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The Dragon of Duskendale

Chapter Text

It was difficult being the son of the most hated man in Westeros.

Aelor Targaryen had seen his fair share of death. He'd watched the executions of the Houses Darklyn and Hollard after the Defiance, a fifteen year old squire to Ser Barristan Selmy who'd been forced to stay behind while his mentor scaled the wall of Duskendale and rescued Aelor's father. He'd killed his first man, some hulking brute who smelled like a pig sty and fought like a boar, two years later during the waning hours of the Kingswood Brotherhood, and sent seven more men to their graves before the conflict was finished, earning his knighthood. And he'd seen men burned alive by his father for years now, more men and more situations than Aelor wished to recall. His father's nickname of the Mad King was well earned.

But the deaths of Rickard and Brandon Stark were…haunting. The smell of the Lord of the North's burning flesh still swirled in his nostrils, just as the sound of the man's son strangling himself as he tried to reach his longsword to save his father still rang in his ears. Aelor was no stranger to nightmares, but he knew those deaths would haunt him until the day he died.

If they ever find Rhaegar, I'll kill him myself. There are worse things in life than being labeled a kinslayer.

"My Lord," came a deep, raspy voice in the hall behind him. Aelor didn't turn, his eyes finally seeing what he had been staring at since he'd stormed out of the throne room. King's Landing was breathtaking from this balcony at night, the stench of the city prevalent but easily ignored when one was gazing at the millions of lights down below. The sound of heavy footfalls drew nearer before stopping a few feet behind where Aelor leaned. "My…"

"I heard you the first time, Ren." Prince Aelor Targaryen sighed, running his hand through his short, silver hair. "They'll be hell to pay now." The second son of Aerys Targaryen, second of his name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, turned to regard his best friend. Renfred Rykker, Lord of Hollard Hall, was a big man, six and a half feet tall and broad shouldered. His warhammer was strapped across his back, a permanent accessory to the man since he'd been big enough to wield it. Black haired and fully bearded, he struck an imposing figure.

Renfred came to lean next to his lifetime friend, arms folding across his chest. Aelor was himself big for a Targaryen, only an inch or two shorter than Rykker and nearly as broad shouldered. His silver hair and trimmed beard paired with his dark violet eyes and classic Targaryen beauty to strike an imposing figure in his own right. They'd both only seen twenty namedays, but each man felt in that moment a lifetime older.

Rykker spoke first. "The King has commanded Jon Arryn to surrender Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon to him."

Aelor shook his head. "He won't, and the Seven know I don't blame him for it."

Renfred raised an eyebrow. "Do you think he will call his banners in rebellion?"

The prince turned to meet his friend's eyes. "My father just burned the Lord Paramount of the North alive in his armor, while his heir strangled himself trying to save him. All of this after my brother, heir to the throne, disregards his wife and kidnaps the man's daughter, who just so happens to be the betrothed of Robert Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands." Aelor snorted. "My family has done an excellent job of screwing things up. Yes, Jon Arryn will rebel, and the North and the Stormlands will join him."

Renfred nodded. "So it will be war, then. I don't see your father abdicating."

"My father hasn't done a sensible thing like that in years, old friend."

Rykker glanced around. "You know as well as I, Your Grace, the dangers of talking like that."

Aelor Targaryen laughed, gaining his feet from his leaning position. "Yes, the walls have ears as they say. It is true, I have no doubt. Even now you can hear the wings of Varys' little birds as they flap away to report on King Aerys' traitorous son. Let them. My father will need me now more than ever, and even his madness won't stop him from knowing it." Aelor raised his voice louder. "Ser Barristan!"

The knight stepped out from behind the pillar where he had been waiting, white enamel plate shining in the torchlight of the rather dark hall. "Yes Your Grace?"

Aelor walked towards his old mentor, strides long and confident, his well-muscled but lean body moving as smooth as a shadowcat. Renfred followed, his strides longer, heavier and not nearly as graceful. "We're leaving."

"At this time of night, Your Grace?"

Aelor nodded, the Kingsguard knight and Lord of Hollard Hall falling into step on either side of him. "Yes. We all know how my father gets after displays like today. I have no intention of hearing my mother's wails for mercy ever again." Aelor's face was hard as stone. "When we reach Duskendale, send the ravens to my bannermen. We prepare for war."

Chapter Text

Duskendale was an impressive sight. It had been impressive five years ago, when he'd rode with Tywin Lannister to besiege the city and it's castle, and it was just as impressive now, even after he'd ruled it in the years since his father had granted it to him after destroying the Darklyn's. He was still a mile away, but he could clearly see the Dun Fort, his castle, on the shore of the Narrow city speared out away from it, thickly walled on the three sides that didn't face the ocean. Cobbled and swept streets made Duskendale an attractive city, and a prosperous one thanks to trade made possible by its location on the ocean. Even now, galleys flying the banner of the Stormlands, Dragonstone, the Reach, and even the Free Cities of Pentos and Myr were docked outside the walls, being loaded or unloaded by the dockhands, their goods carried by the cartload to the traders inside the walls.

Despite being born and raised in King's Landing, which made Duskendale's population of forty thousand seem miniscule, Aelor always felt a sense of pride when he saw the Targaryen banners flapping above it.

They'd passed several fishing villages on the road, raising the levies as they went. Aelor had sent Sers Balman and Morgan Byrch, the brothers of Lord Cleyton of Byrch Hall, sworn to him, as well as Sers Manfred Darke and Gullien Elwood to the surrounding villages. Duskendale itself, however, would provide the most levies, among them two thirds of the two thousand strong City Watch. In the five years since Aelor had been granted the city, he had worked tirelessly to train and equip the men under the City Watch's banner, drilling them every day with his own household guards. In times like these that training would prove invaluable, as the peasants that would soon be flooding Duskendale would need both training and the occasional blow to the head if they stepped out of line.

His retinue pulled their horses to a stop at the fork in the road just outside the gates, the traders scurrying around the forty strong formation, many staring at the attractive dragonlord sitting astride the white palfrey, or the famed Barristan the Bold, fully armored and mounted on his own grey gelding. Slightly behind them a man bore the three-headed red dragon on black field banner of House Targaryen, and beside him another bore two three-headed white dragons facing each other on a black field, the personal coat of arms of Prince Aelor Targaryen, Lord of Duskendale.

Lord Renfred Rykker sidled his horse up beside his Prince's, clasping wrists with the second son of the king. "I'll return with my full force as soon as possible, Your Grace."

Aelor nodded, clapping his lifelong friend on the shoulder. "This will not be a quick war, Ren. Shall I ask Lord Buckwell to bring Malessa with his host?" The Targaryen Prince couldn't help but smile at the blush that overtook his massive friends face at the mention of his betrothed. "You will have the full hospitality of both the Dun Fort and Duskendale itself for your wedding. You need only say the word."

Renfred Rykker, who feared no man in either Westeros or Essos, turned white at the prospect of marriage. "I do not know if it will be necessary so soon."

"We both may die, old friend." Aelor spoke gently but firmly. "Your only brother is a member of the Night's Watch. You are the first Lord Rykker. If you die heirless, Hollard Hall reverts to me. I granted it to one friend for him to keep. I don't intend to grant it to another."

"There is no guarantee that…the…bedding would result in a child, Your Grace."

Aelor's smile grew. "No, but it certainly is worth a chance. You've postponed this marriage long enough, Ren. If we're to die for my family's follies, at least allow yourself some pleasure before we do."

Renfred Rykker hesitated a long moment, indecision fighting a losing battle over his facial features before he finally nodded, eyes resigned. "Yes, Your Grace. I graciously accept your offer."

Aelor laughed, clapping the larger Lord Rykker on the shoulder again as they released one another's wrists. "It's about damn time. Strong shield."

"Stronger sword," Lord Rykker completed the greeting and farewell the two had used since they were toddlers in the Red Keep. With a salute, he turned and spurred his palfrey down the road, ten retainers in the blue and white of House Rykker peeling off to follow.

Aelor spurred his palfrey towards the gate, Barristan and his own retainers following. "Are you certain it will come to war, Your Grace?" Barristan rode beside the man he had trained with a sword from birth, grateful to the king for assigning him to Aelor as his personal Kingsguard.

"I wouldn't call my banners if I wasn't, Barristan." The Prince turned his eyes on his mentor. "If I were Eddard Stark, I'd do the same."

"He seemed like a shy lad at Harrenhal."

Aelor nodded, turning his attention to the road as he passed under the portcullis. "He is, quiet and honorable. The opposite of his brother, truth be told, but he has a strength to him. After the insults my family dealt to his, he has to respond." Aelor nodded and waved at the citizens they passed, many stopping to watch him pass by, smiling. His voice, however, held none of the mirth showing on his face. "You have more experience at war than I could hope to gain. What are your thoughts? And don't try to sweeten the sound of it for my father's sake, Ser. I want your honest opinion."

Barristan kept his mare even with the Prince's, mulling the question even as he habitually watched the surrounding citizens for threats. An assassination attempt was unlikely, as Aelor was loved by Duskendale and its surrounding people, but Barristan was nothing but thorough. "The Northerners and Valemen will follow their liege lords to the death, as will most of the Stormlords. The Iron Islands won't budge. The Reach will likely stay loyalist, as will Dorne for Princess Elia's sake."

"Even after Rhaegar's dishonorable actions?"

"Princess Elia is still in King's Landing, Your Grace."

Aelor darted his eyes to the Kingsguard knight. "You think my father…" The young Lord let his voice drift off, looking down in thought before nodding slightly and returning his eyes to the road. "Aye, you're right, he would. I doubt I'll be able to convince him to send her and the children here or to Dragonstone either." Aelor shook his head. "Tywin Lannister may side against us as well, after the years of insults my father hurled at him."

Barristan shook his head. "No, Your Grace. Tywin Lannister may well take no part in the war, but he certainly won't side against us. The King keeps Jaime close at hand."

Aelor groaned. "Bloody hell, I'd forgotten. My father, using his own bodyguard as a hostage."

"It well keep the might of Casterly Rock out of this war you're so certain of, Your Grace. As much as I hate it for Jaime, it does serve a purpose."

"The same purpose as dear Elia and perhaps even my niece and nephew." Aelor rode on in silence for a moment. "How did we let things get this bad, Barristan." It wasn't a question, and the knight of the Kingsguard didn't answer, merely riding alongside his prince as he had for years. They were nearing the portcullis of the Dun Fort itself before the dragonlord spoke again. "What of Hoster Tully?"

"His eldest daughter was betrothed to Brandon Stark, Your Grace."

"Was being the key word. Catelyn is her name, isn't it? She's a fair lady, and quick of mind if I recall. Do you suppose Hoster will ask for Eddard in place of her?"

"I could not say, my Prince."

Aelor nodded, features drawn in in thought. "If I offer myself as a husband to either Catelyn or…what's the other one's name, the younger girl?"

"Lysa Tully, Your Grace."

"Yes yes, Lysa. If I ask to marry one of his daughters I may be able to keep him loyal."

Barristan felt a pang of concern for the boy he thought of as a son. "Your father would be furious were you to marry of your own choosing, Your Grace."

Aelor snorted. "It wouldn't be of my own choosing, Barristan. But my father will be furious with me no matter my course of action, and he hasn't chosen a bride for me on his own yet. At least I might be able to save my family before he burns me alive as well."

Barristan smiled slightly, remembering the phrase the young prince had always used as a child when chided for attempting something far more dangerous than he should have. "Fire cannot kill a dragon, Your Grace."

Aelor snorted out a laugh. "No, but steel most certainly can. It's the steel I'm wary of, Ser Barristan; dragon or no, it will kill you just the same."

Chapter Text

When Aelor Targaryen held a feast, he held a feast.

It had taken a week and a half for the Prince's bannermen to muster their levies and arrive in and around Duskendale. In that time, he had somehow stocked the larder with vast quantities of boar and deer, acquired the services of both the bard Cellador of White Harbor and a troupe of Tyroshi acrobats, and had forged a new blade for each of his bannermen and household knights. Even now, Sers Gullian Elwood and Alester were engrossed in discussing their respective swords, though they had both drank enough by then that the conversation mostly consisted of repeating the same details over and over amidst rounds of boisterous laughter. The Northman bard played and the Tyroshi enamored the crowd with flips and other acts of agility, each act earning more and more applause as the guests dove deeper and deeper into their cups.

Aelor Targaryen, despite not having touched a drop of wine, was smiling wider than anyone else in the room. "For the sake of the Mother, Renfred, smile."

Lord Renfred Rykker, in direct contrast to his liege and friend, looked like he would rather be dueling the Warrior himself than be there. "I don't know if I can do this, Aelor."

The Targaryen laughed, violet eyes filled with mirth. "Well it's too late to back out now, old friend. You have the wedded down, the bedded to go."

Renfred turned red, contrasting with his dark blue doublet. "Exactly."

"Oh come now, Renfred. Half the handmaidens in the Red Keep knew you were more than capable by the time you were fourteen, and from what Heavy Hallie told me you haven't lost your touch." Renfred's blush doubled at the mention of the extremely well-endowed courtesan Aelor had had waiting in his friend's chambers the night before, as a wedding gift of sorts. It was impressive in truth, for Rykker's face had already been as red as the Targaryen sigil.

Aelor turned towards the table from the alcove he had found his friend hiding in, gesturing towards the slightly plump girl seated there, laughing along with several other young ladies. "Look at Malessa. She is having a grand time, and I dare say she has much more to fear from tonight than you do." The eldest daughter of Lord Buckwell had seemed completely calm and confident since the moment she arrived that morning, putting her new husband to shame in truth. Rykker had been fidgeting restlessly for three days now.

"I have no experience with….maidens."

Aelor grinned mischievously. "Well, it's like Willem Darry always told us; practice makes perfect." Before Rykker could stop him, Aelor had stridden out towards the middle of the chamber, calling out to the waiting lords and ladies. "Time for the bedding!"

Renfred's curses were swept away by the cry of the crowd, as men converged on Malessa and ladies on Rykker, Lady Byrch already working on his breeches as if she had been waiting all night for the chance. With a laugh, Aelor realized she probably had.

Aelor made no move towards the throng of men surrounding Malessa Buckwell, leaving the removal of clothes to those more inebriated, but he did nod at Ser Manfred Darke. The knight, bigger than Rykker and half as tall, muscled through the crowd and scooped the already mostly naked maiden into his arms, striding toward the chamber with the other partiers stumbling along behind. Aelor had instructed the man to make sure Malessa made it to the bedding chamber unscathed, and while Ser Manfred was rude and perpetually angry, he was as loyal a man as Aelor had ever known. The new Lady Rykker would make it to the chamber unmarked if the short, wide knight had to break arms to make it happen.

Aelor was laughing after the crowd of revealers when Ser Barristan stepped up beside him, materializing out of nowhere. "Your Grace, I have news."

The Prince nodded, chuckling once more before turning to his trusted mentor. "Good or bad?"

"Expected, Your Grace." The Kingsguard gestured to another man, dressed in heavy boots and a rumpled cloak. "A man from Gulltown in the Vale, arrived on a galley just this night."

Aelor nodded, the mirth draining from his face to be replaced by the clenched jaw and furrowed brow the Prince adopted when he focused on matters of high importance. "Your name?"

The man, half a boy in truth, was short and slightly built with wispy hair and a harelip, which quivered as he gulped nervously. "Ronald, my lord. I have information."

Aelor nodded. "I look forward to hearing all about it."

Aelor's solar was smaller than one might expect for a castle such as the Dun Fort, but it overlooked the city of Duskendale and all its splendor. Ronald was fidgeting nervously, apparently unsure if he was supposed to be looking at the view out the solar window, the plate of roasted boar in front of him, or the fair dragonlord seated across from him. Aelor ended his uncertainty quickly. "Eat."

The man obliged, albeit nervously, eyes periodically darting up to either Aelor or Ser Barristan, who was standing behind the Prince with his arms folded. "You claim to have information," the dragonlord began after a time. When Ronald nodded, Aelor leaned forward slightly. "Concerning what, exactly?"

Ronald swallowed, his fidgeting increasing. "Lord Arryn, my lord."

"Your Grace," Barristan corrected from behind Aelor.

"Y-your Grace," the man corrected quickly. "I'm sorry, Your Grace."

Aelor leaned forward. "Calm yourself, Ronald. I am not my father." The man, too much weight on his small frame to be a peasant but much too nervous to be familiar with dealing with nobility, relaxed ever so slightly, though his eyes were still wary and his knee did not slow its rapid up and down motion. "Where are you from?"

"Gulltown, Your Grace."

"And what do you do there?"

"My father is the steward for Ser Arstan Saul, Your Grace. I assist him"

Ser Barristan cut in, filling in the blanks for his Prince. "A knightly house sworn to House Grafton, Your Grace. They control a towerhouse guarding one of Gulltown's gates."

Aelor nodded. "And you, Ronald, decided to board a galley and sail here to Duskendale with information for Prince Aelor Targaryen. Well, here you are, and here I am. I'm listening."

Ronald gulped again, eyes dancing between the other two men in the room. Aelor knew that whatever information the lad possessed, he had intended on being rewarded for it. Aelor didn't necessarily hold that against him; nothing came free in this world, and information could be more valuable than all the gold in the Westerlands. While Ronald certainly would be rewarded if his information proved worth his time, Aelor didn't intend to promise anything. Spies and turncloaks had their uses, but their nature roiled his stomach.

Aelor sharpened his gaze, letting the dark violet mingle with the shadows of the candlelight to darken his face intimidatingly. "I don't have all night, lad. And while I'm not my father, I do not like to be kept waiting." Aelor let his jaw clench ever harder, blazing his gaze into the young man across from him.

Whatever Ronald had been intending to ask for in return for this information must've suddenly become unimportant, because he opened up rather quickly. "Lord Arryn has called his banners, Your Grace. There are rumors in Gulltown that he is opposing your father."

Aelor nodded. Looks like I was correct about our war. Gods I hate being right sometimes. "And Lord Grafton?"

"He is going to answer the call to arms, Your Grace. He has already ordered Ser Saul and his sons to raise levies."

"What else?"

Ronald shrugged nervously. "That is all I know, Your Grace."

"Any talk of Lords remaining loyal to the crown? Rumors of mercenaries, news of that nature?"

"No, Your Grace, I promise. I have told you all I know."

Aelor leaned back, regarding the young man across from him coolly. "Apparently you don't know too much, Ronald, although what you have told me is useful." Aelor looked towards the door of the solar, ignoring the Valeman for a moment. "Ser Manfred!"

The broad shouldered and ugly knight opened the door at once, stepping through. "Your Grace?"

Aelor stood, and after a moment Ronald realized he should stand as well, nearly knocking his chair over in his rush to gain his feet. "This man has proven his loyalty to the crown. Ten golden dragons and a mug of ale for him."

"Thank you, Your Grace!" Ronald's face lit up as he answered, but Aelor was already moving past him, Ser Barristan at his heels. Aelor clapped Ser Manfred on the shoulder as he passed. "He also arrived at my home intending to sell information he should have given me freely. He leaves Duskendale with a few less teeth than he arrived with."

Aelor and Ser Barristan were out the door before the sound of Manfred's fist connecting with Ronald's face filled the room. "That may have been a poor move, Your Grace. The man gave us valuable information."

Aelor nodded, not slowing his stride. "Yes, he did, and you're probably right. I suppose I have seen too many treacheries for money in King's Landing; it has turned me hostile to those who turn on their family for so little a motive as gold."

"You have never lacked for gold, Your Grace. Those who have see it much differently."

Aelor couldn't argue that. "A true statement. That's why I like you, Barristan, you put me in my place. I'll give him another dragon for the teeth." Aelor returned to the dining hall, finding that after the bedding many of the guests had stumbled to their chambers. Servants scurried about, cleaning the spills and reorganizing the disarray the visitors had left his hall in. A few were helping this knight or that Lord to their feet and herding them off to their chambers.

Aelor chuckled quietly. "I see I wasn't missed. Ser Barristan, rest well. We rise early in the morning. There are peasants to train, hangovers to cure."

Barristan the Bold nodded. "Of course Your Grace. Shall I convene a war council in the morning?"

Aelor nodded even as he turned to meander towards his chambers by the Narrow Sea. "Of course, old friend. As Ronald so kindly confirmed, we are fighting a war after all."

How Barristan had managed to assemble his bannermen and top knights so early in the morning Aelor would never know, yet when he entered the private dining hall they were almost all already in place, struggling through a breakfast of fresh fish from the docks. Struggling was the apt term, as most of them were moving sluggishly slow and Lord Byrch seemed to be more asleep than awake, but they were there in body if not mind.

Aelor waved them down as they tried to rise upon his entrance, taking his seat at the head of the table and returning the chorus of greetings from his bannermen. A servant brought him his own dish of steaming cod and a flagon of ale, and Aelor ate quickly and quietly as the men around him returned to nursing their hangovers, chuckling to himself when Lord Renfred Rykker entered and was met with a round of good nature ribbing. He sat beside Aelor, giving his longtime friend a shove in the shoulder when the Targaryen smirked at him.

He looks happy. Good. The world needs more happiness.

After several minutes, he cleared his throat. "My lords, we have received word from the Vale." Each of the lords and knights, no matter their stage of sickness from the night before, instantly gave him their full attention. "Jon Arryn has called his banners. We are at war."

Each of the men took the news calmly, nodding their heads. Lord Cleyton Byrch, apparently more awake than he seemed, spoke first. He was a burly man though a shade short, a few years shy of thirty, with a belly already beginning to grow portly. He kept his blonde hair short and his face clean shaven, with brown eyes and a slightly large nose. Though loyal to Aelor, he could be ambitious and arrogant, as well as perpetually paranoid about losing what was his. That paranoia had driven both of his younger brothers, the handsome Balman and rail-thin Morgan, to leave Byrch Hall, and Aelor had taken them in as household knights in his personal retinue. It served both Lord Byrch and the Dragon of Duskendale well; Lord Cleyton could rest easier without his irrational fear of treachery from his brothers, and Aelor got two very capable swords. "What are your plans, Your Grace?"

"That's what we are here to discuss, my friend. I have sent a raven to King's Landing informing my father of what has happened, though I expect Varys already knows. The King will call his own banners of course, and the raven summoning me may well be on the way. I intend to already be marching by the time it arrives."

"The peasant levies have only just began training, Your Grace," cautioned Lord Donnel Buckwell of Antlers. Malessa's father was in his forties, of average height and build with a head of balding black hair peppered with gray and a drooping mustache. An honorable man, he had earned his knighthood in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, and while he was no strategist or master with a blade, he was solid and steady.

Buckwell's new goodson answered for Aelor. "We can train as we march," Renfred said with a nod to the other men. "We have the men to do so. Call a halt an hour or two before daylight and drill them until nightfall. By the time we reach an actual battlefield they'll be as ready as they're ever going to get."

"Levies are unreliable no matter their training," Lord Cleyton countered. "The knights and retinues are the only fore we can depend on."

Ser Barristan spoke from his standing position behind Aelor. "That is true, Lord Byrch, but with proper support levy spears can turn a battle. While most of the levies had never held a weapon before we armed them as you arrived, they can learn."

Ser Manfred, his voice like stone breaking and face scowling as it always was, spoke for the first time in Aelor's memory without cursing every other word. "They will fight as a wall. Alone, the fuckers won't know which end of the spear to stick where and in whom, but together they'll do fine."

"What are our numbers?" Asked the quiet Lord Elwood Harte, short and thin with a few stray copper hairs he tried to pass for a beard. Nineteen, he had been a Lord since he was two years old, when a round of illness had taken his Lord father and most of his household, leaving the young toddler Elwood as the sole survivor of House Harte.

"We have over six thousand men total," answered Ser Barristan. "The majority are trained men-at-arms or knights."

"A relatively small army," Aelor admitted, "but we are already assembled. The Vale is only just beginning to muster, and Lord Arryn will have to smuggle Eddard Stark north and Robert Baratheon to the Stormlands to rally their own bannermen."

"We can strike first," piped in Ser Balman, notably standing as far from his older brother as he could. While they were relatively civil to one another, there was no love lost between the two eldest Byrch's. "We should hit the Valemen or Stormlords before they can assemble." Aelor had been thinking along the same lines, as had most of the other knights and Lords present judging by the wave of nods that followed Ser Balman's proposal.

"They stand a better chance once they unite," agreed Rykker. "We hold the advantage of having the largest force already amassed and equipped."

"The King will insist on your presence in King's Landing, Your Grace," cautioned Ser Barristan. "While Ser Balman's suggestion is credible, your father will expect you to reinforce the capital first."

Aelor nodded. "And so I shall, though I will not remain there. We will march to King's Landing, training our levies as we go, and swell our numbers once there. Then we march through the Stormlands. I intend to scatter as many Stormlord hosts as we can. If we take them piecemeal, we may be able to end this rebellion before it begins."

"The King may not approve, Your Grace."

"The King started this war, with no small amount of help from my brother. I intend to end it, whether he approves or not." Aelor rose to his feet, prompting the others to do the same. "Go to your men my lords. War is upon us. We march for King's Landing by dusk."

Chapter Text

Elia Martell knew Rhaegar Targaryen better than almost anyone, and even she hadn't seen it coming.

When her husband had won the tourney at Harrenhal, unhorsing his own brother in the final tilt after both Targaryen's had broken twelve lances on the other's shield, Elia and the entire realm had expected the heir to the Iron Throne to crown her the Queen of Love and Beauty. It wasn't pride or a notion of her own beauty that made her believe so; it was simply expected of a victorious tournament winner to crown his wife. That was how it had always been, and how it always would be.

So when the Crown Prince of Dragonstone bypassed the royal box, bestowing the crown of winter roses on the head of the Stark girl, Elia had been duly surprised. While her union to Rhaegar had not grown into one of love, it had been a happy one, at least for Elia's part. She had thought Rhaegar to be happy as well; all the way until the day it was revealed that he had stolen Lyanna Stark.

The Princess of Dorne had had no warning, no word from Rhaegar before or after hand to soften the blow. Truth be told, she still hadn't wrapped her mind around it fully.

Her concern was more for her children than herself. Rhaenys was only two namedays old and Aegon was still an infant, so the scandal of their father's betrayal of their mother wouldn't dawn on them for years yet. The war that it alongside their grandfather's lunacy had started, however, threatened them here and now. The Vale had called its banners, and it only stood to reason that the North and Stormlands were doing the same. King Aerys had called his own after a terrifying rant that had included the King burning the messenger alive with wildfire, but Elia wasn't sure how many lords would answer. Her goodfather's epithet of the Mad King was well deserved, and Jon Arryn was well respected across Westeros. She was quiet but she certainly wasn't stupid; if this rebellion was to win, her children would be threats to whomever the traitors chose as king.

And in the game of thrones, threats were removed. Violently.

"Elia," called a rich baritone, and the Dornish Princess's heart stopped when she turned to face it. For just a moment Elia thought her husband had returned, striding towards her confidently. But no, this man was a few inches taller and a fair bit broader through the shoulders and chest, a beard growing on a face that, while still attractive, didn't quite possess the haunting beauty that Rhaegar's did.

"Aelor," the Princess greeted, genuinely pleased to see her goodbrother had returned. In Elia's—private—opinion, the Dragon of Duskendale was the only Targaryen with his head firmly on his shoulders. Her husband's recent lapse of judgment had only affirmed that belief. Though he was often away at Duskendale, ruing as a lord should, he still frequently visited King's Landing. He had a soft spot for his niece Rhaenys and was enamored with baby Aegon, at times seeming to care more for the children of his brother than his brother did himself. Aelor had also won Elia's undying friendship when he'd viciously berated his elder brother at Harrenhal, his rage having been so great that one would have thought he was the woman scorned.

That fury had been terrible to behold; in those moments, with his violet eyes wide and muscled arms destroying everything within their reach, she had seen the only hint of madness Aelor had ever displayed. Elia was glad she hadn't been with him when he had learned of Rhaegar's most recent transgression.

They stopped a few feet apart, Aelor bowing and Elia curtseying formally. The Lord of Duskendale's smile, however, was all warm familiarity, and he placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. "And how is my favorite Dornishwoman?"

Elia giggled girlishly, patting Aelor on the arm as he dropped his hand from her shoulder. "I'm the only Dornishwoman you know."

Aelor's grin grew wider. "Nonsense! I'm rather well associated with your Vaith handmaiden, if you recall. Talana, with the long legs and impressively flexible...everything."

The Princess scoffed a laugh, rolling her eyes even as her smile grew. "Of course, how could I forget? She went on about you for weeks, talking of how her dragon prince swept her off her feet."

The dragon prince in question adopted a mischievous grin. "If I recall correctly, she swept me off of mine."

They laughed for a good while, and Elia realized how nice it was to do so again. Heavens knew there hadn't been much humor in her life of late. Even Aelor, who always managed to coax a smile from her, had been gone for some time. She had heard he had arrived in King's Landing the day the Starks had come demanding Lyanna's release, and left that same night.

She couldn't blame him. Everyone in the Red Keep knew of the King's obsession with fire, and how it ignited his baser needs. The Queen's screams were terrible to hear.

"How are the children," Aelor asked, cutting into her momentary reminiscence. The prince's eyes lit up at the thought of his niece and nephew.

"Rhaenys is with Ashara, fussing over her kitten."

"Ah yes, the infamous Balerion the Black Dread."

Elia sighed in exasperation at the thought. "A title most appropriate, I assure you. Aegon is with his wet nurse. I am on my way there now."

"I'll make sure to visit with them both while I'm here. I bought a new doll for Rhaenys, all the way from Volantis. It has obsidian eyes as black as Balerion and cornsilk hair." Elia couldn't help but think that Aelor was more excited at the prospect of giving the doll than Rhaenys would be at receiving it, and there were few things her daughter loved more than gifts.

"You certainly spoil her." The reason for her earlier apprehension abruptly returned in full force, and her mirth dissipated rapidly. "Not that I am no pleased to see you, but why are you here? Your father just sent for you this past morning."

Aelor's smile faded instantly. "It didn't take a genius to know how Jon Arryn would react to my father's demands. I have already called my banners. They are camped outside the city."

Whatever hope Elia Martell had held out that maybe just maybe war could be avoided, leaving her and her children in no more danger than the eccentric King provided on his own, died in that moment. "I see. So you march to war then."

Aelor nodded, face grim. "I intend to scatter the Stormlord hosts before they can assemble."

"The North was risen against us as well, as I'm sure you know."

The dragonlord grimaced. "The Riverlands will as well. I offered myself in a marriage proposal to either of Hoster Tully's daughters, and received his response mere hours before we marched. He claimed his eldest was in grieving for her recently strangled betrothed, and that he would not consider offers for his youngest until Catelyn had recovered and was married herself."

It didn't take a superior mind to see through that. "A farce of an answer."

"Aye. I imagine Tully has something else planned for his daughters, and I'd wager those plans have to do with the rebellious houses."

Elia felt her worry grow. Four of the eight regions—half of the realm—in rebellion because I couldn't please my husband. She didn't know whether to feel guilty or enraged. "How many men do you have?"

"Six thousand, for now. I'll gather more."

"Will the King allow you to go?"

Aelor shrugged. "The King cannot stop me. I will not sit by while he and my brother destroy a dynasty that took fields of fire and rivers of blood to build."

Elia nodded softly. "So you have had no word from Rhaegar either."

Aelor's eyes filled with a mixture of rage and pain. "None." Elia had nothing to say in response, and the Lord of Duskendale seemed to realize that. "I will say my goodbyes to you and the children before we march. I am on my way to handle my father now."

Elia nodded. "Good luck. If you drive towards the Dornish Marches, you will probably meet up with my brother's vanguard. Oberyn is likely to be in command. The two of you will make a force to be reckoned with." She pulled her goodbrother into a quick hug. "Take care, Aelor. The King grows worse every day."

Aelor nodded, kissing her hand softly. "You do the same, Elia. I will make this right, I swear to you."

As the Dornish Princess watched the straight back of the Dragon of Duskendale stride away, she couldn't help but wonder if, by the end of this war, there would even be anything left to make right.

Each time Aelor saw his father, he looked worse than the time before.

Aerys Targaryen once looked the part of a King. His father had been tall, with a regal bearing. He'd had a love for dancing, for masked balls, for feasts. He had always been eccentric, even Aelor knew that, but the realm had prospered during the first dozen years of his reign. Tywin Lannister was to thank for that, it was true, as the Lord Paramount of the Westerlands was as capable a Hand of the King as the realm had ever seen, but his father had at least managed to avoid plummeting the crown into despair.

The Defiance of Duskendale, however, the very rebellion that saw Aelor rewarded a keep and vassals, had driven whatever remnants of sanity Aerys Targaryen possessed into the darkest abyss of the Mad King's mind. His jealousy of Tywin boiled over, with Lannister resigning his post as Hand of the King, leaving Aerys to rule unchecked.

It was then that it had all gone to utter shit.

"Father," Aelor greeted with a cheeriness he most certainly did not feel. Aerys hair was long and matted, his fingernails even longer, curving like talons. His once proud bearing had been replaced by a stooped posture, the crown upon his father's head seemingly driving the incompetent king below it into the ground. Aelor could even see a few fresh wounds the Iron Throne had inflicted upon Aerys, and the dozens of scabs from previous ones.

"Aelor," his father croaked out, his voice cracking as if the man mistrusted language itself. Aelor supposed that might actually be the case; King Aerys certainly mistrusted everything else. "You have an army outside my gates."

The Dragon of Duskendale sank to a knee below the Iron Throne. "An army here to serve you, Your Grace." Aelor rose after a few moments, knowing that if he waited for his father to bid him rise that he would be on that knee for hours.

Aerys didn't seem to notice, still transfixed on his first statement. "You have an army outside my gates. I only summoned you yesterday morning. How are you here?"

Aelor met his father's eyes, no mean feat considering Aerys' eyes were barely recognizable as human anymore. They reminded Aelor more of a cornered predator than a King. "I took the liberty of calling my banners days ago, Your Grace."

Aerys' eyes filled with rage and he leaned forward in his throne of twisted iron. "I did not command that. You are my son, you follow my commands!"

No, you didn't command that. You only abused your prized dogs and expected them to never bite. "Yes, father, as always. I merely intended to have my men ready to serve you quicker, so you need not wait for them to arrive." This seemed to appease the King somewhat, for Aerys leaned back on his throne. Aelor wished to bring this meeting to a close as quickly as possible, and with that goal in mind he wasted no time with preamble. "I hear we are at war. With your leave, I beg permission to gather the men of Lord Bywater and march on the Stormlands with them combined to my own strength."

Aerys nearly snarled. "He serves me."

"Yes, Your Grace, as do I. I only wish to bring these traitors to heel, for the glory of King Aerys and House Targaryen."

"I have already sent out missives labeling Lords Arryn, Stark and Baratheon traitors," rambled the old voice belonging to the even older Lord Owen Mayweather. Aelor had never cared for the man; he was amiable enough, it was true, but the replacement of Tywin Lannister as Hand of the King was about as useful as nipples on a breastplate.

"Yes my lord, and done nothing else," Aelor snapped, causing the elderly Hand to furrow his brow in insult. Good. Be insulted; the Seven know you can't do anything else. Aelor turned his attention back to his father. "Father I beg you, allow me to end this war. Let them sing of the praises of King Aerys, of how he ended a war before it could truly begin."

Aerys stared at his second son for a long time, Aelor meeting it. When he finally spoke, he thrust a gnarled, scarred finger towards Aelor, his talon of a nail angling down. The King's tone was suspicious, untrusting-mad. "You wish to make the people love you more than they do me!"

I could be an ugly, imbecilic dwarf and still manage that without much difficulty, father. "I do not, Your Grace. You are the King. I only intend to help you solidify and protect your kingdom."

This round of staring was longer than the first, and Aelor felt his patience wearing thin. He held his tongue however; he would do his family, broken as it was, no good dead, and Aelor knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his father's mind had regressed to the point that he would willfully kill his own son. When King Aerys spoke again he rose, bringing the other courtiers to their feet as well. Aelor had paid them no mind; lickspittles each and every one, focused only on increasing their positions by flattering their King with praises they didn't mean. Aelor cared for none of them.


The single word was both permission and dismissal, and Aelor wasted no time in exiting. "Thank you, Your Grace."

Ser Manfred Darke, Lord Harte and Lord Rykker awaited him outside the main hall, Aelor having left Ser Barristan in charge of his forces outside the city. The Dragon Prince had feared that, upon seeing the white of his armor, the King would demand Ser Barristan remain in King's Landing. Aelor refused to risk that possibility; he was a deadly warrior, a truth he prided himself on and strove to maintain, but Ser Barristan had experience of war Aelor knew he would need in the coming conflict.

"Send a rider to Lord Bywater. His force will be ready to march by the time I reach the Kingswood. From there we march on Bronzegate." Lord Harte hastened to obey, always diligent and timely when given orders, striding away quickly towards the courtyard where he had left his palfrey.

"I take it the King has approved of your plan then, my lord," Rykker mused. "That didn't take long."

"Is it unholy for a man to dread the company of his own father? If so, the Seven must surely despise me. I ascertained permission as quickly as I could and left. Time is, after all, of the essence."

"When do we leave?"

"By nightfall. See to the preparations, Ren. Strong shield."

"Stronger sword," Lord Rykker replied before he strode confidently in the same direction Lord Harte had just gone.

"Manfred," Aelor spoke to the boulder beside him, "with me." The big man dutifully fell into step behind his liege lord, following as the Targaryen prince strode deeper into the Red Keep.

The biggest obstacle has been removed, at least for the time being, thought Aelor Targaryen as he hastened through the castle where he had been born and raised. Now I just have a war to win.

Rhaenys looked more and more like her mother.

The toddler was still forming words, and she babbled unintelligibly but happily to the doll he had brought for her. Aelor couldn't help but smile down at her from the doorway, knowing that the tiny Princess would grow into a beauty that rivaled even Ashara Dayne, who was holding another of the dolls Aelor had made gifts to the girll, playing along. The tiny princess had her uncle wrapped around her tiny olive-toned fingers, and the entire Red Keep knew it. Aelor didn't care. He would fight and die for that child.

Thanks to both her father and his, he very well might.

"You can go in, you know." Elia appeared beside him, tiny Aegon resting soundly in her arms. The Dornish Princess had always been quiet, even in movement, and Aelor started slightly at her sudden appearance.

The Targaryen Prince grinned at the sleeping baby that reminded him so much of his brother. "I know, but I can't stay long. We march for the Stormlands tonight. I had Ashara give her the doll; she certainly seems to like it."

Elia Martell laughed. "Of course she did. She always does love presents." Elia offered the infant snoozing in her arms to Aelor, but he shook his head reluctantly. "I had best not. My men are already being roused and are preparing to march; I must join them. I was only waiting for you." Elia furled her brow in confusion. "Ser Manfred," Aelor called quietly.

The big man stepped around the corner, face impassive even as he bowed to the beautiful woman before him. Elia raised an eyebrow, looking to Aelor for explanation. "Princess Elia, this is Ser Manfred Darke. He is uncouth and savagely mean, but he is as loyal a man as I have ever met, and a good friend to me." Aelor looked the Dornishwoman full in the face, his dark violet eyes peering into her nearly black ones. "I am leaving him here with you, as your sworn shield. I will miss him on the battlefield, but his business here is much more important, though I pray to the Mother he never needs to go about it. The numbers against us are great, and my father's madness grows worse. If King's Landing is to fall, you and the children will be in the gravest danger of all, if not from the rebels than from the King himself."

Elia didn't like this talk of her greatest fear being realized, especially coming from the man with whom her best hope of preventing it lay. "King's Landing is well defended, her gates—"

"Breachable," Aelor cut in gently. "If that is to happen, Ser Manfred has been tasked with getting you and the children as well as my mother and Viserys out of the city. He has never failed me before and I know he will not in this. If the time comes, you must do exactly as he says, if not for yourself than for Rhaenys and Aegon." The Dragon of Duskendale held the Delicate Spear's eyes for a long moment, face set in grim seriousness. "Do you understand, goodsister?"

Elia could only nod, fear for her children and for the young Targaryen in front of her making it nearly impossible to speak. Aelor dropped his gaze to the baby in her arms, his grim face breaking into a sad smile for just an instant before he abruptly turned and strode away, offering no parting words nor waiting to receive any. Elia could only watch him go for the second time that day, wondering if it might be the last time she ever saw him.

Ser Manfred Darke spoke as Aelor rounded a corner and disappeared, the knight's voice nearly as ugly as his face. "I am here to serve, Princess."

Elia nodded absently. "Let us pray you never have to, Ser Manfred." The Dornish Princess turned and entered the room where her daughter played oblivious in the way only children could be to the dangers she was now in. "Let us pray hard."

Chapter Text

The knight with a white slash on his blue shield struck high, bringing his morning star down hard at the Targaryen's helm. A shield of oak and banded steel deflected it aside, its wielder using the moment to slash his sword at the Stormlander. The blue shield met it, the morning star snapping on its chain and whistling for the sword bearer's head.

Aelor Targaryen ducked low, the spiked ball barely clearing the top of his helm. The Stormlander, a warrior from House Hasty, reversed the chained weapon again, swinging it as hard as he could back towards his opponent. The Dragon Prince spun just outside of its reach, the deadly hunk of steel just missing his back, and stepped in all in one move. Before the nameless knight could bring his shield to defend, Aelor Targaryen's blade drove through the chainmail between his helm and breastplate, piercing skin, artery and throat. Blood spurted, running down the chainmail and breastplate, leaving a red river through the water blue of his surcoat.

Before Morning Star had even hit the ground, another knight took his place, this one in the dented armor and hacked-up shield of a hedgeknight. It's the dragons on my shield. Attracts opponents like a Lyseni whore. This knight carried the characteristic sword and shield, as did Aelor. He came on quickly, trying to catch the Dragon Prince while he was still recovering from killing the Morning Star Knight, but Aelor matched him blow for blow. It took half the time to cut this man down, Aelor slashing his legs out from under him before driving his castle-forged steel into the downed knight's chest.

Three more came, two more hedgeknights and one mere man at arms, and all three soon hit the ground. On and on it went, for how long Aelor couldn't say and didn't care about. Aelor felt alive in battle, his sword a whirlwind of steely death, his shield both a defense and an offense. His mind never worked faster, his blade never swung quicker and his body never felt stronger than it did when he was on the battlefield.

It was odd in a sense. He himself never felt more alive than when he was taking someone else's.

The Dragon Prince smashed his shield into the face of a helmless man even as he disarmed—in every sense of the word—a toweringly tall opponent with the nine silver unicorns of House Rogers on his chest. He cut the man's screams short with a downward thrust, piercing the very same heart that was pumping blood out of the gaping wound where his arm used to be.

The Dragon of Duskendale stood, extracting his blade from the now very dead man's chest, and whirled to meet the blade darting in on him. At least, that had been his intent; there was a sudden lack of blades. As Aelor came out of his battle haze, he found that not only was there a lack of swords trying to kill him anywhere near, there also seemed to be a lack of bodies—live ones anyway. There were certainly plenty of corpses.

"Your Grace," called a familiar voice, and the Dragon Prince turned to see a knight in white enamel armor working his way through the dead towards him. Ser Barristan Selmy's white cloak was covered in blood, but none of it seemed to be his as he moved through the much changed battlefield from the last time Aelor had had time to notice it. The clang of steel and screams of men and horse had seemed to die down, replaced by an eerie silence that was interrupted periodically by the cry of a dying man. Or two. Maybe ten. Aelor couldn't really tell; it was hard to differentiate over the sound of his heavy breathing.

Seven hells, I always forget about this part. The black sword in his hand seemed to have grown exponentially heavier in the past few moments, and his black shield with the warring white dragons was nearly dragging his left arm to the ground. Everything seemed to hurt, even speaking. "Ser Barristan."

"They've broken, Your Grace. Lord Rykker's cavalry took their rear."

So the diversion worked. And here I thought it was our spirited charge. "Good to hear." Aelor registered the remnants of his vanguard, once four hundred mounted knights strong, around the field beside and behind him. Most were unmounted, losing their mounts as Aelor had to the spears of the Stormlander lines. Lord Rykker's flanking force, another seven hundred knights, sat their mounts to the field in front like a wall of horseflesh, certainly in much better condition than his own men.

That was the intent, I suppose; hammer and anvil and all that. Funny; the song never mentioned how unpleasant it is for the anvil.

The Kingsguard knight removed his helm, and it dawned on Aelor that he was burning alive in his armor, prompting him to do the same, driving the point of his blade into the ground and holding the helm with the white flame crest in his sword hand. I'll have to sharpen that later. Wait, I have a squire for that now. A stab of concern shot through him then, as he couldn't recall seeing the boy since his destrier went down."Where's Alaric?"

"Here, my lord," spoke a voice behind him, and Aelor nearly jumped out of his armor, turning to find the fourteen year old a few feet away, sword bloodied. His helm was off, and the lad's face was green. Tall and thin, Alaric of House Langward was fourteen and had been Aelor's squire for all of three days. When the dragonlord and his army had merged with Lord Dontos Bywater of the Kingswood and his vassals at Langward Hall, a mere few miles away from where they stood now. Lord Jarman Langward, seventy years old and as crotchety as anyone Aelor had ever met, had instantly offered his great grandson as squire upon learning that Aelor no longer had one, having knighted Jaremy Rykker, Renfred's brother and new ranger of the Night's Watch, after the cursed Tourney at Harrenhal. Aelor had accepted, mainly to get the cranky elder to shut his mouth.

Ser Barristan's brown hair was plastered to his sweat-coated forehead, but he was grinning. "Your squire did well, Your Grace. Kept up with you throughout the charge."

"I tried to get behind the knight with the morning star, Your Grace," the lad said, face still marvelously sick though his quiet voice held firm. "A spear got in my way, and then another."

Aelor had taken a shine to the shy lad in the few days he'd known him, and felt marvelously guilty for having forgotten about him during the heat of the battle. "Are you hurt, Alaric?"

"No Your Grace," the boy said, his shaggy black hair sweat-soaked. "Just…my gut…" It was only a few moments more before the lad was depositing the contents of his stomach over the nearest dead corpse, then trying to aim elsewhere and instead covering his armored boots.

Aelor smirked sympathetically. "I had the same reaction my first battle."

Barristan grinned as well. "I remember."

The sound of thundering hooves cut him off, and Lord Renfred Rykker rode up alongside several knights, the visor of his spiked helm up and his warhammer bloody. "Ren," Aelor called cheerily. "I see you still have your horse. Lucky; I seem to have misplaced mine. Strong shield"

Renfred Rykker grinned. "Stronger sword. This sense of misplacement must be spreading; your squire seems to be losing his morning meal."

"Don't be hard on him, old friend. We did the same."

Rykker laughed. "That we did. I have a present for you." He waved a hand, and two knights Aelor didn't recognize rode forward, another armored man on a horse between them. This one, a prisoner judging from his lack of weapon and the fact that his wrists were tied to his horse, had three golden buckles on his surcoat and a bloody gash in the joint of his elbow armor. His helmet was gone, showing long red hair and green eyes peering out of a bruised face near thirty. "Meet Lord Ralph Buckler, Lord of the Wendwater."

Aelor regarded the man coolly, ignoring addressing him for the moment. "Do you have any others?"

"Lord Bryce Rogers, one of Bucklers vassals, and several other knights. We're sorting them now."


"I lost no more than forty or fifty. They broke before my goodfather even had a chance to move in with our full force. I don't know about your vanguard though, Your Grace."

Aelor nodded grimly. "Neither do I."

Ralph Buckler had a deep voice, shockingly so for a man of shorter than average height and a slight build. "I was only following my liege's orders, my Prince."

Aelor snorted. "I'm apparently no longer your prince, Lord Buckler. That honor seems to belong to Robert Baratheon, or perhaps Eddard Stark. Tell me, have you worked that particular detail out among yourselves yet?"

Buckler's face colored, though from the fear in his face he was quite aware of how short his life expectancy might have just become. "Your father burned Lord Stark alive."

Aelor nodded. "Yes, he did. I was there. I'm not saying my father was correct in that action, but I find rebellion to be rather drastic, don't you?"

Buckler nearly snarled, losing a touch of his fear in his anger. "And burning a man while his son strangled himself trying to free him is not?"

Rykker barked from astride his stallion. "Watch your tone."

Aelor waved his friend off, setting his jaw and narrowing his gaze. "Whatever your justification, you rose in rebellion to the Targaryen dynasty. And now a Targaryen holds you prisoner. I wonder, what am I to do with you?"

"As I said, I was—"

"Following your liege's orders, yes." Aelor grinned charmingly, though his gaze remained deadly. "Why don't you tell me all about them?"

Chapter Text

The messenger wore a black and green surcoat with a white crescent moon on his right breast.

At least, that was supposed to be the color scheme. Thanks to the roughly bandaged wound from an axe having come down on his right shoulder, digging deep and rendering that arm useless, everything just looked red.

Bronzegate had surrendered without incident. After surrounding the large but plain castle with the great bronze gates that gave it its name, Aelor had displayed both Lord Buckler and the tall, portly Lord Bryce Rogers before the walls. Lady Buckler just so happened to be Lord Rogers' sister, and fear for her husband and brother as well as the ten thousand strong Targaryen loyalists surrounding her keep had made the plump woman as plain as her castle see sense. She'd opened the gates of bronze, and Aelor Targaryen rode though without trouble.

The battle fought that morning just a mile north had been short and bloody, but also relatively insignificant. Lord Buckler had had only two thousand men, a good number of them untrained levies. Their lines had been broken by less than one thousand mounted knights, many of the inexperienced peasants throwing their spears down and fleeing before the wedge of lances, led at the point by a demon in black armor with white flames cresting his helm, had even barreled into them. The rest had broken when Lord Rykker, having slipped by their right flank and gotten behind their lines by keeping to the hills, crashed into their rear—the loyalist infantry under Lords Buckwell and Bywater hadn't even had time to arrive on the field.

Only the center, manned by Buckler's retainers and the top knights sworn to him and his vassals, had put up much resistance. That's where Aelor had been. Nearly two hundred knights, half of his vanguard, had died fighting alongside him—but they'd broken the Stormlander lines.

Lord Buckler's hall was square and as plain as seemingly the rest of Bronzegate, but it housed over one hundred, and it was there that Aelor and his advisors had taken their meal. Lord Buckler, arm bandaged and face black and purple from bruising, had been confined a prisoner in his own chambers with his wife Alerie and their two small children, six year old Andrus and three year old Rohanne, under guard but comfortable. Lord Rogers, on the other hand, had viciously cursed Aelor after it had been found that the tall knight with the silver unicorn surcoat the Dragon Prince had slain had been his sixteen year old son and heir, and was now rotting in his goodbrother's cells.

Lord Barristan Hasty of Hadlow Keep had been in command of Buckler's center. He, along with his brother and two cousins, had died there.

The messenger was nearly carried in, half dead already but set on delivering his news. "Your Grace," the man croaked, in his early twenties with a thrice broken nose but otherwise fair featured face. Aelor was on his feet at once, the humble meal of venison and potatoes forgotten as he near sprinted towards the wounded knight in House Fell colors.

"Sit him down!" The dragonlord nearly roared, and a chair was quickly shoved behind the man's knees, the two sentries supporting him seating him as gently as they could.

"I…I have news, my lord." The knights brown eyes were racked in pain, but he pushed forward stubbornly before Aelor could answer. "Lord Baratheon…is at Summerhall. Defeated Lord Fell, Lord…Grandison and Lord Cafferen, one by one. Two days ago. Lord Fell is…dead."

Aelor knelt beside the badly wounded man. "Your name."

"Ser…Roland Rawlins, Your Grace." Ser Rawlins had to speak around his gasps for breath, eyelids drooping lower and lower. "Lord Baratheon knows…knows you're coming, my Prince. Only has four thousand men with him….he's going to rally the rest where…he is."

Ser Rawlins fell into unconsciousness then, and Aelor stood to his full height. "The maester, now! Move!" His men rushed to obey, four of them picking Ser Roland up and nearly sprinting towards the maester's chamber while others rushed to round the man himself, an old Northman named Harrion, from where he was tending the wounded from the battle that morning.

Aelor turned back towards the high table, where his advisors were all staring at him, half of them still half out of their seats from being startled when Ser Roland had burst in. "Ser Barristan," Aelor commanded, eyes focused. "I want the best scouts we have to ride for Summerhall and find and track Baratheon's army. I want to know his numbers and how many of his lords haven't merged with him yet."

"At once Your Grace," the Kingsguard knight replied, but Aelor wasn't finished.

"Send a messenger both down the Boneway to treat with the Dornish and another towards the Reach. The Tyrell's will still be rallying, but he's to gather the first sizeable force he can and order them to close down the Kingsroad south of King's Landing. We cannot allow Baratheon to unify with Lords Arryn or Stark. We keep him in the Stormlands, and we finish him here. The Dornish are to march with haste up the Boneway and close him off from Dorne." Ser Barristan nodded and turned, striding out of the hall while already giving orders.

Lord Rykker was standing, the plate of cooling stag in front of him forgotten. "It seems Lord Buckler was telling the truth about his wayward vassal." The Fells were sworn to the Bucklers, along with the Rogers and Hastys, but Aelor had realized shortly after the battle that only the latter two had been present. He now knew why.

Lord Buckwell grunted. "He failed to mention Summerhall, however."

"He was told to hold us here. Baratheon probably knew it was an impossible task, and didn't communicate further."

Lord Dontos Bywater of the Kingswood, gaunt of face with copper hair he kept cut close, scrunched his face up in shock. "He sacrificed his men?"

Aelor retook his seat, staring at his plate in thought. "He had too. I had ten thousand men descending on his head, and his bannermen had only just begun to rally. He had to buy himself time, especially when Fell and his allies remained loyal to the crown." Aelor looked up and waved his hand around the hall. "It worked. The longer I'm here the longer he has to amass troops."

Lord Byrch raised an eyebrow. "How did he get to Summerhall so quickly?"

"According to Rawlins he only has four thousand men. That's his retinue and whatever men he could raise on the fly. He knew he had to put down the loyalists quicjly, and he did."

Rykker furled his brow in confusion, though he too sat back down and resumed eating. "So why is he suddenly intending to rally his forces at Summerhall, so close to the Tyrell's? Why not return to his seat of power?"

"Because if Ser Rawlins hadn't told us of my ancestor's ruin of a castle, where would we be going, Ren?"

Understanding spread across Lord Rykker's face. "Storm's End."

Aelor nodded. "We attacked this force for the same reason he left it; I can't have a substantial enemy presence to the rear. Were we to converge on Storm's End, laying siege to a castle that has been deemed impregnable, Baratheon would finish rallying his men, and then he'd be in perfect position to utterly fuck us."

Lord Harte was seated beside Renfred, who in turn was directly beside Aelor, but the Dragon of Duskendale still had trouble hearing him when he spoke. "Or to ignore us completely, and march to unify with Lord's Stark and Arryn."

Bywater, who in Aelor's limited experience with him had struck the prince as eager but an incompetent tactician, spoke next. "And the Tyrell's?"

Aelor shook his head. "Mace Tyrell has a lot of men, but he's a fool. A fool with forty thousand soldiers is less useful than a genius with fifty."

"They have Randyll Tarly," Rykker pointed out.

"True, and I can only hope Tyrell has given him full command, though I somehow doubt it."

Lord Buckwell had always been down to business, and war hadn't changed that. "What is our next move, Your Grace?"

"Sieging Storm's End is out of the question. They'll only have a skeleton force since Baratheon already marched to Summerhall, but even that would likely be enough to hold us for an extended period of time. Summerhall was a pleasure castle, and it wasn't very defensible even before it burned down. Baratheon is not fortified, but he's also not expecting me to head straight for him."

"And we are?"

"No, we're not." Aelor stood amidst the confused ramblings of his advisors. "The Evenstar doesn't have near enough ships to sail his strength into Shipbreaker Bay—they can only ferry from the island of Tarth the short distance over the Straits of Tarth to Drakesgrave, where Lord Selwyn will probably rally his mainland vassals. They'll march on land from there to Summerhall."

Rykker stood as well, knowing where this was headed. "We can potentially catch them as they disembark. Tarth has another three or four thousand men."

Aelor nodded. "The goal of our entire campaign was to scatter the Stormlord hosts before they can march. Even if Baratheon is at Summerhall, I see no need to alter that course of action. As long as the Tyrell's and Dornish do as their ordered and keep him bottled up in his own lands, we can cut him apart piece by piece."

Lord Buckwell gave a small grin beneath his massive mustache. "We're going to remove the stag's antlers."

Aelor drained his flagon of ale before turning to leave. "Damn right. Prepare the men. We force march tonight."

Lord Selwyn Tarth the Evenstar was rumored to be highly competent, a good man who accomplished what was ordered of him quickly and efficiently. That's why it came as a disappointment to Aelor when he crested the ridge and saw galleys still disembarking men in the quartered yellow sun on red and white moon on blue of House Tarth.

He supposed he could understand, though; it should have only taken him half the time it had to march the relatively short distance from Bronzegate to Drakesgrave, but the storms that gave the Stormlands their name had begun a torrential downpour that hadn't lightened until two days earlier. Ten thousand men took a considerable amount of time to move in perfect circumstances, and with the storms turning the roads into mud his supply wagons kept getting caught in the slop, slowing his army's movements to the point that Aelor Targaryen had been ready to rip his silver hair out by the roots.

The only plus was that it had slowed the army of Selwyn down as well. The Straits of Tarth were shielded from the worst of storms by the mountains of the island of the same name, but only a fool would try to transport hundreds of armored men across the waters in one.

Selwyn Tarth was clearly no fool, judging by the defensive lines his landward vassals had set up to defend the disembarking troops, even though they surely had been praying they wouldn't need them. They had to know they were outnumbered by more than two to one, and the positioning of Drakesgrave gave them nowhere to flee to. They had to be betting Aelor would march on the supposedly undefended Storm's End, leaving them to slip around and merge at Summerhall.

Even so, Evenstar had been ready. Banners bearing the crossed white quills on a brown field of house Penrose of the Parchments, the yellow haystack on an orange field of house Errol of Haystack Hall, and the quartered yellow pavilion on blue field and green laurel branches on white field of house Musgood of Drakesgrave, whose small castle and town stood a few hundred yards behind the Stormlander lines, nearly on the water of the Straits where Tarth men were rushing out of galleys. Two half-dug trenches lined the field to their front, and the Stormlander's were dashing to form a shieldwall behind them.

Aelor Targaryen whirled on his black stallion, the second of four destriers he kept in times of war. The first had died outside Bronzegate, and Aelor knew there was a high likelihood that this one wouldn't survive this battle. It was an inevitable part of knighthood; horses died under you by the score. You could only hope you didn't soon follow them into death.

"Form a wedge," he called, and voices and a warhorn carried the command down the entirety of his line. It was the same formation he had used at Bronzegate. I suppose I'm an unoriginal military mind, but things become the norm by working. This isn't a time to get too creative for my own good. He had pulled nearly all of his cavalry, fifteen hundred knights, into his front lines, leaving two hundred as a reserve. "Ren, take the left. Strong shield."

Renfred Rykker slammed a gauntleted fist into his breastplate. "Stronger sword," he replied, before spurring his own stallion towards his awarded flank.

"Ser Barristan, you have the right." The Kingsguard nodded and rode to his own assignment. "Watch for arrows from the castle walls!" The Dragon Prince yelled after his closest friends. "Lord's Buckwell and Bywater, you have the infantry. We'll smash into them and you will fill the cracks in their lines. File them all into the same hole if you have to; we take those galleys, understood?" Both men nodded and turned their horses. "Lord Byrch, you have the reserve. Whenever you see an opportunity, take it. They have nowhere to go except those galleys and the castle, and I don't want them to reach either."

Lord Cleyton pulled the visor of his helmet down. "They won't, Your Grace." He spurred his own mount away.

"Alaric, my helmet." Aelor's tall, lanky squire instantly handed the knight his white flame crested helm, and the Dragonlord pulled it over his silvery hair. Alaric dutifully then handed him his shield and lance, before mounting his own gelding. "Stay close to me, Alaric. I'll watch your back and you watch mine. Are you with me?"

Alaric Langward pulled his own helm, a plain hunk of grey steel Aelor had gifted him before Bronzegate when the boy had made it clear he wouldn't remain behind, over his head. He's a good lad; I'll have to get him a better suit of armor. "To the death, Your Grace."

Aelor felt a sense of pride for the young man he barely knew. "Let's hope that's not the case." He turned to his men then, rows of steel and horseflesh waiting for his word and his word only.

Aelor didn't have many words; the idea seemed pretty obvious to him. "I'm not good at pretty speeches, so I won't give one. Let's just kill the bastards!" He thrust his lance into the air, and his knights did the same, roaring back at him, even the men who couldn't hear him repeating the gesture. "Targaryen!" "The Dragon of Duskendale!" "Prince Aelor!" All those filled his ears, as well as others of individual houses or the Iron Throne in general. There wasn't, unsurprisingly, any roars for King Aerys.

Aelor kicked his stallion into the action and they were off, the thunder of hooves even louder than the thunder of storms that had rocked the land mere days ago. Aelor formed the point of the wedge, his black and white lance matching his night black armor with his warring white dragons etched into the breastplate, the white flames of his helmet shining in the sun. He was sure it made a glorious sight.

It also makes me a target. Making an impression certainly has it disadvantages.

Alaric rode to his right, a high place of honor for a squire, but he had remained alive and near Aelor at Bronzegate when many more experienced knights had died. In Aelor's mind, the squire had earned it. Ser Balman Byrch in his resplendent green armor rode to his left, his battle axe wielding brother Morgan beside him.

It took forever and no time at all to reach the first trench, which Aelor's mount vaulted cleanly, doing the same to the second. The dragonlord knew many of his men would be held up by the trenches, and some horses undoubtedly would trip in the shallow earthworks, breaking legs and being trampled by the men charging in behind. It was losses he'd have to take; the shock of hundreds of armored knights smashing into the Stormlander lines would spook levies, as even now he could see some lose their nerve and turn to flee. More did so when he lowered his lance, his knights doing the same, hundreds of sharpened steel points hurtling towards the wavering men of Tarth.

They crashed into the lines like an armored fist into a stomach.

Aelor impaled a man at arms on his lance, the momentum of his horse driving the shaft halfway through his gut. Aelor dropped it and its cargo, unsheathing his sword and setting to the grisly work he so enjoyed. His stallion had somehow managed to avoid the forest of spears on the Stormlander front lines, already having survived longer than his first did. Many of his men's horses weren't so lucky, the bloodcurdling scream of dozens of dying horses filling the air.

His own beast didn't stop, driving through the thick conglomeration of enemy combatants, his rider's sword rising and falling, dealing death with alarming speed. Before the Dragon of Duskendale truly understood what was happening, he had burst out the back of the first formation of Stormlanders and into the second, beheading the first man he came across and opening another's throat only a second later. His stallion again avoided the spears, and Aelor couldn't help but say a prayer in the back of his mind that the beast made it through as it never stopped it's momentum until he was through that line as well. Aelor wheeled around, finding that Ser Balman was no longer on his left, having been replaced by a knight in the blue and white of either Renfred or Lord Bywater—he couldn't tell at the moment, and it wasn't important—but that Alaric had against all odds stayed with him, wheeling his own gelding around with Aelor.

Even as he crashed into the already breaking men at arms, killing with each strike, Aelor's mind was spinning. Something isn't right. There are no knights solidifying these levies, no commanders holding firm.

His confusion was clarified in the next moment. "My Prince," the unnamed knight beside him yelled, pointing with a mace dripping of gore and brain matter. "The infantry!" Aelor peered over the heads of the pigs for slaughter below him, seeing his foot soldiers pouring towards the melee he was currently involved in.

And hundreds of Stormlander knights, formed in a wedge of their own and flying the stag of Baratheon and quartered banner of House Tarth, smashing into their side.

"Dammit," Aelor growled, cursing himself for a fool. It seems you're not the only one who knows how to flank. "To the infantry, go!" He spurred his own mount forward, paying no more mind to the poor men below him other than to cut down those in his way. "The flank, the flank!" he bellowed as he rode, directing more and more of his knights to the actual threat. The galleys behind him were forgotten, for the Stormlander knights despite their small numbers had wreaked havoc on his infantry, Aelor's levies—just as inexperienced as the Stormlander's—having done the same as Lord Tarth's, turning and fleeing.

It took him much longer to navigate his way through the two Stormlander lines the second time than it had the first, the field full of bodies of dead men and horses, some of the still living ones still trying to kill him. He galloped towards the new hotspot of the battle, seeing the field in front of him as if he was just an observer. Lord Cleyton's reserves of knights were already charging at the threat, his men at arms and braver levies turning to swarm at the mounted rebels. The unnamed knight in white and blue was gone, Aelor having noticed in his peripheral the man's horse go down, but Alaric Langward was still beside him as always. There were other knights from the front lines both ahead and behind him, the men who had been at the rear already well on their way to counter the flanking action.

It was a suicide mission for the Stormlanders, but Aelor knew they had known it beforehand.

When he finally reached the flanking enemy he let his rage go, hacking a man in the yellow and orange of House Errol off of his horse with more force than Aelor even knew he possessed. The Prince pulled his reins, his miraculously still living stallion begrudgingly coming to a halt, and the Dragon of Duskendale let out a roar worthy of the title as he chopped men left and right as more and more of his own soldiers converged on the threat.

A lance nearly took him in the helm but he dodged to the side at the last moment, instinctually wrapping his arms around it and yanking. The knight it belonged to, unprepared for that, was pulled from his horse, where Aelor's footmen swarmed him like buzzards on carrion. That snapped Aelor out of his haze, and he realized the suicide knights had been washed away in an ocean of red and black Targaryen colors.

He turned his stallion towards the ocean and felt his heart drop when he saw that the galleys had pulled anchor and were even now pulling back into the sea. The Stormlander's had left hundreds dead on the field, but Aelor knew in his heart that Lord Tarth and his most vital vassals and knights were still aboard those ships pulling farther and farther away.

"Dammit!" The Dragon Prince roared. "Dammit all!

Chapter Text

They found Morgan Byrch in the arms of his brother.

The youngest of the three Byrch brothers had been one of the first knights to counter Selwyn Tarth's flanking maneuver, flying back from the slaughter field of the front to save the infantry. He'd been unhorsed in the brief but fierce fight in the flank, but he'd continued to fight on foot. It had taken a dirk in the gap in his armor under the armpit to take him down, but even then he'd buried his battleaxe into the skull of the man that killed him. His brother had found them there, the Tarth knight's hand still on the dagger in Morgan's side and Morgan's hand still on the axe buried in his killer's forehead.

Balman Byrch had lost his own mount to a levy spear, remaining in the vicinity of the Stormlander lines for the battle, but he had seen his baby brother race back to the infantry. When Morgan didn't come back, Balman had gone to find him.

Aelor wished it had been someone else who had come across the young knight, if only for Balman's sake.

The middle Byrch was openly crying, caring not a whit if other men saw him as he cradled his brother's lifeless body. Lord Cleyton stood stony faced a few feet away. The eldest hadn't had the relationship with his youngest brother that Balman had, but Aelor knew the man was suffering.

The Dragon Prince stood beside Ser Barristan and Alaric, watching the heart wrenching scene in front of him with his helm in his hands. "It's my fault."

Barristan Selmy shook his head. "Men die in war, Your Grace, friends and foes alike."

"I rushed in like a fool and had my flank turned. If Selwyn Tarth hadn't have been outnumbered two to one, we'd all be dead now."

Ser Barristan's voice turned firm. "This is not the time for self-pity, Your Grace. We were outmaneuvered, but their losses are far greater than our own."

"The important ones got away."

"We annihilated hundreds of Robert Baratheon's men. That was our goal in marching here, and we achieved it. Yes we were outflanked, but we learn from that and we move on."

Aelor was quiet a long moment before clapping his mentor on the shoulder. "Thank you, my friend." Aelor turned away from the harrowing scene in front of him, unable to bear Balman's tears any longer. If that was Rhaegar, would I do the same? Would he for me?

Aelor didn't know the answer, and that disturbed him more than he cared to admit.

Renfred rode up then, dismounting a different horse than the one he'd rode at the start of the battle. "The castle opened her gates as soon as the battle ended. It was manned only by a skeleton garrison with no sign of Lord Musgood or his family. They never intended to hold out."

Aelor nodded, taking the waterskin his friend offered and taking a long drink, only then realizing how thirsty he had been. "Their entire goal once we arrived was to hold us up just long enough to get the nobles and most important knights back on the galleys. It worked. What are our losses?"

The Lord of Hollard Hall grimaced. "Close to six hundred of the infantry including the wounded. Less than half of that for the knights." He gestured towards the bawling Balman. "Morgan?"

Aelor only nodded, unable to voice the confirmation. Rykker cursed under his breath before continuing his report. "We're not yet sure of their infantry numbers other than that almost of all those who had been on the field are dead or captured. They couldn't have been more than two and a half thousand, if that. There was two hundred knights thereabouts in their flanking force. All are dead."

Aelor shook his head in disgust. "They took more than three times their number to the grave with them as well as running off half my levies. An impressive feat I'll admit, even if it was against me. We give them each proper burials."

Rykker nodded. "Of course Your Grace."

"I'll need a count of how many men I have left. I'll have Ser Barristan send out a few parties to return my panicked levies; the ones they can find anyway. We rest at Drakesgrave tonight. Move the camp up."

Rykker bowed his head. "It will be done." The big man remounted before smacking his breastplate. "Strong shield."

Aelor returned the gesture. "Stronger sword."

Renfred hesitated just a moment longer. "All men must die, Aelor. Such is life." Rykker turned his horse and galloped away before the prince could think of anything to respond with.

"Alaric," the dragonlord said while summoning the Langward lad with his hand, his squire stepping up from where he had dutifully been waiting. The boy's shaggy black hair was soaked with sweat and Aelor could see his hands trembling with the retreating adrenaline in his veins, but Alaric had managed to hold on to his lunch this time, and he stood tall and straight. Aelor handed him the waterskin, and Langward drank gratefully. "You did well."

Alaric shrugged once he lowered the waterskin from his lips. "You told me to stay with you, Your Grace."

The prince grinned for the first time that day. "Aye, that I did. You ride well, and you're good with a lance."

The squire responded as all young men did to praise, his chest puffing out as he tried to fight back a smile. "Thank you, Your Grace."

"I'll see if Ser Barristan will assist with your swordsmanship training, and I'll get you a set of proper armor as soon as I can, on two conditions."

"Your Grace?"

"You keep both me and yourself alive long enough for me to fulfill that promise."

Alaric grinned. "Of course, Your Grace."

The Dragon of Duskendale nodded. "Good. Now go and assist Lord Rykker in moving the camp. I'll be reviewing the castle."

Both of them swung onto their respective animals. Alaric had only just sped away when the sound of someone calling his name captured his attention. Aelor turned his stallion around—shit he was getting attached to the beast—and saw a messenger weaving through the mass of bodies both dead and living.

"Prince Aelor!" the man called again before pulling his lathered, exhausted looking horse to a stop beside the dragonlord. "News from your scouts. Robert Baratheon is marching."

She missed Aelor.

Elia Martell knew the Seven had to frown upon her for that. It was Rhaegar she was supposed to miss, the Prince of Dragonstone, heir to the Iron Throne and father to her children. But all Elia felt when she thought of her husband was anger and heartbreak, so instead she thought of his younger brother.

They'd received word from the Stormlands, both from messengers sent by the Dragon of Duskendale and from Varys and his spiderweb of knowledge. Aelor had scattered a Stormlord host at Bronzegate, capturing Lord Buckler and various other nobles and knights. He'd slaughtered another at Drakesgrave on the shore of the Narrow Sea, though Lord Selwyn Tarth and his advisors had eluded capture. Elia hoped her goodbrother kept himself alive, for he seemed to be the only hope for the Targaryen dynasty. While she was a Martell, her children were dragonlords, and their safety and wellbeing were the most important things in the world to her. Right now, it seemed that safety and wellbeing rested on Aelor Targaryen's shoulders.

They'd received word from elsewhere as well. Her youngest brother Oberyn was currently in the Boneway, having been ordered by Aelor to prevent Baratheon from avoiding him by fleeing through Dorne. Elia knew her hyperactive brother would be chafing from both being ordered and from missing the combat taking place, but she knew he would follow the Lord of Duskendale's command.

Oberyn and Aelor had struck an odd friendship, the Red Viper much more fond of the second Targaryen than the first. Elia had once worried that Oberyn craved a more…intimate relationship with the son of Aerys—she was fully aware of some of her brother's taste—and had worried about how Aelor would react should her brother try something, but Oberyn seemed to understand Aelor was as straight as an arrow and their friendship was just that.

The Dragon of Duskendale had also been correct about Hoster Tully's intentions, it seemed. Varys spies had reported that the Riverlander had managed to marry not only his supposedly grief-stricken eldest Catelyn to her dead betrothed's brother Eddard Stark, but also his youngest to the elderly Jon Arryn of the Vale. The three regions were amassing at Riverrun, their presence a constant dagger pointed at King's Landing.

A dagger pointed at her children.

Robert Baratheon was the only wild card. The last word from the Dragon of Duskendale was that Baratheon was moving towards Storm's End, and that Aelor was taking back to the field to meet him. Mace Tyrell was moving the main body of his force to try and pin the Stag between the Rose and Dragon while his vassal Randyll Tarly was moving his vanguard to close down the Kingsroad to King's Landing, but even Varys wasn't sure just where the rebellious Lord Paramount of the Stormlands was.

Well, Elia supposed he wasn't the only wild card. No one knew where Rhaegar and his three Kingsguard were.

For not the first time, Elia was grateful for the constant presence of Ser Manfred Darke. He was as mean as he was ugly, and neither the overly sensual Talana Vaith or gorgeous Ashara Dayne had been able to flirt so much as a smile out of the squat knight. It was abundantly clear, however, that he was as loyal a man as ever lived. Aelor had ordered him to protect the royal family—at least,most of it—at all costs, and protect the royal family he would.

Of course, no one on earth could protect the Queen. Rhaella Targaryen was pregnant again after three living children and eight who didn't survive infancy, her belly already beginning to swell. Elia believed that unborn child and young, eccentric Viserys were the only thing keeping the haunted woman alive. It had disturbed Elia to no end when she'd first married Rhaegar and heard her goodmother's desperate pleas for help on the occasions Aerys took his "rights" as her husband. It infuriated her that Rhaegar did nothing while his mother suffered so, but she'd soon learned that no one could. Not the Kingsguard, not Rhaegar, not even Aelor, who had always been more hot tempered and challenging of his father's eccentrics. No one raised a finger to the King.

"Princess," sounded the breaking stone Manfred Darker used for a voice. "A letter for you."

Elia smiled at the broad man. "Thank you, Ser Manfred."

He extended the letter in one hand before opening his other, revealing a tiny doll. "This," the big knight said, clearly uncomfortable holding something so small in his huge hands, "came with it."

Elia couldn't help but giggle at the sight of the monstrous man holding a doll. Her mirth grew even more when the man blushed.

Talana and Ashara would be devastated when they learned a doll had managed a feat neither of their feminine wiles could.

The Dornish Princess ended the man's silent suffering and took the proffered doll and parchment, breaking the seal bearing the warring dragons of Aelor. Ah, just who I was thinking of. The Prince's writing was physically narrow but emotionally broad, able to convey a broad range of emotions with mere words if he so chose. Rhaegar was the true poet of course, able to bend words into marvelous arrangements. His poetry and singing was, in truth, what she had loved most about him. But while Aelor couldn't carry a tune, his writing, despite being only half as poetic as his brother's, certainly reminded her of Rhaegar.


This may come as a surprise to you, but I have a new doll for your daughter.

I found it in the chambers I commandeered at Drakesgrave. I suppose it belonged to one of the Musgood girls, but it belongs to Rhaenys Targaryen now. Call it dishonorable thievery if you will, but I'm sure your daughter won't see it that way.

I know Ser Manfred has you well taken care of, but I worry for you and your children's safety, as well as my mother and Viserys. Keep Aegon and Rhaenys close to you. This war is the greatest threat to the Targaryen dynasty since Daemon Blackfyre and Bittersteel, and I fear more lives will be lost during its course than even the Redgrass Field claimed. I beg you to remember that Ser Manfred is your bodyguard; please, for the sake of the Seven, let him guard you.

I killed a boy today. He was a squire, no older than thirteen. It wasn't even a true battle, just a skirmish trying to throw me off of Robert Baratheon's true force. He thrust a spear at me, hoping to gain fame as the slayer of the Dragon of Duskendale I suppose. Before I even knew what I was doing, I cut his throat. A boy, one not even old enough to have felt a woman's touch. Now all he'll ever feel is the embrace of cold clay.

I didn't feel a damn thing after I killed him. No remorse, no sadness for the death of one so young. That is what terrifies me.

Give my niece and nephew a hug from me. I pray that I'll be able to do it myself someday soon. And I pray that the Aelor Targaryen that returns to King's Landing, if one even does, is at least a tiny bit similar to the same one that left.


Elia didn't know whether to smile at his gift or frown at his words. Aelor's care for his niece and nephew had always been touching, and it didn't surprise her at all that Aelor would even use a war to find more dolls for Rhaenys' already impressive collection. Then again, his statements about feeling changed worried her. Elia knew men changed in war, but this…this seemed something more.

Elia didn't want Aelor to turn away from the good man he was at heart. The Seven knew there weren't many of those around, especially in positions of power.

The Dornishwoman presented the doll to her daughter, a lump forming in her throat at her delighted squeals. Elia pulled her into a hug, the lump growing larger as Rhaenys threw her tiny arms around her mother's neck.

It had been a long time since Elia Martell gave in to the need to cry. The urge had been with her for months now, but she had never given in.

But when the first tear cut a trail down her coppery cheek, she just couldn't stop the dozens that followed.

Chapter Text

The Lions of Lannister were on the move.

Ser Loren Lannister didn't consider himself a true lion. No, he was more of a domesticated cat, lazy and capable of only so much harm. In truth, even that was a stretch; he'd never harmed a fly, despite his knighthood. One should equate him to a kitten. Yes, a plump, harmless kitten.

Many men would be ashamed of themselves if that was how others—and even they themselves—looked on them. Loren, however, knew it was the truth, and since he was happy in such a life, he saw no shame in fully accepting it.

Tywin Lannister didn't know the first thing about Loren, and the latter was more than okay with that. The Lannister patriarch was cunning and ruthless; Loren was at best an average mind and hated death. Sure, Loren looked the part of Lannister, sporting shaggy blond hair and emerald green eyes in a well sculpted face, but Loren was several stone overweight due to his excessive drinking and gluttony, squandering whatever blessings his prestigious bloodline had granted him.

No, Tywin Lannister wouldn't like him. Best to remain anonymous.

Besides, retaining anonymity wasn't hard for a Lannisport Lannister. There were hundreds of them after all, each one descended from a King. Some claimed to trace their ancestry back to the last King of the Rock, a different, more lion-like Loren. Others claimed it all the way back at Lann the Clever, the first Lannister King.

Loren didn't know where the hell he came from, and he didn't care. His ancestors couldn't buy him a drink.

The army of the West had been camped at Casterly Rock for…well, Loren didn't actually know. He'd been drunk most—all—of the time. They'd abruptly packed up and started marching after… he didn't actually know why they had moved out either. Or how long they had been gone. Or where the hell they were going.

Loren Lannister truly didn't know much.

"Loren Lannister," came the guttural voice of…piss, Loren really didn't know much. The man was a Lannister, at least he knew that, with golden lion heads for shoulder plates. He grew his blond hair long, his face a permanent, scarred scowl. Tall and lean, he looked the part of a warrior.

In other words, he looked the exact opposite of Loren. If he were an envious man he'd be jealous, but of course it took effort to be bitter.

"That's me," Loren replied as he took another swig from his chalice of wine.

The warlike Lannister before him raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"

"The last time I checked, yes."

War Lannister shook his head, permanent scowl deepening. "Bloody shame. You're expected at the war council."

Well thatwas a surprise. Loren didn't know the first thing about war. Granted, he was a knight, but that had only happened during a particularly long episode of drinking with a few captains of the Lannisport City Watch. A few bought drinks and well placed jokes and next thing Loren knew, he was Ser Loren Lannister of Lannisport. "Me?"

War Lannister snorted. "You."

"Why in the seven hells would I be there?"

"Upon seeing you, I have no idea. I doubt you'll be much good. Politically however it's required you show up. You're the head of one of the Lannisport families."

Oh, that explained it. This was all a mistake. Loren took another swig of wine, much more relaxed with the prospect of actually being expected to contribute to society out of the way. "No, you have the wrong Lannister. That's my uncle Tybolt."

"Tybolt is dead."

"Oh. Well then it'd be my cousin Lann."

"He's dead too. Died just yesterday of a bloody cough."

"Really. Well then, how about Lancel or Luceon or…"

War Lannister cut him off. "Enough. My brother told me to fetch you." Without further ceremony he reached down and seized Loren by the collar of his breastplate, pulling him to his feet before the Drunken Lion could react. Unsure how to respond, Loren did the only thing he knew how to; he brought the chalice to his lips and drank.

War Lannister knocked it away, the goblet bouncing away and spilling all its glorious contents onto the ground. "No more. You're drunk enough; if you come in still drinking my brother will have you walk all the way back to Lannisport. From the look of you you could use it, but my opinion doesn't matter. Grab your sword." Distressed over his wine but even more wary of what this War Lannister might do if he didn't obey, Loren fumbled around for the blade he couldn't ever remember even so much as unsheathing. Without a word War Lannister turned and walked out, Loren following for fear of not.

Tywin Lannister's pavilion was as great as the man himself seemed to be, this temporary structure nicer than half of the permanent homes in Lannisport. A long table, oaken and sturdy, was currently seating twenty war advisors. At the head of it sat the man himself, bald of head with bushy golden side-whiskers just beginning to turn silver, his presence commanding even when he was silent.

Loren took the farthest available seat he could find. If he was going to have to be here, he was damn sure going to make sure he wasn't noticeable. Loren was a drunk and he knew it; he had no intention of firstly offering bad advice and secondly getting killed for it.

Tywin Lannister spoke first; from what Loren had gathered, the man did everything first. "What of the second son?"

A burly man with a rearing purple unicorn on his doublet spoke from a few chairs away. House Brax, Loren remembered, to his own surprise. "Reports place him still in the Stormlands, chasing Robert Baratheon."

Another lord, this one with a peacock and a name that escaped Loren, took the narrative. "Prince Rhaegar still hasn't been seen. Aerys has pulled the Crownland lords not with Aelor into the capital."

Brax finished. "No more than two or three thousand."

Tywin Lannister's nod was so miniscule Loren was fairly certain he had imagined it. "And of the Reach and Dorne?"

War Lannister spoke up then. "Still trying to help Aelor trap Baratheon." Tygett. The name sprung unbidden to Loren's mind, and suddenly he realized that War Lannister was none other than one of Tywin's younger brothers, the more martial of the three. Good thing I obeyed. Word is he's as dangerous a swordsman as Aemon the Dragonknight.

Another Lannister, probably Kevan, the second eldest of the sons of Tytos Lannister, sat at his brother's right hand. "The Vale, North and Riverlands are all amassing at Riverrun. It won't be much longer before they march."

Tywin Lannister's baritone could silence a mounted charge. Not that Loren knew anything about those really; it just seemed to stand to reason that they would be loud. Personally he hoped he would never find out. "We must reach King's Landing before they do." Ah, we're going to reinforce the capital. Good on us! "The Targaryen dynasty was once great enough to bring the Lion Kings of old to their knees, but no longer. Aerys has spat upon the Lannister name too many times." Oh. We're going to attack the capital.

The day was full of surprises it seemed.

But, Loren thought. At least he thought he thought it, until he found the entire table, Tywin Lannister included, was suddenly staring at him. Well shit. There went my disappearing act. Loren dare not look at the emerald green eyes of Tywin boring into him when he blundered on, completing his thought process verbally. "But who will be king?"

War Lannister—Tygett—spoke over the angry ramblings. "He is Lann's cousin, brother. New to the council." Despite his defense of Loren, it was obvious Tygett didn't care a whit for him.

When Loren finally managed to look at Tywin, he could tell the man wasn't impressed either. That was fine; the chief Lannisters could despise him all they wanted to. All Loren cared about was making sure they didn't kill him. "Robert Baratheon has the best claim through his grandmother, Rhaelle Targaryen. I intend to turn King's Landing and the bodies of Aerys and his family over to him with the suggestion he marry my daughter."

But Baratheon is betrothed to the Stark girl, Loren remembered, though Tywin had turned away from him in clear dismissal. That was fine. Loren hadn't dared ask the question on his mind anyway.

"We have to consider," Brax began, Loren fascinated by how much the man's moustache moved when he did so, "the possibility that Baratheon doesn't escape the Stormlands."

Lord Peacock nodded. Those two certainly like to talk. I prefer wine myself. "He is surrounded by four armies, and the Targaryen Prince is no fool."

A new lord, this one with a red bull on his chest, made his voice heard. "Targaryen is a boy."

"Yes, a boy who hasn't lost a battle."

"He's only fought two and a handful of skirmishs, Lord Serrett, and he's outnumbered the enemy two to one in them all."

Brax came to Serrett's defense. "That may be, Lord Prester, but he rides with Barristan Selmy, and Randyll Tarly is in command of one of the Reach armies."

Lord Peacock, a name Loren much preferred to Lord Serrett, had an arrogant voice. The more Loren heard it, the more he wished to drown it out in alcohol. "And reports claim he has killed more men with his own hand than any man in his army."

Tygett Lannister snorted in derision, something he seemed to do quite regularly. "So what if the whelp is good with a blade? That makes him a killer, not a strategist."

"Men rally to a warrior. If he continues to route his enemies—"

"Enough." While it wasn't quite a mounted charge, Lord Lannister's voice certainly stopped his vassal's cold. "Our sack of King's Landing will draw the Targaryen lad north, into the jaws of the other rebellious lords. If Baratheon has any wits about him he'll use the opportunity to escape. If he doesn't we will react accordingly. Now out. All of you."

Loren didn't need to be told twice.

As he rambled his way back towards his tent, Loren thought on the task that apparently lay before them. He'd been blissfully unaware of it mere hours earlier; with the help of the copious quantities of wine in his tent, he'd soon be ignorant of it again. But during the agonizingly long trip to his beloved wine stores, the idea that he was marching to commit treason ran through his mind unhindered.

Tywin had claimed he was going to present Baratheon with the bodies of both Aerys and his family. Didn't that family consist of a child or two? Maybe it was three; he vaguely remembered some talk of a new prince, Aelon or Aegor or some other such Targaryen name. Surely the Lord Paramount of the Westerlands didn't intend to slaughter mere babes, did he?

The Rains of Castamere suddenly began playing in his head, and Loren realized that yes, yes he did.

That seemed particularly unknightly. Granted everything Loren did was unknightly, but he'd never once considered the murder of children. The idea that he was marching forward to do just that didn't settle well with him.

For the first time since he didn't know when, Loren felt something very close to a moral conscience.

He blamed it on his level of sobriety. Gods did he need a drink.

Chapter Text

Aelor Targaryen had never been particularly passive in nature, his temper as hot as the blood of the dragon coursing through his veins, but he was as wroth as he had ever been in his life.

His stallion thundered underneath him, its huge lungs working like a billows as it raced towards the sound of slaughter ahead. Alaric had taken to calling the stallion Warrior, a name Aelor was certain the High Septon would disapprove of but that fit the massive destrier like a gauntlet. The beast seemed to love battle almost as much as Aelor did, having emerged from the Slaughter of the Straits with a red muzzle from where it had bitten hunks out of the Stormlander enemy. While it was particularly unwise of a knight to grow attached to his mount, as more horses would die underneath him than women would writhe, Aelor found himself liking the animal more than he did most men.

But right now the Dragon of Duskendale wasn't focusing on things he liked. No, right now he was focusing on his hate, and there was certainly plenty of that to go around.

The Lannister's hadn't left many men guarding the Mud Gate that lead to the Roseroad and southern Kingsroad. They clearly hadn't felt the need, as no one was supposed to know they were marching on King's Landing with the intent of sacking it. But Aelor Targaryen did know, thanks to the chittering's of a little bird that had appeared in his tent the night before he was to assault Robert Baratheon, and while he hadn't been able to reach the city of his birth in time to prevent the start of the Lannister's pillaging, he was certainly in time to prematurely end it.

Aelor Targaryen was going to kill them all. Each and every one.

He drove his lance through the throat of the first man he came to, turning the guard's shout of warning into a gurgle of blood and death. The others fared no better, one turning and trying to flee through the gate but instead being trampled by the mass of armored horses crashing through. The streets of King's Landing were awry with soldiers and citizens both dead and alive. Some men in the red and gold of Lannister were battling with those in the gold of the City Watch or the red and black of House Targaryen, blood being spilled onto the already red streets. Others had given up the pretense of waging war and were openly looting, the valuables being stolen from brothels and Septs alike.

Aelor drew his sword, the ruby in its crossguard glittering, and cut into them like a demon from the deepest of the seven hells.

His men knew their commands, and they would carry them out with gusto. They were to kill every man in Lannister red they came across. There would be no chance of redemption, no declaration of repentance; there would be no mercy. The Lion had bitten the Dragon's tail, and it was going to be burned into blackened nothing for the offense.

Some knight with a purple unicorn surcoat tried to knock Aelor off of his destrier, the Dragon Prince driving his sword through the narrow slit of his visor in response. Aelor roared as the lust of battle flooded his veins, withdrawing his blade from his dead enemy's face only to plunge it into the back of the next man at arms he crossed. Aelor didn't give a damn whether it was an honorable blow or not; he just wanted to kill, and whether he did so by cutting off a man's head and killing him instantly or cutting off a man's hand and letting him bleed to death on the shit covered street mattered not a whit to him.

Aelor had gotten good at killing. He intended to get much better.

The deeper he drove into the city, cutting a bloody path up the streets of his family's capital, the more Lannister red he saw, and the more his rage grew. Warrior felt his rider's fury and responded, his frequent neighing sounding more like a predator's roar, running more than one man down and turning them into a fleshly pulp underneath the stallion's hooves and weight. The black armored knight and black hided horse made a terrifying duo, spilling blood as if they were the embodiment of the Stranger. Even those Westlander's who had sense enough to run could not escape, feeling the bite of a blade or the crushing clamp of a set of flat herbivore teeth digging into their skin.

Men died by the scores, and still the Targaryen Prince drove on.

Whether Alaric or Ser Barristan were still beside him Aelor couldn't say. Whether Lord Randyll Tarly had successfully brought the infantry up to block off the city's gates, ensuring not a single Lannister would escape the purge of their own making, Aelor didn't know. The Lord of Duskendale didn't even know if this euphoric slaughter was real or just the dream of a man from a family known for its madness, dark and terrifying and beautiful.

Aelor didn't care. All the mattered was killing and the Red Keep.

When Aelor came upon a man in a lion's helm, his shoulder pads forged to look like the faces of the predator the Lannister's were so proud of, all of his rage focused on that one being. This knight was atop a horse almost as big as Warrior, the long blond hair flowing from underneath his helm waving to and fro as he tried to set up a defensive line. His men weren't listening, too intent on the loot they were pillaging and the women they were defiling to worry about something so trivial as a war.

Aelor ended his efforts for him. Warrior crashed into the Lannister's mount, nearly unhorsing the knight as the stallion beneath him staggered sideways.

The second son of Aerys brought his blade in at a downward angle, hard and fast. To his utmost surprise the Lannister knight parried it with his own, forcing Aelor's blade up and away as the Lion's horse regained its balance. Warrior, enraged that the other stallion in front of him hadn't gone down, slammed his armored body back into his rival's flank, sinking his teeth into the blanket of heavy mail covering the Lannister horse's haunch. Aelor used that momentum to strike again, his own fury growing as the Lannister parried once more, knocking Aelor's blade aside and going on the offensive even as his mount staggered again, screaming hauntingly at the pain Warrior was inflicting.

The Lion's blade crashed into Aelor's shield, the sword slashing a furrow into the warring white dragon's painted onto the heavy oak and banded steel. Aelor had almost forgotten the thing was strapped to his left arm; he hadn't needed it to this point. The Dragon swung the newly rediscovered defense out, knocking the blade of his opponent away, and once again struck, this time aiming the point of his sword at the slit in the man's visor, intending to skewer the Lion's brains as he had the purple unicorn's. Lannister managed to block this blow as well, not giving up a fraction of a second in transitioning from the defensive to the offensive, slashing his blade in at Aelor again, carving another groove into the Dragon's shield.

On an on the two danced, parry being met with parry, their stallion's warring with each other every bit as hard as their rider's. Thrice Aelor thought he had an opening, and thrice the Lannister knight managed to close it off before the Dragon of Duskendale could drive his blade home. Their deadly dance paid no heed to the carnage around them or the passage of time, blade meeting blade meeting shield meeting blade.

Aelor roared as Lannister landed a blow, the tip of the Lion's blade catching Aelor's helm, carving through the steel with the strength only battlelust could give, biting into the skin around Aelor's right eye and setting his helm ajar, his vision blocked. The Dragon roared in fury and pain, the Lion laughing as he aimed his sword for a killing blow. Warrior saved him, at that moment deciding to drive his muscular shoulders into his rival's flank again. The Lion's laughed turned into a curse as he had to regain his balance.

In that time Aelor Targaryen had removed and discarded his helm, the gash that carved diagonally from his right brow over his eye and sliced cleanly until it ran off the point of his cheek bleeding freely. Violet eyes, both unscathed despite the mess of blood surrounding the right, burned out from a face twisted in anger.

The Dragon of Duskendale looked nothing like a man in that moment. As he raised his sword, thundering out a war cry of rage and pain and hate, he looked more like a fire breathing bringer of death than even the white dragons etched onto his breastplate.

This attack was twice as furious as his first, the Dragon swinging hard enough to nearly break the Lion's shield arm when he met the blow. Whatever momentum Lannister had won with the blow that nearly blinded the Prince was lost, and soon he was barely able to ward off the deadly blade of his opponent. The Dragon Prince seemed to be growing only stronger, bloodlust fueling his every strike, his unshielded face snarling as he struck again and again.

In truth, the Lion could only hold off the Dragon's onslaught so long. One parry was a fraction too slow, the weak counter knocking the Prince's sword aside but also knocking the Lion's blade away. Before he could bring it back, the Dragon of Duskendale had thrust his sword forward, driving the point of his blade through gorget and chainmail, unleashing a roar so vicious one would think he was a dragon reborn.

The Lion never cried out in pain, as silent and sullen in death as he had been in life. Tygett Lannister only twitched twice, blood running in a torrent down his breastplate, before falling backwards as stiff as a tree, sliding off of both Aelor's blade and his own battered and bleeding horse to land in a crimson and gold heap in the street. The gold of his shoulder plates made a sharp contrast to the blood soaked filth, long blond hair turned red and brown.

Aelor Targaryen gave his dead opponent only the briefest of glances before he kicked Warrior back into a sprint, thundering up the red street for the Red Keep.

The fighting hadn't quite reached the fortress of his ancestors, the drawbridge up and nervous men manning the battlements. One man was so tensed from waiting for an enemy that had yet to arrive that he had drawn his bow and loosed an arrow before he truly saw the figure riding towards him. His heart nearly burst when he saw that figure was a Targaryen Prince, face, armor and stallion all so bloodied as to almost be unrecognizable. The archer fell to his knees in relief when his hastily shot arrow sailed well wide of his target, the man never so glad to be a lousy shot than he was in that moment.

"It's Prince Aelor!" "Hold your arrows!" "A friend, hold fire!" Each of those cries and more echoed through the line of men holding the walls. "Open that gate, let the Prince in!" Cut through the mass of voices, and men rushed to obey.

The Dragon of Duskendale galloped through the rapidly raised portcullis, not slowing as men at arms in the courtyard had to leap out of the way of his charging animal. The Keep seemed untouched, the whirlwind of death Aelor had unleashed on the Lannister rear having seemingly saved the inhabitants. Aelor rode hard anyway. Tywin Lannister was smart; he knew that the only thing that would keep many of the defenders fighting was the lives they protected. If he could slip a few men into the Keep and eliminate the Targaryen's inside, most would lose heart, ending his brilliant sack of the city with the termination of most of the bloodline that had insulted him repeatedly over the years.

Aelor knew the murder of children like Aegon and Elia wasn't above the lion. The Rains of Castamere began playing in the young Prince's mind as he neared his destination.

They have to be alive. They have to be. I must see them, I must hold them again.

Aelor came to the dry moat defending Maegor's Holdfast, finding the drawbridge up and men, the last line of defense for the Targaryen's inside, tense and ready. "Lower the bridge," the Dragon called, the blood flowing down his face mixing into his silver beard.

A knight Aelor didn't recognize with a leaping swordfish on his chest peered down from the walls nervously. "But Prince Aelor, the King demanded we open for no—"

"LOWER THE FUCKING BRIDGE," the Prince bellowed, and within a second the sound of turning gears filled his ears. Aelor thundered across the drawbridge almost before it even settled into place, flying under the ingress and into the courtyard.

The Dragon of Duskendale flew off of his stallion, barreling into the castle within a castle. It was then and only then that he realized Ser Barristan Selmy, white cloak and armor turned red, and Alaric Langward, covered in gore, were beside him. "Barristan, check Rhaenys' room and then my mother's! Alaric, with him! Find my family!"

His companions gave no argument, Ser Barristan turning a corner with Alaric close on his heels. Aelor himself ran like a madman, paying no heed to the sting of the cut down his eye. All that mattered was reaching the nursery, was seeing Aegon and Elia and Rhaenys were alive, holding them in his arms and seeing that he hadn't been too late.

When the Dragon Prince reached the nursery, too focused to even notice his lack of breath, the door was already open. Aelor burst in, hoping beyond hope to see his favorite Dornishwoman and her children safe and sound.

Instead, he was greeted with the sight of a mountain with legs and armor, a massive surcoat bearing three black dogs on a yellow field stretched across the broadest chest Aelor had ever seen. Aelor followed the surcoat up and up and up until he staring at the biggest man the Dragon of Duskendale had ever heard of even so much as existing.

And the blade, as long as Aelor was tall, that the moving mountain was swinging towards the Dragon Prince's head.

