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Never Let Me Go

Chapter Text

She has the ring on her finger still, the ring with stone the color of her shimmering eyes, the one he had given her the day he bended the knee and asked for her hand in marriage.

“I thought you have packed all your jewelries for the journey?” Windproud will sail on the morrow, and they will depart on the mission to find a worthy good-daughter for a glorious king. That was how Aerys had put it, how he had described the mission entrusted to his Baratheon cousin and his lady wife.

“I could not bear to part with it,” Cassana replies, fingers nervously rubbing the stone. “What if we fail?”

“We will not fail. And even if we do … well, Aerys loves me, his dearest cousin,” Steffon says, smiling his brightest smile.

“Like he loves Tywin Lannister, his dearest and closest companion?” Remember how well that turned out. You should know better, her eyes are chiding him. You should know better than to lie to yourself. Or to me.

What a pity, he thinks, that none of their sons had inherited Cassana’s eyes. Not the color, and certainly not the expressiveness. Perhaps Renly has inherited the latter from his mother, though it is hard to tell for certain with a babe just past his first nameday. As to the former, Renly’s eyes had never truly been green; it was only Steffon’s imagination gone wild in the first few moments after his youngest son’s birth. He has your eyes, Cassana, your beautiful eyes, he had exclaimed, before Maester Cressen kindly but awkwardly corrected him.

“Aerys will not be forgiving,” Cassana continues.

Steffon closes his eyes. He does not want to believe this. Not of Aerys, not of the boy who -

But the child is not always father to the man. Or perhaps, he had not known the child that Aerys had been as well as he thought he did.

Eyes still closed, he feels, but does not see, his wife’s jeweled hand grasping his own.

“You see that, don’t you? That your cousin is not the man you once believed him to be, nor is he the man you still wish him to be.”

My father sees what he wants to see, his mother’s voice echoes in Steffon’s ear.

The man who only saw what he wanted to see had once told his three grandchildren, We are not puppets on a string, bound to repeat the errors of our ancestors.

Chapter Text

“You’ve grown a beard. It suits you,” Tywin said, nodding approvingly.

“Blame Orys Baratheon for his example. It seems a requirement for Lords of Storm’s End to grow a beard, the fiercer the better,” Steffon replied with a grin, making light of the statement. It was no laughing matter, in truth. He had tried growing a beard the year his lord father died, but the resulting peach fuzz made him look even younger, even less of a convincing authoritative figure. It made him feel even more like an unready pretender. He had gone clean-shaven for a while, before daring to try again. To his relief, the result was much more satisfactory this time.

And meanwhile, Tywin Lannister has grown a smile, a real one, Steffon thought, marveling at this new phenomenon. “Is married life treating you well?” he asked.

“Fair enough. I can’t complain,” Tywin replied, in his usual measured tone. There was a glint in his eyes though, a glimmer of joy or bliss recalled – nay, relived. This was not a man merely content in marriage. This was a man -

“You’re happy!” Steffon exclaimed, surprised at the realization. The words came out sounding almost like an accusation. You’ve been holding out on me.

The curtain came down, fast, as it often did these days between them; as it didn’t back then, back when they were boys, back when they were constant companions. The glint swiftly disappeared. Tywin was all business again. “You sound so astonished. Did you suppose that was never a possibility?”

What had he supposed? The usual things, when it came to cousins marrying cousins. And Tywin himself had never spoken a single word about passion or love when discussing his betrothal to Cousin Joanna, only about the fitness of the match and the utmost suitability of the arrangement.

Tywin had thought him foolish, Steffon suspected, for choosing a bride from a minor and relatively inconsequential House, though that judgment was never spoken as directly as that. “How long could passion last?” Tywin had asked instead.

“How long does a marriage last? I do not wish to wed a woman I dislike, or one who dislikes me in turn, and end up causing her years of misery and unhappiness,” Steffon had replied at the time, never suspecting for a moment that Tywin’s sentiment towards his own intended had anything to do with passion, or with love.

“I am happy for you. I am glad Joanna has made you happy. Really glad,” Steffon said, his hand clapping Tywin’s shoulder. Tywin stared at him for a long while before reciprocating, and they finally embraced. In physical gestures at least, the past was still alive and well. For now.

“She knows me truly. She loves me for who and what I am, not for some imaginary qualities she wishes me to have,” Tywin said, the curtain rising, and for a moment, Steffon could almost believe they were boys again, confiding their deepest secrets to one another.

Chapter Text

Rickard Stark spoke of his two boys with pride. “Only a year apart, and both still suckling their wet nurse’s teats. Brandon -”

Tywin beckoned to Steffon. “A raven, from Storm’s End.”

