LLM Book Three: Harrenhal

Title: Harrenhal
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Series: Little Lion Man
Series Order: 3
Fandom: GoT/ASOIAF
Genre: Fix-it AU, Time Travel AU
Relationships: Jaime Lannister/Lyanna Stark, background relationships (M/M, M/F, F/F)
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Canon-level Violence, Dark Themes, Unreliable Narrator (Jaime Lannister), Bigotry/Religious Zealotry (Catelyn Tully), Major Character Death (Robert Baratheon, Petyr Baelish), Minor Character Death (OCs, Emmon Frey, Edmure Tully, Lysa Tully, Hoster Tully, Gregor Clegane, Viserys Targaryen)
Author Notes: 1.) Down with the Fishes. 2.) I recognize that the melee in a tourney in GRRMs world is mounted. As I do not want that body count, I have elected to ignore this fact. 3.) If you read this on the Quantum Bang site and it seems different to you, that’s because I’ve edited it again >.> Its mine, I can do that. No major story changes, I promise, just proofreading and a few other corrections.
Word Count: 31,964
Summary: The Tourney of Harrenhal

 

Chapter One

 

“It’s even larger than I remember,” Jaime admitted, looking up at the heights of Harrenhal. “How is it bigger than I remember?”

“Because you are smaller than you remember being then?” his wife guessed.

That was fair, he was shorter and scrawnier than he had been, but, “I cannot believe six inches or so would make a difference to that.” He gestured to the heights of Harrenhal as they reached into the sky like charred, desperate fingers.

“You said there were wars,” Ned offered.

“Ah,” Jaime nodded, “it could have been damaged.” Or the generally defeated air that pervaded the keep after House Whent had been murdered or ran off had made it feel smaller.

“I will ride ahead as we agreed?” Jaime asked.

“Nymeria will remain with us,” his good-father confirmed.

Jaime urged Honor to greater speed. Uncle Tygette and Sandor Clegane joined him, as planned. It took them nearly three hours to reach Harrenhal at full speed.

Upon their dismount, they were greeted by Lord Walter Whent; his wife, Lady Shella; his brother; Ser Oswell of the Kingsguard; and his daughter, Lady Margaery. The fair maid of House Whent looked enough like the Rose of Highgarden he had known in another life to be startling. The primary difference was the red in her brown hair that marked her as having Tully blood rather than the hints of blonde the first he had known had that marked her as having Hightower blood. She also had green eyes rather than Tyrell blue.

“My lords, my ladies,” Jaime gave them a lingering inclination of his head. He technically did not have to acknowledge them even that small amount. He outranked them as a Lord Paramount to their Lord Vassal but they were his host. He was on their land. A minimum of respect would help move things along with greater speed and ease. “I come with a need for clarification.”

“You have come with the Northern party?” Lady Margaery asked.

Jaime took her lead to mean they were pretending this event was solely for her and was not instigated by Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen for the purpose of subverting his father’s rule. Or, mayhaps, Lord Whent had lied even to his own daughter about the true reason for the tourney. Not that Rhaegar’s involvement was any more than a rumor at this point, but the assumption was what made the most sense out of their confusing circumstances

“I have,” Jaime confirmed. “Has House Lannister already arrived?”

Lord Walter snorted but did not speak.

“All of our expected guests from the Westerlands have already arrived,” Lady Margaery answered. “The Lords of the West arrived as one.

“Your uncles are most keen to see you and meet your new wife?”

“I wed Lady Lyanna Stark nearly a moon gone,” Jaime confirmed. “She is with the rest of our party. We need to know House Whent’s policy on bonded great beasts.”

Lady Margaery frowned. “I am afraid I do not follow.”

“Historically, the most ancient noble lines had the ability to warg, I believe is the most commonly remembered term for it. The gods have seen fit to return these abilities and bonds to House Stark, House Lannister, and House Targaryen.”

Lady Margaery covered her mouth as she gasped.

“Then the rumors are true?” Ser Oswell demanded. “Dragons have returned to House Targaryen?”

“I believe our prince wishes to make his announcement in his own time,” Jaime softly confirmed.

“Where is he?”

“If everything has proceeded as planned, the prince left Winterfell two weeks behind the rest of our party and will arrive here on the morrow.”

“Is all well?” Lady Margaery asked, her concern too clear to be legitimate.

It was uncommon for a man of such a rank as the crown prince to travel alone or at great speed. Physical security and safety were paramount concerns for royalty, no matter where they lived. That Prince Rhaegar was travelling alone was a concern. Particularly to anyone unfamiliar with his tendancy to pick a Kingsguard and a horse and leave King’s Landing for months at a time.

“All is wonderful,” Jaime assured Lady Margaery, “But, again, the prince wishes to speak upon his own behalf.”

“Understood,” the fair maid confirmed. “You mentioned history and warging.”

“Yes, milady.”

“Do you mean to say direwolves have once again entered the service of House Stark?” she asked astutely.

“I would hardly call it service,” Jaime disagreed. “But the four Starks approaching your great keep each bear a direwolf cub that they share a bond with. I myself have bonded a Winter Lion.”

Lady Margaery licked her lips. “And the first place all of these great beasts will be introduced to Westeros is my tourney?”

“Yes, milady.”

Lady Margery beamed, clearly pleased with even the indirect attention the creatures would bring to an event held in her honor. “What question did you have about them?”

“Whether they would be welcome. They are our bonded friends, companions, but they are still wild animals and my Nymeria is quite large. None of them will tolerate intrusion into their space or the abuse of their human.”

“Anyone who would challenge anything to do with such a creature deserves what they get,” Lady Margaery said tartly. “You are welcome to bring them anywhere you are invited. Including meals and events.

“Right, father?”

Lord Whent frowned but nodded. He and Tygette would get along splendidly with their aversion to the spoken word.

“Would you like to meet our beasts?” Jaime asked Lady Margaery.

“Oh, yes. Of course!” She stepped forward in excitement. “Would you like to see the rest of your family first?”

Jaime glanced to his uncle who just nodded.

“My uncle, Lord Tygette of Cornfield, will go to them.”

“Of course.” Lady Margaery signaled a page who stepped forward and bowed. “Congratulations for receiving a keep of your own, Lord Tygette.”

Tygette grunted something like appreciating and followed the page into the keep.

Jaime turned toward the fields and offered the lady his arm. “Shall we?”

“You just want me to find your wife for you,” Lady Margaery sallied though took his arm readily.

Jaime laughed. “Nymeria would lead me to her if I asked her too. My Lady Lyanna mentioned wanting to meet you.”

“The Winter Rose?” Lady Margaery’s surprise this time seemed real. “Meet me?”

“You must know you are the talk of Westeros,” Jaime offered. “Everyone wants to know the real reason for the tournament. The invitation was unexpected and the details startled many.”

“The reason for the tournament is that I will be six-and-ten and have no sincere offers for my hand,” Lady Margaery said with a bitterness that was startling for Jaime. “I am the last living of five children. All four of my brothers have died. Most blame my mother and assume I will fail my husband similarly. Or that Ser Oswell will abandon the Kingsguard to inherit in my place when my father dies.”

“That is not how the Kingsguard works,” Jaime pointed out.

“Oh, I know. Uncle Oswell has made it clear that he will leave the Kingsguard when he dies or if his king were to send him to the Wall. He will accept no other options.”

“Your father is looking for an heir?” Jaime grimaced.

“No, he has accepted me—or my second son, should I marry a lord of greater rank than he—as his heir. He seeks to provide for my protection. He wants me to wed a fierce warrior humble enough to follow my lead but strong enough to lead my armies.”

“A difficult combination to find,” Jaime acknowledged.

“Hence, the outrageous tourney,” she agreed. “My father’s objection to his sister marrying Hoster Tully was that he was not a warrior. He was a lordling through and through that would certainly sacrifice my aunt on the altar of his ambition.”

“And he did,” Jaime agreed. “She died in childbirth because three healthy children were not enough for him as two of them were daughters.”

Lady Margaery nodded solemnly. “Lord Hoster just had to have a second son.”

“The winners of the various events will be considered for your hand?” Jaime checked.

“Unless I find the perfect man over the course of the tourney and choose him instead,” she agreed.

“And if one House sweeps all three events?”

“A House?” she asked. “Not a man?”

“House Stark does not train for jousting as we do in the South,” Jaime explained.

“But if you won the joust and crowned your wife, it could be considered a victory for House Stark,” she concluded, proving her understanding.

“House Stark happens to have a second son that it the most brilliant tactical mind of our generation and he has a direwolf, ensuring men will listen to him—out of fear, if they are too stupid to respect him,” Jaime explained. “He is, as of recently, unbetrothed and the North is not a stranger to ladies ruling in their own right. They are not as open with it as Dorne, but the North is not as open about anything as Dorne. There are two Houses in the North right now with Lady heirs or rulers—and not just because there were no men to do the job.”

“This second son sounds almost too good to be true,” Lady Margaery admitted.

“Well, do contain your excitement. He is a broody, dour fellow and a firm believer in the old gods.”

Lady Margaery laughed. “I am familiar with such men. I am not put off.”

“Very well, I will introduce you to him.”

“And what is this paragon’s name?” She asked.

“Ned,” Jaime answered flatly. Lady Margaery laughed again. “Eddard is his name but his family really does call him Ned.”

“That is deeply unfortunate.” She agreed, then she screamed. A beefy hand had pulled her off of his arm. Jaime turned, Oathkeeper half out of his scabbard to see that Robert Baratheon had absconded with Lady Margaery. She was pressed to his armored chest and struggling, desperate to get away.

“You will unhand her immediately, Baratheon,” Jaime commanded. Nymeria backed him up with a mighty bellow from deep within the tents that were now behind him.

“Fuck off, Lannister!” Baratheon shouted. Then he focused on Lady Margaery. “Lyanna, I feared the worst when I received your father’s raven. Please tell me he has not already sold you off for Lannister gold.”

“I am not Lady Lyanna!” Lady Margaery screamed.

“You trust me not,” Baratheon seemed to realize, staring at Lady Margaery with wide, hopeful eyes. “Whatever lies Lannister has told you, I would never hurt you!”

“You are hurting me!”

“Robert?” Ned asked as he came skidding to a stop, sword bare in his fist.

“Ned,” Robert greeted. Then he saw the woman just behind Ned—his sister, the real Lady Lyanna. Her pure Stark coloring and resemblance to Ned made mistaking her identity impossible. “This is not Lyanna,” Baratheon realized and threw the Fair Maid of Harrenhal away as if she had burned him. She had been trying to pull herself away from Baratheon and fell into the mud as a result. “You tricked me, Lannister! I will have your head!”

“You tricked yourself!” Jaime disagreed. “She told you she was not Lady Lyanna. I was escorting our host to meet my wife—something you would have known if you had even bothered to say hello!”

Knights in mismatched armor under Whent tabards—hedge knights hired by House Whent to help manage the Tourney—surrounded Baratheon with their swords drawn. Now that he could be sure Baratheon would not stab him in the back, Jaime bent to help Lady Margaery to her feet.

“My Lord, you are ordered to come with us,” Ser Oswell demanded. “To face Lord Whent’s justice.”

Jaime snorted to himself. What a formal way to say Baratheon had earned himself a fine and banishment from the Tourney. It was not as if House Whent had the authority to demand more than that from a Lord Paramount. And Prince Rhaegar, who could see him justly punished, had not yet arrived.

“I demand trial by combat!” Baratheon cried.

“For what?” Jaime could not help but ask. “Everyone saw you assault an innocent girl. There is no denying it.”

“Not for me,” Baratheon growled. “For you!

“You bullied Rickard Stark with your gold for the hand of his daughter and the gods know you will bully her too. Lady Lyanna will never be safe in your care!”

“Even if you kill me, you will gain nothing,” Jaime informed the man.

It was a clause in their betrothal contact because Jaime had expected a violent conflict with Baratheon the first time they met. In the event he died before a child was born to inherit, Lyanna would have a year and a day of mourning and then marry his uncle and heir, Ser Kevan.

Even if Jaime died, Lyanna would never be Lady Baratheon, she would always be Lady Lannister.

Baratheon scoffed. He was a fool. He was made of multiple layers of fool.

“You do realize that implying the woman you had desired to marry was available for purchase will not win you any favor—with her or her House.” Jaime had to check, “Right?”

Robert ignored his very valid point. “Will you accept the gods’ judgement or will you prove yourself a coward as well a tyrant?”

Jaime turned to his wife. “Your preference, my lady?”

His wife’s face was slightly less warm and cuddly than the Wall as she stared at Baratheon with fury smoldering in her eyes. “Put him down like the mad dog he is.”

Robert bellowed like an injured bull. Only the thirty hedge knights of House Whent kept him back.

“I would have no one question the honor of our House, husband,” Lyanna concluded.

“As you wish, wife.”

-*-

Lyanna knew she asked for it but watching Jaime strip out of his armor was not exactly what she had expected for their trial by combat against Robert Baratheon. Her dread grew with every piece of armor he discarded.

Then all three of Jaime’s uncles joined her at the edge of the tourney’s combat circle and her dread doubled again. Would they hate her for ordering Jaime into the fight if he was killed? She had no way to know and the crowd gathering around the ring had grown too quickly for her to ask.

“With a man as large and strong as Baratheon speed is Jaime’s best defense,” Tygette, Jaime’s uncle that was practically mute tried to assured her.

“What is the chest plate Ned is helping him into?” she wondered. She had never seen it outside of the sparing ring and had never expected Jaime would keep it. It was a particularly ugly piece and did not have even an inch of gold on it.

“You know how to defend against maces and morning stars?” Tygette asked.

“A double helmet,” she answered. “A helmet within a helmet, so that if the blow lands, it will do so without making enough contact to injure.”

“That is a double breastplate.”

To take a war hammer. Jaime had planned this. Lya struggled to not get angry.

“Be at ease, milady,” Ser Kevan urged. “Jaime knew how this would end should his suit be accepted by your father. We have done all we could to prepare him for it. Tygette designed that breastplate himself and had it forged for Jaime at Winterfell.”

“Did he plan this?” She whispered as loud as she dared. “All of this?” Was whatever damage Lady Margery suffered Jaime’s fault?

“No,” Kevan denied. “He certainly would have never involved Lady Margaery in this dispute. He knew Baratheon’s entitlement would only end with one of their deaths.

“That is the root cause of all of Baratheon’s various and abandoned bastards—entitlement,” Kevan explained. “He thinks he has the right to lay with any and every woman he sees. That is why he mishandled Lady Margery. He certainly sees all of you as within his rights as the two of you were nearly betrothed.”

“We were not nearly betrothed,” Lyanna objected. “He offered for me and my father did not reject him outright. That is a completely different thing from being nearly betrothed.”

“I agree, my lady.” Ser Gerion said with a charming smile. “May I say what an honor it is to have you stand as the Lady of House Lannister?” He took her hand, bowed lavishly, and pressed a kiss upon the back of it.

When he stood, Ser Tygette elbowed him in the gut. “None of that.”

“I was being sincere!” Ser Gerion defended himself.

It was nice to see Lannisters acting like any other set of noble brothers, teasing and correcting each other in her presence.

“Why is his breastplate so,” Gerion trailed off and Lyanna knew he shared her opinion aesthetic of the thing.

“It was made in Winterfell,” Tygette said bluntly.

This time Ser Kevan elbowed a brother in the gut for being rude. Lyanna laughed.

“It is a prototype,” Ser Kevan explained, almost patiently. “There was no point in making it beautiful before we tested the function.”

“Pray to the gods House Lannister does not fight so many war hammer warriors that we need to make them beautiful,” Lyanna countered.

“May it be so,” Ser Gerion and Ser Kevan muttered together. Ser Tygette, predictably, grunted.

Lady Margaery came to stand with them then, wringing her hands.

“What ails you?” Lyanna wondered.

“He is taking off his armor!” Lady Margaery gave her sad, pleading eyes. “He needs his armor to fight! He will not hear me! I would not survive if Lord Lannister died for me.”

“He will not die for you,” Lyanna denied. “Should he fall, it will not be for me, either. It is because Robert Baratheon is a man without honor born to one of the highest positions in Westeros. There are no laws that could protect women from such as him unless those women are members of House Targaryen.”

“Baratheon is a Lord Paramount,” Ser Kevan agreed. “Even outside his own lands, he has great power. Your father would never be able to punish him sufficiently for the assault you have already suffered.”

Lady Margaery’s beautiful face twisted in a frown. “But another Lord Paramount has stepped in.

“I fear for Lord Lannister.”

“Broke Guest Right,” Tygette grunted.

Lyanna nodded. “Lord Baratheon broke Guest Right in his mistreatment of you. The gods will not favor him.”

“We did not invoke Guest Right, my lady,” Lady Margaery disagreed. “Precious few in the south do.”

“Has he eaten at your table? Has he slept beneath your roof?” Lya asked.

“He was honored at the High Table upon his arrival,” she agreed. “His brother sleeps in the rooms set aside for their party. Lord Baratheon did not remain in them long. I understand he visits several tents a night.”

“Is he welcome to visit multiple tents a night?” Lyanna wondered.

Lady Margaery sighed. “That is a question I did not think to ask. Not that a lady of lesser birth than him would admit his advances were unwelcome.”

“We need more men like Jaime,” Lya decided.

“We do,” Ser Gerion agreed. “He is a good man and will be an amazing lord. Gods only know how Tywin managed to raise such a man.”

“Gerion!” Ser Kevan scolded.

“You know it to be true.”

Ser Kevan huffed. “Our Lord is already a legend. He has made it clear to the Lords of the West he expects a certain standard of behavior from them. He went so far as to ban marital rape.”

Lyanna exchanged a confused glance with Lady Margaery.

“What is marital rape?” she asked at her companion’s silent urging.

“We have had to explain the concept to many, never fear.” The man sighed. “Sadly.

“Marital rape is when a husband does his duty to his wife against her will. Most of Westeros assumes that once a woman marries a man, the man may do as he wishes to his wife whenever he wants. Whether she wants it or not. There is no law against it. The rights and duties of a married couple to each other are largely defined by custom. Lord Lannister has changed the custom for the West for as long as he lives.”

“I need to marry into the West.” Lady Margaery said then laughed bitterly.

“I apologize if this is forward, my lady,” Ser Gerion began. “I ask because I know my nephew will be concerned but he would never be so bold as to ask himself. If you are willing to tell us, are you well?”

“My arm and my pride are equally bruised,” Lady Margaery offered. “Nothing long lasting.”

Lyanna made a sound of disagreement. “Will you walk with me in the godswood later? Soul injuries do not always present immediately and the godswood is the most soul healing I have ever known.”

“I would be honored, my lady.”

“Trial by combat!” Lord Walter Whent announced, drawing all conversation to a halt. “Lord Jaime Lannister stands before the gods, accused of abuse of his station, his wife, and his good-father. He stands as his own champion and will defend himself directly against his accuser, Lord Robert Baratheon. They will fight to death or yield.

“Lord Lannister, are you prepared to defend yourself?”

Jaime stood with only his breastplate and gauntlets for armor. His shield bore the Lannister sigil and his mysterious, red striped Valyrian steel sword, Oathkeeper, was in his hand.

“I am prepared,” Jaime confirmed.

“Lord Baratheon, are you prepared to defend your position?”

Robert Baratheon was covered head to toe in heavy black plate armor, including an antlered helm that made him appear a foot taller than he was. “I am ready to kill this fucker!” Lord Baratheon shouted rather than the traditional response and charged Jaime rather than waiting for permission to begin.

