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the broken lovers with the poison cup

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Men in studies – that is how the world is ruled.

There is a mistaken concept that the world is conquered through the chaos of war. That a warrior king will triumph, set his banners atop rubble and ash and that will be enough to make him a good ruler. The truth is that one man does not master the world, and he does not win wars alone. There are alliances and they are built in back room meetings – intelligent conversations and big ideas. Above all, they are built through marriage.

And when men decide to take their own brides – or women run off with their own husbands – that’s when war will always follow.

Rhaegar and Lyanna were not the first. They will be not the last.

Their marriage is not special – though it feels like the beginning and end of everything.

i. jaime lannister and lyanna targarayen stark

What Rhaegar excelled at was people. He had managed well enough with a sword in the end, but only well enough to make it through The Trident. The rest was won through bannerman and the strategic planning of men far more versed in war than he was. Men did not follow him because of his battle skills. They followed him because he made them believe he was worth following. He was there for morale, a promise that once this war was over the Mad King's actions would not go unpunished.

In the end, Jaime Lannister makes that easy. Ser Barristan returns to King's Landing a day and a half before Rhaegar does and he finds his fellow white cloak standing over the body of the King with a bloody sword in hand. He is arrested and thrown in the dungeons. Jaime only speaks once and it is to warn Ser Barristan of the wildfire caches.

"If only I were a few minutes sooner," Ser Barristan says gravely. There are very few good men left in the world, and Barristan is one of them. His sincerity, his desire to protect the King at all costs, no matter what kind of a man he was, makes Rhaegar's stomach curl in shame. Up until that moment, all he has felt is relief.

"Are we sure he did it?" Rhaegar asks. He sees the body of Lord Rossart off to the side and wishes that maybe, just maybe the pyromancer was responsible. Barristan follows Rhaegar's eyes.

"Rossart was dead first. He was cold by the time I arrived. The King -" Barristan refuses to finish, but the image of a still warm Aerys burns into Rhaegar's mind. Ser Barristan takes his silence as a cue to continue. "He hasn't said, but he hasn't denied it either. And no one else could have. Well unless-"

Barristan goes silent, suddenly and Rhaegar who still distracted by the image of his father on the throne room floor, crawling towards his throne like an infant. It is only when Barristan's silence stretches on that Rhaegar speaks, "Unless what?"

"Your wife was there."

Rhaegar's first thought is Lyanna, but then he shakes his head and remembers Elia and his heart breaks at the thought. He has not seen her since his return. He had hoped she had returned to Dorne when the war started, but soon learned that his father was keeping her hostage. He had considered sending the Kingsguard to her, but knew better than to expect they would ever put her safety above the King's demands. He had seen how his mother had been treated.

Elia was his queen, the mother of his children and above all else, the kindest person that Rhaegar had ever known. He couldn't bear the idea of her being in that room to witness such violence. "Was she hurt?"

"No," Barristan says, softly, and Rhaegar feels like collapsing in relief. "She never said a word, your Grace. Never sounded the alarm. But as we were taking Ser Jaime away she begged us to spare his life."

Rhaegar tries to imagine his wife slipping behind his father and stabbing him in the back with all the hot blood of a child of Dorne. Elia Martell, who thread flowers through Rhaenys's hair and sang Aegon lullabies in whispers, murdering a King.

"Do not tell a soul of this," Rhaegar says. It lacks the threat of a King and instead sounds more like the broken plea of a husband.
Ser Barristan Selmy nods, and they never speak of it again.

---

Rhaegar considers asking Elia about what happened, but it is a fleeting thought.

The first time he lays eyes on her after he returns, she can barely meet his eyes. When he beckons her forward, she nearly collapses in his arms. The court spends so much time talking of how fragile his wife is, and yet, Rhaegar had never saw that. He had only seen the strong, elegant, witty woman. Now when he embraces his wife, she is nothing but tiny bones pressed against him and when he looks upon her, he sees that the war has drained most of the life from her.

Maybe Rhaegar thinks, just maybe...

"I thought you'd want me gone," she confesses, lips against the curve of his shoulder. Rhaegar holds on tighter to her at the words.

"You are my queen," he whispers, "I couldn't do this without you."

In the end, that is all that matters.

---

They await an execution date, but every time Rhaegar puts a pen to paper he cannot sign the declaration. Instead he finds himself lingering closer and closer to the dungeons where they are keeping Jaime.

It's been a little over a week since the murder when Rhaegar finally gathers the courage to visit Jaime's cell.

"I will not beg for my life," Jaime says, as soon as the guards have been dismissed. "I will not pretend that I don't-"

"Why did you do it?" he asks.

Jaime pauses, green eyes flickering in the torch light. He seems unusual without his trademark smirk. Rhaegar tries to recall a time where Jaime went without it.

"There was, as you know by now, enough wildfire planted in the city walls to destroy King's Landing ten times over, killing not only the King, but your wife and your children too. You would have come home to rule a pile of ashes."

Jaime's words are not empty, but they are carefully crafted. Rhaegar has watched Tywin Lannister long enough to know a gentle manipulation when he sees one.

"Why did you do it, Jaime?" Rhaegar tries again, "You had nothing to gain from it. You could have overpowered him. Put him in chains and let me deal with him upon my return. Why would you put a knife through his back? Why would you break the greatest vow you had?"

"Yes I suppose I could have done that," Jaime admits. "But I didn't."

"Your father rode into King's Landing with me," Rhaegar says and there is something about the way Jaime's eyes snap up to meet his that makes Rhaegar take notice. It was not my family you worried for "Maybe I should take his head instead of yours? An eye for an eye after all."

Jaime swallows harshly. Like always, he chooses his words carefully. "As you wish, your Grace."

The sad part is Rhaegar believes him.

---

"My son says you wish for my head," Tywin says without preamble, and as much as Rhaeger distrusts Lannisters, he has to admire how little they care for pleasantries. They lie like they breathe, but when they wish for the truth, they will allow nothing - not even niceties - to come between it.

Rhaegar does not bother asking how Tywin managed to speak with Jaime when he is allowed no visitors and his dungeon doors are guarded round the clock by the finest knights in all of Westeros. He expects nothing less from the man.

"I was only making a point, Lord Tywin," Rhaegar says, "Your head is safe." Rhaegar hopes the for now is heard as well. Tywin seems unfazed, but then, he dealt with the Mad King all those years. Like Rhaegar, he has grown immune to petty threats.

Aerys had always considered Tywin a reluctant ally. He had kept him at arm's length, toyed with him and mocked him because he knew if you gave too much power to a man like that it would be the end of you. It was one of the few good choices his father had made in his later years.

"You have a choice," Rhaegar says firmly. "And unlike before you cannot choose to just sit idly by and bide your time. You are either with me or against me."

"I will bend the knee right here and now if that is what you are asking of me," Tywin says automatically.

Rhaegar laughs, a touch of cruelness showing itself. "You've already bent it before court. I don't need another show."

"What do you ask of me then, your Grace?" Tywin says, unable to keep the impatience from his voice. Rhaegar toys with the notion of keeping him guessing but there is little to gain from frustrating Tywin Lannister besides breeding resentment. The same resentment that almost led to the end of the Targarayen line.

"I'm keeping Lord Connington as my Hand, but I would like you to stay on as Master of Coin here in King's Landing."

There is something satisfying about knowing exactly what Tywin's reaction will be. He pauses as if considering the offer and then shakes his head. "I'm afraid it is imperative that I return to Casterly Rock. With my heir set to be executed-"

"Jaime is not going to be executed."

Tywin's words die, and he stares at Rhaegar longer than either feel comfortable with. "Excuse me, your Grace?"

"I'm sending Jaime home. With his head," Rhaegar says. The look of confusion on Tywin's face appears only briefly before he schools himself back to the much more recognizable stony acceptance. Rhaegar will cherish its appearance for many years to come.

Rhaegar claps Tywin on the shoulder as soon as the man has regained his composure. "I have big plans for your son. For your whole family, in fact."

 

ii. ashara dayne and jon connington

After the rumors start to swirl that the Kingslayer might keep his head, Jon Connington storms into Rhaegar's study as only Jon would know how, with very little drama and a multitude of repressed rage. Rhaegar sighs at the sight.

Jon does not look at him like he used to. Lord Connington used to call Rhaegar his prince. He used to light up whenever Rhaegar entered a room. Rhaegar knew that what Jon felt for him was something much deeper than friendship, and though he could not return those feelings to the depth that Jon deserved, he always took care to let his dearest friend know just how loved he was.

Now when Jon enters Rhaegar's study, he barely meets his eyes.

