LLM Book One: Casterly Rock

Title: Casterly Rock
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Series: Little Lion Man
Series Order: 1
Fandom: GoT/ASOIAF
Genre: Fix-it AU, Time Travel AU
Relationships: pre-Jaime Lannister/Lyanna Stark, background relationships (M/M, M/F)
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Canon-level Violence, Dark Themes, Temporary Major Character Death (Jaime Lannister), Major Character Death (Tywin Lannister, Grand Maester Pycelle, Varys), Minor Character Death (Maester Creylen of Casterly Rock, Dorna Swyft, OMCs), the Citadel Conspiracy (See Series Page)
Author Notes: I headcanon that you cannot lie in front of the face of a weirwood tree and you will be forced to speak the truth if you bleed on the tree, whether the bleeding is consensual or not. This is a plot point and kind of a warning for magical torture? Ish??
Beta: PNZ
Word Count: 39,167
Summary: Tywin dies. Yay!!! Or is it?



Chapter One


“The dragons are down,” Brienne said as she pulled him back to his feet.

Was that what the wall of ice and snow coming toward them was? Fallen dragons? Or was that what an undead dragon brought to the field?

“Jaime.” Brienne tugged at him. “The dragons have fallen.”

Jaime staggered under the meaning of her words. They had barely been holding back the Army of the Dead with two dragons in the sky. Now, there was only one thing to do. “Fall back!” Jaime could hear the other commanders—Tormund in particular—calling the same order. “Fall back!”

“Open the gates!” The Little Bear’s voice carried on the winds. “Open the gates! To your posts!”

His own father would be proud of her battlefield tone and the utter lack of fear in her presentation.

He and Brienne tugged each other toward their gate, taking down the dead around them as they went. A weight hit him in the back and Brienne lost her hold on his golden hand. He went down, hard.

“Jaime!” he heard Brienne scream. Or was it Cersei? “Jaime!”

A hand settled into his hair, it pulled his head back and slammed his face into the ground before he could think to fight back.

Everything went black.

Jaime was walking through the halls of Casterly Rock. Jaime could not remember the last time he had been home. Two or three wars ago, he figured. Everything had a wobbly dream-like look to it, which he supposed made sense. Death would not be so bad if it meant returning to the halls of his childhood home. He was wearing his favorite armor—the Lannister set he lost to the Robb Stark after the Battle of the Whispering Wood—with Oathkeeper at his hip.

Jaime wondered when his family would join them. Whether they would be glad to see them. How long it would take them to join him? Tyrion should be along any minute, all things considered.

Unless Cersei joined him first.

He heard a humming he had not recall ever hearing before. He moved in the direction of the noise. Mayhaps it was his grandfather, Tytos? He had died before Jaime had even been born but if the rumors were true at all the Laughing Lion had certainly been more prone to humming than his father, Tywin, had ever been.

The source of the humming was his father!—Jaime would recognize those sideburns anywhere, in any stage of life. He was coming up the stairs to the family quarters in his sleep clothes, looking freshly fucked.

He was looking rough but glowing, exactly how Jaime knew himself to look after getting seriously laid.

But. No, that had to be wrong. His father was loyal to the memory of his mother. And he hated whores so much, he would outlaw the entire profession if he could.

But Jaime knew what he was seeing.

Father?” he demanded. He had questions and Tywin Lannister was going to answer them!

His father jerked on the stairs, jerked again when he caught sight of him, and toppled backwards.

“Father!” he shouted, running for the man. The Ironborn would say that what was dead could never die—but the Ironborn were liars and rapists. He knew better than to take their word for anything.

As he ran down the stairs, each step seemed to take longer than the one before it, took more effort. Armor chimed as it slid off him and hit the ground. His golden hand popped off, leaving him with two small hands to reach out for his father with.

He knew before he reached him that the man was dead. The Living could not survive with their head at that angle. Jaime had seen men die. No matter the timeliness of masterly intervention, with so many broken bones, there was no doubt.

“Father!” He was a little boy again, shaking his father, desperately trying to wake someone he knew to be gone. “Father!”

“Jaime!” Arms pulled him away from his father. He fought them—but he was so small, smaller than he ever could remember being, and he was lifted away from his father even as he struggled. “Jaime!”

He felt the sting on his cheek and belatedly realized he had been struck.

He looked up into the face of his Uncle Tygette, blinking in surprise. There were no pockmarks on his uncle’s face. No sign of the wasting disease he had received from the wife Lord Tywin had forced on him. No sign of the disease that he had died from.

“Back with us?” Jaime recognized the voice of his Uncle Gerion. He had not heard it since his uncle had disappeared on a quest to find Brightroar and return it to their family. “What are you doing here? Are you not supposed to be with Lord Crakehall?”

“He has been knighted,” Sumner Crakehall’s voice joined the others. Jaime looked to see the man standing with his Aunt Genna as Maester Creylen attended father. “He was knighted by the Sword of Morning and insisted we come tell his father immediately.” Lord Sumner frowned as he looked down at the body.

“Is he…” Jaime could not bring himself to say it. His father. The pillar of protection for his House was gone.

Truly, gone. Jaime did not understand it. He had thought he was dreaming or already dead but everything felt so impossibly real. He could smell Uncle Gerion. Sea and smoke and horse sweat. He could not have said what his uncle had smelled like before but he knew suddenly that the man had never smelled any different.

Tyrion had been just barely nine at the time Uncle Gerion had set sail on his search for Brightroar. Jaime had been nearly sixteen. If Gerion had not left yet and he had just been knighted, then he was fifteen again.

Gods damn it.

He did not want to do all this again. Puberty had been bad enough. Going through it as a member of the Kingsguard to a Mad King had been hell. Watching Cersei marry another. Watching another claim and ruin his own children. War. War. War. Freezing War. His life as he had known it had been one hell after another. He could tell anyone that might ask that there were far more than seven hells and they all existed in the Realm of the Living.

Worse, while in the North he had realized that all of his suffering—and most of the Realm’s suffering—had come down to Cersei. She was an Oathbreaker, full to the brim with fear while being entirely devoid of honor.

She had convinced the Mad King to take him as a hostage.

She was the one that started the track that had deprived him of the one thing he had always sought—honor.

Jaime’s gaze landed back on his father. If he was Lord of the Rock, none of his other life could happen to him. He could recall Cersei from King’s Landing and contain her before she could think to set any of them on another ruinous path.

“What happened?” Aunt Genna asked. “Where did this armor come from?”

All of the adults turned to him.

“I—I found it,” Jaime tried. “Deep in the Rock.”

“Is this Brightroar?” Uncle Gerion asked, pulling Oathkeeper and revealing the crimson ripples his father had ordered the smith to include in the blade. Uncle Gerion jerked back in surprise. “No, it is not.”

“You found that all in the Rock?” Uncle Tygette asked.

Jaime nodded.

“Clearly, we need to explore the Rock more thoroughly,” Uncle Gerion decided.

“Clearly,” Uncle Tygette agreed.

Jaime pulled himself from his uncles’ grasps. He bent over his father’s body. He pulled the chain with a ring of keys out from under his father’s nightshirt and threw it around his own neck. “Maester Creylen, we need a stretcher. We will take my father to the preparation chamber and summon the Silent Sisters in the morning. Uncle Tygette, I want my father to have an honor guard until we burn his corpse.”

“Burn him?” Uncle Gerion questioned. “You do not want to inter him whole?”

“No, burning is the right way to go.” The Night’s King could not wake ashes. And they certainly could not risk the Night’s King figuring out how to utilize his father’s tactical mind. “It’s better from a disease prevention point of view and it saves room in the crypts as well. If House Lannister manages to stand for the next thousand years, we will either have to give up more of the Rock to house the dead or change our way of handling them.”

“Spoken like a true Lord Lannister,” Aunt Genna said warmly.

“Are we allowing this?” Maester Creylen asked. “Just letting a boy take control of House Lannister?”

“What, exactly, are you trying to say, Maester Creylen?” Jaime asked, doing his best to hide his fury and embarrassment in the face of the old man’s question.

“It is most unusual,” the maester stuttered. “You are quite young, my lord.

“Just three moons younger than Lord Robert was when he claimed his inheritance as the Head of House Baratheon.”

“Lord Baratheon was sixteen when his parents passed. Sixteen is the age of majority in these lands.”

“He is knighted,” Lord Sumner responded before Jaime could. “By tradition, that makes him an adult and eligible to lead his House, regardless of his age.” When the maester continued to stutter objections, Lord Sumner hit him with a deceptively kind smile. “Unless you would like to argue with the Sword of Morning regarding the lad’s fitness.”

“The matter is decided. Jaime is our Lord and Patriarch.” Uncle Tygette glared the old maester into silence. “Fetch your stretcher. I will gather guards to carry it.”

“Thank you, uncle.”

Tygette nodded and left, unsubtly prodding the maester to lead the way.

“Jaime,” Aunt Genna said coaxingly. “Lord Sumner was telling me of your difficult journey across rivers and hills.”

Jaime shrugged. “I wanted to beat Ser Arthur’s raven.” Thanks to the War of Five Kings, he knew exactly how he could get home from the King’s Wood the fastest way possible.

“You need sleep,” Aunt Genna said. “Come on.”

“I am going to stay with father,” he told her, kindly but unbending. “At least until the Silent Sisters begin their work.

“I have a ton of letters to write.”

“Jaime,” Auth Genna tried again.

“Let the lad be, Gen,” Uncle Gerion intervened. “It is just a few hours until dawn. I will stay with him.”

Jaime pointedly ignored his aunt and uncle as he helped Uncle Tygette load his father’s body onto the stretcher. He nodded goodbye to his aunt.

Aunt Genna sighed. “I created form letters for various occasions for your father. I will put them in his—in your desk for your review. The key to the desk is around your neck.”

“Thank you.” Jaime led the stretcher bearers and his uncles to the central stone room not far from the Lannister crypts. It was only used for one thing and that was preparing the dead. It was cold so deep in the middle of the Rock—better for keeping the dead.

It made him think of Winterfell. Not as he had last seen it, surrounded by the dead, but during King Robert’s one and only visit to the North. It had been summer and even then, there had been snow on the ground. Not that the Starks had noticed. From a southron point of view, the Northerners had dressed very conservatively because snow was an always thing for them. But even when they had gone south to King’s Landing, they had dressed the same.

As a former Kingsguard, Jaime was used to keeping the watch, standing silent for hours at a time. It allowed his mind to wander.

If he had to live his life all over again, he was not going to go through the same shite again. Where had everything gone wrong last time?

Joining the Kingsguard had been a fatal mistake. Allowing Cersei to convince him it would bring them together had been a mistake. How could taking a vow of chastity bring them closer together as lovers? Clearly, thinking had never been his sister’s strong point. He hoped without her influence, he would be better at thinking for himself.

Cersei had planted the idea of him joining the Kingsguard in King Aerys’s ear when Jaime had visited her just after he had been knighted but he had apparently managed to avoid that interaction. Would not having visited Cersei be enough? The King had taken Cersei’s idea—clearly, upon reflection—to spite and control his father. But his father was dead.

Mayhaps disclosing the more embarrassing aspect of his father’s death would satisfy Aerys’s sadism and ensure his own freedom.

King Aerys could not demand a Lord Paramount join the Kingsguard without the other Lords Paramount rising up against him, so gaining the oaths and loyalties of the West was clearly a priority. But King Aerys had murdered a Lord Paramount and his heir in Jaime’s first life, and he was not supposed to be able to do that, either.

Getting married would further protect him from both Cersei and Aerys, particularly if his wife was the daughter of another Lord Paramount—one with a firm hold on his lord’s hearts and minds, like House Stark…though that would run the risk of Cersei killing his wife in jealousy. He knew she had murdered Robert’s bastards in jealousy—poisoned a pair of twins born in Casterly Rock with her own hand. Someone that had no problem murdering children would have no problem killing an unknown woman their age.

…He would have to have the Private Lady’s Quarters prepared for Cersei.

Love matches like the one his parents had enjoyed was a rare thing. Occasionally even a King of the West could not avoid every heinous match he could be settled with. The Private Lady’s Quarters had been the answer to that problem. The lady’s every need would be met for the remainder of her life, while being isolated and controlled. The Private Lady’s Quarters were carved out of the Rock, and only accessible through a door in the outer surface of the Rock. There was a wooden staircase that curled out to greet the door. It would be removed, and the door bricked over once the unpleasant occupant was inside. The bricks would remain over the door until the occupant had passed.

It would not take long for Cersei to do something worthy of confinement in the Private Lady’s Quarters. Her pride and madness would drive her to do something to control their inexplicably new circumstances.

All of which would leave Jaime safe to pursue his lordly need for a wife. And soon.

The swiftest path to safety, so to speak, would be to marry the daughter of one of his vassal lords. The issue was all of his vassal lords’ daughters of an age with him had their matches made back when it became clear his father was looking for a match for him outside of the West. He could not wait from someone to be widowed, and any lord that would toady enough to cancel the match they made for their own daughter to gain one with the House Paramount was not someone he wanted as part of his family.

Outside of the West, Catelyn Tully was already betrothed Brandon Stark. Lysa Tully was both mad and madly in love with Petyr Baelish, if the future was anything to go by. Lyanna Stark…

Lyanna Stark was a possibility.

Her betrothal to Robert Baratheon had not been finalized until the Tourney of Harrenhal. As he was just knighted, the Tourney of Harrenhal had to be roughly six months away. It was likely the invitations had not yet been sent. Jaime would have to check his father’s correspondence. Six months was long enough to insert himself into the lives of House Stark and convince the current Lord of House Stark that House Lannister was a better match than House Baratheon. They were certainly closer and richer than the Stormlands. And he was willing to honor the gods of the North. Those gods he knew had power. He had seen it before he died. Certainly, House Stark would be the best option to instruct him in the ways of the old gods, the true ones. He could, mayhaps, leverage that for to benefit his plea.

And marrying Lyanna Stark immediately could protect her from Prince Rhaegar. Knowing Prince Rhaegar as he had, he did not believe Lady Lyanna had been kidnapped. He had yet to be married himself, but he did not see how Rhaegar could learn of the war and leave his wife to fight in said war without his wife finding out. But Lady Lyanna had never appeared. No doubt she been kept in hiding on Rhaegar’s orders and denied the right to go to her family once they were at war.

He might have to buy Prince Rhaegar’s favor to ensure it but that would be easy enough. There had yet to be a Targaryen that was not mad for dragons and Jaime knew full well how the Dragon Queen had birthed her sons into the world.

“My Lord,” Uncle Tygette addressed him as he approached. “The Silent Sisters are here.”

Jaime looked past his uncle’s arm to see the masked and hooded servants of the Stranger waiting in the doorway. Uncle Gerion was no longer in view; Uncle Tygette must have sent him off while Jaime was lost in his own head.

“They ask for privacy as they attend your father.”

“Of course,” Jaime agreed.

He motioned the Silent Sisters toward their charge and exited once they cleared his path. Uncle Tygette followed on his heels.

“We need to prepare the Private Lady’s Quarters,” Jaime told his uncle.

“For whom?”

Jaime sighed. “Cersei. She is…unstable. Without father around, it will become more obvious and…” he glanced at his uncle, “…I would rather not be a kinslayer.”

“Neither would I,” Uncle Tygette agreed, his tone was dark and solemn. “I will work on it. I do not believe the staircase has been deployed in a hundred years.”

“Is there an occupant?” Jaime asked, feeling slightly queasy.

“Not that I know of.” Uncle Tygette seemed to share his nausea. “I will check as soon as it is safe to do so.”

“My thanks.” Jaime nodded.

“And Maester Creylen?” Uncle Tygette asked.

“What about him?”

“He has yet to stop complaining about you. Gerion and I agree he is up to something. We do not know what yet, though.

“We secured his ravens.” Uncle Tygette handed him a key. Jaime took it and added it to his father’s collection. “There are guards on the ravenry as well. I ordered them to specifically deny Maester Creylen access unless he is with you or one of us.”

Jaime sighed. “I will add a letter for a new maester to the Citadel to my list.” He could order Maester Creylen to vow his loyalty on the heart tree within the Rock. If the man refused, Jaime would have grounds to execute him. If the man agreed, he would live to see retirement and could begin training his replacement when the man arrived from the Citadel.

“Are you off to bed?” he asked his uncle.

“That is my plan, unless you have further need of me?”

“Uncle Gerion?” Jaime asked.

“Gerion should already be out,” Tygette explained. “He was hardly on his feet when I sent him off. I sent him with a four-man escort. No need for any more of us to fall down the stairs.”

“The unexpected threat to our line,” Jaime offered dryly, “stairs.”

“They have killed the last two Lords of House Lannister,” Tygette pointed out.

Jaime did not have anything to say to that.

“Char,” he greeted one of the servants he was familiar with.

“My Lord,” The older man bowed. “My apologies, my lord. They just told us in the kitchens what happened with your father.”

“Thank you, Char. If you could send a tray of food to the Lord’s Solar? With a strong stimulant tea.”

“Of course, my lord.” Char bowed again.

“Thank you.” Jaime shook his head. He was physically tired, but he knew he mind would not allow him to sleep. He had much too much to do and too many horrors to get ahead of.

“Get some sleep, Uncle,” Jaime ordered. “I will need you, Aunt Genna, and Uncle Gerion for a meeting in a few days. If House Lannister is going to stand, we will stand together.”

Uncle Tygette gave him the most pleased smile he had ever seen stretch across the older man’s face. “Of course, my lord.”



Interlude: Letters



“Ravens, milord.”

“Thank you, Walys,” Rickard Stark said as he took the three little scrolls from his maester.

Two of the scrolls had knob-ends embossed with House Sigils marking them as official news from House Whent and House Lannister. The third had just a lion’s head on the knob marking it as private correspondence from the head of House Lannister. Rickard had no idea what Tywin Lannister thought he had to say to him, so he decided to leave that one for last.

He opened the raven from House Whent first.

“There’s to be a tournament,” he told his children as he read. “In just over five months. At Harrenhal.” He handed the raven to Brandon who sat on his right.

Brandon read the missive with a frown. “The prizes are massive. Not even Tywin Lannister offered prizes that large for the younger Dragon Prince’s nameday.”

“I did not think anyone had more gold than the Old Lion,” Lyanna frowned.

“The Old Lion certainly wants everyone to think that,” Brandon japed.

“Such extravagant prizes are suspicious,” Benjen offered.

As Ned was off in the Vale learning how to manage overt warfare, Ben was working with a different set of tutors at home to learn covert warfare. All to the benefit of House Stark, so the south would have to recognize them for the Power they were. He would have to send his youngest to Essos soon, to advance his training while keeping it secret. Rickard was not looking forward to it.

“I agree,” Rickard told his son. “See what you can find out?”

“I will do my best, father,” Ben promised.

Giving into the inevitable, Rickard opened the official message from Casterly Rock. He read the note. Then he read it again, not believing what he read the first time.

“Father?” Lyanna put her hand on his arm. “Are you well?”

“The Old Lion is dead.”

Brandon and Benjen dropped House Whent’s missive in shock as they passed it between them. Neither of them caught it. Rickard heard it hit the floor.

“What?” Lyanna asked weakly. “That is—”

“Impossible,” Brandon took the missive when he offered it. “The bastard is too bitter and cruel to die.”

Brandon,” Rickard scolded weakly. The man was dead, it was time to put the jokes about him to rest.

Brandon’s mouth dropped open as he read the raven. He passed it wordlessly to Ben who gave it to Lya without reading it when she poked him.

“This is signed by Jaime Lannister, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, and Warden of the West.” Lya shook her head in disbelief. “It does not say how Lord Tywin died.”

“Mayhaps that is in the third raven?” Ben offered. “I can see the lion head from here.” Benjen sat directly across from him at the round table they broke their fast on every morning.

“Mayhaps.” Rickard agreed but he doubted it. If it was something embarrassing, they would likely never know how Lord Tywin had died.

House Lannister would certainly never disclose such information by choice.

He broke the seal on the scroll and unrolled it. He could feel his eyebrows climbing higher with every word he read but he was not of a mind to shield his reaction from his family. What he was reading was so unlikely, he doubted his children would believe it even after they read it.

Still, his wife would come back from the dead to murder him if he did not offer their daughter a choice now that they had a second offer worthy of her.

“Lya,” he started slowly.

She set down her silverware and focused on him. “Yes, Father?”

“You know you are all-but betrothed to Robert Baratheon.”

Lya’s nose wrinkled, and her eyebrows pulled down. Her distaste was clear. “I am aware.”

“I had thought to send my approval with you and Brandon to Lord Whent’s tourney, but Lord Jaime of House Lannister has offered himself for your hand.” Lyanna’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “Both of these offers for you are from Paramount Houses. Regardless of popular opinions of the Lords, the Houses that are worthy of you. It is only right that I ask you if you have a preference. Status as Lady Paramount is worth consideration and both Houses off that rank but House Lannister is a Warden as well as Lord Paramount, as is House Stark. House Baratheon is not.”

“Does Lord Jaime have any bastards?” she asked Ben. “And if so, has he taken care of them or ignored his own blood and left his children for an unrelated nobleman to look after?”

“No children that I have ever heard,” Ben answered. “He was knighted by the Sword of Morning himself nearly a month gone, which implies a moral standard that should be above the fathering of bastards.”

The Sword of Morning?” Brandon demanded. “Lannister was squired to the Sword of Morning?”

Ben shook his head. “He was squired to Lord Sumner Crakehall. He stood back-to-back with the Sword of Morning and held his own while facing down the Kingswood Brotherhood—a group of bandits that had been terrorizing the Kingswood and nearby towns.

“He also defended Lord Crakehall’s life from the Kingswood Brotherhood.” Benjen gave his brother a mischievous little grin. “Lord Crakehall was extremely displeased to learn that Ser Arthur had knighted his charge while he was unconscious. Rumor has it, he cursed Ser Arthur out in three different languages for the offense.”

Lyanna laughed in delight.

“At Lord Jaime’s insistence, Lord Crakehall’s party immediately rode for Casterly Rock in an attempt to beat the ravens. He wanted to tell his father the story himself.” Ben sighed. “I do hope he made it.”

Rickard did too, poor lad. To perform a series of feats that were sure to become modern legends only to turn around and lose his father. And take his father’s place as lord on top of all that. It could not be easy.

“Lya?” he asked to remind his daughter that he was waiting for her decision.

“I choose Ser Jaime, of course,” she huffed. “I could never trust Robert Baratheon with my children with how he sires bastards all over the Vale and leaves them for Ned to take care of. Ben is right that being knighted by Ser Arthur Dayne does imply a higher moral standard than that.”

“He has offered to come to Winterfell to meet you and discuss terms, if you are amiable.”

“That is more than Robert offered,” Brandon said with a snort.

Rickard inclined his head in agreement. It was a more of a Northern tradition than a southron one, to meet your match before making a formal agreement between Houses—but it was an important one. The Southron way opened both Houses to conflict should the married couple prove unable to properly bind the two Houses.

Rickard thought it reflected well on Lord Jaime that he knew enough to offer such a thing. That he had put in the effort to learn.

Not that he held Lord Robert’s lack of interest in meeting against the Lord of Storm’s End…but, no, he did. Southron ways or not, all Lord Robert had to do was follow Ned home once and he would have respected Northern tradition. But he had not. Lord Robert could not be bothered. Not once in all their years of friendship and fostering.

Instead, Robert had taken Rickard’s agreement to consider the marriage as a solemn oath and gone off to slate his lust in whores and smallfolk.

“You get to choose your betrothal,” Brandon said to his sister. Rickard did not understand the face his firstborn was making. “I am mad with jealousy over that.”

“What? You had the chance to meet her before—” Rickard stopped. Had he made a mistake with his son?

“Before agreeing to the match?” Brandon asked. “I met her days before our betrothal feast in the Riverlands with all of her father’s bannermen around us. It was not safe to say no!”

Rickard’s stomach sank. He had made a mistake. “I apologize.” It was the only thing he could say.

Brandon frowned. “The trade deals that are feeding us right now are dependent on my marrying the Fish.” Brandon sighed.

