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How to Ruin Your Life and Disappoint Your Loved Ones

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i.

After the rebellion, once she had returned whole to Winterfell, Lyanna would think on what she might have done differently; if there was anything which might have spared some of the lives lost.

The tournament at Harrenhal; it all came back to that seven times damned tourney.

If only she had claimed to be too ill to make the journey to the Riverlands; with three brothers and no mother no one would have disbelieved her if she'd claimed women's problems.

If only she'd kept her tears to herself rather than weeping openly at the silver prince's beautiful ballads (lies, they were all lies.)

Lyanna could never quite bring herself to regret taking up lance and shield in defence of Howland Reed; but she did wish that she had refused Rhaegar's crown of blue roses, or better yet that she had crowned Elia Martell herself.

Only a stupid girl ignorant of her own naivety as Lyanna had been at six-and-ten would have answered Rhaegar's invitation to meet by moonlight with anything other than a firm refusal. But if only it had been a different brother who had stumbled upon the prince pressing kisses and promises on his sister; Lyanna had been about to refuse him (she had, she had.)

Brandon would have immediately attacked the prince with fists and feet; there would have been bloodshed to be sure, but no one else needs must have been hurt. Benjen had been young enough then that entreaties from his older sister and promises of sweets later would have been enough to convince him to hold his tongue.

But it had been Ned who found them.

Sweet Ned who had been fostered at the Eyrie for so long that As High As Honor were no longer mere words to him. Honor bound Ned who had challenged Rhaegar to a duel, and meaningly or no ensured that the entire realm knew of Lyanna's brush with disgrace. Brave, dead Ned, who for all his nobility was no tourney knight.

Oh, Rhaegar had not meant to kill Lyanna's brother, of that at least she was sure. A freak slip of the blade, people said; they'd compared Ned to Baelor Breakspear, and Lyanna had utterly failed to find comfort in that.

Ned's bones had been escorted back to Winterfell with the highest honors. Lyanna was hauled home in disgrace.

It had felt like the very bones of Winterfell shook with Lord Rickard's fury, which Lyanna might have borne better had her surviving brothers been speaking to her. Benjen was not to be permitted to take the black following the unexpected pruning of the Stark family tree, and Brandon was largely occupied in trying to sooth their father's grief and rage.

He was about to marry Catelyn Tully, he'd reminded Lord Rickard, and the Lord of Winterfell would soon have grandsons aplenty. Brandon even promised to name his firstborn son Eddard. Lyanna had doubted there would be any daughters named for her.

Lord Rickard's temper had not been cooled by the letter that had arrived from the Eyrie; the hand was Robert's, but the words were Lord Arryn's.

Even later, once Lyanna's humiliation had been tempered by time and battle and the inconvenient memory that she'd never wanted to marry Robert Baratheon, she remembered the words in that letter and how they'd stung:

'...in light of events at Harrenhal I'm sure that you, my lord, will agree that your daughter is an unsuitable bride for the Lord of the Stormlands, and it would be best if the betrothal was broken before Lady Lyanna further embarrasses us both.'

All in all, when Brandon had instructed her to pack her best gown and see her horse saddled, for she was to accompany him to Riverrun to witness him take Catelyn Tully to wife, Lyanna presumed that it was less because he actually wanted her there and more because he'd thought it prudent to get her out of their father's sight for a time.

 

ii.

Riverrun was surrounded by water on three sides, and being there had made Lyanna feel trapped. Though mayhap the feeling of being imprisoned came from the fact that the wedding guests included Prince Rhaegar, accompanied by the sword of the morning and a young lord with carrot red hair, and not accompanied by the princess Elia.

Brandon bristled, but Lady Catelyn had laid her hand on his arm, and Brandon settled for merely glaring daggers at the prince.

It had been left to the Blackfish to explain to them that the prince and his companions had been travelling through the Riverlands, and Lord Tully had felt duty bound to offer them the hospitality of Riverrun.

Brandon had replied that all was well, that the rules of hospitality were ancient and unbreakable. Brandon always had been a good liar; his quick tongue had spared Barbrey Ryswell disgrace on more than one occasion.

