Actions

Work Header

The Cold Wind Rises

Chapter Text

                “This is a cold man.”

                Eddard sat across from Tywin Lannister in silence, the two locked in a stare that dared the other to budge. It took every ounce of his Stark blood to meet those hard, green Lannister eyes.

                “Tell me again, Lord Stark, why should I raise my banners for the Baratheon boy,” came Tywin’s voice, as cold and as steady as a northern spring.

                An exhale escaped his nostrils before he responded, wary from having gone over with this twice already. It seemed to amuse the Lion Lord to make Eddard repeat himself, but there was an underlying purpose to it, of course. Tywin Lannister found time as valuable as gold, and both were something the Lannister’s found in abundance of late. “You should know better than anyone,” Eddard said. “You were hand of the king.”

                He wanted to kick himself for his patience being ground from stone to gravel before Tywin, but at the pace these ‘negotiations’ were proceeding, he felt it more valuable to leave empty handed than with Lannister banners at his back.

                “Curse Robert and his folly,” Eddard thought. His damned best friend, filled with vigor and vitriol as he led this rebellion, had charged Eddard with this task.

                “Go to the Lannister’s, Ned,” he’d charged him in his booming voice. “Don’t return until you have their gold and their men at your back.”

                Ned had balked as any sane man would at his given task. Of all the families in Westeros, the Lions of the West had all the reason in the world to stand neutral. They lacked both the sentimental plight of Robert and Ned, and withheld any warmth for the Aerys, the Mad Targaryen king who sat upon the Iron Throne.

                Jon Arryn shared Ned’s sense of things. The Tully’s would have been a much simpler ally to gain, and though they lacked the raw wealth and might of the Westerlands, they still controlled the vital Riverlands and could just as easily turn the tide of the war. That Ned’s older brother had been betrothed to Lady Catelyn before Aerys…

                “No,” Ned cut that thought off before it went to deep and bled him dry. A fresh wound could not afford to be cut open when facing down such a sharp man.

                Tywin, after what felt like an eternity, finally offered Eddard some sort of response. “I was indeed,” he said. “Yet he is the rightful King of Westeros… Neither you nor Robert could make such a bold claim.”

                “Robert has Targaryen blood in his veins.”

                That earned him a rightful scoff from Lord Tywin. “A tenuous connection at best, Lord Stark.”

                Ned wanted nothing more than to buckle under the stare of Tywin Lannister. His reputation truly preceded him, something that could not be said about many of the lords of Westeros. It became abundantly clear that appealing to the sense of right would not work on a man like Lord Lannister. So, there must be another approach to take, another surface at which Eddard could prod… It was just a matter of finding it.

                And finding it was not something Ned could claim was a talent of his. After all, he was born a second son – a man born to follow and not lead. Yet, here he was, staring down one of the most capable diplomats in all of Westeros.

                What was it that Jon Arryn had told him? Tywin’s obsession was not with honor, nor even with what was right by tradition… no, he was a man consumed by his legacy. Nothing in all the lands meant more to Tywin than the name Lannister, and every action he took, no matter how cruel it seemed to outside eyes, he took to further cement his family’s name.  The Reynes and the Tarbeck’s could attest to that, if only they were still around to say attest to anything at all. Instead they were nothing more than phantoms and lyrics of a song dedicated to the depth of Tywin Lannister’s iron grip on the Westerlands. Not even a woman and child survived that doomed rebellion.

                “You have a daughter, do you not, Lord Tywin?” Ned asked as he came to a realization.

                Tywin raised a single eyebrow and began tapping his fingertips together as leaned back a bit, his posture seeming oddly relaxed for a man who was obviously doing anything other than just that. “About your age, that’s right,” he said. “What of her?”

                He shifted awkwardly. Proposals such as this were always something he’d been grateful he’d never have to do as a second son, and yet… again, here he was. “Robert’s going to win this war,” Eddard started. “Perhaps from where your sitting, it seems unlikely, but even without Lannister troops, we can win the Riverlands easily.”

                “Because of your brother’s previous betrothal to the Catelyn Tully,” Tywin responded. He stopped tapping his fingertips once again, electing instead to press them together. “Humor me, Lord Stark. If the Tully’s could be swayed so easily, why would Robert Baratheon see fit to send you here?”

                “Robert didn’t send me,” Eddard said. “It was my decision.”

                The words hurt to say. After all, Eddard spoke only lies in that moment. He spoke in such a manner that betrayed the very foundations of his morals.

                “Was it now? I find that highly unlikely, Lord Stark.”

                “Our families have an uneasy history,” Eddard acknowledged, now fully committed to manipulating the untruth down to its very core. “But the truth is the North and Westerlands would make for natural allies if not for family names.”

                Tywin scoffed again, “You speak as if the name means nothing.”

                A man obsessed with his legacy, indeed. “A name means much. Stark, Lannister…” he paused a moment, hoping for some sort of engineered dramatic effect. “Greyjoy, too.” For the first time in the entire conversation, Tywin’s unreadable façade broke, even if only for a brief instance.  “For as long as our family histories have been written, their raids on the North and the Westerlands have been well documented. An alliance of our houses, of our lands, our… family names. We could put an end to them.”

                “And you wish to seal this alliance with a wedding,” Tywin concluded. He tilted his head ever so slightly. “I must admit, Lord Stark, there’s a certain logic you’ve found here.”

                “My father always said everything before the word ‘but’ was horseshit, Lord Lannister.”

                “But,” Tywin cut in, his tone irascible, “Jon Arryn surely made you aware that it’s been my intent for some time to make my daughter a queen.”

                “Jon Arryn said as much,” Eddard said in his best dismissive tone. “But,” he emphasized the word, making sure his prior statement held all the weight he promised it would, “and I mean no offense by this… your daughter was passed over twice by the Prince Rhaegar. You hardly seem a man to tolerate such an insult.”

                For a brief instant, Eddard was terrified that Tywin Lannister was about to laugh. Not that he smiled, or even twitched his lips for that matter. Just for that moment, though, Tywin’s eyes displayed a certain amusement that likely only happened once a long summer.

                “Does my reputation precede me?” he asked. “Good. Then you are aware, Lord Stark, that I have a son as well.”

                “Ser Jaime…” Eddard wasn’t sure he like the direction to which Tywin was steering the conversation.

                “The very same.” Tywin paused to rise out of his chair and look down at Eddard. “If we are to make this alliance, Lord Stark, I need to ensure the future of both of my children. Cersei as the Lady of Winterfell is… an agreeable enough future. Jaime as a member of the Kingsguard is not.”

                “No man may compel another to leave the Kingsguard,” Eddard thought out loud.

                “Nor may a king sit on the Iron Throne lest he bears the name ‘Targaryen,’ Lord Stark. Do not bore with your frivolous adherence to honor.” He said as if to warn Eddard. It became clear that Tywin Lannister would be willing to end this discussion with the snap of his fingers if Eddard didn’t allow him to have exactly what he wanted… and frankly, Eddard knew that there was nothing he could do about it. “When this war is over,” Tywin said, “Jaime will return to Casterly Rock and to his rightful place as my heir.”

                He couldn’t help but notice that, not once in this entire conversation, did Tyrion Lannister’s name get mentioned. Jon Arryn, as always, had been wise to mention that Tywin held no love for his dwarven son. That he would take his hatred so far as to deliberately exclude him from his much-beloved legacy, though…

                Eddard sighed as he pushed the thought away. The second Lannister son clearly held no relevance to the matter at hand to Tywin. Robert had charged Ned with a task, and the opportunity had finally presented itself. With all pieces on the table, it honestly didn’t feel like they had to sacrifice all that much to gain the Lannister gold and armies to their side. He only hoped the Tully’s wouldn’t take offense to such a brazen move as to not re-affirm the betrothal agreement that had been made before Brandon’s untimely death.