Steffon paled. Cassana?”

Tywin nodded. “Your lady wife has been brought to her childbed early.”

Steffon had not wanted to come to King’s Landing so close to Cassana’s confinement, but Aerys had insisted. “It is not often the Lord of Winterfell graces King’s Landing with his presence. I wish to show him the grandeur of my court, with all the southron lords in attendance. How would it look, for my own cousin to be absent?”

The king was nowhere in sight. “I must leave. Now.”

Tywin’s hand was on his arm, and for a moment it almost seemed like they were boys again, trading wordless reassurance with simple gestures. “Of course. Go. I will make your reason known to the king.”

“May the gods bless you with another son, Lord Steffon.This, from Lord Rickard.

It mattered not a whit to Steffon if the child was a boy or a girl. As long as –

Women die in childbirth all the time. With or without their babes. Just because she has survived one birth, it does not mean -

Enough! He would pray for the Mother’s mercy, and he would not think of the worst.

(She was lighting candles for the Stranger, the second time he met her. “We do not pray to the Stranger,” he had announced, with all the smugness of callow young men who thought they knew everything.

“I do.”

“What do you pray for, when you pray to the Stranger?”

“I pray for him to keep away, to stay away as far as possible from the people I love.”)

He prayed for the Stranger to keep away, from his wife and their child, all the way back to Storm’s End, all the way home to her.

Maester Cressen hurried to the gate to greet him. “Lady Cassana is safe.”

He could breathe again. “And the child?” he asked, after a beat.                

“Another boy, my lord. He’s …” Maester Cressen hesitated.

“What is it? Is he dead?”

“No, my lord. But he is small.”

“Will he live?”

“If the gods will it.”

She was feeding their son, breasts bared.  

“He will not take milk from the wet nurse,” Maester Cressen explained, keeping his gaze firmly on the floor. “I will be next door, my lady, if you have need of me.”

“Thank you, Maester. For everything,” Cassana replied.

Maester Cressen nodded and hurried to the door. Cassana turned to her husband, after the door was closed. “Maester Cressen has probably seen more of me than my own lord husband, pulling two children out of my womb, yet he trembles at the mere sight of my breasts.”

Steffon approached the bed. “Do not tease him. He has taken the vows.” He sat on the bed, slowly and carefully, afraid that the motion might disturb his son. There was not a peep from the babe, however.

He reached out to her. Kissed her brow and whispered, “You are here. You are safe. You have not left me.”  

“Here I am,” she said. She held out the babe to her husband. “Your son, my lord.”

His eyes were closed, the babe. Robert had bawled and shrieked, loud and lusty, the first time Steffon held him. This one, this one did not seem to notice yet he was being held by a different pair of hands than his mother’s.

He will live, if the gods will it, Maester Cressen had said.

The eyes opened, deep blue, a blue as dark as the sea by night, staring at his father. Steffon forgot to breathe, for a moment.   

“He will live,” Cassana said, fiercely. “will it.”

Chapter Text

“What happened to Proudwing?”

“I gave her away,” Stannis replied. “She is not for hawking, Great-Uncle Harbert said. I must try another bird, because I was making a fool of myself.”

Steffon sighed. “My uncle and his sharp tongue. I will speak to him.”

Stannis shook his head, looking thoroughly miserable. “No, Father. He was only telling me the truth. And it was such a foolish, childish dream to think that Proudwing could ever fly again.”

His son sounded like a weary and jaded old man, not a boy of two-and-ten. “I’m sure you were never that foolish or childish, Father, when you were my age,” Stannis added.

Steffon laughed. “I doubt it. I was much, much worse. And according to my father, my uncle was even more of a handful in his younger days.”

Stannis looked unconvinced, keeping his head down, not meeting his father’s gaze.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I dreamt of riding a dragon? I even gave him a name, my dragon.”

Interest piqued, Stannis finally raised his head to ask, “What was his name?”

Stormdancer.”

“Did you dream that you rode him into battle, to protect the Stormlands?”

“No, I dreamt that I rode him through a fierce storm, to rescue my grandfather.”

We’ll come and rescue you from the storm, Grandfather, and bring you back safely to the Red Keep. Or to Summerhall, if you prefer.

There had been no dragon at Summerhall, despite his grandfather’s best, or possibly worst, effort. What had been merely a boy’s passing fancy for Steffon had been an obsession for his grandfather. An obsession to find the means to fulfill his dream. An honorable dream. A dream for a better realm. A dream that ended in -

You have your mother’s blood in you, Steffon. Targaryen blood.

