Guess what everyone! I'm back! No I'm not dead, nor have I abandoned this story so please don't worry! Simple fact was that life caught up to me these past two months…and what little free time I have to write (usually down to my short breaks I take at my desk at work) were almost non-existent. I'm not giving up on this story and I have every intention on seeing it through to the end! Especially now that we've gotten into the meat of 'A Song of Fire and Ice'. That said, while I will be using the cannon as a rough guide, do not expect a carbon copy of what happened in cannon. There are going to be a lot changes and shifting of story line timings. And as for midweek release…I was going to wait till Friday, but figured that you all have waited long enough for this so I decided to post it early.
Thank you to everyone who has alerted to this story, added it to your favorites or left a review! All of your continued support of this story has really been amazing and keeps pushing me to make sure that I finish this story! I read all of your reviews, and they are a boost…though its clear that some are really not meant to be a boost but rather to troll, but I try not to let those few deter me.
And lastly, shoutout to my beta reader and brainstorm partner Tellemicus Sundace. Lastly, I do not own Disney, nor am I Lucas or Martin; I have no ownership of A Song of Fire and Ice, Game of Thrones or Star Wars. This is purely for fun with no profit being made. And with that out of the way, let's get to the chapter! Stay safe out there everyone!
Sipping away at a cup of wine while watching the peasants and bootlickers of King's Landing frolic beneath her like as if they mattered at all, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms Cersei Lannister, and unfortunately wife to King Robert Baratheon, basked in the slight victory that she'd recently won while in the distance, the bells of the Sept of Baelor rung so that all in the city could hear. Though in truth, she had nothing to do with what'd happened, but she still counted it as a victory for herself because in the end, she truly benefited from what had happened. By some miracle, or act of the gods or whatever, Jon Arryn, the old fuck, was dead!
While her 'beloved' husband openly grieved for the loss, it was all Cersei could do to keep herself from smiling and laughing aloud. It'd taken her some time to figure out just why the man had been giving her such odd glances, far different from the ones she was used to receiving from him. But she'd learned from the few spies she had left that the old coot was starting to stick his nose where it didn't belong. Into her affairs. And into her children. One of the maids who was firmly under her control had whispered to her that the old man had recently received a certain book from the Grand Maester, one which spoke of the lines and lineages from each major House in Westeros. And while that didn't concern her, another guardsman who was under command had reported that the former Hand had recently taken to going into the city and frequenting brothels. Not to partake of the services of the whores like a younger man would, but rather to speak with some of the girls about any children they'd born.
It didn't take Cersei long to realize that the Hand was starting to have doubts about Robert being the father of her children. Which was something that she could not allow. But before she could take any meaningful action against the man, fate had done the job for her! The man had died of a fever, collapsing right in the middle of a Small Council meeting and dying the very next night!
And while some might whisper that poison had taken his life, the Court had already been informed by the Grand Maester and the King that the Hand had passed from a summer fever. One that ran rampant through the Tower of the Hand and those who owed their loyalty to House Arryn. Not even Lysa Arryn, the cold fish that she was, was spared from the fever's touch. For over a sennight, all those that resided in the Tower of the Hand were locked in there to try and prevent whatever fever it was that'd taken hold from spreading throughout the rest of the Red Keep. Nearly a fortnight after his death, the fever had seemingly broken, killing perhaps a dozen though she didn't really care to count. Unfortunately, the cold fish wasn't among the dead. And after the Grand Maester declared the fever had passed, an official funeral was held for the old fuck in the Sept of Baelor. And then a second funeral. The first she'd attended because it was expected of her. But for this second…she barely even cared for the first. So, for this funeral she had developed a…illness which conveniently kept her to bed for the day.
"If you gloat much longer, dear sister, people will start to whisper that you truly did have something to do with the fever in the Tower of the Hand."
Glancing behind her, she saw her twin brother with his back turned towards her, lacing up his pants and looking from the scattered pieces of his clothes and armor. As she always did, she couldn't help being drawn to the crisscross of scars that marred his back, a present from her 'beloved' husband simply because Jamie hadn't spoken about the Mad King's last plot to burn down the city. She hated those scars. Hated how they marred her perfect brother. Yet still, no matter what she did, her father refused to seek retribution for what was done to him. And as it was Robert who delivered the punishment, she was powerless to seek any type of meaningful retribution against the one who harmed her brother. Well, in the end she would get her revenge against the fat bastard she was forced to call her husband. When her son ascended to the throne and Robert's line dies with him…that would be her revenge against the humiliation she'd suffered.
"Arryn knew something," she said, turning her gaze back to the Sept of Baelor and the blasted ringing of the bells.
"If he truly knew 'something', as you put it dear sister, then we would not be talking right now as our heads would be decorating the walls of the Red Keep and father would be bringing the might of the Westerlands to sack King's Landing…again."
"He was looking into the lines and lineages of the Seven Kingdoms," Cersei continued as if her brother hadn't spoken. She loved her brother, but unfortunately, he had no true head for the Game. Not like herself at least. "And with the looks he'd been sending towards Joffrey as of late, he at least suspected something."
Hearing her brother's steps, she didn't react as she felt his hand on her shoulder. "Whatever he knew, or didn't know, died with him," Jamie said, "we have nothing to worry about dear sister. The fool is dead. And our illustrious King is still none the wiser."
"Yet Stannis has fled the city and taken all of his own with him," Cersei commented. "Why would he do that?"
"Some issues that needed his attention on Dragonstone sister, you know this as well as I. Though I have no idea what type of 'issues' could arise on that pile of rocks that would require him to leave his post. But if Stannis knew anything, well you know what that dour man is like, and his feelings towards our family. If Jon Arryn told him anything, Stannis would be 'law-bound' to speak of it immediately. And Robert, being the thinking sort, would immediately call for our heads to be decorating the walls of the Red Keep. And in return, our father would raze Westeros to the ground to avenge us."
Her twin had a point, but it still did not set her mind at ease. Baratheon, Stark, Nox, Tully, Arryn, Tyrell, Martell…they were not Lannisters nor under the Lannister banner. And therefore, they were their enemies. And she knew that every single one of those sycophants would not shed a single tear to see House Lannister fall from their proper place as rulers of Westeros. A concept which her brother, and even her father, seemed to be unable or unwilling to comprehend as of late. But she knew. And even if her family was unable or unwilling to do what needed to be done, she would! She would do what was needed to ensure that she remained on the throne where she belonged. And she didn't care whose corpses she had to step over to do it.
Standing upon the covered walkway connecting the main keep of Winterfell to the adjacent buildings, Lord Eddard Stark watched with a slight smile on his face as in the yard below his children interacted with one another and their guests as they taught the youngest amongst them how to properly shoot a bow. Or rather, the former wildling Ygritte scolded and lectured Joy Lannister, Shireen Baratheon, his own son Bran and his daughter Sansa how to use the bow while his eldest children and Arya watched on, chuckling and throwing out words of encouragement or teases to the others as they tried to hit the target that'd been set up on the far side of the training yard.
Robb was standing with one of his arms wrapped around the shoulders of his wife Talisa, the two still acting like anxious newlyweds eager for their bedding even though they'd been wedded and bedded for nearly two moons now. And strangely enough, Theon and Jon were conversing calmly with each other, and even trading the occasional jab at one another. Or rather Theon was primarily leading the conversation, seeing as how his son Jon seemed to have difficulty taking his eyes off his wildling lover, or rather her backside at least. The scene was…perfect. And it brought a smile to his face as he watched his children who had already been forced to face so much laugh and play as if they were still just that. Children.
But just as he thought the scene couldn't get any more perfect, his peace was disturbed by a loud thunderous boom coming from across Winterfell. A boom that was so loud that he could feel the impact in his chest, even if he couldn't see where it came from. Despite not seeing it, everyone in Winterfell knew the source. Near the base of the Sorcerer's Tower, a small plume of black smoke was billowing upwards, just barely managing to crest the top of a nearby building before a second thunderous boom joined sounded. 'Black powder' was what Nox had called the creation. A mixture of different substances from charred remains to brimstone and saltpeter. Combined, they formed a stone-dust like substance that was stable enough to move, spill or do manipulate in just about any way imaginable. But expose the powder to even the slightest bit of flame…and the stone-dust turned to fire in a manner that eerily reminded him of wildfire with how explosive it was.
Nox had first demonstrated these new substances capabilities shortly after Talisa's family had departed. Using some mining hand tools, Nox had notched a hole into a stone the size of a man, poured some of the black powder into said hole, and lit it aflame. The resulting flame had split the stone into pieces. And knocked more than a few people back a few steps. Nox had then taken his 'new' discovery a step further and created two additional aspects to aid in the usage of the black powder. The first was a striker stick. Which was coated in a combination of brimstone and several other things which Ned could not remember, but that didn't really matter. What did matter was that this 'striker stick' could create a small flame when one end was struck against a rough surface. If, and when, Nox was able to expand the creation of the strikers, it would almost eliminate the need for flint and steel to start a fire. Which meant that these strikers would be worth almost more than gold during the winter years.
The second was what he'd called a 'fuse', though to Ned and many others it looked like nothing more than a cord. But the cord, when one end was lit aflame, did not simply burn. No, it created a small flame that traveled quickly down the length of itself. At first Ned was confused at its purpose, but then Nox explained how this 'fuse' would allow them to control the timing of detonating the black powder. Which would allow them to put a cache of the powder in a location, lit a fuse, and give them time to retreat to a safe distance before the powder was ignited. It was a simplistic and genius device that once explained to him he couldn't help but marvel at. And now his friend and closest advisor was working with his students at the Winterfell College to combine all three into a single thing that greatly resembled a stick of sorts. And while Ned couldn't, and wouldn't, deny the benefits these gifts could grant them, he did wish that the 'testing' of these new inventions did not have to be so loud…or frequent for that matter.
Hearing another loud boom, one that startled even his children below and sent more than a few servants ducking behind whatever was near to them, Ned decided that it was far past time that Nox took his little experiment outside of Winterfell. No matter how controlled Nox insisted the tests were being conducted, Ned could not take his staff being consistently interrupted in their daily duties.
But as he went to leave the covered bridge, he found that he was not the only occupant. Standing at the far end near the great keep and making her way towards him was his Stewardess and wife to his advisor, Lady Nyra Nox. He was more than willing to admit that he was not sure what Nox had seen in the girl when he'd first taken her under his tutelage all those years ago when he'd first arrived. But he was just glad now that Nox had seen something as he was sure that he would've been floundering in the dark trying to keep the North to rights while also expanding their trade and influence throughout the Seven Kingdoms and Essos without the aid of a Steward of her caliber.
"Lord Stark," Lady Nox called out to him as she approached, a raven's scroll held in her hand. "A raven from King's Landing, my lord."
Ned was slightly confused. They'd already received a raven from Robert not too long ago asking for House Stark, and Robert's bastard son in particular, to forge a sword, a spear, and a shield using this new Northern steel. Each of which would be given away during the tournament of Harrenhal that was to be held soon. They would be compensated by the crown of course. But still, the request did not leave Gendry much time to do anything besides stay isolated in his forge as he worked day and night to create the three items that would be given away as part of the champion's purse.
Taking the still sealed scroll, Ned broke the wax and unfurled it, immediately recognizing Robert's lazy hand in the writing. But despite being written by Robert, the raven was not what Ned thought. "My lord?" Lady Nox called out to him, making him start and realize that he'd been staring down at the page blankly for some time. "Is…Is everything alright, my lord?"
"No," Ned sighed, handing the letter off to Nyra so that she could read it over. "Jon Arryn passed due to a sickness that struck the Red Keep."
The news took a moment to take hold within her mind, but once it did, Nyra immediately read over the message several times. "By the gods…you…have my condolences, Lord Stark. I know you and his grace were fostered by the Lord Hand for many years."
"Aye, we were…Some of the better years of my life," Ned replied morosely as the weight of Jon Arryn's death settled in on him. He knew that it was only a matter of time before the man he thought of as a second father would pass from this world. But still, knowing that it would one day happen and having it happen were two very different things.
