Author's Notes: The third and final installment. Thank you for all of your support! Please enjoy.
The Sword Without Honor
Ser Mandon Moore was indeed the next knight to join the Kingsguard. His eyes were unnaturally pale. He surveyed them like a shark considering its next meal. There was nothing cordial about him; he appeared unable to smile and regarded them all as coldly and stiffly as a statue.
Arthur instantly distrusted him. He was a knight of no particular renown, who was elevated to Kingsguard to make King Robert and Lord Jon Arryn feel safer amidst the three who had originally served a fallen house. It sickened Arthur to see a clear case of nepotism, but he doubted he was any less rotten than the rest of them.
The Kingsguard was splintered. Ser Jaime stood apart and alone, refusing to engage and savaging anyone with cutting words who might reach out to him. Lord Commander Barristan continued to harbor resentment against Ser Jaime and was confused at Arthur's own resentment towards him. All other conversations between the two had been stiff and cordial, but Arthur walked away when Barristan attempted to steer the conversation back towards the topic of Ser Jaime. Neither he nor Ser Jaime cared to say a word to Ser Mandon.
The easy camaraderie amongst the Kingsguard was gone. No one seemed capable of trusting one another. Not for the first time, Arthur wondered if he shouldn't have just followed Lord Stark to the North after all, but instead of protecting the child, riding right past them and joining the Night's Watch at the Wall. That was a place where men were supposed to regain their honor. He wasn't sure he could find it here.
He hadn't dared breathe a word about the child Lord Stark carried and no one said anything about it. He thought he would've picked it up in the rumor mill if the babe had been murdered. Even despite being blood of the dragon, all but Lord Lannister would have found the death of a child to be anything but barbaric. He took hope that the child would then grow up safe. The North was so far away that he suspected he would never hear a whisper out of it, and although it pained him to let the boy go and live, he assured himself it was for the best.
Arthur continued to attempt to connect with Ser Jaime, but he was rebuffed at every turn. He refused to train with him, he refused to take any meals with him, and he locked himself in his room. Although Ser Jaime continued to meet any eye contact with proverbial daggers, Arthur thought that he had eased up. His sister, the future queen, was arriving soon, which seemed to cheer Ser Jaime. By all accounts, Tywin handed over King's Landing in exchange for a marriage between King Robert and his daughter.
It appears Lord Tywin got the royal marriage he always wanted, Arthur thought bitterly. Lady Cersei had spent her adolescent years in King's Landing for a time, vying for the position of Prince Rhaegar's wife. Arthur had little direct contact with Cersei, though he was at Rhaegar's side more than once when she was hanging on the prince and flirting with him. His first impression was that of a conniving snake that was coiling around his friend, preparing to asphyxiate him. Her words were sweet, but there was venom behind those eyes.
Prince Rhaegar had not liked her, which was more than enough reason for Arthur.
However, if the presence of his twin cheered Ser Jaime, then he wouldn't begrudge the boy of whatever comfort he could find from his family.
He only wanted to speak with him.
Arthur finally decided that he could do nothing more but corner Ser Jaime. The idea was about as good as actually wrangling a lion, but Ser Jaime had left him no other choice. Ser Jaime spent the night guarding King Robert. He was up before the crack of dawn, and when he heard the heavy footsteps passing his door, he slipped out of bed and followed. Ser Jaime fumbled with the key to his room, but once he opened the door, Arthur rushed forward and shoved Jaime through, then followed in his stead.
Ser Jaime found his balance and ripped out his sword, leveling it at him before he realized who it was. "What is the meaning of this?" Ser Jaime barked. He ripped off his helmet and glowered at Arthur, but the sword stayed leveled at him. "Ser Arthur?! Perhaps if I leave a scar you'll finally take the hint. We have nothing to talk about!"
