She stormed into his solar with the loud crack of the door. Elia Martell was always calm, but this morning her king husband broke the last line of her temper.
"Where is he, Rhaegar?" she demanded in a cold, quavering voice. The Silver King slowly raised his head.
"Who?" he asked calmly.
"Something happened to Aegon?" He rose up from his chair, ready for action.
"No! Jaehaerys is missing!"
Rhaegar breathed a sigh of relief.
"First, he is not your son Elia. Second, I gave him to his uncle, Lord Stark. He promised to raise him well and..."
Elia didn't let him finish this sentence. The sound of the slap rang across the room. Rhaegar was too shocked to do anything.
"How could you?" Tears began to form in her eyes. Her voice was trembling. "How could you give away your own son? Your own blood? Brother of your children?"
"Fuck the prophecy! Fuck the dreams! And fuck you Rhaegar Targaryen. He is your son! He is her son! And in everything except blood, he is my son! I promised her this, Rhaegar! I promised her that I would always treat her children like my own. Why did you give him away?"
He was silent, but she knew the answer. It was because of the eyes. Grey eyes of the Starks. When she had seen these innocent orbs, she felt like her heart was breaking into pieces. They were her eyes. Eyes they both loved from the first sight at the tourney of Harrenhal. The eyes of Lyanna Stark.
"Bring him back," she demanded.
"Bring our son back!"
"No 'buts' Rhaegar Targaryen. I want him back. Now! If you won't do this, I will leave with Rhaenys and Aegon. We will seek asylum in Winterfell and you will never see any of your children again. I promise you this."
He sat down heavily and hide his face in his hands.
"Why? Why you want him back so much?"
"Because he is the last part of her left. Because he is the brother of our children. Because... because I love him like my own child. Now go and bring him back."
"Because I can't!" For the first time in their marriage, he shouted at her. "I can't stand him. His looks. His eyes. The fact that he isn't Visenya. That he is alive and she is not."
Elia slapped him. Harder. She felt pain in her hand.
"If you ever say something like this again, you will look for the new wife faster than High Septon is praying." Her eyes were full of rage. "He is a child. An innocent child. He is not guilty of his looks, his eyes, his gender, or the death of his mother. She died and left him alone. And now you want to take him away from the rest of his family."
"He will be with his family. In the North. With the Starks. His place is there."
"No! His place is here. With his siblings. With his father. With me. I will not let you take him away." She turned around and started towards the door. "Ser Arthur, please find my uncle and summon him to the courtyard. Then go to stables and get my horse ready."
"What are you doing Elia?" Rhaegar shouted after her.
She stopped and sent him one hateful look.
"I am repairing your mistakes, Lord Husband." Her words were full of venom.
Jae was sleeping soundly in his arms. He looked just like her. There was nearly no trace of Rhaegar in him.
Thank the gods, thought the Lord of Winterfell. He didn't want to take the baby away from his family. It was Rhaegar's idea. Rhaegar offered to give him the child and let Ned raise Jae at Winterfell. During their journey to King's Landing, the king never took the baby in his arms. He never asked about him. Even more, he did everything possible to avoid his own son. And this behavior made Ned lose the remains of his respect for him.
It was late afternoon. The sun was about to set. The armies of the North were in back. The last Northerners were him and his comrades. Lord Howland Reed from the Neck. Lord William Dustin on his red stallion. Ser Mark Ryswell. Ethan Glover, squire of Ned's late brother Brandon. Theo Wull from the mountain clans. Martyn Cassel, brother of Winterfell's master at arms. No one else left. Only bones on the fields of battle.
The South wasn't the place for Northerners. Especially for Starks. Only one out of every four people who left Winterfell were coming home.
"My lord, the inn." Ned woke from his thoughts. In fact, there was an inn. Not ruins of an inn or ashes of it, but a normal inn.
"We will stop here for the night," he ordered. "Martyn, make sure they know we are coming."
"Yes my lord."
He hadn't slept well last night. King's Landing was full of phantoms and ghosts.
The inn was called One More Day. It was big and clean. There were not many people there, and they found room and table easily. The innkeeper was glad to host one of the high lords. Ned sent Jae and his wet nurse up to their rooms. He didn't want any danger near his nephew, and drunk people were dangerous.
