It was the screeching and shrieking of beasts that woke Rhaegar from his fitful sleep. As he lay on the cot in his tent, he felt remarkably grateful for the clamor that had brought him out of slumber. His dreams had been fraught with nightmares, though he could not remember the contents. As he stared at the fabric ceiling of the tent, he could see a faint lightening. He looked to the side, towards the slit opening of tent, and could see the glimmer of light peeking through the break. Dawn was approaching.
Sitting up, he reached for the small folding nightstand that stood next to his cot, and the ewer of water upon it next to a small silver cup. He poured into the cup and splashed it into his face, the shock of the cold water bringing him to full wakefulness with a small gasp. He poured a fresh cup, then stood from the cot. Already, he could hear the sounds of the camp outside, the jingling of metal, the dull clatter of bone, all mixing with the cries of the beasts and the shouts of men.
He turned to look at the wooden mannequin that stood in the corner of the tent, his armor adorning it in patient anticipation of the brutality to come. The polished steel had been painted a glossy black, the better to set off the red of the hide and scales. The black, shiny spines and horns on the shoulders and helm were beginning to reflect the growing morning light, like pin pricks of stars. Leaning against the stand was the scabbarded form of prince’s long and slightly curved blade, its hilt echoing the armor with red scales and black spines. It was a beautiful weapon, as was the armor. Rhaegar wondered if the like would ever again be forged by the hands of man. He was grateful indeed that such a suit of armor, and accompanying weapon, had remained in the armory of the Red Keep, passed down from one of his dead ancestors. Though he seemed to recall that even finer sets might be found in the cellars and treasure rooms of Dragonstone. If he had been given the time, he would have sent for one of the ancient suits, brought out of long dead Valyria by the Conqueror.
He was still gazing at the accouterments of war, when his squire pushed into the tent. Rhaegar glanced at the boy. He was so young. The prince watched as the boy flushed, bowing and uttering such a stream of greeting, respects, and titles that Rhaegar could understand only one word in six. The lad was clearly flustered, self-conscious in the service of the prince. It was obvious in the bumbling clumsiness the squire showed as he moved about the tent, pulling out the padded gambeson from the chest to hand to the prince, only to drop it several times in quick succession. Rhaegar found it oddly endearing. Still, he missed Richard. He had been such a capable and faithful squire.
The bumbling squire was trying to equip the prince in his war gear, when the tent flap opened yet again, this time to the passage of a small, furred Felyne, carrying a platter bearing a bowl of stew and loaf of trailbread, accompanied by a mug of watery beer. The little creature set the platter down on the cot next to the prince, as the squire helped force Rhaegar’s foot into an armored boot. It turned to smile its furry smile up at the prince, clearly pleased to have successfully deliver the burden that had been its responsibility.
Rhaegar returned the smile, reaching down and ruffling the bestial head before taking up the bowl of stew, filled with chopped vegetables and pieces of meat, of what kind he was not sure. What ever the contents were, the meal was savory and filling. It was testament to the skills of the little Lynians that accompanied the army, tending to the cooking and cleaning of the camp’s needs, that they could craft such a meal with only the meager selection of fare available to an army in the field, even when including the small herds of Aptonoths and Mosswine that were even now making their presence known from the pens the soldiers, servants, and Felynes had set up on the edge of camp.
“Go now, little one. I’m sure that others await their own chance to break fast.” Rhaegar said as he gestured to the Felyne. The little creature gave an affirmative “mrwoer” before it fell to all fours and bounded out of the tent. The prince smiled. He was deeply fond of the little creatures, and it saddened him that so many had fled from the Red Keep, following his father’s fall into madness. Once, there had been as many of the helpful bundles of fur roaming the halls and chambers, cleaning and cooking and carrying, as there had been human servants, whose duties had mainly to carry the heavy burdens and reach the heights that the sheer diminutive size of the Felynes rendered them unable to perform.
Now, in terror of the burnings and tortures ordered by Aerys, Second of His Name, they had fled from the city of King’s Landing, even as from the walls of the Red Keep. Rheagar had done what he could, spiriting as many as he could to Dragonstone, while others had given their services to the Houses in the lands surrounding the capital. It had been to his great surprise to find that many of those Felynes that had fled the Red Keep and King’s Landing had attached themselves to wagon train of the royalist army that he led. The looks of sheer joy that those furry faces had shown when they had seen him stride through the camp on one business or another had greatly eased his heart in this time of strife.
He paused in the act of accepting his scale and spike crested helm from the squire, lost in thought. Yes, his heart was troubled, troubled greatly, by the conflict that ravaged the Realm. He knew he was partly to blame for it. It had been his actions, his and his ladies’, that had put so many of the nobles of the Seven Kingdoms on the path to ruin and war. Why had Lord Brandon gone to King’s Landing? Rhaegar knew what had happened in his father’s throne room, what had been demanded by the Heir of Winterfell, but the question still remained as to why he had gone in the first place.
He knew a message had been sent, he had watch as Lyanna wrote it out, signed it with the small sigil inscribed brooch she wore, and place it in the hands of the Tully courier herself. The dispatch was to have gone to Riverrun directly, and from there to Winterfell by Mernos-back. His lady had explained everything in it, yet still Brandon had come south and declare an intention to do harm upon one of the Royal House. It might have not been so bad, had Aerys not been so lost to madness, but as it was the young lord had signed his own death warrant by his actions before an insane and paranoid king.
And to make matters worse, Lyanna’s father, Rickard the Lord of Winterfell, had followed his son to the capital only a short time later. And there both father and son had been put to the flame. Rhaegar felt the spike of guilt run through his heart as he remembered Lyanna’s grief at the news. It had come late, far too late, for him to have acted to stave off disaster, for immediately following the deaths of the lord and heir of the North’s ruling House, Aerys had further damned his own family by calling for the heads of Brandon’s younger brother, Eddard, and of the young Lord of Storm’s End, Robert of House Baratheon, both of whom were in fosterage in the Vale with Lord Jon of House Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie. Lord Arryn had refused to condemn and execute two young men under his care. And thus, war came to Westeros.
But it should not have happened in the first place. The message had been sent. Lyanna had informed her family of her intentions, of the arrangement between her, himself, and Princess Elia. Surely Winterfell had received the message. Hadn’t it? He wondered. Maybe the letter had gone astray, the courier slain by bandits, or the mernos brought down by some predator. A thousand things might have happened to prevent the missive from reaching its intended destination. But that was a line of thought for another time, after the battle.
Shaking the reverie from his head, he took the sheathed longsword from the squire, he really would have to try and remember the boy’s name, and stepped out in the still misty light of dawn. Already the camp was a bustle with activity, as Felynes, servants, squires and soldiers scrambled about. Some were making for the mess tent, seeking to break their morning fast and put something solid in their bellies before throwing themselves in the charnel house of battle again. Others were seeking out the armorers or tanners or stablemen, on this errand or that for either themselves or for their masters.
Rhaegar had to halt and pull back between a pair of tents as a squire led an obviously grousing Gendrome of middling size down the avenue between rows of tents. The beast kept shaking its head, its long fangs flashing in the light of a rising sun, and every so often would stop and pull back on the lead the squire held. As it was led, grudgingly, past the prince, Rhaegar note the device on the tabard that hung from the saddle set above the wyvern’s hips. The starcrown of House Langward.
He returned to his stride down the camp avenue, heading for the large pavilion tent where his commanders awaited him. Even as he stepped around the leaving of the passed Gendrome, he could see more land-bound bird wyverns being led to their masters by straining squires. And beyond the tents he could hear the deeper bellows of the larger brute wyverns, being held in separated paddocks. Their handlers would have to bring them to their appropriate masters outside of the camp, for the beasts were too large to easily navigate its temporary pathways.
Rhaegar dearly wished that he had more of the powerful brutes, for their size lent them a near unstoppable power in the charge. Such might would be incredibly valued in the battle to come, to break the lines of the rebel shield walls and set their own beasts to panic. But such was the demand on food needed to sustain such monsters that few lords could afford to rear them. Only in the Reach and the Westerlands could creatures of such size be found in anything like the numbers Rhaegar needed, and the Reach lords, save for a few from the province’s northern border, were occupied in the besieging of Storm’s End.
What recent dispatches the prince had received from Lord Tyrell’s army commanders was that after only a few attempts to batter the ancient walls of the legendary keep, walls whose foundations were said to have been raised from the very bedrock of the cliff upon which the castle sat, the Reachmen had pulled back and settled in for a long and protracted siege. Great war engines, pulled by the huge Larinoths, massive beasts that the Reach alone could support as beasts of burden and sources of food, were all that remained engaged with the Stormlands’ ruling seat, maintaining a constants barrage of heavy rock and long scorpion bolts.
The reports from Mace Tyrell himself were full of assurances of his and his bannermen’s loyalty, of their valor and honor in battle, and of his plans to unleash the force of some dozen Barroths and three Duramboros against the gates of Storm’s End, once the defenders had been sufficiently debilitated by hunger and the constant bombardment of siege craft. Rhaegar hoped that by meeting the gathered forces of the rebels here, at the Ruby Ford, and crushing them, he could then send missives to his cousin, Stannis of House Baratheon, Robert’s younger brother, who held the keep for the rebel lord.
With Robert defeated, either dead or captured, the rebels would lack the rallying point they needed to maintain their momentum of victories. It should be enough to bring an end to this war, and all the bloodshed. And with Robert removed from the board, so to speak, it might be possible to convince Stannis to surrender, if certain assurances could be made. Rhaegar hoped so. He would deeply regret condemning one of his kin to a horrible death by starvation, for he suspected that Mace Tyrell was unlikely to try once more to storm the castle, when he could claim a victory by simply sitting and letting deprivation kill his foes for him.
As for the Westerlands… Rhaegar was worried. Tywin Lannister had spent the entire civil war sitting tight in Casterly Rock. His bannermen too had remain stationary in their keeps, not a one sallying forth to add their forces to either that of the Rebels or the Loyalists. Rhaegar did not trust this strange silence from the western shores of the realm. Tywin had given no indication as to which of the combatant parties held his favor, and that troubled the prince, who felt that Tywin had ample cause, given the soured relationship between the Lord of Casterly Rock and the King, to throw his might behind the Rebels. His resources and wealth allowed the head of House Lannister far greater freedom to maintain a larger standing army than nearly all the other high lords of the realm.
It also allowed him to keep more wyverns under his command, for his mines and coffers gold could buy the food to feed such large beasts quite easily. As such, the number of brute and bird wyverns he and his bannermen controlled was not something to be made fun of. Indeed, Lord Tywin himself commanded at least five Barroths for his household knights, as well as an Anjanath for himself.
How he had acquired the beast, Rhaegar did not know, for the fire breather had not been seen in the Seven Kingdoms since the Conquest, when Loren, King of the Rock, had brought his mighty beast forth with his army to face Aegon I Targaryen on the great plains south of the Blackwater, alongside the army of King Garth of Highgarden. That battle had commenced, when Aegon met the combined forces of those two opposing kings, with his own, much smaller forces, had been bloody, by the accounts recorded in the Citadel. By the end of the conflict, Aegon had been forced to send all ten of the Raths that had been brought out of Dragonstone, three Rathalos, four Rathians, as well as the Dreadqueen Rathains of his sisters, and his own Dreadking Rathalos, Balerion. After the battle was done, and the losses accounted for, one of the Rathalos, and two of the Rathians, lay dead upon the field. But so too was the Anjanath of King Loren slain, though the king had survived and spirited away back to Casterly Rock.
For Tywin to once again have such a powerful beast under the control of House Lannister left Rhaegar nervous. He suspected that the Old Teostra had procured through one magister or another from the Free Cities, for such men had access to a great deal of treasures found in obscure and hard to reach places. It was certainly possible one of those merchant princes had brought an egg out of wild places of Essos, or even from dark and dangerous Sothoryos.
Or maybe the Lannisters had long kept the beasts themselves, hidden within the bowels of the Rock, away from the watchful eyes of their Targaryen overlords who had set themselves to securing the land from the prowlings of the greater predators and to checking the potential might of their new subjects who had long ridden mighty wyverns into battle. Maybe They had been there for generations, carefully raised, bred, hatched, and raised again, away from watching eyes and wagging tongues. Rhaegar did not know. And that was dangerous. Dangerous because Tywin Lannister was an ambitions man, a man with a streak of ruthless pragmatism that had resulted in the complete destruction of two complete Houses when they had dared to rebel and slight the then young heir to the Rock.
Time and age had only honed that blade of cold, decisive judgement to a keener edge. And he was man who had endured slight, upon insult, upon injury from Aerys Targaryen. That was not a condition that foretold good tidings for Rhaegar’s family. Something would have to be done, if only to stave off a future conflict with the west.
When Rhaegar stepped into the great pavilion that had been raised for conferences such as this, he marked out his commanders and captains. Three of his father’s Kingsguard were present, supposedly to represent Aery’s interests in this campaign, but Rhaegar was sure that they had given their loyalty over to him and those of his kin who remained sane, namely his mother, the Queen Rhaella. If one could be suspect, then it was Prince Lewyn Martell of Dorne’s ruling House. In his case, the loyalty was given not to Rhaegar, but to Elia, Lewyn’s niece, and her children. By all rights he should have remained in the Red Keep to safeguard their lives, but Aerys, in his fearful madness, had sent the prince to join Rhaegar’s host.
The king surely feared that Lewyn would abscond with the princess and her children, thereby depriving Aerys of Dorne’s continued support in the war. That, or he feared that Lewyn would cut him down himself. Only Ser Jaime Lannister, eldest son of Tywin, remained in the keep to protect the king’s person. And for all the young man’s earnest character, Rhaegar feared that he was too young to properly hold to his duty, for the lad was green, experienced only in tourney and mock combat, and had yet to feel hot blood fly across his face as men fell dead before him.
Next to him was Ser Barristan Selmy, the Bold, for both his deeds in the last Blackfyre war, and in the daring rescue of his father from Duskendale. Of all the Kingsguard present, he was the most scarred, for he had lost most of the left side of his face, confronting Maelys the Monsterous, at the Stepstones. His beloved beast, the Chramine Olasti, had died under the claws of Maelys’s savage, black painted Tigrex, Nightmare. Barristan had thrown himself forward from his dying mount, driving his sword into the Blackfyre’s heart, but the wyvern’s fangs had caught on his helm as he passed it, piercing through and tearing at his face.
