revenge had filled both Elia and her mother with a sense of pride. House Martell went on to grander things and Lord Lannister was humbled. That Elia had gone into labour later soon enough afterwards was, in her eyes, the finishing blow to whatever pride House Lannister could possibly have.

Rhaenys had been a healthy child, although labour took it toll on Elia herself. She was glad to have gone through the pain. Any mother felt much the same, she reckoned. Ellaria Sand included. Indeed, the look on the other woman’s face spoke of a deep love for her child.

“Truth be told, Your Grace, I miss my Elia very much,” Ellaria confessed, her eyes turning to Rhaenys. “Her father tells me I should enjoy the peace and quiet, but I fear I cannot.”

“I was much the same when Rhaegar took our Rhaenys to be presented to the King,” Elia answered, understanding very well what it was that Ellaria spoke of. “Though I knew she would be well looked after I could not stop myself from wishing I had been able to join them.”

The birthing process had not been an easy one on her. Elia’s health had suffered much. The truth of it was that she had been informed that it was unlikely she would survive even through one single such ordeal by the maester of Sunspear when she had been of an age to wed. The man had warned that with her constitution she could well suffer through a number of miscarriages for nothing as well. That had not been the case, however, and none of her children suffered from any ailment that plagued her.

Rhaenys and Aegon were lively children. They had enough energy for ten and had yet to present any form of illness. Not even as much as a cough in the harshest of winters.

“I had heard. I am much pleased that Your Grace has recovered so well,” the other Dornishwoman offered. She spoke the words prettily, but Elia doubted she meant them. It was the nature of all strangers to not be overly concerned with those they did not know. Do you not fear the birthing bed, Your Grace?”

“Nay,” the Princess laughed, “not as much as I had the first time. As often is the case, once previous experience is available, fear tends to take a step back.” She imagined it was the same for seasoned warriors. “Do you fear it?”

Ellaria smiled softly. “In some measure. But ‘tis more common to live through it than to die.” She shrugged afterwards. “Being a mother had not crossed my mind before, but now that I am, I wonder why.”

“I’ve always dreamt of it,” Elia returned with a smile of her own. “I do not remember a time when I did not desire children of my own.” Mayhap because her own lady mother had put such stock in it. The former ruling Princess of Dorne had assured all of her children that to have children was an achievement that was as laudable as winnings on the battlefield, if those children were raised properly.

“What shall the Seven bless Your Grace with this time, I wonder,” Ellaria mussed out loud. “It is said that your lord husband wishes for another daughter.”

“Do you mean to say that Oberyn could not keep even that much to himself?” The Dornish Princes looked rather put out by the thought. “I have told him time and again he ought to. Never you mind what my brother says. Regardless of my husband’s wishes the gods shall do as they see fit.”

 

 


 

 

Gulian Swann gave Crane Cafferen a harsh look while Bryen Caron made a soft dismissive sound. Lyanna accepted the bows of the three men, though she thought she would have been better served if they saw fit to squabble elsewhere. Thankfully, Lord Cafferen excused himself, leaving her in the company of the other two.

“Lady Baratheon,” Ser Gulian began, “I should like to extend condolences in the name of myself and my lord father. He could not attend, due to poor health.”

“’Tis fine of you, ser,” Lyanna replied, trying her best to appear in her element. Something was not at all alright; she could feel it. But, like the mist, the sense was insubstantial. “I hope Lord Swann is not very ill.”

“It is his lungs, my lady.” Gulian Swann looked rather like he thought his father might not recover. Lyanna was not certain what she ought to say to that. The current Lord Swann was sixty if he was a day and had been sick longer than Lyanna had been Robert’s wife. “The maester has done everything in his power to make him comfortable.”

“We all of us must bear our burdens with dignity,” she said in the end. “It is good of you to have make the journey to Storm’s End, ser, and I pray your lord father reclaims his health.”

Lord Swann’s heir tanked her for her kindness. Lyanna took a few moments to study the man. He was not classically handsome, his face round and rather flushed, but there was something about his eyes. A friendly gleam, as it were. Still, one should not mistake him for being simple in any manner. Nay, indeed, Lyanna knew that Gulian Swann had his wits about him.

“Mayhap my lady would allow me to seek her out at a later time.” At her nod, he left her with Lord Caron and a promise that when he did meet her, he would not be taking long of her time.

In direct contrast with Ser Swann, Bryen Carron was young and handsome and had little to ask of her. As far as Lyanna was aware, her husband had not taken coin off of the man and she need not worry in his presence.

“I was sorry to hear of the death of your parents and siblings last year,” Lyanna said to him, for want of anything better. “I trust Nightsong has managed to recover after the blow.”

“With some difficulty, my lady,” Lord Caron answered. “Though I miss them every day, life must go on. I believe my lady shall find wisdom in these words.”

Robert had not allowed her to take part in the funeral of the late Lord Caron, stating that she had no business there and Lyanna, wishing to avoid conflict, had not pressed further. It might be that she should have. “Indeed.”

“I also have my half-brother, so, you see, my lady, I am not alone.” A small smile played upon his lips.

And she had her son. Lyanna gave a nod and was about to speak her thought out loud when she was approached by Robert’s last, as far as she knew, mistress.

Ymme Lannister with her river of golden hair and sparkling eyes dared come to her before the eyes of all. Lyanna did not know whether she was to commend the woman for her daring or have her taken out of the hall. Deciding against making a scene, Lyanna parted ways with Lord Caron and walked towards the woman to meet her halfway. Most of those present knew to not be blatant in their staring, although a few ladies were more than pleased to gawk as if they watched mummers at work.

Ymme made her obeisance before Lyanna. “Pray allow me a few moments, my lady. I wish to make a request.”

“But of course,” Lyanna replied. “Mayhap if we moved away to one of the walls.” Would that she did not have to deal with the liked of Ymme on this day or any other. Lyanna had thought herself safe from the woman after Robert had died. But it seemed that some simply did not know when it was appropriate to stop badgering their hostess.

The two of the retreated to a quiet corner and proceeded to fall into quiet conversation. Lyanna thought she heard the sound of disappointment breaking throughout the hall as curious lords and ladies would not be part of the conversation.

“I have taken up enough of your hospitality, my lady, and I fear to abuse your kindness any further,” the woman began most unexpectedly, making the she-wolf almost embarrassed of her earlier thoughts. It would not be the first time she misjudged a situation. “I wished to thank you for allowing my daughter and I to seek shelter in your home under current circumstances. But, also, I would feel remiss if I did not take the time to say my farewells properly.”

“You are leaving?” It should not have come as a surprise. “Have you a destination in mind or coin for the road?” The world could be a dangerous place for a lone woman and her child.

A blush coloured the woman’s cheeks. “Pray do not be angry, my lady. But I have met a man.” Understanding, Lyanna gave a nod of the head. “Being a widow and long of age, I need not seek anyone’s permission any longer. It is my hope that I have not caused trouble for you.”

“Not at all,” Lady Baratheon assured her guest. “If you are certain that this is the path you wish to take, then by all means. I wish you the best of luck.”

There was little more than Lyanna could say to Ymme Lannister, so she contented herself with seeing the woman to her former seat, promising that before she left, she would find a parting gift in her bedchamber. Not so much for the mother, as for the daughter.

“May the Seven keep you in good health, my lady,” was the answer the Lannister gave her.

Done with that, Lyanna continued her stroll. Most of the lords and ladies would be on their way soon enough. In fact, by the morrow light, Lyanna was certain that she would be left with only Aunt Branda and Uncle Harry, her good-brother, Benjen and the boys, and it might be that Ymme and her daughter would remain, depending on circumstances.

All the well that they were leaving Storm’s End at a long last. Great-uncle Harbert had told her that this last feat of grandeur had cost them quite a sum, and the coffers were depleted. Of course, her own father would lend her coin and she could start by paying off Robert’s debts. In the meantime she was to see to the taxes and who had been spared by Robert their payment. Her husband had been atrocious in this manner. Lyanna had not thought it possible for a man to be less interested in his own well-being, but her deceased spouse had convinced her. It was one thing to forgive one man his debts, or put them off until he could find his feet. That she would call an acceptable show of understanding and compassion.

To forgive all men or at the very least most of them their debts was another matter altogether. The only explanation Lyanna had was that Robert’s mind grew emptier and emptier the more he drank and caroused. Her one and only attempt to intervene had been cut off harshly when she’d dared question the judgement behind such decisions and since that time she’d done her best to live off of what the villages under her house’s direct authority produced and the few taxes paid by conscientious lords.

Someone caught her by the arm, eliciting a startled sound from her. Lyanna turned to face her aunt. “You frightened me,” she complained, not entirely pleased. “Sometimes I think ‘tis you that Benjen resembles most.”

Branda laughed. “It must be true, for I vow that if I knew no better I would say I’d birthed the boy myself.”

Out of all the children her aunt had brought forth, only one had survived infancy. But she was a sickly child that rarely left Amberly Hall. Lyanna had not seen her once. And she ought to. After all, they were cousins. She would, the she-wolf decided. She could see her cousin as soon as she could manage it.

“Father often said that there was something of grandfather Rodrik in him.” Rodrik Stark had been known during his life as the Wandering Wolf for his love of adventure and travel and an apparent inability to stay in one place long.

“Might be, child, but I tell you he keeps closer to home than my father ever did.” Branda squeezed Lyanna’s hand. “Your brother liked adventure well enough, but I much doubt he’d be willing to sell away and leave you and yours for years on end.”

“You must have the right of it.” It must have been difficult, growing up without one parent. Her son would have a similar life. Luckily for him, he would have many a good model to follow. “Aunt Branda, I hope ‘tis not too impertinent of me, but I had heard cousin Rosalynd was much better and yet she has not made the journey with you.”

Her aunt sighed. “Roslaynd would have liked nothing better than to be here for you, my dear, but I fear she cannot be allowed to travel so many hours in such frightful weather as this which we have. Yet she is marginally better than she was, that I can confirm.”

Lyanna did not think it wise to tie the poor girl to her bed. How would she ever grow stronger if her mother did not allow her to? Still, she did not voice such an opinion, keeping I mind that Lady Rosalyn may well know better than Lyanna herself how much defiance was healthy for her and what would constitute an exaggeration.

When she finally met her cousin Lyanna would be able to assess for herself the situation and then, if appropriate, she would speak to her aunt. Until that point, the she-wolf was content to nod her head. “I am glad to hear that. She is just now four-and-ten, is she not?”

“If a day,” her aunt confirmed. “We are confident that she will soon be well enough to make journeys with us as well. I do know you wished to finally meet her and I cannot understand why your husband, may he rest in peace, protested even a short visit.”

Neither had she in the beginning, but Lyanna suspected that he was aware, somewhere in the back of his mind, that she was not as fond of him as he believed. Mayhap he feared that given the chance, his wife would flee to Essos. Not that it had not crossed Lyanna’s mind. Yet knowing that she had little chance of survival in such an environment and having a small child to care for, she had dismissed such thoughts. It was for the best that she raised her child in a safe environment and with a title to help him through his life.

“Would you look at that?” Benjen’s familiar voice interrupted their conversation and whatever Lyanna had wished to say in response to her aunt. “My two favourite ladies arm in arm and in need of an escort. The gods must be smiling upon me.”

“You jest,” the aunt replied with a quiet laugh. “I daresay you ought to find other ladies to dote upon. Your efforts are bound to be wasted upon the two of us.” Nonetheless, she broke away from Lyanna and allowed Benjen to step in between them. “Let us have it, why are you joining us?”

“So now I must have a reason?” The faux incredulity in his voice elicited an amused sigh from his sister.

“You know very little of women, it would seem,” Lyanna answered. “And while I should be most glad to offer aid, brother mine, this is something you should work out on your own.”

 

 


 

 

Stannis looked at his brother and his nephew. If any pair of eyes could possibly melt stone, then his would. Jon, used to following his mother’s example in most matters tried to imitate the look he’d seen her use on more than one occasion when quarreling with his father. His uncle on the other hand looked contrite.

The papers they had been carried were deposited upon the table with nary a glance, no doubt to be studied at a later time. Only the necklace had remained in Jon’s possession, hidden away from sight. He could still give that to his mother. That was if he survived the encounter with his older uncle.

“Well, what have you to say for yourselves?” Stannis demanded, arms crossed over his chest. His gaze never wavered from their faces. It was mayhap that which compelled Renly to speak.

“We just wanted to take the papers to Jon’s mother.” His voice was small. It was an incredible feat as far as Jon was concerned, as, for the most part, his boisterous uncle could hardly be intimidated. Scolded, certainly, but rarely was he put out with a few mere words. “We weren’t doing anything wrong.”

His complaint was ignored by Stannis who turned his glare upon Jon fully. “Your uncle hasn’t the time to play with you boy. You might be content to do nothing all day, but the rest of the world hasn’t the luxury.” The words had not been yelled, and while the tone had been harsh, Jon had heard worse from his father. Yet the dismissive tone felt rather like a punch to the head.

Bristling, the younger boy’s eyes narrowed into slits. He raised his chin in defiance of his uncle’s words and kept his position in the face of Stannis’ incredulity. Renly was not to be left out. “He is not at fault. I was the one who chose to leave lessons.”

“Then you shall be the one to return to lessons and if I catch you trying to abandon your duties again, I shall have both your ears tugged off.” The warning was enough to cow the older boy. “Ser Harbert, if you would be so good as to lead these two away.”

It had certainly been very interesting. Stannis continued to look at Jon as the boy followed his brother out into the hallway. He had understood. Stannis was certain that the child had known what he was being scolded for and seemingly disagreed greatly.

Could it be that the information he had received was not correct, after all? He shook his head. Soon enough he would find out whether the truth of it was what had been presented to him; after all, that was one of the reasons he had decided to remain within Storm’s end for the time being.

Now to see what papers those children could have possibly found. Stannis lifted one of the multitude of papers up and stared at the writing in disbelief as his mind processed what was written there.

 

 


 

 

“Father has written back,” Benjen informed Lyanna, passing into her hand a small rolled piece of paper. “I’ve just received this from your maester. Do you trust this man, sister?”

“Maester Cressen?” Lyanna questioned. What was there not to trust about the man? “He is as good a maester as any and does not have nearly as good an opinion of himself as Maester Walys. I am all the happier for it.” Far be it from her to condemn Maester Walys, but Lyanna did blame him partly for her disastrous, if only on a personal level, marriage.

“You will never forgive him, will you?” Her brother shook his head. “By your logic, Ned deserved a good portion of your anger as well. He is the one who returned with reports of Robert’s greatness from Lord Arryn.”

“And for that I shall always question his opinions,” the she-wolf snorted. Ned deserved it, after all. “Yet just because I can recognise that the two of them played some part, it does not mean I am angry with them.”

“Indeed, you did agree.” The reason behind that being known only to the two of them, the siblings shared a long look. Benjen grinned at her a moment later. “There, there. You shall be so glad to see them that you will forget all about any grievances.”

Although quick tempered, his sister was just as quick to forgive minor transgressions. It was good a thing that she had learned to outwardly control any signs of fury though. The last thing Benjen desired was a cup of wine poured over his head.

“Certainly,” Lyanna agreed weakly, as if not quite believing him. “Now do you mean to spend the rest of the evening in my bedchamber and set the tongues of servants waggling or shall you take yourself off before I am forced to remove you myself?”

Laughter spilled past his lips. “I very much doubt your ability to force me out. But I shan’t test you. Mayhap another time.”

“Would that you grew up a bit, brother mine.” Lyanna saw him out into the hallway. “I suggest you take as much rest as you can. Stannis wishes to speak to us on the morrow, after the guests have departed.”

Nothing could be signalled by a desire to wait until none but those close to the family remained. Benjen adopted a displeased mien. “If you do not wish to see him, there is no need.”

“I shan’t allow him to cow me, Benjen. Now leave and allow me to change. The septa wishes to speak to me as well and she shan’t be put off until the morrow.” And so Benjen left Lyanna to her own business.

He walked down one of the narrower corridors and a faint sound caught his attention. A sort of mewling, close to a weak cry. Thinking that some poor cat had landed into some sort of mischief, Benjen followed the sound until he reached a door that had been left ajar.

He entered the room.

At that point it became clear that the sounds came not from a poor tortured beast, but from a poor, tortured child. And he knew exactly who the child belonged to,

Bending to his knees, Benjen picked the infant up and stared into her deep blue eyes. “What might you be doing here all alone?”

Chapter Text

Brandon dismounted his gelding, looking over his shoulder towards Hawys, so as to better scrutinise the look upon her face. Lord Ashwood’s young daughter looked suitably impressed with his feat. A barely-there smile curled her red lips minutely. Brandon smiled back at her and offered to help her dismount as well.

Lady Hawys placed her hand in his, gazing away shyly as he lifted her down from her perch upon the saddle. He continued to gaze at her, ignoring the felled deer whose blood was seeping through the snow all around its lifeless corpse. The woman before him presented a much more intriguing image. Brandon had not imagined that her father would allow her to join him upon the hunt and had been almost suspicious when the old man had accepted, going as far as to lag behind them. Good gods, if he did not know any better, the heir to Winterfell would have sworn the man was offering him a chance to seduce the girl.

A tendril of black hair slipped over her shoulder as she leaned slightly in and fell upon their hands. Brandon watched the lock’s descent and could not help but shiver. Gazing away he met Hawys’ dark eyes; laughing eyes. It occurred to him that not even his own wife gazed at him thus. He would not have wished to break the contact, not for anything in the world, but the sound of galloping horses broke the illusion of intimacy and rendered the two of the exposed to the eyes of others.

Drwaing away from the young lady, Brandon offered his arm. “Come, my lady. Let us see the state our prey is in.” He led her towards the woodland creature he’s shot down and heard the small sound of pity that left her lips.

“Poor beasty,” she said but a moment later, true regret colouring her words. Women and their soft hearts, Brandon thought, though without any bite. He was rather touched by her reaction. The deer stared up at them with empty eyes. “’Tis a sad sight.”

“’Tis the very first hunt you have been allowed on, my lady. In time the sight shan’t give cause to such sadness.” Almost a promise, that was what his words had been. “Your lord husband might someday wish for you to join him in such exercise. Shall you refuse for pity of a deer?”

“Nay, certainly not,” the lady assured him. Hawys sighed. “If my lord husband should ask it of me, then I shall join him with pleasure. Does your own lady wife join you when able?”

The reason for which Catelyn was still in Winterfell as he visited Ashwood Hall was simple. She was heavy with child and due to give birth any day. Brandon was glad for it. More than he ever thought he would be. “At times. But she is not fond of such and I would not have her displeased by insisting.”

“I see,” Hawys answered. “You must be a very good husband to her then, my lord. I shall pray for her luck when my father finally makes a match for me.”

Brandon experienced a moment of deep disappointment as her words reached him. Her husband, whoever he would be, was a very fortunate man. Hawys Ashwood was a striking character, not for any such reason as outwardly beauty, as for a sort of joy one experienced in her presence. It was a connection Brandon had simply never felt with another human being.

Not even Barbrey, and her he had loved almost as soon as he’d laid eyes on when he first visited the Rills. Alas, his father had chosen another fate for him and Barbrey had no place in it, nor did Lord Ashwood’s youngest daughter, as much as he might regret the way of it.

“I shall pray he chooses a worthy man for you, my lady,” he dared after a long moment of silence, breaking her hold on his arm to kneel down before the stag. Brandon studied the animal closely, noting with some concern that it was thin; too thin to have known a good feeding recently. Little wonder that the common folk cried for food when nourishment was scarce and not even beasts were likely to satisfy the hunger.

Nonetheless, the other members of the hunting party tied the prey securely to one of the horses. Brandon was duly congratulated for his skills, which had more to do with the age he’d been given rather than anything else. An older man whistled for the hounds, while another helped Lady Hawys back upon her own steed.

His mission was completed. Having found out the state of wild beasts within the hunting spots of those lords closest to his father’s domain, he was to return with a comprehensive report upon the matters. And also, he was to see his lady wife once more.

Brandon mounted and pressed his heels into the horse’s flanks to send him into a light trot. He might have already missed the birth of his second child, yet he found the experience easier to deal with if he kept a good distance. When Catelyn was giving birth to Robb she had insisted that he keep by her side throughout the ordeal and he much preferred to not repeat the experience, though his lady wife assured him that her own father had done the same for her mother.

He did wonder, however, whether she would give him a son or a daughter. The Tully line was of a flourishing nature, to be sure, but daughters seemed to be the far more likely outcome. Still, Brandon saw little reason to worry. They had Robb and, should the gods be cruel and take him away, Benjen yet remained. Of course, that was barring the possibility that Catelyn would give him another son, with Tully looks like his brother.  

A sigh upon his lips, Brandon pushed his horse into a canter. It was time to make for home and see to his other duties as well.

Lord Ashwood waited upon them a bit further down the road, not an enthusiast of the hunt. At the sight of the small party, his portly face broke out in a grin. The image if the ruddy man contrasted greatly with his slim, pale daughter that Brandon had to wonder at how parents and child could look so very differently, given that Lady Aswood, formerly of House Yew, sported light locks to her daughter’s pitch black tresses. Only the dark eyes marked a resemblance between the two women. In all else, they were perfect strangers to one another.

Such matters aside, Brandon wished to have a few words with the man before he finally got on his way. Leading his horse towards the older man, he boldly passed the lady and her guard. “My lord, a moment if you please.” Carefully steeling both his voice and his face, Brandon applied a trick his father had taught him.

A lord who was perceived as too involved within matters could at times be counted as weak by his bannermen. It was better to seem aloof and be efficient to looking understanding but incompetent. Rickard Stark had advised his eldest son to create a mask to display before all others, naming Brandon hot-tempered and prone to making mistakes because of that. It seemed imperative that he keep control of himself, at least to his father. Thus Brandon had fallen in the habit of adopting his mask with regularity when conversing with most people. Few were exempt. And Lord Ashwood was not among them, despite whatever he might feel for the man’s daughter.

Harmund Ashwood gave him a nod. “I have enough time, young Stark,” he replied, his voice gravelly. It seemed he had recently recovered from a cough. “More than you seem to have by the way your force that poor beast to keep its pace.”

He had been going too fast, Brandon realised with a start. Pulling lightly on the reins, he slowed the gelding down and Lord Ashwood followed his example. “Now there, all better,” the older man said, reaching over to pet the gelding’s neck. “A fine beast.”

“A gift from the Rills.” A gift from Barbrey. She had insisted that her father allow him to have his pick of their horses and Brandon had followed her advice in choosing the steed he rode. That, of course, had been before he became Catelyn’s husband and she Willam Dustin’s lady wife. “Best horse I ever rode.”

“So, what is it that you wish to speak of?” Harmund asked at a long last as Brandon volunteered no words.

With a small shake of his head Brandon turned to look at the man in the eyes. “I fear there is simply too little to hunt and what is, is in a deplorable state. The granaries shall have to be opened soon.”

“I see. That is grave news indeed. Shall I send a raven to Winterfell?” The offer was met with a swift refusal.

“I shall speak to my father.”

 

 


 

 

Maester Luwin gave the midwife a long look, holding his arms out for the newborn. Upon the bed Lady Catelyn Stark was still being subjected to the care of the midwife’s helper. Exhausted, but with a smile upon her face, the new mother watched the fruit of her labour with unmistakable pride.

The maester took a few moments to look the child over and assure himself that all was well. Then he passed the bundle back into the midwife’s arms who waited not a moment to give the babe to the mother.

“You have a beautiful daughter, my lady,” the girl washing the cloth said. “The very image of her mother. She is bound to break a few hearts when she is a maiden grown.” Flattery was a common enough practice; and it yielded results when applied to mothers most of all.

In truth, the tiny babe was no portrait of grace and beauty. A small red wrinkly face appeared from within the folds of smooth cloth covering the naked skin. Her eyes were still closed and although she had quietened down somewhat since she’d arrived squalling into the world, the babe was nothing short of content to let all and sundry know how little she appreciated the new accommodations.

Silence descended once more upon the room when the child fastened her lips onto her mother’s breast, seeking nourishment. To Catelyn she looked the very image of the Maiden, young and pure and beautiful beyond words. And health, arms, legs, fingers and all.

The only shadow cast upon her happiness was the fact that her lord husband had not been present for his second child’s birth. But she understood well indeed that Brandon had other duties beyond the attention he owed her.

The door opened to admit her good-father into the bedchamber, just as the midwife had gathered the stained sheets into her arms and was preparing to leave. Lord Stark entered and allowed the woman to be on her way with a nod. Maester Luwin was dismissed after a brief exchange and he approached Catelyn’s bed.

“So I finally gave a granddaughter. I was wondering when I might.” Although she knew he was more than pleased with his two grandsons, Catelyn beamed up at him, delighted at the compliment. She allowed him to take the girl into his arms. “So small. She reminds me of Lyanna. Although I must admit you are much braver than my Lyarra who feared I might harm the child.”

“A mother always fears,” Catelyn replied softly. “But I am certain it is merely the harm and not the person.”

He nodded, peering down at the child. “Pretty, very pretty. She looks a Sansa to me.” Catelyn’s daughter made a sharp little sound. “And she seems to agree. Sansa Stark.”

It suited her. Brandon would agree, Catelyn reckoned. Sansa, their Sansa had finally arrived. Her good-father did not retain her much longer. “I am certain both of you are tired and should like some rest now.” He touched her shoulder gently and then proceeded to leave her on her own with the nursemaid who stayed behind.

 

 


 

 

Rickard Stark was not exactly surprised to see that the good maester had waited for him in the corridor. Maester Luwin was dedicated to his craft as much as a knight should be to the joust and a lord to his lands. He was quite possibly the most impressive maester to have graced the halls of Winterfell yet. But even so, the old lord found himself missing Walys Flowers. Walys had been more than an adviser; he had been a friend, a confidant. There was no replacing the loss. Yet the world went on as it always had.

“Well, maester, let us hear it; what news?” he asked, stepping even further away from the door.

Any manner of business had been pushed aside as soon as it came the time for the babe’s arrival. As the child was safe and sound in her mother’s arms, Rickard saw no need to delay any further. He looked at the man expectantly as he pulled out a message from his sleeve.

“From Lady Lyanna, my lord,” the maester said, offering the piece of paper to him. “’Tis news of a delicate nature.”

The hand was not his daughter’s. That was the first detail he noticed upon reading the words. He supposed she would have been truly busy, yet even so, it behoved her to write to her own family herself; if only to let them know she still possessed the skill. Still, the nature of the word was dark enough to constitute an excuse.

“A widow,” he whispered. “My poor Lyanna.” It seemed that no good news came alone. His first instinct was to order his horse saddled and his clothing packed for the road. But Brandon had yet to return. Undoubtedly, he would wish to join him as well. And his good-daughter had to learn of the news herself.

It was then that he noticed the message contained another line, written in a smaller script by a different hand, at the very bottom. He recognised the writing to be Benjen’s. Relief touched him. At least she was not alone. His son asked for coin, letting him know in no uncertain terms that the monetary aid was necessary.  

“Maester, see to it that Lady Catelyn hears of my good-son’s death as soon as she wakes.” While he could not possibly have her travelling to Storm’s End, she had just as much right to know as her husband did. “I shall need coin and the fastest horses. As soon as Brandon returns, we shall be on our way to the Stormlands.”

“I understand, my lord.” Maester Luwin took the message back, hiding it away into his sleeve. “Might be we should send word to Starfall as well.”

“Nay. Benjen would have done so already.” Rickard dismissed the man a second time. “I shall be in the solar,” he announced, stepping past the man of the Citadel and making his way to the aforementioned room.

Would that he knew exactly how his daughter was during these hard times. But mayhap it was better that he did not, far away as he was and incapable of easing her suffering.

 

 


 

 

Lord Wagstaff and his lady wife were finally loaded into their wheelhouse, ready to return to their own hall, much to Lyanna’s relief. She had not thought it possible to have her nerves stretched in a few days more than she’d had them battered in three years of marriage to Robert. It seemed, however, that the gods were determined to prove her wrong.

A sigh of relief left her lips. At least she had ridden herself of the too many bannermen wishing to devour even the last of the grains in the larder. “You would think the crown had just awarded you three hundred gold pieces with the way you looked just now,” Benjen said, placing a hand on her shoulder, more to keep her in her current position than anything else.

“Would that they had. Alas, I’ve no knights to trade to them for such.” Nay, indeed. She only had a babe of Robert’s. That brought Lyanna to another unpleasant development. Ymme Lannister had somehow disappeared into the night after having received the promised coin from Lyanna. She had, however, neglected to take her daughter with her; daughter that Lyanna was informed she had not even named. “I have half a mind to let all of this fall onto Stannis’s shoulders.”

Her grumble earned her a sympathetic look from Benjen. “As much as I should like to see my good-brother struggling into a sea of debt and bastards, we must think of Jon. As for the babe, you could send her off to be raised in a septry.”

“And which septry would take her without a substantial donation?” There were certainly young ladies sent to be raised for the veil, but orphans, even those of good standing were less likely to find their way in such a place. Mayhap one or two, for the upkeep of these individuals was, to hear the septas of the realm, more expensive than a war. “You know very well that I shall have to do with her as I’ve done with most of Robert’s bastards.” She would be found a position to fill; something that did not bring her to the attention of others unnecessarily. Well, as soon as the girl was grown.

After all, as much as Lyanna loathed the idea of taking on another of her husband’s offspring foisted upon some foolish woman, she could not abandon the babe. It simply seemed inconceivable to her. As such, she had sent word House Lannister, hoping that some relative of the woman’s would arrive to take the child off her hands. If not, then she supposed the seamstress might use the help or someone other.

“It is good to see you so determined,” her brother commented. “Now, I do believe that there are other matters of concern to be dealt with, if you have had enough air for the moment.”

It rang true. Lyanna still had to have some conversation with her good-brother that she had put off for a while. “Let us go then.”

 

 


 

 

Lyanna entered the chamber which had been designated as the place of meeting. She carefully stepped over the threshold, looking at those who had arrived before her. Great-uncle Harbert was standing at Stannis’ right with such a look upon his face that one might think he’d been fed sand. She did not trouble with the man, however. Her gaze travelled to Stannis himself who was twirling between his fingers a familiar looking object.

Eyes narrowing upon recognition, Lyanna felt anger trickle within her. “Where do you have that from?” she questioned, remaining where she stood.

“From your bedchamber, of course,” replied her good-brother, seemingly unaffected. “I must admit it was a clever move, my lady. Very clever, indeed.”

“Clever move?” Lyanna spat, disoriented for a moment. “What business have you searching my rooms? I demand you give everything that you’ve taken back.” It was preposterous. She was the Lady of Strom’s End and he, as her guest, had no right whatsoever to invade her private space. “This is thievery, ser. Thieves hang.”

“So does a murderess,” came the answer.

Benjen who had kept quiet up until that point, saw the exact moment as an opportunity for intervention. “What exactly is it that you are implying, Stannis Baratheon?” he demanded, hand travelling to his belt in search of a sword that was not there.

“I imply nothing. I am outrightly accusing your sister of murder,” Stannis said slowly, as if explaining the matter to a simple child.

“How dare you?” More than scandalised, Lyanna slapped a hand to the surface of the desk, leaning in slightly. “You come into my home, I keep you and you would accuse me of murder?” It was simply unbelievable. “I should have you kicked out.”

“That would still not change the fact that you are a criminal.” The look upon his face signalled that he truly believed the words he said.

“If you would accuse my sister, then you have proof, I take it, of this supposed crime.” Benjen stared at the man who sat in his chair, looking for all the world like he had not acted in a shocking manner.

“This supposed crime is my brother’s murder. I have proof enough,” Stannis offered.

Unable to help herself, Lyanna chuckled. “The murder of your brother?” An incredulous smile stretched her lips. “If you would be so kind, how am I supposed to have murdered your brother, ser, when he was hunting and I was within Storm’s End at all times?”

It had to be the silliest thing she had ever heard. Did the man truly think there was anyone in the world with such power as to murder a man at that long a distance? More importantly, was he somehow convinced that she practiced the dark arts? Lyanna shook her head.

“The whole breath of this keep is my witness,” Lyanna told him, just to impress upon her good-brother the sheer idiocy of what he proposed. Surely, he could not be that much of a fool as to discount the witnesses.

Without a word of reply, Stannis opened the pendant of the necklace he held within his hand and a white powder fell upon the desk. Dumbstruck, Lyanna stared at it. Powder hidden in a necklace could only mean poison. And now she finally understood why her good-brother had been so sure of himself.

“Do you deny that this belong to you?” Harbert questioned, pointing to the necklace.

“It is mine,” she admitted, “yet I’ve no knowledge of secret compartments.” Most of the jewellery she’d been given had previously belonged to the deceased Lady Baratheon; and Lyanna rarely wore any of it. “And I have certainly not placed poison within it.”

If she had planned to kill Robert, why keep such evidence upon her? Lyanna scowled at the look upon Stannis’s face. Would that he looked like a human with emotions for once. “For what reason would I have had to murder my own husband?”

“Coin,” Stannis promptly offered. “There are debts, and quite a few of them, to my knowledge.”

“Which was why I was to write to my lord father and ask for coin,” Lyanna snapped. “I did not kill Robert. His own folly did.”

“Yet one of the men that had joined him on the hunt, the one who accidentally, if ‘tis to be believed, released the arrow, is nowhere to be found. There is poison hidden in my lady’s locket and a great amount of debt to be repaid, proof of which has been buried in your godswood.” That said, he stood to his feet. “The arrow could prove your innocence, my lady. I have sent men for it.”

Recognising that she could not possibly say anything that might help her unless she had proof to offer as well, Lyanna took a step back. “I am innocent,” she repeated, “and it shall be you who asks for my forgiveness when the time comes.”

Benjen was a lot more vocal in his disagreement, but that did not help the matter any. Lyanna knew very well that she had to find Ancel and question him once more about her husband’s death and the missing man. “I do not wish to have you before my eyes any longer,” the she-wolf stated firmly. “Remove yourselves from my presence, the both of you.”

The two men, for some reason she could not explain, did listen to her command. It struck her as odd, but Lyanna was simply much too angered to care. Had she been in a better frame of mind, she might have found reason enough to dispute their claims.

“Lyanna,” her brother called her attention. “Did you truly know nothing about that necklace?”

“Benjen!” The exclamation left her lips before she could stop it. “How could you possibly imagine that I knew anything of it? Or do you believe me to be a murderer as well?”

“I am trying to help,” he ground out. “I know you would not do anything the like. Not without good reason.” The last part he whispered, but it still managed to chill the blood in her veins.

“Gods be good,” she growled. “I haven’t the Maiden’s innocence, but I am no murderer either. And if you believe any differently, I would thank you to leave.”

 

 


 

 

The moon lit the path with is ethereal glow. Somewhere in the distance a wolf howled, the sound seeping into Brandon’s bones. It made no matter, for all the wolves were far away and would not attack a party as large as his. Although, the same could not be said of unfortunate travellers who found themselves journeying through the woods.

A dark giant sprang to life from beneath a hill of snow. Winterfell was close, at last. Brandon let out a weary sigh. He’d ridden long and hard to finally reach his destination. Undoubtedly the guards at the gates would spot them soon.

As predicted, they were allowed entrance after a brief exchange with the men on duty. Brandon allowed one of his men to take his horse to the stables, instructing him to rub the beast down and make sure it was fed and watered. And thus he was free from all other obligation. Brandon dismissed the rest of his men and he himself went in search of whoever was still wide awake late into the night so that he might hear news of what happened in his absence.

By some contrivance of fate, it was Maester Luwin that he came upon, as the man undauntedly still worked hard even at the late hour. His theory confirmed that their newest addition to the household needed no sleep in order to function confirmed, Brandon proceeded to deliver his greeting.

“You are returned, good. Good,” the older man said. “Your lord father has been awaiting anxiously for your arrival. And your lady wife, I daresay.”

“Catelyn?” he questioned, struck by the maester’s assessment. There were only so many reasons for that.

“Indeed,” Maester Luwin confirmed. “Congratulations, ser, you are a father once more. Lady Catelyn gave birth to a healthy daughter during your absence.”

“And my lady wife? Is she well?” Familiar with the story of her mother’s death and known that Catelyn often worried for such an outcome, Brandon could not help but press for an answer.

“She is well, ser. Mayhap you should like to see the child.” The suggestion was met with a nod from Brandon who followed the maester to the nursery. A daughter, he thought, rather absentmindedly. He had wondered over the matter on his way home. A son would have been preferable, but he found that a daughter was more than welcome as well. As long as tragedy was avoided.

His daughter could be found in the arms of her nursemaid, a woman between two ages who looked r in need of a good night’s rest. Brandon’s attention, however, was upon the child. He barely even acknowledged the maester leaving the room. Something of a similar nature had occurred when he first held his son.

The door creaked behind him. “I see you have met Sansa.” His father’s voice almost made him look away.

“Sansa,” Brandon repeated, a smile playing upon his lips. “Sansa. It suits her.” Small and delicate Sansa Stark. The babe made a soft sound, fussing in her father’s arms.

Quick to intervene, the nursemaid took the child in her arms. “She must be hungry,” the woman explained.

Knowing his visit had come to an end, Brandon turned towards his father. “My lord,” he greeted the man in the proper manner and was not surprised when his father dismissed the gesture.

“Come,“ the older man ordered, leading the way of the nursery. Brandon would have been more pleased to be sent to his bedchamber so he might rest. Yet he suspected that barring a very important occurrence, his father would not keep him longer than necessary. Thus, he buried all traces of displeasure and followed his father to the solar. “Your sister has written,” Rickard said without preamble.

Snapping to attention, Brandon gave his father a long look, some of his exhaustion dissipating. “And what news is there from my sister?” She had last written to the family after her son was born; otherwise it was Catelyn who received her letters for whatever reason.

The Lord of Winterfell sighed heavily. “Robert Baratheon is no longer of this world.” A small piece of paper was presented to Brandon as proof and though he allowed his eyes to linger on the script, it still felt surreal.

Robert Baratheon had been in the prime of his life. They were of an age. “What happened to him?” His sister was not yet two decades of age and she had been forced into the position of widow. “Illness?” Some sort of wasting disease, mayhap.

“Nay, an accident, according to Benjen.” It was then that Brandon noticed another paper upon his father’s desk, larger and full of writing. No doubt it was the second letter, detailing his good-brother’s demise. “It seems Lyanna has need of our aid.”

Unable to make out whatever it was that Benjen had written, Brandon waited for further explanations. He was not disappointed. “Stannis Baratheon is convinced that he somehow has a right to lordship over his brother’s domains.”

“Than he has chosen the wrong persons to impress it upon,” the Winterfell heir answered. Whatever the man was thinking, Lyanna was the mother of Robert’s heir. He would as soon see his nephew cheated out of his inheritance as he would have himself tied behind wild horses. “When are we leaving for Storm’s End?”

“Sleep a few hours, son, and then we shall be on our way.” Though the plan had altered slightly, Rickard did not worry over a few hours’ delay. What did worry him was the reason for which Stannis thought he could get away with the move he was making. He had met Robert’s brother. The young man was no fool.

Brandon looked like he might protest his father’s edict for a moment, but at a cross look from the man, he simply nodded his head and left the solar.

On his own once more, the father gazed at Benjen’s letter. “What have you planned, Stannis Baratheon?” Whatever it was, he would not succeed.

Chapter Text

Catelyn woke with a start. Something was pressing against her shoulder and her bleary mind conjured nightmarish images to associate with the feeling, still sleep befuddled. As her gaze focused, however, she recognised the face of her husband. Brandon was shaking her gently, concern etched upon his features. "Cat, can you hear me?"

A small moan slid past her lips as the awareness grew stronger. "Aye, husband. I'm not deaf." The weight lifted from her shoulder. And with it the warmth was gone as well. Catelyn drew the furs higher, to ward off the chill of early morning. So he had returned.

She studied the man for a few silent moments, taking in the pallor and clear weariness. He looked as if he could use a few more hours of rest. "When have you arrived, ser?" she questioned, brushing the remaining drowsiness from her eyes.

"A few hours past," Brandon offered. His light blue eyes remained upon her face. Catelyn wished she knew what to say to him. Despite the years of marriage between them there lingered an awkwardness she could not rid herself of. Her husband patted her covered side gently. "I have seen our daughter."

"Sansa, she is called Sansa," the mother supplied instinctively. A smile played upon her face. She wished Brandon had not been away. Alas, duty was duty and he could not refuse his father's orders no more than she could. "I am glad to have you back."

The furs fell away to reveal her cloth covered arms as she proceeded to embrace him. Catelyn wrapped both arms around her husband, her chin resting on his shoulder. She felt his body's movement as he finally sat down upon the bed's edge. His own arms came around her.

"I am glad to be back," he said. There was nothing in his voice to convince her of any true joy.

Disappointment rolled within her. Catelyn still held on to him however. Someone, she remembered not the name or the face, had once told her that between a man and woman there could be no greater bond than a child. The idea had seemed terribly romantic to her and she had embraced it wholeheartedly. Catelyn had become Brandon's wife with that ideal in mind. No doubt the person who she had spoken to believed those words as well and mayhap, for some, a child was the strongest bond there could be.

But not for her and her husband. Catelyn, as enamoured of Brandon as she'd been, had known very well that he did not share her infatuation. Still, she'd pressed on in hopes of changing at least his mind, if not his heart.

Alas, love could not be dictated to, although affection and respect could be earned. He cared for her in his own way. But neither children, nor the gods themselves could give her his heart. And she had resigned herself to the knowledge. Yet every now and again, pangs of pain registered when she saw him. A lifetime ago she had thought herself the luckiest maiden in Westeros.

Her husband drew back softly. Brandon rose to his feet. "There is something I must tell you." Worry bled into her placid mask. Brandon shook his head. "Nay, do not panic. 'Tis something to do with Lyanna."

Her good-sister? "What could possibly be the matter?" Last she'd written, Lyanna had merely spoken hat her son was not yet speaking and she'd asked Catelyn about Robb's progress. "Is it Jon?"

"Nay, Jon is well." His answer was met with a sullen look. Catelyn suspected that he wished to have a reaction out of her. For what purpose she knew not. "My good-brother is no longer alive."

Robert Baratheon was dead. Catelyn gave a shake of the head, disbelief wrapping tightly about her. "How can that possibly be?" Only a moon turn past Lyanna had been complaining that her lord husband had injured one of Storm's End best steeds and the beast had to be put out of its misery, for which her good-sister had been more than appalled as she had wanted the horse for her own.

Nay, it simply could not be true. Men like Robert lived a hundred years to torment those around them with their carelessness. She would believe it more easily if Brandon told her old Lord Frey had met the Stranger. At least that one had outlived his welcome by at least three decades.

"Lyanna's letter assured us that is the truth," Brandon murmured. "Catelyn, I have to leave again." The bluntness gave her pause. Patience was a virtue she had learned. "My sister needs me."

Her own brother and sister would do the same for her. "I see." That did not mean she wished him to go though. Their daughter had just been born. Yet she understood. "I had wondered at the lack of letters lately. Convey to her my condolences and my regret for not being able to be with her during such dark moments."

The Lyanna she had me had been a girl, it was difficult to imagine her as a woman, even more so as a widow. After all, it had been a mere three years. Her poor good-sister. Were she fit for travel, Catelyn would have demanded to join Brandon. There was after all a link of friendship between the tow of them despite having known one another for a short while only.

"I shall do so," her husband promised. "Cat, I'll strive to return as soon as I can."

She gave him a tremulous smile. There were times when eve their children could not take precedence. "We shall miss you," she spoke for her and the babes.

Brandon nodded is head and gave her one last look. There were no kisses shared, nor any other hugs. He bade her to return to her slumber. And then it was time for him to truly leave. Brandon Stark walked out the door of her bedchamber and she was left alone with the slowly ring sun warming her face and uncovered limbs.

 

 


 

 

 

Ademar looked his younger sister over with something akin to tenderness. "You look like mother," he said. Ashara gazed at her own reflection in the looking glass as those words reached her ears. She smiled, knowing her brother could see very well over her shoulder to the reflected image.

"My dream has finally come true then." Her laughter filled the chamber. Indeed, she had always wanted to be like mother, although mother had perished birthing Allyria. Ashara remembered the woman well. In fact, it was only Allyria herself that could not recall their lady mother. There were times when the loss still stung.

Scrutinising her mirrored image, Ashara concluded that Ademar was speaking the truth. She had her mother's face if not her colouring. A member of the famed Yronwood House, Ysolt Yronwood had been the one from whom Arthur and Allyria fair hair, and all of them shared her violet eyes. Ashara and Ademar had been blessed with their lord father's dark hair. It was considered so much of a blessing in their family that, when they were children, Arthur had asked Ademar how he could darken his own hair. What followed Ashara would never forget.

Ademar being himself and wishing more than anything for a victory over his younger brother had stated that one thing and one thing only could aid Arthur. Ink. Thus, the younger brother had downed a full inkwell of the concoction, was sick as a dog for a couple of days and sported teeth the colour of pitch for half a moon turn. Of course, Arthur had avenged himself after enough time had passed. Yet the incident became somewhat of a legend within the family.

"Now what could you possibly be smiling thus about?" Ademar questioned, hand resting upon her shoulder. Ashara blinked. "Well?"

"Nothing," she said softly, shaking her head. They had lingered within the chamber long enough. Ned would be waiting for them and she had grown tired of waiting herself. The sooner she became his wife, the better. Especially for her. "Come, my lord. You know a bride is always nervous."

As per their request, Ademar had accepted that they arrange a private wedding, although he had extracted a promise from Eddard that there would be a proper feast after the situation of Lady Baratheon found its solution. That did not mean he was pleased however.

"It can wait if you are unsure," her brother reiterated for what seemed like the thousandth time.

He would not shake her conviction though. "It might, but I cannot. 'Tis been long enough since I've wished myself a bride." She whirled around, throwing her arms about Ademar's shoulders. "Wish me happy."

The man smiled. "You know I do." He pulled away from the embrace and gallantly offered his arm. Ashara wasted not a moment in taking it. Finally, all her dreams were coming true. If it were possible to run without splitting the fine stitching of her gown, she would be tearing through the corridors like a wild creature.

Instead, she was forced into an awkward pace where Ademar was trying to slow them down as she wanted to increase their speed. The result was none too pleasant. She glared at Lord Dayne only to be treated to a knowing smile. "Patience," her brother murmured, his disposition taking an unnatural turn.

Ashara suspected he thought it his duty to keep her from the altar as long as he could. She would tolerate his attempt, but only because it was the only one he would ever have the chance of performing, as the young woman was certain her sister would not receive such a treatment.

The long lit corridor stretched out before them. The Dornishwoman had always considered her home to be beautiful, the carved walls and the marble floors that glittered in the sun. It had taken her breath away. But at the moment, her only wish was that her ancestors might have considered her feeling at least a tiny bit and decreased the marble use by building shorter hallways. It felt a journey in itself only to make it from her rooms to the lower level where the main hall was and where Ned waited with the witnesses.

At a long last, brother and sister finally reached the main hall. The septon motioned them over. Ashara knew very well that Ned would have much preferred the ceremony take place in a godswood, but in Dorne no one kept with the old gods any longer, and the Starfall godswood had long since perished under the lack of care of her great-great-grandfather. The unfortunate circumstance was overlooked in the end. It might have helped when Ashara promised their vows could be repeated in the first godswood they came upon, which meant the one of Storm's End.

Clearing his throat, the young septon nodded towards Eddard and then to Ashara. The two spoke their vows reverently, making it clear to their audience that for them the day was special with or without a large feast. Or so Ashara hoped.

She beamed at Ned as her brother unclasped the light cloak covering her shoulders and pulled it off of her, revealing the fine dress beneath. Ned took a moment to look at her, a smile of his own visible. He then wrapped the silver Stark cloak with its running direwolf.

And thus Ashara Dayne became Ashara Stark before gods and man.

Once the septon's speech was at an end, she waited no more to lean towards her husband and demand the kiss that was owed to her. Ned did not hesitate.

There was clapping and cheering from those present. Ashara even thought she heard a few less than innocent comments bandied about, yet they died out soon enough, presumably because Ademar had turned to glare at the gathering. Her brother could be frightening at times.

"Well then," she whispered as they parted for air, "we may leave whenever you wish."

"My lady," Ned murmured. She knew he wished to leave as soon as possible.

Perfunctory exchanges followed, along with tearful farewells. Ned did not try to rush her. Ashara attributed that to the trust he had in her and she felt her heart swell pleasantly. Indeed, she had made the right choice. And so, intent on proving his choice had been exactly right as well, Ashara took his hand and together they made their way into the courtyard where horses had been readied.

"Let us away then, my good ser," Ashara said, giving him one of her hands so he might help her mount. She could well understand his desire to reach Storm's end as soon as humanly possible and did not begrudge him that even at the price of a lavish wedding. It mattered little anyway.

"Lady wife, I do believe a man might search the Seven Kingdoms and not find a woman your like in a thousand years." He leaned over to press a quick, affectionate peck to her lips, his compliment delivered.

It might be that circumstances could have been more auspicious, but to Ashara the very knowledge that she was now a Stark was enough to soothe whatever sliver of disappointment wormed its way inside her heart. It would do little good do deny she had envisioned a different progression. Yet the result counted in this instance.

"Sweet talking already," she chided lightly. "I suppose practice cannot be ill intentioned." He laughed at that. Well, shall we be on our way or are we waiting for the sun to descend?"

Pressing her heels into the horse's flanks, Ashara sent the beast into a light trot. Ned followed, along with the men her brother had ordered to go with them. There was no Kingswood Brotherhood to fear any longer, but the Seven knew other lowlifes had taken their place soon enough.

"Are you certain we ought not to have asked for a wheelhouse?" her husband asked, to Ashara's mind concerned for her comfort.

While she appreciated the thought, a wheelhouse would slow them down; it would cost them many an hour on the road and it would make them an easier target. Certainly it would provide more comfort and under normal circumstances Ashara might have insisted that she be given one. However, speed mattered.

"Mayhap when we make for Winterfell," she replied. "I should like to perfect my riding skills." If only not to embarrass herself before Lady Baratheon. Lyanna had been, before her marriage, much praised for her riding skills. How would it look to her if Ashara made a muck of it?

Ned chuckled. "Your riding skills are fine, lady." They were not. Ashara had little cause to ride before and had preferred other activities to it.

"Hush, you," she countered. While it was not necessary to make a good impression, it would certainly ease her path and Ashara thought to herself that it was incentive enough. "If you truly wish to help, tell me what I should be doing."

"First, you ought to relax." His horse drew closer to hers as he continued instructing her.

 

 


 

 

 

A small smile played on Jon's lips. His plan was simply brilliant. The only foreseeable obstacle was his uncle. Jon did not for the life of him understand what it was that went on in his home. The situation, however, had clearly put his mother and his uncle at odds, which left him in the very odd position of not knowing who to turn to as that the conflict might end.

His first option had been Uncle Benjen and Lord Harry. However, his uncle seemed intent on finding something and had little time for Jon at the moment, while Harry Rogers spent his time arguing with great-uncle Harbert over something which made no sense to the child. His second option had been Renly. But the other boy had been severely punished for their last escapade and was not to be let out of the septa's sight at any time.

Mother herself had fallen in some sort of sullen mood. She came to see him every now and again, but her visits were brief and he could tell she was distracted. Yet he had a plan. Something that would make her feel better no doubt. If only he could find Betha.

Slinking against the hard stone wall, the boy drew closer towards the stairs, listening to the noises around him. It could not end well if he was caught by his uncle. In fact, Jon would be very glad if he was never given cause to stay for more than moments in the man's presence. There was something he disliked about his father's brother, something which made him weary. And he had upset his lady mother. Jon was not inclined to forgive the man, whatever his reasons.

He clambered down the stairs as swiftly as his legs could carry him. On the last step, his foot caught on a small protrusion, sending Jon tumbling to his knees. A sob of pain escaped past his lips as his knees collided with the stone edge, but he bit down of his lower lip to keep from attracting attention. Pain reverberated through his lower limbs as he forced himself back on his feet. Jon looked down. He ached, but there was no sight of blood yet. The breeches had not even ripped.

Sitting down upon the last stairs, the child pulled the leg of his garment up to inspect the wound, ignoring the tears streaming down his face. Though blood had not yet stained his breeches there was a cut. Jon traced his finger upon it and winced as it smarted, blood bubbling, reddening his skin. With a dissatisfied sound he sucked a finger in his mouth then spread saliva on the wound. If beasts did it, it had to help.

Then is attention turned to the other knee. The twin was merely bruised, glowing an angry red into the boy's face. At least his garments would not be strained beyond repair. After he had made himself presentable, Jon wiped away at the tears staining his face. Good fortune had been on his side. He could not afford to waste anymore time.

Resuming his mission, Jon rose to his feet and began walking despite the discomfort his wound produced him. He had had worse, after all. One time, Renly had been chasing him around the yard as the men were returning from the hunt. By some ill intervention, Jon had stumbled upon a sharp rock and titled forth, landing on his face. Of course it was then that one of the horses managed to escape the grip of his master and started galloping about, in Jon's direction, much to the horror of all.

The beast might have flattened him to the ground if Renly hadn't somehow managed to jump over him and roll them both away from danger. The result had been that Jon was not trampled over by ironshod hooves, but hit his head against the wall. There had been blood then as well and quite a bit of yelling. Master Cressen had nursed him back to health, however, and his mother interdicted either of them to be anywhere near the courtyard when guests arrived or father returned from the hunt. He never did learn what happened to the man and his horse though, but he'd not seen either around since that day.

There were many adventures to be had around the keep and many more that had been experienced and he wished never to hear of again. Yet Jon was truly pleased for all of them, despite his lady mother chiding both him and Renly afterwards. And it was better her than father; father never knew when to stop yelling.

Shaking the unpleasantness away, Jon leaned against one of the walls, trying to flatten his body as much as possible as two of the washer women passed from one hall to another before him. They were too bust whispering to notice him however, so he need not have worried. Jon sighed in relief. He was nearing the kitchens anyway.

Then he came upon the last flight of stairs he would have to battle. Drawing in a sharp breath, the boy squared his shoulder and stepped upon the first. These ones were wooden, lacquered, much less slippery and fairly even. Finally, he could find Betha and obtain what he had come down for.

He entered the kitchens and looked about at the servants gathered there. Some he'd seen before, others were strangers. Jon tiptoed along the wall, eyes searching for either the Cook or Betha. While the latter would be most appreciated, the former would do just as well.

"Here, Tilly, give those to me," an older woman instructed a girl who was barely older than Jon. "Go stir those pots over there."

Something was cooking on a spit by the fire. There was a man keeping watch over the meat, making sure the spit was never still. Fascinated, Jon stopped to watch. Why did it need to keep moving? He puzzled over the problem for a bit, before it occurred to him that if he were to sit in front of a fire, warming his hands, his back would be cold. But if he were to spin in front of the fire, all of his body would eventually warm.

With that understanding, Jon forced his gaze away and returned to his quest. The gods must have been smiling down upon him for he saw Betha coming out from one of the adjoined chambers in which various objects were kept. Not one to waste a perfect opportunity, Jon scurried past a few servants and reached Beth just as she was placing a large pot upon the table.

He promptly pulled on her skirts to gain her attention and winced when she let out a small shriek. Thankfully, the other servants did not look her way but a few moments. "My lord," she whispered when she looked down and saw him there. "What are you doing here?"

Jon merely tugged on her skirts once more and smacked his lips together. The servant girl rolled her eyes. "Nay. My lady has absolutely forbidden it that you be given sweets before mealtime." He persisted and she refused him once more. "Pray return to your chambers, little lord."

Her would not be deterred, however. Jon pouted and leaned against Betha, his eyes pleading for her to give in. The servant gazed at him for a few moments then looked away guiltily. A brief few heartbeats later she eyed him once more.

"Raspberry tarts or lemon cakes?" she grumbled none too pleased at having failed. Jon held up one finger. Betha gave a sharp nod of her head and went for the Cook. They whispered together for a few moments before a clean strip of cloth was rolled out and something was placed within it. Betha tied the ends together to make a small satchel.

Returning to Jon, she leaned in to give it to him. "'Tis be between the two of us, my lord. Your lady mother would tan my hide if she found out who you have these from."

Jon nodded his head dutifully, plastering his most serious expression yet. Seemingly pleased, Betha led him back to the stairs and shooed him away from the kitchens, issuing a warning that if she eve caught him there again, she would be tanning his hide. Not believing one single word, Jon clutched his prize to his chest and smiled at the woman. She smiled back, muttering something about cheeky brats.

His objective had been reached, thus Jon felt no need to remain upon the wooden stairs. He hurried away, making his way through the corridors until he reached the stone stairs once more. With a soft sound of worry he gazed behind. No one was there.

Heartened by that and the fact that his leg did not ache any longer, the child heaved his bundle towards the upper level of the keep, one step at a time, all the while thinking of how pleased his mother would be. Jon could barely wait.

The arduous climb was finally at its end when he placed one foot upon the last step. By that point he had broken out in a sweat and a tendril of hair was annoyingly stuck to his forehead. But his mission had been met with success.

Hurrying to his mother's chambers, Jon stopped before her door. His hands occupied, the child began kicking at the heavy door, not so much to force it open, as to attract his mother's attention. His scheme did not fail. The door swung open and Lyanna stood before him.

"Jon?" she questioned softly, looking down at him. A smile lit her face. "What are you doing here?" She took in the state of him. "And what have you there?" Mother ushered him in with a swift motion. She did not offer to take the bundle though, knowing her son would not renounce claim.

She helped him upon one of the stools and watched as he unknotted the cloth. "Raspberry tarts?" the she-wolf laughed. Jon grinned back at her, picked up a piece and waved it before her. Chuckling, Lyanna took the morsel and bit into it. Sweetness filled her mouth.

Jon followed his mother's example and filled his own mouth with food. Surely, she would not be angered, as he was sharing the meal with her. "I do not know whose cunning you have, child. I vow I was never quite so adept." The words spilled past her lips merrily. Jon took them to be a compliment.

Pride swelled in his breast. He nodded his head to signal he understood her and then took another tart. His mother had reached the last bite of her first piece and reached down for another. Jon stopped her hand mid-movement. He looked down at the small collection, the saw one that was bigger than the others. He took that in his other hand and held it towards his lady mother.

For some reason her eyes filled with tears. Jon frowned, not understanding. He'd done well, hadn't he? Mayhap something was wrong with the tart. His eyes travelled over its expanse. Jon could not find anything. At a loss, he gazed back at his mother.

"My sweet babe," Lyanna said taking it from him and breaking it in half. "Mother is not displeased. I am just very, very happy. Sometimes when people are very happy they cry." The explanation made little sense to him as people cried when injured or unhappy. But he could only shrug. "You shall understand some day" she promised.

Jon bit into his half of the tart, chewed and swallowed. His hands were sticky. The child wrinkled his nose and swiped his hands on his breeches only to brush over his earlier cut. He winced.

Alerted by he look upon his face, Lyanna abandoned her food and knelt before him, rolling up the leg of his breeches. A gasp left her lips. The other leg followed as well. "What is this?" she questioned. "Jon." A sigh followed. "I wonder if you shall ever learn."

Her son pouted and shook his head, as if to convince her it did not hurt. She knew better than to believe that. We shall put some salve on it." At the look of horror upon his face, laughter answered. "You've only yourself to blame."

The salve his mother spoke of was the unholy offspring of wine and some plants which Jon had forgotten the name of. Maester Cressen had created it some time ago and swore by it. His mother had somehow had need of it and after using it decided that she had permanent need of it. So the good maester kept producing it. For his part, Jon hoped the recipe was lost. He loathed the salve. It smelled strange, it was cold and it stung. If there was worse medicine, he'd not heard of it and hoped never to.

Despite his best attempt to pull away from his mother's care, the young boy was subjected to a healthy dose of thick salve spread upon his knees. A shudder travelled down his back. The she-wolf kneeling before him ignored the reaction and continued to massage the mattered limbs. It was nice to have her attention, Jon though, after she had been rather absent these days.

"One day, I shall ask you all about this ability to find trouble," he heard her say. "May the gods keep us both until then." Once done, she rose to her feet, wagging her finger in a forbidding manner before him. "Never hide your injuries from me again."

With a nod of his head Jon brought back her smile. He jumped to his feet as well and fell into her, gathering handfuls of her skirts. "I've missed you as well," Lyanna said, brushing his hair back leisurely. "My sweet child."

After the embrace was broken, Jon decided it was time to show her something else as well. Pushing her towards the stood, he waited until she was seated. Then he tugged on her hand, turning the palm upwards. Lyanna said nothing, but maintained the stance.

The child took in a deep breath. He searched his tunic for something and upon finding the objects pulled it out. His mother's eyes widened as he deposited it in her outstretched palm. "Jon, where do you have this from?"

It was the necklace. Or at least a necklace that looked somewhat like the necklace Stannis Baratheon had shown her. Jon watched her for a few moments as she turned it over and over in her palm. Once her attention was back upon him, he took a few paces away and searched his tunic once more. His mother was watching him carefully.

A small wooden figurine was produced. The piece was placed in the she-wolf's hand as well. And the Jon shrugged lightly as if to say he did not understand himself. Lyanna held the necklace up. "Did Ymme have it?" A nod was his response. "Did you find this in the godswood?" Jon nodded a second time.

His mother put both the jewellery piece and the figurine away. She leaned in and pulled him into a tight embrace. "I cannot thank you enough, my brave, sweet, smart child." She pressed light kisses against his forehead and cheeks. The small touches tickled. Jon could not help trembling in laughter.

Chapter Text

Betha heaved the sack upon her shoulder and with a grunt continued on her way. She could hardly believe her own folly, yet there was no one to blame but herself. Out of all the idiotic decisions she could have made, the one she did choose had the most visible repercussions. At least according to the woods witch in the village. To make matters worse, Stevron was nowhere to be found.

There were whispers, of course; there were whispers of foul play. No one had come out with an outright accusation, yet Betha, like most servants had heard what was being said. More than once she’d knocked tow heads together to cease their drivel. Alas, it was no easy work and not one that found satisfaction in the least.

It concerned her mistress. Betha had served Lady Lyanna for most of her stay at Strom’s End. She had been so young when she’d arrived. They were nearly of an age, but Betha herself was a bit older. She still remembered the travel weary young woman that had stepped out of a lumbering wheelhouse. Pale and uncomfortable, she had stood in the courtyard of what was to be her home and allowed her soon to be husband to draw her in his arms.

Some might not have noticed or even cared to, but Betha had seen the, for just a moment, the unease with which she accepted the man. It had been clear to her that the new mistress of Storm’s End had had the position imposed to her by whatever means. Yet at the same time, the servant knew the young woman would lead a life of plenty. The pity slowly faded.

Every lord’s and knight’s daughter found themselves in such a position sooner or later, unless they took the veil. It was the way of the world. And Lady Lyanna had adapted to her new environment soon enough. She was as good a mistress as any servant could ask for. The only instances in which her temper got the best of her was after her lord husband made use of her within the bedchamber. She would come out in a high dudgeon and the household knew to keep well away unless they desired harsh words thrown their way. Most women had understood. For all his pretty words and dashing smiles, Lord Robert had not been half them man his father had. So the problem was left well alone.

Still, even with this blatant disregard, it was difficult to believe that her lady would have her husband killed. And indeed, how could she have done it without Betha’s noticing it. As the lady’s closest servant, Betha had full access to her mistress’ bedchamber and possessions. Not once had she witnessed anything suspicious. And she knew for a fact that her lady was not the very best of actresses.

Even when her ire rose, it seemed more like her to reprimand than to go in search of poisons. Betha knew not what Stannis Baratheon searched for, yet if he took a few moments to look around him he would promptly abandon his accusations,

If she wished to help her mistress, than she had to find Stevron. She would pry from him all details of the hunt and then they would discuss what was to be done with her own little problem. Bethe reckoned that she ought to have taken more care, but the gods knew she found it difficult enough to think around the young squire, let alone make demands.

It had utterly baffled her when she caught his eye. Stevron was the son of a knight. He would one day be a knight himself and she, well, Betha was the mere servant of a lady. Her father had worked at the smithy and her mother had been a crofter’s daughter. The son of a knight should have never even gazed at her. Yet Stevron had And when she gazed back, Betha could hardly help but fall in love with him.

That was the reason for which she found his disappearance dubious. Most likely, he had grown frightened at the rumours bandied about and made for their meeting place. Once she told him that Lady Lyanna needed their help, he would not hesitate to come back. And then they could search for a septon to wed them.

After her long journey, with the sack of food upon her shoulder, Betha was more than prepared to sit before a small fire and warm herself in the presence of her lover. In fact, she could already make out the thatched roof of the small hut. Instinctively, her steps hurried towards it until she had broken out in a run, lifting her skirts to ease the movement and gain speed. Finally, she had arrived.

Placing her burden down, Betha checked on the flickering candle encased in glass. It would still be burning for some time. She pushed ill-fitted door inwards and entered. Within, darkness blanketed everything. Betha approached the centre of the hut, intending to light a small fire when something caught her attention.

It was in one of the corners. A figure seemed to be huddled into the wall. Her heart leaped into her throat. “Stevron,” she called out softly, unsure if it was him. Mayhap he slept and her quiet words would not reach him. “Stevron,” she tried, louder.

There was no response. Betha brought the lamp closer and inched towards the figure. With a start, she realised that it was indeed Stevron. Her second thought was that the young man was awfully pale. Milky white skin glistened in the low light.

Betha looked down at her feet. A scream tore itself past her lips.

Congealed blood painted the ground a faded burgundy.

Rushing towards the man, she fell upon her knees and took him by the shoulders, shaking his frame almost savagely. It was of no use. The man was dead and had been so for quite some time if the stiffness of his form was anything to go by.

A squeak sounded out behind her.

 

 


 

 

Benjen glowered at the older man in a way that left little doubt he would like nothing more than to savage him. Alas, if he murdered Stannis Baratheon, his sister would only suffer for it. Instead, he sat down upon the stool. “Well, ser? Why have you called me here?” There was something unnerving about the man, something in his face, or rather a thing lacking in his expression. Benjen wondered if he’d been born with an inability to express emotion. Whatever the case, his good-brother might have been a stone statue for all it mattered.

“I want you to look over these,” Stannis said, pushing towards him a small stack of papers. ‘’’Tis only fair that you know what your sister is being accused of and why.” And so it was, but the youngest wolf had learned that trust was a blade with two equally sharp edges.

He did not pick up even one of the parchments. “I find it strange that this cluster of papers was found neatly bound together in the godswood, along with whatever else you’ve found.” If his sister ever planned a murder, Benjen had the hope that she would know better than to gather all evidence together in one place. “Why not burn them?”

“I do not claim to know how the mind of the criminal works,” the other replied without feeling. “It is evidence and that is all that matters.” Nor did he know how the mind of most people worked. Benjen leaned back slightly. “Shall you look over them or need I put them away.”

“I’ll look over then,” he answered in the end. Benjen pulled a random paper out of its place and began reading. It was a deed, he could see. It signed over a piece of land, but not to any of the Baratheon bannermen. Nay, it was in the name of his father. At that point, Benjen recognised that the paper was a hoax. Not only was Lyanna unable as Lady Baratheon to give away pieces of her husband’s land to anyone outside of the Stormlands, but she herself would not have. And certainly not to father. There was the matter of the hand upon it not being his sister’s.

Still, he said nothing of it and picked another piece of study. This one was an account of some debts. As far as Benjen could tell, it was authentic and it bore the hand of his deceased good-brother for once. It seemed that Robert Baratheon was more than pleased to ask for coin where he could find it and squander it as soon as humanly possible. The sums were not small either. Benjen proceeded to go through the whole stack of papers one at a time.

For an outsider it might look as if, indeed, that was motive for murder. And Stannis Baratheon was certainly that as far as Benjen was concerned; an outsider. But he knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that his sister was innocent. She had not murdered her husband for the simple reason that half of these papers were counterfeit and the other belonged to Robert himself.

“And you think this enough proof to convince anyone of my sister’s supposed crime?” He did not laugh, though the urge was strong. Nor did he use a mocking tone. For the moment it was best to allow Sannis to believe he had the upper hand. Not for long, Benjen promised himself.

“I think it points us in the direction of the murderer, aye,” Stannis allowed. “The powder was also examined. Maester Cressen determined it to be a mixture of milk of the poppy and deadly nightshade.” Nightshade was sometimes used to cure insomnia. Of course, liker most anything taken in large quantities, it could become poisonous. But why the milk of the poppy then? What role did that one play? Benjen posed that exact question. “I know not the answer,” Stannis responded. “Mayhap she sought to ease the symptoms or it could be that it was merely a trick to fool anyone who found the necklace.”

Nightshade was a strong poison and while milk of the poppy was used to ward off pain, Benjen had never heard it said that it could enhance the effect of any venom. Was death by nightshade painful, he wondered. He and the good maester would have a long talk about nightshade and its effects as soon as he could get away from his good-brother.

“This proof,” Benjen scoffed, “is not enough to convince anyone but the meanest minded. I would remind you that those who accuse without proof agree to take upon themselves the punishment of that whom they accused.” Might be he could convince the man of his folly and be done with the whole of it. For a brief moment, hope took root within him.

Just as soon it was yanked away. “Nay, ‘tis not. But I am working on finding the rest of it and when I do, your sister will pay dearly.” Not if Benjen had any say in it.

“Believe what you will, ser,” the younger of the two said. “I shall prove my sister’s innocence and we shall see then who pays.”

At least he had seen what proof was offered against Lyanna and now knew that something strange was going on. A plot. Of the worst kind, it would seem. What could be gained by it though? Was his sister right in suspecting they wished her away so they could murder her son? Stannis did not seem a man to need such plots. But more heinous crimes had taken place before. He would certainly not be the first, not the last to come up with such plans.

Benjen stood to his feet. He needed to continue. Stannis had nothing else of value to impart upon him and he could but search for the maester. His sister had claimed the old man was trustworthy, Benjen would test her word. With a sliver of satisfaction, he made his way out of the chamber.

 

 


 

 

Aunt Branda shook her head in disbelief. “Your father shall set it all to rights,” her assurance came. “I cannot believe anyone would imagine you capable of such deeds, niece. What a wretched man he is.” Lyanna sensed that all she had accomplished by confessing to her aunt was a blatant distaste for her good-brother. If help was to come, then it would not be from the woman. “I told your father when he first wrote to me about his plans that he ought to have found you a northerner lord to wed.”

Again, the young woman suspected that whatever lord her father found for her, she would always find some fault with the man after the tourney at Harrenhal. She did not voice her thought, of course, for fear of rousing suspicions. “I did not know my father spoke to you of such things,” she dared nonetheless. “I thought Maester Walys was the one he consulted.”

“And he was, sweetling. Maester Walys was your father’s right hand as far as anyone knew. He only spoke to me asking I was willing to have you for a few moon turns so you might acquaintance yourself better with the Stormlands. Yet you soon chose to wed your lord and the plan fell through.”

She almost found herself laughing at the explanation. “Then I should have put the wedding off for a few moon turns. I would have been very pleased to be a guest in your home.”

Her aunt merely smiled. “This done now. And you have promised to visit. I believe you are a woman of your word.”

Well, if she managed to escape the noose or the axe, then certainly she would keep her word. Lyanna nodded her head, slightly disappointed. She had expected that her aunt would fight to protect her. Alas, she’d been wrong. Branda was willing to offer consolation and even a shoulder to cry on, but she and Harry did not wish to be involved beyond that.

Lyanna understood. What she asked was a sacrifice. It might cost them their lives. They had a child to think of as well. Even so, the subtle refusal, however kindly spoken, had stung. She still had her father and brothers though and they would not leave her. Taking comfort in that the she-wolf inquired about the preparations for the road.

