Author's Notes: Welcome, welcome back to the story! So good to have you back! I am forever and always grateful for your support with this project as we march ever forward towards the end. Thank you so much!

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Chapter 104

Jaime XXXIV

"Uncle, I want you in attendance with the war council His Grace is holding," Jaime said.

His Uncle Gerion cocked his head at him. "I thought this was merely to discuss the strategy at Winterfell and the other Northern issues at hand?" His voice was a shaky yellowish-green from his uncertainty.

"That is what His Grace has planned. But I am the master of war and I have more concerns than just the happenings of the North to discuss," Jaime replied brusquely, his face dark with concern.

Since the wight reveal, Aemon had been focused entirely on the North, securing Winterfell, and negotiating the truce and safe passage of the wildlings to settle in the Gift. They were leaving in just a matter of days, so Jaime could understand why that would be the focus, but he had been fighting for fifty years and commanding soldiers for twenty. As far as he was concerned, there was little else to discuss regarding the North. While Jaime was certain Aemon wanted to be informed of his plans, he didn't think Aemon was putting enough attention and thought toward the issue of the Ironborn.

They had yet to be brought into the fold, after all. It chafed Jaime that he would not be present for when Aemon decided to confront them. Aemon was no fool, but his experience with the Ironborn was still limited at best. Theon was simultaneously a poor excuse for and the perfect example of an Ironborn: filthy treacherous backstabbers who weaseled their way into vulnerable places.

Granted, that was Theon from the time before. He hadn't encountered the Theon of this time, having only seen him from a distance in Winterfell and they hadn't even so much as exchanged a single word. Theon had acted the part of a loyal ally to the king thus far and had not gotten mixed up with Petyr Baelish or his father in the coup, at the very least.

Jaime had been keeping his ear to the ground with regards to Baelish and Tywin and hadn't bothered with someone as small and insignificant as Theon. However, since the coup had been dealt with and the traitors punished, he had started to shift his focus to the Ironborn and that meant pointing David toward the one in their midst. David had not had anything suspicious to report thus far. Theon continued to rub elbows with Robb and the other young lords of the Northern contingent. He spent half his time doing archery and the other half dipping his cock into whores.

With the arrival of the pirates, Jaime had wondered if his tune might start changing, but Theon only seemed interested in picking fights with the pirates, which the Goldcloaks had been forced to separate. It appeared that Theon was no more fond of the pirates than the rest of the city was, but he wasn't willing to wait to find out.

A knock on the door jarred him from his thoughts and Podrick peeked his head in. "He's at the training grounds."

"Good, let's go," Jaime said, gesturing for his uncle to follow him.

Before long he was marching across the grounds. While it was not uncommon for him to be there, when he was, he wore his training clothes or armor. Today, he was in finery fit for a king and he moved with such purpose as to cause most to shrink out of his way.

The archery range was in a cordoned section on the other side of the grounds. Robb Stark was chuckling over something Theon Greyjoy had said as the squid squared up and took a shot at the target, landing in the center. He turned back to Robb with a smirk, but both boys' expressions melted into alarm at his approach.

"Theon Greyjoy, last son of Balon Greyjoy. You're coming with me," Jaime said. His voice was markedly green with amusement by the panicked look on the boy's face.

"Is something the matter?"

Jaime considered him for a moment with a wry smirk. "Perhaps. We shall see. You won't need your arrows."

Theon glanced back at Robb but then nodded, handing them off.

They were just leaving when Robb spoke up, his words were as orange as the fire in his eyes. "Lord Lannister, what is the meaning of this? I know there is meant to be a meeting about the strategy to take back Winterfell. My father made mention of it. But Theon will be in attendance over me? The heir to Winterfell?"

Jaime cocked his head. "No, he won't. If you wish to attend, I suggest you take it up with your father."

They left Robb to stew and headed towards the king's solar.

"Is there … trouble, my lord?" Theon asked in a quavering yellow.

Jaime stopped in his tracks so that Theon had to pull up short abruptly. When their eyes met, Jaime's face was as cold as the winters beyond the Wall. "Is there, Theon Greyjoy?"

The boy's eyes widened and he stumbled back. "Nuh-no, no, of course not, my lord. This is just … unexpected."

Jaime continued their walk. "I wouldn't concern yourself overly much. Not unless you've been a traitor."

"Wha—? No, no, I am your man. Loyal to the true king, Aemon Targaryen."

"I'm sure His Grace will be glad to hear of that," Jaime replied, wondering if Theon could hear his amusement.

When they were in sight of the king's solar, a group of Northern lords and Ser Addam were already present. Ser Addam gave them an odd look as they approached, but the Northern lords were full of suspicion.

"I thought we were discussing matters of the North?" Lord Ryswell asked. "What's the squid doing here?"

"Is he not your Lord Stark's ward?"