They have not seen each other since after the Trident, after Rhaegar called Jon back from exhile. The only words they had exchanged had been battle plans. Jon had only spared a moment to share his relief at the Prince being alive before he rode to the Stormlands to the Tyrells' aid while Rhaegar saw the Riverlands surrender.

"Your Grace," Jon starts, and it is already a bad sign. The word sounds like sour candy rolling around in Jon's mouth.

"Jon."

"I hear you've sent Jaime Lannister back to the Westerlands."

"Not yet," Rhaegar admits, though he has already informed Tywin of his plan. He is unlikely to change his mind, but he will give Jon a chance to speak. "I'd be happy to hear your counsel before he's gone."

There is enough silence that follows that Rhaegar is forced to look up from his work. Jon seems to have gathered his courage by then. "Permission to speak freely, Your Grace."

"Always," Rhaegar says, and Jon flinches at that honesty.

"Perhaps it would have been better if you had sought my counsel before you ran off to Dorne with another man's betrothed."

Rhaegar smiles. "Ah yes. Well you're right there."

"Will the lovely Lyanna be joining us at court? I'll need to arrange her safe passage back from the Tower of Joy. And there'll be the living arrangements which I admit-"

"You did not come here to speak about the Northern girl," Rhaegar reminds him, and when it is not enough to prompt him to continue, Rhaegar says what Jon is thinking. "I should execute Jaime Lannister."

"Yes you should," Jon says, "So why don't you?"

Rhaegar sighs, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "The Westerlands is one of the few kingdoms that lost no men in this war. Lord Tywin has more gold than any of us, and if I execute his eldest son what would keep him from calling his banners and dragging us through another war?"

"Common sense," Jon says.

"Common sense says that if I call my banners now the only men coming to our aid are tired, injured banner men, half of whom do not trust me and will only see this as another reason why they tire of Targarayen rule. We need to heal."

"Make him take the black, then," Jon says, and Rhaegar can find no good reason to argue with that, though he does not plan to follow through. Jon huffs in irritation, sensing he's winning and losing this argument all at once. "He needs to be punished. He killed the king. He killed your father."

"Indeed," Rhaegar says quietly. Jon speaks as though there is a distinction, as if the murder of the king was not the same as the murder of Rhaegar's father. Sometimes, Rhaegar, too, likes to pretend that they were two entirely different people – that his father died years ago before the madness set in and the King that was left was nothing more than a stranger.

"What aren't you telling me, Your Grace?" Jon asks.

"There were enough wild fire caches to burn all of King's Landing to the ground. And that's just what they've found so far. My wife and children were held hostage here, made to watch him burn subject after subject and fear every second for their lives."

"You're condoning what Jaime Lannister did?"

"No," Rhaegar says, "Ser Barristan said that when they found the king, Jaime was standing over his body. He also said the queen was standing across the room, but she had never raised the alarm."

"Maybe she was frightened."

"Maybe she was glad. Maybe we're all just the tiniest bit relieved. Maybe she..."

Rhaegar does not finish that thought. Jon takes a sharp breath. He has never liked Elia. He found her too weak to be queen, but even he cannot rule it out entirely. "Is that what Jaime Lannister is saying?"

"No," Rhaegar says, "But my wife has begged me to let him live. My conscience tells me that this is what's best. And while I would love to send Jaime Lannister to the Wall, I wonder how much of a debt Tywin would owe me if I gave him back his heir."

Jon realizes a lost argument when he sees one and when he does he decides to be helpful. It is one of the things that Rhaegar likes about him. "Well obviously there is no reason why he should be allowed to don the white cloak still. He did break the greatest vow the Kingsguard takes."

"He will need a bride, and I will not allow Tywin to choose. We need to keep his alliances in check. So obviously it will have to be someone whom the Lannisters would not approve of."

The gears turn quickly in Jon's mind, and the bitter laugh that escapes him proves it. "So this is about Lyanna?"

"The girl is without a husband. I've had the Faith set aside our marriage," Rhaegar says it casually, as if his heart doesn't clench every time he remembers the last words spoken between them, the promises he made and then broke.

"Did they ask for a reason?" Jon asks. There is no curiosity in his voice. Rhaegar wonders why he hides it. If anyone would be bold enough to demand an answer from him, it would be Jon.

"Are you asking me for one?"

"It's none of my business, Your Grace," Jon says flatly, and as much as Rhaegar wishes not to, he is compelled to tell Jon the whole story. Before he can, Jon continues, "Wed the Stark girl to the Kingslayer. You won't have to worry about a second uprising because Ned Stark despises Jaime Lannister for what he did to your father. Hypocritical, I know, but those Northerners have the most peculiar sense of honor."

Rhaegar has never heard anyone speak Ned Stark's name with such disgust. Not even Rhaegar's most fervent banner men had been able to find fault in the newly appointed Lord of Winterfell, but Jon clenches his fist as he speaks of him.

"Not a fan of Ned Stark?"

"And you are?" Jon counters. Rhaegar does not bother defending the man. He is no fan of Ned Stark, but he does not consider him an enemy either. Once Robert had fallen and Rhaegar had promised the safe return of Ned's sister, Ned had sworn fealty to Rhaegar with surprising ease.

For the first time since he arrived, Jon takes a seat opposite Rhaegar. There is a heaviness in his shoulders that Rhaegar recognizes. Jon does not carry his burdens well. "Lady Ashara has been a dear friend of mine from the moment she arrived at court."

"So the rumors are true?" Rhaegar had heard bits and pieces, mostly from Elia who had all of her communication with Dorne cut off early in the war. What she had gathered was that Ashara was set to marry Ned Stark. She became pregnant. Unaware of this, Ned honored his brother's betrothal and wed the Tully girl.

"They are," Jon says gravely, "She gave birth to a girl. Cydra Sand."

"Dorne is a better place than most to raise a bastard. Elia's brother has four of them already. She speaks of them the same way she does of Arianne," Rhaegar reasons. Jon looks away, eyes fixed on the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. It has not rained in ages, and Rhaegar knows Jon aches for it if only because it reminds him of home.

"Ashara will be fine," Rhaegar tries, and Jon gives him a half smile.

"She plans to take the child east. With Arthur."

Rhaegar cannot imagine the honorable Arthur Dayne giving up his white cloak for anything, but then he tries to think of a time when he saw Arthur at court without his sister and fails. They had arrived in King's Landing at the same time, and she was the only thing that ever mattered to Arthur outside of his Kingsguard duties. He has spent a whole year jokingly trying to convince Barristan Selmy to foresake his vows because he couldn't imagine a better husband for her, and at Harrenhall, he had threatened to gut Brandon Stark if he didn't stop leering at her. If only Arthur had been paying attention to the other Stark.

"We cannot lose him," Rhaegar says, and Jon frowns as if the words are not what he expected, but Rhaegar knows they needed to be said. They are already losing Jaime Lannister's white cloak and his discretion will already cast a shadow on the institution of the Kingsguard. If Arthur Dayne, the most promising knight of them all, leaves willingly, Rhaegar's Kingsguard will look weak and by default, so will he.

He does not say it, but Rhaegar also believes that losing Ashara to Essos would be a powerful blow to his wife and more importantly his marriage. There is no one closer to Elia, except maybe her brother, but unlike Oberyn, Ashara has always understood Elia and Rhaegar's relationship.

Rhaegar can see the gears turning in Jon's mind. This, he thinks, this is why he'll be a good Hand of the King "I'll see what I can do."

"That's all I ask, Jon."

"I will have to travel South to see Ashara."

"I can handle a few weeks by myself," Rhaegar assures him, but Jon does not look completely convinced. "Ned's party leaves for Dorne tomorrow. He needs to retrieve his sister from the Tower of Joy. Arthur will be there, of course. You should accompany them."

If looks could kill, Rhaegar is sure he would have been dead the moment Jon's eyes met his. He curses, muttering the things I do for you under his breath. Rhaegar laughs and for a moment there's a glimpse of what they were before.

"So we are set then?" Jon says as he rises from his seat.

"I believe so. You will travel to Dorne while I strip Jaime Lannister of his cloak and send him home. Speak to no one about his marriage. Let's let Tywin think he's won until I hear the girl has made it safely home to the North..."

Rhaegar feels his words trailing off. Jon is staring at him again, but this time, Rhaegar cannot read the emotion behind his gaze.

"Why can't you say her name, Rhaegar?"

There is something about hearing his name on Jon's lips that breaks Rhaegar's resolve. Lyanna was the last person to call him by that name and mean it. Elia has used it since but she stumbles over it as if she's not sure whether she should be using it, no matter how often Rhaegar assures her she can. When Lyanna had said it, it had been said like a curse.

"She broke my heart, if you could believe it."

"I can," Jon says quietly. "I do hope she was worth it, Your Grace."

Rhaegar smiles sadly, "I have another son."