He swung his hammer with all his weight, speed, and momentum behind him and Jaime dodged. Jaime dodged the next swing and the next swing after that. Lya wanted to say she could barely watch but in truth it was like watching a dance.

Robert would swing and Jaime would step aside or duck. Once, he jumped. He used Oathkeeper—the flat of Oathkeeper—to knock Robert’s fist away from him when Robert had sacrificed power for speed and swung one handed.

A warm weight settled on her shoulder and Lyanna turned her head to the side to see Nymeria watching her bonded man calmly. Her chin was resting on Lyanna’s shoulder. Lya knew from her time with her own Vechyr that if Jaime thought he was in trouble, Nymeria would not be so calm.

She also knew that if Nymeria thought he was in trouble, she would already be in the ring.

There was a great crack and Lyanna jerked her attention back to the fight.

Robert Baratheon was braced awkwardly forward—bent nearly in half—with the head of his hammer in the dirt. Jaime’s shield was on the on the ground in pieces but he was still stood tall with Oathkeeper under Baratheon’s chin. She could make out hair falling from Robert’s chin. It was more a fluttery sense of movement than actually seeing the hair but it was clear that Jaime had given the Stag Lord something of a shave.

“Will you yield?” Her husband asked.

“Never,” Baratheon snarled.

“Very well.” Jaime pushed as he stepped forward, sending Oathkeeper down Baratheon’s chin, into his throat, through his throat and into his chest. Lyanna fancied she could hear Oathkeeper scratch the inside of Baratheon’s armor.

Cheers broke out as the former Lord of House Baratheon collapsed in the mud made by his own blood.

Jaime did not have a scratch on him.

Lyanna could not speak for her relief, she merely squeezed Lady Margaery’s hand in response to the other girl’s own grasp.

A squire brought Jaime a cloth to clean Oathkeeper as Baratheon men at arms came forward to retrieve their fallen lord.

“Lady Margaery,” a young man, about Ned’s age, called their host’s attention. “House Baratheon owes you an apology for our former Lord’s behavior toward you today. I will personally negotiate a wergild with your father to mend the rift between our Houses before it can fester. If there is anything I can do to earn your personal forgiveness for my House, please, just ask.”

Lady Margaery pulled away from her to face the stranger confidently. “All I would ask, Lord Stannis, is that you hold neither fury nor grudge in your heart toward the man that has wrought justice on my behalf for the abuse your brother levied upon me this day.”

Lord Stannis Baratheon, apparently, pursed his lips together, but nodded his acceptance.

“Lord Baratheon,” Jaime said. Every person in Lyanna’s company turned to see him. “Please accept House Lannister’s condolences for the loss of your brother and our congratulations on your promotion to Lord Paramount of the Stormlands.”

Lord Stannis flared his nose in ire, but he released his breath in a heavy sigh and offered Jaime his hand. “I accept your condolences and your congratulations, Lord Lannister. Justice was demanded of the gods and the gods have provided it. Let there be peace between House Baratheon and House Lannister.”

Jaime clasped the new Lord Baratheon’s forearm. “May it be so.” He turned to her and his uncles without releasing the Storm Lord. “There is peace between House Baratheon and House Lannister.”

“Your will be done, my lord,” Lyanna was echoed by everyone in her vicinity—even Lady Margaery who was absolutely not from either House or kingdom.

The lion released the stag. “Is it time for luncheon? I am famished.”

Lyanna swallowed a confused giggle.

Lady Margaery gave Jaime a deep curtsey of respect. “Even if it is not time for lunch, lunch will be available to you, my lord, with many thanks.”

“It was trial by combat,” Jaime said, gently dismissing the gratitude. “The gods have granted you justice. Give them your thanks, though I will certainly accept lunch regardless of reason.”

“Of course,” Lady Margaery When agreed. “It would be best if we took our meal in the Hall? To assure everyone the Great Houses are at peace, I believe it would be best if you joined us at the High Table, Lord Baratheon. And you, Lord Stark.”

“We would be honored,” father accepted before Lord Stannis could decide if he wanted to join them or come up with an excuse to free himself of the obligation.

“As you will,” Lord Stannis Baratheon agreed.

 

Chapter Two

“Oh, hello,” Jaime offered as he drew Lyanna into an immediate halt. The sheer youth in Littlefinger’s face was startling. He was by no means any more innocent than the man grown Jaime had known but he did look incredibly young.

“Lord Baelish, Lady Lysa,” Lyanna greeted them easily enough.

Lady Lysa’s answering smile did not touch her eyes, her nod was curt and graceless.

“Lady Lysa, I have learned your father is furious with me for marrying outside of his family.”

“He is not the only one,” she admitted stiffly.

“Yes, but unlike him, you deserve an apology from me.”

Lady Lysa’s eyes flew wide. “What?”

“I ignored you when our families brought us together to see if we would suit. I did it deliberately and I know that felt like a personal rejection.” Jaime sighed. “I did not know how to explain myself to you without being forward.  I still do not.”

“Then be forward,” Baelish commanded coldly, as if he had the right.

Jaime raised a scolding eyebrow at the younger male. Baelish had the grace to blush at the soft reprimand but he did not back down.

“I have been accused more than once of being oblivious but the truth is that I could see even then that the two of you were in love with one another,” Jaime admitted. “You still are and I am glad to note that Lord Baelish seems as though he may be worthy of your heart.”

Lady Lysa and Littlefinger shared a confused glance.

“You are in a unique position, Lady Lysa. You are neither the oldest child, nor are you the male heir. I held and still hold the hope that this will make a rare blessing available to you for a person of our rank. I hope you will be allowed to marry for love rather than duty.”

Lady Lysa looked away; face turned toward the floor. “Father has denied our match.”

Jaime considered that. “You could force his hand.”

“How?” Baelish asked.

“Get her pregnant.” Jaime shrugged. “And be sure someone of equivalent or superior rank to Lord Hoster finds out before he does.”

“How would we do that?” Baelish flushed and hastily clarified. “Make sure someone of a rank or higher than Lord Hoster finds out first, I mean. Such people rarely see fit to visit Riverrun.”

Jaime made a show of considering it. “I understand you are a clever man.”

“He is the cleverest of men,” Lady Lysa defended stoutly. As if Jaime not knowing such a thing about a stranger was an attack upon said stranger’s character.

“If it will clear the debt between us, Lady Lysa, I could speak with Prince Rhaegar about granting you both places at Court. Lord Hoster would be honored to have a daughter stand as one of our future queen’s ladies in waiting and Lord Qarlton Chelsted is getting older. He is entirely competent but it would benefit the Realm to keep a steady hand on the treasury. Lord Baelish apprenticing to Lord Qarlton to be Master of Coin would be a boon all around.”

“Lady in waiting?” Lady Lysa breathed; eyes wide.

“Master of Coin,” Baelish’s tone was just as awed but there was greed in his eyes.

“Would it clear the debt between us?” Jaime pressed. He was loath to say it but it was expected, so, “A Lannister must always pay his debts.”

“No,” Littlefinger laughed. “That you would help us attain such coveted positions as well as each other would leave us firmly in debt to you.”

Jaime shrugged. “Cultivating favors is good business. Particularly with future lords of the Small Council.”

“My lords, Lady Lysa,” Lya interrupted. “Lady Margaery seeks to begin food service soon. We must take our seats.”

“As you will, wife,” Jaime accepted the dictated but welcome end of the conversation.

“Do let us know when you succeed,” Lyanna told Lady Lysa.

“I will!” Lady Lysa promised and blushed furiously.

Once the two were gone to the Riverlands-and-Vale table, Jaime turned them toward the West-and-Stormlands table.

“The plan is not to kill Littlefinger, then?” his wife asked softly.

Jaime snorted. “He has not yet done anything to deserve death.”

Lyanna huffed a quiet objection.

“If their plan works, they will both be ruined socially. It will be easier to get them onside should we find ourselves in need either of them. Their deaths would deny us that option.”

“How would they— because she would be pregnant? As long as they are married before the child comes, it would be trueborn.”

“True,” Jaime agreed. “But she is the daughter of the Lord Paramount of the Rivers. He is a very minor vassal lord from the Vale—hardly more than a landed knight, in truth. Their respective ranks could hardly be any more different and the match as already been denied by her father.

“You Northerners do not care. I do not care. Lady Olenna of the Reach would not care—she certainly used that tactic to change her own betrothal from a Targaryen Prince to the heir of the Reach.”

“She is where you learned this tactic you suggested,” Lyanna guessed.

“She is,” Jaime confirmed. “Everyone outside of our circles would care greatly not just about the difference in their ranks but that they denied the will of her father. They will be ruined. They would have plenty of options should the worst happen but it will not feel like it to them until one of us reaches out with an offer and earns their eternal gratitude.”

“And what is the worst that could happen?”

“Lord Tully might disown Lady Lysa for flouting his will. Depending on the depth of Tully’s offense, Lord Arryn may be forced to strip Lord Baelish of his lands and titles to keep the peace between the Vale and the Riverlands. The crown would certainly not keep someone that infuriated two Lords Paramount in their service on the Small Council.”

“That is diabolical,” Lyanna said with awe. “Much better and a longer lasting punishment that execution.”

“Agreed.” Jaime helped Lyanna into her seat.

He sat so he was between Lord Baratheon and his wife. Lady Margaery had requested that they sit together to set the firm example of peace between their lands. It was a simple enough gesture that both he and Lord Stannis had agreed.

“May I ask what is diabolical?” Lords Stannis asked.

“I am considering changing some of the standard punishments in my lands,” Jaime lied easily. “Instead of maiming, I might levy fines against crimes that do not require execution or banishment to the Wall.

“Men that break the laws in the West are rarely afraid of personal disfigurement. Financial ruination of their House for generations might be a greater deterrent.”

“It would also remove the need to confine someone, saving your House the money such efforts require,” Lord Baratheon added. “And considering the cultural pressures of family honor amongst nobles in Westeros and, particularly, ownership of gold in the west…

“That is diabolical,” Lord Stannis agreed.

“Is my husband not wise?” Lyanna asked, giving him a truly besotted look.

“I will need to discuss it with my advisors,” Jaime offered. “But I believe it would be a successful plan.

“Every revolt fought in the West amongst our own in the last three hundred years, has been over gold, which makes gold a clear motivator in the West, as you said Lord Stannis. Leveraging that motivation for peace is logical.”

“Have there been more rebellions in the West than the one your father famously put down?” Lord Baratheon asked dryly.

“Well, no,” Jaime admitted. “But that does not make my statement less true.”

Stannis sighed. Lyanna laughed.

“Have you made any choices regarding your match?” Jaime asked, mostly to change the subject.

“I have,” Lord Stannis agreed. “House Swann has a maid two years older than I that has recently lost her match. He was killed by the Kingswood Brotherhood, defending Lady Jeyne and her septa. They were captured despite his efforts, held and later freed by Ser Barristan Selmy.”

“Most lords would object to matching such a woman, assuming her chastity ruined after spending time in the care of bandits,” Jaime observed.

“And they have,” Lord Stannis agreed. “She and her septa swear they were never separated and that the Brotherhood never touched either of them. Enough time has passed that is they had gotten a child on either woman; everyone would know of it, so I have chosen to believe them.”

“If she was a man, any crimes the Brotherhood piled upon her would not ruin her entire future,” Jaime observed. “I commend you for seeing beyond that cultural nonsense.”

Lord Stannis raised a challenging eyebrow but before he could say anything, the doors to the Hall of a Hundred Hearths was thrown open. Through walked Prince Rhaegar, looking far too fresh and clean to actually be newly arrived—two full days late though he was. At his side was his dragon. Walking the beast’s shoulders were even with the top of the tables they walked between. His long neck held his head high enough there was no doubt everyone could see him.

Winterfell was clearly the best possible place to raise a dragon. That or some other magical nonsense was going on.

If Jaime did not know any better—and, to be clear, he did not know any better—he would think the three dragons bonded to children were channeling their growth into the two dragons bonded to adults. Prince Rhaegar was certainly less than half a year off from riding his dragon based off of size alone. Princess Elia’s dragon was not far behind him but all three of the children’s dragons were still barely the size of hounds.

Behind dragon and rider, came three people. The Northern Lord Jorah Mormont that had abdicated his position to join Prince Rhaegar’s Kingsguard after the recent death of his wife was on the far side of his companions from Jaime. The woman in the middle was the very image of Daenerys Stormborn—Jaime assumed she was Daenerys Blackfyre. Their third had Jaime nearly spilling out his morning milk. Because that was Bronn. That— He— He was younger than Jaime had known him but there was no doubt in his mind he was looking at Bronn.

Walking with the prince’s future Blackfyre bride.

Wearing one of the new cloaks Lyanna had woven with her own hand for Prince Rhaegar’s household back in Winterfell. It was the standard House Targaryen cloak but the dragon was white rather than crimson, honoring the king’s bonded dragon. Lady Catelyn had insisted on adding golden embroidery to further mimic the then-hatchling. The same cloak Rhaegar and his Kingsguard to be wore.

But it was Bronn.

Was Bronn a Blackfyre? Jaime felt like his world was shifting.

“Are you well?” Lyanna asked with gentle urgency.

Jaime nodded. If Bronn had been a Blackfyre, why had he gotten so close to House Lannister? Had his friendship been about the Iron Throne from the beginning? Jaime had no idea and, of course, there was no one for him to ask.

Behind Bronn’s group came Ser Arthur and Ser Oswell who had been here well before the prince, making the current display all the more deliberate in Jaime’s mind.

The last person in the processions was Prince Oberyn Martell.

“My prince!” Lord When greeted the heir to the throne warmly. “Welcome to Harrenhal.” He made a sweeping gesture to the High Table. “Seats have been prepared for you to break your fast in good company.”

“My thanks, Lord Whent,” Prince Rhaegar’s clear, musical voice carried easily.

“Will Princess Elia not be joining us?”

“The maester of Winterfell has forbidden my wife from travelling, my Lord, until our second child is born. Princess Rhaenys has remained with her mother as she is much too young to witness the violence of a Tournament.”

“Very good, my prince. And many congratulations!”

“We well all pray for the health of your wife and new child, my prince,” Lady Margery offered.

“My thanks,” Prince Rhaegar nodded and moved to mount the dais. The entire hall was silent as Prince Rhaegar helped the mayhaps-Blackfyre maid into the seat that had to have been reserved for his wife. Prince Oberyn took the third empty seat. All the other men in the party, stood at their backs as guards should.

“Now that we are all gathered together, the Tournament of Harrenhal will begin,” Lord Whent announced. “Events will begin tomorrow. The opening feast will be tonight. Today, all who wish to enter have until the end of the feast to ensure their entries have been completed and their names have been added to the lists. For now, we eat!”

-*-

“My Lady?” Jaime shot to his feet as a—clearly, furious—Lyanna hustled a small body into her father’s tent.

“I cannot believe those,” Lyanna pressed her lips together, “hooligans!”

“Lyanna?” Lord Rickard asked. “Where did you find young Lord Reed here?”

“And why is he bleeding?” Jaime wanted to know.

“I found him being abused by three squires.” She glared toward the tent flap. “I need bandages. Hot water and boiled wine as well.” She bustled around the tent putting action to her words.

“Lord Howland,” Jaime’s good-father addressed the crannogman. “What has come to pass?”

“I spent the Winter on the Isle of Faces, milord, seeking knowledge from the Green Men,” Lord Howland said. “The commotion of the Tourney called my attention and, as I had taken the Isle’s hospitality as far as I dared without joining them, I came to investigate. As I crossed the tourney grounds, I was set upon by a few squires.”

“They were beating him senselessly,” Lyanna told them. “Because he’s smaller than they are and because they could.”

“You must avenge yourself,” Lord Rickard encouraged. “Embarrass the squires’ knights within the grounds of tourney where they have embarrassed you.”

Lord Howland hesitated.

“Where did they hurt you?” Lord Rickard asked.

“The Lists!” his wife growled like a lioness as she settled on the floor before Lord Howland to tend his wounds.

“He has the build of an archer,” Jaime said when Lord Howland continued to keep his silence. “Knights that would raise such brutes are truly too stupid to stand to hold their own on the range. They would not dare enter such an event.”

“And the melee has never been my strength,” Lord Howland finally admitted. “I have never ridden a horse.”

“We cannot let this insult stand!” Lyanna frowned at them all as if they were to blame for the situation.

“Would you like to enter the lists to avenge him, or shall I?” Jaime asked her. He had not entered himself because pretending to make war bored him after fighting in so many real battles and Eddard had showed no interest in standing as the husband of the heir of Harrenhal, but if his lady wife demanded satisfaction, she would get it.

Lyanna turned wide eyes upon him. “You would let me—?”

“I would pay your entrance fee,” Jaime assured her. “And should our host deny you, Prince Rhaegar owes me a few favors. We can certainly arrange something.

“Ser Addam!” Jaime called toward the tent flap.

His guard and personal friend ducked in. “My lord?”

“Have my bridal gift to Lady Lyanna brought here.”

“Done!” Lyanna bounced to her feet. “Ned, get over here and check his ribs. I believe they need wrapping but you are a better judge of that than I.”

“I have broken more ribs than you have,” Ned offered in something approaching good cheer. “You will need to remove your upper layers, Howland.”

Lord Howland’s hands went to the tails of his tunic, silently but emphatically refusing to remove his uppers. “My lady…”

Lyanna held up a hand, silencing the man. “I have three brothers and at least two nephews, my lord.”

“Nephews?” Lord Rickard asked.

At the same time, Lord Benjen objected, “Lya!”

“Are we supposed to ignore Brandon’s little Snows when they are born in Winterfell?” Lyanna asked her brother scathingly before turning back to Reed. “My point is that you have nothing I have not seen. I have changed my fair share of nappies.”

“I do not think I should lift my arms,” Howland Reed admitted in defeat. “And this is my last one so you cannot cut it off me.”

“They will cut it off you,” Lord Rickard ordered, “we must be sure you do not require a maester. Ben, go fetch Lord Howland a set of your clothes. You look similar in size.”

“Yes, father,” young Lord Benjen nodded his head and scampered off.

In Benjen Stark’s absence, Ser Addam returned with two Red Cloaks. Between them, the two men carried a chest bound in red leather and gold.

“House Lannister has a tradition in which lords present their lady-wives with a present upon marriage.” Jaime pulled the leather string with the key from around his neck and handed it to his wife. “The intention behind the gift is to welcome the lady to her new life and to demonstrate the lord’s understanding of her.”

Jaime sincerely hoped he had gotten this right. He had heard rumors of Lady Lyanna riding the joust at Harrenhal as the Knight of the Laughing Tree when he was the Mad King’s hostage posing as a guard in the Red Keep, but that had been all he had heard. Rumors.

Lyanna took the key and opened the chest.

She gasped, one hand coming up to hide her mouth, at the sight of the helm made from the finest castle-forged steal in the form of a wolf head. It was shamelessly inspired by the Hound’s famous helm, though only Jaime knew that part.

“Only members of House Lannister are allowed Lion Head pauldrons,” Jaime pointed to the two cat heads staring out of the chest. “My father took great pride in adding gold to his armor but I see no point in it. Gold is too soft to aid in the armor’s purpose and the wealth could be used better elsewhere. Like in feeding the smallfolk.”

A tear rolled down Lady Lyanna’s cheek. Jaime could not say whether that was a good sign or a bad one.

“I considered lionesses for you,” Jaime admitted, too uncertain to allow the silence to reign, “but House Lannister’s emblem are lions and I did not want anyone to doubt your relationship with House Lannister.”

“And a wolf helm?” Lyanna asked shakily.