Lyanna's eyes had prickled with unshed tears when Brandon draped his cloak of protection around Lady Catelyn's shoulders, and she had looked past the happy couple to see Prince Rhaegar whisper something in Lady Lysa's ear; the Tully girl blushed and Lyanna's eyes burned farther.

At the wedding feast Rhaegar had played his harp while Lady Lysa wept with pleasure; Lyanna's new good-sister opined that it was good to see her younger sister taking pleasure in things again; seemingly there had been a problem involving Lord Tully's ward and his youngest daughter.

Lyanna had risen from the table with unseemly haste, but Lady Catelyn's attention had already slid back to her new husband.

Lyanna had once shed tears, and dignity too, for Rhaegar's songs, but at Riverrun she didn't even notice that the music had stopped until she'd turned and near collided with the silver prince. The only thought in her head: 'Lady Lysa is young, isn't she?'

'She is of an age with you, I believe.'

Lyanna had thought Lysa much younger; she felt aged since Harrenhal.

'My betrothed called off our wedding.'

'You led me to believe that you did not care for Lord Robert.'

'You led me to believe...'

Rhaegar's long silver hair had fallen into eyes soft with understanding, and Lyanna wondered, had she been seduced into an elopement after all, how long she would have lasted before kicking him in the shins?

Lyanna had returned North after the bedding, leaving Brandon at Riverrun to get to work on the Stark heir; he'd said that he would present his bride at Winterfell in due course, which Lyanna had taken to mean that he'd come home once their father had calmed down.

Brandon might have been in for a long wait. Lyanna returned home to find Winterfell in an uproar, although at least this time she hadn't been the cause. Benjen had stolen away by moonlight, saddled a horse and made for the Wall; by the time Lord Rickard's riders reached Castle Black Benjen had already taken his vows and they could not be unsaid.

In retrospect, Lyanna wondered if things might have been changed for the better had Brandon been at Winterfell rather than Riverrun when word came that Lysa Tully was missing? But at the time Lyanna had been missing Benjen, grieving for Ned, and bitter that Brandon was not at home to listen to their father's angry lectures on disobedient sons and shameless daughters too, and she'd had few enough thoughts to spare for the Tully girl.

 

iii.

Missing was the wrong word; kidnapped was the right one, especially if you were Hoster Tully.

Even then Lyanna had thought that words like eloped or seduced would have been more fitting. She had told herself that the reason she didn't scream Lysa went willingly from the walls of Winterfell was that no one would have believed her. In later years she came to understand that the real reason for her silence was that she hadn't wanted to accept that Rhaegar's words - that Lyanna was strong, that she was special and important, and the only one who could help him fulfill the prophecy - had been so much wind; she hadn't been able to bear the thought that she had been so easily replaced, and by Lysa Tully.

Lyanna soon had cause to rue her silence when a raven arrived from King's Landing, summoning Lord Rickard before the Iron Throne to explain his son's actions.

Brandon, urged by his new bride's family, and spurred on by his own hot temper and mislike of the prince, had galloped south with a group of hotheaded young river lords in pursuit of Rhaegar and Lysa.

Lyanna had begged her father to let her accompany him to King's Landing. She could be of use; Brandon would listen to her, or Rhaegar would.

Lord Rickard had pressed his palm to Lyanna's cheek. 'There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.'

Lord Rickard had been a distant father to Lyanna, more so than to her brothers; he hadn't known what to do with a daughter after the death of his lady wife. But when Maester Luwin, then a slight, balding newcomer to Winterfell, had brought her the news from King's Landing, it was her father's last touch that Lyanna thought of.

Lord Rickard had been furious with his only daughter for shaming him at Harrenhal, and he'd stayed furious throughout the year of the false spring; on more than one occasion he had threatened to marry her off to a hedge knight or exile her to the silent sisters. But when she read of his death - burned in his own armor, as dear, foolish Brandon strangled himself trying to come to his aid - it was his final words to her that rang in her ears.

There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.

When Master Luwin asked what she wished done she had crumpled the parchment, angrily cast it into the fire, and held her hand up before her eyes; she had not been trembling overmuch.