“And you do not want her? At all?” Rickard asked, for clarity.

“She’s pretty enough but—”

“But Brandon’s in love,” Lyanna sang teasingly.

That was news to Rickard. “With who?”

“Does it matter?” Brandon asked bitterly.

“Brandon,” Rickard prodded.

“Barbrey Ryswell.”

Rickard… he did not know what to say to that. “Lady Barbrey Ryswell?”

Brandon nodded.

“Did Ned not…tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Brandon demanded.

“Ned agreed to marry Barbrey Ryswell the last time he was home,” Rickard told his son. “She agreed as well. We are waiting for her father’s consent to formalize the betrothal.”

What?” Brandon sat back in his chair, looking faint.

“Roose Bolton recently married Lady Barbrey’s older sister, Lady Bethany. Binding the Bolton mainline to the Stark secondary line through sisters of a third House is the safest way to bind House Bolton to House Stark. It allows us to share blood without House Bolton gaining any right to Winterfell.”

House Bolton was the most difficult and rebellious vassal House to House Stark. Just as their ancestors, the Red Kings, had been the most bitter enemies of the Kings of Winter. Rickard figured they would be a pain in the collective Stark ass until one or both Houses were dead.

“Why would he agree to—?” Brandon shook his head, looking lost. “But I love her.”

“Does he know you love her?” Lyanna asked, sharply. “He spends most of the year in the Vale and you do not write to him.”

“I write to him!” Brandon protested hotly.

“That is a lie,” Lyanna denied, matching her brother’s vehemence. “I know you do not because I write to him and he asks about you in every single letter he sends me.”

Brandon deflated. “No, I do not write him,” he admitted. “Did you tell him…?”

“That you are in love with his betrothed? No, how could I? As far as I knew it was a secret until just now.”

“It hardly matters,” Brandon said dismissively. “I have to marry the Fish. We need them. And House Bolton is too dangerous to allow so close to House Stark. Future heirs being direct blood cousins,” Brandon shook his head. “Cousins by marriage is as close as we can allow. Father is right about that.”

At least his heir had some sense, Rickard thought as he exhaled in relief.

“What if Lady Catelyn were to reject your suit?” Benjen asked, and Rickard felt his heart sink.

“What—” Brandon hesitated. “What do you mean?”

“You are not going to allow her to build a sept in Winterfell, right?” Ben asked. “Or allow septas to raise your children like they do in the south?”

Rickard’s figured his look of distaste had to match those Lyanna and Brandon were wearing.

“No!” was Brandon’s eventual response. “The Seven have no place in Winterfell.”

“Would you even consider yourself married if the ceremony was held in a sept? Vows given before the Seven?”


“Father, I think Brandon needs to take a trip to Riverrun,” Benjen announced. Then he focused on Brandon, “I think you should make it clear what your stance is on the Seven as kindly and politely as possible. Start to teach her about our gods. Insist on a wedding before a heart tree and one before a septon so you will be equally bound under both of your beliefs. Ask what the septas that attend her will do after she goes North. That kind of thing.

“Be very careful to be entirely polite but do not relent on your stance against the Seven. I give it two weeks and she will demand her father end your match. If he does, the betrothal contract will default in our favor, gaining us more trade goods—twice the term, at the same price.”

“You read our trade deals,” Rickard said.

“Maester Walys insisted,” Benjen said in explanation. “We made it a game to see how we could in theory get the most out of the Riverlands with the least commitment on our parts. The marriage is a good deal but the penalties for either side cancelling are steep. We can use that to our advantage. Worse case, Brandon still has to marry her, but she will know what to expect and have no ground to stand on when she hates her life in the North.”

“That does not get me Barbrey, though,” Brandon said in objection.

“Do you actually want to marry a woman that has sought your heart after already agreeing to marry your brother?” Ben asked with a confused frown. “Would you hurt Ned by fathering children on his wife and leaving him to raise your bastards, entirely ignorant? Because that is awful behavior. You both deserve better.”

“Yes,” Brandon said with a sigh. “We do.

“Father, I would like to go to Riverrun so my betrothed can learn about her future. And to give me room to—” Brandon scrubbed his hands over his face, “—get over my attachment to Lady Barbrey.”

“You are not going to the Riverlands, the seat of Lord Tully’s power with intent to infuriate his daughter,” Rickard denied. “I know how I would react is someone upset Lya like that in my domain. No one would save them from me. I prefer you alive.”

Brandon nodded, agreeing his point was true.

“You are going nowhere near the Rylls for the next ten years, should I live that long,” Rickard declared.

Clearly, House Ryswell had been playing some game for more power in the North by playing with two of his sons’ hearts. Rickard would not tolerate such untoward behavior. He certainly would not welcome such people into his House.

“I am withdrawing my offer of Ned to House Ryswell.”

“And,” Rickard said, “your brother raises a good point. I do agree that Lady Catelyn deserves a warning of the changes she is facing after your marriage. I will invite her to the North so that she may see and experience her future station. I will explicitly ban septons and septas from the North in my letter to Lord Hoster as they would not be welcome in Winterfell. They will have to find someone else to chaperone the girl.”

“Maybe they will send the Blackfish!” Ben declared.

Lyanna grinned and nodded her agreement. “I would love to meet him!”

His two youngest children had stayed as to be the Starks in Winterfell when the betrothal feast had come around. They had missed meeting the legendary Ser Brynden “Blackfish” Tully and they had not let him forget it.

“I will see what I can do.” Rickard frowned. “And I will call your brother Ned home so we all may evaluate young Lord Jaime.”

“Ned could use a reminder that he is a Stark,” Ben said.

Brandon frowned but nodded his agreement. “Before all that High as Honor turns his head any further.”

“Ben, you—and you, Brandon—will attend Lord Tywin’s funerary rites,” Rickard said with finality. “We have been invited to honor him as he lies in state. Lord Tywin was Hand of the King for nearly twenty years, it is likely all Lords Paramount will either be there or send representatives. Ben, this is an opportunity to expand your connections and test your training. Brandon, you will ensure your brother’s safety.”

“You can see how Lord Jaime behaves at home and how he treats his siblings,” Lya added. “I would dearly like to know more about him before you bring him home to me.”

“Good point, Lya,” Rickard agreed. “You will ride for Barrowton in the morning, my lads. I will write to House Dustin and instruct them to have a ship ready to take you to Casterly Rock when you arrive.”

“Yes, Father,” both of his sons said simultaneously in agreement.



“It seems Lord Tywin of House Lannister has passed,” Lord Hoster Tully told his household and guests at lunch.

Like it was nothing.

Like it was just…common news.

For his part, Kevan sat, numb and confused, staring at the missive in his hand. Tywin was dead. Tywin had died and he had not been there. His siblings had agreed to support Jaime as their Lord and Kevan had not been there. He was sat in Riverrun negotiating trade deals and dangling a betrothal before Hoster Tully while his family was in turmoil.

Lord Tully’s daughters turned sad eyes in his direction and, suddenly, he hated them.

He hated Lord Tully even more than his daughters and vowed that Jaime would never marry into this wretched family.

“I must leave,” he stood. “My family needs me.”

“Of course, of course,” Lord Tully agreed condescendingly. The fucker.

“Finish your meal,” Ser Brynden ordered. “If you are willing, I can arrange a boat to take you and about half of your party down the Tumblestone to Ashemark. From there it should be a little more than a week’s ride to the Rock. Get you home in two weeks, all together.”

Clearly, Ser Brynden was the only member of House Tully worth a damn. If he could lure the man to the West, he would see him well stationed and richly rewarded.

Kevan sat. “My thanks, Ser Brynden. How many of my party will I have to leave behind?”

Ser Brynden stood. “I will see what boats we have available. If you are willing to pack light and only take one remount each, you should be able to take ten of your armsmen with us.”

That was certainly enough to make it home through friendly territory despite the chaos some might indulge in with the death of the Great Lion.

“Your efforts on behalf of House Lannister will not be forgotten,” Kevan swore as he returned to his seat.

Ser Brynden gave him what might be considered a silly smile. Kevan had never seen such a look on the man’s face before. “A Lannister always pays his debts.” If he did not know any better, he would say the man was teasing him.

“Indeed,” Kevan agreed with all due gravity.

“Maesters Luwin and Angus will be available to you to send any ravens you need,” Lord Hoster offered, clearly trying to gain his own claim on a debt from House Lannister. “Ashemark, Casterly Rock, King’s Landing. Whatever you need.”

Kevan nodded and focused on his meal.

“Would you tell us about your brother?” Lady Catelyn asked. “What did you love most about him?”

As is Kevan would break Tywin’s confidences just because his brother was dead.

“I appreciate your desire to help me mourn but my brother would be most offended if I spoke of our good memories to someone that is not a Lannister,” he let the lass down easy. As easily as he could be bothered to, anyway. “I will say he was stern and proud but not without love or humor.

“I was proud to be the one he trusted above all others and I hope to be the same for his son, our new Lord Jaime.”

Kevan focused on Hoster Tully as the table’s courses were exchanged. “Any trade deals we signed in good faith before the arrival of this news will be honored, I promise you.”

“And the betrothal?” Lord Hoster asked with a raised eyebrow.

There was absolutely zero chance in any of the Seven Hells Kevan would advocate for his lord to marry the weak, simpering mess that was Lysa Tully. Lady Catelyn could become tolerable with proper training and great, constant distance from her father but Lady Lysa did not deserve a place in House Lannister’s golden halls. She was certainly unworthy of Standing as their Lady.

Kevan gave the man a close-lipped smile that did not reach his eyes. “Unfortunately, any negotiations or agreements not concluded before this news arrived will have to be postponed until Lord Jaime has decided in what direction he wishes to take our House.”

“I have other offers for my daughter,” Lord Hoster warned. “If we do not come to an agreement, I will have to take these other offers into consideration.”

“Do as you will,” Kevan said neutrally. “I can make no promises for my House until I know my Lord’s terms. I am sure you understand.”

Hoster Tully’s frown was ferocious but he did not voice any further efforts to bring House Lannister to heel. Kevan rather hoped the man choked on his words.

And his misplaced pride.

And his hateful little castle.

He understood Tywin had been seeking better trade deals with his offer to join their two Houses but Kevan would rather attempt to live off of sand than call a daughter of Hoster Tully the Lady of House Lannister

“If you will excuse me.” Kevan stood. “I need to give my men their instructions and start the maids to packing.”

An hour later, Kevan was leading his own horse onto the river barge set aside for his use. He turned back to fetch his remount only to see Ser Brynden waiting to lead his own two horses up the ramp.

“You are coming as well?”

“Been a while since I travelled,” the Blackfish confirmed. “Be good to stretch my legs a bit. Never been so far west as Casterly Rock.”

“Your brother insisted,” Kevan guessed.

Brynden Blackfish laughed. “My brother denied my request to leave…Until I reminded him that Riverrun needs allies in the West and paying our respect to their fallen lord would only help.” Ser Brynden grimaced. “He changed his mind but then he tried to send Lysa along, too.”

“This sort of travel is not suitable for a lady, particularly one so young as Lady Lysa,” Kevan said with a frown. “Travelling with the wagon train would be no better and they will not reach the Rock before my brother is put to rest.”

“I talked him out of it,” Ser Brynden said. “Same arguments, too.”

Kevan nodded his thanks. “We are the last to board.”

“Well, let us get a move on.” Ser Brynden passed him the reins to his remount. “Best thing about a boat with a crew this big, they do not have to stop for the night and it will not hurt the horses.”

“Good thing,” Kevan agreed.


King’s Landing

“And that is why…eh?” Grand Maester Pycelle turned from his lecture to the raven landing on the window ledge. Rhaegar had never been more glad to see a bird. “What is this?” Pycelle asked rhetorically.

Rhaegar could see the endcap on the scroll. The message was from House Lannister.

The Grand Maester popped the sealing wax and read the message. Then he collapsed back onto the chair behind him, looking faint.

Rhaegar snatched the scroll out of the air before it could hit the floor and read the message.

Lord Tywin Lannister was dead. His Hand was dead.

And, yet, by weight Rhaegar could tell there was a second message hidden in the message tube itself.

“That is a very important message.” Pycelle tried to stand but failed. “The king needs to know immediately!”

“I will take it to him,” Rhaegar promised. He checked the position of the sun. His father should be in the Small Council Chamber. King Aerys made a point of being faithful to the Small Council when Lord Tywin was absent from King’s Landing. Just as he made sure to be the opposite when Lord Tywin was present.

“Oh.” Pycelle scrubbed shaking hands over his face. “My thanks, my prince. If you would.”

“I will. And I will make your excuses to the Small Council,” Rhaegar said.

Pycelle just nodded, staring vacantly as he was into space.

Rhaegar walked until he left the Maester’s tower completely and ducked into an empty room, signaling Ser Oswell to keep watch while Ser Arthur joined him inside.

He twisted and pulled so the lion cap as came off as Lord Tywin had once demonstrated and shook the small roll of paper out of the message scroll’s shaft. The greeting and ending were in Westerosi common. The middle paragraph made no sense until he noticed the symbol Jaime had used to dot the ‘i’ in his name.

Years ago, Jaime had struggled to learn to read and write. Lord Tywin had been forced to oversee those lessons himself, but Rhaegar had been the one that made reading and writing fun for young Jaime. Jaime was the closest thing to a little brother he had at the time and devising secret codes just for the two of them had been a joy for them both.

Rhaegar flipped the message over, as the symbol indicated. The highly stylized High Valyrian nonsense became a slightly less stylized Old Valyrian script.

Brother, it read. I need you to come to Casterly Rock with all available speed. Bring a dragon egg and the Spider. Both are very important. Your dreams may yet come true.

Rhaegar frowned. His dreams? With a dragon egg? His heart raced at the implications. Had Jaime learned how to hatch a dragon? And Jaime’s first response to gaining that knowledge was to write to him? To privately write to him, no less.

If Jaime managed to hatch him a dragon— Rhaegar had to sit down.

If Lord Jaime of House Lannister had learned how to hatch a dragon egg and did so. And if said hatchling bonded with Rhaegar, it would be the sign he needed to know the gods wanted him to supplant his father. It would be the first step toward saving Westeros from the Winter Without End.

It would be a debt. One Rhaegar could never repay.

But this was his foster brother. The son of the man that had raised them both, even if Lord Tywin had raised him within his own home, rather than in Tywin’s home as typical for a fostering. It still counted as far as Rhaegar could care. King Aerys certainly could not have been fucked to raise his own child.

Rhaegar could owe such a thing to Jaime.  Jaime was reasonable. A debt between them would not be ruinous.

Rhaegar tucked Jaime’s private note in a pocket within his doublet and re-attached the lion end-cap to the raven scroll.

“My prince?” Ser Arthur prompted.

Rhaegar grinned. He was thrilled and he could not wait until they were travelling and it was safe enough that he could share his knowledge with Ser Arthur. “We are going to Casterly Rock.”

“And the plan, Your Grace?”

“It is on,” he assured his most loyal friend. The weight of his father’s crimes on the Kingsguard—that was ruinous. If Jaime could… if a dragon hatched for Rhaegar, his father’s right to the throne would be utterly gone. The Lords that came to his tourney at Harrenhal would have no choice but to march south with him to unseat his father.

Whether those lords insisted on putting his father on trial for his crimes and sending him to the Wall, or Rhaegar had to keep him secured on Dragonstone for the rest of his life, the situation would be settled before the year turned.

His mother would be safe.

The Kingsguard would be relieved. He would offer retirement away from the Iron Throne in apology for his father’s crimes.

He would be a fair and just king. Elia would be a graceful and generous queen. Their hatchling would be heir—hopefully with a winged hatchling of her own—until a brother came along.

He would have everything he needed. He could prepare the Realm for the Winter Without End. They would win. They would survive.

And it would all be thanks to Jaime Lannister, his brother in more than blood.

“Come,” he urged his best and truest friend. “We must take Lord Lannister’s news to the king.”

Ser Arthur sent him a frown for the lack of details but fell into place a pace behind his right shoulder easily enough. When they left their hiding spot, Ser Oswell fell in behind his left shoulder.

They made directly for the Small Council Chamber. If he handled the situation correctly, Rhaegar could have everything Jaime asked for and be packed for a departure the next day. Jaime had specifically requested speed so he would request his company pack light and send their extended baggage by ship south around Dorne.

Lady Cersei would be a complication. He would have to ask Elia to deal with her. The girl was entirely confusing to him, but Elia had already proven herself capable in that arena.

They entered the Small Council Chambers. The Small Council was gathered other than Grand Maester Pycelle though his father was still mid-production of his settling in at the head of the table and Lord Commander Hightower had not yet left his father to take his own seat.

“Ah, Prince Rhaegar,” Lord Qarlton Chelsted said in greeting with a shallow bow. “Have you any news from Grand Maester Pycelle? It is strange that he was not the first here.”

That was a good enough opening, Rhaegar figured. “Grand Maester Pycelle sends his apologies. He is indisposed and unable to make this meeting.”

His father regarded him with narrowed eyes. “Why?”

He approached his father, gave the bow his father required out of even him, and held out the raven scroll. “This is why.”

King Aerys took the message with a sneer. As his father read the missive his eyebrows began climbing his brow. A smile flickered to life on his face and then suddenly he was cackling, long, loud, and pleased.

“Tywin is dead!” the King crowed. “Fell to his death on the stairs. Like his father before him! After visiting a whore, too, I wager!”

“This is a grave loss for the Realm,” Lord Commander Hightower intoned seriously.

King Aerys waved a hand dismissing the concern. “He has already been replaced by his son. A good, humble boy, Lord Jaime. He knows his place.”

“Lord Jaime invited the Crown to the funeral,” Rhaegar interjected.

“You will go for the Crown,” his father ordered. “Take your wife. And Tywin’s useless harlot of a daughter, too. Leave her there and affirm to the boy that he is Warden of the West, he left it out of his signature, and bring me back the Hand badge. Tywin took it with him, I want it back!”

Rhaegar bowed. “With your permission, I would ask Lord Varys to accompany me. We must be certain Jaime is worthy of standing as a Warden of your Realm, my king. There is no telling how Tywin trained the lad and Varys is our best option to uncover the truth.”

“Yes! Yes! You are wise, my son. Varys! Go, pack!”

“I will be ready to leave at dawn.” The Spider stood and bowed. “What of Grand Maester Pycelle? He was a dear friend of Lord Lannister, was he not?” The man simpered the last. It was annoying.

“If he goes, he is not welcome back!” King Aerys spit.

Apparently, friendship with the Great Lion himself was a crime now.

“I will convey your will to him,” Rhaegar promised. He rather hoped the Grand Maester came with them. He would be annoying on the trip but a young, fit Grand Maester would do better work for the Realm. “With your permission, my king? We have extensive preparations to complete now if we are to leave at dawn.”

“Yes, yes,” his father cackled again. “Go now. All of you, get out! We have nothing important to do today.”

Rhaegar obeyed his father and found his wife in sitting room adjoining their respective bedrooms. She was sat, holding little Rhaenys’s hands as the small child bounced, testing her legs.

“Wife,” he greeted her.

“Husband,” she greeted in return. He took their daughter in his arms and Elia stood, presenting her cheek for a kiss which he gave her. “What news? You look—” Princess Elia frowned and tipped her head to one side in a questioning manner.

“Lord Tywin Lannister has died. My father is wildly pleased.”

Elia’s face formed a soft moue of distaste. His princess did not take pleasure in the misfortune of others. She was too well-bred for that.

“When will you be leaving for Casterly Rock?” she asked instead.

We will leave for Casterly Rock tomorrow,” he told her and she blinked in surprise. “The King’s orders. The three of us, Lady Cersei, Lord Varys, and possibly Grand Maester Pycelle.”

“Not all of those are names I would have expected,” his wife said in return. “How many Kingsguard?”

“Ser Arthur and Ser Oswell, I am certain of.”

“Speak to the White Bull,” she ordered. “Ser Oswell is more useful to us here and Lord Tywin worked closely with Ser Barristan for decades. Reverse their assignments, if you can.”

“Mayhaps all three? I had intended to travel light and fast,” Rhaegar admitted. “But with you and little Rhaenys along I would prefer to travel securely.”

Elia nodded her agreement. “We will need one hundred cavalry at least.”

“I had thought a full company,” Rhaegar admitted. “Two hundred soldiers and their fifty support staff.”

“It would take a full day for such a party to leave the city,” Elia admonished. “And we must not leave the city undefended.”

She did not mention protecting the king, and Rhaegar could not bring himself to condemn her for such a small and subtle slight.

His father had chosen to wed him to a princess of Dorne and then taken every opportunity to insult his wife and their daughter for being Dornish. It was ridiculous. He and Elia had been forced to send her younger brother away lest he murder the king for his constant insults.

“I will write my brothers,” his wife decided. “Mayhaps, one of them will join us on the journey.”

Rhaegar figured Oberyn would certainly join them. The man had never forgiven Lord Tywin for his insulting offer of marriage for Princess Elia to his malformed second son, Lord Tyrion. Oberyn would never forgive such a slight against his beloved sister.

A sister, Rhaegar was certain, that he loved in a very Targaryen way.

“Will you handle Lady Cersei?” he asked cautiously. “Tell her of her father? And get her to packing.”

His wife focused on him with a frown. Then, abruptly, she smiled. “Afraid to do it yourself?”

Rhaegar huffed. He might admit the truth, but Elia would have to work for it.

Elia gave an almost-delicate snort. “You are afraid of her! The dragon knight of our generation afraid of a half-grown girl.”

“Elia!” he objected. “She is a predator!”

Elia of Dorne laughed.



“I will be going to Tywin Lannister’s funeral,” Olenna announced to her family at dinner.

Her son, Mace, spit out his wine in surprise. “Mother!” he objected. “You hate Tywin Lannister.”

Her son. He always missed the subtleties. She would do better with her grandson. She had to.

“Tywin Lannister was an obstacle to House Tyrell’s goals and a worthy opponent,” she explained slowly, hoping he would pick up her meaning as she drew it out for him. “I never hated him. I respected his abilities.

“He was Hand of the King for twenty years. His funerary rites will be attended by royalty. It is the opportunity for House Tyrell to make connections and curry favor with the Lords of the Realm.

Her good-daughter, Alerie, put a hand on Mace’s arm when he opened his mouth to continue to object.

Generally, Olenna had no respect for House Hightower. They were presumptuous, too-proud cunts, but Alerie was a good-enough sort. Certainly, better than her son deserved. She was obedient and smart enough to realize exactly who to be loyal to without Olenna having to resort to out-and-out threats.

Not that she was fool enough to trust her good-daughter. She was a Hightower.

“Mayhaps, you should travel to King’s Landing, my love,” Alerie said. “You have long desired the office of Hand. It now stands open before you.”

The Mad King was more likely to murder Mace than install him as Hand, to Olenna’s mind. She would have to ensure Alerie did not think to install House Hightower as the power in the Reach should Mace fall while she was away from Highgarden herself.

“I have written to Mina and Paxter. They will be here in a week. I will sail with them to Casterly Rock. Janna will be going with me.”

“Do you intend to make a match between Lord Jaime and House Tyrell?” Alerie asked, eyes nearly wide enough to hide the plotting mind behind them.

“I would not object to such a circumstance,” Olenna allowed. “But it is highly unlikely. Tywin’s brothers would surely put a stop to it, assuming Lord Jaime could be himself convinced.”

“Last I knew, Lord Jaime was betrothed to Lysa Tully,” Janna offered.

The poor sod. Olenna had seen Lysa Tully exactly once, at the Tourney of Lannisport and she had been able to smell the insanity on her—over the horse manure and from the opposite side of the lists. Lysa Tully was three stone of crazy in a one stone sack.

“If that is true, I imagine he will be looking for a second wife soon.” Olenna sighed. “Be sure to pack your best dresses. At least one of them, black,” she ordered her unwed daughter.

“Of course, mother.”



“Brother!” Prince Oberyn cried as he threw open the doors to Prince Doran’s official solar. “Brother, you will not believe the news I bring!”

