Year 277 AC
Rhaegar meets her in a secluded public garden, hidden away in the backstreets of Kings Landing.
He'd been stalking about through the streets, hood pulled high and pressed charcoal hiding his distinctive locks from view, just in an effort to get away from his life for a few hours.
All the guards believe him locked up within his room studying, and none knew of the secret passage that allowed him to pass into the courtyard's shadows unseen. But his mind was still focused upon the idea of marriage, that there was no sister, no cousin for him to wed and so now his father was forced to look outside of the bloodline for the first time in generations.
A part of him feels, relieved.
Panic had swirled in his stomach, for what if he sires a son as mad as his father? Already he's starting to descend, and slowly, the kingdom will fall with him, and Rhaegar will be left to pick up the pieces at best.
His mind is a northern storm, the restless sea, and for that reason along, he almost missed her.
In fact, he believes the flash of red from the corner of his eyes to be a flower, and is thus subsequently startled when he realises that mass of fire is not attached to a stem but in fact, a face.
It is a fair face, heart shaped with sharp cheekbones and finely formed lips. The most striking feature is weighed even between the brilliance of green eyes, and the sharp light lines -a birthmark? Scarring?- that span down from her forehead and come to a halt just before the swell of her cheeks.
Mostly though, it is that she is not looking at him, that she sits there and stares up at the wispy clouds stretching across the sky half laid upon the tree at her back. Her hands are folded across her midriff, legs stretched before her and crossed at the ankles.
She appears as if she has nowhere else to be in the world than right here before him. Only, she is not here for him, just resting in this park in a dress lighter than anything he has seen the Ladies of the court wear, but tailored finer than even his own clothes.
He has never seen her before.
The summer sun sets her hair alight most magnificently, burning with dragon fire atop her head, the spectrum of yellow and orange and red. The very sight of it was searing, just how the books described the creature that represented his house.
"Are you quite alright?"
Rhaegar blinks at the voice, and it takes him a shameful moment to realise it is the woman speaking to him. Her dialect is heavily accented, but not by tones he has ever heard before. He, who has met all the Lords of all the Kingdoms.
Brows puckering, Rhaegar lowers himself to sit beside the woman, slowly, so as to not startle her.
As he does so, he notes the great blade that rests beside her leg, unclear to him until he seated himself beside her. It is a marvellous thing, a long stretch of untainted silver, the handle inlaid with rubies as large as a chicken egg. It is a fine piece of craftsmanship, and Rhaegar traces the name encircled upon the blade with his eyes.
He has never heard of such a man, but clearly he was wealthy, to be able to pay for such a fine blade.
"If you're thinking about stealing it," the woman begins, a wry twist to her lips and her eyes sparkle in amusement, "I warn you, it's a cursed blade."
"Cursed?" Rhaegar repeats, searching through his memory, trying to recall all the ancient blades he knows of, along with any curses that he might have happened across in his studies.
To his irritation, his knowledge is woefully lacking, something which he will see corrected.
"The Curse of Recall," the woman confirms with a nod of her head, a smile pooling from her lips, lifting her cheeks and contorting her face just enough for the white lightning to crackle upon it, "should the blade ever be stolen, it will return when it's master calls."
She speaks with a fondness, as if this curse and magic is true, and Rhaegar makes himself comfortable on the earth, ignoring the itch of charcoal upon his scalp.
"I have never heard of this curse," he admits, watching as the woman's smile brightens. Whether it be because he did not dismiss her claims outright, or that he simply continues the conversation, Rhaegar does not know.
He does appreciate when she lifts the blade with a careful, well practiced hand, before offering him the hilt, for inspection.
Accepting the blade, he finds its balance perfect, much to his surprise. Never before has he seen a sword of silver; silver is a soft metal, made into weapons of ceremony, not weapons of war. Yet something within his mind persists with the knowledge this weapon would not falter under strain. Odd.
"It is a fine blade," he grants, offering the handle back to the woman, but mindful of how she grasped the blade. Just because he is in disguise, does not make him stupid. While shameful, it is true that some men just kill for the fun, for the joy that jolts their bones. Rhaegar is under no illusion that woman cannot feel this thrill also.
"My thanks," she murmurs, placing the sword down again before she offers her hand. It is a thin thing, with a protruding wrist bone, with slim long fingers. And as he grasps it within his own, he finds it soft, but scarred.
"Hariel," she states, green eyes asking after a name in return.
He will not give his actual name, not to this strange woman with a face of nobility hidden away in the masses of King's Landing. Always wary of those looking to make a quick coin. Selling him out to his father and guard, telling of his past time and escapes, Rhaegar has no need to see the outcome of that.
