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The Footsteps of Survivors

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AN: There may be some logic and technical holes in the setting of the plot, but the plot is not the main point of this fic. My intent is to humanize and study these characters. None of them will be completely forgiven of bad deeds, but neither vilified to a ridiculous standard. I am not sure how long this story will be. I might go fast through the events, or I might go into detail, depending on what the characters need of me. We'll see. But do be prepared for a faster pace in the first 2 chapters, which will resume a bulk of years passing between past and present action.

EDIT: I now know this will be a short novel in length, fyi.

Will be adding more ships as I decide on them. 

 

She was a wildflower

Lyanna

 

Found loving you was sunshine, but then it poured

And I lost so much more than my senses

'Cause loving you had consequences

 

She heard of his death a week ago. Yet then she managed to steady herself, to be brave while looking blanched and breathless.

 

But this morning she heard about the children. And that is too much. And her last act of bravery is to urge her last defenders to leave. It's a hard fight. And she doesn't have that strength, but she puts all of it into this one last fight. She wins. Yet she loses.

 

She waits for the predators to come. They're meant to be her saviours. She knows better of what is awaiting her. All the imaginable horrors she doesn't deserve or asked for, and none of those that she would've actually perhaps deserved.

 

She's always been a wolf, but today she is a mere sheep. They all want to consume her somehow. To shred her for their warmth. Divide the bits they can use. Spread her at their tables.

 

She gets a very brief sight of Ned, too brief, before everything else happens too fast to stop it, and people are crowding around her, and the world is spinning, spinning. And they talk a lot about her, and very little to her. As if she were a mute child. And maybe she is much like one, looking so small. Saying so little. They say she is broken. They say she is not fit to be a queen. She is not fit to be a wife anymore. She's almost grateful to be denigrated. She's almost mad to be defended.

 

She is dishonored, disgraced and weakened. What if she is pregnant? People will talk regardless.

 

And she only cries through it all, again and again. And she hates herself for it. Before today, she could've counted on her fingers the amount of times she has ever cried. But before she's been too much of a girl. And now she is too much of a woman.

 

And what else is there to do? There is blood on her hands. So much blood. And no one knows. And no one should.

 

Robert's voice booms above all of them. Even Ned comes in as a second, though perhaps only because he's a more stoic, measured man. They both defend her in all the ways she doesn't need and in none that truly matter. One still wants her as his wife. She is his betrothed. The other still wants her honour intact. She is his sister.

 

The woman who's been tending to her needs vows she has cleaned the mess of a miscarriage, a week following Rhaegar's departure. Lyanna has never asked her to. She is grateful. But Wella would've realized easily that Lyanna's missed her latest moonblood.

 

She is to be a honorable Queen and wife in less than a week. That should solve all her problems and make her happy. Perhaps. It surely does the trick for other people involved.

 

She scrubs hard at her skin in the bathtub as if she could escape it and be free of it, if she scrubbed hard enough. She is just broken, the maids whisper. Everybody knows what happened to her , they nod wisely at each other.

 

Only Benjen does know. She throws herself in his arms and he holds her like he understands what he does it for. And this finally helps. She doesn't cry again. Not at all for moons. Not like that for many years.

 

"Stay with me," she begs him. There is something both fierce and desperate in the way she begs it of him. Her eyes are hard, but still watery. Her hands clasp his in an iron grip, but they tremble.

 

Benjen looks at her sadly. There is guilt there as well. He gulps. "I am joining the Night's Watch in a moon's turn."

 

"Why? You could be a Kingsguard soon. Be someone's squire. Win your knighthood. And we can be together."

 

"I could not. I cannot. I don't want to be a knight anymore. I don't want to. Not when the  Kingsguard slays their charge and knights kill helpless children. Maybe all the songs were wrong all along."

 

"Maybe they are."

 

"I don't want to leave you here, either, where they killed a queen and her babes before, already. Do you want to run? If you do, I will come with you. Wherever."

 

"Oh, Ben," she holds his hand softly, with a sad look in her eyes, "That can also ever be just a song."

 

She doesn't think of Robert above her. She doesn't think of any other in his stead. She thinks of nothing, her own skin not that of a woman, completely disconnected from the reality of her body, of her life.

 

She hears Queen Rhaella is dead (in childbed, a terrible death for a woman, but royal women have had worse deaths lately). Two of the Kingsguard she's sent on their way are dead. Arthur Dayne is gone missing, at least. And so are the children. Prince Viserys and a little girl the Queen has birthed. Daenerys Stormborn, they called her. Ser Willem Drarry was supposedly part of the smuggling party, too.

 

And soon in the whirlwind of her life stays Ser Barristan before them. She is in a lower chair next to the Iron Throne. Her womb is getting hard to touch. When did she even get there?

 

They are discussing his possible pardon. Oh, and how she wants him there. Someone who knows . Someone who she might find faithful confidence in. Someone who could truly protect her.

 

But before she knows what she's doing, her conscience speaks above her, and above all powerful men around her, no matter the lack of wisdom in it, "He should not be killed, for he is a brave man. But his loyalties ought to be doubted. He has served under House Targaryen for more than half his life, after all. He ought to be relinquished of his white cloak, and be exiled, with the rest of them."

 

There is a brief silence in the room, as if none of those present have known that the small, frail lady could talk.

 

"I do believe a man such as-," some manly voice is eventually counteracting, but she's grievously pulling through, too numb to head the warning.

 

"I don't want him here," Lyanna blurts out plainly, throwing what she hopes is a meaningful look at Robert.

 

The King must have seen something significant enough in his wife's countenance, for he agrees, "The Queen has spoken. And I stand by her judgement. Ser Barristan may live, but never as a Kingsguard, and not in this Kingdom."

 

She gives him a real grateful look then, and he seems almost giddy to receive it, although he has no idea what he has truly done for her.

 

She hopes Ser Barristan will understand, however. And if he doesn't, his prior loyalties and his present spite for the lot of them murderers might turn him in the right direction regardless. To Essos. To those poor children. They need all the help they can get.

 

For the length of many moons, she doesn't think of much. She doesn't think of who she has once wanted to be or who she is now. The life in her belly is her one obsession. The one part of her she's still sure to be living. Her only motivation in a life that's come to shambles.

 

She worries and she frets, day and night. What if the Targaryen blood will show? What if everyone else will get their victory and she and her babe will die?

 

And sometimes she illogically wants them in their babe. The hair. The eyes. Either. Both. She wants to know what she would feel at the sight of them. Would she curse his name or cry? Or curse his name and cry?

 

(And other times she wants to die, too).

 

She wants a sign it has been real. She wants to find out if it has even been real. The love, the devotion, the plans. Has it been worth it? The war. Her family. Could she ever look Ned in the eyes and tell him the truth, worse than he could ever imagine?

 

But she knows she can't really tell him. She can't tell anyone. The whispers are all around her. The suspicions. The quick curving of her belly. And, eventually, the early birth.

 

But the Grand Maester stands in the place that he is for his politics, not his medical excellence. He looks at Lyanna's petite figure (and growing thinner) and assumes it as a matter of disproportions. The early birth as unnatural sickness and complications.

 

The pains have been coming and going for months. She's been expected to miscarry for a long time. The babe is too small, and comes out with the cord around his neck, though gladly not yet tightly. Barely saved in time. A miracle intuition for the babe, it's assumed. Coming out in time to save himself and the mother.

 

"The babe would've twisted around more and more, strangling itself and dooming the mother if it would've ended up legs first," he muses, running his hand through his white beard.

 

(It helps that it's what his very King wants to hear).

 

The soft mop of black hair, washed in his mother's blood looks vindictive enough for many. The two moons of being bedridden and possibly dying on her part, even more. Men are satisfied with the suffering. They are ready to show benevolence towards the poor creature.

 

Lyanna is only seventeen, and already a widow, and a mother, and a wife to a second husband. She's been a princess by one dynasty, and she is a Queen by another.

 

They point to the shape of Jon's eyes (something the Baratheons got from their Targaryen side), how it's all his, and the curly black hair, too (the black hair, hers; the curly hair from the Targaryens, too).

 

(But no one notes any details the King wouldn't want to hear. They may even not think anything of the kind themselves, altogether. It has all come to the result they wanted. They have won all they wanted to win. Most of them).

 

He agrees wholeheartedly. She can almost not hate him when he does all that. But there are hard, trembling, and dark feelings beneath her somewhere, in spite of her numbness. It's not quite like the dread she used to feel for him as her betrothed. It's different. She doesn't know in what way. She doesn't care.

 

Lyanna does not think much of it. Her mind - the state of it, the blankness - is sixteen again. Sometimes younger. She doesn't feel. She doesn't breath more than necessary.

 

She is a bird for a long time. Chirping whatever song people want to hear. Her big fangs now a funny coloured beak, her once big claws now barely pointy rusty needles.

 

The day she finally gets to hold her boy, really look at him, is the first the glassy vacancy in her eyes melts and she cries. But these tears come from a weĺl of happiness.

 

Of all the talks she's heard around her, in her in-and-out hazy state - heavily drugged with painkillers - of the last many weeks, they did not give the babe much of a chance. Sickly. Pale. Small and thin. Barely made a sound. Barely breathed.

 

But the boy she meets when finally they allow it to her is well past all that. The length of half a finger longer, a fist heavier in weight, hands and lungs calling out for his needs.

 

Robert named him Jon . After Jon Arryn, presumably. No question was posed as to whether she has an opinion in the naming. Not that she has been in a state to answer for the most part. Not that she thinks she might have been asked otherwise. It doesn't matter. He is who he is. And a name is just a name. She will get to love the sound of it regardless, once she connects it with the image of those small, grabby hands.

 

"We are strong beasts, you and I, Jon. We are not meant to die in their hands." She kisses his little head. And he receives it with a little sigh that melts her heart.

 

And they both live. And grow. And thrive. For if she still hides her fangs, she does so knowingly, now. And if he grows his, not many think it unnatural. He is their Crown Prince and it is only expected.

 

Lyanna's stomach never grows with child again, even if, of course she is expected to, and there is scorn and gossip about her failing her due somehow through it.

 

But she does gain a healthy, attractive weight and bloom, and goes through the trouble of wearing her satins and jewellery with grace and elegance, and the King is known to frequent her chambers, hence that she is straying from her duty or not putting in the adequate effort cannot be said.

 

Robert's unfaithfulness, in spite of her lack of complaint to her own duty as a wife, does not unfaze her. But they mortify her sensible son and the already stiff, incompatible relationship between himself and the one he calls father . Lyanna does nothing to remedy that opinion. Firstly, because she does not want Jon to carry more respect for that kind of behaviour than it is due. Secondly, because her son is too much a bright and insightful young boy to even try to fool him in that regard or any, especially in regards to Robert's lame efforts as father, husband, and King, which he's been witness to every day of his life.

 

Robert can't even see his own wrongdoings in the matter. His wife is 'understanding' of his needs, and that is all his conscience requires.

 

Upon a more or less official visit in the North, as Robert is taking quite the liberties with some serving maid coming close to fill up his wine goblet, she can see the mortification and colour on her son's face and the strain in stopping himself from remarking something, lest he causes a bigger scene.

 

The Northeners, her brother included, have a generally disppleased reaction, their opinions to such behaviour much less liberal than in the South, especially with the Queen being a former Lady of House Stark, though they have an even less authority in chastising their own chosen King. Ned himself is daring to turn a dark look towards it, until the girl, at least, takes the hint in finding a way to escape the scene.

 

Lyanna acts in the both dignified and complacent manner she's gotten used to adapting to in these scenarios, and the storm passes. Besides, she has more urgent matters to take care of.

 

She bids her time until the welcoming feast turns towards the end, and later corners Ned in his private study.

 

"Lyanna," he looks up at her from a very brooding, glaring stare he's been giving his own desk.

 

"Pour us both a drink. We both need it, and we might as well accept it and take it more discreetly and dignified than others," Lyanna says, taking the seat across from him.

 

"Are you ok? You look tired, Lya," Ned replies, but he complied, pouring wine in two cups, a less generous amount for her than for him. She almost smiles. He can't know how generously she sometimes pours it for herself in private lately, compared to the careful sips she tastes during public affairs.

 

"Is this about what I witnessed today? With Robert? For how long has this been going on?" He goes on with obvious concern.

 

Lyanna huffs. "It's many years too late to worry about Robert's character and habits, isn't it?"

 

"For how long has this been going on, Lyanna?" he insists.

 

"For as long as we can both remember, Ned," Lyanna sighs, but decides not to trouble her brother any longer - not about that , all the same. "But I wanted to talk to you about something else, Ned. Something more important."

 

"What is more important than your own well being?"

 

"Many things, really," Lyanna replies, smiling sadly at the sincerity of his declaration. She puts down her drink and takes a gentle hold of his hand from across the table. "Robert will propose to make you Hand of the King. It might have been obvious by this unexpected visit, so soon after Jon Arryn's death."

 

By the look on her brother's face, it wasn't that obvious for him, but she continues, "I want you to turn it down, no matter how hard it ever was for you to turn down a dutiful request - or any proposition of my husband's, for that matter. Do it as nicely as you can, but do turn it down."

 

"I…," Ned frowns, putting his wine glass down as well. "I can't say I would be enthusiastic about it in the least, but why do you personally wish for me to turn it down?"

 

Lyanna downs her portion of wine in one go and licks her lips, pondering on how to even go about her worries.

 

***

 

"-and he declined my offer of marriage between Jon and his pretty eldest daughter, too, the bloody fool!" Robert is ranting later. "She'd be a bloody Queen, that daughter of his, in some years. What more does he want to think of it for?"

 

Lyanna takes a deep breath, keeping a casual demeanour. In spite of the many indications that her husband might stray to some other bed for the night, he ended up at her door, and she had no choice but to let him in. Gladly for her, she's downed a couple more wine cups by that time. Even better, he seems to have had even a few more. So this will be over soon.

 

"It's not that he thinks it a bad match, obviously," she speaks calmly, patiently, "She is young still. Not yet a flowered woman. And besides, perhaps it would look like too much favouritism against the other reputable families with eligible daughters of appropriate age. Myrcella, your niece, is about the same age as Sansa, you may remember, and also a cousin to Jon. I know the Lannisters would feel slighted if we didn't at least give her a chance. Then there's a Tyrell girl, too. They used to be Targaryen loyalists, so we might also consider strengthening their allegiance.

 

"We could invite them all to court in a couple years' time, as my ladies in waiting. And the young people would get to have their own courting. Jon could get the chance to have a choice in all this, too, by getting to meet and consider them all."

He agrees, of course. It's one less decision for him to take or account for. And she goes to join him with a heart both easier and heavier.

 

With Robert she can deal. And if that's not the case with Tywin Lannister when he inevitably takes his place as Hand, she may still use Robert having the last word in most matters as a way to placate him.

All the same, it's for the best, as long as she can keep her family away from the game. Decisions she may manage to undo, but the people she loves she cannot bring from the dead. And she has seen too much already of how one person or another may find ways to fall, as power passes from one hand to another.

Chapter Text

The coin landed on its edge

 

I shut my eyes and all

the world drops dead;

I lift my lids and all

is born again.

I think I made you up

inside my head.


Rhaegar


Rhaegar blinks his eyes open, turning around in his bed to look out the window. Still very dark outside, but then again sunrises come a bit later in Essos than what he's been used to in his early years.

 

He's scarcely ever slept past sunrise for many years past, and when that does happen it is no good sign. Those are the days when those who know him hold their breaths for rightfully fearing that he is not to wake up at all. Not that morning, not ever. Those mornings when he doesn't get to see this darkness outside his window are his truly dark one.

 

Rhaegar doesn't fear dying in itself. Death, he's faced it already. He's felt it. There is agony and dread in it, but he's learnt a bigger lesson about what should be his true fear when it comes to his own death. Not the nothingness grasping at him but the everything to swallow everyone else around him. He can't let that happen again.

 

So he still gets out of that bed. Still makes plans. Still puts his best efforts in achieving them.

 

He drinks and eats enough to stay alive.

 

He doesn't sing anymore, though. He's glad Dany doesn't know he ever did. She would most likely ask him to. And to make her happy he might even go through a whole song.

 

There's little left of him from his past life to remind him of ever being the Dragon Prince his people have known. His hair, and beard he's grown, both kept short, he keeps bleached to a plain white. His eyes he covers up with some tricky and uncomfortable glass coloured pieces to hide their color - the result, a pitch black. His once recognisable Targaryen armor was torn to pieces with the hit of a warhammer. His Valyrian steel sword might be laid somewhere in the depths of the Trident. His harp left behind at the Tower of Joy, probably burnt with the rest of traces of his existence he heard have been thrown in a pyre there.

 

There was a time when he carried that harp in particular everywhere he went, even more dutifully so than his very own sword.


Summerhall has been his favourite for its peace and melancholy and for reminding him of the inevitable. And he almost wishes he's never put a foot in that place, lest he at least wouldn't have ever been aware (or mistakenly confident) about the tragedy to fall upon him - and everyone around him.

 

He wishes he had ignored the crone lingering about that day, so short in height she may have been a dwarf.

 

But instead he then asked her, "Are you in need of something, old lady?"

 

"I am only an old woman with great pleasure for a sweet tune, Dragon Prince."

 

He was not exactly wary of spectators, but he didn't really want any there . And yet the old woman could be no harm and he didn't have it in him to turn her away.

 

"Any song you would like to listen to, in particular, old lady?" He went as far as to offer. His mother raised him to be civil and kind to all. The small and the old in particular.

 

"Oh, you are too kind, but anything from the heart is delightful to me. Sing your sweetest three songs that speak of your heart for me, Dragon Prince, and three truths I will speak for you in return."

 

"Three truths ," he smiled in amusement then, but the old woman did not say more of it, but sat in the good humored, docil way of a child on a raised wide stone nearby, smiling kindly at nothing in particular.

 

He let her be, and went on to sing. This might even be a story worth writing a song about for later . And so he sang three songs. Two that he's known for years from others, but loved and felt them deeply, and a third he had written himself the last time he's spent the night here.

 

He didn't pay the old woman much thought, enjoying his own tune. But anytime he did recall her presence and looked over she was all just the same, smiling absently, hands clasped gently on her lap. She was seemingly very much engrossed in his singing and not appearing to think much of him , which was actually a good change compared to his usual listeners.

 

After he finished his third, he took a break, both for the sake of resting and curious of whether she meant anything by her 'truths'. For a couple minutes, he thought she's just forgotten and was going to shrug it off. There was no smile on her lips, now, but something of deep concentration on her face as she looked at the ground.

 

But then she looked up and right at him, something intent and serious in her face.

 

" Listen closely, Dragon Prince, for all this you'd better remember. First, be aware that the storm will swallow them of the lands of storms, the King's Valyrian aspirations sunk with them.

 

"Second, remember the brides that will bear your children. A bride of sand in the lands of longest summer. A bride of snow in the lands of longest winter. None will have their womb quicken with child for a third time. But three babes of your own blood you will live to see grown. One boy and two girls.

 

"Third, never forget that the dragon has three heads. All three the world will need to survive the dark night to come. But three children you'll have to lose to blood on the way."

 

Rhaegar started with a frown, his previously relaxed position stiffened.

 

Two brides? Four children in between them? But three will live? But also die?

 

The old woman sat up, unperturbed, dusting off her dress, starting a slow, old woman's walk in an opposite direction.

 

He sat up sharply, calling after her, "Wait, none of that makes any sense at all when you put it together. Can you clarify-"

 

" Just never forget the Prince you've been promised, son of Dragons," she called back, but never stopped in her way, "and it shall all be fine in the end. For his is the song of ice and fire. And it all starts and ends with him."

 

He found the whole of it absolutely ridiculous. And then he gave it some thought.  And then he decided not to. And in the next minute he pulled out some of the paper and ink he kept with him for writing song verses and wrote down all that  the woman had said before he would forget the details, and upon rereading it, he found it increasingly ridiculous all the same.

 

But he didn't throw it out, leaving it in the case of his harp. This might yet be a song , he ventured.

 

But he never got around to make a song out of it. He did however get the news of the storm, the tragic deaths of the Lord and Lady of Storm's End, and heard his father reacting only with complaints of their failure to bring him a girl of Valyrian birth.

 

He unfolded the paper that night warily. That could just be a coincidence. A largely stretched vague idea turned into a coincidence. And his father's increasingly eccentric demands were common sense these days.

 

All the same, he wrapped it up carefully and hid it again, not having any more thoughts of turning any of that into songs.

 

His father did not wait long to summon him to the Red Keep - he had taken residence in Dragonstone upon turning sixteen - and laid out the new plan - with no input expected from him, of course - outlining the demands for the one Princess of rank in Dorne of appropriate age to be expedited to King's Landing.

 

Aerys, in his younger years, had been a laid back, unpreoccupied King, always making some plans and taking his time going through with them, or forgetting about them altogether, living a comfortable, plentiful life.

 

But Duskendale had reminded him of his mortality, in ways that inconvenienced everybody. He wanted all things settled, in no time, as he wanted them - No complaints, no explanations.

 

However unconventional and lacking in the general formalities of a betrothal, Dorne would comply. A Princess of Dorne sitting as a Queen in the Red Keep was what it was. The result ought to excuse the process.

 

And Rhaegar had a lot on his mind, waiting for the arrival of the Princess' party, that was to be expected. He had not only the common nervousness of a future groom who didn't even know much of his future wife, but also a piece of paper announcing his bride of sand - and a second, too.

 

Rhaegar was opening and reopening the paper sheet on many occasions, those weeks. It was starting to get thin and tear at all corners it would get folded at. (Arthur would also laugh at his ridiculousness, those days).

 

But Rhaegar himself was thorough obsessed with the second part of the truths now, sulking and brooding and zoning out of conversations on so many occasion that many would start being concerned. His mother would tried to talk him into the good prospects of the character of his future wife. His friends would make well meaning jokes about his upcoming nuptials. Even his father would snap at him to get out of his clumpy head and concentrate on his duties.

 

But Rhaegar's mind has made a run through his future life and back one too many times during that period, and whatever conclusion he came at, he wasn't satisfied.

 

If Elia Martell was his first bride only, then what would lead to him taking a second? Death . Death is the end of a marriage. And they talked about the Princess' poor health all the time, didn't they? It was a gruesome thought. A woman he had hardly met but for some childhood visits. To have to contemplate the idea that they would meet, wed, bed, know each other, see children come into this world together, all while there sat, in the back of his mind, the knowledge that Elia Martell would enter this marriage to find her end in it.

