King's Landing 298 AC

Jaime Lannister.

While Barristan had been left to remain in King's Landing while they traveled to the North, Jaime had not been so fortunate. Be it his skills with a sword or his sister's wishes, his presence was practically demanded. Jaime wouldn't lie and say he didn't enjoy some of the traveling and even seeing Winterfell and the North itself. What he cared far less for were the repeated attempts his sister made to get him back in her bed. He hated too, the fact that more than once he almost gave in and joined her there. The loneliness he'd felt since the truth of Cersei was revealed to him more so than his sister being the reason for that.

Had it not been for Tyrion's presence then he may very well have done so. Instead, he'd spent time with his brother and missed him greatly when they'd left Winterfell to travel south once more. Why Tyrion had gotten the fool of a notion into his head to travel to the Wall, Jaime knew not. He doubted his brother truly did other than some search for knowledge or adventure that he felt he might find there. Whatever the true reason, Tyrion's departure had once again brought him firmly into Cersei's sights. Thankfully there was so little opportunity to be alone together as they traveled or it may have done even more than that.

By the time they had returned to King's Landing, his sister was once again pouting and glaring at him in equal measure. A tourney had been ordered by the king to celebrate the appointment of his new Hand and so Jaime put his thoughts to that rather than anything else. They'd only been back a few days when the ship arrived at the docks and despite wishing to go there and welcome his true king back into the city, Jaime could not. His duties required him to stand by the king's side along with Ser Barristan and to welcome those who arrived when they were greeted in the Throne Room. So as he stood and waited, he wore the same eager expression on his face as Barristan did. Though to his surprise, neither of them could match the eagerness on both the King's and the Hand's faces.

"Ser Jon Arryn, acting Warden of the East and Lord Protector of the Vale, and Lord Robert Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie." the herald called out and while the first name would normally be the one that drew the excited whispers it was actually the second which did so.

Jaime looked on as Ser Jon, Arthur, Sandor Clegane, the Brotherhood of the Winged Knights, and young Robert Arryn walked into the Throne Room. He watched as Ser Jon took a knee before the king and as the king bid him rise.

"Ser Jon, we'd not expected you back so soon. Though we're most happy to see you." Robert said, somehow sounding kingly.

"I heard about the tourney, your grace. Though were it for any other Hand I'd not have traveled." Ser Jon said, with a nod to Ned Stark.

"Ah, good lad. You'll be competing then?" Robert asked.

"With his grace's leave."

"Good, Good. Is that young Lord Robert with you, Ser Jon?"

The young lad in question stepped forward and Jaime found himself stunned at the changes in him. Any time he'd seen him when he was here with his mother, Robert Arryn looked a weak and almost sickly child. He very much did not look that way now. Combined with the true smile he wore when he looked at Ser Jon and then how quickly he schooled his face when he took a knee in front of the king, Jaime felt he was looking at a completely different boy than the one who'd left in a rush with his mother mere moons earlier.

"My Goodbrother is squired now to Ser Waymar Royce, your grace. In time he'll no doubt make a fine knight and as good a Warden of the East as his father before him." Ser Jon said and Jaime swore the young lad beamed at the words.

"I have no doubt he will, Ser Jon." the king said warmly.

After the rest of the Brotherhood had been welcomed, Ser Jon and they turned and left the Throne Room behind them and their absence was soon felt. Robert's mood seemed to darken somewhat and few if any of those who next arrived were welcomed as warmly as Ser Jon was. Only the Tyrells among those who were, much to Jaime and to Barristan's surprise. As usual, there was a feast that night and Robert behaved as he always did.

Jaime, however, was surprised to see how well Joffrey behaved and how he somewhat fawned over the Golden Rose of Highgarden. Though given they'd left the North with no Stark bride for his son, mayhap he should not have been. It was later that night that he, Barristan, and Varys met up in the tunnels and they were soon joined by Ser Jon, Arthur, and Sandor. The former of those hurriedly apologized for the lateness of the hour once they did so.

"Forgive me, I had hoped to speak to you all earlier, but my Goodbrother's excitement at squiring for true is still undimmed." Ser Jon said, a fond smile on his face as he did so.

"He's taken to it well, Ser Jon?" Varys asked.

"As if he was born to it, Lord Varys." Ser Jon replied before his smile faded from his face "My uncle was not supposed to accept the offer. I've not yet had a chance to speak to him for true, but I fear his honor at times a barrier to his good sense."

"He received the letter you sent, Ser Jon. One of my little birds confirmed it. That and another letter, this one from the Vale, I believe." Varys said as Jaime looked at Jon.

"Lady Lysa no doubt." Jon sighed "No matter, I'll speak to my uncle, later. I think we may truly need to consider our moves, Lord Varys. Once Elaena has birthed our babe, I fear we may have the choice taken out of our hands though I wish we had more time."

"For why, Ser Jon?" Barristan asked and Ser Jon wasn't the only one who looked at him confusedly "Why would the babe's birth force us into action, I mean." Barristan added.

"In some ways, I was born lucky." Ser Jon said as he brushed his hand through his dark hair "My hair had it been a different color would have named me for who I truly am, as my eyes did with some. While my wife's blond hair may hide some of our babe's features, should they be born with even truer Targaryen looks than me then word will spread and…."

"War will be upon us," Jaime said to a nod from Arthur.

"Indeed. I would see us prepared for it rather than surprised by it."

"How soon is the babe to come, Ser Jon?" Barristan asked.

"Two moons, three at most. It may not be that which decides our course, Ser Barristan. Yet it's far better to be ready for it than have it thrust upon you."

Jaime listened as talk turned to speak to allies, to letters to Essos, and to laying the groundwork for war. It made it all seem so real to him. Where before it was almost an abstract idea, now it was for true and while he still was behind his king and his plans, he'd not lie and say some of them made him far more nervous than he wished. So much so that even when they were done speaking, he asked for and was allowed to speak to Ser Jon in private.

"Ser Jaime?"

"Forgive me. My mind wanders."

"You feel it for true now." Ser Jon said and Jaime looked at him stunned that he'd gotten there so quickly.

"I do. I'll not lie and say it worries me not."

"If we're lucky, Ser Jaime. If the gods are good and we decide the how and the when then we'll have put plans in place to see those you care about as safe as we can make them."

"And if we're not?"

"Then we'll make contingencies. Contingencies upon contingencies if needed. You have my oath, Ser Jaime. I seek not to harm your brother and your children, not even your sister."

"Just my father." Jaime said, exhaling deeply when he did so and then holding his hand up when Ser Jon went to reply "I know what is needed, your grace. I've made my peace with it, I take comfort that it's just to be him."