                With as much as authority as he could muster, Eddard rose from the chair and met Tywin’s eyes. The two green emeralds bore into Eddard’s own, but now that he’d come to his decision, it no longer felt intimidating to be in his presence. “Very well, Lord Tywin. Once this war is over, Ser Jaime will be given a full pardon by Robert for any actions he may take and be recognized as your rightful heir.”

                Tywin nodded. “Very good, Lord Stark.” He turned and looked to a nearby guard. “Fetch the maester,” he instructed, “I will have this agreement in writing.” Tywin spun around and met Eddard’s eyes once more. “I trust you’ll get a raven to Lords Arryn and Baratheon?”

                “Aye,” Eddard said as he extended his hand towards Tywin. “They’ll know of the terms before you wake on the morrow.”

                Tywin clasped Eddard’s hand, a strange sensation jolting up his spine. Hundreds of years of bad blood and mistrust had not crumbled with this show of trust, but it certainly created a crack in the foundation. Stark and Lannister together. It felt inherently wrong. Two houses seemingly destined to be at each other’s throats suddenly united… Well, strange times were upon them indeed.

                In the back of his head, Eddard clung to a hope that Cersei Lannister would bear him no ill will.

Chapter Text

                “Winterfell?” Cersei felt the word on her lips, cold and unyielding. “Father, I do not understand what you’re saying.”

                This was, of course, not entirely true. Cersei understood the circumstances perfectly. Her father, Tywin, had time and time again attempted to win favor with Rhaegar Targaryen, to win the crown’s favor by betrothing his own daughter to the heir apparent. Time and time again, the prince found another suitor, be she a frail, pathetic thing from the south, or a wild untamed beast form the north. Neither could measure up to the lioness that was Cersei Lannister, surely. So why, then, did she find herself in this position?

                Tywin, for his part, didn’t give anything away… as was typical of her father. “You understand plain enough, Cersei,” he said. “The age of the Targaryen’s is at an end, and it is tasked to me to ensure the future of our house does not end with it.”

                A thousand and one curses caught Cersei’s breath before she could respond. How could her father, the Warden of the West and former Hand of the King, expect Cersei Lannister to wed some dullard from a barbaric wasteland like the North?

                “All my life, I was promised I’d be Queen.”

                Her father looked at her, his eyes as severe as they’d ever been. “And now you are a woman, full grown,” he told her. “Surely a woman as sharp as you can realize that promises do not always come to pass.”

                Oh, he played a sharp hand indeed. Never, in her entire life, had Cersei had the privilege of being flattered by her very own blood, lest the flattery came from her twin brother. Yet, Jaime found himself a hostage of Aerys in King’s Landing, and her father… he wouldn’t flatter her unless he meant to shift the very stars themselves to his will.

                “Then wed me to a Tyrell or someone worthy of our house then,” she bit out, her tongue visceral and fierce. “Anything but a savage man of the- “

                But Tywin had reached his limit. “Lord Eddard is not a savage. He’s a fool” he spoke as though it were plain fact. “He’s a man obsessed with honor and tradition… he’s a northerner through and through.” He paused and shook his head, allowing Cersei to soak in every possible emotion Tywin Lannister would possibly allow to escape. “This makes him predictable… malleable. You in the north, whispering in his ear… Not only would his heir be of Lannister blood, he’d also have Lannister words guiding him.”

                Damn her father. Damn him to the seven hells and back again. “And you expect me to open my legs to him like some common whore.”

                She knew immediately that those words were a mistake. The severity in her father’s eyes were only matched when her little brother, the loathsome imp that was Tyrion, would contradict him. “I expect you to carry yourself in the way a Lannister would,” he told her. “Our family has caved to the likes of men lesser than Lord Eddard Stark.”

                “But not you.” she countered. “And what of Jaime? The moment Aerys catches wind of this arrangement, he’ll be beheaded or worse.”

                Cersei prayed to herself that she did not sound as desperate as she felt. She knew that the day would come where she would be bound to a man who wasn’t her twin. All her life she’d built a defense mechanism for this – that she’d still be alive, she’d be Queen, and Jaime would be near. She’d lost count of how many times Tywin had managed to deprive her of her safety nets, and still, the feeling of hopeless hit her as a fresh wound. When he was Hand of the King, Tywin could have spun venom into nectar and made Cersei a queen, but he remained silent as the prince took another for his own – the thrice-damned Elia Martell. And then Rhaegar became ensnared by the Stark bitch, and Cersei found herself trapped in the grasp of the Stark mongrel. Fate dealt her a cruel hand indeed.

                Tywin remained ignorant of her plight as he responded to her question. “The ceremony won’t be done until Jaime is safe,” he told her. “I’ve already sent Pycelle a raven that I’ve taken Lord Stark as my hostage.”

                She knew it was done then. Grand Maester Pycelle would believe Tywin Lannister’s words if her father told him the Braavos sunk into the Narrow Sea. Jaime once said that in a court littered with an endless sea of flatterers and cunts, Pycelle somehow avoided both roles just so he could be a fool. Cersei did what she did best in these situations and grabbed the nearest cup of wine she could reach.

                For his part, her father did what he was best at and began writing another letter. “There are men in King’s Landing who are loyal to me, Cersei, and only me. Men who Aerys trusts implicitly because he lost his wits years ago. If you think I’d agree to join the rebellion if I thought that there was some chance Jaime would meet his end, then you’ve misunderstood what I’ve been trying to teach you all of these years.”

                He didn’t even look up from his letter as he signaled a frustrating dismissal. ‘My patience is at its end,’ he signaled, waving her off.

                So, now Cersei found herself wandering Casterly Rock, a wine glass in hand and a temperament in need of cooling. ‘I need Jaime,’ she thought, but was need a strong enough word for it? No, she felt the absence of Jaime. She felt it every day as though a seed had planted itself in her belly and took root. With each passing day, that seed grew, and with each passing day, it felt like it’d burst from her very insides until she cried his name as though it were a tree with limbs curled a thousand times over, begging to be unfurled… but she could not allow that. If any in the Seven Kingdoms caught wind of just how deep her bond with her brother ran… she shuddered at the very notion of it.

                It was this line of thought that steered her towards the wall of Casterly Rock, its views overlooking the vast green plains to the east that eventually led to King’s Landing. The sky hung before her blue and flecked with gray clouds that threatened a rainstorm the likes of which the gods themselves would shy away from. She knew better, though. There were no gods here, in the Westerlands. There was only Tywin Lannister and his endless hand, bending the kingdoms towards his will as though they were a puppet.

                “I’ve seen that look before,” came a knowing, insufferable voice. “I do believe I’ve seen it more than any other man in all of Westeros.”

                It took ever fiber of her being not to look down on the pathetic, downtrodden sod that was her baby brother Tyrion. No, that would only give him satisfaction that he’d grabbed her attention so easily. He played this game often, trying to insult her to grab her attention. She would not reward him without putting up some form of fight, though he’d always find a way to win in the end.

                Tyrion continued, his mismatched eyes piercing her from her side, “I heard the most peculiar rumor,” he pressed on. “Uncle Kevan rode in today, do you know? He’s a talkative man when it comes to Father’s intrigue… and he spun the strangest tale for me.”

                “Oh, do get on with it,” she said through gritted teeth.

                Tyrion’s bemused look did not hide behind any simple mask. Casterly Rock’s fool could read it plain as day. “You’re to become the Lady of Winterfell.”

                ‘Kevan should know to keep his mouth shut,’ she wanted to reply. Her uncle meant well, but the man existed to be a shadow of Tywin. Everything her father was, Kevan managed to be a lesser version – a capable man and nothing more. What’s worse, he seemed grateful that this was his lot in life.

                Tyrion pressed on when Cersei didn’t offer a response. “It’s a good match, I have to say,” his gaze now turned to the east, following Cersei’s own wandering eyes. “If the stories are true, Eddard Stark is a good man. Quiet, yes… perhaps even a bit dull to have a conversation with, but since his brother’s death, he’s managed to rally an entire kingdom to his cause without a single objection. He leads and his men follow.”