Doran regarded his brother flatly. “Lord Tywin Lannister is dead.”

Oberyn’s mouth dropped open. “How do you—”

“If you had returned when I summoned you two days ago rather than dismissing my messenger, you would have received this news officially, rather than from whores.”

“House Lannister sent us a raven?” Oberyn asked in surprised.

“House Martell and all of the other Paramount Houses, so far as I have heard,” Doran confirmed.

“House Lannister…” Treating them like an equal. Tywin’s own House. Treating Dorne like the power they were? After the unforgivable rudeness the Hateful Lion had shown their mother and sister not so long ago.

Something interesting had to have happened.

“I am going,” Oberyn said in a confident tone.

“Yes, I figured you would.” Doran held up a raven scroll. He tipped the scroll so Oberyn could see the Targaryen dragon sigil in gold atop the Martell sun-in-glory in orange. It was their sister Elia’s personal sigil. “She asks that you bring your daughters and two of my large travel chariots and meet her party at the Inn at the Crossroads in the Riverlands. She wants to shed her party’s wheelhouses there to increase their travel speed.”

“Of course,” Oberyn agreed. Anything Elia asked for, if it was within his power, he would ensure it. Up to and including sacrificing his own life.

“Your party will be ready to leave on the morrow. They would have left without you, if you had not returned today—a necessity if they are to meet our sister in the time she specified.”

Oberyn frowned. “My daughters?”

“Are packed. I have assigned a knight to each of them for the trip. Their septa will of course be charged with their welfare.”

Oberyn did not like the thought of his children travelling without him but, as he had entrusted them to his brother for his brief stay at the Water Gardens, he had no room to complain. And Elia had requested them—likely for them to keep her own daughter company.

“We will remain with Elia’s party for as long as we are permitted,” Oberyn said. Not that Doran would be surprised.

Doran nodded. “Then I will see you next at the Tourney of Harrenhal, I imagine.”

His brother knew him so well. Oberyn could never bear to miss the opportunity to needle those northern cunts with his superiority.

“Until Harrenhal,” Oberyn agreed.


Chapter Two


“Jaime.” Uncle Kevan gasped as he walked up the stairs to where Jaime was waiting. His uncle was clearly fighting tears at the sight of him. “Lad— My Lord—”

Jaime set Tyrion down on his feet and pulled his uncle into a fierce hug. It was not the most comfortable with his uncle in armor and him in lordly silks but Jaime refused to let go when his uncle needed him. Instead, he held on tighter and tighter until his uncle stopped shaking. A small arm went around his thigh and a face pressed half into his hip—Tyrion had joined the hug.

Jaime only pulled back when his uncle did.

“My Lord, I need—”

“I will take you to see him, Uncle,” Jaime promised.

He looked over his uncle’s shoulder to the two forms lingering there. The first was Ser Brynden Blackfish. The look on his face was the gentlest Jaime had ever seen the man point his way. The second was his uncle’s squire Addam Marbrand.

“Ser Brynden.” Jaime nodded at him. “Welcome to Casterly Rock. We received your raven from Ashemark and prepared rooms for you. You are welcome to stay as long as you like. You have done House Lannister a service, seeing my uncle home in one piece as quickly as you have. We will not forget it.”

Ser Brynden gave him a sharp nod. “Thank you, milord.”

Jaime gestured a servant forward. “You are the first to arrive, so you do not have to tolerate a long ceremony in the Hall.”

Ser Brynden snorted in amusement as the man presented him with a tray. It held chunks of fresh bread, a shallow bowl with oil, and a plate of coarse salt.

“Guest Rite?” Ser Brynden asked in surprise. Jaime just nodded as the man dunked his bread in the oil and collected a heap of salt on the oil. “There are not many Houses south of the Neck that still practice Guest Rite.”

“I find myself fond of it,” Jaime admitted. “In visiting various keeps as a squire, I found it stressful not knowing what to expect. Practicing Guest Rite clears up all of those concerns—a person knows what to expect when visiting a House they know practices Guest Rite. I believe setting the expectation in that way will lead to more peaceful gatherings.”

“I agree,” said Ser Brynden.

“Marbrand, will you take Tyrion and Ser Brynden to Aunt Genna’s solar? She is managing all of the guest quarters. Tell her the wake will be tonight—I will announce it at dinner.”

“Yes, My Lord.” Addam gave him a brief bow, scooped up Tyrion who cheered, and turned to Ser Brynden. “If you would follow me?”

Once they were gone, Jaime took his uncle’s hand. “This way.”

He kept his uncle’s hand as they walked deeper and higher into Casterly Rock. From the grateful looks his uncle sent him, Jaime knew the silent support was welcome.

When they entered the chamber holding his father’s body, Uncle Kevan gasped and started shaking again. The closer they came to the briar, the weaker the man grew until Jaime was nearly carrying him forward. From there, there was nothing for Jaime to do other than hold his uncle as he cried.

Jaime had never expected Uncle Kevan to cry—Uncle Tygette and Uncle Gerion certainly had not been moved by the loss of their older brother.

Jaime thought he had heard Aunt Genna cry, but he could not be sure if that was over Tywin or because Tywin was no longer there to stand between her and her Frey betrothal.

“You dressed him in armor,” Uncle Kevan eventually croaked.

Jaime pulled the waterskin off of the man’s belt and made him drink for the sake of his throat.

“The Silent Sisters were irritated that I demanded they wrap his legs separately so they would fit,” Jaime admitted. “It interferes with their preservation spells, apparently. They can only keep him fresh for two months rather than half a year.”

“Two months is more than enough for anyone on Westeros that is coming to pay their respects to arrive,” Kevan said.

Jaime nodded. That was what he had thought too. “Father deserves to go out doing what he dedicated his life to,” Jaime told his uncle. “Protecting his family. For that, he needs armor.”

“I agree.”

“We have received word from nearly all of the Paramount Houses and House Targaryen. No other Paramount Lords are coming but all of the confirmed representatives will be here within the two months I allowed in the ravens.”

“Nearly all?” Uncle Kevan prompted.

Jaime grimaced. “We have received no official response from House Baratheon. The official response from House Arryn conveyed their condolences but that they would not be coming. Lord Baratheon had affixed his seal and signature to that missive.”

“Awful.” Uncle Kevan frowned.

“Tasteless,” Jaime agreed.

“Mayhaps not,” Uncle Kevan offered after a moment of reflection. “Lord Arryn’s wife is said to be ill. It was a love match Lord Jon allowed himself after the wife his father chose for him died. If she is ill, Lord Arryn would never leave her side. Lord Baratheon is as a son to him. What son would leave his father’s side as such a time?”

That was fair.

“I had assumed Lord Arryn thought himself above us,” Jaime offered. “I know he thinks little of House Lannister in general and less of father specifically.”

Uncle Kevan nodded. “Your father did what he had to do and despite what many think, he was not pointlessly cruel, but many will hold Castamere over House Lannister for eternity. I think the song puts them off.” Kevan sighed. “And the fondness with which Lannister soldiers sing it.”

The Rains of Castamere was commonly called the Lannister Song but Jaime had never heard it played at home in Casterly Rock. It was traditional for House Lannister to employ a bard—the current one was one of his Lannisport cousins—but his father had expressly forbidden the playing of Rains in Casterly Rock.

Jaime had not rescinded his father’s order. Mostly because overplaying a song reduced its power—something Cersei had never learned.

“I pity their Houses if they cannot do what they must to save their families,” Jaime admitted. “I know House Arryn is High as Honor but I would think that House Baratheon who clings to their Fury would respect what father has done enough to come see him off.”

“Having met Robert Baratheon, I can tell you that he is a thoughtless boy. He will not realize the opportunity he has wasted by not sending a representative—possibly, ever.” Uncle Kevan sighed. “I fear the day he decides he is done playing games in the Vale and takes an active role in the Stormlands, rather than leaving it to his brother and their maester.”

“Lord Stannis would be a better lord by far,” Jaime agreed. Hopefully, he would be less of a dour bastard if they managed to avoid a Rebellion this time around. He knew starving had certainly soured him when it had been done to him during war. “Mayhaps the gods will smile upon us and Robert will not be a problem for long.”

Uncle Kevan eyed him speculatively. “You are planning something.”

“Not particularly,” Jaime admitted. “But I have offered a counter suit to his for the hand of Lyanna Stark.”

Uncle Kevan barked a laugh.

“The response Lord Stark sent me was largely positive. Non-committal but two Stark sons are currently on their way to Casterly Rock.” Starks did not leave the North lightly. Jaime thought it was a good sign that two of them were willing to come to the West. “I imagine Lord Baratheon will challenge me the first time he sees me if my suit is accepted and his denied.”

“We will need to start training you against war hammers,” Uncle Kevan decided, and Jaime nodded. He knew well how Robert Baratheon fought, but he was out of practice with a body as small as the one he was in. Practice was a good idea.

“You mentioned we would wake for Tywin tonight,” Uncle Kevan offered. “Has Cersei already arrived?”

Jaime grimaced. “Cersei will be among the last to arrive. The Wake is private. Family-only. To keep it private, we have to do it before the Lords of the West begin to arrive.”

“And?” Uncle Kevan asked leadingly.

“And,” Jaime echoed. “There were a number of unopened ravens from Cersei in my private chambers when I arrived at Casterly Rock. I was surprised.”

Uncle Kevan nodded. “We thought to give you privacy. One of father’s mistresses opened all ravens, regardless of who they were for. She would often respond to or destroy them without contacting their intended recipient. Father never corrected her behavior. It hurt us all—your father, myself, our siblings. Nearly destroyed our relationships growing up.”

“I rather wish father had read these,” Jaime admitted. “Uncle, Cersei is insane. In one of the ravens—a raven she sent from King’s Landing, no less—she demanded I come to King’s Landing to kill Princess Elia and her spawn, as Cersei dubbed her. It is horrific.”

Uncle Kevan scrubbed a hand over his face. “We cannot afford the scandal admitting she did such a thing would cause. It would be the death of us.”

“I have secured all of her ravings as best I can without burning them. I dare not burn them. If I did, we would lose any chance we have of controlling her.” Jaime paused when his uncle inclined his head in agreement. “I have had the Private Lady’s Quarters prepared. I know not how to explain securing her there, though.”

“We can claim emotional distress on her part,” Uncle Kevan waved that concern away. “I know you love her.”

His uncle’s statement felt like it did not belong in their conversation. It confused him. “Uncle?”

Uncle Kevan faced him head on. “I know why your mother separated your bed chambers.”

Jaime flushed in shame. “I did love her,” he admitted. “I followed her every order, fulfilled her ever whim. I did things I would never want to admit without a thought simply because she asked me to do them.” Jaime sighed. “Then I went out into the world and realized she was callus and cruel.

“I return home, our father dies, and I find her ravens ordering me to murder a child? Merely so she can seek power she will use to be more callus and even more cruel? No. I cannot love such a creature.”

“Mayhaps instead of the Private Lady’s Quarters we should reach out to the Motherhouse in Maidenpool,” Uncle Kevan said in a gentle tone. “They cloister their members in caves. Brick them in for the rest of their lives. Membership can be purchased for a fee.”


“You should not have to stand as her jailer, Jaime. And a noblewoman seeking the Faith in response to her father’s death would surprise no one.”

That was something to consider. Jaime nodded.

“May we speak of my siblings?” Uncle Kevan asked.

“Of course,” Jaime agreed.

“Your father had intended to force your Uncle Tygette to marry Lady Darlessa Swyft, born of House Marbrand.”

“House Swyft is on our border with the Reach?” Jaime asked to be sure. “Cornfield is their keep, correct?”

“Yes,” Uncle Kevan nodded. “It is vital we maintain that border without a battle for control.”

“Agreed. It sounds like a good match for Uncle Tygette and yet you object?” Jaime made it a question.

“Lady Darlessa is the last living member of House Swyft. She married each of the former Lord’s three sons in succession and each one of them died within weeks of the ceremony. There have been no issue from any of the matches.”

Jaime jerked back in surprise. “You think she is killing them?”

“No,” Uncle Kevan shook his head, “having met her, I assure you, she is a sweet girl. Biddable, not capable of either murder or holding a border seat. It is an ugly matter.”

“You broached it,” Jaime reminded his uncle and Kevan sighed.

“I believe she has a pox. Wedding her to Tygette will ensure his death. I do not wish to lose any more brothers, my lord.”

“If she has a pox, she will need treatment,” Jaime pointed out. “Such are often expensive and painful. Many die in the attempt of attaining a cure. When she arrives, we will have her examined by Maester Creylen. If he determines her to have a pox, we will send her to the Citadel with enough gold to ensure their immediate attention. She will sign over her claim to Cornfield to House Lannister, I will then give it to Uncle Tygette. Unless,” Jaime tipped his head. “Is your wife not Dorna of House Swyft?”

“She is but I would rather stay in the direct service of our House,” Uncle Kevan said firmly. “She supports my preference and would rather remain within the shelter of Casterly Rock. She is a very social person. I believe she finds Cornfield’s isolation stifling.”

“You spoke to her about this?” Jaime frowned.

“A wise man discusses everything of import with his wife first, my lord.”

Jaime snorted but nodded his acceptance. “Cornfield shares the border with Goldengrove. I believe Lord Rowan has a daughter?”

Uncle Kevan nodded. “Just four-and-ten, My Lord.”

“We will negotiate a match between them for when she is older. To ensure peace on our border with the Reach. Lady Olenna Tyrell is coming to view father and attend his pyre, we can bring her into our plan. I am certain she will support it.

“I agree,” Uncle Kevan offered. “The current Lady Rowan was born Bethany Redwyne.”

“A member of Lady Olenna’s birth House,” Jaime realized.

“I believe she is a niece of Lady Olenna. Your father had long been worried over Lord Mace Tyrell’s interest in gaining a foothold in the West.”

“Mace Tyrell is a fool,” Jaime said bluntly. “But this would be nearly a mutual foothold. House Lannister would gain some direct claim to Goldengrove with this match while the claim House Tyrell would gain will be no less than twice removed.”

“I agree.” Uncle Kevan took a deep breath. “And if Lady Darlessa does not have a pox?”

Jaime knew he could get the truth of the matter from Lady Darlessa without torture—he had seen more than one Trial Before the Tree during his time in Winterfell. If she was a murderer, there was only one thing to do.

“If she is a murderer…” Jaime sighed. He could make a quip about justice but he knew a more fitting phrase for a murderer’s fate, again, thanks to his time in Winterfell. “Valar Morghulis.”

He watched his uncle’s eyebrows shoot up but the older man did not comment. “Your Aunt Genna has been in love with Lord Sumner’s heir, Ser Roger Crakehall, for years. Your father delayed the Frey betrothal at her request, hoping Ser Emmon would grow tired of the wait and seek another bride so Genna could match with Ser Roger. Lord Sumner has denied match after match for his heir in the same hope. It is becoming an embarrassment for House Crakehall. Lord Sumner may soon have to choose between marrying Ser Roger off and disowning him.”

So that was why his father had squired him to Lord Crakehall, to counter the embarassment. That made sense.

“I will see what I can do,” Jaime promised. “I notified House Frey of father’s death—Aunt Genna was horrified but I had thought them already wed.” They had certainly been wed by this point Jaime had been knighted in his last life. Married with sons. He had not expected this life to be so different.

Uncle Kevan sighed heavily but Jaime could only shrug.

“Ser Emmon is on his way and I am sure he expects satisfaction.” Jaime fucking hated Ser Emmon of House Frey. The man was a vulture, perpetually looking to feed on the corpses of greater creatures. “I will take him with me when I travel to the North. His inclusion in my retinue will make him feel as though he is making progress in his efforts to marry Aunt Genna. I will have him assigned as the Mountain’s watch partner.”

Uncle Kevan snorted. “The man is a whiner. Time in the Mountain’s proximity will be his end.” Uncle Kevan sighed. “Still. His death would be easier to manage than negotiating a cancellation with Walder Fucking Frey.”

Jaime laughed in surprise. “And it will give me a reason to execute the Mountain That Rides. Two birds, one arrow.”

“Your father favored the Mountain,” Uncle Kevan offered like it was a question.

“And the Mountain favored father,” Jaime admitted. “But, without father, Ser Gregor is a feral beast without a cage, drooling after the smell of human flesh. The safest thing for all of us is to put him down.”

“I told your father that years ago,” Uncle Kevan agreed. “But he allowed the lie about young Sandor’s scars to hold and since then has been directing the Mountain’s destructive energies any place he could. It was too much investment on his part in one—admittedly large and skilled—young man but once he was upon the course, Tywin would not be moved.”

“It was both the best and worst thing about father,” Jaime agreed. “And Uncle Gerion?”

Uncle Kevan sighed heavily. “I do not know,” he admitted. “I was close to your father and that was the greatest of sins in the eyes of my brothers. I know he has no preference for the sex of his partner and changes partners often. I do not believe he has fathered any bastards but I do think he would be a doting father.”

“We need to have a family meeting,” Jaime told his uncle. “We were going to have one before I realized you were away in the Riverlands.” Jaime frowned as a thought occurred to him. “I do hope you did not promise my hand to Lady Lysa.”

“Not if she were the last woman upon this earth,” Uncle Kevan declared.

“That is something upon which we can agree.” Jaime shared a grin with his uncle. They could make this work. They could absolutely make this work.


“You are late,” his sister declared as Oberyn herded his daughters into her room at the Inn of the Crossroads.

“I arrived exactly as intended,” he countered, as he always did.

His sister was smiling when he looked up at her. “Is this a new little princess?” she asked. She stood and took his youngest from his arms. Sarella was just a year old, much too small to be allowed to wonder in a place full of strangers and horses and wheelhouses.

“Her name is Sarella,” Oberyn informed his sister. “Her mother is the Captain of a trading vessal called the Feathered Kiss.”

“A trading vessel?” Elia repeated and Oberyn nodded. “From?” she prodded.

“The Summer Isles. We met in Pentos. Her accent drew me in, I could not resist her,” Oberyn admitted.

“Are you trying to convince me you tried?”

Elia’s disbelief made him grin. She knew his so well.

“I had no reason to try,” he agreed and poured himself some wine.

Elia settled in to reacquaint herself with his daughters.

Obara was stiff and distant, clinging to her spear as though his sister would take it from her. Obara was old enough to remember his sister, but she was also old enough to remember the discrimination that was piled upon bastards and women warriors—and the Dornish—at the Red Keep.

Nymeria and Tyene were not an entire year apart and loved to play games together. They were developing his preference for games that confused and confounded those around them. Thankfully, they were too young to be very good at it and they had inherited his helpless adoration of his sister. He already feared the day he would have to remove them from his sister’s sphere.

Sarella and his little niece, Rhaenys, were of an age. It melted his heart when Sarella yawned and Elia had simply laid her in Rhaeny’s crib. The two girls curled together like a pair of kittens.

“Adorable,” Elia said with a gentle smile. Oberyn could not help but agree. “Girls, will you fetch your Uncle Rhaegar and Uncle Arthur for luncheon? It will be served soon within these quarters.”

“Yes, Aunt Elia,” Obara agreed shy enough to be obedient as she ushered her sisters out the door.

“You wanted to speak privately, I take it?” Oberyn asked, taking a sip of his wine.

“Are you still available for the strategic deployment of your cock?” Elia asked and Oberyn spit his wine—only away from the sleeping children thanks to a last moment twist of his neck.

“What?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“You told me, years ago, you would deploy any weapons you had to help me succeed as the future queen,” she reminded him. “You specified you would use either of your spears based on my strategic needs.”

Oberyn remembered that. He laughed, almost embarrassed for his younger self. “Both of my spears remain in your service, my queen.”

“I need you to seduce Cersei Lannister,” she told him. “And I would appreciate it if you were caught in the act of fucking. Preferably while we are staying with a Westerlands House.”

“Am I ruining her or marrying her?”

“Ruining her,” Elia answered immediately.

“Why am I ruining her?”

“She keeps fawning over Rhaegar and making suggestive offers despite the fact that he is married.” Elia pressed her lips together and let out a deep breath. “She looks at me as if she would murder me if she could, which is manageable. I have plenty of security. But she also looks like she wants to murder Rhaenys—and that is utterly unacceptable.”

It certainly was. “If I did marry her, I am certain I could drive her to seek the Faith within a year.”

“As long as you get a pretty blond haired, brown eyed daughter out of her, first,” Elia offered in amusement. “Doran could not force you to remarry once your wife commits herself to the Faith, if you have an heir before she goes.”

“I would rather he not think I was open to marriage at all,” Oberyn admitted. “She certainly does not deserve a place in our family, but her murder could start a war.” Oberyn shrugged and held his wine up for a toast. “I look forward to driving that vicious girl mute.”

That he would do so with his cock remained pointedly unsaid but not unheard.

Elia touched her goblet to his. “To situational mutism.”


The first guest to arrive was Olenna Tyrell.

He would call her their second guest, but he had made the mistake of joking to Ser Blackfish about possibly being related soon, due to his offer for Lyanna Stark and now the man insisted on being called Uncle Brynden. He would not answer to any other term of address from anyone in House Lannister—other than the time Uncle Gerion had jokingly called him brother.

Lady Olenna arrived on a ship that had Redwyne sails under a Tyrell flag. The captain sailed directly into the sea cavern under Casterly Rock.

It was bold but Jaime could not even pretend to be surprised by her behavior. Outside of mayhaps two trusted traders and family-guided vessels, visitors to Casterly Rock would dock in Lannisport and travel over land to the Rock. Partially because of his father’s security directives for the Rock, partially because the ground-level entrances were much higher in the body of the keep than the ocean cave entrance.

“My lady,” Jaime greeted the dowager lady of House Tyrell with an incline of his head.

“Lord Jaime,” she returned. “May I introduce my daughters? Lady Mina Redwyne and Lady Janna Tyrell. My good-son, Lord-Captain Paxter Redwyne.”

“It is a pleasure,” Jaime nodded to them each in turn. “With me are my uncles, Ser Kevan and Ser Brynden. As well as my brother and heir, Lord Tyrion.”

“The Citadel chartered three maesters with us on their trip here,” Lady Olenna raised a demanding eyebrow.

He was not going to tell her he was replacing Maester Creylen. He would not have to. He was certain she would divine what he was planning to do and why. Even in Casterly Rock. “Uncle Kevan, if you would?”

“Of course, milord,” Kevan handed Tryion off to Ser Brynden—like that was normal. Then he signaled the maesters to follow him and left the sea cavern through one of the lower exits.

Lady Olenna raised an eyebrow. “You call Ser Brynden Tully your uncle? And your family accepts this claim. I thought it a foolish rumor that your father was going to give you away to Lysa Tully.”

“My father did not manage to give me away before he passed,” Jaime admitted with a small smile. “I am attempting to give myself away, as you say, to House Stark. That is the root of my familiarity with Uncle Blackfish and my family’s approval.” Jaime offered Lady Olenna his arm. She took his offer and he turned them toward the stairs. “We will be taking bread and salt in the Gold Hall, then you will be shown to your rooms to rest and refresh yourselves before dinner.”

Lady Olenna balked at the golden stair leading up from the sea cavern toward the rest of the keep.

Jaime kept his face blank and raised an eyebrow. “There is a reason most enter the Rock by land,” he said, tone utterly even.

Lady Olenna huffed.

“Mayhaps you would join me for a private meal mid-day tomorrow,” he offered as he led her up the stairs.

“Looking for a second option on your betrothal?” Lady Olenna asked sharply.

“Hardly,” Jaime disagreed. “While I am certain Lady Janna would be a worthy Lady Lannister, I would never do House Tyrell the dishonor of taking her or you for granted in such a way.

“We are neighbors, the Reach and the West, we should be familiar with each other.”

“You have a very different leadership style than your father,” Lady Olenna observed.

“I would prefer to lead like my mother,” Jaime admitted.

“Oh?” Lady Olenna raised both eyebrows at him. “What was Lady Joanna’s leadership style, then?”

“She always stressed the importance of being nice. She told me that once you were cruel, no one would believe your kindness. So be nice, Jaime, she would say. Be nice until your enemies show you it is time to stop being nice. Then destroy them.”