“I trust everything is to your satisfaction, aunt. I know you must be anxious to see your daughter once again.” She tried, for the benefit of all involved to retain a cheery disposition. To allow anyone to see her worry over her fate was as good an admission of her crime as a written confession. She had to be on her guard.

“Aye, we thank you for your kindness, niece.” The woman rose to her feet. “If we were not needed elsewhere, you know we would keep by your side, do you not?”

“I have no doubt.” Lyanan rose as well. She allowed her aunt to wrap her in an embrace which she returned. “I could never doubt you. I wish you a pleasant journey.”

Once her aunt had departed, Lyanna was left alone in her chamber. She could think in peace of what had gone on and why her aunt and uncle claimed they were urgently needed away. A raven had come announcing that their daughter was ill once more. Understandably they were worried. Yet to Lyanna’s mind the timing had been more than convenient and their reactions had not been quite as surprised as one should think.

She had no reason to think that Stannis himself had planned it somehow, for her aunt did not speak to the man and her uncle was more than pleased to spend his time in the stables. That, however, did not mean there was no way whatsoever in which her good-brother might have manipulated the situation.

Whatever the cause of their departure and in whichever manner in came about, the result was the same. Lyanna was slowly losing allies and faster than she anticipated. Granted, aunt Branda and her lord husband had not done much for her. But their presence had worked towards soothing the mistress of Storm’s End and giving her hope. With the gone, she would feel much like her armour had been chipped, making her battle twice as dangerous.

Benjen remained. Lyanna loved her brother and was aware that he knew her the best out of all others she interacted with, yet he was still young and impulsive, more likely to cause trouble than to truly aid if he to truly battling Stannis. Aunt Brand a had been right about one matter. That of Lyanna needing her father’s help.

Rickard Stark had raised her to be a strong woman and endure through many a situation. But Lyanna knew that as the investigation wore on, she would be more and more secluded, mayhap even locked away, effectively leaving her with no way to prove her innocence. She simply could not count on the truth protecting her. Already someone was bending it to suit their needs and she was paying. What should happen if Stannis truly went before the King? She shuddered to even consider the possibility.

Walking away from the table, Lyanna knelt by the bedside. She further lowered herself on her elbows and pushed her body beneath the wooden frame. Her hands felt along the wood for the dent. She had discovered the hidden compartment quite by accident sometime during her first year of marriage and had until recently not used it. Given recent developments, Lyanna had hidden in there the locket and the little lion. Her bedchamber had already been searched once. Assured that both the pieces were still there, Lyanna found her way into the light once again. It would simply not do to lose whatever little evidence she had gained thus far, after all.

There was, however, something that Lyanna did not understand. What did Ymme Lannister have to gain by framing her? The woman’s daughter could not inherit Storm’s End, nor could any bastard of Robert’s in any event. There was Jon. And even if Jon was somehow removed from the succession, there were still Stannis and Renly.

Before Lyanna could dig any deeper, however, the door to her room sprang open to admit one of the servants. “Begging pardon, m’lady,” the woman said, but riders are approaching. At the news Lyanna stood to her feet and dusted off her skirts.

“Are they flying the banner of any of our sworn houses?” she questioned, picking up her comb from the table and hurrying to brush any tangles which might have resulted from her earlier actions. If guests were to be received, then she had to be composed. Even as she asked, however, she knew it was unlikely to be any of their bannermen. Still, something might have happened.

The servant girl shook her head. “They fly the banners of House Stark and House Dayne, m’lady. Or so the maester says.”

Stopping midstroke, Lyanna looked at the girl. There was only one reason for which those banners would be flow together. “Order the gates opened,” she said without a moment of hesitation. “Bring Jon and Renly into the courtyard and find have Benjen found. Tell him what you have told me.” Her instructions were met with a nod and hen the girl vanished from the doorway.

Ned had arrived. Caught somewhere between joy and guilt, Lyanna was note entirely certain in which manner to greet him. Robert had been his friend. She had wedded the man at her brother’s urging as much as at father’s. Her thoughts towards her older brother had not been the kindest. For the length of a heartbeat shame flooded her cheeks. Yet she could not help the way she thought.

Actions were another matter. Those she could control and she would too. After all, Ned’s intention had not been to wound her anymore than father’s had been to have her unhappy. And she had survived her marriage.

Furthermore, Ned was bringing his bride with him. Lyanna could not afford to create a bad impression, as much for her house as for herself. Ashara Dayne had helped them when she hadn’t any need to. For that Lyanna would be grateful to her as long as she drew breath. As for her brother, there might come a day when she would tell him all about his precious friend. Yet the day was not this one and she would restrain herself.

With one last glance towards the mirror, Lyanna assured herself she looked presentable. That accomplished, the Lady of Storm’s End made her way into the hallway, just as the servant girl was returning with Jon and Renly. Her son skipped towards her while her good-brother followed at a slower pace. Benjen was not with them.

Lyanna took the children and waved the girl to her business. “Guess who has just arrived?” she asked the two of them. They hadn’t much need for their excitement to be roused for the servant girl had already told them they were to receive a visit.

Laughing at their enthusiasm, Lyanna led the way into the courtyard, arriving just as the first of the riders lead his horse within.

 

 


 

 

Ellaria knew that something was wrong the moment Prince Rhaegar left the hall. How it was that she knew was of no matter. But she has sensed a certain heaviness descend upon his shoulders when the servant whispered something to him. It had been the way his face changed. The Dornishwoman could well recognise shock when she saw it. That he had after excused himself and left them on their own only served to confirm her suspicions.

She gazed at the Princess, but Elia Martell seemed unbothered. A smile played upon her lips. “Worry not, there are many matters he must oversee. I am certain ‘tis one of those that requires his attention.” And why should she be bothered, Ellaria wondered, when her brother was close by to keep her well occupied.

If anything, Oberyn seemed pleased that the Prince was taken away. It was one of those rivalries which made little sense to her. What did her liver think he proved by such behaviour? The Prince had been gracious, but reserved and despite that Oberyn insisted upon acting the child. Witnessing such a feat would have been amusing on another occasion, yet Ellaria was already displeased by their prolonged visit as it was. She needn’t fuel added.

“It is best to ignore my husband’s strange moods,” the Princess continued, as if it did not occur to her where her loyalty ought to lie. She supposed that was to be blamed on the strained marital bond shared, but even so mockery would not help matters.

“Might be You Grace should go after him,” Ellaria suggested cautiously, looking back at her plate of fine food. Her hunger had abated.

It was Oberyn who shook his head and answered for his sister. “You do not know him, beloved. He would not accept any sort of interaction now. If he has left, then he wished to be alone.” But not lonely, Ellaria dared think. She kept her peace though. After all, Elia ought to know her husband and if she thought it best not to go, then she must not.

Brother and sister resumed their earlier conversation, leaving Ellaria to listen, nod and hum at the appropriate moments. She did not mind for the moment as she was gripped by curiosity over another matter. What news could have possibly prompted the Prince to leave as he had? She supposed she might ask the servant herself if she found him.

Which she would. Oberyn had little need of her at the moment as she had no wish to hear any further stories of fountains and childhood memories. With a few whispered words, she saw herself out of the room and roaming the hallways in search of the man who had delivered the curious news.

To her credit, she took the path to the prince’s solar and sure enough, the man was upon it as well. Ellaria called him over gently. “Tell me, my good man, what knowledge have you brought to the table and did not speak out for all to hear?”

He looked at her uncertainly. Ellaria, knowing the mind of servants, pulled out a silver coin. “Tell me,” she urged.

The man sighed, looked about them, then cautiously whispered in her ear.

 

 


 

 

Ned could hardly miss the appearance of his sister. Lyanna was flanked by two children, one whom he knew to be Renly and the other whom he supposed was Jon. But his attention was upon his sister in any event. She looked different from how he remembered her. When she had been given away in marriage, Lyanna had been her usual mixture of impatience and wildness, very much a girl. The Lyanna that stood before him was a woman. Of course, he suspected that the tightly bound hair and sober clothing helped with the overall effect. Still, the change seemed strange to him.

He had half expected that she would be the same Lyanna that ran wild in Winterfell, accidentally tore the hem of her skirts and got in trouble with father for her lack of caution. But nay. She had become what her father desired her to be. Not for a moment did she forget herself. Not even as he dismounted. His sister retained a firm hold upon the two children and waited for him to approach.

“Lyanna,” he greeted warmly, studying her serious mien. It was then that she finally moved. A small gasp broke her silence. His younger sister stepped forth and threw her arms around him. “I apologise for not arriving sooner.”

“Think nothing of it,” she answered, still holding him for all to see. “Benjen was here all along.” She let go and pulled away. “I see you have brought company.” Ned suspected she was looking at Ashara.

“Indeed.” He turned his face towards his lady wife and beckoned her over with a long look. Ashara stepped towards him until she stood by his side. “You have not been formally introduced, if I remember correctly. Allow me then to present to you my lady wife, Ashara Dayne.”

“Stark,” Ashara corrected automatically, a smile curving her lips upwards.

With a smile of her own, Lyanna offered her female guest a loose embrace. “Welcome to Storm’s End then, my good-sister. It is good to have you here.”

“It is good to be here,” the Dornishwoman answered.

Lyanna called the first of the children, the older one that was. “Renly, I trust you remember my brother, Eddard. And this is his lady wife.” They had certainly been close enough to hear Ned say her name.

“Ser,” Renly greeted, “my lady.” He bowed to the both of them rather stiffly, but clearly pleased by the attention paid to him as the responded to his greeting.

“And this, of course, is Jon,” his sister continued, gently tugging the other child closer. Unlike Renly Baratheon, Jon seemed a tad shier, but still enthusiastic. The difference was that he made no sound to accompany his bow.

Ned’s eyes sought Lyanna’s. His sister gave him a long questioning look, as if daring hi to say something. Thankfully, Ashara broke the tension. His wife bent slightly so as to bring herself closer in height to the boy. “My, but you look the very mage of your lady mother.”

“Can you imagine the sheer tragedy should he not?” a voice called out from behind them. Ned looked up from Lyanna’s son and met the charming and entirely undesired visage of his younger brother. Benjen grinned at him. Looking at his sister, he noticed a darkness passing over her features.

“Watch you tongue,” Lyanna replied tartly to the interloper. “Where have you been, brother?”

“There she goes again,” Benjen complained good-naturedly. “Stark women. I do not expect that you are very familiar with their customs yet, good-sister,” he went on, addressing Ashara, “but give it a few moon turns, at most a year, and you shall soon understand why they are as they are.”

His lady wife laughed. “I think I can understand why,” she claimed softly. “And even if I did not, I have the best teacher before me.” She nodded towards his sister who in turn flushed, Ned assumed in pleasure.

“They are a beastly lot,” Lyanna assured Ashara. “There is a reason we must be as harsh as winter.” Still, the jest was delivered with an appropriate smile and fond exasperation. “Just you wait until my lord father and my other brother arrive. You shall see then that you are indeed right to count me your teacher.”

“Enough of that,” Eddard cut it. “Are you trying to frighten her away?”

“It takes more than that to frighten me,” Ashara insisted as the three siblings chuckled. “I have brothers of my own.” The reminder served to bring a smile upon the she-wolf’s face. Ned shook his head and shot Benjen a warning look when he saw a teasing smile appear on his face.

They were served freshly baked bread, cheese and wine afterwards and shortly thereafter Stannis Baratheon arrived as well. It was then that Ned noticed something was not as it ought to be. There was a tension between his sister and Robert’s older brother; something unnerving.

Exchanging a look with Benjen, Ned knew that he would soon know exactly what was going on. With that in mind he went through another round of greeting and introductions. They had been right to hurry, after all. It seemed that something waited to be discovered at Storm’s End and he would know by the end of the day. Or so he promised himself.

He looked at Lyanna once more only to see Jon clinging to her hand and stealing glances at his older uncle. They were not entirely friendly looks either.

Gazing towards Ashara he wondered if she noticed as well. But if she did, his lady wife knew better than to show signs of it. “She looks somewhat changed since last I saw her,” Ashara whispered, no doubt speaking about his sister.

He had noticed as well. “She was bound to,” Ned replied, watching as Benjen hauled Jon up, hoisting him on his shoulders. The boy had yet to make even a sound. Was he a mute, Ned wondered. If so, why had his sister not said so?

Chapter Text

“Why must you go?” Elia questioned, hand cradling her protruding midsection. Her husband had announced quite out of the blue that he was to journey to Kings Landing just as soon as she stepped foot into his solar.

Elia had merely come to enquire as to what had caused his outburst at the table. She had not expected to find him discussing the best routes to the Red Keep with their maester. The man had been hastily dismissed so she might have a private word with Rhaegar. “Will you look at me, at least, when I speak to you?”

“Lady wife,” Rhaegar’s exasperated reply came a moment later, “if you would have some patience I will explain everything. Pray have a seat and keep your silence but a moment.”

She did as she was told. Elia feared what he had to say. The last time he had left, her husband had returned more melancholy than she’d ever seen him. Her heart knew why and did not wish for a repeat. Anxiously, she twisted in her seat, hands pressed to her front as a reminder of her pregnancy. Surely he would not leave her for long on her own in such a delicate state.

The Prince continued to look over some maps, making small markings upon some points. If only he would move quicker. Patience was lacking within her as he well knew. Might be he was testing her. And so cruelly too. She ought to return to their guests and the children.

After what seemed to have been a thousand hours, he was finally done. The quill was placed back in the inkpot and he looked up at her. “The King is ill. I am needed in King’s Landing. That is why I am leaving.” His face was a mask of blankness, but his eyes glinted, as if daring her to protest to that.

Elia could not. If the King was ill and he was called to the Red Keep, then go he must. “I shall come with you.” There, that was the perfect solution.

“Nay,” Rhaegar denied her. “There is an outbreak of some sorts reigning there. The risk is too great. You and the children are to remain here and await my return, or my summons.” Her heart fluttered lightly. He wanted to protect them.

“The children could remain here with my brother,” she offered nonetheless, loath to have him out of sigh for such a long period of time. She might even go into labour in his absence.

Once more, he refused with the same firmness. “My answer has been given. You are to remain here. If all is well and you will it, I shall send for you at a later time.”

Standing to her feet, Elia grimaced lightly. Rhaegar left his own seat to aid her. “As long as you think it best.” She did have the children to think of after all and though the idea of him in such danger unsettled her, she was quite secure in her safety on Dragonstone.

“We should return,” he said after a moment of consideration.

 

 


 

 

Lady Ashara gasped, wide eyes fixed upon Stannis Baratheon. Lyanna supposed her good-brother might have exercised more tact when informing her newly arrived brother and his bride, why it was that they could not conduct a ceremony in the godswood.

Ned, unlike his lady wife, looked more insulted than anything else. It was good to know that when his honour, the Stark honour, was in question he was willing to put his foot down. “That is preposterous. Think about what you are saying, man. You are accusing my sister of murder.”

“As resulting from gathered evidence,” Stannis repeated. To that Lyanna said nothing. She wondered which one of the two necklaces was the true one and if Stannis even knew. He showed no signs of being aware. But it could well be a ploy. Stranger paths had been taken in search of justice.

“You must be mistaken,” Ashara interrupted shakily. “I cannot believe it of my good-sister.” By the look of Stannis’ face one might deduce that he was wondering just how well Ashara knew Lyanna. The answer, of course, was not well. Not well enough to pass any sort of judgement. But Lyanna appreciated the attempt. She was doing it to spare her husband’s feelings.

They had seen one another at the tourney. But it had been from a distance and as neither had much mattered to the other, introductions had not been made. Were there a chance of it, it vanished when Rhaegar gave her the crown of flowers. As one of Elia Martell’s ladies-in-waiting, Ashara was expected, and rightly so, to side with her mistress and the general public.

For a brief moment, Lyanna wondered what might have been had they become friends at the tourney. It would not have mattered much, she suspected, but mayhap the Dornishwoman would have been able to open Ned’s eyes better than his sister ever could. A pity it had not come to pass. Who knew what could have been accomplished.

Ned had always been the luckiest pup of the litter as far as Lyanna was concerned. He might not have been born the first son, he would never inherit Winterfell, but he was blessed nonetheless. Blessed with the ability to close his eyes to what disturbed him and see only what he wished to see.

And for once his gift worked in Lyanna’s favour. The irony tasted almost sweet. The bitterness, however, was close behind, as always.

“The evidence does not lie,” Robert’s younger sibling responded coldly. Another man might have been taken in by the woman before him. But not him. Not Stannis the stone. “And this evidence in my possession leads to your sister.”

“We’ve had this conversation before with much the same result,” Benjen cut in impatiently. “’Tis useless to argue with him, Ned. All you’ll gain is a headache.” And the desire to punch something.

“You may have some proof, ser,” Lyanna finally spoke, noticing that Benjen’s fist was clenched. The famous wolf blood in action, no doubt, and a disaster to be avoided at all costs. “But you haven’t anything conclusive, good-brother . For all we know, you could be trying to frame me.” There was a reason for which she spoke brazenly and it had everything to do with her good-brother’s inability to accept it.

“You are correct, my lady, ‘tis useless to further discuss the matter,” the man said, turning on his heel and abandoning the premises. Having anticipated the response, Lyanna was the one to maintain the same position even when the door slammed close.

“And now, my dear brother, you know why it was that I wished for your presence,” she told Ned, giving a slight nod. “As you can see, there is trouble.” And as he was more than half responsible for throwing her in the muck, he should strive to pull her out as well.

“I cannot believe it,” Ned murmured after a long moment of uncomfortable silence. “What sort of evidence does he have?”

“As Lyanna already said, nothing conclusive. I’ve seen it myself,” Benjen answered, leaning against the wall. “A few papers, debts and deeds, and a necklace.”

“Filled with poison,” the she-wolf completed.

This is beyond my understanding,” Ned began once more. “He was here the day you wed Robert. He knows saw what I saw on that day and he would still believe you capable of murdering him?”

Lyanna struggled not to laugh. She wondered what it was that Ned thought he’d seen. Correcting him would accomplish nothing for the moment. The Lady of Storm’s End had her role to play once more. “Might be he did not understand what he saw,” she offered. “Whatever the case may be, I would feel much better were we to wait for father before making any further moves.”

“Even so, Benjen, I should like to hear from you about this evidence as soon as if convenient.” Of course, the guests could not be kept within the small solar for much longer. They had travelled a long way and without much rest. “We should speak as well, Lyanna.”

“All in good time,” the sister promised. “Now, let us not linger here any longer. I reckon you are tired after your journey as it is.”

“Rest would be most welcome,” Ashara allowed, her frame pressing lightly against Ned’s. The she-wolf smiled at her. “It seems I was right to urge for a quick journey.”

She had been, that Lyanna could not deny. Outside in the hallway one of the servants was waiting to lead Ned and Ashara to the chambers prepared for them. Lyanna lingered behind, intending to speak to Benjen. He too had remained still, as if reading her mind. What a blessing it was to have at least one brother who understood her.

“I thought he would lose his temper,” Benjen noted softly. “He has always been much too calm.”

“As opposed to Brandon being much too rash,” Lyanna pointed out. “I would have words, if you have the time. Tell me about this evidence, if you will.”

She remained with Benjen in the solar for some time yet.

It was later that Ned came to her bedchamber.

“As joyful as you were to become his wife, it does seem to me you grieve with the same intensity,” Ned noted softly, seated upon the edge of the bed and looking at his sister.

“You though to find me wearing a sackcloth dress and brushing ashes from my hair?” she mocked with ease. He put too much stock in the nobler sentiments of humans as he always did and failed to see, yet again, that his ideal version of his sister was nowhere to be found. “I grieved when they put him in the ground. I needn’t mourn him my whole life.”

“I thought,” her brother began, but stopped short, as if to consider the words her was about to say. “I thought, after the tourney, after Brandon wed, that you had changed. Your mind, if nothing else.” Bothered by glimpses of a familiar Lyanna, that was what her brother was. “You said you would not wed a man you could not respect. And then, you told us that you would gladly wed Robert.”

He had assumed, as had everyone but Benjen, that she had gained some measure of respect for Robert. Lyanna toyed with the idea of revealing to him what sort of respect Robert had shown to her during their years of marriage. She soon dismissed it, instead concentrating on another matter. “At the tourney, you gave me something, do you remember?”

Wary eyes regarded her intently. Ned nodded. “I remember you keeping a promise you had made.”

“So I had.” She smiled, a thin stretch of lips devoid of humour or even satisfaction at the admission. “I never told you what I saw that night.” She sat down next to him, her leg pressed to his. “Did I?” The silent wolf shook his head. “I think I should. I think you should understand the extent of Robert’s respect for me.”

“Lyanna,” he tried to sop her but was promptly hushed.

“Nay, you should hear this. For once listen to me as well.” Obstinate brothers. “I had just passed the front line of trees, the ones at the outermost of the forest. I was going to leave it there too, you know, but I heard something and could not help but search for the origin of what sounded very much like someone was hurting.”

From the look upon her brother’s face, Lyanna suspected he knew what she was going to say. Still, she continued. “I shall spare you the unnecessary details, but what I discovered spoke of something else entirely. He had seen me earlier that day, Ned, and he’d given me flowers. Flowers. Only to be cavorting with some woman mere hours after.”

The she-wolf drew in a long breath. “I forgave him. Not because I could not help myself. Father wanted the match for me and Brandon had done his part. I married your friend because I had to.” It was not the entire truth, but it would do. “I had scarcely given birth to Jon when the first woman appeared at the gates with a babe in arms. Others followed soon enough.”

“He did love you,” Eddard insisted, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. “Those women meant nothing to him, sister. Some men are like that.”

She laughed. Lyanna could not help it. “I am not daft, Ned. I know they meant nothing.” The only person Robert loved was Robert. Ned looked relieved. “I am not speaking of my wounded heart here. I speak of my pride. I speak of the pride your precious Robert dashed to the floor and ground into dust because our son did not speak, because I did not take seed, because I was not who he imagined I would be.”

Shock painted his features. Lyanna, having already begun, only picked up speed. “There are some things that even I have no control over. Yet he chose to publicly shame time after time, bringing his mistresses to sit at my table, flaunting them before me. But all that,” she paused, dragging in a shaky breath, “all that would not have mattered had he been a good father.”

And she was being honest. Lyanna would have certainly not loved him. But she might have respected him for it. And she would have certainly not taken issue with his lovers. She had not wed Robert with the intention of cheating him of any future children with her, though she’d done it for Jon. She would have loved any child of theirs as much as she loved her firstborn. That the gods had seen fit to leave her womb empty was something which Lyanna could only regret, for it had caused her much strife and had prompted many a confrontation between spouses.

“There, brother, that is the extent of his love and respect for me,” she ended upon a sigh. “Had you bothered to look you would have known as much.”    

There might have been better ways to get her point across, but Lyanna was convinced that she’d chosen the most effective. Ned had this very interesting habit of hearing some words, but not others if one presented praise along with disapproval. She had thus pointed out the worst of Robert’s flaws and dearly hoped her brother might understand her position for once.

“Then why did you wed him?” he questioned at a long last.

“Because I had to,” Lyanna replied. At the look he threw her she amended. “I was no longer a child, Ned. Some ideals we have to let go and I let go of mine. I wed him because it was time to grow up.” It was a truth of sorts, partial at least. “Your fortune was better.”

For the first time Eddard seemed to recognise her point. He’d lost no ideals in wedding Ashara Dayne, nor was he likely to. “What do you want me to say? Should I apologise?”

“For being happy?” Utterly ridiculous, Lyanna thought. “Never.” She was not as petty as that. “I do want you to be happy.” Some truths were bitter and hard and would need time to sink in. This might well be one of them. “You do believe me, do you not?”

“Of course,” her brother answered.  

 

 


 

 

Rhaella worried the piece of cloth between her fingers, wounding it tightly around her digit, the material creasing together It was not worry that guided her actions, or rather not the sort of worry that would earn her the sympathy of the gods. As if the Seven had blessed her with much of it anyway.

Her train of thought was rudely interrupted when a small body smacked into her, pressing into her legs through the heavy skirts. She glanced down only to see a tearful Daenerys gazing up at her expectantly. “Viserys took my lemon cakes,” the girl whined, pulling the folds with a surprisingly strong grip for a child her age.

She should have known. Rhaella stared in bewilderment at her daughter. She should have guessed her complaint would leave her with the inappropriate urge to laugh. Given the current circumstances hanging about the Red Keep, laughter was the last thing anyone wanted to hear. But lemon cakes? Truly. The kitchens never ran out of lemon cakes.  

With a sigh, the woman stood to her feet and took her youngest child by the hand. “Come then, let us speak to your brother and find out more about this.” It was to be would in any event. If Viserys would only stop teasing his sister.

Even consolation from the gods came with sharp edges. In all her years of marriage Rhaella Targaryen must have doe something to obtain the pity of those higher holy beings. Otherwise she suspected that she would have gained nothing but pain for all her attempts to do her duty. Daughter of a king and wife of another, once upon a time she had believed her life would be a charmed one. She had kept faith even when they wedded her to Aerys, after the tragedy of Summerhall, after her first miscarriage and Aerys’ fist mistress. And then it ha shattered, her faith, a little bit at a time; pieces falling away with every new miscarriage or stillbirth or death of an infant. Her husband helped very little by blaming her.

And then, as if by design of the gods, Viserys was born. Small, but healthy and perfect. Rhaella had thought her heart might burst when she first held Rhaegar as a babe; but with Viserys it nearly did. She had been so relieved, so very relieved. And the child had lived.

A sister followed. Rhaella had had a daughter before. A stillborn child that was named Shaena and turned into grey dust, her ashes lain at rest in Baelor’s Sept among kings and queens, princes and princesses. Daenerys had been smaller than even Viserys but with lungs strong enough to wake the dead. Which she just might have by the look on her father’s face. Undoubtedly she had woken his dead heart if nothing else.

Rhaegar was Aerys’ heir and as such the one he took most pride in. A long time ago, before disaster struck, Aerys had taught their firstborn archery in one of the smaller gardens. Not sword fighting though; that Rhaegar had learned from someone else. But Rhaella was certain that despite his many flaws, her husband loved the boy. The feeling still held. Viserys had come as a surprise; more so because he was alive than anything else and had continued to live. He had his father’s attention and they shared a temper to hear people speak it. Daenerys, however, was special. She was the only daughter and therefore, her father’s favourite. No matter her demands, Aerys insisted that they were seen through. And the gods forgive the unfortunate soul that ever caused her misery.

When Viserys was found, the boy was indeed feasting upon a small mountain of lemon cakes. Rhaella shuddered at the very thought of how many he had managed to down before their arrival. Daenerys’ outraged cry hinted at a large number. These children, they would be the death of her. If the sickness did not get her first that was.

“Lady mother, make him stop,” her daughter demanded, clinging onto her. “He’s eating my lemon cakes.”

“There are enough lemon cakes for the both of you,” Rhaella tried to pacify her youngest. “Viserys, share with your sister. Surely you cannot eat all of them on your own. You shall make yourself sick.”

“She was the one who didn’t want to share,” Viserys pointed towards Daenerys. “I do not see why I should, lady mother, when my sister would not have.”

“Viserys” the Queen chided. “You are the older brother. I expected better of you.”

The boy grimaced, but his hand dropped the lemon cake it had been tauntingly holding out for Daenerys to admire. Truly, even with the age difference between them, at times it felt as if she had two toddlers to care for and not merely one. Mayhap her husband was right and she had been coddling Viserys too much.

A long sigh left her lips. She took the plate of lemon cakes away from both of her children and ordered it taken away. “If you cannot come to a compromise, then neither of you shall eat any lemon cakes.” Her words had the desired effect.

The children blanched and stammered out their apologies, promising they would share the sweets. For her part she did not believe even one word of it. “We shall see,” the mother promised, “after the evening meal.”

“But that is after sundown,” Viserys said, looking for all as if she were locking him in the dungeons. The dramatic flair was another quality he shared with his father. Daenerys pouted and then glared.

Rhaella ignored both of their protests. “I have spoken,” she said, holding one hand up to quieten them. They needed to learn some discipline and she ought to teach them while she still could. The gods only knew what Aerys’ fate would be. “Now go off Viserys to your lessons. As for you, my sweetling, I believe your septa was to teach you the Maiden’s song.” They complied, grudgingly.    

As for the unknown fate of her husband, Rhaella did not know what to make of it. The last time any sort of sickness had swept throughout the land it had been summer, hot and humid, not winter with frosty dryness and chilling coughs. The Grand Maester spoke of some sort of lung infection, but Rhaella did not think he had the right of it.

She’d seen other instances of the disease. Some symptoms matched, others did not. The fever was always there, to be sure, and the reigned victorious despite numerous attempts to treat it away. But where others were pale and drawn, Aerys was flushed and tongue-tied, as if drunk of his own madness. The apt comparison brought a frown to the Queen’s face. Pycelle explained that the red hue had to do with the King being kept in his own apartments, warm where others were not so.

It seem absurd to his wife that a bit of fie could make the much of a difference. Still, she did not speak against the maester. If his treatment failed, then her husband would surely perish. If Aerys were to die, the collective breath the realm held could finally be released. She herself would be free as well at long last.

And Rhaegar would be King. Without the need of any scheme to aid him.

Some supposed that just because she chose not to involve herself in matters of the state the Queen was blind to what went on n her own yard. She knew very well that the Lord Hand, Ser Connington, served in truth her son. She was also aware that Varys the Spider made plans to thwart any attempt to crown another. But even he could not fight off the Stranger and win.

The Queen made her way back to the chamber she had inhabited before. She sat down in the chair once more and began twisting the kerchief between her fingers, wondering how long it would take her to rip a whole through the flimsy cloth. It would be a pity about the embroidery, she thought absently. It was truly pretty, a myriad of silver and golden blooms upon a dark canvas. She could not recall to whom she owed the gift of it. But Rhaella did know she hadn’t another like it.

Her fingers stopped their work momentarily as her gaze lifted toward the door.

It opened with a whisper of protest, swinging on its hinges. One of her ladies-in-waiting scuttled within, holding in her arms a bundle of shimmering cloth. “The seamstress ha it delivered,” the woman declared quietly. She obtained a nod from Rhaella and then was on her way towards the armoire to arrange the garment along with the others.

Rhaella caught sigh of a dark violet dress she’d not worn in many a year. That one Aerys had ripped from collar to hip. The Queen shook her head. It was best not to consider such matters too closely. Her gaze turned towards her kerchief.

“That would be all, Shaella,” Rhaella told the lady. “You may retreat. I’ve no further need of you.”

Shaella nodded her head and made her way into another room where the rest of her ladies sat. The Queen was certain they had much to discuss. Those women always had something or another to gossip about, whether it was the fact that some serving wench birthed the natural child of some lord or ser, or that one lady had run off with her lover. There was never a shortage of material to be explored. Rather unfortunate, if anyone was to ask the Queen.

Left on her own once more Rhaella looked at the door, expecting that it would burst open at any moment. Apparently loathe to disappoint, the gods fulfilled her expectation. A soft knock on the door announced that she was once more to receive visitors.

“Enter,” she called out, flinging away the decorated piece of cloth, and stood to her feet. She was greeted by the sight of Grand Maester Pycelle. “Good maester, what brings you to my chambers?”

If the man could avoid entering her sanctuary, he would often take the chance. It was not that he despised her. Rhaella knew that if there was anything the man liked that was women, of the good-looking variety. Her ladies brought enough tales and there was more than one woman about court who was said to have visited the good maester for a brew of tansy, rue and pennyroyal.

His avoidance of her had more to do with an incident that had taken place when her oldest child yet kept within the Red Keep and saved her from a potentially distressing encounter. Rhaegar had promised, if she remembered correctly, that if the man ever disturbed her again he would find himself hanging by his own chain.

“You requested that I come to you within the hour to bring news of the King’s state, Your Majesty,” he said. Pycelle was a fox; he would not risk upsetting her. Thus, even without remembering having made the request, the Queen nodded solemnly. “The fever had taken hold more tightly than ever. I fear for the King’s life.”

He should be faring for his position. Rhaella’s eyes narrowed. “Then be on your way, maester, and care for him as you should.” If the King dies, many heads stood to fall.

Rhaella knew for a fact that during his tenure as Lord Hand, Jon Connington had investigated more than one of her husband’s close men. Were Rhaegar to ascend to the throne accusations would flow like the Trident.

“Your Majesty,” Pycelle bowed to her. He was waves away promptly. At least for once he would feel the threat of his position after all the benefits he had reaped.

The Queen watched the door close, standing like a statue for a small number of heartbeats. After she was certain he’d left, she bent down to retrieve her embroidered patch of cloth and set to taking it apart.

 

 


 

 

Renly held up the Myrish eye and grinned at Jon triumphantly. “From up there,” he pointed towards the spot he’d chosen, “you can see everything. He could probably see all the way to King’s Landing.” One could immediately tell the two were excited by the way the jumped about.

Of course, they would be less excited were they to be caught by Maester Cressen or uncle Stannis, or even their great-uncle. Until such sad times came though, the boys were resolute to see as much as could be seen from their vantage point and map out the surroundings to Storm’s End.

Somehow, Renly had managed to escape the septa and her lessons and had come for Jon just when he thought he might expire of boredom. Mother had her two siblings and his new aunt to entertain and he had been left in the nursery with his toys and the blue-eyes babe and her nursemaid. Babes, while pleasant enough to look at, knew no games and hardly did anything but weep and screech. Renly’s arrival was more than welcomed and his plan met with enthusiasm.

Together they had climbed to the maester’s tower, knowing the man to be gone. Maester Cressen had need of something from within the village and had decided to go himself there. It was just as well, as it gave the young gallants time to complete their scheme. Much to their delight, the Myrish eye had been left upon the maester’s desk and presented no trouble.

Their next move was to find a spot from which they could have an unobstructed view while being relatively hidden from the inhabitants of the keep. That happened to be one of the gardens where an old, abandoned tower lingered. Being no longer in use, it provided them with both discretion and opportunity.

They ran up the stairs together, not minding one bit the harsh creaking of the rotten wood and made it to the top in record time.

The first to gaze at the wonders that could be spied ahead was Renly. Being older and the mastermind behind the plan he’d reserved the right long since. Jon waited his turn, in the meantime gathering some slabs of wood for added height.

“You really can see everything from here,” Renly said in wonder attracting his attention. “Like that company of riders over there, approaching.”

Jon pulled on his sleeve, indicating that he wished to see it too. Renly passed the device to him.

In the distance was indeed an approaching party of riders. The banners were to far away for him to make sense of anything upon them other than that the colour was dark. It might have well been that the dust darkened it though, so even that held a modicum of uncertainty.

“We should let the guards at the gates know, shouldn’t we?” his young companion questioned. Jon gave a slow nod. They should let mother know as well. She liked knowing what went on.

She had to know before uncle Stannis though.

Chapter Text

The door opened with a sharp little sound, startling Ashara. She looked towards the entrance only to see her husband making his way in, a sullen cast to his face. He had been gone for a bit, presumably to talk to his sister. As far as Ashara could tell, the interview had not gone well. Little, in fact, had gone well since finding out about the heinous accusations thrown her good-sister’s way.

Having been on her own during her husband’s absence, she had been given enough time to think upon the matter seriously. Lyanna Stark, a murderess. It seemed a shocking thing. Not because she was a woman. After all, people could be vicious as a general rule. Certainly not because of her measurements either. Ashara would be more than shocked, profoundly disappointed even if it turned out that her good-sister was the mind behind the crime for the simple reason that she had trusted in her. To trust in such a person had bearing upon her ability to judge. Truly, it was rather simple.

Eddard’s return spelled the end of her meditation however. She took one look at his face and, with her heart giving a painful lurch, came to the realisation that not all was well. “What is this, husband? I know ‘tis a difficult situation, but the grim expression you wear,” she trailed off, a small motion of the hand ending the spoken thought.

He gave a shake of his head in reply and sat down upon a stool. “I know not what to say.” The young knight poured himself a cup of wine and his lady wife approached his silently. She placed her hand upon his shoulder for no more than a fleeting heartbeat. The silent coaxing went unanswered.

Ashara pursed her lips. “Sibling rivalry seems to come to life rather faster than expected. We’ve not been here for more than a few hours.” But she knew, even as she spoke the words, that Ned was not acting sullen over a minor annoyance. Nay, the angry lines of his face whispered of something far more serious.

“Would that it were that,” he confirmed her suspicions, downing half the content of his cup. “Would to the gods that it were that.”

Ashara stepped away so she might take a seat to his left. “Then what is it?” Siblings could wield sharp tongues as well as strangers. Most of the time even better. Strangers could be dismissed after all.

“She blames me for her unhappiness.” She, Ashara deduced, given that her husband did not name her, was the sister. “What guilt do I carry in this, I ask you.” The cup slammed against the wooden surface of the table.

“I do not know, husband. What did she say?” the Dornishwoman prodded. It was not an easy thing to dismiss accusation one did not entirely comprehend. “What blame does she lay on your shoulders?”

“She told me I was blind, that I knew not my friend. Robert was like a brother to me, Ashara. Few can claim to have known him better than I.” And yet his sister seemed convinced that he did not. Ashara knew very little of Lyanna’s marriage. It had been obviously been arranged for the benefit of her house; but most marriages were and most of them went along ell enough. What made Lyanna’s a different matter?

“Ned, she was his wife. A wife and a friend are two very different matters, are they not? I did not know the man and cannot speak of him with certainty. But mayhap there is some truth in your sister’s words.” She could not make a case for the deceased man or against him. But she could soothe her husband. “This is your sister, ser, and you would know how much weight her word holds.”

“I do not think she lies,” he declared, as if answering a question. But then again, her husband was not very good at detecting lies. Ashara sighed. Mayhap if she spoke to the lady herself. But nay, ‘twas not for her to do so.

“If you credit her words, than what is the matter?” She found his hand and took it in hers, squeezing it affectionately. “Do you believe her to be wrong?”

“I believe she did not understand him, is all.” That was a peculiar statement. “She was truly angry at the bastards. That was her argument against him even before they were wedded.”

Of course, bastards. Ashara, having grown in Dorne, minded bastards very little. Some had dwelled within Starfall even in her youth. But growing and playing with them and having them under one’s roof when one was a bride were different matters. True, she cared not for others’ bastards, but if Ned were to being one of his own to her, she would not be well pleased.

On the other hand, she knew very well that for some men bedding meant little and was a sport. It did not negate feelings they might have for a sweetheart or wife for the sole reason that whatever woman they slept with was akin to a candle flame, bright for a heartbeat, forgotten in another. Such women did not matter.

Women, though, thought differently. They thought that because something mattered to them, then it would matter to the partner as well. Mayhap Lady Lyanna has simply equated what her husband had done with love for another.

If it was or wasn’t, Ashara knew not. Only Robert Baratheon knew where his heart rested. “It is never pleasant to know one’s self as being second to anyone.” She waited a moment before rising to her feet. “But that makes no matter. Did you know about his bastards?”

“I knew about Mya and another one. I never thought he would continue after he married my sister.” As no brother would, Ashara considered, unless the sister in question was a harpy of sorts. “He swore to me that he loved her.”

“It might be that he loved her,” Ashara allowed. “It might be that he didn’t. But he is gone, husband, and we are still here. Let us not dwell upon that which we cannot find an answer to.”

Yet Ned wished for time to think to clear his head. Ashara let him be. She would do him no service by forcing him into a discussion he did not wish to have or rushing him back to his sister’s side. Siblings had to work through their differences on their own.

Not without help, mind.

When came the time for supper, a servant carried the message that they were to join the household in the main hall. Though with little pleasure, Ned did so. Ashara was more hopeful. Surely at supper she would have a moment or two to speak to the other person she knew was as much interested in mending the rift as she was. And so she bade her time.

True to form, Benjen Stark met her eyes over the length separating them when she summoned his attention. Silent communication was not her forte, but she hoped her eyes conveyed the need to speak. He seemed to understand her well enough for all he returned to his brother.

The atmosphere was solemn. The only ones that seemed unbothered were the children. As children were wont to do, they met the recent tragedy with optimism. The darlings, they looked left and right, trying to guess if showing any sort of positive emotion might earn them someone’s wrath. It reminded Ashara of her own sister. She could not help but hide a smile at the thought.

But supper drew to a halt soon enough and, while Ned made his way to the gardens for a stroll and the others retreated within, Ashara, having declined her husband’s invitation, remained in the company of her young good-brother.

“You wished to have words with me,” he said. There was no question; just an assessment. What an interesting matter.

“I still do,” she replied. “Mayhap we might retreat somewhere else.” It would not do to have the servants gossiping after.

“There is always the glass room,” Benjen offered with an affable smile, Still, there was something guarded in his manner. “My lady,” he invited her to take his arm by rising it slowly.

Together they made their way to the aforementioned chamber. It was located somewhere above the gardens, offering a good view of it in all its wintry splendour. Ashara made herself comfortable upon a stool and waited for Benjen to do the same. He sat down a bit away from her.

They sat in silence for a few moments, looking at one another searchingly, as if trying to read from a tome written in long forgotten scripts. It was just as well that he was wary, for she would not have spoken to him had he been less so. Convinced that she had made the right decision, The Dornishwoman cleared her throat for effect and was the first one to speak.

 

 


 

 

Petyr brought the bowl closer to Betha’s lips. “You must eat something.” Or rather drink it, the woman thought morosely even as the man tried to pry her lips open. “Betha, you cannot continue on so. Won’t you tell us what happened?”

The oldest of her brothers, working at the smithy like their father had, Petyr lived with his wife and their two daughters. He had been the one to find her in the small hut, nearly frozen and bleeding. He had been insisting that she tell him why she was there and she had been stubbornly refusing to answer. It was almost a routine.

Worst of all, he’d had it written to the castle that she was ill and could not serve Lady Lyanna for the time being and the answer had been that she might have a few days of rest. It was in such times that the servant girl wished her lady was no so soft with them all. She should have demanded her return, so that Betha could tell her what she had seen.

Of course, if she could rise from her sickbed that was. Beth wrinkled her nose at the thin soup. The mere thought of food made her sick. There was nothing to in her stomach that she might regurgitate thankfully. Instead, she shook her head.

“I have to go back to the keep,” she said, her voice frail, quieter even than the whistle of the wind. “Can you not understand, Petyr. I have to go there.”

“Not until you are better.” her brother declared, as if his wife took the bowl from his hands. “I cannot aid you if you continue on so. Gods be good, woman.” His cheeks flushed as he raised his voice. “If you have such an urgent message, I’ll carry it for you.”

Never in a thousand years. What she’d seen was for her mistress’ ears only and not for the likes of her brother to know. It was not so much that Betha did not trust Petyr to rely her message. But, as he worked away from the keep, it was not his business to know what went on there.

“I am content to wait,” she answered in an equally annoyed voice, though hers was stretched to its limit. Yet Betha trusted she would be well soon and when she was, she would run back to the keep if she had to.

“Very well. Be it as you please,” her brother spat, rising from the small stood he had sat upon. “I cannot waste my day away with you.”

He mumbled his farewells to his wife and the two girls and left for the smithy, foul mood in tow. It served him right for trying to pry the secret from her. Betha huffed and drew the covers tighter around herself.

Tilly and Tansy edged closer and closer until they were practically pressed against her. Betha simply lifted the cover and drew further against the wall to make room for them as well. Their mother sighed softly. Jeyne came once again with the bowl of soup.

“Why must you antagonise him?” she questioned, handing it to her. “He only wants what is best.”

“I know,” Betha replied. “But this time he cannot help me, nor do I wish him to. I am a grown woman.” And soon to be a mother, which she’d not told a soul of to anyone, for fear of what should happen then. “I do need my brother as a little child does apparent.”

“You would know best,” Jeyne allowed. “Can you not tell even me, though?”

Jeyne was a good sort. But Betha feared the woman would not understand. And rightly so mayhap. As sturdy as the earth itself, Jeyne had never carried any notions of a frivolous nature in all the years that Betha had known her. Her good-sister was calm and collected and well-intentioned, but a ready judge of those around her. Were she to tell about Stevron and herself, she would be sitting with a wood’s witch as soon as possible and drinking a foul brew of moon tea. If that did not kill her, then the heartbreak would, she was certain.

“Nay. I shall speak of it when I am ready.” Betha drank a bit of the cool liquid though her stomach protested. Despite her childish display and the ache she felt, she was hungry. “I pray you, do not foce the issue.”

Jeyne nodded her head. “I must help out the seamstress today,” she said after a short moment of silence. “Tilly and Tansy will get you what you need in the time I am gone. Do not strain yourself.” The advice was taken in with a light smile.

The two daughters waved to their mother as she left the small hut.

“I believe we should all rest a bit,” Betha suggested to her nieces. The two girls did no protest. Instead they closed their eyes and went to sleep, more than glad to have a reason to not perform their chores.

Thus, Betha was left with her own thoughts. And such dark thoughts they were. They revolved around the hut and Stevron. There had been someone behind her, she knew. She’d never seen the face, but she’d heard a voice, whispering quietly. Her heart had nearly burst, thinking that it was Stevron’s spirit, come to taken her with him. But it had not been her lover, she realised later.

The voice had been too deep to be Stevron’s.

Then had come the strange barking of dogs. And afterwards, only darkness.

Petyr had later claimed that he’d found her bleeding upon the ground, all alone in the cold hut with a burning candle. To Betha’s mind, her attacker had been scared off by something before managing to kill her. Likely, it had been some stray dogs. Her brother could not have been far behind though.

It was all so very strange. She did not like it one bit. Especially considering that Stevron’s body had been taken away.

 

 


 

 

Rhaenys caught onto his arm with a loud whine. “I do not wish you to go,” she said, lips arranging in a pout the likes of which children oft exhibited. “Don’t go, father.” Her plea earned her a sigh from Rhaegar.

It was not that he wished to go, not at all. But what could he explain to a child? Instead of berating her for the stubbornness she showed, he picked her up in his arms. “I have to. I am needed there.” It was the very same thing he’d told her before. It was also a variation of the explanation he had given his lady wife. And it was the truth. “The King is ill.”

“Can you heal him?” his daughter questioned, eyes widening innocently at the incredible notion.

Rhaegar almost smiled. “Nay. I am not a maester, dearling.” And if he were, he did not know if he should rush to the man’s aid. There was Pycelle there, of course, to take care of such matters. “But he is my father, And it is my duty to be by his side in such trying moments.”

His daughter gave a nod of the head, looking for all the world as if she’d gleaned an important piece of information. Might be she had. Rhaenys locked her arms around his neck. “Then take me with you, father.” Her demand gave him pause.

The child was very similar to her mother in many respects. Her stubbornness evidence as much as her colouring. But even so, this was the very first time she’d asked to be taken along on a long journey. It might well be a child’s desire or it could be that Elia had planted that seed. He did not know, not did he question it. It was not the time.

“Another time,” the Prince answered, placing her down. “When next I go, I shall take you with me.”

Far from appeased, Rhaenys gave him a long, sad look and tears filled her eyes. “But I want to go with you now.”

“What one wishes for and what one needs are oft very different matters,” he wisely replied. The meaning was lost on the child, as if often happened with children, through no malicious intentions but rather inexperience. He understood her frustration but was helpless to sooth Rhaenys. “Come, ‘tis time to make for bed.”

He helped her up into a nest of furs and drew the covers over her. Leaning in, he placed a soft kiss to her brow. “I shall return before you even know it.”

Rhaenys made no reply, having made the decision to not speak a word more. Knowing he could not coax her into speech, Rhaegar merely blew out the candles that lit the bedchamber and made his way into the hallway. By the time he returned her mood would have improved, he was certain. Time had a way of helping such matters tremendously.

With that, he made his way to Aegon’s bedchamber, intending to speak to the boy as well.

Unlike his sister, Rhaegar’s son was less distraught at the news of his temporary departure. After dismissing the septa charged with watching over the boy as he slept, Rhaegar remained on his own with Aegon. The boy was more than pleased to hear what his duties would be with his father gone.

“I charge you with caring for your mother and sister until I return from King’s Landing,” Rhaegar instructed in as serious of a manner as he could devise. “I trust you shall not disappoint me.” As Aegon seldom did. Rhaegar could not have asked for a better son.

“How long will you be gone, father?” his son questioned lightly, his voice slightly muffled by the covers he held before it for warmth. “If the journey is very long, I might have to take care of my new brother as well.”

A moment of confusion ensued. Rhaegar blinked away the surprise though. “It might well be that your lady mother shall give you a sister.”

Aegon grimaced. “Another? I want a brother.” He let go of the covers. “I already have a sister.” No doubt Rhaenys wished for a sister, were she asked. Rhaegar merely smiled down at him. “I’ll take care of the child even if she is a sister though.”

“As every great knight would,” Rhaegar encouraged. Like most boys his age, he wanted little more than to become a knight. Such a wish made it much easier to instil into him a code of chivalry. “And like every great knight, you will be rewarded.”

The little prince smiled excitedly. “What sort of reward?” Might be he should not have mentioned the rewards. Rhaegar laughed, stroking his son’s hair.

“You shall see upon my return and not a moment sooner,” he promised. “Sleep now. I must away.”

Aegon, though disappointed that he had not found out what his reward would be, slid beneath the covers and closed his eyes. Rhaegar left him there. He went to the door and opened it, signalling that the septa should return to her previous activity.

“If there is anything amiss, write to me directly,” he instructed the woman. She gave a nod of understanding, then curtsied as he made his way out of the second bedchamber.

And so it was time for him to say the last of his goodbyes. The Prince made his way to the bedchamber of his lady wife. Elia was still of a mind that it would be much better if she joined him, though it was her mannerism which suggested it and not her words.

She allowed him into her bedchamber as she always had, with a smile and a light glimmer in her eyes.

“So you have come to bid your farewells to me as well.” There was no question. She opened her arms wide. Unwilling to ruin her mood, Rhaegar accepted the embrace as well as her unspoken invitation. “You shall be gone by the time I wake from slumber, shan’t you?”

“So I shall,” he agreed.

 

 


 

 

Eddard leaned back in his chair and watched his brother’s face. The cup that Benjen held cam down, meeting the table with a loud thud. “Why would you think I have any sort of knowledge about the matter?” the younger brother questioned.

His acting had improved, Ned would allow. But there had still been a moment of concerned surprise playing upon his features. “You arrived before us, Ben, and you were here when he was still alive. I merely asked, is all.”

“He was alive, but he wasn’t here,” Benjen argued. “And I do not badge our sister for this sort of information.” Humourless laughter escaped his lips. “We both know how she felt about Robert, Ned.“

Ned certainly thought he had. Until Lyanna had done what she did and turned everything upside-down. It still baffled him that a mere tourney and wedding had changed her mind about duty. In a sense, she was akin to Brandon. Both of them could be mulish when it suited them, and, most of the time, it suited them at all times. Something had determined her to act as she had. He’d been hoping that Benjen would tell him. Yet his younger brother seemed at a loss, or unwilling to.

Whichever the case, he was no closer to understanding his sister’s decision that he’d been when speaking to her. Frustrated not for the first time at the lack of answers, Eddard took up his own cup, drinking deep. The wine did little to help his mood.

“I don’t know,” he replied at a long last. “I do not even begin to comprehend what it was that she felt for him. Not when she tells me one moment that she would gladly wed him and the next that she loathed him. What am I supposed to make of that?”

Lyanna’s anger aside, it had not seemed to him that she was the least bit insincere in her revelation. That being the truth she chose to speak to him, Ned assumed, and rightly so, that she had a reason for her strong emotions.

Robert’s bastards had originally been her strongest argument against the match, but it had seemed to him that the matter took a second place in her mind to duty when she decided to wed Robert. Why relent and keep quiet so suddenly after she had made her dislike clear? But it might well be that it had been the mistresses that bothered her.

His friend had always been the sort to seek quantity, vast amounts. Bed sport had been no different. But for all that he loved women without falling in love with them, Ned had truly believed that his sister would be the exception. Robert had acted in such a manner as to confirm it, certainly. Or so the silent wolf had believed.

Benjen stood to his feet. “If you would allow me, I should like to show you something.” He waited for Ned to rise as well. “Follow me, my brother.”

It was to the nursery that Benjen took him. Ned had had little interest in seeing it, though Lyanna had mentioned the chamber which served as nursery. To his surprise, it was not only Jon that resided within the chamber, but another child as well.

The nursemaid curtsied towards the two of them and quietly retreated into a corner, leaving the babe in the cradle and the older boy peering at the small creature. Seemingly absorbed, Lyanna’s son did not turn towards them.

Benjen, unbothered, beckoned him closer. “Have a look at the child.”

For a moment, as he looked within the cradle, he was struck. The babe, a girl of not many moons, looked up at the world through a pair of blue eyes. He knew those eyes. They were Robert’s eyes. But his sister had only one child by her departed husband. Akin to another child he knew, a girl called Mya, the babe sported a head of dark curls, the ebony spilling against rosy cheeks.

“Her mother was a Lannister,” Benjen supplied when Ned finally gazed his way “Ran away and left her here for Lyanna to care for. She wasn’t lying when she claimed what she did about him.” The proof squirmed before them, cheeks heating and mouth opening in a shrill cry.

The nursemaid intervened, picking the child up and offering nourishment. It was then that the other child turned towards them. Benjen knelt before the boy. “Visiting with your sister, are you?” he asked the child.

Jon gave a hesitant nod. He looked from Benjen to him, and for a moment Ned thought he saw something flash in the young boy’s eyes. Worry, mayhap. But why? Yet Benjen distracted Jon soon enough. Ned breathed out in relief as those familiar eyes turned towards the youngest Stark brother.

“If ‘tis not too much to ask for, I should like a favour,” Benjen spoke, placing a hand upon Jon’s shoulder. The young Baratheon considered for the length of a heartbeat before acquiescing. “Can you find your lady mother?”

“What do you want Lyanna for?” Ned interrupted.

Benjen waved him away with an impatient sound. “Never mind Uncle Ned,” he told Jon, whose attention had drifted away once more. “Find your lady mother and bring her here with utmost haste. Can you do that?”

Vigorously nodding his head, the child made his way past them, breaking out into a run even as the nursemaid called for him to have a care. “Never worry,” Benjen cut the woman off, “the boy is made of sterner stuff. A tumble won’t stop him.”

Growing impatient, Ned caught his brother by the shoulder. “What is it that you think you are doing?”

“What needs to be done,” Benjen said. “You have questions which I cannot answer. Lyanna should be here soon though.”

Incredulous, Ned watched as Benjen gave a swift nod before making his way out the door as well, leaving him in the company of the nursemaid and the feeding babe. He stood there, stone still, one step away from uttering a few choice words. He’d been stringed along.

But Benjen had not lied. His sister did arrive soon enough, her young son in tow. As soon as she saw him there, Lyanna’s face coloured slightly. She hesitated a moment before turning her face towards Jon, but the boy merely skipped to where the nursemaid was, giving them both an innocent look.

“I believe we should talk,” Ned said, unable to keep quiet any longer. It was unnerving enough that she’d not uttered a word.

Lyanna cleared her throat lightly. “I believe we should. Would you acre for a walk in the gardens?” There was a shy quality about her as she stood before him. It reminded him of every occasion upon which she’d been scolded in his presence.

He nodded his agreement and they left the chamber together, walking down the hallway, side by side, close, but still keeping a small distance. He supposed it was the distance that bothered him. Lyanna rarely put distance between herself and her family. Or she hadn’t used to. Not to such a degree that it was noticeable.

Benjen did not have to suffer it though. Mayhap that was what bothered him. In many respects, Lyanna was mote Benjen’s sister than his or Brandon’s, for all the blood they shared. Benjen was the one who knew her He was the one who understood her. Strange that he should feel at all disheartened at the realisation. But there it stood; Ned wished he knew her as well as their younger brother did. That time had passed though. Yet he could start learning.

Outside the wind was blowing and snow was falling in gentle waves, clustering upon tree braches and bushes. They stopped beneath one of those many trees, staring at one another. Seemingly neither wished to break the silence. Yet silent they could not remain.

“I apologise,” his sister spoke out quite suddenly. “It was wrong of me to say what I said to you. And I wish I could take it back.”

But she could no more do it that he could forget hearing it. “Nay. Better to hear it from you than someone else.” Anger had filled him then, but he had had time to recover. “I did not know. I never thought he would make you unhappy.”

“’Tis not culpable, brother mine. You could not have known.” Lyanna held one hand out, hope colouring her features. “My words were harsh and my anger even more so; I should not have directed them towards you.”

“All is forgiven.” He offered a small understanding smile. She smiled back as he took her hand.

Afterwards it was a squeal that left her lips as he pulled her in an embrace. “Ned, you fiend.”

“Am I?” he questioned, more at ease when she wrapped her free arm around him. ”Wolves are creatures of the wild.”

Laughter was shared between the two of them. It would likely take time far longer than a few moments, but the mending had started and that was what mattered. At some point in the future, Ned decided, he would ask her further about Robert.

 

 


 

 

It was the boy that caught his attention. Brandon drew his mount to a halt, pulling upon the reins. His sister was the next to greet his vision. The two of them looked the very part of mother and son. He could not believe they had finally reached Storm’s End. The arduous journey was at an end.

Rickard dismounted after his eldest son did and was not at all surprised when Lyanna threw her arms around him in a tight embrace. “Lord father, you are finally arrived. This foul weather had us worrying.”

“I’ve travelled through worse,” he replied, pulling back gently. Eyeing the other people gathered in the courtyard he was pleased to see that all his sons had arrived. “Now good hostess, who might the lad keeping in your shadow be?”

Laughter broke past his daughter’s lips. “I see you’ve noticed him. Very well, lord father. I shall tell you. This lad,” she nodded towards the boy who had shyly drawn closer towards them, “is the one I love best of all the people I know. This is my son, Jon.” The boy bowed, but kept silent.

“I do not think there was ever doubt of that,” Brandon cut in, stealing his sister away into something that resembled a bone-crushing hug by the sound which left Lyanna’s lips.

“Charming as ever,” she teased after being released.

“You haven’t changed either,” Brandon offered with a smile. Then he turned towards the boy. “I daresay, Lya, I half-feared out blood would wane before the might of the Baratheon line. But I see you’ve put up a good fight.”

“Now, now,” Lady Baratheon chided. There was quite a difference between her and the daughter Rickard had known. “I shall have no dissention in my house and home. That tongue of your might get you in trouble, ser.” She laughed after, gently slapping Brandon’s arm. “Come. I believe Ned wishes to speak to you as well.

His middle son stepped forth, on his arm a lovely maiden. Rickard took a few moments to assess the mate Ned had chosen. It was beyond doubt that she was beautiful, fairer than the Queen herself from what Lord Stark remembered of the woman. What mattered, however, was her heart. That could not be assessed in the mere blink of an eye though. It would reveal itself in due time, of course.

“My lord,” the Dornishwoman greeted, her voice silken. “Ser.” She bobbed a perfect obeisance. “I am honoured to finally make your acquaintance.”

“Likewise, my lady,” Rickard answered. He saw her looking at his son from the corner of her eye and smiled. “I do believe we should make for within the keep,“ he said to Lyanna then.

“Of course, my lord father,” his daughter agreed, leading the way, her arm resting upon his at his request. “I believe you are tired after such a long journey.”

“You are quite right,” Brandon nodded, chuckling at the glare she sent his way. “What a fine hostess.”

Chapter Text

Renly placed a finger before his lips to signal that absolute silence was needed. To Jon’s mind the very notion that he should be warned to be silent was hilarious. His uncle knew very well that he did not speak; not even when spoken to. But instead of putting an end to Renly’s fun, the curious child stood to his feet and followed the older boy as he led them both away from the septa who was instruction one of the servants upon some matter of little import.

“I found something extraordinary,” his uncle whispered with a pleased look upon his features. “You shall like it as well,” he guaranteed, guiding them further and further away from their minder and taking both into another room.

The nursery had two adjoined rooms. One served as a retreating chamber for the nursemaid engaged to feed the babe of the keep and the other was used for storing everything from sheets to cradles when they were not in use. Jon had, of course, been in the second chamber, the very one Renly led them into, before.

For a moment he stared dumbly at his uncle. What was so very extraordinary about sheets and rotten wood, he did not know, not could he comprehend. But Renly shook his head and pulled him further into the small, cramped chamber, pulling the door shut as gently as he could.

The chamber had only one window, a high little hole in its wall that had been secured, for some reason, with thin metal bars. From that particular point the diffuse glow of daylight shuffled within timidly, providing just enough to see where one put one’s foot. It was better than darkness, Jon reckoned. Although the grey tinted glow carried something of sorrow and despair with it. Winter, he thought, stepping closer to his uncle.

Renly pointed towards a small cradle of ebony coloured wood. “It’s behind that,” he said, glee suffusing his words. One should think he had discovered an endless supply of lemon cakes or arrows fit for his bow. Jon shrugged lightly, unable to understand what could possible be there. At that response, Renly, who had been watching him, merely shook his head in disappointment. “You shall understand soon. Come, help me move the cradle.”

Without hesitation, the younger of the two grabbed two wooden bars tightly as the elder did the same and together they pulled the small cradle from its place. Behind it stood a stone wall. Jon watched as Renly walked around the repositioned cradle and pressed his hand upon one of the stones. Fascination gripped him as it gave way and, ever so slowly, the wall parted enough for a slim form to pass through.

“I told you,” Renly crowed in triumph. “Do you want to see where it goes?”

Nodding his head eagerly, Jon once more followed his uncle. Through the secret entrance they went. In order to not become los, Jon grabbed onto Renly’s arm and both touched the wall, walking alongside it for a few steps. Behind them the entrance still remained open, shedding in a weak light that lost its power the further in they went.

It was a truly remarkable discovery, at least to Jon’s mind. Had anyone else known about the secret passages? He very much doubted, although his mind was already spinning a myriad of plans. He could use this to his advantage. Who would possibly suspect him of strolling between stone walls? If he so wished, he could go down to the kitchens or up to the maester’s tower. He could probably hear anything he wanted to, including Renly’s Valyrian lessons. That he should like above all else.

Mother did not know Valyrian. At least not enough to claim fluency. There was a booklet in her bedchamber though of poetry and songs. Some of them were in Valyrian, Jon knew, for mother rarely ever attempted to read them. Only once had he heard her. Jon reckoned she had forgotten all about him being in her bedchamber, hiding beneath the covers, when she began stringing words together that made little sense. Her recital had been often broken by stammer and sighs of frustration and Jon had also heard the scratching of quill on parchment.

The following evening their good maester had come back with a parchment of his own, stating that he had translated the words his mother had wished him to. Jon, in that very moment, thought it should have gladdened him beyond words to be the one to help his mother. Of course, in order to do that he would need to learn Valyrian and the only one who knew the tongue was Maester Cressen.

There was Renly too, but Jon had oft heard him complain about those lesson in Valyrian and had surmised that his uncle had no taste for the tongue, its poetry and anything else to do with it. Thus he had decided against bothering him. He would simply have to somehow use the tunnels and get to the maester’s tower.

It was only a matter of time before he did. That Jon promised to himself, stepping carefully behind Renly.

A gust of wind rolled through the tunnel, making both boys shudder. They had been walking for a bit and even the light of the entrance was no more than a memory. Renly stopped, causing Jon to bump into him.

These passages would take some getting used to. It was the darkness that bothered Jon beyond anything else. Who knew what lurked in the shadows? It could be anything from a small spider to a flesh-eating rat. He pulled on Renly’s sleeve, urging him backwards as he retreated.

“I think we should make our way back as well,” his uncle agreed. “We can bring a torch the next time.”

The eerie atmosphere must have affected him as well. Jon was only glad that they were turning back. He waited for Renly to step before him and then they began their track once more.

His uncle braced himself against the other wall as they turned around. To Jon it seemed that they were following the very same road. But something was different. A certain needling sensation crept over him as they made their way through the thick darkness. Having been lost in his own thoughts, the boy had not paid much attention to where Renly had first led them. He had simply walked along, trusting in his friend and in the fact that they could not possibly get lost within the keep.

Unfortunately, the farther they advanced, the less likely it seemed that they were on the proper lane. When they’d entered, Jon could have sworn there was no stirring of air. Suddenly, a cold current was sweeping past them, bringing with it a strong smell of the sea.

Yet how could that be? The sea was without, beyond the walls of the keep. The scent had never been quite as strong. Jon stopped, pulling on Renly’s arm to cease his advancing as well. They were lost. The realisation dawned upon his, crushing him beneath its weight. They were lost, somewhere within the very walls of Storm’s End and no one knew where they’d gone. Nobody knew where to find them.

Panic set in. Jon wished he could do something more than choke on his own breath, but the void before them and the blackness at their back was all encompassing. Not even a sliver of light could be seen. There was nothing beyond the smell of saltwater and the heavy dank atmosphere of their surroundings. He felt ill.

“Jon,” a voice called, grabbing his attention. It came from far away, too far away. “Jon!” it called to him once more. “We have to keep walking. If there is a breeze, there must be an entrance point.” Only then did it become clear to him who it was that spoke. Renly was shaking him without a bit of gentleness. “Come now, we mustn’t linger here.”

Not if they wished to see the light of day again. Having calmed down somewhat at the mention of a possible escape, Jon grabbed at the hope with both hands. They would return to the nursery somehow. He had to believe that or his legs might give way and he would forever be lost to the darkness. The sobering thought had him breathing noisily, trying to drag in as much air as he possibly could. His lungs thirsted for it.

“There,” Renly spoke. “Can you feel that? The breeze?” Jon nodded, although he knew Renly would be unable to make it out. “Let us go.” With that final encouragement, the two boys hurriedly followed what they though to be the path leading outside.

They walked in silence, one for fear of words crumbling any belief in salvation and the other for entirely different a reason.

Somewhere ahead a bright point of light appeared. Jon’s eyes widened and hope grew. They would not meet their end through this folly it would seem.

Little by little, a soft light spread around them as they got closer to what looked to be a small hole in a wall of rock. What they had found was not in itself wide enough to allow them passage. Not even Jon, small as he was, could push himself through.

Thus, Renly lowered himself on his knees and started pushing at the edges of the gap in hopes of dislodging some of its margins. When he failed to do so with the use of his hands, despite pushing and pulling, he attempted to force them to give way by kicking. This method seemed to work, for the opening widened slightly. Seeing that, Jon joined in the effort, kicking as hard as he could.

Without doubt they would have been better served by some hammers, or even sharp knives, but neither of them had thought to be lost, thus neither was prepared. They continued to work on the opening until at a long last it became wide enough to allow Jon’s head through.

“Go out there. If we kick it from both sides, it might give way faster,” Renly said, urging the younger child on. Left with little say, Jon did as he was bid. He struggled to slip through the crack, relaxing his body and tensing it by turns. It felt truly strange to be doing so. Beneath his was the hard ground and above him was thick stone. The frightening thought that he might somehow become stuck there pushed him to a speedier performance.

After struggling for awhile he was free at last. But he was by no means in a place that he knew. It seemed that the tunnel they’d walked had once served as a means of escape from within the keep, for it gave way into a cavern of some kind. It was wide and dimly lit. Looking around Jon noticed that pieces of wood lied around and somewhere in the back a lump of some sort hid in the shadows.

But Jon had little enough time to make further observations as Renly called for him and together the once more toiled to widen the gap. Their luck held, thankfully, and Renly soon joined him on the other side of the wall.

“Where are we?” he asked, looking around, much as Jon had before him, with a great deal of curiosity. His eyes too fell upon the lump hidden in the shadows. But unlike Jon, he seemed fearful of it. “What is that?” Renly pointed at the heap, but did not draw nearer.

Unable to answer, Jon shrugged. He, however, had no qualms about approaching it. In fact, he walked past Renly and stepped over the tremulous line separating light from shadow, reaching what looked like a curled cluster of rags.

Bending down, Jon pulled on a strip of fabric, but as soon as it gave way he jumped backwards at the sight it revealed. Renly let out a night-pitched yell himself as soon as Jon lost his footing and fell on his back, head hitting the hard ground.

Before the though lied not a mere heap of putrid fabric bolts, but the remains of what used to be a human. It was a skeleton. The cranium rolled away, leaving behind the decaying cloth and strands of what Jon could only assume had been hair at some point.

With a gulp, he pushed himself even further away as his uncle rushed forth, pulling at the material, throwing it away, as if in search of something. Unexpectedly, a hushed sob penetrated the silence that had fallen over them. Jon staggered to his feet and walked closer to Renly, peering over his shoulder. The older boy had found one small golden clip that presented a familiar pattern.. He clutched the tiny object between his fingers, seemingly unable to explain a thing to Jon.

For his part, the younger child waited patiently for his friend to quiet down. Renly was of a passionate nature. Trying to offer comfort when he retreated from contact would only earn one scorn. Therefore Jon wise chose to follow the skull to where it had rolled. He picked it up and held it between his hands. The rest of the remnants had been dressed in a kirtle. Clearly it was the body of a woman.

Yet why should she be here, in this cave, all alone? Storm’s End possessed dungeons. Jon had seen the corridor that led to them on more than one occasion. But he did not recall ever having seen a man or woman taken there. They were empty to the best of his knowledge. Could it be that the woman had not been a prisoner then?

Who was to say? The flesh had long since rotted away, leaving only clean, white bone behind. There had been nothing to identify her by, except for that one golden piece that Renly had found. The pattern of it bothered Jon more than anything else. He had seen it somewhere. But where? Straining to remember, the body placed the cranium upon the ground and walked to the great entrance of the cave.

He looked down to see beneath a stone wall that led down to a beach. Storm’s End did not have a beach with sands on which one could lie. The ground was wrought with tiny, sharp rocks that cut into the flesh and filled one with pain. Still, they had a way to climb down even if it looked rather steep.

In fact they needed to climb down. Otherwise no one could possibly guess where they were. This was one adventure too many, Jon considered, carefully measuring the distance between the cave entrance and the first protrusion he though of grabbing on to. If he could reach it, he could probably climb down. Renly wouldn’t have much of a problem either, as he was even better equipped, being taller and stronger. Jon turned around to face the older boy.   

It was time to leave. They could come back for whatever was in the cave later. He walked towards Renly and caught him by the shoulder, shaking him lightly.

“I cannot go, Jon,” the other replied to the silent question. “I cannot go.” His voice trembled even more than his frame did. “I thought she might have survived.”

He knew the woman. That in itself jolted Jon’s memory. The pattern upon the gold accessory he’d seen before on the necklace, the very one he’d given to his mother. They matched. He looked closer at the small object. It was no ring, the form was almost cylindrical with a sharp end. It could not be a brooch either.

An earring. Of course. Jon reckoned the other had been lost during the time the body took to reach the cave. What else could explain its absence?

The woman before them was no other than Cassana Estermont, his grandmother. His father’s mother. Jon knelt by Renly, lips thinning into a tight line. He did not know very well what he hoped to achieve, but he took his friend’s hand and pulled it away from the material it had fisted into.

Mother had said that Lady Cassana was dead. His own father was dead. hat meant his own father was nothing but a pile of bones. Jon better understood why it was that he’d been told his father was never returning. Something twisted within him and tears welled up in his eyes. He did not wish to remain within the cave any longer.

More insistently than before, he tugged on his companion’s arm. Renly maintained his position for a few moments longer the climbed to his feet. “You are correct. We should leave.” They themselves would be dead if they stayed much longer.

As he had done earlier, Renly looked down the entrance. “I’ll go first and help you down as well.” Jon nodded his head in agreement. It would have served them better to have some sort of rope, but none was to ne found. They might have used the dress, but the fabric had long since begun rotting and would not be of any help.

Renly stepped down onto the first ledge and Jon followed him down as well. From there on it became ore complicated. Jon followed his uncle’s movements with close attention and silently sent a prayer to the gods that they would not fall and meet their end.

At one point his foot slipped on the slippery stone and he nearly did fall. Thankfully, he managed to grab onto something, even as his palm stung, tingling with pain as the rock cut into his skin. More afraid of what waited for him below than of an open cut, Jon held on for dear life. Renly pulled him back.

