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The grand hall of Harrenhal rings with laughter and boasts and no one laughs louder or boasts more boisterously than Lyanna’s betrothed, Robert Baratheon. He’ll find the Knight of the Laughing Tree before any of these fools, he declares, and he’ll wager anything on it. Many take that bet, including her brother Brandon, and all those fools set themselves to the task of unmasking their mysterious knight.

I’m right here, Lyanna thinks. But she won’t reveal herself and the only man that could has chosen to announce his failure instead of her name.

So she sits and listens to her legend grow. She’s a fame seeking hedge knight then an outlaw already drenched in bloody infamy. She sprouts to six feet tall, she gains twice her weight and thrice her age and then shrinks back again to her true size as those not too deep in their cups remember something of her actual appearance.

Robert cares neither one way or another. He knows he’ll find the knight, a good sort he’s sure. Why else would the tree be laughing? They’ll be the greatest of friends and they’ll find ale to drink and women to fuck and then they’ll get more of both.

“But what if the knight is a woman?” Lyanna shouts, a bite of anger carrying her voice further than she intended.

A moment of quiet falls as Robert looks her way for the first time since they sat for this meal. It’s little more than a glance, and then he turns back to his friends. He laughs his loudest yet and slaps his hands against the table. None of his mirth is for her. “What strange japes your sister makes, Ned!” he says through a wide grin. “A woman!”

What a strange jape Father made, Lyanna thinks. She keeps her secret still. She knows her place today as a daughter of Winterfell and the betrothed of the Storm Lord. As the din rises once more, she thinks of the man who did not laugh, who needed no embellishment to admire her deeds.

Lyanna knows her place today, just as certainly as she knows it will not be her place tomorrow.

Chapter Text

“The Knight of the Laughing Tree must not ride again,” Prince Rhaegar declared.

Lyanna appreciated the warning, truly she did, and was grateful the prince wasn’t going to turn her over to the mercy of his father’s unpredictable tempers, but she’d tasted the thrill of an actual competition and found herself still hungry.

Rhaegar was insistent though, and quite helpful in planting her shield up in the tree where it would become the stuff of legends rather than proof of her guilt. With that, Lyanna’s jousting days were done.

Or were they?

“What if another mystery knight appeared?”

The prince who’d been so impressed with her spirit suddenly looked as if he’d discovered the theory that there could be too much of a good thing.

“You can’t be serious?”

“If I had better armor, no one would connect the new knight with the old,” Lyanna reasoned. There, that was another sound theory. “Don’t you have access to much better armor?”

“I do. You do not.”

Try as she had to escape the limits of her gender, Lyanna was nonetheless keenly aware the power that gender could have on its opposite number, particularly when said power was amplified by widened eyes and pouting lips.

“Please, just one more tilt?” she whimpered, bringing some very compelling tears to her eyes. “Then I’ll set aside my lance, never to ride again…”

She rode several more tilts, winning each until there was only one more tilt to be ridden. Lyanna felt bad that this final tilt would be against the man who’d procured this very nice indeed armor she was wearing to disguise herself for the second time. Not bad enough to lose to him intentionally, but bad enough that she decided there was only one thing for her to do after her lance connected against his side with enough force to throw him from his horse.

She cantered to the host’s stand where her prize was waiting. She would have loved to put that crown of winter roses on her own head. Wouldn’t that set the crowd to tittering, if I crowned myself? But she couldn’t. There was a debt to be paid. She never would have gotten this far without the prince’s help.

Looking back, Lyanna should have realized this action would have the crowd raging even worse. She could hear voices rise in confusion as she led her horse past the stands. When she came to stop in front of Prince Rhaegar and his extremely perplexed squire, the crowd rose to their feet. A moment of communal held breath later, Rhaegar was the doubly crowned prince of Westeros.

The king broke the silence first, demanding that she be seized for this insult to the throne.

Rhaegar didn’t seem insulted. He glanced upward towards his crown and gave her a slight smile. “You had best leave.”

