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My Father's Son

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"Atten-shun!" At the command from Captain Thorne, officer on duty for the day, the Household Guard for House Targaryen clicked their heels together. Metal-tipped boots smacking as they stood ramrod straight. Spears pointing high to herald the arrival of both the large carriage train approaching the main gate and the two solitary figures racing out of Maegor's Holdfast. One clad in the grey and purple armor of the Kingsguard, sword clipped at the hip who's tip clinked against the plate of the shins. The other sporting a simple red dress of little finery, yet still resplendent with fair Valyrian beauty.

Beauty twisted in barely contained apprehension. "The gate is opening," Queen Rhaella Targaryen said to herself. Her fingers played with each other, a nervous habit.

Normally silent, the Kingsguards on duty to the Queen or Crown Prince were nevertheless allowed to speak their minds. While the recently knighted and newest sworn brother Jaime Lannister had his many secrets, he did appreciate the ability. "His Grace is lucky that their ship hadn't departed yet for Dragonstone, my Queen."

"Indeed. Would have been nigh impossible to reach them by raven." As it stood, the dispatch rider sent by Thorne already took a precious hour to both reach the dock and secure the royal party. Rhaella shuddered, fear clouding her features an unwelcome one for the Lion knight of Casterly Rock. "I hesitate to think what the King would do if he had to wait a few days."

"Gods are kind to us, today." There was no response, as the hornblowers warbled the arrival of the princely procession.

Three-headed dragon banners fluttering in the wind, the initial procession of riders gave way to the Crown Prince himself. Loyal guards Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Barristan Selmy trailing behind, Rhaegar Targaryen was a sight to behold. His normal armor plate was foregone for a soft tunic and cloak that nevertheless magnified his sleek yet muscular physique. Flowing silver hair let down, sparkling rather than dull like his father. Clipped to his waist was Blackfyre, the ancestral sword of Aegon the Conqueror, recently reclaimed with the defeat of Maelys Blackfyre.

Given the King's… condition, it was unopposed that the Crown Prince receive the sword.

Rhaella couldn't help but smile at her strapping son, all of twenty and two, swinging off his horse like an expert Dothraki bloodrider. Catching his mother's gaze, he nodded with a small smile of his own, but stepped past Arthur and Barristan to reach the carriage at the van of the procession. Many royals or lords would simply let servants handle such matters, but the down to earth Rhaegar found no indignity in opening the carriage door for his wife and children. I raised a perfect son.

As if a harsh gale on the cliffs of Dragonstone, a blur of wavy black curls raced from the carriage and slammed into Rhaella's legs. "Grandmomma!"

Laughing merrily, Rhaella leaned down to pick up her beloved granddaughter. "Ooof, Rhae. You're getting heavy."

"I's big girl now," giggled the Princess Rhaenys, all of two years old. Purple eyes of Old Valyria contrasted with the tan of Dornish nobility - Rhaella had no clue whether her rambunctiousness was of the fearsome dragon or the sultry spear and snake. Either way, I pity poor Rhaegar when she comes of age. "Missed you, grandmomma." Rhaenys needed no prodding to bury her head in the Queen's chest.

Beaming, Rhaella dropped a kiss to the raven locks when an apologetic Rhaegar strode up to her. "Apologies, mother." He looked genuinely sorry, sometimes too kind for his own good. "She knows she saw you just this morning."

"Any time away from my beloved grandchildren is too much," Rhaella cooed, coaxing giggled from the Princess as she lavished her face with kisses. Gently putting her onto the ground to run back to her father, Rhaella approached the willowy Crown Princess. "Elia, welcome back to the Red Keep." A gentle finger moved to stroke the bundle carried in her arms.

Elia Martell gave a wan smile, though the same apprehension shone in her dark eyes. "Glad to see you again, goodmother. I hope… we are not imposing." The lengthy gap belied the seriousness of what was happening, the gravity of which was lost only on the excited, bouncing Rhaenys and the sleeping Prince Aegon - all of two months of age. "Do you know how… long our ship should be waiting in port? The docks are quite busy." All seemingly harmless chit chat. One never knew where the spider placed his birds.