For a full sennight he had lain under the care of the maesters, as they fought to save his life. But while he lived, they could not repair his face. Even now his mouth is a ruin, the flesh of the left cheek torn away to reveal the gums and teeth of his jaw. His eye had ruptured, and long, deep furrows were carved into the side of his head. But seven days after he slew the last of the Blackfyres, he presented himself before the then Prince Aerys, asking to be allowed to once again serve as a knight. It was this deed, and the courage it represented, that won Ser Barristan his White Cloak.
There was Ser Jonothor Darry, a knight driven solely by his duty and oaths. And beyond him were lords of the Crownlands, notable among them the Lords Bar Emmon of Sharp Point, Celtigar of Claw Island, Velaryon of Driftmark, and Massey of Stonedance. All lords who owed vassalage to Dragonstone, Rhaegar’s own seat. Other lords there were as well, from House loyal to the Iron Throne, though whose seats were in provinces whose overlords had risen in rebellion. There was Lord Darry of Castel Darry, Lord Mooton of Maidenpool, and Lord Ryger of Willow Wood, all of whom hailed from the Riverlands.
There too were Reach lords, whose lands ran along the northern border of the province, and who brought their forces to Rhaegar at the Trident, rather send them off to further distant Storm’s End, to participate in Mace Tyrell’s siege of that keep. In their number were Lords Footly, Roxton, Shermer, and Kidwell. Finally, at the far end of the table, were those who represented the Dornish, present most unwillingly, and would be absent themselves save that their beloved Princess Elia, Rhaegar’s first wife, and sister to Doran, Prince of Dorne, was held by the king in guarantee of their participation in his war. There too were men of the Vale and Stormlands amongst his host, but their lords were dead, or concerned with battling those of their neighbors that had sworn to the Robert Baratheon.
Rhaegar knew that not all these men were here by choice, nor were all loyal to him. He had been absent from the affairs of the Realm for too long, lost in his passion with Lyanna, and his fear of his father. But after today, after this battle, that would change. If he could but strike down Robert Baratheon, and bring the Rebels to heel, he would have the loyalty of those who fought still for the sake of the crown. He needed that loyalty, if he was to topple his father and claim the Throne of Blades from madness. Without it, he would put in chains and sent to a fiery end the moment he demanded his father step down from that old chair of bone and iron. Until he won that loyalty for himself, it would belong to his father out of sheer custom and law, with the weight of 300 years of tradition behind it. But with it, he could be sure that the swords he needed were at his back, and all that his father would command would be the paltry two thousand of the City Guard, the Gold Cloaks. Against the forty thousand of Rhaegar’s army, they would be as a shield of oiled sackcloth before the burning rage of an Elder Dragon.
He turned to the seniors of his commanders, the Kingsguard. “What news is there, my Lords and Sers? Have the Rebels been spotted by our outfliers?”
The dusky skinned Prince Lewyn nodded. His Dornish host had been the last to join with Rhaegar’s army, but the older man had seen campaigns aplenty, serving in the StepStones War against the Ninepenny Kings, and in combating raiding slavers and pirates along the coast of Dorne. “Our wind scouts have spied the Rebel host. At this time, they have camped some few miles beyond the waters of the Ruby Ford, though I have no doubt their own fliers have noticed us in turn and are certainly breaking camp at this moment. I would bet a sizable sum of gold dragons that there are now several pitched battles being fought in the sky above our heads, between our wind scouts and theirs.” His face twisted into a savage smile. Let it not be said that the Dornish were faint of heart in the face of battle and bloodshed. Theirs were passions that ran as hot as the sands of their deserts beneath the summer sun, whether they be in the midst of bloody battle, or the beds of their paramours.
Rhaegar nodded. “And in which direction do they make way, now that our presence is known to them? Theirs is a motley leadership, and so I cannot predict what they might do, for each of the lords that oppose the lawful rule of House Targaryen is man of his own mind and method.”
Ser Barristan stepped forward, his scarred face and white eye-patch jarring with the pristine look of his bronze colored Ingot Armor, his helm held in the crook of his arm as his white cloak rustled in the breeze that made its way through the pavilion. “Your Grace, at this time the rebels are moving south, making for the ford. Already our skirmishers have engaged their lighter riders in woods on both sides of the river.”
That confirmed Rhaegar’s suspicions about who was giving the orders amongst his adversaries. Its also gave him hope. “Then Robert Baratheon is present and leading this host. Were it Lord Arryn, or Prince Stark, they would have fallen back, force us to move across the river to give chase, and strike at us whilst our host was stung out across the ford and scattered throughout the forests. They are the voices of caution and reason, and the more dangerous, of the rebels. But Robert is a hotheaded and bloodhungry man of great appetite and daring. He was never one to withdraw and attack only when we are vulnerable. Rather, he would seek to meet us head on, trusting to his own strength and the courage he inspires in his men, to carry him through against odds that outweigh his own. It is a method that has worked for him in the past, to strike out with unsuspected ferocity and aggression, taking the offensive when others would have fallen back to what places of strength could be found and made use of their smaller forces in a more conventional manner. And it is a tactic that has served him well. He knows I am here, and it is I who he seeks to lay to grass.”
Rhaegar’s own smile was as predatory as Atraxes’s, his Rathalos mount, who waited in the royal enclosure outside the camp. “It is as I hoped. For the other rebels to follow him so willing shows that they have ceded leadership of this host to him. If we cut him down, then we cut the heart from this rebellion. The others will pull back, their morale struck grievously, and we will have the opportunity to offer them terms of surrender and end this farce.”
The lords and knights in attendance all gave voice and motion to their agreement, though Prince Lewyn gave Rhaegar a look of meaning. He knew why Robert hunted so assiduously for the Prince of Dragonstone. Rhaegar ignore the Dornishman for the moment, there would be time to speak after the conference.
He turned to Ser Barristan and Ser Jonothor. “My Knights, I would have you take command once again of those men you gathered from Jon Connington’s failed campaign. They, and my crownsmen, will hold the center, forming a shieldwall three men deep, across the main avenue of the ford. Keep to the higher ground and use the woods to anchor your flanks. The bowmen will form up behind them, and throughout the brush on either side. Hold that line, good Sers, for if it breaks, then Baratheon will amongst us, dividing our force against our will.”
He turned to Lord Footly, who was senior-most within the ranks of the Reachlords. “Lord Footly, you will have command of your country men and knights, for they number the greater part of our mounted force. Bring them here,” the prince pointed to a point some ways west up the river, “where our scouts have reported a second, if smaller, ford. The banks of the river on either side of the Ruby ford are higher than is wise for the use of our cavalry, but the river is shallow between the crossings. Shallow enough for your kestodons and bird wyverns. Bring your riders there, though leave your infantry with Ser Barristan and Ser Jonothor, as a reserve to shore up their lines should a Robert attempt to break through. Once the rebels are engaged, their force gathered in the Trident as they make to press pass us, I would have your men come upon them from the west, down the river, while we hold them in place.”
Rhaegar turned to Prince Lewyn. “Your highness, I would have the Dornish make for these bluffs, to the east of the ford.” Again, he gestured to a place on the map before them. “While not a ford, the banks are gentle and low. Your men should have little difficulty making their way down to the river. While we engage Robert’s forces at the ford, I wish for your army to take your army across the river and around the left flank of Robert’s host. Strike at him from the rear. Cut off his reserves. We have the numbers to outlast him, man for man. We but needs keep him bottle here, and we shall stymie his advance towards the capital.”
With nods to his generals, he dismissed them to their commands and duties. Only Prince Lewyn remained. The Dornishman seated himself upon the edge of the table where the maps lay, pulling his heavy knife from behind him, along with a whetstone, and began to grind the nicks from its edge. For a time, the two princes were silent, each lost in his own thoughts, until Rhaegar broke the silence. “I asked Jaime to watch over Elia and the children, while I dealt with the rebels. I tried to have them sent to Dragonstone, but the king still refuses to allow them out of his sight. Even though Aegon is my heir, as I am my father’s, and thus a guarantee already of the cooperation of Dorne, to ensure that he sits the Throne of Blades, he fears that without the threat to their lives that he offers, your nephew will heed his vows of loyalty to House Targaryen. And as long as Varys of Lys is Master of Whispers and has my father’s ear, I cannot simply spirit them away. They would caught before they could make the docks of King’s Landing.”
Lewyn nodded. “I know. I tried myself, before I was sent to gather my countrymen to war. But ere I could reach the very door of the Holdfast, I spied the Vaporonid’s eyes and ears, haunting the halls and passages. I had to abandon my efforts, lest they leave my niece’s life, and those of her children, forfeit.” He glanced up at Rhaegar, his eyes stern. “I have kept the knowledge of where your other lady is to myself. None within the Red Keep, save for Elia, know where you have secreted her. I hope that you have shown your gratitude, appropriately, to your wife for the aid and advice she rendered to you.”
Rhaegar gave a sad smile. He only sad smiles, these days. What little joy he had, he found in his family, in those he loved, and in his music. And there had been precious little any of those reasons, since his conference at Harranhal, or rather his attempt at one, failed before it even began. He had given his gratitude most sincerely to Elia, his wife, for her aid in removing Lyanna from the eyes of his father. That she had been so willing would have shock any man, who had not known her as he did.
He did not believe even her brothers knew of what she had done for their future, and the future of all the Seven Kingdoms. What she had sacrificed, and what she had risked. They had tried, Rhaegar and Elia, but the risk to her life, should she carry another child, was too great. It would kill her, the maesters had told them, her and the babe. It had torn him, to know that two children would be that they could have. It had hurt him, most strongly when he thought on the stories his mother would tell, and his father before his long torture within the dungeons of Duskendale.
Stories of a time when the Last House of the Dragonlords of Old Valyria had been as large as any in the Realm. A time when there were brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews aplenty in his family. A time that had ended at the moment of his birth. A Time that ended when his great grandfather, Aegon, 5th of his name, had brought their house nearly unto ruin, in a fruitless pursuit of ancient history.
The ashes of Summerhall were still hot, the broken wreckage of a palace that had been the envy of a continent still burning, when Rhaegar had been born. And all because an Aegon of House Targaryen sought to call forth power not seen since the fall of the Freehold, and the Dance of Dragons. He had endeavored to awaken something ancient, something left long forgotten, that he had believe slept beneath the Red Mountains. Rhaegar did not know if his dead ancestor had been correct, or simply fallen into the madness. But whatever the old king had believed, it had cost him all his family save for his sickly son Jaeherys, his daughter Shaera, and their children.
But it was not those stories alone that drove Rhaegar to wish for a larger family. He knew that he himself should have been but one amongst many siblings, yet save for young Viserys, who was with his mother on Dragonstone, all of those that might have been were dead, born cold and still from his mother’s womb, or perished soon after birth. All the hopes of his House, his family, for growth and life, now rest with him. And Elia, sweet Elia, could no longer help him.
She had known that fact, that her efforts to provide children were perilous. That to bear children from her body would be to court the Stranger in a dance where one never the steps. But she had tried. Valiantly she had tried, and nearly given of herself too much in the effort. Now the possibility of more offspring from their joined bodies was gone.
Yet she knew that desire for family alone did not filled him with the need for heirs. She had seen the scrolls and signs, just as he had. He had shared his fears with her, his nightmares of what was to come. The summers grew longer, the days hotter. When winters did arrive, few and far between as they were, they were bitter. Flashes of cold to kill and freeze the blood in a wyvern’s veins. It was coming again, as it had four hundred turnings of the world before. A call to battle, a summons heard only by those mighty and ancient beasts that once had been worshiped as gods. A battle of elders, who would strive until all that remained was one, and the land about littered with the ruin and wreckage of shattered kingdoms. A festival to decide a king, a dance for dragons alone.
He had to stop it. Once before, in the memory of man, had such a call been heard, had such a festival been danced. It had brought only death and destruction to the homeland of his family, who had fled beforehand only on the whim and faint hope of prophecy. He could not let happen again. But he did not know how to stop it. Only that from his line shall be born one who could. A Prince promised to tame even the gods themselves.
But that prince would need help. Help that could only come from those who shared his blood. A dragon with three heads, as the sigil of his House foreshadowed. But he had only two. And Elia could give him no more. She knew that, and she knew his mind, his belief, his fear. More than that, she shared it. And so she came to him with a proposition, an alternative, and a hope. He had argued against it, for he had no wish to dishonor her, to taint the vows he had made with her in the Great Sept of Baelor. But she had laughed and spoken gently to him. For all his protestations, and the sincerity in his heart, she could still read the fear in his eyes, the fear that by the failure of simply life and sad coincidence, they would fail, and a new Doom would fall upon the kingdoms.
She had loved that in him, his earnest need to save what could be saved, and help those that required aid. But this plan was hers, and she would find no taint in it. She told him to take another to his bed, one that might give him the children needed, and the hope to save the world. Rhaegar had been unconvinced of the soundness of her plan. Was he not wed to already, bound by vows before men and gods, vows not easily broken? But she had laughed, and reminded him of his ancestors, men who had taken to wife and bed more a single woman. He was a Targaryen, of the Blood of Old Valyria, and dragons did not answer to gods or men. She had even offered up a suggestion as to whom he might choose. She had reasoned to him that it had been by the fire of the Elder Dragons that Valyria had fallen, reduced to a wasteland of horror and sorrow. Fire would be needed to face fire, but there was another force that fire feared, more that itself. Take then, to his bed, one of ice, of the cold and frosted North. Then from him, and her, would spring one that held all the burning passion of fire, but it would be tempered by the cool judgement of ice.
Rhaegar had been puzzled as to who she had meant, for he knew not well the Houses and Ladies of the North. Long had they remained apart, both by the land, for few sought to cross the Neck, with its perils of beast and marsh, and by the culture of the people. They were a folk that had remained true to the old ways, ways that had been passed down, generation to generation, since before the Andals came across the Narrow Sea with their hard iron, their distant gods, and their cold hearts. It was said that the men of the North, the First Men, were one with their land. That they felt it in their blood and bone, like the beating of the second heart. That Wyvernian blood flowed yet in their veins. They knew their land, knew its creatures, in a way the no Andal of the south could understand. Where the Andals dominated and bent the wills of their beasts with strong straps and sharp spurs, a Northmen rode as if a part of his mount, a saddle alone in evidence to keep the rider aboard. They seemed to move as one, with a singular will and heart.
