"I always believed septas must live truly miserable lives, but I had no idea at all." Lyanna said before he had the chance to greet her, and then, despite the cold, she went and pushed open the shutters of a window so that daylight could come into the room. The fire swayed under the rush of cold air and sparks whirled up to the blackened beams. Lyanna was robed in thick brown wool. She was pale, but that haughty, grey-eyed face had lost none of its power or pride. She was as beautiful as she had ever been, perhaps more so. "Another thing I misjudged, I suppose."
Though her tower was in that part of the sept where the sisters lived in seclusion, it's outside wall and window faced a range of buildings about the outer courtyard where lay folk were permitted. There were kitchens where food was prepared for the poor, there was a hospital where the indigent could die, and overlooking it all was this attic room, which had been Lyanna's prison. It was not uncomfortable, though small. She was attended by maidservants, and had a few of her own possessions in deference to her rank. But these were not privileges she was grateful for.
"This is the only place for you." Eddard replied, sadly but firmly. His lords voice, the voice of command, not discussion or compromise. She still possessed the power to make him feel sad, as though she'd somehow been hurt more than anybody, but not to change him. "Robert is well. Apparently he misses me terribly. He doesn't mention you normally…"
"Why would he? He doesn't know me at all."
Eddard closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. "Well, I suppose I share that failing. I don't understand you, Lya. I suppose I never have. I wish I did." Any familial affection between them was dead, but somehow he couldn't let her go. Not truly.
"How is the North?" She asked eagerly.
"The same." He replied evenly, not willing to allow her to change the subject, then continued. "Robert and Elia fit together better than he had expected. They don't have much in common, so they largely keep out of each others way. They're fond of each other, however, and growing more so. But he did mention you."
He took the parchment from the pouch at his belt and gave it to her. "What would he have to say to me?" She said, though could not conceal her eagerness as she tore the ribbon away, levered up the wax seal with a fingernail and unfolded the document. Maybe to be acknowledged, or maybe just to be remembered at all. She read it in the glare of the light reflected from the snow through the window. He saw her face tighten, but she showed no other reaction. She seemed to read the letter twice, then folded it and tossed it onto a wooden chest. "My son is doing well, he says." She said. "He's strong for his age, and he looks a lot like his best friend. Nothing Targaryen about him at all, and thank the gods for that or maybe Robert wouldn't be quite so sentimental. He'll be given a choice of the chain, the faith or the wall once he's old enough to know what that means. For now, I am to transfer guardianship of him to Robert."
"And will you?"
"I don't have a choice! I don't have a say, he is just going through the motions to hurt me, to make me feel powerless. If I was to defy him he'd just say he acquired my approval, and locked away here I'm in no position to say otherwise. And even if I was, it's not as though anyone would bother listening to me. He’s a mighty warrior king, and I’m just a ruined woman.“
Eddard sighed. Honestly, he doubted Robert cared one way or another. Robert had moved on, while Lyanna had not. Could not, in all truth, she wasn't likely to get the chance. "Why would you refuse?"
She sighed. "Maybe just to break the monotony of days locked away in a tower."
"You're locked away as much for your own safety as my peace of mind."
"And who still cares about me? You've visited me all of three times, your whore of a sister shut away in a covenant. Nobody else has bothered to."
"You're not welcome on my land." He said firmly. When he'd found her, she'd tried to demand his allegiance in the name of her son, and Ned, who’d never hit a woman in his life, had seen red. He'd responded by growling that he no longer considered her any kin of his and her bastard the same, then he had promised her that if she ever set foot in the North he'd instruct Lord Bolton to give her the blood eagle. It was not something he'd imagined himself capable of. But then, he'd learned he wasn't the man he thought he was over the course of the war, they all had. "Robert doesn't want to so much as hear your name. This is the only place left that will take you."
“You’re still angry with me. After all these years. You can’t forgive me, can you, Ned?”