Chapter Text

She knew something was wrong the moment she heard the trumpets.

She'd just burst into Rhaenys' chamber when the first cries entered the fringes of her hearing. By the time she'd managed to sprint to her son's nursery, cradling the infant under one arm and hoisting her toddler on the other hip, the cries were as loud her own heartbeat.

The Dornish Princess nearly screamed when the door to the nursery crashed inward, instinctively shielding her children from whoever had burst into the chamber. A being filled the doorway, broader than the width between doorposts, a huge hand resting on the sword at his hip.

Her knees almost gave out when that someone turned out to be Manfred Darke, her lady-in-waiting Ashara Dayne slipping around the boulder of a man and rushing into the nursery, her violet eyes panicked. Ser Manfred's eyes were not, the knight as unflappable even in this clear emergency as he was in day to day life.

"Princess," came his gruff voice. "We need to go. Now."

Elia needn't be told twice, and she gratefully handed the whimpering Rhaenys to Ashara before pulling Aegon, sleeping and blissfully unaware of what was going on around him, closer to her chest. Ser Manfred turned and Elia followed instantly, Ashara close behind her.

Men at arms rushed through the corridors, shoving each other and shouting as they nearly sprinted down the halls of the Red Keep. Ser Manfred strode confidently through them like a battering ram, sending one man at arms to the ground with a quick shove when the lad didn't get out of the way in time. Elia and Ashara huddled closely to his broad back, the noise of clanking armor and the sense of spreading panic waking Aegon, who began to cry.

Elia hushed her son even though she knew it would do no good. She didn't know who was currently raising hell on the city of King's Landing, but it didn't in the end matter; if they were attacking, they either wanted Elia and her children as hostages or wanted them dead. The Dornish Princess wasn't overly fond of either idea.

Elia had had no idea where Ser Manfred was going, but where he came to a halt would have been one of her last guesses. Her bodyguard slammed his palm three times on the door of Lord Varys' chambers, and the The Spider opened it instantly.

The bald, portly eunuch wordlessly ushered them in. Princess Elia, as confused as she could ever remember being, followed Ser Manfred in only when he waved his hand impatiently. The Spider's chambers were barren, with only a bed, table and a few chairs as decoration. But it wasn't what wasn't in his chambers that surprised Elia even in this moment of panic and unknowing; it was what was.

Queen Rhaella Targaryen stood in the center of the room, one hand placed protectively over her swelling stomach, the other clutching the hand of the six year old Prince Viserys. Elia's uncle, aging Prince Lewyn Martell of the Kingsguard, stood beside them in his resplendent white enamel plate, his own hand resting on the sword at his hip.

"Elia," the youngest Targaryen called, his young face scared. He started towards the Dornishwoman but the Queen held his hand firmly. While Elia and Rhaella got along fairly well in their limited exposure to the other, the Queen clearly didn't want to release her young son's hand when she didn't know what she was doing here or what was going on.

Elia didn't blame her. She pulled the crying Aegon even closer to her chest.

The Spider spared no words, merely walking in that strange stroll of his and making a quick motion with his hands at the wall. And then that wall moved, neatly floating up to reveal a staircase, and Elia decided that nothing made sense anymore.

"Up the staircase," came the fluttering voice of Varys. "My little birds will direct you from there."

Ser Manfred nodded, turning to give them only a few gruff words. "Follow me, Your Graces." The knight turned and without ceremony stomped up the stairs, his hand on his sword, the passel of royalty following. Prince Lewyn, giving his niece a confident smile, took the rear.

Aegon's cries resonated in the narrow, musky passage, and Viserys repeatedly asked what was going on despite his mother hushing him each time. Rhaenys took to crying as well, Ashara trying and failing to calm the child. Elia knew Ser Manfred and her uncle had to be gritting their teeth, escorting three women and three crying children down an old passage that lead to who the hell knew, but the squat knight and elderly Kingsguard said nothing, focused solely on the dark passage ahead.

At the top of the stairs was their escort. When Varys had referred to his 'little birds', he literally meant little. Their guide was a child, no more than ten. The passage they were in was dark, only a few torches spaced generous distances apart offering light, but Elia recognized the youngster as a regular around the servant quarters, the daughter of the blacksmith or some other castle-bound smallfolk. If this child is for Varys, who else is as well? The thought was disconcerting to say the least, but since the Spider seemed to be her children's best way to escape, she wasn't going to give it all that much thought.


They made more twists and turns than Elia could keep track of, climbing then descending then going straight, the blacksmith's daughter handing them off to another child the Princess of Dorne didn't recognize before that child in turn handed them off to another and then another. Elia was thankful for them all, because without them she would be as lost as a septon in a brothel.

Elia didn't know how much time they spent in the darkness, her children crying, Viserys growing more and more stressed and Ser Manfred charging stubbornly on, before the smoothed stone below her feet suddenly turned rough, and the next thing Elia knew she was being blinded by sunlight.

"We need to move!" called the voice of a short, slender man with a rather ordinary face. A boat with black sails, one so small she had trouble believing Ser Manfred wouldn't sink it with his weight alone, was grounded on a narrow strip of beach behind him, surrounded by the rock of the cliffs on all sides. The smell and sound of the Narrow Sea was overpowered by the smell of smoke and the cries from the city on the cliffs above them.

Ser Manfred stomped to the boat, turning to the royal family and ushering them on. "Quickly Your Graces."

They filed in one at a time, huddling close to one another, Aegon's insistent cries grating with Elia's already frayed nerves. I know you're scared, my love, but I can't protect you if I'm deaf. For the love of the Gods shush. That prayer went unanswered, as Aegon's cries only grew louder and more frequent.

Prince Lewyn assisted the pregnant Queen Rhaella aboard with great care. "Careful now, Your Grace," Elia's uncle said, smiling as he always did. "I'm already disobeying the king's orders by being here. I can't have you hurting yourself and giving him even more reason to kill me."

"Do not worry, Ser Lewyn," said the Queen. Her tone was quiet, but it had more strength to it than Elia had heard in years. "If I were to die the King would probably reward you."

Viserys doggedly stayed on the beach even after his mother was settled, eyeing the man with the boat distrustfully. "Who is he, mother? He smells like a fish."

"Hush child," came the voice of the Queen, growing firm. "This man is saving us. Get on board."

The young Prince scowled. "Father wouldn't like this."

"Your father isn't here, love. Get on the boat."

Viserys dug his heels into the sand. "We are blood of the dragon! We don't go with peasants." Elia was beginning to fear Viserys may hold them much too long. She had known nothing of the secret passages of the Keep, and it seemed the Queen hadn't either, so it was unlikely someone would follow them, but the sooner they were on the sea the better she would feel.

That was an odd fact considering she had no idea who the small man waiting nervously by the prow of the boat was. Panic made for the strangest friends she supposed.

Elia began to rise with the intent of manhandling the youngest Targaryen Prince onto the boat, wanting more than anything to be gone from the wretched sounds coming from the city. Ser Manfred beat her to it.

"Your mother says go you little shit," the big knight growled, his irritation as plain in his voice as it was on his ugly face. "You're going." Ser Manfred moved astonishingly fast for a man of his stature, and Viserys couldn't churn his young legs quick enough. Her sworn sword grabbed the Prince, one hand clutching an arm and the other a leg, and jumped on board, the youngest son of Aerys shouting the whole way. Ser Manfred payed him no mind, depositing the boy next to his mother who, despite her fierce protectiveness of Viserys, had not moved to protest the knight's actions. The big man kept one hand pressed down on the Prince's tiny shoulder, keeping him firmly attached to his seat.

"Be off," the knight barked, and the small man obliged, heaving the boat into the water with a strength that surprised the Princess of Dorne. Once it was sufficiently water bound, the nimble man jumped aboard, taking one oar while Ser Manfred took the other, handing the duty of containing the still struggling Viserys to the knight of the Kingsguard.

"The wind is in our favor," the brown haired savior said, Elia recognizing his accent as that of a man from King's Landing. "Once we row far enough out we'll go full sail."

"Thank you," the Dornish Princess said, her heart feeling more and more relieved the farther away from the cliffs of King's Landing they rowed. She pulled Aegon closer, his cries no longer the nuisance they had been mere moments before, and reached to pull Rhaenys to her side. "We can never repay you, Ser…"

"Davos, my lady," the man said, giving her a quick grin through his salt and pepper beard. "And I'm no Ser."

Aelor Targaryen was going to die.

He'd managed to dodge out of the way of the monstrous assassin's initial blow, the wind from the blade cutting through the air brushing against his cheek like a gale. Aelor barely had time to even step back, bringing his sword and shield up, before the giant was bringing his blade down overhead like an axe, intent on splitting the Targaryen's skull. Aelor jumped to the left, the giant's blade digging into the smoothed stone of the nursery's floor, and swung his own sword at the big man's unprotected side.

How the giant was quick enough to bring his massive sword up in time to block him the Dragon Prince would never know, the beast's blade knocking the Prince's aside and his opposite fist, the size of a small castle, grazing the point of Aelor's chin. The Dragon of Duskendale staggered back, ears ringing and vision reduced to stars, only the unbalanced manner in which the giant had landed the blow and the fact that it hadn't connected fully saving every bone in the Prince's face from being broken. If the assassin had managed to land the hit clean Aelor had no doubt it would have shattered every bone it touched and most likely have killed him then and there.

It was then it became clear to Aelor that he could not beat this…thing. It was oddly peaceful, accepting one's death.

The giant roared, a guttural sound so frighteningly unhuman that Aelor wondered if this, not Warrior and himself, was what the embodiment of the Stranger looked like. He swung again, Aelor seeing through the stars just enough to manage to dodge aside. The Prince never even had time to go on the offensive, the stupidly long blade of his killer already whistling in towards his side, Aelor bringing his shield up instinctually.

Aelor was no small man himself, tall and broad shouldered, but he might as well have been the size of one of the many dolls he had gifted Rhaenys. When the mountain of a man's blade hit the shield it barely even stopped the swing's momentum. Aelor Targaryen went flying, armor and all, like a stone from a catapult, slamming into the wall of the nursery with a clank of steel plate on stone before hitting the ground in a heap.

Aelor suddenly realized how much everything hurt. His face hurt, the blo

od still flowing from his wound and his chin throbbing. His right arm hurt, fatigued from the strength it exerted to both swing and drive through enemy armor. His left arm hurt now too, from fingertip to elbow, his shield nearly sheared in two, the top half hanging onto the bottom only by a few slivers of wood and bent steel. Hell, his whole body hurt, from head to toe.

He felt more than heard the massive footfalls of the giant assassin coming to end his life. Aelor couldn't find it in himself to care. No amount of the bloodlust or battle rage he had felt only minutes before was present, and even if it was, it couldn't have helped him. All he felt was pain. Hell, he didn't even know where his sword was.

Well shit. Knights are supposed to die with their swords in their hand. Aelor supposed that didn't really matter. No one was going to sing a story about him, the Dragon who had his ass handed to him by a man with dogs on his surcoat. Seriously, dogs? Why couldn't his sigil be a tiger or a direwolf, something fearsome?

Aelor recognized his thoughts as the ramblings of a disconcerted, dying man. That was all well and good, because he was a disconcerted and dying man.

The mountain of a man stopped in front of the heaped pile of the Prince, raising his sword the size of Westeros and aiming it at the Dragon's head with a smile. Aelor met his eyes, willing himself even in his stupor to meet his death head on.

And then a sword burst out of the mountainous assassin's neck, angled upwards. The giant dropped his own blade, the greatsword clattering to the ground at Aelor's feet while its once-wielder clawed at the blade that had cut his throat. With a sickening slosh the blade was withdrawn, only to reappear a moment later slicing through the flesh at the back of the giant's legs, sending the beast to his knees. Aelor still didn't know who was behind the saving blade, for the monster before him was tall even when cut down to half his normal size.

The first hack dug into the side of the dog's neck, cutting flesh and tendon, but the giant animal still struggled, pulling a dirk from his belt and reaching for Aelor even as he choked on his own blood. The second hack dug deeper, the third even more so, slowing the giant hand reaching to end the Lord of Duskendale's life. It took several more, Aelor watching in grim astonishment as the mountainous man fought on despite a wound that would have killed most long ago, before a final swipe severed the animal's head, sending it bouncing across the nursery floor like a child's ball.

The body of the assassin protested death for a moment longer, its hands still trying to grasp the battered Prince before them, before it finally toppled like a falling elm to the bloody stone.

Aelor stared at the corpse for a long moment, mind still hazy, face still throbbing, before he finally looked up at the soul that had saved him. When the face registered through his addled brain, Aelor knew he had to be dreaming.

There in the nursery, sword bloody and black armor shining, stood Rhaegar Targaryen, a sad smile on his face.

Chapter Text

The Sack of King's Landing had to have been one of the most perplexing battles in the history of Westeros. Aelor had been there, and even he was confused.

Twelve thousand Westermen had descended onto the light defended capital, gaining the gates through deception. The door to the city had no sooner been opened then the true intent of the Lions became clear, the guards being cut down before the mass pillaging of the City of Dragons began. Women were raped, innocents slaughtered, gold and other valuables taken; half of Flea Bottom had gone up in flames, the cries of hundreds of smallfolk filling the grey sky as they burned in the filthy slum they called home.

And then another force had arrived, bearing the warring white dragons of Prince Aelor, smashing into the disorganized Westerman with the force of a blacksmith's hammer. The massacre had turned from that of civilians to soldiers, many being caught literally with their pants around their ankles, pulled off of the women they were raping and disemboweled, their lifeblood flowing around their stiffened members to form great crimson puddles. Many of the Westermen were so committed to the utter chaos they were wracking that they never knew they were being attacked before it was too late.

Infantry under Lord Randyll Tarly of the Westmarch had followed, many rushing through the gates to assist the cavalry of Prince Aelor in ridding the capital of lions while others formed there, cutting down any Lannister who tried to flee. Some Western lords managed to rally retainers and attempt breakouts at each of the gates, but the men of the Reach, unbloodied so far in the war, held firm, keeping the lions in their cage.

What rattled most about the battle wasn't the quick changes in momentum, however. What rattled most was the presence of two Targaryen Princes.

Aelor, Lord of Duskendale and second son of the king, had rode through the Mud Gate first, in the minds of the citizens cutting bloody swaths alongside Barristan the Bold and his best knights on their way to the Red Keep, through sheer brilliance anticipating Lord Tywin's move and arriving to thwart the lion. Rhaegar, Lord of Dragonstone and heir to the Throne, had ridden through the King's Gate alone, cutting his own path through the carnage towards the same destination. To many he had appeared as a God, returning from his self-imposed exile in time to save the city of his birth with his brother.

Only the two men in question knew what utter gibberish all of it was.

The brothers sat in silence in the Small Council Chamber, one at each end of the table. Rhaegar, hauntingly beautiful face framed by long silver hair, was strumming his lute, changing the song periodically. Aelor, his face bruised and bloodied, held a chalice of wine in his right hand and a tankard to refill it in his left.

Neither spoke for a long time.

"Do I have to call you 'Your Grace' now?" The latter finally asked, the cut he received from Tygett Lannister bound to make for one hell of a scar.

His elder brother smiled sadly. Rhaegar does everything sadly. "Only in public. In private you are still my brother."

Aelor nodded sharply. "Good. Because King or not, I'm still going to curse you for a fool."

Rhaegar Targaryen, the first of his name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, smiled all the sadder. "I know."

Their father was dead.

They had found the Mad King dead at the feet of Jaime Lannister, his long fingernails snapped from his impact with the ground, a bloody smile carved into his throat. Jaime sat the throne, dressed in the golden armor of his house instead of the white enamel plate of the Kingsguard, looking as calm as if he'd only swatted a fly instead of killing the King he was sworn to protect.

The lad hadn't put up a fight, dropping his sword and submitting himself to chains in the black cells when Ser Barristan and Alaric had found him after finding and killing the fat Armory Lorch in Rhaenys' chambers. Aelor didn't feel so much as a hint of sadness at the death of his father, a fact that no longer bothered him; his heart was so black by now it would have surprised him if he was to actually feel remorse.

Ser Barristan Selmy stood guard at the door of the chamber, the only Kingsguard left in the city besides the new Kingslayer, as Rhaegar's three companions hadn't returned with him, Prince Lewyn Martell was with the new heir to the throne, and Ser Jonothor Darry had been found slain in the chambers of Princess Elia, having gone to check on the Princess and instead running into a giant as he crushed a lady-in-waiting's head.

Darry was an excellent swordsman, but he didn't stand a chance against the behemoth they'd learned had been called Gregor Clegane. They'd found his body nearly cut in two at the waist, lying over the ruin of what had once been Talana Vaith, the lady in waiting looking as if she'd been ravaged by a monster.

That same monster had very nearly killed Aelor, only stopped from succeeding by the new King. Clegane's head now resided on a spike on the battlements of the Red Keep.

Rhaegar cleared his throat and for a moment Aelor thought he was going to begin to sing, but instead the new King of the Iron Throne spoke. Pity. I always like my brother's singing; maybe it would have calmed me down enough to not want to kill him. "Where are my children?"

Aelor took another drink of wine. He wasn't overly fond of alcohol, but right now he needed plenty of it. "Halfway to Dragonstone by now, if the winds were good."

Rhaegar waited for an explanation Aelor didn't voluntarily give. "How?"

"The same way I knew Tywin Lannister was marching; with the help of a Spider."

Rhaegar tilted his head back in understanding. "Lord Varys."

Aelor nodded. "You know of the secret passages; you and I used to ditch our lessons and play in them as boys. The Spider knows them better than anyone. I left my man Manfred Darke and recruited Varys' help should the city be attacked. He did the rest. Odds are they were well gone by the time I arrived, though in my panic I'd entirely forgotten the plan myself. I'll have to apologize to the swordfish knight for my crude language."


Aelor clenched his jaw, teeth grinding. "I had the choice of riding for King's Landing or destroying the Rebellion's leader. I could not do both."

Rhaegar nodded. "I understand." They sat in silence for a few moments longer, Rhaegar strumming the lute absently. "Our father is dead. If I were to sue for peace, do you believe—"

"No," Aelor cut him off. "Why the hell would they? They have an army already amassed and reinforcements with a claimant marching towards them. And you and I are still alive. We are as guilty of starting this war as our father was."

Rhaegar raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yes," Aelor said, voice growing hard as his anger rose. "You ran off with a woman who wasn't your wife."

Rhaegar sighed. "Brother—"

"Save it," Aelor cut in, rising in his wroth. "You stole a woman, disrespecting your beautiful wife who will make the best Queen since Alysanne Targaryen. And then you brought the girl's father and brother to King's Landing, where our father killed them. Thanks to you. You, Rhaegar." Aelor glared at his brother a moment before dropping back into his seat in a defeated slouch, taking a long sip of wine. "And I am no better."

Rhaegar watched his brother calmly. "How so?"

Aelor stared into his wine. "We've always known what our father was, since we were little boys. For a long time we didn't stop him because we couldn't, but what excuse do we have for the last few years? We were his sons; you were loved by all the realm, and they at least didn't hate me. We could have done something, stopped all of this. Instead you steal a woman and I watch as a good man is burned alive, his son killing himself in a desperate attempt to save his father." Aelor's stare was unseeing, the Prince reliving a dark night full of wildfire and burnt flesh. "I stood andwatched. I could have done something, stopped the madness before it began, but I did nothing. And then I ran. I ran so I wouldn't have to listen as he raped our mother, the sweetest woman the gods ever graced Westeros with." Aelor took another long drink before laughing bitterly. "Some Princes we are."

Rhaegar said nothing, instead starting to strum The Dornishman's Wife on his lute. The King played and the Prince drank, neither speaking for a long while.

"I suppose I owe you for saving my life," Aelor said eventually, his tone making no secret of how distasteful he found that fact to be."

"No," Rhaegar responded, still playing. "You ensured Elia and my children were smuggled to safety. That is a debt I cannot repay."

"Good," Aelor said, slamming his chalice down. "Because you're the most foolish son of a bitch I have ever known."

Rhaegar sighed again. "I know you don't understand, Aelor."

"You're damn right."

"The prophecy—"

"Piss on your prophecy," Aelor spat, voice cold and sharp as he rose to his feet again. "That whole ridiculous delusion that you let become your obsession has already killed thousands. You broke a good woman's heart and ran out on two wonderful children because you buggering dreamed it was for the best! Horse shit it was. You tore a realm apart because of the decades old ramblings of a woods witch."

"The Prince that was promised—"

"Sure as hell isn't you or I."

Rhaegar clenched his jaw, only now beginning to grow angry at his younger brother's berating. "Careful, brother."

Aelor snorted. "Or what, Your Grace? Are you going to burn me alive as our father would have done? I've been fighting a war for you, Rhaegar. I've been doing it poorly at times I admit, but at least I was trying to put a stop to the destruction of our dynasty. And what were you doing? Hiding hell knows where with a woman who for all I know you kidnapped, letting men die by the scores." Aelor had both his hands on the table as he leaned over it, violet eyes boring into his brother's identical ones. To Rhaegar's credit he met them evenly. "Maybe Aegon is the Prince that was promised, but he can only fulfill your prophecy if we steer him to greatness. And we can only do that if we are alive. In case you weren't aware, there are tens of thousands of men at Riverrun and thousands more heading there, all aimed at killing every Targaryen that breathes."

Rhaegar was silent even longer, now playing the Bear and the Maiden Fair. Aelor wanted to take the lute and break it over his brother's head. "Are we certain they are still at Riverrun?"

Aelor sat slowly as he nodded, some of his anger dissipating after he lost his temper. I'm still going to kill him, but I suppose I can wait until the war is over to do it. "No. Baratheon is marching that way and he has too far of a lead on Prince Oberyn and his Dornishmen. Whether the rest of the rebellion is still at Riverrun or marching to meet Baratheon we're unsure of."

"How many men do they have?"

"Close to forty thousand. We'll have close to the same once Oberyn arrives, probably five thousand or so less. I sent Mace Tyrell and the Redwyne Fleet to besiege Storm's End."

Rhaegar cocked his brow. "I imagine Robert's brothers are there, but does it truly matter whether Storm's End falls?"

Aelor shook his head. "No, but it keeps Tyrell out of the way."

Rhaegar smiled, and for the first time that day it wasn't a sad one. "Prudent of you, Aelor. You have made quite a name for yourself in this war."

The Dragon of Duskendale shrugged. "The Seven know why. I've only fought a handful of battles, and each of them I've either had the element of surprise or superior numbers. And I still had my flank turned by Selwyn buggering Tarth. A Dragon outmaneuvered by a man with the nickname 'Evenstar'. How pathetic."

"You're men love you, and I daresay you're being thought of as the second coming of Aemon the Dragonknight."

"I'm good at killing people. So is every sellsword on either side of the Narrow Sea."

"But none of those sellswords are Princes of the Iron Throne. Or Hand of the King."

Aelor stared at Rhaegar a long moment. "You're going to need to clarify that."

Rhaegar put his lute aside, standing to walk to his brother's chair. "Father's last Hand of the King was apparently some pyromancer, Roassart I believe. Jaime Lannister killed him before he cut our father's throat."


Rhaegar shrugged. "I couldn't say, though I fully intend to find out. I need a Hand of the King, one who can help me finish this war and also rule the Seven Kingdoms in Aegon's name should something happen to me. I can think of no one better than you." The King held his hand out to his shocked brother.

Aelor hit him.

Rhaegar went reeling backwards though he kept his feet. "No!" He told Ser Barristan when the Kingsguard knight began to start for them, intent on breaking them up. "Let him rage!"

So Aelor raged. Though three years younger, Aelor had been bigger and stronger than Rhaegar for most of their lives, and he used it. His chair went flying back as the Dragon of Duskendale burst out of it, landing another blow to his brother the King's cheekbone. Rhaegar fought back though they both knew he was outmatched; it was as if they were young children again, settling their quarrels through the world's oldest method of negotiation.

Ser Barristan the Bold, grateful for being called off, could only watch with a slight smile on his face as the two Targaryen's beat the hell out of each other like they were children again. Barristan would know; he'd watched them many times before.

By the time they were done Aelor's cut had reopened, fresh blood flowing down the second son's jaw. Rhaegar's hauntingly beautiful face was no longer quite as beautiful, his lip busted and bruises already beginning to form. Both men were breathing heavily, Aelor hunched over with his hands on his knees and Rhaegar hugging a column to keep himself standing.

"If you think," Aelor started through gasps for breath, "That a damn pin…is going to make me forget your stupidity…"

"I…know it won't," Rhaegar replied, holding that column closer than he ever had his wife. "But it's a…serious offer. We have…a war to win. You're the best…man for it."

Aelor glared daggers at his brother while both caught their breath. After several long minutes he slowly rose, face still angry and fists, bloody knuckles and all, still clenched. "I'll take the damn pin until the war is over. Then you'll take it back and find someone else to run your kingdom's for you, because I sure as hell won't."

Rhaegar had gone from hugging the column to simply leaning against it. "Fair enough. Though if I die, I want you to be Aegon's regent. You'll care for him, Rhaenys and Elia probably better than I ever could."

"I already do."

Rhaegar's sad smile returned. Aelor found it easier to stomach when Rhaegar winced at his split lip. "I know." He held his brother's gaze. "You love her."

Aelor raised a brow. "Rhaenys? Of course."

"Elia." Aelor's face instantly turned shocked. "You have for years, baby brother. You might not have known it, but I have. And she loves you, though I doubt she knows it either."

Aelor began to viciously protest, but it died in his throat. He thought of Elia then, all Dornish beauty with a heart of gold. He had always been fond of her it was true, but he had never considered it something more. She was his brother's wife, an unattainable object that Aelor hadn't even realized he wanted.

But then he remembered that he did have a strange fondness for Dornish women that had begun roughly when Elia had first arrived in the capital. Annara down at Chataya's was Dornish, as was Senelle at Allie's back in Duskendale; both were his favorites. And then there was Talana Vaith, so recently deceased. Aelor realized that he thought of Elia when he was with each of them. Well I'll be damned. That's buggering messed up, even for a Targaryen.

He loved Elia's company, almost always seeking it out when he had a chance. He wrote her often and thought of her even more. Her laugh never failed to make him smile. I sound like a young girl, all these romanticized thoughts. Renfred would never let me forget it if he knew. Rhaegar's words made a hell of a lot of sense, Aelor had to admit.

So this is love. Who knew.

Aelor finally looked back at his brother, still leaning against a column. "This changes nothing, Rhaegar. You know us both. We'd never—"

"I'm not worried about that, Aelor. Elia probably doesn't know how she feels anyway. Even if she did, I don't disapprove."

Aelor raised an eyebrow in confusion. "You don't care at all that your brother loves your wife?"

Rhaegar shrugged, a motion that caused him some pain judging by his wince. "No, nor do I care that my wife loves my brother. All I care for right now is ending this war and keeping my children safe; the rest can be worked out later. I need your help to do so. Are you with me?" Rhaegar held his hand out again.

This time Aelor took it. "Aye. But if you do one more bonehead thing, I promise I'll kill you myself."

Rhaegar smiled once more. "I know, brother. Believe me, I know."

Chapter Text

They'd turned Flea Bottom into a funeral pyre.

The fire had started during the sack, the exact reason why unclear and unimportant. Randyll Tarly had smartly sent teams of men to contain it as best as they could when he saw the smoke billowing, eventually committing most of the loyalist force to the task once the serious fighting had died down.

The bodies of the Lannister dead, lord and levy alike, were carted to the raging bonfire that had engulfed half the slums from wherever they had died across the city. There were thousands of bodies and bodies bred disease and illness, so the men were stripped of their armor and weapons and thrown into the fire, the smell of burning flesh engulfing the already stinking city. Several septons, tougher of heart and stomach than most of their brethren, repeated death rites for hours, a communal prayer over a communal end.

The armor and swords that could be identified as belonging to lords—Brax, Falwell and Jast had been recovered already, and more were sure to be found—were set aside to be returned to the dead men's families, per the orders of King Rhaegar Targaryen. The rest—spears of levies, swords and armor of knights and retainers—were sorted and distributed among the loyalist forces, per the orders of Aelor Targaryen, Hand of the King.

King's Landing was a massive, sprawling city of thousands. Many Lannister men had used that to their advantage, discarding their weapons and armor for stolen or stripped civilian garb once it was clear the day was lost. There were dozens throughout the city, Aelor knew, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. He was much more concerned with the fortress inside a fortress Tywin Lannister and his retainers had made of the Great Sept of Baelor.

The Ruthless lion had realized rather quickly that his men were too disorganized and focused on pillaging to throw Aelor and his attackers back. Instead, the Lord of Casterly Rock had rallied close to seven hundred of his men, stripped the Street of Steel for all the weapons they could carry, and pulled back to the top of Visenya's Hill. He'd charged the Mud Gate, being thrown back by infantry under Lord Cleyton Byrch, but it was soon discovered that it had been a diversion. Fishmongers Square, a maze of a market selling everything from wine to animals located just inside the Mud Gate, had been picked clean of food and drink. The bakeries along the Street of Flour were also barren, the Lions using the chaos to carry as many rations as they could to the home of the High Septon.

They'd even had the audacity to hoist a roaring lion banner over the sept. The sight of it nearly drove Aelor back into his battlerage.

"Strong shield," Renfred Rykker greeted his old friend and his squire, clasping forearms with Aelor once he'd dismounted Warrior. The Lord of Hollard Hall had taken an arrow to the shoulder during the attack but had rode on as if it wasn't there. Even now he paid no mind to the bandages wrapped around the wound, face showing not an ounce of discomfort. "You look like hell."

"Stronger sword," Aelor responded as Alaric took Warrior and his own horse towards the temporary stable. "You look worse." It wasn't true of course; Aelor's eye was a red gash and he had a knot on his head from where he'd slammed into the wall of Aegon's nursery. However bad he looked he felt even worse; his body was terribly sore from head to toe, and it had taken all he had to dismount Warrior.

"How's the face feel? It looks like it will make for an impressive scar."

"It hurts. How's the arm?"

Renfred grinned. "I don't feel a thing."

Aelor raised a skeptical eyebrow even as he brushed by Rykker into the abandoned blacksmith shop they were using as a temporary headquarters. "Really? Then why are you favoring it like a child with scrape. I've seen Rhaenys handle injuries better."

Aelor stepped into the simple, one story building that still smelled of steel and the fire of billows even after the Lannisters had cleaned it out. A table of rough wooden planks had been moved in as well as chairs of all different makes, a ramshackle headquarters if ever there was one. Several lords were huddled around it, a map of King's Landing in front of them. Flags, red for Lannister and black for Targaryen, showed the positions of men in the city. There were a few other Lion holdouts, one at the Dragonpit and another on the Street of Silk, but those were minor and being methodically overrun. Tywin was the one that mattered, so it was to Tywin Aelor had gone.

Lord Randyll Tarly, lean and beginning to bald, had been given command of the city while the Targaryen brothers had gotten reacquainted. He'd restored order quickly and capably, implementing frequent patrols that kept looting to a minimum as well as isolating the Lannister resistance. The man himself stood up straight as Aelor entered, his massive greatsword of Valyrian steel—Heartsbane—sheathed across his back. Tarly's face was grim, his jaw hard-set. "Prince Aelor," he said more in acknowledgement than greeting, hard grey eyes meeting the Prince's violet ones and holding them.

"Lord Tarly," Aelor nodded in return. "You've done an impressive job. King's Landing hasn't been this orderly in a century." Tarly nodded but said nothing, never one for pleasantries. That was fine with the Dragon of Duskendal; he was sore and tired, and wasn't in a mood to be pleasant anyway. "How long can he hold out?"

"We're unsure, my lord," said Lord Cleyton. "We have no way of knowing how much food and water he managed to steal."

"We do know he can't escape," Tarly said, pointing towards the black flags at each gate. "My men aren't letting anyone in or anyone out. The city is locked down."

Aelor stroked his beard as he stared at the map. "Seven hundred you say? That's plenty enough to put up one hell of a fight were we to storm the Sept, and they have seven towers to hide in."

"They have plenty of archers as well, Lord Hand," piped in Jon Connington, Rhaegar's protégé and lord of Griffin's Roost in the Stormlands. Aelor wasn't overly fond of Connington, finding his obsession with Aelor's brother as offputting as Rhaegar's prophecy, but as a man who was in love with his brother's wife he supposed he didn't have much room to judge. "Our skirmishers have been trading shots with them for hours."

"We have the numbers to storm it, Prince Aelor," Tarly said. "There will be heavy casualties, but they have nowhere to flee to. A few hours bloodshed and it will be over."

"As will the lives of hundreds of our men," Aelor pointed out, eyes hard. "We're going to need every man we have to fight the Rebellion's true strength."

"We can't leave a hostile force inside our city's gates," Tarly countered.

"Of course not. If we have to storm it, we storm it. But the army won't be moving out for several days anyway; we need to rest, resupply and keep the city under control from the aftermath of the attack, as well as affirm Rhaegar is king. We can at least try and think of another way."

"But Lord Hand," Connington began, "The traitors—"

"Don't have the strength to attack King's Landing." Aelor shook his head. "Scouts put Prince Oberyn a mere two days away, while Baratheon has reunited with Stark and Arryn at Riverrun just three days ago. Oberyn will beat them here with days to spare. The Lannisters gained the gates through deception; the rebels have no chance of that. They can't take King's Landing, and they won't try."

Aelor stretched, trying to work the soreness from his joints. If I do have to storm a fortress, I don't want to be slow. A sept would be a hell of a place to die. "Give me time, my lords. An opportunity will arise, and we will take it."

Loren Lannister hated sieges. He'd only been in one for two days and he already knew that.

Seven hundred men of the Westerlands were holed up in the home of the High Septon, trading a

rrows with Targaryen loyalists. Tywin was in the midst of a cold rage, the "council" Loren had just left just a façade for Tywin's rage. No one suggested surrender—though they surely were all thinking it—for fear of their life. So they stayed, cramped in and around a massive building for the Seven, on rationed food and wine. Loren didn't really care much about the food, though he loved it as much as any other man; it was the limited wine that was killing him.

So it had come to be that the Drunken Lion stumbled around the darkened corners and rooms of the Great Sept of Baelor, hands shaking, stomach in knots. Other soldiers avoided or openly mocked him, but Loren payed them no mind. He was in too much suffering to worry over slights. More than one had openly asked Loren how someone like him could have survived to rally to the Sept while so many other, stronger men had died.

It was a fair question. Loren didn't know either.

One second he'd been helping himself to the wine stores on the Street of…was it Sugar? Honey? Something like that. Another Lannister, one of his numerous cousins of Lannisport, had slit the baker's throat and was in the process of raping the man's daughter, but Loren had been much more invested in helping himself to the wealthy merchant's generous stores of Arbor Gold. Before either was certain what was happening, though, a big knight had burst in barking orders, loading Loren down with the wine he'd been drinking and forcing him to haul it up a hill filled with terrified peasants.

A hill. Loren hadn't climbed one of those on foot in years, and he certainly hadn't enjoyed it then.

All he wanted was a drink. Well, multiple drinks to be exact. So many drinks that he could pass out and not wake up until this war was long gone and he was back in his branch of the family's mansion back in Lannisport, surrounded by Arbor Gold that he could kill the hangover with.

Just how he worked his way into the High Septon's chamber he'd never know. The man himself, called the Tall One or Fat One or something else Loren didn't give two whits about, had been at a minor sept elsewhere in the city when the Lions invaded his home and Tywin had commandeered his chambers. Whether the Seven would frown on that Loren couldn't say, but he hadn't been familiar with them in a long time anyway. Loren began to turn, knowing that as much as he didn't want to be in the Sept at all he certainly didn't want to be in a room Tywin Lannister had claimed on his own, when his foot caught on the simple chest the High Septon used to store—well, scriptures or robes or something, Loren didn't really know—and he fell, big belly and all, to the smoothed stone floor.

He supposed it was particularly bad to curse in a sept, but curse Loren did, loudly and repeatedly. Loren lay there, stomach roiling and body shaking, wallowing in his own misery, when he saw the odd level of the floor under the High Septon's modest cot.

Part of Loren was opposed to snooping in the avatar of the Gods chambers. Another part of Loren was feeling too miserable to care about what he might find. A third part wanted to get out of that chamber as quickly as possible, before a wroth Tywin Lannister came back and decided to unleash his concealed fury on the poor alcoholic sap in his room.

And that fourth part? Well, that part of Loren was so done with life that he shoved the cot aside.

It was a trapdoor, wooden and fit into the stone of the floor, with a film of dust on top of it. Loren stared at it for a long time, not even sure he wanted to open the door. What could the High Septon keep under his cot?

It turned out to be a tunnel.

Loren went down the ladder, breaking through a plethora of spider webs. The tunnel was dark, so dark Loren couldn't make heads or tails of anything. Going back was a clear option and probably the smart thing, but this tunnel had to come out somewhere, and Loren was so desperate for a drink he'd have fought through the Seven Hells themselves for a full horn of ale. Whatever this tunnel was, he doubted it could be that bad.

And he surely wasn't going to get enough to drink in the Great Sept of Baelor.

The Drunken Lion hugged the wall, breaking through more spider webs and filth than he'd ever been through in his life, tripping and falling to the filthy wood planked floor more times than he could count. Whoever had built it clearly hadn't used it in a while, but Loren fought on, mainly because he knew he didn't want to be on the other end. I'm going somewhere there is wine, be it in this life or the next.

How long he spent in that dark tunnel Loren couldn't say, but when he finally bumped into another ladder it was all he could do to not shout for joy. The hatch above it required all of his not-so-impressive strength to shove open, as something had been pinned on top of it. But when it finally did break free with a crash, the things that hit his senses were the last thing Loren had expected. While the smells may have left for a little doubt, the sounds that were greeting his ears most certainly did not.

Loren Lannister was in a whorehouse.

It took his eyes a long while to adjust to the light after being in the dark for so long, but Loren finally managed to gather his surroundings as a store room. Foods, from sacks of potatoes to sides of dried beef, were neatly ordered in the room alongside…

Bless the Seven, could it be?

Wine, the love of his life, had been what was keeping Loren in the darkness. The Drunken Lion forgave it instantly, pulling a bottle from a case and uncorking it without so much as looking at the vintage, putting the wine to his lips and letting the alcohol pour down his parched throat.

Bliss. Utter and complete bliss.

Loren barely noticed the door to the storeroom open, barely even heard the scream or saw the exposed flesh of the naked Summer Island girl, and almost missed the sharp point of a steel sword that the burly, shirtless man the girl brought back pressed against his stomach.

"Tell Waters I found a lion," the gruff voice came, the man throwing his hand out when the girl remained cowering behind his broad back. "Go, girl." The whore ran to obey, Gruff pushing the point hard enough to make Loren understand that the alcohol, however blessed it made him feel, shouldn't be his main focus right now. While he'd been more than willing to die for just one more bottle mere minutes ago, the refreshing taste of the one he'd just downed gave him a new outlook on life. Pointedly, it made him realize he wanted to keep his.

"You been hiding here this whole time, Lannister scum?" The fully bearded man said, his chest covered in so much hair he looked very much like a bear. "Drinking up the wine to try and avoid what's comin' to ya?"

Loren held his hands up, though he didn't relinquish his grip on the neck of the bottle. "If I'd had been here that long, friend, I wouldn't be able to be talking to you right now, much less standing up straight."

Gruff snorted in slight amusement, though the press of steel didn't leave his stomach. "Fair point. But if you ain't been in there all this time, just where you been?"

Well, that was an interesting question. The truth was that'd he'd been in a sept, surrounded by men most likely hostile to the one currently pressing a sword to his stomach. Many of them were members of his family, the rest sworn to it, and all of them hadn't liked him. That being said, he was still a Lannister, and that meant he should be loyal to the other Lannister's whether they liked him or not, didn't it?

Well, that family had been planning to butcher Targaryen babes. They'd raped many women in the city and would have more if it weren't for the Targaryen Prince arriving when he did. They also had an aversion to giving a drunk the alcohol he needed to function, having pushed Loren down to a shaking, vomiting husk of the insignificant man he'd been before. But wouldn't telling this gruff bear of a man where that tunnel led and what his lords could do with that knowledge make him a traitor? Or did that make him a loyalist, since the Lannisters were technically rebels to the Iron Throne?

It all hurt too much to think of. These people had an abundance of wine, and Gruff was looking at the still open trapdoor anyway, his clearly uneducated but not necessarily stupid mind putting the pieces together slowly. Loren decided to save him the trouble.

"Let me have another bottle of wine," the Drunken Lion said, "and I'll tell you exactly where I've been."

Chapter Text

They met in the middle of the tunnel.

The shaft was mostly straight, and Aelor Targaryen and the men following him—his best knights—had seen the torches of the Lannisters from a fair distance. Tywin had obviously found the door the obese, shaking Lannister of Lannisport had told Aelor about, and was trying to use it as a means to escape.

The Dragon of Duskendale was trying to use it as a means of entry.

The brothel keeper had been rather off put when a man was dragged at swordpoint out of her place of business, having emerged from the shaft the elderly Lyseni woman had claimed hadn't been used in twenty years. She'd stopped complaining rather abruptly, however, when a Targaryen Prince in full battle plate showed up later, at the head of When the Lions rushed forward upon seeing the torches his own men carried, Aelor broke into a sprint of his own towards them. The tunnel was the Lion's best chance of escape as well as the Dragon's best chance of access. With both sides wanting to reach the other end, it meant only one thing.

The tunnel was soon going to be a river of blood.

"Alaric, order the King to attack!" Aelor shouted to his squire as he and his warriors rushed forward. "Do it now!" The squire reluctantly hugged the wall, jostling by the armored bodies pouring towards the enemy. Aelor eyed the passageway even as he drew his sword. It was only wide enough for two abreast, Aelor on the right and Balman Byrch on the left. That meant all the men behind them, as well as the men behind the leading Lannisters, wouldn't be able to actively fight, instead pressing the leading men against one another.

"Dirks!" Balman cried. "Daggers Your Grace!" Aelor instantly understood; in the close confines of the tunnel a sword or mace would be too cumbersome to wield, with no room to swing or parry. A dagger, however, would be the perfect weapon to slip between armor joints and other vulnerabilities in the mass of fighting bodies.

"Do it," The Prince called, his men taking up the call for daggers as the two sides closed in on one another, Aelor sheathing his sword on the run and drawing the emerald-encrusted dagger from his waist. As the two sides closed in on one another, armored bodies charging towards armored bodies all under the flickering light of torches, Aelor couldn't help but wonder if he should have just pulled back. This is no place for a fight.

It proved that it surely wasn't.

Aelor brought his shieldarm up to his neck, lowering his shoulder and using his broad frame as a battering ram. Balman did the same, and the two men catapulted into the leading Westerlanders, Aelor giving a war cry that his men took up, the Lannister's screaming chants of their own. The blow of his shield hitting the other man's reverberated up his arm, and his warriors pushed against his broad back. The man in front of him, his sigil too obscured in the flickering torchlight for Aelor to even venture a guess at his House, started to falter backwards, Aelor having the advantage of size between the two, but the other Lion's crashed into their companions back and shoved him back forwards.

It was instantly evident to Aelor that this wasn't a fight; it was a shoving match, armored men piled on armored men, all pushing the man in front of him forward, the men in the middle of the mass of bodies being crushed. As one of those men, Aelor could attest to how uncomfortable it was.

But Balman had had excellent foresight. His opponent had a sword, one he couldn't work his arm free enough to use. Aelor had a dagger, and though his movement was also severely restricted between the friends piled against his back and the enemies shoving against his shield, he could just manage to sink the steel weapon into the gap in the groin of the Lion's armor.

The man grunted in pain, blood beginning to pour out of the injury as Aelor pulled the dagger out and thrust it back in. The helpless knight began to sink downwards as his lifeblood spilled down his crotch and leg. The forces of men sandwiched him between them, not allowing him to fall at first, but the Lannister behind the dead man soon realized his companion was dead, grabbing his ally with his hands and shoving him down. Aelor helped him, knowing it was far too late to pull his men out. That leaves one direction open to me; forward. And that means you're in my way.

They managed to work the dead man's body down enough that the Lion behind could step up on it, using his sudden height and attempting to strike down at the Prince in front of him. The close quarters did him in as well, the Lannister man unable to use his sword except as a puncturing weapon, the length of the blade making it unhandy to wield and giving Aelor time to bend his body out of the way. Aelor avoided the sword the knight was using as a glorified knife and drove his own dagger under the man's armpit.

Blood ran in rivulets down the Dragon Prince's black armor, covering him, but the Lion died quickly. The man behind Aelor, seeing what his Prince needed done and being strong enough to do it, reached over his liege's head and grabbed the dead lion, hauling him armor and all over Aelor's helm and giving the Prince time to step over the body of the first man he killed and lock up with the third Lannister before that man could use his sword.

This one, burly and with a plain helm, was smart enough to see the Prince's advantage, catching the Targaryen's arm with his shield and slamming it against the tunnel's side, pinning the dagger in it out of the fight. Aelor's shield collided with the man's chest, but the mass of bodies pressing against his back hadn't allowed him to but any power behind the blow. Their helms were thrust dangerously close together, the steel encasing the Westerlander's face muffling his voice.

"Targaryen cunt," the Westlander spat out. Aelor was trying to come up with a clever reply when the man rammed his helm into the faceplate of the Prince's.

"Dammit," the Prince cursed, the gash across his eye screaming in protest and the coppery taste of blood filling his mouth. Well, bugger you too then. Aelor returned the favor, ramming his own helm into the other man's. Even then, the soreness from the knot Gregor Clegane had raised on his head flared up in pain. Ouch. Nobody wins with the headbutt.

The knight behind Aelor once again came to his Prince's support, apparently managing to have disposed of the second dead Lannister's body. Slipping his arms around the Prince he grasped the Lion's shield, pulling with enough strength to free Aelor's dagger. The Prince buried it into the insulting man's neck, still unable to come up with a proper insult.

Damn. I suppose he got the last word.

The shoving match continued for some time, Aelor nearly finding himself dead when he worked ahead of Balman—at least he assumed Balman was still the man helping lead the charge—and a Lannister man was suddenly stabbing his sword at the Prince's side. He was only saved by another Lannister knight, this one knocking the first's sword aside in his rush for glory, trying to be the man to slay the Dragon of Duskendale. Aelor managed to turn in time for him, killing the second by cutting his throat and watching the other die at the hands of the knight who seemed to always have his back.

It was only then that Aelor realized the man was Renfred Rykker.

The tunnel had filled with corpses and blood by the time the Lannisters started to pull back, the crammed quarters of battle suddenly loosening and loosening until Aelor could finally stand without touching another living being. He gave pursuit, finally able to use his sword after sheathing his bloody dagger, cutting a few of the fleeing men down as he chased them back towards the other end of the tunnel, Renfred unslinging his warhammer and sprinting alongside his Prince, moving very quickly for a man of his size.

The two lifelong friends charged hard, only stopping their attack when they realized the lion's in front of them were surrendering. Aelor soon discovered why when he met his brother a few dozen feet from the ladder leading into the High Septon's chamber. Several of the yielding knights were kneeling between them, swords cast aside.

"I see our infiltration didn't work." Aelor greeted his brother as he pulled off his white flame helmet. Alaric, good lad that he was, had managed to scoop it up during the ride to the Red Keep. The Langward lad now stood beside the King along with Ser Barristan, both with bloody swords.

"Quite the contrary," the King replied as he pulled his own dragon-wing helm off his head, long silvery hair a stark contrast to the black of the armor. "They were rushing to send men down the tunnel when we came through the front door."

Renfred, big black beard grown bushy while on campaign, had moved like a man without pain during the fight, but now he was beginning to favor his wounded shoulder. Aelor supposed it had reopened, as his own gash had. "How many men did we lose?"

"More than any of us would have liked, but less than we would have had we stormed it without you acting as a distraction."

"Tywin?" Aelor asked, letting the adrenaline ebb from his bloodstream. I don't see how the man could have escaped, but if this passage is here, there is bound to be more.

"Captured," Rhaegar's melancholy tone confirmed. "And still acting as if he is in complete control."

"Of course he is. He's Tywin Lannister." Aelor cracked his neck, the joint popping in the cramped, smoldering corridor. "Do you mind taking this conversation elsewhere? It smells too much like death here."

"Aye, it does," came a new voice, exotic and flowing like a song as the lean owner stepped into view, a smirk on his olive face. "Though the blood of Lannisters is a good thing, no?"

Aelor grinned widely. It seemed the Dornish had arrived.

Chapter Text

"We can't execute him, Prince Oberyn." Rhaegar's voice was tired, both from battle fatigue and from having to reiterate this point over and over again. "At least not yet."

"And why not," demanded the lean form of Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne. His exotic voice was only half as sensuous as the young woman currently seated in his lap. Ellaria Sand he had introduced her as, the newest in a long line of Prince Oberyn paramours. While she wasn't beautiful in the conventional sense, she certainly caught the eye.

Prince Oberyn seemed especially taken. Aelor knew the Dornishman easily grew bored, be it with ballads or bed partners, but this one seemed different. The girl was no older than six and ten, and despite the Red Viper's less than normal taste it was unlikely they had been intimately entwined for long, but Oberyn already seemed heavily invested in the bastard of Lord Uller.

Invested enough to insist, despite Rhaegar's protests, to bring her into the Small Council chambers for the war council. Or maybe that was because of Rhaegar'sprotests. As angry as Aelor was with Rhaegar's treatment of Elia—for less than chivalrous reasons, it seemed—he held nothing on the rage her brother had for the King. Aelor was going to have to make sure Prince Oberyn didn't kill Rhaegar in his wrath.

"Because we need the army of the Westermen." The King sat at the head of the table, an untouched tankard of ale beside him. "Over three thousand of them are still alive. I need those numbers to counter the traitors."

"They are traitors," Oberyn argued. "They were caught sacking your city, raping your women. They sent an assassin to do the same to my sister and her children."

"They didn't succeed."

"No thanks to you," Oberyn spat back, rage evident in both his voice and glare. Ellaria Sand placed a soothing hand on his chest, rubbing small circles as she whispered something in his ear. The razor sharp tension in the Prince of Dorne's shoulders subsided though his glare remained. Aelor was suddenly very glad for the paramour's presence.

"No, it was thanks to me, with the help of Lord Varys," the Dragon of Duskendale cut in from the other end of the table, nodding at the Spider. "And as much as I'd love to slit the throat of every Lannister in our custody, the King is right. Baratheon has forty thousand men. With those Westermen we'll have close to the same."

"Numbers do not win wars," said Randyll Tarly, "but they certainly help."

Oberyn eyed the others at the table, Varys, Tarly, Jon Connington, Ser Barristan and the Targaryen's. The Prince of Dorne had ridden into the city during the opening stages of the assault on the sept, and, upon hearing the sounds of battle, had of course had to join in. "What are our plans?"

Varys' tittering voice answered. "Baratheon and the others rebellious lords are slowly moving from Riverrun, though it is clear they have no intention of marching on King's Landing."

"Wise of them," Connington said, nodding. "They have no chance of carrying the walls with this many loyalists in the city. They'll wait for us to meet them."

"Which Your Grace has to do," Varys said. "My little birds tell me there is already talk of Targaryen weakness for allowing the rebels to remain relatively unscathed for so long."

Rhaegar nodded. "Jon is right; we have to meet them in the field."

"You won't be able to trust Lannister," Oberyn pointed out, eyes still full of an anger he was managing to keep in check with the help of Ellaria. Maybe that's why he brought her; to help him keep his head during the meeting.

"That's why we don't bring Tywin." Or Jaime. Aelor shared a look with his brother across the table. Rhaegar had gone to the black cells to speak with the young vow-breaker as Aelor had overseen the siege of the sept, and what the young Lannister had told the King had made Rhaegar Targaryen swear Aelor, Barristan and Alaric Langward to an oath of secrecy about the true reason behind the Mad King's death.

Aelor wasn't certain how they were going to handle that situation. For all anyone else knew, Jaime had been injured trying to protect the King and was recovering somewhere in the Red Keep. The truth—that Jaime had killed him when Aerys had ordered the city burned—made things much more difficult. We'll handle that once this war is won I suppose, though the Seven know how.

"Ser Kevan Lannister was captured alongside his brother," Aelor continued on, returning to the subject at hand. "He is loyal to his brother, but as such he cares deeply for his safety. If we hold Tywin on threat of death, Kevan will keep the Westerlandes in line for the remainder of the war."

"You can't be seriously considering allowing Tywin to live," Oberyn nearly growled, voice outraged. "The man is a dishonorable traitor!"

"Yes, he is," the King said. "But he is a Lannister, and both respected and feared by his bannermen. We need those numbers for this war. Once it is over we can deal with Tywin as we will with allof the rebellious lords."

"A name holds powerful sway," Aelor agreed. "It's why we have an army at all. It wasn't for love of our father that they remained loyal, of that we are all aware; it is because his name wasTargaryen. For that reason Ser Kevan will lead the Westerlanders as we march on the other rebels; because he is a Lannister."

Oberyn was clearly not pleased, though he kept his displeasure to himself. He waited a long while before nodding. "My men and I are with you."

The Prince of Dorne had addressed Aelor, not the King, something Rhaegar had certainly seen. Rhaegar said nothing on it, however, instead rising, prompting the others to do the same. Even Oberyn and Ellaria. "Good. We march on the Riverlands on the morrow."

Aelor turned, striding from the chambers to start making the endless preparations necessary to move a host the size of the one in the city. More death and destruction on the horizon, it seems.Aelor didn't dread that thought. That once would have scared him, but it no longer did. TI suppose that means I am truly lost.

Not that it mattered; he had a war to win. A good man may have trouble doing what was necessary to achieve that, but a man like the one Aelor was turning into would have no problem. No, a man like the one Aelor was turning into would enjoy the process.

She was a Queen.

Word had reached them only a few days after reaching Dragonstone. Prince Aelor's men combined with Reachmen under Randyll Tarly had taken the treacherous Lannister Lion's in the rear, killing or capturing nearly all of their force. King Aerys had been killed, how it wasn't clear, but dead he was. That made her Aegon, still a squalling babe, the heir to a kingdom. And his father, melancholy betrayer he was, a King. A King who had arrived seemingly when needed most, to help save his city.

Rhaegar was back.

Aelor's brief letter, received only that morning, had barely concealed the second Prince's anger at his elder brother, though he did admit Rhaegar had arrived in time to save Aelor from an assassin. An assassin that had killed Elia's handmaiden and friend Talana Vaith as well as Ser Jonothor Darry of the Kingsguard in brutal, horrific fashion. An assassin that had been meant to do the same to her children.

Elia had held Rhaenys and Aegon close for a long while after reading that.

Queen Rhaella—Dowager Queen now, it seemed—had taken the news of her husband's death in utter silence, staring over the Narrow Sea for a long time afterwards. She'd not said a single word, not to Elia or Ser Manfred or Prince Lewyn, not to anyone. It had been an unspoken agreement to all involved to say nothing to Viserys, who had settled in well enough on the island of his ancestors though he avoided Ser Manfred like greyscale. The Dowager Queen would be the best one to handle the eccentric child, and Elia didn't envy her the task.

Rhaegar had sent her nothing, not an apology or a poem he so enjoyed writing, not a letter of any kind. Elia supposed Aelor may have something to do with that, his own letter hinting at it clearly, and Elia wasn't sure whether to thank him or berate him for it. While Rhaegar's betrayal, sudden an unexpected, still stung badly enough that the Dornish Princess doubted she'd ever forgive her lord husband, she still wanted to hear the reasons why from him. Why he'd done what he'd done, and why he'd done it to her.

The Stark girl hadn't come with him to King's Landing, nor had the three Kingsguard knights that had disappeared with him. Aelor hadn't mentioned her beyond that fact, seemingly pretending that if she wasn't discussed, she almost wasn't real.

That was utter horseshit. The girl mattered very much, obviously to Rhaegar as a woman he abandoned his marriage for and to Elia as the woman he left. Had the Stark girl gone with him willingly? Rhaegar didn't seem to Elia as the type to take a woman against her will—and Elia knew him as well or better than anyone else in either Westeros or Essos—but he also hadn't seemed the type to take leave of his senses and sink the Kingdom he was to inherit into a civil war. Yet here they were, wrapped up in a conflict that every region of the Seven Kingdoms barring the Iron Islands had become embroiled in.

Elia had her guesses for the reasoning behind Rhaegar's actions. She knew of the prophecy of the Prince that was Promised, how a woods witch had told her husband's grandfather, the second King Jaehaerys, of how he would be born of the line of Aerys and Rhaella. Rhaegar had confided in her that he had once thought himself to be the Prince that was Promised, but when a bleeding star had been seen over King's Landing the night they conceived Aegon, he had begun to believe it was their son.

While that was all well and good, he had named their son Aegon and their daughter Rhaenys. While Rhaenys had come first, yes, the significance of those names wasn't lost on Elia. If Rhaegar believed her son was the Prince that was Promised, he probably thought he needed the two sister wives his namesake had. He had a Rhaenys and an Aegon, all he needed now was a Visenya.

Elia couldn't give him that.

She relived the shame of being informed she couldn't fulfill her wifely duty nearly every night. It was a sad thing for a Queen to be unable to give her husband heirs. Granted, many would claim she had already done her duty, giving Rhaegar a healthy, growing son, but Elia couldn't help but blame herself for all of this. If she could have only given Rhaegar another daughter she might have been able to prevent all of this mess they found themselves in now. The idea that her husband would marry Aegon not only to his sister Rhaenys but also this mythical Visenya appalled her, as the Targaryen marriage practice was not well received even in the vastly more open-minded deserts of Dorne, but she would have had years to convince her husband against the idea.

But she couldn't give him a Visneya according to the maester's, and now here they were.

Elia tried to put it all behind her, an impossible task that she must at least strive at if only for her peace of mind. Rhaegar—King Rhaegar, first of his name—had sent one piece of parchment, a royal decree. Whatever she thought of her husband and his eccentric decision making of late, she found the declaration contained to be more than wise.

It had the workings of Aelor written all over it, and since the Dragon of Duskendale was the new Hand of the King—another wise move in Rhaegar's short reign—Elia was certain he had been adamant in its implementation. Rhaegar had seemed to agree, and the Dornish Princess was grateful he had.

Ser Manfred was standing guard outside the nursery on Dragonstone, dutiful as ever. The big knight, harsh and uncouth, seemed unaffected by and uncaring for damn near anything, yet he seemed to care for Rhaenys and Aegon in his own, awkward way, though the Seven knew he wouldn't admit it. Dragonstone was as safe as anywhere, only moderately defended but, as an island, obviously accessible only by sea. That required a navy, something the rebellious lords didn't possess. It was because of the relative safety of the secluded, sizzling piece of stone that Aelor had informed her the royal family would be there for the remainder of the war.

That sense of safety didn't seem to matter one bit to Ser Manfred Darke, however. He had been even more alert since reaching the Targaryen haven than he had been in King's Landing, no mean feat. "Manfred," Elia called as she approached, her uncle Lewyn behind her at her request.

"Your Grace," the big man greeted, face a scowl.

Elia no longer took that personally; Manfred always scowled. The Dornish Princess smiled as she stopped close to the door he guarded, Rhaenys' laugh penetrating the solid oak from the other side where she played with Ashara. "Do you have a family, Ser Manfred? I'm not talking about cousins or uncles or the like; I mean a wife or children." He shook his ugly head. "Do you have the intentions of starting one?"

Ser Manfred snorted. "Not buggering likely. I don't have the face, and even if I did, I don't have the desire.

Elia nodded. Good. "That's excellent, because from this day forward that's no longer an option." Ser Manfred's face stared at her unmoving, waiting for her to explain. Does nothing bother him?Elia shook her head at the boulder's uncaring manner, though she continued on. "Ser Jonothor Darry of the Kingsguard died during the Battle for King's Landing."

Ser Manfred's face twitched, the only sign the Dornish Princess had that he knew what was coming next. It was all she needed.

Elia smiled warmly at the man who had so competently gotten her family out of the capital. "If you have any objections, now would be the time." Ser Manfred didn't answer verbally, deciding to instead sink to a knee. Prince Lewyn stepped forward, drawing his sword and laying it on Manfred's massive shoulder.

Elia couldn't contain her glee, beaming as she spoke. They'll never write stories of his chivalry or demeanor, but he's as worthy as any man I know. "In that case, I, Queen Elia of House Martell, appoint you, Ser Manfred of House Darke, to the Kingsguard of King Rhaegar Targaryen, the first of his name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. I don't know if those are the right words, but I suppose they are close enough."

Manfred rose, face once again impassive. "Does this mean I have to stop buggering cursing?"

Elia couldn't help but laugh. "No, Ser Mandred. No it does not."

"That's good," came a quiet voice from the other end of the corridor. Rhaella Targaryen stood there, belly round with child, face calm. "Because you're going to want to curse up a maelstrom."

"Your Grace?" Prince Lewyn asked, stepping towards her in concern.

The Dowager Queen stared into Elia's eyes. "There are longboats on the horizon."

Chapter Text

"They have forty thousand men and our scouts can't tell us where exactly they buggering are?"

The march had not been kind to the loyalist forces. Rains, some so savage that Aelor almost believed he was somehow back in the Stormlands, had bogged his army down, the wear of thousands of feet and hooves turning the roads into a muddy mess that nearly swallowed wagons of provisions whole. It seemed like half of his men had come down with either a chill or the shits—sometimes both—and everything was damp. Always so bloody damp. Even here, camped in the ruins of Harren the Black's castle where Aelor's ancestors had burned the Iron King and his sons, moisture permeated the air. No matter where he was, outside with the poor levies or here in one of the towers, Aelor couldn't escape the buggering dampness or the residual chill it brought with it. I'm a Targaryen; we're built for heat and fire, not cold and damnable water.

It hadn't done his mood all that many favors either.

"Baratheon and his forces keep fighting small skirmishes, my Prince," answered the always calm Barristan Selmy, white plate as clean as new fallen snow despite the copious amounts of mud and shit. Just how his mentor managed to keep everything so polished and presentable Aelor would never know; it took the combined efforts of both the Dragon of Duskendale and Alaric to keep his own looking even remotely respectable. "A few dozen cavalry here, a quick raid there; he seems content to stay where roughly where he is and harass us."

"It's not a bad idea," Renfred Rykker admitted grudgingly. "He can stay relatively in place, leaving all the pains and nuisances of moving an army this size in this weather to take its toll on our own forces."

"We could always do the same," came the quiet voice of Ser Kevan Lannister. "Harrenhal is a ruin, but it's a cavernous one. We can turn it into a stout fortification." The brother to Tywin was overshadowed by his still-imprisoned elder brother, but he had proven exceptionally capable at keeping the surviving Westlanders in line. The bad blood between the Lannister men and Aelor's own veterans, men who had been enemies slaughtering the other mere weeks ago, had threatened to boil over early in the march, but the firm reprimands issued by both Ser Kevan and Aelor had stemmed the potential tide of violence. He'd even sent multiple letters to the remaining lords and men in the Westerlands, warning them not to raise the levies Lord Tywin had forsaken in the name of speed. While several lords had wished the King to raise those men to bolster their own forces, Rhaegar and Aelor had both decided to push onwards. They'd left Baratheon and his friends mostly unmolested for much too long, and the time it would take for the West to finish raising men was time they didn't have.

"No," spoke the even softer voice of the King, sat at one end of the table the war council was seated around, the thrum of rain on the ruined castle overhead and all around filling the dusk air. "We need to end this war soon, before more support for Robert can be found in the Ironborn or some other entity. We must march onwards."

"Baratheon clearly has a preferred field of battle selected," said Randyll Tarly. "He's leading us into it, skirmishing and raiding to keep his exact numbers hidden while simultaneously letting our men suffer in this rain. He wants us to follow him to his field of choice."

"It is obvious once you look," agreed Jon Connington. "Once leaving Riverrun they have marched relatively north, into friendly lands, not south or west or to King's Landing to hassle our own holdings. They want us to follow."

"I don't like the idea of playing to our enemy's advantage," Aelor replied with a nod at Tarly and Connington's words, "but we have limited choice. He has time that we don't. The longer he defies the Targaryen dynasty the stronger he looks, while we at the same time seem weaker."

"He still has to fight us," pointed out Oberyn, having been remarkably quiet up to that point. Ellaria was once again seated on his lap, keeping the still bitter Prince of Dorne calm. Aelor had grown more and more thankful for her since the beginning of the march; Oberyn hadn't spoke of killing Rhaegar more than four or five times since they'd left King's Landing, a much lower number than Aelor had expected. "However weak you may look by not quelling his rebellion, the point remains that you have a nearly equal number of men in the field. Baratheon can prance around and call himself Emperor of the World if he wishes, but no one will call him king while a Targaryen still lives."

"Prince Oberyn has a valid point," agreed Ser Kevan. Oberyn wrinkled his nose in disgust at the Lannister's support, unable to forget what the man's elder brother had intended for his sister and niece and nephew, but remained silent. "Your Grace has the provisions of the Reach at your disposal. While I'm sure we all want this war to end swiftly, Baratheon cannot stay afield as long as we can. He will have to march and meet us eventually."

Aelor shook his head. "No. While your council is solid, my lords, we must press down on Baratheon and Stark. They betrayed their King, and however justified that may seem to be in their minds, we must destroy this rebellion lest more arise."

Rhaegar finally spoke again. "Aelor is right. We must be aggressive." The King looked from one set of eyes to another as he posed his next question. "Since Baratheon is leading us to his preferred field of battle, that leaves only one question; where is that?"

The lords sat back, mulling the options in their minds. "It can't be a castle; they have too many forces to fit in any keep save for here in Harrenhal." Aelor drummed his fingers on the table from the chair where he faced the King.

"It will need be a large area." Agreed Rykker. "Nearly eighty thousand men are going to go to war there."

Prince Oberyn was stroking Ellaria's side, the upstroke of his hand lifting her decidedly Dornish garment enough to reveal an expanse of her coppery side. In truth it wasn't much, just a still modest glimpse, but it caused odd stirrings in Aelor's stomach and groin. Bloody hell, has it been that long? The Seven must be proud, but my body certainly isn't. "The Trident." The other lords turned to look at the Dornishman, the king raising an eyebrow. "A river is a natural defense. Baratheon will want us to be forced to cross it, where his own men can slaughter us as we wade out of the water."

"That makes sense, Your Grace," Barristan agreed. "The Trident only has a handful of crossings at any point along its three forks. They more than likely wish to dig in on one of them, making us cross under fire from archers and fight up the opposite bank."

Aelor shook his head. "Baratheon never struck me as this patient."

"He's not," said Connington, a man who—as a former vassal of the Stormlord—would know his personality relatively well, even if he had spent the vast majority of his time with Rhaegar. "He's hot tempered and a man of action, not waiting."

"Arryn and Stark are tempering him," King Rhaegar approved with a nod. "Baratheon would have assaulted King's Landing with all of our army inside if it weren't for those two to keep him levelheaded."

"Harroway is unlikely, the Crossing even less so." Tarly, always focused on the task at hand, was studying the map of Westeros spread across the table. "We are too close to Harraoway, and the Crossing is too far away."

Aelor had stood, walking behind his fellow members of the war council even as he kept his eyes glued on the pieces of parchments. "While we aren't sure exactly where, Baratheon is close, though I agree that he isn't likely at Harroway. His choice has a good chance of being in this area somewhere near."

"Here," pointed out Rykker, reaching his long arm across the wide table to circle his finger around a spot just north of where the Trident split into its three forks. "There is a crossing on one of these forks, a wide ford that is used more by smallfolk, though I can't recall which of these cursed rivers it is located on."

"The Green Fork," the King said quietly. "It is on the Green Fork." Aelor looked at his brother, the Rhaegar's face haven taken on a look of finality as he looked at the map. "It's unnamed, but well known."

The King's voice seemed resigned, as if something had just settled in his heart. As if Rhaegar had just found the answer to a question only he knew. "That ford is where we will find Robert Baratheon."

Chapter Text

As soon as the others left the tower, Aelor was speaking.

"I just preached a bad strategy to some of the finest military minds in the Seven Kingdoms; you had best explain to me why."

Rhaegar still had an air of finality around him, even as he looked at his younger brother. "I'm surprised you actually did it."

Aelor shrugged, violet eyes glaring into his brother's identical ones. "So am I. I still want to throttle you for starting this buggering war, yet I just proposed charging headlong into a trap to men who know it's folly all because you asked me to follow your lead in the war council." Aelor snorted and shook his head. "Why are we rushing into battle, Rhaegar?"

"Because I am going to die, Aelor." The King said it calmly, as if he were merely pointing out an obvious detail. "I will not survive this war." Aelor could only blink rapidly, his glare turning into a blank stare that the King returned with a sad expression. "I will die at that ford. I don't know how; rather it will be from an arrow or sword I couldn't say, but die I shall."

"Then why the buggering hell are we going there?" Aelor, for the first time since the tourney outside the very ruin of a castle they now sat in, could look at his brother and not feel the desire to feed him his own teeth. "How in the name of the Seven do you know that?"

"I saw it in a vision."

Aelor's glare returned in an instant. "You bloody idiot. You start a war that's killed thousands because of a prophecy and now you're going to march thousands more into a trap because of avision?"

"Yes." The King replied simply. "I started this war because of a prophecy, and I'm marching into a trap because I saw it in a vision. Aegon is the prince that was promised."

"Fuck your prophecy, Rhaegar." Aelor said, keeping his voice remarkably composed despite the rage that was coursing through his veins. I've yelled at him about this enough. Since that won't penetrate his thick skull, maybe calm reasoning will.

It was particularly hard for Aelor, though. He'd always been shit at calm reasoning. Seething in rage and killing things were his preference.

"Believe what you will, Aelor." Rhaegar's face was set, sad but firm in that infuriating way only Rhaegar could manage. "Whether you believe the prophecy or not doesn't matter. You are my brother, and you are respected greatly by the men camped outside; I find it likely most of them love you more than they do me. But I am the King. It is my decision whether we march for the Green Fork or not. I only asked your cooperation for appearances sake."

"Father was a King that did whatever he wanted becausehe was a King, brother." Aelor said, lip curling. "He ordered a city of thousands upon thousands burned to the ground. Don't tell me you are no better."

For the first time since they were young children Aelor saw rage flash across his brother's face. The King pointed a long finger towards the Dragon of Duskendale, voice no longer the soft tone he so often used, having been replaced with a timbre as hard as Valyrian steel. "Never compare me to Aerys, Aelor. Hate me all you like, but I care for Westeros far more than either he or youever could. All I do I do for the future of the Seven Kingdoms. No one, not Robert fucking Baratheon or the Dragon of Duskendale, will stop me from doing what must be done."

"The future of Westeros, eh? What about your family? What about your son?"

Rhaegar lowered his finger though his expression remained the same. "My son is the future of Westeros and my family. They are all one and the same." The King took a long drink from his wine, lowering the chalice to reveal he was once more composed, sad expression again across his countenance. "My death is necessary for the ascension of my son. He will be a greater king than even Aegon the Conqueror."

Aelor sat back in his chair, shocked at all he was hearing. "You're son is an infant."

"That makes no difference. He will be a great man and a great king."

"And a fatherless child."

Rhaegar shook his head. "Nonsense. You will be a better father to him than I could. You already are." Rhaegar chuckled once at his brother's expression, a soft sound. "Don't look so shocked, Aelor. You love my children as if they are your own. It's an admirable quality, particularly for a member of our family. History certainly has a lack of loving Targaryen family members and a plethora of murderous ones."

"I apparently also love your wife."

Rhaegar smiled ever so gently. "You know you do."

"You make it sound as if I want everything you have."

"You've always wanted what I have, baby brother. All except my inheritance. And my winged helm."

Aelor shook his head. "An ugly thing. I can't fathom what you see in it." Aelor was trying to digest all Rhaegar was saying, and failing miserably. "Aegon is a baby, Rhaegar. Even if he will be the King you 'foresee' him as, he will be a child king for years. The history of the Seven Kingdoms has not treated those well."

Rhaegar raised an eyebrow. "And who are the claimants to contest him? Viserys? A child as well, and our mother would not allow him to cause strife. Our unborn youngest sibling? Another baby, this one born after succession has occurred twice. You? No, Aelor. It wouldn't matter how much you could want the crown, you adore Aegon too much to even think harm upon him."

"The idea of power makes a man do unthinkable things, Rhaegar."

"Not you," the King said. "We both know it. You've never been able to lie to me, baby brother. You can't hope to start now."

Aelor held his tongue, unable to counter his brother's points. It was beyond infuriating, Rhaegar thinking he knew his brother better than even his brother did.

It was doubly maddening when it turned out he was right.

"Whatever your thoughts on your visions or your prophecies, Rhaegar," Aelor ground out, changing back to the most vital subject, "I'm not going to stand by while you march our men into a trap, especially if you believe this trap will lead to your death. If you're dead set on dying, at least have the curtesy to not bring the rest of us down with you."

Rhaegar stood, walking to the window of the tower to look out over the driving downpour outside. The sound of the rain on steel, canvas and stone was a constant backdrop to all that was said, a sound Aelor normally found peaceful but after the last few weeks found it as more of an annoyance. Of course, everything is an annoyance nowadays. "We will win, Aelor. Rather, you will."

The Lord of Duskendale rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Let me guess, you've foreseen that too."

"No, I haven't, but I know you will. It only makes sense; everything else has fallen into place. The Seven gave me the vision when they did because it is necessary to the completion of the prophecy. A defeat would be detrimental that."

"You know how much stock I put in your prophecies, Rhaegar. If I'm going to march into a slaughter I need more than decades old ramblings and your dreams."

"We will not lose. All is in place, brother." Rhaegar sounded so utterly confident, so unwavering and adamant about what he was saying that Aelor almost found himself believing it.

The King was silent a moment, staring out the window. "Lyanna is pregnant."

Whatever small amount of understanding Aelor may have begun to garner, whatever peace he had started to make with Rhaegar, disappeared in an instant.

Aelor's chair screeched in protest before clattering to the ground as he nearly flew to his feet, reminding the Dragon of Duskendale of his reunion with his brother in King's Landing. It seemed years ago, though it was in truth only a few weeks. "Pregnant? The Stark girl? You still have her?"

Rhaegar didn't even bother to turn. "Of course I still have her."


"Dorne, in the Tower of Joy. The rest of my Kingsguard are with her. I request you give her a safe home in the capital after all of this is over."

Aelor stomped to his brother, grabbing Rhaegar by the shoulder and whirling him around, placing his face mere inches from the King's. To hell with calm reasoning. "You fucking fool! You kidnap the girl and have the black heartedness to—"

"I did not kidnap her," Rhaegar interrupted calmly, keeping his voice level while his brother raged. "Lyanna came with me, and she has provided me with one of the key parts of the prophecy. A Visenya."

Aelor couldn't keep the horror off of his face. "You don't mean…"

Rhaegar shrugged loose of his brother's shocked grasp. "Aegon the First had a Rhaenys and Visenya. Now so will Aegon the Sixth."

Aelor stumbled back against the wall. "You can't mean this, Rhaegar. You saw what our family's marriage customs have led to. Men like Maegor the Cruel, Aerion Brightflame, Aerys the Mad. It must stop. You can't mean for your own son and daughter—"

"I can and I do." Rhaegar returned to his seat. "Aegon will marry his sisters, and he will be the prince that is promised. That is my will." Rhaegar waved his hand as he took another sip of wine, so calm and collected that you wouldn't think he'd just predicted his death and ordered what was to happen years afterwards. "I will not here your complaints on the matter, Aelor. We march for the Green Fork, with or without you. We both know it will be with. Now go. There is much to prepare."

Though he had thought about it many times in anger, for the first time in his life Aelor Targaryen seriously considered killing his brother.

This is madness. He is no saner than our father. Aelor's hand started drifting down his side to the emerald dagger resting in his belt. Our dynasty cannot survive another Mad King, no matter how brief a rein it is foreseen to be. Before Aelor was fully aware of what he was doing, his hand had taken the daggers hilt, his arm—as if it had a mind of its own—unsheathing it halfway. Rhaegar was no longer paying any attention to the Prince, reading the parchments in front of him as if the Dragon of Duskendale was a five miles away instead of five feet. Barristan had left with the others on Rhaegar's orders, and Aelor was alone with the King. It would be so easy to walk over and slit his throat, to end this folly that could only end in catastrophic loss of life before it could progress to something so much worse than it already was. It would be the best course of action for the Seven Kingdoms, for Aegon, for Elia. Aelor pulled the dagger the rest of the way free, still unnoticed by his brother. I'll be hated, but I can live with that hate if it saves so many lives, can't I? Killing was nothing new; he was experienced at it, he was skilled at it, he enjoyed it. He could take this last life to save so many others, couldn't he?

In the end, it turned out he couldn't.

Aelor fled from the room, carried off without conscious thought, right hand full of bared steel. His mind raced even as his feet did the same, vaulting down the stairs, dagger frozen at the ready by his side. The Dragon of Duskendale stumbled out of the tower into the driving rain, paying no attention to the water soaking his silver hair and stinging his skin. I nearly killed my own brother. I nearly cut his throat. Aelor hit his knees, his hand instinctually going out in front of him to stop him from falling on his face amidst the mud and shit. While it succeeded in that, it also succeeded in biting into his other forearm, causing the Prince to roar out in pain as red blood mixed with colorless water to pour down his arm into the brown and black filth below.

Aelor stayed there for some time, hearing the shouts of men as they rushed to his side, the squelch of mud and slosh of puddled water filling his ears as they neared. He paid them no mind, head and eyes downcast as his silver hair clung to his forehead. I nearly killed my brother. A great pain, not of the physical nature—that he could handle—but of the much more scarring internal kind ripped through his numbed body as another thought hit him. I should have killed my brother. Of all the lives I have taken, I didn't have the guts to take the one that needed taking most. I'm a craven. A craven who has condemned us all to a bloody death.

Aelor lifted his head, letting the droplets of rain pound against his face and eyes as he stared into the sky, channeling his despair and pain into a glare at the grey and black overhead. His men were huddled around him, their questions and concerns buzzing like an incessant fly in the Dragon of Duskendale's ears, the feel of their hands on his shoulders and arms no more relevant than the piss he'd taken that morning.

There is a second Mad King on the throne, and I'm as powerless against this one as I was the first.

Aelor Targaryen had never been more ashamed of himself in his life.

Chapter Text

Fatherhood was already fraying his nerves, and his child hadn't even been born yet.

Eddard Stark wasn't supposed to be here, leading thousands of Northmen in a war against a dynasty that had been in power for three centuries. He wasn't supposed to be the Lord Paramount of the North, reigning over the largest region of Westeros. That was supposed to be his father. He wasn't supposed to be married to Catelyn Tully with an heir to the North on the way, either. That was supposed to be his brother. No, Eddard Stark was supposed to be at Winterfell, serving his father and in time his brother as they ruled, maybe holding a small keep of his own in the distant future.

But Rickard and Brandon Stark were dead at the hands of Aerys Targaryen, and Catelyn Tully was at Riverrun, heavy with his child. A quick wedding to a woman he didn't know, an awkward wedding night, and then he'd left, returning weeks later with his father's—no, his—bannermen to find his wife pregnant. He'd spent a few weeks there as well, Jon Arryn and Hoster Tully forming their own men as Robert Baratheon evaded the men of the Reach and Aelor Targaryen to slip out of the Stormlands and merge with them.

Brandon would have handled the whole ordeal excellently, Eddard knew. He'd know just what to say to a young wife he was unfamiliar with, know how to make her laugh and feel comfortable with him. Eddard had not a single clue how to even begin that, and it showed in the awkward conversations—or lack thereof—he and his lady wife attempted to have. But Brandon was dead, curtesy of the Targaryen's, and Eddard was in over his head.

But the overwhelming sense of protectiveness he felt when he felt the babe she was carrying kick turned Eddard Stark into a different man. It fascinated him, knowing he'd had a part in creating the tiny life that his wife said thoroughly enjoyed keeping her up all night with his kicks. Even now, miles away, it was very nearly all the Northman could think about. Worry continuously nagged at him, fear that something would go wrong with the birth or that the child wouldn't even make it that long nearly driving him to a panic, and Eddard Stark did not panic. It shocked him how much he already cared for his son or daughter. Eddard would fight for that child, still unknown to him, until his dying breath.

A breath that might occur much sooner than he'd like, judging by the way things were going.

"Tywin Lannister is still a prisoner in King's Landing," Jon Arryn was saying, the rain riddling the canvas the war council sat under relentlessly. Eddard found himself missing not only Winterfell, but Riverrun and his stranger of a wife. At least she was warm. "But his brother Ser Kevan is leading the remaining Westermen with the loyalist army. It puts their numbers roughly even with our own, maybe a few thousand less."

"With a good number being veterans," Bronze Yohn Royce put in, bronze armor resplendent even if rather impractical. "Certainly more than we have."

"Veterans of what, a few slaughters?" Greatjon Umber put in with a short laugh of derision. The giant man with a giant as a sigil had given Eddard a fair amount of trouble when he'd first rallied the banners, but in the recent weeks had seemed to take a shine to the young Lord of the North. He was boisterously loud, but he also had a streak of undying loyalty Eddard hoped he could earn. "They haven't seen true war."

"Maybe not," agreed burly Hoster Tully, Eddard' new goodfather, "But they've seen more war than our men."

"My lads have seen war," chimed in Robert's booming voice, sitting at the head of the table with a horn of ale in his big right hand. It was his third of the meeting, and Ned knew his friend was only beginning. "We routed three armies in three battles in one day."

"We know," Jon agreed, keeping his tone calm though Eddard knew the man he saw as a second father was as tired as the rest of them of hearing about the only true rebel victories of the war. "Each of those were small skirmishes, even smaller than some of the second Targaryen's sons."

Eddard spoke before Robert could, noticing his friends scowl. Robert was quick to anger and quicker to forgive, especially Jon Arryn, but he absolutely hated everything to do with a Targaryen ever since…

Ever since the new King of the Iron Throne had ran off with Eddard's sister. I'll find you Lyanna. I promise. "They are camped at Harrenhal, but spies indicate they intend to march for us. We should reach the ford before they do. Afterwards we can only hope they decide to attack us there instead of taking another crossing."

"They'll hit us there," Robert said confidently, his brush of anger already forgotten. "They want us dead, we want them dead and that ford is in between us; that river will run red with those Targaryen cunts blood."

Eddard caught the glance Jon Arryn gave him. Robert's obsession with killing the Targaryen brothers was growing more and more manic with every passing day. Wanting Rhaegar's head was something Eddard could understand—he only need think of his sister's face to feel the same anger Robert seemed to live on—but Robert's rage seemed to extend to every living being with close Targaryen ties. More than once he had ranted to Eddard about his desire to kill not only the King but his brother, the reported new Hand of the King.

While Aelor was by no means innocent, Eddard personally thought him to be a decent man. He had been friendly and sociable at the Tourney of Harrenhal, and when Rhaegar had crowned Lyanna instead of Elia Martell the Queen of Love and Beauty no man had been more outraged. The Dragon of Duskendale's rage had even trumped Brandon's. Aerys and Rhaegar were the true men at fault, yet that mattered not at all to Robert. Eddard feared just how far his old friend would go.

The rest of the council was procedure, reports of the growing number of sick men and reiterating the same strategy they had decided upon weeks ago, all amongst Robert's more and more drunken spouts of anger directed at anything Targaryen. Denys Arryn, Jon's kinsman and heir after Aerys executed Elbert Arryn soon after Brandon, made the mistake of complimenting the Dragon of Duskendale's skill at arms. Only Eddard's firm grip on his strong arm and Jon's calm chiding keeping Robert from rising from his seat in rage, the big Storm lord resorting to drinking more and more ale and wine.

As soon as they were dismissed Ned stepped out into the rain, small Howland Reed materializing out of nowhere to walk beside him, the tiny Crannogman having been Eddard's constant companion since Lyanna's abduction. The Lord of the Neck had instantly grown enamored with Lyanna in the way only Eddard's sister could ensnare people, and though Howland was as calm and somber as any man Ned Stark could ever remember meeting, it was clear that he was as concerned with Lyanna's safety as maybe even Stark himself. "Robert grows more and more impatient."

Eddard nodded, the rain pelting his face and furs as he made his way towards where his Northmen were camped. "Each day his anger increases."

"A man who speaks loudly and often rarely says anything of value."

The Lord Paramount of the North chuckled lightly. "A true statement. He fears for Lyanna."

"As do I." The Crannogman was quiet for a moment. "We will find her, my lord. We will."

"I certainly hope so," Eddard Stark said. "I most certainly hope so."

"Have you ever loved something more than life itself?"

Aelor Targaryen looked up from horn of ale he held in his hand, wondering if he had misheard his friend's deep voice through the sound of the rain pelting the roof overhead. The Prince's silvery hair was still damp and the gash on his shield arm was bound tightly with bandages, aching almost in unison with the still healing gash over his eye. Aelor supposed it didn't help that he kept reopening the injury, but it was hard to take things easy in a war. Especially when it's being orchestrated by a madman.

"Say again?" Aelor asked Renfred Rykker, the big man sitting on the other side of the room having pulled him from the mud and his stupor earlier, stubbornly refusing to leave the Prince in afterwards. Aelor was glad for his lifelong friend's interference though; he knew it had shaken the men to see their normally competent Prince so disconcerted. Renfred had hustled him off to his chambers in the Barracks Hall, smoothing the situation over expertly before sending Alaric for a maester to bind the Dragon of Duskendale's arm. He'd warded off the well-meaning but unneeded men asking about their Prince's condition, allowing only Alaric and Prince Oberyn to enter and remain in the room. The four men—well, three and half—sat in the candlelight, quietly nursing horns of ale or chalice's of wine.

Renfred looked up, smiling lightly. "I asked if you have ever loved something more than life itself."

"My daughters," Oberyn said, the Red Viper sprawled back in a chair as if it were his chambers they were gathered in and not Aelor's. Of course Aelor imagined if they were in Oberyn's tent the surroundings would be much different, as Aelor had a stunning lack of posion and naked bodies, something Oberyn always seemed to have in great supply. The Dragon of Duskendale's own temporary quarters were sparse, a cot and his armor the only embellishments besides a few chairs Alaric had rounded up from…somewhere. The lad was quite resourceful when it came to scavenging.

Aelor snorted. "The ones you know about, anyway."

The Dornishman glared good-naturedly, forging ahead. "A man knows his children when he sees them. I certainly knew mine, and I loved them from that moment on."

"How sweet," Aelor chimed in, ribbing his friend in an attempt to take his mind off of his brother's madness. "One would never know you were able to kill a man with a needle prick."

"A fact you had best remember, my friend," the Red Viper said with smirk, taking a drink from the chalice he held.

"Dahlia Bywater," Alaric chimed in quietly, instantly blushing heavily when Aelor choked on the ale he had been drinking.

"Whoa now," the Prince said between coughs, "You've never mentioned her."

"No," the squire said with the tiniest of smiles. "But I've thought of her plenty."

Renfred and Oberyn laughed, both raising their glasses to the boy in salute. Aelor held his tongue on all the questions he had, chief among them who Dahlia Bywater was, but the Prince had held his tongue. Alaric was being more and more outspoken as of late, and the Prince saw no need to push him. Instead, he turned back to Renfred. "Why do you ask, Ren?"

"Malessa is pregnant."

"Congratulations, my friend," Oberyn said with a smile that Alaric echoed, raising their glasses again in another salute.

Aelor however stared at his friend as if he'd grown two heads. "How did that come about?"

Oberyn laughed. "If you don't know that, my Targaryen warrior, I know plenty of people who would gladly show you." The Dornishman purposefully left plenty unsaid just to annoy the Dragon of Duskendale, Alaric ducking his head in embarrassment even as Aelor gave the Prince a universally known hand gesture telling him exactly where he could go with his remarks.

"I mean you haven't seen Malessa since we marched for King's Landing from Duskendale. I'm fairly certain you would need to have been there more recently for this to be a recent occurrence."

"It's not a recent occurrence," Renfred said, shrugging. "You were right about the chance of a wedding night giving me an heir. It appears it has. I have kept it quiet for fear of things going wrong, but she wrote me from King's Landing saying she may give birth any day now. Her father is abusing his position as regent of the city to give her everything humanly possible to keep her comfortable."

Aelor smiled widely, joy for his friend momentarily overruling his depression at his brother's loss of reasonable judgement. "Strong shield, Ren. I'm happy for you."

"Stronger sword. I love that child more than life itself already, and I haven't even spoken more than a dozen words to his or her mother. I never thought I could be a father, but now…now I can't remember wanting anything more." The Dragonlord took a breath to say something in reply, but Renfred cut him off, leaning forward to peer at his lifelong friend intently. "I mentioned it now because that child is something I would fight to my dying breath for despite it not having even been born yet. That child gives me hope; gives me something to not only fight for, but live for."

Aelor looked away, thoughts of Rhaegar's proclamations and plans for the future running through his head, but Renfred didn't let his mind stray. "Look at me, Aelor. Whatever the King said that disconcerted you so doesn't matter. Whatever his reasons for marching us into a trap and whatever your reasons for agreeing to it do not matter. Think of Aegon, think of Rhaenys. Think of Elia. Whatever the King thinks is going to happen, whatever he has planned, can be handled, because you have them, and they are worth whatever sacrifice we make."

The Dragon Prince blinked, unused to Renfred having this much to say about anything, but it seemed the Lord of Hollard Hall wasn't finished. "Every man here has something to fight for. Oberyn has his daughters, all two dozen of them." The Red Viper snorted at the big man's exaggeration but was watching the two men intently, clearly agreeing with what Renfred was saying. "Alaric has this Dahlia Bywater, whoever the lucky lass is. I have Malessa and my unborn child. And you have your family, children you think of as your own no matter their true paternity. Children we both know you would die for just as quickly as I would die for mine."

Renfred leaned back, voice completely confident. "Whatever the King has to say doesn't matter to me, Aelor. Whatever has you so upset doesn't make a difference, because this world is going to be fine. No matter the King's plans or lack thereof, the world will be just fine. We could all die tomorrow, something more likely than not, and the world will be fine. Those very things we are fighting for will see to that." The Lord of Hollard Hall suddenly shoved the Prince none too lightly in his shoulder, knocking the Targaryen Prince backwards. "So snap yourself out of whatever shithole you've gotten your mind into, my lord. We have a war to win, not for us, but for them."

Aelor stared at his lifelong friend for a long while before holding his hand out. "Thank you, Ren."

Rykker grabbed his forearm, Aelor closing his hand around Rykker's own. "Don't thank me, Aelor. Win the war for me. Win it for them."

Aelor nodded. Bugger Rhaegar, bugger the prophecy, bugger Robert fucking Baratheon. I have a Prince and Princess to protect.

For the first time in a long while, Aelor remembered just what he was warring for, Elia's face filling his mind's eyes and Rhaenys' laugh so real in his ears he could have sworn she was next to him. And suddenly, things didn't seem all that bad. No, things didn't seem all that bad at all.

Chapter Text

The capital had certainly changed in the time she'd been gone.

Flea Bottom was mostly gone, half of the once densely populated section of King's Landing nothing more than charred buildings and blackened streets. The smell of smoke and, more disturbingly, burned flesh still clung to the area like a fog of destruction. Bones, some being pulled from the rubble and others from a massive funeral pyre, were still being disposed of by teams of hard-hearted men, more than Elia Martell could count. The city, even this long after the Lannister attack, was disturbingly quiet for King's Landing, the normal hustle and bustle, while still present, much subdued.

"My Queen," came the soft but firm voice of the man in white armor beside her. "I don't like the idea of you being here."

Elia turned to face Arthur Dayne of the Kingsguard, Sword of the Morning. His sudden appearance at Dragonstone had thrown the Princess of Dorne for quite a loop, as did her old friend's insistence that she board the sleek, fast longboats out of his ancestral seat of Starfall. Ser Manfred had barked half of the Royal Navy into action before the shooting star of Dayne was sighted on the sail of the sleek ships the Daynes used to navigate the Torentine River, and even then he had ordered the galleys to the ready, despite the mere ten small ships approaching Dragonstone's eighty warships.

Ser Arthur had greeted her at the gates of the Dragonmont, the greatsword Dawn, said to have been forged from a fallen star by Arthur's long dead ancestors, strapped across his back. For a fleeting moment upon seeing the silver hair of her handmaiden's brother Elia had believed Rhaegar had returned, but the white armor that immediately followed the silver locks into her vision put rest to that notion immediately. Ashara had nearly leapt into her brother's arms, the two almost unfairly attractive siblings having always been close, but Elia had hesitated. Arthur was Rhaegar's closest friend and confidant, having disappeared along with her husband shortly before the Stark girl had disappeared.

It didn't take a genius to connect the dots between those two occurrences. Elia had known Arthur had played a hand in Lyanna's disappearance for quite some time, and whatever their previous friendship, she hadn't been able to forget that. In truth, she wasn't sure she wanted to.

Apparently, Ser Manfred hadn't been able to forget it either; he had seemed to take a personal slight against Arthur Dayne on Elia's behalf. While the newest knight of the Kingsguard gave very few damns about very few things, he did seem to like the Princess of Dorne he had been ordered to protect, and to Manfred that seemed to mean giving the man who had played a part in her husband's folly absolute hell.

"I don't like the idea of a fucking knight giving the Queen orders," came the rough voice of Ser Manfred, glaring openly at the taller and much more handsome Dornishman. "It was one thing that she agreed to return to King's Landing, despite Aelor's letter saying to stay on the island. It's another for you to buggering order her around once she's here."

"The King's orders overrule the Hand's, Ser," the normally calm and subdued Dayne nearly spat out, having dealt with Manfred's nearly constant verbal barrage practically since he'd stepped off of the longboats at Dragonstone. A petty part of Elia found it highly amusing. "The King ordered me to escort the Queen and her children back to King's Landing."

"They were safer at Dragonstone."

"That is not your decision to make, Ser Manfred. You are a Kingsguard. You serve the King."

Manfred snorted. "I serve the royal family. All of them, from the babe to the Dowager Queen you let the Mad King rape."

Arthur whirled on Manfred, violet eyes like his sister's—like Aelor's, like Rhaegar's—blazing in fury. "I follow the King's orders, as will you. My duty is to protect and serve the King unquestioningly, something I have always done. It is now your duty as well."

Manfred's scowl was only deepening. "My buggering duty is to protect the entire fucking family, something I've been doing while you've been hiding who the fuck knows where with a girl you helped steal."

The rage on Arthur Dayne's attractive face prompted Elia to finally put a stop to the bickering. "Peace, Sers. You are brothers in arms now, no matter your thoughts on the matter." Arthur grudgingly turned to face her again, Manfred giving a snort of derision and contempt that had Elia barely concealing her smile. "As for your concerns, Arthur, this is my city as much as the King's. These people were mine as much as his."

"These people are dead," Manfred said bluntly. Manfred says everything bluntly. "Nothing can change that."

"You should address the Queen as Your Grace." Arthur put in, clearly having lost all patience with the vulgar but loyal boulder of a man.

"You should bugger the fuck off."

"I said peace, Manfred," Elia cut in. "Whatever your thoughts on Arthur or his on you, he is as concerned for my safety as you are." Elia sighed. "And he is partially correct. It is time to return to the Keep."

As they rode, her Kingsguard knights flanking her and a retinue of twenty men-at-arms spread behind them, Elia couldn't help but see the pain, weariness and oftentimes anger on the faces of the smallfolk as they watched the Targaryen banner floating in the air. Damage from the battle was still visible all around, from partially burnt buildings to the hard glint in the eyes of children who had seen too much too early. Elia felt a pressure building in her throat and sinuses, fighting off tears as she saw a boy no older than Viserys with a barely healing cut from a blade across his tiny face.

The image of his young, ancient appearance stayed in her mind until long after they had dismounted in the Red Keep. Ser Manfred and Ser Arthur followed her shoulder to shoulder throughout the halls of the keep. The hallway was barely wide enough to hold the massive expanse of Manfred Darke's shoulders on his own, much less beside another armored individual, but neither man would stand for letting the other follow the Queen any closer than they themselves were. When the trio neared the Queens chambers, Elia drew to a stop and faced them, both standing a bit straighter under her scrutiny. "Ser Manfred, I have to ask you to watch over Aegon for now. Ser Arthur and I have much to discuss." The big man's scowl deepened but he turned to obey. "Don't worry, Manfred," the Queen called after him. "You're still my favorite."

Elia knew by the flash of apprehension that crossed Arthur's face that the knight of the Kingsguard was fully aware that this wasn't going to be a pleasant conversation for him.

To his credit he attempted to lighten the mood as soon as they had entered the Queen's chambers, Elia striding to take a chair in her solar as he spoke while doing her best not to stare at the section of floor where she had been informed the butchered bodies of Tanara Vaith and Jonothor Darry had lain. "I don't see how you can tolerate—much less like—that brute of a knight."

Elia took a seat, smoothing her dress as she sank into the cushioned chair before turning her gaze on Arthur. She didn't offer the knight of the Kingsguard the chance to sit down, something that clearly wasn't lost on the Sword of the Morning. "That brute of a knight would give his life for me without a moment's hesitation. For me, not just the king. Manfred would die for me or Aelor, for Aegon or Rhaenys, for Rhaella or Viserys; and he doesn't even like Viserys. The man's loyalty is to the Royal Family, not just its head. To a bloodline, not one man."

Arthur looked to the ground with a sigh, clasping his hands behind his back as he prepared for the berating that was sure to come. "I know you are hurt, Elia. I do not blame you for being so."

Elia waited a heartbeat for him to continue but the Sword of the Morning's mouth remained closed, prompting a scoffing laugh to escape the Princess of Dorne's throat. "That's it? I suppose it's more than I got from your closest companion, His Grace Rhaegar Targaryen." Arthur said nothing in his King's defense, which suited Elia just fine considering she had plenty more to say on her own. "I know we were never in love, but our marriage was a happy one. Why did he throw it away? Why did he throw it away without at least a word of warning to his wife, or at least a bloody letter?"