"I'm sorry, Ser Jaime, truly."

"I take comfort in that too, your grace," he said with a bow of his head.

He dreamt that night of two babes and their mother being placed before the Iron Throne, their bodies covered in bloodstained banners while atop the throne the king laughed loudly.

"Babes! I see no babes, only Lionspawn." Robert said gleefully.

Jaime woke up in a cold sweat and it took him a few moments to realize that it had just been a dream. Climbing out of his bed, he moved to the window of his cell in White Sword Tower and looked down on the city below. The moon was full and it illuminated everything underneath it. While the city was as quiet as it ever got. Standing there, naked as the day he was born, Jaime made a solemn vow to anyone who'd listen.

"Their fates will not be those of Elia and her children, even if it costs me my life to see that so," he said firmly and while he eventually got back into bed, he slept not. As instead, he made plans in his head to see those he cared about safe in the wars to come.

Pentos 298 AC.

Viserys Targaryen.

He'd not expected the chance to see Dany again so soon. So it had come as a surprise when Jon Connington had come to him and told him that they would be heading to Pentos for a few days. While he'd needed to get some dye for his hair just in case, it was a small price to pay as Dany's Nameday would fall not long after his visit. So Viserys had done his best to find a worthy gift for his sister and then counted the days until they left Lorath behind.

The night before they were to depart, he spent with the men of the Company of the Sea Snake, his own men. Jon Connington and Richard Lonmouth were the overall commanders still, but over time Viserys had been giving command of his own small company. They were men he found he liked spending time with and men who followed and respected him. Not because of who he was by birth, but because of the man he now was and it was a feeling that he much relished. To have good and true men look to you and take your lead was no small feat and very much unlike how he'd expected it to be. Viserys had always thought men would follow him because they had no other option to do so. That being a prince, a king, would engender loyalty when in truth while it may do so somewhat, true loyalty was something you earned, not was owed to you.

He'd trained with these men, and fought with them, even if it was only thus far in mock battles. Viserys had proved himself their equal or better atop a horse with a sword in hand. So while there were men who were better at one or the other within his company, there were few who were better than him at both. Upon leaving them under the command of his second, Ser Lyly Waters. Viserys had no doubt that when the time came for them to play their part in his nephew's war for the throne, they and he would prove their worth.

The next day, he, Jon Connington, and a large guard made their way to the docks and took sail on the Griffin, Jon's flagship. It and its sister ship, Skull, were the largest among the fleet that House Velaryon and Illyrio had built up over the years and yet the cabin he was given for his own was nothing special. That it was at his own behest may have shown just how much he'd grown in his time with the Company. Though one look at himself in the looking glass would be more than enough to do that. Despite the ridiculous blue hair he was forced to hide under for this trip, the sight he presented to himself when he looked upon it was a truly impressive one. Broader of the shoulder, more muscled, he looked every inch a man and a warrior and so very far from the weak prince he had once been. Leaving the cabin behind, Viserys made his way to the deck and watched as the ship sailed from the bay.

"The next time we do this we'll be sailing to Westeros, my prince." Jon Connington said from behind him.

"You truly think it to be soon?"

"His grace said as much did he not?"

"He did." he said before pausing "Is it wrong I find myself eager for it, Jon?" he asked as he turned to face the other man.

"Only if it was the deaths that you looked forward to, my prince."

"I see them as needed, Jon, though I wish for them not," he said and was graced with a smile and a warm hand upon his shoulder from the older man.

"Then no, it's not wrong you're eager, my prince. Very much it's not."

Viserys was left alone for some time and he stood looking at the sea as they now truly sailed into it. How long he stood there, he knew not. His thoughts, however, allowed for the time to pass quickly. There had been a time when he'd expected to be the one leading the fight to come. A time when he'd have bristled at the mere idea of serving another. Were this but a few years earlier then he may have shamed himself in front of these men and not even been aware of it. Now, he was relieved that the responsibilities for returning their House to where it belonged lay with another and he'd begrudge his nephew them not.

Turning to walk back to the cabin, Viserys did so with a smile on his face and a lightness in his heart. He hoped the winds stayed good and the seas calm. That they'd arrive in Pentos in quick time and he looked forward to seeing his sister once more. Making his way to where the men drank and ate, Viserys took his seat and was soon joined by Jon Connington who bore the cyvasse set in his hands. Viserys poured them both a glass of wine and moved some food onto a plate for Jon to eat as they played. In the end, he won more than he lost and the proud look that he was given by Jon was one he very much welcomed.

A week later.

It had taken a little longer than he would have wished, but finally, Pentos came into view. Hurriedly he gathered his things and did a final check to make sure the gift he'd ordered made for his sister was undamaged. Once he was sure it was, Viserys waited for the ship to dock, and then within an hour of it doing so, he, Jon, and their guards were making their way through the city. He garnered no special looks and found he enjoyed that far more than how people would look at him and Dany each time they arrived in a new place. Then it would be gaping and gawping, sometimes with scorn or pity-filled looks and others with just amused ones.

The Beggar King and the Dragon Princess, that's who they were and had been and it was not who they'd ever be again. He was a prince of House Targaryen, and Dany was a princess. They would play their parts in seeing their House and name restored and those who'd betrayed their family would soon have that betrayal paid back in full. Feeling his sword on his hip, Viserys steadied himself and looked only ahead.

She awaited them when they arrived and as he had been when last he'd seen her, Viserys was taken aback. Dany had grown just as much as he had. The girl she had been was almost gone completely now, leaving a striking young woman standing in her place. It took him a moment to stop simply looking at her and when he noticed her slight frown, Viserys offered her his warmest smile. Then protocol be damned, he ran to her, and soon she was laughing loudly as he swept his sister up in his arms and swung around while holding her in the air.

"Let me down this instant, brother." Dany chided, her smile belying her tone and naming it as false.

"No. I think I prefer you this way, flying." he said and something about her expression forced him to place her on her feet once more "Dany?"

"It's nothing, brother, truly." she said before leaning into him and whispering into his ear "I'll speak to you of it later," she said and Viserys nodded.

While Dany greeted Jon, Viserys did the same to the Magister and then they were ushered inside. Dany herself showed her to his room and no sooner than they had reached it than Viserys was seeking out her present and readying himself for how his gift would be received.

"I know not if we'll still be here for your Nameday, Dany. I hope we will, but I wished to gift you this now regardless."

"A gift, for me," Dany said excitedly, looking more like the little girl she had once been.