There had been no dragon at Summerhall, but of blood there was plenty.

“Father?” Stannis sneaked a glance at his father, saw the grave look on his face, and fell silent. Father and son sat side-by-side, wordlessly, watching the flames crackling in the fireplace.

Steffon saw burning and burned bodies leaping in the dancing flames, closed his eyes tightly, and as he had done so countless times since the tragedy at Summerhall, pretended that he had seen nothing at all.

We will never speak of it, his mother had sworn, and Steffon had sworn alongside her.

We will never think of it, his mother had vowed, and Steffon had vowed alongside her.

We will forget, his mother had promised, but Steffon knew even she had not managed to keep that promise, for her last words on her deathbed years later had been about ‘my father and those accursed dragons.’

He had never even told his beloved wife what truly happened that day. Cassana knew everything there was to know about the day his father died, but she knew nothing about what actually transpired when Summerhall was destroyed.

“It would be so grand to see a dragon come to life, and to ride such a magnificent creature,” Stannis said, with a dreamy, faraway look on his face.

Steffon already regretted bringing up the dragon story. Nothing good ever came of dreaming of dragons.

Why? His son would ask.

We will never speak of it.

You must never speak of it. Not to anyone, not even your wife and children. Promise me on your father’s bones, Steffon. And mine, for I will be joining him soon.

 

Chapter Text

I remember the first time my father took me to court, Robert had to hold my hand. I could not have been older than four, which would have made him five or six. We agreed afterward that the king had been as noble as the dragons were fearsome." Stannis snorted. "Years later, our father told us that Aerys had cut himself on the throne that morning, so his Hand had taken his place. It was Tywin Lannister who'd so impressed us."

~ A Storm of Swords

 

Grandson of one king, nephew of another, and cousin to yet another king, Steffon Baratheon had spent many years in court during his own childhood and youth, first serving as a royal page and then as a royal squire. But none of his sons had served in court during the reign of King Aerys the Second, even though that king was not only Steffon's own cousin, but had also been his inseparable childhood companion. 

Renly had thought it infinitely amusing, when he first heard the story of how his older brothers mistooK Tywin Lannister for the king. "To think of my clever, clever brothers being so fooled," he had said, when he finally managed to stop laughing. 

"He was sitting on the throne looking for all the world like he belonged there. How were we supposed to know?" Robert grumbled. 

"But why did it take years to clear up the misunderstanding? Why did it take years for you to realize that the man who saw on the throne that day was not Aerys Targaryen? Surely you would have been taken to court again not long after that. Surely you would have been introduced to the real king."

In truth, it was not until four years later that, four years after their first visit to court that Robert and Stannis were taken to court again by their lord father, to attend the tourney celebrating Aerys' tenth year on the Iron Throne. The king had seemed a far less impressive figure than Tywin Lannister to Robert, and Stannis had thought His Grace a disappointingly petty and quarrelsome man concerned only with showcasing his own grandeur.

Steffon Baratheon's own visits to court dwindled to almost nothing after that anniversary tourney, and though he promptly obeyed the command when Aerys summoned him to court and appointed him to the small council six years later, he still kept his sons away from court, never taking advantage of the king's newfound reliance on his old childhood friend to find a place for Robert and Stannis either in the king's retinue, or in Prince Rhaegar's retinue.

"He did it to protect his sons," Great-Uncle Harbert had told Stannis, not long after his father's death. "He did it because he knew the boy he loved had grown into a dangerous man, a man who would not hesitate to use his cousin's sons to further his own cause or to retaliate against those he perceived to be his enemies. Your father did not want you and your brothers to be reduced to Aerys' pawns. But in trying so hard to keep Aerys' gaze away from his sons, he also kept their gaze away from Aerys. He kept his sons ignorant of the dangers posed by Aerys, both to House Baratheon and to the entire realm."

They did not remain ignorant for long, though, the sons of Steffon Baratheon. Only a scant few years after the death of Lord Steffon and his lady wife on their journey home after performing a service for the king, Aerys demanded the head of Steffon's oldest son. 

Chapter Text

“This is the time. This is the time for us to strike.”

“My lord, are you certain?”

“I am certain,” proclaimed Robar, in a tone that brooked no argument.

“Your lord father agreed to shelter the queen dowager and her two youngest children in Storm's End, but he was ever cautious about calling the banners and involving the stormlands in war.”

“My lord father is dead, Maester. I grieve for my father, as the entire stormlands grieve for their lord. But the new Lord of Storm's End stands before you now, and I say that the time is ripe. Maegor's hold on the throne is weakening. It only takes one great lord to proclaim for Jaehaerys, and others will surely follow, until the whole of the realm rises as one against Maegor.”