He didn't give that the courtesy of a response. She sighed again. "I suppose that's the thing about freedom." She replied sadly. "Desiring your own will is one thing, but you can't live without bread. For a while I imagined escaping, stowing away on a ship, trying life in Essos. But that's a childish dream, running away. And I don't feel like a child anymore - what would I do? Who would take me in?" She sighed. "I think I will sign it. I haven’t been a good mother, why change my habits now?" Lyanna told him unexpectedly.
Eddard did not know what to say to that, so said nothing. He had been close to her, he was close to all his family, all his siblings, but a distance had grown in him when he was sent away to be fostered in the Eyrie, and he'd never been able to bridge that. Not until it was too late.
He'd found her, and it had been all that he could do not to strangle her for what she'd done.
But now, perhaps, with nobody else left with whom to share her thoughts, she offered them to him. "I don’t even like being a mother. I should worry about Aegon, I should fear for his sake, and instead I complain that I have nothing to do," she admitted. "Your Catelyn, now, I imagine she's an excellent mother. She is beautiful and dutiful and can find it in her to love something special about every child she squeezes out for you. She loves you at least as well as she would have loved Brandon, she loves all her children, she loves her family and she loves yours, the more love she gives the more she seems to have to give, but who wants that?" She asked the question fiercely. "It’s all such a waste of life!"
Eddard still didn't respond, but Lyanna was getting worked up. She was bitterly angry. "As for the septa's who've taken charge of me, they all worship motherhood, but none of them ever experience it. Cows make good mothers and sheep suckle perfectly adequately, so what merit lies in motherhood? Any stupid girl can become a mother! It’s all that most of them are fit for! Motherhood isn’t an achievement, it’s an inevitability!" She was weeping now. "And father sold me to Robert, gave me away like it was nothing, and that was all he wanted from me! I'd be Robert's suckling cow, until he lost interest and found someone else to do it for him."
"And Rhaegar was different?"
She closed her eyes and for a few seconds Eddard could not be certain whether she was laughing or crying. Then he saw it was laughter that had made her shudder. "You don't know me at all." She said, looking at him again. "Not at all. Do you think I loved Rhaegar? Do you really believe that?"
"I always thought you must have. You wanted to be his queen, anyway."
"What does that have to do with love? I didn't need to love Robert to be married to him, why should Rhaegar have been different?" she asked derisively. "I wanted him to be King because he was a weak, indecisive man who was convinced he was complicated when no man was more simple, and thought himself terribly miserable because nobody challenged him and he didn't know how to challenge himself. All because he liked to think he was different. Special. Well, we used to have a stable-boy in Winterfell - do you remember? I can’t bring his name to mind, but he could fart for almost a minute straight - but heedless of this admittedly unusual talent was as ordinary a man as you could wish for - he eventually married a chambermaid and had children, a grandmother, and the rest. No, it wasn't Rhaegar."
Wallen. Ned thought. His name had been Wallen. But of course she hadn't known.
She bared his teeth. "He did as he was told, and a woman can only rule in this world through such a feeble man. All I had to do was be the loudest voice in Rhaegar's ear, and I would have been queen. Really queen, not just a way of bringing little Kings into the world. Robert isn't all that different, not really." She took a deep breath. "But it's too late. He doesn't want me anymore."
Eddard sighed. Maybe she did know his friend after all. Robert was a simple man, as well. He wanted to hunt, to be surrounded by friends. He loved to fight, but he didn't love pain or suffering, most of the time at least. And he wanted constant reassurance that he was a good man. And when she ran off with Rhaegar it had proved to Robert that he was the lesser man. It wasn’t true, of course, but it hurt him. How it hurt. Eddard didn't think he had ever seen a man so hurt. But he had loved her, and he didn't know how to stop, so he couldn't forget her. He couldn't live with himself if he killed her, but he no longer trusted her so he wouldn't marry her. So he had given her to her brother and his best friend, married Rhaegar's widow for continuity of dynastic purposes and did his best to get on with his life.
But he wasn’t like his friend - she had killed any love her brother felt for her when she’d demanded his fealty. He could not bring himself to kill her either, but he would not look at her. This had been his wife's idea. And she was left in another tower, much like the one she'd been rescued from, her life effectively over. It was a covenant, or supposed to be, for Silent Sisters. But Lyanna hadn't sworn vows and vanished as would have been easier, so she was their guest, or their prisoner. Something between the two, anyway.