Arthur did open his mouth to reply this time but Elia waved him away, knowing that nothing the Sword of the Morning could say would make much difference. He wasn't Rhaegar. Any excuses he had for the King of the Iron Throne, however reasonable they might be—though Elia doubted any answer could be reasonable in this situation—wouldn't matter to her. "Never mind. You are sworn to secrecy or honor bound to silence or some other chivalric excuse men use to lie to women. You are not Rhaegar, and you are not responsible for his actions; you are responsible for your own." Elia let her rising anger bleed into her glare. "And since you are responsible for your actions, you will answer this question honestly." Arthur looked up to meet her gaze, raising an eyebrow. "Did the Stark girl come willingly?"

The Sword of the Morning's lips quirked up in the lightest of smiles. "Of all the things you could ask, that is your question? Concern for Lyanna?"

"I wouldn't call it concern," Elia responded coldly, although it certainly could be called concern. It was one thing if Lyanna Stark had willingly eloped with Elia's husband. If Rhaegar had taken her against her will—a thought that would at one time have been inconceivable of her husband but in light of recent events seemed damn near likely—it was a completely different issue. "Consider it curiosity as to whether I should be furious at both the King and the girl or just one of them."

Arthur shook his head ever so slightly. "Do you really think Rhaegar capable of such an atrocity? Do you truly believe me capable of aiding him in it?"

Elia held his gaze. "I don't know what to think anymore, Arthur. Now answer me."

The Sword of the Morning stared for a moment longer before looking away with another sigh. "Yes, Lyanna came willingly. We did not abduct her as the Starks claim."

"Claimed. Half of the Starks are dead now, thanks to the chain of events you and my husband set off." Arthur grimaced, his gaze dropping to the ground again. At least he has the good graces to be ashamed of some of the things he has helped in. That is much more than Rhaegar ever offered.

The knowledge that Rhaegar wasn't holding Lyanna Stark captive lifted a weight the size of the Seven Kingdoms off of Elia's shoulders. While the hurt and anger was still very much there and in likelihood would be for the rest of her life, at least Rhaegar hadn't stooped so low as to hold an innocent young girl against her will. Whatever his reasons for the sudden betrayal, at least he hadn't taken complete leave of his once good character.

The thought of Rhaegar's shadowy motives brought up a whole other question, one Elia hadn't asked yet due to Ser Manfred's nearly constant company. While she was very thankful for and touched by the short giant's protectiveness, his presence tended to make Arthur keep answers and explanations to himself for the sake of the King he served. "Why are we really back in King's Landing, Arthur?"

"The King commanded it."

Elia scoffed again. "Yes, I realize Rhaegar commanded it. I'm asking why. And, maybe more pressing to my mind, I'm asking why he commanded it while letting Aelor believe we were to remain at Dragonstone."

Arthur still hadn't looked at her again. "How do you know Aelor isn't aware of the King's plans?"

"Because Aelor wrote me saying we were to remain at Dragonstone for the remainder of the war. And then, low and behold, you show up a few days later with another letter—nay, a mere note,one that wasn't even addressed to me—from Rhaegar ordering my children and I to the capital. Aelor doesn't keep secrets from me, and since he didn't mention returning to King's Landing in his first letter after the attack or the ones since, it means he doesn't know."

Arthur raised an eyebrow knowingly as he finally met her eyes again. "You still keep a close correspondence with your husband's brother I see."

Elia's response had quite a bit more bite to it than normal, mainly thanks to the odd way Arthur's offhand comment made her stomach flutter. "Do not change the subject, Arthur Dayne."

The Sword of the Morning shrugged nonchalantly, though his face flashed no small amount of uncertainty. "I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I mean I don't know. I don't know how the King knew where you would be, I don't know why he was so adamant that I return you here, and I don't know why he's keeping Aelor in the dark about it all. Rhaegar refused to give me a reason either. He just abruptly ordered me to take longboats and escort you to King's Landing from Dragonstone."

Elia furrowed her brow in confusion. "Were you already at Starfall? Is that where you're holding the Stark girl?"

Arthur's disconcerted expression increased. "No. She's in Dorne, true enough, but not near my childhood home."

"It would have taken you weeks to sail from the Elbow to Dragonstone." Elia's confusion and discomfort grew as another comment of Arthur's sank in. "Wait a minute. If Rhaegar was still with you, if he gave you the orders himself, how did he know we would be…It was Aelor, not the King,who arranged our evacuation in case the city were attacked, he and Varys and Ser Manfred. How did Rhaegar have any idea…"

Arthur's eyes, normally so completely confident in himself and trusting in Rhaegar Targaryen, held the same confusion and disquiet that Elia knew was reflected in her own. "I don't know, Elia. I was sailing from Dorne when the attack on King's Landing even transpired. Truth be told I was as shocked to find you on Dragonstone as you were to find me."

Elia slumped back into her chair, a certainly unqueenly thing to do but one she felt was more than warranted at the moment. Her mind raced at this new influx of—impossible—information. "That makes no sense, Arthur."

The knight of the Kingsguard nodded. "I know, Your Grace. I am as disconcerted as you."

Elia rose to her feet suddenly. "No, Arthur, this is impossible. There is now way for Rhaegar to have known where we were or how we got there when he gave you your orders."

Arthur shrugged. "But he did. You were there, just as he said you would be." Arthur took a few steps towards her, leaning in and lowering his voice although they both knew that would do no good in the Red Keep were someone motivated enough to eavesdrop on their conversation. "We both know of Rhaegar's past…insights."

Elia matched his tone, any lingering resentment towards the Sword of the Morning for his role in Rhaegar's adultery temporarily forgotten. "I know, but this…this is inconceivable. Targaryen's have a history of visions, yes, but they are supposedly no more than dreams, vague images that can be interpreted a thousand different ways. They aren't premonitions of occurrences weeks before they take place."

Arthur Dayne shrugged again. "We've always known Rhaegar has an otherworldly aspect to him at times, and we've always known he's rarely ever forthcoming with whatever 'apparitions' he does receive." The Sword of the Morning leaned back slightly, violet orbs as concerned as her own black ones. "I'm not saying that was the case, Elia; but nothing else makes any sense to me."

Elia took a long, calming breath. "Did he mention anything else? Are there any other orders?"

Arthur hesitated slightly. "No. He asked me to bring you, Aegon and Rhaenys to King's Landing. He made no mention of Queen Rhaella or Prince Viserys, which is why I was willing to let them stay on Dragonstone under the protection of your uncle and the remaining fleet." Arthur hesitated again, fighting a battle with himself that he lost in short order. "Actually, he did mention one thing. He told me to protect you."

"That is your duty as it is, Arthur."

"No Your Grace; he asked me to protect you. You in particular."

Elia felt fear blossom in the pit of her stomach, and the impossibilities of the situation coupled with Rhaegar's cryptic orders stoked it even more. "Why?"

The Sword of the Morning shook his head slowly, not even attempting to mask the grave concern and worry in his violet eyes. "I don't know, Your Grace. I truly don't know."

Chapter Text

Aelor Targaryen had often wondered what ran through a man's mind when he crested a ridge to face the steel of an enemy host. He'd known the feeling in small portions, experience from the Parchments and Bronzegate and other skirmishes, but the slaughter at King's Landing had been scattered and erratic. He'd never beheld disciplined lines of enemy armor stretching almost as far as his eyes could see.

Now he had.

The rebel forces were exactly where the King had said they would be, facing the loyalist across the river Trident, the prancing stag of Baratheon flying over the spears directly center of the unnamed ford, higher than normal due to the recent heavy rains but still easily manageable. Aelor sat Warrior four hundred yards off, a few dozen yards out of edge of the tree line bordering the field leading to the waters, the army forming up behind him, and even from that distance he saw the figure that he had centered nearly all of his hatred around.

Robert Baratheon sat a fittingly white stallion under the largest of the black stag on yellow field banners, an antlered helm and his impressive stature singling him out even among the forest of armor and helms. I've been hunting you for months. How wonderful it is to finally bump into you again.

Aelor followed the line of enemies to his right, spying the iron studs on bronze field of Royce, the six bells on purple field of Belmore, the silver arrows on brown field of Hunter and, predominate to them all, the soaring blue falcon on white moon on sky blue field of Arryn. To his left, the enemies right, he recognized the giant in chains on red field of Umber, the merman on blue field of Manderly, the flayed man on pink field of Bolton, and of course the running grey direwolf on white field of Stark. Ah, brilliant, we have a full house. We wouldn't want anybody to miss the party now would we.

The King's sad, melancholy voice spoke to Aelor's left, Rhaegar pulling his equally large, dark stallion to a halt beside Warrior. "I see they were expecting us."

Aelor grunted his agreement, putting aside his differences with his brother as well as he could to focus on the upcoming battle. He gestured towards the forest of spears forming the front lines, swordsmen behind them. The enemy was massed heavily in the center, wisely making their line the strongest where the Targaryens would have to cross the river. While the ford was fairly wide, its heavy use clearing much of the land fronting it as well as smoothing the surface of the river underneath the shallow water to sand and small stones, there was still only a limited amount of space that the loyalist would have to cross. "I'm sure they have archers ready to rain death on us once we're in the midst of the ford."

Barristan the Bold, mounted to the left of the King on a stallion as white as his armor, nodded. "It's what we would have done in their place, Your Grace."

"Once we're across the water their flanks will certainly swoop in on our own. We'll be fighting a horseshoe." Aelor stretched his arms, flexing and relaxing his hands in rapid succession. He felt the pre-battle adrenaline already coursing through his veins, the anticipation of what was to come heightening all of his senses.

"Do you suppose Prince Oberyn made it into position?" Jon Connington, mounted on a stallion as red as his hair, held his helm shaped to look like a screeching griffin under an arm, as did both the Targaryen brothers and Barristan.

Aelor laughed shortly. "Trust me, Connington; Oberyn will be there."

Rhaegar looked to his brother, face slightly chastising. "I still believe it should be you in his place."

Aelor shook his head, meeting his brother's identical eyes and holding them steadily. "As I've said before, I've been fighting those bastards since the start of the war, and my armor and helm are quite recognizable. They would notice if I wasn't here, and since everyone from Robert Baratheon to the High Septon know I wouldn't miss this fight for all the gold in Casterly Rock, it would alert them to what's truly happening. My place is here. Besides," Aelor added on as he patted his stallion's armored neck. "Warrior will want in on the action from the beginning."

Rhaegar sighed, shaking his head in exasperation. "Why am I not surprised." Rhaegar looked back to the enemy, taking a deep breath. "I suppose it is time. Jon, Barristan, give us a moment." Connington obeyed without hesitation, whirling his red stallion to gallop back towards the main lines, men from the Reach, the Crownlands, the Westerlands and Dorne all preparing for the massive battle that was soon to come. Barristan followed him slightly slower, clearly unwilling to leave the King when so near the enemy but duty-bound to obey. Randyll Tarly had the infantry, ranging from inexperienced levies to battle-tested retainers. Rhaegar and Barristan were to lead the second wave of attackers, once the vanguard had gained a foothold on the opposite bank.

As for Aelor himself? Well, he was to lead that vanguard, as he always did. Not even Rhaegar Targaryen could dissuade him from that.

"I should lead this charge, Aelor," Rhaegar protested again, despite knowing it was a useless venture. "I am to die here, on this very day. Nothing you can do will change that."

"Maybe you're right," Aelor said, facing his brother again. "Maybe you will die here, though I don't store much by your visions. I intend to see that you don't bring the entirety of the army down with you. If you die in the initial volley half of the men will turn and flee before they even managed to draw an ounce of the enemy's blood. Better the King lose his Hand than his head."

"You mean more to the men than I do."

"Perhaps, but you are their hope for the future. You are their King. And I'm leading this bloody charge, no matter your complaints."

Rhaegar shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder which of us thinks he's King."

"Obviously it's you, or we wouldn't be here in the first place."

The King of the Iron Throne held his brother's gaze for a long moment before holding out his hand almost tentatively. "I know we haven't always seen eye to eye, baby brother, but you're still my blood, and I love you."

Aelor eyed the King's extended hand, all of his brother's prophecies and blunders flashing before him. But close on their heels were memories from when they were children, of Rhaegar's brightest moments, from their escapades hiding in the secret passages from their tutors and the countless trouble they had once stirred up, and Aelor reached out his gauntlet to take the King's, squeezing it tightly. No words came to him, so he only nodded.

Rhaegar nodded back, giving his brother one last sad smile, before he wheeled the stallion around and galloped towards the main lines.

Aelor took a deep breath, letting his eyes focus on the enemy preparing for the charge they knew was coming. His adrenaline was increasing, as was his anticipation. It is time to do what I do best. Aelor lowered his white flame helm over his head and set his broad shoulders, funneling his increasing energy into his voice, roaring loud enough that he knew without a doubt ever soldier at the ford, loyalist or traitor, could hear him. "Vanguard!"

With a roar of their own that Aelor felt even through the hundreds of pounds of horseflesh underneath him his knights trotted forwards, lances angled upwards. His own veterans, bolstered by the best knights chosen from the entirety of the loyalist army, took to his sides, forming the wedge they had employed so often, both successfully and less so.

I needn't worry; there's a river to either side. Even Selwyn fucking Tarth couldn't flank me here.

The ford was only a few dozen yards wide, Aelor's men keeping the wedge rather short, men filling in the space behind the front lines. They all knew they were charging into the teeth of the wolves, and each man knew he was likely to die, but they formed up on the Prince they had followed many times before. Aelor took the lance Alaric brought him, pleased to see how well the armor he had commissioned for the lad fit his lanky form. "Are you with me, Alaric?"

The Langward lad gave the same answer he always did, smiling broadly. "To the death, Your Grace."

"You're a good lad." Aelor turned to his other side, speaking before he even laid eyes on the man beside him. It didn't make any difference, really; there was no doubt in his mind who it would be. "And you, Ren?"

The Lord of Hollard Hall smiled through the visor of his spiked helm. Aelor couldn't really see it, but he knew. "I was there when this war started. I aim to be here when it ends."

Aelor smacked the side of his arm against his breastplate, lance stabbing into the air as he did so. "Strong shield."

Rykker did the same. "Stronger sword."

The Targaryen Prince kicked Warrior into action riding down the front of his line to the left before doubling back to the right, standing in his saddle and plunging his lance into the air. His knights repeated the gesture, roaring battle cries, reminding the Dragon of Duskendale of that time a few months and a dozen lifetimes ago on the Parchments.

Aelor waited until they died down slightly before speaking, saying the only thing he knew to. "Need I say a damn thing?" His men thundered out in response, Warrior adding his own bellow to the cacophony of sound. "Well then, lads, let's get to it! Fire and blood!"


With his houses words ringing in his ears, Aelor Targaryen kicked his stallion's flanks, four hooves and a thousand voices carrying the Dragon of Duskendale into the heart of the Stag.

Whatever he thought of the Targaryens, he couldn't deny they made splendid sights.

Even from this distance, behind the lines of thousands of spears and swords, Eddard could see the King and his brother as they rode ahead of the seemingly endless lines of loyalist men marching clear of the forest. The King of the Iron Throne sat a black stallion, the rubies arranged to portray the three headed Targaryen dragon sparkling in the new sunlight. Beside him , seated on another black stallion that Targaryen warriors seemed to love, sat a broader, taller figure, armor less ornate but no less striking. Aelor Targaryen, the Dragon of Duskendale, looked every bit the warrior rumors had him to be.

"Look at them," Robert nearly spat, antlered helm already lowered over his head. Eddard noticed his friend's hands were twitching, wanting nothing more than to grab the spiked hammer slung across their owners back. "Murderers and buggering thieves, yet they have a full army behind them, ready to die for their sins."

"They accepted our field of battle," Eddard said with a touch of respect.

"Of course they did." Robert's voice was as clear as Eddard had heard it in days. "They have to bring their rebellious dogs to heel."

"The brother will lead the charge," Jon Arryn spoke certainly from the other side of Robert. "Calvary, straight up the gauntlet into the center."

"Once they hit us, crash in on their flanks." Robert, whatever his faults, was in his element on the battlefield. "The Rapist will likely bring the infantry up to press the progress made by the other silver-headed git. We'll deal as much damage as we can before I bring in the second line for a counter."

Ned turned his garron slightly to observe the thousands of mounted men, splendidly colored Valemen knights on barded coursers, Riverlander warriors defending their homeland, and Northmen heavy calvary in boiled leather and furs, all ready to lower lance and strike once the loyalist infantry was engaged. Behind them, the reserve force of infantry lie in wait under the command of his goodfather Hoster Tully, ready to both counter unforeseen threats and shore up the advantage their own cavalry would gain.

The sight of the leaping trout adorning Lord Tully's helm brought with it the thought of Catelyn, a surge of protectiveness washing over Ned. I wonder if she's given birth yet. It's still too early I imagine, but what if… Eddard decided to forego that line of thought and foolish worry before it could take root and distract him from the battle at hand, deciding to focus all of his energy on the nearing clash that may well mean life or death for his child, born or no. "Many of our men will get caught up in the charge. I know our reasoning, but it still does not sit well with me."

"They know their duty, Ned," Robert consoled. "They're going to do theirs so we may do our own."

"Vanguard!" The roar from across the river echoed even over the creak of leather and rattle of steel surrounding Eddard, and with a cry hundreds of knights rode forward to form up on the second son of Aerys.

"It is time." Eddard remarked to the other leaders of the rebellion, the men he considered family, even as Aelor Targaryen's knights roared like demons.

"We will see each other again soon," Robert said, clasping Ned and Jon Arryn both on the shoulder before riding back towards the lines of knights he was to lead. Nothing more was said. Nothing more was needed.

"It's a good day for a fight," Greatjon Umber called as Ned returned moments later to the center of his bannermen, smiling hugely. Umbers do everything hugely. The giant on their sigil is quite suiting.

"We're soon to find out," Ned replied simply. Any other comments, inspiring words or cryptic predictions, were lost as the Targaryen knights cried out once more. Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and the North, watched on with both anticipation and a fear in his gut that only fools didn't feel. it is time. For father. For Brandon. For Lyanna.

Aelor Targaryen rode down the lines of his knights, standing in his saddle and thrusting his warlance into the air as he called out to his men, the wall of armor returning his cries. Then, with one final bellow of his house words, the Dragon of Duskendale charged, flying towards Eddard and his men with the thunder of thousands of hooves accompanying him.


Warrior roared, barreling forwards much faster than a horse his size should be able too with a brawny, armored knight on their back, much less when armored themselves. Aelor wondered with that odd sense of detached thought he had during battle if there had ever been an animal more suited to war than the destrier carrying his dragonlord towards the lines of enemy steel. We're alike, it seems. We thrive in battle and chafe in peace.

Several dozen yards before they reached the waters of the ford he heard the distinctive whistles, knowing what it was without any need of seeing it. "Shields!" He shouted, bringing his own above his head as his men did the same, some having recognized what was happening and given the command before even the Prince. The arrows all seemed to fall at once, a thick mass of sharpened steel digging into dirt, shield, horseflesh and man. The familiar but always disturbing screech of wounded horses filled the air even as Aelor felt the impact of a few arrows digging into his shield and saw another deflect off the chainmail blanket covering Warrior's black neck. Aelor barely had time to check that Alaric was still beside him, three arrow shafts sticking out of the squire's own shield, before Warrior's hooves hit water, the deafening rumble of the earth turning into an even louder splash of water.

"Lance!" The Dragon Prince called, though he doubted he could be heard. It wasn't like his men needed the reminder, as they were nearing the enemy spears rapidly. Aelor lowered his own lance as Warrior bore down on the unwavering line of Stormlander spearmen. We're fighting brave men. Too bad they are all going to die.

A warlance was eight feet of hardened wood tipped with deadly sharp steel, and when wielded by a strong man atop a destrier running at full speed there was no armor known to man that could stop it outright. It could be deflected, however, knocked aside by a shield or guided into a glancing blow by armor if the man on the receiving end knew what he was doing. It was for that reason, aided by the need to satisfy the terrifying black hate Aelor Targaryen carried into battle, that the Dragon of Duskendale drove his warlance into the face of the spearman to his front, taking advantage of the man's halfhelm by plunging the steel point into his eye socket.

Aelor's lance splintered as the spearmen vaulted backwards into his fellows, a foot of fire-hardened ash jutting out of the now very dead man's right eye. The dragonlord instinctually used the remnants of the lance as a club, bringing the black and white painted ashwood down onto the helm of another footman even as he knocked aside a spear on the opposite side with his shield. Realizing that without its point the lance was rather useless, awkward to swing and too light to cause much damage, the dragonlord threw it at the same man, testing its prospects as a blunted javelin even as he drew his sword. Poor. Looks like swordwork it is.

The effect of hundreds of mounted armored men crashing into you went beyond the physical dangers, the shock breeding panic among inexperienced soldiers. Even so there was no shortage of enemies to fight, and by the time the Northmen and Valemen expectedly crashed into the sides of Aelor's men the Dragon of Duskendale's sword was bloody from crossguard to point.

Warrior kept his hooves as the two drove deeper into the thick crowd of enemies, the warhorse managing to avoid the forest of death in a way Aelor, while grateful, found somewhat eerily humanlike. This horse is smarter than most of the nobles in Westeros. It was true that trying to kill a knight's horse was considered dishonorable, but Aelor knew as well as anyone that honor was the first casualty of war. The black destrier somehow managed to stay alive, however, and for not the first time Aelor prayed to the Seven that the animal would make it out alive. Funny. I should be praying for my men, for my brother, and here I am praying for a bloody horse.

Aelor didn't feel guilty. He liked his horse, something he couldn't say about most of the humans he knew.

Fighting men on foot from atop a horse made a knight a target, especially when that knight was clearly a Targaryen Prince, but Aelor was no stranger to fighting multiple enemies at once. Neither was Warrior, as for every man the Lord of Duskendale slew the stallion sank his teeth into or kicked another, trampling over dead and wounded men alike with no sense of discrimination. As Aelor roared, the battlelust flowing heavy alongside the blood of Old Valyria, the horse did the same.

As man and mount were finally slowed to a near stop Aelor batted a sword aside and opened its owners throat, using his advantage of height atop the stallion's tall back to swing down with heavy force, hacking into shield and flesh and bone. He felt more than saw Rhaegar and the infantry arrive, the mass of blades that had been focused solely on him dispersing as their wielders suddenly had an influx of new Targaryen soldiers to worry about.

Aelor knew in the back of his mind that the battle was spreading all across this side of the river, the patch of ground fronting the bloody ford not nearly large enough for tens of thousands of men to wage war, but to him the world was reduced to the few feet around himself and his mount. There were no tactics or stratagems useful here; this was an all-out, bloody brawl, where a man's birth made no difference concerning who lived and who died. Aelor knew without a doubt that nobles were dying the same as smallfolk, peasant and lord bleeding out in churned up mud alongside one other in an odd sense of unity that was never realized in life. Those lucky enough to still be alive and on their feet slew others, dropping more and more corpses to the ground in deepening piles to accompany the dying in their last moments. It was a bloody, awful process, nothing like the songs and stories, the stench of blood, death, piss and shit filling the air, accompanied by clangs of steel, shouts of elation and despair and horror, and the haunting screams of the dying.

Time meant nothing. It never did in battle, other than the truth that many men no longer had any in this world. Aelor fought, swinging and stabbing and gouging, for seconds or minutes or days. He shouted as he decapitated a peasant with a spear, cursed as he nearly lost his seat atop Warrior, and roared as he killed and killed and killed.

Aelor didn't see the charge coming until it was too late. By the time he looked up, all he could see was a knight with a blue anchor on his surcoat and a lance, not the banner he rode under or the men to his sides. The Dragon of Duskendale brought his shield up, fear and rage and battelust all bursting out in a choked cry, as the lance slammed into the oak and banded steel shield.

The force was like a tidal wave, carrying the big Targaryen up and out of his saddle, the lance splintering as Aelor found himself catapulted over Warrior's haunches and into the mud and blood below.

Whatever notions Eddard Stark had had of war were complete and utter shit.

There was nothing honorable about this disorganized melee, men having at each other with everything from swords to rocks, a peasant levy crouched over a downed knight with a boar on his surcoat, smashing a head-sized stone into his face again and again and again, not stopping even though the knight's legs had stopped twitching long ago.

Eddard couldn't watch long, finding another knight, this one without a sigil on his green and white surcoat, charging down on him. Eddard blocked his overhead blow with Ice, the smoky Valyrian steel of the greatsword he never thought he'd wield making the knight's blade spark, before forcing his opponent's blade up and slicing Ice across his chest. The man's armor took most of the backfoot blow, but even the castle-forged steel he wore couldn't stop the ancient spellbound steel from chopping down into his shoulder. The man dropped to his knees, the Lord of Winterfell staying his killing blow for a moment, but with a gurgled cry the knight tried again to stab the Warden of the North. Ned avoided the nameless warrior's blade and brought his own down, putting a stop to his weakening attacks permanently.

Beside him Greatjon Umber boomed out a laugh, slitting a Reachman's throat. He'd stuck by Ned's side the entire battle, dismounting when Ned's own garron took a spear and slogging it out on foot with his liege lord. He'd taken turns between laughing deafeningly and singing a tavern song at the top of his lungs, shouting about a whore's tits even as he plunged his blade through a footman's gut. On his other side little Howland Reed fought on valiantly, the Crannogman wielding a small trident with unerring speed and accuracy while periodically stopping to fire darts from the blowgun he stubbornly refused to abandon. Exactly when the Lord of the Neck had appeared beside him the Lord Paramount of the North couldn't say, but the tiny man was more than holding his own.

Aelor Targaryen's charge had hit hard and fast, the Dragon of Duskendale unleashing a level of hell Ned Stark hadn't known existed. His brother the King's charge was somewhat less splendid though no less effective, forcing the rebel forces back, more and more loyalist knights and men splashing across the ford to make war. Eddard caught glances of the King of the Iron Throne periodically, dragonwing helm distinctive, the white armor of a Kingsguard close to him. Even on a riverbank surrounded by tens of thousands of men, he could easily be distinguished.

So when Robert's charge swept across the battlefield, overrunning whatever forward progress had been made by the loyalists in the center, Eddard knew exactly where he was going. Antlered helm every bit as distinctive as Rhaegar Targaryen's dragonwings, Robert Baratheon looked like a god among men, swinging his massive hammer like it weighed no more than wooden toy, sending dead men flying all around him.

And heading straight for Rhaegar Targaryen.

"My lord Stark!" A voice shouted, and Eddard withdrew Ice from a man's chest—he didn't even remember putting it there—as he turned to the voice. A knight of the Vale, three red forts on his surcoat, staggered up to him, gesticulating wildly towards the forest a hundred yards beyond. His left arm was hanging from his shoulder by a stubborn few ligaments, flopping lifelessly as he neared. "The rear!"

Ned Stark looked from the horrifying appearance of the man towards the rear lines, and felt his blood freeze even colder than it normally ran. Hundreds of men in orange and red, mounted atop horses that could only be the infamous Dornish sand steeds or sprinting forward on foot carrying throwing javelins, were emerging from the woods.

On our side of the river.

Eddard could only watch in terrified awe as the Dornish vaulted into action, aiming for the rear of what remained of the rebel lines. His goodfather Hoster Tully was rushing to meet them, but Ned could see that Tully had too few men. The Warden of the North looked once more towards his best friend, the Stag of Storm's End slaughtering his way towards the Dragon of the Throne, before turning.

"Lord Umber, the rear! Pull our men back to the rear!" He repeated the call, Umber and others taking it up, a horn starting to blow to alert the rebel forces of the new threat, as Ned Stark's Northmen turned to meet the new threat, their liege lord gripping Ice tightly and leading his men towards the enemy.

May the Old Gods grant you strength, old friend.

How Aelor Targaryen was alive he couldn't say.

When a man loses his feet in battle he is finished, vulnerable to every enemy soldier in the vicinity. A peasant with a dagger now had the advantage over a King with a longsword, able to slip the blade into joints in armor before a downed man could regain his feet. So when Aelor landed atop the mud and bloody corpses behind Warrior he had assumed himself dead, enemy cavalry stomping over the dead all around him as their infantry closed back in. He'd thought of Elia, of Aegon and Rhaenys, and wondered if they would forgive him for leaving them and dying on this godforsaken riverbank.

But the blade had never came, the blow of steel sinking into his neck never landing. And here he was, still breathing.

When the Dragon of Duskendale sat up on his rear, he saw why.

Alaric Langward, while undisciplined, had been gifted with a sword even when he'd first began squiring for the Dragon of Duskendale, raw talent that few ever possessed needing only a little refined training from superior swordsmen to turn the lanky youth truly deadly. Aelor and Barristan the Bold had seen to that training, and it was paying off tenfold now.

The dragonlord's squire danced, spinning and slashing, removing one knight's hand and landing a blow perfectly in the joint of another's armor, standing over his mentor and friend like Storm End against a monsoon. The boy fought like a man possessed, slamming his shield into a man's face before opening his throat. No matter the enemies that came against him the squire fought on stubbornly, never wielding an inch, keeping the vultures from descending on the Dragon.

Aelor watched in awe for a substantial amount of time before it dawned on him that he should probably stand up.

Stand up the Lord of Duskendale did, joining his squire against the onslaught of enemy swords. He'd lost his shield in the fall, the oak and steel useless anyway with a broken lance sticking out of it, so Aelor felt free to use his armored left fist as another weapon. He punched and gouged, using the armor of his forearm to deflect steel away as best it could.

A bellow caught Aelor's ear in a lull in the number of enemies around him, one sound among hundreds in the din of battle, but Aelor turned back towards the ford, the cry catching his attention entirely in a way only the fates could. There in the center of the blood red waters of the ford, dismounted but both very much still alive, were Robert Baratheon and Rhaegar Targaryen.

Warhammer whistled and sword shrieked, two Kings going head to head in the middle of a raging battle. Part of Aelor's mind registered that most of his men had been forced back into the ford and their original side of the river, he and Alaric being two of a few dozen stragglers still left among the heaps of dead and dying on the opposite bank . Another part registered the Dornish arriving, men from the rebel reserve and all along their lines turning to take the gift Prince Oberyn Martell was about to unleash on them.

But the main part of Aelor's mind saw his brother the King locked in battle with a man who hated him every bit as fiercely as Aelor hated that man. Rhaegar's premonition of his own death rang in Aelor's ears, fear that it might come true overtaking the Lord of Duskendale. Whatever thoughts Aelor had had that the Seven Kingdoms might be better off with Rhaegar dead were suddenly nowhere to be found, an overwhelming sense to protect his blood overruling whatever other thoughts Aelor might have ever had.

Before he knew it, Aelor Targaryen was running.

He cut down one, three, five men as he fought, barely noticing the faces or the lives they entailed as he crossed blades and left them dying and dead in the bloody mud. All Aelor could see was the King of the Iron Throne and the man whose woman he had stolen waging their private war in the middle of a much larger one, trading blows at a savage pace.

Aelor fought his way towards them, cutting through the bloody melee to try and reach his brother and King's side. The Dragon of Duskendale had seen no sign of Barristan, the famous Kingsguard knight nowhere to be found, but he had no time to worry for the man who had treated him like his own son all of Aelor's life. All he had time to worry for was the brother that the dragonlord somehow knew was about to die.

A Northman wielding two axes with three buckets sewn into the furs covering his chest met the second son of Aerys as he reached the ford, the water running as red as roses in the summer, choked full of corpses. The northerner was big and strong, and unbelievably fast for a man his size. Aelor found himself having to focus on the task at hand when one of the axes nearly buried itself into his forehead, the Prince's instinctive step back all that saved him.

The northerner gave the Targaryen no time to gather himself, coming on in a flurry of axes and roars that put even Aelor's to shame. The Targaryen Prince backpedaled, barely keeping his feet under him as he warded off the axeman's attacks. I really miss my shield right now. He had no defense beside batting the axe away with his sword and dancing from side to side, unable to swing several pounds of oak and banded steel as a second weapon. A shield was meant as a defense, but Aelor Targaryen had always been unconventional, preferring to wield his defense as an offense, preferring to be the aggressor.

But right now he needed a shield for its Seven-sent purpose, because Buckets was much better at dual wielding weapons than anyone had any right to be. It was hard for Aelor to be the aggressor when he was barely managing to stay alive.

Aelor jumped to the side, nearly finding himself dead when he tripped over a corpse—or maybe just a wounded man, Aelor didn't bother to see which—going to one knee as the Northerner loomed overhead. Aelor managed to dive out of the way, getting his feet under him again in time to ward off Buckets' next attack. The big, hairy man was growing frustrated, snarling like a mad dog as he relentlessly attacked the Targaryen Prince, never giving a thought to defense as he swung again and again, focusing solely on splitting the dragonspawn in front of him in two.

That's when it clicked in Aelor's mind. As Buckets raised his right axe again, left already diving in, Aelor did perhaps the dumbest thing he had done in a long line of recklessness. The Dragon of Duskendale completely ignored the axe in Bucket's left hand, instead driving his sword forward as hard as his adrenaline-fueled body could.

The Prince's blade sank to the crossguard in the Northerner's stomach, Buckets' face going from enraged to surprised in the blink of an eye. The axe in his right hand remained stationary, the northerner's eyes staring into Aelor's through the visor as the dragonlord withdrew his sword and plunged it again into the big man's chest. Buckets sank to his knees, never looking away, neither fear nor hatred in his dimming gaze but acceptance, as if the man was at peace dying in calf high water turned red with blood hundreds of miles from home.

As the northerner's body slipped off his blade with a sickening slunk Aelor realized that Buckets was at peace with death. A braver man than I. For the first time in his long line of killing, the second son of Aerys felt guilt.

The Lord of Duskendale shook the feeling off as soon as it came however, turning back towards the duel he had spent so long fighting to reach.

He knew even as it happened that he would never in all his days forget the overwhelming numbness he felt as he turned to see the spike of Robert Baratheon's hammer drive into his brother's chest, scattering the rubies that adorned the King of the Iron Throne's armor into the shallow water of the ford.

Barristan Selmy had accomplished many great deeds in his life, from slaying the last of the Blackfyres in the Stepstones to scaling the walls of Duskendale to save King Aerys Targaryen, but the truth of the matter was that he was an incompetent shame of a Kingsguard.

Words could not describe the feeling of guilt of and failure that accompanied the colossal boom of Robert Baratheon's warhammer scattering the rubies in Rhaegar's armor, the King of the Iron Throne sinking into the red water of the ford alongside so many of his men and enemies. Half of the men on both sides had seemed to stop fighting to watch the duel, and when Rhaegar Targaryen fell, Barristan felt the spirit go out of the loyalist, much as his own had fled. Men who moments ago had been fighting fiercely turned and fled, the rebel forces giving out a great warcry as their new King raised his hammer, the body of the old collapsed in the clogged ford at his feet.

In the odd way Ser Barristan had learned the Seven functioned in battle, he heard the roar of black rage over the cries of elation by the rebels and the footfalls of fleeing men as the loyalist army fled around the man in white armor. So did Baratheon, as the new kingslayer turned to face it.

Aelor Targaryen was suddenly everywhere at once, raining blows down on a now-stumbling Robert Baratheon and cursing with every clang of steel. Two knights tried to intervene, coming in on Aelor's sides, but before Barristan could really grasp what was happening both lay dead, the Dragon of Duskendale once again forcing Robert Baratheon back with sheer savagery.

Baratheon had looked implacable when he'd fought Rhaegar, Barristan having been separated from his King by an endless wall of enemies, unable to reach him no matter how many Barristan slew and being forced to watch while batting away blades as the King of the Iron Throne was killed. But against Aelor, Baratheon looked wholly mortal, hammer and shield barely able to ward off the Prince's sword.

"The Prince!" Barristan called, feeling his hopes rise, taking heart in the second son of Aerys. He shouted again, louder this time. "Look to your Prince!" Others took the call, a few in the massive number of fleeing men slowing to look. Barristan limped, wound to his thigh throbbing, to the nearest horse—many knights and animals had died, but there was still an abundance of loose coursers running loose—and pulled himself on top. Kicking the bay's flanks, he galloped to head off the retreating mass of loyalist survivors, shouting at the top of his lungs. "Prince Aelor! Targaryen! Look, look to your Prince! Fight for your Prince!" More and more took up the call, the emboldened loyalists battling with a new fervor as Aelor and Baratheon savagely dueled over the dead bodies in the ford.

Slowly, one or two at a time, men turned direction, stopping the headlong retreat from the battle and beginning to come to the relief of the stalwarts who had never turned tail to run. Barristan rode the unfamiliar stallion side to side, shouting, pointing with his bloody sword, slowly turning the retreat of broken men into a charge of revitalized ones. Some of those fleeing couldn't be stopped, the horrors they had seen driving them from the field like panicked livestock, but more returned to the battle than did not, and Barristan cantered his borrowed courser back towards the ford, accompanied by the shout of thousands of invigorated men rushing to their Prince's aide.

Aelor was fairly certain they were losing the battle, but he didn't care.

He swung his sword again as hard as he could, borrowing a page from Buckets book and going full offensive. Robert Baratheon, hammer still crimson with his brother's blood, was bigger than Aelor, and in all likelihood stronger, a mountain of muscle that, in his yellow and black livery, reminded the second son of Aerys of a much shorter Gregor Clegane. Aelor was no small man himself, several inches over six feet and by all means a strong man in his own right, but Baratheon had a few inches and several pounds of muscle on the Targaryen Prince.

That didn't make a lick of difference at the moment however, as the Dragon of Duskendale was fueled by a hatred and battlelust that surpassed anything even Baratheon could feel, sword moving faster than Aelor had ever swung before, snarling viciously with the reverberations of each blow his sword struck on the Stag's hammer or shield.

Aelor didn't think about Rhaegar, dying or dead behind him. He didn't think of anything. The Prince's mind was almost blank, instinct and years of training dictating his every move, adrenaline keeping his legs turning, hatred continuously spitting out curses at the man opposing him. There was a pain in his right hip, one he hadn't noticed until he'd been sprinting towards Baratheon, but the dragonlord paid it no mind, focused on driving his blade into Robert Baratheon's chest and watching the life fade from his storm blue eyes.

Baratheon regained his center after a few moments, managing to go on his own offensive with a vicious swing of his hammer. As Aelor had noted in the detached part of his mind, Baratheon was strong, amazingly so. To try and block or redirect a blow from that hammer—a feat that would be near impossible for Aelor in his current shield-less state—was a certain way to die, the blunt force of the hammer's broad side or the spiked point of its other able to either penetrate or crush armor, muscle and bone. Aelor spun away and struck, his sword only catching Baratheon's shield but his fist colliding with the Lord Paramount of the Stormland's antlered helm. That didn't deter Robert from his newfound aggression, however, another one-handed swing of the mighty hammer nearly crushing every rib Aelor had. The Prince dodged away, swinging his bloodied sword hard for Baratheon's head as the hammer's momentum carried the rebel leader off of balance for a moment.

Baratheon twisted his head aside, the blow not killing him as intended. It did however neatly lop off one of the antlers, sending the shaped steel flying off into the chaos of a battle that had picked up in intensity all around them.

With a deep roar—theirs is the fury, afterall—Robert came on again, using his shield as a battering ram, his hammer as, well, a hammer, and Aelor was finally forced on the full defensive, dodging both spiked and banded steel, striking back every so often but mainly reduced to avoiding the whistling death Baratheon had served Rhaegar.

His body betrayed him, in the end. The pain in his hip had increased throughout the short but savage duel with Robert Baratheon, and when he took a step to the side, setting his feet a touch too wide, a hot, burning shock of a pain shot down his leg. Aelor gasped, his knee buckling, leaving him awkwardly splayed on a knee and foot as Baratheon's hammer swung. Aelor tried to bring his sword around out of instinct even as he twisted his body, the hammer catching his blade just above the pommel and wrenching the ruby crossguard from the Dragon of Duskendale's hand.

Aelor could only watch as his trusted blade spun end over end into the mayhem surrounding him, his hands now empty. The Prince tried to gain his feet, but his awkward stance and the pain in his hip—Buckets bloody axe, he realized absently—wouldn't let him. He turned his head to look back at Baratheon, the rebel leader standing over him, tossing his shield aside and gripping his hammer two-handed. With a roar Robert swung, the hammer hurtling towards Aelor's head as if in slow motion.

Elia's face came to mind then, as it often did in moments of both weakness and strength. What the dragonlord wouldn't give for a chance to make her laugh one last time. Rhaenys and her dolls, most of which Aelor had begged, borrowed or stole for her, soon followed, the little olive-skinned girl's giggles accompanying the smile of her mother. And then Aegon, too young yet to have done anything to endear Aelor to him but somehow having managed to do so anyway, a small bundle of blankets and silvery hair that Aelor knew in his heart would make the greatest king Westeros had seen since Jaehaerys the Conciliator.

He wanted them to know he loved them, and that he was sorry he hadn't made it back. He wanted to hold them one more time, to tickle Rhaenys and pinch Aegon's nose and kiss the ever-loving fuck out of Elia. All of those thoughts and more ran through his mind in the split second it took that hammer to reach his head, Baratheon's roar ringing in his ears.

The strength had to have come from his loved ones, because the Seven knew it hadn't come from his body. Aelor ducked, the hammer whistling overhead, his hand darting to wrap his fist around the emerald dagger on his belt. With a roar of his own The Dragon of Duskendale shot up into Baratheon, forcing himself between the Stag's arms and inside his guard. The dagger in the Dragon's fist flew high above both their heads before plunging deep into the gap between helm and breastplate, sinking to the hilt.

For a moment the two warriors stood helm to helm, screaming at each other at the top of their respective lungs, Robert's hammer hanging in the air in his left fist off to the side, his right gauntlet somehow having grabbed Aelor's shoulder. Time stood still as Robert's war cry turned into a gurgle, blood filling his mouth and throat and lungs, the Dragon of Duskendale's dagger sank deep into his neck. The hammer in his left hand, still held out as if confused that it hadn't just smashed a Targaryen's brain all over the Riverlands, began to shake before the hand holding it lost its once incredible strength and it splashed to the water.

Aelor Targaryen released the dagger that had struck so true and stepped back, Robert Baratheon sinking to his knees in the mud and blood and water. With a bloody cough the dying warrior cursed the Targaryen name one last time, before toppling forward to land face first in the crimson ford.

Chapter Text

Eddard knew Robert was dead the moment it happened, even as he blocked the blow from another Dornishman; the cry that burned through both the rebel and loyalist ranks soon after simply confirmed it.

Hoster Tully's reserve had taken the brunt of the screaming Dornish charge, most of his men cut to bloody pieces as they bought time for Eddard to turn his Northmen and counter the surprise strike. Just how the Dornish had slipped thousands of men behind them undetected was baffling, but here they were, full of vim and vigor and raising one hell of a ruckus. Eddard slung this particular Dornishman's blade aside before cutting his throat, turning as a voice called his name.

"My lord!" Another knight, this one a merman of Manderly and possessing both arms, pointed to the main battle of the ford. Valemen and Stormlanders were beginning to flee, their spirit for the fight waning as the life of their leader had, the previously broken loyalist attacking with a new vigor, a new life. A man in Kingsguard white rode a courser in their midst, directing the main force through the gap of the right where Eddard had had to pull his men from. They broke through the thin remaining forces quickly, turning and beginning to roll up the center as more and more rebels fled.

As Eddard saw it he had two options; finish the Dornish and turn to take on the weary loyalist, or quit the field. Robert is dead. Our claim is gone. Thousands of men have died for a personal disagreement between a few, and now most of those few are dead The only one remaining is me. It was all a bloody waste. A waste of tears, a waste of blood and a waste of his life.

Eddard decided enough lives had been lost.

"Greatjon!" The Umber cut his song off mid-sentence, cracking one more skull before turning to his liege. "Enough lives have been lost. Sound the retreat. You have the rear guard; hold the line until most of our force is away, then make a fighting withdrawal."

The giant plainly didn't like the whole idea of retreating. "We can win this, boy!"

"Too many have died already. Give the command."

As the horns blew, Valemen, Riverlanders, Stormlanders and Northmen all beginning to flee the field, Eddard helped solidify the Greatjon's line. Keeping the Dornish attack from turning the withdrawal into a route was easier than expected, as the loyalist men who flanked the main lines made no attempt to pursue, and the Dornish seemed to have had their fill of a fight as well, their 'attack' not nearly as fierce as it had been mere minutes before.

As the rebels to the Iron Throne fled past him, leaving thousands of their dead sprawled across the grounds behind them, Ned Stark couldn't help but feel he had failed. Failed his friend, failed his bannermen, and failed his family.

I am sorry, father. I'm sorry Brandon.

I'm sorry Lyanna.

"Your Grace."

Aelor Targaryen didn't move. He hadn't since Baratheon fell, not moving an inch as the rebel lines were finally broken.

"Your Grace."

The Dragon of Duskendale stood motionless on a slaughter field, staring down at the back of a now dead Robert Baratheon. Blood was dribbling down his armor at his hip, his once pristine black armor now crimson with blood and brown with mud. Barristan reached out a hand gently, wary of a sudden reaction, though just what Aelor would do without any weapon remained to be seen.

It turned out he had no need to worry. The second son of Aerys didn't move an inch when Barristan the Bold's hand lightly rested on his shoulder, still staring down at the body of the usurper king. Barristan felt a stab of panic, worry that the boy he thought of as son was more severely injured than the very painful but not life threatening gash on his hip. The Kingsguard disregarded his own injuries to step to the front of Aelor, looking him over with a quick eye.

When the Prince spoke his voice was quiet and hoarse. "I'm fine, Barristan."

Relief flooded Barristan the Bold, though it was tainted by the dead tone of the Lord of Duskendale's voice. "Your helm, Aelor."

The Prince finally looked up, the violet of his eyes barely visible around Aelor's dilated pupils. Barristan understood what was happening at once. He's in shock. "My what?"

Barristan took a firmer grip on the Prince's arms. "Your helm, Your Grace."

Fingers were suddenly pulling the white flame crest up and over the dragonlord's head. Alaric Langward, ever the dutiful squire, stood behind his mentor, his once youthful face now showing no trace of the boy he had been so recently, replaced by the firm eyes and jaw of a man who had seen the worst the world had to offer. "Easy, Your Grace."

Aelor finally twitched, looking as if he was waking from a dream. If he were, reality was surely a shock. The ford was clogged with the dead, the bodies thick enough in places that a man could walk across the river Trident without ever touching the water. Both riverbanks were much the same, though the bank where the rebels had waited was by far the worst. Loyalist men, the victorsif a chaotic slaughter like this could have one—Barristan didn't believe it could—were already looting, a flock of bodies scoping the ford near where the King of the Iron Throne lay dead. Those men, mostly peasant farmers who normally barely had enough to eat much less any idea of wealth, were frantically searching the water for the rubies Robert's hammer had smashed from Rhaegar Targaryen's breastplate, paying no attention to the body that had been their King.

Nor did they pay attention to the wounded lying all around, their screams and moans a cacophony of terrible sound around a horrible scene.

"How…how many men are left?" Aelor was looking side to side slowly, though he dutifully stopped and drank when Alaric pressed a waterskin to his lips.

"We don't know, Your Grace."

Too few, my son. Too bloody few.

Three thousand knights had charged down a wide ford with Aelor Targaryen, punching a hole that over twenty thousand soldiers had filled.

Eighty-three of them lived.

Ser Balman Byrch was found halfway under his horse on the far side of the river, a dirk through the eye of his visor. Lord Elwood Harte, the last of his dynasty, had fallen less than ten feet from him, a spear in his gut, the young man's hands wrapped around its shaft as he leaned against the belly of a dead courser. Sers Willis and Alester, two of his most veteran household knights, had died together, Alester's head in a slumping Willis' lap, the latter having bled out from his own wounds while trying to comfort his old friend. In truth none of Aelor's personal retinue seemed to have lived, men Aelor had handpicked from all over Westeros dying together for the Prince they served.

Only that Prince had survived; that Prince, a squire and a black stallion.

Warrior had found his master as Aelor stood supported by Barristan and Aelor in the middle of the ford, clopping over dead bodies carelessly as it emerged from the field of corpses. The destrier was red from muzzle to hock, the twin white warring dragons on the cloth of his chainmail blanket turned crimson. He, much like his master, was battered but still alive, nudging the Targaryen with his head as if to apologize for letting him fall off.

Aelor was glad his horse had lived. Very little else had.

Rhaegar Targaryen, the first of his name, was being carried from the field by Jon Connington, the Lord of Griffin's Roost bawling uncontrollably. The red haired knight had slain Denys Arryn, heir to the Vale, in single combat on the far bank, but he looked nothing like an accomplished warrior now, face as red as his flaming hair as tears cut furrows down his grimy cheeks.

Aelor watched dry eyed. He'd recovered his senses, enough to order a maester away to more severely wounded men when he came and asked about his hip, but his body still felt numb.

As teams of men combed through the bloody carnage, healers descending to try and save any lives they could after so many had been lost, Aelor only watched, survivors clinging to each other or themselves as they tried to cope with what had just occurred. Prince Oberyn, a wound over his right eye, had ridden by for once without a word, heading for his tent and his paramour. Randyll Tarly had taken temporary command, keeping the survivors from straggling away while also organizing a guard, though the rebels had to be suffering from the same symptoms as the loyalists.

Aelor had let him. He hadn't budged from his stance beside the body of Robert Baratheon, and he wouldn't. Not until they found him.

When they finally did Aelor had required Alaric to help him move, his hip a throbbing pain that became shooting when he put nearly any weight on it, but move he had.

Lord Renfred Rykker had ended up on the far left of the ford where the water was still relatively deep, back leaning against the rebel riverbank while his waist and legs were submerged in the deepening water of the river Trident. His once blue surcoat was now blood red, the broken lance in his left shoulder embedded deeply. A sword was shoved in his side, under his ribs, though his hands still clutched his warhammer, refusing to surrender the weapon that adorned his family banner.

Aelor knew before he even reached his old friend that there was nothing the maesters would be able to do.

The Prince dropped beside his childhood companion's side, the cold water soothing his hip even as the scene before him tore apart his heart, taking the Lord of Hollard Hall's hand in his own. Renfred's full black beard was speckled with blood, twin trickles of it trailing down from the corners of his mouth. His breathing was labored, chest rising and falling heavily, its rattling sound giving away the blood slowly filling his lungs.

Aelor shook his head. "Dammit, Ren."

The big man turned his head to look at his best friend, despite the pain doing so obviously caused him. It took him several moments to speak, and when he did his voice was pained, though stronger than a dying man's had any right to be. "Did we win?"

"Yes friend. We won."



Rykker nodded. "Good."

Aelor felt the burn of tears in his eyes, though he didn't let them fall. "I'm sorry, Ren."

Even when dying Rykker managed to raise an eyebrow in bemusement. "For what?"

"This. All of it."

The Lord of Hollard Hall shook his head. "This isn't your fault, Aelor. All men must die; now it's my turn."

Aelor swallowed, fighting to keep his composure. "I'll care for Malessa and the babe. Anything they ever want they'll have."

Rykker's eyes stared into his liege lord's, bloody lips smirking. Only Ren could grin as he dies. "Hell, I know that." The smirk became pained, a round of great bloody coughs wracking Renfred's body as his eyes shut tightly before opening again once the coughing fit passed. Rykker released Aelor's hand, shakily trying to grab his liege lord's wrist. Aelor obliged him.

Renfred Rykker looked into his childhood friend's face one last time. "Strong shield."

All of Duskendale was lodged in Aelor's throat as he squeezed Renfred's wrist tightly. "Stronger sword."

He smiled a bloody grin. "You're damn right." His body convulsed once, twice, three times, and then the life faded from Renfred Rykker's eyes.

Aelor Targaryen wept.

Chapter Text

The rider bearing the flag of truce appeared to Eddard Stark as a gift from the Old Gods.

The rebel forces had left thousands of their numbers dead and wounded on the field. The total count still hadn't been made, no one entirely sure who was dead or missing in the aftermath of the chaos they had all been subjected to.

All Eddard knew was that Robert was dead, Jon Arryn was wounded and Hoster Tully was missing.

The Lord Paramount of the Vale and second—and only living—father to Eddard had taken a dagger slash to his calf, struck by a no name knight whom Arryn thought to be dead. The man most certainly hadn't been, ignoring the fact that his leg was gone and he was bleeding out rapidly to strike from his lying position and sink the dagger into Arryn's leg.

The wound was superficial, merely making it hard for Jon to walk. The much more dangerous blow to the Lord Paramount had been the death of his heir Denys, the Darling of the Vale, struck down by Jon Connington at the ford. Lord Arryn hadn't been able to recover his body, and that fact weighed on Eddard's close friend as heavily as the man's death.

Whether Hoster Tully was dead or captured no one could rightly say. None of his retainers had returned, having taken the brunt of the Dornish charge. None of the survivors could remember him being struck down, yet he hadn't fled the field with the rest of the Riverlander's. It was reasonable to assume he was dead, as much as it pained Eddard.

He was somewhat indifferent to his goodfather as a person, but he would have liked his child to have at least one grandfather. The way things seemed now, after the bloody fight of the ford, he or she may not even have a father.

The rider bearing the white banner rode in at dusk, the shouts of his approach echoing through the camp. It was a single man, riding a bay courser while leading another workhorse hauling a cart. Eddard and Jon Arryn waited in the center of the camp, Arryn using a broken spear shaft as a makeshift crutch, the Greatjon, Bronze Yohn Royce and other various nobles and bodyguards with them as the rider was directed to them, watched warily by the weary men in the camp.

As he approached, Eddard realized the envoy was a lad, no more than six and ten. Tall but lanky, he was dressed in a magnificent set of plate armor, scrubbed clean. Recently at that, if Eddard had a guess, for nothing had been clean after the Battle of the Trident; not armor, not weapons, and not the participant's souls

The boy reigned up several paces away from the men gathered to meet him, his face trying not to betray the nervousness he had to be feeling when surrounded by men he had been trying to kill—and who had been trying to kill him—hours before. "I come with a message from Prince Aelor Targaryen, Lord of Duskendale."

Greatjon scoffed, regarding the boy atop the horse with derision. "Targaryen sends a green boy to parlay? Does he mean to insult us, sending a whelp in his own place?"

The lad wisely didn't rise to the Greatjon's ribbing. "I was instructed to speak with Lords Eddard Stark and Jon Arryn."

"I am Jon Arryn," the Lord Paramount of the Vale said quietly. He gestured towards Eddard. "This is Lord Stark. Who are you, son, and why did Targaryen send you instead of another?"

The boy straightened. "I am Ser Alaric Langward, squire to Prince Aelor during the battle and knighted shortly afterwards." The lad was quiet a moment, his voice soft when he spoke again. "I suppose he sent me because everyone else he trusts is dead, courtesy of your lordships."

"He is not the only man to have lost friends and family." Lord Jason Mallister of Seagard said pointedly. The handsome man with the winged helm had lost his brother Thaddeus to King Rhaegar's second wave, having slain three minor lords to avenge him.

"Ser or bloody not, you're a boy," the Greatjon reiterated, pushing the lad's control. "Targaryen insults us by sending half a man to treat with us."

"Peace, Greatjon," Bronze Yohn Royce cut in, eyeing the lad. "If he was Targaryen's squire, he is man enough to be here. We knocked the Prince off of his stallion during Robert's charge. Thiswhelp as you call him fought off some of our best men to give Targaryen time to regain his feet."

Langward's chest swelled at that, pride evident on his face though he tried to conceal it. He's more man than boy, if Bronze Yohn is correct, but still part boy nonetheless. Eddard cleared his throat, regarding the teenager with an emotionless face as he spoke. "What word does your Prince have for us?"

Langward's voice took an even tone, obviously repeating words he had rehearsed in his head for hours. "Prince Aelor offers your Lordships the opportunity to reclaim your dead. Come morning, you may send a burial detail of no more than one hundred fifty men to the ford, where you will be left in peace to claim what bodies you wish. Whomever you leave shall be cremated alongside our own dead at dusk tomorrow." The new knight gestured towards the horse and cart slightly behind him. "He sends this as a token of his goodwill." Langward looked directly at Jon, his tone becoming somber. "It is your heir, Lord Arryn."

The Lord of the Vale didn't move for a long moment, face completely expressionless, before turning his head in the direction of Bronze Yohn Royce, who instantly exited the half circle of rebel leaders to quietly step to the cart's side. He looked over the lip of the cart for a moment before turning back to his liege lord, nodding softly.

Jon Arryn's jaw worked silently for a moment more before he spoke quietly, a few of his bodyguard joining Royce at the cart to retrieve the body of Denys Arryn. "Give him my thanks."

Alaric Langward nodded. "Prince Aelor also invites Lord's Stark and Arryn to discuss peace terms while the bodies are claimed, on this side of the river though far from the edge of the forest. He agrees to fifty men in your personal guard, though he will bring double that due to the burial party and the location of the meeting. He invites a single representative from the Stormlands in lieu of a Lord Baratheon."

Lord Roose Bolton, pale eyes unblinking, stared at the boy. "And how do we know it isn't a trap?"

Ser Alaric turned to meet the Lord of the Dreadfort's odd eyes evenly, the slightest touch of anger in his own. "Prince Aelor is a man of his word."

"A Targaryen being a man of his word? Har!" Greatjon's scorn was met with several murmurs of agreement from the other lords surrounding them.

Eddard, however, believed the lad. "I have met Prince Aelor on more than one occasion. Whatever his family's faults, he does seem to be a man of honor, and he is consenting to meeting us when we have the advantage, however slight."

"So he is a fool as well as a madman," boomed fat Lord Benedar Belmore.

"He is neither," Jon Arryn said quietly but with a hint of steel in his voice that stopped his bannerman's sniggers instantly. Jon Arryn looked back to Ser Alaric. "You made no mention of the Riverlands."

The young man shrugged. "We already have a representative from the Riverlands; Lord Hoster Tully is our prisoner."

Brynden Blackfish Tully, so far having remained quiet, instantly spoke up. "Is he injured?" Eddard found the apparent concern from the Blackfish odd, considering he had never seen the Tully brother's at anything other than each other's throats.

"We found him unconscious from a fall from his horse, but otherwise unharmed."

The Blackfish grunted, satisfied. Eddard looked to Jon Arryn, who met his eyes and held them for a moment before nodding. The Lord of the North then nodded in turn to Ser Alaric. "Tell Prince Aelor we will be there at dawn."

If their war had accomplished nothing else, it had at least aged Aelor Targaryen at least a decade.

As he rode towards them on a massive black stallion, surrounded by a hundred men of his choosing, Eddard saw that the Dragon of Duskendale looked almost nothing like the young, full of life youth he had been at the Tournament of Harrenhal, when the foundations had been laid for the war they were currently fighting. He still carried the air of authority Ned remembered, his shoulders still strong and broad and back still straight in the saddle, but his face was that of an older man than one and twenty. A mostly healed scar sliced down his right eye, framed by his silvery beard grown bushy and untrimmed. Some scars added to a man's handsomeness. This was not one of those scars, though his face still held traces of its Targaryen beauty; this scar was a vicious gash that drew the attention of all those in contact with the Dragon Prince. It almost made him look more sellsword than Prince, brilliant black armor and destrier aside.

Until he spoke, that was. Then there was no doubt he was of royal blood.

"Lords Stark and Arryn, I am glad you came. Let us put an end to this bloodshed." The Dragon of Duskendale looked to his right, where Ser Barristan Selmy sat a white courser beside Hoster Tully, the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands tied to his saddle like a common bandit. The Prince nodded, and Selmy withdrew a dagger to cut Tully's hands free. A thin Dornishman atop a sand steed to Tully's other side, undoubtedly Prince Oberyn Martell, slapped the lord's courser lightly on the flank, prompting the horse to trot the few dozen paces between the two sides to pull up beside the Blackfish. The two brothers looked at one another only a moment before both turning to look back at the loyalist.

"Prince Aelor," Jon Arryn began. "I want to thank you for returning Denys' body to me."

"Enemy or no, the man fought bravely. He deserved to rest with his own."

"And Robert?" Ned asked quietly.

Aelor Targaryen met his eyes, violet on gray. "His body resides in my camp."

Roose Bolton cocked an eyebrow. "Are we not allowed to claim his body as well?"

Targaryen cocked his own brow. "Are you a Baratheon? No? Then you don't have a claim, do you?" the Prince let his words hang a moment before continuing. "He hasn't been mutilated, nor will he be. I will consent to his body being entombed at Storm's End, despite my personal desire to remove his head and place it on a spike on Maegor's Holdfast." The Prince's eyes confirmed he meant what he said, though he leaned back slightly in his saddle to regard the others. "That is assuming we can put an end to this nonsense here and now, of course."

Arryn nodded ever so slightly. "What are you thinking?"

"Surrender," the Dragon of Duskendale said instantly and firmly. "Yours, here and now. This war was started over the personal disagreements between a few men. Most of those men are now dead. Thousands have already died; I see no need for thousands more to join them."

Tully grunted. "There will be repercussions."

"Of course there will. For all of you, though some of you will fare worse than others."

They waited for a moment for the Prince to continue, but the Dragon of Duskendale simply met their gazes evenly. Jon Arryn broke the silence. "What do you mean?"

Aelor spoke calmly and confidently. "You, Lord Arryn, didn't surrender your wards when your liege lord ordered it."

"That liege lord killed my father and brother, as well as one of Jon's kinsmen," Ned pointed out. "He meant to do the same with us."

"Yes, he did," Aelor said with a nod. "You didn't let me finish, Lord Stark. My father was an unfit king, though still my father. My brother also made more than his share of mistakes, and the realm has bled for it. I'm not saying you were not justified in revolting, my lords, but the truth remains that you did revolt. You revolted against a dynasty that has ruled for close to three hundred years, and you lost."

Greatjon scoffed. "We haven't lost yet. There's still an army behind us."

Aelor shrugged at the big Umber. "You're right, there is, one likely equal to my own. But how long will it remain there?" Aelor leaned back in his saddle, perfectly aware that he was in control of these negotiations. "Your claimant through Rhaelle Targaryen is dead, and with him died your only chance to pass this off as a war of succession instead of conquest. Robert's brothers are both being besieged by Lord Mace Tyrell and the Redwyne Fleet; while I hear they are holding out impressively, it can only go on so long. If you were to decide to continuously rebel, you would have to fight through me and my army to even have a chance to reach them, something we all know would take months to do if you could even succeed. By then, Stannis and Renly would either be in Lord Tyrell's custody or dead of starvation; either way, their own claims would be gone. So tell me, with no Baratheon, who among you would be crowned King?"

Aelor turned to look at Lord Tully. "You, Lord Tully? Your ancestors were petty kings, only raised to their position of power by Aegon the Conqueror. Why should the other great houses follow you?" He turned to Jon Arryn. "You, Lord Arryn? Your ancestors arrived as Andal invaders and have ruled the Vale for generations, but you were only ever kings of one kingdom, not seven." Finally the Dragon of Duskendale turned to Ned. "And you, Lord Stark. You have ruled the North for six thousand years or longer, but you don't even follow the same gods as the rest of the realm. How long would the High Septon and zealots allows you to rule them?" The Prince began alternating his gaze among all of the men present. "Sure, were you to successfully eliminate my bloodline, your cooperation and friendship with one another may well let one of you rule. But what about your sons? What about your sons' sons? How many generations before one of them realize that their King has no right to be their King, and starts another war that ends more lives? How long would they in turn rule before another decides it should be him? Tell me, my lords, where would that cycle of death and blood end?"

"What right do Targaryen's have to rule us all?" Shot back Bronze Yohn Royce.

"The right we took and held for three hundred years. Targaryen's united the realms, placing them under one banner. While we haven't always ruled well, we have withstood threats from our own kinsmen and from countless other threats, and we have done it for three hundred years. That is a precedent that holds sway among many, my lords; even you cannot deny that."

"A precedent set by dragons." Hoster Tully pointed out. "And all the dragons are dead, boy."

"No, Tully," Aelor Targaryen said, eyes burning with a fire that Eddard had only ever seen in the blood of Old Valyria. "The Dragons are most certainly not."

There was silence for a long moment before Selwyn Tarth, the representative of the Stormlands, spoke up. "Say we wanted the Kingdoms to separate again, each ruling under the family that ruled them three hundred years ago?"

"There has been a King of the Iron Throne, proof that one man can rule all seven kingdoms. Again I ask, how long before one of your descendants decides that should be him, and starts more bloody battles that throw the entire continent into a chaos that would be ripe for the raiding by the Ironborn, who would once again rape and pillage unchecked with no one to temper their lusts? Tell me, where would those battles end?" Aelor Targaryen shook his head. "No, my lords. The only hope for your families, not only now but in the future, is to end this conflict today. Bend your knees now, and I promise I will take into consideration your reasons for rebelling." The Dragon of Duskendale's violet eyes began to burn again, his scarred but regal face growing dark. "If you decide to continue this war, however, when I defeat you—and I will defeat you—there will be no such consideration. I will reclaim what you tried to take from my family with fire and blood; the blood of you and your kin, down to the very last drop."

A quiet hung over the field then, only interrupted by the sounds of the burial party recovering dead rebel nobles all around them. The rebel leaders glanced among one another as Aelor Targaryen and his men looked on in silence, the tension in the air clear.

Eddard moved first, taking the same motions his ancestor Torrhen Stark had three centuries ago. Ned slid off of his garron smoothly, scared as any man would be but inwardly confident that this was the right course of action for his family and his people. Aerys, the man who killed my father and brother, is dead. Rhaegar, the man who kidnapped my sister, is dead. Aelor, my only chance at seeing my sister again, is offering terms we won't see again if we continue to fight and lose. Whatever happens to me, this is best for my people. For my sister.

For my child.

Eddard Stark, Lord Paramount of the North, walked smoothly to stand a few paces in front of Aelor Targaryen's black destrier, meeting the Prince's eyes for only a moment before dropping to his knee, head bowed. He heard others follow his lead, a great hulking presence appearing at his right that could only be the Greatjon, a muffled curse accompanying the action that Eddard was sure the big Umber didn't like but was following his liege lord in. A few moments later another sank to his knee to Eddard's left, the grunt of pain accompanying it confirming him as Jon Arryn, Lord Paramount of the Vale.

Before long, each rebel saddle was empty, the space between the two sides filled with kneeling men. Sitting above them all Aelor Targaryen watched, face impassive but heart, for the first time in months, at peace.

Chapter Text

The King was dead.

Elia Martell read and reread the first line of Aelor's message over and over, her stomach hollow. Rumors had of course been filtering into King's Landing for several days, but the parchment in her hand confirmed their authenticity. Rhaegar Targaryen, the first of his name and her husband, had been slain in a shallow ford of the Trident by Robert Baratheon, who had soon after followed his hated enemy into death at the hands of the Dragon of Duskendale.

He's dead. After everything, he goes and gets himself killed. My husband is dead.

Elia blinked slowly several times, unable to get past the first line of Aelor's letter. She was certain there was important information contained in the following lines; was the war still going? Had her brother survived? What of Ser Barristan? Those questions and their potential answers took a backseat to the overwhelming fact that her husband, adulterer he may be, was dead, and the ramifications that fact brought with it.

My son is the King of the Iron Throne.

The mere thought terrified her. She had always known Aegon would one day be Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, but she had anticipated the crown passing to him when he was a man, not a child. She'd anticipated Aegon having children of his own to succeed him and a lifetime of grooming for the role as King. She'd anticipated him being ready.

But no. Aegon was a baby, woefully unprepared for anything other than his next meal and nap, yet now he was suddenly saddled with the pressure of containing a massive realm at war with itself. Well, she supposed he wasn't truly saddled with that responsibility, at least not yet; it would fall to Aelor, and to Elia herself.

Fear ate at her as the thought of her son being a king continued to settle. Child kings normally didn't fare well, and while Elia knew in her heart Aelor cared too much for his nephew to attempt anything untoward, her mind also knew that it was likely many lords would call for Aegon to be usurped by his uncle. Would someone attempt to push that agenda along by removing the Infant King through less than legal methods? Did this mean Rhaenys was heir to the throne, or was that now Aelor?

Elia didn't know. It was all too much, this sudden change of events. What she wouldn't give for it to be a year ago, when events such as these seemed impossible.

It took her a long period of time to be able to read past that first, damning line that brought so many emotions booming in all at once—she felt she should cry, yet she did not—that she had to go blank for a moment, reading Aelor's words as if his opening statement wasn't there.

It didn't work of course. There was no getting around the death of a king, much less when that king had been your husband and father to your children.

She did finally manage to finish Aelor's short, concise letter, a very to-the-point update on events. Rhaegar and Robert were dead. Renfred too, the great big man that had been Aelor's constant companion since they were toddling children. She felt a deep sadness at that; the man's widow Malessa was due any day now, a pretty if plump woman whom Elia had found to be almost unbearably sweet. Her father Lord Buckwell had been in charge of King's Landing when the Princess of Dorne arrived, a competent if not quite gifted regent. He had acquiesced to her taking over almost as soon as she'd docked, and had been doing his upmost to be of help since.

Now his daughter was a widow though not yet nineteen, pregnant with the child of a man it would never meet, a situation similar but so much worse than Elia's own. The Queen of the Iron Throne—or was it now Dowager Queen, though she was only six and twenty—had always heard war was terrible, but now she saw just why.

Many others had died too it seemed. Her brother was alive and well, something Elia thanked the Seven for, but two of the three Byrch brothers were now dead, as well as every knight in Aelor's personal retinue. Various other lords she had once known personally had lost their lives as well, corpses over the quarrel of a few men.

If she hadn't been ready for Rhaegar's death, she certainly hadn't been ready for news that the other rebellious lords had surrendered. A relief, as palpable as her fear for Aegon, flooded her body at the news that this stupid war that she had helped start was now apparently over. Is this all it took, the death of a few important men to end it? Why did so many thousand innocent ones have to die as well, if their death is all it took?

Regrets, hopes and fears dominated the Dornishwoman's thoughts for hours as she sat in her solar, dawn turning to afternoon, Elia shooing away Ashara when she entered to check on her. She said nothing to her close companion, but her presence alerted her to the fact that this news must be spread. Aegon was now a King, ready or not, and Rhaegar had meant much on a personal level to more than just Elia.

Arthur Dayne happened to be on duty outside her chambers, a convenient if unwanted truth that gave her no time to think of how to handle it. Arthur had been Rhaegar's best friend and closest confidant, and vice versa.

So when she blurted out word of the King's death, knowing not in her own personal turmoil how to soften the blow, the handsome knight of the Kingsguard turning as pale as his armor.

"D…dead?" Arthur, normally the essence of composure and chivalric grace, stumbled back against the wall, unable to stand straight under the weight of the news. "How?"

"Baratheon killed him. Aelor in turn killed Baratheon." Elia, feeling as untethered and hollow as the Sword of the Morning looked, could only watch as the knight buckled slightly, unable to root herself from her spot to grab him.

"The King…"

"Is dead, Arthur. My husband is dead." Elia finally managed to break herself from her turmoil-induced paralysis, stepping up to place her hands on Arthur's shoulders. "Aegon is your King now, Arthur. You owe it to Rhaegar to protect him every bit as well as you would have his father." The Sword of the Morning nodded shakily, battling to find his inner equilibrium. "Go to your King now. His protection is paramount."

Arthur stood to his feet, breathing slowing, recapturing his balance and calm disposition. "Rhaegar instructed me to watch you particularly, Elia."

"I'm instructing you to watch his son. Go, Arthur."

It took a good amount more of haggling, the familiar bickering giving them both a bit of a tether in the pit of turmoil that was about to engulf the city. Arthur did eventually go, and Elia found herself wandering, thinking over all that had happened and all that might. The war ending was a great thing, she knew, but it was only one of the problems that faced her son. Would the Lords call for another Great Council, trying to replace an infant with a proven warrior? Where was Lyanna Stark?

It was all too much, which is probably why she didn't see the men in time.

They were dressed in the livery of the guards of the Red Keep, five burly men climbing the stairs from the lower levels to enter the empty gallery Elia found herself wandering in. While that in and of itself wasn't unusual, the man who followed them closely certainly was.

He was filthy and haggard, once shaved head now covered in gold and white hair that gave proof to his balding state, but there was no mistaking Tywin Lannister. The white armored being behind him, equally as filthy but with a much fuller head of hair framing a stupidly attractive face, was also easily recognizable.

This was all odd. Jaime Lannister was supposed to be in the Westerlands, recovering at his home of Casterly Rock from injuries sustained while trying to defend the Mad King from the freakish assassin and his pig-like partner who had infiltrated the Red Keep during the attempted Sack of King's Landing. Yet there the young man stood, unkempt but standing tall, no sign of an injury anywhere in his stance.

And his father? Well, Tywin Lannister was supposed to be in the black cells, rotting for the attempted murder of her children. And her.

Elia's mind connected the dots too late. A big hand grabbed her shoulder, whirling her around. The dagger didn't feel sharp as it plunged into her stomach behind the force of another apparent guardsman; no, it felt more like she'd been punched, the blade plunging deep and driving her breath from her lungs. The reeking, clearly not-an-actual-guard who wielded it withdrew the blade and drove it again, once, twice more, Elia only able to stare at her killer as her body weakened, finding herself dropping to her knees before falling on her side, curling up as pain started wracking her body.

Just when Tywin Lannister approached to stand over her she wasn't sure, her vision going hazy. Her hearing, however, remained clear. "Kill the boy and his sister."

"My lord, we need to get you out of here."

"They will not be ready for an internal threat. The dragon thought it had the lion defeated. It is time to prove otherwise. Kill the infant."



As Tywin Lannister sneered down at her one last time, Elia started to laugh, a choked, awful sound. She was dying she knew, but laughing seemed like such a good idea. In Lannister's need for revenge he was sending his men to their death. Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, was guarding that boy Tywin was planning to kill. Manfred Darke, the squat, fierce knight with the strength and toughness of a boar, was with Rhaenys, and he would protect her to the very end.

Those men were going to die, and Tywin Lannister was going to follow. Even if he managed to escape the city, Aelor would track the old lion down if it took the remainder of his life.

Elia knew she wouldn't see her son grow into the great king he would be. She wouldn't see her daughter marry, her grandchildren grow, or be able to finally kiss the face of her dead husband's brother, something she never realized she wanted so much until that moment. She was going to die here on a stone floor, killed by a man with the pride of a thousand kings.

And it was okay.

Her children would live, their would-be killers chopped down by two of the greatest knights she'd ever met. She knew it in her heart, just as she knew she was going to die. Her son would be King, guided by his uncle who loved him. Her daughter would be a Princess, with more dolls than dresses thanks to that very same man.

Elia realized something in her last moments that she had never understood; no matter the world's troubles, no matter its constant state of terror and turmoil, it would all, in the end, be alright.

Something soothed her as the darkness closed in, a wave of calm and tranquility she hadn't felt since before the Tourney of Harrenhal. Elia Martell, so haunted and hurt in life, was finally at peace.

Chapter Text

True to his word, Aelor Targaryen has taken into consideration the reasoning behind the rebellion.

The Prince and a few of his handpicked men had proposed and bickered for hours while the rebellion leaders waited out of earshot. A pair of pavilions and tables had been drug across the ford being slowly cleared of bodies for the key players on both sides to sit, still firmly in neutral ground. There was no guard on them, nor had their weapons been taken, leaving the Prince's implications clear; if a Lord Paramount had a change of heart he could leave and continue the war, though the Dragon of Duskendale had made it perfectly clear that his first offer of terms would be his most lenient.

For Eddard Stark, they had been lenient indeed.

When the rebellious lords had been summoned, they entered the Prince's pavilion to find Aelor seated at the head of the table, Barristan Selmy slightly behind his chair on one side and Alaric Langward on the other. Five other men sat the table as well, though three chairs were left open for the three Lord Paramount's, men Eddard learned were Randyll Tarly of Horn Hill, Jon Connington of Griffin's Roost, Cleyton Byrch of Byrch Hall, Oberyn Martell of Dorne and Kevan Lannister of the Westerlands.

All of the men in the tent watched as the Lord's took their seats, Aelor speaking directly to Eddard once all of the men had done so. "Lord Stark, your reason to rebel was stronger than anyone else here. We have not forgotten that." Aelor stared at him for a long moment, eyes thoughtful. "Your wife is with child, yes?"

Fear for that child plunged like a dagger into Eddard's heart, though he managed to keep his face impassive and firm. "Yes, Your Grace. She will be due soon."

Aelor nodded. "When the child is five namedays old, he or she will come to King's Landing as a ward of the crown, serving as a companion to King Aegon if it is a boy or Princess Rhaenys if it is a girl. From that age on they will alternate yearly between King's Landing and Winterfell, living one year in the Red Keep before returning North for a year to learn the customs of its people. This will continue until he or she is six and ten, when the crown will choose a suitable marriage."

Eddard waited for more, but none came. "Is…Is that all, Your Grace?"

Aelor shrugged. "As I said, your reasons for rebelling were the strongest of them all. Half of the Starks were wiped out by my family, and you would have lost your head as well if you hadn't called your banners. As it is, we will require ten hostages from the North, children of your high lords between the ages of eight and six and ten and of different houses, to serve as pages or squires for five years to ensure your bannermen do not revolt against either the crown or you."

Targaryen gave Eddard no time to comment, turning his attentions to Hoster Tully. "This will serve a dual purpose with you, Lord Tully, as the child will be your first grandchild. Your involvement in the war was driven strictly by ambition, not slights and offences against your family. I offered you a royal marriage to either of your daughters, and you bypassed it for a chance to marry them both into two other regions. You saw an opportunity to increase your family's standing, and your ambition drove you to try and take it. You failed."

Eddard's goodfather remained calm, meeting the Prince's eyes. Aelor held them, own eyes burning, as he continued. "Your son Edmure will be sent to King's Landing as soon as you return to Riverrun, to serve as my squire until I deem him fit to knight. Your bannermen will also offer ten hostages of the appropriate ages, all of different houses, to serve where the crown sees fit to place them. A marriage will be decided by the crown for Edmure as well. Your daughters will remain untouched with their husbands, though it was argued that an annulment between Lord Jon and Lysa may have been warranted, but the vassalage of Harrenhal and its own subsequent vassals is hereby retracted, Lord Walter Whent now a direct vassal of King Aegon the Sixth."

Tully took it all calmly, nodding when Aelor was finished. "I accept these terms."

"I imagined you would." Aelor turned to face the final lord Paramount, Jon Arryn. "Your role in the rebellion was also somewhat understandable, though not as much as Stark's. Your lords will also provide hostages, and any child of your union with Lysa will have the same situation as Lord Stark's own firstborn. The Vale will forfeit a quarter of its foreign trade revenue over the next five years to the crown for war reparations."

Arryn slowly nodded. The second son of Aerys sat back in his chair, eyeing them all. "I find these terms to be more than generous, but I believe they are just since you willingly bent the knee when you could have prolonged this war for months. You have my word, for what it's worth to you, that the hostages will be treated well and cared for as is befitting of their stations, serving as squires or ladies-in-waiting and educated by the best tutors in King's Landing. You rebelled against the crown, something that won't be forgotten, but my family forced your hand, and that cannot be forgotten either. If one or more of you find these terms unacceptable, you will be free to return unharmed to your men and continue this war, though I believe you know the punishments I will dole out if you do. If you all however agree, I as Hand of the King welcome you back into the King's Peace."

Each man looked at one another, Eddard meeting his goodfather's eyes and tilting his head in question, as Tully would be the most weakened afterwards. The Lord of Riverrun inclined his head, and Eddard turned back to the Targaryen Prince. "We accept."

Aelor nodded. "Excellent, my lords. Let us put this conflict behind us.

"A question, Your Grace," Jon Arryn said. "What of Stannis and Renly?"

The Dragon of Duskendale glanced to the table for a moment before looking up. "They followed their brother's lead, as is expected of younger siblings. I cannot fault them for that. There will be reparations for the Stormlands of course, including hostages—I intend Renly to foster either with me or a loyalist house—but I am not cruel. Robert is dead, as is my brother. The younger Baratheon's will not be unjustly punished for the elder's actions."

He looked to Ser Kevan as well, the Lannister knight watching the proceedings quietly. "The Westerlands will be reprimanded as well, Lord Tywin in particular, but Ser Kevan and his men served us faithfully on the Trident. Details will be worked out once peace is assured. I know my father has damaged the Targaryen name, as did my brother, but I intend to repair those damages promptly."

The Prince of the Iron Throne stood, Eddard noting as he himself and the others lords gained their feet that Aelor had to brace himself on his chair to do so. He was injured as well, it seems. "Go to your men, my lords. Stand them down, speak with them on these matters. I will send a retinue of men led by Lord Tarly to gather the names of those hostages you decide upon, and will visit your camp at nightfall to straighten out any details left lingering. Thank you, my lords, for seeing sense."

The men nodded, turning to shuffle out of the tent. "Lord Eddard, remain a moment," the Prince called softly. Jon Arryn met his eyes before nodding and leaving the tent, cane in hand. "Oberyn, Barristan and Alaric remain as well. The rest of you leave us. Lord Tarly, prepare your men and escort the lords back to their camp."

Once the tent had emptied, Prince Aelor limped to stand in front of Eddard. "I know the question burning in your mind, Ned." He turned to the map across the table, lightly placing a finger in northern Dorne. "And I have your answer. I do know where Lyanna is."

The soar of hope in Eddard's chest was dulled by the look on the Targaryen's face as he turned to face him again. His tone was somber as he spoke, violet eyes dull. "But there is something you must know first."

Chapter Text

By the third man Ser Manfred Darke of the Kingsguard was fairly certain he had gathered all the information he was going to, but he interrogated and killed the rest of them anyway.

Five men had been captured in the murder of Elia Martell and the attempted murders of Aegon and Rhaenys Targaryen. Five of them had been wounded by Ser Manfred and Ser Arthur Dayne, yielding once they'd been bled, and the sixth had surrendered when he realized he was suddenly all alone with two infuriated knights of the Kingsguard.

It was determined that ten men had infiltrated the Red Keep dressed as Targaryen guardsmen, stealing their way to the Black Cells to free Lord Tywin Lannister and his son Jaime. Eight had been sent to kill the new King of the Iron Throne and his sister, the last two preceding on with the Lannister patriarch and his apparently very-much whole son. Those eight had been expecting one Kingsguard knight, and with eight to one odds they had an advantage over even a white cloak. What they'd gotten, however, was two Kingsguard knights, and if it weren't for Manfred and Dayne both deciding they needed as many alive as possible, the murderers would have to a man died outside the nursery.

The fight had been brutal, quick and entirely one-sided, but by the time the eight had been subdued and Elia Martell's body found the remaining Westlanders were gone.

Dayne had been inconsolable. While Manfred didn't care for the pompous, flowery cunt, he wished the man had been brought low by something other than the death of sweet Elia. He'd bloodyliked the Dornishwoman, and Manfred as a rule hated everyone. When he'd found her body curled in on itself in one of the first level gallery's, her thin form in a pool of her own blood, he'd never felt such failure or pain in his life.

He could only imagine what the Prince would do when he arrived.

Lord Buckwell had taken over regent duties again, seamlessly to the citizens of King's Landing. They'd kept both the death of the King and Queen quiet so far, though rumors of the former's death had been circulating for days. Manfred had led a detail of guards after the Lannisters, but the two men had disappeared without a trace. He'd scoured the countryside for miles around, Varys and his little birds or whatever the hell they were called searching just as ardently, but all he had gotten out of it was an even worse disposition than normal when he finally returned to King's Landing.

Arthur Dayne hadn't gotten anywhere with the prisoners, but even when interrogating a murderer the knight was held back by notions of honor and kindness. Manfred had no such inhibitions, and combined with his foul mood he had gotten answers quickly.

Those answers had led him here, to the maester's tower.

Manfred didn't give enough fucks to keep this quiet. He flung the door open, storming into Grandmaester Pycelle's chambers, Donnel Buckwell and his mustache close behind him. The King and Princess were with Renfred Ryker's new widow and Ashara Dayne, locked in her chambers surrounded by ten guardsmen Manfred knew were loyal—trusted was too strong a word, because fuck everyone—and Arthur Dayne, all on high alert.

Five other guardsmen spread out, Manfred caring not a whit for what he smashed as he bulled through the maester's chambers, throwing open additional doors and pulling up his mattress, searching everywhere for the aging man. With a bellowed curse he threw the mattress aside. "Find him! Find him now!"

A crash sounded overhead, and Lord Buckwell instantly started moving. "The rookery, Manfred!" The knight of the Kingsguard was short with short legs, but he overtook the taller, middle-aged regent before the Lord of Antlers could even reach the stairs. More sounds came from upstairs as he ascended two steps at a time, the squawk of ravens that Manfred found so bloody annoying accompanied by another crash. When the knight of the Kingsguard came to the rookery door he found it unsurprisingly barred from the inside, meant to buy Pycelle more time.

In most cases it probably would, but Manfred was too pissed to let a measly barred door stop him. He lowered his boulder-like shoulder and charged, splintering the wood as he burst into the rookery room, door hinges squeaking and ravens squawking. Pycelle, dressed in the robe and chain of the Citadel, grey beard long and actions panicked, shuffled towards the release window of the rookery, a large raven on his arm, its legs strapped with a rolled parchment.

Ser Manfred Darke let out a roar as he charged forward, drawing his sword from its sheath as the maester reached the window, Pycelle letting a panicked shout escape his lips. The treacherous teacher stuck his arm out of the opening, the great black bird perched there opening its wings to take flight.

Manfred Darke had never hit truer in his extensive life of swordplay. His blade darted out of the window, his massive form shoving Pycelle's infirm one out of the way, bringing his blade down as hard as his bulging arm could. His blade cleaved completely through the raven's left wing and part of its head, killing the bird instantly, sending its carcass and whatever message it bore spiraling down towards the courtyard.

Manfred didn't watch its body long, propelling his sword arm backwards to smash an elbow into the Grandmaester of the Citadel's nose, Pycelle shouting out in pain as bone and cartilage was crushed, the blow knocking him backwards to the ground. With a curse of rage the knight of the Kingsguard hurled his sword aside, intending to break this traitor one bone at a time. Pycelle tried to scoot backwards, moving much quicker than the maester normally did, one hand on his ruined nose. Manfred grabbed him by his robe, pulling the whimpering old man up with one arm as the big knight drew his right fist back.

"Manfred, stop!" Buckwell shouted as he ran into the room, chest heaving, causing the ugly knight to hesitate. While he by no means liked Buckwell, Manfred didn't quite hate him either, and the dealings they had had in years past as Aelor's bannerman and sworn sword respectively had fostered some level of respect in the knight for the competent, calm Lord of the Antlers.

"Why the fuck should I?" Manfred shot back, barely able to keep from tearing the whimpering, pathetic traitor in his grasp into multiple chunks of dead turncoat.

"Because we need to know what else he has done, and even you can't get answers from a dead man," Buckwell reasoned, ignoring Pycelle as he tried to caution Manfred.

"I'll just break a few bones."

"He's older than even me, Manfred. The shock that comes with broken bones might kill him." Donnel Buckwell maintained eye contact. "Prince Aelor is mere days away from the city. He'll want more than a few words with this piece of shit as well, wouldn't you say?"

Manfred cursed inwardly as Buckwell played the only card he knew for certain would work. It still took everything the newest knight of the Kingsguard had to stop from breaking the Grandmaester's bones one by one, but Manfred finally dropped the whimpering man to the ground. "We'll take him to a cell, somewhere nice enough to keep the fucker alive." Guardsmen filtered around Lord Buckwell to do as they were ordered, lifting the crying traitor up by his arms.

Manfred glared at him as they started to drag him away, following closely behind. "And someone get that damn raven's body. We need to see what else this piece of shit has done beside help kill the Queen."

Chapter Text

King's Landing had both changed and stayed the same.

The streets of King's Landing had slowly regained their bustle, the terrors of the attempted pillage still evident in places but slowly being forgotten. That bustle slowly died again, however, when the royal party started down the street, Aelor at its head, the wagon and its boxed burden behind him. The bells of the Sept of Baelor began to ring, confirming to the citizens crowding the entire street what they'd been hearing as rumor.

The King was dead. Long live the King.

Aelor's army was setting up camp outside the city's gates, Randyll Tarly in command, the rebel forces under strict orders from the three Lord Paramounts to follow Tarly's commands as ardently as they would their own. Stark, Arryn and Tully were father back in line, bringing up the end of the somber procession as they went forward to swear fealty to King Aegon the Sixth. Rhaegar, dead now for days, had been cremated at the Trident, as was Targaryen tradition. His armor, sword and shield, however, were displayed on the wagon, along with the crown his brother had seldom worn in his short reign.

The normally loud streets were quiet, all eyes on the empty suit of armor or the Prince riding in front of it, scarred face solemn and just a touch impatient.

Aelor was ready to see Elia again. He was ready to hold Aegon and tickle Rhaenys. The Seven did he want to just gallop on ahead, but tradition demanded he escort his brother's 'remains' to the Great Sept of Baelor. He knew that was dreadful of him, to so desperately want to shrike this last duty he could perform for his brother, but Rhaegar was dead. Whatever their differences that still pained Aelor greatly, but he didn't see how escorting an empty suit of crushed armor would make any buggering difference.

Yet escort he did, Barristan, Oberyn and Alaric all riding abreast directly behind the wagon. The streets cleared before him, Warrior's massive form appearing as a stone splitting the current. Aelor's hip throbbed, the injury already beginning to heal but still buggering annoying, but even that discomfort was nothing when he thought of holding Elia.

Aelor knew there would be quite a bit of political fallout over any relationship the two might form, especially if it were to form too soon after Rhaegar's death, but the second son of Aerys couldn't find it in himself to care in the slightest. He'd killed dozens of men, lost dozens of friends and lost two brothers—one of blood and one of choice—to keep Elia and the children safe. The Seven themselves couldn't stop him now.

Only, it seemed they could.

As soon as Rhaegar's armor was to the Sept Aelor had kicked Warrior into a canter, the citizens of King's Landing diving out of the way of the thundering warhorse and his rider. Thoughts of Elia filled his head as he nigh on flew towards the Red Keep, the capitulated lords forgotten, the pain from Buckets—Theo Wull, of the northern clans Aelor had learned—axe completely forgotten. The gates to the Red Keep were barely opened in time for the Targaryen Prince to gallop through it, the second gate at the end of the drawbridge of Maegor's Holdfast the same.

Aelor had reined up, jumping off of Warrior's back with barely contained excitement from the prospect of seeing Elia and the children after more than half a year of war, when he saw Ser Manfred Darke and Donnel Buckwell approaching from the Holdfast, their faces somber.

"Manfred," The Prince called cheerily. "It's been a long time."

"Yes Your Grace." The ugly man replied, eyes downcast. That struck Aelor as odd, because Manfred never looked downcast. Barely-contained rage was much more his style.

"Bloody hell, Manfred, what's wrong? The war is over, friend, and that white cloak suits you!"

"The war is not over, Your Grace," Lord Buckwell said, his eyes also on the ground. "I fear it has only begun."

A feeling of dread chased the excitement he had felt mere seconds ago away. His smile disappeared, replaced by a concerned frown even as Oberyn, Barristan and Alaric galloped into the courtyard. "What has happened?" Aelor demanded over the clop of hooves.

"Tywin Lannister and his son have escaped, Your Grace," Manfred said. "Fucking Maester Pycelle smuggled in men dressed as our own buggering guardsmen."

"He then sent ravens to all of Lannister's bannermen remaining in the Westerlands, ordering them to rally at Casterly Rock," Buckwell cut in. "It only stands to reason he intends to fight, especially considering he doesn't know the other rebellious lords laid down their arms."

Aelor's face hardened. "He will still fight even after he finds out." Aelor cursed. "We should have killed him before we left King's Landing." Aelor shook his head, anger at the audacity of the lion and the treachery of the maester burning in his stomach, but a wave of relief was on its fringes. He had been expecting much worse from the appearance of his two loyal men. "This is a setback, but it is not the end of the world, friends. Lannister cannot possibly hold out against us, no matter his numbers."

"There is more, Aelor," Buckwell said. He opened his mouth to speak, but words seemed to catch in his throat.

Manfred delivered the news, as blunt in speech as he was in all other aspects. "Elia is dead. Lannister had her killed as he fled, and tried to have the children killed as well."

Everything went cold all at once. Aelor Targaryen heard the choked cry from behind him, knowing in some recess of his mind that it was Oberyn, but Manfred's statement was all he could think of, the words visualized in his mind's eye, staring at them for ages. Elia is dead. Manfred's stony voice rang in his ears, delivering the message again and again. Elia is dead. The entire reason he was still alive, the very thing that had given him the strength to defeat Robert Baratheon, had been ripped from his clutches at the very last. Memories sprinted through his mind, from the first time he had seen the Dornish Princess to the last, and every time in between.

Something snapped in Aelor at that moment, his fists clenching as he stood to his full height, face no longer a man's, replaced by the feral savagery of a dragon. "I'm going to burn them all." He said, voice low but clear. "I'm going to burn them all."

The storm that shook the eastern coast of Westeros that night seemed to give tidings of what was to come.

The wind blew Barristan Selmy's cloak wildly, the thundering rain singing as it forcefully beat against his white armor. Twice he had to wrestle his horse back under control after the palfrey spooked at a loud clap of thunder, eyes white with terror, and he'd had to shout at the gate guard from less than a foot away to be heard. It was truly a shit time to be riding, but Barristan had a mission. It wasn't given to him by a member of the royal family but instead his own conscience and a fear for the man he thought of as a son.

Aelor was no longer Aelor. He hadn't done anything drastic yet, but Barristan knew the man better than anyone, and Aelor Targaryen was no longer in his right mind. Barristan knew as well as anyone the eccentrics that could come with the Targaryen name, having seen it firsthand during the reign of Aerys, but Aelor had always had his head set firmly on his shoulders, never showing the madness that so often manifested in his family. Aelor had been the brilliant side of the Targaryen coin.

Except for in his blackest rages. In those, even the Dragon of Duskendale was...unstable. His battlerages were different, those brought on by adrenaline and the need to protect his loved ones, and those didn't worry Barristan the Bold. But the other type, the type that Aelor let fester and grow until his life's goal became the destruction of whatever he had centered that rage on...those concerned the knight of the Kingsguard. He'd had that hatred for Robert Baratheon, and he had gotten his satisfaction by killing the man in the ford, but this new rage didn't seem to be focused on just Tywin Lannister. No, it seemed to be focused on the Lannister name in general.

And that terrified Barristan.

Elia's death had come at the worst possible time. While Barristan was devastated to learn of the Dornishwoman's murder and would be the same under any circumstance, the blow it dealt Aelor so soon after the death of his brother and lifelong friend could not be underestimated. The second son of Aerys had dropped into the blackest rage Barristan had seen, the very name Lannister making the Prince clench his fists and grit his teeth. The Red Viper was by no means helping, Oberyn in his own anger at his sister's murder calling for the head of every Lannister they could find, even those currently serving in the loyalist army.

Aelor had denied him so far, but Barristan knew. Barristan knew it was only a matter of time before Aelor's fury and anguish would make him buckle to the Prince of Dorne's insistence, and then even Ser Kevan, who was innocent of everything except being Tywin's brother, wouldn't be safe.

That is why Barristan was riding in the middle of the night in a raging storm. Aelor may be able to save his family from his father's damages, but he couldn't save himself from his own anger. That fell to Barristan, and the knight of the Kingsguard could only pray that Aelor would someday forgive him.

Ser Kevan's tent was in the middle of the Westermen, its flaps latched down against the raging storm but with light from candles or a lantern inside casting shadows on its walls. There were nog guards posted, what with the war thought to be over and the army merely waiting for Aelor to bid them leave to go, so Barristan reached the flap unopposed, slapping his hand against the canvas quickly.

It took several moments for Ser Kevan to untie the flaps and usher him in, moments that felt like lifetimes to Barristan. As soon as he stepped into the dry, noticing several other men seated in the large tent who could from their looks only be Lannisters, he whirled back towards Ser Kevan. "You need to go, my lord."

Kevan furled a brow. "Go?"

"Your brother and nephew escaped the black cells with the help of Pycelle. They have gone to the Westerlands to raise the remaining men there."

Kevan's face grew even more confused, trying to make sense of what Barristan was saying. "Jaime? He was wounded defending…"

Barristan cut him off, voice betraying the urgency of his words. "No he wasn't, and there isn't time to explain." Barristan reached out to place his hands on Kevan's shoulders, staring him in the face as he spoke to make sure the Lannister knight knew the implications of what he was saying. "Tywin had Elia Martell killed. He tried to do the same to King Aegon and Princess Rhaenys, but was stopped. Aelor is out of his mind with grief and anger, and Oberyn is no better. They want blood; Lannister blood."

Kevan stepped back in shock. "But we here have served faithfully—"

"I know that, and somewhere deep inside so does Aelor, or you'd be dead already. But until Tywin is brought to justice, no Lannister is safe. For the love of the Seven, Kevan, flee, return to your family and take them somewhere far away from all of this until it is over, until Aelor is himself again."

"My brother…"

"Killed an innocent woman and tried to kill her small children, one an infant. Nothing you can do will save Tywin, Kevan; he has sealed his own fate. The only thing you can do is hide your family until all of this is over. When Tywin is dead Aelor may be able to see sense again, but until then you must run." Barristan turned to the other Lannister men, who were in varying steps of standing up. "Run, all of you. Take your families and hide. Go, now!"

To their credit they needed no more prompting, Kevan and the others scrambling to obey. Barristan watched them as they pulled on boots and grabbed swords before rushing out of the tent, horses neighing even over the massive storm as they were hastily saddled and kicked into action, riding out into the whirling winds and rain.

Barristan calmly remounted his own palfrey as soon as Ser Kevan was gone, turning it to anxiously trot back towards the city of King's Landing.

He could only hope his actions hadn't just cost him his head.

Chapter Text

Aelor's rage was terrifying to behold, but it certainly made things happen quickly.

The Dragon of Duskendale was the obvious choice as Aegon's regent, all agreed, and in that capacity he was moving quickly. Everyone knew it was solely so he could pursue the Lannister's sooner, but none were complaining as more was getting done in a few days than normally got done in a few months.

Aegon Targaryen, the sixth of his name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, had been crowned two days after Aelor's arrival. There had been no grand ceremony, no feast, no nothing, merely a heavy guard of fifty men-at-arms and three Kingsguard knights escorting a carriage through the windblown streets in a steady rain, the strong winds from the hours before having subsided but leaving debris scattered across the wet streets.