"There was a time when I'd not gift you anything lest it was in my interest. Another when I'd gift you what I think a girl would wish for. You're not a girl anymore, Dany. You're a woman, a princess of House Targaryen. A Dragon." he said and his last word brought that same expression onto her face from earlier.

"What did you get me?" Dany said ripping open the ribbon and cloth that covered up her present, then holding the knife in her hand and looking at it with wonder.

"Should anyone ever wake your dragon, sister," Viserys said to a bright and true smile from Dany as she moved the knife in the air.

They ate with Illyrio and Jon Connington that night and he found, to both his and Dany's delight, that they would indeed be staying for Dany's Nameday celebrations. Dany whispered in his ear that she had something to show him later. Before Illyrio then told him that he too had a gift to share. Though this one was for him and not for Dany, much to her feigned annoyance. When he saw what the gift was, Viserys first instinct was to refuse it. For surely it should go to his nephew and not to him. Hearing that Daeron had his own sword and that his nephew had wished for him to be presented with it, almost caused a tear to fall. As did holding Blackfyre in his hands and feeling that it belonged there.

Even later on when Dany bid him join her in his room, Viserys still could barely believe that he now wielded one of his family's two most precious heirlooms. Only to find that there may soon be another even more storied one to come.

"Are those dragon eggs?" he asked as Dany showed him the box with the three eggs inside.

"No, brother, those are our dragon eggs," Dany said as Viserys fingers brushed over the golden one and he swore it called out to him in his mind.

King's Landing 298 AC.

Ned Stark.

All through the journey to King's Landing, he'd been given more and more evidence of just how unsuitable Robert was to be king. The drinking, wenching, wistful thoughts of being elsewhere and his overriding hatred of all things Targaryen all were shown off in abundance as they had left the North behind and traveled through the Riverlands. As was the disdain that he held his wife and son in. Something which was more than reciprocated as far as Ned could see.

It was, much to his surprise, a relief when they finally reached the outskirts of King's Landing and were greeted by Ser Barristan. What was very much not a relief was the accursed tourney that Robert wished to throw in his name and finding out just how indebted the Seven Kingdoms truly were. Both to the Iron Bank and to Tywin Lannister. Ned could barely believe it when the figures were presented to him and despite his demand to stop the upcoming tourney, his words fell on deaf ears. Renly Baratheon and others in the Small Council quickly made it more than clear to him that what Robert wants, Robert gets.

"He wishes this tourney, Lord Stark. Not you, I, or the very gods themselves will stop it from happening."

"I can't believe that Jon Arryn allowed things to fall into such a state."

"Jon Arryn was only a man, Lord Stark. He reigned in the worst excesses but the king is not a man to be denied." Varys offered up as a reason.

"And the Master of Coin?" he asked, wondering where Littlefinger had sloped off too.

"Is at present sailing towards this city, Lord Stark," Varys replied.

While he couldn't deny Robert the tourney, he could somewhat limit its expense and so the prizes were halved and some of the worst excesses in regards to the number of feasts were limited. Even with that, Robert moaned and pouted as if he was a young boy and not a fully grown man. His former brother by choice looked more and more like his wife and son as he did so.

The queen misliked his presence and her son had shown time and time again just how right Jon had been in warning him about the boy. Ned still shuddered a little at the idea of what he may have been left with no choice but to do had Sansa not found a worthy suitor in Domeric Bolton. Although, he'd be a liar if he didn't say that some of the images he had of what Arya would do to the boy were they betrothed didn't bring a smile to his face. Not that he'd have ever let Joffrey Baratheon within two feet of his wild little wolf.

Throwing himself into his work, Ned did all he could to try and formulate a plan to reduce the debt the crown was in and had even considered reaching out to Illyrio to help. Though he quickly dismissed the idea as the Magister would only be a friend to the crown when it was held by another House and man. At night, despite not wishing to, Ned sat by Robert's side and listened to tales spoken of the Battle of the Trident and his killing of Rhaegar Targaryen as well as the almost sobbing when mention of Lyanna soon followed. He looked on as even when he seemed to be at his lowest, Robert still acted the very same way. Grabbing women, drinking, shaming his wife with callous disregard for her feelings, and even at times ignoring Ned to do so. So he was most pleased to hear from Lord Varys that his nephew was to arrive and even more so to see Jon when he did.

Other than a brief meeting, however, Ned had needed to wait a full day for his nephew to make his way to the Tower of the Hand and had not expected the scolding words once he'd done so. Even if those words took some time to be spoken.

"Lord Stark," Jon said formally when he greeted him.

"Jon, 'tis good to see you, no lie," he said more warmly.

It took a moment for Jon to relax, a word in his ear from young Gyles Grafton seeming to allow him to do so and once he sat down at his seat, his nephew was more friendly in his greeting.

"Forgive me, uncle. But even with Lord Varys' help the walls here still have ears that listen."

"You fear we're being watched?" he asked, stunned by the notion.

"It's King's Landing, Uncle, every move we make here is watched. Be it the Queen or Tywin Lannister himself, Littlefinger or Lady Olenna or some other that we know not."

"Even in the Red Keep?" he asked.

"Especially here, uncle. Which is why I wished you not to come." Jon said frowning at him.

"Aye, I got your letter, Jon, but it was not the only one I got." he began only for his nephew to raise his hand to silence him, Ned shocked that it worked so well.

"I know full well of the other letter, uncle. Not the contents mind, but who sent it."

"Cat's sister, Jon. She spoke of a plot against Jon Arryn and named the Lannisters as responsible for his death." Ned said angrily and yet his nephew laughed and shook his head.

"They were no more responsible than you or I, uncle." Jon began and Ned looked at him confused "For what reason would they have had to harm Jon Arryn? What benefit did it bring them?"

"Mayhap they sought his position, Lord Tywin served as Hand once before did he not?"

"He did and I've no doubt he'd like to serve again, but not as Robert's Hand."

"Then if not them, who?" he asked.

Jon reached over and picked up the water jug, pouring himself a mug of it while Ned shook his head when he offered him one. Taking a long swallow from the mug, Jon sighed contentedly.

"Were I to be a betting man, I'd place my coin on Lady Lysa herself or Littlefinger," Jon said and Ned almost choked on the breath he let out.

Coughing, he was quickly handed Jon's mug and gratefully he drank down some of the cool crisp water it contained. Ned took another swallow before he was able to respond to what his nephew had just told him.

"You can't possibly believe…I know you like the woman not, Jon, but surely…."

Taking the mug from his hands, Jon refilled it and this time when he offered Ned one, he took it happily. He looked on as his nephew almost leaned back in his chair and then a pained look came upon Jon's face before it quickly left and was replaced with a far more stony expression.