Lady Olenna gave him a crooked smile, so much like her future granddaughter it almost hurt. “Is there any kindness you can give us for these stairs?”

“Ah,” Jaime turned them to the right and walked them down the hall.

It was not long before Lady Olenna was tugging on his arm. “Lord Jaime,” she scolded.

“Trust me.” He urged Lady Olenna as he guided her through two quick turns that were invisible to anyone that had not spent their entire lives navigating the Rock. He pushed open the metal-grate of a door they had found around the second blind turn.

“A winch cage?” Lady Janna asked.

“Of course,” Jaime agreed, ushering all of their party into the cage before sliding in and closing the gate. “The Rock was a functional mine for generations. Miners need a way to move goods faster than stairs would allow. Walking from the main halls to the sea caverns using the stairs can take all day. Particularly when weighed down.”

Jaime signaled that the cage was closed and soon they started moving upward.

“Is the Rock no longer an active mine?” Lady Janna asked.

Jaime gave her a very small smile. “That would be telling secrets, my lady.”

Lady Olenna huffed like Jaime was the worst sort of flirt. Jaime ignored her.

He did not have the time or energy to flirt. All he had was invested in his family and ensuring they had a better future than the last time around. He needed children—and soon—to make the lasting connections with other Paramount Houses that would allow him to rally them to the War for the Dawn.

And he needed to figure out how he was going to manage removing Aerys the Mad from the throne and direct Rhaegar to be a worthy king without having to take the position of Hand.

The last thing he wanted was to spend another day in King’s Landing. He hated that stinking city and the godsdamned Red Keep. He was not certain he could manage to avoid them forever, but he was certainly going to try.

Hatching a dragon for Prince Rhaegar was a step toward unseating King Aerys. The Right of the Dragon was the first law of the land. Recently, it had been interpreted as applying to the House of the Dragon but it had originally been written to affirm the right of only a dragon rider to sit the Iron Throne.

Once there was a living dragon again in the world, the law would have to be honored in its original meaning. King Aerys would surrender his throne or die trying to keep it.

His betrothal to Lyanna Stark was the heart of his plan to protect her and prevent the rebellion. Robert’s Rebellion had been the first in a series of wars that decimated the Realm’s resources in advance of the second Long Night.

He still was not sure what triggered the Long Night itself.

He figured it was either the fall of the House of the Dragon or the birth of a Stark-blooded dragon. He was invested in preventing the fall of House Targaryen so he hoped the cause was the birth of Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen VII. That he could manufacture.

If he handled things properly.

“We have much to speak about,” Jaime told Lady Olenna when he realized he had allowed the silence to linger too long. “As neighbors, allies in our service to the Iron Throne, and, mayhaps someday, friends.”

“Keep showing us the secrets of the Rock and we will have to become friends,” Lady Janna sallied.

Jaime just shook his head.

“I assume your son, Lord Mace, has taken himself to King’s Landing to seek my father’s former station?” Jaime asked Lady Olenna.

Lady Olenna frowned as though she did not understand why he would ask. Or, more likely, how he would know to ask. “He has. My good-daughter went with him. My grandsons have gone to the Arbor until I return.”

“Lord Willas is six?” Jaime asked as they stopped and he opened the grate.

“He will be seven later this year,” she confirmed as they exited the lift together.

He did not give her the time to ask him any further, escorting their party directly into his preferred great hall, the Gold Hall. A servant showed the rest of the Tyrell party to the lower tables while Jaime assisted Lady Olenna up the stairs to the High Table.

Lord Leo and his only child and heir, Lady Alysanne of House Lefford as well as Lord Ryam and his first son and heir, Lord Gawen of House Westerling were already waiting for them. Without either comment or complaint, Lord Leo moved down to the other side of his daughter to make room for Lady Olenna at the high table, Jaime noted.

Lord Leo was known to be a sour man but he clearly had sense. That was likely why his father had placed the man in charge of his army’s supplies during the War of Five Kings.

“Be seated,” Jaime ordered to those gathered in the hall—all of them members of the retinues of those sat at the table with him. As the gathered cooperated, he signaled for the serving staff to bring forth the necessary supplies. Bread, oil, salt, wine, and water were laid out in a fluid and skilled display of service.

Jaime took his own bread, oil, and salt and held it up for all to see. The Lords and Ladies at his table quickly followed him and were mimicked by those down below. He held it forward like a toast, again was copied, and they all ate.

“Welcome, all of you, to Casterly Rock,” he told them, still standing. “We have a number of official ceremonies to see to once our full number has gathered. I bid you relax and inform my staff if there is anything you require. Once all of the Lords of the West have gathered, we will have official meetings but, in the meantime, I will make myself available to anyone that would like to discuss the future of West.

“Dinner will be served in this hall in three hours. Until then, be well.” Jaime left the hall. He had work yet to do.


Chapter Three


“I honestly do not understand it,” Jaime admitted.

“Our tendency to commemorate events with tournaments?” Lady Olenna asked to clarify.

“Yes,” Jaime agreed firmly. “My maiden daughter is six-and-ten, we shall celebrate with violence! Yay!

“We have a new king, time for violence! Yay!

“The Lord has a new wife! Yay! Celebrate by killing people!

“We ended a war! Yay! Let us celebrate by killing more people!

“The queen had a son! Yay! How many people will die celebrating this new life?”

“If I survive you, I will insist your heir celebrate your life with a tournament,” Lady Olenna promised solemnly.

“You are a wretched creature,” he informed her.

Lady Olenna laughed in delight.

Jaime focused on his lunch until she collected herself.

Lady Olenna cleared her throat. “I cannot recall any wars being fought or celebrated since you were born.”

Jaime hesitated. This was the opening he had been looking for. This was why he had asked for a private meal with her at all—so he could practice his story in front of the most critical audience in Westeros. And yet, he hesitated.

Jaime set down his eating utensils. “I would like to begin by telling you that I am in no way a Dragon Dreamer or, as they are called in the North, a Greenseer.”

Lady Olenna raised a questioning eyebrow.

“I will also say that I know you will not believe what I have to say but I will prove it after Prince Rhaegar arrives and we burn my father.”

At that, Lady Olenna laid down her own utensils. “I understood your House’s tradition to be interment, not the pyre.”

“It is,” Jaime agreed. “But we are burning him for a particular purpose. Because he is the son of Kings.”

If a Dothraki Khal could be said to have king’s blood because he had made himself the Dothraki equivalent of a king, then Tywin Lannister certainly had king’s blood when his ancestors were actual fact Kings less than three hundred years ago.

“Very well.” Lady Olenna inclined her head. “I will endeavor to reserve judgment. Say on.”

“I fell asleep on the roots of a weirwood tree and the it gave me a dream.” It was a stump but that counted in his mind. His statement was even true, just not in this life. Certainly not in the way he would allow Lady Olenna to believe.

“A tree gave you a dream?”

“Yes,” Jaime said with certainty. “The North worship weirwood trees as gods. Before the coming of the Andals, our kin did as well. Is it so hard to believe they might have been right?”

Lady Olenna made a face at that but waved for him to continue. He knew from another life that she did not have the time for gods—she had always made her own fate.

“I saw—” Jaime shook his head. “—another life. One where I was taken as a Kingsguard right after my knighting—”

Lady Olenna made a noise of understanding. Like she finally knew why he had run straight home to his father—which was fine. That was what he wanted her to assume.

“—the Tourney of Harrenhal was held, but I was a hostage in King’s Landing. A hostage with a job, though it took me nearly a year to look beyond the supposed honor of my position to see myself that way.

“Toward the end of that year, Brandon Stark stormed the Red Keep demanding that Prince Rhaegar come out and die. He was, of course, taken prisoner and his father was ordered to King’s Landing to answer for his son’s crimes. Lord Rickard, the fool, came without his banners.” Jaime paused for a bit of wine. He had packed his memories of Brandon and Rickard Stark as far back in his mind as he could to survive with his sanity intact. Unpacking them for anyone for any reason was an awful experience. “Lord Rickard demanded trial by combat to prove his son’s innocence and King Aerys agreed. I expected I would have to kill the man or die trying.

“Then King Aerys declared fire would be his champion.”

Lady Olenna hissed as she sucked in a breath of displeasure.

Jaime nodded. “It was a perversion of our core chivalrous beliefs. The king had Lord Rickard hung by his wrists from the ceiling, in full armor. A bonfire was lit below him. Lord Brandon had been brought into the room and noose secured around his neck. A sword was placed just outside his reach and he was told that if he could free himself and cut down his father, he would be declared innocent and they would be free to go but Lord Brandon was beyond that. I could taste his horror and fear for his father from my place in the shadow of the Iron Throne.

“Lord Brandon strangled himself to death, trying to save his father. And that was not even the worst part.”

“Gods be good,” Lady Olenna muttered.

“Do you want to know the worst part?” Jaime asked.

“No,” Lady Olenna admitted bluntly, “but tell me.”

“King Aerys got off on it.” Jaime paused as Olenna quaffed her wine in a single go. “Right there on the Iron Throne, for all to see. The pain, the terror, the fire. The smell of burning flesh and hair. The echo of screams. And our king achieved an orgasm.”

“I am unsure I want you to tell me anymore,” Lady Olenna admitted.

Jaime nodded. “I will attempt to stick to the high points then.

“King Aerys the Mad wrote Lord Jon Arryn telling him of House Stark’s so-called treason. Then he demanded the heads of Eddard Stark as Rickard’s son and Robert Baratheon as Lady Lyanna’s betrothed.”

“Lord Arryn refused,” Lady Olenna guessed.

“Of course,” Jaime agreed. “Arryn, Baratheon, and Stark raised their banners and Eddard Stark led the most effective rebellion against the Iron Throne that Westeros has ever seen.

“Never doubt the strength of the North, my lady, for that is when they will kill you,” he warned her. “They might not be drowning in gold dragons like either of our Houses, but they have something more. Winter is in their blood and Winter is neigh impossible to defeat.”

“That is why you offered yourself for Lady Lyanna?” Lady Olenna questioned. “To add Winter to your Lion blood?”

Jaime nodded. “I also believe I can protect her from Prince Rhaegar. We are foster brothers. He will not touch my wife, especially after my father burns.” Because dragons would hatch on Tywin’s pyre. If the gods wanted that other horrible future avoided, if he is doing as they wanted him to, dragons would certainly hatch.

Olenna frowned for a moment but in the end shook her head. “That is what sent Lord Brandon to King’s Landing in a fury? Prince Rhaegar took Lady Lyanna?”

“Yes, I do not know what all happened,” Jaime admitted. “I was a hostage and rarely advised of developments but I do know Prince Rhaegar was slain by Robert Baratheon upon the Trident and I…” Jaime looked away. “I slayed King Aerys as he sat upon the Iron Throne.

“My father’s forces were sacking King’s Landing. The King ordered me to bring him my father’s head and then ordered his pyromancers to Burn them all.”

“He has himself surrounded by pyromancers even now,” Lady Olenna said, sitting up straighter. “He put one of the Alchemist Guild’s so-called Widoms on his Small Council as a special adviser.”

Jaime wondered momentarily if she expected him to not know the name of the Wisdom closest to the king.

“I executed Wisdom Rossart as he set off to ignite the city and then all of the lesser Wisdoms I could find. Finally, I returned for the king. He was still shouting it: Burn them all! Burn them all! He thought he would rise from the fires of King’s Landing a true dragon, to slay his enemies.

“I slit his throat.”

“Well done,” Lady Olenna commended.

“You would be the only one to think so,” Jaime shook his head. “Other than my brother, Tyrion who was the only one to ever ask me about it.

“My father’s men discovered me. Then, Ned Stark showed up and declared me The Kingslayer. From then on I was The Man Without Honor.” Jaime tried to pretend his heart was not breaking once again at the memory. The one thing he had always wanted was honor. More than he had wanted Cersei. More than he wanted Casterly Rock. More than he had ever wanted to win a battle or tourney, he wanted honor and it was the one thing he had been denied his entire life.

“They celebrated that war with a Tourney, I take it?” Lady Olenna asked, returning them to the point.

“Robert’s Rebellion and the Greyjoy Rebellion were both celebrated with tourneys. I am certain the War of Five Kings and The War for the Dawn would have been celebrated the same, if they had been won before I died.”

Lady Olenna choked on her wine. “The War of Five Kings?”

“Robert Baratheon was named king after Prince Rhaegar and King Scab were dead. He was awful at it but he had good men propping him up. Then Jon Arryn died and Ned Stark took his place. The queen’s bastard that she pretended was trueborn took Ned Stark’s head. Unfortunately, I suppose, Ned Stark had uncovered the truth about King Joffrey and made sure everyone knew.”

“Joffrey is a Western name,” Lady Olenna observed.

“My sister was that queen,” Jaime confirmed. He had, at one point, thought Joffrey and his siblings were his children. Talking with Lady Sansa in the North had revealed to him just how disloyal his sister truly was. And her extreme preference for Lion Blood—any Lion Blood. He could not confidently say that a single one of her children had been his. “Robert was a horrible king, that does not excuse her from maliciously failing in her duty, but I do wonder what kind of queen she would have been to a king that did not beat her.”

Lady Olenna made an unimpressed noise. “If she were inclined to duty, she would have done it. We all know what Queen Rhaella suffers at the hands of her brother-husband and she still beings forth pure Valyrian children for him.”

Jaime inclined his head. She made a valid point.

“The Five Kings were Joffrey Hill—called Baratheon—on the Iron Throne with my father and the West supporting him; Stannis Baratheon with a Red Witch of R’hllor and her fanatics at his back; Renly Baratheon supported by the Reach; Robb Stark seeking justice for his father’s murder and the return of his captive sisters; and Balon Greyjoy who cannot stand to be anyone’s vassal should he see another option. It was ruinous and could have been avoided entirely with some thought toward duty.”

Olenna ruminated on that for a moment before prompting, “And the War for the Dawn?”

“Lady Lyanna gave Prince Rhaegar a trueborn son before she was killed by heartbreak of his death,” Jaime told her. “Lord Eddard claimed this rightful King of Westeros as his bastard. To save him from the wrath of Robert Baratheon.”

He paused until Lady Olenna nodded her understanding.

“This son was the fulfillment of the Pact of Ice and Fire.”

“From the Dance of the Dragons,” she supplied.

“Yes,” Jaime agreed. “With the fulfillment of the Pact, the Night’s King woke. The Long Night returned. The Dead hunted the Living. Queen Daenerys Targaryen of Mereen returned dragons to Westeros and the Wall fell.”

The Wall?” Lady Olenna asked incredulously. She immediately waved him to continue.

“In King Snow’s twenty-fourth year,” Jaime agreed. “The Army of the Dead made it to Winterfell. The dragons fell and I died.”

“You have no idea how it ends?” she demanded.

“Not one,” Jaime admitted. “But. I believe it will end in our favor if we face the War for The Dawn standing upon a better foundation. More men, united as a single kingdom, not torn down and divided by war after war.”

“Why not avoid the war all together?” she asked. “Keep the Pact unfulfilled, prevent the Long Night.”

“The Long Night will come, one way or another. I believe it will come in my lifetime,” Jaime told her. “We have been given the opportunity to choose how we face it. That is invaluable.”

Lady Olenna inclined her head in acknowledgement. “What can we do now, then?” she asked. “You would not have told me all of this without reason. There must be something I can do to aid the effort.”

She was smart. Smarter and sharper minded than him—not that that was a surprise.

“I—The Citadel,” he said, going on instinct. “They hate magic, they despise the world of magic we live in and actively seek to make it a world of science. They hid Prince Rhaegar’s marriage to his second wife, Lady Lyanna, when such news could have ended the Rebellion and saved thousands of lives. Possibly, hundreds of  thousands of lives. This all came out when the Night’s Watch sent a man to the Citadel to seek answers on how to defeat the Night’s King four years before that final War. They are a threat to the dragons—we need the dragons to win the Dawn.”

“Does the Citadel have information on how to defeat the Night’s King?”

“I… was not trusted,” he admitted. “I was the Kingslayer and the only Lannister to turn up after my sister, the Ruling Queen of the South, promised her armies to the fight. I can tell you that it was at that young man’s urging that we were all armed with dragonglass and as much Valyrian steel as we could get our hands on.

“With standard weapons, the Dead had to be hacked to pieces and burned to stop fighting. A killing blow from dragonglass, however, returned them to the true dead and denied whatever magic raised them from reclaiming the body.”

“And Valyrian steel?”

“Valyrian steel was the only weapon that could slay White Walkers. They were the Night King’s vassals that had almost all the same abilities but, as far as we knew, they relied on him for their continued existence. Their weapons were made of magical ice that shattered even the finest castle-forged steel on contact. Only Valyrian steel could counter them.”

“Kill the Night’s King, defeat the Army of the Dead,” she concluded.

“Yes, but getting to him was a problem. He brought cold and darkness with him like an unrelenting storm. And he was surrounded by the White Walkers that were entirely invested in his safety. And they were surrounded by the Army of the Dead.”

Jaime rang the bell and waited as the servants assigned to the Lord’s Solar took their meal plates and served dessert in their place.

“I would like to point out that I have checked House Lannister’s records. We purchased Brightroar from a maester named Magnus who was the Archmaester of Metalcraft. In the certification document, he claims he forged it himself, so the Citadel knows how to forge Valyrian steel and deliberately did not contribute that to the War for the Dawn.”

“My husband has a pair of bastard sons I sent to the Citadel decades ago—their loyalty to me is assured. I will reach out to them privately to confirm the things you have told me that have already happened.”

Jaime inclined his head. “I have no objections to confirmation, but you will have proof that I speak the truth when my father burns.”

“Last point,” she said.

Jaime nodded.

“We do not have dragons,” she pointed out.

Jaime simply grinned at her. “Yet, Lady Olenna. We do not have dragons, yet.


“Morning!” Lyanna greeted as she slid into her usual seat at the breakfast table.

Ned, sitting in Brandon’s seat, grunted a response and curled defensively around his steaming mug of tea.

Ned was not an early bird like she and Brandon were. Nor was he a night owl like Ben. He was a dour mid-day pigeon. Such a dour pigeon, honestly, that she wondered sometimes if he missed shitting on the statues of White Harbor.

That was not to say she did not love her brother, she did. Truly and deeply. But she did not understand him. His time in the Vale had changed him into something most of the North struggled to understand. His only hope for future respect in the North was a proper Northern bride—a Mormont or an Umber, mayhaps.

“Morning,” her father returned the greeting as he joined them in his solar. He already had a fist full of ravens.

Lyanna spotted the golden wolf she had painted for Brandon’s personal sigil. He had requested a golden-eyed white wolf but the button at the top of a raven scroll was so small, the detail was immaterial, and he had settled for a golden wolf.

“What mischief is Brandon up to this morning?” she asked.

“What mischief was Brandon up to,” Ned corrected, “three or four days ago when he sent the raven.”

Lya made sure Ned saw her roll her eyes. This shite was why he did not fit with them anymore.

“Three or four days ago,” father interjected before Ned to respond to her disrespect, “Brandon and Ben were leaving Faircastle after enjoying Lord Farman’s hospitality. By my calculations, they should be landing in Casterly Rock either later today or early tomorrow.”

“In one piece?” Lya asked.

“As of the time Brandon sent the raven, yes,” her father said.

“And is that House Cerywn, I see?” Lyanna asked.

“Well spotted.” Father unrolled the raven with the black axe on a white field on the end cap and his eyebrows shot up as he read the missive. “We will be seeing Lady Catelyn later today.”

Lya exchanged a startled look with her brother. “That was fast.”

“Is Lady Catelyn not riding in a wheelhouse?” Ned asked. “How else could…?”

“We will find out around lunch today. Lya, will you notify the staff? There should be rooms ready for her party in the Guest House. The three of us will delay our midday meal to eat with our Riverland guests.”

“Our guests are being housed in the Guest House?” Ned asked, concern evident in the ripple of his brow.

“They are guests,” father emphasized. “Where else would we house them?”

“The heart tree stares at the Guest House. I have concerns about our guests being the focus of our Gods’ regard,” Ned explained.

“She needs to know, Ned,” Lya explained. “Lady Catelyn is marrying North. She needs to understand our relationship with our Gods. She needs to learn or she will never fit or prosper.”

Ned’s normally dour demeanor grew actively worried. “Will the North accept a Southron Lady Stark?”

“That is the question,” father admitted. “We invited her here to help her and educate her. It is for all of our benefit. We all want House Stark to succeed, that includes our future lady. Now, let us see to it.”

“Yes, father,” she and Ned agreed.

Hours later, the guards and the bells notified them of the imminent arrival of House Tully. She, Ned, and father gathered outside the Great Hall to greet their guests.

Lady Catelyn rode into Winterfell, just behind a pair of banner-bearing guards, astride a horse with a bright smile on her face. Lady Fish tossed her reins to a groom and kicked her right leg over so she could slide down the side of her horse. She was dressed in a blue and red long coat split down the middle with a pair of brown leather trousers underneath—like some sort of dragon queen of old.

Lya snuck a look at Ned to see how his pseudo-Southron sensibilities were dealing with the Fish’s mode of dress and scandalous riding of a horse and her stomach sank. Ned was staring at the woman in awe. He looked as though he had taken a blow to the back of his head from a war hammer.

Lya had a bad feeling about this.


“Aunts, Uncles,” Jaime greeted as he joined his family in the area that he had set aside for them to have private breakfast together.

When he was younger, he always had breakfast with his parents and Cersei in his father’s solar. But his father’s solar was too small for his three blood-uncles, one blood-aunt, and one aunt by marriage to dine with him. There was a large empty space in the family level between the over-large lord’s quarters and the three halls of smaller family quarters. Aunt Genna had been eager to decorate the space into a private family meal space and lounge when he had asked.

Once she had finished with the space, Jaime had immediately established his schedule. Private family breakfasts in the new space, private meetings over lunch in his solar, and dinner in the Gold Hall where all could see and approach him with their needs, up to and including scheduling private luncheon with him.

“Morning, lad,” Uncle Kevan greeted him with a smile.

His other uncles chimed in similarly while Aunt Genna prepared him a plate and set it at his customary seat.

She had insisted on a round table for their family meal space because a family meal was about family, not rank. Jaime had not argued otherwise. He had simply insisted she choose a table big enough to accommodate for their family, present and future because he certainly planned to include his future wife and children in the ritual.

“Uncle Gerion, I wanted to ask your opinion of Lady Alysanne Lefford,” Jaime said to his uncle.

“She is a cunning little thing,” Uncle Gerion allowed. “Intelligent and respectful of House Lannister, not overly ambitious. Why?”

“For the continuation of her line,” Jaime said bluntly. Uncle Gerion just tilted his head questioningly, so he continued. “I had lunch with her father, Lord Leo, yesterday. He is concerned about succession for his House—”

“As he should be,” Uncle Tygette muttered.

Jaime inclined his head in acknowledgement. “But he has learned the lesson of Viserys I and refuses to marry again. We documented his Will and I have control of the official document. If anyone usurps his daughter for any reason, he asks that House Lannister seize Golden Tooth, its lands and incomes and, if possible, restore them to his daughter’s line.

“I figure it would be better to support her claim from the beginning and help establish her line, rather than to profit from House Lefford’s devastation when the fools that think women are incapable of ruling rise up after her father dies.

“I wanted to speak to you before offering you as a match to Lord Leo,” Jaime admitted. “I know you love the sea. I would hate to make you miserable.”

Uncle Gerion smiled warmly. “I love horses as well. House Lefford could use some work on their lines, that work could keep me satisfied. May I sit with her for a few meals before I decide if I am interested in the match?”

“Of course,” Jaime agreed, “I believe Lord Leo would prefer his daughter enjoy a love match as he did so I will advise him of your intentions but make no promises.”

“My thanks, nephew.”

“You support women inheriting lordships?” Aunt Genna asked.

“Of course,” Jaime frowned. “As long as a person is properly trained for a job, they should be allowed to do it. Dorne has more than proved women are entirely capable as long as they are appropriately educated and trained.”