Inside that carriage the King of the Seven Kingdoms had slept in the arms of Ashara Dayne, oblivious to what was around him, his sister Rhaenys squirming restlessly in her uncle Aelor's lap. The toddler, unlike her brother, was fully aware of Elia's absence, having developed enough of a vocabulary in the months Aelor had been gone to repeatedly ask after 'mama'. It had broken the Targaryen Prince's heart each time, increasing his rage at the Lannisters with each syllable.

He was truly going to kill them all. Every last one.

A few lords had grumbled that a Great Council was necessary, the implication clearly to crown Aelor Targaryen instead of the baby Aegon, but all whispering had stopped when the Dragon of Duskendale had caught wind of it. He'd reacted violently, informing the lords and ladies gathered in King's Landing that Aegon was King and would remain so, stating in no uncertain terms that he would remove the tongue of anyone who suggested otherwise.

It was King Aerys-esque, but also superbly effective. No more whispers were heard.

The rebellious Lord Paramount's had sworn fealty to the Infant King soon after the simple coronation, though their intent to depart afterwards was postponed. Each had sworn the remnants of their men to Aelor and the loyalist army, to track down and defeat the murderous Lannister. There was an underlying current of hope that good service in the coming battles would result in a diminution of the already lenient reprimands made, though whether or not it would happen even Aelor hadn't decided on.

The Small Council had been chosen quickly, only missing a master of ships, whom Aelor claimed to have chosen already but hadn't given the name, and a Grandmaester, soon to be chosen by the Conclave at the Citadel. Pycelle's head now rested on a spike along the walls of the Red Keep, joined by those of the other eight Lannister men responsible for Elia Martell's murder. The old man's death had been carried out by the dead Queen's brother Oberyn, and Barristan could only suppose it had been agonizingly slow.

Bronze Yohn Royce had been appointed master of laws, a gesture intended to start binding the wounds in the realm the war had torn open. The Lord of Runestone was highly competent and respected, as well as a suitable man for the duty, and it proved that Aelor didn't intend for any bad blood to remain between the once opposing forces. Barristan himself was standing in for Lord Commander Gerold Hightower on the small council, his sworn brother still with the Stark girl in Dorne. Lord Wyman Manderly, already portly and likely to become much more so, had been appointed the Master of Coin. The Lord of White Harbor seemed much more shrewd and capable than Barristan's original impression of the man, and his family's devotion to both the Starks and the Faith of the Seven made his presence both signifying and prudent.

Varys had retained the role of master of whisperers, his circle of contacts and the power he could wield invaluable, though Aelor clearly held the spymaster partly responsible for the Lannister men's infiltration. The Spider had partially made up for it by placing most of his assets into tracking the movements of the Western bannermen, giving the loyalist crucial information concerning who had received ravens, who hadn't, and who was obeying them.

To a man the early reports indicated they all were.

"There is nothing he can do, surely he must see that," Bronze Yohn was saying. "We have nearly sixty thousand men outside of the city, with fifteen thousand more finishing the siege of Storm's End. At best Lannister can raise thirty thousand, and that is a stretch. His retinue, half of his lords and their retinues all either died in this very city or currently serve us."

"Can their loyalty be trusted?" Asked Manderly, his chair pushed farther from the table than the others to account for his belly.

"As much as yours can, Lord Treasurer." Varys gestured towards the window of the Small Council Chambers. "Half of the men outside were not so long ago fighting the other half."

"My liege lord bent the knee to the Targaryen name and bid me serve them," Manderly shot back. "The Manderly's owe the Starks a debt we cannot hope to repay, and as such I will serve where told until the day I die."

"I believe you, Lord Manderly," Aelor stated calmly from the head of the table. "Our war is done, the reprimands lenient. I hold knowledge of Lord Stark's sister's whereabouts, and the men who harmed his family so are dead. He is with us, and Lord Royce and his liege Lord are the same. Tully by default is with us as well, as he is too closely tied to the others to join Tywin on his own." He glanced at Barristan ever so briefly before returning his gaze to the men surrounding the table before him. "The men of Lannister blood have all fled, but their soldiers remain behind. They will not forsake us; they are already on the favorable side."

"The other lords follow Tywin Lannister because of fear," Lord Varys chimed in. "Fear is a great motivator, and after the Reyens and Tarbecks all of the Western lords are too afraid for their houses to dither from Lord Tywin's command."

The Dragon of Duskendale looked to another man at the table, grim faced and stern. Randyll Tarly didn't hold a traditional seat on the Small Council but Aelor seemed to have created one for him, having repeatedly referred to the Lord of Horn Hill as Chief General, making it clear that supreme command of the loyalist force should Aelor fall would pass directly to the balding Reachman. It was a prudent move Barristan knew, rewarding the Reach with a spot on the Small Council as well as selecting a man born for the role. Tarly was as adept at tactics as Aelor was at swordplay. "Lord Tarly, what do you suggest?"

The grim man stood, leaning over the table slightly to rest his finger on the red flag representing the seat of House Lannister. "According to both the captured letter and Varys' spies, Lannister is rallying troops at Casterly Rock. He knows he is outnumbered, but he also knows he has no choice but to fight on after Queen Elia's death, so fight he shall. The mountains and hills of the Westerlands give them a defensive advantage, one I am sure Lannister will use."

"What is your suggestion?"

"Our army is mustered and ready to move, giving us time Lannister doesn't have. All we need is to gather enough supplies to feed our men, and I already have convoys traveling through the Reach for that purpose." Tarly moved his finger away from Casterly Rock, placing it on King's Landing. "I suggest a two-pronged attack. The main force of forty five thousand will travel down the Gold Road like so, subduing Deep Den and any other castles necessary along our path." He slid his finger along the intended route as he spoke. "A second force of fifteen thousand will enter the Westerlands here." This time he gestured towards where the Westerlands bordered with the Riverlands west of Riverrun. "The Golden Tooth has a stout defense, but the raven the big Kingsguard knight killed bore the message to them, so they will be lagging behind the others and a force of mostly cavalry could reach them in time to assault before they are prepared. Once the flanking force is through, the main force will engage Tywin in the flats surrounding Casterly Rock and Lannisport, allowing the flankers to descend on him from another direction."

Bronze Yohn, a decent tactician in his own right, nodded his approval. "It will be similar to the Battle of the Trident, where your Dornishmen forded farther upriver and came in on our rear."

Tarly nodded curtly. "Lannister will be caught on two sides, and in the flats his defensive advantage will be gone. There is one setback, however. Lannister is smart, deadly smart, and once he realizes the battle is lost he will likely pull a chunk of his forces back into Casterly Rock. Any attack on that castle would be suicide, even if we had six hundred thousand men. It has never been taken before, and for good reason."

"And Lannister is too smart to be drawn away from his true advantage," Barristan agreed. "Even if we don't reach him in time to catch him in the flats, he will only venture far enough to ambush us in the hills of the Westerlands, all the while maintaining a clear line of retreat back to his seat of power."

"Our numerical advantage can be countered." Tarly spoke only to Aelor then. "Decisive action is required, Your Grace."

"It will be like then Stormlands again, Your Grace," Barristan said. "Try to remove the Lion's claws before they can sink into you."

Aelor stared into the map, eyes unfocused in thought. "Lord Tarly will have command of the main force, as is his place as Chief General. I will lead the flanking force. Lord Royce, Lord Manderly, I will need both of your assistance in selecting the strongest knights and horsemen from the North and Vale. My own best men were wiped out at the ford. Send word to Lord Tully to do the same." Aelor gestured to Storm's End. "I will send Lord Eddard Stark and Lord Cleyton Byrch with a thousand men to lift the siege of Storm's End. Hopefully Stark can talk some sense into Stannis Baratheon, for Renly's sake if nothing else. Once done, Lord Mace will have orders to march to the Westerlands post haste, to reinforce our armies there. Lannister is outnumbered but certainly not beaten, and I will not lose him due to being overconfident."

It went unsaid that Stark had other business to conclude afterwards in Dorne, though Barristan suspected every man present was aware. "When do we leave, Prince Aelor?" Tarly asked, ever focused on the task at hand.

"Three days. That will give me time to select the best riders as well as settle things here in King's Landing."

Lord Randyll nodded. "With the Prince's permission I will begin preparations immediately." Aelor waved his hand and Tarly swiftly exited the room.

"Lord Royce, the City Watch is in shambles after Lannisters raid. Your first duty as master of laws is to reorganize and resupply the men, though your choices are momentarily restricted due to the army's proximity to departure. Ser Manly Stokeworth, the former Commander, was killed in the Sack, and there hasn't been true time to select a successor since. Promote internally for now, though the Seven know what caliber of men you have to choose from. We will focus on rebuilding the Goldcloaks as soon as Lannister is subdued."

Lord Royce nodded, rising to his impressive height. "It will be done, Your Grace."

Aelor turned to Manderly as Royce followed Tarly's footsteps out of the door. "Lord Qarlton Chelsted, your successor, displeased my father and lost his life for it. That leaves you, Lord Wyman, in a difficult position, as no one has a notion of where our finances lay and it is your job to find out. Your duty is more difficult than even Lord Royce's, though I trust you are more than capable. Lord Eddard spoke highly of you, and you may recruit as much assistance as you need."

Lord Manderly nodded and rose, grasping quickly that the meeting was over and this was his dismissal. "I will begin at once, Your Grace." The portly man smiled knowingly. "I will consider any debts owed to House Lannister as 'soon to be paid'."

Aelor grinned ever so slightly. "I do believe you will thrive here, Lord Wyman."

Lord Varys had risen with Manderly. "I will continue listening for the song of my little birds, Prince Regent. The Westerlands are alive with their music." Both men, portly Northerner and bald eunuch, exited the chamber.

Barristan found himself alone with the Prince. The knight of the Kingsguard had made no secret of what he had done, informing Aelor the next morning of his actions. The Prince had said nothing, though the betrayal in his eyes had torn into Barristan's soul. The fact that Aelor had yet to move, coupled with the tenseness that had seeped into his shoulders, suggested to Barristan Selmy that the Prince intended to discuss it now.

"Go ahead, Your Grace."

To Barristan's surprise, Aelor merely looked at him for a moment, his voice calm as ever when he began to speak. "I don't think I will, Barristan. You betrayed me, warning Kevan Lannister and his blond cunt cousins that I was going to kill them when I had made no such action."


Aelor shot to his feet. "Who are you to judge the Dragon? They killed Elia, yet you allow them to run? Need I remind you that you serve House Targaryen, not House Lannister? Or are you a treacherous snake, like fucking Pycelle?"

Barristan kept his voice calm. "They didn't kill Elia; Tywin did. Ser Kevan fought loyally for you, as did his kinsmen present. I serve House Targaryen and House Targaryen only, Aelor, you know that."

"Do I?" The Prince's voice was calming, though the enraged—and, Barristan's realized in horror, crazed—glint in his violet eyes did not vanish. "Two of my brothers are dead, one of blood and one of choice. My household knights and retinues, friends all, are to a man dead. The woman I loved was stabbed to death for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as well as for marrying the wrong Targaryen. And my father, the one I chose, not the one who sired me, allowed the men who killed her to flee." Aelor shook his head. "Tell me, what in this life do I truly know anymore?"

Barristan found his heart being shredded at the Prince's words. "Aelor, Ser Kevan…"

"Is a Lannister," the Prince spat. Barristan could only watch him as the Prince stood straighter. "You will remain here when we march, to guard King Aegon and Princess Rhaenys alongside Ser Arthur Dayne. Ser Manfred will accompany me on the campaign."

The knight of the Kingsguard instantly felt a jab of concern, not only for the Prince's life but also for what he may do were Barristan not there to restrain him. "My place is with you, Aelor."

The Dragon of Duskendale's voice was as cold as the tendrils of fear growing in Barristan Selmy's stomach. "Your place is where the King deems fit. As his regent, I deem it to be here." Aelor walked towards the door, leaving his mentor to watch after him in torment, only pausing under its frame to toss one more comment over his shoulder. "Do not enter my presence again unless called for, Ser Barristan."

Without another word, his son walked through the door.

Chapter Text

Malessa Rykker had taken the news of her husband's death well. It was to be expected, as she had only known Renfred Rykker marginally and spent a grand total of fifteen hours with the man once married. While she had been suitably saddened for the loss of her unborn child's father, Aelor knew it was far from the bitter mourning he himself had fallen into upon Elia's murder.

But as the Prince heard her cries from outside her chambers, he briefly wondered if she had the worse end of the deal.

Malessa's labor came on quickly in the middle of the night, the midwives that her father Donnel had kept permanently at the Keep entering and exiting the room rapidly as the Prince tried desperately to stay out of the way. Aelor had requested to be notified as soon as his best friend's widow went into labor, and now found himself leaning against a wall at the end of the hall outside. Lord Donnel, still in rumpled bedclothes, paced the hall in worry, hands wringing. Aelor had given up trying to calm the first time grandfather, instead tucking himself into a corner out of the way.

He wished for the thousandth time that Renfred was here. His friend had slogged through months of bloody campaign for the child only now coming into the world, dying in a nameless ford for its future. And for Aelor, which is why the Prince was here now. I promised you your child would want for nothing, Ren. I meant it. Strong shield old friend, wherever you are.

When the first cries of a newborn filled the hall, only slightly muffled by the walls of the Keep, Aelor thought Lord Donnel was going to faint, the middle aged man and his mustache going stock still. It took several minutes, during which even Aelor became concerned, before the door opened, revealing to the Prince's surprise a harried looking Ashara Dayne.

The raven haired, violet eyed woman smiled warmly at Lord Donnel, turning her body to present to him a small bundle, though it wasn't nearly as small as Aelor was expecting. Even from his position at the end of the hall Aelor could see the newborn's face, red and angry looking, glaring out of the swaddles at its grandfather.

"It is a boy, Lord Donnel, and healthy as can be."

Donnel stared at the bundle, his lips turning up at the corners ever so slightly. "Seven hells he's big."

Ashara laughed lightly. "The biggest baby the midwife has ever delivered. Malessa did beautifully, and is recovering well." Ashara Dayne offered him the child, smiling even more when Buckwell took the child with the practiced hands of a father.

The former handmaiden to the Queen then turned her eyes to the Prince, though how in blazes she spotted his black clothing in the dim torchlight he couldn't say. "She is naming the child Aelor."

Emotion hit the Dragon of Duskendale as hard as Gregor Clegane's fist had months ago. He swallowed once, twice, three times before he could manage a word. "Aelor Rykker?"

Ashara's face was warm, her smile just a tad sad as she approached him, Lord Donnel braving the birthing chamber behind her with the new Lord of Hollard Hall. "Malessa said it was Renfred's wish. He wrote it in his last letter to her, written the night before the Trident."

The Dragon Prince had to look away, not willing to let Ashara watch as he composed himself. When he finally looked back he had returned his scarred face to normal, though his voice had an edge to it that even he himself heard. "Renfred always did have a poetic streak somewhere in that bloody big body."

Ashara leaned against the wall beside him, laughing lightly. "He truly did. The child is big; I daresay he will be a near twin to Renfred when he is in his prime."

Aelor snorted out a laugh. "I'd best keep Rhaenys on a tight leash then when they get older then. Renfred was a six and half foot menace to every young woman in the Keep and half the older ones since he was fourteen, be they pretty or not." The Prince turned to appraise the shorter woman beside him. "Why were you in there, exactly?"

Ashara shrugged, turning her violet eyes to meet the similarly colored ones of the Prince Regent. "Malessa is a sweetheart, and we have grown close since she came to the capital at the onset of the war. She was understandably scared and in need of a friend, so I obliged her." Lady Dayne's face fell quickly, a pained expression crossing her face as she looked away to stare at the floor. "I was there for Elia with both Rhaenys and Aegon."

A wave of raw pain tore back through the Dragon of Duskendale, followed closely by the black hate that always accompanied it. He said nothing, clenching his jaw and staring sightlessly ahead, the face of his brother's wife flashing across his mind to turn those waves of pain and hate into a near storm.

Fire and Blood, love. I will avenge you with Fire and Blood.

Ashara's soft voice cut through the maelstrom forming in his mind. "What will become of Malessa now that Renfred is gone?"

Aelor cleared his throat, though in truth he needed to clear his mind. "I promised Ren I would care for them both, and I shall. The babe—"


"Aelor is the Lord of Hollard Hall now. I will kill any who threaten his position as such, though the only other member of House Rykker still living is Ser Jaremy, now a sworn brother of the Night's Watch and subsequently disqualified from any type of inheritance."

"And Malessa?"

"Lord Buckwell will have a say, as will Malessa herself of course, but I suppose she will marry again, whether to a knight or lord I could not begin to guess. If she for whatever reason doesn't she will always have a place here in the capital."

Ashara nodded, seemingly pleased. "Good. She is a sweetheart, and deserves happiness."

"She'll have it, I promise you." Aelor turned to glance at Ashara. "What of you?"


"You. Elia is…gone. What is holding you here?"

Ashara Dayne smirked slightly, shooting the Prince a face that told him the answer should be obvious. "I thought you would know that, Prince Aelor. It is the children. Aegon and Rhaenys have no parents, though they certainly don't lack loving family members. I was here when they were brought into the world, and I would see Elia's children live happily for the rest of their days."

Aelor turned his gaze back down the hall, jaw clenching again. "That is noble of you, Lady Dayne."

"No more noble than you, Prince Aelor. Any other man with your power and influence—not to mention your family name—would be a king by now, surpassing the mere child ahead of him in the line of succession. I daresay most of the lords wouldn't even bat an eyelash."

Aelor's lip curled. "I would never do Elia the dishonor, nor my brother. Aegon is the rightful King of the Iron Throne, and I will remove any who take issue just as violently as I can."

Ashara Dayne let the silence drag out for a moment before her soft voice spoke again. "You loved her, didn't you."

It was a statement, not a question, and Aelor saw no point in pretending it was incorrect. He continued to stare ahead, his own voice coming out as faint as whisper. "Yes."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ashara nod, joining the Prince in staring down the hall without actually seeing anything, both of their minds lost in thought. The silence dragged on, the shuffle of the army of midwives Donnel Buckwell had recruited as they one by one left the new mother and her newborn son to try and salvage some sleep. Through the window behind him the sky was already beginning lighten, dawn nearing rapidly.

When she spoke again, it was so quiet that Aelor nearly didn't hear it. "Does it make it better or worse that she loved you back?"

Aelor swallowed, eyes falling to the stone beneath his feet. "Both. It makes it both."

His mostly sleepless night turned into a long morning.

The Small Council reconvened not long after the messenger arrived, Aelor only glancing at Barristan briefly when the representative of the Kingsguard entered. Aelor thought he was too numb for anything to affect him overly much anymore, but the news the man of House Sunglass brought him very nearly did.

The members of the council had no sooner gathered than Aelor delivered the news. "My mother is dead."

A shocked silence held the chamber for a moment before Barristan spoke. "Queen Rhaella?"

Aelor nodded shortly. "The child came on the first night of the storm. A girl, healthy and strong. My mother didn't live long after delivering her, but she lived long enough to name her Daenerys."

"Daenerys Stormborn," Varys said quietly. "How is Prince Viserys?"

Aelor grimaced. "He is apparently inconsolable. Prince Lewyn has tried to care for him, but Viserys is reacting violently to any attempt at contact. I am sending orders back to Prince Lewyn to bring both my sister and my brother to King's Landing as soon Daenerys is old enough for travel." Aelor sighed. "Which brings me to the next order of business; our fleet is gone."

"Gone?" Lord Royce asked, thick eyebrows furrowing.

"The storm was particularly savage at Dragonstone. The entire Royal Navy was destroyed. The messenger was only able to bring word via a commandeered fishing boat. It is reasonable to assume the Redwyne Fleet sieging Storm's End was similarly damaged."

Randyll Tarly's voice was, if possible, even more grim than usual. "The fleet at Lannisport was most likely undamaged, meaning Lannister has superiority at sea. If the Redwyne Fleet was similarly damaged, Lannister will have free reign."

"No, he won't."

Aelor's voice held nothing but confidence, something that was decidedly lacking on the other councilmen's faces, barring Varys who knew precisely what the Dragon of Duskendale was talking about. Royce didn't, and voiced his confusion. "Your Grace?"

Aelor nodded confidently. "Trust me, my lords; Lannister does not have control of the sea. It has been taken care of. Our main order of business is rebuilding the Royal Navy for future use." He turned to Manderly. "Lord Treasurer?"

Lord Wyman had a stack of parchment before him, his fat fingers inkstained from consistent use of ink and quill over the last few days. "We still have much work to do, my lords, but inquiries have been sent to the Iron Bank of Braavos concerning potential debts. The current vaults in the treasury are still being inventoried, but I can begin arranging the delivery and hiring of necessary materials and craftsmen to the location of your choosing at once."

Aelor nodded. "We have the facilities here in King's Landing. Begin working out contracts on lumber and craftsmen. We will determine the number of ships to commission as soon as the war in the west is over."

Wyman nodded. "It will be done."

"Ser Barristan." Aelor said his former mentor's name with no small amount of ice in his tone.

The knight of the Kingsguard met his eyes. "Your Grace?"

"Jaime Lannister's position as a member of the Kingsguard is obviously at an end, whether he dies fighting the crown or is executed afterwards a mere side note. Compile a list of potential Kingsguard candidates while we are away on campaign."

Aelor could see Barristan wanted to insist on coming, but the knight had the self-restraint to merely nod. "It will be done."

Varys took the opportunity to speak up. "My birds tell me Lord Lefford has yet to call his banners, still seemingly unaware of what has occurred thanks to Ser Manfred. The flanking force should be able to reach the Golden Tooth long before they are ready."

Aelor nodded. "Excellent. The army will depart tomorrow, gentlemen. Lord Donnel Buckwell will maintain regency of the city. This was a short meeting intended to inform you of my mother and the Navy's demise." Aelor stood. "We will adjourn until the War in the West is won."

Lord Royce spoke up again. "Prince Aelor, if I may ask, the Lannister navy—"

"Will not be a concern for much longer, Lord Royce." Aelor smiled, a cold, angry thing. "I promise you that."

Chapter Text

Tywin Lannister truly hated having his offers thrown back in his face. King Aerys the Mad had done it to him twice, when the Lion of the West offered his maiden daughter Cersei first to Rhaegar and then to Aelor, with the intention of his grandchildren sitting the Iron Throne one way or another.

And now it seemed Quellon Greyjoy had done the same.

Words could not describe the feeling Tywin had had when he'd learned the rebel lords had bent the knee to Aelor Targaryen mere days before he escaped the black cells. The Lion of Lannister still had thirty thousand men in the Westerlands, having taken only his personal retinue and the retinues of several of his lords to King's Landing for the sake of speed. He'd intended on using those thirty thousand to link up with Robert Baratheon's army and utterly annihilate the dynasty that had insulted the Lion so, killing every Targaryen man, woman or child. It was why he'd sent the men after the boy Aegon and his sister after they'd killed the Martell woman, who had had the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

But even that feeling of anger paled in comparison to the one he had now. He had barely been in Casterly Rock a day when he sent an envoy to the Iron Islands, offering the last region unaffected by the war mountains of gold for their aide in overthrowing a dynasty that had grown only stronger during Tywin's imprisonment despite the death of two kings. He had patiently awaited their response, rallying his bannermen outside Lannisport—a mere mile from his seat of power at Casterly Rock—as his son and heir Jaime scoured the hills of the Westerlands for potential places to ambush the Royal army. Now, at last, he had his answer.

It came in the form of his burning fleet.

The ships at Lannisport, over thirty galleys and several smaller craft, had been raided during the night, put to flame by the sleek longships of the Ironborn. Their raid had been quick and vicious, laying credence to the Ironmen scum's experience at pillaging, not a single ship or her crew spared, burned to the watermark and sinking to the bottom of the port.

It was particularly damning considering Tywin had, however briefly, had naval superiority. Reports from his spies in the capital—and he still had many, even with his puppet Pycelle reduced to a rotting head on a spike—had reported the Royal Navy and Redwyne Fleet had both been severely damaged by the massive storm that racked the eastern coast. While Tywin knew his best strategy was to fight defensively in the favorable terrain of the Westerlands, he had been tempted to board his ships and wreak havoc on the lands of the Targaryen loyalists.

He'd hoped the Ironborn would assist him. Instead, they'd assisted the second son of Aerys. Tywin knew the Targaryen whelp had struck a deal first, a truth that irritated the Lion all the more.

While their attack had been a surprise, they'd had no hope of carrying Lannisport. The city was too well defended by its curtain walls and highly trained City Watch, and with Tywin's swelling armies camped in the flats outside her gates they'd have been hurled back into the sea. Quellon Greyjoy seemed to know it too, and subsequently had settled for burning the fleet and pillaging the few locations outside the city before pulling back to his longships. The reavers had vanished almost as soon as they arrived, doubtlessly sailing for other locations along the coast of the Westerlands.

Already his coastal lords were restless, fear for the families they'd left relatively undefended a constant threat to the stability of his force. Tywin knew many harbored doubts of whether there was even a flicker of hope in this war, only the fear of his reprisal should they dither in their duty—something Tywin had made a point of instilling in his bannermen—keeping them in line.

Matters were made only worse by the lack of response from Lord Leo Lefford of the Golden Tooth. None of his men, outriders or retinue, had made an appearance, and reports indicated they had yet to be raised. The Targaryen armies were on the move, having left King's Landing a month earlier or roundabout that time, but his scouts were not returning, being systematically picked off by the Targaryen outriders.

In truth, they had backed the Lion into a corner.

It was time to show them that a predator was never more dangerous than when trapped.

"Tybolt." One of his countless Lannisport cousins, Tybolt Lannister bore all the normal Lannister features, from golden hair to attractive build. A supposedly pious man—though Tywin knew he had an utterly cruel streak, one he was about to use—he had taken particular offense to the Ironborn raid, considering the 'heathens and their fish god' to be utter devils, the wrongs of the world made into flesh. The Lord Paramount of the Westerlands had told him the attack was all Aelor Targaryen's doing, and the one dimensional mind of Tybolt had as expected developed a hatred for the second son of Aerys as a result.

Tywin could work with hate. Sometimes it was nearly as good a motivator as fear.


"My Lord?"

"The spikes. Do it."

Tybolt Lannister smiled cruelly. "At once, my lord."

His cavalry covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and he soon found himself entering the foothills east of the Golden Tooth.

Edmure Tully, a stocky boy of twelve, wasn't proving near as useful a squire as Alaric had been, but the lad was learning and Aelor supposed he couldn't ask for much more than that. The heir to the Riverlands was mainly here as a hostage after all, and Aelor knew he should be thankful for the lads desire to be of help.

Still, you'd think the lad would at least know how to properly rub down a horse.

Aelor reprimanded Edmure gently, for the third night in a row showing the lad the correct way to rub down a stallion after a long ride, before adjourning to his tent. Alaric had earned the knighthood Aelor gave him at the Trident, surviving when many much more experienced men had died despite his youth of five and ten. He'd saved Aelor when Baratheon's charge had unhorsed him, holding off men twice his age and experience while the dragonlord regained his feet. As a knight the lad was entitled to his own pavilion and squire, yet he still slept in the same corner of Aelor's tent as he had when he was a squire, sharing the space with the Tully boy.

Alaric had proven near as loyal as Manfred Darke, the mean knight that Aelor knew was rather poorly suited to this particular venture. The squat man, despite his knighthood, hated horses with a passion—though in truth Manfred hated most things with a passion, so it shouldn't have been surprising—and rode like the boulder he was. As they lead the column through the Riverlands Aelor was constantly buffeted by the big man's curses as he swore at his bloody stupid courser, the bloody stupid wet, the bloody stupid Lannisters and any other bloody stupid thing the knight could think of to complain about.

This was a duty much better suited for Barristan, but Aelor wasn't having that.

Oberyn Martell was seated at the table in Aelor's tent, Ellaria Sand as always in his lap. The bastard of Uller had taken a motherly interest in both Aegon and Rhaenys, assisting Ashara with their care during their brief stay in the capital, but she had followed Oberyn back on campaign when the cavalry had ridden out. Aelor had gotten the notion that she followed Oberyn everywhere the Prince of Dorne went, and while their clear intimacy made the dragonlord happy for his friend, it also tore at his heart.

Another figure sat the table near Alaric, methodically slicing off hunks of the salted pork before him with a dagger. Baelor Hightower, the heir to Oldtown, was commonly known as Brightsmile due to his attractive features. In his late mid to late twenties, he also was no slouch with a sword, proving so at the Trident. He had been one of less than a hundred men to survive from Aelor's front line—all of whom were with the cavalry now—slaying in single combat both the Vale Lord Wydman and his heir among others. Those facts had led to a healthy dose of respect for the Reachman from Aelor, and the Hightower knight had slowly been integrated into the command chain.

"The scouts?" Aelor asked as he entered, armor clanking. Most knights forsook their heavy plate when battle wasn't nearing, the steel plates capable of pinching all sorts of areas a man didn't want pinched, but Aelor felt at home in his. The armor had nearly become a second skin, as familiar to him as the sword and dagger sheathed at his waist.

Oberyn reached a hand out to Hightower, the very same man he had dubiously christened 'Breakwind' when he and Elia had visited Oldtown in search of potential betrothals. While the nickname had certainly ended any chance of Baelor being a suitor, Oberyn and the Hightower had developed an odd friendship, and Brightsmile sliced off a hunk of ham and handed it to the Dornishman.

All of Oberyn's friendships are odd, I suppose. Hell, my friendship with Oberyn is odd.

"My outriders claim there is no sign of a force at the Golden Tooth," Oberyn said as he popped the salted pork into his mouth. "The man hasn't even raised levies."

"Ser Manfred killed the raven to him, we know, but Lefford surely must know by now what is going on." Brightsmile offered another slice of the ham to Aelor as he took his own seat, the Dragon Prince waving it away and instead reaching for pitcher of wine.

"A war is certainly a hard thing to ignore," Aelor agreed.

"Do you suppose he intends to let us march through?" Alaric had grown more vocal after his knighthood, at times even a bit cocky, but he was still a good lad at heart, and he had thrown his entire being into learning strategy. Aelor knew quite well he was a poor choice as a teacher, much better with a sword than with a formation, but the Prince Regent was trying to improve as well, learning as much if not more than Alaric did.

"Perhaps," Oberyn said. "Maybe all of Tywin Lannister's vassals aren't as afraid of him as everyone seems to believe."

Brightsmile was methodically destroying the chunk of ham, prompting Aelor to wonder just how a man who ate as much as the heir to Oldtown could maintain his thin figure. "Maybe they aren't all stupid. Any man who believes the Lannister's have a chance in this are fools, especially after the Greyjoys came through with their end of the bargain."

Aelor took another gulp of the Arbor gold. "As loathe as I am to admit it, if any man can turn this situation around to his advantage it is Tywin Lannister."

"He'll have a hard time turning this one around," came the stone breaking voice of Ser Manfred as he stomped into the tent, white armor shining and face shockingly less of a scowl than normal. It was still very much a scowl, showing his hatred of everything with every line and contour, but for Manfred Darke the expression very nearly passed for a smile. "There is someone here to see you."

Lord Leo Lefford was every bit as scared of Tywin Lannister as the next man, but he wasn't stupid.

Middle-aged and greying, Lefford felt no shame in admitting his fear of his liege lord. Only a complete idiot wouldn't fear the Lion of the Rock, Lannister both fiercely intelligent and utterly ruthless. Leo had been there when they'd redirected the river to flood Castamere, knowing that every Reyne inside, man, woman or child, would die. Tywin Lannister's face, even in his youth, had shown no sense of remorse as the waters flooded the underground castle, only the clenched-jaw sternness he had shown in all the years since.

Leo's fear had begun then, and it had only grown in the decades after.

But enough was enough. The Lord of the Golden Tooth was unsure why he hadn't received a raven as the other Lords of the Westerlands had seemed to—though he was willing to wager it was due to the men he was about to meet—but the fact remained that he had not, and by the time he had learned that the war had reached the Rock reports had begun pouring in that a Targaryen host was nearing his lands from Riverrun.

Tywin Lannister would have his head and the heads of all his family, few as they were, if Lord Leo was to forsake his liege lord, but Tywin Lannister was miles away at Casterly Rock, and Prince Aelor Targaryen was at his doorstep.

The decision wasn't nearly as hard as one might expect.

He'd taken no one with him and offered no explanation when he'd ridden out of his small but stout castle guarding the pass through the mountains. He hadn't said a word, other than ordering his castellan to assist as best he could Leo's daughter Alysanne should he never return, saddling up and riding down the valleys and spurs of the foothills he ruled to the Targaryen camp.

The sentries were good, shouting out warnings for him to identify himself long before he saw any sign of them. Dornishmen, they had eyed him warily when he'd identified himself, one disappearing and bringing back a Kingsguard knight. Lord Leo couldn't saw what the white cloak's name was, but he was perhaps the broadest and ugliest man the Lord of the Golden Tooth had ever seen this side of Gregor Clegane.

He was certainly a sharp contrast to the figure the Kingsguard led Leo to.

Aelor Targaryen had all the Valyrian features Lefford had heard about, violet eyes, silvery hair and fair skin. Taller than average with broad shoulders, he looked every bit the warrior Prince rumor had him to be, down to the scarred countenance and the authoritative air that hung around him. His scar was an undeniably ugly thing, broad and jagged, but the beauty the blood of Old Valyria so often possessed was still visible beneath it.

Alysanne would be enamored with him, Lefford knew. That was when his plan began to formulate.

"Lord Lefford," The Targaryen Prince said, flanked on one side by another Dornishmen and the other by a tall, fairly attractive man a decade Leo's younger. "As you might imagine, this is quite the surprise."

Leo bowed at the waist. "Prince Aelor Targaryen. I see you have an army nearing my castle."

The Prince cocked his head slightly to the side. "Your eyes certainly don't betray you, though I wonder if perhaps your mind has. Normally, a man doesn't ride unaccompanied and without a flag of truce into an enemy's camp."

"And who said we were enemies, Prince Aelor?"

"Your liege lord Tywin Lannister, for one." The dragonlord gestured to the Dornishman beside him. "Prince Oberyn for another."

Leo met the Prince of Dorne's eyes, holding Martell's slight glare easily. You are a man to be feared, Prince Oberyn, that I know, but your glare has nothing on Tywin Lannister's. "I do not blame him. I heard of Princess Elia's murder around the same time that I learned you were nearing my lands. I am sorry for your loss, though I myself had no hand in it."

The Red Viper said nothing, though his glare lightened ever so slightly. Targaryen spoke for him, tone both intrigued and wary. "Why are you here, Lord Lefford?"

Leo turned to the Targaryen. "I will admit, if I had been aware of this new development in the war sooner I likely wouldn't be. As it is, I received no raven from Lord Tywin until it was far too late to prepare for you and your knights. I don't intend for my people to suffer and die because I was ill informed."

The Dragon of Duskendale pointed behind Lord Leo, where the short and stout Kingsguard knight stood with his hand on his sword. "You have Ser Manfred Darke to thank for that. He cut the head off of raven meant for you."

Leo glanced at the scowling knight briefly. "That is quite the shame, at least for Tywin Lannister." Lefford turned back towards the dragonlord. "But I daresay it was a blessing for you."

The Prince nodded lightly. "Go on."

"As I'm sure your scouts have reported, I have not raised my levies. The Tooth is a stout castle, and even with only my retinue and household guard to defend it you and your men would have quite the battle on your hands to breach it. But you would breach it, sooner or later, and I and my family would be held accountable for my liege lord's crimes."

The Prince of the Iron Throne nodded again. "Yes, you would."

"Call me cowardly if you will, but that doesn't sit well with me."

Prince Oberyn Martell spoke for the first time then, still sizing Leo up. "It is not cowardly to admit fear."

The other man, who still hadn't been introduced and Leo wasn't going to ask after, nodded his head in agreement. "Nay, it takes its own kind of courage."

Leo charged on. "Your father was not a good King, Prince Aelor, and I understand the reasons behind this rebellion. But your father is dead, as is your brother and the man he insulted. My liege lord made his own mistakes, ones that he cannot redeem himself of, and I don't intend my family to suffer for his follies." Leo gingerly sank to one knee, the old arrow wound he'd taken in the Stepstones flaring up with the motion. "The Golden Tooth is yours, Prince Aelor, as is my sword and the swords of my men."

Aelor Targaryen nodded, gesturing for Lord Leo to rise. With a grunt the Lord of the Tooth did, cursing for the millionth time the Tyroshi who shot him. "You are a smart man, Lord Lefford."

Prince Oberyn's tone had lost its venom, turning curious. "You would willingly disobey Tywin Lannister? I thought all you Westerlanders feared him."

Leo shrugged. "I do fear him, more than I fear either of you, Princes. But Tywin Lannister is miles away and you are right here, with a larger army as well. If I am to be afraid, I would fear the dragon at my doorstep rather than the lion in the leaves."

Aelor Targaryen was smiling. "You are a blunt man, Leo Lefford. I daresay I am going to like you." The Dragon of Duskendale gestured to the open pavilion behind him. "I suppose you would like a glass of wine? It seems customary for these sort of agreements."

Leo Lefford smiled lightly. "I would very much like one, Your Grace." He turned around to gesture the way he had come hours earlier, the moon silhouetting the growing hills and mountains behind him where deep within his castle lay. "But I believe I have a much more comfortable venue."

Chapter Text

The view from the Golden Tooth was stunning, Aelor had to admit. It made him all the gladder he hadn't had to burn it.

Lord Leo had arranged a quick feast for the officers the night after he had ridden to the loyalist camp, his men barracking around the stout Golden Tooth castle. Aelor and his cavalry lost three quarters a day of riding by remaining here, but it would be no more than they would have lost if they had been forced to take the Tooth by force. Besides, this way was much less bloody.

Aelor wanted blood of course, but only that of Lannisters. All of the Lannisters.

Lord Lefford had given Aelor quarters in one of the corner towers, overlooking the foothills they had climbed that very day. They were simple but comfy, and a thousand times better than the tent he'd grown used to over the last months. While Aelor had grown as comfortable in the middle of a war camp as he was in his grand chambers at Duskendale, he certainly appreciated the forgotten feel of a featherbed after nearly a year on a cot.

The Seven must know how his levies and men-at-arms managed on the ground, because Aelor certainly didn't. Always being offered the best sleeping arraignments was probably his favorite privilege as a Prince, odd as that may be.

Not that he was using the four-poster bed, however. It was closer to dawn than dusk, the feast below having been over for hours, but Aelor Targaryen sat awake on the simple balcony of his room, a chalice of barely touched wine in his hand. He didn't really understand it, this inability to sleep. Throughout the war, no matter who he killed that day or which of his friends died, he had never struggled to rest at night. When he cut down his first man years ago, the pig looking outlaw of the Kingswood Brotherhood, he'd slept fine that night, even after having to heave his breakfast all over his boots. When he'd cut the throat of the squire in the Stormalnds, a lad barely old enough to shave the peach fuzz on his face, he'd gotten a full night of rest afterwards. Even after his brother the King, Renfred and damn near everyone else had died all around him at the Trident, his sleep hadn't been disturbed.

But ever since his return to King's Landing weeks ago, when he'd learned of the murder of Elia, the night had become no friend of Aelor Targaryen's.

He rarely got more than three hours sleep anymore, and that only coming in spurts. Alaric had noticed his liege lord's twisting and turning from his own cot, asking more than once after the Prince, but Aelor assured him every time that he was more than fine.

Only he wasn't fine. Barristan could see it—had seen it—and that was why Aelor had left him in King's Landing. He didn't want to be fine, not when he had so much to do. Not when there were so many lives to take. Barristan had seen him for what he was, and taken the first of his revenge from him.

Barristan had seen Aelor as the Targaryen he was.

Forsaking sleep gave a man all the time in the world to think, and it was only then that the Prince of the Iron Throne let himself lose control. Aelor knew he wasn't himself anymore, not truly, but he didn't want to be himself. This being he was now, whoever or whatever it was, liked to think that Aelor Targaryen wasn't capable of what it planned on doing. It liked to think that Aelor Targaryen was a good man, not the type of man who planned the wholesale slaughter of a family, most of whom were just as innocent in Elia's death as he himself.

Somewhere inside him Aelor—the true Aelor—knew that as the fallacy it was, but he allowed this other being its fantasies.

His father was a madman wholly and completely, his brother another though to a lesser degree, and so was Aelor in his own way. He was as much a Targaryen as they, and Targaryen was just a synonym for lunatic after all. He was going to kill every Lannister high or low, as Aegon had the Iron Kings of House Hoare, as Maegor had the House of Harroway, as Aerys had the Darklyns and Hollards. The propensity to undergo the utter destruction of those who angered him ran in his blood as strongly as madness, and Aelor was fully content with using one to achieve the other.

The Lannisters were going to die. If it caused Aelor every last shred of sanity he had, so be it.

With a sigh the Dragon of Duskendale stood, downing the remaining wine in a few gulps. The full moon and it's thousands of stars made for a beautiful sight, but most beautiful things only reminded him of Elia, further empowering the dark abyss that overtook his mind. With one last glance at the hundreds of campfires dotting the hills around the Golden Tooth, the dragonlord turned to reenter his chamber, intent on trying to salvage a few slivers of sleep from amidst the endless tossing and turning to come.

With a surprised grunt he pulled to a sudden stop. There was a woman in his bed, and he couldn't for the life of him remember leaving one there.

Aelor didn't quite know what to make of that situation, even as the being he became at night fled and was replaced by the true Dragon of Duskendale. While he knew in his heart that his erratic thoughts were only growing in madness, Aelor was still fairly certain he would remember a woman if he'd been with her.

Especially one as pretty as this. His mind may be slipping, but the rest of him most assuredly wasn't.

He knew who she was of course. Alysanne Lefford, only child and heir to the man whose castle he currently stood in. Seven and ten, her skin was tan from hours riding in the sun, figure long, slender and undeniably attractive. Golden brown hair cascaded to frame the pillow she was laying against, and Aelor didn't need to be in his right mind to see just how much the thin shift she wore left to the imagination.

Months ago Aelor wouldn't have needed any more invitation than that. Renfred had been the true philanderer in their youth, Aelor much more in control of his body than his closest friend, but the Prince was a male gifted with the physical appearance his bloodline was known for, and he had used it in the past.

Now though, even as his body started to react as it always did, his mind leapt to Elia, and the wave of lust that washed through him was purged of his bloodstream almost as soon as it arrived. The woman on the bed, fair and willing as she might be, was not the one he longed for. While the practical, logical part of his brain argued that the one he longed for was dead and gone and reminded him that it had been over a year since he'd felt a woman's touch, any spark of passion the sultry figure on his pillow would normally bring forth was extinguished.

He loved Elia, gone though she may be, and this woman wasn't her.

Aelor grunted, now firmly back in his right mind, his body rid of the potent influences of both madness and lust. His voice came out firm and cold. "Let me guess; you're here to soothe the battle worn Prince amidst this brutal war, working your way into his good graces and bed, hoping that he'll be tempted by your feminine charms and marry you in a tizzy of passion."

Alysanne's voice was clear and confident, and not the least bit ashamed as she shrugged. "Sure, if that is what suits your fancy."

Aelor raised an eyebrow in mild curiosity. "What suits yours?"

"I was thinking more along the lines of fucking your brains out, but I suppose the whole 'soothe and seduce' thing will work if it must."

Despite himself Aelor snorted a laugh at her bluntness. "You're not a bit shy, are you."

Alysanne cocked her brow. "Should I be?"

Aelor shook his head ever so slightly, instinctively looking her over once more. "No, I suppose you shouldn't." With another shake of his head, he put firmness back into his voice. "But I'm afraid you're looking in the wrong chambers, my lady."

Alysanne Lefford leaned forward, dark eyes meeting the Prince's violet ones as her lips smirked seductively. "Am I really? Because I could have sworn you looked just like Aelor Targaryen, Prince Regent of the Iron Throne. Tell me, my apparently non-royal friend, where might I find him?"

Aelor scowled ever so slightly. I hold nothing against her for being willing to take what she wants, but you'd think the lady would take the hint. "Funny, but I'm not interested, girl."

The heir to the Golden Tooth eyed the Lord of Duskendale for a moment, sultry smile still on her face, before she suddenly exhaled quickly, shoulders slumping in relief. "Thank the Seven for that."

Aelor had never been more confused than in that moment as Alysanne Lefford slid off of the bed, thrown off not only by the abrupt change in the Lady's intentions but also her demeanor. As the Lady of the Tooth stood on her bare feet she hugged her arms to herself, the sheer brazen confidence she'd displayed mere moments before nowhere to be found. In place of the seductress there now stood a shy, uncomfortable looking girl who couldn't meet the Prince's eyes.

He supposed he looked like an idiot standing there with his mouth slightly agape in his confusion. "What the hell?"

Alysanne didn't look up, staring a hole in the warring white dragons stitched on the shirt covering the Prince's broad chest. "I…I'm sorry, your Grace. I'll…I'll go."

"Wait a damn minute," he blurted out as she turned to flee, his words stopping her dead in her tracks. In hindsight he wasn't sure why he even said the first ones but he soon found himself saying more. "I'm fairly certain you're not the same person you were half a minute ago. I'd like you to explain that to me."

Alysanne turned slowly, eyes still downcast, face blushing in the light the full moon cast through the windows and balcony doors Aelor had left open. "I'm sorry, Your Grace."

"You've said that, but you most certainly weren't sorry a moment ago." The woman said nothing, continuing to stare at his chest, when something clicked in Aelor's head. He shifted back slightly as realization hit him. "Lord Leo commanded this, didn't he."

Alysanne could suddenly meet his eyes again, concern for her father dripping from each syllable. "Please, Your Grace, he only…"

Aelor held his hand up to cut her off. "Easy, my lady. If you truly think you are the first lady commanded by their father to try and seduce an unmarried—or even married—Prince, you are gravely mistaken. Some 'noble' ladies didn't even need their father's command." He stared at her a moment, cocking his head slightly to the side. "I'm just surprised you agreed to it. It's clear to me you had no desire for this."

A fire lit in her black eyes, visible even in only moonlight. This girl has as many personalities as I do soldiers. "It's not like I had much choice." She spit the words out like venom, momentarily taking the Prince of the Iron Throne aback. Her hands, while still hugging her arms to her chest, clenched into fists as she spoke, betraying just how adamant

Aelor eyed her warily, wondering if there was a murderous personality amongst her others and debating whether he should make a move for his dagger on the table beside the bed. "Why wouldn't you?"

Alysanne Lefford sorted shortly. "You must not know much about the life of noble ladies, Prince Aelor." She blushed when she realized her tone, concernedly looking to the Prince again and blurting out an apology. "I'm sorry, Your Grace."

Aelor waved it away, intrigued. "You're right, I don't have a bloody clue." When she didn't speak again, he prompted her further. "Why don't you tell me."

Alysanne Lefford twisted her brow in confusion. "Why do you care, Your Grace?"

Aelor shrugged, crouching to open his chest of belongings that Edmure had dutifully placed in the Prince's room before making his way to the tent of his uncle Brynden, where he was to bunk. That was all well and good, because the Seven knew what the boy would have done had he seen Alysanne Lefford in that moment. "I normally wouldn't, but as you might have noticed I'm not exactly getting much sleep." Pulling out another of his shirts he tossed it to the confused looking young woman. Good, at least I'm not the only one rattled by this encounter. He gestured for her to cover herself with it, something she hesitantly did. "Your father is expecting you to be here for the night, and while I'm not interested in what he had in mind for us to be doing in that amount of time, I'd hate for you to suffer his wraith for 'failing' in that regard."

It took a few more minutes of prompting and nudging, but before too long Aelor Targaryen had a candle lit and a glass of wine in his hand, Alysanne Lefford seated across from him at the small table in the chambers.

She was certainly her father's daughter, blunt in speech and—after he'd finally convinced her he wasn't going to execute her—uncaring for what offences might be taken. A high-spirited woman, she complained bitterly of how her father hadn't allowed her to train with sword and shield, how she detested the fact that a woman was seen as inferior to a man, and most of all about how much she hated needlework.

And she truly hated needlework. Alysanne Lefford could give Manfred Darke a few pointers on how to properly express revulsion.

She did most of the talking, especially after she grew comfortable with the Prince, allowing Aelor to sit back. Her conversation, as well as being interesting and entertaining, helped keep the other being that slipped into his mind at bay. He focused on her words, not allowing his mind to wander to the unsavory thoughts they always found, replying when necessary and sometimes when not. Time passed, unheeded by the Targaryen Prince or his companion, so much so that the full moon disappeared to be replaced by the lightening of dawn.

Aelor was actually doing the talking when he first noticed the signs that light was nearing, answering the thousandth question Lady Lefford had had about Warrior. "It looks as if dawn is near, my lady. I suppose I should escort you back to your chambers. We wouldn't want your honor to be questioned, even if your father is seemingly uncaring for it."

"What of your honor, Prince Aelor?" She asked, the Prince's shirt still draped over her smaller frame.

Aelor laughed lightly. "You need not worry, Lady Lefford. No one has any thoughts of my honor. I'm a Targaryen, and such I'm expected to take what I want, honor be damned." Aelor snorted. "I suppose they're right."

It had been meant in jest, but Alysanne clearly hadn't taken it that way. The girl had proven sharp of wit and tongue but also disturbingly perceptive of what the Prince actually thought, not just what he was saying. "Nonsense. You didn't take what you wanted a few hours ago, even though as a Prince many would feel you almost entitled. That was an honorable action."

Aelor waved her off. "Perhaps, if one wishes to take it as such. But trust me, my lady, I've done too much to be a man of honor anymore."

Alysanne's eyes bored into his own. "Like what?"

Aelor shook his head with another snort. It took him a moment to realize she was serious. "You don't want to get into this, my lady."

"Yes, I do." She didn't look away, clearly intent on an explanation.

The Prince was taken aback by her stubbornness, though he supposed he shouldn't be after their conversation during the night. "Alright," Aelor said slowly, violet eyes daring her to hold them as he spoke. She did. "I've killed more men than I daresay you've met. I wanted a handmaiden of my brother's wife, so I took her. Eventually I wanted my brother's wife herself, and were it not for Tywin Lannister I would have taken her too."

His voice rose slightly as his eyes began to burn. "I wanted Robert Baratheon's life. I took it. And now I want Tywin Lannister's and every other Lannister's be they innocent or not. And all the knights of Westeros won't stop me from taking those too." Aelor abruptly stood. "I have enjoyed our conversation, Lady Lefford, but don't think for a moment I am the honorable Prince I'm sure your father talked me up to be."

Alysanne said nothing as she stood, Aelor escorting her to the door. He opened it, checking the hall outside for any wandering eye of a servant who may give the pleasant if nosy young lady beside him trouble she didn't deserve, and stepped aside to allow her to exit.

She turned in the midst of the doorway, young face looking up into the Prince's sagely. "One more thing, Prince Aelor. You said you weren't a man of honor, going on about all the things you wanted that you took. You forgot the one thing you didn't want, the one thing that proves you are not as bad a man as you think yourself to be."

Alysanne Lefford gently prodded him in the chest, face deadly serious. "You didn't want the crown. You didn't take it, even when you so easily could have. How many men, Targaryen or not, can say that?"

As his young friend left him standing in shocked silence in the door to his chambers, Aelor Targaryen couldn't help but think that Elia would have liked her.

The next morning, as Prince Aelor Targaryen rode out of the Golden Tooth at the head of the column, he had Leo Lefford ride beside him. "You have a lovely daughter," Aelor said to him, looking over at the only bannerman to defy Tywin Lannister.

Leo smiled smugly. "Thank you, Your Grace."

The smug smile disappeared with the Dragon of Duskendale's next words. "If you ever make her attempt something she so clearly doesn't want to do again, I'll kill you."

The rest of the morning ride passed in silence.

Chapter Text

The Tower of Joy was an ill-suited name for the stack of stone that greeted Eddard Stark's eyes.

A single round tower, it had been raised atop a point in the midst of the Red Mountains, a rather splendid view of the Prince's Pass and the deserts of Dorne. But all Eddard Stark saw as he and his companions, forty men of both the North and the Reach, rode up the narrow mountain trail was his sister's face, wondering if it would be the same or an entirely different Lyanna to greet him—or if she'd even greet him at all.

Or if he even wanted her to.

Aelor Targaryen had told him the truth, the truth that had changed everything. Brandon had ridden into King's Landing demanding vengeance for an abduction that hadn't been an abduction, eventually losing not only his life but the life of their father as well. Eddard had ridden to war not only to save his head but to recover his sister, who had been taken against her will by the heir to the throne.

Only she hadn't been taken against her will. Half his family dead, all over a misunderstanding Lyanna had helped facilitate. Eddard was as aware as anyone of Robert's lusts; he'd seen Mya Stone, Robert's bastard, with his own eyes. He was also aware of Lyanna's opposition to the match, as his only sister was anything but subtle.

But for Lyanna to have run off with Rhaegar Targaryen without a word, starting a chain of events that led to thousands of men dying…Eddard simply didn't know what to think.

He really didn't know what to think when he looked to the trio of midwives he'd brought along. Aelor had told him bluntly of the condition Rhaegar had left his sister in, of the child of a King growing in Lyanna's womb. It was just another decision in a years' worth of decisions that Eddard didn't know how to handle, though in truth this particular one had been taken from his hands. Prince Aelor had made it clear that the child once born was to be brought to King's Landing, where it would be raised alongside Aegon and Rhaenys as a Prince or Princess.

Ned Stark wasn't sure if the Prince Regent's plans included his sister or not, but he highly doubted it. A blind man could see the Prince held Lyanna partially to blame for all that had transpired.

The Dornish scouts that Prince Oberyn had sent to show Eddard and his party the way reigned up as they crested the mountaintop where the Tower stood, and Eddard soon saw why. Two men in white armor, the remaining knights of the Kingsguard, stood shoulder to shoulder in its doorway, hands on their swords, faces impassive even as forty mounted men formed a half circle around them.

Lord Walter Whent, formerly a vassal of the Riverlands and now a direct vassal of the Iron Throne, rode his palfrey to the front. "Oswell."

Oswell Whent, distinctive helmet bearing a black bat with spread wings under one arm, nodded at his brother. "Walter."

"I suppose you are aware the war is over."

Gerold Hightower the White Bull, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, answered for him. The aging, broad-shouldered man had reportedly been there when Aerys burned Eddard's father, having been sent to find Rhaegar shortly afterwards. Rhaegar had returned months later while the White Bull had not, the reasons for it now clear. "We hear it is only beginning."

"You hear wrong," put in Lord Cleyton Byrch, the direct vassal of Duskendale that Aelor had sent with Eddard. The main was rumored to be vexingly arrogant, but he had lost both of his brothers during the war and had spoken very little since.

Eddard nodded his agreement. "Lannister will fall in time."

Whent looked at Ned then. "Lord Stark, I suppose you are looking for your sister."

The Lord Paramount of the North nodded. "You suppose right."

"She is here," the Lord Commander admitted. "Our King ordered us to protect her at all costs."

"Your King is dead," said Ethan Glover, voice vicious. He had ridden with Brandon and his party to King's Landing that faithful day a lifetime ago, the only survivor of the retinue. Aelor Targaryen had released him from his captivity at the request of Eddard, and it was clear the lad held quite a bit of disdain for Hightower. It is to be expected; the White Bull was the one to throw him in his cell.

"Your new one resides in King's Landing, awaiting your return to swear fealty." Eddard prodded his garron forward slightly. "Lyanna is my sister. If you were to guard her, it should not be from me."

"You and your armies killed the King," Whent replied, face and eyes still utterly calm. "You were his enemy."

"Yet I am not yours," Eddard responded, meeting the Kingsguard impassive demeanor with an icy one of his own. "I have bent the knee to King Aegon; many of my bannermen now ride with Aelor Targaryen's army. There is no fight here."

Hightower was appraising the three matronly women hanging back. "I see King Rhaegar informed his brother of her condition." His eyes fell on Eddard. "She is in the later stages now; riding horseback may harm the babe."

Eddard nodded. "We are prepared for that. I just want to see my sister."

Whent and Hightower glanced at one another for a moment, the Knights of Kingsguard conversing without ever speaking, before Hightower looked back to Ned. "She is in the top room, Lord Stark," The Lord Commander said, the knights stepping aside. Ned dismounted, waving his men to remain there, and hesitantly stepped into the tower.

The second he saw his sister he knew he'd forgive her. His anger at her foolish flight was still present, even underneath the layers of ice Eddard Stark used for blood, but the relief at seeing her alive in that moment overruled everything else.

Lyanna was at a window on the other side of the tower from the entrance, staring out over what Ned was sure would be a fantastic view. Dressed in a green gown that certainly wasn't of Northern make—not that he blamed her considering he was sweltering in his furs—the swell of her stomach was absolutely unmistakable, particularly on a frame as slight as hers.

She didn't turn, though she was surely aware of his presence. "Lyanna," he spoke quietly, still standing in the doorway, ecstatic to see her whole yet hesitant to fully enter.

Her voice was small and soft, words that certainly wouldn't have described it a year ago. "Ned." Another silence hung thick in the air, one Eddard didn't know how to fill and Lyanna didn't seem to want to. The Lord of the North could only stare at the side of his sister's face, full of words he wanted to say yet unable to manage a single one of them.

Lyanna Stark sighed after a long while, breaking her gaze from whatever it was she was seeing outside to finally look at him. The young fire Ned remembered was gone, replaced by a weary, haunted glaze to her grey Northern eyes. She turned herself to face him squarely, resting one hand atop her heavy belly as her lips quirked into a sad smile. "I hear you are the Lord of Winterfell now."

Ned only stared for a moment, wondering how in the name of the Old Gods that was the first thing she said, before slowly answering her. "You hear right."

His baby sister nodded, looking down. "Rhaegar told me what happened to father and Brandon."

A spark of anger melted a sliver of the ice in Ned Stark's veins. "Rhaegar must have told you a lot of things."

Lyanna didn't look up to meet his eyes again, instead speaking in that same small voice. "He did. He told me many things; wonderful things."

Eddard momentarily wanted to raise his voice, but the look of guilt in his sister's face and the tone of defeat in her voice killed it quickly. Instead he took a small step into the chamber, still several paces away but closer than he had been. "I suppose the Kingsguard told you of what happened."

This nod was smaller than the first, even smaller than her voice. "Robert killed him. And then Aelor Targaryen killed Robert."


Another silence descended, broken a few minutes later again by Lyanna. That is all well and good; I haven't a clue what to say. "Is the war over?"

Eddard took another, almost imperceptible step towards her. "No. The Prince Regent is in the Westerlands, chasing Tywin Lannister after he murdered Elia Martell."

A flash of guilt, so potent it took Eddard aback, flashed across the She Wolf's face at the mention of the woman she had been meant to replace. "Rhaegar told me Aelor loved her."

Eddard nodded, though Lyanna wouldn't be able to see it as her eyes were still locked on the ground. This isn't the Lyanna I once knew; this isn't my sister. "He did."

"That was how he justified it, you know." Lyanna moved her eyes from the floor to look out the window again, though she kept her body facing Eddard. "He said Aelor would love her more than he ever could; as much as he loved me." A tear, only one but enough to tear at Eddard's hardened heart, slipped down her cheek. Lyanna never cries. "He said she loved him too."

He swallowed. "I never truly met her, but I believe she did, yes."

Eddard managed another two shuffled steps before she broke the next silence. "Benjen?"

"He is the Stark at Winterfell. You know as well as I there must always be one."

Lyanna nodded lightly. "I feared he had seen the battlefield as you have." He saw her swallow before she spoke again. "Robert's brothers?"

Eddard knew it was a diversionary tactic, one meant to keep the conversation away from all that she had done, but he obliged her anyway. "They nearly starved to death in a siege, but Stannis listened to me for the sake of Renly and surrendered. Mace Tyrell is escorting them to King's Landing." He stepped within an arm's length of Lyanna though he didn't reach for her, instead noticing how her entire body was shaking. He spoke again to give her more time to compose herself. "You likely have a niece or nephew by now."

That statement finally drew her gaze back to her brother. "I do?"

Eddard nodded. "Catelyn Tully and I were married soon after the war started. She would have been due to the birthing chamber two weeks ago."

Lyanna smiled, a quivering one but a genuine one as well. "I'm so happy for you, Ned." The smile lessened. "Will anything happen…I mean, since you surrendered will there be—"

"There were repercussions," Ned cut in gently. "Or I should say there will be; hostages to serve in the south, including my own child annually, but altogether more than we could have hoped for. Prince Aelor favored leniency. He knows the war was brought on by only a few men."

Lyanna's voice broke, though she kept the unshed tears he could see from falling. "And me." Eddard could say nothing, as her statement was true, no matter how much it pained the both of them. Instead the Lord of the North gently reached out to lay a hand on his sister's arm.

It was as if a dam had burst, his usually strong and stubborn sister breaking into sobs that wracked her body and Eddard's heart, her hands clutching at his woolen coat. Eddard did the only thing he knew to, taking his sobbing sister in his arms, paying careful mind to keep from applying pressure to her swollen belly.

The Lord of the North wasn't good at expressing his feelings through words—that had always been Brandon's specialty—so he didn't try to. Eddard didn't reassure her with statements of her innocence that weren't true. He didn't tell her it was all over now because it certainly wasn't, not with a royal bastard growing in her belly. All Eddard Stark did was hold his sister as she cried, her sobs shaking them both. It was all he knew to do.

And, though he didn't realize it, it was enough.

Chapter Text

"…Prince Aelor…"

The Northmen had those they called Dreamwalkers; Greenseers, wargs and mystics, they were both honored and reviled. As a boy, the second son of Aerys had often wondered what it was like to be one, to live in the eyes of another while maintaining one's own conscious.

Whatever it was like, it sure as hell wasn't like this.

He kept hearing his bloody name, which was particularly annoying since all he wanted was to sleep. Something kept shaking him as well, which just increased his annoyance. Mumbled voices, soft hands and the sound of pen on parchment would occasionally infiltrate his blissful unconsciousness, and with each interruption he grew more and more angry, desperate to stay in this dream world.

The real world held nothing but pain and bitterness anymore, while his dreams held her.

He'd been sixteen when he first saw her, stepping off the sleek Dornish ship at the docks of King's Landing, an orange billowed dress waving in the wind. She was surrounded by dozens of other Dornishmen, among them her savage-looking brother, but all Aelor had seen was her. She'd been the most beautiful thing he'd ever laid eyes on.

He'd been fighting the Brotherhood with Barristan Selmy when Rhaenys had been born, though heavens knew he'd have preferred to be with her. Aelor knew as well as anyone how inappropriate it would have been, but even at a young age Aelor didn't much care for propriety. When he'd finally returned after the Brotherhoods fall he'd been utterly in awe of the small, olive-skinned baby in her arms, never feeling a stronger sense of joy than when he'd first held the babe, even as his brother pulled her mother into an embrace.

Aelor had been there for Aegon. None of them knew it of course, that daft code of what was appropriate and inappropriate keeping him from the birthing chamber itself, but he'd been there. He'd waited, from her first cries to Aegon's, mere feet away in the hidden corridors of the Red Keep, a wall of stone between them. He'd felt terror unlike any other when he'd heard the maester's and midwives frantically working to stop her bleeding after the now-King had been born, and relief of equal potency when they finally had. He had very nearly decided to knock the wall down, though the Seven knew he'd have been useless even if he'd been in there.

In hindsight, Aelor wondered just how he'd remained oblivious to the fact that he was hopelessly in love with her for so long. He was certainly—and painfully—aware of it now.

"Prince Aelor." This voice was louder, and combined with the hand firmly shaking his shoulder chased away the fuzzy nowhere of unconsciousness.

And with it fled Elia.

Aelor Targaryen blinked his eyes against the sudden light, a sudden pain in the back of his head making him squint and curse in pain. "So you're finally awake," spoke the smooth tones of who could only be Oberyn Martell. Aelor squinted his eyes, the disorientation slowly wearing off. As his vision cleared, he realized he was in a tent laid out on a cot—presumably his.

Ellaria Sand leaned back, sharp eyes watching his movements. "It is about time you woke."

With a pained groan Aelor slowly sat up, hand going to the point of pain on the back of his scalp, realizing that his head was bandaged. Ellaria placed a precautionary hand on his chest, steadying him as a wave of dizziness overtook him for a moment.

The Red Viper of Dorne leaned forward from his slouching position in a chair. "I'd be careful, Targaryen; you have quite the knot on the back of your silver head."

Aelor grunted as he felt around the sizeable knot, absently patting Ellaria's arm with his other hand to thank her for her assistance. "What the hell happened?"

Oberyn's tone became much more vicious. "Tywin Lannister happened."

Alaric Langward's voice came from the other side of Aelor's tent. The Prince Regent looked to see the young knight stretched out on his own cot, his right leg a bloody mess of red bandages both below and above the knee. "Spikes, Your Grace; pits of them, at the foot of the hills leading out of the mountains of the Golden Tooth."

Oberyn's voice dripped with his distaste. "The bastards threw bridges of woven branches over them, heavy enough to support a man but not a two-thousand pound warhorse with a knight atop it. They covered the bridges with rocks and soil, and we were moving too fast towards their flank to notice the odd look of the ground before it was too late."

Aelor cursed mightily, rage at the Lannisters making his blood boil and his head ache. He remembered it now, the memories flashing back to him in a rush. They'd poured from the hills like flame from the maw of a dragon, thundering towards the Lannister formations side even as Randyll Tarly's infantry marched on their front. Aelor had never felt rage of the same caliber before, the sight of the Lion banner driving him into a frenzy he could only sate with killing. Warrior had been particularly worked up, bellowing the stallions customary battle cries as they near on flew towards the Lannister lines.

Alaric had been on his right, Brightsmile his left, until suddenly they hadn't been. He supposed it was sheer luck or the work of the Seven that Warrior avoided the first of the traps, though he highly doubted it was the latter what with the genocide he planned nightly. Aelor had grown familiar with the shrill shriek of dying horses, though one never grew used to the gut-wrenching sound. Even so, the cacophony of bellows and animal screams as coursers and destriers fell, their unprotected bellies impaled on spikes of iron and fire-hardened wood, was scarring, and the dragonlord knew he'd never forget its terrible sound for the rest of his life, however long or short it may be. The horrific scene had been compounded as the second lines of knights, unable to slow their mounts in time, fell into the same traps, crushing those underneath and driving the poor men and mounts of the first line further onto the spikes.

Words couldn't describe it, for there were none awful enough.

His great behemoth of a horse had been all that saved him. Warrior was smarter than most men the Prince knew, bringing his massive frame to a stop inches before he stomped headlong onto another trap, rearing up. While that had saved them both from crashing headlong onto near certain death, Aelor had been completely unprepared for it, vaulting off of the stallions back upside-down.

It had all went black then.

Aelor cursed again under his breath. "How many lived?"

"Of our flanking force? Roughly two thirds. They rained arrows down on us as soon as we hit the pits."

Alaric grunted. "Suffice it to say our attack stalled."

Aelor glanced at his former squire's leg. "How bad is it?"

The Langward knight's voice turned somewhat bitter, taking the Prince aback. He'd never heard anything approaching anger in Alaric's voice before. "Two spikes drove through the flesh. It twisted oddly and broke."

Ellaria spoke for the first time, ignoring Aelor's attempt to wave her away and dabbing at his forehead with a wet cloth. "We don't know if it will heal properly or not, but there is always a chance, Alaric." She turned to stare at him, seeming a lifetime older than him even though in truth there was only a couple of years between the two. "Do not lose hope."

Alaric looked to the ground, jaw set, though he nodded. "Yes my lady."

Aelor cursed himself for a fool. "I should have known there would be a trap." A sudden thought occurred to him, bringing his blood back to a boil instantly. "Did Lefford—"

"No," Prince Oberyn cut him off with a shake of his head. "I had the same thought, but Lord Leo knew nothing. His stallion ran into a pit as well, though the other knights and horses below him let him escape with only a few bruises and a blow to the head similar to yours."

Aelor looked out the flap of his tent, seeing Casterly Rock, the fortress literally carved inside a small mountain, in the distance. "What is our situation?"

Oberyn stood, pouring two chalices of wine and handing one to both Aelor and Alaric before retrieving another two for himself and Ellaria. "Brightsmile," the Prince of Dorne said as he worked, "is crippled; one leg was crushed by another knight's courser after his own mount was spiked. They had to amputate it at the knee, and there is a still a chance he might not pull through. The Kingsguard knight is alive and well, his inabilities to properly ride making his courser pull up well before the pits."

"He braved the volleys of arrows to carry you back to safety, Your Grace," Alaric put in. "He then came back for me, pulling a dead knight off of me as easy as moving a saddle before lifting me off of the spikes." The freshly wounded boy looked down. "I didn't think he even liked me."

"Manfred doesn't like anyone, not even me," Aelor told his young friend. "But somewhere beneath the layers of hate and violence is a good man."

"Tarly and the Northmen saved the day," Oberyn continued on, undeterred. "Your chief general committed his reserves to cover our own men while the Wolves broke their left with a savage charge. Some big fellow, half a giant with a voice like a warhorn, led them."

"Jon Umber," Alaric filled in for the Prince of Dorne.

"In any case, Lannister was more than prepared for us. He used his own reserves to cover their retreat. Tywin, his best men and most of his lords seemed to have pulled back to Casterly Rock, while the rest made it into Lannisport and managed to close the gates, dealing a heavy toll with archers from their walls before Tarly called off the attacks. Their casualties were overall light."

Aelor nodded, blood nearly singing with the need to cut Lannister throats. "Did Warrior survive?"

The Red Viper snorted. "Of course he did; it would take more than a few spikes and Tywin Lannister to kill that horse. Your Tully squire is caring for him at this very moment, and is still quite vexed you didn't allow him to join the charge." Oberyn looked Aelor in the eyes intently. "I'll gladly pay any price you want to breed that stallion to a sand steed mare. The foal will either be utterly useless or utterly unstoppable."

Aelor grunted, taking a sip of his own wine, head throbbing. "We'll negotiate later, and you'll regret offering any price I want. Are siege weapons being built?"

Oberyn nodded, taking a gulp of his own, Ellaria finally finishing fussing over Aelor and Alaric and returning to her normal position in Oberyn's lap. "Yes, catapults, trebuchets and siege towers. Tarly has sent messengers to the Ironborn with orders to blockade Casterly Rock and the Lannisport docks, though they have already sunk every galley once moored there."

Aelor nodded again. "Our special gift?"

"Currently in Oxcross, heading this way come nightfall. They'll be here long before we have the capacity to implement them."

The Prince of the Iron Throne hadn't taken his eyes off of Casterly Rock. "Excellent. I want outriders to check every crevasse surrounding the Rock; there is bound to be a few unknown tunnels for just such an occasion. Patrols, randomized and often so the Lannisters have a limited chance of sneaking through. We'll handle Lannisport first and then focus on the Rock."

Aelor began to move to get off of the cot, but Ellaria Sand was instantly shoving him back down. "No no. You need to remain abed for a while longer."

Oberyn stood. "I will bring Tarly and the ugly white cloak back with me, as well as a few other advisors. We must be cautious, as much as I detest the sheer thought. A lion is never more deadly than when cornered."

Oberyn turned to exit the tent, throwing one more comment over his shoulder as he moved like a panther out into the maze of tents and bodies. "He certainly proved it today."

Chapter Text

Quellon Greyjoy didn't seem to think like most Ironborn, but he certainly looked the part.

The Lord Paramount of the Iron Islands stood six and a half feet tall, shoulders broad as a bull. Closer to sixty than fifty, the effects of age and a life of hard activity were beginning to show in his grey hair and weathered face, but his frame still obviously held great strength.

He came ashore half a mile away from Lannisport, where two thirds of his fleet had returned from reaving the West to blockade the port. The remaining ships were doing the same where the mountain of Casterly Rock met the water of the Sunset Sea, on the three great caverns the Lannisters used as a small, private dock. Twenty men accompanied him, armed with spears, axes and looks of disdain.

Aelor had ridden to meet him, leaving the mass production of siege weapons and war councils for the first time in a week. Manfred and Oberyn accompanied him, along with Greatjon Umber and Hoster Tully in addition to the fifty knights and men-at-arms. The knot on his head had reduced in size considerably, as well as the soreness from the fall that had set in the next day. Randyll Tarly and Jon Arryn were overseeing both the siege of Lannisport and the Rock in his stead.

"Lord Greyjoy," Aelor greeted, striding forward to extend a hand.

The Lord of the Iron Islands extended his own, the two brawny men shaking hands firmly. "Prince Aelor," he returned, voice friendly. "I see you have your Lion trapped."

Aelor smirked. "It seems I do, with your help."

The big reaver gestured to the equally tall man beside him, though he seemed to be more of a boy, build still thin though it was likely to pack on muscle in the coming years. "My third son, Victarion."

Aelor nodded in greeting, something the ironborn returned with clear reluctance. The boy was scowling fiercely, disapproval radiating off of him in waves. His expression would give Manfred a run for his money, though nothing could truly equal the surly disposition of the Kingsguard currently standing slightly behind Aelor.

Ignoring the Greyjoy boys glare, Aelor gestured to his own companions. "Oberyn Martell of Dorne, Jon Arryn of the Vale, Greatjon Umber of Last Hearth and Manfred Darke of the Kingsguard."

The introduced men murmured greetings, Quellon smiling as he returned them. "My other sons are on the longboats, Balon and Euron commanding the force at the Rock while Aeron serves with the Lannisport feet." He glanced to his present child, smile becoming forced for a moment. "You'll have to forgive my sons, Prince Aelor; they would much prefer to be reaving, and don't like bothering with the affairs of greenlanders. A foolish take on life, but I've yet to break them of it."

That omission made Aelor temporarily wary of what would happen when Quellon passed on to the Drowned God or whatever it was he believed in, but that was a concern for another time. "The crown thanks you for your service, Lord Quellon. We have a tent prepared for you at the center of camp, and ask you join the war council."

The Ironborn were shaky on horses it seemed, and by shaky Aelor meant totally incompetent, save for Lord Quellon himself. It was for that reason that the Lord Paramount of the Iron Islands and his son rode ahead alone, his men marching—shuffling, more like, but Aelor supposed he'd look as foolish trying to stand on a warship in rough water as they did on land—behind. It was a marvelous display of trust, even for men who were allies, but Quellon Greyjoy had always tried to conform more to mainland standards.

Aelor decided rather quickly he liked him.

They rode at the head of the column, Greyjoy on Aelor's right while Oberyn and Jon Arryn rode to his left, the four highest-ranking men in the force sharing the place of honor. "How went your raids, Lord Quellon?"

"Well, Your Grace. My sons Balon and Euron captured the Crag, and Lord Westerling's family was taken captive. They are being rowed to your men at Casterly Rock as we speak. The same goes for the Farman's of Fair Isle. Their heir was killed when we took the castle, but his wife and three daughters are your prisoners."

"They should be taken as salt wives," came the ugly voice of Victarion, riding just behind his father. "It is the Old Way."

"Silence, boy," barked Quellon, voice red with anger. "You know it is forbidden."

"It shouldn't be," spat back his son, eyes truly evil when Aelor turned to regard him.

"Enough." Quellon had twisted in his saddle as well. "Return to our men; if you cannot keep your tongue silent as it should be you can wag it all you want to them." Man and son glared at one another for a long moment before Victarion dutifully turned his horse out of the line, galloping back towards the walking ironborn, bouncing in his saddle like a squire.

"I apologize, Your Grace," Quellon Greyjoy said, still glaring after his son. "I've tried to implement more of the mainland ways into the Islands during my time, but it has been met with…skepticism, to put it mildly."

Prince Oberyn shook his head. "We were all fiery-tempered young men once, Lord Kraken." The Dornishman nudged Aelor lightly. "This one still is."

Aelor grunted at the Red Viper's comment but ignored it. "You may keep plundered loot, as per our agreement, though I hope we were clear on it being forbidden again once the war is over." Aelor knew that, while it was unsaid, innocent villages were being pillaged as wholly as Lannister bannermen. Women were being carried off as salt wives contrary to Greyjoy's commands—Lord Quellon must know it too, but there was little he could do to prevent it—and would spend the rest of their days in captivity, all because Tywin Lannister had killed Elia.

And because Aelor Targaryen had unleashed the Ironborn hounds in response. The sane, true part of him wanted to curse himself for a heartless butcher, but the other part, the part he embraced when he thought of all he intended to do to Lannister and his kin, reasoned that they were Lannister smallfolk, and thusly separated from the others.

It was heartless and brutal the Dragon of Duskendale knew, but those were the very things he had become.

Quellon had nodded in response, blissfully unaware of the inner war Aelor Targaryen fought constantly. "I understand you perfectly, Prince Aelor. My men will return home as soon as the Rock falls, while I will sail to King's Landing to swear fealty to King Aegon."

"And assume your place as Master of Ships."

Greyjoy laughed at that, a hearty, genuine sound. "Ah yes, and that." He turned to look once more behind him, face still smiling from laughter but voice deadly serious. "Perhaps I should leave my sons behind, though."

He offered Lannisport parlay only for the sake of Elia's memory, not because of any goodness on his part.

The defenders of the walled city took hours to respond, doubtless wary of a trap, but eventually the gates opened, and a part of ten rode out. All bore the banners of House Lannister, the golden lion and crimson field infuriating Aelor to even glance at. They met halfway between the city and the siege lines, both parties visibly wary of treachery, the guards watching not only the men they were meeting for blades but also the city or lines for arrows.

The leader of the Lannisport party was clearly a Lannister, one of the seemingly countless green eyed blonde haired cunts the city was named after. Middle aged and short, the envoy was smiling even as both parties reined their horses to a halt.

"Ah, Targaryen. Come to surrender have you?"

Aelor was in no mood for games, diverting nearly all of his energy to keeping himself from ripping the smiling face off of his skull. "Who the hell are you?"

The man half bowed from the saddle, smile never leaving. "Tybolt Lannister of the Lannisport Lannister's at your service my fellows." He sat up straight, smile turning cruel. "You led your intended flanking force, yes? I hope you enjoyed my gift. Spikes can be such unpleasant things, and horses make such terrible noises when they die."

Oberyn's hand shot out to grasp Aelor's arm in caution, something the Prince was appreciative of considering it had begun to reach for the sword on his side, the Lannister guards tensing in response.

"Men make much the same sounds when they die slowly, Lannister," the Red Viper responded, showing unusual levelheadedness even though his voice was pure venom. "I intend to show you and all of your family that fact."

Tybolt's smile had never left, instead growing larger. "Cute, Dornishman, but that would require you breaching the walls behind you; something you will find very difficult to accomplish, even with your rapist heathens in the sea and those catapults you have been building."

I don't want to breach those walls, vermin; I want to burn them. Aelor didn't say that, of course; it was best to keep that a surprise. "I don't have to breach your walls," the Hand of the King said instead. "I just have to stop you from leaving them."

Tybolt laughed at that, an unusually unpleasant sound. "You're looking at Lannisport, Dragonspawn. Merchants by the thousands stop there, and while I'm sure your Drowned God fools will stop more from doing the same we Lannisters have stored plenty. My men and I can last far longer than your own will wish to remain."

Aelor gestured towards the defenses in question, voice ice. "There are tens of thousands of people trapped in there with your soldiers though, most of which aren't warriors. Women, children, the elderly; all of them are mouths to feed, thousands of hungry stomachs that offer you nothing in return."

Tybolt wasn't swayed. "All of them are loyal to our cause."

That was utter shit and they all knew it, but the gleam in the Lannister's eyes told Aelor the man had no intention of surrendering, Tybolt's mind set long before the dragonlord had even offered it to him.

That suited the Dragon of Duskendale just fine. He hadn't been going to offer the Lannister's a chance to surrender, wanting their blood not their apologies, but they hadn't known that.

Neither did Oberyn or the other Royalist around him. Surprise was going to abound.

"Expel them from your city. They will be given free passage."

Aelor felt Oberyn dart his head to stare at him in confusion, an emotion displayed plainly on Tybolt Lannister's face. "What?"

Aelor kept his violet eyes focused on the Lannister green ones. "The women, children and elderly; let them leave."

Tybolt leaned back, face becoming enraged. "So you can use them as hostages to hold against my men and me? You insult me, Targaryen!"

Aelor clenched his teeth for a moment before replying. "They will not be hostages, and the only thing I intend to do you is kill you, Lannister." The Prince sat up straighter in Warrior's saddle. "I am not my father." I am, actually, in more ways than one, but what is a white lie or two when it comes to murder and warfare? "I don't want to make war on women and children. Evacuate the city. Let all of those useless mouths leave."

Oberyn started to speak but Aelor cut him off. "Only the elderly, the women and the children mind you. Any man who looks like a soldier will be beheaded. Anybody with a weapon, no matter their age or sex, will be gutted. They can depart from dawn to dusk, but anyone who exits that city at night will be killed. They will bring no wagons, no jewelry, no family heirlooms; they will only bring the clothes on their backs. They will have nothing; but they will live."

Tybolt stared incredulously for a moment before laughing again. "By the Seven you're serious. You Targaryen's truly are mad, aren't you? You would willingly allow a city under siege to boot out thousands of unneeded bodies, prolonging the siege by months or years? It is a miracle you inbred devils lasted three hundred years, a true miracle!"

Aelor's let fire seep into his eyes, even as he kept his tone even. "I am allowing you to 'boot out' thousands of unneeded bodies so I won't have their blood on my hands when I tear Lannisport and everything inside it apart." Tybolt's laugh stopped at the sheer hate in Aelor's words, even as the Prince continued on. "In four days I am going to attack that city. In four days I am going to take it and kill every living thing inside; every man, every horse, every dog, everything right down to the fucking termites in the wood. Everything that breathes is going to have its throat slit, whether it fights back or begs for mercy."

Aelor had the full attention of Lannister and everyone else now. "I am going to tear down every house, every fountain, and every scrap of wood and stack of stone. By the time I am done, Lannisport is going to be nothing more than a pile of debris and rotting Lannister corpses."

The Dragon of Duskendale relaxed slightly, letting some of the tension that had built in his spine ease away. "I would prefer to avoid having the blood of innocent smallfolk on my hands, Tybolt Lannister, but they will not stop me. If you do not allow the innocents to leave I will still attack. I will still take your walls and then your lives. I will still end every life, from the staunchest soldier to the oldest crone. Mother, brother, son, daughter—I will not discriminate. They will die together or alone, one-by-one or all at once. Each and every soul will lose their lives, by blade or fire or sheer terror, I give not a whit. Lannister blood, guilty and innocent alike, will turn the Sunset Sea red, and your bodies will feed the sea lions for weeks."

Aelor glared into the horror-struck faces of the Lannisters, letting all of his hate fuel the abhorrence in his tone. "There will be no surrender and no mercy, not for you, but you can still save your families. You have four days to send them out of the city, where my men will direct them. Four days to keep the blood of the innocent off of your own hands, because if you don't evacuate them their deaths will be as much your fault as my own. That is all the time you have, for in four days I am coming into your city to raze it to the ground, regardless of who is inside."

Aelor took Warrior's reins into his hands, staring straight into Tybolt's eyes. "I advise you evacuate, Lannister. The innocent make such terrible noises when they die."

The Dragon of Duskendale turned and galloped away.

Chapter Text

Wildfire was touchy stuff.

A single spark could ignite the world in flame if the green substance was involved, it's initial ignition an explosion that could throw armored knights aside like batting flies. Too much heat, a particularly violent bounce of a wagon wheel, sometimes only the sheer volatility of the substance; all could turn the jars and the surrounding area into wild green flame.

Transporting the thousands of jars from King's Landing to Lannisport had been a tedious thing, and highly discouraged by the members of the Alchemist's Guild that Jaime Lannister had left alive. Aelor Targaryen had ordered it done anyway, for the lion had bitten the dragon's tail and would burn for it.

The convoys had only moved at night, when the sun wouldn't be able to set off the fiery liquid. Wagons were filled with sand in order to keep the jars of varying sizes from being jostled, additional wagons filled with water jugs accompanying them from good distances away though there would be little water could truly do were the jars to light. The men guarding them had loaded their mounts down with waterskins as well, as well as rugs and related material to try and beat out any fire.

The teamsters and guards for the almost suicidal duty of transporting wildfire all those miles had to a man been volunteers. Most—particularly the actual teamsters driving the wagons and thusly closest to the substance—had been grizzled older men, weathered and worn faces showing not a bit of the constant fear they had to be feeling. Aelor had thanked them each individually, and though they didn't know it each man had a knighthood awaiting him once he reached the royalist camp.

Most already had, and it proved just in time.

For all his obvious arrogance, Tybolt Lannister had seen how deadly serious Aelor Targaryen had been. The next morning at dawn the gates of Lannisport had opened, and a column of people had slowly exited. The poorest inhabitants of the Lannisport's slums to the wealthiest merchants of the city walked together out of the doomed city, carrying nothing but their children, the clothes on their backs the only materialistic possessions they had left in this world. Aelor had ordered a gauntlet of his soldiers, all armed and ready for any deception, to line the sides of the Goldroad, and the fleeing innocents took it, old men glaring harshly at the soldiers while children in turn stared in fascination.

No one received more of either sentiment than the Prince of the Iron Throne, seated atop his black destrier at the head of the columns, watching the suddenly broke citizens of Lannisport shuffle by below. He'd negotiated with Lords Rowan, Bushy, Leygood and Roxton—the closest Lords of the Reach—to provide rations for the thousands of homeless, detaching a force of two thousand cavalry to escort them to his own seat of Duskendale. Finding homes, food and occupations for them would be almost as challenging as storming the Rock would be and none knew it better than Aelor, but Elia would have wanted this.

He knew nothing would bring his Dornish Princess back now—even the mad, blood crazy side of him knew it—but he couldn't help but try and honor her.

They wouldn't have cared even if they had known, though, this suddenly homeless lot of innocents caught in the middle of a war between two men most of them had never so much as seen. To them, Aelor was the man who had driven from their homes, even if it had been Lannister's to actually do the deed, not the man who had in actuality just saved their lives. He could feel the hatred emanating off of them in waves, but there was no attack, no shouted curses, no nothing; peasant and dragonlord merely regarded one another as the former shuffled by, neither caring a whit for the other's thoughts.

For four days from dawn to dusk they evacuated, each man, woman and child checked for weapons before they followed the thousands of others down the beaten road.

Even as this mass migration took place thousands of royalist soldiers worked. Aelor had close to sixty thousand men on the ground, most of whom had no experience in carpentry or the construction of siege weapons, but each of them—well, most of them, barring a few men who had been maimed—had two hands and strong backs. Many hands made light work, and under the guidance of the craftsmen brought in to build the weapons of warfare the royalist soon had all the catapults Aelor Targaryen needed. They'd forgone the building of rams or siege towers, neither of which factored into the Dragon of Duskendale's plans. If the Lannister's in either the Rock or Lannisport found it odd that the weapons were only being built around the latter, they were forced to scratch their heads in wonder.

Until the day of the promised assault, when they learned why.

Tybolt Lannister watched from the guardhouse over Lannisport's main gates as the night turned into dawn, readying his men for the fight to come. The demon that was Aelor Targaryen had kept his word, at least as far as Tybolt could see. The citizens of Lannisport had been left unmolested, each checked for any hidden weapons or valuables before they shuffled away and out of sight, a long line of mouths to feed that was no longer Tybolt's problem. While not all had fled, most of those remaining either very rich or of Lannister blood (oftentimes both), the city seemed almost abandoned, even with thousands of knights and soldiers inside.

Targaryen's reasoning for this clear tactical error had been terrifying, even Tybolt would admit that, but it was all folly. Lannisport was a strong, well defended fortification; the Dragonlord outside its gates could have six hundred thousand men, ten times the number that he actually did, and he would still fail. The Lion would not fall to the dragon.

As the world finally lightened enough for him to see, Tybolt Lannister was taken aback by the lack of ladders and the lack of men preparing to assault. He had seen the catapults being built in a half circle, ready to fling stone at his walls, but he had confidence that they would have no true effect. The Seven were with him, not that inbred madman opposing his city.

When the Cruel Lion saw the teams begin to work the great machines, he called for his archers to brace, trumpets bidding the soldiers in the city itself to do the same. The siege weapons were nothing pretty but they did the job they were designed to, evidenced when each was fired the first time.

It wasn't stone or pitch that sailed over his head or smashed into his walls, however; it was jars.

Tybolt considered himself a very clever man, but as more and more of the jars smashed harmlessly on his defenses or the buildings in the city, the catapults adjusting their aim to seemingly cover the entirety of Lannisport as best they could with whatever the jars contained, he was utterly lost.

The catapults had fired for well over an hour, not a single soldier making to take the gates, before the substance they contained was identified. When the cry went up, whipping through the city's defenders like a Barristan Selmy through the Golden Company, true fear struck Tybolt, the type that rooted you to the ground and emptied your bladder.

But by then, it was all too late.

Aelor Targaryen had built one more structure besides the catapults, located behind his main lines in the direction of Casterly Rock. At first Tybolt had believed it to be a siege tower, the wood being erected upwards, but had soon dissuaded himself of the notion. It was too thin, only a square structure built into the air with a ladder on one side, a small platform atop it. Even as cries of 'wildfire' tore through his city a single figure climbed this structure in the growing light, reaching the top in moments.

As one the catapults stopped firing, the morning turning deadly silent as his own men held their breaths. There were near one hundred thousand men in, between and surrounding Casterly Rock and Lannisport, and not a one of them made a sound. Even the seagulls and the horses kept their silence, as if the animals and the very world itself knew what was to happen.

The sound of a single violin broke the eerie silence, the figure on the tower beginning to play. It was a song every person in Westeros knew, from the lowest peasant child to the Lord Paramounts and their families. As the chords floated across the morning air, solemn and lonely and clear as a whistle to Tybolt's ears despite the distance, telling their story of rains and coats of red and gold, he knew he was going to die.

In that odd clarity man received in the final moments of his life, Tybolt heard him. As the last notes of the Lannister song died, a single voice spoke over the silence in its wake. The Cruel Lion knew who it belonged to even if he'd only heard it for the first time a few days before, the command as clear as the notes had been.

Prince Aelor Targaryen's tone was as final as the fate of Lannisport. "Loose."

Tybolt and his men could only watch, too terrified to do anything else, as one last catapult was fired. A barrel of flaming tar, as bright as the sun itself to the eyes of the doomed men of Lannisport, flew over their heads almost in slow-motion. He turned as it sailed, never taking his eyes off it as it glided over his head and dipped down towards the wildfire-coated city below.

And then the world exploded, and Tybolt Lannister saw no more.

Even Aelor wasn't ready for the aftermath.

For a moment nothing happened as the flaming barrel dipped out of sight and into the city of Lions, but then all the Seven Hells broke loose.

The light was so great it nearly blinded the Dragon of Duskendale. With a great burning boom Lannisport went up in green flame, the heavy dose of wildfire catching nearly all at once. The explosion it caused flung a shockwave so fierce that several stones from the city's walls were blown nearly to Aelor's own lines, the archers atop them who had been so ready to rain death on Aelor's men tossed like dolls outwards.

Those that weren't incinerated instantly, anyway.

The shockwave was still potent when it reached Aelor's own men. With a grunt it hit him squarely, the Prince of the Iron Throne knocked cleanly off of his feet. With cries or grunts of their own most of his mean did the same, even boulder-like Manfred Darke, his white cloak billowing as he was shoved backwards. Catapults rolled backwards on their hasty wheels, horses screamed in terror, and men were tossed aside like driftwood on the tide.

Aelor found himself face down in the dirt several feet from where he had been, his mostly healed head suddenly throbbing again. Shakily the Prince pushed himself to his knees, looking up at the mass of green flame he had created. The flames reached high, a great green cloud rising into the air. He knew in the back of his mind that what parts of the city hadn't been covered by the wildfire would soon catch fire itself from the heat of the explosions and green substance, within hours turning all of Lannisport into a pillar of smoke and flame.

But Aelor couldn't focus on that, his mind overwhelmed by the sight before him.

The screams began almost immediately, men in the city being covered in a fire they couldn't put out. They could be heard even over the crashes of buildings falling, parts of the wall crumbling and the unnaturally loud crackle of the green fire. Aelor stared into the flames, no pride or bloodlust flooding his veins, only a numb, morbid amazement.

The men around him one by one gained their feet but no one said a word, each and every man, all the thousands of them, staring in awe and horror and senselessness at the flaming havoc before them. No one looked away for no one could, the terrors of what had just occurred overruling all else.

Aelor was a Targaryen, and beyond that a son of Aerys. He was used to fire, had seen its devastation and great capacity for destruction up close since he was a child, but this…this was something else, something different. Even he couldn't take his eyes away, despite the wave of heat causing tears to run down his cheeks. The longer he stared into the flames, the more his vengeful mind took over, reveling in the screams of the dying Lannister's. This had been his intent, his entire goal since the day Elia died besides the death of Tywin.

But suddenly, Aelor Targaryen wasn't looking at a burning Lannisport. He wasn't kneeling in the dirt of the Westerlands. He wasn't a heartbroken battle scarred Prince.

Instead he was nearly a year in the past, back in the throne room of the Red Keep in King's Landing, his father's laughs echoing in his ears. Instead of a burning Lannisport he was seeing a burning Rickard Stark, the Lord of the North baking alive in his armor. Instead of the screams of dying Lannister's he was hearing Brandon Stark choking to death, desperately trying to reach his longsword to save his father's life.

Both men were as real as the green flame, staring at him with eyes full of agony and pain, Brandon Stark's hand no longer reaching for a longsword but instead reaching for Aelor, the Wild Wolf of the North desperately trying to reach the Dragon of Duskendale.

Aelor reached his own hand out, trying to grab the heir to the North's hand, trying to save him from the fate that Aelor hadn't tried to save him from months earlier. He scuffled a few feet forward, trying to do something, intent on using this second chance to stop the war that took the lives of his brother, best friend and love. He desperately reached for Brandon Stark, trying to erase his greatest failure of doing nothing before it was too late, trying to save not only this Northerner but Rhaegar and Renfred, Balman Byrch and Talana Vaith, Elwood Harte and Denys Arryn.

Trying to save Elia.

Something else in the city of Lannisport exploded with another colossal boom and both Starks vanished, leaving Aelor once again staring at a wall of green flame, hand reaching towards nothing. The crushing feeling of his failure once again washed over him, his head pulsating in a pain both physical and mental.

Aelor found himself falling forward, the ground rushing up to meet him, and the world went black.

Chapter Text

For the second time in as many weeks, Aelor woke in a tent, though this one wasn't his. This time he was more than happy to escape his dreams, as they hadn't been nearly as pleasant.

They'd all been about burning cities and roasting wolves. He'd relived the deaths of the Starks over and over, each time trying to save them and failing worse with each attempt, Rickard Stark burned to death a thousand times, his son strangling himself just as many. With each death of the Starks Rhaegar died again, then Renfred, and finally Elia, all as Aelor watched and screamed and struggled in his mind, unable to stop any of it.

When he finally escaped the worst of the Seven Hells his body was covered in sweat and out of breath, chest rising and falling rapidly.

"I see now why you don't sleep." Aelor furrowed his brow at the voice he was only vaguely familiar with, only then noticing the cool of the cloth being held against his forehead. He followed the hand holding it down a distinctly feminine arm, suddenly finding himself looking at Alysanne Lefford.

"What…what are you doing here?" His voice was rough even to his own ears and his throat pained him, as if he'd been shouting constantly for hours. Aelor realized he probably had been.

The heir to the Golden Tooth's lips turned up ever so slightly at the corners as she removed the cloth from his forehead to dip it in a bucket of water, wring it out, and return it—now cooler—back to his forehead. "I've been listening to you scream."

Aelor was finally starting to get his breath under control, the terrors he had just relived fleeing his mind. "Funny."

Alysanne shrugged. "No, it wasn't, but thank you anyway." She ran the rag down to his bared chest, trying to cool the Dragon of Duskendale down. He was a Targaryen—heat didn't bother him near like it did most men—but the sensation was pleasant regardless. "A rider summoned me to come care for my father after your cavalry had an apparent run in with some pits and spikes. In truth I think it's another attempt to integrate me in your good graces, seeing as he's only got a few bruises that were mostly healed by the time I got here."

Aelor snorted, even as he felt his tired and sore body relax under the light touch of her hand with the cloth. "I told him if he forced you to do something like that again I'd kill him."

Her smile this time was broader. "He informed me of that, actually. I think he actually believed you were serious."

"That's because I was."

"Oh. Well, I thank you for the concern for my personal wishes." After wringing the cloth out again she returned it to his head. "I'll have to ask you to leave his head on his shoulders, if I may. My father may have unrivaled political ambition but he is a better lord than most. Besides, I'm here now on my own accord, not my father's insistence." When Aelor merely cocked a brow, Alysanne looked away from the cloth to meet his violet eyes. It was only then he noticed that hers were a startlingly pretty dark brown. "You were screaming very loud, Your Grace. There was only so much your Dornishwoman companion could take, despite how tough she seems to be."

A rush of embarrassment coursed through the Prince and he groaned. "That's a good sign for the men, their commander screaming like child."

She returned the cloth to his chest, alternating between it and his head periodically, eyes now firmly back on her work. "I know of no child who can scream like that, Prince Aelor, but you need not worry about your men. They have all gone to besiege Casterly Rock, while we are currently directly outside Lannisport." She paled briefly. "Or what used to be Lannisport, anyway."

Aelor looked into her eyes, willing her to meet his again, something she eventually did. "I warned you I was no saint."

Alysanne nodded, holding his gaze marvelously well. "You did. And I told you you were no demon either."

"Tell that to Lannisport."

Her tone was stubborn, nearly as stubborn as Aelor's own. "I will. I'll tell that to all the tens of thousands of innocents you evacuated when you could have burnt them to a crisp."

For the first time since he was a young boy Aelor Targaryen was forced to look away, turning his head to face the opposite direction. "Don't give me credit; I didn't do it out of the goodness of my own heart."

