I liked Hell,
I liked to go there alone
relieved to lie in the wreckage, ruined, physically undone.
The worst had happened. What else could hurt me then?
I thought it was the worst, thought nothing worse would come.
Then nothing did, and no one.
"You let Lyanna Stark leave. And keep her son, too," Tywin voices, in a measured tone, the words Cercei is dying to shout , profanities laced in between.
The private dinner is tense. Cercei's meat has gone cold on her plate, but her wine cup is dry. It's just the three of them left. The children have retired and Jaime has declined to come. Cercei never bothered to even invite Tyrion. This was supposed to have been a celebration. But her idiot husband's 'correctness' has cut through her glee.
"Yes. I did."
"And you just expect her to keep her word."
Cercei wonders how her father can keep an even, patient demeanor. Her own blood is boiling. To give Lyanna Stark her freedom before her son has been properly removed! But what can she expect from a man ready to believe that visiting his wife's bed every few months or so can result in three successive pregnancies?
"The one she did give me, yes," Stannis goes on, "You think like a Lannister. She is no Lannister, but a Stark. She was a good Queen. It's quite a shame. She has been dutiful and faithful for all those years, even while my brother was neither, and that no one can deny."
A better Queen than I will ever see you as , remains unspoken but clear in his disdainful side look towards herself. You absolute excuse of a man. If I didn't know you to be a block of ice incapable of any human feelings, I would suspect you of being in love with that creature, too .
"I know not whether this boy is my nephew or not," Stannis keeps dragging, "And while I can't let him have the throne due to that, I will neither have him killed, unless truly necessary. Nor she. Sick she has been throughout all her pregnancy and expected to lose the babe. Complicated the birthing has been, the boy too small and undeveloped. Her childbed has almost been her deathbed, too. Those circumstances cannot be denied or altered in their meaning."
That the boy could actually be by any notion Prince Rhaegar's, Cercei privately laughs at. Jon Baratheon is so insignificant and average in all things, with his dull Northern looks and Northern foolishness and sensibilities.
She remembers a few years back, how he's put her own son into trouble due to the most ridiculous of feats. As any youthful curious boy, Joffrey has done something silly: cut open some meagre street cat with a belly to get the kittens. Joffrey has tried to involve the moody brat in his play, as any good child would, only for him to turn some boy mischief into an unreasonable scene. Poor Joffrey got punished by Stannis as the boy bothered important people to tend to that flea eaten animal, clutching bloody kittens like a little girl. Her only satisfaction was all that trouble he's caused has come to nothing, the troublesome cat and cat spawn all rotting by midnight.
She's never seen an uglier, skinnier babe, too. Sickly, as well. Her own children have never been as weak as to fall down with the pox, not even Tommen. And Stannis' constant reproachful comparisons of the boys' swordsmanship in which he elevates Lyanna's boy above her own are completely unbecoming. Joffrey has all rights to deflect from it if it does not fit him. Strenuous exercise should do for those of poor constitution who do need it like that walking rail of a child. Though a year younger, her Joffrey is wider in the back already, and much comelier than that lanky mutt. Sword fight can be learnt anytime (and as a future king, truly, he should not have to - other actual brutes are supposed to protect him), but a proper nobleness of figure, and face, and charm of manners, cannot be gained. (Well, Jaime used to have all that as well as being a competent swordsman, but where did that get him? To being the crippled watchdog of a skinny mutt. Joffrey will have better uses for his talents.)
"She will protect her family. And we will bind Ned Stark's daughter to Joffrey to divide his alliances. A daughter comes before a nephew."
Cercei starts out of her reverie at that, finally losing her patience, "You would give the Starks another Queen. That is to be their punishment for this betrayal?"
"Don't be foolish, for once in your life, woman. We need security in our claim. Our only definite supporters are my family and yours. And the Lannisters have no love from the realm to speak of, do they? My position has already been suspiciously solidified by two convenient consecutive deaths. That may be your way of doing things, but it's not mine." The implication is very transparent.
"How dare you accuse-," Cercei stands up in her seat.
But Stannis doesn't even bother acknowledging her . He's answering to her father instead, "I am not crying over the death of my useless, debauched brother. But don't take me for a fool. It just so happens that after you hand me proof of his wife's immoral past and son's possible illegitimacy, and I move to push them aside, Robert also dies unexpectedly, making it impossible for him to impede your grandchildren's moving over and to the top of the succession line?"
" Your children, Your Grace," father answers tactfully, but not in the least cawed or even moved by the implications, a dangerous hardness in both his face and voice.
"Not the part of it you care about most, is it? Jon Arryn's death alone did not seem so out of place back then - an old man already. But be careful. Too many sudden deaths too quickly might make some people suspicious, don't you think?"