                “You speak as if subservient houses following their overlords is an accomplishment.”

                “It is,” he said plainly. “You can ask Father if you doubt it.”

                “That was different,” she said. “Our grandfather was a feeble man, and they wanted to exploit that weakness.” Now she faced Tyrion and sneered down at him. “You know, I heard a most peculiar rumor as well.”

                He finally broke his eastward gaze and met his sister’s eyes. Gods, that this loathsome creature sprung from her father and mother must be the biggest jape in all of history. “Do tell,” he said, holding his pug-faced head high as though he fancied himself someone noble.

                “Even before I wed Lord Stark, you’ll lose Casterly Rock.”

                Tyrion shrugged. “So, he included Jaime as part of the arrangement? Color me unsurprised. Father never intended the leave the Rock to me, and nothing comes to pass lest Father intends it to.” Tyrion broke their eye contact to look east again. “If you intended to sting me with that little barb, you failed quite miserably. Lest you forget, Jaime is quite fond of me… If he’s released from the shackles that is Aerys’ Kingsguard, I am grateful for it.”

                Cersei felt an agonizing lack of ability to tolerate this conversation any longer. “Shouldn’t you be hiding in a sewer somewhere?”

                “Hiding in a sewer?” he asked as though it was the dumbest question he’d ever heard. “Me? Sweet sister, as short as I am, there are many places I can hide. Why would I choose a sewer?” His grin bore into her head, infuriating and nauseating. “Father would expect that. It's all he'll ever trust me to manage.”

                “But he wouldn’t expect to find us together, would he?”

                “Hardly,” his voice became serious. “Cersei, a word to the wise: Eddard Stark is here a few days more before he and Father make for King’s Landing. Meet with him; get to know him. This is the man that, whether you like the idea or not, you’ll be stuck with until the end of your days. Maybe you’ll find him a better match than the frozen hell you’ve foreseen.”

                Her little brother waddled away without lettering get a word in edgeways, whistling as though he had hardly a care in the world. How easy it must be for a man like him – someone who is so utterly comfortable with the idea that they’re destined to accomplish nothing. Tyrion had been robbed of a great opportunity, whether he’d admit to her or not. She knew that, deep down, Tyrion pined for the approval of Tywin. He’d revealed as much when Jaime joined the Kingsguard. By tradition, he should have been heir to Casterly Rock… but Tywin never declared it. Nor would he ever. Nor should he ever. That crooked monster’s birth killed her mother, and with it, the warmth of their father. He stained the very name of Lannister.

                 Of course she didn’t take her brother’s sage ‘advice’. What was the point of meeting Eddard Stark now? What was done was done, and nothing she could say or do would change that. Only the gods or Tywin could change this cursed betrothal… mayhap the Stranger would meet him before she would ever have the chance.

 


 

                Three days later, he violated that hope. Eddard Stark came to Cersei Lannister’s quarters as she poured herself a third glass. The sun still hung high in the sky, giving her room a warm light as he walked in. She drank in his appearance. What a plain sight he was. He presented himself in such a way that perhaps, buried deep down within, there was a handsome man – it just never came to pass. His face was a little too long, his build a little too sturdy. The shape of his eyes was striking but centered with gray clouds that elicited no response that stirred Cersei inside. In every thinkable way, he was a forgettable sight to behold. This was her husband to be. This was Eddard Stark.

                “Lady Cersei,” he said in a soft, gentle voice.

                “Lord Eddard,” she said in hard, combative voice.

                She saw his face flicker… his tells were so simple. That he managed to fishhook Tywin Lannister into a betrothal agreement spoke to his abilities, but he also showed his hand so openly to her that he could be outwitted by all but the simplest minds. What had Tywin seen in this man? “Forgive my impropriety for coming to your quarters,” he said.

                “Impropriety?” she asked, using every measurement of effort she could find to hide her fury. “Hardly, Lord Stark. Unless you came to do more than just give me a face to match your name, I hardly see how this is inappropriate.”

                He nodded uneasily, his discomfort clear. Once again, she reminded herself this was a second son. He must’ve never expected to find himself a match as radiant as Cersei Lannister, the golden lioness of Casterly Rock. “Of course,” he started. Did he ever speak more than a few words at a time? “Lord Tywin and I ride for King’s Landing within the hour. I… it felt prudent to meet you before everything comes to pass.”

                “Perhaps, then, you should have felt it prudent to meet me in proper attire.”

                Eddard looked down at his wear as though he were struck by some memory. “Forgive me,” he said as he remembered his dress was equal to that of a sack of potatoes. “If I’m to pass a hostage of Lord Tywin, I can hardly be seen wearing high-born clothes.”

                “You ride as a hostage, then?” She feigned innocence for now. It was best to lull this man into a false sense of security.

                “Aye. If we’re to free your brother, it’s the only way.”

                Cersei placed her wine glass down and walked up to her betrothed. His discomfort with everything around him displayed for all the kingdoms to see, so why not discomfort him a little more? Cersei drew herself up to him and only froze with their faces mere inches from each other. To watch him squirm and figure out what to do pleased her to no end. Tywin had been right about one thing, after all – this man was plain, and plain men were the easiest to manipulate to her will. That’s why she tested him… “You could pass a commoner,” she barely whispered to him. “But a hostage of Tywin Lannister? A man who tore a minor rebellion out from its very roots and buried the families under the rubble of history? I have my doubts.”

                He met her gaze then, as though strategy put them on an even playing field. “You have a suggestion then?”

                “I do,” she said. “But you won’t like it, my lord.”

                “It’s war,” Eddard whispered seriously. His warm breath waffed against her face, hardly a scent to it. At least he kept one part of his body well enough. “There’s not a single thing to be said about it that I daresay I like, my lady.”

                She offered him a smile, a layer of honey to mask the poison. “You would not be so well treated as a hostage, Lord Stark,” she said. Her mind absently wondered if he felt her breath the same way she did his. “Make your appearance more ragged… more unkempt. Do not let Aerys think you’ve been given a single shred of respect.”

                “Lady Cersei,” he said, stepping backwards a few paces to gain distance from her, “I assure you; Lord Tywin will see fit to present me as though I were a true hostage.”

                Her insides bristled with rage. Once again, a man of Westeros dismissed her advice in lieu of another man’s words. So it was, so it shall always be. “Very well,” she said, turning her back to him in short order. “Good tidings, Lord Stark.”

                “My lady,” he said in a tone of finality. She did not spare him a second glance as she heard his footsteps. It would not ease her mind to do so.

“I shall pray for your safety, Lord Stark,” she announced while her voice would still reach him. “I shall pray for it as though I were praying for my own, little brother.”

Chapter Text

                Tension lingered the air and enveloped Jaime Lannister.

                An agonizing scene unfolded before him. Aerys sat in the Iron Throne, all thousand swords of it threatening to cut any damned fool who actually desired to rest upon it. The king’s hands hovered in front of him, from each which disturbingly long fingernails drooped towards the floor as though they were inverted antlers.

                In front of the king, standing tall and proud as he ever, was Tywin Lannister. Jaime’s father always had an implacable way about him, but the way he carried himself now, it was as though the gods themselves had guided him to this throne room. The high ceilings, the marble columns, the way the rays of light shined… it all existed for him.

                Suspicious in his absence was Eddard Stark, whom Pycelle had informed them would arrive at King’s Landing as Tywin’s prisoner.

                “Tywin Lannister,” the Mad King spoke down to Jaime’s father. “It is good to see you in the capital again… your health took a turn for the better, I presume?”

                Even a fool would hear the underlying venom in that question. “My health was good enough for this, Your Grace,” Tywin answered, the venom in his voice somehow even more potent. “I see my son’s been well-kept.”

                ‘Gods,’ Jaime thought, the voice in his head dependably lackadaisical, ‘do not bring into this squabble.’