Her smile brightens, softening into something a pinch more sincere as she releases his hand. He has never shook hands with a woman before. It is a novel concept.
"What brings you to King's Landing, Lady Hariel?" He says it with a quick twist to his mouth, light humour. But his sharp eyes have not failed to miss the glittering gold upon her right hand; a lord's ring, though the cracked stone inlaid within is perhaps the ugliest he's seen.
Her smile endures, though it strains upon the title he has given her. Not the blushing giggles of the common folk; either a Lady in hiding, or a Lady scorned. Curious, for surely he would have heard whispers, had a woman of such bold colouring been slighted, or mayhap, done the slighting.
"Intrigue," she says, her unfamiliar accent still heavy in her words. Certainly it was refined, a careful pronunciation of each word, and it almost tastes of the mango juice he commonly breaks his fast with. "I was curious... As you can probably tell, I'm not exactly from around these parts..." She winds her sentence off ever so slightly, pausing to reach into the pack that sits beside her.
Her hands return cradling a cloth bundle, and housed within appear to be biscuits. The woman, Hariel does not even hesitate to offer him his share.
Rhaegar sits back against the trunk of the tree, mirroring the woman's posture, fingers aching to hold a good book between the spindly digits.
"And where is it, you come from?"
The question falls from his lips, and he raises the biscuit to take its place. Hariel had no way of knowing she would be running into the Crown Prince today, and he doubts her to carry around poisoned treats for no reason. Not when she already wears a fine blade upon her belt.
"England. It is a tiny country, no bigger than your Iron Islands. The population is asinine, they see no need to develop or explore and so I left." She gives a delicate shrug of her shoulders, which beneath the spiralling red mass of her hair, seem even smaller. Void of braids as it is, her hair feels inappropriate given their location, and he informs her so.
Whereas others would become insulted, she does not grow offended of the comment on her hair, instead nodding along.
"I take it men only see their wife's hair down?"
"It is not a written rule, but commonly accepted, yes."
He does not mention how a man may lay with whores, how their unbound hair is said to sprawl out across the pillow.
Rhaegar has never tangled his fingers within a woman's hair and has no intention of doing so with any other but his wife. While he has never personally seen the string of mistresses his father had dealt with in the past, he had witnessed the fallout in the sharp cracks of his mother's façade.
He would not put another through that.
"Perhaps if we next run into each other, I shall be presentable then," she jokes, and Rhaegar smiles, crumbs of charcoal sticking to the pads of his fingers as he runs a hand through his hair.
"Perhaps," he allows, before focusing on this woman from a land he has never heard of, "would you tell me more of your country? Even if it just be about the climate."
"How about some of the local legends?"
Is her counteroffer, and Rhaegar can respect that, a reluctance to expose the homeland to a stranger. Local legends are perfectly acceptable.
For every tale holds an ounce of truth after all.
They part ways as night finally falls upon them, and though Rhaegar offers to escort the woman back, Hariel shakes her head and simply raises her sword in response.
"It is not just an heirloom."
And then she is gone, leaving the taste of sweet biscuit in his mouth and foreign tales filling his head. His fingers dance across the spine of the book she had given him, one filled with children's tales, retrieved from the bottom of her pack. When he had enquired as to why she carried such a book with her, she had simply said one of the tales tangled with the history of her family.
Though she appeared more than happy to lend him the book, under the promise he would someday return it.
That is how Rhaegar finds himself sat beside Viserys' bed an hour later, reading the tale of The Fountain of Fair Fortune to his younger brother.
The boy does not understand half the words, but clearly appreciates listening to Rhaegar tell the tale, in a voice born of the joining of his singing and of his speaking tone. Viserys' eyes, the same startling lilac as every Targaryen, are half lidded with sleep. But he stubbornly clings on in an attempt to finish the tale.
Rhaegar slowly becomes lost in the twisting words himself, so unlike anything he has ever read before. Tales from another world, across seas in which the maidens are born with fire atop their heads and the green promise of summer simmering within their eyes.
By the time he has managed to pull his head from within the pages, Viserys is fast asleep, drool puddling onto the pillowed fabric that cushions his head.
Smiling ever so slight, Rhaegar reaches over and gently teases Viserys' mouth shut, brushing back the fair hair from his forehead before rising. He has every intention of finishing the book and its tales. Hariel had promised to arrive at the same location the day after tomorrow, giving him an opportunity to return the book then.
And while the pages were few compared to his tomes, Rhaegar has every intention of memorising the writing style, to attempt with his next song.
