Chapter 1: i - success is a song of the heart
Jon embraces his mother, instinctively burying his head in the fur lined collar of her heavy winter cloak. The scent of summer flowers still follows her, as if she'd somehow found a bed of them in winter and had lain on it.
"I have brought you something," Lyanna tells him, her voice cheery despite the long hours spent on the road.
Lady Shella clears her throat softly, her tall, lean figure trembling slightly. "Mayhap my lady would prefer to postpone the unwrapping of gifts until we are seated before a nice, warm fire."
House Whent is one of those peculiar houses that has some strong bond with the King. Lady Shella is one of the few women of Jon's acquaintance that are as kind to his mother's face as they are when she is away.
Jeyne skips across the hall, her hair tumbling down her back, dark glossy curls a sharp contrast to her light blue kirtle. "You will love the gift," his sister says, turning her head back towards him.
"I am sure I shall," Jon replies, surreptitiously eyeing his mother and Lady Whent.
The two women linger behind, caught in their own quiet conversation. Women, Jon shrugs. Just when he is about to ask Jeyne for more detail upon this gift he is to receive, a small scuffle breaks out between Aeryn and Laena, effectively drawing his attention away from the issue at hand.
Mother interrupts her conversation to discipline the twins.
They sit all of them at the high table, engrossed in intimate talk. Well, the ones with enough knowledge to carry on the conversation at least. Aeryn and Laena seem more interested in whispering one to the other about the household servants. But Jon is much too well disposed to mind at the moment.
Jeyne laughs at a question Lady Whent addresses to her. "I am not yet four-and-ten, my lady. I am content to wait for a match to be arranged."
When their mother and host are no longer paying attention, Jon leans in to whisper to his sister, "What of that Loras Tyrell you kept writing to me about?"
His sister flushes and kicks his leg under the table. "Pray do not mention him, brother."
All the better that nothing has come of it, Jon considers, thinking that the great houses would never truly accept a bastard into their midst, even a royal one.
"And then Sansa stepped on Robb's toe," Jeyne recounts, dregs of laughter colouring her voice. Jon has grown impatient and it must be plain to see, for the oldest of his present sibling stands up. "Lady mother, I do believe 'tis time my brother received his gift."
Laena lets out a squeal and claps her hands. "At last."
Less enthusiastic, Aenys gives a shake of his head.
Lyanna nods. "Very well. Bring your brother his present."
There are new lines on his mother's face. Not deep or particularly attention commanding, but Jon can see them nonetheless. Her smile is still the same tough. It brings him comfort.
The pup yipps, its small body curling into itself and the twins fought over whose right it was to pet it first now that the wolfling has a new master. Jon simply takes the small, white direwolf in his arms, away from the brother and sister.
"Enough, you two. You are frightening him, not to mention me." Disappointed pouts meet his decision, but Jon does not yield and Jeyne is instructed to see the younglings to their respective bedchamber where Septa Lemore will see to their comfort.
"And you as well, Jeyne, must seek your bedchamber."
Jon cannot help but feel a twinge of ache himself at the knowledge that they shall be gone when the morrow comes.
"Can you not stay even for a few days, lady mother?" Jon pleads with the woman combing her hair before a silver looking glass. "I have not seen in a couple of years. A few hours is hardly enough."
"I should like to remain here longer, son. Truly." Yet she cannot. Jon's shoulders drop before she even gives her reason. But his mother surprises him, "I am with child once more. Your father should be furious were I to give birth elsewhere but in King's Landing. You know how he is."
Everybody knows. Ever since the difficulties she had bringing him forth, the King saw to it that her confinements kept her in King's Landing under the supervision of a trusted maester.
"I am to have another sibling?"
He names the pup Ghost. In a place the like of Harrenhal, where the scars run deep beneath the surface of the charred walls, there are many ghosts. But none of them ever appear before the human eye. Yet one hears their pained moans deep within the night.
With his Ghost, the matters stand at an exact reverse. There is hardly ever a sound, but one can see the white fur, can touch it and feel it. Jon keeps the direwolf close, at first, because it is mother's gift. Then the ball of fur becomes an attachment; not even something, but someone, closer to him than even kind Lady Whent.
The next time his sister writes from King's Landing she has been somewhat stirred by the tragic accident of a tourney knight. Jon is confused at this. Jeyne must know that though her birth might not matter to father and mother, to others it does. Whether in a greater or lesser measure depends very much on the grandness of the house.
He does not answer this letter. Whatever Jeyne chooses, the decision must be hers. Though he does think that she ought to have written to Naerys. Instead, he concentrates on improving his archery skills and finally bests Lady Shella's master-at-arms.