 

And it only got worse from there. Two babes born out of each union. Three to grow. Three to die. Would he see a child dead in its early years, or would they weather a miscarriage? Would he see three others grow into man and women, only to have two more die even before their lives began?

 

But once he's met Princess Elia, and chatted, and even laughed, and got over his nervousness, he turned towards his rooms and burnt the paper, already in tatters from too much use, all the same. He couldn't burn the words from his mind, as well. He remembered them perfectly. He thought he always would, regardless.

 

Elia Martell was not the love of his life. There were no butterflies upon meeting her, or holding her arm. He was not touched in any extraordinary way by her beauty, although he did see she was pretty.

 

But this wasn't awkward, as one would expect. She was good humored, and open, and witty. A few years older than him, she's had some lovers; he hadn't, but it did not bother him - someone here would have to know their way around it. She had loved no one and neither had he - none would leave that regret behind upon this marriage.

 

On the whole, Rhaegar was hopeful. For a good life, in the least. For a good partner in it. And he wanted to pay no mind to more depressing thoughts.

 

Their coupling was not passionate, but it was somewhat fun. They would drink some or some more, laugh some or laugh some more. It was like a game they were playing at together, on the same team. And they would take every pregnancy announcement as a game they were winning at, too. And isn't this both funny and sad.

 

But the babies were born. And that was not a game and no light matter to either.

 

If there ought to be three, they would have the three names of strength of their House, and let that strength keep them to weather whatever the fate may have in store for them . For all else might have come true, but then again, he hadn't believed them or tried to fight them so far. There must be some ways for his children to live. There ought to be.

 

He named the first Rhaenys, for she was known for her sweetness of character and how much Aegon had loved her for it, and when his Rhaenys was born, he knew he had never laid his eyes upon any sweeter sight.

 

All put together, he's held her for whole hours that first day she was born, releasing her only at the requests come from Elia to have her as well, and for the needs and musts of the girl that he couldn't or didn't know how to offer.

 

Elia was grown very weak. She's been sicker than most women (upon the assessment of the Maester) during her pregnancy, and the birth itself had been hard.

 

"We should wait some more before the next, perhaps," he whispered to her - Rhaenys was asleep in his arms - after the Maester's latest check on Elia's heartbeat.

 

"Some, yes," she nodded weakly. "But not much, can we? We both need a male heir."

 

Rhaegar only gave a slight nod and a thin lipped mouth in acknowledgement, gently caressing the little head with a thin layer of black Dornish hair.

 

Aerys' dry comment at presenting that little light of his eye about "smelling Dornish" couldn't have been less appropriate in consideration, and he could feel that strain and resent grow inside him.

 

And then Aegon came, and 'complicated' was little said to describe the birth, and the blood was plenty, and extra pieces the Maester had needed to pull out of Elia's body to save her were gruesome. But he stood there, and held her hand tightly, and wiped the wet hair out of her face and talked to her about how she would make it. But the voice in the back of his head who had never forgotten the words of the truths and his worries before their marriage were pushing hard and harder to the front. She's going to die, isn't she? She'll die for being a part of my life .

 

And then she didn't. By dawn, the Maester announced she would live, but have no more children.

 

None will have their womb quicken with child for a third time.

 

But she'll live.

 

Rhaegar let out a sigh of relief, and finally made space for them to clean her up as much as physically possible for now, and finally also took a look at his son.

 

He's been long since washed and probably fed by a wet nurse, too. And he was peaceful and soft. A blonde boy with a much fairer, though far from pale complexion. A male heir to satisfy the realm, Dorne, and maybe even his father.

 

And myself ? There would not be much of Aegon left for him to have. Even the truths put a claim on 'his Prince'. His is the song of ice and fire. It all starts and ends with him. Promised Prince .

 

The Prince who was Promised. It's been said that the one would be born out of his parent's union, after all. When he was younger, he's had that youthful fantasy that he could grow up to be that mighty hero. He's trained to be strong. All that did was win him some tourneys. And also lose him a few.

 

He remembered all those theories he'd used to discuss with his Great Uncle Aemon. Their correspondence had grown thin throughout the years, however, and the realm had never fell into great peril either. Well, except the usual peril within it.

 

The dragon has three heads. All three the world will need to survive the dark night to come .

 

Was this the meaning behind it? Was that what could put all his children in such imminent danger?

 

He should contact Maester Aemon. He should have done it long ago. He would understand and not think him losing his mind when he told him all this.

 

But also that means there is time. Time to draw the realm stronger together. Time to prepare. To research, to find a way to survive, not only for the Kingdoms, but also for his family.

 

But why should he have another bride for? Under what pretext or circumstance? A third child to be a third head? He can't just look for marriages for the sake of prophecies. That hadn't worked out too well for his parents… (And since he was already married, that opened the idea of a second wife, which had also worked quite badly for Targaryens most times). But then again, none of the truths coming to life so far were something he's looked for. What would he be looking for through this?

 

Love ? his mind supplied, perhaps not as easy and quick as it would for others. Love had never really been much of a possibility for him. He didn't see how it would be so now. And of romantic love he had little time or space of mind or energy to think.

 

With a quickly deteriorating father, lords high and low were increasingly already referring to his reign and taking interest in his children.

 

"My Rhaenys can't yet count to ten. She still mispronounces harder words and spends her days pretending her little cat spews fire. And they talk about her future marriage," he would tell his mother during a visit. Rhaella was much more eager and gentle as a grandmother, of course.

 

"I married your father at twelve ," she placated, though not unkindly.

 

Rhaegar could see his mother's bruises, in spite of a scarf going very much up her neck to cover them. How bad are the bruises that she does manage to cover ? he helplessly wondered.

 

He thought of his little girl, how she sneaked up to his bedchamber some nights, under his bed, until he came in and picked her up to sleep beside him, the times when she was afraid of the monsters she saw in her room.

 

"Now tell me this, how come your bed has monsters, yet there seem to be none under the darkness of mine?" He said, smiling down at her. It was his bed alone now that he and Elia parted ways for good.

 

"Mon'ters 'on't come to your room, papa. You are big and st'ong and they are af'aid of you."

 

Rhaegar's smile took a sad turn as he gazed down at her, caressing her hair. All he could think of were the bruises on his own mother's body, seen and unseen.

 

If there will be monsters in your next bedroom, you will no longer be allowed to run to me . His little babe had an unknown fate ahead of her, and he could do little to control it.

 

It was not right, not fair, perhaps, but when his bed stayed empty, he thought of the other bride the old woman has spoken of. He thought of a freer life, of love, of a little girl that could afford a life of her own choosing - for one boy and girl he already had, and there must be another girl, right?

 

(And all three would have time to find ways to survive destiny, still).

 

A bride of snow from the lands of longest winter spoke of a girl from up North, but of no particular rank. The possibility of a sweet Northern peasant girl could not be excluded. Didn't Duncan love a common girl from the Riverlands?

 

But that story had a lot of bloodshed to speak for it, too , he had to remind himself.

 

And yet most of times, he was selfish enough to hope for it.

 

A daughter of bastard name , which came with its own difficulties. But she wouldn't be a Princess. And high Lords would not be clamouring about with their sons , possibly keeping a unsavory private count until the likely year of her flowering . She would be free to choose her life, but still grow up with all the advantages of a King father. Even legitimised one day, she would still bear an inferior birth, just high enough that Lords could not afford to disagree to a marriage if she grew fond of some son of theirs, but would neither actively and greedily seek the connection.

 

Ah, sweet silly dreams.

 

Just a little girl.

 

A little girl to be his own, and a woman to love .

 

Some men may have taken a mistress. Set her up in a comfortable house with their bastards. A public secret. A discreet indiscretion. But he was not that kind of man. Or that kind of Prince. (And the girl that he fell for in the end was not that kind of girl as well).

 

He gathered up the courage and talked to Elia about it one day, after he had sang Rhaenys to sleep and went out on their spacious shared balcony to find his wife having a drink. They had had some wine and it was late and quiet. They decided to allow it to each other, were either of them to ever find some love. She could have no more children, so that would not be a problem. He could have bastards and they would not overshadow Aegon and Rhaenys' claims. They would always be the older ones, all the same.

 

Once, on a wild whim, he's cornered the High Septon, too, after an official ceremony in the Sept of Baelor. Just as a precaution. He truly despised the man. But his Holiness' prejudices ought to be put at some good use, maybe. And Rhaegar could be a good damn negotiator when he tried to. He threw in all the various traps of the Septon's own ridiculous preaching, about how the birth of children were the single important use of women and marriages, and the superiority of men and their needs, and to top it, added the political aspect of the Septon owing the keeping of peace in between Crown needs and Houses of prestige, all peppered with the implication of Rhaegar soon to have the influence of a King that ought to be kept in mind.

 

By the end, he left with an assurance to comply to a validation of a second union, given the case, but only to a bride of high enough birth, prospective childbearing age and respectable reputation. And that was enough guaranty. In any other case, he would manage without.

 

But he wasn't about to go around looking for Northern women. If it was fated, it would happen. If not, he would end up having been a dreaming fool only in his own mind.

 

(And be mistaken in half a prophecy that he would rather not see come true).

 

But there were closer, less enigmatic and more imminent worries on his mind. Aerys was becoming angrier and wilder and less of a human with every day passing by.

 

Every visit Rhaegar would pay to the Red Keep, he'd find his father thinner, with more angry lines on his face and eyes darker and more sunken. His temper would be always quicker, his jaw clenching harder and oftener, and the stories of how traitors and wrongdoers were being dealt with were getting more and more terrifying. He was scared for his mother and brother, most of all. And his attempt at proposing that the two could spend some time at Dragonstone was met with such rage and paranoia that he did not try a second time.

 

Rhaegar himself has started drinking more and sleeping less, keeping correspondences meant to be read and burnt. And planning. And clenching his fists more. And keeping quieter than usual. And being more cautious. And if the Lords Paramount could be reasoned with at the meeting he'd been scheming towards, this might come to an end. And he could breathe. And sing his babe to sleep again.

 

Lord Tywin himself has cornered him one day, making enough insinuations to confirm both his knowledge of some scheme, and a veiled enthusiasm towards paying his respects to a new King in the near future.

 

But then it all came crashing down.

 

Aerys had not come out of the Red Keep in years. Many years. And now he meant to attend the tourney.

 

He knows.

 

He's had such a fit of rage in his study that, Elia, coming in to see what the crashing was all about, looked truly scared to look at him that way, and he's had to apologize and get his temper in check, and say he'd need some more time alone but will be coming out to dinner.

 

But to the tourney he had to go. And enlist and take part in it, as if it was any other tourney.

 

He was in a bad mood, considering, and Arthur was being a good friend in trying to distract him with gossip and jests as the various guests came from throughout the realm. They were having some good wine, and a good view and enough of privacy up on some corner of the battlements of Harrenhall.

 

"Look, those are Stark banners coming up," Arthur noted. He was doing most of the talking, while Rhaegar was doing most of the sulking and drinking. "I can't remember the last time I've seen those at all. They don't travel much South, do they?"

 

"Brandon Stark would be the heir and future Lord of Winterfell, right? To be married to a daughter of Hoster Tully," Rhaegar suplied. He's been trying to keep up with all political moves around the kingdom.

 

"Yes. There's one younger man in the Vale. Possibly a third. Oh, and I definitely know of one daughter, solely for the fact that she's been betrothed to 'cousin Robert' as of late."

 

"Yeah, I've heard of that in court, too."

 

At the mention of cousin Robert , who wasn't quite a cousin to Rhaegar, but it was how they got used to mentioning him, they both made a face.

 

Truth be told, the two were more of acquaintances than family. He didn't really see much of 'cousin Robert' throughout his life.

 

The last time they met was years ago. He had dragged Rhaegar and Arthur to some party and promised they would have the 'greatest of times'. Within half an hour, Robert has taken a bet with some random soldier, vowing he could drink one whole big size bottle of wine in one go. He technically won the bet, only to throw it all up about less than a minute later all over Rhaegar who had had the bad luck of sitting closest to him (worth mentioning, he's already been having several cups of ale before that ). Rhaegar just stood there, his own half full cup in his hand, wishing he had stayed home.

 

Arthur had laughed for minutes that night. And he would randomly start laughing days later, remembering it.

 

"All I've heard about her person is she's known as a good rider. That she could beat most men at it up in the North."

 

Rhaegar snorted, "Well, then she's still got a good chance to run."

 

They laughed then, but there was little laughter after the King's company crossed the gates.


The King had been an almost good father at some point, an almost good King. He'd always been easily irritable and hard to please. But there had been a time when Rhaegar had been touched by his rare praise and even caressed by his hand, a time when it had been easier for his mother to act like things were alright and that they were a good family - and easier for him to believe it.

 

Rhaegar did not know the Aerys that occupied the Iron Throne these days. Aerys was like an alcoholic who needed to drink his share daily before he could rest, only it was measured in burnt flesh and dripping blood.

 

And when he didn't have an excuse to get blood, he would look for it. That one day, it was a nameless young knight that was making him restless. Though he was doubtfully even a knight. He seemed very young: skinny, short, with a still softer voice. But he was a hell of a rider, and that made up in his current endeavours for the likely lack of muscle.

 

"That is just a young boy trying to prove his might, father."

 

"Then he shall personally swear to that intent. I want him brought before me."

 

Rhaegar pursed his lips and raised a hand to pause - he only had enough authority to pause, not to stop - the soldiers ready to obey. "Then allow myself and Ser Arthur to go, father. We can easily manage one boy ."

 

"Fine, go make yourself useful," Aerys spat back without even looking back at him.

 

Rhaegar nodded at Arthur and they both left the stands.

 

"Are we actually going to bring some poor boy back to face your father?" Arthur asked when they were out of earshot.

 

"Seven Hells, no! We will bring my father some proof of his unfortunate disappearance and offer the boy a squire position. He earned it."

 

But Rhaegar did not find himself a new squire that day. Instead, he found Lady Lyanna Stark. Which was no small feat, to say the least.  

 

She had thrown three men off their horses, and she very much attempted to throw him off his feet rather than let him catch up to her to uncover her identity. Unfortunately for her, Arthur was also there.

 

"It's not a boy. It's just a short girl !" Arthur laughed, one hand on her arm, the other holding the helmet he had taken off.

 

"I am not some short girl , Ser," she wrenched free of him, with Arthur too stunned by the sudden move to oppose her, "I am Lady Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, and if you are a true Knight at all, you will treat me with respect," a defiant little chin turned towards the Sword of the Morning.

 

But a quite short young woman she was, though less in might than in stature. Her face and neck were all sweat, dry and wet dust sticking to her creamy complexion. She had astonishingly pretty eyes, and fierce, and as dark as her hair, plentiful and wild, in some waves, but plenty of tangles, too, all frizzled up on top.

 

"Lady Lyanna, excuse our rudeness. We did not mean to frighten you," Rhaegar intervened. She does have such very fine fierce eyes.

 

"I am not frightened, Your Grace."

 

"Very well. We mean you no harm. I would just request to have your shield, however. You may also consider changing into more… appropriate attire and rejoin the stands. Your brothers may be worried."

 

"My apologies for not appearing in appropriate attire to meet His Grace the Prince," she said boldly, turning that defiant raised chin in his direction.

 

"That is not-," Rhaegar trailed off, then sighed, adding, "I just don't suppose your family is aware of your whereabouts, and that you don't want them known to them either, My Lady."

 

She did flush at that, answering, still boldly, but not as harshly, "My brothers believe I was feeling too sick to attend, Your Grace."

 

Rhaegar smiled at that, and the colour in her cheeks raised higher. "I see. Well, then, the attire of a Lady's sickbed is none of my business, of course, but the King has taken a worrisome interest in the Knight of the Laughing Tree, and it's wisest that anything that looks like him should not be seen around."

 

"I see," she nodded slightly, avoiding his eyes as she handed him the shield, but her head stayed high. And that small propped up chin. "Am I free to leave, now?" She had grown in awareness, but not sunk in spirit. He thought, if he were to tell her that she would, in fact, be forced to face the King, she would've looked just the same.

 

"Of course," he gave her a courteous nod, which she reciprocated, to him, then to Arthur, but just as she was leaving he couldn't shake the feeling of not being asked for permission, but rather attentioned in taking too long to accomplish an obvious task.

 

"What did just happen?" Arthur frowned when she was enough out of reach.

 

"I believe we have just met 'cousin Robert's noble betrothed." Rhaegar looked after the departing Lady with a small smirk at the corner of his mouth.

 

" You can believe that. What I believe is we met Robert Baratheon's future young widow, he who died tragically, shortly after his own wedding, in very mysterious circumstances. And it will be such a shock, because he was such a young and strong man."

 

"Gods, Arthur!"

 

"No, that was a compliment. Although, of course, I doubt it compares to what's going now through your mind."

 

"What's that supposed to mean?"

 

"Your eyes are sparkling and you look like you're growing with fever." Arthur gave him a pointed look, and added, "She's betrothed."

 

"To Robert," Rhaegar acknowledged with a nod, looking towards the place where Lyanna had long since turned the corner and went out of sight.

 

"Two tragedies in one, definitely, but you may still want to ponder on that," Arthur clasped his shoulder, then reached out for the painted shield, which Rhaegar relented to part with, turning back towards the royal stands.

 

Rhaegar watched the shield and the thought that Lady Lyanna had probably painted that herself made him smile again.

 

***

 

Although he tried very much to not be obvious about it and have his eye linger in observation on one table more than the next, he's purposely and relentlessly looked over and around for where The Starks were seated, that night.

 

She was easy to spot out and yet hard to recognise at the same time.

 

The dress, more pliant to her form than leathers falling in straight line down narrow shoulders, now made all the difference between the appearance of a skinny boy and that of a slim young woman. Her hair was all waves and no tangles now, the top braided in ways he's not seen in the South, a few ringlets framing her face. A plain silver circlet stood atop her head.  She didn't seem to wear the attire with pleasure, but she wore it with elegance and grace, as if it were made for her, but she weren't made for it.

 

She was seated next to her betrothed, but leaned in more to her other side, where a younger brother (by the looks) seemed to be seated and who she kept in animated conversation.

 

"I could ask her for a dance," he whispered to Arthur, flanked on his side, as the royal family was making the procession towards the high table.

 

"Ah, yes, nothing suspicious in the Crown Prince actively choosing some Lady of House Stark for a dance," Arthur answered without missing a beat or being confused in the slightest about the object of the conversation.

 

"Then I could ask Elia, then a few more random ladies to not make it look suspicious."

 

Well, not so random. Daughters of other high Lords. The last thing he needed was to make any of them feel slighted in the course of this.

 

"You are determined, that I can say."

 

Elia raised her eyebrows at his sudden want of exercise, when time came for dancing, later in the evening, and the look she gave him said she would be inquiring after this later, but she humored him.

 

And then, of course, the second had to be Lady Cercei Lannister, not for her sake, but for her father's. Not a very desirable or comfortable activity. She was a exceedingly pretty young Lady, but all she ever said and did was always in such an affected manner, and the grip of her hands on him was too tight.

 

"Oh, Gods, you really are ready to go through such lengths to get to her, huh?" Arthur smilingly whispered to him as he passed by, most definitely having watched his too very long dance with Lady Cercei.

 

"Why won't you be useful instead and give me an eligible name?"

 

"Just get someone high enough in the direction of her table."

 

That would work. He chose a third lady, and then directed his step towards where she was seated, then decided to be extra careful and stood up with one more Lady sitting just a few seats away from Lady Lyanna, instead.

 

Then, returning said Lady to her seat, he finally turned towards the object of this whole silly scheme.

 

"Would Lady Lyanna Stark allow me a dance, as well?" he turned to her, hiding his eagerness behind a polite smile.

 

For a few moments, by the carefully unimpressed look on her face, he thought she would find some polite pretext to refuse, but then, from the corner of his eye, he saw Robert ready to make an answer for her , and that seemed to have prompted her to sit up then, making it inappropriate for Robert to go on.

 

"It would be my honour, Your Grace. My betrothed would spare me for a dance, of course." She said all the right things that should be said, which were also the smart ones in making it impossible for anyone to insinuate any misconduct or slight of the Lady towards her lawfully betrothed.

 

Rhaegar did not miss the wit of that.

 

"I believe you have missed Lady Alleria of House Redwyne, Your Grace," Lyanna spoke as they made their way to the dance floor, all while he was just trying to find a way to initiate discourse.

 

"Pardon me?" He replied, any polite ice breakers he had had now gone from his mind.

 

"I was under the impression that your choosing of partners was going through a certain order, but it might have been just that: an impression."

 

For a moment, he was afraid she had caught onto his scheme, but he dared think there might be another reason-

 

"Does My Lady take offence in being offered a fifth dance?"

 

"So indeed I can assume a count is being kept."

 

Rhaegar suppressed as much as his amused smile as he could and they settled in the start position for the dance among the other couples, his left hand keeping a respectful hold of her waist, his right holding hers, the distance between them now kind of intoxicating. Speechless for any other excuse, he admitted, "You may find it sound like an exaggeration, Lady Lyanna, but I did indeed go through other four dances, only to have this fifth with you."

 

The music started, and they, too, started moving.

 

"Does Your Grace adjust that compliment to each partner number?" She asked, sounding unmoved, although her cheeks were redder.

 

"You really ought to believe me when I say you are the only one to receive that compliment, Lady Lyanna, if only for the simple and probably more believable fact that none of the ladies before you have boldly questioned my choices."

 

She coloured a little more, but didn't back down. "My apologies for you having to go to such lengths to appease, for myself in particular, Your Grace. I should do the right thing to appease you by unquestionably enjoying this condescension."

 

He sighed. "Tell me, My Lady, in what terms would you like me to speak for you to allow me an open answer."

 

"You could be yourself honest about the intentions of your civilities, Your Grace."

 

"I have been honest."

 

"Then you have been misguided in your opinion of me, although I can hardly imagine where it arouses from, at all. I am not the prettiest here, so perhaps you thought I could be the easiest, for reasons to me unknown."

 

He blanched at the accusation. He should have been more subtle in declarations. "And I assure you I do not see you as such, Lady Lyanna."

 

"And then what meaning am I supposed to get from the advances of a married Prince towards a betrothed Lady?"

 

How could he even begin to explain himself? The complicated situation of his married life. Of his life altogether. The rage and disappointment he had joined the tourney with and how meeting her had made him feel lighter, brimming with excitement and wonder he couldn't yet altogether comprehend, but which he felt pushed to follow, like a moth in candlelight.