'Call the banners.'

 

iv.

Howland Reed had arrived first, armed with a frog spear and accompanied by half a dozen crannogmen no taller than he was; Lyanna had all but wept with relief to see him.

Domeric Bolton came next, he'd been the riding companion of Lyanna's childhood. He had arrived with two hundred Bolton men, and it wasn't clear whether he had his father's blessing.

The Iron Throne had at first paid little enough attention to the small army assembling at Winterfell. Lyanna told herself it was because the crown had never cared much about what happened north of Moat Cailin; deep down she had known that it was because they were not threatened by a rebellion called by a girl, especially not when so few lords had answered her call.

Three hundred men and horses had arrived from the Rills. Barbrey Ryswell sent a chestnut mare to Lyanna along with a note: to help avenge your brother. Lyanna had never much cared for Lady Barbrey, but it was a fine horse. Against all odds, the mare had survived everything that came after and was to this day stabled in comfort at Winterfell.

Lyanna had always been an excellent horsewoman, and knew how to wield a lance at the tilt; Brandon had thought it a jest to teach her to fight with a dagger, but all she'd known of swordwork was what she'd been able to teach herself.

Every day, while she'd waited for the lords of the north to answer their liege lady's summons, she'd had Ser Rordrik knock her down into the mud of Winterfell's yard, and every day she'd kept her footing for a little longer. Howland Reed had volunteered to train with her, and when the men laughed at their occasional clumsy swings and stumbles Domeric Bolton had set them to sparring against each other; their lady was preparing for the battles to come, he'd said, and they ought to be doing the same.

And in a trickle that became a flood, the North had flocked to Lyanna's banner. Umber men from up near the Gift, and Manderly men from White Harbor. Glovers, Tallhearts, and Hornwoods. They might have had their doubts about Lyanna, but the mad king had murdered their liege and his heir, his princely son had killed Ned, and they would have their revenge.

For a time every petty lord who sent aid to Winterfell also sent a son, sometimes a brother, at a pinch a cousin, who seemed to have no greater orders than to get close to Lyanna. She had known what those men wanted: Winterfell first, sons of her body second, and her person and counsel a distant third, if at all.

Lyanna was forever grateful to Jeor Mormont of Bear Island, who had instead sent his sister to guard Lyanna's back.

Lady Maege was older than Lyanna, a mother herself with two little daughters. Lyanna always had trouble thinking of Maege as someone's mother; in part due to her habit of dressing in mail and boiled leather, and in part because when she was not guarding Lyanna she could drink, dice, and tell lewd jokes as well as any of the men. Lyanna had liked her immediately.

But one afternoon, in the waning light of the godswood, when Lyanna had succeeded in tangling Maege's mace around her sword and ripping it out of the older woman's hands, Maege's grin had contained more than a touch of maternal pride.

Lyanna had few memories of her mother; she'd died when Lyanna had been very small, taken by childbed fever after Benjen's birth. But she could not help but wonder if Lady Lyarra would have looked with pride or despair on her daughter raising an army to avenge her husband and sons?

When she was not having the stuffing knocked out of her by Maege Mormont and Rodrik Cassel, Lyanna had been making preparations to leave Winterfell in the hands of Maester Luwin and Vayon Poole. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, her father had said, but when he'd said it there had been more Starks living. She'd spent her evenings pouring over maps and accounts of famous battles with Howland Reed and Domeric Bolton; neither of whom were seasoned battle commanders, but she trusted them best of all her bannermen. She had written letters, and worn out her boot leather pacing the halls of Winterfell waiting for answers.

When the two messages she'd been waiting for had finally arrived, they did so in quick succession.

The first came from the Eyrie; Jon Arryn, who had lost his heir to Aerys' madness, was ready to ride from the Vale.

The second came from Riverrun, and bore the Blackfish's seal: We've called the banners.

Lyanna's chestnut mare was saddled, and she had left Winterfell riding at the head of a column of men greater than any seen since the days of the Blackfyre rebellions.

 

v.

Lyanna had been surprised when Jon Arryn had invited her to accompany him to Riverrun's war room.

