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Elia was only half watching the joust between her husband and Lord Yohn Royce that took place below her. Indeed, the majority of her attention was devoted to the news that the maester had given her prior to their departure from Dragonstone.

I am to be a mother again, she thought with a thrill of triumph.

Rhaeyns' birth had been a difficult one that had left her ability to bear future children in question. During the long weeks of recovery, there had been ample whispers questioning her suitability as the next queen. They had called her barren as the queen herself. They had mocked her foreign strangeness and, by all accounts, considered her a far lowlier option than the woman her husband had been meant to marry—Cersei Lannister.

Elia had met Cersei Lannister when the latter had been a child. Elia recalled Cersei Lannister as having been arrogant and more than a little cruel to her youngest brother. The way that she had jealously guarded her twin's company and led him away anytime that Elia had engaged him in conversation also indicated a need for attention that ran deep. All in all, Elia did not think that she would have made a very good queen at all.

Drifting from thoughts of the past to ones of the future, her fingers drifted towards her stomach and lightly brushed over her burgundy dress. There had not been enough time for evidence of her second child to appear, but she liked to think that she could feel the little one all the same.

A prince this time, she thought with a certainty that left no room for doubt, a child that will one day sit on the iron throne.

Her husband had been the only one pleased when their first child had been a daughter rather than a son. Despite her good-father's sneering and condemnation, Rhaegar had simply smiled and told her that of course Rhaeyns was to be born first. He had gone on to promise that there would be an Aegon and Visenya to follow in due time.

It was the cheering of the crowd that brought her attention back to the men before her. It seemed that Royce had broken yet another lance against her husband's shield, for he was gathering up a new one from his squire. Unless she had lost count in her preoccupation, this would mark the fifth one.

Rhaegar looked truly resplendent on the black horse he rode. Black as night and of as fine a stock as Oberyn could find. A wedding gift, her brother had said. From the stallion a bloodline could be produced to service the royal family for generations. Her brother had always been particular about his horses and no doubt disliked the notion of his future nieces and nephews on inferior animals.

As the two men neared contact, she watched as Rhaegar glanced up and to his left. Towards the section of the stands given to the houses of the North. That fleeting distraction was all it took. A moment later her husband was flying from his horse to land awkwardly and twitching in the dirt. Precious seconds passed as the crowd waited for the prince to rise. There had been harder falls throughout the tournament, after all. Then she happened to catch sight of Royce's empty hand.

Rhaella Targaryen seemed the first to come to the obvious conclusion, for she let loose a cry of such devastation that Elia knew it would haunt her for the rest of her life. The queen's grief seemed to break the spell that had kept them all seated, for there was a sudden rush to reach the competitors below. Elia's heart thundered within her chest with every step.

It was Ser Barristan who made it to her husband's side first. And it was Ser Barristan who bore witness to Rhaegar Targaryen's dying moments. For his remaining eye was already glazed with death by the time Elia arrived. His face didn't even look particularly disfigured. Not with the lance holding back all but a small trickle of blood from the wound. A strange madness seized her then, and she nearly demanded that they pull it out. That her husband would be fine once they did.

The queen brushed past her with a whisper of fabric and Elia recalled herself. Nothing would save Rhaegar. He was already beyond anyone's reach. She watched as Rhaella collapsed beside her son as if her legs had been cut out from under her. In all of the time Elia had known her good-mother she had never cried. Not when Aerys humiliated her. Not when she emerged from her bedchamber covered in bruises. This was the first time Elia had seen her tears, and it seemed that they were never-ending.

Elia turned away from the sight. If she let herself, she knew she would be swallowed by the pit that yawned at the edges of her mind. Her new line of sight brought Ser Barristan into view. The knight of the kingsguard had moved away so as to give the royal family privacy. Elia joined him, for she had to know. The burning questions had to be satisfied.

"What-," she said. There was a brief pause as she struggled to force the words from a throat that suddenly seemed too narrow.

You are a Martell, she reminded herself furiously, unbent, unbowed, unbroken. She could not be weak. She was a Martell and she had been born to rule. Rulers did not have the luxury of falling apart during a crisis. Not when others would look to her example.

Raising her chin ever so slightly, Elia forced her words not to waver, "What did he say to you? At the end."

The knight met her gaze with his own. In his eyes, Elia saw confusion and an almost unbearable empathy.

"He told me that he could not die. Not until the dragon had three heads. Not until he had played his part in the song of ice and fire." Ser Barristan said quietly. "Simply the incomprehensible murmurings of a dying man, my princess."

Elia nodded. What could she say? Her husband's obsession with prophecy had occupied his mind until the last, but there was no use bringing it up now. Anything further that Ser Barristan may have said was lost as every eye was drawn to the king. Aerys, who had been silent beside his sobbing sister-wife up until that point in time, raised a bony finger in Royce's direction.

"Murder. Treason." he said.

Although he had not raised his voice, the words seemed to echo all the same. His wild purple eyes swept over her briefly before settling on her companion. "Selmy! I command you to arrest my son's murderer."

Barristan Selmy hesitated to move, his sense of justice at war with his sense of duty.

"Your grace, it appeared to be an accident. I doubt that—"

"You deny your duty? You question your king?" Aerys' voice took on a darker edge.

Elia looked to the Aerys' left. As had become the norm, the spider lingered at the king's side. She didn't know what to make of his expression, but she did know that the master of whispers had yet to speak up in favor of reason.

"No, your grace." Ser Barristan said at last.

His every movement spoke of regret, but he moved to do his king's bidding all the same.

Honor and duty, she thought with more than a trace of disgust, funny how they rarely seem involved in the same action of late.

"Your grace!" Yohn Royce had finally found his voice. The man, who had up until that moment been in something of a stricken haze, stumbled forward. "You cannot believe that I would ever intentionally harm Price Rhaegar."

No you would not, Elia agreed within the confines of her own mind, not when your liege lord was plotting with him. Not when Jon Arryn had likely come to the tourney for the sole purpose of hearing her husband's plan. But her good-father had never been one to consider anything but the absolute worst of possible intentions. Not since Duskendale.

"Lies!" Aerys said. His lips had twitched upwards into something halfway between a sneer and a smile. "I know you've been plotting treason. Plotting to steal my throne. But you couldn't reach me, so you took my heir instead."

"I would never plot to steal the iron throne, your grace." Royce said. But his words lacked something of his earlier conviction.

Spare me the lies of honest men, Elia silently despaired.

It was only now that Varys seemed inclined to intervene, and he did so with a whisper in his king's ear. Aerys nodded and his sudden calm was more chilling than his wild anger had been.

"A trial. Yes, Lord Royce will be delivered to King's Landing to face justice for his crimes against the crown."

Chapter Text

Rhaegar had left the capital on a fine dornish stallion. Now his bones had been laid to rest.

Since his initiation into the kingsguard, Jaime had been put in charge of guarding the young prince Viserys. In the beginning, he had resented the appointment, but he currently found that he didn't mind being a glorified babysitter overmuch. Not when it allowed him to escape the atmosphere of mourning that lingered in the queen's presence. Missing the chance to compete in the tournament hadn't ended up being such a bad thing either. Not with the outcome being what it had been.

It very well could have been me enjoying the hospitality of the Black Cells.

Aerys had initially wanted to burn his son's remains. His preoccupation with fire had demanded no less, but his wife and good-daughter had surprisingly prevailed in that particular battle of wills. Jaime didn't think Rhaegar much cared either way, but he could see the value in following the traditions of the Seven in this instance. He was not religious himself, but many of the people were, and Rhaegar had been the people's prince. And the Targaryens dearly needed all the goodwill they could muster.

Rhaegar would have made a good king, he thought pensively. A better man than his father by all accounts.

Though Rhaegar's widow was pregnant, there was no telling if the child would be a son or daughter, and the realm needed stability after the surprising tragedy. The iron throne needed an heir. In the week following the royal party's return, Varys had managed to convince the king that a show was needed to present the Targaryen succession as secure. Viserys had been named the heir apparent and any son Elia Martell may produce would now be one step further from sitting on the throne. A suitable celebration was planned to take place shortly after Lord Royce's trial.

Were Elia Martell anyone else, I would suspect a convenient accident to befall the young prince if the child does, in fact, turn out to be male.

