267 AC

Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King, stood at the door of the small council's room at Lannisport with his brother beside him.

"The Princess of Dorne is going to be loath to agree to our terms," his brother Kevan said, quietly enough. "It would do well to soften the blow, do you not think?"

"I told the king what we should do," Tywin said, "him, and the small council, and all the rest. I spoke my thoughts."

Kevan looked like he might speak. Tywin cut him off with a gesture.

"When you rule, Kevan, you must choose what to make of yourself. The king is all fire, fire and blood, as it's said. I am of the West; I made myself of stone." He turned to look around a corner, but found nothing. He looked to his brother again. "If you yield that much, if you act against your nature, they will all think they can cause that change themselves, that they might challenge or sway you.

"Men know I am not to be swayed."

Still a boy of eight, Rhaegar stood behind a pillar, and learned a lesson from a man who was no maester.

272 AC

Rhaegar considered himself nearly a man, though his nameday had passed and he was marked at fourteen years of age. He was man enough to know the meaning of the words his father spoke to Joanna Lannister.

Breasts, after all, were a clear enough topic to a boy of his age, even if his mother might have been loath to admit it.

"Father," he tried to say to the king, who brushed past him.

"The Hand will call upon me soon," the king said, as apathetic as Rhaegar might have ever seen him. "Have your mother attend to you, boy."

Rhaegar opened his mouth, shut it, and withdrew.

Still, though he wished to read his book in the relative quiet of the Sept of Baelor, a Kingsguard stationed feet away, his wishes were not attended to. He was pulled to his mother's side, to hear in spite of his age the needs of the realm and panic they might not be met, and why.

The intrigue and the whispers had always proved unavoidable. His station, and the expectations placed on him, meant he could not, and he wouldn't have avoided him even if he had been able to.

The chain of office, forged by duty, worn by a man hewn from the stone of Casterly Rock, had been cast at the king's feet. It had been promptly returned to him.

Rhaegar returned to his chamber, and sought out paper, ink, quills. He wrote quickly, abruptly, and sealed it.

He accosted the nearest Kingsguard.

"Ser Jonothan," he said, serene, with a smile, "this is for the Hand's eyes only. Please see that it's delivered safely and unopened."

The man bowed without hesitation, doubt in his eyes, and left him there.

I am glad he didn't accept your resignation. The realm needs you.

274 AC

There were no heirs to the throne, besides him. There were only stillborn children, dead children, and empty namedays forced to the back of the survivors' minds.

Prince Jaehaerys III Targaryen proved no exception.

Rhaegar was sixteen. A man grown. A man who might be married within the year, if only his father would attend to it, if his father would look away from the stillborn and dead that the gods saw fit to visit upon them.

It hardly mattered now.

The wretches the king declared responsible were suffering crimes that Rhaegar only wished were unspeakable, or that at least would go unspoken. He promised himself he would remain unflinching, that he would remain cool, serene, like the early winter's ice, unyielding in the face of all but great passions.

Jaehaerys was dead.

His mother, the queen, secluded herself as ever, though had little choice with the king's order that she remain alone, ostensibly safe. He refused to let her be. He pulled her to her bed and pulled her close to him as she fought off sobs pridefully, his frightened, thin mother so small in his lap.

He didn't know what was worse; knowing what his father had done to those who were blameless, charged with what only nature had done again and again, or seeing the body of the boy who might have been his brother all still and heavy taken away by the silent sisters.

Their incense had sickened him at one time. Now it was a familiar scent, irritating, threatening tears from his eyes.

He had to go beyond this. He had to be strong for her. The king wouldn't be.

There was a knock at the door. His mother went silent.

"Go," Rhaegar said frostily.

"The Hand of the King wishes to speak to you, Prince Rhaegar," Ser Gwayne Gaunt called through the door.

"The Hand of the King has no right to set foot in my mother's chambers," Rhaegar retorted.

There was a long silence, and he pressed a kiss to his mother's temple as she withdrew. He moved to touch her, to protest, but the knock came again and his temper flared; he strode to the door and opened it, facing Ser Gwayne and the Hand of the King standing firm behind him.

"Come with me, my prince," Tywin Lannister said, and inclined his head. "We should speak."

Ice, unyielding. He would not give into his darker humors. "I should send you to the black cells for interrupting your queen and your prince in their private moments."

Ser Gwayne's face remained impassive. So did Tywin's. "My business is the smooth running of the Seven Kingdoms. I'm happy to return you to your private moments. I ask that we speak, soon."

