Red Keep, black cells. Gold lioness beside him.
The air stank of rot and shit, cheap tallow and human sweat. There was only one smoky torch outside the bars of the cell, left there as a courtesy to the woman who shared it with him. In its hazy light the stone room seemed nightmarish, unreal.
None of this could be real. Ned could not be here, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms could not be here. Robert could not have condemned them both to this.
Robert could not have believed Petyr Baelish’s mad lies. His last words were naught but rage and desperation, a final piece of viciousness after his murders and manipulations had been uncovered. Meant for nothing more but to drag as many as he could with him into the dark.
How could Robert have believed any it? That Ned could betray him? With her?
Robert knew Ned had loved only once. His brave Cat…
Cat was the one who had found the truth of Jon Arryn’s murder at the Eyrie – Cat and Tyrion Lannister together, of all the mad alliances. Their raven had come not a week ago.
And after it another. Black wings… Ned couldn’t think on it. Her own sister. Cat couldn’t be – Cat wasn’t –
He gritted his teeth against the pain in his leg, the fever, the news he could not bear to believe.
It was a dream, a bad dream.
He’d had a dream like this before – Brandon, Father.
He woke from fitful sleep at a noise outside, the deliberate scrape of heavy boots on stone. Beside him the Lannister woman sat up with a hiss of breath.
”Jaime,” she said. So much hope and longing in her voice Ned blushed to hear it. “Jaime, tell me it’s a lie. It isn’t true, it can’t be.”
Her brother looked away from her, face as cold and blank as a mask. Slowly he shook his head.
She began to scream – Ned reached out and covered her mouth with his hand. She struggled against him, clawing at his arm with hands still torn and bloody from the night before, when Varys had come to them and told them the Crown Prince was dead. She’d screamed then too. Beat her hands against the stone til Ned had feared she’d lose the use of them entirely.
A tragic mistake, the Spider had said, voice smooth and sad. An accident – of course the king did not truly mean to harm his own son! It is such a pity he never learned his own strength…
Ned looked up at the Queen’s brother. “My wife,” another man croaked out, in a broken voice that couldn’t belong to Ned.
Again the Kingslayer shook his head, short and sharp as an execution.
Ned couldn’t scream – the Queen was screaming for him. The world went away into the dark.
And then the Queen’s brother was beside them. And the door of the cell wide open.
“Come on,” he hissed, through eyes wet with tears. Why was he crying? Did he love his coward nephew so? “You both have children still. They need you.”
Who was he, to chide Ned with his duty?
Ned snarled at him and stood, on a leg that barely took his weight. His fault –
The Queen rose with him. Filthy, hair in tangled snarls – how dare she still look so beautiful, when Ned’s sweet Cat was dead?
The nearest guardroom to their cell was empty, save for clean clothes and gold cloaks’ armour. Two sets. And Ice –
“Worst comes to worst, we can sell it for gold in Pentos,” the Kingslayer said. Those damn smug jests. Ned pretended he had not heard.
Then his breath caught in a shallow gasp and he turned away, face red as fire. The Queen had pulled her filthy dress loose and dropped it in a single motion. Walked naked and shameless to the clean clothes her brother had found for them…
“Hurry up,” she said to Ned, something of her old smooth composure back in her voice. “My brother and I have both seen worse things than a Northman’s cock. Or would you rather wait to show it to the guards, when the next shift comes?”
Curse her shamelessness, Ned thought. Curse her, for being right…
The Queen’s brother took them on a twisting path through servant’s passages, not up into the brighter quarters above.
“My daughters,” Ned reminded him, but the other man shook his head.
“I took the children away first,” he answered, distracted. Opened a door that looked like any other. “Here – ”
There were three young servants inside, Ned thought at first, all cloaked. The hoods did not disguise that one had red hair –
“Father!” a voice said; arms flung themselves around his waist. In the same moment two blonde children hurled themselves at their mother.
Ned kissed the top of his daughter’s head. “Sansa…” She lived, oh gods. Someone of his kindred lived. Then his voice rose in panic. “Sansa, where is your sister?”
His sweet daughter cried harder. “I don’t know! She was at – at her dancing lesson, when the gold cloaks came. They locked me up with Tommen and Myrcella, but they never brought Arya to us.”
“No one’s found her,” the Queen’s brother said, voice dry. “Robert turned the keep upside-down, but she vanished quite thoroughly.”
“Gods…” Ned had to find her. Ned couldn’t leave Sansa alone with the Lannisters. Ned had to…
There was something like sympathy in the Kingslayer’s face.
“I’ve paid for a ship to Pentos, sailing on the dawn tide. You and your daughter can come with us, or you are of course welcome to stay here and take advantage of Robert’s hospitality…” His drawling voice faded out into silence.
He could – he could hide Sansa in the city, somewhere. Look for Arya, among all the teeming thousands in the city. Bring two girls out of the city through the Crownlands, past the Vale, alone. Without allies, without his poor betrayed men…
“Why?” he choked out. “Why help us?” We were enemies, a week ago…
“A Lannister pays her debts.” It was the Queen’s voice, soft and deadly. “My husband is owed.”
“Don’t they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Her brother’s voice was light and carefree. As if he had not lost a brother, a nephew, not days past. Seen his sister shamed and thrown in prison.
Sansa looked up at him, eyes full and trembling with tears.
“We should – we should try and find Arya. She’ll be so scared, alone…”
Sweet Sansa, loyal to her own blood at the last. But what of Arya? His bright brave girl, wild with wolf’s blood. She needed him – but Sansa needed him too –
It felt like his heart breaking. Cat, Cat, tell me what I should do… must I choose? I cannot choose!
But deep down he already knew.
A ship to Pentos, first. Then they hired themselves as guards to a merchant caravan heading east – the ports will be watched for many months, the Queen said. Safer to lose ourselves in the east before we turn back for home.