"You seem so sure of these implications, as if your remarkable Queen wasn't the one in the best position to kill her own husband?" Cercei comments in a calmer manner, having seated herself back down at a side glance from Tywin.
"To win what, exactly? He was all her influence. He would've killed all of us for her, I sometimes thought, if she had put it in her mind to bury us with her secret."
No kind of attempt in that has surprised Cercei, too. To have a man of power drooling after you like that and not use it - Lyanna Stark must be a coward or an imbecile. She supposes the bitch's secret in her ridiculously unlikely conquests is men's preference for dumb, easy women. But it is what one should expect of some barbaric Northerner. And the idiot still dared act mightily in front of her. Conceited fool.
"I shall retire. I have letters to write," Stannis stands and stiffly leaves the room, his guards following.
"Stop saying such idiotic things out loud," father attentions her a few moments later. "What was the point of raising you to be a Queen if you can't stay in the King's good graces for five minutes together? Even the Stark woman with no proper formal education seems to have understood that much better than you."
Cercei clenches her fists under the table but keeps it in - wasn't this what she was educated to do, too? "You mean to say you agree with him, with this plan?"
"I have my own thoughts about Ned Stark's predictable ways. He is the kind of man that would think protecting his sister and nephew from truthful dishonor is more important than giving them a throne."
"And if he doesn't accept Stannis' offer and his dumb diplomacy will have the North raising their banners against us, what then? Will you just let him slowly bring us to ruin?"
"If Lyanna Stark is as ruthless as her actions would have us believe, then this is not the end. There might be a war to come, indeed. And if it does, our King will take the frontline and that problem will solve itself. All honorable leaders do that mistake. It's how Prince Rhaegar himself met his end, after all."
The mention does nothing to soothe or calm her.
He married her . It should have been impossible, and yet he twisted and turned the laws of the realm and died just to marry this insignificant simpleton of a she wolf.
No, this was not the end. Jaime has betrayed Cercei for that woman and put her and her mutt's safety and needs above those of her own and of their children. Prince Rhaegar has overlooked her for that insignificant woman. Robert Baratheon has insisted to marry and crown her, though knowing her to be a used wanton. Pushing Lyanna Stark off her throne was not enough to pay for all the ways in which she's ruined Cercei's life. She wants her completely alone and forgotten and fading, drowning in her tears.
"If we don't do anything, what are we worth?" was what Dany has told him when they last talked, before he sailed off.
He's asked her to choose, earlier that week, and she chose to be Daenerys Targaryen.
"Do we have to be worth something to just be alive, in any capacity?"
" We do. We are not like anybody else, as long as we have them," she's said, cradling the black creature. "What they do, and what they don't do, when there are things to be done in the world, it's our responsibility now."
Rhaellion, after their mother, the big one, and the other, Viserion. "Which one will you have?" She'd asked him before.
"They are yours. They are both yours." And I may not live to see them grown, regardless , he hadn't said.
"Every dragon has one rider, and one can only mount one dragon alone."
"Then let us wait for when they are ready to be ridden," he had avoided a direct answer once again. "But I would say the black one becomes you in particular."
He had never been a true dragon. But mayhaps Dany, this unburned girl, and the two beasts that have come out of the fire with her were the last of the true dragons on earth. All three flesh made fire. Perhaps they are meant to survive.
But trusting his own judgement has not been proved as the wisest in his good intentions of protecting the women and girls in his care before. He should've listened when Elia had told him meeting Robert in open field was not a good idea, that Aerys would take a turn for the worst if he falls, and she and the children would no longer be safe with him. He's thought he would help Lyanna escape her fate when he's taken her away. He'd been worried about Rhaenys' fate in her future bedroom and his poor little girl ended has up grabbed by her killer from under his own bed.
Mon'ters 'on't come to your room, papa. You are big and st'ong and they are afraid of you .
But her papa has not been strong enough, in the end, and consequently not there; and also an idiot, with an idiot's judgement until the very last moment. Hadn't he asked Ser Barristan to tell him truthfully whether he could match his skill against Robert's strength and win? Hadn't the knight warned him of the odds being best and on his side on better terrain than the tricky, slippery bank of the Trident?
"I should have learned it," Dany has lamented, sweat covered and clutching angrily at an wooden sword.
"You never did like it. You still don't."
"Ser Arthur said you never did like it, too. And you are strong." Not strong enough . "I have to be a fighter worth following. I can't appear a weak skinny girl."
"You don't have to be a swordsman," Rhaegar has told her. "You will be a dragon rider, and fire will be your sword." If these dragons are to set her fate, then they must at least actively set it right.