"What now, Lord Eddard?" asked Ethan. "What will you do with this disgrace?"
"Disgrace?" Ned's eyes became cold and sharp "Are you talking about my nephew, Glover?"
"No, my lord! Never! He is more Stark than Targaryen. And he is innocent. I am talking about this Dragon King. First his father killed your father and brother. Then he killed your best friend! Now he sent his own son away. We all saw this. He is insulting the memory of the late Lady Lyanna."
"He is right, my Lord," said Lord Dustin. "We all know that Jaehaerys is his trueborn child. He is the son of the North! Son of our Lady Lyanna. And he is treating him like a bastard. It can't go unpunished. The North Remembers!"
"The North Remembers!" they all cried, except for Howland and Eddard.
"And what do you want? Another war? Another rebellion? You want me to put Jaehaerys Targaryen on the Iron Throne?"
They went silent.
"He will live with my family. He will become a true Northerner! Hard as steel. Thick as ice! Part of the pack! One of us!"
"One of us!" they cried in unison. "Winter is coming!"
Suddenly the door opened. In the light of the hearth and the moon stood a man in a white coat and armor. Seven Northerners rose from their seats with hands on the pommels of their swords.
"Stay down Lord Stark," spoke a voice from behind the knight of Kingsguard. Ned held his breath. He knew this voice.
"Indeed." The Dornishwoman walked past her guard and approached the Northerners. "Welcome my lords."
"My queen," they said in union with a slight bow.
"Can I take a place with you?"
"It is an honor, Your Grace," said Eddard. He was shocked. What was Queen Elia doing here? Why had she come?
"Thank you," she replied with a smile. Ser Lewyn Martell stood behind her like a white shadow. The innkeeper came to them almost immediately.
"Your Grace, it is an honor to welcome you on our doorstep. Can I serve you in any way?"
"Bring me two glasses of red wine. One for me and one for my uncle."
"Of course, Your Grace. I have the best red wine on this side of the Blackwater Rush."
"I am sure you do. Now go. I need to speak with Lord Stark in private."
The innkeeper was gone, and they looked into each other's eyes.
"Why are you here, Your Grace?"
"I arrived for my son."
"What do you mean, Your Highness?"
Again the hands of Northerners went to their swords.
"I am sorry Queen Elia, but I still don't understand."
"Please give me Jaehaerys back."
In her eyes Eddard didn't see any hatred or anger. Only sadness, and tears.
"My queen... I can't. I promised my sister that I would not let anything bad happen to her son."
"And I promised her even more, Lord Stark. I promised her that I would treat her children like my own. That I would love them equally. That I would be a mother to them. And what kind of mother let someone take her baby away?"
"And what kind of father gives his child away?" asked the wolf.
"My husband made a terrible mistake."
"One of many," added Ryswell.
"I am sorry, my queen, but it is hard to believe. Jaehaerys is a threat to your son's claim. You must know that."
"Even if he is, I will not let fear blind me. The Blackfyre Rebellion began because of ambitious lords. I will not let that happen again."
"I will raise my children together. All three of them."
"And you think I will just let you take my nephew to this viper nest you call a capital?"
"Because there is nothing to stop you from killing him."
"Lord Stark... how dare you?"
"I have only your words, Your Majesty. No proof."
"I have the proof." She laid a piece of paper on the table. "It's a letter from Lya to me."
Eddard opened the letter. He recognized his sister's handwriting immediately.
I hope that you feel well in that shit hole that everyone calls capital. Dorne is beautiful but so hot... why didn't you tell me it's so hot here?
Of course I am joking. You told me it's hot here.
Anyway, the child is growing fast. I can't express how grateful I am for your last letter. I was so scared about my little baby's future. That someone would try to use him (yes, I am sure it's a boy) against his siblings. It was just... crippling. I promise I will be like a second mother to your children, just like you will be to mine.
I miss you terribly.
I miss your kisses and hands.
I hope we will see each other soon.
Ned Stark breathed heavily. He looked into the queen's eyes. They were begging him. For mercy, for understanding, for hope.