"So I've heard. Will he be joining his mother at Casterly Rock as another condition of the betrothal or will he remain in the North to learn honor from good old Ned Stark?"

"He will live here," Rhaegar says firmly. "I named him Jon in your honor."

"I'm touched, Your Grace," Jon says, and the sarcasm drips from his voice even when he tries to hide it. Rhaegar knows that Jon cares little for children, even less for the idea of legacies. Someday, Rhaegar hopes, that will change. He will look upon Rhaegar's son, his namesake, and think that it is an honor.

"You are a terrible liar, Lord Connington," Rhaegar says. Jon does not have the decency to look ashamed. He merely shrugs.

"I have not seen him yet," Rhaegar says, "but the Guard tells me the boy is all his mother. Dark hair, grey eyes, sadness through and through. They say he is a lovely boy, that he will make a fine son, and I'm inclined to agree with them."

Rhaegar pauses and Jon's hand lands heavy on his shoulder. "I have not met him yet, Jon, and I already know he was worth it."

---

The betrothal announcement is nothing more than a few lines jotted at the end of a letter from Jon. Most of the correspondence talked about how to quell the last of the riots in the Stormlands, the health of Jon Targarayen and his mother, the condition of the Kingsguard left at the Tower and one brief note about how he had decided to take Ashara Dayne as a bride.

The thought of Jon marrying anyone is absurd. He is quite good about keeping his indiscretions quiet. The truth is nothing but whispers among the Court, seeds without ground to take root in. Some days Rhaegar believes that Jon never acts on his desires. Some days he can pretend that his unrequited love for Rhaegar is enough for Jon, and he doesn't have to fear the day Jon will make a pass at the wrong knight or worse be enveloped in some shameless scandal that not even Rhaegar can cover. Because Jon is good but these things always catch up to people in the end.

Jon had made it clear from the time they were old enough to start choosing brides that he had no interest in such a prospect. It was not the idea of lying with a woman that made him uneasy. He claimed that he could fake his way through it if need be. The part of marriage that Jon could not face was sharing his life with someone else - whether they be man or woman.

Trust - this was something Jon struggled with.

---

When Jon and Arthur returns to Court, it is with two babes in tow - Rhaegar's son and Arthur's niece, Cydra. The northern blood runs deep in both children, but Rhaegar notes that Cydra has been blessed with her mother's eyes, the odd shade of violet too dark to be Targarayen and too light to be Dornish.

"They did not like being apart. Cried up a storm when they were out of each other's sights," Arthur notes.

Jon lets out a tiny laugh muddled with a scoff. "Jon is already taking after his father. Pining after Northern girls."

The wound is too fresh for Rhaegar to really find humor in the comment, but he smiles if only to approve of the fact that his friend can.

"She is no Northerner," Ashara says defiantly. He had not seen her before, wrapped in linens that hid her thick black hair well. Rhaegar marvels at how quickly her form has returned and then at how tightly she pulls her child against her.

Jon lays a hand on her shoulder and some of the tension deflates from her. He gives her an understanding smile. "No she is not."

---

"When I told you we couldn't lose Arthur, I did not mean you had to go this far to keep him in the Kingsguard."

Jon laughs. It had been a rare sound before, even rarer after the war. Jon does not seem troubled by his decision, something that Rhaegar did not expect. He was sure the minute he closed the door to his study that Jon would drop the facade and start ranting and raving about the things he did for the sake of Rhaegar's crown. Instead, Jon looks as content as he did the moment he returned from Dorne. It is unsettling.

"You know I would never force you to wed. Not even for this."

"You should know that I would not do this unless I wanted to," Jon says, "Neither of them wanted to go East, but the Daynes are a very proud family. Ashara could not handle the scrutiny of such a scandal."

"And marrying the Hand of the King is supposed to assuage that?"

Jon does not answer that. Either he does not have one for Rhaegar or he refuses to indulge the conversation further. "I found a solution to our problem. I thought you'd be happy."

"I am happy," Rhaegar says, though his voice fails to capture such a sentiment. "I just fail to understand why you took such a personal approach when it comes to the Daynes. We have plenty of men who owe us favors and are without wives."

"None of whom I trust."

A bitter laugh escapes Rhaegar in a huff. "You do not trust anyone, Jon."

"I trust them."

Jon is not looking at Rhaegar when he speaks. It seems deliberate, and Rhaegar narrows his eyes immediately fearing the worst. "What aren't you telling me? Are they blackmailing you?"

"No," Jon says firmly, "Arthur is...Arthur is like me. Ashara has kept his secret all of his life."

Rhaegar is not shocked. Many Kingsguard of past have had similar proclivities. It was one of the few ways for a knight not to take a wife and still bring honor to his family name.

"But she told you."

"No she didn't," Jon says plainly. Rhaegar is ashamed at how long it takes him to connect the dots, and even then he has trouble imagining Jon being seduced by a Dornishman given his distaste for Elia and her family's customs.

"Oh."

"He's not the first Kingsguard to break that vow."

"You are right. And besides, it only says take no wife. I'd hardly see you as anyone's wife."

"Ashara first noticed our similarities when she came to court, when Arthur and I became...involved. It didn't last very long. She never said anything, but at Harrenhall she tried to persuade me to pursue Arthur seriously. So I did. Before he disappeared to the Tower of Joy."

Rhaegar is silent when Jon pauses. He tries to absorb the information that Jon has just placed at his feet but it is almost more than he can handle.

"So you see, I did not want Arthur Dayne to go to Essos anymore than you did, your Grace, and now he will stay here in King's Landing."

"But you had to marry his sister to make that happen."

"It is no burden to bear," Jon says, "I trust Ashara Dayne. I have trusted her with my deepest, darkest secret. Long ago I thought I might propose to her but then the Northerner got to her first."

"You deserve better than this."

"You are the one who was always telling me that good marriages come in all different shapes and sizes," Jon says, and Rhaegar chooses not to point out that Jon wholeheartedly disagreed with the sentiment when it was being applied to Rhaegar's own marriage to Elia.

"What happens to the child?" Rhaegar asks instead.

"Cydra will live with us. It is the only way Ashara would ever agree to the marriage."

"Are you alright with that - raising your wife's bastard in your house?"

"I have taken the Dornish approach to bastards," Jon says. The praise of anything Dornish sounds strange coming from his mouth, but Rhaegar does not wish to push the subject. If Jon could accept a bastard, then maybe all wasn't lost.

"I can only hope my Dornish wife does as well," Rhaegar says instead. He leans back against his desk, arms crossed. Jon joins him, mirroring his posture.

"Prince Jon Targarayen is no bastard," Jon says firmly.

"He might as well be in Elia's eyes," Rhaegar counters.

"You can do this on your own. There are plenty of wet nurses in King's Landing. The boy is already quite fond of the one Ashara uses."

"He deserves a mother."

"Aye, but not everyone gets what they deserve."

Rhaegar finds himself smiling. "Has he already grown on you?"

"Are you asking me to be his mother?" Jon says, but there's a fond smile there. Rhaegar is as happy as he is surprised to see it. "I have to say he is a much better baby than Aegon was."

"Don't start that," Rhaeger chides, less admonishment than he expected. "They will be pitted against each other their whole lives. Let's not start comparing them now."

"I'm sorry, your Grace, even if I care little for children, I will naturally favor my namesake."

"Until you have your own son to dote upon."

Rhaegar imagined the comment would cause a shudder to pass over his friend's face. If not for the prospect of children, then for the prospect of consummating the marriage. Instead Jon just tilts his head to the side as if considering the prospect.

"An heir," he says softly, "Imagine that."

---

Jon and Ashara wed a few months after the war has ended - around the time that Lyanna Stark becomes Lyanna Lannister. If Rhaegar spends an exceeding amount of time on preparations for Jon's wedding, neither Jon nor Ashara say anything.

He remembers how heavy Lyanna's grey cloak was, how easily she chilled under his colors, but how she never wanted to remove that cloak once it was there. When he had married Elia, he had been nervous. He had to hide his trembling hands behind his back as she approached him. When he married Lyanna there was no fear, only a steady buzz of anticipation.

When Jon marries Ashara, there is no anticipation and no fear.

A year passes and with it comes the arrival of Griffin Connington - Jon Connington's heir and in the years to come, Prince Jon's closest confidant.

 

iii. cersei lannister and stannis baratheon

One of the more important men in Rhaegar's court is Lord Varys. Rhaegar never thought he'd have much use for a spymaster, let alone one who had done nothing but feed the paranoia of his father, but the end of the war had meant weakened forces and plenty of ambitious lords looking to strike while the kingdom was cracked.