                Aerys, for his part, didn’t bother to look in Jaime’s direction, and he supposed that was for the better. “Of course, Lord Tywin. He’s a man of the Kingsguard… or had you forgotten?” He meant it as a barb, and as a provocative statement. Mad though the king may be, Aerys Targaryen still had a certain sharpness about him that went beyond his fingernails. No one hated that Jaime had joined the Kingsguard more than his father. “It is curious to me though, that you come before without your hostage in tow… Tell me, Tywin, where is Eddard Stark?”

                “In the Black Cells,” Tywin said. Gods, he sounded bored by this. “It’s been a while since I’ve been Hand, but I do remember where we put our prisoners.”

                “Prisoners?!” Aerys barked. “Eddard Stark is no prisoner, Lord Tywin. He’s an enemy of the crown, and he will burn for what he’s done.”

                “Burn him if you must,” Tywin said. “It bothers me not what you do with him. Just know, though, that if you burn him, all hope of peace with the North is lost.”

                “Peace?” Aerys spat at Tywin’s feet. “There’s what I think of your peace. I demanded Eddard Stark’s head. Jon Arryn answered with banners, and what does the North do? Answer this green lord’s demand the very same way. All it took was a word from their dear, Stark Lord, and they came calling without question. To the Seven Hells with peace with the North. If they want to fight to the last man, so be it. Their armies will turn to ash before my eyes. Rhaegar will drive them back to their frigid wastelands, and then the entire North will burn in a fire that shall cleanse Westeros of their Old Gods!”

                ‘Well,’ Jaime mused, ‘at least it’s a new twist that old speech.’

                During this rant, Tywin hadn’t so much as twitched a muscle in his body. It was one of his father’s many talents: the total lack of tells.

                It was one of the many things that drove Jaime to the brink of insanity when it came to speaking to his father. Oh, Tywin had many things that maddened him. His lack of tells, his ability to see the tells of others, his obsession with legacy… Gods, nothing irked him more than that last bit. Jaime could cope with the idea of never truly understanding his father’s emotions. Certainly, that would bother him in the long run, but he’d get used to it. To be subject to his idea of what a legacy should be though… What an awful existence that would be, indeed.

                Tywin broke Jaime’s thoughts with his answer. “I brought Eddard Stark to this city as a hostage,” he said. “That’s how I intend to keep him.”

                Aerys offered a piercing, curious look. “Why should we keep this Northern fool alive?”

                “As a show of power,” Tywin said, his tone still boring and uninterested. “You want the North the burn? Fine. As I said, it doesn’t matter to me what you do with it. With Eddard Stark here, though, you have the key to the North. Use this leverage, Aerys. Bring all those treacherous Lords who rise against you to this court. Let the men and women of King’s Landing see their faces. Let them know what treachery looks like… and then let them know how it is repaid.”

                Gods, his father was a sharp man. Part of Jaime would always hate him, no doubt, but he had to admire Tywin’s ability to manipulate others. It refreshed him to watch it done to someone who deserved it, at least.

                “Your grace,” a new voice rose, soft and flattering. Jaime turned to get a look at the Master of Whispers, Varys. Truthfully, the bald Lysian always discomforted Jaime in his presence. Mayhap it was the eunuch’s rise from slavery to the king’s small council that brought this about. Mayhap it was the fact that effeminate man had no balls. “If I may interject.”

                Aerys paused a moment, eyes darting between Tywin and Varys, before giving a slow nod.

                “Burning Eddard Stark now accomplishes nothing,” he said. “Perhaps a fleeting moment of satisfaction will be had in King’s Landing, but his death would only create a martyr. There are still many great houses in the Seven Kingdoms who have yet to declare a side… Burning Lord Stark would only instill fear that the same fate would befall them.”

                “Or it would send a message,” Aerys said, but Jaime could already hear it – a hesitance in his voice. For all his misgivings towards Varys, he could not deny the Spider had an individual talent for guiding Aerys’ thoughts.

                Varys must have sensed this weakness, because now he stepped forward and let his voice carry a little farther. “The last news from Rhaegar’s camp was that their soldiers had been joined by Western knights in the Whispering Wood. The numbers are in your favor, and with Lord Stark as hostage, the morale is as well. Let Rhaegar crush the rebel’s army. Show the Realm the true might of the Targaryen’s. Let the death of the North break Eddard Stark, and then, Your Grace, extinguish his life so that those who you rule know what is done with treachery.”

                Strange, it sounded like Tywin’s words, but they came from Varys’ mouth. The Spider understood all too well that Tywin had the right of things, but he also had Aerys’ favor, which Tywin had been lacking for quite some time.

                After a tense silence, Aerys huffed out a petulant breath and shook his head. “You want the Stark Lord alive for now?” he asked. “So be it… but know this: if Eddard Stark disappears into the night, you’ll both feel the touch of wildfire on your skin.”

                “I’d expect nothing less,” Tywin said.

                He wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t been there for it… Seven hells, he wasn’t sure if he believed it and he was in the damn room. If a man so much as breathed improperly near the Mad King, he’d meet his end and consider himself lucky if it was painless. Yet, here was Tywin and Varys, two individuals who by all rights should never have wound up on the same page, convincing Aerys that one of the most important figures in the rebellion should be kept alive.

                After the discussions had settled and Tywin made way for his quarters, Aerys finally decided to address Jaime directly. “If I so much as sense a breath of betrayal in Lord Tywin’s body,” he said, “you’ll be the one to bring me his head.”

                “As you command, Your Grace,” Jaime replied, hoping he didn’t sound as apathetic as he felt.

                ‘Gods, didn’t I join the Kingsguard to get away from this sort of thing?’ he asked himself, knowing full well that the answer was no. ‘How is it that no matter where I go, I find myself clashing against my father’s will?’

                His sword hand tightened around the pommel of his blade. Would he kill his father on behalf of the king he swore to protect? No… he couldn’t. He wouldn’t. There were few things in life that sounded more miserable to Jaime than hearing the word ‘kinslayer’ whispered by every voice when he’d walk into a room. Better that fate be avoided altogether.

                Maybe he’d be better off sitting on the sidelines with Eddard Stark in the black cells. The sheer luck of that man to live… Jaime envied him.

 


 

               The next day, Jaime rose from bed in a particularly awful mood. Yesterday had been a trying time, and for some reason he had decided to pretend that he’d get some sleep that night. Granted, it probably accomplished more for his well-being than staring down at the rest of King’s Landing did, but keeping his oaths in order of importance became far too dizzying task for him to cut it off when he had laid down.

                None of it made any sense to Jaime. What was Tywin playing at? He made a move so unlike what he’d preached growing up. Not that Jaime ever claimed to be the best at knowing what his father was thinking at any given moment, but for him to have declared for a side amid a war that, so far as any sane man could tell, was undecided… It wasn’t like him. Something deeper had to be at play here. Tywin risked far too much for too little gain for a man such as him. Bringing Eddard Stark as a hostage after feigning an alliance… Jaime could understand that. To keep him alive, though? To risk the wrath of a king notorious for being wroth?

                He heaved a reluctant sigh and decided it was best just to get this day over with. Odds were a burning was in store for Eddard Stark. He’d already seen two of the Stark men burn, so what was one more? ‘At least the King has a hobby,’ he thought to himself.

                Methodically, he pulled himself into his golden armor and fastened his white cloak. While everything around him fell apart, he could at least take solace in the fact that he had this routine. Sure, the inconsistencies of his oaths proved trying at times, even when a fellow Kingsguard such as Llewyn Martell would help him see the right of it, but seeing the right of it and feeling the right of it often proved irreconcilable. That aside, Jaime Lannister was, above all else, a knight. Ser Jaime Lannister, one of the deadliest swords of the Seven Kingdoms. Many things in life didn’t come easy to him save for wielding a blade and loving his sister.

