The maester’s acolyte ran through the corridors of the ancient castle, panting and heaving. The castle commissioned by Aegon the Conqueror but completed by Maegor the Cruel. Descending into Maegor’s Holdfast, a castle within a castle, to the royal apartments, specifically to the chamber of the now most powerful woman in the Seven Kingdoms.
Coming to a halt outside the chamber, “Is the Queen Mother awake?” The acolyte directed the question to Ser Gerold Hightower, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, whilst attempting to catch his breath.
The Lord Commander turned to the acolyte, appraising his distressed appearance. Running the length of the castle would do that to one. “Yes, she’s in there with her ladies having her morning meal, I presume by your unkemptness you wish to see her,” and without waiting for a response he turned and knocked on the door.
“Enter,” came a voice within.
Ser Gerold bowed to one of the occupants of the room, “Acolyte Rodner to see you, Your Grace, it seems to be important.”
“Let him in.” The Lord Commander moved aside, the acolyte entering the room. The chamber is what one would expect of a royal room that belonged to a Targaryen. The large canopy bed decorated with curtains that displayed the red and black colours and sigil of House Targaryen; plush rugs imported from the far east; a large fireplace that was crackling with a settee nearby - pillows placed on top - and the small table situated near the balcony, often used to host guests, now hosting the Queen Dowager and her ladies-in-waiting.
The acolyte naturally bowed to the woman sitting at the head of the table. “Your Grace, a raven arrived from Lord Velaryon,” he hesitated before continuing, “I’m afraid it…. it brings grave tidings.”
The Queen Mother stared at him for a good minute, the acolyte wondering if she had even heard him. He was about to repeat himself when she waved her hand. Her ladies immediately stood, curtsied, and made for the exit.
It was not until the acolyte heard the door close that conversation once again resumed. “Give me the scroll.”
Rodner snapped to attention and moved towards the Dowager Queen, handing her the scroll. Her eyes moved from the acolyte to the scroll, now in her hand. Rodner could see her eyes roaming about the small parchment, taking in every word.
The Queen Mother closed her eyes once she finished reading the message and after a long moment, the Queen Grandmother opened her eyes, resolution set within them.
“I need you to transcribe two messages for me of the utmost importance,” ordered Queen Rhaella.
“To where shall I be sending the ravens, Your Grace?” Enquired the acolyte.
“Winterfell,” she simply returned.
The Wolf Prince
The word ‘trouble’ was a major understatement. He was in danger, he knew it. Danger from being murdered by my aunt and uncle. It had not started out with this intention. They just merely wished to play a prank on his cousin that would liven her up a bit. However, what started as an innocent trick had transformed into a multitude of unpredictable events.
Now, he stood in front of his uncle, next to his cousins: Robb Stark, heir to the North; Arya Stark, whom many of the elderly servants of Winterfell claimed looked like his mother; Bran Stark, who was meant to be the lookout! As well as Rickon Stark; who was standing proudly, smiling, as if his father was about to praise him. Poor boy probably doesn’t even realise why we’re all here. Theon Greyjoy, heir to the Iron Islands and fellow accomplice, was also present and his aunt Lady Catelyn Stark as well as said victim – his cousin Sansa, who stood covered in flour, rotten egg and was that cattle dung? I told Arya not to put that in!
“Well, what do you all have to say for yourself?!” Demanded his uncle - Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North.
An abundance of excuses shot through his head. ‘I tried to stop them?’ No, I can’t throw them under the carriage. ‘We tried baking a cake?’ No, that’s no good; cake does not have cattle dung, thank you Arya!
“We wanted to play a prank on Sansa because she’s uptit” blabbed his youngest cousin with a wide grin plastered on his innocent face.
His uncle’s head snapped towards Rickon’s direction, making Jon surprised that his uncle didn’t damage anything in the process. His aunt looked like she was about to faint.
“Uptight Rickon, uptight, not uptit,” Bran gently corrected his brother.
