Note: P.O.V/chapter segments are not in chronological order. Time has either passed or reversed between each one. This is important to remember, especially in this chapter, so it doesn't seem like characters are apparating around the place (no two day journey to Riverrun here D&D), and more than a fortnight has passed between start and finish.
Letters, Lies, and Little Lion Men
Tywin Lannister's P.O.V
By the time Tywin Lannister made it to the chambers housing the Small Council, the Seven Hells had already cracked open. Principally, the first bitter taste of impending calamity came from the rotund presence of the King himself, Robert Baratheon, first of his name, within the meeting. Notoriously apathetic in matters of governance, Robert chiefly left his Small Council to the dull affairs of administration, favouring to spend his morns eating, drinking, hunting, and whoring his way into an early grave.
His attendance was not something Tywin took lightly.
By the solemn disarray of the other Council members, it was a wise choice indeed.
Hand to the King, Jon Arryn, Lord Paramount of the Vale, and Warden of the East, was by his charges side, pallid and quiet of voice, muttering away to an increasingly flushing Robert, certainly trying, futilely, to calm the raging bull with a gentle hand upon his once Ward's shoulder.
Pycelle, Grand Maester, Tywin's own well-bought man, nestled into himself by the table, furiously penning down a long, winding scroll with a goose feather, striving to make himself look as small as possible. Master of Coin and Master of Whisperers, Petyr Baelish and Varys respectively, were tongue-locked in a heated argument, heads bowed as if they were readying to butt at each other like goats on a farm.
Renly Baratheon, the King's own brother, the weakest of the three in truth, was, curiously, without grin that day, instead subdued, chalice empty of wine, staring out the slit window to the city beyond from where he stood resting on masonry. The Master of Ships, Stannis, was, not surprisingly, not present, as he had taken to staying upon Dragonstone the last few moons since his heir, a daughter, had been struck down with Greyscale.
Tywin was grateful for small mercies.
Robert was every bit a Baratheon that morn, black of hair and bright blue eyed. He was a towering man, taller still from his thick soled boots. As a young man, he was considered handsome, Tywin knew, muscled like a maiden's fancy the soldiers used to say.
However, now, Robert had grown thick in a portly way, as round as he was tall, often red-faced from drinking with thumbed bruises beneath his once bright eyes. He walked as if he was half in his cups already, sweating through his silks, his beard, a wild and thick and fierce thing, obscuring the jiggle of his double chin.
Nevertheless, despite his ungraceful slide into fleshiness, the King was every crumb as daunting as he was on the battlefield, a veritable giant swinging his war hammer above his head. A leviathan that had, as soon as Lord Lannister came promenading into the Small Council, locked onto him like beast snuffling prey as if he were out in the King's Wood hunting.
The King stole himself away from the gentle words of Lord Arryn and the pacifying hand, and thundered over in great pounding steps, the Crown upon his brow tilting crookedly. Halting before Tywin, the brutish man of brutish pleasures snatched a meaty fist into the front of Tywin's tunic, wringing deep, heaving close.
"You swore to me they would be dealt with, Lannister! I should have known! That is all you are good for! Empty, gilt words!"
Tywin Lannister coldly answered.
The King stared, and snarled, but eventually his fingers disentangled themselves from the velvet of Tywin's tunic, and his great hand crashed to his side. Good. Perhaps the King had forgotten who it was exactly that had aided him in the perilous path to the Iron Throne, who exactly convinced the Mad King to throw open the gates of King's Landing for Baratheon's men to enter, but Tywin had not, and it would be best for all that Robert recalled all he owed to the Old Lion of the West.
A King could be as easily unmade as he was made.
Especially when that King had a son ready and waiting to inherit his throne.
A boy of Tywin's own blood.
Trudging back to the long table of the Small Council, Robert filched the flagon of arbor gold and downed the lot. Knowing he would find no true answers coming forth from the King, Tywin turned his attention to the glum and ancient Lord Arryn.
The man sighed deeply.
"Our men in Essos have brought us reports of the Targaryen Princes."
Nothing new, and certainly nothing to be so concerned over, if that was all. Robert had been keeping trace, and chasing down, the disgraced Targaryen boys since they first fled Dragonstone with Ser Darry. Nevertheless, obviously, there had to be more to this sordid affair than news of the Targaryen sons soliciting for an army.
Baelish jeered from his seat, threading his fingers through his neatly trimmed beard flecked with silver.
"Do you not mean Varys's little birds? Urchins and paupers willing to do and say anything for coin. How can we be so sure they are giving us truthful accounts? We cannot."
Varys was swift in chiding the Master of Coin.
"They have no motivation to lie on this matter, and you know this as well as I, Baelish."
Baelish turned his eyes, voice slick like candle oil.
"There are one hundred reasons to lie, my friend, and each and every one of them was sitting pretty in the coin purse you gave them for their tall tales. Do not misjudge the charm of coin to a man who has none. I believe if we-"
Robert roared as he slammed the flagon down, cracking the crystal inlay. The Small Council fell silent as night, weary and jaded.
"The Targaryen girl…"
Sluggishly, the King rolled to confront Tywin once more, gaze as pitiless and unyielding as Storm's End itself.
"You told me you searched for her but found naught? Not even a hair? The Targaryen girl was gone, you told me so many moons ago. Worry not my King, for she is as lost as Valyria itself… Dead to the age. Those were your precise words, were they not, Lannister?"
In part, yes. As it was true that Tywin had spent many moons seeking the Targaryen Princess and uncovered nothing but loss and grief and stories of despair. As the Targaryen Princes remerged after the death of Ser Darry, anecdotes of them begging their way through Essos rising, not one word had been said of the Princess.
She was gone.
Possibly deceased and decomposing in the Dragon glass caves she never came out of.
The King shook his head, his heavy black hair whipping about his shoulder's like the tail of a war horse, his face curdling like spoiled milk.
"Then it is funny, is it not? For Varys's birds in Essos speak… Haraella, is it not? Yes, Haraella Targaryen has just joined her brothers in Volantis… Together with a fucking dragon the size of the Great Sept of Baelor!"
Suddenly, Robert was reaching for the flagon again, stealing and hurling, and the glass shattered against the wall in all his fury, pouring down in silver rain. Renly winced at the deafening noise, as the rest of the Small Council member's politely averted their gazes.