“We shan’t be here much longer,” the elder child promised. “A little bit more. Just a little bit,” he promised.

Jon truly hoped it was so, otherwise he feared for what would follow. Truly.

 

 


 

 

Rickard abandoned the company of his children to follow Stannis Baratheon into a small solar where they could speak without interruptions. He might have taken Brandon along, but the boy had, as soon as his eyes landed on Stannis, acquired a taste for quarrel. At this point, they knew not what Stannis planned. It was best to test the man before they chopped his head off.

The Lord of Winterfell himself was willing to challenge the Baratheon whelp to combat for his insolence. But only when the time was right. Therefore he chose to listen to the request and see what could be done until his sword met flesh.

“I pray you, have a seat, my lord,” Stannis began as he lowered himself into a chair. Rickard t comment on the breach of etiquette but merely sat down. “I assume you are well aware of this which I am about to impart upon you, so I shan’t mince words. My good-sister is in grave danger.”

“From you, I’ve no doubt,” Rickard replied, his eyes levelling a cool stare at the young man before him. “I have heard you aspire to my grandson’s inheritance.”

“My apologies, Lord Stark, but your beloved grandson seems to my mind unfit to rule over these lands in any capacity.” The boy was blunt, Rickard would give him that. But he was much too blunt. There was no subtlety to Stannis Baratheon.

“I would have a care with such words,” the older man warned. “The boy seemed sound to me and I have spent less time in his company. How is it that this has escaped your notice?” It was one matter to accuse his daughter or even to cast a shadow of doubt upon her right to be her own son’s regent, and it was quite another to claim the child was daft. “He does not speak, but he understands very well.” At least he certainly seemed to understand Benjen.

“Well as that might be, the boy needs to speak at some point. Who will follow a mute?” There was no trace of anger in Baratheon’s voice, just a tinge on disdain. “But this, my lord, is not about the child. It is about the mother.”

He produced a small locket. “This has been found in her bedchamber, containing poison within. My brother had suffered an unlikely accident and there is talk of debt and an ill bond between the two of them. Yet even so, I do not believe Lady Lyanna is responsible.”

His daughter, a potential murderess. It was ludicrous. “At least you have the good sense to see where your evidence leads you. Is there anything else that has been found in her chambers?”

“Nay, but in the godswood there were paper, quite a few. They bear her handwriting at a first glance.” Stannis produced only one of them as example. “But what need would she have to write them all herself? And why does our good maester known little to nothing about them?”

“Forgery,” the old wolf answered without a moment’s hesitation. “This one is written is Valyrian even.” He gave the paper back. “A conspiracy, is this? Then why have you struck fear into my daughter’s heart?”

“I fear that whoever has planned this has many eyes and ears. Were I to tell Lady Lyanna, I could not be certain she would play her part flawlessly.” It was a rather clever move. Rickard nodded inn understanding. “I need her to remain as she is. Afraid and acting it.”

“And what purpose does her family serve in this, ser?” There were not many options. They could either create a scandal that would spread throughout the kingdoms, or they could discreetly handle the matter. “I am listening.”

“We need to take this to the King himself.” The words rang loud within the small chamber. “Whoever has concocted this heinous plan is clearly well informed. They should like to see their scheme come to fruition, I’ve no doubt. Let us give them their wish.”

Indeed, such sick minds would thoroughly enjoy their victory. The louder it was, the better. “It is a sound plan. But I wish to be my daughter’s keeper and one of her brothers must at all times keep her company. I will not have her harmed.”

“Of course,” Stannis agreed. “There are a few leads we might follow, but with Lady Lyanna at Storm’s End and in danger’s path, it would come to nothing. At King’s Landing and in the company of her brothers, she should have enough protection.”

In fact, who knew how many of her servants had been bought? Rickard held back a shudder. Any one of then could be plotting to poison her food or drink, to plant upon her incriminating evidence and cause her strife. King’s Landing was instead a ked of wildfire waiting to explode. Every nobleman had some petty quarrel there and those who opposed whoever though to harm his daughter could lend their aid. If they did not, they could be an adequate distraction.      

“Very well. Let us do as you say, but I wish to have some one my own men looking into this matter as well.” This he would not be refused either he knew. If the plot was complex, as Rickard suspected it was, then Stannis would need men.

“Aye, the aid would be most welcomed,” his interlocutor replied as if having read his mind. “There is a certain person that needs to be found and soon. I believe some answers may be garnered from her.”

“And who is this woman?” Rickard questioned, already thinking of his best men for the job.

“A certain Ymme Lannister. She is the mother of Robert’s youngest bastard,” Stannis explained. “She has disappeared from Storm’s End recently and though I made more than one attempt to find her, I failed.”

Bastards? The most recent of them? Rickard pursed his lips. “His youngest, you say? How many are there?”

“My lord, I do not believe the matter of great import-“ the young Baratheon began but was swiftly interrupted as the door crashed open and Lyanna made her way in. “What is the meaning of this?” Stannis demanded of her

“You bastard,” she hissed at him, her whole frame radiating fury, “what have you done with my son? Where is he?”

“What are you on about, my lady? I’ve not seen the boy since leaving the table. How dare you accuse me?” But his speech did not seem to matter to Lyanna as she advanced towards him.

Before anything could happen though, Benjen barged in and pulled her back. “Do not,” he warned her quietly, but Rickard still heard. “We do not know what happened yet.”

“I know very well what happened,” his daughter argued, fighting to escape her brother’s hold. “He wants Storm’s End.”

The sound of flesh meeting flesh put an end to the ruckus. Stunned Lyanna pressed a palm to her reddening skin. The abused flesh tingling produced a wince from her. “What manner of behaviour is this, daughter?” Rickard called to her. “I come to find you causing trouble and you’ve the nerve to act as an uncouth creature?”

Benjen pushed Lyanna behind him, as if to offer protection. The boy needed to stop trying to protect everyone. She allowed it, seemingly still in shock. “Jon is missing. Renly as well. Their septa came running to us, thinking that they had joined our company,” he explained smoothly. Rickard did not miss the way his hand clung to his sister’s. “Surely, my lord father, Ser Stannis you can understand that my sister is troubled.”

His daughter did not burst into tear, nut Rickard could see that her eyes glistened as she slowly let her hand fall down. “Where is my son?” she addressed the question to Stannis once more.

“I know not. But I presume he is with my brother.” It was a point in his favour that he had thought to so deflect suspicion from himself. “And wherever they are we must find them.”

Lyanna looked away. Rickard took that to be her common sense returning. “Have the servants search the entire keep, go over it with a fine tooth-comb. Let us then divide out men into five small groups and have them search without.

“I shall take Lyanna with me,” Benjen offered as Brandon entered, followed by Ned. Lady Ashara lingered in the doorway, her mien exuding worry.

“Nay. Lyanna shall remain within the keep.” It would be entirely easier if she and Stannis were not at each other’s throat out there.

“I shan’t” his daughter protested before he had even finished. “He is my son. I cannot sit here and do nothing.”

“But you can and shall supervise the searching of the keep,” Rickard retaliated. “Lady Ashara,” he followed, but the woman was already speaking.

“I shall aid Lady Lyanna.” She made her way past Eddard and Brandon and took Lyanna by the arm. “Come, it is best to start quickly. The hour is late enough.”

 

 


 

 

Her smarting flesh continued to bother her for quite some time into the search. Her good-sister had offered to seek a remedy for the sting, but Lyanna refused. She’d been in the right, after all; the hour was late and night would come soon. If her precious children were out in the cold, they would not survive.

One would suppose that she would be bothered by her father’s disciplining of her as well. And she was, in a manner. But even she knew that half-mad as she’d been, fear pounding in her veins, nothing would have worked. Still, it hurt in some measure.

Ashara had followed her into the nursery where the nursemaid fed the babe and the septa waited as well. All servants had been ordered to search the keep from top to bottom.

“Tell us again,” Ashara urged the woman, “did you truly not see them go out the door?”

“Nay, my lady. I swear I did not. I would have heard the door. ‘Tis heavy and those two never close it without making a racket fit to wake the dead.” Tears streamed down the woman’s face. Lyanna might have sympathised were it not for her incompetence. It was because of this creature that the boys were nowhere to be found.

“They can not have vanished into thin air,” the mistress of Storm’s End insisted. “I will have the truth out of you if I have to order it beaten out,” she earned.

“I do not lie. I swear I do not,” the septa answered. They were playing in here and then they were no longer here. I have searched for them everywhere.”

Just as the whole keep was doing now. And yet she’d not found them. Lyanna was about to release another tongue lashing upon the woman when her good-sister interrupted. “Have you searched the adjoined chambers?”

“I’ve searched the nursemaid’s bedchamber,” the septa clarified, looking contrite and annoyed at having her intelligence called into question at the same time. “They are not there.”

“And the other chamber?” Lyanna asked, following Ashara’s observation.

“There is naught there but old things. Why would they go in there?” reasoned the careless woman.

“Let us find out,” Lyanna said, her voice steely. Ashara opened the door and together they stepped within. “Gods be good,” she gasped at the sight before them. The gods only knew where they were. “Secret passages.” Why had she not known about them?

They could be anywhere within the keep’s walls. “We have to send someone in there,” Ashara said after a long pause. “Bring rope and candles,” she ordered to the women behind her. “We need to find them.”

She could not go. The realisation knocked into Lyanna like a shield on the battlefield, cutting off her air supply. There had to be someone who knew about the passages. One of the older servants mayhap. “I need the oldest servant in my employment here.” If that did not work, she would send for a man in the village.  

No sooner than the words had left her mouth that someone ran into the nursery. Lyanna looked at the young woman who was gulping down air, urging her to speak. “M’lady, begging yer pardon, Lord Stark has found them.”

“Are you certain?” Ashara questioned.

Lyanna did not wait for an answer. She tore past the servant with nary a thought for anything but seeing Renly and Jon safe once more. She sped down the stairs, not stopping even when she heard her good-sister call. She had to reach the courtyard.

And reach it she did, just in time to see Benjen hoisting a bundle in his arms. Renly was being helped down from his brother’s horse and seemed uninjured. Lyanna, having stopped for a moment, retrieved her earlier pace.

As soon as the older one of the children saw her, he broke away from his brother and ran to her. “I am so sorry, aunt Lya. I tried, I really, truly tried to keep him from falling.”

“Falling?” she repeated dumbly. “Who fell? My Jon?” Her voice thickened. She brushed back Renly’s hair and Benjen approached her with the bundle. She looked at her brother, unable to ask the question which crushed her beneath its weight. Her lips parts, but all that came out was a cry for her son.

“Hush,” Benjen said. “Hush. He is alive. It was not a great fall.”

“Then why won’t you let me see his face?” Lyanna sobbed, clutching Renly to her instinctively. “Let me see his face.” Benjen hesitated and Lyanna could no longer endure it. “Let me see my son,” she demanded loudly.

Her father intervened the, taking the boy from Benjen’s arms.

A shriek passed Lyanna’s lips, shrill and cutting.

The movement had revealed her child’s face. Blood was pouring down from somewhere within his hairline and a slash ran down along his cheek.

“What happened to my son?” she cried out, rushing to take his weight into her own arms. “Jon. Jon, open your eyes. Look at mother, Jon. Please open your eyes.”

Thin lips parted slightly.

Chapter Text

“Labour pains?” the maester questioned, bushy brows rising. “But ‘tis much too soon.” His assessment was not at all in the wrong. Ellaria could but nod her head in acknowledgement. There was nothing to be done about it though but to aid the Princess in her hour of need.

Or rather in her long, arduous hours of need, as the Dornishwoman suspected that no delivery could possible take little enough time to not have the hours bleeding one into the other. Still, she did think she ought to have remained by the other’s side. Oberyn meant well, but she reckoned he knew little enough of the birthing chamber.

When she had had their daughter, he’d not kept company with her within the too-warm bedchamber she’d been confined to. Nor had he lingered without her doors. Then again, this was his sister and if there was one whom her beloved loved beyond the count of words, then it had to be her.

The two Elias, Ellaria thought, not without a slight edge. Alas, her contemplation could not hold, as the maester has finally gathered what was needful together and made for the stairs, descending them in quick succession. Ellaria followed after him, struggling to keep up with the pace he set.

Her mind wondered to her own Elia. She had been left in the care of her lord father and Ellaria held little I the way of doubt that she was spoiled and coddled and looked after properly. But as all mothers were wont to when faced with an impending birth, she could not help the longing blooming in her chest. Little Elia would have her mother soon enough, for certainly the prince would return when knowledge reached him that his lady wife had given birth.

Ellaria could only hope that it was so.

And then there remained the small issue of the Princess’ frail health. Having been in the woman’s company for long enough to thoroughly assess the matter, Ellaria had concluded that Elia Martell, far from being fatigued by the mere state of carrying, dealt with far worse health hazards.

A few of the servants whispered that it was weak lungs, others were of the opinion that wedded life did not suit her. It was never said acidly, as far as Ellaria knew. The servants, while holding no special regard for their mistress, were generally of a well-behaving nature and concerned with their tasks rather than maligning the Prince’s bride.

It was, as it were, a thoroughly expected situation. The Dornishwoman could only wonder, given that, why it was that the match had gone through. Far be it from her to naysay Elia Martell’s many qualities, but it was a curious choice.

To be sure, it was no business of hers.

If the Princess survived her third confinement, she might ever be capable of birthing more children despite her age. Who could tell though? The Stranger took mothers and babes without discriminating. There was no regard for health, or age, or status. It was the struggle of every woman since the dawn of time.

Ellaria had once wondered why it was that such suffering had to be borne for life to see the light. If the gods had fashioned them for such, then why test them so before granting them the joy of a child? No answer had come to her despite her search. It was simply the way of it, has been what she was told when she asked a septon.

There was no escape, of course, not for the woman who wanted children. Not for many women, that was. Ladies and peasant girls alike, they all had a duty to further their husband’s line. Those who did not faced the consequences of their choices or their inability.

Or they could choose to devote themselves to the gods and leave behind the earthly pleasures. It was a pity that in Westeros the gods were not kinder. Neither the old, not the new ones seemed to concern themselves with their creations. So far removed were they that they failed to understand that mere devotion could not keep one alive.

It was mayhap the main reason for which Ellaria had devoted herself to another deity. A deity of love, earthly and understandable, understanding as well. The Goddess of Love, they called her. And had the goddess not kept her promise? Ellaria had found Oberyn and with him a purpose to her life. She had a beautiful daughter and if all went well there would be many more children. Might be even a son in his father’s image.

The cherished thought evaporated as she stepped through the doors leading into the Princess’ bedchamber. Her eyes fell on Oberyn who was holding his sister’s hand encouragingly. He could not remain within the birthing chamber, that much Ellaria knew. She approached brother and sister and placed her hand upon her lover’s shoulder.

“Come along,” she told him. “Allow the maester to do his duty.” Elia nodded along with Ellaria’s words as if to emphasise the point.

“You needn’t worry for me,” the Princess said. “I shall be fine.” And great reason she had to think it. Her past two experiences within the birthing chamber had not been easy and yet she had survived.

If one was to worry then it had to be about the child. The delivery was, as had been noted, too early. Such poor creatures ripped from their mothers’ wombs too soon did not live long, and if they did, they were often frail and sickly.

“Your Grace, my lady, I must insist that you take your leave,” the maester spoke, just as a servant woman came in with a large bassinet of steaming water. “Privacy is needed.”

He had the right of it. Ellaria waited for Oberyn to climb to his feet and then urged him along. “Let us sit in the solar, my love. We shall be appraised of the situation as soon as possible.” She knew not if it was her promise that worked upon him or if he was simply unwilling to fight her on the matter, but he simply grunted something incomprehensible and followed her without.    

The doors were closed in their wake and, as she had said, Ellaria headed for the solar. A small affair, it struck her as strange that such a chamber would serve for a solar. Nonetheless, she sat down in one of the chairs and as soon as wine had food had been brought she poured Oberyn a generous cup.

He took it from her hand and drank deeply. “My lady mother used to say that Elia was the most precious of her children,” he said, somewhat solemn. “I did not understand at the time. I thought she meant that because she was a daughter, she was more precious.”

“Time has brought you a different understanding?” Ellaria placated him by asking. He meant to take his mind off of the dangers his sister faced, She would aid him to the best of her abilities.

“Indeed. It was older, not entirely wiser though, when mother clarified that for me. It was that year when Elia and I made for the Rock.” He smiled at a memory. “I had never truly wondered why none of the lords close to Sunspear sent their sons courting for the my sister. I always assumed it was because they knew her to be such a fine lady.”

A fine lady indeed, Ellaria considered with a twinge of unease. She had not known that Elia hadn’t had many suitors in Dorne. How curious.

“Most of them had heard an interesting tale about my sister’s birth, you see. One that I was unaware of.” Oberyn took one of her hands in his. “Mother gave birth to her before the full term. When Elia was born, she was a tiny, barely-breathing babe that the maester said would no live. She was frail and much too small and always had to be watched so it could be assessed that she yet breathed.”

And then it all made sense to Ellaria. She said not a word though. It was not her place to interrupt. The Dornishwoman continued listening. “She lived though. In spite of their words, she lived and thrived and grew. Elia was often sick when we were children. I used to tease her out of her spells and demand she play with me all through the day.”

“You were only a child. You could not have known.” Was it a misguided sense of guilt then that fuelled the bond between them? Ellaria should be saddened by such a discovery.

“Aye, but then we grew and Elia insisted that she wed. She wanted a husband and children and would not content herself with paramours or the like.” There the man stopped to take another drink. “Her condition became better with time, but for her to strain herself is still dangerous.”

An admirable sentiment, Ellia reckoned, that of a brother wishing to protect his sister. “Her Grace knows very well the dangers of the birthing chamber. The4re is no reason for which she should fear any more than other women when she is already the mother of two children.”

It seemed easy enough to make the judgement from without. The Dornishwoman, though, thought it rather a silly thing that one should choose to endure such a risk, especially when other potions were available. Although, she supposed that given the chance, she too would be charmed to be Rhaegar Targaryen’s partner.

The matter was to meet no further contemplation. “Trust that you sister is strong enough, my love, and you shall see that a woman’s determination may accomplish much.” She wondered if to his ears they sounded like empty words.

Oberyn gave her a half smile. “You always know what to say.” He held his cup out for her to fill once more. “A talent I can only hope to keep by my side forever.”

“So that is why you keep me close?” she laughed, pulling back the wine jug. “We shall see about that.” She stood to her feet, took a step towards him and leaned in. “What other talents do you wish to retain close to you, my prince?”

There was ever a burning desire in his eyes as he pulled her head down for a kiss. “Too many to number.”

“Indulge me,” Ellaria said.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Pain wracked her whole being. Elia clutched the sheets with a steel grip and bit down upon the soft piece of cloth that she’d been offered. Her teeth ached from the pressure and she could feel beads of perspiration rolling down her forehead. Eyes tightly shut, she waited for the master’s instructions.

The last she’d been in the birthing chamber it had nearly taken her life. The pain had seemed to her a thousand times stronger than the very first. She had persevered though and I the end held her son , her precious Aegon.

It was a point of pride. She could and would give her husband the third child he longed for. If there was any woman fit to do so, then it was her, his wife. It had been the reason for which the incident at Harrenhal had displeased her as it did.

Incident. The very word paled in comparison to the meaning she attributed to it. There were days when, without wanting to, Elia thought about the Northerner maiden with the full smile and not even a small amount of decency. She should have flung the crown of flowers back to Rhaegar. Instead, she had lifted it and placed it upon her head with no small amount of pride.

In Elia’s night terrors, the wolf girl always clung to Rhaegar like a shadow, her smiles sweet and her determination indomitable. And in those dreams, Rhaegar smiled back at this other woman and held her close. It forever left Elia sick to the stomach to contemplate it.

She was his wife. He owed her his affection.

There were days when she wondered what had transpired between the two at Harrenhal and beyond. What had prompted Rhaegar to crown her and not another maiden? Where had he gone when she was birthing Aegon? What had he done with the Stark girl?

She took consolation with the fact that Lyanna Stark had been promised to another and never would she have Rhaegar as Elia did. She might well hold his thoughts form time to time, but his life was with Elia and their children. The she-wolf was within Storm’s End, as tightly bound by vows as Rhaegar, and there would never come a day when she would have the freedom of coming between Elia and her Prince.

Another wave of pain coursed through her, pulling her out of the realm of thoughts. Elia’s eyes opened to the low light of the chamber and soft cloth cleaning her face. She was momentarily unnerved by a look passing upon the maester’s face but took heart as soon as he signalled for one of his potions to be brought forth.

“Drink this, Your Grace,” the man said, “it shall help with the delivery.” The promise rang in her ears even as the cloth she’d been biting on was taken away and her mouth filled with a sweet liquid. “It is almost time,” he continued undeterred as one of the servants replaced the cloth.

The Princess reckoned that he must be right as her innards pulsed with pain and a grunt was torn from her throat. She breathed in through her nose, the medalling tang of blood filling her mouth. She daren’t look down for she knew that she did not wish to see the blood that was sure to have seeped through the sheets and blankets.

Soon enough she would be holding her third child, the third head of the dragon as Rhaegar would have it. She would write to him, urging him to come back or sent for her and the children. Surely he would wish to hold Visenya as well. The long wait was finally at an end.  

What did it matter that the child had come earlier than expected? Elia knew very well that her own strength would follow the precious babe. Her precious babe. The maester said something she did not catch and Elia wasted no more time in pushing. She had waited long enough.

Someone took hold of her hand, clammy fingers squeezing her own. Elia retaliated, her grip just as strong, fingers twining around the hand. A disgruntled sound was muffled by the cloth and a stabbing ache settled in her lower half, insistent.

“Push, Your Grace,” came a voice from somewhere ahead. “You must push.”

Hadn’t she been pushing, Elia wondered. Gathering her strength she pushed once again, and again, and again. The process was repeated until she was out of breath and trying to drag in as much air as she could through her nostrils. But it was not enough. She needed more.

“Like so, Your Grace.” It felt like she was choking. “You are doing very well.” Was that the truth, or a lie? Elia waited and was rewarded promptly. “This shall be a short birth, Your Grace, mark my words.”

Praised be the gods. Elia ripped the cloth from her mouth and threw it aside, opening her lips to suck in as much air as possible. No one tried to stop her. But when the pain came again, there was nothing to muffle her cries.

The Dornishwoman accepted a drink of water and returned to her labour, convinced that the maester’s words held truth to them and that she would soon be delivered of the child. On and on it went until she knew no longer by which count the man had meat her labour would be short. It might be that it had been or it might be that she had gone through days and nights in pain, Elia knew not.  

A weak cry broke what seemed to have been a heavy silence and tears filled the new mother’s eyes. Elia was helped up and her back was rested against a row of pillows as the women went about cleaning her. The maester placed the child in her arms. But his words fell upon her like a blade.

”Congratulations, Your Grace. You are the proud mother of another son.” A son. Elia looked down at the child and with shaky fingers lifted the cloth covering the small body. She could barely believe it, even with the proof before her very eyes.

Stunned, Elia could do little but wonder how it was possible that she would have been wrong in her predictions. There had even been a wood witch that had guessed she would be the mother of a girl. But nay, before her stood a son.

Anger speared through her. “Take him away,” she ordered, unable to have her failure so clear before her. “I am tired. Take him away.”

The babe mewled quietly. A weak son. She smarted not only in body. It should have been a daughter. Why had the gods cheated her of her wish?

“Your Grace,” the maester said, placing the child back in her arms, “you must feed the child.” Indeed, the first feeding.

The babe whined until she had placed him before her breast and suckled greedily. A shudder ran down her spine. Though she had merely meant to be rid of the child for just a few moments so she might think, so she might assuage her disappointment, as she held the boy and he fed, her body grew weaker and weaker. Her defences lowered and a strange sort of feeling washed over her. It tore at her that she was not meant to please Rhaegar.

Soon enough, her brother joined her, his paramour lingering a bit behind. The two of them marvelled at the babe and Elia felt slight better for it. Neither moved for quite some time from her side and the longer they lingered, the more assured the princess became that despite the child not being the daughter he had wanted, Rhaegar would find no fault with their son.

She gazed at the dark haired babe. In her chest flowered a warm feeling, seeping throughout her whole being. It was a feeling that she knew well.

“What a beautiful boy he is,” Ellaria commented softly.  

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The diffuse light of daybreak timidly glided into the bedchamber, careful on touch. A cool breeze followed it closely, wafting throughout in every corner, nook and cranny. It was a wintry morning by all accounts.

Deep within the chamber two people stood by the side of the bed. One was an old man, bent of back and calm in manner. He leaned over a figure which was obscured by sheets and blankets and murmured something into his own beard. His hand moved out to touch something.

The other, a young woman, stood besides the man with worry suffusing her expression. Her fingers twined together as if too keep from moving them too much about. From the dark circles beneath her eyes and the slightly unkempt look of her hair, it was easy to conclude sleep had been eluding her for awhile.

And that conclusion would not fall short of the truth. Lyanna had barely managed to catch a few moments of peace every now and again. She had kept by her son’s bedside and refused to move an inch until the child woke. Her eyes were peeled to the eerily pallid features of the child and the bright red of his wounds by contrast.

Maester Cressen had assured her that all Jon needed was rest. Far be it from Lyanna to deny the man’s knowledge, but she would have thought that her son had slept long enough in the few days since the having suffered the injury. It worried her that he did not wake.

“There must be something you can do,” she insisted, taking her eyes off of Jon long enough to gauge the other’s expression. “It has been long enough.”

More than enough. It was time for her son to wake up and look at her. She wanted to see his eyes. Even if just for a moment. She wished to tell him how much sorrow she carried for not having properly looked after him. Lyanna should have just left the matter of Robert’s death to her father and concentrated on her son.

The Others take Stannis and his accusations. He had torn her attention from the boy and tragedy has struck. What could have possibly possessed the two children to wander through the tunnels? She had heard Renly’s explanation but for the life of her she could not understand why they had to go within that dark crammed space without a torch at the very least. If it were possible she would have all those tunnels filled, locked and forgotten.

The only gain that had come out of it was that as body had been found. It seemed the general consensus that the remains belonged to the late Lady Baratheon. Stannis had as much as confirmed it and the earring the children had found was enough to convince even those less inclined to believe such tales. She had been buried next to Robert finally at rest.

But even that did not assuage Lyanna one bit.

“Patience, my lady. The process cannot be rushed.” Cressen felt the pulse of the prone child. “He will wake when he is prepared to.”

Seemingly done with his inspection, the maester retreated without, leaving Lyanna on her own, much like she had been recently. Entirely sympathetic to her plight in a certain respect, her brothers had not insisted too hard on removing her from Jon’s presence, nor had her father demanded much of her attention. In fact, she had not seen much of any of them unless they came by to check upon Jon.

It suited her just fine, truth be told. She needn’t stretch herself thin is so many direction and not accomplish nothing. Once Jon was well, she would return to proving her innocence. But not a moment earlier, for she could never forgive herself if her lack of attention led to another incident.

The door opened behind her and e thump of something heavy upon the ground made her look over her shoulder. Benjen stood in the doorway, having thrown something to the ground. He watched her silently, as if waiting. Lyanna looked down.

On the ground was a chest. It was neither large, nor small, but somewhere in between. No crest was engraved into the wood and by the faded colour she reckoned it must have quite a few years of history. The latch was drawn, yet no lock stood to guard.

Wondering what could have possibly been going through Benjen’s mind, the she-wolf raised an eyebrow.  

“I see you come laden with gifts.” At that Benjen merely looked at the offering. “Well, what is the meaning of this, brother mine? Cat got your tongue?”

“Just look into the chest,” Benjen finally said, a look of exasperation crossing his features.

Noting his irritability, Lyanna decided against challenging him. It was no use to antagonise him. After all, if Benjen considered it important, she should at least trust that he had good reason to. Leaving Jon’s side, she bent at the middle and fiddled with the latch for a few moments before pulling the lid up. The tiny hinges squeaked, the noise shrill in the stillness.

“By the gods.” Involuntarily, she jerked backwards. “Benjen, where did you find this?” From within the chest, the neat rows of bones gleamed in the light. The clean skull faced her, the empty sockets staring up at her. What was it with the bodies that kept appearing from nowhere?

“I was searching through the tunnels, trying to find one that led to the upper levels of the keep. I found it in one of the corners, neatly tucked away.” A ghastly smiled appeared on his face. “I thought it might be some old coins within or even papers.”

“Only the gods know how long it has been there.” She refused to believe that anyone was crawling around Storm’s End system of tunnels, hiding away corpses. The mere possibility made her fit to be tied. “By the looks of it, ‘tis old.”

“The wood no doubt, the body is another matter. Did you know that both of Robert’s squires are missing?” Time itself seemed to draw to a halt as the words left her brother’s lips.

Lyanna attempted to deny that but realisation came that she had seen neither Stevron, nor Ancel since Robert’s funeral. Why had she not seen them? “Nay.” She tried to recall the last time she had spoken to either of the two. Nothing came to mind. “Still, you’ve no reason to believe,” she trailed off.

“A raven came from Stevron’s brother,” he youngest Stark clarified. “The man claims his younger brother has not been answering any raven sent to him.”

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Brandon urged his destrier into a canter, cursing at the cold. It was not the dry chill of winter he knew and loved, it was a watery veil that wrapped around him and tortured his senses with a peculiar scent and the taste of salt. He crossed over to where the water lapped at the shore and dismounted, allowing the horse to rest.

Behind him, his men took a moment to relax as well.

He had been riding all morning in search of those blasted squires and neither hair nor hide could be found of either. They ought to have asked Lyanna where her husband’s men usually slunk. He had searched the tavern and bawdy houses, had looked through the woodland area. And nothing could be found of them.

It was as if the earth had swallowed them up and lost them in its bowels. He should have placed this burden upon Ned’s shoulders. Brandon looked down into the foaming seawater as if it might carry ashore an answer. Of course that was false hope.

Whatever was going on, he did not like it one bit. Stannis Baratheon insisted that his sister had murdered her husband. Father insisted that she had nor. Lyanna herself had not elucidated the mystery of it beyond claiming that she had nothing to do with what had happened to Robert, if anything at all had. And yet his good-brother claimed he had evidence. It was much too convoluted a storyline for him to follow and too many twist and turns made it impossible to see a clear answer.

The participants to the hunt, or in any case those who had been close enough to have any idea of what had transpired, were not forthcoming in their revelations. It was the same story that he’d heard before. An arrow had taken flight, the horse had spoken and throws Robert Baratheon off, the man had been injured and was dead.  

Brandon enjoyed hunting as much as any other man. He was skilled and knew his way around such matters. One’s squires were the most trusted men of the one leading the hunt. They were usually well-trained and knowledgeable. According to Lyanna’s household, both Ancel and Stevron were that. They had been long in the company of Robert and he had trained them well.

It was beyond him how any of them could have shot so poorly. In fact, it was highly suspicious, especially given that poison had been found conveniently enough close by. According to one of the men, the arrow was no shot in the direction of the prey furthermore. The chance of it being purely accidental simply did not hold in light of evidence uncovered.

There was also the possibility of Stannis having produced the evidence himself to specifically implicate Lyanna. But even if he succeeded, Robert’s heir would still be Jon. Other implications stemming from that fact were too harsh for Brandon to consider and bled into the realm of attacks on honour.

The vastness of the sea before him seemed easier to explore than the situation of Storm’s End. Gods be good, his sister ought to have wedded some Northerner lord and all this could have been avoided. Buy nay, it could simply not be that easy.

Carding his fingers through his hair, the man finally looked away from the shimmering water before him and back towards his steed. The horse had wandered away to a line of pointy rocks and was standing there unbothered by the anything. It would seem that a beast’s life was the very best. An unamused smile painted his lips as the consideration filled his mind.

If Brandon were to be entirely truthful with himself, which he was not about to contemplate for a very long amount of time, he would surely admit to wanting nothing more than to return to a simpler time and find a way of solving each problem before it occurred.

He had the certainty that had he tried to oppose Maester Walys’ plans and his own father’s, he and Lyanna both could have been just as pleased within their marriages as Ned was. It stood to reason that having a choice would have influenced the whole matter tremendously.

Alas, time was ever flowing.

Past events could not be changed no matter how much he wished they would. Brandon sighed and walked towards the horse, catching the reins and leading the beast away, towards the beaten track. It was time to return to the keep.

“Ser,” one of the younger ones placed himself before Brandon, “there is something you should see.”

“Lead on, good man,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation, leaving his horse with another of his companions.

And indeed, somewhere further away, having escaped his eye, was a young woman, looking rather pale.

As soon as he was within hearing range, the servant woman by her grab, wasted not a moment in pleading her case. “Ser, apologies for inconveniencing you, but I have heard you are m’lady’s brother – Lady Baratheon’s, that is.”

“I am. What of it?” A servant from the keep, he though. Might be something had happened. Brandon regarded the woman with curiosity.

“They say you are looking for the late lord’s squires,” she continued, not shying away as he drew nearer. “I have something to say. I know my lady should like to hear it as well.”

Curious. The heir to Winterfell kept his silence for a brief moment, considering if he ought to believe or not what he was hearing. All the asking he had done, and only now someone came along claiming they knew something or another.

“Who did you say you were,” he tested the servant, in no way prepared to be duped.

“I am called Betha, ser,” the woman answered, hands folded before her. “I am Lady Lyanna’s maidservant.” Her gaze did not slip away from his.

“’Tis true,” another of his men confirmed. “M’lady gave her leave of sickness to stay at her brother’s home.”

“I see,” Brandon said softly. “Then you and I shall have a talk, Beth. Come along.”

Chapter Text

A sour taste filled his mouth, going to the back of throat, concentrating in a small point, hidden deep within. Jon coughed, trying to dislodge the unpleasant taste. He struggled against the bonds that seemed to hold him down, as they have been doing for countless hours past, and managed, at a long last to break free.

The child opened his eyes. To his great surprise, it was the interior of a bedchamber that he was seeing. He looked about with curiosity, but before he could figure out much of anything, something crashed into him, shoving him backwards. The interesting thing was that he never actually moved. It was rather as if his mind has been affected and not his body.

Wherever he was, Jon realised that he it was not home. Without the bedchamber he’d been thrown all was dark. It was as if he had landed within the secret passages of Storm’s End once more. But there was neither breeze, nor sound to reassure him of his position. And so, he could only stumble blindly about in hopes that someone or something would appear at some point.

Deciding that it would be best to be sure of at least one matter, the boy lowered himself down upon his knees and felt the ground, for he supposed that was what it was, beneath his feet. To his consternation, however, beneath him was nothing, a void.

And down Jon fell. Not a sound was heard throughout the vast emptiness though. The world he had landed in did not seem to follow the rules of his reality. The boy has understood that quickly enough and all that was left for him was fear. Fear of the unknown, this strange reality he had departed where neither creature nor man resides, but him. He was the only one. And how lonely an existence that was.

Jon felt tears fill his eyes and, despite trying to hold them back, the very fact that he hadn’t anyone but himself and knew not how to reach his mother, left him drowning in salty water. For how long he went about weeping, the child could not tell. It might well have been years, month or mere minutes. et when he stopped, he was still falling, endlessly plunging through the blackness.

It was then that Jon concentrated himself. Mayhap if he willed it, he could somehow transport himself back to mother. Or at the very least make himself heard. If not, it was beyond him what course to take. Never in his entire life, short though it be, had he faced such a dilemma. Never had he been so alone. Jon drew in a shaky breath and thought of home, mother’s smile and whatever else he could summon to mind that might calm him.

Slowly but surely the memories came, not only of mother, but many of Renly, uncle Benjen, and even father. And the stronger they became, the slower he was falling, until his body came to a standstill, stopping upon what seemed to be a patch of grass.

Despite the fact that only a few feet away from him, a thin layer of snow had fallen, and the father he looked the thicker it became, Jon felt little in the way of cold. The suggestion of it lingered, as if to tell him he ought to be shivering, but after running until he was knee deep in snow and not becoming chilled, he could only shrug and begin wandering about in search of someone.

Only after he had cleared quite a bit of a path in his wake did Jon realise that he was walking uphill. The very thought sent a shiver of excitement through him, for up upon hills rested keeps and within keeps resides lords and ladies. Surely his mother could be contacted if only he reached the keep. So the boy marched forth, lighter than before.

From time to time he would look behind him, to make sure the trail had not been lost. Since there was no snow coming down, he could clearly make out the trail. Pleased with that, Jon returned to his advancing with the certainty of success on his heels. A broad smile pasted itself upon his face.

He could recall very little of how he had managed to land himself in this place and could only suppose as to what had led to Renly leaving him. He recalled going with his uncle into the hidden tunnels and even remembered the skeleton with its earring. They had started climbing down and somehow, his foot has slipped. Jon recalled having attempted to catch onto something and then there was nothing. No pain, nor any other manifestation to give him a clue.

He had simply woken up within the darkness and at first assumed he and Renly had been found and carried back within Storm’s End and that it was nightfall. But the night never lifted. And he was still alone. He had tried, for the very first time to speak, to yell out. Nothing but a sad croak came. It was all he seemed able to produce, even when he strained. Jon had been practicing upon it though. If he tried hard enough, he could whisper whole words.

It might well be that his voice had gone rusty as unpolished swords did. If he took care to practice, no doubt he would be as good as new. And then he would speak to mother and she would be happy. That was, when Jon found her.

But instead of a keep atop the hill, it was something else the child had found. A small group of trees, circling a tall-looking weirwood, its braches poking the clouds themselves. Slightly uneasy, Jon walked towards the tree, peering at the carved face. The menacing visage stared back at him unabashedly.

Upon one of the braches, a might raven stood, its beak opening and closing noiselessly. The bird flapped its wings a few times and croaked and then it looked down at him with three eyes glowing like burning embers.

He approached with utmost caution, putting one foot in front of another. Jon knelt at the roots of the mighty tree and, doing as his own lady mother had taught him, bowed his head in supplication. There was little enough around the tree to suggest that other worshipers had been about, but a very distinct energy emanated from within the bark. The child reached out, his fingers touching the rough surface. The bark scratched his tender skin.

“Please,” he said softly, his voice atremble. “Please, help me find mother.” The prayer was met with no reply from the wizened face before him. Jon closed his eyes and repeated once more, in his thoughts, the earlier words.

He had not expected it but just as soon as he was done, the bird above him let out a savage screech and the weirwood seemed to let out a hum, a sort of sound caught somewhere between a groan and a whisper. Reflexively, the boy stumbled back, falling into the snow blanket, losing himself in the bed of white.

Once he managed to find his feet again, he gazed angrily at the black feathered pest. If only he could shoo it. Alas, it was too far away from him. Instead, he climbed back onto his feet and approached the tree’s carved face. Before he could kneel, however, something sounded out from behind him, making the child turn around with such a quick movement that he made even himself lightheaded.

A man stood there. Jon did not recognise him. Tall and lean, the silver haired man wore a large black cloak, trimmed with fur. He regarded Jon with an intense curiosity that had him unable to move. It was as if he had been bewitched. The stranger continued to gaze at him through one eye. It was the most unusual colour Jon had ever seen. A single bright red bead burned straight into him.

“Are you lost?” the man finally questioned, his voice smooth and deep, seemingly at odds with his somewhat frail appearance.

A shy nod was Jon’s response. His throat worked convulsively as he struggled to form the words. But the stranger was already at his side, picking him up with surprising ease, only to stare straight into his eyes. Only he had just one eye. The other spot, where the second garnet orb should be resting was but an empty socket, left bare for all the world to see. Though Jon could not imagine who was out in these wastelands to see.

“You have come from far away,” the cloaked individual noted. “This is too father, child. You should return while there is yet time.”

“How?” Jon demanded. “How do I return?” He had tried.

“I can aid you in that. But I wish something in return.” The words had Jon stilling in the man’s hold. He gave a soft nod. “There will come a time, someday soon, when I shall have need of you, young warlord. Promise you shan’t turn me away then.”

He was no warlord. Jon nearly protested, but then he thought that if he did, the man might not aid him. A small lie could not hurt anything. Thus, deciding that finding home was the most important matter, Jon once more acquiesced. “I swear.”

“A vow has been made,” the man warned, though his voice retained its pleasant quality. “And now, young warlord, it is time for you to find your way home.”

“Wait,” Jon suddenly interrupted, just as the man opened his mouth to speak again. “Have we met before, ser?” There was something awfully familiar about the man. Not in the way other people seemed familiar, but something rather like looking into a mirror. It was difficult to explain.

But when Jon had fallen, he might have found more than just emptiness. This stranger that stood before him was as familiar to him as the grandfather he had never met. Something was tying them. And he wanted to know what it was. The child stared into the one burning eye with rapt attention.

“Mayhap we have,” came the answer. “Or I, at least, have known about you, young warlord, since the very moment you slipped into existence.” He laughed. “Indeed, your parents I know, and you siblings.”

“I have no siblings,” Jon corrected impatiently.

At that, his partner in conversation merely smiled. “You could say that we have met before, little lordling. And we shall meet again.” It struck Jon that this man would probably be very, very old by that time. “Would you like to know a secret?”

“What sort of secret?” the boy question, although his head was already nodding.

The stranger leaned in slightly. “When we meet again, you shall understand that between us and those of our kind there is a bond, a bond not many understand.”

Confused, Jon pouted. What manner of secret was that? It made no sense whatsoever. “Those of our kind,” he repeated slowly. It stood on the tip of his tongue to ask who those of their kind were. As far as Jon knew, he was just a human.

Mayhap the man was not right in the head. After all, he had spoken of Jon having brothers or sisters when he had none. And he claimed that they had met before, although Jon could not remember it. If anything he said was to be believed, then Jon could expect to wake up to numerous changes in his life. Which was simply not possible.

Convinced that the stranger was pulling his leg, the young lord crossed his arms over his chest and demanded that he be helped to reach home. “I have given you my words,” he reminded the silver haired man.

“And now it is my turn to keep a promise,” came the answer. “To reach home, here is what you must do. Follow these steps as I given them to you.” A small silence settled between them, allowing Jon to prepare himself.

What was said after became only a blur, a quiet sort of background noise that flittered about Jon in all directions. Despite not knowing what was being said to him, the child found himself working through strange motions. He completed sets upon sets of them and ever so slowly, his form became light6er and lighter until he took flight, lifting himself from the ground.

Jon looked down, and to his great surprise, where the man had stood, now there was only blackness.

Above him a strong light shone.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Rhaella sat at the bedside of her brother. Aerys was looking at her with something akin to exasperation. He did not seem to appreciate her care inordinately. In fact, if one knew the King well enough, then one was aware that an exasperated Aerys was not the most pleasant of companies. But the Queen had gathered all her strength, straightening herself in her seat.

“If you would act the child, then do not expect me to linger here,” she warned. He was ill, that she well understood, but she was only human herself. The fact that he wished to have her here with him was worrisome enough for her without the added pressure of acting delighted in his company,

“I am not acting the child,” the king growled back. He began coughing, the handkerchief he had balled into his fist pressing over his mouth to catch the spittle.

His sister-wife glanced away, unable to bear the sight of it. She could not recall what they had been speaking of, only that, as always, she had somehow managed to aggravate him to the point where he lost his temper. If some time ago that would have meant her receiving the flat of his hand over her face for the trouble, he was now much too weak to attempt to savage her.

One should not be grateful for the misfortunes of other, the woman well knew. Yet she could not help it. For all the years she had suffered in his care, he would not be met with at least a bit of his own bitterness. After all, she had attempted to get along with him for most of their married life and he had constantly pushed her away, expect for when he had need of her womb.

A brief smile crossed her features at the thought. After Daenerys, a very difficult birth, the maesters had told her that she would never conceive again. It was a relief of sorts. A relief that she would not have to fear the first sight of blood upon the sheets or the accusations of her husband. She could, after all this time, relax in the knowledge that she had done her duty and there was nothing more that she could give to the crown.

It was not that Rhaella was not joyful for her children. She loved all three of them. But she had suffered greatly, enough for it to rival the love she carried. And yet, whenever she gazed at her three offspring, her heart filled with warmth. Has she been wedded to a kinder man, Rhaella supposed she would have enjoyed motherhood ten times as much as she did.

Her musing was most as the sharp sound of Aerys speaking pulled her out of her trance. “Why do you smile? You enjoy seeing you lord husband in pain?” With his it was always about others wishing to bring him harm. Had it ever occurred to her brother that the world, large as it was, did not revolve around him.

“That is as far from the truth as could be,” she said in a gentle enough manner to calm a raging beast. “I mean you no hard whatsoever, brother mine.” And if she ever did, he would be the last to find out about it. Rhaella smiled sweetly. “I was merely considering that I shall be very pleased to see our eldest son once more.”

Viserys and Daenerys too would find joy in that, the mother knew. They had been waiting to see Rhaegar once more. When he had been much younger, Viserys would sometimes catch onto the sleeve of his brother’s garment and keep his hold until he could be convinced that the eldest Prince had duties to attend to.

Rhaegar had grown apart from his brother, however, after wedding. It was understandable, of course, as he had a family to care for. But even so, Viserys had been much saddened. In fact, not even having Daenerys for a playmate had consoled him. There was something about a bond between brothers that always amazed.

Rhaella wondered what her son would make of Daenerys. He had seen her just once, a bit after her birth, and she reckoned he would be much surprised by the amount of growing the girl had done. There were times when the mother herself could not believe it. It was what told her that all was as it should be with her younglings. A parent himself, Rhaella did not doubt that Rhaegar would understand very well her thought.

And she longed to ask about Rhaenys and Aegon. Despite Aerys’ obvious distaste fro his son’s eldest child, Rhaella had been more than pleased to accept the girl into the bosom of her family. After all, a child could not be blamed for whatever disputes rages between other members of said family. Just because Doran Martell had somehow angered the King, it did not mean that Rhaenys was deserving of his wrath.

“You lie!” Aerys accused her suddenly. “You have always lied.” He had such moments when he would burst suddenly into a stream of accusations, leaving her tired and aggravated. Why was it that he could never be kind to her?

“I do not lie,” she deadpanned. “If you believe that I speak untruths, then you are the one who is in the wrong.” Where was Pycelle? He was supposed to have returned with his potions.

It turned out that her lord husband did not suffer a mild chill, as had been believed. In fact, the man, Pycelle had told her, had a disease of the lungs. The Grand Maester had let slip that such an affection had been known to mercilessly strike down men of a stronger constitution and in the prime of their life. In other words, her deliverance was close at hand.

“In any event, you are tired and should rest.” She stood to her feet, pulling the furs covering her brother higher. And if it could be helped, he should also join their forefathers while at it.

As if summoned, the Grand Maester stepped within the bedchamber. His eyes landed upon the Queen, slowly inspecting her. Rhaella held back a shudder, but, from a perverse wish of having her deepest wishes confirmed, she stepped towards the man and took him by the arm. “A word, maester.”

Excusing himself to the King and leaving one of his underlings to administrate the potions, the old man stepped without, to join Rhaella in the great, poorly lit hallway of Maegor’s Holdfast. “Your Grace, what may I do for you?” the maester questioned, his eyes glowing strangely in the torchlight.

“I was wondering if you could explain it to me once more, maester, His Grace’s illness. I fear that it is still not something I have grown used to.” She wringed her hands in a show of worry. Although Rhaella rarely exercised her acting skills, she was in possession of them and they came quite in handy at such times.

It might have helped that when she did first hear of plagued Aerys, her reaction had been to burst in tears. All and sundry knew of her ill treatment at the hands of the king, yet they all thought her a meek, quiet creature without a thought of revenge.

In a sense they had the right of it. Rhaella did not think herself capable of taking a knife to her husband, or of poisoning him. But her heart was not soft enough to not rejoice in this news of his downfall. His death would bring him some pain, mayhap not as much as he had done unto others, but it would be enough. Even if only for the fact that Aerys would, soon enough, know he was dying. He would go through his last days with the knowledge that nothing and no one could save him. He would live in fear as she had lived, but his would offer no escape.

The Stranger was a cruel master and to hear the septons say it, he was a creature of the blackness, unknown and mysterious. None could know what hid behind the cowl he worse and none dared to question. He was the enemy of life, the guide to the underworld and mayhap the only creature her brother ever feared. It gladdened Rhaella to the tips of her fingers that he would finally be forced to face the it and he would no longer be capable of tormenting others.

“Of course, Your Grace. ‘Tis simple, you see,” the maester began, “the King has inhaled the unholy breath of lung disease. Something has set his lungs to rotting. We may keep him comfortable for the time being with various herbs and concoctions. But soon they shan’t be enough.” There he stopped and glanced at her with curiosity. “When shall I be allowed to tell him?”

“Soon, maester,” the Queen said. “Very soon. But for now take care that nothing seems amiss to him. I want His Grace to be made as comfortable as possible.” And so her role went.

She then retreated to her own bedchamber, intending to rest awhile. The Queen was more than pleased with herself and the way she had handled her comport before the maester. It was a point of pride, and more so of good breeding not to let anyone see through the high walls to what lay beneath, vulnerable and weak even. Hurt she might be. Willing to share it with others she was not though and would never be.

It was part of who Rhaella was, or rather the image she projected for those before her. If she could not be worthy of their respect, then it mattered not that they pitied her ill treatment. Aye, she might well be deserving of such a sentiment as that of pity, but it was not the only thing she wished to stir in others.

Rhaella allowed her head to rest against the pillows and enjoyed the fresh scent of mind which lingered upon them. She inhaled, filling herself to the brim with it and then closed her eyes, relaxing completely. Sleep claimed her soon and held her in its grasp she knew not for how long. What dreams were woven around her, the Queen did not remember when she came to and mayhap it was just as well, for her dreams tended to be night terrors better left unspoken. It had been a long time since she had dreamt of anything but the many trials life had offered her.

That aside, the Queen was startled to waking by insistent shaking and a woman calling her attention. “Your Grace! Your Grace, you must wake up,” one of her ladies-in-waiting was saying. Rhaella opened bleary eyes to regard whoever stood before her. “’Tis time to greet the sun,” the lady before her continued undaunted.

“The Prince has arrived,” another picked up where her companion had left off. “If Your Grace would be so kind as to allow us to dress her,” she trailed off, holding up two kirtles for the Queen to choose from. Rhaella simply pointed to the golden one and rose to her feet with customary grace

“You say the Prince has arrived,” she prompted as a pitcher of water was brought to her. As she washed her face, her ladies went about, organising her garments.

“Indeed,” chirruped one of them. “The banner have already been sighted and he should arrive soon, Your Grace.”

That being said, Rhaella was helped into her thick dress and her hair was combed and arranged neatly so she might look her best. No doubt her son would be somewhat held back by the many people he would encounter en route to the Red Keep. Rhaella reckoned she had time enough on her hands to take care of all matters before his arrival.

“Have Viserys and Daenerys dressed as well,” she told one of her women. “I do believe they shall wish to accompany me.”

“As Your Grace wishes,” the woman replied and scurried away.

The rest of her ladies went about their chores.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Betha clung to Lyanna as if her very life depended upon it. Far from being used to such displays, young Lady of Storm’s End could only marvel at it and try to calm down the woman. “Betha, I am so glad you are better. Your presence has been missed.”

But that was not entirely true. To her shame, Lyanna had wondered very little about her servant. It was not that she simply hadn’t cared to. It was simply that the past events had left little room in her thoughts for much of anything but her son. Still, she knew well enough that she ought to have questioned the absence more thoroughly.

Yet it was past and no matter her thoughts in the present, Lyanna would have to hide it well and concern herself with what was to come.

“M’lady, there is so much I wish to tell you,” the young woman began, loosening her hold. “I do not even know where to begin.” A shadow of something passed upon her face in that moment, leaving the mistress in doubt as well. Still, Betha came to herself in less than a moment and was once more speaking. “I pray you, m’lady, believe these words that I say.”

“Of course, Betha,” Lyanna said. “You have never lied to me before. There is no reason to suspect you would do so now.” This served as both encouragement and warning. Lyanna allowed Betha to have a seat. “We shall be more comfortable so.”

Jon still slept. It made no matter that they should discuss whatever matters in his presence as her son had not yet regained consciousness. There was little reason to suppose he might understand what went on about him in his state, much as it pained his mother to think. That said, Lyanna lent all her attention to maidservant.

“I ought to start at the beginning,” Betha murmured, “and so I shall. M’lady is unaware of this, but Stevron has been for some time busying himself about me as I did my chores. Naturally, I took it that he wishes something of me.” There she stopped and looked at her mistress, as if waiting to be scolded.

Lyanna merely raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”

“He made me promises, m’lady.” Lyanna could well imagine what promises were made between them. “And then, one day he simply disappeared. There was no words, nor sight of him. I went in search of Stevron.”

“I take it you have found him,” the she-wolf felt compelle3d to say as she noticed the paleness of her companion’s features.

“He is dead,” Betha burst. “I have seen it with my own two eyes, m’lady, and was returning with the news when someone happened upon me. Whoever they were, they laid me down.”

Not knowing what to say to that, Lyanna leaned back in her seat, her mind slowly filling up with possibilities. “Were you badly injured?” By the looks of her she was quite unharmed, but one could rarely tell.

“Not enough to keep me away,” the maidservant replied.

Lyanna looked at the woman once more, paying close attention to her mien. She wondered how it was that she had missed an affair so close to her own eyes. The young lady supposed it was her own lack of interest that had led to it. She knew Betha well enough and the servant had a good head on her shoulders. Had Stevron been feeding her just sweet words, Lyanna reckoned Betha would have had him straightened out in no time.

Yet what if she had been so thoroughly charmed that she could no longer tell the difference between truth and lie when it came from him? Squires would at times use such tactics to get company for the colder nights.

Whatever the case may be, the result was before her.

“Is there anything else you should like to tell me?” she asked at a long last. Willing herself to seem open to whatever confession came, Lyanna waited patiently.

Alas, Betha had said her piece. The woman merely shook her head and her eyes darted to the door. Understanding in that the expression of a wish to end the awkward conversation, Lyanna gave a shallow nod of the head. “It is fine, Betha. You may return to your chores. If there is anything else, I shall for call you.”

“My gratitude, m’lady,” came the reply, followed by a hasty retreat.

There was more that she was not being told. But the she-wolf did not pursue the matter. When it came the time, she would no doubt find out what it was. Some secrets could not be simply forced to the surface and others would, on their very own, come to light.

With that in mind, Lyanna returned her attention upon the boy slumbering beneath his furs. “When shall you wake, my son?” she questioned of him, as if he could somehow reply.

As she stood over him, staring down into his face, great was her bewilderment when e child’s lips began to move. Lyanna gasped, instinctively lowering her face toward his, as if to better see, and was rewarded with a strained little sound which she barely even caught.

“Gods be good,” slipped past her lips.

The initial shock barely had time to dwindle before twin pools opened in greeting and a scratchy voice. “Mother.” And there it was. One single words was more than enough to make her world shift in such a manner as to leave her speechless.

But Jon seemed not to mind. He winced slightly, but managed to prop himself up on shaky elbows, “Mother,” he repeated, eyes growing wide along with a smile upon his lips.

Unable to contain herself, Lyanna pulled the boy in a fierce hug, tears already streaming down her face. “Jon, my sweet babe, you are awake.” She pulled back slightly to gaze at his face and brush his hair back lovingly. “You are awake.”

There were a thousand things she wanted to do, starting from calling the maester to never letting go of her son, and all of them pushed for precedence, leaving the Lady of Storm’s End in quite a peculiar position.

Chapter Text

Rhaegar stepped into the finely lit chamber, a tad unsettled by the absolute silence which reigned over the premises. It was most unusual not to have even the lightest of stirrings within the King’s bedchamber, especially considering that his lord father was never pleased enough to keep his silence even for the smallest amounts of time. It would seem, however, that someone had managed to silence the man. Quite unusual and in itself reason enough for worry.

The Prince could hear his mother walking just slightly behind him. She came to a stop, placing one slim hand upon his shoulder. Not so much in reassurance, he reckoned, as in fulfilment. She was glad to have him with her and he was well pleased to see her in an amenable enough state.

Bedridden and unable to do more than shout his fury, the King had not had any opportunity to cast new scars upon the expanse of his lady wife’s skin. Rhaegar had seen some faded bruises at one point, but those were very near healed. The development was much to the relief of most everyone, Rhaegar considered, thinking of even his younger siblings.

“And the Maester is certain of his diagnostic?” he questioned in a hushed whisper of his lady mother. It was a marvellous stroke of good fortune, as it were. Not because a man was dying, certainly. Rhaegar had never considered himself so mean a person as to take pleasure in anyone’s suffering. Not even that of a tyrant.

For a tyrant the man might well be. But he was still the very same father who had held him as a child. He was the one who had given Rhaegar his first dagger and had taught him his very first Valyrian poem. There had been times when he had been a wonderful man. Whatever had caused the change, the son would never be able to accurately tell. Mayhap it was all those lost children, or perhaps Lord Darklyn’s exercise of force or who knew what else.

As it stood, the King had turned from a nearly amiable person into a monster of the worst sort. A madman with power, that was. And as such, it fell to Rhaegar as the firstborn, the eldest and the one with the most political power of the royal children, to put an end to the reign of terror. One way or another. It was his duty.

Which brought him to the relief spreading through his chest as he looked upon the man lying on the bed, breathing with considerable difficulty. Were it not for the strange illness that had taken over him, the King might well have lived another five decades to torment his subjects, or until someone took a strand. That someone would have had to be him.

It was a relief, of the best sort, to have the decision taken out of his hands. Rhaegar closed his eyes, willing away the thoughts that gathered at the forefront of his mind, thoughts of helping the Stranger in his task. That would not do. The King was dying. There was little reason to involve himself in this.

“Very certain,” the Queen responded just as softly, stepping around him to come stand before the Prince. “There is nothing that can be done. I fear these are his last moments among us.” And yet her lower lip did not tremble, nor did her eyes fill with tears at the prospect of being widowed.

And why should they? The Queen had gained little but strife from her marriage to the King. Rhaegar could hardly remember a time when they were not at loggerheads, one pushing one way, the other in the opposite direction. Indeed, there was but a vague recollection of contentment from his early years, possibly before he had discovered that most smiles were only masks to hide behind. Especially within the court.

Mayhap it was better. Better that she be set free and allowed to do as she willed. Given the current situation, Rhaegar knew well enough that he ought to write to his own lady wife, to have preparations made. As soon as the King was dead, Elia and the children would be brought to King’s Landing and his own mother might travel to Dragonstone or remain within the Red Keep as was her will.

Cautiously, he drew near to the ailing man and leaned over the prone form. Nothing but shallow breathing came from the wretched creature in the throes of suffering. If indeed there was suffering. According to Grand Maester Pycelle, the King had been given milk of the poppy and a just a drop of nightshade to better his sleep. The Queen had said that it put her lord husband in a heavy slumber from which he might be woken only in the most violent of manners. It was just as well for no one wished him awake.

“You should have written sooner, lady mother,” he admonished gently. “Why do you insist to burden yourself needlessly?” Indeed, she should have just made for Dragonstone at the first sign of illness from her lord husband.

“I did as I thought best,” came her answer, accompanied by the light whoosh of her skirts as she moved about the bedchamber. “What matters is that you are arrived and I am able to now count upon your aid. The realm as well, my son.”

The very same realm that had somehow, in the oddest manger, managed to flourish even under the reign of Aerys the second of his name. A curious thing, to be sure. And if Rhaegar’s thoughts had turned in such a direction, he convinced himself that he ought to speak to the Lord Hand and see for himself just how well all went.

Before that, however, he ought to rest awhile from his journey. And spend some time with his younger siblings. After all, they had nearly tripped over themselves and tripped him into that predicament. Children, the find thought came upon the heel of the memory.

That don, he treated from the King’s bedside n went back without, followed by his lady mother. At the King’s door stood the ever loyal sentinel in white garb. One was Ser Whent, the other Jaime Lannister. Rhaegar nodded at each, but stopped for a moment to contemplate the younger. Jaime Lannister had been a youth of some skill, much courage but even more naivety when he had seen the boy at Lord Whent’s tourney.

Before him, however stood no boy. Jaime Lannister had inevitably learned the lesson of his choice when he came to King’s Landing, Rhaegar held little doubt. He had been around the King, around the madness and greed of the courtiers and around his own inability to righten it somehow, to see through his vows.

Most people looked upon the Kigsguard with awe and admiration, oft forgetting that they were men like any other men. They had their foibles, but more so their failings. Of course, that did in no way discredit their achievements.

Mayhap there would come a day when even Jaime Lannister would be at peace with his own duty, for as they stood, the Prince could see it in his eyes that the young man as not at all thrilled with his current position and all that it entailed.

But the matter would have to wait for another time. Much as the heir to the throne wished he could somehow see each and every one of the dwellers of Westeros pleased with their lot in life, the truth remained that such a feat was outside the realm of possibility and he would do well to concentrate of small acts of benefaction.

The Queen placed her hand upon his arm and drew herself close to him, as if for protection. Rhaegar did not refuse her the comfort. Instead, he led her away, down the hall to where the road split in two. “I fear my long absence has left me quite without a sense of direction,” the Prince noted, finding that he was quite unsure which way to choose.

“The one to your right is the one you seek,” Rhaella laughed softly. “You are not that old that your mind might freely cast away knowledge. I am surprised that you should have any difficulty in this.” But it had been quite long since he had frequented the nursery of Maegor’s Holdfast, despite his mother’s words.

The mind had a tendency to seize certain aspects and cast other away. In fact, Rhaegar did not remember half as much as he wished to and forgot more than he dared think about. If, for instance, he wished to recall to mind the image of someone he held dear, his mind could only manage a vague reproduction, a pathetic imitation that did little but prod and pinch painfully in its imperfectness. It was truly something that rankled. Especially when he fought to remember the small details, those which made all the difference.

If he stopped to consider it, he could hardly remember if Lyanna Stark had had any bruises from falling down after tripping upon the protruding roots of a tree. He could not recall whether her hair was the colour of dark bark or a shade lighter. What he did remember was her eyes. Like a cloudy sky. They had given the impression of a great sadness lying just behind the thin front. Other than that, he could only summon ghosts, feelings hat held no substance and a sense of regret for what had been lost. And that all his mind would give him.

With good reason it might be. For thoughts of Lyanna needed to be pushed aside if he was to be fit for company. To wallow in his own grief would gain him nothing. And so, the Prince locked away his beloved somewhere in a tower with a promise of return at some point, when he would have the stomach for it. Or rather the necessary time to search through the small bits and pieces he had left.

Viserys and Daenerys had, as instructed, waited with the Septa charged with caring for them. The eldest of the two jumped to his feet and ran to Rhaegar, crashing into the heir apparent and wrapping his arms around his brother’s torso. He had grown quite tall Rhaegar could not recall being quite as tall at the same age.

The daughter of the King, however, remained trapped by her own shyness wining over curiosity, holding on to the Septa’s skirts and murmuring half-formed words. She looked from her mother to her brothers then to the woman she held on to. It was quite clear that she needed encouragement if she was to come forth as well.

Rhaegar left Viserys to their lady mother and stepped towards the Septa and her charge. Daenerys shrunk back, but her curiosity still remained. “And what is this?” the oldest Prince asked at such behaviour. “Do you not remember me?”

Confusion sparkled in her dark orbs. She sucked in her lower lip, seemingly deep in thought. Then a pout followed. Was it possible for a child to forget everything in a short few moments? But the again, Rhaegar was aware that to her he was a s much a stranger as if they had never been introduced. It mattered little to a child’s mind whether there be a blood connection between the or not.

“Don’t be daft, Dany,” Viserys snapped from behind him. “This is our brother. Quit your acting.”

“Ah, so this is a piece of mummery?” Rhaegar questioned, not looking away from the child.

Daenerys looked innocently back. Almost too innocently. Ever so slowly, her face split in a wide grin and she nodded her head vigorously. “A mummery,” she repeated, seemingly enchanted.

“Daenerys,” Rhaella chided, though without bite. Both adults were much too amused at the scene to truly take to heart the falsehood. It was merely the game of a child.

“And what a good piece of mummery it is,” the eldest son of the King complimented. “Well acted, Your Grace.”

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

“This is trickery,” Stannis Baratheon protested, his whole face reddening in anger. “What am I to believe, my lady, that the child would from just a bump on the head regain his lost wits?”

This manner of speech had Lyanna standing o her feet and more than prepared to battle her good-brother by way of words. “Have a care, ser, or else I shall b forced to see you thrown without.” Which she would not hesitate to do, and in fact would take great pleasure in. ‘I have not tricked you at all. My son finally speaks and this is your reaction.”

Of course, it was to be expected.” As far as Lyanna could tell, signs of intelligence from Jon would crumble the man’s plans. He would not stand for I, she knew. But what proof could he possibly hold against her son’s claim now, given that the boy spoke, as all children were wont to. Not only that, he was capable of coherent speech.

It must have come as quite a blow. And she took pride in it. Alas, Stannis still had his accusations against her. And something told Lyanna that she could not escape those. “If you seek to prove anything than I should let you know that you’ve not brought any evidence.”

A talent well honed of hers was that she could argue in such a way, with anyone, that they would lose their temper and resort to tactics that could only discredit one. It was the one skill she had acquired from years and years of quarrelling with Benjen. Quite useful too.

“As far as I know, my lady, I have more proof than you.” His eyes flashed angrily. For the moment, Lyanna was quite glad her son was within his bedchamber, and not without to hear his uncle’s words. She feared that such a reaction might well send him back to his earlier manner and not another word would be heard from him.

“If indeed you have all the proof you require, then, my good ser, why is it that you merely stand before me like a scarecrow in the fields?” she demanded, without a drop of charity.

But it seemed her interlocutor was not willing to accept he challenge, for he stepped aside and with a look of disgust made his way down the hall to only the gods knew where. Craven, Lyanna said to herself, waiting until he was out of sight so that she might return to Jon.

What did he know, at any rate? Father had promised that no harm would come to her and Jon, and Lyanna was more than willing to believe his word over her good-brother’s any day. If Stannis truly held the answer to the issue of Robert’s demise then he would surely proceed to take the matters before the King or even the bannermen and have justice done. But all he did was spew empty threats and make for an unpleasant presence, an eyesore, as it were.

Within the bedchamber, Jon was sitting upon the bed, curious gaze following her as she moved. Lyanna strode towards him and sat down upon the very edge, taking the child in her arms. She looked down into his face. “How do you fare, my love? Do the cuts bother you?”

The child’s romp outside the caves had earned him quite the nasty wounds. The two cuts that married his previously pristine features glared angrily from the slightly pale face of the babe. One of them was starting to scar, to turn a light brown, as it were, and develop a crust. The other, larger, deeper, and slower to heal, yet remained a faded crimson slash. One of them was likely to fade into nothingness, the other would linger for years to come.

It was both saddening and not. Lyanna would rather have Jon scarred than dead. Only to know him safe was enough for her. “Come, Jon, tell mother,” she encouraged, now in the possession of this knowledge that he could speak if he so wished.

Her dear boy, however, did not enjoy speaking. It seemed that Jon was more comfortable keeping his silence, content to only speak at will. He did, however, make exception to her pleas. “I am fine, mother,” he said after a short moment of silence. “It does not hurt.”

For some strange reason, his voice had thickened slightly. The maester warned that disuse of his voice for so long might, at some point, due to the sudden production of speech irritate his throat. Lyanna rather thought that the effects were beginning to show.

Thankfully, Maester Cressen had prepared a concoction that was sure to soothe the irritation. Lyanna stretched her arm out and picked from a small stood a cup. It was filled with a sweet scented, thick liquid. The maester had told her it contained various herbs, sweetened with honey. She held the cup to her son’s lips and Jon took a mouthful.

Almost immediately he grimaced and struck his tongue out in protest. “Bitter,” he complained, moving his head so he wouldn’t have to drink more of it.

“The best medicine is bitter,” Lyanna answered, gently turning his face back to the initial position. “Be good, my son, and drink this.” A bit of the thick concoction spilled past the rim, falling upon the furs. Jon too the cup from her and with a long –suffering sigh proceeded to down its contents.

Lyanna brushed at the fat drop of golden liquid that had made it upon the furs. It stuck to her palm and fingers with the stubbornness of a wild boar and would not go away even as she rubbed her hands together vigorously. It was quite understandable that her so found no joy in swallowing it, she thought, not without a hint of amusement.

“Done,” Jon announced after a few moments, pushing the much loathed cup into her hands.

“Very well,” the woman smiled. He would not be pleased to know the maester had left him a whole pitcher of it.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

“My brother has written,” Ashara told Ned, as her husband sat down next to her upon the large bed. He had been gone for long hours, in search of something or another and Ashara had been kept busy by her correspondence.

“Which one?” the young knight questioned, pulling one of his boots off. The muscles in his back jumped and shifted beneath the thick woollen tunic he wore. She imagined he was rather tired. She knew she would be after a whole day of riding up and down the countryside. But he was back and that was all that mattered for the moment.

“Arthur,” she clarified. “And there is some very interesting news from King’s Landing.” A smile spread over her lips as she shifted closer to him, riding to press her front against his back. A thick strand of black hair fell over his shoulder and she felt him halt. They remained like that, sitting as if they were a couple of statues.

Ashara did not mind. In fact, she rather enjoyed the closeness and the silence and the whole intimate aspect of it. Of late, they had both been quite distracted with other matters and had not even had the time to properly enjoy the state of wedded bliss they had promised to one another. By no fault of their own, of course. It was the situation they found themselves in which made matters so difficult. A pity, if truth were told, for Ashara had imagined an entirely different scenario.

Not that she could possibly accuse her married life of being boring. It was anything but that. The Dornishwoman considered that boredom would do her a world of good, for excitement was overrated. She would be more than pleased to have a small keep to live in and a quaint life.

Still, family was family and she could not turn her back upon Lyanna and her son, if she was to keep her standing within the strange little clan that had taken her in. So she would endure and pray the Seven for better days.

Just like that her train of thoughts came to an end when Ned straightened his back causing her to grab onto him. Apparently he had proceeded to remove his other boot and was quite ready to turn and face her. Only Ashara had other plans.

Stubbornly, she wrapped her arms tightly about his shoulders and no matter how he turned she followed. Her move must have been truly inspired for an amused chuckle left her husband’s lips soon enough. It was good to hear him laugh.

“Are you a child?” Eddard asked, though without bite, his indignation a mockery.

“Not at all,” came her response. Still, it took him a couple of more minutes to get away from her grasp and turn around to face her. It was a pleasant game, made even more so by the lightness surrounding it. A moment of relaxation, well deserved and much awaited upon.

“I think you just might be,” he countered. “Now tell me,” Ned continued after he managed to restrain her in a tight hold, “what has your brother written that is so very interesting, lady wife?”

Keeping silent for a few moments, Ashara leaned her forehead into his chest. His grip mellowed. “The King is sick,” she offered after another small hesitation.

“That is not news.” And indeed it was not, in a manner. It was known throughout the realm that the King’s mind ailed. Yet Ashara spoke of another sickness. One that had little to do with the man’s head.

“Nay, Ned, he is sick. He is dying, as my brother would have it.” Once more, her husband froze. Only this time, there was nothing of the previous lightness. It was worry. It must be grave indeed, for the Prince was called from Dragonstone to see to the matters of the state. It cannot be that there is nothing.”

It made sense. If the King was on the brink of expiring, then it made sense for his son to be called for. Yet that complicated matters some. If Rhaegar assumed rulership, it would be into his hands that Lyanna’s case would end.

But Elia herself would be there as well and Ashara knew not what sort of reaction the Dornish Princess would have. The tourney at Harrenhal had instilled within the Prince’s spouse a deeply seated distaste for Lyanna. While Ashara did not deny there might well be cause for it, she could not think well of it either. Elia was more than likely to lash out if she felt threatened. And that could cause much and many a problem that might have been otherwise avoided.