 

"I want in no way to disrespect you, Lady Lyanna, and I truly have no vile intentions in seeking your acquaintance. If I could only have a longer conversation outside, alone- I mean, not alone, of course. Ser Arthur would be-"

 

"I am not walking out into the night with you, even if you bring your whole army to chaperone us."

 

"No. Of course not. Tomorrow, maybe. Daylight. Horse riding?" He blurted out, getting desperate with every bluff.

 

He got to receive no answer to that. The song ended and they bowed slowly to each other. He tried to meet her eye, and she avoided it. She turned from him, and him with her, giving her his arm, and she taking it, looking only forward as he led her back to her table, both making the appropriate thank-yous and goodbyes and him shortly acknowledging her brothers and Robert before he left.

 

He sat down sullenly next to his father, Elia on his other side. He poured himself a cup of wine and it was a few minutes later that Elia leaned in with a smile, "Apparently, there's very angry gossip a few tables away between the ladies, talking about how they saw 'that stupid shewolf' being rude to the Prince and making him not want to dance anymore, which ruined their own chances. What was going on there?"

 

"I will tell you later," he whispered back.

 

He went back to his wine and heard Robert laughing too loudly for propriety about his betrothed's misery while dancing with the Prince (while falling to notice her looking miserable while standing next to him ). It was none of his greatest worries, all the same, but he looked back at his father and saw him taking notice of it. Not that Aerys cared, but any insult, however small, to his dynasty was a high offense to him these days.

 

That's when Elia leaned in again, talking so low this time that he struggled to make it all out through the music, "I know you don't really want the Lord of Storm's End dead, although if I do accurately read the situation at hand, you might be enjoying that prohibited fantasy for a minute. So calm your father a bit. You are the only one who manages it in the least these days, and we need no rolling heads in the already existing tension, do we?"

 

Rhaegar sighed. "I'll deal with it," he said, looking over to see one of the Stark brothers has managed to quieten Robert, too, at least, then turned to Aerys. "Father, perhaps we should close off the evening. It's past midnight and you know these fools will want us attending early in the morning," he tried with as much good humour and being as both humbly and princely as he could make himself sound.

 

"Hmph, damn right! This boring gathering of fools has taken enough of my time."

 

"I will make the closing words, father, don't worry about that," he quickly offered, being afraid of Aerys just shouting something improper like Everybody out, now!

 

This was not their tourney, but the King had the higher authority wherever he went. And so Rhaegar sat up and said all the very nice words he ought to have said, wished all competitors luck in the morning, and even offered to close with a song of his own, as to not lead this to an abrupt end.

 

That seemed to have softened the general disappointment mostly. He figured that to be down to the Ladies in the room. They were losing most by having their dancing cut short, but also they would also be most excited to hear his songs.

 

He asked for his harp, although he did not feel much like singing, and decided on Jenny of Oldstone. He had yet to sing that one to the public, so might as well offer something new to the best effect.

 

To give himself to a song once he's started was always easy to him, thankfully, and by the end, the applause was as soundly as ever.

 

He gave a quick glance to her table, wondering what she had thought about it, and Lady Lyanna pouring a cup of wine over the head of her youngest brother was not something he would have guessed at or that would give him any clue, and anything longer than a glance he couldn't afford.

 

***

 

He broke his fast in private the next morning, and was just finishing when Arthur let himself into his rooms.

 

"You've got correspondence, handed to me by a very unsure and scared errand boy."

 

Rhaegar stood up, reaching for the paper. "Oh," he noticed the L.S. on the front with both high and low feelings.

 

"Well, then, is she vowing to have the three of her brothers and betrothed duel you all at once if you speak to her again, or vow to kill you herself? Maybe dress as another mysterious knight and smash you off your horse," Arthur jested, looking over his shoulder.

 

Rhaegar glared at him. He had had Elia laugh at him last night when they finally talked, then Arthur in the early morning, and he was in no mood for more of that.

 

He opened the note, read through the few lines and considerably brightened.

 

"Oh, Gods. What does she say?" Arthur side eyed him.

 

"Um, not so much. She is informing me that herself and her young brother, Lord Benjen, will be riding in the Southern woods in the afternoon break, when the men will be resting from the first rounds of the melee."

 

"She is informing you?"

 

" For your information are her very words."

 

"Romantic "

 

"Better than expected."

 

"True, that," Arthur agreed with a head tilt and a twitch of his eyebrows. "So we're supposed to seek through the whole of the Southern woods this afternoon?" He asked, biting into an apple.

 

"I am kind of hoping she won't make it that hard."

 

She didn't.

 

She and the young brother who'd gained himself a wine cup over the head the other night were waiting at the edge of the woods, a risen hill in between them and the castle hiding them from general view. Smart choice .

 

Lady Lyanna stood atop her horse with more of confidence and comfort of an expert posture than he's seen in any rider before. She wore her hair in a plain low braid, and leathers well fit for her, this time, and breeches.

 

"My Lady, Lord Benjen," they bowed heads shortly.

 

"Your Grace, Ser Arthur," the other party bowed back.

 

"You wanted to talk," she jumped straight to the issue. And he joined in line with her, while the other two kept a reasonable distance in the back, all going at a slow pace.

 

"How did you convince your brother to join us?"

 

"I told him that Ser Arthur Dayne will be here, and that he'll have the chance to talk to him alone."

 

"And you trust in his confidence."

 

"I do."

 

And for the first time, it dawned on him, "Ah, most knights need someone's help in putting those armour pieces on, indeed."

 

"I surely did. And so do tell me, Your Grace, in what manner am I supposed to look at meetings behind hills with only people sure to keep our confidence for company, and make no improper assumptions?"

 

"Improper it may be, in the strict ways of the world, but I am here to convince you of the lack of the vile side of it."

 

"Is it not vile at all then to bring another person into improper situations, knowing the strict ways of the world and the ramifications that impropriety could cause?"

 

"Is it, when I bring you here with no improper intentions? I only ask of you to be here, and in my company, and I can't confess to thinking beyond it. It is that anyone else would, that we inadvertently end up behind hills."

 

She looked at him intently, as if challenging his face to reveal a different story than his words. Finally, she spoke, "Well, that sounds a bit..."

"Pointless? I don't do well in the ways of a proper seducer, do I?" He saw her colour and avert her eyes at that. "Well, yes, might as well put out the word we've been dancing around, where all our actions, expectations and fears collide. Simple words. I am a married Prince. You are an unmarried young Lady, and betrothed besides. I don't have a conventional marriage in the ways of the world, and you don't seem to have a loving betrothal in the ways of the world, but that's not what the world and its ways care about.

 

"It would be mighty interested in the idea of I being a seducer and you the seduced, however. And this situation puts me quite at a loss. I don't mean to seduce anybody in the vile sense of the word, and yet here I am, all ready to just tell you I admire you and would think it nice to be around your person in some way, and even rather hoping you might return as simple a feeling as that. And so I am not only a seducer, but also a very bad one. I don't only fail in the sense of the world, but I can't even make a worth gossiping job of it."

 

She seemed to ponder on that for some moments, before saying,"Truth be told, I've also proved quite bad at being seduced."

 

"Oh, that cannot be doubted. You've been doing an exceedingly poor job at being seduced, too, so perhaps we might be a sort of a good match."

 

"Simple words?" She asked.

 

"Yes, let's do simple words."

 

"What does your wife think of your lame attempts at seducing, Your Grace?" She raise her little chin towards him, and he needed effort not to stare.

 

"My wife is the mother of my children and a very good friend, and very alright with those offices alone, and she's laughed plenty at my catastrophic seducing endeavours from the other night."

 

"She knows about me?" She raised her eyebrows in naked surprise.

 

But he was glad for the ocassion to be open about that issue. "Yes, I shared my partial opinions about you, and she now thinks you're more fun than I am."

 

"But she is right," she shrugged cockily at that, and he couldn't contain a ridiculous grin.

 

"But should she say it to my face?"

 

"Well, it is only just on her part to be just as honest as you," she countered.

 

"That's fair," he huffed, though the hard part was not yet over. "And you? I don't want to make assumptions alone based on what I wish to see."

 

She sighed, looking ahead."I am not here because I was excited to hear a whole recounting of the melee."

 

"What is so wrong with the melee? Apologies for any presumptions, again, I just supposed your interest in armour and fighting does not stop at jousting."

 

"I have an unbecoming interest in many things that are terribly un-ladylike, but I have this wild preference for being able to speak about as many words as I am told, during a conversation. But let's not talk about that ."

 

The cut was cleanly done on the subject of her and Robert, and he could not ask further. But she wasn't leaving, and she did imply that she would have talked on different subjects.

 

"Alright, then. Because I am interested in something else," he went ahead and changed the subject.

 

"And what would that be?"

 

"Myself and Arthur have heard you are a very good, fast rider, and have beaten many men at it."

 

"Curious if I could beat you ?"

 

"Actually, I was hoping you could beat Arthur, because he is better than me, and I would be thankful to have that against him."

 

Lady Lyanna turned, a michevious side eye and smirk thrown behind, in the direction of an unassuming Arthur. "Now, that I would like to have, too."

 

***

 

"It's an effect of mass over speed," Arthur was still arguing the next day.

 

It was about the same hour as last time. And today he was tired, having taken part in the jousting. He's advanced onto the list to the next draws, of course, but he's gained a couple nasty bruises and a headache.

 

But Lady Lyanna had said she'd come again, when he's rather fearfully brought it up. They've talked and raced yesterday, and she had been in a good mood.

 

"Just let it be, Arthur."

 

"No, I won't. Besides, she cheated and I want a rematch."

 

"Well, don't take that up with me."

 

"Well, I can't take it up with her today, either," Arthur frowned. "Why is she-"

 

Rhaegar turned and finally noticed Lady Lyanna and her brother. But there were no horses around. They were walking, and she was wearing a dress.

 

"A drastic change," Arthur commented when they reached them.

 

"An unwillful one. It has been brought to my attention that most ladies here don't wear breaches so often or at all."

 

Her hair was in a more elegant braid today, and she wore a simple, yet elegant blue dress. She looked beautiful. And uncomfortable.

 

"Can't you ride in a dress?" Arthur spoke again.

 

"Yes, but I can't hide a horse under it. And it was also addressed how most ladies here don't take out their horses everyday."

 

"Then," Rhaegar made up his mind, "I suppose, I shall also join in what most Ladies do, and take a walk. Unless you'd prefer riding behind me, My Lady. Or in front."

 

"Nice try at an actual prospective seducing move, Your Grace," Lady Lyanna answered, her same small chin raised towards him.

 

"It was, wasn't it?" He sighed in an affected manner, getting off his horse, then turned to her brother, "Lord Benjen, ever fancied riding a Dornish Warmblood," he offered up the reins for the taking.

 

"I-I couldn't.This is-," Lord Benjen sputtered.

 

"Well, if Arthur is on horse, you cannot spend your time shouting up at him while there's a second one about."

 

He finally did take them, being careful not to even actually touch Rhaegar's hand, making embarrassed thanks, and taking it slowly towards actually mounting the horse, glancing in between incredulous admiration towards Storm and nervously towards Rhaegar as if he expected him to change his mind.

 

But Rhaegar's attention was already otherwise taken, for the Lady Lyanna was already speaking, "I see. I, too, walk the distance to get here and only my brother gets a nice reward for it."

 

"Oh, excuse me, My Lady," he offered his arm, as it was both becoming but also not opposed to his wishes, "I may have been too presumptuous in placing the value of my company, in your eyes, above that of my horse."

 

She took his arm, with a brief hesitation, as if she didn't expect it in spite of it being normally expected, but lost no composure, immediately answering, "If it makes the truth any easier, against any other breed, you might have stood a chance."

 

" Might ," he acknowledged with an amused smile. But the other half of her statement erased it off his mouth. "You've walked the few miles to get here?"

 

"That is how the 'no horse' notion functions, of course, Your Grace," she countered with a bold side eye.

 

But he couldn't jest about it, feeling guilty for the unfair exertion for the sake of their meeting. "My Lady, not to underestimate your capacity for exercise, but I must find some means for you not to go back on foot as well."

 

And what about tomorrow? he wanted to ask but she had given him no tomorrow yet.

 

"Why, I cannot go back on a horse when I left without. And any obvious royal assistance cannot be considered, you must realise."

 

"Well, not obvious royal assistance, yes, definitely."

 

And, so, with Arthur, later that day, they'd figured a blind spot half a mile from the castle, where hooded cloaks and two strong horses expected them.

 

And so they met, day by day. He didn't ask, but she implied she'd be there. And, every time, there she was, in dresses she would expertly pin up for comfort, leather and high boots hidden underneath.

 

***

 

"Is it love?" Elia asked him one night, a cup of wine in her small hands. Ever since Aegon's birth, with no need of further caution, she'd been having wine every night. She said it eased her normally troubled sleep.

 

Her fingers were very thin, spidery, gripping the cup. She was very thin hetself altogether, he noticed. When did she get this thin ?

 

"I can't know that right now," Rhaegar answered honestly. He'd been joining her for the nightly cup almost every night, during those weeks.

 

"But you assume there's enough of hope for it  to try right now," she pointed out.

 

Rhaegar remained silent. He probably did.

 

"Too bad she is betrothed already. Given more time, you could have just married her after my death."

 

He stiffened. "You are not going to die, Elia."

 

"Not quickly and not easily, you mean."

 

He felt guilty even about the concept of wanting her to die. He hadn't quite forgotten the horror of contemplating her death in the act of bearing his children.

 

"Well, then," she changed the subject herself, sitting up. "Rhaenys mentioned you promised to sing to her tonight."

 

"Oh, yes," he abandoned his half full wine cup, making his way towards his sweet little girl's room.

***

 

Rhaegar was cutting up Rhaenys' honeyed toast into smaller pieces when Arthur came in, and she, sitting on is lap, grabbed them one by one quietly, chewing merrily.

 

"Arthur, I've got a job for you and you won't like it," he told him, his attention comically kept by his current endeavour of measuring just the right toddler mouthful size and removing the crust.

 

"Who do I have to kill?"

 

"No one. It's a job you really won't like. See, I've had a quick chat with Lord Benjen yesterday, and I am looking for these specific flowers-"

 

"Oh Gods, what am I, an errand boy?"

 

"I know, I know, but you see, it's a flower that normally only grows up North, so I need more investigation skills here than those of an errand boy. And besides-"

 

Arthur sighed. "Yes, yes, it's best not to be known it's you looking for those flowers."

 

***

 

He arrived at their meeting that day feeling a bit confused at seeing no sign of Lord Benjen, and the addition of a young woman he did not know. It made him wonder if he was not supposed to be there.

 

"I apologise, but Ser Arthur was detained on other business today. And that is-"

 

"Yes, she is trustworthy," Lady Lyanna answered even before he got the chance to ask. There was a strange strain in her voice.

 

"Let me guess at it: it has been noted that most Ladies don't spend their time running around with their young brothers so much," he tried for a jest. But he was personally irritated, as perhaps she was, too. There was no point to all those increasing restrictions. He wanted to ask who is even giving them, but he knew it shouldn't be his business.

 

"Well, yes," was all she said to that, something impatient in her voice, hinting at a wish to close that discussion, so he couldn't ask anyway. "Let's walk," she joined him and he gave her his arm, but there was something distracted in the way she moved and talked. Rhaegar threw a look at the accompanying woman, who did not move at all, not even appearing to just be meaning to give them that respectful distance, but that's when Lady Lyanna added, probably noticing his confusion, "She has her own… well, she doesn't want us here, really."

 

Oh . It was all his mind could supply, and they were quiet for a while. Both must have been arriving to the same conclusion. Here was where all efforts of pretense came to an end. Where all carefulness couldn't hide or remedy the impropriety and danger of this even in their eyes. They were meeting secretly and alone, another couple accomplices to the same unspoken crime behind them.

 

"My Lady-," he took a deep breath and made up his mind to supply the obvious step to remedy this situation. But Lady Lyanna's steps were only getting faster.

 

"No, I don't want to go back!" she answered too harshly before he could actually say the words, then stopped, composing herself.

 

"My Lady," he began, now truly concerned about her state of mind. He disregarded any impropriety of it and placed his hands on her shoulders, bringing her close, claiming her attention. "Are you alright? Did anything happen?"

 

She avoided his eyes and did not answer, but she did not push him away. Finally, a minute into the absent quietness in which he allowed her to find her words, she moved. Her hands raised in the space between them, and he didn't know what to expect, so the hands falling gently upon his cheeks did catch his breath. And before he could connect one thought to another and figure on his own that's what it was leading to, she had already pulled him lower to her own raised head and placed a slow, soft, sweet peck on his lips.

 

None of Elia's deepest playing-at-it kisses had ever left him with that tingling sensation.

 

But she held on to her own grip, saying, " He tried to kiss me, this morning. We were walking alone. I walked away with something about propriety. But I just want to kiss you . Don't you, too ?"

 

The idea of Robert trying to pull her into a kiss made his blood boil. And then freeze. He let himself forget for a short while, but Robert would have rights to much more than kisses in Gods only know how little time. That was something he ought not to think about. He didn't even want to.

 

But if he erased that bit, he was left only with I just want to kiss you. Don't you, too ? and with the sparkling in her eye, and eagerness of her mouth, and he placed his hands around her neck with just the thumbs caressing her jaw, and leaned in to kiss her. He knew better what he was doing, and she followed after him with a soft little moan.

 

He couldn't recall later how long that could have taken place, but he remembered the change of dynamic that half awakened them to reality, when his hands have ended up around her waist, having roamed down her arms, and he has pulled her close, and she has reacted by wrapping her arms around his neck, and he has left her lips for a moment to catch their breaths, only to get almost immediately distracted by that little corner in between her jaw and neck, leaning in to kiss it, which she has received with a deep sigh and a sudden detanglement from him.

 

With some new distance between them, they looked at each other, breathless, her cheeks and lips very red, her hair in disarray. He remembered his own hands in it, but not quite at which moment it had happened.

 

"Maybe I should take you back," he eventually offered, not knowing what else to say.

 

He didn't feel right saying it like that, as if they did what they had come there to do, and it was time to move on. But how could they stay more and try to talk freely like they would usually do, without mentioning this? And none of them were ready to mention this yet.

 

"Yes, you should take me back," she, too, agreed, trying to mend her hair and failing, and giving up. "My handmaiden will remedy this before we leave," she said to neither him or herself in particular as she mindlessly took his arm.

 

***

 

Rhaegar never saw Lord Benjen after that. The same woman appeared, just to be quickly gone. But none of them would comment on it, those days. The clock was counting down, now. None of them would mention that, either. And the less time they had, the less they tried to lie to each other.

 

They would kiss as soon as they came close to each other, upon meeting, and right before letting go, although never more than that.

 

One day, it took him a while to find her, and almost thought she didn't come. Until he saw a head come out of a probably too cold stream, turning around to look at him in surprise.

 

"Lady Lyanna, that must be ice cold," he managed to say after a moment's pause, catching a glimpse of the shine of her wet neck and shoulders, before he turned away, flustered, noticing the strewn clothes as he did.

 

"I was hoping to dry up before you came," was her reply, and he heard the sound of walking out of water.

 

"That's not a too deep stream. Not quite a place for swimming," he cleared his throat, eventually.

 

"And I am not very tall. And, besides, I can really swim. I just sort of float around in places where I can still touch the ground."

 

"Really, how come?"

 

"I failed to learn," she said, in a way that spoke of a longer story behind it. He did not ask for an explanation, but, these days, she would not need asking to speak the truth. "I sneaked and joined my brothers at the lake, one day, although my father asked me not to. They were jumping off this higher ground into the water, then came back up to do it again. It seemed like fun. Only I jumped and did not quite get the hang of making my way up. It was very deep for me, and I could barely see the surface. I was choking, before Brandon caught me and brought me to the surface.

 

"I kind of did learn to paddle around, eventually, but I don't go anywhere where I can't feel ground under my feet, all the same."

 

Finally, she was dressed and by his side, although her hair was still hanging low and wet.

 

"Am I late? You seem to have had quite the time on your hands." And you are already alone , went unspoken.

 

"No, I was early," she took his arm, no mention of the previous scene - her hand was ice cold, indeed, but that new spark going through him at the touch he suspected had nothing to do with the temperature.

 

"My brothers were no good company. Brandon is quite… unhappy right now," she explained.

 

"Ah, I did push him off his horse today," he recalled. A damn good rider, just like his sister. Rhaegar had barely managed to hang on.

 

"Yes, and he and the others are now quite… openly uncivil about that."

 

Alright, so the lot of them had no nice things to say about their Prince. But Lady Lyanna does not like that , he also noted, as a happier thought. "I must say I am quite unhappy, too, My Lady, for you have not put on armour to defend my honour," he jested aloud, in remembrance of the full story he had eventually heard about the origins of the Knight of The Laughing Tree.

 

"You did well enough by yourself,  I would say," she answered to that, but she seemed to have something else on her mind, adding, "You have also made him fall onto and break a very well crafted favour Lady Catelyn has done especially for the occasion."

 

"Now, that I understand is truly unforgivable," he said, and it nagged at a thought he had had, on his way there, "Tomorrow, I am leading the last jousting match against Ser Barristan, Lady Lyanna."

 

"I am aware. We are watching the same tourney, you know."

 

He stopped walking, turning them both around to face each other. "Give me a favour, and I will give you a crown." Simple words.

 A crown between hills and woods, none of them mentioned.

"The words of every overconfident young knight in a tourney," she replied, but her cheeks reddened as she took out something out of a sixe pocket in her breeches.

 

His jaw dropped. She had prepared this for him. A lock of dark hair, carefully intertwined with a soft thin rope. He put forth his hand, without even thinking and she went about wrapping it around it, a slight tremble to her own hands.

 

"Interesting knot," was all he managed to say, with too much emotion for so simple a statement.

 

"I've learnt it from some fishermen one time when we visited White Harbor. This one will will not fall off, unless the lance itself goes through it."

 

"Then, as long as that doesn't happen, you can count on me keeping it," he looked up at her, and she looked back, the gaze in those dark pretty eyes too much to handle.


***

The cheers erupted loudly throughout the stands as he rode, victorious.

 

And for a minute he was just a young man, come to a tourney for the sake of a tourney, for the sake of a pretty woman's favour, for the sake of flower crowns, that did not weight your head, and slouched your shoulders and bent your back even before you put one on.