It was there that Tywin foresaw the truth. The honesty that bellied this was no ill-thought-jest. In the silence that came settling about them like a well-worn cloak.
"Not only did you swear to me that you would deal with the would-be-beggar Princes, you swore that the Targaryen bitch was dead! Did you lie to your King, Lannister?"
The King's tenor irritated Tywin like ivy-rashes on blistered skin. He had his crown because Tywin gave it to him. He had his throne because Tywin let him have it. He had his legacy secured through Tywin's own daughter and grandchildren.
Robert Baratheon, without Tywin Lannister, would still be whoring with that insipid wolf-lord of his in the North, bemoaning over his lost love, Lyanna Stark. Everything he had, everything he would have, was owing to Tywin Lannister.
Respect, least of all, was due.
Yet, was this not such a grim turn? One not so easily anticipated? The King, Tywin thought, could have his anger in his confusion.
And Robert was confused.
Perplexed on how he could have sent assassin after assassin after the Princes in exile, and still not have one detached head returned to him. Puzzled on how, despite the many moons spinning through the years, the Targaryen Princess could return, in a blink, with a dragon between her thighs. Mystified on how luck, as fickle a mistress there ever was, could so suddenly turn against him.
"I found nothing. I thought the child dead in the caves with Lady Fig. That is all anyone knew; what anyone saw last of the child… Until today, it seems."
"Volantis has bent the bloody knee! Folded before the Targaryen's so much as sneezed! Those Valyrian shits were just waiting for this! For their precious Dragonlords to return! To rebuild the Valyrian Freehold! They opened the Black City to them, and even now, gift them the palace as if they were Kings and Queens already! How long will it be before the rest of Essos bows to the Targaryens? How long before that Targaryen bitch gains a fleet to go with her pretty dragon? How long before I have a fucking conquest on my hands, Lannister! Answer me that, and I might let you keep your head!"
Robert's threats were hollow, but his worries?
Valyrians… Sorcerers, slavers and sycophants, the lot of them.
The Valyrians of Essos had been seeking to restore the great Valyrian empire for centuries, from the remnants of its ruin in the spectre of the Doom of Valyria. Only five and ten years gone did Volantis send out a fleet to reclaim Valyria.
Undeniably, the fleet went missing as all ships do who sail those cursed seas, but the sentiment remained strong in the remnants of the Valyrian people.
The hope of renewal and reclamation.
As a people of sorcery and magic, old blood coupled with ancient ways, they would see a long thought lost Targaryen, returned from the dead astride a great dragon, as an omen, a spin of their fortune, a rallying point.
The Targaryen Princes and Princess would be foolish not to use that fervour to their advantage.
Tywin would, and, idly, he questioned just how much of his own blood was presently swimming in the veins of the could be monarch. How much gold was in the black?
Not enough with Prince Viserys and Daeron at her ear, surely, whispering away.
Perhaps there was a way to change that…
Robert edged closer, and Tywin could smell the wine deep on his breath, musky as it mingled with his sweat. It seemed he had not slept, only drank his way through the fading stars of the night prior. Though he looked to Tywin, it was to his Council he addressed himself.
"I want this dealt with. I want the Targaryen's dead, once and for all. I don't care how much it costs, what any of you have to do, who you have to buy or split asunder… I want those mummers dead, with any Valyrian that gets in the way, and I want that dragon head above my throne! Arryn, come! I need a raven sent swiftly."
Arabella Fig's P.O.V
As if life was a great wheel that span her through the days, Arabella Fig found herself precisely where she had stood so many years ago once the Veil spat her back out. Damp, breathless, in the dark of the caves of Dragonstone.
Only this time, she had no Targaryen babe at her breast, only this time, she had been seized by those guarding the docks, men in yellow and black livery. Men who could be loyal to just one House.
Only this time, as she was hoisted and dragged to what had once been Queen Rhaella's sitting chambers, Arabella Fig saw just how much everything had… Changed. The Baratheon Stag banner flapped proudly on turrets along the winding Windwyrm to the castle. Aegon's Garden, once so full of life and colour, lain in weed and ruin. The Sea Dragon Tower was a dark spike in the air, unlit and unaired. And, by what glimpse Arabella could sneak, the Sept of Dragonstone was bare and locked, sealed away and left to spoil.
Ghosts walked here, she thought, between what had been and what now was. Ghosts that had been left to fester. Ghosts she could not see, but felt all the same.
Ghosts that were enraged.
A Targaryen home nesting no Targaryens… What a sorry sight indeed.
The guards were swift to take her to the steward of this place, to the man who had defiled and smeared his name where it did not belong. To the man resting before the great fireplace of Queen Rhaella's sitting chambers.
He was a tall and powerful man, even in recline. Sinewy of frame, and broad of shoulder, Arabella knew there were very few men in the Seven Kingdoms who would be taller than he. With a fringe of black lying above his dark blue eyes, the beard dusting his well-formed jaw seemingly clung to him like shadows cling to walls.
He was not a handsome man. Not as handsome as Arabella knew his brother's to be, with thin lips that rarely ever smiled, but, she would admit, he was the most frightening of the three. What he lacked in warmth, he made up for in sharp, deadly cunning.
Yes, she knew the man before her. Knew him from a child, when his father, Steffon, used to bring he and his two brother's to King's Landing to play and meet their distant cousins.
By the recognition waxing along the strong plains of his face, he remembered her too.
"You've gotten old."
He had changed, as the world around her had. As there were now Baratheon banners on Dragonstone, guarded by Baratheon men, and a Stag King on a Throne he did not make but took all the same, and everything had changed, and, Arabella thought, it was a little dizzying.
She had spent so many years in the other place, where magic bred cruelty as much as it did heroes, where death could be only just another big adventure, but not here.
Here, in Westeros, death had sharp teeth and a nastier bite.
Here, in Westeros, death was not a thing to overcome or trick or welcome with open arms, as it was to the Wizards.
Here… Death was it's own divinity, a terrible, terrible god.
A god that had, as she knew, oh, how she knew, chosen little Haraella Targaryen as it's unifier.
The Veil would not have let Arabella back through otherwise, surely?
The man stood from his plush seat, a lofty thing of muscle and might.
"So have you, my Lady."
And Arabella Fig was not scared.
Not a little, not much, not at all.