Should she advise Ned to keep Lyanna away from King’s landing? Or would it be better to expose her good-sister to the threat of Elia’s wrath whole trying to save her from the threat of the noose? Gods be good, but she did not know what to do. Not an idea was there to be found so both Elia and her family might be appeased.

“What are you think of?” interrupted Ned, pulling her weight into him. “Look, your brow is creasing. The lines might never fade.”

“They shall fade,” she assured him, a light smile making its way to her lips. They would fade as all things faded. “Never say you shall not love me any longer because of a few lines.”

“Not even a thousand lines would stand in the way of my love,” Ned declared with a smile of his own, not quite comfortable with the grand declaration. Ashara let him be, well aware that it was the deed and not the word which proved the affection.

She snuggled in his arms content to steal his heat and close her eyes. It might be that later she would show some proof of her own in regards to affection. Until then, however, she wished little more but to rest.

“Tired, are you?” The words came to her thought a haze.

Chapter Text

Ellaria looked at the gently rocking cradle and the nursemaid. The woman, a plump, tall creature with a generous chest and an even more robust middle, currently held the babe. The Prince’s son mewled, apparently in distress. It still struck her as curious that the child wailed only but a little and in such a weak voice that one could barely hear from without.

“’Tis the lungs,” a young servant girl said as she shook out one of the furs and stretched it over the bed. “’Tis always the lungs.”

In a manner of thought, it was not an unexpected outcome. The child had arrived earlier than expected, stood a tiny mite and could barely breathe as he should. “I am certain you haven’t the right of it,” Ellaria replied nonetheless. “He just needs a few more days to grow accustomed to the cold.”

The snows must have been quite the shock after a long period within his mother’s warm womb. The Dornishwoman stepped closer to the nursemaid and demanded that she be given the child with a short gesture. The other said not a word and complied with utmost haste. Finding herself with the babe in her arms, Ellaria took the time to glance down at the child. She looked into the boy’s face, dark eyes trailing the fine lines which sculpted the visage. It came as a bit of a surprise when the little Prince had opened his eyes to reveal two little jet stones, much like his mother’s eyes. It was even more striking when compared to the fair complexion and thin silver hair that covered the small head. It seemed that the Prince’s sons would take mostly after him. The boy grunted softly, arms flailing. He truly looked like his father. The paramour cooed at the babe. “There, there, no need to fuss.”

She handed the child back to the nursemaid who promptly bared her breast and offered the boy nourishment. “At the very least he eats like no other, m’lady,” the big woman offered. “Mine own boy cannot keep up.”

And true it was. The nursemaid’s child, a boy of just two years in age, could not match the young Prince in his greed for milk. In fact, Clym, as his mother often called him, was asleep on the small bed, ignorant of the world. Mayhap it was for the best. Ellaria’s eyes moved away from the older child to the nursemaid and her charge.

“Does he always eat this well then?” Since his birth, the little Prince, whom his mother had taken to calling Daeron for another Targaryen king who had married a Dornish Princess, had never once stopped from suckling unless someone else pulled his from it. Strange the habit. But none seemed to worry over it.

“’Tis good for him,” the nursemaid assured Ellaria. “He’ll grow a strong lad, just you wait and see, m’lady.” Ruddy cheeks glowed in the low firelight. “Give it a year or so.”

“I do not doubt it.” If the survived the year. It was often, with children, that the first years were the most dangerous. Ellaria remembered that her own mother had had a few other children. At that time, being a girl of some years, she had kept the memory of one of her brothers slowly wilting away to fever. She could not even remember the child’s name these days, but the memory of his small face drenched in sweat stuck with her. Such a sad fate, she contemplated, moving from her initial position to sit upon the edge of the bed.

Remaining within the nursery, Ellaria was pleased to see the doors spread apart and the other two children bounding in. Rhaenys pushed Aegon away from her, rushing towards Ellaria with unguarded exuberance. Her brother cried out at the in justice, startling the babe who then began to weep.

“Children,” the Septa scolded them both, trailing in behind the two hellions. “Look what you’ve done.”

The contrite siblings looked from their Septa to Ellaria to the nursemaid, their eyes shining as if to beg for forgiveness. “We didn’t mean to wake him,” Rhaenys added for good measure.

Thankfully, Daeron was placated with more food. Aegon climbed up next to Ellaria while Rhaennys perched herself in the Dornishwoman’s lap. “Mother said we might play with Daeron for a bit,” she explained in a soft voice. “How does one play with a babe?”

Puzzled, Aegon shook his head. “There are no toys either.” Of course, it had occurred to neither that Daeron was yet too young to swing wooden swords or even to crawl. Amusing as their wonder was, Ellaria feared that they needed to be talked to so as to avoid any unpleasantness.

“Your brother is feeding now, younglings, and after he shall sleep.” She tucked a strand of dark hair behind Rhaenys’ ear. ”Babes need to sleep.”

“He won’t sleep the whole day away though, shall he?” Rhaenys questioned back.

“I am afraid that that is exactly what he shall do,” Oberyn’s paramour laughed softly.

“But the n what are we supposed to do?” Aegon cut in, clearly displeased.

“You may watch him.” The offering did not seem to gladden either of the two. In fact, the older boy pursed his lips and jumped down from his place upon the bed. Ellaria watched him dart towards the nursemaid and pull on the folds of her dark, drab dress.

“I want to see my brother,” he demanded without an ounce of shame at the woman’s lack of covering. Likely to him, it mattered not that the poor woman was fumbling with her kirtle. In the end, the nursemaid bent down to his level, still holding Daeron.

Rhaenys too followed her brother. They both bent over little Daeron, watching the babe glance at them. So they remained for a few long moments until, presumably bored with the business of keeping an eye on the other, they retreated away.

“Mayhap we ought to come back later,” Rhaenys whispered to her brother. “He might wish to play with us then.”

Their Septa led them away, presumably to some other room where they might play and yell to their heart’s content. Ellaria too stood to her feet and, leaving the servant girl and the nursemaid to their hushed conversation, made her way out of the room and into the long hall.

As was her new custom, she walked down the hall and then up the stairs to where Elia Martell rested. Since the delivery of her third child, the woman had taken to the sickbed and would rarely even lift her head, let alone the rest of her. According to the maester, it was the shock of such an early delivery coupled with a generous amount of blood loss that kept her weak and meek and beneath the covers. It fell to Ellaria and Oberyn to keep watch on the woman until her own husband either returned or sent words.

The Prince had been written to, of course, and provided that the raven was not shot down or lost in the storm, both highly improbable occurrences, they should receive word from the man any day now. Likely he would be much pleased by the birth of his third child.

To Ellaria the Prince had seemed like a good man. Yet the more she lingered with the Dragon’s keep, the more she discovered that Oberyn’s sister had a different view of the very same man. It was difficult to say whether the Dornish Princess had the right of it or whether the issue needed a more in-depth study.

Certainly, Rhaegar Targaryen had never laid hands upon his lady wife, nor brutalised her with words before an audience. But who was to say what went on behind closed doors. And when a woman was as unhappy as Elia Martell, then one had to wonder. One had to wonder if it was simply the wife at fault, for her lack of understanding, or the husband as well.

Marriages were complicated matters. Ellaria was certainly glad she would never be forced into one. Or at least she told herself that she felt thus. Her goddess of love would approve. What need did she have to be tied to a man, any man for that matter, when there were so many lovers to be had? Oberyn might well hold her heart these days. She could even birth him more children if it came to that. Yet she would never accept to be called his lady wife, if it were at all a possibility.

Wives were unfortunate creatures. They became entitled as soon as they spoke words before a septon and would have it believed that they owed the man beside them. A silly notion, made even more repugnant by the obstinacy of such woman in the face of a better way of life.

Ellaria was well aware that even if she had wanted to, Oberyn would have never been allowed to wed her. It was one thing to take a bastard for lover. It was quite another to swear them loyalty before a man of the holy order.

As she moved through the maze of corridors, the Dornishwoman slowly reached a memory. It came to her unbidden, appearing out of thin air. A small smile formed upon her lips. As a young woman, before she had met Oberyn, Ellaria had taken to bedding down with another maiden. They had been so happy then. This young woman who had been her lover asked her once whether it was better to be the daughter of a lord or the bastard of a lord.

Young and foolish, Ellaria had replied that it was best to be a natural child. She had explained, quite confidently, that as a natural child, there were no expectations that must be fulfilled. She would never be asked to wed, she would never have to further the line of her husband’s house and so on. That had been years and years ago, when she herself had been half a child. Those words, the confidence, they could only belong to a girl with nothing but feathers in her brain.

For it was true that there were no expectation heaped upon her, but her rights and treatment reflected the lack of obligations she had. She would never wed, certainly, thus men would never seek her company for more than transitory unions consumed in sweat and whispers. She would never further the line of a great house, thus if she had children, they would be at the mercy of others their whole loves, unless she somehow managed to convince the man who fathered them to take them in.

If asked again, Ellaria would answer that it would be best to be born in wedlock. Even if she herself had naught to complain about, she could well distinguish the advantages. As her luck had been of another nature though, the paramour was more than pleased to continue on so as she was.

Finally reaching the door which led within Elia’s bedchamber, the woman pushed it open and entered. The Dornish Princess lingered abed, one of her ladies wiping her forehead. Another was massaging her limbs, rubbing it with a thick concoction. The sweet smell spread throughout the chamber.

Ellaria walked past the third lady-in-waiting and sat down upon a low stool. “Your Grace, it seems to me that some of your colour has returned.”

It was a lie. The Princess did not look well at all. She looked weary. But whom would it serve to say such? One of the other women looked at her with a small smile, as if to praise the intervention.

“By the time His Grace returns,” the same woman said, “Your Grace shall be up and about.”

It was to be hoped, at any rate. It would be disastrous were it not so, as much for the Prince as for the babe Elia had birthed.

“Of course,” Elia deigned to answer, although she did not seem convinced. “Tell me, how are the children?”

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

“What is the matter?” Lyanna questioned, a pang of something settling low within her stomach at the look upon her brother’s face. Jon slept, not aware of anything but his own dream most likely. The mother left the side of her little cub and sauntered to her brother’s right, placing a hand upon his shoulder.

She and Brandon had never been particularly close. Certainly Lyanna loved all her brothers, the most hot-headed one included. Yet they tended to avoid one another, considering the knowledge that the other was fine enough to sustain them. It was strange, in a way, for they were brother and sister. Yet Lyanna could never bring herself to share much of her thoughts with him. It might well be because, for those first years of her life, when he had been gone squiring, Brandon had been to her as a mythical beast, a hero of legend to be whispered about. He had been her older brother and that had generated a sort of reverence.

When she had first seen him, or rather met him, he had already been quite a few years her senior and imposing as a veritable mountain to the one who had only ever seen hills. It was fair to say that Lyanna had been impressed to the tips of her hair. A natural reaction to her mind, even more so as Benjen had shared the awe fully. But it was that very awe that had raised a barrier between them, making it impossible for Lyanna to approach the older Brandon.

Whether it was a silly notion or one justified, to this day Lyanna did not know. It was simply what she had felt. That did not mean that she could not, at times, show an interest when it pertained to Brandon. Thus, she waited for his reply.

“Were I to say that I am discontented, were I to say that to your, sister, would you not laugh?” The question had been spoken softly, a warm breath fanning against her cheek. recognising the mockery within it, Lyanna gazed at her brother’s face with something akin to worry. “I would laugh in your stead.”

“You make no sense,” she answered, tugging on his sleeve. “I shan’t laugh.” Not even after her marriage could she be that callous. The she-wolf insisted once more.

“Have you ever felt lost?” Brandon questioned.

Startled, the sister took a step backwards. “Lost?” she repeated after him. Has she? Lyanna closed her eyes. “Haven’t we all?” she asked in the end with a small laugh slipping out as well. “I doubt there is one man or woman who has not.”

“Everywhere I look there is darkness,” the heir to Winterfell continued as if he’d not heard a word she’d spoken. “Not a day goes by when I do not wonder what might have been, when I do not wish for something different. I wish it for the both of us, you know, you and I. We are more similar than you’d think.”

Were they? Lyanna shrugged. It mattered little. “Some things we cannot change. It would be best to stop contemplating them.” There was no appropriate answer she could give, for all that Brandon had told her of his feelings, he’d not revealed anything concrete. “Now tell me, brother, are we ready to begin our journey?”

Shaking his head, as if to dislodge all that weighed him down, Brandon gave her a sharp nod. “Everything had been prepared, sister mine.” Nonetheless, by looking at his face Lyanna could tell he was displeased with their father’s decision. “Would that we could remain here. I do not like to think of you a prisoner in King’s Landing.”

“Hardly that,” the sister consoled the brother. “If Stannis shan’t let up then what are we to do? It is no use hiding.” Not when she was an innocent. After all, they had to get to the bottom of the mystery, Not only for herself, but for Jon as well. Her son did not deserve ill-treatment whatever his mother’s mistakes had been. “I shall wake the child, if that is all.”

Turning away from her brother, Lyanna walked to the bed. She bent over Jon, one hand landing on the boy’s shoulder. Gently, the mother shook the sleeping child. There was not a stir. Lyanna tried again. “Come son, you must open your eyes.”

A small whine left the boy’s throat, followed by him burying his face in the pillow. Laughing, the she-wolf called to him once again. “Enough, Jon. We must away.”

As the words left her lips, a sharp intake of breath could be heard and her son sprang to life with such a sudden movement that he started her. Jon looked around for a few moments, disoriented. He rubbed at one eye and winced when he touched the wounds on his face.

“A night terror?” the she-wolf questioned, taking the boy in her arms. “Never mind those. They shall fade. You are safe here, in my arms.” Her child said nothing, merely buried his face in her shoulder. Seeing no other alternative, Lyanna picked him up and nodded towards her brother that she was ready to leave. “Hush, hush,” she continued to whisper to the boy in her hold.

He was not crying, but whatever he had dreamt of left him shaking. Her poor child. Lyanna was only glad that she had woken him when she had, otherwise who knew how much more affected he might have been. There had to be something though, which would help him sleep. It might help to speak of it to Master Cressen. He would know.

Without, Betha met her with a sour face, pinched from the cold and worry. She offered to take Jon in her arms, but when Lyanna made to pass the burden to her, the child’s grip on her tightened. “On second though, I should like to carry him to the wheelhouse myself. ‘Tis not much.”

“Aye, m’lady.” Betha retreated to walk a few steps behind her and Brandon.

Within the wheelhouse, Lady Ashara was already waiting, bundled in furs so as to be protected from the cold. “I daresay you are arrived just in time,” she said upon Lyanna’s entrance, “I was wondering at the tardiness.”

“What cheek,” Lyanna chided in a light voice, amusement shining through. She sat down next to her good-sister and motioned Betha on the opposite bench. “How is that Dornish blood serving you, my lady?”

“Poorly enough.” Ashara grinned de3psite the pronouncement. “Next we travel, I say we make for Starfall. Even in the dead of winter, ‘tis warm enough and pleasant to be there.”

“I shall give it due consideration.” Jon settled in his mother’s lap, burrowing closer for warmth. Lyanna held him tightly, petting his wild hair. She ought to have taken a brush to it. Alas, time had been short and preparations too many. “I reckon your brother would not mind.”

“Not at all. Lord Dayne is always glad to have someone he might crow to about the virtues of our lands.” It occurred to Lyanna that the Dayne siblings must be quite close. She wondered if that was the way in which her own relationship to her brother looked. It was to be hoped for. A close-knit house was a strong house. “I see that our little lordling is awake as well. Are you excited to see the capitol?” Ashara addressed the question to the boy.

Looking up from his place in his mother’s lap, Jon’s lips thinned in a small line of concentration. He looked rather like he might be frowning for a few moments, then, as if the sun had shone upon him, a small smile took over. “Aye.”

The door to the wheelhouse opened once more and in scampered Renly. “It’s too cold to ride,” he complained, childishly crossing his arms over his chest. “I was promised I could ride though.”

“We would not want you to turn into an icicle,” Lyanna reasoned, patting a spot next to her. Betha was already working on having her young good-brother wrapped in a fur twice his length. “Sit with us instead and pray let us know more about your plans for when we reach King’s Landing.”

To the children it all looked a great adventure. Renly had sworn up and down that he would explore every nook and cranny of King’s landing and Jon had shown some interest in that as well. Lyanna could only hope that they found no further tunnels to get lost within without proper supervision.

That aside, the two young boys were presented with quite the opportunity. Renly began talking, his excited voice filling the space. Jon nodded every now and again when it was required of him, but for the most part seemed to be content to keep quiet.

“And I’ve heard that there are still dragon eggs in the walls,” the older boy continued. “Might be we could find a few.”

“Would that happened,” Lyanna laughed. “The Targaryens have been long searching for those. I suspect the King would pay handsomely whoever managed the feat.”

Requiring no further encouragement, Renly pulled Jon away from Lyanna in order to begin planning for the act that would have their names recorded by the maesters of the realm. Content to see them in such a good mood, Lyanna turned her attention towards Betha. The young woman had suffered quite a loss lately and it showed. More and more, Lyanna caught her maid dreaming, her mind scattered all over the place.

“You do not look quite yourself,” the Lady of Strom’s End noted. “Are you certain you needn’t the master’s aid?” It would be a pity to love once of her closest and staunchest allies to something like the flu or a mere head cold. Indeed, it would be disheartening.

“I am well, m’lady. Truly,” Betha insisted, hands rising to her chest. “There is no need to worry. A bit lightheaded is all.” Despite the smile which had bloomed upon the woman’s face, Lyanna found it difficult to give the words credence. It might not be that her maid was sick, yet there was something she wasn’t being told.

Betha looked down at the children, her eyes avoiding Lyanna’s. For a brief moment the she-wolf considered, not unlike she’d done before, to force an admission from the other’s lips. But this was neither the place nor the time. Jon and Renly were here. They were not to be exposed to any sort of inappropriate discussions.

“Very well.” Turning her attention to the children as well, Lyanna tsked lightly at the state in which they had left a few pillows. “There now, mind your play. You needn’t destroy everything in your wake.” If they’d heard her, they did not stop. Renly merely laughed and fell back down on his pillow. Jon followed suit.

“It’s no use,” Ashara let her know. “My brothers were the same. They shall grow out of it at some point.” The assurance was all good and well, but Lyanna feared she would be left with no pillows by the time it came to pass.

“Let us hope their childish play shan’t leave the wheelhouse bare upon reaching King’s landing.” Lyanna turned her attention away from the two boys, knowing that they were safe enough at their play. “I never did manage to find out, my lady, what your brother’s reaction was to the Crown prince unhorsing him at the tourney.”

“He reacted as all men react,” the Dornishwoman said. “I swear to the Seven, I’ve never seen him in a sourer mood before. He kept muttering about how he would win come the next confrontation. I daresay he is much disappointed that he hasn’t his chance at revenge yet.”

“And here I was thinking ‘tis only Brandon who acts the child when things do not go his way.” At the questioning look on Ashara’s face, Lyanna could not help but chuckle. “You think ‘tis not possible, but let me tell you what he did the very first time he visited home as a squire. You shall bless the day you took my second brother to husband.”

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The hand seemed too familiar for him to be able to ignore it any longer. Rhaegar had, for a few days, kept delaying opening a message he knew clearly to be from Dragonstone. It was the maester’s hand that he recognised. Being in no mood to hear from the man that his lady wife demanded either that he return or that she and the children be brought to King’s Landing, he had simply put off going through the contents of the letter.

But, as all things must end, so did his hesitation. It would be best were he not obliged to read it, yet he was. Rhaegar picked it up and broke the seal holding the parchment folded. He spread it open and bent his head over it. The low light of the candles made the very act of reading a burden.

It was surprising. As a child, Rhaegar had read many a book at the light of a candle. The older he became, the less pleasant the endeavour became. Still, he trudged through though, intending to be done with it as soon as humanly possible. At first the words made no sense to him. They seemed just blots of ink dancing before his eyes. Slowly, his brain caught up and, without meaning to, the man bit out a curse.

“Your Grace?” the Grand Maester acolyte questioned, startled out of his light doze. “Is all well?”

Silently berating himself for having forgotten about the other man’s presence, Rhaegar answered, “Nay. Nay, all is wonderful in fact. I’ve just had the news that my lady wife has been delivered of a child in my absence.” And if his words sounded for all the world as if he found joy in the news, then it was because part of his did. A better part of him was truly glad.

The other however, raged at the unfairness. Elia had had a child. A son. He had hoped it would be a daughter. Yet there was to be no Visenya. It was time to come to terms with the fact that another was meant to be the prince that was promised and not his son, much as it chafed.

“A child, Your Grace?” the acolyte’s voice reached his ears. “That is joyful news. Shall I find Her Grace the Queen and announce It to her as well?” A helpful lad by all account, the young man stepped towards the door.

“Only bring her here, I shall tell her,” Rhaegar decided. In the meantime he ought to think of what he should write back to Elia. He had been hoping to keep her on Dragonstone longer, but with the child delivered and his father truly dying, it looked a useless thing to do.

And yet something within him kept insisting that he leave Elia be, that he keep her on Dragonstone longer.

Brushing a palm over his face, the Crown prince could only chuckle bitterly. It had come to the point where the mere thought of having his lady wife along his side was painful to bear. A more pathetic situation Rhaegar could not think of.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

“It is nothing short of a miracle.” That was the pronouncement upon Pycelle’s lips. His acolyte nodded slowly watching, caught somewhere between horror and fascination, as the King was helped to his feet by a far braver squire than many would dare be in Aerys’ presence. “Your Grace is certain that there is no pain, no faintness?” he repeated, wringing his fingers worriedly.

“I’ve not lost my wits, Maester. If I say there is no pain then there must be none.” A headful of silver locks and nothing between his ears, the King considered with a hint of derision. How had such a man made it to the office of Grand Maester was beyond him, however, he would have to be tolerated. “Bring the Crown Prince to me,” the King ordered, limping along the squire towards a chair. He sat down in wait, quite exhausted.

Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead. The droplets were brushed away with the irritated swipe of a wide sleeve. It felt like he was burning, blazing strongly from inside out, for all that without winter had taken domain of the land. But at least he could move about.

They would have liked him to die. All these people around him waited for nothing else. Seated by his bedside, offering condolences, those were acts of mummery. They did not pity his condition. They did not wish him well. Like wild beasts they lay in wait, crouching and keeping still, ready to pounce at the slightest hint of weakness. Like carrions they watched for the fresh corpse, spoiling for his wealth, for his power and position. There was no one he could trust, no one at all who would lift a finger to aid him without expecting a reward in return.

The Mad King coughed, spittle and blood staining the kerchief he held to his lips. A sharp little pang settled in his chest, stinging like a knife’s blade cutting through his skin. He drew in a painful, laboured breath and coughed once more.

His son was first and foremost among those whom he needed to keep an eye on. Always a quick wit that son of his thought he might make us of the illness which plagued him and take kingship off of his hands. Fool of a child, Aerys had not grown in a cave to be deaf and dumb. If Rhaegar wanted the power, then he would have to wrestle it out of his father’s cold, stiff fingers.

And Rhaella, only encouraging the boy. She was just as bad, But at least her betrayal was expected. He knew, and had known for some time, that she did not hold him in affection. Rhaella played a mummer’s farce and took pride in it. But he would teach her, as soon as he had the chance. He would teach her better than to mock him.

The King wiped his forehead once more. He took the draught Pycelle offered him and gulped down half of it. The bitter taste stuck to the back of his throat uncomfortably even as the thick, viscous substance slid down his throat. “This is utterly disgusting,” he said, throwing the cup away from him with a surprisingly deft movement.

“Your Grace needs it nonetheless,” the Grand Maester explained softly. “It shall help.” Might be it would. Aerys knew nothing about draughts. What was important to him was the he live. “It has, after all, helped Your Grace rise out of bed.”

Pycelle was entirely too sure of himself, the King decided, flickering a hard look the man’s way. Nothing but a little worm, a toady ready to lick the booth of whoever happened to hold most power. For the moment he had his uses, but once Aerys was well again he would see to it that the Red Keep have a new Grand Maester, someone more dedicated to their art and less concerned with what was hidden beneath the folds of ladies kirtles.

“Glad as I am for it,” he replied to at last, “the potion had better be palatable the next I am to have it.” The words produced a dumb nod from the maester. It would be amusing if it were not such a sad thing to witness.

How much had he missed lying abed, he wondered. What plots had been weaved in his absence. A shudder ran down his spine. All these people and he was completely and utterly alone. A one man army forced to withstand the attack of multiple enemies, some of which he would have liked to not fight at all. But what could be done? He would no allow himself to be cheated out of his right, not even if his own son tried to accomplish that heinous act.

There was Varys, of course. The Spider and his little birds. The man had not reported to him in some time. No doubt the illness had kept him away. As it ought to.

Another cough wracked the thin body of the ruler. He bit back a curse at the taste of blood in his mouth and resisted the urge to spit it out. There had to be something for it. Pycelle was just being useless as per usual.

The squire that had helped him move to the chair offered the King a cup of wine. Aerys took it from the boy’s hand and sipped at the sweet red liquid. It was Dornish fare. A grimace settled upon his face. The damned Dornish. Another plague. And all because he had foolishly accepted his wife’s whimsical opinion on whom would prove a suitable bride for their son.

He should have sent Elia Martell back to her brother the moment he laid eyes on her.

Shaking the thought away, the King took another sip of his drink, grumbling underneath his breath. What was taking so long to find the boy? Had he fallen off the face of the earth? The wine cup was pushed back into the squire’s hands. “Bring me Arbor wine,” he commanded without bothering to glace at the young boy.

The squire scurried away. Pycelle was dismissed and the acolyte went with him, leaving Aerys to suffer the silence on his own. The King did not mind. He despised his court as it were.

His son arrived a little while after, in riding attire, sporting windswept hair. The King wondered if he still travelled to his old haunts, sighing in the streets with his high harp, offering too much coin to street urchins. A bleeding heart, his firstborn. Nevertheless, Aerys swallowed his contempt. “I see you have wasted no time in accommodating yourself to your new duties.”

Rhaegar looked slightly startled, yet he had the good grace to bow and respond only after. “I was called upon from Dragonstone, Your Grace. Had I know you would recover so soon, I would not have come.” If he meant that or not, Aerys did not think it mattered.

“So you say,” he grumbled, scratching his chin through the overgrown beard. “Now that you have arrived, stay awhile.” What impulse possessed him to extend such an invitation? Alas it was done, for his son relaxed slightly.

“Actually, Your Grace, I have news I wish to share with you.” He remained on his feet even after his father surreptitiously nodded towards a chair. “My lady wife has been delivered of a child since I have q arrived.”

“Another one?” the king exclaimed as if he could not quite credit it. The wench proved more stubborn than he would have thought. Three children, each one a danger to her life and she still held on. The Dornish obstinacy.

“A son,” Rhaegar informed although Aerys had not asked. “If Your Grace does not think it inappropriate, I should like to present the child as soon as possible.”

Still despairing at the news, the King made a noncommittal sound and waved his hand dismissively. He did not care for any Dornish whelp, whether it bore the looks of his son or those of the mother. The pesky lot of them had been plaguing him with demands, the Dornish had. There was not a moon’s turn going by without some raven coming from Sunspear.

They had been permitted too much. Aerys sighed. Pain exploded in his chest and he fell into a coughing spell, barely able to bring the kerchief to his mouth in time.

The door opened for a second time and the squire cam within, carrying a carafe and an empty cup. He poured the wine, but it was Rhaegar who handed it to him. “Shall I call for the maester, Your Grace?”

Aerys snorted. “The maester, useless dolt.” He downed his wine within three deep swallows. “I have no need of Pycelle. What I want is to go out and breathe in some fresh air.” The whole room smelled stale. He wished to be rid of the scent.

“I shall accompany you, if I may,” Rhaegar offered promptly, even moving to help his stand.

A strange mood settled over him as he was taken without for the first time since the illness had broken out. It had been much warmer at the beginning, he recalled. The trees had yet to lose all their leaves. In the meantime winter had settled in, ribbing everything of life, but keeping in place an eerily well-preserve imitation.

The King sucked in the fresh air greedily. By his side stood the Crown Prince, looking off into the distance, though Aerys knew not what the boy might be contemplating with such a strange look upon his face. Behind them the two Kingsguards on duty talked softly among themselves, their voices mere ghosts.

It felt peaceful.

“You have not called me father for a long time now,” Aerys broke the silence unexpectedly. “Not even when you told me the news about my grandchild.” How strange. He’d not noticed until he had thought of it, but indeed Rhaegar had not addressed his as a child would a parents since before his marriage to the Dornish Princess.

Startled out of his reverie, Rhaegar glanced at him with uncertainty. “I had not thought Your Grace minded.” A pale excuse. He wanted to distance himself from the man he wished to stab, to betray, to throw away. But it was not that easy, it could not be. There was blood between them.

Aerys’ lips quirked in a sardonic smile. He wondered if Rhaegar thought he had succeeded. “Nay, I suppose I do not.” He looked away from his son towards the grey skies. It would snow soon, he was certain. “I do not mind at all.” A cough worked its way up his throat. Dry lips opened involuntarily.

He’d grown tired. “Let us return within,” he said and without waiting for aught else.

There were no more words exchanged between father and son, both seemingly comfortable with the silence. Dismissing Rhaegar, the King found his way back to his bedchamber whereupon he settled beneath the furs, vaguely aware that the pain in his chest had intensified. From his position he could make out a strip of clouded sky through the high lancet. His eyes hungrily followed the rolling stormy blanket covering the heavens.

There was something coming. He knew not what, but it was coming. And when it did arrive, Aerys thought he might well enjoy his court one more.

Within moments lethargy crept up upon him, wrapping tightly around his limbs. Arms and legs grew heavy, as if they’d been cast in lead. He was tired once more and could not shake the feeling away. Curious, considering that he had been better on this day than the one before.

Might be after a few hours of sleep he shall have regained enough strength. He would like, very much so, to go riding. Or might be fight in a mock-tourney against Tywin and Steffon. He was certain he could win this time.

After he had rested, Aerys decided, heavy eyes closing.

Sleep stole him away, taking him deep within the land of memories.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Daenerys wept in her mother’s arms, fat tears rolling down her rosy cheeks. The Queen tried everything from soothing her to making her promises but it all came to naught. She would not stop howling and the septa was already beyond herself with worry, think the child had grown ill.

For her part, Rhaella could feel the lash of annoyance cracking at her composure. “Daenerys, I pray you, stop your crying and tell mother what is amiss.” Nay, it would not work. The girl was set in her ways and until she said her piece, or rather wailed it at the top of her lungs, she would not be satisfied.

Gods be good, but the mother did not think she could take it for one more moment. Disasters kept coming one after another. Viserys had fallen and bruised himself all over, then her brother had miraculously recovered, a pox on him, and now her daughter was wailing fir to bring the roof down. There had to be something she was being punished for, some sin she was not aware of. It was the only explanation she could find when faced with such conditions.

Rhaella would weep herself if she thought it solved aught. Alas she knew that her tears would earn her scorn instead of sympathy. Daenerys was a child with a child’s mind and a child’s comport.

“Hush now,” she tried once more, rocking the girl gently on her knees. “Mother promises to give you whatever you will, only dry your eyes.”

Daenerys continued her tirade for a few more moments before her voice gradually became quieter and quieter until her sniffling could barely be made out. “You promise, mama?” she questioned, her voice slightly uneven. One plum lip jutted out, wide luminous eyes still wet. “Anything?”

“Aye, anything,” the she-dragon confirmed. Anything at all for a few moments of peace. It was trouble enough that she had to worry whether she would see Aerys on the morrow joining her and Rhaegar into breaking their fast. It was painful enough to think of him coming to her again in the middle of the night. Some of her bruises had yet to disappear. “Just tell mother what it is that you wish for.”

Her daughter pouted and appeared to consider very carefully what she was to ask for. Anything was by definition truly hard to choose for it involved everything. For a brief moment worry flared to life within Rhaella but she crushed it under the heel of necessity and waited for the reply.

“I want a horsey,” the little Princess exclaimed at a long last. “One just like Viserys’.”

“Your Grace, you are not yet old enough,” the septa tried to cut in but was swiftly reproved with a hard look from the Queen when Daenerys’ eyes filled with tears and her chin trembled slightly.

“Of course you may have one,” Rhaella hurried to add before her daughter might burst into tears once more and lead them a merry dance trying to calm her.

“When?” the child asked, her face lighting up.

“Soon. I shall see to it,” the Queen said. “Now mother must see Viserys too.” Before she could place Daenerys down, the girl grabbed onto her and whined softly. “Dany, your brother is expecting me.”

“But I don’t want you to do, mama,” her babe cried. “Stay with me.”

If she were to heave herself to her feet and give Daenerys into the septa’s arms, the girl would only start bawling once more. Yet her son needed her as well. Caught between her two children, Rhaella stopped to deliberate. Viserys was older Surely he would understand if she waited a bit more to see him. And he had one of Pycelle’s acolytes to keep him company fro the moment. Might be even Rhaegar.

“Very well. But only until you fall asleep,” the mother allowed, lifting the child in her arms and carrying her towards the bed. Daenerys went in quietly, snuggling beneath the covers and looking up at Rhaella with a smile.

It took some time, a few lullabies and a bit of patience to see her daughter to a long-awaited rest, but in the end Rhaella was able to extricate herself and leave Daenerys to the septa.

She made her way to Viserys’ bedchamber, but it was too late. The boy had fallen asleep and only the acolyte greeted her. “He waited for as long as he could, Your Grace,” the young man assured her. Certainly his wording had not been chosen to imply any fault, yet even so a pang of guilt filled the Queen. Viserys had waited for her and she had failed to arrive in time.

Approaching the bed quietly, Rhaella motioned for the acolyte to wait without. The man nodded and went into the hall just as quietly. The Queen climbed upon the mattress next to her son and took him in her arms. “Mother is sorry for arriving so late,” she said to the sleeping child. “It shan’t happen a second time.”

Viserys stirred softly but did not wake. He turned around in her arms, burying his face into her shoulder. A tendril of silver fell upon his face. His chest rose every now and again, breath coming out in warm puffs.

Rhaella watched him for some time, her eyes taking in every little detail. On the morrow he would be the one she saw first, the mother promised to herself. She owed it to her son after all.

The decision made, she left Viserys to his sleep and followed the acolyte without. “Find me as soon as he awakens in the morning,” she told Pycelle’s helper. “I wish to be the first who sees him.”

The orders were accepted and having nothing else to do, Rhaella made her way to her own bedchamber. Her ladies-in-waiting fluttered about her as soon as she was within. She merely sat down in her preferred chair and asked to be brought something to eat, not quite interested in whatever story was being told at the moment.

Her mind went to her lord husband once more and a feeling of sickness attacked her. Would that the man had gone with his fever and left her in peace. Was it truly that difficult? Was she not deserving of some good in her life? her musing kept her well occupied until her meal had arrived.

“Your Grace,” the one presenting her with nourishment said softly, placing the tray upon the table.

Rhaella nodded at her, grateful for the haste with which she had worked.

Chatter filled up the chamber once more as soon as she set about eating her meal.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

“Why is he here?” Lyanna questioned softly, eyes trained upon the newly arrived party. It made little sense to her that a man who had already refused responsibility would suddenly turn upon his own decision and come riding to her aid. Or at least claim to do so.

Uncle Harry was a good man, regarded as trustworthy by close family. His decision to ride home from Storm’s end had come as a surprise therefore and his subsequent return could only be viewed with suspicion. Lyanna bore him no grudge, but she could not bring herself to be glad for his arrival.

Looking over her shoulder she observed Jon and Renly playing in the snow, running after one another, no doubt bent on proving their prowess as hunters. The mother shook her head. They would end up covering each other in snow and then they would provide a tune of chattering teeth all the way to the Red Keep.

“Betha,” she called after the maid who was standing near the wheelhouse also eyeing the children. The young woman looked at her, sharp as a whip. “Take out of the trunks some dry clothing and make sure they are changed into that before we continue on our journey.

“Aye, my lady,” the servant girl said, going within the wheelhouse to carry out the order.

Lyanna’s attention returned to her uncle who was still conversing with father. “Well, Benjen?” she insisted.

“I know no more than you,” her brother replied in his typical fashion. “I doubt they are plotting how to best drive the wheelhouse of a cliff, sister mine, so you might as well calm yourself.”

“Benjen, I swear to the gods that if I was not restricted by this heavy cloak, I would teach you a lesson in manners.” The names sibling had the audacity to laugh at the treat and move closer to her, taunting the she-wolf with a grin. “Do not push you luck, pup.”

“Always so violent,” the young man chuckled. “Shall I call for Brandon then to protect me?”

“I doubt you’d be able to find Ned to do that for you,” she deadpanned.

It was the absolute truth though. Ned and his young bride had gone off somewhere behind a line of trees, mayhap thinking their absence would go unnoticed. Little doubt lingered in the she-wolf’s mind about what exactly required privacy. It was amusing as it was irritation, but not nearly as much as it was understandable. The man loved his lady wife. She could well remember the craving such an emotion produced.

Benjen outrightly laughed at that attracting the attention of a few men from the guard. Her brother paid them no mind. “It might be best if you pretended ignorance upon their return though,” he advised a moment later, after having composed himself.

A brief smile touched Lyanna’s face. “You are the most tactful person I know.” The compliment produced a nod from the youngest of Winterfell’s sons. “Now look, they are heading our way.”

“Daughter, a word,” father said, nodding towards Benjen that it was time for him to leave Lyanna’s side. “Your uncle wishes to let you know something.”

“Of course,” Lyanna said not a moment later. “I am listening.” Uncle Harry looked between father and daughter, seemingly uncertain. Taking pity, the she-wolf offered him a slight smile. “Tell me, uncle. I truly wish to know.”

“It appears that the woman you are looking for has been lurking about,” he said after a brief pause. “I have it on good authority that she’s been seen within Lord Cafferen’s keep.” If so, then why did he tremble. Lyanna raised an eyebrow.

“Lord Cafferen?” He had been at Robert’s funeral. She knew next to nothing about the man, however. “You seem ill at ease, uncle. Is there aught amiss?”

Harrold Rogers pursed his lips. “’Tis not knowledge fit for your ears, but Lord Cafferen would have no need of the woman. Of any woman for that matter.” He cleared his throat. “Or so they say.”

Curious. Lyanna could think of more than one reason, but she did not expound upon the matter. Ymme Lannister was important. Lord Cafferen could do as he pleased so long as she managed to get her hands on the Lannister wench.

“Would it be possible to come to an understanding with the man?” she questioned at a long last. “Might be he has need of something.” Bribery was handy enough. Mayhap coin, or jewellery. She had some pieces she had brought with her from Winterfell.

“That is the problem, my lady. She was seen there, but she has disappeared again. I have tried speaking to Lord Cafferen of it but he would not see me.” Uncle Harry spat upon the ground. “I thought to come to you with the news.”

“You wish me to order his gates open.” That she could not do. Not only was her position precarious, but she would risk the wrath of the bannermen. “Not for this. Ymme Lannister has not been taken by force from what we know, nor is she desired by her family. I can not intervene.”

“I thought as much,” Harrold agreed. “I shall continue to keep an eye on Lord Cafferen then.” Given the circumstances it was for the best. Lyanna thanked him for aiding her. “There is no need, Lady Lyanna, We are a family, after all.”

Of course it did not hurt matters that her lord father had at one time helped Branda’s husband. Lyanna nodded along. They did not linger for much longer though. There was just enough time to speak of more pleasant matters and exchange platitudes before Eddard and Ashara returned.

“We had best be on our way,” Rickard said upon taking notice of the two.

Lady Ashara joined Lyanna, her cheeks flushed, just as most of the party had begun mounting. “I do hope I am not terribly tardy.”

“Not at all,” the she-wolf assured her good-sister. “Come. I think it is quite chilly out here.”

They made their way to the wheelhouse and climbed in.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The miracle was no longer. Grand Maester Pycelle was of the opinion that the sort lived recovery of the King should not been expected. Rhaegar knew not whether that was the case. He could only tell that his lady mother was more calm now that her husband was forced to the bed one more and slept all through the day.

“I daresay we ought to send for your lady wife,” Rhaella continued her speech, not truly observing that her son was far away. “I am most joyful to see my third grandson and I do believe you might do me the courtesy of remaining here until everything has settled.”

“I should hate to expose her to the danger of His Grace’s illness,” he answered after an uneasy silence settled between them. No one truly knew whether the sickness was contagious or not, but why take such a risk?

“Nonsense,” his mother hurried to say. “I have been around him for most of his illness and I am healthy. Neither of your siblings has caught it, nor anyone of the household. You worry over naught. Bring Elia and the children.” He could see that she truly wished he would. “Come son. ‘Tis not good to stay away from your lady wife.”

She had never called Elia her good-daughter. Rhaegar never understood why that was. Not even on their wedding day. His mother had been warm, friendly even, but she had never addressed Elia as good-daughter.

“I will write,” the Crown Prince agreed. “If that is your will, lady mother, then so be it.”

A second son. Rhaegar wished he might have warmed somewhat to the notion. It was not that he resented the child. That would be foolish and small-minded of him. At the same time, however, the thought of his lady wife and her undoubted pride ate at him. Pride, for what?

Sometimes Elia looked at him as if she’d done him some great favour. That was what he feared, that the birth of this child would be another one of those favours. He wondered how acceptable it would be for him to take to travelling the realm and inspecting the keeps of his lords. Could that possibly give him respite?

Nay. The decision was a painful blow, leaving behind a bitter taste in his mouth. It would not be enough respite and he could not run forever. Truly, he ought to not think of such things. Despairing at his lot would get him nowhere. Slamming the lid upon the dark mood that threatened to rear its head, the Prince stood up from his seat.

“I believe I have promised Viserys that I would entertain him. If you will excuse me, mother.” He took one of her hands in his, pressing the ghost of a kiss to her palm. “I cannot keep him waiting.”

“You are such a good brother.” Rhaella rose as well and delivered an affectionate kiss to his cheek. “I shan’t keep you then.” She waved him on his way, the smile lingering upon her lips. She looked so much younger when she smiled.

Viserys waited upon him, as expected, with a small scowl. Clearly he was not pleased at having to stay indoors for as lengthy a time as Pycelle had instructed. But it was his own fault, truly. How had he thought that he would not be injured if he climbed those rickety old tower stairs? Rhaegar could have sworn his mother’s heart had been about ready to explode when she heard of it.

Before long, Rhaegar considered, his own children would be scampering about the Red Keep in search of adventure. The mind boggled. Still, his objective was to entertain Viserys not contemplate the possible disasters of reuniting so many Targaryens under one roof.

“Can you note take me outside, brother?” was the first request to leave the younger Prince’s lips, Viserys tugged on his older brother’s sleeve, starring pleadingly up at Rhaegar. “I promise to be very, very good.”

A promise no child had ever kept, the Crown Prince was certain. Were he to receive a Silver Stag for every time his own children had said that, Rhaegar would have enough wealth to buy Westeros two times over. In any other words, he did not believe for even one moment that Viserys was capable of not getting into scrapes. Through no fault of his brother’s. Children were just so.

“You know what the maester said,” he reminded the boy. Immediately Viserys’ face fell. “There are too many stairs to climb.” Rhaegar waited for a few moments then began to speak once more. “However, he said absolutely nothing about the glasshouse.”  

As if he’d just placed the world at the brother’s feet, Viserys perked up, a wide smile spreading upon his face. “Truly?”

“Of course.” The problem was that Viserys’ fall had earned him a sprained ankle. Otherwise, the boy was as energetic as always and twice as difficult to handle because of that. “But we should hurry. If we are caught at it, I daresay both of us will suffer some nasty concoction for it.” He still remembered Pycelle’s treatments, after all. Shuddering at the memory, Rhaegar was much amused to see that Viserys empathically agreed.

The glasshouse was not widely used. Most of the inhabitants of the keep avoided it. There was a rather ghastly tale about murder surrounding it. To Rhaegar’s mind, however, it was perfectly pleasant. Even more so as it offered sanctuary from the outside world.

“Here we are,” he said, placing Viserys upon a bench. “And now, what shall we do?”

Brow furrowing, the younger dragon glanced over his kneeling brother’s shoulder. “I want to hear about the ghost. Mother wouldn’t tell me.”

“That story yet lives?” the eldest laughed. “Have you ever seen the ghost?”

“Nay, but Patrek has,” Viserys answered.

“And who is Patrek?” Might be he could get away with not telling the story.

“A stable boy,” the young Prince answered dismissively. “But I want to hear the story, not speak of Patrek.”

“Aye, I can certainly see that you do,” Rhaegar sighed. Why had he not refused his brother, he wondered. “No one must ever know I told you the story, though. No one. Is that understood?”

“Aye, no one,” Viserys promised.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The wheelhouse jolted violently sending Jon tumbling into his mother’s arms. “A rut in the road,” he heard her voice say, as if to soothe him. “I daresay that was the worst of it.” Jon certainly hoped it was the truth for his stomach was threatening to expel every bit of food otherwise. “There, there, poor mite. King’s Landing is not far off.”

At the rate the journey was going, Jon rather thought that by the time they reached King’s Landing he would be more dead than alive and in no shape to hunt any of those dragon eggs Renly had spoken of. The wheelhouse shook once more and he gave a pained moan.

“Blast,” his Dornish aunt cursed as they all tilted to the left. “Are they trying to kill us?” Her indignation met its reply in the following manner, the wheelhouse titled to the right. Renly knocked into Jon and both of them fell to the ground, as Lyanna had lost her grip on the second.

“That hurts!” Jon yelped, struggling to pull his hand from under Renly. “I want to go home,” he told his mother in no uncertain terms, frustrated at the sudden turn of events.

“You would have us turn around now?” Lyanna questioned, taking him into her arms again. “We cannot. I promise we are very near King’s Landing son.”

“I want home too,” Renly joined in. “No dragon egg is worth this much of a fuss.” He dusted himself off with Betha’s help.

“So you two brave lads would turn and flee at the slightest hint of hardship?” Lady Ashara cut in, looking from Jon to Renly. “Where, oh where are the brave men of the realm?” She tasked softly.

“Well, I didn’t say we have to,” Renly responded within moments.

“Nor I,” the youngest added.

The road seemed to have grown smoother as well, much to the delight of everyone. Jon clambered up next to Renly and they begun making plans for their adventure once more when it became apparent that the rest of the road would not prove to hold any other difficulties.

“I heard there are tunnels under the Red Keep,” Renly was saying. “If we could get into one of those, it’d be easy to walk around without anyone knowing.”

Despite his misgivings, Jon nodded his head. “Maybe that is where the dragon eggs lie. The Targaryens might have forgotten all about them.”

He heard a smothered giggle but did not look up. Instead Jon concentrated on what Renly was saying. He knew mother didn’t believe he could find a dragon egg. That was why had had to find at least one. At least she had not shown her amusement.

“Maybe if we took something sharp with us, to dig them out,” Jon said, when encountering the grave problem detailed in the potentiality of an egg being stuck in the wall.

“There will be absolutely no sharp objects, unless under my supervision” his mother protested.

“That is not fair,” Renly countered, his mood visibly souring. Jon, on the other hand, knew better than to say anything.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The Lord Hand promised a swift return. Rhaegar was not much shocked to find that the man would not only be gone long, but that he had also left much of his work undone. It would have been very much better had Merryweather had the decency to assume the fact. The Prince would not have minded even. As it was, however, he found himself frustrated.

Jon Connington seemed even less pleased. “When next I see him, I’ll hang him by his feet,” he said. “This is unacceptable.” He eyes the pile of documents upon the table and glowered something fierce. The whole moment would have undoubtedly gone quite well into a piece of mummery. Alas, this was no show to be enjoyed.

Rhaegar picked up one of the papers and looked it over. There was nothing of interest. He put it away and randomly took up another. This one was a letter. The neat, small handwriting filled the entire page, only at the bottom there was some free space upon which a seal had been placed.

It was the seal that he recognised. Just beneath it the coat of arms of House Baratheon lingered. The letter bore the signature of Maester Cressen.

Rhaegar felt all the blood drain from his face. He lifted the paper closer to his face and began to read a harrowing account, riddles with useless information and long-winding phrases that, oddly enough, said nothing at all about what the Prince wished to know.

“Your Grace,” Connington tried to get his attention, having most likely noticed the change of mood.

“A moment,” Rhaegar answered, eyes still searching the letter.

At a long last he found what he had been looking for. Like a punch, knowledge left him smarting all over, caught between elation, for he must be some sort of terrible creature like all lovers, and grief, because even so nothing had changed. Nothing at all.

Anger, swift and blazing, set upon him. He threw the letter back upon the pile. “Robert Baratheon is dead.”And as he had spoken the words, they loomed over him, a frightening giant, spoiling to conquer.

That was one half of it. The other one he had not spoken. He could not speak the words no matter how much he willed his tongue to unfurl and bring into existence a second truth. But he could think it. He could imagine it. He had willed it even, at one time in his life. To think that it had come true. It was both frightening and exhilarating.

Understanding dawned upon Connington’s face. “I see, Your Grace,” he replied, something odd I his voice.

“When Merryweather returns hang him by his feet, Connington. This has clearly arrived before he had left and he did not think to bring it to my attention.” He took the letter in his hand once more.

“Aye, I shall do so.” Jon Connington bowed and left the solar presumably to track the Lord Hand down and see his duty done.

Rhaegar remained where he was, contemplating the newest tangle of his life.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Rhaella looked with interest towards the doors of the great hall as they parted. It had been some time since new faces had made their way into the King’s court and with Aerys indisposed it was the best of times to witness the greatness of the capitol.

First to enter was a middle-aged man, A young man that looked strikingly like him followed and a third, mayhap of the same family came in as well, arm in arm with a dark haired woman. After came another woman walking alongside a man with two children between them. They two looked like the first three. And after entered a face Rhaella could have recognise even with her eyes closed.

Stannis Baratheon. Surprised, she watched them assume their places somewhere at the back, hidden behind other courtiers.

The Queen called one of her ladies forth. “Those who have just entered, who are they? Find out.”

Her woman stole away to the shadows and left Rhaella to glance at the two boys who had in the meantime made their way to the front with one of the men. She noted the familiarity among them and was nearly taken with fascination at the sight of another Baratheon face.

Waiting a few moments longer, the woman looked over her shoulder. Her tasked lady-in-waiting was returning. She came at Rhaella’s side and bent down to whisper in her ear. “The whole of House Stark is here, Your Grace. Lord Stark’s daughter, is Lady Lyanna, wife of Robert Baratheon.”

“But she is here with Stannis,” the Queen pointed out.

“I know nothing else, Your Grace.” Retreating, she left Rhaella on her own once more.

Her eyes darted back towards the two children. She saw them exchange a couple of whispers and stare in awe at what she presumed was the throne.

Attention fled however when her son’s entrance was announced and the court session began.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Lord Rykker was the first whose name would be called. Rhaegar bit back a groan, however, as he looked upon the line only to see that both Lord Bracken and Lord Blackwood were present. With those two one could safely assume the hearing would last well into the evening. Until that time, he had to see to Renfred Rykker.

In the absence of the Lord Hand, Jon Connington had proved more than pleased to assume the responsibilities for the time being. As for himself, Rhaegar could already feel the beginning of a migraine snake its way up his neck at the very thought of what was to follow. Alas, he could not wait any longer.

Rising one hand in a sign that the courtiers were to fall silent so business might be concluded, the Crown Prince nodded towards his helper and Renfred Rykker’s name rang loud and clear throughout the hall. The named lord stepped forth, making his way to the forefront, between the courtiers who, for some odd reason, never seemed to learn it was appropriate to allow one to pass. It had to be noted that Lord Rykker himself did not shy from pressing the lot of them aside.

“Well, then, Lord of Dusekendale,” Rhaegar began, “what trouble has brought you to court?” He still remembered when Lord Darklyn had held Duskendale for the Crown. In fact, Rhaegar could recall most details pertaining to that period in time. Had the man had ore of a care with his plots and disobedience, he might have lived ye another day.

In his stead, Renfred had received lordship of the Dun Fort and hi t had remained until night a decade later. He’d not been to court in some time, according to the notes of the scribes he had pursued, nor had he asked for aid. To see him before the Throne, Rhaegar should think the man had good reason.

“Your Grace,” the man greeted, his tone flat, “you are aware that His Majesty, the King, has named me lord of the Dun Fort in the wake of Denys Darklyn’s defiance.” He waited for a nod so as to continue. “Then Your Grace knows I am a loyal man.”

“With a shadow of doubt,” Rhaegar agreed easily. He was as loyal as most other lord were. It was commendable in a way. “Were it not so, I doubt that Duskendale would have been awarded to you, my lord.”    

“Then, Your Grace, in the name of this loyalty, I ask to be awarded protection.” There was trouble brewing. “The Crown has made a promise to me when I assumed lordship that in need, I should have men of the King, so that I might see the rightening of the situation.

“Protection from whom, Lord Rykker? What enemies have cropped up at Duskendale?” Curious. There had been no more trouble in those lands since the elimination of Denys Darklyn. It would be best to deal with whatever boil was set to bursting sooner rather than later.

“These past few moon turns, there has been an outbreak of thievery and other wrongdoings, all perpetrated by a band out reprobates,” the man said, voice maintaining the very same flatness from before.

Rhaegar stood to his feet, stepping forth until he had neared the petitioner somewhat. “Lord Rykker, I have it on good authority that the Duskendale men-at-arms are quite reputable. Why not send them to catch these outlaws.”

Thieves and robbers were not uncommon. Even in times of plenty they had to be suffered, for some man understood to survive in that fashion. Given that winter had settled over the lands as well, it was not something to be marvelled at that all the rats were scurrying out of their wholes to pray upon whoever they caught at their mercy. It was the duty of every lord to enforce the law upon his lands. That Lord Rykker had come with such a matter to him was beyond absurd.

“Has Duskendale been so very bereft of criminals that my lord would have difficulty dealing with them?” someone jeered from the crowd, distracting Rhaegar for a moment. He gazed warningly in the direction from which the voice had come. How like children these lords and ladies were. Had he had the dubious desire to herd a bunch of overgrown infants, Rhaergar was quite certain a few hours of penance upon the floor of Baelor’s Sept was cure enough.

“Begging pardon, Your Grace, but if I send my men out, I risk losing their service.” The explanation was met with a raised eyebrow. “It is not a simple matter of outlaws taking from the people. Their leader claims to be a Darklyn and would have his keep back. By his own admission.”

Stunned, the Crown Prince stared at the lord before him. It could not be true. “There is no seed of House Darklyn to have survived the purge “This man, whoever he is, is a liar, a fraud. He should be dealt with exemplary.”

“Of course.” The Lord of Duskendale agreed half heartedly. “But there is already talk and a few of my men have defected to his service. The common man cannot know the truth of it. With a promise of plenty he would buy a strong enough force to create trouble not only for myself, but for the Crown as well.”

That could not be denied. The crowd went where the wind blew. With that quandary at hand, Rhaegar saw himself facing the very firs challenge of the day. What ought he do to contain the matter and prevent bloodshed? If he sent men, no doubt they would take prises for their work, leaving behind embittered peasants all the more willing to help the next claimant if ever there was one. If he did not intervene, then he would be breaking a vow and losing credibility. The lesser evil.

“Ser Barristan,” Rhaegar called for the Kingsguard. “You shall take the man you think appropriate and see to this situation. You ride at dawn.” There was no need to look to know that Barristan Selmy was bowing his acceptance of the mission. “There, milord, you have the help promised.”

“I am much obliged, Your Grace,” came the reply, followed by a triumphant look towards the crowds. The ego of some of these lords. Were it a piece of mummery, it would be no tragedy.    

“You may retreat,” the Prince have the man leave, mentally preparing himself when he saw that Lord Bracken had started pushing his way through the crowd. Lord Blackwood was not far behind. Without waiting for them to reach the front, Rhaegar returned to his seat and nodded towards Jon.

“Lord Jonos Bracken,” Connington announced, “here to lodge a former complaint against Lord Blackwood.”

Tensioned snapped between the two lords as they came to stand side by side. Brackens and Blackwood had a feud as old as time itself. This was about no complained. Rhaegar was certain they simply enjoyed these painful displays of rivalry too much to quit them and would not allow the rest of the realm to forget about the either.

Unfortunately, that meant that he had to see to it. Rhaegar nodded towards Lord Bracken allowing him to speak. In his bones, he could already feel the regret. Alas, he had no more time to contemplate for the torrent of words began.

“Your Grace, this is unacceptable.” Lord Bracken had the sort of voice which put one in the mind of a bovine being slaughtered. He swept cold eyes over his rival and jabbed a finger at Lord Blackwood. “His men are poaching in my woods. They have killed the best of the boars and would continue on had I not caught them at their crime.”

“Is that true, Lord Blackwood, have your men been hunting of Lord Bracken’s lands?” the Prince questioned, anticipating the answer even before Tytos opened his mouth. Seven be good, it was going to be a long day.

“Not at all, Your Grace,” Lord Blackwood denied vehemently, his head shaking from side to side. “My men were hunting on my lands when Lord Bracken happened upon them with his own hunting party and had them all tied for poaching when he himself was hunting on my lands.”

Whatever else Lord Blackwood had been about to say was lost in Jonos Bracken’s outraged bellow. “You would dare lie to His Grace? That land is mine.”

“Nay, ‘tis mine, poacher,” Tytos replied, quick as a whip.

“Why, you poxy whoreson,” Jonos yelled, unable to keep his temper in check.

The next thing anyone knew, the two lords had started brawling there, in the middle of the hall, before the whole court, presumably without an ounce of shame. A few yells of encouragement rang through the hall and laughter followed.

More than one man stepped forth though to get between Blackwood and Bracken. A young man advanced, with quick movement, until he’d reached Lord Blackwood. He caught the man by the back of his tunic and pulled his backwards. In the middle of his war, Tytos drove the back of is head into he young man’s face.

Only when did the injured man turned around did Rhaegar recognise him.      

Benjen Stark wiped away the blood from his split lip and returned the favour he’d been granted with a well placed punch. Lord Blackwood doubled over and a man that had been standing behind him caught him by the arm, twisting it behind his back. Lord Bracken was treated in similar fashion.

A far as the Crown Prince was concerned, however, Lord Bracken and his bitter rival might well have hopped one another to pieces. His eyes ere trained upon the young man with the bloodied lip. He saw through eyes seemingly not his own as a child scrambled over, a miniature version of the elder one, a Stark by any other name.

Heart pounding a painful tattoo against his ribcage, the Rhaegar could only stare. Benjen grinned down at the child appearing proud of his deed, but the nameless boy frowned up at the man, lips pursing in a gesture so familiar that Prince’s head snapped to the side from which the child had come running and certainly enough what he saw was northing short of extraordinary.

Staring back at him, the worried face of Lyanna Stark glared like the visage of a ghost, a figment of his imagination. For one moment he thought it might just be the letter he’d read. He was imagining her, willing her into existence. The stillness of her form had him nearly convinced, only to break his certainty in the very next moment when she looked down. His eyes followed as well.

Another ghost. A child with Baratheon looks was pulling on her skirts insistently, saying something Rhaegar could not hear over the din. But Lyanna’s gaze had already returned to her despite the boy.

Time froze. It still of its own volitions, leaving his caught in the woman’s stare, unable to either reach out of shrink away. He could not even think. The shock of it still rattled him. Lyanna Stark was in King’s Landing. And he had not known a thing.

Quite on the side, he decided that Merryweather deserved something more than a hanging. It was a good beating the man was wanting.

Just as these thoughts whirled inside his head, a thin, weak voice reached his ears, as if from far away. “Your Grace.” He would have ignored it but for the fact that a hand came to rest upon his own, Rhaegar blinked, and there it was again. “Your Grace.”

Eyes moving away from Lyanna, Rhaegar came face to face with his lady mother. “I believe Lord Bracken and Lord Blackwood need some reminder of where they are standing at this very moment.”

Rhaegar glared at both mentioned men. “They shall have more than a reminder of me. Lord Bracken and Lord Blackwood are welcome to spend the night in the King’s dungeons for their blatant disregard for common decency.”

Despite the loud protests of the two men, they were dragged away, to be released into the loving comfort of a small cell with straw upon the ground and the option of meditating upon their faults. A few hours of that should do them well. The whole realm would benefit from it.

With a small sigh, Rhaegar refused to give in to the urge to search for Lyanna. “Shall we proceed then with the next petition?”

Jon picked another scroll and opened it, his voice loud once more.

*

The moment the first punch flew through the air, Lyanna knew, in her bones, that it could not end well. The famed feud between House Bracken and House Blackwood was a thing of the legends. Everyone had heard of it, everyone presumed there was some truth to it and most everyone was inclined to say, if asked, that they believed it to be an exaggeration.

In this case the common belief was made quick work of by cold, hard facts. Lord Bracken and Lord Blackwood loathed one another and would fein show it to the world if permitted. Certainly the shed little shame with their display.

And to think she had been enjoying reacquainting herself with Rhaegar’s visage from a rather safe distance. It was for the best, after all that she keep as much of a distance between them as possible. If, that was, she wished to hold onto her heart.

The fickle thing, far from having steeled itself as it had promised, her heart somersaulted at the sight of Rhaegar and set to thumping so loudly in her chest that the young woman was tempted to look about her so as to assure herself no one had noticed. And by the gods did her heart have reason to act so.

The rush of memories swept over her mercilessly. The she-wolf was much grateful that she was holding onto Brandon or she might have, without meaning but, but wanting very much to, strode up to him just there where he sat.

She did not, for all her heels itched to move. It would have been a pity for her not to have learned any sense of control. All the same, heart and mind tugged into different directions, leavening the she-wolf at the mercy of this disjunction. And she would have happily endured a whole day of such, until those two lords saw fit to act no better than two dogs squabbling over a bone.

To her great surprise and mild distress, Benjen had jumped into the fray, earning himself no more than he deserved. The bloodied lip she would have overlooked, but the moment she saw her Jon follow after his uncle, she tore herself from Brandon’s arm and hurried towards the boy. Thankfully, Benjen could well put an opponent in difficulty if he so wished and he made quick work of Lord Blackwood.

Jon was safe, for the moment. A relieved sigh made its way past her lips. Renly, who had stayed behind, told her something to which she could only nod, for her gaze had found the Prince once more. The dragon was not looking at her though. He stared at her brother and her son. Fear gripped her. What if, somehow, by some miraculous manner, something gave Jon away?

But nay, in the very next moment his eyes were upon her. Lyanna held his stare for as long as she could in the face of Renly’s insistence that she look at something he pointed out. Giving in, she stared down at the child, but only for a moment. She looked back at Rhaegar.

His eyes, she knew those eyes so well that in that one moment, their gazes connected, a lifetime passed between the, winding and entwining. A sense of longing filled her, not the one that demanded tangibility as much as one pressing for connection.

The world fell away to leave him and her. Only them, outside space, outside time. Lips trembling, the she-wolf fought the urge to speak. In a hall full of people she could not even whisper what was forming within her.

Lyanna had not been foolish enough to think seeing Rhaegar for the first time since that stolen moment in the meadow would have no effect on her. But, in the manner of the optimist, she had thought it would not affect her to such a degree that it might resemble a song. How foolish of her to not have trusted that absence could only make the heart grow fonder, her heart that was, for the more she gazed into Rhaegar’s eyes, the less sure she became of what was being said between them. She needed words.

And then it was over.

The contact broke, leaving her grasping at the vestiges. Frustration welled up within her.

Benjen returned by her side, a small smile upon his face. To her horror, despite father’s somewhat dubious pride, her brother received praise for his recklessness. She, for one, would nit spare him.

“What in the name of the gods were you thinking?” she hissed at him, taking Jon’s hand from her brother’s as they retreated towards the back of the hall once more. “Jon could have been hurt.” Her voice was hushed, barely audible, covered by the human noises flooding in from all around. Still, Benjen was close enough to know exactly how she felt about his stunt.

“He wasn’t. The situation was not dangerous,” Benjen dismissed her concern. “Besides, I have aided you.” The way in which he said it had Lyanna fuming. “You might as well thank me.”

“The only thing I shall do is have you sent to the Wall,” she grounded out. “You knew very well that Jon would follow did you not? And you still jumped into the brawl like a common drunk in the tavern.”

“I have more finesse than a drunk in a tavern as you put it,” her brother huffed. Lyanna glared at him. The gods were to be thanked that Benjen’s wits had not all abandoned him, for the young wolf had the grace to blush. “Very well, I suspected he would.”

“Why would you do that?” If he was doing what she thought he was doing, he needed to put an end to it, Lyanna would not accept such an endeavour, not from him. Eyes barrowing, she warned softly, “This is no matter to be fooling around with.”

“I am not. On the contrary, sister mine, I am as serious as humanly possible,” Benjen assured her.

That was exactly what Lyanna had feared. He thought he could somehow bring her into the world she wanted, her poor Benjen. It was cruel and callous of her to rip that from him, yet she must. He dreamed of the impossible and thought to fashion reality by it, Lyanna dreamed of the impossible and despaired at reality for it. Only one of these two options could be upheld.

“I do not require your assistance,: she said at a long last, as they settled comfortably near the wall, barely aware that another case had been brought before the Crown Prince. “You do more damage than help.” She eyed Jon ho was too busy marvelling at the Iron Throne to pay them any mind. Renly was right beside him, engrossed in whatever discussion was taking place. “It is fly ad you know it.”

“I think ‘tis bravery.” The short, sharp answer struck her like the blade of a knife. Benjen wore on, heedless of her discomfort. “I have always counted you among the brave. Yet you would hide away and spit in the face of chance. That is not my sister.”

“You dream,” she snapped. Chance of what? Lyanna wished he would understand. “Keep such thoughts to yourself next time.”

Benjen snorted. She knew well it meant he dismissed her world, but the she-wolf did not have the heart to argue at the moment. Neither the head. She simply wished, for the most part, that she could go somewhere far away, turn her back on all these complications.

“Teasing our sister again, are you?” Ashara Dayne cut in, saving them from an embarrassing silence. A sullen silence that would have attracted more attention than necessary. Benjen laughed softly. “Nay, do not deny it or I shall ask Jon for confirmation.” When Benjen shook his head, the Dornishwoman proceeded to keep her word. “Say, little lordling, is your uncle mercilessly teasing a poor, defenceless lady?”

“Mother is not defenceless,” Jon returned after a moment of hesitation. He looked up at Lyanna. “I’ll defend mother.” And then he glanced at Benjen, repeating his statement. “I’ll defend mother.”

“And I as well, ‘tis what knights do,” Renly joined in, no doubt ecstatic at the thought of proving his worth.

“If such fierce opponents are about, then I reconsider my attitude. Sister mine, forget I said a word.” Despite knowing he jested, Lyanna could not help but smile. “Truly.”

“Fiend. I believe I shall set my knights upon you,” her very swift reply came as she settled into the role of loving mother once more. “  

“Mercy,” Benjen preyed, not at all serious. Renly and Jon, much delighted by their duty, set to grabbing onto her brother until Lyanna disciplined them.

“Another time,” she assured the despondent boys. “Now let us see what is going on in this realm of ours.” Truth be told, she herself had no interest in anything but Rhaegar’s voice. It served her well that curiosity ran rife within their family.

Soon came the end of the court session and Lyanna found, much to her surprise, that she was being pulled away from the children by her father. Rickard insisted upon her nearing him and Stannis, even as she opposed it with a slight jerk. “Not now, Lyanna,’ her father said. “’Tis important that we stay together.”

Aye, but she wished to be nowhere near Stannis. A glower settled upon her face. Her good-brother stared back dispassionately. Lyanna prayed that whoever was the maiden unlucky enough to wed him had a taste for burnt fish. She imagined a marriage to Stannis was no more and no less than akin to eating burnt fish.

The uncharitable though nearly brought a smile to her lips, but she managed to brush it away. There would be time enough to contemplate the virtues, or lack thereof, of such a match as the one proposed. If anything, she could laugh to her heart’s content in her own chambers. Until that moment she contented herself with standing to her father’s left, putting as much distance as possible between herself and Stannis. Why was it that she had to endure his presence, she wondered. But to no avail, for answers were not forthcoming.

“Should we not be leaving as well?” she asked after a moment of consideration. “Mayhap come back on the morrow?”

“Attempting to waylay the investigation?” Stannis snipped, more to needle her, she supposed, than to make a scene.

Unwilling to give in to such low a blow, Lyanna shook her head. “Not at all. I wish this to proceed with speed.”

“Then we remain here,” Rickard said. He nodded towards the Prince who was now standing and speaking to a lord Lyanna did not know. “When next there is a moment I shall inform His Grace that we desire a private audience.”

A private audience? The words reverberated through Lyanna’s mind, a shudder running up her spine. In her mind she knew it was for the best. Stannis had nothing solid, but neither did she. Were they to expose the business to the whole court who knew what repercussions would be faced. Nay, it was better to have only those strictly involved.

The idea that she would be enclosed in an intimate setting with Rhaegar was one she refused to consider. Lyanna breathed in slowly, watching the Prince at conversation. He’d not changed that much. There was still that same posture, straight and stiff, almost awkward but for the Targaryen beauty that somehow made it negligible. His hair had been cut shorter, not by much, but Lyanna remembered it to have been longer. There was also something to be said about the way he moved within court.  

He had told her, a lifetime ago, that if he could, he would flee to a place where no one knew him. It seemed he’d grown used to being known. She was glad, if only for that. She was glad that he had found himself in the end. Even if she would play no part.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

“Lord Stark,” Rhaegar said as the man approached him. Undoubtedly it had to be Rickard Stark, Brandon was glowering from somewhere near his sister, the younger brother was exchanging words with Lady Ashara whom, Arthur had told him, wedded the quiet wolf and the third brother was talking to those two young boys. Lyanna was looking towards them, might be at him even.

“Your Grace, a moment of your time,” the Northerner lord requested, nodding softly, as if to indicate attention was required.

Loathe as he was to part from the sight of Lyanna when he had just so recently found her, Rhaegar gave in to his better nature. “I am listening.”

“You are aware, I believe, that my good-son, Lord Robert Baratheon, is no longer of this world.” The implied question was answered with a noncommittal sound. “His death is as such it pushes both House Stark and House Baratheon into a delicate situation. If Your Grace would be so good as to accept my formal request for a private audience.”

The request was startling. “A private audience,” Rhaegar repeated, involuntarily looking at Lyanna. She gazed away. “Lord Stark, if I grant you the request, may I know the reason for it?”

“Inheritance,” the man replied.

And then it hit him. The child, the younger one, was not Benjen Stark’s. He was Lyanna’s. Something dark snaked within his heart, twisting like a blade. “I see.” Robert’s son. Robert’s child with Lyanna, how strange it was to witness that. How strange to see her the mother of a child he wished were his. “Consider my permission granted. Follow me when I leave and we shall discuss the matter in more detail.”

He could not remain there longer. He could not gaze at Lyanna with the knowledge he now possessed and not feel ashamed of himself for the thought within his mind. She had done nothing to deserve censure. Not his, in any event.

“I must away, my lord,” he said quite abruptly, avoiding gazing over Lord Stark’s shoulder.

“Of course, Your Grace. Gratitude.” As he left, Rhaegar wondered if the man still remembered the events of the tourney. He had not been there. But surely he’d heard. Was Lord Stark trying to take advantage of a presumed soft spot? And if he was, was he successful in his endeavour? Such questions consumed him even as he entered another conversation.

And Lyanna? What of her? Was she knowingly coming to him with the matter with the hope that their past would sway him? Rhaegar hoped it was not the case. But if it were, what would be do?

He had no answer for that. Turning his attention to the conversation at hand, the Prince listened attentively to the man standing before him, failing to take note of the fact that his lady mother was approaching the very object of his consideration.

