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Cracks In Our Foundations

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Well I'll leave you there till the mornin',
And I purposely wont turn the heating on
And dear God, I hope I'm not stuck with this one (x)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lancel Lannister helped her husband upon the featherbed. Rather he dumped Robert’s weight upon the mattress with no finesse whatsoever, causing the drunkard to band his head against the side and groan in protest. A terribly red blush stole over the boy’s cheeks and he stammered out an apology, belatedly trying to righten his master’s head. To no avail. Robert pushed his hand away with another belligerent moan of protest, opening bleary eyes to throw curses above the child’s head.

Lyanna, who had up until that moment kept a safe distance away from the hulking mess the poor squire had dragged home, finally intervened. “My lord, you must rest. There is to be a meeting of the council later,” she spoke slowly, but firmly. A cough left her esteemed spouse. “Robert?”

“Damned whore,” he sputtered, no doubt confusing her with one of the many girls he visited, “if I wanted to hear my wife nag, I’d have gone home.” He slurred a few more uncomplimentary remarks as Lancel Lannister scurried without, a single last look cast her way to assure himself she was not overwhelmed. Such a silly child; he’d been in diapers still when she first dealt with such a situation. “Where is my wine?” Recognition dawned upon him in the next moment. “Lya?”

“There will be no more wine.” She used the same voice as before, moving around to tug on one of his boots. It refused to oblige her and release her husband’s foot. Had the swill he’d been drinking caused his limbs to swell, she wondered. His face was somewhat bloated, but that was surely accounted for by the massive amount of food he consumed regularly.  

“Cold bitch,” Robert sneered, though without any heat. To him it was much like singing his devotion. He looked her over, one wobbly hand reaching out. When she did not reach for him as well, the limb fell, useless, to his side. ”Isn’t there a shred of warmth in you?”

Lyanna considered him. “I am a Stark,” she offered after what she deemed an appropriate amount of time. He nodded, as though the explanation made perfect sense.

“Starks,” he drawled drunkenly. “Ice everywhere. Even in that twat of yours.” Such gallantry. It was a true wonder there was even one woman flowered who did not give into temptation and raise her skirts for him. Her husband grimaced, his eyes narrowing.   

What good fortune. She must remember to thank the gods for giving her this marvelous man. The boot did come off after some hard pulling. But in the meantime, Robert had regained some of his bearings and was slowly balancing his weight on his elbows. He leered at her and smacked his lips; a motion telling her that he would indeed need more wine if she was to leave the room without having to pretend affection. Alas, she was unwilling to have him choke and die thus Lyanna removed his other boot and threw it to the ground. “Does your head hurt?”

She clambered atop the bed after him, pushing against the corpulent body with some exasperation. “Like the hounds of hell have been let loose within,” Robert replied as she moved his head into her lap, pressing two fingers against both temples. She rotated the digits slowly, trying not to breath in too much of the alcoholic vapors rising from her spouse. Swallowing a sigh, Lyanna continued with the task. “That feels good.”

“Try to get some sleep, my lord. You shall feel better after.” He never did feel any better, past experience accounted, and would be in a rather crabby mood for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, Lyanna had not once allowed him to cheat the council of his presence. Some might wonder at her insistence. It was not as though the realm would crumble without Robert. “That is it. Close your eyes.” One of these days she would let him drink more than his fill and he would fall to his death like the fool he was.  

Before long Robert’s loud snores filled the bedchamber, their presence a near living, breathing thing. Gods, but he could certainly make his presence known. Something caught her eye. Maneuvering his head gently to the side she took stock of a thin slash. The skin must have broken when he hit his head. Lyanna eased his head off of her lap and tiptoed around the bedchamber until she’d reached the ewer. Pulling out a handkerchief from her sleeve she dipped it in water squeezed the excess away. He should consider himself fortunate she wasn’t spiteful about his loud entrances.

Returning to the bedside, she dabbed the small wound with gentle pressure. It was neither wide, nor deep. Surface-level and more than shallow, it tossed the struggle with her and stopped bleeding after a few moments. Robert was still snoring, apparently contented with the treatment. She would see about having an acolyte brew a concoction for him to drink upon awakening.

Something tugged at her skirts, distracting her from her husband’s visage. One of his hands had tangled in the heavy folds and was holding on for dear life. He pulled a second time. “None of that now,” she whispered in turn, speaking as she did when her sons got it into their heads to be particularly rowdy. It was no easy task, prying hid fingers away, but she did manage it with only minimal damage to her skirts. The Myrish lace was rumpled, and one of the pearls had been torn off, to fall to the floor with a sharp sound, but other than that, Robert had acquitted himself tolerably well.

Once she was free of his clutches, Lyanna knelt by the bedside, gaze searching the carpet for her pearl. The dainty sphere had rolled towards the foot of the bed. She reached out for it and wrapped her hand around the thing, bringing it up. Its insignificant weight should not have even registered to her, but it did, just as the sudden souring of her stomach did. Lyanna grimaced and stood.

She moved to the door opened it and out she went, just in time to face a young, handsome acolyte whose patient smile indicated he had been waiting on her. “The usual, my boy,” she told him gently. His nod was all she needed. And all she had time for before the sight of her eldest striding sullenly up to her cut short their interview.

“Jon, my sweet, what brings you by?” Lyanna made the decided effort of sounding cheerful. Without thinking upon it she began straightening his surcoat with smooth, sure strokes. Her son did not stop her though she could feel his black mood threatening to break.     

“He is back.” The words were low. Spoken almost in the manner of a question. Lyanna nodded. It had not truly been a question, for Jon was ever aware of Robert’s coming and goings. “I told you to call upon me, lady mother, that I would see to having him placed where he belongs.” The boy’s mouth pulled in a twist of displeasure.

She leaned away from him, her hands bracing on his shoulders. Lyanna allowed her gaze to keep on his features. “Jon, you are never to come between him and I.” Retaining a remarkably bland mien at her order, he lengthened the distance between them. “Your father is resting. And you, I seem to recall, have your work cut out for you. Maekar will need your help with that horse.”

“There is another babe,” he pointed out bleakly, as if she would somehow take offence at the knowledge. “A girl. Her mother asked if Robert would see her.” In truth Jon should not have approached Chataya’s. What was she thinking? Her son was not truly a mere boy at his age.

“I doubt he will.” Only Mya Stone had elicited paternal concern in Robert out all his natural born children. “I doubt Stannis would appreciate another mouth to feed at Storm’s End. If the girl wants to see Robert she’ll have plenty of opportunity. Is there anything else?”

“Cassana might have need of you,” her son finally revealed, this time glancing away from her face. Lyanna blinked at the mention of her eldest daughter.

“What happened?” Then she waved her hand dismissively. “Never you mind. Go help your brother with his horse. The boy would not shy from breaking his neck riding that beast. I’ll see to Cassana.” She should not have let Maekar talk Robert into buying that horse. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed a mistake to her. But he’d wanted the foul-tempered beast and insisted on taming it.  All the while her own heart galloped mercilessly within her own body. She never did receive an answer from her son but y the time she realized it her feet had already carried her to the bedchamber her daughters shared.

Lyanna poked her head in after a quick succession of knocks. Jocelyn was the first person she saw. The girl clutched one of her dolls tightly, guarding it without doubt against Mylenda’s continual attempts at capture. At the sight of their mother the twins flashed like smiles and besieged her with greetings and demands for attention.

“Lady mother, Jocelyn took my doll,” Mylenda accused her sister, pointing a finger to the scowling Jocelyn who clutched the doll even harder and very nearly snarled.

“This one is mine, the other is yours,” her twin denied heartily. “She is just upset Septa Romilda wouldn’t give her the blue cloth.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

Their squabbling continued until Lyanna, with a light titter, brought them against her sides. “I would love naught else but to be judge of jury to your most alarming cause of theft and betrayal, but I came here to speak to your older sister. Wait for Septa Romilda, I instructed her to bring cousin Arya and the three of you can play together.” There would be no more fighting over dolls and cloths then.

She left the girl with a kiss for each and entered a separate chamber. Eyeing the figure on the bed, Lyanna sat upon the edge and touched a hand to her daughter’s shoulder. “You are not still upset over last night’s dinner, I hope.” Her words failed to raise a reaction out of her second-born. “Your father did not mean to upset you. He was merely indisposed.”

“He was drunk,” Cassana replied harshly, finally looking up from her pillow. Luminous blue eyes regarded her balefully. “He’s always drunk. My harp is ruined.” Lyanna heaved a sigh and moved her hand up and down her daughter’s back.

“We’ll get you another harp. A finer one even.” But the girl shook her head forlornly and buried her face back in the pillow with a mournful moan. Her talents were lost as a lady; she ought to have joined a mummer’s troupe. “Don’t despair. You will have a new harp and soon enough you’ll be charming young bloods to your feet.”

Cassana turned to her with a pained look. “I don’t care about that.” The complaint was just what she’d expected from her daughter.  For some time she’d been insisting that neither ser, nor lord interested her in the least. And she would likely continue to believe so until the right one happened along. “And I do not want a new harp. It was a gift from Uncle Ned!”

“Just as long as you know not to waste the whole day away in here, I am willing to leave you with your thoughts for a while longer.” Lyanna stood with a shake of the head.  

As good as her word, she stepped back on the chamber containing the twins. By then, Septa Romilda had returned. Neither of the three girl paid her much mind as she sat down next to the other woman. “Is my good-sister feeling any better?”

“Her stomach is more settled,” Romilda offered, her lips quirking ever so gently. “Not that she was truly ill, my lady. Not the sort that brings bad news.”

“My brother must be very pleased.”  

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jon tested the weight of his sword, swinging the weapon in a gentle manner. It cut through the nothingness with a whistling sound, some manner of forlorn wail at the absence of a sparring partner. He chuckled to himself at the thought and began to move about more vigorously. From somewhere behind he could still hear Robb panting curses. Aegon must have knocked his sword away again. That happened with alarming regularity, on account of poor Robb not learning that close-range attacks needed to be very sneaky for any of it to work on the Prince. Which was why Jon himself preferred he long-range ones. Another curse came, this time in form of a bellow. Jon, unable to help himself, laughed at the crudeness and turned to follow the sound out into the yard.

“You never learn, Robb,” he called to his cousin who was just then being helped up by a cheerful looking Prince. Aegon was all smiles, which meant, as far as Jon could tell, that not only had he won, he’d done so despite Robb’s best efforts to surpass him.

“I learned plenty,” the younger argued, dusting himself off with a low grumble. Aegon clapped a hand to his shoulder, and by the slant of the wolf’s new stance, it had been a hearty clap. He was leaning over like the Drunkard’s Tower. “I’ll win next time,” he declared. Apparently, not even unnumbered losses dented his certainty.

“All he needs is a confidence now,” Aegon jested good-naturedly. “Be off with you, knave, and work on that attack of yours. I almost wept in despair at its inefficiency.”

Robb answered with something uncomplimentary and strode towards the stacks of hay upon which fellow young bloods made conversation. Jon followed his cousin’s movement until he saw him seated to the right of Ethan Caron. They struck up a conversation. And he looked away, as Aegon was impatiently calling for his attention.

“What’s wrong with you, Baratheon? Get bitten by some fiend?” With a shake of the head, Jon denied the charge. “Not. Well, what’s the matter then? Did some fair maiden steal your heart?” This one was only slightly mocking. Jon suspected he ought to be grateful for the Prince’s good mood. He was not however.

“Not I, Your Grace. I am neither restless nor suffering under a moment’s impulse.” Their banter carried over to those who paid mind. Roaring laughter rose from the boys. Aegon’s lips pursed in displeasure. Jon merely offered a sly grin. “You know what they say of playing with fire.” He shrugged and joined the laughter. In the end Aegon did as well.

“Let us get on with this,” the Crown Prince said at long last, after even the last of chuckles had died down. He swung his sword in small arcs, nodding towards Jon. “Are you prepared?”

“I’m always prepared,” he answered flatly, though without superiority. And he did wonder if he ought to allow his friend to win. But nay, what good would that do him? An enemy would never be as kind.

Drawing apart from his companion, Jon gave the ring a cursory look. The enclosed space was not very wide, but wide enough for a bit of running. He squared his shoulders and brought his own sword into place, holding it hip-level with the tip pointing towards the watchful spectators. Aegon did not en gage into a defensive stance himself, preferring to jump into an attack. As always, the Crown Prince neglected to take into account that there was more to defeating enemies than brute strength. He brought his sword into a quick thrust which Jon braced against the edge of his own weapon, pushing Aegon back.

The Prince gave, stepping twice back as Jon advanced, switching his guard as he went. But Aegon had been following his movements because the next he knew, pain erupted in his arm around the elbow area. Wincing, Jon jumped back just in time to avoid having the flat of Aegon’s blade knock into his side. Simultaneously he exerted himself to bring his own weapon into play. It managed to catch Aegon’s hip, sending him careering to the side. His sense of balance endangered, the King’s son could barely parry the following series of thrusts as Jon rained them down upon him, forcing the elder to his knees.

Aegon kicked out his leg and Jon moved out of the way. Having bought himself time, the Prince regained his bearing and his combat stance while Jon employed an over the shoulder guard, waiting to see how his opponent would lead into the upcoming bout.

“A bit slow on this day, Your Grace,” he teased, lungs heaving under the strain of suck air in through an invisible straw. “Is aught amiss? Excited about the arrival of your betrothed?”

The barb had the desired effect. Aegon truly did need to learn not to allow himself to be goaded. But he’d not and charged Jon. Having foreseen the path already, Jon intercepted the blow and pushed back. Despite being of stockier built and somewhat Jon’s superior in strength, Aegon was once more forced to retreat. But this time Jon did not allow his escape. He flew into a middle guard and aimed for the other’s middle. Aegon deflected the blow, but left his chest and other side uncovered. Jon jumped at the chance.

He reamed himself into his adversary turning the sword around hilt-first and knocking the knocking, it hard into Aegon. The other fell to the ground clutching the wounded area. His weapon lied at his side. “Yield,” he demanded, holding the edge of his blade to the Prince’s throat. Aegon looked up at him with something akin to fiery determination and he thought for a moment he might not. But then his shoulders sagged and a rumbling chuckle came slithering past his lips.

“Aye. You won this one.” Before he could say aught else, Jon held out a hand and helped Aegon to his feet. The Prince brushed a hand over his chest, shaking off the bits of dirt and earth clinging to him. If his smile was less than brilliant, well, he’d just been rammed into at full force. It was understandable.

“It was a good fight with a worthy opponent,” Jon offered. Pulling his hand back.  Had he known what was to come, he might have not done so, or even run for the hills. The gods knew there were enough of those in these parts to satisfy his urge for escape. Forsooth he must have been born under some ill-fated star, for his mother’s husband was standing with the King, Lord Connington and Ned Stark, apparently congregating not unlike the young fellows angling for some sport.

“It seems I’ve the advantage of you yet, Your Majesty,” the mildly inebriated stag said in a bewilderingly clear voice. The least the maggot could do was the slur the words, Jon though with just a touch of pain to his temples. He could well understand why his lady mother was more than eager to see him to his whorehouse. There his mouth would not sow the seed of trouble. “My lad is firm hand.” The obvious pride behind the statement did not mitigate Jon’s ire in the slightest. Good heavens, Connington looked like me might murder the drunkard.

“He fights well,” the King replied with dignity. One could not help but admire his calm. Even if at times it was eerie. It was a skill, Jon supposed came much in handy when dealing with the likes of his courtiers. His own protector notwithstanding, the specimens crawling about certainly could not be handled by a fiery temper.  

“Father’s beard, the boy would make the Warrior proud,” Robert Baratheon bleated on cheerfully, unaware of the subtle tension coming to life. “Not that His Grace hasn’t done his very best.” This was going to be a disaster. Jon chanced a look at Aegon. His friend’s face had lost the flushed sheen of exertion from before, replacing it with a grim mask of white marble. One of his hands curled into a tight fist. If only Jon could afford to show such annoyance. But nay; he was to feign indifference to such words.

“There is truly no need for such comparisons.” Jon flinched. He gazed away from Aegon to the King. There had been an edge to his words. Or had he imagined that? The man grimaced as his eyes cut through the distance between himself and the stag. Nay; he’d not imagined it. “We are all quite capable of assessing a warrior’s level of skill.”

Aegon deflated at his side. All the cold anger fled in favour if incredulity. And Jon tensed even further. Correction; it would be a cataclysm. He wanted so very much to turn his attention to the Prince and assure him a drunken man’s words meant nothing. But he perceived all too well it was the King’s failure to come to his defense which gnawed at poor Aegon’s mind.

“There now,” Robert laughed, “the boy has time enough to hone his skill.” And he had time enough to find another wineskin to drain, Jon thought acidly, shooting a glare at the man who moved somewhat heavily on his feet.

“We will not retain you any longer.” This the King addressed to Aegon and might be to him as well. “Return to your training, if you will.” And e took his leave, his retainers falling in behind him. It was then that Jon caught sight of Ser Whent. The man gave him a grin and a nod. He would have to remember to thank him properly; in the meantime Jon nodded back.

A swift curse from the Prince destroyed his good mood. “Don’t be so harsh on yourself,” he tried to appease his friend, “it was only sparring.” But Aegon pushed his hand away and bent after his sword. None of the others approached them as they made their way without the ring. Robb too excused himself with a slow nod to Jon, signaling that he would return when the waters were calmer. “Craven,” Jon mouthed back at him.

But by then he and Aegon had replaced their weapons and the Prince was still laboring under his perceived defeat. “Why did he have to be watching?” he asked of no one in particular. “It is not as though the man hasn’t enough cause for complaint as is. Sometimes I feel as if I will go mad and it would serve him well if I did.”

“He did not say a thing about your skill,” Jon forced himself to say with a long-suffering sigh. “And it was my father who provoked any comment.” He’d nearly choked on getting the words out. “You are skilled with a sword and you know that much. Whether His Majesty makes a point to sing you praise or not is irrelevant to it.”

“That’s just it,” the Prince pushed at his shoulder savagely. “You do not understand, for there are no expectations placed on your shoulders. He had never, not even once told me he was proud of me. Did you know that? But he had made a point of letting me know my failings. Never missed a single opportunity.”   

Jon could feel his own temper begin to boil. It was not his fault he’d trained diligently with a  sword. Biting back against the words, he struggled to calm the other down, “I am sure he is proud of you, Your Grace. I cannot see why he wouldn’t be. But not all men know how to say it.”

Whether his words had the desired impact or not, Jon was nit at liberty to say, for the Crown Prince broke away from him and stalked without, not spring him a single glance as he departed. Sensing it would be better to allow him some time for his temper to cool, Jon rolled his shoulders and brought a hand to the back of his neck, rubbing soothing circles against the flesh to calm himself down as well.  

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That buffoon Baratheon, Rhaegar thought with no small amount of annoyance, could not have picked a worse moment to run his mouth. On his good days, Robert was a pest and a plague on any decent man’s nerves. And though Rhaegar would rather die before admitting he had any himself, he did and his Baratheon kin severely tried his patience. On the slightly worse occasions, such as the earlier display from the yard, Rhaegar could barely hold back from skewering the fumbling idiot. And before company too.

Alas, he could not rid himself of the pest that was Robert. Nay, for he risked losing his sole provider of comfort and sanity in these times. Eyeing the food upon his plate, Rhaegar realized that he’d not touched anything for a few minutes and his Queen levelled a peculiar look his way.

“Is the food not your liking?” Elia asked, shifting in her seat. “I can have them bring something else.” Her offer was accompanied by a grim look. These were her favourites after all. Her mouth returned to a more neutral line as he shook his head.

“Nay; this is perfectly adequate food. I was merely considering some things” It was a poor enough explanation, and set against the low clinking of Aegon scraping a fork against his trencher made for a disconcerting display indeed. Rhaegar bit back an agonised groan and wondered why he hadn’t convinced Lyanna to dine with him privately.

“Ah. I hope all is well,” his wife mused softly, her eyes falling back to her food. She picked up a mushroom steeped in butter and bit into it gently. While she chewed, one of her hands came to rest against the tablecloth. Elia swallowed. “My brother does apologise for his absence,” she said after a moment of apparently considering her words. “It seems he was needed elsewhere.”

“One cannot begrudge a man some leisure time,” Rhaegar answered lightly, “especially not to one who works so hard.” And if Oberyn chose to waste his time with Chataya and her girls, he was welcome to them just as long as he showed up when the council met. Given that his nocturnal activities had yet to disrupt his duty. Rhaegar was inclined to ignore the defection. “Your brother needn’t live and breathe for us.”

His assurance seemed to please her. Elia smiled happily and picked up another mushroom. “You are too kind.” Her attention snapped to her son. “Arianne wrote to me, son, to complain that your manner of keeping correspondence is rather lax. It is bad form to keep a lady waiting.” Though her chiding was good-natured, his heir’s shoulders tensed and he looked up with a look that might have frosted the Trident over. Made aware of his discomfort, Elia pursed her lips. “There is no need to look at me like that, Aegon.”

“My correspondence is my affair, lady mother,” he said firmly, allowing his knife to drop upon the table.

“Aegon–“

“You will treat your lady mother with the courtesy afforded by her station,” Rhaegar found himself interrupting, though he’d not meant to jump between the two of them.   

“But–“ He glared at the boy until Aegon’s lips fused shut and his mien became sullen and withdrawn. “Aye, Your Majesty.” His gaze slipped away to the food and he busied himself with cutting the meat into small little bits. After a few moments he spoke up once more, “I apologise, lady mother. I am not quite myself.”

“You must be tired,” Elia made his excuse for him. “You should rest, Aegon.”

Perceiving his chance the boy dropped his utensils and climbed to his feet, the informal setting permitting for such irreverent behaviour. “Your Majesty, lady mother, I find I am indeed tired. May I be allowed to retreat?”  

His first instinct was denial. But Aegon did seem rather at pains to keep company with them and he might well be drained. Rhaegar was aware that after their encounter he had spent the rest of the day in company with his friends, practicing his skill with what could only be termed mad determination. It was good that he wanted to improve. “Aye. Rest awhile. You will find yourself improved, I do not doubt.”

Chin rising minutely, as though to show defiance, Aegon jerked his head in a series of nods. “I bid you a restful night, lady mother.” He approached Elia and kissed both her cheeks. “To you as well, Your Majesty.” Rhaegar replied in kind and allowed him to be off.

“You were too harsh with him,” she commented after a few moments had passed. “Earlier. When he sparred with Lord Baratheon’s son.” Her manner was calm. “Just because you choose to find your amusement in his mother’s,” Elia paused, chewed her lower lip and finally said, “charms,” as though the word was some vile poison, “does not mean you need praise her son above your own. He was hurt, Rhaegar.”

“He lost the round, Elia. And I was not harsh. I did not complain of his loss.” Would explaining matter at all? His appetite, never a thing of wonder, dwindled into nonexistence. “Should I have cheerfully patted him on the back and told him he’d done well? Had that been a real battle, your son would have returned on his shield.”

“It was not a real battle and Aegon is fine.” Her mulishness would have been attractive on a slightly younger and sweeter-dispositional woman. As it stood, Rhaegar was very close to throttling her. “At the very least have the decency not to praise your mistress’ son.”

He clenched his teeth against his first reaction and forced his voice into cool mould. “I never praised Jon Baratheon. You are the one perceiving danger where there is none.” He stood. “This conversation is at an end, lady wife. I bid you a good night.”

Elia made no move to follow, so he left her to what remained of her meal and hurried to his own chamber, bolting the door after he’d entered with a strict order that he was not to be disturbed. And then he was on his way to another chamber altogether, through the hidden passageways.    

He entered slowly, least he disturb her rest. But he heed not have worried over such. Lyanna was still at work, needle in hand, eyes squinting ever so slightly beneath the low light. She started at his entrance, but made little sound beyond a soft gasp. “You will have to wait,” she told him with good cheer, not looking up from her task. “I still have ten stitches to put in this.” As to why she’d not given the task to a servant or her septa, she did not say. But Rhaegar followed her instructions, sitting down upon the edge of the bed.

Task at an end after some time, Lyanna relinquished her hold on both tunic and needle, leaving them upon a low stool. As she stretched, he took the time to rake his eyes over her figure, enjoying himself immensely when she let him know she was onto him with a slight wince. “That is some fine example you set, old man,” she chided mockingly, picking up a pillow and throwing it at him.

He caught the offending object and laughed lightly. “That is some fine temper you have, my dear.” The pillow was discarded. “And an even finer form.” Rhaegar smiled at her flustered face.

“You, ser, are dangerously close to being reprehensibly crude. Fine form, indeed. What manner of talk is that?” Nevertheless, she let him draw her upon the bed when he stretched after her and made a light sound at his wandering hands. “My gods, you’d think I were keeping with a young lad and not a respectable–” Her tirade dissolved into a prolonged moan.     

“I have misplaced my sense of respectability the moment I stepped in this bedchamber,” he drawled against the rosy skin of her throat. She responded with a breathy sound, pushing into his hand. “But that is your fault. If you weren’t half as tempting, I would be a perfect chivalrous knight.”

He pulled both of them up. Resting against the headboard, Rhaegar gathered Lyanna in his lap, happily inspecting her clothed form. “Liar,” she tittered. “’Tis no fault of mine you need a head.”

“What would I do with three heads?” She turned her head to kiss him, trying at the same time to manoeuvre herself so she might face him fully. But he held firm, blocking her against him as he coaxed her tongue into play.

“You’re in a mood,” Lyanna accused when he finally allowed her to breathe. He turned her in his grasp himself, toying with the laces on her dress. “Wait,” she asked, pushing at his hands. “I have to extinguish the lights.” His hands settled on her hips, pulling at the skirts. “Rhaegar.” How long had it been since he’d taken her with the light’s glow still bathing them?

“I have already seen every inch of you,” he pointed out unfeelingly, returning to the laces. “More to the point, I want to see it all again at this particular moment.” Her cheeks flushed with the rush of blood. “What exactly is your objection?”

Rearing back, she unwittingly rocked against him, the subtle heat of her a whisper of startling clarity. “I am not–“ Her lips drew in a tight purse, puckering lightly. She stiffened and leaned back and forth for a few moments. “You are just in a mood.

And then he understood. In a way it was amusing. “Am I?” Rhaegar smoothed his palms down her now bare back. “Might be I am. But I was in no mood a few nights past.” And somehow they’d still ended up a tangle of sweaty limbs in the aftermath of an earth-shattering communion. “Time passes, my love, and we grow older. That is not something to be ashamed of. I fear I shall always be in a mood for you anyway, so your age in irrelevant to the matter. Besides, I am much older and have no qualms about it. Might be a demonstration is in order.”

To settle the point, he overturned her gently, laying her on her back and husking off the kirtle despite her mellow protests that she was no ear of corn. There was something about twining with her which never ceased to amaze him. He’d not lied when he said he was in a permanent mood on her account and expected to live under its influence for many years yet to come. It was simply his nature to love her to distraction. How much of that inner monologue he murmured in her ear, Rhaegar was not at all certain. In fact, anything beyond her clinging to him was consigned to the limits of his thoughts-circle until he remained a trembling mess in Lyanna’s arms.

Her chest rose and fell beneath the weight of his head and her fingers were combing gently through his hair, from the damp roots upwards. “Am I hurting you?” he asked when she shifted lightly beneath his weight. The movement caused the side of her breast to brush against his lips. She shivered. The scent she wore rose off her skin as well. If he wasn’t careful, he might just end up sleeping the whole night away in her bed; which suited him, but she did seem rather tired.

She murmured incoherently, but her arms drew tighter around him, keeping him in place. “I was just catching my breath,” the she-wolf let him know in the end. Thus he pulled her on her side and held her against him, draping one of her legs over his. “Shall I give you a few more moments then?”

“Only if you want me talking your ears off,” came the light warning. “I would prefer doing that later. If you can stay, that is.”

“I just might.” Indeed, it seemed to him as though he would have to stay.     

 

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Aunt Janei offered him a brief smile as she sat Rickon upon the stool. “I found it unexpected as well, but Robb insisted he wished to join his father.” Her youngest child busied himself with beating a pattern against the wood with his heels. “I did not think to tell you.”

“It makes no matter,” Jon sighed. He was glad for Robb, of course. And Uncle Ned, for all the illusion of coldness, was a father who took interest in his son. “My apologies for having disturbed you, aunt.”  At that she shook her head emphatically, carefully manoeuvring herself around the boy on the stool.

“Jon Baratheon, in all your years, you have not even once disturbed me,” she assured, coming to stand close before him. “I will, however, be very disappointed if you do not walk with me for a little while.” The septa came through the door, as though summoned by her mistress’ words. She said not a thing, settling for taking Rickon with her to the other chamber. “There, let us make for the gardens now.”

She retrieved her cloak and allowed him to lead her to the gardens. It was not the first time she had done thusly and Jon found himself falling in line with her unspoken commands. For all the unassuming appearance she exposed, Janei Coldwater remained a formidably competent adversary, especially when there was aught she wished to achieve. “Let us hear it now, my boy. What winds have brought you to me?”

“I am certain ‘tis common knowledge by now, the incident from the other day. I fear it has upset Aegon more than he is willing to admit.” And for Robb to choose such a time to desert him. “I was wondering if Robb might coax him out of whatever spot he’d found to hide himself in. But it seems ‘tis my timing that needs improvement.”

“Have you considered allowing him the boon of a victory?” He started, glancing from the corner of his eye at the woman’s face. Lady Jaine was looking fully at him, not at all concerned with appearing disinterested. Wearing her heart on her sleeve. It was a mechanism which fitted her well.

“How is that better than him losing fairly?” He doubted Aegon would have appreciated it if he’d dared to implement that thought. But was he certain? Not at all. Strange were the inner workings of his friend and Jon confessed, at least to himself, that he was not capable of reading Aegon as he could a piece of High Valyrian writing.

His aunt tugged on his arm to avoid a rut. “Might be ‘tis not. The Prince seems the sort to prize and cherish ever victory.” Was it possible that he’d fundamentally misinterpreted Aegon and his plight? Jon made a thoughtful sound in the back of his throat. “Have you ever tried to play your sister’s harp?”

Blinking in confused anticipation of where she might lead him next, he felt compelled to admit that he’d never tried to touch the instrument, partly because Cassana would likely take his head, and partly because holding a sword as opposed to that always left more natural to him. He did not offer such a detailed explanation to his aunt, settling for, “I have none of the required patience for such a task.”

“And Cassana does?” Janei laughed. “I am not as blind as all that, my boy. Your sister, may the Seven keep her, would play our ears off were she of a heartier constitution and able to withstand continual effort of concentration.” Her fingers drummed against his arm, signaling that they would be changing paths. And idiosyncratic gesture he still found odd. “It is not always patience that dictates one’s skill or results.”

“Then you are talking of predispositions,” he offered after brief consideration. It was certainly true that his sister had no such predisposition. Her affinity to the cursed instrument came more from her interaction with her cousin. Ever since the both of them had acquired harps, an hour of suffering to any soul that happened by was guaranteed. He suppressed a smile at the uncharitable though, and then a wince, for he knew too well he must seek a solution to Cassana’s despondency at her recent loss.

“And expectations alike.” The additional information pulled him back to the matter at hand. “His Grace is by all accounts on a good path.” He nodded. “And though he has his share of failures, for the most part they do find rectification, aye?” Once more he agreed. “Then it must follow, ‘tis not predisposition, but expectations which confer strain.”

Aegon’s words flashed in his memory. He grimaced and the reverted to his earlier state of mystification. “Why should they? There has been no major failure.” Not to his knowledge at any rate and he, the Prince and Robb could be found in the company of one another for the most part.

“It is, naturally, not entirely self-imposed. His father was likely unhappy with His Grace’s loss. It might well stand to reason that there is a wealth of such instances in their history which gave rise to his reaction. You are not expected to master your sister’s instrument, therefore a failure to do so is not costly in itself. But the Prince is expected to excel in his studies, be they in the art of warfare or otherwise. A loss is costly then.” That made sense. It still left some loose ties though.

“Why should he be angry at me then? I could have one by pure happenstance for all he knew.” They’d taken a winding path towards a series of pools. Jon looked to the water, watching the sun’s reflection. The light caught against the surface, glittering in nearly blinding patterns.

“My older sister is skilled with a needle. I was expected to follow in her footsteps. Suffice to say that while adequacy was manageable, an artist with a needle, I am not. That did not lessen the blow of seeing my mother’s disappointment.” Her fingers coiled tighter around his forearm. “It may seem a silly thing; what’s embroidery ever going to gain me? All the same, I was oft cross and sullen to the point where my sister actively began consoling me, which in turn made me even angrier.” They found a bench to sit upon. “I do not expect your friend is feeling much different. And it is not your fault, forsooth.”

“Then I must wait out his foul mood.” It was not so much a question, though his aunt offered a shrug of little pertinence. Once again, she’d helped him half of the way and expected the other half he’d pick up on his own. “I do wonder at this though. His Majesty did not seem displeased to me; not with Aegon at any rate.” Might be all his friend needed was an opportunity to show off his skills, in an environment which would facilitate such an act. He sighed yet again and scowled at the glittering water. It seemed to him he was being mocked. “But you and your sister do not seem at odds.” And never had. He would have recalled were they to act in a strained manner.

“I made it a point to accept my limits. Besides, not embroidering fit to decorate the walls of Baelor’s Sept did not impede aught for me. You might have noticed that I am perfectly contented with my lot in life.” That implied, if Jon was not reading too much into it, though to be entirely fair, he hoped he was, that Aegon was not pleased with his lot. “There are some things which you will never fix, for they must be fixed by a different person altogether.”

“It is very unsporting of you to be right all the time.” She laughed, presumably at the faux-sullen expression he put on. “All the same, he is Aegon, and I am Jon. As such, my nature dictates I try finding solutions to his troubles, while his concerns him with the ideals His Majesty sets.” If his aunt was right, that was. Jon had yet to consider the alternative.

“You try to solve everyone’s troubles.” He opened his mouth to deny the charges levelled at him. “Arya told me about her Needle, you know.” He promptly shut his mouth at that. “And Sansa finding her lost circlet.” The woman tasked softly. “Bran has been wanting to follow Maekar’s example and ride crazed horses. He expects you shall teach him as well. Need I go on?”

“Only if you want to damn me with faint praise.” He chuckled, to his own derision more than actual amusement. Some things he would never be able to explain to her. “There is nothing extraordinary about helping one’s kin.”

“Then half of King’s Landing must be your kin, and that is certainly a good number more than I have.” Janei stretched her legs out and leaned back slowly. “This is such a beautiful day.” Her eyes darted to the clear skies.        

Mercifully, his aunt’s words proved to be prophetic. The rest of the day was beautiful. In that no conflict arose which he might find himself forced to put out. There was no sibling bowling their eyes out at the meanness of his immediate kin. Aegon kept a sullen distance, presumably locked in self-reflection and Robb successfully avoided having his neck snapped by not appearing anywhere near Jon, who, in the absence of all the aforementioned characters, found Maekar as good a substitute as any.

His younger brother has absconded to the stables and was lying upon a bed of hay, his legs dangling over the edge. Jon considered tugging on the limbs but decided against it after briefly enumerating the disasters that could arise. Nevertheless, he climbed up as well and shook Maekar’s shoulder, who woke with a start, and a cry which prompted disgruntled whinnies from the horses.

“Were you not supposed to be taking your lessons?” he questioned sternly as his siblings offered a sheepish smile but no excuse. “I thought we’d agreed on this.”

Maekar chuckled apologetically, shifting until he sat comfortably. “At time I swear you’re my father and not my brother,” he managed by way of reply. “’Tis just for this day. On the morrow, I will attend. But it is so very boring.”

“More boring than mucking out the stables?” Jon challenged. Maekar whined, then shook his head, following which he muttered under his breath. “I could just send you to your lessons now, he ruminated out loud, ignoring the displeasure so clear upon the other’s face. “Or I could take you riding.” His brother’s mood lifted. “But only if you swear–“

“Upon my honour,” the boy cut him off, standing to move past him towards the ladder. “I will never miss a lesson again. Even the most boring ones.” Jon doubted he would follow through with that, but he was inclined to let it slide.     

So they rode. Maekar upon that wilful steed he’d somehow convinced their flagrantly unreliable father to purchase and he upon his own horse. What his brother lacked in grace, he made up for with copious amounts of enthusiasm, enough of it to drive them through most of the day, to such a point where Jon barely realised it had come the time to see the both of them back home.

He debated, as he always did in more private moments, the merits of striking off on his own into the great wide world. That could end one of two ways: fetters shackling him to the bed, or the rest of his siblings following along. He shuddered at the thought and pushed away any related notions. Nay; he would return to the Red Keep, attend supper and try to keep a stoic face at the sheer amount of wine a single man could drink, and after, he would attempt to count all the sheep in the seven Kingdoms without once reaching for a sharp object should he hear door creaking. With any luck, the night would provide him with deep sleep and no opportunity to dabble into considerably darker activities that surfaced in such hours.

Or, even better, the supper table could have a notable absence, and they could enjoy a well-cooked meal. Even if the twins started throwing foodstuffs around, or Ned successfully launched a variety of unfortunate vegetables at his siblings. One could hope, just as long as he didn’t hold that too close to heart.

There was always a chance he would be sorely disappointed and deeply vexed.                   

“Come, Maekar, we return now,” he called after his brother who has galloped ahead.

“Now?” The boy yelled back with a pout?

“Now,” Jon confirmed sternly.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He thought he would meet the courtyard exercise with trepidation. And there was some of that; Aegon concentrated for a few moments upon the pain spearing through his chest. He breathed in and out, trying to calm his wildly beating heart, but for all his efforts, he was rewarded with no perceivable change. He stopped after the first three times. There was naught to fear, after all. Jon would not harm him. Robb even less so. And in truth, it had been his own fault for not paying enough attention.

Fear persisted as he guided himself across the distance between himself and his companions. Robb saw him first. “There he is.” The words gave him pause. But only because Jon had moved as well, eyeing him in that strange manner of his, as though he were an ear of corn ready to be husked. Instinctively, he raised his defences against the intrusion. “We thought Your Grace has been taken sick.”

“Sick?” he questioned, note entirely attentive. “Why would I be sick, Robb?” He was not glancing at Robb though. His focus point was the blunted blade whose weight Jon tested, exchanging it from hand to hand. His head snapped at the sound of steel meeting steel.

They were not alone in the courtyard. A shiver travelled down his spine. How had he not realised that much? The two squires were not paying them mind though. They were much too busy measuring skills against one another, trying their best to knock the opponent back. He blinked back a sense of dread as the smaller boy brought his guard to the front and was met with a sound assault which sent him sprawling to the ground. He’d lost.

“Aegon,” a voice tinged with worry registered in his ears. When he looked, Jon was standing before him, hand upon his shoulder. He showed little sign of concern. But for that morsel of anxiety in his voice. Shaking off his hand, Aegon plastered a grin upon his face, allowing a dismissive shrug to follow. “Are you certain you wish to do this?”

“Do what?” He accepted the sword Robb pressed in his hand. “I think we should change our pattern.” Neither Jon, nor Robb had anything to say to that. He took a few stapes back, swinging his sword in short sharp motions. “You must be tired of landing with your arse in the dirt by now, Robb.”

Robb chuckled. “Seems fair to me.” He walked to the bale of hay and climbed atop. “Let us see how you fare now, Jon,” he called to his cousin who far from being affected merely repositioned himself, so his sword might stand guard before him, tip raise heavenwards. A few other murmurs registered, but there was no one Aegon wished to pay mind to, thus he dismissed the low of conversation, focusing on his opponent’s weapon.

The thrill of danger momentarily reared its head, pushing for a swift removal of the thorn in his side, as it were. Instead, he moved to the side the tip of his own sword a threatening short distance away from the guard of his friend. “I won’t make the same mistake again.” His warning was met with a nod, nearly imperceptible. Thus he swung into an attack, targeting Jon’s side.

The sword fell into the defending position as the blunt edge of his blade came closer and closer still. Aegon reigned in his impulse to continue upon that oath, forcing a change in the trajectory. He saw the moment realisation dawned upon Jon, his eyes widening, glancing at the weapon’s change in path. But his own blade remained where it was, not even moving to counter the new attack. He did however beat a speedy retreat, narrowly avoiding a new bruise. Yet he did not move far enough for a new attack to not reach him comfortably.