"No, you did it for Elia Martell." Aelor's head snapped back around, violet eyes wild. Alysanne was meeting them calmly, not an ounce of fear in her own. "You spoke in your sleep as well. Of King Rhaegar, some man named Ren, a Balman and a Brandon and a Talana. But most of all you spoke of Elia. A man doesn't feel that much pain over his brother's wife unless…"

Aelor looked away again, jaw set. His mind was clear, for the first time since King's Landing wholly and completely his, and it wasn't cutting him any slack. "I just destroyed a city full of men who were only following their liege lords orders, taking the homes from thousands of innocents in the process. I did it because I thought it would avenge the woman I love, but in truth it just harms her memory. Elia wouldn't have wanted this, any of it. I started to wipe out an entire family for a woman who would beg me to do the opposite if she was still alive."

"Do you regret it?"

He grunted. "No. It is war. They tried to wipe out House Targaryen, and they should-they will-suffer for it, even more than they already have. But I should never have done it in her name, using her death as an excuse to sate my desire for blood."

Alysanne's small hand carefully reached over him to gently grasp his chin, silently telling him to turn his head back. He did so grudgingly, though he didn't meet her eyes once he had. "No, you shouldn't have. I don't think Queen Elia would have wanted this. I never met the woman, but from what I hear from your fierce Dornish friend she was truly lovely."

"She was."

Her hand hadn't moved, and she gently pulled at him again, urging him to look at her. "Look at me, Aelor." With a shaky, annoyed sigh he did. Alysanne was situated close to his side, face only a few inches away from his own. There was nothing but complete conviction in her voice as she spoke, willing the Prince not to look away. "You allowed thousands of people you hate because of their allegiance to walk away free because you knew it would be what she wanted. You left a child on the throne when you could have taken it for yourself without a soul to protest, not because you don't have ambition, not because it's best for the realm because in truth it probably isn't, but because you love that child like he's yours even though he isn't."

Aelor cut her off. "How do you know that?"

Alysanne glared at him for the interruption, voice coming out impatient at his denseness. "Because King Aegon isn't dead yet, because you talked about him and Rhaenys constantly that night at the Tooth, and because I'm not buggering stupid."

The Dragon of Duskendale couldn't help but smile just a touch, despite all that had happened. "Fair enough."

Alysanne Lefford went on, still glaring. "As I was trying to say, you have honored Elia Martell more than you know. You were there for her in life, when you smuggled her and her children out of the city, and you have been there for her even since her death, protecting those children and trying to set up a Kingdom where they can prosper and grow." She gestured over her shoulder, to what Aelor could only assume was Lannisport on the other side of the tent although he had no bloody clue just where he was, as this wasn't his tent and he assumed they'd moved him far away from the siege lines so the men wouldn't hear his turmoil. "What happened out there is part of that, as I daresay it will be decades before anyone is foolish enough to rebel against the Targaryen's again. All you've done you have done for her children, and that honors her more than anything else you could have done."

Aelor stared at the young woman as she glared at him a moment longer before returning to her work with the cloth, soaking, wringing and stroking. "You know," he said slowly, after a long moment. "You are a very opinionated woman."

"You're not the first man to say that."

"And you have precisely zero fear, even of a man who just destroyed a city."

Alysanne snorted, glaring at him for another moment. "You're damn right I don't, and you'd best remember it before you play this 'I'm a terrible person' folly on me again because I'll slap you. It gets old, Prince Aelor, and quickly."

Aelor chuckled lightly, though his mind was focused on what she had said earlier. Elia was gone, and all the blood of all the Lannister's wouldn't bring her back. He didn't regret his orders concerning Lannisport, as it would stand as a beacon to the rest of Westeros that the Targaryen's didn't need dragons to utterly destroy you, but the wanton slaughter he had been so intent on was folly. Tywin must die, of that there was no contest, but most of his family was as innocent of her death as Aelor was. Elia wouldn't have wanted their slaughter, and while he may never be able to hold her in his arms as he so desperately wanted to, he could still honor her beliefs.

Aerys would've wanted their deaths, it was true, but Aelor decided then and there that he was not the Mad King.

Nothing could change the past, of that he was aware. The Starks had died, curtesy of his father and Aelor's own inaction, and trying to save them in his dreams would never change that. Thousands had died because of it, many just that morning, assuming he hadn't been unconscious for days though Aelor didn't have a single clue how long he'd been here. Rhaegar had played a major hand in it, as had Lyanna Stark, but it was Aerys who had truly sparked all of this, all the death and destruction his insanity had brought about. If Aelor was to honor Elia, if he was to protect her children, he couldn't become his father, as he very nearly had; as he had so desperately wanted to be, if only so his vengeance and hatred could be sated in fire and blood.

Aelor waited for the other, darker part of him—the Aerys part—to reassert itself, to tell him that he must kill everyone of Lannister blood to have his vengeance, but it never came. It had vanished as the Starks had from the flames of Lannisport.

And Aelor Targaryen was free.

Chapter Text

The screams had died within hours, but the fires burned for days.

The exact number of men and women who died during the Burning of Lannisport, already being called the Lighting of the Lions by the men, though Aelor personally hoped another, better name would be popularized, was unknown, though it had to have numbered in the tens of thousands. The city was still burning two days later and likely would be for several weeks to come.

The once beautiful city was being reduced to a pile of burned out houses and blackened stones, and Aelor didn't give a single damn about it.

The war council was already raging when he stepped into the large tent—his tent, where he had held many of these very councils in the last few months. The Dragon of Duskendale was no fool, and he was well aware that there would be political, economic and personal fallout from his decision to destroy the third largest city in Westeros. Odds were that that had been being discussed judging by the abrupt silence that enveloped the council as soon as he entered.

He waited by the flap of the tent, raising an eyebrow when not a soul moved at his unexpected entrance. Lord Lefford reacted first, knocking his chair over in his haste to jump to his feet. The other lords followed his lead, some hastening, others not, but as soon as they stood Aelor nodded his head and strode towards his place at the head of the table. Each man had wisely left it unoccupied in the Dragon Prince's absence, even Lord Tarly who held full command of the army, be they Northern or Dornish or anywhere in between.

"My lords," he said as he took his seat, voice calm and collected. "I apologize for my absence yesterday." He gave none of them a chance to reply, not-so-subtly informing them that he would garner no discussion of the matter, at least not with him. "How goes the siege of the Rock?"

The Lord of Horn Hill answered him, tone as even as always. "The Ironborn have shifted all of their strength to its siege, as well as patrolling to ensure no sellsail navies will take us unawares. The catapults are in position, though we have not been using wildfire until Your Grace informed us to do so."

Randyll Tarly was meeting the Prince's eyes as he always did, a fact Aelor respected considering many men would have trouble doing so after seeing the devastation of Lannisport firsthand. Planning the event was one thing, but the actual implementation was an entirely different matter, and already Aelor knew there were murmurs about his actions; fears that he was as mad as his father, as cruel as Maegor, as ruthless as Daemon consort of Rhaenyra.

He didn't care; they could call him a monster and a murderer and everything in between. Fear was a powerful weapon, one the Targaryen's had been using for decades, and Aelor was by no means above using it now. That being said, he knew he had to calm those fears, soothe and appease the nobles before the seeds of another rebellion were planted. Fear was a fantastic weapon it was true, and fear of another Lighting would likely keep most houses in line for years to come, but he had to remove the stigma that all Targaryen's were madmen.

Although it may well be true; I certainly am one, even if these men will never know truly how terrible.

"Excellent." Aelor shifted his eyes from man to man in the room, some meeting them, most not. "We will use them again come dusk, though not in the same manner. My goal is not the destruction of the Rock, my lords, even if it could be carried out. I want Tywin Lannister. I'll take him dead or I'll take him alive, but I'd prefer it be the latter."

"What is your plan, Prince Aelor?" Jon Arryn asked. He would be a hard one to placate, as would Ned Stark when he returned from Dorne, both being men of a higher honor than Aelor's own. While Aelor's decision to allow the smallfolk to evacuate would pacify them slightly, his open plan to burn the city whether they did or didn't would be a thorn in their honorable sides. Good men the both of them, but ill-suited to the game of thrones.

"We alternate catapult with wildfire and burning pitch. If one fires the burning barrel, the catapult beside it will fire wildfire. The jars will burst across the front of their battlements and ignite, burning even on the rock face. Only one volley will be fired, and then we allow the fires to burn. We do this at dawn and dusk each day, for as long as it takes."

"As long as it takes until what?" Oberyn asked, cocking an eye at the dragonlord. The Red Viper seemed totally unbothered by the destruction of Lannisport, leaning in his chair as he always did and changing his attitude towards Aelor not a bit.

Aelor smiled lightly at his friend. "Until they surrender."

A few scoffs sounded around the table, and Lord Lefford spoke. "Tywin Lannister will never surrender, my Prince, even after Lannisport."

Aelor nodded in agreement. "You're right, Tywin Lannister won't. But what about the lords trapped inside with him?" Aelor slowly stood, waving off the others as they made to do the same and casually strolling around the table as he spoke, the lords twisting in their seats to watch him. "Those men were already worried about their families, not knowing if the Ironborn had taken them captive or killed them or even been there at all. They saw an army over twice the size of their own descend upon them. That army and especially myself fell victim to their trap, it was true, but the fact remains that they saw sixty thousand warriors, all bloodied veterans, fill the fields before them."

Aelor glanced from one lord to another as he walked, slowly strolling as if he had not a care in the world. He stopped beside Leo Lefford and Tytos Blackwood, reaching between the two of them to snatch a pitcher of wine and a chalice. "Then," he continued, tone light as he poured himself a glass. "These same men see that army camp outside their walls, building siege weapons and stockpiling stones and pitch to hurl at them. They see tents and pavillons in such numbers that they seemed as an ocean, and each one held at least one man here to solely tear their throats from their bodies. All this while they don't know where their families are, how much food they have, or how long they'll be there."

Aelor made the turn of the table, starting back the other way. "For days they ask their liege lord what they are going to do, and for days he tells them to hold hope, that he was a plan, though even Tywin bloody Lannister doesn't have a plan by now. While they wait, wagons by the score arrive, bringing with them an endless line of supplies to the men waiting below, showing that while their own stores were limited, the stores of the men trying to kill them were not."

Aelor hardened his tone slightly, making sure to meet the eyes of lords he knew would not like to remember the events of a morning ago. "And then those very same men hear a song, a song meant to show how mighty and powerful their liege lord is. After that song, however, there is no miracle performed by their great leader to save them. Instead, they watch as most of their army and a city that was home to tens and tens of thousands go up in flames, wiped from existence. That song turns into screams, and they can only watch in horror as flames envelope not only the city but the men in it, her once great walls crumbling, her beauty reduced to a pile of flames."

"The army that surrounded them doubles in size as men from Lannisport join the siege of Casterly Rock. The same catapults that unleashed Seven Hells on their city are now staring at them, the man who ordered it all mere yards away and ready to do the same to them." Aelor stopped, gesturing with one hand as he spoke, voice sounding like he was telling a story to children not predicting the mental anguish he was putting men through. "Those catapults start covering their fortress in a fire they cannot put out, and while they themselves remain unharmed the first tendrils of thought join the abundant fear in their minds. 'If we stay here, will any of us live?' 'How long before that fire melts the rocks of our walls?' 'Is my family still alive?'"

"Yes, they fear their liege lord, fear him like the Stranger himself and rightfully so, but suddenly it dawns on them. Tywin Lannister destroyed two houses. Aelor Targaryen destroyed an entire city, and he is planning on doing the same to the fortress we are in. Tywin Lannister is going to die. If we stay here, we will die with him, as will any family we have left. We are many, Tywin Lannister is one, and the Rains of Castamere have ended."

Aelor took his seat again, having circled the table and all the lords seated there as he spoke. There wasn't a sound to be heard, complete silence hanging over the meeting. He leaned back, wine in one hand, face curious. "So tell me, my lords; what would you do? I am a Prince, and a warrior at that, and as such I am no craven, but I know what my action would be."

Aelor took another sip of wine. "The only true question that remains is just how many days it will take."

In the end, it took seven.

Each dawn and dusk, a single violin played a song of rain before dozens of catapults fired barrels of burning pitch and jars of deadly wildfire, turning the face of Casterly Rock into a wall of green flames. The man-made fortifications that had been built on the mountains face were systematically destroyed, burned and fallen under the heat of the unnatural flames. The defenders inside could only wait, noses filled with the smell of smoke and ears with the sound of flame, their view nothing but green fire.

It was an easy decision in the end, one Aelor was surprised it took so long for the defenders to come to.

When the mighty doors atop the steps of the Lion's Mouth swung open, wide enough for twenty riders to ascend as one, the siege lines sprang into action. Archers rushed to the ready, a shieldwall was quickly formed, and men prepared for a sally from the Rock's defenders. It would be suicide and unthinkable, but Aelor was taking no chances with Tywin Lannister.

The flags of truce the party carried with them however eased his apprehension, as did the slow, unthreatening pace. Silence slowly overcame the camp as the defenders moved towards them, each man wondering if this whole ordeal was finally over.

It seemed it was.

Tywin Lannister, Lord Paramount of the West and Lord of Casterly Rock, was thrown at Aelor Targaryen's feet, hands bound and face furious, by two of his own Lord Bannermen, Lords Westerling and Plumm. The great lion of the west held his silence, though the rage in his eyes could hold its own with Aelor's battlelusts.

His son Jaime joined him, the white armor of the Kingsguard nowhere to be seen and instead replaced by sheer golden plate. Prudent of him, to not further insult the prestigious order he had once been a member of. This young cub's face held no anger or distress, merely calm acceptance.

The same couldn't be said for the young woman beside him, who just so happened to look identical to the disgraced young knight. Her blonde hair, emerald eyes and—even Aelor had to admit—utterly ravishing beauty named her as Cersei Lannister, the very girl King Aerys had refused to marry either of his adult sons to out of sheer spite. Her eyes held no fear as she spat insults and curses befitting a sellsword at the men she labeled traitors.

The fourth figure dropped bound at his feet—not the last, but the various other Lannister's the defenders had bound held little interest to Aelor—was also the most interesting. Aelor had heard of the boy Tywin kept so well hidden, the malformed beast some called a demon. The Dragon of Duskendale had been expecting some sort of abomination from all the rumors, but all he saw was a tiny dwarf child, eyes mismatched and head covered in blonde curls. His face reminded Aelor of Jaime's, though not in any actual physical resemblance. Like his older brother's, it held no fear and no anger.

That intrigued Aelor. The dwarf was said to be no older than eleven, but his eyes—which held the Prince's violet ones evenly, much to his surprise—held an intelligence far beyond that of a child.

Aelor didn't think about it too long, however. He casually took a few steps forward, his rage returning though this time it carried none of the madness and was tempered with a calm purpose, coming to a stop in front of the Lord of West. The Great Lion glared up at him, eyes full of hate though he kept his silence.

Aelor couldn't help it; he smirked ever so slightly as he spoke. "Tywin Lannister. Words can't describe how happy I am to see you again."

Chapter Text

"You cannot let them live, Your Grace," One voice counseled.

"Lord Tywin, no, but Cersei and the dwarf boy have done nothing wrong," retorted another.

"I agree. Tyrion is but a child." Came a third, followed by a massed jumble of others.

"No, they must all be put to the sword. It is how your father dealt with the Darklyns and Hollards."

"King Aerys was mad, Bolton."

"Careful, Blackwood. He was still your King."

"The Targaryen dynasty cannot afford to look weak. Leaving any Lannister alive after their rebellion would appear as just that."

Aelor put a stop to the argument. "If I kill every man who rebelled against my family, Lord Belmore, then I should put all of the Starks and Arryns and Tullys and all of their bannermen to the sword as well. If I recall correctly, that would include you." Silence descended the council. "Tywin Lannister attempted to pillage King's Landing and kill every last member of my family. He was foiled, but he later succeeded in having Queen Elia murdered and would have done the same to the King and Princess. For that he must and will die."

"No one is contesting that point, Prince Aelor," spoke the calm voice of Jon Arryn. "But his children with the exception of Jaime are as innocent as the smallfolk of Lannisport. It was just of you to let them live, and it would be just of you to do the same now with Cersei and the dwarf."

"The smallfolk were not named Lannister, Lord Arryn; at least not all of them."

"You are not your father," Arryn replied, voice confident. He's incorrect, but at least he is confident in his folly. "If you were, we would still be in the Riverlands, warring against one another."

"You rebelled justly," Aelor countered. "Your family and honor was deeply wronged. Lannister's was not. My father insulted the man thoroughly and unjustly, I'll be the first to admit, but having your daughter's hand in marriage turned down is no reason to murder children."

"Precisely." Arryn held the Dragon of Duskendale's eyes as he said it, and Aelor realized he had made the Lord Paramount of the Vale's point for him. Aelor clenched his jaw but leaned back into his chair, allowing others to take the narrative.

"Someone has to rule the Westerlands." Brightsmile said from a cot to the side of the table, stump of a leg stretched out in front of him. The heir to Oldtown was marvelously upbeat even after losing the limb, already attempting to use crutches despite the pain the injury was doubtlessly still causing him. "It will clearly not be Jaime Lannister, even if he hadn't forsaken his Kingsguard vows and fled King's Landing with his father. Tyrion is the rightful heir."

Lord Belmore scoffed. "He is a dwarf and a Lannister."

"Precisely," Hightower replied. "He is a Lannister. The Arryns kept the Vale because of their blood when Aegon the Conqueror attacked. So did the Starks with the North. And so did the Lannisters of the Rock. The smallfolk and Westerlander Lords followed the Lannister's because that is all they have done for centuries."

"They followed Tywin Lannister because they were scared of him."

"Why do you think men knelt to Aegon Targaryen, Lord Rowan?" Roose Bolton had odd eyes and an odder twist to his personality. Aelor didn't like him in the slightest, but he seemed a very capable commander. "Why do you think we are here now discussing the terms the Lannisters will receive and not still sieging Casterly Rock? Because of fear."

Lord Rowan was a stout, gregarious man, and unlike Bolton Aelor actually found himself liking the man. "That is exactly my point, Lord Bolton. A dwarf will never command fear. The Rock should pass to Ser Kevan Lannister and his children, wherever they have gone."

Aelor grimaced slightly at that. He of course knew full well why Kevan Lannister and his family were missing, and he felt a wave of guilt crash over him at the thought. Kevan was a good man, completely unlike his brother Tywin, and he shouldn't have been forced to flee for his life due simply to his name. Another wave of guilt joined it at the thought of Barristan, whom Aelor had so coldly dismissed even though the Kingsguard knight had only been trying to save Aelor from himself. While he should not have gone against the royal family's wishes, Aelor was now glad he had.

"Have you ever met Tyrion, Lord Bolton?" Lord Illifer Foote, the young bannermen to Leo Lefford, asked. "Tywin kept him relatively well hidden, but I had a conversation with him at a feast near two years ago. His body may well be stunted but his mind most certainly is not."

"This is still assuming we leave the Rock to the Lannisters," Belmore insisted. "I still advise revocation of the Paramountcy and the Rock. Most of their once massive family is already dead after Lannisport, Your Grace. It would be simple to finish the job."

"Enough of this." Aelor waved his hand. "Your opinions are well noted, my lords, but the decision is mine and mine alone. The Baratheons await us in King's Landing, and there is still much to settle. Prepare the army to move in a few days' time. I will dole out punishments and settle the region's future on the morrow."

Oberyn Martell entered the tent soon after the other Lords bowed and left. The Red Viper of Dorne hadn't had the patience to listen to the council, insistently asking Aelor to give him Tywin at every opportunity and spending the rest of the time cursing the man.

Aelor groaned and rubbed a hand across his eyes at the sight of him. "I know you want Tywin and the other Lannisters, Oberyn. Believe me, I know."

The Prince of Dorne took a seat beside him, waving the Tully boy to pour them wine. "Then why do you hesitate?"

"It is not that simple."

"Yes, it is. You have rewarded the Reach; it is time you reward Dorne. Give me Tywin Lannister and I will consider it done."

Aelor scoffed. "You had as much reason for this war as I did. Aegon is as much your nephew as my own."

Oberyn conveniently ignored that, focused solely on what he wanted. "Give me Tywin, Aelor. For Elia."

"I need time to consider it."

"You didn't take any time at all when it came to burning Lannisport."

Aelor glowered, speaking around gritted teeth. "Edmure, out." For once the boy didn't wait and complain, turning and fleeing the pavilion as quickly as he could. Aelor glared at his old friend and spoke again once the Tully heir was gone. "You know as well as I that I wasn't myself when that was ordered. You fed that fact for your own purposes."

"No you weren't and yes I did, because you were the man this situation needed when you weren't yourself, not this merciful diplomat."

Aelor's tone turned deadly. "You're a brave man and my friend, Oberyn, but I have had enough insults to last me a lifetime. I will not take any more from you."

The Red Viper glared back, no fear in his black eyes. "But you will allow them to Elia? Each breath a Lannister takes is a slight to her memory."

"Tell me, just what did the dwarf boy do to bring about her death?"

"He is Twyin Lannister's son. That is enough."

"And I am Aerys Targaryen's!" Aelor bellowed as he rose to his feet, throwing his arm out in anger and knocking the two just-poured glasses of wine off the table to break on the ground. Oberyn rose as well, the two deadly men staring each other down. The Prince of the Iron Thrne drew and tossed his dagger on the table in front of the Prince of Dorne. "If sons are guilty of the sins of their parents, then I killed the Darklyns and Hollards and the fucking Starks. Drive that dagger through my heart to atone for them, then turn it on yourself to atone for your own."

Oberyn looked every bit the coiled snake ready to strike. "And what are my family's sins?"

Aelor knew it was a low blow even as he delivered it, but Oberyn had thrown off all bets. "Your family betrothed Elia to the heir to a mad dynasty to increase their own prestige. If it weren't for you, why, Elia would never have been in the middle of all of this anyway. And if she weren't, maybe she'd still be alive."

A black rage crossed Oberyn's face, and for a moment Aelor was sure he was going to grab the dagger and slit Aelor's throat. The Dragon of Duskendale readied himself for it, slipping into that mindset of battle without another thought of it being his friend he was facing.

For the first and likely only time in their lives Oberyn had the cooler head. With a bellowed curse the Prince of Dorne turned and stalked out, fists clenched. Aelor glared after him as his body slowly relaxed. With another muffled expletive of his own he slumped back into his chair, staring down sightlessly and gripping his brow.

"That was quite the falling out."

Aelor's head snapped up, though he knew who owned the voice before he laid eyes on her. Alysanne Lefford stood in the flap of the tent, garbed in a dress of the blue and gold of her house sigil that complimented her suntanned skin. Aelor grunted before returning to his previous position. "You always seem to catch me at my lowest moments."

He could hear the swish of her dress as the heir to the Golden Tooth entered the tent unprompted. "You certainly seem to have a lot of them."

The Dragon of Duskendale snorted out a chuckle and leaned back, eyeing her as she approached. "What are you still doing here, Alysanne?"

She circled around behind him, the sound of glasses clinking and wine pouring. "Officially or unofficially?"


"Well, officially I am here to continuously care for my father." A glass appeared in front of his face, one Aelor took. Alysanne filled the seat Oberyn had just vacated, a glass in her own. "Unofficially I am here to continuously try to woo you."

Aelor cracked a smile at her terms. "The Lady wooing the Prince. That's quite the deviation from the norm."

Alysanne smirked back and shrugged. "You shouldn't be too surprised. You'll have every unwed lady and half the married ones after you now. 'Targaryen Prince, Lord of Duskendale, Hand of the King and Regent of the Iron Throne.' Yes, you're quite the pursuit indeed. The family that marries their daughter to you will be by default very influential." Her grin widened. "But you know that, of course."

Aelor returned the smile. "And so does your father."

"And so does my father."

They sipped their wine in silence for a moment before the Prince spoke. "What do you think of it all?"

Alysanne cocked her brow in surprise. "Me?"


"How would I know anything about this, Your Grace?"

"You probably wouldn't, but seeing as I don't know anything either I'm willing to listen to just about anyone."

She mock glowered at him. "Flattering." The heir to the Golden Tooth leaned back slightly in her chair, wrinkling her nose in thought. "What was your plan before you actually had Tywin?"

Aelor chuckled without humor. "I had planned on killing every living Lannister and burning their bodies to ashes like I did Lannisport. After that I didn't have a plan. The Westerlands could have turned into a massive power maelstrom with nobles cutting each other's throats in an attempt to pick up the scraps and I wouldn't have cared."

Her dark eyes appraised him intelligently. "But now you do care."

The Dragon of Duskendale nodded slightly and took another sip of his wine. "Yes. Now I do."

"Is there a particular reason why?" When the Hand of the King cocked an eyebrow at her Alysanne elaborated. "When I cared for you after Lannisport, you made it clear that you didn't give a whit about burning the city. Has that changed?"


"Then what has? You could wipe out the Lannisters and be seen by many as just in doing so. Those weeks ago at the Tooth that is all you wanted. Why don't you want it now?"

Aelor regarded her for a long moment. "Is this coming from the woman who is ordered to seduce me, from the woman who used to swear fealty to the Lannisters, or from the woman who is heir to the House who by loyalty to the crown is the most likely to inherit all the Lannisters lose?"

Alysanne held his eyes. "I like to think it is coming from a friend."

Aelor smiled lightly at the comment before sitting back in his chair. "I could use one of those." He gestured towards the opening Oberyn had stormed out of. "I seem to be losing the ones I have at a rather appallingly fast rate."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about your Dornishman friend. His…partner Ellaria and I have had quite a few chances to speak as the only two noblewomen in the camp. She says you both have massive tempers and are equally capable of foolhardiness, but that your friendship isn't the temporary kind."

"You heard the last thing I said. It wasn't very Princely of me."

"Nor was what he said to you beforehand. Your tempers will cool, your minds will clear, and in a few days all will be well."

"You are a very optimistic woman."

"One of us has to be, Prince Aelor." She adjusted in her seat. "Back to my point. What has changed that has got you so flummoxed?"

"Were you listening in on the council?" He waved her away almost as soon as he said it. "No, don't tell me. Brightsmile and a few of the other Lords were right. The Westlanders follow the Lannister because that is all they have ever done, and I cannot change that, so killing the rest of them justified or not is out of the question. That being said, I wiped out nine tenths of the two main Lannister lines and most if not all of the cadet branches when I burned Lannisport, which will obviously lead to derision from future Lannister rulers. And that is the next problem; Tywin must die, Jaime most likely will too and the second son is a dwarf."

Alysanne cocked her head to the side. "You don't strike me as the type to mind that sort of thing."

Aelor shrugged. "I'm not, but I doubt the same can be said for the lords who will have to swear fealty to him."

"Have you talked to Tyrion?"

The Dragon of Duskendale hesitated a moment. "No."

"Illifer had a valid point; dwarf or no, his mind is brilliant."

"And his body stunted. Nobles are full of pride, myself included."

"But if he makes them prosper, they can forgive almost anything. And Tyrion will."

Aelor raised an eyebrow at her. "How do you know so much about this boy Tywin kept hidden?"

Alysanne rolled her eyes. "I've said it before; my father's ambition is unrivaled. He loves me, don't you doubt it, but my role is to marry advantageously. When Jaime Lannister joined the Kingsguard it made Tyrion heir to Casterly Rock, whether Tywin wanted it or not. My father aimed for me to be the lady. Until the war and you came along that is."

"Lord Leo is certainly a character it seems."

Alysanne ignored his last comment. "Tyrion seemed in desperate need of a friend. After he realized I wasn't there to make fun of him, he told me quite a bit." She met his eyes and held them. "Including how Tywin always hated him and considered him a blight on the Lannister name. I understand you hate the Lion of Lannister, whatever your recent revelations that have calmed you down—recent argument with the attractive Dornishman notwithstanding. What better way to get the last laugh over him than put his legacy into the hands of the very man he never wanted it to go to?" Alysanne leaned back and shrugged, eyes twinkling.

Aelor stared at her for a long moment, and then he couldn't help but smile.

The Lords dutifully awaited him the next morning, and Aelor wasted precisely no time on pleasantries. "My decisions have been made. First will be Cersei Lannister, an innocent in all of this nonsense no matter how foul her mouth may be. Several of you have asked for her hand in marriage as rewards for good service, and you shall have rewards for loyalty in the future. Cersei, however, shall marry someone who didn't ask for her."

He turned to look at one of his most loyal supporters, seated with his bad leg laid out in front of him. "Lord Elwood Harte died valiantly during the Battle of the Trident, and with him died House Harte. As Lord of Duskendale, his lordship reverts to me, to grant as I please. Cersei shall marry its new lord, a utterly loyal man whom I know will never try and press her claim, starting another war when the Westerlands certainly doesn't need one; Ser—now Lord—Alaric Langward."

The shaggy haired youth nodded, having been forewarned by Aelor the night before, face white with apprehension but willing to do damn near anything Aelor Targaryen asked. Several Lords who had requested Cersei's hand scowled, but none opened their mouth in protest, a prudent move on their part.

Aelor searched the crowd for a familiar face, nodding when he found it. "Prince Oberyn."

The Dornishman had come to the council willingly after Manfred delivered the request, something Aelor hadn't been sure the Prince of Dorne would do. Even so he met Aelor's eyes with a glare. "Elia was your sister long before she was Queen. Tywin lost all rights to an honorable death the moment he attacked a city under the guise of friendship, and buried them further when he killed the woman we both cared very much for."

The Red Viper perked up slightly at what the Dragon of Duskendale was saying, though his anger had yet to leave his eyes. "As such, I'm giving Tywin Lannister to you. You have a week to kill him, and then you will present his head to me to mount on a spike of Maegor's Holdfast."

There were a few grumblings from the other lords—chief among them Lord Arryn—but Aelor ignored them. Oberyn's eyes had lost all of their rage. He opened his mouth to speak but Aelor raised a hand to cut him off. "Don't thank me yet. Neither Jaime Lannister nor Tyrion Lannister shall die."

Outrage tore through the advisors, mainly at Jaime's apparent lack of punishment. Aelor shot to his feet, slamming a hand on the table to cut them off though he felt none of the anger the move implied. "Enough, my lords. Hear me out." He slowly retook his seat. "I had a conversation with Tywin Lannister last night, as well as Ser Manfred Darke of the Kingsguard, who interrogated the men who carried out Elia Martell's murder. They both told me the same thing; Jaime didn't kill Elia. He didn't stop his father's men from doing it, no, but how could he? He was in the black cells for killing the King, and that was his only hope for escape in addition to being commanded to flee by his father."

Aelor relaxed back in his seat. "He broke his Kingsguard vows it is true, but in doing so he saved King's Landing and all the innocents in it from the very wildfire that destroyed Lannisport. My father wasn't a good king, we all know it. While Jaime disgraced his honor as a Kingsguard, he didn't disgrace his honor as a knight—he protected the innocent. As such, he will be sentenced to take the Wall, where he will serve out the rest of his life—as long or as short as it may be—as a sworn member of the Night's Watch. That is my decision."

The silence that followed had no small amount of disapproval, but Aelor's violet eyes dared anyone to argue. None did.

Jon Arryn spoke next, eyes clearly approving of Aelor's decision. "And Tyrion."

Aelor readied himself for the next wave of outrage. "Tyrion is innocent of both his father's and brother's sins. Dwarf or not, he is the heir to Casterly Rock and the Lord Paramountcy of the Westerlands. He shall retain it."

Old Lord Sumner Crakehall, big, brawny and strong despite his age, scoffed louder than the others. "He is a child, and a dwarf to boot."

The Dragon's voice took a cold tone. "He is your liege lord, Lord Crakehall, rather you like it or not. He is the heir, and while the Lannister's must suffer for the transgressions of Tywin, I could just as well say you should suffer, for following the man against the crown. Scoff my decision again and you will."

Crakehall grudgingly shut his mouth, and Aelor continued. "The Lannisters have already been punished heavily. Ninety percent of their line died in the Lighting of the Lions, and Lannisport's once great incomes are gone. Furthermore, seven tenths of the gold in Casterly Rock shall be seized by the Crown, to help pay for the resettling of the smallfolk displaced by the Lighting. All loot seized by the Ironborn during the war shall be by rights theirs. And you, my Westerlander lords, will follow Tyrion Lannister as your liege lord, or there shall be more Lannisports in the future."

There were no more scoffs.

Aelor looked back to Lord Leo Lefford, who was keeping his face carefully blank. "Lord Leo. Many—and likely you among them—were expecting me to revoke the Lord Paramountcy and grant it to you for being the only Westlander house to remain loyal when no others dared, even if the reason you did was sheer practicality. While that clearly will not be the case, I do not forget my friends. Loyalty to the crown will always be rewarded."

Aelor smirked slightly. "Your ambition, however annoying, has worked."

"I'm going to marry your daughter."

Chapter Text

"I hear we are to be married. Thank you for consulting me."

Aelor grunted as she entered the tent at dusk, waving his hand at Edmure. With a sigh the squire turned to leave again, clearly sick of being ordered to and fro like a...well, like a squire. He'll learn yet. The Trout swims where the Dragon tells it.

As soon as the squire exited the Prince of the Iron Throne turned to his new betrothed. "Don't sound so surprised, my lady. It has been your entire goal since I first passed through the Golden Tooth."

Alysanne slipped back into the seat beside him where she had sat the day before, glancing curiously at the stacks of parchment stacked in front of Aelor. "My father's goal, you mean."

Aelor went back to writing, quill scratching as he finished the letter to the castellan of the castle Brindlewood whoever the hell they were, instating Alaric as its lord. "And yours. We both know it; there is no need to begin our marriage out with lies and deceit."

Alysanne to her credit didn't deny it. "I did tell you you'd have every unwed lady in Westeros chasing after you. I'm unwed and I'm also a lady."

Aelor chuckled shortly, signing the letter before closing it and sealing it with the warring twin dragons of his personal seal. He supposed the seal of the Hand of the King would carry more weight, but this was an internal matter of the high lordship of Duskendale, and any figure in Brindlewood prominent enough to be left as castellan would recognize Aelor's personal sigil above anything else. "Oh, I'm perfectly aware."

"So why me? I'm sure there were more beautiful women from more prominent families; Cersei Lannister, for example."

Aelor quickly looked up from beginning his next letter. "Don't even go there."

Alysanne giggled even as she held her hand out in deference. "Okay, maybe not Cersei Lannister, but that doesn't exclude the others."

Aelor lay his quill down and leaned back in his seat to eye her. It served a dual-purpose; his back was bloody killing him from hunching over those letters. "You're blunt and honest, and I admire that. Most noble ladies are curtseying, swooning maidens with more courtesy than brains. You're different."

Alysanne mockingly laid her hand on her heart. "The Seven, just what every woman wants to hear. Isn't this when you're supposed to confess your undying love for me?"

The Prince Regent shrugged even as he went back to his writing. "If you believe that is how noble marriages work, my lady, then I should reconsider my offer to your father."

"Oh I know it's not, but you could stand to be a bit more romantic. But I understand; you can't well give your heart when another already owns it."

Aelor's hand froze in the middle of writing a word, and he had to swallow before he could either continue writing or speak again. "If that is going to be an issue for you, tell me now. I'll take the blame from your father, citing some sudden change of my mind."

Alysanne's voice took a softer tone. "I knew my future husband most likely wouldn't love me, but I admit I didn't expect him to be in love with another. Particularly not someone…"

"Someone dead," Aelor finished her thought, voice crueler than he initially intended for it to be. "Well, I am. And before you ask, I'm not sure that is ever going to change."

She was silent a moment before speaking again. "If you had the choice you wouldn't marry soon or maybe even at all, would you."

"No, but I don't have the choice. My family is dwindling in number, if you hadn't noticed. After the tragedy at Summerhall and this war, there are few Targaryen's left in the world. I'm the only adult one alive besides my great uncle Aemon at the Wall, and thusly the only one able to 'inflate our numbers' in the near future. It is my duty."

"Yes, your duty, not your desire. That puts my future in a rather bleak light, doesn't it."

"Quite the contrary, actually." Aelor looked up to meet her eyes again, brief brush of emotion passed, face now the calm, hard countenance of the hard man he was. "I'm not one for self-praise, but I'm the most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms right now. As my wife, you'd have your own share of it. I already value your counsel, as you've given me sound insight when prompted and even when not, but you'll still have influence even when I'm dead and gone, be that one year or one hundred. Your first son will be the Lord of Duskendale, your second the Lord of the Golden Tooth, their cousin the King of the Iron Throne. Your daughters will have advantageous marriages; one may even be the Queen, if that seems a prudent match to make. And, above all, our children's names will be Targaryen. And with that name comes power."

He lowered his head, voice growing deadly serious. "And you do want power, Alysanne; you are fiercely intelligent and you know it. That is the only reservation I have in our potential marriage."

She raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

Aelor leaned forward in his seat, staring directly into her dark eyes with his violet ones. "I am the heir to the Iron Throne. If something should happen to Aegon, I will inherit the Seven Kingdoms. That means our first son will inherit them. Any woman I marry, perhaps with the exception of Ashara Dayne, would be sorely tempted to…help that along. After all, what good mother wouldn't want their son and his sons to be a King instead of a mere high lord?"

Alysanne, again to her credit, held his gaze evenly. "You're right; I do want power. I'm tired of being ordered to flirt with this lord or befriend that knight—or fuck that Prince—simply because I am a woman. You are a Targaryen, a member of the most powerful family to ever walk the roads of Westeros, and above that you are a male. You don't know how infuriating it is to be bartered and bred like a prize mare." Her eyes flared up in indignation and no small amount of anger, an anger she let bleed into her voice with absolutely no fear. "But do you truly think I would kill achild?"

Aelor's stone face softened for a moment. "No, Alysanne, I don't. If I thought there was even a chance of that I would never have asked for your hand. I do however think your father would, if it meant his grandson sat the Iron Throne."

He stood, turning to the trays behind him to pour the wine as she sat waiting, a reversal of their roles from the day before. "There is something you need to be fully aware of before we are wed, Lady Alysanne. You already know I love Aegon and Rhaenys as if they were my own children, and that I will gladly burn a dozen Lannisports to keep them safe and well. What you may not know, however, is that I will also burn a dozen men and dozens more if they compromise their safety." He turned to face her again, finding her eyes once more as he walked back to the table. "Even your father and all the Leffords left in the world."

Aelor took his seat again and leaned forward, hesitantly placing one of his hands on her much smaller one. "I wouldn't want to cause you that pain, for you have been one of if not the only thing that has kept me sane in the last few weeks. That is something I can never thank you enough for no matter how many years I have to try. But I need you to help me keep your father in line, and if he doesn't…"

She sat back slightly, though she didn't look away or move her hand from under his. "You are very fond of issuing threats, Prince Aelor; it seems to be all you do these days."

"I have Seven Kingdoms to rule and four children to raise in a savage country, half of which wanted my entire family dead not too long ago. Fear is all that's keeping them in line now." He patted her hand once before leaning back. "You are a good woman and a better person than I, Alysanne Lefford, and whatever I may have said earlier I know it. I may be a warrior at heart but I am by no means a fool; you have had ample opportunity to advance yourself and your family in the past few days and you have never even hinted at it. Most would have thought of nothing else but amassing as much power for themselves and their House in your situation, but all you cared about was me."

Alysanne shrugged. "Don't look too much into it; I have always had a perverse fascination with broken things."

She giggled lightly, and Aelor couldn't help but join in for a moment before growing serious once again. "You said I don't know what it is like to have my entire future planned out for me and you are partially correct—though being a Prince is not as glamorous as it may seem—so I am giving you a choice like you have always wanted. I do not love you and I am not sure I ever will, I'm as stubborn as your father is ambitious and I am capable of much blacker violence than anything you have seen yet. I cannot offer you the storied love of Prince Duncan and Jenny of Oldstones or Florian and Jonquil, and I cannot promise I won't occasionally lash out and act the utter fool. But I can promise you protection for yourself and your—our—children, a comfortable if somewhat stressful surrounding, and the full right to knock some sense into me when needed. And I can offer you the power of choice in this, which is something you won't have in your next marriage if you decide against me. That is what I have to offer you, Alysanne Lefford; the choice is yours."

She pursed her lips for a moment, eyeing him. "Is that an offer of marriage, because it sounded more like a proposition of business to me."

Aelor shrugged. "I'm not good at flowery words. Swords and killing are more my specialty."

Alysanne watched him a moment longer before rising and turning. Aelor watched, utterly confused, as she walked to where his bed and personal affects were located in the corner of the pavilion, scrounging around in the rapidly dying light. Without a word she seemed to find what she was searching for and turned to walk back to the table.

Alysanne placed the candle and its holder onto the table in front of them both with a thud, lighting it with the firesteel she had commandeered and casting light over the stacks of parchments. "Well, if I'm to be your wife, I can't well let you work yourself to death before I get the influence your marriage brings now can I?" She reached her hand out for a roll of parchment and the quill. "Who am I writing to and what am I saying?"

Aelor Targaryen smiled.

Chapter Text

Pain was such a flexible thing.

It came in all sorts of forms, able to bring out complete opposite reactions when inflicted in the slightest different way. Most avoided it, the threat of pain able to convince them to do nearly anything you wanted. Others embraced and treasured it, like the Burned Men of the wildlings of the Vale. It could be a form of despair as was common, avoided like greyscale, or it could be a form of pleasure if the inflicting hand knew what it was doing. He had come across a Lyseni whore in his days as an exiled sellsword who had been obsessed and enamored by pain, and she had remained his favorite for nigh on half a year due to her sheer uniqueness.

Pain could be inflicted quickly, with a sword or spear or other weapon, or it could be inflicted slowly, with the vast array of poisons he had worked at mastering since he was a young man. Death was nearly as flexible, capable of coming with or without vast amounts of pain.

For Tywin Lannister, Oberyn had chosen vast amounts, and even that wouldn't be enough. He had a week to kill him on the march back to King's Landing, and he intended to use every second of it.

Torture was as adverse as pain and death. The Boltons of the North flayed their victims alive, peeling the skin form the muscles and tendons while the prisoner thrashed and flayed. Oberyn had only tested it for the first time the day before, one finger at a time, and he had to admit the process was satisfyingly brutal. Burning was another, more common practice, and Oberyn wasn't against tried and true methods. A Lion roasted as well as any other, and Tywin Lannister had always been called a Lion.

But Oberyn was a Viper, and poison was his weapon of choice.

The old Lion was tough, even Oberyn would admit that, but they all broke sooner or later, and Tywin Lannister was no different. Three different poisons seeped slowly through his system, none of the doses fatal by themselves and even when combined would take longer than Oberyn had to kill the former Lord of the Westerlands. Each caused a different effect, fully intent on making Tywin's last hours as miserable as possible. Widow's Blood slowly shut down Tywin's bladder and bowels, the body's inner toxins working on the old man's flickering life. Basilisk venom pulled his mind slowly apart, causing hallucinations and terrors to haunt the Lion's mind even as his body shrieked in pain. And finally the venom of a viper slowly clotted his blood, sweat pouring down the Lion's bare bloody torso as his body betrayed him, killing itself slowly with only limited input from Oberyn himself.

The Red Viper of Dorne knew in his heart his sister wouldn't approve. Aelor Targaryen had told him the same, seeming to have come to the conclusion during some part of the same revelation he seemed to have had during the flames of Lannisport. Oberyn assumed his new betrothed, the Lefford girl, was part of it, and he would fear his old friend was being manipulated if it weren't for the calm reassurances of Ellaria, who had gotten to know the heir to the Golden Tooth decently well.

That and it was Aelor. He was much too attuned to the game of thrones to be deceived by a girl he barely knew, and while the wiles of a woman's warmth were as effective as the greatest of derived schemes, the last scion of Targaryen strength was in no danger.

Even so, Oberyn intended to remain in King's Landing once they arrived for a good while. Oberyn trusted Aelor—and the Prince of Dorne didn't trust much of anyone—and the Lefford woman seemed a decent individual, but one could never be too cautious when an Infant King was on the throne, and Lord Leo was unabashedly ambitious.

He'd have to show the man just how foolish any plotting would be. Maybe he'd give the Lord of the Golden Tooth Tywin's body after he gave Aelor his head.

But that was a fear for another time. Now, the Prince of Dorne stood and unsheathed the dagger at his side. As he took a step towards the bloody tortured man in front of him, the Red viper smiled.

His second return to King's Landing had been much better than his first.

For one, he hadn't escorted the empty armor of his dead brother to the Great Sept of Baelor. There was no solemn pall over the smallfolk as he rode through their midst to the Red Keep. Instead, they had shouted and rejoiced, shouting his name or his nephews, though Aelor knew what they were truly cheering for.

It brought the Dragon of Duskendale no small amount of joy either. Tywin Lannister's tarred head entered the city on a spike, emerald green eyes glazed and sightless, face forever locked in a silent scream of pain. Aelor knew the Lion of the West's last days had been terrible; he'd ordered Oberyn to conduct his business well back of the main column, but even despite the distance he had heard the former Hand of the King's screams.

He asked Elia to forgive both himself and her brother, even as the Prince of the Iron Throne relished their sound.

Randyll Tarly and three thousand volunteers had remained behind in the Westerlands to settle any unrest Tyrion Lannister's ascension to Lord Paramount would bring. Aelor intended to offer Kevan the regency for his nephew, if the man could be found.

And if he would accept. Aelor knew many in the West would hate him for years to come after Lannisport, but he didn't care. They could hate him all they wanted as long as they feared him just as ardently, and anyone with eyes could see they most certainly did.

It was morbidly funny in a sense; he was using the same tactics to instill order that his most hated enemy, the man he had ordered tortured to death, had used. Whatever his rage at Tywin Lannister, the Lion's methods had been effective.

Hopefully his head, rotting next to Pycelle's skull, would be equally so in showing Westeros the wraith of the dragon.

The Dragon of Duskendale had held his sister for the first time soon after his arrival, Daenerys Stormborn every bit the Valyrian Princess. Viserys was still reeling from the loss of their mother, and Aelor knew it would be a long process to settle his youngest brother down, but his babe of a sister seemed to calm the young Prince temporarily, something Aelor was thankful for. He knew perfectly well that Viserys could easily in his child's mind blame Daenerys for their mother's death, but the opposite seemed to be the case. He was clinging to girl, always wanting to hold her, checking in on her constantly, being the older brother to Daenerys that Aelor had—to his shame—never been to Viserys. Aegon was growing and Rhaenys alongside him, with each day the toddle growing to look more and more like Elia.

The Targaryens were very much alive despite the recent attempts to change that fact, and Aelor didn't intend to let Westeros forget it any time soon.

His Small Council had reconvened the morning after his return to the capital, now complete since Quellon Greyjoy had travelled with the army from Casterly Rock on horseback and Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Gerold Hightower had returned with Ned Stark from Dorne. Aelor had very nearly removed the white cloak from Hightower, Oswell Whent and Arthur Dayne for forsaking their king and following Rhaegar in his folly, but he had ultimately decided against it. Even so, he had made it abundantly clear that their loyalty to was to their King, and had left no room for doubt in any of their minds that he would give the next Kingsguard to forget their vows over to Oberyn.

Several new faces had sat in during that crucial council meeting on invitations from Aelor. Oberyn, who as Alysanne and Ellaria had predicted seemed to have forgotten the argument he and Aelor had nearly killed one another over, had managed to not only sit through the whole thing without fidgeting but also managed to avoid insulting anyone. His time with Tywin seemed to have settled his normally testy attitude. Barristan, whom Aelor had yet to gather the courage to talk to privately, had also sat in at the Dragon of Duskendale's invitation, along with the new Grandmaester.

The Conclave at the Citadel in Oldtown had selected a hulking brute of a man named Colmar as the replacement to Pycelle. Closer to seven feet than six, he was half again as broad shouldered as Aelor with a bull thick neck and huge hands. Born to a whore in Maidenpool four and a half decades earlier, he had survived a bout with greyscale as an infant, leaving his broad face disfigured and earning him the dubious nickname of Colmar the Grey. The man wore the name like armor, dressing in all grey robes. However grisly the disease had made his countenance, it certainly hadn't affected his voice, which was as booming and boisterous as Greatjon Umber's, nor his mind, which even in their limited interactions Aelor had gauged to be as sharp as Valyrian steel.

The Small Council and their additional advisors had debated and worked for half a day, arguing and figuring, Grandmaester Colmar sending out nearly every raven in the rookery with messages going all over the Seven Kingdoms. Wyman Manderly had torn into the figures of the new influx of gold seized from Casterly Rock, having by Barristan's account worked tirelessly during the time the Prince had been gone to get a firm grip on the Throne's finances. Bronze Yohn Royce had alongside Oberyn toured the massed army outside the gates of King's Landing for volunteers for the City Watch, having stripped half of those who had survived the Sack of their gold cloaks, the order having become infected with dishonest and incompetent men during the years of Aerys reign. The Lord of Runestone had been met with a rash of volunteers, most of them former peasant levies who had found an aptitude for war and martial pursuits or were simply looking for a consistent meal and place to sleep, and Bronze Yohn claimed it would take him several days to filter through them all.

Lyanna Stark had come to the capital with her brother as well, now mere weeks away from delivering Rhaegar's child. That was the only issue he hadn't brought before the council, and even now the Dragon of Duskendale wasn't sure how he was going to handle it. He hadn't talked to the Stark girl yet, knowing himself well enough by now to recognize he needed time to gather himself before he did so to avoid ripping her foolish head off.

Maybe he'd bring Alysanne along when he finally did.

Aelor Targaryen was set to marry his betrothed in a fortnight, noble ladies from all over the realm already clamoring to be a lady-in-waiting despite Alysanne having only arrived in the capital the night before. She was handling the rushed preparations rather well, already settling into her position as consort to the most powerful man in Westeros. A few of the hostages from the rebel regions had already filtered into the capital, and Alysanne had made it her duty to settle the understandably frightened children into their new surroundings.

The Slightly Larger Council dispersed a few hours past midday, having convened that morning before dawn. As he had many times before, Aelor stopped Barristan before he could leave, waiting until the chambers were clear.

His mentor met Aelor's eyes calmly; there was no judgement, no betrayal. Aelor couldn't quite force himself to return the gaze, and a silence hung over the two for a long moment before the Prince of the Iron Throne managed to find his voice.

"I suppose you heard about Lannisport."

Barristan the Bold's voice was as calm as his gaze. "I imagine all the known world has by now, Your Grace."

"You would have stopped me if you were there."

"I certainly would have tried."

Aelor nodded, eyes on the ground. "I don't regret it, nor will I ever. Does that make me as bad as Aerys?"

Barristan didn't hesitate. "King Aerys would have burned the city with everyone in it, smallfolk and soldier alike. You didn't, Your grace."

"I wanted to."

"I know you did, yet still you allowed the innocent to escape. That is when I knew."

Aelor looked up for a moment, meeting his constant friend's eyes. "Knew what?"

"King Jaehaerys once told me that madness and greatness were two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land." Barristan smiled ever so slightly. "Yours missed both sides, Your Grace; it landed on the edge. But I wholeheartedly believe that will make you the greatest of them all."

Aelor looked down again and swallowed. "Is this where I say I am sorry, Barristan?"

The most powerful man in the Kingdoms couldn't move as Barristan the Bold slowly walked to his side. The knight of the Kingsguard lightly laid his hand on the Prince's shoulder, and the Prince knew he was forgiven. "No, Aelor. This is when you become the man you were always meant to be."

The Hand of the King and regent to Aegon the Sixth held court that evening, ascending the steps to the Iron Throne as regally as any King ever had. Instead of sitting on the ugly, sharp piece of burnt and twisted steel, he had ordered a simple chair to be settled in front of it. While he had silenced the whispers that Aelor should overpass Aegon in the succession, he knew the thoughts were still in the back of the minds of his most ardent supporters—and his soon-to-be goodfather Lord Leo. Aelor refused to add fuel to the fire of those thoughts.

Besides, the simple chair was much more comfortable than that forsaken throne.

Nobles from around the Seven Kingdoms were present, among them Mace Tyrell and Ned Stark, who had been awaiting Aelor and his return. The Prince of the Iron Throne nodded to the latter as he sank into the chair, silently thanking the Lord of the North for having the foresight to keep Lyanna from the throne room and the eye of the court.

"Lords and ladies," he spoke, as Barristan and Manfred took up positions on either side of the dais the throne sat upon. "We finally have peace."

A cheer went up, one Aelor let grow for a long while before silencing with the raising of a hand. "There is much to be done, and I am not one for wasting time or for ceremony. Lords Arryn, Tully and Stark." Each of the Lord Paramounts stepped forward. "You willingly bent the knee when you could have continued fighting, and then loyally assisted the crown in defeating Tywin Lannister even after reprimands were issued. House Targaryen rewards loyalty, and as such only five hostages shall be required of each region to serve five years where placed. Many have already arrived, and I again defer to you and your Lord bannermen in deciding who shall serve. Lord Stark, your son or daughter shall be required in King's Landing only once every two years instead of every other year, and the same shall be required of Lord Arryn's heir should he and Lysa Tully be so blessed. Lord Hoster, Edmure shall remain my squire and hostage until he is of age, but I will personally present him with a suit of plate armor, a sword and a destrier bred from my own warhorse when he is knighted, as thanks to House Tully for your service."

Each man nodded and issued their thanks, returning to the crowds of the court when Aelor waved a hand. As was his nature, he instantly moved on to the next issue. "Ser Rolland Storm, step forward."

The Bastard of Nightsong was young, only eight and ten, the brother of the even younger Lord Bryce Caron in the Stormlands. Even so, he had alongside Greatjon Umber and the Northmen broken the Lannister lines outside Casterly Rock and Lannisport, slaying four of Tywin's kinsmen among several others. Though he had fought at the Trident alongside Robert, he had only been following his liege lord as had so many others, and Aelor was a warrior who respected other warriors. "While you fought the Crown at the Trident, you served it exceptionally well during the Battle of Casterly Rock, and I am told you are an excellent swordsmen. As such, I am offering you the seventh and final position in the Kingsguard, to serve King Aegon Targaryen the Sixth of his name loyally until the day of your death."

The young man with pox scars was unsurprisingly shocked, only able to nod his head in his surprise. Aelor returned the nod. "Kneel, Ser Rolland, and rise as a member of the Kingsguard."

Aelor watched on as the Bastard of Nightsong swore an oath forsaking his family and swearing allegiance to Aegon Targaryen and the Targaryen dynasty, Barristan placing the white cloak around his shoulders. While some would grumble at the appointment of a former rebel and of one so young, Aelor knew Aegon would need strong swords to protect him, and as a bastard Rolland had few prospects in the Stormlands. He could rise much higher than he otherwise would in the Kingsguard, and the young man seemed to know it.

As soon as the young man was cloaked, proudly taking up a position aside Sers Barristan and Manfred, Aelor came to the most crucial decree he had to male. "Stannis Baratheon, step forward."

The middle Baratheon was tall as the first had been though his lanky form had yet to fill out, his face as grim as Robert's had been jovial. Aelor had heard how the young lord had resorted to eating boot leather and rats rather than surrender to Mace Tyrell, only yielding the castle when Eddard Stark had arrived and persuaded him to. While Aelor wouldn't forget that Robert had killed Rhaegar—and he was sure Stannis wouldn't forget that Aelor had killed Robert—he couldn't help but be impressed.

Aelor met the Lord Paramount of the Stormlands Baratheon-blue eyes as he spoke. Stannis held the gaze. "You followed your brother as a second son should. As a second son myself, I can respect your actions. Your brother is dead by my hand, as my own brother is dead by Robert's. That could easily breed future animosity between our Houses. I have been counseled—likely wisely—to have you and your brother take the Black."

Stannis held Aelor's violet eyes unwaveringly. "That would be your right, Your Grace."

Aelor smiled ever so slightly. "I am not going to do so, however. You are the new Lord Paramount of the Stormlands by right, a position you will maintain. Hostages will be taken from among the Stormlords, five as is the sentence of the others regions. Your brother and heir Renly will become a ward of Lord Mace Tyrell, not only as a buffer against any attempted retaliation against the throne but also as a reward to the Lord of the Reach for services rendered. Your first child, when born, shall undergo the same arrangement as Lord Stark's and Lord Arryn's. If you accept these terms, you will be accepted back into the King's Peace."

Stannis was unafraid. "And if I don't?"

The Dragon of Duskendale respected the lad's courage, but he would learn that Aelor was not one to be trifled with. "If you don't, I will descend these stairs and drive my sword through your stomach, to watch you bleed out on the floor of the throne room as both our respective brothers did in the waters of the Trident. Renly is likely to be much more accepting of my deal if he also becomes the Lord of Storm's End."

Stannis held Aelor's violet eyes for a long moment. "I suppose I accept these terms then, Your Grace."

Aelor nodded. "You are a brave man, Stannis Baratheon. I hope that bravery will serve the Iron Throne well in the future."

The Dragon of Duskendale stood. "Lords and Ladies, the rebellion is over, and peace finally surrounds us all. May Aegon the Sixth's reign truly begin."

Chapter Text

He was getting married in less than twelve hours, yet here he was outside a different woman's chambers.

Aelor Targaryen was becoming quite the expert at handling the cries coming from a birthing chamber, and he wasn't even an actual father yet. After King Aegon's and Aelor Rykker's births he knew roughly what to expect, and as such he was calmly waiting outside Lyanna Stark's chambers as the Northerner screamed in pain.

Eddard Stark was waiting too, though he was certainly anything but calm. The Lord of the North was a father, word having reached the capital that Catelyn Tully had given birth to a healthy boy at Riverrun, but he looked like anything but, pacing furiously down the corridor, grey Stark eyes boring into the stone floor of the Red Keep. Aelor watched him in mild amusement, having given up on calming the screaming woman's brother.

A presence appeared beside him, voice soft as it spoke. "He's going to wear through the stones of the hall. Replacing them will be a pain."

Aelor chuckled. "Sounds like the perfect job for the de facto Queen. Have fun."

Alysanne nudged his shoulder lightly, and the Dragon of Duskendale looked down at her. "You should sleep. We can't have the Regent of the Iron Throne missing his own wedding."

Aelor's eyes became shrouded. "I have been avoiding this situation for weeks. That child is Rhaegar's, and a Prince or Princess of the Iron Throne."

"It is also my sister's, and half-Stark," Eddard cut in, suddenly no longer pacing and instead watching them. The Lord of the North desperately wanted to return to Winterfell, even a blind man could see it, but he refused to abandon his sister, and Lyanna had been too close to childbirth to travel. "Whatever Lyanna's mistakes, her child will be as much my niece or nephew as yours, Prince Aelor."

Aelor nodded, though his eyes hardened. "Aye, it will, but Lyanna is the daughter of a Lord Paramount. Rhaegar was a King. Our nephew is a Prince or Princess; as such, they will be raised in King's Landing."

Stark furrowed a brow. "You can't intend to separate the babe from their mother."

Aelor's Valyrian eyes were as hard as Valyrian steel. "That is exactly what I intend, Lord Stark. Lyanna will return to Winterfell with you and your men, while the child remains here to be raised alongside its brother and sister. The blame for the Rebellion rests mainly on my father and brother, I know, but Lyanna certainly played her own role, and I have not forgotten it."

"Your brother seduced her."

"Your sister let herself be seduced. She was unhappy with her betrothal—as if she was only noble, male or female, to be unpleased with their political match—and thusly ran off with a married man, starting a bloody war that nearly destroyed both of our families."

Eddard Stark had ice in his veins it was clear, for the Quiet Wolf didn't rise to anger as most men including Aelor would have. "And the child? What if they decide they want to know their mother, their cousins?"

Aelor felt Alysanne gently grasp the inside of his arm, and the Dragon of Duskendale bit back the instant refusal that had been rising. Lord Stark had a point; as little as Aelor thought of Lyanna, he couldn't make her child's decision for them. Well, he supposed he very well could, but he would not.

With a sigh, the Prince Regent nodded. "When the child is older, they may make their own decisions regarding their mother. I will not deny them their wishes on the matter. But that is years in the future; as soon as Lyanna is healthy enough to travel, she will leave the capital and will not return, and the child will remain here."

Any further argument on the matter was interrupted as a particularly loud scream ripped through the corridor, and the chamber door flung open, a flock of midwives fluttering out to rush both directions, haste marking their every action.

Eddard Stark froze, face showing clear apprehension. Aelor felt the same; Aegon's birth had been followed by such haste, and it hadn't meant anything good for Elia.

The three important figures were as relevant as tits on a breastplate as the army of midwives rushed to and fro, bringing more and more cloth and water. They nearly missed the elderly woman and her bundle when she slipped out amidst the hustle and bustle, Aelor paying her no mind until she was suddenly pressing a babe into his arms.

Aelor instinctually took it, looking down in surprise and amazement at the tiny babe now in his arms. A dark patch of hair covered it—his, her?—head, grey eyes looking up at him. This one is all Stark, I don't see a single sign of Valyria, of Rhaegar.

"It is a boy, Your Grace," the old crone croaked out, flashing a toothless smile. "Small but healthy."

Aelor couldn't help but bark a laugh at that. Some Visenya you'll make, lad. Rhaegar would be so disappointed. The Prince of the Iron Throne couldn't help but smile at his tiny nephew. It's a good thing I'm not Rhaegar then, isn't it? You'll do just fine for a Targaryen, even if you do look more wolf than dragon.

Aelor almost didn't hear Ned Stark's worried voice. "My sister?"

The crone's voice was much calmer than the Lord of the North's. "She is bleeding heavily, but Grandmaester knows what he is doing. They nearly have it stopped. She will be weak for a long while, but she shall survive."

The crone had been right—Lyanna Stark certainly looked weak the next morning, but she was also most certainly alive. The tiny, pallid woman burst into his chambers amidst the shouts of protest from the guards stationed outside, looking like all the Seven Hells but also with no small amount of fire burning in her eyes. "You will not take my child from me!"

Aelor raised an eyebrow from where he stood, half dressed for his wedding. His black tunic and cloak with its three-headed Targaryen Dragon lay on the bed in his otherwise sparse quarters, and the dragonlord had sent his aides from the room. He waved the guardsmen clutching Lyanna Stark's arm off, the man backing out of the room with no amount of relief on his face.

And the dragon faced off against the She-Wolf.

"I will take your child from you, Lady Stark."

She staggered forward, and Aelor was concerned the young woman was going to faint there in his chambers. "He is my son."

"He is my nephew." Aelor stood to his full height, voice final.

"Jon belongs with me!"

Aelor cocked his head to the side. "Jon? Is that what you call him? I'm afraid that isn't going to work, Lady Lyanna. 'Jon' is Valyrian, not Northmen. As such he will be raised here, alongside his brother and sister."

"But not his mother? Think of what that will do to him!"

Aelor was rapidly losing his patience, not that he had very much to begin with. "I am thinking of him, Lyanna Stark. What will he be in the North? A bastard? Jon Snow? The bastard boy of a foolish, selfish girl who decided she didn't want to marry the man she was betrothed to so she eloped with another already married one and started a war that took thousands, including his father?"

Lyanna Stark's voice was much stronger than her body, eyes as feral as the sigil on her family's banner. "He is a Stark!"

Aelor lost what remained of his control. "He is a Targaryen!" It was a bellow, thrown full in the face of the weak woman in front of him. "He is the brother of a King, the blood of the dragon. He is the blood of old Valyria, the son of King Rhaegar Targaryen. His place is here, and here he will stay."

Aelor whirled around, stomping to his bed and grabbing the tunic, trying to get a grip on his temper. "I will hear no more of this. I have a wedding to attend."

Lyanna looked progressively worse, and what was left of the compassionate part of Aelor Targaryen wondered if going through with this would kill the She Wolf. The rest of him—the Aerys part—couldn't find the capability to care.

Lyanna must have realized she would get nowhere with demands and switched up her tactics, though she still willfully ignored his dismissal of the subject. "Please, Prince Aelor. He is all I have left of him."

"Of who, Rhaegar?" Aelor spat out. "He was my brother long before he was anything to you, Stark. Maybe he honestly loved you as he said; even I don't know the truth of it. But your actions helped put him in the grave, along with countless others of my friends and near-family. What am I to do, forget all of that simply because you are a woman? Weren't you yourselfknown for bemoaning how women were treated so differently than men?"

"Then let me stay, Prince Aelor. Please. I'm begging you. All I want is to be near him."

For just a moment the Dragon of Duskendale began to give in, but the image of Renfred Rykker dead on the banks of a river, Elwood Harte gripping the spear that had killed him and Balman Byrch holding his dead younger brother flashed in the Prince's mind, and his heart hardened. "You are loved by your family, Lyanna Stark; you will still be held in high esteem in Winterfell. In King's Landing, however, you will never be anything more than the whore who ran off with a Silver Prince because she was too spoiled to understand there is no room for love in the game of thrones. Whatever my own thoughts, you deserve more than that. You will return home with your brother; if your son wants to see you in future years, I will not stop him. But it will be hischoice, not yours."

The She Wolf broke down into tears, sickly body convulsing with the cries. "Guardsman!" The Dragon of Duskendale called over her sobs, turning back to the looking glass as he buttoned his tunic, face now utterly emotionless. "Escort Lady Stark back to her room."

"I have no time for her tears."

The union of Aelor Targaryen and Alysanne Lefford was a happy occasion after so many months of pain and fear.

Every living Targaryen, from the black haired babe Aelor had named Jaehaerys to the Infant King to the Dragon of Duskendale himself, gathered in the halls of the Sept of Baelor, the very same sept that had months ago been a fortress under siege. The Valyrian Prince, silver haired and scarred, had draped the three headed Targaryen dragon cloak over the Westerlander heiress, tan of skin and beautiful. An olive skinned little girl had clung to his leg as he did so, dark eyes taking in all, and even now she sat atop his lap at the head table back at the Red Keep, overlooking the ocean.

Musicians played as nobles from all over Westeros danced. Ashara Dayne laughed in the small arms of young Viserys Targaryen, who had clung to the Dornishwoman almost as ardently as he had his sister. Greatjon Umber, having stayed in the south to head the men escorting the Starks home, laughed and bellowed with Grandmaester Colmar, the two giants towering over nearly everyone else in the vicinity. Lyanna Stark clung to Jaehaerys Targaryen in the corner, treasuring the last moments with her child that Aelor had—under the direct request of a sympathetic Alysanne—granted the She Wolf. Leo Lefford grew increasingly drunk, celebrating his greatest plot that had only been successful due to his daughter's sheer blunt personality.

Malessa Rykker and her father privately enjoyed the festivities, young Aelor Rykker's hungry bawls both frequent and loud, though no one seemed to mind. Mace Tyrell thrice attempted to make conversation with Aelor at the head table, mentioning each time how he had recently been blessed with a young daughter who would surely grow into a beauty of fable and how well a match a Tyrell would make a Targaryen. The first two times Aelor politely directed him elsewhere, and the third the Lords own mother—Olenna Redwyne, the Queen of Thorns—shooing him away like an annoying pet.

Aelor and Alysanne watched it all, Rhaenys going to Malessa just long enough for the Dragon and his bride to squeeze in a dance before they returned to the table and the Princess her uncle's lap. Gifts were presented throughout the festivities, from daggers to books to an ornate chair from Lord Tyrell clearly meant to replace the simple stool Aelor used when he held court.

It was a gaudy thing the Dragon of Duskendale wouldn't be caught dead in, but he thanked the Lord of the Reach all the same.

Varys was one of the last to present a gift, appearing like a shadow as he always did. The Spider was oddly enough one of the few men Aelor halfway trusted, the chirping of his little birds and the webs he wove having saved the Targaryen dynasty just as often as Aelor had.

"Lord Varys," the Lord of Duskendale greeted, smiling.

"Lord Hand," the bald eunuch replied, bowing in that odd way of his. "I must congratulate you on your wedding. And you, Lady Hand; you look absolutely stunning."

Alysanne smiled at the compliment; Aelor did as well, since it was true. "Thank you Lord Varys. It is a pleasure to meet you."

"The pleasure is all mine. As is this introduction, if I may. Prince Aelor, I would like you to meet an old friend of mine. He has with him a gift, not only to you, but to House Targaryen as a whole."

The Spider turned and gestured, and a large—and Aelor meant large—man shuffled out of the crowd. Almost grotesquely obese, the foreigner had his hair and forked beard died an odd color of yellow, marking him as a man from the Free Cities. Judging by the small fortune of gold and gems adorning his hands and neck and his clearly expensive clothing, Aelor figured him to be a merchant. A very successful merchant, as each finger bore a ring of ameythyst or ruby or black diamond. Sometimes they bore two.

"Prince Aelor, may I congratulate you on your marriage!" The big man said as he approached, stopping to bow. Attempt to bow, more like. His belly makes that a difficult process. "I am Illyrio Mopatis, of the Free City of Pentos."

"And an old friend of mine," Varys chimed in.

Aelor nodded in greeting. "A pleasure to meet you, Lord Illyrio. My wife and I thank you for your attendance."

The fat man smiled jovially. "I believe you will thank me more for my gift than my attendance." The merchant clapped his hands together, and two servants appeared out of the crowd, bearing between them an ornate chest. "Our mutual friend Varys and I have spent many years and many resources tracking these down. They are gone to stone, petrified from age, but that makes them no less beautiful or symbolic for House Targaryen."

The two servants lifted the lid, and Aelor felt his heart leap into his throat even as Illyrio spoke again. "One for each of the heads of the Dragon."

Within that chest, one black with ripples of scarlet, another pale cream laced with gold, the third green flecked with bronze, sat three dragon eggs.

Chapter Text

There was a surplus of Targaryens these days.

Sixteen years ago there had been a war to eradicate the line of the Dragon, half of Westeros rising in revolt against the blood of Aegon the Conqueror. The war—forever christened Robert's Rebellion—had very nearly succeeded; by the end of the brief but bloody conflict House Targaryen had been reduced to five children, an old man at the Wall, and one battle scarred Prince.

Now they were bloody everywhere.

Half of Westeros had once again risen, though this time their intentions were much less violent. Princess Daenerys Targaryen turned six and ten on the morrow, and her nephew Jaehaerys would do the same in a few weeks' time. The Targaryen patriarch—not the actual king but the man who had in reality been the king for fifteen years—had decreed a grand tourney to be held in celebration, one the capital had been preparing for months. It had drawn most of the knights and nobles on the continent to Duskendale, which had grown nearly as much as its Lord's family in the time since the last war. Hundreds of lords and nobles had gathered in the now sprawling city, and when hundreds of important people gathered in one place, thousands of plots and political agendas came with them.

It was bound to be an interesting time.

The jousting lists were so long they could accommodate seven tilts at a time, something that would prove necessary considering the sheer number of knights who had entered the tourney. The melee circles were nearly as large, pristine for now but undoubtedly destined to become churned and bloody in a few days' time. Stands had been erected in bulk, and several areas had been designated for the smallfolk of the city. It was destined to be a tourney unlike any other.

Those things tend to happen when both a Prince and Princess were not betrothed. There were so many suitors of both sexes in and around the city the Grand Maester felt he might drown in them, each and every one intent on nabbing a Targaryen for themselves.

House Targaryen had done nothing but grow during the years of King Aegon the Sixth's reign, both in number and power. Colmar the Grey had seen it first hand, having delivered most of the new Targaryen's himself. That was the very reason he was in Duskendale now and not in King's Landing; Alysanne Lefford was heavy with child, due nearly any day. While the Dun Fort in Duskendale had its own maester—Gorold, a more than competent man Colmar had known for nigh on forty years and who happened to be engaging him in conversation at the moment—there was something to be said about familiarity, and Alysanne was very familiar with Colmar. The hulking man with a disfigured face had, after all, delivered her first six children.

Why change the winning formula at number seven?

Truth be told, Colmar had traveled with the rest of the court to the coastal city at the behest of Alysanne's husband more than anything else. The Dragon of Duskendale took no chances when it came to childbirth, not after his mother had died birthing the Princess Daenerys over a decade ago, and he certainly didn't take any chances when it was his own wife and child. He had insisted Colmar accompany his wife back to Duskendale, and Colmar had of course agreed.

One didn't deny Aelor Targaryen.

Even here, in a feasting hall full of Princes, Princesses and Lord Paramount's, the Dragon of Duskendale stood out from among the others. Colmar glanced over the head of Gorold—an easy thing to do for the Grand Maester as he stood near seven feet while the chubby Reachman stood barely five—to the head table, where the Dragon of Duskendale sat beside the empty seat of honor.

A few years shy of four decades in age, the Hand of the King looked much as he had sixteen years ago. Tall and broad shouldered, his short Targaryen-silver hair and beard framed a hard face that still held traces of its Valyrian beauty despite the jagged and ugly scar that adorned it. The Grand Maester wasn't one to judge such things of course, not with half of his own face grey and mottled, but Colmar liked to note every detail. The Lord of Duskendale was still lean, having never stopped training with his sword despite the fact that there hadn't been a war in Westeros since the fateful day Casterly Rock surrendered, and was still considered one of the finest swordsmen in the Kingdom despite having not fought in a tourney in near as long.

His wife sat beside him, hand on her swollen belly. Alysanne Lefford was still a beautiful woman even after six children and a life at court, and she looked her best during her pregnancies, face aglow. She had been a consistent, steadying presence not only in the lives of her children but the lives of the other Targaryen children, all of whom had one way or another become motherless. Each doted upon her with the exception of the permanently surly Viserys, and she was nearly as well respected as her husband. The marriage of Aelor and Alysanne may not have developed into the true love the bards sang about—though Colmar wasn't entirely sure it hadn't, either—but it certainly was a happy one. Aelor valued her counsel over all others, with the possible exception of Barristan Selmy's. She was and had been the kind-hearted and moral steadying force her hard-hearted husband had needed, able to reach him in even his darkest rages.

Apparently that had been the case since they had met, but Colmar only put so much stock in rumors.

Aelor wasn't in a black rage now, though. The dragonlord's violet eyes were currently gleeful as the Prince's youngest child—at least until the baby in Alysanne's belly was born—was seated in his lap, giggling at something or the other as her father spoke to Lord Alaric Langward. The Grand Maester had seen many nobles speaking with the Prince over the course of the feast, friends and desperate-to-be-friends alike, but he had also noticed many nobles avoiding the Dragon of Duskendale entirely. In his sixteen years as Grand Maester Colmar the Grey had found that to be the norm, though even those who avoided him were certain to never show anything other than respect.

You either loved Aelor Targaryen or you hated him; there was no middle ground. But either way, love or hate, you feared him. For if you didn't, he soon gave you reason to.

Archmaester Gyldayn had once written that Daemon Targaryen the Rouge Prince was both a great man and a monster; Colmar the Grey said the same of Aelor.

The fifteen years the second son of Aerys had ruled as regent for his nephew had been peaceful and prosperous, all agreed. The refugees from the Lighting of the Lions had been resettled in Duskendale, the city having tripled in size, the new buildings and second set of walls to defend them being built with the coin seized from the vaults of Casterly Rock. That same treasure had been used to raise a new Summerhall, the palace built nearly identical to the one that had burned alongside many Targaryens forty years earlier. Trade with the Free Cities had increased, as had the competency of the City's Watch of King's Landing under Lord Yohn Royce.

But it was not all good. Resentment still festered in the Westerlands, the Lords of the West not forgetting the man who had wiped out most of their army and allowed the Ironborn to raid and pillage their lands. Two attempts had been made on the Prince's life, enemies having seen him as the true cog of Targaryen power, and several more had been thwarted by Varys. The first attempt had ended in Aelor gutting his would be killer, though he took a blade in the ribs during the attempt that had taken him half a year to recover from. The man hadn't survived for questioning. Barristan the Bold had stopped the second, taking a crossbow bolt meant for Aelor in the streets of King's Landing. Arthur Dayne had slain that assailant, and Barristan had recovered, but once again they had no one to question.

Another attempt had been made on both Renlor and Alysanne when she was pregnant with Aemon, stopped by Ser Manfred Darke. That man had lived for only a few minutes, but in that time the ugly Kingsguard knight had finally gotten a name.

Aelor had killed half of House Rogers during the Battle of Bronzegate including the heir, and in his rage Lord Bryce had tried to retaliate in kind.

Every member of House Rogers had been put to the sword, from the smallest babe to the oldest crone, many by Aelor himself. Even Alysanne hadn't been able to sway him from the wanton slaughter. The heads of the Rogers' had adorned the walls of Maegor's Holdfast for almost a year, and their castle had been burned to a ruin by wildfire. Nothing and no one had survived, much as nothing and no one had survived Lannisport a few years earlier.

House Rogers wasn't the only plotters of course, and were likely not responsible for all three attempted murders. The attempts had stopped with their deaths, however, as did most of the plots that Varys had sniffed out and monitored. The resentment, though, certainly hadn't. Many questioned whether Aelor was truly sane, and many believed the answer to be no. Aelor didn't care for any of the talk, but Colmar knew they were also questioning Targaryens as a whole when they questioned the man who had saved the dynasty. While he had ruled competently and well, Aelor's ruthlessness not only with House Rogers and the Lighting of the Lions but other issues he had dealt with over the years had proven potentially damaging.

The Dragon of Duskendale's children were all combating that notion, however, and though they were not his own blood Colmar loved them each and every one. Aelor's eldest son was physically nearly his twin, though he was loved by all in a way his father hadn't been for years. Renlor Targaryen—affectionately called Ren after Aelor's long dead friend Renfred Rykker—was currently spinning Myrcella Langward around the dance floor, laughing loudly. The heir to Duskendale was physically a younger version of his sire, tall and broad shouldered with silvery-blonde hair and violet eyes. He was somewhat thin and lanky, but at five and ten he promised to fill out as Aelor had. The lad was gregarious and charming to a fault, with all the Valyrian beauty of his Targaryen blood. A squire to Lord Commander Barristan the Bold of the Kingsguard, he was a promising swordsman and horseman slated to ride in tomorrow's tourney.

His closest sibling was the opposite. Aemon Targaryen, born less than a year after Ren, was slight of build, with his mother's golden brown hair and complexion, though he possessed his father's violet eyes. The lad was nowhere to be seen, though that didn't surprise Colmar; Aemon was a bookish boy, more interested in a quill than a sword and more comfortably in a library than a ballroom. Quiet and gentle, he was the Grand Maester's favorite of the Hand of the King's children, though he didn't dare tell Rhaella that.

Rhaella Targaryen was two and ten and already a beauty of some renown. Her hair was as white as the cloak of the Kingsguard, her eyes indigo. As charming as Renlor and as gentle as Aemon, she had been betrothed to her cousin Aegon for most of their respective lives, though that didn't stop every noble maiden from trying to worm their way into the King's heart as the realm waited for Rhaella to flower. Colmar hoped King Aegon would not be swayed by any of them, for Rhaella would make as glorious a queen as the realm had seen since Alysanne Targaryen.

She now danced in the arms of her third brother, born one year exactly after she had been. Baelon Targaryen was more like his father than any of his siblings. Though only one and ten, he had an…edge to him, the same edge that made his father both brilliant and dangerous. Growing tall but unlikely to be as broad as Aelor or Ren, he had silver-blonde hair and dark Lefford eyes. Baelon was a prodigy with a sword, seeming to live and breathe training and completely uninterested in near anything else. Aelor had told the Grand Maester more than once that out of all his sons, Baelon would become the deadliest fighter; it came as natural to him as charm did to Renlor.

After the initial flurry of children born to Alysanne Lefford and Aelor Targaryen there had been a slight lull, but young Daemon had been born five years past, followed by little Saera two years ago, who now sat in her father's lap mesmerized by the dancing.

As his eyes flickered between each of the Hand of the King's children, Colmar the Grey couldn't help but notice the rest of the blood of the Dragon. Princess Daenerys, violet eyed and silver haired and as breathtaking a woman as Colmar had ever seen, held the twins Daena and Daenella Waters in her lap, surrounded by several noble ladies of various houses. The bastard-born girls were the daughters of her brother Viserys, Prince of the recently rebuilt Summerhall, and Alla Roxton, the most recent in a long history of lovers the eccentric Targaryen took to his bed. Their conception had created quite a scandal, Lord Corliss Roxton demanding the Prince wed Alla once her condition was known; a request Viserys had refused.

He grew bored of women quickly and had never wed; Colmar knew why, as did Aelor, but that was a concern for another time.

Neither Aelor nor Aegon had forced Viserys to give in to Corliss's demands, and as such the Lord of the Ring had very nearly revolted. Prince Aelor, Hand of the King and Lord of Duskendale, had entered the man's castle alone under flag of truce. Just what he told the Reach man was unknown, but whatever it was had shaken Corliss Roxton badly.

All thoughts of his fruitless revolt fled, and his daughter was wed to a lowly knight in her shame.

Rhaenys Targaryen, nearing nine and ten, looked more and more like Elia Martell the older she became, at least according to those who had known the Dornish Princess before her tragic end. She currently was seated with her husband of three years, Willis Tyrell, heir to Highgarden and the Reach. Whatever troubles had plagued her mother and grandmother in the childbed had not been passed on to her, as the couple had been blessed with two children already, two boys—Alester and Osmund—who seemed to have taken after their father in looks. Willis and Rhaenys were more than fond of one another, even after Willis had been crippled during a joust with Rhaenys' uncle Oberyn, and Colmar was fairly certain that true infatuation was the only reason the Princesses two uncles—the Red Viper and the Dragon of Duskendale—had allowed the marriage to take place.

They were both overly protective of the young woman even to this day. She was the closest thing to Elia either of them had, and as such they doted on her more and more even as she grew and became a mother herself.

Her youngest brother Jaehaerys Targaryen, looking more like a Stark than a Valyrian, skulked around the edges of the festivities, as was his norm. Many noble ladies approached the black haired, grey-eyed Prince, flirting both subtly and provocatively, but he allowed only Rhaella and his sister Rhaenys to drag him out on the floor, each time returning to speak with fat Samwell Tarly the heir to Horn Hill and occasionally Ren, when the latter could be dragged off of the floor.

That was all well and good, for the King picked up the slack for his brother. Aegon Targaryen certainly looked the part of a King, tall and attractive, with the warlike crown of Maekar the First and Jaehaerys the Second upon his head, black iron and gold with eight sharp spikes. He wore it well, spinning noble maidens from his betrothed to the flirty Margaery Tyrell around the floor with a grace few men possessed. He had ruled independently for nearly a year, Aelor's regency having ended when the King turned six and ten, and had done so well, though it would take a second coming of Aerys the Mad to so quickly squander the position he had been left in. The King had earned his knighthood on his seven and tenth's birthday, knighted by the very uncle who could have easily usurped him. Charming and well-spoken, he had the potential to become another Jaehaerys the Conciliator, having been wise enough to keep his uncle as Hand of the King and the councilors Aelor had chosen in their position when many young kings would have removed them all for sheer spite after so many years of having his decisions made for him.

Not that there wasn't conflict. Aegon lived in a very large shadow cast by Aelor and he was well aware of it, and Colmar could tell the lad was intent on escaping and surpassing it. While he still trusted his uncle's counsel when given, the Grand Maester could see the jealousy in Aegon's eyes of the respect Aelor commanded. No issue had risen yet, but Colmar was sure one would before long.

But that too was a concern for another time.

Now it was all joy and merriment, nobles drinking, dining, dicing and dancing. Young nobles flirted with one another while others slipped away for dalliances the High Septon would surely frown upon. Betrothal agreements were hammered out over one too many glasses of wine, small fortunes were won and lost at the dice tables, and many a young man and woman fell in love, at least for the night.

Colmar the Grey loved these times; even a maester could enjoy himself.

He was regaling Gorold and a few surrounding lords with a tale of ravens and a surplus of wine when he noticed the young boy work his way to Aelor's table, where the Dragon of Duskendale was still engaged in conversation with his old friend Alaric. The boy, the son of the man running the stables, whispered into the Prince's ear.

The smile that had adorned Aelor's face disappeared instantly, and Colmar felt a wave of apprehension.

He stood from the table mid story, excusing himself as he used his long strides to cut off the retreating boy at the edge of the hall. The child nearly screamed when the giant with the disfigured face appeared before him, staring up in fear. "Easy, lad, I only have a question. What is it you told Prince Aelor? Come now, boy, tell me."

The tiny peasant had a stutter. "T-t-t-he St-St-Starks are here."

Well, that didn't seem so bad. Their attendance had been expected, and young Robb Stark the heir to Winterfell had spent much time in the capital as a young boy as per the agreement of the truce of the Trident, having become a close friend to Jaehaerys, Aegon and Renlor. "Is that all?"

"Ly-Ly-Ly-Lyanna St-Stark is w-w-with them."


The Grand Maester turned and let his eyes seek out Jaehaerys. The boy knew who his mother was, and he knew Aelor had forced her away when he was still a babe. The Dragon of Duskendale had never tried to hide that fact, nor had he attempted to sway Jaehaerys' opinion on the matter. The young man had expressed an interest in seeing Lyanna, and Aelor had not moved to stop him, but something—likely fear and apprehension, as well as the vicious rumors about his mother that had inevitably reached the young Prince's ears—had prevented him from ever doing so.

Now, it seemed, he was going to meet her rather he was ready or not.

This was not a concern for another time.

This was a concern for now.

Chapter Text

Anger had been Aelor Targaryen's constant companion since Robert's Rebellion, but it hadn't been quite this potent in a very long while.

Lyanna Stark had hated him for separating her from Jaehaerys—had told him so the day he'd escorted her and the other Starks from the capital—but she had been wise enough to stay north of the Neck for all these years. Robb Stark had travelled to the capital many times, befriending his cousin during his time in King's Landing, but his aunt had never accompanied him.

Jaehaerys had asked about her of course, and once he had turned ten the then-Prince Regent had only told him fact. The realities had been less than flattering, but Aelor had seen no point in feeding the boy flowery half-truths. Jaehaerys hadn't taken it well, for several years skulking around and trying to blame himself for the Rebellion that his parents had helped to start, with none of his family able to pull the boy from his depression. Only a combined and very long-term effort of Aegon, Ren and Robb had succeeded in calming him down and assuaging the massive guilt he had placed on his own shoulders.

Though it still ate at Jaehaerys, all could see. The heir to the Iron Throne was a permanently somber youth, alternating between being fine and blaming himself for a war that had claimed thousands.

He'd told Aelor when he was two and ten that he wanted to go North and meet his mother, and the Dragon of Duskendale had made it clear he wouldn't stand in his way. Aelor cared little for Lyanna Stark and had told Jaehaerys as much, but he knew it wasn't fair to his nephew to stop him, so he hadn't. Rumor had, as well as a mixture of understandable apprehension. The court's opinion of Lyanna Stark was brutal, even after all of these years.

Which made it that much more confusing that she had finally come south after all this time.

"Is something wrong, Aelor?" The Lord of Duskendale felt the familiar touch of his wife's hand on the inside of his arm, bringing him back to reality from the daze of thought he'd been in. Aelor's eyes refocused to her concerned face, dark eyes staring into violet.

Aelor smiled at her as reassuringly as he could manage, though he already knew she'd see right through it. From day one that night at the Golden Tooth Alysanne Lefford had been able to break into his head as easily as he'd broken the levy lines during the Slaughter of the Straits, and sixteen years together hadn't changed that fact at all. "Of course." Her eyes tightened into a small glare, proving that she was the last person in Westeros he'd be able to lie to.

Aelor sighed in defeat after only a moment under the stare, leaning across the small space between them while maintaining his hold on Saera, the two year old alternately fascinated by the dancers and the faces Alaric Langward shot at her. "Lyanna Stark is here."

Alysanne kept her face carefully blank, but as she sat back in her chair, hand on her swollen stomach, Aelor saw her eyes seek out Jaehaerys. 'Good Queen Alysanne' as many called her—though she had never been a queen and the nickname had been taken years prior by one of Aelor's ancestors—was Jaehaerys' mother in all but blood, having raised the curly-haired youth alongside her own children and cared for him all his life. Concern for him was clear in her eyes, when she looked back to Aelor, clearly waiting for him to decide on the course of action.

Placing a quick kiss to the top of Saera's head, he lifted his daughter out of his lap and stood, standing her lightly on her feet. His youngest—for the moment—was still in the process of fully mastering walking, and accordingly he kept his hand steadying her until Alysanne took her. "I'll handle it. Alaric, join me if you would."

Lord Langward of Brindlewood had watched the exchanges between the peasant boy and Aelor and Aelor and Alysanne quietly, in the unassuming manner that was his nature. With a nod he rose to his feet, having grown an inch or two taller than his former mentor in the years since the Rebellion though he had remained thin. The two men slipped to the back wall, skirting the edges of the revelry as they made to leave the hall, Aelor casting one final glance to his nephew Jaehaerys and fat Sam before exiting the grand hall.

Two young nobles who had been rather thoroughly engrossed in one another's tongues scattered in embarrassment when the dragonlord and his bannerman stepped out into the hall, Aelor unfamiliar with either of them though he was too preoccupied to worry. "Lyanna Stark is here," he explained to Alaric as they strode side by side down the hall, Alaric limping ever so slightly from the wound he'd received outside Lannisport.

Alaric nodded. "Does Jaehaerys know?"


"You knew they were going to meet sooner or later, Aelor. It was only a matter of time."

Aelor grunted. "Yes, but I'd hoped it would be later. I don't know what possessed the Stark woman to travel south after all these years; I made it perfectly clear to her that she'd reunite with her son when Jaehaerys sought her out, not the other way around."

"You weren't a parent then. We both are now. If it were one of our children, would we wait?"

While still quiet by nature, Alaric had become unafraid to voice his opinion to his old mentor, and Aelor often sought out his judgement, the hero of the Rebellion possessing a just, prudent mind…and a spine of steel, as evidenced by his ability to survive sixteen years of marriage to the beautiful but venomous Cersei Lannister. "You have a point, but it's been sixteen years. Why now?"

"Prince Jaehaerys turns six and ten in only a few weeks' time; perhaps she believes you were forcibly preventing from seeing her, and now that he is nearing the age of majority when your ability to stop him would be questioned has decided to seek Jaehaerys out herself."

"I told her when she went north that I would not stop him."

"And what reason does she have to believe you? Besides, it is her child, Your Grace; her only child. The only question in my mind is what has taken her so long."

Aelor was silent for a moment as the two made their way towards the castle's stables. "I suppose you are right, though I fear what this will do to Jaehaerys. We both know he has always been...reserved."

"This was destined to occur eventually, my Prince. It is best that it occurs now and whatever happens happens. Besides, anyone would seem reserved in comparison to Ren. He has danced with Myrcella four separate times tonight; I am growing concerned."

Aelor chuckled lightly, having noticed his son's inclination towards Alaric's eldest child as well. It was odd for Ren to become so attached to one girl; the boy was much like his namesake Renfred had been at his age, no matter Aelor and Alysanne's attempts to stop him. "I'm certain his intentions are nothing but honorable."

"I'm certain you are full of shit."

Aelor couldn't help but laugh, though he patted the taller man on the shoulder in reassurance. "While I won't deny Ren's penchant towards bedding anything he can find, he knows better than to attempt and seduce Myrcella. I've made it clear to him that I will not defend him should he anger a lady's father, and he knows perfectly well how capable you are with a sword."

Alaric grunted, though it was clear to Aelor he was less than convinced, a fact that made him chuckle all the more. The mirth at their banter faded however as Aelor stepped out of the keep and into the night air, walking towards the stables located within the Dun Fort's innermost walls and the mass of torches and bodies—both human and horse—gathered there.

He found Robb exactly where he had expected the heir to Winterfell to be, even with a feast going on; the Stark boy with the Tully coloring had been obsessed with Warrior since his first year in the South at the age of five, and no matter how many times he had seen the old warhorse in the years since he never grew tired of him. The lad was currently stroking the stallion's massive black head and speaking to another, smaller boy who looked much like him despite his more Stark-like look.

It seems Lord Stark has brought even more of his family than I had originally believed.

"This is the Dragon of Duskendale's stallion," asked the voice of the young boy, who could have been no more than seven or eight.

"Aye," Robb said, smiling down at his younger brother. "The very same one he rode in the war."

"And every day since," Aelor called out to them as he and Alaric approached, both Robb and his sibling turning to face them. "Though we're both more comfortable charging spear lines than simply riding for joy."

Robb smiled as his blue eyes met Aelor's, nodding his head in greeting. "Prince Aelor, a pleasure to see you again."

"And you, lad," the Dragon of Duskendale returned. He genuinely liked the Stark boy, as Robb seemed as honorable and just as his father was. Just because Aelor had willingly forsaken his honor long ago didn't mean he couldn't respect it in others. Aelor looked down to the other Stark, who was staring up at him in a fascination many eight or nine year olds held for Aelor. "I suppose you are a Stark as well, boy. What's your name?"

The youngster could only nod, apparently tongue tied. Robb laughed at his brother's speechlessness, ruffling his hair in a way the younger boy clearly was not a fan of. "This is my brother Brandon. Bran, this is Prince Aelor Targaryen and Lord Alaric Langward."

Aelor smiled down at the boy, even as his name brought back memories of burning wolves and burning cities. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Bran."

"I'm sure the pleasure is his; he has spoken of nothing else for weeks." Aelor looked up to the new voice, finding Lord Eddard Stark approaching as the rest of his men unpacked the Stark luggage. A lovely young woman with the look of a Tully followed him closely on one side, another young girl who looked much like Bran on the other. The Lord of the North bowed slightly as he came to a stop beside his sons, the older girl instantly dropping into a curtsey. The younger girl did not, staring at the Prince—in particular his scar—intently. Aelor returned her stare with an amused raise of his eyebrow. "Prince Aelor."

"Lord Stark," Aelor returned, clasping the Lord Paramount of the North's wrist in greeting. Ned Stark and Aelor Targaryen were by no means friends, but there was a healthy dose of respect for the other on both sides. While Aelor's ruthlessness clashed with Eddard's Stark honor and he was disapproving of Aelor's rough treatment of Lyanna all those years ago, the Warden of the North appreciated Aelor's treatment of Robb and his nephew Jaehaerys, which had never been anything short of exemplary.

"These are my daughters, Sansa and Arya." He gestured to the lovely redhead and the still-staring younger girl respectively. "My son Rickon is currently the Stark in Winterfell, and my lady wife Catelyn remains with him." Sansa smiled sweetly, while Arya stared for another moment before abruptly blurting out.

"Did you really burn down a whole city?"

"Arya," half the Stark family hissed, clueing Aelor into the fact that this was normal behavior for the youngest Stark daughter. While the question may have bothered other men, it certainly didn't bother the Dragon of Duskendale; of all the mistakes he knew he had made, the Lighting of the Lions wasn't one of them.

Aelor peered down at the sharp-faced girl. "Yes I did, Lady Arya."

"I apologize for her, Prince Aelor," Eddard said, placing a hand on his daughter's shoulder, Arya's face twisting in annoyance that she couldn't ask further questions. "She has always been untowardly willful."

"Just like me," spoke another voice, and all smiles vanished.

Lyanna Stark stood a few paces behind her brother and his family, still a rather attractive woman though the years separated from her son had not been overly kind to her. She was staring defiantly at Aelor, looking for all the world like she had been preparing for this verbal sparring match for years.

Aelor realized she had been, for sixteen of them.

"Robb, settle your siblings down." Eddard stepped back, gesturing his heir to do as he said but also clearly intending to facilitate the coming argument. Robb needed no more instruction, immediately ushering his siblings to move.

Arya hesitated, clearly unhappy about being ordered away from the brewing storm. "But—"

"Now, Arya." Eddard's voice was as cold as the ice that ran in his blood, and even his clearly spiteful daughter obeyed.

As soon as the Stark children were gone, leaving only Lyanna, Eddard, Aelor and Alaric—even the stableboys leaving mid-job to escape the coming war—she took off. "I am here to see my son. You will not stop me."

"I made it perfectly clear that you will see my nephew when my nephew wants to see you. And if you truly believe I won't stop you, Lyanna Stark, you are even more foolish than the day you ran off with my brother."

"Do you expect me to believe Jon has not wanted to see his mother in sixteen years? Not once, in all his life, did he ask who his mother was or where? You may think me foolish, Aelor Targaryen, but I am not stupid."

"Jaehaerys expressed a desire to see you several years ago, it is true. I did not stop him."

Lyanna curled a lip in clear disbelief. "Then why didn't he come to Winterfell, if you didn't stop him?"

"That is something you'll have to ask Jaehaerys. Later, when he comes to see you." Aelor glared at the Stark woman, making it perfectly clear that she was not welcome. "I warned you once, Lady Lyanna. I am warning you this last time."

"What will you do if I do not heed you, Targaryen?" Lyanna asked, clearly past caring. "Kill me?"

Aelor was blunt and utterly truthful. "Yes. Just as dead as Rhaegar. Maybe you can have my brother in death in a way you should never have tried to have him in life."

The blow struck both Starks, Eddard clearly unpleased about the threat to his sister, but it hit Lyanna harder, the mention of the man who had been the reason her life had gone to shit offsetting her balance. Whatever cruelty she had expected Aelor to spew—and she was clearlyexpecting cruelty, something Aelor was more than willing to oblige—she wasn't expecting that.

But Aelor wasn't in turn expecting her next move. Lyanna's face hardened, and she suddenly started moving forward, straight towards the Lord of Duskendale. "Do it then. If I am truly so evil for wanting to see my own son, kill me, for it is a sin I am not sorry for."

She marched towards him, and for a moment Aelor wasn't ready, the Stark woman taking him off guard. But then his heart hardened as her face had, and Aelor took an aggressive step towards the Lady Lyanna, already planning how he was going to duck Eddard Stark who was quickly moving to intervene.


The one voice Aelor hadn't been expecting froze them all three midstep. Aelor turned slowly, and standing in the entrance to the stables was his black haired nephew.

"Jon," he heard Lyanna exhale quietly, staring at the son she hadn't seen for sixteen years.

Jaehaerys Targaryen was returning the stare, face and voice oddly calm. "Mother. I hear it has been quite a long time."

Chapter Text

The jousting lists ran north to south, intended to keep the sun out of each competitors eyes. The seven lanes were side by side, stands flanking them. On one end sat the grand dais, where Princess Daenerys Targaryen—the Queen of Love and Beauty, at least for now—sat alongside the King and hosting family. The front of the dais bore five shields, each representing one of the original five champions, chosen by Daenerys herself.

There were near countless knights set to challenge, from nameless hedge knights to celebrated former tourney winners. They would challenge a current champion by riding to the dais and tapping the shield of the man they intended to face. The two would joust until one or the other yielded, be it when one was knocked from his mount and conceded the match or after the two crossed blades and one emerged the victor. When one knight lost he would forfeit his armor and mount to the victor, though Aelor as the hosting lord had made it mandatory that the victorious knight allow the defeated one the opportunity to ransom back his possessions at a reasonable price.