The rebellion's armies had rendezvoused in the Riverlands, where Lord Arryn and the Blackfish held councils of war with an ever rotating group of lords and knights. Hoster Tully had not joined them; the lord paramount of the Riverlands was said to have blamed himself for his youngest daughter's kidnapping, and had shut himself in his chambers, consumed by fear and grief.

Lyanna had brought Howland Reed and Domeric Bolton to the first war council; they hadn't quite been laughed from the room. Jon Arryn had not meant it unkindly when he called her a girl child advised by two green boys, but his meaning could not have been more clear: the Lady of Winterfell would not be required nor welcome at the war councils.

Before leaving home Lyanna had been so determined to ignore those lords telling her that she ought to stay behind, ideally with a babe in her belly, that she had ignored anything else of value that they might have had to say.

Lyanna had not even been able to visit with Lady Catelyn - Brandon's widow had been too sick with grief to receive her - so she'd been only too happy to think that Ned's foster father was giving her a chance to be of use.

Lord Jon had spoken to her that day as though she were someone whose opinion was of value. He had told her of how the king had called his banners, and how first the Tyrells, and later the Martells had declared themselves Targaryen loyalists.

The Lannisters had declared for neither side, he'd said, but neither had the Baratheons.

Something heavy had settled in Lyanna's belly then, and her feet had started to drag on the flagstones.

For a few moments Jon Arryn had fooled Lyanna into believing that he saw her as more than a marriage pawn or broodmare. He had pushed open the door to the war room, bowed her inside, and taken his leave.

Robert Baratheon had his back to her, but Lyanna had known those near impossibly broad shoulders, that imposing height. He had turned and grinned happily at her through his great, black beard.

For a strange, horrible moment Lyanna had been overjoyed to see him; Robert had been like a brother to Ned, Robert was the real warrior, Robert would fix everything.

Then Robert had opened his mouth.

Robert had explained that it hadn't been his idea to break his betrothal to Lyanna; Jon Arryn had forced the notion on him, or mayhap it had been his brother Stannis.

Robert always had lived in a world where nothing was ever Robert's fault.

He had cheerfully informed Lyanna that they would be wedded and bedded that very evening. She would remain at Riverrun while he marched on King's Landing; when he returned he would present her with the Mad King's head, and she would present him with a son.

It had taken Lyanna a moment to say anything, to realise that as Lady of Winterfell she now had the power to say the one thing she'd always wanted to say to Robert Baratheon: 'No.'

'But, Lya--!'

'My name is Lady Stark.'

 

vi.

The loss of the Baratheon forces had been a blow to the rebellion, but not a fatal one.

The first fatal blow Lyanna had struck had been against a boy little older than Benjen with a Tarly huntsman on his coat. She had struck him clean with her war lance; she hadn't seen his guts spill or the light fade from his eyes, hadn't even stopped until she'd cleared the Tarly lines and whirled her horse about, but she'd known in her heart that she'd killed him.

Not all of Jon Arryn's bannermen had followed their lord in revolt; the rebel army had been ambushed out of Gulltown, caught between the freezing sea and the loyalist forces many of their heavy horse had been lost.

Lyanna's courser was too fine a mount and Lyanna herself too skilled a rider for the southron lords to be precious about keeping her from battle.

Afterwards, when Lyanna thought back on the rebellion, she remembered charging enemy lines with Domeric bellowing beside her. She remembered the Blackfish complimenting her on her horsemanship. She remembered sleeping next to Maege, sharing a fur to keep warm. She remembered Howland's sneak raid on a Tyrell camp where they'd taken the young heir to Highgarden hostage.

She remembered best those times when she, Howland, Domeric, and Maege had been able to sit around a fire passing a skin of wine between them. Domeric and Howland's running jest had been to stage mock arguments over which of them Lyanna would take to husband after victory was won; Lyanna had always settled these mock fights by saying that she'd sooner marry Maege, which never failed to make the she-bear snort wine out of her nose.

But Lyanna refused to forget the Tarly boy she'd killed at Ashford, or any of the others. She forced herself to always remember the blood, the cold and pain, the smell, the lice. The way that she'd been frightened all the time.