The men of the North spoke of it as a “sharing of spirit”. Rhaegar had seen them, seen how they and the wyverns that they commanded had responded to each other as if they were truly of one mind. And he had seen how such a bond aided the Northmen in battle. In the tourneys, in the lists and the melee, he had watched as those few Northmen who had deigned to participate had fought with a fluidity that seldom had he seen amongst the knights of the South. It had been a sight to behold, and strong reasoning as to why the Starks of the North held still the titles of Kings of Winter.
When Aegon the Conqueror had turned his eyes northward, seeking to expand the territories he had claimed even into the lands of the First Men, he had already lost three of the ten Raths he had brought from Dragonstone. While his host of men and beasts had grown, increasing in size with every kingdom he claimed and king he overthrew, his greatest advantage had diminished. For while the lords and kings of Westeros had long used both Bird Wyverns capable of flight, and Brute Wyverns of great strength, in their wars with one another, the Raths of House Targaryen were something different. They had the size and strength of the Brute Wyverns that rumbled across the land yet could fly as the smaller winged Bird Wyverns could.
In the air, they reigned as supreme amongst the monsters of the world, save against those like themselves, with whom they had contended in long vanished Valyria. Now, only the beautiful Legiana of the Vale could meet the Queens of the Land and Kings of the Sky in contests of aerial might. And the young King of Mountains and Vale had been too young yet to master the beasts upon whom the sigil of his House had been devised. Thus, was the ascendency of House Targaryen assured, for from the sky they held mastery of the fields of war.
But the Field of Fire had been costly. To meet the fearsome might of the Anjanaths of the Kings of the Rock, Aegon, his sisters, and their dragonguard had been forced to fly low, to bring the physical power, as well as the fiery breath, of the Rath to bear upon the mighty predator. In doing so, they had come low enough to be within range of the deadly jaws of the Anjanath, as well as its own burning breath. And then too there had been the great Ballista, brought forth by the forces of King Garth of Highgarden, a product of the industrious minds of within the Citadel of Maesters. It was by the sharp fangs, and sharper steel, of these two kingdoms that three of Aegon’s beasts had been brought down. But the Conqueror would not turn aside from his ambition, for he had deemed it his face to forge a new and greater kingdom, a unified kingdom, that stretched from the frozen Wall to the Seas of Summer.
His army, its beasts, and what remained of his winged mounts gathered, he had marched northward, to bring the lands of the First Men under his sway. At the Trident he met the assembled host of the North, and their king, Torrhen of House Stark. Aegon had looked upon the force that the King of Winter, ruler of the North, had brought with him, and fear sent a shiver down his spine. Here was not an army of men who treated their wyverns as simple beasts of burden or war, looked upon favorably as pets at best. This was a host of men with whom the monsters of the North seemed to share their very souls. Aegon knew that this would be a battle that be costlier by far than what he had faced south of the Blackwater River. There, when a beast died, its rider had fled, or surrendered. And should the man die, but the monster did not, the wyvern would react as any simple animal would, striking out in pain or fear, but ever seeking to remove itself from the danger.
Not so with these First Men, in whom the blood of the lost Wyvernian people still flowed. Where the beast would die, the partner would seek bloody vengeance for the loss one so close to his heart. And if it were the man who perished, the monster would reek bloody retribution for the loss of half its soul, actively seeking death and destruction, instead of fleeing to some place of safety. In this army from the cold North, Aegon must count the Wyverns as much soldiers and warriors as the men that rode them.
But the last son of lost Valyria would not be stayed from his path. He could, however, be made to change with whom he traveled it. To the King of the North he made an offer: swear to him, Aegon 1st of his name, as High King of the Seven Kingdoms, overlord of Westeros, and the Lord of House Stark would remain kings in their own right, high lords of the North. Their lands would be to do with as they will, and all that would be required was a tithe of reasonable nature, their council when desired, their force of arms in times of war, and the promised union to their two Houses, should prospects of promising nature be found amongst the children of their lines.
King Torrhen pondered this for a time, as his great beast, the sigil of his house, a Barioth of the far northern mountains, rumbled and snarled at Balerion, the Dreadking Rathalos of Aegon. After a tense silence, in which two armies stared at each other across a river that might soon run red with blood, Torrhen climbed down from Clas Gwyn and strode to meet Aegon in the midst of the river. Taking his great hunting knife from his belt, he cut open his own hand, the blood flowing freely, and offered both hand and knife to the Valyrian. Aegon paused for only a moment, before taking the dagger and slitting open his own palm. His own blood now running, he clasped hands with the master of Winterfell, sealing in blood a bargain that held firm for three hundred years, though the final provision had yet to be fulfilled.
It was only fitting, in the face of such history and lineage, that Lyanna of Winterfell act the princess that she was, wild and free, beautiful as the snowcapped peaks of the Frostfangs, and as dangerous. Though she had not a beast such as her ancestors once rode to war, she had been born with a gift for knowing the hearts of all about her, be they wyvern, man, or feline. So strong was this gift that she could tame any beast that she set her eye on, a power that served her well in while she competed in the Tourney of Harrenhal, her face and form hidden under armor. Her mount, a kestodon of Crownland breeding, had been borrowed from the common stables where less wealthy knights penned their beasts in a shared paddock. Though not her own, it had submitted to her will as docilely as if it had hatched and raised by her own hand. In the lists, it responded to the slightest movement of her legs and hips, with nary a touch of the reins that had lain limply across its neck, while the young woman had herself wielded the lance and shield of the jousts as expertly as any anointed knight of the Reach or Vale.
Such had been her courage and her beauty, that when Rhaegar had conveyed all that her had learned of her to Elia, to explain why it was that he had crown the Princess of Winterfell the Queen of Love and Beauty, rather than his own wife, the Princess of Sunspear, Elia had expressed only awe and wonder. For Elia herself had a passionate nature, hindered only by the frailty of her health. Had she the robustness of Lyanna, she too would have sought to join the lists in secret, to pit her own skill against those of men both larger and stronger, as well as more arrogant. More than once she had lamented to Rhaegar that it was only this fragility of person, and not weakness of will, that had kept her from learning the spear and glaive alongside her brother Oberyn. That another had not that infirmity and possessed the resolve to pit herself against the pride of the realm, and to teach a lesson in honor as punishment for the mistreatment of one of her father’s bannermen, only served to inspire his wife to persevere in her goal of aiding Rhaegar in thwarting the prophecy.
So, it was that when Elia had sought to offer up her suggestion to her husband, the hope of more children to stand in the face of destiny and laugh, she had set forth the name of Lyanna of House Stark. At her behest, Rhaegar sent letters to Winterfell, asking after the northern princess, inquiring as to her state of mind and being. Rhaegar and Elia had to move with caution in this dance of intrigue, for they knew that the wild daughter of House Stark was to be betrothed to Robert of House Baratheon, the Lord of Storm’s End, and Rhaegar’s own kin, by virtue of Robert’s grandmother being a sister to Rhaegar’s grandfather Jaeherys.
They learned that the betrothal had been sought by both Robert and Lyanna’s brother, Eddard, now Lord of Winterfell and King in the North with the deaths of his father and elder brother at Aery’s command. The two young men had been fostered together in the Vale, with Lord Arryn of the Eyrie, and were said to be as close as brothers. But careful questions by both the Prince of Dragonstone and the Princess of Sunspear had uncovered an inconvenience to that plan. The Lady Lyanna sought not this betrothal, nor had she agreed to it when presented with the proposition. She had learned, as Rhaegar and Elia had, of Robert’s improprieties in the Vale, and the issue that had been begot of such unions. The Princess of Winterfell believed not that the Lord of Storm’s End, whatever he may profess to her, would remain constant in his faith to her and her bed. Habits such as his were hard to break, and once the unfamiliarity of her person had been worn away by time and the bearing of children, he would once again turn to his previous diversions and indulgences.
And Rhaegar had pondered as to what he may he do, to accomplish that which needed doing, ere the world fell by fire and destruction. His Lady had told him to take another to his bed, perhaps even to wife were she agreeable, and had even provided to him a candidate worthy of the House of Dragon Kings. But how to see it done? She lived so far away, in distant Winterfell, and to continue to send missives directly to the high seat of the north by wingdrake, asking after its soon to be spoken for daughter, would call down suspicion that none of them could afford, and not only from the part of Lyanna’s father, Rickard, Lord and King of the North.
Aerys, King on the Throne of Blades, and Rhaegar’s father, was mad with fear. With eyes burning in his insanity he sought out plots and schemes, seeing conspiracies against his reign in every corner, and confidences against his person in every face. Such was his descent into madness that he had even driven away his friend of old, Tywin of House Lannister, and heaped upon him insults by the score. Even towards his own son and heir he saw naught but a threat to his own life, and so spent little love or trust on Rhaegar.
To openly court the daughter of the ruling House of the North would call down the wrath of the King upon not only Rhaegar and Lyanna, but on to Elia and her children, and maybe even Rhaella, who was queen and sister to Aerys, and mother of Rhaegar. Where little love there was between father and son, greatly did Rhaegar care and fear for his mother, who was gentle and kind and beautiful. It was for her, more than for any other in the Seven Kingdoms, that Rhaegar sought to supplant his father as King, so that he may save her from the torturous attentions that Aerys lavished upon her in his maddened lusting.
It had been Elia to discover the means by which they might converse with the distance princess. While attending the Tourney in Harrenhal, she had acquainted herself with Lyanna, for few had been the ladies who had accompanied their lords, be they fathers or husbands, to the grand gathering. The two had spoken, of the differences between the North and Dorne, for each was as far from the other as it was possible to be and still remain apart of the continent, and their customs are cultures was as distant as their lands. Yet too there was similarity, for both, alone of all the Kingdoms conquered by the Lords of House Targaryen, had kept their royal titles.
They had spoken of how integral the land itself served to defend its people, be it the deserts of Dorne, though which no Andal army may traverse and live, be they struck down by the beasts of the dunes, the folk of the sands, or the sun in the sky, or the Neck of the North, a vast swamp rife with monsters of terrible potency and sicknesses of horrifying virulence that had brought low every Southern army that had sought to cross it. And those that survived the swamps had met only the swords, spears, and arrows of the men in the great fortress of Moat Cailin, the cork in the bottle that was the roadway into the North.
They had spoken the way the women of their lands were not the trained dolls and trophies that they were in the lands of Andals, where those born to the gentler sex were raised and bred as thoroughly as the Aptonoths whose fleshed grace the tables of lords and knights. In the middle kingdoms, to be woman was to be a thing desired, then put way after its purpose fulfilled. They were taught to be beautiful and dutiful, to provide heirs to their lord husbands, and tend to their household, and to be faithful to those distant gods whom the Andals worshipped. To speak when spoken to, and denounce not their lords’ failings and vices, be it drink or between the legs of whores. To punish the innocent for being born, so long as the innocent was born of their husbands, but not of them.
But in the lands of Dorne and the North, those born female were not treat like pretty toys or baubles. Treat a woman of Dorne so, and you might find your dinner poisoned or a dagger in your ribs. Treat a woman of the North so and find you a sword in your heart. The women of Dorne and the North were no creatures to be trifled with.
A friendship there was that had grown between the princesses north and south and means there was devised so that they may continue to discuss with each other those things that they found in common. A courier there was, sworn to the Winterfell, who had long been enamored with his Princess Lyanna. His duty, to ferry from Winterfell the missives and packages that his King Rickard desired sent southward, for the Lord of Winterfell and King in the North held little trust in Wingdrakes for such long flights through his lands. Predators aplenty there were, who could take flight and bring down the easy prey that the Mernos represented. And so, he favored the use of Courier sent a-wyvern-back, for they could better judge the safety of their passage through the skies, and where it might be wiser to camp once the sun set. The courier in question, a young lad from the lands near Long Lake, would carry the missives and letters of his Lady Lyanna to the Princess Elia, and back again, as his duties permitted.
It was to this courier that Rhaegar and Elia turned, to carry word of their proposition to t he Princess of Winterfell. They had been in luck, for the Ice Chramine and its rider had recently arrived in King’s Landing, bearing dispatches from the King in the North to the High King of Westeros, though it would surely only be the King’s Hand that read them. Amongst the letters was indeed one for Princess Elia from Lyanna, again lamenting her foul fortune to be betrothed to so brutish and irresponsible a man as Robert Baratheon. Quickly had Elia penned a reply, adding to it a question as to whether the Princess in the North would be amenable to an alternative to her coming nuptials with the Lord of Storm’s End.
With growing apprehension did they wait, until a bare moonturn later, a response arrived by that same courier. With elation did Elia read that her friend would willing for seek any egress from her circumstances, and was indeed heading south at that moment, making for Riverrun to attend the wedding of her brother Brandon, the Heir of Winterfell, to Catelyn, daughter of Hoster of House Tully, Lord of Riverrun and reigning lord of the Riverlands. She would speed ahead of her kin and his entourage, as was her wont when travelling away from Winterfell, and it was her thought that she should be met in the afore she reaches Riverrun.
No mention of her plans would she make to her family, for it was the intention of her father and brothers, all save the youngest, to have her wed to Robert Baratheon, and secure an alliance with the Stormlands. As to why her father sought such a union was beyond her, for she had only thought the betrothal a suggestion of her brother Eddard, who was Robert’s friend. But many a letter had been dispatched to the Eyrie and Lord Jon Arryn from the King of Winter, more so than was warranted in the questioning of his son’s wellbeing. A feeling of unease was growing in Lyanna, Princess of Winterfell, and she wished to be away from her father’s house, lest he imprison her so that she may remain under his eye until she could release her to the attentions of her would be husband.
This news had troubled Rhaegar, but that she was already making her way south spurred him to action. With Elia he laid forth his plans for the future, should he succeed in spiriting away Lyanna from her unwanted fate. While doing would indeed rescue her from the politics and machinations of her father, it would not guarantee her safety, nor either his own or Elia’s, should his own kingly parent discover their plans. To that end, he made to have Elia and their children sent away to Dragonstone, Rhaegar’s own seat and place of strength, where she might be guarded by men he trusted, and remain safe from his father’s unpredictable temper.