"The King, he has not announced who will be the new Hand of the King."
"No, Robert wouldn't," Ned sighed.
He already had a good idea of what was coming and was trying to find any excuse he could to not be drawn into the cesspool that was King's Landing. But in truth, there was little excuse for him to hold onto should Robert name him. Ned was a man without a wife, and his eldest son was now married and bedded and had a decent head on his shoulders for ruling. Knowing his brother in all but blood as he did, he knew that Robert would be waiting until they were both at Harrenhal before making his offer. And once made, Ned knew he would be unable to do anything but accept. But there was still time, not much, but some. Time to give some last instructions to Robb and Jon, the latter of whom had agreed to remain as the Stark in Winterfell while everyone else went south to the tourney at Harrenhal.
Another blast rocked Ned, causing him to curse under his breath. "Tell your husband that I wish to speak with him whenever he is through blowing up parts of Winterfell," Ned told his stewardess calmly as the two began to walk side by side towards the main keep. "And inform Jon, Robb and Talisa that I wish to speak with all three of them. If Robert behaves as I fully expect him to…. then I do believe that my time in the south will be extended for far longer than I would care for."
Standing at the back of the tent, Viserys Targaryen, rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms, watched on in disgust as his sister stood on a raised platform in front of many cheering savages as she tore into a blood horse heart with nothing more than her teeth like she was some sort of animal. The spectacle was disgusting. Blood was running freely down from Dany's chin onto her dress and her breasts. Yet still, she feasted on the raw heart like it was the finest of meats, her eyes staring at Khal Drogo with each bite she took.
The entire scene was just…ridiculous. And proved just how savage these people truly were. A woman eating a heart to prove the gender of the child she carries. The very idea made him want to scoff in disgust. But in the end, it meant little he supposed. Drogo managed to fuck a child into his sister, which meant there was now nothing to keep Drogo from turning his horde west for the nearest port so that he could reclaim that which was rightfully his. Only Drogo wasn't doing that. Even after learning of Dany's pregnancy, the Khal refused to move his army, saying that the omens were not right yet for war. Whatever in all the hells that meant! They had made a deal! Drogo had married his sister and fucked a child into her womb! Yet he still sat on his fucking hands while the Usurper sat on the Iron Throne! A throne he had no right to even look at, let alone sit upon!
Hearing the chanting come to an abrupt stop, Viserys looked up and saw Dany down on one knee, looking more than a little sick with a piece of the heart still clutched in her hand. Looking at her, Viserys couldn't help but smirk at her clearly ill face. It served the bitch right for belting him! And why? Just because he expressed his frustration against a common fucking serving girl!
But as he watched, waiting for her womanly weakness to show through, all traces of illness vanished from Dany's face as she slowly rose back to her feet. Then, with the deliberate slowness of one putting on a show, she raised the last piece of the heart to her lips and took it down in a single bite. All the savages went up in arms, shouting and chanting, but Dany quieted them all with nothing more than just a simple raising of her hand. She then spoke in the Dothraki tongue, a tongue he had not tried to learn. And why would he? He was a King. If anything these savages should be learning the common tongue, not the other way around. At the end of her little speech, she called out a single name, "Rhaego". No doubt the name she intended to give the brat growing in her womb. But then the Dothraki began chanting the name. Circling Dany, chanting, praising her. Even Drogo got up from his spot and picked his sister up as if she were little more than a child in his arms. It was… They were… They were worshiping her! These…These savages were praising her for simply doing as a woman should! It…no…this was…
Shaking his head, Viserys purposefully turned his back on the sickening display and marched out of the tent and back to his own. Once inside, he looked around the pitiful accommodations he'd been given. Him, a King, was given a tent that would barely pass for a servant's tent! He'd seen Dany's tent: the gold, the jewels, the fine bedding. No, this was just…wrong! She'd done nothing! Nothing! And they gave her everything he deserved! He was the one who brokered the deal for his sister's hand! He was the one who would be King! He was the one who would lead them into war! He was the one who had the greatest dynasty resting on his shoulders! Not her! And yet…And yet he was given these shabby accommodations. Forced to eat at the back of tents. Forced to sit back and watch as his sister received praise and reverence for simply doing her womanly duties! No. No more. He was done waiting.
Moving over to the chest holding his belongings, he threw open the lid and roughly grabbed his sword and dagger, strapping both to his waist before grabbing a large leather bag and leaving his tent. He could still hear the savages chanting and praising his sister. And just hearing them was enough to make his blood boil even more! But he would show them. If they would not give him what was his due, then he would take it!
Marching into his sister's tent, uncaring if anyone was watching him or not, his eyes immediately sought out the chest he knew his sister kept in here. A chest that none of the Dothraki savages would touch. Finding it quickly, he went down to his knees before it and opened the lid. The interior was partially filled with a fine grain sand. And sitting atop the sand were the three dragon eggs Illyrio had foolishly given to Dany during her wedding. 'Where's the fourth?' Looking around, he quickly found the last egg sitting upon a stand next to what he assumed passed for Dany's bed.
Turning his attention back to the three eggs, Viserys fondly ran his finger along the pattern of the scales on the black egg. Had things been different, he would've been given this egg, he was sure of it. Mayhap he could've hatched it and brought the dragons back to life. But these eggs were unfortunately little more than stone. But even as stones, they would still serve him. Picking up the eggs one at a time, Viserys placed each into the leather bag he'd brought with him before getting up and moving over to the last egg sitting upon the stand next to the bed. His sister was obsessed with this egg that'd been given to her by that Northern traitor Bolton, and for the life of him he couldn't understand why. It looked no different than the other three, if only slightly larger. 'That just means it'll be worth more,' he thought to himself as he reached out and placed his hand on the last egg, ready to put it in the bag with the others.
"You shouldn't be seen carrying steel in Vaes Dothrak, your grace. The laws here are not forgiving, even to one such as yourself."
Hand jumping to the hilt of his sword, Viserys turned around and found Ser Jorah Mormont standing just within the entrance to his sister's tent. "It's not my law. I am the King. I am the law. Not these savages," he scoffed, turning back and picking up the last egg, which surprised him slightly with its weight, before depositing it into the bag with the other three.
"They are not yours, your grace."
Viserys didn't care as he looked around the tent for anything else of value that he could use. "Whatever is hers is also mine. Therefore, they are mine to do with as I please."
"Once, perhaps that was so, your grace. But it is true no longer."
Scoffing, Viserys turned and gave the disgraced knight a hard look. "I sell one of these eggs and I'll have enough coin for several ships. Two eggs, I can have the ships and an army at my call."
Jorah tilted his head towards the bag around his shoulder. "And you have all four now."
Smirking, Viserys stepped towards the knight. "I need a large army to compensate for the time lost while Drogo fucked a child into my sister while marching the wrong way! Do you—Do you even know what is at stake here? No, of course you don't. You're just a fallen knight from the barbaric North, after all." Stepping closer, Viserys made sure he was looking directly into Jorah's eyes as he spoke. "I am the last hope for the greatest dynasty the world has ever seen! And I have been carrying this weight on my shoulders, alone, since I was five years old! And not once, in all that time, has anyone from Lord to Lady to even these savages given me even the slightest bit of respect like they just gave her out there. And why? Because she has a fucking child in her womb. It's pathetic. How am I supposed to rule without wealth, or fear, or love?"
Throughout his speech, the man from the North just kept staring at him blankly, as if his words were finding no purchase in what passed for a head of his. Scoffing, Viserys took a few more steps closer to the man. "You dare stand here before me, all righteous and noble after what you've done? After what you continuously do, hmm? Don't even think for a moment I haven't noticed the looks you give my sister. The look that passes over your face when you stand outside her tent and listen to her moan like a whore as Drogo fucks her. You want my little sister. A girl young enough to be your daughter, hmm? I don't care. You can have her for all I care. She's little more than a soiled whore at this point anyhow, laying so willingly with these savages. But I will not stay around to watch it any longer. Tell Drogo, now that he has his child, that I expect to see him at the nearest port within the next two moons."
Viserys made to step around the knight, but found his path blocked as Jorah moved with him, preventing him from leaving. "You can go," the old knight from the North said evenly. "But you cannot have the eggs."
Viserys growled in his throat as he clutched at the bag of eggs. "You swore an oath to me!" he hissed, spittle flying from his mouth and striking the knight in the face. "Does loyalty, and your honor, mean nothing to you?"
"It means everything to me," Jorah responded lowly, not bothering to wipe his face.
"Yet here you stand," Viserys growled again.
If anything, Jorah stood straighter before him. "Indeed, your grace. Here I stand."
He could fight him. The man was unarmed, and he was sure that he could run the knight through quickly. But…was it truly worth the risk? The bastard would undoubtedly call out before he breathed his last, and then Viserys would be caught, not only with the eggs, but with blood on his blade in this wretched city. 'I will have them…but not today apparently.' Shaking his head, Viserys unslung the bag from around his shoulder and pushed into Jorah's chest. "Here…Enjoy standing outside this tent and listening to my sister moan like a whore then."
Brushing past Jorah, Viserys made his way back to his tent and unbuckled his sword and dagger and let them drop. Picking up a random bottle that was in his tent, he pulled the cork out with his teeth and proceeded to drink deeply from the wine within. He would get those eggs. He swore it. And he would make everyone pay for the disrespect they'd shown him over the years!
Walking through the halls of Winterfell, Nox couldn't help the slight grin that'd been a permanent fixture on his face for some days now. Things had been progressing far better than he could've hoped in his research and with his Acolytes and Apprentices. Jon and Robb were progressing faster than he'd ever thought possible, and as for his Acolytes, they were all more than ready to partake in their Trials. And as for his research, things were progressing far faster than he'd thought possible. It'd taken him some time to find the correct formula for the creation of blasting powder. But now that he had it figured out, they could start harnessing it's power in different forms. Firearms were still a long way off, until he could cultivate the necessary manufacturing process to create the parts needed. But at the very least the blasting powder would allow for quicker mining once they could concentrate the blasts.
'It is unfortunate, but I don't think I'll be able to produce a single firearm before the White Walkers make their move… Let alone mass produce them.' Nox thought sourly, as despite their advancements they were still on a rapidly shrinking timetable. 'While all the visions I experienced upon first arriving in Winterfell were different in substance, they all had a similar focal point. The death of Jon Arryn. His death was the only constant I could find in the visions. And it marked the start of the dark times to come.'
A not so small part of him, the part that was still very much the Dark Sith Lord whose very name caused his enemies to tremble, reveled in the idea of the wars to come. He wanted war. He wanted the rush of the fight, the fear, the crushing of his enemies. But there was another part of him that was…terrified of the wars to come. A part that had thrived during the time of peace and didn't want it to end. The part that wanted to stay with Nyra, his light. It was…odd. This warring within himself was…unusual and unsettling…and new to him. Even when he was with Ashara he didn't have these conflicting emotions when it came to battle. And while he was certain that there were none amongst the living that could even hope to challenge him…these White Walkers and their ilk had injected a grain of doubt, of fear within him.
Feeling the sudden rush of cold air, Nox was pulled from his thoughts of the future as his feet continued to move on autopilot as he made his way out of the great keep and into the godswood. The two guards at the entrance both snapped to attention as he passed them by without even a wave, making his way into the thick woods within the great walls of Winterfell. After spending so much time on this world, and within the godswood particularly, Nox was beginning to understand why the Jedi were as obsessed with forests. The Force was very much alive in this place, and there was a peace, a tranquility, within the woods that he was hard pressed to find elsewhere.
Reaching the heart tree in the center of the woods, Nox wasn't surprised to find that he was the last to arrive of those that'd been summoned. Standing in a close grouping with one another at the base of the ancient tree were Ned, Robb, Talisa and Jon. "Nox," Ned called out to him the moment he cleared the trees and began walking around the small hot spring before the heart tree. "I assume that you already know why I've asked you all here."