“Great, now we have to tell the truth, stupid,” moaned Arya.
“Arya Stark! You will watch your tongue,” Lady Stark’s vein was throbbing in her forehead. She means business. That thing hasn't made an appearance since she found out Arya used to stuff Sansa's pillow with sheep dung.
“We wanted to play a harmless prank on Sansa and her friends, Lord Stark, we did not mean for it to get this out of hand,” Jon spoke up. Maybe it was my upbringing that makes me think I should be the spokesman.
“I have a kitchen that is a mess; an angry gardener who is raving about missing equipment; a mule in my great hall and a Kingsguard who is blissfully unaware of what transpired.” If Jon knew the situation was not so serious, he could have sworn his uncle’s mouth twitched. No, must have been the imagination.
“Don’t forget a daughter covered in mess and a ruined dress, my brother had sent this from Riverrun,” added his aunt. Jon looked at his cousin and saw the tears in her eyes, he felt guilt climbing its way up his body.
“You will all clean the kitchens and the great hall yourselves, with no help to be asked from the servants. I want to be able to see my reflection in those floors. You will also return the gardener’s equipment; apologise, and to make amends to him, dedicate your time in helping him with the gardens.” He gave them all a look, daring them to challenge him on his decision. No-one did. “Apologise to Sansa, all of you.”
They all collectively turned to his cousin. “Sorry, Sansa,” came the chorus of apologies; though Jon barely heard the ‘stupid’ thrown in by Arya under her breath, thankfully no-one but him heard.
“Get to cleaning now.” They all ran for the door, hoping to leave before Lord Stark could add on more punishments. As Jon closed the door, he heard Lord and Lady Stark’s assurances to Sansa that they would send for two new dresses from her Uncle Edmure.
They had cleaned the great hall and were now halfway through cleaning the kitchen. Jon was on his knees, scraping egg off the wall and feeling thoroughly sorry for himself, cursing his rotten luck.
“I warned you not to do it but none of you listened, now you have to suffer the consequences,” Gage, the head cook of Winterfell’s kitchens, pompously stated, sounding far too pleased with himself. He sat at the table with a large mug and a slice of pie. It’s a wonder he gets any food out of the kitchen, Jon thought mutinously.
“My my, are we looking for our dignity down there? If only Prince Aegon and Princess Rhaenys could see you now,” came the voice that belonged to the bane of Jon’s life.
Bran’s gasp was confirmation enough for Jon to know who was standing in front of him, his little cousin never failed to release his shock every time he saw the Kingsguard, despite him and Jon having resided in Winterfell for nearly seven years.
The Prince looked up into green eyes. Green eyes filled with mirth.
Ser Jaime Lannister stood there in his golden gleaming armour and white long cloak. He looked every inch the handsome arrogant man that he was. And one of few people I explicitly trust though I’d rather hang than ever admit that to him.
Jon didn’t like flashing his status as a prince, but he couldn’t help but think what his siblings would say if they could see the 'Stark Prince,' as Aegon always called him, on his hands and knees now.
Aegon would probably die of a laughing fit whilst his eldest sister Rhaenys would wear that face that himself and Aegon had named ‘the septa face,’ reprimanding him - 'you should have listened to me when I told you not to do this.' Jon chuckled to himself thinking about his family and their reactions.
“See, I bring joy wherever I go. How dull your life would be without me,” the golden Kingsguard's boasting was second language to Jon by now.
“I was actually laughing at the fact you are even familiar with the notion of 'dignity' considering yours is non-existent.” Quipped the Targaryen prince.
Jaime opened his mouth to surely answer back, man has to have the last word, but was stopped by another entry into the kitchen.
“Jon,” it was his aunt, Lady Stark. She looked, what Jon could only describe as, remorseful. Is she that upset over the ruined dress? “Your lord uncle needs to speak to you in his study, it’s urgent.”
Am I going to have an increase in my punishment? I knew I shouldn’t have designated myself as the spokesman, teaches me to take charge. Jon stood up and began to make his way towards the exit.