She had seen, and been imprisoned, by crueller men than Stannis Baratheon, and he had worn a bright pink robe of all things.
Instead, she reached up, ignoring the hand locked around her bicep, and fingered the streak of grey at her temple. She was old now, her bones were beginning to ache when the wind chilled. Yet, old she may be, she was not off the chessboard.
Albus Dumbledore had taught her that.
To fear the aged, for they had survived where others, better, kinder men and women, had not.
Stannis Baratheon nodded to the watchmen holding her captive. Immediately, they let go.
They dithered on their spot, cautious, which only drew a long, suffering sigh from the Baratheon before Arabella.
"I highly doubt Lady Fig is concealing a dagger in that strange sodden dress of hers. And even if she is, I am sure I can protect myself from her assault. All five feet of it. Now leave."
The guards left, trailing out the door, and Arabella took the time between the carven door shutting, and Stannis Baratheon's astute sweep of her person, to glance about her.
"I see much more than the Lord of Dragonstone has changed since I last frequented this dark Keep. I think I prefer it the way it was before, Lord Stannis."
Stannis scoffed, a deep rumble from the chest that sounded uncannily like a garrotted snicker.
"It seems many do. And I am not the only one to have changed. The last anyone seen or heard of you, you were running off into the caves bearing a Targaryen babe. Many believe you dead, Lady Fig. Dead long ago. Yet, here you stand… Alone."
So… Haraella had not come out here. She could not have, if Stannis Baratheon, as subtle as he was, were prodding for an answer to where the babe was.
Her chin raised, as proud as a rising sun.
"Alone I am now, but not for long."
Jaime Lannister's P.O.V
Jaime Lannister stood above, on the highest landing, looking down to the Sept below, to the men and women and children taking benedictions from the Septon at the feet of the Seven. The children, Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella, sat at the forefront of the crowd, their rightful place as heirs paramount, and it was to them, to their gleaming golden heads, Jaime stared and stared and stared.
Myrcella, full of soft, gentle, delicate heart, was listening aptly to the droning speech of the Septon, Tommen was fidgeting in his pew, plump and gilded in all the finery his mother adored smothering him in, and Joffrey-
Joffrey was sleeping, slouched in his seat as he were, drooling onto the fine fabric of his shoulder.
That boy grew to be more like his mother each passing morn.
Sometimes, this pleased Jaime beyond what he could say.
Other times it… It scared him.
As if summoned by the mere thought of her name, Cersei, Queen to the Seven Kingdoms, Jaime Lannister's twin, and clandestine paramour, came tumbling into his alcove on the landing, goblet of wine stiff in her hand, pressing in tight to his side to peer down the railing to the crowd below, to her children…
To their children.
Though they borne the Baratheon name, not a drop of Stag blood tainted their bodies.
Only his sisters… Only his, and there was a warped, perverse pleasure to be had in that.
One would think, in such a sacred place, Jaime would burst into flames for all his sins of the flesh. That is what they called what he had done, was it not? An affront to the Gods? Unnatural. Perhaps that was why he found such delight in it. To spit in the Gods face. The Gods that had dubbed him Kingslayer, who set him on this path of vice and corruption, who gave as much as they took from him.
He would steal back what little happiness he could find, and if this caused the Gods to cry, then may they fill an ocean.
Naturally, he spoke nothing of this, of the ethics of transgression and the venality of flesh and blood, of Gods and destiny and rivers of sorrow etched deep in his skin like scars. No. Jaime Lannister could never speak of such things, and so, he only smiled.
He only smiled, and occasionally, seldom, he thought of Queen Rhaella and how, if she saw him now, saw the man who stood before the statues of the Gods and snubbed his nose, the Knight who sang her such pretty songs in another life, she too would cry for him, and he, Jaime Lannister, when no one watched, with the stars as his only witness… Wept for her too.
"Already deep in your cups, dear sister?"
Yet, the Queen with a silver smile was dead, her body thrown out into the sea from Dragonstone when Stannis Baratheon seized the Keep, and he was here, Kingsguard, once more in love with a Queen that wasn't his, and no tears could change that. Cersei, his beloved twin, was here, and the Gods would not take another from him. If he damned himself to the Seven Hells for it, then so be it.
There were worse fates than to burn for love.
Cersei did not smile at his jab, nor did she laugh, instead, she consumed what little dregs remained in her goblet and stared down deep at her children below.
"You too would be heavy in your wine if you had heard what I have this morn."
"Has Arryn been squawking into the King's ear again? What songs does he sing this time that has upset you so?"
Her fingers stiffened around the filigree stem of her glass.
"The Targaryen girl lives."
Jaime blinked, and blinked again, and blinked anew. For a flash, he thought of Queen Rhaella, with her soft smile and softer soul, and he… He hoped.
By the Seven did he foolishly hope.
He loved her; Jaime knew now that he was older, shrewder. In his own way, and not alike the way he loved Cersei. His love for Cersei was all consuming, a pit in his stomach that dragged him down into the soft darkness of bed sheets and secrets, with sweaty skin and shared breathes and fingers so tight they left purple bruises.
He had loved the Dragon Queen like one loves moonlight and dawn and storms out at sea.
Things one can never really touch.
Things one can never really have.
Yet, he knew it was not of the Dragon Queen Cersei spoke. She was gone, and the Gods were callous. Jaime had, certainly, as had most of Westeros, heard of her birthing bed death at Dragonstone, labouring to bring a boy, Daeron, and a girl, Haraella… Twins, into the world. The former had been spirited away to Essos by Ser Darry, a once mentor of his own, and the latter, much like her moonlight mother, had gone away.
Dead or missing.
He wondered if the girl had her mothers smile.
A thought Jaime promptly, and doggedly, stomped down to nothing but a mewl in the back of his mind.
It did not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
"I bet that has put our boorish King in high spirits. A Targaryen, to Robert, is one too many… And now he has three just over the sea."
Again, Cersei did not laugh or smile, not as she typically did when Jaime mocked her husband for her enjoyment.
"She has a dragon, Jaime. All the reports say thus, all the little whispers… The Targaryen girl with a dragon has come flying back to nest."
There was a lump in his throat, a lump that burned so sweetly, and curiously tasted of Rhaella's kiss. Like dusk and doom and little deaths.
"I assume the King believes this will make them bold? That an invasion force on our shores is only a matter of time now?"