Viserys, who had up until that point been making a valiant effort to strangle Rhaenys' cat with his embrace, chose that moment to stare at Jaime with wide and guileless eyes.

"Will you teach me to joust, Ser Jaime? They say you are very good." Viserys said.

He had released the black cat to twist his little fingers in his black tunic.

"When you are old enough, my prince." Jaime said.

"I don't want to die like Rhaegar."

So that is what prompted the question, Jaime thought.

Jaime hesitated. He was unused to offering comfort, especially to children. Cersei had made it a point to never ask for such things, and Tyrion had been ridiculed into a similar aversion by his sister and father. Slowly, he knelt before the boy and placed a hand on his shoulder. He stayed frozen in that way until the boy's sobs slowly subsided. When they had ceased altogether, Jaime rose to his feet.

"Would you like to go back to the Red Keep?"

Viserys nodded, his red rimmed eyes studying the ground beneath his feet. The two had been out in the tiltyard. The prince had been fascinated by the knights practicing before them, but thoughts of his brother had clearly driven away any interest. Viserys was not old enough to truly understand death, but that lack of understanding sometimes made the grieving all the harder. The image of blood soaked sheets and his father's pale face came to mind.

As he and the prince made their way into the keep, they were met by Ser Gerold Hightower.

"I am to take over protection of the prince, Ser Jaime. The king has requested you attend him in the throne room."

Jaime frowned.

As soon as he arrived in the throne room, however, the reason for his summons became readily apparent. Yohn Royce stood before the iron throne flanked on either side by Arthur Dayne and Barristan Selmy. Members of Aerys' court lined the sides of the room, and the queen stood in front of the throne and to the right beside Elia Martell. Both women were dressed in black and had solemn expressions.

Curiously, there seemed to be a decent sized pile of wood in the center of the room. To one side of the pile stood a man in dark robes holding a torch.

When Jaime had made his way to stand in his customary place before Aerys, the king made a sharp motion with his hand. Dayne and Selmy stepped aside, and Jaime got his first good look at Yohn Royce. What was left of him anyway. A week in the Black Cells and several more in a prison wagon had left Royce in a sorry state indeed. The once powerful man had lost enough weight that his cheekbones stood out through his skin and gave him a distinctly ghoulish look.

"You stand accused of murder and treason, Lord Royce."

Royce panned his gaze around the room, his expression becoming more and more grim as he counted not a friendly face among the onlookers.

"Where is my Lord Arryn, your grace? Where are the other men of the Vale?"

The men that had accompanied Lord Arryn to Harrenhal—and then on to King's Landing—were nowhere to be seen.

Convenient, Jaime thought to himself.

"Perhaps they decided you were not worth the effort."

Royce's jaw clenched so hard it was a wonder his teeth didn't shatter.

"I demand a trial by combat, your grace."

"Very well, Lord Royce." Aerys said.

There was a new levity underlying his words. Another motion of his hand had Dayne and Selmy dragging Royce towards the pile of wood.

"What is the meaning of this?" Royce said. His anger did not completely mask the fear in his voice.

"You are to face house Targaryen's champion, Lord Royce. It is what you wanted, after all." Aerys said.

The men of the kingsguard began tying Royce to a thick piece of wood that rose from the middle of the pile like the mast of a ship.

"And the champion of house Targaryen is fire." Aerys added. "Light the fire, Rossart."

The man in the dark robes, who Jaime now knew to be named Rossart, gently lowered the torch and held it against one of the logs until it caught. He then circled the condemned man until he was facing him nose-to-nose.

"Did you conspire with Lord Arryn to steal the iron throne? Did you plot against our king? Did you murder Prince Rhaegar to further these ambitions?"

Royce spat in the man's face. "Fuck you. And fuck the king."

Rossart smiled. Together the men and women in the throne room watched as the flames leapt from log to log until it was all burning. Until Royce's clothing had caught fire. Until his beard and hair were alight as well. Until the defiance and fury in his face had been replaced by agony. Then Rossart circled him a second time.

"Did you conspire with Lord Arryn to steal the iron throne? Did you plot against our king? Did you murder Prince Rhaegar to further these ambitions?" Rossart repeated.

"Yes! I confess!" Lord Royce said. The words were ripped ragged from his throat and ended in a tortured scream.

"Just kill me!"

There was no more thought towards anything but an escape from pain. The begging continued for several minutes and then there was merciful silence.

A man will confess to most anything to escape such hell.

Not that the king cared. When you were the one with the crown you could tell justice to fuck off all you wanted. Jaime began a careful study of his golden sword so that he no longer had to watch the flesh blister and blacken on the former lord of the Vale.

He smells like a finely roasted pig, Jaime thought as nausea threatened to overwhelm him. The fact that he kept his food from coming back up his throat was a miracle.

Is this what it means to be a member of the kingsguard?

It was almost amusing how quickly he was becoming disenchanted with the white cloak he had been so eager to wear. If Tywin had been the type for laughter, Jaime was sure he would have been sick with it. A mere handful of weeks as a member of Aerys' kingsguard and he was already wishing for home.

All I wanted was to be with Cersei, he thought with longing so fierce it threatened to overwhelm him.

He hadn't even been granted that much, in the end. Cersei was supposed to have been in court. The two were supposed to have been ducking into every dark corner of the keep just as they had once done in their childhood home. Instead, his father had abandoned his position as hand and taken his daughter with him back to Casterly Rock. Jaime had just been able to conjure alluring images of long blonde hair and burning green eyes when the doors to the throne room crashed open.

And there is our missing Lord Arryn. I'm afraid he's a bit too late.

Nevertheless, Jon Arryn cut a regal figure. One that was undeniably more regal than the king himself. Aerys' sat hunched forward on the throne—as he almost always did—in an effort to avoid cutting himself on one of the many blades and adding to the collection of scabs that crisscrossed his skin.

"What is the meaning of this? Why was I not informed that Lord Royce's trial was taking place?" Jon Arryn said.

His voice was smooth and even with an undercurrent of steel. The voice of a lord paramount. Aerys gave no reply, and the craven fools spectating in his court were silent.

"Where is Lord Royce, your grace?" Jon Arryn said, his voice even harder than before.

Aerys leaned back, slicing one thin forearm as he did so. "The traitor confessed, Lord Arryn. Lost his trial by combat. However, before he did, he told us all about why he was really at Harrenhal. About why you were really at Harrenhal." A disturbing look of pleasure flashed across the king's face as he added, "fire has a way of making honest men out of liars."

It was already far too late, but Jaime thought he saw the moment when it registered with Lord Arryn just how utterly screwed he was. Rather than cower and plead for his life, however, Jon Arryn simply straightened impossibly further.

"This was a mistake, your grace. One which you will come to regret."

The king merely laughed, and it was a sound that brought to mind things crawling about in the dark. Jaime felt himself shiver.

"It is you who will regret your treason, Lord Arryn." Aerys said before gesturing to Dayne and Barristan, "bring him here."

"Are you arresting me as well, your grace? Am I to face a farce of a trial as Lord Royce did?" Jon Arryn said. His voice never wavered, and Jaime could see the contempt in his blue eyes when the two knights of the kingsguard forced him before the throne.

"A trial?" Aerys' voice had gone soft, and the strange mirth still danced in his eyes. "You have already been found guilty." He spread one arm out in a sweeping gesture to indicate the remains of Lord Royce, "And the punishment for treason is death."

He gestured towards the robbed figure standing next to his grisly work. "Rossart, if you please."

Jaime averted his eyes as the pyromancer directed several men in the building of yet another pile of wood.

"Good-father, perhaps you should allow Lord Arryn to take the black. Show how merciful the crown can be." Elia said.

She alone had spoken up for the lord of the Vale, and that fact sent a jolt of shame through him. Aerys shot his good-daughter a dark look.

"You argue for the life of a traitor?" Aerys said.

Elia never wavered, "I seek to find opportunity to make him useful, your grace. He can spend the remainder of his life fighting wildlings."

"There is no use for traitors. Not beyond using their worthless heads to decorate my walls." Aerys said.

For a moment it looked as though she would argue her point, but the queen gripped her arm and she subsided. Jon Arryn's gaze had momentarily softened as he gazed upon the Dornish woman, and Jaime could see the admiration there. And the regret.