“My lord, I do believe that matter would be best solved if you wed your son to this youngest daughter,” he replied to the problem posed before him.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The famous, or rather infamous, Lyanna Stark was nothing like Rhaella had expected her to be. They told her, shortly after the tourney, that her son had crowned a Northerner maiden as his Queen of Love and Beauty. She had supposed, and rightly so, that the girl had been a seductress, a Shiera Seastar from the North, as it were.

But the woman standing by the wall could no more be a seductress than Rhaella could be at ease with the thought of her son having fallen in love with her. The Northerner woman was another danger, indeed, then.

It was mayhap time for Rhaella to decide, once and for all, if her deeds had been well done. And for that she would have to face the Rhaella that had wished for her son to have a marriage different from her own, an understanding lady wife to help him. The answer, glaring as it stood, rushed at her. She had simply done what she though was best. How could she have known then that a day would come when Rhaegar would meet a she-wolf?

How could she have possibly known? The Queen stood to her feet. She needed to speak to this woman, to hear her speak, to know, even if a fragment of, her.

Without further ado, she made her way to where the Starks stood. If Lyanna was surprised by the approach she did not show it. Instead, she curtsied, her face pleasantly bland. A fine mask. “Your Grace,” she greeted, her voice young.

“Lady Lyanna, aye?” The she-wolf nodded, something wary in her eye. “What brings you to King’s Landing, if I may be so bold?” The Queen offered slight smile, a sign that she bore no ill-intentions. Best to know from the very beginning what to expect.

“I have come with my son, Your Grace, to settle a matter of inheritance,” she answered evasively. Rhaella wondered if she should press for more details. Ultimately she decided against. Mayhap another time.

“I hope the solution is swiftly delivered then,” the older woman answered. “Have you seen much of the Red Keep?”

“Nay, I fear we have made for the grand hall first thing upon arrival.” The Northerner’s shoulders relaxed, her posture softening. “I should hate to lose the opportunity. Jon and Renly would too. I believe they are much convinced they shall find dragon eggs about.”

The Queen laughed. “They are welcome to their hunt. I should be glad to know then result of it.” The understanding between them was easy to make out. “I take it that Jon is Robert’s son. And where is Robert?”

Puzzlement shone upon the younger woman’s face. “Your Grace, my lord husband is deceased.” Rhaella gasped. “Is it possible that this has not reached King’s Landing?”

“Nay, not a word,” the eldest said. “How is it possible for such to have happened?”

“I confess I am just as befuddled, Your Grace. I myself instructed my maester to write.”

It seemed they had a mystery upon their hands.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Renly had little trouble accommodating himself to the nursery at the septa that stood in the corner. Jon, on the other hand, found himself holding onto Betha’s skirts, unwilling to step further in. “Come, young master, I must be off to the kitchens,” the woman said, her voice trembling slightly. Jon wondered if anyone else knew that she was ill. He hoped she got better soon.

“I want to go with you then,” Jon answered, startling her. He supposed she’d not grown used to his speaking yet. Entirely understandable, yet the fact remained that he did not wish to go within the nursery.

The King’s children, he’d been told they were the King’s, were in there as well. The girl kept staring at him with wide eyes. He didn’t like it. In fact, Jon wanted mother. He cared nothing for the fine toys of the royal offspring. Why could he not stay with her? He would not have interrupted whatever conversation she had to participate in.

“Come, Jon,” Renly called after him. “Don’t linger in the doorway.”

The other child was a boy. He was older than both he and Renly. For some reason he had been forced into a chair with his leg slightly elevated. There was something about the sharp smile that played upon the boy’s face though. “See Dany, I told you, you frighten everyone.”

“Do not,” the girl, Dany, argued. As if to prove it, she stumbled to her feet and made her way towards Jon.

Once before him, close enough to reach, her finger made to touch the lower scar upon his face, the one that still smarted. Instinctively, Jon recoiled. But no sooner than he thought himself safe that the girl jumped at his, catching a handful of his hair in one hand and pulling with surprising strength.

“Let go,” Jon cried out as pain lacerated his scalp at the rough handling. But she was unwilling to listen until she had him within the nursery. He shoved blindly at her, yet agile as a cat, the girl moved out of the way.

“Worry not,” he heard the voice of the older brother say, “that means she likes you.” It was mockingly said, but the young boy suspected the Princeling had the right of it.

Distraught at the notion, he darted in the other direction, going behind Renly. He stared over his uncle’s shoulder. It might have been easier to avoid the sweating sickness though, for the girl had no qualms about following him, a grin upon her face.

“Well then, now that he is settled, I leave him in your care, my lady,” Betha addressed the septa, waving at Jon. “I shall inform your lady mother where she might find you,” the servant assured him, a smile playing upon her lips.

For a moment, Jon thought of dashing after her. He reconsidered the notion a moment later. He would only be forced back into the nursery

With a glare, he tuned away from Dany. If only he could avoid her.

“Play with me,” the demanded, although his back was turned to her he caught onto his sleeve and tugged it, hard. “You mu listen to me.” His refusal to do so seemed to baffle her even further. “Viserys, tell him he must.”

Viserys groaned. “I will tell him no such thing,” he replied to his sister, crossing his arms over his chest. “If fact, I think you should stop pestering him.”

“Now, now, children,” the mild tempered septa interrupted the squabble, “might be you should all be happier to hear a story rather than make a ruckus.”

The suggestion was met with enthusiastic nods and relief, at least on Jon’s part.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Rhaegar sat down behind the desk, looking at the three people standing before him. If he thought, even for a moment, that he might get away with it, he would have stared unabashedly at Lyanna. But her father was present and while he had been lucky enough to escape Brandon Stark, he did not wish to tempt fate. The Seven help him otherwise.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

The Kingsguard stared at the woman, hand having not left the hilt of his sword. Ashara imagined the steel’s menacing glint with a slight shiver. She had never been quite comfortable around the weapon. “I suppose siblings are no longer what they used to be if my own brother would arm himself against me,” she said lightly, entering the small bedchamber fully. The door closed behind her.

Through a small lancet light poured within the room, washing over the desk upon which stood the water carafe and a cup. The bed had been placed away from the window, to avoid being woken by the pesky sunlight no doubt. That left her brother in a poorly lit corner, although to Ashara’s mind, she did not believe he had cause for complaint.

“Does your husband know you sneak around other men’s bedchambers?” he quipped, releasing Dawn. Arthur pushed the sheets away and climbed to his feet, stretching stiff muscles.

Without his suit of armour on, he looked even more like the child who used to tug on her braids. Ashara grinned up at him and without waiting a moment more hurled herself at him, catching her brother around the waist. Arthur’s arms wrapped about her shoulders.

“I am glad you have arrived in such a good mood,” he drawled, not puzzling at all over the show of affection. “All the same, dearest sister, you ought to have waited for me to find you.”

“And waste a perfect opportunity?” she questioned, her voice thinning with shock. “Never.” Ashara let go and pulled back. “I have not come here for your sake, if you must know.” Her brother let go of her as well, sitting down upon the edge of the bed, he allowed her the use of the single stool within the bedchamber.

Arthur sat there quietly for a moment, peering at her through familiar eyes. “You play games,” came the accusation. He was trying to piece together what was not being said. “I do wish you’d have learned better.” Carding fingers through messy hair, the knight leaned back slightly. “Can I at least presume you’ve not abandoned your husband?”

The woman burst into peals of laughter. “I would never abandon Ned. Have I not told you in my last letter?”

“I believe you were quite explicit,” her brother shook his head. Ashara reckoned he must have been, once again, questioning her sanity.

Loving as Arthur was, he could not understand what had compelled her to insist upon a quick ceremony, or rather no ceremony at all. Ashara was certain it had to do with the fact that he himself had never been in love with anyone. Arthur was exceptional in that manner.

“Aye, so why would you ask me?” The Dornishwoman leaned back in her seat. “Leave that be though. I have something else to say to you.” Considering what she did wish to speak of, Ashara glanced back at the door to make sure it had been fully closed. It was. “I have come with Lady Lyanna here, brother.”

“What?” the incredulous response came. “Lyanna Stark is here.” It was no question. A thin veneer of worry settled over his mien. Whatever it was that he knew, and Ashara suspected he knew quite a lot, gave him cause to react in such a way.

“Indeed. Although I do believe the proper address is Lady Baratheon as far as you are concerned,” the sister laughed, so as to ease the tension that had begun gathering. The knot in her stomach twisted though as her brother stood to his feet. “Arthur.”

“Does the Crown Prince know?” Always the Crown Prince with her brother. It forever baffled Ashara that men could form so close bonds. It was something that was rarer in women. Not that women were incapable, but rather because they were unwilling.

“He knows, fret not,” was her answer, although her mind still revolved around the issue of relations and friendships.

Put a group of women together and they were sure to profess a quick and strong bond after as short an amount of time as possible. And they might well believe their bond to be genuine, or they might claim it was with full knowledge that the words were untrue. Men seemed to go about the matter differently which could well account for the visible differences.

Shaking the thoughts away, Ashara stood from her seat, hand reaching out to settle upon Arthur’s shoulder. “There is trouble, grave trouble. If you would be so kind as to listen to me a moment.”

“Strange, I thought I’d been listening to you for some time.” He sat back down nonetheless. The Kingsguard levelled an expectant look at her. “Let us hear it then.”

Ashara smoothed out her skirts. She had meant to present all the facts she knew in an orderly manner to her brother. Yet standing before him she could not seem to find the right words. How to best put it to him that while she did not at all believe Lyanna had done what her good-brother accused her of, the danger yet lingered.

From a purely uninvolved standpoint, nothing had been decided one way or the other. If evidence surface that Robert Baratheon had been murdered, Ashara had to see to the safety of her family first and foremost. If the perpetrator was her good-sister, than she would need to distance herself from the matter.

Until that time she would need to somehow keep a balance on involvement and non-involvement in the matter. “I ought to start at the beginning.” Sweeping a tendril of hair behind her ear, the woman joined her brother upon the edge of the bed. “Whatever I say, Arthur, take it as mere words.”

“As if I know no better,” her brother mumbled softly. “Get on with it.”

“Don’t harry me.” Ashara slapped his arm. “Gods, you are such a child. Shall I begin or do you wish to squabble some more?”

“Nay, nay, do go on.” He leaned in slightly, a sign that she had his attention.

“I was made aware of the situation only after Ned and I arrived at Storm’s End,” the sister began her narration. “However, I should say that a letter arrived beforehand, to let us know that Robert Baratheon had died.”

“Baratheon is dead?” her brother interrupted.

Ashara raised one eyebrow at him, but went on. “As I was saying, upon arriving within Storm’s End, it swiftly became apparent that Lord Baratheon’s death was not as easy a matter as one would think. His brother, Stannis, accused Lady Lyanna of having plotted to hurry her husband’s demise so that she might gain Storm’s End for herself and Jon.”

A vaguely annoyed expression greeted the pronouncement. “Pray forgive the impertinence, sister, but you forget that I, unlike you, have not been to Storm’s End. Who is Jon?”

“You know nothing, Arthur Dyane,” was the answer he got, accompanied with a slightly disappointed drop of the shoulders. “Jon is Robert’s heir. The son he has by Lyanna.” Her explanation was met with a wince. “Stannis was under the impression that the child was daft, for, and this is the truth of it, he only started speaking recently.”  

“Am I to infer that Lady Lyanna was of the opinion that her son was not at all touched in the head then?” Arthur stood and walked to the small table. He poured himself a cup of water.

“He is not. ‘Tis the strangest thing, Arthur. The child can speak, and I am certain that even before he could. Yet he never did until recently. He is a bright boy.” Tremulous lips parted. “This only complicates matters.” A daft child might have been powerless, but he would have also been safer. “Stannis claims he has evidence of my good-sister’s involvement in this supposed assassination.”

“I see.” The cup met the flat surface of polished wood. “I don’t suppose you’ve come to me with this with some question in mind.” Although, he probably knew she had done just that.

“You are one of the few who can be counted upon to give accurate and credible opinions regarding Prince Rhaegar’s actions. What shall be do in this situation?” Had it been possible to read her brother’s mind, Ashara supposed she would find some answers that did not sit well with her. And yet she could not. Silence fell between them.

Standing still in contemplation, her brother glanced at the door. There was little to suggest that he had come to a conclusion though, even when he spoke. “If Lady Lyanna is innocent, it shall take its toll on him to treat her as guilty, if she is guilty, he may strive to cast away the blame. His Grace is truly the worst candidate to have been given this case.”

“Why?” she questioned, knowing fully well she sounded quite the unknowing child. Clear answers, she told herself, was what she needed.

“No man may rip his own heart out,” Arthur offered.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Arthur sat within his room, the last vestiges of warmth left by his sister vanishing. The cup dangled between his fingers, water sloshing over the rim to land upon the bare wood the floors. What she had told him was in no way a trifle matter. And she had known it.

Alack, the scab had been removed by poking fingers and the blood gushed warm from the laceration. It had come to it at last. Arthur had been certain a day of reckoning would follow his friend’s ill advised liaison with the Northerner lady. Yet he would have hoped for more time.

It was not that Lyanna Stark was abhorrent to him. In a manner of fashion he liked the noblewoman very well indeed. She had certainly shown bravery when she had left the safety of her encampment to follow Rhaegar about. There was undoubtedly some affection she felt for his friend, for she had taken the risk, placing herself entirely at his mercy. But at the same time, it demonstrated a dangerous sort of folly, an optimism beyond what was advisable to be so very much assured that one’s actions would not have undesired consequences for her to do so.

It was luck, plain and simple, that she had not been missed that night. For if someone had found out she’d gone within the woods, who knew what might have come out of it. Lyanna Stark had simply gone on and done as she wished.

That was not to say his friend was blameless. More than anyone, Rhaegar should have known that the she-wolf was not meant to be his. He should have known the risk of going after her, not only to him personally, but to the plans he had for the realm. The North would not aid him, had refused to.

Why then he had insisted to chase after the wolf girl, Arthur could only frown at that. Rhaegar claimed he loved Lyanna. He might well with the way he’d acted. Moody and sour, not to be cured by anything less than the sight of his beloved, he had left Elia to the children and had taken off. And that was what love was, a blight to be avoided at all costs. If men like Rhaegar could be blinded by it, led astray and endangered, the lesser mortals would be better served in practicing avoidance. He would, at any rate.

There was no reason for which he might be convinced to suffer any woman’s claim upon his heart. It was better. As for Rhaegar, he had made his own bed and was to sleep upon it as he could. Arthur would not try to dissuade him this time around; he knew better. If his friend was determined to have Lyanna Stark, or Lady Baratheon, whichever was more appropriate, he could at least better get away with it.

The knight sighed softly.

A widow was very much different from the maiden daughter of a great house at any rate.

But for that to happen, Arthur supposed she would first have to be cleared of any changes levelled her way. To have been accused of slaying her own husband was not a matter to be overlooked, not even in the case of the daughter of a great house. Try as he might though, Arthur failed to see what she had to gain from Robert Baratheon’s death with her son a simple creature to the best knowledge of the realm.

Surely she would have known that a simple individual could not assume lordship. Not even under the regency of his own mother. It was written down in the law of the first Jaehaerys so as to bring stability and protect those of the land.

If an heir proved to be unsuitable to rule, he would be passed over in favour of the closest male relative. It was a matter that simple and could not be bent. So what service would she have done to her son by murdering her father?

Nay. Arthur had met Lyanna Stark. She was a clever enough creature and had enough knowledge of the laws of the land. Harrenhal and its subsequent events had demonstrated as much. She would have known that in such a line of events any claimant to the seat of Storm’s End would have taken precedence over her son, unless she could prove he was not simple.

And that she could not have done according to Ashara, for the child had refused to speak for the longest time. What a tangle it was.

The manner of Robert’s death did not help matters any. The man had been poisoned according to his brother. Lyanna maintained that he’d died of his wounds from a scuffle with a boar. The squire that had shot the arrow was dead and the other was gone. There were no witnesses, in short, that could provide accurate answers.

Ashara had gone on to tell him of a mysterious woman of House Lannister who’d been so kind as to leave to Lady Lyanna the burden of her deceased husband’s bastard. Apparently she too was somehow tied to the case. Only, as fated would have it, she had vanished into thin air as soon as anything was required of her. It was quite possibly the lack of leads that would hamper the trial, mislead opinions and make it quite impossible to come to a viable conclusion.

Well, there had to be a solution and since his sister had asked him, or more likely demanded it of him, Arthur would see to it that justice was done. After all House Dayne’s fate was entwined with that of House Stark as well as House Baratheon at this point. It would serve naught to deny them the help. More likely it would earn him grief with Rhaegar to do so and what man would place himself before his own king, soon to be, at any rate.

The Kingsguard looked up just as a knock of his door speared through the silence.

“Enter,” he said, knowing who it was that had come to see him.

Jaime Lannister’s head poked in. “I am not disturbing, I hope,” the young man said, eyebrow arching questioningly.

“If you were, you’d have known,” Arthur returned crisply. “Come in and shut the door.” It was safer not to carry the talk through the walls of the Red Keep. Who knew who listened where. Arthur signalled for the younger member of the elite guard to have a seat.

Jaime complied, slouching in the chair much like a boy would before a maester prepared to hear a recitation of all the houses of Westeros. The despondent look only completed the image. However, in no mood to indulge any sort of childishness, Arthur ignored that. There were more important matters at hand.

“I have a question for you,” he told the younger male. “It would be best if this remains between the two of us.”

“I have never been fond of gossip,” Jaime answered calmly.

“Can you recall anyone by the name of Ymme of your own house?” From the look upon the youth’s face, Arthur could tell he was rather shocked. But he said no more, instead, he kept his eyes upon Jaime, silently urging him to speak.

He knew something; otherwise the reaction would have been another. As to the nature of that knowledge, it was anyone’s guess. The older of the two brought the cup up to his lips and downed a mouthful of water.

“Ymme Lannister was a maiden from Lannisport when I was a young boy,” Jaime finally said. “A few years past, she wedded into the family.”

“Was?” Arthur questioned.

“Was,” Jaime confirmed. “I do not know where you have heard of her or in what context, but this Ymme Lannister died giving birth to a stillborn daughter.”

“How long ago?” came the natural question, suspicion awakening. A dead Ymme Lannister, according to Jaime, could not have had a child by Robert Baratheon.

“Shortly after I became a Kingsguard.” Jaime’s face scrunched in confusion. “I think three moons turns past. I did not attend her funeral but Cersei wrote, telling me that the husband had asked of my father to bear the cost of it as Ymme was supposedly made such a promise beforehand.”

“You are certain?” Matters kept getting murkier and murkier. “Ymme Lannister is not alive.”

“I am certain.” Despite the answer, Jaime hesitated a moment. “Why is this on any import?” Of course, the lion would know very well that Arthur could not be asking out of personal interest.

“My sister met a woman claiming to be Ymme Lannister.” It was not necessarily false, Arthur realised a moment later. A sister was a sister whether or not blood relations existed between them. Glad for that, he went on. “She was wondering about the woman as she had a child and was looking for somewhere to be taken in.”

“Then your sister has taken in a fraud,” Jaime answered curtly.

“So I see.”

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyanna was seated between her father and her good-brother, a sense of foreboding settled deep in her stomach. She tried to wave it away, but to no avail. It was one thing to have prepared herself, in theory, to share with Rhaegar what had happened within the privacy of her home with Robert, it was quite another to stare into those familiar eyes and knowingly place herself in a position where suspicion would be upon her. He might well decide he did not believe in her innocence.

“Well then, let us begin,” the Prince said, his voice sliding against her like a warm summer breeze. She had missed it, not even she had realised how much. Lyanna blinked away the notion however. It would not do to act the lovesick fool. “What matter is so delicate that it requires a private audience?”

“Were it not necessary, we would not have done so,” her father’s assurance came nearly upon the last word. “I believe that you too, Lyanna, shall be interested in what will be said, so pray do not interrupt.”

In that moment her eyes met Rhaegar’s and she could see a question in them. As much in the dark as he regarding what her father could possibly be speaking of, she shook her head lightly. His eyes fells away from hers, the contact breaking into a thousand pieces, the regret rising, bitter. She could not demand his attention back on the other hand.

Nor would it be prudent to with the way her heart was behaving. It was quite enough that her knees were knocking together. No need to have her melting in a puddle. Closing her eyes to regain her composure, the young woman drew in a sharp breath, barely able to keep from grimacing as Stannis’ voice filled her ears.

“Your Grace is aware that my brother had died, though I am certain, very much so, that the circumstances of his death are not quite clear.” Did he have to talk as if he held a knife between his teeth? Stannis was the most loathsome man she’d ever known, with the exception of his older brother.

“The letter I received placed it as a hunt gone wrong. A boar, I believe, gored your brother.” As if to prove those words, he handed over a small parchment. “’Tis the hand of Storm’s End’s maester, is it not?”

Stannis took the proffered letter, gave it a cursory look and then nodded. “Indeed. But this letter does nor reflect reality. My brother had been the target of an attempted assassination.” Well, he certainly did not pull his punches. Lyanna gave her good-brother an incredulous look at the sheer lack of gentility. One could not simply put forth such statements in such a way as to suggest wilful misinforming.

She did not interrupt however, keeping in mind her father’s request. She would not interrupt even when Stannis accused her of being behind the plot. Yet Lyanna did not hold back from glowering at him, much displeased with his manner.

Returning her attention to the Prince, she noted that he had moved his gaze upon the letter. “Who would wish to assassinate Robert Baratheon? And more importantly why? What does this have to do with any matter of inheritance?” So he had been told he was to settle the ownership of Storm’s End between herself and Stannis. Lyanna looked at her good-brother.

“They failed, it is true, but their aim, I feel, was to plant the seed of discord within House Baratheon.” Most unexpectedly, he pulled out a small object. The metal glinted. Stannis turned to look at her. “I believe you have another similar piece.”

The necklace was passed on to the Prince. Stannis continued his explanation. “Poison was found within it.”

At that Rhaegar looked up. He gaze did not search Stannis’. Instead he focused upon Lyanna. “Are you saying, ser, that you blame your good-sister?”

Lyanna herself blanched. There it was. Though Stannis had not said it outrightly, undoubtedly he would confirm that in his eyes she was the murderess. Steeling herself against the inevitable, the she-wolf swore to herself that she would not allow the words, nor the reactions to affect her.

“Not at all.” Those words, free simple words, had her as confused as could be. She felt rather than saw her father’s hand take hers and squeeze it. A sign that she was to remain still. For the moment she complied, too shocked to do anything but stare. “I am saying, Your Grace, that someone is trying with all their might to make it look as if Lady Lyanna is to blame for this. Furthermore, whoever is behind this, has motive to apparently wish harm upon my house. Such a feat could not have been carried out by just anyone.”

They had both known, Lyanna realised with a start. Her father and Stannis both. Anger surged through her. It made sense then that her good-brother would dangle all those accusations in front of her face, but never truly attack her. His reticence to admit before any gathering of his convictions suddenly spoke of something other than greed and plots.

It placed Lyanna in the wrong. It made of her a mindless shrew unable to distinguish between foes and allies. It was too much. Too much for her to bear. The woman’s lips parted slowly, no words coming forth.

And to think her own father had gone along with the scheme. A man she had counted upon to speak the truth to her. Another wave of fury crashed over her, leaving the she-wolf quite unable to form any sort of coherent communication. All she could think of was that she had been lied to, tricked into sleepless night and days filled with worry.

It was not acceptable. Not even the slightest bit.

“And no one thought to tell me of this?” she finally managed to get out, interrupting whatever it was that Stannis wished to add. She would not keep silent any longer. “Did it not occur to any of you that I might wish to know?”

“Lyanna, I pray you, see sense,” her father cut in. “You were not told because it was best to have a credible performance within Storm’s End. It is clear to us that whoever had planned this has agents within the keep and any of our suspicions brought to light would have seen the ruination of this investigation.”

“Nay,” she jumped up. “I had the right to know. I have the right to know if I am in danger, if my home is in danger. Storm’s End has come under attack in these circumstances and it cannot be expected that I protect it without knowing the truth of the situation.”

“Lady Baratheon,” the Prince spoke, capturing her attention. The name by which he addressed her, cold and impersonal, brought a pang to her chest. “Whatever issue you take with the handling, there will be a time and place to make it know. Continue, my lord, ser.”

Chastised but not at all regretful Lyanna sat back down. What right did he have to tell her how to act? Rhaegar had nothing to lose. She had everything to lose, including her son. Most importantly her son. If he knew, if only he knew, he would not have stopped her.

A thought took root within her mind. A thought that brought her such fright it made her sick for just a moment. Her mind whispered that she could tell him, she could let him know about her son. Surely then he would see matters in another light. For the love he’d claimed to bear her, he would protect Jon, like any loving father would protect his son. Lyanna remained staring at the Prince, her heart beating like a war drum.

But the thought was gone, its temptation dissipating as it settled deeper into her mind. She could not tell him even if she so wished. Rhaegar was not her husband, not Jon’s father in the eyes of the law and thus not owning her or their child his protection. She had gone to Robert. Now that her husband was dead, it remained the problem of her father and brothers to see her through the storm.

Pain embedded itself with her. The she-wolf bit back a sigh and wrenched herself away from that path; it only led to misery.

With that in mind she returned her attention to the men.

“It would be best for my daughter to remain within King’s Landing for the duration of this investigation. There is no safer place for her. Whoever has crafted this plot has many an eye and ear, that is clear, but within the capitol we might have a chance at catching them.” Many ears, many mouths, many whispers. Lyanna could certainly see the appeal of such a plan.

“But what of my son?” she questioned. “He might well be a target.”

“Which is why he shall remain within the Red Keep as well,” Rhaegar offered.

“No harm shall came to you or your child, my lady.” There was a promise in his words. Her insides warmed. But Rhaegar was already looking away. “Has any other information been uncovered?”

“Nay,” Stannis answered. “We are searching for all who might provide it though.”

“Very well, they are to be brought to King’s Landing when found. Theirs is a serious offence and the King’s justice must be done.” The sliver of bloodthirst, hidden in the guise of aid and understanding did not escape Lyanna. She wondered if her father saw it as well. A shiver ran down her spine.

“If you would be so good,” Rhaegar spoke once more, “I should like to have a private word with Lady Baratheon.”

If her father or Stannis thought it strange, they certainly hid it well, for even as Lyanna stood trembling to her feet, her father and good-brother made their way without, leaving her alone, as alone as she’d wished to be with her silver Prince. No matter that he was not truly hers.

Lyanna’s wrist jumped with the effort of keeping her impulses in check. She wished to throw her arms around him and linger in his embrace. She wished for impossible things, as always. Not daring to move for fear of causing some sort of mischief, Lyanna waited for Rhaegar to speak. To say anything. Anything at all would do.

But the man only stared up at her, still seated behind his desk. He said not a word, eyes roaming over her form. The unabashed stare woke within her a sense of embarrassment. She wondered what it was he saw when he looked at her. Girlhood days were past and she was certainly not the same as she had been that night, that very night when she had shared her world with his beneath the starlight. She was a mother, she was a widow.

And he still looked the same. How cruel of him to have remained the riveting centre of all her attention. Lips pursing, Lyanna stopped herself from clearing her throat. She allowed the tension to mount, hoping that the explosion would lend itself to something spectacular.

It did. By a certain fashion. A heartbreaking fashion.

“I never thought I would see you again,” the Prince said, standing to his feet as well. He walked around the desk. “I hoped I would never see you again after,” he trailed off, throat working to release the words.

Her shoulders slumped. “I am certainly regretful to have proved an inconvenience.” Lyanna could feel the telltale arrival of tears. She preyed it was no obvious to him. “The situation is so that I cannot help it. I shall strive to keep out of Your Grace’s way, however.”

A chuckle left his lips. Was he mocking her? The she-wolf bristled, but before she could flay him for such behaviour, he set her to rights. “You misunderstand. I had hoped to never see you again before this day.”

“This hope has changed?” she asked.

“It was always a false hope,” came his answer.

And the gods forgive her, but Lyanna felt her heart swell in her chest.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A darkness so thick had blanketed the Red Keep that nothing could be seen, even as far as two paces ahead. Jon grumbled in dismay, unknowing if he ought to be annoyed at having been woken from his sleep or because he could make out nothing at all. Both, he imagined, were equally contemptible, especially given the fact that it was his mother’s bed he slept in and that ought to have made him feel safe.

It was simply not the case however. The young boy sat up, eyes moving about in hoped if catching even the faintest of lights. He’d been dreaming again. Dreaming of something that could not be put into words. Or rather, something his mind shied away from.

There were always corpses about in these dreams. Not the kind that he’d found with Renly. Those were prone bodies, unable to lift themselves. Nay, he dreamt of different corpses, creatures that stood up from thick banks of snow, rising to the surface in all their ghastly glory, to shine a light of malevolence upon anyone who saw them with those small, beady, ice blue eyes. Like two coals ripping through the darkness, if what Jon thought with an eerie wintry glare. They were frightening.

Bloated forms moving about, they looked human at a first glance. But once one got closer to them, it became apparent that while the covering might have been borrowed from other men and women, there was nothing remotely human about them. Some had open wounds that did not bleed. Instead the blood had congealed around the cuts and raw meat could be seen, bared proudly to the world. The skin was pale for most of them, a sickly, milky colour.

For the older ones, however, the skin had gone darker. Not the sort that was brought on by the sun. Nay, it was the rot that had started to set, disfiguring already grotesque visages. Those were the old ones. They moved slower, but they were the more dangerous ones. It was in their smell. Jon had felt it filling his nostrils, making him choke upon his own breath. It was a deceptively sweet scent for the very first moments, nearly inviting, only to turn sour after. The younger creatures had no scent, not a discernible one. They simply smelled of snow. Faster than their partner they were, but less resilient and more dependent on instinct, on a hunger that burned within them, a hankering for fresh, warm blood.

All of them fed on blood. Jon had seen them.

There had been a babe. A small boy, not much older than him, with light locks of gold and fierce grey eyes. He had been frightened, crying out for his mother, trying to get flee. It was to no avail. He’d been tied to the thick trunk of the tree. He did not speak the tongue of the kingdoms, was what Jon found strange, and yet he could still understand.

And then they came, the creatures. Bursting out from between a gate of tall trees, they poured out as puss would from an infected wound, grimy and hungry, crying out for blood. The boy had screamed and Jon had cried out with him. But he dared not approach. Something told him that he should not.

He could not save the other. That much was apparent even by looking at the sheer number of opponents he would have to face to do so. Instead, Jon had hidden behind a tree and watched as the first of the undead grabbed at the child, heavy, wide fingers wrapping around a small hand, dragging the boy up, shaking him violently.

Others followed suit, grabbing at the young thing like a pack of beasts, tugging and pulling, The sickening crunch of bones tore through the silence. The child had not even screamed. Jon looked upon the snow, noting the pinkish colour that continued to darken. Blood, he told himself, stomach squeezing painfully as nausea took over.

Feeling oddly detached, he remained still, attending the monstrous mummery that played out before him with as much courage as any child’s mind would dare muster. A small voice within him was thanking the gods that it had not been him tied to that tree, that it would never be him. He realised that what he was seeing was rather a figment of his own imagination, not as much as something taking place before his eyes.  

Done with their feeding, the monsters of the dark retreated away. It was then that Jon first made out among them a youth. Not young by the age of these creatures, he smelled ancient, but he was a young boy, mayhap Renly’s age. The only one of these fiends that was not garbed in boiled leather or chainmail. Specks of blood lingered around the crack skin of his lips, small droplets frozen on his chin. He looked at the world through a pair of those unnerving blue eyes, but, unlike others, there was no emptiness lingered there. Not mere emptiness.

Jon could not tell what manner of thought might litter the brain of such creatures, but to him, in that moment, it was undeniable that they did think. In some manner. The youth turned around towards his peers. They all turned around ever so slowly and retreated back into the shadows, returning the darkness that had spawned them.

A chilling cold swept over Jon. Apprehension gripped him tight and fear ran rife as a second flicker could be seen from within the line of trees. He half expected that one of those beings would come crawling after him. But nay, what made its way into the clearing was far, far worse.

A rider galloped into the moon light. A mountain of a man, if that was what he was, with light blue skin and snow white hair. It was not silver, not even in the moon light. The colour lacked the shine of silver, it was lighter, it had no vitality.

The child would have retreated, he would have hidden somewhere in order to escape the sight, but just as he was about to move, the rider’s eyes found him.

Pinned and frozen, the boy opened his mouth in a silent scream as the half rotten horse the man rode rose of its hind legs, hooves beating through the air. Something glinted in the moon light and the newcomer kicked the steed into the flanks.

Jon’s heart dropped into his stomach and his eyes closed tightly, waiting for the impact. With baited breath and more fright then he’d ever felt.

And then there was nothing. No cold, no horse snorting, no man.  

He had been enveloped by darkness, hovering over the deepest crevice, with nothing before him and behind him. He waited to wake and rub the sleep from his eyes. But when Jon did not wake, he knew that he was being looked for.

In confirmation, the scenery abruptly shifted, bringing him before an old, familiar weirwood tree. A crow sat perched upon a thick, gnarled branch, cawing to its heart content. It sang its grim song in repetitive thrills, small red eyes roaming about the winter wasteland.

“Why do you show me such things?” the child bust out angrily at the bird. “I do not wish to see any of this.” He wanted to sleep without nightmares, visions or whatever they were called.

Laughter, bitter and thin, spread to the point of shattering, rang in his ears. “You made a promise, you took a vow,” the reminder came. Not from the raven. Before Jon’s eyes, the unknown man materialised. “You promised aid.”

Foolish he had been for having done so, but Jon was not about to give in so easily. “Aid,” he pointed out. “I cannot aid in any way though.” He thought of the small child, chained to the tree. “You could have.”

“I did,” the stranger answered. In a way he had. Jon reminded himself that he, despite having the knowledge that he dreamt, could not control these visions. But this man standing before him could. “I spared you injury, little warlord.”

“What of the other boy?” the child questioned, burning embers of anger settling into his stomach. That one had needed aid. No one had saved him. Jon grimaced. “He could have been spared injury as well.” Yet he hadn’t. He’d been left to die, like an animal.

“Not all creatures can be saved.” The stranger sat down in the snow. “You shall learn some day. In this, you are the one I could save and you are the one I snatched from the grip of death.” He was failing to point out that he’d been the one to place Jon in that grip in the first place. “Do you know what it is that you have seen?”

“Monsters,” came the swift reply.

“Aye, monsters. A special breed of creatures.” The one-eyed man held one hand out. “Come, there is aught you must see.”

Distrustful yet curious at the very same time, Jon did not resist the impulse of taking the man’s hand.

A shock the likes of ache spread through him, from within without, corrupting every small veins until Jon thought he’d burst into flames. He struggled to swallow a gulp of air, fighting the onslaught of sensations. To no avail, for the next he knew was the most intense pain he’d felt, like someone was tugging on his flesh pulling it form his bones, yet it was not that. It was not the flesh being torn from the bones but the soul pried from the body.

When next he opened his eyes, Jon stood upon the edge of a wide opening, looking over to the other side. For some reason the ground was much closer than it ought to have been. For a moment, the boy thought he might have fallen to his knees, yet as soon as he glanced down, a paw caught his eye. Light fur covered it.

Panic gripped him.

“Nay, fear not,” he heard the stranger’s voice ringing in his head, yet also next to him. “Look. Tell me what you see.” When he did not rush to follow the command the order came again, louder, stronger, bending his very will.

Unable to refuse, his head rose and the eyes landed upon what looked to be mounds on the other side. Not mere snowbanks, but small hills, covered in snow and frost. Their shape gave them away though. The pattern that was being followed became obvious almost immediately.

“What are these?” Jon questioned, moving his attention to a much wider structure far away. It could barely be made out through the fog that seemed to settle over it. The scent of death clung to them. “What are they?” he questioned once more.

“Hope.” One words and only one, yet its power was tremendous. Jon soaked in the feeling, the beast he inhabited lolling its tongue. How at odds. But it still made little sense to him. Hope of what? The mounds gave no answer even as he stared insistently at them.

“Hope?” the was forced to ask in the end of his companion.

“Aye. You likely know the story not, but when peril is close at hand, hope beckons from far off. Remember this place, child. When you are grown, here it is that succour will await.”Once more, Jon was confused.

“You speak in tongues,” the accusation came. “Tell it plainly or else not at all, what am I seeing?” When silence greeted his question, the young lord thought he might have been abandoned.

“The heroes of old.” It was by far the plainest response yet. “Here they sleep the heavy sleep of the departed and within their homes lies the only true aid.” Jon’s gaze was guided to the largest mound. “And there, the mighty mountain waits to come to life. Remember this, remember it all.”

So he would, Jon thought, for he doubted one could forget such an experience.

“What heroes?” It occurred the him that the man did not speak of Lann the Clever or Bran the Builder or even of the well-known Aegon the Conqueror. “Who are they?” Jon, who had always enjoyed a good story, was more than agreeable to hearing of whoever waited upon the other side. Was it not better to have whatever knowledge could be had?

“The nameless ones,” the other began his story. “It is a long time past now, when the world was young and men still fought for the lands they now hold. Among the fiercest of enemies were creatures the likes of which you’ve seen beneath the moonlight slivery. Many a hero rose to match swords and spear with them, some with the use of magic, others with their bare weapons. Many long years war raged between them, kingdoms rose and fell, bloodlines ran dry and the world wore on.” To Jon’s eyes the mounds fell away to release from within trapped bodies of might warriors, he listened with great curiosity. “Until one day, a man thought to put an end to it. He wished not only to win a battle, but to rid the world of war.” The words conjured before Jon the image of an averagely built man, looking very much like his mother’s brothers. Like him, even, a face of the North. “And this man, whose name history had forgotten as soon as life fled him, strove to succeed. It was the gods he begged for aid many a time and to them he dedicated his work.” The ghost before them began pounding upon steel, thin black steel. “Inspiration came to him, whether by way of some demon, no one knows, and he worked with might to forge them ultimate weapon, the weapon that would slay the enemies of mankind.”

Suddenly, another person appeared. A woman, a young creature with curling locks and thin, bared limbs. The stranger continued his tale. “This demon from which he drew inspiration required a price, a blood price, for there is go gain to be had otherwise. And the man, who held most dear of all his wife and son, was put before a decision.”

The spectres embraced, sliver lines running down the woman’s cheeks. Dark foreboding rent the atmosphere. “There is no life without death and no death without life. And so, the demon’s price was paid.” The man’s swords slashed through the air, embedding itself into the soft breast of the woman, flesh splitting. A scream tore through the air. The blade burst into blames.

It was far less gruesome than the fate of the boy in the woods, but something told Jon is was worse for it. The confirmation followed swiftly. “What the man did not know, was that the sword he’d crafted had done more than pay a tithe. It had stolen the very soul out of his woman and had left her an empty vessel.” The corpse of the woman lost all colour, hair bleeding into a blanket of snow, eyes becoming that same eerie blue. “His worst enemy was born from his woman’s death.”

Certainly, the corpse shambled to its feet as a third figure appeared. It was one of those creatures, the one riding a horse. It took the corpse of the woman and, by some sort of dark magic, created her into a maiden of cold, celestial grace. “And well he might have defeated the being of ice with his flaming steel, yet he could not cut her with the blade again.”

Two spirits faced off before them. One was the man, the other a creature so cold one froze at the mere sight of her. And indeed, she broke the steel in two, using a dagger of her own. The hero fell to the ground and blood gushed out from some invisible wound. “She had slain the one who had killed her, yet the empty creature had not feasted enough on vengeance to feel sated.”

A myriad of spectres came out before the wolf, all bearing marks of frost upon them, all bleeding. “By and by she walked the earth in search of descendants to slay.” It became quite apparent that the number of victims would have easily been able to form an army. Jon watched in awe.

“There came a time when from these seeds of the great hero one was born whom managed yet again to stem the war. They call him Bran the Builder now and he found protection from the gods of the trees and lakes and storms.”

“He was the one who built the Wall, and Storm’s End, and Winterfell,” the boy said excitedly. The story he knew from his own lady mother.

“Aye. For he saw this creature and knew her to be impervious, he built a wall that might stop her. It worked for a time.” That other story Jon knew as well. She had been brought behind the wall once.

“They still defeated her in the end,” he hurried to say. “She was thrown without.”

“Not defeated, stalled,” the unnerving correction was delivered. “These humans, they know naught, and think to have killed her when she yet lived and bides her time for another attack. She is mother to them all, these fiends and their devotion to her known no bounds. You see now, you must remember.”

“But,” Jon began, suddenly uncertain, “why? If this steel cannot cut her, what use is it?”

“Her children, her army can be cut down with it. As for her, nothing burns as ice does.” Once more Jon felt compelled to stare at the tallest mound. “When it comes the time, climb atop the mound and from there, you shall know what to do.”

Riddles and unclear speech once more. Jon groaned. He wanted to know what to do now, not when he was in danger. He might have protested but for the fact that in that moment he was thrown out of his dream and into the waking world, coming to himself.

And there he sat, upon the bed.

Jon shook his head and with one glance to his mother, assuring himself that she slept, he climbed down from beneath the covers.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

There were so very many pieces missing. Rhaegar cursed silently, rubbing his temple. Why was it not possible that form once something come with ease? The Seven must well enjoy mocking him for otherwise he had no explanation for the current situation. And if they enjoyed mocking him, he was twice the fool for permitting it. The Crown Prince stifled a yawn and pushed away the paper he’d been perusing.

It was nothing short of frustrating to handle a case which yielded only more questions. Maester Cressen’s letter, while not reflecting reality marked the death of Robert quite accurately. Thinking that he might glean some more of it, Rhaegar had attempted every trick known to him to find a hidden message, fire heat, double paper, rows and columns, but nay, there was nothing. Nothing at all. Biting back a groan, he carded stiff, cold fingers through his hair.

“You Grace,” a voice interrupted. Rhaegar looked up at the man. Pycelle’s acolyte stood before him, cradling in his arms a stack of neatly arranged documents. “I have the requested papers.” He placed them before the Prince and bowed his way out at the wave of Rhaegar’s hand, helpful as ever that one.

If he had had a Lord Hand, the task would have fallen to the man. Unfortunately, Merrywaether was off gallivanting the gods knew where, for only he knew what reason and had seen fit to leave all the work upon Rhaegar’s shoulders. Still seething at the insult of it, he was considering more effective method of punishment even as he unfolded the documents and searched through them.

There had to be some record kept of Robert Baratheon’s last visit to the King’s court. As the Prince knew his father, the scribes would have likely written down even the number of peas upon the man’s plate.

As he shifted through the mass of papers, the dragon prince found something quite out of ordinary. Among these sheets of paper there was a deed. Taking it out, Rhaegar placed it away from the other, browsing through the rest, in search of anything that might aid him in his search.

In the end, he managed to find only three other documents of such a nature. They all contained small donations, as it were. The interesting thing was they’d been made to noblewomen. More accurately they were lifelong concessions of land along with a stipend. In any other words, Robert Baratheon seemed to be caring for multiple bastards to the detriment of his financial gain. The boarder strips of land were the most profitable. No doubt the man had not thought at all before giving them away.

Gods be good, he could well understand taking responsibility, but not to such a point where it placed in peril one’s own house. He wondered if the would-be assassin had knowledge of these documents. If they did, it could well explain the desire to turn the members of House Baratheon one against the other. Only these individuals mentioned in the deed could benefit from it.

The door opened with a loud screech, distracting him. Rhaegar was about to tell whoever it was that thought it wise to bother him to think better of it, but before he managed to do so, Arthur was already sitting down, looking for all the world like he’d been expected.

“Is it possible that your forget yourself?” the Princes questioned the other man. Friend or no friend, there were certain limits one ought not to cross. He gazed at the Kingsguard, daring him, more or less, to offer an answer.

Arthur, not at all put out of sorts at such behaviour, for to be fair, he’d seen Rhaegar is worse moods, simply leaned back in his seat. “Nay. My memory is not yet gone,” he replied to the question. “It is you who should fear, locked up in this dusty room. ‘Tis a wonder you’ve not caught a fever of it by now.”

“Your concern is heart-warming,” Rhaegar drawled. Arthur was the very best of friends, truly. That did not stop him from, by and by, threading dangerous ground. “If you would be so kind as to tell me why you plague me at such an hour,” he trailed off, trying to remember what hour it was. Likely quite late.

“I see that even the newly arrived guests of the King have managed to lift your moon,” Arthur quipped. “What is it, Your Grace, are the grapes too sour?” He raised one eyebrow at the thunderous look he received in response. “Why, I thought you should be glad given the circumstances.”

“Given the circumstances,” the dragon repeated in a flat tone. “Do you think before you speak, man? If there are worse circumstances, I cannot think of them.” Well, at the very least not at this point. Certainly if he strived, he might come up with something worse.

“Her lord husband might have yet been alive.” There had always been a love of cutting wit from most Dornish folk Rhaegar met. Arthur was much the same. “What do you intend to do?”

“Since when do I owe you any explanation?” He half expected the question from his lady mother. But Arthur of all people should know better. He had been with Rhaegar then. “If you must plague me, then you might as well be useful.” He shoved a handful of documents at him.”See if you know the value of any of the lands mentioned there.”

If anything, it would keep Rhaegar from losing the last bits of patience he had managed to somehow scrape together. Dayne should know better though than to goad him. It was quite enough that he had to suffer with the knowledge that his lady wife had been sent for. When she arrived, Rhaegar truly did not know what he would make of the tangle. It was entire too much.

Pushing the thought away, he returned his attention to the papers. He could hardly believe his eyes. It was quite the land that the man had allowed to be lent.  

“If he was attempting to beggar his house, I must admit this strategy is excellent,” Arthur said after a long pause. “It’s a wonder, truly.” He placed the documents back upon the desk. “But I have not come here to look into finances of House Baratheon. There is something I think might be of interest to you.”

“Go on,” Rhaegar encouraged, not looking up from his own papers. Whatever Arthur had to say, his hearing was enough attention paid. The Prince wrote something down upon a spare sheet. He would need to speak to Varys. It seemed the boarders of the stormlands were dwindling.

“Robert’s last know mistress went by the name of Ymme Lannister,” his friend said without any other manner of preamble.

“Aye, that’s the woman who disappeared, is it not?” Stannis Baratheon had stressed the importance of finding her. “What of this Ymme Lannister then, Arthur?” It was not the first noble born lover Baratheon took by the looks of it.

“I thought it prudent, considering the manner of it and the context, to inquire about her of the one person who might actually know the woman.” At that Rhaegar did look up. He had been so concentrated on finding something within documents that he’d not considered it. Arthur nodded his head, as if in understanding. “There is an Ymme Lannister, to be sure. One small problem though, the woman is dead and has been for at least a couple of years. According to Jaime. I believe the matter should be looked more into.”

“Dead?” It bore repetition. “There would be no records of it in King’s Landing. Lord Lannister would be the only one to keep such. Arthur, find me someone trustworthy. I want as much information possible on this woman.” Damnation, but it had to be some sort of divine mischief.

“Am I to take this as my not being a plague, after all?” The knight stood to his feet, a grin upon his lips.

“Nay, you are still very much a plague. But I suppose you are bearable.” And he had other matters to consider.

“Have a care for all you say ‘tis not any of my business, Your Grace. There are some things that should not be forgotten.” With that warning, Arthur had seemingly accomplished his mission. He was permitted to leave and get on with whatever else needed his attention.

The warning, however lingered. It was not as if Rhaegar could forget though. He leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes momentarily.

He might have well lingered upon the precipice of slumber for some time before he was jolted awake by soft shuffling coming from without. Mildly disoriented, the Prince stood to his feet. He walked to the door and, hesitating but a moment, tugged it open gently.

The sight before his eyes could only serve to shock.

A small child was looking at him with wide eyes from within a pale face, skin slightly damp. The child he knew all too well was Lyanna’s.      

At the sight of him, the boy made a sound in the back of his throat and jumped backwards into the shadows. Realising he must cut quite the frightening figure, Rhaegar held one hand up. “Easy,” he said softly, eyes trained on the small face. What was he doing ambling along the hallways in such a state? “Easy now, don’t be alarmed.” He bent the knee to reduce the difference of height between them.

The boy bit into his lower lip, gazed into the darkened hallway he had most probably taken to this point and then looked back at him. “I am not.” It would have been more credible if the child had not been trebling, but Rhaegar did not contradict him. “I couldn’t sleep.”

Insomnia was not an affliction met in many a chid, so Rhaegar suppose the boy had felt bored and wished to walk a bit, consequently losing his way. “It is cold to be walking so without,” he pointed out after a moment. “Are you cold?”

Jon Baratheon shrugged, then with a contrite expression nodded jerkily. Rhaegar could not tell if it was because the child resembled Robert not at all, or if it had to do with a greater sense of decency, but his compassion was roused. Without saying another thing, he shrugged the heavy robe off his shoulders and beckoned the child over. Jon hesitated a few moments but in the end gave in, allowing the Prince to wrap him in the heavy garment.

“Exploring should be done in daylight,” Rhaegar found himself advising Lyanna’s son. The moment the child’s forehead touched his jaw, he felt cool perspiration coating the skin. Good gods. His suspicions turned into another direction. “Or mayhap ’tis not exploration which has brought you out. Night terrors?” he questioned.

The nod was unsurprising. Rhaegar sighed softly and thought of Rhaenys and Aegon. Night terrors were common enough, but they usually did not send his children scrambling out of their beds. He brought Jon within the solar and placed him in the chair Arthur had vacated. In the low glow of the candlelight he looked even paler. It must have been some night terror. But what to do with the child? Were it one of his own, a simple assurance would suffice regarding the lack of danger, yet he knew this one not.

Thankfully, Jon found that the perfect moment to show interest in a carving of a dragon. Gods bless the innate curiosity of children. Small hands reached out for the small statue. “I have one too,” he said, holding it up for inspection.

“A dragon?” Rhaegar questioned.

“Aye. My uncle gave it to me.” He did not reveal which uncle was responsible though. “Renly and I wish to search for their eggs,” Jon dutifully informed him. Then he glanced at Rhaegar. “Mother says I may only if the King allows it.”

Doubtlessly, when his own children arrived they would have much the same on their mind. “The King allows it. I shall speak to him.” If he even had to, that was, but most likely he did not.

Chapter Text

The youngest Stark gave him a long wary look. “So it is here that he has been hiding,” Benejn noted softly, eyes moving to the small figure the Prince held in his arms. “It would be best if I were to take in back to his mother.”

That was strange. Rhaegar knew Benjen Stark not well enough to have learned his character, but he much doubted this shyness bordering upon hesitancy was the norm, for any Stark for that matter, even the most reserved of them. Instead of handing over the child, he presumed to ask, “And why should that be? Your sister and I have no quarrel. I doubt she should feel at all distressed at known the boy in my presence.”

Benjen sighed, closed his eyes, then opened them once more. “Your Grace will have to excuse me if I hesitate to believe that for any moment.”

Stranger and stranger still. “That she would not feel distressed? Why should she?” The sleeping child stirred lightly but his eyelids remained firmly shut. A sharp breath was drawn between his lips only to be released in a warm torrent but a few moments later.

“Apologies,” the younger man said at a long last. “Has Your Grace not noticed the boy’s face?”

Indeed Rhaegar had. Jon bore a scar. Or rather two scars that were parted by his eye, one nearly healed, the other still looking rather raw. “That I have.” He stared with undisguised curiosity at Benjen, waiting for further information upon the matter. If the hornets’ nest had been disturbed, it would serve him well to see it through.

“He took a tumble,” was the weak offering.

“It must have been quite the tumble,” Rhaegar pressed, unwilling to let go of the opportunity.

As if sensing he would not get away, Benjen merely shrugged. “Aye. Quite so. Jon and Renly had taken it into their heads to stroll about the hidden passageways within Storm’s End and one of them led the two to the cliffs. Jon slipped and the other couldn’t catch him. Long story short, Your Grace, he smashed his head to the rocks on the beach and wouldn’t wake for long enough that it frightened us all.” There he stopped, glanced at Jon once more and something shifted in those eyes. Eyes very much like his sister’s by the way they cut, if not in colour. “You are a parent yourself, Your Grace. My sister won’t have him out of sight for long. I do not think she can.”

Rhaegar’s lips parted, as if to say something but he changed his mind. Of course he understood. If it had been his child, he might have well done much the same. “So I see.”

The uncle attempted once more to take the child and this time around Rhaegar permitted it. Jon let go grudgingly, too caught in whatever it was he dreamt to notice he was being moved. All the better. Rhaegar gave a slight nod towards Benjen and the Northerner clutched the child protectively.

For one brief moment, no more than a heartbeat, the Prince though the other wished to tell him something. But as soon as the notion had presented itself it was gone. For Benjen Stark, though he lingered, seemed to wait for words from Rhaegar rather than the other way around.

Sometimes Rhaegar wondered if this one knew. There was a strangeness to the young man that usually involved knowledge. Had Lyanna told him anything? Was it possible? “You may leave if you so will,” Rhaegar allowed, knowing that he too must return to his letters and documents. For all the momentarily relief he’d experienced, one must work.

“If it not be too demanding,” Benjen began, not moving an inch, “then, Your Grace, I should like to know how my nephew happened by the Lord Hand’s solar.”

To that Rhaegar had little answer but the jumbled explanation he had received himself from the child. “It is rather that I happened upon him in the hallway and brought him within the solar. The child claimed a night terror kept him from his bed.”

“A night terror?” Benjen repeated, as if he did not quite believe it.

“Is it an uncommon occurrence then?” the Crown Prince questioned, for some odd reason finding himself quite interested. He supposed it was the affection for Lyanna prompting him. If her son suffered, she would suffer as well. And that Rhaegar would not have. Might be a draught from the maester would solve it.

“My sister would know better, Your Grace. She told me once that Jon slept the half-sleep of warriors on most nights, waking to the slightest of noises. But as I say, it is she who would know best.” He hoisted the child in a better position. “I shall speak to her of this.”

The Prince would have spoken of it to her himself. Alas, he could not force the situation. Regardless of what beliefs he held close at heart about Benjen’s knowledge, nothing could be proven. It would be best to maintain his distance for the moment.

“I shall take my leave, Your Grace,” the young wolf announced, half-bowing, mindful of the weight in his arms. Rhaegar waved him off and returned within the solar, content to look through some more of those letters before the whole keep came to life and the day’s troubles bore down upon him.

In the meantime, he would have to remember to speak to one of Pycelle’s acolytes about a sleeping draught for the child. Something which might keep him well rested. The Prince sat down upon his chair, taking one of the parchments. His eyes glanced at the written surface but nothing penetrated his mind. It took more than a few moments for him to realise he was still thinking of Lyanna’s son.

Shaking the thoughts away, he experienced a slight moment of disgust and fright. Was that all it took? A few hours of knowing her close for him to forget the reality?

The rest of the morning was spent forcing his mind upon matters of state, with a few brief, inevitable rebellions of his consciousness that in the end amounted to little but attempt at convincing himself to go and see Lyanna. No matter how he spun it, there was no conceivable reason for which he should come in contact with her. It was therefore very good indeed of Benjen Stark to come after his sister’s child.

The dragon buried his face in his hands, a slight, telltale sign of pain brushing against his temples. The way would draw on long, he reckoned, by the looks of it. The Prince was about to reclaim his feet when the door opened to admit Jon Connington.

A sour look painted the man’s face. “I have found the Lord Hand, Your Grace,” his friend supplied. And yet there was no Merryweather to be seen.

“And?” Rhaegar prompted when no further information was forthcoming.

“He is in no fashion to be brought before you, Your Grace.” Which could only mean the man was indisposed and had quite the head for it. “Should Your Grace wish to see him at a later time.”

“Not at all,” Rhaegar dismissed the idea. “Ser, tell me, what is the common punishment for the soldier who abandons his post?”

“The pillory for them,” the man answered. Rhaegar did not wonder long if Connington really meant for it to be carried out. His mind had been made up for quite some time.

“Very well. Take him to the market and leave him to this punishment for the day. On the morrow he is to appear before me.” Mayhap a few rotten fruit to the head would wake the man up. At any rate, the prince was quite certain the commons would be more than glad to exercise their aim upon the condemned. The gods knew they loved a public spectacle when they saw it.

“Aye, Your Grace.” It might be that Connington knew him too well for his liking for Rhaegar had barely begun to speak once more when the man took it upon himself to interrupt. “The King has risen once more,” he informed Rhaegar softly. “The Grand Maester had sent his acolyte.”

“It is just as well to not have a thousand people speaking at once.” The prince stood to his feet. “If the King has once again left his bed, I had best see him.”

Would it ever end, he wondered, not without a hint of exasperation. His father was a truly remarkable man. The maesters insisted that he would meet his end soon, yet he survived. They said he would never leave his bed, yet he did so for the second time. It would have been extraordinary were it not frightening to live in the shadow of it.

Alas, they all had to go through it. The court as well. And that might prove enough consolation for the moment. Rhaegar made his way to Maegor’s Holdfast through the thick, hard snow that had covered the ground of the inner courtyard.

Upon entering the royal bedchamber, Rhaegar was much surprised to see his sister perched upon their father’s lap, quite content to have her hair stroked in long lazy movements. Daenerys cried out at the sight of him which only served to bring his father’s attention along. Viserys was conspicuously absent.

“So you have come?” the King asked, his voice thick and gravelly, breathing uneven. Not once did he stop affectionately petting his daughter’s top of curling liver strands. ”Daenerys has been telling me all about her new friend.”

His sister grinned and nodded her head empathically. “Today Viserys wants to lie abed and I can play with Jon.” That was unexpected. Rhaegar had not thought that Jon might have somehow come into contact with his own siblings. The Prince was not quite certain why the girl should be so excited at the prospect though. “He will have to join me in the game, nay, father?”

“If he does not, order him,” the sickly man taught his daughter. “You are the dragon. Stags bow.”

It was quite possibly a very bad idea. “Is it necessary that he play with you?” he questioned his sister, feeling for all the world like he might never understand her, not once.

“Aye. I want him to.” There it was. The common Targaryen streak of stubbornness and fierce temper. The gods protect Jon then, for his sister would certainly not spare him. He wondered if Lyanna knew of this. But rather thought not. Jon was a quiet child, inquisitive certainly, but never willing t part with more than a dozen words at a time, as if they were quite precious to him. “He has to. Father said so.”

“Why not play with the other one as well. Renly, I think his name is.” If it might save someone the hardship of having to deal with a very insisting dragonling.

“I don’t like him,” Daenerys cried out, covering her face with her hands. “He smells strange.”

Her brother barely held back from letting slip that he probably smelled a sight better than their lord father. Yet that would be of no help. “You misjudge him.”

“Leave your sister be,” his father ordered, might be well used to the squabbling of children. “Daenerys may do as she wills.” With father’s apparent recovery it was quite natural that his sister should feel compelled to obey the elder. After all, children knew not better, even if at times they could be quite wise. “Tell this Jon that the King commands him and if he should refuse bring him before me.”

A frightening thought. Rhaegar kept silent though. If he spoke, his father might become quite desirous and not merely placating his daughter. “Go on then, you mustn’t linger here for too long,” Aerys told the child, shooing her off his lap. “I will have words with your brother.”

Despite being displeased, the youngest Targaryen meekly obeyed. She was taken away by her Septa, presumably to find Jon.

Left with his lord father, Rhaegar let go of the mirth he’d been holding on to, a mask of cool civility slipping in place. “Your Grace is feeling better, I see.”

“None of that,” his father growled unpleasantly, coughing into the sleeve of his tunic. “Do you think me death, boy? I’ve heard.” A grin split his face. “Oh, I’ve heard. That wolf girl is come to King’s Landing, I know.”

If there had ever been one subject Rhaegar had never had any desire of discussing with his father, then Lyanna Stark was it. “Aye. What of it, Your Majesty?”

Another cough tore through the discomfort between them. “My mind is not addled,” the King announced. “I want to know what they are doing here, at my court, these wolves.” Rhaegar was quite annoyed at his sister by this point. “And I wish to know if you plan on repeating past actions.”

The hair at the nape of his neck stood on ends. Rhaegar bit back a curse. “Past actions?” he asked, pretending to not understand. “I hardly know–“

A warning growl passed his father’s lips. “I wasn’t born yesterday. Mind that tongue of yours. If you declare affection for the girl again, the people will be less inclined to forgive it.” He spoke from experience. After all, he himself had had a number of mistresses. “Certainly they shan’t bring insult to you, but do not think that a woman, even one of noble birth, shall be exempt.”

“Why does that matter to you, Your Majesty?” Aerys had not cared at the tourney either. It was strange of him to be offering any sort of council. Rhaegar waited patiently for an explanation. And the one he was given made him quite sick.

“It matters not to me. I thought it might to you. The only way that woman will be yours is if you take her to wife.” And that he could not do while bound to Elia. Rhaegar shook his head. But his father went on. “The Faith has no laws against a man taking a second bride after his first is no longer.”

By that point Rhaegar was on his feet. “I will hear nothing more of this,” he ground out. He might not love Elia, but murdering her was the last thing he wished to do. “Your Majesty labours under his illness. This is not clear thinking.”

“You’ve always been a foolish boy,” Aerys said, waving a hand. “Be it as you will then.”

It was late, much too late, for the seed had been planted and even Rhaegar could recognise that the desire gnawed at him. Not so much to murder as to be with the one he wanted.

He did not reply to his father’s accusation for his mouth had slid tightly shut and would not open for fear of what might come out. Rhaegar left the King where he was. Running away, that he could well do.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Jon pursed his lips in displeasure at the grimace on his mother’s face. At least the tears had dried. He accepted her tight hold and said not a thing even as her embrace grew nearly painful. “Do not ever go away like that again,” she continued to chide him. “I will not have it. Do you hear me?”

The woman waited for no answer. She was too caught up in her fears to see the child nod his head. “If you ever do such again, Jon, I promise you that you shan’t leave my side to go as far as the gardens.” What a chilling fate, the child considered. Not that he particularly wished for the gardens.

Gardens had trees. Trees had crows. Crows brought news of disaster no matter how the strange man in his dreams tried to disguise it. Heroes rising or not, Jon had little desire to fight off the creatures with bright eyes and feel the sharpness of their teeth gnawing at him. Instead, he could sit with mother. Even if he was not permitted to do much of anything. Indeed, it was sounding more and more pleasant by the moment.

Jon was about to let her know he would willingly remain by her side when suddenly he was struck by the inexplicable desire to run off.

He’d forgotten about the dragon eggs. The Prince had given him leave to search for them. “But mother,” Jon cut through her tirade, “I want to search for dragon eggs,” he insisted despite the incredulous look upon Lyanna’s face.

“Nay, Jon. I have told you already–“ his mother began only to be interrupted.

“The Prince said I could,” the boy told her, words holding pride not only for the permission given, but also because he had spoken to the Crown Prince. Even Jon knew it was important. He beamed up at his lady mother.

“I am certain Prince Viserys allows a lot of such ongoings,” the mother tried to placate him, while at the same time preparing him for a refusal.

“Nay,” the child corrected her. “The other Prince.”

Lyanna’s face froze in shock. “You asked him?” she questioned, something glinting in her eyes. Jon could not understand why she worried. After all, the Prince had not thought it particularly dangerous. “My boy, I pray you, tell me you’ve not asked him.” He still could not understand her reaction even as he shook his head, uncertain of what his response should be.

Lying was a bad thing. Mother had often told him so. Yet to tell her would make her sad. Jon remained undecided for a few heartbeats until his eyes landed on Uncle Benjen who was nodding his head expectantly at him.

Shuffling his feet, Jon pouted. “I asked him, lady mother.” In the end she would have found out anyway. he reckoned. Why take the time to offer her falsehoods.

“Jon, Jon, Jon,” she sighed. “There are times,” the rest of it trailed off.

“Come now, Lya. The child should enjoy his stay in King’s Landing.” Thank the gods for Uncle Benjen.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Benjen sat down upon the edge of the bed, a queer look upon his face. “You worry over naught. I have seen them together, you recall.” He was not a mother though. His sister had her strange moods, no doubt brought on by having lent her womb to the child she held to her heart. “He knows nothing.” The assurance did little to calm Lyanna.

“Now he knows nothing. But what if Jon should exhibit something particular. Something which might raise suspicions.” Her hands planted on her hips, Lyanna stared at him quite out of sorts. Benjen shrugged not understanding why she worried.

“The only way this would look suspicious was if your son had silver hair.” Which was not untruthful. Should Jon have been born with Targaryen looks, it might have started a war. As it was, his resemblance could be rationalised. It had to do with his mother. For all that Targaryens have been wedded into the Baratheon line, the younger sibling much doubted it would have been at all possible to claim that heritage for Jon. “We know nothing of the Prince’s childhood. If there is something, any sort of resemblance, it shall be overlooked in favour of more obvious traits.”

Rhaegar Targaryen had seemed to Benjen like a good enough sort. Aye, he most likely felt something for his sister. Certainly he was a man wedded and it went against the Faith to pine after another. And Benjen could not say it brought him any sense of enjoyment to have Lyanna caught in such a situation, and yet it was what it was and he could not rightly blame anyone for it.

Not even the Dornish Princess. After all, it would take a seer to see that a match would not work out. Certainly Elia Martell had not called upon rambling woods witches on her wedding day to have from them an image of her future. If that was at all to be predicted. Most likely she would ha e heard drivel concerning a blissful life and many children. Even woods witches had to eat and pretty coin could be made off of naïve women.

Back to the matter at hand though, neither the Dornishwoman, nor the dragon Prince could have possibly known that someday they would come across Lyanna and that the King’s son would lose his heart to her. So Benjen accepted there was no point in laying blame upon anyone’s doorstep.

Yet the situation was not without its peril. Should the Prince find the calling of his heat too difficult to ignore a second time, Lyanna had no other marriage to protect her. Jon was enough of a risk as it were. Benjen hesitated to consider what might happen if another child came along.

He looked upon his sister, questioning the possibility of it. Lyanna loved her silver Prince as far as he knew. She had allowed him to have her heart once. It was a risk, was all. Benjen dragged his fingers through his hair.

“If you should stop but a moment,” he told her. “Jon is safe for the moment.” At that Lyanna ended her pacing. She gazed at him questioningly. “Consider for a moment that the Prince’s interest does not lie upon the child. How could he notice very much if the one he focuses on is you.”

A scowl painted his sister’s features. “He is not a fool Benjen.” Her argument, hold water as it might on any other occasion, left him cold this time. But Lyanna was prepared to defence her logic if need be. “We might know little enough of Rhaegar’s childhood, but I assure you there are people who know enough to draw parallels.”

“And when you show them to me, I shall worry,” Benjen replied. “As I have told you already, the Prince concerns himself with you.” The snort his sister gave was not taken as disbelief. Benjen was quite certain she was aware of the reaction the dragon had to the she-wolf. A blind man could see it, the young man reckoned. “It shan’t aid you to pretend this is not a concern for you as well. Robert Baratheon saved you once for quite some trouble. His like is gone now.”

“All the better,” Lyanna replied without fire. Aye, his sister had not loved the man at all. But Benjen had known it. “One of him is quite enough for the world.” For her world she meant. Some would think that a woman such as she, one who had quite happily duped her lord husband, did not feel any sort of guilt for it. But the very fact she spoke of the deceased man in such a manner brought to light her feelings upon the matter. Whatever anger was there, to Benjen’s mind, was not directed to Robert, despite any misgiving, but to Lyanna herself.

“Aye, but you may yet find yourself in need of another of his ilk and this time I fear I shan’t be able to keep the secret of it.” There was no ill intention being his words, but his sister had to see, at some point, that she should choose her battles carefully.

“I am not a fool Benjen. Circumstances were much different three years past.” The tone she employed suggested that not even she believed it. Alas, his sister was stubborn to the point of exasperation. “I know very well when my fortune if at its limits.”

“I certainly hope it is so,” Benjen offered.

Lyanna gazed at him pleadingly, as if to say she did not wish to speak of it. But in truth she had brought it upon herself. “If you do not wish to have the whole keep running about trying to figure out what had best remain in the dark, then you shall have to accept that keeping Jon away from the Prince is not to be done in any circumstances.”

“I would feel infinitely better if it were not the case,” his older sibling replied. “I do not like this at all, Benjen.” Her child was at risk, but she more than him. Benjen failed to understand why she fretted over it the way she did.

“No one does,” he assured her. “But ‘tis cannot be changed now. It is what it is and we shall carry one like we’ve always done.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

“There is no need to carry me,” the woman insisted, holding onto the headboard, nails biting into the wood. Her slender frame, wrapped tightly in a fur-collared bilaut seemed that much thinner to the point where her weight would likely be that of a feather. But the again, Elia had never been particularly corpulent.

The stubbornness, however, was not new. And certainly not any more acceptable than it had previously seemed. Oberyn glared back at her, eyes full of reproach. “You’ve nearly fallen over,” came the protests, spearing past his lips with all the ferocity of an attack on the battlefield.

It had been said about him, and rightly so, that he had a slaying wit. Oberyn took pride in that, in the sharpness of every edge and the slight fear and subsequent revulsion in the eyes of his enemies. But his sister was no such enemy. And he was trying to protect her. From herself if need be. After all, his dear sister’s obstinacy could lead her to trouble.

Elia’s response to his earlier words was an annoyed sigh. She did not attempt in the slightest to spare him the notion that she might take issue with his approach towards the matter. “If you shan’t be on help, then I’ve no need of your presence,” the Princess said in no uncertain terms. Dark eyes turned back towards gripping fingers. She straightened her frame slowly until her back was ramrod straight. “There, you see? I’ve no trouble at all.”

No trouble standing, it might well be. But as soon as she moved her foot, all balance fled and her body gave in to the pressure of exhaustion. Oberyn, without saying a single word, launched his fame after his sister’s and caught her mid-fall, arm strong about her middle and shoulders. It was natural, to him at least, that he should doubt the validity of her claim, solely based upon previous experience. It mattered not that her child had been born a moon’s turn past or a hundred ago. Women, but especially his sister, needed time to mend. Albeit, if he should tell the full truth of it, the very fact that she’d managed to get to her feet so fast had been astounding.

Certainly he should feel glad for the progress. “Give it time,” he advised, holding her lightly. “You needn’t force the recovery. So what if the servants shall see you carried down the staircase? What matters that to them?”

“It matters to me,” Elia snapped. “I’ve little desire to appear the broken spear before them.” A matter of pride, as much else was. Oberyn nodded his head in understanding. “The King is ill. If he should die,” she paused there, eyes trailing towards the door. A long creak split the silence as it opened. “Come, my child,” she invited softly.

Oberyn looked over his shoulder. Little Aegon stood in the doorway, eyes wide. He shuffled slightly forth, but did not fully enter. “Lady mother,” he spoke softly, eyes glinting in the light, “my brother is not feeling well.”

His sister stiffened in his hold. “What mean you child? How is he unwell?”

But the one to answer was Ellaria who had come just a moment in the boy’s face. “’Tis naught, Your Grace, the babe suckled too much to fast. It is something they do, my little Prince,” the Dornishwoman assured the child, placing a hand atop his silver curls. “He was most insistent that Your Grace know about it.”

Elia smiled down at her eldest son. “Come to me,” she said once more, holding one hand out as Oberyn moved to allow her more freedom. Aegon, without waiting for aught else, hurried within and caught onto his mother’s skirts. “He is stop weeping either,’ the child complained, the sullen cast of his features striking in that it reminded much of his father.

Chasing the thought away, Oberyn laughed boisterously. “It shall be some time before he is content enough to stop weeping.” Children usually were. Without much care, the man went on. “Now, let us be on our way, least we turn to dust before the journey begins.”

As if to emphasise the direction, he picked his sister up despite her protests and gave Ellaria the task of leading the children. Once they reached King’s Landing he could rest more at ease in the knowledge that his sister would be given the best of cares.

His lover gave her hand to the Prince. “What shall you do in King’s Landing, child?” she asked by way of conversation, falling behind Oberyn and Ellaria.