It occurred to Aegon that he could simply use the opportunity to advance his own tally of wins. He could take the chance, crafted as it was, and be glad for the result. Grip tightening on his sword, his mind flashed with supper conversations and the bitter sting of annoyance, the blackness of rejection and the red of fury. Baratheons were supposed to be the furious ones. What with Durran’s blood and presumably Targaryen irritability. A wonder his trusted companion was not an open, and expressive at that, book.

At about the same time, though he knew it was impossible to be the very same moment, his anger found a target. It was not unusual for battle-lust to spice up the games of squires. He’d seen it done and done it himself a few times. It was exhilarating, freeing in a way naught else was, to simply be, without having to do aught else other than follow blind instinct. And Aegon enjoyed it much in the way he enjoyed the quietness of his bedchamber at night. There was little to worry him, to trouble his thoughts. Nay, this was no battle-lust, but battle-frenzy. And Jon was on the receiving end of the tumultuous emotion.

Obviously Aegon knew why. He’d told himself he did not carry any resentment towards the younger man. It would be absurd. ‘Twas not as though Jon won constantly and he lost all the time. All the same, the surge of rage punched him in the gut, stealing away everything, every last crumb of rational thought, leaving behind only rawness and discomfort.

Jon was not trying. His heart was not in the song of steel. So Aegon, despite knowing better, in spite of telling himself over and over again it made no matter, in spite of even the long years binding the two of them together, bristled violently, the sting of betrayal crystallising into one single coherent though.

Lacking conscious command, his hand guided the sword it held into disarming Jon. The lack of protest propelled him forth. A disarmed enemy was a defeated enemy. Jon offered a brief smile and said something he could not catch due to the roaring in his ears. His friend had given up the fight, turning ever so slowly to Aegon’s eyes towards Robb. He dropped his own blade.

Before it had even hit the ground, his fist was firmly planted against Jon’s face. Whether he had avoided the nose on purpose, he could not tell. But satisfaction swelled at the sound of bones and flesh smashing together. Lord Baratheon’s heir was upon the ground, dazed by impact and pain, no doubt. He heard Robb’s yell, but was much too busy catching the enemy in his vulnerable state.

Somehow, unbeknown to him, he fists began raining down blows. “You fucking bastard,” he hissed. “You fucking bastard. I don’t need your help.” Jon had brought his arms up, protecting his head against the blows. His success was moderate. “Do you hear me? I don’t fucking need you to help me.”

A loud crunch reverberated through the air. Pain speared his hand. He’d punched the ground. That did not stop him. Fuelled, he lifted his fist, split skin oozing blood, and aimed for the now unprotected face peering up at him. He hesitated. For a split-second, he froze, hand raised. It felt as though time itself stopped, forcibly holding his fist in place. And then the fire returned and he slammed his hand down. Aegon was certain he would see even more red until something hard knocked into him, sending him reeling to the side.

He fell on his side, flesh quivering, struggling against pain so intense for a few moments all he saw was white. Then fingers threaded through his hair, gripping painfully. “What the bloody hells is wrong with you?” Someone was shaking him. “You nearly killed him. Fuck, Egg.” The childhood moniker jolted him into awareness. His eyes opened to Robb’s red face.

“What?” Gaze darting about he saw Jon, who was slowly rising into a sitting position. He wiping away at continually trickling blood. It dribbled in thick streams, forcing him to spit it out. His eyes fell to his own hand, knuckles scraped and coated in red.

Robb released another invective and turned to Jon. But Jon ignored him, opting instead to look at Aegon who’d returned his attention to his work. One side of his face beat an angry bright colour. Likely it would swell and blacken, leaving little doubt of what had caused it. And he could do little other than stare like a dumb calf, wondering if he’d just thrown years of friendship down the drain. For what? For his father’s words.

Unexpected laughter spilled past his lips.

“He’s gone mad, that bloody Targaryen,” Robb uttered incredulously causing him to laugh even harder. He was mad. Aegon felt his lungs expanding, trying to grasp onto every little whoosh of air. It was futile. Before long he’d run out and it sounded more as though he were choking rather than laughing. He almost thought he might truly burst out of his skin, or his heart might give way and he would die there in the courtyard his mouth opened in silent hysterics.

Silence fell, his mouth dropping into a grim line eyes opening. He was barely aware that the group gathered around them gad admitted new members to its folds. Flat grey eyes bore into his own. “Are you feeling better now?” New blood spurted out of his wound. His thumb climbed the distance, wiping with curiously slow motions.

They both stood at about the same time, Robb following a moment in their wake, gazing from one to the other with obvious puzzlement. “Fuck you, Baratheon,” Aegon managed. “Try something like this again and I’ll kill you.”

“You’re welcome,” Jon said, shoulders lifting into a helpless motion. Aegon hadn’t been thanking in by anyone’s account. Bloody Baratheons, couldn’t keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves. The smile that elicited was genuine nevertheless.

“Others take you both,” the third finally cut in. Robb crossed his arms over his chest and flashed them both with a spearing glare. “If you are going to be like that, I am staying nowhere near you. Bloody insane, the both of you.”

He turned and left, as good as his word.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyanna favoured her son with a long look. “Is there a reason you might give for this?” She gestured to the red and raw lip and the mottled skin around it. Her son did not give a response, seemingly pleased to swallow a spoonful of soup instead. Good of him to have avoided her until this point in time.

Robert lifted his head from his chalice of wine. “Leave him be,” he said. “You don’t need to know every little thing.”

Turning a baleful glance towards her husband, she flattened her lips in a grimace. “I do not recall having asked you a thing.” In retrospect, it would have been wiser to ignore him. But bedevilled, she chose not to. “You wouldn’t care if he came home with four arrows stuck into his flesh.”

He snorted, nearly choking on the wine. “What shall we do then?” Robert snarled. “Let him hide behind your skirts? Not a good enough shield. Should I stand guard until he is old and strong enough to never suffer?” Clearly, he was taking umbrage with the very thought. The chalice slammed against the table.    

The noise elicited a whimper from Steffon. Being yet a babe, he was not all that well-versed in ignoring his father’s behaviour. Wide eyes filled with tears, followed a high-pitched cry. Robert blinked as she turned in her chair and took the boy from the septa’s arms. She pressed him to her chest and shushed his weeping gently. “There is naught to fear, sweet child.” One reproving glance to Robert confirmed that he’d returned to his drinking.

“I heard there will be a hunt,” Maekar cut in after a few moments in which Steffon returned to a less despondent mood. “Will I be allowed as well this year, father? Jon was the same age on his first hunt.” And with such a well-rounded argument, who would possibly offer any form of protest?

 

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“I think it’s an improvement,” his sister offered, lips tugged in a slight smile. Cassana touched a finger to the bruised flesh, pressing the pad against the swell as though to test how much pain he could withstand. “The colour goes well with your eyes.” She’d never been particularly kind, but then, younger sisters, by definition, were a plague. Cassana outdone the very definition by additionally pointing out all those little things he wished to ignore. Like the fact that half his face sported the colour of cabbage gone bad.

“If you like it so much, I could help you get a little as well,” he warned with a decided lack of heat and a subsequent wince when his sister pressed even harder against the bruise, this time with the bottom of her palm, which might have been an attempt at comfort on her part. “Not that hard.”

“Apologies. Might be we should rub some more ointment on it.” Her eyes, flickering an undecided colour in the candlelight, scrutinised the flesh. “Let me put some more on.” Without waiting for his reply, she turned for the small box, opening it. “At least the old bat is good for something,” Cassana conversed easily. “I was truly beginning to wonder if he had any preoccupation other than leering at maidens as they pass him by.”

It took a few moments for the information to sink in. But when it did, Jon arrested her wrist with one quick move. Pycelle was not shy of showing interest, but it was not maidens he angled after. “What are you saying, sister? Did he–“

Disgust curved her lips downwards. “He wouldn’t dare. My father is one of the most important men in the realm; besides, I have you and Maekar. The man would be a fool to try anything.” His shoulders lost some of their tenseness. “An even greater fool to even think of it.” As for that, one could rarely know another’s thoughts. Just as long as he did not attempt aught.

“The drunkest man in all the kingdoms to boot. But all the same, he would do admirably against Pycelle.” The man was a hundred if a day and likely to crumble from as slight an assault as a gale passing him by. Jon released Cassana’s hand and she spread the thick concoction over the injured area. “I have been thinking about your harp.”

“’Tis beyond salvaging,” she assured him, tracing the line of his lower lip. “And not worth mentioning I did not truly think he meant what he said, and did.” Jon glanced at her, but the girl kept a steady gaze trained on his disfiguring blemishes, “Sansa said I am welcome to her harp whenever I wish it, but I’ve been thinking it would be a pointless exercise in futility.”

“You do?” He put the question tentatively for one reason and one reason only; Cassana might be hurt by him too readily agreeing to the brilliance of such an act. For all he enjoyed teasing her, he’d long ago place boundaries.

“Don’t look at me like that.” His sister slapped her palm lightly against his arm. “I do not need to hear it said to know I am no true virtuoso.”

“You don’t?” Jon considered it a rare occurrence to be surprised in truth by Cassana. Not because Cassana was boring or merited little attention. But he’d known her for longer than she knew him and had collected a fair amount of information on her to the point where he had a library of idiosyncrasies. Such a level of self-awareness was unprecedented.

A small sigh slithered past her lips, coiling around his ear almost ticklish-like. “Someone has to act as though there is little difference between us and any others. And mother seemed genuinely pleased that I showed interest in music.” Mother also had a tin ear, Jon thought. “I couldn’t disappoint her even when it became frustrating, now could I?”

“You’ve always been so fond of that harp,” he murmured.

“Of course I was. But it wasn’t the harp that mattered. Not all that much. You know Uncle Ned brought it for me.” He nodded. In truth, he’d not truly understood her fondness for the thing. And still did not; entirely. “I never told you why.”

“Never say there is a tale behind your harp.” If she did not stop with the surprising revelations his heart might give way.

“Had you not been away squiring you would have know.” Her task at an end, she climbed upon the mattress, sitting by his side. “But there is a tale, if you will.” Cassana did not elaborate. And he, despite the inkling of curiosity, did not press. “Is father truly allowing Maekar on the hunt?”

“He said he would.” And the gods knew if there was a potentially dangerous situation, the man would not shy from it; if possible dragging the rest of them in as well. “Maekar is a good shot; there is no need to worry over him.”

“Never you mind his skill with a bow; it’s that horse of his I trust not at all.” She pouted, “It’s a fierce beast. Let father ride him if he would. Maekar should take a bay or a mare or even a gelding. I care not, except that ‘tis not that beast he insisted upon having.”

“I daresay he would be deeply offended at your lack of trust.” But the idea of their father risking his neck in lieu of poor Maekar was not as drab as all that. In fact, the more he considered it, the more he enjoyed the notion. “Still, you might be on the right road with this. A good scare might well do our father some good.”

“And give you some more of this lovely colour. I would not attempt that.” Her finger wagged in front of his face. “Do not even consider it, Jon. I mean it. A hunt is truly not the best place to offer lessons.”

“That is not necessarily accurate.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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“You know, this could turn out to be a disaster,” Robb pointed out, self-importantly motioning for his cloak to be taken away. The servant whose hands were full made no comment, they never did. But his cousin was very much pleased. “But so far it is a most pleasing gift.”

“Alas, not one I made to you. You should truly learn not to invite yourself along.” Jon rolled his eyes at the banter, not entirely pulled in by such talk. Those two would be at it until they received proper attention. For himself, he’d have to encourage their distraction. Sooner rather than later.

“Wouldn’t you know, my lover has returned.” Jon did not bother to turn towards the intruder. Instead he handed over his own cloak and stepped to the side as a tall red-head brushed past him in her quest for Aegon. “And you’ve brought friends.” He shared a look with Robb over her head as Aegon managed a weak reply. Aught about her not having to share with everyone. “How glum you,” she answered, apparently not at all put out by his mood. “Here, let me call a few other girls over.”

It was certainly not the first time Jon stepped foot within the premises of a brothel. And likely not the rest. “Actually, I already know who I want,” he interrupted the gracious offer, clapping a hand over Robb’s shoulder. “This one, though, will require careful handling. I leave him in your care.”

With a curt nod Aegon’s way, he departed the trio, hearing little above a whisper. “That is Lord Baratheon’s son, isn’t he?”

“How would you know?” the Prince demanded. Jon winced, hoping it was not too obvious.

“Ehe, I have ears. And eyes.” Tinkling laughter followed those words. He hurried his step in turn, hoping to be done with the matter. Dancy was about as discreet as a thunderstorm in the middle of the day. And twice as annoying.  The Seven knew what the Prince saw in her. Might be ‘twas her gaiety; a girl always ready with a smile. He supposed Aegon would like something of the kind. His musing in order, Jon sidestepped one of the more mature whores whose appreciative stare had settled somewhere near the pouch filled with coins.

It was also not the first time he felt himself on the brink of falling short on some unknown scale/ A hand reached out, settling upon his cheek, forcing him to halt and his face to turn. “You look little like your sire,” the woman spoke, another one of the senior workers. She offered a smile, pearly white teeth unveiled. “I wonder if you have inherited his skill though.”

She was mayhap his own lady mother’s age. Jon looked her over, grazing his gaze over the gaping neckline of the thin gossamer wrap-like garment she wore. “Aren’t you even a little bit curious?” He was not his father. Jon told himself that much even as the smile became a shade of predatory and her hand slid lower. “I could teach you a thing or two.”

He cocked his head to the side and caught her wrist mid-dip. “Teach me what?” he asked, lifting the limb away from his person. “Do you think I need you to teach me?” It was not a difficult thing to push her away; he only had to shove against her and she’d be stumbling backwards trying to catch her balance. Jon did not do that though. Instead he released her wrist and gripped her by rounded shoulders. “What do they call you?”

“Rodya,” she answered, her own grip moving to his forearm. “What do you say?” What was it with the ones that wanted a man when he did not want them?

A minute smile curled his lips. “I will remember that.” He released her and tugged himself out of her grasp, turning on his way. The woman called after him, but Jon was already entering the comforting embrace of the shadows.

The same shadows which released a pouting Marei. “At it again, are you, Rodya? You just cannot help yourself.” Her usually focused mien contorted in apparent disgust as her hand wrapped around one of his arms, dragging it into her chest until he could feel her breasts against it.

“Are you some sort of bitch of a hunt?” the other whore taunted. “Sniffed out danger and came running. To heel then, until you are called.”

The best thing to do was to interrupt them and be about his business. For the life of him though, Jon could not. Marei staggered forth, her shoulder slamming against his in her haste. “As if,” she snorted. Her hold on him tightened. “Isn’t there some fat merchant whose bed you should be warming just about now?”

Rodya laughed. “I’ll leave those to you, my dear. A bit of extra coin might work to feed you into aught more,” she gestured at her chest level, “more. I daresay there’s barely enough there to satisfy a blind man, let alone one in possession of sight.”

“At least I can endure the candlelight without my garments on,” Marei snapped. Jon swallowed his chuckle of amusement. It was to be hoped it would not reach the stage of bloodshed. If it did, he imagined he’d have quite the fee to pay.

“Now, now, Marei; I believe you and I have an arrangement; we should see to it.” He turned his gaze to the other woman, whose pursed lips might well mean he would be barred from that bed. More the pity. But he had little enough concern for such a loss. Marei hesitated, glowering still. Unwilling to wait, Jon set his hand on the small of her back and pressed hard. She jumped.

The shadows engulfed them both. He allowed her to rest her hand on his arm still even as they encountered other tenants of the brothel, no doubt about their business as well. “I did not think you would visit again so soon.”

“I was not going to,” he admitted wounding an arm around her waist, steering her around a petite brunette who winked at her. “A friend of yours?”

“Do you–“

“Not at all.” They finally reached the chamber meant for use. He suspected it was one of those chambers which housed no more than a few men and certainly not more than one per night unless that was the party required. He opened the door and walked within, Marei following. “Have you managed to read more?”

“I have actually. Chataya was not too hard on me for it this time. I imagine I have you to thank for that.” She took her hand in his own, linking their fingers together. Jon wondered how much was innocent make-belief and how much a desire to please in hopes of benefits. Then he pushed that away. “Would you allow it?”

“Tell me what you enjoyed about it.” He moved away and sat down upon the edge of the bed, eyeing the sconces burning on the wall as he patted the spot at his side to him blindly. He felt the mattress, filled with feather, dip under the added weight.

“The ending. I liked that best.” Her fingers began working on the laces holding his the barriers up between them. “I enjoyed the riddles as well.” It was not a very likely thing to find a whore who could read and write. Most of them prefer arts more directly associated with their craft. “I did have some trouble with the last one.” The tugging continued.

“I trust you found your way out of that tangle.” Jon finally glanced at her. She nodded, lips parting. But only her warm, moist breath flowed without. He wondered, had they been born in positions completely unlike the ones the fates had landed them in, would he have found more of a stirring deriving from her charm.

As rumour had it, and if one could give such words credence, what Marei had was a likeness to the most beautiful woman in the kingdoms. Golden hair and green eyes, a fair enough likeness to that woman that Jon had to wonder; how had she not convinced any man to find her a more comfortable position. “It was what you wished me to do. I did as expected.”

“Aye, as expected. That does seem to be the theme of our existence.” He blinked down at her, rolling his shoulders to escape the slide and slip of cloth. “And did you enjoy yourself doing as expected of you?”

“It would be a lie to state otherwise. I did not mean I felt in any way obligated to.” Having made up his mind, Jon slid his hands over her sides, stroking gently up and down. “I would be very pleased if you did allow me to show my appreciation.”

“If you insist. But I still maintain you needn’t.” It was her turn to chuckle.

“You are much too tense.” Marei climbed in his lap.

It was rather like going through the motions. Jon carefully orchestrated the reminder of their encounter. He was not his father. He was not Robert either. Thankfully, Marei could be trusted enough to not lose her head. No matter her words, she cared more for her position than she did much else.

Once done they untangled themselves, the single point of contact her leg brushing against his as she moved about the mattress. “I have heard that King’s Landing is to see some changes very soon,” she said after a few moments, breathing heavily still. “Might be enough of them even you shall be satisfied.”

“I will only be satisfied when I have left this place behind,” he murmured, rising to a sitting position. He brought one of his knees up, resting his arm atop of it. “And what secrets have you discovered?” he questioned nonetheless. Mayhap it could be used.

“It seems His Majesty is planning on making some changes to the laws of the land,” Marei offered, bringing an arm beneath her head as she turned to face him. “Old Jon Arryn would neither confirm nor deny, which more than likely means ‘tis a sure thing.”

“Old Jon Arryn is ‘my lord’ to you, as far as I know,” he warned. “You might not take it to heart, but some would. I should hate to have any ill befall you.”

“And I should hate for it as well. Apologies, ‘tis the manner in which the news was delivered to me and I relied it without thought. But why do you wish to involve yourself now? I thought you planned to convince Lord Baratheon to return to Storm’s End soon.”

“I gave the matter further thought. Unfortunately leaving now is not an option.”  He dragged his fingers through his hair, a light grimace touching upon his lips when the felt the slight wetness clinging to the roots. “I might as well go on my own in the end.” Mother would not wish to leave and great oaf staggering on his feet would likely not either unless all the wine suddenly drained from King’s Landing. Still, he needed to make for Storm’s End if he hoped for victory in the matter.

“These thoughts which consume you conspire to keep us apart even now,” Marei sighed. “Very well, but at least answer me this; when shall you return?”

“Gods be willing, before my lord father manages to drive my poor mother insane and Maekar to kinslaying. Although, I suppose I should not discount Cassana either. Her harp is in shard if you can believe it.”

“Had I a more suspicious mind, I would doubt those words. You bear bruises enough to make one think. And I do not imagine your sister would be gracious enough not to aim for the face.” He laughed. “But then you would not be my Jon had you done so.”

The mirth died upon his lips. The truth was he was no one’s Jon. “You damn me with faint praise.”   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Can I have a lemon cake?” little Eddard questioned, tugging on her sleeve. Lyanna looked down at the boy, shifting Steff from one knee to the other. He’d already had three. “Mother, I want more lemon cake.”

“It will spoil your appetite, sweet,” she warned, reaching out nevertheless and picking out a smaller piece from the platter. “This is the last one, Ned, do you hear?” He nodded and reached for her hand. “Promise me, Ned.” The boy sucked in his lower lip, fingers curling around her knee as his hand fell back down. “One small promise, Ned, and after we eat, I shall see if Septa Romilda might allow a few more pieces. Aye?”

“I promise.” The very way in which he saw fit to respond very nearly prompted a smile upon her face. She cut it off in time.

“I shall trust you then.” She placed the lemon cake in his awaiting hand. “Play with your soldiers for a little bit, sweet.” The child happily munched on his lemon cake and ambled back to the collection of whittled figurines. Gazing back towards Steffon, she pressed a kiss to his cheek and shifted him yet again. “Before long you’ll be playing war with your brother too. And I shall have no more babes to coddle.”

“And that is truly a problem which keeps you up at night?” Robert’s voice reached her eras. Lyanna jumped, jostling Steff. “Easy now, my good lady; I have not come to bother you.” Robert walked past her, reaching his youngest son. He picked Steffon up and threw him in the air. Having expected such a treat, the child let out a squeal and flailed his arms energetically.

Laughing at the clear enjoyment derived from such play, Lyanna climbed to her feet. “Rile him up, my lord, and you shall be left to put him to bed yourself.” Robert shook his head but did not stop what he was doing. In fact, he threw Steff even higher, his care growing with that.

“Nothing wrong with a bit of spirit,” he defended, bringing the child to rest against his shoulder. Steff clapped his hands around Robert’s shoulder and pushed, mayhap trying to climb or some such endeavour.

After the boy settled some, Robert returned him to her arms and approached the older brother who had been up until that point regarding the trio with undisguised interest. Lyanna balanced Steff against her hip and rocked his gently. “What did you do, Steff.”

“Fly,” the child giggled, hiding his face away from sight. His fingers curled around the collar of her kirtle. “Fly,” Steffon repeated, slightly damp lips brushing against her as he squirmed. “Mama. Fly.”

“Indeed.” She watched Robert engage with the older boy. There was absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of spirit. The babe she was holding began fussing, asking to be placed on his feet.   

As soon as she released him, he ran to his brother, trying to climb on his back. Robert, who’d always found the boys’ romps amusing, let out a chuckle. Ned was busy pushing Steffon back, his shoves, if not gently applied, than at the very least he was not being brutal. Which suited her just fine. “And what has brought you to us on this fine day, my lord?”

“Only the desire to speak to you, my lady,” he answered, his words not half as sarcastic as they might have been. He stood, leaving the children to their play. Leading her aside, he placed a hand on her shoulder and leaned slightly in. “Where is your son?”

Her son was Jon. Despite all boys very much being her sons, Robert always referred to Jon specifically as her son. “I would not know. As per your advice, I’ve allowed him his freedom to pursue his own interests.”

“His freedom, you say.” Steffon squealed, interrupting their conversation. Obliged to look in on the two, Lyanna wagged her finger at Ned who caught his brother before the first had the chance to fall to the ground. “See that his freedom does not carry him too far away. I appears His Majesty has invited an old friend in our midst and I would speak to the boy on a certain matter.”

“Robert, an old friend signifies little to me. If you would have something of me, best just to tell me.” She offered a smile and, this time, lead him further away, out the door and into the hallway. “ Come, let us not discuss this before the children. Turning to look open her shoulder she addressed her boys. “Ned, have a care for your brother while mother and father talk, aye?” Her son answered in the affirmative. “Well, let us have it then.”

“Jon Connington is bringing his brood over.” He dragged his fingers through his hair. “Those coffers aren’t going to refill themselves.”

“And Lord Connington has a knack for rubbing coins together to bring other coins into being. Is that it?” Robert nodded. “And I presume Lord Connington has heard about this brilliant scheme.” Robert shook his head. Well that was not very surprising. “I see. What exactly would you have of me on this account?”

“You are the Lady of Storm’s End. As such, you are well within your right to pursue a further acquaintance with the man’s wife.” Come to think of it, her and Lady Ashara had a few things in common. Lyanna declined to smile the smile that threatened to emerge. “You would be doing it for Jon’s sake.”

And his. And hers. And any of her childrens’. “I was not about to refuse. When do you reckon she will be arriving?”

“I could not pinpoint the exact moment. Methinks ‘tis soon though.” Lyanna nodded along, stepping back as the sound of footsteps speared through the relative silence that had dominated before. She gazed over Robert’s shoulder just in time to see a servant disappearing from sight.

“We are understood then. You may return to those matters which need your attention husband. I fear leaving the boys on their own for more than I have already.”

“Ever the careful mother.” But other than that, quite possibly due to a lack of alcohol imbibed, he was tolerable enough for once.  And willing to be off just as soon as he was done. “I shall see you later.”

Lyanna returned to the familiar embrace of the nursery where Ned was showing his little brother how a tourney proceeded to grip the attention of an audience. She had returned in time to see the brothers bonding over knights and horses. And no sooner than the exactly right moment for in the next few heartbeats the chamber was breeched by an invading army formed of a pair of twins and a clucking septa.

“My lady, I regretfully inform you our expedition will have to extend over a longer period of time. The flowers need more care.” She grinned at the contrite look on the twins’ face, not doubting for a moment their shenanigans had slowed the process somewhat.      

“Still, there had been some progress made.” The septa nodded and presented her with samples of needlework. The stitches were straight, neat, orderly. It was certainly better than anything she had managed in her youth. Although it had to be said she’d been fonder of riding through the fields. “This looks very nice. A bit more work and the two of you shall have woven a magnificent tapestry we can hang on the wall.”

Jocelyn smiled, while Mylenda glanced at the floor. The first of the two broke away from the septa and took Lyanna by the hand. “If we do that, can we learn how to wield a sword as well?”

She felt her eyes grow wide. “Sword wielding? What brought this on?”

The septa coughed gently, pushing Mylenda towards her as well. “I believe I shall see to the boys.” Lyanna nodded.

Patting the available chair next to her, she allowed both girls to share the seat as she shifted in her own. “I am listening.” She smiled encouragingly, hoping they were at ease enough to disclose the full tale.

“Cousin Arya said needlework is stupid,” Jocelyn offered, shyly glancing at her. “And she said it helps nothing. And that we were not going to gain anything out of it.”

“Has she?” Mylenda nodded. “And what did you do?”

“She called cousin Arya stupid.” Mylenda pursed her lips, as though chiding her sister. “Cousin Sansa agreed and laughed. And then cousin Arya tried to grab her sister’s needle.”

“Jocelyn, that is not nice. You may tell your cousin in pleasant terms you disagree.” Jocelyn glanced away. “What do you believe then of needlework.”

“It’s not stupid” Mylenda put in.

“But swords are interesting too.” It was a fair enough point. “And you always say we should try the food on our plate before we decide we do not like it.”

“I do not want to try that. Swords cut.” That was also a fair point.

“They do. Have I ever told you the story about that time Benjen and I got hold of our father’s hunting knives?” Jocelyn shook her head and leaned in, interest playing open on her face. Mylenda, as ever, retained a generous dose of coolness. “It goes something like this, we were about your age and we’d grown very, very bored. Father had gone riding and we, left with only Nan to watch us, naturally evaded her. To our great joy, we found a pair of knives. And we decided we should train with them.”

“Did he cut you?” Jocelyn demanded, her lower lip jutting out.

“Aye. And I cut him too.” She laughed softly. “The both of us were part of it, sweetling. Knives do cut.” Mylenda was looking at her hands, presumably trying to imagine what that would feel like. “Falls hurt as well. What do we do when we fall though?”

“Get up.” This time they replied in unison.

“This is no different. Jos, if you wish, I shall talk to your uncle and have you take lessons with your cousin. Myl, you may attend. Mayhap you will change your mind. Does that sound good?” One nodded, the other shrugged and that was answer enough for Lyanna.

She sighed and nodded back. “That settles matters then. Be off with you, see if you can advance Steff’s understanding of horses and knights and tourneys.” That in turn determined a grimace from Ned who dragged his soldiers and knights closer. Not that he need have, the sisters were more interested in the dolls set aside for their convenience.

The septa returned to her side, occupying the newly evacuated seat. “She was being rather disruptive, my lady, and Jocelyn was more than correct in her set down. Even if the method suffered somewhat under the aspect of eloquence.”

“I already know what your view of sword wielding is. But if we do not allow it now, we may well wake one day with the same problem on our hands.” Although, to be entirely fair, Ned had not interdicted his daughter very much. And her good-sister, in equal measure, had regarded the peculiarities with calmness, as far as she could tell. “I trust no one was harmed.”

“No one beside Lady Sansa, but that one can manage on her own.” Lyanna shrugged.

Her brother made no secret of his belief that his daughter was a lot like his sister. For herself, Lyanna refrained from pointing out that he would not wish for his daughter to be anything like her. In fact, the farthest thing she was from Lyanna, the better. “Poor Lady Sansa. The very worst scenario is that Jocelyn will grow to love wielding a sword as much as does holding a needle. At best, their interest will wane and that will be that.”    

“That aside, I’ve a task for you. I heard Lady Connington is to be brought to court.”

“You’ve heard right, my lady.”

“She is bringing her children, I’d heard. Could you, mayhap, take a bit of an interest in the daughter, do you think? Might be her septa would be willing to engage in conversation.”

“One supposes one has to start at some point.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cassana traced the pattern on the silk spread with the tip of her finger, pretending in her mind that she was not about to embark on a foolish adventure. To be clear it was not even the true adventure as the songs defined it but rather an attempt on her part to catch a glimpse of a half-murmured plan she’d heard. With that in mind, her heels did not drag at the prospect of weeding out her mother’s location.

“You know mother enjoys her solitary rides,” Maekar warned, shoving an entire lemon cake in his mouth with all the finesse of a stampeding auroch heard. Crumbs fell against his cheeks and onto the front of his tunic. The one mother had made for him with her own two hands. Cassana herself had sewn in the bone buttons. She scowled at his careless treatment of the garment and at his audacity.

“When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.” Maekar shrugged at the outburst and continued laying siege to the plate of sweets. “Just because you are lazy and careless and would not take it upon yourself to find out what mother plans for Jon, it does not mean I am equally defective.”

At that point, Maekar put his treat away and frowned at her. :”I do not expect you to understand, Cass, but I promise you this, if Jon should wish out aid, he would ask it. If he does not, it means he knows what goes on and sees no need to intervene.”

“He does not know everything under the sun.”Her statement was met with mild agreement. “And this thing that they are planning is newly hatched. A scheme meant to draw coin into our coffers, presumably.”

“Presumably? And that’s a bad thing? I should think the prospect of coin an endearing one. Besides, if they are selling Jon into some sort of bondage, at least you and I will be safe.” He chuckled at his own jest, leaving her to bristle. “My point is, if Jon wants to avoid whatever they have cooked up in their heads, you’ll know it.”

“Of course I will, because I am going to find out exactly what they plan. Now, Maekar, I shall be going. Should the septa ask, I have decided to take a stroll with Sansa. Remember that.” He nodded unenthusiastically. The fiend, he would be glad to see her fail, if only to have a good laugh at her expense. It would serve him well if she put it to mother that he should be the one sold into whatever sort of bondage they had planned for Jon.

In fact, it did not take much of a genius to figure out what mother wished to do.. Her questions related more to the whens and the with whoms of the matter. And if she did not approve, or found fault, she would yell it from atop Baelor’s Sept. No one was allowed to make her siblings unhappy. Lest of all the woman who had birthed them.

“Well then, I take it you won’t be changing your mind?”She shook her head. “In that case, take Jon’s gelding. I’ll let him know where the horse is when I see him, aye?”

“Thank you, Maekar. You are not such a bad brother, after all.”He grinned from ear to ear, revealing a row of straight teeth, along with a small gap. A feature they shared. “I will let you know what I find out.”

“Seems fair enough to me. Just be careful not to bother mother too much.” As though mother would ever possibly consider her presence a bother. Cassana rolled her eyes at her brother and resisted the urge to further provoke him. Maekar was the sort of boy who lived to be riled up. She would not give him the pleasure.

The matter solved for the time being, she grabbed her cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders, Maekar watched her silently, his mind having no doubt wandered away. She could not blame him for that though. Hers would too with the lack of a clear goal in mind. Her mouth opened for a parting shot, her brain momentarily forgetting that she was not going to give her sibling any opportunity to needle her. Thus her lips snapped shut.

The fabric of her skirts rustled as she made her way without. In the hallway, a similarly clad Sansa awaited her. Her cousin gave a wane smile, worry shining in her eyes. Her agreement to come hinged on a sense of propriety, if anything, rather than a sense of duty. But then Sansa was not expected to mend the financial situation of a spendthrift. “All set?” her cousin questioned.

”Aye, I believe so.” She glanced about. “Are you certain you shan’t be missed?” Sansa nodded. “Good then. We shouldn’t be very long. I know where mother likes to ride.” Or at the very least she had some idea.

“I will help you whichever way I can,” Sansa allowed, clasping her hands in front of her. She gazed shyly at the ground. “Only that you must promise we shan’t end up in trouble.” That much she could and did promise. After all, they were simply going to impose upon mother and ask a few questions. After they would return. And all would be well. At least that was the plan Cassana had approved in her mind.

“Worry not. I plan to lead us to safety no matter the circumstances.” Taking Sansa by the hand, she dragged the girl after her with quite the force. Even though the other stood taller, by nearly a head, her gait was slower, might be because of the narrower kirtle. She’d insisted upon it, so Cassana saw no reason to be merciful. If the dress was so very important, more important than her comfort than so be it. For she would not have to endure much of it anyway. Just a little while atop a horse. A small price to pay. And Cassana would pay the debt someday, somehow.

What her cousin lacked in enthusiasm, she made up for in conversation skill. “I forgot to tell you. After you left the other day, my sister threw a tantrum about having to do needlework.”

“Again? Didn’t she learn from her last attempt?” Cassana laughed. That girl was truly something else. “I suppose she wanted all of you to know that needlework was stupid and only stupid ladies did it.” Sansa nodded, laughing along with her.

“But that’s not even the best part. It was one of the twins that set her down. I haven’t laughed so hard since that time Robb fell head[-first in the briar bush.” To be perfectly honest, she could see that in her mind’s eye. It was a pity Sansa couldn’t tell the twins apart.

“If I were mother, I would take her over the knee and give her a lesson she would never forget. At times I fell as though I am the only sane member of my family. Father is allowing her to run wild, completely oblivious to the fact that she will gain quite the reputation before long and I shall have to partake in whatever shame she heaps upon us.” Cassana nodded her understanding. The sad truth was that Arya Stark would mayhap never learn that certain boundaries were useful.

“Still, let us not consider the very worst. We may well presume that age will bestow wisdom upon your sister and she will see the error of her ways.” Sansa snorted. “Come, say may prove to be sensible.”

“The only thing Arya knows about the word is how to spell it.” Bleak prospects aside, Cassana did not truly care about what Arya Stark decided to do or not do. In fact, the less she knew, the better.

“Any man who would associate you with your sister’s behaviour is a blind fool who does not merit an ounce of attention. You are Sansa Stark, and that is the only thing that matters.,”

“You always know what to say. I wish I knew what to say. It would certainly make life easier.”Cassana shook her head. “Nay, I mean it. You always know the right words.”

“’Tis all in your head, cousin.” Had she truly any knowledge of what to say, there would be a scad of things she could righten. As matters stood, she could simply throw her opinions into her mother’s face and hope they would elicit a favourable outcome. Her father she had learned, long ago, not to bother with. He could retain one thing and one thing only, wine. And sometimes ale. But mostly wine. As such. She kept away when she could and when she could not she kept a stiff upper lip and endured his presence with feigned cheer. In fact, if she were completely honest with herself, she would admit, to herself, and possibly to Sansa, that she envied her cousin for the fine family the gods had bestowed upon her. Just once she wished she could be as proud of her father as Sansa was of hers.

Alas, there were times when wishes were futile. Thus Cassana would have to keep smiling and tell herself that someday, a long time off, of course, she would be out of her father’s reach, married with an upright man and a brood of her own to mother and pamper. And she would not have to pay any mind to cruel whispers, be reminded that her father was little better than a drunken fool and had naught else to do but go about siring babes on whores. Uncle Ned seemed capable of keeping to one woman. And most man, if they did keep a mistress were still well below her father’s number of lovers, for their mistresses were a constant comfort. She would have understood a mistress for she was not blind to the nature of the transaction they called marriage. She would have grudgingly accepted the woman’s presence. She would not have liked it. But she was very certain she would have been more in charity with her father were his liaisons of such a nature. A small sigh escaped her compressed lips.  

“Nay, I am sure ‘tis not,” Sansa offered, her smile bright. “But I can see you do not wish to discuss this. No matter, I am very glad to have you so close at hand. For even if I do not know what to say, I can ask you. And reliable cousin that you are, you will aid me.”

“I will certainly try,” Cassana promised. “Have you hear anything yet of you father’s grand plans to wed you?” At least that they could speak of without the subject of her own father coming anywhere near the matter.

“To be honest, I have not. I was hoping mother might tell me aught. But she had kept silent upon the matter. I think they are considering Ser Arryn’s son, or possibly Lord Tully’s grandson.” Sansa made a soft sound in the back of throat.

“Am I to understand you are not pleased with any of these two options?” Her cousin shrugged. “Tully’s grandson is a bit young though, is he not? I doubt anyone is consider that match. Not that it matters though; I doubt you would have accepted that as a match.”

“I can certainly hope whomever they are thinking of, he will be fair and capable and kind.” One could certainly hope. “I should like to meet my prospective husband before saying my vows though. I mean, have you heard even as much as a couple of words about Ser Arryn’s son? Nay; because no one speaks of him.”

“His mother is Lady Cersei, as far as I know. At the very least the boy will be handsome lad. We can rely on good Lannister genes for that.”Sansa gave her a doubtful look. “Have you seen Jaime Lannister?”

“Have you seen Lord Arryn?”she retorted, laughter breaking forth past her lips. Seeing no recourse, Cassana followed suit until they voices rang out, causing one of the horses to spook and become jumpy.

“I confess, the prospect of the child inheriting Lord Arryn’s looks is rather daunting. But then. My mother told me Lord Arryn’s heir was quite the charmer in his youth and had more than a few maidens swooning in his presence. I’d gathered the swooning was a becoming reaction. And to be fair, there are plenty of men who retain their good looks throughout their ageing. Let us but consider the possibility of his son having inherited the best from both sides.” Sansa gave her a dry look. “It is very much possible, I assure you. Just look at Ser Baelor Hightower and tell me you would not be willing to take the man for a husband.”

“A pity there are no sons. Can you imagine a younger Ser Baelor. That would cause quite the fuss, wouldn’t it?” Once more they giggled. “Would that it were possible to get a man like that. Have you seen how careful he is with his lady wife?”

Anyone with eyes could see that man and wife had a special bond. Cassana nodded, privately agreeing with her cousin. “There is only one Ser Baelor in this world, though, and I fear Lady Rhonda is not that willing to share him with us.”

“Might be if we asked her very nice she might consider it. Failing that, however, there must be some worthy men in the kingdoms. I hear knights of the Reach are courteous. There are a few worthy houses to consider there. For instance, Lord Tyrell’s eldest is not yet wedded.”

Lord Tyrell’s oldest was a cripple. But then that did mean he could not go off gallivanting. She could live with that. Shaking the thought loose, Cassana spied from the corner of her eye another rider upon the road.She drew her horse to the side, leading him out of the way, allowing the man passage. He sped past her and Sansa. Her cousin’s shoulder lifted in a shrug. “Some people are just in a frightful hurry.”

“We’ll leave them to it,” she answered. “We are not that far off ourselves.”Which was true. They had neared the riding grounds. If anything, she should be within her mother’s presence within moments. Sansa nodded her head and steered her horse as she instructed. “I do so love the smell of grass; do you not?”    

“Indeed. ‘Tis most becoming. I was growing tired of the smell of cloying perfumes.”Which the court had more than enough of were anyone to ask them. Yet no one had until that point, so Cassana doubted anyone ever would. “Did you not say your mother was likely to keep to the outer ring?”

What she often thought of as a riding ground was in fact a small portion of wilderness which was used infrequently for taking one’s horse galloping. Infrequently, because as some would have it, the grounds were haunted. What if the ghost should trip their horse? Her mother though had made a point to go there every so often. It was a miracle she was still alive.