"He is, but I would think that would be up to Ned to bring him or not," Lord Ryswell said, his voice a light purple with suspicion.

"I have determined to bring him," Jaime replied.

"Theon, what brings you here?" Lord Stark was pleasantly confused as he walked up behind the boy. Theon gave a shrug and pointed at Jaime. Lord Stark stared at him.

"As I was saying to the lords of the North here, I have determined he is necessary." Jaime noticed Robb striding up behind him. "Seems your boy wants to be here too." He nodded over Lord Stark's shoulder.

Jaime, happy to abandon that conversation, rounded on Theon. "You will wait here until I call for you. Podrick, make sure he doesn't slink off."

"Yes, m'lord," Podrick said and sidled up closer to Theon. The boy had undergone a growth spurt in the last few months and was only a few inches shorter than Theon at this point. He gave Theon a pleasant nod, but Theon was uneasy.

"Father, I am your heir! I will be Lord of Winterfell eventually. I need to know what it is you're planning," Robb demanded.

Lord Stark sighed in exasperation, "I understand your concerns, Robb, but you're still new to military affairs. Perhaps once you've been in a battle or two—"

"Forgive me, father, but why should I have to wait for a battle or two? Maester Luwin has been teaching me military history and strategy since I was ten!"

"It's one thing to learn about the history and warfare of the distant past. We'll be taking Winterfell out from under Roose Bolton. Your brother is a prisoner. This is too personal and it's important you learn how to exercise distance—"

"Oh for Seven's sake, Stark, let the boy into the meeting. I was a Kingsguard when I was his age. I was included in the strategy meetings against the Rebellion. He's a man grown and already married; stop treating him like a child," Jaime snapped.

Lord Stark shot him a withering look at the same time Robb grinned in gratitude. "Very well. You may attend."

The doors to the solar swung forward and Aemon stepped out, his eyes sweeping them all, lingering on Theon, but then falling on Robb. He grinned. "Has Uncle finally allowed you at the men's table?"

Robb wrinkled his nose at him. "You could've said something!"

"Don't think I didn't try, but he is the Lord of Winterfell. A king cannot command how a lord rules his house," Aemon attempted to reply somberly, but his smile was still threatening to appear. "Theon, what are you here for?"

The Greyjoy just shrugged and shook his head, then remembered his manners and gave a short bow.

"He's here on my behalf," Jaime said. "I have concerns to be addressed later."

Aemon narrowed his eyes suspiciously but eventually nodded and sighed. "Very well. Come in."

They filed in and gathered around King Aemon's desk. Despite the crush, the Northern lords huddled together on one side, with Jaime with Ser Addam and Gerion on the other. Lord Stark and Robb Stark filled the middle. A map was spread across Aemon's desk with small tokens off to the side. Ghost sprawled on his side a few feet away, but kept his eye on them.

Aemon slid a black token where Winterfell was on the map. "Roose Bolton and his army are currently occupying Winterfell. In his bid to help Tywin Lannister, he left a thousand men behind in King's Landing. Domeric has control over them but that leaves two thousand men holding Winterfell. It's not a large force by any means, but Winterfell's walls are high and they could hunker down for some time on Winterfell's food stores—how long did you say, Uncle?"

"Two years," Lord Stark said in a hollow voice and his face was drawn.

"That is two years too many. The goal is to swiftly uproot them. Now, I know you've been sending letters to the lords already in the North, Uncle. What are your current plans?"

"Lord Umber has two thousand of his own men sitting outside Winterfell to make sure no further supplies can get in. We have agreed upon the construction of war machines. Two catapults and a battering ram."

"So few?" Jaime asked, frowning.

"The goal is to keep Winterfell as intact as possible so that repairs will be minimal and we'll be ready for the Long Night," Lord Stark replied.

Jaime nodded. "That makes sense, but with only two thousand men to defend Winterfell, it might be worthwhile to attack from multiple angles to thin the forces throughout the castle."

"All we need is a single opening and then our men can pour in," Stark replied.

"Yes, I suppose that will be enough," Jaime said with a sigh. "How many men are we throwing against him?"

"If all of the men of lords present are contributed and Lord Umber, we'll have twelve thousand."

"Does that include Lannister men?" Aemon asked, his eyes settling on Jaime.

"I had planned on bringing two thousand. But if the plan is to get Moat Cailin in working order, then I intend to leave one thousand men to man it and see that it gets done," Jaime replied. He didn't miss the number of lords who shifted their feet.

Ned looked at him with a troubled frown. "Lord Lannister, Moat Cailin is a Northern castle. We have men aplenty to contribute—"

"Lord Stark, your men are needed to return to their homes to harvest," Jaime cut off.

"Is there a problem, Uncle?" Aemon asked, but he glanced at the other Northern lords.

