Hi there. I've spent some of my recent free time reading my old creations, many of which are no longer available online. I quite liked this story, though, so I'm bringing it back, so others can enjoy it as well.
The premise of the story is simple. Instead of going to Lord Crakehall, Jaime Lannister is chosen as a squire for Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. And with this one change, the fate of many is changed.
To be honest, at one point I had planned to use this story as a prequel for 'A Lion's Duty'. I can still serve such a purpose, it would only require a few additional sentences in the first chapter of ALD.
Okay, have fun with this...
Rhaegar Targaryen, the firstborn son of King Aerys Targaryen, strode through the long halls of the Red Keep with all the grace and dignity expected from the royal heir. Calm, collected, purposeful. Just as he had been taught as a young boy. But it a mere mask, as on the inside he was confused.
He had just returned to the capital, on his father's orders. He had to leave Dragonstone, his lordship, in such a hurry, that he had not even taken his squire, Myles Mooton, with him. Only he and his best friend and assigned guard, Ser Arthur Dayne, had boarded the ship and sailed to King's Landing.
Why had his father been so insistent, yet so cryptic in his order to return? It was worrying. Had something happened? He had not heard about any threats. Ever since the death of the last Blackfyre pretender eighteen years before, there had been no great strife. Minor squabbles among the lesser lords, but nothing that would have concerned the king. But the urgency of his father's order could just as well mean that a new threat had appeared.
But Rhaegar could only hope, that this was not the case.
"It is awfully quiet here, I wonder what is going on," Rhaegar commented, as he and Ser Arthur advanced through the nearly abandoned halls of the keep. But though they could not see anyone, the feeling of being watched never left them. When they were silent the only sounds they could hear were the sounds of their footsteps on the polish floor and the clicking of Arthur's heavy armor, which bounced slightly with each step they took.
The knight contemplated his answer for a moment, before he answered, "I am wary, your grace. Something seems amiss. Alas, maybe we are overreacting here. The city was as lively and peaceful as ever and even the Gold Cloaks seemed at ease."
Rhaegar hummed in agreement, hoping that his friend was right. But this situation still made him very nervous. But he kept his emotions in check, as they reached the throne room. The guards to the left and right of the doors made no sign whether they acknowledged his presence or not, so in the end, it was Arthur who pushed the large oaken doors open.
The sight behind, though, was very much the same he had gotten used to in his younger years. The large throne room was filled with the skulls of ancient beasts, long dead, but not forgotten by the people. The dragons of his ancestors, lined up from the entrance to the throne, starting with the skull of the greatest and most threatening of the beasts. Balerion, the Black Dread. The very Dragon that his ancestor, Aegon the Conqueror, had ridden into battle.
But Rhaegar had no time to marvel at the sight of these enormous beasts. He could see his father, sitting on top of the throne, watching him impatiently. The king was fiddling around on one of the protruding blades of the throne before his hand suddenly recoiled. King Aerys had obviously cut himself on the throne, a common occurrence, that Rhaegar had often observed in his childhood. But a throne made out of thousands of blades had to be dangerous one way or another, he mused. Though there was the rumor that only the unworthy cut themselves on the throne, but that was nothing more than gossip, spread by the servants.
"Greetings, father, I have returned, as you have ordered," Rhaegar bowed lightly before Aerys, enough to show respect, but nowhere near what would have been expected, had there been any other members of the court present. But there was no one else. Only his father and two members of the Kingsguard, Ser Barristan the Bold and Lord Commander Hightower.
"Ah, so my son has deemed my orders worthy of his time. How... surprising. You were in such a hurry when you left." Aerys said, his voice bar any identifiable emotion. Rhaegar had expected some criticism, ever since he had left so abruptly. He had his reasons, but nothing he would share with his father.
But his father did not press the matter, so Rhaegar felt safe enough... for now. He knew Arthur was oath-bound to serve his father, should the king decide to take offense and choose any kind of punitive action. But Aerys remained silent, as he descended from his throne and approached his son. Rhaegar could see some stray drops of blood falling to the ground, from the hand that the king had hurt, but Aerys quickly hid his wound inside of the long folds of his royal robes.