Sansa pulled her horse to a halt. “Would you mind terribly if I remained here to keep watch?”    

“Craven,” Cassana clucked her tongue. “Fine, stay here. I won’t be long.” Sansa breathed out in visible relief. “If I should meet the ghost, I’ll let it know you refused to join me.I am certain it will find such information to be most interesting.” Her cousin’s face scrunched up, but before she could protest she dug her heels into the horse’s flanks and set the poor beast off into a speedy trot.

Once beneath the shade of the trees, she advanced with more care. The ground was solid, but there were a lot of roots protruding from the ground and she was not prepared to sacrifice the gelding’s well-being. Cassana did not look over her shoulder. Sansa would be watching her, but she did not need the distraction. After a fair few steps she dismounted and elected to lead her horse about. She could see that in the distance there were no more roots. Almost as though a path had been cleared.

She made her way forth with care, soothing the horse with small talk. “It’s just for a little while.” Cassana didn’t precisely believe in ghosts. They were figments of one’s imagination. Still, the trees and lack of sunlight made for a convincing eerie atmosphere. “We’ll be out of here before you know it.”

It was at that point that she heard something. Cassana caught sight of a large earth formation. Looking about, she searched for a sturdy branch to tether her horse to. It took a few moments to find it but once she had, it was fairly easy to accomplish. She would have to thank Jon for training the horse so marvellously.

Leaving the beast be for the time being she reached the strange lump protruding out of the ground. Down below was a steep incline. But beyond that she could see fairly well into a clearing. Not only that, but she could make out the presence of a couple. Eyes wide, frozen in her spot, she continued to watch.        

For a brief moment, she considered that her eyes might be playing tricks on her. Any yet why would they? Never before had anything of that manner happened. Lips curled downwards. Her breath was drawn in short gasps. If only the sight were not so clear. If only she did not see her mother’s form down there, and her mare tethered a little ways away. She might have been able to pretend the scene was not playing out before her very sight. Something within her urged Cassana to turn back. To run. To forget.

But that would not help wash the reality away. It seared itself in her brain, the image of her mother, locked in such a passionate embrace, as though naught in the world existed, except for her and, dare she consider it, her lover.  

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jon approached his brother’s crib and picked the boy up. Steffon let out a delighted squeal, promptly grasping a lock of hair in his fist and pulling hard. A wince made its way upon his face. Jon pushed back against the pain and allowed his brother to squirm in his hold. The child proceeded to coo, trying, in his own convoluted tongue, to let him know some manner of information. He was quite certain that among the babbling there were even a few intelligible words. Steffon pointed to the wall and an inarticulate shout left his lips. 

With a chuckle, Jon moved the both of them to a spot nearer. Without a second thought the babe proceeded to touch the wall, fingers brushing the surface with undisturbed curiosity. “What’s there?” he asked, causing Steffon to look up at him. “Is it a wall? Wall?” The boy gurgled and tugged on the lock he was still holding. “It’ll that that as agreement.”

Turning towards the wetnurse, who was clinging to her small corner of the chamber, working of some mending, he cleared his throat, hoping not to startle her too much. She jumped, gazing up. “Isn’t he a tad too quiet?” he questioned, motioning his head towards Steffon.

“Some days they are quieter,” the woman replied, her attention falling back to her task.

He, on the other hand, regarded his brother’s face with renewed interest. It would be a lie to say he knew much about babes. In fact, Jon would not say he knew anywhere near enough. Still, to his mind, the tiny face staring up at him was much too pale. Should he request it of mother to look at him? Might be he was exaggerating. It could just be that his brother was just quieter on this day.

Steffon, having finally grown bored of staring at him, settled his gaze upon the wall behind Jon and lofted a finger in that direction. “Want to inspect that one as well?” he asked quietly, having already begun to move. Steffon repeated his earlier actions, only this time he slapped his palm along the stones. There must not have been much force behind it for nary a whimper left the child’s lips. “You like walls an awful lot,” Jon noted, switching the babe’s weight from one shoulder to the other. There were no forthcoming protests from his brother. If anything, Steffon settled on his other shoulder and began plucking at the threads he could find. “That’s a good lad.”

Steffon’s head nestled somewhere in the hollow of his throat. Hot breath spilled over his skin uncomfortably. He bounced the babe lightly, not entirely sure why he’d adopted the meek behaviour all of a sudden. “We’re bored with the walls now?” No reply met his query. “Let us see what else there is to tie us over until Ned returns, aye?” He returned Steffon to the crib and the child grabbed onto the edge, fingers digging to keep him steady on his feet. Jon sat down on the ground, even though there was another chair to the crib’s left for him to sit upon. Yet being on the ground brought him to a level with his brother.   

The babe watched him carefully, eyes trained on his face. Jon mustered a smile for the obvious seriousness. He’d not yet spoken to Maekar. And he could no longer put it off indefinitely. Best to have an understanding between the two of them. Planting his elbows on his knees, he watched the babe back, resting his chin upon a loose fist. “When you’re my age, brother, you will have a lot to do. I promise you that. Until then though, there is no need to frown quite so determinately. You have no worries in your life.”

A grunt met his statement. Steffon dropped down upon his bottom and reached for his toes. Jon chuckled at his brother’s showing off. “If anything should happen to him, I want to know,” he told the wetnurse who had once more interrupted her work. A very convincing look of vexation crossed her features.

“I wouldn’t not let anything happen to the babe.” Sometimes he wanted to warn mother against giving the servants too much freedom. Some of them thought it their due. He glared at the woman.

“No one was casting aspersion upon your good name, wench,” he replied harshly, standing to his feet. “I suggest you measure your words.” Between the drunken Lord Baratheon and the lenient lady of the house, he was going to be left with a bunch of yammering servants and the gods knew what he’d have to do then. 

Flustered, the woman stammered out an apology. Jon waved his hand dismissively. For a brief moment he thought he saw terror in her gaze. Softening his countenance, he answered her in words, “All is well, just remember your place before you speak.” She nodded, apparently unable to offer aught else. “Where is the septa?”

“She took the girls to their newest manner of lessons.” Aye, he must have forgotten. Jon swallowed the question poised upon the tip of his tongue. Swordsmanship, of course, was not something would hold the twins’ interest for long. If anything, it was good of mother to have arranged it. Better the devil one knew.

“Jon? You’ve returned!” He turned at the sound of his brother’s voice. Maekar, just the person he wanted to see. Jon gaze kept the younger brother’s. Muscles pulled taut. Aught was amiss. Maekar was giving him that smile, a clearly contrived sign of joy. Signalling, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that all was not well. “I was wondering if you had a few moments.”

“I do. In fact, I was just about to send for you myself.” He offered only a brief nod to the wetnurse and patted the infant’s head before making his way without, closing the door to the nursery behind him. Maekar’s smile fell as soon as they were out of sight. “Go on then.”

From around the corner, the familiar face of Sansa popped out. “Have you found him?” Her eyes moved from Maekar to Jon in the split second between beginning her question and finishing it. “Merciful Mother, you cannot fathom how glad I am Maekar finally found you.” He blinked. Undeterred, she went on. “I cannot convince Cassana to come out of her bedchamber. She won’t even let her servant girl in.”

“What exactly is she doing in there?” His first instinct had been to march to his sister’s chamber and lay waste to the door. But not knowing what he would find behind it stopped him short, almost before his feet had had time to move.  

“Crying. I believe.” That had been Maekar. “It sounds as though she is crying. But since she won’t speak and the sounds are muffled, I cannot be certain. Sansa already explained to Septa Romilda that Cassana was unwell and wished to stay abed for the time being.”

That did not sound like Cassana. Certainly, she often stomped off in a huff and spent her tears away from sight, but the door was open. If he opted to go in and comfort her, je could do that. “Are you quite certain the door is barred from within?” Volatile as his sister was at times, she would not persist without good reason.

“Aye. It won’t budge. I reckon my shoulder is all bruised from trying to smash it open.” Maekar rubbed the presumably abused shoulder. “She wanted to see mother about something. I told her not to go, that mother would not take too kindly to having her ride interrupted. She wouldn’t listen. Came back in tears.”

Alarmed, Jon shifted his weight from one foot to the other, forcing his body into slow relaxation. “She went after mother?” Sansa nodded. “Am I right in presuming you joined her, cousin?” Blushing, the girl gave a second nod.

“Not all the way though. She went towards the clearing alone.” Her shoulder dropped. “I do not understand it. She wouldn’t tell me a single thing, except that she did not wish to speak of it. I thought Aunt Lya had might be refused to share the plans with her. But then Cassana would have been sullen, not in tears.”

“Cassana thinks mother and father have begun planning for our future.” And she simply could not contain herself. Far from being a seer, Jon could still imagine a thousand and one ways in which her little adventure could end in tragedy. And all of it for a matter so insignificant.

“Are you positive there was naught on the road that happened to upset her?” Let the gods be merciful and have it be a simple matter of his sister having misplaced a brooch or aught of the manner.

His hope was dashed into a myriad of pieces by his cousin’s denial. “One moment she was laughing, going about her way and the next she ran back out in tears. And I cannot understand a thing because she won’t say a word beside that she won’t speak of the matter.”     

“I will see to Cassana. Should anyone ask, continue reporting that she is mildly indisposed.” Sansa caught him by the sleeve. Jon had the strangest urge to pat her head as he had Steffon’s, there was such a childish note to her reaction. “All will be well. Maekar, if mother asks to see Cassana upon her return, keep her away. I will bring our sister to supper.”

“You’d have more luck drawing water out of stone,” his brother opinionated, offering Sansa his arm. “Come along, cousin, your dragon of a septa is bound to be displeased by such a long absence.”

Satisfied that their absence would commence without any other protest, Jon made for Cassana’s bedchamber. He knocked on the door softly, tapping rhythmically. “Cass, I wish to speak to you.” Naught could be heard other than soft rustling. He made another attempt, knocking a bit harder.” Footfalls came from within.

“Jon?” The high-pitched voice left little doubt that she had been indeed weeping. He could only imagine what had brought her in such a state.

“Aye. Open the door.” He heard wood scraping against wood and metal. And the door did open. Jon did not move an inch. He stood perfectly still as the obstruction between himself and his sister disappeared in one flowing move. Wet-eyed, Cassana frowned. “May I come in?” Ever so slowly, she nodded and dragged herself out of the way. He slipped in past her and closed the door, sliding the bar back in place. “If you do not wish it, I shan’t make you speak.”

Tears welled up and her face reddened. Cassana’s hand shot out, gripping a fistful of his tunic. She must have been aiming for his shoulder. Jon touched his own hand to her shoulder. “I saw mother,” she whispered. “I saw her there. With–“ As though to remove a lump that had formed in her throat, she coughed.   

“I know.” Her eyes jumped to his, holding his gaze fixedly. “I have known for some time now.” Drawing her nearer, as one might with a spooked colt, he eased his other arms around her waist. “I am so very sorry you had to find out like that. It must have shaken you quite badly.”

Her breath hitched, her fingers dug deeper until they pressed painfully into his flesh. “You knew?” Seeing no sense in retracting and hiding behind a lie, he confirmed it. “How? When?” The rest he could piece together from the way her jaw tightened.

“I suspected it. If one does pay attention, it becomes easier to spot. The rest does not matter.” Cassana was shaking her head.  

“She lied to us. She lied to father.” Jon’s lips pulled downwards. “Why must I be cursed with such parents?”

“Nay; do not speak such words. Whatever she does is her own burden, not yours.” That was not quite true though. Jon was willing to let it slide for the moment. “Listen to me, I know not why she does what she does, and I know how you feel right now. Trust in me, won’t you?”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Usually, dinner was akin to sitting on a pincushion full of needles. Lyanna had been prepared for as much. Robert she knew would not be home in the evening, opting to spend the night in one of the many brothels he frequented. His absence was keenly felt by the younger ones, for they oft asked for him. On this day, however, it was Cassana who did the asking and Lyanna was not certain she liked what she saw in the girl’s face.

“He has matters to attend to, sweetling,” she answered, not truly understanding the bitter look accompanying the question. “You needn’t worry. He will be back by the morrow.”

Jon put down his fork, or rather let it drop with a loud clatter. “Aye, sister. With the hunt so close, he is sure to return by morning.” Lyanna caught the underlying warning and shot her son a questioning look. But Jon was already gazing into his bowl, as though the most fundamental questions, the very meaning of existence found answer among the lettuce leaves in his bowl.

She leaned back in her chair and considered the pair of them. The septa simply raised one eyebrow at her oldest charge. “My lady, are you still not well enough to be in company? Does your head upset you?” Cassana blushed. Her shoulders fell. And her grimace faded.

“It does pain me a little,” she admitted. It was, of course, a lie. Whatever troubled her had little to do with an upset head, or stomach, of leg, or whatever other excuse had been concocted. “Might be I should return to my bedchamber.”

“Nonsense. You may certainly sit with us, daughter. Even if you must be silent when doing so, on account of your discomfort.” The girl’s jaw worked through what Lyanna doubted was anything other than a curse. “Maekar,” she turned her attention to the boy who was picking out lettuce leaves from his soup for what had to be the fifth time in a row, “I promise you, there is no poison in the food. The lettuce is edible. And I do expect you to eat it.”    

“I do not like lettuce, mother,” he said, voice as small as it could possibly be.

“Mercy, child! Now you find the perfect time to be fussy?” Maekar allowed his spoon to stir the concoction in his bowl. “This will be your lesson then. The next time be so good as to tell us you do not like lettuce.” A week ago he liked lettuce just fine.

“I forgot.” The boy genuinely seemed hurt by her outburst. Lyanna sighed and nodded her head. This day was turning out to be a lot more complicated than she had envisioned. “I’ll remember next time.” Come to think of it, Robert had been with them the last time they had lettuce soup. They complained a lot less when Robert had been present.

“I cannot read your thoughts,” she explained for each and every one of them. “If there is something bothering you, you must tell me. Or your good septa. Or your father. Just say something.” Before she could offer further instructions upon that matter, a knock on the door caused her to jump slightly in her seat. “Enter!” It was the wetnurse. In a bid to have some peace, she had elected to have Ned and Steff eat in the nursery. Alas, it seemed that it was not to be.

“My lady,” the halting beginning could not possibly signify anything good. She focused all her attention on the woman and was surprised to find an expression of deep worry directed her way. “I–that is, the child. Steffon–“

A lump settled in her throat. “What? What happened to my Steffon?” She was not conscious of having moved, but the next thing she knew, her hands were on the wetnurse’s shoulders, squeezing. “Go on then. What happened to the babe?” She must have moved therefore.

“He won’t nurse, my lady? Been crying since sundown too.” She stiffened. She had been to see the children and all seemed well then. “I think it might be a fever.”

“A fever?” Lyanna gasped. “How could my son get a fever?” She had made certain he was well dressed when she took him out. And no one beside her took him out usually. “Romilda,” she addressed the septa with a tad more familiarity than she would under different circumstances, “did you take the boy without.”

“Nay, my lady,” answered the woman. “But it might just be something not agreeing with him. It would be better to see the poor mite before we decide whether it be fever or aught else.”

At that she calmed down somewhat. The fool of a wetnurse still regarded her with worry. “Apologies, my lady. I did not mean to cause you concern.”  As though telling a parent their child was ill could end up with any other results. She nodded nevertheless and beckoned Romilda forth.

“Children, finish your meal. Cassana, put your sisters to bed after they are done. Jon, you help your sister, aye?” The eldest nodded. “Good, good. I shall go now.”

As good as her word, she followed the wetnurse without. The septa came behind her. She heard the words she addressed the twins. But Lyanna was not worried. The twins would behave. They were not prone to causing trouble. Her thoughts, however, flew to Steffon. Might be his stomach was upset. It happened with babes. It could look an awful lot like a cold as well. She hoped beyond hope that was it.

The nursery rang with the weeping of children. It seemed Ned had joined his sibling in crying. She pulled a face at the din and motioned for Romilda to close the door.  “There now,” she spoke gently, attracting the attention of both boys. Ned ran all the way to her and caught onto her skirts, small fists tugging with surprising force. Steffon was still crying though.

“Surely you were trying to comfort your brother,” she told the older child, stroking his head lovingly. “Come along.” Ned continued to hold onto her skirts as she moved towards Steffon. The babe reached out for her and Lyanna bent to pick him up. As soon as he was in her arms, though, he hid his face against her shoulder. A low-pitched whine erupted from his lips. “What is it, sweet babe?” Lyanna questioned, rocking him gently.

Steffon alternated between trembling and weeping, apparently not quite decided how he wished to proceed. Nevertheless, his balled his fists against her. “Hush, hush sweetling.” Tugging him away gently, she gazed into his reddened face. Wide, doe-eyes stared solemnly at her, tear tracks running down his cheeks. Thin lips smacked together in a repetitive pattern.

“He won’t eat, mother,” Ned said, pulling to get her attention. Lyanna glanced at him and nodded, allowing a small smile to pass over her lips. “Is he ill?”

“Nay. I do not think so.” Pressing her lips to the boy’s forehead, Lyanna attempted to gauge the temperature. She could not find that it was too high. But he was a little warm. “There is no fever, sweet. Nay, there is not.”

She placed Steffon back in the crib. “Might be a n acolyte should see to him,” the septa suggested, moving beside Lyanna. “It can do no harm, my lady. Especially now that the weather fluctuates as it does.”       

There would be an acolyte, Lyanna decided. But not for some time yet. “The poor dear,” she cooed at the child. She would have fed him herself, but with each subsequent birthing she had less and less to feed them on. It was the primary reason for which she required a nursemaid in the first place. Loathe as she was to accept it, she needed the aid.

The North dealt a lot less with procuring wetnurse. The important houses might employ some, but there was need behind that as opposed to adherence to a trend. Lyanna had always imagined it had to do with women needing to feed their own young and being unable to sustain two or more at the same time. Although some women could certainly do that as well. She herself had had enough trouble nursing her first three children. By the time the twins came along, her desperation had pushed for a wetnurse. She did not like other women handling her children, no more than the wild she-wolves of her homeland might have, Lyanna imagined. And if she were entirely honest, she could say she saw much difference between the children.

The first wetnurse had, at the very least, been a kind thing, approaching her midling age. A mother many times over, she’d taken the twins in place of her own recent loss. Lyanna had been pleased with that woman. Were it up to her, she’d have left all her children to her care. Alas, a bee, of all things, foiled her plans. It was unimaginable, yet true, the wetnurse had succumbed to the sting of a bee. Shaking the thought away, she regarded Steffon kindly.

“Mother, is Steffon feeling better now?” Ned questioned innocently, supposing that If the weeping subsided it was a sign. The poor lad. Lyanna nodded, so as to not disabuse him. “Can I play with him?”

“Not so fast, my love. He may be feeling a little better,” as suggested by his behaviour, “but that does not mean you can rile him up. You may play with him on the morrow, aye?”

Ned curled his lips downwards. She picked him up and handed him over to the septa. “Take this one to bed as well.” Her son protested, but all his words were dutifully muffled against the other woman’s shoulder. “I shall be by soon enough,” Lyanna promised.

The wetnurse remained. “My lady, what shall I do?”

“Find me some warm milk and a clean cloth, Bring honey and warm water, aye?” The woman nodded, or so Lyanna assumed. “I expect you will be quick about it.” She knelt by the crib and began speaking in babble to her son. He replied in kind. “Come, say something to mother.” Of course there were no actual words Steffon was willing to spill out so late in the day. “Might be it would be better to call an acolyte now.” Between the two notions, Lyanna wished she knew with a certainty how the whole matter would turn out.

Fortunately for her, the wetnurse returned with the required items. Lyanna set to thinning the milk with the hot water and then added the honey in, stirring until she was quite certain there was no more of it lingering at the bottom of the cup. Then she dipped the clean cloth in milk and pulled it out, noting that Steffon’s interest did not stray from her. She lifted the cloth to his face. “Say ‘ah’.” He opened his mouth.

As Steffon gnawed on the offering, Lyanna was busily calculating whether she had added enough water. The babe seemed pleased with what he got. “Do you enjoy that?” Eyes peeled to her, the child suckled happily. It seemed a good enough substitute and he was eating, in a sense. “Watch him carefully this night. If in the morn he does not wish to eat as he usually would, call for the acolyte.”

“And if he should eat as he usually does?” the wetnurse questioned.

“Watch him throughout the day.” She was growing rather exasperated. It had to be the girl’s young age. Or simply that she could not mother children properly. Some women never could. “Report to me if aught should be amiss.” Holding in her sigh, she brushed her fingers through the child’s hair. Tugging the cloth free, she dipped it in milk once more and returned it. The babe was quite happy to attack it once more. It would take some waiting for her to figure out if the milk agreed with his stomach. “That’s it, my sweet. Eat.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elia tapped her finger against the arm of the chair, considering the woman standing before her. “Two beautiful children,” she offered, wondering if the ice she could feel just beneath the thin veneer her once-upon-a-time companion’s skin would melt. She doubted that. “Quite the coincidence that they should bear the names they do.”

“Whatever do you mean by that, Your Majesty?” Ashara asked, the slim smile slipping form her face momentarily. “It is no coincidence. My lord husband wished to honour His Majesty.”

“Aye, I understood as much when he named the son Rhaegar.” A desperate bid to retain some of her own Rhaegar’s attention. Elia would have laughed were it not likely to see her in some trouble. Trouble which would rock some boats. “But Rhaella for the girl? Did he not wish to honour the queen of the Seven Kingdoms as well?”

“It is not a wife’s place to question her lord husband.” And at that Elia did not stop her laughter. This was utterly unbelievable.”I would not expect Your Majesty to understand.” Her laughter died, eyes narrowing in a glare. “Not every single kingdom has the rules of Dorne.”

“My apologies. It must be difficult to be wedded to such a man, forever absorbed in matters of the state.” Might be she should not be as cruel. It was certainly no fault of Ashara’s that she had been singled out. Well, she was certainly very beautiful, but that was not so much her fault as a simple accident of fate. “Still, you’ve two wonderful children. And I suppose that makes up for much of the coldness.”

Ashara pursed her lips. She did not though. “I am in full support of my lord. He is doing what must be done.I’ve no complaints on that account.” Not even a single sign of shame. Elia sighed and reached for her cup. Ashara did not give way. Not that she had expected the woman might. Head-strong and immovable, naught could touch her. And that because her brother was a Kingsguard and her husband sat the King’s council. There was certainly pride in that.

Her question though was whether the two children were as well so heavily tied to the King, might be by blood. It certainly fit her hapless husband’s attitude. He enjoyed these young things. Lyanna Stark, Ashara Dayne. The gods knew how many others. There was still some good to come out of it. Elia took comfort, “Of course, as any dutiful wife might.” There was only a slight edge to her words. “And you are dutiful?”

“I know not what I have done to incur your ire, Your Majesty; I am simply trying to survive.” She would not be goaded into giving away her knowledge so easily.

“You will survive, as long as I allow you. Do not forget that.” Ashara frowned. “’Tis nice that you attempt to look so innocent, but I must warn that there are no secrets here. My suggestion, do not step on any toes, lady, else I will not hesitate to do what I must.”

They had to be Rhaegar’s. Connington was wholly unable to plant any seed, at least not anywhere that it might grow. And her husband seemed to enjoy other men’s wives best. Even better should the husband have no complaint. And the Seven knew Connington would tie his wife to the bed himself if he thought for even a moment she might satisfy his dear King. “I am not your enemy. Not yet at any rate. Might be you should try to keep it that way.” She watched the other woman’s face morph. “Keep to your corner. Keep your head down and make no trouble.”

“I cannot imagine what has caused this bitterness within you, and I know not why you wish to abuse me, Your Majesty. I was you companion, and, to my mind, your friend. For at least a little while.”

“A very little while; certainly not enough to inspire devotion, aye?” Ashara stared at her lap, refusing to give any one answer. That was more than enough confirmation. “You will learn soon enough that the years change us all.” For worse, that was, had anyone bothered to ask her. But then she had no one asking her; more the pity. “I have grown bored. You may leave now, my lady. This is more than enough for the moment. I am certain there are many other wishing for your company. Be off with you then, Ashara, and remember what I have told you.”

When the woman looked up, her eyes shone with aught Elia did not enjoy seeing. Her answer was to meet that gaze steadily. Years and years of Rhaegar running roughshod over her sensibilities had taught her well. If he had no shame and chose to raise his bastards underneath her nose, she would not leave him to it without complaint. She watched Ashara take her leave.

Even better, she could finally shake the smug Lyanna Stark out of her sense of certainty. It would prove to the insolent wretch one and for all that she could not count on Rhaegar’s support for all time. He was a man. Like all men, he was fickle. The lady’s own husband should have taught her as much. But then there was little devotion to be found in that one, might be something she had learned from her husband. It would certainly make sense.

No matter, Ashara was twice the woman Lyanna could ever hope to be. Certainly, her age neared Elia’s, but she retained much of her youth. Where one put that there were a lot image-altering changes in the younger one. It had to be that Rhaegar had tired of his little she-wolf. Tired of her enough to bring in a new mistress, or at least one he’d not seen in some time. Bound to be as good as new. And she would enjoy it very much when her Northerner opponent finally realised what was happening.

The gods knew she would be willing to warn her. Or rub her face in. She’d waited long enough.  

 

       

   

  

    

 

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Aegon heard the soft whooshing. He would have ignored it, but for the fact it was accompanied by a quiet sniffle. He stopped in his tracks and debated with himself whether he should turn around that very instance and leave whoever was there to their emotional release. On the other hand, he could reach out to whoever it was that saw fit to cry in the middle of the gardens of all places. Nay, it would be rather rude to leave with nary a word, especially as it sounded the likes of a woman. Thus Aegon squared his shoulder and prepared to take on whatever awaited him.

What he had not expected, and was likely to leave him confused for many moon turns to come, was the sight of the Baratheon heir with his arms firmly wrapped around his weeping sister. Jon, he knew very well, would stay far, far away when women cried. But then, he supposed he could not ignore him own sister.

“Enough now, Cassana.” But then something about the other’s face put him on edge. “If I cannot trust you to behave–“ The sister drew back and held a hand up, trying to cover her brother’s mouth. That worked about as well as one might expect. Jon caught her wrist and pushed the limb away with ease. "Best not."

"Best not what?" he inquired, unable to help himself. As though a manner of devil had struck its tail among his thoughts. Both brother and sister turned to face him completely. One blanched in the manner the ill did when leeched, the other retained a frightfully calm mask. Naught ever ruffled Jon's feathers. Aegon might have expected it. That he still managed to muster a modicum of wonder rankled. "Why is Cassana crying?"

He had never taken any manner of interest in the doe-like creature. Some years younger than his own sister, Rhaenys had never had much to say about her either. Excepting those occasions when she would giggle behind the palm of her hand, telling him some manner of mischief. Nothing to turn one hair at, certainly. Just those small instances of misbehaviour young ladies indulged in every so often. He remembered laughing at it, teasing his sister about having done the same. But he'd heard the same about many a noble daughter. Naught stood out about the stag's get. Might be with the exception that she was kin to Jon and he stood a brother to Aegon.

Yet seeing her now, staring like some sort of doe facing the hunter's bow chilled him to the marrow. He suppressed a shudder. He was not to endure such for long though. Before he could further question the siblings, the eldest broke away from his sister. Jon took a step towards him and looked as though he might offer explanation. And that was when the terror-gripped does sprang to life, pouty lips losing some of their sullenness. "I apologise," she started, "what a fool I must seem. Pray pay us no mind, Your Grace. 'Tis a silly, silly thing. And Jon was right to scold me."

That was a lie if Aegon had heard one. No woman would ever admit any man was right on any put-down he delivered, no matter how much merit he had. In fact, his own sister would die before admitting any man had the better of her. He imagined Cassana was the same. If anything, she would resemble her lady mother. And the Seven knew Lady Lyanna would not allow any man to speak down to her. More than once the esteemed lady had flayed some unfortunate soul that had walked into the trap. If most houses boasted a daring lord that struggled through the many tangles of court life, house Baratheon had gained through what many hailed as a very good alliance, an iron-fisted lady in front of whom more than one courtier trembled. No matter that Robert Baratheon himself bowed to his wife’s whims although Aegon suspected that had to do more with the fact that she never nagged about his well-known entertainments.

Her daughter would surely not fail to live up to her mother’s example. “Of course he was,” he agreed, putting his foot in his mouth, as it were. “But my question was why. And I intend to find out why. You might as well tell me and save yourself the bother.”

Jon hesitated. Aegon noted that and filed the information away, for later use. The point remained, however, that his friend was trying to keep something from him. Whatever it was, the very fact that he did so made it impossible for Aegon to ignore. He decided, in that moment, that he would find out what the matter was. Aegon crossed his arms over his chest and counted in his mind the appropriate pause-time.

“It’s the harp.” Jon turned towards his sister. Aegon watched them exchange looks. “Father damaged my harp.” He couldn’t tell what expression his friend bore. What he did know though was that Cassana had not regained her colour. And that put him on edge. “See, Your Grace? Hardly anything to pay mind to.” She offered a wan smile. Aegon cocked his head to the side. “I admit I might have exaggerated with the tears.”

The brother turned around once more at that point. Jon nodded his head as though to strengthen Cassana’s point. “As you can see, Your Grace, my sister was simply allowing herself a few instances of theatrics.” And that rang falser still.

“Over a harp?” He made certain his doubt seeped through the question. Neither sibling replied. “I have Rhaenys’ harp yet. You might have simply asked for it.” Had he expected aught which signified gratitude he would not see it from Baratheon’s children. Cassana did force herself to plaster a smile upon her face, a poor imitation of her usual gaiety. “I would have been very glad indeed to rid myself if it. ‘Tis a burden.”

“I couldn’t possibly,” the girl attempted to dissuade him. Aegon would have none of it. She might have owned up to whatever troubled her. "My lord father would not approve and I dare say Her Grace would not either."

"I doubt Rhaenys would mind. And should she have any complaints, I will simply remind her she left the instrument to me. As its owner I may do with it as I wish and I wish to give it to you." He grinned back at her, feigning ignorance over the reaction. " Jon, do not hesitate the next time your sister needs aught. After all, you as close as a brother to me." Cassana, for some unknown reason, winced.

"Your Grace is kind." Such bland words. It became apparent that as long as the two of them remained together they would not betray the other's confidence. Nay, he needed some sort of distraction. The sooner, the better.

For the moment though, he merely offered a nod and watched the girl make her excuses. Without much fuss, she was sauntering away, leaving only him and Jon. His companion had turned to watching him once his sister was out of sight. “I will found out either way if there is trouble,” he said, after a few moments of contemplation. “Besides, I cannot help unless I know what the goal is.”

“Cassana told you, Your Grace. It is about her harp.” Jon could lie. Sometimes he could do it tremendously well. This was not one of those times.

“I will believe that when pigs fly over the moon, my friend.” Jon sighed heavily. “It was a bold attempt, I’ll give you that, and she played her role well. I fear for her future husband, whoever he is. One taste of her theatrics and he’ll be bringing the moon down for her.” And an assortment of stars just to be sure. Jests aside, Aegon did not expect the reticence and he liked it not one bit. “This is not like you, my friend.”

“Neither is it something you will learn. Some matters,” the younger said, voice dropping low “are best left alone.”

“Am I to understand you refuse, under any circumstances, to speak?” One day, he would repay Jon in kind. Until then though, frustration gnawed at him.

“Indeed.” Lord Baratheon’s heir shifted until he was nearer to the tree. “I am asking you, as my friend, not to question this. Some matters not even princes need be interested in.”

“When those matters concern those dear to me, I am hard pressed not to take an interest. Very well, I will respect your wish.” For the time being. As soon as he was able to he’d pry the answers away. Jon allowed himself a nod. “Shall we move, or do you plan to spend the rest of your day here?” His companion shrugged.

Mayhap it would be prudent to seek Robb’s aid. That one was bound to know more about the going-on in Jon’s home, as it were. Or he might be able to extract some curious information from his father. Aye, Robb would do nicely.   

Seeming to have regained his bearing, Jon finally abandoned the tree. Aegon followed suit, more out of habit than with intention. “I have been meaning to ask, will your father truly allow Maekar on the hunt?”

“Why shouldn’t he? My brother is old enough for it.” Aegon recalled his first hunt. He’d been so much younger than Maekar. “Mother has had arguments to make up to this point, but Maekar grows tired of indulging her and father, well, he never does miss an opportunity to remind her that he is the one who decides in the end.”

If anything that made Aegon flinch. Jon rarely commented upon his parents’ marriage. And when he did, it was not particularly flattering. “Just as well; he should learn. It would be a pity to grow without having felt the thrill of the hunt.”

“Aught tells me you and Maekar will have a fine day of it. I can see you are much restored, Your Grace.” A wolfish smile appeared on Jon’s face. The one which usually meant he thought himself the victor.

“Will you quit with that? I am not Your Grace to you, Jon. I never was.” He shook his head. Aegon felt his face heat up. “I never treated you like a prince might a future vassal.”

“That does not change what we are.” Nor did it put a damper of who they were. What Aegon did find interesting though was the sudden and rather brutal manner in which the other had spoken. “A year from now, you will be a man grown. Do you think the King will allow us to gallivant about still? You will be sent to Dragonstone more’s the like.”

“What does that signify? I can take whoever I wish with me.” But that was not necessarily true. Jon he could not retain, not in the same manner he might Robb. “I do not know what has brought this on, however, I am inclined to overlook it.”

“Very gracious of you, Aegon.” They’d already reached the main path leading through the gardens. “Continue to do so. I would be forever in your debt.” He must have struck a cord, he suspected. Jon he would not get anywhere with.

“I know. I am the soul of grace and kindness. Now that we have established as much, and I am duly vindicated, I should return to the keep, as should you.”  Before anyone decided to send a search party after them. And the gods knew he thought any of their mothers capable of that.

“The soul of grace and kindness indeed. Let us hope the soul of grace and kindness will be on time on the morrow; Robb has been itching to match skills again. According to him, he will be winning.”

“According to him, he would have one every single one of our matches. And that should tell you all you need to know. Will you be there?”

“Nay, I’ve matters to attend to.”

No matter how hard he tried to find out what those matters were, Jon remained as forthcoming as a boulder. In the end, Aegon had to admit defeat on that account as well, with a promise to himself that he would find that out as well. In the meantime, trouble brewed in his own cauldron. Supper awaited him. And with it, his parents. His two very much at loggerheads parents.

That much was apparent to him the moment he stepped within the chamber. His father was sitting at the head of the table, listening to what seemed to Aegon a forceful chiding. From his expression, his son could already tell what he thought. “You cannot keep doing this, Rhaegar. I will not stand for it.”

“I cannot, can I?” He had to admit, even if the arguments grated on his nerves something fierce, he could still appreciate the “My lady, much as it pains me to point this out, I have yet to allow myself to be led by anyone. I do not plan to do so either. Pray put away your claws, you’ve no need for them and neither do I.”

His mother’s lips thinned in a straight bloodless line. His father though simply turned his gaze upon Aegon and motioned him over. “You needn’t stand there, son.”

“I did not wish to intrude.” There was a nod for him and a slightly smile from his mother, who was brilliantly adept at changing her facial expression as the situation dictated.

“You couldn’t,” his mother assured him, sliding right back into her role. One day he would cease being taken aback by the ease with which people pretended one thing or another. One day, he would not be taken in by any mask no matter how artfully applied. “Where have you been?”

“Without.” Lending credibility to his earlier concerns, his mother proved yet again that if he were to run late on a constant basis she would happily have the gardens searched, every single corner. He sat down, gazing at the bowl of soup awaiting his attention. Aegon picked up the spoon and placed it in the thick liquid.

“Aegon, what is on your mind?” Was it truly necessary to converse, he wondered. He might have pretended not to have heard were it not for his father’s presence.

A lot was on his mind. It began with the looming arrival of his betrothed. The thought of having to pay court to the girl left him somewhat at a loss. On the one hand, he did not care overmuch for the thought of marriage. On the other hand, failure to comply would end in dispute. Then there was the fact than Jon and Cassana were acting as though they planned a rebellion, sneaking about and whispering in darkened corners. And, of course, the hunt. Much as he enjoyed the thought of it, the issue remained it was an opportunity to shine. While at the same time it presented the possibility of failure.

“I was thinking of Rhaenys’ harp.” Lying was contagious. A veritable plague which latched onto one’s soul and festered. He stopped himself from wincing as he spoke the words, though he could not be certain he was not betrayed by other signs. Alas, there was little other choice. He was not about to unburden himself at the supper table.

A small gasp left the sole woman’s lips. “Like father, like son, I suppose. Lady Margaery would doubtlessly appreciate the careful consideration.” Lady Margaery would appreciate any consideration. Not because she held him in regards, heavens nay.

“Actually, lady mother, I was thinking of allowing Lady Cassana to take possession of the harp.” He purposefully kept his gaze away from his mother’s face. If there was one thing he could tell without putting his sight in peril, it was that that would displease her.

“Lady Cassana Baratheon?” That was his father.

“I know no other Lady Cassana.” He should have controlled his impulse. He failed. He did not regret it in the slightest.

“Absolutely out of the question.” Cold fury. He’d not expected that. “Your sister’s harp was left to you. If you do not want it, have it sent to Riverrun. She might enjoy it more. As for Lady Cassana, she may have a harp if her lord father will buy it for her.”

“Why does she need a new harp?” Aegon drew in a slow breath, not entirely certain if e should go on or simply abandon the thought. “I thought she and her cousin had both received like instruments.”

“Rhaegar! The harp belongs to Rhaenys.” And it was just a harp. Annoyed, Aegon turned the heat of his glare upon his mother.

“It is merely a harp,” his father pointed out. “Rhaenys would not begrudge her brother his desire to do someone a good turn. Now let us hear about Lady Cassana’s harp.”

“I do not know,” Aegon admitted. “Apparently her lord father broke the harp somehow.” He caught a mere glimpse of something dark behind his father’s gaze. Instinctively, he fidgeted in his seat. “I told her I would give the harp to lift her spirits.”

“It is your harp,” his father answered, tone lacking in inflexion. “You may do as you wish with it, no matter that your lady mother protests. “Just be certain it is what you wish to do.” What he wished to do. He was being given a choice. A choice which he could make whichever way he desired. Aegon could hardly believe it, yet there it was. His choice. And his father seemed to trust him to make the right choice.

“Rhaenys would not mind, lady mother. I do not mind either. Lady Cassana may have the harp.” It might not be what the girl truly wished for, but having put the plan in motion, he saw no means of stopping it.

“Very well, my son. Do as you wish. I shan’t make further attempts to stop you.” Yet she was displeased. Aegon returned his attention to the food. How he longed to be in his own bedchamber.  

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This has been amusing, my lady, but I fear you go too far.” Elia glowered, displeasure written all over her features. “I will not pretend to understand the cause of it. I will not pretend to tolerate this either. So tell me, what has you so very irritated?”

“There is no use in speaking to you if you plan to mock me for it.” She sat down in one of the chairs and crossed her arms over her chest. “She is doing this to undermine my authority, can you not see as much?” If not for the fact that she seemed genuinely distressed and she was making quite the noise about it, he might have ignored her. As matters stood, he sat down as well after having put away the small knife he carried in his sleeve.

“Elia, the world does not revolve around you. I am very certain Lady Lyanna does not give you much thought outside the mandatory rituals which must be carried out. I have told you once, I tell you yet again, you are my wife,” for better or worse and on this night the worse seemed to be tipping the scale, “and you have nothing to fear. Could I be any clearer than that?”

“You do not understand women. You never have,” his wife chided. “You must make it clear to her she is not to be treated favourably just because at this moment she holds your interest. Give the woman an inch and she’ll take a mile and more. Of course to your eyes that should be naught. But I depend on you.”

He laughed. He could not help himself. The day she depended on him was the day the sun fell out of the sky. “Dear wife, there is no need for mummery. You never needed me. In fact, you did not need as much as my consent. You only had need to consult your desires upon the matter and forge an alliance here. You might have done differently. You did not. And now, well, should I choose to favour another, you’ve no cause for complaint. Especially not when I have done my utmost best to keep the matter in the dark.”