Sighing, Rhaella kissed her grandson's cheek. "You are not imposing, and as to your second question, I'm not sure. Dragonstone may have to wait without its prince and princess for a while, now." Another flash of fear on Elia's face, one Rhaella understood. The King… wasn't fond of the Dornish. Their armies and taxes yes, but not as a people. Rhaegar and Elia were clearly hoping for a quick stay for the newborn Prince's baptismal at the Great Sept of Baelor - white marble and limestone facade visible across the city - before heading back to Rhaegar's domain of Dragonstone.

The Royal Directive overruled all such plans.

"My dear," offered Rhaegar, scooping Rhaenys in his arms and handing her to Ser Arthur. "Head back to your rooms with the children. I'll have Arthur and Barristan escort you."

"Of course, my Prince." A perfunctory kiss on the cheek and the lithe, tanned princess was off with the future of House Targaryen. Gods, I wish he had been able to marry for love. Rhaella felt for her son, denied the opportunity to find someone for himself, not just for politics. And yet she had been married for politics… such was the life of a royal of House Targaryen. At least he and Elia are friends. It helped, not that Rhaella would know.

Free of having to put a facade for Rhaenys' sake, Rhaegar fell into lockstep beside his mother, leaned in so that only she could hear his whispers - not even for Ser Jaime, trailing behind them. "What is this all about, mother?"

"I don't know, my son," she shot back, equally quiet. "You weren't gone for twenty minutes before Connington told me to greet you back here on the King's orders. And you know your father isn't always… predictable these days."

The fluttering banners dotting the courtyard whipped in the wind blowing out from the bay, cloudless blue sky only making the red sandstone and brick that formed the walls of the Red Keep all the more blatant and bright. "He seemed practically decent the last week. Even agreed to cancel the latest excise tax." Even Rhaegar had been shocked, the King merely nodding at the request. "I suppose it was too good to be true."

Reaching the steps up to the colonnaded hall outside the throne room, Rhaella looped her arm in the crook of Rhaegar's. "He hasn't been in one of his rages since weeks before you, Elia, and the children arrived. Just… quiet. Calm, sitting on the throne for hours on end and brooding." Rhaegar brooded as well, though his was a silent contemplation, while the King would burn holes in the walls with his fiery violet eyes in spite of not a sound leaving his mouth. "I'm concerned he's planning something quite dangerous."

Outside the great bronze-lined oaken doors of the throne room, Ser Gerold Hightower and Prince Lewyn Martell stood guard. Eyes darting to the figure of their Crown Prince from behind their helmets. "My Prince, his Grace is waiting for you inside," ser Gerold stated, hand drifting to the door.

"Why are you here and not the household guard?" Rhaegar knew it couldn't be good.

"Our King wishes to be alone with the prince and the Master of Whisperers."

Rhaella stiffened next to him. "Viserys…" The King was an absent father… till he wasn't. A bead of sweat falling down her forehead, she embraced Rhaegar. "Good luck, my son."

He returned the embrace. "I love you mother." A wry smirk formed on his lips in spite of everything. "Don't worry, fire cannot kill a dragon." Kingsguard opening the doors just wide enough, Rhaegar disappeared into the dark throne room, leaving Rhaella alone in the cavernous hallway.


High coffered ceiling arched in intricate ribbed vaulting, light pouring through the stained glass of the windows, the Throne Room of the Red Keep had been the pinnacle of architecture during the reign of Maegor I. While the more recent innovations of Braavos, Lannisport, and the castles of the Reach were said to far surpass anything from that era, Crown Prince Rhaegar never ceased to have his breath taken away at the majesty of the seat of House Targaryen. And all of this will be mine someday. Many would think this with lust, but for Rhaegar it was sobering - Rhaella had raised him well.