But to insure the safety of Lyanna different steps must be taken. For to bring her to King’s Landing and the Red Keep would be to forfeit both her life and his own to Aerys’s mad whims. Nor could her whisk her to Dragonstone, for to do so would mean bringing her to one of the ports along the Bay of Blackwater, as no winged Wyvern, save the Raths of the Royal House, could make such a journey in a single flight. To even take flight along the north coast of the bay, to the point of shortest travel across the waters to the Isle of his family, would be of too great a risk. To use any wyvern but a great Rath would mean that they would need to pause in their travel at least one so that the beast may rest. Either of those options would leave both Rhaegar and Lyanna vulnerable to the spies and soldiers of his father and the Master of Whispers. No, to keep her safe, he would needs take her in a direction none would suspect, and count to secrecy, rather than strength, for their security.
To that end Elia summoned her uncle, Prince Lewyn of House Martell, who was of the Kingsguard. To him she spoke of her and Rhaegar’s beliefs, fears, and plans, counting on his loyalty to her as close kin to exceed the loyalty his oaths demanded of him to his king. In this they were rewarded, and he gave to them a plan, to remove Lyanna south, away from the King’s Landing, and further from the safety of Dragonstone, and make for an outpost of little renown in the Red Mountains of Dorne. Long had it been a lonely sentinel for the Princes of Dorne against their prosperous and powerful western neighbors in the Reach. As the centuries had turned, it had been lost to time, but for some few scattered records in the libraries of Sunspear. Lewyn knew of it from his youth, when he had traveled in the mountains of Dorne, hunting the wild brute and bird wyverns that nested in its peaks and valleys. Of’ times he would stay there, sheltering in its silent walls and standing on its lonely tower, using it as a hunting lodge during his ventures.
With plans laid, the Prince of Dragonstone set forth, alone save for those of the Kingsguard with whom he was closest, his dear dears friends Ser Oswell Whent and Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, and those few of his own men of far Dragonstone who accompanied him to the capital. Together they made for the Riverlands, and the Riverroad that ran its breadth. North of the great keep of Harrnehal they lay in wait for the willful Princess of Winterfell, and there did all of Rhaegar’s plans nearly come to naught but ash.
For as they espied the daughter of House Stark, bearing down the road upon the back of a northern Iodrome, bearing down on her in turn where men in the red and black of the Royal House, their own beasts moving as fleetly, a Great Jaggi at their head. Though the trappings of the beast and its rider were in the colors of House Targaryen, upon the cloak of the knight was the sigil of the crossed hammers on blue and white. Rhaegar knew the man who bore that crest through the halls of the Red Keep. Ser Jaremy of House Rykker was a sardonic man, and one quick to action. He was king’s man as well, and should he chance see the Prince, then quickly would he carry word back to Aerys the Mad. Rhaegar could risk not the lives of his wife and children, should such news spark a bout of fury within the insane king. But nor could he so casually strike down a knight loyal to his house, when a time may come when every sword and every wyvern might be needed against the waves of chaos and unrest that Lyanna’s letter seem to warn of.
With swift instruction to his men, he cast aside the accessories of his house, leaving only his long blade wrought of Rathalos scales. Speedily did his party follow suit, discarding what articles of their persons that may leave their identities open to those who pursued the northern lady. Rhaegar himself tore his own cloak, and binding up his silver hair, wrapped it about his head, in the manner of the sailors of the Summer Sea, hiding the sight of his Valyrian heritage.
Thus disguised, the Prince of Dragonstone and his party struck forth from their place of concealment, blades flashing in the sun, and set upon the troop of guardsmen as they passed. Screams filled the air, and blood covered the earth, as men fell. Swiftly did Rhaegar and his band strike down the soldiery, til but a few remained, among them the knight that Aerys had commanded to apprehend the Daughter of Rickard Stark. With a careful, Ser Oswell struck the knight behind the ear, and laid the man out cold in the dust of the road.
With the pursuit laid low, either dead or unconscious, Rhaegar and his men removed their coverings and turned to seek after the Lady Lyanna, who had passed them whilst fleeing the king’s men. Find her quickly they did, for shortly after speeding past their place of concealment, her wyvern had stepped poorly upon a loose stone in the road. As the beast had stumbled, the lady had been thrown from her saddle, to land in the brush that clung to the roadside. Now she stood before them, a short blade in her hand. T’was plain that she had feared being set upon by the men who had chased her down the road, or maybe it was to her mind that she had fallen into the company of bandits, for none of the Prince’s party had the look of being more than common brigands. Only after Rhaegar had removed the kerchief bound about his head, letting loose his silver hair, did she lower the blade, for who could not recognize a son of Valyria with his hair trailing in the breeze and his violet eyes flashing in the sun.
With a cry of relief did she run to the Prince’s arms, as he swung from the saddle of his Great Maccao, its feathers. He took her into his embrace, soothing the fear that she had felt since first being set upon by Ser Jaremy Rykker, and the henchmen of the King. With her now safe, Rhaegar lifted her to his own wyvern and, once astride the monster as well, took her to the camp he and his men had made away from the road side. As night fell, and Rhaegar was certain that they had not been followed, he sat with the Princess of Winterfell. Together they spoke of the plans he and Elia of Dorne had made, of the feards they shared. Little of this Did Lyanna know, for out of necessity was the letter to her from Rhaegar’s wife brief. All she had known was that her friend had an offer, one that might ease Lyanna’s own mind in regard to the wedding that she did not seek.
To this question Rhaegar did answer, sharing with Northern Lady the suggestion that the Southern one had proposed. As the Princess of Sunspear could no longer bear a living child, lest the doing so kill her, it had been put forth to the Prince of Dragonstone that he take another to his bed, and maybe to wife as well, as had been done in centures past by lords and kings of the House of Targaryen.
This news came as a shock to the Lady Lyanna, for while she knew that such nuptials had been held in the past by the last Dragonlords, the practice had since fallen out of favor, decried by the priests of the Seven as blasphemous and vile. But Elia had reminded the prince that he was a dragon, of a line of dragons, and dragons were beholden to no man or god. Yet Lyanna had asked, “And should another be chosen, to go to your bed and to join your House, who might that be?” Her voice was low and burred, her accent of one to whom the Common Tongue was not native.
To this the prince had answered as well, “Why, my dear lady, it was you that my wife, Elia of Sunspear, had proposed. Ever has she thought fondly of you, since the time of your meeting at the Tourney of Harrenhal. She knows of your feelings concerning the Lord of Storm’s End, and your fears about your future with him. She knows that you are beautiful, gentle, wild, kind, and loving to those who earn it. And she knows of your gift, of how all monsters bow their heads to you, regardless if they castle bred or wild born. Such a power will be needed, to face the fires that are coming.”
For long seconds did the Princess of the North sit by the fire, staring into Rhaegar’s eyes. Finally, as the stars began to awaken in the darkening sky, she spoke. “And what is it that your wish, my prince? Do you seek another to take to your marriage bed?”
Rhaegar turned from her searching eyes, looking into the flames as the bird wyverns of his troupe crooned sleepily in the twilight. “I think I could have been happy, with Elia alone as my bride. Ove each we did not, when this marriage was forced upon us by my contrary father, who did so only to thwart and dishonor Tywin, Lord of House Lannister, who was once his friend. But we grew to care for one another. She is gentle lady. Never weak, for if she were but more fit of body she would have taken up some skill at arms, as is done in Dorne by Ladies. But she is gentle, and she is understanding, and she is far wiser than I.”
He rose and stepped to the little cauldron that hung over the fire, taking a bowl from his pack as he did so, and filling it with the steaming stew that had been cooking since camp was made. He returned to his seat and gave the bowl to Lyanna, speaking as he did so. “Yes, I think I could have been happy with Elia alone, and with our children. But does my happiness outweigh the needs of the Realm, or the world? Can I justify to the dead and dying, laid out before me, as beast that would be gods tear the land apart in their strife, that I did not seek to provide the realm with all that it needed to survive the struggle, because I was happy with what I already had? Nay, my lady. I may be condemned for seeking to take another to my bed, so that those who will save this land can be brought into the world. But if I do not seek to give the Seven Kingdoms their greatest chance at survival, then it will matter not that I was pardoned in the eyes of men by remaining true one wife only. I will be already damned by those that died, and by those who will never be born.”
He sighed then, the sad smile that was his wont gracing his Valyrian features. “So, to answer your question, Lyanna, Daughter of Rickard, King in the North, I do wish to take another to my marriage bed. I do this out of duty, just as I wed my Princess Elia out of duty. But that does mean that it would be a loveless match, just as my union with my wife is not loveless. Not anymore. It would take time, maybe even years, but I think we can come to care for each other. For I find you to be as beautiful and dangerous as a winter storm, as imperial as the Mountains of the Moon, and as free as the wyvern on the wing. Marriages have been built on less and survived.”
With that, Lyanna of Winterfell, Daughter of Kings, agreed to the proposal of the Rhaegar, Heir to the Throne of Blades. To free herself of detested match to a philandering lord who swore oaths of loyalty and love, while seeking a fresh bed, and body to warm it, every night, she agreed to wed a solemn prince, who asked only that she help him save their kingdoms from certain destruction.
The following morning, ere they left seeking a place of refuge, so that the plan might unfold as Rhaegar and Elia had sought, Lyanna set ink and quill to parchment, penning out a letter to her family in distant Winterfell, as well as a copy to be left for her brother Brandon, who even now traversed the Riverlands some days behind her. With it she sought to explain her circumstance, that she sought not to marry Robert of Baratheon, in whose bed she would have lain alone, whilst he sought fresh ones once her freshness to his House had worn away. Should she have wed him, she would have never known in whose bed he might be, when he was not in hers.
Instead, she would wed a Prince, and sit by his throne, alongside a newfound sister. That she believed his prophecy and had agreed to help him to avert cataclysm. At least, she would know in whose nighttime company Rhaegar would be, when not lying beside her.
These intentions did she pen, and, sealing the folded letters with a ring bearing her crest, a star speckled rose blossom, she and Rhaegar’s company made towards Riverrun to the west, for that place, and its inhabitants, were the only nobles of the Riverlands that she knew well enough to see her message sent north. For several days did they travel, and in the doing so did she and Rhaegar come to know one another. She spoke with him, and with his Kingsguard, who sat closest to him in his councils, save for Elia, Princess of Dorne. From them did she learn of Rhaegar, the man, and not of Rhaegar, the Prince. She learned of his hopes, beyond his quests to halt another Dance of Dragons, to bring Westeros out of its long stagnation and cultural decline.
For too long, things had been done only as they had been done before, with little to now innovation or change. The nobles trod upon the smallfolk, as if they were but paving stones in the street. They sought not to change their patterns of life, from how they grew their crops to how they tended their beasts, to how they treated with their neighbors. They decried the practices of slavery in distant Essos yet treated their peasantry as something to be used then cast aside, to be forgotten as soon as it left the hand. They tended their crops and raised their animals, just as they had done for ages past, yet time and again lords were forced to purchase grain and livestock from the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea. They crafted weapons and armor and tools, as their fathers did, and their grandfathers before them, yet more and more often were articles of foreign crafting sought, such as the gauntlets that even now the Prince and the Kingsguard wore on their left arms.
The Lords of Westeros call the Magisters of Essos ignorant savages, for there were no maesters across the sea, no lords or kings, yet it was to Essos that the Seven Kingdoms looked for things of beauty, be they paintings or carpets, or the voices of bards and steps of dancers.
Westeros, to Rhaegar’s eye, had lost its culture, its poetic soul. He hoped to spark a great revolution of art in the Seven Kingdoms, to bring back their pride in their craftsmenship.
And he sought to the cure the fractiousness of the Realm, where every kingdom saw itself separate from the others, a part of something greater only loosely, bound by words that had little meaning to them anymore. Once, when House Targaryen soared the sky on the backs of Rathalos and Rathian, and so too did their own knights, those oaths of fealty from the Lords Paramount were honest and true, for House Targaryen could bring forth the wrath of Fire, and the vengeance of Blood, upon any who questioned their rule, be they in high mountains or low fields. But now, only Atraxes and Finlagi remained, and they were growing old. No clutch had been laid in recent years, and those from before had been in poor health, the hatchling dying in the shell, or soon after. Now, the skies were the domains of lesser beasts, fit for couriers and scouts.
Rhaegar hoped to repair that damage. It was his thought to build an army, beholden to no lord but the one that sat the Throne of Blades. And army whose purpose it was to bring the king’s justice to the corners of the Realm and rely not of the whims of the local lords and knights. This army would be clad in fine armor and given bright blades. They would be forged and quenched, trained and tested from the moment each man joined. No force conscription of peasantry, shoved in front of their betters with no knowledge of how to swing a sword, only to die so that the knights behind may ride to glory over their bleeding corpses. This army would be drawn from those common fold, but trained to stand tall and firm, to show no fear, and give no quarter. They would have discipline hammered into them, and pride mantled on their shoulders. A royal army.
He sought as well to replace the loss of his House’s power. With the decline of the Raths, brought out of Valyria so long ago, he hoped to find a new wyvern to stand as the living symbol of the Royal Family. He had spoken with Maesters of the Citadel, and Magisters and mystics from across the Sea. He scoured texts and bestiaries, seeking a monster worthy of being a Targaryen steed. Some hopefuls he had found, though to procure them was a task beyond his power, for the moment. One such creature had caught his interests. Not for its size, for it was much like to the Rathalos in scale, but for its ferocity. A savage hunter, who stalked the night in forests deep, hunting unseen from tree tops and dense undergrowth, hidden by its midnight fur. A Nargacuga, he had said, would be a fine addition to the stables of Dragonstone.
Then there too was the hereditary wyvern of her own family, know lost to the wilds of the North. The Barioth was fine beasts, fit for kings. Yet the might hunters of the northern snows had vanished in the centuries since Aegon the Conqueror brought the Seven Kingdoms together under his ward. Rhaegar had spoken with sailors of the Narrow Sea, those whose ships had traveled even Beyond the Wall. They had given to him rumors that the Ice Tusk Wyvern still prowled the Haunted Forests and Frost Fang mountains, preying on the unfortunate that strayed from their villages and fires.