"We are mourning," Rhaegar pronounced, though he hated to say it, to confess it.

"Then come to me when you've eschewed the black," Tywin answered, and nodded to Ser Gwayne. "I'll expect you, my prince."

Rhaegar looked back to his mother, ready to draw the door shut, then strode forward and shut the door behind himself. "My Lord Hand," he said curtly, and gestured for the man to follow him as he walked.

He heard the man follow, but ignored him until he drew close enough for Rhaegar to speak quietly enough for the guards behind him to hear nothing. "Speak to the small council if you need to politick. I'm not among your - people. I am the future king of Westeros."

"That's why I've drawn you out of mourning, Prince Rhaegar," Tywin said, his tone smooth and sharp at once, direct and polished. "You're well of age to learn how to rule in the midst of personal trials."

"Time can be taken - the gods grant us time to speak to the Mother and beg her blessing, Lord Hand," Rhaegar said fiercely.

"And yet the Seven Kingdoms move on. The smallfolk carry on, the lords continue to beggar the crown. I am happy to do my duty - "

Rhaegar cut him off with a sharp gesture. "Then do it."

Tywin spoke again. "You are not your father."

"I'm well-aware." But it flared doubt within him. "What of it?"

"Your father the king is a great man prone to be conquered by his emotions. You will be a different king." Tywin paused. "I wish to encourage this."

Rhaegar went cold. "You have no right to - groom me, Tywin Lannister."

"There's no grooming a prince," Tywin said, unmoving. "But a good man must know he can become a great one with the help of those who know more than he does."

"Is that how you learned, Lord Hand?" he snapped.

"Yes." Tywin met his gaze. "I learned from history. I know you read as well, more than I did. I had no small councils, nothing more than a maester. And yet now I help run the Seven Kingdoms. With aid, you might lead the realm into great prosperity."

His stomach twisted, not unpleasantly. "Summer is approaching. The realm will prosper whether I am a good king or a great one."

"There's no need to be contrary." Tywin raised a hand as Rhaegar tensed. "Do you take my meaning, Your Grace?"

"Yes." Rhaegar didn't know what to say, or whether to cast the Hand out, or tell his father of the man's indiscretion. But - no, he couldn't do that. He hesitated. "Tomorrow, Lord Hand, I will see you in the Tower."

Something like satisfaction or relief crossed the man's face. "I look forward to it."

Rhaegar said nothing to that, turned, and returned to his mother's side.

Whispers came. His father the king sat sprawled on the throne, septons attending him.

Aerys II Targaryen repented his sins, or some of them. It was something. It was all the realm could hope for.

276 AC

Rhaegar had never been so grateful to simply watch a child sleep.

Viserys lived, all lusty and robust. Rhaegar loved his brother beyond all sense, despite that he was only a babe. They all loved Viserys beyond reason, and so did the Seven Kingdoms. The king loved Viserys, but his mind was as poisoned as he believed Jaehaerys had once been.

It was Jaehaerys all over again, in spite of Viserys's good health.

The queen was hidden away, guarded, with Rhaegar as her only true company. The gifts of the many admirers of the king, or at least hopeful political allies, had been destroyed. Whispers dominated the king's mind, and filled his ears at all times. The king no longer cared about the lords or the smallfolk or anything at all, besides the safety of his son.

Rhaegar prayed to the Seven in the sept. He prayed before the Stranger, not knowing why.

My father has lost his senses. He believes he will lose everything he has, despite all the power he could ask for at his disposal. He refuses to trust me, though I prove my loyalty in every day, at every small council.

My father needs your hand to sweep this shadow from his eyes and mind, or I fear he may die.

That night, he dreamt of Summerhall, of the flames that had borne him into the world. He needed to be born again, as the future king he prayed to the Warrior to be, for politics and power were a sort of war, against oneself and one's weaknesses.

Ice, unyielding. The flames had not extinguished him as they had the others, his great-grandfather, his son, his greatest friend. He remained, calm like still water, cool as winter, with the endless, pointless wish in his heart that he could extinguish the fire in his father's belly that drove him closer and closer to madness.

Summerhall. He would leave on the morrow.

He prepared alone in his chamber, until there was a sharp rap on his door. He raised his gaze, and spoke freely.

"Ser," he said, "does my Lord Hand intrude on me again?"

"Yes," Tywin said, loudly enough to be heard through the door.