“You are not still mad, are you? I did not impose anything upon you, husband. You had a choice. You might have refused.” It was her turn to laugh. Not loudly. She never had been one to laugh loudly when intending to wound. “Admit it.”

“That choice.” He made a soft sound in the back of his throat. “What a choice. Wed you or lose everything that I was ever promised. I wonder if you were given such a choice? Nay; do not answer. It does not matter. ‘Tis enough for me that you know to a young man’s mind you were more palatable than a miserable existence cast away in some world forgotten corner.”

Her jaw twitched. “No insult is greater to me than the one you have perpetually dealt me by allowing your mistress to thumb her nose at me. If you allow her daughter to set her cap at my son, I will not stand idly by.”

“Elia, we speak of a harp. It is not a confession of undying love. Had Aegon set his eyes upon the lady, we would have known. Robert would not have been silent about it. He hasn’t. Our son knows his duty. He will do right by us.”

“Knowing and doing are not one and the same. If you think for one moment this is not some ploy she has hatched to get under my skin, you are a fool. And she is using the poor girl who, not knowing any better, does as her mother dictates. Her heart would be crushed. And you will have encouraged this outcome by not intervening at the right time.” Such was her delivery that he could not ignore the heat behind the words. Instead, Rhaegar reclined against his seat and brought his hand to rest his chin upon.

“This is not some ploy she has hatched to needle you, my lady. Unlike you, the lady knows her place and will not risk my wrath with such plans. Pray do not try turning us against one another. There is no great conspiracy to shake you from your pedestal; there is no need to imagine shadows where there are none and predators where you have safety and comfort.” This was growing slightly out of hand. He had been avoiding such a confrontation for the sole reason that as such it would bring too much trouble. “We do not need dissension. We do not need confusion. Let us not court either and keep matters as they are.”

“That is very easy for you to say. You’ve nothing to lose.” A grim little smile sprang to life upon his lips. “Do not give me such an expression.”

“If I have nothing to lose then that is no fault of mine. My patience is running thin besides. If you can find definitive proof that there is a plot being unravelled, then I will not hesitate to protect you. I should hope I am not so blind as to allow harm to come to my family. Is that more to your liking?”

“At least you have not dismissed me out of hand.” A nod passed for agreement. “Promise me one thing though; if I should find the proof, you will not hesitate. You will remove the threatening elements. All of them, no matter their nature.”  

“I swear to you, my lady, if there is cause, I will remove any which one person thinking they may do as they wish. There, will that do?”

“It will do admirably. There are times when you are quite reasonable. I like you then; I do not like you most of the time.” That he did not allow to bother him overly. She would believe what she wanted to believe and he would make certain her delusions were met with a swift end. “You may depart, my lady.” She did.

He did not seek Lyanna straight away. Nay, no matter that he wanted to find some peace and stillness before long; it would pay to exercise some patience. He called to him his long-time companion. Richard arrived with nary a sound, as was his custom. “What manner of man pulls one from one’s rest without a single though to old bones and exhaustion?” There was no heat behind the complain for which Rhaegar treated it with a grin. “Your Majesty.”

“Lonmouth, at times I wonder where you find your daring. I do not advise persisting.” His friend waved his hand. “Shall I simply skip to the whys?”

“That would be gracious of you. I confess, I am slightly distracted.” Better than naught, Rhaegar supposed. He nodded in understanding, wondering what or who exactly had so captured the other man’s attention. The interest was brief though. Lonmouth would come to him if there was some manner of trouble.

“I want you to look into a matter for me. There is this very strange rumours I have heard. That Lord Baratheon seeks an alliance with us. And yet he has not approached me. Could it be that the man lacks courage? Or wit?” One eyebrow arched, his companion shook his head.

“I’d heard it slightly differently, Your Majesty. Lord Baratheon does seek an alliance, ‘tis true, but it seems his sight is set upon Connington’s heir. That boy, Rhaegar, I believe, might be. Confusion is not entirely improbable.” Nay; Lyanna would have surely told him something had that been the case. He frowned. “’Tis not certain, Your Majesty. I shall look further into it.”

“You do that,” he said after brief hesitation. Somewhat put off, he dismissed Richard. It was so very unlike Lyanna to avoid sharing her plans with him. And he had seen her privately so very recently. To make not even a single reference to aught of such import; he did not know what to say to that.

Abandoned to the silence, Rhaegar considered his options. He could wheedle everything out of her mouth. He could also simply wait for her to come to him with the matter. The trouble with the second option was that he was not entirely certain she would. Lyanna had a stubbornness streak a mile long and when she took into her head to act in a certain manner only dire conditions could curtail her. Long ago, when he’d been a fool young man thinking he might temper a snowstorm disrupting the calm proceedings of his existence, the lady had laughed, told him he would need more than a harp to soothe her and slipped past him with a gleam in her eyes. Had he not already been carrying a torch for the mite at the time, he would have surely fallen to the merciless blow of amour. Fortunately for him, his brush with chaos left him with a lesson.

With that in mind, he opted for the middle path. Measure in all matters should indeed prove the wiser choice. Such contemplations saw him through the darkened corridors leading from his chamber to his lover’s.

He happened upon her just as she was tying her hair out of the way. “How, Your Majesty, I see you have not gone to bed yet! And I thought this has been a most tiring day.” Paying him little enough mind, she moved about the chamber. “The morrow brings new challenges.”

“Challenges?” he echoed, moving behind her. He did not need to cast a glance at the face peering at him from within the looking-glass. “What manner of challenges?”

“The manner for which one needs to be well-rested. By the by, I will have to postpone our meeting.” He flinched.

“Why is that?” Could it be as Elia had said? Nay.

Lyanna turned around, eyes moving upon his. “I am looking to make a new friend,” she said. “You see, this particular friendship requires some courting on my part.” Suspicion sank its claws within him. “I simply must take the opportunity. No need to make such a face, my love; I promise to better organise myself the next time.”

“And who exactly are you paying court to?”

“That would be Lady Ashara.” Tension heightened. “I thought of sending Cassana directly to the girl, but apparently she is shy and weary of forging new relationships. And I though if I spoke to her mother and she kept company with our Cassana some good might come of it.”

He felt rather lost at the moment. “Come again.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

“She certainly is pretty,” his sister commented, her hold on his arm turning nearly painful. Jon looked down at her. She was in a bright mood. That was not necessarily a bother, but she was in a bright mood nevertheless and her enthusiasm translated for headaches as far as he was concerned. “Will you try speaking to her?” He shrugged. Apparently such a response could not be allowed. “Jon, mother expects you to wed the girl.”

“Indeed, I trust she expects I shall wed her sometime in the future. Not on the morrow.” As tightly as Cassana clung to him, the girl clung to her twin. Rhaella and Rhaegar. Jon held back a sigh. Some things were simply much too obvious. He shook Cassana’s hold off. “Exercise some control, will you; I cannot ride with you, you know?”

She pouted. “I’ll just ride with Maekar then.” At that their brother gave Jon a slight smile. The sort which made excuses even before he opened his mouth to speak. “Ah, so it is like that. Very well. I will remember this.”

“I just want to hunt, Cass. Why can you not ride with someone else?” He looked about, as though in search of a perfect partner.

“If you are looking for cousin Sansa you might as well give up.” Sansa had declined the invitation to join them, electing to remain with her lady mother. And as their own lady mother chose to spend time with Steffon and whatever ailment produced a sour stomach in the child, Jon had been left with clear instruction as to what was expected of him. “I hate the both of you. And if I could, I would trade you in a heartbeat.”

“Trade your brothers, my lady?” Jon flinched. Cassana had as well. He glanced towards the source of the sound. Aegon had slowed his pace, ostensibly to allow them to catch up. He should have been riding with the King. Jon did not get the time to point out as much. “Why would you do that?”

His sister, when he looked at her, blushed prettily. She’d been doing that ever since Aegon kindly lent her that harp. Jon had sworn to himself that it was only a loan. Cassana, however, seemed to see a tad more in it. “They are being awful. Just because I do not wish to hunt.”

Confusion touched the Prince’s face briefly. “But you can wield a bow, can you not? I thought Jon had said as much.”

“Apologies. What I mean when I say I do not hunt, Your Grace, is that I find little pleasure in the sport.” His friend arched a brow. “It is not fair to the beast, you see. We being so many.” At least Jon could be glad she hadn’t lost her love for chatter.

“My lady, we hunt to feed ourselves,” Aegon pointed out, leaning slightly forward, as though to catch a better glimpse of his sister. Stomach churning unpleasantly, Jon resisted the urge to break their conversation.

She laughed. This was not going to end well. “Your Grace, I cannot remember a single occasion in which any of us went hungry. If ‘tis truly a matter of satisfying basic needs, then why do we hunt only when it strikes His Majesty’s fancy? Are you suggesting His Majesty has no need for food?”

Aegon, despite being caught unawares, had the chuckle. Jon would have expected at least a dry remark. Nut there was nothing. Not even a glare. “Nay; I would not dare lie so blatantly. But you cannot deny we do feed on the flesh of beasts. And to do so, we hunt.”

“You and I, Your Grace, even if we should never put arrow to string, will never go hungry. Our positions afford us a host of individuals to take care of such needs.” Her smile lingered. And Aegon, fool that he was, returned it. A wonder he didn’t fall of his horse with the way he stared at Cassana. Fortunately for him, the steed had more sense than the master. “There, will that answer suffice?”

“You are certainly passionate about it.” Cassana nodded her head. “And what then should we do to entertain ourselves, if hunting is inadmissible?” Jon fondly considered knocking his friend on the head and dragging him away. Cassana he could not hope to temper. Might be frightening her into a state of quiet could achieve a minor victory. It would not last. And he would never be able to satisfactorily explain to Aegon why his sister should never draw his eye.

“Riding seems as fair option as many.” The Prince was nodding along and Makear, as though to compound Jon’s misery chortled. Cassana turned to glare at her younger brother. “Is there something you wish to share with us, Maekar?”

“If you were any more obvious, sister, father would be well and truly furious. As for you, Your Grace, it would be folly to give my sister even as little as an inch.”  If ever death came for him, Jon would embrace it gladly. However, that was only after he buried these two siblings of his.

“Maekar!” Cassana’s head swivelled Jon’s way, expectation shining bright in her eyes. “Jon, are you going to allow him to speak like that? Do you see what I have to deal with, Your Grace?” Her head was shaking. Her complaints would never fade.

“Maekar,” he sighed. “Cassana,” he followed. “Stop it. Both of you.” As though that might work.

“I see. Jon,” Aegon called his attention, slapping a hand upon his shoulder. “As you are my dearest friend, I will help you, this time. Lady Cassana, ride with me. Your brother may hunt and we shall find something else to occupy ourselves with.”

He’d been so very wrong. This was not simply going bad. It was going disastrously bad. “Should you wish it.”

It was because of that harp. Ever since she’d received the harp, she’d been singing the Prince praise. Jon had attempted to tell her the Prince was out of her reach, to which she’d answered with a laugh and assured him she had no designs upon the man. Which was tantamount to an admission, of course, of the exact opposite. He’d not been born a few hours past. “Maekar will follow.”

Maekar groaned. “But–“

“You will have other chances.” Clearly his solution elicited no small measure of distress. Alas, Jon did have to approach Rhaella Connington on the order of his mother. “Go along then, brother. Your Grace.” Aegon nodded, his smile still in place. Although, that he gazed at Cassana the very following moment did not give him much hope.

The three of the rode ahead with Jon’s half-hearted blessings. For his part, he eyed the Connington twins. While there was no septa tailing them, a household knight rode close by. Hunts were less formal affairs, and as such Jon could expect no rebukes should he speak to the girl. He’d been dragging his feet long enough upon the matter. In truth, the revelation that his mother meant to forge an alliance, had pushed him away and ahead at the same time, in equal measure. It would not last, his small defiance. He might as well give in.

And give in he did. Jon led his horse towards the couple. They heads bent in like positions, the twins exchanged words, apparently unbothered by the world around them. It was the knight who signalled his approach. Jon nodded at the man. The knight nodded back and retreated a few steps behind.

Rhaella greeted him with a murmur. Her brother was clearer. “Baratheon.” And more succinct. Jon answered in kind. “You are not riding ahead?”

He shook his head, aligning himself with the girl’s horse. She gazed at him quietly, content, might be, to listen to the exchange. “There is time enough for hunting,” he answered. “I thought, mayhap, you felt the same, since you were not hurrying ahead either.”

“I was keeping my sister company.” The sister flushed, skin reddening gently. He turned his face away and called to the knight, escaping further effort with such simple an action. He asked some question of the man which absorbed his entire stock of attention, ostensibly leaving Jon with Rhaella. It was almost as though the two felt about as awkward about the matter as he. Which implied the issue had been discussed, or that it was known at the very least.

“My brother though he pretends otherwise, does keep his attention on us still,” Rhaella let him know. That was more words than he’d ever heard from her lips. Jon nodded. “It is restrictive in some sense,” she mused, “but necessary. I do not know you at all.”

 “And I frighten you?” He might have worked on tempering his answer. Jon knew he should have done precisely that. Alas, the directness contrasting with the apparent shyness threw him off. She momentarily broke their stare. “Do I frighten you?”

“I daresay that is a most impertinent question.” Jon noted her gip slacked on the reins. “You frighten me. How could you not? You would be frightened as well if you were in my place.” He did not attempt to dissuade her. But he saw little reason for which she might fear him precisely as opposed to the fearing the situation. “In a sense, you are a snake in the gardens.”

He laughed. Jon had heard the story, of course. He supposed it would rather difficult not to. “And I suppose you are the maiden with the basket on arm. Very well, what if I promise not to bite should you lift me into the basket?”

“How very strange. A snake willing to make vows. If I recall, the maiden carried the snake to her keep and allowed it to rain down havoc upon her brethren. It took the vow of a man to see an end to that.”

“Considering your brother is here, the man should be easy enough to find,” he returned nonchalantly. “Fear can be alleviated by knowledge.” She nodded. “Knowledge is gained by exposure. This leaves us with very few options, my lady.”

“And you are bent to satisfy our elders.” Jon agreed with the assessment. “Why then not simply wait until they have pushed us together on their terms? Lady Cassana indicated that this was, after all, orchestrated by and for their advancement.”       

It was some manner of test. Jon considered her words. If he said he agreed because there would be little other option he would instil a certain idea. If he implied the idea was his own, it would mean aught else. How did he say it was both, though? “In the old tales, when Aldrish Ashenmark matches skill with Lorian Lodhrik, they do battle in the body of Byorr. The age of Byorr is past but it remains as a carcass for those who follow. Is that not a very strange choice?”

“I had not thought about that,” she admitted. “It sometimes does seem that we inhabit the decrepit body of our forefathers. Corpses ought to be buried, or burnt even. These in so sense in leaving them to be preyed upon, or, worse even, gain admiration. Decaying flesh no matter the form serves no purpose.”

“Might be not at first glance,” Jon allowed, pleasantly surprised by the follow-up. “But it informs those who come after of many an event. You will know thieves lie in wait upon narrow roads if there are victims visible upon the ground. Nature might well decide to hide the corpse even if we do not dispose of it.”

“Highly unlikely. Nature does not care about us. Why would it attempt to stop us?”     

“Precisely because it does not care. Indifference will inform naught. Hate, on the other hand, might. But as you pointed out, hate does not stem from glorious nature.”

“Methinks nature is not being given due praise. Might be it would be wiser to placate it.”

“Might be. I reckon, though, it would be infinitely more entertaining to lead it. Naturally that mean I need all the help that I can get.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You do not have to cling to my skirts,” Cassana hissed out at her brother who was glowering back at her just as fiercely. Since there was yet time until the chase proper would begin, it was, more or less, allowed that they ride about. Just as long as they were sure not to go too farther out. Not that Cassana was worried about that.

The one thing that did worry her though was her brother. For once in his life Maekar was taking Jon’s words seriously. It just had to be the one time she wished he didn’t. What rotten luck. “And this is why Jon wanted me to stay with you,” Maekar pointed out with a light huff.

The Prince, for his part, was putting on a convincing show of not noticing their squabble. In fact, he drew her from Maekar’s side and pointed out to a narrow path. “I heard that some years back there were a lot of fox burrows down there.”

“Is that so?” She gave him a slow smile. “Might be there are still some left. We should take a look. Just to make certain they do not interfere with the hunt later on.” Maekar gave a string of weak protests.

“I thought you were against hunting,” Aegon sufficiently distracted her before she could retaliate.

“I am. I do not wish for anyone to be injured needlessly.” Which was precisely what made her plan genius. “We would not even need to be gone long. If it makes you feel any better, Maekar, you can hold my hand.” Her brother swore viciously, free to do so, given the lack of attention placed upon them. “No need to be quite that explicit.”

“Maekar, your sister is a lady. You should not use such words in her presence.” Her gwaping brother looked thoroughly betrayed. Cassana could barely hold back the amusement threatening to bloom into existence. If only she could hold onto this feeling. Cassana controlled herself, somehow. “My lady, if you want me to, I will send him back.”

“Your Grace.” Her complaint was only half-feigned. “It would not be proper at all. Maekar stays.” Much as she enjoyed the edge of danger, she would rather remain on this side of safety. “Brother, no more foul words. I have had enough of it from you. Might be if my mood should sweeten by the end of this you may use such speech once more.”

Makear was grumbling. Clearly, she had not managed to soften him. But the she did not need to. Her brother would likely report to Jon that she had not accepted a needlessly dangerous situation, which would work wonders on the eldest. And she could carry on with her entertainment. “Apologies, Your Grace. My brother is rather foolish at times. But I daresay ‘tis youth and not ill-intent.”

Aegon chuckled. “Whereas we, older and wiser, have little to do but temper him. I confess I am not against the notion.” She could not tell whether he indulged her because of Jon, or because he wished to. She might have overdone it.  

“Aye.” Unfortunately they could not continue on horse. What happened then was that the three steeds were tethered, secured against thievery, and left on their own. They would not be gone long. Cassana took hold of Maekar’s arm. “Here, brother, hold my arm, lest I should be lost.” She giggled at the threatening look he gave her. “Do not take on so. ‘Tis all good-natured teasing.” He did not let up. Not that she expected he might. Having decided to be sour for the duration of their adventure, he would continue to do so until either he grew tired of it, or their adventure came to an end.

Instead of dwelling on her brother’s behaviour, she took hold of the Prince’s arm. While the path was narrow, forcing them to compress together, she did not mind. While it was not perfectly compliant with what she’d imagined the outing would bring it, it was close enough that she could declare herself pleased. It might have been better to have Jon come along. But then he would have been a lot stricter than Maekar. All in all, her younger brother was the perfectly adequate.

Would there be any foxes? Nay, she rather thought that was not the case. Perhaps the Prince had been hoping she would accept his invitation. Cassana had to ask herself if the thought pleased her. It certainly reminded her of her mother. Her mother and her lover. But she would not allow that to bring her down. The Prince was not his father. She was not her mother. They were merely playing at courtship. There was no danger in that, she told herself, not as long as she kept firm hold of any hopes which might spring to life.

Pushing all notions of the King away, Cassana concentrated on the Prince’s expression. He’d directed his attention to the side of the path, but his upper arm was firmly pressed against her side. The touch burned. Not in the way fire might. There was no pain to it. There was no pleasure to it either, which she had not expected the absence of. In fact, Cassana had expected that she would feel something potentially profound. “Well, Your Grace, where could those foxes be, I wonder.” She deliberately whispered the question to the Prince.

“I know not, my lady. Might be we should step into the tall grass and search them out with greater care.” He spoke louder. Not in an attempt to foil her, she perceived, but as a dare. To her brother. Cassana held back a sigh.

She let go of both of them. “Go on then. See if you can find anything.” Maekar made a small attempt to drag her over the threshold as well but she firmly refused. “I will wait here patiently.” Her brother shrugged and stepped away from her. The Prince followed him. And she was glad, for that left her time to think.  

Her musing could be reliably harvested for only so long though as, it seemed, mere moments later whooshing filled her ears. She suppressed an annoyed hiss and turned about, prepared to chide Maekar for thinking he could sneak up on her. Yet it was not Maekar she saw when she glanced behind her. Instead, a snout sniffed at the ground. And she froze.

Cassana cursed the ill-fate which had goaded her into accepting to come here. Damned foxes. The babe at her feet had no trouble though. She, on the other hand, was considering the safest way to see herself out of danger, by carefully stepping backwards, her body gripped by swaying blades of grass and sucked further and further in. The piglet was upon the path now.

Should she call for Maekar? Nay; that would bring the sow about. Or heavens forbid the entire boar clan. Her best bet was to lose herself amid the sea of grass and find the two men. Likely as not, one of them, and here she was very certain it would be the Prince, would know how to proceed without endangering the rest.  

She tiptoed through the overgrowth grass, following thinner tracks. Maekar was the one she found first. He had, as it turned out, found a hole and was peering within it. Cassana approached him slowly. He heard her, for he looked up. Before she could speak, her finger rose to her lips and she shushed him, shaking her head for good measure. Once she’d reached his side, she knelt and whispered. “There are baby boars here. I reckon ‘tis not safe to remain here. Did you see where His Grace went?”

Maekar nodded and stood. “Stay here. I can find him much quicker than you can.” With him looking down on her, she felt like a child. “Cassana, promise.”

“I promise. I’m not about to dance a jig for the boars.” He was such a child. Her lips flattened in a thin line and she urged him, with her eyes, to move along. “Just go already.” A few moments and they were back to battling one another. No wonder she was forever on edge. One day she would burst and he would regret having pushed her that far.

He left her, and she presumed it would not be for long, but even so, she found herself drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. The boars were not nearly tall enough to detect her if she stood as she was. Or at the very least she would like to believe that. Why hadn’t she thought there might be some danger in this? Stupid, stupid Cassana. Her heart pounded away. The sounds were loud and heavy, as though she’d run a marathon. Her breathing grew laboured.

“My lady.” Her head shot up. The Prince was kneeling before her, hands upon her shoulders. “We have to go. Now.” Why hadn’t she heard him? She should have heard him. Her eyes narrowed in a sharp glare.  

Their trudging through the grass did not, in any way, distract the predatory creatures lurking about. Cassana thought it must have been because of the younglings. Whatever the case, the elder boards were not keen on tolerating either her or her companions. Which translated into a whole lot of trouble.

As was wont to happen, panic set it, turning her legs to lead. She stumbled over her own feet, falling to the ground, her knees hitting painfully sharp pebbles. The hand on her arm tugged her upwards. She heard a few words of encouragement, but for the life of her she could not stand up. As it turned out, she would not have to fail another time, for she was lifted up, dragged rather than tugged. She needn’t use her feet either.

The return, if she could call it that, came upon the wings of familiarity. It was her father’s cursing which woke her from whatever slumber had gripped her, forcing consciousness to the forefront. “Blood hells! Get them out of the way!” She balanced herself on the prince’s shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of her father. What she could make out in the chaos unfolding before her was simply frightening.

Before she could sort out through the mounds and mounds of information, she was heaved even further away, caught yet again. “Cassana, are you alright?” Her attention snapped to Jon, who had somehow placed her before him on the horse, feet dangling off to the side. A most uncomfortable position.

“Maekar.” The Prince she could clearly see before her. But Makear was not. She hissed in discomfort. “Where is Maekar?” Jon gave no answer. He was looking somewhere ahead. Thus she did as well, unable to either quell the fear or stamp the hope out of existence. And merciful Mother she wished she hadn’t. “Maekar!”

Her poor young brother barely managed to get out of the way of a vicious attack, more with the aid of a lance than by his own power. Still, he was alive. And her father had instead driven his horse straight into the angry beast.

She flinched. Her father fell off the horse, yet somehow managed to roll out of the way of one cross equine whose hooves were kicking anxiously about. “Jon, you have to help him.” A rain of arrows was falling out of the sky. Nets and ropes followed, trapping the wild beast as it struggled against the bands hold back its progress.

She backed herself into Jon. “Jon, do something!” It was like speaking to a wall. All she got for her effort was a noncommittal sound. At least their father seemed to be holding his own. “Merciful Mother, we have to do something.”

At least until one of the boys holding the ropes had the end of it ripped from his grasp. A second boy attempted to grab the rope flying but all he managed was to lose his balance and fall, losing his grip on his own end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

“That is most curious, Lady Bartheon.” Lyanna froze. She had no desire to look Elia Martell in the eyes at the moment. “How is the poor mite feeling?” She turned her head slowly, settling her eyes upon the Queen. She had gone out of her way to sit back with Janei. And still the shrew came to torment her.

“He is doing better now,” she allowed, pasting a serene smile upon her face. She would like if her son were in pain, the cold-hearted fiend, would she not? “Your Majesty is very kind to ask.” And she’d be even kinder to go away. Alas, the last Lyanna knew was not a request which would be fulfilled, for her rival had a certain look in her eyes. A look which promised if not annoyance then something its kin.

“I am, indeed, glad to hear. One can never be too careful with these matters.” Janei made a soft sound of agreement at those words and seemed like she would pick up the thread of conversation as she oft did when the Queen approached them. But Elia put a swift end to any thoughts of escape when she pulled further members into the circle, “Do you not agree, Lady Ashara?”

“Verily,” the tall, statuesque woman at Elia’s side confirmed. Lyanna had not attempted to draw Ashara to her. Since Jon was to meet the girl at the hunt she’d seen little reason. “I too am relieved your son is well.” She thought she heard a trace of something in there. Lyanna’s eyes narrowed slightly. It sounded almost as though the lady carried regret over aught. “It has been a long time, my lady.”

“Aye.” She smiled fuller then. “And yet we find ourselves in similar enough position yet again.” They’d both been maidens at the Harrenhall tourney, wedded shortly after and mothers at court. It was, not strange, peculiar in a sense.

“How right you are,” the Queen intervened. “Lady Ashara here was just telling me how pleased she is that her children are finally at court. Growing up so very near their father.” Ashara flushed, her colour rising gently. “I trust ‘tis a shared sentiment as well.”

Whatever was the shrew on about? Lyanna would have been tempted to call her a bitter old lemon, but she could not help the niggling feeling Elia was actually trying to say something momentous. “Indeed, fathers have a most important role to fill. I find it most appropriate that you should feel the same way,” she addressed the younger Dornishwoman.

“I knew the two of you would have much in common,” the Queen chirped in yet again, this time her smile most pleased. A row of straight teeth came into view.  Hoe she wished she were a man. Then she might have punched a hole or two in that wall. It would ensure that no more smiles would be forthcoming. Pursing her lips Lyanna waited for further words. “I trust you do, at any rate, what with your children being so close in, well, everything.”

That was strange. Ashara flushed even further, but offered naught by way of protest. Instead she levelled a pained look her way and seemed to be begging her with her eyes. “Her Majesty feels my existence at court shall be lonely after such a lengthy absence.”

“Her Majesty is very kind,” Lyanna repeated an earlier sentiment, barely holding back the bitterness from her voice. The woman was planning something. Lyanna turned her gaze upon the wife of her lover. “But surely Your Majesty, you cannot think someone as well-known and as appreciated as Lady Connington would have to fear loneliness at court.” Treachery, hostility, falseness, all those were guaranteed in the swarm of locusts residing within the King’s halls. The preferred form was that of a courtier, damn their eyes. Nay, Lady Ashara would not be lonely.   

“Birds of a feather, as the saying goes, flock together.” Her foot caught in the hem of her kirtle and she nearly lost her balance. She despised not knowing what went on. Lyanna offered yet another smile, this one tight-lipped. Her teeth were busily grinding away. Her face would ache terribly after, she was certain of it. Until then, ‘twas best to endure. “I just thought the two of you might wish to exchange notes, as it were, on your successes, although, I warn you, Ashara, dear Lady Baratheon has the advantage of you, having been thus positioned at court some years ago.”

Blood surged to her head. Or did it leech from her face? Lyanna was not quite certain which. Still, it would not do to hasten a reply only because she suspected something foul. “I am certain I should not be opposed to aiding where I can”

“Indeed, you have always been adept at sharing,” Elia answered, feigned awe in her voice. “I vow I would not be able to do it. But I am most glad you are not displeased at the prospect. Sometimes one does get the notion they should be unique in a certain position. Most displeasing conduct.”

Lyanna dearly hoped her eyes were not bugging out. “Most displeasing,” she voiced softly. The bitch, the absolute mean-spirited, spiteful, condescending bitch. It could not be true. It could not. She would never have allowed Ashara back into her fold were it that Rhaegar had taken an interest in her. Had he had one in her before.

And yet, Lyanna knew Jon Connington. The children bore striking names and striking features. She felt as though she were going to be sick. Surely not. Rhaegar would not. He had no interest in other women. He had not. But Ashara Dayne looked at her with something like pity. And her stomach rolled. Gods, nay. Rhaegar had not once in all their years together given her to understand he’d strayed.

She expected there might have been some straying. He was a man. Not even the gods demanded absolute perfection. But children, his children with another woman. Her heart wrenched painfully. From the look on Elia’s face her horror must have shown for a brief hint of glee appeared before it was artfully covered with a veneer of concern. Cool hands grabbed at her own. “Lady Baratheon, are you ill?” Hear erupted across her skin.

“Lyanna, do you feel unwell?” Janei pressed a hand to her shoulder and the other between her shoulder blades. Her legs gave way for a moment and she leaned back against her good-sister. “Here, hold onto me,” Janei spoke softly. “You must have caught whatever ailed poor Steffon.”

“Come here, you,” Elia was calling, presumably after a servant. “Bring the lady a cup of drink, can you not see she is fallen in a swoon?” She was not swooning, Lyanna wanted to protest; alas her limbs felt as though they were made of the heavies of metals. 

The firm lip of a cup was soon upon her mouth and something warm slid down her throat. It was ale, or some sort of such drink. The taste was much too sweet. She chocked back upon a mouthful ad sputtered, coughing something fierce. A kerchief dabbed at the corners of her mouth before sweeping over her lips in a gentle caress. “Lady Baratheon, pray, are you well?”

Her mind cleared enough that she should desire to stand back upon her own feet without her weight settling upon poor Janei. She managed a shuddering breath and straightened herself. “My deeoest apologies. I do not know what came over me.”

“Should we call for the master?” This time the Queen did seem truly concerned. Only that once pricked, Lyanna was in no mood for further attempts. She ducked her chin before a simple shake of the head dismissed the suggestion.

“Nay, I am well. I am feeling better already. It must be the sitting up with Steffon. I did not manage to catch a wink of sleep.” As if one sleepless night could turn her inside out. “Might be I ought to– “

“I insist,” Elia spoke over her. “You mustn’t neglect yourself.” What did she care? Lyanna forced her spite back and nodded dutifully. “In fact, Lady Ashara, you must see to it that the lady makes it to her bedchamber.”

“I would not wish to out my lady out,” Lyanna hurriedly refused. “Janei may aid me, Your Majesty, and Lady Ashara should not even  be bothered by such a task.”

“Nonsense, my lady,” Ashara finally joined the conversation once more. “I must insist that I accompany you. I should feel extremely ill at ease otherwise.” Alarm coloured her features. Lyanna gulped. She could not refuse and appear unaffected by the lady rather than the circumstances. Ashara caught her by the other arm. “Here we are.”

Janei, though taller than she, was still shorter than Lady Ashara. Between the two of them, she found herself hard pressed not to feel a child. Her lips pursed and she forced her feet into motion. Much as it pained her to have lost to the Queen, she had not been able to withstand the devilish trap. And her heart was even poorer a student of empathy. She wnted to demand of Ashaa Dayne whether the Queen spoke true. And if the answer was aye, she wanted to gouge the woman’s eyes out.

Jealously had never looked good on her. It was one of the reasons for which she had attempted to bottle every last shred of it away and bury it deep, deep down. Alas, Rhaegar had been and continued to reign supreme among her weaknesses. The thought that he would look upon Lady Ashara with the same affection she bore her was insufferable. She wanted to cry out at that and yell that it would not be true.

But then Jon Connington could not have fathered those children and by her count their age allowed their conception during Rhaegar’s presence near the mother. Since no one could deny those two favoured the lady of the house, their father remained in uncertainty. What if it was a ploy? Surely Rhaegar would not admit to fathering Connington’s twins anymore than he would claim any of her children for his own. How would Elia know if he’d bedded the woman or not? She had been in King’s Landing minding her babes and being shrewish as far as Lyanna knew. For all she knew her husband could have spent his days and nights as chaste as a septon on his tour of the kingdoms. Although Lyanna suspected septons were a far less chaste lot than they let on.

Pushing the irrelevant thought away, she found her legs much impoved. Enough, in fact, that her steps gained some power of their own and she slowly relinquished her hold on both women. “I am all better now, I vow it,” she assured them in the face of Janei’s concern.

“At least allow that I might call an acolyte to you,” her good-sister said, sharing a look with Lady Ashara. “You are yet pale and you’ve not slept well, I know. He could give you aught for good rest.” She would be undoubtedly plagued with night terrors for her efforts. Lyanna refused yet again. “My lady, you must insist that she allow an acolyte to see to her. She will not be able to refuse.”

“In fact I insist,” the Dornishwoman nodded her head. “Think of your babes. What should they think to see their mother dropping thusly?” For someone who had slept with Rhaegar she was acting for all the world as though they were sisters and not a manner of rivals. Could it be that it had simply been one of those episodes one simply must overlook? But then the children came back to her mind. Jon and that girl, if they were kin, she could not allow it. Yet how to dissuade Robert? And how to mitigate the insult to Connington? Did he even know? The names suggested he might. That, indeed, he might well approve too. Heat suffused her cheeks once more.

This second time was marked by better control though. She managed herself with only a modicum of effort. Nay, she would not be so easily brought to her knees. Lyanna took a calming breath. One fainting spell a day was more than enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Maekar, care for our sister,” Jon instructed, taking by brother by the arm and placing him next to Cassana. “I will see to mother.” He suspected he might not be the only one by the way His Majesty raised his bent head from the injured’s side.

“You cannot very well go alone.” Did he mean to comfort her? Jon held little doubt. Whatever one might say of their liaison, he was aware that the King truly loved his mother. “She deserves to hear from us what fate has befallen our cousin.” The man returned his attention to incapacitated lord.

Insensible as his father was, Jon precluded any protest which surged to his lips in favour of a light nod. He could do with some stitching or whatever it was maesters did for boar-induced wounds. Meanwhile, Jon would keep an eye on mother, might be even advise that her comport stay within limit. Muted by his own thoughts, Jon turned, in preparation mostly, and was met with Aegon’s concerned gaze.

“If there is anything. Anything at all.” He did believe this was the most concerned he’d ever heard his friend being. A hand clapped upon his shoulder. “You mustn’t worry. Pycelle shall be able to save him, I am certain.” That was a lie. They both knew it. Jon nodded nonetheless.

He’d never loved the man he called father. Or rather he could not recall feeling overly warm toward him. Might be he’d had some sort of affection when he was yet too young to know any better. “Is there anything?” Aegon insisted. The poor boy, he must be itching to relieve some of that burden.

“My sister,” Jon managed, voice thick with emotion. He surprised even himself with the slight quiver. Clearing his throat, he turned his gaze to Cassana who was holding Maekar’s hand, both of them silent and pale. “And my brother. Would you look after them?”

There would be time aplenty to dissuade any bond forming between them at a later time. Cassana was currently overcome, she would not apply herself to being charming and Maekar would try his very best not to demand her comfort but ultimately fail in that endeavour. Better that she have some sort of occupation until his return. He drew in a shaky breath, hating that his eyes stung. For a man he carried little respect for, Robert Baratheon certainly evoked a strong enough reaction. He hated that he had to squash the pity as well. One should think that so many years would entitle the man to some pity at least. But no one would understand. They’d think his tears were for a beloved father. Jon was not yet so brazen that he might easily lie before so many eyes.

Aegon squeezed his shoulder harder. He said naught, might be understanding words held no place at such a time. He did however glance over his shoulder. Jon followed his gaze. He met the startled stare of a girl. He’d been much too hasty, it would seem. At least one person would understand his tears. Without as much as a by your leave, the lady approached. Her brother kept his place. Aegon looked between the two of them before retreating to Cassana’s side and whispering something in her ear.

She produced little other than a soft sound which might have been a sigh. Jon would have spoken but he feared any words might damage him beyond repair. Even if she did understand the source of pain, he’d be a fool for giving himself away. But the lady took him by the hand and pressed him between her smaller palms. She breathed calmly in and out and for whatever reason it seemed to him they spoke without words.

He wanted it to mean what he thought it meant but dreams, he’d learned long past, and flights and fancy were poison. At least to any man moving about court. He needed a clear head. Jon squeezed her hand back, the one his own was currently wrapped about and then allowed the contact to break. The lady frowned. But Rhaella Connington seemed in no hurry to leave. Indeed, she looked as though naught would move her.

Before he could take too much comfort in that, however, they were interrupted and any protest died on his lips as His Majesty approached. Lady Rhaella curtsied and eyed the older man uncertainly. Whatever the King offered, though, and Jon heard the words but simply remained ignorant of their meaning, was enough to send her back to her brother’s side, composed and undaunted. He suspected ‘twas naught which would hunt her night terrors then. He turned his attention upon the man finally.

“We ought to depart sooner rather than later,” His Majesty said. Jon could not read his features. He supposed the man had the advantage of him; he was yet young, after all. “Might be Pycelle may work a miracle.”  Least he was sincere in his doubt.

“It does not look as though the Stranger might be avoided,” Jon spoke without even meaning to. The King started. A minute movement to be sure, but enough that he caught it. “I would rather have the truth than a gilded lie. Even if it were meant–“

“Hope is no lie.” The words were spoken with such conviction that Jon had to close his mouth to stop from contradicting. His Majesty hoped Robert Baratheon survived? That was unexpected. He inclined his head in acceptance. “Your lady mother should not like to be kept waiting with such grave matters at play.” He resisted the urge to point out the King should well know.

“Nay; she would not.”

They rode to the keep together, all of them shrouded in silence. There were conversations, but they rolled by slow and quiet so as to not disturb those who did not wish to speak. It was, he expected, not at all the way his father would have envisioned his end. And Jon was much too distraught to think upon barrels of wine.

Somehow, without his mind actively seeking to aid, he managed to prevent a second funeral on his mother’s hands. Jon was very glad it all went smoothly, of course, and he much desired that no further ills befall them, yet he did dread facing mother. He could not predict her reaction and he feared that she might do something foolish. Something like a misplaced word or look; ‘twould be enough. More than enough if he were honest. Jon breathed out a sigh of relief when his horse finally drew to a halt.

The yard was crowded as pages ran left and right, catching horses by the reins or helping down a body. He was aided down himself by a youth whose face he did not recognise. Jon had no time to attempt any further inspections as a hand fell to his shoulder. It was highly irregular than one benefit from such closeness to His Majesty. He could do little but keep still.

The commotion attracted even more observers and whatever the case, he would not get to break the news to his mother himself, for as soon as he spied her face in the crowd, she saw him as well and both hands came to cover her mouth. Without grace or care she pushed herself between ranks, fighting to escape the trappings of arms. She succeeded. His mother always succeeded when she set her mind to something. Skirts in hand, she ran the length of the yard his name upon her lips. And before long, warm limbs embraced him, setting his breath aquiver.

“Oh, Jon. What has happened?” she questioned gently, overset herself by the sound of it. She pulled back, “where are your brother and sister?” She looked about and her gaze found the King’s. “Your Majesty,” she murmured, as though only then taking notice. “Apologies, I am looking for–“

“Father is injured,” he said before he could catch himself.

“What?” The demanding tone was back and his mother’s attention shifted to him. “Robert? What did he do?”

He would have answered only that the King pried his mother away, separating the two of them, and in that act stealing her attention. “My lady, we have most grievous news.” He spoke in that tone, the one which indicated they were lord and vassal. Jon saw the muscle twitch in his mother’s jaw. “Our cousin sustains deep injury.”

“Where is my husband?” Mother had never been overly concerned for the man she’d wedded. They rubbed along well enough and Jon knew she saw that most of his need found fulfilment, but he was not at all used to hearing the slight hitch in her voice or the breathy anxiety. “Your Majesty, I am–“ But she had no plans to wait.

Apparently she’d caught sight of the man she searched for.  Just as soon she dragged herself, quite forcefully, away from the King and leapt into action, uncaring of the many voices calling to her. Jon gulped slowly and followed. He had the feeling it would not end well.  How could it end well?