Others there were that he mentioned, from great horned hunters of the deserts and wastes of Essos, to the storm flyers of Sothoryos, even golden beasts with scales like blades, who hunted the Stepstones. Any rumor of might winged wyverns he sought out, hoping to find one to be a fresh hope for his failing House. Already he had sent out knights of Dragonstone, and spoken with Magisters of the Free Cities, hoping to procure eggs of such mighty beasts. He had little hope that his ambition, to rekindle the fires of House Targaryen’s glories, would sit well with his unstable sire. In fact, Rhaegar was of little doubt that should the king learn of these plans, he would surely see it as a plot against his reign. But if Aerys the Mad could be removed from his throne, should Rhaegar find the support he so desperately sought, then the new eggs, and the wyverns that would hatch from them, would stir a new dawning of Targaryen might in Westeros.
All of these ambitions, and more, did he share with Lyanna as they made their steady way towards the seat of House Tully, where lived the betrothed of Lyanna’s eldest brother, Brandon, who was prince and heir to the northern throne in Winterfell. But as they approached the castle and were indeed within sight of its white walls through the trees, when a rider came upon them on the road. He was a young man, slight of build, his hair dark, and possessing of eyes that flashed a grey-green. As he approached, he rode his aptonoth with a look a great discomfort across his face, a look that grew only deeper with every jolt of the beast’s paws striking the ground, as if the very movement of the monster caused him deep pain. Indeed, as he pulled up the beast before the prince’s party, he clutched at chest, as if it hurt, and a heavy sweat ran down his brow. His clothing was finely made, if simple, and the image of a stylized coralbird stood out on his breast.
His face was pale as he raised his head to look upon the travelers, but when he spoke his voice was voice was light, welcoming, and full of subtle charm. “Greetings, Your Graces, and welcome to Riverrun. My name of Petyr, of House Bealish, from the Vale of Arryn. I am Ward to Lord Hoster Tully, who reigns in Riverrun.”
Rhaegar arched his brow, for it was odd that one who knew him for the Prince of Dragonstone, for his hair was down and his eyes were uncovered, thus leaving him a most recognizable person in the realm, would approach him so far from the keep, and alone. It has ever been his experience, that should he be recognized on approach to the castles of the land, he was greeted with great ceremony and acclaim, for was he not the Heir to the Throne of Blades? Yet this young man came forward without escort, and so far from the castle, which was still some miles away for all that its walls could be seen.
Before he could speech his concern, Lyanna raised her own voice in reply to the greeting. “And greetings in return, as well as thanks, Lord Bealish. I believe I know of you, or at least I have heard your name spoken. I am Lyanna, Daughter of Rickard, who is Lord and King in Winterfell. I come to Riverrun, ahead of my brother, Brandon, who it to wed the Lady Catelyn, Hoster Tully’s daughter. My brother is some days behind me, for I prefer a brisker speed to the sedate pace he and his party travel at.”
Bealish winced as Lyanna spoke her brother’s name, though whether it was due to a renewal of what ever pains he currently suffered, or to the sound of Brandon Stark’s name, the prince could not be certain. “Indeed, your Grace, I know of who you are. Tales spread far and wide of the fierce beauty of the Princess of Winterfell, betrothed to Robert Baratheon the Thunder Beast, the Lord of Storm’s End. And too, I have seen you before. As I am ward in Riverrun, a favored owed by Lord Tully to my father, for friendship earned during the Stepstones War, I was in attendance at the Tourney of Harrenhal, as part Lord Tully’s party. I remember seeing you there, in the company of your brothers and your intended.”
Lyanna’s eyes grew hard at the mention of the Lord of Storm’s End, and she could not fully hide the anger that crept into her voice. “It is of fine chance that you should mention my brothers, for I have a letter that must reach my lord father with all haste, and another to be left with the Lady Catelyn, for my brother Brandon. Circumstances have arisen concerning a dear friend of mine in the Capital, and I would hurry to her side, ere some misfortune befall her by my absence.”
Young Bealish inclined his head. “Then, by all means, allow me to assist you, Princess. If you would but permit me, I could take your messages straight to the Maester of Riverrun, for he is well known to me. Cat…, that is to say, the Lady Catelyn, is friend and lady most dear to my heart, almost a sister, had I but been born to this House instead my father’s in the Fingers. You are the sister to he who will be husband to Lady Catelyn, and so you will a sister to her, who is as a sister to me. Nothing would please me more than to be of assistance to you.” His grey-green eyes shone with the depth of his earnestness.
Lyanna stared at the slight man for a time, before reaching into her belt pouch and pulling forth the letters in question. A light touch to the neck of her wyvern, a spare mount that the prince had brought to his meeting with her, and the beast trotted forward, turning so that the Princess of Winterfell could reach out and place the folded parchments in Bealish’s outstretched hand. “I thank you, Lord Bealish, for this service. Know that by you kind and gracious offer, lives might be spared from fates unkind and unwanted.”
As she turned to leave, Rhaegar spoke up. “Young Petyr, before we take our leave, answer me this. You recognized myself, and the Lady, as notables of royal Houses. Yet you came alone, and farther than was warranted, to meet us upon the road. Riverrun has only just come into our sight, though it be hours of riding yet to reach its white walls, but we come upon you soon after, long before any of those who stand lookout in the towers and upon the walls of Riverrun might sight us. How did you know to meet us here, and why did you come without escort, as befits welcoming the Heir to the Throne of Blades?”
Bealish smiled at the Prince, a slight and embarrassed one, as if he had been caught out in a farce. “You have a keen eye and a quick mind, you Grace. Yes, I did approach you and your party so far from the gates of Riverrun with an ulterior objective in mind. I had known of your coming for some time, though not that you would be here this day, at this hour. Or rather, I knew of the approach of the Lady Lyanna. News of her coming, of the coming of her brother, has flown quickly before you, for all know that Brandon Stark comes south from Winterfell to take the Lady Catelyn Tully of Riverrun to wife, and make her a Princess of the North. I had only to seek out a place some ways from the keep, to await the arrival of such noble personages.”
He sighed then, his eyes downcast/ “I must admit, my being here was in hopes of seeking aid, to remedy an error on my part that has soured the once familial friendship between myself and the Lord of Riverrun. In the time since last Prince Brandon graced the halls of ruling seat of the Riverlands, I have been placed in a most awkward situation, for the Lady Lysa had professed to me her undying love, and confessed further still that she does carry my child, a product of a night in which I was most deep into my cups and took ungentlemanly advantage of the person of the younger daughter of Hoster Tully. The Lord Tully knows not yet of this, but I still am under his unfriendly gaze, for stupidly I challenged Prince Brandon to a duel some time ago and was grievously wounded in the bout. Only recently have I been given leave to rise from my sick bed, but the affair has turned Lord Tully against me, for my challenge was seen by him as insult to House Stark and to his own. I add to this my own poor station among the Lords of Westeros, being only a minor Lord with a small holding, and I fear he will not look well upon a suite by myself for Lady Lysa’s hand, for I will not let her birth a bastard.”
He returned his now pleading gaze to the Prince. “It had been my hope that I might ask the aid of Brandon Stark, or one of his kin, to plead my case before the Lord of Riverrun, and raise my standing in his eyes.”
Rhaegar listened to this and nodded his head. “Then I will aid, as I may. But I cannot proceed to Riverrun at this time, as your offer to take the letters of Princess Lyanna to the maester has rendered our errand to Riverrun complete. But when Prince Brandon does arrive, and has received the letter that his sister has left for him, tell him this: that I, Rhaegar of the House of Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone and Heir to the Throne of Blades, do look favorably upon your suite of the hand of Lysa Tully, and that I ask of him the same. I ask also that he stands with you before Lord Hoster of Riverrun and support your bid for her. Tell Lord Tully that it would please greatly his future king, to know that you seek to do honor by this young Lady, rather than bid her bare a bastard, conceived by a lone night’s besotted foolishness.”
Young Petyr bowed low over the saddle of his beast. “I thank you, My Prince, for this aid. You do me great honor, to endorse this union, and I hope that I might one day repay it.” With that, he turned his Aptonoth about, and rode towards the distant keep.
The task finished, Rhaegar and Lyanna turned their party away from Riverrun, back up the River Road. They would take the highway eastward, until they could find a path south, to the tower of Lewyn’s tales. Had Rhaegar and Lyanna known what Brandon, Prince of Winterfell and Heir of the North, would do, the party would have made for the northmen procession, so that Lyanna and the Prince of Dragonstone might explain in person their decision to forswear the betrothal of Lord of Storm’s End and the Princess of Winterfell.
But they had not known. And now the kingdoms were at war, and the blood of good men was shed in pointless causes. Now he must slay one who was kin to him, just so that he might not need to slay one who was closer kin to his lady.
He looked back up to meet the eyes of the Kingsguard from Sunspear. “I have done all I can, to safeguard their lives. All I can, without spurring my father to action that might bring them harm. And now I must do more, to safeguard my House from destruction.”
Prince Lewyn traded stares with his charge, the whetstone stilled against the edge of his knife. Finally, he nodded and slipped the heavy dagger behind his back. “Then I must see to my men, Your Grace. Let the gods find favor with you, and your blades be wet with blood.” With that, the Dornishman rose and left the pavilion, the light, chitinous vespoid armor he wore creaking slightly has he moved, the bone shaft of his glaive thumping softly against his back.
Rhaegar stood silent in the pavilion, staring down at the map with which he had planned the fates of forty thousand souls. He must be worthy of them, for he was their Prince, and he had been idle for far too long.
The great red head swung about as he approached, the blue eyes with their burning gold irises focused on him. Rhaegar paused in his stride, cautious even now, with years of partnership between him and the beast. After a moment, the Rathalos gave a low rumbling growl, but one of recognition, and not warning. The prince came closer and laid his hand on the monster’s scaled and horny brow, stroking the ridge that protected the great eye. He knew that it did no good, truly, to pet the beast so, for its scales were too thick for it to feel the light touch of human hands, but it was a ritual that had been a part of their lives since Rhaegar had been old enough to be take the Dragonpit. There he had been introduced to this mighty Flying Wyvern, Atraxes, as well as to its mate, the Rathian, Finlagi. They had been mature beasts then, mounts to his mother Rhaella, and his father, Aerys.
But in the years of the King’s madness, Atraxes had gone neglected, and its mate chained within the Pit, lest Rhaella unleash the Queen of the Land upon her Brother-husband. Or so did Aerys fear in his depravity. It had been the Prince, when he took upon himself the mantle of knight, rather than scholar, who sought out the Wyvern, and made sure its survival with food and care. But now the Rathalos was old. Its scales, once of burnished red that mirrored blood, now were only dun shades of rust. Not long would it remain the final Rathalos of the Seven Kingdoms. But life still stirred in the King of the Skies, and where there was life, there was the will to fight. Rhaegar only feared that this would be last time that Atraxes would take wing to war. But he was Prince of Dragonstone, and no lesser mount would serve to ferry the Heir to the Throne of Blades to fateful conflict.
He patted at the wyvern’s thigh and the monster lowered itself to the ground of the enclosure, allowing the prince to climb up to the saddle that was strapped to the shoulders. Seating himself, he tied Blood to the saddle before binding straps about his legs. It would not do to be thrown from Atraxes’s back should the monster turn about in the sky, nor could he stand to lose his sword in a similar manner. But how he longed for one of the great blades of his House. What he wielded now, and what he wore, were but the legacies of the Dragonguard of old, those brave knights who had ridden upon the backs of Raths in the service of House Targaryen. But they were gone now, the order disbanding as the number of Raths diminished. All that remained were the armor and blades of their order. Rhaegar was honored indeed to bear that legacy into battle, to secure the future of his House. But he would be more certain still of victory had he born one of the Great Blades.
The Great Blades, Weapons brought out of Valyria by survivors and refugees of the Doom. Weapons forged in the final days of that dying empire, to fight that which was destroying them. Crafted from the remains of Elders long dead, to face those that still lived. Those that had found their way into the hands of House Targaryen had become writ large upon the pages of history, for each had earn glory in deeds sung still in the halls of Lords and Kings.
Rheagar could picture each in his mind’s eye, though all but one had been lost, such were their descriptions and depictions in the books of Dragonstone’s library.
The Imperial Saber, crafted from the remains of a Teostra slain by dragonlords centuries before the Doom, lost in the sands of Dorne, when Daeron was struck down in the skies of that desert country by foul treachery when he flew to a meeting of peace with newly conquered Dorne.
Daora’s Enton, a glaive of the Wind Dragon Kushala Daora, taken to the Wall by Brynden Rivers, Bloodsleep, who had sacrificed of his own honor to ensure that the realm would not know a Blackfyre King at the Great Council. Lost now, beyond the Wall, where Bloodsleep vanished.
The Empress Daggers of Lunastra, who is mate to Teostra, were lost at sea, when Targaryen fought Targaryen in the War of Two Crowns, the great civil war that had preceded the Blackfyre Rebellions.
Dragonslayer, once the great sword of Aegon the Conqueror, forged from the remains of the mighty Elder Dragon Lao-Shan Lung, a beast that had wreaked devastation in the lands beyond the Bones Mountains, before crossing to Ghis. It has been said that its deaththroes, when struck down by some ancient hero, of whose realm the Ghiscari and Valyrians had argued over for centuries, had dug that which would become Slaver’s Bay. Now it was somewhere in the lands of Essos, stolen by Aegor Bittersteel, when he fled from the losses of the First Blackfyre Rebellion. What became of the famed blade, none now knew.
And lastly, the lone sword that remained still in the hands of the High King’s House. Vigilance, fashioned from the corpse of the Shagaru Magala, the Heavenly Dragon. Even now, Rhaegar knew this blade to lay across the lap of his mad father. As lost to him, til he could depose the Mad King, as any of the others.
Bitterly did he sigh, but tasks were before him, a battle to be won, a war to be ended. He took up the reins of Atraxes, and with a touch of his spurs, guided the monster from the enclosure and into the bright morning sky. A second touch, and the Rathalos spread its wings. With a mighty push of its legs and a sweep of its wings, the beast was skyborne. Rhaegar could not help but to laugh. Long had it been since last, he had taken to the sky. Even with his helm worn, he could feel the bite of the wind, seeking out his skin through the metal and scales of his armor, the padded linen of his jerkin. This was were a Targaryen belonged, in the air, upon the wings of wyverns. This was how Aegon, First of his Name, had conquered the Seven Kingdoms.
