Jon Snow was tired. It was an unusual sort of tiredness, not the weariness of too long in the practice yard or in the Wolfswood, but a kind of exhaustion that seemed to hit him in the soul. Perhaps it had to do with the royal visit and the invasion of his home, or the scorn of Theon, who as a ward was ranked even higher than a baseborn son. Whispering praise for Ghost, the two headed to bed. Sleep came easily, and then, he dreamed.
It was hot, hotter than Jon could ever remember it being, and he found it strange that he should feel heat in a dream where usually such things passed without sensation. He was in a strange room, where a young woman stood, his age or perhaps a bit older, her stomach round with child, caressing the bump as she looked out a window. Arms wrapped around the woman, and a man with long silver-blonde hair rested her head against her shoulder. “I will return to you both, Lyanna, I promise.”
“You should sit, my lady.” A handmaiden Jon had not noticed until now, said, walking right by him to lead her to the bed. “It is no good for you to stress yourself so. Your prince will return.”
“No.” Lyanna said sadly, even if she moved to sit. “This is all wrong, and if you go, you won’t come back. We should have never run away, Rhaegar.”
“I will deal with the Baratheon and return, you need to be strong for our little Visenya.” Rhaegar said. “You said yourself that the Old Gods of the trees blessed our union, and the Kingsguard will be here to protect you.”
“It’s a boy.” The girl said, with a stubborn, mulish expression that Jon knew well from Arya. “And if you go, you won’t come back, just like Brandon and Father.”
“Jaecarys, then, as I’ve promised.” Rhaegar allowed, with an indulgent smile. He placed a kiss on her forehead and left the room in his ruby-studded armour.
Lyanna bit back a sob, hand placed protectively on her belly. “We love you, Jaecarys. You have a great destiny ahead of you, I know it. You'll make us proud.”
Jon blinked in confusion, but before he could speak, the dream had changed, and he was standing by as his father burst into the room, younger and covered in blood and dirt, sword in hand.
“Lyanna.” Eddard stark breathed, looking somewhere other than Jon.
Jon turned, and found the girl from before lying in bed, paler than milk, sobbing and bloody. He shook his head, unsure what this meant, unsure what all of this meant, but then he saw the baby.
“Promise me, Ned.” Lyanna pleaded, as Jon watched in morbid fascination. “If Robert finds out, they’ll kill him. You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned. Promise me.”
Jon woke sweating, his mind spinning with something other than drink. His gut churned and yet he knew he wouldn’t be sick. He felt as if he was on the cusp of something, some hidden truth. It was pulling on him, like a horse on a lead. He dressed in a rush, and then followed the pull, eventually coming into the crypts. He walked, compelled, for once not feeling the stares of his ancestors on his back, telling him he did not belong here, and stopped, torch in hand to study the face of the statue before him. It was the woman from his dream, though not entirely correct, her face was a little more narrow, lips a little thinner than he had dreamed, but he had no doubt about which was right.
Ned woke with a start from his nightmare. It was the same nightmare he had been having for years, revisited each and every time something reminded him a bit too much of the web of deceit and grief he found himself trapped in. He had expected it tonight, but it had changed, ending in the crypt, and that was strange. With a heavy heart and knowing that everything was going to change since Maester Luwin’s visit. Dressing quickly, he headed back down to the crypts, needing to apologise to his sister yet again. When he came to the crypt, however, he was startled by the sight he found. “Jon?” Something in his son’s expression was worrying. “Are you alright, son?”
Jon gave a strained laugh. “But I’m not, am I?” He asked. “I thought even if I was a Snow at least I had my father, even if I was a Snow, even if you never told me who my mother was...at least I knew who I was, I knew I was your son…” His voice broke. “My name isn’t even my name.”
Ned had a moment of panic, there were so many unfriendly ears about, but his son was distraught, and for all that Jon was right, he was still Ned’s son in every way but one. He grabbed him into a tight hug. “You are my blood, Jon. I love you as much as I love all my children.”
“You lied to me.” Jon said angrily, even as he buried his head in Ned’s chest.
“I promised.” Ned whispered into his hair. “I promised to protect you, Jon.”
Jon wanted to be angry, he was angry, but he had seen his father’s face when Lyanna had made him swear. “She knew I’d be a boy.” Jon whispered, so quietly Ned could barely hear him. “He was sure of a girl, but she knew .” He swallowed around the lump in his throat. “She said they loved me.”
“I know she did.” Ned agreed, and then winced. “That’s why you must go to the Wall.”
Jon reared back, shaking his head. “No.” He said strongly.
“Maester Luwin said that you wanted to take the black.” Ned said, confused by such a visceral reaction from Jon.
“I did.” Jon replied, shaking his head. “But Uncle Benjen was right, it is for life, I know that better than most, when I was just your bastard, when you had trueborn children that would always mean more -- and now...she asked something of me too. I had doubts even before, about what my mother might think, if she was even alive, but now...she knew something. I can’t ignore that.”
“The king has asked me to be his Hand, I can’t say no, Jon, and Catelyn won’t hear of you staying here with Robb and Rickon.” Ned told him, willing him to understand.