“That’s not fair, how come he gets to leave?!” demanded an outraged Arya, with Bran nodding vigorously beside her.
“Not now Arya, you all finish cleaning then get yourselves washed up. Robb, I want you to help your little brother,” the last part she directed to her oldest son, sternly.
Jon tuned the argument that had started behind him out with a scandalised Bran stating he didn’t need any help bathing. He turned to his aunt, “what is this about Aunt Cat?”
It was strange. She looked at him for a long moment, just observing his face as if memorising it. What’s going on? She finally responded, “your uncle is the best one to inform you.” He started making his way and heard Jaime following in his steps when his aunt spoke once again, “Ser Jaime, Ser Daemon is waiting for you in the great hall.”
A confused Jaime made his way to the hall while the prince made his way up to the lord’s study with two of his Targaryen retinue following behind him. He had barely knocked when his uncle called for him to enter. He obeyed, his guards waiting outside, making his way to the chair opposite his uncle. The Lord of Winterfell was reading something when he looked up as Jon sat down. Okay, now I’m officially worried. His uncle wore matching facial expressions as his wife had.
Jon managed to throw a question out but was irritated at the obvious nervous tone his inquiry was etched in, "is everything all right, Lord Stark?”
His uncle drew a deep breath before responding, “I’m afraid not Jon, a raven arrived from King’s Landing. I’m sorry to tell you the news isn’t good.”
Immediately, awful thoughts of his family started running in his mind. Are my sisters hurt? Rhaenys? Alyssa? She always rode her horse far too fast. Is grandmother ill? Did Aegon injure himself doing something stupid again?
“What happened?” Jon managed to get out.
“I won’t beat around the bush, it’s your father and brother. As you know, they went on a trip to Lys. Ever since Lys was conquered by your father, stability needed to be established in the dominion. Your father was successful, and he was on his way back to the capital with your brother, the Crown Prince." Ned Stark paused, taking a moment before resuming. "However, their ship was attacked by, whom the Crown believe to be, pirates.” His uncle took a deep breath and looked at him with sympathetic eyes, “the pirates could have been former residents of the Stepstones, angry at your father after he annexed the islands or petty pirates who simply stumbled upon the royal ships and saw an opportunity. Alas they were attacked, and many lost their lives.”
Here his uncle looked directly into his eyes and shook his head, “I’m sorry, my boy. I am so very sorry, but the loss of life includes your father and brother. King Rhaegar and Prince Aegon have passed away.”
Tinnitus. That was all the prince could hear. His ears had automatically began drowning out his uncle’s voice and started ringing. The pitch and volume only increasing. He closed his eyes and put his hands on his head, making a failed attempt to silence the noise.
His uncle had continued. At least, that was what Jon assumed as his uncle’s lips were still moving. The Lord of Winterfell stood up and approached Jon, placing his hands on the princes’ shoulders and trying to speak to him. When Jon did not respond, his uncle began lightly shaking him. Jon would never be able to decipher what his uncle had been saying in that moment. Slowly, his hearing began returning. He felt numb. He felt like he should cry. That was what people said was the appropriate response when people died. Jaime had once said he had cried when his mother had perished. Then why don’t I feel that sensation to lament? That familiar sensation that would occur when I first arrived at Winterfell and homesickness arose.
However, the tears refused to arrive. It’s not like I had a difficult relationship with father and Aegon. I had loved them both and I know they had loved me. His father had asked him if he wanted to be fostered in the North, in his mother’s homeland, and he had agreed. I wasn’t forced to leave. I wanted to go North. The King had even given him a ring that had been created to resemble a wolf and a dragon intertwined. His brother had been upset when he left as had he. Then why aren’t the tears coming?
“Jon! Jon!” The prince glanced at Lord Stark with a dazed look as his uncle stopped shaking him. Lowering his hands from his head, he tried his best to listen to what his uncle was saying, “are you alright? Do you need me to summon Maester Luwin?” Still in bewilderment, Jon shook his head.
