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The interior was stunning, there were no two ways about it. The statues were amazingly lifelike and superbly detailed, the stained glass filled the entire room with light in all the colours of the rainbow, and the patterned marble floor was superb. To say nothing of the carvings, mosaics, and frescos that covered the walls and ceiling from top to bottom. I could happily spend days here just studying the architecture and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.
Unfortunately, I had things to do.
"My lord, I apologise for the wait." The High Septon exclaimed as he waddled over in his white robe and crystal crown.
I hid my smirk as I wondered how many times a day he had to change the robe due to food stains, given his impressive girth. The grey robes of the common septons, septas, and acolytes were surely more suited to this man than the white robes of the most devout and the high septon. In more ways than one.
But then I suppose I should be grateful for that. After all, as Tyrion observed, when it came to priests; corruption was always preferable to zealotry as it was invariably the ones who believed in god that made the most trouble. Corruption was also far easier to manipulate than zealotry, which was all the better for me.
"You have many duties to attend to your holiness, and I always enjoy my time spent here. I hope you'll forgive me if I dispense with the pleasantries though, I find things seem to be unravelling of late." I wasn't willing to waste too much time on him. Even if he somehow avoided his fate, the man was bought and paid for by Tywin Lannister to support the Iron Throne that his grandchildren would one day inherit, and nothing I offered would change that.
That didn't mean I couldn't use it.
"Of course, my lord." The High Septon simpered. "There are many things that require the attention of House Baratheon and a lord paramount."
"Indeed, but it is in my role as Master of Laws that I have come to see you today, your holiness."
"What need has the Iron Throne of the Faith?" he asked warily. As much as he was bought and paid for, no religious leader liked a secular leader stepping on their toes. Across the ancient world, in return for the support and blessings of 'god', the throne's power had generally stopped at a church's doors. When it hadn't, shit had tended to go down. Repeatedly.
"A disturbing number of my justices of the peace are reporting cases of crimes against the followers of R'hllor your holiness." I remarked casually.
The High Septon responded indignantly, blowing up like a puffer fish. "Surely you aren't condemning those good men of the faith that dare to strike at the followers of the heathen fire god!"
"Of course not, your holiness." I placated with a smile. "My condemnation is that the Lord of Light's followers are there at all."
"My lord?" the fat man asked, confused.
"The Iron Throne allows religious toleration of course; the old gods of the North make it unwise not to. That does not mean that the king is pleased that a foreign faith is growing in his kingdoms. One kingdom failing to follow the faith of the Seven is quite enough, the king has no wish for it to become two. Especially when the new faith owes its allegiance to Volantis rather than Westeros."
"The Faith wholeheartedly agrees with the Crown!" The fat man declared pompously. "Such heathens cannot be allowed to get a foothold! The Northern tree worshiping savages are bad enough!"
"So I can report to King Robert that ravens will fly today? Instructing all Septs to begin preaching weekly against the followers of the Lord of Light?" I interrupted him before he could go on a full-on rant.
"Daily." The fat man exclaimed grimly, suddenly frightened for his position as the unquestioned religious leader of six kingdoms. "They'll preach against the heathens daily. We'll smother this intrusion in its cradle my lord I assure you."
Going by the furious expression on his face he was doubt cursing the fact that his septons hadn't informed him of the sudden growth of R'hllor's followers already. Of course, they couldn't have told him because I'd completely made it up, but they'd all be too scared that they actually had missed something to challenge my claims.
"Perfect." I replied, turning to take my leave.
I slowly turned back, frowning, the very picture of reluctance. "If I might speak with you on a personal matter, your holiness?"
"Of course my child." The calm soothing tones almost sounded genuine.
"The wife of my brother Stannis has already fallen under the sway of a red priestess. It just would not do for the Kings brother to owe allegiance to Volantis, which he knows of course. But is wife is incessant with her attempts to get him to convert, and if any lords openly worship the red god she will surely use them as an example to try and bludgeon him into submission. He may well give in and convert if several minor lords do first, if only to shut her up. We both know he worships nothing but his duty after all so to him it matters little which god he pays lip service too."