 

"Not that, there's a box next to my things, bring those flowers," he calls to the boy.

 

This was insane. This would be disapproved. But he'd never had a chance to do it before. And he never will again.

 

And so, with the blue crown hanging by the tip of his lance, he rode along the stands, unseeing, with one objective. When he reached her, all he could see was astonishment on her face, as he gently laid down the roses on her lap. He didn't look at her family or betrothed. He only gave her a low nod, and rode away.

 

The stands were dead quiet as he retreated.


***

 

Lady Lyanna was waiting. She wore a blue dress instead the one she'd had in the stands. And atop her hair, unbraided and left to fall unruly down her shoulders and back, stood the crown of blue roses.

 

"You look beautiful," he said breathlessly.

 

"That was insane," she answered, but came in a hurry to kiss him nonetheless.

 

"It was," he breathed in between kisses.

 

"Brandon and Robert were ready to fight you, but Ned calmed them down," she said.

 

"But you liked it?" He asked, with a smiling nod towards the crown.

 

She smiled, too. "I'm not going to ask how you knew. Benjen has already admitted himself culpable. And I have no idea how you found them here, but, yes, I like them very much. They only bloom once a year, you know. And only in spring time, I've been told. With summer coming, I might not see them again until I'm old." Then her smile faded. "I am supposed to throw it away," she said quietly, taking of the crown and looking down at it sadly. "And I may not see you ever again."

 

"Let me have one, at least," was all he could reply, his voice raw. All he could ask for, too.

 

"And I will keep one, as well," was all she said, likewise, and went on to pull out one rose for him, and another for her, and then hid her face across his chest, holding tightly to his coat, and he just put his own arms around her, helplessly.

 

And if Elia would have asked that one question that night, he knew he could say, and shout and scream, Yes, it is love! It is love and I don't know what to do now .


***

He was about to go to sleep (or try to) when there came an urgent knock at the door. He bolted from his bed and hurried to open it, expecting that something had happened to any of his family, but in came in a rush a short figure in a hooded cloak, pushing the door close behind with an anxious breath.

 

"Lady Lyanna," he pulled back the hood in astonishment. He had a lot of feelings. He had a lot of questions, but first he leaned in and kissed her, like he never thought he would again. And she kissed him back, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him closer.

 

He pulled back eventually, but would not give up a gently hold of her waist, her grip much tighter than that on him.

 

"Gods, I am so happy to see you, but what are you-"

 

"I-"

 

She retreated her arms all of a sudden, suddenly uncharacteristically sheepish. He gave her some space. She bit her lips and crossed her arms, and then uncrossed them, looking up at him with a renewed conviction in her eyes. "I am here to stay for the night," was said with real confidence, seductively even.

 

And he just stood there, petrified, slowly digesting the words and their meaning.

 

 

And that tore down a bit of her own purposeful facade. "I mean, I talked with someone. And I will have moontea so- I just thought we could at least- Do you want me ?" She snapped up her head, putting an end to that agitated stuttering.

 

He opened his mouth to say something, things he didn't even want to say, but she shut him up.

 

"I never really have many choices at all. Let me decide what I want to do with my maidenhood."

 

"My Lady Lyanna," he whispered, gently taking hold of her face.

 

"Lyanna. Tonight I am just Lyanna."

 

" My Lyanna. Tonight I am just Rhaegar, too."

 

And for a short while they were.

 

Just Rhaegar and Lyanna.

 

***

 

When he woke up, there was still darkness outside the window. And he was already alone.

 

"She's been gone for about an hour," Arthur told him when he sat up and opened the door.

 

"You could have roused me to see her leave."

 

"And would you have let her leave?"

 

He didn't answer, and went back inside.

 

***

 

Lady Lyanna and her company were gone early in the morning, but he wasn't even able to watch her leave.

 

His father has called on him. Given his depressed disposition today, he would have quite appreciated the mercy of being allowed to skip this one farewell, but it was not like Aerys to have mercy on him.

 

"Your Dornish will be joining your Queen mother for a while," Aerys let him know without further introduction.

 

"I see," was all he could reply, all his energy put into not visibly clenching his teeth or hands in his father's presence. Whenever he referred to Rhaegar's wife and children lately, he would call them 'your Dornish'. "I was not aware we had an invitation to the Red Keep, father."

 

" They have an indefinite invitation to the Red Keep. You will be going to Dragonstone. And behave ."

 

Rhaegar had a hard time forcing himself to appear calm and self possessed.

 

We really don't ever have many choices at all, do we?

 

But he could not remain so well contained once he's left Aerys. He took a hard deep breath in, a hard look on his face and a dark twist on his mouth, walking with a purposeful, heavy stride back to Arthur.

 

No choices at all.

 

"Get ready to go. Soon."

 

"King's Landing or Dragonstone?" Arthur, too, seemed to have concluded Aerys would keep a close eye on him, but not quite just how much.

 

"None. We're heading north," Rhaegar voiced his resolution, and it felt heavier out loud.

 

"Seven Hells! This is going to get ugly, isn't it?"

 

"Most definitely. So we better rush. I'll go say goodbye to Elia and the children. Make sure everything is ready. Add ten more men to our usual company."

 

Arthur said no more, just nodded shortly and walked gravely away.

 

***

 

"Your company is only knocked out, My Lady, and, if you decide to go on with them, we would provide you protection until they get back to their senses, and allow you to move on."

 

"And if I don't?" She asked intently.

 

"Then you could marry me," he took her hand earnestly, "I know you currently have other offers of such, but if I may be so bold, I hope you will consider mine, too," he added with a small hopeful smile.

 

"But how could we-"

 

"I made an understanding. And, yes, Elia knows. And what she thinks is this will be dangerous. And, yes, it will be. And we should be careful and make haste, but it can be done. We could have this ," he answered as much questions as he thought needed to be answered in quick succession, throwing a cautious glance at the nearest unconscious guard in between, but not able to hide the desperate eagerness in his voice by the end.

 

She took a deep shuddering breath, taking a look around her, as well, and then a longer one at him.

 

"Where are we going, then?" She asked him, finally, and he felt his heart nearly exploding in his chest. He leaned in to give her a small kiss  that she returned softly, and then they both straightened up on their horses, newly determined.

 

"We know a good place."

 

***

 

"I can't let the Rebellion advance to King's Landing."

 

She hasn't talked to him in hours, when the news first came. But what do you have to say when your husband's family kills your family?

 

They had said their goodbyes. Still strained. But she held him fiercely at the end, and asked him to come back, and he couldn't afford not to.

 

"I have to kill Robert," he said. It was a grim acknowledgement. For both. They have once joked about Robert's death. This was no longer a joke. "I knew I could never have a reconciliation with him . But maybe with the rest, after…"

 

"And I suppose there will most definitely not an attempt of reconciliation to Aerys."

 

Rhaegar lets out a bitter, humourless snort. "I wouldn't even try."

 

Arthur cleared his throat, breathed in deeply, then out, lowering his voice, " About that… Whatever decision you take when you come back, I am your man. You know that, right?"

 

"Thank you," Rhaegar nodded slowly, speaking in a low voice as well, but truly affected.

 

"Now, go before you cry on me or something."

 

***

 

He had few memories of the times in between falling to his knees and seeing Arthur's face again.

 

They always involved one old woman, mostly only her voice. He never even knew her name.

 

And the view outside her window. And the pain. Always the pain.


"Why did you help me? That might have been my men's work."

 

There were smallfolk going about of plenty work that should have never needed done. Rebuilding demolished houses. Cleaning up useless burnt crops. Carrying bodies away.

 

He's waken many times, maybe, though sometimes he doubted it. Because how could he look out that window and always see the same, if time did truly pass? Always some bodies. Always another hole in the same roof. Always some fire.

 

"Us smallfolk don't care none for ya petty quarrels or ya whos you want dead. Us want peace an plenty in a stores, and we tryna help them needin help. Ya mit like it not to hear, but we did do help t'other, too. T' bigger one. He too came hurting."

 

He's given up on trying to obtain any real information from the woman. About his family. His allies. She knew none. It did not interest her, either. She just thought of wanting it to end.

 

And he's given up on the ambition of trying to get up and find it out himself too. That first time he had tried to, desperately, his body had given him up so mercilessly,  he had rolled so painfully down his cot that all he could remember was screaming in agony. And waking up a second to feel the pain anew and pass out. And waking up a third-

 

***

 

"What region is this? Who is your Lord?" He's asked on a brave day.

 

"Don kno what maps call it, lad. An I never kno the last two lawds we had."

 

Rhaegar just groaned with the increasing pain of breathing, from the effort it took to speak, and soon passed out.

 

***

 

"Did ya real rape tat gal, lad?" The old woman asked, during another time of wakefulness.

 

"Did I-," he tried to prop himself up, but for seconds saw nothing but stars on a black sky, no sound at all in his ear, and so he laid back down slowly, painfully. "No," he said, although he could barely hear his own word. "I raped no girl."

 

"Good. That's one a thing us don like round here. Ma eldest gal, she nursed t'other one long and went he gone, gal was wit babe and she wouldn tell but I kno. An that was somepin, but us said gal tis fine, us will do, but then plenty o em came an they burned plenty an ate plenty an they rape the babe out o her plenty an ma gal is gone in a moon's turn, too. And nah I wait for ma olda lads to come, at lest. Me hope. They sometam don, village lads, but sometam it take the while. Mine own man came two yers late, lat time, an I tot him lost the longest of it."

 

But every word following another came with a weaker impression of sound. Of reality.

 

***

 

Months. Months upon months. As he found out later. That existence had known no time or space for the most of it. And for the longest he's started doubting that his survival was even real. Or that he had even lived the life he thought he had lived to begin with.

 

(The worst was those have been the better days, before reality unravelled and he's truly wanted to be dead).

 

***


Rhaegar dresses himself up, goes outside.

 

Ser Barristan bows at the sight of him, adding, "Ser Arthur has come back about an hour ago, my King, if you wish to speak to him."

 

King . It always sounds hollow to his ears. Though it should. A King with no Kingdom. And no Queen. No heirs of his own.

 

"I will go to him myself," Rhaegar answers. He remembers the first time Arthur called him King, those many years ago.

 

King .

 

His release from Aerys, came much too late.

Chapter Text

Seen But Not Heard



my heart it ignites

my throat feels it burst

my lungs slowly fill up with steam

 

my mouth remains shut

as it blackens my tongue

oh, what must it be like to scream

 

Lyanna



She has seen the blade many times, although only in furtive glances. She cannot allow herself more. Robert keeps it hung above the fireplace , of all places, the scabbard right under it. A good joke to him, she has no doubt. She has been looking for a reason to notice it for many years past.

 

A trophy for a kill, just like the head of the last boar , she seethes beneath, but laces it all up and keeps a smile on her face.

 

He invited her here with his own interest in mind, but she bids her time, innocently pulls away and towards another object to seemingly catch her attention, before he manages to tug on that one lace, or get a good grip of that one bit of skin.

 

Be a bird, Lyanna. Chirp it away

 

"Ah, does the blackness of the blade mean it's Valyrian steel?" she turns to him, her face all smiles and ignorance. "Must be a good blade to carry, right? A sharp one."

 

"You mean to start carrying a sword now, dearest?" He asks in a way that seems it might be the most ridiculous of concepts. 

 

Many years back, soon after she's been able to get up and walk around following her almost deadly birthing, it has been wisely noted by the Maester that something ought to be undertaken to improve the Queen's health and strength, and Robert too agreed that his wife being sickly and skinny was something not desirable. And so, with a lot of silly arguments and much of back and forth pondering, she's managed to coax them into the idea that moderate sword wielding was exactly the thing to help put on some meat and regain her posture. Privately and discreetly, of course. None of that undignified attire or unladylike exercise to be witnessed by the world. 

 

"You know I don't fancy it becoming of me to carry around a sword at all, and I wouldn't touch anything but a blunt," she readily feigns the same sentiment. "But Jon is improving greatly. Sure to win his knighthood soon. It would be a nice reward. It's the most valuable kind of steel, after all. The sharpest. My brother has one. And Robb, as his heir will have it after him. It's only appropriate for our Prince to have one, too. And if we send work for a change of these hideous pummel and scabbard, I know he will love it," she goes on merrily.

 

He looks like he is pondering on it, and her heart is hammering in her chest. If he says 'no' once, she can't bring it up again. But there is something turning towards approval on his face, as he gives the sword a cursive glance. He must be thinking it, too, that that was the sword that would've passed down to one of Rhaegar's children. He may find it funny, the idea of erasing that remaining bit of his legacy, stripping the blade of all its Targaryen traces and turning it into the weapon of his own blood. The truth of it made this even more hilarious to her .

 

"You are in the right, as always, dearest," he wraps one arm around her, and she gives in to it, more lenient at having won this battle. His other arm, given his great height, reaches easily up and pulls down the sword off its hook, and then the scabbard, too. The sword he lets leaning by the stony side wall of the fireplace, for the moment, the fire's light dancing on and off the shiny blackness of the blade. The scabbard-

 

"No," she says, a bit to harshly, too boldly, at the clear intention in his hand movement at throwing it into the flames, but, composing herself, adds, in a much softer manner, the reasonable explanation, "I can't carry it without the scabbard, Robert. I might cut myself. I can throw it out afterwards myself."

 

"You need not carry it anywhere yourself, wife. You've got servants to take it to the leather worker for you and handle all the trouble," and he makes a turn towards the door as if to readily make a call for help.

 

But Lyanna tactfully turns his face back, calling for his attention. "I want to make personally sure it is done to Jon's liking. I cannot leave it to just anyone , Robert," she says in the stubborn yet gentle manner he never contradicts. 

 

"Alright, then," he concedes without trouble, placing the scabbard, too, in alignment with the sword, and losing all care about it whatsoever as he pulls her closer, tugging at the laces of her bodice. 

 

Robert was still maintaining hopes for a second child, while Lyanna basked in the security of him not getting one. 

 

***

 

"Ser Jaime," she greets.

 

"Your Grace," he replies in the same monotone voice as always, but she notices his eyes widening subtly at the blade. You would still know it, too, wouldn't you ?

 

"I have found this old thing in the King's study. It needs a remake of the outside, but it's Valyrian steel within. It will be a present for Prince Jon, when it's done. I'm sure it will be a right fit for him, don't you, Ser Jaime?"

 

"The Prince deserves nothing but the finest steel in the land, Your Grace," he replies in the same dull voice, and she can see his eyes rolling, but acts unseeing of what she shouldn't see, as usual, and he says none of the words that shouldn't be said.

 

Ser Jaime hates the 'chirping', she knows it. He won't do it himself, and it's actually fitting for the sake of this whole act. You never know who is listening, though you know who they are listening for. And for him , and the rest of them, Lyanna ought to continue her song at all times; until her voice grows hoarse and breaks, if she must. 

 

They're not friends, she and Jaime Lannister, or anything close to it at all. Neither of them enjoys the other's company in any way, but they are stuck together, and he's been a comfort to her in dark times, although he was the last person she would have ever expected to find some support in. A grudging comfort.

 

He definitely hates his life. He might still be hating her in some capacity, for the duty he was bound to, through her, for the more ignorant life he could've had, had she not existed - if he were guarding his sister, perhaps, instead. But she does. And so does Jon. And for Jon, rather than herself, he continues his day to day watches. For Jon, he once lost a hand. Grudgingly so, that one, too, she is sure. But that was the decisive moment for her, that she would keep Ser Jaime close. To her. To Jon. No matter how much any of the people involved liked it or not.

 

When she first came to the Red Keep, with no true friends and no will to live of her own, the seething looks Ser Jaime Lannister would throw her when no one else was looking were a true constant fright for Lyanna. It did not help when he's been personally assigned to her, and she did not manage to change Robert's mind about it, for 'this is a man that hates Targaryens as much as we do, he's a good lad'.

 

But Lyanna couldn't stop thinking of what he has done and the obvious reasons for it; what his family was doing at the same time in another part of the Red Keep. 

 

"Your family wants me dead," she whispered to him one day, as they walked in close proximity down the corridor to her rooms. "They want a Lannister Queen. Is this why they moved those strings to put me in your way? An overlooked accident and both myself and my child would make way for Lady Cercei, isn't that right?"

 

"I am not here to kill pregnant ladies and babes."

 

"But you would let me die, given the choice, wouldn't you?"

 

She saw him look around, as if watching out for witnesses, and, in following his gaze, to see the long hall dark and empty, she gulped. 

 

That was the moment she has been most afraid of him, ever. But when he turned to her, and spoke the words that he spoke, her entire perspective drifted, and she later had to question everything she thought she knew.

 

 " You lied ," he whispered through gritted teeth right into her face, leaning in, " He would never have done all that, and none of the others would take part in it, and you lied to protect yourself, even as you doomed them all. I don't care what happens to you ." 

 

He has turned from her then, her heart hammering in her chest, and never said anything of the kind again, but Lyanna watched him closely ever since. The absent dissociation in his eyes when he guarded the Throne hall. The subtly unsettled reactions when he passed by the Maidenvault. Lasting for months and months, day by day, as she moved slower by his side and her stomach got bigger. And she thought, with increasing certainty, that perhaps he was a hypocrite, too, and she was not the only one who lied for the lack of any other choice. 

 

Lady Cercei she's had no choice but to keep around as one of her Ladies. Lyanna often opted for the company of small, shy Lysa of House Tully, instead, newly and in a rush married to some man she had no liking for and expedited to King's Landing. Lyanna could sympathise, although she had to admit that to have one's thrown at new husband be of age of one's grandfather was a graver kind of circumstance than her own. Robert sometimes stunk of wine above her, but she couldn't not conceive the smell of old age in such intimate, awkward moments as the greater evil. 

 

Lady Lysa was a shy, moody young woman, but sweet in her own way. Lady Cercei, on the other hand, was hardly shy in her making it obvious she was more interested in being an appealing presence to the King rather than the Queen. 

 

Robert was visibly not inattentive to the low cuts of her bodice. Lyanna doesn't know if he's ever had her, or at least tried to. Lady Cercei has been discreet and cunning at that. However, she never had and probably not wanted the appelative of mistress to her name. 

 

Her real hopes were clear to Lyanna, and probably to most others, and possibilities there have been. 

 

Lyanna was soon made to believe that this bit of food that she turned out to have been lucky not to indulge in, and avoiding that one route where a messy accident happened to take place were no coincidences. The one thing she did wonder whether it was a coincidence was that of Ser Jaime often being the reason of her avoiding that one bit of cake, and taking that other route.

 

She later wondered whether he had taken pity on her. Those late months of her pregnancy have been her weakest, her darkest, her least awake. She has been completely malleable, and if Ser Jaime would say, 'we're going left', even if the shortest way would've been 'right' and she felt really tired, she wouldn't disagree. If he said, 'she won't have that, thank you', she wouldn't care, for she cared little for food altogether back then. If he would've intended for her to die, it could've been easy. But perhaps he really did have no interest in either killing or letting weak young women and babes die, after all.

 

But Lyanna and Jon must have given Lady Cercei the moments of her greatest hopes and greatest disappointment right up on her birthing bed. They've both nearly died, and they've both survived and grown healthy.

 

It was within a year after that Cercei Lannister was married to Stannis Baratheon, then Master of Laws, and holding in her arms her own looking too very much like his mother baby boy. Two others followed just the same, in the following years.

 

(One may conclude, at this point, that the Baratheon seed was just not that strong.)

 

The decision of that marriage sounded like too much of a concession coming from Tywin Lannister, and Lyanna justly feared this was not all there was to it.

 

" - and what would people think ?" She heard a woman hiss from outside, right beneath her windows one day. She saw Lady Cercei pull her baby son towards herself and away from a visibly shaken and upset Ser Jaime's reach, the remnants of a previous eager smile swiftly gone. 

 

"Why aren't you allowed to hold the baby?" Lyanna casually asked the knight one day, receiving a half wary, half annoyed look, and no answer. But she didn't leave it at that. 

 

"Ned can hold his nephew just fine, even if Jon looks very much a Stark," she added in more of a whisper than anything. 

 

Yet, his reaction was striking, the grip on her arm as he led her down the hall tightening painfully (a nasty bruise she's had to lie about to Robert later) but pulling out right away, seemingly catching himself, yet still hissing, though more calmly, "Never say anything like that ever again."

 

Lyanna has been too shocked by the reaction to be scared, or mad, or anything at all, really, but that has been more or less a confirmation of what she had only vaguely suspected before. She did never speak of it, however. 

 

She could understand more easily, nonetheless, Ser Jaime's turn from cynical to downright sullen when a downfall in Robert and Stannis' relationship sometime within a few years had the whole family being relocated to Dragonstone. Ser Jaime's become more distant and moody than ever. He would sometimes show up drunk on post (he was steady on his feet, but lately the stench of wine she could smell a mile off), and yet she would say nothing. As irritating as he's always been, he's been somewhat on her side for long, and she's been taking it for granted. She was sure he's hit the limit of pity towards her, when compared to the losses she continued to cost him. 

 

It was about a year later that one of the scariest moments of her life happened. They were at Winterfell. A hunting trip. A negligence. Thoughtlessness. A bear. A scream. Men running. Lyanna running. Unseeing. A growl. Jon being thrown into her arms. A louder growl of pain. Jon crying. Her running her hands all over him, scared at the sight of some blood, but finding nothing hurt. Hands pulling them both away. 

 

"Ser Jaime?" She found herself asking, when noticing none of the men around her were him. 

 

He had been with Jon. She'd sent him with Jon today. Where was he? 

 

She turned to look behind them, and a man was carried in, too. The blood soaked hair was Jaime Lannister's golden colour.

 

As they placed him down, and she looked his body up and down, and he groaned, she almost thought he really mustn't have gotten so badly hurt, and it was more of blood than of wound. That, until she caught sight of the mangle of flesh and bone at his side, and realized that was supposed to have been his right hand. 

 

She turned Jon's head away from the image and into her bosom. 

 

"Aye, the mad fool got his sword thrown out of his hand, and so he's used that against a damn bear's pawn," she's heard Greatjon Umber, as the men discussed how to proceed before they took him back and to the Maester. 

 

Ser Jaime's eyes rolled in his head. 

 

***

 

"Ser Jaime-," she entered his room almost hesitantly, later. He was at his desk, staring almost indifferently and curiously down where a hand should've been but was missing instead. Perhaps it was more of disbelief, for now.