Normally, for the events and audiences held here, it would be completely packed with guards, courtiers, and brownnosing nobles trying to get in good with the crown. However, at the moment there was nothing but a foreboding darkness. Polished tile and colonnaded halls deserted - dragon skulls whitewashed and staring ahead with unseeing eye sockets. Rhaegar had memorized them. Caraxes, Sunfyre, Silverwing, Vermithor… All reminders of House Targaryen's glorious past… past. Only the weight of Blackfyre clinking against his armor remained of that era.

Will I ever be worthy of their legacy? Could I ever truly lead our House to the glory of Aegon and his sister-wives? A question Rhaegar had grappled with for years, brooding hours into the night. Faced with both greatness and the vile scum that had ruled under his name, he couldn't help but feel… truly unworthy of the mantle.

At the head of the room, overlooked by the great seal of House Targaryen atop the window and the skull of Balerion the Black Dread atop that, was the seat of honor. The Iron Throne, forged by dragonfire out of scores of swords of Aegon's enemies. A symbol of power. Of strength. Of corruption and bloodlust. And seated upon it, clad in loose robes of black and dull burgundy, was the King himself. Aerys Targaryen, Second of his Name. Rhaegar's father, barely in his forties but already covered in wrinkles and a pale pallor. The Defiance of Duskendale hadn't been good to him, aging him considerably.

But his eyes still retained the sharpness of his youth. Lighting up as he recounted the stories of the great dragonlords to the five year old boy perched by his side on the throne. "See, my son, that great skull there was the mighty Vhagar - mount to Queen Visenya Targaryen."

"The mother of Maegor, right?" chirped young Prince Viserys. Slightly gaunt and willowy, he nevertheless bore the Valyrian beauty and inquisitive gaze of a proper Prince. One that would serve the realm well… had he not idolized his father the King, hanging on his every word.

Aerys ruffled the boy's hair. Probably the only affection he had given him in the last month. "Yes, my son. You have learned your lessons well." Viserys beamed at the praise. "Riding Balerion aside his mother on Vhagar before her death, Maegor made sure to give the Faith Militant and other rebelling zealots their comeuppance. With fire and blood - never forget, traitors only deserve fire and blood." A lesson Viserys was clearly absorbing.

There was little light in the Throne Room even with the windows, illuminated only by two candelabras flanking the throne. Stepping out of the darkness, Rhaegar cleared his throat. Interrupting the horrid little history lesson. Two sets of purple eyes darting to him, Viserys let out a happy squeal. "Rhaegar!" Much as Rhaenys had done to her grandmother, so too did Viserys leap out of his perch on the Iron Throne and run over to his older brother. Arms wrapping around his waist. "I thought you left."

The boy's exuberance coaxed a chuckle out of Rhaegar despite himself. "Father said I needed to come back to discuss something important with him. Do you mind going with mother outside?"

Viserys looked back at their father. Whatever smile he had on his face disappeared leaving only a scowl of indifference. "Go, Viserys. Listen to your brother."

"Yes, poppa." Hugging Rhaegar one last time, he was off. Sandals scuffing along the tile.

Alone finally with his father, Rhaegar stepped to the base of the Iron Throne and drew Blackfyre. Keeling before the King. "I am at your service, your Grace."

Fealty was always required by Aerys - he could always be flattered or annoyed by it, depending on his mood. "Get up, son. I didn't summon you here to bloody kneel." So he was in that kind of mood. "I trust your journey was well?"

"It was. Short, but well."

Aerys snickered. "Bothered your weak wife, didn't it? Probably worried about all her pretty clothes and pretty hair getting the fishmarket reek - as if it could be more pungent than her Dornish stink." The King shuddered. "Gods, your son has the Targaryen hair and eyes and he still smells as Dornish as your firstborn brat. Martells ruin everything they touch."

Then why did you have me marry one? Rhaegar knew the answer. Politics. Such brought an undoubtedly beautiful Dornish maiden to his marriage bed in spite of neither holding love for the other. A liking developed, but one devoid of the lifeblood of a truly happy marriage. And Rhaegar put up with it over politics, though not having any true intimacy did drive him further into his brooding. "She is settling in the Holdfast, father, and mother escorted me here. Something about an important matter to discuss?"