"How can I help?" The High Septon asked, paling rapidly upon realising the propaganda coup that the kings brother converting to R'hllor would give to the Red God's followers.
"Perhaps your Septs could also preach that any lord that follows a foreign religion will always be overthrown by the Seven for abandoning their oaths?" I hedged carefully. "Nothing too obvious of course, certainly no names! Just a general warning to keep all of the lesser lords and lordlings in line and stop that dam woman and her pet priestess having more arrows to loose at my brother."
"Of course, my child." The fat man responded warmly as he walked me towards the grand entrance. "I will add a simple reminder that all of a lord's vassals swore their oaths before the Seven, and that only a follower of the Seven can hold them to those oaths, that should be sufficient. There will be nothing that could possibly single out or reference Lord Stannis in any way, I assure you. The Faith would never embarrass either of the king's brothers."
The significant look he gave me answered the question of exactly why the High Septon had firmly sat his ample behind on what were no doubt dozens of accusations levelled at myself and Loras. It seemed as long as westerosi nobility were outwardly devout and loyal to the king – or more specifically to whoever had bought the High Septon – the commandments of the Seven Pointed Star were only for the smallfolk. Truly, corrupt priests were so much easier to deal with.
I grinned giddily as I left the fat man behind and stepped out the doors of the Great Sept into the brilliant summer sunshine. Using a pawn of one of my enemies to strike at another was a great mood lifter.
I was still glowing from my meeting with the High Septon as I poured over the parchment covering my desk. The hour had grown late, but I had yet to retire from my solar to my chambers. So when my Stormlands master of coin and master of whispers arrived I had them admitted at once.
Those were not their official titles of course, but thankfully they didn't know that that's what I was calling them in my head to keep things straight.
I gestured for Jon and Edric to leave the room as the guards closed the door behind the trio that they had allowed entry.
My master of whispers subtly flicked his eyes at Ser Loras, who was seated near the window, reading.
I simply raised a single eyebrow and waited.
"A success my lord, on all fronts." He responded quietly.
My master of coin handed over several beautifully folded pieces of the highest quality parchment. All of them were held closed with a black ribbon, held in place with a dark green wax seal with a broken wheel at its centre.
"Excellent. Good work." I withdrew several coins from the pouch in my desk draw and handed them to both of them. "Enjoy yourselves in the city tonight, but I want you to set out for Storm's End before the midday bells sound on the morrow. Am I clear?"
The warring expressions on their faces said that I had judged it exactly right. They had been hoping to enjoy the delights of Kings Landing for several days before returning to their duties.
I had no intention of making things that easy for Littlefinger and Varys. I would have ordered them to leave at first light if I thought they would obey it, and it wouldn't piss off two of the most important people in the Stormlands, but there was no chance of that.
As it was, I was hoping that enjoying the city on my coin rather than theirs would make up for restricting them to only one night.
"Most clear my lord." They both spoke in turn.
I dismissed them with a wave of my hand and they both swiftly left. Even if my master of coin shot me a dirty, knowing, look as they both slipped out of the room.
I turned my attention to the third man that had entered with them. Though few would have realised he was a man if not for the manner of his dress.
He was stunningly beautiful, with high defined cheekbones, pouty red lips, and expressive dark eyes. All framed with long black hair that fell in curly ringlets around his face, contrasting his flawless pale skin perfectly.
Most people would say that he put even Loras to shame. I would not, but then I was biased.
Loras himself had sauntered over and devoured the new arrival with his eyes. It appeared it wasn't just me who enjoyed feminine men, despite Renly's very handsome, but clearly masculine, features.
"My lord?" he asked, looking me in the eyes despite blushing at my and Loras' my open appreciation. His voice was sweet and melodic, but it had a strength to it, and a shiver ran down Loras' spine as a result. Thankfully I retained my wits despite suffering similar reaction, which was good as I had to play this very carefully if I wanted it to work.
"I understand you were brought here from the dungeons of Gulltown? When my agents ensured the wandering crow that was supposed to take you to The Wall 'forgot' to mention you weren't in his group on departure?"
He frowned suspiciously at my questioning.