"I was never to be a heir, I'm aware," Dany has sat down then, exhausted. "You don't have to shy away from saying it. I am old enough for hard truths."
"The hard truth here is you were always the first choice," he's crouched down to confess.
She is his little girl. The only babe in his life he can still hope to keep, to see grown and happy. She was his in ways Viserys has never been, his first choice in between them in many ways, as bad as he felt to have to admit it to himself, as Rhaenys has been his favourite in between his own two children, which hurts no one but him alone to admit it now.
He's seen her grow and play as he's never had the chance to, with Aegon and Rhaenys. He's never been so outraged by any other ridiculous thing Viserys has ever said than the implications of Rhaegar raising her with the plan to wed her; the horror of that being Dany's impression too, by extension.
He's taught that little plump five year old how to swim, watching her bubbling and giggling naked in the water, tossing her gently and waiting with open arms as she excitedly waddled back to him - his most vivid earlier memory of her, the first time someone had made him laugh in those early days; those darker years. He's paused his work any night he was home to go tell her goodnight, and sometimes even relented to tell her stories to sleep.
All he's wanted for her was a true childhood, a peaceful life. He's always shut down Viserys' scorn about how a princess should not play in the dirt, or run the streets with the common folk, reproaches in regards to etiquette at the table, or concerning herself with matters 'unfit for a girl'.
She should have had a good, rich life, unknown and well guarded. But Dany was resolved to do her duty to their family, to the realm, to the world, and he couldn't change her mind, though he'd tried. So he could do nothing but help her the best he could.
He doesn't know how to warn her of prophecies. Prophecies that spoke of its claim over three more dragon heads, that he wants the Gods left content with all of the dragons they already took. That Westeros deserves no more, too. That the trappings of duty are trickier than she could ever imagine, once it's duty you choose.
He wants the power to protect at least Dany, without patronising her and denying her own choices. But he is only one man. And he himself has forgotten that, dreaming to save a whole realm as a child, dreaming to save his children from destiny, dreaming to save the woman he loved from her life.
Rhaegar himself has been born out of duty and into duty. A short-lived childhood. A short-lived youth. The few years of being carefree as a child before concluding he might one day have to step up to save the realm from peril. The few years of being carefree as a squire before he was faced with adulthood, and being a husband, and being a father, and realising he would have to become King by force and conspiracy.
Perhaps his meeting with Lyanna wouldn't have impacted him so, had it not been like that. She, a free spirit all of her life that far, walking unwilling but resigned towards the platform where they would put that noose around her neck, him having sat there and that way all along, never questioning it, the chair never really removed from under him, but the tightness of the knot never wavering. It's only when he's started caring about her neck, that he has even realized how badly damaged his was, how his rope has been getting tighter every time he's spoken out of turn, or too much, or tried to move in a slightly more comfortable place.
He guesses loving in itself does make one selfless, but it's being loved that makes us selfish. Selfish for their love, for their well-being. Whatever we think we should have ourselves, we always think they should have it all. It has been all about her. The thought of his brave Lady Lyanna, with a pretty dress and a tight smile, and a noose around her neck fashioned just like his, walking around Storm's End day and night, day and night.
He has realised too late the whole of it has been beautiful in the way falling stars are. When they burn crash and fall, they do it so magnificently, breathtakingly, that it makes you forget it's their doom, and there will be a light less to shine up the sky at the end. And they have both crashed badly, if their current state is any proof of it.
He has thought that perhaps a meeting with the woman Queen Lyanna Baratheon has become might allow him some sort of closure. Perhaps he, too, could learn to see her as an ally. A stranger. A memory. But to look at her, and listen to her has been devastating in many ways. It's opened wounds old and new.
Her youthful prettiness has turned into an austere beauty reminiscent of his own mother's last years. He sees her looking lost, drinking hard liquor like water, like she is used to it. Years ago, she would start giggling after a few mouthfuls of watered down honeyed wine.
She must have been taking her own doses to stop feeling.
He thinks of her in the Red Keep, drinking her fill and stumbling towards Robert's room. No. Worse. Drinking her fill and waiting for Robert to stumble into her rooms.
The scarf around her neck has instantly made him think of someone else, too, but he is afraid to ask about it.
Have you just taken that noose with you down to King's Landing, Lyanna ? Gods, what have we become, and for what ?
He knows it would be best, wisest , healthiest , to just take a dose of his drug after this. And go numb. Feel almost nothing about her. About her words. About the impact of seeing her in mind and flesh again. But he doesn't.
He lies on his bed and lets the whole of it wash over him in powerful waves of pain and animation. The guilt of his. The loss of all the years. The loss of them. The loss of their families. It hurts in many ways.