Jaime took one of her hands. “No matter how far you travel or what name people might call you, you will always be Lyanna Stark of Winterfell.” Here, he was more confident. Lady Sansa had certainly been proud of and firmly anchored in being a Stark of Winterfell. Certainly, a girl like Lady Lyanna who had never embraced the ways of southron ladies as Lady Sansa had would only feel that pride more strongly.

He hoped.

“You would allow me to ride the joust?” Lyanna asked. “Truly?”

“Would your mount do for the Lists or would you prefer to borrow my courser, Honor?” He asked her instead.

Lyanna Stark—his wife—laughed and threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you,” she whispered before pulling back. She gave her new armor a warm pat. “May I ride Honor before I decide?”

“Of course,” Jaime agreed, trying manfully not to feel as though he had been thrown from said horse. His Northern wife was warm with him but she was hardly demonstrative. Her choosing to hug him in front of even her father was a surprise. “She is even-tempered but stubborn with stamina for days.”

“She?” Lyanna questioned. “Almost every man I have met insisted on a colt or a stallion. You ride a mare? Ned’s the only boy I know that will ride a filly.”

Finally, a comparison to Ned Stark he did not lose out on. And it had only taken his and his father’s deaths to get it. “Her virtues are numerous,” Jaime reminded her.

“Father?” Lyanna turned to Lord Rickard. “May I join the lists?”

Lord Rickard sighed. He looked as though he had aged years in the time he had shifted upon his stool.

“Your lord-husband has spoken,” his good-father said sadly. “I do not have the right to gainsay him. But. Do your father a favor, my little centaur? Do your best to avoid getting hit?”

“Her chest plate was made a bit large. We can fit a full layer of pads underneath it,” Jaime assured the man. “And as many layers and sizes of chainmail as she can ride in.”

Lyanna frowned at him.

“Puncture wounds,” he explained and she nodded.

“What do you think are my chances?” She asked, looking up at him through her eyelashes.

Her mien was playful, not sincere. It was charming and Jaime was amused. If such friendly playfulness was the thanks he got for supporting his wife’s choices, he truly could not understand why more husbands did not default to such behavior.

“After you avenge Lord Reed, do you think you can take out Ser Garth Tyrell? We will refuse to ransom his mount back to him. He would benefit our breeding lines. Bring us new colors, for sure. The Reach should not be the only source of white mounts for the Kingsguard.”

“Courage deserves better,” Lady Lyanna agreed and Jaime was impressed.

First because she knew the horse’s name when he knew his wife could not have seen the horse more than once. Second because of the title her father had just given her. She had to be quite the horse lover.

“I prefer Garen Hightower’s Vigilance,” Lyanna offered. “But we could only keep one horse without besmirching our House and she does not offer anything to the Lannister lines if our lines are anything like the whispers I have heard imply.

“Now, I do not know what the whispers do not say,” Lyanna teased.

“You will know everything there is to know about House Lannister’s horse breeding lines as soon as you want to know it. Sit down for a conversation with Uncle Gerion and he will regale you thoroughly. But you are correct, Hightower’s Vigilance has nothing our breeding lines do not have,” Jaime assured her, making her stifle a laugh as though she had just played a trick on him. “She may actually be a cross with one of ours. House Lannister sold House Hightower a dozen mares when I was quite young.”

Lyanna nodded decisively. “Courage, it is.”

-*-

Lyanna had never felt so powerful.

The armor her husband had made her fit well, covered all of her vulnerable places thoroughly, but did not weigh her down unreasonably. The armor set had, of course, come with shield and tabard. They were both exactly what one would expect from the Lannister of Casterly Rock only the golden figure rearing for the attack was a wolf rather than a lion. Lyanna adored it and it only made her more confident that she had chosen the correct man to stand as her husband.

Honor was the best trained horse she had ever sat. Powerful and constant. Every bit as even-tempered as Jaime had said. So quick to obey rein, knee, and heel it was as though Honor was obeying her thoughts rather than her body.

Lyanna already wanted to joust a second tourney and she had yet to do more than sit upon Honor at this one.

Man after man rode past her to choose other opponents. Some had made a point of picking the man on one side of her or the other but she could hardly care. She was not in the lists for them. All three of her targets were participating on the first day with her. She could eliminate them all and one other and she would advance automatically to the second bracket of competitors to begin in three days. As there were no Kingsguard in the same bracket pool she was in, she was certain she could advance. Now all that was left was to prove it.

“Now it is time,” the herald called and she urged Honor to burst out onto the lists. “For Lady Lyanna of House Lannister and House Stark to now choose her first opponent!”

Honor made a sharp turn and walked with a showy step until they were in front of the Porcupine Knight. Lyanna lowered her lance to indicate her choice.

“For her first challenge, Lady Lannister choses Ser Harrod of House Haigh!”

One pass, Lyanna told herself. One pass and the porcupine would be on his back in the dirt. She visualized it, held what she wanted in the front of her mind, and when the flourish sounded, she and Honor surged forward as one.

At the end of the pass, she turned and there he was, groaning in the dirt, exactly how she pictured it.

Lannister squires poured forth from the sides of the lists. One claimed the man’s horse for the ransom. The rest set to helping the man off of the field where they would claim his armor in her name as it came off.

Ser Harrod was awake. Winded, but awake.

She directed Honor into the man’s limping path.

“Before you may ransom your belongings from my husband, you will chastise your squire. He must learn to treat those around him with respect and honor, regardless of their size, status, or gender. Only once he apologizes to my father’s bannerman before my father and husband, will you be allowed to negotiate with Lord Lannister on your own behalf.”

“As you will, milady,” the man panted.

All jousters were required to sit out a round before they could return to the lists if they were successful.

It was boring and frustrating, sitting upon Honor knowing no one would pick them but they endured it. They endured it until they sent the Pitchfork Knight into the dirt. Then, she unhorsed the Frey her husband had identified as Ser Ryman, the firstborn son of Lord Walder Frey’s firstborn son—the heir’s heir of House Frey.

Jaime had postulated that Ser Ryman might be disinherited for losing a joust to a woman and, honestly, that suited Lyanna just fine.

-*-

“What news?” Prince Rhaegar asked Jaime.

They were seated together in the very front of the Lord’s Box that shelters Lord Whent’s family and displayed his daughter, Lady Margaery in particular.

“My lady has collected the revenge she joined the lists for,” Jaime observed.

“Will she quit the lists now?”

“Nay,” Jaime shook his head. “We have discussed the politics of the lists and how who she defeats will ripple out into the rest of Westeros. It is difficult to gauge, of course, women are rarely allowed to joust competitively outside of Dorne but your good-brother’s insight was helpful.”

“That gladdens me,” Prince Rhaegar admitted. “I know he held a grudge for your father’s treatment of my wife. Has he moved beyond that insult?”

“I hope so. He was thrilled to learn that Lyanna would be joining the lists and contributed to our discussion of his own accord.”

Prince Rhaegar nodded. “Oberyn will never apologize. Not even when he has done something overtly wrong. That he is helping yourself and your wife is the best sign of things mended between your Houses that you will ever receive from him.”

“His assistance was welcome,” Jaime admitted. “Would you be willing to invite Littlefinger to apprentice for Master of Coin? And Lady Lysa Tully to join your wife’s ladies?”

“Why?” Prince Rhaegar asked after a long blink.

“I may have told them how Lady Olenna rearranged her own marriage to suit herself,” Jaime admitted. “Should they choose to emulate the Queen of Thorns, it is imperative that someone of a higher rank than her father discover it first. Otherwise, Lord Tully will scuttle their plan with moontea.”

“I will consider it,” Prince Rhaegar softly agreed.

“Will you be joining the lists, my prince?” Jaime wondered.

“I am uncertain,” Prince Rhaegar admitted. “I have a great deal of work ahead of me to ensure all of Westeros is united behind me. A display of skill may serve my interests but without Elia here to do the soft work I have to choose.”

“Long-term gains over short-term glory,” Jaime nodded, “Did I not see Prince Lewyn this morning?”

“You did,” the prince confirmed. “My father sent him to spy upon me, I thought I might send him on to my wife. She could use family with her in her travail.”

“Did he say anything about the state of King’s Landing?”

Prince Rhaegar sighed. “Despite the efforts of my former squires, the news of dragons has reached King’s Landing. It took longer still to reach my father as much as he isolates himself, but it has reached him. Every House that could flee King’s Landing has. He ordered the gates of King’s Landing barred but that order is not enforced unless Kingsguard are in attendance.”

“There are not nearly enough Kingsguard to guard your family and watch the gates, my prince. Even if half of them were not on assignments outside the city, there would not be enough,” Jaime pointed out.

“I know,” Prince Rhaegar agreed. “According to Lewyn, Lord Commander Hightower is the only one truly following father’s orders but he is also the one that convinced the king to send the last member of my good-family out of the capital. This leaves me unsure where he stands.”

“With the Citadel,” Jaime retorted. “He stands with the Citadel, my prince. Strife between the king and his heir is only to their benefit and by removing your good-family from the field, Ser Gerold has ensured you are free to face your father in any way you see fit.”

“That is certainly true.” Prince Rhaegar watched the lists for a moment but Jaime would bet his prince was not seeing them. “Prince Lewyn said father had Lord Velaryon whipped for invoking the Right of the Dragon and refusing father’s orders during a Small Council meeting. With Pycelle gone and a new grand maester not yet chosen, they had to seek a maester in the city to heal him. It is unclear if he will survive. Lord Velaryon has neither siblings nor children. If he passes, so too will House Velaryon pass.”

“No baseborn brothers?” Jaime asked. He thought he remembered there being one.

“I have men looking into it.”

“King Aerys may have ended a House of Old Valyria,” Jaime shook his head.

“He had burned two lords at the stake before Lewyn left and raped their wives.” The Silver Prince shook his head. “I fear for my mother. His depravity knows no bounds.”

“Let us pray you know no depravity,” Jaime snorted.

Prince Rhaegar was offended for a hot second before he deflated.

“Any word on Lord Tyrell?” Jaime wanted to know. For Olenna. Despite her condemnation of Lord Mace’s faculties, he was her firstborn.

“Remanded to the Black Cells,” the prince admitted. “He made the mistake of objecting to something—Lewyn did not hear what—but he was stripped of his place as Lord Hand and seized.”

Jaime wondered if Lord Tyrell had stumbled upon the king’s wildfire plot and objected to it. The prince’s description was exactly what had befallen Lord Qarlton Chelsted during the rebellion though that sequence of events was more than a year early.

Fear stole Jaime’s breath. “Do you have anyone investigating your father’s relationship with the Alchemist’s Guild?”

“My wife has people dealing with it. She convinced me to stay out of it so I can claim ignorance should my father manage to in act any sort of plan before we contain him.”

“I will write to her then,” Jaime decided. He was going to need to know what sort of containment was going on if he was going to commit his men to removing the Mad King from the Iron Throne. He could always take command of the parameter, he supposed.

“Is that not Ser Emmon challenging your wife?” Prince Rhaegar asked.

-*-

“I choose you, ya dumb cunt!” her challenger snarled under the cover of the herald’s ringing voice. His shield was quartered, Lannister lions and Frey towers. Ser Emmon of House Frey, then. “Embarrass my nephew, will you?”

She tapped Honor’s sides with her heels and they left the line, to assume their starting positions.

Three passes, she decided. She would give Ser Emmon two chances to unseat her and then she would put him in the dirt.

She wondered, idly, if she could kill him. That would certainly protect the aunt she had yet to meet. Jaime had spoken glowingly of his beloved aunt so she certainly wanted to gain the woman’s favor. Putting her unwanted suitor in the ground would gain her that unendingly as putting Robert Baratheon in the ground had certainly gained Jaime her favor for the rest of their lives.

Ser Emmon did not manage more than a scratch on her shield in his two passes. If anything was embarrassing to House Frey, it was Ser Emmon’s shoddy attempt at vengeance.

Lyanna focused on what she wanted as Honor carried them forward as fast as she could. Her aim was true and the impact mighty as Ser Emmon flew out of his saddle. The crowd went wild as she pulled of her helm to take it all in.

Jaime was at the banister of his box, clapping and cheering like a complete common, so she and Honor wondered over to accept his congratulations.

My lady,” Jaime greeted warmly, a thousand sensual promises were hiding in his eyes. Then they widened, abruptly in fear.

Lyanna looked down in time to see Ser Emmon grab her waist and pull her from Honor’s saddle. She kicked up and out the second she hit the ground and the larger, older man went reeling.

“Lya!” she heard Jaime shout.

She looked up to see Oathkeeper, scabbard and all, flying through the air. She caught Oathkeeper in one hand and had to put a second hand on the hilt to steady it as the scabbard caught Ser Emmon’s axe.

“You dishonor House Frey? You dishonor House Lannister? Someone should teach you your place!” Ser Emmon screamed as he swung at her again and again.

“My place?” Lyanna demanded as she freed Oathkeeper from her red leather bed. “How could you see my place and low as you are, second son of House Frey? You dishonor House Lannister thinking you are worthy to marry their daughter!”

“Cunt!” Ser Emmon drew himself back for a two-handed overhead cut.

Lyanna was not having any of that. Jaime had not done it but she had seen her father use Ice to cut through many a neck protected by chainmail. She cut through both of Ser Emmon’s chain-covered wrists and had to dodge as they fell, still clutching his axe.

Ser Emmon collapsed to his knees, screaming as he stared in horror at his bleeding stumps.  Lyanna had had enough of his mouth. She stepped behind him. The angle was not great but she knew if she removed any of his head, he would be dead. And so she did.

The part she liberated travelled with her blade and beyond, hitting the Frey banner that marked Ser Emmon as the challenger. The rest of Ser Emmon collapsed the opposite direction.

“Lyanna,” she heard Jaime breathe, close at hand. She looked away from the body to see her husband within reach. Her brothers were jumping down from the Lord’s Box, clearly copying her husband to reach her will all available speed.

“Husband,” she greeted Jaime. The crowd was screaming, she had no idea if he could hear her even as close as they were.

“Wife,” he said, confirming he could hear her.

She could not say who moved first but the next thing she knew she was being kissed within an inch of her life. She had no idea who took Oathkeeper from her but she was glad they did so she could sink her hands into her husband’s golden locks. She wanted to curse that she wore gloves but to do that she would have to stop kissing her husband. It might be days before she was ready to do that.

“You two can go,” Ned said.

“Oh gods, go. Please, go,” Benjen begged. “I do not want to see this!”

“Lyanna is cleared to the next bracket. She does not have to return to the lists for two days,” a third voice said.

Lyanna pulled back from her husband with a grin. She knew exactly what she wanted them to do for the next two days and while she was not quite ready to have a child, there was no reason they could not practice the making of one.

Whatever he eyes told her husband, he smiled. “Whatever you want,” he promised.

If she had needed any more proof that she had made the right choice for her husband, this would have been it. Luckily, Jaime had already proven himself three or four times over.

“Let us go to our rooms,” she urged him. “Entirely alone.”

“As you will.”

 

Chapter Three

 

“Are you well, my lord?” Lady Lysa asked. “Are you not enjoying the joust?”

Her concern would hold more weight if she would stop staring at Littlefinger with her whole heart to express it.

“I am well, my lady,” Jaime sighed. “While I enjoy my time in the practice yard, watching others fight has never brought me joy.”

“I admit I am surprised you are not in the lists.”

“Had my father not passed, I certainly would be, but my House has learned the lesson of an unsecured succession.” That was how his third-born, failure of a grandfather had become Lord Lannister, after all. “I would be doing my House a disservice to join the lists before claiming at least two sons.” Hopefully by then, people would stop expecting him to join the godsdammed lists and stop questioning his choices.

“You could join Lady Lannister in the Tourney Faire. I believe my sister is exploring the merchant’s offerings today as well.”

Jaime sighed. “Lady Lannister requested time with other ladies.” She had requested time with Lady Janna Tyrell, in particular. “I agreed that I would not intrude upon her occasion.”

“That is kind of you, my lord.”

Jaime hummed his agreement as he watched the Mountain choose his first opponent. Ser Garen Hightower. That was not going to end well.

Clearly, Ser Gregor was looking for an easy win and a rich ransom, but Jaime knew from the experience of another lifetime that Ser Garen was not an easy opponent. Jaime did not believe Ser Gregor was prepared for the comeuppance he had chosen for himself.

Littlefinger turned to smirk at him and for a moment, Jaime half-feared Lady Lysa would faint in ecstasy at the sight of him.

Littlefinger was standing directly in front of them with young Lord Edmure in the dirt in front of the stands. Not because the stands were so full but to get a better view. The fools. Lady Lysa kept twittering about how brave Petyr was. Every time, Littlefinger would puff up with pride as if standing in the dirt was some great accomplishment rather than something commons did constantly.

The two of them were nauseating.

Worse, they seemed to have taken his encouragement to defy Lord Tully as a blessing and openly made much of each other in his presence.

Clearly, the gods were punishing him.

If Lady Lysa sighed one more time, he just might jump over the wooden railing and take on the Mountain with his bare hands.

Jaime glanced at the Lord’s Box to distract himself. He was entirely grateful that Prince Rhaegar was taking the opportunity of the tourney seriously. He was slightly less pleased that he was honoring every Lord Paramount with a day in his private box so that he could speak with them all individually.

Lords Rickard, Eddard, and Benjen were currently surrounding the prince.

Jaime figured half the reason his wife had decided to browse the faire on this particular day was to avoid choosing between sitting with him and sitting with her father’s House.

He would not begrudge her such a choice if it had not left him exposed to Lysa Tully’s existence. How Lord Hoster thought he was going to marry her off to some other great lord was a mystery Jaime could not solve and he vowed that he would know his children. He would know their personalities, their training, their desires.

How many problems could have been avoided in his last life if parents had taken the time to know their children rather than take those children for granted as an extension of their own will?

All of them.

Every. Single. One.

Jaime swore he would do better. He would teach his children to do better. He would encourage his allies to do better.

There was no reason they should not all do better!

“SWORD!”

Jaime watched as Gregor Clegane received his mountain-sized blade. It was a moment from his other life relived at the wrong event as the unreasonably-large man slayed his own horse. Then he walked through the bar bisecting the field. Clegane shoved his sword into Vigilance. His opponent’s horse collapsed and the Mountain plucked Ser Garen out of his saddle.

Gregor Clegane pulled Hightower’s armored arm off and the people all across the tourney field began to scream. Not cheer, scream.

“SHUT UP!” Clegane roared. He shoved Hightower on to one of the posts that at one point supported the destroyed barrier, impaling him, and turned on the crowd. “SHUT UP!”

The crowd went insane.

Jaime did his best to defend Lady Lysa’s physical person from the rabid crowd, as a knight should.

“SHUT UP!” Clegane roared again and there was a crash.

Jaime turned to see Clegane’s massive sword swinging down toward Littlefinger’s unarmored back. Baelish had curled himself around young Lord Edmure in a futile display of heroism. The combination of the Mountain That Rides’ size, his strength, his ever-surprising speed, and his massive sword was inevitable. Unavoidable.

Both very young men died. Bisected for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Lady Lysa shrieked like a harbinger of doom and Jaime shoved Oathkeeper through the eye slit of Gregor Clegane’s helm.

He pulled the sword back and took his bannerman’s head in one fell slice.

Jaime turned to see how Lady Lysa was faring.

Her face was a mask of blood and other liquids he did not want to think about. Her body was as still as death. Her fingers were bloody and nails ruined—her wounds were self-inflicted.

He turned further, seeking out Lord Tully for some clue as to what he should do for the man’s daughter. Hoster Tully was clutching his chest, barely on his feet. As Jaime watched, the man collapsed to the ground, legs folding helplessly under him.