"Messages were sent ahead regarding other matters. They mentioned you as well, though they did not include several important details. Including your name." I answered his nonverbal question. Not that I was required to justify myself, but this was a carrot approach, not a stick one.
I began blushing as I realised it was definitely a bad move to think of even vaguely phallic things when faced with such beauty. Loras was still entranced, and I had to subtly kick him to bring him back to reality.
"I'm Satin Flowers my lord, from Oldtown originally. Your men said I would be free to go once I'd spoken with you." A hint of defiance joined the strength in his voice as he continued to hold my gaze.
"What were you in the dungeons for?" Loras asked, frowning. Clearly wondering why I would help a criminal escape the Night's Watch.
"Rape." He answered casually.
Loras immediately snapped to look at me, anger and indignation covering his face, so I spoke up before he could say a word.
"Of course. What else would a lord call it when he found his son in bed with a whore who happens to have a cock? Gods forbid he acknowledges his son is a sword swallower. Much better to claim rape, throw the whore in the dungeon, and throw his son in a brothel filled with the right kind of whore till he's 'cured.'
The bitterness in my voice made both men snort.
"Am I not enough for you, My lord?" Loras asked playfully, anger dissipating at my explanation. He draped his arms around my neck while looking over at our guest. "Do you have your agents searching all of Westeros for exquisite whores to join me in warming your bed?"
Clearly Loras wasn't opposed to the idea of threesomes.
"I'm not a whore any longer my lord. If that's the price of going free I'd prefer it if you put me on the next ship to the Wall." Satin's sweet voice wavered with fear at denying such a high lord as myself, but the strength and defiance that filled it were inspiring. Inspiring because despite his fear he was daring to tell someone 'no' for the first time, and as I was a lord paramount, he certainly wasn't starting small.
Honestly it was exhilarating to watch.
"That won't be necessary. We only frequent Chataya's." Loras replied, ceasing to drape himself over me and going back to standing at my side. He elaborated at Satin's confused expression, though he still couldn't resist boasting. "None of the whores at Chataya's are forced, they all chose their work. They charge ruinously for it of course, but then I do have an outrageous amount of money."
Loras was absolutely getting fucked tonight.
We had never been to any brothel, at least not since I'd arrived, but I had spoken to him a hundred times about consent when he was pestering me daily to fuck him despite 'my' drastic personality changes. I hadn't expected him to truly accept my speeches given his medieval mindset, but I'd clearly not given the golden hearted Tyrell enough credit.
I reached behind him and squeezed one of his ass cheeks, uncaring if Satin saw, and I was rewarded with an undignified yelp of surprise from the prettiest Tyrell.
Satin fought down a smile at Loras' yelp, though he still seemed wary. Born and raised in an Oldtown brothel he had certainly learned to never to trust a highborn's word, and probably still expected at least one of us to try and use him as a whore when the other wasn't there. Or for both of us to be just outright lying if he was in a truly cynical mood. "In that case my lord, why would your men have brough me to you? I was quite clear on the trip that I wouldn't be whoring anymore."
That was a problematic question because the true answer was guilt.
Guilt at how much I was manipulating people.
Guilt at how many people literally starved in the streets of Kings Landing as I feasted in the great hall with the king.
Guilt at the whores in a majority of the brothels, raped and paid pittances only a mile or two from my door.
Guilt at the good people I was condemning to death by making no effort to save them from what I knew was coming.
I knew what awaited Satin at the wall now I had removed Jon. It wouldn't be the fresh start he believed. The black brothers might be willing to forget about the thieves and rapists among themselves. But forget Satin had been a whore for all of his life? When he was so young and beautiful? No. They'd make him the whore of Castle Black even if he wore the black of the Night's Watch. The only question was how many teeth Satin would have left by the time they beat him into submission. Though maybe, given the strength he had shown in defying a lord paramount, Satin would throw himself off the top of the Wall before giving in to them.
Either way death was all that was waiting for him there without Jon. It would just be a matter of finding out if it would be the death of his body, or the death of his soul.
I was not going to let that happen to him. I couldn't save everyone; I couldn't even save most of the good people that were currently hurtling towards horrible fates. But I could save this one. I could save Satin.