Nodding, Aerys motioned into the shadows. "Varys, get out here!" Rhaegar turned to watch a stealthy figure dressed in the finest silks of Myr step out from the shadows. Lord Varys, the young Master of Whisperers - his father's spymaster. This is not going to be good at all. "I hope you don't mind my spider here. He's absolutely indispensable at the moment." Aerys' face was generally calm, hair perfectly straightened rather than the unkempt mane he let wild under his crown.

I don't have a choice in the matter, father. "Of course," said the Crown Prince, bowing again. "It is good to see you, Lord Varys."

"Likewise, my Prince," replied the eunuch. Voice politic and impassive. "Your council is needed in these trying times."

"'Trying times.' Heh, that's an understatement," scoffed the King. "Tywin Lannister is plotting against the realm."

Rhaegar's eyes widened. Now this was news. "Are you sure, father?"

Aerys scoffed. "Of course. You can see it in his beady little lion cub eyes." He has no evidence. "Why do you think he fled to Casterly Rock after you rejected his bitch daughter? Why do you think I replaced him with Connington instead of beg him to come back. He's turned traitor, the cunt."

"Father, I highly doubt the Warden of the West would plot against his childhood best friend." Tywin isn't that stupid.

"Don't be a fool, my son," Aerys wheezed, coughing into his hand. "Fucking draft." He brought the cup of wine to his lips, sipping at it. Sighing as the chilled liquid soothed his throat. "Tywin… he's a shifty little cunt. Keeps all his emotions as clenched inside him as the gold he shits." A laugh left the King, both Rhaegar and Varys simply standing there, forced to listen. "Did you know he's massing his armies."

"Are you sure about that, father?" Rhaegar made sure his voice sounded sincerely questioning rather than a mocking dismissal as he was wont to use.

Clearing his throat, it was Varys who answered. "My birds sing songs about overflowing armories in Lannisport. Of young westerman training within the walls of Crakehall and Casterly Rock. Of castles fortified with added battlements."

"There's an innocuous explanation for this." Tywin wasn't his favorite person by far - the man irked him, and his daughter's obvious longing to marry the Crown Prince rubbed Rhaegar off the wrong way - but the man that made sure to get royal approval to destroy the Reynes and Tarbecks was not someone who'd revolt for the hells of it. "Balon Greyjoy's younger brother is said to be back to raiding and raping. Could be that."

Fists clenched, the King glanced up at the rafters. At the skull of Balerion the Black Dread hanging above the Iron throne itself before glancing back at his son. "You know he's planning it." Voice both soft and hoarse - a seductive whisper of conspiracy. "Preparing for it within the walls of his outhouse of a castle."

Rhaegar leaned in, listening intently to his father. "What is it, father? Perhaps I can call the banners and lead our armies against him?"

A sharp, barking laugh left Aerys' lips. "You can't call the banners on the Doom of Valyria!" More laughter.

"Doom of Valyria?"

"Tywin's planning it, the little shit. Why else would he resign his commission as Hand? Why else would he shut himself up back in the Westerlands? Why else would he remove his damn slut of a daughter from court? The sky will fall! And the city will burn under the hellsfires at his doing! Mark my words…!"

The Crown Prince fought the urge to slap the madness out of his father. He's starting to fall apart. His and his mother's prayers to delay this day hadn't come true. Beside him, the svelte eunuch was as emotionless as usual. "I'm not sure that even Tywin Lannister has the money to buy the needed sorcerers to achieve that goal, your Grace." It felt ridiculous to patronize such insanity, but the man was the King… and his own father. "Do you honestly feel that a war with the Westerlands would be wise?" As much as Tywin is hated, I doubt any other Kingdom would hate him as much to destroy the peace.