He is imagining Elia and Rhaegar on the throne.

In fact, Arryn didn't look away from the princess until the order had been given to tie him to his pyre. The look he gave the king when they did was filled with a surprising amount of pity.

"I can only hope the realm survives the consequences of your actions, your grace." Arryn said.

"Light the fire, Rossart." Aerys said.

Then there was only screaming and the smell of cooking meat. This time, however, Jaime was unable to withstand the nausea and his last meal decorated the stone in front of him. It was with a distant sort of understanding that he noted that vomit also spattered his boots.

At least Arryn's last words had been spent well, Jaime could give him that much. There was no one in attendance who did not feel the dark truth of them. That the king had done something that he could not come back from.

These men were not a couple of peasants that no one would mourn the loss of. One was a lord of the Vale and the other was a lord paramount.

Even the spider looked worried, as much as the fat bastard ever looked worried about anything. He hid his unease well though. Well enough that Jaime doubted the king had even noticed. The eunuch softly cleared his throat and stepped forward, attempting to draw the king's attention away from the flames.

"Now that your throne is once again secure, your grace, there is another matter that has need of your attention. You are in need of a new Hand. Tywin Lannister's departure has left a rather glaring hole in the small council."

"Yes," Aerys said.

The king ran bony fingers topped with long and jagged nails over his right knee in thought. Then he seemingly came to a decision, for his fingers stilled.

"Not another scheming lord trying to take what isn't his. Only someone with the dragon blood will do. Family is all that can be trusted." He smiled, and for a moment Jaime thought he saw remnants of the man his father had once called friend, "Cousin Steffon was a loyal man. Died for me. If I remember correctly, he had sons."

Varys nodded. "Steffon produced two sons that are now past the age of majority, your grace. Though perhaps it would be wiser to offer the position to Lord Stannis. Second sons are often eager to take a position of power when offered."

"It is settled then." Aerys said dismissively before turning to leer at the queen. All traces of the man he once was disappeared to be replaced by the one he was now. "Come, wife." Almost as an afterthought, he made a gesture to follow and added, "You as well, Lannister, Darry."

Jaime had heard the stories of what the king did to his queen after a burning, but he dearly hoped they were exaggerations as he followed the royals to the king's bedchamber. The queen was silent and blank of face, her expression absent. Not that Jaime had ever seen much of one on her face any other time.

Mother used to tell me the queen was a woman of joy.

The capital had always had a way of killing happiness.

They hadn't been standing outside the chamber long when the screams started. Rhaella Targaryen sounded terrified and was obviously in pain. Before he quite knew what he was doing, Jaime was reaching for the door.

"What do you think you are doing, Lannister?"

Jaime's fingers fell back to his side.

"Surely we must aid the queen." He said quietly.

Darry pierced him through with a look. It was one that Jaime had seen before, and it was one that he knew he would grow to despise in short order. It spoke of a moral superiority so severe it was a wonder his fellow knight of the kingsguard didn't drown in it.

"It is your duty to serve the king. You must keep his secrets and obey his command. So you will guard his door and refrain from judgement. Don't tell me you have forgotten your vows already." Darry said.

Cunt, Jaime thought savagely.

Fuck any vows they had made as knights. Protecting the innocent didn't matter if it was the king who was harming them. Just as it didn't seem to matter that they were also sworn to the queen.

I never should have gone to Harrenhal.

Chapter Text

Lysa sat across from her father with her heart in her throat. She had been putting off this conversation and had been acting rather cowardly. Petyr had told her that the sooner she confessed to her condition the better the chance that things would work out her favor. Their favor. It was why she had worn her best dress today. The dress was a rich, Tully blue with red stitching and her father had complimented it. He had said that she looked every inch her mother's daughter, and Lysa had cherished the words because it had always been Catelyn that was compared to their lady mother. Never Lysa. But Lysa was now hoping that the dress did its job in bringing her mother to the forefront of her father's mind.

"What is it that you wanted to tell me, Lysa?" Hoster said. His eyes were staring intently into hers.

She had always liked her father's eyes. They were lighter than any of his children's, and they were surrounded by laugh lines.

Kind eyes, she thought. Everyone said so.

He had been happier since the date had been announced for Catelyn and Brandon Stark's wedding. The past couple of months had almost been like a return of the man he had been before her mother's death. The one who had laughed freely and danced with his daughters whenever the mood struck him. It was what had given her the courage to come to him today.

It will be as Petyr said. He will be happy at the news.

It seemed as though luck was not on her side, however, for a knock on the door prevented her from giving voice to anything she wanted to say. Hoster called for whoever was on the other side of the door to enter, and she watched as the door swung inward to reveal a boy around her own age.

She couldn't remember his name, but his face looked vaguely familiar. The activities of the servants had never much interested her, but he had the look of the riverlands about him. Fair and redhaired. He was also unquestionably nervous and clutched a letter in one hand.

"A raven came with a message for you, milord. From the capital." The boy finally said.

Hoster took the letter and dismissed the boy. Lysa watched as he broke the seal, and she noticed with interest that it bore the mark of House Targaryen. She could still remember her sister's hushed words the night the Tullys had returned to Riverrun.

The crown prince is dead. Died at the end of Lord Royce's lance at Harrenhal.

Lysa had mourned his death in the abstract way a lady was meant to mourn for her prince. She had never met Rhaegar, but her father had praised him. So had her uncle.

A deft hand with a blade and a mind towards ruling with an even hand, they had both said at one point or other.

And now he was dead. According to Catelyn, Lord Royce had been taken back to King's Landing to face a trial for his part in that death. Both Tully girls had agreed that having a trial was pointless. Tragedies were known to have happened at tourneys in the past, and Catelyn had been steadfast in her certainty that nothing much would come out of it besides embarrassment on the king's part.

It was obvious to anyone there that Lord Royce was horrified by Rhaegar's fate, and Jon Arryn will make sure that justice prevails. It is the whole reason he rode out with the royal party. Catelyn had told her so.

A realization came to her then.

Perhaps the letter is discussing Lord Royce and the trial.

She wasn't entirely sure why a member of the royal family would have been writing to tell her father of such news, but it seemed likely to be some sort of apology for the spectacle. It was said that the queen was a woman of courtesy. Elia Martell too, despite her Dornish upbringing.

But, then, why was her lord father suddenly gripping the parchment so tightly? Why had his face suddenly drained of color?

Lysa had never quite seen such a mixture of emotion on her father's face before.

"I must attend to something, Lysa. We will talk later." Hoster said.

Lysa opened her mouth to object—her news was important and of a time-sensitive nature after all—but decided against it at the last moment. The anger and grief in her father's eyes had left the words withering on her tongue. Instead, she watched as her father sent men to fetch Lords Stark and Baratheon. She silently rose from her seat as he paced back and forth without another word in her direction.

Just what could that letter have said?

It didn't much matter either way, she reasoned as she exited his solar. She wasn't going to get to tell her father her joyous news after all.

But perhaps I can tell someone else, she thought as she caught sight of her sister's dark red hair.

"Cat!" Lysa said.

Catelyn paused at the call, and Lysa quickly joined her.

"I must speak with you at once," Lysa said. She looked around for a moment and lowered her voice, "Preferably somewhere private. The spot?"

Brandon and Catelyn had been practically inseparable since their return from Harrenhal. And where one Stark went, the others inevitably followed. And where Eddard Stark and Lyanna Stark happened to be, Robert Baratheon wasn't far behind. Lysa would prefer they not have an audience for the discussion about to take place.

Catelyn hesitated for a briefest of moments before nodding. Although Lysa had not been previously opposed to Brandon Stark, she found herself annoyed with him over her sister's hesitation. Before Brandon, Lysa had been Catelyn's first priority, and Lysa didn't much like this gradual shifting of her sister's affections.

He should have gone back to his frozen wasteland. He's stealing my sister away from me forever in a year's time. Why should he seek to steal what little time I have left with her?

Lysa's irritation dimmed the farther they strayed from Riverrun, however. The familiar path through the trees brought back all sorts of memories of their shared childhood. The spot Catelyn, Lysa, and Petyr had chosen as theirs was a small clearing bordered on one side by trees and the other by the Trident. A majestic tree full of long, sweeping branches stood in the exact center, and Catelyn and Lysa went to stand beside the trunk.