"You saw young Robert, earlier?" Jon asked and Ned nodded that he had "He's squiring for Waymar Royce. His own choice and had I, not mine own squire, then it would have no doubt been me he'd sought to do so for. He's a good lad, uncle, and will be a fine young man one day despite his mother's attempts to make him anything but." Jon said and Ned looked at him questioningly.

"His mother's attempts?"

"She coddled him, uncle. Kept him weaker and more reliant upon her than any boy his age should be. At times she filled his head with tales about Elaena hating him. Though Robert is far cleverer than many give him credit for." Jon said, almost proudly.

"You like the lad," he said, smiling.

"Aye, very much so. He's my Goodbrother and though some may say…..never mind." Jon said and before Ned could ask him about his pause, Jon spoke some more.

Ned was in rapt attention as he listened to his nephew paint a tale regarding Lysa Tully's actions. How she'd stolen away in the middle of the night with young Robert and had not even observed the mourning period for Jon Arryn's death. Later, she'd even confined the young lad to his rooms and placed guards upon him, simply to stop him from seeking out his sister and sharing in the grief they both felt.

When he got to young Robert's escape and the Leal men who'd helped him do so, Ned felt almost a father's pride in the young lad. That he was doing so on behalf of Jon Arryn who wasn't here to do so himself, was not lost on him. He listened as Jon told him of the Mountain Clans and how close they were to catching up with young Robert's party. Of the fight that he'd been forced to bring to them and of how happy the young lad was to see him. Jon spoke of the meeting held to confine Lysa's power to simply that of the lady of the Eyrie. How he'd spoken to the Blackfish and placed a castellan of Brynden's choosing to look after the keep and its lady. When he was done speaking, Ned could barely comprehend all that had occurred. Yet there was more to hear it seemed.

"I asked the Lords of the Vale to form a Lord's Declarant, uncle. One to keep mine own power in check and to be a counter to it if need be. Lord Yohn Royce, Lady Anya Waynwood, Lord Gilwood Hunter, Lord Horton Redfort, Lord Benedar Belmore, and Ser Symond Templeton have all agreed t serve and Ser Donnel Waynwood is the Eyrie's new Castellan." Jon said and Ned was stunned by how well thought out the names were. Though he understood the need for them not.

"A counter to your power, Jon?" he asked, seeking clarity.

"Soon I'm to announce who I truly am, uncle. With Robert naming me Warden and Lord Protector I could order the Vale to rise in my name. I'm not Jon Arryn though, I have no right to do so." Jon said and Ned smiled warmly at him "Nor do I seek to usurp his son's rights and so if they decide it, then it'll be my Goodbrother who orders them or they can choose for themselves. Until then, I'll do the task given to me and the most important part of that task is to see that Lysa Tully can harm her son no more."

"You really think she harmed him?" he asked curiously.

"Speak to the lad yourself, uncle. To those who knew him such as Maester Colemon or Yohn Royce and they'll tell you what I'm trying to do so badly." Jon japed and Ned chuckled with him.

"Not too badly, Jon." he said to a nod from his nephew "And Lysa?"

"I know not if she was truly responsible for Jon Arryn's death. I wish not to believe it and Lord Varys can only confirm that it makes some sense. She and Littlefinger are close, uncle, more than close." Jon said and Ned shook his head before nodding that it wasn't him disagreeing "What I know for certain is this. Lysa hates my wife, as she does me. Over the years, she did all she could to keep Robert and Elaena apart. The last time we spoke, I'd agreed with Jon Arryn to take Robert to Runestone so he could begin his squiring, and then he…"

"It's not enough, Jon. Not enough proof." Ned interrupted.

"Which is why the woman lives yet, uncle," Jon said and Ned liked not how he did so.

"You cannot."

"No, but were my wife but to ask it of me," Jon said resolutely.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Ned then brought up the Lannisters once again, and Jon quickly shut down that line of discussion. As he listened to his nephew speak, he found he couldn't disagree with him. There was little gain in it and despite not wishing to believe that Lysa could have played a part in Jon Arryn's death, Ned found far more things lined up there than did not. Even more so when talk turned to Littlefinger.

"He's a snake, uncle. A man I'd have seen dead had I but the chance to do so."


"No, uncle. Whatever about Lady Lysa's own feelings, I've no doubt that Petyr Baelish did all he could to strengthen them. He's been whispering in her ear for as long as I can remember. When I arrived in the Vale, the first night I spent under Runestone's roof, Lady Lysa and Petyr Baelish were both there. He'd been appointed to the position of customs master in Gulltown and yet it was Lady Lysa who traveled there with him to see him situated. I find it odder and odder the more I think about it and yet, at times, I do not."

"You can't believe…"

"He claims to have taken her maidenhead, uncle." Jon said shocking him completely "And not only hers."


"I've heard tell he says the same about my aunt too." Jon said and Ned felt his rage begin to boil "Only that I've not heard it myself does he remain unmarked." Jon added and Ned felt some of his rage calm.

"I need not words to speak of my wife's virtue," Ned said firmly, Jon's own were spoken just as firmly a moment later.

"No uncle, you do not."

More than an hour had passed and Ned had thought they were all talked out, only for the scolding to begin. He took it, accepted it somewhat, and denied Jon leave to speak on it at the same time. When he brought up his other reasons for taking the role, he was surprised that his nephew was so against them. As he was by what Jon bid him to do before he left.

"This is not where you're needed, uncle. Not where I need you. Starks don't do well in the South." Jon said and before he could name his nephew as one, Jon named himself as not "I'm not a Stark, uncle. And my life has been in danger from the day I was born. I'd not see yours the same for as long as it can be helped."

"What would you have me do, Jon?"

"Pick a fight with Robert, uncle. Pick a fight and travel back to the North. It's there where I need you and until you're back there, you're in far too much danger."

"And what of your danger, Jon?"

"The next time I see this city, uncle, it'll be at the head of an army. On that, you can be certain. Pick a fight, uncle, pick and fight and go back home, I beg it of you."

A day later.

He sat in the stands beside Robert and looked on as the first joust took place. Jon, the Hound, and the members of the Brotherhood would all be taking part in this competition as well as Barristan the Bold, Jaime Lannister, and others. His nephew's words were still in his head and yet up to now he'd found no option for that fight to take place. More than that, he wasn't sure if in this Jon was right or not.

The Tyrells were moving closer and closer to the Iron Throne, their Golden Rose looking as if she may very well be soon betrothed to the Crown Prince. With the Stormlands, West, and the Reach all under Robert's banner, they'd have the numbers against their own forces even if Dorne committed fully. No, Ned wasn't sure that his place was not exactly where it was and though he knew little of the great game, he was a major player in it all the same.