"Follow me, my son. We have much to talk about." Aerys said as he walked ahead, flanked by his guards. Rhaegar hesitated for a moment before he and Arthur followed. "It may have come to your attention that some of my lords have become rather... bold in what they request of me. That fool, Darklyn, believed that he can demand different rights for his people. As if the beggars in Duskendale are any different than they are in the rest of the realm. But he has learned the hard way what fate befalls traitors. He and his entire ilk. And their friends, too." the king chuckled darkly, clearly amused by the thought of an entire noble family wiped out in a heartbeat. He had clearly emulated the actions of the Hand of the King, who had acted similarly against the Reynes of Castamere.
Rhaegar did not comment on his father's rant, but he did wonder where this would lead. His father was never the kind of man who would accept criticism positively. And should any man, lord or not, dare to challenge the king, Aerys was prone to lash out.
"But that is not why you are here, my son. No, you are here to ensure the loyalty of our most important supporters." Aerys muttered the last part rather disgruntled as if he hated the mere fact. "As you know, Tywin Lannister has rather bold plans for that daughter of his."
"So I've heard," Rhaegar answered, still not entirely sure why he had been summoned by his father. Was this about his future wife? It was a vexatious topic, that had caused both of them a lot of headaches. Rhaegar knew that he was supposed to marry soon and produce an heir of his own, so the Targaryen bloodline would continue, but they had yet to agree on a suitable spouse. But Lord Tywin's daughter, Cersei if he remembered correctly, had not yet been on the list of possible candidates, mostly because the girl was too young. A mere child and none of his concern.
"Some would view it as audacious from him, to assume that I would allow his spoiled daughter to become a queen. Especially after how he had failed me in Duskendale. No, no. He may be a valuable asset and capable Hand, but his brood will never rule the Seven Kingdoms if I can prevent it." There it was again, his father's inconceivable dislike for Lord Tywin and the Lannisters. Rhaegar had never understood why his father would feel like this. The Lannisters had been among his most loyal supporters so far. Maybe it was a matter of hurt pride since everyone knew that the realm prospered not because of its king, but because of the excellent work of his Hand. Or maybe there was another reason, something that had happened, something that Rhaegar did not know yet.
But for now, the prince listened but refrained from commenting. He was rather impressed by the capabilities of the Lord of the Westerlands, though his ruthlessness was disconcerting at times. But Tywin Lannister never failed to deliver. Some even dared to claim, that he might be the best Hand of the King in the long history of House Targaryen. Though no one dared to say it aloud in the presence of the king, as most had quickly realized that his father did not like to look incompetent next to his servant, however true that may be at times.
"No, that haughty little girl is not to be your wife. I have other noble daughters in mind for a promising alliance. And I have already taken precautions, should they fail to deliver. My cousin Steffon and his wife will search for a suitable wife in the Free Cities. I will not dilute our ancient blood any further."
"Then why am I here?" He couldn't help himself but ask the one question that remained unanswered.
"Refusing Tywin's daughter is in our best interest, spiting him, however, is not. For that reason, I have decided to give him something else."
The king suddenly stopped and turned towards his son, a serious look on his face. Rhaegar wondered what was going on inside of his father's head. It had become increasingly hard to read him, ever since he had left King's Landing to rule his lordship. He often felt out of touch with the events at court and the changes within his family.
"As you know Lord Tywin has not just a daughter, but also a son. Young Jaime has reached the age to leave his home for fostering and his father and I have come to the same conclusion. It would serve all of us well to see the boy more involved with the royal family. So you will take him on as your squire and ensure that he will remain loyal to us."
Now that the cat was out of the bag, Rhaegar still felt rather surprised. But he could see his father's logic in this. Binding the heir of the Westerlands to his family was a rather effective strategy. But it was surprising to hear that Tywin Lannister would allow his heir to leave the sphere of his influence this easily. Especially now, when the relationship of the Houses Lannister and Targaryen deteriorated more and more.