"Of course," Nox nodded, "I felt his death the moment it happened."
"Death?" Robb questioned, looking back and forth between Nox and his father. "Wha – Who died, father?"
"Lord Jon Arryn passed of a fever that took spread through the Red Keep over a sennight ago," Ned explained, drawing looks of sympathy from both Robb and Jon as both boys knew how important Jon Arryn was to their father.
"May he find peace in the Force and with his gods," Jon said lowly with respect. "Are you alright, father?"
Ned nodded. "I will be. The pain is still fresh…but I will manage. But his death is not the only reason I called you out to speak with you. But rather to speak of the King's letter that brought the news, and what it didn't contain. Namely the name of the next Hand of the King."
Confusion settled over the three younger ones in the woods. "This Hand…He is the King's second, is he not?" Talisa questioned, getting a nod from Ned in response. "Should such an important position not be filled as soon as it is vacated?"
"Ordinarily, yes. But Robert is far from an ordinary King. And if I know Robert as well as I do, then he has already made his choice for Hand but is keeping it close to his chest until he can make a show of naming him. More than likely at this upcoming Tourney while all the realm is in attendance."
Robb caught on quicker than the others at what his father was leading towards. "You think that the King will name you as his Hand at the tournament?"
Ned nodded slowly. "Aye…Knowing Robert as I do, I believe that this is the course he intends to take. He always said that he wanted me by his side while he ruled. And now with my eldest sons of age, betrothed, married, and more than ready to take on the task of ruling…I have no reason to deny his request. "
"You…Can you not turn him down, father?" Jon asked.
"No," Ned replied, shaking his head. "If the King asks this of me, I must obey. And I have no excuse to give that might delay my appointment. Robb and Talisa, with your aid Jon, are more than ready to begin their ruling of the North in my absence."
"And if, no, when Robert names you his Hand, he will insist that I take up this position as Master of the Arcane on his Small Council as well." Nox added, frowning as he began working through all that he would need to bring with him to King's Landing should Robert insist on him taking up his position. It would be a hassle…but truthfully, he could perhaps do more from King's Landing in the heart of the Seven Kingdoms than he could here in the North. "And if I go south, Nyra comes with me."
"Aye, to both your points, Nox," Ned agreed. "The King will not let you deny your place on the Small Council any longer. And I would not seek to separate you from your wife…I know that pain of loss far too well."
"Who…Who will take up the position of Steward then?" Jon asked slowly. "With yourself, Lord Nox and Lady Nox all in King's Landing…Winterfell will need a steward as well as a Lord and Lady."
Ned kept his sight focused on Jon. The look confused Jon for a moment, but slowly the young man realized what his father was saying without even saying it. "Wait…me?"
"Who else?" Ned asked rhetorically. "Your brother trusts you implicitly, and you know the workings of the North as well as Robb and Talisa. And while you are betrothed to Princess Arianne and will one day reside in Dorne, until that time I can think of no one better to help your brother as Steward of Winterfell than yourself."
Robb slapped at Jon's shoulder with the back on his hand. "I can't think of anyone else I would want to have my back, brother. Theon only has a year or so left till his time with us will come to an end. Talisa and I, without father here? We'll need both of you to help us."
Jon looked thoughtfully at his brother for a time before lowering his head. "It would be my greatest honor to serve you, brother, until such time that I am called away from the North. But there are other things we need to consider, father, Master. Without either of you in Winterfell and the North, what of the Acolytes and the Winterfell College?"
Nox waved off his concern. "Between the Tarly boy and Talisa here, the students will be in good hands. As for the Acolytes, we will be moving to King's Landing. You and Robb are more than ready to start out on your own without my guidance. You both still have much to learn, but it's been my experience that one can often learn more without a Master peering over their shoulder and critiquing them every other moment. And besides, I'm anxious to begin overseeing the construction on this new 'Temple' that Robert has promised me. There are certain…peculiarities that must be in place to make it a true Force Temple."
"Then our path is laid before us," Ned stated. "Provided that Robert names me his Hand—"
"Which will more than likely happen."
"—Robb, you and Talisa will take over as rulers of the North not in my name, but in your own with Jon aiding you where he can till he is called to his betrothed's side in Dorne." Pausing, Ned stepped up to his sons and placed a hand on their shoulders. "You two are ready. But no matter what the future may bring, remember that you are both of the North, of the First Men. Trust in yourselves. Trust in the gods and trust in the Force. You are wolves. And when the snows fall and the white winds blow—"
"The lone wolf dies. But the pack survives." Both boys finished in unison with their father.
Walking calmly along the darkened docks of King's Landing, Varys quickly and quietly made his way to where his friend was waiting for him so. As he glanced up at the sign hanging over the inn, he had to give his friend credit. Despite being quite recognizable, his friend did all in his power to avoid detection, usually by never staying in the same place twice whenever he left his manse. In this case, the inn he'd chosen was clear across from the previous and in a much more 'noble' area of the port. Walking into the inn, he stayed close to the walls and the shadows as he made his way up the stairs without a sound, searching for the room his friend had told him of. It wasn't a difficult task in truth, considering his friend had posted an Unsullied guard outside his door.
The Unsullied soldier said not a word as he approached. And before he could utter any word in greeting, the silent warrior moved aside and allowed him to pass. Giving the young man a nod, which wasn't returned in kind, Varys cast a quick glance around to make sure there were no unwanted eyes before making his way into the room.
Ironically, his friend was just inside the room…sitting before a platter of cheese and wine of all things. "I would think that it would be ill practice for one to partake in their own wares." Varys greeted his old friend as the door shut quietly behind him.
"Show me the owner of a brothel owner who hasn't fucked every one of his whores, and I'll show you a true liar, my friend," Illyrio replied as he cut a sliver of cheese and held it up for inspection before taking a bite. "Besides, it's good business to know your wares inside and out. How can I sell something that I know nothing about?"
Conceding the point, Varys took his spot across from his friend, waiting patiently as Illyrio went about trying a few different cheeses, some of which he clearly liked and others that he did not. "We need to get Daenerys away from Khal Drogo," Illyrio commented idly as he poured Varys a cup of wine from his bottle. "I know the plan was for her and Viserys to act as distractions, but she has become far too valuable to let waste amongst the Dothraki savages. Her magic, and her command of it, is already incredible. In a few years she will either become a threat to us or our greatest asset."
Leaning back, Varys studied his friend carefully. "What makes you say so? The reports from Jorah have noted that she has come into her own amongst the Dothraki and that her power is indeed a sight to behold. But there has been little mention of her becoming a great threat to us."
"Only because you refuse to listen to the advice of those well versed in the arcane my old friend," Illyrio replied with a hard look and a shake of his head. "I have several contacts amongst the magic practitioners of the world. Almost all of whom who give up everything for the chance to obtain the power that the Northern Sorcerer wields. All of them have recently had their attention drawn to young Daenerys and her recent actions. And it has them quite worried, and excited."
"Why?" Varys asked.
"Because the girl is 'untrained'. Though several of my contacts swear on their magic that she must've received some sort of instruction to get where she is." Illyrio replied, finishing off the last of his cheese and picking up his wine. "Yet despite this, and despite her time amongst the Dothraki who are incredibly weary of all magi, she has blossomed. Her power, her control. It is not that of a novice but rather one of a seasoned practitioners of the art. If she is given even the slightest bit of instruction those under my employ believe she could easily match any of the Northern Sorcerer's so-called 'apprentices'. Give her proper training and a few years to learn, and she might even be able to rival the man himself."
Varys did and did not like the sound of that prospect. On one hand, it would behoove them to have a counter to the Sorcerer, as no one yet had truly been able to determine the man's long-term goals and aspirations. On the other hand, he was not comfortable with the thought of one wielding magic taking up such a significant role. He was still of the mindset that magic had no place in the world. It was… unnatural. Dangerous. A sword without a hilt. Yet the undeniable fact remained that magic was not gone. And he needed to make his own peace with that knowledge. Not an easy task given his past. "And how shall we part Daenerys from Drogo? From the songs my little birds have sung, the two have apparently developed quite an attachment to one another."
"The way almost all Dothraki marriages end," Illyrio replied with a dismissive shrug. "Death. The death of Khal Drogo. Once he is removed, we will need our agents to spirit Daenerys away before she is forced to become dosh khaleen. And once she is safely away from them, we will 'reunite' her with our candidate to further our plan."
Nodding, Varys mulled the idea over in his head. "And what of Viserys?"
Illyrio scoffed. "The Beggar King is worthless to us. Fortunately, we won't have to deal with him ourselves. Based on what our agents have told me, Viserys is on his last breath amongst the Dothraki. One more step out of line, and he will die."
Varys might still find the idea of casually killing distasteful, but the death of Viserys was but a footnote in the deeds he'd overseen throughout his tenure as Master of Whispers. And in the end, the Beggar King's death was necessary for their long-term goals. "And how shall we remove the Khal? Striking at a Khal within Vaes Dothrak is no easy feat."
Illyrio nodded. "Indeed. We have to force him out of the city and into the open. Ideally in such a manner that he takes Daenerys with him so that it will be easier to spirit her away when he falls and his khalasar breaks."
Varys could think of a few ways this could be achieved, but each was dangerous and potentially costly if not done correctly. "We will have to push the khal onto the war path…That is the only way he would leave Vaes Dothrak with Daenerys. Once his khalasar is well away from Vaes Dothrak, it will be easier to slip something to the khal."
"My thoughts exactly, old friend," Illyrio nodded with a grin. "And I have just the thing to push the man into doing exactly what we want."
Varys arched a brow at his friend. "And what is your plan?"
Smirking, Illyrio poured himself another cup of wine. "The Khal has apparently come to love his Khaleesi, or at least what the Dothraki perceive as love. So, we use that to get him to do what we want. A simple threat against his wife, a threat that can be traced back to the Iron Throne, and Khal Drogo's bloodlust will do the rest for us."
Leaning back, Varys thought it over. "Tell me your plan, old friend."
The sound of his quill scratching against the newly pressed paper, a product of the Westerlands that Tywin had invested a great amount of coin to see come to fruition, was the only sound within the solar of the Warden of the West and Lord of the Westerlands. Sitting behind his desk with a low burning oil lamp for light, Tywin Lannister worked late into the night, absentmindedly filling out one missive after another, giving out orders and commands to his bannermen regarding recent developments. The death of Jon Arryn had been a surprise throughout the land. Though in retrospect, it shouldn't have been. Arryn had ascended to his seat while Tywin was still in swaddling clothes. Though despite his age, Tywin had still been wary of the man as he considered him one of the five great players in the game. The other four being himself, Doran Martell, Olenna Tyrell, and Alim Nox.
While he could never truly prove it, Tywin was convinced that it was Jon Arryn that'd incited the Ironborn to press their luck years ago when they declared their independence from the Iron Throne and sacked Lannisport. After all, it was Robert and the Iron Throne that truly prospered after the defeat of the Ironborn. Tywin had been forced to take his eyes off the Iron Throne and the goings on in King's Landing for some time to reaffirm his position in the West, and in that time Robert's reign, and Jon Arryn's placement as Hand of the King and leader of Westeros, had been affirmed. While Tywin had truly despised the man and had been plotting his removal for years, he would admit that it had been a masterful play on Arryn's end. But now, Tywin's revenge had been taken from him by time, and with Arryn's death a void had been created that the lesser players of Westeros were now desperately trying to fill.
Obviously, a new Hand of the King would need to be named. Which Tywin was willing to bet would be done at the recently announced tournament at Harrenhal to celebrate three hundred years of a united Westeros under the rule of the Iron Throne. Even more obvious to Tywin was the fact that he, and he alone, was the only one truly qualified in the Seven Kingdoms to take up the vacant post as Hand of the King. After all, he had served as Hand for twenty of the most prosperous years the Seven Kingdoms had ever seen. But he was no fool, and he knew Robert too well enough to know that the man was. Despite being the only true choice for Hand of the King, he knew that Robert would sooner take a vow of celibacy rather than appoint him as Hand of the King. No, the King would more than likely appoint someone close to him as Hand. And there was none closer to the King than Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell.