“What if they do not follow, my lord? Would it not be better, sire, to wait?”

Before Robar could reply, his grandmother's voice interrupted. “Do you do this for glory? Or for love?”

“Love?”

“I have seen you with her. I have seen the way your gaze lingers on her, the queen dowager.”

“I do this for justice, Grandmother. Maegor does not deserve to sit on the Iron Throne. He usurped the rightful claim of his nephew. And while he sits on that throne, day after day, year after year, he does nothing except commit atrocities after atrocities. He must be made to pay for his crimes.”

“Maegor must pay for his crimes, to be sure. Yet you also speak of deserving. You think this boy Jaehaerys deserves the throne? This boy whose grandsire built that throne out of the bones, blood and ashes of all the rightful kings and queens he usurped?”

The eyes staring back at Argella were not the color of the deepest blue of the sea as her own, but black as night, as his grandfather's eyes had been. Robar's voice was gentle when he replied to her question, but the intensity and ferocity of his gaze reminded Argella of herself, of her own implacability years ago, when Rhaenys Targaryen came to Storm's End astride her dragon to demand the storm queen's surrender.

“The choice is not between Jaehaerys and going back to the way things were before Aegon's conquest. The choice is between Jaehaerys and Maegor, Grandmother. And I know where my duty lies.”

Chapter Text

 At the Great Council of 101 AC, convened by King Jaehaerys I to debate the matter of succession, Lord Boremund was outspoken in supporting the claim of his niece, Princess Rhaenys, and her son, Prince Laenor of House Velaryon, but found himself on the losing side of the argument. (The World of Ice and Fire)

His half-brother looked his age, and more. Grief and multiple losses had bowed Jaehaerys down, he who had been so strong and unyielding, who had seemed like an invincible god atop his dragon to Boremund as a boy.

“Brother.” Jaehaerys embraced him. “I see you too infrequently in court. I have missed you."

“And I you,” Boremund replied. His hand lingered on Jaehaerys' shoulder. No time like the present, he thought. Best to come right out and say it, his mother would have said.

“I mean to speak up for the claim of my niece at the Great Council,” Boremund announced. He paused, before pointedly adding, “The rightful claim of your own granddaughter, the daughter of your eldest son Aemon.”

Jaehaerys did not flinch. “Rhaenys is not truly in contention,” he said, gently. “Even her own husband means to speak up for the claim of their son Laenor. Corlys Velaryon is a man who knows how to choose his battles.”

“And you prefer your grandson Viserys over Laenor?”

“I will not meddle, brother. This time, I will leave it to the collective wisdom of the lords of the realm to decide the matter of my succession. But Viserys … well, Viserys is a man grown, and Laenor a mere boy of seven. Ask yourself, in whose able hands would the realm be more secure?”

“Laenor's mother is a woman grown. A woman grown, and able, aye, more than able. Whose claim you damaged when you passed her over after the death of her father.”

Jaehaerys smiled. “Still as blunt as ever, I see. Mother would have been proud.”

“Our mother would have been devastated, had she lived to see you making that decision.”

The smile turned into a painful grimace. “That was what Alysanne said, before she left my side to reside in Dragonstone. 'It was Mother who worked tirelessly to put you on the throne, and Mother who ruled the realm with Lord Robar before you came of age. She would have been devastated to learn that you think a woman is of less use than a man, that a woman is not capable of ruling the realm. Devastated, and furious, and gravely disappointed. As am I.'”

They had been reconciled as husband and wife before Alysanne's death, but Boremund knew his half-sister never reconciled herself to Rhaenys' fate.

“There is still time to put things to right. If you were to speak up for Rhaenys before the Great Council begins, even as a whisper … the merest of suggestion …”

“I could not meddle. What is the point of calling a Great Council if I were to meddle? You would do better to concentrate your effort on Laenor, brother. I fear,” Jaehaerys said, looking ashamed and regretful, “putting Rhaenys on the throne is a lost cause at this point. Too many lords have taken my decision to pass her over nine years ago as a binding precedent against a woman sitting on the Iron Throne.”

Chapter Text

 Lord Boremund was stone, hard and strong and unmoving. Lord Borros was the wind, which rages and howls and blows this way and that. (The World of Ice and Fire)

 “Is she here? Is my niece here?”

“Your son is here, Father.”