Cersei sighed, going to sup from her cup once more, but finding it empty, she scowled at the betrayal of wine already drunk.
"Robert believes whatever he wishes too, as he always does. Yet, he is calling his Lords to King's Landing. Essos is not so far away to bring much comfort of whispers of dragons and Targaryens looming in the east. Volantis has already cheered them into their city like the heroes of old."
Jaime found his gaze circling back to the golden trinity sitting below. The Targaryen's in the east would not be so much older than Joffrey, Myrcella or Tommen. A few years at most. What would come of them, his and Cersei's children, should a dragon land on shores that had not seen their kind in an age?
Burn them all.
Yet, neither were Aegon or Rhaenys much older when they were slaughtered on the orders of his father, and perhaps the Targaryen's weren't the only ones who dealt in blood and brutality.
Rhaella forgive him.
What a poor lover he was, slaying her husband and his father her grandchildren.
"They are just children. Children who know nothing of true war. They would be foolish to invade so soon."
The glare Cersei levelled his way was hot and heavy.
"They are Targaryen."
She said it as if that was all that needed to be said. Targaryen children, war mutts and mad rogues, and beyond all hope and chance.
"Mad as their father I bet, with a dragon at their back it does not matter what they know or do not. We cannot allow them to live. We must crush them before they burn us. That is the only language a Targaryen speaks. Fire and inferno, and in so, we must answer in likeness."
Jaime shook his head, hand falling to the pommel of his sword strapped to his hip.
"Perhaps this is all for naught. Perhaps they will stay in Essos, far away. They know nothing of Westeros. The eldest, Viserys, was barely old enough to remember Dragonstone. Say they do come, no House would back their plight. It has been long enough since Robert's Rebellion that the people have forgotten what being under a Targaryen banner means, and it has been too little time for people to forget the loss and grief of war. They will not find the support they need so easily. There is no reason to fret, Cersei."
He reached for her, his golden twin, to hold her and bring them both solace, but Cersei snatched herself away.
"There is every reason to fear! If the Targaryens attack, attack and win, my son will lose his legacy! His throne! Is that what you want? My son dead or rotting in the Black Cells while some dragon bitch sits where he should? I knew this was coming… Queen you shall be... until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear… Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds…"
Cersei was quickly lost to him, cornered in some cold and dark memory of her own, hysteric and dazed. Yet, this did not last long, as she finally looked to him, green eyes bright and fierce and, perhaps, a little mad. Similarly as suddenly, she was upon him, so close Jaime could taste the sweet summer wine on her breath, feel the pressure of her breasts against his own breastplate, feel the heat of her palms as she stretched up and cradled his jaw between her hands as if he were something precious.
As if he was something worth love.
"Promise me if war comes you will protect them, Jaime? Promise me you will protect your children. Swear to me thus, swear to me here, before the Gods themselves, or never lay another finger upon me."
It was the one and only time Cersei ever gave voice to the truth.
Their dirty, crooked secret.
He stretched up slowly, rested his own calloused hands against her smooth, unworked ones, and he held on tight, for, to Jaime Lannister, there was nothing else to hold dear.
Before the gods, in their own divine abode, as the effigy of the Stranger looked on, Jaime Lannister swore an oath he, at the time, could not understand the significance of.
"I vow I will protect my children. Come what may, fire or fury, I will defend them. Each and every one, Cersei. You have my word."
Eddard Stark's P.O.V
Eddard Stark lingered on the battlement of Winterfell, snowfall clutching to lash and hair and fur lined cloak, and observed the children playing so merrily down below him in the courtyard. Even this, watching his precious children, did nothing to quell the dread hardening in his heart, or lift the weight of the letter crumpled in his hand.
Arya, so full of spirit and courage, was endeavouring to goad her older brother, Robb, into a fight with the sticks in her hand by jabbing at his legs. Robb, in turn, only laughed at his sister, dodging her increasingly annoyed whips. Sansa was sitting cheerfully under an overhanging pine, beside Septa Mordane, stitching away what appeared to be merry little yellow daisies. Rickard, Eddard's youngest, was playing in the snow, kicking up stones and twigs hidden beneath. Bran, as he often did, was attempting to climb a stack of crates and hay onto a small stable roof.
And there she was, his Lyanna snow, standing much as Eddard did, off to the side by the stables, petting at the snout of a horse, watching the Stark brood through a downturned gaze, but not really a part of the scene of domesticity.
She looked like her namesake.
More than Eddard could have ever wished for.
More than he could bear most days.
She was as wild as the north, the way Brandon and Lyanna had been, cold and far away and desolately beautiful like mountains on the horizon. Stunning but daunting when too close. Yet, her gaze… A dark violet that only shone so in harsh light. Those eyes were not Stark. Not at all, and many whispered, those who took to such gossip, that a Dayne by the name Ashara had given the bastard such a delightful feature.
Ned let them speak.
He let them whisper.
It had been safer that way, for the lie to be seen as real.
It had been safer that way.
Eddard Stark, through all his folly and faults, had tried his best to protect Lyanna Snow. He had taken her in, held her close, fed and clothed and housed the face that hurt him so, claimed her as is own, and in so… He might have doomed them all.
Ned glanced down to the letter clasped in his gloved hand, the King's seal broken and the parchment thumbed, and he thought, perhaps, maybe, not only had he doomed himself, he had doomed Lyanna too.
The Targaryens would have no love for a Stark, much less a bastard one.
They would hold no compassion for a family that had aided in the slaying of their own.
Nonetheless, it had been war. A vicious and dreadful war. Where father had killed son, and wife and child were raped and brutalized in their beds, and a Stark had bled out and died so far from home, in sands not snow.
Ned, in all his naivety at the time, in all his hot blood and youth, had only wanted to see his sister home. He had only wanted his family whole. He had only wanted righteous vengeance for the-
Only, Lyanna had not been kidnapped, had she?
As Lyanna Snow was not his and Ashara Dayne's bastard?
Robert's Rebellion had not been built on a lie. The Mad King had murdered his brother and father, subjugated his people, caused terror and fear to sprout across the land, and though Eddard regretted many things, picking up his sword against that tyrant was not one. However, Robert's Rebellion had ended on a lie.
On Eddard Stark's lie.
A lie that would come undone.