There were far worse choices, he supposed. Lord Stark was one of the few in the land that was known to be able to say 'no' to the King. Something no one on the current Small Council was capable of doing considering the sizable debt the crown had wracked up to House Lannister alone. If anyone could truly reign in the King's spending habits, and worse habits, it was Lord Stark. And the man had no head for the game. Which would make it quite easy for Tywin to predict his moves and even steer him in certain directions that would benefit House Lannister. But there was a problem with Stark being appointed as Hand of the King. And that problem was the simple fact that Stark would not be heading to King's Landing alone. No, with Jon Arryn now dead, there was no one in King's Landing that was capable of stalling Robert from finalizing his appointment of Lord Nox to the waiting position on the Small Council as 'Master of the Arcane'. A position Tywin knew was being held open specifically for Lord Nox. And Nox was not a man that Tywin, or anyone for that matter, could easily manipulate. And he would protect Stark, as he'd been doing for years now as the North's influence grew.
Finishing the missive, Tywin placed his quill in his ink pot and left the letter open on his desk to give the ink a chance to dry. But while the waters of King's Landing would become far more difficult to navigate, the waters of the North would become far more open to him. Lord Stark would accept the position as Hand, as he was honor bound to do. Nox would finally take up his position as Master of the Arcane, which would then also bring his wife, Lady Nox, out of the North. With all three leaving the North, that would leave Stark's son, Robb Stark, an untested greenboy in terms of the game, as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. The boy was unfortunately recently married to the daughter of one of the Triarchs of Volantis of all women. Which meant that he would not be able to use a woman to sway the boy. And any overt moves on his part would no doubt be noticed and countered by his father and Nox. But with the major players out of the North, he would be able to make some subtle moves with the aid of the spies Tyrion had managed to slip into the North. Perhaps one of the few useful things the creature had managed to do. And speaking of his spies…
Picking up a small wooden hammer on his desk, he brought it down against a wooden block on his desk, a signal to the guards stationed outside his room. "Send Clegane in," he ordered the guards on the other side of his door as he set the hammer down and began heating up a stick of wax to seal the letter he'd been working on.
The door opened almost immediately as the hulking form of his most vicious bannerman made his way in. The 'Mountain Who Rides' towered over Tywin, especially as he was still seated, and Clegane was standing. But even despite the difference in their size, Tywin was not even the slightest bit unnerved. Unlike others, he knew how to handle the likes of Clegane.
Picking up the heated wax, Tywin let a small puddle of wax form on the edges of the letter before pressing his sigil against the wax and setting it aside to harden. He then picked up another piece of paper and began to write, all the while Clegane stood silent before him. "You know why I have called you before me."
A low growl rumbled from within the chest of the giant, yet Tywin did not grace him by looking up to his eyes. "Because of the bitch girl?"
Nodding, Tywin thought over what to write in the letter before picking up his quill and beginning his work. "Yes. I give you much, Clegane. In return, you have been my most faithful and useful bannerman. However, I have made it clear that there are several that would remain beyond your reach. That girl, she was of use to me. Alive. But you took a fancy to her, lost control of your urges, and then raped her bloody before crushing her head. She served a purpose while alive. And her death could prove to be quite…problematic if it were to become more well-known than it already is."
He could practically feel the confusion coming from Clegane. While many considered the Mountain just a mindless killer, the man did possess a fair head for tactics and strategy, both on and off the field of battle. But when his blood lust and lust got the best of him, he lost his mind. As was the case back during the sacking of King's Landing. "She was just a serving bitch. What use could she have had to you, my lord?"
Ceasing his writing, Tywin looked up at Clegane. "That is not your concern. Nor should it ever be your concern. When I say someone is of use to me, you do not question it and respect my words."
Clegane didn't retort as Tywin turned his gaze back to what he was working on. "A Trial by Combat then, my lord?"
"No," Tywin countered. "While that girl's death is unfortunate, the issue it presents is not beyond salvaging. But only if the knowledge of her death is contained to the few who know at present. As such…" He trailed off as he reached to his waist and pulled out a small dagger from his belt and placed it on the desk before him.
Clegane didn't need to be told what was expected off him. Wordlessly, the Mountain rolled up the sleeve of his left arm exposing his bare flesh before picking up the dagger Tywin had offered him. Without even a moment's hesitation Clegane sunk the tip of the dagger nearly a finger width deep into his flesh before dragging it along the length of his arm. The only sign of pain being the slight shaking in his massive arm and his quickened breath. There were several other similar marks along the man's arm that were healed over, scars to remind Clegane of just who was in command. After opening his arm from wrist to elbow, Clegane pulled the dagger from his flesh and set it back atop Tywin's desk, the tip red with the man's blood.
"There are prisoners for you to bleed," Tywin commented idly, not even caring that Clegane was bleeding on his floor. He would have a girl come and clean it later. "On the morrow I have a task for you and your best."
Clegane immediately stood straighter, the man not even caring about the blood freely flowing down his arm. "Who?"
Dusting the latest missive, Tywin set it aside and grabbed a blank piece of paper. "The Lords of the Crag has grown lax in sending their due when it is required of them. There is a small hamlet just within their borders near Ashemark. You will make an example of them. And leave no eyes that can say it was you."
Clegane smiled at the prospect of spilling blood and spreading chaos. "It will be done, my Lord."
"Good. Leave." Tywin commanded, a command which Clegane followed without hesitation as he stormed out of the room before turning and heading down the hall, no doubt to where Tywin had prepared a few prisoners for him to express himself upon.
Setting his quill aside, Tywin folded his hands under his nose. Clegane, while useful, was starting to become problematic. In truth, he should have had him removed after his blunder with Elia Martell. But it was rare to find such a weapon as Clegane and he wasn't about to discard him unless he had no other choice. At least that was his thinking just after the end of the Targaryen Dynasty. But now things had changed. And Clegane was starting to become more of a liability than an asset. Yet there might still be a few ways for the man to prove useful to the cause of House Lannister. Tywin would just have to carefully see them done. And then once Clegane had exhausted his usefulness, he would be removed.
With those issues well in hand, Tywin refocused on another issue that had come to light. And that was of the recreation of Valyrian Steel, now being heralded as 'Northern Steel'. He now understood why Nox was so willing to give away the secrets which had garnered the North so much coin and influence across both Westeros and Essos. But even more unsettling than the fact that the North and the North alone now controlled the market on new Northern Steel was the one that was credited for it's discovery. Nox held the lion's share of the credit of course, but the smith that'd held the hammer had been a bastard boy. One of Robert Baratheon's bastards no less.
If legitimized, which was all but expected given the bastard's hand in the discovery, he could potentially be in line for the throne. Not in front of Tywin's own grandsons of course, but he would still be added to the line of succession. Which was something that Tywin was not fond of happening. The Dance of the Dragons was still well known in the minds of many. And even if the bastard had no intention of ever sitting on the Iron Throne, Tywin would not suffer even an unknowing rival to his legacy. A legacy that he had spent his life carefully cultivating.
'Perhaps…Perhaps something is salvageable after all.' Tywin thought as he folded his hands before his face. 'The Stark boys are wedded and betrothed…but the bastard is not. And he has not been placed into a line of succession yet. He stands to inherit nothing, and few Lords even know of his existence, so they have not yet begun sending offers of their daughters to him. Perhaps instead of having her ensnare a wolf…Joy needs to instead ensnare a stag instead.'
Yes. That would be ideal. The boy had this Force power, perhaps not in the measure that the Stark boys had it, but it was still there. And he held the secret to Valyrian, or rather Northern Steel. Yes, he would turn the offer he had been prepared to offer the Stark bastard and instead offer it to the Baratheon bastard. 'Joy's hand. Gold. Lordship. And his choice of Castamere or Tarbeck Hall. Either would serve well for a smith. Yes. I will send a missive to Joy immediately and tell her to turn her affections from the Starks to the bastard boy. Even going so far as to give the lad her maidenhood as well. Which would work even more in House Lannister's favor once the King inevitably legitimizes him as I can use his soiling of Joy to force the issue of betrothal. Yes…I may not catch a wolf as I'd hope. But a smith-Stag will do for a consolation prize.'
If one had asked Dany even a year past if she would find enjoyment in a life where she'd been married to a Dothraki Khal, she would've scoffed and denied the very idea. But she would've been wrong, so very wrong. Sure, the Dothraki were a brutal people that raided when they needed or wanted too. But there was more to them than just raiding and killing. The Dothraki, her people, had a culture that was brutal yet beautiful at the same time. They respected strength above all else. But not just pure physical strength, but strength of the mind and cunning as well. And while there were still those who were cautious of her because of their fear of magic, they kept those opinions to themselves. Though whether their silence was due to fear of reprisal from her husband or from herself, she could not say. But more than anything, the Dothraki respected her! She was put first. They looked up to her, listened to her and obeyed her.
Laughing at hearing the end of a humorous tale being told by one of her husband's bloodriders, Dany leaned back and into Drogo's muscled shoulder as she watched the revelry going on in the hut around them, her hand slipping down to her stomach and caressing the growing child within her womb. Her womb had begun to swell quickly, and had now reached the point where she'd had to discard most of her old clothing in favor of very loose fitting dresses, or clothes that left her stomach completely exposed to the air. 'You will be a strong one, my Rhaego,' she thought, smiling as she continued running her hand across the child within her. 'The strength of your father. The power of the Force. And the lineage of the Dragons. You will be the one to truly bring back the glory of Valyria to Essos. Let my brother or the Usurper fight over the Iron Throne…I no longer care for Westeros. I want to create a new home, starting in Vaes Dothraki and one day spreading to Bravoos and down to Volantis. I want to unite the Free Cities once again and turn them into the greatest empire the world has ever seen. And my husband, my sun and stars, agrees with my vision. Together, we will do what has not been done since the fall of the Valyrian Empire over four centuries past.'
But just as Dany was about to get up to reach for some more food, she heard a commotion at the entrance to the hut. "Get your hands off me! I demand to be let in! I know she's in there! And I demand to be let in as well!"
Dany let out an exasperated sigh as she felt her husband stiffen next to her in response to hearing her brother call out for her. "Let him come," she said in Dothraki, prompting whoever it was that was stopping her brother from entering to step aside and let him pass.
The moment her brother stepped foot into the hut, Dany immediately regretted letting him in. She could tell just from the sight of him that he was two bottles past drunk by this point. And worse yet, he was wearing his sword on his hip! In Vaes Dothrak! To wear steal was against the law. To bear it…would be death. Something not even she would be able to prevent. And while her love for her brother was simply due to the fact that he was her brother, she still did not wish to see him die. "Viserys," she said, rising slowly to her feet as the weight of pregnancy had started to hinder her movements.
Her brother wobbled as he turned to and fro, trying to see where she was even though she was the only one in the hut that was standing. "Ah! There she is…the queen whore herself," Viserys smiled, then burped, as his eyes finally rested upon her. "Great Khal," he said, going into a drunken bow, "I've come to join the celebration of my whore sister finally producing you an air – heir."
Her husband appeared less than amused at the display, something which Dany shared with him. "You may sit at the back of the tent, over there." Her husband said in Dothraki, motioning towards the far side of the hut well away from the two of them.
"What did he say!?" Viserys demanded, taking a drunken half-step towards her.
"You have a seat, Viserys," Dany told her brother evenly, raising her hand and pointing towards the far side of the hut. "Over there, along the back. If you wish to stay, take your seat, eat your meal, and do so quietly. If you feel you cannot, then leave. And for the love of dragons, take off your bloody sword, you idiot. It's against the law in Vaes Dothrak to carry steel. You should know this by now, brother."
Her brother turned, staring off towards the back of the hut with a sneer. "Back there? With the whores and servants? Bah, that is no place for a King! I will sit right here! Tell this fucker here to move so I can sit!"