I had to. It was the only way I would be able to sleep at night because the guilt was threatening to drown me.
"You're here Satin, because I need a scribe. A scribe who is completely and utterly loyal to me, not whatever knightly house or wealthy merchant family they happen to come from. Now, I don't know what you planned on doing if you've decided to no longer whore yourself out, but I doubt it would be easy. If you take my offer, you will be fed, clothed, housed, and paid. In return you will take my secrets to your grave, which incidentally is where you will go if you betray me. You can leave at any time you wish, and be given what is owed to you, along with a letter of recommendation, food, and good wishes for your journey. But if you betray me, you will be killed. And it will not be a quick death. Do you understand?"
"My lord…...I...I…I will only be your scribe?" Satin stammered desperately, completely stunned.
"Yes." I replied calmly. "And if anyone attempts to make you perform any 'other' duties, you are to inform the head of my household at once. I will instruct her to deal with the matter harshly.
"My lord…please understand…I wish to accept; Seven I wish to accept! But I only partially know my letters. I don't know if I'm good enough at them to be your scribe." Satin was frantic, desperate to take an offer better than any he could have hoped for, but not willing to lie about his skills and be thrown back in the dungeons when I found out.
"Loras; go and find where our wayward squires have got to please. Satin; those books by the window, they're the first shipment from my scribes at Castle Black's library. Bring the top one and read it to me, I will judge your skill myself."
Loras sauntered off to track down Jon and Edric, who had doubtless sneaked off to the kitchens given how long my private meetings usually lasted, while Satin grabbed the book and sat opposite me when I gestured for him to do so.
"Very well Satin. Begin." I commanded looking down at my folded hands so I wouldn't intimidate him into silence.
"This is the record of the rec…recovery of the Night's Watch follow…ing the over…throw of Lord Com…mander…." Satin paused, his eyes beginning to water as he stared silently at the page. He was stuck.
"Pass it here." I commanded professionally.
Satin slid the book across my desk, and I attempted to twist it so we could both see. Unfortunately, the desk was too large.
"Bring the chair around this side."
"My lord?" Satin asked very warily.
"I can't help you if we can't see the page at the same time and I can't read upside down. You certainly can't."
Satin moved the chair and very warily sat as far away from me as he could while still seeing the book.
I didn't blame Satin. No highborn would do what I was unless they intended to grab and rape him when he was seated within arm's reach, though I doubt they'd have considered it rape, more 'taking their due'. I, however, needed his trust, and I needed it quickly. Helping him was the only way to get it.
Thankfully, unlike Robert Baratheon, I could keep it in my breeches no matter how beautiful the person next to me was.
"If you can't work out the whole word work it out in pieces, do you recognise this?" I slid the book halfway between us and covered half of the word that had tripped Satin up with my hand. He leaned in to look, eyes always darting to check where my other hand was.
"And this?" I split my fingers to cover either end of the word and show the middle.
"Put it together."
"Rankenfell. This is the record of the recovery of the Night's Watch after the overthrow of Lord Commander Rankenfell! Satin's face lit up with joy and his had trembled as his fingers traced the text.
"Many of our rangers died in battle against the Umber men and the men of the Stark in Winter…fell. Thank…fully the King of Winter has allow…ed the Night's Watch to remain, though he has purged all surviving kernights."
"Stop for a moment."
Satin looked up fearfully
"That word's tricky." I covered the K. "Try again"
"nights." He frowned in realisation. "My lord, why is the letter there if it isn't used?"
"Don't ask me, I'm not a maester and I never bothered to ask. Just remember that the K isn't spoken, it's only there to tell anyone reading it's referring to a sword bearing man rather than the time after sunset, though gods only know why someone thought anyone would get them confused. Don't ask about the G in both of them either, though thankfully you already knew that."
A small smile twitched into existence on Satin's lips as he returned to reading. "Purged all the surviving knights from the Andal kingdoms, as all of the Lord Commander's strongest supp…orters in his att…empt to take over the North were knights."