"You would have a Lannister put roots in the North?" Lord Cerwyn snapped; a muttering of agreement followed his statement.

"It didn't sound to me like Lord Lannister has any interest," Aemon said, but Jaime saw an orange tremor of anger in his voice as he desperately tried to control it. "At present, the current list of candidates to bequeath Moat Cailin to does not include anyone with Westerland allegiance."

"Are there any Northern names on that list?" Lord Tallhart asked.

"Yes, there are," Aemon said softly, his voice flickering with the color of flames. Ghost growled softly from the corner where he lay. The Northern lords shifted uneasily, but they brought their anger under control.

"Whoever gets Moat Cailin, we do not have the luxury to wait for them to take up the mantle and make it defensible. We must start its repairs now if we want it ready in time for the Long Night," Jaime said, slapping his hand down on the table. "My current hope is to station Ser Addam Marbrand there with a contingent of soldiers to protect the area and direct repairs. Whenever the new lord of Moat Cailin arrives, Ser Addam and the Lannister soldiers stationed there will return to the Westerlands."

"We may have to negotiate the stay of your Lannister soldiers for the extra support," Aemon said, "but I see no issues with that. Do you, Uncle?"

"I will happily provide soldiers from Winterfell to replace the Lannister soldiers once the new lord is chosen. It may take some time, after all, to establish roots and recruit soldiers for the new lord," Ned said, giving Jaime a firm nod. "I can then speak with everyone here to see about getting a proper household together."

"So be it, Stark," Jaime said, but it chafed his nerves. He preferred a closer connection in the North so that it would be easier to hear news of their fortifications in time for the Long Night without having to go through Stark or Aemon. Lord Commander Jeor Mormont would hopefully be willing at least.

"I'm glad we could come to some sort of arrangement. I will see about narrowing down my choices for Lord of Moat Cailin over the next few months," Aemon said.

"What about Robar Royce?" Jaime asked. "He's already pledged to the Wall."

"It will take some time yet for you to reach the Wall and I will be sure to send word if I think his talents would be of better use elsewhere," Aemon replied, the orange tinge to his voice had returned in his annoyance.

"That will do," Jaime replied with a smirk.

They spent more time outlining supplies and soldier placement. The strategy to take Winterfell was brought up a few more times as it was debated if more work should be done to create war machines and whether or not negotiations should be attempted. Robb even spoke a time or two to offer suggestions and was met with approval for his strategic thinking by a lord here and there. Despite the severity of the meeting, Robb was having difficulty containing his smiles.

All save the first letter that was sent to Winterfell had gone unanswered. The single letter sent in answer was merely done so to confirm that all of the children were still alive. But Jaime wouldn't have been surprised if Roose Bolton hadn't then immediately flayed them. Prisoners could only provide so much leverage; their lives might save his, but he'd still be bound for the Wall instead of the chopping block.

"I think we've done what we can from here. Uncle, Lord Lannister, I want to hear from each of you the moment you take Winterfell," Aemon commanded.

"Yes, Your Grace," Jaime and Ned said in unison.

"If that will be all, I would see my uncle and Lord Lannister privately," Aemon said.

They were quiet as the rest of the lords filed out. Robb had deflated yet again and he kept looking back, as if hoping someone would stop him, but no one said a word. His shoulders slumped once he stepped over the threshold.

Aemon turned expectantly to his uncle. "I have a list of the Northern lords that I have been looking through, but you know them better than I. Who is the most trustworthy and whom do you think should be rewarded for their loyalty?"

Ned considered him for a moment. "There are several names that come to mind: Umber, Tallhart, Glover, Cerwyn, Hornwood, Karstark. All solid houses that have been true to the Starks through the ages."

"Karstarks have been rewarded with Torrhen taking a spot in the Kingsguard. And I will not consider Umber," Aemon replied, his voice harsh.

Lord Stark sighed, "The Umbers are our most steadfast ally."

"That remains to be seen."

"There is little rhyme or reason for them to betray our family," Ned said with no small amount of exasperation.

But Aemon's expression could cut glass and he said, "I will consider other candidates with spare sons. As I understand it, Glover, Cerwyn, and Hornwood have no spares."

"Yes, to some extent," Ned said. "Lord Hornwood has a bastard, Larence Snow. Lord Manderly has a brother. Lord Tallhart lacks spare sons, however, his brother does not. Lord Ryswell … has plenty of spares, however—"

"They're a tad close to Roose Bolton," Aemon finished. "Yes, I was trying to decide how much that would matter."

Jaime scoffed. "Moat Cailin is the road to the North. We dare not risk whomever commands it to be an imposition. You must be certain you can trust the lord there."

"My thoughts exactly," Aemon replied wearily.

Ned nodded. "I would advocate for Lord Tallhart or Lord Manderly. Lord Tallhart was at my side when the Ironborn rebelled. I owe him my life."