"You. Are no. King."
Even Dany was surprised to hear her husband say the words in the common tongue instead of Dothraki. All eyes, even her brothers, was on her husband as he glared hatefully at Viserys. 'Please brother,' she silently pleaded to him. 'Please leave…we may have our differences… But it would still pain me if you did something irredeemable, which it looks like you are close to. So please…just leave.'
"I am a King!" Viserys roared, then to the shock of everyone, he drew his sword, baring live steel in Vaes Dothrak. "I am the King of the Seven Kingdoms! The rightful King! And we made an agreement between the two of us Khal Drogo, and agreement that you have not fulfilled!"
"Brother, Viserys." Pulling on the Force, she lifted her hand preparing to persuade her brother to leave no matter what was needed. "Please, have a seat an—"
Her words, and any thoughts she had, died as the tip of her brother's sword drifted through the air towards her, stopping just above her swollen belly and the child she carried within her. Her hand stilled and the Force failed her as any calm she had within her was replaced with fear. A fear not for herself, but a fear for the child she carried within her. On the other end of the sword, her brother was smirking at her, either not noticing or not caring about how quiet the hut had become the moment he'd made his move. "I want what was promised, dear sister," Viserys said, his voice dripping with venom as the cold steel tip of his sword touched her belly. "Drogo bought you, used you…but never paid for you. I want what was promised, sister. I want my crown. Otherwise, I'm going to take you back and find a new buyer for you, one that won't mind the fact that you've been used like a whore for a Dothraki Khal. And one that will pay for what he buys."
Doing all she could to stay still and control her breathing, Dany faced down her brother. "And what of my son? Your nephew?"
"My nephew?" Viserys scoffed, the tip of his blade now pressing against her flesh just shy from hard enough to draw blood, "that…creature you carry within you is of no relation to me. And as for what I'll do with it…if Drogo wants his spawn that badly, then I'll cut it out of you here and now and leave it for him. I want my crown, Dany…and I will get it. No matter what I have to do."
And with that, any remaining feelings she had for her brother were gone. Though she did briefly wonder if she even did love her brother beyond the fact that he was her brother. He'd certainly never done anything to show he'd loved her beyond keeping her fed when they were children. But she realized now that the only reason he even did that was because he needed her to trade for an army to retake his throne. The only thing that he ever truly cared about or loved. And now, not even the fact that he was her brother could save him. He'd not only drawn his blade in Vaes Dothrak, but he'd threatened both Dany, a Khaleesi, and the khalakka that she carried within her. Turning, she saw her husband staring at her with Irri by his side, no doubt translating everything her and her brother were saying.
She could feel the anger, no, the fury rolling off her husband as if he were an inferno setting a whole city ablaze. Yet despite his fury, he was staring, waiting for her. Glancing back at her brother and the sword he held at her unborn child, Dany felt…nothing. Glancing back towards her husband, she gave a single sharp nod. And it was with that nod that she knew that there was no going back. Her future in Westeros was gone.
Approval and admiration, of all things, flowed off her husband as he glanced towards Viserys before speaking, leaving Irri to quickly translate for her brother who had yet to still pick up even the basics of the Dothraki language. "I will give you your crown, brother of my Khaleesi. I will give you a crown that men will gaze upon and tremble in fear of for a hundred years. I will give you a crown that you will wear for eternity till your bones have turned to dust. I will give you the golden crown that you crave so desperately. And I will do so now."
Viserys smiled widely, his sword leaving her swollen belly and returning to its sheath. "That is all I ever wanted."
Rising to his feet, Dany watched emotionlessly as her husband approached her. Meeting his eyes, Dany felt her husband's strong hand caress her belly and their child within, his fingers lingering where Viserys's sword had been pressing against her flesh. "Hold him. Empty the pot."
Taking a step back, Dany watched as her husband moved away from her towards the cooking fire and the pot that Irri had just upended. As he did, two of her husband's bloodriders came up from behind Viserys. Without a word, the two bloodriders manhandled her brother, breaking his arm and making him cry out in agony as they forced him to his knees. "Wha – You can't do – I'm the Dragon! Dany! Dany, tell them to release me now! Tell them to let me go!"
But Dany didn't say a word. Not as her brother was forced to his knees before her, and not as her husband took off his heavy gold-plated belt so that he could drop it into the now empty pot that was over the fire. Feeling someone come up beside her, Dany glanced quickly sideways to find Ser Jorah standing by her side. The man stepped slightly in front of her and turned his back towards her brother as if he were trying to block her eyes from what was about to happen. "You should not watch this, Khaleesi."
Taking her eyes off her kneeling brother, Dany fixed Jorah with a level stare. "The one who casts the sentence should hold the sword, Ser Jorah. You of all should appreciate that. I will not look away. Not from this."
Jorah blinked, clearly not expecting her to say such a thing to him. Using the back on her hand, she gently pushed against Jorah's arm, urging the man to move out of her way just as Drogo lifted the cooking pot off the fire by the spits that held it and slowly walked over to her kneeling brother. Realization dawned through Viserys' drunken haze as he began thrashing wildly against the strong hands holding him in place. "Dany! Dany, please! Please…no! Don't! – Don't let! – Please!"
But Dany didn't say a word as Drogo stepped in front of her brother and lifted the pot towards him. "A crown for a king!"
Dany had to swallow the bile that rose quickly in her throat as she watched, silently, as Drogo twisted the pot, pouring the melted gold out and onto her brother's waiting head. Her brother screamed, a god-awful scream of pure agony as the melted gold touched his head and began running down his face, melting his skin and scalding his very skull before cooling enough to harden. Through it all, Dany forced herself to remain still and watch her brother's death. Even after Drogo had emptied the entire pot and squatted down in front of Viserys so that he could watch the life leave her brother's eyes, Dany kept watching. Even after the bloodriders let go of his arms, letting his corpse fall face first to the ground with a heavy thud, Dany kept her eyes fixated on her brother. And through it all, she felt nothing.
"Khaleesi—" Ser Jorah began, only to stop as she held up a hand to silence him.
"He was no Dragon," she said lowly, staring down emotionlessly at the corpse that used to be her brother. "Fire…cannot kill a Dragon."
Gasping and almost jumping out of his bed, Jon Snow blinked his eyes rapidly, trying to find his sight in the darkened Lord's chamber within Winterfell that his father had granted him use of while he and the others were in the south for the Tourney of Harrenhal. Glancing around the room, Jon tried to find what it was that'd awoken him so suddenly but there was nothing in the room to explain it. Nor was the guard that'd been posted outside the chamber doors calling out to him. He only just barely managed to keep himself from jumping as he felt a warm hand slowly crawl up his naked back. "Umm…what is it, Jon?"
Bringing his heart back under control, Jon turned his sight from the darkened room to the beauty that was lying beside him, bare as the day she was born with only the thinnest of furs over her flesh for warmth. Despite not saying their vows before the heart tree, Ygritte was as much his wife as Arianne would soon be. And everyone in the North knew this, which was why no one said anything when she had moved into the Lord's chamber with him after his father and siblings had departed Winterfell over a moon's turn ago. "It's nothing," he said, though whether he was trying to convince her of that or himself he wasn't sure. Leaning over he pressed a light kiss to her brow. "Go back to sleep."
Ygritte merely groaned, her eyes never even opening as she rolled over, kicking some of the furs off of her and leaving her breasts exposed to the night air.
Envying her ability to seemingly ignore the cold, Jon conceded that he would not be getting back to sleep any time soon. Pushing off his own furs, Jon swung his legs over the side of the bed, wincing slightly as his feet touched the cold stones beneath them. Finding his breaches and underclothes, Jon quickly got dressed and left the bed and his lover behind in favor of the hearth. Grabbing another log, Jon placed the wood atop the still burning coals, watching as the flames leapt back to life and began devouring the new piece.
Sinking down before the fire, Jon crossed his legs and closed his eyes, letting his mind drift into the Force as he tried to find what had awoken him. It didn't take him long. Almost as soon as he cleared his mind, he felt the torment of pain, grief and sorrow seeping through the Force bond he shared with Dany. Following the torrent of emotion though the Force, Jon suddenly found himself before Dany. Even with her back turned to him and unable to see his face, he could feel just how…unbalanced she was. "Dany…" he called out to her, unsure of where to even start.
When she turned to him, he almost wanted to take a step back. Her face was…blank. No emotion. Nothing. She was just staring blankly at him as if she didn't have a single thought in her mind. "Jon," she responded simply.
Gathering himself, he knelt in front of her so that the two were at eye level with one another. "What…What happened, Dany?" Something had to have happened. The Dany he knew was almost far more collected than this.
Blinking slowly, Dany looked at him, though he could tell she wasn't focused on him at all. "My brother…Viserys…"
Anger swelled within him at the mention of her brother. From what she'd told him, the man was a younger version of the Mad King, and not someone Jon wanted anywhere near Dany. "What did he do? Did he—Did he hurt you? Is your babe alright?"
"No, yes." Dany answered him, shaking her head and surprising him as slight tears began to pool in the corners of her eyes. "My son, my Rhaego, he still swells within me. And Viserys…He won't hurt anyone again…ever. He – He's dead. And I – I did nothing but watch. But more than that I…I wanted him to die…No, not just die…I wanted him to suffer…and he did. Gods, Jon, he suffered at my order."
Rocked by what she'd just told him, Jon reached out and placed his hands atop of hers. While they couldn't physically touch each other like this, they'd learned that they could send the feeling of touch to one another through the Force. "Tell me everything, Dany."
And she did. She told him of how she was feasting with her people when her brother came in drunk, demanding that Khal Drogo march his armies. To emphasize his point, he drew his sword and threatened to cut out Dany's son and leave the child for Drogo while taking Dany back to sell her to someone else who would march for him. What the man had done was so…infuriating that Jon could not find it in himself to fault Dany when she'd given her consent for her brother's execution at the hands of her husband. The pouring of melted gold over the man's head to kill him put him off more than slightly, but Jon would be a liar if he said that Viserys had not earned his death.
"There…There was nothing you could have done, Dany. Your brother, he… He broke so many laws of gods and men that he earned his death."
"Maybe," Dany answered, still not fully meeting his eyes. "But he…he was my brother. And – And I just stood back and watched him die in that, I watched him die like that. And I…I felt nothing. Even as he was calling out for me and begging for help, or as he was screaming in agony as my husband poured molten gold over his head. I just stood there, watching. And feeling nothing. I – I'm a monster, Jon."
"No, you're not." Jon immediately said, adding more sensation to his touch and finally drawing her eyes to him. "A monster would not have felt 'nothing'. A monster would've been gleeful at watching such a display. And a monster sure as hells would not be feeling remorseful as you are now. No, Dany. While I might not fully agree with the…manner of his death, it was unavoidable. And you are no more a monster than I. I told you of what happened to the Maesters, right? How my father ordered them all nailed through the ankles and hung upside down and left to die? We killed dozens, hells, maybe a hundred or more that day like that. Both older and younger than myself. And unlike you, I didn't feel nothing. I felt satisfaction at seeing those who'd wronged me and my family die in such a manner. Knowing that, do you think I'm a monster Dany?"
Blinking through her unshed tears, Dany shook her head. "No."
"Then neither are you, Dany." Jon insisted, trying to give her a reassuring smile. "You are not a monster, Dany. You are in fact one of the strongest and most caring women I have ever met."
Nodding, Dany lowered her eyes. "But that's not all, Jon. My brother, and I were the last of the Targaryens, the last of the Dragon Lords of Old. And now, now it is just me…and I'm alone."
Feeling his gut tighten, Jon lowered his own eyes. "No, Dany… You are not alone. There…I know of two others that carry the Targaryen blood, the blood of the Dragon Lords. And they are both still alive and well."
Dany's entire being changed in an instant. Gone was her sorrow and anguish, replaced instead by a wide-eyed hope as she grasped onto his hands, sending a powerful wave of pressure through the Force such that he nearly winced at the sensation. "Where are they?" she asked, no, begged, her eyes wide. "Are they safe? Does the Usurper know of them? How have they managed to live for so long?"