King's Landing 298 AC.


Tourneys were not something he truly had much time for, other than the fact they brought so many players of the game into the same place. This tourney was no different and while he wished that some of the players were not here, he welcomed them all the same. Key amongst them was not, for the first time anyway, his king. Instead, it was the Queen of Thorns and her Golden Rose and Varys watched them both most diligently.

With the Starks off the board when it came to a bride for the Crown Prince, it truly left only Margaery Tyrell as an option. Had things turned out differently and his king not found love with Elaena Arryn, then he'd have no worries about the Reach whatsoever. Now, Varys found himself contemplating the best and worst-case scenarios all the time and he liked them not. Should the betrothal occur, then the Reach could all rally behind Robert Baratheon, even against a Targaryen King. While Varys may expect some of the old loyalties to hold true, he couldn't be certain about it.

In sheer numbers, they'd have them beat. It would at best make the war a much harder one to win and at worst make it an impossible one. Looking at the girl in question, Varys began to contemplate the very worst of actions. Remove the girl and the temptation went with it and if he could manage to place the blame at the feet of the Lions, then he'd all but guarantee House Tyrell's support.

Would his king allow it though?

And could he do it regardless of Daeron's wishes?

The simple answer to both questions was no. So it would need to be a different plan that was used to bring the Reach and House Tyrell on board. A plan that as of yet, Varys had not come up with. Turning his attention to the rest of those taking part in this tourney, Varys, found his eyes drifting to where Littlefinger sat. The Master of Coin had been an even more slippery little mockingbird since he'd arrived back in the city and he traveled with a guard that would put Robert's own to shame.

'Fear something do you, my small winged friend?' Varys thought as he looked his way.

He was right to do so. His time was soon to be at an end and the only question was, whether or not it would be before, during, or after Daeron's taking of the Iron Throne. Hearing the horn blow and seeing the herald step forward, Varys turned his attention to the jousting field.

"On behalf of his Grace King Robert Baratheon and her Grace Queen Cersei, we welcome you to the first day's jousting of the Tourney of the Hand 298 AC. Your Graces My Lords and Ladies, good Sers, I give you Ser Aron Santagar and the Mountain Wolf, Ser Jon Arryn."

While both men garnered cheers, it was his king who the crowd seemed most eager to see. Ser Jon wore the armor he'd been gifted by Jon Arryn and he bore a shield with his wife's and goodfather's sigil rather than the one he'd normally bear. Varys looked on as the rider and horse seemed to be as one and as young Gyles Grafton handed his knight the lance. Then the crowd hushed as the two horses began their ride toward each other. Heart in mouth, he watched as the two lances collided and neither man faltered. Then they rode again and this time, Ser Jon's lance hit home perfectly.

"Your winner, The Mountain Wolf, Ser Jon Arryn." the herald called out to great cheer and Varys let out the breath he was holding as Ser Jon looked firstly to Ser Aron who was rising to his feet and then to the crowd.

Jon and the Brotherhood along with Sandor Clegane each rode twice that day and all of them made it to the second day's jousting. Something that Varys was both proud about and worried for in equal measure. It was at the night's feast that the note was handed to him by his little birds and at the hour of the wolf, Varys once again made his way to the tunnels for another meeting with the king. Little did he know at the time just how important this meeting was to turn out to be.

He arrived to see his king, Ser Arthur, and Sandor along with Ser Barristan all already there and speaking on less important matters. Joining them, he almost welcomed the casual nature of the conversation and so when it suddenly turned, it caught him a little by surprise.

"My uncle believes this is the best place for him, Lord Varys and it's anything but. I seek a way to allow him to leave the city and to do so quickly."

"I don't understand, your grace."

"It's time to play a mummery, Lord Varys. One that I believe will lead to where I wish. What would Robert do were he to find out about my uncle and aunt?"

"Your grace?" Barristan asked aghast only for the king to shake his head.

"Not for true, of course. But what would be his reaction to hearing of them?"

"Rage, your grace, true and unadulterated rage."

"He'd seek them dead?" the king asked and Varys nodded "Even were my aunt to be with child?"

Varys, Ser Arthur, and Barristan all looked at the king in stunned silence while Sandor Clegane wore a dark smile on his face. It took a moment for Varys to remember where the princess was and that she was most certainly not with child and then he saw it as clear as day. Ned Stark had fallen out with Robert over the murders of Princess Elia, Princess Rhaenys, and Prince Aegon. To hear his brother by choice demand the murder of a young girl who was with child would be more than enough to force him to resign.

"A bold plan, your grace."

"It needs to be, Lord Varys. This city is no place for my uncle and while here he has allies who could mayhap steer him right, his sense of honor and righteousness would endanger him far too much. Best he was far away and back in the North when the war eventually begins."


"House Tyrell, Jon." Ser Arthur said and the king nodded before composing himself.

"My aunt and uncle wish to play a true role in the taking back of our family's throne, Lord Varys. My uncle is training under Lord Jon and Ser Richard and has come on greatly by all accounts."

"I've heard naught but good things about Prince Viserys, your grace."

"While I have no wish to sell them into marriage, it is by their own request that I speak of it now. Whichever of them is best to offer to House Tyrell and to Prince Doran, that is the one and only offer I make to either. I wish you to send this to Lord Jon, Lord Varys. It's time for the Griffin to come home and I seek him to make his way to Highgarden. I care not if a betrothal is agreed to before then, I wish for him to make a truer one to House Tyrell and allow them the luxury of choice in but this one matter."

"A prince or a princess," Varys said and the king nodded.

"Or destruction, Lord Varys, or the destruction of their House." the king said leaving no doubt he spoke true.

"It shall be done, your grace."

"I fear the time is almost upon us and I'll know but little time with my child before I'm at war. So far the gods have been good and we remain in control of events, I doubt our good fortune will hold and so I bid you all be careful. Should the need arise, then leave this city far behind and seek out much safer ground. Ser Barristan, Lord Varys, I would have you both with me rather than not."

"I welcome your words, your grace." Ser Barristan said as the king nodded before looking at him.

"Should the need arise your grace. I'll leave this city, of that have no doubt."

"Then let us enjoy what's left of the tourney, Lord Varys. It is most likely the last one I'll ever get to compete in after all." the king japed, the laughter the responded with was true enough at the jape and the good humor it was spoken in.