It turns out that his lady mother can and does please the King. A missive comes just after the first snowfall that Lyanna has given birth to another pair of twins. A rare occurrence and truly remarkable in that Jon is starting to believe the gods mean him to keep a hundred sisters when that time comes.
It is his father who writes, a man whose face Jon has nearly forgotten. If the King's mistress has mobility to move throughout the realm every now and again, the King must keep to his throne and see to the needs of the Kingdoms.
But Jon has been invited to meet the newest addition to his ever-expanding family and is pleased by it nonetheless.
Lady Shella watches him fell another one of the squires. Jon does not know what she makes of his skill, his head is not in the fight. On the morrow he makes for King's Landing and he can barely wait. It seems to him simply preposterous that he must stand in the cold and train when a long ride awaits him. But there is nothing to be done.
Squaring his shoulders as his newest opponent strikes, Jon lifts his sword, countering a blow that might have relieved him of his head. He doesn't look at the Lady of House Whent again.
Chapter 2: ii - voids
'Tis near nightfall when he finally reaches the Red Keep with his small party. Nonetheless, it seems the keep is well prepared to meet him. A young maester, by the count of older ones that is, waits for him in the courtyard.
"His Grace ordered that I am to take you to your lady mother," the man tells him.
Jon does not truly mind the stares thrown his way. Seven-and-ten years have worked well to cure him of twinges of guilt. He is much too pleased at seeing his lady mother twice in such a short amount of time.
"Lead the way," Jon allows.
Unsurprisingly, both the King and his mistress are in the nursery. Jon doesn't remember much of his own infancy. But he does know he did the good fortune of his youngest sisters. When he was a babe, his father had had much cajoling to do on account of the very public scandal he'd caused by bedding his lady mother at a tourney.
Shrugging the thought away, Jon smiles at Lyanna as she wraps her arms around him, a delighted greeting upon her lips. "I thought you would never arrive," mother chides him for his lateness.
"The snow makes for a difficult travel," Jon points out, eyes meeting his father's gaze. The King is holding one of the twin daughters.
Jeyne slinks into his room, quiet as a ghost. The other Ghost raises his head with a low growl. "He's grown so much," his sister notes as Jon sits up on the mattress.
"It's near the middle of the night, Jeyne. What are you doing here?" And how has she managed to sneak out of the Maidenvault? Isn't the tower guarded? Still, his sister merely laughs at his observation and sits down on the edge of the bed, drawing a thick shawl tight against her shoulders.
"I could have waited until morning to see you, but I confess I was much too upset to. You never replied to my letter."
Jon lets out a groan and allows his weight to fall back on the bed. "You have another older brother here. You have Rhaenys too. You could have written to Naerys."
"The Prince and Princess are not the brother and sister of bastards. You know that." Though it must be said that Rhaenys and Aegon are quite pleasant to be around, despite Jeyne's hesitation to go to them with any matter.
Aegon snorts lightly. "He's a cripple, Jon. Jeyne would do better to look elsewhere for a husband." The Prince nods towards his squire to set up another target. "Naerys should arrive any day now. She will talk sense into her. You'll see."
If anyone can talk sense into Jeyne, then Naerys is the person, of course. "Still, I would like to make the man's acquaintance." Just in case, he tells himself.
"If you insist," Aegon shrugs. He lets his arrow fly off. It lands in the middle of the painted mark.
"Well done," Jon offers.
"Your turn," the Prince answers, pressing the bow into his hands. "I want to see how much you've improved."
The Princess looks up from her tome of songs. "He is much older than her, Jon. I tried telling her that another match could be found, but I fear Jeyne has set her heart on him. You know how she loves wounded creatures."
Rhaenys is mayhap the most practical minded of all the King's children. Jon will trust her with any matter, this one included.
"So you say that I should accept her decision?" he questions nonetheless. "Jeyne is not even four-and-ten."
"She shall be in a couple of moon turns. I shall take you to speak with him though. It might be that we can convince him to dissuade her."
Naerys leaves her lord husband's side and proceeds to squeeze the living daylights out of her siblings. Jon hugs her back awkwardly, surprised at the slight protrusion of her middle. It is very strange to think of his younger sister as a mother, although he knows very well the nature of marriage.
Lord Rogers clears his throat. "Naerys," he calls to his wife, as if in admonishment.
Jeyne laughs softly behind her palm. "I always did think they would get along splendidly," she whispers. "Naerys looks happy."
Indeed, his sister seems well pleased by her match.