The jousting would go for four days, after which the five champions— whoever they turned out to be— would communally either select a new Queen of Love and Beauty or crown a new one. Archery competitions and melees would be scattered throughout, and each night a feast would be held at the Dun Fort. It was absurdly expensive, but Aelor was at peace with that. Sometimes one needed to make time for joy, especially when they were closely tied to the game of thrones and all its intricacies and secrets.

Though the 'joy' aspect had disappeared the night before, when the Starks had arrived.

Jaehaerys had stopped Aelor from breaking Lyanna Stark's fool neck, something he was thankful for, but his nephew had asked him to leave the two of them alone without another statement. When Aelor had protested, Jaehaerys had merely fed him his own words about not standing in his way, and Aelor had relented.

He'd not seen him the rest of that night, and now his black haired nephew was seated with the Starks.

Alysanne and Aelor both stared, the former in worry and the latter in anger, as the boy they had raised as their own took a seat between his actual mother and his uncle, surrounded by the cousins he'd heard about but never met. Robb was set to ride in the tourney, having been taught how to use a lance by Aelor and the Kingsguard though tourneys were a knightly pastime and most Northerners weren't knights, but Jaehaerys had decided against it himself. The Targaryen who looked like a Stark was good with both sword and lance, maybe even as good as or better than his older brother the King, but he had never expressed a desire to become a tourney knight.

So instead he sat with the mother and family he had never known, as the one that raised him watched from well out of earshot. It was nearly killing Aelor, worry about what falsehoods Lyanna may be filling her son's head with, but he refused to encroach on Jaehaerys' requested privacy.

So he sat and he worried, glaring daggers at Lyanna Stark and wondering if he should have just killed the spiteful woman years ago.

Daenerys sat to Aelor's left, as splendidly beautiful now as she had been the day he'd first held her. His baby sister was no longer a baby, having grown into a strong willed and highly intelligent woman, but he still tried to care for her as if she were a child though he knew she wasn't one. She was deep in conversation with Rhaella, named after the dead mother he had failed in life. His daughter was nearly as beautiful, the niece and aunt the embodiment of Valyrian beauty.

King Aegon was at Renlor's pavilion, likely chatting with his younger cousin in order to take his mind off of his vexation. Aegon the Sixth had wisely elected against riding in the tourney; though he desperately wished to test his skills against other knights, he was smart enough to realize he wouldn't likely be challenged as no one would risk harming the King of the Iron Throne. Just because he was wise didn't mean he was happy about it, and he'd been pouting since the royal family had risen early that morning.

It wasn't kingly, but Aelor understood it. He remembered seventeen years and a lifetime ago, when he himself had wanted to ride in every tourney from Sunspear to White Harbor. That was before the war of course, when he'd seen the real version of what tourney's made light of, and before he'd had more on his shoulders than he could feasibly carry. He hadn't ridden in a joust that wasn't deadly serious since Harrenhal, nearly two decades ago.

The champions began to gather beneath the dais, their shields displayed prominently on the front of the viewing box. This style of tournament was not common, most tourneys ending when one single knight was declared winner, but Daenerys for reasons all her own enjoyed the story of the Tourney at Ashford Meadow that had occurred nine decades ago and had wanted to choose champions of her own. Aelor had of course relented, because he could deny her nothing.

Of the five shields displayed on the viewing box, three of them were the blank white of the Kingsguard representing Sers Arthur Dayne, Rolland Storm and Balon Swann. The last had replaced Ser Horras Costayne in the white cloaks only a few months prior, after a period of illness had done Horras in after Costayne had in turn replaced old Gerold Hightower three and ten years before that. Each of the men were excellent with a lance though Arthur Dayne was the most formidable, and Aelor knew each of them had a solid chance of remaining champions throughout the four days of competition.

The other men of the Kingsguard had gracefully opted out of riding, even Lord Commander Barristan Selmy, who even in his increasing age was still likely the strongest jouster in Duskendale. Ser Manfred Darke had never been an option, of course; he was an incompetent rider and had no hope or desire of ever improving, though he had taught the King and the other Targaryen boys more than a little about winning a fight by any means necessary. The ugly knight currently stood directly behind Daenerys, massive arms crossed over his massive chest. Oswell Whent was with the King at Ren's tent, a quiet and lethal man who Aelor was less than fond of but who was completely loyal to Aegon. The seventh and final member of the Kingsguard was Ser Borran of the Bramsfort, the lowborn former household knight of House Chelsted who had captured Aelor's notice during Robert's Rebellion, taking the vacancy left by Prince Lewyn Martell when the old Dornishman had passed peacefully in his sleep ten years prior. The small, deadly son of a farmer stood behind Jaehaerys in the Stark box, ever serious about his duty as a guard to all the royal family.

The other two of the original champions were selected by Daenerys more for their blood ties with her than true likelihood to remain champions. One shield on the dais bore the golden three-headed dragon on black field of her brother Viserys, who had only arrived that morning with his army of a personal retinue. The Prince of Summerhall was a decent jouster and good with a sword—Aelor had trained him personally and relentlessly, despite Viserys protests—but he was not on par with the strongest competitors in Duskendale such as Robar Royce or Alaric Langward or Loras Tyrell, the Knight of Flowers.

The same could be said for the final champion, who was only a squire but was competing at Daenerys' insistence. Aelor's son and heir Ren was represented by two warring white dragons on a black field, Aelor's once personal coat of arms that had become the family sigil for the Duskendale branch of House Targaryen. Renlor was good—one had to be if he was trained from birth by the likes of Barristan the Bold and the Sword of the Morning. But his eldest son would ultimately be a better diplomat than fighter, and while he would more than hold his own against near any foe he would not be mentioned in the same breath as Ryam Redwyne or Barristan or Aelor himself.

Baelon would one day, Aelor knew; his middle child and personal squire would surpass them all in martial prowess in the years to come. But that was the future, and this was the now.

His son and brother arrived at the same time, both in brilliant black plate, striking opposites to the men of the Kingsguard in their white armor and cloaks. Viserys and Ren were each mounted on black destriers, from the line of warhorses Aelor had bred from Warrior. Only the royal family rode the still-young line of the still-living stallion with the exception of Barristan and Willis Tyrell; the former had received a stallion as a gift a few years past and the latter had been granted breeding rights on the day he married Rhaenys, as a gift from her uncle. Viserys bore ornate golden dragon wings on his helm, something Aelor found as hideous now as he had when Rhaegar had worn a similar design when he was still alive. Ren had opted for seven spikes along the crest, giving a warlike appearance to a still growing and unbloodied boy.

King Aegon the Sixth returned to the box, still obviously wishing to be on the tourney grounds, and took a seat beside his aunt and betrothed, instantly taking the full attention of Rhaella as he did most young ladies. Aegon was a good, honorable lad—Aelor had raised him to be a better man than he himself was—and doted on her, though Aelor had not quite decided if he was truly romantically inclined towards his future Queen. He prayed to the Seven every night, though heavens knew he had given them plenty of reason to ignore him in his life, that they would at least find happiness if not true love, and that Aegon didn't turn out to be the fool his father could be.

So far so good.

"You do know you have fed poor Renlor to the hounds correct, beloved aunt?" The King asked glancing sideways at Daenerys who simply smiled and raised an eyebrow in response.

"Whatever do you mean?"

Aegon returned the smile. "Look on his arm."

The entire box, from Aelor and Daenerys right down to little Daemon who was seated in quiet Aemon's lap, followed the instruction. Tied above Ren's right elbow was a purple and black kerchief, one Aelor knew for a fact his son didn't own. Alysanne came to the correct conclusion the quickest, as was most often the case. "Is that Myrcella's?"

Aegon was still grinning, all Valyrian charm. "It certainly is, dear mother. Your son has taken quite an interest in blonde haired Myrcella Langward, and that in turn has made Lord Alaric take an interest in Renlor—and Alaric is riding in the tournament. It doesn't take a superior mind like Aemon's here to see who he will challenge." His nephew turned to him then, the Infant King raising a question to the Dragon of Duskendale. "How many tilts do you think Ren will remain seated, uncle?"

"Ren is good, right father?" Asked the innocent voice of Daemon, his only child to have taken solely after Alysanne in physical appearance. "He will ride well?"

Aelor smiled at his youngest son, Aemon ruffling his hair in his brotherly way. "Ren is very good, Daemon, but Alaric has two decades of experience on him and is a master at fighting from horseback." Aelor turned back to the king. "I'd say he won't last more than five lances."

"I bet he'll make it at least seven."

Aelor waited just a moment before extending his hand, Aegon taking it. "Deal."

Renlor lasted eight, and while he cost his father money Aelor couldn't deny it made him proud.

Aelor had deferred to Aegon to open the tourney, though he as hosting lord had the right. There was no point in showing any display of power, however minute, to his jealous nephew—Aegon was in a good mood today even if he didn't get to ride, and Aelor preferred to keep him in those to avoid the headache a snappy King could make. Alaric had tapped Renlor's shield as Aegon had predicted, shooting his old friends Alysanne and Aelor an apologetic look as he did so. Loras Tyrell and his cape of woven roses had challenged Rolland Storm, Donnel Swann in the white and black of his house his brother Balon. A hedgeknight in a blood red cloak had challenged Viserys and another in brown and white Arthur Dayne.

As they had at Ashford near one hundred years earlier, all ten lances broke to the crowds roaring approval at the first pass, not a man unseated. It was an omen to the success of the tourney, one Aelor hoped proved true as it hadn't as Ashford Meadow.

Ren finally flipped over the rear of his stallion on the ninth pass between himself and Alaric, the Lord of Brindlewood placing his lance perfectly and deflecting Renlor's own away. The heir to Duskendale rose to his feet again almost as soon as he hit the ground, drawing his blunted sword. Alaric obliged him, honorably dismounting his own red stallion and meeting the Targaryen squire on foot, despite the disadvantage his bad leg provided. The two dueled for several minutes, the crowd cheering for one man or the other or both. Renlor was in his youth quicker and more mobile, nearly dancing around the other knight, but Alaric had the advantage of having actually fought a war and decades more of experience, and the Lord of Brindlewood eventually knocked Ren's blade away.

The heir to Duskendale yielded with Alaric's blunted blade at his throat, removing his helm to reveal a genuine smile. Alaric did the same, clasping arms with the young man who was wooing his daughter and speaking a few words before departing. The warring white dragons were taken down, the crown of white stars on burgundy above black taking its place on the dais as Alaric replaced Ren as a champion.

The three golden roses on green field of Loras Tyrell soon joined it, the third son of Lord Mace defeating Rolland Storm of the Kingsguard on the seventh pass. Balon Swann defeated his brother in five, Viserys the red hedgeknight in the same number and Arthur Dayne the other hedgeknight after only two.

And so it went.

Many challengers passed beneath the dais to tap a champion's shield throughout the day. Since it was up to the challenging knights on their own time, usually no more than one or two lanes were used at a time after the original pass, and some champions remained at their pavilion for extended amounts of time without being challenged. Alaric was tested frequently, many knights foolishly believing him to be the weakest of the champions not of Targaryen blood, but he held his own through each, after the midday break and resumption of the jousting having unhorsed thirteen knights as dusk approached. Loras Tyrell was less frequently challenged and Arthur Dayne was only called out by the very brave or very foolish, both defeating a handful of lesser knights respectively. Balon Swann unhorsed three men before he was defeated by Robar Royce, the black iron studs on a bronze field taking its place on the dais, and Royce in turn defeated three more.

Viserys had surpassed both Aelor and Aegon's expectations, remaining a champion until dusk. It was partly due to the limited number of challengers, as many knights were weary of openly challenging the blood of the dragon; not for fear of Viserys, as he was well trained but not naturally gifted, but for fear of harming one of royal blood. And it was no secret Viserys was more Aerys than either Aelor or Rhaegar were/had been.

But when he arrived as light began to fade, resplendent atop his white stallion and shining in his black armor and cloak of yellow with black nightingales, Aelor suddenly became very uneasy.

Bryce Caron was the trueborn brother of Ser Rolland Storm of the Kingsguard, the Lord of Nightsong in the Dornish Marches. Tall and fair to look upon, he was a decade his bastard brother's junior, with long coppery hair that maidens were rumored to have urges to run their hands through. It seemed to be true, as he was one of the few serious suitors for Daenerys' hand. Though not as highborn as Aelor desired for his sister, Bryce had made no small amount of headway in winning the current Queen of Love and Beauty's affections, Daenerys proving not immune to his charm.

That infatuation mixed with Bryce's reputation as a respected warrior, Aelor had been wondering why Lord Caron waited so long to challenge, as the longer a man remained a champion and the more knights of the steadily shrinking field he defeated the more prestige the man demanded. When Caron rode to Viserys' shield, tapping it in challenge as he smirked up at Daenerys, Aelor felt his unease grow.

The two hated each other.

Viserys was of the traditional Targaryen mindset, and he lusted after Dany something fierce. Aelor had rebuffed his repeated attempts to persuade the Dragon of Duskendale into letting him marry their sister, as Aelor himself was against the practice and Dany was not romantically interested in her brother, but Viserys had let the idea become his obsession. Aelor had been forced to strike his brother to illustrate his seriousness after one particularly vicious argument, and Viserys had withdrawn from court to Summerhall in a rage at what he considered a denial of his birthright. He sat in his rebuilt palace, a wheel of noble ladies like Alla Roxton rotating through his bedchambers, and brooded and plotted to have his sister's hand. Aelor, Varys and Grandmaester Colmar had worked together to keep the true drama under wraps from the eyes of the court, but there were whispers none the less.

Viserys knew Daenerys didn't desire him, which increased his rage and madness all the more. When Bryce Caron had arrived at court not long before Viserys withdrew, publicly making progress in wooing Dany, the Targaryen Prince and Lord of Nightsong had been at each other's throats nearly instantaneously.

And now it seemed Caron was going to ignite the flames of that hatred. Aelor couldn't decide if he was more disturbed by Caron's audacity or the cruel smile that crossed Viserys' face when the challenge was made.

As Viserys mounted and Caron waited on one end of the lists for him, Aelor leaned back towards Barristan, who had taken over for Manfred in the viewing box. "Barristan, if this becomes a sword duel, keep a sharp eye for live steel on either man's part. I will not have their grudge turn into a bloodbath under my hospitality."

"Bryce would never," Daenerys protested, even as Barristan moved to obey.

Aelor met his little sister's eyes, so identical to his own. "I wouldn't be so sure, Dany. But even if he wouldn't, Viserys very well might."

Aelor watched with baited breath as Viserys reached the other end of the lane, turning to face his rival in the dying sunlight. With shouts from both men their destriers vaulted forward, charging down the churned dirt with lances at the ready.

As the two men neared, Aelor noticed Viserys' lance rise higher and higher. He kept willing his eccentric young brother to lower it back down but he never did, and Aelor realized hopelessly what he intended to do. Viserys, don't!

Viserys did.

The Prince of Summerhall dealt a near perfectly placed blow, one he would never be able to land again in a thousand tries, the end of the tourney lance catching Bryce Caron between the eyeholes of his helm. The Lord of Nightsong's head snapped back, driven by the strength of Viserys' destrier and the Targaryen's anger, and the knight went limp, dropping his own lance and shield and cartwheeling from the saddle, limbs limp.

Aelor barely heard Daenerys' screams, didn't pay attention to the knights and men—including Ser Rolland—rushing to the motionless body of the downed lord, and didn't feel Alysanne and Rhaella's hands grab both his own in shock. All he saw was Viserys ride back to pull his stallion to a halt a few feet from the man he may have just killed and remove his helmet.

The Prince of Summerhall looked to his downed rival and then his sister's terrified face and smiled.

Chapter Text

Well this is just bloody brilliant.

Aegon Targaryen the Sixth of his name had fully ruled for a year, his equally loved and hated uncle stepping down the day Aegon turned sixteen, but this was the first true trial he had to face. And truth be told, had had no idea what he was going to do.

A blow to the head was perfectly legal in a joust, though it was discouraged due to the dangers involved; dangers Bryce Caron proved were very real indeed. In terms of the law, Viserys had done no wrong. But his youngest uncle had intentionally killed the young Lord of the Dornish Marches, it was plain to see, all over the love of his sister. Ser Rolland was being stoically silent about the death of his brother, Daenerys loud and wailing about it. Several lords, friends of Lord Caron, had demanded Viserys be punished. As for his uncle himself, Viserys resided in his rooms in the Dun Fort, Barristan Selmy and Borran of the Bramsfort posted outside his chambers.

He'd argued viciously when the Kingsguard had converged on him at the tourney grounds, but he'd relented when the Dragon of Duskendale had descended from the box. Viserys was eccentric and entitled, but he was also terrified of his brother, and they had been able to avoid any more of a scene than it already had been.

And now Aegon had to do something about it.

The Infant King, as many still called him despite his venomous protests, leaned forward in the head chair of that table in Aelor's private quarters, rubbing his temples. The tournament was set to resume in less than an hour—deaths happened, and while Bryce Caron's was particularly saddening due to the effective it had on Daenerys it was something they must move on from—and the lords assembled would be expecting a decision. Aegon couldn't afford to look weak; too many nobles already viewed Aelor as the true ruling power, and the lack of a firm response from their true king would strengthen that conviction.

But it was Viserys.

While his youngest uncle was eccentric and arrogant, he was still his uncle, and the two had been raised together. One doesn't spend their entire lives in close contact with another and not feel the slightest bit attached. Viserys must be reprimanded—accidental tourney deaths were one thing, intentional murders quite another. But Aegon was appalled with the idea of killing his uncle or sending him to the wall, for no matter what he did he was still his uncle. Aelor had instilled many things in Aegon Targaryen, some the King was happy for and some he wasn't, but dedication to one's family was chief among them all.

"Have you made your decision, Your Grace?" Aegon didn't look up as he heard the steady strides approaching him, the voice one he had heard nearly every day since he had been born. A wave of the jealousy he so often failed to curb rushed through him as his uncle Aelor, the infamous Dragon of Duskendale, strode to and took a seat at the table. Aelor would know what to do; his uncle always seemed to know what to do. All of his life Aegon had heard the stories of his uncle's greatness, and now when he should be working to create a mystique of his own he was falling short.

"No, I have not." Aegon leaned back in his seat with a sigh, looking across the table to meet Aelor's calm eyes.

Aelor nodded. "I didn't think you had."

Aegon's lips curled up. "Do you believe me incompetent?"

His uncle's face didn't change, nor did his calm even tone. "No, I believe you to be faced with a complicated decision, one every man would struggle with."

Aegon grunted, a tick he realized with no small amount of annoyance he had picked up from the man sitting across the table from him. "It was Viserys' intent to kill Lord Bryce, and he succeeded. Some are calling for his head, others for him to be sent to the Wall, and still a few think nothing should happen."

"And what do you think is the correct path?"

Aegon threw his hands up. "I don't know! Viserys intentional killed a man because he had eyes for Dany, and for that there must be justice. But he is also my uncle, and whatever his eccentrics he is the blood of the dragon. Sixteen years ago that was a death sentence; do I do now what Robert Baratheon failed to do and kill Viserys?" The King of the Iron Throne shook his head in disgust. He knew being a King wasn't lemon cakes and wine, but he had hoped he wouldn't be faced with something this significant until he was more established. He grunted again, shaking his head. "Dany doesn't want Viserys in the way he wants her. He knows this. Why does he not accept this and move on?"

Aelor leaned back, mimicking Aegon's slouch into the chair. With another shake of his head Aegon realized he'd picked that physical tick up from the Dragon of Duskendale as well. "Love can make a man do many things that do not make sense to others. Hell, it can make a man do things that he himself doesn't understand."

The Infant King cocked a brow. "You speak from experience."

Aelor shrugged, though his eyes had flashed for a moment. "You will learn much during your time in this world before you make the journey to the next. The ability of love to turn a sensible man into a drooling fool is something I myself did very early."

For a moment Aegon wished to ask the question that had plagued his mind for years; to ask about Aelor and his mother. Rumors abounded about their forbidden love, of how the second son had lusted and desired for the first's wife. But, as he always did, Aegon refrained, instead switching back to his other Targaryen uncle. "All my life I have heard about the madness that plagued my grandfather and maybe even my father…and that once plagued you."

Aelor smirked slightly. "Once?"

The King charged onward. "Is that what I see in Viserys? This obsession with a woman who doesn't want him, his feelings that he is above all the world, that he has a right from the Gods to do whatever the Seven hells he wishes…can I expect it to happen to me one day?"

Aelor was silent a moment, violet eyes meeting violet eyes across the small table. Suddenly the Dragon leaned forward, peering intently at his nephew as his voice dropped lower. "The madness is in us all, Aegon. Your sister, your brother, your cousins. Me. And you. At some point in each Targaryen's life they will face it, and only the strongest of us will walk away. And even they won't walk away whole."

His uncle leaned back again, though he never looked away from his King. "Our family has withstood every threat against us for three centuries, be it from the outside or from within. At first we held our rule together with dragons, but they have long been gone from this world. After the last of them died, we resorted to ruling by what they had once inflicted in others; fear. Fear that anyone who crosses our dynasty, even if they are our dynasty, will feel the dragon's wrath."

"So you are saying I should execute Viserys."

"You did not let me finish. I ruled your Kingdoms for you for sixteen years, all of them peaceful ones. But I am not loved, Aegon, and I am fully aware of it. I ruled with the sword that is fear. Those years were peaceful because men were too afraid of my retribution to make them anything but, not because all men were happy under Targaryen command. Even in this very city, the city that has thrived under me, some call me the Cruel or the Demon or the Bloody. Half of the realm wants me dead, and the only reason I am not is because they are too afraid of the things I have done in the past to try and make me so."

Aegon furrowed his brow in confusion. "What does any of this have to do with Viserys?"

"I'll tell you. If it were still my decision, men would be calling me kinslayer already, for they would believe it all but a certainty that I would kill my brother, even if everything I have ever done has been for the safety of House Targaryen. But I am not loved, Aegon. You can be." The Dragon of Duskendale rose. "You are trying to be me. That is the only reason you have yet to arrive to a conclusion; as much as you despise the respect I command, you wish for nothing more than to have it for your own. You know the correct decision; you have from the moment we watched Viserys couch his lance upwards. Yet you hesitate and you wait, because you are trying to do what Aelor the Burner of Lannisport would do, not what Aegon the Sixth of his name would."

Aegon had his jaw clenched in rage, though he kept his voice calm. "What are you saying, uncle."

Aelor kept his eyes perfectly calm. "I am saying stop. You are not me, nor should you be. You have the potential to be the greatest Targaryen to have ever lived; better than your father, better than me, better than even Jaehaerys the Conciliator. You know the correct decision, because the correct decision is whatever you, Aegon Targaryen, deem it to be, not what Aelor son of Aerys would do. I am not loved, but you can be if you rule as Aegon, not as Aelor. I held the family together, aye, but I have made more than my fair share of mistakes that have caused as much damage as good. It is within your power to fix them, if you grasp the chance. You want so desperately to escape my shadow? Do it. Be the man you were always meant to be."

Without another word the Dragon of Duskendale turned and left, leaving the most powerful man in Westeros in his wake.

Aegon didn't know if he hated or loved his uncle in that moment, but he knew what he needed to do.

The King walked to Viserys' chambers with a fire in his stride. "Borran," he commanded of the smaller of the two Kingsguard standing vigil. "Go to the docks and find a ship for the Free Cities; I don't care which one. Tell them they are about to have another guest, one they had best treat as the royalty he is or I will bring the might of Westeros onto their necks."

"At once, Your Grace." The white cloak rushed to do as he was told.

"Barristan, find Ser Manfred and Ser Rolland and bring them here."

A few minutes later Viserys Targaryen was dragged from his chambers by Rolland Storm and Manfred Darke, shouting in outrage the entire time as the King of the Iron Throne watched on. By the time they had reached the docks—going through the small back gates instead of through the entire city to avoid the eyes of the court—Viserys had lost most of his voice, and Aegon the Sixth had found his.

"Viserys Targaryen, your actions at the Tournament of Duskendale have brought dishonor to your name. For intentionally killing Lord Bryce Caron in a tournament meant for sport, I, King Aegon Targaryen, sentence you into exile in the Free Cities of Essos for five years, after which and only after which you may return to Westeros to reclaim your seat of Summerhall. Any attempt to return before that time without the pardon of myself will result in your death."

Viserys was indignant, trying desperately to shake off the two burly men gripping both his arms. "I am the blood of the dragon! You cannot do this!"

Aegon ignored him, turning to the well-built, middle-aged man with a forked green beard. Tyroshi or Pentoshi, I would imagine. "You, Captain. Your name and home port?"

"Aleqou Garantis, Your Grace, of the Free City of Tyrosh."

Aegon nodded. "You will take Prince Viserys to Tyrosh with you, after which you will return to Duskendale every three months to be given gold to take to him as well as update the crown on his doings. The failure to do so will result in the entirety of the Royal Fleet tracking you and your ship down and putting to sword every man aboard. You will be paid well for loyal service, and killed for treachery. Am I understood, Captain?"

The man nodded, clearly having no intention of denying the dragonking before him. "Of course, Your Grace."

Aegon looked back to his uncle, reaching to his belt and untying the bag of dragon he had taken from the Dun Fort. With a snarl he tossed it at his uncle. "There is your first allowance. Do not squander it for it is all you will receive from the Crown for three months, and do not forget my command. Uncle or not, you will be killed should you disobey my order."

The King nodded to his two men of the Kingsguard, who bodily hauled the Prince of Summerhall up the gangplank and onto the merchant ship, Viserys shouting in indignation all the way.

Aegon turned away after one last nod at Aleqou Garantis, Barristan close beside him, and began to make his way back towards the Dun Fort and the tourney that should have started a while ago but that would wait as long as necessary for the king.

Standing a few feet behind him was Aelor Targaryen.

Mentor and student held eyes for a moment, violet on violet. And then, very subtlety, the Dragon of Duskendale nodded his head.

Chapter Text

Jaehaerys Targaryen stared at the royal viewer box, not sure if he was angry, relieved, disappointed or all of the above.

To his right, clutching his hand tightly, sat his mother. His mother. While Alysanne Lefford and Ashara Dayne had been better mothers to him than a child born under his circumstances ever could have dreamed for, it was different when the small hand holding yours belonged to the woman who had given you life. Lyanna Stark—my mother—had clung to him just as much as he had allowed her to since the moment he had asked his uncle to leave the stables.

She had barely let go since, and Jaehaerys hadn't wanted her to.

He and his cousin Robb had long been friends, since the heir to the North had started coming south every few years as per the agreement of the Treaty of the Trident, but he had never known the others. Sansa Stark was a beautiful young girl and the perfect example of a noble lady, her features much like Robb's. Arya was small and spiteful, and Jaehaerys would have laughed at her blunt way of speaking to his uncle Aelor two nights ago if not for the seriousness of the situation he had been about to interrupt. Bran was young and in awe of the knights and their resplendent armor, and seemed to be a sweet boy as well as very quick minded; Jaehaerys knew the young Stark and his friend Samwell Tarly would get along well. There was another, a young boy named Rickon who was close in age to Aelor's son Daemon, but he had remained as the Stark in Winterfell with his mother Catelyn Tully.

His Northern cousins were an entertaining lot, from the arguments Sansa and Arya consistently became embroiled in to the excitement Bran exuberated at every tilt, but Jaehaerys hadn't put too much time aside to become very acquainted with them yet; he was much more focused on their aunt, Lyanna.

His mother was still a beautiful woman, with dark Stark hair and grey eyes. She'd never married once she had been exiled north, though she most certainly had had plenty of suitors. Jaehaerys wasn't sure why she hadn't, though he intended to learn one of these days. For now, the two simply talked as knights fought below them, Lyanna wanting to know everything she possibly could about the life she had never been a part of.

Though Jaehaerys had learned quite quickly to leave any story concerning his uncle Aelor very short; it seemed Lyanna hated the Dragon of Duskendale almost as much as the Dragon of Duskendale hated Lyanna.

It had surprised him, when his uncle had taken several strides towards his mother that night in the stables. Aelor was a violent man with a bloody history, and Jaehaerys knew from stories of the past that that violence could spread to women and even children under the right circumstances; the annihilation of House Rogers had proven that to be so. Still, it was odd seeing the man who had raised him and taught him to be a Prince worthy of the loyalty his name gave him so ready to slit a woman's throat. And for what, wanting to see the child she had been separated from? By Aelor, no less. Jaehaerys loved and revered his uncle as any boy in his position would, but his actions hadn't sat well with the young Prince.

Nor did the stories he was hearing of those days sixteen years past, when Aelor had forced his mother to leave behind her child with the potential to never see him again.

Was it Lyanna's fault that she had loved Rhaegar Targaryen? Was it truly so evil of her to fall for a Prince whom all agreed was a creation of ethereal beauty? Rhaegar had loved her, Jaehaerys was sure; Lyanna said Rhaegar had told her he did, though there was an underlying tone to her voice that made Jaehaerys wonder if she thought it to be true. Lyanna had been a young woman pregnant with a dead King's child, reviled by nearly all the realm; she still was, if the scathing looks she received from veterans of the Rebellion told him anything. How could his uncle have driven her away from the only piece of joy left to her?

With a flash of determination, Jaehaerys Targaryen decided to find out.

The Hand of the King was deep into his second glass of wine and he had no intention of stopping.

Aelor Targaryen had always frowned upon excessive drinking, and not even the trials of ruling seven kingdoms and raising a small of army of children had driven him from that stance. But now, faced with a problem he couldn't use his reputation to cower or his emerald dagger to kill, he had decided the best course of action would be to get horribly drunk.

Jaehaerys had asked to speak with him. Alone.

Another feast, the second in two nights, roared on the other side of his keep, none of the participants seeming to tire of drinking and dancing and making fools of themselves no matter how many consecutive nights they did so. Only Daenerys, whom all of this splendor was meant to honor, had avoided the feast, still in a sort of mourning for the dead Lord Bryce.

The others seem to have all conveniently forgotten. Funny.

The Queen of Love and Beauty had been absent from the days joust, excusing herself nearly as soon as it had begun, only hesitating to name a new champion in the place of her recently exiled brother. She had chosen the young Robb Stark, despite the unlikelihood of Robb—who was much better with a blade than a lance—actually thriving against the more experienced jousters. He hadn't, making it five challengers before Jason Mallister unhorsed him, though in that time he had become a favorite of the ladies.

Ren had forgone the royal box to spend the day alongside Myrcella Langward, who he was once again spinning around the dance floor in the hall of the Dun Fort. It seemed he has learned nothing from Alaric. Myrcella's father had lasted another day of targeting, riding the best Aelor had ever seen him. He had been chivalrous enough to gift Renlor back his horse and stallion, though Aelor had felt the need to remind Renlor that Myrcella was not the same as his other conquests; if he wasn't serious, he needed to back off before Alaric killed him.

His son hadn't backed off. Whether that meant he was serious or stupid even Aelor didn't know.

Arthur Dayne and Loras Tyrell had remained as champions as well, though Robar Royce fell to one of the Redwyne twins in a fluke. Whether it was Horas or Hobber Aelor couldn't remember, because he in turn fell to a hedgeknight, something that started a revolving door at the fifth champion position that still had yet to be solidified, held now by young Ser Illifer Jast.

But all of this was unimportant, for at that moment Jaehaerys walked through the door.

His nephew had not spoken a word to any of the Targaryen's since the Starks had arrived in Duskendale aside from asking Aelor for this talk, much to the discomfort of Aelor and Alysanne. He'd spent the entirety of the time with Lyanna, only retiring from the company of the Northmen to sleep before returning to them the next morning. Even little Saera, who was all of two, had taken notice of his absence. The only contact his royal family had had was the view from the royal box to the Stark one, watching as he and Lyanna spoke near endlessly.

And from his nephew's face, Aelor doubted he'd heard anything good.

Aelor sighed, gesturing to the seat in front of him. "Have a seat."

"I think I'll stand, actually." Jaehaerys slowed to a stop several feet in front of Aelor's desk, not quite glaring at his uncle but certainly not looking on in approval.

Aelor met his gaze, the two Targaryens sitting in silence, Jaehaerys building up courage and Aelor waiting for axe to fall. It took quite a while, nephew breathing in and out rapidly as emotions warred with him and uncle drinking more and more wine, before the former finally spoke again. "How could you do it?"

Aelor grunted. "I've done many things that others have wondered at; you'll need to be more specific."

"My mother—"

"Is Alysanne Targaryen."

Jaehaerys clenched his jaw at the interruption, but ground on. "My birth mother—there, is that better?—my birth mother says you drove her from King's Landing nearly the day I was born."

Aelor shrugged. "Yes, I did, and I've never let you believe anything different."

"She was a young woman who was hated by half the realm; all she had was me. How could you drive her away?"

Aelor sighed. "Firstly, you weren't all she had; the Starks are known for sticking beside one another, and their name is much loved in the North. Secondly, any hatred directed at Lyanna Stark she brought upon herself. How could I drive her away, you ask? The answer is very, very easily."

Jaehaerys clenched his jaw again, though he was doing his very best to maintain his composure. "You hate her."

"I do. I've never kept that secret from you either."

"What had she done to make you drive her from her child? What had I done to make you deprive me of her?"

Aelor leaned forward, eyes going soft in a manner Jaehaerys had never seen. "You hadn't done anything, son."

His nephew's voice grew bitter as he cut him off. "Do not call me son."

That statement hurt Aelor Targaryen worse than any blade ever had, but he drove on. "I did what I did for you."

Jaehaerys scoffed loudly. "How can driving a newborn's mother away, warning her that you would kill her if she ever tried to see her son again, help that infant?"

"Because of what your mother was."

"She was a noble lady."

"She was a whore."

Jaehaerys shot forward, slamming his hands down on Aelor's desk. It was the only act of violence outside the sparring ring Aelor had ever seen his nephew exhibit. "Do not call her that, uncle! Do not! She is anything but!"

Aelor ground on, the pain at his nephew's words slowly being replaced by the ever-present rage the Dragon of Duskendale carried. He has this right. Calm down, Aelor chided himself, but it did no good. "Your mother is no saint, Jaehaerys, no matter what she has told you. Is this all it takes to turn you against the family that raised you, that has loved you since the day you were born? A few conversations with a woman who you haven't seen since you were a day old?"

Jaehaerys straightened, a flash of guilt crossing his face for only a moment before it was replaced once again with anger. "Do not divert this conversation for your own ends, uncle; tell me, just how was your driving my mother away beneficial to me?"

"If she had stayed, what would she have been, eh? I'll tell you; she would always be the woman who had driven a realm to war by eloping with the crown Prince, despite that man being married. She would not have been considered the mother of a Prince, but instead a spoiled whore—"

Jaehaerys hit him.

It was a quick blow, dealt by a lunging young man who instantly retreated back, as surprised by his actions as the man on the receiving end. The Dragon of Duskendale's head snapped sideways, the Prince's fist having landed solidly. Aelor felt his anger rise as pain blossomed in his jaw, hands clenching the desk fiercely, for a moment forgetting that this was his nephew.

He took a few deep breaths, willing himself to accept this as it was, before turning his head back to face the ashen-faced boy with black curls. "As I was saying, she would not have been considered the mother of a Prince, but instead aspoiled girl who didn't understand that the world revolved around her. Her life here would have been a living hell."

Jaehaerys was still clearly reeling from having struck the uncle so many men feared, though it didn't stop him from grunting in disbelief. "So you are trying to tell me you did this for her."

This time Aelor grunted. "Don't be ridiculous, boy. I don't give a shit about Lyanna Stark, and no matter how many times you hit me that will not change. But I love you, and her presence her would have harmed your own."

Jaehaerys' lip curled, though Aelor saw a glimmer of doubt in his eyes. "How?"

"With Lyanna as a constant reminder of the war, you would not be considered the royal you are. You are a Prince, a Targaryen Prince, but with your mother constantly reminding the court of the circumstances of your birth, many would call you—"

"A bastard." Jaehaerys cut him off again, voice bitter. "That is what I am, aren't I?"

"No, you are a Targaryen, and I will rip the tongue out of anyone who claims otherwise. But Lyanna could not remain, so yes, I told her if she crossed the Neck again I would kill her. And I would have, if you hadn't have been at the stables."

Jaehaerys stared at him a long while, Aelor meeting the gaze, before he shook his head subtlety. "Is this how you justified it? You told yourself it was for my benefit when in truth you hated her so much that you couldn't stand the sight of her. And why did you hate her so, uncle?"

"She started a war—"

"That got the woman you loved killed."

Aelor froze for a moment, before he felt the rage rise tenfold. "Careful, boy."

Jaehaerys drove on. "You drove my other away for a sin you yourself committed."

"Jaehaerys, I am warning you."

The half-Stark prince smiled sarcastically as he talked on, ignoring his uncle's increasingly predatory posture. "Lyanna didn't want Robert Baratheon, she wanted Rhaegar."

"She shouldn't have."

"They were in love."

"They shouldn't have been. They were of noble blood; love has shit to do with it."

"Yet that didn't stop you, did it."

Aelor lost it.

He rose quickly, gripping the desk and flinging it to the side, sending papers, the wine chalice and other assorted items flying across the room, the red wood crashing as it hit the ground. Jaehaerys stepped back, away from his enraged uncle, but he continued talking, raising his voice over the racket Aelor was making. "You loved your brother's wife, yet you dare condemn my mother for loving that same brother? You are the same, my mother and you, yet you abused your power to drive her from the capital!"

"The same?" The Dragon of Duskendale bellowed, hands in fist, taking a dangerous step toward his nephew. "You dare say Lyanna and I are the same? Did I start a war, nephew? Did I run off with a married man because I was too spoiled to realize that love isn't what the stories make it out to be? Did I, Jaehaerys? Answer me!"

His nephew was suddenly looking more doubtful. "You loved your brother's wife—"

"Aye, I loved my brother's wife, more than he ever could have and damn sure more than your mother ever loved him. For years I sat by as your father had everything I ever wanted, but did I elope with Elia, boy? No. I sat there as a dutiful brother should, I held my tongue, and I did my duty. I did not start a war because I was a spoiled bitch, as your mother was."

Jaehaerys took another step towards Aelor, face snarling, and this time Aelor couldn't stop his response. He blocked his nephew's roundhouse blow with a forearm, knocking Jaehaerys' fist aside and stepping forward to place both hands against the curly-haired boy's chest. With a quick shove of his stronger arms Aelor sent his nephew flying backwards, the half-Stark Prince landing on his back some feet back, staring up at his uncle in disbelief. It was the first time outside the sparring ring his uncle had ever raised a hand to any of them.

Aelor stood over him, face the darkened visage of a demon as he jabbed a finger towards the door. "Go. Go to your Starks, boy. If being a Targaryen isn't good enough for you, go be a Stark. If you want to throw away your true family for this new one then do it!" Aelor shook his head, lips curled. "It seems you are more like your father than I had ever realized."

Jaehaerys stared up in a mixture of surprise, fear and outrage at his uncle for a long moment, before he scrambled to his feet and fled the chamber.

Aelor watched him go, rage quickly fading until the Dragon of Duskendale realized what he had done. Guilt and fear coursed through him as he realized he may have just driven his son away for good, as permanently as he had Lyanna Stark sixteen years earlier.

He suddenly followed, busting out of the solar's door to stare down the hall his nephew had fled down seconds earlier.

Jaehaerys was gone.

Chapter Text

Alysanne Lefford Targaryen had seen her husband do many terrible things since she had become the de facto Queen of the Iron Throne, so what had just happened didn't surprise her as it would others.

She had entered the solar through a side door leading to her and her husband's chambers before even Jaehaerys had arrived, staying in the shadows of the corner as her son and husband argued. She knew it was coming, this showdown over Lyanna Stark, but even she hadn't expected it to go as it had.

One hand on her swollen stomach, knowing that any day now her seventh child would be born, she approached her husband's broad back as he stared motionlessly down the hall the boy they had raised fled down. With a gentle touch she laid her other on his shoulder, Aelor not even flinching when her small hand lay on the muscle underneath.

"I have driven him from us, Allie."

Aelor's voice was soft and vulnerable in a way she hadn't heard in years, and her heart went out to him. "No you haven't. Jaehaerys is young and confused, facing the woman he has shied from for sixteen years; he isn't thinking clearly."

It was as if she hadn't even spoken. "I have been readying myself for that confrontation for years, but all he had to do was bring her up and I react like a boy his age."

Alysanne sighed, working her way around to his front and pressing herself as close as her pregnant stomach would allow, using her hands to reach high above her head to cradle his face. "You lost your temper for a moment. So did he. You will reconcile"

"She has been dead over sixteen years, yet the mere mention—"

Alysanne shifted one of her hands to cover his lips, shushing him. "I know, Aelor. I know. I have lived in her shadow for that long."

Aelor's eyes finally looked down at her, guilt flashing through them. "I…"

She pulled him down into a kiss. "I knew what I was getting into when I married you, Aelor Targaryen."

Aelor rested his forehead against hers, eyes closed. "Was he right? Am I as bad as Lyanna Stark?"

Alysanne hesitated a moment, knowing what she needed to say but unsure exactly how to say it. Her husband had been a good man once, before the war that had taken half his family and nearly every sole he could call friend—not to mention the woman he had loved. Part of that good man still existed, beneath the walls of ruthlessness and hate; Alysanne saw it more than any other being ever had, in the way he treated his children—both of birth and choice—and allies.

But her husband certainly wasn't the same good being he had once been, even Alysanne knew. In truth, he was every bit as mad as his brother had been, just in his own more subtle and much more deadly way.

She chose her words carefully, stroking his cheek as she spoke. "Lyanna was a young girl, a spoiled young girl. She certainly played a part in starting the war."

Aelor kept his forehead to hers, clearly waiting for more, but when it didn't come he slowly raised back up to his full height. "But?"

Alysanne let her hands stray to his broad chest, knowing she had to tread carefully. Aelor valued her counsel above any other, even above Barristan's, and she couldn't give him a reason to doubt her, but she had never told him anything but the truth before and she didn't intend to start now. "Lyanna is no innocent; she is certainly a large cause of the war. But Aelor, she isn't the only one.Your father drove the Lord Paramount's to the edge; Rhaegar and Lyanna pushed them over. Your family played as big a role as any foolish noble girl, your father much more of one. You're blaming Lyanna because she is the only one left to blame. You have forgotten the true story behind it all."

Aelor stared at her, violet eyes unwavering. Alysanne met them; sixteen years with the man had taught her how to handle him. Still, apprehension took a firm grip on her, and she subconsciously lay a hand on her belly, though not from fear of violence from Aelor. He loved her and his children much too much to ever lay a seriously damaging hand on any of them.

His voice, when he finally spoke, was soft, much softer than usual. "I haven't forgotten, Alysanne. I never will, no matter how much I might want to. I can still smell Rickard Stark burning, can hear Brandon choking, can see Lannisport burning to the ground. It may be years in the past, but it is as vivid in my mind as yesterday." He turned away from her to look back at the flipped desk and broken glass, though he kept one large hand resting against her ribs. "I hate Lyanna Stark as much as Rhaegar claimed to love her, and nothing will ever change that. But I may have been rash in not giving Jaehaerys more choice; while I never forbade him from seeing her, the entire Keep knew of my thoughts on the matter."

Alysanne sighed a quiet exhalation of relief. "He is smart and just, but he is a boy. I have never met a fifteen year old boy who could see past watever it was he was feeling then. I will speak with him in the morning, shed some light on all of this."

Aelor chuckled lightly, turning to engulf her in the arms she was so used to. "You're a better woman than I deserve, Alysanne Lefford."

"I advise you never forget it." She rested her head against his broad chest once more. "I am right, love. You will see."

For the first time in Aelor Targaryen's life, his wife had been wrong.

The Dragon of Duskendale stood in the doorway leading to his favorite balcony in all the Red Keep, watching the rain splatter against the stone. Another time was heavy on his mind in that moment, a memory a lifetime ago when he had stood in the night air with the smell of a dead man's burning flesh swirling in his nostrils, his black bearded best friend beside him. It had been that night that he had known he was going to war, a war that had changed him and hundreds of others forever.

But that night had been seventeen years ago. Now it was the middle of the day, the sky filled with gray rainclouds but still plenty light, his nostrils filled not with the smell of burning flesh but with the smell of fresh rainfall, albeit tempered with the stench of the city of his birth. Instead of a giant of a man standing beside him he had a small bundle clutched to his broad chest, blankets swaddled around its occupant to ward off the increasing chill.

Alyssa Targaryen, named after her maternal grandmother, had arrived two days after the conclusion of the Tournament of Duskendale, in the bright hours of the morning. She was small but healthy, and though it could easily change as the child grew she seemed to be an image of her mother. Though he loved his sons—those he had sired as well as those he had taken in—his heart, black as it may be, had a soft spot for girls. He didn't know if it was due to how much Rhaenys had helped him cope with the death of Elia or not but he could deny them nothing, be they Daenerys or Rhaella or Saera or even Rhaenys to this very day.

In his experience, daughters caused a lot less trouble than boys.

The day before Alyssa had come squalling into this world Jaehaerys Targaryen had rode north with the Starks. Alysanne had not been entirely wrong, for the boy had not turned his back on the family that raised him as Aelor had accused, giving heartfelt goodbyes and promises of return to them all. He'd hugged his mother in all but name long and hard, ruffled Baelon's hair, and pinched Saera's nose. He'd promised to return home soon, after he had spent time with the family that he had been estranged from since birth.

That had been five months ago, and Jaehaerys was still at Winterfell. He'd sent packets of letters to the capital for them all, and another to Highgarden and his sister. He spoke of snow, something he had never seen, of blue winter roses that Aelor remembered vividly at Harrenhal, and of a direwolf pup and its litter mates found beside their dead mother.

Only Aelor had received nothing, the boy—who, despite his mature outward appearance, was still very much so a boy—clearly still disgruntled from the explosion of emotions that had come to a head at Duskendale. Aelor hadn't slept well since, torn between sending a letter explaining his position Jaehaerys, riding to Winterfell himself, or doing nothing. But, as much as it pained him, his estrangement form his nephew was the least of his concerns.

Dark wings had brought dark words.

Aelor was a self-admittedly cynical man, openly skeptical of mages and sorcerers and their proclaimed powers; he even wondered at the Seven, finding in his experience that sword and fire ruled the world, not a Father and Mother and their demanding, vicious companions.

But the Prince of Duskendale had seen too much in his time to deny that there was more to the world than mortal men could comprehend. His brother Rhaegar, however mad or brilliant or in between he truly had been, had foreseen things a man should not have been able to know. The eldest son of Aerys had known he would fall at what was now known as the Ruby Ford, even if he hadn't been sure how. He'd known Aelor would drive the rebel forces back despite the odds against them, and Aelor had—though no soul on either side could call the Battle of the Trident a victory. He'd even prophesied Elia's death and tried to prevent it, though he had failed in doing so. Aelor to this day didn't know what had given his brother his foresight or how.

Whether there were truly gods or not Aelor couldn't say, but he knew there was more to the world than the swords and men he understood.

So when ravens had brought word from the Wall of a wilding army numbering in the thousands and of the giants rumored to be in their number, Aelor hadn't scoffed as others had. No, the Prince had instead felt an aura of unease fall over him, one that still clung to him now.

It wasn't that First Ranger Benjen Stark was missing, a fact that Lord Eddard had informed him of during their stay in Duskendale. Nor was it the disappearance of Waymar Royce, Bronze Yohn's youngest son, that bothered him so; men of the Watch had a dangerous occupation, and more than one had been claimed by the wilds while out on patrol. It was the fact that several veteran members of the watch, strong and stubborn men, were fleeing south mad with fear that concerned the Dragon of Duskendale; some of those veterans were as tough as Aelor himself, and wouldn't scare easily.

But scare they had. Lord Eddard had executed three himself in the last year.

Lord Commander Jeor Mormont had stressed his belief that the wildings were the only true threat in his messages, but he had mentioned the rumors out of duty. And those rumors, even if they concerned old ghost stories and wives tales, were what concerned the Dragon of Duskendale.

Wights and Others. Myths, supposedly, but if something were to manage to scare those men of the watch, Aelor imagined it might be that.

Aelor hoped and prayed that it wasn't the case; he knew how to kill a man wearing steel and brandishing a sword. Demons of ice, forgotten in the thousands of years since the stories were first told, were another matter entirely.

The council was to meet that afternoon concerning the messages. Aegon was taking them far more seriously than Aelor had suspected the boy would, something the Prince was glad for, but it was clear he thought the part of White Walkers to be nothing and was instead intent on confronting the growing wildling numbers. His nephew was eager to win glory on the battlefield, egged on by his son Ren and their close friend Aelor Rykker, three boys with no idea what war truly meant, no matter how much Aelor and Barristan and the others had tried to tell them. It reminded Aelor of himself and Renfred when they were that age.

Tyrion Lannister, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, would be arriving any hour now, appointed to replace Wyman Manderly as Master of Coin, the massive-bellied Northman in his advancing age requesting to return to White Harbor to live out the remainder of his life with his family. Aegon had made the appointment of the Lion dwarf, having found the halfman's wit entertaining despite the history between their two families, and Aelor had endorsed it even though he still despised the lion banners with all his being. Stannis Baratheon, the master of ships ever since Quellon Greyjoy had died ten years past, would be arriving soon as well, having sailed from Storm's End after returning there for the birth of his second son with Lady Arnette Swann. The council would hear the messages again as well as the words of the Watch recruiter Yoren, who had travelled to King's Landing to clear out the dungeons and give an eyewitness account of the happenings North of the Neck. Aelor was confident in nephew's ability to handle this situation well, and he would argue vehemently in favor of aiding the Watch if the council disagreed.

The situation should be well in hand, but something was still nagging at Aelor, something he couldn't place his finger on.

The Prince held his youngest daughter closely and continued to watch the rain crash to the earth, wondering if he was once again on the brink of war and how many of his House would survive this one.

Viserys Targaryen stared into the glass of ale before him, mind screaming with rage, his constant companion for nearly half a year.

He was a Prince, the blood of the dragon. His place was in King's Landing, his sister by his side as was the Targaryen way, not in this dingy tavern in the slums of Tyrosh, waiting for that blasted incompetent fool Aleqou Garantis to return with his next allowance. He didn't understand his wretched brother and nephew's denial of what was his by right; Aelor had waived any right to Daenerys the day he married that slut Alysanne Lefford, and his children were no true blood of the dragon for it. The Targaryen line must remain pure; they were gods, not peasants!

None of them saw it except him. None of them were smart enough. He could be the savior of the Targaryen line, the one who turned them around, but they had denied him that, sending him instead to waste away in this city of peasant filth and heresy.

And for what, removing an insignificant insect of a Marcher lord? It was true he had weighted a tourney lance in hopes that that overreaching lout Bryce Caron would challenge him, intent on removing the true threat for his sister's hand. It was the way of the world; Viserys was a Targaryen, and Targaryen's removed threats and rivals bloodily.

His brother's hypocrisy was what truly irked the Prince of Summerhall; as if Aelor, the famed Dragon of Duskendale, hadn't destroyed an entire house for crossing him not even a decade after having nearly done the same to one of the oldest and most powerful houses in all of Westeros. Fire and Blood were the Targaryen words, not Flowers and Brandy.

Yet Aelor and his family grew fat and lazy in King's Landing, while Viserys brooded in the corner of a foreign city.

Daenerys is mine by right. I will have her, one way or another.

But be damned if he had figured out just how.

He didn't acknowledge the figures that suddenly sat at the table with him. It happened from time to time, men trying to curry favor with the rulers across the sea by flattering Viserys until they learned he was exiled and in disfavor, disappearing as soon as they did. The Prince of Summerhall had taken to ignoring them, all unworthy fools not fit to lick his boots.

The figures didn't leave, seemingly waiting for the Prince to speak. Viserys didn't, and eventually one of them decided to prompt him. "Are you Viserys Targaryen?" Asked a deep voice, and the only reason Viserys looked up to acknowledge him was the Westerosi accent.

A broad-shouldered, tall man sat across the table from him, his arms covered in golden rings. The man was ugly, eyes bloodshot and face pockmarked, but he held himself with the bearing Viserys recognized in men of noble blood. Two figures stood on either side of him, the man's brothers Viserys judged from their similar features to the lout in front of him.

Still, if Viserys had learned anything in exile, it was to proceed cautiously. "Who wants to know?"

The man smiled slightly, something that somehow made him look even uglier than he already did. "I am Lord Laswell Peake, formerly of Westeros, now of the Golden Company. These are my brothers Pykewood and Torman."

The Targaryen Prince raised an eyebrow. "What is it you want, exactly? I am not in favor with the King in Westeros."

Laswell Peake's smile grew, and his brothers mirrored it on either side of him. "No. But how would you like to be the King in Westeros?"

Chapter Text

Aemon Targaryen knew he shouldn't be here, but he simply couldn't stay away.

The second son of Aelor didn't like people. Well, that wasn't completely true—he didn't like being around people. His older brother could talk to anyone, even girls, but Aemon was far different from Renlor. He'd never been comfortable around people who weren't his family, and half the time he wasn't even comfortable around them. People were unpredictable, driven by goals Aemon didn't understand.

And they talked so buggering much.

Books were different. They were small, stationary. Quiet. They were exactly where you knew they were when you wanted them and could be left without any need of explanation, which suited Aemon perfectly. But they were also so much more than that. Books told of times long past, of heroes and villains and the feats of honor and horror they carried out. They spoke of battles long past and the glories won there. They told stories of chivalry and valor, of brutality and deception. They let you become another being without the need to rise from your seat; Aemon had conquered the world with Aegon Targaryen, had pillaged with Harwyn Hardhand, had slogged through the blood and mud of the Trident with his father, all from the confines of the Red Keep.

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.

Aemon had discovered his love for books even as Grandmaester Colmar—perhaps the only non-Targaryen Aemon liked—was first teaching him how to read. He'd discovered the hidden tunnels of the Red Keep not long after. They were excellent for disappearing to be with himself and his books, to curl up in one of the innumerable nooks and live another life for a few hours. There were others who used them—children his age and younger, Varys' little birds—but they left him be and he did the same for them.

Being in the tunnels lead to some interesting opportunities, to be sure. He could listen in on any number of conversations if he were of a mind. But Aemon wasn't of a mind; he wanted to be left alone, so he tended to leave others alone as well.

Except for today. Today, he simply had to listen.

The stories of the Long Night fascinated him. The tales of men and White Walkers and their War for the Dawn were considered nothing more than legend, spoken of in stories but not truly believed by anyone south of the Neck—or even many of those north of it. It was mentioned in the same breath as Lann the Clever or Brandon the Builder; stories that were more myth than legend. Whether or not Others ever had—or maybe still did—walk the north of Westeros was beyond Aemon's knowledge, but the tales of terror and heroism spoken of in the stories of them fascinated him.

And now, it seemed, they might be coming again. He knew he should be terrified and part of him was, but part of him was also breathless at the idea. An utterly ridiculous notion, what with the potential for the end of the world and all, but one he couldn't help.

It wasn't like he would be the hero to fight the Others back if there truly was a Second battle for the Dawn anyway. Aemon was no warrior and he didn't pretend to be; he had no skill for swordplay and no desire to improve upon it. Once he had been ashamed of that fact; Ren was a solid swordsman and his little, austere brother Baelon was already deadly—and unstable, but that was a concern for another time. And of course there came the fact of his parentage; Aelor Targaryen was considered the best—or at the very least the deadliest—bladesman this side of the Kingsguard. It was perhaps foolish but nonetheless natural to assume all of his sons would be skilled as well.

Two out of three so far isn't too bad I suppose. I'm sure Daemon will make it three out of four when he comes of age.

Aemon's thoughts trailed off when he heard Aegon call the Small Council meeting to order. The voice was muffled and seemed to come from different directions—Aemon had never been sure exactly where the hidden niche was in relation to the Small Council Chamber—but he could understand his cousin plainly enough.

"Good morning my Lords." There was a grumble of returned greetings, from Varys' chittering to Colmar the Grey's deep bass. "I'm sure we all know precisely why we are here."

"Another raven arrived from Lord Stark early this morning," the Grandmaester said. "The North is taking Lord Commander Mormont's warnings seriously; Eddard Stark and his son are gathering ten thousand Northmen to ride to the Wall's aide." There was a slight hesitation, and when the giant with the deformed face spoke again his voice was a shade quieter. "Prince Jaehaerys will ride with them."

Aemon strained to hear if his father had anything to say about that, but the Dragon of Duskendale kept his silence. He wasn't entirely sure just what had gone down between the two; his father refused to discuss it, and no reference of it was made in any of Jaehaerys' letters. Yet it was clearly evident something had gone down between them, for anyone with eyes could see there was something off kilter in the Targaryen dynasty—something beyond the exile of Viserys, which, while no one said it aloud, the family was more thankful for than depressed by.

Of course, we're Targaryens. Something is always off kilter in our bloodline.

"Ah yes, the ominous threat of giants and snarks from beyond the Wall," came the cheery-toned voice of Tyrion Lannister, attending his first Small Council meeting after replacing the massive Lord Wyman Manderly. The dwarf Lannister was known for his quick wit and willingness to bed anything female, seeming to have settled for life as a bachelor and accepting his uncle Kevan and his sons as his heirs. While his diminutive size made things difficult for him as a ruler—as did his apparent loyalty to the dynasty that had destroyed nine-tenths of his own—his mind was brilliant, a fact even Aelor had made mention of before.

That fact alone bore the truth of the statement; for his father to compliment anything Lannister was a rare occurrence. He had, after all, gone on a bloody crusade to wipe the bloodline out a decade and a half earlier, nearly succeeding before something had stayed his hand. He suspected that something had been his mother, Alysanne—she was the only person Aemon had ever seen talk her father down when he was angry.

"I'm less worried about the snarks and the giants than I am the wildlings, Lord Tyrion," replied the King. "Reports place their numbers at over fifty thousand."

Another voice spoke, grim and unforgiving. Those traits by themselves could be either Chief General Randyll Tarly or Master of Ships Stannis Baratheon, but Aemon quickly identified it as the latter. "Reports normally stray far from the truth, especially when concerning enemy numbers."

The Lord Paramount of the Stormlands was a hard man, strong and utterly unyielding. He had resorted to eating boot leather rather than surrender during his brother's rebellion, only yielding when Lord Stark had arrived to vouch for Aelor Targaryen's leniency. Rumor had it that even that hadn't been enough, the true reason behind the steely-eyed man's capitulation concern for his child brother Renly.

Aemon wondered if Stannis regretted that now. His brother was a charming, handsome man who instilled love in his followers in a way Stannis never had. He was also blisteringly ambitious, having left Stannis' court when his heir Steffon—his second of three children, behind the girl Shireen and before the newborn Lyonel—had been born. Renly had taken up residence at Highgarden with the Tyrell's, wooing the girl Margaery as well as forming a close friendship with her brother Loras, the Knight of Flowers. Many wondered if he was working behind the scenes to garner support for a potential coup of Stannis, though how young Renly intended to pull it off when his elder brother clearly had favor with the Targaryen dynasty was unclear.

"I realize reports are by nature unreliable, Lord Stannis," Aegon said, voice slightly strained from irritation. "My uncle has made that point clear to me since I was old enough to listen. But the Night's Watch is in shambles, and even half that number could well pose a threat."

"With a seven-hundred foot tall Wall in their way?" Came the skeptical voice of Yohn Royce, the Valeman Master of Laws.

"Yes, Lord Royce, even with a seven hundred foot Wall in the way. We have a guest here who can attest to that fact. Yoren, take the rhetoric if you will."

This voice was one Aemon had never heard, rough and Northern. The second son of Aerys strained to hear his drawl clearly. "Thank you, Your Grace. I myself don't see near what some of my brothers do; I've been a recruiter for the Watch for near thirty years, ever since a wilding axe took away my ability to fight well. But I know that the Watch doesn't have enough mean to defend the Watch proper, and the wildlings have found ways to get 'round it."

"Pray tell, how do unwashed barbarians bypass the Wall?" Lord Royce's voice was dripping with contempt; his family had battled the mountain tribes of the Vale—often called wildlings themselves—for countless generations. Bronze Yohn was a good man, but hatred could sway a man's mind from reason and even civility.

Aemon's father was a sterling example of that.

"Many ways. They can take canoes from Hardhome and land behind it—they can't get across in large numbers that way before we find out, but they could land enough to attack the remaining men of the Watch. That and they can climb it."

"Climb it," spoke the surprised voice of Lord Tyrion. "Now that is a feat worth respecting, no matter if it is our enemies doing it."

"Yes, Lord. Spikes and ropes. Plenty of them die in the attempt, but plenty more live."

Randyll Tarly piped in. "Can they mass under the Watch's nose that way?"

"No. But the Watch numbers less than a thousand men now, and those are spread out across the few forts we still have manned. All the bastards need to do is get enough behind us to take Castle Black, and then let the others come pouring through."

Aegon spoke again. "As I'm sure my lords remember, the Watch has been forbidden from having defenses south of the Wall ever since the defeat of the Night's King." That name sent shivers down Aemon's spine. "If the Watch falls, nothing stands between them and the mainland of all of Westeros. If their numbers are even near what reports have them to be, they are a threat beyond anything we have faced in a hundred years." Aegon's voice became more commanding, more kingly. "I intend to gather a force and go to the aide of the Night's Watch. If this threat is nothing so be it, but I do not intend to risk the lives of innocent smallfolk because I refused to heed warnings from a man we all agree to be highly competent."

Aelor spoke for the first time then, his father's cool baritone easily heard and commanding of respect. "We all know the other fear of this mentioned in reports, the one none of us want to believe. I'm not saying it is viable and I'm not saying I support it, but I have learned it is impossible to be overly cautious in this savage bitch of a life. King Aegon has my full support in this, and I volunteer the veterans and levies of Duskendale to march North under the King's command."

Aemon could hear the thanks in his cousin the King's voice; Aegon had ruled well in his short stint after the regency, but all knew the Dragon of Duskendale was still the true power in the Seven Kingdoms, no matter that Aelor didn't want to be. It bothered Aegon plainly, but the King knew perfectly well that a pledge of full support from the Warrior Prince—especially if he pledged his men to serve under Aegon instead of himself—would sway the minds of the others. "I accept it, uncle." A pause, as Aegon likely turned to face another although Aemon obviously couldn't see from the dark niche he was in. "Lord Tarly, I understand you have chief control of the army in times of war, but I will lead this expedition myself. I invite you along as an advisor."

Tarly's response was immediate and neutral; Tarly was grim and unforgiving, but he had a knack for handling himself well in political situations. "Of course, Your Grace."

"Uncle, I request you serve as regent while I am gone."

"I refuse."

The silence was total for a long moment. This time Aegon's voice was cold. "Say again, uncle?"

Aelor's own voice was calm and confident. "I am going with you."

"I am in command of this."

"You are. You have full command of the army, including my own levies and retinue. I will defer to your orders in all things, as is my duty. But I am the strongest sword outside of the Kingsguard that you command, and I have more experience in bloodletting than any other man in Westeros outside of Ser Barristan. The wildlings are known for their savagery; we need some of our own."

There was more silence, and Aemon could only presume his father and cousin were having a battle of wills. Aegon broke first. "Very well." His tone promised retribution; Aelor knew perfectly well that Aegon sought to escape his shadow in the North, and he was still potentially going to take that form him. Aegon wouldn't forget it. But then again, the Dragon of Duskendale would know that perfectly well also.

Aegon's first blow came instantly. "Lord Tyrion, you will serve as regent in my stead." Aemon raised his eyebrows; leaving a Lannister—even one Aelor had spared and out in power—in charge of the Dragon of Duskendale's city of birth was a cutting move. Aemon supposed the King was trying to reassert his command over his uncle's; he just hoped this enmity didn't increase.

"Of course, Your Grace. The Halfman is at your service."

There were a few more negotiations between the council—when they would leave, what forces in addition to the men of Duskendale would accompany the King, what Kingsguard would remain behind to protect the remaining members of the royal family—that Aemon only half listened to, though he was pleased to hear no more hostility between Aegon and Aelor, at least for now. His mind was racing with the excitement of the expedition north. The sensible side of him hoped it was nothing more than rumors, that there was no true threat of wildlings or anything much more dangerous. But the side of Aemon that longed for adventure despite his bookish nature disagreed.

And in that moment, Aemon Targaryen decided he just had to see this for himself.

He found his father at the door of the balcony the Dragon of Duskendale had always loved, looking out over the city he had saved sixteen years earlier. It was raining still, the air having taken a chill of late. Aemon supposed the Starks would say 'Winter is Coming', the house words they seemed so adamant about, but no white raven had arrived from the Citadel confirming that fact. Still, the second son of Aelor had been raised in a near endless summer, and he could tell there was certainly something different in the air.

His father heard him before he even had a chance to speak, turning to look at him. "Aemon," he greeted smiling, towering over his son. Aemon had taken after his mother in all regards except his violet eyes, his frame average of shoulder and height, contrasting his father's impressive height and burly form. Aemon was still a few moons shy of fifteen, meaning he still had a chance to grow more into his father's build, but he doubted it would be the case. Not that he minded; large people demanded attention by virtue of being bigger than others and thusly instantly noticeable. Average people however could bend in, and that is all Aemon wanted.

"Father," he returned voice quieter than his sire's. "I have a confession to make."

Aelor grinned knowingly, taking his son by surprise with his next words. "I wondered if you would admit to listening in on the council. Barristan bet you would keep your silence; Colmar adamantly disagreed. It seems the Grandmaester was correct."

Aemon was shocked and embarrassed for a moment, wondering how the Hand of the King had known, before the truth dawned on him. "Varys," he breathed, face ashen. "The little birds."

Aelor had something of a twinkle in his eye as he grinned. "They sing in the east, they sing in the west, and they sing right in the middle."

Aemon bowed his head, though he knew Aelor wasn't angry. "I apologize for the subterfuge, father, but I was too curious to resist."

Aelor waved it away. "Nonsense, son. Join me."

The Dragon of Duskendale returned to leaning against the doorpost of the entry to the balcony, watching the rain fall. Aemon took the other side, looking out over the bustling and sprawling behemoth of a city. One could still see the aftermath of the Lannister raid in Flea Bottom, scorch marks on some of the buildings that had survived. The pile of burnt wood and charred bone of the funeral pyre had been cleaned out before Aemon had even been born, new buildings built in place of most of the old ones, but there were still open lots of blackened ground where the heat of the fires had burned away the life underneath.

"I imagine you have come to discuss the council."

"Yes father."

"What are your thoughts?"

Aemon didn't hesitate. "I am glad the King is taking the threat of the wildlings seriously, though I wonder if he should perhaps have taken the other threats seriously as well."

His father turned his head to look at him, raising an eyebrow. "You mean the Others?" When Aemon nodded, Aelor grunted. "It is a hard story to believe, myths and bedtime stories meant to frighten children. Still…there is more to this world than swords and quills. I wonder if we should not be more concerned as well."

"I have read the stories of the Battle for Dawn more times than I can count. It by all means sounds like a terrible, horrifying time, yet I can't help but wish…" He trailed off, not willing to put this irrational hope into words. His father was a supportive man, having accepted Aemon's scholarly disposition in a way Randyll Tarly had never been able to accept his heir Samwell's, but he knew the whole notion to be ludicrous.

Except apparently it wasn't. "You wish it were true, so you could witness it yourself." Aemon glanced at his father sheepishly, the Dragon of Duskendale reaching a large hand out to pat his son's shoulder. "I know the feeling; before the Kingswood Brotherhood and Robert's Rebellion, I wanted nothing more than a war to prove myself. It is the nature of young men who haven't seen the true thing; Renfred and I were much like your cousin Aemon and brother Renlor are now, chomping at the bit to win the glories of battle." His father grunted again. "Such fools we were, but we weren't the first and we certainly won't be the last."

"I once heard Ser Barristan tell Ren that war is nothing like the stories, that young men wish for it until the day they first see it and then they wonder why they wished for it at all."

Aelor nodded sagely. "That's about the truth of it. Bards make it sound like a glorious, honorable thing, but war is anything but."

Aemon hesitated a moment before plunging forward with his request. "I would like to find out." His father stood up abruptly, taken aback by the statement. "I wish to go North with you and Aegon."

Aelor turned to face him fully, face confused. "You've never had an interest in war before, Aemon."

The son mimicked the move of the father, facing one another fully. "And I don't now. But I have always wanted to see the Wall, to experience for myself the beauty of the north. And if there are truly Others and giant and who knows what else marching to destroy humanity, I would never forgive myself for being too cowardly to see them for myself before they are either stopped or they succeed."

Aelor's face grew stern. "Never call yourself a coward again, Aemon. The fact that you are willing to travel north with a war party when you want nothing to do with war is in itself evidence to the contrary."

"I am no warrior, father, but I am skilled at managing anything I put my mind to, and we know it. Make me a quartermaster or a scribe, whatever it is you need; just allow me to travel with you and see the truth or falsehood of these rumors with my own eyes."

The Dragon of Duskendale was watching him, face now serious. "You do know that if their truly is a threat, there will be battle, and however unlikely it is there is a chance we will not emerge the victors. The enemy will not care if you're warrior or a whipping boy; they'll kill you just the same. It is the nature of men and war."

Aemon nodded. "I know, and I will not lie to you and say I am terrified of that possibility. But I need to do this, father. I love books and I am uncomfortable around people, but I know that a life spent dreaming of things I never allow myself to see is a life wasted." Aelor regarded his son for a long while, face unmoving. Aemon waited with bated breath, eyes pleading.

Finally his father let out a long sigh. "Very well; you may join us." Aemon's heart soared and he began to thank his father profusely, but the Dragon of Duskendale brought his hand up firmly to stop the gratitude cold. "On one condition; you have to be the one to explain this to your mother."

The excitement fled instantly.

Her husband was in his armor again.

Alysanne Targaryen had only seen Aelor wear the black plate with its warring dragons twice since the end of Robert's Rebellion, and neither time had she been happy about it. The first was when he had ridden to the Stormlands to extinguish the line of House Rogers, burning their castle and lands as he had Lannisport all those years ago. The second had been more recently, when Corliss Roxton had nearly raised his flag in doomed revolt. Both times she had been terrified to see her husband ride away, not knowing if he would ever return to her and their children; whether or not Aelor loved her as much as he had the long-dead Elia Martell was a question even Alysanne didn't know the answer to, but it hadn't stopped her from loving him as much as a body could.

This was the third time she was to watch him ride away, and that feeling of dread was as present as ever.

Warrior, on the other hand, was nearly giddy. The massive black stallion sensed that the mass of horses and men scurrying to and fro in the stables and courtyard of the Red Keep was a war party and he was acting like a horse a quarter of his age, excitedly bellowing his war cry of a neigh and nearly prancing around the post he was tied to. The stallion was twenty years old, not ancient for a horse but certainly older than any other animal being geared up for war. Alysanne had questioned Aelor's decision to ride the old destrier to the potential battles up north and not one of his many descendants; there were well over a dozen black-hided stallions in the courtyard that had been sired by the famous horse. As vicious as he had been in his youth and as attached as Aelor was to the aptly named beast—he'd ridden the horse everywhere since the war, although destriers were bred for battle and didn't have the smooth gait most looked for in a horse for everyday riding—she wondered if her husband shouldn't take a younger animal.

Aelor had cut the head off of the idea instantly. He swore upon the emerald dagger he had killed Robert Baratheon with that Warrior was more man than horse, and that there had never been a smarter animal or an animal more suited to war than the old stallion. In her many years around the beast, she couldn't deny the former.

Her husband was saying his goodbyes to Rhaella, Saera and Daenerys. Most of the knights swarming the courtyard in preparation for riding out were in travel clothing—if there was to be a battle it would be weeks away, and they saw no reason to subject themselves to the discomfort of wearing armor when there was zero chance of battle. Even King Aegon wore a doublet and cloak of black and crimson, not the ornate and expensive armor he owned. Aelor, however, was in full plate, the same suit he had worn in those fierce battles of the rebellion. Alysanne had learned that when Aelor donned the armor he donned the mindset of war; whenever he was riding towards a fight, guaranteed or just potential, he wore his armor almost exclusively.

Alysanne watched with tears threatening to fall. This time was not like the other times her husband had ridden out to war. Both of those times his victory was all but guaranteed, and while it was likely this one was no different there was certainly an undercurrent of what if.

And, the true reason behind her discomfort was that he was taking four of her sons with him.

Her eldest Ren sat his stallion beside the King, who was her child in all but blood. They were talking giddily, excited by the prospect of war in the way Aelor told her only unbloodied boys could be. Aemon, her sweet, quiet Aemon, sat another horse behind them, face carefully blank. She had been surprised and terrified when her second son—the one meant to inherit her father's lands and her ancestral castle—had come to her professing her intent to ride north with the war party. Her second child was no warrior and never would be; why in the Seven hells was he going to ride to war? She had been nearly hysterical in forbidding him, but her son had shown the steely resolve few knew he possessed in insisting he was going along with or without her blessing. It had taken—and still was taking—everything she had to prevent herself from begging him further to remain in King's Landing with her.

She supposed it was hypocritical of her to protest Aemon not go when she was allowing two of his full brothers to, especially when one of them was younger than him. Alysanne hadn't been surprised when Aelor broke it to her that Baelon was riding along; he was, after all, her husband's squire. Though only recently having turned two and ten, her third son belonged with a war party. He was quieter than even Aemon and twice as grim, so silent that Alysanne had once wondered if he was a simpleton. She'd learned later that he was anything but—Baelon was brilliant, at least in terms of strategy and swordplay. But he was also eccentric and dangerous; he was Aelor incarnate, though clearly more Aerys than the Dragon of Duskendale and perhaps even Viserys. Alysanne spent long nights praying to the Seven that her son not be a second coming of the Mad King, but so far they had given her no sign dissuading her that he was.

She couldn't help but love him, however, no matter his potential to become a monster. She'd grown used to loving dangerous men with the potential for unprecedented violence.

One of those men came to a stop in front of her, resplendent in the black plate that fit him so well. His helm with its white flame crest was tucked under his arm, as scarred as his face from the blade of a long dead Lannister. Aelor bent down to place a kiss on Alyssa's head, the babe somehow sleeping despite the cacophony of noise coming from the horses and men in the courtyard.

"Promise me, Aelor," Alysanne whispered as she pulled her husband into the side that wasn't supporting her youngest, gripping his black plate fiercely as he wrapped his armored free arm around her small frame. "Promise me you will bring our sons back to us."

He held her close for a long moment, running a gauntlet through her dark hair, before leaning back and placing a long kiss to her lips. "I promise," his comforting—to her at least—voice reassured when he leaned back, grinning.

It was an empty promise, one they both knew he couldn't guarantee to keep, but it was enough for now.

Alysanne Lefford watched as he strode to and swung up on the massive stallion, Warrior impatiently pawing the ground in his desire to get to the rush of battle both horse and rider so loved. She watched as he rode to join her sons and two knights of the Kingsguard at the head of the column, Baelon close behind, each Targaryen mounted upon a stallion as black as their banners. She watched as Aegon ordered the column forward, to meet with the men of Duskendale under Donnel Buckwell at the castle of House Byrch and the men under Lord Whent of Harrenhal at that cavernous ruin of a castle.

And when the last horse disappeared out of the courtyard of the Red Keep, Alysanne Lefford wept.

Chapter Text

King Viserys Targaryen, Third of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm. It had one hell of a ring to it.

Viserys slipped out from between the two camp followers he'd taken to his bed a week earlier, both of Lyseni blood with light blonde hair and purple eyes. One's hair was a shade too dark and the other's shorn too short, and their eyes were much more indigo than violet. But if Viserys didn't look at their faces too much and he repeatedly told his mind they were, he could just convince himself they were what his heart desired above all else.

It was like having two Daenerys' at the same time. Viserys would trade both fakes for the real one in a heartbeat, but he'd take what he could get for now.

Both—Viserys was fairly certain their names were Sylara and Lilas, though he didn't truly give much of a damn—grumbled and twisted slightly in the massive bed but neither one woke. Viserys yawned as he stretched, joints popping, and then set to dressing in the expensive silk and cloth of gold, a golden three headed dragon stitched across the chest of his doublet. He strapped his sword to his side and then, with great care, placed the crown of gold, emeralds and rubies atop his head, relishing its weight and the feeling of power it flooded into his veins. Straightening his spine, he flung aside the tents flap and stepped out into the harsh sunshine.

They were camped somewhere along the western Essosi coastline, north of the Free City of Myr and south of Pentos. Viserys had grumbled when he'd first arrived at the staging area, even in his wretched exile used to at least some level of comfort, but the commanders of the Golden Company had convinced him of their reasoning. Viserys knew as well as anyone that The Spider had little birds everywhere; they sang just as loud in the east as they did in the west. While it was unlikely Viserys' new affiliation with the Golden Company would stay a secret from Varys for long, any amount of delay in its revelation would be to their advantage. Camping in this middle of nowhere, away from the thousands of prying eyes in the Free Cities, would only help in that endeavor.

Alester Strong instantly appeared at his side. Eight and ten, the squire was thick of neck and arm, short but savagely powerful. He wasn't the quickest of mind to be sure, but despite his relative youth he was an experienced killer who doubled as Viserys squire and bodyguard. Viserys had yet to select his own Kingsguard—as much as he hated his brother, the Prince of Summerhall had learned from the Dragon of Duskendale to choose those closest to him carefully—but he felt protected enough with Alester for now. Besides, they were in the middle of ten thousand warriors all serving him.

Alester's father, Duncan Strong, was one of the Company's serjeants, his arms covered in gold rings signifying over twenty years of service. While the mercenary father and son were of Westerosi heritage, Viserys doubted they were truly descended from the long-extinct House Strong of the Riverlands, former Lords of Harrenhal. A man of the Golden Company could call himself whatever he wished, and there was another serjeant with no blood relation to Duncan, a brute of a man named Denys, who styled himself a Strong as well. It didn't truly matter though; when he took the Iron Throne from his cursed nephew and executed the traitorous lords who served him, he would give Duncan and Denys Harrenhal and its subsequent lands back, though how they would split it between them wasn't his concern.

That was his deal with the Golden Company. Ten thousand men, bloodied killers all, would help him take the Kingdoms of his father. In return, he would grant the conquered lands to the men of the Golden Company. Many were actual exiles who yearned for their ancestral seats; Laswell Peake and his brother's, Captain-General Harry Strickland, Franklyn Flowers the Bastard of Cider Hall, supposedly Duncan and Denys Strong. Others—Will Cole, John Mudd, Maylo Jayn—didn't even pretend to have a claim, some like Jayn not even of Westerosi blood. They too would be granted lordships, however, assuming the positions that Viserys would empty. Theirs would be right of conquest instead of right of blood.

This was the world Viserys intended to build, Daenerys at his side.

News had arrived during the night, something major judging by the flurry of activities the camp had undergone. Viserys was rather vexed that nothing had been said to him, their King, but he would withhold his displeasure for the time being. The council they had called this morning was sure to fill in the blanks for him, and in the process he would get a further idea of who was truly in command for now. Viserys wasn't a fool; he knew the only reason these men had first agreed to follow him was their hopes of returning home or becoming rich, not because they found him to be their true King—as such, thy would only follow his commands to a point. It was true that Viserys wasn't the true King—he wasn't even very high in the succession anymore, thanks to Alysanne Lefford and her 'talent' at getting pregnant and birthing boys. He needed to bid his time, see where the true power of the Company lay, and then go about taking it for himself.

Viserys hated Aelor, but his brother had taught him well.

The council was already underway even as Viserys entered, only a few of the veteran mercenaries bothering to rise and bow to Viserys before the King took his place at the head of the table. It was a lack of respect they would all pay dearly for, though not quite yet. 'Homeless' Harry Strickland, portly and the exact opposite of what one would expect a mercenary to look like, was talking. While he still hadn't figured out the true power structure behind the Golden Company, Viserys was nearly certain that it didn't lie with Harry Strickland, no matter the man's position as Captain-General. The great-grandson of a former Lord of the Reach was somewhat craven, a belief given credence by the words the man was saying right now.

"We do not have the numbers. Even with the elephants we are hopelessly outmatched."

Jon Lothston—another man under the guise of a supposedly extinct bloodline—viciously countered. One of the serjeants, Viserys had noticed the red-haired sellsword was the biggest of Strickland's rivals, constantly infuriated by the Captain-General's cowardice. "Their strongest fighters are moving north as we speak, leaving their heartland undefended. Now is the time to strike!"

Duncan Strong seemed to be the normal voice of reason of the council, and he continued that role now. "They still have many times again as many men as we do in the south, even with the allies we have in place. There is only so much havoc we could wreak."

Lothston whirled. "Scattered men, easy for the picking. We can turn Aelor Targaryen's own tactic against him—pick the enemy off piecemeal, before they can unite. It nearly ended Robert Baratheon's Rebellion before it truly began, if you recall." Lothston eyed Strickland once more. "We cannot sit here in Essos like cowards and let this opportunity pass."

"Peace, Lothston," barked the rough voice of Maylo Jayn, his accent that of the far east. The lean man turned to face Viserys, bowing ever so slightly. "The King needs to be brought up to date."

That is precisely why you will receive a high lordship, my friend. The Westerlands should do. Viserys eyed them all coolly, a tactic he had seen his brother use to great effect. "The meeting should not have begun without me, Master Jayn. But I am willing to overlook it this time in light of what I gather to be good news to our cause." None of the hardened mercenaries apart from Strickland looked chagrined, but Viserys knew he had yet to win their respect—or their fear. It would all come in due time.

Lysono Maar, spymaster of the company, filled the King in. The Lyseni, with his lilac eyes and his pierced ears decorated with amethysts and pearls, looked more like a woman than a man. But he had a vast array of contacts and spies nearly everywhere including Westeros, the population of which seemed to be twenty-five percent spies in Viserys' mind. His network was not as vast as Varys' of course, but enough to keep the Company very well informed. "Your nephew and brother are leading a force of men to the Wall, to deal with an apparent wildling threat. Half of the power of the North will join them there."

Lothston spoke again, voice excited at the prospect of finally beginning the invasion this company was founded to undertake. "King's Landing is relatively undefended, with only a few household guardsmen to defend her. We can strike now and take it, capturing many of your kinsmen to hold as leverage as well as freeing the future Queen."

Viserys instantly liked Lothston a thousand times more than before when he referred to Daenerys as the future Queen, but it didn't stop his skepticism. "Between Dragonstone and King's Landing, my cursed nephew has one of the strongest fleets in the known world. All the war elephants and experienced infantrymen in the world will do no good if we cannot land."

Strickland apparently agreed. "My point exactly."

Maar however wasn't finished, shooting the King a smirk that made Viserys want to smash his feminine face in. "Our friends in Westeros have plans to remove that threat, at least long enough for our own ships to make landfall."

The Prince of Summerhall waited for a clarification the spymaster did not give. "Explain." Viserys demanded as calmly as he could.

Jayn obliged. "Your nephew has taken the levies of Duskendale as well as most of his personal retinue north with him, meaning the most experienced and disciplined fighters for the Iron Throne will be a world away from us when we land. Most important of all, however, is that your brother is with them. He is the glue that holds your nephew's kingship together, and with him too far to harm them…well, there are several powerful figures in Westeros who have no love for the Dragon of Duskendale."

Maar took the rhetoric. "Your brother ruled ably, and most of Westeros will remain loyal it is true. But there is no small number of Lords who have not forgotten or forgiven the atrocities he has committed. They question rather he is truly sane." Viserys missed the glance several members of the council shared at that, too focused on the task at hand as Lysono continued. "We have been in contact with these lords since the day we learned Aegon exiled you, Your Grace. We have support to overthrow the Dragon of Duskendale."

"My nephew is King, not my uncle."

Duncan Strong smiled. "There are many who would contest that point, Your Grace. When these men hear Aegon the Sixth, they truly think Aelor the First."

Maar nodded. "With the Dragon of Duskendale too far to be an immediate threat, we can strike hard and fast with the lords who ally with us, destroying the armies in the south one at a time while Aegon and Aelor fight unwashed barbarians in the far north."

Viserys' heart was pounding at the possibility. Though he would never admit it to any of these men, he was terrified of his older brother, and had spent all of his life trying to avoid Aelor's retribution. But with said brother so far away, unable to strike back at Viserys, he could feasibly take all he wanted in one fell swoop. If he captured Alysanne and the children, he would have a bargaining chip keeping his brother at bay.

But all of that depended on the Golden Company landing and successfully taking King's Landing. And that depended on a lack of a Royal Navy in their way, which these mercenaries still hadn't explained how they were going to accomplish. Viserys leaned back in his chair at the head of the table. "This tells me nothing of how we won't have a Navy in our way."

Black Balaq, the white-haired, soot-skinned commander of the Golden Company archers, spoke for the first time, voice deep and resonant. "Your brother destroyed Tywin Lannister without the Royal Navy because he had a substitute force. We shall destroy him in turn with that same one."

Viserys' eyes opened wide in revelation. "The Ironborn?"

There was a chorus of nods, though Jayn was the one to speak. "Yes, Your Grace. Their numbers were barely touched during the last war, and Balon Greyjoy is nothing like his father Quellon. He has chafed under the rule of your brother, but he has had no opportunity to rise in rebellion. Until now. He intends to start raiding the western coast, pillaging castles and their armies and driving the Iron Throne to react. The Redwyne Fleet cannot handle the might of the Iron Fleet by itself, so the Regent of the Crown—Tyrion Lannister, a less-than-respected dwarf as luck would have it—will order much of the Royal Navy to assist them."

Viserys cocked a brow. "They will also muster their army, which defeats our purpose of attacking them piecemeal."

Balaq bowed his head in difference. "A wise point, Your Grace. But the Golden Company will strike before these armies grow too strong, and with the Crown split between two enemies they will be overmatched and destroyed."

Viserys ran the merits and intricacies of the plan through his head. He wasn't a gifted tactician like Aelor or Aegon, but he had learned much during the lessons he had so detested as a boy. The plan relied on massive amounts of ifs and hopes, but the potential could not be denied. This might be his only true chance to take both what was his by birthright—Dany—but also what he had thirsted after since he was a teen.

Viserys' heart pounded ever harder as his hopes soared. This is my opportunity. This is where I will make my name.

There was only one catch.

"What does Balon Greyjoy want in return?"

This time Viserys didn't miss the looks shared by the council, and he knew at once that he wouldn't like whatever it was Balon Greyjoy was demanding. Lothston was the one to break the news to him. "He wants independence for the Iron Islands."

Viserys jumped to his feet, slamming a fist on the table. None of the mercenaries flinched, infuriating Viserys the more; when he'd seen Aelor do the same action, half of the lords nearly pissed themselves. "Absolutely not. I am the King of seven kingdoms, not six."

Jayn spoke in a soothing tone Viserys sound annoying, though he tried to hold that anger in check this time. "Your Grace, we agree that his demands are atrocious. But once he helps you capture your Throne, nothing says we have to let him keep that independence."

Harry Strickland may have been Captain-General, but he had been deemed nearly nonexistent to this point. It truly shows that he is not where the power lies. "We are the Golden Company; we cannot go back on our word!" His voice was appalled, as if Jayn had spoken blasphemy.

"We will not go back on our word as the Golden Company," Maar said, voice slightly annoyed. "But once we have taken King Viserys' thrown the Golden Company will be no more. Westeros nobility have no qualms with betraying one another; if that is what we are to be, we should not either. The Iron Islands will have no chance to stand against the other Kingdoms once they are united solidly under King Viserys' rule."

Strickland opened his mouth to protest again, but no words came forth. Viserys' mind raced, weighing the options. This was his chance. This is where he could finally take his heart's desire.

Viserys rose, trying for all the world to look kingly. "We will not get a better opportunity. Let us go to war, gentlemen."

For the first time since Viserys had come in contact with the Golden Company, each man bowed.

Chapter Text

Aegon Targaryen had never been so cold in his entire life.

The Wall was a splendor to behold, so massive it made even a King wonder how man had made such a thing, but it was seven hundred feet of ice. Aegon was of the south; he didn't like ice. Or snow. Or the wind so cold it could cut through layer upon layer of fur and leather, freezing his pale skin. Targaryen's were dragons, not bloody snow bears. They thrived in heat and flame, not chill and snowflake.

Except Jaehaerys of course. His half-brother seemed right at home, surrounded by Starks and a red-eyed, white furred beast of a direwolf. The King couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at how well the animal's fur matched the white armor of Ser Borran of the Kingsguard, who had travelled north with Jaehaerys over half a year ago. Aegon supposed it was the Stark that ran through Jaehaerys' veins that gave him his cold resistance, the blood of six-thousand years' worth of Kings of Winter flowing through the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. Aegon was buggered in that regard; on one side he was a dragon, on the other the bloody sun itself. Neither lent much help in being prepared for the North.

Even the cold and the terrifying-looking direwolf couldn't stop the King from swinging off his black stallion and striding to the black-haired Prince, even as the courtyard—Stark, Targaryen and Crow alike—sank to one knee. With a chuckle he waved Jaehaerys up before clasping his brother's wrist, slapping Jaehaerys' shoulder. "You look like shit, baby brother."

Jaehaerys grinned at that. "You'd best be careful, Your Grace," he said, tilting his head towards the albino direwolf regarding the King quizzically. "He's somewhat protective of me."

Aegon raised an eyebrow at the beast, trying to keep his face blank of the apprehension standing near the creature gave him. Its red eyes bored into his violet ones, more intelligence behind them than any animal had a right to possess. Though his slightly too-big legs and ears indicated the wolf still had some growing to do, he was already bigger than any dog Aegon had come in contact with before. "So this is the infamous Ghost, eh? He's….big."

Jaehaerys laughed at that, grinning. "You should see Grey Wind, Robb's wolf. Makes Ghost here look like a runt."

Aegon had the suspicion that he in fact did not want to see Grey Wind, though the mention of Robb Stark reminded the King of the Iron Throne that there were others present awaiting his word. "Lord Stark, it is a pleasure to see you again."

The Lord of Winterfell rose, the others in the courtyard doing the same as Aegon's own party began dismounting. "It is an honor, Your Grace," Eddard replied, Ice, the Stark greatsword of Valyrian Steel, strapped across the layers of furs covering his back. A young man beside him grinned even as the King and Lord Paramount spoke.

Aegon turned to meet that grin with one of his own, grasping the wrist of the heir to the North as he had Jaehaerys' moments before. "Robb, it is good to see you again."

"And you, Your Grace." His blue eyes lit up with glee. "I would have loved for Grey Wind to greet you as well, but I'm afraid he became distracted with a particularly juicy bone. I've not been able to teach him proper priorities as of yet."

Aegon shook his head in wry amusement as he moved on down the line to a stocky, broad-shouldered man in a black cloak. "Lord Commander Mormont, I presume."

The Night's Watchman's voice was as grizzled and rough as his aged face. "An honor, Your Grace. The Night's Watch is indebted to you for answering our call."

Aegon shook his head. "It is my duty as King, Mormont, though I will not lie and claim that my decision to turn north was deemed wise by all those at court."

Another voice, elderly and wizened, responded from the ranks of Crows. "Those at court have not seen what we here at the Wall have, Your Grace." An ancient man, face lined with more wrinkles than Aegon had coin, slowly walked forward, escorted by none other than Samwell Tarly, who had attached himself to Jaehaerys' party when the Prince first went north—to escape his father, no doubt, who ridiculed Sam but was unable to replace him as heir to Horn Hill due to Samwell's friendship with Jaehaerys. The elderly man's hair was as white as the snow around them, stature stooped from age, eyes milky and clearly blind. "What most of us here on the Wall have seen, that is."

Aegon shouldered past Mormont and Robb, taking the hand of the oldest living Targaryen. "Maester Aemon," the King breathed, unable to move as his great-great uncle's hand slowly reached up to brush over Aegon's face, as if the blind former Prince was seeing with his hands. Aegon realized with a start that he was.

"I have heard many good things about you, Aegon Targaryen. I believe you would have made Egg more than proud."

Aegon didn't have time to question just who 'Egg' was before another presence appeared on the Maester's other side, a gauntleted hand reaching out to replace Samwell Tarly's gentle grip on Aemon's arm. "Uncle Aemon," Aelor nearly whispered, a direct contrast to the authoritative tone the

Dragon of Duskendale normally wielded as a weapon. Aegon knew these two men, who had at one time been the only adult Targaryen's left in all the world, had kept a correspondence since before Aegon had even been born, meaning this meeting had a much more potent effect on Aelor than it was having on Aegon. "I'm glad I can finally put a face to the name."

The old Aemon repeated the face tracing on Aelor even as he smiled knowingly. "I wish I could say the same, nephew."

Aelor returned the smile even though the Maester couldn't see it, appropriately chagrined by the faux pas in word selection. "I have several of my sons with me, uncle, one of whom is named after you. He was nearly as excited at the prospect of this meeting as I was."

"Meeting another Aemon Targaryen would be a pleasure; for a time I wondered if there would be any of my blood left to bear the name. But my bones are old, and the cold bothers me. I would prefer to meet my great-great nephews in the warmth of Castle Black."

Aegon and Aelor both laughed, near identical sounds. "Of course, uncle," Aegon said, turning to Lord Commander Mormont and Lord Stark, both of whom had been waiting respectfully. "I suspect there is much to be discussed, my lords."

Mormont nodded sharply. "Aye, Your Grace. Much and more."

Tyrion Lannister had often said he intended to travel north, climb the Wall and piss off of the edge of the world. Since the entertaining and brutally smart Lord of the Westerlands was stuck back in King's Landing, Aegon Targaryen did the honors for him, no matter how unkingly the action was.

The view from seven-hundred feet in the air was unlike any other the King of the Iron Throne had seen before, particularly here at dusk. The setting sun painted the sky in oranges and reds, making the savage land north of the wall look almost serene. Aegon looked out across the forest and icy mountains and wondered how something so beautiful could produce something as brutal as the wildlings.

And, just maybe, things much more deadly.

Reading of tales and reports from Beyond-the-Wall, passed to King's Landing in the scrawl of Commander Mormont, was one thing; hearing those same tales from the men who had lived the experiences was another. Aegon didn't necessarily believe the tales of giants and Others, not even after the firsthand accounts of some of the Watch's most reliable men, but he couldn't quite say he disbelieved them either. The sheer terror in the eyes of some of the Rangers, men who were in normal circumstances every bit as tough as even Aelor, could not be faked. None could say they had seen a White Walker themselves—though no one was truly sure just what those even looked like—but they had most certainly seen something, and whatever it was had frightened them.

That in turn frightened Aegon. He wasn't a craven, but he certainly wasn't a fool either.

The Royal relief force had arrived a few hours after dawn, and after a midday meal a council had been convened. It had lasted until mere moments ago, Night's Watchmen, Northmen and Southerners all debating the best way to handle the wildling threat, which was the foremost issue on most minds despite the underlying, sinister threat. Reports consistently placed Mance Rayder's in the tens and tens of thousands, numbers nearly unfathomable to Aegon's mind but estimates the Rangers swore to. Aegon had brought with him fifteen thousand men, the Starks another ten. The Watch itself numbered less than one thousand, with only a few hundred quality fighting men among them. Aegon had no idea just how bad the state of the Watch had become, and already was planning on rebuilding it back to strength.

Assuming he survived, that is.

On the trip north the idea that he wouldn't hadn't even crossed the King's mind. The wildlings were supposedly unwashed, unorganized barbarians. While that may yet prove true, there seemed to be a whole hell of a lot of them. While the higher quality of men and weapons the Targaryen Prince possessed evened the odds considerably, there was something to be said for sheer mass of numbers. Even so, with the Wall as a buffer between his men and the swarming capabilities of the wildlings, the royalist had a startling advantage.

But that also provided a problem. There were near twenty-six thousand men on the Watch side of the Wall, and while they had brought rations for their men as expected, Aegon couldn't camp out on the Wall forever and eat through the supplies of the Night's Watch. As the Starks so often said, winter was coming, and even after the wildling—and any other—threat was put down the Watch would have to do battle with the cold. But if he sallied forth north of the wall he'd be giving the wildlings the advantage; they'd see him coming with so many men, and while his better soldiers could smash the wildlings in open field there seemed to be a stunning lack of those north of the wall. If it became a war of attrition Aegon knew he would come out on the losing side; each of his best men were worth ten wildlings, but all reports of Mance Rayder claimed he was passing intelligent. The King Beyond-the-Wall would know not to engage Aegon fully and would take to the forests and hills, wearing out the horses and men of the King of the Iron Throne and bleeding Aegon slowly.

Aegon's one true advantage was that Rayder would have the same logistical problems; some rumors placed his number of men at triple that of Aegon's, which meant triple the men to feed. A large number of women and children were also among the wildling camps, which provided their own set of issues. While Aegon couldn't stay at the Wall forever, Mance Rayder couldn't keep so many hungry mouths together on the other side of it either.

Which led to the final issue; nothing said Mance Rayder would stay on the other side.

The Wall could stop an army, it was true, but it couldn't do much against one man. Small parties sailed across the Bay of Ice in canoes to land on the other side. Others reportedly even climbed it. While there was no chance of even near his entire force reaching the southern side of the Wall, it was no secret that only Castle Black, Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and the Shadow Tower were occupied. That left miles and miles of open territory where small bands could cross and begin to wreak havoc on the North and on the forces at the Wall.

Which is why most of his force was leaving in the morning.

"Beautiful, isn't it."

Aegon turned to face the voice, tucking his manhood back into his breeches. Walking by the ever-vigilant Ser Barristan was his brother, Jaehaerys covered head to toe in black. Aegon nodded in greeting before turning back to the view. "Aye, it is."

"I have spent nearly all of my time up here since we arrived. I can't get enough of it."

"You enjoy it here, don't you."

Jaehaerys nodded. "I enjoy the North, yes. Something about it seems to draw me in, take a hold of me. Like I…"

When Jaehaerys didn't continue Aegon smiled gently, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Like you belong here." The black-haired Prince could only nod. Aegon chuckled lightly. "I hope you don't start hating the south, brother. If I fall to wildlings or a giant—or just this stupid cold weather—you are the King of the Iron Throne."

Jaehaerys shoved Aegon jokingly. "You will not fall, Aegon. Ser Barristan will not allow it, correct Barristan?"