Knights of House Whent descended upon the scene. Bodies were checked for life before they were dragged out of the stands to be laid out with the dead knights and their horses.

Lord Edmure, Lady Lysa, Lord Baelish, Ser Garen Hightower, two horses, and four smallfolk—all dead. Lord Hoster Tully was rushed away on a stretcher to seek a maester’s assistance. There were an unknown number of injuries from people being trampled by the panicked crowd.

All because he did not put Gregor Clegane down like the beast he was, the moment his father died.

“Gods be good,” Jaime muttered, horrified.

-*-

“I would that we were to become sisters,” Lyanna sighed, frowning pointedly down the line of stalls to where Lady Caelyn was bargaining over a hair comb. Though Lady Catelyn’s bargaining was more threatening the merchant with the displeasure of her father, the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands.

“I cannot blame you.” Lady Janna Tyrell giggled. “I certainly know the difference between haggling and bullying.”

“Honestly,” Lya shook her head and turned away. “Brandon is wild. He earned the name Wild Wolf before he was two-and-ten. How is that fish going to survive him?”

“The gods only know,” Lady Janna agreed.

“You on the other hand—”

“Lyanna!” Benjen interrupted her. He skidded to a stop; he had been running so fast to find her. “Lya,” he panted. “The joust. Jaime.”

Lyanna had to swallow to speak past the fear trying to choke her. “Jaime is not taking part in the joust.”

“The Mountain—”

A horse thundered past. Lady Catelyn was sitting pillion, clinging to the knight in the saddle.

“—come on!” Ben urged.

Benjen grabbed her hand and started tugging. She in turn took Lady Janna’s hand and pulled the Rose of Highgarden came along with her.

Inside the keep of Harrenhal, she could hear the horse trotting through the halls. Whatever was happening, it was clearly dire. They passed the horse and rider on their way back outside and kept going until they reached a door decorated by the sight of Ser Arthur Dayne. Ser Oswell Whent was with him.

Ser Arthur opened the door and followed all three of them through it to some kind of solar.

Jaime was in a chair to one side, pale. There was blood spattered on his face and his hands were red from fingertips to wrists with blood. He was staring at nothing or mayhaps he was staring at his hands, Lya could not be sure.

“Husband?” she called.

As much as it was beginning to fit, she would never call Jaime my love. His sister had used those words to manipulate him in two different lives and he did not trust them as a result, but he was her husband just as she was his wife. Those words were their mutually agreed upon endearments, because they were grounded in the truth.

Those words were real and undeniable.

Jaime’s head tilted up but his eyes did not focus.

She knelt at his feet and cupped his face as gently as she could. “Husband, are you injured?”

He shook his head and then shook it harder to clear it.

“What ails you, husband?” she asked softly. She had never seen him look so small, so shaken. So young.

“The Mountain,” Prince Rhaegar offered. “He—”

An inner door Lya had not noticed, opened. Lady Catelyn staggered out of the inner room and collapsed into the first chair she found.

“My lady?” father prompted.

“My father has passed,” Lady Catelyn said dully. “Maester Marsden said the shock of my brother and sister’s deaths were too much for his heart. It gave out.”

Lord Tully and his heir, Lord Edmure, died? What in the name of the Gods had she missed at the joust?

“You will need to marry immediately to secure succession of the Riverlands,” Prince Rhaegar told her. “I understand you are betrothed to Lord Brandon of House Stark. We can send for Lord Brandon. He will have to come from Winterfell to do his duty. With luck, you will be with child before the turn of the moon.”

“Of course,” father agreed. “I will need to send Ben back to be the Stark in Winterfell—”

“I cannot marry him!” Lady Catelyn interrupted father to object. “He is a Northern Heathen that worships trees!”

“Do be careful, Lady Catelyn,” Jaime cautioned as he pushed to his feet. “Other than our prince, you are surrounded by heathens that worship trees.”

Catelyn hit her husband with an ugly glare. “What are you doing here, Lannister? You have no business here. Get out.”

Lya settled against her husband’s chest as he pulled her close. “My good family’s business is my business, Lady Tully. I belong here.”

Lya nodded her agreement. She saw father and her brothers doing the same at the edge of her vision.

“It is your fault my family is dead!” Lady Catelyn threw herself out of her chair in a fury. “That beast Gregor Clegane was yours to command and you left him to rampage across the tourney grounds like a mad dog he was!”

“Lord Lannister was the one that put Clegane down,” father said. “What more would you have had him do?”

“He should have put Clegane to the sword the moment he became Lord Paramount of the Westerlands! Before that monster could hurt good people. Before he could hurt my family!”

“Would you have cared about Clegane’s survival if he had not killed members of your family?” father asked.

Lady Catelyn did not answer beyond a pursed lips.

“Do you care about the other people injured or killed by the Mountain’s rampage?”

“Of course, I do!” Lady Catelyn said a moment too late for it to be truth.

“Regardless of what you believe, there are laws in these lands,” father told her. “A Lord cannot execute a man that has not committed any crimes.”

“You would say such a thing,” Lady Catelyn muttered.

Lya was mystified. Had Lady Catelyn lost her mind? Was this just grief speaking? She looked to her husband and found him looking sad but not surprised.

But then, of course he was not surprised. This was the woman that had kidnaped Lord Tyrion and kicked a war into active combat because she believed he had hired someone to attack her son. In Jaime’s dream, Lady Catelyn had shown a complete disregard of consequences and reality time and time again. Her ferocious lack of grace toward the man she would call her good-father was just more of the same.

“If you refuse to marry Brandon, the Riverlands will owe the North the default penalty per the terms of your betrothal contract,” father warned Lady Catelyn

“Even if I married another of your sons?” The Fish asked.

“You have read the contract, correct?” Father prodded and Lady Catelyn nodded reluctantly. “Then you know it was specifically written for you and Brandon by name. Such is unusual, I grant you, but your father insisted.

“I believe he was afraid I would force him to default by wedding you to Benjen instead.”

“Fine,” Lady Catelyn fumed, “The Riverlands defaults on the contract with Lord Brandon and offers a contract for Lord Eddard—with the same terms as the original contract, trade agreements to begin after the default on Lord Brandon’s contract is paid in full.”

Immediately after the default for Brandon’s contract is paid in full,” father specified.

“The year immediately after the default is paid in full,” Lady Catelyn countered.

Father nodded. “No other concessions?”

“We will live in the Riverlands.” Lady Catelyn made a face. “My children will be raised by septa in the Light of the Seven.”

“As long as Ned is allowed to keep his faith in the Gods of Stone and Stream. Your children choosing to follow their father’s faith for any reason cannot be qualified as a default on the part of the North.”

“Agreed,” Lady Catelyn conceded. “That is it then?”

“As long as Ned agrees, yes,” father nodded. He turned to Ned. “Son?”

“The terms are set?” Ned asked Lady Catelyn. “You wish no other changes?”

Lady Catelyn smiled. “Our terms are set.”

“I have a term to add,” Prince Rhaegar interjected.

“My prince?” The fish and father asked.

“Should you default on another contract with House Stark, Lady Catelyn, you will have proven yourself to be unable to treat with your fellow lords and ladies with honor and in good faith. As such, you will be stripped of your place as Lady Paramount of the Riverlands. One of Lord Rickard’s sons will ascend to Lord Paramount of the Riverlands in recompense.”

“I understand, my prince,” Lady Catelyn agreed with confidence. “And I agree. Your addition is entirely reasonable.”

“I agree as well, my prince,” father confirmed. “Any other stipulations?” he looked at each person in the room individually.

Lyanna was just one of many to shake her head to indicate the negative.

Father and the Fish shook hands to seal the bargain.

“Heard and witnessed,” Jaime declared.

Not entirely sure why, Lya repeated the phrase. Every one present other than the two principal negotiators did, including Prince Rhaegar.

“I agree to marry Lady Catelyn under the terms of the contract agreed upon before these noble witnesses,” Ned agreed.

“If you will provide me a copy of the original contract, I will produce an updated version for Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn,” Prince Rhaegar offered. “For the historical record of all Houses involved in this situation.”

Father sent Ben from the room to fetch the Stark copy with a flick of the hand.

Lady Catelyn opened her arms, requesting comfort from her future husband, Ned. Ned walked into them and pulled her close with a tired sigh.

“All witnesses will have to sign the contact I produce,” Prince Rhaegar told them. “Including you, Lady Janna Tyrell.”

“I understand my duty, my prince.” Lady Janna confirmed.

“House Stark of the Riverlands, then?” Jaime asked. If Lya did not know him, she would believe he was as earnest as he appeared. As it was, she wondered what his game was.

Then, Lady Catelyn choked on air.

Father nodded. “I am certain you would be willing to keep the same colors for your sigil, son, but I will urge you to have two silver direwolves as your emblem—to make it clear yours is the second, younger House Stark.”

Ned nodded silently.

“This is my House!” Lady Catelyn objected, pushing away from Ned. “The Riverlands are ruled by House Tully!”

“You did not request that concession,” Prince Rhaegar pointed out. “Legally, when a woman marries, she and her children fall under her husband’s domain. That includes taking his name and complete obedience to his lawful authority.”

Color drained from Lady Catelyn’s face. “No, no, we are House Tully. I am not a Stark. I will never be a Stark. Ned will join House Tully. I will rule the Riverlands. My father trained me to do it.” She turned to Lya’s own father. “You must agree. You must!”

“Even if I did, our terms were heard and witnessed by members of six different Noble Houses,” father explained with what Lya suspected to be false sympathy. “The terms are set. The only way out is if you default again.”

Get out!” Lady Catelyn shouted. “My father’s corpse is still warm and you give away his legacy as if it is nothing. As if our House—his House—is nothing! GET OUT!

Lyanna was stunned. No one raised their voice to the Crown Prince. Even if she was just lashing out in her grief, such an act would see a man sent to the Wall, if not a head shorter.

Ser Arthur turned calmly to face Prince Rhaegar. “My prince? Shall she be executed?”

Lady Catelyn went pale so fast Lya was surprised she did not faint.

Prince Rhaegar shook his head. “I will allow it to pass this time because of Lady Catelyn’s extensive losses but it will not be forgotten.”

“Of course, my prince,” Ser Arthur stepped back again to watch.

The Fish turned her back to all them. “Leave. Please.”

“As you wish, my lady,” Prince Rhaegar confirmed,

Lya allowed Jaime to move them together out the door. “Was that necessary?” she asked her husband softly once the door was closed.

“She is not prepared to rule in her own right,” Jaime answered just as softly. “Her lack of knowledge on the Laws of the Realm and Noble Contracts would have brought the Riverlands to civil war within a decade. She would have dragged the North and the Westerlands down with her due to our relations—possibly the Vale as well because of Lord Arryn’s love for your brother. The Realm cannot afford such conflict. We simply cannot risk it.”

Lya nodded. The Army of the Dead would be coming soon. They needed all the people and power they could get to face it.

It might not have been a kind lesson for Lady Catelyn to face but it was an important one.

“If she was as prepared as she wanted us to believe, she would have refused to negotiate until her father’s funerary rights were done,” Jaime explained. “Concerns about succession or not, the Iron Throne would have been bound by law to protect her claim as the last living member of her father’s line until a solid moon after Lord Tully was laid to rest. That she did not insist shows weakness in her leadership before it could even begin.

“I was in a similar situation very recently,” Jaime reminded her. “I took advantage of the Iron Throne’s legal protection of me, delayed my father’s rites until all of my bannermen and my allies beyond the West arrived. Only once they were all within my keep, bound by Guest Right to remain peaceful, did I burn my father. My bannermen swore to me the next day without complaint due to the silent threat of three other kingdoms and the Iron Throne being present to back my claim.”

“If she was prepared as she wanted us to believe, she would have done the same.” Lyanna nodded. “Especially after learning of your handling of your father’s death. And no one can know where the other weaknesses in her training are.”

“Correct. With her ruling the Riverlands, we would only find her weaknesses as war and strife broke out.” Jaime frowned. “It is possible Ned would have appealed to the Iron Throne to reverse his and his wife’s positions in their House before it got too bad but—”

“Ned would never embarrass his wife like that,” Lyanna disagreed. “He would put everything into bailing out her leaking boat.”

“And he would have died.”

Just as Ned had died in Jaime’s weirwood dream, Lya heard even though neither of them said it.

“I will see if I can help her understand,” Lya promised. “For Ned’s sake, if nothing else.”

“May the gods help you,” Jaime offered.

“All of the gods. Both the old and the new,” Lya agreed. She was not certain she could help but she loved Ned enough to try. Hopefully that would be enough.

-*-

“Pray do not think less of me,” Jaime sighed and shook his head. “I could use a day where I do not have to watch someone die violently.”

Lyanna hummed in consideration. “We have nowhere we have to be before the morrow, and we are newlyweds—the moon has barely turned since we met beneath the tree. It would be reasonable for us to take a day for ourselves.”

“Entirely reasonable,” Jaime agreed. “Shall we secret ourselves away in our rooms? Or shall we mount our horses and explore the countryside?”

“I would love to visit the Isle of Faces,” Lya admitted.

After a moment, Jaime nodded. “I have ridden through the Riverlands more than once and never stopped to see it. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity to see it now when we are so close to it.”

“It is unnatural!” Lady Catelyn shouted, preventing Lya from responding to her husband. Instead, they exchanged a look and silently sped their steps to investigate the ruckus. “Marriage is for growing our noble Houses! That requires children! Two men cannot come together to make children!”

“That depends on the man!” Ned retorted.

Lady Catelyn jerked as though she had been slapped. “Men in the North can bear children?”

“As I said, it depends on the man,” Ned said as dangerously as a snarling wolf.

“Can you bear children?” Lady Catelyn demanded.

“If I could, I would have been married to Robert Baratheon years ago now.” Ned rolled his eyes. “I do not have that ability. That is not my fate.”

“You?” the Fish floundered. “You would lay with a man?”

“I have,” Ned admitted. “You knew I had experience at love play when you sought my bed in Winterfell.”

“I assumed it was with women!”

“And risk a bastard? It is a tradition in the North that unmarried people seek out others of their own gender for such company so that they may gain experience and comfort without complicating matters.”

“It is the same in the Reach,” Lady Olenna interjected.

Both Ned and the Fish turned to face the old woman. The Fish was glaring fiercely.

“What?” the Queen of Thrones demanded.

“This is a private conversation,” Lady Catelyn tried.

Lady Olenna Tyrell snorted. “If it was a private conversation, you would be having it in private. Not here where all may see, at a volume fit to bring gawkers running.”

“Quite right,” Ser Kevan Lannister agreed. “If I may say so, Lady Catelyn, your attempt at claiming religious high ground would be more successful if your father had not set out with intent to sell yourself and your sister to the first Houses he could use to secure his borders. As such, you have no room to disdain the heathen tree huggers I believe you have called House Stark or the men without honor I understand you have called my own house, House Lannister.”

“Here, here,” Lady Olenna seconded. “My dear fish, you have cocked it all up, have you not? However, will you fix your reputation now?”

Lady Catelyn hid her face in her hands and ran away crying.

“I love Lady Olenna,” Lyanna breathed.

“As you should,” Jaime grinned as he turned them into the Hall where they would break their fasts. “I do have a question.”

“Please,” Lyanna encouraged.

It depends on the man?” he quoted.

“Ah.” Lyanna was not sure how to explain this. “Sometimes people are born in the wrong body. In the North, we allow them to live according to the body they feel they should have. It is very upsetting to live in the wrong body. People have died because of it.

“In Winterfell, when such a person has come to accept who they and are prepared to live the rest of their life as the gods intended, rather than as they were born, we announce the death of the wrong-bodied person and announce the arrival of the correctly dressed person. We typically hold a moderate feast to celebrate the new arrival.”

“Do you think we have such people in the Westerlands?” Jaime asked.

“I am entirely certain they do but I cannot see the Faith allowing such people to,” Lyanna waved her free hand in frustration. “Exist.”

“We will do the same in Casterly Rock as House Stark does in Winterfell,” Jaime decided, a frown marring his beautiful face. “And we will discuss this tradition with Lady Olenna so that they Reach may reach a greater understanding of the world as well.”

Gods of Stream and Gods of Stone, she loved this man.

“Do you feel you were born in the wrong body?” Jaime asked suddenly.

Lyanna was taken aback. No one had ever asked her that before. “Sometimes,” she answered honestly.

“How can I help you? I want you to live a long healthy life so you must tell me how I can help you.” Jaime sighed. “If I can.”

“You already are,” she assured him. “You are supporting my efforts in the tourney when even my father is struggling to allow such a thing.”

Jaime nodded and remained quiet until they were seated. Lyanna noted there was a woman seated on the far side of Lord Baratheon from her husband in a dress that was half black and half white with a feathered collar. She could only be a maid of House Swann from the Stormlands. Lyanna decided then that they would be friends, she just had to figure out how.

“Can you teach me to make a favor?” Jaime asked.

“What?” she asked over Lady Swann’s surprised laughter.

“You are jousting. Have jousted in two rounds without a favor when tradition dictates that every jouster requires a favor to bring them luck.” Jaime frowned. “Unless you would prefer someone else’s favor?”

“No,” Lyanna decided instantly. “Only your favor would do.” And she knew just the place to acquire suitable vegetation. Hopefully, the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces would accept their plea and donate a slim leaf-covered branch to the cause.

“Will you crown him Queen of Love and Beauty when you win, my lady?” Lady Swann leaned forward to ask around Lord Baratheon.

“If I were crowned, I would be King of Love and Beauty,” Jaime told the older lady. “The Laws of the Realm frown upon there being two kings but multiple queens are allowed.” Her husband turned back to her. “You could crown Lady Swann as it is her idea but I believe it would be better to crown Lady Margaery. This is her tourney, after all.”

Lyanna smiled. “Yes. Yes, it is.”

 

Chapter Four

 

“You have been wonderfully supportive of my culture and eager to learn more about the North and me. I can say in complete honesty that I never thought I could be truly Northern once I was destined to marry South. I thank all the Gods, even those seven statues, that we are married.”

Jaime blinked at his wife. He had never heard her so free with her words—not that he had known her long enough to be certain this was unusual but he had known several Northerners in two different lives now. Not one of them had ever been either as verbose or eloquent.

And, he had to admit, he was not stupid. This was only going one place. “What else can I learn?”

Lyanna gave him a relieved smile. “There is a tradition in the North. On the day a girl flowers, she is given a small dragonglass blade she can wear as a necklace or a bracelet so that if a man were to rape or abuse her, she can cut his face. Men with such cuts on their face are shamed by their community and, honestly, rarely live very long.”

“I had wondered why Winterfell’s armsmen warned me not to go for the face,” Jaime admitted. “They said it often, as though they were afraid that I would forget.”

“It has a very specific meaning, socially, in the North,” Lyanna agreed. “Though few blades cut like dragonglass does, I do not believe they had anything to fear in a sparing blade. The unique way dragonglass cuts is why it was chosen by our ancestors.”

“Huh,” Jaime frowned. “I wonder if that used to be a tradition in the West? In the Lord’s Armory at Casterly Rock, there is a dragonglass blade with an intricately carved white handle, probably bone or something, but unlike all the other displays, there is no explanation for it. It just sits in a stand within a box of the finest glass I have ever seen.”

“What is the shape of the blade?” Lyanna asked. Her face was calm but her shoulders were tense, this was something significant.

“Like a,” Jaime tried to remember, “A broad leaf, I think? But it is thicker in the middle and thin at the edges rather than evenly humped like a leaf. The edges kind of look flakey so I cannot be sure if it is actually sharp.”