"Oh, but I think we do. You killed King Aerys and I want answers. Lord Stark and Lord Commander Selmy are all willing to judge you based on their own speculation, but I am not. I want to know the truth. You're a fine lad. I did not raise a monster into a knight and I don't believe you to be one. Perhaps King Aerys' madness was like smoke; your exposure to it sickened you with it as well, but all you do is glare. You don't jump at shadows like he did, you don't see enemies everywhere—"
"I see an enemy in you," Ser Jaime shot back. "You! All of you! You just left me here. Alone! I had to guard all day, every day. I barely even saw Princess Elia, Prince Aegon, or Princess Rhaenys! I had to be at King Aerys' side at all times because enemies were everywhere. I was even there when he was conspiring with the pyromancers to store caches of wildfire under the city so that it could be destroyed at a moment's notice!" Jaime went stiff after his tirade and his eyes widened in shock and he snapped his mouth shut.
Arthur stared at him. He had hoped that Jaime being exhausted from guarding would leave him unsteady and willing to spill, like a drunk who'd had one too many. "King Aerys was going to destroy King's Landing?"
"Get out," Jaime said.
Arthur didn't move but stayed steadfastly in front of the door. He was wearing his sleeping shirt and trousers and nothing more. He had no weapon, not even boots. "I can't do that, Jaime."
"I said OUT," Jaime roared and brought his sword up again and walked towards him. He stopped just as the point reached his chest, but Arthur did not flinch.
"No," Arthur said.
A knock sounded at the door. "What in Seven Hells is going on in there?" It was Ser Barristan.
Arthur eyed the door handle and then back to Jaime. There was murder in Jaime's eyes and he was blowing hard from his rage. Arthur swatted the sword down, turned and opened the door. "Ser Barristan, good morning. You should come in and hear this."
Ser Barristan scowled suspiciously at him and then stepped through the door. Despite the early hour, he was dressed fully in his Kingsguard armor. He looked around to see Ser Jaime sheathing his sword, still furious and he frowned over Arthur's state of dress. "I don't know what is going on here, but I expect a Kingsguard to control his temper and be in an acceptable state of dress, even when—"
"That's enough out of you, Ser," Arthur snapped.
Ser Barristan stared in shock but fell silent.
"You may have seniority to us, but you appear to be obsessed only with duty and presentation. Has it not occurred to you what your fellow brethren have suffered in the service to kings?"
The old knight gaped at him. He finally cleared his throat and said, "I don't know what has brought about this insubordination, but you will not speak to me in that tone, Ser Arthur. Our place is not to question the king, it is merely to serve."
"Then serve! Close your ears and ignore all else, but don't be surprised when the foundation of the Kingsguard starts to crumble beneath your feet. Did you ever wonder at the cost of serving, Ser Barristan? I hadn't, until I dishonored myself by helping Prince Rhaegar kidnap an innocent girl and then kept her imprisoned in a tower for years, all because the vaunted king ordered it. To hold Dawn is agony. I feel pain in my arm as though weakened from my brush with death, but I am able to hold other swords. However, Dawn is displeased and without Dawn, I can no longer be the Sword of the Morning."
Silence followed his own tirade. Both Ser Barristan and Ser Jaime were aghast. The anger had drained from Ser Jaime's face and he looked as helpless as a child. Ser Barristan's mouth opened and closed like a fish. Finally, he said, "Ser Arthur … I … "
"I see a monster in myself, Ser Barristan. I saw a monster in the Smiling Knight. But do you really think I would raise a man to knighthood if I saw a monster in him?"
Ser Barristan blinked at him. "I-uh-I would hope not, Ser Arthur."
"And yet you seemed determined to believe that Ser Jaime is a monster. I raised him to knighthood! He showed me his mettle when he faced the Smiling Knight as a boy of five-and-ten. He may have been a bit young for the Kingsguard when he was bestowed that honor, but he was no less a knight. So, you will stay here and you will listen! Tell us, Ser Jaime. Tell us more about how King Aerys was planting wildfire caches throughout the city. Tell us … what was the reason that forced your hand to slay him?"
Ser Barristan looked like a startled deer at the words, but he turned to Jaime rapt with attention. Jaime was equally startled and kept glancing back and forth between the two men. He lowered his head and drew his mouth into a terse frown. "I am supposed to keep my king's secrets."
"And I shouldn't have spoken treason within earshot of Prince Rhaegar, but I did. Tell us, Ser Jaime."