                There was a thought – what would Cersei think of all this nonsense unfolding in the court? No doubt Tywin had dangled her in front of Eddard Stark as if she were nothing more than a wanting cat to a starving wolf. That’s how he used his children when he saw opportunity. No doubt, though, his sister would do little and less to flatter the quiet wolf of the North, Eddard Stark.

                After fastening his sword, Jaime no longer had the luxury of a distraction for his morning routine. With a resigned breath, he moved to open his door… only to be greeted by the tall, imposing figure of his father on the other side, perplexingly flanked by four men of the City Watch.

                Stupidly, he could only find one word to say at this surprise. “Father.” That Tywin even knew the location of Jaime’s temporary quarters baffled him to no end.

                “Jaime,” Tywin said back. He paused a moment before nodding to the gold cloaks, who scurried off down the corridor. “I wanted a word with you in private before Aerys inevitably summons me to demand we burn Eddard Stark again.”

                Jaime scoffed, “I’d give you permission, but something tells me you weren’t going to ask for it.” All the same, he moved to the side and allowed Tywin to enter his chambers, closing the door firmly after his father had crossed the threshold. “I’m actually rather glad you visited,” he said as a half-truth. “I was hoping to speak with you before long.”

                “Really? Why’s that?”

                “Can’t a son miss his father?” Jaime asked. Tywin’s skeptical face told more of a story than a thousand words could do justice. “You’re right. That was a poor jape.”

                Without word, but still carrying himself as prideful and purposeful as he was, Tywin strolled over to Jaime’s balcony and looked out towards King’s Landing, his hands clasped behind his back. Jaime knew the posture well – it meant Tywin had some important piece of information no other man was aware of. “I assure you Jaime, my presence in King’s Landing is no jape,” he said before looking back. “Nor is my visit to you this morning.”

                Not quite understanding why, Jaime poured a cup of deep, red wine and joined his father on the balcony. The warmth of the Southron summer was at its peak, and when the sweet, burning liquid splashed against his throat, it only made him feel all the warmer. Truthfully, Jaime wasn’t much of a drinker, but as the years had gone on, he’d learned that the best way to be deal with his father’s visits was to have a ready supply on hand. “I never believed it to be a jape,” Jaime said. “Honestly, I don’t know what to believe at the moment.”

                Tywin met Jaime’s eyes with his own, the two gems of polished jade showing only the slightest hint of aging despite years of unequivocal strain.  Shadows of a wrinkle could be seen in certain spots, but only if one knew where to search for them.

                His father gestured to Jaime’s cup. “Pour me a cup,” he commanded.

                That struck Jaime as out of character for Tywin. “Drinking while the sun’s still rising, Father?” he asked. “Have you finally decided to spend more time with Tyrion, then?”

                “If you wish this conversation to continue, do not mention your brother’s misadventures further,” his voice bristled with a wicked edge. At least that proved that he was in fact Tywin and not some uncanny impostor.

                Knowing it was pointless to argue, Jaime casually strolled over to the table and began pouring a second cup. “I don’t understand any of this,” he said as the red liquid rose before him. “Normally when you make a move like this, I can see the sense of it… though not always in its entirety.” He ceased pouring the drink, allowing the last few drops to settle before handing the cup over to his father. Tywin took it silently, and only looked at Jaime expectantly.  ‘He wants me to work it out for myself,’ Jaime realized. Everything was a damned test to his father.

“Fooling Eddard Stark into captivity, I can understand. Bringing him to King’s Landing, I understand. But why make a play so early? The war is far from over – the Stoney Sept proved that much when Baratheon and Stark managed to eek out a victory of sorts. You feel no warmth towards Aerys, so why seek his favor?”

                A haunting image stood before him as Tywin gave Jaime a ghost of a smile. The very sight of it sent a harsh chill reverberating down his spine. When had Tywin ever done that? “I did not come to King’s Landing to gain Aerys’ favor,” he told Jaime. “I came for you.”

                Jaime blinked. He blinked again. He was fairly certain he breathed at some point, but he couldn’t quite be sure. “Are we having this conversation again?” he asked, going from startled to annoyed in a hurry.

                “There’s no conversation to be had,” Tywin said. He raised his cup to take another sip before continuing. “My only aim in riding to King’s Landing was to bring you back to the Rock, and I’ve put all the pieces in place to do just that.”

                Jaime felt a rush of air flood out of flared nostrils. How could his father be so insufferably calm in this? “Lest you’ve forgotten, Father, I’m a knight of the Kingsguard – meant to serve for the remainder of my life. The day I took those vows, your command of my life ended.” He paused, awaiting Tywin’s typical lectures and belittling view of things, but Tywin only continued to look over King’s Landing, his same stoic presence holding fast. “I can’t inherit Casertly Rock. Not even if I wanted it. Not even if you wanted it.”

                Still no response from his father. Still no demanding voice. Only that same damnable, passive look out towards the city below. Tywin Lannister was chock full of surprises today. Jaime pressed on; his voice calmed from before. “Even if you found some way to sway me, Aerys would never allow me to leave. You know this.”

                Finally, Twin turned towards Jaime, taking a final sip of his cup before placing it on the ledge of the balcony. “I have no intention of seeking Aerys’ approval in this matter,” he said.

                “… What do you mean? Aerys is the only one who could even consider taking such an action. He’s the king, and he doesn’t trust you. He’d never let me renounce my vows and return to Ca- “

                Jaime cut himself short. He’d finally found the string that could unravel the tapestry hiding Tywin’s plans and he gave it a firm tug. It became clear… so damned clear. His father never intended to gain the king’s favor. He likely never truly betrayed Lord Stark either. He’d brought honey to King’s Landing to lure all the bees into a content, safe state. Only Tywin was no ordinary flower – he wasn’t an ordinary anything. And just as some flowers manipulated bees, Tywin manipulated power of the men of King’s Landing so he could close his trap around them.

                The heat was sweltering… unbearable. The stench of the city he’d grown so used to grew foul and vile. Jaime could hear himself talk, but his voice sounded so distant he wasn’t sure who was saying the words. “What have you done?” he asked.

                “What I’ve done is to secure the future of the family,” Tywin said. “To secure your future, Jaime.”

                BONG!

                The first ring of the bells registered in Jaime’s head, but he found himself paralyzed, unable to acknowledge what was happening. Tywin tipped his wine glass on to its side, no doubt conveying some symbolic gesture to Jaime. He sensed his father’s hand on his shoulder, but his whole body had numbed. “The day has finally come for you to put the knight to rest and grow into the Lannister you were always meant to be.”

                BONG!

                The second toll rung knocked about his skull, rattling Jaime to his sense. The bells served as a signal. He could hear the faint echo of screams from the streets below as a wave of scarlet and gold flooded into the streets.

                His breath hitched as a surge of panic shot through him. “I need to get to the throne room,” he said aloud.

                Tywin shook his head, “You’re to stay here, Jaime. Out of harm’s way.”

                BONG!

                In a fit of rage, Jaime pulled his shoulder away from his father’s grasp and stared daggers at his father. ‘If I so much as sense a breath of betrayal in Lord Tywin’s body, you’ll be the one to bring me his head,’ the king’s voice gave orders in his head.

                Jaime gripped the pommel of sword, pulling it slightly enough to show his father the steel. For the first time in his life, Tywin Lannister looked at Jaime with uncertainty… Jaime would make sure to thank the Gods themselves that he had a chance to see that look in his lifetime. It was all he ever wanted – to show his father that he wasn’t in control. He ignored the part of him that regretted that all it took to do so was to threaten his Tywin’s life.

                BONG!

                Jaime sheathed his sword, and Tywin had the decency to exhale. “I need to get the throne room.”

                Without another word, Jaime turned on heel and stormed out of his quarters in a rush, begging the gods he was not too late. He never considered himself a godly man, but Jaime knew it was nigh time he learned to pray.