"I have three conditions," he said. His comrades looked shocked, except for Howland Reed. "First: two of my own men will be sent to King's Landing to teach and protect my nephew. Second: you will send him to Winterfell for five years when he will be old enough. Third: you will never let anyone hurt him. Anyone!"
"I agree, Lord Stark."
"The king knows about it?"
"My lord husband lost the right to make decisions about his children when he treated one of them like a bastard."
"My lord," Ser Mark Ryswell stood up, "I would be honored if you let me stay and protect Prince Jaehaerys."
"Me too, my lord," added Ethan Glover.
"I am grateful, my friends." Ned took a breath. "My queen, I entrust my nephew to you."
And for the first time, Lord Stark saw the queen crying. She was shedding tears of gratitude.
"Thank you... Lord Stark. I promise I will do everything to make him happy."
"I believe you will."
"I do not understand why you did this, sweet sister." Oberyn paced around the room furiously, like a trapped wasp.
"I told you what was between me and Lyanna, brother. I thought you would understand and support me. But right now, Doran turns out more helpful."
They were in her solar. It had been three days since her return with Jae, but very few people showed any kind of satisfaction. In her own family, only Rhaenys and Aegon were happy they got their little brother back. Rhaegar hadn't shown himself since their quarrel.
Good for him, she thought. She was still angry with her husband.
"You told me, but this bastard..."
"Call him that again, sweet brother, and the next children Ellaria will bare surely won't be yours."
"...this child is dangerous for your son's claim."
"He is his heir, not his enemy."
"But your daughter should be the heir."
"And why would any woman like to sit on that ugly chair? She would be quickly destroyed by the lords and her own husband. Before any woman will sit on the Iron Throne, there must be a king ready to change the kingdom. And Rhaegar is not that kind of king."
"We all know what kind of king he is..."
"Don't end that sentence, Oberyn," sighed their uncle Lewyn. "He is still your king."
Suddenly they heard a knock at the door.
It was Ser Jaime Lannister. The Young Lion or the Kingslayer, as most of the court called him. In Elia's eyes he was more of a hero than any other member of the Kingsguard, including her own uncle.
"What is it, Ser Jaime?"
"A raven arrived from Dragonstone."
Dark wings dark words, ran through Elia's head. But this time she was wrong.
"Queen Rhaella gave birth to a daughter. Daenerys Targaryen, called 'Stormborn.' They are coming home with Prince Viserys."
"This is splendid news, good ser. I am sure the king is happy."
"My queen, the king is in... the children's room."
Elia's face went white. She moved towards the door. Her brother and two knights of the Kingsguard were after her. She nearly ran towards the children's chambers. Rhaenys, Aegon, and Jaehaerys all had the same play chamber. It was her idea to make them closer. In front of the chamber door stood Ethan Glover and Ser Arthur Dayne. They looked at each other in an unfriendly way.
"My queen," they said in unison.
"Is my lord husband inside?"
"Yes my queen. He is with the children."
She opened the door and went in. He was there. Rhaenys lay in his arms, little Balerion snorted on him. And he was bending over Jaehaerys's cradle.
"Look Daddy, isn't he sweet? He looks more like me than Egg."
"Mhm," he muttered with approval.
"Nanny says that he never smiles, but he does. When he is with me. Or Egg. Or Mommy. And he doesn't cry much."
"Mommy look, Dad is here!"
Rhaegar looked at her but turned his gaze away quickly.
"Rhaenys, can you go to Ser Jaime and ask him to take you to the gardens? I need to talk with your mother alone."
"But Jae and Egg are here."
"They are sleeping. You are not."
"But I want to stay!"
"Rhaenys, please." Rhaegar voice for once was steel.
The offended girl walked out with an unhappy grimace on her face.
"What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to see them."
"All of them?"
"No. But Rhaenys was talking about him non-stop."
"You are surprised?"
"For them it doesn't matter he comes from another womb."
"It will matter in time."
"Not for me. Not for them."
"But for him."
"If you will act like this... yes."
"It isn't painful for you?"
"It never was. This is a child. My child. And a true mother can look at her child only with love."