Armoured, dressed in men’s garb with her chest bound and her hair cropped short, she looked too much like her brother for Ned’s comfort. Not the Queen, now – she was Alyn, her brother Hugh, and Ned was Jory of the North…
The Kingslayer had not even flinched when Ned gave himself that name. Didn’t remember Ned’s man he’d killed, or maybe never even knew his name.
Another small hatred for the list. Much of it felt petty, now - but not that.
But he could not brood on old hurts, not while the children needed them. The young ones were Jeyne and Jo now, and little Sam. All three so brave, clever at keeping secrets and remembering their false names. Sansa had even started stitching back in Pentos, making little handkerchiefs to sell, or mending torn clothes.
No one would think to find fine ladies stitching cloth for coin, Sansa had said softly; she didn’t even look at the Queen, but Ned still burned for his daughter’s old shame, the way the Queen had sneered at her simple Northern practicality and home-stitched dresses.
Myrcella copied Sansa, after a day or two, and her mother said nothing to her own daughter.
Then again by then the Queen was dressed as a man, carrying a sword like a man. A far greater shame than a bit of coarse stitching – if the Queen had ever felt such.
She wielded her weapon tolerably well, at least, and she was learning fast. Better than many boys Ned had known. Better than the green boys he had taken to die for him by the Trident, or fighting the Greyjoy fleets…
Then bandits struck, a week out of Norvos. Fighting side by side with her brother, the Queen killed five – more than Ned himself could manage, with his leg still clumsy with its wound.
She glowed that night with triumph, with knowledge of her own power. Ned remembered that feeling from the first weeks of the Rebellion, the sick sparkling thrill of knowing he was a man who could kill…
She shared a room with her brother that night. As they had always done. The children had another room together, and then Ned was on his own… he did not ask why. Did not want to ask.
That night the walls of the inn were too thin, or maybe the Lannisters were too careless in their pleased triumph. It was not a surprise, when Ned began to hear sounds through the wall beside his – it felt like something he’d known for weeks, maybe months.
He wished he could have kept hiding it from himself, wished he didn’t have to know.
Wished he didn’t have to look them in the eyes tomorrow…
But he couldn’t leave. He needed them, as much or maybe more than they needed him.
He needed them to help protect his daughter...
Lannister gold kept them alive, Lannister messengers reached them with news from the Seven Kingdoms even as far away from home as Norvos.
“Your son lives, and rules well in your stead,” the Kingslayer said. His voice cool and flat. “They call him the Young Wolf… He and that wild wolf of his have won every battle he’s fought. Between him and my father, there are no king’s men west of the Kingsroad or north of the Blackwater Rush. The north and the west rule themselves as they please.”
It felt like poison, seeping into Ned’s chest. The North and the Riverlands rebelling again, but this time against Robert, and in alliance with the lions – how could this have ever happened?
“Your men crowned your son King of the North and the Trident, not two moons ago. Doubtless my father will soon claim kingship of the Rock. Not even he has dared dream so high before - you'd think he'd be more grateful to Littlefinger. Isn't it sweet to think on how he'd curse, if he lived to learn what his lies had sown for us?”
“We ought to turn back west,” Ned said flatly, trying not to think on the news – his sweet little boy a king. My son needs me. My poor motherless boys in Winterfell.
“Soon,” the Queen said, in a voice she’d practiced at deepening; with his eyes closed Ned did not think he could tell her apart from her brother. “We’re sworn to follow this caravan to Qohor. Don’t Northmen keep their oaths?”
She and her brother smiled at him – twin smiles, golden and sharp as swords –
There were inns along the road to Qohor, but not many. More often they slept by the side of the road, or in tiny hamlets with no better shelter than barns and haylofts.
If there were rooms to spare, the children shared them. Sansa and Myrcella clung to each other like sisters, these days, sweetly protective of little Tommen.
Ned wondered if Myrcella and Tommen knew the truth of their fathering. Such shame they would feel – not merely bastards but born of incest, a brother and sister bedding together...
Like Targaryens – but Ned did not think of that. Could not ever think of that.
Caught in his thoughts, Ned did not see or hear the Lannisters until he almost stumbled into them. They were twined together naked in the haystack where all three of them were meant to sleep tonight – lean and golden, a raw intimacy between them –
Ned shook his head, clearing his throat. Shame had vanished somewhere on the road, left behind perhaps in Westeros.
“Damn you both, where am I supposed to sleep? Couldn’t you have waited another night til you had your own room?”
Jaime separated himself from his sister and stood, green eyes bright. “I’m tired of waiting,” he said softly. Those eyes fixed on Ned.
Ned understood his meaning; all at once his body flushed with heat.
He shook his head, slow. Trying to speak, trying not to look. Jaime all golden, save for the jutting redness between his legs… Cersei lying nude and inviting, shameless, waiting to welcome them both to her body…
Ned had started losing things, the day Robert had thrown him in prison at a traitor’s lying words. Faith in his friend, faith in justice, faith in honour… And then for his daughter’s sake, for his sons’ sake, he’d given up his own honour and pride to ally with cruel shiftless Lannisters.
He’d already lain with lions, in spirit if not in deed, and for months.
What was one more dishonour, in the face of all he'd lost and all he'd given up?
“Why?” he choked out, finally. The word slipping from his mouth like a heavy stone.
“Because you want us,” Cersei said, rising as she spoke until she stood side by side with her brother. Ned tried not to look, could not help but look…
“Because you want us, and we want to see if you’re brave enough to take.” Her brother finished her thought as if they had but one mind between them.
It’s not bravery I need, Ned thought mockingly, but he did not say it. Did not say anything.
Only waited, for the warm press of a Lannister’s mouth against his lips.