Chapter Text

               Chaos erupted throughout the Red Keep, and Ned Stark emerged from the Black Cells into a scene of horror.

               With his eyes he saw guards scrambling to and fro, Lannister soldiers hot on their tail with blades of glistening steel thirsty for a red drink. With his ears, he heard the terrified screams of men being driven through, and of frightened maidens praying for their safety. With his nose, he smelled the early stenches of death as it began to waft through the air of Maegor’s Holdfast.

               ‘Gods Robert,’ he thought to himself as the scent started to thicken the air, ‘what have we done.’ The voice was stern, disapproving. Deeper in the crevices of his brain, a smaller voice asked a similar question. ‘What have I done?’

               Eddard shook the thought from his head. Now was not the time to dwell on the misfortunes brought about by the decisions of the king-to-be and himself. Instead, he needed to focus on making sure Aerys Targaryen would find no escape from the justice that he was owed.

               “Lord Howland?” Eddard asked.

               The small-statured Howland Reed stepped forward and removed the gold helm of the City Watch from his brow. It was an odd sight, indeed. “My lord?”

               “You know the way?” he asked.

               “Aye,” Howland reassured him. “Lord Tywin made sure to paint us a path to the throne room from where we stand.”

               Eddard nodded. Before heading for King’s Landing, he’d been sure to demand the presence of at least one Northern house for the business at hand. Many others would have asked for the assistance of Galbart Glover, or some other hearty and hale man eager to prove himself in battle. Eddard, though, had a more intimate understanding of the situation, and the wayfinding abilities of the crannogmen would likely prove far more important in a situation such as this than that of at the common soldier who’d give into bloodlust at the first drop.

               “Then lead us to the justice that awaits Aerys Targaryen,” he instructed.

               With a small nod, they were off, and they plunged deep into the chaos that was the Red Keep.

               Before them unfolded a soliloquy of chaos – a mess the likes of which would give the Red Keep a dual meaning. From every which way, City Watch guardsman would run towards them, spears in hand ready to sink them into the flesh of Northmen, and each one was felled by the clever movements of the crannogmen. Those that didn’t run towards them ran towards men of the west, and they too found swords plunged into their bellies and red smiles drawn across their throats.

               Eddard didn’t wish to look beyond the walls of the building he was in. Beyond the railings one could view King’s Landing proper, and if they were bold enough to look, they’d see the troops of Lannister weaving their way through the crowds like ants in search of a disposed apple. Peasant or soldier, a dire fate could await them if they offended the wrong man.

               He dared a peek and looked below himself. It was hard to distinguish individual incidents from the general anarchy, but sure enough, his eyes drifted to a scene that, though with all his will he tried, he couldn’t look away from. A peasant lady in the clutches of a soldier… be it City Watch, Lannister, or one of the few Northmen he brought along with him, he couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter – a crime is a crime, and one so callous and cruel as what was being done…

               “Lord Reed,” Ned spoke out. “Elia Martell…” he started.

               “What of her?” he asked.

               “… Do you know where she’s being kept, where she might hide?”

               Howland looked to Rodrik Cassel, a staunch man of a few years beyond Ned. The stout man gave a tug at his tight, brown beard before offering a brief shake of his head. “We only know the way to the Throne Room, my Lord.”

               ‘Then Gods be with that poor woman,’ he thought to himself, and then gave a single nod with grim resolve. “Let’s get on with this unpleasant business, then.”

               They plunged deeper into the chaos now, pushing ever closer to the Throne Room. Eddard marched at the middle of his men, moving quick and steady as they fended off any man foolish enough to try and disrupt their progress. Some Gold Coats, undoubtedly the most loyal and true, tried to cut them down only to be met with the unhappy end of a blade.

               The cries from within the walls of the Red Keep now drowned out any commotion beyond it. They were deep within the walls, wading their way through a sea of desperate cries and clangs of steel. It seemed as though the further they approached the Great Hall, the more frequent the flecks of red blood spread across the stone floor. Gods be praised for the discipline his own men showed during what had turned into a full-on sack of the Red Keep.

               ‘Damn Tywin Lannister,’ Ned thought to himself. ‘Damn him and all his men to whatever hells befit them…’ He knew it fruitless to cling to such anger, but it was better than the desperation that plagued him in its stead.

               The Throne Room was only a few turns away now. The corpses were more scattered – fewer in number but evened out by the violence they encountered. The arms and legs of other men were scattered about the hallways of the Red Keep, some near the owners, others not as fortunate. Whatever slaughter they were experiencing, they knew that the degree of loyalty of their enemy was irrelevant. Men of the West were slaying the City Guard and other guardsmen without any reservation, and the severity was only worse with each passing turn.

               Until, at long last, after wading through fury and death, they found themselves at a thinning of the wreckage. Only a turn or two from the Throne Room, the stench of battle and death lingered lightly, though perhaps fresher than elsewhere.

               Of all the things Eddard noticed first was a single common soldier’s body heaped upon the marbled floor. Who was this man, that the King should’ve kept him so close during a time where every able-bodied man was needed? He looked utterly unremarkable – a frail build, an odd glint in his eye, even in his death… His presence here didn’t make any sense.

               The other thing he saw, while more explainable, was no less shocking.

               Jaime Lannister stood above tall above the lifeless body of King Aerys. The scene before him had been painted in treachery and treason. Ser Lannister, youngest of all the Kingsguard, looked down at the lifeless body of Aerys Targaryen, and the world stilled around him as he bared his remorse.

               Looking at Jaime, Eddard’s head swirled with thoughts of unease and confusion. Was this Tywin’s will, he wondered? Did Lord Lannister order his son to go against all his oaths and slay the king? And what of Jaime? He always carried himself as though one wouldn’t find a more ideal knight in all the Seven Kingdoms. Did he have a sense of honor? Did he feel it as soiled and violated as Ned did? Gods… how could one trust a Kingsguard who slayed a king?

               ‘How could one trust the honor of a man who sacked a city?’ a voice bit in the back of his mind. Gods, it was all true. Ned was every bit as complacent in this treachery as any other Lord in the Seven Kingdoms. Guilt and shame wracked every fiber of his being.

               The moment was all wrong. Before him laid the body of the King – the same loathsome man who murdered his father and brother. Aerys Targaryen’s death should’ve brough him some sense of satisfaction, or at least a degree of comfort. Eddard could find neither, though, and the cruelty of his fate was that he felt that perhaps he never would. Aerys Targaryen was dead, and so were Rickard and Brandon, and no matter how many Targaryen men were put to rest, that bitter fact would haunt him forever.

               Jaime looked his way and their eyes met – it broke Eddard’s line of thought. For a moment, he felt he saw something in those eyes. A flicker of some emotion, distant and buried, yet still there. “Lord Stark.” Jaime said, his voice sounding as easy and vapid as his look was rapidly morphing into being.

               “Ser Jaime…” It was all he could think to say.

               Lannister’s posture at this point had completed its metamorphosis. Where before stood a man who seemed to bare the guilt of all seven kingdoms, now stood a proud lion, proud and shining as ever. It was as though Ser Jaime melted away and gave birth to some new being – one without shame or doubt. “No need to worry yourself, Lord Stark,” he said as flicked the blood of the fallen king off his blade. “I’ve cleared a path to the throne for the good King Robert.”

               A haunting thought surged through Ned’s mind – this was his new ally. This was the brother of the woman he’d promised to marry. If he could break one vow like this, he could break any other just as easily. If the father was cruel, and the son treacherous… what did that make the daughter?

               Jaime’s eyes flickered with some emotion Ned couldn’t quite piece together. The only thing he could be sure of was that it was raw. Was it fear? Doubt? Loathing? It mattered not to him – Jaime Lannister had already shown his hand, and it was one Ned didn’t care to test any further.