Three days later, Varys brought Robert the news of not only Daenerys Targaryen being with child, but of an alliance being forged with the Dothraki. It was a long discarded plan that he and Illyrio had once spoken of. One where they had thought may have been needed should their true plan with Daeron Targaryen need some cover. Listening to the rage and wrath that Robert Baratheon exhibited upon hearing it, only made Varys more than keen for the Small Council meeting that was soon to take place.

King's Landing 298 AC.

Robert Baratheon.

The melee had not been as interesting to him as it normally was. Though the end fight was something that he knew would be talked about for years to come. To see Ned's lad go up against the Sword of the Morning was the stuff of songs and tales and even Robert had watched on eagerly. Yet as good as Ser Jon was, Arthur Dayne was better. The yield when it came was one that Robert doubted even the Kingslayer or Barristan the Bold wouldn't have been forced to make.

It both pleased him and very much did not to see how well Ser Jon took his defeat. His own feelings towards Arthur Dayne blinded him to the fact that he was the lad's uncle. Only Ned's words allowed him to see that it was that rather than who the man had previously served that should guide him in regards to how Ser Jon may look at him. The defeat he suffered in the melee seemed to have another effect on Ned's lad, however. His determination to win the Joust seemed to have been ignited and that made the day's events that much more interesting to Robert's eye.

"By the gods, they're good," he said as Ser Domeric Bolton unhorsed Lord Beric Dondarrion.

"Aye, they are. Jon spoke often of them facing each other at Runestone and I wager even their training was competitive." Ned said and Robert looked wistfully at Ser Waymar Royce as the young man readied to take part in his own tilt.

Soon though it was the young lad squiring for Lord Yohn's son that Robert's attention turned to. While he fought down the sadness that he felt about his foster father's death, looking at his son learning to be a man and being taught by good and true men was something he was gladdened by. Ser Jon had said that he'd do all he could to make his namesake a man his father would be proud of and Robert had no doubt in his words.

"He looks happy, does he not, Ned?" he asked as Robert Arryn handed Waymar his lance.

"Aye, that he does. A fine knight he'll make one day." Ned said and Robert felt that he'd done right by Jon Arryn in naming Ser Jon to his role.

His foster father's son wasn't yet ready to take up the mantle of Warden, but under Ser Jon's, Ser Waymar's, and the Brotherhood's tutelage, in time he'd find no truer man than he to serve the Vale and the realm. It made him wonder what role could be found for Ser Jon once that day came and he resolved to speak to the lad and his father about it before this tourney ended.

"Well done, Ser Waymar." he heard some cheers from down below him and he smiled to see that Waymar had won his tilt.

Ser Barristan, Ser Jaime, and Ser Loras Tyrell all won their own and Robert would wager it would come down to one of them or one of the Brotherhood to win the day. Seeing the Hound easily unhorse Renly brought both a smile to his face and another possible winner into contention.

After a hefty luncheon, it was almost down to the last eight with but two tilts left until it was so. Ser Jon faced off against Ser Waymar and he could see how much both lads wished it was someone else they faced. While Lord Bryce Caron rode against Ser Domeric Bolton and it was they who were up first. Robert, Ned, and the crowd all looked on as Lord Bryce took Ser Domeric to six tilts before finally being unseated. Ser Waymar and Ser Jon were done in half the time and Robert was not the only one relieved and happy to see Ser Jon emerge victorious.

He was like an eager young lad when the draw was made. Ser Jon against the Hound, Ser Mychel Redfort against the Kingslayer, Ser Loras Tyrell to face off against Thoros of Myr, and Ser Barristan was to ride against Ser Domeric. Wagering on each of the tilts, he won the first three easily enough. The Kingslayer may be a man with no honor but he was an impressive jouster and Ser Mychel was no match. Ser Barristan proved too strong for Ser Domeric and while he may like the Rose not, he'd not deny that Ser Loras was a demon with a lance in hand. The so-called Knight of Flowers then managed to unseat Thoros in four.

"Here they are, Ned," Robert called out as Ser Jon and the Hound came out and their tilt was one for the ages.

In the end, it took nine rides for a winner to be declared, and rarely had Robert seen Ned celebrate something so truly.

"I told you, Ned, by the gods did I tell you or what," Robert said as he grabbed a horn full of wine and drank it down to celebrate Ser Jon's success.

Hearing that it was to be the Kingslayer against Ser Loras and Barristan against Ser Jon, Robert almost couldn't bear the wait for the tilts to begin. To his surprise, it was the young flower who won his match and Robert chuckled as Jaime Lannister rose gingerly to his feet. He much enjoyed the scowl on Cersei's face too when he looked in her direction. There was a hush when Ser Jon and Barristan made their way out and looking at both men, Robert was happy to see them being jovial and polite with each other.

"Well, Ned? The Bold or your boy?" he asked.

"I think Ser Barristan may have the edge, your grace."

"A wager then. Ten gold dragons on Ser Jon." he shouted, laughing at Ned's shaking of his head "Any of you?"

"I'll take your wager, your grace. Let's make it fifty." Littlefinger said and Robert nodded before looking back to the tiltyard.

Seeing Ser Jon speak softly to his horse and then watching him ride was an awe-inspiring sight. While Ser Barristan and even Ser Loras may have him beat in lance work, Robert doubted either of them was a match with him when it came to riding. In the end, it was that which won Ser Jon the day. Firstly against Ser Barristan in seven and then against Ser Loras in twelve tilts. Robert as well as most in the crowd were almost at the edge of their seats when the time came to crown a queen of love and beauty. With his wife in the Eyrie, who Ser Jon picked could prove scandalous and it brought to mind another joust and another day. Ser Jon was Ned Stark's son, however, and he'd never shame his lady wife the way that the accursed Dragonspawn had. There was almost a tear in his eye as he watched him ride to the eager young girl and there were indeed tears in Myrcella's when she realized who it was that Ser Jon was riding to.

"Princess Myrcella, I would name you the Queen of Love and Beauty." Ser Jon said to loud cheers and Robert had never seen his daughter so happy or so proud as she took the garland and placed it upon her head.

"I thank you, Ser Jon, truly," Myrcella said as Robert looked at Ned, a broad smile on both their faces due to what they had just witnessed.

He barely remembered the feast that night, other than he'd thanked Ser Jon for crowning his daughter and had smiled truly when the first dance of the night was shared between them. Upon waking the next morning and breaking his fast, he was forced to listen to Cersei's whining about Ser Jon daring to name their daughter and only Myrcella's words stopped him from arguing with her mother.

"You have the right of it, Myrcella. And no princess ever deserved a garland as much as you. Ser Jon honored us by naming you." he said after Myrcella had told her mother the very same thing.