The barely-suppressed rage in his son's voice does not surprise Boremund. His son, who is a man grown, a father himself, and yet Borros still sounds as querulous, sulky and whiny as a little boy denied his favorite plaything. Borros takes too many things as a slight, as an insult to himself, even a dying man's wish to see his beloved niece for the last time.

How could he die in peace, Boremund despairs, knowing that this is the man to whom he would be leaving the fate of House Baratheon and the stormlands? How could he die in peace, knowing that he has failed not just his son, but his House and the entire stormlands as well?

How many ways has he failed his boy? What should he have done differently as a father? Oh the agony of regret, of endlessly wondering and questioning, of retracing and reliving your path and never being quite certain where you had taken a wrong turn. The pain caused by the monstrous beast remorselessly clawing and sharpening its talons inside his chest is as nothing compared to that agony.

“The Queen Who Never Was could not be bothered to visit her loyal uncle on his deathbed, it seems,” Borros says, not quite managing to hide the smirk grazing his lips.

“Do not call her that!”

They had quarreled, father and son, on the eve of the Great Council. Enticed and flattered by the sweet words and seductive promises of Prince Viserys' younger brother Prince Daemon, Borros had tried desperately to convince his lord father to change his allegiance to Prince Viserys.

“He promised me a place in the king's council,” Borros had told his father, sounding triumphant. “Prince Daemon said I am exactly the sort of young blood the realm needs to usher through a new era of greatness and prosperity in the reign of King Viserys, First of His Name.”

“It is not Prince Daemon's place to make such a promise. Should Prince Viserys ascend to the Iron Throne, he would be the one appointing the members of his small council, not his brother. And Rhaenys is your own cousin, the daughter of my beloved sister. Is your loyalty to blood and kin as changeable as the wind, so easily bought and sold with empty promises?” Boremund had admonished his son.

All the oaths and promises Borros has solemnly sworn by his dying father's bedside; Boremund greatly fears he would break them, all of them, one by one, after his father breathes his last.

What am I to do with you? This son of his, this disappointing son of his.

What is he thinking, Boremund wonders, as he stares out that window, only occasionally flicking a glance towards his father?

Die, old man. Die, so I can finally stand tall in my own glory. Die, so I will no longer have to live under your oppressive shadow, and under the even more oppressive shadow of your disappointment.

Chapter Text

“Come closer, child.”

“Your Grace, I am very grateful for the chance to serve as your … your page,” Steffon said, carefully repeating the words he had practiced repeatedly with his mother.

“Your Grace? Would you not call me Grandfather?” Aegon asked kindly.

Tentatively, hesitantly, Steffon raised his head to look at the king. “My mother said … she said I am not to call you Grandfather when I am serving you. And I must act like all the other royal pages and not think myself above them just because … well, just because -”

“Just because you are my grandson?”

Steffon nodded.

“Your mother is a wise woman.”

Steffon nodded again, more eagerly this time.

“There will be those who seek to treat you differently because you are my grandson, to seek to influence you so they could try to curry favor with me. You must not allow yourself to fall into that trap.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Steffon replied earnestly, though he did not truly understand what the king meant.

Later, he would understand, more than understand. A sudden, over-lavish and extravagant praise about some supposed great deed Steffon had accomplished, followed by, “Do you suppose your grandfather would ever consider ...” became a regular occurrence.

“I don't know. I will ask,” Steffon would reply innocently at first, until he finally caught on to what the king had meant by 'currying favor'.

Chapter Text

A companion piece to Gallant Compliments


 

"'Your hair brings out the color of your eyes, my lady.' That was the first gallant compliment I paid to your Grandmother," Aegon said, smiling at the memory.

Steffon stared at his grandfather, his eyes as big as saucers. “Hair? You said hair? But shouldn't it be, 'your gown brings out the color of your eyes'? That's what Father often says to Mother.”

“I was trying for something different, something more … original. Or so I thought at the time,” Aegon chortled.

“Did she like it? Did Grandmother like your gallant compliment?”

Aegon laughed. “No. She rolled her eyes so hard they almost disappeared into her head. 'I know the color of my own hair and eyes, thank you very much. I do not need a rude squire to point it out to me,' she said.”

Steffon laughed as well. “That sounds like Grandmother. But why did she call you a rude squire? Was it because you were complimenting her eyes?”

“No, that was because of something else altogether. She called me a rude squire because I kept interrupting Ser Duncan when he was speaking to her.”

“And why did you do that?”

“Well, because your grandmother only had eyes for him, and none for me. She complimented Ser Duncan for his bravery and his gallantry, even for his magnificent height. She barely noticed me at all.”

“You were jealous!” Steffon said, shrieking with glee.