It was here that she and Catelyn had practiced kissing with Petyr in the long warm days of summer. It was here that she and Petyr had made love for the third time, though she privately thought of it as the first time. She didn't like to remember how clumsily drunk he'd been the second time or how inexperienced they'd both been the first. Or how it had been her sister's name on his tongue.

That night by the river, though, it had been her name that he cried.

"What did you want to tell me, Lysa?" Catelyn said.

Lysa hesitated, suddenly shy and uncertain.

"I think I'm going to have a baby." Lysa said. Her voice, when it finally emerged, was equal parts frightened and exultant.

The idea of motherhood was still new, and she vividly remembered her own mother's death in the childbed. Nevertheless, she also felt a stirring of excitement.

Catelyn's brow furrowed in confusion. Her blue eyes, eyes that had always been just a touch darker than Lysa's own, reflected disbelief.

"How can you be sure, Lysa?" Catelyn said.

Laughter bubbled to Lysa's lips, inappropriate and unwanted judging by the frown forming on her sister's face.

"I've not bled, Cat. Not for over a moon." Lysa said.

"What were you thinking, Lysa? How could you be so foolish as you allow someone to ruin you? How could you forget your duty as a daughter of Lord Tully?"

Catelyn looked positively horrified, and Lysa felt herself flinch back.

Why isn't she happy for me?

"It wasn't—it isn't like that." She finally said.

"What is it like, then? How can you possibly see anything other than ruination in your future once news of your condition spreads?" Catelyn said.

Petyr loves me, she thought with certainty. He had promised that much as they lay beneath the stars and talked about their future. We will raise our child together as man and wife.

She said as much to her sister, and Catelyn's expression finally changed.

"Petyr? Petyr Baelish? He's the father?" Catelyn said.

Lysa used to love to watch her sister's eyes darken with that familiar fury. It had always meant the end of any mocking laughter or cruel jests the other noble girls assaulted her with. Timid, weak, mewling, empty-headed Lysa became Catelyn's sister Lysa. And Lysa would watch her tormentors wilt before her sister and feel a petty sort of satisfaction. Now that Catelyn's fury was directed towards the man she loved, however, Lysa wanted nothing more than for the look to vanish.

"He will be a great knight one day, and the king will surely give him a handsome reward. My Petyr is destined for greater things than being the lord of the Fingers." Lysa said.

Lysa was sure that, if she explained the situation well enough, that Catelyn would come to understand. Her sister had always supported her in all things, so why should this be any different?

"Petyr will never be a great knight." Catelyn said.

Her voice was hard and her eyes still blazed. Lysa faltered.

"Just because he lost to Brandon doesn't mean—" Lysa said.

Her defense fell flat as Catelyn ruthlessly cut her off.

"Even Edmure gets the best of him on occasion. A boy of nine."

There was silence between the two sisters as the words hung on the air. Petyr had never been one for a blade, even Lysa could admit that much. His mind was his sharpest weapon, and Lysa had fallen in love with him partially for the quick wit he employed with such ease.

"Father will still be forced to let us marry once I tell him." Lysa said at last.

"Family, duty, honor," Catelyn said quietly, "family first". She seemed to sag for a moment as though, throughout the course of their conversation, she had aged years in the span of minutes.

"Whether or not you believe me, Lysa, Petyr has ruined you. Your child would be a bastard and no man would want to marry a woman who has proven to be…used."

Lysa's eyebrows drew together in frustrated anger. Why didn't Catelyn see? The child would force her father to agree. Surely it was better to have a daughter married to a lessor lord than one who was unmarried with a bastard. Petyr had promised.

"Don't you see? That is why I must tell father now, before the pregnancy becomes obvious. If Petyr and I are married soon, it would seem that I got with child on our wedding night."

Now all that Lysa could see in her sister's eyes was pity.

"There are ways of hiding that the child ever existed at all," Catelyn said.

She means moon tea.

Lysa recoiled at the thought, her back hitting the trunk of the tree behind her with an audible thud.

"Father would never—" Lysa said. Her horror and disbelief were such that she could not force the rest past her lips.

Father would never force me to murder my child.

"Father has been actively seeking a husband for you. One that will provide House Tully with a valuable alliance. A marriage to Petyr would not provide such an alliance."

Her husband was to have been Jaime Lannister before Harrenhal, she knew that much. But she had seen Jaime Lannister's induction into the kingsguard as a sign from the gods. That they favored her relationship with Petyr. The cold realization that the Lannister heir had been merely one of a parade of possible matches hadn't sunk in until that moment. Not truly.

"It will be obvious that I am not a maiden," Lysa said. Her voice sounded weak even to her own ears.

"There are other ways to lose your maidenhead. If there is no child, there would be no proof of anything. Father will expect you to do your duty to our house."

She thinks father would expect me to go along with the lie.

She shook her head violently, trying to dispel her growing doubts. Catelyn couldn't be right. Not when it meant the destruction of the beautiful world she had been building for weeks. Filled with a swirling mixture of anger and mounting despair, she lashed out at the only person available to her.

"Perhaps you are jealous," Lysa said. Her eyes narrowed at Catelyn's non-reaction to her accusation and she added, "Petyr has turned his affections from you and now you are missing them. You are angry that he now prefers—"

Inexplicably, the words caught in her throat and trailed into a sob. Tears blinded her as her sister's words rang clear in her mind.

There are ways of hiding that the child ever existed at all.

Just as her legs felt as though they would give beneath her, she felt Catelyn arms wrap around her shoulders. Lysa clung to her as she had once clung to their mother, desperate for comfort. She was ruining the beautifully crafted dress Catelyn was wearing, but her sister didn't seem to care. She only held on tighter.

"I won't let them kill my child, Cat. I won't." Lysa said when she felt like she could finally breathe again.

Catelyn did not say the words Lysa so desperately wanted to hear. She didn't say that everything would be fine and that Lysa had no cause to worry. But she also didn't tell Lysa that she was going to take the knowledge to their father, so a fragile hope began to blossom in her chest.

"Tell me that you will help me. Tell me that you will help me save her." Lysa pressed.

She had already decided that the child was to be a girl. A beautiful girl with Tully hair and Petyr's delightful eyes.

"Family comes first," Catelyn repeated. Her voice sounded as tired and worn as she had begun to look, "I will try, Lysa. I promise nothing. But if this is truly what you want, if you are content with what your life will become after you bring Petyr's bastard into this world, I will try."

Lysa could feel herself slowly relaxing. Catelyn had always been her best friend, her savior, and her protector all at once. Catelyn would never let anything terrible happen to her.

Chapter Text

Elia tried to give her good-mother an encouraging smile, but the queen's face was blank and her eyes were starring straight ahead at nothing as she followed the king from the room. The sight never failed to make Elia long to come to her aid, and she could feel her arm aching to reach out.

Rhaella will always be one of the strongest women I will ever know, she thought.

Not many women would have been able to endure what Aerys put her through and remained as sane as Rhaella had. Most would have flung themselves from the nearest tower.

Without the king and queen present, it fell to Elia to see to the remains of Lords Arryn and Royce. They were little more than charred masses of flesh and bone at this point, too ruined for any features to be distinguishable. The smoke that still wafted from the wood added to the smell of cooked meat and left her feeling rather light headed. But the horror that had once accompanied the grisly sight was distant, muffled somehow. When had she become numb to the aftermath of a burning? The first time she had seen a man set alight she had cried. She had later begged Rhaegar to never let such a thing happen ever again.

She dismissed the observers with an icy calm. Elia had never much cared for the majority of Aerys' sycophants, but she particularly despised them in that moment. What right did they have to look so sorry for themselves? Not one of them had spoken up. In fact, several of them had been calling for this very outcome.

Soon, the only occupants left in the room were herself, Varys, and the remaining kingsguard. There had been nothing she had been able to do for either doomed man while they had been living. And now they were beyond caring about the world of men altogether. However, she knew what Aerys intended for the remains they left behind, and that she could do something about.

Her gaze found Varys and she studied the eunuch in contemplative silence.