Two days pass, and once the midday sun is upon them, Rhaegar once again slips free of the Red Keep, ducking into a side street to smear charcoal through his hair and across his face. It will be a pain to wash out later, but this was how he had appeared upon meeting Hariel, so this was how he would appear again.
His fingers shimmer through the dark dust one final time, and Rhaegar checks his reflection once more in a puddle of questionable liquid upon the street. In the worn cloths he had once bought from a struggling merchant, he looks nothing of the Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.
Now, he is just Rhee, a fellow of King's Landing aquatinted with the foreign traveller Hariel.
It takes him mere minutes to arrive at the same gardens as they last met, the heat of the summer sun beating down upon his neck.
With rosy cheeks, Hariel sits beneath the shade of the grand oak, hair a darkened ember against the bark. When she spots him, a true smile lights up her face. It is not the pleasantries of the Lord and Ladies setting eyes upon him, but the joy of Hariel sighting her good friend, Rhee.
He questions, would she still shine so bright were it Prince Rhaegar Targaryen of Westeros she was meeting? He doubts; Hariel's smile seems reserved only for her friends. He wonders how many of them there are. If her joy is as strong for others as it is for him.
Rhaegar pauses at the strange word, having never heard of it before, and the confusion must have been evident upon his face, for Hariel gave a sheepish laugh.
"It's a greeting from my land. We speak the same language, but it seems we each have words the other doesn't particularly know of."
With a nod of understanding, Rhaegar seats himself, noting that several sections of Hariel's fiery mane have been braided into a simple bun atop her head. Her face looks sharper for it, eyes taking centre focus.
"Did you enjoy the book?" She asks, holding out a hand for the thin tome.
He is, reluctant, to hand it over. Books of foreign origins made for an interesting read, the writing style always differentiating between what he had grown up on. But it is the lady's book, and Rhee of King's Landing would have no spare money upon his person, nor any desire to spend it upon a simple book when food was far more precious.
"Thank you," Hariel whispers, tucking the book into the depth of her pack, before pulling out another.
This was larger, far larger, and titled with simple words, as opposed to the pictures that rested upon 'Beedle's Tales'.
Slowly, Rhaegar accepts the tome, running his fingers over the engraved title and raising a single brow. 'A complete history of the Wizarding World 900-1900'. A Wizarding World, fictional or not, that sounded quite marvellous.
"Since you returned Beedle, I figured you were trustworthy enough to lend this too... You seem to like reading, Rhee."
He can hear the under tone, the question lingering.
Peasants did not know how to read, it is fact.
Commoners had more things to worry about than the written word; an evident flaw in his disguise.
Regardless, it has led him to a trove of new reading material, to give it up would smarten.
"I do favour it as a pastime, when I find myself the freedom."
A smile blooms across her face, a shy thing, as if she's unused to this easy talk, this casual conversation.
It has been quite a while since Rhaegar last met a stranger he was unable to avoid the dance with. A constant two step of politics preformed to the same rhythm, the same crowd.
Here, here he could rest his feet, laze upon the grass beneath the oak and enjoy the fire that only stoked his desire for knowledge.
"My thanks for the tome, my Lady."
Instead of responding verbally, she gives a shallow nod, reaching for the journal resting atop her legs, and the quill beside it.
Careful of the ink pot between them, Rhaegar thumbs open the latest book, a lend -how many years has it been, dice someone did not instantly gift him the very first thing that caught his interest?- that will no doubt hold his attention as surely as the last. He wonders if this is a book of fiction, or if half these tales will prove true history, if they are the distant past of Hariel's land. He remains hesitant to ask her though.
Daylight burns away above their refuge, Rhaegar with his legs half curled and book resting atop his thighs, Hariel scribbling away and filling the blank pages with her muses.
"May I ask what it is you are writing?" Rhaegar finally asks when he notes a sketch of his visage upon the pages. It's recognisable as Rhee of King's Landing, though it's no example of drawing mastery. Certainly one would not look upon it and see Rhaegar Targaryen.
Stem green eyes flicker up to look at him, and then return to the pages, a smile teasing at pale lips.
"I'm recording my journey," she whispers through the calm summer wind, adding in the smudges of charcoal that apparently line his cheeks.
Rhaegar watches the ink smear beneath the pads of her fingers, creating the illusion of cheekbones upon paper.
"Your journey?" He ponders on what it would be like, to traverse through the world, unshackled and unchained, free to live as he wanted. All Rhaegar lusts after is a good book and a warm hearth. Alas, born to the Targaryen Royal line, the first born of his generation, he has a duty to perform.
"My journey. I arrived in Westeros in the western corner of the kingdom."