“Is that why you have not demanded the oaths of the lords that have arrived?” Uncle Tygette asked. “Do you plan to surrender your claim to your sister?”

Jaime shook his head. “No matter what Cersei imagines about herself, she has neither the training nor the temperament for leadership.

“I have not asked the Lords of the West to swear to me because tradition and law protect my claim until after father has been laid to his final rest. His rule is not technically over until that point and I want all of our allies beyond the West to be here for the swearing to make it clear to our vassal lords that even without father, House Lannister is strong. The Riverlands and the Reach are here. The North and Dorne are coming, so is the Iron Throne. These are more allies than the West has ever enjoyed, even before the Conquering. I think seeing all of those lords and ladies will make it clear that House Lannister is still a force and will remain one even once father is replaced as Hand of the King.”

Uncle Tygette chewed slowly on his bacon before he nodded slowly. “Gerion will marry House Lefford, Genna House Crakehall. What fate do you have for me?”

“I wanted to evaluate Lady Darlessa Swyft before we discussed it but, one way or another, you will be taking over Cornfield. Your House name will be up to you. If you want to keep the Lannister name, make your own variation, or you can take the Swyft name. We can marry one of Uncle Kevan’s children to your heir to reinstate the Swyft blood into House Swyft, if you choose that name.”

“What are you evaluating Lady Darlessa for?” Tygette asked.

“She is either a murderer or ill and accidentally killing her husbands in that way. She has married all three of the late Lord Swyft’s sons and they have all died within moons of their wedding nights. Aunt Dorna,” Jaime nodded to his Uncle Kevan’s wife who inclined her head in turn, “is the last member of House Swyft by blood because of it.”

“What do you think?” Uncle Tygette asked his good-sister. “Of these plans for your House’s lands?”

“I am entirely willing to marry one of my children to one of yours,” Aunt Dorna offered. “I would ask you to take the Swyft name so that it does not die out. I have spoken with my husband and our Lord Jaime extensively on this matter. I am not trained to rule Cornfield and I would honestly rather not return there long term—Cornfield is not to my tastes. Casterly Rock and Lannisport are much more to my preference.”

Uncle Tygette nodded. “Who will I marry? If I am to have children, I need a wife.”

“Once we have settled the matter of Lady Darlessa, I had intended to reach out to Lord Rowan of Goldengrove to negotiate for his daughter. Goldengrove is directly across our border with the Reach from Cornfield and would ensure continued peace on the border. House Rowan is an ancient First Man House that can trace their line back to Garth Greenhand—their bloodline is beyond reproach and certainly worthy of you.

“Lady Olenna is tentatively in agreement, pending the resolution of Lady Darlessa.”

“I tentatively accept,” Uncle Tygette said. “Do we know when she will arrive?”

“I have been keeping track of that for our Lord,” Uncle Kevan offered. “Lady Darlessa is approximately a week out from the Rock. Prince Rhaegar’s party is a week out from that.” His uncle paused and handed him a raven scroll painted with a peacock feather on the end cap.

“House Serrett?” Jaime asked in surprise.

“I have not read it,” Uncle Kevan said, “but Prince Rhaegar’s progress notification indicated there was some sort of issue regarding your sister and Prince Oberyn at Silverhill.”

Jaime pocketed the raven without opening it. Should it happen, he preferred to lose his temper in privacy. The gods only knew what nonsense Cersei had gotten up to, particularly in close quarters with so many princes and princesses.

“The North?” he asked.

“They should arrive later today or tomorrow depending on the courage of their captain.”

“Have we given them permission to land in our sea cavern?” Jaime asked.

“I had not thought to seek permission for them,” Uncle Kevan admitted.

“I have had the sewing staff creating Stark Banners since learning of our Lord’s intentions for his own marriage,” Aunt Genna offered. “They are ready. We can hang them about the entrances to guide them in.”

“I will sail out,” Uncle Gerion added. “Where was their last stop?”

“Faircastle,” Uncle Kevan answered because Jaime honestly did not know. He had other things to focus on. He had delegated the tracking of their guests for a reason.

“There are only so many sailing lanes between here and Faircastle. I will find them and bring them into the Sea Caverns,” Uncle Gerion swore.

“My thanks,” Jaime nodded.

There was some sort of silent communication between the various siblings at the table. Jaime waited it out until he was alone with his Uncle Kevan.

“Something you wanted to discuss?” he asked before Uncle Kevan could broach the subject on his own.

“It occurred to us that Tywin probably never showed you the Lord’s Library,” Uncle Kevan admitted.

“Why do I feel like you are not referring to the collection of books within father’s solar?” Jaime asked, amused.

“Because I am not,” Uncle Kevan agreed. “House Lannister has never held with the banning of books the Citadel or later the Iron Throne attempted to impose upon Westeros. We were quiet about it, but we collected each book as it was censored—or before, when we had the connections to know such a thing was coming.”

Jaime laughed in surprise. “House Lannister is hiding a cache of banned books?”

“Yes, my lord.” Uncle Kevan smiled gently. “You have the key to it around your neck.”

“Show me,” Jaime commanded.

Uncle Kevan inclined his head and stood. Jaime followed him into the secondary nursery on the family level. They walked through several rooms within the nursery suite until they reached a small storage room toward the physical center of the Rock.

Uncle Kevan stepped onto a slightly off-colored stone on the floor and the wall before them lifted and slid back a short distance. Jaime followed his uncle through the gap and down a narrow set of stairs. At the foot of the stairs was a door of ironwood bound in Valyrian steel. The lock set in the door was Valyrian steel as well.

“Secure,” Jaime offered.


Jaime pulled the key ring from around his neck and noticed his uncle turned his back until he figured out the correct key and used it. The door swung open. Something about its movement caused the stone door behind them to slide shut but Jaime did not take the time to figure out what it was.

The Lord’s Library was much larger than he expected. He had to take a set of broad, carpeted stairs downward to get a proper view of it. Three levels of books. Light reflected down, lighting the room beautifully thanks to a series of mirrors and the furniture had to be sinfully comfortable to make up for each piece’s awful appearance.

“All of these books are illegal?” Jaime asked in awe.

“Can something be illegal when it is thought to no longer exist?” Uncle Kevan asked. “Several of these have multiple copies. Your father did tell me that not all of the newer books matched the older versions we received so we have something of a historical record of attempts to re-create books of cultural importance. Our ancestors were too wise to turn away anyone offering a copy as it could be taken as a sign that we already owned them to those searching out copies.”

“Fascinating,” Jaime shook his head. “I would like to make copies of the true originals and make them available to the family, certainly. We probably have copies of books House Targaryen would want to buy their compliance with or just encourage their ignorance of my antics.”

“Oh, certainly. We have Signs and Portents by Daenys the Dreamer.” Uncle Kevan pointed one direction. “The Unnatural History by Septon Barth.” He pointed at a different section. “Historically considered to be the authoritative book on dragons from the time of Jaehaerys the first.”

“Baelor the Blessed had that one banned and burned, correct?”


It would come in handy when he and Rhaegar managed to hatch dragon eggs.

“Copies, uncle, I need copies made.”

“Well, we only have one of Septon Barth’s work. Fortunately, you have three new maesters you hired for our House, waiting for work assignments.”

“We need House Stark here first,” Jaime admitted. “I need verification that something will work before I get the maesters sorted—both Maester Creylen and the new men.”

“Very good, my lord.”


Chapter Four


“Lord Brandon, Lord Benjen.” Jaime greeted his future good brothers with a smile on his face and his little brother on his hip. The lad was old enough to wonder a large majority of the keep by himself, but it was faster for him to be carried and they both enjoyed the closeness. “Welcome to Casterly Rock!”

Lord Brandon was the first one down the gangplank. He was a large man with an even larger presence, wearing plate armor covering his chest and shoulders, leather and mail over his arms and legs and much more fur than one needed so far outside the North.

Lord Benjen, when he landed on the pier beside his brother, was tiny in comparison. Slim, quiet, built like an archer or a Lannisport free diver.

“House Stark thanks you for your warm welcome, Lord Lannister,” Lord Brandon said, stepping forward to offer his arm.

Jaime caught his arm with his own. “Jaime, please, certainly when we are in private. We are of an age and will stand as Lords and Wardens together.”

“Brandon, then.”

“Come,” Jaime urged. “There are enough lifts on this level to see your retinue into the Rock proper in good time. We should be out of the way of the Cavern’s staff as soon as possible.”

“Lifts?” Benjen asked as the brothers fell into step with him with only a handful of men at arms at their back.

“You have heard of Castle Black’s winch cage? To ascend the Wall?” Jaime asked.

“I am surprised you have,” Brandon admitted.

Jaime smirked. “Casterly Rock was a functioning mine at one point. One cannot achieve much function if it takes all day to get anywhere.”

“True,” Brandon agreed. He frowned at the ground as he stepped over a groove in the ground. “You have an open sea cavern that leads directly to lifts that take you directly into the Rock? How many times has Casterly Rock been taken by force?”

Jaime laughed. “None.”

“How?” Brandon demanded as he stepped over another groove in the ground. “The Ironborn are your closest neighbors.”

“The last time the Ironborn attempted to take the Rock, they came in through the sea cavern and thought to come for our lifts. They failed. First because the construction of the Rock makes the hallways deceptive. When we get higher, you will see what I mean, most of the turns have to be carpeted so they can be seen.”

“Huh,” Brandon grunted, “and the other reason?”

“The grooves we keep stepping over are portcullises.” Jaime stopped to point out how the grooves continued up the walls and even the ceiling. “The grates are kept in the floor above which is completely empty except for necessary support columns for the rest of the Rock and multi-ton stones made from the native materiel.

“When we are being invaded, we drop the grates and roll the stones over them so they cannot be lifted.

“When the Ironborn last attacked we dropped the inner-most portcullises and allowed them to enter the hallways. The defenders waited and dropped the outermost portcullises so the Ironborn could not escape. Then we used the other portcullis to section them off. I am told several Ironborn were killed by the dropping of the grates—a messy business, that—but after that our archers picked them off section by section, safely from the other side of the bars.”

“You made shooting galleries,” Lord Benjen realized. Then he flushed furiously. “My lord.”

“Relax,” Jaime said teasingly. “I will not harm you. We are heading to the Gold Hall for Guest Rite.”

“I did not think the South upheld Guest Rite.”

Jaime inclined his head toward the younger Stark lord. “My father certainly did not. I seek a different kind of strength than my father embraced,” he finished diplomatically.

Aunt Genna would be proud.

Lady Olenna would laugh and roast him in her most gentle fashion. He was convinced such was the only way she knew to express affection.

“That is why you have sought out our sister, is it not?” Lord Benjen pushed.

Was that supposed to be subtle? Jaime could not be sure. He would introduce the lad to Lady Olenna anyway. He would learn from her whether he wanted to or not. Even if all he learned was to stop blushing every time the wind changed, the effort would be worth it to Jaime.

“I believe your father should hear my reasons before I share them with anyone else,” Jaime admitted. “Who he includes in our conversation is up to him, of course.”

“Acceptable,” Brandon nodded.

They stepped into the mine lift and Brandon closed the grate when Jaime motioned to it so he would not have to put Tyrion down.

“You alright?” Jaime asked his brother as they rose through the levels.

Tyrion’s little face screwed up. “I don’t like the lift. It hurts my ears.”

“The noise or the pressure change?” There was not too much noise in the lifts, but the pully systems were not silent.

Tyrion’s expression of distaste grew more ferocious. “Not the noise.”

Jaime nodded. “We should not have any more guests come by boat. You do not have to ride them again until we leave for Winterfell.”

“I get to go?” Tyrion gaped.

“Unless you want to stay here.” Jaime frowned in pretend concern. “Would you rather stay with Uncle Kevan and Aunt Genna?”

“No, no, no, I wanna go!”

Jaime chuckled. “Then you go. But going will not free you from arms practice.”

Tyrion pouted.

The lift stopped and Brandon opened the grate without having to be asked.

“Thank you.” Jaime nodded and led them from lift to the Gold Hall.

“I see what you mean by the turns,” Brandon muttered as they passed the first blind turn that was picked out by a line of carpet.

“It is a security feature,” Jaime admitted. “The carpets can come up. The lifts can be locked so they can only reach certain levels. I cannot tell you all of it, of course. House Lannister takes the security of the Rock seriously.”

“Hopefully, you will tell our sister all of it eventually,” Brandon teased.

“Should she become Lady Lannister, she will learn more about the Rock than even my Uncle Kevan knows,” Jaime admitted.

“Your Uncle Kevan was your father’s most trusted, correct?” Benjen asked.

Jaime shook his head at the younger male. Was he fishing? Was this the Northern version of subtly? Jaime had no idea.

“Other than my mother, certainly.” Jaime answered. “He and his wife, my Aunt Dorna, will stand as castellan of the Rock and the West when I have to be away—as they were for my father.

“Lord Brandon, Lord Benjen, if you would follow me,” Jaime ordered gently as he led them into the Gold Hall and up to the High Table.

He set Tyrion into the seat immediately to the right of his own chair, marking him as the Heir to Casterly Rock. Brandon took the seat of honor on his left and Benjen sat on the far side of his brother from Jaime.

“We will have a few moments before the rest of your party arrives,” Jaime told the Northern lords. “I have a few questions.”

“About?” Brandon asked with a pointed glance at the goblet in front of him

Jaime signaled the cupbearer to come forward. “Trial by the Tree. What can you tell me about it?”

“Trial by the Tree is Old,” Brandon cautioned. “Anyone found guilty of their crimes before the tree are fed to it. What would make you go there?”

Jaime hesitated. “This touches the topics I wish to discuss first with your father, so I will be vague.”

Lord Brandon nodded his acceptance.

“I know for a fact that the loyalty of several highly placed men across the Realm is not where they give the appearance of it being,” he said delicately. “I find I cannot tolerate such uncertainty within my own home, particularly about the loyalty of my own maester. Maesters oversee the health, education, and communication of their charges.”

“A dangerous position for a man that is not loyal to hold.” Brandon frowned. Jaime hoped he was questioning his House’s own maester

“I must know my family is safe with Maester Creylen. I must know my children will be safe with him. My wife.” Jaime shook his head. “He has said things that make me doubt him. I know if I just ask, he will tell me what he thinks I want to hear.”

“He would be a fool not to,” Brandon said. “Lies cannot be spoken to the face of a weirwood tree but that does not require a Trial by the Tree. Is there a weirwood tree in the Rock?”

“There is a cave we call the Stone Garden,” Jaime told him. “It is a godswood, though the weirwood has choked out most of the other growth. Will you teach me about the Old Gods while you are here?”

The Starks exchanged a startled look.

“They are the Gods of Stream, Forest, and Stone,” Benjen said. “Not the old gods.”

“Gods of Stream or Gods of Stone for short,” Brandon agreed. The older Stark stared at him; Jaime held his gaze without flinching. “Everything our Gods grant us has a price. Sometimes the price is simply living your life to honor them, sheltering the heart tree in your home. Sometimes the price is a man’s blood given to the tree to force his honesty.”

Jaime took a moment to consider that. There was a weight to Brandon’s gaze, to his expectations. He might be the Wild Wolf, but he believed in a way Ned Stark had never seemed to.

“Tomorrow, mid-morning, I will question my maester before the Gods of Stream and Stone,” Jaime finally offered. “Will you join me?”

“It would be our honor.”


“Ready?” Jaime asked as he personally retrieved the young Stark Lords from their quarters an hour after breakfast.

“Of course,” Brandon agreed.

“Will your brother be joining us?” Benjen asked.

Jaime shook his head. “He is too young to witness what could become a messy execution. And, besides, this is his time for physical training.”

“What could you possibly train him?” Brandon asked with a grown.

“He is capable of most arms practices,” Jaime said. “His strength will never match a larger man and he will certainly never joust, but he is quick and clever. His mind will be his greatest weapon; I see it as another reason to train his body to match. He works with long dagger and shield in the mornings. Command and tactics in the afternoons.”

Maester Creylen ignored Tyrion as often as he could to the point that Tyrion had taught himself to read. It was another reason to be rid of the old man, even if he was not a traitor.

“Lady Olenna will be joining us as witness, as well.”

Lord Brandon grinned. “I understand your relationship with Lady Olenna is mystifying your family. You only met when she came to the Rock for your father’s passing, correct?”

“She enjoys company that is not afraid of her,” Jaime explained. “I have nothing to fear from her because we are not at cross purposes. We both want our families to prosper. There is no reason to not work in that effort together; we are neighbors.”

“And Lady Janna?” Brandon teased.

“Is a lovely rose of the Reach, I am sure, but should your father decide against me, I fear she will hunt me like a hound that has scented a fox.” Brandon laughed and Jaime shook his head. “Lady Olenna would certainly support her daughter.” He eyed Brandon pointedly. “Mayhaps I should encourage their pursuit of you.”

“I am betrothed,” Brandon reminded him. The Stark lord’s tone was a mix of gratitude and resentment that Jaime understood entirely.

“It has been a few years since I met Lady Catelyn,” Jaime admitted. “My father had sought an agreement between our House and hers—for her younger sister, Lysa. I have never been so grateful for my uncle’s reluctance to complete a negotiation. My father would have been wroth with him if he had understood my uncle’s intent, but I would have gone to the Wall to avoid such a match.”

Benjen snickered.

“She did seem entirely focused on her father’s ward at her sister’s betrothal feast,” Brandon offered, which Jaime found interesting.

“Is it true he challenged you for Lady Catelyn’s hand?” Jaime asked.

“He did.” Brandon shook his head. “I should have killed him because he certainly would have killed me if he could but Catelyn begged for him. Lady Stark should never beg.”

Jaime had nothing productive to add to that line of discussion so just shook his head and he took them on the final turn into the Stone Garden. Lady Olenna was waiting for them sat upon a chair he had hauled into the Garden just for her.

“Your uncles left when I arrived,” she reported. “To retrieve Maester Creylen, I believe.”

“Very good. Lady Olenna Tyrell, may I introduce you to Lords Brandon and Benjen Stark?”

“A pleasure,” Lady Olenna said flatly.

“Now I see why they say you are a mean one,” Lord Brandon offered as he held out his hand for hers. She reluctantly gave Lord Brandon her hand and he placed a kiss upon the back of it.

Lady Olenna huffed. “Is it your endeavor to break hearts all across the South with your marriage?”

Brandon just grinned.

Uncle Kevan and Uncle Brynden arrived with Maester Creylen and a handful of guards.

“Maester Creylen!” Jaime greeted with as much cheer as he could muster. “I have a question for you?”

“Certainly, my lord, about the weirwood tree?”

Jaime inclined his head. “Maester Creylen, where does your true loyalty lie?”

“With the Society for the Advancement of Science,” the man answered easily. His eyes flew wide with shock. “That was not—what?”

“And what is the Society for the Advancement of Science?” Jaime pressed.

“You should not know about that,” Maester Creylen said instead of answering. “I am not allowed to tell you more.”

“Unfortunate,” Jaime said as he caught the maester’s frail wrist. He pulled a dagger, sliced his palm and placed it flat on the tree just above the face. “Now. What is the Society for the Advancement of Science?”

“It is an organization within the Citadel seeking to bring order to the world through science.”

“What does that mean when we live in a world of magic?” Jaime pushed. “How is your goal meant to be accomplished?”

Maester Creylen held out against the magic of the weirwood for nearly a minute. He tried to physically remove his hand from the tree—going so far as to tug it with the other hand and failing—before he began to speak. “As members of the Society, we are to teach fear of magical creatures and encourage the hunting of them across Westeros. We are to watch for signs of magic within the Houses we serve and eliminate them as quickly and painlessly as we can.”

“Eliminate them?” Jaime asked. “Have members of the Society for the Advancement of Science been killing members of the Houses you are sworn to?”

“Yes.” The maester kept nodding, as well. And then he stopped.

“How else has your Society been removing magical members of the Houses they serve?”

“We have been encouraging divides and rivalries so Houses kill each other and providing information to the enemies of stubborn Houses as to their movements when they are actively at war with each other to ensure their destruction.”

“Was the Citadel behind the Blackfyre Rebellions?” Uncle Brynden demanded.

“Not directly,” the maester hedged.

“How was the Society indirectly involved with initiating the Blackfyre Rebellions,” Jaime asked.

“I have been told that Grand Maester Marrik encouraged ladies from House Blackwood and House Bracken to seek the attention of Aegon the Unworthy. The inherent rivalry of those Houses did the work naturally.”

“You seem to be well informed,” Lady Olenna observed. “Are all members of your Society so well informed?”

Maester Creylen made a face. “Only those that were considered for Grand Maester.”

“So Grand Maester Pycelle will know more.”


“Is there a written account of the Society’s crimes?” Uncle Kevan asked. “Any evidence?”

“We are not committing crimes!” Maester Creylen vehemently disagreed. “We are granting mercy to those that do not belong!”

“Clearly, he is delusional,” Brandon muttered.

Maester Creylen puffed up in offense.

“What about the dragons?” Jaime asked because as much as he wanted to tear the maester apart, he had a goal—to save Westeros from the Long Night. They needed dragons to defeat the Long Night. They would not have dragons if the Citadel killed them before they could prosper again. “They are a magical creature, are they not?”

“They were,” Maester Creylen agreed.

“What measures have your Society taken to destroy the dragons?”

“We encouraged the Faith’s hatred of House Targaryen. They laid their Andal curses on the Dragonpit and the Iron Throne. We encouraged House Targaryen to leave Dragonstone for King’s Landing.”

“Why?” Jaime asked.

Maester Creylen did not answer, Jaime assumed his question was not specific enough.

“Why did the Society for the Advancement of Science encourage House Targaryen to leave Dragonstone for King’s Landing?”

“Dragons thrive on fire magic, Dragonstone is upon a volcano, a source of fire magic.”

“And King’s Landing is not, causing the dragon’s power to wane.” Jaime nodded. “Then Winterfell is a source of fire magic as well,” Jaime said, more to the Starks than anyone else. “Winterfell is on a hot spring. Hot springs are powered by fire magic.”

“Good to know,” Brandon nodded.

Jaime focused on Maester Creylen. “What tasks have you completed on behalf of the Society while in service the House Lannister?”

“I offered Lady Lannister the moontea the last time she returned from King’s Landing,” Maester Creylen confessed. “She refused on the grounds that the child she carried could be her husband’s.”

“And?” Jaime prompted. He knew what was coming. Probably. Mayhaps. He was already furious, even if he might be proven wrong. “What did you do after Lady Joanna Lannister refused the moontea?”

“I monitored her pregnancy for signs that the child was magical and he was. I used a tonic in wine to force her into early delivery. Lady Joanna died in the birthing. The child survived, unfortunately, and was misshapen by the tonic but his survival prevented Lord Tywin from asking too many questions about his wife’s demise.”

“Do you have plans to kill my brother Lord Tyrion of House Lannister now that my father is dead?”


“Have you initiated these plans yet?”


Jaime briefly considered pulling the man’s teeth out of his head so he would understand the pain he was causing Jaime and his company. He suppressed the urge as best he could.

“Why have you not initiated your plans to kill my brother, Lord Tyrion of House Lannister?”

“There are currently two Maesters in Casterly Rock that are not members of the Society. Either one could save the boy and endanger the Society depending on the depth of their training. I have not had the time to evaluate them.”

Meaning, he could probably trust two of the three maesters the Citadel had sent him. He wanted to assume the second member of the Society was the most trained and therefore the most appealing of the three of them to keep in his service, but he would have to question them all to be certain.

“Does anyone have any more questions for the maester?” Jaime asked his companions.

Lady Olenna raised one finger. Jaime nodded his acceptance of her request.

“Maester Creylen,” she began. “What has the Citadel done to House Targaryen? They are magical, are they not?”

“House Targaryen is magical,” the maester confirmed. Then he stopped talking.

Lady Olenna firmed up her lips and sat straighter. “Has the Citadel been sabotaging the Iron Throne?”


“And the Grand Maester has been directly working to further the Society’s goals?”


“Has there been a Grand Maester that was not part of the Society for the Advancement of Science?”

“Not that I know of.”