Cassana was near mother, having caught her somehow by the man. Maekar did not approach, electing to stand near their uncle. Or was it that Eddard Stark held the boy by the shoulder. Jon soon grew oblivious to all that. His mother knelt and spoke, her voice carrying.

“Robert, you must open your eyes. I insist.” Wonder of wonder, the man listened. Now that she had him thusly, his mother clucked her tongue. “A boar. Of all things.” He heard her voice break over the last syllable. “You stubborn man.”

“A body can’t even die in peace,” he jested in return only to have her ire called forth.

“Don’t speak nonsense. You shan’t die.” The crowds, greatly appeased at such show of affection and affectation hurriedly jumped in, offering to carry the man to his sickbed or lend support to his spouse who’d outdone herself, it had to be said.     

Near enough that his sister might find her comfort in him, Jon granted the girl his arm and a shoulder to cry on, though Cassana’s tears had dwindled down to mere sniffling and while she held his arm with some firmness there was no indication that she might lose herself to grief. At least not with so many eyes about. Relief was not quick to come though. “Mother will expect to hear what happened.”

She nodded, her lips remaining firmly pressed together. “I too expect you will tell me what happened.” She repeated her earlier actions.

“Will he–“ She choked on whatever she meant to ask. “Do you think– “ Tears burned at the corner of her eye, the one he could see as her profile remained in his sight. “Surely he is strong enough to overcome. His Grace does not believe it, I know, though he tried to comfort me with the possibility. He was so kind. I know better though, he won’t die.”

“I fear we must be prepared for any outcome.” She stiffened at his side. And then her face turned towards him. Her eyes asked him whether he was certain. “It is a most dire situation.”

“You are no maester.” He nodded his acknowledgement of her attempt.

He’d not seen many a wound either but for all that he found himself uncertain of the possibility that the man might pull through. “I hope my fear is misplaced.” It was not; Aegon had said as much and the King as well. One would be hard pressed to argue over such with a man who’d seen war. He ought to know which way the wind blew.

They made it to the hall together where, even now, people milled about. His mother stood against the door, apparently arguing with their aunt. “How could I possibly leave him?”

“It is bad enough that you fell into a faint–“

Mother had fainted? The King seemed to carry like notions. “My lady, that cannot help matters.” Surprisingly his mother glowered. The man raised an eyebrow at her. “You are overset.”  

“The only thing I am, Your Majesty, is concerned,” she answered tightly. Jon made a thoughtful sound. She was very near shouting her annoyance. 

“Find Maekar,” he instructed his sister gently, “take him with you and watch the children.” He had mother to look after.

 

         

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddard stifled a yawn. He’s spent most of the night sequestered away with Jon Arryn, doing his best to gauge whether Robert’s approaching demise would have far reaching repercussions or nay. What they had managed to gather did not inspire much trust within his breast. Nevertheless, he was determined to have Brandon come down and lend an arm, and a leg if he could manage that. The sun was just about to rise, he thought, absently looking throughout the lancet at the bruised skies. He blinked at the light and stifled yet another sign of sleepiness. Janei would doubtlessly wish to have words. He could not disappoint.

As such he took himself directly to his wife’s chambers, knocking gently upon her door. From within he heard the rustling of cloth. Had she been asleep? Somehow he doubted it. Footfalls followed. Before long the door creaked open and Janei stood before him, braid falling over one shoulder. Her lips kept a straight shape. “Ser, I quite despaired of seeing you this day.” Stepping to the side, she allowed him entrance.

The door closed in his wake, leaving husband and wife to stare at one another in comfortable silence. The undercurrent was still there, of course, but he did his best not to acknowledge it. Instead, he took in the sight of her, wrapped in grey-coloured cloth. The bright colour of her hair seemed so alive against the dull garb.

“I quite despaired of seeing you.” Reaching out he was not surprised to have her reaching back. Her fingers curled around his and she stepped closer. “My lady, you were with my sister until recently, were you not?”

“Just so. Until my good nephew sent me to rest with a promise that he was more than capable of keeping his mother company. I did attempt to dissuade them, but you know how Jon is.” He nodded. Lyanna’s son was as wolf-blooded as his mother and might be twice as stubborn. “It might have aided had you been there. Lyanna is distraught.”

That he could well believe. “’Tis enough that you were there. I spent the day away with Arryn. You would not believe how much instability has been encouraged. And all because of a boar.” An angry boar who took out its aggressive tendencies on his friend. It was almost amusing. “I will see my sister later, if that should set you at ease.”

“That it would.” His wife wrapped her arms around him and pressed her head to his chest. “I worry. First her boy sickened, then she fell into a swoon and now this. The strain cannot be easy to bear.” He made a noncommittal sound because frankly he did not know what to say to that. “If her husband dies, it will all fall onto Jon’s shoulders. That boy will run himself ragged trying to achieve perfection. Besides, he worries about the Prince. Sees himself as the boy’s keeper as far as I can tell.” She ended upon a sigh, with a whisper of his name. Most likely it was meant to show her mind was firmly fixed upon his sister and the disastrous situation she found herself in.

For himself, Ned pushed her back gently. “I’ve no doubt Lyanna has the wherewithal to live through even this. As for Jon, the boy has a good head on his shoulders. He is smart and hardworking.” Nothing at all like his father, much as it pained him to admit that Robert might not be the best of men. If anyone could shoulder the burden of a title thrust too soon upon his shoulders, than that person was certainly Jon Baratheon. “What is this about the Prince though?”

“Surely you remember their sparring match.” He nodded. “Jon came to me after. He worried about His Grace’s reaction to His Majesty’s expectations. The boy has enough to deal with without adding any other troubles. Yet I fear his very nature demands that he fix all others before he does likewise for himself. So tell me, what situation does House Baratheon find itself in?””

They moved together to the bed. Janei climbed in without further ado, slipping beneath the covers. He paused at the edge to remove his boots and overtunic. “Mad Aerys had dug his kin into deep debt to the Crown. Upon his death, the Baratheon coffers were nearly depleted. Lyanna’s dowry covered some of the expenses, but even that was not enough. The Greyjoy Rebellion seems to have brought Robert to Rhaegar’s attention though and the debt vanished quite suddenly as a result. Furthermore the Crown arranged some advantageous situations for Robert to step into. At the moment, Jon starts with a modest sum, but ‘tis enough that if he should use it wisely it turn out profit.”

“Then not all is lost. I feared Robert’s,” she paused, wrinkling her nose delicately, “excesses, I suppose, would put a dent into whatever progress had been made thus far.” Janei was much too delicate to put it to him crudely, but Ned did not suppose that an army of bastards was easy to feed and clothe. “Your sister, you seem she never as much as made a sound of complaint upon the matter. Even if I asked, I feared no answer would come from her.” Lyanna was prideful. Ned could well understand that she would not wish anyone to know of her difficulties. “Connington’s daughter has a large enough sum for dowry. And some land as well. Do you suppose that explains her interest?”

“Rhaella Connington?” He’s seen the girl about. An almost exact image of her mother. A memory rose to the surface. Ned pushed it back ruthlessly. “The match is not bad. Connington has influence at court. She decided to pursue it then?”

“It is the impression she gave me,” Janei confirmed, twisting as he climbed in after her. “I wish I knew what she was thinking of. It cannot help that she won’t share her burdens with us. We are kin after all.”

That was Janei; loyal to a fault. Small wonder that he’d come to cherish her thusly. Ned combed his fingers through his hair, closing his eyes when he felt her fingers follow the same path. “Sleep awhile, my love, you look as death warmed over. I shouldn’t wish for you to frighten your poor sister.”

In the end he did fall asleep, without even meaning to. It was the warmth and security that if aught were to happen, Janei was sure to wake him with customary gentleness and have him out of her bed and into the hallway before long. Thus convinced of his wife’s capacity, ‘twas little wonder that once his head hit the pillow he was gone.

When he woke, and it was not Janei waking him. Ned came to with a light groan. His arm felt numb. His wife’s read rested upon the limb, braid somehow wrapped around his hand, which hand had all its fingers squeezing into a tight fist. He stared down into the woman’s face. Her lips were parted and a light snore, almost whistle-like, greeted him. His other hand, the one not feeling as though all circulation had been cut off, had somehow managed the performance of squeezing at the top of her hip. Her warmth seeped through his clothes and he made a stilted sound. It felt almost as though the sun had fallen upon them.

Struggling not to wake her, he slowly removed his hand from beneath her head. The other he had no trouble with buy he did manage to elicit a moan of protest when he slid away. Heat was difficult enough in winter. Summer caused him great discomfort. His efforts were not in vain though, as he made his way out of bed without disturbing his wife’s rest.

For a time he wandered about the chamber, searching for the clothing he’d discarded. Then he made for the lancet and took a look without. Little but the sight of wide clouds greeted him, along with a gentle breeze. He enjoyed that with only a slight pang of guilt. Janei did not suffer the cold gladly. It happened to be one of the reasons for which he’d chosen King’s Landing along with the position offered when Arryn came to him with the notion. The things one did for one’s woman. He chuckled and glance over his shoulder.

Janei remained sleeping. If naught else, at least he could take pride in the fact that her looks still largely resembled those of her youth. Unbidden, the image of Ashara Dayne came to him. What woman could possibly compete with Ashara Dayne’s looks? After so many years. His smile turned sour. He’d not been in love with her, he told himself, but he had been hallway there. And then Janei came along. Theirs was not a like beauty, but he found that even so, he much preferred his wife to any other woman. The woman shifted, distracting him. A small groan slid past her lips as turned upon her stomach. He should leave her and see to Lyanna as well.

With that in mind, he retrieved his boots and slid out the door as quiet as a mouse. The hallway was poorly illuminated, might be on account of recent events giving servants aught to gossip about instead of doing their duty. Nonetheless, he managed to make his way through without mishap. Just as soon as he reached the door leading to Sansa’s bedchamber, it was flung open and his daughter’s head peeked out. He started.

“Are you going to see Aunt Lya, father?” she questioned, sounding hopeful. He nodded. “Would you mind taking something to Jon so he might give it to Cassana?”

“I suppose.” He suspected Janei had not allowed the girl to wander near Robert’s sickbed. Sansa passed him a small satchel. It was not precisely heavy but whatever it contained, it was clearly no feather.

“My thanks, father dearest,” his daughter chimed.

Left with the task, Ned continued on his way until he reached the nursery where Lyanna’s little ones could be found. He asked after his sister only to find she was still with her husband, thus he passed through the narrow hallway connecting the nursey to the antechamber leading to even more living quarters.

The vestibule he found himself in allowed for three choices. Two of them were known to him, the third he’d never expressed interest in. Until the very point where he could hear voices flittering through. Ned stopped and without meaning to focused his attention upon the flow of voices.

“That is the most asinine accusation you could have possibly charged me with.” It sounded like the King. It also sounded as though he was arguing. And since Robert was very likely in a mild of the poppy induced sleep, Ned was forced to assume the argument carried between him and his sister. “You know that I–“ He could not understand what manner of protest his sister offered, but the King was categorical in his set down. “If you were a man, your head would be standing at your feet. Quarrelsome wench, I already told you I’ve no interest elsewhere.”

Ned tensed. He could swear he was hearing an argument between lovers. But that could not be true. Might be he was in some manner of dream. “Immaterial,” the King protested, interrupting Ned’s ruminations.

“But it is.” Finally, he could hear his sister. “You know very well that,” she trailed off, her voice suddenly dropping as though she realised they were being listened to. This was highly irregular. Before he could think to slide any closer a hand fell upon his shoulder. His head shot in the general direction of the assailant only to find his nephew’s stern face peering back at him. “Uncle, have you come to see my father?” He could swear the boy spoke much louder than necessarily. But Jon retained his calm and waited for a reply.

“Your mother as well,” Ned finally managed in time to see he door to the small chamber open and his sister step without. There was no other person in there with her.

“Ned?” He turned to face Lyanna. “You ought to be resting.” So should she, but apparently neither of them felt like doing what they ought. His mind worked through his suspicion.

“I had to see you, sister.” He passed the small satchel to Jon. “Sansa wanted your sister to have this.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Her brother left after they had sat together at Robert’s bedside, in hushed conversation. Lyanna breathed out in relief and brought a hand to her cheek.  The skin burned. “I swear, Robert, if you do not wake soon, I shall hunt you down in the world of the dead and you will hear the tongue-lashing of all tongue-lashings from me. A boar, good gods.” He had saved the Prince, Maekar and Cassana as she’d learned. Not that it aided with the turmoil his impending death produced. She promised herself she would not think upon the matter. “How can you go and die like this?”

She ought to have convinced him the hunt was a poor way to entertain oneself, but she suspected he would not have listened even if she had. Robert loved to hunt. And it was one of those things he was good at. Always had been. The thrill of the chase, he claimed, gave him strength. And who was she to contradict. It had kept him out of her way for so many years that she never once thought of the dangers involved. It was much too late for such regrets though. The chase had turned into a night terror. She sucked in a breath, realising with a start that tears burned in the corners of her eyes.

Frustration was not at all easy to ignore. And it was not that which pressed her so insistently. With Robert gone she would have to speak to Jon. At the very least. The boy was not stupid, she suspected he was more aware than his siblings of what went on. If anything, he could probably tell her a thing or two she’d not caught herself with regards to her actions. Discomforting though the thought may be, it was inevitable. She had to, no matter what Rhaegar said. Jon was not blind. But more so he was not unconcerned.

She brought her hands together and bowed her head as though in supplication. There was no use asking the gods for aid. Robert was dying. The maester had confirmed that much as soon as he’d lain eyes on her husband. She closed her eyes against the worry. It would not go away, of course, but it was better than naught and she supposed one had to make allowanced.

When Robert woke, she would bring in the children, Lyanna decided, opening her eyes to the sight of her spouse. “I will bring them all, even Steffon,” she told Robert though the man, insensible, was unlikely to care at the moment. “He’s doing much better. Or so I am told. Poor little mite, I took quite the fright when he turned all white.” She wondered whether he heard her at all. “He has returned to babbling, you know, all sorts of sounds with no meaning. He’ll be speaking soon and I reckon he and Ned will get in all manner of troubles.” And she wished that Robert would drunkenly jeer at her for worrying needlessly. Alas, it could not be.

The door creaked behind her. Lyanna did not need to look. Her curiosity as to who has arrived was summarily satisfied when a hand settled upon her shoulder. She touched it back, recognising her son’s touch. “What is it, my love?” she questioned, turning to glance at him. Jon shook his head. “Sit by me if you will,” she allowed when Jon glanced uncertainly at the seat beside her.

He followed her instructions and settled comfortably at her side. “I have been meaning to speak to you, mother, and was wondering if now would be the right time.” He motioned towards Robert and made a thoughtful sound. “I did not want to say anything before the children.” How much older than his age he was. Lyanna vowed she’d rarely seen such in a child. Not even in Ned. And the Seven knew Ned had seemed trice his age with that sour look permanently upon his face. “But I do think we should discuss this, leaving.”

“Leaving?” she questioned. “You mean returning to Storm’s End?” They would have to. Without doubt Stannis awaited them, meaning to complain some more that his yard was overrun with base born children and that he could not take much more in, that food was expensive and cloth the same. All in all the experience was not one she longed for. Stannis was hard enough to swallow on his good days. “It cannot be before your father’s departure though.”

Something flickered in her son’s eyes. She could not tell with any amount of certainty whether he protested her words to himself. Might be she should ask but with Robert so close and her unable to predict when it was that he would wake, she could not bring herself to do so. “I did not imagine otherwise.” She nodded and touched her hand to his. “Nevertheless, I thought you should know.” She allowed that as well.

“Could it be that you were wishing aught else?” For a few moments, he offered nothing. Lyanna leaned back in her seat and kept her face scrupulously calm. It would not do to produce more anxiety within him and between them. She suspected that the boy was close enough to the snapping point as it were. Finally, after the long pause, he nodded. “Go on then, you already know you may tell me anything.” And so he did as per her words tell her what bothered him.

“This plan of yours that I wed Lord Connington’s daughter, how determined are you to see it through, lady mother?”  What could she say to that but make a noncommittal sound? Rhaegar had been plain enough in his assurance that the twins were not his blood. What she had to do was decide whether she believed him or not. He had refused to name a father beyond saying the children were Connington’s, which both knew was impossible. Did she believe him? She supposed desperation would make her accepting of almost anything as long as it saved her family.  

“I would not tell you an untruth,” she said after she managed to catch himself. What was between herself and Rhaegar concerned him less, at least until she could gather the courage to tell him the whole tale. She supposed it would have to do for the moment, this promise that she would eventually do what was right. “We need the alliance and we need the dowry Lady Rhaella brings. She is a nice girl. Surely you do not protest the match.”

“Not as such, nay.” Her son shifted in his seat. “I like her well enough, truth be told. But I know her not well enough to form one opinion or another. She seems a curious creature.” As far as compliments went, it was not much. Lyanna would have thought him at least a tad swayed by the charm and beauty the girl possessed. But then he was somewhat young. It could be that he needed time. “Would it be possible to have them come to Storm’s End? The twins? After all matters have been settled.”

She raised an eyebrow at that. “It would be just the thing. Of course, we cannot proceed with aught for the time being. One cannot wed while in mourning and we would not wish to appear too eager.” Which was all true. Unfortunately a septon or two was likely to turn up his nose in protest if they dared ask for a wedding so soon into the mourning period, which made little enough sense; fathers should not present an impediment to wedding. “Then I am to understand you will do your utmost best?”

“I shall try.” And with that, she suspected her so would say no more upon the matter. It would be best to let him be, but she could not help herself. And from the look upon his face she thought he knew wat would follow.

“You have spoken to her, I take it?” He was quite possibly going to wed the girl. Jon offered a small nod. “That is just as well. I shall try my best to make it as comfortable as I can, but some things might not be entirely pleasant.” The warning rolled off of him like water off the wings of a duck. She did not know if she ought to offer more. He might know, but he might not. If he did not, she would need to break it to him gently. As gentle as possible, in fact.

Meantime, she would look more into the identity of the twins’ father. There had to be someone who knew. Dayne? Would he be willing to share the truth with her? Or would she simply be borrowing trouble? She had to know. Might be Dayne was a rotten bet to take. The man was unlikely to appreciate any overt attention paid to a situation involving his sister.

“Mother, are you listening?” She started at the sound of her son’s voice. Lyanna looked into his eyes with a questioning glance. “Are you certain you do not wish to rest some as well?”

Her reply was lost to the squeaks coming from behind them. “You are still here, I see.” Cassana entered the chamber, her skirts swishing. Lyanna took note of the way she grimaced. Though she was more herself this day, there was yet an actual improvement to be seen as far as her actions went. “I must declare myself much surprised.” There was something almost condescending about her delivery. Lyanna also caught the look her children exchanged. Suspicion crept upon her, causing her hair to stand on end.

“I am certain you did not intend for your delivery to be as such,” she admonished Cassana.

The girl grimaced and for a moment looked as though she might protest. Yet she kept her silence. “My sister is not yet recovered from the shock, I am certain,” Jon intervened. “Come and sit by father if you will.” He stood and gave her the way. “Mother, if you would be so kind as to rest now. Cassana and I can sit with father.”

There was no convincing him otherwise, was there?         

    

 

 

 

  

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gardens were wondrous things. On more than one occasion such a place had been marked by joy, charm and, dare one think it, excitement. Naturally, the human mind reconciled rather easily with the viewing of a garden as a place of wonder. But in equal measure the garden was a holder of secrets. Some might argue that was the place of night. Aegon would heartily disagree. The night was rather an interloper.  

Thus, when he came upon an old stone wall, no higher than his knee and left over since the times of one of his namesakes, to hear muffled sobs, he, naturally, considered beating a hasty retreat. Even more so given the wee hours of the morning left him at a clear disadvantage concerning his capacity for commiseration. In other words, his usually lacking skill in offering comfort collapsed in a heap of rubble with lack of sleep and other matters which needled him.

But then, fancy of fancies, the discordant notes rising from behind the collection of poorly stacked stones, rang familiar. He’d gone mad. That was the only viable explanation. Like a blighted dog chasing his own tail, he somehow managed to make an objective of the damned thing and in return it stole everything from him. The tail in question happened to be a very fragile doe. To hear Cassana even when he knew her deep within the walls of the keep, ensconced in the protective embrace of embroidered covers; he must be going mad. Who could blame a body though? Some women, he learned, were like that. They turned one inside out and waited upon a pinched smile for the next sacrifice. And though he knew it was wrong of him to encourage her regard, he could not help it.

She was fragile. She needed someone to take care of her. Had he considered that she had a brother perfectly capable of doing just that, Aegon might have desisted; he might have turned around and had Jon fetched; he might have left the matter well alone. But his breath hitched in recognition and his heart, damned soft organ, stopped.

It was folly to accost a woman like this. He did not care. Not one whit. He did not care when he made up his mind go to to her. He did not care when he stepped over the flimsy obstacle of a border. He did not even care when his finger touched her shoulder, the whisper of a caress, and she, like the doe she was, started and jumped to her feet.

She had been crying. Blue eyes lit upon him, their strange hold exacerbated by luminous vulnerability and a sense of urgency. And her hurt, whatever it stemmed from, permeated through him, gripping at the frayed ends of a concerned, sleep-deprived mind. “Aegon.” Indeed. He was Aegon to her; the familiarity did not give him pause. It gave him courage. Enough that his arms shot out and tugged her towards him. “Nay. Wait. Aegon–“ 

“I am forever finding you crying,” he muttered, forcing her to still in his unrelenting embrace. Women and their tears. They knew precisely how to wield those to slay a man. She remained mute and stiff as his hands rubbed up and down her back, motions familiar from his own boyhood. “I wish you would not.”

She bristled. “Not all of us can be strong, Your Grace.” Her bitterness was a slap to his cheek. He paused and drew back, enough so that raising her chin was feasible. Their eyes met. Her lower lip trembled.

“You do not have to be.” Sudden movement caught him off-guard. Her hands fisted in the front of his garment. “Whatever it is, you do not have to endure the burden alone.” In the predawn half-glow of a slumbering son, her face flamed, hardening with resolve. Aegon traced a thumb across the soft expanse of skin drawn too tightly over her face. She shook her head and her fists became palms plastered to hi front, fingers splayed, pushing him away.

“Do not.” It broke his heart how small her voice was. Dismissing her protests he gathered her to him again and kissed the top of her heads with decidedly less fire than the distress writhing within him produced. She continued on that path for a few moments longer until her fingers were back to fisting in the cloth covering him and her face turned upwards to him.

Very near her mother’s height, she remained short enough that their position bordered upon awkward. Aegon did not mind. He leaned in, touching his forehead to hers, aware that he was about to speak without himself. “I am here for you.” A sound of agonised disbelief broke from her lips. To that he only cupped her face, holding off the retreat he felt approaching. “This is not a jest, Cassana. It is no lie either. Believe me.”

Her face crumbled. “You ask for the impossible. I cannot lean on you.” So many words he took exception to. “And you cannot let me.” For the life of him, he could not understand why. He wanted to help her. Her lips curled in a tremulous smile. “I might come to expect it of you and whether would we be then?”

“Precisely where we are meant to be,” he spoke with unwavering certainty. There had to be something which would act as proof. “You do not have to ask for what already belongs to you.” After, he kissed her. On the lips. Aegon did not clumsily grab at her, he did not pressure her to open her lips and he most certainly did not, as less wiser men might have, take advantage of her grief to achieve his goals. But he was tempted. And that was frightening. He had wanted to twist her efforts until she did not known up from sideways, until she gave him the manner of answer he desired, until, well, to be frank, she gave in and let him do as he would. And he would.

Aegon stopped short, nevertheless, at the vehement shake of her head. He did not entirely let go, but his grasp slackened enough that she twisted further away. “Some dreams can never be.” Her mournful words hanging between them, along with the imperious desire to for once have matters go as he would, had him fast denying that belief. “But you are to wed Lady Margaery.” Margaery who should be arriving any day now.

“I shan’t.”

“You shall.” This time the both of them started. The intruder, presumably feeling no need to further explain his presence, simply abandoned the embrace of the shadows in favour of a slightly better lit position. His scowl did not leave much of his thought process to the imagination. Cassana hurriedly stammered out an excuse for her brother’s benefit; he could feel her struggling to piece the thing together.

“I do not recall asking you what I am to do,” he told Jon, refusing to allow further distance between himself and the object of his desire. Such that it was, his hold secured a whey-faced maiden to him, in spite of the fact her brother appeared quite prepared to intervene.

Jon cocked his head to the side, dull eyes spearing him. It was the manner of look he occasionally levelled upon an errant brother. Hackles successfully raised, Aegon emitted a soft warning sound. His erstwhile friend took another step forth. “Your Grace, my sister ought not to be without at such an hour and most certainly not in your presence.” Jon sighed. “You know that.” Was it his fancy, or did the other gaze at him with a timid dose of understanding? It made no matter; he would not be cowed. Cassana kept strangely quiet.

“We have always been the best of friends,” he managed around the tight knot forming in his stomach. The younger man took a shaky breath and nodded his head, rather in the manner of someone awaiting disaster. Aegon did not know what he took umbrage with to a higher degrees, the lack of trust in their bond, forged through many a year, or the utter and distinctive lack of shame at such a display. “But the fact remains that at the end of the day, I am the Crown Prince and you are just a knight, like any other knight. I order, you follow. That is the nature of our relationship.”

He turned to glance upon Cassana. She stood between the two of them, twisting a between her fingers a bit of cloth. Aegon went on. “It is not for you to say what I may or may not do. Do you understand?” He turned the full heat of his glare upon the Stormlander, piercing the distance between them. This was Jon; the boy he’d grown up with. How could be possibly trust him so little, have such a poor opinion of a close companion, as to think he had not considered Cassana’s position? Or the probable backlash an involvement would bring about.

“On the contrary, Your Grace,” Jon answered, his voice as thick as his glance was cold. “I am Lord Paramount of the Stormlands.” A surge of pity momentarily broke the layer of fury Aegon had gathered around himself. “As head of my house, it is my duty to ensure the wellbeing of my sister. Someday, might be, Your Grace will understand.”

The insult cracked like a whip against the newly-formed scab coating his heart. The blow struck true, leaving him reeling, fury gathering in a painfully pulsing point at the back of his head. It did not matter that this was Jon, that he might be spoke in the shock of the moment and meant no harm by it. It did not matter that Cassana’s hands leapt into action, trying to stop his advance. It did not matter that they were out in the open where anyone could come by.

“You bloody bastard; must you forever set yourself against me?” he demanded, shaking Cassana off none too gently. The girl reeled backwards with a weak yelp but she did not make a second attempt upon him. Jon, on the other hand, widened his stance, chin rising in defiance.

“Just because the truth does not work in your favour, it does not make it less valid.” He snapped menacingly at the Lord Paramount of the Stormlands, stepping towards the unmoving form. Aegon grabbed at the collar of Jon’s tunic. “Do not stand in my way. I would not enjoy crushing you, but I will if I must.”

“I would not enjoy thwarting you either,” Jon spoke softly back, “but I will if I must.” Something hard pushed back against his chest, the unexpected force sending him stumbling. His companion followed along, but he’d been prepared and Aegon could not escape the painful blow which followed. “You cannot have my sister; understand that. I will not allow it. The King will not allow it. Give up.”

“You do not run my life,” he glowered in answer to that, launching into a second attack. This time he did catch Jon with his guard down and planted a firm punch in his chest. “Neither of you. Might be you will consider that.”

Rolling on his side, the Stormlander lord wheezed softly, presumably in pain still. “Will you be singing the same tune when the King decides to strip your title, I wonder.”

The thought struck him with some power. Enough to earn a lull in their dispute. “He is my father. He would not do that.” A frightfully stupid reason to trust he would not lose the crown, Aegon considered even as he spoke. His father thought nothing of humiliating his son before a crowd. Why would he hesitate taking away his birth-right if Aegon displeased him?

Eyes straying to Cassana, he noted the ashen face she presented him with.  A light breeze tugged at her unbound hair, scattering her tresses hither and to. That was the question, was it not? Was she worth losing a crown for?  

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

In the world he inhabited, Jon was aware of only so many sources of comfort. One of these was small mercies. Small mercies constituted those instances, so very elusive, when the gods decided they had tormented one individual enough and moved their attention to another target altogether. For him it was enough that Aegon’s aim had mostly centred upon places not easily visible. As such, greeting the somewhat inconvenient arrived, time-wise, bride of the Crown Prince proved, if not comfortable, then at the very least survivable. As feats went, Jon regarded it as one to take pride in.  

Cassana, meantime, stood near the loom mother had fairly forced her to work at. She cast an unhappy glance at their younger brother, but Maekar was much too busy babbling to the children, keeping them well and truly busy. Suffice to say her escapade in the morning had not best pleased mother who was beside herself at having lost a husband. Seldom did she lose her temper in such a way as she had with her daughter. “This is servants’ work,” his sister complained, twisting the wool between thumb and forefinger, slipping the thin thread around the spindle. Next to her a full basket awaited her.

Jon remained uncertain as to the origin of the wool. It was clear to him, however, that Cassana would not step one foot without in the absence of their mother’s consent and mother was as likely to bar the door as she was to allow her daughter an escape. “Best you grow used to it, sister; one never knows when the skill will be needed.” Her disgruntled stare latched onto him. Her lips compressed in a thin line. “Shall I bring you a cup of wine?”

“Only if you wish me to throw it at your head.” Though she might labour under the impression that he took even a smidgeon of joy in separating her from her heart’s desire, Jon could safely say he had no such designs upon her hopes and dreams. What he did have was a heavy heart and more than his fair share of burdens, all of which, he assumed, would be laid upon her shoulders as soon as night fell and mother returned. “Does your chest still hurt?”

He started. A hand crept, unbidden, to the source of ache. “Not as much as before.”

Mylenda daringly made her way towards the two of them, clutching a doll to her chest. “Did you fall?” she questioned, imperiously pressing one hand to his knee in silent order. Jon picked her up, depositing the girl and her doll on his knee.

“Aye. Took a right tumble.” His sister frowned up at him. Cassana’s eyes narrowed in a glare. Mylenda leaned into Jon as her twin came scuttling over. She did not have doll, though she too asked to be picked up, using words unlike her sister. Jon deposited her on his other knee.

“Does it hurt?” apparently Jocelyn had overheard the little exchange. He shook his head with a light chuckle. As if to test his mettle, Mylenda pressed her hand to the middle of his chest, her weight behind the motion. Jon sucked in a breath through his teeth.

“It does hurt him,” Jocelyn exclaimed, slapping her twin’s hand away. “You’re supposed to pat it better, not hurt him worse.” She further demonstrated her point by gently stroking over the spot her sister had recently abused.

“Well, there is no man luckier than I in the kingdoms,” Jon sighed. “And why, precisely, have the two of you decide to lavish me with attention?”

“When is mother returning?” That had been Mylenda, pushing her doll into his side as she spoke.

“Easy now, my girl, I have only so many arms.” The doll was swiftly nestled between them. “As for our lady mother, she is returning as soon as she can. But these matters take time, you know.” They were not supposed to take their septa away as well, though, and for that Jon knew not what to say, except that might be mother wished to have words with the woman about his eldest sister’s escapade. If that was the reason for the minder’s absence, then may the gods have mercy on her should, for Lyanna Stark never would.

“I knew it.” Maekar strode to them, one brother lifted under each arm. Ned and Steff were delighted to be thus moved from one place to another, the younger one even letting out a giggle. Suffice to say the two of them were still confused as to what had transpired with their father and what would follow. “You take all the pretty ladies and leave me with the lads, aye?” The words partially obscured the look in his eyes. Jon exchanged a glance with his brother, but Maekar seemed more concerned with him.

“What can I say, brother? I have an affinity to consider.” The girls departed just as soon as their younger brothers were put upon the ground. Mylenda was the first to jump in Maekar’s hold, followed by Jocelyn. The doll was still in Jon’s possession. He watched Ned tot over, one hand held before, reaching for him, the other half-dragging poor Steffon in his wake. Jon opened his arms to the duo. “And where might you two be going?”

“Up.” The first one up was Steffon, if only because his small legs looked to be shaking. One shroud was more than enough for mother to weave. Ned, with a tad more patience, awaited his turn, eyeing the doll with distrust. He scoffed at the silk-clad, painted porcelain. 

“Not pecisley the soldier you were wanting, brother?” Jon asked, smiling down at the boy. “You may give the doll back to Mylenda at any time.”

“It is not a doll; it is a babe,” Mylenda corrected from her place upon the thick carpets, holding her hands out in demand. “Her name is Argella.” Jon glanced down at Argella, sporting Baratheon colours. “Named for the Storm King’s daughter.”

“Storm Queen,” Cassana cut in. Mylenda sent her a questioning look. “Argella Durrandon was heir to her father’s throne. Therefore she was Storm Queen.”

“Well, well, someone has been minding the maester,” Maekar snorted. “Never fear, sweet sister, I doubt the garrison of Storm’s End will ever have need to deliver you fettered and gagged to some awaiting bridegroom.”

Jon winced, wondering whether she would give them away. But he should not have doubted Cassana’s pride, for it was as wide as the Trident. She scoffed and spun her yarn. “Do not be absurd; to be chained would be too great an indignity.”

The conversation was cut short when a head poked in. “Lord Barahteon?” a fresh –faced youth inquired. Jon burdened Maekar with their siblings and rose, sending one look towards his sister, along with a reminder to mind her task. “A word, m’lord.”

They stepped without and Jon shut the door behind. One need not pay much attention to hear the sound of feet falling across the floors. “Speak then, man,” he instructed, moving further away from the door as the servant followed.

“Lord Connington requires your presence.” He paused, turning to glance over his shoulder. A nod was more than enough for the boy to continue. “He apologises for the untimely summon, but assures m’lord ‘tis of great importance.”

“Lead the way.” Many a noble had chambers assigned in the Red Keep. A great number were lavished with grand living quarters along with provisions. Jon was not surprised in the least to be lead to such a space by the servant. Indeed, the only thing he found strange upon arrival was that Lord Connington was woefully absent and in his place, seated behind a desk was his lady wife.

A celebrated beauty of her age, Lady Ashara, stood straight in her seat, her even features best displayed in the soft light streaming in trough the rosy curtains hanging over the lancets. Daughter took after mother, Jon thought, bowing to the older woman. “You are not Lord Connington.”

“I might as well be.” He raised one eyebrow at the response, resting his eyes upon the curls-framed visage. “As far as the matter I wish to discuss is concerned,” she demurred, standing to her own two feet. She was a tall woman, his own height or thereabout. A head over his lady mother. Lovely in form and deportment; and might be beloved in turn for those attributes. He wondered whether that was why she had called upon him. “Will you not have a seat?”

“My gratitude, but I shall be sitting long hours, I expect. A bit of standing is quite welcome.” She nodded and stepped around the desk, coming to stand before it, leaning her weight against the object. “Could I at least tempt you with some wine; lest you think me an incapable hostess.”

“That would never be the case.” She was turning a ring around her finger. What cause had she to be nervous?

“That I will happily accept.” His agreement must have been counted upon as a servant came in but a moment later, carrying a laden tray. Jon took a cup. The other was taken by the lady. He sipped a bit of his beverage.

“You must be wondering at the summon,” she mused out loud, presenting him with a soft cameo. Whether she did so knowingly or simply could not help the matter, he found himself thoroughly amused. For her benefit he nodded, spying the way she kept an eye on him. “Your lord father had a notion of our houses coming together in celebration of a wedding.” Again he nodded. “He was, if I am not mistaken, attempting to set your marriage to my daughter.”

“And this,” he gestured towards her, “is, I take it, about the marriage.”

“Only to the extent that since our arrival at court there have been some unsavoury rumours rearing their head.” He held his breath in anticipation. “I am certain you must have heard them. About my Rhaella and Rhaegar.” Jon blinked, and relaxed.

“I confess I am not in the habit of giving too much credence to rumours. They are speculation for a reason.”  Her eyes turned upon him, the stare as potent as any wine. Indeed, he could well understand how this woman had been the ideal of many a knight. Even with her youth past, she remained rather lovely to look at. And her daughter would be much the same if he did not miss his guess. “This is about your daughter’s parentage?”

“What else could it be?” She placed her cup upon the table. “I believe you have a vested interest in this matter.”

“Do I? Has her lord father decided to no longer give her the protection of his name?” Rather late, if that were so. Who would believe he realised the deception only after so many years? Ludicrous.

A becoming blush settled upon the mother’s cheeks. “You have misunderstood, my lord. My husband would not allow such a scandal.” The woman took a deep breath and returned to playing with her ring. “He is,” she paused as though searching for the right words.

“Lord Connington is not unknown at court, my lady,” Jon interrupted gently. It could not be easy for a woman such as herself to be thrown over. “You need not explain; nor worry over your daughter’s fate. I mean to wed her. It follows naturally that should anyone cast aspersions upon her, they will answer to me.”

Her gaze slipped from him. “I was present at Harrenhal when His Majesty, then Crown Prince, gifted your lady mother with a crown of roses. She was the envy of every maiden.” He sharpened his focus upon her, hiding some of it behind his cup of wine. “She expressed much joy at the compliment paid to her.” Did she suspect as Jon did? “My point being, many a knight fought for that crown. I too had the promise of it should the champion of my heart have won.” Nay; Jon very nearly sighed.

“Whoever that knight was, the gods must have smiled upon him for my lady to have bestowed a favour.”

“Fortune favours the bold, and Ser Barristan was ever so.” Rhaella Connington, daughter of a Kingsguard. She was trying to tell him, in other words, that he should not fret over the bloodline.

“I simply wish my daughter my good care.”

“You have my word that she will be.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Those poor children,” Rhaenys commiserated, holding Lady Lyanna’s hand in sympathy. “I cannot imagine it has been easy for you either.” They were kin of sorts, she having wedded the woman’s good-brother. Besides which, she’d known her for most of her life and never once had she gone out of her way to needle Rhaenys; that in spite of the fact that her rivalry with her mother escalated some each year.

“The younger ones yet maintain a shred of innocence. ‘Tis the older ones I worry over.” As was natural. Rhaenys nodded her understanding and squeezed the woman’s hand once more. “But Your Grace has not come all the way to hear of my troubles.”

“Nonsense, we are family.” She would not have dared say as much a few years back. Rhaenys rather thought she might have ended up swallowing her tongue and cowering from her mother. But she was now a married woman, very nearly lady of her own house. In all but name, to be completely honest. “Sometimes one does need an understanding shoulder to lean on. I expect Jon has already begun preparing for his duties.”

“If only you could have seen him, pacing the chamber’s length. I tired myself watching him.” The older woman shook her head, a sad smile crossing her lips ever so fleetingly.

Rhaenys made a noncommittal sound, considering the former Lord Baratheon’s eldest son. Jon was not at all like his father. There was no comparing the two. For all the charm a young Robert Baratheon had at the tips of his fingers, for Rhaenys did indeed recall the man as he had been at the apex of his blessings, he had ever been short of awe-inspiring. Jon was quieter, after a fashion, his confidence needing no announcement. One could tell by speaking to him that he knew, and Rhaenys suspected that he had for most of his existence, exactly where he fit in the world and as such needed not attempt to win a place. He’d been born with what Uncle Oberyn might have referred to as an old soul.

She quite liked Jon Baratheon, for all his quiet ways included. “The pressure in in no way negligible.” And knowing Jon as she did, the pressure pressed doubly down upon his shoulders, given he tended to fret over the finer details of any occurrence. “But I have faith in Jon. He always comes through.”

Lady Lyanna raised her eyes to hers. She held the woman’s stare, not entirely certain what it was she saw in there. “One day soon, you shall make some fortunate child a very good mother, and you will, undoubtedly, come to understand that one rarely fears failure of their children, but rather the effects of success. I was simply not prepared to give him free reign yet.”

“I trust in your word then.” Their conversation turned to more mundane aspects of court life until Rhaenys felt she had quite exhausted the supply of subjects and extricated herself from the conversation with a promise that at some point they should sit down together.

She moved forth, encountering a number of courtiers who were more than pleased to engage her in mindless conversation. But that had not been her goal. She was eyeing her brother and his betrothed, sitting side by side, one looking slightly awkward, the other seemingly in their element. Momentarily forgetting the company she allowed herself to frown.

“Aught amiss, Your Grace?”  The query took her by surprise, ripping her attention away from the couple.