“I’ll go south with you.” Jon said with a shrug.
“There are no bastards at court, Jon!” Ned argued.
“Sure there are.” Jon argued, shaking his head. “Mostly they join the Kingsguard or squire for hedge knights in the city. Let them think you’re accustoming me at court so I will be named to the Kingsguard. Surely the king will understand that you don’t want to leave your bastard with your lady-wife.”
“No one will treat you well.” Ned warned. “The Wall…”
“I’ll have you, Arya, and Bran.” Jon reassured him. “The disdainful looks and gossip of strangers hurt much less than those of Sansa and your lady-wife.” His face softened slightly. “I need to do this, Father. I need to try and be what she wanted of me, I need to try and understand him. Otherwise...it’ll eat me alive.”
Ned looked at the statue of his sister, and then back at Jon. “All right.” He said quietly. “You may come south. Now, we should both get back to bed.”
“I think I’ll stay awhile.” Jon said softly. “This is the first time I’ve been down here and not felt like an interloper.”
Ned bowed his head again, wondering yet again, if he had done right by Lyanna’s son. He had tried so hard to make him part of the family, and sometimes he felt he succeeded, but then Jon would do something -- something like this, or leaving himself out of the count for the direwolves that reminded him how Jon was always set apart. He knew Catelyn had tried, and he couldn’t really blame her, perhaps if he had explained...but Cat had hated the Targaryens almost as much as Robert in those days. Aerys had taken Brandon from her and had she known Lyanna left on her own, if he had returned with a Targaryen baby, she might have done worse than scorn it, as she had to Jon. She was a good woman, but she loved deeply, and at that time he was a stranger, a usurper she had been forced to marry. There had been no love between them, she had still loved Brandon and he was mourning first his future with Ashara and then Ashara herself. After so many years, he could hardly tell her it had all been a lie. He didn’t have the words for that. Perhaps this was best...but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that the secret he had hidden for years would soon come out.
“No!” Margaery Tyrell shouted, losing her composure at her brother and his lover, Renly Baratheon. “I will not go along with this little plan of yours to whore me out to the king!”
“Stannis is too powerful, Margaery.” Renly said, frowning. “Robert giving him Dragonstone gave him standing, and with his position…” His voice was even and soothing, even as he spoke, trying to turn her head the way he did to Loras. “House Florent grows bolder, and House Tyrell has been on shaky ground. He has never forgotten Ashford. With Jon Arryn gone, Stannis will be one of the stronger members of the Small Council, and Selyse Baratheon is a Florent.”
“My being his mistress will change none of that!” Margaery spat. “I will not be Delena Florent, come again!”
“We don’t mean for you to be his mistress, we mean for you to be his queen, Margaery.” Loras soothed.
“He has a queen!” Margery replied, voice dropping angrily at her brother. “And three children beside! Do you really think he can look to anger Tywin or his heirs by setting aside Cersei? This is madness.” She left the room with the slam of the door, only to find herself face-to-face with her grandmother.
“Anger is less productive than planning, sweetheart. Men will ever be fools.” Olenna said, patting her granddaughter’s flushed cheek. “Let them yell and think they know best. Come, join me in my solar.”
Margaery knew an order from the Queen of Thorns when she heard one, and took a deep breath, following her grandmother without argument, using the time to cool her temper again. She should not have lost her composure and she knew it, but Renly’s suggestion -- and the fact that Loras had encouraged it -- made her lose her usual easygoing smiles. She took a seat in the large, well-decorated solar as servants scuttled around to bring tea and cakes to the formidable matriarch of House Tyrell. She offered the servants smiles, hoping to soothe the stings from her grandmother’s sharp words and glares.
“Renly has more schemes than some, and far fewer wits than most.” Olenna observed, breaking the silence after the pair were left alone. “It’s a sad combination.” She shook her head. “The king and the court have gone North, that can only mean that the king intends to return with Ned Stark. Any gains in status at court Stannis may have made will be lost to him, but this little plot of Renly’s may be good for you.”
“Grandmother!” Margery said in horror.
“Save your maidenly outrage, Margaery.” Olenna tutted over her tea. “I don’t mean for you to try and seduce the king. I mean for you to use the opportunity to go to court. Renly would try to talk you up, but without you there, it won’t go much of anywhere. You, on the other hand, I’ve spent years doing my best to teach you. You can find yourself a solid match better than your brother or my oaf of a son. Instead of having your portrait painted, ask to accompany them back to King’s Landing. You’ve learned all you possibly can here at Highgarden, it’s time for you to glimmer at court. You’re not the beauty I once was, but you know how to use what you have.”
Margaery considered this, taking a long, slow drink from her cup. It was a good idea, and Loras would allow her more freedom than Highgarden, where she chafed under Alerie’s well-meant but irritating control. “I think I should like to go to court.”
Olenna gave her a smile that showed off her lost teeth, and patted Margaery’s hand. “I know, dear, that’s why your new wardrobe is arriving tomorrow.”
Margaery smiled slightly to herself. She hoped that in the future, she would be as skilled as Olenna at moving things the way she wanted them to go, and planning for every eventuality. Going to court would help, she hoped.