"The fool still believes that with his son at your side, you would be more willing to take his daughter as well. A folly that we must exploit for as long as possible." Aerys continued. He looked directly in the eyes of his son, his gaze firm, commanding even. "Make that boy ours. Ensure that he would choose our House first, even when his father is the enemy."
"As you wish," was Rhaegar's solemn answer. He knew that there was no room for arguing here. His father would insist. All he could do now was accept this arrangement and take the boy as his ward. Maybe he would get on with Myles, so the two of them could serve as squires and learn together.
"The boy is in the training yard with some members of my guard." Aerys turned around to leave, but not without one last command, "Do not fail me, Rhaegar."
Rhaegar did not answer. He merely watched as his father left quickly, his guards following him swiftly. He had expected much on this day, but getting a new ward was not on that list. There was no helping it now.
"Another ward. And a squire perhaps?" Ser Arthur spoke up. He had been silent so far, as it was expected of a member of the Kingsguard. They would not speak freely in the king's presence unless prompted to do so by their liege. But Rhaegar was not his father and he expected his friend to voice his own opinion.
"A squire. Lord Tywin will expect a knighting in due time. It wouldn't do to insult him by denying his son that particular honor." Rhaegar wondered what else the lord would expect. "Come, let us find my new... ward."
Luckily there was no need for them to search, as his father had already told Rhaegar where to find the boy. But he had decided against approaching him directly, instead, he and Arthur had walked onto a balcony, from where they could see the whole training yard below them, without being seen by the training men immediately.
And Jaime Lannister had been rather easy to spot. A young boy of no more than one and ten namedays, with the golden hair that all Lannister seemed to possess. The boy was currently sparring against Ser Oswell Whent, who seemed rather amused by the defiant struggle of the young boy.
"He is talented with the sword," Ser Arthur commented with a hint of respect.
"As is to be expected. Lord Tywin must have hired only the finest tutors for his son," Rhaegar replied.
But Arthur disagreed. "No. This is something that cannot be trained. Men either have this sense for battle or not. I cannot be learned."
"Then I will need of you to train him, for I most definitely do not have this sense," Rhaegar commented amusedly. Arthur chuckled, too. "But I wonder what to do with him."
"You are to be king, he is to be one of your lords paramount. Surely you will find something to teach him."
They watched Jaime for some more moments, as he struggled against the much larger knight. Rhaegar had to admit, Arthur was right. The boy was already a very talented fighter and in time he could become one of the best in Westeros. This was most definitely a talent he would have use for in the future. He held no illusion that peace in the realm would not last forever. But at the moment Jaime Lannister was just a very talented young boy. A prodigy, maybe. And now this boy was his to form and educate.
A sudden exclamation, followed by the impact of a small body against his legs demanded Rhaegar's attention. A fond smile spread on his lips when he saw that his assailant was his brother, Viserys. The three-year-old boy beamed up at him with all the admiration only a young boy could feel for his much older brother.
"You have grown since the last time I've seen you, Viserys. If you keep this up, you will tower over me one day," he patted his brother's silver hair fondly.
"It is good to see you again, son," the queen followed the young prince, though only at a leisurely pace. "Your visits have become so few in number, I barely get to see you anymore."
"Mother," Rhaegar smiled as he saw his mother, Queen Rhaella, approach. But his smile died a quick death, as he saw how she looked. Weary, slightly haunted. He could not see any signs of physical mistreatment, but he wouldn't put it past his father not to hit his wife. He knew all to well that his parents despised each other. But he did not wish to worry her, so he quickly forced a smile back on his face.
The queen joined her sons on the balcony and took the place next to Rhaegar, as Arthur retreated to a more respectful distance. She caressed Visery's head, as the boy still clung to his brother.
It made Rhaegar smile, as he enjoyed this moment. Only his beloved mother and brother with him, an almost idyllic family... a rare moment, as the domineering shadow of Aerys Targaryen, lingered around every corner of the Red Keep. It was oppressive, almost suffocating and Rhaegar was happy for every chance he got to stay away from the capital and his father.