“That means they have control of the Conclave,” she said to Jaime.

“I took note of that,” Jaime admitted.

“Did your Society cause the Faith Uprising after the death of King Aegon I?”

“We encouraged it.”

“I am not going through every single conflict the Iron Throne has suffered,” Lady Olenna declared. “Did your society cause the Dance of the Dragons?”


“How did the Society indirectly cause the Dance of the Dragons that killed thousands of Westerosi?” Lady Olenna continued doggedly.

“Ser Otto Hightower had taken Princess Saera from the Sept of the Silent Sisters. I do not know all of the details. I know Princess Saera gave Ser Otto a child, the Lady Alicent.”

“Lady Alicent was Otto Hightower’s third child of four,” Lady Olenna observed. “That means he was married to Lady Sella Tarly when he laid with Princess Saera.”

The maester said nothing.

“Are House Hightower and House Tarly involved in the Society for the Advancement of Science?”

“Not directly.”

Jaime rolled his eyes. This was aggravating. “If you stop stonewalling us, your death will be clean,” Jaime told the man. “If you continue to be an absolute cunt, I will cut your wrists and leave you to bleed to death on the tree.”

“If you die on the tree, your soul will be subject to the Gods of Stone and Stream,” Lord Brandon added.

Maester Creylen huffed. “Men of House Hightower that join the Citadel always join the Society. That enables us to influence the High Septon who is always a former member of House Hightower.

“House Tarly has sworn against allowing its members to join the Citadel—we believe this is the influence of Ser Otto’s wife, Lady Sella Tarly, though we cannot confirm it.”

“Good,” Jaime nodded. “Did the Society have anything to do with Alicent Hightower becoming queen after Aemma Arryn?”

“Grand Maester Mellos poisoned Queen Aemma’s pregnancies to varying degrees so his influence would look natural. He also advocated for cutting Prince Baelon out of Queen Aemma, killing them both.”

“Is there a record of the Society’s efforts in King’s Landing?”

“History must be recorded,” Maester Creylen answered, with a disgusting version of piety.

“Who keeps the record of the Society’s history?”

“Archmaester Walgrave of Ravencraft is the only keeper I know of.”

“But there is more than one?” Jaime asked.

“Every member of the Society tracks their own actions, most in code or in a private journal. Their records are returned to the Citadel with their remains so they might be added to the official record.”

Jaime glanced at the Lords and Lady around him to see if anyone else had any more questions.

“Kill him and be done with it,” Brandon demanded when Jaime’s focus landed on him.

Maester Creylen glared. “You said—”

Jaime hit the maester’s temple when the butt of his dagger and watched as the elderly man crumpled into the roots of the weirwood.

“Bind and gag him,” Jaime ordered two of the nearby guards. “Take him to the shaded corner and one of you will remain with him to ensure he remains quiet.

“We will question the other three Maesters in the Rock before we execute any of them,” he explained to his company.

“I will fetch them,” Uncle Kevan offered.

“One at a time, if you will.”

“As you will, my lord,” Uncle Kevan agreed. Uncle Brynden left with him without a word.

“Maester Ben, my lord,” Uncle Kevan introduced the man he returned with.

“Good morrow, Maester Ben, I apologize for not greeting you sooner,” Jaime inclined his head.

Maester Ben gave him a brief bow. “It is no problem, my lord, your library is more than enough to keep me occupied for a few days.”

“Libraries,” Jaime corrected. “There is more than one library within the Rock.”

“Oh?” Maester Ben asked. “I was only able to locate the one.”

“If you swear to my House, I will have you directed to the others as they will be within your purview.”

“I look forward to it, my lord.”

“Tell me, Maester Ben, to whom or what is your first loyalty?”

“Learning,” the man answered easily. “Whether gaining new knowledge for myself, searching out particular knowledge for others, or imparting knowledge upon my charges.”

Jaime had learned to find value in book learning but he did not hold the same eagerness for it that the maester clearly did. “Have you heard of the Society for the Advancement of Science?”

Maester Ben blinked. “No, my lord.”

“What are your feelings on magic?” Jaime prodded. “The Higher Mysteries, as they are sometimes called.”

“Magic is fascinating.” Ben gushed. “Difficult to study as different disciplines have different rules but all magic requires a strong will and a clear mental image of the desired result.”

“You seem to have one of every link,” Lady Olenna observed.

“Learning, my lady. It is my favorite thing to do. I have one of every possible link plus a second in history and two additional in Healing after I decided I would need to serve a Noble House to expand the pool of the written word available to me.”

“House Lannister was a good choice with such a goal,” Uncle Kevan offered.

“I was ecstatic when we received word from the Seneschal that Lord Jaime had requested a pool of candidates to choose a new maester from,” Maester Ben admitted. “I was not a favorite for the position and I had to swear to stop requesting the development of new areas for study from the Seneschal but I hope that sacrifice will be worth it.”

Jaime had to hide a smile. This man was no threat to his House. “I will be marrying soon. So will my Uncles and possibly my Aunt. Are you prepared to deal with the health of ladies and pregnancies?”

“I have read the collected works of Maester Luwin,” Maester Ben answered. “He would be the Archmaester of Pregnancy and Women’s Health if there was such a thing. I apprenticed under him directly for two years until he was requested specifically by Lord Tully for his daughters.”

Damn Hoster Tully anyway.

“I wish I had known there was such a maester when I was giving my Lord Husband heirs,” Lady Olenna muttered. Jaime could not help but agree.

“Your first task as Maester of House Lannister is to order two copies of Maester Luwin’s collected works from the Citadel,” Jaime told Maester Ben.

The maester’s eyes lit up. “Does that mean I am your choice?”

“One of them,” Jaime agreed. “There is an extensive distance between the family quarters, the libraries, and the ravenry. I am planning to employ at least two maesters so that you might switch off on Raven Watch and the physical care of House Lannister.”

“Choose Maester Muln for my duty partner,” Maester Ben advised. “He has four black iron links and prefers the birds to people. He only came because you ordered more ravens trained to fly to either Winterfell or Riverrun and back.”

Jaime ignored the sharp looks Brandon and Benjen shot him. “I will speak with him next,” Jaime promised. “Now, your oath.” He offered Maester Ben his dagger.

Without complaint or hesitation, the maester slit his palm and laid it next to Creylen’s still bloody hand print upon the heart tree. He made his oath to serve House Lannister and when he stood the cut on his palm was healed, showing the Gods of Stream and Stone had accepted his oath and would hold him to it.

“The slight shine to the scar implies that he made the oath with a pure heart,” Brandon explained.

“I will seek you out later to interrogate you on the subject of the old gods,” Maester Ben threatened Brandon.

Brandon laughed. “Or you can sit in on the lessons Lord Jaime has requested. Mayhaps publish a Primer of the Faith of the Gods of Stream and Stone.”

“Mayhaps I will,” Maester Ben agreed.

“I need you to go through Maester Creylen’s belongings,” Jaime instructed his new maester, “so that we may return only the things that truly belonged to him to the Citadel.”

“Has Maester Creylen fallen?” Maester Ben asked, concern writ large in his blue-green eyes. “I have not heard anything about him being ill.”

Jaime grinned. “Would you know if he had not died upon the page in front of you?”

“Possibly not,” Maester Ben allowed. “I rarely indulge myself as I have these past few days.”

Jaime was not certain he believed that, but he found it charming none the less. “We will work it out once I have spoken with the other maesters. Be sure to check on my brother’s level of education when you have to opportunity. I know he has already taught himself to read.”

“Taught himself to read?” Maester Ben repeated. “How wonderful! I am certain we will get along fantastically.”

Jaime dismissed the man with a gesture and he left.

“At least we know not all of the Citadel is ruined,” Lady Olenna announced. “I will write my maester to ensure Highgarden has the collected works of this Maester Luwin when we are done here.”

“I will go fetch Maester Muln,” Uncle Kevan announced.

“Check the ravenry,” Jaime called with a grin and they all laughed.

There were no surprises in Jaime’s interrogation of Maester Muln. He was grumpy and almost rude but his loyalty was to his ravens in his ravenry. He did not care about magic as long as it did not harm his ravens. He did have a link that signified his knowledge of healing but he preferred to use it for his ravens.

Jaime took pity on the man, accepted his oath in blood on the heart tree and sent him back to his the ravenry.

“Who is our last conversation with?” Lady Olenna asked.

“Maester Mordayn,” the man himself said as he entered the Stone Gardens without being summoned. “I noticed you had collected my gray brothers and suspected you would be coming to speak with me next.” Mordayn frowned. “Though I am unsure any House would require three maesters.”

“Casterly Rock is large,” Jaime allowed. “The staff is correspondingly large and guests are common. There would certainly be enough work for you to justify the expense of hiring three of you.”

“Of course, my lord,” Mordayn agreed.

“Very good, Maester Mordayn, tell me, to whom or what is your first loyalty?”

“The Society for the Advancement of Science,” Maester Mordayn smiled.

Jaime had a sinking feeling. “Why are you pleased to admit that?”

“Because I have already sent notification to the Citadel, warning them of our discovery. You are defenseless against us.”

“Raven or messanger?” Jaime demanded.

Maester Mordayn just smiled.

“Seize him!” Uncle Kevan ordered.

Jaime beat his uncles out of the Stone Garden by only a hair. “BROOM!” Jaime shouted.

“My lord,” the Master-at-Arms appeared.

“Lock down Casterly Rock, full war measures. Notify Lannisport and get archers on the heights, they are to shoot down every single raven they see until further notice.”

“Yes, milord.”


His uncle’s squire was lingering at the end of the hall. “My lord?”

“Run to the rookery, verify all the ravens are there. Have Maester Muln do a thorough accounting of his birds. I want to know how many were sent today, who sent them and when.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“And hurry!”

Addam took off at a run.

“Clegane!” he called. Both Clegane boys responded. “The stables. Gregor the Commons’, Sandor the Lords’ Stables. I want a complete inventory of every horse, regardless of who they belong to, and I want to know if any riders have left the Rock. Any riders,” he stressed, “at all.”

“I will check the sea cavern,” Uncle Brynden volunteered. “In case the messenger left by ship.”

Jaime nodded. “Good. Uncle Gerion should be down there. Tell him you have come on my behalf; he will ensure everyone cooperates.”

“The kitchens?” Lady Olenna prompted.

Jaime nodded. It was an opening most nobles would overlook. He did not doubt the Queen of Thorns had mentioned it because she had taken advantage of such an oversight before. “Uncle Kevan, you and Aunt Dorna are most familiar with the delivery schedule. I want to know if anything strange has happened, if anyone unfamiliar was in the kitchens, or anyone in the kitchens encountered Maester Mordayn no matter how trivial the meeting.”

“Check the food supply for poison,” Lady Olenna added.

Jaime nodded his approval when Kevan checked with him.

“Write your father,” Jaime told Brandon. “The bird will go north, away from Lannisport, so he should get through. We cannot trust that Maester Walys is not part of the Society and Mordayn seems the type to seek petty revenge. They might poison your sister to punish me.”

“Fucking Hells.” Brandon took the nearby stairs three at a time toward his quarters. Hopefully seeking a message scroll his family would trust.

“Come, lad,” Lady Olenna urged him. “You have done all you can for now. It is time we get a full accounting from the traitor, Mordayn.”

“This might turn into a war.” Jaime frowned. “Which means we cannot kill either maester until Prince Rhaegar arrives and has had the chance to question them.”

Lady Olenna nodded in agreement. “More the pity.”


Chapter Five


“Father, Lya,” her father read out Brandon’s raven as they sat down for breakfast. “I know you were expecting an update. That will come later. Right now…” father trailed off, reading silently to himself. His smile turned into a ferocious frown.

He slapped the goblet of milk out of her hand before she could take a single sip and stood. “Eat nothing,” he ordered.

Lya and Ned looked at each other in confusion. Neither of them had an explanation for their father’s strange behavior. Then their father took up House Stark’s ancestral Valyrian steel sword, Ice, and charged out of his solar. They scrambled to follow.

Father gave orders with a soft voice that promised death. Men rushed around them. Lyanna was given guards. Guards! In Winterfell!

When the snow settled, they were in the godswood, sitting among the roots of the heart tree. Master Martyn Cassel was escorting Maester Walys before the heart tree.

“You can do this voluntarily or I can force you,” father said to the maester, holding up an ancient ritual knife with a curved dragonglass blade.

“My lord, I have no idea what is going on!”

“Cut yourself on the blade and touch the face or I will do it for you,” father repeated firmly.

Maester Walys stared at father for a solid minute before he pricked his finger on the pointed end of the knife and laid his hand on the tree.

“Where does your loyalty lie?” father asked.

Maester Walys hissed and tried to pull his hand from the tree. It did not come off, the maester’s life was in the hands of the gods now.

“Where does your loyalty lie?” father asked again, more firmly.

“With the Society for the Advancement of Science,” Maester Walys said, still physically fighting the tree’s impossible hold.

“What crimes have you committed in the name of this Society?”

Maester Walys turned to glare at father. “None!”

“Have you poisoned the food stores of Winterfell?”


“Have you made plans to harm my daughter in any way?”


“Have you received any communication from Maester Mordayn?”

“No!” Walys shouted, clearly frustrated. “I do not even know who that is!”

Lya was starting to feel bad for the man but father continued his questioning at a steady pace, as implacable as Winter itself.

“Did you kill my wife?”

Maester Walys froze in his struggle against the tree and Lya gasped. His reaction was as good as a confession. “I did not cause her accident with the horse,” Maester Walys finally answered.

“Did you cause the fever that took her after?”

The Gods themselves forced the answer from the maester’s lips, a small “Yes.”

“My wife lost two pregnancies over the course of our marriage. Did you cause those losses?”


“Why did you steal children from my wife and I?”

“They showed signs of magic while in the womb.” The man kept talking, as if that might help his case. “This world does not need magic. Magic is unnatural. It causes nothing but pain and devastation. Everything I did was for the greater good!”

Father’s face was stone, Lyanna wished she had the same control. Walys had helped raise her! He had helped raise her mother! And he had killed her.

“I was my father’s only child, my mother died birthing my younger sister. Did you kill them?”


Finally, father moved. He forced Maester Walys to his knees and forced his head down with a handful of hair. He drew the ritual knife across Maester Walys’s neck and his blood bathed the tree’s face in a hot spray.

Father let the body fall as he moved away. “Bring Maester Luwin.”

Maester Luwin entered the godswood without any of the fear Maester Walys had shown despite the guards surrounding him. With his hand tucked into his sleeves, he was the picture of maesterly reason and calm.

He did not even blink at the body of his gray brother cooling among the roots.

“I was born in Raventree Hall,” Maester Luwin said before father could start his questions. “I know what a Trial by the Tree looks like.”

Lya felt something in her relax. Raventree Hall was the home of the Blackwoods. House Blackwood was the only House she knew for certain followed to true Gods in the Riverlands. As House Royce were the only ones to follow the true Gods in the Vale.

“I am not a Blackwood, but I saw woman after woman die in childbirth, including my own mother and my much older sister. I begged Lord Blackwood to send me to the Citadel so I could find a better way for bloodlines to continue. So other mothers and sisters would not die so others could live. He agreed and I am now considered the foremost specialist in childbirth at the Citadel.”

Father nodded, accepting that information.

“Do I need to bleed on the tree or may I simply answer your questions?”

Father offered the ritual blade. Maester Luwin frowned and cleaned it but cut his palm all the same and laid it on the tree near the face.

“Where does your loyalty lie?” Father asked, just as he had with Maester Walys.

“With women and children.”

“Have you received any communication from Maester Mordayn?”


“What do you know about the Society for the Advancement of Science?”

“Nothing.” Maester Luwin frowned. “Is that some sort of movement against magic? I know magic is unpopular at the Citadel, but I studied it hoping to find the answers I was looking for. I was mocked for it but the mocking did not appear to be an organized effort.”

“Have you killed anyone on the orders on the Citadel?”


Would you kill anyone on the orders of the Citadel?”

“No, never. I would hope they know better than to ask.”

“But you do not doubt they would ask,” father pointed out.

Maester Luwin shrugged. “Organizations become corrupted, no matter their intentions. Or they stagnate and refuse to change with the world around them. An institution for education should be willing and able to adapt but I have not seen it. Pride, I believe, is to blame.”

“Will you serve House Stark as our maester until we receive replacements from the Citadel?”

“My oath of service belongs to Lady Catelyn,” Maester Luwin said. “But she will be a member of House Stark soon. I see no reason to let the ill go untreated while we remain at Winterfell.”

“Thank you—”

“What is going on?” Lady Catelyn demanded, interrupting father. “Is that man dead? Who killed Maester Walys!” Lady Catelyn rushed to the body like she could heal a man that had already grown cold.

This was going to be fun.


“How is Uncle Kevan?” was Jaime’s first question to the lords and ladies gathered in his solar.

“Still sleeping,” Maester Ben answered. “It is not a natural sleep. Maester Muln is monitoring him.”

Jaime nodded. There had been four fatalities due to Maester Mordayn’s machinations. Three boys that had snuck some of the Lord’s Wine on a dare and his Aunt Dorna. Uncle Kevan had not taken the loss of his wife well and had to be sedated.

“All of the kitchen staff has been questioned,” Lady Olenna reported. His trusted company of lords had had to handle the questioning before he heart tree in shifts, so it was handled quickly. Lady Olenna had been the overseer of the lists of people and questions to ensure everyone had been interviewed thoroughly. “There is a great deal of petty theft in your kitchens but I would not see them punished.”

“No,” Jaime agreed. “I do not consider eating while continuing to work to be theft. If my staff has to steal to feed themselves, then I have failed as a Lord to provide for them. I will work with the Lady of the Kitchens to increase meal availability to all of the staff.”

Lady Olenna nodded her approval. “You are a good lad.”

“We cannot be certain we have stopped Maester Mordayn’s message.” Jaime sighed. “He did confirm in his second round of questioning that he sent it by raven directly to Oldtown. Lannisport has reported shooting down upwards of fifty ravens but not all of the birds were retrievable.”

He would like to think that if any of his men had found the raven, they would have reported it rather than use it against him, but the War of Five Kings had taught him better. Lord Bolton had certainly done whatever he wanted with his lord’s ravens and the Lords of the North had a reputation for loyalty that the Lords of the West could not compete with.

It was entirely possible someone he trusted would see Mordayn’s raven to the Citadel. There was absolutely no way to guarantee otherwise.

Not without becoming a tyrant which would only ensure that someone would betray him.

“I received a raven from my father,” Lord Brandon reported. “Maester Walys was part of the Society for the Advancement of Science but he had not received word from Maester Mordayn. He admitted to murdering my mother and two of my siblings in the womb. He has been executed and Lyanna is safe—she has guards and a food tester. No word on how long that will last or how long Lya will tolerate it.”

“She will grow used to the necessity in time—gods know I did,” Jaime huffed. “Such measures will become necessary should she marry me. My father left no shortage of enemies in his wake. I know that might work against my petition in your father and sister’s eyes but they should know and be prepared for it.”

“Aye,” Brandon agreed tiredly. “I will pass that information along.

“My father asks for a recommendation for a new maester. He had no idea he could request a specific maester before meeting Lady Catelyn and Maester Luwin and would like to do as he must to protect House Stark.”

Jaime turned the question over to Maester Ben with raised eyebrows.

Maester Ben gave a small smile. “Maester Quynlan studied with me at the Citadel. I would consider him a friend. He is a bit…rougher in his manners than I am but I think such might be in his favor in the North?”

Brandon nodded.

“He is Dornish so the temperatures of the North might be a concern.”

“Winterfell is always warm,” Brandon assured the maester. “The water from our hot springs are piped through the walls to ensure it.”

“Keepcraft is one of Quynlan’s links, I am certain he will be fascinated,” Maester Ben offered. “And I can say with certainty that no one could order Maester Quynlan to murder. Anyone. For any reason.”

“Good.” Lord Brandon took a deep breath. “I will write to the Citadel and ask that they send him here. I will evaluate him here and he will come home with us should he pass.” Maester Ben nodded his understanding. “And I will write my father to explain my plans. Getting a maester to Winterfell is not a true emergency, Maester Luwin has agreed to fill the gap as long as he is there. Father will simply have to ensure Lady Catelyn remains until I come home.”

“Give it a day,” Jaime urged his future good-brother. “I will rescind the shoot-on-sight order for ravens heading south but such orders can take time to be received. Sending the same message twice because an ally made a mistake is frustrating.”

Brandon inclined his head in agreement.

“How long is the Lady Catelyn expected to remain in Winterfell?” Lady Olenna asked.

“She is to ride south with us to the Tourney of Harrenhal,” Brandon answered.

“Should we expect that tourney to happen?” Jaime wondered. “If we are at war with the Citadel, certainly that would be more important.”

“A tourney is an ideal place to collect whispers and assess allies,” Lady Olenna disagreed. “Communication is not easily done across the vast distances of Westeros but even if Maester Mordayn’s message has been intercepted, the Citadel will notice something amiss with so many of their number dying inexplicably. It is even possible they will notice all of those dying are members of their foolish Society. I will begin moving pieces in the Reach to prevent the Citadel from moving too far—even with the assistance of House Hightower. It will be slow going but the uncertainty of our circumstances cuts both ways. We are uncertain of what they know, they will be uncertain if we are truly their enemy.

“If we act too swiftly, we lose the advantage of their uncertainty.”

“Very well,” Jaime agreed.

“I have given the staff a day of rest tomorrow in apology for the rough handling we subjected them to over the last few days. I will announce this at dinner. All Lords and Ladies in the Rock will be spending a day outside the walls to facilitate this. We will be hunting, riding, and swimming all day. Cooking our own food.” Jaime waved a hand. “You understand.”

“Yes, milord,” the lords and ladies agreed.

“Lannisport is also open to those that do not enjoy the wilder things in life,” Jaime told Lady Olenna.

She frowned at him and he wondered exactly how she was going to prove him wrong. Swimming. He bet she was going to swim in the ocean. He wondered if she would wear her boxy hat while she was at it and had to hide his smile.

“Prince Rhaegar and his party will be here the day after tomorrow,” Jaime told them. “Those who go to Lannisport may be there when he arrives tomorrow after luncheon by Uncle Kevan’s notes.”

“We will need to manage what whispers they hear,” Lady Olenna noted.

“Thank you for volunteering.” He grinned at Lady Olenna’s frown. “You should take Lord Benjen with you, teach him how to properly manage whispers.”

Lady Olenna huffed as Lord Brandon laughed. “Then we will be leaving tonight.” She eyed Lord Brandon. “Notify your brother that we will be leaving in an hour.”

“Yes, milady,” Brandon bowed as much as he could without leaving his chair.

“The finest Inn in Lannisport?” Lady Olenna asked him.

“The Golden Lion,” Jaime answered without having to think about it. “Uncle Gerion will be heading to Lannisport tonight. He can direct you to it easily enough.”

Lady Olenna gave him a suspicious look. “Why is your uncle leaving his family home at such a time?”

Jaime just grinned at the Dowager Lady of the Reach. He was hardly going to admit that House Lannister owned all of the brothels in Lannisport or that Uncle Gerion was House Lannister’s Master of Whispers. He especially was not going to admit to stealing Little Finger’s idea of buying or establishing brothels in every city or town large enough to have them across Westeros.

If Lady Olenna did not already own all the brothels in the Reach, he certainly was not going to give her the idea—it would make it more difficult for him to complete his own plans.

“Every man has his habits,” was what he said instead. “And there are those that gain comfort from knowing and seeing a man keep those habits. It is a sign to the smallfolk that all is well if Uncle Gerion visits his favorite pleasure house and Uncle Tygette harasses the commander of the Lannisport City Watch. I would not deny them the things they enjoy when they benefit my House.”

“Right,” Lady Olenna agreed flatly—ironically making it clear she did not believe him.

“Now, I have to seek out the Lady of the Kitchens, if no one else has anything to add?” Jaime prodded.

There was a general murmur of negation and they all stood to leave his solar.

“Maester Ben, a moment, if you would.”

The young maester tipped his head to one side curiously but sat back down.