She did follow this directive. She spurred her horse on, past the royal box where Princess Elia was declaring to one of her ladies that Lyanna was worse than someone named Jon. Past an insulted looking man with red hair that glared alternately between her and Elia and Rhaegar. Past her brother Benjen, her partner in crime in acquiring The Knight of the Laughing Tree’s armor, who was whispering to Ned, who buried his face in his hands in response.

Out into the open fields she rode, laughing as she went. Songs would be written about this, she was sure, songs she would revel in. Once she was safely back in Harrenhall, she’d have to seek out Prince Rhaegar to see if he would come up with one and play it on his harp for her.

Wearing his crown of roses, of course.

Chapter Text

“When I was a lad I found an injured goshawk and nursed her back to health. Proudwing, I named her. She would perch on my shoulder and flutter from room to room after me and take food from my hand, but she would not soar. Time and again I would take her hawking, but she never flew higher than the treetops. Robert called her Weakwing. He owned a gyrfalcon named Thunderclap who never missed her strike. One day our great-uncle Ser Harbert told me to try a different bird. I was making a fool of myself with Proudwing, he said, and he was right.”

“Another berry, girl.”

The instruction was hardly necessary. Proudwing plucked the fruit from Stannis’ fingers with a deft strike of her beak. She never hurt him, not at her hungriest or even with her talons when she perched upon his shoulders. She was a clever girl, his Proudwing, her wits sharpened to compensate for the wings that would fail her. No vermin in Storm’s End was safe once they were in her sight. Stannis had seen her watch a mouse scurry from room to room while Proudwing remained still as a statue, only springing into action when it was the best moment to seize her prey.

She no longer had need to take food from Stannis yet he continued to offer her bits of his own meals. The berries were…different. A hawk’s diet did not require them but the sweetness tempted Proudwing to eat one after the other. Soon the bowl of berries was empty and Proudwing’s stomach full. It was time.

He walked to the hunting grounds with Proudwing on his shoulder. No one he passed questioned him but Stannis could feel their disapproval that he kept a bird that so obviously could not do her task. But Stannis had faith. Today, his girl would soar.

Robert was there with a body of a large rabbit already at his feet and his hawk Thunderclap flying high above the trees in search of a second. As was common, a gaggle of boys and girls surrounded Robert. He took wagers from all of them on how many more rabbits Thunderclap would deliver to him, the number growing so large the forest would have to be cleansed of them to reach it. They ignored Stannis mostly until Robert turned his attention from boasting to belittling.

“Seven hells, Stannis. The only way that bird will get you any meat is if you cooked her.”

Stannis ignored the laughter of Robert’s audience. It would be silenced by Proudwing once she took flight. He held out his arm and his girl edged slowly down it to more laughter.

Robert couldn’t help himself. “I’ll pay you each a gold piece if Weakwing clears the treetops.” The crowd, knowing they would never see that gold, groaned.

Stannis grimaced. I’m not sending her above the trees.

His whispered to his hawk, praising her for her loyalty and her cleverness. Then he sent her off.

Proudwing flew straight towards Robert. He roared at her approach, “Oh, so that’s how a lame bird hunts. It goes after prey that another hawk already killed.”

But Proudwing wasn’t after rabbit. She’d eaten enough berries to turn the stomach of a boy Stannis’ size. The burden of her feast kept her flight sluggish and low to the point where she barely cleared the heads of Robert and his company.

Come on, girl, Stannis urged her on.

Proudwing circled back. On her second pass, the berries could no longer be contained. Into Robert’s smiling face a stream of bright pink shit was loosed. Screams arose as the shit splattered and dripped over Robert’s companions. Proundwing, so valiant she would not rest until her mission was complete, made another pass but the boys and girls had scattered, leaving Robert to be the sole recipient of the next volley.

He bellowed curses at Stannis and Proudwing, but boy and bird didn’t listen. They were heading back into the castle, their hunt over and more successful than Stannis could have imagined. It was the only hunt Proudwing would ever complete as Stannis decided he would no longer force her to try.

It was also the only hunt Stannis would ever walk away from with a smile.