Smiling, he pulled on the reins, turning Atraxes so that the Rathalos banked, circling the encamped army. Below, he could see the mass of kestodon and bird wyverns that made up the Reach Cavalry, making their way westward, towards the lesser ford, as he had ordered. And there, the columns of Dornishmen, at their head Prince Lewyn, upon Nymor, the fearsome Gasurabazura that he had claimed in his youthful wandering of the Dorne’s deserts. Falling in line behind were numbers of Dorne’s most common Bird Wyvern, from inland sand to coastal forests, the Kulu-ya-ku. Even from his height, Rhaegar could make out the bright red and yellow feathers that adorned the helms of the Dornish knights.
And, the largest force of the three, the lines of his Crownsmen, with the support of the Riverlanders, Stormlanders, Valemen, the Reach infantry, marching towards the river, and the Ruby Ford.
From above he heard sudden cries and looked up to the flights of his scouts. Men in leathers and lighter mail, on the backs of the bird wyverns that could take flight. He could see the winged forms of Gypceros, Hypnocatrice, Pukie-Pukie, Chramine, and Farurokku outlined against the blue sky. A shout greeting came to him for the flapping mass, and four Chramine fell in beside Atraxes, giving the apex predator of the skies of Westeros as wide a berth as was necessary. Their riders wore armor or leather, carved from the hides of the Great Jagras that haunted the forests of the Kingswood. They, like several who even now marched to the river’s edge, were of his personal guard, called from Dragonstone. Those who marched in the ranks wore armor of fine Alloy and held weapons of greater quality than those wielded by the houseguards of many other lords. And those who sought to ride earthbound beasts rode not kestodons, but a creature native to the caldera of Dragonstone, the gastodon.
Rhaegar raised his hand in acknowledgement of their presence, and, with escort in formation about him, turned Atraxes towards the river. As they flew over the marching hosts, and reached the river, he could hear, over the howling of the wind, the cries of battle already commenced. Though the melee was not yet joined upon the earth, the skies were already filled with death, as windborn knights and wyverns danced among the clouds.
Rhaegar drew Blood from its saddle sheath and raised it high. As one, the sky knights in formation around him drew their own blades, longswords, short blades and shields, twin blades and great swords, all flashed in the morning sunlight. Digging his spurs of Valyrian Steel in the hide and muscle of Atraxes’s shoulders, he urged the wyvern forward and into the fray, his honor guard swiftly followings.
First to feel the wrath of the Prince of Dragonstone was a Vale knight, his Gypceros bedecked in the colors and arrow fan of House Hunter. The beast was entangled with another wyvern, a Hypnocatrice, their talons tearing at each other, their tails wrapped about in a knot, their jaws snapping at each other’s neck. Upon their backs, their riders dueled, a glaive of steel striking sparks from a sword and shield of bone and scale. From the heraldic trappings on the Hypnocatrice, its rider was a knight of House Chelsted, and he was sore pressed to keep the long reaching glaive from piercing past his shield and sword and reaching his heart.
Like a crimson wind the prince and his beast swooped upon the battling pair, Atraxes’s talons outstretched. The black, iron hard claws sank into the tough hide and flesh of the smaller bird wyvern as a hot knife through fresh cheese, and with a heave the Rathalos tore its prey from the imperiled loyal knights. The Gypceros shrieked, and its knight screamed in horror, as the great red head flashed down and tore into the long neck of the rebel beast. There was sickening tear and crack, and then Atraxes released its grip upon the hapless victim of his wrath. As the Royal mount turned away and winged towards another dueling pair, Rhaegar glanced behind. Faintly he could see the limp figure of a falling wing wyvern.
As Atraxes struck out again, this time spitting forth a ball of flame to blast a circling rebel scout from the sky, Rhaegar took stock of the battle beneath him in the river. Already, he could see, the host of Robert Baratheon had closed with the shield wall of Rhaegar’s crownsmen and loyal soldiers and knights from rebel lands. The line of battle was twisting and flowing like the body of a serpent, as the charging soldiers of House Baratheon pushed against those loyal to the crown, and the loyalist pushed back in turn. Already the waters of the river were beginning to flow red with blood.
A screaming cry shattered the air about the prince, and Rhaegar looked up in alarm. Out of the clouds dove three pale forms, arrowing straight for the prince and what remained of his escort, for several had peeled away to engage rebel sky riders that had sought to intercept the Heir to the Throne of Blades. The two had remained in formation about Rhaegar spurred their beasts ahead of the him, moving to intercept those who would bar his way. With their own cries of challenge, both beast and man, the knights of Dragonstone met the charging rebel knights, one pair meeting only once before splitting apart to circle one another, the other two merging into a mess of wings, tails, flashing talons, and snapping jaws, while the knights traded blows across the twisting necks of their mounts.
The third flier moved directly for Rhaegar, and the prince could see the rebel knight take both hands from the reins of his beast to draw a pair of blades from his back. As they closed with each other, the Paolumu of the rebel rolled completely over, exposing its back as it passed over the prince’s head. The twin blades flashed towards Rhaegar’s head, and Blood rose to meet them. The ring of blade on blade sang out in the momentary cavern that formed between the passing monsters, and rhaegar lashed out again and again at his attacker, only for his long sword to be met over and over by the twin blades of his opponent. Then the moment had passed, the beasts moving beyond each other, each rider out the reach of the other’s blades. In that moment of rapid exchange, Rhaegar had noticed the sigil on the wyvern’s white wings. He scowled. It was the three revulture born hearts of House Corbray, and the sigil had been tattooed to the membrane of the Paolumu’s wing. Rhaegar despised the practice, for he saw it as an unnecessary pain to inflict upon the beasts, when simple paints might suffice.
Rhaegar pulled at his reins, turning the Rathalos about so that he might chase after the Corbray knight and continue their duel, for House Corbray were a powerful House sworn to Lord Arryn and to remove so skilled a fighter from the field could only be an advantage to his royal host. But as Atraxes began to beat his wings in pursuit, another rebel wyvern bore down on the prince, a Farunokku in the colors of House Tarth, its rider angling his lance towards Rhaegar.
With a scream of rage Atraxes twist about, a move that might have hurled Rhaegar from his saddle, had he not been bound to it be straps. As it was he nearly lost his sword and clung to it only just. Righting himself, he noted the Tarth knight wheeling around for another charge, the tip of his lance red with smoking blood. Grimly Rhaegar tightened his grip upon Blood and urged Atraxes forward. The mighty Rathalos bellowed in challenge, flames licking from his fangs, as he beat his way towards the lesser wyvern that dared to usurp his position as lord of the sky.
The creatures closed, Rhaegar lashed out at the thrusting lance, forcing it up and away to slide past his shoulder and head, while Atraxes thrust out his open maw, the flames billowing forth. The feathers of Farunokku blackened and smoked, the beasts screaming in pain and fear, before the burning fangs closed upon its throat.
As the two mounts struggled, the Tarth knight struck out again with his lance, but for its length it was clumsy weapon, unsuited to meet foes who were so close. Rhaegar twisted away from the rushing tip, feeling graze over the spikes of his pauldron. Fast as lightning he whipped his sword out at the knight, but the knight’s shield rose in response, and sparks flew through the air. Again, and again prince and knight exchanged blows while their monsters tore at each other.
Then came a gurgling cry from the Farunokku, and it went limp in Atraxes’s jaws. The knight gave a panicked cry, dropping his lance and shield to reach for his mount’s head, but as Atraxes released his grip, the smaller beast fell earthwards. The Rathalos gave a victorious scream, but his wing beats felt strained and lagging to Rhaegar. He looked about himself for his guard, but if they still flew they were now deeply engaged with foes of their own. Frowning Rhaegar turned Atraxes back towards his army’s lines, to the forward command post he had designated to his generals the night before, upon a relatively clear hill close the ford, where they might receive reports of the battle and decide where to send troops.
Rhaegar could feel the jolt of landing as Atraxes touched down. Quickly he untied the straps holding him to the saddle and slid from the Rathalos’s back. As soon as his feet touch earth a squire was running to him. “Your Grace, Your Grace! Ser Jonothor requests your presence!”
Rhaegar removed his helm and turned to the squire. “Then tell him I come at once. Send for the grooms to see to Atraxes. He has suffered a wound along his thigh, and he is weary for battle. See him fed and watered, and his wounds tended to, so that he may be ready to take wing once again.”
“Of course, my Prince!” And the young man spun on his heel midstride and dashed away. Rhaegar gripped his bare sword, the hold reversed, and made for the group of lords and knights who stood watching the lines of battle below them at the riverside.
Ser Jonothor was deep in discussion with the lord who commanded the Reach footmen. His Great Baggi stood hobbled nearby, its eyes fixed on the fighting and dying men below the hill. “Bring you levies forward to secure the left, I say. The Northmen have struck hard, and our lines buckle there. That they remain in the rear and to the right do us no good, for Prince Lewyn marches from there, and his presence keeps us protected from the east.”
The Reach lord scowled, but on seeing the approach of the Prince of Dragonstone simply saluted his fist to heart and bowed to the kingsguard before turning away to the Velocidrome that awaited him. Ser Jonothor turned to the prince and saluted in turn. “Your Grace how goes the battle above?”
“It goes as expected, bloodly and difficult to read, for the dancing partners move to quickly in their steps to be counted easily. For myself I have done for three of the rebel knights, men of Tarth, Hunter, and one other whose heraldry I could not mark before Atraxes’s flame struck him from the air.”
Ser Jonothor nodded. “The battle goes more orderly here, if that can be considered well. Our shield walls have held against the best that the Stormlords can throw at them, but twice have the knights of the Vale broken our lines. They were beaten back and have lost many of their finest knights and beasts, by our own cavalry, but now the Northmen have moved forward, and they are a different manner. Several times I have seen what passes for one of their knights be struck down, by lance or sword or arrow, only for the monster to lose its mind and throw itself into our soldiers. It has been a difficult task to cut them down when the beasts are gripped by such a killing fury.”
He gestured to the corpses of Azuros and Lagombi and Caeserber that littered the field behind the lines of soldiers. Streaks of blood left a trail to show the paths by which the bodies had been drug away from the fighting. “And three times have our own cavalry advances by halted, by no less than Robert Baratheon himself, and that damn Fang Wyvern of his. When our own wyverns sally forth to break the foes’ momentum, he leads a force of riders, headed by his Tobi-kadachi, and tears into our men. Have seen his beasts, its fur sparking like a thunderstorm, flip and spin about, lashing out with tail as often as fang and claw. None, either man or monster, have the courage to meet such a tempest of fang and steel, for the rider is as fierce as the mount. I watched as two knights met him man for man, and both times were they cast down, their bodies crushed by the force of his hammer.”
Rhaegar scowled. “Then it must be I who finds him upon the field. The Tobi-kadachi is a fearsome beast by any measure, and the lighting it hold in its fur might leave any man unable to lift his sword or shield in defense of hi life. None of our monsters, save the brute wyverns, may face that beasts and hope to best it. And our brutes are occupied, holding the center, or riding with Lord Footly. Atraxes alone is left to engage the mount of Robert of Storm’s End. And so, I must meet him.”
Ser Jonothor frowned, his eyes towards the river. “I have wondered where Lord Footly may be, for he should struck to their right flank by now. But I see none of the mounted knights of the Reach upon the field. Think you that he has abandoned us, and deserted to the rebel cause?”
Rhaegar followed his kingsguards gaze, a frown on his face as well. “No, I think not. He is loyal, as are all of the Reach, and would not dishonor himself with desertion. No, something else is amiss. Perhaps he came upon resistance at his crossing and was delayed by battle. But we can do nothing, save send a scout to see to his fate and that of his force. And we have none to spared, nor would they survive the battle above. Let us leave our focus upon the foe before us. But send out riders aways to the west. I want them to keep a weathered eye out for any host moving up the river, lest we be assailed unawares from the left.”
“Of course, my Prince.” Ser Jonothor turned to a nearby runner to send the order. Rhaegar kept his eye on the battle. So, Robert kept himself back, and struck only to halt any movement by the loyalist cavalry. That was cautious for him. Maybe one of his allies had imposed on him the need to not endanger himself needlessly. Rhaegar had not that luxury, for while he was Prince and Heir he lacked the love from his army that Robert had built battle by battle. But, is he were to be the one to lead the charge, it may be enough to draw the Lord of Storm’s End forth.
Rhaegar rubbed at his eyes with his fingertips, squeezing the bridge of bridge of his nose. T’was not midday yet, but already he felt as though he spent hours in the field. Truly, battle was the true test one’s will and stamina. He turned to one of the young squires that stood nearby, awaiting commands and messages to be carried. “Bring me some food and drink, lad. The battle thus far has left me parched and empty. And see to it that the Felynes be ready to move away from the battle. I would not risk their lives on Robert’s generosity should the battle go ill.”
The squire saluted smartly, then ran off towards the supply wagons, packed full of not only food, but with replacements for broken weapons, armor, and damaged saddles. Rhaegar waited for the boy to return and looked out over the battle field. Still the lines wavered back and forth, as men and beasts fought and died. Here, Crownsmen with long spears thrust their blades into the breast of a Gendrome whose great fangs were red with blood. Its screamed and thrashed as it died, and when its rider struggled from the saddle of the downed wyvern, he found loyalist soldiers greeting him with swords in his heart. There, a pair of kestodons bearing Riverlands’s knights barreled into a formation of Reach foot, the heavily plated heads of the beasts colliding with the soldiers and sending them tumbling through the air to land feet behind where they had previously stood. They would not rise again, for the knights rode them down and trampled their bodies into the mud, while lances and blades licked out to either side, felling anyone who came into range. The knights’ advance was halted only when bowmen filled the riders and mounts with arrows.
He was still watching when the squire returned, a bowl of something thick and cold in one hand, and wineskin in the other. Rhaegar took them eagerly and sent the boy off again, to see to Atraxes, while he spooned the cold stew into his mouth, washing it down with a mouthful of warm wine. It was not a particularly good meal, to be eaten so long after it had first been cooked, but it was filling, and the wine was putting life back into him. When the bowl and skin had been emptied, he called for Ser Jonothor, who was dictating fresh orders to the bowmen detachments.
Rhaegar gestured to the battlefield. “I must return to the battle and do what I may to draw out the rebel lords. Have my Knights of Dragonstone gather, for I would lead them out. Let two of our Barroths join as well, to help force our way through the rebel lines. What news of Prince Lewyn? Have the Dornish made their way behind Robert’s vanguard?”