Loras returned soon after we reached the third page. He stopped dead in surprise at seeing me lowering myself to teaching a whore to read, but after a moment he just smiled and mouthed 'Margery' at me, before shaking his head ruefully and picking up his own book. Clearly his sister had already taught him that there were many more effective ways than coin to buy peoples loyalty.
When the summons to the small council had come I had reluctantly left Satin, who had already begun to show progress despite only studying with my two existing scribes for a week and a half, in my solar copying out some general invites to a masquerade ball I was throwing for the Stormlands and Reach lords present at court. I needed to keep in their good graces, and I hadn't held one since arriving. Given that Renly usually held one each quarter, and it was now August, if I went much longer without holding one they'd certainly take offence.
Deep in thought I didn't even notice anyone else was in the courtyard until I walked straight into them.
I went sprawling as Ser Barristan Selmy simply looked down, confused. "I thought I was the old one. Surely your vision isn't going already?"
"Was that a joke? From the famously stoic Ser Barristan? Call the High Septon a miracle has occurred!" I charmed as he helped me back to my feet. He was coming from the White Sword tower. Obviously he hadn't been on duty, but as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard he had a seat on the small council so he would have received the summons as well.
"Stoic is better than old." Ser Barristan replied ruefully.
I winced as I recalled Renly's nickname for him. 'Ser Barristan the Old.' "Yes, well, I'm not trying to hide my jealousy today." I muttered, judging self-deprecation and humility to be the line of attack most likely to work on improving my relationship with the old knight.
"Jealousy?" The Lord Commander asked, confused.
"Of your energy. You never seem to tire. No matter how difficult things get, no matter how difficult the king gets, you never tire. I suspect that the Long Night itself could come again and you would still be unfazed. Truthfully Ser Barristan, you may be old, but I am the one who's tired."
The old Stormlands knight had stopped in shock, but quickly began walking again. "That's a new attitude from you my lord."
"I'm a new man Ser Barristan." Meaning I was actually doing the work that Renly was supposed to as Master of Laws.
"If I may be as bold as my title, I prefer this version of you. Even if you are tired."
"As do I." I muttered in reply, walking in companionable silence. It turned awkward as I started frowning.
Ser Barristan eventually broke. "You seem to have something you want to ask me my lord."
"I've always wanted to ask you, I just never thought you'd answer." The truth was I was curious. This was a man who had been Kingsguard for most of Rhaegar Targaryen's life, if anyone would have insights into the man who had torn the Seven Kingdoms apart it would be him.
"What is it?"
"What did you think of Rhaegar Targaryen?"
The old Kingsguard stopped dead again. "Of every question I thought you would ask, that was the last."
"I've heard things, from his supporters, or people they talked to, but you're the one that knew him practically from birth. I've always wanted to hear your thoughts on him. Your true thoughts, not the mummery my brother prefers."
Ser Barristan frowned deeply. "Why?"
"How am I to make an informed opinion about him if I speak only to his detractors? As Master of Laws no one knows better than me that a story always has two sides."
"Why do you think about him at all?"
"How can I not? His actions placed one of my brothers on the Iron Throne, the other on Dragonstone, and myself in Storm's End. Without him Stannis and I would be a landed knights somewhere in the Stormlands who had never even seen the capital. At best."
Ser Barristan was the one to walk frowning in silence this time. "If I tell you my thoughts, will you tell me your opinion of him?"
"Why would you care what a Baratheon thinks of a Targaryen?" I asked, surprised, but seizing the opportunity. If I could make him doubt Rhaegar, if I could loosen his attachment to the Targaryen dynasty, I could make it a lot less likely he would go to Daenerys. Given that she would have dragons, chipping away any bits of her powerbase I could reach was well worth the effort.
"Your new nature seems far more balanced. I would like to hear the thoughts of the other side of the rebellion that extend beyond 'dragonspawn'."
I raised an eyebrow at him being so open. But then Robert would be more wrathful with me than Ser Barristan for bringing the dead prince up in the first place, so neither of us would be telling him of this conversation.