He wonders if, in spite of any evidence to the contrary, he will forever remain dead to her. All this has ever been has been for nothing. All was left were dire consequences for both, regrets and guilt that has them unable to properly look each other in the eye, and ongoing worrying ramifications involving anyone in their lives.
Mentally, he's wasted all of the sleep, all of the tranquillity of the night. But physically, his heart pangs with worrisome waves of pain, and it's that, and the reminder of unfinished business that prompts him to raise himself off the bed and reach for a drawer.
The alcohol has helped her close her eyes for what may have been a couple hours or so, but she is now fully awake again, although tired to the bone. But the deck is empty now, and she can breath the sea air in peace and quietness.
Until the worrisome sound of a crash startles her - a sound like a heavy sack … or a body - not in the least ameliorated by the urgency and alarm with which Arthur sprints out of nowhere, opening some door to the left widely and bursting in. She follows, a dizzy mindlessness to her step. She is not certain of what it is, but the circumstances give her too many clues to deny.
When she reaches the door, she just stands there, petrified, watching Rhaegar's pliable body in horror. She never saw his dead body, back then, and that was a good thing. She doesn't want to. She doesn't want to .
Arthur is moving around methodically, straightening up his limbs on the bed, checking his pulse at the neck, at the hand, checking his temperature, his breathing. There's an empty flacon in one of his hands, a golden droplet on the side speaking of a hurriedly spilled substance.
"Will he be fine?" She asks in a ridiculously small voice. It barely sounds like herself. She's still in the doorway, stuck into place. Slowly, she walks in and sits down on the floor, by the bed. She hates how the pale yellow light of the candle makes his skin look waxy.
"Hopefully," finally Arthur answers her a minute later with a heavy breath. "He's had worse ones. You wouldn't have liked to be here when he found out about-" He sighed, cutting himself off, joining her on the floor, looking exhausted.
The children . She doesn't have to ask.
She hesitantly turns to look at Rhaegar, slowly taking his hand in hers. It is cold. (Not that cold, though). She can feel Arthur's eyes on her, but she doesn't care what he thinks right now.
"He was only one week dead," Arthur finally speaks in the ensuing silence. There it is. The reason for the whole remaining tension in between them voiced in one simple statement.
I was young, and desperate, and lonely. So young. So desperate. So lonely, was a significant part of the truth. The night is very quiet. She can't even hear anymore the voices of the crew outside. "And I was a few weeks pregnant, and that was a lot in those terms," is what she answers instead with a shuddering breath, closing her eyes briefly - an even more significant truth; the biggest of them. She's never voiced it out loud. Her voice nearly cracks by the end.
"The boy? Prince Jon ?" Arthur's face shows something between confusion and horror. He really hasn't suspected it. They haven't. She wonders why. Why was it so easy to believe rather in her betrayal than her helplessness?
"He's his . He's his son ," she whispers, covering her mouth to even hear herself speak so. She's still fearful to say it any louder still. There is no confidence in her voice, in her statement. She's taught herself so well to deny it, she believes she must have sounded much more believable in Stannis' office, vehemently calling Jon 'his nephew, his own blood'. They sort of are of the same blood, though, aren't they?
And she finally cries, as she kneels there beside Rhaegar's still form, the kind of tears she had been holding in for the past 15 years. They really don't look quite anything like one another. But why does both their faces look like a frown even when they're supposed to be resting ? "He looks enough like me as to be safe, but has enough of his character as to have given me a constant fright for all of these years," she continues whispering needlessly, her eyes on Rhaegar, not Arthur.
"Fuck," Arthur mutters, running a hand over his face. He stands up instantly, turning away.
She looks up at him then, tears in her eyes.
He walks away a few steps, frowning downward, and then swirls right back towards her, "What would you have done if Robert Baratheon never died? And lived to be much older and much fatter. If you weren't sinking in that quicksand you chanced upon."
She shakes her head slightly, weakly. When she speaks, her voice is husky, "It's no chance. No unexpected quicksand. I dug this hole and jumped in headfirst myself. I thought myself smarter, but I am the same dumb, stubborn fool I ever was, Arthur."
Arthur only gives her a questioning, confused look.
"I never gave him children," she explains, rubbing Rhaegar's hand in between hers absently, frustrated by its coldness, eyes fixed in a vague point, "I didn't want to. Because I knew, if the secret ever came out, they would push Jon and I both aside and put them on the throne. The crown was Jon's. And I would give them no right to steal it again, and use me to do it.
"And then I killed him , when it all came out. Or at least helped him die, I guess. I didn't want to keep on trying to cover it all up. I was tired. I am tired. I always knew what could come when that happened. But I did it all the same. I don't know why now . I just snapped ."
"What do you mean? Didn't he die killed by a boar?"