 

"You will ask for a new nurse for your damn son. That one was bought," he said, without looking up from his bloody bandage.

 

"But why now? Both myself and Robert are still young. Even if Jon-"

 

"It has been enough years into your marriage to ascertain two things: one, you will never give the King another child, and two, he is too obsessed with you to cast you away for a second wife, is not as dumb as to insult the North by choosing a bastard of his, and cares too little about the throne and the realm to not just rather pass it down to his brother's heirs, need it be."

 

She leaned against a chair's headrest, breathing in, "And why wouldn't you want your... sister's children to inherit this throne, Ser Jaime?" She asked boldly, breaking their pact of silence, having grown far from afraid of any of them in the least.

 

"Prince Jon is the rightful heir, Your Grace, and I do owe his father the service of keeping his one living son alive," he told her lowly, no emotion on his face, but with the tone of voice of a man who knew how easily one child could be passed for another's.

 

She did not ask how he knew, and tasted bile in her mouth at remembering Rhaegar in any capacity when she's been putting effort in forgetting even why she shouldn't think of him no more. But, in the least, she now knew.

 

"You will learn to wield a sword with your left," was all she told him, needing to be out of there and alone, and exited the room.

 

***

 

Indeed, Jaime Lannister is no bound to her in any way, or her to him. They are just two strangers haunted by the same four ghosts. Maybe plentier, in the great scheme of things. 

 

She gets into her rooms, Ser Jaime bowing slightly as she closes the door behind her. She breathes out. She's exhausted. She isn't quite sure in what way.

 

She sits down on the nearest flat surface, pulling the sword down onto her lap. The material and the ornaments on top have been deteriorating with time, and there has been no interest in keeping it in good repair, but it's all the same to her - to the triggers of her memory.

 

It was too many nights back. In a quiet room lit by lone fire, the sound of the crackling wood drowned by their less discreet laughter, her sheer nightgown fallen off a shoulder just so, his head propped right behind it, in that very crook of her neck, his hair uncharacteristically messy, fallen over his forehead, the front laces of his white shirt eskew and its sleeves rolled up to his elbows, as he rectified the position of her leg here and righted the bend of her arm there, her hand clutching the sword handle in concentration - the picture of a demonstration of the perfect defensive stance, frozen in time. 

 

It's been about fifteen years. She knows she should have moved on. Partly, she has. Mostly, in fact. But you don't just forget your first love, she guesses. 

 

She finds it hard to remember all details of her own father's face, some of these days. And yet Rhaegar's she still recalls too clearly. The darkness of his indigo eyes. The sharpness of his profile. The music in the way he spoke. When she is drunk, she can almost feel his phantom hand on her cheek. The way his hands framed her face. Like she was irreplaceable. 

 

No. You don't forget your first love. Not when nothing better than it ever comes your way. Not when you can see a reflection of their gestures or speech in your firstborn and only son. Jon may look little like him, but he does make those times seem real and true. Realer than the life she lives now, at times, even. 

 

In my dreams, I kill him every night , she once heard Robert say.

 

 And in my nightmares, you kill him every night, too

 

Her life has the density of a dream, too. Sometimes she wakes in the middle of it, and wonders at how she got there. Being a 'beloved' Queen, and mother, and wife, and finding so little happiness in it. 

 

Jon is her one true treasure, but to keep him safe and give him a good life, she has to tell him many awful lies. She has to keep him away more time than she would prefer, encouraging his many visits to Winterfell even when she can't afford to accompany him as well. He's better off there in all possible ways compared to the Red Keep.

 

She's had people in Court commenting on his spending so much time in the North and yet almost none in his father's lands . That, she has quieted with the rhetoric 'Why, he does stay plenty in King's Landing, and are these not his father's lands?' and a sweet smile.

 

But for anyone to questions her or suspect her of anything was a rare occurrence these days.

 

Ah, she remembers back where she started.  Destroyer of kingdoms. Bringer of chaos. And many other things, they called her back then. And I made you all love me, you fickle bastards. Though I sure don't love you any more than ever before

 

But at what price? That of having everyone to deceive and no one to fully confide in. The Gods give her strength to do the little she hopes to do right. That is all that matters. That is all that's left.

 

Arthur

 

He's heard Robert Baratheon has looked through the corpses after the battle, to put a 'spike through his black heart' and, not finding him, has ordered the body to be searched for. And when it couldn't be identified among the mounts of the dead around, he madly asked for it to be looked for downriver. A prize of money has been promised, and a search has ensued. 



 But too many days passed with no sign of it, and the corpses in the river would quickly bloat and rot, and the hair would fall off their heads, skin melting off their skulls. And the smallfolk have been dragging out corpses that passed their villages themselves to either burn, or bury them, or sometimes weigh them to sink into the depths. For they scared the already traumatised children and sickened the already rotting air, ruining their health and their crops. 

 

And such was presumed Rhaegar's fate to have been. No traces of silver hair or black armour were found, and so they ought to have been in the darkest depths of the river, or dissipated into smoke, or feeding the worms in some unknown riverside land. And it was heard that such obscure possibilities for a funeral have been enough to please the new King's enquiries. 

 

But it was not so for Arthur, sickened by this graceless, mercenary displacement of his oldest friend. He wanted to know where and how Rhaegar had found his resting place, if rest this could be called. He had to pay his respects, since no one else remained around to do it. 

 

With the young children tucked and hidden in Essos, Ser Barristan and Ser Willem to look over them, he returned for this fruitless quest once the madness quietened, travelling in anonymity, keeping himself off of travelled paths. 

 

"You have the eyes of em, young knight," an old woman came to tell him once, when he was warming by a fire. The night has just fallen, a faint chill with it.

 

"Of them ? And why do you call me a knight?" He asked carefully, hand on the hilt of his sword. His eyes have always been dark, too much darker than his sister's for the violet tint to even get noticed, most times. It was mostly just a peculiar glow only the night could bring out. And he's been careful about it.

 

"Of him an his lot, as we hear em to have been. Wit em eyes you need be somepin, for us folk here have em none."

 

"Go your merry way, woman. It's not wise to be out in the dark of night."

 

"Tisen't. Come on in ta ma house out em woods. A fire cracks betta inside em walls. An ya can maybe ast of whatcha looking for."

 

"I am not looking for anything," he answered, irritated, taking his hand off his weapon. This was just a bold old woman, speaking in the usual outspoken manner old women always do. 

 

"Are. Done it all day, and is no fish ya want. Come, come. I got hot corn soup an a yang lad like ya who been astin fir company."

 

Arthur rolled his eyes, but relented. The old woman was definitely no harm, and he's spoken no word to a single human for weeks. He walked wordlessly, entering the small house with caution.

 

"Der. Der by the window," the woman pointed as she herself went the opposite way, towards a cauldron by the fire.

 

By the window, there was a man shaped figure lying, not moving. Arthur approached it slowly, the little and only light reaching being that of the fire. He backed up a little at first, thinking it was a corpse and the woman was just some mad driven mother in grief, with all that talk of the lad as a living person. But then he got closer, and blanched for different reasons. 

 

Arthur looked. He looked under that skin and bone body, overgrown nails, dirty mangled hair, dried lips, the sunken blackness under the eyes, turned grotesque by the sickly paleness of his skin. He felt a faint smell of piss, but not too strong, so some degree of care must have continued to be given to that hopeless corpse of a body.

 

He looked and he saw. But he didn't think for one second that anyone else would.

 

 He cut off the hair completely - which was unsalvageable anyway - and transported him out of Westeros easily. No one ever looked down at that man and had even for a second in their eyes the suspicious impression of looking over the former Dragon Prince's body.

 

Rhaegar hasn't spoken or even opened his eyes much all that time, and most times was no coherent or comprehensible, but he breathed still. He lived. 

 

He's sent word to Ser Barristan through safe means to expect him at the docks in Blackwater Bay for a 'transport', no mention of what he was to expect. Selmy was not so recognisable himself much, lately, with his shaggy beard and short hair. He saw him look at Rhaegar and have no reaction akin recognition.

 

"I cut the silver hair, as silver as it still was after the mud and the salt," Arthur whispered, and only then did Ser Barristan visibly make a connection.

 

"Good Gods," Selmy breathed, checking the pulse at Rhaegar's neck, understandably disbelieving at the hopeless sight before him.

 

"Take care of him. I had a trustworthy Maester look at him. It's no good. Chest's all fucked up, and everything inside it. He needs plenty of rest and painkillers for now. And… time will tell ," he repeated the not very hopeful conclusion he's been given himself. But he didn't want to think on the hopeless side. What good would it be, to find him only to see him die and burn him himself for good?

 

 Arthur himself had just one more business left before he'd leave Westeros for good, although it's a lengthy journey to Starfall, and it puts him in even greater danger of discovery. But were Dorne authorities to catch a sight of him, identify him and send a report to Doran, he highly doubts it would result in much of trouble for himself. They did declare themselves in favor of a Restoration (although to their own interest, as well), but he'd rather avoid their hospitality and questions, especially with his new finding in mind. Not that it might matter. As far as he knew, Rhaegar might have given his last breath for good by the time he made it back. But he had no control over that. He could not, however, leave Westeros indefinitely without a pacifying sight of his sister, given the worrisome reports he’s had regarding her health. 

 

The small hiding spots, their secret entrances and narrow passes, all stood in place, undisturbed, just the way they've known them in their childhood. The young woman he found in her bed was not so much quite like his sister, as she's been before, however, sickly looking and deflated, like a wilting flower. 

 

But she's dizzyingly jumped out from underneath her covers to put her arms around him and cry, still, and he's met her halfway, both worried and contend.  

 

"Who was he?" Arthur mouthed through clenched teeth. The reason for Ashara's sickbed was no one's mystery.

 

Ashara breathed into his shoulder, burying her head deeper in the crook of his neck. "It doesn't matter now. Somehow, it never actually did."

 

She raised her head for the moment, studying his face, "You've only come to leave for good," she said, all weary. 

 

He only held her again, remaining silent, but the answer was clear.

 

***

 

Arthur whirled around, the loud sound of splashing water bringing him out of his thoughts. He looked over Starfall, spying the open windows, the swirling curtains in the wild wind. His blood ran cold, and he stood there frozen in the middle of the open air, caution be damned.



"Move, move ," he had his arm snatched and dragged along, Arthur feeling both confusion and relief at both the touch and the sound of it. "All that will soon draw attention. Move."

 

"What did you do , Ashara?" He turned to her, but continued with the same fast speed. 

 

"I left a shoe on the balcony, and a bit of my nightdress caught in the rails, is what I did." She wheezed, but kept on going - she was still too weak. "Quick now. I had a second horse taken where you said yours was hidden. It's for the best, Arthur. I don't want to be here anymore. I need a new start. We both do."

 

Arthur only sighed. That they did. And at least she was down here, and not down that balcony.

 

"Keep your hood down," he told her, defeated.

 

"I know, I know. I will. I will douse my hair religiously in scalding chamomile to lighten it and avoid my gaze like a scared maiden, and we will make it far, I promise," she caught the reins of the horse and patted it gently, probably building up the courage for what's to come. 

 

Gods only know what's to come

 

***

 

He still doesn't, in some ways, more than 13 years later. All he knows are the values he stands by, and the people he stands by. And that is as much as he's ever known, as much as he's ever needed to know. 

 

And yet the evercoming course of events always manages to surpass his expectations. Not in a million years would have he found himself here, in the dungeons of the Red Keep, present to yet another unpleasant meeting with the Master of Whispers with whom they have had a questionable and yet lucrative cooperation over the many years, and yet facing the now Baratheon Queen instead.

 

If someone would have told him he would ever meet Lyanna Stark face to face again, this is not how he would have envisioned it. The whole of it happened to fast. He only knows the simple facts: this little devil of a woman who's been described as a repenting do-well angel to them for over a decade somehow managed to ambush a very secret meeting; she has Varys upstairs and under guard; he himself can die any time if she wishes him to; but most importantly, he doesn't know who this hell of a woman is, aside for her name. 

 

"What is the reason for coming here, Queen Lyanna of House Baratheon?" He asks boldly, standing his ground. He's got everything to lose and nothing to win right now.

 

"You are suddenly very officious, Ser Arthur," she answers, nothing to point out in the manner of her speaking as to what she is feeling, what she is thinking. Nothing at all.

 

"Well, I believe we are no longer on friendly terms, Queen Lyanna," he snorts sardonically. "That is why you sent us away? A clear path for your charade and going to cry back to your formerly spurned betrothed?" 

 

"If you stayed, then you would be dead," she replies, unaffected. "You may still be known as one of the best swordsman in all of Westeros, Ser Arthur, but even you have your limits in numbers."

 

"Oh, so all you cared about was my safety ," he mocks her. "Not the fact that I was one of the few remaining people who knew the truth about your 'abduction'."

 

"How are the children?" She chooses to irritatingly ignore his remark. 

 

Mockingly, again, he follows, "You care about the Targaryens now, Queen-?" 

 

"I did send you to protect them, didn't I?" She interrupts impatiently, "The two of you. Ser Barristan joined you, I presume." 

 

That makes him pause for a moment, before countering, "You have personally stood for his exile."

 

"To Essos, with the rest of you , yes. Very pointedly so."

 

He shifts his stance, crossing his arms, "What game are you playing right now, Lyanna?"

 

"What part of this do you think is a game?"

 

"You cornered me in a meeting. Fuck, you cornered the Master of Whispers in a meeting - in the depths of the bloody dungeons of the Red Keep, no less. You talk evasively. You look me in the eyes, but there's nothing on your face to read. I don't know who you are, right now. We get only reports of you being a lovely dutiful wife and Queen who wishes for nothing else in life and now you come down here to uncover this whole schemer persona. 

 

"Are you that good at this? Or are you two both onto this?" He points up to where Varys is probably still held, "Because I never trusted that bald head and I for sure no longer trust you. Is this what you've become? Is this what you've always been?" 

 

"Is it true, what he says about Viserys?"

 

"Are you going to ignore everything I just said?"

 

"You asked me what is it I want. I am about to tell you. But first you need to answer me. Is it true that he is becoming like his father?" She insists, puncturing every word. 

 

"He is not- Although he's got some-" He curses inwardly at himself for blabbering like a fool. "Not like that," he spits, annoyed.

 

"But neither was Aerys at his age."

 

 "He won't go through what Aerys went through."

 

"Who can tell what will be the last straw for him ? But the fact that he's got Aerys' character should be enough to worry about. You can't seriously try to help Viserys onto the Iron Throne, Arthur."

 

"Is this what it is about? The Iron Throne? You have a growing boy, don't you? Wouldn't want your Baratheon Prince to have it swept from under him, would you, now?"

 

"Can you stop throwing the Baratheon word around for a moment?"

 

"Actually, no, I can't quite let it slip my mind most days. How can you live your days and then go to bed at night with the man who dealt him that blow, Lyanna ?"

 

"I've found I can do a lot of things I never thought I would," she snaps, but then visibly composes herself again. When she speaks again, her voice is as unflinched as it is raw, which leaves him wondering, "If Varys has been keeping you very much informed all of this time, you may have heard that my Baratheon Prince is a good, smart, skilful boy who can make a better King than Viserys could ever even dream of being."

 

"So what you are saying is-"

 

"I'm saying I will do everything in my power to stop another Aerys from setting more chaos onto this realm. But I am not unfeeling about the other innocent child losing her place in the world. If we come to an agreement, I will help bring Daenerys back home, to become Queen."



Jon



When his mother gives him the sword, he is quite perplexed. Jon knows who that sword used to belong to. 

 

Back when he was still impressed by his father, and trying his best to stick around and close to him, Robert has presented that very sword to him himself, claiming he's 'won that at the Trident' with enough pride in his voice to make it obvious to Jon who he's 'won' it from and how. Jon has been in awe of the whole at the time. He was about six or seven, and the Rebellion and Battle of the Trident were still akin to heroes' legends to him back then.

 

It is an amazing sword, light and sharp, very much perfect for him, although he still needs to strap it on his back at his current age. But as he gets attached to the sword, he cannot really detach it from its previous owner, and he wonders at his mother supposedly not knowing, sharp minded as he knows her to be, and at his father allowing it. 

 

Is it a good thing for him to wield the sword of his mother's abductor, his father's greatest enemy, and in what way? Was this gift to Jon just a means to killing Rhaegar Targaryen again? 

 

One night when he was very little, as she tucked him into bed, Jon dared to ask Lyanna herself, "But how did he hurt you. No one ever tells me when I ask? Why does no one ever tell me, mama?"

 

"Because no one really knows, sweetling," Lyanna has then answered with a sad enigmatic smile, and kissed his head goodnight. 

 

But something people must have known, for there were records of the Rebellion plenty. 

 

When he's finally learnt the mysteries of letters, Jon has managed to read the word 'rape' in his own time and by his own means, yet he had yet to understand the concept of 'rape'. He asked one of his tutors one day, and tried to do it as casually as possible. The question was not received casually, and it was answered with more of a tight lip, as if not being content to be the one to answer it for Jon. The formal and short 'forcefully taking of a woman' still translated as 'abduction' to him at the time, and nothing more still. 

 

It was not until some time later that he learnt the true meaning of that as well, and his father's killing of the Dragon Prince for it was perfectly understandable. 

 

But time has also turned that one act into the only true good Robert has done by his mother, and his one truly just and admirable act as a man. 

 

For, as much as the Rebellion was painted as the downfall of a worthless, terrible King, Jon has lately grown out of his boyish ignorance and saw Robert's attitude towards affairs of the state went past and beyond simple neglect. His mother's constant initiated discussions towards the lack of necessity of this massive expense or that gave him to understand there were financial issues to think about, too. It was, however, the one concern of mother that Robert more often than not waved off. 

 

And as much as the second part of the Rebellion was said to have been driven by Robert's great love for Lyanna, that notion has also been clouded by the years in Jon's eyes.

 

Because Jon has seen true love, respect and commitment in Winterfell, over and over, and he soon understood that was not what binds his parents together. That Robert admires her for his own vanity and benefit, it is now easy to see. He always looks proud to have her displayed at his side, and enjoys for all arrangements in their household to be to his comfort. But Jon often wonders what binds her to him. Has she loved him when they were younger, and is now resigned to having judged the return of his feelings poorly?

 

He wonders at her serene and unprovoked responses at things like being told the King would not dine with them or be back home for the night. At his wandering eyes towards younger faces and bodies. At the known fact of his various bastards. 



 All in all, Jon has developed a lot of grudging feelings, for both Rhaegar and Robert, both adding some irrevocable sadness in Lyanna's life because they have only seen a beautiful woman to desire. His mother is so much more than beauty. 

 

In a moment of great dread, he means to severe the sword's last connection to its past, in the least. There are no smiths in the Red Keep who can rework Valyrian steel, so he goes into town, to Tobho Mott. His intention is to request for the removal of the mark on the blade, the last identifiable trace of its previous life.

 

Mott, though, very politely and courteously, tries to talk him out of it. The mark is a proof of its purely Valyrian origins and amplifies its value and consequence. But, as Mott talks, and Jon is growing impatient, an apprentice walks in with some pieces and he momentarily catches Jon's attention.

 

"What's your name?" Jon blurts out, unintentionally rudely interrupting Mott.

 

"Name's Gendry," the boy answers with a brisk nod.

 

" Gendry, Your Grace , boy," Mott admonishes him. "This is His Grace Crown Prince Jon you are talking to." 

 

But Jon doesn't care about that. He looks at Gendry's face, at his eyes, the lines of his jaw. He swallows dryly. 

 

"How old are you, Gendry?" Jon follows, with as much composure as he can master.

 

"Thirteen," Gendry answers. "Your Grace," he adds at Mott's stern look. 

 

Just like Jon. He might be a few months older, more on the side of fourteen, maybe - he is definitely much sturdier than Jon - but it mattered not. The main fact stands. He was never faithful to her, not before and not after

 

"Thank you, Gendry." He turns to Mott, "Thank you for the advice. I will rethink my request."

 

And so, out of spite, as a subtle insult, as subtle rebellion, a trace of Rhaegar Targaryen is allowed to continue in this world, at the hands and in close proximity to his greatest enemy's son himself. For he has paid his price for his despicable deeds, but his father might never. 





Chapter Text

Children of Doom

 

I once knew a man

he thought his heart was big enough for the world

with his heart, he tried to lift it

and with his arms, he tried to hold it

(and lord, did he try.)

 

i once knew a man

but like all men, they never think they can die

like all men, he never stopped doing what killed him

and on his tombstone was written the saddest of words:

(he tried.)

 

you are not Atlas; you cannot shoulder the world alone | m.a.w

 

Ned



"A sword , Ned. A real sword."

 

"It's a small sword," is all Ned can say on the spot, pathetically unhelpful.

 

Catelyn has been pacing the floor of his study for minutes now, talking with aghast irritation, an occurrence not at all unusual for every single time his nephew visits. 

 

A few months ago, on yet another of his nephew's stays, on a ride back to the castle, they've spotted a dead female direwolf, a strange presence beyond the Wall. That led them to the finding of five freezing pups. Gently persuasive, as always, Jon has managed to convince him these five pups placed under his five children was just the right turn of events. He could have gotten to think it rather cunning of the boy to have the pups so easily placed under others' care without further effort or responsibility on his part, later on, had Jon not been so openly delighted and visibly excited at the discovery of a sixth. An albino, the rut of the litter, yet Jon seemed the happiest to just have one as well. That had made Ned feel bad for suspecting him of ill intentions at all.

 

It reminded him of a time the boys, old and young, have gone on a rather unproductive fishing trip. The only one happily carrying a sizeable enough prize on return was Bran, Theon and Robb having only a few fish smaller than the length of their palms to their claim. When all jokes on it were said and done, Bran blushingly confessed it was Jon who'd caught his, but gifted it to Bran when he saw him sad to have none.  

 

But it's way easier for everyone fallen under such honest persuasions to blame it on the simple excuses such as "can't refuse the Prince": the Prince's questions, the Prince's needs, the Prince's offerings, excuses Catelyn is ever tired of bumping into.

 

Arya loves them. And the presents and indulgences provided to Arya in particular by the Prince are the ones that truly get on Catelyn's nerves. The satins and decorative flowers for Sansa's dresses, the books of Southern war legends for Bran, the bow bones and leathers and such for Theon and Robb are to her own approval and to their liking. Arya's presents are also to her liking.