"So I suppose the joke is on me. Rhaegar used me for a son - and wasn't even particularly enjoyable about making one. Say that much for Robert, he must have had some idea what he was doing with a woman - the girls used to treat him like some sort of amorous heathen god. That sounds rather better than what I got. The prince felt more like a big cold fish lying on top of me, gritting his teeth and refusing to meet my eyes, reluctant to touch me at all save to do the necessary, then left the bed as soon as he was done. You know, for all his talk I think he was ashamed afterall, and you should have seen the looks of loathing his knights gave me. Then, once he'd got what he wanted out of me, he kept me locked in a tower where I was in tears from boredom when I wasn't weeping for father and Brandon, got himself killed in short order, and Robert forgot me in order to comfort Rhaegar's widow." She made an imperious gesture. "All that work, all for nothing."
Eddard didn't respond.
"You know, this letter is all that I know about my son? Aegon Sand, a small claim to calling himself prince until he signs his birthright away. Rhaegar told me he would be a girl, and be named Vissenya. He was so proud of his children, and barely mentioned their mothers. Either of us. And yet he scarcely could have told me their ages had I asked, it was the idea of what they achieved that interested him, because what he really wanted was a reflection of himself." She shook her head. "You know, I think he might have been a worse parent than me. Something we did have in common."
"What would you have named him?"
She fell silent again. "Roderick, I suppose. I didn't care, to be honest. I only wanted to bind myself to Rhaegar, to give him no way of backing out once the initial fire had worn off. But he did it anyway, our son is a child and a bastard, with no loyal subjects, at least to him personally, nobody to support him save for reason that they support their own ambitions, and if he ever does become a king his crown will encompass no more than his own head, if even that."
Eddard's lips twitched. “Your suffering is not entirely of your own making, and I will not say that it is. But it is your own decisions that brought you here. You killed Brandon and Father, sister." He said, coldly. "You might not have intended it, but you did. Thousands died for that, the realm bled, and good men died. A few bad ones as well, but you destroyed your own family all to try and seize power for yourself. So if no one else’s suffering is to be considered, don’t ask for consideration of yours.”
"Thousands died for father, and for Aerys. Everyone who fought in those battles for me, all three of them, are still alive." She replied hotly. "Don't lay the war at my feet. Rhaegar didn't have to say yes, he knew my situation but he did say yes anyway because it flattered his vanity, it made him feel important, that he could save his dynasty rather then preside over it's collapse. Father and Brandon didn't need to challenge Aerys, I never asked either of them to - and Aerys certainly didn't need to burn them, that's on him, not me. And as for causing the war, what a load of rubbish. I was a footnote until the singers got hold of the story, and turned me into the poor broken woman used badly by a dragon who Robert fought for and pined for from afar. I heard those songs too, right until they got hold of a new story, a princess betrayed by her husband who died cravenly begging for mercy and was replaced by a more deserving man. Would those thousands rest easier in the earth if I had loved Rhaegar? If I didn't have a choice, save the one forced upon me when he dragged me away? If it was Cersei Lannister he chose instead of me, as he'd originally intended, would the war that followed be her fault?"
"Perhaps they would." Eddard replied, not won over in the least. "But Brandon and father would still be alive."
Lyanna seemed to deflate. "Oh, have it out. I suppose I still owe you that much. Call me any name you wish. Doubtless I deserve it. Strike me - you’ve wanted to for years, don’t think I haven’t noticed. Well doubtless I deserve that too. It is not as though it matters. I do not matter anymore. Robert is entirely in power and everyone knows it, and my son is only alive at their sufferance. And should a less sensitive soul achieve the throne, as doubtless one will before too long, then my son will doubtless quietly die of acute mysterious circumstances, whatever fate he chooses for himself. Stannis will probably take care of it, he seems the type, though Jon Arryn and Tywin Lannister might beat him to it, there isn't a romantic thought in either of their heads."