“I was, yes,” Aegon admitted. “Now, what about my grandson? Have you ever paid a lady a gallant compliment?”

Steffon giggled. “Nooooooo!” he replied.

“Let's hope you have not inherited your grandfather's mediocre talent for paying gallant compliments.”

(“Green stone, for the loveliest Estermont of Greenstone,” Steffon would say to Cassana years later, when he gave her an emerald ring as a nameday gift. After laughing uproariously, Cassana would say, “Well, at least you did not say, 'the stone brings out the color of your eyes, my lady.'”)

Chapter Text

“When you are queen,” Alyssa says, her foot playfully kicking Jocelyn's shin as they lie awake in bed, past the hour of the wolf, “will you make me one of your ladies-in-waiting?”

“I have to marry Aemon to be queen,” Jocelyn sighs, wearily, putting her hands over her eyes.

Alyssa laughs. “He's not too bad. Of all my brothers -”

“I don't want to marry any of your brothers.”

“It was decided long ago, my father said. A Baratheon-Targaryen marriage alliance, to honor your father for being the first great lord to proclaim his support for my father against his wicked uncle.”

“I know. Aemon and I were betrothed in our cradles. I have been taught and trained on how to be a good queen by both my mother and your mother from the day I took my first step.”

“Jocelyn of the House Baratheon, daughter of Queen Regent Alyssa Velaryon, half-sister and future good-daughter of Good Queen Alysanne,” Alyssa proclaims, as if she's a herald at court.

“Jocelyn the Unready,” Jocelyn says, her eyes still hidden behind her hands. “Jocelyn the Unworthy. Jocelyn the Disappointment, despite her provenance, despite the great courage and glorious deeds of her mother and her half-sisters.”

“No, you will never be a disappointment,” Alyssa insists. Placing her own hands over her eyes, mimicking Jocelyn's stance, Alyssa adds, “Tell me what you wish for.”

It is a game they have played many times before.

Tell me. Tell me. Tell me.

I wish … I wish …. I wish.

I wish I could wed you instead, Jocelyn thinks.

I wish you are a Targaryen prince, not a Targaryen princess. I wish that you, not Aemon, are my prince.

No, she does not truly wish for Alyssa to be a prince. A prince would not have been her closest companion and her bedmate. A prince would not have been the first person Jocelyn runs to when her moonblood comes for the first time. A prince would not have been the one to whom she whispers all her doubts and her fears, the one privy to her confidences and her secrets.

A prince would not understand, the way Alyssa always understands. Would not touch her the way Alyssa touches her. Would not have the same look on his face as Alyssa does when Jocelyn caresses her.

“I wish you are my sister,” Jocelyn lies.

“I wish you are mine,” Alyssa replies. “Mine. My own.”

Chapter Text

“Doesn't he look more kingly?”

“Who?”

“Your uncle Duncan,” Tywin says.

“But my uncle Jaehaerys is going to be king after my grandfather, not uncle Duncan.”

Aerys sees them watching the procession from the window. He waves. Steffon waves back. Tywin nods in acknowledgment.

“Aerys looks kingly too,” Steffon says. His cousin looks grand on his new palfrey, bursting with pride and confidence. But uncle Jaehaerys looks apprehensive, as if he's worried his horse is about to bolt. Riding behind them, uncle Duncan looks like he and his horse are one and the same, gliding forward smoothly and gracefully.

But looks can be very deceptive, Steffon remembers his mother's caution. Just because you look brave, it doesn't mean you're not afraid. And just because you look afraid -

“It's a good thing Prince Duncan has no son,” Tywin suddenly remarks.

Steffon stares at him, astonished. “Why is that a good thing?”

Tywin clams up, looking mysterious. He does this from time to time. It annoys Steffon when he does it, or when he and Aerys drop their voice to a whisper, as if Steffon is too little or too silly to understand the grown-up matter they are discussing. Steffon is only two years younger than Aerys. Two years. That is nothing at all. Aerys himself is two years younger than Tywin, and he acts like they are the same age.

“Do you hear it? Do you hear whose name they are cheering?” Tywin asks, looking at Steffon meaningfully.

“But he can't be king!” Steffon blurts out. “My mother said he gave up his claim to the throne when … when -”

When he dishonored Steffon's aunt Argella and broke their betrothal to marry another woman.

“Prince Jaehaerys broke his betrothal too, and his sister's besides. And he looks less kingly than his older brother,” Tywin points out.

Steffon shudders. “Uncle Duncan loves his brother,” he says, defensively, much too loudly. “He would never -”

Tywin shrugs. “Brothers have been known to make war against each other before.”