Rhaegar nodded, only to himself, and closed the trunk of books and clothes. "Let him enter."

Tywin entered the room, and gave a brief nod to the Kingsguard, who left and shut the door. "My prince," he said cordially. "I expected you to remain in the Red Keep to celebrate with your father."

"Don't mock me, Tywin," Rhaegar said dispassionately. "I'm not in the mood."

"I'm not a man to jape, my prince. All men know that of me."

He looked to Tywin, managing to keep his surprise off of his face. "I mislike the way my father expresses his joy at Viserys's good health and intent to keep him safe. I may become more charitable with some time away."

"You cannot flee your father," Tywin said, with something almost resembling… patience, or something else, but whatever it was gave Rhaegar pause. "You cannot flee what plagues him."

Rhaegar's voice caught in his throat. There was so much he might have wished for, given the powers of a maegi from the east, or the blessings from the gods on high. More than anything, he would have wished for his father back.

"He fears you," he said to Tywin.

"I know it well."

He still seemed unmoved. Rhaegar hesitated. "I will bring him to you, and do what I must to bring you together again."

"We will never work together again," Tywin said. His gold-flecked eyes revealed nothing, though Rhaegar searched them. "You know that as well as I do."

"Then what would you have me do?" he pressed. "What can I do?" How could a prince, an heir to Seven Kingdoms, be so helpless and weak to fate?

"You can prepare yourself. As I have always said." Tywin did not flinch from the truth. "Aerys is my king, and so will you be. I can no longer help him, though I work on his behalf. You, Rhaegar. You will be a great king."

Rhaegar reminded himself the man was a servant; the man was noble but a servant; the man would never be his equal. No matter how he repeated it to himself, or how many times, it remained true, to a degree.

Tywin Lannister served. He was noble, but not a member of a dynasty so blessed as his own. He would never be a king, or a prince. But he had all but made Rhaegar what he had become, and formed who Rhaegar knew he would be in years to come.

"And you by my side?" he asked, quietly.

"If you will have me, Your Grace."

"Turn to my father once more," Rhaegar said. He felt strangely elated, freed of something that had once weighed on him too heavily. "Try to remind him what you once shared. Bring him back. I will not give up on him this easily, or give up on what good works the two of you might bring to the realm. But tell me what you would ask of me, tell me your intent. I would know what you mean to ask of your future king."

"I would give you a wife," Tywin said, something much like uncertainty glinting only in his eyes. "I would ask only that of you. A queen, of my own blood."

"My father would refuse it. I am his son yet, and - " And I serve him as much as you do. "Your Cersei… it seems a plot, my Lord Hand. Is this what you intend?"

"I intend only the best for the Seven Kingdoms, and ask only one thing of you."

Rhaegar turned away from him. "...Give my father what may please him. A gift only you can give, something he cannot refuse. I'll do the rest."

Tywin answered that only with a short bow, as Rhaegar glanced briefly back at him. "Shall I tell you my intent after your return from Dorne, my prince?"

It was a question he could not easily answer. Had he not already passed through flames? Those of the fears that had plagued him, the doubt that had taken root in his soul, had he not crossed through them with relative ease? Could Summerhall bring him greater insight than Tywin Lannister?

He found himself, upon examination, exhausted.

"Yes," he concluded, after a moment. "Make your plans, my Lord Hand. I will attend to them when I have had my time to consider the story you have spun for me and your dreams of the future."

"I am no Targaryen, who might see a future of dragons in flight," Tywin answered. "That would be much easier to read, my prince. I craft what I can. The rest is left to kings and their whims."

It was another lesson taken. What kind of king would he be? What was he made of?

"Leave me," Rhaegar said simply. Once the Hand was gone, he leaned on the chest, weighed down all at once by uncertainty.

Wishes were for children. Summerhall would speak to him. The books would remind him of where he had come from, and tell him where he must go. The gods would bless his path if he chose the right.

He would be different than his father. No black humors, no darkness, no wildfire in his belly. He would act in honor and sense and kindness, and never in fear or sharp impulse.

You will be a king, he reminded himself. Be a great one.

There was another knock at the door. He straightened, and went to open the door.

"My prince," Prince Lewyn said, "your royal father requests your presence before the night arrives and you leave in the morning."

"I'll see him."

He went to kneel before the Iron Throne, and listened, serene, patient, still, as his father the king continued to spin his mind away like string from a spool.

Rhaegar would not yield himself, and what could one day make him great.