She waved an arm vaguely. "And Robert schemes all the while, favouring one man and disregarding another, for no reason but that it makes himself stronger or his position more secure. Dorne's done better out of him than most of those who fought for him instead of against him, I can't help but notice, and yet they still don't seem to have really accepted him. He's made the throne into his fief: he distribute favours and wealth to his favourites - like yourself, brother, not to the deserving. There is nothing that he cares for but his own success. He is not king, he is landlord of Westeros, and the law is what powerful men say it shall be, and nobody is more powerful then Robert anymore." She continued irritably. "He even plays his brothers against one another, I hear."
"You're well informed."
"I haven't anything else to do with my days but listen to news. The sisters don't talk, but the wandering septons do, and they hear almost everything and then gossip about it. I listen to them because it makes them feel important. Sometimes they offer to take my confession. I took one of them up on it once, but it didn't seem to do any good. I was still miserable, still locked in this room, still with no hope or prospects."
"What did you say to Rhaegar, when he said he would ride off to kill me and Robert?"
"How long have you been gathering the courage to ask me that?"
"Answer the question."
"In all honesty, I didn't spare Robert a thought. I still believed Rhaegar was the warrior he thought he was, that he'd ride back victorious and I would be queen. Eventually they'd accepted Maegor's rather unconventional marital habits, and so they would eventually accept me as well, that's what I told myself, although even I didn't really believe it by then. Well, I thought, so I'll be a whore. As long as it's my voice in his ear, let them call me what they will. If I can't be queen, I'll be queen in every way that counts, whatever they called me - we’ll see which one of us history calls wife, mousey Elia or me. But of course he'd lost interest in me, because as it turns out Elia had managed to fall pregnant again. It took him nearly a year flopping on top of me, but the princess everybody insisted was frail and unwell was so fecund that he so much as looked at her and she conceived. Suddenly I wasn't carrying a princess, I was carrying another Orys Baratheon, and the irony is not lost on me."
She sighed again. "But Rhaegar was no Maegor either, as it turns out. At least Maegor would have won that battle on the Trident, he would have sneered and then stomped Robert into the ground and all his army with him. Even Aegon the Unworthy would have capitulated earlier, or turned the alliance against itself by playing the members against one another for trinkets." She shook her head. "Of all that House Targaryen has produced, from the brilliant to the terrible, Rhaegar quite simply turned out to be unexceptional in every particular, all he could do was dream. He was pretty enough to look at, I suppose, but if being pretty was all it took to be king I wouldn't have needed him afterall, would I? No, at the time I begged him to spare you, and he gravely said he could not, but he would see your memory honoured when he became king, and raise a distant relative of yours to Wardenship of the North. Perhaps our bastard - he'd started calling it a bastard again by then, you see, and stopped pretending that our marriage was binding. I wanted to hit him. Then he rode away, and I wondered if I'd been doing my best to teach him how to pleasure me properly while father and brother were burning to death, and I thought of jumping out the tower and ending it all. I lacked the courage, however. Instead I confided in Arthur Dayne, who hated me but didn't have anyone else to talk to. He laughed and said if the prince encountered Robert he'd be cut down like a callow boy and ground into the mud. That Rhaegar's victories were more a quality of the Kingsguards dominating the lists but being reluctant to strike him than his own skill, and that the iron dice of battle were rather less forgiving than a tourney, since when life and death is at stake people suddenly become significantly less reluctant to strike a prince. Then he said that Robert had won battle after battle while Rhaegar was fooling around with me, and that he hadn't seen Rhaegar practice his swordsmanship once since coming to Dorne. Sure enough, he charged right for Robert who all but crushed him beneath his heel as though it were no more difficult than ringing a bell, and the kingsguard decided to drag me back to the city once it became apparent that Princess Elia had survived, and my bastard wasn't the heir after all."
Eddard didn't answer. His silence on the matter said far better then words ever could why she was in a room high up in the covenant that possessed a window. That was not a choice he ever wished to deprive her of. Indeed, there were moments where he forgot himself, and halfway been ready to make the decision for her.