Despite the rather enthusiastic manner in which Elia’s son went off upon the subject, Oberyn could only make out half of what he said. The other he imagined to be something similar in nature. It needed him though that the boy spoke of stars and dragons. There was too much of his father in him at times. The Silver Prince, for all that the Dornishman could tell, had been careless enough to encourage a passion that was just as likely to led to disaster as it was to bring success.

In King’s Landing maters would stand much different. If on Dragonstone, a maester could adequately help a lord see to the needs of a keep, in the capitol it would take an army and much lager amounts of time. Surely that would allow for the better instruction of the future king of the Seven Kingdoms.

“Doran must come as well.” His sister’s voice caught his attention. “I should be much pleased to see him.”

“If he can spare the time to make the journey,” Oberyn answered with a light shrug. Though he rather thought it would not be the case. “We would be best served to think about our own, however.

Little ways ahead, the Septa stood with Rhaenys. The Princess looked towards them with a bright smile upon her face. Only the nursemaid was missing and the babe. Oberyn checked his steps impatiently as he reached them. “Where is His Grace the youngest prince?”

Fortunately the nursemaid was quick to arrive, the swaddled babe in her arms, still mewling softly. Oberyn was quite certain he’d never heard a child to weep as long and hard as his sister’s infant. Nonetheless, it was good that they might be on their way. He nodded towards the woman and signalled to Ellaria that she should come at his side. With a nod of her own, his beloved advanced, taking Rhaenys’ hand as well.

“Is this not exciting?” she asked of the children, mayhap striving to keep good cheer among them all.

Within the courtyard the servants had gathered to bid them a fair journey. The well-wished were accepted in a hurried manner, as no one had any sort of patience. The long awaited call for Elia to make for King’s Landing was far more important. Oberyn carried his sister all the way to where the great vessel had been made ready. They boarded upon it and within as short a time as possible were accommodated in small within the small, crammed cabins.

“I leave you to your rest,” the Dornish Prince told his sister, pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head. Her older children were determined to remain by her, so he need not even worry that she might fel out of sorts.

Once without, he was met by Ellaria who, much changed since he’d gone inside, cast him a grim look. “I have been trying, quite desperately to speak to you for the past few days.” Her dark eyes cut right through him, a reproach somewhere in the back of them. “Now that your lady sister is comfortable, might be you shall give me my due.”

He had not noticed. For a man who prided himself on being a skilled lover, to have failed in that was quite disturbing. “My dear, might be we should make for our own cabin.” The unvoiced suggestion was summarily dismissed by a cool look from the woman. She straightened her back, holding herself stiffly.

“I haven’t much to say,” Ellaria assured him, “but this, I mean to return to Dorne as soon as I can. You may be content to keep me away from my own dear child, but I shan’t have it.” When he attempted to place a hand upon her, she shrugged it off. “Nay, you shan’t convince me a second time. I have been understanding, for she is you dear sister and needed your aid.”

She was also quite envious he presumed. Oberyn laughed lightly. He did not stop even at her cross look. “Ellaria, you wound me. If it is little Elia you’ve been wanting, then let us send for her.” A spark of interest was lit in her eyes. He pressed on. “I shall write from King’s Landing. Surely you lord father can spare a few household members.”

“Nay,” she countered, softly, without conviction. I shall go to my daughter.”

“Our daughter, beloved,” he corrected her, fingers brushing against her cheek slowly.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Ellaria had not forgotten, as she was certain not many had, the viciousness of the Viper. She was not a fool and knew exactly what Oberyn had told her. She understood it. And now, the choice was hers. She supposed there was no one to blame but herself and her foolish heart.

If he so wished, he could snatch Elia from her and carry her off. And no one would try to argue, to him or to any other, that it was Ellaria who was best suited to hold onto the babe. So indeed she could barely hold in the shudder running down her spine as he pressed soft, thin lips upon her, coaxingly.

Her heart thundered, galloping fast like a pair of race horses. Eyes closed and body gave in, she did not wish to fight a battle she could not win. Certainly not with a foe who held her heart in the palm of his hand.

“Our daughter,” she repeated after her lips were freed. “Of course.” A tremulous smile climbed upon her face. “I miss her, Oberyn, is all.” Excuses. She longed to have Ellaria with her, but was somewhat worried as well.

“As you should,” the man answered, thumb pressing upon her full lower lip. “’Tis understandable. You are a mother.” More importantly to his mind, she was the mother of his Elia, Ellaria considered not without a prickle of dissatisfaction. But it was dine. Her hands were tied. They been tied since the moment she took seed and refused to wash it away with a brew.

And she had known what it was she was strapping herself to, the life she’d chosen. “I shall be glad to have Elia back in my arms,” she allowed herself to say, pulling away from his touch. “I do believe this is rather stifling. I shall take some air.”

Oberyn smiled at her, appeased that the understanding had been restored between them. He offered her his arm which Ellaria took without a moment’s thought. She kept pace with him as he led her atop the deck where the sailors were at their work.

They were not paid much mind for, as on any ship, all men had their own duties to see to. Oberyn led them to a seclude spot from which they could watch the waves. Allowing herself to relax, Ellaria leaned into her lover, not quite certain herself on how to proceed.

The matter was, after all, one of acceptance, as far as she could see. If she could live the life that the Prince offered to her than it fell to her to square her shoulders and carry on. If not, she must prepare herself for the worst.

Yet for the time being, the Dornishwoman wished to do neither. So she simply chased the thought away and closed her eyes, opening her other senses instead. She had always loved the sea with its moodiness and peculiar scent. Much like a woman, as the sailors often insisted.

It was quite the loveliest thing, she decided.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Jon slipped past Betha who was quite busy heaving. She had little patience these days for any sort of antics. But if he was quiet and she took no notice of him, then he could well be on his way to finding those dragon eggs. He had to. It was all that he knew at the moment. Betha lifted her head and he stopped in his tracks, but soon enough she was back at it and Jon dashed out the door. Behind him the door closed with a soft sound.

Within the hallway he saw no trace of Renly. It was rather strange as his uncle had promised he would be waiting. And yet there was not even a shadow to be seen. Jon, knowing well he could not linger, made his way to the far end and descended the stairs two steps at a time, jumping much like a frog, he imagined.

Dragons were somewhat like frogs too. They were cold and scaly. At least that was how the child imagined them. Unlike frogs, they could fly. That was better than jumping, faster too. If he’d been able to fly over the stairs, then he would have been at the foot of the last one sooner. With a swift move, Jon landed upon the tiled floor. He looked over his shoulder at the head of the steps, waiting to see Betha rushing after him.

But the servant girl was not following him. Assured of his safety for the time being and of having evaded mother’s edict that he was not to go seeking trouble, within which category she had quite firmly placed hunting for dragon eggs, Jon congratulated himself and decided to wait a little while longer for Renly.

He sat down upon the last step and placed his chin upon his knees.

Before long, however, he had grown quite bored with the endeavour. Like children were wont to do, he amused himself with walking about the hall a couple of times, before suspicion kicked in and he thought he heard the sound of steps. That was all the encouragement Lyanna’s son needed to be off. With all the speed he could muster, Jon raced to the second flight of stairs and these ones he cleared in an even shorter amount of time.

And then he found himself quite lost as he made a right turn. Going by memory he should have reached a set of large doors, but what he did find was a dead end. With an annoyed complaint upon his lips he turned around.

A shriek tore through the relative silence.

Before him, smiling, stood a little girl clad in a thick dark dress. Her silver tresses tumbled gently over one shoulder and she clutched a doll to her chest. “I’ve found you,” she announced, quite pleased to herself. Jon made to dash past her, but the Princess simply placed herself in his way. Much too mild mannered to knock her off her feet, Jon stopped just before they could collide. “I won.”

“Didn’t,” he denied, glaring at her quite frighteningly. “Make way,” he ordered, utterly unaware that dragons, especially young ones, did not take well to being ordered.

In turn, Daenerys jumped at him, catching the sleeve on his arm and clutching him with in a tight grip. Despite any attempt to shake her off, she was much too determined, throwing a barrage of questions at him. “Where are you going? Can I come too? I want to help. And I want to play with you. Shall we play together? Father said I may order you to.”

“Fine!” Jon yelled at a long last, voice straining to cover hers. Anything to stop her from twittering on and driving him off the edge of sanity. It was worse than anything the stranger had ever showed him. The boy grimaced. “You can come along, but you have to keep quiet.”

The girl nodded her head solemnly, beaming up at him. Or rather in his face as the height difference between them was almost negligible. Jon stepped backwards but accomplished little by it as Daenerys held tightly onto him. He only dragged her along as well. “Let go.”

“Nay.” The little Princess pushed her doll in his arms. “Where are you taking us?” she questioned, stars shining ion her eyes.

Resisting the urge to fling the toy away, Jon scowled and mumbled under his breath. But Daenerys would not leave him be until she’d gotten a clear answer of him. “I want to find dragon eggs,” he finally admitted when he was no longer able to stand the racket.

That seemed to gladden her further to his utter distress. The she-dragon sank her claws into him, dragging him after her. “I know where to begin,” she promised. “I will show you.”

Where was Renly, Jon wondered, not at all comfortable. If he were here he would know how to shake the pesky girl off. Unfortunately Jon had been left alone on the battlefield. Not quite willing, he followed along, begging the gods to somehow aid him.

And then it occurred to him that Daenerys, being a Targaryen, must know the keep better than he did. Then it might well be that she was speaking the truth and knew where the most plausible spots to find the prize were. It calmed him somewhat, certainly enough for him to continue on his way.

With that in mind, he followed the other child through the mazes of the Red Keep, reminding herself every time she put to him a question he had no desire of answering that he was keeping company with her for a good cause. And it worked well enough until they had reached the inner courtyard.

There she stopped. “I’m bored,” the Princess claimed, looking sideways at him, as if he had some duty to entertain her. Jon bridled at the prospect. “I do not wish to do this anymore.” A bright grin split her face. She was challenging him.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhaegar had not meant to find her. He had not set out to deliberately come upon Lyanna Stark. And yet there she was, standing before him, her visage caught somewhere between worry and a glower. Her middle brother had joined her. As expected, he was quite uncertain as to what he should do.

“Your Grace,” the she-wolf greeted, her voice grazing against him, settling pleasantly against his ears. Her brother followed suit, no doubt reminded of his better manners.

He nodded towards the both of them and should have walked away if he had been able to help himself. However, one look at Lyanna, and he checked his pace. “Is aught amiss?” he questioned looking between the two of them.

“Not at all, Your Grace,” Eddard Stark answered. “My sister is merely exaggerating in her worry.” At that his sister treated him to a mean glare. The effect was lost on the older sibling. “Although she insists to the contrary,” he deliberately articulated.

“I am not,” was her response.

Far be it from Rhaegar to interrupt a siblings’ spat. He raised one eyebrow though. “And what cause would you have to worry, my lady?” he went on, eyes trained upon the young woman. He thought he saw something change in her face but before he could determine what it had been, it was gone, leaving behind only what he had seen before. Namely annoyance.

“The very fact that Your Grace had allowed by some to traipses around the Red Keep in search for dragon eggs.” She stared at him unflinchingly. “On his own.”

That was rather unexpected. Who would have though that free spirited Lyanna Stark would be quite so concerned over child’s play.

“Then let us look for him.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The man dusted himself off, a displeased look upon his face. There were other tasks that bore more importance than what he had been given. Alas, the orders came from very high up. Nonetheless, he would feel much better once he was entirely done.

A stable boy approached the recalcitrant mount left behind, grappling with the beast until he'd managed to grab onto the reins. Not dissuaded the beast leaped backwards, pulling the boy with him. Loosing his footing, the young man let out a vile curse.

Amused, the stranger snorted softly and approached the horse as well. "Easy there," he said, smoothing a wide hand over the close-cropped bristles upon the back of its neck. "Easy." The repentance bore no effect upon the mindless beast. It reared and tossed its head proudly.

Seeing that, the man smacked the stable boy's hands away from the reins. "Let go, you dolt." The command was promptly obeyed by the hassled servant. No doubt he thought to escape with his life. Pleased, the man grabbed the reins himself and gave them a hard tug. His horse quietened.

"Take him to the stables," came the instructions and feed him some oats. The stranger tossed a coin to the stable boy who caught it midair and his it away, quick as any gutter rat.

Left alone, the nameless man strode towards a nearby bench and sat upon it. Undaunted at the lack of movement about him, he closed his eyes and leaned backwards. Despite the light snow coming down, it was warmer than most winter days. The wind was not cutting against his cheek, granted that might have to do more with his beard than mildness of weather, but still, sitting without was a pleasure in such circumstances.

Taking in a great gulp of fresh air, the traveller opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings with more attention now. It was true that Lord Lannister was not entertaining, but his servants scurried about, almost in the way of shades.

A serving wench passed by. Her gaze met his and she flushed prettily. She worked in the scullery, came the thought, as he noted the somewhat sad state of her hands. But still, her face remained a pretty picture to contemplate. She was out of sight soon enough though and with that any effort he might have wasted upon such considerations remained without purpose. All the better for just as soon, another woman glided into full view.

This time he was interrupted by the arrival of another rather than any disappearance.

Approaching him was a tall, thin man with a respectable busy beard that came down to his collarbone. Upon such sight the newly arrived stood to his feet and bowed. The gesture was returned, albeit with a more shallow nature to it.

These maesters, they all thought of themselves as better than the rest of them. Brushing aside the thought, the first of the men sat back down, a grin spreading across his face, thin, wolfish even in its grimness.

"A long time has passed," the first of the two said, "since last I saw you, oh, good maester." The slight mockery produced a thinly veiled look of distaste upon the other's features.

"Not long enough," was the answer he got for his efforts. "Why have you come then? Let us hear it?" He refused to sit down upon the stone bench as well when he was invited, preferring to remain upon his feet.

"How you wound me. Can a man no longer seek out his kin without being accused of some nefarious plans?" The manner of the question left his partner in conversation slightly disturbed. The maester shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Well?"

"You've always had a way with words." Dark eyes narrowed. "And I have always known how to see past them. You seek something. Get on with it then. I haven't all day."

For a moment silence filled the space between them as siblings stared at one another, each trying to force the other into yielding. But they knew each other too well. Too many years stood between them for any such form of intimidation. And yet, how sweet the games of children.

At a long last, the maester gave in, lowering his gaze. Not for one moment was his brother fooled into thinking he'd won. With all that, he stood to his feet and bore the other into a crushing hug. "You are still as sour as ever. It is good to know that some things remain the same."

"And you just as troublesome as in the days of yore." They clapped one another upon the back and let go. "What is this I hear about your need to consult the death records. Lord Lannister shan't be best pleased."

"For all Lord Lannister knows, I am here to see my brother." Suspicion bloomed. "'Tis not for me to comment on the orders of my betters. I have a need to consult the records. Will you aid me?"

"Were I to refuse?" the maester questioned.

"They shall still be consulted." The promise stretched out between the two, both a warning and a threat.

In truth, it was quite curious that the Prince wished to keep this a secret. He could have simply ordered the records to King's Landing and Lord Lannister could not have refused. The traveller received the nod he had been expecting and together with his brother, began the road to the maester's chamber.

The accommodations were a pithy. Small, the chamber of the maester was cluttered and in disarray. "I see you still keep order about you," jested the younger brother. "It is a miracle you can find anything here."

"I know my way around these papers like the soldier does around his weapon," came the indignant reply.

To that nothing else was said. The first watched as a tome was produced from within a mound of other such books and scrolls and deposited upon what seemed an unstable desk. The wooden frame swayed, leaning on one side rather precariously. The younger man allowed the weight to rest upon his leg to keep it from falling over.

"This is what you seek," the older sibling announced softly, holding up the leather bound register. The bearded maester carefully opened the bindings and spread the covering open, much like the lamb had shed its skin to provide shelter for written pages.

The brother took the burden upon himself and peered down at the thin, careful writing of a hand foreign to him. He was still too close to the founding of the house to find what interested him. Without the underlying reverence his sibling had demonstrated, the soldier trudged through the names and dates, eyes searching for a maiden fair's name.

He leafed through the pages until he had reached nearer times. And indeed he found upon a page, crammed at the very bottom of the page the name. He placed the book upon the mountain of documents and scrolls. "I want to know if her man yet lives and what and where his dwelling is."

The other struggled to read the name. His eyes widened slightly after but a few short moments. "This be a woman gone from within our ranks." He grabbed the tome and brought it close to his face, turning it about so he might better see. "Aye, she is gone. Her husband survives, as I know it, but he sees barely anyone. His mind has been broken by the death of his young wife and their daughter. I would not bother with such a task were I you."

"Alas, bother I must. I must succeed, though I know not how." A soft sound punctured the silence which followed, as if a house pest has just passed them by, glad to have had them distracted. "Where do I find him?"

"Yonder, over the tree line, for he has made for himself a rude dwelling to waste away the rest of his days in." Such men, the youngest considered, had been cursed by the gods. Other explanation he could not find. The maester pointed out to something outside the lancet. "There is a fountain there. It had long since run dry, yet it might serve to mark the road for you."

"Then you shan't join me?" the response to such measured an answer followed. It was rather disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.

"I would rather not see a man I once admire in such wretched a state. Go if you must, but I shall dwell here awhile longer."

The stranger nodded his head, a smile, similar to the one he'd worn before, crept upon his face as he made his way without. How easy for a man to lose himself. The bitter taste of it was washed away with the knowledge that he would not have to remain long in the presence of the man. It would do to question him about his wife and daughter and then be on his way.

The path to which he'd been pointed through the lancet, led away from the maester's tower and to the wide gates. He nodded towards the guard that had let him in and made his way past the man. He would go to that line of trees, but better to give it a wide berth beforehand, least someone suspect nefarious intentions at work.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rickard huffed in that manner which revealed to his son that there was still distrust enough to merit investigation. Benjen shrugged softly, unwilling to give more than he had away. He looked into the face of his sire and waited.

"I like it not that you should force them in the company of one another," the parent insisted. "You know very well that Harrenhal is only three years past. Opening old wounds serves for naught." There was wisdom in those words, Benjen admitted to himself. A wisdom borne of age and experience, but even so the younger could not help but brush away the warning.

Of course the whole episode would still be lingering in the minds of those who had attended. But Rhaegar Targaryen could hardly be faulted for that and kept from Lyanna. At the very least 'twas so in the mind of the youngest Stark. "It hardly signifies, lord father. The realm has turned its eyes upon the King and his troubles."

"The realm has enough eyes to turn to a thousand matters at once," the other refuted calmly. "It is of utmost importance that you sister be kept away from their attention for as long as possible. This fascination between them, whatever its cause and however justified, would be an impediment to that."

It struck the son as odd that Rickard should not react in a similar fashion as Brandon might have. Or rather had, at that time. It had forever seared itself in his mind, the image of his sister kicking the Wild Wolf's ankle and stealing her crown of flowers back. "I see little point in keeping them apart, but if it be your wish, lord father, then I shan't bring them together either." At least not until the Lord of Winterfell travelled black to the lands of frost.

Congratulating himself for a well thought-out plan, Benjen leaned back in his seat. "Ned is with her at any rate. I doubt he should leave her side." Ned was the sort who would keep close to their sister. Especially given the other happenings of the tourney. Given that father knew not of them, Benjen cleared his throat and strove to deviate from the subject. "Is there any news from our men?"

"Nay, not at all." The lord gave him a hard look. "I know you well, Benjen Stark, and if you think to distract me, I suggest you attempt it in another manner." Seemingly properly chastised, the youngest of the wolves of Winterfell gazed away. "I shall accept this as an honest mistake once," Rickard allowed nonetheless, the implied repercussions should it happen again not needing to be revealed.

"I understand," Benjen said. He had not given upon his plan. "I shan't do it another time." He wondered, briefly, if his sister had caught on as well. There were instances in which she could be brilliant in sensing such schemes and other times she knew nothing at all.

He would find out at some point or another, thus Benjen bit back a smile, looking up.

Rickard waved him away with a slow move of the hand. "You needn't keep me company. Find Brandon and send him to me."

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daenerys pressed her back against the wall and sniffed softly, wide eyes still glistening. Her small face remained the violent red of a beet, a shade so unbecoming against the silver of hr curls that Jon could not help but scoff. He felt sorry, for just a moment, but then, upon remembering her own attitude, he decided that she had indeed deserved the setting down he'd dealt to her.

A dragon she might be, but he was a stag of Storm's End and none could stand in the way of fury. With a small sound of disappointment the little girl came away from the self-imposed distance and stumbled next to him once more. "I do not like you," she told him, the corners of her mouth sloping downwards.

Throwing his head backwards, the boy barely held back a proud smile. "Then you ought to return to your septa. I have important matters to attend to." He turned around, of a mind to leave her where she stood and be on his way. But before he had managed more than a few steps, she cried out after him.

"You can't find anything without me. You do not know a thing." It was the honest truth. Jon did not stop though, even as she continued to yell after him. It would do her well to leave with a sore throat for it, the child thought, for the merciful Mother knew she could yell.

Briefly, the young lord considered going in search of Renly. But that would mean he'd have to risk crossing paths with Betha. She would be cross with him for leaving and he would have to face mother afterwards. With that in mind, Jon made his way to a more shadowed area and slipped away into a narrow crevice he knew little enough about. Some string would have been of good use. Alas, he brought none with him. But he was fairly sure that if he were to keep upon a straight path nothing would go wrong.

After all, in Storm's End he'd only become lost when he had to choose between two roads. The next time he would carry with him string and explore some more, he decided even before he'd taken a dozen steps.

Onwards he kept walking.

Before long, however, he found himself standing at a crossroad a second time in his life. The lord sighed softly. He looked from one path to the other, uncertainty cloaking him, keeping him still. One of the paths was lit. The other was not.

Curiously enough, something deep within him, a voice both familiar and strange, beckoned him to lose himself in the shadows. Jon looked back over his shoulder. There was no one standing behind him. And yet, there was a voice, inviting him to step forth.

Hesitantly, Jon put one foot in front of another. It brought him closer to the awaiting darkness. How very odd that he should feel such an attraction to it, when during the night he felt only unease to be engulfed within its darkened folds. All the same, his feet moved of their own accord and ever so slowly he found himself leaving the safety of the lit corridor.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddard took the side corridor with nary a comment leaving his sister prey to her worst nightmare, or sweetest dream, depending on the perspective employed. She had been begging the gods to allow the three of them to not part ways. There was only so much of her former lover's presence she could stand. Especially given the knowledge that Jon was running wild somewhere within the keep, with the danger of someone, somewhere connecting a few dots.

Pushing her fears aside for a moment she realised that the Prince was speaking to her. "Apologies, Your Grace, my mind is leagues away."

She could tell he was smiling indulgently even without looking at his face when next he spoke. "It makes no matter, my lady. Is it your Jon's way to run about and seek adventure?" he questioned, no doubt referring to her own adventure-seeking days. Though she had found it unintentionally.

"I fear it is a new development." She sighed, unsure of how she ought to put it, so that she might not be tempted to give away more than she should. "He used to be such a quiet boy at Storm's End. I reckon 'tis the change of scenery that affects him so."

She dared to look at the man, her mind wondering, for just a moment, if it was not he whom Jon took after in this. While she had certainly landed herself into quite some trouble as a young girl, it was Rhaegar who had sought adventure with his prophecies and wild dreams. The words she'd meant to say got stuck in her throat for he too was gazing at her.

There was no crowd between them, no shield to hide behind. Her eyes remained glued to him and somehow they both stopped walking, standing in the middle of the deserted hallway.

"Is aught amiss?" Her heart fluttered upon hearing his words, a painful, pinched motion that left her breathless, aching and wishing that she could turn back time, that she could tear her heart away from his presence. His kindness was an encouragement. "Lyanna." Unthinkingly, might be, he brought a hand to rest beneath her elbow.

Half a heartbeat and her mind was growing numb, wondering why it was that she could not give in and melt into his arms, disappear away in his embrace and never return. And yet, just as soon good sense kicked in and she tugged herself free of his hold.

"Your Grace." It was a whisper, soft as a summer rain. If she could, she would beg him to leave her presence. Her lips would not move, not even at her harshest command. And Lyanna was left standing before Rhaegar. Salvation came though. "I hold you in the deepest esteem, but I am no longer that girl." The very words burned her. Nonetheless, they had to be said.

He stared at her, incredulous. His hand, previously suspended in midair, fell away. In the flickering light, Lyanna could barely tell if colour was fleeing his face or not.

And then he spoke, only to tear at her tattered heart. "I loved that girl." A simple admission. One that was not even surprising. Lyanna remained stunned, standing a mere arm's length away. "Do you know, I've thought about it for the longest time after we parted ways, about what would have been had I not let go?" She made no response. The Prince, mayhap emboldened, continued. "My wife and my children waited for me on Dragonstone. I couldn't face them, for all I kept thinking of was that girl. That girl who whispered that she loved me before taking off, disappearing like a shade."

A gasp spilled past her lips. But Rhaegar seemed to have lost patience. "Did you think that I had not heard?"

The Dragon Prince gripped her just above the elbow. "But that girl, she wedded her stormlord after all, and I hated her. I hated her for lying to me, for pretending to love me and then erasing it all." But she hadn't, Lyanna wanted to protest. She'd not erased one moment of the time they'd spent together. "My heart won't listen though. That girl and this woman before me are the same, to me."

"I had to." Forced as the response was, it was the only morsel Lyanna was prepared to part with. She loved him as well, after all, and it was only so much heartbreak that she could take.

"Had to?" Rhaegar repeated, the vise of his fingers growing stronger. "You told me you they would have to drag you kicking and screaming." Hands curling into delicate fists, Lyanna's jaw locked tightly. What was she to say to that?

As if sensing her withdrawal, the man placed a finger beneath her chin and forced her to look into his face. "I do not care if it was a lie, nor that we have advanced upon this path. Even if it was a fancy of the youthful mind to you, for me it was real."

Choking upon an unchecked sob, Lyanna grabbed at his sleeve. "Believe what you will about everything else, but never think that I lied. I never lied to you." To others she had done so with only a modicum of regret. "But I was bound to wed Robert. It was my lot in life, as inescapable as your very own fate."

Has she decided to run away with him, like he'd asked her to, Lyanna wondered what the outcome would have been. "I will never not love you, and you claim to love me as well. Then for pity's sake, Your Grace, have mercy."

If he simply hadn't any or did not care to give it, Lyanna was unsure. But the next she knew, she'd been pulled into a tight embrace, her bones vibrating still from the force of the hold even as her arms moved in response. Small droplets slid upon her cheeks. Gods be good, but she hadn't known that broken hearts could still keep tearing apart.

"Just for a moment," she heard him whisper against her hairline, lips ghosting over her skin, "let us return." To that time, the forest floor and the hopeful hearts.

She had returned there a thousand times in the first moon turns of her marriage. Would it be such a hardship to do it once more? After all, it was just a harmless embrace.

For how long they remained there, Lyanna had no idea. When he finally let go, however, she wiped away her tears and pulled back. It was one of those moments she would only be safe remembering in her dreams.

"Your Grace, I must find my son, before anything should happen to him." She brushed a hand over the creaseless folds on her dress, trying for a smile though she felt like wailing much in the manner of a babe.

"Of course, let us continue." There was something quite odd about the sudden distance he put between them at that point. Lyanna could feel the wall, yet felt it most wise not to attract any attention to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"How dare you come here?" a thick voice demanded of the scared child, one hand raised. Jon recoiled instinctively, flattening himself to the wall. He'd only meant to make his way out of the tunnel. Lower lip trembling at the sight of the furious man, the boy was much surprised to note a resemblance between him and the Prince.

"Wait. I know you," the same man spoke, his thin frame shuddering with exertion. "I know you," he repeated, beckoning him over. Unwilling to risk being yelled at once more and discovered, Jon scurried to follow the command of the King.

To his great astonishment he was picked off of the ground and deposited in the King's lap. "You've come to see me again, Jaehaerys. You said you would not." Wonder turned into confusion. He was not Jaehaerys. Before Jon could protest however, the man started coughing violently, yet stubbornly repeating that very same name. Jaehaerys.

"Say that all is forgiven, my son. I beg of you." For whatever reason the man felt a need to do penance, the young stormlord remained much shocked to have been confused with a Targaryen. But the King would not be denied.

When Jon gave no answer, he further insisted, going as far as to shake the child. "Say it. Say it!" the old man cried out. "Say that I am forgiven."

The strong grip exerted upon him made Jon cry out. Somehow, he found the strength to fulfil the request, in hoped that he would be set free afterwards. "All is forgiven, Your Grace." With that the whole chamber stilled. The King's hold dropped and Jon slid off of the man's lap to fall to the floor. Perfect silence engulfed him.

And then it broke.

Loud coughs and the sound of wheezing filled the boy's ears even as he dragged himself towards the small crack though which he'd slipped in.

Not once did the boy look back.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was Rhaegar that found him after they'd managed to corner the young she-dragon and she told them where it was that she'd last seen Jon. Heart hammering in her chest, Lyanna ran to her son and picked him up. "You and your treasure hunts," she laughed softly, glad to know him well.

It never occurred to her that the child was rather pale and clutched to her too tightly. She reckoned it might have been a reminder of the fall he'd taken or simply disappointment at having found nothing at all.

"Your Grace, I thank you for the aid."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

His mother gave him a smile. Rhaella stood up from her seat and handed him a cup. "You look as though the hounds of hell give you chase." Her relaxed pose took him by surprise. Not only for that she exhibited a much less stressed side, but because it seemed to him that this glee was unnatural. Given current circumstances, he had hoped to find an echo of himself within the woman that had given him life.

All he found was disappointment.

"Apologies, lady mother. I am not myself just now." The weak reply raised an eyebrow from the woman before him. She placed the cup upon the table and made a soft sound of curiosity, inviting him to have a seat next to her. Rhaegar refused with a shake of the head.

His mind remained upon Lyanna still. Lyanna and her son. Robert's as well, Rhaegar reminded himself not without the bitter sting of envy needling him. He had seen the look upon Lyanna's face when the child was back in her arms. Those shining eyes, they could have been looking thus upon one of their own children, in another lifetime. Would that the Seven had allowed him that.

The hope of a foolish heart, he knew even as the though burst with a loud sound through his mind, pushing, insisting that he give it consideration. As if he could have ever known on the day he wedded Elia that another woman awaited him; one that he would be lucky to catch only glimpses of for the rest of his life. And live with the knowledge that she and he could never acknowledge their affection for one another before the world.

After all, Lyanna had fairly begged it of him that he not give away whatever it was that lingered between them. The desperation of her plea could have moved a heart of stone if necessary and when it came to her his heart was a pliable, soft thing. It jolted and fluttered by turns in her presence, leaving him feeling like a green boy.

That she could still have this effect on him, years later, spoke of his own conviction that their had been a bond of love above all else.

If he had somehow managed to convince her to stay with him, then that child, the boy she doted on, would have been his. He tried to picture it, having a babe with Lyanna. But the thought was swiftly discarded. It burned to consider and the pain was not something he had any need of.

"Not yourself?" the Queen questioned. "Oh, my son, You've been chasing ghosts again, haven't you?" She walked towards him and took him by the hand. "Will you not tell me? Whatever it is, I shall aid you."

It was tempting. Truly, Rhaegar should have liked nothing better. Yet if he spoke the words, a rather unpleasant situation would be on their hands.

Before he could offer any manner of answer, a knock on the door interrupted.

Reacting to the sound, Rhaegar turned around. He eyed the grim looking acolyte in the doorway and nodded his head on invitation. The young man stepped over the threshold and bowed. "Apologies, Your Grace for disturbing, but aught has happened to the King."

"What mean you?" the Prince questioned, concern touching him. He looked upon his lady mother but her face was a blank slate. There was something there. Her lack of reaction unsettled him. His gaze shifted to the acolyte.

"It seems that the suffering of His Majesty is at an end. Grand Maester Pycelle sent me, Your Grave, to call upon you. The King is dead." The words reverberated through the chamber.

In the stunned silence following, Rhaegar barely managed to draw in breath before something akin to pain settled in his chest. For a brief moment he feared it might bring him to his knees , such was the intensity of it. By sheer force of will, he kept himself straight, fighting the impulse to crash. The Prince have a short nod, somewhat absent yet.

A familiar touch settled upon his arm. Rhaegar looked down into his mother's face. Bright eyes stared up at him. "My son," she said, fingers running up and down his sleeve. "We must go to him." The prompting had little effect. Rhaegar continued to stare, as if he'd yet to understand.

A throat was cleared, shy and rather quiet. But it was enough to break whatever spell had fallen upon him, for Rhaegar felt a tremor creep up his spine. Eyes widening, he turned to the acolyte. "Not a word to anyone else upon this matter." Best to keep matters private for as long as possible.

Pycelle's creature nodded dutifully.

Rhaegar was not about to offer any other words. He strode forth, wide steps cutting through the distance between him and his destination. His lady mother kept up as best she could, her hand still upon his arm.

Together they entered the royal bedchamber. Maester Pycelle awaited their arrival beside the bed.

Upon the sheets a body had been lain. The sallow skin contrasted with the deep burgundy of the robe the man wore. A sickeningly sweet scent lingered in the air, like a mist. Rhaegar gently pulled himself away from his mother's grasp, even as she gasped. He approached the sickbed with careful steps and looked upon the face of the man that had been his father.

Though the eyes had been closed, the King looked no more at ease in death than he had been in life. A soft snarl curled thin lips and droplets of blood dotted the silver beard. The son bent over the father's hand, duty upon his mind.

The moment his lips touched the cold gold of the ring Aerys wore, Rhaegar felt his stomach twist. From that moment forth, everything changed. "Fare thee well and may your journey be easy, my lord father," he spoke softly.

He straightened himself and beckoned his lady mother forth.

Rhaella came without protest. She too spoke parting words, though unlike her son, she hesitated a good deal before bending to kiss her husband's cold hand. Still, custom had been observed and none could complain on that point.

Tense silence lingered within the bedchamber as Pycelle drew clean sheets over the body, to hide it away from sight. And then Aerys Targaryen was no more.

"The King is dead," the grand maester proclaimed. "Long live the King."

"Long live," followed the others around Rhaegar.

Without the knights of the Kingsguard dropped their weapons to bend knee, as they too saluted.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jaime slid a puzzled look towards Lady Barartheon. Better known as Lyanna Stark, the she-wolf, formerly of Winterfell, stared back at him unabashedly. "I must away, my lady," he said in spite of the slight bewilderment. "Duty waits for no man." The intensity of her stare discomforted him. He shifted his weight from one foot to another, hoping it would alleviate some of the tension.

"That may well be," she allowed, but the look on her face said she would not leave him be. Jaime was transported to boyhood days and daring wenches trying to catch his eyes. Although he suspected Lady Baratheon had no such frolicking on her mind. A pity, he might have indulged her. "I shan't keep you long, good knight. There are only a few questions I must ask."

He had seen her before, the truth of it was. At the very same tourney which had earned her a crown of flowers. Looking her up and down however, Jaime could not understand what it was that the Prince had seen in her. There was little enough to make her stand out. A pretty face, to be sure, but not enough to risk a scandal over. Neither did she possess any sort of attributes which might delight.

Although, Jaime supposed that if he had been forced into a marriage with Elia Martell, he too might have searched for satisfaction elsewhere. It was an improvement over that sickly creature. Jaime certainly regretted not being allowed to remain longer at the tourney. Ser Darry had assured him that while the crown of flowers elicited some gasps and wide-eyed gazes, the private reaction of the Dornish Princess was the true spectacle. Jaime ignored the urge to shake his head. It was past.

Lady Baratheon raised one eyebrow at him, visibly displeased at his gaze lingering.

"Ask then." It might have been the attitude His Grace had been taken with. The gods knew what else could explain it. Jaime stared at her, patience fading fast. "I haven't the time for games," he warned, making ready to walk past her.

"I do not play games," the woman assured him. "Ser Jaime, is it possible that there was some understanding between your lord father and my late husband?"

Out of all the questions to pose. Holding back a chuckle of disbelief, Jaime thought back on equally odd questions coming from Dayne. Something was afoot and he did not like being left in the dark. Alas, to question her would mean admitting to his own lack of knowledge. That he was not prepared to do.

"I find it best to keep as far away from my father's plans and indeed any knowledge of them, my lady," he answered tartly, in no mood to discuss Tywin Lannister with a virtual stranger. She might well be a woman of rank, but that in no way obliged him to indulge her every question. Especially when the both of them were equally in the dark. "If my lady will excuse me." The rest trailed off, leaving only a suggestion between the two of them and the vestiges of a challenge.

If matters did indeed stand as he was beginning to suspect, than the whole issue would only grow more and more interesting. And what would he not give to be entertained? The gods knew there was little enough to occupy his mind beside the goings-on of the keep. It would do him a world of good to be focusing on something else for once.

"That is your answer then?" Though she'd phrased it as a question, Jaime recognised it for what it was. He glowered at her daring. Instead of cowering or throwing an insult his way, the she-wolf have him a smile. "I see. Then you ought to be on your way, ser knight. I would not wish to impose." Something about the way she said it put him in the mind of a wild creature out on the hunt.

"My lady," he took his leave of her with a shallow bow, executed so for the sole reason of needling her. He wondered what Cersei should say if she were to find out exactly where Lyanna Stark was. Provided that she was still sour over the incident at that tourney, and knowing his twin, she would still be fairly fuming, Cersei would be quite displeased. Amused at the thought, Jaime went on his way, not brothering to look back.

He did, however, hear a loud sigh. That he attributed to the dissatisfied Lady Baratheon. Better her than him. If he were to even ask something like that of his lord father, Tywin would find a way of turning the whole matter against him and blaming him for the current position he served. After all, had Jaime not accepted his naming in the Kingsguard, House Lannister would have had a glorious future. According to Tywin Lannister.

To Jaime's mind it should be Tyrion would serve as lord just as well, even better, as his younger brother actually had the mind for it. Mayhap one day his father would wake up to the truth. If that moment came, Jaime was certain he should indeed be most grateful to the Seven for it. And if it never did, then his suspicions about his lord father would be confirmed. In any event, the issue did not necessarily concern him. King's Landing was far enough from the Rock.

Maegor's Holdfast loomed before him and Jaime drew to a halt. He took in a long breath, the mental shield rising even as he began walking once more. Time to face the sheer insanity of the man he'd sworn allegiance to and hope against hope that he would not abuse some unsuspecting victim on this day. Despite the impossibility of such an occurrence were the man healthy, the young knight forced himself into believing the Seven would spare them one more day. As long as the King was laid down by his sickness, it was entirely plausible.

As soon as he entered, however, Jaime became aware of the deathly silence lingering within the hallways. While Maegor's Holdfast was not the busiest of spots within the Red Keep, there was usually some movement to be seen. A lady-in-waiting returning from a tryst, a servant making a delivery, a Kingsguard returning to the tower. But nay, there was none of it to be seen. For a brief moment, the knight wondered if he had somehow fallen prey to a jest. Unfortunately for him it seemed not to be the case, thus he advanced towards his post with none too much delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the manner of all news, word of the King's death spread much like the sweating sickness would, rapid, merciless, brutal. It stood to reason that it would be doubted by a good number of those present to hear it. After all, the King had risen to his feet not that long ago, he had spoken and walked, seemingly better. Pycelle might not hold all the answers.

It stood also a matter of protecting one's interests. Cruel as Aerys Targaryen the second of his name had been, some policies served his lords well. The son, on the other hand, struck many as a reformer. Long was the memory of the people and recent the tourney of Harrenhal with its schemes and plots.

Whatever the case, however, before anyone could fully relax, knowledge had to be garnered. Thus it was that servant girls and boys scurried all about the Red Keep, lips whispering and ears listening. In the way of these things, it soon became a mixture of truth and fantasy, wild claims abounding. More sensible voices were marginalised in lieu of the sensational, accidental hurtling into tragic and ending in, most surprising of all, heroic. For anyone who had personally known the King such tales were nothing short of amusing.

Since Rickard Stark's knowledge of the crowned head was scarce though, the man found himself at a loss. He looked towards his daughter, cradling the boy in her lap, questioning the very look upon her face. "Lyanna, you must breathe at some point." Her reaction irked him. She acted as if the King having died, or not as the case may be, was pivotal.

As the father saw it, it was merely a chance for them to further investigate the curious case of Storm's End. Whether he could get his daughter to understand it or not remained to be seen. "Come now, what worries you so?" he questioned, taking Jon from her arms and releasing him upon the ground as the lad looked rather bored. He joined Renly a little ways away.

"If the King is dead," Lyanna pointed out, fingers worrying a piece of cloth, "many shall travel for his funeral to King's Landing. Do you not see, father? The murderer might well be among them." Her eyes travelled to her son. "We have only just regained some measure of peace." There was aught else there which she did not reveal to him, Rickard was certain, by the way tremors shook her digits. "What are we to do?"

"Nothing at all, my lady," Stannis cut in. "We shall continue about our business. The successor to the throne is surely in support of justice being done. My brother should have justice as well."

His daughter blinked slowly, as if that very thought had not occurred to her. "Of course," Lyanna said after a moment of awkward silence. "Robert deserves to have justice done."

The older she grew, the less he understood her, the old wolf decided. There were times when she was the very image of her mother, such as in the very moment, her concern for her child. And then there was the reckless Lyanna of old shining through every now and again. Someday, he promised to himself, they would sit down and speak of it at length.

"I trust then that the matter is settled," the lord of Winterfell said.

Just as the words made it past his lips, the door opened to admit a flushed Lady Ashara. She gave breathed heavily, her chest heaving in exaggerated movements. "I vow this keep is much too grand," the young woman managed, sliding into one of the empty seats. "The distance is too great between the towers."

"Only if one is running," Benjen quipped from his place near Lyanna. "Say, good-sister, is it possible that you carry news so important they necessitated such heavy rely on stored energy." For all his cheekiness, the Dornishwoman merely laughed. Rickard, however, threw him a hard stare.

"Of course it is important news. I have managed to steal a moment of my brother's time. The current situation calls for clarifications, would you not say?" Lady Ashara smoothed a hand over her skirts impatiently. "After all, rumours are fickle."

As fickle as any mistress, Rickard agreed silently.

"There now, don't keep us all waiting," Brandon burst quite unexpectedly. "Is the man dead or not?" Rickard was rather certain the concern had to do with his son's violent dislike of the man rather than pity. He would not argue such a point, however.

"Perhaps it would be best to proceed," he instructed.

"Indeed, I was merely waiting to see if anyone else would join us." The pack of wolves was complete though. As far as the patriarch of House Stark was concerned, it would suffice. "Well then, Arthur tells me that the King is indeed no longer of this world." The way she went about it, with such calm and grace, produced a note of amazement in Rickard. "However, there does not seem to be quite the uproar befitting such a situation."

"What do you mean?" Lyanna questioned. "Each and ever single one of the lords and ladies have sent out their scouts. I would say 'tis quite the uproar." Albeit in an almost farcical manner. She did not point that out. "More than enough for such a man, if you ask me."

From the corner of his eye, Rickard noticed that the children were no longer playing, but looking at them with questioning gazes. Shaking his head at the two, Rickard sent them to their play. He returned his attention towards his children. "Not all and sundry yet knows of this. When they do, however, it shall certainly be the uproar you are looking for."

"I have no doubt," Ashara replied. "But I haven't much interest in the matter. What is clear, my lord, is that they are diverting attention from this development. Think of it a moment. By now, it should have been clear to all within the keep the state of the King."

A dangerous line of thought. Benjen voiced the very sentiment. "If you would accuse anyone of foul play, my lady, it will necessitate more than suspicions stemming from the tardiness of news delivery."

"I make no accusations," his good-daughter denied vehemently. "I merely said it was odd. We should keep our eyes open, is all there is to it."

"There we are in agreement," Benjen murmured.

"Settle down," Rickard stepped between the two of them. "The King's death is a matter the royal court must deal with. Let us concentrate on our own issues."

"I couldn't have put it better myself, father."

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 


“Do not do this,” Benjen warned softly, arm around her waist. “There will be a time, but this is not it.” The thick fog that had settled over her brain was pierced by a sharp-edged lance. Lyanna startled, her body naturally pulling backwards. “You know very well what these actions would mean.”

Did she? Did she truly know? Lyanna had to wonder at it for a moment longer before the affirmation arrived. She knew it in the manner she had known it the very first time. She knew it and she was completely liable to push it to the back of her mind. In that very moment.

“I fear this might well be my last chance. I beg of you, Benjen.” The conflicting nature of her sentiments clashed viciously for the hundredth time, one part dragging her towards the long buried but never entirely discarded longing, the other cautioning against the folly of giving in to such a weakness. Lyanna could but ponder. “You know what will happen once he is crowned.”

If her predictions held true at any rate. And what had she to lose? Lyanna pushed lightly against her brother’s frame. “I will never do this again, I swear. Just allow me this once. Just this once, Benjen.” He had to understand.

“If you go now,” her brother began, not without his customary understanding, “you will be seen. Someone will inevitably claim lack of sleep and use that to hide behind trees and bushes, gathering information. You are placing us in jeopardy too. Is that your wish?”

Not at all, she wished to say. But the woman merely shook her head. The words she knew, her lips would not move however. Mayhap her body knew better than her mind in that instance. Benjen sighed and let her go. “Return to Jon’s side, sister mine. I believe it is he who needs you now.”

Benjen was a great deal of things. And for the most part, their views aligned. Why was it then that he could not see what she was seeing? Lyanna decided against continuing the discussion. She left the antechamber, entering the bedchamber where Jon lay on the bed, fats asleep, lost in whatever dreams his mind concocted. Her son, quiet boy that he was, had not even spoken a word since learning of the King’s death. The mother suspected he was still slightly confused upon the matter, but her own mind was elsewhere.

Aerys was dead. And Rhaegar would be King. He had told her, once upon a lifetime ago, about kingship. It might well be that he’d been trying to impress her at the time, as means of persuasion. Did he still hold the same views?

That did not interest her in truth. Whatever views he nurtured, Lyanna could embrace them or close her eyes to them. She wanted to ask him about the King She wanted to ask him about himself. And about loss.

Sitting herself upon the edge of the bed, Lyanna touched a hand to her son’s forehead. Jon’s lips moved slowly, as if to form words. Not a sound came past. There was a slight warm feel to him, as if he were sporting a fever. But nay, that could not be it. Her hand was just cold, Lyanna told herself, lifting the limb and trying to warm her skin as best she could by way of friction.

Again, she placed her hand upon the child’s forehead. It was much better. Just her imagination, Lyanna decided. Jon had been a tad out of sorts, was all, and she had been worrying too much. Might be his play with Princess Daenerys had worn him out, or the chase for dragon eggs. The gods knew Renly had come to her with his own stories of treasure hunting,

She did not know exactly why the children had chosen to split up and search independently, but she had accepted that, as long as they did not stray too far. It had been her warning to Jon as soon as it could be delivered, after she has calmed herself from the fright of his disappearance, and it was the same she had spoken of to Renly. These children would give her grey hairs, Lyanna rather thought, by the way they always managed to find some sort of scrape.

Lifting her hand off of the boy’s forehead, Lyanna went on to arrange his covers, pulling the furs further up around his body. “What is it that goes on in your mind just now, my son?” she asked the slumbering child, fingers brushing through his hair. “Do you dream of dragons, I wonder?”

How long would it take him to give up his search? Many had been those thinking they might find beneath the Red Keep the treasure of dragon eggs, and many had failed. It was a myth her son would have to learn to accept as only that, a fable. She would hate to see him disappointed though. It might well turn out that the experience would do him good though. There were times when disappointment was inevitable and defeat had to be accepted.

Yet undecided, Lyanna followed Jon underneath the covers, eyes upon his profile. The night was long ahead and her thought would keep her from sleep. The woman turned around gently, gaze lifting to the ceiling.

In another life, she might have had the good fortune of being more than a mere guest. She might have lived here with her children and grandchildren, gods be willing.

What folly, to be thinking of impossible things. Was she truly that sentimental, that lacking that she would genuinely entertain such thoughts? That, Lyanna blamed on her heart. It was forever leading her astray. Closing her eyes against the consideration, the young woman took a few deep breaths.

What might have beens would never be. She would do well to keep that in mind, she told herself. For the sake of all involved, not just her own.

Her mind ought to be concentrating on other matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon jolted at his father’s words. “But I cannot leave. My sister has need of me yet.” And he of the distance between himself and the North. The look on his father’s face, however, suggested that the Old Wolf was not much concerned upon that matter. “If you send me away, who will the investigation fall upon?”

“There are more than enough capable men,” the father replied, not in awe of the excellent point. “Stannis Baratheon has an interest to aid us as well. I need someone in Winterfell. Someone I have trust in.”

“Then send Ned,” the heir suggested. Surely father could trust Ned. The gods knew his brother could be trusted by just about anyone. “He might well wish to show Winterfell to his lady wife.” With any luck Ashara Dayne would even convince Ned to remain there until the whole business was over and done with. Which would naturally allow Brandon to remain comfortably in King’s Landing. The thought of it suited him just fine. All that remained was to somehow convince father. “He will be running his own keep soon enough. why not allow him a taste of it?”

“Brandon, this is not a bargain,” Rickard Stark reminded him firmly. “You are going to Winterfell and remaining there, to wait on my words. Am I understood?” The demand for an answer was met with hesitant silence. If he agreed, Brandon knew he would be placing himself in the path of disaster. If he did not agree, he would face his father’s wrath. “Brandon.”

“I do not see why–“ he began only to be swiftly cut off by his lord father.

“I expect you to begin your journey at the first hours of light.” The edict was as clear as could be. “Have a safe journey, my son, and expect to hear from me upon your arrival. I shall be sure to send a raven not long after your departure.”

As if that was of any comfort. Brandon nodded sullenly. “If it please my lord, I would retreat,” he offered weakly. He wanted to ponder matters for some time. A long while would do.

Father gave his consent with a short nod and that was all the sign Brandon needed to be out the door and heading towards his own bedchamber.

The empty room embraced his presence with nary a complaint, as if glad to have him back. He reckoned there would be a few persons as well glad to have him back, among which his own lady wife. And the son and daughter. Had Sansa grown much? Was Robb well?

He did not wish to wonder over such matters. They did nothing to lift his spirits, only further condemned him. Brandon closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. Best to face it if he could not escape it. Winterfell awaited him. And if his lord father urged him to leave, then he thought there must be some reason for such a hasty decision. Had it been planned, he would have known of the intention beforehand, he would have had the necessary time to convince father that Ned suited whatever task awaited there much better.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhaella hummed softly to herself, a small smile upon her face. She did not dare release more than that for fear of attracting eyes. Few were those who would be sleeping the night through and certainly none of the lords and lordlings gathered in the Red Kerr’s halls. Nay, they knew far too much to be at ease and feared the change that wad to some.

And well they should. All of them ought to tremble before the scourge, the whip that would follow her son’s coronation. Aerys had allowed them too much freedom. Rhaella was certain the economy exercised by her son would set them to rights. They had need of it, these fiends, a need of correction. Her brother had ruled as all weak rulers do. Her son would be better. He was a true dragon.

The woman skipped over a crack in the stone floors, eyes upon the split. The divide, she considered, was close by and the earlier it arrived, the better. Rhaella looked up at the sky. “I thought you had forgotten me,” she told the brightly shining stars. “But it seems I am remembered after all.”

All those years, wishing and waiting and wondering, and the moment had finally come. She was released from her bonds. The surge of joy coursed through her. And although she knew tears should be seen upon her face, Rhaella did not hide away.

Let them see. Let them all see. Aerys was gone, she was safe, her children were safe. Never would she have to endure the madman’s presence nor his demands. Merciful the Mother might be, and deep the teachings of the Faith, but Rhaella would defy even her, the good Mother, to live a day as the bride of Aerys.

The heart trembled at such memories. It could make anyone’s blood freeze.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vessel plunged to the side, nearly knocking Elia from her seat. Grabbing onto the side of the narrow bed, she prayed the gods for survival. Out of all the troubles to encounter at sea, did it have to be a storm? Was it not enough that they advanced considerably slow due to ice and cold?

To have been woken from a terrible dream by a thundering, ravaging squall was a terror in itself. The sooner they reached King’s Landing, the better. And once they arrived she would wait a long, long time before setting foot on any ship ever again.

Something creaked in the dead of night and the door to her cabin opened. Elia’s heart stopped.

And then set to beating once again as the familiar visage of her son became clearer in the dark. Aegon said not a thing as he climbed upon her cot, nestling into her side. His forehead pressed tightly into her shoulder, the boy whimpered as thunder boomed above them.

Rhaenys followed into her brother’s footsteps soon enough, although for some reason, her daughter looked somewhat proud while climbing in.

Elia had scarcely settled between the two of them when she heard the whisper.

“I won,” Rhaenys declared in a hushed voice, presumably to her brother.

“The only thing you won,” the mother cut in, “is my demand that sleep befall you. Both of you.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Had she contrived to be placed in such a position? Certainly. Lyanna looked towards the man with no measure of regret, knowing very well that a mistake this could not be called. It was a choice, simple as that. So the woman, stern-faced in the silvery moonlight, waited for the acknowledgement, still seated upon the stairs.

“I hope I do not overstep my bounds, Lady Baratheon,” Arthur Dayne enunciated clearly, a reminder of what she risked, “but I advise returning to your bedchamber.” There was understanding in his eyes, not the allowing kind, the one which allowed that there might come some good out of it all, but the one which told her he still disapproved. Heart squeezing painfully, Lyanna shook her head. “Your last chance, my lady.”

The warning came too late. Lyanna did not believe there was any saving her. Once more she shook her head. “You have tried your best, ser knight. Take consolation in that if you must.” She stood to her feet and took the hand he silently held out. Allowing him to guide her further down the steps, Lyanna said not another word. It was folly, what she was doing. She knew it. And knew it well. And yet, not once did her step falter.

“You give in with ease,” she said after a moment’s consideration to ease the tension bubbling between the two of them.

“In spite of my better judgement,” Arthur agreed. As for his reasoning, Lyanna suspected it had all to do with the King. The not yet minted one. She asked anyway. Ser Dayne checked his step and gazed down at her in a manner a father might when scolding his children. The paternal gesture was lost of Lyanna. She had never taken well to a scolding anyway. “Did it ever occur to you that there are bonds in this world, my lady, a man would happily die for?”

“All the time,” she returned with a cheerless smile. “Is that your reasoning? Your vow?”

“Not entirely.” The knight led her around a darkened corner. “I don’t expect you’d heard, but I was just a boy when I was sent to King’s Landing to keep company with His Majesty. I barely remember it myself. But I’ve known shortly thereafter that if ever there was a calling for me, then that was deeply entwined with His Highness’ destiny. He’s been my brother throughout most of my life.”

A brother. Lyanna nodded her head. “Happy is the man who can inspire such devotion.” And happier was she for knowing a man like Arthur Dayne had made his vows to the one she loved.

The Kingsguard threw her another look. “To you, my lady, he will only ever be an unreachable goal.” The truth sliced at her heart. Lyanna endured with little of the grace she’d been taught. In fact, shed nearly scowled. And yet she was glad as well. “On this path, there is only ruin.”

“If it be, then I shall take it all upon my shoulders.” Her promise was met with a sceptical shake of the head. “I cannot be to him what you are, good ser. And I am well aware that time is not on my side. But for the moment, I know I can bring some comfort.”

“And how much freer shall the blood flow when you are no longer for him to see and talk to?” That she had only half considered. She would not back down however, thus he too as well pressed forth. “If there was any way, my lady, believe you me, none of us would have hesitated.”

“I won’t harm him,” she said just as stubbornly as before, even as her mind told her it was a lie. She would harm them both.

“Not intentionally.” The only allowance he made on the point. “I cannot stop you, my lady, anymore than I can stop the rain from falling. If His Highness shall prove capable of it, then he shall order you back. If not, I pray you, think about the good turn I have done you in the past, and be merciful.”

How did one destroy a heart gently? Lyanna gave her word, nonetheless. What loss was there to bear that she’d not done so before? “There are times I wish I’d had feigned illness and not gone to that tourney.”

“Oft, is it?” he questioned, a small sharp smile twisting his lips.

“Almost never.” Lyanna laughed, she knew not why. “It would have been kinder for us all, I suppose. But I find these days that I am neither kind, nor anywhere as compassionate as I should be.” She waited for his agreement, but he formulated none. Lyanna looked up at him to see his staring down into her face. She shuddered lightly.

“It is both my duty and my desire to act as a shield, my lady. There are many battles in which this protection is of great aid. This, however, is not one of them.” Something flickered in his eyes and he let go of her hand. Grabbing onto one of the torched he held it out and the wall parted. “Yet I can avenge as well.”

“I shall be very wary then, ser.” The words she’d spoken lightly. The warning, though, she’d taken quite seriously. Ser Dayne was not making jests. He was making her a promise and she knew that he could and would carry it through if need be. “How many paces?”

“Twenty, thereabout.” He guided her through the tunnel, and unsurprisingly made quick work of their journey. “I shall return before the sun rises. If it is any later, then I fear for us all.”

“No later, ser. When the sun rises.” As if that was of much help. Lyanna allowed the thought to slip by as the wall parted once more, allowing her entrance in a large bedchamber. Not the King’s, though. Just as well that it wasn’t. She stepped within, the gap in the wall closing behind her.

Uninhabited, the bedchamber seemed cheerless. Lyanna took a few moments to look about, natural curiosity not held at bay. Certainly she’d been in a man’s bedchamber. Robert’s for one, and unpleasant though the experience had been she had by and by took notice of the habits exhibited. Rhaegar, however, proved orderly to the chaos that had been her late husband. She could see neatly placed books and scrolls, a small harp in a corner and upon the wall his lance. She assumed the weapon belonged to him for it was in his bedchamber. The truth of it was that she did not remember seeing this weapon at the tourney. It might have been, it might not have been. She could not make the distinction.

Gaze travelling father, Lyanna zeroed in of the bed. Without a second thought she walked towards it, staring at the empty space as if it might summon Rhaegar. Lyanna remained there until she heard the creaking of the door. Upon that moment, her body retreated within the shadows and her eyes attached themselves to the entering figure. Without even realising it, she held her breath.

The King entered his bedchamber with nary a care for the fact that his boots spread half melted snow mixed with dirt and tiny pebbles upon the pristine rugs. Some things did not vary in men, she saw. And yet Lyanna found that detail to be the least important.

For Rhaegar, sharp man that he was, instantly perceived something to be off. And when his eyes found her in the shadows she swore his face went white. Turning, he spoke a quick command over his shoulder, she assumed to his squire and closed the door. Then he bolted it. Not that Lyanna found issue with that.

When he did not turn to face her, however, she moved from her spot, crossing the room as if she were in a dream. Once reaching his back, her hand shot forth to land upon one shoulder, fingers gripping loosely.

“By the gods, you are real.” The words took her aback. Her touch retreated, not from any desire of parting though. Still, he did not turn. “You cannot be here.”

“I will it; to be here.” Ever aware that her words came out strangled, the woman crossed th line she’d felt him impose. Her arms circled his waist, front pressing to his back. Lyanna clung to his unabashedly. “I am real. I am here.”

Feeling the muscles in his back tense, Lyanna considered letting him go. And yet, for some reason, selfish and depraved though she knew it to be, the she-wolf held on. “I am as real as can be. Can you not feel me?”

She heard the curse and stopped herself from making a sound in response. The only chance she had was to wait it out. Lyanna leaned more heavily onto him, waiting. There were still hours until sunrise.”

“I shall have them take Dayne’s head.” The promise left her feeling chilled though she thought it not to be true.

“Better than you don’t,” Lyanna whispered.

“Flogged at the very least.” That was grumble.

Lyanna let it be. “Will you not face me.”

“Much as I desire it,” she heard him say, his own hand resting upon hers, fingers wrapping around one of her wrists, “I do not think it wise.”

“Well I shan’t be disappearing for some hours yet. Even you shall tire of staring at that door eventually.” Lyanna had not meant it as a jest. That it came out in such a manner was most unfortunate. Her words faltered as she struggled to carry on despite her amusement. “Look at me. If you want me gone after, I promise I shall leave.” She was lying, of course. If he wanted her gone, she would simply beg him to let her stay awhile longer.

The sharp intake of breath had her let him go as she felt the fight leave his body. The man turned around slowly, as if any sharp movement might send them both careering. It well might. Lyanna waited patiently until he was facing her. And then, as if she’d done it a thousand other times, her arms locked around him. “I am deeply sorry for your loss.”

Confusion lingered between them for a few moments, his arms held slack at his sides. Lyanna continued to embrace him. And then it all came together. “I am not,” she heard the words. His own arms came about her, one hand resting on the small of her back, fingers pressing into her flesh through the thick material of her kirtle. “It was time he met the Stranger.”

“You’ve never been very good a liar,” she murmured back, letting go. Rhaegar still held her when she dropped back to her regular height, toes no longer able to hold her up. She cupped his face between her palms. “Your pain is my pain.” Her thumb brushed the corner of his lips. She hoped he understood.

“And what would you know about comforting a man’s grief?” he questioned, not unkindly, but in a rather pained manner. There was a spark of a challenge he offered and the chance of a retreat should she wish it.

“I know enough,” Lyanna offered, guiding his face towards hers. She pressed her lips to kiss in a chaste manner. “More than enough for now.”

He chuckled, caught her by the shoulders and twisted her offering around to burden her with it. “You have made a mistake.” She felt the pressure upon her shoulders ease, only to form once more at her waist as she was hoisted up in the air. “A grave mistake.”

“Might be. But it is my mistake to make.” That much he could not argue, surely. Lyanna wrapped her limbs around him to secure herself.

“A better man would send you off.” Lyanna hoped it was not remorse she heard in his voice. At least not towards what she was offering.

“A better man, I expect, would not have tied himself to me in the first place. Might be the mistake is just as much yours.” That silenced him long enough for her to give him a second kiss. This time she did not allow any room for misunderstandings. “I would not love a better man any better than I do you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A thick blanket of snow covered the endless stretch of land in sight. The undisturbed mounds of white were outlined by an eerie glow, spilling forth from behind a lazily rolling cloud. Deserts had seemed more inviting than the abandoned flatlands. Alas, Jon thought, quivering lightly in the cool night, it was all but a dream. A vision.

While the experience did not become more pleasant, he did not feel the need to bolt that he’d felt the last time. Now the child was more curious than anything. He moved through the accumulated snow one step at a time, eyeing the branches above with a critical stare. The darkness didn’t allow for much discerning, but with any luck, flapping wings would be spotted sooner of later. Unfortunately for Jon, wings did not seem to be flapping anywhere nearby.

In fact, everything was still and quiet. Rather like a vast tomb. The thought stopped the child in his tracks. He looked about himself with muted worry but did not move any swifter than before. Could it be that those creatures the one-eyed Bloodraven had spoken about were lurking even now behind the tree line, lying in wait of some unlucky life form to serve as their feast? Gulping softly, Jon turned around.

A scream left his lips just as soon.

Lurching through the cold night air was a lumbering figure, striding towards him with purposeful alacrity. On its shoulder sat perched a second form, small, but familiar in a manner. Before he could understand better what he’d seen, the two figures disappeared, as if a cloud of smoke had been dispelled by a gust of wind. Nothing was left of them and Jon found himself alone once more. He had to keep moving.

Which was exactly what he did. Jon continued walking in the direction he had picked, wondering how long the dream would last. Usually, something would have happened by this point. However, besides the two figures he’d seen, there was little else to take notice of. Branches lowered beneath the weight of snow, the land slept and the moon deigned to feed the night sky crumbs of its light. There was nothing unusual.

Until, of course, something unusual did appear.

Rising from among its brethren, a tall tree stood in the middle of the path. Jon looked at the gnarled branches and twisted shape. It was no weirwood. However, upon the bark, keep scratch marks revealed oozing sap the colour of congealed blood. Making his way closer, Jon studied the wounds. He gazed to his right, then to his left, wondering if whatever had made the gashes was still about. Gods, it must have been quite wide. The thick slashes seemed the work of an axe, but for the jagged dorm.

Something crunched beneath his boot and made him stop. Jon looked down from whence the sound had come. There was nothing but snow. Lifting his foot off of the ground, he continued to search beneath his shadow. He found nothing.

Again he took a step forth and this too was accompanied by a frightful crunching sound. Almost a wail of sorrow to the child’s ears. Kneeling in the snow, Jon felt something sharp puncture his knee. With a yelp of pain he drew backwards, arms working to move the snow away and see what it was that had wounded him.

To his great shock, rather unpleasantly, it was the carcass of a wolf that he discovered. The poor beast had been torn apart by the looks of its bare bones. Here and there but if flesh and tuffs of air could be seen, but to the child’s mind, what he was witnessing was the aftermath of a feast of flesh. He’d seen those creatures feed, and if they could stomach murdering babes, surely they would not shy from doing the same to wild creatures.

“Poor beasty,” Jon found himself whispering. But his pity was wasted on the dead. They would never return no matter how hard he cried. So the child climbed back up on uneasy feet. He made his way past the tree and farther into the wooded area, careful of his steps. Mayhap those monsters had fed and now slumbered. He should have a care and not wake them. Bloodraven has told him upon their last meeting that he has saved him. From that Jon surmised there was some danger even if he walked the realm of dreams only.

Before long, his mind was actively trying to find the danger for want of anything better to do. Truth be told, Jon had never been comfortable in the dark. It was good for resting hours, of course, and more than adequate for when one wished to sneak about, but there had always been something that bothered him when wrapped in thick veils of utter blackness.

Mother’s presence had been of great aid and comfort to him. Yet in the realm of dreams, this house of smoke and looking-glass, he hadn’t her hand to hold on to and could not summon her either. He was on his own. Taking heart in the fact that he’d seen nothing of those murderous beasts though did make Jon feel better. Might be he would only need to walk until someone shook him awake. That was as much a comfort as could be. The boy continued upon the path with less worry than before.

And to think he’d been frightened. If he thought about it, the deep snows and dark nights were not half as bad as Daenerys Targaryen and her constant chattering. Not to mention the ungodly caterwauling spilling past her lips when anyone dared to naysay her. Might be she should be the one walking there dreams and being frightened out of her wits. That would work to quieten her.

The uncharitable thought was not to be long enjoyed by the child, however. Jon had no sooner thought of Daenerys that the image of her father came to mind. The man who had grabbed onto him, calling Jon by a name not his own. The same man Jon had let die. Chilled by the knowledge, the boy had to shake off the heaviness before he could move.

As soon as that was done, aught else caught his attention. From behind a tree, a shadow moved, sharp sounds came from close by and the long hooting of an owl had his stumbling for the nearest shield he could find. Hidden behind a tree, Jon watched as a man made his way through the trees upon a fine steed.

What struck the child was the visage of the stranger. Tall and broad shouldered, a warrior by the weapons he carried, the man looked about with eyes of living silver. The colour oddly matched with russet tresses gave Jon pause. The angular features spoke of Northerner blood, and those eyes as well. He could do little else but watch as the man dismounted and tied his horse so it might’s run off into the night.

To the child’s surprise, the man took off his cloak and spread it upon the ground. He whistled long and looked over his shoulder, as if expecting someone or something to emerge in his wake. Jon continued to stare, gazing at shifting shadows until from the darkness a second man appeared followed by a daintier horse upon which a woman had been mounted.

And this one left no doubt in Jon’s mind of her origin. The limber creature looked ahead despite the burden in her arms and for one moment Jon was completely arrested by the sight of her. Proudly perched atop the horse, a tiny woman with downward stretching frown was brought to the first man’s side. Long, bone straight tresses fell over her shoulders in tangles. She gazed upon the man with light blue eyes, similar to those of his uncle.

What exactly was he seeing? Jon bit back a sound of confusion. The woman was helped down from her horse by the second man who picked her up as if she were a child. And beside him she might have well been. But as soon as the giant had her upon the ground he retreated back to the shadows leaving man and woman on their own.

The petulance did not disappear from the female’s features even as the male turned towards her and cupped her face in his hands. “Your frown hurts me so,” he said, thick voice reverberating through the otherwise silent premises. “I pray you, do not take on so.”

Tightly pressed lips parted for a moment, eyes flashing angrily. Before the nameless woman could say a thing, however, the bundle in her arms emitted a soft cry, stealing her attention away. Jon leaned in to better see the man wrapping both woman and babe in his heavy cloak. The wide garment engulfed the elfin creature, nearly hiding her shape from sight but for the parting allowing the last dregs of it. “Greta,” the man called to her, harsh syllables somehow coming along smoothly. “Gretel, my Margareta.”

None of that seemed to attract Greta’s attention. She fussed over the child in her arms and stubbornly refused to meet the man’s eye. That was until, having mayhap had his fill of her obstinacy, he caught her face between his hands once more and lifted her head so she might be forced to stare at him.

“Greta, ‘tis for the best.” Calming words were flung back in his face as Greta foot kicked out viciously.

“That ‘tis so, I’ve no doubt. You have had your fun and now you return me to my father’s halls ruined.” She pulled out of his grasp. “The fault lies with me.” The man accepted her abuse with nary a protest, but Jon noted the subtle tensing of muscles in his face.

“Ruined?” he echoed, his own mouth falling into a straight line. Wide hands perched upon her shoulders, no doubt exerting a taxing grip by the manner of her grimace. “Is that what you would call yourself, Greta? Ruined?”

She might have agreed but for his mouth putting a stop to all words. Jon barely resisted the urge to make a sound of mild disgust at the scene. He would have looked away as well but for the fact that it all proved rather fascinating. Not the kiss, but the manner in which the woman softened considerably under such treatment.

When they came apart, she was no longer frowning. Yet she smiled not either. “You foolish man,” she said, evading another one of his embraces. “You have naught to worry over in your Wilding kingdom.”

“Your lord father,” he snorted, as if amused by the title, “needs an heir. He shan’t bring you harm. Or to our son.”

Greta gave him a weak smile. “Aye. He needs an heir." She said nothing more for the second man returned.

“We need to go,” he told the first man, the father of Greta’s son.

“Are you certain you won’t be lost?” the man questioned Greta who shook her hand, removing herself from near him to stand next to a tree. “Fare thee well, beloved.”

To that she said nothing and the man untied his horse, mounting. Greta hugged her child closer to her chest and watched the scene unfold before her, not once making a sound. The shadows swallowed the father of her child and his companion and away they went.

“Bael, Bael,” she sighed, rocking the babe with slow flowing motions. “You fool.” A right fool, Jon thought, looking at Greta with her too-large cloak and now tear-filled eyes. She made a soft sound of discontentment, mayhap choking upon a sob.

Before Jon could hear aught else all shapes around him began melting away, the woman and her child thinning into dark lines until there was nothing left of them. Somewhat stunned, Jon reached out unconsciously.

Waking with a start, the child’s vision was filled with the dark colour of the tapestry hanging from the wall as he came to. Snoring softly at his side was his mother’s maid.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rattling door woke Lyanna. She knew not how long she had slept, but by the looks of it Dayne was late. One glance towards a high window confirmed her fears. The sunlight could be seen quite clearly. Stricken, Lyanna shot out from beneath the covers, eyes searching frantically for her kirtle. It was only a few moments later that she realised the door never opened.

With that, Lyanna looked to see the bar firmly in place. Relief washed over her. Not enough to make her give up her search though. The kirtle, though it had been thrown somewhere out of the way, surfaced in time for the wall to part, forming a thin gap through which Rhaegar entered, giving her quite the fright.

But he merely held a finger to his lips, urging her to keep silent. The man looked her up and down appreciatively and then pointed towards a door she’d not seen before. Taking his meaning Lyanna saw herself out of sight and continued to redress even as she heard the door creaking on its hinges. Muffled voices reached her and though she could not understand what was being said over the pounding of her own heart, the churning of her stomach indicated that it was not something she would enjoy hearing.