She had been frightened the day her chestnut mare had come up lame, and she'd wept uncontrollably from fear that she might have to kill the animal, long after she'd stopped weeping for dead men.

The rebellion had been necessary - the king had been mad and the realm rotten - but that did not mean it been good or noble.

 

vii.

Young as she'd been and inexperienced in the ways of war, Lyanna had at first had to be reminded to keep her visor down on the field of battle lest she be recognised.

Visor down, Lyanna had often charged the enemy lines carrying a shield of grinning weirwood; she had much preferred the stories told about the knight of the laughing tree to those told of Lyanna Stark.

Domeric had once told her that men called her the young wolf; Lyanna had heard herself called the soiled wolf, and other less kind things besides.

She never saw who pulled her from her saddle in the shallows of the Trident; she'd surfaced, spluttering, her sword knocked from her hand, and her shield bobbing in the water next to her. She hadn't known where Domeric or Howland were, though they'd been fighting next to her mere moments ago. She had been able to hear the she-bear roaring, but not close enough to be able to help.

Lyanna had looked up to see a warrior standing over her; his longsword had been at the ready, and there were rubies on his breastplate.

It was Lyanna's shield that Rhaegar had recognised; the slight and bedraggled soldier before him could not have been more different from the maid he'd crowned queen of love and beauty.

Lyanna had little love left for the silver prince, but for the rest of her days she would always be able to say this about Rhaegar: he had been unwilling to kill an unarmed girl, not even a girl who had raised this rebellion against him and brought them both to that muddy battlefield on the banks of the Trident.

That hesitation had cost him his life. Rhaegar and Lyanna had stared at each other for a long moment while the battle raged around them; Lyanna had never told anyone, not her closest companions, not Brynden Tully himself, that Rhaegar had been in the act of lowering his sword when the Blackfish's blade had slid between the plates of his armor.

Lyanna had tried to break the prince's fall; half trapped under the deadweight of his body and armor, she had been the only one to hear the woman's name caught on his dying breath.

At that moment Lyanna had been able to envision no future more involved than sitting there on the bank of the Trident as the final stages of the rebellion played out without her. It was there that Howland Reed had found her; Barristan Selmy had yielded to Jon Arryn after having cut a bloody swathe through two dozen rebel knights, wounded beyond the fight and knowing his prince was dead, he had asked to see Lyanna.

'Prince Rhaegar entrusted me to deliver this to you.' He had presses a parchment into her hand. 'It was as if he knew how this was going to end.'

The letter bore Rhaegar's personal seal, and was for Lyanna to present to Princess Elia:

'Elia,

Tywin Lannister is no friend to the Iron Throne; open the city gates to Lady Stark and no other...'

 

viii.

Lyanna had made for King's Landing with Domeric and a few dozen of his best riders.

She'd soon had cause to be grateful for Rhaegar's letter. Lyanna knew well that Domeric was a gentle soul, but with his cloak the colour of flesh and his men bearing his flayed man sigil alongside her direwolf they did not make for a reassuring sight for the nervous gold cloaks manning the walls. Rhaegar's seal had gained them entry into the city.

Lyanna had left Domeric in command of the city walls; the gates were to be opened for the Blackfish, and barred to the Lannisters.

The streets had been empty as she walked her horse through them; word had reached the smallfolk of Rhaegar's defeat, and they had barred their doors and were huddled inside with their families expecting for the city to be sacked.

No one had barred her way as she made her way towards the Red Keep, nor as she entered the throne room where her father and brother had died so horribly.

The mad king had died there too, in the end. Lyanna found his body sprawled below the Iron Throne, face down in a pool of his own blood. Ser Jaime had been standing atop the steps, beside the throne; his sword and golden armor spattered with blood and gore.

During their mad, frantic ride to beat the Lannister forces to King's Landing, Domeric had asked Lyanna if she meant to sit the Iron Throne? Someone would have to, after the king was deposed.

Well, by the time Lyanna found herself standing before the Iron Throne, the king was dead, and the throne occupied.

Elia Martell had gestured towards the dead king with her slipper, a look of distaste on her tired, drawn face.