Varys proved exceptionally good at weeding out potential threats to the throne. In Rhaegar's first two years as King, Varys's whispers had helped in quashing three minor rebellions, though Rhaegar was pretty sure the first rebellion was arranged by Varys himself just to gain Rhaegar's trust.

It wasn't just the immediate threats that Varys was able to pick up on. Rhaegar's father used to say, revolutions aren't born overnight, and that was what Varys understood better than anyone. He could spot problematic alliances before they were anything more than an errant thought in the mind of an ambitious lord.

"Tywin Lannister has been meeting with the Florents," Varys announces towards the end of one of their weekly one-on-ones. Rhaegar had expected an announcement of the sort. Varys had pretty much sped through the rest of their concerns just so he could get to the gossip.

"Regarding?" Rhaegar asks.

"Cersei. He plans to wed her to Alester's heir."

Rhaegar's brow furrows. "Alekyne? He's a little young to be anyone's husband."

"And Cersei is reaching the age where she will be too old for a bride."

"His aspirations for her seem to have faded." A shred of guilt passes over Rhaegar. He loves his wife dearly. He cannot imagine having taken another bride, but he knows Cersei was always an option and for her it seemed he was the only option.

"Or have they?" Varys says. "The Florents are a very wealthy family."

"As are the Lannisters. And wealth always finds wealth," Rhaegar says, but he sees the twinkle in Varys' eyes "You think there is more to it."

"You favor the Tyrells. As you should. But after the war, the Florents expected they too would be rewarded for their loyalty."

"It's up to Mace to reward his men."

"That divide goes deep," Varys says, and Rhaegar chides himself for not remembering this, for not making more of an effort with The Reach when they had turned out to be some of his most loyal allies. "And they are restless."

"Do you really think Tywin Lannister would go that far?"

"There are other families, just as powerful and rich with men Cersei's age that Tywin could be considering. This reeks of ambition."

"He's right to be ambitious."

"The problem with ambitious Lords is they don't know where their ambition should end," Varys taps on the table between them as if to emphasize his point. "You have quite the reputation as a matchmaker. Maybe we should use that to our advantage."

"You mean my advantage."

Varys doesn't blink at the correction. "What's good for a king is good for his subjects."

Rhaegar laughs despite himself. "You have an answer for anything, don't you Lord Varys?"

---

Rhaegar considers Varys' words for some time but he finds it impossible to choose a groom for Cersei that will be strong enough to withstand Tywin's manipulations.
The answer comes in a convoy from the Stormlands - Lord Stannis Baratheon bringing his brother Renly to King's Landing to serve as ward. This was part of the truce that Stannis fought hardest, and Rhaegar was sure he would find a way out of it. But the letter announcing Stannis' plans was read within hours of his actual arrival.

"You'll have to excuse me, your Grace. I caught him trying to ride off to The Reach. I figured I best deliver him to you before he tries to sneak off again."

"He's not happy in the Stormlands?"

"He accompanied me on one trip to the Highgarden and now he fancies himself a Tyrell." Any other man would have allowed himself a half smile at the words, but all they do for Stannis is reinforce his grimace.

"I appreciate you making amends with The Reach," Rhaegar says.

"I do what my king asks of me," Stannis says, and though Rhaegar can sense there is no love between the lord of Storm's End and the Targarayens, there is a strong sincerity in his words.

"It's strange to think that I almost handed your lands to the Conningtons and exiled you to Essos."

"I am grateful that you did not punish me for my brother's choices."

"You are a very honorable man," Rhaegar states, and instead of accepting the compliment as most lords would, Stannis lets out a small bitter laugh.

"What do you need of me?" he asks, "You'll have to forgive me, your Grace, but as a Lord I've learned flattery is usually a pretense."

Rhaegar can appreciate a man who can see through all of the sugar coating that comes with politics. It only reinforces his thought that Stannis will be a good choice to go toe to toe with Tywin Lannister. "I need you to marry Cersei Lannister."

"Oh is that all?" Stannis says, the frustration building in his voice, only contained by the fact that he is speaking with the King. "Will this be the last thing you ask of me? Or will I spend the rest of my life paying for my family's sins."

"Marrying a woman as beautiful as Cersei is no punishment."

"Having no say in one's own marriage is."

"Noblemen never have a say in their marriages," Rhaegar reasons, "If your parents had survived, if your brother had survived, they might have been arranging the very same marriage."

"My brother would have wed her before I would have."

"I realize I robbed you of a wife when I arranged the marriage of Lyanna Stark to Jaime Lannister."

"I did not want her as a bride," Stannis says, and then realizing his words, he sighs, more annoyed at himself for forgetting the past than contrite for saying it. "No offense, your Grace, but my bannermen don't know what to think of Lady Lyanna, and taking her as a bride would not have helped."

"Why have you not taken a bride yet?" Rhaegar says, trying to shift the conversation to comfortable ground.

"I haven't had time to find one."

"Well then I've saved you the trouble."

"I do not trust the Lannisters," Stannis says.

"Neither do I. But Cersei is a smart, capable woman. She will not bore you," Rhaegar argues. Stannis still does not seem convinced, but he is a hard man to read. Above all, he seems to value honesty and Rhaegar feels he owes him at least that much. "I cannot promise this will be the last favor. I like your honesty, and so I may call upon your council in the future. I can promise this is the last demand dressed as a suggestion that I make of you."

Stannis bows his head slightly, less defeated and more resigned. "As you wish."

---

Tywin is out of town visiting his son when Stannis first arrives with Renly which is why Rhaegar is sure he has no idea of what plans have been made for his daughter. He returns when Stannis is still helping his brother settle in, and Rhaegar hopes there will be time for the two of them to meet in person in King's Landing, under the watch of Varys' spies.

"Lord Tywin," Rhaegar says with a smile. "I hear your son has begun a family."

"A girl," Tywin says plainly, as if it is just another way that this marriage forced on his son has offended him.

"Named Joanna, right?" Rhaegar offers.

This brings an involuntary smile to Tywin's face. "Yes."

"I'm happy to hear that."

"Well we have you to thank for arranging such a well suited match," Tywin says, the words rolling off his tongue like honey - too smooth and sweet to be sincere. "My son never seemed the type to take to marriage, but he seems quite taken with Lady Lyanna."

"She makes a lovely wife," Rhaegar says, proud of how his voice does not betray how true the statement is, how hard it is to say it. "I hear the Florents are courting Cersei's hand in marriage."

Tywin's face does not betray his surprise at Rhaegar being so well informed. He is always underestimating Rhaegar's talent for gathering information. He still sees him as a green boy with no business as king. A ping pong ball in a quest for power. "Your sources are good, your Grace."

"Are you entertaining the marriage?"

"Cersei is not getting any younger."

"Still. A woman of her beauty and status. You should be aiming much higher."

A smirk makes its way on to Tywin's face. "Do you have someone in mind?"

"I thought you'd never ask," Rhaegar says, "Stannis Baratheon."

"The Baratheons are not exactly fond of the Lannisters. I doubt they'd entertain such a match," Tywin says with a wave of the hand as if he's waving off the entire notion.

"They would if their king was arranging it," Rhaegar says, and then adds, "I am not entirely fond of the Florents."

"If I am being honest, your Grace, neither am I, but alliances are needed."

"Why not align with the Stormlands then?" Rhaegar says, "We both need to mend fences there. And Stannis is an honorable man. He will do right by your daughter."

"I will take it into consideration." Tywin speaks with such finality that Rhaegar wonders if in another lifetime he may have been a king.

Rhaegar's approach to being king is similar to the way he handled being a prince. He is laid back, even if it means sometimes allowing people to think that they've run over him. He always wins - kings always do if they are smart enough to toe the line between pride and power, but there are times the Targarayen in him takes hold and the slighted honor cuts too deep.

"I imagine Lord Stannis will be reaching out to you in the next few days about the proposal. He's in town," Rhaegar says simply. "You serve your King above all else, Tywin."

"I am well aware," Tywin says.

"Who knows? Just because Cersei could not be queen, it doesn't mean one of your granddaughters won't."

Tywin laughs, but it's an empty sound. "It's too soon to be thinking of that, isn't it, your Grace?"

"Mace Tyrell already sent me a painting of his daughter. She just turned three. Elia's brother sends Arianne up with every Dornish convoy to King's Landing."

"I guess they expect their loyalty to be rewarded."

He and Tywin exchange a meaningful look. "Exactly."

---

As the years drew on, one of the surprising joys Rhaegar got from his job, was listening to Varys' stories of the Baratheon marriage. Drama and scandal was plentiful at court, but there was nothing quite as compelling as the way the Baratheons managed to engage each other in a constant game of one-upsmanship.