But still Jaime hesitated.
"You could not be a bigger monster in my eyes than I am to myself. I held a girl captive and did not save her from a horrible fate when I could have."
Jaime looked resentfully towards Ser Barristan. The old knight shifted. "Ser Jaime … my earlier words were harsh. I defamed you without knowing your reasons and did not trust in your instincts and honor as a knight. If there are caches of wildfire beneath the city, we need to know about it."
"Fine," Jaime said. "The war was going ill. King Aerys was becoming more afraid and paranoid by the day. Lord Chelsted refused to be Hand any longer once he learned about the wildfire. King Aerys burned him alive and made Rossart, the head of the Pyromancer's guild, his Hand. They continued making their plans. Once Prince Rhaegar was slain on the Trident, King Robert's victory was all but assured. My father then marched his army to the city and told the king that he was there for his protection. I told King Aerys that my father doesn't fight a losing battle and he would never pick the losing side. Grand Maester Pycelle convinced King Aerys that my father had returned as his friend, not his foe. King Aerys ordered the gates opened and then my father sacked the city."
"King Aerys was furious about this betrayal. He ordered me to bring him my father's head. Then he turned to Rossart and said, 'Burn them in their homes. Burn them in their beds.'" Jaime drew in a long breath. "Half a million people, my father and the Lannister army would have been burned alive. The king himself would have died! Is one man's life worth half a million? So I killed Rossart. And then I killed King Aerys." Jaime's face was ashen.
The silence was so complete that not even breath stirred the air between them.
"You made a decision that most knights wouldn't have the balls to make," Arthur said. "You did the right thing."
Ser Barristan looked slumped where he stood. He straightened and cleared his throat. "Ser Jaime, I must apologize for my behavior towards you these last few months. I should have trusted your judgment as a Kingsguard, no matter your youth. You unquestionably did the best thing that you could."
Jaime shifted. "You really think so?"
"Yes," both Arthur and Barristan replied.
"I apologize for forcing this issue on you. I had faith in you, Jaime, and I was convinced you wouldn't break your oaths for no good reason. Too many before me judged you without looking deeper. I had to know…"
Jaime wrinkled his nose. "Why? Why did it matter so much to you?"
"Because no one else could understand the pressures that come with being a Kingsguard when you have a rotten king. Every time I said I was just following orders, it always felt hollow to my ears. I knew the things I was doing were dishonorable, but I had faith in my prince that it would turn out for the better. That faith was misplaced. But you … you have renewed my faith and hope. Honor is not found in a set of oaths."
"Okay, that's enough. I wish to retire now," Jaime replied.
Arthur and Barristan stepped into the hallway. They heard the click of the lock as Jaime turned the key.
They stood there in silence for a moment. "What now?" Barristan asked.
"Now? Now, we fight for Kingsguard who aren't fucking Ser Mandon Moore."
Barristan chuckled. "He was not my pick."
"I know. You're the Lord Commander. Make your case."
With that, Barristan headed back up the stairs to his quarters with determination.
"Are we going to do something about the wildfire?" Jaime whispered.
They were standing next to one another at court, watching the endless parade of nobility and peasantry bring their problems alike.
"I'm not sure what can be done. It's dangerous even at the best of times. We could risk destroying the whole city if we try to move it," Arthur mumbled back.
"You could do it," Jaime said.
"Go to the king with it."
Arthur turned slightly to look at him askance.
Jaime raised his eyebrows at him in a bored manner.
"Why should I do that? You're the one who knows where they're located."
"It would put you in King Robert's good graces. It could help you reclaim your honor."
Arthur gave the barest shake of his head. "That's your honor, not mine."
He heard Jaime sigh in frustration. "Do you think it's possible to reclaim your honor?"
"I don't know," he replied. "But I'm damn well not going to take it from some bloody oaths."
Author's Notes: Yep, that's the end. This was supposed to be a one-shot (hah!), but I couldn't help myself. I already have one huge multi-chapter on my hands, I really didn't need another lengthy, drawn out fic. If there is anyone who cares to take this further, then you have my blessing. I only ask that you link me and credit me as inspiration.