 

But there are several ways in which Jon indulges Arya's wild whims not befitting a growing Lady and they are all putting Cat in a terribly frustrating position. She is too polite and diplomatic herself to be cross with Jon (and more often than not too caught herself in his good intentions and mendings for it) but too often it goes against her adamant wishes regarding their own children's imposed morals and education.

 

What can Catelyn say when both Jon and Arya skip lunch and show up muddy and weary, smelling of blood and horse before an evening feast for Robb's nameday? And also then, before she can admonish them in any way, Prince Jon is already apologising for both, explaining such disinterested circumstances as delayed them (offering to help an alone old woman whose sons and sons' wives were gone to work the fields and had her geese attacked by wild dogs and needed three of them mercy killed and plucked and two of them sold so they wouldn't go to waste) and that they did have a hearty bit afternoon meal they couldn't refuse from the woman as a show of gratitude, admitting that indeed they were short on time, but asking permission of her Ladyship for them to haste and quickly get proper and presentable as it's of course expected of them to be. Also, he's bought himself one goose to bring her, a big and fat looking bird, which happens to be Catelyn's own favourite.

 

But that is the going of it every single time. Before either his or Catelyn's argument can begin, Jon has already acknowledged it and its validity, explained and excused both himself and Arya, often proposing various solutions for the issue in case, chose one, and politely asked for the approval of it which at that point they can do nothing but give, and off he is, Arya happily in tow, the subject eluded and closed.

 

At the feast, he acted with great diplomacy and grace, was pleasant to all Northern Lords and Ladies, toasted with Robb, made Bran laugh, and danced with a giggling Sansa, making Catelyn move forward and over the latest escapade and blame boyish wildness and Robert's lively spirit to have all to do with it, while directing all criticism of behaviour towards Arya and how it was still ill behaviour for her to follow in his plans and no young lady's place to indulge in such as well, Septa Mordane often joining in that argument.

 

Ned was not quite that sure about Jon's kind of  "boyish wildness" having to do with Robert. He has often tried to pinpoint the boy's character in the direction of either his mother or father, and couldn't ever come towards a clear conclusion. He definitely has some of Lyanna's wildness and possibly some of Robert's good humor and charm, and also his stubbornness, but some traits he can't place, and plenty are contradictory. Just thinking back to the previous week put heads to tail, Jon has: spent two consecutive days in full cheer and business; moodily rode off alone into the woods one afternoon and had dinner in his room; eskwed a diplomatic visit to drink outside with the soldiers and listen to their bawdy jokes instead; very willingly attended another insisting on the addition of his informed input in all matters discussed; been brooding in his room for a whole day for no apparent reason (or none that he could tell) and then came in perfect good humor to break his fast the next morning as if nothing happened at all; went hunting with the boys; flower picking with the girls; apple picking with some random smallfolk in Wintertown.

 

He is quick to love and hate, quick to anger and repent, quick to make both friends and enemies - and all those could be claimed by either mother or father. He can easily gather the young lordlings around him, can charm their mothers, can talk trade, law and battle with the fathers, be most engaging and respectful to their sisters. But he clearly has inclinations towards being lonesome that come and pass, and he cannot say how many of those he surrounds himself with are truly friends in his eyes.

 

Also, there is at times something too affected, too deep rooted in his moods, something too contemplative in his interests, a sense of gloom, as well as a tense possessiveness of self and dignity - becoming of a crown Prince, but strange to behold so unintentional or in a child. 

 

But perhaps Ned is just overreaching. Jon is a good boy. He will make a good King. He should keep his worries to himself.



Arthur

 

Among the few scattered words Rhaegar has barely managed to mouth before handing him over to Ser Barristan were hardly comprehensible syllables about a wedding document, but Arthur has understood.

 

What did putting a warning sword at a Septons neck even mean at this point anymore?

 

Conversation about Lyanna Stark was altogether scarce ever after, although inevitable at times, when news from Westeros came their way. One odd moment in particular does stand out in his memory. Some gossip about a possible second pregnancy-

 

"She's miscarried once, and had one living child. She will not quicken with child again," Rhaegar has said that day, his gaze and voice so far away as if he were dazed with milk of the poppy.

 

He didn't speak it as a curse, or with any malice at all, but strangely as a certainty. The most unsettling was the correctness of it. Queen Lyanna never bore King Robert a second child. But the one male heir, with a few bumps along the road, reportedly grew in health and brilliancy, which was enough in itself to secure a dynasty.

 

If only he weren't a bastard, by law. 

 

The knowledge of that marriage could disgrace the former Lady Lyanna Stark. Invalidate her second marriage. Bastardize her child. Even put both of them in danger. All possible and granted, was Rhaegar ever to set foot in Westeros in plain day again with the document in hand.

 

But Rhaegar did not seem to bear her ill will, or even the child. Though he didn't enjoy conversation about him any more than her.

 

Conversation about Westeros in general has barely happened at all in the first years. Though they remained informed, they had their own affairs to deal with.

 

 When they evacuated Dragonstone, Arthur has transferred all Rhaegar's gold and jewellery to the boat as well. His main resources had been hidden away behind a fake door. Arthur thinks he might have been the only one to know of it other than Elia. He felt weird, as if he was trespassing and stealing, but the money were the children's at that point, after all. 

 

There were enough to live comfortably for many years. However, he had to realise that, if their situation would not change anyhow in the meantime, they would need to think of something more.



But Arthur's early worries about their future want of money were soon found to be unfounded. As soon as he was capable of it, Rhaegar started putting himself to work - more out of need of distraction and dissociation from his own thoughts rather than the want of money, Arthur decided.  

 

Early into his move from King's Landing and entering in his rights of independence as Crown Prince and Prince of Dragonstone, Rhaegar has read his documents and realized the isle's tax worth has badly decreased over the years, and that any more serious need of money arising would make him dependent of Aerys' generosity and mood shifts, which he absolutely wanted to avoid. 

 

Going behind his father's back, he's managed to get Lord Tywin to accord him a loan. With a growing daughter in mind perhaps, the Lord of Casterly Rock has been almost benevolent in agreeing to it, though not so much in keeping his rates high and his deadlines strict. 

 

For half a year, under the guise of general diplomatic visiting, he's had talks of interest with any Lords with deals in the arts of trade, investments and business. The trick was understanding value and demand, otherwise he's always been easily and good-humouredly persuasive, which made negotiating his numbers the easiest part. Mostly, these were deals with the Free Cities, best to be not in the eyes of the Lords of Westeros, although Arthur had to roll his eyes at the want of discretion, given Rhaegar's displayed love of jewellery, a man's fortune on his damn breastplate alone, and the ease with which he found ways to place his Tourney prizes anywhere but in his own coffers. 

 

Within a year, he's paid Lord Tywin back and had a growing profit himself. 

 

In Essos, he's reclaimed his old assets under Viserys' name, and then passed them to himself under a new identity, and started from there. He dealt in anything but slaves - anything else he didn't find below him or not worth a try.



The delicate bright beauty of the Dragon Prince has never quite returned. This man, the exiled Dragon King, is handsome, definitely, in the eyes of any onlooker, his body fit and strong, his posture still graceful, but there is a grim austerity where there has been sweet gloom, a stiff reserve, a hardness in his eye.

 

Arthur shudders to remember that image of Rhaegar back then. It was years before he looked anything like himself again. When he finally started eating properly again, moved on his own and put back the muscle. When he slept almost normal hours and talked real conversations. When he rarely smiled while looking over little Dany. 

 

He remembers carrying Daenerys. She was so little and so quiet, he was afraid he might break her if he even held her a bit too tight and she wouldn't even make a sound.



The young Princess helped the most. Plenty of small children get to be called 'a ray of sunshine' but few embody it quite like the young Daenerys did. She was lovely, and sweet, and cheerful, and had no trace of the tragedy she was born into. Everywhere she went people smiled, and the more she grew, the more brilliant her character revealed itself to be, the more expansive and understanding her mind. 

 

Viserys was a slow learner in his studies, and a mediocre sword wielder. The worst part about him, however, was his temper. He gave up easily what he couldn't easily learn. He was no prodigy, and it frustrated him in light of any reminder (even jesting ones) of Rhaegar having always been much better at this, and a quicker learner at that. The one thing he was proficient in was Valyrian, which he was very proud of and very glad in learning, and he insisted in tutoring Daenerys himself.

 

But his studies weren't the only area where his temper tantrums proved troublesome.

 

Nothing happened fast enough and things were never well done enough for his taste. His irritability and increasingly constant bad moods were tempered with great efforts and only truly managed by Rhaegar. As much bad-mouthing as he was capable of when Rhaegar wasn't around, Viserys could not find plenty to say or the boldness to do it when it was his brother himself calling him forth. Viserys could talk all day about Rhaegar being a 'sickly, incapable King-pretender', but it was made obvious to everyone, and to himself (which probably frustrated him most and turned him even more obstinate every time) that, whatever it was - whether fear, reverence, wariness, envy, spite, anything fueling the feeling of his own inadequacy and inferiority, a combination of all - he could not - would not - backtalk Rhaegar, not for much or not at all.

 

 Though his stare would be grudging, it was never anything to mollify Rhaegar's unflinchingly hard one meeting his when a disagreement was as bad as to call for it, and the retorts Rhaegar could phrase were too much for Viserys' own petulant ones. Any such encounters would consistently end with Viserys being the one having to avert his gaze, to shut his mouth, to be left to seeth and simmer in his own time, just as Rhaegar's patience and leniency for such tiresome outburst grew thin and thinner as his own amount of work and sensitive issues that required decisions grew thicker. 

 

"Viserys is in the right there , however. I am not the King. I am not even a King."

 

"Only, you and Viserys are perhaps both in the wrong, and realize not that it is not all about your choice. Or Aerys'.

 

"I did not join the Kingsguard for Aerys. Ser Barristan thinks more highly of you than he did of your father, or grandfather, or great-grandfather, for that matter. Connington did not try to catch Robert for Aerys. It's not you saying you are or aren't a King that makes you one. It's whether others see a King in you. You stop being a King only when there's no person left who looks at you and sees one."

 

Rhaegar




News of her came as a little, fragile wife without much to say, and particular dedication to tending to her babe alone, which was a difficult picture to attribute to the fiery, wild young woman he's met all those years ago. The she-wolf of Winterfell who would challenge bigger, stronger men and win. The quick temper who would put even Arthur's boldness in its place. 

 

People change.

 

  He 's changed. 

 

Still changing, probably. 



Forgiving Lyanna, for whatever she needed to be forgiven of, was easy. It took him years of growing older, and thinking back on how young 'sixteen' became with every passing year. To acknowledge that, however much he might have seen in her as the loveliest, boldest, fiercest girl he's ever known, however far his own fancy has carried him, and envisioned the future they could build together, he might have been just that one passionate fancy of her youth, soon to be forgotten. Only to move on to a logical stable matrimony of sorts. 

 

He himself has never forgotten those hopes, has never moved on. He has been just old enough to feel those feelings deep, to know what he's been waiting for, and when he's found it. And that he would never find it again. 



Learning to not feel contempt at all mentions of her son took embarrassingly longer. But he dates it back to the time the boy nearly died. He'd fallen with the pox, and his chances of survival have been somewhere on the edge.

 

He's read of both his falling sick and bettering in the same few short lines, and yet he's felt as if he's been there, too, the whole of the night, as she was said to have been. The apprehension of it has awakened him to a new awareness. For he had never wanted his death, but this close call has reminded him of the wickedness of having any antagonistic feelings towards an innocent child for the sake of his father. 

 

Rhaegar had nearly died for the sake of Aerys. Rhaenys and Aegon had died for the sake of Rhaegar. And yet Rhaegar couldn't even conceive another child to die for the sake of Robert, of all people. 

 

From that day on, he's referred to and considered Prince Jon as the Queen's boy, and thought none of his dread of Robert at his mention. He's paid more attention to the scarce information of him, and was relieved in its comprehension: Jon looked most like the mother, and behaved least like the father.

 

Sometimes he thinks it might as well be so. That this Jon Baratheon might as well go off and rule when his useless, debt prone father would have the decency to stop being a burden and die, and Rhaegar could just put behind Westeros and everything he's lost back there. 

 

But he often did think of Westeros, the idea of Dany and Viserys living again in their homeland, as they ought to have done, were it not for his and Aerys' mistakes. But there was no longer a place in Westeros for them unless they forced their way in and reclaimed their lost rights. That could be technically done. And what then? Taking their seat back meant a whole dynasty. Who ought to rule? He's had these kind of fruitless conversations with Arthur before.

 

Arthur deadpanning with a pointed, " You ," he was tired of obviously dismissing. He was no fit to rule. Not even physically. And he's fucked a whole realm once before. He did no longer want to rule. He did not want the Iron Throne, the prize that has had his whole family doomed. He would have gifted it himself, could it have saved Elia , and Aegon , and Rhaenys… But what was the cursed chair in itself now?

 

"With the influence and money you've gathered, you could easily put a strong, numerous army behind you . That's the King people would be willing to crown."

 

"They would be willing to thinking that the 'King' is a healthy man."

 

"Your health is put in danger by the stress. You could live many more years once we've got peace and stability."

 

"There's no peace and stability for he who wears a crown."

 

And then what ? Bring fire and blood over the people of Westeros all over again and win an empty chair. For whom, even? He's had two marriages, both of duty and love, and damned them both. Matrimony and heirs was the least of his thoughts. And next there was Viserys-

 

"-More to the reasons why Viserys is too weak to sit under it. He will break. And ruin everything else in his wake. Maybe we should consider Dany. You still have time to prepare her ."

 

"I have long considered Dany," Rhaegar said perfectly serious, and quietly, too. The walls had ears, and not only Viserys'. "There will be problems for as long as Viserys lives.There will always be those who don't take well with a woman sitting on the Throne, when an older male heir is still around."

 

 He sees in Viserys the same unhealthy obsession of preserving at all costs and in any possible ways the remnants of the Targaryen dynasty and its legacy as their father's, while Rhaegar himself is more concerned with the preservation of themselves as a family, rather than any dreams of power and grandeur.

 

He looks at Viserys' occasional feverish speeches in such matters, and he's reminded of a younger Aerys, when his wits were still about him. His absolute insistence of finding Rhaegar a Valyrian wife, or in the least of some reasonable Targaryen alliance history and blood connections. How extremely aggravated he's been made about a joking reminder of how many lesser Houses had their own Valyrian steels while House Targaryen had lost both their own. His hassle and orders and the offering of any amount of money and titles to whomever could find and bring him a proper such blade. The absolute gratification and delight upon the unlikely delivery of such a demanding request, from the hands of a hedge knight, who's been traveling through Essos as a sellsword over the previous years and swore it to be the long lost blade of Aegon the Conqueror himself, though the outside currently looked nothing like it. That was highly unlikely, but a knowledgeable armorer confirmed the quality of the Valyrian steel itself, and the hedge knight has found himself turned into a Lord, while Rhaegar himself has found himself owning an admittedly great sword - for some years, that is.

 

He's bulged his eyes at Dany confessing him about how Viserys has always told her they must be married someday and, after declining that to her as an actual decision, having his study's door banged open and his brother accusing of obviously wanting Dany for himself and another rehearsal of the 'I am the real King' speech.

 

"The King of what?" Rhaegar raised his eyebrows at him, too overworked for the day to have any patience for such ridiculous nonsense.

 

"You are a coward, but I will take it once we get rid of you! I will hire men and do what you are too weak to do!" Viserys has crossed his arms angrily.

 

"With my money, I presume," Rhaegar has crossed his arms, completely unimpressed on his side. "And you will lead these armies into battle, too, won't you?" Rhaegar has mocked him, head tilting towards the window, outside of it still a fresh memory of a very disastrous sparring session earlier that day. 

 

Viserys has glared at him then, huffed like a child, and stormed out loudly, just as he'd stormed in. No. No leader material in there.

 

It would truly be so much easier to forget about Westeros altogether, about a wretched history of power struggle within and outside their family, convince his siblings they would have a better, carefree life here after his death, with wealth enough for themselves and their children, too.

 

But, on the one hand, he knows that the moment he would be gone, Viserys would take control and go off in a ruthless attempt to take what he deemed as his, ruining everything for Dany, as well.

 

On the other, there is the unsettling gift from a few years ago, and the unsettling presence and ears that's been hanging around them ever since - the one who's been supplying them with most the information they had of Westeros.

 

It was some years back, when he's started deals with a terribly rich Magister of Pentos, Illyrio Mopatis. He had already been unsettled enough and wishing to be done and gone by the passing about of one boy of Valyrian looks and creamy complexion, and of likely similar age with Aegon, too, triggering heart wrenching thoughts he would have been better without.

 

But it was not much later, when the business negotiations themselves were done, that he was to be vexed again. A 'present of goodwill proposed by a dear common friend of his and Rhaegar ' who would very much like to suggest a working understanding to Rhaegar as well. Saying such, he had an ornate box brought forth, and opened. The eggs were beautiful. Dead, but beautiful. He watched the Magister sharply, the message in the box very clear. 

 

" Friend ?" Rhaegar shot back intently.

 

And that was how the Spider re-entered his life.



Daenerys



Her earliest memories of Rhaegar have the consistency of an intermittent blackout. He's a figure that comes and goes into her memory lane, passing under the shadows.

 

The very first times she's even set eyes on him were a series of repeated actions. Opened door. A man thin and sickly on a bed. Closed door. Fleeting images as such. Always the same.

 

When she first really met him, she was very embarrassed. He was not like Viserys, who was more of a sibling in age and who she has seen every day. Rhaegar was the big big brother and she was so so very shy. The image of his face that day shifted on and off, on and off, as she dared look up, then shyly down, up, then down. But his face in those evanescent pictures appeared gentle and kind, and not as sickly as before, a thin smile on his face, and she remembers not being as much apprehensive as she was bashful.

 

His first touch, taking her tiny hand in his very big one, she does remember very clearly. His grip was soft  but his touch was ice cold. His skin is always so very cold (from his illness and medicine, he patiently explained one time when she asked) and hers is always fiery hot.

 

Viserys was expansive and passionate, and a good storyteller. He loved talking about their glorious past, and how cruel Lords have lifted a terrible Usurper on their rightful throne. He also spoke of taking it back one day, and how they would rule over it together, as husband and wife, the way Targaryens always have done.

 

Rhaegar was much more reserved, but she's learnt, if she asked something herself, he would oblige her with honest and reasonable - and probably closer to the truth - answers in most matters. 

 

"Is the Usurper such an evil man?"

 

"Not… evil, I would say. Just an angry man who wanted things. There are people who will do very bad things when they want something that's not given to them. I did that, too."

 

"But you were never bad. Everyone says so."

 

"Perhaps not bad, then. I was… naive."

 

"Why do all people, good or bad, want all these things they can't have?"

 

"People find good things and they are convinced there will be none better out there."

 

"Do you still think that? About your Lady."

 

Rhaegar was silent for some moments.

 

"Yes."

 

He said little else after that.

 

There were little details from back then that he would supply on his own, though some relaxed moments little scraps of the past would escape him. 

 

"I used to have long, wavy hair just like yours," he's said once, when he's unusually stopped by to help her brush her hair and put her to bed. She's never seen him with anything but short hair, cut close to his scalp. She's wondered what kind of man he had been back then, if he had also loved the feel of the wind whistling through silver waves of silk around him, the way she did. 

 

She sometimes asked the other men about those days, in later years. Ser Arthur and Ser Barristan mostly, who were those she could dare to go to with the more sensitive matters and have known him the longest. 

 

"But why did he marry Lady Lyanna if Princess Elia was already his wife? Was she not a good woman?"

 

"She was a great woman, graceful and witty. There is just a difference between love and duty, Princess. And your brother has tried to stand by both those ideals, and it was too much."

 

One day she's told Rhaegar about Viserys' conviction of their future. Rhaegar has denied any such plan, relieving tension Dany didn't know she's had.

 

When she's interrupted Viserys the next time he mentioned that matter to tell him Rhaegar's statement, he's stormed off, mouthing something about the 'pretender with a foot in the grave'.

 

But it was the last bit of that scene that has truly affected Dany.

 

"Why is Viserys always saying you are dying? Are you really dying?"

 

"Not yet, sweetling," Rhaegar has told her with a soft smile, kissing her forehead, but it was a sad smile, and it made Dany uneasy. She didn't want to lose him. And she didn't want to be left alone with Viserys.

 

She loved them both. But where Viserys was often overwhelming and possessive and wearing, always having Dany on the edge expecting to read his current mood, Rhaegar was a calming, soothing presence, both in his silences and words. 

 

Viserys has also became more and more estranged and distant and moody around her, over the years following Rhaegar's bettering health.Rhaegar would deny their father's exaggerated virtues, and contradict the happiness in their family, hence invalidating Viserys' voice. And every good thing she would say about Rhaegar, every indication of her enjoying his company or appreciating his insight or opinions any better than his, he took as an insult. 

She's learnt to become more careful and less honest with him. She couldn't imagine a peaceful life in between them alone, in the future. But she doesn't want to be on her own, either. And it scares her.

 

***

 

They usually didn't accompany Rhaegar on his business trips, but they were invited to go places considered worth seeing. With the right camouflage, they embarked towards the great city of Pentos. 

 

While Rhaegar and Ser Arthur were busy, they were allowed to roam the majestic city and shop. Viserys was old enough for them to be left on their own, as long as they wouldn't stand out - not having an obvious guard on their heel would definitely help better in that instance. Dany loved the colourful bazaars, the soft veils and the clinking bells. Viserys chased all things shiny and all thick, rich dyed velvets. 

 

But what intrigued Dany most were the overwhelming red of the priests and priestesses preaching about strange gods and prophecies. Even their eyes are red, How can that be . But then she remembered how herself and her brothers too hid their true eye colour. Perhaps it was just a trick for them, too.

 

One of them looked straight at Dany, and she approached. She felt as if she's been asked to and couldn't refuse. 

 

"You have fire in your blood, little girl," the priestess has told her with a strange intent look, a snappy, sudden hold of Dany's wrist. "It will come out. You will breathe fire." It had an ominous sound to it and all Dany could do was blurt out, "Thank you?" and take back her hand, backing away and looking for Viserys whose temper was already rising with the irritation of her going away recklessly.

 

 Rhaegar had been in a fairly good mood when they got there, but when he joined them again at their meeting point, his countenance has changed and he seemed very absent minded as they talked about how they spend their day.

 

An intricate ornate box stood out among the items brought back on board. Both herself and Viserys were unashamedly curious.