It had been nearly a decade since Rhaegar made the match. The first couple of years there had been the battle of wills when it came to the Stormlands septa. The poor woman had nearly been driven insane listening Stannis' orders that she stop serving Cersei moon tea and Cersei's well played tears convincing her that she needed it. It was only when Stannis' closest confidant, some knight named after a vegetable, convinced Stannis to speak to his wife directly and ask she stop that Cersei actually did. Varys believed she had become bored with the game, but Rhaegar believed Cersei had counted it as a victory.

Not long after that, Cersei was pregnant. She gave birth a healthy baby girl - Cassana – named after his late mother. Two more girls follow within a year of each other - Myrcella and Gemma. All three are beautiful - Baratheon coloring with a touch of Lannister green in their otherwise ocean blue eyes. Beautiful as they are - they are not the heirs Stannis expected. Stannis never says a word about it, but Cersei apparently finds victory in her womb still finding a way to deny Stannis what he wants.

---

War brews with the Iron Islands when Cersei is pregnant again. Stannis rides to King's Landing to receive his orders when Cersei has just entered her third trimester. Rhaegar and Stannis are alone in the Council Room discussing strategy when a messenger from the Stormlands arrives with a handful of letters and a grave looking face, which Stannis misses - too absorbed in the report from Ser Davos.

"Any news of my wife?"

"The child was born early," the messenger announces.

"Another girl I'm assuming" Stannis decides, without looking up from the papers that were delivered.

"Yes, sir." Rhaegar senses the hesitance in the boy's voice. It nearly breaks on two simple words. Stannis's eyes snap up immediately.

"What aren't you telling me, boy?"

"The labor took quite a toll on your wife. She has not left the birthing bed yet," the boy says. He pauses hoping not to say more, but Stannis's stare cuts right through him. "Also the child - she may have been touched by greyscale."

Stannis returns his gaze to the papers before him, but Rhaegar watches his eyes dance around the page without a place to focus. "What did the maester say?"

He swallows heavily. "He has little hope that they will make it through the week."

"Is that all?" The boy nods and Stannis waves him off without sparing another look in his direction.

"Stannis," Rhaegar says softly as the door clicks shut behind the messenger. "I can send Mace Tyrell instead."

"That won't be necessary," Stannis says, "My maester is a foolish southerner. Many babes are afflicted by greyscale in the Stormlands and they pull through. And my wife -
Stannis's voice catches on the word. He clears his throat, in the hopes of covering it, but it's too late. "My wife could survive winter North of the wall in nothing but her small clothes. She is a survivor."

Rhaegar never wanted to leave Elia's side when she gave birth to Aegon, so afraid that she would be slip away the second his back was turned, but then he and Stannis are two very different people. "Are you sure?"

Stannis shakes his head, as if shaking off the doubts and straightens up. "She would never let me hear the end of it if I didn't help protect her Kingslayer of a brother and their wretched homeland."

And Rhaegar can't help but laugh.

---

Cersei pulls through. So too does the baby - Shireen. There is a lull after her birth. A stalemate in the tête-à-tête between Stannis and Cersei. They are focused on their youngest's survival. Rhaegar had heard the rumors of Cersei's discontent with her dwarf brother, and he had to admit he feared she would show the same kind of welcome to her own marred daughter, but all Varys reports are quite the contrary. Cersei is fiercely protective of her daughter - as proud of her existence as the child's father is. And while Stannis still wishes for an heir and Cersei wishes she had married a king, they find common ground in cherishing the little girl who almost didn't make it.

And then a witch from Asshai lands in Storm's End and Rhaegar's source of entertainment returns.

---

"She had the witch burned?"

"Indeed," Varys says. They had been following this story for the past six months. At first, Varys had been concerned that Stannis might rise up against the Crown because of some old prophesy from the red god, but then the subject of a male heir started floating around, and they both realized this was all Stannis was interested in.

"She said the only way that Stannnis was going to have a son was by her. Of course, Melisandre swore up and down that Cersei would be the one impregnated with her magic. Cersei knew better than that."

"Good for her," Rhaegar says, "I confess I don't see Stannis as the type to buy into magic."

"He doesn't. But Cersei was afraid the promise of a male heir had made him desperate. She's not the type to risk it."

"What did Stannis do when he found out?"

"Laughed. Or well whatever the equivalent of laughing is with that one," Varys smiles. "I think he's grown fond of her. And while Cersei will never admit it, I think she's fond of him as well. A well done match if I do say so."

"That's about all I'm good at, Varys," Rhaegar says, with a quick smile. He does not use self depreciating humor often and only uses it around people he knows think nothing of it. Varys is one of them.

"I wouldn't say that," Varys chides.

A quiet lull falls over them. In the distance, Rhaegar can hear Aegon and Griffin bickering in the courtyard beneath his study window - Griffin's voice always seems to carry through the castle - a loud boon like his father's. Rhaegar is not used to hearing it without Jon's even tone following. Varys must notice its absence too.

"I hear Jon is doing well in the North."

"Your eyes and ears reach that far?" Rhaegar says offhandedly. "He loves it there. I wouldn't be surprised if he refused to come home."

The bickering starts to turn heated, but then a voice - female, but familiar - carries over them and the men go silent. Griffin's laugh breaks through followed soon by Aegon's.

"He'll come home," Varys says, twinkle present in his eyes. It begs for Rhaegar to demand more, but some of Varys' whispers he knows better than to ask about.

 

iv. robb stark and rhaenys targarayen

Prince Jon returns home around the time a chill starts to fall over King's Landing, a sign that a harsh winter is soon to arrive.

Jon is not alone upon his return. He brings his cousin, Robb with him. Robb bends the knee with ease and he exchanges pleasantries with Rhaegar and his wife using all the charm of a Tully and the nobleness of a Stark, but his eyes keep straying toward the Princess.

---

Robb Stark is by all accounts a good boy.

Rhaegar cannot bring himself to call him a man. He cannot fathom the idea that this boy is the same age that Lyanna was when they eloped. Robb smiles too easy, untouched by sadness and darkness - nothing like his aunt, very little like his father even, whose solemness crept up on him after the war and is now legendary.

He cannot stomach the idea that this boy - named after the traitor Robert Baratheon - could be good, but his smiles are directed at Rhaegar's daughter with such earnestness that Rhaegar thinks he must be. Those smiles are never such that they could be considered improper. In fact, Robb seems to smile in Rhaenys's direction only when he is sure she is not looking back.

Above all, he looks at her as if she is special.

And she is. Rhaegar's daughter is almost all her mother - all the beautiful things that Rhaegar had fallen in love with over time - from her looks to her wisdom and her kindness. And then there is this tiniest part of her which is completely Rhaegar. That is the part that he curses the gods for.

Rhaenys does not believe she is worth much to anyone. Even with a crown on her head and a thousand people telling her how wonderful she is, all she ever looks is doubtful. She sees through all the flattery and polished lies that surround King's Landing, and while it is a good trait to have, it has made her to world weary at only eighteen.

She wonders, Rhaegar knows, why her father still hasn't married her off. That wonder has turned to fear that she is not good enough, but what she doesn't know is that Rhaegar is afraid of this choice.

He is afraid of what choosing wrong might mean.

---

He calls Jon into his study a few weeks after his return. Robb was meant to leave a week ago, but he lingers. Rhaenys has noticed his attention now, but she seems unsure. There have been plenty of boys and men who looked to flatter the princess. There have been very few who courted her with such sincerity.

"What do you think of your cousin, Robb?" Rhaegar asks.

"Why?" Jon says, eyebrows furrowed. He sounds more curious than suspicious. When Rhaegar does not answer what seemed like a rhetorical question, Jon shrugs. "He's a good man."

"Good enough for your sister?"

"She'll find no better," Jon pauses as if there was more to be said, but checks himself. Rhaegar recognizes this as a sign that Robb was to be compared to Ned Stark. Jon sees his uncle as an honorable man, but he still cannot reconcile this notion with the idea that this same man committed treason when he rode to war against his father. That this same man left a woman pregnant and unwed in Dorne.

But if Robb is like Ned, Rhaegar does not think that is a mark against him. He has a sister now, something he did not have all those years ago when they went to war. Even with far more years between them then there was between Lyanna and Ned, Rhaegar understands how far he would go if he was concerned with Dany's well being.

"He really admires her," Jon says finally. "And not just because she is pretty. He sees her like we see her. He sees past the crown. I haven't met many people who are able to do that."

Rhaegar thinks of Lyanna and how from the moment he met her she never curtsied - never called him anything but Rhaegar. How she called him sad and naive as often as she called him sweet. She saw right through him.

"Neither have I," Rhaegar says.