"He did. He was very excited to go out when word came of that boar, too. He liked to let the beast get very close before he killed it. I… ensured his mind and vision were much blurrier than he would've expected them to be."
"So they know it, too." He is now whispering, too. "They were not only blackmailing you about your marriage," he kneels before her, taking a sudden hold of her shoulders, calling her vision into focus.
"Stannis has put doubt on his birth, but he is definitely unsure, and I did not admit to it, of course. Jon's already in danger as it is."
"When will you tell him ?" He asks, his face stubborn. Because you are going to tell him."
She wipes at her tears, by now annoyed by the ongoing flow. "I don't know , Arthur. It's complicated as it is. And I'm only making things worse if I'm telling him about this other child only for Jon to-" No, I won't think like that. That will never happen. After everything- No . "Jon Baratheon is in danger as it is. Jon Targaryen would be dead by tomorrow. It's enough that people suspect something. I won't have him," she gestures vaguely, "acting weird around Jon. I shouldn't have told you either," she snaps, though mindful enough to keep her voice down, pushing his hands off her shoulders and sitting up.
Her scarf gets caught in the sudden movement, ribbon falling apart, black satin left hanging by Arthur's fingers. She reaches down to pull it back, but Arthur sits up himself, jerking it out of her reach, his eyes falling right away on her neck that she instinctively half covers with her hand.
She sees the angry twist of his lip. "That fucker ," he mutters, though willingly hands her back the scarf. She takes it, but makes no attempt to tie it back for the moment, holding it in a crumpled ball in her palm, her other hand still on her neck.
"He's dead. He's irrelevant to all of us now," she speaks after a few moments of silence.
"Not while there are still relevant effects in the places where his hands have laid."
As in reflex, they both turn to Rhaegar, still unconscious in between them.
Lyanna shakes her head as she hugs herself, walking around the room aimlessly. "Jon keeping his Baratheon claim is our only chance to still make this work with minimal political conflict. Two opposing claimants is the children's best bid, you said it yourself." She turns harshly towards Arthur." No, I won't tell him now. Not with no definite situation, no safety, no plan. I don't know how Rhaegar will react. I don't know how Jon will react, if he ever knows."
"He is already bent on remaining in the shadows as to not hurt that boy he thinks is Robert's. Let him have this consolation. His lifespan is ever fluctuating and we have no idea when cheating death will stop working. Don't you let him die without this one little hope, Lyanna. Not yet is all I am willing to concede to."
"What causes this ?" She asks then, desperate to change the subject, rubbing her face. "You said there have been more like this."
"Many complications due to the damage to his chest. Heart, lungs... Mostly… shock of sorts will do. He knows his symptoms best to keep in check. When it first happened, we didn't have these." He pointed to the empty flacon. "We shouldn't have told him about- He was still in terrible health, though it's been months. Luckily, we were trying our luck with this weird surgeon at the time. Cut into his skull. Barely stabilised him. He's been out for a couple years - the surgeon couldn't promise he would wake up at all."
"How does the medicine help?"
"Medicine… it's drugs, to be fair. They mostly just give tranquility - a rather sedate sort, but still… That includes lowering blood pressure and heart pulse. But it's much safer than milk of the poppy. If he takes it as a prevention, he's mostly in a calm daze. If it's already escalated-"
"If it's already escalated-?"
Arthur shrugs helplessly. "We check he's still in there and we wait."
When Cercei has first come back with the children, he has been thrilled. He's kissed her deeply and recklessly the first moment they've found some privacy, had her all possible ways the moment Stannis has closed himself for hours with the Small Council to discuss the state of the realm. But it has slowly but surely lost its lustre, through small and big details.
When she has even encouraged him to spend time with their son and maybe train with him, he thought all his dreams might come through. But Joffrey proved to be a lazy, pompous, mocking child, and not very bright. Being corrected made him irritable. Effort made him capricious. He would be all very charming a boy at the start of anything, and affable, but as soon as anything displeased him or contradicted his needs in the slightest, he would become vicious and cruel, in both language and behaviour. Any light remark against Cercei's continuous belief that her son was often unfairly slighted by the Prince would make her mad at him for days.
But Jaime has watched the few interactions in between the two and was no ignorant as to whom was in the wrong. Neither did it escape his notice that, although Prince Jon mostly reacted by avoiding Joffrey's company, it was other young lordlings that would encourage Jon's presence where Joffrey was concerned. Joffrey would always use his high rank as a means to his ends (son and heir of the Hand, nephew to the King, third in line), but Prince Jon has been the only one with the higher rank in the realm, other than Stannis and Robert themselves. Jon was smart enough to easily put him into place, and he had the loyalty of any worthy lordling or young knight on his side.