"I have heard about your new... charge." Queen Rhaella said calmly. She watched Jaime Lannister, as the boy still fought in the yard below them. "I must implore you to be careful with this child. It would not do to risk him needlessly."
"I can assure you, I have no intention to incur Tywin Lannister's wrath. Unlike father, I can see the worth of Lord Tywin's loyalty." Rhaegar replied.
The queen chuckled softly before she looked at her son. "Oh, I did not mean that you should fear Tywin's wrath. Though it is truly terrible to behold, you should be warier of my wrath."
"Mother?" This confused Rhaegar greatly. Why would she say such a thing? Maybe he had forgotten something. Some facts, some detail, that he should remember. But he couldn't.
"Young Jaime's mother was a dear friend of mine. A friend I have lost because of your father," Rhaella said sadly. "Lady Joanna had been my companion and confidant for some years, together with Princess Myriah, the ruling princess of Dorne."
Now he remembered. Only glimpses, but he remembered her. The golden lioness. A truly beautiful woman, with eyes like the purest green gems he had ever laid eyes on. And he remembered his father's actions. He remembered them more vividly than he remembered the lady herself. His father had lusted for this woman and his actions had always hurt his mother. Rhaegar remembered the anger he had felt. He was a mere child, no older than nine when he had last seen the lady. But he remembered that it was the time when he had lost all his admiration for his father. Memories he had tried to forget, returned now.
"Tywin was a different man when Joanna was still alive, you know. A better man. Less hard... less ruthless. But now. Keep an eye on his son. Your father wouldn't allow you to marry Joanna's daughter, but at least I can fulfill a different promise. Our sons will not grow up indifferent towards each other."
"This was your doing?" Rhaegar half asked, half accused.
The smug smile on his mother's face was answer enough. So in the end this all was not his father's idea at all. He could only wonder what his mother must have done to influence the king enough to follow her suggestion. It only reminded him to never underestimate his mother's resourcefulness.
"Take care, Rhaegar. It is better for us to not talk about this anymore. At least not in these halls, where a thousand ears listen to everything we say." He knew that she was right. Inside the Red Keep it would be nigh on impossible to keep a secret for long. And who knew what his father would do, should he hear that his wife gloated about deceiving him. "Come, Viserys, it is time for you to see your tutors." She gently pried the young boy away from Rhaegar and took his hand. But Viserys did not look all that happy about leaving his brother so soon.
"Go, Viserys. We will meet again soon. And who knows, if you are a good boy and listen to your mother, you may come and visit me in Dragonstone sometime soon." he ruffled his brother's hair once more before he gently pushed him away. "I doubt that I will remain in the city for more than a day. I'd rather leave as soon as I have collected my new squire," he told the queen.
"A wise choice. Be vigilant and stay true to your path, Rhaegar. I pray that the day for you to ascend the throne won't be too far in the future."
"Farewell, mother, brother." Rhaegar inclined his head a bit, as his mother and brother left the balcony.
Rhaegar chuckled in amusement once more, as the entire gravity of the conversation he had just had crashed down on him. Manipulation was the only tool that would gain him anything here in the capital. He only hoped that he would not have to resort to the same means with his wife, once his father had settled on a suitable spouse for him. A life where he would always have to watch his back, even when he was with his wife and children, that was not the future he wanted.
"This was most... enlightening." Ser Arthur said, clearly amused.
"So you eavesdropped, Arthur."
"Me?" The knight asked sheepishly, "Perish the thought."
"Of course. But my mother was right. We should collect the boy and leave. This is not a place where we can act and talk as we please. And as long as we are here, you are my father's knight first and foremost. Can't have my best friend answering to anyone but me."
"Unless the king revokes them, my orders are clear. I am to protect and serve his heir. At all times."
"Then let us leave, before he has a reason to revoke these orders," Rhaegar said, as he began walking towards the nearby stairs. If it was his mother's wish, he would take the boy and teach him properly. Maybe there was more wisdom in her actions, than just the wish to fulfill a promise to a dead woman. But one thing was for sure, this would change a lot of things. This was bound to have a large impact on the politics in the Seven Kingdoms.