Updated 4/9/2019: Edited for a smoother read.
The sight of Winterfell near stole the breath from Barristan, but it wasn't for reasons of its beauty or majesty.
'We're here. We're finally here. This is it,' he mused and numbly shook his head.
After reading Jaime's accounts and agreeing to help him serve their King Aemon, everything went back to normal. It was enough to lull a lesser man into a false sense of security and while Barristan had been constantly plagued with doubts, he kept insisting to himself that he had to believe, not in the least for Jaime's sake.
While his and Jaime's relationships could hardly be described as brotherly, they were marginally closer though they maintained a distance in public. However, there were times in private where Jaime looked at him with a hesitance and vulnerability that suggested he expected Barristan to turn around, disparage him, and go straight to the King with his information of treason. The thought had certainly crossed his mind in his strong moments of doubts. Those doubts were silenced every time he saw King Robert's conduct, whoring and spending the kingdom's gold frivolously. And with every time he saw Prince Joffrey, the boy demonstrated what a boorish, spoiled brat he was. It was proof of the inherent weakness in this dynasty. It was never going to last with such poor examples.
War was inevitable regarding the paternity of the royal children. Ned Stark had every intention of snooping around and unearthing the truth of Jon Arryn's untimely demise. The way Jaime put it, the only person who didn't suspect the legitimacy of the children was King Robert himself.
As the year 298 approached, Barristan did finally broach a subject to Jaime that he had been at war with: "Shouldn't we warn Jon Arryn? Shouldn't we save him?"
Jaime rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Jon Arryn's death pushes Robert North. How do you expect to meet him otherwise and save him from the Wall?" Jaime had insisted on a moratorium for Aemon's name lest any errant ears pick it up and start making assumptions, correct or not.
Jaime never admitted to being afraid of anything, but he was obviously afraid of deviating from the original path. Barristan had turned it over in his head countless times at night and each and every suggestion he had made had been shot down by Jaime. They couldn't simply pluck Aemon from Winterfell, one of them offering to squire him. How were they supposed to know of his existence anyway?
He had also suggested tipping off King Robert that his heirs were bastards, so that Aemon would be inclined to march south with his cousin and engage in a war. While Jaime admitted that the plan had potential, it still had several major flaws; "We're supposed to be tearing down Robert's legacy, not giving him the chance to rebuild it."
At his least inspired, Barristan said, "We could just defect and take Aemon with us across the Narrow Sea."
Jaime had sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Do you not think I haven't thought of these things? That would make us just as poor as Prince Viserys and Princess Daenerys. We'd be at the mercy of anyone crazy enough to hand us an army. Also, he doesn't know of the other time and his true origins. We'd have to kidnap him! We wouldn't make it to White Harbor and that would cast suspicion on him. Face it, Jon Arryn dying is the best way to reach him."
With that, Barristan was resigned to the fact that despite all of his efforts, Jon Arryn was on a path for his death. It was only the knowledge that his death would make it possible for him to reach Aemon and safeguard him as was appropriate that made his treason bearable.
When word came down that Jon Arryn had passed, Jaime's accounts were vindicated. It was one thing to name who would eventually appear - that information could be floating around the Keep for all he knew - but to predict Jon Arryn's death so far in advance, before the players were even there was another thing altogether.
Jaime had been right all along and they needed to get ahead of this mess before it could escalate and spiral out of control.
That we would think we have the power to control these events, Barristan thought and snorted to himself. That might very well be insanity itself, but they had to try.
Since Lord Arryn's death was confirmed, Barristan was impatient to reach Winterfell. In normal circumstances, he would hardly care that the queen's ridiculous, gawdy, and impractical carriage broke down every five miles, but it made the anticipation to see Rhaegar's last remaining son agonizing. He wondered how Jaime managed to keep so calm, but when he asked about it, Jaime just shot him a long-suffering look and merely shook his head.
'Presuming we get there before he's sent to the Wall.' Just the thought was enough to make Barristan weep. Rhaegar's last remaining heir condemned to the Wall because the Lady of Winterfell thought him a stain on his father. And Lord Stark allowed this abuse? Jaime had told him about the suffering Aemon endured as a result of being thought a bastard and it made him simmer with rage. King Aemon deserves a better family. It shocked him that he even had to think that. The Starks were the oldest and one of the most venerable houses of Westeros. Lord Stark was well known for his adherence to honor despite not even being a knight himself. He felt he had a kindred spirit in Lord Stark when they had initially met at King's Landing, but now he felt like they couldn't be further apart.
He would have to work hard to curb his tongue when they finally met. It was hard enough trying to stifle his energy. Jaime was constantly throwing him dirty looks as he shifted in his saddle. Even the king had noticed his agitation.
"Are you well, Ser Barristan?"
"It is not oft that you have traveled, your grace, and there are a lot of potential threats on the road. I want to be on my toes," he had replied, lying having become second nature to him by this point.
The king and Prince Joffrey were among the first inside Winterfell and he was sitting just behind the king. He took the opportunity to survey the area as though for threats, but in truth he was looking for Jon Snow.
"Lady Catelyn did not like him to be visible to the entourage. He'll be in the back," Jaime had warned him.
He had frowned at Jaime as the words caused his ire for the Starks to increase once more. He was aware that bastards were rather ignominious in the south, and little loved, but he had hoped that Jaime's accounts were at least wrong about Aemon's treatment at the hands of Lady Stark.
His first pass through the Stark family, no one in particular stood out and it was suggested that Jon Snow likely wouldn't. Of the Stark brood, he appeared to have the strongest Stark blood, Jaime had told him.
The King and Lord Stark exchanged pleasantries, laughing like they had never been separated since the Greyjoy rebellion. Stark began introducing his children and he had a rather admirable brood. It was just as he decided to dismount that he met eyes that could be mistaken for Rhaegar's. The boy wasn't looking at him, but close to him, and he was startled, but continued staring all the same.
His memories suddenly catapulted to a time when Prince Rhaegar was out on the streets of King's Landing, playing his harp and singing to it. He has the prince's violet eyes.* How could this have gone unnoticed? He thought. When he thought about it, he did hear a vague rumor that Ned Stark may have had a fling with Ashara Dayne and they were another house known for violet eyes.
He dismounted on the other side of his horse to put distance between him and Rhaegar's son, so that no one could see the sudden weakness in his knees. I will protect your son with my life, Prince Rhaegar. You have my word, he silently prayed and hoped that some way, somehow, his message was received.
*Yes, I gave Aemon violet eyes in this universe, mostly as a means to distinguish this story from the universe The Dragon's Roar takes place in. He still has gray eyes in TDR.
Author's Notes: Yep, that's it. As rife with potential as this storyline is, I can't continue it. I don't need two different epics going on at the same time. Further, people are already confusing these two stories when they already cannot take place in the same timeline. This was simply another way this storyline could have gone, but didn't at the time.
However, if there is anyone out there who'd like to use The Lion's Fall as a springboard to write their own story, you have my blessing. Good luck!