“It will be sharper than any razor and it will never dull,” Lyanna assured him, “if it is what I think it is. It sounds like a ritual blade. Winterfell has one that is shaped like a crescent moon. The blade is dragonglass and the handle is weirwood, carved by the Children of the Forest themselves.”

“Huh.” Jaime figured that made sense. The trees themselves were the color of bone, there was no reason the wood inside would not be the same.

“When I was a child, Old Nan told me that all of the Great Houses were given ritual blades by the Children. For some reason, I never thought that went south of the Neck,” Lyanna admitted.

“I will show you the Lord’s Armory when we reach Casterly Rock and you can verify for us.” Jaime frowned. “You will be able to tell, right?”

Lyanna nodded eagerly. “I will. I guarded Winterfell’s blade for my father when he was not using it, though he did not give it back after he used it to execute Maester Walys. I had assumed it was an accident but then we agreed I would probably be accepting your suit and I realized he did it on—” Lyanna’s mouth snapped shut and her eyes went wide.

Jaime turned to follow her gaze and saw Prince Rhaegar was standing at the Head Table, holding his hands up for silence.

“Before we partake of another meal in this fine hall,” Prince Rhaegar began once silence was attained, “it is my duty to announce that Lady Catelyn of House Tully has decided to dedicate her life to the Seven Who Are One. Yesterday, after luncheon, she left Harrenhal for the Motherhouse at Maidenpool where she will spend the rest of her days cloistered in silent contemplation of the Seven.”

Prince Rhaegar paused to allow the gathered to react.

Lord Stannis’s betrothed, Lady Jeyne Swann, muttered, “So that is why the keep has been so quiet.”

Jaime snorted while his wife outright laughed.

Prince Rhaegar held up his hand again. “With this decision, House Tully has defaulted a second time on a marriage contract with House Stark. At my order and because House Stark had treated with House Tully in good faith and with excessive patience, the default penalty on the second betrothal contract between these two Paramount Houses, hereby surrenders all lands, keeps, moneys, and titles held by House Tully to House Stark of the Riverlands.”

Rhaegar paused again as the lords and ladies in the Hall of a Hundred Hearths exploded at the news.

Jaime glanced at his bride. She was holding onto her Northern Stoicism by her nails—only slightly widened eyes told the tale of her shock.

For himself, he was not sure how to feel.

It was a good move for the Side of the Living in the War to Come, of course. House Tully had proven themselves unreliable and fickle for generations—the father and both daughters—in multiple lives. Had it been anyone else making the announcement, Jaime would assume Lady Catelyn was made her choice by sword point, but the prince had already given her a second chance after she had acted in a way that would have, at the least, seen her tongue cut out by anyone one else.

It was all confusing.

“Lord Eddard Stark, born the second son of Lord Rickard Stark of Winterfell, is the Lord of House Stark of the Riverlands and, as such, Lord Paramount of the Riverlands. He is seeking a Riverlander bride.” Rhaegar held up a hand to forestall the impending shock. “Any Riverland Lord could tell the rest of us that there is only one Riverland maiden unbetrothed and of a rank to stand as Lady Paramount of the Riverlands. I have the blessing of both lords to confirm to all here that Lord Eddard Stark and Lord Walter Whent are in the process of negotiating the marriage of Lady Margaery to Lord Eddard.

“It is my hope that the end of this glorious event Lord Whent is hosting for us all will be marked by the even more joyous occasion of their marriage.”

Prince Rhaegar made a summoning gesture and Ned stood from his place at the Northern table and walked to stand before the High Table.

“Lords and Ladies of the Riverlands, Westeros will now bear witness to your oaths given to your new Lord Paramount.”

Ned frowned as several Riverlander lords stood but then hesitated to come forward. “You will make your oaths to me in the godswood before the heart tree,” he ordered. “Come.” And the Great Eddard Stark turned to lead nearly the entire nobility of Westeros to Harrenhal’s twenty-acre godswood.

Along the way, Lady Margaery managed to find her way onto her future husband’s arm. Once they were all in the godswood, it was she that called the Riverlords forward to make their oaths and bind them in blood before the Gods of Stream and Stone.

Even Lord Walder Frey knelt and bled upon the tree.

Jaime shook his head. “At least we do not have to worry about the Riverlands rebelling.” Because the gods old and true would kill them is they broke oaths made in blood on a heart tree. The famous Old Nan of Winterfell had explained—to him, at his request—that such a death was caused by a weirwood taking root and growing within the oathbreaker’s body. The tree would plant itself where ever the betrayer finally fell, indoors or out as a memorial to their moral failing.

It sounded horrific and Jaime had encouraged all of the Whisperers he knew to indirectly educate his lords on the matter. He certainly did not want to watch one of his Lords die in such a way because they did something stupid and preventable.

“Thank the gods,” Lyanna agreed.

Jaime glanced at the position of the sun. “We should have time for a meal before the Lords Paramount meeting. Would you like to take it in our rooms?” Jaime offered.

He figured they both needed a minute to lose their minds in private. The deposing of a Paramount House and installing an entirely new Paramount House was not something that had happened before in this life.

And it was done in favor of House Stark rather than against it, this time.

It was a pretty big deal.

“Yes, please,” his wife agreed.

-*-

“Thank you all for you time on this day of rest, my Lords Paramount and lords and ladies vassal,” Prince Rhaegar greeted them all, standing in the center of their loose circle of nine tables, all equal distance from each other. “As there has been a great deal of upheaval among the Lords Paramount, I believe we should begin by introducing ourselves to each other. Good-brother, if you would begin? If there is anything you would like us to discuss, be sure to mention it so we can add it to our agenda.”

“Of course, good-brother,” Prince Doran stood and walked to the center as Prince Rhaegar retreated. “I am Prince Doran of House Nymeros Martell, Prince of Dorne, Lord of Sunspear. I inherited to coronet of Dorne from my mother nearly a year ago now. I am married to Lady Mellario of Norvos. We have one child, a daughter named Arianne. My wife chose not to attend the Tourney with me due to our recent discovery of her second pregnancy.”

“Should your wife not be a princess, as well?” Lord Arryn asked.

It was rude to ask but Jaime found himself relieved. He had wondered why she was not Princess Mellario of Dorne in two lives now.

“She should,” Prince Doran confirmed. “As the wife of a Prince, the title is available to her but she clings to the title she gained through her father’s blood.”

Prince Rhaegar laughed. It was a nervous laugh but Jaime did not think anyone other than a Kingsguard would know that. “I may owe you an apology, goodbrother. Your sister, my wife, has decided she is offended by your wife’s lack of acceptance of her place in Dorne now that the two of you have a strong and living heir. When I left her in Winterfell due to her own pregnancy, she had initiated an education campaign upon your wife via raven.”

Doran laughed at that, thankfully. “I cannot blame you and need no apology. When she was a girl, Elia claimed the right to sort mine and Oberyn’s lives to her pleasure as she had determined us to be graceless and in need of direction. Neither of us could find a compelling argument against her. As such, she is merely exercising her rights.”

“I find myself relieved that I am not the only one she rules with a silken fist,” the prince admitted. “Please introduce your company.”

“The two advisors I have in attendance with me are my younger brother, Prince Oberyn of House Nymeros-Martell, and one of my primary advisors, Lord Adarien of House Dayne.

“As I believe I know the reason for this meeting, I have nothing to add to our agenda.”

“Thank you,” Prince Rhaegar nodded and Prince Doran returned to his table. “Stormlands.”

The Stormlord stood and moved to the center of the circle. “I am Stannis of House Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and Lord of Storm’s End. I inherited from my brother nearly two weeks ago when he was killed in a duel after abusing a maiden and I have accepted the oaths of my Lords upon the weirwood as is the current standard.

“My younger brother Renly currently stands as my heir; he is four years old. I intend to marry Lady Jeyne of House Swann upon our return to the Stormlands. With me are my future wife, Lady Jeyne Swann, and my grandfather, Lord Roman Estermont, Lord of Greenstone. I have no issues to bring before the Council.”

Jaime noticed more than one Lord shift uncomfortably at the mention of their meeting being a Council. Some tension crackled between the tables. Jaime could not understand who could have missed that they were acting as a Great Council, currently gathered as they were. The Crown Prince had not been all that subtle but men of high honor such as the Lords of the Vale were always surprised by the intentions of others.

Jaime could not understand that, either.

Lord Stannis returned to his seat.

“The Vale of Arryn,” Prince Rhaegar prompted.

“I am Lord Jon of House Arryn,” the vale lord announced from the center of the circle. “Lord of the Erie, Defender of the Vale, and Warden of the East. With me are my heir, my brother’s son, Ser Elbert Arryn, the Keeper of the Gates of the Moon, and Lord Yohn Royce, heir to House Royce. As to our agenda, my only request of you, Prince Rhaegar, our future king, is that you confirm my nephew as my heir. I have written my Will declaring it so but I would leave no room for rebellion in the line of succession of the Vale.”

“Will you not marry again, Lord Arryn?” Rhaegar asked. “I know you recently lost your second wife. Would you not prefer to make such a decision after your time of mourning has passed?”

“I am an old man, my prince. Far older than most ever live to see. Succession will not wait for me to mourn should the Stranger claim me.” Lord Arryn shook his head. “No. I swear before the old gods and the new that I will not take another wife. My nephew is a good, strong lad and worthy of being my heir. He is currently courting a daughter of House Royce who holds the largest army in the Vale.”

“Very well,” Prince Rhaegar agreed. “If you will provide the Iron Throne a copy of your Will, I will see it kept. I swear this before the old gods and the new.”

“You have my thanks, Your Grace.”

“I do have one request.”

“What is that, my prince?”

“Take the opportunity provided by the tournament to introduce Ser Elbert as your heir to every lord possible. The more nobles that know your of decision and see the evidence of it, the fewer opportunities ambitious men will have to rebel.”

“As you will, Your Grace,” Lord Arryn returned to his seat and, without prompting, Lord Eddard took his position in the center.

“My name is Eddard Stark. I am the Lord of House Stark of the Riverlands and Lord Paramount of the Trident. You all witnessed the Lords of the Riverlands swearing their fealty to me earlier this very day and I have in turn sworn my loyalty to the Iron Throne through Prince Rhaegar. My younger brother Benjen of House Stark of the North currently stands as my heir and I will wed Lady Margery of House Whent at the end of the Tourney. Attending with me are my future wife and future good-father, Lord Walter of House Whent.

“My only desire for this meeting is that I want to know how the rebirth of Dragons will affect the Iron Throne.”

“That is the first item on our agenda, my Lord Stark,” Prince Rhaegar promised. “We will discuss it as soon as introductions are concluded.”

Ned gave the prince a single nod and returned to his seat.

The Lord sat at the Iron Islands table stood—again, before instructions could be given.

Jaime was surprised to see any squids so far inland. He did not think they had attended Harrenhal the last time but the rebirth of dragons had put more than one lord on their backfoot. It would not surprise him if more attended the Tourney this time to verify the existence of Dragons because it had been known all across Westeros that Prince Rhaegar had planned to attend.

“I am Quellon,” the immensely tall man said. “Head of House Greyjoy, Lord Paramount of the Iron Islands, Lord Reaper of Pyke. I have ruled the Iron Islands for sixty years. I have had eight sons but I have no heir. My first three sons died. My next two I have sent to the Wall for breaking the Laws of the Realm on raping and reaving.”

Jaime blinked, that was a change.

If his count was right, that meant Lords Balon and Euron were at the Wall when last time they had individually been enormous pains in the arse for the entire Realm—in multiple ways, each. All Jaime could think of to cause such a change was the rebirth of dragons. They were small now, certainly, but they would be a true threat soon enough. Lord Quellon was smart to be rid of his most violent and ambitious sons before they could grow their followings enough to become a problem.

“The two after that are too simple to stand as Lord Paramount of their own chamber pots.”

Jaime tried to swallow a snicker. He was not the only lord to fail in that task.

“The youngest is a religious fanatic. I have given to the Drowned Men at his own request.”

“And you grandchildren?” Prince Rhaegar asked.

Lord Quellon sighed tiredly. “The oldest two went to the Wall with their father for the same reasons as he. The youngest, Theon, is yet a child but I fear him to be simple. The girl, Asha, is sharp as a knife but the Ironlords will never accept a woman as Lord.”

“Who have you chosen as heir?”

“My good-son, Lord Rodrik Harlaw. He is unwed but well educated, familiar with the ways of Westeros beyond the Iron Islands, and supportive of the reforms I have made. That said, the tradition of the Iron Islands is the Lordsmoot. If there is any reason to doubt who my heir is upon my death, they will use it.”

“Why not wed Lord Harlaw to Lady Asha?” Prince Rhaegar asked. “Consolidate their claims.”

“They are uncle and niece,” Lord Quellon explained.

Prince Rhaegar’s brow furrowed in confusion. He, clearly, did not understand the problem with incest but that was not a surprise considering the history of House Targaryen.

“My sister, Lady Qhaera could marry Lord Rodrik,” one of the men at Lord Quellon’s table offered. “Their son could marry Lady Asha. She is only six. If they do their duty soon, the age difference between the children would not be unmanageable.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Prince Rhaegar agreed.

“Aye,” Quellon nodded. “My companions are Lord Rodrik of House Harlaw, my purposed heir, and Lord Baelor of House Blacktyde, the man that just spoke.” Lord Quellon scratched thoughtfully at his chin for a minute before he nodded. “Lord Harlaw, will you marry Lady Qhaera Blacktyde?”

“I will.” Lord Harlaw confirmed. He did not sound enthusiastic in the least about his fate to Jaime’s ear.

“I will name Asha my heir and betroth her to Lord Harlaw’s son the moment he is born so she will have the support of the two greatest Iron Houses after mine, if the Iron Throne swears to support her claim.”

“I so swear,” Prince Rhaegar agreed. “I believe it is past time the rest of us followed Dorne’s example and trained our women to rule. More, they should have the right to rule for themselves.

“Will Lady Asha be fostered?”

“No,” Lord Quellon immediately denied. “But it would please me if Lord Harlaw’s son were to foster at Casterly Rock when he comes of age. Lord Lannister has proven himself to be a great warrior, killing both the Mountain and Robert Baratheon in combat but he still respects his lady and is supporting her decision to joust in the lists. These are traits my good-grandson will need.”

Both Prince Rhaegar and Lord Quellon turned to him. There was only one thing he could do, honestly.

Jaime nodded. “I accept and I have learned a number of secrets said to aid in conception. I have a spare copy of the book at Casterly Rock, if it would please you to borrow it to create your own copies.”

“I daresay we all need that book if the secrets it holds are true,” the Crown Prince japed.

“I will order my maester to begin making copies then,” Jaime agreed. “I am certain I can find an occasion to gift them to all Lords Paramount for their edification.”

“Please do,” Lord Harlaw agreed as Lord Quellon made his way back to his table.

If Jaime was correct, Lord Harlaw was the one the Ironborn called Rodrik the Reader. Clearly offering him books was the way to initiate a positive relationship between the West and the Iron Islands.

“The North,” Prince Rhaegar prompted.

“My name is Lord Rickard of House Stark of the North. I am Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. I have ruled the North for nearly thirty years and my wife has passed. I have four living children. My heir is my firstborn, Brandon, who currently stands as the Stark in Winterfell while I attend this business. The people at my table are Maege Mormont, the new Lady of Bear Island, and Howland Reed, a Greenseer and the heir to Greywater Watch.

“The only item I have to discuss with this Council is the Second Long Night which I know is already on the agenda.”

“It is,” Prince Rhaegar confirmed and Lord Rickard returned to his seat. “Westerlands.”

Jaime stood and smoothed down his doublet as his took the pace in the center of the circle. “I am Lord Jaime of House Lannister,” he introduced himself. “Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, and Warden of the West.

“I inherited my position from my father upon his death six moons gone and have recently wed to Lady Lyanna of House Stark. As we have no issue, my heir is my uncle, Ser Kevan Lannister. The two of them are the companions at my table. I have no issues to add to our agenda.”

Jaime nodded to Prince Rhaegar and the prince nodded back. Jaime returned to his seat.

“The Reach.”

Lady Olenna grumbled but stood and took the center stage. “I am Lady Olenna of House Tyrell. At my table are my nephew and good-son, Lord Paxter Redwyne, commander of the largest fleet in Westeros, and my daughter Lady Janna Tyrell who is the future Lady Paramount of the North. My son Mace is Lord of the Reach and Warden of the South—clearly, that title should be given to Prince Doran as he rules the lands that are actually the furthest south in Westeros.”

“I agree, my lady,” Prince Rhaegar nodded.

Lady Olenna harumphed like the old woman she was. “I am here today as Lady Regent to my grandson Lord Willas Tyrell because my fool son ran off the King’s Landing to claim the open Hand position and has not been heard from since.

“What are you going to do about it, my prince?”

“I will answer that shortly,” Prince Rhaegar promised. “Allow me to complete the introductions.”

Lady Olenna nodded and returned to her seat.

“As you all know, I am Crown Prince Rhaegar of House Targaryen. With me representing the Crownlands are Ser Jacaerys of House Velayron. He is the presumptive heir of House Velaryon because his brother, Lord Monford has no issue. Lord Monford is the Master of Ships and has not been heard from by his House nor allowed to leave the Red Keep to pursue his duties in four moons.

“My other companion is Lord Raevon of House Rosby, who holds the closest keep to King’s Landing in all of Westeros. He had to bribe the City Watch to escape my father’s lockdown on King’s Landing and is prepared to testify on the events currently happening in the capital.

“Further, with me are members of the Kingsguard: The Sword of Morning, Ser Arthur Dayne and the White Bat, Ser Oswell Whent. Ser Jorah Mormont does not yet bear the white cloak but has sworn himself to my service and will gain his cloak upon my ascension to the Throne.” Prince Rhaegar turned to Ser Arthur, “Bring them.”

Ser Arthur opened the door and nodded. Through walked Bronn escorting a lovely Valyrian maid and Prince Lewyn Martell of the Kingsguard.

“Ser Baeron Blackfyre—” Bronn, apparently. “—as with Ser Jorah has sworn to join my Kingsguard. Lady Daenerys Blackfyre will join my wife, Princess Elia, and I in holy matrimony upon my ascension to the Iron Throne. As these are the last two living members of House Blackfyre this will seal the breech between House Blackfyre and House Targaryen and prevent any further Blackfyre Rebellions from tearing the Realm asunder.”

Jaime was not the only Lord Paramount nodding his support of this action. The only Lord Paramount that seemed at all displeased by the prince’s choice was Lord Arryn but he kept his mouth shut as even he could see he was the only one dissenting.

“Prince Lewyn, we will begin with your report on the situation in King’s Landing.”

“The king is mad, my prince,” Lewyn asserted as he walked into the clearing in the center of their circle of tables.

“We are going to be a bit more than that, lad,” Lord Rickard offered when Lewyn paused too long and the gathered lords laughed.

“That is a fair assessment, my lord,” Prince Lewyn agreed. “I shall begin at the start of recent events.

“King Aerys was overjoyed to hear the news of Lord Tywin’s death,” Lewyn flicked an apologetic glance his way and Jaime acknowledged it with a nod. “He feasted to it—to the death of a man that had been his friend and loyal servant for two decades—every night. It was appalling. When Lord Tyrell arrived, hoping to be named Hand of the King with an offering of the bounty of the Reach, Aerys agreed and continued feasting even more lavishly.

“Queen Rhaella proved to be the wisest of us, she requested permission to retreat to Dragonstone and it was granted. She is still there with Ser Jonathor commanding the castle’s defenses.”