"So, I've heard I have two new sisters."
"I see," Naerys answers softly, still holding onto his arm. "I don't suppose you have asked Jeyne herself about this."
"Jeyne is a child," Jon points out, not without a mild twinge of annoyance. "You were older than her when you chose to wed. 'Tis different, Naerys."
"I know. I did not say it was not." Her violet eyes glints with warning. "But Jeyne will go to father with this sooner or later and you know that mother shall stand by her if she tries to push for the match." The Queen would to, likely.
Jon sighs. "I do know. But I still want you to speak to her."
Willas Tyrell looks rather like he's swallowed something vile. Jon is unsure if that is because the Prince watches him with suspicion or if it is the knowledge that he himself is here. Jeyne is determined to not let go of her scheme and Jon is determined to not allow any injury to her.
The man really is a cripple. Jon thinks it with utmost sympathy. Bounds haven't been known to make better men. So he keeps his guard up.
Aegon leans back in his seat, apparently more than glad to be presiding over this meeting. "I do believe you had some questions, Jon," he urges, a slight smile upon his face.
Jon could hit him for being so gleeful.
Lyanna rocks the second born twin. Viserra whimpers softly, but does not break out in a howl, much to Jon's relief.
"But Jeyne is only three-and-ten," the King's mistress says. "It is much too early to consider any match." She knows. Jon is certain that she does. If she did not, she would not be as calm. "Tell you sister to hold her tongue and keeps her wits about her. All shall be taken care of when the time comes."
"Of course, lady mother," he replies.
"Now come hold Jaenny, Serra won't bear to be put down and I haven't enough strength to hold them both." The invitation is promptly carried out.
His lady mother does look rather pale.
Edgar Rogers gives brother and sister a flat look. "Naerys, truly, when shall you learn that your schemes, precious as they are, are bound to fail?"
"My schemes, as you would call them, worked perfectly well on you," Jon's sister counters, pushing back a thick strand of curling hair.
Caught in their conflict, Jon considers slipping away. But then decides against it. This is too much fun and he ever did wonder how his sister would match up to her lord.
"Woman, I forbid it."
"You cannot forbid me." Naerys jumps to her feet and points her finger at him. "There is nothing you can do to stop me."
The door opens and Rhaenys steps in. "Jon, I do believe you have promised me a game of cyvasse," she seamlessly interrupts, much to his disappointment.
Chapter 3: iii - the helping hands
It's some sort of airborne pestilence. The maester says they were truly in luck that Lady Lyanna had not been far from King's landing. Jon recalls that he has asked her to remain at Harrenhal and grits his teeth in silent fury.
This is the sort of illness that breaks out every winter and invites the Stranger within the homes of kingdoms dwellers. But it has never before touched his own mother.
"I do not care what you do," the King speaks, distracting Jon from his thoughts, "but I want her cured." The steely edge to his words is enough to cause more than a few murmurs. Jon wisely keeps silent.
"Mother has gone through worse," Naerys reminds him. And she has, but Jon is quite certain that it is often the lesser obstacles that cause trouble. With great hardships one always finds the strength to prevail.
"I would fear for the maesters," Jeyne cuts in, looking up from her embroidery. With mother ill, she has been pressed into the care of Naerys, as have the other children. Or rather her guidance as the actual care is provided by Septa Lemore. "Father can be quite overwhelming."
And insistent upon knowing each and all details. Jon sighs.
He can barely believe that his luck could be so ill indeed. "I find it strange that she should fall ill now, when she has not before."
"The body is always weaker after the strain of birth," the older sister offers.
As it turns out mother is on the mend. Relieved, Jon does not think it possible that he should be put out by much else. His twin sisters are little hellions already showing that peculiar charm his female siblings exude, with which they bend the knee of any knight. Laena teases Aenys mercilessly. Jeyne sighs after her ser and Naerys drives her lord husband to distraction.
All is well.
Until it isn't.
A letter arrives. A message from Harrenhal, informing the King that Lady Shella has been taken with the ague herself and lies on her deathbed. Jon asks leave to ride back to the charred keep but is swiftly forbidden from doing so. "I will not take the risk," his father says.
"It is my risk to take," Jon argues, but to no avail.
The next time a letter comes from Harrenhal, Lady Shella is no longer of the living.
"Harrenhal is cursed," Grand Maester Pycelle remind them all, "according to the tales."
"Those are just tales," Rhaegar dismisses the old councillor. His mind has been made up on this matter long ago, Jon understands, for his father has no shortage of justifications. "And Lady Shella herself has agreed to it."
The signed document lies upon the table.