Ser Jonothor’s face become solemn, even sorrowful. “Your Grace, I have received news that Prince Lewyn, my brother in the Kingsguard, has fallen. His host were met by the Knights of the Vale not long after he crossed the river. He took an arrow in the side, from what the witnesses say, and yet fought on. Nymor and the prince, Glaive in hand, struck many of the Vale’s finest knights, before he was met by Lyn of House Corbray, upon a winged Paolumu.”
Rhaegar slammed his clenched fist against the armored plate of his greaves. Then that knight that had eluded him and Atraxes in the sky had been a son of House Corbray itself, and not simply a knight sworn to its service. “Damn it to Seven Hells and may the Sapphire Star bland and blast it! I had him, my blade met his, in the clouds afore Atraxes needed to land and rest. He fled from me after but one exchange, and I sought to pursuit him. I may have caught him, but for a fool from House Tarth who engaged and delayed me, wounding Atraxes in the process.”
Ser Jonothor only shook his head. “WE shall have our vengeance, my prince, should we meet Lyn Corbray upon the field. But seek him not, Rhaegar, for to do so would turn you from your purpose, to put Robert Of Storm’s End to the sword. Death is the way of war, and to seek vengeance at the cost of victory is folly.”
Rhaegar could only scowl. “I know this, Jonothor. But it changes not my pain and my fury. It will fall to me to tell Elia, my wife, that her beloved uncle was felled by some stripling from the ends of the Vale of Arryn. I must do what I can, if the opportunity does present itself, to return the favor of his death upon he who dealt it.”
Jonothor bowed his head to the Prince of Dragonston. “As you wish, my prince. Atraxes is rested, watered, and fed. Your own knights are gathers and awaiting your command, and I have brought up two of the Reachmen Barroths.”
Rhaegar nodded his appreciation and turned to towards the clearing where he had left the Rathalos. Though the immediate space about the Flying Wyvern was still clear, dozens of men mounted on Gastodons and wearing Alloy Armor, painted in black and red to show to whom they owed their allegiances. They bore lances of steel, and blades of bone. With them stood two great beasts, nearly as large as the Rathalos. Barroths, brute wyverns common to the dry lands of the Dorne , the Marches, and the Red Mountains. Their great bony snouts, heavily ridged and plated, were well suited to battering down walls, be they made of stone or shields, and smashing the pitiful bodies of smaller beings into the earth.
Rhaegar patted the thigh of Atraxes as he passed under its wing, and the Rathalos lowered itself for him to mount. Once he had strapped himself firmly into the saddle, he looked about the clearing. “Knights, Lords, Soldiers, Men of Westeros, Sworn to the High King of the Seven Kingdoms! Before us is a foe of terrible wrath and potency. A foe that has raised itself against its rightful king and torn this Realm asunder. Let us take to them the justice of fire, and the vengeance of blood! Ride now with me, for wrath and ruin! For a red dawn and black night!”
A cheer rose from the men who surrounded him, blades raised and flashing in the sun. A grim smile fixed on his face, Rhaegar pulled on his helm and drew his sword. He spurred Atraxes, and the Rathalos rose into the air, hovering as his wing beats blew clouds of dust and debris about the clearing. With a screaming cry, the wyvern beat his way forward, the mounted men beneath charging forward through the lines of loyal bannermen. The soldiers before them parted, and gastodons and barroths pounded their way down the road to the river.
As Rhaegar and Atraxes swooped low over the lines of fighting soldiers, he spotted the gleaming ingot armor of Ser Barristan. The Kingsguard was mounted atop a Chramine, his sword lashing out right a left, striking heads from soldiers and opening throats, the Chramine’s beak snaking out to batter aside Riverlander and Valemen rebels, snatching one in its mouth and shaking the man about before flinging him out into the river. Atraxes banked, allowing the Prince of Dragonstone to signal to the older knight. Barristan looked up and raised his Steel Knife, the heavy blade glistening like a ruby. Then he turned to those knights and soldiers that surrounded him and gestured towards the airborne prince.
The line of battle began to shift yet again, this time surging forward into the river as Barristan the Bold led the thrust into the mass of the rebel soldiers before him. The men about him yelled their fervor as they struck into their foes, a cry that only in strength as Atraxes winged low over their heads, flames licking at his fangs. With a motion like a striking snake, the Rathalos spat forth a ball of fire in the milling crowd of rebels, sending men and beasts screaming to the ground as they burned.
Back and forth the flying wyvern passed, spitting balls of fire and gouts of burning sparks, setting the waters of the ford alight as the bodies of man and monster caught flame. From the mass of loyal troops behind the prince, the Knights of Dragonstone pushed forward into the river, the Barroths of Dorne flanking them. Once free of the press of their allies, the gastodons and their riders spread out, forming a line. The beasts lowered their horned heads, their riders readied their lances of steel and bone. And then they charged.
They Knights of Dragonstone struck the hosts of Robert Baratheon, who had been reeling back from the push made by Ser Barristan Selmy, like the blow of the Smith’s hammer on the Anvil of Making. The lines of Rebel bannermen were sent tumbling through the air, their own wyverns bowled over the either trampled under the stamping feet of the charging gastodons or pierced through by the lances of the knights.
And the onslaught did not cease, for behind the Knights of Dragonstone came the two Barroths of Dorne that Rhaegar had ordered to follow him. Their great ridged heads swung back to and fro, sending enemies flying through the air as if loosed by liked arrows from a bow. The brute wyverns piled into the host of foes and began to thrash about, swing tails as well as heads, or slamming their ridges snouts into the ground, crushing beneath them hapless soldiers in yellow and black. Upon their backs the riders, two for each large beast, struck out with over long spears, or loosed bolts and arrows into the crowds that now surrounded them.
Such was the mayhem that Robert’s stormlanders, who headed the host for this moment of the battle, were falling back, though only a small portion of Rhaegar’s army had sallied forth. But it was enough to by his lines time, time to regroup and bring up reserves to replenish losses. Rhaegar brought his mount back around, swinging low so that Atraxes might spray a cluster of stormlanders with flame, and signaled to his knights to withdraw back to their lines, lest they be encircled and cut down in isolation.
They were still wading back across the ford when the cry came up from the western flank of his force. For a moment, Rhaegar thought his aim had been accomplished, to draw out Robert Baratheon, but saw not a one of Robert’s elite guard, those men of Storm’s End he brought from his seat, for they would be astride Great Jaggis, all bedecked in yellow and black, the sigil of the Zinogre painted upon their hides. Again, he heard the shout, one of alarm and dismay, and in trepidation he turned Atraxes westward to see for himself what had raised such clamor. What he heard then sent a shiver of despair down his spine.
“House Tully! House Tully comes!”
The prince leaned low over Atraxes’s neck. “Faster, damn you! Faster!” he urged of the monster, and the Rathalos’s wing beats were so strong that man and beast caught in the draft were thrown into the shallows. As the the wyvern flew over the retreating western flank Rhaegar could see a great wave of water approaching at speed from up the river. Three dark forms speared through the current then suddenly crested from the waves. Three Jyuratodas screamed their challenges at the prince’s host and upon their backs knights in finned armor raised their blades. Behind the piscine wyverns barges floated down the river, and Rhaegar could see the ropes that tied the craft to the three beasts. In each of the barges were dozens of men, armed and armored in the colors of House Tully. And upon the leading, and largest, of the piscine wyverns wore Jyura armor painted black. Rhaegar knew only one man of House Tully to bare that scheme and suite. Ser Brynden Tully, the Blackfish of Riverrun, led the forces of Riverrun to war against his rightful prince.
Panic flooded through Rheagar, and cold realization. Now he knew what had kept the Reachlords and their beasts from striking Robert’s flanks as he had planned. Surely, they must have met the forces of Riverrun up river and had been driven from the field. And now, instead of the aid the Heir of the Throne of Blades had looked for, a new threat had emerged to stymie his retreat. Rhaegar swore from behind the face guard of his helm. He needed to engage and hold the Jyuratodas back, before their knights drove them into his force and set them to slaughter his men.
He spun Atraxes about and made for the Barroths, who tailed his force, the beasts’ hides bleeding from dozens and punctures and slashes, their ridges snouts chipped and broken. The dornish knights upon the brute’s backs sagged in their saddles, for theirs had been a demanding task, to keep the multitudes of Baratheon’s army from scaling the monsters’ rough hide. Rhaegar brought Atrxes down to land in the ford’s waters before them, lifting his helm as he did. “Take your beasts to the wester edge of the ford. Ser Brynden has arrived at the battle, and with him comes a strong force, pulled by piscine wyverns from up the river. We must hold the monsters back, ere they make savage slaughter amongst the knights.”
The dornish knight upon the first of the Barroths called back. “Your Grace, our mounts are weary, from battle and much wounding. We are low in arrows and our men are tired. We can not engage with hope of victory.”
Rhaegar slashed the air with his hand. “It matters not if your beasts tire. If the men of Riverrun overwhelm our knights, they will set upon you and your wyverns, and we will have no support to give them, so far into the river as we are. Robert’s army regroups and makes ready to strike back across to our lines, and Ser Barristan can not move forward to guard us without exposing his men. We must hold back the Jyuratodas, or we will be slowed and overrun. I will meet them with you, for they are three to your two, but it must be done, or we will fall.”
The Dornishman looked to his comrades, then nodded to the prince. “We will do what we may and, if the gods smile upon us, we might push them back long enough to reach our own lines.” As one the pair of brute wyverns angled to the west, their steps sending great ripples across the ford.
Rhaegar sent Atraxes back into the air, winging after the Barroths. To hold back the Jyuratodas, they must strike as one, for to engage alone would be to invite battle from all three at once. As the three mighty beasts approached the western terminus of the ford, they could hear, and then see, the devastation already caused among the Knights of Dragonstone, for piscine wyverns had leapt from the river’s deeper waters to stalk through the gastodons, tearing at the smaller beasts with their fanged mouths and sweeping them into the air with their broad finned tails.
Rhaegar raised his sword before him, pointing it towards the monsters of House Tully. As one the Rathalos and two Barroths bellowed their battle cries and hurled themselves forward into the charge. Fire spitting from his open maw, Atraxes struck the nearest Jyuratodas like a descending Barnos on a shepherd hare. His talons sank into the side of the piscine wyvern with bone jarring force, setting it back on its finned and feet and tumbling the knight from its back. The man hung there, attached to his mount only the suppleness of his securing straps. The beat of the Rathalos’s wings grew harder, as Atraxes lifted the river predator into the air, ten feet, twenty, the height of castle walls, before relaxing his strokes and allowing the caught foe to carry them both back the earth’s surface. The impact rolled through Rhaegar like the blow of a battering ram, and he tasted blood in his mouth. He had bitten his tongue in at the jolt of landing.
He looked over Atraxes’s shoulder and could see the Jyuratodas writhing in the water under the Rathalos’s talons. Underneath the piscine wyvern’s trapped form, the shattered wreck of its rider was barely visible. Atraxes swung his head over his prey, spraying it with flames and sparks, before latching his jaws to the beast’s throat. There was a wet tearing sound, blood spurting into the frothing waters of the river, and the Rathalos pulled back, lifting his taloned claw from the river monster. Atraxes raised his blood-stained head and made a jerking motion, and Rhaegar could feel something pass through the wyvern’s throat from where he sat. The Rathalos torn out the piscine’s throat and swallowed it.
All about him he could hear the battle roars of monsters, as the Barroths slammed into the remaining Jyuratodas. One was sent sprawling to the river bed, its rider flung clear of the thrashing beast to land the deeper waters beyond the ford’s edge. The other, its rider in the black armor that marked him the Blackfish, had wrapped itself about the brute that had closed with it. On the beasts’ backs Brynden Tully and the Dornishmen traded blows. There was a scream, and one of the Barroth’s two riders fell from the brute’s back to land unmoving in the water.
Rhaegar spurred Atraxes, turning the wyvern towards the river barges that the piscine wyverns had towed to the battle. The crafted now moved only by the will of the current, and but a few a had drifted into the shallows of the ford, where now the men disembarked and ran to bring death to the prince’s own milling knights. Those knights were now safe from the predations of the river monsters of House Tully and had begun to reform into a line of battle, the better to meet the charging Tully foot, but they were still heavily outnumbered, for not even a hundred still remained of Rhaegar’s Knights of Dragonstone, and each of those river craft ferried dozens of men. For the moment the knight still had more men than what the Tullys could bring to ford’s shallows, but it would not remain so as several more of the ponderous vessels began to drift closer to the shallows.
Rhaegar tapped the flat of his sword against the scales of Atraxes neck, a signal long practiced in years of their partnership and the wyvern’s training. The Rathalos turned his great head to face the barges, and reared back, fires flickering in his fangs. With motions like striking snakes he snapped his head out, and balls of flames arrowed across the distance to impact on three of the barges, two drifting closer, and a third already anchored and unloaded its soldiers in red and blues tabards. Explosions echoed across the ford, and screams fill the air over the din of battle, while smoke began to rise into the sky.
Rhaegar smiled. Time had been bought for his knights, and quickly he turned to them, waving his longsword to gain their attention. As several looked up to him, he gestured to the shores of the river held by his army. They nodded, and began to move south, gathering up more and more of their fellows as their gastodons splashed through the shallows. But many more lay still in the waters, man and beast both, their armor, flesh and hide rent and torn by blade, fang, and claw. The sight of it ripped the grin from the prince’s face, and he made bloody oaths to lay their deaths at the feet of traitorous House Tully.
House Tully, who had no cause to join the alliance of rebels of the Vale, Stormlands, and North. Of those nobles, excuse may be made, for they had bid raise their defiance of the Throne of Blades in defense of their reigning lords’ own lives. But the Tullys had received no such threat, had no such peril hanging over the heads of its family. But they had given their fealty to the rebels, out pure ambition and wanton greed. They would be punished, when the dust of war had settled. Rhaegar would see to that.
Grimly he turned Atraxes away from the Tully army, taking wing to glide low over his retreating knights, ready to strike at any foe that moved to halt their withdrawal. The knights had only just returned to the safety of Loyalist lines, the surviving Barroth limping behind them, when the horn call sounded out. Enemy in sight! Rhaegar spun in his seat. Out there, leading a host of Great Jaggis in yellow and black from the back of Tobi-kadachi as large as Atraxes, a man of impressive size, donned in armor of the red and blue scales of the great Lagiacrus that haunted the seas of Shipbreaker Bay and wielding sparking Warhammer crafted from the remains of the beast. Rhaegar knew him. This was the Thunder Beast, the Lord of Storm’s End. The one that sought the hand of a Princess when she thought of him with nothing but scorn and contempt. Robert Baratheon had finally appeared.