Jaime sighed in relief. Queen Rhaella was safe, then. Out of the King’s reach with a man loyal to her more than the king to keep her that way.

“Then news arrived. Ravens came from a handful of Western Lords congratulating King Aerys on the return of dragons to his House. He had accepted one of King’s Landing’s three maesters to temporarily stand as his maester with Grand Maester Pycelle away from the keep. It was that man that brought our King the news. Maester Braddish was beaten and burned to death for bringing King Aerys the ravens.”

There was a rumble of discontent among the lords present but Jaime maintained his focus on Prince Lewyn. He knew, from experience, that things were going to get much worse.

“Lord Qarlton Chelsted had asked when the work of the Realm would return,” Lord Rosby interjected from his seat. “As Master of Coin, he had concerns about the expense of the feasts. King Aerys had him whipped nearly to death. With no maester, his twin daughters worked to aid him. Lady Yis took up his role of Master of Coin. Lady Yas raided the Grand Maester’s apartments for remedies and knowledge. That was when we learned that someone had already ransacked the Grand Maester’s apartments.

“Lady Yas has a talent for healing—her father was still alive after losing most of the skin on his back. Many started calling her the Chainless Maester in secret. None of us repeated this name in his hearing. We knew the king would have her killed for stepping above herself if he learned of her actions because he threatened her older sister with it multiple times.”

Lord Rosby covered his face with both of his hands, working and failing to contain a sob. “The king decided my wife would be his mistress. He did not care that she did not want him. He did not care that she was a mere month from the birthing bed. He took her.” The man sobbed again. “Lord Commander Hightower returned her to me after three days, wrapped in a sheet. When I asked after her dress was—because it was her favorite—he told me it had been burned.

“He did not say she was in it when it was burned. Her arms and her back were extensively burned. Threads of her own embroidery were still in the wounds. She had been chewed on and scratched.” Lord Rosby started to shake his head and just kept shaking it. “She would not speak. She would not eat. She would drink, if forced to. She slept only when her body gave out on her and always woke up in fear.

“The Chainless could not do much for her. She could disinfect some of the wounds and brew moontea but my wife needed a real maester. I paid a guard to let us out of the city. My maester,” Lord Rosby swallowed. “He said her mind was broken. The kindest thing to do would be to return her to the embrace of the Seven. I held her hand as he forced her to drink too much Sweetsleep.

“My wife is dead!” The man started sobbing in earnest.

Lady Daenerys stood and guided him from the room into the arms of a waiting man servant.

“King Aerys was furious that Lord and Lady Rosby escaped King’s Landing,” Prince Lewyn told them. “One of the Lords suggested the king hatch his own dragon. I believe as a distraction, to curb the king’s abuse of the Court.” Prince Lewyn turned to the prince with a frown.

“It is not well known,” Prince Rhaegar said into the hesitation, “but dragons are as changeable as the flame in regard to their gender. The Black Dread laid one clutch in his youth. A clutch of three entirely black eggs. They are the most sacred possessions House Targaryen can claim. These eggs have been kept in a secret vault deep within the Red Keep since the keep was erected.”

“Thank you, my prince,” Prince Lewyn bowed to Prince Rhaegar. Then he turned back to the rest of them. “King Aerys destroyed two of these eggs with wildfire before whispers came to the capital that the eggs that Prince Rhaegar hatched, were hatched in normal fire. That did not do much for the remaining egg though it was clearly no longer stone after repeated fire baths. The king said there was movement he could feel within the egg.

“Then we learned that the hatching required a sacrifice of king’s blood.”

Jaime covered his mouth to keep his words behind his lips. He knew where this was going. With the Queen out of the capital, there was only one person of king’s blood there other than the king himself and there was no way Aerys would ever sacrifice himself for anything.

“King Aerys had the largest pyre I have ever seen built in the shape of a dragon and soaked in rare oils. In the center was a stake. He ordered us to bring him his son, the prince—Prince Viserys. We secured the egg in his hands and tied him to the stake at the king’s order. The king did not care that he was about to murder his own son. He could not be moved and any that tried were taken to the Black Cells.

“Prince Viserys showed no fear. He kept repeating that fire cannot harm a dragon.

“It took time for the fire to reach Prince Viserys in the center of the pyre. He did not scream when it did. I believe he had already suffocated at that point—the fire eats air to survive and that would include stealing the breath from the lad’s lungs.

“There was a great crack and a black dragon shot out of the pyre. It was flying already. We could not understand. Lord Commander Hightower had told us that dragons had to mature into their wings and their flame. That we would have time to grow accustomed to it but this one flew the moment it was born. In our confusion, it attacked the king—burned his face—and fled King’s Landing all together.

“The king had anyone that spoke about his failure punished—whipped to death or burned at the stake. Even simple inquiries about his health were taken as an attack and punished accordingly. We learned that when he had Lady Tyrell burned. Lord Tyrell was whipped for speaking out against his wife’s unjust punishment.”

“He is dead then,” Lady Olenna said blankly.

“Yes, my lady, I am sorry you had to learn of it this way.”

Lady Olenna waved him off. “Tell the rest of your story so the unconvinced will see sense.”

“King Aerys decided he would try again, to prove to Westeros that he was the one true king. He sent Lord Commander Hightower to fetch the queen home and bring more eggs from the vault on Dragonstone. I do not know how they learned of Prince Viserys’s death but the Lord Commander was refused entry to the keep completely with the prince’s death as the state reason. Eggs were slipped out of the keep under the cover of darkness as a peace offering when the lord commander was forced to retreat for sleep but the Queen would not come out. Ser Jonathor refused the king’s orders, knowing they would see his charge killed. Dragonstone’s Dragon Guard supported him utterly.”

“Does Lord Commander Hightower live?” Jaime asked. That the White Bull had failed to fulfil King Areys’s orders, no matter their folly, would not go unpunished. And King Areys’s preferred punishments had been made more than clear.

“I do not know,” Prince Lewyn admitted. “He was remanded to the Black Cells for his failure to retrieve the queen. They are quite crowded at this point and the gaolers are only allowed to feed the prisoners when the king directly orders them to. He does not remember to give the order often.”

“How did you come to be here, Prince Lewyn?” Jaime knew Lord Arryn at least had to be wondering. Despite the content of his report, the Vale Lord would not deign to act of the word of an oathbreaker.

“Denied access to his wife, the king ordered me to return Prince Rhaegar to the keep.” Prince Lewyn turned to face Prince Rhaegar. “You must not go to him, my prince. He will see you dead and claim the little one for himself.”

Ñaqes rumbled a threat from his place among the rafters.

“Peace,” Prince Rhaegar ordered. “I will return to the Red Keep but I will do so with an army at my back. My father will not go unpunished for his crimes against the Realm.”

Prince Lewyn bowed and left the center of their circle.

Prince Rhaegar focused on each other of the Lords Paramount in turn. “I am the oldest member of House Targaryen bonded to a dragon. My wife, Princess Elia, and my daughter, Princess Rhaenys have also been claimed by dragons. A third awaits the end of my wife’s current pregnancy to claim the child she carries.

“By the Right of the Dragon, I am the rightful king of Westeros. Will you support my claim?”

“Aye,” Jaime, Lord Rickard, and Lord Eddard spoke as one.

“Dorne stands with you, good-brother,” Prince Doran confirmed.

“What will happen to your father once he is removed from the throne?” Lady Olenna asked.

“I cannot execute him for that would be kinslaying,” Prince Rhaegar told her. “And he is too feeble to foist upon the Wall. There are cells in Dragonstone intended to hold Targaryens that go mad, in comfort for the safety of the Realm but I am not unwilling to consider other options.”

“His death is the safest option for us all,” Lady Olenna declared fiercely. “I would try him for the murder of my son and good-daughter. I will swing the blade myself, in the Northern fashion.”

“As long as three witnesses confirm my father’s crimes against your House, I will stand by your judgement and punishment,” Prince Rhaegar promised.

“The Reach will march with you,” Lady Olenna confirmed.

“The Ironborn will need time to get our ships in place to prevent the king from fleeing by sea,” Lord Quellon offered rather than outright agreeing.

“How long?” Prince Rhaegar asked.

“Our three ships are docked at Saltpans after seeing my sons and grandsons to the Wall at Eastwatch,” Lord Quellon gestured to his two companions to clarify who he meant. “I have another five deployed on this coast, negotiating trade with various ports from White Harbor to Sunspear. I would need them all to contain the Gullet with minimal efficiency.”

“House Redwyne has a number of ships carrying out trade on the eastern seaboard of Westeros,” Lord Paxter offered. “They are not warships but they would help cover the mouth of the Gullet and allow Lord Quellon’s ships occasional down time to rest or restock as needed.”

“I can call upon the ships of House Velaryon,” Ser Jacaerys added. “With the Ironborn as the outer net to contain the all ships, the ships of my House can patrol the inner waters.”

“I want you all checking each other’s ships,” Prince Rhaegar ordered. “It would only take one bribed captain to see all of our efforts thwarted. We cannot afford such when deposing a king.

“Lord Stannis?”

Stannis Baratheon nodded. “I cannot risk killing the king, either. My grandmother was his aunt.”

“Correct,” Prince Rhaegar confirmed.

“But Storm’s End has a small fleet of warships, enough to seal the Gullet with Lord Quellon’s longboats standing as our relief. Storm’s End is closer to King’s Landing than Saltpans. I will send a raven to Storm’s End and, should Lord Quellon agree to provide me passage to the Gullet, take command of my ships there.”

“Aye, lad,” Lord Quellon agreed, “I can do that.”

“Lord Arryn?” Prince Rhaegar prompted. “We need to be united in this endeavor or risk a civil war that none of us want.”

Lord Arryn nodded. “Deposing a king is a grave endeavor and cannot be taken lightly but from the reports we have heard today, it is clearly overdue. The Vale will support you, my prince.” Lord Arryn inclined his head. “My king.”

“Very good,” Prince Rhaegar agreed. “We will seal our oaths to each other in the godswood and ravens will be sent. As such coordination takes time and as my mother is as safe as she can be, we will complete Lord Whent’s tourney and Lord Eddard’s marriage before we march upon the capital.

“Onceour vows are made and the ravens are sent, we will reconvene here. We have two of the gravest matters to discuss before our business is completed for the day.”

Lord Rickard was the first to stand. “To business, lad. This is no time to dally.”

Prince Rhaegar smiled fondly and said in his best imitation of a Northern burr, “Aye.”

 

Chapter Five

 

“Since the Green Men have been kind enough to grant us privacy here—” King Rhaegar opened.

Lyanna had to swallow back a snort. The Green Men were not giving them privacy. They were watching them from a distance to ensure the unbelievers in the party did not start attacking the trees.

The Green Men’s general creepiness was providing them privacy by preventing other outsiders from visiting the Isle of Faces, however, and she did not want to appear to disagree with the king so she kept her silence. Though the teasing look from Jaime made that difficult.

“—we will begin on the second issue on our agenda. Maester Grenn, will you step forward and bleed upon the tree?”

Lyanna was gratified once again that their prince-turned-king had accepted the tree Lyanna had led them to on the Isle. It was her favorite, the Laughing Tree, and the one that had granted her and Jaime the whippy little branch they had woven into his favor for her. It was additionally amusing that their private, romantic picnic had turned into a scouting mission in the service of the Iron Throne.

“Oh, certainly!” Maester Grenn said, laying down his draft of the historical record of this moment eagerly. “I admit curiosity. Does the blood bond have a sensation? What other abilities does the blood bond have besides sealing a vow? I simply must know!”

“You will find out,” King Rhaegar swore, holding out father’s ritual blade for the maester to use.

Maester Grenn cut his palm eagerly and laid it on the most open spot around the face of the tree. The sealing of vows had left bloody handprints around the face of the tree that Lyanna knew would remain from Jaime’s talk of his own lords’ swearing to him. Old Nan had confirmed that if one of his lords broke their vow, the hand would fade. Lyanna looked forward to seeing it and rather hoped her father had his lords swear themselves upon Winterfell’s heart tree when the harvest festival came around, if not sooner.

“One of the abilities, as Maester Grenn called it, of a blood bond with a weirwood tree is that if questioned, the bonded will be forced to speak the truth,” the dragon king explained to the gathered lords. “We have found the beginnings of a conspiracy within the Citadel. I will demonstrate to you now the questions we have formulated to reveal the conspiracy’s members.

“Maester Grenn, where does your loyalty lie?”

“With House Whent first, per my oath of service, and then with you, my king.”

“That is not the answer a member of the conspiracy would give,” King Rhaegar informed them all. “Maester Grenn, do you know anything about the Society for the Advancement of Science?”

“No.” Maester Grenn frowned. “Is that the body within the Citadel responsible for this conspiracy? Sounds terribly boring.”

Despite her best efforts, Lyanna laughed. Thankfully, she was not the only one.

“Do you know the signs and symptoms of a person having magic? Particularly in children or in women bearing children with magic active in their blood?”

“Yes, of course. I could hardly care for a child or pregnant woman properly, if I did not. Their diets are often different than the expected diets for such people. They require more breads and root vegetables to remain healthy. We are warned in the Citadel that some lords will not understand such desires as, in other circumstances, ladies typically complain that these food items are unhealthy or make them fat and we must be prepared to defend our lady’s needs.”

“This is typical information provided to maesters?” King Rhaegar asked in surprise.

“We would hardly be able to do our duty without it,” Maester Grenn said, equally surprised. “Before a maester is allowed to leave the Citadel to serve a noble House, we are required to earn no less than three links in healing. One of those links must specifically focus on the care of children, from conception to adulthood.”

“Have your superiors at the Citadel ever asked or ordered you to kill anyone for any reason?”

“No!” Maester Grenn denied vehemently. “I would hope they know better than to ask! I would never betray my oath to my lord, not even to you, my king. Many people may not consider White Harbor part of the true North but we take our oaths just as seriously as any other Northman!”

“My apologies,” King Rhaegar offered. “You may remove your hand from the tree.”

Maester Grenn did so, glaring at the ground rather than their king entirely because one did not glare at the king. Such a thing could make one a head shorter.

“Any observations to report?” Ned asked dryly.

Maester Grenn lit up with joy. “So many, my lord. I would be pleased to write them down for you.”

“I would be pleased to read it,” Ned confirmed because of course he would.

“The reason for this exchange,” the king said to bring them back on track, “is because Maester Creylen of Casterly Rock, Maester Mordayn who had been sent to Casterly Rock as a possible replacement for the elderly Maester Creylen, Maester Walys of Winterfell, and Grand Maester Pycelle were all members of the conspiracy known as the Society for the Advancement of Science.”

“Maester Creylen admitted to poisoning my brother, Lord Tyrion, within the womb and causing the death of my mother, Lady Joanna Lannister,” Jaime interjected after a glance at the king for permission. “He also admitted his intent to murder my brother after my father had fallen. He had allowed my brother to live to manipulate my father into not looking deeper into my mother’s murder.”

“Maester Walys murdered my wife. He said he allowed her to die after an accident riding a horse but it is the same as murder because her continued good health was his duty.” Father paused as several lords nodded their agreement. “He also caused two of her pregnancies to miscarry.”

“Grand Maester Pycelle is the true reason my mother has either miscarried or struggled to conceive. He also admitted to killing several of my siblings within the first year of their lives,” King Rhaegar concluded. “For the future of our Houses, for the future of Westeros, we must handle this situation most carefully. We must ensure the Maesters serving our Houses are loyal in the interest of protecting our families. And then we must root out this conspiracy in its entirety from the Citadel.”

“Aye,” father, Jaime, and Ned all agreed. Several other lords were nodding.

“What happened to Maester Mordayn?” Lord Jon Arryn asked.

“He was one of three candidates the Citadel sent me when I requested replacement and retirement for Maester Creylen,” Jaime answered. “I had long held the concern that Creylen had not done enough to save my mother in the interest of killing my brother who I knew my father feared was a bastard of rape sired upon my mother by the Mad King.”

“That has been proven,” King Rhaegar told the gathered lords before they could ask. “House Targaryen has agreed to a private wergild to House Lannister for the rape of their previous lady.”

That was news to her and from the way Jaime suddenly squeezed her hand, it was news to him as well.

“Regardless,” Jaime cleared his throat when his voice cracked. “I questioned Maester Creylen before the heart tree on his crimes against my mother. He did not bleed upon it until he had admitted to murder—my good-brother, Lord Brandon, had been teaching me the ways of the Gods of Stream and Stone at my request and revealed that no one could lie to the face of a weirwood. I was finally able to validate my concern but discovered much more than I expected.

“I, of course, questioned all three of Creylen’s replacements to ensure the safety of my future wife. The first two were innocent but Maester Mordayn eagerly admitted that he was a member of the Society. He also attempted to start a war between the Reach and the West by alerting his superiors at the Citadel to my actions.”

“Will there be a war between the West and the Reach?” Lord Arryn asked in disapproval.

“We believe we were able to stop his message,” Jaime offered though that was hardly a guarantee.

“There will be a war,” King Rhaegar confirmed. “Of a sort. Lady Olenna, will you tell us all House Tyrell has done with the information uncovered by Lord Lannister?”

“Lord Jaime is a good lad,” Lady Olenna said with a ferocious glare at Lord Arryn.

Lord Arryn held up a peaceable hand and took a step back in apology.

“As Lord Jaime knew he would be hard pressed to make a just decision if Maester Creylen had harmed his mother, he requested I witness his questioning of the man before Casterly Rock’s weirwood,” she informed the lot of them. “Lords Brandon and Benjen Stark were also there as well as Ser Kevan Lannister.”

“Aye,” Ser Kevan stepped forward. “My nephew was kinder to the man than I would have been and granted him a clean death after a thorough questioning before the tree.”

King Rhaegar nodded and Ser Kevan stepped back

“I returned to Highgarden after Lord Tywin was laid to rest. With the aid of my good-brothers and their sons, I questioned Highgarden’s two maesters. Only the younger man was a member of the Society. House Tyrell was determined to have too much Andal blood to be at risk for having magical children when the older one was sent to us but the Citadel re-evaluated our political worth and goals and determined we could become a risk. As Maester Lawrent had not committed any crimes at the time of his questioning, I have not executed him but he has been confined to his rooms and a guard has been placed upon the ravenry to prevent him from alerting his superiors within the Society.

“He did confirm before the Three Sisters that at least six members of the Conclave are members of the Society but he does not know who the actual head of the Society is.”

“That is more than I had hoped,” Kind Rhaegar admitted.

“We must assume that at least half of the Conclave are members of the Society,” Jaime offered, “or at the very least complicit in their goals. They were able to elect more than one Grand Maester from their numbers. That requires a majority.”

“Aye,” Father agreed. Ned nodded.

“I advised my good-son, Lord Redwyne here, about the issue and we questioned his Maester. The man was innocent but it was at his suggestion that we questioned both of our septons. The men proved to not be members of the society but they were reporting information they deemed inconsequential to the Citadel—specifically to Archmaesters we had already learned were part of the Society. The two we questioned were both ordered to do so by different members of the Most Devout.”

“Confirming the Citadel and the Faith are involved in the conspiracy together,” the king concluded tiredly.

“Yes, my king,” Lady Olenna confirmed. “I empowered Ser Jermy Tyrell and Ser Brennard Redwyne to travel across the Reach and question the maesters and septons of as many of our foremost vassals as possible while their lords were here at the Tourney. I fear we cannot approach House Hightower or the Houses sworn directly to them until the last for fear of starting a war before we are ready.”

King Rhaegar nodded. “I agree.