It was at the meeting with Varys that his day truly began to go badly, however. Hearing about the Dragonspawn over in Essos and that the girl was with child had sent him into a rage and he'd called for a Small Council meeting immediately. The arguments came thick and fast and to hear Ned speak up for the Targaryen girl almost sent him into an even bigger rage. So much so that he demanded that she be put to death immediately and ordered Varys to see assassins hired and sent to see her in the ground.

"You can't be serious, your grace. I'll not be a part of this." Ned said rising to his feet.

"You are my Hand, you'll be a part of whatever I damn well choose."

"No, not this. If you wish to see the girl dead then you'll need to find yourself a new Hand."

"Careful Ned!" he shouted.

"I know you no more, Robert. The man I grew up with wouldn't seek to do such things." Ned said as he threw down his pin of office.


Two days later.

Robert never believed he'd do it. He expected that Ned would come to him and they'd speak words of apology to each other and had he done so, then he may have even forgotten about the girl and her babe. Yet, Ned never came. Ser Jon did and spoke some words to him before leaving for the Vale and a day later, Ned set off on a ship back North with his entire household. Angered, upset, and still somewhat in a rage, Robert called for Pycelle and handed him the raven's scroll.

"To Casterly Rock," he said, the only words he spoke for the next few hours.

Runestone 298 AC.

Ser Jon Arryn.

Jon was greeted with the news about his uncle's departure upon arriving in Gulltown. The relief it brought to him was palpable and while he hated that he'd manipulated his uncle a little, the ends somewhat justified the means. Even the knowledge of who Robert would turn to in order to replace his uncle wasn't enough to make him think any differently. Tywin Lannister now finally getting the position that Jon knew he believed was his by right. Although according to Arthur, Jon Connington, and others, Tywin had in truth always seen himself above even the king.

The knowledge that his uncle was aboard a ship and sailing back to the North, however, was something that comforted him greatly. As was the fact that Jon had spent little more than a moon in King's Landing and would arrive back at Runestone before his babe was born. He knew that Elaena wished him there for the birth and he too longed to be there. His uncle had missed Robb's birth because of war and his father had missed his own.

'Though at least one of them did get the chance to hold their babe in their arms' Jon thought sadly.

Riding through the Vale, Jon found himself lost in thoughts of what was to come. With Tywin now in King's Landing, it in some ways made things more difficult and in others very much did not. He doubted that when the war began, Tywin or Robert would remain in the city for long. Their armies would require them to lead and even if they did not, both men were much too arrogant to think any could do so in their stead. In truth, the one thing that concerned him, other than Elaena and his babe, was the Tyrells. So much so that he spoke of them to Arthur and Sandor as they, the Brotherhood, young Gyles, and Robert all rode.

"How quickly do you think Tywin will act, Arthur?" he asked.

"In what way, Jon?"

"A betrothal for Joffrey?"

Arthur pondered upon his question for a few moments before answering and it was not truly one that he enjoyed hearing.

"It'll be among the first things he does, Jon. Should Lady Olenna be there upon his arrival then he may even meet with her within days."

"And if she's not?" he asked curiously.

"Then he'll reach out to her and her House within the moon I would wager," Arthur said.

If they could make it be the latter, then Jon Connington would have already made contact with the Tyrells, and yet Jon wasn't certain it was not better for it to be the former. He was still contemplating this when they reached the outskirts of House Royce's lands and yet by the time he saw Runestone come into view, his mind had turned to other things.

Not seeing Elaena in the courtyard when they arrived, worried him a little and he was relieved when Andar informed him that she was simply resting. Torn between speaking to Lord Yohn or going instead to his wife, he was glad when Arthur made the decision for him. His offer to speak to Lord Yohn in his stead was one that Jon accepted eagerly. Ignoring the chuckles from Sandor, Jon hurried into the keep and almost ran to the rooms that he and Elaena had been given for their own ever since their wedding. Opening the door far more quietly than he thought he had in him to do, he was greeted with the welcome sight of Elaena sleeping peacefully in their bed with Ghost laying beside her.

"Sleep, my love. We'll talk soon," he said as he placed a soft kiss upon her forehead and even though he wished her to wake, he was happy to see her not.

Jon moved carefully to where their clothing was kept and opened the other door that was there to let Gyles in. With a finger to his lips, he bid his young squire to be quiet and then was helped out of his armor. Once he had done so, he asked where Robert had gotten to and was more than pleased to find that just like Gyles, he too was helping his knight remove his armor. With another look to see that Elaena slept still, Jon and Gyles left the room behind them and made their way to Lord Yohn's solar, meeting up with Robert and Waymar along the way.

"Laeny is at rest, Robert. I say we allow her a little more of it before we disturb her." he said to his Goodbrother "Why don't you and Gyles go and see about a warm bath each and change into your own more comfortable clothing. We shan't be leaving the keep for the rest of the day and we'll leave it until the morrow for some sparring."

"Of course, Ser Jon," Gyles said.

"Are you sure, Jon?" Robert asked before quickly turning to his knight and asking Waymar's permission to do as Jon had bid him.

"Go, Robert. Ser Jon has the right of it." Waymar said and the two young lads hurried off to do as they'd been told.

Once in Lord Yohn's solar, Jon spoke to him on what had happened in King's Landing, of his uncle's resignation and he was unsurprised that the Lord of Runestone liked not that Tywin was now Hand. He listened keenly as Yohn explained what other drawbacks this may mean in regard to their cause. Yet it seemed he agreed with him that it was far better his uncle was in the North rather than the Capital when the war began.

Elaena woke up a couple of hours later and Jon hurried back to their rooms to greet her. Her relief that he'd made it back for the birth was palpable as was her joy in seeing him safe and sound. He felt the call that night. A call he'd not felt for many moons and so later when they were readying for bed, Jon removed the dragon egg from its chest. At what point in the night it happened, he knew not, only he was woken with a need to call for the Maester. No sooner had he done so, than Elaena cried out in pain.

"Laeny. Laeny," he said worriedly as they waited for Helliweg to make his way to their chambers.

"The babe, Jon, I think the…."

He knew she wished him to hold her hand and yet when it came to what she was going through, Jon was out of his depth completely. Moving to the door and hating the panicked look that came over his wife's face, Jon bid Gyles to fetch Lady Yara and asked Arthur to see what was keeping the Maester. Once he did so, he moved back to the bed and tried to make his wife as comfortable as possible. Somehow, without realizing it, the dragon egg rolled under the bed, and out of sight was out of mind given what else was going on in the room.