Heart hammering, Jon swallowed and tried to mentally prepare himself. "The first is…well, I think he would be your great Uncle, or maybe more. He's the Maester for the Night's Watch, Maester Aemon. He's…probably one of the wisest men I've ever met, certainly the oldest. And he…he asked of you. He was heartened to know that some of his family survived. And he managed to survive because I honestly believe that just about everyone has forgotten about him."
Dany beamed at hearing of her oldest living family member still alive and well in Westeros. "And who is the other?"
Jon could feel himself shaking at this point. He knew this was dangerous, and stupid. But he…he couldn't just let Dany go on believing a lie. Not anymore. Not when she felt so alone. "The other… He managed to survive the war because his mother's family told a lie to the rest of the realm. A lie that everyone believed. And it has allowed him to live under a veil of anonymity because no one even knows he exists. Only a few, outside of himself know."
"Who is he? Where is he?" Dany pressed, almost desperate to know.
'Gods…This is harder than when I told Arianne and Ygritte the truth…maybe because she is family? And…And…Will she hate me for the truth? She's had to live her entire life on the run with her brother. When I have been able to live a relatively comfortable life?' "He…His name is Jaehaerys. Son…Son of Lyanna Stark by way of Rhaegar Targaryen. Taken from the Tower of Joy and raised by his Uncle, Lord Eddard Stark, as the man's own bastard son to protect him from any who would seek to harm him or use him for their own gains."
It took a moment, but slowly recognition dawned on Dany's face. And just as he'd feared, she broke their 'physical' contact and stepped back from him. "You…You are…You are the son of my brother…My – My nephew?"
Jon's heart dropped as Dany backed away from him. "Aye. My father, Eddard Stark, took me from where my mother birthed me and claimed me as his bastard son, fathered during the war. No one questioned it and…and until just recently only two people that knew the truth were still amongst the living."
Feeling Dany approach him once more, Jon looked up as Dany retook her place across from him. He fully expected the hurt and betrayal that he saw on her face and felt within her. But what he was not expecting was the…joy and hope he felt mixed within her emotions as well. "Why? Why didn't you tell me before now?"
"I…Honestly I don't know," Jon answered her truthfully. "Only five other people even know the truth of my birth. My father and brother. Maester Aemon. And Arianne and Ygritte."
Dany was looking at him with a contemplative look. "Will you be taking the throne back?"
Jon blinked and shook his head. "Gods no…At least I don't want it. I…when I told you that you can't move forward while constantly looking back, I meant it. I don't want the throne simply because I might have a claim to it and my sire's family held it for hundreds of years. I…I want to forge my own path. Not one that is forced upon me. Just like you."
"Your 'sire'? Don't you mean your father and his family lineage?" Dany repeated, picking up on the way he'd addressed Rhaegar.
"I – Truthfully, I wanted nothing to do with the Targaryen line, Dany," Jon told her, deciding to stop hiding the truth. "My...father...Rhaegar...He wasn't the great Prince and valiant knight that everyone made him out to be. He was mad, not like the Mad King but rather in his own way. My mother and the Kingsguard that he'd left behind to keep her prisoner both left messages confirming this. He was obsessed with the prophecy of the prince who was promised. And…And he used that as his justification for doing some…horrible things. Then there were the actions of the Mad King…and I guess you can understand why I didn't want to acknowledge my dragon's blood."
"But something changed?" Dany pressed, leaning towards him slightly.
"Aye. I met you, got to know you. And Maester Aemon. Two members of the Targaryen family who were neither mad nor obsessed. I don't think that I will ever be able to refer to Rhaegar as anything other than the one who sired me. But I no longer want to reject the dragon blood within my veins either. It's a part of me, just as much as the cold blood of the wolves."
Lowering her head, Dany looked almost uncertain. "So…what happens now?"
"Now we move forward, Dany," he said, reaching out and laying his hands on her own, sending the sensation of touch to her once more. "And we learn from our shared ancestors. After Valyria fell, our ancestors did not simply let despair at what they lost overcome them. Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya instead forged a new path forward and united the Seven Kingdoms. And that is what we need to do, Dany. We should remember our past and learn from it, but we should not let what we lost consume us. We need to press forward and forge new lives. For ourselves and for our families."
Staring up at the massive walls of black stone, Melisandre couldn't help but feel slight awe at the sight before her. The great castle of Dragonstone was…impressive. Built by the Dragon Lords of old, she could feel the arcane arts emanating from each stone that made up the massive fortress. 'It is known that the Dragon Lords of old, and the Targaryens, were said to scoff at the notion of R'hllor…but how could they possibly deny his greatness when it was without a doubt by His hand that this fortress was built?' She pondered as she slowed behind the guards escorting her to take a moment to examine the black stone walls. Raising her hand, she pressed her open palm against the black stone, smiling when she felt the slight warmth emanating from within. A warmth that only R'hllor's blessing could bring. 'These barbarians do not know of the true god R'hllor…and because they worship trees and the false Seven-Who-Are-One, His power in this land is weakened. But even still, his blessings remain in this place. Indeed, R'hllor's reach is far and mighty. A castle built upon fire and smoke amidst the salted waters…born amongst salt and fire…with R'hllor's blessing all around…Perhaps this truly is where Azor Ahai shall be reborn.'
"Priestess, do not linger. Lord Stannis has little patience for those who waste his time."
"Of course," she responded, letting her hand drop as she turned around and let those escorting her lead her into the depths of the great castle.
It'd taken her nearly a fortnight since her arrival on this island, but finally she'd been granted an audience with the Lord of Dragonstone, Lord Stannis, brother of King Robert Baratheon. Though from what she saw in the flames, there was far more to the man than just him being the brother to the King. In one of her visions granted to her by R'hllor, she saw an imposing man wearing a golden crown with the banner of a stag and burning heart behind him. And while she had never seen him, she knew that the man she saw was this Stannis Baratheon. He would one day be a champion for R'hllor…but was he Azor Ahai? That she did not know. Perhaps the prophecy of him being 'reborn' did not mean the great champion's actual rebirthing into this world from their mother. But perhaps it meant their rebirth in the true faith of R'hllor? Prophecies, as her fellow Sisters reminded her constantly, were fickle things.
Her escort slowed as they reached a set of double doors with two guards standing outside. Moving aside, her escort motioned for her to continue, "Lord Stannis is waiting for you within, Priestess."
Straightening her robes, Melisandre held her head high as she walked past the guards and into the room beyond. What awaited her was a room that had become legendary, even in Essos and as far as Asshai. The Chamber of the Painted Table, named so after the massive wooden map of Westeros that dominated the chamber and gave rise to its name. it was in this very room that the Targaryens planned their conquest of Westeros. And it was within this very room that she met the Lord of Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon, brother to the King and descendant of the Dragon Lords of Valyria even if he did not carry their name.
As soon as she laid eyes on the Lord, she had to catch herself from staring. As she had thought, it was Lord Stannis that was the man in her vision, the man with a crown carrying the sigil of a stag surrounded by a fiery heart. She could also tell, from the words of those she'd talk to and from her own first impression, but this was not a man who would be swayed by honeyed words or empty promises. She doubted even offering her own body to him would suffice. No. This was a man of action and deeds. She would need to prove herself to him. And through her actions would he come to see the glory of R'hllor. It was why she'd spent her entire time since arriving performing simple miracles of her god to the smallfolk to help better their lives. Cure a cold. Return a woman's fertility. Such things were easy for her god but would go far in proving her worth to this man.
"Lord Stannis Baratheon," she greeted the man, curtsying to him in a show of respect. "I am Melissandre of Asshai, Priestess to the true God R'hllor and his humble servant. I come offering my services to you and those of Westeros. And a warning of the darkness approaching. A darkness that threatens to consume all."
Lord Stannis said nothing as she felt his eyes examining every part of her body. "I know who you are," he said, his voice as hard as his visage. "I have known of you since you're arriving on my lands. While I have no need for those who preach empty promises, I have decided to sate my curiosity after hearing of your acts of magic that you performed for those under my command."
Hiding the smirk that threatened to show itself at realizing she'd taken the right approach, Melisandre righted herself and met Stannis's cold eyes with her fiery eyes. "Such feats were not necessarily my own, my Lord. It was through my god R'hllor that I was able to provide such aid to those you command. An aid that was quite simple in truth. And it is an aid that I wish to offer you as well."
The Lord of Dragonstone idly tapped his fingers on the painted table as he regarded her. "I have seen such miracles before, feats of magic and the like. Performed by the Sorcerer Nox, both on the field of battle and during times of peace. Magic that my own daughter possesses, which led me to send her to the Sorcerer so that she might hone her gift. Yet I have not heard him speak that such feats were only capable because of a 'god'. But rather through the Force which he shapes and molds to suit his purpose."
This was not pleasant news to Melisandre. She did not trust this 'Sorcerer' from the North. If he was not the Great Other himself, then he was at the very least an agent for the beast. And what was concerning to her was the respect in Stannis's voice as he spoke of this Sorcerer. Enough so that he'd even sent his own daughter to learn at the man's feet. Not that Melisandre completely blamed Stannis. These people were ignorant with their lack of understanding of R'hllor and His will. To them, the Sorcerer must truly seem to be next to godhood. But still, she would have to work slowly, carefully, to push Stannis from the Sorcerer's sight and onto the path R'hllor had shown her. "The powers the Sorcerer commands is known, even in Essos and my own land of Asshai. However, even his power pales in comparison to the power R'hllor gifts upon those devoted to him. Power that you will need my Lord, to face the darkness that is coming."
"The darkness that is coming?" Stannis repeated, eyeing her carefully. "You speak of the Others from beyond the Wall and their army of the dead then?"
Melisandre was momentarily surprised. She'd been under the belief that the people of this land were either unaware of the Great Other or dismissed it as mere legend. But knowing the threat they faced was far different than understanding it. For it was only through R'hllor that this land had hopes of triumph over the shadows gathering. "You know of the Great Other and his return," she said calmly. "Then you understand the need for aid from R'hllor. For it is only with the champion of R'hllor, the Prince-Who-Was-Promised, Azor Ahai Reborn, can the Great Other be vanquished."
Stannis did not offer a counter to her words, which gave her heart that perhaps she was getting through the man. "Your god is unknown in these lands. And the gods of this land, both the New Gods and the Old, seem to care little for the realm of men. And as such I am unwilling to rely on the aid of the gods to counter these monsters. However, your actions have proven your worth, if not necessarily your words. I will offer you a room in the castle to use as you see fit. You may preach and continue to aid those under my watch. However, you may not do anything to antagonize those who hold to the New or the Old gods. Continue to prove yourself useful, and I will allow you to stay. Prove yourself a hindrance, and I will have you removed from my lands and sent back to Essos on the first ship I can find."
Melisandre wanted to grind her teeth at the ignorance of the man, but she held herself back. These false old and new gods could not care for these people because they were false gods. R'hllor was the only true god. But instead of saying so, she needed to swallow her pride. One day these people would come to understand the glory of the R'hllor and the need for offerings given to him. And they would cast aside their false gods and follow the path R'hllor had set for them. But until they were ready to accept R'hllor and all He could offer, she would have to bide her time. "I understand, Lord Stannis," she intoned, bowing her head lowly. "I shall do what I can to earn your trust. And I pray that one day, I can show you the truth of R'hllor's strength and the gifts he bestows upon those who believe in him."
The Lord's response was but a curt nod and a call out to his guards to escort her to chambers that'd apparently been already prepared for her, which included her few personal belongings which must've been brought here while she was in talks with Lord Stannis. The room was not necessarily anything special, barely a step above a servant's quarters and certainly not the type of room a High Priestess of R'hllor would expect to be offered to her. But she would endure. This was but another trial set upon her by R'hllor to test her faith, her conviction to see his will be done. And she would not fail her Lord. Not now, not ever.