The older but always deadly Kingsguard grinned. "Correct, my Prince."

Jaehaerys turned back to the King. "You see? You will come out of this as whole as you went in, mark my words."

They chuckled together before growing silent, observing the rapidly setting sun as the already frigid temperatures dropped even more. After a long while Aegon spoke again, voice low. "How is your mother?" The question was simple enough at face value, but both Targaryens knew Aegon's true meaning in asking it.

Jaehaerys sighed, long and slow. "She loves me very much, and I her."


The half-Stark grunted. "She missed so much of my life that she wants to be in every waking moment of it now. That was fantastic at first—I'd spent so long dreaming of meeting her that the actual thing was bliss—but it's like she does not realize I am every bit Targaryen as I am Stark. It is as if she wishes me to abandon the Dragon for the Wolf. And as if she doesn't realize that I need time to myself as well."

Aegon nodded slowly, pursing his lips. "So you're saying your mother can be…"

"Annoying, yes, though the Seven know she means well and I love her for it. It took all Eddard and I had to keep her in Winterfell and out of the war party. It's nice to be able to breathe again." Aegon only nodded, though a small smile played on the corner of his lip. Jaehaerys caught it, and though he threw his elder brother a glare the same twitch began in his own lips. Before long the two brothers were laughing aloud.

When they sobered several moments later, Aegon asked the question he knew he probably shouldn't. "I noticed you still aren't talking to our uncle."

Jaehaerys' face instantly resorted to its grim nature. "I...don't know what to say." Aegon said nothing, allowing his brother time to gather his words. "Down deep I understand why he did what he did, I truly do. I may not be happy about it, but if I were in his place I likely would have done the same. I'm not saying all he did was right, because it certainly wasn't, but…I wasn't correct in all of my actions either, particularly during the tourney at Duskendale. Gods, it's all just a mess."

The King patted his brother on the shoulder once more. "You should speak with him, settle the air. There are too few of us Targaryens in the world to allow infighting in our family." Even as Aegon said it he felt ashamed. I am no one to talk on this matter, me who despises his uncle's power.

Before Jaehaerys could respond or Aegon could voice his own conflict, the strong voice from their youth spoke from behind them. "Jaehaerys." Both Princes whirled to find Aelor Targaryen standing beside Barristan, scarred armor blending in with the rapidly falling night. His equally scarred face was impassive, but Aegon could see no small amount of relief in his uncle's violet eyes; it was all the King needed to see to know that he had heard at least the last part of their exchange.

Jaehaerys opened his mouth to respond but whatever words he had intended to stay became lodged in his throat, for the Prince didn't manage to make so much as a sound. That was all well and good it seemed, for Aelor spoke again quickly. "I am taking my retinues and Renlor and Baelon ahead of my force to scout out the way to the Nightfort before we garrison it. I was…" Aelor hesitated. It was odd, hearing the man who so decisively destroyed cities be at a loss for words. "I was wondering if you would like to come along."

Jaehaerys kept his silence for a long moment, Aegon knowing better than to say a word. His uncle had volunteered himself and his two warlike sons to garrison the Nightfort, the largest of the ruined and abandoned Night's Watch castles—and also the one with more legend of terror surrounding it than any other. Jaehaerys had been meant to accompany none other than accomplished ranger Jaime Lannister—the same Kingslayer Aelor had sentenced to take the black all those years ago—to Queensgate, putting a fair amount of distance between Lannister and renowned Lannister-slayer. But plans could be changed, and Aegon waited almost as apprehensively as he knew Aelor was.

"Yes," the younger Prince said finally, nodding ever so slightly. "I believe I will, uncle."

The Dragon of Duskendale nodded, smiled ever so slightly, and quietly turned to leave.

Well, that's one battle over. Now all we have left is eighty thousand wildlings and mythical ice demons; this should be a piece of lemon cake.

Jaehaerys had been raised with stories of his uncle's valor on the battlefield, of the marvelous feats the famed Dragon of Duskendale had carried out. Even as he heard those stories from the court his uncle had refuted them, claiming war was nothing like those stories led boys to believe and that Aelor himself was nothing more than a cold-blooded killer.

The Prince realized now that his uncle had been correct on both accounts.

Their scouting force had encountered a raiding party of Wildlings just outside the Nightfort's walls, proving the decision to garrison and patrol the ruined castles a good one. The wildlings had been as surprised by the sudden arrival of four Targaryen Princes and their retinue as the Targaryen Princes had been at the presence of the wildlings. The two sides were evenly matched in number—though there were several thousand Targaryen and Night's Watch soldiers rapidly closing in on the skirmish—and had seemed to crash into one another in a mutual decision to kill.

Jaehaerys had never seen battle before, but he had drawn his sword and charged in alongside his uncle and Ser Borran without hesitation. He hadn't even had a chance to think about it.

He heard the war of Warrior, his uncle's old warhorse, and found the stallion he himself rode—one of Warrior's many descendants—echoing the cry. Or maybe that Jaehaerys himself, he couldn't quite say. All that mattered was the sword in his hand.

His shield was strapped to his stallions back—they hadn't actually been expecting any sort of battle—but Jaehaerys had wisely followed his uncle's lead and donned his black armor. His personal sigil of the warring dragon and wolf, newly etched onto to his breastplate, gleamed as his stallion barreled towards a huge wildling with a massive grey beard. They were all afoot, dressed in boiled leather and many furs, against mounted men in armor, but the wildlings joined the battle with a war cry of their own.

Jaehaerys catapulted towards the big wilding from the side, as the big man was distracted by two men of the Night's Watch, scouts that had shown Aelor the way to the Nightfort. Jaehaerys readied his blade, intending to skewer the wildling from the side with no regards to if it was an honorable blow. The giant wildling cut down one of Watchmen as Jaehaerys grew ever closer, turning to rain down blows on the other with stunning ferocity. The move placed his back more firmly in Jaehaerys' path, however, and the Prince readied himself to land the blow.

But suddenly an arrow sprouted from the eyehole in his stallion's armor, digging deep and killing his horse instantly, and Jaehaerys found himself flung forward as the great destrier crashed to the ground.

Before the Prince understood what was happening he was flat on his back, ears ringing and visor angled up to block his vision, sword miraculously still in his hand. His vision swam for a moment, left hand reaching up to pull his visor back down without any true conscious thought.

And suddenly instead of looking at his visor he was looking at a sword, rusty but certainly sharp, stabbing straight down towards his face.

Instinct took over, the countless hours Jaehaerys had spent training in the tiltyard all that saved his life. He twisted his head out of the way, the sword that was supposed to sink into his eye instead digging into the churned snow. In the same instant Jaehaerys drove his blade up, his mind calculating where the wildling who was attempting to kill him was without any effort on the Prince's own behalf. He felt the blade dig into something solid, felt something flow into the gap between his gauntlet and vambrance, and he rose to a sitting position out of instinct, driving the blade deeper. A wilding stood halfway over him, surprise across his features as his lifeblood trailed in rivulets over Jaehaerys' arm.

Even as he struggled all the way to his feet in his armor, withdrawing his sword from the now dead wildling, Jaehaerys knew he'd never forget the man's face.

Jaehaerys didn't dwell on it long, though part of his brain knew he would relive the moment in his brain over and over in his dreams that night. The sound of battle still raged around him, Jaehaerys catching a glimpse of Renlor and a wildling with an axe hacking away at each other, seeing Ser Borran cut down another wildling and attempt to reach Jaehaerys' side before being caught up by another. The slight knight of the Kingsguard was limping badly, an arrow with markings matching the one that had felled his horse embedded in the gap of his knee armor. Without truly thinking Jaehaerys rushed towards him, only as an afterthought stopping by his very dead stallion to cut his shield free.

That afterthought was all that saved his life, as an arrow bounced off his shoulder pauldron as the Prince bent down. If he hadn't have made the motion the arrow would have embedded itself in his neck.

Jaehaerys shot back to his feet, only half holding onto the shield, and turned to face the archer. He caught a glimpse of the man between a mass of fighting bodies and horses, and inexplicably the Prince started towards him, gripping his shield firmly. He charged forward, bashing one wilding locked in battle with one of the retinue knights in the side of the head with his shield. Another wildling, this one roaring like an aurochs and wielding two axes, appeared in front of him. Jaehaerys instinctually caught one axe on his shield and deflected the other with his sword before pushing forward like a bull, shoving the wildling off balance with his shield and driving his sword into the man's gut.

As the second wildling fell Jaehaerys found himself only a few feet from the archer, an arrow staring at his face. The Prince brought his shield up just in time, the arrow digging into the top inch of the banded steel and oak instead of his grey eyes, and with a roar of his own he slammed into the archer, knocking their slight frame onto their back. Roaring like a dragon—or snarling like a wolf, take your pick—he raised his sword, ready to land a killing blow.

His blade stopped in midair. Staring up at him was a woman.

Her hair was fiery red, her eyes blue-grey. Her bow had been knocked aside, her near-empty quiver of arrows now useless. Fear had covered her features as she stared up at Jaehaerys, her eyes—which were slightly too far apart—pleading, her mouth hanging open to reveal crooked teeth.

She was beautiful.

His shield and sword dropped, Jaehaerys staring in his own slack-jawed shock and confusion. He couldn't kill a woman, could he? There was no honor in that. A man trying to kill you was one thing, but a woman? Would a true knight do such a thing?

His mind was racing with so many questions that he didn't see the glint of victory flash across the wildling girl's eyes until it was too late. A dagger was suddenly in her hands as she lunged at him, the point aiming directly for the gap under his chin. Jaehaerys' reflexes had no chance of stopping her, and it suddenly occurred to him that he was going to die.

But then a sword flashed in, colliding with the dagger and knocking it out of the girls grip. One whole finger and part of another went with it. The red-haired wildling barely had time to look at her now maimed hand before a figure closed in and a gauntleted fist crashed into her cheek, snapping her head around and sending the girl crashing to the snow unmoving.

Jaehaerys could only stare dumbly at the girls back, part of his brain registering the rise and fall of her torso indicating she was still alive. His view of her unconscious form was suddenly filled with black armor, and he looked up into his uncles raging violet eyes.

Aelor's voice was sharp and harsh. "A woman can kill you just as fast as a man; sometimes even faster. Don't you ever hesitate; it will only get you killed!" With his words his uncle shoved Jaehaerys' breastplate, sending him staggering back.

The motion returned him to his senses, and Jaehaerys looked around to see the battle was largely over, a few wildlings still in sight as they scattered like the wind away from the scene of carnage. Bodies, of both horse and man, littered the blood-soaked snow, some in the furs of the wildling, some in the black of the Night's Watch, and still others in the armor of knights from the retinue. Renlor and Baelon were both still standing, the former retching out of the eye and visor holes of his helm as he desperately tried to pull the spiked piece of armor off. The latter stood so stonily calm despite the blood on his blade that you'd think he had merely been in a tilt instead of a battle. Ser Borran was limping towards them, armor bloody from both his enemies and the arrow in his leg.

Aelor took his scarred helm off, eyes still blazing, but he finally stopped staring a hole in his nephew and instead scanned the rest of Jaehaerys, looking for signs of injury and noting the blood coating his arm and sword. When the Dragon of Duskendale met his nephews shocked eyes once again they were slightly softer. "Otherwise you did well for a first battle. I am proud."

A slick voice called to his uncle in that moment as the survivors began to act, tending to wounded and taking stock of the carnage. A medium built man, with black hair and pale blue eyes, stopped beside them. The man's name was Bronn, a sellsword who had joined Aelor's retinue after assisting in the destruction of House Rogers. While once the men Aelor Targaryen had kept were all knights of high valor, they had been replaced in later years by all sorts of different men, both high-honored knights and cutthroats. All Aelor seemed to care about now was men who were good at killing, and few were as good at killing as Bronn.

Jaehaerys didn't like him; he was amoral and a mercenary, only there to get paid. But something about the man's sheer honesty and demeanor prevented Jaehaerys' from disliking him either.

"What do you want done with her?" Bronn asked, gesturing with a bloody dagger down at the maimed, unconscious wildling. Bronn never m'lorded or Your Graced, but Aelor didn't seem to mind. Bronn was excellent at killing after all, and he seemed to understand better than most the hatred and need for blood that Aelor carried with him.

Aelor opened his mouth to reply and Jaehaerys was certain eh would tell Bronn to slit her throat. "Uncle," he protested, grasping the Dragon of Duskendale's arm, then realizing he didn't know what he was going to say and slamming his mouth shut so hard his teeth rattled.

Even though Jaehaerys' hadn't put in in words Aelor seemed to understand what he was asking. He stared at his nephew for a long moment before grunting. "Bind her hand and take her prisoner; we'll see what she knows." He stopped Jaehaerys' bubbled thank you's with a sharp glare and raised hand. "We'll get the information out of her by whatever means necessary. Do the same for any others left alive."

Bronn nodded, whistling and gesturing for two other men. Even as they approached Aelor turned and remounted Warrior, having dismounted in the midst of the fighting for one reason or another. "I'm going to head back to the column and get some ravens sent to the other garrisoning parties to be on the lookout."

Jaehaerys stayed rooted in his spot as one of the men Bronn had called for knelt beside the unconscious wildling, binding the heavily bleeding stump where her fingers had been lopped off. A dark bruise was already beginning to cover half of her beautiful face, where Aelor had landed his fist. He only took his eyes off of her to notice the blood caked on his arm and chest, and then couldn't help but notice her fingers lying in the snow.

Unlike Ren, Jaehaerys' managed to get his helm off before he emptied the contents of his stomach all over the blood-churned snow. Even as he retched over and over, Bronn's amused laugh filling his ears, all Jaehaerys' could think about was how happy he was the wildling girl wasn't awake to see it.

Chapter Text

He'd had four sons of fighting age that morning. Now he had one, and he wasn't entirely sure of even that.

House Grimm of Greyshield had been founded nearly two thousand years ago, when King Garth Gardener the Seventh had settled the Misty Isles with his strongest warriors to defend against the Ironborn reavers. In those two thousand years the Grimms had battled all sorts of enemies, from the Iron Kings to the Durrandons to the Lannisters of the Rock and the Martells of Dorne, and they had lived to tell the tales.

Now it seemed their line was coming to an end.

The Ironborn attack had come out of nowhere, more longships than Lord Guthor Grimm had ever seen streaking up the Mander. His own ships had barely been able to deploy before they were swamped by the swift vessels of the Greyjoys, overrun quickly. His heir Horras' ship had been the last to go down, boarded and then burned by three of the Ironborn vessels as Guthor watched from where he was rallying the men at Grimston to defend the walls of the castle. Guthor was a realist; he knew his oldest would never have stopped fighting for his ship until the breath left his lungs.

Horras was dead. So were Lyman and Loras.

His twins had been among the first to rally at the gates when the Ironborn flung them open. Guthor had joined them there with his best men, the sea-green banner with its iron studs and longships waving as he tried to prevent the squids from breaching his gates. It had all been for naught, though, as the sheer number of pillagers had overrun the defenders of Grimston's gates. Lyman had died first, cut down by an armored warrior carrying a sword with a moonstone-pommel and peculiar blade. Loras had tried to avenge his twin and met the same fate, his throat slashed cleanly by that same odd blade.

It was only when the blade had driven into Guthor's guts that he'd recognized it as Valyrian steel.

He should never have tried to take on the man who slew his sons; Guthor was an old man, plagued by gout and half a dozen old wounds he'd taken in the wars he'd fought. But the Lord of Greyshield had known he was going to die, and in the last touch of energy that had given him he had barreled into the Valyrian steel knight.

The fight had been savage but short.

Guthor was dying he knew; his old hands couldn't hold all the blood pouring out of his old body. He had never feared death in the prime of his life, and he didn't fear it now at death's doorstep. The sound of feminine screams sounded form inside his keep, and Guthor knew in his heart they belonged to his daughters. His second oldest son Oswell was in there somewhere, trying to protect what remained of the Grimm dynasty. Guthor had tried to rise to his feet and assist his son but had been unable, his body no longer able to match the warrior he was at heart. He prayed to the Seven that his youngest children and his wife, the third of his long life, would be able to somehow escape.

Leaning against the walls of the castle his family had ruled for generations, Guthor didn't dwell on the death of his House. Instead he looked to the top of Grimston's keep, to the watchtower. A fire roared in its brazier, one the Lord of Greyshield knew would be seen by the other watchtowers, passing the signal of this attack on down the line to the mainland of the Reach. Before long it would reach Highgarden, and the Tyrells would rally their men and throw the Ironborn back into the sea.

His dying heart filled with pride at the thought. House Grimm would die today, of that there was no doubt, but they had carried out the job they had had for two thousand years. They had been the shield of the Reach, battling the reavers and giving the other Lords and Ladies of the Reach the warning that they themselves hadn't had.

House Grimm had fulfilled their duty, from the beginning to the end.

Guthor of Greyshield died with a smile on his face.

Word reached King's Landing in a flock of ravens.

Tyrion Lannister was handling his duties as regent as capably as his long-dead father had handled being Hand of the King. The halfman was smart, smarter than anyone Colmar the Grey had ever met, and he didn't let the scoffs and jests at his diminutive stature stop him. The Lion of Lannister was driven and willing, and the Grandmaester of the Iron Throne knew Aegon had chosen well—even if the main reason for the selection had been Tyrion's last name and not his capabilities.

But managing a realm during a sixteen year peace was one thing. Managing a realm at war was quite another. Colmar hoped the Lion Lord wouldn't falter.

"Word has reached us from the Shield Isles as well, my Lords and lady," the deformed Grandmaster said, taking his seat in the Small Council chamber and tossing several rolls of parchment onto the table in front of him. "The Shield Isles were attacked as well. Greyshield, Greenshield and Southshield have been overrun. Only Oakenshield was able to turn back the original attack, having the benefit of being the closest to land. Old Oak on the coast was taken as well, and the reavers are swarming Blackcrown."

Tyrion's tone was serious, something Colmar rarely heard. "What of Oldtown and the Arbor?"

"Both have been left unmolested; the Ironborn knew chances of taking either were slim. The Redwyne Fleet sailed to try and liberate the taken islands but were met with heavy opposition and turned back. Lord Paxter pleads for naval aide."

Bronze Yohn Royce grunted. "The squids have been unmolested for years; they took next to no losses in the Rebellion. They've been waiting, watching…"

"Growing," Tyrion finished.

Alysanne Lefford met Colmar's eyes, worry evident in them. "What of Highgarden?"

The entire council knew she was truly asking after Rhaenys and the Princess' children. They had been Colmar's primary concern as well. "Highgarden was forewarned in plenty of time and left untouched. Lord Mace has called his banners, though he too requests military aide."

Bronze Yohn raised an eyebrow. "He has more men than any other region, and he requests our own?"

Colmar didn't answer; Bronze Yohn hadn't been looking for one anyway. The Lord of Runestone had never been fond of Mace Tyrell, a sentiment shared by many of the veterans on both sides of the Rebellion. Instead, the Grandmaester gestured towards another of the parchments. "The reavers have hit the Riverlands and Westerlands as well. Kanet was taken and sacked, as was the Crag. Seagard was attacked but Lord Jason threw them back into the sea; Balon's heir Rodrik Greyjoy fell outside Seagard's walls. Lord Edmure has called his own banners."

Alysanne was a smart woman; Colamr had seen that the moment he first met her. Her eyes were calculating and fierce. "They cannot hope to hold out long. Even with our strongest fighters at the Wall they are outrageously outnumbered."
Ser Manfred Darke grunted, face a deeper scowl than normal. He and Ser Roland Storm had been selected to remain at King's Landing and protect the remaining Targaryens; neither had been pleased about missing the war but the selection made sense. Roland was a deadly blade and Manfred as fiercely loyal as a man could be. "The cunts don't mean to hold the territory."

Stannis Baratheon's scowl was nearly as deep as Manfred's. "The Ironborn have a stronger navy than both the Redwyne's and the Crown individually. They mean to reave the coastal castles and cities, taking loot and salt wives, and whisk them away to the Iron Islands. With their own fleets on patrol there will be no getting them back unless we send the Royal Fleet to merge with the Redwyne's."

Tyrion took a gulp of wine. "Balon Greyjoy has always hated being a vassal; it's why he makes such a piss poor one." He turned to Alysanne for a moment before turning back. "Forgive my language, My Lady. He is nothing like his father; he wants to return to their so called Old Way, which is just a religious excuse to rape and murder."

Stannis ground his jaw. "We must respond to this threat. If we let the heathens raid at will nothing will be safe."

Colmar and several others nodded. "I agree."

"We must, you are correct. Grandmaester, send word to the other regions to closely guard their coasts, and send word to the King of the happenings south of the Neck. Lord Stannis, you ate boot leather before yielding a castle in the last war; I suppose fishing for squid is well within your capabilities."

Stannis' brow twitched. The Lord of Storm's End had yet to grow fully accustomed to Tyrion's witticism and humor, and Colmar secretly doubted he ever would. "I'll take the fleet from Dragonstone and merge with the Redwyne's."

"Leave some of the ships here, Lord Stannis." All eyes turned to Alysanne, who's own were clouded in thought. "There is something off about all of this."

Lord Varys' chittering voice was heard for the first time. "Lady Alysanne has a point; Balon Greyjoy and his three sons went reaving in Essos for a long while this year, though they did little actual reaving. My little birds say he had several meetings with different men, but were unable to overhear their conversations. They took heavy precautions."

Tyrion was eyeing the Spider closely. "Who were these men?"

"I could not say. The songs I heard were incomplete; both parties were very careful to leave no indications of what they were speaking of or who the second party was."

Bronze Yohn's brows were furled. "Could it be a coalition of free Cities?"

"No," ground out Ser Manfred. "We provide them with a large portion of their goods trade; they do not attack paying clients. The Eastern shits are pompous and greedy but not stupid."

"Then who?"

Manfred shrugged. "I don't bloody know. It could be something or nothing at all."

The conversation waged on over the issue for several hours, Alysanne leading the argument for leaving a strong naval presence on the Eastern coast while Stannis argued that they needed to worry with the current threat for now, as he would need a strong navy to counter the Ironborn's superior experience at naval warfare.

Tyrion lead them to compromise in the end, wearing Stannis down to leaving ten high quality ships and crews to defend the eastern coast while he took the rest to the west and the Ironborn. Colmar was tasked with alerting the lords to the ongoing issues and passing orders to Edmure Tully and Jason Mallister to assemble a force at Seagard. Once Stannis broke the Iron Fleet they were to invade Pyke, while the Reach and Mace Tyrell would invade Great and Old Wyke. Word was sent to Prince Doran in Dorne, requesting he task Oberyn with collecting a force of Dornishmen to assist the Reach while simultaneously strengthening his own port cities.

The council adjourned in the late hours of the nigh. As they shuffled out of the Small Council Chamber Colmar couldn't help but notice the apprehension still on Alysanne's face.

He wondered why it was echoed in his own chest.

Chapter Text

The timing was brilliant, almost too brilliant to have been planned by mere mortals. Varys was unrivaled as a spymaster, none could contest that fact. Yet even the Spider and all his little birds had been caught unawares.

By the time the Iron Throne knew of the approaching fleet—sellsails mainly, a conglomeration of vessels from all different ports and cultures all flying the banner of the Golden Company—it was much too late to recall Lord Stannis.

The tall, stern Lord of the Stormlands had taken almost all of the Royal Navy from Dragonstone and King's Landing and sailed down the coast to deal with the cursed Ironborn. The Krakens hadn't let up, sacking Fair Isle and putting nearly all of House Farman to the sword. Only one, a young squire named Albar serving with her husband at the Wall, was left of the ancient line. They Greyjoys had kept mainly to the coastline of the still-weakened Westerlands, though a few sorties inland had been made. One such had been crushed beneath the walls of Crakehall by Roland and Lyle Crakehall, another had taken and burned Cornfield and captured Ser Harys Swyft. Feastfires was embroiled in a vicious melee of a siege, the bulls of Prester refusing to yield their castle to the squids who were just as adamant about getting in and pillaging her treasuries.

The Reach was in slightly better condition, though not much. The fourth and final of the Shield Isles had fallen to young Theon Greyjoy, though the reavers at Blackcrown had been pushed back. Old Oak was still in Greyjoy hands as well, and Dunstonbury was threatened. Oldtown and the Arbor remained unmolested, but Paxter Redwyne and his fleet were still playing a cat and mouse game with the larger Iron Fleet. Despite the breadth of the Greyjoy attack, there were always enough longships supporting one another that the Lord of the Arbor couldn't engage one numerically weaker foe without others arriving in the midst of battle and driving him back. Meanwhile castles and towns burned, innocents died by the score and women and children were carried away as salt wives and thralls.

It was hell on the western coastline of Westeros. It seemed it was about to be hell on the eastern coastline as well.

Alysanne Lefford was as well-educated as any other on the history of the Golden Company and their ties to the dynasty she had married into. Founded by Aegor Rivers, one of King Aegon the Unworthy's Great Bastards who was better known as Bittersteel, their purpose was to subdue the Targaryen dynasty and place a Blackfyre, a house spawned from another of the Great Bastards, on the Iron Throne. Their ranks were swelled with exiled Westerosi Lords men who had lost their lands and titles fighting for the black dragon and who had joined their best means of regaining them. Their sons served in the company, then their sons after them. Five times these mercenaries and the 'nobles' among them had tried to return home, and each time they had been thrown back. The Blackfyre line had ended alongside that fifth attempt, snuffed out by a young Barristan the Bold, but now it seemed these men had found another way to justify their invasion. Thousands of men were sailing towards a suddenly undefended King's Landing under the golden skulls banner.

And the golden dragon's.

For all her efforts, she had never been able to form the relationship Alysanne had with Aegon and Rhaenys with Viserys. Part—well, nearly all—of that had been the boys fault. He was surly and unpredictable, even as the six-year-old, grief-stricken little boy he had been when Alysanne first met him. He was inflicted with Targaryen madness even at that tender age, it was true, and the death of his mother while birthing Princess Daenerys had further unglued the unstable child. Regardless, Alysanne and Aelor had provided and loved for Viserys as best they could. Though he had turned into a notorious rake, as evidenced by the two bastard little girls here in King's Landing, and his obsession with Dany was both fierce and fiercely disturbing, Viserys had turned out far better than he could have. While Viserys had never returned the affection Alysanne showed him and by no stretch of the imagination was close to any of her children, he did seem to care greatly for the Targaryen name and those who bore it.

Which made this betrayal all the more confounding…and painful.

Part of her mind still argued that it was a ploy, the banners sighted by the fishermen and ambitious merchants who had reported them only an attempt by the Golden Company to rattle the Targaryens in King's Landing, but in her heart Alysanne knew. Viserys had disappeared months ago, neither Aleqou Garantis or Varys' little birds able to find him in the Tyroshi tavern he had made his home. Wherever the boy had gone, he had done a marvelous job of covering his tracks. Many—even Alysanne herself—had just assumed the Prince of Summerhall had gone rogue, taking the time of his exile to explore more of the Free Cities.

Now it seemed he had joined a rebellion and was sailing to attack the family that had loved him. As if Alysanne's hands weren't full enough.

Each member of the small council looked as harried as she felt, eyes bloodshot and jaws clenched. Word had arrived the night before of the approaching fleet, and while a ship had been sent to chase down the weeks-gone Lord Stannis and ravens were sent to call the banners, all knew those efforts were in vain. The bulk of the crown's forces were in the North, King Aegon haven taken the levies of Duskendale and Harrenhal in addition to his own sizeable retinue and the retinues of most of the Lords in King's Landing, including Aelor's band of killers. The Riverlanders and many of the Valemen were amassing at Seagard, the Reachmen were swarming to Highgarden and the Westerlanders were covered in Ironborn raiders. The North was also embroiled in whatever the hell was going on at the Wall, with the remnants of her strength distracted by the potential for Ironborn raiders off her shores. The Dornish were moving to assist the Reach, and the Stormlords—those that hadn't sailed with Lord Stannis—were lacking a strong central figure to unite them, as Renly Baratheon was who the hell knows where. Not to mention, several still held hatred for Aelor and by default Aegon for both Robert's nearly successful Rebellion and House Rogers' doomed one.

That left the capital mighty shorthanded, even with the levies of the Kingswood and Blackwater Rush called and the presence of the strong City's Watch. It was unfathomable how nearly seventeen years of strong, capable rule had so quickly gone to utter shit.

One of the only positives—perhaps the only positive—of the situation was Tyrion Lannisters brilliant mind. The halfman had leapt into action before the shock of the situation had even sunk into the others, having nearly emptied the extensive rookery with sent orders. "There are thousands of bloodthirsty men knocking at our door. They will not show us an ounce of mercy; nor should we show any to them."

Bronze Yohn Royce was grim and irritable, having spent all the previous night overseeing the defenses his goldcloaks had hastily begun constructing, but he kept his tone even as he responded. "The Lighting of the Lions was one thing; this is another."

Tyrion's mismatched eyes flashed. "Do not tell me of the Burning of Lannisport, Lord Royce; unlike you, I was there. I watched from the windows of my old chambers in Casterly Rock as Aelor Targaryen burnt down my family's city and nearly all of my kinsmen with it. It was undeniably effective; the type of effectiveness we need now."

"The loss of life at Lannisport was astounding," pointed out Colmar the Grey to which Tyrion had an instant rebuttal. Then again, Tyrion always had an instant rebuttal; matching wits with Tyrion Lannister was an undertaking few could boast of.

"The loss of life here in King's Landing will be astounding if we do not use our only advantage. At most we have four thousand men defending a city of half a million innocents against perhaps ten thousand professional soldiers. No help is near enough to arrive in time to be of use; half of the country is preoccupied with defending their own borders."

Alysanne spoke up, the men growing quite as she did so. "I understand that the Ironborn are clearly allied with Viserys in this, but what does he hope to gain from this? He is horribly outnumbered."

"I agree, Lady Alysanne, but those armies are spread far and wide. Some in Westeros will rally to Prince Viserys to elevate their standing, or in revenge against your husband for the wars of the past. Despite my name I am loyal to the Iron Throne, but there are many in the Westerlands who want nothing more than to see Aelor Targaryen dead."

"And, my lady," Colmar cut in; "You and your children are here. There is nothing on this earth that matters more to Aelor and Aegon than their family. If he captures you, he holds a major card in getting what he wants."

"And we all know precisely what that is," Varys finished, the Spider having approached her with information before the meeting that Alysanne prayed they wouldn't need to use.

Manfred spoke, harsh voice grown harsher in light of the new complications. "Then let them leave. Slip them out, send them north to the King or South to the Dornish. Prince Oberyn will protect them like his own children."

Royce nodded. "And his daughter Elia is already in the capital as a handmaiden to Princess Rhaella, strengthening that bond." Bronze Yohn grunted. "Though I've never saw the girl act anything like a lady in waiting; she's always in the stables."

Tyrion looked to Alysanne, ignoring the Lord of Runestone's final comment. "That may well be the best course of action, my lady, though I would hear your thoughts on the matter."

Alysanne pondered a long moment, bloodshot eyes on the parchment in front of her, before looking up. "Where would we go, my lords? Highgarden is dangerously near the reavers, my father's castle is in the middle of a maelstrom of fire, and we would be tracked down and captured long before we reach Sunspear."

Royce blinked in slight confusion. "Your husband is Lord of Duskendale—"

"And two thirds of Duskendale's population came from Lannisport, after my husband burnt it to the ground. While they have prospered there, it is no secret that many still hold hatred for Aelor for forcing them from their homes and businesses, even after nearly two decades. While we were always safe there before, Aelor was always present when my children and I were there, and the only thing they feel more for Aelor than hatred is fear. With a realm at chaos and my husband hundreds of miles away…"

Varys nodded. "Lady Alysanne has a valid point. My little birds have rooted out many conspiracies from former Tywin Lannister smallfolk over the years."

Manfred's hateful eyes turned even more hateful. "Yet they missed a fucking army massing to invade."

Varys was unimpressed by Manfred's threatening voice. "My birds sing in the east and they sing in the west, but their songs can be silenced. It was a concentrated effort to hide the Golden Company from my view, one helped by some here in Westeros, though their names are unknown to me."

Manfred lowered his head to glower across the table at the eunuch, like a bull preparing to charge. "Or you are that assistant."

Varys chuckled in his tittering way. "If I had wished to replace Aegon Targaryen with Viserys, I would simply have let the boy die during Robert's Rebellion. We both know I did no such thing, Ser Manfred; you were there when I saved the King's young life."

The brutish knight of the Kingsguard grunted in annoyance, but he raised his head a touch in deference. The exchange and Varys' words brought up a point Alysanne wished to make, concerning the information Varys had given her before the meeting. "Lord Varys has informed me of how Princess Elia and her children escaped the Sack of King's Landing. That option should be available again, should Lord Tyrion's plan fail."

Manfred shook his head quickly. "Viserys escaped the same way; the little shit caused quite the ruckus. He'll know about that secret passage, and at the very least he'll have a ship waiting in the bay to capture any who exit it."

"There are other paths, Ser Manfred," Varys insisted. "Several were built in recent years under the command of Lord Aelor himself. I trust if King's Landing falls I can evacuate Lady Alysanne and the royal family, the same as I did years ago with the King and his sister."

"And the children of important families," Tyrion cut in, having kept his silence for much longer than the halfman normally did. "Margaery Tyrell, Elia Sand…Myrcella. We can't have the children of vassal lords dying while the Royal Family escapes."

A pang went through Alysanne at the mention of the last name. I'd nearly forgotten about that particular issue.

Alysanne loved her eldest son, but she would strangle him with her bare hands when he returned from the Wall.

Myrcella had arrived back in King's Landing in tears a little over a month after the King—and Renlor and Alaric—had gone North. To Alysanne's utmost surprise, her mother had been with her. Cersei Lannister was a cold, unforgiving woman, but she cared deeply for her children; deeply enough that she had traveled to the city where her father had made his gravest mistake to talk to the wife of the man that had brought him low and asked—in her demanding, Cersei Lannister way—that they pull off a deception for the sake of her blonde-haired eldest.

Myrcella Langward had been married to Renlor Targaryen in a private ceremony the day before the march north. At least, that was the belief of the nobles in King's Landing. The child growing in her womb was a legitimate future lord or lady of Duskendale, not a bastard conceived of two young noble's rash decisions on the eve of one marching away to war. Alysanne had promised both Myrcella and Cersei that the union would be truly carried out as soon as her eldest son returned, no matter what objections her lustful son might have. She meant to carry that promise out, even if she had to turn her much-larger-than-her son over her knee like he was a toddler again.

Only a few outside the three women involved were aware of the truth—Daenerys and Rhaella, as they were old enough to know that there was no possible way they would not have been informed of the match, Colmar the Grey and Varys because they knew everything that happened in the Red Keep, and Tyrion, because he was much too smart to deceive when it came to his favorite niece. He'd been crucial in the success of the plan so far, covering for the gap between the 'marriage' and the revelation of it to the nobles in a way only his brilliant mind could. He'd also made sure no letters of congratulations were sent North to Alaric or Aelor or, Seven forbid, Renlor himself, claiming Myrcella didn't want word of her condition distracting her 'husband' or father. It was thin and it was doubted by several, but with the influence of Varys it had been maintained.

Thank the Seven for it, too. If Aelor doesn't kill our son for disobeying his orders to not seduce Myrcella, Alaric will. I only pray Cersei can convince her husband it was a mutual decision between Myrcella and Ren, or there will be Seven hells to pay.

All of that ran through her head in a matter of moments, Bronze Yohn speaking again. "That is all well and good, my lady, but I still disagree with Lord Tyrion's plans. Lannisport was a horrifying thing that my eldest son still has nightmares about, despite his bravery; I shudder at the thought of another."

"This is a war, Lord Royce. The men approaching our city will give no mercy to either you or I; why should we show any to them?"

"The galleys we have—"

"Are not enough." Tyrion took a long gulp of wine, clearly irritated. "This is their best use. It may not be honorable, but it may keep our heads on our shoulders a while longer. I don't know about you, Lord Royce, but I am quite fond of my own."

Colmar interrupted then, booming voice gone quiet as it so often did when he mediated arguments between the council. "Aelor once told me that honor is the first casualty of war. He sacrificed his own, and by doing so he brought the realm nearly seventeen years of peace, only undone by the greed and lust of a few powerful men."

Royce stared at the Grandmaester, eyes twitching, before cursing under his breath. "Fine."

Tyrion nodded in thanks to Colmar. "I will make preparations immediately."

Before another word could be said, a Targaryen man-at-arms burst into the chamber. "An army approaches from the South, my Lords, my Lady."

Alysanne's heart soared with hope. "What banner? Is it Prince Oberyn?"

The man-at-arms' face was as confused as his voice. "No, my lady. They bear the black stag of Baratheon."

Chapter Text

It is a miracle Renly and Stannis Baratheon are brothers.

While both men were tall, black haired and blue eyed, that was where the similarities stopped. Stannis was muscular where Renly was lean, balding while Renly wore his hair to his shoulders. He was grim and sullen, whereas his younger brother was always smiling and jovial. Stannis wore almost exclusively black, from his everyday clothing to his armor, while Renly rode into King's Landing in a suit of green and gold plate. Stannis hated pomp and circumstance, while Renly seemed to thrive on it.

Alysanne also trusted Stannis, and she sure as hell didn't trust Renly.

The youngest of the three Baratheon brothers had brought nearly ten thousand men with him, and the first thing Alysanne had noticed was how young they all were. Renly himself was two and twenty, and his second in command seemed to be the even younger Loras Tyrell, who seemed to have forsaken his sieged homeland to relieve the sieged capital. Boys, much like her Renlor and Aemon, made up the vast majority of their forces. The knights—with the exception of a few hedgeknights—were all young men, too young to have seen the Rebellion. It was painfully clear to Alysanne that they were all spitfires, desperate for a war to prove themselves in, dragging along their father's levies or their own in the case of young lords.

Those were the first things she had noticed. The second thing she had noticed was the Houses they all seemed to be from.

These were not Stormlords levies and retinues, though a few were speckled in. Though the banners they flew were all the Baratheon flag, the surcoats and shields of the men themselves told the true story. There were a conglomeration of eagles and deer and bulls, all sorts of animals and sigils. Boars of Crakehall, golden coins of Payne, candles of Waxley; to a man, the shields and surcoats were from Houses that had warred against the Targaryens near two years ago. That was the first warning bell.

Alysanne instantly noticed the plethora of three buckles on a blue field, the sigil of House Buckler; that was the second. Their Lord, a tall and stern-faced man of three and twenty named Andrus, sat a grey stallion near the front of the procession of nobles. His presence turned Alysanne's feelings of relief and hope into a conglomeration of anxiety and concern. Andrus was half Rogers', his mother having been from the House that Aelor had destroyed so thoroughly. While Lysa Rogers had been a kind woman who had cooperated with Aelor during the Rebellion, opening the gates of Bronzegate to save her husband and brother, Alysanne had no doubt Aelor would have killed her had she still been alive after her brother's attempts to assassinate Alysanne and Renlor had come to light. It was through luck—for House Buckler, not for Lysa—that an illness had taken her and her third child mere months before the purge that claimed the lives of all her father's family. Lord Ralph had joined her in the grave five years later.

Lord Andrus had been eight when his uncles and cousins were all killed, and he hadn't had to suffer his mother dying the same way. But Alysanne was under no illusions as to just what the man must think of Aelor, and his presence and the presence of all his knights and levies worried her.

Renly, however, was doing his best to assuage those fears. "Lady Alysanne, an honor to see you again." The dashing Baratheon dismounted a white stallion straight from a song, his green helm adorned with the antlers of a stag. Just like Robert's had been. He struts like a King, not like a man fourth in line for a single region.

Alysanne's unease grew even as she curtseyed in response to Renly's own short bow. "Lord Renly, the honor is mine, especially in these circumstances."

Tyrion bowed as well, smiling up at the tall Baratheon. She had been on the Small Council with Tyrion Lannister long enough, however, to see her own concerns were running through his mismatched eyes. "You have come at an excellent time, Lord Renly. Your timing was nearly…uncanny."

If Renly was here to sack instead of save, he was excellent at hiding it. His smile was smooth and natural. "While my brother was preparing to sail, my companions and I took it upon ourselves to gather men to aide in repelling the Ironborn from our coasts. It was through sheer luck that we were passing through Dalston Keep when word of your impending trouble reached us. We turned north to the capital as soon as we heard." Renly looked around, smile never faltering. "I take it we're not too late."

"Quite the contrary," Tyrion replied cheerily, though Alysanne knew he was anything but cheerful inside. "You're just in time."

Though just what Renly Baratheon and his companions were in time for was looking more and more doubtful.

Laswell Peake was sailing home.

Over one hundred years prior, his great grandfather had been exiled from the Reach, stripped of his lordship of Dunstonbury and his castle of the same name by King Daeron Targaryen the Second. House Peake had fought to but a Blackfyre on the Iron Throne and had lost two of the three castles that to this day were represented on their family banner. Only distant kin still occupied Starpike in Westeros, the lucky branch of the family that had been granted clemency while the others had foundered.

Now, after three generations and four more wars attempting to overthrow the red dragon, Laswell and his brothers sailed to fight a Targaryen again, only this time they intended to place a different one on the throne. The man they fought for now, Viserys Targaryen, wasn't much of a dragon, and Laswell doubted he'd be much of a King either. The lad—for he still acted like a boy, despite his age—was damn near insufferable at times, his new power seemingly going to his head, and was as unforgiving of slights both real and perceived as he was impatient to claim his throne.

But that mattered little to Laswell. He didn't give a damn who sat on the Iron Throne at the end of this war, be it Aegon the Sixth or Viserys the Third or even bloody Harry Strickland the First. He didn't give much of a damn what kind of king Viserys might make either, be he the second coming of Jaehaerys the Conciliator or Maegor the Cruel.

All Laswell Peake cared about was Dunstonbury, the home he had been raised hearing about but had never so much as stood on the same continent as. The Ironborn, their allies in this invasion, had been warned away from doing damage to Dunstonbury despite its close proximity to the coast of the Reach, instructed to forgo battering rams and looting although they were welcome to take the castle from the squatting House Dunston. The wretched filth had been awarded Dunstonbury just as soon as Laswell's great grandfather had had it revoked, even though they hadn't a drop of noble blood in their veins; their founder had been a simple man-at-arms who had, to the vast benefit of his children, saved Leo 'Longthorn' Tyrell on the Redgrass Field, where Daemon Blackfyre and the rebellion had died. The man had named his new dynasty after the castle they had usurped, as if he had had a right to it. The audacity boiled Laswell's blood to this day.

He hoped the Ironborn starved the Dunston's slowly, but he wouldn't complain too much if they didn't. If they left him one or ten to torture to death, that would be acceptable as well.

But this was all after they had defeated the current Targaryens, no mean feat. The king they intended to usurp was a competent young man who had ruled well when given the chance, though he wasn't the one to be concerned with. It was the uncle, the Dragon of Duskendale, whom the council had decided was the biggest obstacle to their effort, and would remain so despite being with Aegon the Sixth thousands of miles away. While his brutality had swelled their ranks to be sure, many nobles with grudges old and new opting to swear for Viserys simply to see the Burner of Lannisport fall, fear of him also held many lords in place. If this strike on the capital worked as was planned, allowing them to capture the Dragon's loved ones, they could remove him. For all his ruthlessness, Aelor Targaryen was known to value nothing in the Seven Kingdoms more than his family; the Golden Company would trade them, his family for the glue to the Targaryen dynasty, and then execute him.

And then, without fear of his martial ability or of his vicious retribution, lords would flock to Viserys' banner. Or so that was the plan.

The first step in it all was the capture of King's Landing, and as Laswell and the ship beneath his feet neared the future Lord of Dunstonbury was reaffirmed that they would do so. A Baratheon banner billowed above the ramparts of the Mud Gate. Laswell knew for a certainty that they weren't those of Stannis; the Lord of the Stormlands—for now, anyway—had taken the bait the Ironborn represented, sailing the strength of the Royal Navy and thousands of soldiers around the Broken Arm of Dorne to relieve the beaten and bloody coastlines of the Reach and Westerlands. That meant the banners currently flapping in the wind represented one thing; Renly had successfully 'relieved' King's Landing.

The Golden Company was likely sailing towards gates that would wing open as they made landfall; while the prevalence of Red Targaryen Dragons meant Renly either hadn't begun or hadn't finished his coup, the appearance of the fleet would kick him into action. The only true obstacle between Viserys and the city of his birth was the small fleet of ships left behind by Stannis, a token lot that Renly couldn't insist to help man without raising too much suspicion.

But as the ship beneath him neared—Laswell had been awarded a place of honor aboard the first ship in the line, a position won by flattering Viserys in one of the council discussions—he saw that even that token fleet wasn't moving, save for one. It struck him as odd; the capital surely had known of the nearing Golden company fleet for days, the fishing boats that had been allowed to return and give warning—as well as signal Renly—certainly telling of the Golden Skull banner. The captains and crews of this last line of naval defense should have been on high alert, ready to leap into defense of the Blackwater Bay as soon as the Golden Company came into view, but all but one staid stationary, and even it was moving slowly, rudderless and choppy.

And all of the sudden, Laswell Peake became uneasy.

I have earned this.

It was the millionth time he'd told himself that since he'd arrived in the city, but Renly Baratheon still didn't quite believe it.

His brother would kill him for this, should Stannis survive the battles with the Ironborn. While Renly didn't care for his elder brother, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted him to die either. Renly certainly held no malice for his niece or nephews; Shireen was in truth a charming girl despite the toll greyscale had taken on her, and the boys had done nothing to Renly themselves. But Renly would make a better lord than Stannis ever could, and while the third Baratheon brother was a man of different taste than most, he certainly didn't lack in ambition.

Yet he wasn't heartless, and he knew Stannis must die. And though Renly knew there was no turning back, not now, and he knew Stannis was in his way from ascending to the rule of the Stormlands that he deserved, Renly hesitated. And hesitated. And hesitated.

His men waited for an order he had yet to give, ready to turn on the men in golden cloaks and Targaryen livery, to slaughter them to a man and open the gates of King's Landing to the invading army of sellswords. Loras stood beside him, ready to plunge his talented blade into the back of Kedge, a lowborn Captain in the City Watch. He was the commandant of the defenses of the Mud Gate, along with several hundred goldcloaks. The Commander of the City Watch, a grim man of House Bywater named Jacelyn but called Ironhand, was at the Red Keep, along with most of his strongest fighters and the strongest of the knights left in the city. Renly had protested weakly when none of his men had been stationed within the Red Keep itself, Alysanne Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister politely but firmly declining the offer of his best swords, and Renly had been unable to press the matter for fear of proving his true intentions.

Though it seemed they had gathered those intentions already. Every Targaryen in the city, as well as the sons and daughters of nobles serving as pages or squires throughout King's Landing, had been drawn back, under the protection of the remaining Kingsguard and men loyal to Aegon. Renly knew they wanted to trust him, but wisely they had opted not to.

That made this job much more difficult, as did the fact that Renly had no idea what was going on in the bay at the moment.

The Golden Company neared, their ships already entering Blackwater Bay, yet none of the few ships of the Royal Navy below showed any sign of crews preparing them for battle. Only one ship sailed to counter the invasion force, and it was floating forward at an infuriatingly slow pace. No crew stirred on its deck, no doomed captain shouted orders. It seemed a ghost ship, steadily but slowly plowing forward to its demise.

Renly watched, unable to give the order to turn as the ships neared, something about it drawing his entire focus. He heard the shouts of the men of the Golden Company as the lead ship crossed paths with the slowly moving sole defender of the bay, yet the sound of whistling arrows or calls to board were not among them. Next to him Kedge raised a big arm and in it a banner, and as he chopped it down like an axe on the executioner's block, the banner thrown to the ground below them, Renly realized he had hesitated too long.

The shouts of panic from the Golden Company ship were easily heard even from here. Renly added his own voice to the maelstrom, bellowing out "Now!" and drawing his sword even as Loras drew his own and buried it to the hilt in Kedge's back, the big goldcloak Captain falling to his knees. Even as trumpets blared their signal and the butchery began all around him, goldcloaks and Targaryen soldiers murdered by the hundreds in the space of a few seconds, Renly knew he had waited too long.

Though nothing could truly be heard above the sounds of death and treachery all around him, Renly heard a song. It wasn't playing in reality he knew, for even if it was it'd be drowned out by the death cries and enraged roars of King Landing's true defenders, but Renly heard it clear as day in his mind. As a single flaming arrow floated through the air, fired from some place other than the battlements, a violin played a song of a long ago act by a long dead man. The stories said Aelor Targaryen had played the same song in the moments before he had destroyed Lannisport, to the terror of those both enemy and friend.

It terrified Renly now, all these years later, as he helplessly watched the arrow fall to the water in the wake of the single Royal Navy ship.

And then, just as Lannisport had seventeen years prior, Blackwater Bay exploded.

Chapter Text

Black and crimson, pale and cream, green and bronze. She knew every contour of every angle of the prized possession of House Targaryen, every slight variation in the feel or color of their smooth shells. She knew the exact way to turn the forest green egg to show the most blotches of pure bronze. She knew how, in the right light, the cream egg became almost white, its golden streaks all the more radiant when it did so. The black egg, as fierce and foreboding as any inanimate object could be, held its own ferocious beauty in the brilliant streaks of red that engulfed it, and though she knew it had been petrified long ago she could swear it held an unnatural heat when she held it close.

They had been her fascination since she had been a small child, and all these years had not changed that fact. She would die before she would abandon them, so there they sat in a chest she held in her lap.

She was deep within the safety of the Red Keep, surrounded by the high walls of Maegor's Holdfast and hundreds of Targaryen loyalist—chief among them Ser Roland Storm of the Kingsguard, the brother of the dead Lord who had nearly won her heart—but Daenerys didn't know what to feel. Her youngest brother was nearing to try and take the city, and by default her as well. She knew that was Viserys' intent; her elder brother Aelor had tried to shield her from it, the intense obsession Viserys held for Daenerys, but a blind man could see it. He was of the traditional mindset, the mindset that likely would have seen married, while Daenerys and blessedly Aelor were not. Part of her wanted to hate Viserys, the man who had lusted and pined for her despite the fact that she didn't return the sentiments, the man that had murdered the suitor she had been so enamored with. Daenerys wished she could hate him.

But no matter how hard she tried, the hate would not come.

Every time the Princess relived that moment on the beaches of Duskendale, when Viserys couched his lance upwards and Bryce's lifeless body flipped over the back of his courser, she was suddenly assaulted by images of she and Viserys when they were children. He'd always dotted on her, bringing her whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it. He would play dolls if she so desired, sing off-key to woo her when she pretended to be a Queen…he would even go around on all fours, neighing like a horse, as she sat on his back and laughed until she could hardly breath. It had been a beautiful, wonderful time in both of their lives.

The tear splattering against the black shell of the largest egg brought her back to reality.

The calls and bleat of the trumpets, warning that the enemy fleet was approaching, had prompted the soldiers to shepherd the noble children into the Queen's Ballroom. Ser Roland and ten guardsmen—old men and young boys—stood guard, and the pox-scarred Kingsguard periodically warned the huddled children and teenagers to be ready to move at any moment. Unlike most of the others here, Dany knew that if the battle outside went the wrong way they would be ushered into the hidden passages, to flee as Princess Elia Martell and her own nephew Aegon had years prior. She had recruited several of the nobles around her to assist her with the eggs should that time come.

Of course, if that time truly comes, all may well be lost.

Rhaella sat beside her, snow-white hair brushing the cream egg as the future Queen of Westeros held little Alyssa in a desperate hug. Her niece was a sweet girl and smart as a tack, but she was of a gentle nature; the fear of the coming fight had reduced her into a quivering mass, her terror affecting the baby she held in her arms. Dany secretly worried for her future as the Queen, as Rhaella had inherited none of the steel resolve that her father—and mother—possessed. She would excel at hosting balls and flattering nobles and their ladies, but as for the rest…well, time would tell. None could deny that Rhaella was a good-hearted girl who would make a kind Queen someday in any case.

Dany just hoped she had the chance.

Her handmaiden Aemma Arryn settled in on Dany's other side, heavily favoring the Tully's in her coloring. Four and ten, she was the eldest child of Lord Paramount Jon Arryn and his wife Lysa Tully, born a full five minutes before her twin brother Artys. The heir to the Vale was currently marching to Seagard with his father to counter the Ironborn, leaving his mother Lysa and the third and final Arryn child—sickly Robin, whom Aemma affectionately referred to as 'Sweetrobin'—in charge of the fortress of the Eyrie. "If only they were real, Princess. They would be quite the boon on the walls."

Daenerys quickly corralled her emotions, forcing her voice to come out calm and collected. "If only, Aemma. As I'm sure Aelor would say, the fear of them would be a great boon in and of itself."

She didn't miss the flicker of anger that crossed her handmaids face at the mention of Dany's older brother. Aemma had taken a moral outrage to the Dragon of Duskendale's past methods, a sentiment shared by many, but the Arryn girl had always kept that opinion to herself. Still, Dany supposed others who thought the same were part of the reason they were in the situation they were now. "I believe I would prefer their affinity for fire-breathing and devouring their enemies."

A melodic laugh joined from a few feet away. "I would have to agree with Lady Aemma, Princess Daenerys," said a smiling Margaery Tyrell, the infant Daena Waters—daughter of the very man sailing to attack the City—in her lap. The Reachwoman was new to King's Landing, only recently having travelled to the capital as a handmaiden to Princess Rhaella. Though her smile was completely confident, Dany could see the conflicting emotions in her eyes; her brother Loras had not sent word to her or her family of Renly Baratheon's intended moves or his own part in them. While nothing had been said to the other nobles of Alysanne's and Tyrion's doubts of the Baratheon's motives, Margaery was passing intelligent; she had gleamed that something foul was afoot, and that she and her brother were on opposite sides of whatever it was. While Daenerys didn't agree with Margaery's flamboyant and flirty mannerisms, she felt a ping of sympathy for the girl from Highgarden; there was a distinct possibility that she would find herself in Dany's shoes, with a brother in the army facing her own.

"As would I," chimed in Elia Sand, Prince Oberyn's daughter. Known as Lady Lance, the copper-skinned, boyish Dornishwoman was perhaps Daenerys' favorite lady-in-waiting in all of King's Landing. Several other voices, including young Ben Cuy, squire to Ser Roland, and Liane Vance of the Vance's of Wayfarer's Rest, gave their own agreement, and a ripple of laughter broke through the huddled nobles.

A ripple that died instantly with the massive boom that shook the very stones of the Red Keep beneath them.

Ser Roland called down the panicked exclamations, voice firm and fierce. He turned to the guard nearest him, giving him hushed orders before the man turned and rapidly exited the room. A tense few minutes passed before, with a ferocity that caused several of the noble women to shriek in fear, the door was kicked open.

Daenerys was on her feet, the chest of dragon eggs on the ground in front of her, before the familiar, boulder-like voice crashed through the ballroom. "On your feet!" Ser Manfred Darke, short and stout with the neck of a bull, stomped into the chamber with Alysanne and Tyrion Lannister hugging his heels. That ugly, scowling face from her childhood was even angrier than usual, no mean feat. The other nobles instantly obeyed the aging Kingsguard, each rising hastily.

Alysanne's voice was much more subdued than Manfred's barked command, but her tone said she would broker no argument. "All of you need to follow Ser Manfred and Lord Varys quickly and quietly. All will be explained, but for now you must follow our instructions to the letter." The de facto Queen strode forward, taking her youngest child from Rhaella's arms, the future Queen near frozen in fear. Young Daemon tried to rush towards her but Aemma stopped him, stooping to comfort the little boy.

The Spider had materialized out of nowhere at the mention of his name, Manfred stomping to join him at the front of the rapidly forming procession of noble children and teenagers while Ser Roland silently moved to take the rear. Daenerys stooped to take one handle of the chest containing the dragon eggs, and to her utmost surprise Rhaella became unfrozen and took the other.

The procession moved quickly as the distant, the muffled sound of steel meeting steel and screams growing steadily closer as they moved from chamber to chamber. Daenerys' knew this castle nearly as well as she knew the dragon eggs, but even she found herself getting turned around due to the rapidity of their movement and the struggle of carrying the chest. None of the guardsmen or Ser Roland moved to help her, instead staying on high alert as if they expected to suddenly be in the middle of combat at any moment.

Dany realized they were.

She was not as surprised as the others were when a wall suddenly rotated out of the way to reveal a hidden passage, and obediently entered the dark, foreboding passage, she and Rhaella having fallen to the back of the convoy of nobles. They moved quickly through the passages, each individual barely able to see the one to their front in the dark, and Daenerys had started to feel a flicker of hope when it all went to shit.

Suddenly there was a roar of rage and the clash of steel, and amidst the screams of those in front of her she heard Manfred's voice. "Run, scatter!" A man cried in pain, a woman screamed in terror, and without knowing what she was doing Daenerys was moving down a side passage, Rhaella following obediently, the chest between them. It wasn't until they were far down it, the sound of whatever battle happening in the passages having faded considerably, before the two Targaryens realized they were alone.

Rhaella whimpered, and Dany found herself barking at her to be silent, the back of her mind wandering at the strong, choking scent of fish and how much more slippery the stone of this passage was compared to the others. Her arms burned, the chest having grown more and more cumbersome and heavy as they fled, but she refused to leave it behind, and Rhaella at least seemed to agree on that point. The Princess had no knowledge as to where she was, but she knew backwards was not the way to go. Dany's mind raced, trying to recall the mapping of the passages both ancient and recently constructed at Aelor's order, and realized with a pang of desperation that it didn't help; they were truly lost in these passages, with no known way of escaping and—judging by the skirmish they'd just fled—enemies somewhere with them. And then, as if all of that wasn't enough, they came across the body of a child, her tiny throat slit in a grisly smile, her body soaked with both blood and the source of the scent.

One of Varys' little birds, and...oil. With a tremor of terror, Dany realized the plot. "Turn, Rhaella, run!" Yet before the two Targaryen Princesses could even begin, the roar of flame and a sudden burst of light greeted them, as the fish oil coating the secret passage ignited, its steady flame rushing towards them.

Both women ran, neither abandoning the chest either through sheer determination to not or being too terrified to realize how much it slowed them down, back the way they came. Each adjoining passage they came across—Dany hadn't realized in the darkness how many there were—was likewise slowly being consumed in fire, flushing them towards the scene of the battle.

She felt the heat on her heels, the light in the passage becoming more and more intense, and she knew without looking back that the oil was lighting faster than they could run. With a scream of terror Rhaella fell, the chest hitting the passage floor and sending the eggs jostling across the burning floor. Daenerys stumbled forward as well, thrown off balance, and turned to help her niece.

She turned in time to see Rhaella Targaryen catch alight, the oil that had soaked into her clothing from their flight in the passages bursting the cloth and silk and lace, catching her white hair and flawless skin, Rhaella's terrible screams overpowering the roar of the flame, the very stone itself seeming to burn.

Daenerys knew it was over even as her own clothing caught flame. Aelor had once told her death lost its sting when a man believed without a doubt that he had met his own, and in a moment of clarity she understood perfectly what he meant. The Targaryen Princess dove forward into the fire, feeling the flame engulf her, wrapping her arms around her dying niece and her dragon eggs as the blaze overtook all.

Ser Manfred Darke was a failure.

He had served Aelor Targaryen loyally, ever since that day decades ago when the young Prince, five and ten and still all arm and legs, had found him dying in a gutter of Duskendale with a blade under his ribs and the blood of three of his attackers coating his hands mere days after the Darklyns and Hollards had been exterminated. Manfred was of a distant relative branch to the Darklyns, his House founded hundreds of years ago by a bastard of that line, and as such had hidden among the citizens of Duskendale when the roundup of his far distant kin had occurred, drowning his sorrows and anger at his own cowardice in a tavern. The fight he had picked had been a foolish one, even for him, and it had nearly granted him the death he desired.

The young Prince, authoritative and fierce even at that age—and a much happier man then than he ever would be again—had ordered Ser Barristan to assist Manfred despite his fierce objections and demands to be left to die. Aelor had ordered him patched back up, protected him from Aerys through means Manfred had never learned, and when he finally stopped wishing to die, Manfred had joined his still-forming retinue. Years later that position would grant him an honored spot on the Kingsguard, a position held by only one of his House in the history of Targaryen Kings. Aelor Targaryen had given him a purpose, a life; he, Elia Martell and Alysanne Lefford had given Manfred Darke a family.

And he had repaid all that debt with nothing but failure.

He had let Elia Martell die those years ago, the memory of her lifeless body curled in on itself in a pool of her own blood revisiting the Kingsguard knight every time he slept. He had saved Alysanne and Renlor years later, it was true, but now it seemed he was doomed to let another Targaryen die under his care.

Manfred didn't know how these men, arms covered in golden rings, had gotten into the secret passages. It didn't matter, as the nobles behind him shouted in fear as they leapt at him from within the passages themselves. Manfred had failed; he had lead Alysanne and the Princesses into a trap, set by an enemy that had called their move. Men were pouring towards them, jostling with each other in the tight quarters.

Manfred did the only thing he could. He shouted for the nobles to scatter even as he impaled the first man to draw near, hoping they would be wise enough to take a variety of different passages. Many of them would become lost and be captured or killed he knew—there likely was more men in the maze of other passages lying in wait—but there was a chance some of them might escape.

As they did so, their shouts and the scuffle of their feet scattering behind him, Manfred did what he knew he had to do.

He became what he had always been jokingly called.

He became a boulder in a river of enemy, holding them off as his family fled behind him.

There were more men in these passages than the ones facing him, Ser Manfred knew, but he couldn't stop those; these, however, he had the ability to slow down, and slow them down he did.

At most two could come at him at once, and Ser Manfred parried and struck and roared, buying time for the family he had failed to flee. He cut ones throat, smashed another's head to a pulp with his shield, called those still coming everything from Lyseni whores to swordswallowers to 'bloody stupid cunts' as they clamored over their dead companions to come at him. He taunted, he fought, he spat and roared.

The first blade slipped through his guard to dig into his shield arm, but still Manfred Darke fought on even as that limb went limp. The second burst into the gap in his armor at the thigh, but still Manfred Darke cut its wielders throat and stood like the stone he was as his lifeblood pumped out the room. Even as the passage, alight now with the torches of his foes, went dark again with the loss of blood, he stood his ground.

His sword finally clamored from his numb fingers sometime later, and Manfred sank to the ground as two swords were instantly sunk into his chest. Warriors slipped around him, giving chase to the nobles who had fled a second or minute or hour earlier. As the owner of one of the swords in his chest leaned forward to withdraw the blade Manfred wrapped his sausage-like fingers around the man's throat, using his remaining strength to lock his strangling grip. The Lyseni flailed and pulled and panicked, but Manfred didn't let go even as he sank sideways to the ground, dragging the choking man down with him.

He spoke through bloody lips one last time, spitting phlegm and frothy bubbles as he did so. "You're coming too, you fucking whelp of a whore."

And with that one last insult, Manfred Darke died.

The City of Kings was hell.

Kin's Landing had suffered a sack nearly two decades earlier, one that had seen the slums of Flea Bottom become a raging inferno and eventual funeral pyre, seen a King die at the hands of his bodyguard, and seen a Royal Family flee in terror. This one, seventeen years later, seemed much the same, though he doubted a King would be killed this time around.

If one did, his whole plan went to shit.

Bodies clogged the ramparts, men in gold and crimson cut down in droves, their corpses nearly upholding the formations they had once stood in. More filled the blood-strewn streets, joined by the occasional man in Buckler blue or Payne purple…and the occasional innocent. Screams filled the air, shouts of rage and terror and pain. The clang and scrape of steel meeting steel sporadically joined them, pockets of King Aegon's men still putting up resistance, but he knew the most of the shrill shrieks filling the air didn't come from the hundreds of men in the streets. Many of his soldiers had turned from the battle, forsaking their orders against pillaging and raping and instead tearing into the defenseless homes and businesses around them to do just that. He hadn't even attempted to stop them, knowing that for every one he managed to halt ten more were doing it anyway. He gritted his teeth at the shrill cry of a child coming from the building he was walking by, followed closely by the guttural laugh of their tormentor. He sealed his mind from wandering at just what exactly was happening and strode on, his guard close by his side with drawn steel. These soldiers were wolves among sheep, savaging the soft peasants and merchants of King's Landing.

And Renly had let them into the pasture.

He was ambitious and power-hungry, but Renly wasn't Aelor Targaryen. He wouldn't slaughter civilians and write it off as collateral damage to the destruction of his enemy. So as he passed the burning homes and dead bodies of innocents, their bodies strewn in the street, Renly couldn't help but wonder if it was all worth it.

The future Lord of the Stormlands had nearly been knocked off his feet by the aftershock of the blast that had decimated the first dozen or so ships of the Golden Company, but he had seen to his relief the dozens more behind it start lowering boats full of soldiers, their men intent on landing farther up the beach, away from the roar of green flame. The smartest of King Aegon's followers had taken the shock and disarray following the explosion to flee towards the Red Keep, but there was a lack of sounds of battle coming from that direction, and Renly surmised that it had been taken. He was following well in the wake of the vanguard lead by Loras, the streets cleared of enemy soldiers long before he got there, and he had been told that there were additional plans as to how to tackle the Keep if his men didn't gain access peacefully. As he neared he found that to be the case, dead Targaryen men in heaping piles and the gates open and drawbridge down.

His coup had worked, it appeared. Renly wondered why he felt none of the elation he had expected.

As he entered the courtyard, he saw Loras arguing furiously with a tall man in Golden Company rings. As he approached, his lover's frantic words became clearer and clearer.

"You set them alight!? You fool, my sister was one of their number! I was promised her safety!"

The tall man, a commander it seemed, was unmoved. "I was ordered to enter the passages with my best men and kill whoever lurked there, as well as soak it with fish oil. If the false Targaryen family entered, I was to light that oil and drive them back into our custody. I had no orders to discriminate whom I was driving."

Renly came to a stop beside them, and Loras whirled. "They burnt the passages. They lit them on fire, trying to herd any escaping into certain passages where they waited to apprehend them. The fucking fools; they might have burnt Margaery to bits! I must find her!"

Renly couldn't afford to show too much affection towards Loras' pleas, but he spun on the Captain of the Company with more anger than he otherwise might have. "On whose orders did you act?"

The man met his eyes evenly, unafraid. "Laswell Peake's. My brother."

"Did King Viserys know of this?"

The man—a Peake, apparently—smiled cruelly. "We figured His Grace might find…objections to that command. We thought it wise to leave the oil bit out when he explained the cove entrance to the passages to us."

Renly gritted his jaw, containing his anger even as he placed a calming hand on the blubbering Loras. "Did your plan at least work?"

The Lord of the Stormlands—soon to be, anyway—felt a jab of pain at the betrayed look Loras shot him, but he kept his blue eyes on Peake, noting how the man's grin disappeared. "We captured several nobles hiding in passages after we cleared out the Keep from the inside and the fires burned out—a Vance and a Bulwer and a Sand, among others—but we haven't found any live Targaryens'. There were more tunnels, more than even King Viserys knew of…and we've found several burned corpses. We don't know who is who yet."

Renly didn't even try to stop Loras as he drew his blade and drove it into a surprised Peake.

That was not the agreement.

The full weight of his actions crashed down on Renly Baratheon's shoulders. What have I done?

Alysanne Targaryen nearly wept when Aemma Arryn arrived with Daemon and Varys.

The fires of King's Landing were bright in the night sky as the survivors staggered into the hidden washout on a side creek of the Blackwater Rush a mile from the taken capital. Horses and provisions had been waiting in this hidden cove, ordered by Varys. When Alysanne had stumbled out into the storehouse outside the City's Gates, clutching Alyssa to her breast and followed by Tyrion, the halfman struggling to pack along a crying Saera, she had thanked the Seven profusely. They had discovered the route more by blind luck rather than any memory of one of Aelor's newly constructed passages, both of them having mindlessly fled down the side passage at Ser Manfred's bellowed cry of warning.

She didn't know where the big boulder of a knight was; he hadn't arrived.

All the troops in the area were fighting or looting King's Landing, so making their way to this hideout had been relatively simple due to the darkness and cover of the thousands of fleeing peasants. They had found Ser Roland, Beony Farring of Farring's Cross and Margaery Tyrell awaiting them with the retainers and horses, the Highgarden girl with tear tracks on her beautiful cheeks and a squalling Daena Waters in her arms. Alysanne had demanded they wait longer for more of the fleeing party, desperately praying for her other children.

Those prayers had been answered in part when Aemma, clearly exhausted, entered the cove with her baby boy in her arms.

"Are their others behind you?" Alysanne demanded of the Spider when she finished clutching and fawning over her silver-haired son.

Varys shook his head, reeking of fish oil. "I know of no others. They lit the passages aflame."

Tyrion's voice was sharp and mean. "We saw that, eunuch! How did they infiltrate those passages?"

The spider turned on him, for the first time in Alysanne's memory allowing some measure of emotion into his voice. "Viserys, I'd wager."

"Your little birds…"

"Are dead. Their throats were slit, one by one, their little bodies littering the passages we fled down. Even I can't hear songs sung by the dead, Imp."

Ser Roland stopped their bickering. "We need to move. We need to take advantage of the time it takes them to realize we aren't captured or dead."

Alysanne turned to face him, face horrified. "But Daenerys, Rhaella…"

Ser Roland's eyes were sorrowful. "I'm sorry, Lady Alysanne, but they ignored my order to follow me and fled down the very chamber the Golden Company entered. They're captured or…"

"No," Alysanne nearly roared. Roland would tell her later that she had reminded him of Aelor in that moment. "I will not abandon them!"

"We must ride, my lady. We need to escape while we can."

"My daughters are back there!" Alysanne could barely speak, the knot of terror that something had befallen Dany and Rhaella in the confusion of the flight that she felt like folding in on herself and dying.

Roland's voice still held sorrow, but it held no small amount of steel either. "They are captured or dead, my lady. There is nothing we can do about it now."

Margaery spat a curse at the man who had lead her out of the passages, apparently forgetting in her anger that it had only been his memorization of the new additions built by Aelor that had saved them. "How dare you say such!"

She was so engrossed in the following argument, Roland, Varys and Tyrion calling for hasty departures while the rest demanded they stay, that she nearly didn't notice her until she spoke. "I am sorry, mother."

Alysanne turned at that sweet voice, and saw stumbling through the shallow sidewater of the Blackwater Rush the pale form of Daenerys. Her heart soared as she charged towards her daughter in all but blood, so thankful of her life that she saw nothing else for a long moment.

She pulled up short, however, when she realized what she was seeing. Her daughter was as naked as the day she was born, her hair burnt away. Her skin was covered in grim and dirt, yet none of it had so much as a single blemish. Simultaneously to those realizations was the one that Rhaella was not with her.

Alysanne felt the choke of fear again. "Rhaella?"

Dany shook her head absently. "She…she's gone."

The grief Alysanne Lefford felt was so great that she collapsed to the ground, tears she had left unshed pouring out of her in soul-wrenching sobs. Her daughter, the future Queen of Westeros, dead. She didn't know how long she stayed there, sobbing, before something cold nuzzled her face.

She looked up into the reptilian eyes of a tiny…


Hundreds of miles north, seven Targaryen's jerked awake.

Chapter Text

House Targaryen of King's Landing

King Aegon Targaryen- nearing 19, no longer betrothed

Princess Daenerys Targaryen- nearing 17, not betrothed

Prince Jaehaerys Targaryen- nearing 17, not betrothed, heir to Iron Throne and Prince of Dragonstone

Princess Rhaenys Targaryen- 20, married to Willas Tyrell

House Targaryen of Duskendale

Lord Aelor Targaryen (38) and wife Alysanne Lefford (35)

Renlor Targaryen- 16, 'married' to Myrcella Langward, heir to Duskendale

Aemon Targaryen- 15, not betrothed, heir to Golden Tooth (through Alysanne's father Lord Leo Lefford)

Rhaella Targaryen- 13, deceased

Baelon Targaryen- 12, not betrothed

Daemon Targaryen- 6, not betrothed

Saera Targaryen- 3, not betrothed

Alyssa Targaryen- infant, not betrothed

House Targaryen of Summerhall

King Viserys Targaryen- 22-23, not betrothed, currently waging war for Iron Throne

Daena Waters- 1, not betrothed

Daenella Waters- 1, not betrothed

House Arryn

Lord Jon Arryn and wife Lysa Tully

Artys Arryn- 14 Not betrothed, heir to the Vale

Aemma Arryn-14 Not betrothed

Robin 'Sweetrobin' Arryn- 9, not betrothed

House Stark

Lord Eddard Stark and wife Catelyn Tully

Lyanna Stark- 34, not married, mother of Jaehaerys Targaryen

Robb Stark- nearing 17, not betrothed, heir to the North

Sansa Stark- 14, not betrothed

Arya Stark- 12, not betrothed

Brandon Stark- 11, not betrothed

Rickon Stark- 7, not betrothed

House Tyrell

Lord Mace Tyrell and wife Alerie Hightower

Willas Tyrell- 24, married to Rhaenys Targaryen, heir to the Reach

Alester Tyrell- 3, son of Willas and Rhaenys, not betrothed

Osmund Tyrell- 2, son of Willas and Rhaenys, not betrothed

Garlan Tyrell- 21, married to Leonette Fossoway, no issue

Loras Tyrell- 17. not betrothed, in service to Renly Baratheon

Margaery Tyrell- 16, not betrothed

House Baratheon

Lord Stannis Baratheon and wife Arnette Swann

Shireen Baratheon- 13, not betrothed

Steffon Baratheon- 7, not betrothed, heir to the Stormlands

Lyonel Baratheon- 1, not betrothed

Renly Baratheon- 22, not betrothed, currently pressing claim for Storm's End alongside Viserys Targaryen

House Lannister

Lord Tyrion Lannister, unmarried

Cersei Lannister, married to Lord Alaric Langward

Ser Jaime Lannister, Brother of the Night's Watch

Ser Kevan Lannister, heir to the Westerlands in absence of issue of Tyrion

House Tully

Lord Edmure Tully- 29, unmarried

Catelyn Tully, married to Eddard Stark

Lysa Tully, married to Jon Arryn

*heir to Riverlands is Robb Stark in absence of issue of Edmure

House Martell

Lord Doran Martell and (estranged) wife Mellario of Norvos

Princess Arianne Martell- 23, not betrothed, heir to Dorne

Prince Quentyn Martell- 19, betrothed to Gwyneth Yronwood

Prince Trystane Martell- 16, not betrothed

Queen Elia Martell- deceased, mother of King Aegon Targaryen and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen

Prince Oberyn Martell and paramour Ellaria Sand

Oberyn's bastard daughters the Sand Snakes, Obara, Nymeria, Tyene, Sarella, Elia, Obella, Dorea and Loreza

House Greyjoy

Iron King Balon Greyjoy and wife Alannys Harlaw

Prince Rodrik Greyjoy- slain by Lord Jason Mallister of Seagard

Prince Maron Greyjoy- 30, married to Gysella Goodbrother, no issue, heir to Iron Islands

Princess Asha Greyjoy- 25, not betrothed

Prince Theon Greyjoy- 21, not betrothed

Victarian Greyjoy, brother of Balon, wives are deceased, no issue

Euron Greyjoy, brother of Balon, not married

End of Index


She's dead. All these years I've taken for granted that she would one day be my Queen, and now she is dead.

King Aegon Targaryen, sixth of his name, sat with his head in his hands, elbows braced on a small table in the King's Tower at Castle Black. Out of the window on the wall facing him he could see both the gate and bottom of the stairs going up the Wall. He'd been the first King in over one hundred years to stay in the one hundred foot tall tower; Aegon had noticed as soon as he'd stepped through the oak and iron door how clean the tower had been scrubbed, clearly having been gone over immaculately since the Night's Watch received word of his imminent arrival.

Aegon hadn't loved Rhaella by any means. She was—had been—a sweet, kind girl whom he had been raised with since he was five years old. Although he had always known she was to one day be his Queen, it had still been difficult for Aegon to not see her as a sibling, as he did her elder brothers. I suppose that wouldn't have been too terribly amiss, what with our family history.

He remembered how confused he had been as a boy, when he'd read of the Targaryen custom of brothers marrying sisters. Shouldn't that mean he would one day marry Rhaenys, not Rhaella? His uncle had put those questions to rest in a way that would sooth a child, and it wasn't until years later that Aegon learned Aelor believed the incestuous couplings of their ancestors—including his own mother and father—the reason so many Targaryens went mad. Aegon was prone to agree; Aelor was self-admitting proof of it himself.

A marriage between cousins, however, was commonplace in Westeros nobility, even in Houses who didn't have three-headed dragons on their banners, and Aelor hadn't entirely forgone the idea of keeping the blood of old Valyria as pure as reasonably possible. So Rhaella had been raised from birth to one day be the Queen of Westeros, a position her mother had unofficially held for years, and Aegon had been encouraged to always treat her as a betrothed. He didn't realize how much he had taken that for granted, the whole-hearted acceptance that they would one day be married whether they wanted it or not.

Now she was dead, burned to death in the same passage his birth mother had once carried him through to safety. Dead due to the machinations of the uncle he had exiled and, indirectly, empowered.

Dead due to Aegon's inability to do what needed done. I should have killed Viserys then. I was weak when I should have been strong. I was Aegon, when I should have been Aelor.

The ravens and messengers had come within hours of one another, great flocks of them from seemingly every noble house south of the Neck, telling their stories of the hell the city of his birth had become. They'd received words of the Ironborn weeks prior, of their pillaging along the Eastern coast, but his advisors both here at the Wall and back in the heart of the Seven Kingdoms had urged him to remain in the North, as they had the Ironborn horribly outnumbered and men like Jon Arryn and Jason Mallister were perfectly capable of handling the situation.

Aegon would have ignored that and rode south anyway if not for the things he had seen.

The men of the Watch had been hesitant of taking a King ranging what with the wildlings and…other hazards, but Aegon had been adamant and they knew better than to deny him. He hadn't been in a skirmish as his uncle and cousins had reportedly been, a fact that rankled him, but he had ridden days north of the wall, and seen something that scared him far worse than the Ironborn had.

A hundred thousand men, women and children were hard to hide. Aegon, Ser Barristan and his Night's Watch escort has sighted them in a distant valley from a ridge named this that or the other. They had stretched nearly as far as he could see, an ocean of wildlings descending on the Wall.

It had been as close as the rangers had taken him. It had been close enough.

Twelve hours ago Aegon Targaryen would have told you nothing would move him from his spot defending the Wall. Now, however, the bustle of men and horses preparing to move could be heard outside his tower.

He would forever be thankful for Aelor's decision to build more passages and for Viserys' disregard for learning about them, for it had been all that saved his aunt and the rest of his family. The preparations made by Alysanne, Tyrion and Varys had allowed them to escape to Rosby, from which a fishing boat from a nearby village had been sent on to Rook's Rest and the fastest of the ships docked there had been sent to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, dodging the ships of the Golden Company. Another of the endless ravens had been sent from Cotter Pyke at Eastwatch, and with it the letter.

The message from Alysanne had been brief and to the point, and Aegon couldn't help but think she had left something major out, though he had no knowledge as to what it might be. The calligraphy in Alysanne' steady hand informed him of the successful escape of Daenerys, Lord Tyrion and the others, as well as the death of Rhaella. She also mentioned those who hadn't made it to the mustering point; Elia Sand, Ser Manfred Darke and, perhaps most devastatingly, Myrcella Langward, who was apparently pregnant with Renlor's bastard. Wise of them, to create the story of a hasty marriage. I'll have to commend her if I ever see her again.

The Seven I hope I see her again.

Atop the pain of Rhaella's death was the fear for the rest of his family. There were no loyal men to protect them from Viserys and his army, all of them by the design of his youngest uncle—or at least his advisors—hundreds of miles away preparing to ransack the Iron Islands. While they certainly had known of Viserys' invasion for days now and were undoubtedly moving to counter the threat, Aegon knew full well that Viserys would stop at nothing to track down his sister and the rest of the family who had loved him so. It was why they hadn't fled to Duskendale—it was both the obvious choice and farther than Rosby, and the Golden Company fleet had undoubtedly instantly sailed there at the discovery that the Royal Family had escaped.

Alysanne was fully aware of their danger. Lord Tyrion, stubborn in his role of Regent, had ridden towards Seagard, to meet with whatever army he came across first. Alysanne and the others had barely stayed long enough for her to pen the letter before they had ridden towards the Eyrie. Aemma Arryn was among those with his family, and she was to get them access to the impenetrable castle in the Vale. Lord Gyles Rosby—too old and ill to have traveled with his men to the war in the west—had offered the rest of his household guard to escort them, despite the likelihood that his hold would soon be assaulted.

It was a long way to go with a high level of risk—for all they knew, the very message Alysanne had sent might be intercepted—but it was there best bet. Aegon had sent a detachment of his best riders on his fastest mounts south with Ser Arthur Dayne to try and link up with them, but he knew it was unlikely they would before Alysanne and the others reached the Eyrie, if they made it that far. While Ser Arthur could move faster with his riders than Alysanne could with the women and children, they had many more miles to cover in harsher terrain.

Still, Aegon had to do something. His Kingdom was falling apart, and he was too damn far away to do anything about it.

He had sent orders for Aelor to take command of the Targaryen forces at Castle Black. He had left out word of Rhaella's death. Aegon meant to march south with a clear head, to handle this as a King would, not with the blind hatred Aelor was sure to bring. He knew in his heart Aelor would likely follow anyway, but he had ordered nothing of the Princesses' death to be mentioned before Aelor arrived here at the center of the Wall. He hoped his uncle would realize that a true threat resided on the other side, though he doubted the man would. Still, he intended to be far south by then.

Aegon also knew in his heart that this was the action of the jealous boy he still was inside, wanting to handle this direct action over the defense of a Wall, but he had justified it to himself so much he had started believing it.

The King grunted as he heard the door to his tower open, not taking his head from his hands. "Leave me. I do not wish to be disturbed until the men are ready to ride south."

An ancient voice answered, old and wizened. "Not even by an old man?"

Aegon's head shot up to see old Maester Aemon in his doorway, one hand still on the wall the blind man had used to guide himself. The King of the Iron Throne shot to his feet and rushed to his kinsman's side. "Uncle Aemon! You're intrusion would be most welcome."

Aegon helped his great-great uncle to the chair opposite the one he had just vacated. "Aemon has spent most of his time in the North in my library. He seems to have taken more after me than my name."

The King nodded, smiling though he knew the Maester of the Night's Watch couldn't see it. "He has always loved books."

"Aye, so Aelor wrote to me. But today Aemon came to me in tears, speaking of a sister he has lost."

Aegon dropped his head. He had felt the younger Aemon deserved to know of his sister's death, no matter how hard it had been to deliver the news. He had taken the news in silence with a strength Aegon didn't know he possessed, rising and leaving with a carefully blank face. "I spared my uncle Viserys for a crime nearly a year ago. Now it seems that mercy has gotten my future Queen killed."

Aemon said nothing, the oldest living blood of the dragon regarding the King with sightless eyes. Before he knew it, Aegon suddenly found himself speaking again. "For years I was raised worshipping Aelor like one of the Seven. I heard tales of his bravery on the battlefield and his decisiveness in handling Robert's Rebellion. I heard how he killed the oldest Baratheon in single combat over the body of my dead father, saving not only me but our entire dynasty at the same time. As a boy, I thought he was the Warrior himself.

"And then I grew older, became more independent, and the stories changed. Instead of the praises sung by mean seeking his favor, I heard the atrocities he committed. How he burned a city to the ground, not caring if there was innocents left inside its walls. How he gave a Lord Paramount over to a Prince of Dorne to be tortured to death, then mounted his head on a spike for over a year. How he slaughtered babies for the sins of their fathers when the Rogers' tried to kill Alysanne. How his cruelty matched his compassion for his family. No longer was Aelor a man to be worshipped, but a monster to be abhorred. Yes, I learned from him. I absorbed my lessons on stewardship as earnestly as I received his guidance on swordsmanship and tactics. I hung at Aelor's heels, desperate to earn the respect others held for him, and then realized that respect was brought more from fear than anything else and began plotting to earn it through other means. I told myself I would be a better man than my uncle is, that I would not kill so wantonly, that I would rule with a just hand. I told myself I would be a better man, a better ruler, just and kind and loved by my vassals. I told myself I would be everything my uncle was not."

Aegon found himself on his feet, staring out the window overlooking the gate as his hands gripped the sill with white-knuckles. "And in my effort to be so, I made a weak decision that ended in the death of my cousin, the sweetest child the Seven had ever graced Westeros with. In my jealousy to be anything but Aelor Targaryen, I became a fool who allowed a murder go unpunished." Aegon chuckled darkly. "I succeeded in one thing, at least. I am certainly not my uncle. He would have executed Viserys, and none of this would ever be happening."

Aemon had remained silent through the King's tirade, though when Aegon turned from the window he found the old man had twisted in his seat to face him, having followed the sound of his voice. The two regarded one another, the young man in sudden shame and the old man in blind contemplation, before the Maester spoke. "You did the right thing, you know. Sparing Viserys."

"Clearly not, or Rhaella would still live."

"If you had killed Viserys as you claim Aelor would have—a point I disagree on—you would be called the Kinslayer, and none would follow you any more willingly than they followed Aelor." He waved a hand, cutting off Aegon's protest. Bloody hell, how did he even know I was going to talk? "Your uncle confided in me long before the long years he protected your reign, Aegon Targaryen. He was once much like you believe it or not, a young boy who was just and kind. He is that no longer, it is true; I have seen the change in him through his letters. The stories of your uncle's valor are every bit as true as the stories of his atrocities. They are who he is, just as you are who you are. "

The old man reached his hand out, and Aegon went forward to take it. With surprising strength the maester pulled Aegon down close to his face, leaning close to talk in his soft voice into his young kinsman's ear. "Justice and kindness are not sins any more than they are virtues. A King rules as a King must. There is no written book of rules, no instructions on what makes a great King. A great King takes what is thrown his way and he overcomes it. You have done all you have known to do, but now you must do what must be done."

The Maester released his grip, though he had not finished speaking. "You are a young King who has had the virtue of time to be a boy. But now that time is over. You have the potential to be the greatest King since Jaehaerys the Conciliator, but not by becoming your uncle. You have to be the King you are inside. You have to be the man you are inside.

"I will tell you the same thing I told your uncle Aelor during the Rebellion.

"Kill the boy. Kill the boy, and let the man be born."

Chapter Text

The wind and snow were only half as cold as his father's voice.

"I don't care if there is a storm coming. We leave now."

The stablemaster of the Night's Watch—Galen or Guyard or some such—was walking a fine line of disfavor with the Dragon of Duskendale, and the quiver in his voice betrayed that he knew it. Still, the heavily cloaked man tried to intervene on the behalf of the horses currently clustered together in the courtyard of Castle Black. It was noble of him, though terribly foolish. "But, my lord, the new snow may block fox dens or—"

The stablemaster stopped midsentence when Aelor Targaryen whirled on him, violet eyes burning. "I am fully aware of the dangers to my horses, Stablemaster Garth. If they die in this storm from exposure or a misplaced step I'll be afoot, and that doesn't bode well for my speed in returning south now does it? I will take the utmost caution. Now bugger off."

Renlor winced in sympathy for the rebuked Black Brother. The man was merely expressing concern for the coursers, destriers and pack animals that were hastily being prepared to depart despite the coming storm, an admirable quality in any stablemaster. Still, he had chosen a particularly poor time to voice his concerns to the Lord of Duskendale; Aelor Targaryen had never been particularly good at listening when he was angry, especially to opinions that differed from his own. And although Renlor was of a considerably more relaxed nature than the man who had fathered him, he totally understood Aelor's anger.

Rhaella was dead.

Renlor remembered the day his sister had been born, in the fuzzy mix of images and sounds and recalled emotions that constitute the memories of a three year old. She had been tiny, even smaller than him, and his mother had let him hold her sleeping form. It had pleased the toddler Ren to no end, and he remembered sitting on the bed in the birthing chamber with the newborn in his tiny lap, his mother holding Aemon and his father's broad arm encircling them all.

And now that babe was dead, burned to death in the secret passages Ren had played in as a child.

He and his sister had never been overly close as they grew, what with Rhaella being pampered from day one to be a queen and Renlor to be the lord of Duskendale. While he had spent hours sparring with Sers Manfred Darke and Barristan Selmy, she had spent hours on her needlework, learning not only to sew but also to make pleasant conversation to the other ladies doing the same. While he had learned diplomacy at the feet of Grandmaester Colmar the Grey and Lord Wyman Manderly, she had learned courtesies with their mother and Ashara Dayne. Still, despite the few similarities they shared in either education or character, she had been his sister; for a decade, she had been his only sister.

And his uncle had killed her, the same uncle who had tickled them when he was small, been Daenerys' courser and Kingsguard, and allowed Ren to win in clumsy sparring matches when Ren could barely pick up a wooden blade. Betrayal, rage, sadness, pain…Renlor felt them all.

The Seven knew what his father was feeling.

Renlor watched from atop Balerion, the black-hided and muscled great grandson of his father's horse Warrior, as the Dragon of Duskendale marched towards them in long, angry strides. Alaric Langward, thankfully unaware of just how close Ren and his daughter had grown, limped alongside him, ever his father's advisor. Ren had always split Aelor Targaryen into two different entities; there was Aelor his father, who taught him swordplay and threw him in the air as a child and ruffled his hair affectionately to this day, despite Ren's protests. And then there was Aelor the Hand of the King, who was stern and unsmiling and utterly ruthless in both war and negotiation. Ren had learned at a young age that you could reason with Aelor the father, but it was best to remain silent around Aelor the Hand of the King.

Lord Commander Mormont and a few Black Brothers followed his father, the gruff Northman clearly unpleased at even more men leaving the Wall in this time of trouble. Aemon—the brother not the old uncle—were also walking across the muddy courtyard, dressed heavily in furs, along with Jaehaerys, who had gone as pale as the falling snow. His closest sibling in both age and heart had remained behind when Ren, Baelon and their father had traveled to the Nightfort some weeks ago, burying himself in the library of Castle Black with a relish for learning Renlor had never shared. He silently prayed his little brother wasn't coming south—while there was certainly an enemy in the north as well, the blood Renlor had shed and the wildling girl Jaehaerys had captured proof of that, the chance of another battle soon seemed low. In the south, however, it was guaranteed, with the Ironborn and Viserys running amuck over their homeland. Aemon was bookish and frighteningly intelligent, but he was no warrior; Ren prayed their father realized that in his wrath.

As the group neared, Ren heard Mormont's gruff voice over the howling wind. "I am sorry for your loss, Prince Aelor, but your men are needed here."

His father's voice was in turn sharp and cold, and it was clear to Ren that his mind was settled on the matter. "Which is precisely why I am leaving the vast majority of them here under my nephew's command, Lord Commander Mormont. You still have thousands of troops and a seven hundred foot tall wall; you can spare my retinues and I."

Jaehaerys cut in, voice concerned and eyes fixated on the man he had hated mere months ago. "Uncle, I am not suitable for this position."

Aelor snorted as he waved his hand to Baelon, who instantly brought old Warrior forward, the beast's breath billowing into the cold air in great clouds of steam. "You are suitable if I say you are suitable, and I say it."

"I have no experience leading men, no—"

Aelor turned to him, and the procession stopped as he did. Renlor had desperately tried to learn whatever skill his father had for completely taking over a situation, and to his chagrin he had never mastered it. "Lord Commander Mormont will advise you as well as obey you as a Prince, as will your uncle Maester Aemon and Ser Borran; you are far from along Jaehaerys. What more, you have been trained nearly since your birth for command. You've learned swordsmanship under Arthur Dayne and Barristan Selmy, stewardship under Colmar the Grey and tactics under Randyll Tarly. That and you have been bloodied, accounting well for yourself in the skirmish outside the Nightfort. And, above all, you are a Targaryen. All of your life has built you up to this moment; now you need to seize it."

His father swung onto Warrior's massive back, taking the reins from Baelon so his third son could mount his own stallion. His face was still masked in a cold scowl, though it softened slightly when he glanced at Aemon. "Are you sure, son?"

The young Targaryen nodded. "I will be of no use in the south. Here, Sam and I may be able to find something that will turn the tide in case of…" His brother trailed off, and their father nodded in understanding.

Ren felt himself straighten when his father sat up straight in his saddle, turning to face the men of his retinue who had finished packing provisions for the ride south. They were few as far as war parties go, roughly one hundred of Aelor's meanest and most deadly fighters. The levies were to remain at the Wall with Jaehaerys, as Aelor intended to overtake Aegon and his army as well as mass with the moving armies in the south. That left Aelor, two of his sons, Lord Alaric Langward and near one hundred knights and cutthroats to ride south after the King who had so callously left them behind and the pretender who had provoked the dragon's wrath.

His father's voice was authoritative and booming. "Prince Jaehaerys has command at the Wall. We ride."

And with the sound of howling wind and creaking tack, Aelor Targaryen rode to war.

He had thought his victory would make him feel invincible and powerful, but it had instead left him angry and hollow.

Viserys had never seen battle, though he had heard the roar and inhumane screech of it clearly when the Lions of Lannister had invaded his home as a child. Most of his youth had been spent in times of peace, caring for his sister and suffering through the lessons his brother insisted he take. It had spent in this very city, the city where he had been born.

The city that now burned.

The battle was long over by the time Viserys made landfall. He had chaffed at being kept from the fray—Aelor would never hang back while men died for him, and while Viserys knew he wasn't his brother he certainly wasn't a coward either—but his advisors had insisted he do so until they at least made landfall. It had proven a wise decision, as Viserys had watched from behind as at least a dozen of the lead ships and all the men on them, among whom he would have been had he had his way, exploded into the green flame that had made both his brother and his father infamous.

Laswell Peake, the man who had taken Viserys from his exile and made him a King, had gone to ashes in that blast.

The streets were still clogged with bodies, most in gold or crimson and black, smoke heavy in the air as a fire or fires had started and been beaten out. Viserys rode over the drying blood and age-old filth, atop a brilliant white stallion. It was a magnificent mount befitting a King to be sure, but Viserys silently found himself missing the black-hided beast he had left behind when he had been forced from Westeros by his cursed nephew. The bloodline of Warrior made for unparalleled beats of war, but Viserys supposed this was more for show anyhow.

Alester Strong, his squire/bodyguard, rode beside him on his left, Captain-General Harry Strickland his other. An honor guard rode to the rear and front, though Maylo Jayn had methodically combed the city for remaining Aegon loyalist in the hours since the Red Keep had fallen. Viserys quietly hoped a danger would appear; he was itching to test his skills in true battle, and the blade at his side made him feel invincible.

The Seven had certainly deemed him the true King of the Seven Kingdoms. It surprised him, considering he had never given a whit about them before nor they him, but he had no doubt of their blessing now.

He possessed Blackfyre, the blade of every Targaryen King until Daeron the Good and the wars fought after that succession. He, Viserys Targaryen not Aegon Targaryen, wielded the blade of Aegon the Conqueror and Daeron the Young Dragon.

Even as he rode up the Hook towards Aegon's High Hill he let his left hand stray to the hilt of the blade on that hip. The hand-and-a-half longsword had a smoky black blade, its pommel with a ruby in its center. When Viserys laid his hand to its worn grip he swore he could feel the power of the Targaryen Kings both good and bad who had wielded the mighty weapon. It made Viserys feel powerful, confident and in command.

It made him feel Kingly.

The members of the Golden Company had bestowed it upon him on the eve of assault, and Viserys in his joy had taken both Sylara and Lilas with a ferocity he hadn't known he possessed. It had been one of the finest moments of his life, holding the blade of his ancestors as he sailed forward to claim his Kingdom and his bride.

Except he had claimed neither. Not even Blackfyre could abate the anger he had felt when he had been informed that Alysanne and his nieces and nephews—and Daenerys—had evaded his grasp.

The Red Keep had taken the longest to fall, though fall it had. If not for the secret passages and the men who had infiltrated the castle through them Viserys had no doubt they would still be battling for it at this very moment, in the early morning light of this new day. Still, the battlements and courtyards left no doubt of the ferocity of the fighting that had taken place there. Viserys rode through its gates into its carnage, though men were even at this moment moving to clean the bodies and gore from the cobbles and red stone walls.

Renly Baratheon awaited him, taking a knee as any good vassal should when Viserys swung from his horse. "Your Grace, the city is yours."

Viserys tried to keep his voice calm, tempering his anger at the youngest of the Baratheon brothers incompetence with the knowledge that without him King's Landing would likely not have fallen. His voice came out forcibly cheery as he waved for the Stag to rise. "So it is, Lord Baratheon. Though it appears Alysanne Lefford and her spawn are not. Nor is my sister."

Baratheon kept his face emotionless. "The Keep was taken in quick order, though pockets of resistance lasted for a long while. Many nobles escaped through the tunnels, among them Lady Alysanne and her children."

"I had men in those tunnels. Are you telling me they waltzed right through them?"

Franklyn Flowers, who had alongside Pykewood Peake been in command of the men infiltrating the secret passages, spoke quickly. "There were more tunnels than the one you used, Your Grace."

Viserys' face twitched at audacity of the Bastard of Cider Hall. Still, he kept his voice calm. "I: warned you that was the case, Flowers."

Baratheon cut in, his voice full of anger. "They lit fire to the tunnels, Your Grace. To 'smoke the nobles out'. They have found several bodies."

Viserys felt a rage unlike anything he had ever felt before, intertwining with a fear of the same magnitude. Not even the anger he had experienced when that imbecile Bryce Caron had courted his sister came close. "You risked my sister's life? The very woman who will be your Queen? On whose orders? On whose orders!"

Flowers fell into full self-preservation mode. "Pykewood Peake's, Your Grace. I tried to warn him off it but the man would not listen." Viserys saw that for the lie it was, and it must have flashed across his Valyrian features for Flowers took a step back. The small part of his mind not taken with anger and fear rejoiced that he could make a man such as Flowers, a seasoned and malicious killer, so afraid. "We have confirmed that none of the bodies belonged to Queen Daenerys, Your Grace, though I admit some were burned badly."

Viserys whirled on the assembled commanders and men in the courtyard. "Where is Peake!?"