"Lord Arryn's bones will need to be prepared for their journey back to the Vale. Lord Royce's too." Elia said.

"The king will not be pleased." Varys said.

"I do not imagine that he will be, no. However, it is something that must be done." Elia said.

She didn't want to imagine the consequences if they denied the proper burial two men of their stations deserved. The damage that had already been wrought by her good-father's actions was enough.

There will be a reckoning for this, she thought grimly.

Jon Arryn's final words echoed through her mind as if he were still standing before her.

I can only hope the realm survives the consequences of your actions, your grace.

Varys bowed his head slightly in acquiescence. It seemed that, in this one thing, they were united.

"I shall see it done."

He sees the knife's edge we are walking, she thought, and he most likely does not want a war.

Elia had her own plans to that end, though she did not have much faith in their success. As she made ready to leave the room, she beckoned to her uncle to follow. Lewyn Martell had been a beloved figure all her life and was her preferred guard; he was the only one she trusted to be by her side today. He walked beside her as they made their way to her rooms, and she noted absently that the end of his fine white cloak was caked in mud.

Her rooms were comforting; they had been done up in familiar Targaryen red and Martell orange after her marriage. Our colors look like sunset, she had teased Rhaegar once. He'd had them decorated for her to mimic the ones they shared in Dragonstone.

One side of the room was dominated by a large oaken desk, and she trailed her fingers along one wall as she crossed to stand before it.

We conceived Rhaenys in these rooms.

Grief still hit her when she least expected it. Momentarily overcome, she closed her eyes and sank into the seat before the desk. The desk had been Rhaegar's not so long ago. Now it was hers. Letting out a low sigh, Elia gathered several pieces of parchment and a well of ink. The first letter was one addressed to Elbert Arryn detailing the return of the bones of his uncle and bannerman. Though her letter also expressed her personal regrets over Jon Arryn's fate, she knew that such condolences would likely not mean much to the man. She was a member of the royal family and had the last name of Targaryen after all. Still, courtesy demanded nothing less. And she had greatly admired Lord Arryn.

The next letters were for her dead husband's conspirators. Lords Stark, Tully, and Baratheon would not be satisfied until justice was dealt to King Aerys, but perhaps she could steer the delivery of that justice towards an avenue that would not harm the other members of House Targaryen. An avenue that would not harm her children.

Elia pressed the seal of House Targaryen into the hot wax on each letter and ran a finger over one of the three headed-dragons left behind. When she looked up, she could see that her uncle wanted to ask her about her earlier lapse in composure. That he wished to offer her words of comfort. She appreciated that he didn't. That he saw her as the princess she was now and not as the little girl who used to ride on his shoulders because she tired so easily.

"Come, uncle. I have need of ravens."

They journeyed to the tower that housed the ravens in silence, neither commenting on the white knuckled grip she had on her letters.

Eventually, Grand Maester Pycelle helped her to choose the ravens that would take her missives to their intended recipients with a solemn dutifulness.

He knows what is likely on the horizon.

She watched as the ravens disappeared one-by-one and slowly relaxed. She had done all that she could do to mitigate the damage Aerys had wrought. Now all that was left was to wait and see if her efforts bore fruit.

"Terrible business." Pycelle said as soon as the last raven had been given its burden.

"Yes," Elia said faintly.

"The king has always been…willful. I wonder how many more ravens will be sent now that Lord Tywin is no longer a mediating influence. For I doubt that Steffon's boy will be as successful as his predecessor." Pycelle said.

So a raven has already been sent to Storm's End.

The way he was looking at her conveyed more than his words and gave them an underlying meaning. She took that underlying meaning as a warning. No doubt in reference to her words earlier that day. The fact that she had stood against the king in Lord Arryn's favor. From the way that her uncle stiffened at her side, she assumed he did as well.

"Lord Stannis may surprise us all. Good evening, Grand Maester." Elia said.

The weight of the day's events had returned firmly to her shoulders, and she could feel the exhaustion building. While she wanted nothing more than to crawl into her bed and sleep for an age, Elia instead made her way towards the nursery.

"Mama!" Rhaenys said as soon as Elia walked through the doorway.

Elia wasted no time in scooping her daughter into her arms and holding her close, taking comfort in the smell of her dark hair. The next few hours were spent swapping stories of Oberyn's adventures with Lewyn as Rhaenys played at her feet. It was a pleasant distraction and one that lightened her heart and helped to put her mind at ease.

Days later, Elia found herself in the company of her young good-brother Viserys and her friend Ashara. The three of them were seated on the grass of one of the Red Keep's small courtyards as Viserys chattered.

It is good to see him returning to himself, she thought.

Children were resilient in that way. His topics of conversation ranged from the cat that Rhaenys had been gifted on her nameday to the feats of the knights he watched practice.

On this particular outing, they had been accompanied by two members of the kingsguard—Jaime Lannister and her uncle Lewyn. The knights stood a small distance away—far enough to give the illusion of privacy but close enough to interfere should anyone try to harm the members of the royal family.

"Ser Jaime was amazing," Viserys said. His purple eyes were shining with clear admiration. "He defeated Ser Jonothor and Ser Arthur today."

She twisted ever so slightly so that she could see Jaime Lannister's face and was amused to find traces of discomfort there. Evidently, he was still getting used to his young charge.

He is still quite young himself, despite his knighthood.

At nine years his senior, it was strange to think that she was to have been his wife.

"I am sure that Ser Jaime is an accomplished swordsman." Elia said.

He would have had to be to be knighted at fifteen.

"He is," Viserys said before adding, "Even Ser Barristan says so."

"Well then," Ashara said from Viserys' other side, "it must be so if even the great Ser Barristan agrees."

Ashara smirked in Jaime's direction, and Elia saw him give a cocky grin in response.

He doesn't stay embarrassed long, she noted with amusement. He'd been the same as a child. Arrogant to a fault.

Discussion then moved to a blow-by-blow account of the Lannister knight's practice courtesy of Viserys. Once the story was concluded, however, she could see the young prince growing restless. Five year olds never seemed able to be still, and Viserys was no exception.

Sure enough, it wasn't long before he had gotten to his feat and declared his intention to visit the royal stables.

I should introduce him to Oberyn.

No doubt her brother would be able to entertain the prince for hours with talk of horses.

"Princess. My lady." Jaime Lannister said as he excused himself to follow the prince.

"It seems as though Ser Jaime has usurped my brother in the prince's affections." Ashara said as soon as the pair was out of earshot. A smile curled the edges of her mouth and her purple eyes danced with mirth.

"Out of the members of the kingsguard, he is the closest in age with Viserys and the one that spends the most time with him." Elia said with a shrug.

A smile then formed on her own face, sly and teasing.

"And he does love to show off in the training yard. The maidens of the court all agree that his demonstrations can be rather effective." Elia said.

Ashara threw back her head and laughed. Her laughter was a wild, joyous, and unrestrained thing.

"Ah, yes, the discerning tastes of the finest bootlickers ever to grace the Red Keep. High praise indeed."

Ashara's laughter, as it always did, proved to be infectious, and Elia couldn't help but join her. For a few long, glorious moments, Elia was again the young woman who played with Ashara in the Water Gardens. Before she had been betrothed to Rhaegar. Before she had come north. Even when the laughter had faded into companionable silence, she watched Ashara weave blades of grass together with a faint smile.

"I was never able to ask if your efforts at Harrenhal were successful." Elia said.

"I danced with many fine men, as you well know. Unfortunately, my father would not find any of them suitable for marriage." Ashara said.

The blades of grass fell from her fingers as she laced them behind her head and stared up at the scattered clouds above them. Elia hummed in sympathy. She had heard rumors of Ashara's dance with Rickard Stark's second son and the long conversation that had followed, but the Lord of Starfall would never allow his daughter so far from home. And never for a second son who would inherit nothing.

"I am sorry, Ashara." Elia said softly.

"Sorry? For what?" Ashara's voice held genuine confusion.

"Your wolf boy." Elia said.

Ashara laughed again, but this time it was tinged with a wistful sadness instead of joy.

"I accepted my fate as a lord's daughter long ago, Elia. I was never going to marry for love."

"Was it love?" Elia said.

"No," Ashara admitted with a distant gaze, "but it could have been. Given time."

