Author's Notes: Welcome to my latest short story! I hope you enjoy reading and please join me in thanking Catzrko0l for being for this story. You're the best!

Splintered Loyalties

P1 - The Sword Rises

"Must you return?"

"It is my duty."

"You have no duty. They think you dead."

"Do they? Would not Lord Stark tell them otherwise?"

"I told him to not breathe a word."

Arthur chuckled as he pulled his cloak on, turning to meet Allyria's eyes. She was still so young but her eyes carried the weight of loss and grief. Despite the warm summer climate of Dorne, her demeanor was frigid.

"Do you think that threat is enough to keep his silence?"

"We know what he carries."

Arthur grew stern and he growled, "Do not dare threaten to hang the babe with his ancestry or we will have more than words."

She gaped. "You would threaten me? Your own sister?"

"I am honorbound to protect the last Targaryen on these shores."

"After what happened to Ashara?"

"I am Kingsguard. I did not die and so Kingsguard I shall remain."

"It was a near thing," she whispered.

He remained silent. This conversation had been done many times before, starting with when he finally awoke from his injured slumber and expressed his desire to return to King's Landing. His last remaining sister, Allyria, had taken his words for delirium and assumed he was not in his right mind. And yet his determination to return as a Kingsguard did not waver. The only point at which it wavered was deciding where his presence was best served.

Lord Stark had Prince Rhaegar and Lady Lyanna's son. The lady had died in childbed, but her son lived.

He had nearly died himself once Allyria had told him Lord Stark was returning to King's Landing with the babe in tow.

Fool! Lackwit! The king will dash the babe's brains for sure, Arthur thought. He had still been too weak. Even with the surge of strength his fear granted him, he'd still only just managed to roll to his side. The maester had tutted upon seeing him and gently rolled him back and he'd fallen into slumber.

By the time Arthur had managed being able to sit up without assistance, Lord Stark was a month gone. It was impossible to catch him, even with the quickest horse or the fastest ship. The boy's fate was out of his hands. Some Kingsguard I am, Arthur thought bitterly. He could pray that Lord Stark had the wits to hide the boy's identity.

While he was in recovery, he demanded news. Allyria had frowned at him disapprovingly, but had told him what was in the letters from King's Landing: Lord Stark had broken the Tyrell siege of Storm's End, freeing Stannis and his men from starvation. Ser Jaime Lannister had slain the king. Ser Gregor Clegane and Ser Amory Lorch had seen to the butchering of Princess Elia Martell and her children. Only Queen Rhaella and Prince Viserys remained alive, but Stannis had been sent out into the sea to Dragonstone to apprehend them. It seemed only a matter of time before the last vestiges of the Targaryen Dynasty were stricken from the lands. All save for one babe in Lord Stark's care.

Even in King's Landing, he'd heard of the brotherly bond that Lord Stark had with King Robert Baratheon. But did it supersede a bond with his sister? Arthur had been lying outside of the Tower of Joy on the brink of death next to his brothers' bodies. He only recalled the clear, deep blue sky and the ferocious sun on his skin as he was certain he was breathing his last. He had no way of knowing what words were exchanged between brother and sister.

Did Lyanna Stark have loyalty to the child at least? There had been loyalty at first when Rhaegar first dangled adventure in front of her like a carrot on a stick. She had been all too eager to join the handsome prince and his famed Kingsguard for an adventure. She assumed it would be brief. That she would be back with her brothers and father within a week.

Arthur would never forget the look of horror on her face when Prince Rhaegar told her the king demanded their marriage.

"It is time."

His sister glared at him and finally said, "Promise me you won't dishonor yourself again."

He sighed heavily. "I wish I could."

He rode alone. His cloak was drawn up to hide his face and Dawn was hidden under his saddlebags. He bore a regular steel sword and a knife. With nothing but time and the empty road ahead of him, his thoughts drifted and he often found them wandering towards Dawn.

It pained him to hold the sword. At first, he thought it was due to weakness associated with his recovery. His muscles had surely shrank in the weeks he had spent abed, but his heart told him it was more than that. He thought that Dawn might be displeased. Only those deemed worthy bore the title of Sword of the Morning and Dawn with it. Earning the sword had been one of his greatest sources of pride. He had sworn to bear the sword with integrity and honor.

And he had failed.

He had failed to protect Queen Rhaella from her own brother-husband. He allowed Prince Rhaegar to use his position as Kingsguard to make him perform dishonorable deeds. He remembered the first conversation Prince Rhaegar had with Lady Lyanna with a grim horror.

"Buh-but I am betrothed! You can't!"

"He is the king. He can," Prince Rhaegar said grimly.

"And what of you?! You're married, are you not? How can he do this to you?"

"Because he is the king," Rhaegar repeated.

"How can he do this to me? I have done nothing."

"But you have. Do you not recall? You were the Knight of the Laughing Tree. You made fools of men. You sparked my father's ire. He does not suffer fools nor being made one."

Lady Lyanna had fallen back a step and the color had drained from her face. Her lips and hands trembled uncontrollably when suddenly she fell to her knees and curled in on herself.

"No… nonononono, the Gods have mercy."

"This is a mercy," Rhaegar said with no conviction in his voice.

She shot him a nasty look. "You named me whore when you gave me the crown of flowers. To think I was grateful that it might be enough to break my betrothal with Robert Baratheon … but this? You mock me. The Gods mock me."

"The only 'God' that matters is the king."

"The king is no God."

"He may as well be. His word is as theirs: absolute."

Tears began to glitter in her eyes and they slowly began to slide down her face.

"We shall be wed in two day's time. There's no point in trying to escape. If you attempt to, the king will have you killed," Rhaegar said, with an expression colder than the Wall.