 

Viserys was the one bold enough to ask, "What's in there?"

 

"Rocks," Rhaegar answered, strangely dismissive. There were pensive hard lines on his forehead. His mind seemed to be far away. 

 

"They are dragon eggs. I've seen pictures of them," Viserys has pushed forward with the enthusiasm of a child, though he was then already sixteen, a man grown.

 

" Petrified dragon eggs," Rhaegar corrected him, though not harshly. "Just eye-catching decorations."

 

And she has been holding one of them later, green as moss. Just enjoying the way the moonlight and glistening water combined jumped on and off the thick scales. She has meant no harm. And it has been only Viserys sudden sharp attentioning in the calming silence of the darkness. She has jolted, and the egg has slipped. She's tried to get a grip, but its surface was slippery, and the next thing she heard was a loud splash, and next thing she felt was a bruising painful hold of her arm, some strands of her hair caught into as well, a burning yank from her scalp. Viserys shaking her and shouting as she tried to unclench his bloodstopping grip.

 

" Viserys !" The sound of that dangerously hard-edged warning has made Dany freeze and go cold in ways any of Viserys' own shouting could never manage, although it wasn't even directed at her. 

 

Up until that moment, Dany hasn't even known Rhaegar's voice could sound that harsh. 

 

"She's dropped a dragon egg overboard, the clumsy fool !" Viserys yelled back, but Dany could hear a high-pitched edge to his irritation, having dropped his hand from her flesh as if burned.

 

"They're fossils . As valuable as they are as pretty rocks, that's all they are now. And I don't remember us being in such want of money as to make such a tragedy out of losing an expensive rock."

 

"If she's too clumsy to touch them, she shouldn't, is all I'm saying," was all Viserys had left to say, after, crossing his arms.

 

Rhaegar sighed impatiently, but seemed calmer, too, although that strangely grim thoughtful look he's had all day and Viserys seemed to remain ignorant of was still on his face. "There's two left. Just take one of them, and however you keep your own is your own business."

 

"But she already lost one !" Viserys shot back.

 

"Then let's say that was my share of the gift, and be done with it," Rhaegar waved a dismissive hand, but there was that dangerous note in his voice just like before when he said 'done', aimed at Viserys, before went off to discuss something with Ser Arthur, a serious expression on both their faces.

 

"I want the big one," Viserys didn't wait to greedily reach for the black egg. "You will clumsily lose yours again, anyway. Might as well have the best of them safe in better hands."

 

***

Dany should have been more cautious; should have given the whole of it more thought before she left the house that day. Viserys had been more than enthusiastic about the dragon eggs those past weeks - he's been obsessed, reading more about them than ever, making strange purchases and going on mysterious outings. 

 

She should have been more suspicious of the fact that he would want to go there on a day when not only Rhaegar, but both Ser Arthur and Ser Barristan would be gone until the afternoon. The rest of the men would not try to ever question Viserys intentions.

 

But off to some 'witch's cabin that he'd visited before they were, dragon eggs carried in clutches. Viserys insisted that the woman was the real deal, that he'd seen her do magic, and that she'd told him she could revive the eggs.

 

"But why would she? You said she didn't mention a price, even if she could do it, that she said she will mention it later. That sounds suspicious."

 

"The hag definitely wants to ask for a lot, nothing more. She will only say it when the deal is done and we can't back away. But who cares for the numbers? Rhaegar is loaded and even he is not as stupid as to see the value of real dragons against anything money can buy."

 

She's had to acknowledge the sense in that. But wouldn't the witch, too, know the real value of dragons against anything that money can buy ?

 

She would, Dany has decided when it was too late. When she's found all of them were locked inside, and the fire was coming. And she collapsed against the door as she covered her ears to stop hearing the screams, while a playful flame has caught up with her and started licking at her shoes, catching on her dress. The smoke is thickest high up, but it's choking enough on the ground, too, and she tries to breathe but all she feels going inside is pure heat, burning her lungs inside-out.

 

Rhaegar

 

The directions were easy to follow, the place even easier to take note of, in its current state. Arthur has made him down a drug flacon even before the men had the chance to finish saying how both his siblings have been gone for too long by that time - to stabilise him.

 

He walks like in a dream, and probably the drug itself has not the biggest part in it. This just can't be real.

 

The still rising abundant smoke makes the situation clear even before he reaches the clearing running. The walls are mostly gone, charred, soot all over the place and the air. He's afraid to look closer at the remains, because remains he is likely to find. The stone steps alone are intact.

 

A blackened thin, bald body sits still on those stairs, and Rhaegar feels sick to the stomach with the realization that it might be charred. But the head tilts up at the sound of his quickly approaching footsteps on gravel, and the eyes looking up at him are bright and alive.

 

Rhaegar quickens his step, taking off his cloak as he goes. He lets himself fall to his knees when he reaches her, quickly enveloping her body in the fabric, catching her face frantically though his body feels heavy, his hands heavier.

 

"Dany!"

 

Her tears are clearing paths down the soot on her face and she's crying too hard to speak, at the sight of him, though she tries to. He lets her, just holding her tight and desperate. He catches sight of  lower part of another body beyond her - that one doesn't look like it will move again - and he averts his eyes with a shuddering breath, looking down.

 

But his breath hitches and his eyes bulge at the sight there .

 

Seven Hells .

 

Arthur

 

"I met the …. Queen ," he says carefully. 

 

Rhaegar gives him a half hard, half wary look before he turns towards his 'medicine' wooden box, takes out a flacon and downs it quietly, breathing in slowly. Arthur gives him the time, waiting for the drug to settle in. The relaxing drug wpis something he keeps in handy, but doesn't abuse. Among its effects, it has the benefit of slowing down one's heartbeat, make it pump the blood in steady calmness and peace. An unsteady tension in his veins is nothing that he can afford, not with the results it has had before across the years. It is a clear sign of how unsettling this is to him - not that Arthur hasn't expected it. But he could neither keep that information from him. None of it. Or what he thought of it. 

 

He gives him a couple minutes of silence, waiting for the drug to settle in, for Rhaegar to speak first when he is ready to. 

 

"And is she well?" Rhaegar eventually forces the first words, taking a deep breath. 

 

"Reasonably so. She is-," he purses his lips, unsure of how to put it, "She's been adapting to the city life, I suppose. She knew Varys was playing a double game."

 

Rhaegar frowns at the apprehension of Lyanna's current proceedings, as expected. This kind of action is nothing akin to what they would've expected, any of these years. Not from what they've been told. Not from what he's heard around the Red Keep during his many visits.

 

*And that day she discovered who he was playing it with - she found the two of us talking together," Arthur goes on, keeping a close eye on his friend and King's reactions. He may have taken the drug, but the current Baratheon Queen was always a tough subject. And the whole of the current preposition won't make it any better.

 

"And what did she do?" Rhaegar's frown deepens, although it has an almost vacant air to it - an usual effect of using the drug. 

 

Arthur has made it back, that it was plain to see. So, obviously, Lyanna didn't have him killed. Or at least she didn't succeed to. But given the odds, had the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms wanted him dead, this was most likely the first option. 

 

Her voice echoes in his head. You may still be known as the best swordsman in all of Westeros, Ser Arthur, but even you have your limit in numbers.

 

She probably didn't give him a big warm hug, either, as the Queen they've heard about may have been expected to do.

 

Arthur explains her plan and terms, not mentioning their back and forth snide remarks. "Maybe we should gamble with… her offer. Dany will be able to go home. Her children will wear a crown, still. The realm will know peace. And your family's line may not die."

 

"We know nearly nothing concrete of… her boy. If we were wrong about… her intentions, we could as well be wrong about everything."

 

"You were ready to theoretically let him in charge of the Stormlands, were it to be war - if he survived."

 

"But not in charge of Dany's life - even theoretically. I am not selling her to them as a powerless slave. She has her own claim. Her own power and wealth. And I will make it clear that she won't be a broodmare swept under the rug before I even involve Dany herself in such prospects."

 

"But you are still pondering on this."

 

"I am."

 

"If all the understandings we've made come through, we could win without inside help."

 

"Yes, and be seen as invading again. This could be much less war and a more stable result."

 

"Then what?"

 

"I would have to meet him. Both of them."

 

"Appear in person ? Reveal yourself ?"

 

"I have to do it at this point. Varys has been either misleading us or this might be a trap."

 

"Neither might like that, you know. And he may have, um, the popular opinion regarding your… marriage. There's that, too. Would you tell him about the marriage? I know you don't want the general public to know, but with this new plan, it is rather essential for your image, but would destroy theirs."

 

"Yes, it's complicated. I need to talk to her first. My continuing existence should trouble none. I will remain in the shadows, Arthur. That I've made clear from the beginning," Rhaegar says, sitting up, the conclusion of the conversation clearly an ultimatum on the subject.

 

 Arthur sighed. Whether Rhaegar wishes to pass his crown, it is not for Arthur to decline such a decision.

 

But there is that obvious worry Arthur's kept in his mind about his friend that was true then, and remains true now. Always there, behind his words, behind any seemingly positive action. That of Rhaegar not envisioning anything for himself in the future but an inevitable obscure death. Tying all loose ends, securing his family's future and the death of a selective few are all his ambitions, all he looks forward to.

 

Arthur holds his breath, and is truly not in the slightest actually dissatisfied when machinations don't work out quite fine, and plans get delayed, because truly, honestly, he does not know - he is afraid to know - in a future where Dany is secure, where the kingdoms are secure, what Rhaegar would do.




Lyanna

 

"Viserys is dead," she says quietly, pouring herself a drink, though it's only midday - she's always been careful not to have the smell of alcohol on her during daylight.

 

"So I've heard," is all Ser Jaime answers. So he did. She doesn't know, hence, what she means by trying to open the subject. She feels filthy, feels like a bad person, because Viserys has been a complication in her plans, and now he is gone, and Essos has sent her a message through Varys that they would be open for discussions - they are on their way by now, even. 

 

And yet she feels guilt, though she had nothing to do with it. Is this how people turn evil? They just say 'this needed to happen for the greater good' one too many times, until death around them stops having any meaning at all?



Having these thoughts and no true confidante makes life gets everyday lonelier for her, when she is already as lonely as she can be, in spite of all courtiers. She cannot even talk like herself, smile like herself these days. Jon is gone to Winterfell. He's had a big fight with Robert and went off without reconciliation, even refusing Ser Jaime's company, but relented to ten men's guard on the road. Lyanna tried hard to patch some on both sides, but she knows it's not much she can do in this case.

 

For the last a year or so, Lysa Arryn has also been gone. Lysa was not most relaxing company to be in. She loved to talk about her problems, and about her one boy, mostly. But Lyanna has indulged her. Discussion about the little bits of worries come with a growing child were something she had secure knowledge in and any amount of real control over. The time Lysa has spent with her has been, in the least, lacking in ulterior motives and honest. Very honest, sometimes. The kind of honest words one says with hushed voices and shifty eyes. And Lyanna was grateful to the other woman. For not only the trust it promoted, but also for some bits of useful insight she wouldn't have been opened to otherwise.

 

But there's that. There's walls getting closer around her, and she wonders if ever she will even breathe freely again.

 

There's a knock on her door, and she is glad of it, for whatever might turn her mind towards less dark concerns is welcome. 

 

Jaime opens the door and receives the message, then hands the letter over to her. 

 

It's from Stannis. She frowns. He rarely actually consults her in anything, but now he's asking her presence in a 'pressing matter'. She hopes this isn't another conversation about betrothals again. She can't stomach it today. 

 

When she's managed to get to the compromise of having Stannis brought back as Hand instead of Lord Tywin she's counted it as a victory. Stannis undoubtedly has more integrity, and is straightforward about his intentions. But he is also a stern, watchful man, and she might find him as draining as Robert sometimes, although for different reasons.

 

She sits up, pats down her dress, and is glad she didn't get the chance to have even a sip of her wine just yet. If there is someone ready to raise a judgemental eyebrow to that (or anything in the least inappropriate or out of order), Stannis is the man, and she doesn't need that kind of attention from him.

 

She walks quietly all the way to the Tower of the Hand, Ser Jaime and a few more of her guard in tow, and tries to keep her usual serenity and not to glare at the onset of a threatening to last headache all around her head. Lord Stannis is visibly expecting her, standing by his chair. He bows to her, invites her to take a seat before he takes his own.

 

"Lord Stannis, to what do I owe the pleasure? Your message gave me to understand that the issue was of a rather urgent kind."

 

"Indeed, Your Grace." He looks back at her with his same hard look as always, never a giveaway to the tone of the conversation he was about to start. "If you will-" He takes out a thick bound book and hands it to her. 

 

She takes it with confusion she doesn't try to hide and opens it - it has no title. "It looks like a journal."

 

"Yes. Page 307 is what would interest you, I dare say."

 

She frowns, turning the pages slowly, mind running fast - the pain in her skull isn't helping. She reads through the few lines on the page-

 

Then she blanches.



Chapter Text

Helen is not of Troy

and not of Sparta.

She does not live in the towers of burning Ilium,

or the ruined palaces of once-great Greece–

No, she is found between the folds of history 

over and over and over again.

 

Blamed and de-famed and cruelly scorned,

She is every woman who bears the burden

of the faults of men and gods.

 

She is all of us–

History repeating itself,

maybe to punish

maybe to teach

maybe to remind

But it does not matter–

Whatever might be the ill-taught lesson,

the shouts of the imprisoned and deprived

are forever lost in the clanging of weapons,

false pride

and forgotten women.

 

Sing, o goddess, the rage of Helen

–which launched not a thousand ships

but was stifled and silenced 

by a war fought wrongly in her honour.

 

sing, o goddess, the rage of helen | by prithvi. p



Lyanna  



She looks down at the writing before her, so dangerous a truth it should have made her clasp her hands and fret if ever laid bare like this in daylight, and she feels nothing. She turns her eyes up on Stannis with a cold, hard, unrepentant gaze she had always wanted to return instead of all those forced smiles and simpering. The pain in her head has reached the back of her eyeballs. And she lets the lack of patience that it gave her for this encounter show. She doesn't care to be wary of her posture or expression. She doesn't care to filter her words and reactions. She feels almost feral, running on instinct and frustration.

 

He does not react to that sudden change of demeanor. He is not surprised, she realises. She never had too plenty of interactions with this man, never liked to, but whatever he's seen in her all these years they've been acquainted, he's not surprised the little Queen is holding his stare with unflinched boldness.

 

In her mind, she runs through the possibilities she's facing. This is a simple note in a journal. No legal value. The High Septon has even misspelled her name (it says 'Lyamma'). They may or may not be having anything further to support this. An official Marriage Contract has been signed at the time, as befitted an union of that scale, but its fate she has not been able to find out.

 

If she were to run into Robert's arms and hysterically cry about the calumny and the falsehood of it, would he believe her? Would he turn his rage against his brother, or his wife? In all fairness, Robert believes anything that makes good to him, and he would not so much find it as enjoyable later on to push Stannis on his bed for comfort. He may even be alright with shortening his own less liked brother's neck if he could savagely take her for half an hour in all ways he's always wanted to without her usual annoying (to himself) admonishing about the pain and discomfort and lack of finesse. 

 

But, truth be told, he is not dumb. He will swear he doesn't believe it, but he will remember. Just like he has never forgotten she was Rhaegar's before she was his - circumstances unimportant. When he was at his drunkest and sloppiest, he would hiss it in her ear as he bent her down, face locked hard against her pillow, and make her pay for it.

 

The writing in the journal inadvertently makes her think of her first wedding night, with Rhaegar, the innocent girlish pleasure, the ease of their nakedness, the simple familiarity of their touches. And in trying to envision the nights in her future, she almost wants to cry. Only she wants to violently kill Stannis herself even more, and that puts a stop to the tears before they even have a chance to exist. No, it will not do.

 

She doesn't deny anything, doesn't say a word. She just looks at Stannis expectantly, daring him to say more, to expose anything he has to push forth. 

 

Stannis takes the hint, sitting up to walk the room as he speaks, "I cannot think of anything that was not your fault in this business. Your lack of honourable conduct as a maiden has doomed the safety of your own House and mine, and the former Prince's, and the peace of a whole realm. You've ran off with an already married man, dishonored your betrothed, and your family, and Rhaegar Targaryen's lawful wife. Your easy virtue has killed thousands."

 

Lyanna doesn't even flinch. None of Stannis' words are any harsher than the very voice in the back of her own head.

 

 "And I have also personally taken Aerys to Duskendale and twisted his wits, most likely," she sits up sharply herself, hand tight on the chair's headrest, "Yes, I cannot think of anything that was not my fault. Not of Prince Rhaegar giving me that attention. Not of the Septon who has validated this union. Not of a bloodthirsty mad King. Not of the ambitions of Jon Arryn and Hoster Tully, and the naivety of my father and brothers. Not of your brother, who cheated on and humiliated me as his betrothed, did the same as a husband, and yet carved chests in and smiled down at blood dripping children just for the sake of bending me over now and then, and do it such ways as he will not dare look me in the eyes in the morning."

 

Stannis has the decency to look slightly uncomfortable at the bluntness of the last statement. Proper Ladies do not speak of such marital troubles out loud. 

 

"But if I didn't do all that, you'd rather have me dying in misery and grief at the end of it rather than survive at all, wouldn't you?" Lyanna drills in.

 

But Stannis is already dismissing the reproach.

 

"Your current marriage is none of my main concern. It is your son ."

 

At that insinuation, she does feel her body go cold, but she forces herself to stand straight and not move a single face muscle. She notes the use of 'your son', not 'Prince Jon', not 'my nephew'. "I fail to understand how my supposed failings ought to do with your innocent nephew, Lord Stannis."

 

"The timing is what it has to do with. Had you another child, I would support their rights. But barrenness has been the price you had to pay, I suppose. Perhaps it was your youth's folly cursing your womb rather than the unwillful tragedy of a young woman, but a just curse all the same."

 

"A just curse. We have a different understanding of justness, Lord Stannis, since you talk about punishing a boy of your own blood for the sake of the mother." 

 

"Not quite. Were we to look for this nice, humble commonfolk woman who cared for you and properly interrogate her, would she tell the same story about your timely miscarriage?"

 

Lyanna's lips turn into a twisted smile. "A properly interrogated simple woman would admit to breaking into the Throne room and stabbing King Aerys herself to appease your good father Lord Tywin, if it meant he'd allow the pain to stop."

 

"So it's fair to say I cannot properly prove my own, but also you cannot properly prove yours. So let's reach an agreement. Come down quietly. Have the boy give up his claim under some good pretext. Maybe he wants to join the Citadel. Or any other good cause. Go up North and stay there. Robert will be quietened over the years, but nothing will quieten his wrath when he knows the truth."

 

His wrath.  

 

"And what of my wrath, Lord Stannis? What of all the best years of my life that I gave to your brother, to his kingdoms?"

 

"It is for your great efforts and undeniably just conduct during the length of this one marriage that I give you this chance. My brother will go on a hunt tomorrow, so it is on too short a notice to do it now, but when he comes back, be ready. Prepare your boy. This is the only chance you are given," he punctuates, moving around her and sitting back down at his desk.

 

He is dismissing her, she realises. A clear sign of what her status means to him now. Of what it will mean everafter. 

 

They said and keep on saying how a whole kingdom has bled and crumbled for her sake. Guilt and depression have followed her for a long time, but was over the years joined by equal rage, for what a shamble of a kingdom these weak men keep barely raised in between them, if it could crumble over the womb of one young girl. Half her family died, and many more followed, all because one young girl disobeying the wishes of the men in her life was thought as less likely than her body being forcefully transferred from the power of one man to another. 

 

Yes, she is a destroyer of kingdoms, for trying not to get traded for the sake of influence, and men's lust for young bodies and blood in the affair should not be disapproved as equally bad conduct in the equation. 

 

And so she did disobey as a betrothed once, and she lost. She does obey as an unwillful wife and Queen consort for fifteen years together, and she loses still. She is propped up when men want power, discarded when men want power. She is a tool for their needs. And she loses, all the time. Even loses herself. 

 

How come? How does a woman win

 

She doesn't. 

 

Not while she plays within their game, under their rules. 

 

She walks out and keeps on purposely walking, her mind wiring. 

 

"Where are we going?" Ser Jaime leans in to whisper, sounding confused, though he shows no hesitation in his step.

 

"Just walk," she replies, eyes trained ahead, not sparing him a single look. 

 

She reaches his door, a room she's always known where to find, but never actually visited, throws a, "Wait outside," to her baffled company, then barges in without any polite announcement, then slams the door closed behind her.

 

Varys is luckily inside, sitting at his desk, the room small and scarce. He jumps in his seat when she enters, and off of it and on his feet right away.

 

“You betrayed me!" She runs at him clenching her teeth, a concealed dagger she always carries pulled out and placed at his neck, driving him against the walls. 

 

“I- I did not. I would not.” He looks stunned at the apparition, stunned by the knife. Lyanna herself is surprised with herself - but then again, what should she fear anymore when the worst consequences are already upon her?

 

“You rat , there's no one else in this kingdom who could furnish them such precious information. I know the Marriage Contract is gone from the archives. I tried to get it myself from the Septon and he denied knowing anything of such. I thought he meant it's been destroyed. But no-,” she shook her head slowly with a cold, cynical sneer, “- you took it and waited for the right time to sell me. Of course you would do it now, when I show my fangs.”

 

“I did not take it. I don't have it, nor did I know there were any other recordings of the wedding. Essos has it. They have requested it many years ago, that is the information I do have.”

 

They ,” Lyanna muses, a harsh tilt to her head, a fuse lit within her. They would've thrown Lyanna and Jon to the lions themselves, then. And maybe they have. An anonymous letter to Stannis or Tywin would have done the trick. So I was right to be wary of trusting you with too much information, Arthur

 

"They are coming to laugh in my face then? That was the whole purpose of this?"

 

"I only know what they told me to say," Varys squirms, head glued tight to the wall and eyes on the dagger.

 

"Oh, you do know more. But you would never say all you know, would you?" Lyanna shakes her head in annoyance, but releases him, walking the room, trying to clear her head - the pain in her skull is so bad, she's starting to feel nauseous.

 

She leaves the room, going straight to her chambers. Ser Jaime tries to pry again, but she tells him to be off, that she will just rest for the day. In the back of her mind, she draws the numbers. Wouldn't Ser Jaime know, too? Doesn't this move finally make his sister a Queen? Is there anyone in this castle who hasn't been waiting for the right opportunity to cast her down for all of these years? Anyone in this world who cares in the least about her wellbeing but Jon and her brothers? Would Jon and Ned even remain on that list when they know the truth? (At least Benjen is already aware of it all and doesn't blame her.)