Harrenhal is great. It has potential.
But Jon would not wish the heap of charred rock upon even the worst of his enemies.
Still, how can he possibly refuse?
"If that is your will, Your Grace, then I shall obey." And he is styled Lord of Harrenhal for it. An elegant manner of settling a bastard.
Lyanna sighs softly. "I've known from the moment he sent you to squire for her, Jon. Lady Shella has always been a particular ally." Jaenny suckles at her mother's breast and Serra sleeps in the nursemaid's arms. "I hope you can see this for what it is."
But what is it, Jon wants to ask. He doesn't. Mother smiles at him. "I shall come to you as soon as I am able to travel. I promise."
"Nay." He shakes his head and bends down to kiss her cheek. "You must rest, lady mother. Come when you are well enough to travel and not a moment earlier.
"What do you intend to do with your new holdings?" the Kings asks him, his eyes upon the glinting Valyrian steel of his knife.
It is not that Jon has not received training in such matters. He knows quite well the duties of a lord. But he was not born to be a lord. "The first thing I shall do is to pull Harrenhal down, raze it to the ground."
His father looks up. "Every lord needs a keep."
"Aye, but one that shan't eat half the crops and coin of an entire kingdom. A manageable keep is what every lord needs, Your Grace." The knife changes hands.
"I trust you shall see to your duty then, Lord of Harrenhal."
"Will I be invited to your keep when it is restored?" Jeyne questions, holding onto his arm. There is a small smile upon her lips.
"Do not think you may play a game of come into my keep just because I am a lord." He shakes her off gently. "And pray stay away from Ser Willas."
"What have you against him?" she demands. "He is a good man. And I love him."
"If you love him in two years' time, then I shall have no objections. Until then, however, I leave you in Aegon's care." Jeyne groans. Jon places a hand on her shoulder. "You are still so young. If this Ser Willas of yours truly wishes to wed you, two years shall not be too long a wait for him."
It feels so very strange to be called a lord by people who until recently have had only the slightest desire to acknowledge him. But Jon supposes that a keep, lands and coin may soften even the hardest of hearts.
It makes no matter. Once the keep has been pulled down and work begins on his new home, Jon will have a fairly good idea of whom to keep and whom to send on their way.
For now, however, Jon concerns himself with the fact that Lady Shella should have a tomb worthy of her.
He chooses a mound to hold her remains.
Lady Lysara Stark is the daughter of the late Lord Brandon. Her father's death has left her in the care of Uncle Eddard and his lady wife, Cersei of House Lannister, as her own lady mother is caring for the sick Lord Tully.
"My lady, what brings you here?" It is not like her to venture out of the North. It is the very reason for which she has not joined Lady Catelyn in the Riverlands. "I though the comforts of Winterfell were enough to keep you off the roads."
"I thought you might wish for a helping hand," she replies, waves of blood-red hair spilling over her light cloak. And then she holds out a book towards him. "I have taken this from the library of Winterfell."
The cousins stand side by side, overlooking the heap of rocks. "I have a feeling that this shall be a great adventure for you," Lysara murmurs. Jon wonders what she hopes to accomplish with this feat. He does not question her, however, as that would imply ingratitude. Her book helps, after all.
"I have a feeling you have the right of it." His eyes land upon one high tower. "That one is the one I want to remain." The Ghost Tower and its ruined sept, it is the only tower he wishes left as is.
"It looks as if it might fall apart," Lysara sighs.
Tourneys are much awaited in these lands. And they also cause quite an amount of trouble, truth be told. But they are necessary, especially for a newly minted lord.
Jon feels rather awkward as he welcomes the Starks of Winterfell within the new keep. Ned Stark he's not seen for quite some time and the Lady Cersei has always seemed to him detached and removed, with a certain air of superiority about her.
The new lord of Harrenhal wonders is he was wrong to judge her so. There is something about the way her eyes linger on her lord husband and that small curving of lips, just so, as if a secret is being shared.
The fair haired Sansa, so much like her mother, laughs gaily at something her companion says. The two young girls look at him and Jon wonders, briefly, if he suddenly of more interest because of the lands or the title. Lysara clings to his arm. "I do believe Jeyne and Sansa have new prey is sight," the oldest of his cousins says.
Whatever trouble has arisen between these three women, Jon can barely understand. But the again he thinks he mustn't at any rate. "You are surely mistaken," he replies to Lysara. "Be so kind as to release my arm and allow me to see to my guests."
"Not for all the gold of Casterly Rock," the redhead laughs. "I shall stay close, close to you."