---

Elia does most of the talking when they tell Rhaenys about the marriage. She speaks about Robb's good looks and charm. She talks about his honorable family, flinching slightly when she realizes popular opinion may not see it that way. She describes the North as some far off land of beauty instead of the frozen wasteland Lyanna had once described. Rhaegar himself had never been there, though neither had Elia - she uses Jon's words to describe it instead.

Rhaenys keeps quiet, hands tucked in her lap and eyes darting between Elia and Rhaegar passively. She is hard to read. At moments, Rhaegar thinks she might be pleased with their decision. At other times, Rhaegar thinks he's made a terrible mistake.

"What do you say, Rhaenys?"

Rhaenys’ eyebrow raises curiously, and she looks just like her mother. "Do I have a choice?"

"If you wish, you never have to wed. I will not force you to."

"You mean that?"

"Yes," Rheagar says honestly.

"I don't think I'd mind being married to Robb Stark." She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and gives Rhaegar her best smile. "In fact, I think I would like it a lot."

---

It takes Ned Stark nearly a month to make the journey to King's Landing.

Jon Connington and Ashara decide to take this time to travel to the Stormlands and visit their younger boys who are pages for knights at a tourney there. Jon is still upset that Rhaegar has chosen Robb Stark for his daughter. Varys says it’s because he thought Griffin would be offered that bride, but Rhaegar knows Jon too well to believe that. He knows that his grudge against Ned Stark and the North - his righteous indignation for his wife's behalf are what drive his discontent. Before he leaves, he makes Rhaegar promise that he will post guards at Rhaenys' door until the wedding - just in case the saying "like father, like son" proves true.

Rhaegar laughs him off, but he follows the advice. Even if Robb is not the man his father was, there's always the chance that Rhaenys is like him.

Griffin does not follow his father and mother. He instead stays so he can glare fiercely at Ned Stark whenever he enters a room. Ned pays him no attention. His eyes seem to search for a different child of Ashara.

But Cydra Sand is nowhere to be found. Rhaegar's sons tell him that she is sulking about Flea's Bottom. But Rhaegar can feel her presence in the shadows - too quick to be caught.

---

Rhaegar imagined that it would take more to convince Ned to agree to this marriage. Most men would trip over themselves to be offered a princess for their son's bride, but Ned Stark is not most men, and the North has always hesitated when it came to marrying outside its borders. And then there is the larger issue - the war.

Ned and Rhaegar never met on the battlefield. They met after Robert's blood had been spilled, after the war was won. They met in the Throne Room, feet from the place where Ned's father burned - scorch marks still present - feet from where Rhaegar's father was slain - blood barely dried.

Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North, signed King Rhaegar's treaties and bent a knee with surprising ease. When Rhaegar explained his reasons for having Lyanna marry Jaime Lannister, he was silent. When Rhaegar finished, Ned gave only the slightest incline of his head to indicate that he had agreed. Only when Rhaegar announced that his son was to be taken from Lyanna and raised in King's Landing was there the slightest flicker in his eyes, but even then he bit his tongue.

Rhaegar was never more aware of another man's hatred towards him in those moments that Ned Stark stood before him in the Throne Room and barely said a word.
And yet, when Rhaegar sits across from Ned Stark in his study and asks if he would be interested in having Rhaenys as Robb's bride, he is not met with the stony passive aggressive silence he expects. Instead, a small smile falls on Ned's face.

"Jon mentioned in his letter that Robb was quite taken with Princess Rhaenys," Ned says, and Rhaegar understands why Ned smiles. It is such a relief when you are able to give your child something they really wanted when you weren't sure you could deliver. Rhaegar finds himself smiling as well.

"I admit I didn't think anything could come of it given the history between our families," Ned adds.

"Jon is very fond of Robb," Rhaegar says simply. "And I trust his judgment."

"I trust his as well. And he speaks very highly of his sister."

Rhaegar smiles, filled with pride in his youngest son. "It is Jon that unites us."

---

A few days later letters proclaiming the betrothal are dispatched and a date is settled upon. The castle is abuzz with the good news. There hasn't been a royal wedding in King's Landing since Rhaegar and Elia's. The wedding won't happen for almost a year, but preparations are already underway.

Lord Stark, however, seems to have lost his smile. He does not seem unhappy, just lost in his own thoughts as his men and Rhaegar's small council continue their discussions on the wedding. Jon Connington has returned, and Rhaegar thought maybe that was the reason, but so far, Jon had behaved and yet, Ned still looked troubled.
Rhaegar thinks it’s best that he nips this sudden change in mood in the bud. After their council disperses, he asks to Ned to stay behind.

"What troubles you Ned?" Rhaegar asks.

"They say your intuition is one of your greatest attributes," Ned says with a flat smile.

"Well, I have to admit you made it easy."

The silence stretches between them for a moment. Rhaegar taps his fingers to keep from speaking. He can hear Jon Connington's voice in his head, warning him that engaging in a silence contest with Ned Stark is sure to end in failure for him.

"I wish to invite my sister to Robb's wedding," Ned says finally.

It's the last thing Rhaegar imagined to hear. Not much gossip escapes the North, but this much has - Ned and Lyanna have not spoken since she left for Casterly Rock.

"All the lords and their wives have been invited. Jaime Lannister is Tywin's heir and he already has taken up the day to day running of Casterly Rock. He will be there if Tywin has to drag him."

"Lyanna won't," Ned says, "She hasn't left the Westerlands since she wed him."

"She never was a fan of court," Rhaegar argues. It was one of the few sticking points of their early relationship. Lyanna took every chance she could to mock the practices of nobility. Rhaegar found it irritaitingly naive. "You probably know that better than I do."

"If I invite her, she'll come," Ned says, "I don't wish to offend your wife or your children by extending a personal invitation to her, but she -"

Ned pauses, gathering his thoughts. He meets Rhaegar's eyes. "I am trying to mend fences."

"My wife will not care if you invite your sister. Neither will my daughter nor my son. Now Jon - well he will be thrilled," Rhaegar says, and there is something that passes over Ned's face, something akin to guilt. Rhaegar feels a chill pass over him.

"Somehow I think bridge building isn't your only motivation for inviting her."

"Can you blame him for asking?" Ned says, guilt gone and replaced by a sudden flash of anger. "You denied him a mother."

"Just like you denied your daughter a father." The words are out of Rhaegar's mouth before he has time to consider them. Ned's anger seems to flare and they both stand at the same time. Ned's hands curl into fists at his side and Rhaegar braces himself against the table to prevent from doing the same.

"Do not judge me for sins you too have carried," Rhaegar says.

The anger seems to leave Ned as fast as it came, replaced once again by guilt. He is many things, but a hypocrite is not one of them. "My apologies, your Grace."

"We all make mistakes, Ned," Rhaegar says, his own anger dulled but still pulsing just beneath his skin. He has never said to anyone that taking Jon was a mistake, not to his council, not to his Hand nor his wife. Not to Jon himself, but here with Ned, he can admit it was short sighted - rooted in hurt and fear that Lyanna might poison their son’s minds than good intentions. "But Elia treated Jon as her own from the moment he came to King's Landing. She loved him as much as she was capable of and that is far more than most woman would have managed. She is his mother in all the ways that matter."

He sits hoping it will continue to calm him. Ned follows suit. The tension is still there between them, but the frustration seems to have shifted from each other to the past that neither of them can change.

"I had to tell her. I had to tell Lyanna that her son wasn't staying with her. I had to take the child from her. That is why we do not speak to each other," Ned says. "There was a moment - when we reached Starfall - that I thought about doing the same with Cydra, taking her from her mother to raise in the North, but then I remembered that look in Lyanna's eyes and I knew I couldn't. I knew Ashara would need her more than I would."

"That is the difference between you and I, your Grace."

you are not selfish, Rhaegar thinks, and in the world we live in you will always suffer for that

He thinks this, but he says nothing.

It is no victory to be proud of.

 

and i. the she-wolf and the targarayen prince

He knows there is something wrong the moment he steps into his study and sees Lord Varys and Lord Connington sitting there waiting.
He has gone over many a plan in this room with the both of them, but never at the same time.

He thinks in a different life they could have been thick as thieves. They are both extremely loyal to the Targarayen cause. They are ambitious, but smart about it. In this life, they are like oil and water – mistrustful of each other – jockeying for position as the King’s most trusted ally.

"What could possibly have gone wrong enough to warrant both of you in the same room?" he notes, pouring himself a large glass of wine and swallowing half of it, "Please tell me it has nothing to do with the wedding."

There was less than a week until the wedding, and he had just come from dinner with Ned and Catelyn Stark. They had given no indication that the wedding was in jeopardy, but they were hard people to read.

"No," Varys said, "Everything seems to be going as planned on that front."

"And this couldn't wait until after the wedding?" Varys' sad smile is all the answer he gets. Rhaegar sighs. "What is it then?"