Best that she had the time to make herself decent before she bore the news, whichever manner they belonged to, she supposed.

It took mere moments for Rhaegar to come for her after she heard the door close.

The look on his face was telling.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guilt punched a hole through him. Rhaegar gazed at his lady wife and found that he could barely hold her stare. Weakened from her journey, but not nearly enough so to be missing her smile, Elia proudly held her son forth, showing him to Rhaegar with hope shining in her gaze. What manner of monster would crush such a look?

Daeron Targaryen gurgled softly, clearly displeased to be taken out of his mother’s hold. Rhaegar gazed down into the boy’s tiny face. Awash with that queer combination between queasiness and blind devotion, he could no more regret Daeron appearance in his life than he could wish the stars would not shine. “He is perfect,” she whispered, more to the child than to Elia. She, of course, would already know just how glad he was.

But when he looked up, the King saw relief in his lady wife’s face, not understanding. The thought struck him then. “He is perfect.” The repetition produced a smile from Elia. Rhaegar held her gaze for a few moments before looking back at his youngest son. Utterly perfect.

Relief stole over him then. He had thought, to his utter horror, that he might resent Elia when he’d heard word that she had arrived. With Lyanna’s taste still upon his lips, his heart had wrenched so painfully, he had actually considered the possibility of resenting her.

To know that he did not was both a blessing and a curse. “We shall wait until all is in order to take him to Baelor’s Sept,” Elia offered, hands reaching out for the babe.

Glad for the lack of turmoil her words produced, Rhaegar’s gaze continued to linger upon her golden skin.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Benjen gave her a sharp look as soon as she set foot within the chamber. Whatever excuse she'd had, it evaporated on the spot. Her own lips pulled in a taut line, mien a perfect imitation of his. The disconcerting tightening of her stomach helped matters none. Still, Lyanna came further in. "Lovely morning," she noted calmly, as if she'd not been made aware moments ago that not only had Elia returned, but her own brother had figured her out.

The younger Stark, though, was content to nod his head and send Betha on her way along with Jon. "I suspect the court will be gathered to greet the new Queen soon enough. Pray ready our lord." Her son's grimace, telling of his desire to be poked and prodded at in an effort to project a stately image, impossible feat for a child at anyhow, did not stop mild amusement from blooming.

"Do go on, Jon," she told the boy, petting his hair gently. "I expect Benjen has the right of it." And she also expected he had a few more truth to bandy about before the both of them could be joining Jon. Lyanna suspected it was better that Benjen do the talking than any other man of her family.

The door closed behind Betha and Jon, leaving brother and sister alone. Benjen sat himself down, leaning slightly backwards, uncaring of the graceless slouch. "Was I somehow unclear, Lya?" There had always been something about the three of her brothers growing up and taking charge which left her with the taste of sorrow in her mouth. "Of all the times to risk yourself. Are you pleased now?"

Of course not. But Lyanna rather expected that she would not be pleased unless her visits to Rhaegar somehow developed into a matter of permanent nature. Yet given who and what they were, that was not a possibility. "Not that I can say." Scolded children had provided surer answers. She might have told it even that it pained her, but Benjen, in his current mood, was unlikely to appreciate that despite knowing exactly why he grew angry with her Lyanna could not help but feel herself to be the injured one. Not her pride, rather her heart for once. Pride, came the thought, had forever belonged to Robert, hers included. The heart stood a different matter. One that Lyanna had shared with another. "I was discreet."

Her promise failed to exact the response she'd envisioned. Instead, incensed, her brother stood from his seat, lean form easily towering over her. In the good old days wit would have been her shoulder he reached. "I am trying to protect you, woman. What is so difficult to understand about that?" The curt, barely controlled voice tripped her into guilt as surely as any other accusation might have. Balking, Lyanna could but stare. "Does it not matter to you at all that father could discover this liaison of yours? And Ned as well. Lady Ashara served as part of the Queen's women."

"Lady Ashara is family now," she pointed out in a small voice. If she'd meant to call her brother's assertions into doubt, Lyanna was met with cool disbelief on his part. She cringed softly.

"She is Ned's lady wife. Not yours." For indeed, hers or not, it stood to reason that if Lady Ashara had any devotion it went to her own family, to Ned and possibly to Elia Martell. Understandably so, given the other's previous position. To her, Lyanna was only now beginning to be a companion in a sense that might encourage attachment. "You cannot wave away caution whenever you deem it fit."

"I do not believe I shall ever have another chance to again." The relent felt like breaking a part of herself and handing it over to her brother in defeat. But then, it was mayhap best to face the music and stagger on. No more placated than before her brother huffed something she did not understand and gave a shake of the head. It occurred to Lyanna that there was something else she needed to take care of as well. "I must prepare as well, Benjen. If you would be so kind and step out of my chambers."

Benjen threw her a wry look. Nonetheless, she saw himself off, leaving Lyanna to kneel by the trunk and the end of the bed and take out a fresh kirtle. She saw to preparing the dress on her own until Betha's return when the second woman took over.

"The colour is too strong, my lady," her maid noted. "It shall only make you look sallow."

That was just as well. A drop of venom spread through her. It was just as well, let her look as sick as she felt. "Never you mind that, Betha." Her insistence upon the dress was met with a shrug and the usual aid necessitated when preparing for court. Betha tied the laces at the back expertly, waiting for any other order.

Looking over her shoulder, Lyanna paid special attention to the woman's face. "If I ever needed your help, Betha, would you give it to me?"

The prodding produced the expected effect. Betha's mien turned to serious concentration. "Anything, m'lady. Only name it." Heartening as the display was, Lyanna still hesitated. "Anything," her maid repeated with the same doggedness.

Did she suspect where Lyanna had previously been? The question lingered for a few moment before Lyanna brushed it away. "Can you find me some moon tea?"

Paling slightly, the maid stepped backwards. "Moon tea," she repeated dumbly, only recovering after a good few seconds. "I shall brew it myself if I have to, m'lady."

"You must be discreet," Lyanna warned, turning to the trunk and producing some coin from it. "It is of utmost importance."

Betha nodded her head and took the coin, hiding the pieces away from sight. She gave one last nod the head, bobbing lightly on her feet. "M'lady has nothing to fear from me. I shall do well." With that she left.

Lyanna, knowing she mist make her way to the great hall as well, simply saw to her reflection in the looking glass for a few moments before, upon deeming her appearance respectable enough, seeing herself into the hallway where Benjen awaited her, Jon firmly in hand.

"Father has sent Brandon to Winterfell," he let her know, giving up his hold on her child's hand. "I had nearly forgotten to tell you."

"He must have been anxious for Winterfell," she commented softly as they made their way down the hallway.

Benjen shrugged. "I cannot see why he should be; for that pile of rocks. It stood well before him and it'll stand long after him." Something of uncle Rodrik indeed, Lyanna thought as she took in the impious words of her brother.

"Might be there was something else at play then." Gazing ahead was not surprised to feel that the deserted halls still thrummed with life. It was not everyday that they were offered the chance to gauge the manner of relation between the royal couple. For her part, Lyanna hoped the gods struck her deaf, blind and dumb. Better to know nothing at all.

"Might be." Benjen gave little else for her to go on as they entered a second hallway where other lords and ladies were milling about, most no doubt on their way to the great hall as well. Lyanna tightened her grip on her son's hand and sidestepped a rather rotund matron. Her brother snorted softly. "I daresay there is quite the crush we're witnessing."

She nodded her head. Hopefully Ned and Ashara would be found with ease, The last thing one needed was to be separated from those that had a tad more information on current matters. Despite having heard it from Rhaegar himself, Lyanna still wished to have another reliable source from which to extract some information. With any luck, she could keep abreast of the whole matter.

"Over there," Benjen's voice broke through her thoughts. Lyanna looked towards the spot in which direction he'd nodded. True enough, Ned and his lady wife were waiting alongside father for the new arrivals. Father merely nodded his own head at the approach, such an acknowledgement sitting very well indeed with Lyanna. The least attention paid to her, the least they stood to discover.

Ashara's eyes lit on Lyanna's face, attracting the other's attention. Her lips trembled, as if holding back words with great difficultly. Lyanna, throwing her a questioning look, petted her son's hair when she felt him push into her.

"I thought you mightn't come," her good-sister said softly.

Confused, Lyanna shook her head. "I daresay it would be poorly done of me to do so." Jon evaded her hold and crashed into Benjen's leg. "Jon, pray sit still a moment." Likely he did not enjoy the hustle and bustle. Lyanna knew she did not. "We shan't be long. Do you not wish to see the Princess and the Prince?"

"Princes," the correction came from her side, an unknown voice flowing smoothly along her skin. Head swivelling to the side, she gazed at a man of respectable height who sketched her a polite bow. "I see confusion on your face, my lady."

"I don't believe I know you, ser." She met his bold gaze with a stony look. His daring was suspicious to say the least.

"Apologies," his voice rumbled softly. But there was a half-smile on her face. "Lord Stark, mayhap I would be allowed to make acquaintance with your daughter."

"But of course," came the reply of her father to Lyanna's great surprise. "Lya, this here is Ser Gylem Rosby, brother to Lord Rosby." What had her father been up to? Lyanna glanced towards her parent, then towards Gylem Rosby, she gave a soft bob and a nod of the head. "He was kind enough to tell us about His Higness' newest addition to the family."

A gossip? Interesting; men ever so rarely took pleasure in offering such titbits to those around them. Lyanna offered the man a smile despite the fact her own stomach dropped. "Newest addition? Certainly ser I should like to know as well."

"But of course," he said. "I was among those come to greet Her Highness upon arrival and saw with my own eyes the infant. Another Prince." Teeth gnashing together beneath tightly held lips, Lyanna forced herself to put on a pleasant mien. "The King must be very pleased."

About as pleased as one was to finding out the gold they'd been carrying was nothing but copper. The uncharitable thought struck her just as she opened her mouth to excuse herself and Lyanna froze. Had she not promised to herself that she would not lay blame where there was none to be placed? Good gods, was she that bitter? The thought did not sit well with her. She felt rather sick to the stomach to be considering the matter in such a manner. Entirely unbecoming, she chided herself mercilessly. Pleased indeed, her conscience mocked.

"I am certain he must be pleased." He finally had his three-headed dragon. She glanced away from the man. "Any man would be."

"Indeed," came Ser Rosby's agreement. "I daresay Lady Baratheon that your own son shall likely be chosen as a companion for the oldest son."

Quite. Aegon and Jon were close enough in age and Steffon Baratheon had been close to Aerys in his youth, despite Robert not being close to Rhaegar later. "It is to be hoped that the relations between houses are upheld. Blood is the strongest bond." Oft, very much so. The subtle irony brought a smile upon her lips.

Might be their companion thought he had brought the expression upon face for he nodded at her as if he had guessed her plan. Not that Lyanna had much of one, to be sure. "Would that not inconvenience you, my lady, to be kept in King's Landing until proper accommodations can be made?"

"Our stay in King's Landing shall be rather lengthier. Enough for accommodations of all manners," her father cut in. Slightly taken aback, Lyanna looked between the two of them again. She sensed rather than knew that her father was playing at something. Rarely had he allowed men to converse so freely to her in his presence. Yet it could also be that being a widow she was allowed more liberties. As far as conversations went.

"I am very glad to hear that." Why that should be, Lyanna could not say. Instead she focused her attention upon the man and noticed that he too stared at her as she spoke. He had kind eyes, for what it was worth. Lyanna liked them well enough, in fact, to not take issue with their insistence.

Feeling rather emboldened, Lyanna tapped his arm gently, a feathery movement, and said, "And why should that be, good ser?" Far from acting the blushing youth, he regarded the innocent enough gesture with assured triumph.

She was no ingénue herself. Lyanna let him go without much fuss even when he did not answer. After all, flirtations aside, there were other matters to hold her attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Ashara sighed softly and shook her head. Her good-sister looked rather serious. "Never tell me father plans to throw me in the arms of another suitor with such haste," she jested. When her good-sister winced, Lyanna had to raise an eyebrow. "Does he?"

"Not necessarily. I am not in possession of all the details." Ashara leaned in slightly as they both watched the King made his way to the throne. "Ser Gylem Rosby is his brother's heir. Word has it that he is looking for a spouse." It struck Lyanna that her own father might know more than he let on. She glanced at Benjen, willing her to gaze at her. But her brother looked straight ahead, thus she could not even question him on the matter.

If he did know, it would make sense. If he did not, then she could not understand her father's choice to encourage anything but a passing acquaintance. "Then surely he would wish for one of the lovely young maidens that grace the court with their presence." Widows were of good use if they could produce offspring. Lyanna was well aware that her having not produced any children after Jon was regarded as somewhat suspicious given that her lord husband was known to have sired quite a few bastards. Therefore the issue could not lie with him. "Someone who would ensure the continuation of the line."

"Line Rosby has never been all that plentiful," Ashara pointed out. It was the manner in which she said those words that made Lyanna glance at her. Her good-sister inclined her head to the side. "As far as Lord Rosby is concerned, they say the man is ill and will not take a bride."

"And what is wrong with the other?" Surely, Lord Rosby's brother, standing to inherit lordship, could have found a worthy bride if he had wished it. Instead he had chosen to give her his attention. Much as she'd enjoyed it, Lyanna was uncertain of how conductive that was to his search.

"Nothing that I know of," the other answered. She leaned against Lyanna and pointed a man out in the crowd. "But I daresay there is plenty wrong with the lord." Enough to put any young mind off of marriage, Lyanna surmised as her gaze landed upon Lord Rosby. The haggard face looked odd upon a man that was presumably only a few years older than the brother. And yet, he looked to be the age of her own father. She made a soft sound in response to Ashara's words. The other continued. "Very odd sort as well."

"In what manner?" the she-wolf felt compelled to question. The man might well be sick, but surely that had not deterred any from tying the knot before; as far as Lyanna was aware. "And why should that affect the choice of his brother in any manner whatsoever?"

The half-flush of joy that had lingered upon her skin died an easy death in the merciless hands of time. And Lyanna looked no longer upon the Rosby siblings, but changed her glance upon a far more interesting target.

A whisper broke out among the noblemen gathered in the hall. Elia Martell came joined by her brother. Lyanna stopped to listen to a rather tart jab from a young maiden, wondering out loud at the fact. "Blood calls alike," she laughed softly, the man oh whose arm she was seeming to indulge her with a small nod, the manner of which was tolerant. The man's reply was lost in the growing murmur of the other inhabitants gathered about.

But might be it was the pleasure of being the centre of all attention which called into the new Queen's cheeks the glow Lyanna could easily spot. For speak trifles these lords and ladies and sers might, yet they still spoke of her. "She looks to be in good health," the Lady of Storm's End noted with little passion infused in her words.

"One should hope so. Giving birth is no easy task," came the answer from Ashara whose hand patted Lyanna's gently, as if to sooth some unseen turmoil. "It is good to know her well despite all trials." Which was expected, Lyanna formulated in her own mind. If the woman had not perished in birthing her first two children, the likelihood of it happening farther on was slim.

Of course the little Prince had been brought along and though the presence of a babe created some opportunity for speech amongst those present, it was the older Prince was Princess that truly held the attention of everyone. Brothers, especially those tied to the Iron Throne, were never just siblings. Speculation ran rife. Such stuff, Lyanna nearly snorted. Those were children. She rather expected they had some growing up to do before anyone would consider using them in any manner.

"At the very least we shall have a tourney to show for this change in reign." Customary fare, as all of Westeros well knew. Lyanna herself did not feel much at the knowledge. Tourneys were double edged swords. And each sharp edge had been washed in its own special kind of poison. "Might be we shall convince Ned to join this once."

On that Lyanna could comment but little. "If you insist, good-sister, I am certain he shall." To his own peril, true. But her middle brother had ever been sure it was his destiny to be someone's saviour. "Men have been known to go to great lengths when properly incentivised."

Ashara laughed softly. "So I've heard." She gazed at Ned, whom for all they could tell was absorbed completely by the task of watching the procession. Good of him, Lyanna considered. "A few sparks of joy would be most welcome." The comment passed by Lyanna's ear. She did not linger upon it, however. "It seems to me that the King is indeed pleased with his son."

"As any father should be." Biting down on her lower lip, Lyanna watched Rhaegar hold the babe. A tourney indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

The finely spun yarn of dusty spider’s web rolled in one of the darkened corners, catching onto the shadows with its sticky quality. What had once been a pure white colour lied tarnished upon the ground, a reminder of loss, innocence and delight alike stripped away with one cruel blow. What remained was the memory, dangling by a thread, thankful yet even for such a precarious position. In some manner it was reminiscent of the struggle all living creatures faced. Opposed with the never-faltering passage of time, man and beast alike fell prey to the wicked clutch of the flowing sands. It was inevitable, not to be struggled against, yet impossible to accept in any manner whatsoever.

Not one creature with warm blood flowing through its veins could in good conscience claim themselves to be eager for the cold embrace of death, the Stranger or whichever name the last mystery of all was assigned. And if anyone did, he would be challenged for a liar and a crooked soul. Death was not welcomed to the doors of either rich or poor. The lords and the smallfolk alike whistled contemptibly at the first sight of it, drawing back whenever they heard of this mystical, yet formless crusher of existence.

Thus it came as little surprise, and, at the same time, as little comfort that the whole world should be only a hairsbreadth away from the vicious clasp they so struggled to avoid. Case in point, the still buzzing creature caught in amid the silken cords of a deadly cocoon. Tiny wings flapped in a futile manner as the insect tried with all its might to hold onto whatever of its life it still had. By the way the poor mite moved, sporadic jolts and violent trembles, it was not at all certain that it might have until sundown.

From the edge of the shadow, stepping one slender, spindly leg into the diffuse light falling over a recently scrubbed yet somehow still dusty windowsill, arrived upon the blackness a second being. It carefully stepped closer and closer, its myriad of legs stepping with delicacy over the cold stone. The scritch-scratch of its movements lost itself in the hum and thrum of day-life. No attention was drawn to its edging closer and closer still to rest one of those sharp-tipped limb upon the soft cocoon, as if to offer comfort to the struggling captive.

But the only comfort the insect received was cutting swipe of blade-like sharpness. Upon the blackened stone one lone droplet of vivid colouring screamed out the agony of an even gone by unnoticed. Should anyone have bothered to glance that way, they might have gasped and averted their gaze. Dragging its victim back towards what was undoubtedly its lair, the spindly-legged spider would be enjoying a warm meal soon enough.

The gruesome implications of it all were lost, however, on the sole occupant of the chamber.

Upon a wide bed, protected with billowing curtains from anything that might unsettle its occupant, a young creature sat, her back propped against a pillow. One reed-thin hand stretched out, fingers reaching. Her lower lip sported a small cut, a droplet of blood precariously hanging to the bottom of the strip of flesh. Wide-eyed, the girl startled, hand falling back upon the furs.

The door of the bedchamber opened slowly and a slim figure stepped in. “Rosalynd?” Tremulous, her name spread throughout the premises. “I thought I heard something.” He was not supposed to be anywhere near her. Rosalynd stared at him for a few moments, wondering to herself whether it would be best to send him off or engage him.

Her father’s squires were good boys. Not that she’d ever been allowed near them for very long. Her eyes fell away, to her lap. She heard him gasp before her lips began moving. “It was nothing.”

But her young visitor seemed to be more concerned with the cup on her lip than her words. If he’d even heard them. Rosalynd tried to evade him, but even with the best of her attempts, she only managed to delay the inevitable. “My lady, you are injured.”

One day, Winstead would be a great knight. One day Winstead would join the Night’s Watch. One day, poor Winstead would lie in a pool of his own blood, choking on his tongue which he’d bitten off during the worst of his pain. Roslaynd did not want his kindness. Regardless, she would have it, as his fingers gripped her kerchief and wiped away the blood. She endured the treatment with her best mask of stoicism and wondered if the gods wished to make a mockery out of her sacrifice. Might be they saw the whole matter as something to be made light of, to be discarded and forgotten. Mayhap to them a bleeding heart was nothing of consequence.

“That is much better.” For him, might be. Roslaynd did not say as much, but she faced away from him, as if to put a wall between them. “Should I find the Septa?” he questioned, concern bleeding through the words, tugging at the strings of her heart.

“Nay.” Best of all was to keep her answers short. Make him go on his way. The one she needed was Oren. She could not grab his attention with Winstead hanging about her. As well as he meant by his hovering, he was am impediment. If she did not manage to cut the path of the lioness then she could never fulfil her promise to the three-eyed crow. And where would that leave her?

A hand touched hers, gentle and hesitant, fingers curling softly inwards. Roslaynd drew her hand away, head snapping around. She met Winstead’s stare and for a brief moment her conviction wavered. As quick as it came, however, it was over and the ebbing left her harder still to the whisper of her heart. Shutting the lid on such notions, she turned her face away from him once more, like a too proud laming aster in the sky.

And regret came swift upon the tail of her action. It always did seem to be lurking about.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon clapped a hand on his host’s shoulder. “At least you are now not a man any squire might take for their practice partner.” He could hardly believe it himself, yet there it was, before his very eyes.

Howland Reed laughed at the reminder, a bruise that had healed sometime past. “Your very own sister is to be the recipient of your gratitude. Has she not intervened when she had, I very much doubt I would have followed my father where I am now.”

The Stark heir gave a nod of the head. Howland Reed had been very fortunate that Lyanna had never been the sort to stand idly by when what she considered inappropriate behaviour took place right before her eyes. A trait that would land her in a lot of trouble at some point, he was certain. Howland did not leave him to his thoughts though.

“May I introduce my lady wife, Jyana.” The crannogwoman smiled at him, her short, slim form dwarfed before his own. Brandon gave a nod of the head, taking a moment to consider her. She was a perfect fit for her lord husband. Both of them dark and small and incredibly joyful. How fortunate they were.

“Wedded her as soon as the tourney ended, did you not?” He could not recall much from the very end of that bleeding tourney. At that time he’d been pursuing his own bride. Jyana was the one who answered him, taking obvious pride in it. Women and their belief that a man hanged on their every word; Brandon had to smile. Catelyn could be the same at times, constant in her hounding of him and more than unnaturally determined to seem her utmost pleasant whenever he happened to be in the vicinity.

That was not to say he suspected the crannongman’s wife of trying to gain his favour. At lengths, he would be useless to her for a good few years, as it happened that his own lord father was in excellent health.

“I see there is another lady waiting to be introduced.” Pointing out to a door, Brandon levelled an amused stare at a mite of girl, half-hiding behind the carved wood. She peeked from behind her hiding spot, green eyes shining bright. Too young to perceive charm, she was content to feed her curiosity.

“Meera,” Jyana called to the child who, unsurprisingly, ran away at the very mention of her name in such a manner. It seemed she had been caught playing the wrong sort of game. “Always so curious, these children. I dread the day Jojen will follow in her footsteps.”

“A son as well? My word, Reed, you have been very much hard at work.” Brandon went on to congratulate the crannogman. “You shall have a brood of them if you keep this pace up.”

They went on to lead him into a small hall, clearly serving for the great wall of the keep. Brandon was only too happy to be seated and fed. The journey had been arduous and he was sore all over from making such haste.

After he took his pleasure, or whatever could be found of it, in the good food and even better drink, Brandon remained in the hall with his host, discussing at lengths the happenings within the North as much as was given to the knowledge of the crannogman. He would have thought Howland Reed unconcerned over such matters, yet it seemed the man was well informed.

“The levies have even been collected,” the man told him, describing the efficient system implemented presumably by the maester of Winterfell. “I recon it set a few tempers ablaze, since your maester, do forgive me if I speak out of turn, was quite insistent upon receiving his coin promptly.” As was best done.

“Did anyone suffer great losses by this demand?” Best done, but might be not best for the bannermen.

“Not that I’ve heard of.”He would have to make a point to inquire over the matter. Much as he would enjoy not to bother with it, the fact that Reed was not certain left enough of a margin for which to be concerned. Displeased bannermen were seldom easy to deal with.

They continued to talk until the sun had hidden itself below the horizon, at which point Brandon had to admit to fatigue. His father had always know just how to make any endeavour difficult, the young man mussed as he was led by a servant to a guest bedchamber.

Offered a fine bed and even finer conditions in which to rest, Brandon had little to do but peel off his somewhat fire-warmed clothing and make good use of the water and washing rag they’d brought him in order to prepare himself for a restful night. Soon enough he would be arrived at Winterfell where Catelyn awaited him. Brandon sighed rolled his shoulders. Weighed down by the heavy winter garments he’d forgotten how relaxing it could be to stand in front of a good fire on one’s shift and breeches.

The heat of the flames danced along his skin gently, a perfect imitation of a lover’s touch. Kneeling on the rug, he leaned in slightly, enjoying the warmth emanated from within the fireplace. He held one hand forth until the fingers were just shy away from brushing the fire.

The signet ring he wore on his finger blazed in the light, the two fish seeming to spring to life. The coiling direwolf was much less impressed, still in his slumber. Brandon looked upon the gift he’d received from his lady wife when they were wedded. He took it off and inspected it closer. Might be it should have been a trout family carved in it, for form the two children she’d delivered him, none showed the face of a Stark.

The uncharitable thought brought with it a hint of remorse.

Brandon put the ring back on and closed his hand in a fist. The glow of the firelight still made the fish leap and dance. But he was no longer staring at them, having found his interest moved to the high lancet.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I saw her.” Rhaegar had known it would come to it. He supposed it was only right that it should. Daeron still in his arms, the King glanced at his lady wife expectantly, urging her silently to continue, despite knowing quite well of whom she spoke. Elia, not at all shy, complied. “It is why you insisted I remain on Dragonstone, is it not?” She’d asked it, but there was conviction in her voice which could not be dismissed. It worried him enough so as to grab his attention. “You did not even give me a warning.”

“A warning that the subjects of the realm come to court from time to time?” Daeron was passed off into the arms of his nursemaid who took the child away, presumably to feed him or put him to sleep. “Lady Baratheon had her reasons for being here, but I tell you now, Elia, they do not concern me.”

She did not believe him by the way she gazed at the wall behind him. “I would ask that you do not take me for a fool. The way she looked at you; gods, you must think me simple.” The calm manner of this delivery put him on edge. Rhaegar leaned back in his seat, pretending for a moment that he had not just recently shared a bed, and something more besides, with the other woman.

“What exactly do you wish to hear from me?” Certainly Lyanna held him in some regard, affection even by her manner, but he did not doubt her main concern was her son. Robert’s child. Even if he had so desired to make a spectacle of their connection, by this time there would be little other than angry words that could be offered. “As King, it is my duty to listen to the troubles of my subjects. She is simply one of these subjects.”

“And now you shall tell me that you never viewed her as anything other.” The woman shook her head. “Spare me such talk, for I shall never believe it. Why did you not call me to court earlier?”

“My father was ill. You had just given birth.” It was an excuse grounded in reality, easy enough to cling to. So Rhaegar grabbed it furiously and refused to let go. “It would be careless to take such risks.” And, he admitted privately, it was also convenient.

Elia sighed. “Fine, Your Grace, if that is how you would have it.” For the moment, he perceived that the matter was at close. His lady wife settled more comfortably in her seat. “And this tourney,” she changed the subject at hand, “do you truly believe it should be held at the Red Keep?” It would mean a hard road of travel for some, but it was the best solution at the moment.

“It should do to have it here.” It was not as if Elia could make another lengthy journey even if he chose another location. That aside, he doubted she would ever conceive of being left behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jon snuck out of the bedchamber with great care and headed for the stairs. He climbed them down two at a time, only stopping every now and again to glance behind. There was no one to be seen. It was just as well that most had gone to the great hall for the feast. To have been left in the care of a fatigued Betha who fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow had been the epitome of good fortune. Thus Jon was free to roam to his heart’s content.

“Jon,” someone called from ahead, startling him. Looking up, he met Renly’s gaze. He certainly looked thrilled by some prospect. “You’ll never guess who is coming along.”

Not that he would need to, Jon considered as he reached the last step and watched a form making its way out of the shadows. He was silently praying it was not the little dragon girl. Unfortunately for him, one could have only so much fortune. Daenerys Targaryen grinned innocently enough, waving her hand. Thankfully though, her brother stepped out as well.

“I thought Your Graces would be at the banquet,” Jon offered weakly, repressing the urge to step backwards. Instead, he forced himself to leave the last step.

“And be stuck listening to my aunt complaining?” Viserys retorted with an unbecoming scowl. “I’d rather be crawling in dirt.” With such strong feelings being expressed, Jon supposed he could not plead for Renly to leave them behind.

“How much of the keep have you explored?” Daenerys jumped in, immediately attaching herself to Jon’s side as soon as he was safely near them. “We could search the catacombs.” A groan could be heard. They all looked at Viserys.

“There is more of a chance of us ending up fossils ourselves down there. It’s dark and cold and it’s haunted besides.” Those were all fair points. But it would be just as haunted during daytime, the young lord considered.

“He lies,” the sole female of the group hurriedly countered her brother’s point. “Dark and cold, aye. Haunted, nay.”

“A torch should solve that issue,” Renly pitched in none too shyly. “Jon and I have seen worse than some drafty underground tunnel.” He grinned at the other, as if in encouragement. “And who shall care about any of that when we return with dragon eggs.”

Infectious enthusiasm was a weapon most effective; even against the grouchiness of the eldest. Coerced into the game, Viserys was in the end conquered by the fine logic, or so Jon told himself. What else could have changed his mind?

“I suppose you cannot be left on your own,” the Prince grumbled in the end. Such brotherly care earned him a grin from his sister. Jon, for his part, took the opportunity to make his way to Renly’s other side, effectively placing his uncle between himself and Daenerys. Feeling all the better for it, the child shared a look with his most trusted companion. Renly grinned back at him, a knowing look in his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

      

Chapter Text

The puddle on the ground reflected within its murky contents a slim flame coming from above. Glistening water ran rife with disturbances, wrinkles decorating the soft-looking surface. Upon this piece of great delicacy, a booted foot slammed its sole, splashing droplets everywhere. The lifeblood of dark colour landed on breeches and dress folds alike without discrimination.

Daenerys made a small sound of distress which carried throughout the cavernous hall earning her a cross look from her sibling. In retaliation, she allowed her own frustration to pour out by pushing into him with what Jon presumed to be all her might. Not much to look at, of course, for even fuelled by determination, Daenerys stood to Viserys as the cub stood to the lion. Her own brother pushed back with none of the bite, more to warn off it would seem than to injure. The Princess huffed but fell back into step, content with whatever she'd managed to gain from her actions.

Renly pointed to a fork in the road. "I think 'tis time we tale the yarn out. It looks to me as if 'tis be the split." The truth of it was there existed no map to name and chart the passages running under the Red Keep, even less so for those beneath Maegor's Holdfast.

As the legend would have it, King Maegor the Cruel commissioned a two hundred dozens workers, from masons to carpenters to bricklayers to build him a keep within Aegon's keep. And they had. Working on it day and night for a full winter, the men had built for their master a keep like none other, a maze with hidden tunnels and secret passageways, adorned with beautiful carvings to hide from all eyes the true nature of those walls. What followed was still spoken of in hushed tones by the fire.

As it so happened, Jon had read of the tale in a tome of the master's. But most people, he assumed, had heard the story before a roaring fire. As these stories were best told and listened to. That aside, what they heard was that the King, in a feat deserving of the name history had loaded upon his shoulders, took all the workers, one by one, and had them killed. A few disappeared, a lull would follow, they would be said to have returned home, and then another few took the same road.

Not a one of them caught on to what was going on, except for a young lad, mayhap the age of Prince Viserys. He had come to King's Landing with grand hoped of impressing the royal family with his art; the art of building. Hailed as a prodigy, most forgot that his talent with a quill or coal, as coin would permit, was only half of what made him who he was. This young man, whose name history had forgotten, but whom Jon had promptly named Orys for his grandfather, had scented something suspicious in the air. Orys had long since been wondering what went on with the men that left.

So one night, he hid himself behind a couple of pillars and watched as a group of workers were called away by a guard. The man was telling them how the King was pleased by their contribution and delivered into each awaiting pair of hands a small purse. One man pulled out a silver coin, admiring it in the light.

The next anyone knew, arrows rained down upon the wretched lot and the guard drew his sword, felling the last man standing. Orys watched as the poor sods were carried moaning and groaning to where a wall stood unfinished. Before the eyes of the young man, the victims received a few heavy rocks to the head and were carefully placed one after the other within the wall. Heavy stones were lifted and pushed to hide the bodies, crushing them beneath the weight. Jon shuddered to remember the small image accompanying the scene in the tome. Whoever had put their mind to imagining the bloody happening had more courage than he.

What followed was an attempted escape. Orys unfortunately somehow lost his balance, foot catching upon a stone no doubt, and crashed, making such noise that one of the guards turned around. Might be thinking him a thief in the night, he ran after the young man. Orys only managed to reach the first inner gate before he was caught, all air knocked from his lungs by a well placed hilt to the back. He fell down and was dragged all the way to Maegor's Holdfast. There, he suffered a faith different from that of the other workers.

Much afeared that it should be put about what they'd been doing, the soldiers interrogated him with great diligence, until they found out from Orys just what it was that he had seen. The ill-fortune that followed him would not spare Orys. He was stabbed where he lied, then his body was thrown in a pit an covered with layers of dirt.

In any other man ever wondered where he disappeared to, no one asked. The construction went on and in the end, the poor body of Orys lied still somewhere beneath Maegor's holdfast, feeding worms. His soul was said to roam the halls of the keep, still waiting for the day when he would be acknowledged for his talent and effort.

His lady mother had assured him it was an old wives tale, meant to entertain one during a sleepless night. But then, his lady mother also believed that flesh eating monsters were a figment of imagination. Jon knew not what to think of the matter; yet he much hoped no spirits would descend upon them.

Someone caught his arm jolting him out of his thoughts. "I'll walk with Jon," Rhaenys declared, her eyes wide and attentive on him, much to his horror. He'd been hoping that the Prince might take her. But nay, cruel Viserys grinned from ear to ear and nodded his head.

"Let it be your burden then, Jon, my boy," Viserys declared, passing the torch to Renly so as to unravel a heavy ball of faded-yellow yarn. He battled the stubborn thread for a few moments before reigning victorious over the fallen enemy and forcing the thin line apart from its home. Trust into the cruel world, the faded-yellow string was quickly and mercilessly tied into knots around an empty sconce with aid from the torch in Renly's hand.

That done, the four of them began walking ahead towards the small, narrow ribbon of dusty road heading to the left. Since upon the banner of House Targaryen, the three-headed beast faced the east, it was only logical that eggs should be borne to the west, for there was the tail end. Thus, the road heading left was the one leading to dragon eggs.

Enthusiastic at the prospect of coming upon such wonders, Jon even allowed himself to relax in the presence of Daenerys. The girl was once more holding onto his arm, her fingers wrapped around the limb, as if her sheer force could keep him from wrenching away. He did not do that, however. It would serve little cause to break free of her hold when they were headed in the same direction and she did know more of the keep than he. He would tolerate her, as he had to.

Delving deeper and deeper within the tunnel, it occurred to Jon that this was nothing like the passages running through Storm's End. Certainly, there were the few similarities, like the darkness and the general unpleasantness, but other than that, the Red Keep boasted larger tunnels, far more accommodating and there were sconces on the walls to light the way, although none burned. It indicated, at least to his mind, that at some point these tunnels had been in use.

Whether that ought to frighten him or not, Jon was not yet certain. There had been no putrid bodies lying about, nor even one white worm crawling upon the ground. That did not mean there were no secrets hidden away. It simply meant they were very well hidden. With a tad good fortune, they would manage to avoid that and run only into eggs.

According to the tales, and there were quite a few, each egg bore the colour of its dragon. Recorded history spoke of black dragons, golden, cream, silver and even green ones. Balerion the Black Dread had been the most fearsome of them, yet others were just as worthy of attention.

"Do you think we shall find many eggs?" Daenerys asked him in a hushed manner, her warm breath hitting his cheek as he leaned in to better hear her. "Mother might want one as well."

"I reckon there must be a few," he answered just as quietly, the urge to pull away from her returning. He enjoyed being clung to very little. Might be if she were not holding him with such strength.

With a most sudden array of sounds piercing the silence, the four of them came to precipitous halt. The Princess gasped and hid her face into his shoulder as something which sounded suspiciously like hammers hitting stone rang through the poorly-lit space.

"It's them. The workers," Viserys whispered, the light of the torch revealing only half of his face. Cast within a golden, shallow light, the young Prince looked almost out of place, as if he were a visitor from the realm of the sleeping.

Unconsciously, Jon clasped the Princess' hand in his own, retreating a step from his uncle and Viserys. But the oldest of them was not done. He shushed them. "Hear that?" Straining, Jon was able to make out the sound of footsteps. "They are coming." Silence fell over them.

Viserys launched forth. "For you!" His booming voice was of such effect that both he and Daenerys screamed. Jon knew not which one did it first, but by the end of it, Viserys was howling with laughter and even Renly chuckled while the youngest sap felt his heart beating a harsh tattoo within his ribcage.

"The look on your face," the Prince said, short of breath. He closed his mouth, though the grin-shape still remained, and drew air in through the nose. "Seven help me, but I did not think it of you, to be scared of the wind whistling."

Amusement slowly fading, Viserys straightened himself and held both hands out. "Come now. I've not stunned you into muteness, I hope."

Over the roaring in his head, Jon only managed that much, "It was not the wind."

Once more, the sound of footsteps rang out, this time louder. Jon was not the only one to hear them, for Viserys and Renly became stock still as well and all four of them glared at the darkness from which the sounds came.

After a few short moments, Viserys dragged both him and Daenerys towards Renly. "Stay behind us," he said softly, placing himself straight in front of them. Jon saw him take out what looked to be a dagger and push it into his sleeve until only the handle remained visible. "Come out, whoever you are!" he yelled into the blackness. "Man or ghost or beast, without where I might see your wretched face. Come if you be no craven."

Such insult would have roused the anger of any living creature. And indeed, roused the creature following them was. Or rather the creatures. From within the blackness, two shapes took form. The taller one belonged to a dark-haired child holding a yowling cat in her arms; the other to a boy, somewhere around Jon's age. The other Princes and Princess. To be more accurate the Crown Prince and his sister.

"Who is craven here?" the Crown Prince demanded. "'Twas not I who screamed fit to wake the dead."

Jon frowned, then scowled. "Why are you following us?" he demanded, quite aware that he was being rather rude. The implication that he was somehow lesser because he's expressed fright did not sit well with him.

Aegon turned burning eyes upon the one who dared to challenge him. He took a step forth and hissed something which Jon could not make out. Nonetheless, m he shook Daenerys' hold away and stepped towards the opponent.

"This is my keep," the Crown Prince let him know, lower lip jutting over and shaking with small tremors. "You are here by my leave."

"Nay, 'tis untrue," Jon retorted, crossing his arms over his chest. "I am here by the King's leave. And the keep is the King's." He struck his tongue out and the other boy lost his temper.

Viserys stepped in at that point. "Let that dratted bag of leas go and take charge of your brother," the king's sibling demanded of the older Princess, who, to her credit, jumped to do his bidding. Rhaenys grabbed onto Aegon's shoulders and hauled him backwards.

"Have you no shame?" she questioned loud enough for the rest of them to hear. "He is a boy younger than you and yet you would jump to harm him unprovoked?"

"Unprovoked?" It seemed the Crown Prince considered himself well within his rights. "He should learn how to speak to his betters."

"And you should learn to mind your tongue," Viserys countered, letting Jon go.

"Aye, leave Jon be," Daenerys added, grabbing onto his arm once more. "You beastly boy," she muttered towards her nephew, "you ought to be flogged."

The tension burst and bubbled over, its last remnants washing over them. With danger out of the picture, answers were forthcoming. "We thought we might explore," Rhaenys explained. She held up an unlit torch, "We even brought this along. But the we saw your yellow thread and followed it here, We did not mean to frighten you."

"We're here to find dragon eggs," Daenerys announced cheerfully, no doubt on account of some invisible thread linking females together. Jon almost groaned. Why had she given them all away? Drat. "And we'll take one to mother."

"If there are any left for you to take," Aegon taunted. He stepped closer and patted Daenerys' head patronisingly. "Might be you may have the shell of my egg."

"Might be, I shall bite your fingers off," the girl replied, not letting go of Jon's arm for even a second.

"Now, now. We shall all look for the eggs together," Viserys interrupted.

Rhaenys nodded her head in agreement and joined Renly. She stood between the older boys. "I am certain this shall be a very amusing experience."

Left with a glowering Daenerys and a smug Aegon, Jon had no choice but to stand between the two of them. The Princess might make good on her word and bite off a finger or two. Her teeth looked sharp enough. Jon shuddered at the thought and started walking forth with the rest of them.

Ahead, the three guides laughed at something. Disgruntled, Jon held back a sigh. If he could find even one dragon egg, the suffering would have been worth it.

They continued their walk until the yellow yarn ran out. Jon offered a red one in its stead and the threads were tied together. And in such manner proceeded the rest of their journey, small talk being made among the more mature of the lot.

At long last they reached the end and, to their utter forlorn despair, it came in the form of a wall. The tapping sounded out once more. But no winter gale would put him to shame again, Jon decided. He squeezed his way between Viserys and Rhaenys and glanced at the smooth stone.

"What is that?" he questioned, pointing to a small space at level with his nose.

Viserys knelt by him. "The rock chipped," he answered smoothly. "It seems there are no dragon eggs this way, after all."

But there had to be. Jon pushed one hand forth, pressing the brick which missed a corner. His talent for finding hidden passages did not disappoint. To the astonishment of all, the rock gave way, parting within. It revealed all consuming darkness.

On a more unfortunate note, what he discovered seemed to be a crawlspace, more suited to cats and hounds than anything else. A positive point, however, was that he could definitely fit through. Daenerys as well. Might be even the reviled Aegon.

The very same was, at the same time, being pointed out by Rhaenys. "We could give them the torch. Just a few steps, nothing more."

Eager, her brother agreed. "I shall go first." And try he did. Aegon, who stood a bit taller and wider than Jon, did not fit though. Try as he might, his shoulders were too wide.

It came the turn of Jon. He lowered himself to the ground carefully and crawled through the small opening into a pit of some sort. It was not very deep, but the slant lent itself to it being some sort of whole. His mind conjured the image of Orys and his whole frame shook with nausea. It could not be.

Pain tote through his palm, making him yelp. There was something sharp upon the ground.

"Jon," Renly called out, "are you well?"

"Aye," he answered. "The torch."

As promised, the head of the torch made its way in, followed by a bit of the handle. The light it shone within, made it clear that Jon could stand, which he did. He took the proffered object and held it upright. Rows and rows surrounded him.

"It's safe," he called out, hoping he'd been heard. Not a moment did he wait for an answer, however. He was much too busy looking about, casting a curious eye to the ground.

Finely coloured shards littered the soft earth, vibrant colours shining in the light, speared by thin veins running along the surfaced. On the shelves, what looked to be hatched dragon eggs stood motionless. A few paces ahead, a piece of white stuck out from the ground. Jon bent and pulled upon it.

A gasp came from behind him. "They are dead," the Princess knelled mournfully. "We are too late." She cried even harder at what she saw in Jon's hand.

Out of pity for his own poor ears, Jon dropped the bone. "Might be you should wait without. Tell them what is here." The chamber was not very vast. He could already make out the ends. "I shall follow in a moment."

Might be there were still unhatched eggs upon the other shelves.

Daenerys' distraught form retreated without, leaving him on his own. He heard Viserys call but did not brother giving an answer. Jon made his way through the rows. His instinct had been right, he perceived, upon spying a full, oval form nearby. He hurried to it and held it up, inspecting the surface. There were no cracks.

Emptying his satchel upon the ground, Jon shoved the egg within and moved further into the chamber. He had collected a couple more and his satchel was filled. If he wished to take any more, he would have to give these ones to the others.

"I found some," he yelled out, hurrying towards the entrance.

"By the Seven, let me see," the eldest demanded. His hand entered the chamber and Jon placed the first of the eggs in his grasp.

"I think there are more, but I shall need a bigger satchel." His own implied demand was met with the very satchel of the Prince. "Fill both if need be, we shall carry them back. All of them."

Daenerys did not return to help. Thus Jon was left to search on his own. He filled his own satchel first, finding three more. One of them had a long gnarled scar running along the scales, but he reckoned that if it had not hatched, it ought to keep. Then he proceeded to fill the Prince's. Viserys' own bag allowed a total of six, and it was just as well, for Jon had seen just one more.

He returned to deliver these findings as well. "There is only one left." He returned Viserys his satchel and ran back for the last egg.

It was high upon a shelf. Jon realised he would need to climb it in order to have his prize. In that moment all his muscles froze. A sharp pain travelled the scar upon his face. Face drained of colour, he gazed up at the egg. He could leave it. They had many.

It was very near that which he did. And then something moved. Right next to the egg. Unable to contain his surprise, Jon let out a gasp. Wide eyes fixed themselves upon a point. It could not be.

Fear pushed to the back of his mind, Jon tested the stability of the self beneath his weight and began climbing. He reached the topmost point and gasped once more. Behind the egg, no bigger than his face a stick-thin creature gazed at him through bright eyes.

Jon reached out for the egg gently, wondering why it did not move. Not even when his hand was upon the egg did the creature stir from its place. Placing the egg in his satchel with care, Jon put a finger to his lips. Might be he was in great luck after all.

But when his fingers touched the creature it shuddered violently, one wing flapping. It revealed a small, thin bone breaking through the skin and another wing which was bent. He could not place it in his satchel with the egg. That would only injure it further.

With great care, Jon took out the precious egg and placed it on a lower shelf. He reached for the small dragon once more and cupped a hand over its uninjured side. He dragged the beast towards him and then took it in hand and helped it into the satchel. "Do not make a sound," he warned.

Climbing down, Jon retrieved the last egg and made his way towards the entrance, his light ready to run out. He rolled the egg through the small space, then his own person and only after did he take the satchel, thanking the gods that the creature made no sound. He knew not why, but it was important that it did not.

Daenerys jumped upon him as soon as he was out. Jon narrowly avoided her crashing into his precious cargo, by holding the satchel to the side. "You found them. I shall tell brother, you know? I shall tell him who found the dragons."

"We all found the dragons," Jon insisted softly wanting little else but to have her let go. Which she did, after a few moments.

Just as excited by the findings were the rest of them. But Jon, rather sombre, had little patience. "I am tired. I pray you. I shall answer all questions on the morrow.

They took his reluctance with great understanding, for the moment his contribution outweighing his sullenness. Viserys even offered to let him carry an egg of his own back. "Nay. I fear I shall drop it. What if I were to bump it into something and break it? I am so tired." His feigned lack of strength earned him sympathy.

In the end, Viserys carried six eggs in his satchel, Aegon two in his, Daenerys latched onto two which she held in the folds of her dress, exposing, most indecently her legs and her niece did the same.

Merry and hopeful, they followed the red and golden strings without, where the moon shone and the breeze was cool; where they could admire the fruits of their labour.

Jon wished, for the most part, to return to his bedchamber, find some small pieces of wood wit which to splinter the broken wing and might be a way to set the bone to rights. He'd seen the maester push the bone of a calf back. The dragon was smaller, but he might be able to do the same.

Unfortunately for the moonshine and the breeze were not the only ones awaiting.

For without the entrance stood not one, not two, but three Kingsguards. And all three looked ready to do them ill.

"What is the meaning of this," Ser Gerold Hightower demanded of the six.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was much to his credit, Rhaegar suspected, that his lady wife had been exhausted enough to take to her bed for a few hours of rest. Matters of temper aside, she was likely to have been put out and even worried to the extreme by what looked to be the sudden disappearance of their son and daughter. That was not to say Rhaegar did not worry. He did; quite a bit, yet he was in no manner of mood as to aid his wife through her own. Avoidance was his best ally.

Elia’s reaction aside; Rhaegar had a queer feeling surging through him. He felt rather as if he stood on the brink of something. Something grand and beyond words, but all the same of a worldly quality that tied with the mundane worries of any crowned head. It was no tourney he thought of. But rather an indefinable point in the future, the very near future, where something awaited him. Rhaegar could barely put a name to the turmoil it stirred in his veins. Blood thickened with raw anticipation, focus coming into sharp bursts, turning the world into a large tome avid eyes searched for answers.

And yet, even with this manner of impulse, he could but sit in his chair and wonder. The mind conjured such scenarios. Welcome and unwelcome alike, they heaped upon his with impossibilities hanging from frayed lines so thin they might snap at any moment. Within this atmosphere Rhaegar was left to grasp at ever eluding answers. Thus neither fulfilled nor despairing yet, there remained little for him to do but allow his head to rest against the high back of the chair and formulate in his mind the manner of address his children would have from him.

No doubt it had been Aegon to urge them all along. If anyone possessed initiative, it was usually he. The clever boy could be equal parts adventurous and just as much reckless. If anything, his sister had followed along with a desire to keep his head on his shoulders. Even the dratted cat had disappeared. The Black Dread, stealer of chicken legs from the table and assassin of songbirds, Balerion had somehow found his way onto the very same journey his mistress took. It was to be hoped a fat, juicy rat led the creature astray. Less torn parchments to worry about, to be sure.

Daenerys was too young and impressionable to refuse and presumably Viserys had gone along to make sure they all returned in one piece. As if that would aid matters.

To be entirely honest it would, in that Rhaegar would not feel quite as callous when he had them sent to their respective bedchambers and stuck in lessons for the next moon turn or so. That ought to cool their ardour enough to keep the four of them out of trouble. Rhaegar released a quiet sigh into the vast bedchamber, his patience wearing thin. Hightower ought to have found them by now.

As if summoned from the depths of the seven hells themselves, the door swung on its hinges with a violent squeal of protest, allowing within none other than the Kingsguard he’d been thinking of moments prior. Ser Gerold bowed to him and reported flatly, “I have found all of them, Your Majesty. They await your order.”

One of his squires stumbled within, eyes wide. His agitation would have amused Rhaegar on any other occasion. On this, however, he merely issued his order. “Send them all in.”

It was not that he did not understand the appeal of roaming the Red Keep at night in search of fabled creatures. Rhaegar had done it a few times himself. He’d even enjoyed it. And on account of his father not caring and his mother much too absorbed in her pain to notice, he’d not been asked after his health. In fact, he’d been entirely free. Yet he himself was not the sort of parent. Certainly Rhaenys and Aegon along with his siblings should be free to explore, but he wished to know when they did so and have them properly accompanied. Such escapades could result in more than just one injury and quite a bit of suffering.

As he had ordered, the thrill seekers were ushered within. Rhaegar would have assumed them contrite and ready to apologise for the misbehaviour. What he was given to see, however, left him, at least for a few moments speechless.

As if she’d not been gallivanting through the old, musty corridors of the keep, his sole sister ran into the chamber, skirts hiked up high and, without so much as a warning, dumped into his lap two oval, scale covered objects.

He stared down dumbly, his mind not quite grasping what she had just offered him. But that was fine by Daenerys, she was too busy heaping words upon words of praise to the eggs and assuring her brother that he should be very glad. Rhaegar would have asked for what, but the next he knew, Rhaenys came up as well to show him her own winnings.

“But the one who really found them was Jon,” Daenerys rattled off, small hands grabbing onto his sleeve and pulling for attention. “I promised I would tell so Your Majesty might reward him. You shall do so, won’t you, Your Majesty?”

It struck him that she spoke of Lyanna’s Jon. He looked up, instinctively searching for the boy. Sure enough, he found the child hanging in the back, casting glances up at Jaime Lannister who was the one deigning to give him attention. Daenerys and Rhaenys continued to clamour for his attention, but he was already standing to his feet.

“Where did you find these?” He held one of the eggs up, the other falling into his sister’s grasp. Jon reared backwards, as if struck by the question. Rhaegar felt remorse crawl its way up. He’d forgotten how painfully shy the child could be.

Thankfully, Viserys was already solving the matter. “Do go on, Jon, my boy.”

For a long moment, silence fell upon them. Jon stared from one Targaryen to the other. His lower lip trembled. “In the tunnels.” His wide, attentive eyes followed Rhaegar as he moved towards him.

Aegon jumped in to supplement the missing information. “There was a wall and a small passageway. Jon crawled through and brought out the eggs.” He even parted the flap covering the top of his satchel to bare his own dragon eggs.

“There are twelve in all. Twelve.” Viserys passed his satchel to Rhaegar, which he took without a word and peered inside. Nestled one against the other, the future of House Targaryen gleamed in the low light.

Rhaegar was quite certain he would have found something suitably inspired to say had he been allowed a moment more, yet before he could open his mouth, something akin to the cry of a banshee pierced his skull. Head whipping to the side, he took notice of his sister acting somewhat like an insistent fishwife. Her victim, one bewildered Jon Baratheon, fended her off with considerable difficulty.

“I saw it,” the Princess insisted. “It moved.”

“It didn’t,” the boy replied.

Something was definitely moving however, Rhaegar perceived, as his eyes followed Dany’s stare. The satchel Lyanna’s son bore shifted slightly, the thick gauze quivering and stretching. There was something in there. As to what dwelled within the satchel, Rhaegar guessed it would not come to light if his sister continued as she was.

“Viserys calm her down. I believe mother should be relieved to see her on this night,” he instructed his brother quietly. Viserys gave a nod, though he did not seem thrilled with his mission. The prospect of having to endure her yelling and crying was the cause, no doubt. “Ser Jaime, pray make sure they reach their destination.”

Jon scurried out of the younger Prince’s way, landing at Renly’s side.

It would be best if he managed to somehow gain the boy’s trust in this matter. Rhaegar turned to his own son and daughter as Viserys deposited the eggs his sister had carried next to his own and spoke to her something which Rhaegar did not catch.

“I shall expect the full story of you two on the morrow. For now, I believe it is time to rest. Mind that you do not breathe a word of this to anyone else until then.” His words sank in slowly.

“Aye, father,” their both answered in unison. Their eggs joined the other, the two having guessed his desire before he spoke it.

He placed a kiss to his daughter’s cheek and one to his son’s forehead and sent them on their way as well, with Gerold acting their septa for the time being. Much to his dismay, Rhaegar conceded. Warriors seldom enjoyed such tasks.

From somewhere down the hall, wails still rang out. No matter, his sister had to learn that she could not always have what she wanted. The experience would do her good.

“Ser Dayne, I believe Lady Baratheon shall wish for her good-brother back, as well as for the knowledge of the whereabouts of her son. Pray tell your good-sister I wish a word with her.” The last part he addresses to Renly, but his eyes were on Jon. At the mention of his mother, he relaxed slightly.

Arthur gave him a questioning look but did not offer any protest to his order. He simply motioned for Renly Baratheon to come along, which the other child did, but not before offering his nephew a reassuring smile. “My lady will be so proud,” he promised before leaving with a wave.”

The easy companionship reminded Rhaegar of his own childhood with Arthur Dayne. As close as brother though they might have been, there were some matters which not even friendship had managed to make accessible. It seemed somewhat different for Lyanna’s son and Robert’s brother though. Encouragingly so.

“If I swore to you that I would not tell another soul, would you show me what you have there?” Rhaegar asked in a soft voice, lowering himself to one knee before the boy. Jon coked his head to the side, seemingly undecided. “It must be precious, for you to protect it so fiercely.”

“It is precious,” Jon allowed. “And it is mine. I found it.” Finders keepers, of course.

“I would never dream of stealing from my subjects,” Rhaegar assured the child. The boy bit his lips. He looked to one side and then to another. It was only him and Jon in the chamber. “I swear that whatever you have there is yours to keep. To the olds gods and the new.”

Put at ease, Lyanna’s boy slowly peeled up the flap covering the satchel and from within sprang something which Rhaegar had not thought he would see during his lifetime. Being in possession of dragon eggs was one matter. They had the potential to hatch, of course, but it was no certainty.

Being faced with a dragon was quite another matter.

The small creature flailed midair for a few moments before it let out a shrill sound caught somewhere between a weep and a growl and its form sank. Jon’s hands were immediately underneath the negligible weight, holding the dragon up. The light grey of its scales was streaked with light cream coloured veins, morphing in to something akin to silver.

“It’s injured.” The clarification proved unnecessary. Rhaegar could well see the awkward manner in which it held its wing and the white bone jutting out of the skin. No doubt it had fallen off some high point when in search for food. The beast let out another sound, this time more pitiable than the first. Jon brought it to his chest and held it softly against his cloaked figure. “It wants its brother.”

Blinking up in confusion, Rhaegar cleared his throat. “Do you think so?”

Jon shrugged. “It showed me.” He nodded towards an egg that had rolled away from the rest. “That one’s it.”

“Showed you?” What a peculiar choice of words. Lyanna’s child nodded his head.

It was in that moment that it occurred to Rhaegar, might be most important for the time being, that he had yet to hear of Baratheons bonding with dragons. A flash through his mind rather than anything else, fleet of foot and confounding.

Rather like a hammer to the head, the suspicion slammed into him, leaving temples pulsing. There were only so many individuals not bearing the name of Targaryen who bonded with dragons. And though their name was not of the ruling house, their fiery blood of the dragon was a traits shared.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moment Arthur Dayne stepped into the chamber with Renly in tow, Lyanna knew it was over. She could not explain how she knew. But it took one look upon the Kingsguard’s face and she stood aware that not only had her yarn unravelled, but any explanation she might offer would not be enough to see her though.

“What is the meaning of this?” Rickard Stark demanded, voice booming through the premises. “What business has a White Cloak dragging a boy around?” But Renly seemed happy enough to enlighten them all upon the fact that he and Jon, along with a few others, had managed the unbelievable feat of finding nothing other than dragon eggs.

Lyanna would have fainted on the spot; she would have happily swooned and never woken up but for the fact her good-brother was quick to announce that the King wished to see her. Of course whatever questions she had would have to wait for the pack of wolves descended upon the lone stag with a myriad of questions while Lyanna was given leave, rather unnecessarily, by her own lord father to be on her way.

“A King’s summon is to be answered promptly,” the man told her, returning his attention to Renly.

Wishing little more than to refuse and demand her son be returned to her, Lyanna perceived that she had little chance of that. The best she could do was to gauge the depth of the knowledge. If the quality of it was not high, there may still be a chance, she told herself, folding her hands before her primly as she walked alongside her good-brother.

“It is mayhap not done, but I fear I must ask, why exactly does His Majesty wish to see me?” Arthur gave her a wry look. Lyanna returned it with steely determination. “We are kin, you know.”

“A Kingsguard is sworn to the King, my lady. We have no kin.” True enough, she reckoned. But not enough to stop her.

“It does not place His Majesty in any sort of danger that I know what he wants with me and my son.” She, on the other hand, was quite in some danger. It was good that Stannis had not been present among them, or he would have surely reacted in a different manner than her siblings. And for pity’s sake, why did dragon eggs have to be involved? Were matters so easy that she deserved anything of the kind?

“You already know, my lady, and my repeating it shall serve for naught.” Arthur helped her up the stairs when she fell behind. “A commendable attempt, if you ask me, but entirely unnecessary. And one which His Majesty is not likely to look upon with kindness.”

“But surely, understanding is not lacking.” The man knew of what he spoke, she had to give him that. Lyanna had not entirely discounted the possibility of Rhaegar one day learning of Jon’s true parentage. She had just hoped he would not and pushed the barrier until it became a refusal to believe that he ever could find out. It was simply that there would have been no evidence that corroborated could lead to that conclusion. After all, Jon looked the very image of her, he looked a Stark. The appearance would have been entirely too difficult to explain had he greeted the world with silky silver locks and lively violet eyes.

“Only as much as he has to give.” The Dornishman turned to look at her. “A woman married, yet she knows so little of men.” She perceived he said it not as an insult as much as he’d made an observation. Still, her skin prickled with discomfort.

“What are you implying?” Lyanna would admit to knowing little of men in the particular situation Rhaegar found himself, yet Arthur seemed to speak of something else.

He merely smiled at her accusation and turned his gaze away. Thwarted, Lyanna considered demanding a reply and leaving well alone. She chose the latter. Arthur Dayne could tell her a great many things, she was sure, but he was not Rhaegar. As such, the vague understanding and the lingering suspicion were entirely appropriate between the two of them for the time being.

“Did you know that I have been the King’s companion since we were both boys, mayhap a year or two older than your son?” She gave no reply. Arthur continued. “In the time I’ve known him, he has lost nine siblings.” Having never paid much attention to the record of the births in King’s Landing, Lyanna could only murmur her ascent. “The Queen only lost eight children.”

“And yet you tell me His Majesty had one sibling besides.” Faintly, she recalled having at some point heard of a mistress. And yet, she could not conceal her surprise at the fact. “You consider it acceptable?”

“Exceptional is more the like,” the man answered. “You see, this was the same mistress accused of having poisoned Prince Jaehaerys. We all knew it hadn’t been she. That the child had simply died. She still paid with her life.”

“And her child?” It only went to show that Mad Old Aerys had always been thus.

“The Grand Maester revealed that she had been with child only after dirt covered her.” He gazed at her once more. “The King shared the fate of his lost Prince though. He died swiftly, a mercy his mistress did not have.”

“He was ill,” Lyanna pointed out. “I doubt it was unexpected.”

“And yet shortly before his death we saw him walk amongst us. Think upon that.” And think she did, but for the life of her, Lyanna could not understand what he meant by it. Arthur did not elaborate until she pulled on his sleeve, shaking her head. “A man may overlook a great many things for the ones he holds in affection. But breaking his trust is breaking a vow never to be put back together.”

“I shall take that to heart,” she said in the end, not knowing what else to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her heart stood still. Not even in a figurative manner of speaking, the damned thing wrenched itself to a halt in her chest for a long moment as her eyes fell upon Rhaegar, her son and a horror beyond belief. Dayne followed her within and another man entered as well. Lyanna suspected by his manner of dressing that he was an acolyte of the Grand Maester’s.

The King looked up, leaving the long strip of charred meat in her son’s grasp. “Lady Baratheon, how good of you to have answered my summon so promptly.” The devil; he acted as if aught was amiss for them.

Jon looked up at her, a new light shining in his eyes as he fed the creature. Lyanna’s skin crawled. Not so much because her babe kept as pet a monstrous beast that might one day swallow horses full; but because he was holding a monstrous beast that might one day swallow horses full in front of Rhaegar. There was only so much hiding she could do.

“Your Majesty knows I am your humble servant in all,” she managed between gritted teeth. He gave her an easy nod; the fiend. He was enjoying it. Well, as much as he was allowing himself too. Lyanna had not been fooled by the serene look on his face. The cloud of anger swirling just beneath the surface was waiting for its chance.

“Go along with the Acolyte Brynden and he shall see to your friend’s wounds. Your lady mother and I will speak in the meantime.” Jon followed the instructions without as much as a blink. He only looked at her for a brief moment, enough to give her a wide smile and hold up his pet once more.

A dragon. Her heart squeezed painfully. Of all things. Why couldn’t it be a hound like most lads had?

Instinctively, she made to grab his hand and stop him from wandering off with a stranger. But before she could go through with it, the King was speaking to her, and like the loyal subject she had proclaimed herself to be, Lyanna turned to listen. And possibly gauge the distance between them in hopes of mounting an attack. It might be worth pursuing.

“Worry not, my lady. Your son is only one chamber away. Dayne, leave us. I am not to be disturbed.” She’d forgotten all about Arthur. Lyanna turned to look over her shoulder as he exited. She regarded the loss with an air of pensive mournfulness. Being alone with Rhaegar Targaryen tended to land her in trouble. Unspeakable trouble which she unfortunately enjoyed the making of more than any human ought to.

“Of course, Your Majesty.” She was more worried for herself, truth be told, at the moment. Her eyes followed his movements as he stood to his feet and walked towards her with a decisive step.

“I believe I am owed some explanations, Lyanna Stark.” His hand touched her arm, fingers wrapping around her covered limb. “Lie to me again, however, and you shall find me less accommodating.”

Indignation swelled in her breast. Lyanna snatched her arm from his grip and glared at him; a feat not easily accomplished with their difference in height and the fact he stood just before her. How she loathed him in that moment. “I did not lie to you.” She spoke the words quietly, but poured enough venom into them so he would know her sentiment upon the matter.

Her reward was a perfectly arched eyebrow.

Before she knew it, his hand was on her wrist squeezing painfully. “I would gladly play the fool for you, as you have left me little choice” he replied just as softly, his voice flat, “but never confuse the mask with the man. Why did you not tell me?”

In the late hour’s hush two hearts beat in time. Lyanna attempted to pry his fingers from her wrist, not offering any answer, but his hold simply tightened. He continued to stare at her without faltering, eyes demanding what his lips had just before. And she, for the life of her, could not break her silence. If she did, it would all come pouring out. And that she could not have. Lyanna stared back at him, lips firmly shut.  

“Why?” he repeated tersely, the pressure on her wrist reaching new levels. Lyanna winced. He did not seem to take the cue. In fact, his hold retained its vise-like grip. “Answer, damn you.”

“I am his mother. I have a duty to him.” Her begrudging reply did not earn her any favours. Not that Lyanna was desirous at the moment. “Would you have allowed me to wed Robert had you known?” That was the crux of the matter in the end.

His grip relaxed enough to allow blood circulation to return. A thousand needles set upon her skin, but Lyanna stared into Rhaegar’s eyes and ignored them. “I was promised to him, Rhaegar. He would not have let go without doing battle over it.”

His jaw clenched. The dark look on his face sent a shudder through her. “I would have cut him where he stood.” And she believed him. To her eternal shame, the heart within her thrilled even as her conscience balked.    

“You don’t know Robert,” Lyanna whispered. “And slaying him would have accomplished nothing. My son would have been born a bastard. What life is that?” It was only moments after she spoke that she realised what she had done.

A cruel little smile twisted Rhaegar’s lips. “If it was a title you wished for, Lyanna, you should have told me.”

“Now you are being cruel.“ The accusation stung. Sharply, her palm came up to meet his face. Why he allowed it, she did not know. But flesh met flesh and the sound rang out. Instinctively, her muscles locked tightly, in preparation for retaliation.

“As cruel as you yourself were?” the King questioned.

“I had no choice,” she snapped, tears gathering in her eyes. “I had no choice.”

“There was always a choice,” he argued back heatedly. “I was simply never counted among your options.”

She gaped at him. “What would you have me do? Demand that you wed me?” This could not be happening. But then again, she deserved it. Lyanna should have known better than to allow Jon to go searching for dragons; on any kind. “Come before the gates of the Red Keep with an infant in my arms?”

“Aye, for gods’ sake. Aye.” It was the way he said it, the syllables drowning in anguish. “I was waiting on your word.”  

It was all such a muddle. Lyanna blinked slowly. “You are wedded, Your Majesty.”

“The King might have allowed it. If in a good mood.” Wistful thinking. “If not, I told you, I could have well given you a title.”

“And if in a bad mood he might have had both our heads,” she returned. “They would have known. I want to protect my son. And you are already in possession of a wife. What would she say?”

“Is that the same question you asked yourself, Lyanna Stark, when we lied together or is it a more recent concern?” Men had a way of twisting everything.

Lyanna bit her lip. “If it is your will to be spiteful, I don’t believe there anything left to discuss.” And then, as if struck, she gave him a hard look. “You would not have.” Rhaegar replied with a quizzical stare. “Wedded me. Oh, I am certain you would have cared for Jon and I, might be found a title. But you would not have wedded me. I refuse to believe I gave my heart to someone who would so easily dismiss others.”

“Then you do not know me very well.” It seemed a constant back and forth with him.

She sighed. “I do. You would not have done it.” She hoped it was so, at any rate. “You care too much about the realm to cause such havoc.”

“I care more about you.” He muttered it, to be sure, but Lyanna caught it nonetheless. She gave him a look. “You cannot deny we suit.” She had the grace to blush at the implication.

“Nay, I shan’t deny it.” His arm came about her. “It does not translate into an agreement, Your Majesty.”

“He is my son.” He tucked the top of her head beneath his chin and continued to hold her.

“Aye.” There was little point in offering any sort of denial. Jon had a dragon. A dragon that apparently needed a master’s touch. Quite interesting. And frightening. “What will we do?” She wrapped her own arms around him, leaning her weight into him.

“We shall find a way.” Of that she held little doubt. Her life had took such turns in only a few years that Lyanna truly doubted anything was out of the realm of possibility. The notion did not sit well with her though.

“I trust we shall.” One that would not cause too many wounds. None at all, if possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jon looked at the acolyte working on the dragon-babe’s bone. One wing fluttered about incessantly, despite his own best attempts at steadying the creature. He felt a twinge of pain at the sharp point of the knife slicing into the thin layer of scales, weakened by lack of nourishment. It croaked, the meaning clear.

If he were to put it into words, Jon would most probably speak of ache. A bone-deep pain that rattled the babe’s frame, coursing mercilessly through its veins. He’d not lied when he spoke to the King. Jon knew the thoughts of the dragon, and the dragon perceived his own. It was rather like a far away voice, but instead of words, it offered peculiar sensations. As one read in the foreign tongue of the creature, one understood it better and better. A matter of exercise.

“Can I feed it some more?” Jon asked softly, fearing to disturb the man at work. One incision gone astray could cripple the dragonling.

Brynden looked up, and for one brief instant swore one of his eyes changed. “Of course. It would keep him busy and me with a few less worries.” It must have been the light. Jon reigned in a shudder and turned around for the bowl where strips of meat yet lied.

The King had placed them there himself, explaining to Jon that dragons were the closest to humans in that respect. They ate their meat cooked. Anything else they would not accept. Thankfully, the kitchens were well stocked and His Majesty had been kind enough to take care of the matter.

He had had his doubts when the man demanded to see his dragon. And yet, no regret did spear him. Jon smiled down at his newest companion and his fingers grabbed blindly at the food, pulling two or three strips from the pool they left.

The juice ran down his fingers, oily and warm, leaving his skin glistening in the light of the candles. The dragon stretched its neck, nostrils flaring. It opened its mouth wide, expecting to be gifted with the meat it craved. Jon looked down at it, rather taken with the streaks of light colour. “One at a time, else you’ll be sick with it.”

If the beastling had any protest, it did not offer them. So Jon went ahead and held out one of the pieces. Sharp little teeth grabbed onto the prize and drew it in, in a moment stealing it out of existence. Pleased with the response. Jon offered him another.

So forth he went with the feeding until there was little left but the oily grease. With a fuller stomach, the dragon went as far as to hide its head beneath its good wing and silently demand that he be protected by the one he’d chosen.

Jon tapped a finger along its spine. “It shall be over soon.” The dragon hissed, as if in agreement. “Shan’t it?”

The acolyte looked up once more. “Most definitely. It is coming along well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Daenerys smiled at him that sly smile she had whenever she planned something. Viserys scowled back. “I already said nay.” His sister did not seem at all daunted by his edict. In fact, she had the audacity to grin even wider.

“Just once, brother, for lady mother to see. You would keep her waiting until the morrow?” She did have a point, the Prince admitted to himself begrudgingly. “If we explain, surely the King shan’t mind. One egg. What is one out of twelve?”

He wavered. “If we were to disturb him at this hour, he would not be pleased.” Father had never been pleased to be disturbed either, as Viserys recalled. More than once his own lady mother had locked him in the nursery to prevent him any injury at the hands of an enraged Aerys Targaryen, after what had happened when he’d been little more than a babe.

His sister jutted her lower lip out so as to impress upon him the notion that his refusal would wound her. Viserys had had a lifetime to learn to ignore it. He rolled his shoulders challengingly, and looked her into the eyes. Daenerys put her hands together in supplication. “I pray you.” Her wide eyes gleamed with anticipation. Viserys gulped. He was about to refuse when she grabbed onto his arm and squeezed it tightly between her hands. “Mother would be so pleased. She would smile, wouldn’t she? Do you not wish her to smile?”