               The two exchanged no further words. The hall around them sat still and silent, the chaos within the Keep rendered mute by the gravity of the Great Hall. Jaime finished cleaning his sword before sheathing it in one smooth action. He didn’t even spare the Northmen a glance as he began to make his way out of the chamber.  No, Ser Jaime Lannister of the Kingsguard strolled as casual and proud as a man of his name and stature would in a tourney.

               “Who was the solider?”

               Eddard was as surprised to hear as his own voice as Jaime was. Even the crannogmen looked off-guard by the sudden shift in tone.

               “Lord Stark?” Jaime asked.

               Ned shrugged meagerly, giving away that even he didn’t know what it was that bothered him. “It just strikes me as odd that in all the Red Keep, one common foot soldier found himself standing between you and the king.”

               Jaime’s confused face looked to the corpse of the man near the entrance of the Great Hall and back to Ned. Again, his eyes told a story the rest of him didn’t to give away – a strange mixture of detachment and disgust. The lion shrugged as he turned back to face Ned, and with a dismissive tone, he replied. “Just some poor sod who fancied himself a great hero. No song will be sung of his great deeds in battle, I assure you.”

               Rodrik walked up next to Ned shaking his head. “Must’ve been either a brave man or a fool to do such a thing.”

               “Even the largest fool can be brave,” Jaime said. Then, a jester’s grin formed across his lips. “Take our new king, for instance.” Ned had the wherewithal to both give Ser Jaime a harsh look as well as internally concede the point. The knight likely picked up on it as his grin softened somewhat. “A harmless jape, Lord Stark,” he said before turning away again. “Robert isn’t even king yet, after all.”

               Ned no longer felt the need to entertain the fanciful personality of Jaime Lannister and said nothing more on the matter, instead electing to stare a hole into the man until he was clear out of the room.

               Next to him, Rodrick spit on the marbled floor of the Throne Room. “A man like that has no business being a knight of the Kingsguard.” He looked to Ned. “A king slayer, more like.”

               He felt a thousand tumbles within his gut as he weighed the words of his companion. He wanted nothing more than to share the look of contempt his fellow Northmen wore.

               Distantly, he heard the bells of Kings Landing once more – a victory toll as hollow as it was complete. “Mayhap you’re right,” he said to Rodrik. “Mind your tongue around him though – that man will be the closest ally the North has, one day.”

Chapter Text

                Outside the carriage, the mountains gave way to small hills, and onward it carried the Lannister children towards King’s Landing.

                Tyrion Lannister found himself in an oddly good mood. Normally, being confined to such an insufferably small space with his sister would have been the dread of his being. He would much prefer to be riding his horse along the road and chatting with the Lannister soldiers… though Ser Clegane and his sons didn’t exactly strike him as the talkative sort.

                Instead, though, they had insisted the road too dangerous for a Lannister to be riding out in the open. Idly, he wondered whether him pointing out the conspicuous nature of a carriage would’ve changed anyone’s thoughts on the matter.

                So instead, he sat across from his sister and busied himself with a book, staying all too aware of his companion’s increasingly inhospitable mood. He felt her eyes burrowing into him as he read the pages of the thick tome he’d chosen for the ride – some meandering maester’s thoughts on sickness and the wind. Truthfully, the topic would’ve been engaging should a proper wordsmith have taken the time to translate these passages to feel as though more than the ramblings of a bored man.

                 “Gods, how can you stand read such drivel?” his sister asked, finally spurring the day’s argument.

                Tyrion flashed a sly grin at his sister, her focus no longer on the hills outside. “Even drivel can hide great truths, sweet sister, and if I’m to be a maester, knowing as many truths as possible will be an important task.”

                She almost snorted at his response, he noticed. Her face contorted in that way it did whenever she meant to belittle him in some fashion, but she at least had the decency not laugh for once. “I highly doubt that any of the Houses in the Seven Kingdoms desire a twisted monster such as yourself for a maester. Gods, imagine you being the first thing a child sees when brought into this world.”

                Truthfully, these barbs would get under his skin in normal circumstances, but this was a special trip that would end with a special occasion, and he couldn’t find it in himself to give in to their typical petty bickering. “Then I’ll be a maester of the Citadel.” He looked back down at the book and realized he no longer had it him to force his way through the tiresome pages. “Truthfully, these are rather dull passages,” he said to her. “Perhaps we can find something truly interesting to talk about?”

                Her nostrils flared at his words, no doubt understanding the weight of what Tyrion said. “What is there to discuss but your boring books?”

                “Marriage, perhaps,” Tyrion suggested, his grin transcending sly and becoming downright unpleasant in its appearance.

                “Gods, you really are an insufferable wretch, aren’t you?”

                It was uncharacteristic of her to resort to such a tone in such few sentences. Usually she at least put in a good effort to be a bit more subtle in her jabs. “Resorting to petty insults so quickly?” he asked. “Does the prospect of marriage to Lord stark have you on edge so?”

                “Eddard Stark…” her response came as an afterthought, already calming herself down as if she had not already sunk to Tyrion’s level. “Conversation with me is truly more interesting than whatever it is you’re reading?”

                He shrugged in response. “The words are plain to a fault.”

                “Plain?” she said, incensed at the very concept. “I doubt the words are as plain as the man I’m to marry. Eddard Stark…” she paused and shook her head again, still speaking of the man as if he were merely a phantom, a shadow whose existence she dared not acknowledge. “Eddard Stark is a plain man. Plain to the eyes, plain to the ears, and Gods willing, plain enough with a blade to fall in battle before I find myself bearing his heir.”

                “He has a brother, you know?” he said. “I fear you’re to marry a Stark, be it the Quiet Wolf or… well, whatever nickname Benjen earns in his lifetime.”

                “Benjen?”

                Tyrion raised a knowing eyebrow to her. “You do realize that you’ll need to know these things before you arrive in the North, no? You’ll have an entire realm to administer.”

                Cersei scoffed and shook her head. “No man, Southron or of the North, would have a woman administer a realm on his behalf.” She stared down to Tyrion, her eyes harder and crueler than before. “A woman’s worth in life is that of her mouth and her cunt. Every man believes that much.”

                “Cersei, if there’s one thing I know about you above all others, it’s your talents for manipulation.” Tyrion now closed his booked and placed it on the seat beside him, its leather jacket bathing in the sunlight as dust flecked through the air. “Eddard Stark is a second son. If the rumors are true, he’s the shining example of all second sons in the Seven Kingdoms. Dutiful, loyal, honorable to a fault… a man who never thought himself to be a leader, and yet thrived when called on to great things.” Cersei stared on, though the fury in her eyes no longer matched what he imagined her heart felt. “You’ve fancied yourself something of a leader ever since the days where I was naught but a child. So… lead. Thrive as he did when great things were expected of him. If you truly want him to do your bidding, then… Well, as you so kindly put it, use your mouth and your cunt and have your way with him. Women across the Seven Kingdoms would beg and barter to find themselves in your position… Don’t throw it away on bitterness.”

                “Father said I’d be Queen.”

                “And Father likely said I’d be a strapping young lad, yet here we are.”

                She grit her teeth and returned her focus to the hills outside. “You truly have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

                That was… almost a compliment. Well, aside from the loathing tone that coated the words, of course. “What kind of maester would I be if I didn’t,” he asked? He paused and picked his book back up, taking a moment to glance out at the greenery around them along with his sister. The rocks were fewer, the hills softer - no doubt Deep Den was now long behind them, and King’s Landing growing closer by the minute. “Perhaps I’ll even be maester of Winterfell one day. Wouldn’t that be lovely? You and me and dear old Eddard Stark, ruling the North together. I couldn’t think of a more likely trio.”

                “Winterfell… You do belong in a shanty keep in a wasteland.”

                “I’d hardly call Winterfell either.”

                With a huff of breath, his sister suddenly banged on the doorway of the carriage, seemingly having had enough of the suffocating environment. Though it took a few good whacks, and Tyrion had to imagine, a rather sore wrist, the cart lulled to a stop, the squeak of wheels slowing piercing his ears.