There was silence for several seconds before Aerys' lips began to curl upward. A slow, steady grin forming till it stretched across nearly his entire face. "Oh, my beloved son. You seem to underestimate your dear old father." He leaned back, proud of himself. "Our House's words are Fire and Blood, but that doesn't mean I understand diplomacy and it's advantages. Such was how Daeron the Good secured Dorne into our domain."

"Alright…" Rhaegar didn't know whether to be glad war was not in the offering, or to dread what in all honesty his father would be eminently proud of devising. "I am at your disposal, my King."

"Good." Aerys slapped his thigh, grin almost manic. Purple eyes glistening - Rhaegar resisted taking a step back, the madness apparent. His own father. If he hadn't hardened his heart long ago, it would have killed him inside. "We will not fight Tywin. We will surround him with the might of our powerful loins."

Blinking, the crown prince's eyes shifted to Varys, who wore a look of half-passivity, half… apology. They shifted back to his father, and Rhaegar sighed. "Care to tell me more about such an illustrious plan, father?"

"Some very crafty and auspicious marriage alliances are ripe for the taking. I know that fat oaf Mace Tyrell has an infant daughter back in Highgarden… he doesn't shut up about her. Viserys would be perfect for her when she flowers."

In all honesty… that wasn't such a bad plan. It would buy the Reach's loyalty and end the annoying begging of the Master of Coin - as much as Rhaegar's own experiences soured him to the idea of bartering children, such was the way of Westerosi highborns. But that only secures one kingdom. "You… you mentioned surrounding Tywin.?"

Aerys laughed, clapping merrily. "That's the best part, my son. The stupidity of my older brother left us without enough children but providence has fallen into our lap to stave off the Second Doom! We can buy off three Kingdoms for one maiden daughter!" He motioned to the eunuch. "Varys, tell him before I cut your balls off… oh wait, someone already fucking beat me too it, tee hee!"

Pursing his lips, after a poignant silence Varys only nodded. "There exists one house for which the loyalty of three kingdoms hinges on." Aerys was grinning like mad, while Rhaegar listened intently - he wasn't liking how this was going, but the politics of it all did fascinate him. "House Stark."

"House Stark?" That was one noble house that wasn't often talked about. Most southerners felt it just a frozen wasteland that Aegon the Conqueror should have let starve. "How does House Stark have anything to do with this? They're worse about keeping within the blood than us."

If anyone would know, it was Varys. The eunuch had his fingers everywhere. Knew everything, with the attention to detail of an archmaester. "Lord Rickard Stark has been trying to branch out and secure alliances with other houses outside the North. Expand House Stark's influence. His heir Brandon has been betrothed to Catelyn Tully and his younger son Eddard has been the devoted ward to Lord Jon Arryn of the Vale. A union with House Stark would serve to bind the North, Riverlands, and Vale to the crown."

Whooping, Aerys stabbed his hand into the air. "Three senior houses involved, Rhaegar. Three! Hear that Dunk, you dumb fucker! I'm cleaning up the mess you made!" When the King did descend into manic delusions, his deceased older brother Duncan was an oft participant. "And the old wolf has a daughter too. A maiden I heard."

Devious. Downright genius the more Rhaegar thought about it, but… "Who do you plan to betroth this maiden daughter to?" Gods, don't let another poor girl be drawn into his schemes. "We have no more Targaryen sons, unless you wish to find a Blackfyre bastard somewhere?"

"Pish, Aegon the Conqueror didn't worry about the fact that he was already married to taking another bride. Why should the rest of us?"

Eyes widened in realization. "You wish to marry the daughter of Rickard Stark?" Rhaegar's blood boiled at the affront to his mother.

"Oh please." Aerys looked disgusted. "As if I would sully my cock with the cunt of a northern wildling." His grin returned, as if he was enjoying this… no he clearly was enjoying this. "You are to marry the daughter of Rickard Stark."

Rhaegar Targaryen staggered out of the Throne Room only minutes later - his father's words still ringing in his head. The voices of the Kingsguards reached his ears, but the Crown Prince paid them no heed. It was as if the skull of Balerion or Vhagar had come to life and slammed its jaws into him.