Walking to the hearth, she could feel the faintest touches of heat emanating from the coals within. It wasn't much, but it would be enough. Picking up a few pieces of wood that were near the hearth, Melisandre carefully placed them on top of the coals before moving to her belongings that'd been placed on her bed and drew the small dagger she had. Moving back to the fire, she slid the edge of the dagger along her left palm, creating a small cut. Flicking the blood off the blade and onto the wood, she closed her eyes and began a low chant. Almost immediately, the fire sprung to life within the hearth, eagerly eating away at the wood and her blood that lay within. "I beseech you, R'hllor, the One True God. Show me the path forward. Show me the way that I might convince these unbelievers of your true might so that they might stand tall against the Great Other who threatens all."
The flames flickered and moved as she waited for her Lord to respond to her plea. The flames shifted, and from within their deep recesses she saw a face. A woman's face. A woman who was standing next to the Lord Stannis. A wife? A mistress? Either way, she knew that this woman was the key to bringing this Lord Stannis into the faith of R'hllor.
The road to Harrenhal had been a long, and boring road to travel. After leaving Winterfell, Ned had directed their already large column to follow the King's Road south, a path that would take them almost directly to the massive keep on the edge of the God's Eye. They'd been quickly joined by the various houses of the North; Manderly, Flint, Karstark, Mormont, Glover, Umber, Forester and perhaps most surprisingly of all a contingent from the newly formed House Norfolk led by the newly appointed Lady Val Norfolk herself. When Ned had voiced his surprise at her accompaniment of them, she just shrugged and said that it would be good for her and her people to learn more about these 'Southerners' that think they rule them. Her response did not necessarily put him at ease. Especially not after word reached him of a rather blunt and rude messenger that'd arrived from the Riverlands with an offer of marriage between Lady Val and some second or third son of a minor Lord sworn to the Freys. Apparently, the messenger had not taken her outright refusal well. And when he'd insisted…she sent him back to his lord…with his message firmly and quite literally shoved up his own arse. Ned just hoped that there would be no further such instances while they were in the south were such actions where not tolerated as well as they were in the North.
Glancing over his shoulder, Ned eyed the massive column behind him. Lords, Ladies, guards, families, smallfolk and any who were seeking their fortune that could afford the voyage. All were behind him amassed in a number that could rival a small army. There had only been two other instances of this many Northerners making the trek south. The first was for the Tourney of Harrenhal…nearly two decades past. And the second was to dethrone the Mad King after the fallout of Rhaegar's actions regarding Ned's own sister. 'Let us pray that this time the North will not return south so quickly after a Tourney of Harrenhal.' Ned thought, or rather prayed as he eyed the multiple carriages close to him. Carriages that carried his daughters, youngest son and now his gooddaughter. 'Old gods of the North…I beg of you to not let my children suffer the pain and heartache of war…as I was forced to. Let them know peace.'
Turning back around, Ned squinted his eyes into the distance as he saw the outriders he'd dispatched making their way back towards them. At their head was none other than his own son, with Theon Greyjoy riding at his right. Just as they drew within earshot of himself, he was aware of Nox, GreatJon and Maege coming up from behind him.
"Father," Robb called out to him, slowing his horse down and bringing it around so they could continue to ride forward together. "Banners on the horizon. Black and gold and bearing the sigil of the Crowned Stag."
Ned immediately recognized the design his son had described. Turning in his saddle, he motioned a message boy forward. "Travel down the column, inform everyone that either the King, or a King's representative is approaching. I want every Lord and Lady and their families to the front of the column to greet them."
"Do you really think the King himself has come to meet us, father?" Robb asked as the runner wasted no time in galloping down the length of the column, shouting out Ned's orders for all to hear.
"Knowing Robert as I do…. yes," Ned replied. The King purposefully coming out and greeting a visiting Lord was, unorthodox to say the least. But Robert had never been an orthodox King in the first place.
His thoughts proved true, as not long after his family and the Lords and Ladies of the North came up to his side the riders carrying the banner of the crowned stag crested the horizon and came into view. And at the head of the riders was none other than Ned's friend, Robert Baratheon, prompting no small mutterings of surprise from the Northern retinue as everyone dismounted their horses and stood in line waiting for the King.
As the King and his men drew close, Ned realized that there was a young boy riding in front of the King, but Ned didn't really pay the boy much mind as he focused his eyes on his friend. "Ned!" Robert called out joyfully when the two groups were in earshot of one another. "By the Seven Hells! I thought you'd never get here! And all of you stay on your feet, none of that kneeling shit out here."
Ned, who'd been in the process of going to one knee, righted himself as he allowed a small smile to cross his face as Robert slowed his horse. "Your grace," Ned greeted his old friend and King as Robert surprisingly managed to slip down from his saddle on his own before helping the young boy that'd been seated in front of him down. "Apologies if we are the last to arrive. The North is a fair distance, even to Harrenhal."
"Bah, you're not the last to arrive. Those snakes from Dorne still haven't sent anyone… Not that I'm expecting them to." Robert commented lightly before stepping towards Ned. When they were but an arm's length from one another, Robert looked him up and down. "Hells, Ned, you look good. Not as good as I do of course, but then again you haven't lost nearly half your weight since the last time we saw one another, have you?"
Robert wasn't lying, by the looks of things the King had shed a good portion of his girth. And while he was still nowhere near the physicality back during the rebellion, he was far closer to it now than the last time Ned had seen him. "Ruling the North has left little time for rest I fear, your grace."
Robert laughed. "Has anyone told you that you work too much, Ned? But you're here now and that's all that matters…especially now. But we can talk more later. Tommen, come here boy." The young lad that'd been riding at the front of Robert's saddle slowly walked forward, looking up to Robert for assurance as Robert placed his much larger hands on the boy's shoulders and moved him forward. "This is my youngest, Tommen. Tommen, this here is the most honorable man you will ever meet. The Warden of the North, Lord Eddard Stark."
Smiling, Ned lowered himself so that he was eyelevel with the boy. "Well met, my Prince. It is an honor to finally make your acquaintance. I apologize for not being able to do so when last I was in King's Landing."
"Blame the boy's mother for that Ned, not yourself. She hounds after the children worse than a mother hen," Robert laughed at his own joke before nudging Tommen to speak.
"It, ummm, it's an honor to mee you, Lord Stark."
Giving the boy a light smile, Ned motioned for Robb and Talisa to step forward. "Your grace, you remember my eldest son and heir Robb. And this is his wife, the Lady Talisa Stark of Volantis."
"Aye, I remember your lad, Ned. Though last I met him, he wasn't a man just yet," Robert said, turning towards Robb and Talisa, taking a moment to eye Talisa up and down. "Now you're a true man…and you've chosen well lad, very well. Wish I could've been there to see you two wedded and bedded…but even getting out of the Red Keep is difficult these days."
Ned couldn't help but notice as Robb beamed with pride as Talisa subtly rolled her eyes in exasperation. She clearly did not appreciate the King speaking of her as if she were a fine mare. "Thank you, your grace. But your thoughts and well wishes are more than enough." Robb replied as Robert moved on from Robb to Theon.
"The Greyjoy lad, eh?" Robert said, eyeing Theon up and down. "Ned's done a fine job raising you to be a true man."
Robert didn't wait for Theon's reply as he walked down the line, greeting each of Ned's children in turn. He congratulated Sansa on her betrothal to Willas Tyrell, before moving to Arya and barely making a comment at her before asking Bran to show him his muscles and commenting that Bran would indeed be a knight one day. Albeit a knight with the powers of a sorcerer at his beck and call. Realizing that there was one missing, Robert turned back to Ned. "Where's your bastard, Ned?"
Ned swallowed uncomfortably. The idea of Jon and Robert in the same room still caused him more than a slight bit of unease, even after all these years. "There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, your grace. Jon volunteered to hold the North until we return so that the rest of us could attend the tourney."
Robert nodded his acceptance, and Ned let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding as Robert approached Nox and Nyra. Robert greeted Nox as if the man was an old friend, but when he turned his attention to Nyra, Robert's face went ashen as if he'd come face to face with a ghost. And Ned couldn't help but notice that Robert's hand itched towards the dagger on his waist, nor the fact that Robert's eyes hardened with an intensity Ned had not seen since the Rebellion. "This is my wife, Lady Nyra of House Nox," Nox said, introducing his wife and Ned's Stewardess to the King as Robert continued to stare at the woman with a slacked jawed expression.
Whatever had taken hold of Robert seemed to pass quickly as the King shook his head and greeted the Sorcerer's wife before quickly moving away from her as if she were made of fire. Ned wasn't truly sure what to make of the exchange and judging by the look on Nox's face and the look of worry on Nyra's, neither did they. Nor did they appear to appreciate the King's actions either. But to Ned's relief, Nox didn't press the issue of Robert's slight as the King made his way down the line of people, introducing himself and greeting the various Lords and Ladies that'd accompanied Ned south. Though his inaction was more than likely due to the death hold Nyra had on his arm rather than Nox's restraint at the apparent slight.
Sending a grateful look towards Nyra, Ned hurried to catch up with his King just as Robert reached the one Lady of the North Ned was truly nervous about him interacting with alone. Unlike the other Ladies, with the exception of Lady Maege and her brew, Val Norfolk was not dressed in dresses, but rather in full leather with bits of steel and chainmail covering vital parts on her body. Across her chest, etched onto the leather chest piece she wore, was a weirwood tree, the sigil the Norfolk had taken as their own. Mercifully, she had left her spear, bow, and quiver back with her people. He didn't want to think of what would happen if Robert, or worse one of his guards, ordered her to disarm. Stopping in front of her, Robert looked her up and down appreciatively. "And you must be the wildling Lady Ned tamed enough to turn into a Lady of the Realm, Lady Val Norfolk."
Val's eyes flashed at the 'tamed' comment, and again Ned was thankful that she had left her weapons behind. King or not, he knew that Val was not one to take such a comment easily. "The Wolf Lord has not 'tamed' me, southern King. No man who has tried has managed to survive the attempt. I follow the Wolf Lord for the sake of my people and because I respect him. Nothing more."
"You will address the King as 'King Robert' or 'his grace'! Or you will find yourself short a head, heathen!" one of the Kingsguard that'd accompanied the King, one Ned did not recognize, shouted as he placed his hand on the hilt of his sword while taking a threatening step forward.
Val merely gave the Kingsguard a dismissive glance. "Better than you have tried. Your stance is shite. Your grip is too tight. And I doubt you can see anything through dat fancy bucket yer wearing on your head. I'd have ya on the ground and run through with yer own sword before ye could even blink if you tried to take my head."
Her threat was not idle. During her time with him learning how to rule as a Lady, Ned had faced off against her in the yard on more than one occasion. And while he had bested her more often than not, she had gotten the better of him several times. If he was pressed, he would say that there were only four, perhaps five in the entire realm that could best her. And this Kingsguard, whoever he was, was certainly not amongst that number.
"Blount, shut your mouth before I let this woman do it permanently," Robert growled, glaring at his Kingsguard, who immediately took his hand off his sword and took a step back. Turning back to Val, Robert smirked approvingly at her. "There have been several tales floating around the court about you, Lady Val. Is it true that you shoved a scroll up a messenger's arse before sending him back to his Lord?"
Val simply shrugged. "The man was an annoyance and seem to think that just because I was once a chieftain of the Free Folk, that he and his master were somehow my betters."
Robert grinned widely and nodded approvingly at her. "I think I'm going to take a liking to you. Gods only know how many times I've wanted to do exactly as you did with annoying little shits that won't take 'no' for an answer."
Val appeared to be fighting a losing battle against keeping her face straight. Not that Ned necessarily blamed her. Robert had always had a gift of being able to turn his enemies to friends with barely a few words spoken. "And I think, southern King, I might be able to tolerate you as well…provided you don't let victory defeat you again and become as soft and round as I'd heard you once were."