Rhaegar pulled hard on the reins of his mount, but the Rathalos needed no encouragement. The Tobi-kadachi gave its shrill cry of challenge and dominance, and Atraxes would answer for he was the true apex predator of the battlefield, supreme hunter of the skies, and all before him were as prey. He spun to face the challenge, bellowing his answer as Rhaegar leveled Blood at his rival. Upon the Fanged Wyvern Robert gave a shout, a battle cry fit to be heard even over the roars of monsters.
“RHAEGAR TARGARYEN!!!! Face me, you silver bastard! Face me, and I will give you the death you deserve for taking her!”
Rhaegar sat silent in his saddle. He would not debase himself as to answer the Lord of Storm’s End in the same manner in which he was challenge. He was knight, a prince of the realm, the Heir to the Throne of Blades. He would face his foe with dignity.
He spurred Atraxes, and the Rathalos took wing, beating towards his chosen prey. Flames licked from his jaws, poison dripped from his talons, and his war scream sent ripples over the water.
But as he closed in on the Tobi-kadachi, the fanged wyvern leapt forward in turn, its fur raised and flashing with sparks of miniature thunder storms. It bounded up, the stretched membrane between its limbs giving a loft remarkable for a beast that had no wings for flight. As it reached the arch of its leap, it suddenly flipped in the air as Atraxes back winged to bring his talons to bear. The great muscular tail slapped hard against the breast of the winged wyvern, catching the Rathalos in his unscaled hide. Both Rhaegar and Atraxes screamed in pain, their bodies convulsing as the lightning held within the fur and flesh of the Tobi-Kadachi pulsed through them. Atraxes fell back on his tail into the river, sending Rhaegar flying away as the strapped that held the prince bound to his mount snapped.
Rhaegar crashed into the water with bone jarring force, tumbling through the shallows for several yard before finally rolling to halt, face down in the ford. It took him precious seconds to regain his senses, such had been the shock he had suffered to himself when the fanged wyvern’s lightning charged tail had struck him and his mount from the air. As he pushed his way back to standing, he could hear the thrashing of Atraxes as the Rathalos struggled to regain its own feet. He fumbled about himself until he once again felt the hilt of Blood, laying only a foot away from where he had been tossed. Grasping it, he spun about, looking for his foe. Robert and his mount were stalking towards him, Robert’s scale and spine covered hammer hanging loosely at his side, while the flat hungry eyes of the Tobi-Kadachi fixed on the prince.
Rhaegar scowled, for the river stones under his feet made for treacherous footing. But still he took Blood in hand and fell into stance, the sword held close to his helm, curved blade pointed towards his approaching foe. He spared a glance towards Atraxes and was heartened to see the Rathalos regained its feet. But that was of little comfort, for now both he and the flying wyvern were trapped on the earth, in the river midst a horde of enemies, while his own army struggled to his side. Even now he could hear the cries of Ser Barristan as the knight fought his way towards the prince. But for now, Rhaegar and the last Rathalos in Westeros were alone, ringed by Robert’s army, whilst the Storm Lord approached.
Rhaegar tightened his grip on Blood as the Tobi-Kadachi suddenly charged, its clawed feet churning the river water, the fur on its back and tail standing straight and sparking. The beast was nearly upon him, the prince preparing to throw himself to the side, when the crimson form of Atraxes struck the fang wyvern from the right, hurling the beast from its feet to sprawl in the river. Again, Rhaegar felt his body seize with pain and uncontrolled convulsions, as did many of the rebel soldiers nearby, when the held storm within the Tobi-Kadachi’s flesh and fur was let loose into the waters of the ford. But it was small thing compared to what had struck him from the sky. Through the spasming of his muscles Rhaegar smiled in satisfaction, for the blow that had cast the charging beast from its intended path had also thrown Robert from the saddle, and he watched as the Lord of Storm’s end fought his way back to his feet.
He was still struggling to stand when two of Kulu-ya-ku mounted knights burst through the press of soldiers that where now encircling the prince and the storm lord. The two dornishmen bore down on Baratheon, but as they closed the Lord of Storm’s End spun around, bring up the great hammer he still held. The scaly, spiny head, a large as two large clenched fists, slammed into the skull of the closer of the bird wyverns, exploding it like a melon dropped from a castle parapet. As the now headless body stumbled and pitched over in the river, rolling over the body of the knight stride it and crushing him under, Robert’s hand, now freed by the momentum of his hammer swing, grasped the leg of the second knight as the bird-wyvern passed him. With a shout that echoed out from the closed faced helm, he heaved and, with raw main strength, pulled the knight from the monster and hurled him into the ford waters. As the dornish knight fought to regain his feet and bring the long sword he wore to bear, Robert’s hammer came crashing down, smashing the man back into the river bed. The hammer head sparked and flashed as it struck the knight down, and Rhaegar could see, as Robert recovered from his swing, that the fallen knight’s armored chest was naught but a crumpled ruin of metal, bone, and flesh.
Rhaegar felt fear race up his spine. To take even one blow from that hammer might spell certain death for the Prince of Dragonstone. But he must not falter, for to do so would spell death for his family in turn. He shifted his feet in the bed of the ford, feeling the river stones and silt settle about his boots. He held his stance as Robert turned to face him. Even through the narrow slits of Robert’s high crested helm Rhaegar could feel the raw anger, the seething hatred, that the rebel lord held for him. It was no less that what the Heir of the Throne of Blades held in turn, for this man dared to threaten his family, to strip the freedom and happiness from his lady, to seek naught but the slaughter of all that Rhaegar held dear in this world.
The two men stared at each other across the rushing waters of the Trident, silent and seething. Then from beyond the ring of watching soldiers, the battle scream of a wyvern rang out, and Rhaegar could see a great splashing wave rise over the heads of the army, as Atraxes and the Tobi-Kadachi struck at each other. Atraxes rose in the air, wings beating like the bellows of a forge, then swooped low. Rising again, the prince could see that the Rathalos held the Tobi-Kadachi grasped in his talons, but by no means was the fanged wyvern helpless. Rather, it had twisted about to face its adversary, scrabbling and biting at the flying wyvern’s neck and chest, while its claws tore at the unscaled flesh of the Atraxes’s underside. The two struggling monsters rose into the air, and then Robert moved.
He bellowed in rage and charged, closing the distance between himself and the prince in heartbeats. The hammer came around and down, the intent to slay the prince in but one blow evident in the furor of Robert’s strike. Rhaegar stepped aside, letting the impact of the missed blow throw water into the air, as he lashed out in turn, and the ring of blade on armor sang. But as the prince followed his slash through, spinning with the swing to move behind Robert, he was dismayed to see only a small gouge in the cuirass of the stormlord. Before Robert could finish recovering from his missed blow and turn to face Rhaegar, the prince had struck again, with much the same results, leaving only a tiny marring to the back of Robert’s plate.
Rhaegar stepped back as Robert swung the hammer across, letting the heavy head ring off the tip of Blood. The prince was shocked at how strong the blow had been, for even only this glancing blow had sent a ringing up his arms. Again, as the Lord of Storm’s End fought to bring his weapon to bare once more, Rhaegar lashed out. Once, twice, three times did the ring of metal and bone against each other sound out, and three more gouges appeared in the red and blue scaled plate of Robert Baratheon. But if at any time did the sword blade touch the flesh beneath, the stormlord gave no sign. Again, and again did he swing his warhammer, each a blow that surely end in the prince’s death should any of them connect. Again, and again did Rhaegar dodge aside, letting the blows pass him by, and reciprocated in kind, marking the armor of his foe each time. But never did the Lord of Storm’s End falter, stumble, or pause. Such was his fury that he seemed only to gain in strength and ferocity, his swings coming closer and closer to the prince’s person.
Until finally he broke his pattern. He had recovered from a swing across that would have smashed Rhaegar aside had the blow been true, and the prince could see the tensing of Robert’s shoulders as he prepared to for the return blow. But instead of bringing the hammer around again, he suddenly charged forward, slamming his pauldron into Rhaegar’s chest plate. The prince was sent sprawling onto his back in the river bed, the water seeping into his armor to soak his under tunic. Growning, gasping for breath from the unexpected blow his chest, he looked up to see Robert Baratheon standing over him, his hammer raised high, his stance triumphant.
“I’ve got you now, you damn silver bastard. May you rot in the Seven Hells, Dragonspawn.”
Robert’s echoing voice was full of contempt and hatred and satisfaction. The voice of a man sure in his victory against the bane of his life. The hammer fell towards the prince. Rhaegar closed his eyes. “Lyanna.” He whispered his lady’s name.
Then the earth shook as though it were being rent asunder, the cries of men and beasts, the ring of metal and bone, all were drowned out by the war cry of a Rathalos and the pained scream of a Tobi-Kadachi. Rhaegar felt an impact to his side, of something striking the ground next to him. He opened his eyes to see Robert stumbling and trying to regain his balance, his warhammer buried in the riverbed inches to Rheagar’s left. Seizing the opening, Rhaegar spun to the right, grabbing the hilt of Blood, and slashing out as he rolled to his feet. For the first time he heard a cry of pain from his foe and saw the slash in the armor of Robert’s upper arm. A thin trickle of blood ran down from the rend, to drip from the tips of the stormlord’s gauntleted fingers.
As he stood, Rhaegar look to where he had heard the cry of Atraxes. There, not but a few yards away, the Rathalos was stumbling to his feet, limping from a severely ravaged leg and torn belly. But the beast was still standing, still moving, and flames flickered in both its fanged maw and wrathful eye. Across from the flying wyvern, circling behind the Lord of Storm’s End in reflection of the Rathalos’s own movement, the Tobi-kadachi snarled. It limped as well, tears and burns along its flank and side. The beasts rumbled at each other, the hatred burning their eyes a mirror of what burned in the eyes of their masters.
A shout from Robert brought Rhaegar’s attention back to his own struggle, but too late, for the hammer head was almost upon him even as he turned away on instinct. The blow was only a glancing one, but pain screamed through the prince from his arm. He could feel the impact crack the bones of his left forearm as it spun him around, sending his helm flying off his head. Groaning, he held the useless limb to his chest, keeping Blood out between himself and his foe, the point never facing away from Robert, while his silver hair hung in damp strands about his face. The stormlord roared in triumph as charged again, swinging with abandon. It was all Rhaegar could manage, to keep that hammer head from finding purchase. He needed to end this, end this now. Robert would not tire, caught as he was in the throes of a bloodfrenzy, while with every moment Rhaegar grew weaker from the pain of his broken arm.
He saw it then, the flaw in Robert’s defense. Be it from a blow of Rhaegar’s doing, the tremor of their beasts’ fall from the sky, of negligence on the part of the oafish rebel, the straps of Robert’s helm now hung loose, leaving the piece unsecured to the rest of the armor. Now hope glimmered faintly in Rhaegar’s heart. Here was a chance, dim as it was. But to pierce it, to strike at that vulnerability, would require a sacrifice. And for the sake of his House, his family, his ladies and children, both those held hostage in the Red Keep against the obedience of Dorne, and the one yet to come, he would make that sacrifice.
“Even the Warrior must one day set aside the sword” he whispered to himself.
Gritting his teeth through the pain, he switched his long sword from his right hand to his left. It had been a joke, a dare, on Arthur’s part, to challenge Rhaegar to fight with his left hand, rather than his preferred right. Rhaegar had taken up the test and had indeed mastered fighting with his off hand with some skill, but he had never shared that skill with any but Oswell and Arthur. A skill unknown, to one’s foes, however minor it may be, was an advantage in any context. But never had the prince attempted this trick with his arm broken. He was only grateful that he did not lose his senses as he forced the damaged limb to tighten its grip on the sword hilt.
He held Blood to his side, ready to swing the blade up, while moving his right hand behind his back. His pain and effort were rewarded as Robert charged again. “Die, damn you! Why won’t you fucking die, you Gods bedamned Silver Haired, Dragonspawned Bastard?” His swing came around, aiming to remove Rhaegar’s head from his shoulders in much the same way he slain the Kulu-ya-ku. The Heir to the Throne of Blades leaning back, twisting his back about, as he let the hammer thunder by him. Screaming in pain and rage, he swung his broken arm up, the edge of Blood singing in the air. There was the sound of ringing metal, and the flash of sunlight on scales, as the crest helm of Robert Baratheon flew through the air.
A battle scream filled the air, and in that instant Rhaegar looked beyond Robert, to the enraged Tobi-kadachi. He felt panic take hold of his soul as he watched the monster charging towards him, death promised in its eyes. But Rhaegar could not stop. And neither would Robert. The prince had expected it, had sworn to pay the price his gambit would demand, but still the pain nearly sent him into unconsciousness, as the return stroke of Robert’s hammer slammed into his raised arm and sword. Blood was sent tumbling away to splash into the waters of the ford, while the bones of Rhaegar’s forearm were reduced to splinters by the hammer blow. In his pain, the prince could see the shattered remains of his hand, the broken ends of bone piercing out of the flesh visible in the rent armor of his gauntlet.
But now the price had been paid. The time had come to collect the reward.
In the flash of pain as his left arm was reduced to ruin, Rhaegar’s right hand grasped the hilt of the heavy hunting knife he wore at his back. While Robert still continued his swing beyond the destruction of the prince’s arm, the dagger rose. And as the Lord of Storm’s End turned his face to bare his teeth in victory at Rhaegar, for such a wound was certain to spell his defeat, the Prince of Dragonstone drove the heavy blade down into Robert Baratheon’s neck.
Blood fountained from the wound and spilled from Robert’s mouth like a spring flood. Grimacing in pain, Rhaegar leaned forward, the movement dragging at the knife buried in Robert Baratheons’ flesh, tearing the fatal wound even wider. He brought his face near the dying stormlord’s face. “She was never yours. And neither shall be my throne. Die in failure, cousin, with the knowledge that my House and Family are safe from your ambition and rage.”
Robert stared at the prince in impotent fury, as the light began to fade from his blue eyes. Groaning in pain, Rhaegar straightened and, with twisting vengeance, ripped the knife from his enemy’s neck, letting the Lord of Storm’s End, Robert Baratheon, fall back into the waters of t he ford, dying the river the color of rubies.