“Not at all; I was simply thinking that before long I should return to Riverrun.” The ruse worked. Her companions laughed and good-naturedly teased about husbands and their need to keep a wife close. She did not disagree, but rather wished Edmure had come along so he might prove their point. “That is a wise man, my friends; elsewise a wife might take certain notions into her head.” Some did anyway.

“Marriage is treating you well, Your Grace,” another observed, the smile upon her face wistful, if anything. Rhaenys felt for her. Not all marriage were created equal, no matter that she would have liked for that to be the case.

“I grow tired of talking about myself,” she commented. “Is there truly nothing happening at my father’s court?”

“Well, there was old Lord Baratheon’s death,” chirped in the third, her look slightly apologetic, “but Your Grace has already discussed with Lady Baratheon. We simply saw no merit in mentioning that.”

“Poor woman, her days at court are numbered.” Well, that was enough to gain her attention. Rhaenys demanded an explanation. She was not denied. “Your Grace has been gone a while, naturally you have not heard. Her Majesty and Lady Baratheonn have had quite the row and whatever the Queen said to her nearly had the poor woman’s knees melt. I reckon she’ll be sent from court soon enough now that her husband no longer breaths.”

“You must be mistaken. My mother would not threaten anyone.” Not even Lady Lyanna? It was worth considering. TThey had never been overly friendly to one another and as Rhaenys grew the rift deepened; but they had not outwardly expressed their mutual dislike.

“Lady Ashara might know something; she was with Her Majesty. Or might be Ser Eddard Stark’s wife. But what else could have caused such weakness in Lady Lyanna. You know her, Your Grace; she is about as delicate as a wild horse on a rampage.”

“Wild horse or not, I know my lady mother. She would never stoop so low.” And Lady Ashara would, without doubt, shed light upon the matter as soon as Rhaenys got a hold of her. “I should have my father’s court is not as poisonous as you make it out to be.”

Twitters of protest rose, along with an apology or two. Yet her interest long since waned. She left them in search of a spot where she might sit and observe her brother and his betrothed. Lafy Margaery had certainly looked a lively gurkl on their journey here, smiling and chatting. She did the same in her brother’s company, but he seemed taken aback rather than pleased and, it appeared to Rhaenys, he answered the questions thrown his way in as few syllables as possible.

This was Aegon; she doubted he had substantially changed over the course of such short a time. He ought to be smiling back at her, teasing and laughing as was his wont. Yet there was no sight of her mischievous brother. Her brow furrowed. That was not right.

Thankfully for her, she did not have to carry the burden alone. Her father, who had previously been caught in a no doubt scintillating conversation with Mace Tyrell, made his escape and fortuitously enough approached her. “I have never known you to cling to the shadows, pet,” he commented easily, sitting down next to her.

“Father, may I ask a question?” She must have surprised him, for he pinned her with an intense stare. She knew that look. “About Aegon.” Her father nodded. “Have you asked after his opinion of Lady Margaery?”

“His opinion?” the man echoed. While not precisely certain why the words held a tinge of bitterness, Rhaenys confirmed. “What has his opinion to do with anything, pet?”

“You asked for mine before you agreed to wed me to Edmure.” There was no answer straight away. And might be ‘twas for the best. She could not fathom what thoughts coursed through her father’s mind, only that Aegon had not been asked for his opinion and that worked to explain much of his apprehension.

“You believe, I take it, that protests would have changed my mind.” Declining to answer, Rhaenys cocked her head to the side, silently urging him to continue. His words did not construe a question after all. “I wish I could tell you that you are right.”

A shiver ran down her spine. Never had she considered that her words would amount to nothing. “But surely you do not wish him to be unhappy. At the very least you ought to allow him a few words, do you not think so?”

“And pretend I can take them into consideration? When I know I cannot. Whatever you may think of our methods, Rhaenys, your mother and I are not insensible to your needs. We simply chose to suit our needs as well.”

“He will resent it, father. And in the end he might grown to resent her as well. No matter the needs you believe she covers.” She looked at the couple yet again. Aegon was still painfully shy of his betrothed. “Can you not see how he acts around her? Does it not matter why?”

“As to that, I confess I haven’t an answer. But we will get to the bottom of it.” At times she did wonder if her father held some resentment towards his own parents. As she recalled it had been her grandmother who arranged for his wedding to her mother. And father,= had yet to find it in his hearty to love his wife.

Growing up she had never doubted the sincerity of his affection towards her and Aegon; even in his harsher moments, father had never seemed to not love them. She would have hoped that might men their own wishes would be taken into account. At least sked after. “It is the gesture that matters, father; not the effect.”

“A meaningless gesture has no value,” he argued back. “I know you mean well, but this matter does not concern you, dearling. “Best you see to your companions.”

Arguinfg would be futile. She might rise his ire and in the great hall no less. Better to leave the conversation for a later date, when it was just the family. Rhaenys nodded her head and, to her surprise, she saw relief mingling with guilt flicker across father’s face. Might be not all was lost. “What are you going to do about Jon Baratheon, father?”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Surely you do not mean to have him return to Storm’s End permanently. He was raised at court.” He made no reply. “There must be some position he can claim.”

“If he feels the need to see to his lands, ‘tis hardly right that I stop him; but nay, I do not mean to have him away for too long. His father was one of my most trusted men.” That Rhaenys doubted some. Father trusted his lords, to  a certain point, but Lord Robert had won favour in battle. Father did not enjoy battle.

“I am certain Jon will have taken care of everything before long.” She offered her father a brief smile to signify the sincerity of her words.

“It seems to me you are rather fond of the boy.” He still thought of Jon as a boy, even though he fully expected Aegon to act as a man would. And those two were on an age. At times she despaired of ever understanding the manner in which men thought.

“He was certainly a lot kinder to me than my brother. Never once did he tug on my braids, Your Majesty.” Or she could not remember him having done so; though Jon was not above pulling a prank or two when it suited him. “That is a sure way into a maiden’s heart.”

“I see. You should not tell your brother as much though.” She had not though to. Aegon might pull on her hair just to annoy her if she admitted as much. She remained where she was for the reminder of their mingling in the great hall, not moving even when her father left her side.

It was more than enough work for her to keep her eyes peeled to Aegon and Margaery Tyrell. She should talk to him before father and mother could. Might be they could mitigate the trouble, whatever it was. For the sake of them all, she hoped that was the case, elsewise her poor brother had a lifetime of misery waiting for him.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

He was bound to lose a tooth or two from all the grinding he’d done recently, Jon considered, eyeing the tray of sweetmeats with some distrust. It was not that he suspected Rhaenys, per se. They had known one another for approximately a lifetime. Those surrounding her he was not half as certain of. Which resulted in the rather uncomfortable meeting of two like minds. Only that in this matter they were very little alike.

“I cannot believe you would say that,” she exclaimed, her cup of mulled wine slamming irritably against the table top. “At times I wonder whose son you are, I do. Your father was certainly never shy about his many loves.”

“About his many lovers,” he corrected without thinking. Rhaenys stared at him. “But that is not love. Elsewise every time a man,” he stopped himself. This was Rhaenys and she did not deserve his ire even if she was being particularly naive. “No matter; you know my father’s affairs were not about love. He has to do his duty.”

“Why are you scared?” He absolutely loathed when she did that. As though she had a right to know his innermost thoughts. “What has you shaking like a leaf in the storm? And do not think to mislead me. I will find out one way or another what this is about.”

He could, of course, pretend ignorance. No matter her words, Rhaenys would never manage to pry from his the knowledge if he decided against giving it. But she might take it easily from Cassana, and her he did not trust to keep silent. “He’s got it into his head that he fancies my sister.” Better than she know from him.

A flicker of understanding played across her face. “Cass?” He hoped she understood, as much as one could without all the facts, why that worried him. “He believes he loves Cassana? How?”

“I couldn’t say except that one day she was to him as one of the twins, and the next I found them wrapped in an embrace. I love my sister, but you know her. The moment he tires of her, Aegon will find that she is not quite as sweet as he imagined.” Cassana was difficult; she always had been. And while Jon had had years to work on how to deal with her, Aegon hadn’t the benefit, nor the temperament. “Lady Margaery is a good choice.”

“You do not know her,” Rhaenys pointed out, patting her lap gently as a dark form dashed across the floors. It jumped in her lap, nestling its head against her middle. “My brother does not know her. Nor does he wish it. I fear that his obstinacy will ruin any chance of a fruitful relationship before they have even begun.”

“We are of a mind then. I do not want to hurt him, Rhae; the three of us, we’ve always been close, have we not?” Rhaenys agreed. “But I cannot consent to a liaison between them; not when I know His Majesty would never allow it. I would rather see him struggle a little to push her out of his heart than see him robbed of his birthright. And for what? An impulse.”

Rhaenys leaned back in her chair, stroking her fingers over the purring cat’s back. “Why do you treat him as though he were your child?” Balerion swiped a paw over the deep-purple brocade of her skirts, pulling a few silver threads. She moved the creature’s claws away from the precious work and chided the cat. “You know very well that he would resent it. As his sister, I must ask you to reconsider.”

“As Cassana’s brother, I find that impossible. If the situation were any different, do you think I would have the slightest misgiving about him? She is not for him, Rhaenys. It cannot be, and do not let any swaying notions lead you to a contrary conclusion.”

“I understand about Cass’ disposition, truly I do, but many people are as excitable as she. And that does not stop them from fully enjoying their lives; with someone at their side. Aegon might grow to be a grounding element for her. You cannot assume they are doomed to fail simply because at this point he has not reached his full potential.”

“And you cannot assume they are destined to succeed simply because someday your brother might reach his full potential. In any event, Lady Margaery expects to wed the Prince. Her family expects as much as well. Can you imagine the scandal? Can you imagine the fallout?” He knew he could. Never, not even in his darkest moments, had he wished anything like that for his friend. And to think his sister might be instrumental in his friend’s downfall was not a thought that sat well with him.

“The alternative is somehow better In your mind?” There were times when Jon wondered how much Rhaenys saw. Or rather how much she understood. Seeing and understanding were two very different matters, after all. Jon was fairly certain most members of the court saw the tension between his mother and the Queen, but he was willing to bet very few truly understood it. Might be the King and his mother had simply cultivated skills which might help them remain undetected in their later years and Rhaenys knew what he did.

“It does not matter what I believe.” This was not going to end well, he feared. “Once Cassana is away, you will see how your brother’s behaviour changes. All it takes is some distance.” A dubious look was his reward. “You said you liked Lady Margaery. Are you retracting the statement?”

“Not at all. I expect I will continue to like the lady for many years to come. I just wish Aegon could–“

“Notions of love flittering through your head again?” Women and their inclination towards swarms of emotion. One day, he might understand it.

“You do not have to say it as though ‘twas a bad thing.” Jon shrugged. She narrowed her eyes in response.  

Rhaenys steered the conversation in a different direation. Unable to tell whether she simply wished to distract him or if his arguments had made an impression upon her, he went along with her directions, speaking of inconsequential matters until they both grew tired of it. Before long he was leaving Rhaenys to Baelor’s fickle attentions and making his way towards the gardens for some much needed peace and quiet.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A dapple of shadows fell over a portion of the road. The dark veil sported a multitude of holes through, the spears of sunlight  forcing the shade away, yet not powerful enough to vanquish its foes. Leaves rustled ahead and above, their dance waning and picking up upon the direction of a lively breeze. It was not very cold, but the morning air remain brisk; the perfect weather for riding.

That thought prompted Jon to turns his head towards the lumbering wheelhouse. Crammed together within its confines, his sisters and younger brothers were certain to be a tad uncomfortable. Mother had refused to allow Cassana to ride, claiming she was needed to look after her siblings. Jon had declined to intervene even at his sister’s plea, leaving him with Maekar for company. His brother remained yet in low spirits thought, so he could not be counted upon to alleviate the monotony of the journey.

“You were born here, you know?” he prodded his sibling gently, hoping to get something out of the boy. It seemed unnatural, to say the least, for him to remain quiet for so long a stretch of time. “And I was the first to hold you. After mother, of course.”

Maekar gave him a long look, then turned away. The sound of rustling paused. Plunged into uneasy silence, Jon experienced a moment of discomfiture; should he have taken the chance?

“Cassana says she was first.” The bubble around them broke with nearly audible intensity, forcing him into releasing a breath he did not know he’d been holding. Maekar’s eyes returned to watching him. “It cannot be that both of you were first.”

“You were the first babe she held, to be certain, but she was not the first to hold you.” Might be she had simply expressed herself poorly, he considered as explanations for his sister’s claim rose to mind. “You were so tiny; tiniest I’d ever remembered seeing.”

“Don’t turn all maudlin on me,” Maekar warned, a comforting edge to his voice. It sounded more and more like his brother with each passing moment. “Tiny; what rot.”

“You can ask mother; although I doubt she recalls much of it.” They did not speak of it much, but for some reason mother had always experienced a trifle more trouble delivering sons than she had delivering daughters. With the exception of Steffon, who for some reason saw fit to hurry his entrance into the world, announcing such with a cry loud enough to wake the dead, all of them stubbornly held onto their safe and comfortable position.  As mother liked to tell it, if she put together all the hours she laboured with the lot of them it would make a whole year.

“I doubt she would be willing to recount it even if she did.” His brother pulled a face and tugged on his gelding’s reins. “Although it does seem strange to me that you should say so. Why would she not recall it?”

“Milk of the poppy. The maesters always had some at the ready. You know how mother gets when drinking that stuff,” Suffice to say that holding the babe and peering down into the tiny face was about all she managed to do after. Once the potion took hold, she would fall into a dreamless slumber, more than once passing away a couple of days in such a state. That Jon remembered clearly.

Just as clearly he recalled having asked once, of his father, whether she would wake from her slumber. His young mind had not been able to comprehend the exhaustion his poor mother faced. Robert had, predictably, laughed his feared away. The one who had explained to him, sometime later, that his mother required silence and respite had been the King. A more precocious child might have understood the oddness of such an occurrence and entertained some suspicions as to the presence of the King at the bedside of his mother, all when he had not seen the man come in. Jon had simply taken the comfort which was being given. He sighed to himself and pushed the memory away. For the time being he did not have to worry about the King.

His primary concern was Storm’s End. His father had visited twice in as long as Jon could recall. Neither time did he take any of his children with him, not even his wife. What he did carry with him each time, though, was a natural born child. On both occasions his return was marked by several uncomplimentary assessments of his brother.

Jon did not recall much of Uncle Stannis. The man had never been particularly warm to him and Jon had never paid him much mind as a consequence. And once father obtained a position at court, he’d not had to deal with the man, leaving him behind to mind the keep. While a formal correspondence had been entertained, as was customary of the seneschal and the lord of the keep to do, he’d never once read the letters and his father most likely fed them to the flames crackling merrily whenever he chanced upon them. From what he had managed to gather though, most of it at his mother’s knee, no less, of the finances, was that with careful handling he might well be able to live in comfort for the rest of his life. It had certainly helped that the King saw fit to bestow some advantages upon them as well.

His worry remained with his uncle, bleeding into what might have been a trusting relationship otherwise. Much of his father’s remarks about the man, as well as mother’s blatant disregard had cemented a coolness towards his kin that Jon much doubted he’d be able to shake off. Might be that was not the point though; he disliked half the court and distrusted the other half. He need not feel closeness to this man either. Finding out what his weakness was, though, would not be amiss. That ought to be the first matter he concerned himself with as far as the inhabitants of the keep went.

The single tower of the keep trusted its weight towards the skies, the spikes cutting through a line of thin fog, its form slowly appearing from behind largest hump of the road, bearing itself as proud as any peacock. Jon smiled at the sight, a feeling of nostalgia creeping upon him. “Nearly there.”#

“Not nearly near enough,” Maekar commented, pointing towards the snaking road. “It will still take us hours to clear the distance. Best you save your excitement for when we’ve arrived.”

“At least one of us should show some excitement when faced with the prospect of seeing home once more.” His brother frowned. Jon cocked his head to the side, holding onto his expectation that Maekar would, at some point, give him some manner of response.

His sibling did not disappoint. “Not my home, Jon. I might have been born to this pile of rocks, but it has never been my home. Besides which, too many cooks stirring the same pot never did end well.”

“As though you’d be stirring any pots,” Jon retaliated. “Stirring trouble in the stables is more like it.” He urged his horse to a swifter pace and gave a low whistle. Maekar groaned, but he heard the boy send his own horse into a gallop. “By the by, this is your home, as long as there is breath in my body” he called out over his shoulder.

“That can be arranged,” the other yelled back.

Before long they were riding shoulder to shoulder, dust rising up behind them in a thick curtain. Might be it was just as well that Cassana had not been allowed without the wheelhouse. Maekar drove his horse towards Jon’s causing the other beast to serve to the side. One of the horse’s legs bent in the midst of an awkward move, but his brother retreated just in time to avoid upsetting the beast’s balance beyond redemption and sending Jon hurtling to the ground.

In retaliation, he sped ahead, sending a spatter of tiny pebbles and a shower of dust into his brother’s face. At the very least, they were more in charity with a tad of competition. “That is not fair, brother!”

“Seems fair enough to me.” Which was precisely the thing to say if he wished to provoke Maekar. Which Jon was actively trying to do. It worked marvellously well, in that his kin saw fit to push himself even further.

Jon allowed the boy his victory after a time, having exhausted both of them and their horses. With hours of journey yet to go, it would not be very smart to press further. “You know, if you truly want to do some stirring in the pot, I can find one for you. You needn’t be put out on my account.”

“Pots require care,” Maekar pointed out, “you always tell me that.”

“And I trust you would do well with some polish to your skill. If you wished it.” The boy shrugged, leaving Jon to ponder the thought on his own.

He glanced over his shoulder, searching for the structure they’d left behind. The wheelhouse had advanced some during their conversation. At the speed they were  going at, it was possible they would reach Storm’s End before sundown. With a bit of will though, he was more than willing to bet they could reach it even earlier. “Maekar, go and tell them to harness another team.”

“But there are only Cassana’s and mother’s horses. You know those two, Force them to bear the weight of a yoke and we shall have more than two angry mares to deal with.”

“We would have an extra pair pulling that damned wheelhouse and hopefully we shall be reaching our destination before father’s bones are nothing but dust. I want that team harnessed.”

“Just as long as you know not to turn to me when the womenfolk find out.” His brother rode off to do his bidding. Jon, meantime, turned his attention to the single tower standing proud in the distance. Did Cassana remember some of it? She must, they had both toddled along its corridors for long enough that Storm’s End was a friend rather than a stranger.

In some ways it was worrisome to hear Maekar speak as though the keep meant naught to him. War, famine, death; they could come at any time, rip away any one of them. And not a single one of those thoughts would help make the rest of the journey any more comfortable. Jon forced them aside and returned to his family. The wheelhouse had been stopped in the middle of the wide road. Two men worked to bring the mares forth while a third held onto the gear. By the protests of the two it would not be long before the wheelhouse was emptied.

True to form, his kin proved his point by filing out of the wheeled structure in disorderly fashion. The twins were pulling Ned along and Cassana carried Steffon. Mother came last, eyes surveying the scene playing out before her. Her expression froze in a tight mask of displeasure when she finally saw her mare. Jon dismounted and walked over, fully expecting to have his ears ringing in short order.

“We will move faster if we harness them as well, lady mother. I thought that might be welcome news.” She blinked up at him, keeping silent for enough time that he laughed in further explanation, “It would be wiser not to remain on the road come nightfall; this will ensure we are not in danger from that corner.”

“If you think it best.” It was his turn to freeze. She was simply accepting his decision. Questions crawled up his throat. Mother pursed her lips. “Well, do not just stand there. We have to make good time.”

“You would simply–“

An annoyed glare silenced him. “You are the head of the household now. If I have complaints I will be certain to address them to you, but I will no longer hold your hand. You are a man now.” He certainly hoped his uncle would have a like opinion, elsewise they would find themselves with a battle on their hands. The matriarch, however, was already walking away.

Before he could enjoy the minor victory to the fullest, his sister approached him. “If she comes to any harm, you will regret it.”

Unable to help himself, he rewarded her threat with feigned ignorance. “Dear sister, I confess I am at a loss.”

“My mare, and quit being difficult. I have had enough of it from mother.” Steffon chose that precise moment to grab onto his sister’s hair, apparently unable to keep from marvelling at the texture. He tugged, causing her to throw her head back. “And from Steffon.”

“Mother I can see setting out to make matters difficult for you, but I doubt poor Steffon has acquired the necessary skills to plot against you,” he offered in that supercilious tone of voice he knew she loathed. Pressing a hand to the small of her back, he guided her towards the door. “Shall I help you uop?”

“I can climb without your aid,” Cassana snapped and, as good, as her word, disappeared into the wheelhouse. She slammed the door in her wake. Having not been latched, it foiled her efforts at a dramatic exit by gaping open the next moment.

“You could assist us,” Jocelyn said, tugging on his arm. Jon glanced down. Mylenda was holding Ned upright in the meantime.

“Of course, my fair lady.” He handed her up fist, since she had done the asking and then took Ned from Mylenda. The boy seemed somewhat disgruntled, but that might have been due to a lack of sleep. Jocelyn was waiting for her sister when he pressed the boy in her hold. “And you, would you like me to help you as well?”

“Aye.” She held her arms out, tapping one foot impatiently. Jon hurried to do his duty. “Took you long enough,, brother.”

“A rose with thorns, I see,” he muttered to himself. The words, not unexpectedly, flew over his sister’s head. She was just pleased to be in the wheelhouse once more. “Cass, latch the door, will you?” He pulled the very same door closed before she could give him a reply. What a withering reply it might have been had he given her half the chance. To his great luck, he did not have to engage in that war.

Finally returned to his brother’s side, Jon grimaced at the satisfied and slightly unkind undertones of the stare he received. “She would have flayed you. You know it.”

“She hasn’t won any of our skirmishes for years.” Though she came on strongly at first, which had intimidated him during his early years, he’d learned. She had not. “And she will never win one again. Do not despair though, brother, she can easily flay you.”

They rode further, the distance between them and the tower, he could scarcely make out, shrinking as it gaining in heights and width, turrets sharpened in anticipations of company. Before that milestone could be reached, however, there was a village sprawling out before them. A few of the older structures were familiar to him. The proud sept, for example, still retained its wooden turrets, mounted upon the humble earthen walls of a much older place of worship. The Storm’s End maester had once told him that a long time ago people left gifts upon its altar to the first mistress of the keep. Elenei, by all accounts a minor deity in her own right, had wedded Durran Godsgrief and, presumably, with the aid of Brandon the Builder raised a keep to withstand all storms.

He had been inside a few times. It resembled a hut, much like the ones the smallfolk inhabited, but there were objects of worship strewn about, paintings of the Seven and a number of relics the septon had never been able to explain the use of.

There were some changes though. As all things were wont to do, the small community had expanded and with it the number of constructions. And the number of mishaps had as well; that was the thought running about in Jon’s head as he saw a couple of lads, possibly Maekar’s age, running out into the road with frankly terrified expressions. He tugged upon his horse’s reins.

“here now, what is this all about?” he demanded of the two. Maekar reached them. The boys looked from one to the other. “Speak without fear.”

“There’s been an accident,” one of them finally revealed, his voice loud and squeaky almost as though he expected to be chastised for his daring. “A few men were felling trees and one of them got caught under a falling trunk.”

Meantime, the wheelhouse released one of its captives, Cassana appeared as though out of thin air, hands on her hips. “Why are we stopping again?” A quick explanation had her lips open in a slack oval. “That is horrible, but what could any of you possibly do?”

“Aid,” Jon answered, dismounting. “Maekar, ride ahead and have the maester brought down. You,” he pointed to one of the boys, “do you ride?”

“Enough to keep myself in the saddle,” the fellow replied, looking with some uncertainty towards the horses.

“Good, go with my brother here and explain to the maester what awaits him. He will want to be prepared.” Turning, he caught sight of Casssana, who was hanging back for once. “As for you, mother will not wish to wait. Go now and tell her I will return in my own time.”

“Maekar can tell her,” she protested. He was about to argue, but she pulled a pleading face. “I have been stuck in that wheelhouse long enough. I won’t get in your way and I shan’t cause any trouble. Upon my honour.”

Arguments would not best serve his interests at the moment. Jon nodded. “Very well then. Maekar, explain to mother as briefly as you can, but do not delay long.” And with that, he saw his confrontation with his uncle stalled and his attention diverted towards a new problem.

Their guide saw them towards a meadow in which a group of men and women had gathered.  The women were secluded in the far left corner, clustering around a small banked fire upon which sat a cauldron, presumably half-forgotten. One of them, Jon observed, was weeping, hiding her face away. She remained audible nevertheless.

The men, on the other hand, were loading severed trees trunks in a cart, a rudimentary thing, with one wheel half sunken into a muddy pit. Upon their arrival, one of the men broke away. Tall enough to tower over Jon, he approached with a sure step, as were the steps of smallfolk when in their element. “Gwydo, you’ve brought help.” However, once he glanced over him and his sister something changed in his face. “Beggin’ pardon, I sent the boy for help, not to bother good folk.”

“No need, my good man,” he answered in as decisive a voice as he could produce. That attracted more than just a pair of eyes upon him. “I have sent for the maester of the keep. Now take me to this injured man so we might see what can be done.”

“The maester?” a feminine voice cut in. “You should not have, the master of the keep shan’t like it one whit.”

He blinked, lips pursing as annoyance rose to the surface. He did not turn when replying. “I am the master of the keep, good woman.” The collectible gasp was more than enough to make him wince. Before he could say anything else, fearful faces regarded him with open distrust. “We’ve an injured man, I understand. If you would be so good as to take me to him.”

Mumbles bubbled over. A few grumbles followed. Nevertheless, the sea of men parted and one, Jon presumed he was the aforementioned  Gwydo’s father, motioned him over his a movement of the head. Cassana’s sharp intake of breath momentarily transferred his attention to her. “You can stay here.”

“I would rather go with.” And she did so, not even complaining at the steep path they set upon in their descent.  He, nonetheless, took her by the hand and ensured that she would not come to a bad end. Some of the branches could cut her skirts and send her tumbling to a brutal, short death. Her neck would surely break.

They reached a nadir of sorts upon whose floor the body of a fallen giant trapped beneath its heavy mass the smaller, much frailer frame of a labourer. Cassana gasped, her hold tightening on his hand. “There’s a branch stabbing through him. Jon, he’ll bleed out long before the maester reaches us.”

“If we could pull the branch out and tie the wound.” Still, he could see little chance of achieving that. There was some space between the branches, but not enough that someone his size could fit through. A child would be put at too much risk and he did not see how a man bigger than him would achieve the goal.

“What if I try?” his sister offered after a few moments of silence. “I could use the sash to tie the wound.”

He eyed her with some interest. Somehow, it had never occurred to him that she might wish to do so; and that she was small enough to fit through the branches. “Are you certain? Might be one of the other women,” he trailed off.

“I doubt there is one with my figure among them,” she snorted, vanity rearing its head. “Here, hold this,” she said while her fingers worked on loosening the sash gathering her kirtle about her. She pressed the strip of material in his hand. “You, man, turn around!” Gwydo’s parent did so. “Mother will kill me if I ruin this one.” And with those words for explanation, she heaped her kirtle in his arms, leaving a sturdy chemise in its stead, of an appropriately dark colour. Only Cassana would waste good money on such fripperies.

What she did not waste was time, though. Once her precious kirtle was safely deposited away from gore and muck, she approached the fallen tree, kneeling to peer better at the path she considered takin. Thereafter she slipped into the tall grass stalks and dragged herself under the weighty wood. For a brief moment Jon thought she might be stuck when she came to a complete halt. His standing position, however, gave him an advantage. As he peered over the mass of branches, he could make out some of his sister’s form, writhing, seemingly helplessly. Only that she was not helpless at all and her wiggling eventually saw her whole length passing through.

Reaching the man proved to be a challenge though, even with her diminutive form. Thin branches barred her way, scratching ruthlessly against uncovered skin and he imagined her knees would be bruised. But Cassana did not let up. Once she got something in her head, stopping her would be a miracle unto itself. Thus, after several attempts she did manage to somehow grab onto the man. “He is unconscious,” she called out, managing to clear enough of a space that her form was not unduly impaired in its movement.

“Can you get that branch out?” he called back, walking around the crown of the tree, sash balled into one fist. Her kirtle was draped over his arm. He could juts about make out her hands grabbing onto the rod impaling the man’s shoulder. “You’ll have to pull hard. The flesh might not give way.”

“I’ve pulled splinters out before. It cannot be that different.” In the same way mules and horses were no different. Still, Jon did not make the retort. No use in discouraging her. Fingers gripped the piece of wood steadily. Her whole fist moved heavenwards, tugging .

Even unconscious, the poor victim managed a cry. Might be she had been wrong and he still lingered among them. Nevertheless, Cassana continued with the tugging until she was satisfied that the rod budged. She pulled and pulled, lifting it until barely the tip remained within. “I will need that sash.”

He threw it. His aim had always been a decent thing and Jon begged the gods that it not disappoint him at such a moment. To his great relief, it did not.

The bit of cloth caught upon a branch, close enough that Cassaan could easily reach it, which she did just before pulling the rod free in truth and pressing the sash hurriedly to the wound. A graon followed her efforts.

“What is it?”

“This is much too thin. It will not work as a bandage. Not unless layered over the wound and tied with something.”

That did not leave them with much choice. “You will have to stay there until the maester arrives.” He did not need to look to know she nodded. “I will see what can be done about removing some of the branches.”

“Just hurry, Jon. Hurry.”

His hurrying was not the issue. “I will try.” Returning to the side of the man still maintaining his back turned, he asked, “How many axes do you have?”

“Enough to clear the branches away now that Fiach won’t be bleeding his last over the forest floor, m’lord.” Despite the outward compliance, Jon felt the inward coolness seep into his bones and settle unpleasantly. He did not have time to challenge every man’s views though.

“Good. Call your men and let us see what we can do before the maester’s arrival.”

Only that there seemed to be some shared thoughts among these folk as he could already see a smattering of humanity approaching. There were axes too, as the man had promised, enough that Jon took one up himself, after he had put Cassana’s possessions away, and went to work on the outward side of the crown. This was not his craft, but he instructed great care, nevertheless, “You man won’t be served if my sister is injured.” Although he doubted any of the men wished her injured. Some, the younger ones, looked positively awed.

They toiled hard. Sweat broke out across his back and over his brow, his breath drew in short. Jon barely had time to wipe away the saltwater. Not even rigour training had prepared him for such a feat. And it showed. Some of the men were nearing the couple trapped in a prison of branches. For them it proved easy enough work to get their companion untangled.

Cassana, though, snarled when one touched her shoulder. “I can move on my own.” And she did, positioning herself at the injured man’s side. “If one of you would be so kind as to take my place.” For all the earlier enthusiasm, her mood soured fairly quick.

Not even that was enough to quell the admiration he saw in the eyes of some of the smallfolk.

With a jolt, he realised that not only his sister benefitted from their silent admiration. But by the look of Gwydo’s face, he too was to derive a like reward.

At about the same time arrived the maester. The man had not changed so very much that he was unrecognisable. Jon lifted a hand, motioning the old man over. His eyes lit upon him, recognition sparking to life. “My lord, forgive this old man his slowness.”

“Never you mind that, good maester. Come here and have a look at this injured man. Forsooth, he’s more need of you.” Complying, the maester knelt at the ailing’s side and moved away the thin covering the sash provided. Blood bubbled from the open wound. “Well?”

“Bring me some water. I must see this well cleansed.” 

Cassana, meantime, had moved to Maekar’s side. It probably had to do with him handing her his cloak. She glowered his way, but Jon simply pointed over to where he had deposited her clothing. “Maekar, make certain she has some privacy, will you?”

“Aye, brother. Come, Cass. I will be your stalwart wall.”

 “Would that you were my sharp hunting dagger.”

“Bloodthirsty little thing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"I always told him he was too reckless by half," Stannis said, gazing upon the bared bones of his brother. "Dearly do I wish this came as a surprise to me, good-sister, but I cannot say that I am at all astonished."

"A boar of all creatures." Lyanna did not feel any more comfortable standing next to Stannis than she had as a bride all those years past. He had a way about him, almost as though he was in equal measure curious and put off. As to why she should put him off, Lyanna was not yet any wiser than she had been in her youth. She knew why he ought to, of course; but Stannis did not. All in all, she could have done without dragging herself to this pile to rocks. Alas, Jon needed her.

A wave of nausea passed over her. A strange thing that; the road dust had long since been washed off, but the sickness persisted tormenting her even in the holy enclosure. "Are you well?" Robert's brother questioned, his voice striking like the whip against her ears. She winced and took a step back. Hands reached out to, presumably, steady her. Fingers clenched, digging into paper-thin gossamer and sturdier cloth.

"A trifle," she heard herself murmur from a far away place. "I reckon 'tis the length of the journey. Last I made it I was nigh a decade younger." He helped her to the carved bench. Once safely off her feet, he retreated as though she'd burned him. All the better, for she breathed easier without his hovering above her.

"Might be the maester should be consulted." Why has she refused Jon's offer that he remain at her side? Lyanna bit back a sigh but shook her head.

"There is time enough for that. I should like to discuss a matter with you." He remained standing, back turned to his brother's remains. "But first do allow me to express my gratitude for all the great care put into the keeping of our home." Like any wound, this too had to be unwrapped with care, she told herself, squinting ever so slightly as her vision blurred over. Fog presided over her cherished faculty, her struggle seemingly in vain.

Stannis produced a sound might have well been agreement, though gruffly delivered. "One does mind one's home," he spoke after. "To tell you the truth, good-sister, I'd expected the young lord would wish to remain at the side of the Prince. 'Tis said they are as close as brothers."

"Certainly as close as boys their age usually are. They court all manner of scrapes together." She kept her voice as neutral as possible. Lyanna had not doubted Stannis would feel some resentment at being knocked off of his perch, but still, to so blatantly express it was a tad more noteworthy. "Nevertheless, Jon knows where his duty lies. His Grace was very understanding, as well, of course." As to that, she had her doubts. Something had gone awry between the two. But what?

"Indeed, something he must have learned at Robert's knee, I gather." Clenched jaw, rapidly galloping heart, a stab of pain that momentarily left her lightheaded; she was not quite angry enough to spring to her feet.

"This might be the best moment to put forth that you should judge Jon by his own merits and not by whatever discontent you may feel towards his father. Whatever was between you and Robert, it hardly matters now. The man is dead." Her sight finally cleared, the pain easing some. She released a breath of relief. And finally, with some difficulty, she stood.

"It remains that he was raised away from Storm's End and has not been here since he was a child. I do not mean to disparage him, good-sister, truly, I do not. However, you cannot say he was taught as he should have been."

"On the contrary; he was taught with the Prince. I fail to see what better education one could be provided with." She made for the uncovered structure holding her husband's bones. "Robert had his flaws, among them a disinterest in guiding Jon as regarding some matters; but I am not Robert, I do not have his flaws."

"All of Robert's children mirror him in one manner or another. When Jon left he was but a child; before long I expect I shall know what he inherited." She sucked in a scathing reply.

"Whatever do you mean by that?" Fear was one way to silence her. She kept her gaze upon the flesh-stripped bones. And to think he might have been off gallivanting, robbing King's Landing of even the last drop of wine. She'd never loved him, but after so many years of marriage he was a thorn she'd learn to live with. The absence of the prickle made the wound that much more painful; the gaping emptiness suffocating. She was growing maudlin.

"Only that wherever I turn my head, I see my brother and what he has wrought upon us. Year by year, bastard by bastard; and every single one carries on his legacy. Great men see a child as the crowning moment to which they've been led over an arduous road. When he brought Edric, I thought he might understand that much, claiming responsibility for the child."

"I do not understand." Storms were aplenty at Storm's End; Robert had assured himself of that. "What is your point; speak clearly."

"Some things a man only learn from other men. Your son, bright as he might be, has been surrounded by women and boys all his life. You have brought a boy to take a man's place. The consequences may be dire."

"Is that a threat?"

He held both hands up, palms facing her way. "A prediction. He will be overwhelmed and might take to leaving the tasks for others to do. It is, after all, the example his father set."

Her lips opened in reply, but before she could utter even one sound, her knees gave way and she tumbled. It was as though her soul had separated from her body; she half-felt hands touching her and half-heard concerned voices.

What hit her when she came to was the pungent scent of frankincense and the feeling of something wet and hot pressed to her nape.

"Mother?" Instinctively she turned towards the source of the noise. A rumpled looking Cassana was leaning forth. "Are you awake?" Her daughter's hand shot forth, peeling the cloth away from her and submerging it into what Lyanna presumed was water. She wrung it and then replaced it. The coolness was welcome.

"Indeed I am," she managed in return. What–"

"I will bring the maester." Cassana waited not a jot before dashing off, leaving the door wide-open in her wake.

Lyanna turned on her back and forced herself into a sitting position. Her chest no longer felt as though a weight pressed over it and she could breathe easily. Just as well; she must have fallen into a faint. At a most inopportune moment too. The gods certainly did have a petty sense of humour; not only was she as sick as a dog, but she was so in the presence of Stannis. That would not help her case any.

"Mother, you're awake!" the teary voice of yet another daughter shred through the quiet of her surroundings. Before she could gather herself, her arms were full of tearful children and her chest was pressed into by a small head. "I thought you would leave us too. I was so scared." Mylenda lifted her head to stare at her. She sniffled. "I am so sorry."

"Why are you apologising, sweetling?" Lyanan smoothed the girl's hair back, tugging one of the pins free and rearranging it.

"Because you said we had to be good or you would be upset and then Josy and I fought and the you were sick. We didn't mean to. Truly." Mylenda continued in that manner, filling her explanation with so many words and happenings that Lyanna simply could not keep up. "And father was mad at us for making too much noise before he left. And then he never came back. I thought you were leaving too." By then the tears were falling freely.

"What? Myly, look at mother." Her daughter did. "You are not at fault for what happened to your father. None of you are. It was a terrible, terrible strike of ill-fortune." What could the poor thing be thinking? "Nor are you responsible for what happened to me. I was simply very, very tired."

"You won't leave then?"

"Nay; I am staying where I am."

"And you are not mad?"

"Not at all." She sighed. "Where is Josy?" Mylenda shrugged. "Why don't you go find her and tell her you know precisely how to help mother?"

"I do?"

"You do. A couple of big, bright smiles will put me right back on my feet. What say you?"

"I'll find Josy and bring her here!"

Left to her own devices she had little to do but wait for the maester to arrive. He did not disappoint, presenting himself along with a tray and two smiling little girls, one with a shy twist of lips, the other with a toothy grin. "I feel better already," she declared, spying Cassana hurrying in after the man.

"Even so, my lady, I must insist on carrying on this investigation," the maester spoke, "preferably without an audience."

She chuckled at the twin expressions the younger girls bore. Cassana pursed her lips and took her sisters' hands, "There now, you devils' limbs; you heard the maester." Mylenda started to protest, quite probably without a second though. Jocelyn retreated behind Cassana.

"Girls, I expect each and every single one you to act with decorum. Myly." The warning was met with a pout but eventual acquiesce. "Good now, I shall see you at a later time. Cassana, pray, watch over the children. Myly and Josie, will you help Cass?"

"I will," Mylenda readily agreed. Jocelyn nodded.

And that was that. Shortly left with only the maester and a closed door to show for it. She pressed back into her mound of pillows. "This is certainly a most novel situation for me, maester, I assure you."

"Quite so. I've a few questions, if my lady is willing to submit to such ministrations." He placed the tray on the bench. "How has your health been this past year?"

"I've naught to complain about. Certainly nothing of this nature. Though,“" She paused, searching for the right words. "Oh, I do wish I could express it better, but I sometimes feel as though my breath is cut short, as though a chain wrapped itself around my throat."

"Were you exposed to anything the like of a headcold , might be? Chills, coughs?"

"I cannot say I have. Steffon suffered a night's feverish rest, but he had been well since and I have not observed anything which might invite suspicion in either me or the children." Worry wormed its way into her heart. "Perhaps you have an explanation for this episode?"

"It seems to me that my suspicions are confirmed, my lady, for from your sallow complexion and experienced symptoms, I can only conclude 'tis your lungs."

She froze. "Surely not."