Her purple eyes slid shut as she reminisced. "He was very sweet. He told me to call him Ned."

"Did he?" Elia said.

"Oh yes. Though I think he was contemplating fratricide when his brother introduced us. I've never seen a man die of embarrassment, but I do think he came close."

At seventeen, Ashara Dayne was already considered one of the most beautiful women in the seven kingdoms. Elia could very well imagine the Stark boy's mortification.

"You always did say you would kill at least one man before you died." Elia said.

She smiled as she remembered a ten-year-old Ashara chasing Oberyn around the Water Gardens demanding that he teach her to wield a spear. Her then sixteen-year-old brother had eventually been convinced to give in.

As if anyone is capable of denying Ashara anything.

What would this Ned Stark think if he knew that the object of his fascination was as Dornish as they came? Although, if Elia believed the rumors, the Stark maiden was similar.

Perhaps he would have been used to it.

"I still stand by my words," Ashara said. She propped herself up on one elbow and met Elia's gaze as she added, "might be forced to become a kingslayer when all is said and done."

Elia immediately scanned the area around them and lowered her voice to a hiss.

"You mustn't let anyone hear you speak such things, Ashara. Lewyn may be our guard, but Varys has little birds in every nook and cranny of King's Landing."

Ashara shrugged, her face set and resolute. "Everyone knows the king is as mad as they come. And you aren't exactly in his favor, especially after your display with Arryn. I'm not going to stand by let him burn my best friend is all."

Elia's expression softened. In this place of treachery and cowardice, it was nice to have at least one loyal friend.

"I had hoped to excuse myself and Rhaenys to Dragonstone," Elia said.

Ashara picked up her train of thought. "But you can't. Not now. Not after what has happened. You want to be in the capital as the sole voice of reason."

"Want has nothing to do with it." Elia said.

I must make sure that my children's futures are secured.

"For all Aerys' faults, he did make the right choice when he married you to his son. You would have made a fantastic queen, Elia." Ashara said.

For a moment Elia let herself imagine it, let herself imagine herself as Rhaegar's queen with their three children playing at their feet. But it wasn't long before the image shattered like so much broken glass.

Rhaegar will never be king and I will never be his queen. We will never have the three children we longed for.

"It is useless to think of what-ifs. There is only the now and what we plan to do about it." Elia said as she shook off the last of the fantasy.

"I take it you have something in mind?" Ashara said.

Elia nodded and gracefully rose to her feet. "I do. But we mustn't discuss it here."

Ashara spent a moment more on her side in the grass before she, too, rose to her feet. Her rise was fluid and leonine, the movement of one who spent hours diligently training each and every muscle.

Ashara is the warrior my childhood frailty never allowed me to be, Elia thought.

Elia had been forced to learn other ways of fighting. She'd learned to sharpen her mind into a keen blade under the guidance of her older brother Doran, and she had come to appreciate that tutelage more and more as she began to navigate the circles of life at court.

But it would still be nice to know that I could fight with steel as well as with words.

The two women linked arms, and Elia steered them in the direction of the Godswood. When Ashara realized their ultimate destination, she let out a snort. Elia couldn't deny a strange sense of safety as the pair passed beneath the first trees. The feeling only increased the closer they ventured towards the center of the place.

"I think your northman would appreciate our location. It is rare that spies venture into these trees." Elia said with a smile.

"He isn't my northman, but I suppose you would be right. What better place to plot treason than under the watch of gods the Targaryens never followed?"

It was before the heart tree that she told Ashara of the letters she had written. Where she told Ashara of her plans if the best should happen and the contingencies that she had begun to develop if the worst should happen instead. Ashara listened to it all with a slight tilt of her head and a look of upmost concentration on her face.

Perhaps I do not need to be alone in this after all.

Four days after their talk in the Godswood, Elia was once again in Ashara's company. This time, however, they stood side by side in the throne room to receive their guest. Ashara had previously expressed her doubts as to whether Stannis would arrive in court at all, but Elia had disagreed. You did not ignore the requests of a king such as Aerys for they were not requests at all. Only a fool would have done so.

And I have never heard Stannis Baratheon labeled a fool.

It did not take long before the herald was announcing the new Hand's entrance. A look to her good-father showed him to be in relatively good spirits. There was even a smile on his prematurely aged face that she hadn't seen in a very long time.

As Stannis Baratheon approached the king, Elia took a moment to study him. At eighteen, he already stood taller than most of the men she had seen. In fact, the only man she seen that was his match was the Lord of Storm's End himself. But while Stannis may have near matched Robert in height, she didn't find him to be half as handsome. Elia had seen Robert Baratheon at Harrenhal and she and Ashara had spent part of an evening sipping wine and commenting on what a fine figure he cut. Her eyes continued to follow him as he reached Aerys' throne, and she came to the conclusion that his expression was partially at fault for his relative plainness. Stannis Baratheon looked as if he were carved from stone.

Aerys rose to his feet as Stannis came to stand before the dais.

"So, cousin, do I have a new Hand?" Aerys said.

"You do, your grace." Stannis said.

As soon as Stannis Baratheon formally accepted the position, Elia found herself turning away. The amount of pity welling in her breast was surprising.

Stannis Baratheon, you are now as trapped in your duty as the rest of us.

Chapter Text

Brandon pulled up on his horse’s reigns as he came alongside his sister, following her gaze to where she was silently observing the river below them. They hadn’t spoken much since arriving at the hill they now stood upon, and Brandon was curious as to the reasoning behind her sudden silence.

As he looked at her, Brandon had to admit that his sister looked more like herself than she had in weeks. Her long dark hair lay tangled and wild down her back, and she wore a tunic likely stolen from their little brother Benjen. But it was the way she rode her horse that was most familiar. She rode as a man rode, horse between her legs and devoid of restraining skirts. Lyanna had always been most at home in the saddle and was well known to be the best rider out of the four of them.

The horse that she rode—named Joramun in jest by an eleven-year-old Lyanna—was one that was often mistaken for Benjen’s because of his finery. He had, in fact, originally been intended for their little brother. But Joramun had been a temperamental and hotblooded beast that had thrown Benjen from his back during his first ride. After that, Benjen had refused to go near the horse, and so Lyanna had stubbornly insisted on taking him out instead. Months of being thrown to the ground—and a single case of a bruise covering half her rib-cage—later Lyanna had become the proud owner of a grey destrier.

He didn’t doubt that she took pleasure in being the only rider Joramun would tolerate. Brandon knew that she chaffed under the constraints put upon her by her gender. She’d been raised with brothers under the guidance of a single father, and he wondered if that was what made her so much more aware of it than other women seemed to be. He’d heard her complaints often enough when he happened upon her crossing wooden swords in the godswood with Benjen.

“This was the first time I’ve felt as though I could breathe in ages, Bran. Ned’s been glued to Robert Baratheon’s hip, and I haven’t been able to escape my betrothed for more than a few moments at a time. It’s positively suffocating.” Lyanna said at last.

Lyanna made a face as she said betrothed, her lips turning down at the corners and her nose wrinkling as if she smelled something unpleasant. She had made no secret of her displeasure at his company, but Robert Baratheon never seemed the slightest bit deterred. If anything, the more Lyanna bared her fangs, the more enamored he became.

Her eyes narrowed as she twisted in her saddle to shoot Brandon an accusing look.

“And you’re always with her. Have been since we arrived at Harrenhal.” Lyanna said.

“Her? You mean Cat?” Brandon said.

“So it’s Cat now? When did the two of you get so close? You were calling her Tully not too long ago.” Lyanna said.

“Am I not meant to get to know my betrothed?” Brandon said.

“I thought you said that you didn’t care to get to know her.” Lyanna said.

“She isn’t as bad as I thought. Certainly wittier than the other southron ladies I’ve met.” Brandon said.

“You mean she’s prettier than you remembered and now you can’t wait to get her into your bed.” Lyanna said.

“Now that’s not a very ladylike thing to say, sister dear.” Brandon said.

His lips curled into a smirk as he leaned sideways to pluck a small branch from her hair. She’d likely gotten it in her wild ride through the godswood as they made their escape from Riverrun. Lyanna never did seem to mind when she caused herself to look a mess, so the notion itself wasn’t all that surprising. There were several more twigs still caught in her hair, but she had ducked back out of reach before he could remove them. Eyes flashing in annoyance, Lyanna scowled at him and raised her chin haughtily.