Robb gives him a long look. "And that is why she came here." The explanation ends upon a sigh, rather like Eddard's son is tired.
"And you, what of your part in all this?"The move is clever. Of course that Lysara needs to be wed soon. And if uncle Ned were to do it, it would be at his own expense. But this solution has its advantages. "If they are determined, I very much doubt she will succeed in escaping her duty."
"I can but try to win her admiration." It's not that he wishes to, Jon can tell.
"I wish you best of fortunes in this then," the lord replies. "Lysara may be stubborn, but she is not impossible."
It's the King and Queen, the Prince and Princess that arrive last and with the, of course, mother. Both pairs of twins are absent and Gaemon as well. Naerys too has declined to make the journey, on account of her confinement. But Jeyne is here and she is well pleased to see him once more.
"Will you take me to the old tower?" his sister asks, tugging on his sleeve like a child.
Ghost slinks out from the shadows to push his head into her hand.
Jon batches beast and maiden. "The old tower is cursed," he tells her, amused at the eagerness.
"Then why should you keep it as it is?" Jeyne continues to pester him until he agrees. "Curses are for children and weak-minded creatures who haven't a lick of sense."
It is one of those moments whose interruption one is not quite sure would warrant chastisement. Jon is certain that he has seen his parents display affection of more than one occasion. But it is very unusual that they should be without the safety of four walls.
This time they walk side by side, seemingly absorbed in each other's presence. Jeyne sighs contently. "I want something like that," his sister tells him, her eyes following the couple upon the path. "I want that for every one of us."
Jon says nothing. Instead he gives her his hand and pulls her towards a thinner ribbon of road. Her fingers grasp at the back of his palm, nails digging into his flesh.
The tower is somewhere ahead.
Aegon laughs boisterously, as he is wont to do when challenged. "I doubt your claim, ser knight," he tells Robb. Jon just hopes this competition that has come to life between the two of them does not stand to ruin the tourney. After all, Harrenhal has an interesting past where Targaryens and Starks are concerned.
"I still think you should compete as well, Jon," Robb puts forth. "It is not the same to have one's men competing or one's won skill to rely on."
"I have no wish to make use of my skill here," Jon counters easily. "Besides, were I to win, I should disappoint both my cousin and my oldest sister, as there is only one crown."
The three of them laugh together.
A meaningless crown.
"There is no reason not to," his father points out. He does not ask however. Jon is not surprised. "You have the necessary skill."
"Which skill I have no intention of revealing for others to commit to memory." He is determined that this tourney won't see as much as a mounting from him. "It is a custom I seek to satisfy."
The King nods his head. "Your mother was hoping you would."
Most of Lyanna's wishes had been followed in raising himself and his siblings, but there are enough matters upon which his parents to not agree to have opportunities for dissention. "And what of you, father?"
"I trust you know your own mind upon this matter," comes the unwavering answer.
"I have thought about it," Jeyne tells him as they sit before the fire. "A couple of years is not very long." She gives him a light smile. "And I have spoken to father."
"I am truly pleased for you." And he has every faith that his words were of help to her. Jon considers the matter for a few moments longer and tries not to feel saddened that another one of his sisters will soon, for what is two years if not soon, depart the family.
But one cannot remain a child forever.
"I knew you would be," she replies, sitting up. "I must away before Septa Lemore takes it into her head that I've eloped."
"Gods forbid," Jon laughs.
The crown of flowers sits atop Lysara's tresses. Robb looks rather like he's won, which is both amusing and saddening. But then again, this is none of his business. Jeyne looks at the cousins with a grin. "Do you think she might run away?"
"I doubt following mother's example is very healthy for the maidens of the realm." His words reach Jeyne just as Lady Cersei gently takes Lysara by the arm, saying something to the girl which Jon does not hear.
But Jeyne has already grown bored with the scene and pulls him towards the King and Queen. "Her Grace said she wishes to ask you something. Come along now, brother mine; we mustn't be tardy."
As if he were the one gaping a mere few moments past.
Mother looks up at him, her quill breaking pace. "I do not know what I ought to say to you, my son." She doesn't sit up, but her beckons him towards her. "Lysara is much like her father in temper; she will not be easy to persuade."
"Then I ought to be grateful that Robb is as insistent as he is." He takes a seat next to the older woman. Jon leans back. "I will not involve myself between them. Nothing good can possible come out of it."
"It could," Lyanna disagrees. "An alliance with House Stark. You are a new lord. You shall need alliances."
"Not from cousin Lysara," the boy assures his mother. "There are other rifts to mend."
Fixed the tags, hopefully no more confusion will arise.