It was happening all over again. Ned could feel it hanging in the air, thick and cloying and reeking of death. Wolves and Stags and Lions against Dragons and Suns and prickly Roses, snarling at each other's throats, baying for blood and throne and…
Promise me, Ned.
He had. He had promised Lyanna. Promised to protect, and shield, and shelter.
And he would do more still.
Promise me, Ned.
Ned thought he could smell the roses and blood again, smell it so sharply it nearly choked the breath right out of him, and he wished to weep. Weep over old wounds, old losses, old grief.
A letter had never felt so heavy in his hand before.
By the time his children looked up to the battlements surrounding them, Eddard Stark was gone, prowling into the Godswood in hopes the Old Gods would hear him one last time.
He needed their guidance and forgiveness for what he was about to do.
Oberyn Martell's P.O.V
Sunspear was a fenced settlement, guarded by three vast winding walls encircling one another, containing miles of narrow alleys, unseen courts, and raucous bazaars. The Threefold Gate furrowed up just so on the left, avoiding the labyrinth of alleys, and instead allowed for straight passage on a slabbed path to the Old Palace.
It was this path Oberyn Martell stole down that night, the stars bright above his head as if he were crowned by suns from far off lands.
A large, ugly, dun-coloured structure that appeared unnervingly like a dromond jutted up from his right, one of the oldest buildings in Sunspear, the former stronghold of House Martell, the Sandship. Over time, it had been joined by soaring towers of Rhoynish fashion, the slender Spear Tower and the great, domed Tower of the Sun.
The latter, the Tower of the Sun, stored the high seats of the Prince of Dorne, twin thrones adorned with an inlaid spear and the blazing Rhoynish sun. This tower was the first thing visitors to Sunspear saw upon the horizon, whether they came by land or sea, and it was this tower Oberyn made his way to.
Oberyn found his brother, Doran, in his resting Chambers below the thrones. A man in his early fiftieth year, Doran was a cautious fellow, pensive and subtle, and so far from what Oberyn himself was like. Oberyn, too, knew him to be prone to thinking long on matters, weighing every word and every action.
As he was doing that night, dispensing with issues of state behind his regal desk. Doran was, once more, in his wheeled chair, his legs and feet obscured in a lacy blanket, hiding the soft and shapeless form the gout swelled his joints and knees and toes into.
Doran appeared much older than he was, in truth.
Oberyn thought, by the time this night was finished, he would gain another five seasons.
The Seven knew Oberyn himself felt an age older than he did only a few hours therefore.
Prowling up to his brother's festooned desk, Oberyn plunged a hand into the belt of his tunic, plucked free the letter that had caused his great ride from the Shadow City at an ungodly hour, and threw it down before his brother.
Doran did not look up, still hunched over his own pile of parchment, quill scribbling furiously.
Doran's hand gracefully carried on its journey, dipping into an ink well before scratch, scratch, scratching away.
"I am rather engaged currently, brother, and-"
"I would sincerely advise that, whatever has caught your eye, to put it aside and read that letter."
Gently, Doran placed his quill down, squinting up to meet the dark, dusky gaze of Oberyn. When he only found candour, and perhaps a dash of heat kindled by passion, he stretched out and stole the letter, flicking it open, reading, frown flourishing with each line passed.
Even after he had finished reading, it took Doran a long time to speak.
"Is it true? Can this be verified?"
Oberyn seized one of the plush seats before Doran, there for when the Prince could not leave his personal apartments due to pain and he was forced to entertain guests in this very room.
"That letter is from Varys himself. He would not send such word if he had not checked it thrice already."
Doran's finger tapped away on the desk in the beat of his thoughts, his mind, so quick, so sharp, already constructing and deconstructing proposals and strategies.
Oberyn found it ironic and amusing.
He, the Viper, so dreaded across the land, from the Sunset Sea to the Wall, so much so, most ignored the true serpent slithering in the sand, waiting to strike.
"Does anyone else know of this?"
Oberyn scoffed. His brother had not read the second page to the letter, but he had.
"The Master of Coin, Baelish, caught wind of the news before Varys could bury it. He informed the Stag's Small Council. King's Landing knows, and no doubt, not before long, the rest of Westeros will be swift to follow."
Naturally, Oberyn did not fault Varys for this. The man had done excellent work for Oberyn's family, secreting gossip of the Stag and his movements for many a moon, for his sisters family, and this, this news, could not be capped for long. No, news like this bled. It seeped and it oozed, and it was impossible to hold for long, like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands.
Yet, a little more time would have been nice.
Oberyn cocked a glossy brow.
"See which piece, brother? The part of the Princess's implausible return to her brothers in Essos? Or perhaps the part where Volantis has kicked open the gate to the Black City and welcomed them in, a near impenetrable fortress where I am sure even the Usurper cannot reach? Or, perhaps my personal favourite, the part where all sources say she flew in on the back of a dragon at least fifty times the size of a man?"
Oberyn's grin was a sharp thing, like broken bone, jagged and keen. Doran scowled at him fiercely.
"Now is not the time for your sarcasm, brother."
Oberyn kicked back in his seat, bolstering his grit coated boots on the edge of the desk.
"No, it is not. Now is the time to act. As I have been saying for years. The Lannisters and Baratheons grow fat and old as our sister withers to bones under the ground they walk, and her child, our niece, rots alongside her. Now is the time for action, not restraint."
Doran shook his head, the streaks of grey peppering his hair glinting silver in the candlelight.
"Have you forgotten our own Targaryen? Must you forget that it was restraint that saved Aegon? If we act now, without thought, without prudence, we risk our nephew before Aegon is ready."
Oberyn's boots fell back to the ground with a terrible thud, a snarl twisting at his face as he rose tall, incensed and impassion over an argument the two brothers had had frequently throughout the years.
"I told you before, years hence, we should have never withdrawn Aegon from his uncles."
Doran's sigh was long, suffering, misery made misfortune.
"And I answered, Oberyn, that as much as I felt for Viserys's and Daeron's predicament, Robert Baratheon knew of their survival. His eye was already pulled to them. If we had let Aegon near them, the Stag would have discovered our nephew too, and the mummers corpse he parades over. You know how much he loathes Rhaegar still. Rhaegar's son would have been primacy in his reprisal."