"As a young boy," the old Kingsguard began, "the Prince of Dragonstone was bookish to a fault. He was reading so early men said that Queen Rhaella must have swallowed some books and a candle while he was in her womb. Rhaegar took no interest in the play of other children. The maesters were awed by his wits, but his father's knights would jest sourly that Baelor the Blessed had been born again. Until one day Prince Rhaegar found something in his scrolls that changed him. No one knows what it might have been. Only that the boy suddenly appeared one morning in the yard as the knights were donning their steel. He walked up to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms, and said, 'I will require a sword and armour. It seems I must be a warrior.'"
Barristan smiled in memory, but he became more circumspect as he talked about the adult Rhaegar. He was not letting his guard down entirely.
"He succeeded, becoming a fine warrior, but never stopping his reading, or his playing of the harp which could make you weep. Especially after one of his many trips to the ruins of Summerhall. He was able, that above all, he was determined, deliberate, dutiful, and single minded. When Ser Arthur Dayne joined the Kingsguard he became the prince's oldest friend. Rhaegar succeeded in nearly everything he put his mind to and would have been a much better ruler than his father, but I'm not certain it was in Rhaegar to be happy. It was said that no man ever knew prince Rhaegar, not truly, and now no one ever will."
We walked in silence as we ascended the stairs towards the small council chamber.
"May I know your thoughts my lord?" Ser Barristan asked.
"You won't like them Ser, and I would not disrespect you so much as to subject you to them when they are not wanted." I replied carefully weighing my response.
"I would hear them, nonetheless. They can't be worse than your brother's, he thinks Rhaegar a demon in human form." Ser Barristan smiled.
"I think something was very wrong with Rhaegar," I began cautiously, "just as there was with Baelor the Blessed and Aerys the First. You say yourself that he was completely uninterested in playing with other children. That's not normal, even the shyest child finds joy in playing, even if it's only with one other person. You say Ser Arthur was Rhaegar's oldest friend, but they didn't meet till Arthur joined the Kingsguard when they were both 17, which would mean that Rhaegar had no friends before that. Again, that isn't normal. You say no one really knew him and I believe it given those two concerns, but that's the very point."
Ser Barristan was frowning heavily now, but he gestured for me to continue.
"No one really knew him, but everyone was convinced he was wonderful. Why? Because the Rhaegar you all knew was a mirage, a painting you all created on the blank canvas he gave you, each of you seeing what you wanted to see. He was a man with a bright and beautiful exterior, that was so good at pretending to be perfect you all believed he actually was. It was a mask, it wasn't real, and as no one ever truly knew Rhaegar Targaryen we can only look to his actions to see what was behind the mask. And his actions are a trail of betrayal, incompetence, and death."
I swallowed as Barristan's sword creaked in his harsh grip and he certainly looked as if he wanted to draw it, but I continued on as he gestured for me to continue with his free hand.
"He rode passed is pregnant wife and crowned a girl of 15 years the queen of love and beauty, a girl barely more than half his age. He left his wife and children on Dragonstone after his wife nearly died giving him his son. Abandoning a loyal wife who the birth nearly killed, along with a vulnerable new-born and a devoted young daughter, to run away with the girl he humiliated his wife with. As even an heir and daughter were not enough to make him happy. As you said yourself, he didn't know how to be happy. Then he stayed with the girl he had run off with, rather than face the consequences of his actions. Even though he knew how volatile and paranoid his father was, leading directly to the deaths of Rickard and Brandon Stark and the start of the rebellion. A rebellion he did absolutely nothing to fight against until the Mad King sent Lord Commander Hightower to drag him to the battlefields."
"Even when he returned to Kings Landing and talked to Ser Jamie, he never once mentioned how his actions had set the entire rebellion in motion. He never once took responsibility; indeed, he simply said 'he'll call a council and take the throne.' As if it will be that easy after he handed his father the torch and oil to set the realm on fire then ran away. Finally, to cap it all off, he led the royal army across the Ruby Ford to strike at the rebels. He abandoned the south side of the Trident, the giant river that the rebels had to cross to attack him, and instead charged through the ford to attack the rebels. Deliberately throwing away the Royal Army's very advantageous defensive position and doing the only thing that gave the rebels a realistic chance of winning. Not only that, but as he funnelled the whole royal army into the ford, he lost his superior numbers advantage as well. As if his first mistake wasn't damming enough. We all know how that battle ended and that is entirely down to Rhaegar. It would have been a heavy defeat for the rebels if a competent field commander like Randall Tarly led the loyalist armies that day instead of him. Words are wind Ser Barristan, actions are what reveal the truth of a person, and Rhaegar's actions don't match the person you describe with your words."