"A part of me hoped that Robert loved me enough to forgive me. That after everything I'd get to be queen after all. But he wouldn't even look at me. He delegated the task of disposing of me onto you." She stared out the window. "You know, Arthur Dayne loves her? Elia? She didn't seem so special to me, but then Robert seems to prefer her, and I think Rhaegar did as well once he got bored of playing house. I wonder how that will turn out."
Eddard sighed. "And if he had won, and you were brought to his fathers court with my head upon a spike over the gate, would the world have been a happier one?"
“All right. Robert is not worse than a madman and his wet blanket of a son. Very good. But all you've done from the fall of House Targaryen is line your own pockets, and put a king on the throne who is only better than the worst that could be. Is that what so many died to accomplish, so many houses were made extinct?"
"I will admit, it does make a better reason than Aegon Sand, doesn't it? Tell me, as queen what did you imagine would happen to Elia's children? Because, sister, Rhaegar's children were dead the moment you schemed to have Rhaegar annul his marriage to Elia and marry you. Somebody was going to do the deed, somewhere along the line." Eddard replied, and she flinched, because his sister was intelligent enough to have known that. "That's how succession works. Probably you yourself would have had to have had to, because as long as they lived they would have been a threat, and they would have found little trouble gaining support for their claim." Eddard replied, harsher then he'd intended, but Lyanna flinched again.
"I hoped it would never come to that. But yes.“ She glared at him. "Yes, I would have, if I had to. Does it shock you, that I was willing to resort to that?"
Ned shook his head. It was something he’d always known, but never wanted to admit. “We're all capable of things we don't like to believe. I killed thirty men getting back to the North. I never learned their names or anything about them. I wanted to, but there wasn't time. After I called my banners I killed plenty more. Roose Bolton found me one night, sobbing in my tent. I couldn't hold down food, I kept seeing all the faces of those nameless men who died. And sometime around the Battle of the Bells, I lost count. Hundreds, probably. Thousands, if you count the men I'd ordered slaughtered." Eddard shrugged. "A lot of us were forced to do things we didn't want to do. If you couldn't do that, what business did you have being queen?"
"And I suppose you blame me."
"Everyone else I could blame is dead. They all were given no choice in the matter. Only you tried to make it happen." He replied. "Even Robert never wanted a war. He just wanted justice for me, and for Jon, and for you." Eddard said, as gently as she had left him capable of.
Lyanna looked as though she wanted to shriek. "Why? Why did he love me? He thought I was beautiful? Then perhaps he could have a statue made of me if that’s all he wanted! A statue with milk ducts that he could clamp his infants onto, and a hole he can stick himself whenever he gets the urge! That's all Rhaegar wanted either!"
"What else did you have to offer either of them?"
She recoiled as though struck.
"Robert loved you because you reminded him of the man he wanted to be. He loved you because he was a lonely man, and you were someone he felt could understand that about him. He thought you could make him better."
"I didn't want him." She hated how she sounded. Sulky. Petulant.
"You didn't want him then, no. Any you could have told him that, there at Harrenhal, and saved a lot of peoples lives. He would have listened. He would have laughed, wished you the best, and found someone else to pine after in a week, and eventually he would have forgotten you. But you liked stringing him along as well, because it flattered your vanity. It made you feel important, powerful. You could have told me, or Brandon what you intended. But you knew that we'd protest. You knew we'd be right to protest. So you didn't do that either." There was more that he wanted to say. A lot more, but he couldn't. Even now, he hadn't the heart.
"It wasn't like that." Lyanna protested, but without conviction.
"Goodbye, Lyanna." He said abruptly, getting to his feet. "I'll visit again, some day."
"Perhaps not. Perhaps this will be the month I finally give up and jump out the window. How beautifully tragic it will seem, a fitting end to your sister who ran away to be with the dragon prince and could not endure life without him."
"Who'd sing the song? Who cares anymore, Lya? You're forgotten. If you jump, the only person who you'll hurt is me and Benjen. You've nobody but yourself to blame if you do. But you've stood to endure the last years well enough." Eddard replied, unable to bear to be in her company another moment.
"Will I ever get to see my son again?" Her voice sounded very small.
"You said it yourself. You're not much of a mother."