Oberyn knew this. He knew why they had done what they had, the cost of failure, the cost of life. Yet, as a father himself, a man with eight daughters, leaving Viserys and Daeron to fend for themselves in Essos had always… Sat uneasily in his gut, like worms in the mud.
Nevertheless, they had done just that.
For his nephews sake.
For Elia's last surviving child… Oberyn would have damned everyone else, if that were what it took to see Aegon to safety.
He only hoped one day, Daeron and Viserys would understand, understand his love for his nephew, understand and forgive him.
And now Haraella too.
Death by dragon fire was not the fatality Oberyn had envisioned for himself.
No, he much preferred the fantasy of soft, silk blankets and a nice warm mouth down below.
"And yet, now, Aegon does not have a dragon, and it seems all our pretty plots are down the privy."
Oberyn did not mean anything against the boy, no one could have foresaw this, but…
Viserys and Daeron would consolidate around their younger sister, and certainly, her dragon in Volantis. From there, they would spread their power, gain strength. Coupled with Viserys's claim to the throne, his mother having crowned him on Dragonstone before her death, they had the upper hand should it come down to infighting over legitimacy and claim.
On the blood-spattered path to the Iron Throne, blood meant less than might, and a dragon…. Well, was there such a mightier creature?
Witnessing Elia's son sitting on his father's throne seemed to be less and less likely.
However, that had never been the true motive, was it?
Not for Oberyn. He would be merely glad if Aegon survived, and lived, and got to be merry as all children should. Without fear of murder, or war, or being hunted for the shade of his hair and the hue of his eyes.
A Targaryen under a Stag was a dead Targaryen.
But a Targaryen under a Targaryen…
Doran met his eye.
"Plans can change, brother. Plans can change, as betrothals can. Send for my daughter Arianne. I have a task for her."
Catelyn Stark's P.O.V
Catelyn Stark was convinced she would always, no matter the wolf pups she bore, or the years she spent in this frozen land filled with colder men, feel ever the interloper when she visited the Godswoods of Winterfell. It was a bleak, primal place, comprised of three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years. Sentinels, oaks, and ironwoods closed in tight, with ash, chestnuts, elms, hawthorn and soldier pines interspersing the canopy, deep and dense above her head. In the centre of this primordial land laid a dark and cold pond before an ancient Weirwood heart tree. A tangled thing of bark white as bone, leaves as red as blood, and a long, melancholy face etched upon it.
There was something wild about Winterfell's Godswood; even here, in the core of the castle at the root of the city, you could feel the old gods watching with a thousand unseen eyes.
And Catelyn Stark could not help but feel they saw her soul deep and found her… Lacking.
She did not enter this place often, tried her best to avoid it and the suspicions of inadequacy it engraved upon her chest. However, that evening, dusk sinking down in dull tints of grey, she found herself edging in, searching.
Ned, her Ned, had been seen going in that morn by Jory Cassel, and had yet to come out. Not for supper, not for the children, and not for her, and so, when he would not come, she would go to him.
Catelyn found him where she expected she would. Before the great Weirwood, gazing before the blackened pond. Nevertheless, he was not honing Ice, his House's Valyrian sword, as she had been anticipating. No, Ice was no where to be seen.
A letter rested instead in his limp had, half buried by the swell of his fleeced cloak.
Eddard Stark had a long face common in those with Stark blood, accentuated by his dark hair being lured back by a leather throng. It was his closely trimmed beard, only just beginning to grey, that made him look older than his five and thirty years. Throughout the years as his wife, Catelyn had come to know his eyes, know them better than her own, a dark grey that reflected his moods, turning soft as fog or as hard as stone.
He was shorter and less handsome than his brother, Brandon, had once been. Still, he had a good sweet heart beneath that solemn face, and to Catelyn that was worth more than any beauty or splendour.
And right then, sitting before his gods, strange old gods that Catelyn feared, that sweet heart of his seemed… Lost.
Lost and so very far from her straining reach.
Catelyn dared closer.
"My love, what is wrong?"
His gaze fell back to the still, blackened waters.
"Not what is, but what will be."
Catelyn frowned, perplexed by his wistful tone, hesitating at the water's edge. She had not seen Ned this anxious or forlorn since he came home from Robert's Rebellion, carrying that bastard in his arms and-
She would not sully this place, this sacred place, with her hatred for the child born from her husband loins but not her own. The girl, whether Catelyn liked it or not, was a Stark, although, fortunately, she would never hold the name. One merely had to look upon the bastard to know thus.
Whereas Catelyn's own children, her own legitimate children, Robb and Sansa with their Tully red hair, were less so and-
No. Not here. Not now.
Ned held out the letter for her to take, and step by step, Catelyn made it to his side. She took the parchment gingerly, as if it too could burn her as it had clearly burned her Ned, and with each word she read, each line she skimmed, her stomach dropped and her heartbeat skipped.
"Is it true?"
Ned nodded, and Catelyn wished she could weep through the shock freezing her still and motionless to the frost draped ground.
"Robert wants me in the Capital by the moons end. He knows those who do not answer his summons are, even now, siding with the Targaryen's in Essos. It's a test. He believes the Tyrell's have already sent a man to Volantis to entreat with them."
Finally in control of herself once more, Catelyn collapses onto the twisted root Ned sat upon.
"What of the children? You cannot go."
Ned looked to her, looked and beseeched her to understand things she could not.
Things he had yet to say.
"It is for the children that I must."
Catelyn did not argue, she found she could not as much as she longed she could, her tongue something fatty and useless between her teeth.
"Do you think it is true? That they have a…"
She dared not say it. Not here, not ever. Yet, she thought it, she thought it and feared.
She had seen and heard what the Mad King had brought upon them with nothing but wildfire… What could a Targaryen do with a dragon instead?
Terrible, terrible things she thought.
Things never dreamed, and things never said, and things never recovered from.
Ned, her precious Ned, did not hold the same godly fear she did.
"A dragon? Yes. Robert and Arryn would not be so agitated if they did not believe the accounts. It seems dragons have returned to the skies once more. I pray that is the only forgotten nightmare to resurface. I am old, I am weary, and I am not the same green boy I once was."
Catelyn glanced down to the pond before them, right to her glistening reflection. It stared back, a thing that was grim and older than the last time Ned left for the South.
Would he bring another bastard back?
"Do you believe the Targaryen's will invade?"