“I promised you access to rare materials,” Jaime said leadingly.

Maester Ben sat up as tall as he could, expressing nothing but eagerness. “I would not expect to be trusted with anything truly valuable so soon in our association, my lord. Particularly not after how maliciously my gray brothers have betrayed you.”

“Wise,” Jaime agreed. “But I need a copy of a certain text made as soon as possible.”

Jaime reached into one of the lower drawers of his desk to pull out one of the most complete copies of Septon Barth’s life work that House Lannister had. It was not the only complete copy they had—Jaime did not trust the maester that far—but it was the oldest complete copy they had. Jaime hoped the tome’s age meant it was the version that had been edited the least by the so-called authorities of the Citadel.

Maester Ben gasped as he turned the book over, studying it reverently, “Dragons, Wyrms, and Wyverns: Their Unnatural History,” the maester read the faded gold title in awe.

“News of that book’s continued existence is not to reach the Citadel,” Jaime warned.

Maester Ben snorted. “I am almost certain they have copies of their own. There are shelves upon shelves of books that no one outside of the Conclave—and only a select few within the Conclave, at that—are allowed access to. What else could they be but books determined to be illegal by a power at some point in our history?”

“Books on magic, probably.”

Maester Ben inclined his head in silent agreement.

“I wish to gift a copy of that book to Prince Rhaegar upon his coronation,” Jaime explained. “From what I remember of my time in the Red Keep, I fear it might happen more quickly than any of us expect.”

“Do you believe the prince to be the Shadow Benefactor of the Tourney for Harrenhal?” Maester Ben asked. “I may not be highborn but I know numbers and the Citadel has wealth-projections for every House within Westeros. They believe the prizes offered by House Whent are well beyond the availability within the Lord’s coffers.”

“We would have to be greater friends than we currently are for me to share my suspicions with you,” Jaime admitted instead of answering the question. Which was, of course, an answer in itself. “Do I want more details about these wealth-projections?”

“Likely, not. It is how they decide the fee a Lord will pay for the services of a maester.” Maester Ben grimaced. “They also affect the quality of the maester offered to different Houses. The higher their fee, the better quality maester they receive. It is vastly unfair.”

“I agree.” Jaime grimaced. “Is there a minimum standard that maesters have to meet before they leave the Citadel to serve a House?”

“Of course, but it is merely a standard of training. Not all men have the same moral fiber and work ethic.”

“How would you feel if women started joining the ranks of the Knights of the Mind?” Jaime wondered.

“I think it is past time they did,” Maester Ben admitted. “Women have always been more comfortable seeking health advice from other women. It has been noted that daughters will seek the advice of their mothers over advice of their maesters when they can. Unfortunately, this is not always wise.”

Jaime frowned, letting his confusion show.

“Root vegetables inserted and held in certain orifices will not ease the pain of a lady’s moonblood,” Maester Ben said scathingly.

Jaime winced. That a woman would think such a thing was ghastly. Worse, that she had advised her daughter to do the same. There had to have been health complications for a maester to learn of this practice but Jaime tried very hard to not ask questions about a root vegetable’s cleanliness. He did not want to know.

“I plan to advocate for women to be allowed to study at the Citadel. I could use some help collecting arguments in favor of this change.”

Maester Ben nodded. “The most stringent argument against women in the Citadel is that they would distract men from their duties but if a man cannot complete his duties because of women in a situation dedicated to those duties like the Citadel, how can he be expected to carry out his duties when he is living in a lord’s keep? Every lord has a wife or a daughter or an aunt in his keep. If a man cannot be depended on to do his duties and keep his oath around women, it would be wise to find that out before he has earned his chain. Not after he has broken his vows before his Lord and disgraced our entire order.

“In that way, allowing women to study in the Citadel and forge their own chains would only be a benefit.”

Jaime found Maester Ben’s argument to be clever, he would have to remember it. “I agree.”


A gentle voice floated over Lyanna’s shoulder. “What are you doing?”

She finished her current line and turned to see her visitor. “Ah, Lady Catelyn. Apologies, I meant to show you the lady’s solar so you could join our crafts days ago but was distracted.”

“It is no matter,” Lady Catelyn dismissed. “There is a great deal to see in a castle so large as Winterfell.” Her cheeks pinked delicately. “Your brother, Lord Eddard, has been touring myself and Maester Luwin about the keep.”

“He is uniquely suited to aiding you in adapting to the North,” Lyanna allowed, “with his southron fostering and all.” She just hoped it would not bite her brother in the arse—either of her brothers. Ned was no longer betrothed and Brandon did not favor Lady Catelyn but familiarity growing where it should not could become a sincere problem.

“What are you working on?” Lady Cately gestured to her loom. “Those appear to be Tully colors.”

“They are,” Lya confirmed. “I am weaving your maiden cloak.”

“I have a maiden cloak,” Lady Catelyn said stiffly.

“I imagine you do,” Lya agreed. “A large, uncomfortable ceremonial piece as is common in the south.” Lady Catelyn frowned at her. “Am I right?”

“It is the traditional ceremonial cloak of House Tully,” was Lady Catelyn’s answer, which Lya took for agreement.

“Then it is unsuitable for a Northern wedding.” Lya held up a hand to stop Lady Catelyn’s no-doubt heated response. “It is the tradition of the North that the first-born child be swaddled first and most often in their mother’s maiden cloak. This is done to honor the mother and her House. To acknowledge the mother and her House’s influence on the children she gives her husband.”

Lady Catelyn thawed as she ruminated on that. She even went so far as to smile. “That is lovely.”

“I agree.” Lya nodded. “I have had my own maiden cloak made for years but Ned pointed out that the southron tradition was different. I will marry south, there is nothing I can do to stop it at this point, but I plan to insist on a number of the traditions I grew up with be instilled in the House my father chooses for me.”

Lyanna checked that her work would not suffer in her absence and stood. “I thought it would be a fitting gift to welcome you into our House, to enable you to meet this tradition. Honoring our traditions will also ease your way as the Lady of Winterfell with the other lords of the North.”

“You would rather marry North than marry south?” Lady Catelyn asked, clearly surprised.

“I will be the first Stark to marry south outside of House Royce,” Lya pointed out. “Unless you and Brandon meet beneath the tree before my father makes his choice. I fully expect to attend the Tourney of Harrenhal as a married woman should my father choose Lord Lannister over Lord Baratheon.”

Lady Catelyn gasped, surprised. “Are you certain?”

They had not told Lady Catelyn of the conspiracy Lord Jaime had discovered and urged her brother to warn them about. Her father had specifically ordered all of their silence and immediately summoned his banners to him so that he could prepare the North for what they fully expected would become a war with the South. Brandon had not mentioned any such thing, but the Citadel’s crimes were too great to go unpunished.

And the Citadel was too deeply connected to the Faith and House Hightower to be punished easily.

Regardless of the possibility of war, once it got out that Lord Jaime had uncovered the Citadel’s crimes, his match would be coveted. The only way to prevent herself from falling into Lord Baratheon’s hands was to marry Lord Jaime as soon as possible—before his value skyrocketed.

It was a boon that Lord Jaime was reported to be both beautiful and entirely intelligent—Brandon had reported that Lord Jaime’s time in the training yard, while limited due to his duties, was dedicated to fighting men that preferred the use of war hammers. Even if her father did not yet grasp the depth of the foolishness and breadth of the entitlement that ran through Lord Baratheon, Lord Jaime clearly did.

“Come, I have something to show you,” Lyanna urged rather than answering.

“I envy your talent with a loom,” Lady Catelyn admitted as Lya linked their arms together for the walk.

Lya laughed softly. “I have no patience for needle crafts but the various forms of weaving appeal to me,” she admitted. “I love choosing a design and figuring out the best way to bring it forth. I think that is why I enjoy painting as well. It involves the layering of colors to capture the true intent of my vision.”

“The Riverlands specialize in various pottery arts,” Lady Catelyn said. “I have glazed my share of unfired pots but my father finds it to be a waste of a noblewoman’s time. Needle crafts are where my comfort lies. Although, I would love to learn the harp.”

“I will mention it to father,” Lya promised. “We do not often hire singers in Winterfell, we prefer homely music when we celebrate something, but the ability to contribute to Winter entertainment would reflect well upon you.”

Together, they exited the keep and entered the courtyard that would lead to the main entrance of the godswood.

They were closing in on the entrance when Lady Catelyn tried to tug her arm from Lya’s grip. “I do not want to go in there. Awful things happen in there.”

Lya stopped them outside of the entrance. “Awful things but also beautiful things. There is a wedding happening today. I thought you might wish to see what a Northern wedding looks like. I expect Brandon will accept your Septly wedding but he would be honored if you agreed to meet him under the tree as well.”

Lady Catelyn hesitated for several moments, but in the end, she nodded her acceptance. Lya took back the older girl’s arm and entered the godswood.

Three men and a woman were standing beneath the tree. There were a handful of Winterfell’s staff standing witness but Lya did not take them to join them. Lady Catelyn’s rank and her insistence upon its use would make the attendees uncomfortable and deprive the pledging partners of the focus they deserved.

“Who comes?” asked Damin Poole, the Steward of Winterfell. “Who comes before the gods?”

“Mikken Snow,” answered Gara Snow, the man’s sister. “A blacksmith by trade, honored in the service of House Stark. He comes here to beg the blessings of the gods and to wed. Who comes to claim him?”

Connin stepped forward. “Connin of House Poole, stonesmith by trade, honored in the service of House Stark. How gives him?”

“Gara Snow, granddaughter of Brandon, son of Artos of House Stark. His sister.”

“Master Mikken, do you take this man?” Damin Poole asked.

Lady Catelyn gasped in objection and Lya silenced her with a glare.

Mikken stepped forward, beyond his sister. “I take this man,” Mikken confirmed.

Lya turned them abruptly and led Lady Catelyn away before she could object to the Cloaking. They had barely returned indoors before Lady Catelyn snatched her hand from Lya’s arm in fury.

What was that?” Lady Catelyn demanded.

“A wedding,” Lyanna answered calmly. “Between two men honored in the service of House Stark.”

“Men cannot wed each other!” her future good-sister objected.

“There is no law against it.”

“There should be!” Lady Catelyn said hotly. “It is unnatural! Men do not love men! Men do not lie with men! It— It— It is against all the laws of the gods!”

“So, your father does not love your brother?” Lya asked, grasping to her calm with tooth and nail. “Do you assume my father does not love his sons?”

“That is different!”

“How?” Lya demanded. “I have read your book. It says your gods taught humanity how to love.”

“They did!”

“Then they taught Conin and Mikken to love each other. It is the will of the gods that they be together.”

“No! It is not!”

“Do you doubt your gods or doubt your book?” Lady Catelyn raised her hand like she was going to strike Lya. “Do you not honor guest right either?”

Lady Catelyn put her hand down. “The purpose of marriage, the purpose of lying with another is children. Two men cannot create children.”

“That depends on the man,” Lya denied.

Lady Catelyn looked at her in horror.

“Mayhaps you should return to your rooms,” Lya offered before Lady Catelyn said something that would get her killed. “I believe you should rest and regain your calm.”

“Yes.” Lady Catelyn pressed her lips together until they turned white. “Mayhaps I should.”

“I will arrange for dinner to be delivered to your chambers. I do not believe you would be comfortable with the celebration in the Great Hall.”

Lady Catelyn offered a stiff, shallow curtsey. “You have my thanks.” She left at a swift pace.

Lyanna Stark took in and blew out a deep breath. She needed to have a very long talk with her father.


Chapter Six


“My prince.” Jaime bowed. He could not take his eyes off of Prince Rhaegar. He should, for the sake of tradition, but he could not. His hopes and dreams had once rested firmly in Prince Rhaegar’s hands. The prince had ultimately failed him but he still represented so much good in Jaime’s mind. “Welcome to Casterly Rock.”

“I am pleased to be here.” Prince Rhaegar smiled gently. “I wish the circumstances were better, but I believe Lord Tywin would be proud of you for stepping into your true place as you did when he left us.”

“It is my truest hope to do my father proud,” Jaime confirmed. “We will light my father’s pyre at moon rise.”

He turned to his sister. “Cersei, if you would follow Uncle Gerion he will show you to your new quarters.” Cersei beamed and left eagerly, no doubt thinking he was about to plant her in his own bed. She was going to be furious when she realized where he was going to put her.

“Grand Maester Pycelle, I know you were a true friend of my father. Maester Ben will take you to see him.”

Pycelle did not meet anyone’s gaze as he nodded. “Thank you, my Lord Lannister.”

“Lord Varys, would you accompany the grand maester? I fear he may need support and you are the most familiar to him of those here, thanks to your mutual efforts on behalf of Westeros as members of the King’s Small Council.”

“Of course, Lord Lannister,” Varys simpered. “We could all use support in such a trying time.”

Jaime focused on Prince Rhaegar as they left. “The Lord’s Suite has been prepared for yourself, Princess Elia, and Princess Rhaenys. I would invite you all to a private lunch with me within the family quarters. I fear we will all be on display in the days to come, a private lunch is the most respite I can offer.”

“Wife?” Prince Rhaegar checked in with his wife, showing unexpected wisdom.

“We would be honored,” Princess Elia decided. “We would request an hour to wash the road off of us before we dine.”

“Of course,” Jaime bowed more than nodded. “Baths should be ready for you all by the time we reach the family levels.”

“Will there be room for me as well?” Prince Oberyn asked with what was probably supposed to be a charming smile.

Jaime did not fight the urge to scowl at the—entirely shameless—Dornishman. “I have had a cot prepared for you in the Lord’s Nursery. So that you may sleep with the other children.”

Prince Oberyn, the complete ass, laughed.


Jaime was waiting with what he had mentally labeled the Guest Rite Tray before him when the princes and princesses within his domain joined him at his family’s table.

Wordlessly, he dipped his bread in the oil and salt and waited. Amusingly, Prince Oberyn was the first person to serve himself and eat the traditional Guest Rite offering. Once they had all partaken, staff members whisked the tray of necessities away and began to lay the table with lunchtime fare.

“Will Grand Maester Pycelle and Lord Varys be joining us?” Princess Elia asked gently.

“Neither of those men are welcome on the family levels of the Rock,” Jaime admitted, glad yet again that he did not have to cede control of his own keep to anyone other than the King. “Once they are done viewing my father, they will be given the option of long private baths in their quarters elsewhere.”

“And Guest Right?” Prince Oberyn asked.

“Staff are not guests, my prince,” Jaime answered stiffly. He was not actually mad at Oberyn but he knew the part he was expected to play. Not playing it would cause too many questions he did not wish to answer, so Jaime had decided to play his part.

“You do not like me,” Prince Oberyn observed.

“You slept with my sister and ensured one of my bannermen would catch you in the act,” Jaime reminded the man.

“It could have been an accident.”

Jaime gave the prince the look that deserved. “You are supposed to be cunning and frightfully intelligent. The feared Red Viper of Dorne. If you were caught doing something, it was because you wanted to be.”

Prince Oberyn grinned. It was roguish and almost charming. “Why would I do something like that?”

“That is what I want to know!” Jaime exclaimed, throwing his hands up. “It cannot be because you want to marry her. Do not try to convince me of that, I will not believe it.”

“Why not?” Prince Oberyn challenged. “Your sister is beautiful.”

“She is ambitious with neither the training nor the intelligence to support her goals. You must realize this.” Jaime raised an eyebrow. “You are familiar with a variety of women from all possible ranks in life.”

Prince Oberyn shrugged. “I do not like the way she looks at my sister. Ruining her was the easiest way I could keep my sister safe.”

“You are…” an idiot, Jaime did not say. “A man that ruins a woman is forced to marry her unless one of them dies!” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I have sent your brother a letter explaining what you have done and that you must marry my sister. He agrees, by the way.”

Prince Oberyn made a disgusted face. “Over her dead body,” he muttered.

That would be Jaime’s preference, not that he could say as much. Nor could he act on such—he could not afford to be condemned as a kinslayer. He had much too much to accomplish to tolerate such a blight on his name.

“She will spend the next several days locked in isolated chambers, so she understands the depth of her failure,” Jaime told the man. “Once your brother’s messenger arrives with the betrothal contract for the two of you, I will sign it unless it is entirely out of line. I doubt it will be; Lady Olenna tells me that Prince Doran is eager to see you married off. Once the contract is signed, she will be your problem.”

Prince Oberyn sat back with his wine, grumbling.

“Why, exactly, are Lord Varys and Grand Maester Pycelle being denied Guest Right?” Princess Elia asked.

“As I said, they are staff, not guests.”

“The staff of guests are typically extended Guest Right regardless of their personal rank,” she pointed out.

Jaime inclined his head. “Over the last several days, we have uncovered a plot by the Citadel to destabilize the Iron Throne and end bloodlines that have magic—House Targaryen’s bloodline in particular. It is my intention to question Grand Maester Pycelle and, should he be involved, strap him to my father’s pyre. I cannot do that if he has eaten while beneath my roof.”

Jaime glanced at Prince Rhaegar because he technically did not have the authority to act against a member of the King’s Small Council. Not without the support of the Crown Prince, at least.

Prince Rhaegar nodded. “There is nothing wrong with questioning a man. Should he be innocent, he can eat after.

“And Lord Varys?”

“Lord Varys has to know about the Citadel Conspiracy,” Jaime said. “If he does not, then he is incompetent. If he does, he is complicit in the murder of every single child your mother has lost, my prince.”

Prince Rhaegar’s nose flared as he tried to breathe through his temper. “Tell me about your father’s pyre.”

“We will ignite it as day gives birth to night,” Jaime said. “I learned of a ritual to hatch dragon eggs. It is rooted in the Dothraki funeral rite though I could not say if such is necessary or if it was merely a matter of convenience. Blood is significant to the magic of the ritual. A Dothraki khal does, technically, have king’s blood. They are a self-made sort of king and their kingdoms are not static but they do rule over thousands of subjects at a time. I do believe my father’s funeral pyre will work as he is a son of the Kings of the West and he does still rule over thousands of subjects.”

“I cannot find fault in your reasoning,” Rhaegar admitted, turning the concern over to his good-brother with a glance.

“I have studied the Higher Mysteries at the Citadel,” Oberyn reminded Jaime. “The blood of the sacrifice may influence the boon that is granted.”

“We may need a daughter of my line to marry a son of Prince Rhaegar’s line to consolidate House Targaryen’s control of the dragons we hatch,” Jaime guessed and nodded back when Prince Oberyn inclined his head. “That is a concern for later and not much of a concern at that, there are layers of sacrifices to this ritual—some living, some dead.”

Prince Oberyn sat forward with a frown, “What do you know of the Dothraki funeral rites?”

“I have given Uncle Tygette all the details I have,” Jaime told the man. “He is building the pyre itself—roughhewn logs, dried brush, and oil. Laid from ice to fire, sunrise to sunset. My father’s mount, Pride of Lannister, will be slain and laid in the lowest level. My father’s favored belongings will be laid on the middle level—his bedding, his armor and weapons, his favored clothing, half the contents of his desk. Father himself will rest on the top level with the dragon egg you brought.”

“I brought three,” Prince Rhaegar admitted.

Jaime pretended to consider that. “That may be a good thing. Three is a powerful number for House Targaryen.”

Prince Rhaegar nodded. “Why are we strapping people into Lord Tywin’s pyre? I assume they will be alive when we light it.”

“The ritual to hatch dragons that I have learned of had a maegi burned alive on a Dothraki khal’s pyre. I am not entirely sure what a maegi is, but she had been involved in the khal’s death.”

“A maegi is a healer and a wisewoman,” Prince Oberyn said, freely offering the knowledge he had gained during his exile in Essos. “Generally, they are spiritual leader and practitioners of magic but not always. Dothraki typically kill them on sight. They fear them and their magics.”

“Seems like a maester would be the closest thing in Westeros,” Jaime pointed out. It was needless, though. His decision to burn Pycelle had already been made. “We can question Pycelle and Varys on the heart tree to be sure of their guilt or not.”

“On a heart tree?” Princess Elia asked.

Jaime nodded. “A weirwood heart tree with a carved face is a conduit for the magic of the Gods of Stream and Stone. Lord Brandon has been teaching me the old ways so I could better understand his sister whom I intend to marry. Lady Lyanna is a firm believer in what followers of the Faith of the Seven refer to as the old gods.”

“I have seen god magic before,” Prince Oberyn said. “The Priests of R’hllor are terrifying in their use of fire magic.”

Jaime nodded. He knew that. He, too, had seen it firsthand with the Red Woman lighting the blades of Queen Daenerys’s khalasar in that other future. It had not been an effective tactic but it had been strangely beautiful. “I sleep with a piece of weirwood bark under my pillow. I fell asleep on a root once while travelling and the dreams it gave me were extensive. The Seven Who are One have never spoken in a way I or anyone I know has recognized. I would rather give my time to gods that act than a bunch of statues.”

“The laws of the Realm certainly protect your right to do so, though I doubt it will be a popular choice this far south of the Neck,” Prince Rhaegar offered. “Will you tell me about your dreams? They are where you learned of this ritual, are they not?”

“They are,” Jaime agreed. “I ask your indulgence and your patience, Your Grace. I feel strongly that I should explain myself to Lord Rickard of House Stark first. If you care to join us on our trip North, I see no reason you could not be included in that conversation.”

Rhaegar looked to his wife.

Princess Elia frowned. “Are these dreams difficult to discuss?”

“The most difficult,” he assured her.

“His request is reasonable,” Princess Elia told her husband. “Particularly if he manages to hatch even one dragon egg.”

“The debt House Targaryen would owe for such a deed would be immeasurable,” Prince Rhaegar agreed. “You intend for Grand Maester Pycelle to stand in for this maegi?”

“If he is guilty of crimes against the Realm, absolutely,” Jaime agreed. “Lord Varys as well, under the same conditions. I do not know his exact origins, but I do know enough about his story to know he had been involved with sorcerers and other magical beings. Between the two of them, I hope to match whatever the maegi brought to the original ritual.

“The original ritual was performed under a full moon with the red comet overhead. I have seen the comet over Casterly Rock for the last several nights. I believe it is a sign from the true gods telling me I am doing the right thing.”

“If this works, I am converting,” Prince Rhaegar said.

“Let us finish our meal and have this dreadful business decided,” Princess Elia urged. “The sooner we know, the better.”

Jaime inclined his head. “As you will, my queen.”

Prince Oberyn gave Jaime the first truly friendly look he had seen from the man as his sister, Princess Elia, blushed.


Once again before the weirwood tree, Jaime stood with those he trusted and those he wanted to trust. Lady Olenna was at his side along with the royal family currently in Casterly Rock minus the children. His future good-brothers were lingering near the entrance to the Stone Garden as Lord Varys and Grand Maester Pycelle were escorted before them.

“We are taking our meal here?” Grand Maester Pycelle asked.

“Not exactly.” Jaime took the old man’s hand and sliced it before laying it on the tree.

“What is the meaning of this!” Grand Maester Pycelle demanded. He tried to pull his hand from the tree. As with all the others that tried such before him, he failed. Pycelle even gave up his aged and fragile affection in an attempt to free himself.

Jaime looked to Rhaegar to make sure he noticed the change in the man’s demeanor. Rhaegar nodded when Jaime caught his eye.

“Grand Maester Pycelle,” Jaime called the man’s attention and gained a glare for his trouble. “Where does your loyalty lie?”

The grand maester was bleeding from his nose by the time the gods forced him to admit, “With the Society for the Advancement of Science.” His glare grew even more ferocious.

“What acts have you carried out in the service of the Society for the Advancement of Science?”

“I have invited Queen Rhaella to take tea with me,” Pycelle was forced to admit.

“And what tea was Queen Rhaella served.”

Pycelle pressed his lips firmly together.

“You can answer or the tree can kill you for your refusal. I care not. The gods of Stream and Stone will kill you if you continue to flout their will.”

Grand Maester Pycelle gaped at him in shock. In his shock he lost his grasp on his will to resist and answered.  “I serve the Queen moontea anytime she joins me for a respite. She has grown to enjoy the flavor.”