“I believe our first priority must be removing my father from the Iron Throne,” King Rhaegar told them all. “Then we must separate and deal with the septons and maesters within our own lands. Once our homes are secure, we gather again and march upon Oldtown.”

“Why not strike simultaneously, my king?” Ned asked.

“Explain,” King Rhaegar ordered.

“An opportunity exists to remove the Conclave from Oldtown as long as we properly control the ravens sent from Harrenhal,” Ned offered. “We start whispers that you want women to gain equal rights to men, including studying at the Citadel and deployment as maesters. We invite the Conclave here—all of them—to witness a Great Council, your ascension as king, and to review policies you wish to enact. Lady Olenna could certainly craft a raven that would spurn their pride in a way that they would all come.”

“I can,” Lady Olenna agreed.

“We have more than enough men here at the tourney to take King’s Landing, assuming King’s Landing were to resist. It seems unlikely with the City Watch allowing Lords to leave the King’s Landing against the direct orders of King Aerys, but we can field those numbers and allow highly trusted men, empowered by their lords, to clear the issue of the Society in our individual kingdoms. Only once the Conclave has come to Harrenhal, will the Redwyne fleet capture the Citadel in the name of King Rhaegar. A trusted Lord would have to lead the questioning there but there are a number here that could fulfil that duty without taking too many numbers from King’s Landing or securing Harrenhal and our homelands.”

“House Dayne has been seizing control of the Citadel from House Hightower for generations,” Lord Adarien Dayne offered.

Prince Oberyn turned to face Prince Doran sharply. “I would be pleased to seek out and clear Dorne of this scourge, brother.”

“The West,” Ser Kevan agreed, turning to Jaime.

“The Vale,” Lord Royce volunteered.

“The North!” Maege Mormont roared.

King Rhaegar held up his hands to quite them all before they could continue. “It is the decision of your Lords Paramount who will lead what forces but I agree this is a good direction for us to take.

“How many men would each Seeker need to clear each of their kingdoms?”

“For minimum safety with a writ from their Lord Paramount and King empowering them?” Ned asked. “Twenty.”

“I sent Ser Jermy and Ser Brennard with sixty,” Lady Olenna offered.

“Forty, then,” the king decided. “With the option of taking more men from cleared castles as needed.”

Lyanna nodded her agreement along with her husband, brother, and father.

“There are two thousand men serving in the City Watch,” the king continued. “Plus, a thousand Dragon Guard securing the Red Keep. I have people loyal to me positioned to know if my father hires mercenaries to swell his ranks. At this time, he has not. We will take five thousand to secure King’s Landing and the Iron Throne. The rest of the men-at-arms currently in Harrenhal will remain here to secure our center of operations. As we are in the Riverlands I expect you, Lord Eddard, to command this force. The placement of all other Lords will be determined by lot once our Seekers have left to secure your homelands.

“We will not begin anything until the Tourney is complete,” King Rhaegar ordered. “If we interrupt the Tourney, our enemies will know we are doing something unexpected and will be on their guard. We cannot afford that. Again, no one leaves for any reason, until the Tourney is complete.”

“As you will, Your Grace,” the Lords Paramount all agreed.

“I imagine control of the ravens will be paramount,” Maester Grenn offered.

“Yes,” the king confirmed.

“Lord Whent, I will need a guard rotation for the ravenry,” the maester told his lord. “It would be best for them to guard it until this situation is resolved as there is no telling when my duties will remove me from the tower.”

“It is already sorted,” Lord Whent promised. “The first guard rotation began when you left the tower for this meeting.”

“Very good, my lord.”

“A dozen of my most trusted men were assigned two-hour rotations in teams of two to prevent boredom and carelessness,” Lord Whent explained to the rest of them. “They will each have two shifts a day. It will be their only duty until this matter is resolved and they have all moved into the base of the Maester’s tower for the duration.”

“That is satisfactory,” King Rhaegar agreed. “I believe our final item will wait until the issues we have currently discussed have been settled, do you agree, Lord Stark and Lord Lannister?”

Lyanna watched Jaime scratch his chin in consideration. She was amused. It was her father’s gesture. She could not imagine Jaime’s father, the Great Lion, giving himself away with such an action.

“I believe it would give credence to our claim of a Great Council to have another item to discuss,” Jaime settled on. “And knowledge of the content would certainly enflame the Society for the Advancement of Science. Whether that would serve us or not, I cannot say.”

“What say you, Greenseer?” Father asked Lord Howland.

“My lord, all of the parties necessary for a fruitful discussion are not here,” he argued. “Considering the visions my people have reported and the most logical way to reduce the power of our future enemy, it would be most wise to invite Lord Commander Reben Qorgyle of the Night’s Watch to the discussion. His arrival, indeed his invitation, will take time to be received.”

“Wise,” father decided. “My king?”

“Would my signature and seal or Lord Stark’s be likely to receive the response we want from the Lord Commander?” King Rhaegar asked.

“Mayhaps your and Lord Stark’s signatures, Your Grace, with Prince Doran’s seal. Lord Commander Qorgyle was a man of Dorne before his life began anew.”

Father snorted in amusement. “Aye, I can see that.”

“Any other items for discussion before we return to the keep?” King Rhaegar asked.

“Not an item, as such,” Prince Doran offered. “But a gift.” The Prince of Dorne gestured to his brother.

Prince Oberyn reached behind him, into the bag that had not left his person in days. In one movement, he knelt and presented the Crown of Aegon the Conqueror to their King.

“It was lost in Dorne with the death of Daeron I, the Young Dragon,” Prince Doran explained—likely without need—to the King. “I do not know where my mother retrieved it from or when, for she did not tell me. I do know she had intended to gift it to King Aerys on the presentation of their mutual grandchild. Unfortunately, the king’s welcome of Dornish blood—” King Rhaegar was not the only one to wince at their previous king’s entire lack of grace “—into his House was so insulting she chose not to present the crown as her gift.”

“House Targaryen gives our thanks to House Nymeros Martell for their return of a relic most sacred to us,” King Rhaegar said as he accepted the gift from his good-brother. “While I hesitate to proclaim the loss of a mother to be fortunate, I admit I am grateful she has passed. Her death and your ignorance leave no one grounds for other lords to urge punishment upon Dorne for not returning the crown to my House as soon as it was discovered.”

“I agree,” Prince Doran inclined his head.

King Rhaegar turned to his future wife, “Would you?”

Lady Daenerys smiled as she accepted the crown. “As our forefather, Aegon the Dragon did before his sister wife, will you willingly give your oath?” Before the heart tree, which would further bind his oath.

“I will,” King Rhaegar confirmed.

“Kneel,” she commanded and their king obeyed.

“Will you solemnly swear to govern the Peoples of the Kingdoms of Westeros according to their respective laws and customs?”

“I so swear,” King Rhaegar confirmed.

“Will you, as it is in your power, cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?”

“I so swear,” King Rhaegar confirmed.

“Will you, as it is in your power, protect all of the people of Westeros equally regardless of their faith, their gods, or lack thereof? Will you protect your vassals’ right to worship whom they wish as they wish so long as they harm no other among your vassals in their worship?”

“I so swear,” King Rhaegar confirmed. He took his own belt knife and sliced his hand, laying it upon the bark of the Laughing Tree. “These things I have sworn here, I will perform. These Oaths I will keep from this day until my last day. I swear this before the old gods and the new.”

Lady Daenerys placed the crown on the king’s head and commanded. “Rise, Rhaegar I of House Targaryen, King of the First Men, the Rhyonar, and the Andals.”

Lyanna was shocked but pleased at the new order Lady Daenerys announced, certain it would remain. Partially because of the value of this moment. Partially because it was historically accurate to the order the different people groups came to Westeros.

“Lord of the Eight Kingdoms.”

Lyanna was shocked again. There were eight kingdoms in Westeros now, because of how Aegon I had chosen to separate the Iron Islands from the Riverlands and the later addition of Dorne. She had often wondered as a child which Kingdom was unacknowledged in the title of their king. She had figured long ago it was the North and that was why they had never successfully married into House Targaryen and why the Pact of Ice and Fire had never been kept.

It was not until recently that she had realized that calling theirs the Seven Kingdoms was a sign of the power the Faith of the Seven held in Westeros. That power had not changed with Dorne joining the rest of Westeros under the Dragons’ banner.

Lady Daenerys naming them the Eight Kingdoms took that power from the Faith and returned it to the King and Lords Paramount, where it belonged.

“Protector of the Realm.”

Lyanna joined the rest of the Lords and Ladies on the Isle of Faces in a cheer.

-*-

“Rhaegar I of House Targaryen, King of the First Men, the Rhyonar, and the Andals!” the herald called. “Lord of the Eight Kingdoms. Protector of the Realm.”

Jaime watched shock ripple through the gathered lords and ladies and was impressed by the sheer level of discretion his fellow Lords Paramount had shown in the hours since Rhaegar had dismissed them from the godswood.

His foster brother was wearing the Crown of the Conqueror as he swept into the Hall of a Hundred Hearths.

Jaime was the first to stand, guiding Lyanna to her feet at his side. His bannermen responded most quickly to his action, he was pleased to note. More quickly than they had responded to even his father. He wondered, idly, if this was because their oaths were sealed by a weirwood or if they respected him more than they had feared his father.

“Be seated,” King Rhaegar commanded. “My lords and ladies, we have a number of challenges we must meet and overcome as one Realm united. Before we can overcome any challenges, we must have a single ruler to lead us. By the Right of the Dragon and in light of my father’s crimes against House Targaryen and the Realm, in consultation with the Lords Paramount of all eight kingdoms of Westeros, I have accepted the Crown of my forefather, Aegon the Conqueror. Witness reports of my father’s crimes will be available in Harrenhal’s Chamber of State for viewing. There the documents will be under glass and guard but all who wish to may read them in full. These crimes include but are not limited to the murder of my brother, Prince Viserys; the murder of Lord and Lady Tyrell; and the rape and murder of Lady Rosby.”

The king gave the shocked whispers a moment to skitter around the gathered lords and ladies before he held up his hands.

“We have forces scouting our way to and within King’s Landing at this time,” King Rhaegar assured. “We will complete the events of Lord Whent’s grand tourney to give them time to complete their assigned tasks and for our forces to coordinate. After the completion of the Tourney and Lord Stark of the Riverlands’ marriage, I will lead a force to liberate King’s Landing and the lords and ladies being unjustly imprisoned there.

“A force under Lord Stark of the Riverlands will remain here to secure Harrenhal, where we will return for my father’s trial, my formal coronation ceremony, and a full Great Council to discuss the future of the Realm.

“For now, as king, I have the authority to appoint and remove the noble sons of Westeros from the Kingsguard.

“I call forth Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of Morning.”

Ser Arthur left his location behind the High Table and knelt before Rhaegar. “My King.”

“Since you joined the Kingsguard four years ago, you have been my strong right arm, my most trusted confidant, and the moral guide for more than one knight, armsman, or lord within the Red Keep. I ask that you continue to fulfill these duties for the entire Realm. Ser Arthur Dayne, I, King Rhaegar I, request you set aside your white cloak to take up the office of Hand of the King. What say you?”

“I am honored, my king.” Ser Lord Arthur Dayne stood and removed his white cloak. He and their new king made an exchange—the Hand Badge Jaime knew had once been worn by his father for Dayne’s white cloak. The two spoke softly to each other for a moment before Lord Arthur moved to stand at King Rhaegar’s right hand, one step back.

“I call forth Prince Lewyn Martell.”

Prince Lewyn came forth and, as Lord Arthur had, knelt before the king.

“Prince Lewyn, I thank you for your many years of service to my House and the Iron Throne though I know my father’s many crimes have weighed heavily upon your honor.”

“They have, my king,” Prince Lewyn responded when the king paused.

“We both know the many challenges facing our Realm and there will be opportunities a man of your honor and trust will best fulfill outside of the Kingsguard. However, I ask that you remain in my service and take command my Kingsguard until your sworn bothers are reunited and alternate positions can be offered to those that would welcome them.”

“It is my pleasure and my duty to see your Will done, my king.”

“Rise, Lord Commander Lewyn Martell.”

Lord Commander Martell rose as commanded and moved to stand at King Rhaegar’s left hand—proving, to Jaime at least, that they had discussed this performance and were simply carrying the ceremony out for the Realm to witness.

“Lord Jorah of House Mormont and Lord Baeron of House Blackfyre,” King Rhaegar called.

Both men were holding up walls within the Hall of a Hundred Hearths. They straightened and moved forward. As one, the two very different men knelt before King Rhaegar. Lord Arthur, as Hand of the King, removed the cloaks bearing the king’s personal sigil. Lord Commander Lewyn and Ser Oswell stepped forward with the white cloaks of their sacred brotherhood in their arms.

“You have both sworn your interest in serving as members of my Kingsguard once I was crowned. The time has come. Make your oaths.”

Together Lord Joran and Lord Bronn swore, “I swear to ward the king with all my strength, and give my blood for his. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall guard his secrets, obey his commands, ride at his side, and defend his name and honor. I swear this before the old gods and the new, from this day to my last day.”

Lewyn and Oswell secured new, snow-white cloaks to the men’s shoulders.

“Rise, Ser Jorah and Ser Bronn, Knights of the Kingsguard!”

 

Chapter Six

 

“Enter,” Lya called as she examined herself in the looking glass. She was wearing the first of the many Lannister-colored dresses her husband had gifted her with and she found she liked the shade of red her new House claimed as their own. The cloth-of-gold, despite how it looked, was not itchy, and the design was less taxing than her Northern gowns had been in the southron Spring heat.

One of their Red Cloaks opened the door for Lady Margaery Whent and the Rose of Harrenhal swept through.

“Is your husband available?” Lady Margaery asked.

“His man servant is still preparing him for dinner,” Lya explained. “His Aunt Genna had a great deal to say about how he has not been comporting himself as Lord Lannister should.”

Lady Margaery’s eyes flew wide. “Has another Lannister joined us? Should I arrange a room? I have not received any notification.”

“Oh, no, he received this telling off via raven,” she assured the slightly-older girl.

Lady Margaery snorted and then covered her mouth and nose in shock, “my apologies.”

“Oh, no, we are taking bets upon who tattled.”

“Five dragons on Lady Olenna,” Jaime said as he came in from their bed chamber, draped in even more gold than she was—and he did not have the benefit of wearing a skirt to justify it. He took one look at her and smiled before turning to face Lady Margaery. “How can we assist our future good-sister this fine evening?” he asked.

Lady Margaery blushed. “Your Uncle Tygette entered himself into the melee competition and made it through to the final round but has left on sensitive business for House Lannister,” she pointed out.

Lya and Jaime nodded together. Ser Kevan had volunteered to evaluate all of the septons and maesters in the West but he was not the most actively martial of men. It was Jaime’s evaluation that Ser Kevan was more of a commander, than a warrior, so they had sent Ser Tygette along to ensure Ser Kevan’s survival.

“Will House Whent be returning his entry fee then?” Jaime asked. “We can certainly ensure he receives it.”

“That is an option,” Lady Margaery confirmed. “However, I was hoping I could persuade you to take a different path, my lord.”

“And what is that, my lady?”

“I would have you enter the final melee. My father and I have agreed to consider your duel with the former Lord Baratheon your first round. As you undeniably won it, that would qualify you for the final round.”

“Why?” Jaime drawled.

“Men die in the melee final as a matter of course. And, you see, Lord Eddard is insisting on participating. It is his desire to prove to the Riverlands that he is a formidable lord beyond the House he was born to and the direwolf he has bonded. I cannot deny it would be a wise thing to prove but it would ease my mind if he had a brother to guard his back in the ring.”

Lyanna was torn between amusement at Lady Margaery’s machinations and offense on behalf of Ned’s martial abilities. “Does Ned know you are intervening on this matter?”

“It is a lady’s duty to ease the duties a lord takes upon himself in whatever way she can,” Lady Margaery protested. “And he said he would accept my efforts on his behalf as long as it did not cause a stain upon his honor. This is not cheating therefor he has no room to object to my solution.”

“I am certain Lord Eddard could stand toe-to-toe with Lord Arthur Dayne and better him,” Jaime offered in the queer tone she knew meant Ned had done just that—in another life. “But I will accept your will on this matter and stand at his side in the ring.

“It is the least one brother can do for another.”

“You have my deepest gratitude,” Lady Margaery gushed.

“Now you need to ensure no one is surprised or tarnishes my husband’s honor when he enters the ring to stand with yours,” Lyanna found herself insisting.

“My ladies are prepared to lay the road for just that,” Lady Margaery assured her. “All I required was your husband’s consent.”

“And you have it,” Jaime repeated.

“Then I shall see you both at dinner,” Lady Margaery promised. “And, again, my thanks.”

Lyanna turned to her husband once their door had closed behind their hostess. He was a good-looking man. She expected he would grow more so with age. He did not have the off-putting beauty of the Dragon King. There was something slightly rugged about him—not nearly as rugged as the average Northman, but she found she liked it. Even his nose, which she knew was the part he liked least about himself. “You look uncomfortable.”

“Gold cloth is ridiculous,” he admitted. “I should have never allowed Aunt Genna a free hand with my wardrobe. My father wore red cloth with golden brocade. I expect such fabric will be my preference going forward.” She smiled as he looked her over. “And you? You still look warm. I was hoping southron fashions would fix that.”

Lyanna blinked at him in surprise. “You did not say anything about that before.”

“I did not wish to pressure you,” he said as he opened the door and walked through. “I have wished my aunt was here for several reasons, so that she could offer you choices of dress in a way you did feel like an order from me was one of them.”

“And now you wish she was here so you could tell her off for the choices she made of you?” Lyanna smiled when Jaime huffed. “We will have to learn how to communicate without the use of your aunt at some point,” she offered.

“I never want to pressure you,” he repeated, offering her his arm which she took. “Everything is so new between us and the legal authority I have over you is appalling. I want to be partners, not master and servant.”

“Mayhaps in the future you could write me a note?” Lyanna offered. “Title it: Option or Recommendation or some such.”

“We can try that,” he confirmed. “But you must tell me if I go too far or if you are uncomfortable.

“We should also speak with our Dornish friends about their clothing choices. Those you are wearing are summer weight and you are warm already.”

“That is not a bad notion, my lord,” she offered in jest and Jaime groaned fit to make her grin.

“What is not a bad notion?” Lady Olenna asked when they came upon her in the hall.

“Dornish fashion for my summer clothes,” she told the older woman.

“Young roses in the Reach dress far less conservatively than you do in the North,” Lady Olenna offered. “But not so scandalously as they do in Dorne.”

“I would love to discuss my options with you, my lady,” Lyanna offered.

“I will send you examples in appropriate colors,” Lady Olenna decided. “Call it a wedding gift.” She popped Jaime in the knee with her cane. “Will you not escort me like a proper lord?”

Jaime offered the Queen of Thorns his free arm and she took it.

“My nephew requested I intervene in regard to his horse,” Lady Olenna offered.

“Courage was in desperate need of a better rider,” Lya objected.

Lady Olenna hummed something that may or may not be agreement.

“We paid him fair market value for the horse,” Jaime added. “Twice than that, actually. He said his armor was worth twice as much as Courage. We ransomed his armor back for nothing and kept the horse.”

“I believe his objection is that Lady Lyanna has taken to riding Courage in the lists over her previous mount.”

“Courage mounted Honor,” she defended herself. “I will not ride a pregnant horse into battle. Courage is atoning for his crimes against Honor and I.”

Lady Olenna snorted. “I look forward to the face he will make when I inform him of that.”

Lyanna laughed. “Please describe it to me in detail after?”

“I will,” Lady Olenna swore.