"Arrangements have been made for two on the Bravo. It leaves the afternoon after Princess Rhaenys' wedding."

"It's the same boat that Cydra leaves on," Jon adds quietly. Rhaegar was well aware of Cydra's departure for Essos. When they weren't going over wedding preparations, it was all Elia could talk about. Ashara was still distraught - resigned but distraught.

"The arrangements were made by a Kingsguard member," Varys says, and then quickly adds, "We don't know who-"

"Jon," Rhaegar says, and then when Jon's eyes snaps up to meet his - filled with guilt, he clarifies. "My son. You think Jon is going to be on that ship."

Jon bristles. "You should have nipped this-"

Rhaegar cuts off that statement before it can go anywhere. "I'm well aware of what I should have done."

There is bitter silence then. Rhaegar shuts his eyes, hoping to will off the headache that's brewing behind his temple. Jon stews in his 'I-told-you-so's' and Varys stares at the bottle of wine on the desk between them.

"Your Grace," Varys says softly. "May I offer a suggestion?"

"Go on."

"Speak with your son. Maybe this can still be avoided."

"I don't need to speak with my son just yet," Rhaegar says, draining what's left of his drink. "I'll speak with the girl first."

"Rhaegar," Jon says, like a plea. Too informal to be said in front of Lord Varys, not to mention how weak it makes him look weak.

Rhaegar gives a bitter smile. "Where she leads, he follows. That's what you always said, right?"

---

The rumors were always there.

There are very few people who Jon seems to genuinely like, even fewer that he trusts. He is polite and courteous to everyone he meets, but he lets very few people know him and know him well. Even Rhaegar wonders if he has only ever known the surface version of his son – the façade meant for court. But Griffin and Aegon and his cousin, Robb - they know Jon a little better.

It is Cydra, though, who knows him best. It is Cydra who can pull smiles from him when he's moody or withdrawn. Cydra who can sling an arm over his shoulder- propriety be damned - when he's stuck inside his head. It is Cydra who tells him to be proud and brave and the prince he deserves to be.

the prince who was promised, she would say with just enough sarcasm to make Jon laugh, but enough truth to give him a sense of purpose.
Jon struggles with his place in the world, and Cydra is always there to remind him.

People whisper about it. They think it’s odd at best – improper at worst – for a prince to be seen so close to a bastard girl. Jon Connington warns him, asks Rhaegar if he wants Cydra sent to Dorne. Varys often divulges the worries of lords and ladies that this woman has the ear of the prince – the fear that the Dornish traditions have seeped too far into the royal family’s customs.

Rhaegar dismisses them.

His son’s happiness is fleeting – even more so than his trust, and Rhaegar finds he cannot risk it.

---

He finds Cydra outside her home. Rhaegar can tell she has spent the afternoon reading. The spine of her book is cracked in many places and her shoes had been kicked off on the chair next to her. It is an uncharacteristically hot day in King’s Landing, but the courtyard outside The Tower of the Hand gives just the right amount of shade for her to enjoy the day.

Cydra is not a typical lady. She does not wear dresses often and keeps her hair short, though strands of it are still long enough to fall into her eyes as she leans down to collect her things. She carries a sword that swings from her left hip as she moves through the courtyard, heading towards her door.

She keeps the sword for protection. Elia’s nieces had trained her when she visited Dorne last year. Her mother complains about it constantly, but Lord Connington had confided in Rhaegar that he was glad she had it. He was glad she had grown up to be a little more like her half-brothers and a little less like the proper lady her mother wanted. A bastard girl had be always vigilant. Men would only ever want one thing from her, and they weren’t above resorting to force to get it.

Rhaegar used to tell Jon that he was too much of a pessimist, but the older Cydra got, the more beautiful she became and the more he noticed how men – noble and commoner alike – did not bother hiding their lust for her. He knew then that Jon was right.

When Cydra notices Rhaegar approaching, she smiles. Whenever she does, he is reminded of Lyanna. She had inherited round face and purple eyes of her mother, but her smile was all Northern.

“Your Grace,” she says, bowing her head in acknowledgment, “If you’re looking for Lord Connington, he’s taken my mother to get her dress for the wedding.”

“A little late for that, isn’t it? The wedding is tomorrow.”

“Mother heard that Lady Catelyn is wearing blue. She doesn’t want to be seen wearing the same color as that woman,” Cydra says, rolling her eyes. “I don’t think she’s ever actually met Catelyn Stark. She just sort of hates her by default.”

“As is her right,” Rhaegar says.

“You don’t hate her though, do you?” Cydra asks. The question throws him for a loop. It’s not often that people ask him for his opinion on others. He can express his opinions about people, but it is considered bad form to ask a King about his feelings towards one of his subjects. Cydra seems completely unaware of this.

She takes a seat on the retaining wall. The dirt brushes against her back, but she doesn’t care. “I can’t see you sending your daughter off to Winterfell if you thought they were bad people.”

“No,” Rhaegar admits, but he does not elaborate. Instead he steps in front of Cydra, back to the sun. She has to squint when she looks up to greet him, one hand braced over her forehead to block the light. “I was actually here to see you.”

“Me?” Cydra says incredulously.

“You leave at the end of the week.”

“I do.”

“I hear you have a guest accompanying you.”

Cydra blanches at the words. “I told him you would find out. I told him he should have just told you, but he was so sure that he had gotten away with it. No one’s that good at hiding their intentions.”

“People talk,” Rhaegar says softly, “And I listen. I might not have always listened, but I have to now.”

"I love him," Cydra says, shrugging as if it is that simple. "I love him so much that I decided to leave Westeros so he could find a wife and be happy without me lingering around. I could have gone to Dorne. That was always the plan for me. I could have had a good life there, but I knew if I stayed in these borders he would find me.”

“But you had to know he wouldn’t let you go,” Rhaegar says, “He is stubborn.”

“I never wanted this. You have to know it was never my plan,” Cydra says, “I can’t make him stay though, your Grace. If he follows me that is his own will.”

She stumbles over the word if, and Rhaegar takes note. “You don’t think he’ll follow through on it.”

“I think this life is too good to trade for some bastard girl and the Free Cities,” Cydra says, “I think he mistakenly expects me to give in and stay and then maybe he’ll make me his mistress. So I don’t think you have anything to fear.”

“I almost traded my whole kingdom for a girl and a tower. Do not be so sure what a Targarayen will do.”

---

Rhaegar waits until after the wedding to confront Jon.

He owes it to Rhaenys to give her a wedding free from distraction. The news weighs heavy on him throughout the ceremony and the feast that follows. He tries to put on his best face, but every time he catches a glimpse of Jon or Cydra they are bumping shoulders or whispering in each other's ears. So instead he focuses on something else - or rather someone else.

"You keep staring at her." Elia is not angry. Angry, Rhaegar thinks, he could deal with. Elia is just curious.

"Am I?" Rhaegar says, sitting up straighter in his seat.

"It is noticeable," Elia says, "She is still very pretty."

"Yes, that much is true."

"Jon and Varys' words worry you." Elia frowns. She was the first person he spoke to after Jon and Varys had told him the news. She didn't believe them. She still doesn't. She reminds him that Jon is a good man. Too honorable to make such a choice. Too smart to have left such a trail.

They are the excuses of a mother who wants to believe the best of her son, which is why Rhaegar has not told her that he spoke to Cydra – that she confirmed what Jon and Varys thought.

"They do," Rhaegar takes another sip of his wine, "And when I think of Jon running away, I think of her."

"Then speak to him."

"I fear I will not be able to reach him on my own," Rhaegar says, "Who knows better the consequences of eloping than the two of us?"

"That should be interesting," Elia notes. There is a pause and then suddenly Rhaegar's eyes fall back on Lyanna. Elia is right. She is still as beautiful as he remembers. "You should stop staring."

"I should," Rhaegar admits, "But do you see how angry it makes the Kingslayer?"

A burst of laughter escapes Elia as they both take in the redness of Jaime Lannister's face.

---

Rhaegar plans to send for Lyanna the morning after the wedding, but Aegon begs him to watch his tournament instead. Rhaegar has been so busy worrying about Jon and preparing for Rhaenys’ wedding that he feels as though he’s been neglecting his eldest son. Aegon does well, but he is unseated by Jaime Lannister, who makes a good show of marking his territory. Rhaegar finds Aegon waiting for him outside his study. He dispatches one the Kingsguard to fetch Lyanna.

“Why are you speaking with her?” Aegon asks, more curious than biting.

“Your brother has me worried,” Rhaegar says honestly.

“When has Jon not worried you,” Aegon says, and while Rhaegar might have suspected a hint of jealousy, instead his met with resign. “You really shouldn’t worry about him.”