"If," the old knight ground out through gritted teeth, "if, it was as you claim, why was everyone taken in by the mirage?"
"Because you needed to believe in him to survive." I answered gently. "Aerys was getting madder by the day, you had to believe Rhaegar was better or else you'd just throw yourself off the White Sword tower in despair. But the obsessive madness of Baelor the Blessed and Aerys the First was there, hiding in plain sight, invisible when compared to the violent paranoid madness of Aerys the Second. When Rhaegar stopped obsessing over scrolls as his ancestors did and instead transferred his obsession to Lyanna Stark, his obsessive madness finally became visible, and the realm bled."
We were silent for the remainder of the walk to the small council chamber. But Ser Barristan grabbed my wrist before I knocked to request entry.
"Do you think he raped her?"
"It doesn't matter what I think."
"That didn't stop you earlier my lord, don't let it stop you now."
I studied his face carefully before answering. "Not in the sense that he held her down and forced himself on her, but yes, I think he did."
"How could he rape her without forcing her?" Ser Barristan asked, confused.
"He candlelit her."
I explained further at his questioning look. "Candlelight can hide many things in a room depending on how the candles are positioned, you're a Kingsguard, you know moving a single candle can create a shadow for an assassin to hide in while the room itself still looks well-lit and empty. It's the same with information. I think Rhaegar charmed her with promises. A sheltered young girl with a betrothal she doesn't want, suddenly approached by a beautiful prince nearly twice her age, who says he can rescue her and use his power to make all her problems go away. How many older and wiser women have fallen prey to that throughout history? Then the young girl's father and brother are killed. He tells her, he can't not, but it's all in the wording, as Varys or Littlefinger will tell you. If he told her that Aerys charged Lord Rickard with treason over their love, that Lord Rickard demanded a trial by combat as a result, but then Brandon tried to interfere in the trial after it had started and both of them died…"
"Then he didn't tell her a word of a lie, but he didn't tell her what truly happened." The Kingsguard whispered, looking older than he ever had.
"Then he left for battle without lying, saying only that Robert Baratheon had started a rebellion to claim his bride, to claim her, and that he didn't know more beyond that. How could he? He claims, he had been with her the entire time. But he tells her he will go and defeat Robert and all who are trying to force her to go back to him. So, he leaves her without lying, letting her still believe that he is her gallant protector. Not the man whose actions have resulted in her eldest brother's strangulation, her father's burning, and who is now riding out to kill her rebelling middle brother. Candlelighting meant she didn't resist him, but he still raped her. Even if he didn't have to force himself on her. For Lyanna Stark would never have given herself to him if she knew the truth of what was going on outside the tower where she was kept. Or that's what I suspect anyway. With both of them gone only the gods know the truth of it."
Ser Barristan groaned as he leaned against the wall. "It can't be true, it can't be. I won't believe it."
Clearly Robert's rants about dragonspawn had been much easier for the old knight to dismiss.
"What are you two old women doing out here?! Get inside!" Robert Baratheon bellowed as he thundered down the corridor like an angry rhino.
My heart stopped as all possible ways to weaken Ser Barristan's loyalty to the Targaryen's fled from my mind. If Robert was here, if he was actually attending, then this was that small council meeting. Daenerys was pregnant with Kal Drogo's child, and somewhere in the Riverlands Catelyn Stark was approaching the Crossroads Inn.
The fuse had been lit.
Rhaegar's candlelighting of Lyanna is my own invention. Large chunks of Barristan's description of Rhaegar are taken directly from the books. The bullet points and general thrust of my argument against Rhaegar being a good person are from the Order of the Green Hand analysis 'was something wrong with Rhaegar' on youtube.