Chapter Text

Steffon had never beaten Tywin before, not even once, when they sparred together. He had beaten Aerys a few times, though afterwards, Aerys always insisted that he had purposely allowed Steffon to win because he felt sorry for his little cousin. That was true the first time, but not the others. Even Tywin thought so.

Today, Steffon really, really wants to defeat Tywin. His father is watching, and he wants to make his father proud. His father is in King's Landing to discuss a great matter with the king regarding taxation and reformation, though what it is that must be reformed, Steffon is not certain.

He has to be quicker on his feet, Uncle Duncan is always telling him. Quicker, but steadier, which seems like two contradictory things to Steffon. But Uncle Duncan insists that both could be achieved at the same time.

Uncle Duncan is not watching them spar, this morning. He has gone to Summerhall with Lady Jenny, leaving the Red Keep the day before the arrival of Steffon's father in King's Landing. Steffon is careful not to mention Uncle Duncan to his father, when he talks about all the things he is learning as a royal page.

His father smiles and nods in encouragement, as Steffon picks up a wooden sword. The swords are all the same, the master-at-arms insists, when Steffon eyes the one in Tywin's hand with envy.

His father does not clap or yell out supportive cheer, like Uncle Duncan often does. He does not groan or scold either, like Uncle Duncan also does. He watches quietly, with his hands crossed, his face inscrutable. Only the slow drumming of his fingers betrayed any reaction to what he is seeing.

Steffon holds his own, for a time. But Tywin bests him, eventually, as he always does. Tywin's sword touches Steffon's belly, and the master-at-arms declares Tywin the winner. Tywin bows to his defeated opponent, like they have been taught to do. Steffon sighs, his eyes fixed on his father's boots, not wanting to look up, not wanting to see the disappointment in his father's eyes.

“Better luck next time,” Tywin says. He does not say this maliciously, but Steffon does not want him to say it at all, not in front of Steffon's father.

Steffon throws away his sword in frustration. Tywin does not see this. He is already moving on to his next opponent, a boy his own age, almost as tall as he is.

His father picks up the sword, telling Steffon, “There's no shame in losing to a better swordsman. There is, however, great shame in acting like spoiled, sulky little boy who cannot accept defeat.”

“I'll never be better than Tywin!”

“You're seven and he's eleven. Four years is a long time in a boy's life.”

“And when I'm eleven, he'll be fifteen. When I'm fifteen, he'll be nineteen. He'll always be better than I am.”

“He'll always be older, certainly. Better? No one knows. And it does not matter, in any case.”

“It does not?”

His father kneels, his eyes level with Steffon's own. “It should not matter. Do not make that boy the shadow you must live under. Your duty is to grow to be the best man you could be. Not to best Tywin Lannister.” Then, smiling, his hand smoothing over Steffon's unruly hair, he says, “I could show you a few tips on how to be a better swordsman.”

“I want to be the best swordsman I could be,” Steffon says, solemnly.

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He always said he meant for me to be a knight, as he was. When he was dying he called for his longsword and bade me kneel. He touched me once on my right shoulder and once on my left, and said some words, and when I got up he said I was a knight.” (The Hedge Knight)

“And then what did Ser Arlan do?” Steffon asked, transfixed by the tale of the old knight of Pennytree who knighted the Lord Commander on his deathbed.

“He placed his sword on my right shoulder, like this,” Ser Duncan said, suiting his action to the words, placing his own sword on Steffon's right shoulder.

“And then he placed his sword on your head, and on the other shoulder as well,” Steffon said eagerly.

Ser Duncan laughed. “No, not on my head. It only requires touching the sword on both shoulders to knight a man.”

“Oh,” Steffon said, looked slightly disappointed. It seemed a grander ceremony to him, touching the sword on both shoulders and the head.

Ser Duncan took pity on the boy, and placed his sword on Steffon's head before placing it on his left shoulder. Steffon's expression was appropriately solemn and serious as Ser Duncan was doing that, but he grinned widely afterwards.

“Had this been a true knighting ceremony, you would have been kneeling, not standing,” Ser Duncan said.

Steffon nodded. Then, he remarked, “It was a good thing Ser Arlan was strong enough to hold his sword when he was ill, so he could knight you before he died, Ser Duncan.”

“Indeed,” Ser Duncan replied, looking slightly ill-at-ease.

“Were you the one who knighted my grandfather?” Steffon asked.

“No, I was not.”

Steffon looked perplexed. “Why not? Grandfather was your squire, like you were Ser Arlan's squire.”