Baratheon answered him. "Dead, Your Grace. My man Loras Tyrell has already executed him for his stupidity."

That mollified Viserys slightly, though he turned back to Flowers with ferocity. "Are you certain my sister was not harmed?"

The bastard hesitated, and in that hesitation Viserys nearly killed him. But Flowers dropped to his knees and produced from a pocket of his shirt a scorched necklace of steel and silver, half melted in places, though the brilliant sapphire in the center of its charm was still clearly visible. Viserys instantly relaxed at the sight of it, though a great pain and, much as he loathed it, guilt burned through him at its sight. "Only one body could have belonged to the future Queen, Your Grace, and this was found alongside it.

Viserys took the scorched chain and charm from Flowers' fingers, remembering all the times he had seen it around his niece's neck. His voice was soft even to his own ears. "The body did not belong to my sister, lucky for all of your fates. This belongs to my niece, Rhaella. At least, it used to."

He possessed no hatred for Rhaella. She had been a kind, sweet child who had tried her damndest to include her older, more jaded uncle in everything she could. While Viserys had known Rhaella would be here, he had never considered the possibility that she might die due to his actions.

The guilt and shame that crashed down on him nearly overwhelmed the King of the Iron Throne.

Instead he turned to Baratheon, keeping the emotion from his voice. "You say Peake has been dealt with?"

"Yes, Your Grace."

"You are lucky, Flowers. It seems I will not kill you. At least not today." Mind still reeling from what he had done, he tried to think of what a King would do next. Only one thing came to mind. "Since you have allowed nearly every noble you were ordered to bring to me escape, pray tell who did you capture?"

He was brought to a corner of the courtyard where ten or so figures sat huddled despite their high birth. He saw among them one of Oberyn Martell's bastards, as well as the daughter of one of the Riverlords though he couldn't recall her name.

And then he saw his daughter in the arms of Myrcella Langward.

Viserys wasn't much of a father and had never taken an interest in either of his bastards, but he knew his child when he saw her. Instantly he pointed to Daenella. "Find a nursemaid for the infant at once, you fools; she is mine." As men rushed to obey, one of the female sellswords of the company—Kora, Kya?—letting a maternal instinct take over and pulling Daenella from a resisting Myrcella, he couldn't help but notice the swell to the Langward girl's belly. "That, however," he commented, gesturing to the blonde's middle "Is most assuredly not." Myrcella instantly clasped her hands to her belly, face instantly terrified.

It didn't take Viserys very long to puzzle out just who that child likely belonged to.

The smile that lit his face was genuine as he turned to the Lord Paramount of the Stormlands, Renly having followed his King to where the noble hostages were held. "It seems you have not entirely failed me after all."

Chapter Text

Colmar the Grey had lived the life of a maester for nearly six decades. His mother, whose name he had never learned, had been a whore in Maidenpool. Colmar possessed no real memories of her, only a hazy image of blonde hair and the scent of honeysuckle that always accompanied it. He had even less of an idea of who his father was, though he supposed he had been a tall and broad man if Colmar's own stature gave any hint. Perhaps he had been a fisherman who plied his trade in the Bay of Crabs, or a heavily-muscled blacksmith who had never been able to show a woman the same care he invested in his work.

Colmar would never know. His mother had died two years after his birth, taken by the same greyscale that had permanently disfigured his own face. Odds were she had contracted it from a client, and passed it on to her infant son before she and two other Maidenpool whores submitted to it quickly. The Mootens had had the brothel burned, its surviving girls and regular customers quarantined until it was determined they weren't plagued with the wretched disease. The Grandmaester supposed he had been expected to die as his mother had, but against the odds he had pulled through. Maester Lan, a Westerman passing through Maidenpool on some business of the Citadel, had taken pity on the child, and brought the infant hundreds of miles south to Oldtown.

There Colmar had been raised among the Maesters, and there he had thrived.

He'd earned the black iron link for ravenry by the age of seven, and the copper of history by eight. Next had come the silver link of medicine at ten, the pale steel of smithing at thirteen, the iron of warcraft at fifteen, with others interspersed between. He even held the Valyrian steel link of magic and the occult, something only one in one hundred maesters possessed. He had earned his appointment as the Grandmaester at the Iron Throne, having embodied the principals of the Citadel for all of his life.

But now he shirked their teachings, and gladly.

The Citadel taught its novices and acolytes that a Maester had no political allegiance; he served the holding at which he was stationed and the people who resided there, regardless of changes in control of that holding. By that reckoning Colmar the Grey now served 'King' Viserys Targaryen, as the youngest son of Aerys was firmly in control of the Red Keep and King's Landing, and on the surface that was the case.

But in truth, Colmar the Grey would rather die, a very real possibility that had lost all of its sting.

The news of Rhaella's death had shaken all six feet, ten inches of his hulking form, bringing him to his massive knees. He had delivered his future Queen himself, placing her in the arms of Alysanne Lefford as he had two children before and four after. Citadel teachings be damned, he had loved the Princess as if she were his own.

And now she was dead, and the man to blame for it had ordered an armed guard on Colmar at all times.

Viserys had never taken a shine to Colmar, despite the years of lessons and the dozens of childhood injuries Colmar had patched up. It hadn't bothered the Grandmaester, as the eccentric young Prince never took a shine to anyone other than Daenerys. Still, despite knowing his love for Aelor and his children, the self-styled King of the Iron Throne hadn't had anyone to replace Colmar as messenger and scribe, and none in the Golden Company were near his talent as a healer, so Viserys had kept the hulking man in place. Viserys—or one of his advisors, anyway—had been smart enough to assign a man to not only escort Colmar but also another to double-check what Colmar wrote in the letters and to ensure they were sent, but they had no way of knowing if they were sent to the correct places.

They weren't. Messages meant for Houses with potential blood debts against Aelor were instead sent to Houses thoroughly tied into Aegon's reign. The letter demanding Aelor trade himself for Myrcella and her unborn babe had been sent to Riverrun, to alert the loyalist armies massing there of the situation. Colmar knew he wouldn't be able to keep it up for long—another man to replace him was likely coming—but he did what he could while he could.

Which is why he was steadily making his way towards the chambers where Myrcella was held.

The guard assigned to him had been selected to do so completely on physical size. The copper-skinned Dothraki was nearly as tall as Colmar and just as broad, his ham-sized hands constantly hanging near the long curved arakh on his hip. The Grandmaester was certain if it came to a fair fight, be it weapons or bare knuckles, that the horsewarrior would handily break him in two. Colmar for all his size was a teacher, not a warrior, and he was an old man to boot.

But what the Dothraki possessed in strength he lacked in intelligence, and Colmar had no intention of fighting fair.

"Wrong way," the Dothraki grunted. His grasp of Westerosi was limited Colmar had gathered, and though the Grandmaester spoke fluent Dothraki he had no intention of letting the horselord know that.

"The King asked me to ascertain the pleasure and luxury of his most esteemed guest Lady Langward, my respectable imbecile. She is late into the stages of pregnancy you know, and the appalling lack of midwives and competent healers to attend her through this problematic time is disgraceful. Our current direction is the rapidest way to her horrendously bare arrangements." The Grandmaester turned with an affable grin, and was inwardly delighted at the look of utter confusion on the sellarakh's face. In the two days since Viserys had taken the capital and the brute had been his guard, the disfigured loyalist had taken a deep pleasure in using the most outrageous and confounded vocabulary his extensive years of study had brought him.

The scowling Dothraki captor was still trying to ponder out what Colmar had said when the Grandmaester arrived at and promptly opened the door to Myrcella's chambers. While Viserys had seen her as the bargaining chip she was, he had still awarded her chambers befitting that of both a noble and a pregnant woman. The bed was large and soft, the chambers clean and open, and there was no sign of the meal she had eaten just that morning, evidence that whatever maids Viserys had assigned to Myrcella were quick and efficient.

But a luxurious cage was still a cage, and that showed clearly in Myrcella's face. The daughter of one of Aelor's closest friends had been a common presence in King's Landing, accompanying her father in his frequent travels from Brindlewood to the capital and befriending both Daenerys and Rhaella—and Renlor—in those trips. Outside of his wife and Barristan Selmy, Aelor trusted no one alive more than he did Alaric Langward, and quite often he called his former squire to King's Landing to serve as an advisor. Due to these close proximities, Colmar had grown accustomed to Myrcella and her personality, and it took him just one look now to know her situation was wearing on her. The effects of stress was clear on her high-cheekboned face, her long golden hair having lost some of its luster. Her arms seemed to constantly be wrapped protectively around her belly, which grew more swollen with each passing day. Colmar knew the constant fear she was living in couldn't be healthy for either the infant or its mother, and a stab of concern went through him.

Despite her clearly and constant worry Myrcella gave him a small smile. "Grandmaester Colmar. It is good to see a familiar face."

He conducted a short bow, striding a few more steps into the chamber after doing so. "Lady Targaryen, it does me good to see you well." As he came to a stop a few feet in front of her, his hulking escort standing apprehensively in the threshold, he lowered his voice to a low rumble. "How is the child?"

Myrcella instinctively matched his tone, looking down at her protruding belly and running a hand protectively over the Lannister crimson dress covering it. "I feel him move more and more often these days."

"And how are you?"

Myrcella hesitated a moment before fixing her stare pointedly at the floor. "I am better than Rhaella."

The statement nearly buckled the big maester even as it fortified his resolve. "And you will remain that way, my lady. I assure it." He raised his voice back to its normal booming volume, though he doubted the Dothraki had much knowledge of what was being said. "Shall I have a listen then my lady?" With a grunt he settled down on a stiff knee. He still had bend at the waist, as he was as tall on his knee as Myrcella was on her feet. Turning his ear to press against Myrcella's swell, he whispered as quietly as he could. "Whatever you do, follow my lead."

Giving her no chance to respond, Colmar gave a disgruntled—and loud—scoff before. "You said you have been having pain, my lady?"

For a long moment she stared at him confusedly, and Colmar poured every bit of pleading he could into his eyes. It took several moments, but Myrcella's face went carefully blank as realization rushed through her. That a girl. Her voice was shaky when she spoke, but the language barrier between them and the muscled Dothraki continued to work in their benefit. "Yes, Grandmaester. I…I worry that something is wrong."

Colmar kept his ear to her belly a moment longer before rising back to his full height with a grunt. "I do not mean to alarm you, my lady, but I fear there may be as well." He turned to the Dothraki. "You! Rush and grab me the listening tool. Ask one of the maids, they'll help you find it. At once, man." Colmar gestured with his hands to emphasize his words.

The Dothraki couldn't understand the command, which was all well and good—it was gibberish anyway. There was no 'listening tool'. Still, the Dothraki clearly understood he was being told to find something, and his dark face sank into a scowl. The Dothraki took a few steps into the chamber, one hand resting on the handle of his arakh, setting his feet pointedly.

Well, it's not like I truly expected that to work. "Myrcella," he breathed quietly, "grab your belly and sink to the bed." Myrcella looked at him confusedly for a moment before understanding dawned and she obeyed. Her actions weren't very convincing even to an amateur's eyes, but Colmar prayed to the Seven that they would be enough.

Colmar instantly took a hold of her arms. "My lady, are you okay? Is something wrong with the child?" He whirled to the big horselord, whose face had gone from a scowl of anger to a scowl of apprehension. "You! Come help me, now." He pointed to the floor. "Come on, man!" Even as the giant maester said the words he was eyeing the vase just out of arms reach. Come on, sellsword. Just get close to Myrcella, turn your head for just a moment…

A language barrier only went so far, though. The Dothraki clearly understood that Colmar wanted him to come closer, and also understood that it was to do with the pregnant woman sitting on the bed with her hands on her belly. Weather he believed that something was truly wrong with Myrcella or not Colmar didn't know, but the Dothraki turned to walk towards the door for something. Maybe it was to shout for help for Myrcella or himself, maybe it was to latch the door in case this was a ploy meant to disarm him—which it was. In any case, the Dothraki turned his back from the old man and pregnant girl to stomp towards the door.

Well, at least he turned his back. While he didn't like the Dothraki being that close to the door and having so much ground to cover, Colmar the Grey knew he wouldn't have a better chance than this. Moving quicker than his old bones had in years, Colmar had the vase in his hand and took three long steps towards the bodyguard.

The Dothraki heard him at once, and had spun half way around before Colmar swung the vase with all the strength his form had. The blow took the horselord on the temple, sending the sellarakh reeling to the side as the vase—blue and white, much too pretty for such a primitive use as a club—shattered, sending chunks of pottery tumbling to the floor.

Colmar expected the Dothraki to follow them. He didn't.

The heavily muscled Essossi staggered sideways, big shoulder crashing into the wall of the chamber as he let out a grunt of pain. Even as he caught onto the stone to steady himself with one hand he drew his arakh with the other, eyes, though slightly unfocused from the blow, promising to rip Colmar in two.

Well horseshit. This wasn't part of the plan.

Colmar only stared dumbly for a moment as the Dothraki—who should by all means be unconscious on the floor at this moment—rallied himself from the wall, shoving off as he raised his arakh and took a stumbling step towards the Grandmaester. Myrcella screamed, an understandable reaction though quite unfortunate since this needed to be a quite escape, and Colmar stumbled back in reaction. It saved him, in that the arakh didn't cleave him in two but instead bit into his left arm, slicing clean down through his upper arm as if the Grandmaester was made of parchment instead of muscle and skin. Colmar added his own roar to Myrcella's scream as the blade cut deep, crashing backwards into the small table he had snatched the vase from.

The Dothraki, blood trickling down his temple, took another step towards Colmar, this one much more steady than the last. He was already shaking off the effects of the blow. The Grandmaester stared up at the approaching man, blood pouring in rivulets from his arm and staining his grey robe crimson, unable to do a thing to stop the much younger and stronger warrior.

Colmar couldn't do a thing, but Myrcella could.

The mirror spun end over end to collide with the Dotrhaki's shoulder. It bounced off harmlessly, but it distracted the marching killer from the helpless old man to the pregnant young girl, who was already rearing back to throw a brush, her face terrified as tears ran down her cheeks. The Dothraki turned to march towards her, expression furious as he narrowly dodged the brush.

It bought Colmar all the time he needed. The tears on Myrcella's cheeks drove him to his feet, gripping the table itself, arm screeching in a pain that he completely ignored in his own anger. Is this the battlerage Aelor speaks of? Potent stuff. He heaved the table over his head, his own blood splattering on his face, and with a raspy shout he swung it down hard.

The Dothraki tried again to turn, recognizing his mistake in turning his back on the giant Maester not once but twice, but Colmar hit him this time with the same strength he had wielded as a young man. This time the Dothraki dropped to a knee as the edge of the table smashed into the top of his head. He still didn't go to the ground, pulling his arakh back in an attempt to slice the maester again, but Colmar brought the small table down again even harder. Colmar repeated the motion even after the horselord was prone on the ground and unmoving, bringing the table up and down again and again until the bronzed Dothraki's head was a mass of blood and brain.

With one more roar—all attempts at silence were lost to them now—Colmar bashed the Dothraki's head a final time, allowing the large club to crash to the ground, standing panting over his dead foe. As the adrenaline and battlelust faded, the severe pain in his arm and the dizziness the bloodloss was bringing came back to his attention, as did the presence of Myrcella in the chamber.

The Grandmaester rose back to his full height and faced her, still panting. She recoiled at the sight of him, her face very pale. Colmar didn't blame her, but he knew he didn't have very long to achieve his goal. "Follow me, my lady." He said between pants. "Do not slow down."

She looked form his blood-spattered face to his blood-soaked sleeve. "You…you're…"

Colmar made his voice firm and final. "There isn't time, Myrcella. Come now."

He turned and staggered out the door of the chamber into the hall, where he could already hear the sound of rushing feet. Colmar didn't wait to see if Myrcella was behind him; she had to be.

She has to be.

Colmar ran a staggering run, arm still bleeding heavily, navigating the corridors with a precision none of the enemy occupants—aside from Viserys—possessed. He prayed his co-conspirators had done their part.

They had.

Guards had been posted on all the tunnels under the Red Keep, likely to avoid this exact situation. The two at the entrance in the White Sword Tower—the only unoccupied building in the Red Keep, as Viserys hadn't chosen a Kingsguard—lay dead in puddles of their own dried blood. A shorter, smaller man with a salt and pepper beard stood at the narrow entrance in the bottom, two others who looked much like him at his sides, bloodstained daggers in their hands.

Davos had assisted in the flight of Princess Elia Martell seventeen years earlier, and had been awarded by Aelor with a modest house near the docks, where he plied his trade as an honest fisherman instead of a slightly-less-than-honest smuggler. He had received payments of gold every month from the Crown, ostensibly for his services then.

In truth, they were for his continued services to this very day. Davos was the Crown's man on the docks.

On the wooden moorings of the Narrow Sea he fished and he listened, keeping track of what boats came into and out of the city with as much accuracy as Varys. He discovered their cargos—both legal and illegal—either through drinking with the sailors and earning their tales or by dropping hints on suspicious ships to Varys, who set his own network upon them.

A network Colmar could still access by simply sending a raven meant for the Reach to Davos's small home. The message obviously said nothing of the situation—Viserys' men were triple checking what he wrote—but the smuggler had known the plan if it were to ever happen. Beach his boat in the dead of the night at the same small cove he had saved Princess Elia from years earlier and follow the trail to the first chamber he came to. The men guarding it could have been the only hitch, but Davos was as shrewd as he was discreet. He had come prepared, as Colmar had prayed he would.

Thousands of dragon's worth of illegal goods had been seized thanks to Davos, but he and his sons were about to ply their second biggest service to the crown.

"We need to be quick. My boat has been there all night and these lads have been dead for hours; eventually someone will notice."

The sound of their pursuers—which had grown in cacophony in the last few minutes of flight as more of the castle became aware of the breakout attempt—was close behind. Colmar, panting and dizzy, unceremoniously shoved Myrcella toward them.

"Take her."

Myrcella whirled back around, grabbing his good arm. "Colmar—"

"Go," the Grandmaester roared. "I'll hold that door was long as I can, but you get her out. Their navy will hunt you to no end; don't let her fall into their hands."

Davos only nodded, gingerly taking Myrcella's arm. "She won't. This way, my lady."

Colmar ran to the small chamber door, nearly falling into it as he slammed it with his shoulder. Myrcella protested behind him, but he could barely hear her over the increasingly loud pounding of his own heart. He braced his tired body against the door as she faded and the pursuers neared.

You'll have to get through a seven foot giant to touch her, lads.

As the first few shoves started on the other side, Colmar rallying the last of his strength to the task, he had only one thought.

I couldn't save you, Rhaella, but I've done my best to save your niece or nephew.

I hope you'll forgive me. I suppose I'm about to find out.

The idea didn't bother him in the slightest.

Chapter Text

It was odd, thinking how close he had come to marrying Catelyn Tully.

He still thought of her as a Tully, though she had been Lady Stark for nearly twenty years now. They had almost been friends, he and Cat, all those years ago. The eldest of Hoster Tully's daughters had been a kind, smart girl when Aelor was a carefree, laughing boy. She and her father had spent half a moon at King's Landing when she was one and ten, and the eldest of the Tully girls and the middle of the Targaryen brothers had gotten along splendidly. They were still on good terms at the Tourney of Harrenhal just before the world had gone to hell, though there had never been a romantic interest in one another. Still, Aelor had offered to take her hand in marriage if her father would support the Crown in Robert's Rebellion, and part of Aelor wondered if their match wouldn't have been a good one.

He was glad the late Lord Hoster had rebuffed him, of course, and he was certain Catelyn felt the same. Rumor had it that she and Lord Eddard had a love straight from a story, and Aelor shuddered to think where he would be without his Alysanne. He loved his wife, though he had never been good at showing it. She had kept him sane when he needed her—both at Lannisport and the years since—and she had given him seven healthy, perfect children. With a pang of pain Aelor thought of his daughter, his beautiful, sweet Rhaella, and he ruffled Renlor's hair after they both dismounted, just to assure himself his eldest was still there. Aelor had lived through loss before—his retinue, his best friend, his brother, his mother and his first love—but none of it compared to what he had felt when he'd learned he'd never hold his little girl again.

But it wouldn't do to be an emotional, volatile idiot in this moment and Aelor drove the pain from his mind, though the Seven knew he'd never be rid of it no matter how many years they blessed or cursed him with. As it was, a party awaited them in the courtyard of Winterfell, and the girl who had been his childhood friend was among them. Putting the pain from his face, Aelor strode forward to meet them.

He hadn't seen Catelyn Tully since Harrenhal. She remained in the North, not venturing south of the Neck as Northerners were wont to do, and Aelor had remained in the south, much too busy to travel hundreds of miles from King's Landing to see old friends. Besides, Eddard Stark wasn't a supporter of Aelor. While the Lord Paramount respected Aelor's treatment of Jaehaerys and of Robb when the heir to the North fostered in King's Landing, he was a stubbornly honorable man, and Aelor was a stubbornly ruthless one. Since Lannisport the two had had little to do with one another, and if Lord Stark had been outside Lannisport those years ago Aelor supposed there would have been even more hell to pay than that which he had already suffered.

As it was, Catelyn hadn't changed as much as Aelor knew he himself had. Her high cheekbones, long red hair and bright blue Tully eyes were the same as they had been a lifetime ago, though the face around them was that of a woman instead of a girl. Gone were the dresses of Tully blue, replaced with the greys and the furs of the North. That red hair wasn't in an ornate hairstyle as he remembered it, but instead a simple, practical braid. It was clear to Aelor upon seeing her that Catelyn was a Tully no longer, but the Lady Stark instead.

Aelor was immensely glad to see no sign of Lyanna Stark; he didn't want that headache on top of the others. The other Starks, though, had turned out in force. Cat's two daughters, whom Aelor had met briefly at Duskendale, stood to one side, the older having grown in the months since into a near image of the Catelyn he remembered. To Lady Stark's other side was her sons, the older of which bowed, prompting the other Starks and those surrounding them to do the same. Aelor couldn't help but notice the four direwolves watching the commotion with disturbingly intelligent eyes.

The youngster—Bran, Aelor recalled his name to be—was the acting Lord of Winterfell, his father and older brother commanding the Northerners at the Wall, and Aelor knew to come to a halt in front of him. "Prince Aelor," the young boy said, voice remarkably calm considering the nervous quiver in his hands. "Welcome to Winterfell. The North is at your service."

Aelor nodded his head with a small smile towards the second Stark son. "Well said, young Bran. You have grown." The father in Aelor was amused to see the flash of joy that crossed the young wolf's face at both being remembered and being complemented. Aelor turned to the Ladies Sansa and Arya, inclining his head to the both of them. "As have you, my Ladies." Aelor cocked his head at the youngest, who had not traveled south with the others. "You must be Rickon." The child only stared at him, prompting Aelor to chuckle as he looked up to the mother of them all.

He smiled a genuine smile. "Cat. Or should I call you Lady Stark?"

Catelyn Tully returned it. "Aelor. Or shall I call you Prince?"

The Dragon of Duskendale laughed aloud for the first time in days. "It has been years, my lady. I must compliment you on your children. They all seem to be fine Northerners, and Robb is a boy to be proud of." He gestured to both of his sides, his sons having fallen into step beside him. "These are two of my own, my eldest Renlor and my fourth Baelon."

Catelyn nodded in greeting to them both. "They are fine looking boys. The King informed us of your recent loss. I am so very sorry."

Aelor nodded, though he said nothing more about it. "I see my nephew the King is not among your number, yet he was not among his men camped outside your walls either."

"King Aegon is currently with Lord Dustin a few miles farther south. Lord William is in charge of the remaining Northern men, and my husband has given them orders to travel south with the King and bolster his numbers." She gestured to the fresh snow around them. "A rider was sent out to alert him to your arrival, though I wonder if he'll believe you traveled through the blizzards of the last few days."

Aelor couldn't quite blame him. The snows had increased steadily since they'd departed the Wall, growing more and more savage as the days seemed to grow colder and colder. "They were quite the experience, Lady Stark. But where are my manners; I suppose we should continue conversation inside Winterfell's walls instead of leaving you and your family—and my men—standing out in the cold."

Catelyn's response, which Aelor hoped was an agreement because he was freezing his sword off, was cut short by the sound of hooves. Aelor turned to see his nephew, bundled in furs and his black Targaryen cloak, riding into the courtyard, flanked by Ser Barristan and Ser Balon Swann, a northerner close behind. The white of the Kingsguard armor nearly matched the new fallen snow, while Aegon's brilliant black and crimson stood out stubbornly, though mired by the dabs of grey fur.

Aelor fought down the surge of anger at the sight of the nephew who had kept the death of his daughter from him, sinking down to a knee with the others. Aegon dismounted swiftly and bid them rise, and when Aelor did he saw just how much his nephew was dreading the confrontation in his violet eyes.

As it was the King of the Iron Throne kept his composure, smiling and reaching forward to clasp Aelor's forearm. "Uncle, it is good to see you." He did the same to Renlor and Baelon. "I shall have my squire show your men where to bivouac." Aegon waved his hand and young Dickon Tarly, second born son of Randyll Tarly, rushed forward to the mercenaries and killers waiting patiently around the meeting of nobility. "I trust Lord Bran has greeted you properly; House Stark has been the essence of courtesy."

Aelor gave a forced smile, playing along with Aegon's forced cheer for the benefit of those in the courtyard. Colmar and my wife have taught him disturbingly well. "Aye, Your Grace, they have, though I was just suggesting to Lady Stark and Lord Bran if they mind our moving this meeting out of the cold. My old bones disagree with the cold, and you and I have much to discuss concerning the army."

Aegon nodded. He didn't have much choice. "Of course, with Lord Bran's permission?"

Once received, the party as a whole began to move towards the warmth radiating from Winterfell's keep. Aegon kept the smile upon his face, though Aelor saw the way his hands were clenched in either apprehension or anger; likely both.

For just one disconcerting moment, Aelor recognized the mannerism as one of his own.

"With Lord Bran's Permission. A nice touch; you've become quite the diplomat."

The King sat in the spacious chambers he had been granted, glaring over the recently-used dishes on the table at Aelor. The two men had said nothing to one another over the very simple, very Northern meal of venison and bread. Barristan stood at the doorway, present but out of the way. How many of these same arguments has Barristan the Bold seen between Targaryens? The Seven know why he still serves us. Aegon grunted. "Say your piece, uncle. It is much too cold and I am much too weary to play diplomatic games with you."

Aelor grunted. "I see Alysanne hasn't entirely eradicated your bluntness. I suppose there's too much of me in you for it to ever fully disappear." Aegon wisely said nothing despite the flash in his eyes, and Aelor granted his earlier request. "You were riding south to war without me."

Aegon leaned back, and his words came out clipped and rehearsed. "There will be a war in the North. You were the most capable commander—"

"You forget Randyll Tarly."

Aegon's jaw clenched at the interruption but he kept his tone civil enough through gritted teeth. "He is not a Targaryen."

"And his daughter wasn't burned to death by his brother, yet apparently he deserves to wage war with Viserys instead of me."

The King didn't respond to that statement, instead trying to turn the tables of their argument quickly. "I ordered you to take command at the Wall."

Aelor stared into his nephew's eyes, weary of the jealous hostility he had dealt with for years. "I did take command at the Wall. I then passed that command on to Jaehaerys—who is a Targaryen, before you complain—and chased you south."

"There is going to be a war in the North soon, one that might hold the entire world as we know it in its balance."

Aelor cocked a brow. "Then why aren't you there, Your Grace? If the war in the north might decide the fate of the world and the war in the south only seven of its kingdoms, it seems to me that you are marching the wrong direction." Aelor waved off his nephew's response before it truly began. "No, no, I already know the answer. You think there is more glory to be won in the south. You'd prefer to march to war against your uncle Viserys rather than wait for some unwashed barbarians to mount a futile attack on a Wall. When will you heed my words of wisdom on war, boy; it is all blood and mud and shit and terror. It is not a tourney. There is no glory, no matter what the stories and songs of the unexperienced tell you."

Aegon was as crimson as the three-headed dragon on his doublet. "I am the King. What I decide—"

"Any King who must say 'I am the King' is no true King. You know this; you have been taught so since you were old enough to walk. You were taught many things, though recently I wonder if you truly learned any of it."

Aegon bit his tongue and closed his eyes, clearly angry at being scolded like a child. Aelor normally avoided these sorts of confrontations with his nephew for the sake of the Seven Kingdoms, but the murder of his daughter had wiped nearly all such inhibitions away.

After a long moment of silence, Aegon let out a deep sigh and once again looked at his uncle. "Months ago you told me my decisions were right because I was the one to make them, and now you tell me I am in the wrong. What do you want me to say, uncle? What is it you want to hear from me?"

"Decisions made with your mind are correct. Decisions made with jealousy or other lesser motives are foolish." Aelor's violet eyes bored into Aegon's. "I want to hear why you didn't tell me my daughter was dead." Aelor's voice was cold and sharp, and the King of the Iron Throne flinched as if he had been stabbed.

Aegon looked down and to the side. "I loved her too, you know. In my own way. Not as a woman, but as…Rhaella." The Lord of Duskendale felt a touch of his anger disappear and opened his mouth to answer, but Aegon wasn't done. "I took for granted that we'd be married one day; she would have been one hell of a Queen to the Seven Kingdoms. But instead I made a weak decision, and now she is dead because of it." Aegon returned his gaze to Aelor's, and in them he saw a pain nearing that in Aelor's heart. "How do I live with that, uncle?"

Aelor leaned back, his rage from a moment ago now gone. The two Targaryen's stared at each other for a long while, neither saying a word, before the elder finally broke the silence. "Renfred Rykker. Morgan and Balman Byrch. Elwood Harte. Willis. Alester." He swallowed. "Rhaella." Aegon furled his brow in confusion, and Aelor let out a deep sigh. "Those are just a few of the many people who are dead because of me. I'm not talking of those I've personally killed of course, but those who have died because of my actions or my inactions."

"I…I don't see your point."

Aelor leaned forward, and hesitantly placed a hand on the arm of one who was his son in all but blood. "You and I were both laden with the responsibility of thousands of lives on our shoulders from a young age. We make decisions, some good, some bad, and others pay for our mistakes. That is what it is to be a Targaryen, Aegon. That is what it is to wield power. It isn't glory in battle, it isn't debauchery and sin, it isn't purity and the Seven or riches and wealth. It is to be in charge of thousands of innocent people who can die because of one small mistake we make. We try to prevent it, but we can't. We do our best for the situation we see, but oftentimes we are wrong. I charged across a ford with three thousand men. Over twenty-nine hundred of them died. I didn't. I've pondered that ever since."

Aegon was watching intently, all hints of hostility gone. "Is this supposed to be making me feel better?"

"No, this is to prepare you for what is about to come. The war in the north was rather straight forward; man the Wall and don't let the wildlings or anything else more sinister pass. This war in the south, however, will be nothing like that. You will have decisions, and most of the time you will have no idea which choice to make. That's what your advisors are for. That is what I am for. Men are going to die under your command, Aegon. Maybe Aelor Rykker, maybe Dickon Tarly, maybe even me. You have been trained from birth to be strong enough to handle that. I have faith in you, son, that you will do so."

Aelor removed a hand from the King's arm, taking a long swig from his wine glass partially because he was thirsty from all the talking and partially to give him time to fight back the tears he felt coming at the thought of his young daughter. "Rhaella wasn't your fault, Aegon, it was Viserys' and mine; Viserys' for turning on his family, and mine for bungling your regency enough to drive men to betray you. But I made the decisions I did and I suffered the results, good and bad, and while I would burn a thousand Lannisports to get my daughter back, I wouldn't change any of the things I have done. I cannot second guess myself, and neither can you."

Aegon took a drink from his own glass, the two most powerful men in Westeros letting another silence descend upon them. The scraps of food on their plates from dinner were cold by the time Aegon spoke again. "I am…sorry, uncle. I should never have marched south without at least giving you the entirety of the story. You had a right to know, and I do not know if I can win this war—either of them—without you."

Aelor smiled a shadow of a smile. "You are my King, Aegon. I hope you will lean on my experience as well as that of Barristan and Randyll Tarly and the others, but in the end I will do as you say."

The Dragon of Duskendale hesitated a moment before going on. "I almost killed your father once. I thought he was insane. I still do. But Rhaegar Targaryen knew more than I could have ever fathomed, and one thing he was always certain of was that you, Aegon the Sixth, would be the greatest king Westeros has ever seen. While I didn't always agree with my brother's ideas—I rarely agreed with my brother's ideas—we always agreed on that."

Aelor killed the rest of his wineglass. "We have wars to win, you and I. We'd best do it together."

Chapter Text

No amount of physical labor could make a man as weary as fighting a war did, but this came absurdly close.

"You have a whole army of men to do this, yet here you and I stand. I'm going to have to start charging you double."

The Hand of the King grunted, even as he heaved a shovelful of snow onto the cart behind him. "I don't even know what I'm paying you now."

"Which means you can afford it." Bronn added another shovelful of the infuriating stuff to the side before pushing the head of the shovel into the snow and bending backwards. Aelor did the same, giving the screaming muscles in the small of his back a painfully pleasant stretch. I'm growing old. He let out an annoyed sigh when more snowflakes began to trickle down from the grey, forbidding skies above. What I wouldn't give for just one moment of sunshine.

To either side of them worked dozens of men, shovels and mattocks almost playing a rhythmic tune as they bit into the several feet of fresh snow that had covered their work of the previous day. Men along the frontline where he and Bronn stood would shovel mounds of the freshly fallen snow onto carts, which were then pulled to the side and dumped. Muscled men with mattocks slightly behind them hacked away at the harder, packed snow towards the bottom of what once had been the Kingsroad, swinging until the slick ice and uneven snow gave way to solid enough ground that the wagons of provisions could move forward another few inches.

The ride from the Wall to King's Landing would take several months with an army in perfect conditions. These conditions, however, were anything but perfect, and it had taken King Aegon's forces five moons just to reach Moat Cailin. The Seven knew how long it would take them to safely traverse the treacherous swamps of the Neck, even with the slightly built Crannogmen as their guides.

The snows that had chased Aelor and his retinue to Winterfell had only increased in both ferocity and frequency. Some nights a foot or more of snow would be dumped on the camp, forcing the men to once again clear that which they had the day before. The wagons of provisions and supplies couldn't travel until the road had been cleared; more than one had begun to go over freshly fallen snow only to sink in or, worse yet, tilt to the side on weaker patches and snap a wheel or axle.

King Aegon had been forced to slow to a grinding, infuriating crawl forward. Teams of men worked at all hours, clearing the road and moving the supply train up before another team of men replaced them. The tents where men huddled together for warmth against the bitter cold had lost all sense of organization, no longer set up each night in orderly rows. Instead they were spread out ragtag along the road behind them, many of them touching those beside them. The only latrines were those men dug out into the snow mounting on either side of their road, and those were quickly filled, making the camp a stinking, treacherous shithole of a place.

And a cold one. I can work with a shovel until I'm ready to die of exhaustion, and I'm still freezing my balls off.

Although none of that truly mattered all that much if they weren't able to resupply before too much longer. Hunting parties made up mostly of the husky Northerners who were used to the snow—though all agreed they'd never seen anything quite like this—returned with deer, rabbit, nearly anything edible to supplement the rations in the wagons. While Aelor knew it would be demoralizing and hard towards the end when rations were cut, he didn't believe the men would starve before they made it to the southern lands, where harvests were more plentiful and more could be drawn from the nobles and villages around. Water was of no concern either, as all a man had to do was strike a flame and melt some of the plentiful snow.

It was fodder for the hundreds of horses and oxen, both animals of labor and animals of war, that was proving worrying. Oats were unattainable here in the middle of a snow covered north, and most had already been eaten through. What remained was being fed only to the destriers and coursers, warhorses that needed to keep their strength up. The palfreys, drafts and oxen were being regulated to tree bark that foraging parties stripped off of any trees they came across. While the thick, adaptable oxen were handling the conversion decently enough, many of the drafts and palfreys were rapidly losing weight. More than one had perished from the cold as well, their hides being used as warmth and their meat roasted and served to the men. If they were held up for too much longer in the forbiddingly cold North, King Aegon would be attacking King's Landing on foot.

And if things truly turned sour and more than a few horses started dying, he may be doing it with his belly full of dead man.

"Come now, Bronn," the Dragon of Duskendale said as he returned to the laborious work ahead of him. "What else would we be doing if not this? A war camp is a boring place when there isn't much war going on."

Bronn snorted, unamused. "I can think of half a dozen things I could be doing, each warmer than the last."

"You're talking about the girls from Mole's and Winter Town."

"Yes I'm talking about the girls from Mole's and Winter Town. You can't tell me you'd rather be shoveling fucking snow than fucking one of them."

Aelor grinned slightly. "I can tell you that, Bronn, but I suppose the idea of a wife is a dangerous one to you."

The black haired sellsword grunted as he dumped another shovelful. "If that wife is hundreds of miles and thousands of feet of snow away it sure as shit is. Doesn't do much to keep me warm in the here and now does it?" Bronn stood up from shoveling for a moment to look the Hand of the King over. "Man looks like you could have any one of them for free most like, even that expensive redheaded one considering the way she looks at you. The way all women look at you is frankly irritating."

Aelor let his grin grow into a full smile at that. He liked Bronn; the man was almost as uncouth as Ser Manfred had been, and he gave zero shits about Your Gracing or My Lording. He simply gave his opinion and did what he was paid to do, no matter what that was.

And he had a high aptitude for killing, which was all the better.

"You mean the way she looks at all men. She's a whore, Bronn; they're supposed to look at men like that."

Bronn went back to digging. "Don't ruin it for me; I rather like to think she looks at me for my pretty face."

"Bronn the Beauty; now that is a name worthy of a song."

The two killers bent back to their task. Hours later, as Aelor fell into his cot under a mountain of furs, he prayed to all the Seven Gods that Alysanne was somewhere warm.

The cry cut through the hot air of the birthing chamber.

Alysanne Targaryen stuck her head out of the door, bellowing down the corridor in a tone similar to her husband's command voice. "Aemma, hurry with that water!"

The Queen of the Seven Kingdoms—or as close to one as they had anyway—darted back to her good-daughter's side, muscling by one of the birthing women in the process. Alysanne knew the midwife was probably more important than she herself was, but she had given birth to seven healthy, squalling children, and the child on the way was her first grandchild.

A grandmother at thirty and seven, with a child of my own less than a nameday old. Renlor and Myrcella are trying to make me old before my time.

None of the women here besides Alysanne, Dany and Myrcella herself knew for a certainty that the child being born was in fact a bastard, and none would know if she could help it. Alysanne would gladly throw any who try and claim such down the Moon Door Sweetrobin was always chittering on about.

Margaery, the fiercely intelligent Tyrell girl currently crouched on the other side of the birthing bed and gripping one of Myrcella's hands, probably suspected as much; Margaery was much too sharp and Myrcella too unpolished at lying for her not to catch the slips and hesitations in the soon-to-be-mothers speech. But the Rose of Highgarden had proven loyal to Alysanne and her family, and in her the Lady of Duskendale felt a small measure of trust. Margaery could have traveled with Lord Tyrion to the western coast and there secured an escort back to the Reach and her kin, but she had insisted on remaining with the Royal Family. Maybe it was a plot to imbed herself deeper into Targaryen good graces and make herself queen, maybe it was a sense of duty as one of Daenerys' ladies-in-waiting to remain with her Lady, or maybe it was genuine affection for the Targaryen children; Alysanne didn't know. But whatever the Tyrell beauty's motives, Alysanne was thankful she was here.

Myrcella had escaped the Red Keep by the sacrifice of Grandmaester Colmar, the giant, disfigured man dying to ensure Viserys lost his most valuable bargaining chip. Alysanne had heard of Davos, the former smuggler who had whisked Elia Martell and others to safety during the sack of King's Landing, but she had never met the man until he, his wife and four of his sons arrived with Myrcella at the Eyrie. He had risked everything to fulfill his duty to the crown, and Aemma had managed to talk the prickly Lysa Tully into giving his family refuge as well.

He had earned it in Alysanne's mind; his three eldest sons had died defending the rest of them from Viserys' tracking parties.

It was a miracle in and of itself that Myrcella had not lost the child during the stressful flight for the Eyrie, and another miracle that Arthur Dayne and his party of riders had come across the ragtag band of escapees near the Twins, Davos trying to bring Myrcella and his family to the safety of the armies in the North. The Sword of the Morning had been drawn in by the sounds of pursuit and the sight of Viserys' banner, annihilating one of the searcher bands though not before the third of Davos' sons had bleed out. They had arrived in the Eyrie, bloody and freezing, Myrcella close to collapsing.

Though the Langward girl had seemed to recover in the weeks afterwards, the child was still coming several weeks early, and Alysanne wondered if her harrowing experiences were a part of the cause.

Aemma returned bearing two buckets of fresh snowmelt, and Alysanne felt a brief brush of motherly love towards the girl. The red-haired, blue-eyed Arryn of the Vale had done much for the Targaryen name in the last moons, securing them access to the impenetrable Eyrie and going toe to toe with her isolated, rather unpleasant mother. Lysa Tully wasn't a bad woman, but she cared for little beyond her children and how much power she could wield, power that she understandably felt was threatened by the arrival of a Targaryen Princess and the wife to the Hand of the King. Aemma had been the mediator of several disagreements between Alysanne and Lysa, and was in her own way fighting as fiercely for Aegon's cause here as her twin brother Artys was in the Riverlands.

And now she was a willing midwife at the birth of yet another.

Myrcella's pained cry drug Alysanne out of her reverie, and she returned her attention to the birthing bed and the future Lord or Lady of Duskendale that was about to be born.

Dragons were creatures of fire in a world of ice, but they didn't seem to even notice.

Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen ran a hand over the short silvery-blonde hair on her head, the regrowth itching something fierce. On her lap sat Rhaegal, named for both the slain brother she had never known and the slain niece who had died when the dragons came to life, his green and bronze scales radiating heat through the layers of furs she had donned. His growing body was wrapped around her middle, golden eyes closed as he dozed soundly.

She had worried when the snows began to fall as heavy and earnestly as they had that her children—for that was what they were to her—may be negatively affected or even, Seven forbid, die; they were cold-blooded, after all, and lizards and other reptiles didn't fare well in weather as severely cold as this. But dragons were fire made flesh, and while they preferred to sleep nearly in contact with the flames in the hearth in Dany's rooms they showed no sign of aversion to the cold itself.

And they were growing. Gods were they growing.

White-scaled Aelon, named after another brother who had saved the Targaryen dynasty, was at her feet, gnawing like a dog on the bones of the sheep the three dragons had eaten for dinner. Feeding them was a worrying task, as the more they grew the hungrier they became, and she couldn't risk too much of the Eyrie's winter reserves to feed them. While she had kept them for the most part under control, the bigger they became the more of a threat she worried they would be to not only the Arryns but perhaps even Alysanne and the others.

That fear was multiplied when she looked to Balerion.

The black dragon was the biggest and fastest growing of them all, and had in the past few days taken to the skies for short stints, something his brothers had yet to do. He was there now, body steaming as he cut through the falling snow above the Eyrie. Fiercely intelligent and utterly ferocious, Balerion seemed to be the incarnate of his namesake, Balerion the Black Dread, the same dragon who had turned the great towers of Harrenhal into melted ruins. He flew farther and farther every day, and her control over him was limited. While he always returned to feed and flew to Daenerys' balcony at night to curl around his brothers at the hearth, he was clearly the most willful of the three.

Willful enough to start hunting on his own, if the blackened bones of cats and goats found around the Eyrie were any indicator.

Dany watched him far above her, pride and fear and power coursing through her veins at the thought of what he could become. While she knew dragons would only solidify and ensure Targaryen rule for generations—and she would slaughter anyone who dared try to harm them—she also wasn't blind to the dangers they represented. What would her father Aerys have been capable of if he had had dragons under his control? What would Aelor have done?

How many more Houses besides the Darklyns, Hollards and Rogers would those two men had eliminated?

"Brilliant, isn't he?"

Dany was shaken from her thoughts by the voice behind her, turning even as she answered, Rhaegal raising his long neck as he awoke. "He becomes more so every—"

Alysanne was smiling at her, holding a bundle in her arms. It was thickly covered in swaddles against the chill of the courtyard and Alysanne held him close to her chest, but resting in those swaddles and furs was a tiny, silver-haired child.

"Daenerys, I would like you to meet your great-nephew and future Lord of Duskendale, Lucaerys Targaryen."

Dany started forward, smile enigmatic, when a shadow darted down. Balerion was suddenly hovering between them, wings flapping, muzzle close to the bundle in Alysanne's arms.

Daenerys and Alysanne both froze, Balerion seeming to have descended quicker than light. Fear almost paralyzed Dany at the thought that the black dragon may see the minutes-old child as prey. Alysanne seemed to have the same idea, slowly starting to shift her grandson away from the sniffing snout of Balerion.

And then little Lucaerys' eyes opened, staring out of his swaddles at the dragon hovering inches from him.

With two hard flaps of his growing wings Balerion took back to the skies, flame liquefying the falling snow as the dragon roared in seeming adulation.

Dany could have sworn little Lucaerys Targaryen smiled.

The King in King's Landing was bored. So far his rule had consisted of the execution of five guardsmen for incompetency and mounting an old man's head on a spike. That was it, no battles aside from the one to take the city that he hadn't participated in, no sieges, no nothing, just an endless cycle of sitting and waiting.

The Red Keep and King's Landing were well prepared for the falling snow, their winter reserves having been built up over the years of peace during Aegon's rule. Her walls and defenses were unmarred after the coup that had taken the city, and any damage caused by the limited fighting had long been undone. The city was strong, and Viserys had been counseled that waiting for an attack by his enemies was wisest. While several houses had declared for Viserys and the Ironborn were doing an exemplary job of tying down the armies of Edmure Tully and Mace Tyrell, he was still outnumbered, and the strong defenses of King's Landing were his best bet of repulsing any attacks.

That was all well and good in the strategy room, but it was driving Viserys positively insane with impatience.

His nephew and brother were lost somewhere in the snows of the North, scouts unable to fight through the ice north of the Neck to give any solid information. Myrcella had seemed to escape him, that bloody cunt Colmar the Grey having managed to facilitate her escape, but the presence of Elia Sand as a hostage and the threat of the Ironborn was keeping the Dornish and their armies a respectable distance South. Viserys wished to go forward and attack one or the other, pinning one of the armies between his own and the Ironborn, but his council was severely opposed, and he could see the sense of it even if he didn't want to.

The snows were deep and frequent, and he held the advantage if he stayed in the capitol. If he left it, nothing was to stop the Dornish from assaulting or the armies in the west to forget the Ironborn for the chance to destroy him.

So Viserys waited. And waited. And waited.

Gods was he tired of waiting.

House Payne of the Gold Road in the Westerlands had declared for him, Lord Lorimer never having taken to Tyrion Lannister as his Lord. He brought with him two thousand knights and levies. The Thornes of Blackwater Rush had done the same, Lord Alester and his lands too close to the capital and too far from friendly forces to do otherwise. While his loyalty was certainly circumspect, he was an accomplished warrior and an excellent commander, and he could prove quite useful. The Stokeworths had sworn for him, as had the representatives of young Lady Ermesande Hayford of Hayford, though both had only done so once Golden Company men were at their doorsteps. While none of that was to be overly trusted, it did secure the surrounding lands to his cause, at least in name. Lord Gyles Rosby had remained loyal, but his men were north with the King and his keep had capitulated easily. The old, dying man was currently another hostage of Viserys, though he wondered if he should kill him and be done with it.

His Kingsguard was four strong for now, and he was reserving the other spots for future appointments. He had knighted and named Alester Strong to the order, the lad loyal and deadly. He had also named Ser Gerold Hasty, the brother of one of Lord Andrus Buckler's bannermen, to the white cloaks, a reputed excellent swordsman. It also helped to acknowledge the help the Bucklers and others of Renly's forces had given in securing the capitol, playing as much political importance as relevant move for the safety of his person.

Will Cole of the Golden Company had been appointed, as had the Jogos Nhai man Nhogo. A head shorter than the average Westerosi men and bowlegged, Nhogo had the pointed cranium of most Jogos Nhai, the result of his people's custom of binding the head of their infants for the first two years of life. His appointment was all prudence, as the odd little man was death with the odder blade he carried. The Westeros nobility would scoff at the appointment of such a foreigner to such a position, but this was to be a new world under Viserys, and he saw no need to explain his actions.

He had most of his guard, he had his army, and he had his capitol. All he needed was his Queen.

But that seemed to keep getting farther and farther away.

So Viserys sat in his chambers in the Red Keep, glaring out at the snow falling in droves around him, and brooded. He was a King now, but for a moment he felt like nothing had changed from his days in Summerhall.

Jaehaerys Targaryen was roused by a cold snout pressed to his face and a knock on the door.

"Jae," came the muffled call through the door, and Ghost brought him to a higher level of alert by licking his face. The Prince of the Iron Throne gently pushed the albino wolf away, rising to a sitting position and squinting in the darkness. The windows of his chambers showed it to still be dark outside, and doubtlessly pouring the snow. The door to his chamber was outlined with a small ray of light, evidence whoever was knocking had a torch or candle.

"Come in," the Prince called, voice thick with sleep, averting his eyes as the door opened and light streamed in.

His cousin Aemon stood in the doorway, wearing several layers of furs and holding a torch. His always-serious face held an even more somber tone than usual. "You're going to want to see this."

He descended the steps of the King's Tower sometime later, adjusting his sword belt with his direwolf ahead of him and nephew behind, Ser Borran of the Bramsfort waiting at the bottom. Aemon didn't need to direct him, for a gathering of men were huddled in the courtyard beside the gate through the Wall, shrouded in thick furs and breathing heavy bursts of steam into the night air. Jaehaerys quickly made his way towards them, sliding between two men in the black cloaks of the Night's Watch to the center of the circle.

Laying there, blood frozen where it had spread around the mess that had been made of his stomach, lay a man in Targaryen livery.

Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, gruff and blunt, filled the Prince of the Iron Throne in. "He was drug in behind his horse, tied to the pommel of the saddle. None of the rest of his patrol has come back."

Aemon, voice quite, spoke from beside him. "It's Lucas Flowers, Your Grace."

Jaehaerys knew that, of course. Lucas Flowers was a bastard brother of Lord Horas Appleton of the Reach. He was a member of Aelor's retinue, though his uncle had instructed him to remain behind with Jaehaerys at the Wall. Flowers was an excellent scout, and had volunteered to help keeps eyes on the slowly advancing wildling force. Mance Rayder had numbers to be certain, but those numbers took much longer to move than the normal force, especially in the snows that had begun falling. Still, Rayder had had weeks, and the scouts had been reporting he was growing ever closer.

Now he was very close indeed.

Lord Eddard Stark held command of the Nightfort, having replaced Aelor in the capacity when the Hand of the King went south, but Robb had remained at Castle Black with Jaehaerys. The heir to the North looked to have been roused from his sleep the same as Jaehaerys, but he gestured towards Flowers' chest, eyes focused. "He has something pinned to his chest, Prince Jaehaerys."

Jaremy Rykker, brother to the dead Lord who had been Aelor's finest friend, knelt by the corpse of Flowers, pulling a small blade loose from his chest with a gut-wrenching slunk. Unaffected, Rykker brought the note dutifully to Jaehaerys, who unfolded the bloody piece of tanned animal skin. The words were blunt and to the point, as was the name signed at the bottom.

Jaehaerys found his voice, informing the gathering of black brothers, lords and knights around him. "It's from Mance Rayder."

Lord Commander Mormont peered close. "What's the bastard say?"

Jaehaerys reread the short missive twice for folding it up. "He simply says there are things out there that will do worse than this to us all." Hard to imagine, considering the mess of intestines Flower's had become. It was clear he hadn't died quickly. "He wants us to send an envoy to set up a parlay."

Lord Cleyton Byrch, he who had rode to glory beside Jaehaerys' uncle during Robert's Rebellion, snorted disdainfully. "The man is mad. We have the advantage."

Jaremy Rykker shook his head. "We brothers of the Watch know what he refers to, Lord Byrch. I don't condone siding with wildlings in any way, but it may be worth seeing what he has to say."

Ser Borran was appalled at that. "And risk the Prince in a parlay with savages who do this to men? Come off it, man."

Jaehaerys was lost in his own thought as the men around him erupted into argument. Jaehaerys had taken a few sorties North of the Wall, but he hadn't gone beyond a day or two rides from Castle Black. The only threats he had seen in the north was that posed by the wildlings, having seen them in battle at the Nightfort. His brain told him this was a bad idea.


Jaehaerys had seen his uncle Eddard execute one of the Night's Watch deserters. The man had been a ranger, reputed as one of the best, but he had been terrified the day he had died, and it wasn't at the prospect of death then and there. No, he seemed to have almost welcomed the swing of Ned Stark's sword.

It was clear he was running from something. Jaehaerys had seen battle with wildlings, and while he had been scared out of his wits it hadn't turned him into a man seeking death.

As the men raged at one another around him, Jaehaerys stood motionless, considering his options. His brain told him to ignore Mance Rayder's offer of parlay. His gut, however, told him it might be worth seeing what the man had to say. His lords and most members of the Watch wouldn't like the idea, especially considering the grisly manner in which the message had been delivered. They would rage at him, they would call him foolish.

But he was in command here, not them.

"My lords," he said quietly over the din of arguing men, more and more knights and black brothers joining the commotion. Jaehaerys tried again, yelling at the top of his voice. "My lords!" Silence slowly descended as Jaehaerys stepped into the circle beside the body of Lucas Flowers. "I will accept his offer of parlay."

Jaehaerys shouted again to stop the explosion of voices. "We will make it a neutral spot, and we will be weary of ambush, but in the grand scheme of things I am nothing. It's the Wall he needs destroy, not the man in command of it. My death or the death of Lord Commander Mormont wouldn't solve his problem and he knows it, yet he offers parlay as it is. I will go north and see what this King-Beyond-The-Wall has to say. That is my command, and it will be obeyed."

Aemon spoke quietly, through the angry silence at his cousin's words. "You'll have a hard time finding a man to act as envoy after…that." The future Lord of the Golden Tooth gestured towards the corpse at Jaehaerys' feet.

The Prince of the Iron Throne shook his head. "I won't be asking any of my soldiers or the men of the Night's Watch." His mind wandered as it often did to a pair of grey-green eyes set too far apart. He had kept himself away from them and their owner in the months since her capture, but he now looked towards the Grey Keep, where she had been held all this time. "I have just the envoy in mind, and she is no man."

Chapter Text

Jaehaerys had been told months ago that there were hardly ever prisoners at the Wall. It was simpler for the few men of the Watch to kill their enemies then and there rather than have to house and clothe and feed them. Besides, any prisoners they did take usually ended up in the ice cells, and those more often than not finished whatever job the black brothers had started.

But exceptions had been made for the wildling girl who Jaehaerys' still couldn't name. His uncle Aelor had rode in issuing orders that a proper room be found somewhere to hold the girl, and Ser Jaremy Rykker—who once had been the squire of the Targaryen prince of war—had been intelligent enough to insist it be far away from where any men were camped, particularly men of the Night's Watch. The Grey Keep was an old building, and in the heyday of the Night's Watch had housed over a thousand brothers at a time. Now, though, it was nearly in ruins, no longer utilized as a barracks but instead a store room. It was there that an old officer chamber had been appropriated for the wildling, and there she had remained for months.

Until today, when grey-green eyes were staring at him defiantly from a chair across from his small work desk.

Ser Borran stood directly behind the wildling girl, his hand on his dagger, ready to unsheathe it and slit the girl's neck if she made a move for Jaehaerys. The Wolf Prince thought that was rather unlikely, firstly because she was chained to the chair and secondly because Ghost sat directly beside him, staring at the wildling with his red eyes. Her eyes kept flickering to the albino, as if she expected Jaehaerys to order him to leap the table and rip her throat out. Jaehaerys let her think it.

He had needed time to catch his breath. Her clothing was worn thin, and though she had been appropriated a tub for a bath rather frequently her hair was slightly matted, her already pale skin gone paler. Yet still, she was beautiful.

He finally found his voice after the silence had gone on for well over a minute. "What is your name?"

The redheaded wildling glared across the table at him, and for a moment the Prince thought she wouldn't say anything. But suddenly she began speaking, her tone a sweet dulcet even when dripping with anger and contempt. "I recognize you, y'know, even without that hunk of steel you southerners wear over you're fuckin heads. You're the one I was going to gut before the demon jumped in."

Whatever he had been expecting her to say, it wasn't that. "I….how?"

"The way you hold yourself, like the whole fucking world is yours to control. I bet you're one of those dragon cunts, aren't ya, the ones who lord it over millions of people. I thought you were s'posed to have silver hair and be able to shit fire, not look like some green boy."

Ser Borran spoke sharply. Jaehaerys imagined the man held a grudge; he was still limping from the arrow the redhead had shot into his knee. "You'll speak with more respect, girl."

The wildling tried to turn around, though the chains pinning her wrists to the chair stopped her form getting too far. "Or what, you'll throw me back in the shithole you dumped me in after the demon did this?" She twitched her right hand, and Jaehaerys winced at the mostly healed nubs where her index finger was missing and her middle finger was removed from just below the second knuckle. "Please, do me the favor and finish what you started!"

"Peace, Ser Borran," Jaehaerys said, stopping the Kingsguard from raising a hand to the girl, who whirled back around to him.

"Why, afraid he'll damage your whore more than the silver-haired fuck already did?"

It took Jaehaerys a long moment to realize what the wildling girl seemed to believe she was here for. He was instantly both horrified and embarrassed, blood running to his cheeks. The girl saw it, and leaped upon it relentlessly, tone mockingly sweet and sensual. "What's the matter, never done it before? None of those kneelers down south would have you so you figure to use a captive at your mercy?"

Jaehaerys unsuccessfully fought the deepening blush. "That is not what you are here for, my lady."

That seemed to throw her for a slight loop, as her face lost its vicious smile. "It's not?"

Being the one with the upper hand—slight as it was—helped Jaehaerys regain a bit of his equilibrium. "No, it is not. Now if you'll kindly let me speak more than one sentence at a time, I'll explain it to you." He quickly threw the note he had received the night before on the table between them, still stained crimson with Lucas Flowers' blood. He somehow doubted this wildling would be able to keep her mouth shut too long, and he knew she'd speak if it meant spiting him. "I received this from Mance Rayder. It was delivered pinned to one of my scout's chest while his entrails bloodied the snow beneath him."

The girl made no move to look at the note on the table, and Jaehaerys suddenly wondered if she had ever been taught to read. The Prince quickly spoke again in case she hadn't, the differences in their life stations no more clear than in that moment. "He wants to talk, claiming there is something North of the Wall that will do far worse to us all than he did to my scout."

The wildlings eyes got wide, and for the first time her voice held no scorn or anger. "He's right."

Jaehaerys nodded. "Aye, the men of the Watch reported as much. I don't know if I believe it or not, but they've told me enough to know I may want to hear what your King has to say."

The intelligence in her grey-green eyes was clearly an accurate representation of her mind. "You want me to set this meeting up with Mance."

Jaehaerys nodded. "Yes, I do."

She eyed him curiously. "I climbed this bloody thing to get away from what I was running from. What makes you think I'll go back?"

"Because if you do, it might well save your people."

"We're the Free Folk."

Jaehaerys cut off whatever bullshit excuse she was about to give, because they both knew she would accept. "And you're free to go back and try to save them." They locked eyes for a moment, and Jaehaerys took her silence for the yes it was. "Ser Jaremy Rykker and Lord Commander Mormont have selected the site we agree to, and it is the only site we agree to. Your King may bring ten men. I'll bring the same number. If more than that arrives we'll turn and ride without hearing a single word. He is to send a rider back under a white flag to inform us whether he agrees to our terms or not. That is the only offer he will receive; if he refuses, he can bash his armies against the Wall for as long as he wants, but our men will hold against all he throws at me. I imagine he knows that."

He laid a rolled piece of parchment on the table; if Mance Rayder could write he imagined the man could read. "All of it is listed there. Deliver it to your King. If he is truly concerned for the threat you claim is behind him, he is unlikely to refuse."

Jaehaerys waved his hand, and Ser Borran dutifully released the girl's hands from her bonds. She rubbed her wrists, her movements with her right hand ginger and careful, before taking the parchment. "When."

"Now. A horse and several fur cloaks and provisions are awaiting you. Ser Borran will escort you."

Jaehaerys watcher her hips move as she rose to her feet and began to follow the white-cloaked knight. His eyes snapped back to hers when she abruptly turned around. "Who do I say this message is from?"

"Jaehaerys Targaryen."

She nodded knowingly. "I knew you were one of those dragon cunts." She hesitated just a moment. "I'm Ygritte."

He ran the name through his mind long after she had followed Ser Borran out the door.

Jaehaerys decided he'd never heard a prettier one.

The King-Beyond-the-Wall had accepted, as they knew he would.

He wasn't much to look at, at least not physically. In truth he looked rather unremarkable middle-aged man, brown eyes peering out of a sharp face framed by long hair that was mostly gray. He was of middling height, a touch broad through the shoulders but lean of stomach. He bore no banner, and dressed in simple ringmail and breeches, covered in a cloak of black wool and red silk. He wore no helm or crown, and the men and women walking around him walked in no particular order that Jaehaerys could see.

Yet still, any man could look upon Mance Rayder and see he was in charge in the way he carried his head held high and his shoulders back. Jaehaerys wondered if that was what Ygritte had seen in him that allowed her to guess he was a Prince.

The meeting was taking place half a day north of the Wall, in a natural clearing. The ride had been hard through deep, deep snow, but the horses had managed well enough. Men carried only that which was on them, avoiding the need to pull wagons along through the treacherous white. Three hundred hardened soldiers awaited Jaehaerys and his party only the blow of a horn away, and the Wolf Prince supposed Mance had additional forces waiting as well. The men around Jaehaerys were on high alert, ready for any kind of treachery the wildlings might throw at them. The Prince doubted Rayder would have arrived if he intended to dishonor their parlay, and as he had told the men the night Lucas Flowers' was returned Jaehaerys was only one man. His death would ultimately men little to the defense of the Wall, whereas his willingness to listen to what Rayder had to say might mean a whole hell of a lot.

But in any case, Ghost and Grey Wind flanked the line of ten horsemen, ears perked. Jaehaerys had no doubt the disturbingly smart direwolves would detect any type of treachery.

Lord Commander Mormont grunted as the wildlings grew close. The Old Bear had a hatred for wildlings that outdated his service to the Night's Watch—the Mormonts of Bear Island had been fighting their incursions for years—but he had insisted he come along with Prince Jaehaerys for the parlay. While Jaehaerys worried the prejudice he clearly bore Rayder and his men might alter his judgement, the Lord Commander had willingly followed Jaehaerys' commands thus far, no matter his likely distrust of the Prince's youth. Ser Jaremy Rykker was the only other member of the Night's Watch present, and his face was scrunched in the same distaste as Mormont's.

Ser Borran had obviously come along, and of course Robb Stark, Jaehaerys wanting both the additional senses of Robb's direwolf and the presence of the heir to the North, in case the unforeseeable agreement was to happen. Five other of the strongest fighters at Castle Black accompanied them, and his retinue was rounded out by his cousin Aemon. He wouldn't be much help if it came to a fight, but quiet Aemon had beaten against Jaehaerys' will, wishing to be there to see what could well be a legendary meeting.

Or a horribly doomed one. Either way, Jaehaerys was certain Aemon would write every facet of it down.

Rayder's retinue was a conglomeration of men and women unlike anything Jaehaerys had seen, growing in differences as they neared. Ygritte was among the number, grey-green eyes on Jaehaerys from the beginning. A big wildling with a mane and beard of red walked closest to Mance, and another man in armor made entirely of human bone was on the opposite side. An ugly, squat woman with the head of a dog on a spear was present, as well as a disturbingly beautiful blonde-haired woman in all white fur. A tall, bald man with an axe the size of Jaehaerys was also there, and the Prince recognized his characteristics as that of a Thenn, the cannibalistic wildlings of the far north. The others were variations of massive beards and fur, most wearing trophies on their bodies.

But one thing stood out to Jaehaerys more than the rest.

There were only eight of them.

The two sides eyed each other coldly as the wildling party came to a stop fifteen feet in front of Jaehaerys, the southerner's peering down from their horses and the true northerners glaring up from the ground.

Rayder spoke first, eyes on Jaehaerys. "Ygritte here told me you didn't look much like a Targaryen. Seems to me she was right. You must be the half-Stark one."

Lord Commander Mormont had told Jaehaerys months ago that Rayder had once been a brother of the Night's Watch, serving at the Shadow Tower under Ser Denys Mallister. He had abandoned the Watch less than a decade earlier, so it was of no surprise to Jaehaerys that Rayder had an idea of southern politics. Still, he couldn't afford to show any weakness to Rayder, neither in resolve or character. "My name is Jaehaerys Targaryen, Prince of the Iron Throne. You're Mance Rayder, King Beyond the Wall."

Rayder nodded. "Aye, that's what they call me."

Jaehaerys gestured towards the eight men and women surrounding him. "I believe the terms were ten men apiece."

Rayder smiled a tiny smile. "Aye, and I've brought them. I only figured I'd give you a fair warning before the last two arrive."

Jaehaerys felt the urge to grasp the hilt of his sword, eyeing Rayder untrustingly. "Fair warning of what?"

The-King-Beyond-the-WallThe-King-Beyond-the-Wall's smile grew. "Hold on tightly to your horses." He gestured to the squat woman, who raised her spear with the impaled dog head and waved it too and fro.

Ghost and Grey Wind both bristled, growling low, as a giant snowbear emerged from the trees on the wildling side of the clearing, trotting towards the line with a man atop its back. The horses instantly tried to balk, his cousin's ignoring his rider's attempts to control him and slinging from side to side. Two of the fighters rushed to assist him, keeping his animal from throwing Aemon to the ground, but the heir to the Golden Tooth looked green in the face already. That slowly turned to white as another figure, almost human except for its immense size.

A giant. That is a giant. Gods be good, they truly exist.

The figure stomped towards them at a slower pace than the unnerving bear, which would stand nearly as tall as the giant if it stood on its hind paws. The immensity of the creature was nearly unbelievable even when it was staring him in the face, and as Jaehaerys noted with no small amount of discomfort the giant was staring straight at him as he approached. Robb barked a command at Grey Wind when the direwolf snarled as the bear came to a stop, the small man atop it eyeing both the grey and white wolf with an odd interest, considering he already sat atop the massive bear.

Jaehaerys snapped a similar staying command to Ghost, his own albino wolf lowering down and baring its teeth at the bear, who watched the whole ordeal as if nothing was out of the ordinary. The giant soon came to a stop, towering over everything present, looking as if one swing of his mighty arm could take out the entire line of Jaehaerys and his men.

The Prince realized it very well could.

"You see," Mance Rayder said, that same smile still in position, "All my men are here to see what it is you have to say."

Jaehaerys fought to regain his composure, tearing his eyes away from the awesome giant who could crush him like an insect and back to the unspectacular King. He wanted to show his power. Jaehaerys put a cool calmness in his voice that he certainly didn't feel. "The body of my scout sent your message clear enough. There is no need for these…exhibitions."

"Oh, but there you're wrong. I have to prove to you that I'm a threat to your Wall, because if I'm not why would you take me seriously? Sure, I have you outnumbered by thousands, but I'm on the wrong side of that Wall for them to be much good. I've sent hundreds of men to climb it, yet none of them have returned or drawn your men away."

Jaehaerys knew over twenty bands of wildlings, most of them small but several of them numbering over one hundred, had been caught trying to climb the Wall or slip around the Bay of Ice. All had been soundly defeated by the new garrisons manning all the old castles of the Watch, though he had no idea how Rayder would have any idea whether they had succeeded or not.

He couldn't ask, though, for Rayder wasn't finished. "Except for Ygritte, that is, and I figured her as lost for dead months ago. Yet she tells me you've held her all this time without harming a hair on her head, except for the fingers a man took from her when she was about to gut you. From what she said I take it it was one of your kinfolk who did it."

Jaehaerys didn't know what to say, so he simply nodded. "My uncle."

"Ah, the Dragon of Duskendale himself was at the Wall, eh? I wager he was one of the groups you lot had ride away, though, or I'd be dealing with him instead of you."

Jaehaerys narrowed his eyes. How does he know so much of what's happening south of the Wall? Ygritte had been imprisoned, first at the Nightfort and then Castle Black, and there was no way anyone had told her about the occurrences. The possibility of a turncoat among his men concerned him greatly, though he would have expected Rayder to utilize that better, something along the line of throwing open the gates or some such.

Still, Jaehaerys wouldn't give Mance the pleasure of knowing that Jaehaerys had no bloody clue how the King-Beyond-the-Wall knew so much. "Aye, my uncle is gone, though there is plenty enough men left to stop you if you attack the Wall." Jaehaerys leaned forward in his saddle. "But that isn't what you want to do, is it."

Mance stood to his full height, and there was no shame in his voice. "No, I don't want to attack your Wall. I want to take my people and hide behind it." He gestured towards Lord Commander Mormont, who had held his silence throughout the exchange. "Ask your Lord Commander here, and he'll tell you the same thing I will. There are…things this side of the Wall. Things you kneelers only hear about in stories and wives tales, and things my own people had nearly forgotten were real."

Mance Rayder took a step closer to Jaehaerys, staring up at the Prince with intent eyes. "But these wives tales are back. Entire villages have been wiped out, our own dead coming back to kill more of us. We have to burn our brothers, our fathers, our children, because if we don't they come back and slit our throats."

One of the guardsmen snorted, and Rayder turned to stare right at him. "Aye, that would have been my reaction a few years ago. But I've learned in the times since." He looked back at Jaehaerys. "I didn't want to be a King, odd as that might sound to you. I have a wife, and a child on the way. I could be as content as any many ever was with them. But my family is threatened by something I couldn't fight myself, so I began to gather the Free Folk. We've fought one another for thousands of years, but all of us here knew we had to stand together against the true enemy.

"Some of them look as normal as you, save for their pale skin and blue, blue eyes. Nothing stops them for good except fire, and they're growing in numbers. The more these storms grow the more of them come, and they don't care if who they're killing is a member of the Free Folk or a Crow or a Dragon Prince." Mance shrugged. "Now my people aren't cowards, and we'll fight anything that threatens us. But there is only so much the living can do against the dead, especially when I have women and children to feed. I want to hide them behind your Wall, for all of our sakes." His eyes tightened slightly. "But I'll bring it down if I have to."

This time several of the men scoffed. Jaehaerys did not, though he found the idea ridiculous. "And just how would you do that? You haven't been able to cross the Wall without your people dying, and I've got too many men on the other side for you to take it by force." The Prince glanced up into the unwavering stare of the giant. "Even with bears and big men on your side."

Whatever characteristics Mance Rayder might have, he took men laughing in his face very well. "There's more to the Wall than ice and stone, boy. Magic, old and powerful spells, were cast at her raising. I don't rightly care if you believe in it or not; scoff at me if you will, but you won't do any laughing when I bring that Wall down on your head. Ask your Lord Commander here about the Horn of Winter."

Jaehaerys looked to Mormont, who shook his head. "It's an old legend, talk of a horn that would bring the wall down if it were blown. Horseshit, if you ask me."

"No, Mormont. There you are wrong. I found it."

Contempt was clear in the Lord Commander's voice. "Oh really? And where was that?"

Mance reached into a pouch on his belt. "At the Fist of the First Men, near the Milkwater, buried in a sack full of this." He pulled a small, black stone from the pouch, tossing it lightly to Jaehaerys, who snatched it out of the air. Jaehaerys recognized it instantly as obsidian, nicknamed dragonglass. The stuff could be mined in bulk at Dragonstone, though Jaehaerys knew of no true use for the material aside from decoration. "I don't know much about whatever that stone is, but I'm willing to bet it has some significance your library might contain."

Mormont was unconvinced. "And you expect us to believe this horn of yours can actually bring the Wall down? Seven hundred feet of ice, brought down with a single toot."

"I don't care if you believe it or not, Mormont." He gestured to Jaehaerys. "I care if he does. I need that Wall as much as you do, but I won't let my people bleed because you mistrust us."

Aemon had silently sidled his horse to Jaehaerys' side, the black-hided stallion with his ears still pinned back from the constant presence of the bear. His cousin leaned close, observing the dragonglass, before speaking in his quiet down so softly that Jaehaerys doubted anyone other than the two of them could hear it. Jaehaerys was having enough trouble as it was. "Sam and I have read about obsidian, Jae. It's in several of the volumes in the Night's Watch library. Nothing says for a certainty exactly what it does, but it seems awfully important. We've been searching all the volumes for more but we haven't found anything yet. The Horn of Winter is mentioned as well, and the stories claim it will do just what Rayder is saying. It's obviously never been tested, but…"

Jaehaerys hunched over closer to him and whispered back. "What do you make of all this, Aemon."

His cousin shrugged. "I don't know if any of it is true. But I do know everything Mance has mentioned has been mentioned in the library. I don't know if there is truly another threat he's running from, but I don't know that there isn't, either."

Jaehaerys nodded, raising to sit straight up in the saddle again. "What is it you want, Rayder?"

Mance quirked an eyebrow. "I thought I made that clear. "I want to pass through your Wall."

"And do what once you're there? Raid and pillage without a Wall to stop you?"

"All I want to do is hide."

"Even if I believed you, I doubt all your men think the same. What's to stop them from pillaging once they're over there? Are you preparing to kneel and swear fealty to King Aegon?"

Mance's face became stony. "We don't kneel."

Jaehaerys nodded. "Aye, not when you're above the Wall, but all those south of it do. If I were to let you through, I'd expect you to do the same."

The-King-Beyond-the-WallThe-King-Beyond-the-Wall's face didn't flinch. "We don't kneel."

Jaehaerys shrugged. "Then you don't pass. You're the one claiming you need my Wall more than you need to destroy it."

Mance was quite a long moment. "Say we return back North, once the dead stay that way. What about then?"

"We both know most of your men won't have any intent of going back once they are south. It seems to me like your options are die North of the Wall, or kneel. Or, if you truly can, bring the Wall down." Jaehaerys leaned forward in the saddle. "And then die south of it." Jaehaerys straightened back up. "It seems to me that you need my Wall intact, because if it isn't we'll all just die anyhow. My offer is clear. Go, think on it. I'm not guaranteeing you passage, but I do guarantee you another parlay."

Jaehaerys reined his stallion back slightly. "I don't know if you mean anything you have told me, but I certainly know I meant what I said. If you and your chiefs truly care for you people, maybe you'll give me a better offer. Mine remains the same. If you wish to talk again, send another envoy under a flag of truce. I will parlay again."

Jaehaerys stole a quick glance at Ygritte, her grey-green eyes staring at him. "If what you say is true, we need each other. But you need me more than I need you. Try and convince your men of that. You know where I'll be."

As Jaehaerys turned and kicked his stallion into a gallop the other way, he wondered if he was about to get more war than even Aegon could have ever wanted.

Chapter Text

Blackcrown had fallen. Again.

He'd never been his father's favorite son, despite his efforts to be the best reaver this side of Dagmer Cleftjaw. Long days spent as an oarsman aboard a longship followed by evenings training with his sword and axe had left him lean and scarred, yet still his father paid little attention. His raids in the Summer Isles, deemed extraordinary daring and dangerous by all of his men and others besides, had been met with a simple raised eyebrow and hand wave of dismissal.

He was the expendable son.

That was why he was given command of thirty longships at the beginning of this war, to go and smash them against Oldtown's trebuchets or the Arbor's galleys, to at least die as an Ironborn even if Iron King Balon never considered him one.

Prince Theon Greyjoy hadn't died. Instead, he had become the Bloodkraken.

He'd taken Old Oak in the dead of the night, his reavers sailing into the docks with muffled oars and swarming the small port city and castle nearly before the Oakheart Lords had any notion they were there. He'd sacked the ancient castle and then rowed to Oakenshield, finishing off what his uncle Victarion had started, battling over the walls and into the heart of the castle. He'd taken Lord Hewett's buxom bastard daughter, Falia, as a salt wife, and on her pleas had also claimed two of her trueborn sisters. Theon had at first thought she meant it as an act of mercy, saving her sisters from the Ironborn underlings, but Falia had quickly proven that notion a foolish one.

She was the first woman he'd ever met with a deviant side as broad as his own. Theon half-fancied himself in love.

The third son of Balon Greyjoy had learned of the firsts' death shortly after the fall of Oakenshield, his eldest brother Rodrik having met his fate—a well-deserved one, in Theon's mind—at the end of a Mallister's blade. His other brother Maron was engaged with the Prester's of Feastfires, both Ironborn and greenlander refusing to give up a vicious siege that had gone on for months. The Lord of Feastfires, Garrison Prester, had been killed leading a sortie against the Ironborn, and his second-in-command, a cousin named Forley, had died with him. Instead of weakening the Westerlanders, it seemed to have instead strengthened them. A raven haired daughter of Lord Garrison, six-and-ten Elinor Prester, had taken over command of the defenses, and by all reports was wreaking more havoc than either her father or male cousin had been able to.

Ironborn numbers had dwindled so severely that Maron had called for aide, something Theon knew his older brother wouldn't have done if at all avoidable. It was unseemly for an Ironborn to call for any type of help, much less when facing a woman.

Theon loved it. One of his brother's had gotten himself killed while the other and an uncle had been shamed, while Theon was covering himself in riches, women and glory. Minor captains had steadily been flocking to his command, inflating his numbers to near four times the size they had been at the beginning of the war. At this rate he would have to be more wary of Asha during a kingsmoot than Maron or Victarion.

That was probably the case in any instance, but that was neither here nor there. His sister was trying to hunt down the Redwyne fleet, which had been playing cat and mouse for ages, while their father had been raiding Dorne's scorched coasts while he waited for the Royal Fleet to arrive. No word had been had from any of the easternmost fleets in several weeks, but Asha had always been secretive and the Iron King normally deemed it below him to keep his followers up to date on his activities. If Sunspear, the only target of true worth before the Stormlands, had fallen to anyone word would have spread by now, as would news of the galleys of the Iron Throne appearing. Theon imagined the Royal Fleet had likely already been smashed by his father, and that Balon Greyjoy was sailing towards the riches of the Eastern coasts.

Victarion, still seething at having his nephew sail up and take his glory from him, had sailed off to answer Maron's call, likely in hopes of reclaiming some of his own renown and further damaging Maron's. Theon had sailed the opposite direction alongside a fleet under Dagmer Cleftjaw, to re-take Blackcrown from the Reach forces that had driven the original Ironborn out. While everything of value had been removed during the first taking, it would serve as a warning to the Reachmen that none of the greenlands was safe, and that it would take more than a token force to hold any keep this side of Dorne. Theon also hoped it drew forces away from his ultimate goal, which to this point had been too well defended to even contemplate attack.

He was going to take Oldtown, right out from beneath the pompous Hightowers.

He fell asleep every night, Falia on one side and one of her bound sisters the other, with dreams of the glory to come.

It was from that sleep he awoke to word that a fleet had stolen up on them in the night, engaging Dagmer just off the coast of Blackcrown.

The sound of the battle was fierce even from shore as Theon and his reavers rushed to man their ships. As he sprinted towards the docks, kraken-helm in one hand and bow across his back, he could see the blue sails with clusters of red grapes. Redwyne seems to have given Asha the slip long enough to hit me. Theon's heart soared. It appears my sister shall be put to shame during this war as well.

"To oars!" He shouted as soon as he stepped aboard his longship, aptly named Glory Seeker, rather needlessly as his men were already pulling out of the docks. "We crush the Redwynes today!"

Dagmer had already been holding his own against the Redwyne fleets by the time Theon's came barreling in. Arrows and grappling hooks flew between ships. Theon ordered the Seeker up beside one of the largest galleys with the Redwyne sail billowing, the Reachman galley sitting a full two decks higher than his own longship. Regardless his men tossed grappling hooks, and Theon picked off two enemy archers with his bow before he reslung it and hauled himself up and over the side of Redwyne vessel, axe and sword soon covered in blood. Two other ships of lesser captains had likewise assaulted the Redwyne vessel, and before long the scores of Ironborn had painted it was red as the grapes on her sails.

Theon removed his axe from the brain of a Reach sailor, barely noticing the carnage as his men and those of the other captains mopped up what was left of the Redwyne men. He strode towards the forecastle, dispatching a wounded man in blue and yellow along the way, using the height of the massive vessel to look over the battle at the sea.

What he saw froze his blood.

Approaching from the direction of Dorne was a fleet, their sails turning the blue of the sea into an ocean of colored cloth. But those sails belonged to neither his father nor his sister, the ships too wide in the water and tall in the mast to be reavers. Those were galleys, not longships, too many of them to be prizes captured, all sailing towards Theon and the remnants of the Redwynes.

At their front the largest of the galleys sailed, its deck adorned with scorpions and her rigging with marksmen. Her mainsail flew the crimson dragon of Aegon Targaryen, her topsail the black stag of Baratheon.

The Royal Fleet had arrived.

For a moment Theon could only stare, mind unable to process the implications of the Royal Fleet's sudden arrival off the western coast of the Reach alongside the Redwyne's. His father was supposed to have met them south of Dorne; he and Asha combined would have had too many ships for a greenlander to defeat, and even if by a miracle one had their would have been survivors to bring the tale to the rest of the Ironborn. His father and his captains were too experienced at sea to fall, and they were expecting the Royal Fleet; they weren't likely to have been taken unawares.

Yet here his enemy was, and the Iron King was nowhere to be found.

Shouts of alarm began on the deck around him as more and more Ironborn became aware of the approaching fleet. Several captains were turning towards the new threat, while others were shamelessly beginning to edge their crews away from the battle.

Theon understood why. This piece of the Redwyne Fleet had clearly been a distraction, drawing the Ironborn into a disorganized mass of ship-to-ship combat. The Royal Fleet then bolted in, organized and fresh, to smash them.

To smash Theon.

Greyjoy knew then he was going to die.

His mind was a blur of images as he raced back to Glory Seeker, refusing some of his crew's pleas to flee. His Ironborn made a fight of it, sinking and burning three more ships before the massive black hulk and black sails of the royal flagship loomed over him.

He saw Dagmer had also been drawn towards the flagship, and both Ironborn made to board her simultaneously. No communication had both boarded the royal flagship, both reavers making a last-ditch effort to remove the head of the snake so that the body would die. Scorpion bolts tore through his longship and arrows through his men as they boarded, and as soon as they gained the deck they were set upon. It wasn't sailors who met them but instead knights and experienced men at arms, some dressed in full armor despite the fact that it would drown them should they be cast overboard. His uncle Victarion, who also dressed in full armor, would call them brave, but Theon considered them stupid.

But either way, brave or stupid, they were deadly.

Theon saw the Cleftjaw die, a greenlander mace turning the ugly scar of his face into an uglier mass of blood and bone, knocking the infamous captain to the ground where the mace-wielder proceeded to smash his white-haired head in. It was a different man, in black and gold armor with stag antlers on his helm, who killed Theon. They battled for what seemed liked hours, Theon quick and elusive with his axe in one hand and his sword in the other while the muscular greenlander—clearly a Baratheon—was savagely strong with his sword and shield.

It was Dagmer who ultimately caused his doom, the Prince of the Iron Islands slipping on the old Ironborn's blood and going to a knee. The Baratheon's sword had knocked aside his axe and then removed his head before Theon Greyjoy could even think to scream.

The Bloodkraken's head bounced once, twice, thrice across the bloody deck before it dropped into the murky sea.

They arrived a fortnight after he'd left them standing in a field.

There was no pomp and circumstance for this meeting, no show of strength. Jaehaerys Targaryen, accompanied only by Lord Commander Mormont, Ser Borran of the Kingsguard, Robb Stark and their two direwolves rode to the edge of the clearing in front of the Wall. There they were met by Mance Rayder, the big red-bearded wildling known as Tormund Giantsbane, the giant himself called Mag the Mighty and the disturbingly beautiful blonde-haired woman called Val. No snowbears came from the woods, no squat women waved impaled dog heads around, and no line of knights on horses peered down from a position of superiority.

The two sides simply met, and once again started to business. Snow fell around them, a near constant thing now, as Mance Rayder once again pleaded his case. "I brought your proposal before my people."

Jaehaerys nodded. "And?"

Rayder's tone was tight with barely-controlled anger. "I lost nearly a hundred men in the brawls that broke out. My people refuse to kneel."

"I'll take that as a no, then."

Rayder raised a hand. "You didn't let me finish." His voice lowered with his hand. "I lost near one thousand more when the dead hit us that night. We burnt our own as soon as they fell, but then the same evil we've been running from caught up to us. My people are on their way here, whether that gate is open or no."

Jaehaerys' throat was dry, but he kept his face calm. "You know my terms. They will not change."

Mance raised his chin a hair. "You seem like a smart lad, even for a southerner, but you're being foolish. I just told you the dead are near, nearer than any of us would ever want their like to be, yet you'll let me bring the only thing between you and them down before you let my people through."

He shook his head. "Quite the contrary. You would bring down the only thing between me and them before I let your people through."

The red-haired Giantsbane spoke, voice deep and raspy. "The free folk don't kneel, southerner. We nearly tore one another apart when the idea of it was mentioned."

Mance nodded. "There are those who would rather die than kneel before any man."

Jaehaerys swallowed, then spoke the words he had been preparing to say for weeks. "Then let them."

The King-Beyond-the-Wall seemed insulted. "Leave my people to die?"

"Not all of them," the Targaryen Prince cut in, before Rayder could work himself into too big of a lather. "Just the ones who won't swallow their pride enough to save their people's lives. Any man who wouldn't kneel to save his family is not a man I want anything to do with. If they would refuse my offer and doom the rest of you, leave them. Those of you who would kneel and follow the commands of the King are free to come below the Wall, though with the stipulations mentioned and a few others to boot."

Giantsbane grunted. "And what do we do when those we leave come knocking on your Wall?"

Jaehaerys met the bigger man's eyes. "Nothing; you do nothing. I do something."

"And just what would you do?"

Jaehaerys tried his damndest to embody Aelor in that moment. "I'll give them what they want. Death."

Mance spoke, voice still on the edge of control. "Those who refuse to kneel picked me as their king just as those who were open to the idea did."

"And those who follow a king obey that king, or he is no king at all. They chose you to follow; if they choose not to do so in this, then your hands will be clean."

"And yours will be those of a murderer."

Jaehaerys didn't let his face flinch, though his insides certainly recoiled. "No. It'll make mine more kingly than yours ever could be." Jaehaerys gestured behind him, towards the Wall that towered behind them. "That is the key to your salvation. I hold it. I can give it to any of you who choose to follow my commands. And I can just as easily withhold it from those who won't. I have made my position clear, Mance Rayder."

The King-Beyond-The-Wall spat. "And I've tried to make mine clear as well, but you won't listen. The threat I'm running from is far greater than the one my people represent!"

"And I have a Wall to defend against it."

"I warned you I would bring that Wall to the ground if I have to."

Jaehaerys rose to his full height. "Then do it, and we'll all die together."

For just a moment Jaehaerys thought Rayder would strike him. Ghost and Grey Wind sensed it, both direwolves stepping closer to the Prince of the Iron Throne and growling low in their throats, while Borran and Robb stepped forward with their hands on their swords. Rayder didn't move to attack, though, his eyes locked on Jaehaerys' as his mind clearly raced. The Prince of the Iron Throne met the gaze, refusing to buckle, even as his breath caught in his throat.

It was several long minutes before Rayder let out a long sigh.

"What are these other 'stipulations'?"

Chapter Text

And it had all been going so well.

King Viserys Targaryen's war effort had been achieving nearly unprecedented success. He'd taken King's Landing almost bloodlessly—for his side, anyway—and several houses had sworn for him. While his cousins and sister had escaped him, his nephew and uncle had both been beset upon by the same snows that now covered his city. While his scouts couldn't infiltrate the snows well enough to keep track of numbers or exact positions, it was common sense that Aegon and Aelor were suffering severe attrition. Their animals were certainly in danger, and if Viserys could engage them with an overwhelming cavalry superiority he would have the clear advantage.

Over half the North and a large portion of the strongest southern levies were at the Wall. The Reach armies and shattered remnants of the Westerlands were busy trying to rid their coasts of the Ironborn, nearly the entire coastline falling at some point or another to the reavers. The forces of the Riverlands and Vale were split, a large portion of their strength also trying to contain the Ironborn while the rest had gone to try and unite with Aegon. Maylo Jayn and Black Balaq had taken a detachment of several thousand Golden Company mercenaries to harass them, and the Summer Island archers had succeeded in slowing them considerably. Dorne had been subjected to enough Ironborn raids that they had been forced to protect their borders, while the presence of Elia Sand in King's Landing kept Prince Oberyn Martell and his fifteen thousand Dornishmen in the Boneway.

Yes, despite the slight setbacks, Viserys' war had been going swimmingly.

Until a handful of battered longships had sailed into Blackwater Bay, bringing with them devastating news.

Asha Greyjoy was longlegged and lean, with black hair she kept chopped short. When she'd disembarked her right arm had been in a makeshift, bloodstained sling; the bones had been nearly pulverized by a warhammer, and the physicians seemed intent on removing the arm before the infection already running rampant through it took her life. The Lady Reaver was just as adamant that they didn't take it, and it had taken ordered force from Viserys to save her life.

Ordered force had taken her father's.

Viserys knew Stannis Baratheon was a hard, unyielding man, totally unlike his younger brother Renly. While Viserys had been granted the reconstructed Summerhall a few years before the Lord of the Stormlands had come to the capital as Master of Ships, he still knew the elder Baratheon's reputation; he had eaten boot leather rather than surrender Storm's End to Mace Tyrell, and had made no excuses to try and save his life when judgement was passed down by Aelor Targaryen. The only reason he hadn't died at Storm's End was the interference of Ned Stark and the fact that Renly would have to die with him.

Yet still, Viserys hadn't expected Stannis to be as patient and calculating as he had been. Storm's End wasn't overly far from King's Landing, particularly by sea, and it was there that Lord Stannis' children and wife awaited the end of the war. While it was considered nearly impregnable, it certainly couldn't have been easy for Stannis to resist either rushing back to protect his castle or rushing forward into battle to try and end the war quickly.

He had done neither.

Iron King Balon Greyjoy had been raiding the south of Dorne while he awaited Stannis' arrival. Lord Baratheon had proceeded cautiously, hugging the coastlines and keeping in contact with the Lords of Dorne. Balon Greyjoy had kept his navy mostly intact aside from the attachment under his daughter, who was chasing the Redwyne's back and forth. After a few weeks raiding around the curve of the Reach as they waited, he had proceeded to Dorne, and there had sacked Starfall, home of the ancient House Dayne, though the Dayne's themselves had simply evacuated ahead of the Ironborn scourge. Intermittently they raided villages, slaughtering smallfolk, before sailing up the Brimstone to attack Hellholt, home of House Uller. Thrice he attempted to take the castle and thrice he was repulsed, though he kept the bulk of his navy scouting for Stannis.

When the Royal Fleet was finally sighted, he abandoned all other raids, consolidated his fleet, and took off after them. Stannis had retreated from him, outnumbered without the Redwyne's, into the small Bay of Salt beneath the walls of Scorched Rock, the seat of House Ladybright. Iron King Balon, believing Stannis trapped, had sailed in after him.

And there he had died.

The Ironborn were better sailors than the men under Lord Baratheon, their entire lives spent on the decks of ships. In open fleet combat even unyielding Stannis would have fallen, his ships burned to the watermark and body feed to the sharks. So he hadn't fought Balon in open ship combat; he had pulled him against the coast, and there he engaged them.

As did the Dornish.

In the weeks it took him to finally involve Balon Greyjoy, Stannis had been working. While the details in their entirety were unclear to Viserys, it was reasonable to assume he had disembarked on multiple occasions, likely treating with the various Lords of Dorne. However he had managed it, the Dornish had trebuchets and catapults in the hundreds waiting on the cliffs of the Scorched Rock.

Hell had been unleashed on Balon Greyjoy.

The fleets had meet under a backdrop of flaming barrels of pitch and burning bolts. The Ironborn hadn't withdrawn, be it brave or stupid—Asha Greyjoy questioned if her youngest brother's successes, a thorn in her father's side, may have played part—and might have won the day despite the volleys of Dornish fire.

Until the Redwyne's arrived.

Asha doubted that had been part of Stannis' plan, for she had finally caught up to the Fleet of the Arbor. Lord Paxter had one moment been fleeing a different direction, the SheKraken on his heels, and then had turned abruptly and followed the sounds of battle. Asha had been unable to run him down before his men, for months having been on the run, finally were able to attack.

They had torn into the Battle in the Bay with devastating effect.

By the time Asha's own ships joined the fray her father's fleet had been mostly demolished, and it didn't take her long to see the day was lost. Her own fleet was mostly demolished in its efforts to escape, her personal crew having to repulse four separate boarding attempts before they made open water and fled back around the arm of Dorne and up towards King's Landing.

Viserys' council had been debating so hotly in the weeks since that Viserys had a constant headache and the overwhelming desire to drown himself in wine.

"For the last time, he's still outnumbered. Our plans can continue as discussed." Harry Strickland had been adamant that they make no adjustments to the intent to wait for Aegon to come to them, and his points were sound; Asha Greyjoy had reported that even though he had been the one to set the trap, Stannis' fleet was still heavily damaged, as were the Redwyne's. His lack of even token pursuit of her backed the claim.

"And for the hundredth time, outnumbered is a stretch." Jon Lothston had been ferocious in his request to sally out and eliminate Aegon on land before Stannis could win more victories on the water, likely because it was the opposite of what Strickland wanted. "We don't know how many ships he and the Redwyne Fleet lost when the idiot Greyjoy got himself killed; all we know for certain is that they are now unified while the remaining Ironborn are scattered."

"Surely word of their King's death would have spread," pointed out Renly Baratheon, who couldn't have taken word of his brother's impressive victory well. Part of his claim was that he could make men follow him when his brother couldn't, yet the elder had been the one to annihilate an enemy force in fair combat.

Lothston whirled. "How can we be certain? Lady Greyjoy says the Redwyne's came from the West; any stragglers would have been caught in their attack. The Reach and Dorne are nearly unified under Aegon, and they aren't going to go telling the remaining men raiding their homes that there's a threat nearing them."

"So what do we do," asked Lord Lorimer Payne, lean and stately. "Help Aegon Targaryen dig himself out of his snowstorm and attack? Why not just wait for the weather to do our work for us?"

"It's likely he's nearly dug himself out already. But we cannot wait for him to reach us, because by then Stannis Baratheon may have defeated the rest of the Ironborn, and then we're well and truly fucked. With no threat to their borders nothing will stop the armies of the Reach and Riverlands from coming straight for us, and with them the Vale. We need to destroy their King now, while we are at least close in number if not superior in that regard and better equipped. With Aegon and Aelor dead, King Viserys is the logical successor."

"What of Jaehaerys, at the Wall surrounded by ten thousand Northmen under the Starks who are his kin?"

"The wildlings will take care of him, and if they don't we will handle him in time. Besides, he is a bastard, regardless of whether Aelor or Aegon Targaryen want to admit it.""

Renly scoffed. "A bastard who has been the heir to the Iron Throne since the day of his birth. Your plan is filled with more holes than the Iron Fleet."

A voice came from the door of the chamber, Lysono Maar's tone a mixture of annoyed and concerned. "It is about to gain more credence. Theon Greyjoy is dead, as is another sizable portion of the Iron Fleet."

A chorus of groans filled the room, and Viserys cursed aloud. "Baratheon again?"

Maar nodded. "Stannis engaged Theon off the coast of Blackcrown and shattered his fleet. Maron Greyjoy, who I suppose is the King of the Iron Islands now, managed to slip a messenger through the reaver holdings of Cornfield and our land on the Gold Road. He's ordered his fleets to muster together; they won't stand a chance piecemeal."

Viserys ran a hand through his silvery-blonde hair. "That means most loyalist forces are about to be freed up."

It was a terrible blow to Viserys' war effort, but Lothston looked nearly giddy. "Surely you see my suggestion is the best course of action now, Your Grace. If all of our enemies band together, even the walls of King's Landing and the presence of hostages will not stop them. Our entire strategy was to keep them occupied until we remove Aegon and Aelor Targaryen; now is that chance!"

Strickland clearly wasn't convinced, but Viserys doubted he ever would be. "And leave King's Landing, our only symbol of power, free to the Dornish?"

Duncan Strong, thus far quiet, chimed in. "We can kill the hostages. If they are to recapture King's Landing for a time, we can make that victory taste foul to them."

Viserys shook his head. "Absolutely not. Unnecessary cruelty is what brought me half my army; I will not subject to it myself. If I have to surrender King's Landing for a time to eliminate my rival, I will do so." Viserys hunched over the table, peering over the map of Westeros. "While my nephew isn't free of the Neck yet, he is certainly close. There is only one way out of there, and then there are limited crossings for him to take. The Crossing itself, or the Ruby Ford."

Renly had joined his chosen King in posture, gesturing towards the two towers symbolizing House Frey. "Lord Walder hates the Tully's, but he hasn't sworn for us. I doubt he'll bar Aegon from passing."

"I agree, though he has no need of crossing there. If he does, he'll just have to ford another of the forks farther down. If he crosses at the Ruby Ford, though, he'll be only a couple of days from Harrenhal. It's defensible even if it is a ruin, and I'd wager it will be the chosen location of my brother and nephew for their base of operations until I am dealt with. There is a certain…poetic brilliance to it all."

Strickland tried once more. "Your Grace, this is our strongest position—"

Viserys glared at the Captain-General of the Golden Company. "And I have sat in it for months, and received nothing in return but a weakened position. Lothston has the right of it; now is the time to strike. If I allow the Vale and Reach to consolidate I am finished, even if I have elephants and professional mercenaries on my side."

"Your Grace—"

"Enough!" Viserys stood to his full height. "I have allowed you all to plan nearly all of my moves to this point, but I am Viserys Targaryen, not you. We march on my command, and I command it. You can obey, or you can die. That goes for you all." He slammed his finger down on the Ruby Ford. "This is where I will meet my nephew and brother in battle."

"And this is where I shall end them."