“It’s what a parent does,” Rhaegar says with a sigh, “We worry.”

“Do not worry about me,” Aegon says.

Rhaegar does not tell him he worries about him least. Aegon knows it well enough already.

---

Rhaegar can’t say he’s surprised when Lyanna shows up outside his study with Jaime Lannister attached to her hip.

"I will be right outside," Jaime says. He leans in to kiss his wife’s cheek and then whispers in a voice loud enough for Rhaegar to hear as well. "If you are not back in thirty minutes, I will bust down the door."

"I heard that," Rhaegar says.

Jaime gives his most charming grin. It has not dulled with age. "I hoped you might."

"Your husband is amusing," Rhaegar says as soon as the door is shut behind them.

"I've never heard it phrased that way before," Lyanna smiles softly. Her discomfort seems to fade away as soon as Jaime is mentioned. "Much too polite of a term for him."

"Well I'm nothing if not polite," Rhaegar says and Lyanna scoffs.

It is strange. It has been close to two decades since they last spoke to one another, and their last conversation had been tense, almost violent. Now there is nothing but silence between them though it is just as tense.

"You stare." She says it as if it explains everything.

"I always stared. It's what got us into trouble in the first place." Rhaegar is taken back to the first day they met – Rhaegar found her climbing a tree. It took him forever to make a sound – instead he just watched as she fought her way up the gnarls and branches of the deadest tree in that forest just so she could hide that shield. After that, he couldn’t stop looking and what he saw never stopped surprising him.

"My wife says I need to bury the hatchet with you."

"I forgive you."

"I didn't ask for forgiveness."

"You were going to, and I saved you the trouble of having to ask for it. It doesn't look good if you’re groveling to your former whore."

"You were never that," Rhaegar says sadly, "You were my wife, and I loved you."

Lyanna frowns. "I loved you too."

"Jon is considering running off to Essos to wed Cydra Sand."

"You Targarayens and your drama." She does not seem shocked to hear it. Maybe the rumors of Jon have stretched far enough that Casterly Rock has heard them as well. Or maybe Jon had told Ned or Benjen or some other Stark who would have gone running to Lyanna in the hopes of salvaging his good honor.

"It's not just me he gets that from," Rhaegar says. "Both of us made that decision, and it was a very bad decision."

"You were the crowned prince and I was betrothed to a lord. Jon is a second son and she is a bastard. I think you're expecting too much from this."

"Well I'm not expecting a war if that's what you think," Rheagar says, and it’s true. Westeros is not what it was when his father was king. The people like him – for one. Now they are just starting to trust him as well. "The scandal that will follow would be damage enough."

Lyanna sighs. "What do you want me to do?"

“Tell me what I can say to him to get him to not make this mistake. Because I have tried and I can think of nothing that could have been said to stop me from running off with you.”

“There was nothing anyone could have done,” Lyanna admits. “But I wish every day that I had one more conversation with my father before I had left.”

---

He finds Jon in the stables with his direwolf.

Ghost had been a gift from his time spent in the North. Lord Stark had found the pups on their way back from a beheading. Jon had argued that they should be kept instead of slaughtered. At first Rhaegar thought it was foolish for his son to have a pet, let alone one so unequipped for the South, but then he remembered that he still dreams of dragons.

“Jon.”

“Father,” Jon says. The wolf pushes past Jon’s legs to sniff at the hem of Rhaegar’s robes.

“He is getting big.”

Jon smiles. “I think he’s starting to like it here.”

It is such a strange thing for him to say given here won’t be home for long. Rhaegar wonders briefly if Jon means to have the wolf stay – if he thinks the beast can take his place.

“There’s something I need to speak to you about.”

“Okay.”

“It is about Cydra. Or rather your feelings for Cydra.”

Jon tilts his head as if he doesn’t understand the question. "She is family."

For a long time Targarayens did not differentiate between family and lovers. Rhaegar never felt that way. He never looked at his sister or his distant cousins with anything more than familial affection, but Rhaegar knows it’s in their family's blood and bones, hardwired into their history. Rhaegar doesn't need to explain this to Jon. He takes his father's silence as word enough.

"There is nothing romantic about it," Jon says, "She is my friend. One of my best friends."

"I understand," Rhaegar says, "But then you must understand why these rumors have taken flight. You two have been thick as thieves since the moment you made your journey to King's Landing. After a certain age, boys and girls are not meant to be friends."

"And little princes should never be friends with bastard girls, right?"

"Jon," Rhaegar sighs. "This is the way the world works."

"Well it shouldn't work that way,” Jon says with all the naiveté of a child. "I could have been a bastard."

"You could have, but you weren't. You're the son of a king and a noblewoman."

"And yet they call me the Bastard Prince. Jon Snow in the North. Jon Waters in Flea's Bottom."

"We all have our detractors. They call me a rapist and a coward and a traitor."

"And you can only imagine what they've called her," Jon argues. "I will not apologize for my friends. And I will not lie and pretend it's something it's not so that people can understand it."

"I don't mind that you are friends with her. If I did, I would have ended it a long time ago. I would have made her mother ship her off to Dorne-"

"Or shipped me off to the North." Jon’s words cut through Rhaegar like a knife. Jon must notice because he changes directions quickly. "What is the point of this anyways? Why are you suddenly asking me about Cydra?"

"She plans to head to Essos."

"I know that,” Jon says, “I think everyone knows that."

"Passage for three to Braavos was booked by a member of the Kingsguard," Rhaegar says, "It was simple math, Jon."

Jon stares at Rhaegar blankly and then the anger returns.

"It was wrong. If I were to run away, it would be North - to the Wall." Rhaegar can see Jon there – garbed in black and head held high even as he is surrounded by murderers and thieves and rapists. "But I would not run away. I would not desert my duties, and I would not leave my home."

And suddenly Rhaegar is pulling his son into his arms. Rhaegar is a loving father, this much has always been true, but he has never been the type to embrace his children. He left the physical affection to his wife, and she had been good about showering all their children - Jon included - with kisses and hugs.

But there is something about hearing Jon - who has always yearned to find his place - call King's Landing home that makes Rhaegar feel as though a weight has been lifted.
At first, Jon is stiff in his arms and then he relaxes, resting the top of head against his father's shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Father. I have failed you. I think I should have known. As close as she and I were, as close as I was with him, I should have seen it." Jon whispers.

Rhaegar pulls back, hands bracketing Jon’s shoulders. "Seen what?"

Jon ducks his head. "You have the wrong prince. It is Aegon who plans to run."

---

Rhaegar never worried about Aegon.

And why should he have? Aegon was too smart to be caught. He never paid much attention to Cydra. Never let a smile fall her way or a touch linger. But he was always there. It was easy to see Cydra with Jon – easy to see Cydra with her brother, Griffin, but it was just as easy to forget that Aegon had grown up with all of them as well.

Aegon stayed committed to the search for his bride. He danced with all the proper ladies, charmed all their fathers, and still, he kept himself aloof in the presence of the marriage gossip. Rhaegar thought that aloofness was meant as a political move, to keep anyone from knowing his true intentions. He never realized how true that was.

And Aegon was honest when he let it slip that he would choose a bride during the tourney for Rhaenys' wedding. No one knew that choosing a bride meant running off to Essos with Cydra Sand the moment after it was over.

Rhaegar never worried about Aegon, and even now that he has outsmarted the Spymaster and the Hand of the King and run away to a country he knows little about and where he will be even less, Rhaegar does not worry.

---

Aegon will never return to Westeros. Some say that he never made it to Essos - that he and his wife perished at sea and that is why he was never heard from again. Others will say he never managed to adjust to life as a small folk. He drank himself to death or that his wife left him or both. Still a few say he is a trader - a smuggler - a pirate - a sellsword - some man with white hair and violet eyes whom they caught a glimpse of in their travels East.

{The truth - there is no Aegon Targarayen in Essos, but there is a blue haired man named Griff with a wife and children who is smarted than half the men in Braavos and a better swordsman than the other half. He could be a politician - many Braavosi tell him this - but he will smile and tell them all he ever wanted was to be a certain woman's husband}

---

Later, Rhaegar will die - all men must - and they will crown King Jon Targarayen, First of his Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.

The King who was Promised is what they will call him.

But that is much later. First a king will die and war will break out over who should take his place – as much as things change, they stay the same. Jon and the North versus Viserys and the South. Seven years of war.

In the end, Jon wins his war, but this is not what unites his kingdom – this does not make him the king Westeros was waiting for – the king they were promised. Throughout his fight, he treats all people as his equals not because it was too his advantage or because he should. He does so because he knows no other way.

His wife is no different.

Mother of dragons – they will call her – and their marriage is another arranged by men in studies trying to rebuild the world.

But that's another marriage for another time.