“No. No, I’m….I’m fine.” Lord Stark moved to a table on the side and returned momentarily with a small goblet of wine.
“Here, drink this. All of it. It’ll help.” As Jon nodded and began consuming, his uncle returned to his seat behind his desk.
“The remnants of the ship, thankfully, washed ashore with the remains of the King and the Prince of Dragonstone.” When he received no reply, the Lord of Winterfell resumed, “Jon,” the prince looked up at the mention of his name by the lord, “Do you know what this means?”
Jon drew his eyebrows into confusion, “what do you mean?”
“I mean, do you know what the death of King Rhaegar and Crown Prince Aegon means?”
Jon swallowed what felt like a lump as his heart felt heavier. “Yes,” he whispered. “It means I will be the King.” Saying the words made it sound all the more definite and final.
“Yes, you will be the King of the Seven Kingdoms and Emperor of the Stepstones and Lys.” His uncle reached across the desk and grabbed Jon’s hand, squeezing it. “You have a letter from your royal grandmother.” He handed him an unbroken scroll. “You should read that in private. It may help to process everything.”
Jon nodded and slowly rose from his seat. Making his way to the exit, he paused before opening the door. “Nothing will be the same will it?”
A pause. “Yes, I’m afraid everything will change now, my boy.”
Jon swallowed and nodded. Opening the door, he found all thirty of his Targaryen guards, with their commander, Ser Daemon Sand, a bastard from Dorne, standing in front of him as well as his Kingsguard, Ser Jaime. As soon as they saw him they all drew their swords and went down onto one knee.
“LONG LIVE THE KING!” They all bellowed in unison. Jon stood there, taking in the scene, before realising what to do next.
He swallowed before speaking, "rise.”
“I’m going to the Godswood, I wish to go alone,” Jon quickly mumbled, as they rose, Before they could answer he made his way to the sanctuary of the Old Gods. He didn’t stop for anyone, hoping no-one would approach him. No-one did, maybe they already know? Maybe they don’t know what to say? Maybe his uncle and aunt told them to leave him be? Whatever it was he didn't care. He was simply grateful that they weren’t bothering him.
Making his way to the Godswood, he sank to the floor in front of the heart tree and took a deep breath before breaking the seal of the letter his grandmother had sent and began to read.
To my winged-wolf,
I know how much you loved your father and brother and I know, like myself, you will be devastated by this loss. But you must put all your feelings aside now, for duty calls.
The grief for my son; your father, and my eldest grandson; your older brother, will be felt all across the realm; from the northernmost parts of the Wall to the southernmost regions of Dorne; from the western isles of the Iron Islands to the eastern shores of Lys. Your people will now need your strength and leadership.
I have seen three great monarchs and a fourth brought down through their failures to separate personal indulgences from duty. You must not make similar mistakes.
Whilst you mourn our loved ones, you must also mourn someone else. Jon Targaryen, for he has now been replaced by another person. Jaehaerys Targaryen, Third of his Name. King Jaehaerys will frequently be in conflict with Jon Targaryen; but the fact is, the crown takes precedence. It must always come first.
You will be entering the capital, the nest of vipers, soon. You will need to be: smart; decisive; strong and cunning. For the others will act this way.
Return home my grandson, return home my King, to claim your rightful throne. To sit on the throne that our ancestors have done before you and assume the leadership of our century’s old dynasty.
Queen Grandmother of the Seven Kingdoms.
Jaehaerys finally felt a teardrop fall on the letter. He looked at the heart tree, its weeping face. Does it cry with me or for me? He would now be leaving Winterfell to ascend his family’s throne as the newest monarch of the Targaryen dynasty becoming the nineteenth Targaryen King of Westeros. His shoulders already felt heavier. Am I mourning for my departed love ones, the life that is now gone or the fear of what is to come? King Jaehaerys had no answer.