She flicks back through the pages, pausing at a stretch of beach sketched upon the pages. Rhaegar has never been to the western beaches himself, but he has heard tales, read poems, dedicated to their beauty.
Hesitantly, he reaches for the book, and after a cautious pause, Hariel hands it over. Feathering through the pages, he pays no attention to the words, finding the concept of reading the woman's inner musing too invasive.
It is the pictures he pays attention to, though he stops upon the third one.
Not for any significant reason, if anything, this drawing is the crudest yet. Only, something within his soul, his very essence, calls out at the sight before him. Rhaegar doesn't have the slightest understanding why; after all, it is nought more than a rock with a pretty engraving upon it. Almost like scales.
"Would you like to meet again?" Hariel suddenly asks, one smooth tooth pressing into the bitten flesh of her lip. "That is, if you have the time?"
Rhaegar thinks of the glorious castle Hogwarts that he has been reading of, of a world filled to the brim with magic, and of the girl whom this stories fall from like stars in the sky.
"I believe I would like that."
As they're wont to, the weeks pass swiftly, and Rhaegar slips from the Red Keep to visit his latest friend whenever his schedule allows. It pleases him, that he is not due to leave King's Landing for three more moons.
It does not even occur to him that he is slowly becoming more and more enraptured with the Lady of Fire until Arthur brings the point to head. It comes as a roundabout conclusion, when Rhaegar sits plucking at the strings of his harp and Arthur sharpens his legendary blade.
Silence stretches between the two of them, filled only with the music that carries from the Prince's fingers.
"This is lighter than your usual work Rhaegar."
Glancing up at his closest friend, Rhaegar's fingers slow, the strings quieten and he considers go words. Arthur is correct, it seems.
While before his songs had always curled with the weighty heaviness of Summerhall, now, they seem to float with a gentle wistfulness that has otherwise been absent within his life.
Looking to Arthur, his oldest and most trustworthy friend, the Heir to the Iron Throne weighs the consequences of admitting to his escapes from palace life. Arthur would not take his exploration devoured of protection well, yet, to entrust him with his this secret...
"I believe I have made a friend, down near the common grounds."
His knighted companion blinks, slow and sure, clearly working out that he has been slipping his guard so freely. He focuses upon what Rhaegar had offered up though, free information that is usually so difficult to twist from between his lips. Arthur is a good friend, caring first for his thoughts than for his defiance.
However, Rhaegar does not dismiss the knowledge of a scalding to come later.
"A friend?" Repeats Arthur at last. Rhaegar nods, staring down at the familiar strings before him, until his fingers finally reach out once again and being to pull the harp's voice out. The golden three heads, the symbol of his house, glimmer in the lighting.
And then, he thinks of Hariel, Hariel of England, the foreign land he has never heard of. The tilts and twists of her accent, how the words pass through her lips and cascade through the air, and the tune of his harp trace each imagined uplift and drift down.
Arthur quietly listens, as does Rhaegar, as his fingers tease out the rich, exotic tones with which Hariel speaks. The more he listens, the more he hears her speaking, nonsense words strung together, and he wonders if she sings. He would quite like to hear her do so, her thick accent like honeyed syrup would no doubt be unavailable elsewhere.
"A friend," Rhaegar finally confirms, trailing off once again to stare down at his instrument, ultimately deciding that it would accompany him on his next outing to see Hariel. And perhaps if could keep the secret...
"Would you care to join me tomorrow, Arthur?"
Infant clouds dancing in the sky, it is a particularly warm summers day in which Arthur first meets Hariel.
The two of them are disguised, Rhaegar once again as Rhee, while Arthur bears the name Adan. His friend is no doubt furious to learn of how he has been spending his time, a sea of bubbling ferocity beneath that calm exterior, but Rhaegar can barely feel anything towards that.
Not right now, when Hariel is once again within his sights.
He is not blind, not now that Arthur has opened his eyes. Hariel is affecting him, an influential presence that leaves lingering marks upon all of his mannerisms. Just a day past, he had greeted his mother with a hello, much to her startled confusion.
It could have been worse though, it could have been the King he greeted. Thankfully, he never lowers his guard around Aerys, and for good reason.
"Rhee," Hariel speaks, kneeling before the bark of their oak with a knife in hand. There's scatters of tree sap upon her fingertips, and Rhaegar wanders closer to inspect her handiwork, even as Arthur tenses at the sight of the short blade.
Rhaegar is thankful she has started storing the blade of Gryffindor within the tree's hallowed roots, otherwise his friend would have most likely taken her for a threat.
Summer leaf eyes shimmy up to stare at him, before returning to her carving, placing the finishing touches upon tree.