“That wasn’t a denial.” Lyanna said.

Brandon laughed, tossing the branch off to his left in an unconcerned manner. She wasn’t completely wrong in her assessment. Catelyn had only gotten more and more beautiful as she grew into womanhood, and he was certainly looking forward to seeing her in his bed.

“Why all the hostility towards my future lady wife? Did you and Cat have some sort of disagreement?” He said.

“I think your future lady wife finds all of me to be disagreeable. You should have seen the look on her face when she spied me heading out in breeches instead of a dress.” Lyanna said.

Catelyn was every bit the fine lady she had been raised to be. No doubt she had never come across a girl as wild as his sister.

“Just give her a chance, Lya. I’m sure you will grow to like her.” Brandon said.

He could clearly remember Catelyn telling him that she wished to get to know his family as they danced in Harrenhal. She had made overtures to all his siblings since then, and Lyanna had been the only one to avoid spending time with his betrothed.

“Maybe.” Lyanna said at last, her tone doubtful.

Deciding to push his luck, Brandon added, “And what about your own betrothed? Perhaps you should give Baratheon a chance as well. You didn’t always loath the sight of him.”

There was a time when Lyanna had been delighted by Robert’s presence. The one time the Stark siblings had been to the Vale to visit Eddard—approaching five years ago now—Lyanna had declared that he was her best friend instead of their brother’s. His antics had made her laugh, and she delighted in having someone to side with against her brothers. She’d even offered to trade Eddard for him, as he recalled.

Brandon had ended up spending a great deal of that time with Elbert Arryn. He’d been keenly interested in hawking at the time, and Elbert had been something of a natural genius with falcons. Brandon, as it turned out, hadn’t been nearly as talented. In fact, he could still remember his siblings’ laughter at how much of a failure he’d been with the birds.
Lyanna rolled her eyes and leaned forward to stroke her stallion’s neck.

“That was before I knew I was going to have to marry him.”

Warming up to the subject—as Lyanna always did when the two of them were on this subject—she added, “I still don’t know why father couldn’t have made matches for us in the North. You could have married Barbrey like you always wanted, and I could have married—”

His sister searched for a moment, clearly at a loss, before giving up. “—some northern lordling. It would have made his bannermen happy.” Lyanna said.

Her face had adopted the look he had come to know well over the course of their shared childhood. It was one that said he would be better off arguing with the stone statues in Winterfell’s crypt.

Brandon shifted in his saddle as he tried anyway, “You know I’m as unhappy about the whole thing as you are, but father wanted alliances in the south. He thinks we’ve been isolationist for too long.”

He could no longer protest that his father was wrong in that regard. The betrothals had already benefitted the North in noticeable ways. The increase in trade between the North, the Riverlands, and the Stormlands had allowed for a much more manageable winter than the ones that had come before.

“Then he can marry Benjen and Ned off for the sake of his alliances. After all that time fostering in the Vale, Ned’s practically a southron lord himself by now.” Lyanna said.

Brandon snorted, thinking of his brother’s red face as he danced with Ashara Dayne at Harrenhal.

Somehow, I doubt Ned would object to that.

Nevertheless, Lyanna was as stuck in her future marriage to Robert as he was to Catelyn.

“What’s done is done and father can’t break his word to Hoster Tully and Robert Baratheon. It would be dishonorable. So why don’t you try to make the most of it? I don’t fancy being miserable for the rest of my life, do you?” Brandon said.

Lyanna looked pensive for a moment before a wide grin stretched across her face.

“Enough talk of marriage. Why don’t we see who is the superior horsewoman?”

She wheeled her horse around—Joramun responding to her instructions as quickly as always—and headed back in the direction of Riverrun at gallop.

Brandon cursed and dug his heels into the sides of his own horse. The creature beneath him—a brown and shaggy thing nowhere near as fine a piece of horseflesh as his sister’s—protested the swift change in direction with a tossed head and a snort. It took another try—and a mixture of colorful northern and southern curses—for the beast to leap into its own gallop towards the castle in the distance.

Therefore, by the time he was racing after Lyanna, the race had been all but assured in her favor. The initial distance between them never shorted, but Brandon took some measure of satisfaction that it never noticeably lengthened either. When he finally made it to the lowered drawbridge that would allow them passage into the castle, his horse was heaving and sweat-lathered. Brandon was sure that he himself didn’t look much better—he could feel how wild his hair had become and was sure the brisk spring wind had left his cheeks and nose quite red above his beard.

“I win. You owe me another lesson.” Lyanna said when he got within earshot.

“A win through use of trickery. And you expect me to reward you?” Brandon said with more than a trace of amusement.

“You’re just sore because you were too slow to catch me. As always.” Lyanna said. Her eyes were dancing with a combination of gleeful arrogance and genuine amusement.

“Perhaps Ben will show you something,” Brandon said.

At his continued rejection, Lyanna took a brief sulk, her arms crossed over her skinny chest. Newly fifteen, Lyanna was more woman than girl, but he could still see traces of the child she had so recently been. He couldn’t quite help himself and reached out to pat the top of her head. Lyanna scowled, reaching up and jerking on his beard in retaliation. Her pouting held up for another few moments, and then her impatience inevitably won out.

“Ben isn’t as good. You’re the best swordsman of the family.” Lyanna said, as she had decided sullen silence wasn’t going to get her the results she wanted.

“We haven’t seen a demonstration of Ned’s skill in years. He may have me beat after all that time training with the fancy knights of the Vale.” Brandon pointed out fairly.

“Ned has always fought well, but he doesn’t have the passion that you do.” Lyanna said.

Brandon couldn’t help but smile at that and nudged her shoulder with his. It was an act of comradery he would have shared easily with either Benjen or Eddard, and it was one that he often extended to his sister as well.

“Sweet words, sister, but I’m still not giving you what you want.” He said.

“We’ll see.” Lyanna said as she flashed him a familiar wolfish grin.

Without further comment, she gathered her horse’s reigns into one hand and began leading him in the direction of the stables. Brandon followed her. As they neared the stalls Lord Tully had given to them to use, he was surprised to see an out-of-breath Benjen hurrying to catch up to them out of the corner of his eye.

“Father has requested your presence in Lord Tully’s solar, Bran.” Benjen said when he had come close enough to be heard.

He was doubled over and desperately trying to catch his breath, as if he had spied them out a window and run the whole way in a rather undignified manner. Brandon paused and could see Lyanna doing the same ahead of him.

“Did he say what this meeting would be about?” Brandon said.

Benjen shook his head. “No, but he had Robert with him.”

Brandon nodded. “How soon is he expecting me?”

Benjen had regained his breath, and now stood before them in a slightly rumpled grey doublet.

“He asked that you attend him as soon as possible,” Benjen said.

With a sigh, Brandon handed his reigns over to his little brother. Then, almost as an afterthought, he looked down at his mud-splattered boots. If Lyanna’s appearance was any indication, the rest of him looked just as unkempt. Nevertheless, he tried to straighten his clothing as best he could as he took his leave.

There would be no time to clean up and no time to change, but he didn’t expect it to be a problem with either his father or Robert. Rickard had long grown used to his wild children, and Robert seemed to reveal in any and all impropriety to the point that Brandon often wondered at the fact that Eddard was one of his closest friends.

As Brandon walked away from his siblings, he could hear Lyanna begin to pepper Benjen with questions his brother had no answer for. The rest of his walk to Lord Tully’s solar was spent contemplating what his father could possibly have to talk to him about that would also concern Robert Baratheon and Hoster Tully. Each new theory he came up with was discarded in turn, and he still had no probable answer by the time he knocked on the door and was granted entrance to the triangle room.

Rickard Stark, Hoster Tully, and Robert Baratheon were already in attendance when he arrived, and his father seemed to have just finished reading a somewhat crumpled letter. Brandon took a seat beside his father and eyed it curiously.

“So what’s this all about?” He said.

Rickard Stark, whose face had gone white by the end of the missive, turned to fix his son with a stormy grey gaze.

“This letter contains the outcome of Lord Royce’s trial.” Rickard said.