It was the first time Arthur felt his ire towards his friend. He'd had great respect and loyalty to the crown when he had been initially sworn in as a brother of the Kingsguard. It was one of the proudest moments of his life when the white cloak was set upon his shoulders. It had taken some time for the awe of the honor to become mundane.

However, over the years the madness of King Aerys began to grow more obvious. A consequence of being in his presence was attempting to tolerate the strain of his insanity and paranoia. Arthur counted himself lucky that much of the king's fears were directed to those outside this inner circle, but it meant that neither he nor his brother's could step one toe out of line without bringing down a mountain of suspicion toward them, which convinced King Aerys they were about to betray him. Slowly, inexorably, the king began to push his limits with the oaths of the Kingsguard. But the king was the king. He had no limits to his power and their oath was to obey his every command.

For Arthur, the strain of the king's madness began with the raping of his sister-wife, Queen Rhaella. Lord Commander Gerold Hightower had instilled in him that, no matter the cruelty, there was a purpose to the raping of the queen. The kingdom needed heirs after all.

"We cannot protect her from him. He is our king," Ser Gerold rumbled to him, barely heard over the agonized screams of the queen.

Arthur shut it out of his mind, but he couldn't shut her screams out of his nightmares. Then King Aerys began punishing harshly for perceived slights. Still, the Kingsguard were to be stoic no matter the circumstance.

Then Ser Harlan Grandison had passed suddenly in his sleep, creating an opening. Few were more surprised at Ser Jaime Lannister replacing him than Arthur. And he knew it was a mistake. The Lannister's reputation was sinister and barbaric, but Arthur hadn't been able to reconcile the earnest and cocky young lad with the likes of his fear mongering father. His skill with a sword was awe-inspiring. Holding off the Smiling Knight at his age and preventing the death of his own mentor was reason enough to knight him, but Arthur had seen enough to know the young man was nothing like his house's reputation.

It hadn't taken long for the young man's pride to be dashed as he was immediately ordered back to King's Landing, deprived of the opportunity to earn glory on the tourney field. Arthur could do nothing more than congratulate him.

The intentions of the king were less than pure. Heirs were not meant for the Kingsguard, but the king did as the king pleased. It sent Lord Tywin in a fury and he withdrew all support and his own daughter from King's Landing over it. The reason for his placement only seemed to dawn on Jaime once he was alone at court. He had deflated, though he tried to paper it over with haughty arrogance and thick sarcasm. He felt for the boy. He had been much older when he had been admitted into the Kingsguard and despite his experience on the battlefield, the Kingsguard still managed to uproot the weedy ideals he had long held onto since boyhood. Including, it seemed, the ideas that made him worthy to bear Dawn and be the Sword of the Morning.

But King Aerys II was now dead and so was Prince Rhaegar. After the uncouth and uncalled for butchering of Princess Elia Martell and her children—Ser Arthur ground his teeth together and white hot rage threatened to explode from at the thought of their fates—it seemed Queen Rhaella and Prince Viserys' days were numbered as well. The Targaryens would be wiped from the land as surely as the Reynes and the Tarbecks. Only the fate of the babe Lord Stark carried remained a mystery, though he wasn't entirely certain Lord Stark wasn't carrying the boy into a death trap.

Whatever he felt about King Aerys or Prince Rhaegar, the rest of the family had done nothing to earn such an ignominious fate and he was fated to fail them. Perhaps it's best that I don't pursue either of them, he thought. His identity was unlikely to remain hidden for long from the likes of the Master of Whispers. He feared what conclusions the Spider might come to if he tried to follow Lord Stark to the North. Lady Lyanna's son was better served not being pursued.

He'd heard that Ser Barristan had been wounded on the trident, but news from King's Landing said he'd made a full recovery and had remained a Kingsguard. Ser Jaime Lannister had also managed to escape either a beheading or banishment to the Wall, likely at his father's bid. As far as Arthur knew, it was just the two of them now. Everyone else had perished. The news stung to hear.

He had felt similarly when they had received the news of Prince Rhaegar's death. The Tower of Joy, ironically, was a joyless, barren plain where little reached their ears of the growing rebellion. They were supposed to be hidden, after all, so none went out of their way to share news of the war. Prince Rhaegar had long been his friend, so when the news came of his death, it felt like a body blow. Not for the first time did he wonder if staying to protect the girl—Imprisoning her, really—was the right thing to do. Those in the Great Sept of Baelor were apt to disagree, but the priest who married Prince Rhaegar and Lady Lyanna had likely feared for his life if he hadn't otherwise. A wise choice once they'd received the news of Lord Rickard Stark and Brandon Stark's deaths in King's Landing.

But to learn the death of Prince Rhaegar, whom Arthur considered his truest friend, there had mostly been grim acceptance. It seemed the Seven were plainly telling him and the rest of the Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy that the King Aerys and Prince Rhaegar's decisions had been wrong. Prince Rhaegar was supposed to take his place as king and right the wrongs that his father's paranoia and creeping madness had undone, but he was dead.

To Arthur, it meant that their duty to 'protect' Lady Lyanna was now a falsehood. But he was not the Lord Commander. Gerold Hightower had read the missive, furrowed his brow in pained determination, and plainly stated, "This changes nothing. Prince Rhaegar ordered us to guard the Tower of Joy and so we shall."

And so it was the Seven made sure they died there. All but him. They had spared his life for some reason. He was beginning to wonder if it had been Lord Reed's intention to wound him or if he had lost the nerve to do something as dishonorable as killing him from behind. He doubted he would ever get the opportunity to ask.