Jaime has never refrained from speaking truly when the argument came up in between himself and his sister, and it has put a strain in their relationship, together with many other little things. Offhand spiteful comments and suggestions from her would make him think of Joffrey. The more he knew the boy, the more he realised his mother's similarities. And he could not forth unsee them, or stop attributing them the response they were due.
The hate she's always had for Queen Lyanna for simply being Queen was yet another divisive topic. Jaime knew the reasons why Cercei wanted to be Queen, and those for which Queen Lyanna has become one for, and that was enough to help him choose the juster side in the subject. But to criticize her charities, her moderate expenditure on jewellery and finery and an improper upbringing of the Prince (who 'mixed too much with those below his rank') were putting Cercei in no better light.
He and Queen Lyanna have had no great friendship. Everything in their relationship has been purely practical. And yet her departure left him desolate and affected. Her tactful courtesy in their parting ways has touched him deeper than Cercei's later effusive glee and want of celebration.
Jaime has came to the realization that he has never understood Lyanna Stark up until the moment she was gone, what truly mattered to her and the things she would do to keep them.
Too little too late, he realized she was the right woman for queenship, as good as he's ever known one to be.
For so much of his life, all he's ever cared for was defending Rhaegar's son and his love for Cercei. What was left of him now, when the fate of the late Prince's boy is unknown and the relationship between himself and his sister is stumbling?
He's a cripple, too, any glory of his might long gone, his left hand as challenging as a debutant squire's.
They often talked about how he would've surpassed the great Arthur Dayne, had he not lost his sword hand. But Ser Arthur could fight almost as good with his left as with his right hand, too. He could wield two swords at once, defeat five men in a fight at once, alone. He's seen him-
He remembers the last time he's seen him , back in the last days of the Tourney of Harrenhal, early morning in the training yard, hours before Aerys would drag Jaime to King's Landing, which he would never again be able to leave, after.
Dressed in a thin white open shirt, Dawn in right hand, the actual colourful dawn behind him, the light embracing his heavy but fit silhouette as if he shined, a rusty tourney blade in his left, but wielding both with the same fluidity, same precision.
"Are you bent on stalking me your whole life, Ser Jaime?"
"A presumption worth of your ego, as I know it, Ser," Jaime's dared to counter confidently though he's coloured slightly at his own boldness and turned his back and immediately picked up a blade to have the excuse of exhaustion for the flushing in his cheek.
"A reasonable, logical assumption, truly. You've started at 13, pretty much forced me into taking you as a squire, and I have barely knighted you and sent you away, when you show up to join the Kingsguard, as well. Indeed, my suspicions are very logical, little Lannister ," he's heard Ser Arthur Dayne reply with his usual mocking humour.
"I am nearly as tall as you, Ser, and equally a knight. You ought to stop calling me 'little Lannister' at this point."
" Or you'll beat me up?" Jaime could almost hear the smirk on his face and, before he's even noticed it happening, he was disarmed, and by the lame blunt blade in Ser Arthur's left hand only, no less.
"You've got to teach me to fight with a second hand, too, someday, Ser Arthur," he's heard himself blurting out as an only reaction, unable to hide at least a trace of his ever present awe.
"Greedy as a Lannister," Ser Arthur's said with a snort and a toothy grin, putting away the Tourney sword, Dawn already back in its scabbard, and picking up his jacket.
"I might," he's called, still, back turned to Jaime and walking away, the rising sun now gone upper in the sky, as if it had followed Arthur Dayne just as faithfully as Jaime's eyes.
Sometimes he believes that was the last sight he's had of the might of knighthood itself, before the corruption and rot have turned it into a nightmare. He's stopped wanting to be Arthur Dayne the day he's stopped being worthy of ever being at Ser Arthur's side again and have the audacity to call himself his equal.
Rhaegar remains abed the next day, unchanged. It is the day after that she walks on deck, having washed some and changed her dress, wrapping a new scarf around her neck, that she finds him back on his feet, taking a seat at a table that hasn't been there before.
There is relief at the sight, but it's numbed, as most of her emotions have been lately. And so her demeanor is as stiff as ever when she joins him quietly. There's fruit there, but she feels sick just looking at it.
"Why didn't you take your medicine the other night?" She asks directly, no greeting or good words about his recovery.
"I don't always take it."
"But you needed it then." Her voice is rising slightly, becoming irritated. "If you felt like-"
"It stops me from feeling, and I am tired of not feeling much at all," he cut her off, countering with his own inquiry, "What's on your neck?"