"I have prepared something, of course, but it would be prudent to bleed you now before the spread affects other organs. Begging your pardon, but I would not recommend waiting." He placed in her hands the cup he'd brought along. "This is boiled comfrey root; most effective."

She drank without being instructed to do so and held out her free arm, allowing the sleeve to be pushed out of the way. She did not allow herself to glance as the sharp edge of the blade cut into her skin. A wince was the only sign Lyanna was willing to give.

One did not get to choose when to suffer under the ills of a disease; she had to make her peace with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

"Why did you bow to his will?" Maekar asked at long last. The question must have been bothering him for hours; brought into existence, it begged an answer, not only by tone of voice but by its very nature, a reminder that his brother and sisters depended on him, solely, now that there was no patriarch to oversee their education. He despised the very notion that he should be forced into such overwhelming a role. But what was he to do? Refuse?

"It does not pay to run headfirst into conflict. I accept, for the moment, that I am not as knowledgeable as I wish to be." His brother pulled a face and dragged his chair closer, picking up one of the ledgers.

"You are the lord of the keep. It should not matter how long uncle has been here. He is still not master here." He flipped a few pages, glancing at a few rows before closing the ledger and pushing it away. "That aside, should you not see to mother?"

"There is a maester, as far as I know, and a household full of servants. I doubt she would condone or even appreciate my interference. You may go to her if you wish, though." His brother's face flushed with what Jon assumed was indignation.

"I wish you would not treat me as though I were a child. It was simply my opinion that mother would enjoy your presence."

"As you can see, I am busy at the moment." The dismissal did not move Maekar. But the boy stood to his feet, face hardening in an iron-wrought mask. Jon leaned back in his seat, curiosity sharpening into acute awareness of the ire simmering, threatening to boil over.

"You are turning into father," his brother levelled harshly. "He had his whores, you have-" gesturing helplessly at the pile on the desk, he struggled for words, the colour in his face deepening, "whatever projects you believe will make a difference in front of our uncle."

Silence settled, undercut by an almost tangible tension. Wait long enough and even the mildest of silences could harden into an impenetrable wall. Not that Jon thought his brother might flee. His ire was a smouldering thing after all. Jon refrained from goading the boy. It would not help, he imagined, to push too hard. His lack of a reaction did not, however, mitigate the fury his kin felt, as evidenced by the clenched jaw sported by his brother.

"If you've a better notion, I insist upon your sharing it with me," he finally allowed, if only to end whatever storm threatened to unleash itself upon his head. "

"I do. Tell uncle he is welcome in these walls; but it is by your grace that he remains here."

Much as Jon would enjoy that, he had to decline. "It is not that I am against such a move, but he has had the running of this keep in his hands for long enough that displacing him now could bring us trouble. He is our father's brother. And there are enough men who will never look beyond that. I cannot risk their wrath at such a time. When we are firmly established, you may be certain I will take care of the matter."

"And when will that be?" Maekar demanded. "When pigs fly over the moon and hell freezes over?"

"As to that I am no soothsayer." Turning the page of his ledger he came upon a most interesting row of numbers. Following along, the tip of his finger met a rough spot. He brushed his pad over it a couple of times. "Someone has been fiddling with these."

"What?" His sibling was at his side, peering over his shoulder. Jon shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the close proximity, and even more so at the fact that Maekar stood behind him. "How can you tell?"

"The numbers have been scratched off." He pointed out the irregularity.

"It could have just been an honest mistake. Might be whoever wrote these wanted to correct it without attracting too much attention."

"Glad as I would be for that to be the case, the writing does not match any hand I have seen thus far. The maester would have known the convention is to cross out what has been wrongfully written and add the correct numbers. " Fifty silver pieces was a rather large sum. Had it been lower he might have considered letting it go. As matters stood, he would have to make inquiries into it.

"But look, the total sum has not been changed. This makes no sense," his brother exclaimed, coming to the same realisation as Jon. "Fifty silver stags? You are not going to close your eyes to this, are you?"

"Indeed, I am not. But it would serve us better not to give rise to suspicion." Jon analysed the figures. "The eight is very distinctive, is it not? If we could somehow have it written down by all those who can do so."

"Why not simply order it? Surely they will not refuse." Looking up, Jon frowned. "Should anyone run, it is an admission of guilt."

"Or fear."

"Aye, because they are guilty. Innocent men don't run."

"We dio not know for what purpose this money was taken. Might be there is an explanation which-"

"Regardless of any explanation, this is theft. Whoever did steal the money is subject to the law of the land, and the law of the land has thieves hang." There was no denying that.

"You have been reading Maester Gral's treatise, I see." It had been some time since he himself had taken it up. "Morw has a similar work with a different conclusion altogether. Might be you should look over that one as well."

"Morw never got his chain, Jon. His treatise no matter how cleverly put together is not accepted in the canon and therefore useless. It is unreasonable to allow theft to go unpunished."

"I do not mean to allow anything untoward. Read Morw and we shall discuss the matter at a later date. Meantime, you may make yourself useful by searching for any other irregularities in the ledgers."

Irrespective of whether he wished for further disturbance or nay, the door opened with a hearty screech, alerting both himself and Maekar that they were no longer alone. Half expecting it to be their uncle for supressed a sigh as he glanced away from the numbers. 'Twas not Stannis though, but one of the many children his father had sired. Mya occupied the opening, hands on her hips, looking for all the world as though she had just recently crawled out of a haystack. He blinked away his momentary confusion. "Mya," he greeted, not for the very first that day.

"My lord," she returned the greeting, merely nodding to Maekar, who in response returned to the ledgers. "If you've a moment; I should like a word." Clearly no amount of instructions were ever going to change Mya's approach; by the same token, he wondered how it was that Stannis had not had an apoplexy fit yet. Forsooth 'twas the only response he could thing to give such a breach of etiquette. But then Mya was the first child his father had ever sired. As such she had more leeway than a good number of her siblings, baring Edric who, coming from a loftier womb than the rest of his natural born brothers and sisters, was, for the most part, treated according to his rank. It helped, without doubt, that his Florent mother was kin to his uncle's wife. Mya's mother had been a blacksmith's daughter, and yet, for all that, as the first child to have ever been born to his father she had long been a favourite of his. The marked attention was further underlined by the behaviour his sister adopted.

"You need not address me in such a manner. And do come in." The last thing he needed was for a bevy of servants to gather at the door. Mya followed his instructions and shut the door in her wake. The thud reverberated through the chamber, bringing with it a whisper of woe. "Well, what is it you wish to say?"

Casting him an uncertain glance, Mya shifted, her movement more than clear in its implications. "I know you are the lord of this keep and as such may do as you wish; but you call me sister and have done so in spite of my circumstances. Can I assume your regard is like for any other of our siblings?"

"You would not be wrong in presuming so." Of course, he could go no more than a few minutes at a time without some matter cropping up. He was beginning to understand why his father refused to spend more than absolutely necessary at Storm's End. Would that he had the good sense to do the same. Alas, 'twas not the case.

"Since my lord feels so, is it truly necessary for us to leave our chambers for new ones?" Natural born children oft found their quarters in a different wing of the keep than the one is use by the family, nevertheless, the rule had not been observed at Storm's End, presumably on account of little enough space and the fact that they had not occupied those chambers for too long before finding their way to King's Landing.

"I do not recall asking that you vacate your chambers," Jon said slowly, wondering just who it was that thought to order in his home.

"Septon Merrett seems to believe you have." Maekar coughed. Mya ignored him. "Why else would be insist it was not at all acceptable that we remain as we were."

"Forsooth I cannot read the man's mind," he pointed out with just a sliver of annoyance. "I can but say that 'tis not on me your ire should fall; if indeed there be need for such. I will look into the matter. You may retreat."

"But that is hardly-"

"You may take your leave, Mya." She bristled, looking as though she might argue, but, a few short moments later, she was making her way to the door.

Maekar breathed out in obvious relief. "You see? Because you did not stand up to uncle she things she may play you as a fiddle. I told you; you ought to assert yourself."

"Change is rarely pleasant," he mused out loud, half-ignoring his younger sibling. "You ought to consider that father's death has disrupted many a life, not just ours." An inconsiderate enough thing, but not nearly to the point of apocalyptic predictions in the vein that his brother kept suggesting.

Before a reply could be made, yet another interruption occurred. This time it was the maester come. Maekar groused unhappily, complaining that their work would stretch well into the night at such a rate. "Pray wait a moment," Jon asked of the older man. Turning to Maekar, he said, "Take the ledgers to your chambers and continue your perusal there." His order was carried out with surprising speed.

One rid of his brother, he invited the maester to have a seat. "Now, you may tell me; what precisely is the nature of my lady mother's ailment?"

"'Tis my belief her lungs are failing, my lord." And there went any hope for a gentle breaking of such tidings.

"Failing? Perchance the matter is not so grave. Can it not be aught else?"

"Would that it were. But her breathing pattern leaves me in no doubt. Has she been in my observation longer I might have caught sight of it before it became quite so dangerous. Alas, I will do my best, my lord." His best might not be enough to save her. Jon nodded weakly. "I can see your struggle," the maester continued, "but 'tis in the hands of the gods. My lady is not yet old and frail; might be she will be spared."

Not if it was her lungs. He appreciated the attempt still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mya laughed, her full lips stretching out to the sides, eyes crinkling as she held up her sword in victory. "If had but given the matter proper attention, you might have been the winner." Maekar was busily dusting dirt off of his tunic, apparently much too engrossed in that task to make a proper reply. The girl's smile dropped at his lack of response. "I confess I am a tad disappointed."

That got his brother's attention. Maekar turned on her and hissed, "Don't grow all high and mighty. 'Tis simply not proper to knock girl flat on their arse. Even when they lack good breeding." Mya's gaze sharpened. "And even if they are the granddaughter of a brewer whom I let win out of pity." Her hand shot out but only managed to her as far as Maekar's raised forearm.

Jon, who had until that point, kept without the small circle they'd competed within, jumped the low fence and pressed between them. "There is no need for such words between siblings." His words, however, failed to ease the tension.

"I won fairly," Mya glowered, straightening herself to reach full height. So that was her gripe. Surprise stopped an answer from coming. But then Jon might have known. Mya, for the most part, did not entertain any notions of stepping above her station. "If you are ashamed to have lost to a woman 'tis no fault of mine."

His brother let out a bark of laughter. The fact that he furthered no words proved enough evidence for Mya to base a foul curse upon. She lunged for his brother, her whole weight pushed behind the attack. Having never been a small girl, as far back as Jon could remember, the suddenness of her move coupled with the force exerted was enough to upset his balance. His attempt to brace against the blow only had him moving nearer Maekar. His brother was prepared, however, and pushed back with all his might.

Pain bloomed beneath his skin and his breath cut short. On the other hand, he regained his balance enough that he managed to bring an arm about Mya's shoulders and clutched hard as he urged his brother away gently. "If you have time to engage in brawls you might as well do me the honour of being my sparring partner." A groan followed the words as her elbow connected with his stomach. He released her, stumbling backwards.

"As for you," Jon addressed Maekar, "I believe some rest is in order. Go sit over there." For a brief moment he thought there were going to be protests, but his brother simply settled for a glare and a hasty retreat, climbing atop a stack of hay. It was not the end of it, Jon suspected, but it would do.

He turned his attention back to Mya. Arms crossed over her chest, she held his stare. There was something of Robert Baratheon he recognised in her stance. "I am not going to apologise. He deserved it."

Jon shrugged. He held his hand out expectantly and a squire placed a blade in his grip. "Do you require a moment?"

Her lips parted. Then closed. Her expression pinched. "Just a moment."

Left little to do but nod and see to his own needs, Jon retreated a few steps away and swung his sword in loose arcs, forcing away anything not related to the matter at hand. He'd caught but the last moments of the fight. Might be one of the squires knew better. Alas, there was no time to ask. He brought up his blade, pointing it heavenwards, widening his stance. And the Jon cocked his head. "Whenever you are ready."

Mya needed no more than that to rush at him. Eagerly, her steps took her to his side from where she brought the flat of her sword to his side. Jon moved out of the way, simply side-stepping into an attack of his own. Unlike his sister though, he anticipated her retreat and instead of trying to breach the guard she set up for herself, he merely dove under. Her movement followed his, which was precisely what he'd wished. Taking a leaf out of her book, he rammed himself into her.

Having the advantage, he soon saw Mya's balance in peril. Alas, the girl had been training in his absence and met the following attack he dealt her with a roll, effectively avoiding a direct hit. Jon paused, allowing her to draw back to her feet. His gesture, though, was taken with an air of affront by Mya. Or so he guessed by the roar of rage she produced while lunging at him.

Swords clashed. Jon pushed Mya's blade to the side. She returned the gesture with a strike which never landed. It was impossible not to see the progress. Had Maekar truly lost to her? Might be as a result of having underestimated her skill.

No matter; despite the growth her fluid movement betrayed, Mya was far from being in possession of the most refined skills. He lowered his guard and went further east, counting on his opponent to read whatever she would in his choice. Blatant confusion coloured the ensuing response; Mya drew to a halt and stared at him for a brief moment before she narrowed her eyes in a glare. "What is this then? Running away?"

He grinned. "Not I." Yet his foe was beyond listening. She was running straight for him. A Baratheon through and through, Jon thought, images of his father's last stand against that blasted boar softening him to the oncoming assault until all he could do was parry. It would be cruel to knock her in the dirt, and yet he had his brother to avenge, did he not?

Gritting his teeth against the wave of regret, he put his foot down and sent arm and blade wide away from him. He caught Mya's arm with the flat of his sword, momentum and surprise enough to have her at his feet in the blink of an eye.

Sometimes he could not overlook, no matter how much he wished to. "It behoves one to have only as much pride as is merited," he spoke softly, eyes upon Mya's stricken face. "You had best rise from there, sister." He held his hand out. A darkness tainted the blue of her eyes when she finally accepted his offer. Jon did his best to ignore that. "Go now; I expect you must prepare yourself for the feast as well," he bade her after brief hesitation.

He himself had to see to some matters. Maekar, still sullenness, addressed him before he could depart. "This is why His Grace got mad at you, Jon. This damnable habit of yours of taking everyone's troubles onto your shoulders."

"Why did you not stop me then?" he retorted, swatting his brother's hand away when he dared reach to dust him off.

"Might as well try moving mountains," Maekar grumbled. "Never you mind, brother; as you said, we must prepare for the feast."

Jon dropped his weapon and stepped out of rink. He did not look back despite hearing the sound of footfalls and the low hum of conversation. Instead he dashed to the inner hall and up the stairs, taking them two by two, the action reminiscent of better days. While he did not recall a time where the shadow of his mother's sins did not loom over him, as a child he'd not felt its weight so keenly. Naturally; children had a way of innocently overlooking the bleaker aspects of reality. Nevertheless, those days were long gone and now a wiser man for his troubles, Jon found he could not stomach the memory of naivety all that well.

His mother's chamber awaited him with the door wide open. Though no servant waited upon her, Cassana was sitting by the window, working. Mother lay abed, her prone form giving away the severity of her ailment. She too opened her eyes at his approach. Against the pale skin drawn taunt over her bones, thin blue lines branched out in mighty crowns. He drew closer. As the distance between them vanished, Jo observed beads of sweat clinging to her forehead. Glassy eyes peered at him; a smile welcoming smile was produced.

"Still tired, lady mother?" he questioned, bending down to place a swift kiss upon the crown of her head. She'd doled out similar treats when he or his siblings were ill. There was no fever as far as he could tell.

"Only a bit," she answered, feebly lifting a hand. Jon allowed her to cup his cheek.

"Only a bit?" repeated Cassana, her incredulity threatening to summon bellows out of her. "That odious maester must have filled a bucket with all the blood he took from her. Why, if I knew no better, I'd ask whether he means to cure her or sell her lifesboold as wine."

"Cassana!" Their scandalised mother struggled into a sitting position. "What manner of language is that?" Her chest heaved. Tired after speaking half a dozen words. That could not be good. Lungs or not, worried brewed within him.

"I am certain the maester is doing the best he can." His sister remained unconvinced if one should judge by the look upon her face, but she wisely decided against challenging. "But Cassana is right to worry, mother. You do look tired. Might be it would be better that you did not attend the feast."

"Why in the gods' name should I forgo a perfectly good feast?" She was trying. That he could tell. And while his heart went out to her, he would not allow further harm to come to someone he loved.

"Cassana is perfectly capable of taking on the role of hostess at my side." Mother put on her sternest expression, but he held up a hand. "Just until you are a bit better, mother. Storm's End will not fall around our ears, I promise. Aside from that, my sister deserves a treat. After how well she's been behaving."

"I suppose a small treat would not be amiss. But," there she paused, a pensive look crossing her face, "you must promise to cause your brother no trouble, young lady, and return to me as soon as the meal is done." Customarily, the lady of the house attended guests even after the meal was over. But one did not refuse an ill woman. Jon turned his stare upon his sister.

"Of course, lady mother." At times he marvelled at Cassana's ability to appear unaffected. Then he reminded herself that later she would no doubt lose much of her composure. Meantime, it would serve him well to call her away from mother's side.

"Sister, a word with you without, if you do not mind. I do not wish to keep mother." The distaff was placed upon the small table at her side as Cassana rose. She dusted her skirts and made a show of arranging her hair. As though he were some suitor with a smidgeon of care for her tresses. After, she followed him into the hallway.

"Do you think you might do something for me? I've need of an ear or two about the great hall. To keep appearances, you know. Just in case out uncle decides that he would like to share more of mother's state with our guests. "

"You want me to protect mother against our uncle?" He nodded. "He has been to seen her, you know? And not once did it seem to me as though he harboured any intention of causing her distress. Even that long-eared Florent wife of his has been cordial. And you know the old bag; it would be easier to coax water out of stone than to get her to smile."

"Precisely my point. His sudden concern could be an attempt to distract us."

"From what? This is Uncle Stannis."

"Wouldn't be the first time an uncle thought himself entitled to his nephews' and nieces' inheritance, now would it?" Stunned silence followed his question. "I do not require that you follow him."

"I suppose."

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhaenys smiled at her mother, cradling Balerion to her bosom as she did so. "But it makes no matter, does it?" she questioned, striving to keep a pleasant lilt to her voice. It would not do to upset her parent solely because she felt vaguely uncomfortable. The cat twisted, small paws pressing into her arms. Claws followed. Her eyes darted down towards the offending limbs. "Bad tom; bad, bad tom," she chided, slapping at very same paws.

"Leave the cat be," her mother instructed. "Might be it wishes to search for food." Rhaenys put Balerion down and he darted underneath her chair. "You ought to leave that thing home, dearling. A pet belongs in one's chambers, not roaming about from keep to keep."

"Balerion is well-behaved, mother. Scratching not withstanding, the poor thing would not last a day without me, and I should be all too sad to not have him with me." She reached out for one of the cakes and bit into her treat. "Aside from that, you have never had any complaints about my pet until this day."

That was not precisely true. Mother had never been overly fond of Baelor and the tom had returned her feelings twofold. However, she had never openly protested his presence. Rhaenys suspected it had to do with father rather than her and her cat. Before she could inquire after her mother's current mood, the woman cut her off.

"It is certainly not my place to complain. Your father allowed you to keep the thing, and if you husband has no protest to offer, why would I?" That conformed that, Rhaenys supposed. "But I am not looking to have a conversation about the flea-bitten creature."

"My Balerion is very clean, I will have you know." Cats bathed with frequency. Unlike dogs who could go for moon turns on end without seeing as much as a drop of water in their fur. "Pray, let us not fight about Balerion. I doubt he is the source of your frustration, and thus should not be the target of your ire." She leaned back in her chair.

Her mother mirrored the movement, one hand resting upon her knee the other gripping the folds of her skirts. "One day when you are older, I am certain you will better understand." She sighed. "But I did not come to speak of myself. I wish to know about you and how you settled in your role of wife."

"The answer is the same as the last time you asked, mother. Edmure is kind to me and we get on well. Is there anything more to say?" These questions would be the death of her. What use was it to speak of her husband when she and her spouse had no trouble whatsoever. As far as she could tell, at any rate, mother wished to avoid a confrontation.

"That is hardly enough. Must I drag the words out of you? Talk about your good-father, your good-sister, Riverrun. Talk to me about anything." But not about father or Aegon. Apparently such topics were off-limit as far as mother was concerned.

Pressing her further would not gain her much, Rhaenys decided. "My good-father is well. My good-sister the same. Riverrun is truly most comfortable. And I have little else to say. There, mother, will that do?"

"You are being difficult. Has Hoster decided to whom he shall give his daughter's hand?" As though that were truly a matter of great importance.

"I expect Lysa is of an age to have a say. As to whom; if you must know, mother, she refuses to name a man." For all the good that did her. In the end her father's patience would run out. Or so Rhaenys hoped. It was not that she disliked Edmure's sister. In fact, she did not see much of the woman if she did not wish it. But her presence put somewhat of a damper upon her hopes for her husband's attention.

"I've heard Lord Frey is a widower once more." She gasped at the unspoken suggestion. "Now, now," Elia soothed softly, "House Frey might not be the loftiest." Or even decently lofty, Rhaenys supplied quietly. "But they have the advantage of manpower, as it were. You might find you need them at certain times."

"They are sworn to Lord Hoster, mother. They can hardly refuse him aid. And Lord Frey's wife is not dead. Wherever did you hear such a thing?" Might be that should have been the first thing she said. The Faith did not endorse polygamy after all and it would put an end to her mother's line of questioning.

"Are you quite certain, dearling?" She nodded. "Well, I must see about that then."

"It was one of the younger Walders who lost his wife." A son, or a grandson, or the Seven knew what manner of kin.

"Even better then; a young husband goes a long way to soothe one." If she had it in her, she would disagree. But then Rhaenys did not see the importance of correcting her mother's misconceptions. "Is he a knight?"

"A landless one at that." Rhaenys daren't suggest to Lysa that she take such a one for a husband. "It makes no matter, mother. "There are matches closer to home that you should worry about. We could speak of Aegon."

"So that is it? Your brother asked you to intervene on his behalf." Baleriion chose that moment to come out of hiding and climb back into her lap. Rhaenys stroked behind his ears.

"I daresay he would rather drink wildfire."

"Your father explained this to you." So she recalled. "Margaery Tyrell will make a good queen someday."

"Between House Tyrell and House Baratheon the difference is not so great, mother, if it comes to that."

"You would do the girl and your brother more ill than good," the Queen warned. "You are not blind, my child. Who would look upon such a match and whisper. Imagine all the tongues et to wagging. We would never hear the end of it."

There was nothing for it then. She would write to Lyanna. Might be one woman was more willing to listen than the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ashara placed another helping of baked apples upon her son's plate, her smile wavering slightly. His forlorn expression did not lighten. "Must you send him away so soon?" she asked of her husband who had yet to put down his scroll. "It makes no matter, surely, whether he waits another moon turn before going back. 'Tis not as though he will be sorely missed."

"It makes matter; I have given my word he will return by the turn's end and so he shall." Jon lowered his reading material, eyes set in a glower which he directed at his heir, "I will hear no further complaint upon this matter, and I understood?"

"But, lord father," Rhaegar protested, trying to plead his case, showing, not for a first, a trace of steel. Ashara attributed that to his sire. "If I leave, Rhaella will be all alone."

The scroll slapped against Jon's knee. "Your sister will learn to keep company with the other ladies of court. And you will go back to your training. In this house, I am lord and master and my word is final."

Leaning back in her seat, Ashara gave him a hard stare, which her husband pretended not to see. Rhaegar rose from his seat in defiance to his words but she swiftly tugged on his sleeve, settling him back into place. "Best you finish your meal. Rhaella was telling me she would enjoy a walk through the gardens after, were you not, dearling?" she asked of her daughter.

For a brief moment Rhaella held her counsel before she allowed a shy nod. "The sun is out this day," she commented in an offhanded manner and returned her attention to the plate before her, apparently engrossed fresh buttered bread and dried fruits.

Jon, meantime, had once more risen the scroll so that it may block his view of them. Ashara leaned back in her seat, annoyance simmering to a low boil in her veins. There were times when she wished she'd spurned his offer when he'd made it. "Come now, eat," she instructed her children, picking at her own food. It was no true example she sat, but she feared an appetite was the last of her possessions at that moment.

Mercifully, the twins made short labour of what was left on their trenchers and were off with Jon's blessings before another argument could break out. She, on the other hand, was obliged to sit with her husband and answer for earlier transgressions. "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times; stop encouraging that boy to cling to your skirts."

"I have not seen my son in nigh a couple of years," she retorted, not about to be shamed by him of all people. "Surely I do not ask so much. He shall be a knight like his father whether he returns this turn or the next." Jon fixed her with a cold stare. She did not care. She hoped the words hurt him.

"There are times, lady wife, when one reached too far. The fall could be most painful." Like waters off the wings of a duck, his warning left little impression. Jon reached out for his cup of wine and took a sip. "You have Rhaella to mind. That is more than enough responsibility."

What did he know? Rhaella needed little guidance. Even in the absence of her brother the child knew how to entertain herself. "You have not seen them in years, Jon. They are strangers to you. But then, you never truly took the time to know them."

Finally exasperated by her antics, her husband combed his fingers through his heir and gave a deep sigh. "What is it that you want. And do be truthful, none of these mummery pieces you keep putting on."

"How dare you imply I have ulterior motives? I am a mother, can you not understand such a simple fact? I want my children at my side. The Queen may keep her son with her, Lady Lyanna's brood is forever a step behind their mother, Ser Ned's wife had yet to send any of her children away. Why must I suffer so abrupt a parting?" Her outburst gained her no sympathy, Ashara feared.

"Because, you fool, the longer they remain at your side, the longer a rumour or another will trail them like a pestilence." Her lips clamped shut with the effort it took not to answer his insulting address. "You are no longer in Dorne where a lack of virtue is to be celebrated."

"If there is any talk," she responded, forcing her voice into low volume, "then it is encouraged by you and your continual dismissal of both the children. It is not my fault you were not man enough," she topped herself before she could complete the line as she desired to and forced a last minute change, "to-to remain with us or have us here with you."

By the expression he bore, she knew he was well-aware of her meaning. Yet she would not sit there and allow him to walk all over her. "I am for the gardens as well, lord husband. A little clean air will serve me admirably," she declared hurriedly, out of her seat and walking.

"Ashara, come back here," she heard him say. Alas, she'd no plans to turn around. And Jon would not come after her. She was quite safe disobeying him.

Only once nearing the stairs leading without did it occur to her she had no cloak and a chill persisted in the air. Frustration gnawed at her insides. She would not go back. Yet she could not proceed.

"My lady?" a familiar voice called her attention. Without looking she knew the owner.

"Ser Barristan," she greeted in return, facing him. She'd clapped eyes upon him as soon as she'd arrived, of course. A woman did not forget her benefactor so easily. But they had no cause to come together, thus she had kept her distance.

An idea occurred to her. A horrible, wonderful idea. The frosty smile upon her lips dropped. He seemed thunderstruck, though she doubted he could see what went on in her mind, for if he had any notion of it, his reaction would be more horrified then astounded, she reckoned.

Yet would it not be wonderful. And there was no cause for which she should not be satisfied. Ever so slowly her smile returned. "Have you a moment for me, ser?" she asked, trying her hardest to inspire his sympathy.

"Forsooth, my lady," the Kingsguard offered in a most dignified manner. Were it not for the subtle moment of hesitation she would have thought him unaffected.

"If you would be so kind as to join me in the gardens." He nodded and offered his arm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cassana was going to strangle the stupid cow, she decided, fingers tightening around the rim of the ewer. "I do beg you would put yourself out of my way," she groused towards her aunt. The Florent ears twitching might have amused her were they not in the birthing chamber. She looked towards the prone form of her mother and cursed inwardly in foul language she'd learned at her father's knee.

"I know you mean well," her aunt said, "but your mother shan't be helped any by that wiping you're doing. She's been too long insensible for it to matter."

The midwife's bloodstained hands came into view. "Begging yer pardon, but m'lady needs no noise." Cassana nodded her head enthusiastically. "Le' m'lady wipe her mam's brow if 'twill make her feel better, m'lady. There is no ill she can do."

"A well-bred maiden should not even be in the vicinity of the birthing chamber, let alone used as a body servant," Selyse argued haughtily. "Your girl should have been more than capable of aiding you."

"The poor thing took ill," Cassana argued back, raising her voice over her kin's, "and I am perfectly capable of taking her place. If my lady finds this so distasteful, might be you could be persuaded to wait without." She scowled at the sow and barely held back from emptying the contents of the ewer on her. "This is my mother lying abed and I mean to sit with her come hell or high water."

She'd known it wasn't mother's lungs. The woman had not been ill a day in her life. Stupid maester had been leeching her blood like the fool he was for naught. She might have whooped for joy when they finally understood their mother's ailment was not an ailment at all, except that their sour faced aunt had expressly forbidden all unladylike behaviour and mother, exhausted from her bloodlettings had given the creature free reign.

In the face of her niece's defiance, Selyse sniffled. "I will remind you that I've seen the inside of the birthing chamber when you were still in leading strings, girl. Do not be fresh with me."

"And I will remind you I'm sister to the lord of the manor and may toss you out on your ear when it please me, should you get fresh with me." Mouth gaping, her aunt stared at her. "Either you sit there by mother and do your best to ease her pain, or you will find yourself some other occupation until this is done with."

Apparently cowed by harsh speech, or simply shamed into obedience, her aunt dropped down in a chair and began wetting linens. Cassana did not allow her off without a cold stare. Mother's illness had taught her that there was no place for softness in young ladies, lest unscrupulous kin attempt an insurrection. Jon might attest to that after all the misadventures Storm's End had yielded to him.

"I can see the head," cried the midwife, holding up the sheets. Cassana walked around, careful to avoid the sight. She washed sweat from her mother's brow. A whimper rose from her parent's lips. "Just a little more. Never seen an insensible woman do so well in me life, I swear."

Neither had Cassana. The ordeal tormented her mother in spite of the fact that she'd fallen into her swoon almost as soon as the sun dipped into the sea. Leaving her aunt to mind the moist linens, she dried her hands on her skirts and grabbed for the freshly laundered cloth they'd prepared for the babe. Her mother's cry deterred her none, nor did the strange squelching sounds when she approached.

"What is the matter?" She'd heard that after the babe crowned it would not take long for the rest to follow.

"Poor thing is stuck." For a brief moment she froze, not believing her ears. Terror struck almost immediately. Stuck babes killed their mothers. She'd heard enough stories about court. "Nay, do not fret, m'lady. 'Tis not dire, 'tis not. I can pull out the babe."

As good as her word, the midwife moved between her mother's legs. Cassana was glad for the linens blocking her view, for she saw blood seeping onto the floors and grew faint. But then, before she could follow that fool of a girl who'd dropped at the sight of a birthing woman, the midwife crowed in triumph, holding a squealing, flailing bit of flesh. Gore dripped from the reddened skin.

But it did have a pair of lungs. Cassana balked. She faltered and then she recalled the linens were in her hands. The midwife grinned at her, ruddy cheeks aglow. "'Ere we are." She stepped towards the two, her feet not nearly as sure as she wished them, but the midwife, to her credit, acted quickly, wrapping the babe, leaving only the hands to kick about.

The water-filled ewer with its wet cloths was used to cleanse the babe, gently, ever so gently, but efficiently and quickly. Cassana had never seen such a thing. To think she might one day live through a like experience. Her insides shuddered. Might be 'twas just as well that Jon insisted she remain at home for the time being. Sansa would doubtlessly benefit from the information as well.

Angered at the treatment, the newborn howled in indignation. Soon enough though the skin was clean, blood soaked into what had once been pristine linen. Another sheet was wrapped around the child, leaving the babe a small bundle to be admired.

And it was at that point that Cassana truly looked at her. And gasped. She heard another voice answer in kind and realised her aunt had not stepped without. "Give me the child," she rushed the midwife, suddenly anxious. If the woman thought it strange, she kept her counsel and delivered the babe to her sister, saying that the mother ought to have her rest.

"The good that comes out of blunders," murmured the woman, referring to Maekar's comical slip of giving mother strong spirits to calm her down. Her brother should be horsewhipped. Another time. "Poor lass will have to wait for her mam's milk."

"Show me the babe." Her aunt's voice cracked splitting open the silence into a raw wound. The child wept bitter tears ad Cassana gripped her tight. Selyse had seen it as well. "Show me the babe now, you little wretch." Something in her, the child that she'd thought buried away, responded to that tone of voice. The babe cried harder. Her aunt said nothing. Her beady eyes lingered upon the red-faced, mewling creature and then a soft rush of air left her lips.

"She looks like our great-grandmother," Cassana declared, trying to keep the fear from her voice.

"She looks like a cuckoo in the nest," her aunt returned unfeelingly. "Shan't this be an interesting greeting after all?"

Recalling herself, Cassana sneered. She looked towards the midwife but the woman scrupulously avoided breaking her task. She'd heard. It was impossible for her not to have. But then midwives, Cassana suspected, knew ever so more than they let on. Her gaze turned hard upon her aunt. "Get out." Her sister shrieked when the other woman reached for her. Cassana drew back, but she yelled another thing altogether. "Jon!"

Her brother, who by habit had waited without, threw open the door. Their aunt was so surprised by the prompt answer, that she actually turned to look at him, thus giving Cassana time to move away. But the troubles were far from over. Jon was not alone. Their uncle's form followed, and that was all his wife needed to sling her accusations.

"That is not my good-brother's seed!" With the words out in the open a hush fell over them all. Cassana, whose heart hammered in her chest, tried not to allow the slight, warm weight in her arms distract her. She eyed their uncle, trying her best to appear menacing. But she trembled in her slippers, half afraid he would rip the babe from her arms and fling her to the ground when he saw her.

Like a wounded animal she drew back when he advanced. It was not their father's seed. That much she knew. She'd seen mother with her own eyes. But this was her sister. Hadn't she a duty to the mite? And surely her mother was not the only woman to have found herself in such a situation. Her sister had fallen quiet as well, little whimpers drawing forth from her lips but infrequently as though she sensed the danger she was in.

"The child," their uncle demanded. She looked over his shoulder at her brother, waiting upon a sign, but Jon gave a shallow nod, his face the colour of milk. She herself blanched, throat constricting painfully.

She allowed the man to look, but only that for when he attempted to steal the girl from her arms she flinched. "She is fragile."

"The whelp is not my brother's; a blind man might see that." He was not angry. He was livid.

He raised his hand. At her? At the babe? But it never came down, for even as Cassana closed her eyes she heard the grunts of scuffle and when she dared look, she saw her brother had moved to restrain their uncle and that Maekar was finally within as well, gripping their aunt by the arm.

"I said," she heard her brother over the din and the babe's crying which had started again, "this matter is mine to deal with. You will not lie one hand upon my sister."

"She is a bastard!" Turning towards the bed where a now roused Lyanna lay, their uncle faced a frightened woman apparently just then recognising what went on before her. "You, lady, have much answering to do."

"Be that as it may, she answers me, for I am her lord and keeper," Jon spoke. His voice was more than enough to soothe the worst of her fears. He would not, it seemed, allow their uncle an easy victory. "Return to your chambers, uncle and aunt. I shall speak to my mother. Alone."

"So you might find excuses for her?" Selyse taunted, might be not realising how close Cassana was to leaping upon her. "She ought to be put in the stocks."

"She is our true sister and has the look of our great-grandmother to her. To accuse my mother of unfaithfulness with such impunity is deserving of its own harsh punishment. Tell them, Jon," she managed.

"She looks like the King if she looks like anyone," Uncle Stannis sneered.

Sweat trickled down her nape. She might say the girl looked like great-grandmother all she would. 'Twould be lost on them and might be with good reason. She wanted Aunt Janei and Uncle Ned. They would keep the peace. They would protect the child. Wouldn't they?

But then, like a prayer answered, Jon once more took the reins. "Here is what will happen, you and aunt shall return to your chambers," the two started to protest but Jon help up a hand, "meantime, my lady mother shall care for the babe in these chambers. I shall write to the King."

"What?"

"If our esteemed uncle wishes to consult the monarch upon the matter, then I can but oblige." Their uncle did not look pleased, but he nodded his head and, taking his woman by the arm, left the chamber with one last insulting glance to their mother. The midwife became the focus of Jon's attention. "You, take this here coin," he threw her silver pieces, "you have seen and heard nothing. Else I will cut your tongue from your mouth." He seemed harder than she'd ever seen him before. Cassana shuddered, gingerly holding her sister.

"Servants talk. Shall you cut out their tongues as well?" the woman asked, hiding the coin in her bosom.

"If needs must." Come morning they would all know of the threat, she did not doubt. "An insult against my sister is an insult against me." The midwife shrugged.

"She came too early. That might have leeched the colour from her. Or the maester's draughts and leeches otherwise." Cassana knew how foolish she sounded even as she spoke.

Her words were in vain. Their mother looked from one child to the other as though asking for their help. Only Jon spoke, "Maekar, have guards posted at the doors of our uncle and aunt's chambers." Their brother made himself scarce with nary a word. "Cassana, hand the child over to Meg." The wetnurse, who had until that point stood without, entered. She held out her arms and took the child to her bosom, quietening the whimpering babe with succour for her hunger. "Meg, I am counting on you to care for her."

"Aye, m'lord. I'll look after her as if she were me own, I will." She cooed at the babe and made for the nursery upon her brother's nod. "Come, sweet gel; let us feed ye."

Left only them three in the chambers, Cassana looked to her brother for further guidance. But he was busy closing the door. And putting up the bar. Cassana dropped into a chair, raising a fist to her pounding heart. Without meaning to she let out a distressed moan.

"Help mother up, Cass," Jon instructed, moving to mother's writing desk. He pulled out parchment, quills and an inkbottle. She moved out of her seat and did as he bade. Her hand remained on mother's. Uncle Stannis was not the only man who was livid. Meantime, her brother dipped the quill in the unstopped inkwell. They both, women, watched him warily. "You are weak, the birthing process has taken its toll on you, mother. I shall write for you and you may sign after we are done."

"What are you about, Jon?" mother asked, her voice faint.

"But I have already explained," he enunciated with deadly calm, "we are writing to the King. You shall tell him you were delivered of a daughter and that he is to come greet her, as a good sire would. I would appreciate it your putting it delicately, mother, but I will write as you speak."

"Jon, I am begging you, won't you listen to me for a moment?" He turned to watch her, placing the quill comfortably into the well. That was even worse. "I did not mean for this to happen. It just came about."

"Aye; mother. It simply came about. I presume you were lying on your back and the King happened to drop between your splayed legs, is it?" A small hiccough-like sound tore itself from mother's throat. Cassana did not dare look into her face. She kept her gaze on Jon. "Nay? Might be I am being unfair and he forced your hand. Father was an expensive man to keep. Is that it then? He paid for the whores and wine and you serviced him?"

"Jon," Cassana protested softly. "This is too much."

He ignored her, as he was wont to do. "I can see from your face that that is not it either. I do not know; all that remains to me is this; you were willing, he was willing and damn the consequences."

"It was not like that, Jon." But her brother was beyond listening.

"Oh, I know, mother. He loved you and you really, really loved him. You could not help it." Mother flinched, no doubt cut to the core. "You have shamed me for the last time, lady mother. I endured to my limit. I thought, might be, your husband's death might wake you up."

"What was I to do, son? Drive the child out from my womb?" Ill-handled but not stripped of her pride, their mother refused to retreat.

"You might have considered us," Jon replied, "your children, children that have come to live with certain expectations. We all stand to lose everything we have. Do you not understand that our uncle might do much worse than put you in the stocks? And for what?" The frightening thing was that his icy calm was not dispelled at all. "Be glad, mother. Now you shall learn your worth at long last."

"What are you about?" Cassana stood, walking away from mother. She looked without, to the sea, wishing she might drown herself in the sight and just forget. "Jon, please, we could speak to uncle. Surely there is something we could do."

"Much as I should love to do so, sister, the fact of the matter is that our dear mother is an old hand at this game. If we talk, try to bargain, he will shred us. Nay; our future rests in the King's hands. You are not dim," he continued addressing her, "look at yourself, and then to your sister Mya."

"Jon! That is enough."

"Be silent!" he turned upon their mother. "Or do you wish to explain to us why no child of yours looks quite like one might expect of such a union as you contracted?"