Robert's face slipped slightly, but within a single blink he was smiling cheerfully at Val once more. "No need to worry about that, Lady Val. I won't let myself get that way again for as long as my heart still beats."
Giving her one last nod of approval, Robert made his way over to the last few standing in line to speak with him. Almost in tandem, Joy Lannister and Shireen Baratheon curtseyed lowly to Robert, while Gendry bowed lowly, and even after righting himself he kept his eyes trained firmly downwards. "Now here is a face I remember!" Robert cried out joyfully, embracing a clearly embarrassed Shireen, "Shireen, by the gods has the North been good to you, girl! I remember when you left you were a scrawny little timid thing. Now look at you. Pure strength. Stannis will be pleased when he sees you again, girl."
"Thank you, your grace," Shireen replied calmly, her face still red from the hug Robert had given her. "I look forward to reuniting with my father and showing him all that I've learned soon."
Robert's face fell. "You're going to have to wait a bit longer on that part, girl. After Jon Arryn passed, your father went back to Dragonstone to deal with a few matters, but he has yet to return or even respond to any raven sent to him. I'm hoping that after this tournament that you will go to Dragonstone yourself and remind your father of his duties to the realm."
Ned was confused by this, as was Shireen. Stannis was perhaps one of the most duty driven people Ned had ever met in his life. And from what Robert was saying, he had all but officially abandoned his duties and fled back to Dragonstone for some reason. By the time the shock of what Robert had said finally wore off, his friend and King had finished greeting Joy Lannister, saying that she was a true source of pride amongst the lions, and moved on to the last of the Acolytes. But even with Robert standing before him, Gendry kept his eyes firmly focused on the ground.
It was all but an open secret by this time that Gendry was in fact the bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Even Gendry was aware of this fact and had accepted it. But now that he was face to face with the King, his father, Gendry looked like he wanted to do nothing more than to disappear into the aether of the Force. "You're the last of Nox's Acolytes, aren't you boy?" Robert asked, reaching out and placing two fingers under the young man's chin and forcing him to look up. "Gendry. The one who helped to rediscover and even improve the process of making Valyrian steel. But more importantly…my son."
Gendry swallowed, unable to look away now that the two were meeting each other's eyes. "Aye…your grace."
Robert scoffed. "None of that shite, boy. At least not from you. It's either Robert…or father…even if I've been a shit father for years, I'm still your father, Gendry." Turning, Robert motioned towards the young Tommen. "Tommen, come here boy. It's far past time you meet your half-brother."
Tommen approached the two slowly, staring up at Gendry with what almost looked like…fear to Ned. 'Does the boy fear Gendry? Sure the lad is big and can be intimidating at times. But he doesn't even know him yet. Or is it because he is a bastard and he fears what all southerners fear when it comes to those who are baseborn?'
"My Prince," Gendry said, immediately dropping to a knee before the young Prince and lowering his head. "It is an honor to meet you. I am at your service, my prince."
The young Prince blinked, apparently whatever the young lad was expecting to happen when meeting his brother, the older boy showing reverence and proper manners to him was apparently not it. "Are…Are you really my brother?"
Gendry looked up, first at Tommen, then glancing towards Robert, clearly not sure just how to answer the boy's question. "Gendry is your brother, Tommen. But he wasn't birthed by your mother," Robert answered for the boys. "He's my bastard son, but that doesn't make him any less your brother no matter what those shit Septons might say. Now, boy, I want you to ride back to Harrenhal with the Starks. Ned, ride with me. We have words that need to be shared in private before we reach Harrenhal."
And with that, Robert was turning on his heel, leaving them all behind and scrambling to follow his orders. After giving his son some quick instructions, Ned quickly climbed up into his own saddle and set off after his King, who was already almost completely out of earshot of the caravan. Riding with the King, Ned noticed that the Kingsguard and other guards fell back from them as they rode. They would still be able to intervene quickly should the need arise, but they were far enough behind that any words shared between Ned and Robert would stay between them.
"Gods, Ned…I've missed this," Robert breathed deep, leaning his head back. "You, me, and the open road ahead of us. Now all we need is a couple of good wenches for the night and it'd will be perfect. Just like when we were boys."
"Aye…though you were always the one to find the wenches more frequently than I." Ned countered good naturedly.
"Aye, that is true. Still didn't stop ya from fathering your bastard boy though, did it?" Robert laughed, and Ned chuckled uneasily to try and keep up appearances. Jon was, still, not a topic he wanted to speak with Robert about at any length.
Instead, Ned decided to divert the conversation back to what had just transpired with Nox and his lady wife. "If I may, your grace—"
"Stop with that 'your grace' shit, Ned. We're well alone from anyone who gives a damn."
"—Robert." Ned responded to his King's demand. "Why did you react that way when you met Lady Nox? And from the look on Nox's face, he was about ready to kill you had Nyra not had a hold of his arm."
Robert's face fell as he cast a quick glance back at the caravan, which was only now just starting to get underway and still well behind them. "Ned…when I saw the Sorcerer's woman, I – I swear I saw Lyanna. Even after all these years, the pain of her loss has not lessened at all. And when I saw her standing there, holding onto the Sorcerer's arm…I wanted to kill the man and take her for my own."
Ned blinked at his friend. Sure, there was a slight resemblance between Nyra and his sister Lyanna, but they were slight at best and no one who truly knew the two of them would have trouble distinguishing between the two. A thought which brought a small swell of despair to Ned as he realized, or perhaps re-realized, just how little Robert knew his sister Lyanna. "Then let us be thankful that cooler heads prevailed."
"Aye, I have no intention of dying by the Sorcerer's blade. And speaking of dying…I'm sure Nox has told you what the Grand Maester wrote to him about?"
"He did," Ned nodded solemnly. "His conclusion is the same as the Grand Maester's. It can be delayed, but not stopped."
Robert nodded, seemingly accepting of the answer. "I thought that would be the case. I had hope but, but hope is for fools and greenboys who don't know the difference between their cock and a stick. Guess that makes me a fool then, eh Ned?"
"There is nothing wrong with holding out for hope, Robert," Ned countered.
Robert swallowed, then started coughing. Ned made to offer what aid he could, but Robert held up a hand as he was clearly fighting to keep his composure through the fit. Pulling out a small cloth, Robert held it up to his mouth, coating it with small droplets of blood that escaped him with each cough.
"I can't show any weakness, Ned," Robert replied once the fit had passed. "Those vultures in King's Landing, hell even those amongst the fucking Kingsguard and my own bannerman, would use my health as a weapon against me should my sickness become well known. Hells, I know that gold-haired cunt I married wouldn't hesitate to pounce on me like this like a fly to shit and try and turn it to her advantage somehow. And, well that is why I need you, Ned. I had Jon and Stannis to help curtail the worst of the vultures, but now Jon is gone from this world and Stannis…gods only know what in the hells has gotten into his head, running back to fucking Dragonstone and hiding. I need you to take up the position you should've taken up years ago, Ned. I hereby name Hand of the King."
Even knowing that it was coming, Ned couldn't help but be taken aback by the offer. "Robert, your grace…I'm unworthy of such an—"
"Don't even finish that sentence, Ned," Robert growled. "You're worthier than you think. Hell, you're probably the last man or woman in all of the Seven Kingdoms that I can truly trust with the position of the Hand, Ned. I need you. The realm needs you. Besides, your heir is old enough, wedded and bedded. He's more than ready to take over ruling Winterfell and the North, is he not?"
Sighing, Ned nodded. "Aye he is."
"Then there is no issue," Robert said, waving the concern off. "We were meant to rule together. Hells, had your sister lived we would've been joined by blood. And speaking off, I've heard that your eldest girl has been betrothed to the heir of House Tyrell."
"Willas," Ned nodded. "Aye she has. It is a fine match, and one that she is most agreeable to."
"And I'm sure those rose fuckers made it worth your while to make such a match, leaving their own daughter Margaery as perhaps the most logical choice for the next Queen of the Seven Kingdoms," Robert grunted, which drew a surprised look from Ned. "Come on now, Ned. I might not have always listened or cared about Jon's lessons when we were boys, but King's Landing, fucking shit pool that it is, has a way of forcing one to learn this 'game' shit. Not to mention the Tyrells arrived in Harrenhal shortly after I did, and they've been sparing no expense in parading their little prize rose before Joffrey whenever they can. Hell, if I was sure that it wouldn't cause a fucking war, I'd be tempted to betroth Joffrey to your youngest girl just to piss off the Tyrells and my wife."
Ned involuntarily shuttered at the thought. Robert passing over a first-born girl of age for a second-born girl who'd yet to flower… He couldn't say that it would cause a war outright. But the fact that Arya would more than likely kill whoever he betrothed her too unless he got her approval certainly would.
"—and your bastard boy is now arranged to marry that Dornish Princess Arianne. A good match for the boy. I just hope he won't be swayed into playing into the Dornish hands just because he found a nice tight cunt to fuck."
"Jon won't," Ned replied, biting his lip at rebuking his friend and King. Having met and spent a significant amount of time with the Princess of Dorne, Ned knew that she did not deserve to be spoken of in such an ill manner. "His loyalty is to his family and the North first and foremost."
"That's what I'm counting on, and that's what Jon Arryn was counting on as well when he was trying to push for the match between the two," Robert conceded. "With your bastard boy in Dorne, we'll hopefully bring the Dornish fully back into the fold. Or at worst have a word of warning before they try to kill us."
"And why would they raise their banners?" Ned questioned. "The Targaryens are all gone."
Robert slowed his pace as a dark look passed over him. "Not all of them. Though there are fewer…and more now. The girl, Daenerys, has been married to a Dothraki Khal and her belly is swelling with his child. And Viserys went and did us a favor by pissing off the same Khal he'd married his sister to, which resulted in his death."
Ned was surprised by the news. He'd known of Daenerys's marriage to Khal Drogo thanks to the spies Nox had organized in Essos, but he had not had word that Viserys had recently met his end. "Have the Dothraki made any moves towards the west?"
Robert shook his head. "No. And despite what the others on the Small Council say, the Grand Maester doesn't believe they will. Viserys's deal was between him and Khal Drogo alone. With Viserys dead, the Khal apparently has little reason to fulfill his end of the deal, especially as he's already gotten what he wanted, a Valyrian bride. But I'm still having Varys and Stannis, whenever he fucking responds to a raven, keep watch on the horde and the sea. Should the Dothraki set sail, our best bet will be to sink the fuckers while they're still on the water. Once they're on land… Well, you know as well as I the stories of the Dothraki horde and what they can do, Ned."
"Aye, I do," Ned nodded, feeling relieved for some reason that Robert wasn't resorting to more…drastic measures to end the Targaryen line forever. Tilting his head back, Ned took a moment to enjoy the feel of the sun on his face. "I will accept the position as Hand of the King, your grace."
"Ha! Good," Robert laughed, slapping him on the back. "Finally, ruling together as we always should've been! Maybe now with you on my side, we can strong arm Nox into taking up his position on the Small Council. And between the three of us, we might just be able to keep the Baratheon name on the throne for more than one generation!"
Holding tight to the rigging as the boat he was on made port, Griff looked out over the state of Myr as the sailors began throwing the lines over the edge of the boat and to the dock hands waiting below. Despite the recent blow their economy had taken with the creation of Northern Glass, something which set Griff's teeth on edge, Myr was still thriving. Or at least they appeared to be thriving.
Dozens of trade vessels were docking and casting off in a flurry of activity. But despite the activity, Griff knew that Myr was still just a single strong breeze away from losing its edge against Tyrosh and Lys in their ongoing struggle against their sisters over the Disputed Lands, a struggle that'd been ongoing since the Daughters War and the time of the Dance of Dragons. And it was that strong breeze that Griff was hoping to create. A breeze that would slowly turn into a windstorm of unstoppable proportions. A storm that would allow him and his charge to cast aside their current names, and retake those of their birth. And a storm that would see that his love would be avenged. Yes. This was where it would all start. All he needed to do was follow the plan and create the breeze.