The sight of it leaves Rhaegar breathless.
It has the same crude passion as the sketches he had seen previously, but it is what the image deciphers that holds his every last focus.
A dragon, stood proud, tail curling around it's paws and leathery wings forming a defensive shield around it's torso. Smoke billows from its nostrils in the same way the tree bark naturally grows, and Rhaegar slowly reaches out to trace the creature's spine.
"Why a dragon?" He finally asks, thumb swiping over the beast's forehead and wondering, not for the first time, if he will ever be blessed enough to see such a creature before him in the flesh.
Hariel blinks, slowly placing the blade upon the grass before fully seating herself with a smile.
"It's the symbol of the royal house, no? It seems appropriate." She gives no indication of knowing whom he truly is.
Even if she does know, Rhaegar doubts she would expose him, seemingly content to continue as they are. Just two friends, meeting and enjoy the peaceful harmony of one another's company.
While Arthur was not particularly impressed with him for venturing out unguarded, he said no more, other than to insist he be asked to accompany him for each time afterwards.
Rhaegar agreed, knowing that should he not, every Kingsguard would be informed and tracing his every footstep. The better of two evils, it would seem.
Now, on this night, after having been forced to watch the king burn another for their pretty crimes, the crown prince walks through the streets of King's Landing listlessly, searching for something that he knows not. A part of him, a voice that remains unacknowledged, knows exactly what he hopes to see.
Perhaps that is why his heart wilts upon sighting the empty garden that has become as familiar as the winding paths of the Red Keep.
He makes his way over to the oak, peripherally aware of Arthur's lingering presence. Kneeling beside the trunk, fingertips trace the engravings within the bark, before Rhaegar notices something beneath the glow of moonlight. Whereas before the dragon had been stood proud and protective upon his lonesome, now its tail curled around a small figure, though the only detail he could make from the rough carving was that the figure was a person. How strange.
"It's not really the time to be admiring a carving."
Rhaegar jumps almost out of his skin, spinning around to see Hariel stood not three feet away, and amused smile on her face as she looks upon him, offering Arthur a flighty wave in greeting.
"My chambers are up there," Hariel explains, pointing to a darken window, small and so unlike the grandeur of the Red Keep, "and the two of you are not as silent as you like to believe."
Her smile is a challenging, amused little thing, and Rhaegar returns it, humour curling within his stomach. The cool night's wind howls through Hariel's red locks, the breeze lifting those not held back within a messy bun, clearly thrown up quickly so she could complete her ambush. no goosebumps rise upon her bare arms though, even as Rhaegar shrugs off his cloak and wraps it around her shoulders.
"Why are you not cold?" He asks quietly, hands lingering perhaps just a tad too long as he clasps the cloak closed beneath her chin. Septic with the moonlight, her eyes seem like liquid diamonds, only the slightest glimmer of their usual green. She looks ethereal.
"I was raised in a kingdom where winter was common," Hariel says, and the frustration upon her brow shows just what she thinks of Westeros' fickle seasons, "snow and ice, I'm far more used to that then the constant heat of this place."
He remembers the sweat that glistened on her brow whenever the sun graced them with its presence for the whole day, remembers watching as she downed waterskin after waterskin, the cool beads tracing out the curves of her lips and chin.
Eyes filtering down to glance upon the features in question, Rhaegar takes in the pale lips, the healing scab upon her lip where she has bitten just a bit too hard and injured herself. Barring the lightning that plays across her forehead, no cicatrices mar her face, not like the commoners with their pox scars.
She is beautiful, there's no denying that fact now, and Rhaegar wonders just when the taint of attraction gripped his mind so very tightly.
There had been fleeting fancies, pretty faces that passed by in the palace, but never had he fallen for someone's mind before their appearance. Hariel spoke of tales, of lands and customs and ideas that had never crossed his mind before. Enraptured by her words of magic, yet never did she confirm it's existence within her land.
He would quite like to believe it though, that she was magic, that magic ran thick within her veins, replacing the red blood that they bled. At least then it would make some semblance of sense, would gift him a reason for his fascination.
He was the Crown Prince, and his duty was to marry with the best interests of his family.
To marry for love, those matches were far and few between, and he knew they would never be for him.
Yet, with the woman made of fire, who hailed from a land of ice and snow stood before him, Rhaegar could want, even if it were only for a few moments.
Reaching, he captures her chin in an ever so gentle hold, softer than he even held his mother, allowing for her to break away if she wished. Hariel only leans in, pressing her lips to his just for a meagre moment.
But it is confirmation enough for Rhaegar, that whatever feeling is simmering within his chest, is something shared with Hariel.
And for now, that will do.