To his relief, Lady Yara soon entered the room and took charge and Helliweg arrived a few moments later. When the Maester bid him to leave, both Jon and Elaena made it clear that wasn't happening and while all he did was hold Elaena's hand and allow her to squeeze his own, painfully at times, he believed she needed him there. Time seemed to stretch on forever and the pained shouts from his wife were ones that he wished she didn't need to suffer, yet she forbore them as best she could. At one point, Robert almost stormed into the room and with a look to his wife, Jon bid Arthur to allow him to enter but briefly.

"Laeny, are you….are you well?" Robert asked worriedly.

"I am…I…your niece or nephew is coming, Robert, all is well." Elaena managed to say and the smile that Robert wore, though fleeting, was a welcome one."

"I need you to wait outside, Robert. To be brave for your sister, can you do that for me?"

"I can be brave, Jon," Robert said firmly as Jon motioned for Arthur to take the lad outside.

It happened then, the babe deciding that now was the time to be born and Jon found himself first ready to lose his mind completely at the sight of his wife's blood spilling and then in awe as their babe was born. He was torn from looking at his wife's face and seeing the tiredness and jubilation in her expression and the babe that first, Helliweg, and then Lady Yara held in their arms. Asking his wife if she was well, happy to hear her say she was, and with both their eyes on the babe who Lady Yara was watching, neither of them heard the Maesters words and were it not for the loud crack and the screech, they'd have heard nothing.

"Jon?" Elaena asked and before he could answer her, the small head of the silver dragon popped out from underneath the bed.

"Is that a…" Lady Yara said as she handed Elaena their babe, the dragon and the babe both answering her in their own imitable ways. One with a loud cry and the other with an even louder screech.

Picking up the dragon in his arms, Jon found himself looking into eyes that matched his own. The silver scales almost shined as the light from the candles hit them and he could see the small patches of bronze on its belly, back, and wings. In the bed, Elaena held their son, and both of them were torn from looking from one to the other. Almost at once, they spoke, and that it was names that came from their mouths must have been a sign from the very gods themselves.

"Duncan," Elaena said softly naming their son the name they'd agreed upon.

"Tyraxes," he said, as the dragon trilled in his arms.

So lost was he in his son and dragon's births, that he didn't notice it when Helliweg left the room and it was not until a few days later that Jon was informed that word about the dragon's birth had reached Tywin Lannister and Robert Baratheon. War was upon them and there was little other choice now but to fight that war. He prayed to the Old Gods that he was ready for it and that, unlike Robert's Rebellion, Daeron's would take far less from his House.

A/N: Thanks to all who've read and reviewed. Up Next With Westeros on the brink of war, alliances are forged and broken, banners are called and Jon readies to speak to the truth of who he is and shed the bastard knight to become the king he was born to be. Both Duncan and Tyraxes are truly welcomed into the world they've been born into and Jon Connington makes offers and threats in equal measure. For those following my other fics, My Name is Daemon and The Dark Prince are up next.

Alberto: So glad you enjoyed it.

Kyoko: We'll be seeing them both in the upcoming chapter, a lot of them.

Tsroughs: Yes, woe betide we actually set things up rather than just jump right to them. Events have to take place in a logical order, you don't just go from zero to sixty, and given where we were in the previous chapter, things have to be laid out before you move forward. That's how plot progressions works, some chapters require small movements other large, but you don't just jump right to the large. Now with that being said, feel free to read on or not, I find I don't really care.

Daryl Dixon: Really glad you liked it.

Vfsnake: We'll see LF's secondary plan over the next chapter or two and don't count Lysa out from doing something desperate.

Syrius: It should yes and I think it sort of shows the plan that Arthur and Jon Arryn had in mind. Place Jon in a position to earn renown and respect and then when the time comes, you have a better chance of gaining allies. Now, of course, Jon still has to earn it and prove himself, but it's a much easier leap from Knight to King than from Bastard to one. Lf's plans will be soon revealed, I'll give you a hint, they involve someone very, very, small.

Rhatch: Thanks so much for saying so.

Atp: Not always, but sometimes yes.

Musa22lbl: You're more than welcome.

Supremus: I think with Ned you still sort of have to have him, well be Ned for lack of a better way of putting it. The big difference for him here is that others are far more suited to the game and can see he's not, which changes things big time in terms of his fate. As for Lysa, I still find it hard to think how easy she and LF truly had it in the Vale. Yes, I know their chivalry and honor were played upon, but they really allowed them to get away with murder, literally. Here with Elaena and with Jon, they have an alternative and so it's so very much harder for them to do anything. Especially when their interests lie so directly opposite to Jon's.

Jon 'Fatjon' Umber: So happy you enjoyed it.

Lorien Legacy: Sorry it took so long, some personal issues derailed me a little.

Celexys: Thanks so much. I think if we don't want to throttle LF, then we're doing something wrong in the story lol. With Jon, he's been well trained from an early age and he does have people around him such as Arthur, Varys, and especially Elaena. So while at times it looks as if he's making all these choices almost on his own, you can expect that some of them have been discussed with others. I'm so glad you feel that way with Robert Arryn, I had considered a few ways of going with him for this, early on I'd even had Varys poison him so he was taken out of the equation. Then it struck me that having a sister, her influence as well as Jon's because of Elaena, allows for a much different version of him and so I'm happy you like reading him.

Irish Hermit: Yes on the suspicions as you see here. While Ned would probably not want to believe it, he'd at least consider it and I always found the Lannister plot aspect of things hard to accept in the books/show. I mean Ned is worried about them, thinks they may have played a role in Jon Arryn's death, and yet still brings his daughters with him. It just beggared belief a little. You're spot on about the confrontation with Cersei, that was just seriously dumb. Though I understand that a little more given both Robert trying to kill Dany and how Ned may feel regarding Rhaenys/Aegon and even Jon. The simple truth was he just wasn't cut out for the game almost as much as I think at times he wasn't cut out to be the Warden of the North. Leading men into battle, fighting a battle, yes, dealing with the politics of the realm and how some people play the game, very much not.

With Cat, I think she still understands the politics and once the letter comes, she then has a second reason as to why Ned may disregard her concerns. So I went with her understanding that while Ned could refuse Robert the betrothal, he'd not accept him turning down the role as Hand. But given the changes to the North, the betrothals made, and her not needing to travel south, it does open up other doors for her character arc.

Very much not with LF, though he still has one or two strings he hopes to pull upon.

Maverick: I hope you like what was done here with Ned, I didn't want it to be canon but I still wanted some logical canon events to play out, such as him heading to KL. Anyway, he won't be dying like canon, other than that, I'll say no more.