Shiera Seastar had nothing on his sister. If ever there was a Targaryen capable of witchcraft, then it had to be Daenerys. He scowled her way once again, just to put a fine emphasis on the fact that he was unwilling and only did it for mother. “Very well.”

The acceptance stung. He’d lost to a mere babe. His pride smarted. “One day, you shall pay for this.” The promise fell like a weight between them. Might be incapable of perceiving what she had been dealt his younger sibling nodded her head in silent acceptance, much too exuberant at the notion of dragon eggs, and holding one, to protest in any shape, manner or form. And Viserys loathed the easy victory all the more.

No matter. He made his way out the door and closed it in his wake. The more he hurried, the sooner he could see mother. She deserved to know before anyone else after all.

Viserys walked the low lit corridors until he saw the clear white of the Kingsguards standing tall before a heavy door. Jaime Lannister noticed him right away and Arthur Dayne turned his head in his direction.

“Your Grace, it is well past your bedtime,” the older man observed. He was about to protest and state his desire to see his brother. “The King does not wish to be disturbed.”

“I am a Prince of the realm. You do not order to me,” he returned glibly.

“Nay, but the King does,” Ser Jaime cut in, leaving his post so as to take Viserys by the shoulder. “Whatever business you have with His Majesty, it can wait.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ashara cooed at little Prince Daeron, one finger gently touching the babe’s slightly upturned nose. “He is a fine child, Your Majesty.” The babe fussed, limbs pushing against her. A fine son for a fine reign, the Dornishwoman considered.

“I would have felt all the better to have you with me then,” Elia said, pouring another spoonful of honey in her hot tea, mixing languidly. “However shall I endure court without you?” The question was left without an answer, for Ashara knew not what to say. Kind as the Queen had been up to the point, she doubted she’d been summoned to be showered with words of affection. “But you have chosen a very different path.”

“But surely all women wish for a home of their own,” she offered, allowing the wetnurse to take the Prince from her arms and spirit him away to the nursery.

“But a freezing home, in the wild North?” Elia smiled pityingly upon her once lady-in-waiting and Ashara fought back the urge to sigh. “I doubt many women would be as brave as you and take it so well.” The Queen took a sip of her beverage. “I might have visited the North too, had mother allowed it.”

“You Majesty only even went as far as Casterly Rock, aye?” Ashara was glad for it. Not because she did not wish for the woman to see the North was quite different from what it was portrayed as, but for another reason. Something far more intimate, something which she herself rarely even though upon. The very notion left her slightly ill.

Having grown with her two brothers, rather close the three of them even after squiring got in the way, Ashara had a fairly good grasp on the manner in which men thought. That frightened her at times. With them, sentiment tended to be borne out of concern. Why that was, she could not tell, but she would never allow herself to forget its power. To be needed, in whatever capacity that might be, by a woman was something they took pride in. And Elia had certainly cultivated the skill, for all it served little purpose applied to her lord husband who seemed to desire the attention of another.

A disgruntling situation which in a perfect world should not happen. But one which was nevertheless existent. “I am much surprised Your Majesty did not insist upon it,” she offered in the end.

“I hadn’t the stomach for it. Casterly Rock was a trial barely borne.” The whole realm was aware of what had gone on within the keep of lions. Ashara nodded her head. “Besides, I had just seen Lord Lannister’s little monster. What does the North have to offer more thrilling?” The Queen smiled softly.

Shrugging, Ashara took a bite of her lemon cake. She chewed thoughtfully. What did the North have to offer? For her; everything. For any other, she could not tell. Her attention snapped back to Elia, who was speaking once more. “I hope you shan’t find me trying, my dear friend, if I dare admit to having called you for a matter of particular import to me.”

“Of course not, Your Majesty. I am ever glad to be of aid.” There was aught amiss. The whole keep had been unusually quiet; the King himself not even deigning to put in an appearance during the morning session of the court. She’d even heard it from Jon Connington’s mouth that Rhaegar Targaryen had found something dearer to him than the whole kingdom.

When she asked Arthur however, her brother proved incredibly difficult. No matter her prodding, he’d only told her a bit of waiting would not end her. On any other day, he would have whispered to her in great secrecy what the issue was, of course somewhere within hearing shot of whatever Kingsguard happened to be nearby. On this day, unlike any other before it, Arthur had simply drawn the blankets over his head and muttered for her to leave him be. Which she did, but only after her palm met his shoulder.

And then she had been summoned by Elia.

“What is the purpose which has brought Lyanna Stark to court?” Relinquishing the hold on her cup, Elia stared fixedly into her eyes.

To be fair, the question had not been unexpected. And if anyone was well within her right to ask, then it had to be the Queen. Ashara, however, found herself trying to make peace between warring desires. “The matter of inheritance, as far as I know.”

The higher ranking of the two rolled her shoulders in a disbelieving gesture. “The inheritance is a clear matter. Trust you me, Lady Ashara, had I wanted her harmed, she would not be standing on her feet anymore. The only thing I wish is to aid.”

Struck, the younger made a soft sound in the back of her throat, considering the words carefully. “Ser Stannis insists that his brother has been the victim of an assassination, or at least an attempt.” It was not the whole truth, but Ashara did not see how she could possibly put to her the rest of it without kindling some lingering suspicions she was sure were still about. “He is determined to have the culprits found and in the meantime the new Lord of Storm’s End protected.”

Visibly relaxing under the attentive stare thrown her way, Elia regained some of her earlier tranquillity. “I see. Might be a good turn would be welcomed in such circumstances. I am the Queen you know.”

And she was also trying to have Lyanna return to Storm’s End. An intelligent course of action which Ashara had not imagined the Queen would take. Her behaviour up to that point had been of such nature as to put into doubt the choice. But then again, all had to grow at some point.

“My good-sister would be most glad for a good turn, I am certain.” Whether the King was of the same opinion was another matter altogether. Then again, it was entirely possible that from a desire to help herself Elia should even further deepen the rift between her and the King.

Whatever the case, Ashara was quite decided to wait awhile longer and then see to it that Arthur gained knowledge of the Dornishwoman’s plans. If he told Rhaegar or not, it would no longer be up to Ashara. A brilliant notion, no doubt, which would see to it that she sustained little to no unpleasantness. Now, to somehow keep Ned out of trouble as well. There had to be something which could aid her.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oswell took a swing of the wineskin, his other arm, still ironclad, lying uselessly at his side. The bent steel of his armour bore the bloodstains with appropriate dignity. His face, however, looked decidedly less so with the split lip and the bruised left side.

“Have I not warned you?” Arthur questioned, his good-natured grin not faltering in the face of feigned misery. “Even the Lord Commander said as much. Don’t attack a nest of vermin during daylight.” He shook his head, holding out a wet rag. “What use shall the King have of you now?”

“Even three-legged tables are fit for something,” he quipped back, throwing the wineskin to the ground, it contents spilling on the tiled floors. He stretched out for the proffered rag and snatched it from Arthur’s slack grip. “Not will you tell me what is going on here or do I have to pry the words from you?”

“You know, Whent, you sound an awful lot like my sister right now. Shall I find a Stark for you? I’ve heard the youngest one is still unattached.” It was a wound Arthur enjoyed poking as much as Oswell jested upon it. But then again, Whent had never been a man to hold a grudge. Not for extensive amounts of time at any rate.

Oswell threw the rag in his face and muttered something uncomplimentary. “I’m no soothsayer, Dayne. How could I have known the plans of the gods?” True enough that, Arthur allowed with a shrug of the shoulders. “Or those of our King?”

“Especially those,” the first Kingsguard said. “You should have suspected though, when he ordered you to see her back to camp undetected.”

“You might have warned me I’d been barking at the wrong tree all along.” Of course, the crown of roses had taken care of that without Arthur having to exert himself. And then, it had only been a fleeting fancy, which died a swift death, a very devoted death some might argue. “So she has returned. And I have missed it.”

“Indeed, a grand return to have missed. She even brought her son along.” That got the attention of the injured Kingsguard. “If it is any comfort, ‘tis not a fight either of the two of you might win. A widow she might be, but I’ve heard it is not for long.”

“Don’t be daft. It never even crossed my mind.” The scowl on his face lingered as his hand dragged at the bent metal, dragging it away from him person with a wince. “And yet you tell me her last husband is barely even cooled in his grave. Although, I’ve never understood this saying. What is thjere left to cool when one is aught but a bag of bones?”

“The ardour of his lover, one suspects,” Arthur returned without an ounce of care. “As I’ve heard it, she shall need quite a bit of coin once the matter of the inheritance is settled. Robert Baratheon was ever fond of his drink and lovers. Left the lady wife with a large gap in her purse.”

“Is that why you put Rosby on her case? You will get yourself in trouble one of these days and even your precious friendship with the King won’t save you. Have you never heard that it is a bad idea to wake the sleeping dragon?” Genuine concern aside, Oswell seemed intrigued, which was what made his friendship so valuable. He was ever waiting for the chance to get into some sort of mishap, be it developing an unexpected attraction to Lyanna Stark, or hanging on the sleeve of some plot. “And Rosby, of all people?”

“Why, do you think she would be safer with someone else? I would have tried persuading Connington, but the poor bugger would have probably drowned her in a vat of wedding wine out of spite.” That man really needed to learn that some thing were not to be. “This other one won’t even look at her.”

“Aye, until his heir comes out looking like the King and spouting Valyrian.” It was a risk; but one Arthur was certain they had to take.

“As long as he claims the child to be his own, no one shall look at it askance. Admit it, he is the safest choice.” Arthur pulled on a piece of armour, aiding his friend. And the most accepting. Of course, Arthur could take the time to look for someone else, but why bother when the perfect solution rested close at hand. “Imagine the sort of order we shall be getting.”

“Sweet Mother, you find this amusing. Any poor fool will attract the King’s ire.” Oswell shook his head, rolling his injured shoulder slowly. “And you are assuming she shall go along with this. She could refuse the eventual proposal.”

“She shan’t,” he assured the other man as Whent cleaned his wound. There was no bleeding to speak of. It did not look to have suffered an infection either. “Have you learnt nothing about women yet? The stubborn ones always end up getting what they want.”

“Where is your loyalty to your mother land, whelp?” The older Kingsguard grinned. Clearly he’d been won over by the plan.

“I’ve misplaced it and have no plans of looking for the dratted thing. I daresay we shall be doing all a favour.” He grinned fit to split his face in half.

“Does Rosby know what he is agreeing to, or have you duped the poor fellow?” The injured man stood to his feet and walked past Arthur to collect a clean tunic.

“He has eyes Whent, I hardly need to point out to him what a blind man could see. So, will you aid me, or nay?” The poor, unfortunate dwellers of the Red Keep; they little could conjure in dreams the scheme he was about to unleash upon them.

“Have I ever not?” Older he might be, but Oswell could run with the best ones. He never shied from the most insane of plans. “Let me be clear though, if the king should ask, I had my hand forced and you are solely responsible.”

“But of course.” Once the consent came, Arthur perceived it was time to leave. “I shall see myself out.”

“Use me and leave me, eh? Dayne, you are quite possibly the most wretched whore this side of the sea.”

Arthur replied with a rather lewd gesture held close to his heart, leaving one Oswell Whent gasping for breath between hurtling fits of choking laughter. Just as well; he would maintain his mask much better later on.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pale face staring back at him was very nearly lost in a bundle of furs, dark wisps of hair slashing wounds against the porcelain skin. The plumb lower lip bore cruel marking of incessant biting, red cuts brimming with fresh blood as they pulled under the pressure of suction.

Brandon stood frozen, candle in hand, unable to take his eyes off of the ghostly appearance and her nervously wringing hands. It was impossible. It was unbelievable. But most of all it was cruel. That manner of cruelty which did not fade with the coming of summer anymore than the Wall thawed beneath the rays of the sun.

He had to make a decision. And she, standing still as she was, lithe form resting against the wall, one arm bracing upon the cold stones, was not helping matters with those doe-soft eyes and slightly moist gaze. In fact, she made everything just a tad more difficult. If that had been her intention when she jumped in front of him, then Brandon could but congratulate her.

Sudden ire erupted, free hand curling into a fist. The tendon in his wrist grew taut, quivering with the exertion. His eyes narrow slightly, zeroing in on the young woman’s face; just a girl, might be more appropriate. “Lady Hawys.” The name rolled off his tongue with ease.

“Ser,” she responded, releasing her lower lip from the clench of her teeth. “I had not known you were a guest in my lord’s home.” She gave him a weak smile, lips stretching anaemically. “I am pleased to see you in such good health.”

“And I you.” In truth he was only pleased to see her, for she did not look in the best of health. When he made to move past her, her other hand shot out, landing upon his wrist, fingers pressing into the rounded bone. Brandon stopped, instinctively moving to steady her. “Is aught amiss, my lady? Shall I call for the maester?”

Wide, tearful eyes turned towards him. “You are so kind.” Her voice cracked upon the last word, shattering like spun-glass upon stone tiles.

There was something amiss with the maiden he perceived. Women cried. A lot. Brandon had come to expect such suffuse of emotion from the fairer sex. They usually had a reason for it as well, most of them. Or to have this creature crying on his shoulder made his heart ache. What manner of man would walk away and leave her to her tears. An unworthy cad he should be were he to take her smile but not her tears.

“What is the matter, my lady?” he questioned gently, drawing away from her. He could barely think with her standing so close.

The distance between them, a gaping gulf, saddened her further; enough to prompt tears to fall. “I fear, ser. I fear.” What could have possibly turned her so, when last he’d seen her she had been neigh incredible?

“Fear what, child?” She looked the part. How could he not trust the words when sight corresponded? Brandon continued to gaze upon her, waiting for an elaboration. He had known as a child women afraid of bugs and spiders, snakes and beasts. Guessing at her fears would be akin to searching for the needle in a stack of hay.

Her tears did not dry out even as she spoke, unburdening herself. “I am to be wedded, ser. My father has found for me the lord that he deems worthy.”

Confusion simmered beneath the surface as Brandon attempted to grasp what she’d just told him. His mind processes the words slowly. A marriage, for most females, was wished for, expected since a young age. “And you object?” She levelled him an admonishing stare. Brandon could have kicked himself. “Why?”

“I am to be his second bride.” Not a feat that was much to be marvelled at. A second marriage for either man or woman did not raise eyebrows or objection, nor did it usually reduce women to tears. Brandon could but stare at the girl. The torrent of tears gained speed and she choked on her following words, “His first bride still hangs before the walls of his keep.”

That gave him pause just as he was about to offer her comfort. Nay, surely a lord hanging his own lady wife would have been the subject of many a gossip. Yet he’d heard nothing of it. “My lady, are you certain of the words you say?” It was a curious statement. “Of whom do you say such words?” Blackening a man’s name for the simple intent of not wedding him was not something which Brandon held to.

Hawys looked up. She drew in a sharp breath, chin trembling lightly. “Gregor Clegane. They call him the Mountain.”

His blood ran cold.

When his sister had gained her blasted crown of roses, the very same one which she had sworn she’d break his fingers if he touched, during that same tourney, the then Prince of the Seven Kingdoms had knighted a formidable looking man. The Mountain, his own friends had whispered, sharing a few gory tales of his exploits. Apparently, he was a man of great use to his master, Lord Lannister.

Another well known fact about this man was that he enjoyed, particularly, the art of dismemberment. Not only his enemies, but even close men of his own. “You must be mistaken, my lady.”

She shook her head. “He paid the bride price. I am not mistaken.” Her lips smacked together noisily, silver streaks turning gold in the light of the flames. “I wish to the gods I were.”

He wished to offer to speak to her father. But that would do no good. Her fate had been sealed. No intervention of his by her parent would be of any aid. “My lord father made it known to me only long after we’d left home. Otherwise I should have found a way to put an end to this.” Her sullen cast produced within him a wave of pity.

“Ser, you are kind,” she repeated an earlier sentiment, eyes begging.

He understood then her wish. And yet, how could he possibly spare her the suffering? “I wish there were something I could do.”

Her hand grabbed at his wrist once more, travelling up his arm, pushing the limb, pushing his tunic as it went. “You were right fond of me at my father’s home. Might be, if you would consent, I could serve a purpose by your side.”

It was his turn to choke. “I am wedded,” he replied tersely.

“I am aware.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beast let out a pitiful wail, uninjured wing making as it to bear him through the air. But Jon shushed it. "A king you may be over your stone cold realm, but you are an injured one at that." Darys hisses, unsplintered wing raising high; it turned around in wide circles, moving much as a hound did to chase its tail. Jon laughed and wagged his finger down at it. "Nay, you stay."

The door creaked open and Jon barely caught the shape of his lady mother entering. The King had matters to attend to, as he'd been told, yet Ser Darry, the Kingsguard standing before the door of the larger chamber had been instructed to admit Jon within the moment he arrived. It was magnanimous of the man to have allowed it and Jon had missed the beastling terribly after mother had taken him to his own bedchamber the other night.

"Lady mother, come meet Darys." His invitation was met with a light shake of the head. But Jon knew when to insist. "He must know you."

"Jon, I pray you, leave it be and let us go on our way. As you can see, it is fine as it is." She'd not said as much, but there was fear within her. Jon did not feel it in the manner of knowledge, but rather within her scent. Darys caught its scent even with her on the other side of the door. Jon frowned.

"Nay," he insisted, giving a wild shake of the head. "I am not leaving." Darys made us of its three cooperative limbs to circle Jon protectively, making strange little noises in the back of its throat. His mother took a small step back. "Darys is worried as well."

She blinked. "Worried; hoe would you know that, my love? It is probably in pain."

"It is worried. I can feel it; it shows me everything that it's thinking about." He stepped over Darys' coiling form and approached his mother. The Lady of Storm's End looked at hum with wide eyes. He'd thought his words would put her at ease. "It even showed me its sibling. I think it shall hatch soon." The woman before him looked faintly ill.

"That is just what the realm needs." She knelt before him. "Jon, you must be very careful. 'Tis a wild beast you have placed under your care. This could well bring us trouble."

He knew not what she meant by the words. Darys had been acting exemplarity, not a talon out of place. Frowning up at his mother, Jon caught her sleeve in his hand. "He shan't cause trouble, lady mother. I swear. I will look after him. I will always know what he thinks." Again she startled. "And he shall protect you as well. I wish it."

From behind him Darys croaked, lithe form dashing between him and his mother to sniff at her skirts. She looked down at the creature with vague unease. But Darys did not let up; he seemed determined to have something of her. "It likes it when you run your fingers along its spine," Jon pointed out helpfully. moving to take her hand and bring it down for Darys acquaintance itself with. The dragon's tongue lolled out touching the forked tip to very near his mother's wrist. She stood frozen in her place though.

The next thing Jon knew, Darys was rubbing one side of its face into her skin. Jon burst out into peals of laughter. "It thinks you have the old blood," he somehow managed to say. Poor Darys; it was bound to be disappointed when it found out his lady mother had nothing to do with any Valyrian bloodline.

"The old blood," she repeated thoughtfully, turning her palm upside down so she could run her fingers against Darys' spine as he'd instructed. The dragonling trembled lightly at the attention, croaking as she touched every vertebrae. "I daresay it must be mistaken if it thinks I've ever come any closer to Valyria than reading some old tome."

Jon nodded his head in agreement. Alas, Darys still insisted that there was something of the dragonmagic caught onto her soul. Nothing which might ever win her the devotion of one of his brethren; but rather an acknowledgement. Jon shrugged. His own great-grandmother had been a Targaryen, mother had told him. It was might be that which confused the dragonling. Darys continued with its own train of thoughts, showing Jon something akin to a collective memory of a man lurking in the shadows, something indefinable surrounding him, something which attracted the dragons.

"It must be hungering," Jon spoke out loud. "He'll love you even better for a few strips of meat."

But that his lady mother would not do. She stood to her feet and dusted her skirts. "I believe you may take care of that. But afterwards we are to return to our own chamber, Jon. It is unseemly to be bothering His Majesty so."

He would have protested that the King could not be bothered since he'd left instructions for them to be admitted, but Jon knew his mother would insist on her own idea. So he simply turned around in search of the food bowl. It lied upon the table, too high for Darys to reach. Jon retrieved it and sat upon the ground cross-legged. He fed the dragon one piece of meat at a time under the watchful gaze of his lady mother. She would come to understand in time, he reckoned, the bond between him and the dragon. He just had to wait a little. After all, dragons were grand creature, yet none had expected their return.

Darys sank his fangs into a particularly juicy bit of meat, sending droplet of melted fat onto Jon's tunic. Scowling at the babe, Jon wiped the stains away. "Have a care." His muttered chastisement did not seem to cut into Darys' enjoyment of the meal.

"Lady mother," Jon called out to the woman standing in the doorway, "do you think His Majesty would permit me to take Darys into the gardens?" The weather was cool, but if he kept the beastling covered in his cloak, nothing should harm it.

"That is something you must discuss with His Majesty, Jon," she answered. "Might be in a few days though. Give your friend a bit of time to heal." He nodded his head. If mother said more time was required then he'd trust in that.

"A few days then," he allowed, rubbing his own fingers along Darys' spine. How soon would it be able to take flight?

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

The pitch-feathered bird landed upon the fourth mound, its beak opening widely as it croaked its mournful melody for the heavens. The gloomy sky made no reply as the three eyes of the crow blinked up at the lazily rolling clouds. The beast waited for a few moments before lowering its head to the mound and began pecking the frosted earth with rapid cruel strikes. Its search for food was rewarded with a long, reed-thin cane coming to chase the scavenger away.

"Leave it be," a thick voice croaked fro behind. The turned to its master, eyes blinking in unison. "Away," the figure ordered. "I have business to attend to."

Legendary was he and many names he'd bore throughout his existence, and yet, to look upon him one should think him a poor beggared lost soul. Once a proud warrior, Brynden Rivers had long since retreated into himself, the freshness of youth fading. Dishevelled silver hair adorned a thin-faced man, with wrinkled skin and an empty socked. The full one possessed a blood-red glare, more suited for lighting the merciless night than for seeing the world. And indeed, the Bloodraven saw naught of the world, for he was paying attention only to the burial mound before his one eye.

"You are not welcome here," a voice hissed, coming from within the gaping mouth of the weirwood tree standing in the middle of the burial ground. "You who have turned against the gods, why step you upon scared ground?"

"You are not a goddess," Brynden pointed out dryly. "A witch might be. Those I've known enough of. Cast away the face you've stolen."

The chill of winter wrapped around him tightly, the show of strength a warning. His frail, aged body bent with the waves of pain. "Fool! I am eternal. Every face is mine to take." The shrill voice faded after a few moments and the pain receded.

"We shall see," the man whispered to himself. He knelt by the foot of the grave and pulled from within his frayed and tattered cloak a piece of blackened wood. He placed it next to himself and began speaking in a tongue the flatlands had not heard in many an eon.

From within the mound a shaft of light bore itself to the surface, strange moans and groans accompanying its ascend. "Away, away and leave me be. I need rest." The shapeless form floated before the kneeling man. "Be gone!"

"I only need a word, oh hero of old," Brynden told the spirit, holding out the piece of black wood. The soul latched onto the offering, taking the vessel for his own. "Returned is she whom you call your enemy and my power wanes in the face of her own. Tell me, wise one, for I need to pass on the word, what manner of weakness plagues her icy armour?"

The wood lit eerily from within, flat voice pouring through the cracks and splinters. "Long sought is this answer. Wanted by the rich, needed by the unfortunate, known by the wise and shown by the kind; that is her weakness, for though she be a sharp wit, she dwells in meanness and ne'er had kindness touched her heart before. She knows not of this."

"The weapon you have forged," Brynden urged softly. "When does it light up with such."

The answer did not come The Bloodraven perceived he'd been left on his own by the soul, a sit had retreated back within its home. He muttered under his breath and stood to his feet. moving to a another grave. He knelt by its side and once more called forth the gast dwelling within.

From the bowels of the earth rose a wide-shouldered man clad in copper-armour, bearing a staff. "Who calls upon me to disturb my rest?" he demanded, ghostly-bright eyes tearing through Brynden like knife through thin butter.

"I have no name which might wake within you sympathy. I need your aid." It was not known by many, of course it should not be, but he'd died like many more at than hands of the cold ones. "The blight is upon us once more. Tell me, brave warrior, that you will land skill to the battle."

"Ever I shall. 'Tis not the first time I have fought this tide." He lowered his weapon. ""But my bones are tied to this wretched place. I can not leave nor pace away."

"A bone removed shall untie the binding," Brynden promised. "Freedom for your aid is what I promise. Freedom to roam the lands you've once called your own; freedom to see again the star upon which your eyes fell blind."

"Be you a sorcerer, old man, or someone yet worse? The stars are out of reach." And yet, his form faded so as to allow Brynden to do his work.

A shallow grave it had once been. Within the protection of the ancient weirwood tree, the first of its kind that none could oppose, the Queen of the Night had never dared disturb him. She could make her way within the graveyard but never could she stay for more than a few moments. A small mercy.

Brynden dug into the earth with the blunt edge of a once formidable blade. The small layer of ice gave way, parting to the persuasion of the steel. Long at work was he before he came upon the first of the bones. It was an arm, long, and thick the bone of it. Brynden drew it without and from the knuckle he cut the thumb. The soul wailed at the pain of being wrenched away from its once-home and crammed into the small space made available within the hollow thumb.

"Hush, all is well," the Three-eyed crow said, encasing the bone within a small box of carved wood. "A new home we shall find; have but patience."

The ghost made no reply, settling within its dwelling. It was time to find the dragonkin and learn from him as well the price of his aid. The old man sighed, wishing not for the first time that he could turn back the hands of time to a maiden with bright eyes and tinkling laughter. He pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders, dismissing the thought of fine eyes and sweet lips. A man might fight comfort in them. But as soon as he returned to his weirwood, he would no longer be a man.

"This world was born of ice and fire," he said to no one in particular, "and it shall end in ice and fire."

Forth he made his way.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Aegon wrenched away from his mother's arm, eager to be of aid to his father. The King smiled down upon him, obvious pride shining in his eyes. "I know the way like the back of my hand," he swore. And he did, he remembered every nook and cranny, every turn and dip of the path. He knew how to reach the dwelling of the dragons. And yet enter it he could not. The Prince clutched his dragon egg. "Entrance shan't be granted."

The warning served for naught. "Never you mind that, my son. I shall take care of it." The promise gave the eldest son pause. How would his father do that, he wondered. Yet the curiosity faded as the King stood to his feet. "With your leave, lady wife, we shall be off."

His lady mother gave a thin smile and a nod of the head. "I will patiently await the tales of wonder," she promised him, hand patting his shoulder gently. "Might be you shall have a gift for me as well, upon your return." She let him go with one last kiss. holding onto his egg for him.

Aegon grabbed onto his father's hand, glad that he did not have to share the attention. Rhaenys had been left with grandmother and Daenerys and Viserys was with the Grand Maester having his lessons. There was no one but him and father.

Mindful to appear in the best of lights, the young boy led his parent to the tunnel which he and his sister had walked not long before. To his surprise, they were not alone within. The sconces upon the walls had been lit, the gentle flames producing warm light. Golden string gave way to red the further they moved it until they reached what had been a small opening just the past night.

Now stood before them a large gap in the wall. "I thought you might wish to explore." Rhaegar let go of his son's hand just as the words sank in. With a cry of joy, Aegon rushed to the opening and entered the chamber. He could hear the footsteps of his father coming from behind.

He understood quickly enough the arrangements of the shell shards upon the ground and the small corpses as well. His eyes roamed the shelves, wondering if aught of value remained. Broken eggs he'd seen enough of to last him a lifetime. And so it was that in his search Aegon met a peculiar shape. He looked over his shoulder to see his father kneeling to inspect the broken pieces upon the ground.

The Prince made his way to the shelf which housed the object and climbed it carefully with all the agility of a dragonling. He grabbed at the thick leather covering and dragged the tome to the ground. It fell into the dust at his feet, producing a loud sound.

His father looked up. "What have you found?"

Aegon looked down. "A book, father." He jumped down from his spot and collected his prize, holding it up for inspection.

The covering bore the three-headed dragon of his house carved into the leather. But this dragon's heads released flames which circled the creature trice. Peculiar; he'd not seen something alike before. With an easy step he approached his waiting father who held the light better over it. The silent encouragement had Aegon parting the leather carefully until he had revealed time-yellowed pages and a faded script. The small, rounded hand wrote not in the common tongue, but in that of Old Valyria. He could make out a few words among those which had no meaning to him.

"I do not know what it says," he offered mournfully, feeling quite disheartened. He gazed up at his father for aid. Never hesitating, the King lowered the light to the ground and turned the tome around so he might have a look as well.

"Come, join me," he invited, making room for him son as well. Aegon followed the command, settling between his parent's arms. His father read silently for a few moments, might be trying to make out the meaning himself. And then, much to the boy's astonishment, he chuckled. "I daresay I am the most fortunate of Kings. Mine own son has found me a wealth of knowledge. Well done."

"What is this, father?" Aegon questioned, slightly more impatient. "What does it say?" He held himself back from pulling on the man's sleeve. It was a rude gesture.

"It is the Tome of Dragons, as the name would have it." He pointed out a row of neat writing to him. "This here says that within the pages are contained the experiences of many a dragon riders. W hen your own hatchling shall come, you will have need of this book. A king's book." Aegon swelled with pride at the words.

"Gratitude, father." His small hands came to hold up the book as well. "But I cannot understand it." He frowned. "What use shall it be of to me if I cannot make out the words?"

"You shall learn, my child," Rhaegar promised him. "Soon enough there will be no mystery in here that your eyes shall not have knowledge of." Somewhat put at ease, Aegon turned around in his father's embrace to look up into the face of the man. "Is there aught amiss?"

"I should have been the one to bring the eggs out. I am sorry for having failed you, father." He waited, for any sort of chastisement.

It was granted to him, but not in the manner he'd expected. The King placed down the tome they'd found and grabbed him by the shoulders. "I never wish to hear such words from you, my son. I am always proud of you. You have yet to fail me in anything." He eased his grip. "There is a man fit for every task. Jon brought out the eggs; you found the tome. Steady hands and keen eyes ought to work together, not against one another. You are my child, you are my heir and one day my kingdom shall be yours. I want you to learn the value of each man and set him tasks he is fitted to. Do you understand?"

About half of what had been said. Aegon was too lost in the knowledge that he'd not failed for the moment to pay attention to much else. "Aye, Your Majesty."

"Very well. Come now, let us see aught else is there to explore here." The King drew back, picking up the light. Aegon followed, a smile upon his face.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

She would have to look into the matter with utmost care, Lyanna decided when her thoughts turned to the words of her son. Such a bond of which he spoke had been heard of only in stories. Might be the library of her girlhood home yet kept works of a nature to bring forth knowledge. It made her uneasy to think of it too long. An affinity to the creature could be easily explained away with the fact that Rhaella Targaryen was his great-grandmother. Aught else would raise suspicions.

And yet she knew not where to begin. Lyanna looked at her son, sitting upon the bed, playing with his carved beasts. She should have allowed him to seek Renly out, but she hadn't the strength to. Not in the face of what she was bout to do. She needed her son.

The door opened to let Betha in. The servant girl nodded once to her in confirmation and pulled from her apron a small bottle. It was smaller than Lyanna had imagined it to be, but she supposed it contained enough draught to see her through.

Betha moved to the table and poured the contents of the small bottle into a chalice. She added within heated eater and a slice of lemon along with two spoonfulls of honey and mixed them all together carefully under the watchful eyes of Lyanna. "It is the best there is," she assured, holding the cup up for the taking. "By the morrow, my lady, depending on the amount of blood we shall know whether there is need to seek more or give it rest."

"If I grow ill, see Jon to his own bedchamber and bring me Benjen." It did not hurt to be prepared for all possibilities, Lyanna told herself, toying with a loose string. She then took the proffered cup and swallowed the tincture. Thick and bitter even with the hot water as aid, it very near choked Lyanna. She somehow managed to get half of it down and feeling her stomach protest placed the cup to the side.

Her companion took the chalice and covered it with a bit of cloth, placing it upon the table so as to free her hands and help Lyanna into bed. "Rest, m'lady, for I am told 'tis the way of these plants to make you sleepy."

The she-wolf gave a nod, head against the pillows and looked at her son. To think she might have done the very same to him. Lyanna shuddered and asked the gods for forgiveness, praying there was nothing there, nothing which she'd disturbed. Lyanna drew in a sharp breath the forced herself to relax and close her eyes. All would be well, she told herself without much heart; she was just doing what was necessary. It was a price she'd agreed to pay knowingly.

The bed dipped as Jon moved about. Lyanna did not open her eyes. She heard Betha whisper something to the boy, but the words eluded her. How quick the herbs worked, she marvelled. She yawned softly, hands feeling heavy at her sides. It was a tad like having milk of the poppy for the first time. Not entirely unpleasant. Might be she would not even mind it after all.

Jon's voice reverberated through her ears.

She hoped there would come a day when she did not have any need to hide, but until it came, until it stood before her in all its glory, Lyanna knew she'd taken enough risks. She had no excuse to do so once more and thus she would not. For Jon, as much as for herself. And for Rhaegar as well. He was just at the beginning of his reign. It would be cruel and unjustified to burden him unduly; not when she knew what she did.

Lyanna thought about opening her eyes to make sure Jon was well. He'd grown very quiet.

She could not.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Benjen cursed something fierce as he pulled his hand from his sister's forehead. "She's frying," he hissed, lifting the covers slightly to peer at what lied beneath them. Another curse left his lips. This could not be happening. "Gods damn it all."

"Will you let me see, or do I have to push you out of my way?" his father demanded, hand upon his shoulder. Still, Benjen would not budge. "Son," Rickard began once more but never managed to finish.

"Nay. You shall not see." He drew the coverlet back in place and turned to face his father. "Apologies, my lord father, but you will have to forcibly remove me from here before I allow anyone but a maester to look at my sister." He'd told her, amend girl, to have a care. He'd told her not to trust n any stranger. He'd thought she knew better. She ought to know better.

The incensed face of his father swan before him. The Lord of Winterfell was making demands even as Ned moved to calm him down and draw him away from the invalid lying abed wasting away. At least Ned seemed to know what to do, for Benjen admitted to being lost. All he could think of was finding the King and putting a sword through him. And much as he would enjoy that, when Lyanna was well again, she would wring his neck.

His brother's wife pushed her way within the room and glowered at him. "Out of my way," she whispered, the bundle in her arms not inspiring any faith in Benjen. He gave a shake of the head. She insisted. "You can move on your own, or can have you removed. You know nothing about such matters."

"I know enough," he replied tersely, not at all inclined to listen. "A maester is what I said I wanted for her."

Lady Ashara gritted her teeth, heaved a sigh and pushed the bundle in his arms. "You and I both know the cause of this. And if my suspicions are correct, your not moving shall prove to be a problem. Out of my way," she repeated. "And take good-father and your brother without. The last thing she needs is the three of you circling her like carrions."

He took a moment to think. But he perceived that what she said was no lie. And who in their right mind wished to go against her brother? He presumed it would be Arthur Dayne that booted him out the door. "Very well. But if that maester does not arrive soon," he trailed off, assuming the meaning was clear to her.

"Let me worry over that. Now get out and leave the poor woman be." At the mention of her person, his sister gave a weak sound of protest. Ashara took the bundle from his arms and nodded towards the two other men. "She will thank you when she is better."

If she got better. Benjen sighed. He supposed someone ought to comfort poor Jon. The boy was frightened out of his mind. As would be any other person, he suspected. Hells, he was frightened out of his mind. Who'd have known that such a small woman as his sister had that much blood in here? His stomach turned as the scent came back with a vengeance.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

"You act the madman," Arthur hissed, trying to pry Rhaegar away from the woman's bedside. He would not be, the King swore to himself, turning the full heat of his glare upon his friend. "You are still the King and she is still Robert Baratheon's widow. What will be said of this? What will court whisper on the morrow?"

He had the right of it, of course. But Rhaegar could simply not believe what was happening. So much so that he was inclined to pay no heed to anything else but his own desires. "Bugger what they say. Nothing of remote intelligence ever left their mouths before. Let them whisper."

"I would gladly do so," his closest companion told him, the hand on his shoulder not lifting, "but she shan't be too pleased with it when she wakes and hears the rumours. She is bound to, even in you so chose to lock her in the Maidenvault."

The acolyte entered the bedchamber, chalice in hand. "The tincture was thrown away," he said softly, so as to not alarm the two men. "But there was enough left on the bottom of this cup to determine what the lady had been given."

"Well, out with it," Rhaegar demanded impatiently. "What manner of poison is this?"

"Not poison." The acolyte shook his head. "At least it would not have caused her harm had it been prepared well. It sees she has taken a sort of moon tea. Whoever made it for her never learned that that it is tansy water one puts in it and not tansy oil."

He felt ill. What could be possibly say to that? Rhaegar turned his gaze upon the waxen face of Lyanna. "Will she live?" When she woke up he would kill her himself. How could she have done something so utterly stupid?

"Thankfully, the servant woman figured out in time that something was amiss. I would say by the way she burns that most of it has left her system. But there is naught to do other than to let her sleep it off. She shall wake when she is ready." Acolyte Brynden placed the chalice upon the table. "If Your Majesty would permit, I must further examine the lady."

What an elegant manner of kicking him out. He no more wanted to leave than his son had wished to go on with his aunt. Yet he well knew it was not his place to sit in on such an intimate proceeding. He heard Arthur release a breath behind him and was tempted to take his frustration out on him. In the end, he did not. The situation was complicated enough as was.

"If anyone asks, it is a case of head cold," he said to the acolyte who dutifully nodded his head. The implied warning, he could see, was well understood. "Dayne, make sure this stays quiet. I trust you and your sister with this."

"But of course, Your Majesty," the Kingsguard answered promptly. "Rest easily."

As if he could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

His steady hands were sobbing uncontrollably in the corner, not even minding the hovering of his aunt. Aegon frowned up at his sister, not understanding. “She yet lives,” she pointed out, scratching the back of his head. His own lady mother had been plagued with head colds. They were dreadful, with all the coughing and such, but rarely fatal. The only pity was that the afflicted person ought to remain abed.

Rhaenys shrugged. “They are rather close, Aegon. ‘Tis normal for him to worry. When she is well again, he’ll regain his spirits.” She returned her attention to a small booklet. Unfortunately for them, Rhaenys was their minder for the time being. If one could convince Viserys to join in on an adventure, his own sister was as stubborn as a mule. She would not budge once instructions had been given. And their instructions had been to remain within the nursery until the return of their septa. Nasty old biddy thought to keep him locked away. Well, Aegon would not have it and he would also quiet the other boy down.

With a decidedly firm step, he made his way to Jon Baratheon’s hunched form and lowered himself to the ground in a similar position. The other boy’s profile was barely visible from the cradle of his arms. Aegon cleared his throat. Jon sniffed softly, but made no other move to acknowledge him.

“Can you not do something?” Daenerys asked in a quiet voice. “He is not himself. I tried telling him common colds go away swiftly.” Her silver locks brushed the other’s shoulders as she bent forth. “Even my lady mother had one and she is well now.” She huffed impatiently after a few moments and rightened herself. “Be thus then.”

The young Princess walked up to his sister and climbed upon the long bench. Whatever it was she said to Rhaenys, the other looked up, nodded and then pulled the child on her lap, showing her something within the pages of the booklet. Aegon shook his head and returned his attention to Jon. “’Tis right that she said so,” he started softly. “Your lady mother shall be well.”

Jon shook his head and his muffled voice came through with a note of disbelief. As he did not clarify, however, the prince was left with little choice but to poke his arm. The unexpected gesture caused the child to look up and into Aegon’s eyes. “Leave me be,” he whined, lips curling in a snarl.

“The way you are being is annoying,” Aegon returned in the same kind of voice.”’Tis just a cold.” To that, Jon did not answer, yet his eyes narrowed and his lips thinned in a straight line pulling at the seams of his scars. “Stop crying,” the Prince insisted nonetheless. “I’ll show you the dragon tome.” If that was not enticement enough then nothing else would ever be.

But to the Prince’s great astonishment, the child’s head dropped back to its initial position. Still, what he whispered made little sense. “I’ve no need for it.”

No need for it? Sacrilegious. What manner of speech was that? Unable to allow such an insult past, Aegon grabbed onto the other’s shoulders and dragged him to his feet. The two girls paid them no mind to his great luck. “There is everything about dragons in there. How can you not wish to see it?”

“I just don’t,” his companion growled back.

Flabbergasted, Aegon let go. “But why?” If he pestered hard enough, he’d get an answer. It always worked with others.

Jon stared quizzically back at him. “I can’t tell,” he answered, lips setting themselves in a pout as he rubbed his eyes dry. “I’m not supposed to.”

“You can tell me,” he said, pointing to himself for emphasis. “Father said you are the steady hands and I am the keen eyes and that we should work together. So, since you are my steady Hand from now forth, you are not allowed to keep secrets from me.”

“Princes don’t have Hands,” Jon snorted, a flicker of amusement present, “Your Grace.”

“This one does.” Aegon grinned at the other boy, pleased that he had not been flatly refused. “So, Lord Hand, no secrets?”

Jon seemed to consider the proposition. He looked towards Rhaenys and Daenerys, but they were absorbed on their book. He looked to the door, but there was no sight of a septa. Biting into his lower lip, he answered, “I suppose. But you mustn’t tell anyone. I promised both His Majesty and my lady mother.” At the mention of the woman his face fell again.

Quick to take control of the situation, Aegon complied. “I swear. To the old gods and the new. You can trust in me. I shan’t tell another soul.” he leaned in, turning his head to the side when Jon beckoned, so the other might whisper in his ear.

“I found a live dragon,” the boy told him, his voice filled with awe.

“What?” Aegon could not help but exclaim, startling Jon and causing Rhaenys to look at them. Desperate to save the situation, he opened his mouth once again. “What do you mean you despise peas?”

“I despise them.” Jon shrugged, having understood his cue. “They are gross.”

“Aegon,” his sister cut in with a shake of the head, “you refused to eat your own peas the last I recall. Don’t pester poor Jon with such nonsense. Better yet come to me and sit here.”

“’Tis fine, Your Grace, he is not bothering me,” Jon said after a moment. Rhaenys looked uncertainly from one to the other. But Jon simply sat back down and Aegon did the same. His sister returned to her book.

“Where is it?” he questioned after a moment’s span, when he was certain none looked at them. “How come none of us have seen it?”

“With the King,” Jon said. “I hid it away,” he continued by way of explanation. “I wish I could see it now. Might be it could tell me of something to help mother.”

It confused Aegon that Jon would think a dragon might know anything about colds. But the heart of the matter was that he could see a dragon. If they managed to get past Rhaenys. Which they might if the situation was handled accordingly.

“Pretend that you need the chamber pot,” he whispered to the stag. “Rhaenys won’t follow us there.” It was genius. It was fool proof. Marvellous indeed.

As it turned out, Rhaenys was happy enough to be rid of them in that state that they were and only made them promise to return as soon as they were done. Aunt Daenerys pulled a face and covered her ears at the mention of such indecent a subject. Just as well. He’d get to see a dragon. And she wouldn’t. Aegon barely resisted the urge to taunt her. Somehow, he managed to.

Breaking out of their prison was not an easy task. For as they pursued their escape, the ruddy creature known as Septa Elayne made her appearance, her thick form threatening to put an end to all of their grand plans.

“Where to, Your Grace and my lord?” she questioned, beady eyes upon them.

She’d insist on taking them one at a time. Aegon looked at Jon, trying to convey that they should run around her. The fat witch would probably fall down on her bottom or cushy middle if she tried to keep up with them. Jon nodded back.

In the next moment they were both dashing towards her sides. As Aegon had anticipated, the wide form was not nearly agile enough to stop them, thus with a feint and a well placed shove, both he and Jon were down the hall, heading for the stairs, helping one another along as they traverses the obstacles which were the slippery stairs of the Red Keep .

The loud, fishwife-like yells of the septa put no end to their efforts. In fact, Aegon felt compelled to give a warning. “If we do not hurry, she shall catch up and have out hides for this. Run.” He even went as far as to grab onto the other’s hand to help him along, being the faster of the two. Jon offered no manner of protest, in fact, he hurried to do as he was bid; no doubt the warning of punishment keeping him agile.

The two of them managed to make it to the ascending staircase. Aegon glanced behind, just to make sure the septa still had difficulty in catching up. He could not see her, which no doubt meant she’d run along to get aid. Smiling smugly to himself, he tapped Jon’s shoulder and nodded for him to proceed. The younger boy breathed; loudly, his lungs still doing some much needed catching up. Yet with a quiet groan, he gathered his strength and began climbing.

Aegon followed close behind. Unfortunately for him, his glee made paying attention all too difficult. His foot caught in one of the stairs, sending him tumbling. The Prince was certain he’d soon feel the kiss of the sharp stone and he might well have, but for Jon’s timely intervention.

Steady hands indeed, the older one though, rightening himself before the Stormlander lord. Jon simply gave an uneasy smile and turned to continue along. What could Aegon do but follow, until the both of them found themselves standing before one annoyed looking Barristan Selmy and his Darry fellow Kingsguard.

“Your Grace, my lord,” the older man began, “the King is not holding audience.” His warning served for naught, for Aegon would not budge. He simply requested that he and Jon be allowed within. “Apologies, but the King is receiving no one,” Selmy said once more.

Ser Darry moved towards them. “Might be if you returned another time,” he suggested, ready to help them back to the nursery.

Perceiving there was only one way to ride himself of the nuisance, Aegon, like the smart boy that he was, teared up and began wailing before his two-men audience. The racket would draw his father out, for if the King despised anything when he was at work, then loud noise distracting him was it.

“Your Grace,” Jonothor Darry spoke softly, “pray do not make this difficult.” But Aegon was beyond caring. He would have father out in the hallway or he would lose his voice trying.

Jon stared at him in confusion for a few moments before he saw Aegon signalling him. And then, as if the heavens themselves had given him the thought, his own faced crumbled. The symphony of tearful wails was completed with the voice of the Baratheon stag.

As if the summon had been addressed to the Stranger himself, the door of the chamber opened loudly and a none too pleased ruler of the Seven Kingdoms stood before the two of them along with the Kingsguards.

“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded in a thunderous voice, rather grim until his eyes landed of the children. Then, as if their mere presence was a worker of miracles, the fierceness faded away. “What are the two of you doing here.”

“It’s about–“ Aegon began but stopped short. He did not know how to put it.

Thankfully, Jon was there to aid. “I told him, Your Majesty.”

Upon hearing those words, the man sighed. He beckoned them within and after they’d entered, Aegon could clearly hear his father saying, “If there is anyone else at the door, for the love of the gods, remove them to the dungeons.” He nearly choked on his laughter as he thought about his septa being escorted to sit in the dark with the rats. Pleasing an image as it was, he had precious little time to contemplate it.

Father returned after a moment and kneeling before the two of them, he gave each a hard stare. “We shall talk about your lack of obedience.” The warning flew right past Aegon. “But for now, I suppose you’ve come to see it.”

“Darys,” Jon said. “Its name is Darys.” If father was surprised he said nothing. By way of explanation, Jon added for him, “He was the first one. Kings are always first.” Aegon nodded in understanding, his mind reeling for an appropriate name for his own dragon when it would hatch. He would find one eventually.

The King stood to his feet and led them to the smaller chamber which housed the dragon. It was then that Jon began speaking once more. “Can dragonmagic heal, Your Majesty? His Grace said he found a book.”

The man seemed stunned. Aegon looked from one to the other, not knowing if he should speak or not. Thus he waited quietly for his father to say something. And the King did not disappoint. “Why would dragonmagic affect your lady mother?”

“Darys felt it.” Jon shrugged. Well, if Darys said it, then it had to be true, Aegon thought.

“The book might have something on it, father,” he said, eminently helpful .

Whether his father considered it or not, he couldn’t say for the door of the chamber opened and without warning, a small, agile creature sprang from within before anyone could stop it. Aegon cried out as one of its thin talons scratched against his hand in the beast’s struggle to het into Jon’s arms. The dragon cracked and hissed, the strange noises reverberating through the chamber. Aegon stared at the creature quizzically.

“What is happening?” he asked Jon whose attention had shifted entirely on the dragon, as if he were listening to it speak.

The Stormlander looked up after a few moments. “Its sibling is hatching.”

Excitement lit up Aegon’s face. However he could swear he heard his father muttering about the poor timing of dragons. Nonetheless, the three of them made their way towards a chest which when opened, sure enough, revealed an egg in the process of cracking. It was the most wonderful thing Aegon had ever seen.

The looked on in awe as the scales came apart when one thin limb struck through. The rick green of its own scales shone like emeralds. Without even thinking upon it, Aegon stretched out his hand just as the head came up. The newborn’s forked tongue came out like a spear from its mouth, a shrill cry not far behind. A dragon was born.

His dragon, Aegon decided, looking into the slow-blinking eyes of the creature. It must have been fate which had put the idea in his mind. He smiled down at the babe. And, for some odd reason, the creature croaked once more, a softer version of its first shrill weep. The dragon allowed him to touch its fragile head, the scales covering it yet more like fish-armour in its softness.

“I seems that you have found your wings,” he heard father say, yet did not look up, much too absorbed in his newest finding. Aegon could not help but agree though. He had found more than just his wings.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhaegar looked down with uncertainty upon Jon. This was his son standing before him and yet he could not even as much as embrace him in comfort. The only thing allowed to him was to offer empty, pretty speech to the boy in an attempt to quell his fears regarding his lady mother. And even that he did not feel apt to follow through with.

The acolyte could tell him all he wanted that there was a great chance of recovery. Until Lyanna opened her eyes and spoke to him, he’d not rest easy. No more than his younger son could do so with the knowledge that his mother suffered. Alas, unlike Jon he knew better than to put on a forlorn mien and instead adopted a neutral mask for the task. He told himself he was going along with the young boy because he wished to make sure nothing befell the dragon. He told himself that he already knew Lyanna’s state and another sighting of her form would not improve or lower his spirits. He told himself that he hadn’t missed her, even with the knowledge that she took her uneasy sleep within his keep.

They were lies of the worst sort. Not even he believed the words. How could he expect others to do so then, Rhaegar wondered, eyes upon the precious satchel Jon carried. It was for the best that Aegon had remained with the other dragon licked within the chamber. With any sort of luck, he could announce upon the morrow the existence of the dragon eggs and dragons themselves. The truth would have to be trimmed a tad, he knew. And yet, if it kept within his reach the son he’d not known was his, then Rhaegar would even take a blade to it.

He found himself standing before Lyanna’s door once more. A gentle knock on the door was delivered by Jon and the chamber opened for them to reveal an exhausted-looking Ashara Dayne. Her lips thinned in a straight line at the sight of him. “Your Majesty, I had though the running of the realm would not permit daily visits to an invalid’s sickbed.” She allowed Jon past her, not minding his movement. “I say this for you are my brother’s dearest companion, you play with fire, Your Majesty.”

“Fire,” Rhaegar returned with a modicum of annoyance, hands clenching at his sides, “does not burn the dragon.”

Ashara raised an eyebrow at him. She was much too impertinent. Like her brother. “It certainly burns the wolf,” she retorted. Her piece spoken, she allowed him entrance as well, not standing with them. Might be in a bid of mercy, she claimed a task. “I shall seek the acolyte out and see if I need give my good-sister aught else.”

Rhaegar would have thanked her were he not still trying to get the boil to a simmer. He found Lyanna as he’d left her the other day, fast asleep, her forehead covered in beads of sweat. Tendrils of hair stuck to the side of her face, damp and darkened by the heavy water. Dried lips pressed together in a emotionless line and her eyes were tightly shut.

He would have stood there as long as it took for her to open her eyes, but for Jon trying to climb the bed distracting him. Rhaegar moved to the boy’s side and helped him up, Darys having already escaped from its satchel. Observing the small dragon, Rhaegar cursed himself for a fool. He’d not even looked through the dratted book. It had been enough for him that a babe had given him a crumb of hope. He felt the fool. And deserved it well. What man would entrust the life of his beloved to a winged fire-breather?

Darys dragged his body slowly along the sheets until he reached Lyanna’s side. Its tail coiled through the air, maintained its position for a blink of an eye and then he jumped upon her middle, alarming not only Jon but Rhaegar as well. Yet when the child moved to pry the beast away from his mother’s abdomen, the creature hissed in protest, curling into itself. Rhaegar scowled. He ought to have refused.

Moving to the other side of the bed, where a bassinet of water had been placed, he watched his son, heart ahurting, press into his mother’s side. The sting of pesky tears and the unpleasant burning in his throat was enough of a warning for his face to turn from the sight and his hands to busy themselves with wetting a rag.

From behind him Darys croaked. A king indeed by his act, Rhaegar thought with no small amount of disgruntlement. He returned to Lyanna’s side, sitting on the edge of the bed. Jon’s burning stare made his skin prickle with awareness. Rhaegar did not look away from Lyanna’s face though. He might do something unforgivable otherwise.

With a gentle touch, he moved the cloth against her heated forehead, washing away the sighs of suffering the whiteness of the material much too close to her own tone for his liking. He bit back a sigh as the door opened with a moan of protest behind them. Rhaegar glanced over his shoulder to meet the familiar form of Benjen Stark. The youngest of Lord Stark’s children gave him a suspicious look, but nonetheless had the foresight to not question anything.

He made his way to Jon instead and picked the child up. “Come, aunt Shara says it’s time for you to eat something.” It was only that close that he took note of the dragon sitting on Lyanna’s stomach and his whole face drained of blood. “What–“

“There is nothing out of ordinary here,” Rhaegar told him in a calm manner. He suspected that this particular Stark would not run his mouth. Darys looked up from his comfortable seat, hissed at the guest, forked tongue delving out of its mouth and then returned to its rest.

“Indeed,” Benjen muttered. “Why would anyone consider that,” he pointed to the dragon, “out of ordinary baffles me. Truly, Your Majesty, nothing out of ordinary.”

“I would thank you not to push the limits of my patience,” he returned, feeling his demeanour crack beneath the weight of his annoyance. “Jon, you may have your meal, I shall sit with your mother until you return.”

“Is that wise?” he heard Benjen question, eyes already fastened back to Lyanna’s face.

“It shall be if nary a word leaves your mouth. Just say that she is looked over.” In fact, he did not much care what was said, as long as no one returned to bother them.

That out of the way, he was left alone with the slumbering woman. Unable to refuse himself the urge now that he was not being watched anymore, Rhaegar cupped one of her cheeks, thumb stroking lightly over the damp skin. “You shall be the death of me,” he murmured, not entirely sure if she was aware of anything in her heavy sleep. “You must be daft, woman, and I all the more so for loving you.” It was just his fortune to have given his heart to a creature like her.

His son’s dragon made a small noise, as if in agreement. Without even looking, Rhaegar addressed it. “As for you, you sleep now and don’t bother me, else you’ll see yourself out of this chamber.” Wisely, mayhap, the beast ignored him but for a low hiss.

As he looked down at her visage it seemed to him that her lower lip trembled. He gave a shake of the head, trying to clear his mind. Had that been his imagination? He glanced at her once more and sure enough her lower lip did move, parting softly from the seam of the other.

Instinctively, he drew himself lower over her, trying to catch anything but the sound of her breathing. It was weak, to be sure, and he’d hardly believed he’d heard a thing when she repeated it once more, but the third time around, Rhaegar heard her speak. What words she’d said and what it meant, he had no idea and no care to know either.

“Lyanna,” he called her name softly, one hand hooking behind her back to draw her to a sitting position. Her head fell onto his shoulder, warm breath spilling over onto his skin. “Lyanna, can you hear me? Open your eyes.”

She said nothing more, nor did she open her eyes, but there was a tremor he could feel. The dragon that had been dislodged from its initial position returned to sit on her lap. Rhaegar gave it a wary look, silently asking the gods that the dratted creature not bother her. If there was anything that he did not need then that was it.

Rhaegar turned to face Lyanna once again, assured by the constant waves of warm breath lapping at his skin that she yet lived.

A pair of familiar eyes started back at him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

The light struck fine spears through the row of lancets, the rosy hue joined by the sapphire light and golden glow seeping into the King’s solar. The stained glass, a fixture seen mostly in the wealthy septs seemed somewhat misplaced, for all they offered a splendid sight to behold. But Rickard was no more interested in the sight than the King who sat before him.

He studied the younger man’s face, trying to place the emotions that flittered across. Court life had not suited him, nor any Stark as far as he knew. And it would not begin to anytime soon by the way matters were proceeding. Yet, as he gazed upon the young King, he felt something stir within him. Rickard had not aid a thing of it, thinking it best to keep all he knew to himself, but he was no fool. To the man before him, the tourney of Harrenhal remained more than a ghost of a memory.

In there lay the crux of the matter. When he’d heard about the crown of flowers and the outrage it had caused, Rickard remembered that he’d laughed. He’d laughed because the young dragon thought to win the North over with chivalry. A knight was a thing of the South. Northerners had warriors, bards and the common man. The title these Southrons were so fond of had been picked up out of necessity. The sensibilities which went along with it not so much. To him that crown had meant little and he’d thought his daughter, a girl he’d raised with his own two hands, would think alike.

When Brandon wrote that she swore to unman any brother who touched her spoils of war, he’d been struck dumb. To her it had mattered. He’d not liked the prince in that moment; what man used the tender heart of a girl? And then she’d wedded her Stormlord, the incident behind them. He’d thought the death was swift and permanent.

It was not, as he could perceive. That left only a few explanations. Either the King was a cruel cad who’d not outgrown the games of youth, or he’d been sincere in his sentiment when he’d given his daughter a crown, or time had developed initial intentions into something deeper. Had it been the first case, Rickard was certain Storm’s End would have seen much of the dragon. For the latter two, the end result mattered. If the man was sincere in his affection than they had their work cut out for them. His daughter widowhood was not nearly enough to quell the mouths of those who would whisper; and there were many who would. The Lord of Winterfell swallowed a sigh.

What was he to do is such circumstances? Once he’d thought he knew best. Robert had proven him wrong in the ways that counted for his daughter happiness and his house still had to suffer for it, burdened with debts not of his making. And Robert Baratheon had sworn he loved Lyanna as well.

The King escaped his troubling thoughts at a long last. “I realise the timing leaves something to be desired, my lord, but you have a son grown who would fain assume the responsibilities awaiting in Winterfell.”

An interesting proposal to be sure. Rickard cleared his throat. “There is still much to do, Your Majesty, in another matter. Winterfell I can well leave to Brandon’s hands with the faith that he shall do well by his home.” Nay, what gnawed at him was of a decisively feminine nature. “What is Your Majesty trying to gain by this?” After all, that was the most important question of all.

“A capable Lord Hand,” King Rhaegar offered. He looked away a moment later.

Rickard did sigh this time. “I was not born yesterday, my liege, nor am I blind or deaf.” He slanted the other man a look, searching for a particular mutation in his expression. The King did not disappoint. “’Tis not a new practice which Your Majesty employs.”

“It is one that has yet to disappoint,” Rhaegar Targaryen said. “But my lord forgets that I have no need to ask.”

“I do not forget,” Rickard countered. “A budding reign is when the king is at his most vulnerable. Your own lord father, may the gods rest him, was much like Your Majesty at the beginning of his reign. What guarantee would I have that I’ll not follow the fate of the Lion?”

“I need the North, my lord. The kingdoms of the South have strong ties to my house. Yours, I fear, does not.” He was a clever one. Rickard nodded his head, waiting for what came next. “Recall, my lord, that at one point, a promise had been made between our houses.”

He stopped to think a moment upon what promise the King spoke of. “Aye, I recall,” he said in the end. “I also recall it was not made by the winning side. Your Majesty is under no obligation to fulfil such terms.”

“Indeed. But the time for it is long past.” A decent enough move if one where to consider the current situation. Under the condoning eyes of the Queen, Dornish lords had once more begun to swarm the court. Not a disaster in itself, and yet, the rest of the realm would much protest their presence. “I have a daughter, and you a grandson close in age to my Rhaenys.” How appeasing, to know that the King did not mean to take Lyanna for nothing.

The King continued. “The Lord of Storm’s End is already here, and I shall call for my good-brother’s firstborn son as well. It would be most advantageous for the future lord of Winterfell to be part of it as well.”

Knowing a bribery when he saw one, Rickard considered the man before him silently for the new couple of heartbeats. He had not made any counter demands to what he offered. “One must consider one’s options carefully, my liege. And yet, old fool that I am, I find in this I do not wish to be careful. Is my daughter that which you demand as payment for the benevolence?”

Rhaegar Targaryen gave him a long look. “You are certainly more direct that I thought you would be, Lord Stark.” The quill he’d been holding was placed upon the dark wood of the table. “I hold you daughter in high regard, but I do not make these propositions for her. She is Lady of Storm’s End and I the ruler of the realm; I cannot demand the allegiance of my own subjects.” What a clever way to avoid the question. The King had understood him, Rickard was certain, and yet, he’s chosen not to admit to anything. What a strange thing to do.

At least he could be somewhat at ease with the knowledge that this was a man who would not have the carelessness of his own father. If his daughter so chose to indulge his wiles, which, by the act of them both Rickard did not think was far from the truth thing, he could at least hope for discretion. Appalling as the notion was of his daughter being a mistress to any man, Rickard was no stranger to the compromises of life.

He had made his fair share and he expected all of his children to do the same. “And when shall the official naming take place?” Time to seal the deal, he supposed. There was little use in procrastinating over the matter. Handship and influence in the King’s court was not something he’d dared dream of. And yet there they were, beckoning him.

“In three turns all shall be settled,” came the King’s promise. “Then we shall speak more of these matters. That would be all, my lord.” He nodded his lave for Rickard to stand and see himself out, the King’s attention falling to his own documents.

It had come to it at last. Who would have thought that a meaningless crown of roses should bring about such a fortune. Rickard ought to send word to Winterfell and have more cuttings of such roses planted. Who had need of any vegetable? Lyanna should be pleased with it at any rate, for she’d always asked him when he was going to have more roses planted for her.”

She would have her roses. And she would have a King. All that she needed was a husband to complete the set. And glad he was, in that moment, for the existence of Rosbys.

Rickard took his leave of the King, allowing the man to see to the matters of state which littered his table. He had much to plan, and little enough time to arrange for it. He should also write to Winterfell, seek word after Brandon. He ought to have arrived at the keep.

As he climbed down the stairs, the old wolf felt a chill travelling up his spine. And yet, even so, he found no reason for worry.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If she has a head cold then I am the Maiden,” Elia hissed at the lady-in-waiting who’d delivered the news to her. No head cold necessitated the changing of bloodied sheets, nor would an acolyte see to it at the request of the King himself. Nay, aught else troubled Lyanna, Lady Baratheon, and the Queen would not rest easy until she found out.

And find out she would, Elia had decided no more than a split moment later. She beckoned one of her women forth and had her bring out a warm pelt. “I wish to see the state of her for myself.” Despite the protests of her companions, Elia would not be moved. Nay, the Lady of Storm’s End had once more managed to turn her world upside down. She would not go through that a second time.

With such thoughts in mind, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms joined by the foremost of her ladies, proceeded to make her way to the rooms occupied by said woman. Once and for all, she would clarify to that impertinent creature how matters stood. Let her then claim innocence for having taken not only the attention of her husband but a dragon besides for her own progeny, as if mere vassals should dare compare themselves to the ruling house.

No sooner than she’d arrived at the bedchamber door, she perceived noise coming from within. A shrill sound permeated through the wood, latching onto then Queen’s very soul. The door did not deny entry to her, yet the sight within was most unexpected, and for some reason, as soon as her eyes fell upon it, Elia wished she could retreat; that she’d not come to Lyanna’s sickbed.

Upon the high wide bed, the waxen figure of the lady sat resting against a mound of pillows. In her lap a dreadfully ill-mannered beastling snapped irritably at another woman, a servant by her garb who looked frightened. Lyanna Stark said nothing, her gaze remaining fixed upon a point ahead of her, unfocused eyes giving no inkling as to what went on with her.

Elia would have none of that. “You,” she called to the servant woman, “leave us.” Her order was met with an astonished stare. Elia gritted her teeth. “Do not test my patience, least you wish to know the touch of the horsewhip. Out!” Fear was a strong motivator and out the door the woman went.

Sidestepping the mess upon the floors, the Queen made her way to the other woman’s bedside, ignoring the dragon seated upon her lap, spitting hisses still. “I commend you powers of pretence. It is a skill I wish I had,” she said, expecting the charade to end. But nay, her foe made no move. “Cat got your tongue?” she taunted, hoping yet to get a raise out of her.

A second time she was denied. Without thinking, she made to grab the she-wolf by the shoulder. Yet hardly had her hand proceeded to do so before she was swiftly met with the stinging bite of her creature. The cry she let out spoke more of her surprise than of pain, for the blasted wyrm had no bitten hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Oswell looked from brother to sister, not entirely certain he wished to be a part of the conversation. After all, a furious Ashara Dayne was not unknown to him and her temper rivalled her own brother’s. He still recalled the knocked out teeth and the fistfuls of blood Arthur had drawn from the last poor bugger stupid enough to incite his ire.

“Out of all the irresponsible choices you could have made,” the woman chided, hands gesturing emphatically, “this one takes the lemon cake. How dare you? How dare you put us all into such danger?” She’d be spitting nails soon, Oswell considered, at the rate she was going. There were times when he was glad a wife was out of the question. One look at these fine ladies and his head already throbbed. Not even the tightest cunt in all the Seven Kingdoms was worth the pain.

“How dare I?” he questioned back, impertinent as always. He seldom allowed his sister the victories she came seeking. “The last I checked it was the King’s doing.”

Oswell nearly gaped. He’d expected the King to be involved, to be sure. Rhaegar Targaryen had showed little of his famed control where the she-wolf was involved. But even so, Arthur admitting it so baldly was most unexpected. Was he not supposed to protect the King? Even from his own furious sister if need be. He did not say as much, however. It was rather entertaining a mummery piece.

“Arthur,” Ashara hissed, “do not start with that. If ever the King thought of such a thing, your encouragement only pushed the thought into deed. This is the same story as the apples from the orchard. Only this time, it won’t be a mere strike to your wrists.”

If only she knew the sort of adventures they’d been through, she would change her mind. True enough, Arthur was usually the one whose insistence landed them in all sorts on interesting, to say the least, situations, yet if Rhaegar did not wish to he would not.

“Now, my lady,” he interrupted, “’tis unfair to blame your brother. His Majesty and the lady are grown individuals.”

“Do not even try that,” the Dornishwoman warned. “I hope you have a plan to right this, brother, for from where I’m standing it does not look a good image. Not all of the Red Keep sleeps at night, you know.”

“Would you care to name anyone who would go against the King then?” Arthur challenged seemingly unconcerned. To be fair, it was not as if anyone would be starting any wars of Lady Baratheon. Her own husband was only bones after all. He’d no need of a wife.

“Very well, I shall give you a name, Tywin Lannister. What do you think of that?” She waited for no answer, much too busy making her escape.

Oswell blinked at his friend. “Do you think ‘tis the Lion’s hand?”

“Poison is the weapon of women and cravens. Nay, he’d have sent something more reliable than that if he were the one plaguing her.” Arthur sat back down. “’Tis almost as if the gods are against the match.”

“Might be they are,” Oswell could not help but offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacrilegious thoughts aside, Arthur considered as he followed Rhaegar to the chamber of the one person he seemed concerned with more than with aught else, the king was entirely too preoccupied. He’d known his friend’s disposition, of course, and he’d been certain any such attempt to bring him and his lady together would result in quite a bit of strife.

What he’d not envision were assassination attempts. Certainly, Lyanna Stark had her enemies, yet for such a creature as she it was peculiar to think that anyone, even those the most put out by her presence would feel the need to use poison.

Of course, her state explained Rhaegar’s own state, which oscillated somewhere between gnawing worry and murderous rage. It had not taken him very much time to come to the conclusion that it had been no mistake that Lyanna had swallowed whatever vile contents had been given to her and he’d had her servant woman taken in for further investigation, to no protest from the lady herself. In turn, every minute in which he was not closer to the answer of what had actually transpired, the King was more and more enraged.

Normally, Arthur would pester him out of such a dark mood. But even he feared jesting upon such matters. The dragon who held a she-wolf in saintly regard. One would have more luck trying to piss on the Fate and not having a septon’s knife in their chest for it. To be sure, his friend had an affinity for the lance. More painful that.

Might be he’d have a word with Lady Lyanna when she felt better. There had to be aught she could do to aid his friend in that regard; at least convince him that she was not likely to leave his side for the next few thousand of years or so.

Now that he thought about it, Arthur wondered if he should not broach the subject of she-wolves wedding to him as well. Rosby, may the Father keep the crazy bugger, was willing to have the woman provided that a modicum of care was applied. But the King, well, he’d seen dogs fighting over a bone before. It was no pretty sight.

Once matters had settled a tad, he concluded after giving it some thought. Were he to even murmur such words where they were, Arthur would be feeding the mice. The notion had his grimacing. He still had so many tourneys to win. In fact, he still had a lot left to do, which list involved being of aid to the king although the man’s temper was nothing easy to live with. And they said Aerys was the mad one. The son was madder and covered it better.

Having finally reached the door that held behind it Lyanna Stark, Arthur made himself useful by standing near the entrance with an appropriately frightening glare for a couple of squires who had for some reason decided to look with interest at the King.

They scampered off faster than he’d expected. Pleased with himself Arthur waited a moment more before walking away. He’d return in a few hours. The King had a dragon and he had an empty stomach.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’d come to see her. Lyanna was aware of Rhaegar sitting at her bedside, holding her hand in his. She could even hear his words loud and clear. Her eyes took note of the dragon scampering about the sheets, a piece of fried fish between its jaws. She knew it all, and yet, try as she might, she would not bring herself to react in any manner other than to lie there, a ragdoll in the hands of any who happened by.

He was telling her about Jon and Aegon and how they’d managed to evade the septa set to watch them. There was amusement in that voice, and if she were to look at him, Lyanna was certain his eyes would show it too. That he could still be that way in her presence brought with it a fury of sorts, unexpected to her, as he had no fault. She’d taken the draught. The murdered looked at her through the looking glass.

She was not certain how long he went on before she could summon the will to shift, ever so slightly, so that her face might better align to his. She needed something. Not even she knew what. At her movement, she felt his hands already aiding. But nay, the understanding in her eyes pushed her even further beneath the surface.

She was drowning.

“What is it?” he asked softly, hands cupping her face. “What do you need?” A fresh start, she answered in her mind; a blank slate. She needed to not remember the pain, or the joy or anything in between. “Are you unwell?”

How could he even ask that? She wanted to smack him. She was not well. But his hands lowered around her, pulling her upper body until it met his. The comfort did not aid. It made it a little worse than before. That had been his child as well. She had killed their babe and he just sat there, whispering comfortingly into her hair.

Somehow, not even she knew how, Lyanna felt her hand grab something. Fingers twisted the material, dragging at the sturdy cloth. She ought to curse him. But even if she moved her lips, no sounds came. Had Jon felt thus? Reckoning he was as surprised as she, Lyanna endured another question from him before she managed to give a tug.

Rhaegar eased her back gently. He shook his head, not understanding. But Lyanna had just the way. Her hand fell away to catch his wrist. Weak as a newborn though she be, his hand still followed hers, knuckles pressing into her middle. Under the quiet light his colour leeched away. She wanted him to know that she had done it knowingly, even though she’d hoped there was no babe.

His lips parted, whole frame moving forth with a small tremble. “I do not blame you.” Rhaegar shook his head. Was he trying to drive her mad? What did she have to do to make him understand? “You could not have known.” Of course she’d known. Lyanna would have snorted in indignation if she could. All she managed however was a choked pitiful noise. But the infuriating man must have enjoyed the torment because the next she knew, he was speaking again. “Whoever did this to you, I’ll find them.”

She sucked in a breath, closed her eyes and forced her uncooperative body into a lurch. The