'We left the body for you.'

Lyanna had taken a step forward, her knees threatening to give out beneath her. All at once she'd felt as exhausted as Elia looked; Rhaegar's widow had looked desperately thin with an unhealthy cast to her skin, but she was sitting straight-backed and proud upon the throne.

Lyanna had taken another bone weary step. The king was dead. Rhaegar was dead. Her father, Brandon, and Ned were all dead; and she was too tired to hide from the knowledge that she didn't much care if Lysa Tully was living or dead.

Elia was not her enemy. Elia's children were not her enemies. Even Jaime Lannister was not her enemy.

Lyanna had gone down heavily on one knee.

'I yield to the queen.'

 

ix.

And so the rebellion had ended with a whimper.

The common rebel soldiers had been pleased that the war was won, confused as to how that had come about, and bitter at the lack of plunder that they'd been allowed.

A few lords and knights had been heard to grumble that this wolf girl had not spoken for them when she'd surrendered to the queen regent, but none but the most bloodthirsty had any appetite for waging war against a small girl, a babe in arms, and their mother. The grumbling had continued, but nothing had ever come of it.

Lyanna had slept, for days. She'd woken to remember that the rebellion was not over for everyone.

The Blackfish and the river lords had not stopped at King's Landing, instead riding straight on to where Elia had told them she believed Lady Lysa could be found.

Lyanna had left her much abused chestnut mare for some well deserved rest in the royal stables, borrowed a Dornish sand steed, and she and Howland Reed had ridden for the Tower of Joy.

The smell had been the first thing they'd noticed upon their approach. Lyanna could not have said how long the men had been dead, but their corpses had already started to cook in the Dornish sun.

Howland had been the one to point out the body of the white bull, and another in the armor of the kingsguard. Before falling they had killed a dozen of the Blackfish's men; Lyanna had been able to make out Mallister eagles, Piper maidens, and Mooton salmon as she'd picked her way through the bodies.

Lyanna had made her way up the spiraling steps of the tower, Howland at her heels, and emerged in a comfortable, furnished chamber. The Blackfish was there, so was the sword of the morning, and sitting up in bed, whole and hale, was Lysa Tully.

The bundle in Lady Lysa's arms whimpered and snuffled; Lysa clucked and fussed.

Lyanna thought of the name on Rhaegar's lips as he'd died.

'This is Visenya, I presume.'

 

x.

Catelyn might have been too sick with grief to see Lyanna before she'd ridden south, but that had not been the only thing she'd been sick with.

'Her name is Sansa.'

The babe had her mother's red hair, and Lyanna thought that she had Brandon's nose.

Lyanna had stayed in King's Landing for longer than she'd planned in order to publicly swear fealty to Queen Elia, and had been making a slow progress back to Winterfell ever since.

Guilt had compelled her to stop at Riverrun to check on Lysa; she had thought that she might be able to tell her how kind Elia was to little Visenya, how well the third head of the dragon was being cared for.

With sorrow in his voice the Blackfish had told her that Lysa no longer left her chambers; the sight of Cat with her daughter sent her into jealous fits that sometimes turned violent. Lord Hoster was starting to consider whether the silent sisterhood was not the best place for her.

That had been how Lyanna had discovered that Brandon had a daughter. She understood now why Catelyn hadn't told her; there had been no guarantee that Lyanna was going to emerge victorious. But back then she had wanted to scream and rage at Brandon's widow for keeping the knowledge of her niece from her; then Cat had eased the baby girl into her arms and all of Lyanna's anger had drifted away like so much smoke.

Sansa had blown a bubble of spit at her aunt with a giggle.

'Mayhap... Mayhap, you might send her to foster at Winterfell when she's older? She is my heir. I'd like to know her.'

'I think Brandon would have liked that. I think I would like that.'

Lyanna had looked into Sansa's wide, staring blue eyes. For the first time since she'd gotten word of her father and Brandon's fates she felt something stirring in her belly: hope for her own future and that of her house.

'Would you look at that, Sansa.' Lyanna had told the babe. 'The Starks do endure, after all.'