                The door swung open, the golden hues of the midday sun pouring into the carriage, revealing little specks of dust dancing about. Ser Clegane stood at the doorway to greet them; his large frame still seemingly meagre in the shadows of his two sons. “My lady.”

                “Ser Clegane,” Cersei responded. “I wish to stretch my legs.”

                He hesitated, surveying the land around them as if a Faceless Man lurked in the very grasses of the Goldroad. “All due respect, my lady, Lord Tywin gave me very specific orders to deliver you safely…”

                Cersei offered him that smug smile she’d perfected over the years – one that somehow came off as both welcoming and domineering. “And now his firstborn is asking you a moment’s relaxation on this long journey.” She paused before glancing at Tyrion. He could only shrug in response. While no doubt her frustrations stemmed from elsewhere, he did have to take a piss, and the only way he thought he might get that chance if she argued on their behalf. “Ser Clegane, do you know why we’re traveling to King’s Landing?”

                Ser Clegane dared to take a quick look back at his two sons, both who seemed entirely uninterested in the conversation at hand. Gods were they a fearsome duo to behold – one seemingly larger than the greatest stag, and the other a seared visage brimming with hatred at the world around while still only a young lad. “Lord Tywin only told me to deliver you and your brother safely to King’s Landing, my lady,” Ser Clegane spoke as he turned back to Lannister siblings.

                “Our safety is no doubt paramount, Ser Clegane,” Tyrion interjected, the stifling heat of the carriage suddenly becoming all too real to him. “After all, we’ve a wedding awaiting us at King’s Landing.”

                While Ser Clegane managed to feign a look of surprise, his sons only displayed varying degrees of impatience. “A wedding?”

                “Yes,” Cersei said. “And I don’t believe my father would be quite pleased if his daughter arrived in King’s Landing disheveled and exhausted.”

                “Two great houses are to join together,” Tyrion joined in. “Cersei’s to be the lady of Winterfell. While I cannot speak for you or your… handsome lads, there, but I’m quite eager to witness such a rare moment. Those northerners are usually too superstitious to welcome an outsider such as my sister… I’m very much on the verge of pissing myself in anticipation.”

                Clegane raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Point taken, my lord,” he said, and he spun around to bark orders at his sons like the good dogs the lot were. “We break for a few moments. Sandor, keep a close watch on Lord Tyrion – he has some business to attend to.”

                “Must I be watched?”

                “Yes, my lord – if you die, it’s my hide.”

                Tyrion huffed but said no more. It’s not as though it would be the first time he had someone watching over him as he pissed, though it was likely the first time the man watching him would have two distinct faces.

                Truthfully, he found a certain comfort in Sandor Clegane’s presence. Though he was but a young lad, he also struck Tyrion as the sort who wore his outlook on his armor. A disgruntled, angry beast of a lad only made all the more terrifying by his half-melted face that fed his dour attitude. While many would fear such a man, Tyrion only found solace in someone who had no intentions of hiding who they were, or what they thought of the world around them. Maybe he would learn to hide his anger as he came of age, but by the looks of things, it was a wonder he had any growing left to do.

                “There are some rocks just over yonder, Lord Tyrion,” he mumbled, “Let’s be done with this.”

                Tyrion happily obliged, taking in the pleasant warm breeze. The grass around him swayed gently while the thin clouds above drifted along. The summer proved to be a lengthy one, and as there were no white ravens spotted in quite some time, it would continue to be so.

                Whistling a happy tune, he rounded a sizable, gray piece of land, and looked to the south as he relieved himself.

                He remained scarcely aware of the imposing presence of a mere adolescent behind him as the sensation of relief swept over him. A soft breeze cut across the fields of the south, the green grasses swaying side to side as the winds pushed against them. Above, white clouds speckled the blue sky and moseyed along as the winds saw fit. Then, there on the smooth horizon of the southron plains, Tyrion spotted a small blip approaching them, growing ever larger with each passing moment.

                “Clegane!” he called out.

                “My lord?” he asked, but Tyrion heard the hard stop on his voice. “Father!” Sandor called out, “a rider to the south!”

                Tyrion quickly did up his breeches as firm hand grasped his shoulders. “Back to the carriage,” Sandor’s voice said, now completely lacking formality. It bothered Tyrion in the last given the circumstances.

                “I’d rather stay within ear’s reach, Clegane,” Tyrion said. “A lone rider can hardly pose a threat with you lot around.”

                “Aye,” Sandor said, “But if he spots you and gets away, it could be trouble.”

                “Then I’ll hide. It’s quite easy for me, I assure you.”

                “Harder to spot you when you’re inside a fucking carriage, I assure you, my lord.”

                Sandor Clegane certainly was a gruff lad. Tyrion had half a mind to argue with the boy, but both sides of his face came across severe and dangerous. Deciding it best not to argue the matter with the rider closing fast, Tyrion circled back around the small rocks that he had used for privacy prior, only barely catching a glimpse of Cersei’s scarlet robes disappearing to the carriage a small distance ahead. Not so hard to spot was the giant figure of Gregor Clegane riding in their direction.

                The hooves thundered past him as he swiftly made to follow her footsteps, and within moments, he climbed in and shut the door behind him, the curtains quickly dropped to conceal the inside.

                Dread swept over him as he sat in silence across from Cersei. She looked tense, but oddly in control. Likely she fancied that she could find a way out of this fiasco should it turn sour – she had, after all, described her worth to a man earlier. Tyrion wouldn’t be so fortunate – no one had much need for a dwarf, sharp as he may be. Perhaps with his brains and her beauty, anything would be a simple matter, but that would have required them to work together, and Gods knew the chances of that happening.

                Not knowing the events happening beyond the curtained window caused Tyrion to shift uncomfortably. It was quiet, and quiet could only mean good things. The Clegane’s didn’t strike him as the type to fight silently. No, it had to be a conversation of some sort. One could only wonder what it entailed-

                His thoughts were broken by a sudden loud THUD! against the carriage door.

                When it swung open, sunlight flooded their small vessel, with only Ser Clegane’s body providing any reprieve from the blinding shift in brightness. “I’m afraid we have to get a move on. Hope all your business is done, my lord.” He paused and then looked at Cersei, “I’m afraid your Lord Father has ordered us to avoid stopping the rest of the way.”

                “Ser Clegane,” Cersei said, “why the sudden change? What word from King’s Landing?”

                “Has the situation changed at all?” Tyrion asked. “Why rush if we hold the city?”

                The knight looked at them grimly. “Word’s spreading fast,” he told them. “It seems the Whispering Wood caught fire in the night.”

                Gods, but that meant…

                His sister, no doubt left in the dark from the ongoings of the war, spoke up again. “I don’t understand, Clegane, what does this have to do with our journey to the Red Keep?”

                “Robert and Rhaegar’s host were traveling through those woods, My Lady,” he said. “Early reports are a bit muddled, but if all is true, it was Rhaegar’s camp that burned in the night, and the Dragon Prince is dead.”

                The wind shifted and pushed south, cold and bitter with its bite. Despite news of the fire, Tyrion felt a harsh chill run up his side. Though he stared at the hard floor of the carriage, it felt as though the Seven Kingdoms spun around him at breakneck pace. The shape of Cersei became naught but a shadow to him as he processed the information within.  The insides of his throat dried, begging for crisp water as an excuse for his mouth hanging agape. He worried not – even the sharpest men likely looked a fool when news this shocking made its way to their ears.

                Both Aerys and Rhaegar dead, and all signs pointed to the name Lannister. Maybe Baratheon and Stark were complacent, but neither man practiced the cruel tidings of Tywin Lannister.

                Tyrion swallowed hard. The Targaryen line dwindled down to a few babes and children. It proved to be a cruel stroke of irony. No doubt a future maester would bore his way through it in a tome of his own. House Targaryen fell from power in the Seven Kingdoms, and their rule ended with fire and blood.