"You are to marry the daughter of Rickard Stark."

Another marriage. Another forced marriage thrust upon him for political purposes - political purposes without a basis in reality. Subjecting an innocent maiden innocent of any fault to the same… morosity as Elia… it was like a knife to his heart.

"Rhaegar?" His mother's sweet, serene voice broke him from his haze. Rhaella strode to him, hands grasping his shoulder. "What's wrong? What did he say?"

Not caring of the propriety of it all, Rhaegar simply fell into his mother's comforting arms. Letting her banish the agony away.


Skirts whooshing in the wind, the young woman managed to parry the attack quite easily. Her opponent was stronger despite being over a year younger, but the woman was faster. Using her agility to an advantage. Blows from the blunt bastard training sword coming in at a flurry. Forcing the younger boy on the defensive, only just barely blocking the slashes.

"Come on!" shouted Brandon Stark, heir to Winterfell, seated atop a barrel perched on the walls of the inner courtyard. "Ben you dumb cunt, force your opening!"

"I'm trying!" Benjen called out, charging. Only for the ten and seven year old to twirl out of the way - training sword smacking into his back and forcing him to the ground. "Damn it!"

Spinning the sword in her wrist, Lyanna Stark swayed her hips. Proclaiming her victory. "Too slow, brother. Far too slow." She whooped, chesnut hair matted over her face with a sheen of sweat. Fair skin flushed. Even disheveled from her unladylike romp, the lithe northern lass was still by far the most beautiful maiden in the castle. "Still the champion rider and fighter in this family, bar none!"

"Lady Lyanna!" Heads whipped around to find Nan, her governess. She marched into the courtyard with hands on her hips. "When you did not show up I knew you'd be here." A huff left her lips. "Young ladies from all the Northern houses are here for the prime position as your lady in waiting and you would rather be here, dirtying your dress and fighting with your brothers."

Taking in the mud splatters and slight fraying of her dress, Lyanna grinned. Twirling the hemline around. "I think this is the newest style. All the way from the Haunted Forest, worn by only the classiest spearwives of the Frostfangs." Brandon and Benjen suppressed snickers, as did any of the smallfolk in earshot.

Nan rolled her eyes. "Your future Lord Husband will not stand for such japes from their Lady wife."

"Perhaps I don't want to be married to such a man," she shot back, huffing herself. Such earned her a smack upside the head. "Ow!" It didn't truly hurt - merely a wounding of pride.

"Hush, you are a lady of House Stark, not some wildling spearwife." Many past governesses had cowered before Lyanna's bravado and threats, which they just were - she was no Bolton, and would only treat the servants with love and kindness when it came down to it. Nan knew when to be firm so that she would listen. "You are to put on a clean and proper dress, then march to the great hall to pick your lady in waiting." With that, she stormed out, leaving Lyanna with a dark scowl of annoyance on her face.

Such scowl only grew darker at the cackling belly laughs coming from the sidelines. "Shut it, Bran!"

Holding his side, the heir to Winterfell couldn't help but find humor at his sister's expense. "Oh the mighty she-wolf of the North. Just wait till you have some Manderly or Cerwyn maiden to gush about dresses from Lannisport." Brandon pursed his lips to hold back the giggles, actually hurting his stomach. "Dash off to sew and dance and fix up your pretty hair…" A clump of mud slammed into his head, silencing him. Sending him toppling to the ground.

Benjen watching with his jaw dropped, Lyanna's muddy hand pumped up with a whoop of triumph. "Now who has the 'pretty hair?'" It was her turn to laugh until a second muddy clump shot by her shoulder - splattering into Benjen. "Oh you little shit!" Brandon digging for another from the soggy ground to toss at her, only smirked.

"You're gonna pay for that!" their youngest brother cried, scooping out his own clump of mud.