"And what of Jaime's suggestion of Robar Royce?" Aemon asked.

"I think we both agree that Lord Yohn Royce was the most steadfast of allies. He still kept the Old Gods and sent his son to the Night's Watch, as you well know. I am certain Ser Robar Royce would be welcome in the North," Ned said, giving Jaime a warm look of appreciation.

It took everything Jaime had not to curl his lip in disgust.

"Good. That will be all, Uncle," Aemon said. When Ned left, Aemon turned his attention to Jaime, "Now, what is it you wished to say?"

"It's bloody well and good that we're discussing the North, but are you not forgetting something?"

Aemon stayed quiet, crossing his arms, and cocking his head.

"I want to know what you intend to do about the Ironborn."

Aemon's eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hair. "I had intended on starting to plan for that after Daenerys and I are wed."

"Not interested in making it privy to your master of war?"

"You have your duty in the North. It's not like you will be within easy reach. While you're in the North, I will be sailing in the South. This is my conflict to prepare," Aemon said with a note of finality.

Jaime glared at him and stepped closer. "I am leaving you the bulk of Lannister forces for this purpose. I want to know what it is you intend to do."

"I will bring the Iron Islands into the fold of the Seven Kingdoms," Aemon said simply.

"How?"

Aemon scowled. "I appreciate your concern, but it is not warranted! As king, I should be capable of strategizing and planning my engagements even without my master of war at hand. You're not the only man with military knowledge, just the best."

When Jaime continued to glare, Aemon elaborated, "I handled Dorne, didn't I?"

Jaime huffed. "Those were negotiations that had little opportunity to erupt into battle! I have my doubts about the Iron Islands being so easy and you don't have any experience fighting at sea."

"Neither do you," Aemon shot back. "I handled the battle your father brought to me. I can handle this!"

"I did not fight at sea, but I fought on the Iron Islands! I know what the Ironborn are like. Yes, you did well, but this is the open ocean. There will be no convenient landmass."

"Then I will be sure to bring Lord Velaryon seeing as he is the master of ships!"

"Don't forget about Ser Davos either," Jaime said grudgingly. "And while we're on it …." He strode to the door and waved Theon in. The squid stepped in hesitantly and bowed his head at Aemon again. "The Iron Islands are the only kingdom whose allegiance we haven't secured, Greyjoy."

Theon's eyes widened.

Aemon sighed, but then fixed Theon with a pointed stare. "I will need your help, Theon. I cannot be caught off guard about what to expect, but that meeting will be had at a later date."

"You will cooperate, Greyjoy, or I will do to you and yours what my father did to the Reynes and the Tarbecks," Jaime growled.

Theon's face, already pale, went the color of milk, and he leaned away to the best of his ability.

"You're dismissed," Aemon said and Theon whirled around to bolt out the door. "A threat of that level is hardly necessary."

"It's so that he'll fear disappointing me more than his father," Jaime said. "I have half a mind to send a minstrel with you with the 'Reynes of Castamere' on his lips."

Aemon rolled his eyes, but his smile was amused. "Why don't you?"

"Because a threat is only as good as the person willing to enforce it and since I will not be at hand … there's no point really. But if I need to, I will race to the Iron Islands once the North is secured ready to spill the blood of squid."

"No, you won't. The wildlings are too important to leave to anyone else. And on that note: I want you to take Ghost with you."

Jaime did a double-take. "I beg your pardon?"

The dire wolf's ears swiveled in their direction, then he turned his head and his eyes rolled their way.

Aemon pulled a piece of folded parchment from his breast pocket and handed it over.

Jaime read it over quickly, his eyebrows quirking at the two main items listed on the parchment. "You're able to do it reliably again?"

Aemon glared at him again, planted himself in his seat, and his eyes promptly rolled back into his head so that they showed white. Ghost rose from where he lay and ambled over to Jaime, sitting back on his haunches, stared into his eyes, and gave an uncanny human nod.

"Of all the things I have experienced, this may be the oddest," Jaime said.

"But the wildlings will respect it; they have similar among their number. They will understand my abilities," Aemon replied.

"And further respect you for it, no doubt," Jaime said. Once Bran had perished in the previous life, Aemon had relied on warging into Ghost to track the Army of the Dead, but one direwolf was no match to the army of birds that Bran provided. "About that second item ….?"

"I will not allow another threat like Baelish or Lord Tywin to fester. See that it's done," Aemon said, his voice taking on an uncharacteristically dark red tone.

Jaime grinned. "With pleasure, Your Grace. Will that be all?"

Aemon hesitated and then nodded.

Jaime bowed and headed out of the solar, still wearing his self-satisfied smile. There was little to look forward to up in the North, but he would take great pleasure in killing Ramsay Snow.