Ned wavered, snared between wanting to comfort her and telling the truth.
As always with her husband, his honour won out and her comfort, as when he brought that bastard back when many other Lords would have done the kindly thing for their wife and abandoned the runt somewhere unseen, was dropped somewhere low.
Catelyn loved him for it.
She despised him for it too.
"Soon? No. They will establish their power in Essos. It is the shrewd thing to do… But…"
"But eventually the Iron Throne will pull their gazes westward."
Ned's silence was answer enough, and Catelyn found her resolve intoxicating and heady.
"Then it is best to deal with the problem before they can. Stop it before it begins, Ned."
Ned looked to her, really looked, and it was almost as if he were seeing a stranger, and not his beloved wife. It chaffed against Catelyn, it stung too, but she did not waver. Family, Duty, Honour. Those were the words of her House. Family came before Honour in her world, and if the death of three Targaryens secured that, then the gods must will it so.
For she did.
In that moment, she prayed for their swift, swift deaths.
If only her own children would not meet the same end in dragon's fire.
"They are children, Cat. Scared children who likely-"
"As our children are children! You cannot say if the Targaryen's rise and come sailing our way they will not seek vengeance against your family for your role in their downfall. Will you see them burn Robb as their father burned your brother?"
Ned's eyes rolled to a storm cloud grey, and it was, perhaps, the most angriest she had seen him in years.
"You speak of things you do not understand, wife. You can predict the future as much as I. The truth is no one, not Robert, not you, not I, can know what the Targaryen's in Essos will or will not do. Just because they live is not a death sentence deserved. The Mad King took to slaying children for their name, for the sins of the father, without trail or reason… I am surprised, and saddened, you would wish to do the same."
Unexpectedly, Catelyn was awash in shame that stifled her, burned so hot in her veins she felt as if she were set alight already, another star in the sky, another flickering flame blown out in the wind, so potent and strong she could no longer bare looking at Ned, and her gaze tumbled away.
"I only worry."
Her voice was soft, perhaps as lost as Ned's sweet heart. Sighing, Ned slid from his seat at her side and came dropping upon his knees before her, snatching at her hands which had been, without forethought, wringing into the velvet skirts of her dress.
He held her hands in his, large and brown and hardened through harsh duty.
Eddard Stark had the heart of a bard, the hands of a killer, and the honour of a King, and Catelyn had never loved anyone more than she did he.
"I know you worry, as do I. It is dark times that are coming our way, Cat, and we must all be ready. That is why I must do what I do now, as much as it will hurt us both."
Catelyn tried to drag her hands free, as she frowned and blinked and, again, her heart pounded in her chest.
Ned held her steady.
Ned held her true.
And Ned shattered her world.
He was misty, sad in a way she had only ever seen him be down in the hollows of the Crypts, gazing at his sister's effigy.
"I believe it is time I told you of Lyanna Snow's mother."
Tyrion Lannister's P.O.V
Sprawling across several miles and defended by tall, thin walls, King's Landing was a pox-mark on the otherwise green hills of the Crownlands. Strewn with manses, arbors, granaries, storehouses, inns, merchant stalls, markets, brothels, taverns and graveyards, there was not a vice to be had that could not be quenched in the Capital. Out at the Blackwater Bay, hundreds of quays could be found docked in the harbour, readying for journeys to the far ends of the world.
Clustered around the great city stood three large hills, named after Aegon and his two sister-wives, Visenya and Rhaenys. Aegon's High Hill, surmounted by the Red Keep, the royal castle located in the south-eastern corner of the city, overlooked the bay directly, whilst Visenya's Hill to the west was crowned by the marble-walled Great Sept of Baelor and its seven crystal towers. The Hill of Rhaenys in the north was capped by the collapsed ruins of the Dragonpit dome, its bronze doors shut for a century and a half since the last dragon died.
While the nobles dined on silver plates and fine crystal, the poor smallfolk huddled in the slums of Flea Bottom, a maze of narrow streets and alleys, subsisting on what they called 'bowls of brown'. A mystery stew that could include the meat of rats and murder victims.
And that, those bowls of brown, was what King's Landing truly was, Tyrion Lannister thought.
A place where man ate man, and no one batted an eye.
He was exhausted and dirty from the road by the time Tyrion arrived in this harrowing place, having spent the last ten and six days bumped and jostled and knocked in the back of a litter. Though he was glad to see King's Landing for the first time, in all its horrendous brilliance, he was shrewd enough to be circumspect of his sudden invitation.
Tywin Lannister, his father, had sent a raven not long hence, to Casterly Rock, calling for his youngest sons presence in the capital. Not only was that surprising enough, surprising for the son generally disgraced and overlooked and much preferred dead, what exactly his father wanted with him was left undisclosed in the letter.
The urgency in which Tywin wanted for his son's attendance at his side, combined with his frustratingly obtuse letter set uncomfortably with Tyrion all the way down the King's Road and right into the Red Keep, up until the door of his father's chambers in the highest levels.
By that point, all Tyrion wanted as a good flagon of wine and a soft, downy bed.
His father was awaiting him in the chambers when he entered, staring out the window to the small flecks of people bustling down below. A tall, slender, but broad-shouldered man in his fiftieth year, Tywin was compact but muscular, favouring to keep his head shaved since his golden hair started balding. Still, he had taken to growing out his bushy, golden side-whiskers, as if his he were maned like a lion his House was known for.
First and foremost, Tywin was a calculating, intelligent, politically astute, ruthless, and controlling man. A man who had dedicated his life and efforts towards maintaining the Lannister prestige, ensuring House Lannister was respected, admired, or preferably to his father, feared.
He was a proven battle commander nearly two wars over, a man who lead from the rear, and with a powerful presence not easily glanced over, he was an intimidating figure of all regards. Cruel with disloyalty, and with a deep loathing for laughter, the only time it was said that Tywin Lannister smiled was with his dear wife, Joanna.
Until Tyrion was born and snatched that one light from him.
Tyrion closed the door behind him, ambling in and over to the desk at the far wall, his short legs stiff and swore from the long, cramped ride in the carriage, and poured himself a goblet of wine awaiting ready at the corner.
"And what do I owe this honour? It is not every day my father calls me from the dark shadows of Casterly Rock where any man or women could see me and snicker at the littlest Lannister."