The question startles her, and she wonders if Arthur has said anything. (And why would he want to feel any of this, when Lyanna herself would do anything to stop feeling anything altogether at this point?) "Where does that come from?" She replies, suddenly calm and reasonable. Oh, isn't she so used to deny, to avoid? Any bit of truth. Any insinuation. Any knowledge.
"My mother used to wear plenty of scarves and high collars, too, though they were as little in fashion as they are now."
"Maybe it's just a sign of my mourning, have you thought about that?"
"Would your mourning suddenly stop if you found a high collared dress of a different colour tomorrow?"
She gulps, tired. "Stop this aimless questioning."
"Then shall we talk politics?"
"Might as well."
How can they not even bear to look each other in the eye? Is this how it's going to be until they can just part ways again or one of them dies for good?
"Obviously, the staged invasion and alliance for peace are now unlikely to work due to the current complications. Stannis can only count on the Stormlands and Westerlands without a doubt. But he can easily attract Highgarden if they get his heir betrothed to Mace Tyrell's daughter."
"Yes. But he won't. He will ask for my niece's hand. The Rebellion Block is their immediate worry. Sansa is Lord Stark's daughter and a niece of Lord Edmure Tully and Lady Arryn. Why raise an offensive when they can demolish our defence?"
"Yes, that makes sense," he muses.
But what doesn't make sense is his continuation in the intentions of an alliance with them, given these odds, when the likes of the Reach and Dorne would be much more beneficial. She voices, "I must confess, I was surprised there was no attempt of reconciliation with Dorne through a new alliance." She refrains from the biting comment about how he had two wives once, so what would've stopped him now? It was totally petty and undeserved, by both himself and Dorne. She has been the unwelcome addition there, after all.
"There was an attempt. By my mother, before she died. She betrothed Viserys as the new king to Arianne Martell. I could've promised Daenerys to the Tyrells, I guess, to strengthen that alliance but…"
"I had no intention to ever make Viserys King, I now know. ...Not that I would rather have had him dead."
At that, she takes a quick glance at his profile, the curvature still bearing the perfection of a statue.
But why not you? Why wouldn't you have remarried and had heirs while you still could? You are not yet dead. You have already survived this long. I couldn't have told anything was wrong with you at all.
"No child is safe, when they are born into this," she bites her lip and keeps all that in. "I knew from the very first moment Jon was born, that he will either be a King or a dead child. There's no middle ground in this game."
"No, there isn't."
She dares to look again, and regrets it when she finds him looking back, giving her no choice but to hold his gaze.
There are dark circles under his eyes this morning, in spite of technically resting for over a day, and his skin has a sickly pallor. "I have my own deadlines, as you may have seen. And I need to leave Dany in a stable, safe life. The game has already claimed Viserys. She is the very last."
The very last of his family. The very last Targaryen in name and right. Or so he thinks. But would be the point in contradicting him? Why make this worse, harder, tenser for both? This is yet another child he might soon hear of having been killed without barely knowing him.
No, I can't think like that. If there is any way I can get Jon through this, I will do it .
"The North and their alliances are not enough all the same. I can't even count on the Stormlands. How could we even prevent the other Houses from seeing Stannis and the Lannisters as a more viable option?"
"There's plenty of forces to hire in Essos and we've got the resources for it. But we've also got something better than swordsmen."
"Elephants?" She guesses almost indifferently, worried and distracted, clutching at her limited knowledge of Essosi manpower.
"Dragons," she hears him say, and her head raises in apprehension, "Viserys has died in a fire that has given birth to two dragons."
Lyanna was left into Winterfell quickly and without ceremony. All guards still know her here. Everyone does. And they know that when the King is not part of the company, she and Jon prefer the familiarity and discretion they can only ever find in the North.
Rhaegar has told her the ship will follow its usual circuit, up to the Wall and back to White Harbour for provisions before leaving Westeros for good. She didn't ask why the Wall is part of the trajectory. All she knows is she has little time before they are back and expecting the conclusion of her understanding with Ned.
It's night. Catelyn and the children have long gone to bed, she is told, and replies she wants none of them wakened. But Ned has been seen gone into the crypts just under a half hour ago (and she knows him to spend at least an hour when he does go there), and so she follows in his step down the stairs, denying the need of company.
She sees his outline just where she's expected him to be, the statues of their father and brother right before him. She's not sure if this makes it harder or easier for the clarifications she is about to have no choice but offer.
She's been going over it in her mind on how to tell him of all this, and how much, and what she even means to ask of him right now. She wants to protect Jon without hurting any of them anyhow, but that is as tricky as it sounds.
"Brandon," she starts, walking almost timidly towards Ned, "I loved him dearly, but Gods, what a fool he was, running into the castle of a mad king screaming for murder."