Turning away with a shake of the head and a smile on his lips, Lord Rickard Stark of Winterfell and Warden of the North chuckled as the shouts and japes of his children wafted back from the courtyard. From his perch on the balcony outside his personal reception room, he had heard the entire little spat. It brought warmth to his heart to see his children so happy. Even now, the scars of the Lady Lyarra's death and heartbreak of sending Ned to the Vale were still acutely felt. While the north was at peace - the sleepy little backwater of Westeros - the needs of alliances still came first.

Even when conflicting with family. Rickard was a more sentimental man than most, but the game of thrones required a little callousness - a trait that the plenty of peace had largely fallen away from the Starks. Gods, I do not wish to lose any of them.

"She is a spitfire, isn't she?" Martyn Cassel, Winterfell master at arms, laughed with crossed arms. Formerly squire to the Lord, he and Rickard were quite close. His most trusted confidant.

Rickard smiled. "Aye. Takes after her mother."

"Lady Lyarra? She was always a dignified lady."

"You didn't know her in her youth." A grin formed on Rickard's face, remembering his wild youth - especially with her intended. "Hopefully Lyanna can settle down as a proper lady when she marries like Lyarra did."

Instead of a laugh or a jape, Martyn frowned. "Careful, my Lord. Yer' playin' with fire there." Pointing into the courtyard, both watched as Lyanna leaped on her older brother, smashing mud in his face while whooping at the top of her lungs. "Direwolves aren't meant to be caged, and the blood of the direwolf is in that one."

Sighing, Rickard could only nod. "Wouldn't want to if I could help it, but a highborn can't help it sometimes." He spared one last look at his children all leaping on each other in a laughing pile. "She's ten and seven. She'll grow out of it if she needs to."

"Whatever you say, my Lord." Martyn wasn't convinced.

A door opened from the inside of the keep, wooden sandals clicking on the floor. "Lord Stark," announced Maester Luwin, two slips of paper nestled between his bony hands. "Two ravens from the south." He handed them to Rickard. "One from the Eyrie and the other from King's Landing."

Opening the slip from the Eyrie first, Rickard felt a joy welling inside him. "Gods, it's good to hear from Ned." Old Jon Arryn a bachelor without heirs, fostering his middle son was the only way the north could build relations with its neighbor - a wise decision all around, since Lord Arryn treated Ned as his own. With happiness, he read the letter.

Dearest father,

Your previous letter has been received well by Lord Robert, having been elevated to the lordship of Storm's End upon his father's death one month previous. He will not leave for the Stormlands for several months, and is very supportive and open of a marriage alliance with our House.

While the final decision should rest with yourself and Lyanna, I cannot help but in the highest terms recommend Robert Baratheon, my dear friend, to be betrothed to my beloved sister. I and Lord Arryn confirm he is a noble, loyal young lord and would be a devoted husband.

Whatever you decide, father.

Your loving son, Ned.

"What's it say, my Lord?" Martyn asked. When Rickard showed him, he whistled. "Ooks like the she-wolf will be finding a stag for a husband." An eyebrow rose. "That is if 'yer considerin' sending her south."

The Lord of Winterfell was conflicted. It was one thing for the Lady Catelyn Tully's betrothal to Brandon - it would be she coming North - but to send Lyanna far to the south in the Stormlands? Once again, politics beat out sentimentality. "Robert Baratheon is a strong match for the North. Lyanna will accept her duty." Not wanting to hear more from Martyn, Rickard opened the other dispatch. This one far more professionally written than his son's.

Lord Stark,

His Grace Aerys, Second of his Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm, invites you to a tourney at Harrenhal to celebrate the Crown Prince Rhaegar's twenty and two nameday. The entirety of the lords and ladies of the Seven Kingdoms are also invited to be welcomed under the hospitality of
His Grace.

Your presence is very strongly requested.

Jon Connington,

Lord of Griffin's Roost and Hand of the King.

"My Lord… My Lord…" Rickard could barely hear Martyn calling to him, blood rushing from his face as he paled. Thrusting the message to his master at arms, Martyn himself paled. "Well fuck."