His gaze left Brandon and fixed on Robert instead, wary as if expecting something of the larger man.

“It seems as though both he and Jon Arryn were found guilty of treason by the king and summarily executed. I will not say aloud the nature of these deaths, for I find that what Elia Martell writes is too horrifying to put to voice.” Rickard finished.

The letter was passed to Robert, who snatched it up so roughly it tore slightly. Brandon could only blink in stunned surprise. In his surprise, his eyes found Robert Baratheon’s face and so he was able to witness the various colors it turned in the span of the next few minutes. First there was the white, bloodless color of shock and disbelief and grief. Then the mottled purple and red of fury.

When he had finished reading the words of the Dornish princess, he violently flung the parchment from his presence. Brandon watched it flutter to the ground in two ragged pieces.

Taking charge of the conversation, Hoster Tully continued where Rickard had left off. “The princess writes to offer her condolences and to propose a way forward that will benefit—”

Robert’s emotions seemed to have settled enough for him to give voice to his fury, for he rose from his seat to bring a heavy hand crashing down on the wooden table.

“No! King Scab doesn’t just get to murder Jon and get away with it!” Robert said.

“Aerys will not be getting away with anything, Robert.” Hoster said soothingly. He turned to face Rickard as he added, “You read what she said. The Martell woman is more than willing to see that our plans from before Rhaegar’s accident come to fruition.”

Despite what Hoster intended, Brandon could see that Robert was far from placated. If anything, Hoster’s words seemed to be making him angrier still.

“And what plans are those?” Robert said, eyes flashing fire.

Hoster shared a look with Rickard as he said, “The removal of Aerys from the throne in favor of his son.”

Robert let lose a single bark of laughter, bitter and incredulous.

“You wish to put another Targaryen on the throne? Aerys the third? That is your answer? And you honestly expect me to support you in this?” Robert said.

Brandon agreed and said so aloud. Though he had never been particularly close to Jon Arryn—that had always been Eddard—Brandon had heard quite a bit about the man’s character. He’d heard a fair bit about Aerys too. Hadn’t he been considered a good prospective ruler in his youth? And look how that had turned out. Viserys’ formative years would have been spent directly under Aerys’ tutelage.
Hoster was frowning at the two of them in turn now.

“The boy that will be installed in Aerys’ place is a child. And children can be groomed by their advisors. It would be a simple thing to require seats on his council—and the naming of a regent of our choice—in return for our support. We would make him into a good ruler. With our guidance, there would be no Aerys the third.”

Robert’s eyes continued to blaze. “What’s to say this Targaryen’s coin didn’t land on the side of madness as well?”

He brought his burning gaze to rest on each of them one after the other before he added, “Mark my words, we will be having this same conversation a decade and a half from now at the most.”
“And what do you propose we do instead, Robert?” Rickard said, rejoining the conversation at last with an unreadable look on his face.

“I say we raise our banners and relieve Aerys’ shoulders of his rotted head.” Robert said.

“And put who on the throne if not the boy prince?” Hoster said.

For a moment Robert looked thrown, as if he had not properly thought out an argument to that end. It was Rickard who answered, after a moment of careful thought.

“Robert would have a claim to the throne, small though it may be.” Rickard said.

“Targaryen blood through the female line. Not fit to inherit.” Hoster said dismissively.

Robert looked torn between agreeing with Rickard and with Hoster. He plainly wanted vengeance—and an end to any Targaryen whatsoever on the throne—but he wasn’t prepared to try and take it for himself.

“We must discuss this with Elbert before any decisions are made,” Rickard said.

Hoster subsided with a nod of agreement.

“He’ll be with me on this.” Robert said.

Brandon didn’t doubt it. Eddard, Robert, and Elbert were close as brothers, so Robert would be the most knowledgeable of the new lord paramount’s likely thoughts.

“In any case, let us conclude this meeting. There will be preparations that will need to be made.” Hoster said.

He glanced first at Brandon and then at Rickard before rising and pulling the older man aside. Robert wasted no time in storming from the room, no doubt off to tell Eddard of what he had learned. He likely wanted to grieve in private with the only other man in the keep who had known Jon Arryn as a father. Brandon had never resented the brother Eddard had chosen for their closeness, and he was glad Eddard would have someone to lean on when the grief inevitably came.

Brandon found himself lingering outside Hoster’s solar until his father reemerged. When his father and Hoster Tully parted ways, Brandon fell into step beside Rickard.

“What did Lord Tully wish to speak to you about in private?” Brandon said.

Rickard glanced at him briefly and then looked straight ahead once more.

“Your wedding to his daughter.” Rickard said.

“Wasn’t the date already set for a year from now?” Brandon said.

They had wanted to ensure that the wedding happened in summer. His father had also desired a double wedding—Brandon’s to Catelyn and Lyanna’s to Robert.

“Hoster wants the date moved up. The sooner the better.” Rickard said.

Which meant soon indeed, if Brandon was reading the signs right.

I wonder what Cat will think of becoming Lady Stark so soon.

Catelyn, when he saw her that night, looked as troubled as he had begun to feel. Her gaze was distant, and something unreadable flickered across her face every time she looked at her sister or her father. Their conversation was equally distant and stilted, skating around anything but the most surface of discussions. Therefore, he wasn’t overly disappointed to see her leave with her sister not long after their meager conversation died out.

Now free of a companion, he went in search of Eddard. He found him where he had expected to find him, kneeling before Riverrun’s heart tree in the middle of a godswood that was at once similar and strange when compared to the one he had known at Winterfell. Eddard said nothing upon Brandon’s arrival, and Brandon felt no need to push for conversation. Instead, he knelt beside his brother and said nothing.

Eddard, when he did speak, sounded decades older than his eighteen years. “Jon was a good man.”

“He was,” Brandon agreed.

“Robert said—” Eddard began, breaking off in the middle of give a shaky sigh filled with grief, “—The way Robert said Jon died, Bran. It wasn’t honorable.”

Brandon reached out and rested a hand on his brother’s shoulder, squeezing tightly.

“King Scab won’t be getting away with murdering him, Ned.” He said.

When Eddard finally looked up at him, Brandon was almost taken aback by the look in his eyes. It was sharp and cold and furious. Scarier than Robert’s earlier rage had been, for all that it blew frighteningly hot like wildfire.

“No,” Eddard agreed, “he won’t.”

Eddard made the words seem an oath in and of themselves. As if he were swearing them before the Old Gods.

“I am to be a married man soon.” Brandon said then, in an effort to distract them both from such dark thoughts.

Eddard shifted position to face him.

“Yes, father did mention that your wedding has been moved up.” Eddard said.

Neither of them mentioned that Hoster likely only demanded such a thing because of the growing tension. That he wanted his alliance with the North set in stone before he moved forward with any plans they came up with in regards to justice.

“As soon as you return from the Vale,” Brandon said.

Eddard’s gaze shifted away to stare blankly at the face carved into the weirwood tree, no doubt thinking of the reality of putting Jon Arryn’s bones to rest.

“No doubt it will take all of that time for father and Lord Tully to determine where I shall have my nuptials. Apparently Lord Tully and his daughter are quite adamant that the wedding take place in the sept. Father is equally determined that it take place in the godswood.” Brandon said.

His second attempt at distracting his brother was at least partially successful, for Eddard’s gaze returned to Brandon’s face.

“And what do you want?” Eddard said.

“I don’t much care if we hold our wedding in Riverrun’s sept. I’d much rather take her as my wife for the Old Gods in Winterfell’s godswood. That can happen once we return to the North.” Brandon said.

The next morning, he was standing beside his brother’s horse as Eddard prepared to head to the Vale alongside Robert Baratheon. Both men were somber, though Brandon noted that Robert still had a smoldering anger in his eyes.

“Journey safely,” He said.

“Don’t end up in a fight with the mountain clans again. And don’t forget you owe me a feather, Baratheon.” Lyanna said from his side.

He was surprised to hear her include Robert in her halfway-jesting admonitions. Brandon wasn’t sure what she meant by the feather comment, but it lightened Robert’s mood enough for him to smile at her. Benjen’s farewell echoed Brandon’s, and the three of them watched the two mounted figures ride off until they were no longer visible.