 

She wants to send for some painkiller, but wants no one around her right now, so instead downs two cups of wine. They don't take the pain, but they give her sleep, and sleep in itself is always a good cure.

 

She wakes in the night, hears noise outside the door. Robert's voice among them. He wants to come in as any husband would have the right to. He's being told she's unwell - it's Ser Jaime. He is not happy about it. Gods, no

 

Her head is not much better, only dizier now, too. But her stomach is sicker. She wants to throw up. She wants to cry. 

 

The voices outside recede, but soon the doors open. The steps are not Robert's, but meeker. A hand is placed on her forehead.

 

"A fever," she hears Pycelle say, and instructs on remedies to be brought. She takes them, doesn't care much what they are, only that she will be left alone after.

 

When it's all silent again, she mentally goes over the plans carefully laid out for her by the men who want her gone and out of the way-

 

Have Jon give up his claim. Leave North. Appease Robert's wrath .

 

What will Robert do ? He will be indignant about Jon for a while. Rage for a limited time. But he has no great love for him. He will eventually not care. And her? She won't be allowed to leave. Not for a few more years at least.

 

 Ser Jaime's words come back to haunt her. He is too obsessed with you to cast you away for a second wife, is not as dumb as to insult the North by choosing a bastard of his, and cares too little about the throne and the realm to not just pass it down to his brother's heirs, need it be .

 

Lyanna takes in a deep breath, composes herself. 

 

There is a resolution formed inside of her, came back from the room where she's been keeping all her accumulating rage, bottled. But that door has been torn open, and she cares for nothing else any more.

 

She feels weary and her mind is like a sponge, but she sits up and takes off her clothes, dresses up in rags, goes out the room down a hidden corridor, travels down to the very outskirts of the city, to a gloomy, dark, infested road that even the Gods have forgotten. She makes the purchase. Doesn't look the seller in the eye. He doesn't look in hers. The usual business, at the place she's been secretly buying her moontea for all of those years.

 

She makes a different purchase today, however.

 

***

 

The next morning, she wakes up early in the morning, fever gone, dresses herself the best she can, arranges her hair carefully, assorts her jewellery with great attention. She gives instructions and helps pack her husband's necessary bags herself, an assortment of his favourite wines included.

 

She goes out to say her good wishes and farewells, a cheerful, red cheeked look on her face. Seeing her so, Robert's stormy, frustrated look from before melts. He gives a lame apology about not checking on her, and tries to lean in for a kiss.

 

But she gently pushes him away with a, "Bring me a boar's head first," and the right amount of eye flutter.

 

Watching the men departing on their horses from her balcony just a little time after, her expression has hardened, her eyes are fixed.

 

She remembers another hunting trip, the first and only she has ever attended herself. It was almost three moons after her birth. She has been getting increasingly better, and Robert has invited her to join them (of course she wouldn't hunt with the men, but wouldn't the ride and air do her good ?). She very much yearned for woods and for her horse, and naively accepted. 

 

She thinks of his increasing inebriety, the increasing lewdness of his remarks, the embarrassing comments about her, the sudden disappearance of everyone else, the rough tree surface against her back, the painful feeling between her thighs, the woundings of childbirth barely even healed yet. The reddening of the water as the maids cleaned her back in the bath. 

 

She remembers Ser Jaime pushing a warm cup in her hands later that day, back in her rooms. She tried to refuse, because she wanted no comforting warm honeyed wine, but he leaned in to very lowly whisper, "You want no child out of that, do you?" and she pipes up, turns that cup bottom up, and downs the whole thing, although it's still too hot and burns her tongue. And, finally, she whispers back, "I don't want anymore children out of any of this, and he writes her an address, and that's another thing any of them never speak about again.

 

She thinks of that day, and of the many other of Robert's most drunken days and nights.

 

And she doesn't regret what she just did.

 

***

 

A horn announces the return of the hunting party. The earliness gives her to believe it's coming back with the prospects she's been hoping for. Her hands are trembling slightly, and her heart starts beating wildly in her chest. She looks in the mirror to find a wild look in her eyes. It's not fear, she realises. It's excitement . She's thrilled with excitement, but just so that she can pass the symptoms of this palpable, unsettled nervousness for something else.

 

She's put away all jewellery for the day, two fingers alone adorned with a ring each. One of them is of her own commission from a while back, though it's the first time she wears it, three ruby bits the main pieces on it, and the other is much older, from before her marriage. She looks almost plain in her dress alone, just a wife like any other, soon to pass her prime. My best years , her own words come back to her. He's taken them all .

 

"Only a few sips of this now and then, Your Grace," the Maester hands her a cup full to the brim.

 

She walks into the room slowly. It's dark and the stench is terrible but gratifying. He is happy to see her. She gently makes him down the whole cup in one go and lets him take her hand. There's the older ring on that one - it was a gift from Robert once.

 

She waits for the look in his eye to get cloudier and for his hold on her hand to slacken before she says, slightly terrified at her own boldness, in spite of everything she's already done, "You've gifted me this ring on my last evening at the Tourney of Harrenhal," and, keeping the sweetest smile on her face as she speaks, one that is genuine in its own twisted way, she adds, "And just an hour later, I slipped out of my room and let myself into that of Prince Rhaegar." 

 

She takes the warning in the sharpening eye too late, reacts too slow to the barely intelligible ' whore ', and is absolutely unprepared for the sudden, unexpected strength with which his other arm bolts forth and tightens agonizingly around her neck, the hold of her hand now bone-cracking and not permitting her the salvation of pushing herself out of his reach, her feet desperately pushing against the bedframe with that purpose. Her brain is going woozy with the lack of air, her extremities weakening.

 

But then his body thankfully starts convulsing of sorts. He loses his grasp, and his eyes roll, and she gets to shove the trembling arm away coughing and spluttering.

 

As she sees him dying before her eyes, and he is still holding so tight to her hand; as he lays before her, and there's nothing she can lose or win from this man anymore, she has a sudden clearance of mind. 

 

Ah , she gasps, as light fades from his eyes. She forcefully retreats her hand, just as his own goes limp in hers. I know now. I see it now. He killed him. He killed him and I have never forgiven him. I never could've done that much, least of all feel anything for this awful man.  

 

Lyanna sits up, taking off the wretched ring before her fingers get to bloat and make it impossible and shoving it under the bed.



She looks in the mirror, inspecting her skin, fixing her hair and dress. Luckily, she wears a dress high up the neck - her mourning one ought to be done quickly and up the neck, too. He's squeezed her so tightly, her eyes watered and tears are ready to fall. Good. Should look just right for the public eye

 

She takes in a shuddering breath that stings in her aching throat, and opens the door, calling for the Maester. Her voice sounds quite cracked, but she hopes they would just think her too emotional to speak well.

 

"It was just so horrific," she laments almost weakly. "I just did not know how to react at the time. He downed the whole thing, said he couldn't bear the pain, and seemed so peaceful for a while, but then he just started trembling all over and gripped my hand so bad I'm still in pain," and she gingerly pulled out her reddened fingers. 

 

"Spasmic shock is normal in such overdoses, Your Grace," Maester Pycelle said in a wise sounding voice, running his hand down his white beard. "Your hand will be bruising badly, but I feel no broken bone. Best to hold the fingers together tight and straight in a bandage for a few days, still, all the same."

 

She nods slowly, noticing how he doesn't mention anything of what should have been Jon's ascension or wishing him a long reign. He knows something . Perhaps not all. Perhaps not the reasons behind it. But a number of them have definitely talked behind closed doors. She is surrounded by enemies by now, and the best she can do is play the game of a subdued loser. I want to see you dare say you knew nothing about these proceedings , Varys .

 

So moving to take the capital is out of the question, especially since Jon isn't here to claim the throne. She would just fall into a trap. It's actually best that he is in Winterfell, among the only definite allies they have. If only she can make it out safely, too.



***

 

She walks out of the Sept of Baelor at the end of the seventh day of mourning, dressed in her black dress, a black veil down her face, the ruby ring her only jewellery. A large company of people, as well as a larger number of guards come behind her. She is wary of being without witnesses anywhere she goes, these last days, and locks her door carefully every night, a desk pushed in front of it.

 

She's sent a letter to Winterfell, but will likely have no time to receive an answer, so she's included a request not to send one, and wait for her arrival. Besides, she is still pondering her options. The realm is governed officially by the Small Council, Stannis sitting on the throne only as Hand, for now, but those who know better, also know it's all just about biding their time.

 

"And so, Queen Lyanna-," none but Stannis' wife, Lady Cercei, joins her by her side, "-you are leaving us. Understandable, for how could you bear the grief for a husband you loved so much in a place of such fond memories."

 

Lyanna nearly smiles at the veiled insolence, but knows better than to break her own solemn demeanor while in public, cordially inviting Cercei to join her in her own chaise.

 

Only once inside, she says, "I pity you, Lady Cercei. You are so terrible, and yet I pity you. You will find no joy in your station here, no more than I did. When we see each other again, I will see it on your face, that you remember my words and know I was right."

 

"I doubt we may ever see each other again, however. You see, I don't favour the North, and I happen to know it's in your interest and wishes not to ever leave it again."

 

Lyanna smiles a bitter condescending smile, and though she is shorter in stature, for a few moments she stands taller than Cercei. "Life is unpredictable, My Lady. It's best not to discount any possibilities just yet."

 

And then she turns her eyes outside the window, leaving Cercei no chance to reply. How she really wishes she could just go North, and never come back again. But it's not all that easy. And, although she didn't join it willingly, she knows neither her and Jon can ever be truly allowed to just leave this game peacefully and alive.

 

***

 

Inside her rooms, her coffers are prepared. She's done it all herself, instructing the maids not to enter her rooms for the duration of these days, not even for dusting or bed making. All jewellery she's thrown in a velvet sack, except the Crown, which she's thrown into the privy. Her clothes she's sorted through, discarding anything too sophisticated or containing Baratheon golden coloured materials. She's also pulled aside and packed some pairs of breeches cut well to her size and leathers, which until now she has only ever dared wear in Winterfell, and when no lordly visitors of any kind were present. There are also about forty thousand golden dragons in coins inside the largest of her luggage, a few dresses covering the top, money she's asked Robert for along the years for random things only to pocket them. It's no such numerous fortune - some knight from the Reach has won that much as a prize in the latest Tourney - but it's good to have regardless.

 

She takes off the mourning dress and puts on another, of simple cut made of dark grey wool. The neckline is not high enough, however, so she wraps a black satin scarf around it, fashioned in a bow - the bruises have turned black and purple and grotesque.

 

A paper is pushed underneath her door. She frowns as she picks it up. She doesn't have to look for a signature - he never adds one; it's always the perfume that marks the sender. ' The visitors are here .'

 

Essos ?

 

If her suspicions are true, and they have just toyed with her, she is about to find it out.

 

***

 

"My condolences," Arthur says dryly. It's very dark around, the only light coming from his torch.

 

She rolls her eyes. "Spare me such gallantry, Arthur. You must know very well by now what is actually undergoing upstairs."

 

"Yes. It's all quite obvious. But don't give me that look. You are suspecting us, I get it. It's not us. I didn't know that idiot kept a journal or that anyone cared to read it, else I would have tossed the damn thing into the fire."

 

"Why are you here, then? You do realise I am no longer in a position to satisfy my end of the bargain. I am surrounded. And I've heard you weren't so eager to burn the Contract itself. What are you keeping it for, if not to use against myself or Jon?"

 

"I wouldn't say we are lost. If the Lannisters end up contested by two prior throne pretenders who just happen to find a common cause, it will be harder for them to keep the support of any other Houses, especially when they hardly have it to begin with. And, well, yes, the document is in Essos. He had us remove the actual marriage contract from records when-"

 

" He had you remove it? He who?"

 

Lyanna sees Arthur look consciously behind him. That makes her wary. She heard Viserys was dead. There should be no person alive to have him act with that kind of caution. There was the princess, but she was naught but barely more than a child, and not a he , besides. Was this some sort of trap? And by whom?

 

"I believe the Ki-," he clears his throat, avoiding her eyes. "I think Rhaegar would prefer to have this conversation with you himself."

 

She blinks, then closes her eyes briefly with a short and quiet sharp intake of breath. When she speaks, her voice sounds strong and steady, but unusually quiet. " What did you just say?" 

 

But her eyes are trained unintentionally wide behind the knight, where a figure is moving under the cover of darkness, approaching.

 

The height and build hit her first. And then, in the obscure lightning of Arthur's torch, the shadows and glows of indigo eyes. It is Arthur's uncharacteristic uneasiness that speaks the loudest, and for a few moments she feels like choking.

 

"You live ." Her voice sounds very monotone, but her brows are arching high, her insides something between numbness and hysteria.

 

"I do." His voice sounds thicker, somewhat hardened, but still has that specific melody to it. No one speaks like that without an effort to sound good - except for him, of course.

 

"Is that all?" She raises her eyebrows again, a slight tilt to her head as she speaks - more like a twitch than an intentional movement. She is still mostly a master of her own body - but barely. She must look affected enough still, she's sure, but not in the way she feels it, probably, no. She feels like she could hit him and cry and yell at him and cling to him, all at the same time. She wants to slap him and then hold his head. She wants to tell him to never show his face around again, and is afraid she will stop seeing him at all if she blinks too much. All that and more.

 

 There is rage. So much rage . And she isn't even sure if it's all for him.

 

"That's all for now." 

 

She shakes her head slowly but harshly as she speaks, a raw hardness to her eye, a crooked raise to her lip, "That's not enough even for now." Her voice is both tired and strong, cynical and unbelieving, like she's been slapped over the face unfairly and she knows it.

 

Arthur clears his throat. "I should have perhaps made some explanations beforehand," he comments in between the high tension of the place.

 

"You think ?" Lyanna turns a hard look on him. 

 

"Should I-," Arthur doesn't finish, but he's clearly meaning to retire. 

 

"Please," Rhaegar says with hardly any infliction, just as Lyanna harshly says, " Don't ."

 

But appease his King is what Arthur does, of course, passing the torch to him . Lyanna almost sneers, but in practice it only turns into a sour grimace.

 

You were the one who asked Varys to smuggle the Wedding Contract. You would have used it to get revenge on me. To hurt my child.”

 

He looks both offended and horrified at the notion. “It was Arthur, and I did it to protect you. I knew the dangers of that proof as much as you do.You think I would try to put a child in danger? Because I can't stand their father ? You must be mixing us up right now."

 

And so their first touch after all those years comes with a clapping sound, and a stinging in both her palm and his cheek. For herself it's actually worse, for it's the bruised hand from just a week ago and for a few moments she thinks she might scream with the palpable stinging pain. However, she still hisses. Quiet loudly.



She has landed her desired slap, but the look on his face looking down at the offending hand makes it clear to her that ever holding it as well was out of the question. Too late she notices it is the hand itself he looks at, the dark grip marks glowing at their worst in the torch light. She retreats it as if burnt just as he reaches for it, briefly touching, lets it hang painfully against her side. 

 

She hears his short, quick intake of breath, as he's briefly closing his eyes. "You're not safe on a Royal Fleet ship," he then breathes out, looking down at her. 

 

"Why, thank you for the warning, I am not safe anywhere ," she hisses back. She feels like crying. Her rage is melting the more time she spends here, with this man. His still very handsome face, his still graceful figure, his still enchanting voice, his soft hand; it's all mocking her. Mocking the creases in between her brows, and the lighting bolts down her belly and hips, and the almost aching feel between her thighs across the years that she's felt ever guilty to be sometimes relieved of, as she was being used, and used, and u s e d

 

There is a look in his eyes when he looks at her akin to the sort he's had that day the news came of father and Brandon. You look like you blame it on you, but that thing in your eyes is still the most unwelcome sort of pity .  

 

"It's not a warning. It's an offer. Our ship can take you up North. It's been going through the same circuit every few months for years, and none will question it. We can have any luggage brought out through the dungeons and outside the city walls."

 

Here they are again, she realises, a hand metaphorically outstretched from him to her with a tricky offer. Knowing how it has once ended, she is dreading just how much she has no choice but to take this one.

 

***

 

When she re-enters her rooms one last time, now already empty of her coffers, completely exhausted and distracted with the digestion of all the overwhelming events of the day, she flinches badly at the sight of a lingering figure in the darkness, sitting at one of her chairs, a sword on her table.

 

But it's only Ser Jaime, she realises. Or is he 'only Ser Jaime' now, or a Lannister?

 

"You've been busy, while I've been kept in the dark," he sits up, watching her with his ever impassive look. 

 

"You really know nothing yet?" She approaches openly, though maybe she is a fool for it.

 

"My sister has imparted some vague words, but no, I was not taking part of some cunning schemes with my loving family, if that's what you were suspecting."

 

"I wasn't," she answers plainly, and she believes it, she thinks. "They know about myself and Rhaegar, and suspect my son, and so we are neatly pushed away and advised to cooperate for our own good."

 

"And what's to be done?" He talks as if it's still his concern, it dawns on her. That saddens her. 

 

"That's to be seen." She sighs. "Your duty is done, Ser. Though I am grateful for everything you've done, we now understandably part ways. Your post is here with your sister and her children, and my son is North, where you cannot follow."

 

There's a flicker of confusion on his face, but it quickly disappears into understanding.

 

"Can we have some last few words that will remain our secret?" she asks.

 

"It's all we ever had."

 

Awkwardly and hesitantly, she places a hand on his shoulder (or as close to it as she can reach), biting her lip. It is a strange moment, as strange as their whole relationship has been. "I don't know what happened in the throne room that day, but I know you did your duty faithfully all of these past years, and I will have them know that. And, as long as I have a say in it, the children with be safe. Just try not to do anything too rash that you think would protect them."

 

***

 

She walks out on the deck sometime later for some air, when they're far enough away from shore and it's already too dark outside for anyone who shouldn't see her to get suspicious. But Rhaegar has had the same idea, she notices too late, and she musters all her strength not to rush back in and away from his presence.

 

He seems to see her coming, but doesn't say a thing. The silence is heavy and awkward.

 

"Do you have anything strong to drink around here?" she asks eventually, because, gods, she needs some.

 

"I'm not much in the habit of drinking, but I know Arthur keeps some on these voyages," he answers, as if surprised to be addressed, and leaves.

 

And you probably don't have some over ten bastards yet, either , she thinks bitterly, gods even know why.

 

He comes back with a heavy leather skin. "Take care, it's something very strong," he warns, but she's more used to alcohol than he probably imagines. 

 

She drinks generously, and it does burn more than even strongwine, but all she wants is a quicker effect, so she hardly cares.

 

She perceives furtive glances alone from his side, but she doesn't like what she sees in them all the same.

 

You're blaming me too, aren't you? Not, not me. You're blaming what you did for me, and how that 'repaid' you. I was just a girl that willingly came to your bed. You didn't have to marry me . But it's all coming down to this all the same: Lyanna as a constant in all past disasters and griefs. Destroyer of families. Ruiner of kingdoms. 

 

A child's life is not worth a traitor's kiss. I was the death of both your children and will be the death of mine; I was and am the one traitor both times . I left any remembrance of you in the past back then. And now I might get our boy killed, too .

 

"You promised you will come back," she spits out, because she feels reproachful, and it's the first reproach she can think of. She drinks some more.

 

He takes his time to reply. "It wasn't in my power to keep that promise." 

 

Promises. Whichever of the promises in between them were ever kept. Did they mean anything?

 

I am his and he is mine, from this day until the end of my days .

 

"It wasn't in my power to keep mine ," she blurts out before he could even think that far, the strong drink quickly mollifying her tongue, her mind going dizzy. "He was all I had left." 

 

"Robert?"

 

"No." She recovers little of her wits in time to salvage the bluff.

 

He doesn't ask further. He may be considering her dear older brother, who knows? 

 

The one who led the fight into King's Landing, with the massacre it ensued.

 

"Thought you would much rather forget about me," he adds in the silence.

 

"I much rather would've," she counters.

 

If I haven't met you, I would have lived about the same life I've lived this far, at Storm's End instead, but at least I wouldn't have known what it is to be free and love youthfully and true. It wouldn't have been this hard, if I didn't know the difference and only guessed at it. Would I have been able to love Robert in some capacity? Would it have been easier to kiss him, to-

 

She closes her eyes, her grip - one on her drink skin, one on the wooden rail - tightening.

 

I can't even think of it. I can't even think of it and that should tell me enough.



"You ruined my life," is what she says out loud, in a drunken stupor.

 

"I know." His answer is raw and hardly more than a whisper. And that doesn't help. It doesn't help at all.

 

She hands him the drink skin back, avoiding any direct contact and avoiding his eyes, and leaves. 



Varys



Truly, he did not furnish that information. But he was offered to buy this one secret. Seeing the name of the former High Septon on the spine, he already knew what was the one information of high political value said Septon could've accidentally preserved. He was also aware who the next potential buyer could be, and that he would buy it. Baelish is always in want of more influence, and he is very aware of which House would provide it for the brand of lowly tricks he had to offer.

 

Stannis and Lord Tywin were truly indebted to the fact that lowly informants know their place in the world and their limitations. Have they been in a position to appeal to the Queen herself, they could have been rewarded much more handsomely than what Baelish's greed and cunning have probably allowed, but such people know the leeches such as himself and Littlefinger are their safest and most accessible options.

 

The little she wolf is not as smart as she thinks she is, as neither are the dragons, and thinking her too insignificant to pay attention to has been the only reason she has managed to move so freely for the little while. But throwing them together will be a good way to increase the chaos in between the high lords and themselves, with some small few ticks here and there placed by himself.

 

It is much better to have the prey struggle and spinning in the sticky trap, worsening its own fate, and going down knowing it has contributed to its own demise. But demise is sure to come. 

 

The words he's heard in the fire that day made this wheel start spinning, and he'll urge and urge it round and forth until it breaks on itself. 'A line shall end, so that another may endure,' it has spoken. And it took a lot of torture for Varys to get the meaning of those words out of the wretched creature that had cut him.

 

  It's left to see, however, how much said line can endure, while Varys sees to it for trouble to be thrown in its way.



Chapter Text

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.





Cercei

 

"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.




Rhaegar

 

"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. 

 

Lyanna

 

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."




Jaime




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. 

 

Lyanna

 

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…"

 

"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."