How many times did a woman have to drink moontea to come to like it? Jaime honestly did not want to know. “When did this tea ritual begin?”

“After the Tragedy of Summerhall. King Aegon had ordered most of the Small Council to remain in King’s Landing, including myself. I had not thought then-Prince Aerys would attempt to breed his twelve-year-old wife. I was wrong.”

Boy, was he.

“Queen Rhaella had several pregnancies before the survival of Prince Viserys. If you were regularly plying her with moontea, you must have decided to allow these pregnancies to pass. Why did you allow those pregnancies?”

“I could not block all of the Queen’s pregnancies or I might become suspected. Or, worse, Aerys might assume she was infertile and set her aside. We decided we would take the opportunity to verify the admissions Tyanna of the Tower made under torture—that she had poisoned her fellow wives’ pregnancies causing all of Maegor’s children to be born deformed and weak.”

“My brothers, Daeron, Aegon, and Jaehaerys all lived,” Rhaegar objected. “For less than a year, but they lived.”

“Did you kill Prince Daeron, Prince Aegon, and Prince Jaehaerys, Sons of King Aerys II?” Jaime asked directly when Pycelle did not respond.

Pycell shook his head. “Prince Daeron died of his own accord. I…was weak. The king and queen’s happiness moved me. I nearly sought retirement from my post but the gods themselves corrected my mistake.”

Jaime shook his head. There was a lot to unpack there but the most important thing—the thing Jaime had to focus on—was the treason the grand maester was admitting to. “But you did kill Prince Aegon and Prince Jaehaerys?”

“I did,” Pycelle admitted. “The poison that worked on Princess Shena did not work on the princes, no matter the doses I attempted. Both pregnancies were frustrating failures.”

“Why did you allow the birth of Prince Viserys?” Jaime thought that was honestly the worst choice Pycelle could have made when it came to allowing Targaryen children to survive. The horrors the Beggar King had put his sister through, while Jaime did not know them all, were said to have been beyond reason.

“I did not allow the birth of Prince Viserys. He was born during a period where the Queen was secured to the Maidenvault and no men were allowed near her, not even myself or the Kingsguard.”

“Would you have killed Prince Viserys if you were allowed?”

“Certainly, but he did not fall into my care until he was more than a year old and established to be a healthy child. We were concerned that I might be suspected if I induced a fever.”

“Were you ever going allow my mother a second child?” Prince Rhaegar asked.

Grand Maester Pycelle nodded. “A daughter, well after you were married and had a child, to drive you towards Targaryen madness. I would then urge your mother to try no more. You father would either kill her for refusing him or I would poison her before the child was born. The child would live but be deformed, further driving House Targaryen to madness. We tested the method for it on Lady Joanna Lannister and were confident it would work.”

Prince Rhaegar was set back by the grand maester’s excessive honesty—Jaime assumed the gray rat was doing it on purpose to distract them both and end the questioning early but Jaime already knew about the Citadel’s crimes against his mother. He would not be redirected.

“You have referred to we several times in regard to making decisions,” Jaime pointed out. “With whom are you consulting in choosing your actions against the king and queen?”

“Archmaesters Gawayne and Gareth.”

Those were Reacher names. Rather common ones, unfortunately. “Who is Archmaester Gawayen and what is his subject matter?”

Pycelle huffed but did not bother glaring again. He was smart enough to notice his previous efforts had had no effect. “Archmaester Gawayne holds the mask, rod, and staff for Warcraft.”

“And who is Archmaester Gawayne within the Society for the Advancement of Science?”

“He is the current leader of the Society. He will serve until he chooses to retire from the position or is selected for Grand Maester.”

“And who is Archmaester Gareth and what is his subject?”

“Archmaester Gareth is one of the three Archmaesters of History. As such, he is the historian of the Society.”

“What is the relationship between Archmaesters Gawayne and Gareth?” Lady Olenna demanded.

Pycelle answered only because he had to. “Brothers.”

“From what House?”

“House Hightower,” Pycelle said.

“And what is their relationship with Lord Leyton of House Hightower?” she pressed.

“Cousins. Third cousins, twice removed.”

“So not close family,” Lady Olenna observed. “Is Lord Leyton Hightower involved with the Society?”

“N— Not that I am aware of.”

“Who is Maester Mordayn?” she pressed. It was a good question. There was no way every member of the Society was as well-informed as Maester Mordayn. At least Jaime, hoped so. Otherwise, they were all complete fools for not having noticed the Citadel’s conspiracy earlier.

“He is the current favorite for the position of Grand Maester when I retire.”

Jaime was confused. “Then why was he sent as a candidate to serve House Lannister?” No grand maester had ever been in the direct service of a House before they joined the service of the Iron Throne. Such would leave the impression of favoritism on a position that had to stand neutral for the sake of the Realm.

“Keep assignments are decided by lot unless a specific request is made by maester or lord. No maester can be removed from the pool until he is confirmed as grand maester or gains the rank of archmaester.”

So, it was pure chance that a man so well informed and, honestly, arrogant had been sent to Casterly Rock to be discovered. It seemed the gods were, in fact, favoring him.

“You mentioned the Kingsguard when you were discussing Queen Rhaella’s confinement to the Maiden Vault before and Ser Gerold did study at the Citadel,” Ser Arthur Dayne pointed out. “Is Ser Gerold Hightower a member of your Society?”


Jaime frowned. “Why is Ser Gerold not a member of your society?”

“Only men who have completed their chains and taken their oaths as a maester are considered members of the Society.”

“Do you cultivate resources among Acolytes and Novices at the Citadel?” Jaime figured they had to. He hoped men required extensive grooming to embrace the belief that killing children—for any reason—was neither a crime nor murder.

“We do,” Pycelle admitted.

“Was Ser Gerold Hightower one of those cultivated resources?”

“I believe he was.”

“Why do you believe that?” Jaime prayed they were nearly done. The violent impulses the questioning process fostered in him were growing tiresome. He tried to console himself with the knowledge that Grand Maester Pycelle was going to burn.

“When he arrived in King’s Landing, he informed me that while he had been urged to do my bidding without question, he would refuse to do anything he knew to be overtly treasonous as he did not wish to break his vows.”

“Then, he is a willfully-ignorant accomplice,” Jaime concluded.

The Grand Maester did not reply but it had been a statement rather than a question.

“Lady Olenna, Princes, Princess, do any of you have any further questions for the traitor?”

Predictably, the grand maester puffed up in offense. “I am not a traitor! I have done what I must for the greater good! Any man of logic would do the same!”

“Then I pray I spend my days surrounded by men of honor and not men of logic,” Princess Elia said. “I tire of his presence.”

Jaime inclined his head. “You heard her. Bind and gag the prisoner,” he ordered his guards.

“Well, that was very interesting,” Lord Varys offered once Pycelle had been removed. He was backing up very slowly as if Jaime would not notice his constantly changing position if the man only moved when he blinked. “Now I understand the king’s faith in you, Lord Lannister, and why my presence here was necessary. I will root out this conspiracy, fear not.”

“I do not fear,” Jaime assured the man. “I have come to understand that every Grand Maester keeps a personal journal of the crimes they have committed in the name of the Society.”

“I will have one of my little birds find it immediately,” Lord Varys promised.

“Very well, Lord Varys,” Jaime nodded. “But first, you must answer our questions.”

“I cannot see—”

Lord Brandon accosted Lord Varys from behind. “Truly, we insist.”

Lord Benjen held Varys’s wrist steady as Jaime cut his palm. Once he was secured by the Will of the Gods to the tree, they all released him.

“Now, I do admit I have wondered this for quite some time. What is your true name, Lord Varys?”

“Vaegon Blackfyre.” Lord Varys ground the words out.

“House Blackfyre has fallen,” Prince Rhaegar objected. “They were ended in the Ninepenny Kings War.”

“The male line died out,” Lord Varys confirmed with a smirk.

“Who of the female line survived?” Jaime asked.

Lord Varys glared but Jaime just shrugged. He had honestly asked for it with his answer to Rhaegar’s non-question. “My grandmother Nerys and her two daughters, Shaenerys and Jaenerys.”

“Is House Blackfyre still seeking the Iron Throne?” Jaime asked.

“Of course,” Varys said airily, “House Targaryen is on the brink of extinction. Who else would rule the Seven Kingdoms?”

“House Baratheon,” Jaime informed him. Because he had seen it. It had already happened in his lifetime. “Lord Robert’s grandmother was a princess of House Targaryen. He has a great deal more true Targaryen blood than any living member House Blackfyre.”

If looks could kill, Jaime would be dead by Varys’s glare.

“Who are the living members of House Blackfyre?” Prince Oberyn asked.

“My grandmother Nerys, my aunt Jaenerys, my cousins Rhaegon and Daenerys, and myself,” Varys answered.

“Is Rhaegon Blackfyre’s public name Illyrio Mopatis?” Prince Oberyn asked.

Jaime did not understand the question but Lord Varys clearly did as he struggled not to answer. Lord Brandon popped him, open handed, on top of his bald head just hard enough to make the man gasp. Concentration lost; Varys answered. “Yes.”

“I think we are done here?” Jaime asked.

Rhaegar held up a hand. “Vaegon Blackfyre, what is the thing you want to keep from House Targaryen the most?”

“Daenerys Blackfyre is of an age with you and the best candidate to seal the breech between House Targaryen and House Blackfyre. Not even Grandmother Nerys would act against her own blood if they married into House Targaryen.” Varys glared at them.

“Bind and gag him,” Jaime ordered. “Force the fabric between his teeth, he is the type to bite off his own tongue.”

“I know Illyrio Mopatis,” Prince Oberyn interjected. “We should kill him and everyone he considers his family, regardless of Varys’s opinion.”

“The breech must be sealed,” Elia disagreed. “War has not worked to keep the Blackfyre Usurpers at bay. Mayhaps a marriage will.”

“To who? Viserys?” Rhaegar asked.

“To you,” Elia disagreed. “You need more children to bind the Seven Kingdoms to you once you ascend the Throne and I cannot guarantee I will give them to you. A second wife would be a better option. She and I can be friends, mayhaps lovers. You know I prefer women to men and I will love her children as if they were my own—it will prevent a second Dance of the Dragons.”

Rhaegar jerked back as if she had struck him. “I will consider it,” he promised.

“Are you afraid your second wife will love your first wife more than she loves you?” Prince Oberyn teased.

“It is a concern.” Rhaegar huffed. “But I could also marry her to Ser Arthur once he is released from his Kingsguard vows. We could share grandchildren.”

“That would put the blood of Blackfyre back into the line of succession without risking any danger to Princess Elia’s children,” Jaime offered.

“If she loves me, there will be no danger to my children,” Princess Elia argued.

“Love between the two of you does not mean her mother will not harm your children,” Brandon disagreed. “I assume this is the same as House Stark’s relationship with House Bolton. You need them close but not so close that they get ideas. A three-way cross later, is the safer option.”

“I will consider it,” Prince Rhaegar repeated with a tone of finality. “First, we need someone to drive the male line of House Blackfyre back into extinction. And for someone to bring Lady Daenerys to Westeros. Gently, mind.”

“I will deal with Master Mopatis,” Oberyn volunteered. “I believe I have connections that will lead me to his younger sister.”

“You have to deal with my sister first,” Jaime reminded the prince. “And I was not being inflammatory when I mentioned the grand maester keeping a journal. I was being honest. It could be in code so there is no telling which book among Pycelle’s personal possessions it is, but we should certainly claim them all before the Citadel learns of Pycelle’s death.”

“My former squires remained in King’s Landing to dissuade any unfortunate whispers from reaching my father’s ears,” Prince Rhaegar said. “I will have them handle it.”

“Like the ones we are all hearing about you being the true sponsor of Harrenhal?” Lady Olenna asked pointedly.

“Just so,” the crown prince confirmed, his face giving nothing away.

Lady Olenna harumphed like the old lady she was. “How long until we burn the traitors, my Lord Lannister?”

“I would have to check the position of the sun,” Jaime admitted. “But we need to light the pyre as the first star appears.”

“Very good,” Lady Olenna stood from her chair. “With your leave, I would like to rest. It is my hope that we have a long night before us.”

“Hear, hear,” Prince Rhaegar agreed.

“I should check on the building of the pyre,” Jaime decided.

“I will send a raven and then join you,” Prince Rhaegar decided. “Wife?”

“I wish to check on the children,” Princess Elia admitted. “Obara will certainly be out of sorts with her lack of weapons training.”

“I have several men that would be willing to train her,” Jaime offered. “Including my Uncle Tygette once he is finished overseeing the building of my father’s pyre.”

“You offer girls weapons training in Casterly Rock?” Prince Oberyn asked in surprise.

“My father would have never,” Jaime admitted. “But I have seen too many crimes committed against women simply because they are women. I would give them the means to protect themselves as long as they want them. This is especially important as the Ironborn has raided our coast repeatedly in our mutual histories.

“I have already sent a man to Braavos to hire a waterdancer for the training of my future wife and daughters.”

Lord Brandon snorted. “I cannot wait to tell Lya that.”

“You could leave it as a surprise,” Jaime offered.

“I could,” Lord Brandon almost-believably agreed.

“If he does, I will not,” Benjen asserted. “I have to earn my place as her favorite brother in some way.”

“Ingrates,” Jaime muttered. Both Starks laughed.

Their parties separated as they left the Stone Gardens. Ser Barristan escorted Princess Elia back to the family levels and Ser Arthur led the guards in carrying Lord Varys and Grand Maester Pycelle down to the cells.

“How did you discover the Society conspiracy?” Prince Rhaegar asked before he did more than set foot on the stairs toward the ravenry.

“Several things I am not ready to discuss.” Jaime raised a pointed eyebrow and Prince Rhaegar nodded his acceptance. “Specifically, I found my own Maester Creylen to be suspicious. He was vehement that I should not be named Lord Lannister due to my age despite my knighting and the support of every other adult member of House Lannister. It made me concerned about where his loyalties actually laid if he was so openly opposing the will of House Lannister.”

Prince Rhaegar considered that for a moment before he nodded. “I can understand your concern.”

“I knew about Trial by the Tree but I did not want to actually execute the man unless I had to. The Wall needs all the men it can get and he is a talented maester. When Lords Brandon and Benjen arrived, we discussed my options for gaining the truth as I knew I needed to do more than simply ask the man and trust him to be honest. Together with Lady Olenna, we questioned Maester Creylen and discovered the Society.

“I had already requested and received a pool of new maesters from the Citadel, so we questioned them as well. Maester Ben and Maester Muln proved to be good men, worthy of the trust of House Lannister. The third, Maester Mordayn,” Jaime shook his head. “I was not subtle enough in my investigation. He poisoned the Lord’s Wine and sent a raven to the Citadel to inform them of the Society’s discovery by opposing forces. I would like to believe we shot down the Maester’s raven but I cannot be sure.”

“And the poison?” Prince Rhaegar asked.

“Killed four people—including my aunt by marriage, Lady Dorna Swyft. She was the last member of House Swyft so her death was a true tragedy.”

“You have my condolences,” Prince Rhaegar said. “When were you going to mention the possibility of the Citadel starting a war?”

Jaime was not sure what his face was doing but it made Prince Rhaegar frown ferociously. “I would have thought it obvious that war with the Citadel was inevitable. The Society must be ended and the Citadel’s intellectual dominance of Westeros must be shattered before it can be used to cultivate another conspiracy of a type with the Society.

“If we are fortunate, Lady Olenna will manage to prevent overt war within the Reach. We will able to seize their libraries and move forward. If we are not…” Jaime said with a shrug. “The type of war may depend on several factors but, with the knowledge we now have, war is inevitable.”

Prince Rhaegar sighed. “You are correct. Now the issue is alerting every House in Westeros to the conspiracy without alerting the Society that we are on to them.”

“Lady Olenna pointed out to me that regardless of any ravens that may or may not yet be received by the Citadel, the death of all of their Society members across Westeros will gain the society’s attention.” Jaime mentioned.

“And she would be correct.”

Jaime nodded. “I do believe it would be better for us to alert the other lords on the issue before the Society begins sending out kill orders that will see entire Houses extinguished. Conveniently, there is a rather well-supported Tournament soon that is sure to draw members of every House across the entirety of Westeros.”

“It is convenient,” Prince Rhaegar agreed, not giving his part in the tournament away at all.

Ironically, it just made Jaime more certain of his involvement.

“Lord Brandon, will you lead the princes up toward the rookery?” Jaime asked the man he hoped would one day be his good-brother.

“Of course, my lord,” Brandon agreed. “My Princes?” Brandon bowed and led Prince Oberyn and Prince Rhaegar upward.

Jaime went down one level and directly west to the terrace they were building his father’s pyre upon. It was normally dedicated to large groups of boys being trained in arms to serve in the Red Cloaks of House Lannister. Today, those boys were running back and forth, building a pyre under the stern direction of Uncle Tygette.

“Anything I need to know?” Jaime asked his uncle.

“Slightly more than two hours to sunset,” Uncle Tygette observed. “We need to slaughter Pride before we build the upper levels. Do you need to do it?”

Jaime tried to remember what he had heard about Queen Daenerys’s hatching of dragons. He knew the dragon queen had not slayed her husband’s mount herself. One of her husband’s captains had done it—a man that had held her husband’s trust.

As he had none of Queen Daenerys’s dragonblood, he expected Prince Rhaegar would have to light the pyre for the ritual to work but he did have his father’s trust so he could certainly kill Pride.

“Yes, I should,” Jaime agreed.

“Bring Pride,” Tygette ordered his squire.

Pride of Lannister was a large horse—a stallion beyond compare—with a deep red coat and golden mane and tail. Jaime preferred his own Honor with the white star upon her red face or his sister’s Beauty with dark stockings anchoring her golden coat, but Pride had neither. He had no markings to slander his perfect Lannister coloring.

They had to entice the stallion into position with sweet words and sweeter treats, but he was war-trained and overcame his reluctance quickly. Before the horse could object, Jaime slit his throat. It took nearly a dozen boys—including both Cleganes—to ensure the horse folded down into the correct position within the pyre. Jaime worked with them to cover the horse in dried brush and splashes of oil.

He stepped back as the gathered men and boys built the middle level of the pyre. The logs were pre-shaped and the rope was pre-cut so it all came together in a dance.

Jaime directed the placement of his father’s favorite things and then stepped back again as the highest level was built.

“Bring my father,” he ordered the Red Cloaks that were standing guard. “Have pages alert our guests that the pyre will be lit soon.”

It did not take long for Prince Rhaegar to join him, carrying one side of a scaled chest while Ser Arthur carried the other. Lady Olenna arrived soon after that and Jaime put the lords and ladies out of his mind. This was not for them. This was for the future of the Living.

He prayed Prince Rhaegar was worthy of what the gods were about to grant him then he put that out of his mind, too.

Once his father was in place, Jaime opened Prince Rhaegar’s chest. He stared at the contents. One egg was two shades of red like a cluster of rubies and garnets grown together. The next was gold with swirls of white. The last was shades of purple—both the deep purple of Valyrian eyes and the soft purple of House Dayne’s sigil.

He was not sure why, but he was suddenly aware that he could not place the eggs on the pyre. His part of the ritual was done. Now, the magic of the blood of the dragon was needed.

“Place the eggs on my father’s level as you see fit,” Jaime urged the crown prince.

Rhaegar frowned at him in confusion but did not take long to nod his agreement. He could nearly taste the older man’s eagerness for this to work. Prince Oberyn and Ser Arthur carried the chest closer to the pyre to hand the eggs upwards as Prince Rhaegar crawled all over the pyre.

“Bring Grand Maester Pycelle and Lord Varys,” he ordered the same two Red Cloaks again.

The two men were carried out of Casterly Rock trussed up like game animals and twice as squirmy.

Prince Rhaegar’s voice was distant as he ordered the placement of the two on completely opposite corners of the pyre. Then he began to splash the entire construction—including the two living men—with oil.

The heir to the Iron Throne took up a torch and turned to stare at the sky in silence.

The Bleeding Star was the first star to appear after the felling of the sun and Jaime knew then that they would be successful.

Rhaegar held his torch up to the star in salute, then he plunged it into the heart of the pyre. The construction of wood, brush, flesh, and oil went up in a whoosh and Jaime was not the only one to flinch back.

Two did not flinch. Two moved forward, drawn in by the flames—Prince Rhaegar and Princess Elia.

That was when Jaime remembered—Princess Elia was chosen as Prince Rhaegar’s bride because House Nymeros Martell was the blood of the dragon. The previous joining of House Targaryen and House Martell was nearly a hundred years back, but Princess Elia’s great-great-grandmother was Daenerys Targaryen, sister of King Daeron the Good. And she had spent the past two years submerged in the fire magic of Dragonstone and in the bed of the heir to the House of the Dragon. If anything could bring forward her dragon blood, those were certainly it.

Their clothing did not catch fire. Nor was their hair claimed by the flames. The wedded couple just danced—nothing civilized, they danced to the call of ancient blood that no one else could understand.

Jaime had no care for the gossip scurrying among the gathered nobles like mice—Lady Olenna would fill him in on anything important later. Or he would catch it as she reviewed the situation with Lord Benjen for training purposes. Jaime was too entranced by his king and queen to care about such mundane things. Entranced by their energy, by their rhythm, by the dance ancient Valyrians must have followed so long ago.

King and queen froze, their attention on the pyre, and Jaime knew what was to come.

A crack so powerful several ladies screamed—and Jaime knew an egg had hatched. Two more cracks followed like the sound of a thousand whips striking as one and Jaime waited.

Prince Rhaegar and Princess Elia began dancing again. This dance was different. It was a welcome. A gentle greeting, not an urgent command. A song pierced the air, stopping all movement. One voice sang, then two, then three, four, finally five voices. Inhuman voices. Far more lovely than Jaime had ever heard before.

A dance of coaxing began, and five small bodies eventually emerged from the flames. Gold and white was the first, the boldest and largest. Garnet emerged next with pale purple in its shadow. Finally, Valyrian purple and ruby left the shelter of the flames.

Jaime had had no idea that dragons could be twins but how else could five dragons emerge from three eggs? He found it fitting that his father who had sired twins of his own in life had ushered two sets of twin dragons forth in death.

The gold-and-white sought shelter in the arms of Prince Rhaegar while Princess Elia scooped up the Valyrian purple with a joyful laugh.

Jaime was amused to note that the darker red—the garnet—regarded Princess Elia with confusion. The little beast searched the folds of her dress for his rider. Jaime tried his best not to laugh at the little thing. If he had doubts that she was carrying Prince Aegon, those doubts were put to rest.

He turned to see that the pale Dayne purple was crooning up to Princess Rhaenys who was reaching downward out of her nursemaid’s arms. The nurse cautiously set the year-old princess on the stone of the courtyard and the dragon had wrapped itself around the princess in a flash.

A familiar laugh told Jaime that he did not want to know what the final dragon—the little ruby—was doing. Jaime closed his eyes to brace himself before he sought the ruby in the crowd. Tyrion—of course it was Tyrion—was crouching to pat the little dragon’s head as any other youngling would a kitten or a puppy. The beast stared up at Tyrion with adoration clear in its amber eyes. It had chosen Tyrion.

Jaime knew the law. It broke his heart, but he knew it.

Thanks to the Dance of the Dragons, all dragon riders were legally members of House Targaryen. Tyrion would never inherit the throne because he would never be considered part of the direct line but he would never inherit Casterly Rock, either. He could not stand as Jaime’s heir. Jaime would be lucky to keep their relationship as brothers.

“Jaime! Look!” Tyrion cried with joy. “A dragon! Just my size!”

Jaime resolved then that Tyrion would not see him cry. He plastered the best smile on his face that he could. The dragon clung to Tyrion as Jaime took him in his arms.

“And what is this mighty warrior’s name?” Jaime asked his brother.

“Caraxes!” Tyrion grinned. His little face grew even uglier in his joy with his mismatched eyes and missing nose, but Jaime loved it. It broke his heart, but he had loved Tyrion for years and he would continue to love the boy even now that they were no longer legally considered brothers. “The Bloodwyrm Returned!”


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