"Lyanna," her brother wheels round, visibly surprised to see her, but not unhappy, "Gods, I was so worried." He comes forth and hugs her tightly, and she relinquishes in it, steadying herself for what's to come next.
"What is going on, Lyanna? What does all this mean?" He pulls back, studying her closely. There's a parchment in his hand. By the looks of it, he must have been reading and rereading it plenty.
She looks towards the paper instantly, avoiding his gaze. "So Lord Tywin and Stannis lost no time in appealing to you. I would expect nothing else from them. Of course, they want to make sure your loyalties lie with the 'real heir'. Stannis wants you to give your honorable word and bind yourself to him as well - I imagine he's offered the marriage of Sansa to Joffrey Baratheon instead."
"How can your marriage be questioned? How can he call Jon's legitimacy questionable? How would you even marry Rhaegar Targaryen when he was already a married man? This is all very absurd. And he was dead. All the same. Dead when it was done."
Lyanna sighs, biting her lip, and steadies herself enough to make herself look up into Ned's eyes as she confesses, "We were. Married. Legally married. It took convincing everyone involved but- and Lord Tywin and Stannis found out. They had some papers that supported it."
"I am sorry , Ned," she quickly adds, briefly closing her eyes, before he can answer, "He had a share in the blame for their deaths, but so did I. If you wish to hate me on their behalf now, wish their ghosts would haunt me eternally, don't worry about doing it. They already haunt me so much I wish I could forget them completely. I can hardly remember father's face, and yet my brain manages to convey the image of his body writhing in flames in my dreams all the same."
Ned is shocked. Plain shocked. Looking away in slow sinking acknowledgment that she knows not how to interpret in spite of how well she might claim to know him.
"You- you never told me. I would have never- All I did- all of us did-" He turns back towards Lyanna and immediately frowns. "Good gods, what happened to your neck?"
She sees him taking note with wide eyes of the still visible shapes on her neck, though the darkest colours have since faded. She might as well be fully honest and this point and, perhaps, a little less judged for the reasons behind her deeds. "Don't mind your friend's last parting gift for me," she tells him quickly, " But I have been telling you. I have been telling you in so many words. And all you kept answering is that he was a good man. That he loved me. Don't blame my foolish love too much when you, too, foolishly believed in his. Didn't you get the slightest hint of the life I've had with him? Of the life you all pushed me towards, even before Rhaegar?
"I asked you to let me leave far away from here that day as well. I shouted it at you. And all you answered was how it was all going to be alright. 'Come, Lyanna, you'll be alright'. And next thing I know, we were not alone anymore, with no chance for another private word, and I was sent forth to start my own life, while you went to pick up yours.
"You never really listened. You men never really listen. When Rhaegar left, I kept on asking him, 'What if you don't come back?' And he just kept on promising he would. And he didn't. And I was left to answer that question for myself. You men keep on telling women you will be taking care of it all and for us not to worry. And then you mess it up and it's us who have to live in the filth.
"But what's done is done now," she pulls herself back together, wiping at a few stray tears, "I came here with a reason. The message from Tywin Lannister. You are going to agree."
"You cannot be asking that of me. I could never put you and Jon in danger."
The vehemence in his statement, the lack of anger, they make her heart break.
"Jon and I are already in danger, Ned," she tells him gently, mollified. "I am asking you to put your family out of danger's way right now. Do it for them. And for us. Ensuring Stannis of your allegiance, together with the Riverlands and the Vale would make them secure in their claim. He knows I care about my family. And he knows you are a man of your word. It will make myself and Jon not so much of a threat to them, although I do still expect plenty of veiled attempts at Jon's life, but I will stay vigilant."
"But where are you planning to go? What are you planning to do?"
"My-," she purses her lips, the words not feeling real just as she speaks them, " -lawful husband is alive, as I've been made aware as of late."
"You cannot be serious," he shakes his head. There is some anger in there now, where he is concerned. " If he was alive all this years, yet he allowed for his- ...and for you to-… what about Jon? You cannot mean to take Jon to him? Robert's child? You must realize-"
"Oh, Ned," she closes her eyes once again, breathing in slowly. "My boy is no one's bastard and remains the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. That is what you should know. That you should remember, whenever you wonder why I did all that I have done."
Ned's renewed shock has something of resignation this time around.
"Lyanna, he is not here."
She stares at him in confusion, finding it impossible to assimilate what she's hearing.
"What do you mean he is not here?" She snaps. "He came here. He sent me a letter. Just a week ago I received a letter from him. Where did he go? Where is my son, Ned?"
Ned sighs and looks down for a moment and, knowing him, she almost doesn't want to know, "The letter was addressed to both Lord Stark and Prince Jon Baratheon. And ranks matter. He was the first it was handed to and the first to read it."