“Your grandfather was knighted by his own father, on the eve of a great battle.”

“Did you fight in this battle too?”

“I did.”

“I want to be your squire too, like my grandfather was. When I am old enough to be a squire, I mean. Will you take me as your squire, Ser Duncan?”

“I am not certain your lord father would be in favor of that,” Ser Duncan replied.

“Why not?”

Because I once defeated your Baratheon grandfather in single combat, lad, thirty years after he fought on my side in a trial of seven. I doubt your father has forgotten that. Or forgiven it, Ser Duncan thought, but did not say.

Instead, he replied to Steffon, “You are the king's grandson. It will be expected of you to squire for your grandfather, or for your uncle Prince Jaehaerys.”

Steffon leaned closer towards Ser Duncan, whispering, “Uncle Jaehaerys makes his squires learn to play the harp. And they have to play the harp for him and his lady wife after supper sometimes. I've seen it myself.”

Ser Duncan smiled. “You are not fond of the harp?”

Steffon shook his head vigorously.

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For the prompt: Robar Baratheon & Jocelyn Baratheon, courage.

“Will you receive Lord Estermont, Father? He is anxious to speak to you, regarding -”

“Boremund will attend to his concern, whatever it is.”

“You cannot spend the rest of your days locked in your bedchamber, seeing no one, barely eating or drinking, doing nothing other than staring at Mother's portrait.”

“Why can't I? No one will be any worse off if I do. No one will be the loser for it. Storm's End has no need of me, not anymore. The same could be said about my children. Your brother is old enough, and wise enough, to rule in my place. And you have a home of your own now, as the Princess of Dragonstone, with a husband, a child and a life of your own. Who am I hurting, truly?”

Yourself, Father, most of all.”

“That matters very little to me now.”

“It matters to your children. It matters to the people who love you. And it would certainly matter to Mother. She would not wish this. Mother would not wish this for you, this … this …. living death, this complete sundering of hope.”

“Don't! I love you dearly, Jocelyn, but do not presume to speak for your mother. Do not presume to speak for the dead.”

“It is her words I'm imploring you to remember, Father. And the promise you made her before she died.”

“She asked too much of me. I never had the kind of courage she had, the courage to rise from the ashes of despair. Battle-courage, yes, I had that in spades, but not her kind of courage.”

“She had faith that you would find that courage in yourself, when you are most in need of it.”

“Then her faith was misplaced. I cannot forget! She is all I see, all I hear, all I - ”

“You don't have to forget. Mother never forgot. What her son Viserys suffered at the hands of his torturer and what her daughter Rhaena suffered at the hands of her rapist while Mother was powerless to save them, to come to their rescue; she remembered it all, was haunted by it to the last breath she took. True courage, she used to say, is remembering the worst moments of your life, and still deciding to -”

“- to take the next step, and the next, and all the ones after that.”

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“Your home is beautiful, my lady,” Steffon said.

“It is not the most original compliment in the world,” Cassana replied, “but at least it is miles better than the one I have been hearing so much about Estermont lately.”

“From your other … admirers, I suppose? Or is suitor the better word for it? What do they usually say about the isle of Estermont, my lady?”

“That my father's lands are beautiful. Of course, I feel it is my duty to remind them that I have brothers, and therefore my father's lands will never become my lands, which means that they will never become my husband's lands, should I ever acquire a husband.”

“How cynical of you, my lady. You do not believe that these young men value your company for yourself, for your own qualities?”

“And what qualities might those be, my lord?” Cassana asked, her eyes watching Steffon intently.

Steffon flushed. He quickly looked away, suddenly tongue-tied.

Later, while they were walking on the shore, watching a succession of waves battering the rocks, he picked up a smooth, oval-shaped stone, offered it to Cassana and said, in a half-jesting, half-solemn tone, “A green stone, for an Estermont of Greenstone.”

Silence greeted this pronouncement. Clearing his throat, he added, awkwardly, Perhaps I should have said, 'The stone brings out the color of your eyes, my lady.'”

Cassana studied the stone he was offering her. “It does, actually.”

“Does what?”

“Bring out the color of my eyes.”

Steffon stared, unblinking. Her eyes were green, like Tywin's, but a different shade of green. Not emerald green flecked with gold, but sea-green, closely resembling the color of the waters around the isle of Estermont as seen on a bright, sunny day.

Your eyes are beautiful, my lady, he admired, silently.

“Your eyes are beautiful, my lord,” she declared, in a very matter-of-fact way, as if she was merely stating what day of the week it was. “That shade of blue is quite unusual. Or would it be more accurate to call it that shade of purple?”