Tyrion couldn't help taking the shot. He had heard the news, of course he had, half the Kingdom was in a furore, the whispers of the smallfolk, the dithering of the nobles on his journey, and certainly, all the loose tongues in the taverns he had momentarily stopped at to slake his thirst.
Dragons graced the skies once more, it appeared.
Along with a thought dead Targaryen.
Only this, this impossibility, was enough for Tywin to pull Tyrion out into the open. To risk the scorn of being seen with a dwarf son. It was one thing knowing, but for people to see… It would hurt, Tyrion thought, if he were not used to this, or he did not find any discomfort to Tywin Lannister amusing.
Yet, as sure as he knew Tywin startling want of Tyrion's presence, and this surprising news of a dragon were linked, how exactly that knot was tangled was still unclear, and where he, Tyrion Lannister, fit into it all was anyone's guess.
Though he could not see Tywin's face as it was bowed to the window, Tyrion knew he was scowling.
When was he not?
A life without laughter or smiles… How miserable.
"Do not play your games with me, Tyrion. I am in no such mood. You are here for one reason only. Duty to your family."
Tyrion supped from his cup, one light, almost white, brow arching high.
"And what does this duty entail, perchance?"
Finally, Tywin turned to face him, and immediately recoiled on sight.
It was the eyes that did it, Tyrion thought.
His own Seven damned eye.
One as green as his fathers, the other as black as night that sometimes… occasionally shone violet.
His father hated, perhaps, that black eye as much as he hated anything else about Tyrion.
Marching to his desk, Tywin collected a letter written in his own hand, preserved in the wax and seal of House Lannister. Unceremoniously, he extended the limb out, long and muscled, and carried the letter out for Tyrion to take into his own care.
Tyrion took it with his free hand as he imagined one would take poison. Quickly, in one gulp, in a wish that it would all be over soon.
When Tyrion was busy taking another sip of wine, turning the letter over in his hand, his father struck.
"You are to be sent by ship to Volantis, where you will find and hold court with the Targaryen's keeping there. Once you arrive, you will give Haraella, the recently returned Princess, that very letter you are holding."
Tyrion spewed his wine down his tunic, choking on not only a swallow gone wrong, but surely a very poor jest.
"Pardon me?! I am sure I didn't quite hear that correctly."
Tyrion had always longed to see a dragon. He dreamt of them as a child, a small, dwarf boy with no love and no companions, soaring in the clouds, finally free… Yes, he had wished and wished and wished as a boy, but that wish had never contained the possibility of being eaten by one, given their families history.
"You heard me perfectly clear, Tyrion. Your ship leaves the harbour this night, and I do not want anyone knowing of your journey, so, until then, here you stay with me. Where I can keep an eye on you until your departure."
Slowly, Tyrion placed his goblet down on the edge of the desk.
"Father, there are easier ways of having me killed then sending me bound and buffed to a dragon and a surely half-mad Targaryen frothing at the mouth for Lannister bones to gnaw! If needs must, I'll give you the coin for an assassin myself."
Tywin sneered at him, disgusted, gaze drifting and holding to his own dark eye.
"I am not sending you to a half-mad Targaryen to be eaten or burned by a dragon… I am sending you to your niece to indenture yourself to her side, and ease whatever misbegotten spite the Princes are currently filling her head with."
"Niece? What is Myrcella doing in Volantis with-"
Tywin waved a hand flippantly, brushing off whatever words Tyrion were to speak.
"Not Cersei's child, you fool! Jaime's!"
Tyrion bit down hard on his retort. The little voice in his mind that wanted to say isn't Myrcella Jaime's too? Yet, that was a secret for another time, a cryptic surely his father knew as well as he did, for even he couldn't be so blind to his perfect twins, the sullied Lannister secret, and, idly, he was currently more muddled and anxious for his own scheduled meeting with a fucking dragon to be overly concerned with matters of incest and family spoils.
"The last I knew, Jaime had no children, as a sworn brother of the Kingsguard."
Tywin's jaw wound tight, muscle jumping as he chewed back anger like one sucked marrow from bone.
"He has no… Legitimate children, no."
The spark lit like a forest fire burning in his mind, a mind always too swift, too clever, too much like his father's.
Tyrion pulled back, head shaking, pale blonde curls, only the barest of gold, bouncing.
"You are not saying what I believe you are, are you, father?"
Perhaps it was his use of the title father, which Tyrion had used less and less throughout the years, or perhaps it was the quasi-beseeching tone his pitch took, but Tywin met his gaze head on, truly looked at him and saw-
Something he, for once, just one moment, decided to be honest with.
"Jaime had relations with Queen Rhaella that I believe have… Spawned a child. A child that reappeared not a moon cycle ago."
Jaime wouldn't be so foolish-
Jaime would be so foolish, and the gods hated him just enough to ensure his babe quickened in the belly of a bloody Targaryen.
What monstrosity had his brother wrought into this world already so broken? A beast of scale and mane? May the gods have mercy on them all.
Still, all sincerity, concern or candour Tywin fleetingly gave, it was as swiftly snatched away again as his father stood, and loomed down over him.
"It matters not. You, Tyrion, for once in your sorrowful life, will do your family proud. You will take that letter to the Targaryen's, and you will meet your niece. Or, I swear to you, a dragon will be the least of your worries."
A.N: Longest chapter yet! You are either going to really enjoy this chapter, or hate everything about it and never read any of my work again lol. As a wiseman, Lord Farquaad, once said: Some of you may die, but that is a risk I am willing to take. No, in all honesty, this was so much fun to write and I do hope most of you enjoyed it.
I do not know when we'll be touching back with these character's P. again, as I really want to focus on the Targaryens (Viserys, Daeron, Haraella, Aegon, Lyanna Snow, and one more I don't want to give away just yet but I'm sure a few of you have already guessed). That said, we will eventually come back to them, and the stuff discussed/disclosed this chapter obviously comes into play throughout the fic.
As for the questions asked in the reviews, if I have not explicitly answered your question by P.M, it means it's part of the plot and I don't want to spoil anything. I hope you all understand, and know that I am not ignoring you.
Well, that's it kids, thank you all for the follows, favourites and all the lovely reviews! I hope this chapter has made her smile as all your kind words have, and I will hopefully see you all soon. ~AlwaysEatTheRude21