Cassana whirled around, whipping tears from her face as she clambered to her mother's side. Jon spoke in anger. She ought to be a shield, meagre as her protection was. "Jon is right, mother. Let us write to the King. It falls to him to unweave such tangles, does it not, since he contributed to making the knots in the first place?" Aegon, she thought with a hint of repressed despair, was a dream she more than lost; she'd never had him in the first place. Jon had been kind to shield her as he had. She would be kind to mother in turn.

Mother began crying in earnest then. Jon seemed to take pity. He did not press for words, but clasped his hands in his lap and waited, gaze fixed upon the ground. "You'll have your letter to send," mother finally managed, "but you must swear you'll protect your sister. Promise me, Jon."

"Against the Mountain if I had to." Cassana thought she might start crying as well. For mother, who though thoughtless in this had not been a poor mother to them, for herself and her poor sister and for Jon whose kindness, for what else could it be when he refused to betray the helpless child even though he might easily save himself, finally saw him trapped.

"No one will harm her, mamma," she found herself promising as well, reverting to that old manner of addressing the woman. "I will gouge their eyes out if they so much as look crossly at her."

She'd held the poor, innocent thing in her arms.

Uncle Stannis and his sow of a wife did not cow her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Despite his set-down, Rhaegar did consider his daughter's words with great care. It was not like Rhaenys to involve herself in her brother's affairs when unsolicited, if only because in all their years as sister and brother, not once had she pushed for something against Aegon's will or without his knowledge. If Rhaenys pestered him about the Tyrell match then it followed, necessarily, that Aegon was displeased and had confided in his sister.

"You are not considering rescinding the offer, are you?" Elia demanded, her lips set in a sneer, as though she were preparing for battle. Her grimace, however, had little effect, other than to rile him up some, that was. But then she'd always known how to get under his skin.

In keeping with his usual response to her brand of impertinence, he offered a slight cutting smile. "I will never understand how your mind works, I vow. Whatever gave you the notion that I wish to break the betrothal?"

"Your little pet, of course. She-wolves, I don't doubt, share their secrets." One of these days she would manage to drive him over the edge of sanity. Rhaegar doubted she'd enjoy the outcome, but then might be she would; the gods only knew. "Were you not aware she'd set her sights in Aegon?"

"I believe it is you who is unaware," he answered calmly, despite the tick of annoyance worming its way to the surface ever so slowly. "Robert Baratheon saved your son's life. For that reason, and for that reason at least, it might behove you, lady wife, to keep a civil tongue in your head."

"Aye and he has my respect. I do not see any reason to adopt an equally favourable view of any other member of his family, may the Mother grant him mercy." She picked at her blood orange with a lack of enthusiasm that translated into thick strips of skin peeled back unevenly. "His wife, however, did not save any of my children and is, therefore, not entitled to my admiration. Nor is her grasping daughter."

"I doubt there is a single grasping bone in Cassana's body. And you know as much, Elia. Might be you are feeling the absence of your family rather keenly and should like a prolonged visit to have their company?" Predictably, her face grew red and she slammed the orange to the table's flat surface.

"Are you threatening me?" Elia questioned, dark eyes flashing malevolently. He would be scared, if he knew himself in true danger. As matters stood, he simply leaned back in his seat and watched hr back intently. "If you are too blind to see the true issue then you deserve to fall. And hard at that. But if you take my son with you, I will make you regret it."

"Just as long as you remember that I will not hesitate to drag you after us as well, lady wife, I do not suppose I can rightly complain." On the other hand, it struck him as odd that she kept bringing up Cassana Baratheon. Elia, for all her foibles and shortcomings, was not without a keen sense of observation. He was not about to let her know as much. "Cross me, and I will send you to your brother; to stay."

She must have sensed he was not in a jesting mood, for she blanched. "You wouldn't dare."

"Then you must know me to a lesser degree than I thought you did." He left it at that, if only because Rhaegar did not mean to spend the rest of the day arguing with her over whether he would, or would not banish her permanently.

"Do you know, Your Majesty," she began, her voice deceptively soft, "the realm has had many an unworthy ruler. It does so happen that some of them met unfortunate ends. Take Maegor the Cruel, for instance. A man of great power, beyond the shadow of a doubt. And yet, by his own tyranny he'd ben pushed into the Stranger's embrace." The honey-sweet words trickled past her lips. A lesser man would have crumbled under the force of such concentrated attacks. Had it been the first time she'd used such methods, given his current mood, without doubt he'd have gone the way of his father and had her tongue cut out.

What need had Elia of a tongue at any rate? She never put it to good use, as far as he knew. Its only task thus far seemed to revolve around cutting to the quick along with the occasional begrudging piece of advice. Indeed, if he could not have a sweet-tempered, understanding creature for a wife, he might as well make it easier upon his ears and have a quiet one. He watched her contemplatively.

Pity her brothers would protest. Rhaegar shoved the notion of a quiet wife away. "A tyrant? Well, my dear lady wife, I never quite saw myself in such a position. That is food for thought indeed." He wondered, not entirely comfortable with the thought, what the current wife of Ser Gregor Clegane thought of her husband. That was if the girl yet lived. Did she think her husband a tyrant? Nay; likely she did not think at all. He considered bringing that to Elia's attention, but he did not want to soothe her. It was not his concern that she regretted having insisted upon the marriage.

Was there a better punishment? She eyed him with distrust. "Best you consider it with care, Your Majesty. History has a good few lessons to impart upon us." He nodded, his apparent agreement putting her at further ill-ease. For himself, he was enjoying her discomfiture. As their marriage, this situation was of her doing as well.

"I can safely promise you that I shall do so." He stood. "Pleasant as this has been, lady wife, I have matters to attend to. If there is naught else," Rhaegar trailed off.

"I want you to speak to our son." So he was their son quite suddenly? "This has gone on long enough. The girl is prepared to wed. Her family grows imparient. And Aegon has run out of excuses."

"On that we agree. Speak to Lady Alerie; she will doubtlessly know how to soothe her husband in the meantime. Aegon will be ready whenever you wish it."

"Good." At least they were united as far as the interests of the realm went. There'd been worse marriages, he was certain. Not by far. But it was something.

He left Elia to her thoughts and made for his solar, knowing a pile of correspondence. That was as expected. What he had not expected was the seal of Lord Baratheon; for a moment he wondered , for Robert was no longer, and Lyanna had not written, why it should be that Jon wrote to him.

It was the first letter he took a knife to.

He knew the hand.

My most beloved,

I write in great haste for the situation is dire and not knowing how to soften the blow must, you perceive, be brutal. I was delivered on the eighteenth day of the Thrimilci turn of a hale daughter whose countenance leaves us in little doubt as to the identity of her sire. My lord has come to the decision that a father's right is not to be treated lightly, as such I beg Your Majesty would arrive with all possible speed.

Fare thee well now and forever.

Lyanna

A short distance away, another hand had added another few words.

Assuming Your Majesty does not refuse to claim the child, she shall be kept in utmost comfort. Should Your Majesty decline to recognise her, I will understand that I am to do as I wish with her.

Jon had not signed his name, even as had his mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The blade came down with a muted cry, his arms barely managing to bring up his own sword so that he might deflect the blow. Aegon stepped out of the way, wondering not for the first time just why his father would pick this day of all days to spend time with him. Not that he protested the notion, but he would have thought a rather larger amount of speech would be involved.

Might be only after he'd been knocked to the ground. That particular thought led him into a swift stroke forth, the force of it pushing through father's guard. He'd knocked the man back, one of the few times. Before Aegon could take too long a time to enjoy his victory, his opponent regained balance, bringing his the flat of his sword crashing into one unprotected flank. A yelp of pain grudgingly tore itself past his own lips at that.

"Do not celebrate your victory prematurely," his father offered, the words carrying evidence of fatigue. So he was not unaffected by their exercise. Aegon was glad for even that much. It stood as proof the man before him was not so very different from many others, a creature of flesh and blood, who became winded after too much use, who was not immune to all weaknesses at the end of the day.

"Wasn't planning to," he muttered past a dry throat, swinging into another attack. He leapt high, bringing down the steel down from its apex, slashing though thin air. Nonplussed, his sire raised his guard, meeting the strike head-on. Having caught the blow, the man pushed back. Though their weights were comparable, Aegon imagined, his lack of steady ground made it easy for the adversary to send him stumbling backwards once his feet were safely on the ground. That, however, left their swords locked together. He might have fallen to the ground had he not managed to catch himself in time.

This was different from his experiences with Robb. Robb tended to rely on brawn, and on that score Aegon had enough trickery in him to work past the force and send the other to his knees. Jon was a planner. He allowed his foe a few moments, to read him and build a strategy and then he proceeded to show his skill, occasionally relying on sheer force to win. His father was in a category all of his own.

Aegon did not precisely know where he stood with the man. And that unnerved him a frightening amount. He could well see the sword was not his preferred weapon, certainly, for some of his strikes followed the longer patterns of lances. Had they been using longswords, he had little doubt he would be on the ground by this point. In spite of that preference, the traditionally sword-associated techniques were competent enough to plant the seed of doubt in his breast. What if father was simply humouring him and not truly fighting?

Still pushing against his rival, Aegon wondered if he would be quick enough to reverse the direction of his steel and rain down a few blows to his father's side. If he timed it right. He considered the possibility for a moment longer before throwing caution to the wind and adding further force to his shove. It worked well enough to his mind. On solid ground his power was a match to the other man's. Effectively distracted as his sword found itself crashing towards the side without something to oppose its descent, his father did not quite manage to bring the weapon back in time.

He pressed his advantage with zeal, enough so that pain had his opponent doubling over. He might have waited for the man to regain composure, or even retreated a few steps. But when would he ever have such an opportunity again? Instead, he turned the sword hilt forth, pressing the butt of it to his father's nape. "I believe this round is mine. Yield."

Elated to have won, as soon as his father held a hand up and spoke the word he'd wanted to hear, Aegon retreated, belatedly wondering if the blow to the side had caused true injury. "Are you well, father?" he asked, throwing his weapon to the ground and stepping towards his erstwhile foe.

Heaving still, father put his hand up yet again. His other hand brushed against the spot Aegon had hit. "That was well done of you." For some reason the compliment gave him an inordinate amount of joy. He let go of the flank and straightened to his full height. There was something impressive about the man even past his best years as he was. "We shall see if I can avenge myself next time."

He felt his eyes widen. Father, throughout most of his life, had been firmly caught in matters of the realm. Aegon had sparred with him once or twice, but even so, that had been as a boy and only because he'd insisted he teach him a few basic grips and strokes himself. The Red Keep had a very competent master-at-arms. "And when will that be?"

The King chuckled, slinging an arm around his shoulders. No small feat, considering such actions were usually reserved for his most trusted allies and companions. "Soon." It was a promise as far as he could tell. Aegon nodded his head in acceptance and his father offered a brief smile before pulling back. He felt strangely bereft.

They sat down together, father propping his chin on his hand which was held over the butt of his sword's hilt. Aegon having thrown away his weapon contended himself with bracing himself on his palms once he sat down. The mood was lighter than he remembered it being in years. When was the last time he'd felt as relaxed as he was now in his father's presence? Not since he was stumbling on his own feet as a child, he reckoned.

Taking a moment, he studied the man's profile. He was not half as frightening as Aegon recalled him being. It might, of course, simply be due to the silence around them and his father's order that they be left quite along. There were two Kingsguards waiting some distance away, but since they were far enough as to be unable to hear the words shared, Aegon did not count them as being present.

"I will be gone for some time," his father began, quite abruptly and without finesse. Usually he eased one into a subject. This felt more like bludgeoning. "I am needed at Storm's End."

"Why would you be needed at Storm's End?" he questioned without thinking, earning himself an impatient look from his father. Chagrined, he settled back into silence.

"Robert Baratheon saved your life. I have a debt to the man and I have every intention of honouring it. Since he is gone, 'tis only his children I may help."

"Jon needs help? Why did you not say so, father?" What a curious occurrence. Despite the manner of their parting, Aegon would lie if he were to say he wished to deny his friend aid. "When are we to leave?"

"You are to remain here and see to the needs of the realm," his father corrected gently, his frim voice, nonetheless, letting him know his mind was made up upon the matter.

However, Aegon was not about to accept such a decision lying down. "He is my friend. I cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye to such instances." Jon would do the same for him if it came to that.

"Your honour is not in question, but you cannot sacrifice the realm for a whim. Jon will understand why you could not come, I am certain. Sometimes in this world, Aegon, you will not be given what you want. That is the way of the world." There was something in the man's eyes which set him on edge. Aegon stifled his first response, which was to rebel against the notion.

Unable to help himself, though, he pressed the fresh wound given the opportunity. "What else is there that I cannot have, father?" It seemed to him the matter was not truly about Jon. Father simply wanted to keep him from Storm's End. "Might be you have something in mind. Someone?"

The last remnants of the easy mood from before fell away. "If you would have me be blunt, then aye; there is someone you cannot have. For the good of your people, you will wed Margaery Tyrell. She is a good match. The lady comes from a distinguished family, she is well-educated and her looks recommend her."

"I will never understand why you would have me suffer the same as you do," Aegon snapped. "Should I end up like you and mother for my wishes to have any weight? Well I do not want that; I do not want, under any circumstances. To sit across from a woman every morning for the rest of my life, regretting she is not another is a punishment. If I am to be punished, I would like to know for what at least!"

Stunned silence met his tirade. Aegon held his father's gaze, wondering not without a measure of bitterness if years of living with a woman he held in no regard had smothered his compassion. He could see the man's jaw work and knew, without other signs, that he'd poked the beast. Just as well, he considered with a sneer, they should understand one another.

But then his father surprised him.

"You and Lady Margaery are not me and your mother, son. I will not demand you cease holding whoever you hold in fond regard. I know that cannot change. However, I ask you judge your betrothed fairly. I never got the chance to know your mother before we were pressed into marriage. It was arranged by my mother and her brother. I do wonder whether accepting the situation would have been less difficult had I known her before; but that is neither here, nor there. It is precisely because I do not wish the same for you that I ask you judge your betrothed fairly."

He hadn't known that, But then father ever so rarely spoke of the past with him. He went on, and Aegon hesitated to interrupt. "You are old enough to understand, so I will say this once and we shall never have this discussion again; I do not love your mother, and if ever I did, our differences smothered that. Yet I do not hold her accountable more than I do myself. A man should not delude himself, do you not agree?" Aegon nodded. "As for Cassana Baratheon, her father approached me with hopes I might find a wealthy match for her. The girl is already spoken for, and she had a duty to her family as you have one to yours."

He started. "Did Jon know; he never said a thing to me."

"Nay; her father revealed his desire only to me. I will take the time to inform the new Lord Baratheon, of course. But make no mistake, the girl weds before the year is out, and you will as well."

His breath grew short. "To whom?" There was House Lannister; they were rich. Not the Arryns', that boy was much too young. Robb? Surely they would not wed her to Robb.

"You will learn in time. I hope you can understand why I find it impossible to allow this liaison." There had to be something else. The betrothal was very sudden. And Jon would have known, in spite of what his father said. Jon always knew this manner of things.

"So I have no choice?" He hated how his voice choked on the last word.

"You can choose to rebel against fate," his father shrugged, sounding for all the world comforting, "that would bring you strife and Lady Margaery, not to mention the rest of us. But you will still wed her. You could also choose to accept the marriage, known your betrothed better and make the best of what you have."

Why did he feel as though the heart had been burned out of him?

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her daughter gurgled softly, one plump fist striking through the air before it settled upon her breast as she returned to suckling. Lyanna moved her arm in a gentle manner, bolstering the babe slightly. "There, there," she whispered. "You needn't fuss." To tell the whole truth, she did not fuss a whole lot, might be being the quietest of all the babes she'd held. Excepting the moments when her ire rose, she was a charming little thing.

The door opened with a low creak and Cassana skipped within, her arms loaded with cloths. "I found these and thought we could make a kirtle or two, lady mother. If you do the tracing, I'll be able to sew on my own."

If the beneficiary of those good intentions cared, she did it show if. Cassana spent a few moments cooing over her sister before she set the materials upon the edge of the bed for Lyanna to inspect. She nodded towards her eldest daughter, tugging the babe away from her to hold her against her shoulder and pat her back. "They will do admirably, I am certain."

"Let me take her to Meg, she will care for her." Lyanna did not want to let her child go. Not because she did not trust her other children. But with how matters had been recently, her heart squeezed whenever such an occurrence took place. There was little enough she could do to keep the babe beyond what was allowed to her.

The strange thing about being confined to her chamber and having little to no interaction with Jon was that she was beginning to doubt more and more whether she had any manner of breaching the gap between them. Untended wounds festered. And she hadn't the right to complain because at the end of the day, like it or not, she was the main contributor to the changes which had taken place. "Mother, come, she needs her sleep. I will bring her back once she's woken up."

Jolted out of her reverie, Lyanna stood and placed the babe in her arms. "Tell Meg to make certain she is well swaddled. You don't want the limbs to have too much leeway, they shan't grow straight." She tucked the corner of the cloth away and brushed a soft kiss upon the child's forehead.

"I will tell her, lady mother, never fear." Cassana smiled brightly, her cheery attitude filling up the bedchamber even as she turned around, heading for the door leading to Meg's little chamber.

Returning unburdened by the babe, Cassana arranged the cloths to her satisfaction and pointed out to a golden one with floral patterns. "I was thinking we could begin with this one, mother. It's such a nice colour." Lyanna fingered the material.

"I do not know. The colour is very bright." Such yellows stained with ease. "Might be something darker would be better."

"Still," Cassana insisted, "trace the lines for me." She agreed, for the sole reason that there was no reason to quibble.

For herself she chose a plain, sturdy cloth, softened on one side by remnants of fur. The other side was slightly rougher. No patterns aborted it. It was an appropriate choice. "The rest you can take them back. No doubt we'll have further need of them at some point."

Pleased that she would get her way, Cassana did as she asked, leaving out only the golden cloth and the dark fabric, skipping as she'd entered, the jingling of keys only at that point noticeable. Why had she not heard that before?

Lyanna sat back down, crossing her legs at the ankle. She wondered, for a brief moment, where it was that she'd thrown her chalks. Might be at the bottom of the chest. She lifted herself off of the chair with a sigh and ambled towards the trunk and opened the lid. Within chaos reigned. Lyanna simply pushed away what she did not need and took out the thin sticks of chalk. She slammed the lid back down.

Tracing was not particularly difficult. Not for babes and kirtles. Lyanna folded the golden cloth twice over and began moving the stick over the fabric. Cassana, she knew, had her own shears and would likely work in her own chambers. At least that she would not have to worry about.

It was not Cassana that returned though. Jon strode through the door giving her such a fright that she dropped the stick she'd been holding. And to have been thinking she'd missed his visage. Lyanna wondered at his presence, the sudden urge to set herself to rights taking even her by surprise. It wasn't truly about surface cracks. "Must you appear out of the blue?" she asked, giving him a long look.

"It is hardly out of the blue," he countered, meeting her stare with a flinty glare. "Cassana tells me you are doing better, lady mother." As birthing was wont to do, it had laid her down for a few days, keeping Lyanna firmly tied to her bed, for her legs could not quite carry her throughout the day were she to rely upon them.

Jon moved about until he'd reached his preferred chair, sitting down without further ado. Lyanna did not ask after his reason for coming. In his own time, he would let her know. "How is my sister this day?"

"With Meg, my lord, as you ordered." He gave a sharp nod. "I've had her fed and Cassana wanted to gift her some kirtles. I was just doing the tracing." She held the chalk up, as though to prove her words.

"Good. I am glad you've something to occupy yourself with." Jon glanced at the two fabrics upon the bed. He seemed to consider their suitability, but ultimately he gave no opinion one way or the other. "Aunt Selyse was wondering if might be you would welcome her company." She balked, predictably enough, and would have protested had he not held a hand up. "I told her you've already activities enough to occupy yourself with. I'm glad I was not forced to lie to her."

"Jon, for precisely how long do you plan to bring that up. Even I have my limits."

"I do not doubt that you do." There was a cruelty to him, and she did not quite know from whence it came. She doubted he'd inherited it from her. Lyanna gave him a pleading look. "Now, now, lady mother, there is truly no need to be quite so put out. I thought aunt Selyse's absence would lift your spirits some." She bit her lower lip to keep from responding. "Also, His Majesty finally answered out letter. Would you like to read the reply?" He produced a thin strip of parchment, presenting it to her for perusal.

Lyanna took it, gripping the bit of parchment. She glanced at the words, her mind trying to glean their meaning. "He will be arriving very soon, I reckon," she allowed, not knowing precisely how she felt about it. One the one hand, she knew Rhaegar would do something, anything to protect her. On the other hand, this could accelerate the conflict, which she did not want at all. "What are you going to do, Jon?"

And for the first time, it seemed to her, his expression was open to her. "To tell you the complete truth, lady mother, I have no idea whatsoever. But I will figure something out, I am sure." She remained quiet for a few moments.

"I know 'tis much too late for such words, but, Jon, I want you to know, I did not mean to cause trouble." She'd been banking on her luck holding out, and fate shoved her in front of panicked horses. Lyanna could have laughed if it were not so tragic. "Your sister, however, is innocent of any sin. She is just a child."

"A child I am willing to protect, lady mother. Have I not proven as much?" She neither denied nor approved. "You truly ought to give her a name. It is so strange to refer to her as only sister. I have so any sisters, after all." So he did.

"Her sire should name her," she said.

"Heavens, mother. He might name her something like Visenya; how will we come back from that?" Lyanna doubted Rhaegar would call her that, but she shrugged. "I will not accept that name, by the by."

"Visenya?" He gave her a look. "I will make certain his choice is suitable."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The soft scraping on the other side of the door interrupted Jon's appraisal of the fifth ledger. Without looking up he marked the place where he'd left off with a stroke of the quill and bad enter to whoever was on the other side. He presumed one of his siblings had found their way to his solar and was not disappointed once he deigned to glance up from his materials.

"We must talk." Cassana sat down on the chair, crossing her arms over her chest. "You have locked yourself in this chamber for the last few days. That cannot be healthy." Her blue eyes shone with muted compassion and for whatever reason, he did not have the heart to tell her it would be far less healthy for him to remain where he was. But his sister gave him such a look that he did not dare protest.

"I assure you, sweet sister, I am not at all out of sorts." That was a half-truth at best. Jon was perfectly out of sorts, insofar as he cared to know. There was very little he found comfort in and for the time being, he could do little but consider his current situation. "You, however, seem to have a need for conversation. Were our sisters not at all amenable?"

"Our sisters have fluff stuffed between their ears, I'm certain. I would sooner converse with cousin Arya. At the very least she will have something interesting to say, even though most of it is drivel. I wish to speak to you." He nodded. "I have something for you, in any event." She snatched a piece of parchment out of her sleeve and placed it upon the table, fingers curling around it. "But you must promise to indulge me after."

"I promise I will." She let go of her prize, urging him to look.

A single line of numbers decorated the parchment. The last of the numbers had been blotted by an inattentive quill. "Where did you come about this?" He studied Cassana's finding with attentive eyes, already knowing what interested him.

"I spoke to Maekar, of course, and he gave me to understand that it would interest you to have this sample. I, thinking that I might well aid, hurried to bring you this." And already having his promise, she had pushed him into a corner.

"You know who wrote it." It would be useless to hound her for an answer, but Cassana might well tell him on her own if he did not push too hard.

"If I do, then I am more or less responsible for this person's fate." He knew that look. It was that annoying expression women generally wore around children, the injured and hurt puppies. "You would not ask me, surely, to put someone's neck in the noose, would you?"

He smiled. It was so very like Cassana to try pinning him in an uncomfortable spot. "Have you ever heard the story of the village thief, I wonder." Warily, his sister shook her head. "Indeed, mother spoke of it often enough to me, but I daresay 'twas not the manner of tale gentle souls prefer." Jon cleared his throat. "In a small village there lived a mother and her son. One day, her boy came home with an egg in hand, smile upon his face. She took the offering and cooked it. After a time her son returned with poultry, grin firmly upon his face. She took the offering and made good use of it. Before long, her son brought her something of greater value. Alas, in a tiny village, the disappearance of cattle is apparent and unforgivable; and to the great relief of the owner, I don't doubt, the beast was tracked to the home of our mother and son." He paused for breath, eyeing his sister who was staring at the ground, presumably at the very captivating pattern of the rug. "And the boy, naturally, earned himself a noose about his throat. Do you know who put it there?"

"Why, the villagers, I don't doubt," Cassana answered, not looking up from the rug.

"Nay, indeed. 'Twas his own mother." Her shoulders tense, his sister bit into her lower lip, confusion apparent on her face. "Had she the right notion to refuse any such behaviour of her son's part, he might not have grown into a life of thievery, nor would he be swinging from a tree."

"Doubtlessly, I am now in the position of mother." Since she was not wrong, Jon accepted the words, despite the edge. "Are you telling me you shall act as the village mob?"

"I am telling you," he drawled, "that my punishment shall be measured against the deed itself." Fifty silver pieces was no small amount to have disappeared. As for mob mentality, Jon had no fear on that account.

"Very well then, I find myself forced to admit to my knowledge. I was doing sums with Mya and Bella, when the latter wrote this down. Maekar came after they'd left, observed our efforts and promptly proceeded to rip at the parchment." A likely story. "He told me there is some silver missing, but why would Bella need silver and who would allow her to write in the ledgers? Uncle Stannis does not seem the type to suffer such attempts easily."

"He is not the only man with access to the ledgers." Which was true enough, but still did not explain why Bella would have any business fiddling with the numbers. "What do you propose we do, since I am not to act the mob?"

The girl gave him a sharp look. "I sometimes wonder whether you never accept help with grace. You cannot succeed on your own every single time."

"But I may certainly try." By the look she gave him, she was not at all pleased with his response. Had Jon thought her annoyance of consequence, he would have reacted with more than a shrug. As it was, Cassana reminded him in no gentle terms that he'd made her a promise and ought to keep it, which he wasn't of a mind to not do. "Very well, make your demands." He perceived he would not escape unscathed if he should not hasten in that regard.

"You and I, dearest brother, should leave this chamber. I have just the place in mind."

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tight knot in the pit of his stomach twisted painfully. Eddard Stark knew, in that precise moment, that he would have to do something he had not done before; at least under no such serious circumstances. And he dreaded the very notion, tiny beads of sweat clinging to his forehead even as he opened his mouth to speak. "Robert's death was most unexpected, my lord; I don't doubt he left some unsolved matter in which even my nephew would find difficult to untangle. 'Twould be best to keep in mind Jon is very much new to his position."

"Even so," Jon Arryn protested softly, closing the tome before him with a decisive motion, "that he should ask for the King's aid before yours, or even your brother's, I find interesting to say the least." Ned met the man's steady gaze. "Especially given His Majesty's insistence that you come with coupled with his reluctance to discuss the matter. You do not find it at all strange?"

He had to, for his own mounting suspicions indicated no pleasant path; Ned drew in a thin breath before shaking his head slowly. "You heard the man as well as I have; he means to repay Robert's sacrifice and if he understands do so by taking himself off to Storm's End, we've no valid protest to raise. And I shall be there, besides. I very much doubt the matter goes deeper than our eyes might discern."

The head of house Arryn sighed. "You are much too comfortable in your assumptions. I suppose though that your presence there will have to quell any impropriety. Or at least bring it before your eyes. Whatever your nephew has done, you must strive to mend the bridges between him and the King. House Baratheon is very much necessary."

Though he rarely concerned himself with the affairs of others, for a number of reasons, Ned could not help but feel his poor nephew was not at all in the wrong. In fact, whatever impropriety was at the heart of this latest stir, he suspected it was rather Lyanna who was responsible. For one, Jon Baratheon had not once dumped his cup of wine over his brother's head in full view of the realm, nor was he the kind to protest well-laid plans for passing fancies. Rhaella Connington came to mind; he'd accepted his own father's edict that he was to wed the girl with enough grace and maturity that one could not doubt his heart was set on doing his duty. Which was just as well all things considered.

Robert had been his closest companion, as close as a brother, But the man had been more concerned with his own comforts than with the well-being of his house and to an extent that of his family. It was a wonder Jon had chosen other models to guide himself by, but might be that was Lyanna's work; a manner of subtle chastisement for the predicament she'd been put in.

Ned stood, feeling suddenly in need of some air. "I will do my very best for the good of the realm." And that of his kin. But Arryn need not know his primary concern was not the kingdom.

Having made with escape with an excess of good fortune, Ned stumbled over the person he least expected to appear before him. Mercifully his metaphorical stumble did not translate into anything other than a look of surprise and a small needling feeling of doubt. "My lady, apologies, I was not expecting your presence."

Ashara Dayne smiled at him. He noted with a small note of hesitation that the lift of her lips was as charming in that moment as her smiles had been at Harrenhal. Despite the similarity, his own reaction was a muted replica of the heart-pounding the half of Lord Whent had seen. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, Ned still felt his response to her presence a sharp betrayal to Janei and their many years of marriage. A pang of shame kept him company as he made his bows to the stunning Dornishwoman.

"Much as I enjoy your surprise, ser," she spoke, her voice undulating in a pleasant melody, "I would rather have you attention for a few moments. If, of course, you are amenable." The smile she sported suffered subtle change. No less compelling, however, it maintained its hold.

"Forsooth, my lady, I will do my very best by you." He wondered whether his own brother might find her charming still. Doubtlessly his lady wife would not be pleased, if Catelyn ever found out what had passed between those two at Harrenhal.

"Glad I am for that, as I wish a private word. I feared, you see, that even a good number of years is not enough to heal some wounds." Though there was little other than kindness in her gaze, Ned still perceived a tiny flicker of assured pride. He did not know whether he enjoyed it.

"That had been forgotten years past," he assured, unable to help feeling pleased with himself at the vague disappointment the woman exhibited. There was no such cure for pride, he decided, as a helping of indifference. At the same time, though, he did not lie. Ned did not suffer sleepless nights over Ashara Dayne and if he thought about her, his memories were of the sort that encouraged no further inspection. When young, he'd been a boy as all boys and she had been a most beautiful young woman. He consoled himself with the knowledge that better men than him found her attractions unforgettable, if rumours were to be believed.

"Good, for what I have to say concerns your sister." That gave him pause. Ned met her gaze, all notions of putting the woman in her place fleeing. "Is there some place where we might converse?"

He offered his arm with a nod of the head. "I trust this is more complicated than anything I could imagine." Lady Ashara gave a soft chuckle and a light shrug. He did not relish finding out what manner of secrets she held.

"You never struck me as lacking imagination, ser. But might be with my knowledge and yours put together, we may approach something like the truth." And that was the best he could possibly hope for, was it not?

"And excellent notion," he murmured, not certain she heard him at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Doubtlessly, you are now wondering why it is that the details are less forthcoming than before. My dear brother, the word I bring might shock you well beyond comprehension. Pray, bear in mind that I was equally shocked when first I realised the purpose of all these subterfuges. Having said as much, I believe it is time I lay before you the whole of it as I was able to piece together through the numerous interviews. What I write here is to be kept in strict confidence between us. This letter I have entrusted into the care of Ser Eddard Stark with the expectation that he, being part of it, will exercise utmost care.

To begin from the very beginning, as there is seldom a better place to start; the rumour must have reached even you, though you spend much time at the back stables in the company of horses, that father and Lady Baratheon at one point were rather scandalous in their comport. It was at that tourney no one has deigned to hush about in so many years that our esteemed sire saw fit to crown Lady Baratheon queen of love and beauty. Naturally, both were properly chastised and the incident was considered over and done with. Alas, the truth is somewhat different. The situation was neither as innocent, nor quite as lacking in consequences as we have been lead to believe. The closeness between out star-crossed lovers translated into a rather meaningful connection.

It seems that through some deviltry the lovers colluded to continue with various assignations until the present Lady Baratheon found herself in a, shall we say, delicate position. Her nuptials to the departed Lord Robert were a much needed reprieve from the liaison and, for a time, enough to keep the two of them apart. Jon was born perilously close to what one might call premature timing. While I cannot say beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is not the blood of the stag, his lady mother seems to believe it is the case.

Naturally what followed was a brief pause during which I understand little was exchanged between the two of them as Lady Lyanna had her hands full with a wastrel and a child, two separate creatures, to be certain. Father did, however, pay a short visit to Storm's end. I believe it was the anniversary of the previous lord's death. Cassana Baratheon was born within the year, named after her perished grandmother. To think all this time I never quite made out the subtle shade of her so very blue eyes.

The next opportunity for mischief presented itself during that fateful rebellion staged by our very own reavers. Needless to say, the Ironborn had not counted on the fact that they would be so easily crushed. The rest should be rather clear as you and I were both within the Red Keep when Maekar was born. The rest you know yourself, suffice to say, that the children you know followed and all of them share the same strange shade of blue eyes, neither quite as their father's, or they look like their mother.

There is one exception.

Her name is Janei. Jon insisted. Despite the undignified name, I promise you she is every inch the little dragon. I do believe she looks more like father than even you do. I wish I had a talent for painting with oils that I might send you her likeness. Lady Lyanna's concern is warranted in that she mistrust anyone who creeps too close to the babe. But father has reached some manner of understanding with that odious uncle of their. I swear he is the most tiresome man I have ever had the misfortune of setting my wits against. The thought that he is to take his brother's place on the council is nearly enough to give me kittens.

So you see, my dear brother, we have gained a sure sister and some dubious ties, some of which force us to reconsider much of our plans together. Lady Cassana is to wed the son of a Myrish magister, an accomplished young man whose acquaintance I have made as he travelled to see his betrothed. On that account I can but say she is a very fortunate girl. And in some ways she is touched by misfortune as well. I know you well enough by now to foresee your disappointment. There is little consolation than to remind you the laws of gods and men forbid a love such as the one you envisioned.

Had you been a tad more subtle, I might have worked something out for you. As matters stand, Jon had agreed to father's plan as soon as he proposed it. Our poor Cassana did not even utter a protest herself which leads me to believe much as she loved you, she did not dare confined in you. I can happily report she and the magister's son get along well enough, as well as two people fumbling blindly for their High Valyrian vocabulary are wont to at any rate, so you need not worry for her wellbeing from here on out. Note that Jon was most af adamant I write these words to you, and I have done my duty by him. I daresay, admirably well.

So here is what shall happen once I have returned: you and I will discuss at lengths the situation you have embroiled yourself within and, by the grace of the gods, you will embrace the path mother and father have set out for you. Now that you need not carry the burden of such a sad love upon your shoulders you may concentrate on the lovely Lady Margaery and the grand plans set in place.

To prove I do not expect something for nothing, I swear you shall be made aware of even the most minute of details I have learned, which unfortunately are much too delicate to be recorded in such a public message as this here letter.

I eagerly await the moment I may see you again and leave you with best wishes for company.

You faithful sister

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rhaenys put on the widest of smiles she could manage as she met the gaze of Ser Stannis’ lady wife. The sour face staring back at her with all the grace of a dying leper brought out to be paraded for the masses’ enjoyment did little to ease her into comfort. She nevertheless braved the woman’s glare, choosing to sit down next to Jon, in spite of the daring nature of such behaviour. “My lord must find it very trying to have so many guests descending upon him all at once,” she spoke, managing to touch Jon’s shoulder all too briefly. “And when so many unexpected events take up one’s attention.”

While she might have better enjoyed sitting in another chamber with Cassana and might be even Lady Lyanna, the disturbing dream she had had the previous night would not leave her be. Much of the details had not survived the sobering effect of waking. What had remained was a cloak of unease, draped upon her shoulder and obstinately clingy. It did not help that facing her was none other than the antagonistic couple of Stannis and Selyse.

Truly, the man’s face was so red she was fairly certain that had they arrived any earlier, with time aplenty for accommodation to be arranged and the table to be set, what was a dubious yet thin politeness would have been absent and in its place some manner of conflict would have met them. Rhaenys leaned slightly into Jon. “Is there any chance we may come to terms in the absence of your uncle?”

“Not a one,” Lord Baratheon murmured back to her, politely turning to address his aunt with some inane comment which Rhaenys pushed aside in favour of reaching for the delicious looking rolls. Freshly bakes, they smelled divine. And they were a much more pleasant sight than the rest of the occupants of the table, the lord of the house excluded.

While Jon maintained an easy air about him, no doubt propelled by previous intricate planning, Rhaenys did not for a moment believe him to be blind to any of the occurrences taking place before him. In fact, she suspected he was taking note of every minute detail in hopes of using it to his advantage. She suddenly wished Edmure were with her. How easy would it have been for him to create a rapport with the man she hadn’t a clue, but what she did know was that being family, he might well have an easier time of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her gaze shifted naturally enough to her own father who, not unlike Jon, chose to adopt a façade of easy and benevolence. Those who were unacquainted with the man could easily mistake the lax grip he kept on his cup for the lack of care that it was not. “My lord, are your siblings not to eat with us?” she desperately tried to keep conversation from floundering. Bad enough that some glared daggers while other pretended not to notice.

“The twins came down with some manner of ailment, Cassana told me, and are to be kept in the nursery. As for Maekar, he has some tasks to see to and  I doubt he will return all too soon.” Speaking of tasks, his uncle just turned a few shades redder, gripping his cup with such intensity Rhaenys feared his temper would boil over and inappropriate words would be exchanged before anyone could stop them.

“One wishes all siblings were of such comfort, she murmured.” Unfortunately, her mother heard her well enough to warrant a gentle kick under the table. Deciding against toying with the fates, she focused on her food, allowing conversation to die a natural but strained death at the hands and tongues of quarrelling parties, somewhat put out that she managed so very little progress with Jon.

Meantime, her lady mother, having taken note of the opportunity, jumped in, more than willing to take Selyse, formerly of House Florent, on. “I heard you’ve a daughter, lady,” she spoke gently, tauntingly. “A pity she was not allowed to join us either.” The great tragedy of Lady Selyse’s life was that she only had a daughter. To see her swallow as though something vile had been placed in her food almost made Rhaenys smile. The second greatest tragedy was that the girl had contacted, no one knew how, some wasting disease, forever branding her. In other words, a bitter woman years past her prime not only in form but as well as soul. Or that was what Rhaenys understood her mother’s insinuation to be.

Stannis slanted his lady wife a cold look. The poor woman. Not only was she being insulted, bur she also had to contend with her husband placing blame on her shoulders. At the same time, however, she did not imagine Selyse to be some sweet innocent in need of protection.

“She is yet to young to join such company as this,” the other woman replied woodenly. Clearly the Queen had touched a nerve for the moment Lady Selyse had spoken was followed by a shift in her position. “Your Majesty doubtlessly knows how difficult it is to raise a child with the proper values when they witness such blatant disregard of moral conduct at every turn. My daughter is thus encouraged to make a study of the models offered within the Seven-Pointed Star.”

The poor girl. So young and already set upon and hounded. Rhaenys hoped Jon would take the situation in hand and intervene soon else he risked having a second Selyse on his hands, joyless, emotionally-deficient, pompous creature that she was.

“Blood will out,” her own mother spoke, the words sharper. Rhaenys looked between the two of them, half –worried. She pressed her leg into her lady mother’s warningly.

“It will.” That did not sound like agreement. It sounded like a promise. They were no longer speaking of raising mannerly children. And so it began, the unfolding of what was to be a ferocious conflict as far as Rhaenys was concerned.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hi everyone,

Sol here. So, I’m sure you’ve heard about the new link-tax and copyright reform the EU is looking to introduce into the member states of the union. To those of you who haven’t or are not from the EU, basically this new piece of legislation is looking into regulating all activities dependent on content (be it videos, songs, news articles, books etc). They would do that by monitoring what the users of a platform post and if copyrighted content is determined to be used, it would be considered criminal activity.

The only way it wouldn’t be deemed criminal activity is if the users paid a tax (hence why we call it a link-tax).

The vote will be held on the 20th of June and in case the law gets passed, I think it’s obvious I won’t be able to post anymore on any platform (be it this or FF.net or some other site). So what happens is this:  I am starting to archive all of my fics. Those of you who want to request a certain fic can find me here.

Further updates information is: here.

Questions are welcome, but for discretion’s sake, sensitive ones are better posted on discord, or if you must on my e-mail address.

Thank you for your time and sorry to bring you somewhat unpleasant news.

P.S. Every story with more than 20 subs will get a post like this. If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. I’ll take them down after the 20th.