“Are you the one that tattled on me to my aunt?” Jaime asked her suddenly. Lady Olenna frowned in confusion and he tugged on his cloth-of-gold long vest.

“Of course, I did,” Lady Olenna declared and Lya laughed. “You are a Lord Paramount! You should dress better than a mere hedge knight.”

“House Whent’s hedge knights were given their clothes to wear,” Jaime pointed out, “on a temporary basis for the tourney.”

“And you still need to dress better than they do.”

Lyanna had to agree. People were judged for their appearance, sometimes harshly, and Jaime would have to gain the approval of many if they wanted anyone to believe his message about the coming Winter.

“She does have a point,” Lya pointed out, interrupting their playful argument.

“I am betrayed on all sides,” Jaime said melodramatically.

“Shall I replace one of those sides with someone you can trust, Lord Lannister?” the Lord Hand offered, holding out an arm in a silent offer of an escort.

“That is entirely up to them,” Jaime pointed out.

Lyanna laughed and released her husband’s arm. “I have questions for you, Lord Arthur.”

“I am at your service,” he swore as they led the other two into the Hall of a Hundred Hearths.

“What game is your sister playing with my brother?” she asked immediately, going for the throat while it was exposed—while she had permission, honestly. “I have never seen one of my brothers run from anything in my life but if Lady Ashara is the hound, Benjen is most assuredly the fox.”

“Ah,” Lord Arthur responded. Then he was quiet until he reached her habitual seat. There, he released her arm and turned to face her. “I have not spoken to her so I can only offer supposition and theory.”

“I would accept any explanation at this point,” she admitted. “You must know her pursuit of him is endangering my brother’s life. Any suitor she has rejected on the grounds they could not best you with a sword would have grounds to challenge him over the fact that she is pursuing him when it is glaringly obvious that he cannot met that standard either.

“There is no way on this good earth Benjen could best you with a sword. Ned, possibly. Jaime, possibly. Benjen, never.”

“You must understand the power House Stark has gathered to its name,” Lord Arthur offered. “That a number of Houses Paramount have sought matches with its children, gives House Stark social power, regardless of the reason for that pursuit. That a House Paramount fostered a second son adds to that, as does Lord Lannister fighting a duel over your hand with House Baratheon.

“The rumor that House Tyrell was waiting for House Tully to lose their match with Lord Brandon reinforced the appearance of power. That a match between House Tyrell and House Stark was made gave that appearance of power validity.

“Now our King instigated an arrangement to create and vocally supports House Stark of the Riverlands? Every House with sense and an unwed daughter wants to be part of that alliance. The fact that Lord Benjen lacks martial prowess or is the youngest son and unlikely to inherit does not come into it.”

“Lady Ashara is pursuing him for the betterment of your House, then?” Lyanna asked. She could see that.

She would have to ensure her brother did not lose his heart to a political maneuver.

“I am not certain,” Lord Arthur admitted. “Certainly, if that were the case, she would have accepted Prince Oberyn’s hand when his mother made the offer. He and I are equals with spear and sword, respectively.”

“Signal your brother to join us here and Lady Ashara will follow,” Lady Olenna interjected from where she had settled in on Jaime’s far side. “We can ask her directly.”

Lord Arthur huffed. “That would work as well.”

“I have something I wish to explain to your brother as well,” Jaime agreed.

Lord Arthur took his leave and Lyanna turned to find her brother lingering near the Northern table. When their eyes met, she jerked her head, silently telling him to come to her. Benjen spoke briefly to father who nodded and trotted directly over.

“Thank the gods, Lya, I need your advice,” were the first words out of her brother’s mouth.

She laughed and allowed Jaime to help her into her chair. When she looked up, Benjen was doing the same for Lady Ashara.

“We have questions for you, Lady Ashara,” Lady Olenna said, bold as could be.

Honestly, Lya could get used to having the woman around.

“Of course, my lady,” Lady Ashara agreed.

“Why are you pursuing my brother?” Lya immediately asked.

“At first it was because he was the only unwed lord not pursuing me,” Lady Ashara admitted. “Even men with active betrothals have been pursuing me since I flowered for no other reason than they find me beautiful. Some because I am Dornish and to them that means I am a wanton. It is insulting.”

Lyanna nodded. She could get that. “And after that?”

“He listens to me. He speaks to me as if I have a working mind of my own,” Lady Ashara answered, allowing her awe to become evident in her face and tone. “He respects my opinion and is not offended by a friendly debate. Do you know how rare that is?”

“Unfortunately,” Lady Olenna agreed and Lyanna found herself nodding.

“What are your intentions toward Lord Benjen, then?” Jaime asked.

“I would be honored if his father could accept a marriage between us,” Lady Ashara blushed and darted a glance at Benjen. Her fool of a brother was staring at Lady Ashara in utter shock. “I know I am Dornish and that is a mark against me in every other kingdom but House Dayne is First Man, our bloodline is documented to be ancient and we have ruled Starfall nearly as long as House Stark has ruled Winterfell. There was a time when the Kings of the Torrentine were allies with the Kings of Winter.”

Lyanna nodded. She remembered that from the bedtime stories her mother used to tell her. House Dayne had aided House Stark after they conquered Winter. Their history books had never said how but she and her mother had assumed it was by importing foodstuffs to feed the North when Winter had reduced their growing seasons to nothing.

“Benjen, what say you?” Jaime asked and Lya decided his focus was now one of her favorite things about him.

“I—I would be honored. I am honored!” Benjen stammered. “But I cannot best your brother with a sword.”

“You are surrounded by men that could,” Ashara said dismissively. “Lord Stark of the Riverlands is said to be fierce. Lord Lannister felled Robert Baratheon himself. Lord Stark of the North is said to be a fearsome warrior as well.”

“I am only four-and-ten. I am not old enough to wed. I would not wish to force you to wait for me.”

“It is better when the woman in a match is older, lad,” Lady Olenna interjected. “Lords can create children from an earlier age than ladies can carry them.”

“She is correct,” Lady Ashara assured with a gentle smile. “And I would not be waiting for you. I am waiting for me. I had my Lady Mother’s permission, may she rest, to choose my own husband and my Lord Brother holds nothing but support for me to wait to find a husband that will honor and respect me as I deserve.”

“And, it should be stated, that you are four-and-ten and unsquired,” Jaime added. “Should any man think to challenge you for Lady Ashara’s hand, it is not you they would meet in the ring. Were you squired; they would meet your mentor. As things are, they would meet me or Ned or Lord Rickard or even Lord Arthur depending on the content of their complaint and who reacted first. I understand it is intimidating accepting the interest of a woman older than you and highly sought after but you are not in danger of a challenge.”

“Oh,” Benjen said weakly.

“Oh,” Jaime repeated not unkindly. “Do yourself a favor and stop running. You may yet be the best thing to happen to each other.”

Benjen nodded thoughtfully before turning his focus fully on Lady Ashara for the first time Lyanna had seen. He offered her his arm. “Hello, my name is Benjen of House Stark.”

Lady Ashara smiled and took his arm in the proper Northern fashion. “Ashara of House Dayne. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

-*-

“We are to be brothers soon,” Jaime offered Lord Arthur as they prepared themselves for the melee final.

Lord Arthur gave him an unimpressed look. “Do you say that so that I might go easy on you?”

“I say that to remind you that you cannot kill us,” Ned Stark probably japed.

“I have never killed a man that did not deserve it,” Lord Arthur countered. Jaime had to admit it was not remotely comforting—Lord Arthur had been in the room when he had explained the crimes and crises of his other life.

I say that to gain your assistance against Prince Oberyn’s spear,” Jaime interjected.

Lord Arthur nodded. “That is fair. It is easier to defeat him with a partner.” The Sword of Morning paused to think. “Very well, you distract and contain the spear itself and I will put him in the dirt. Be wary, he often poisons his blade.”

“In Tourney as well as true combat?” Ned asked thunderously.

“With something more annoying than deadly in Tourney but, yes. He claims true removal of his toxins would unbalance his spear.” Lord Arthur would never be so crass as to roll his eyes but his desire to do so was clear enough that Jaime grinned.

“Another reason to put him in the dirt,” Jaime decided.

“Aye,” his brothers agreed.

“My Lords and My Ladies!” Lord Whent’s herald called and the gathered spectators grew silent. “Welcome to the melee final for our glorious tournament. Sixteen competitors stand ready to defend or dethrone the Rose of the Riverlands, Lady Margaery of House Whent!”

The herald paused as his subordinates heckled the crowd into cheering uproariously.

“It is time I remind you all of the rules,” the herald continued once he was satisfied with the volume and enthusiasm his subordinates received. “Each man is allowed to enter the ring with one weapon and one shield. These weapons must be of tournament quality and approved by our noble host. A contestant is eliminated when they fall to the ground. Contestants are no longer allowed to attack once they have been put in the dirt and must exit the ring with all possible speed.

“Now! I will call the warriors to the ring in the order in which they qualified.

“First! Is the Lord of Casterly Rock! The Shield of Lannisport! Our own Warden of the West! Lord Jaime Lannister!”

Jaime entered the ring, armed with sword and shield. It was his intent to lose the shield in favor of a second blade as soon as he could manage it. The loss of his right hand in his previous life had left him entirely competent with two blades and intimidation factor of such a feat would keep him safer in the melee ring than any informal alliance he could make.

Men in Westeros that could counter someone dual wielding were few and far between. Namely: Arthur Dayne, Barristan Selmy, and Rhaegar Targaryen. Barristan Selmy was protecting Queen Elia Martell in Winterfell; Rhaegar Targaryen as a newly crowned king with only one heir could not compete; and Arthur Dayne was temporarily on his side.

“Second!” the herald called in the dramatic way such men were always known for. “The Lord Reaper of Pyke! The Lord of the Iron Islands himself! Quellon Greyjoy!”

Jaime dismissed Lord Quellon from consideration immediately. He was certainly a threat they would have to remove but Jaime would never be able to wield that giant of a man’s sword in one hand. It did not matter that Greyjoy held it that way himself. Lord Quellon was nearly seven feet tall with the strength to match, Jaime would never manage it.

Two more Ironborn joined their Lord Paramount quickly enough. Clearly, the squids were sending a message. They were saying that they might be conforming to Greenlander ways but they were still a power to be feared.

Which, Jaime could not blame them for.

Prince Oberyn was one of his primary targets and did not carry a sword besides.

Lord Eddard and Lord Arthur were his temporary allies. Jaime could take up their swords if they dropped them when they fell but he could not target them for the blades they carried.

Ser Oswell and Ser Jorah joined their number. Ser Oswell would unconsciously follow Lord Arthur’s lead due to their long fellowship as White Brothers, so Jaime felt safe leaving him for a later target. Ser Jorah was useless to him. The asshole was carrying an axe.

A war hammer joined them, predictably, from the Stormlands.

Then a second spear entered. From the hot looks the rather young man was giving Prince Oberyn, Jaime pegged the man as his former squire and current lover Daemon Sand which, gross. He had no problem with people doing as they would between the sheets, but it was the same objection he had to Lord Renly Baratheon’s relationship with Ser Loras Tyrell. Taking a boy that you had raised to manhood into your bed was problematic behavior.

It had to be abusive, did it not? Jaime was not sure. He would ask his good-father later.

One mad bastard joined had a morning star. He had to be using it to intimidate. Jaime was certain he had not encountered any men using one when he had gone to actual war. It was, in his assessment, a foolishly impractical weapon.

Then—a young and sober looking—Thoros of Myr joined the ring because calling one man a mad bastard drew other mad bastards to you, apparently. Jaime did not want to try wielding a flaming sword but mayhaps he could force the Red Priest into the dirt before he managed his party trick. If he could, it would be a benefit to all and greatly increase everyone’s chances of surviving.

He glanced at Eddard to see if his goodbrother understood the threat Thoros represented and was pleased to see him watching the priest avidly.

Ser Garth Tyrell joined the ring and Jaime fought the urge to feel embarrassed for them all. If that was the level they were fighting at, they should all choose new knights and squire again.

Bronze Yohn Royce joined with a sword and shield—another possible target.

Finally, they were joined by Ser Jacaerys Velaryon who was wielding an actual trident. Gods of Stone. A trident. Because a spear was not annoying enough, they had to armor it and give it additional fangs.

“Begin!” the herald cried and Jaime lashed out with his foot, knocking Thoros into the fence surrounding the ring. The man staggered, still on his feet, and Jaime bashed him with his shield.

Thoros fell to the ground. Jaime let his sword lie knowing that the Fire of R’hllor left it liable to shatter at the wore possible moment.

Jaime caught Ser Garth’s sword as he fell under Lord Eddard’s assault and, together, they turned on Prince Oberyn. Lord Arthur was in the process of taking down Ser Daemon but it was no matter.

Jaime opened with a flashy show of two spinning blades. Prince Oberyn backed up, watching his performance, trying to figure out his timing or spot a weakness but Eddard came in with a hammer-like blow from the side. Oberyn moved to defend himself from the new threat but Jaime caught his spear on both blades and Eddard forced the Red Viper to yield.

A heavy blow to the side sent Jaime to the ground. By the time he turned over, Eddard had his sword beneath Lord Quellon’s chin where the man had been recovering from sending Jaime to the dirt.

Lord Eddard and Lord Quellon were the last two standing.

“I yield,” Lord Quellon admitted grudgingly.

The crowd’s cheering grew high enough to shake the heavens.

“And the winner of melee final is Lord Eddard Stark, Lord Paramount of the Riverlands!”

Lord Eddard was rewarded the winner’s purse and a large bouquet of roses that he immediately presented to his betrothed, Lady Margaery saying, “You are my Queen of Love and Beauty.”

It was all sickeningly sweet. Jaime, secretly, loved it.

-*-

“Gods,” Lya panted as she threw down lance number twelve. This was the last event her family needed to win to complete their show of Northern Dominance. Ben had won the archery final two days gone and Ned had won the melee final two days before that. Lord Arthur Dayne was the last opponent between her and the winner’s purse and he was proving to be the most difficult yet.

At least Lord Dayne had meant it when he had said he would not go easy on her, she thought wryly.

No one would doubt women could joust after this—especially once she won it. She looked to her husband as Marbrand shoved lance three-and-ten in her hand. Jaime was seated in the Lord’s Box on the opposite side of Lady Margaery from Lady Ashara. The excitement over this final match had gotten to the point where their hosts had decided to seat both possible recipients of the Crown of Love and Beauty in one place for all the crowd to see.

Jaime gave her a slow, solid nod. He was confident in her. He trusted her and she refused to let him down. She closed her eyes to visualize what she wanted—Lord Arthur falling off of his horse and into the dirt. Then she opened her eyes and urged Courage forward. He was tiring but he threw all the speed she could ask for into his run.

She prayed this did not take too much longer. It would be a shame to founder such a steadfast companion.

She lowered her lance, focused entirely on what she wanted, and struck.

There was a masculine shout and the crowd exploded.

Lya turned as she reached the end of her lane with yet another broken lance. She could not have possibly seen what she thought she saw. There was no way Lord Arthur Dayne, the Sword of Morning, slid down along the banister separating the jousting lanes and hit the dirt after he reached the end.

That was nonsense, it had to be.

But then squires from all over Westeros were swarming Lord Arthur and pulling him back to his feet so what else could it be?

“My lords and ladies!” The Whent herald shouted—tried to shout over the crowd, Lya figured she had to be the only one close enough to hear him. “The winner of a most legendary joust! The Lady Lioness! Lady Lyanna Lannister!”

She won it! She won it! Just like Jaime had said she would!

Lyanna laughed as she pulled off her helm and latched it on the hook her saddle had for it. Jaime was grinning and clapping along with the rest of the crowd but, unlike them, he was not surprised. She made it her personal goal to never lose his faith in her. Certainly, it was worth everything in the world to her to keep it.

Lady Margaery took the Crown of Love and Beauty from the pillow it rested upon in front of her and hooked it on the end of Lyanna’s fresh lance. She walked Courage in a slow circle around the lists so that no one could doubt what she had done before returning to the Lord’s Box.

She stopped in front of Jaime, grinning so hard it hurt, and extended her lance unmistakably to Lady Margaery.

Her future good-sister’s eyes flew wide and she pushed the lance toward Jaime.

Lyanna moved her lance back to pointing directly at her Lady Margaery and the other woman shook her head.

“My lady, your husband is there,” she said, like she was afraid that Lyanna had somehow missed that.

“Yes, he is but he is not the one I crown with Love and Beauty,” Lyanna announced as loud and clear as she could. She and Jaime had discussed this and she decided to use his argument against his own crowning now. “The Laws of the Realm would never stand for two kings but multiple queens are certainly legal.”

Lady Margaery’s mouth formed a perfect little ‘o’ and she moved her hand to rest on the crown of flowers rather than push it away.

“Welcome to the family, my lady.”

Lady Margaery took up the Crown of Love and Beauty and crowned herself with her own hands.

“And happy nameday.”

The crowd went wild.

-*-

It took a small eternity for Lyanna to guide Courage through the celebratory crowd to the North’s pavilion within the tourney’s fairgrounds. It was the single most taxing thing she had ever done and she had just put the Sword of Morning on his ass.

Jaime had warned her that she would feel weak after a prolonged joust. All of her previous bouts had been so quick, she had dismissed the concern—all ending within four tilts, even against other knights of the Kingsguard but Jaime had been right, dammitall, and she wanted to sleep for a moon. Father, Ned and Benjen were waiting for her when she arrived and it was Ned that pulled her from her saddle and carried her in to relax on one of the lounges within the pavilion.

Ned.

Not Jaime.

She ignored her family as her brothers began freeing her from her armor and searched the gathered throng for a familiar golden face.

“Jaime?” she called. There was no response. “Where is Jaime?” she asked her father.

“Was he to meet you here?” father asked, already frowning.

“Yes,” Lya answered emphatically. “He swore it.”

“Search the grounds,” father ordered his men.

“I will check House Lannister’s rooms,” Sandor Clegane announced and took off at a run.

“The Hall of a Hundred Hearths,” another Western squire said and he, too, ran to do so.

“There was a blacksmith he was in the process of hiring for Casterly Rock—Tobho Mott,” Benjen said. “I will check there in case something happened with the arrangements and he was detained.”

“Surely, this is an overreaction,” what appeared to be an Umber said. “The man was lost in the crowd. There is no need for all of this hysteria.”

Lyanna’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“You will watch how you speak to Lady Lannister if you value your health,” Marbrand growled and Lyanna’s eyebrows shot to the moon.

“Addam?” she asked.

“Lord Lannister was very clear in his expectations of how we honored you in his absence,” Marbrand told her. His tone was gentler but his eyes were locked on the Umber with murderous intent.

“You are the Voice of the Seven as far as we are concerned,” Ser Gerion agreed, stepping forward with is hand on his sword.

“He does not know Lord Lannister as we do,” Lya pointed out. She turned to the shocked-looking Umber. “My husband despises oathbreakers. He would take his own life before he broke an oath. If he is not here, something is wrong.”

“Where is Lord Frey?” Lady Olenna demanded as she pushed through the crowd to claim the second lounger in the pavilion. “The ambitious rat should be here, sniveling to his Lord Paramount and uselessly singing your praises to win Lord Eddard’s favor. Where is he?”

“He has been saying the most dreadful things about Lord Lannister when no one connected the House Stark was too near,” Lady Margaery added.

“He blames Lord Jaime for Ser Emmon’s failures as a man when he should look no further than himself,” Lady Olenna said. “Find Lord Frey! Bring him here!” she ordered and several rose knights immediately left the crowd.

Lyanna sank back on her lounger. Only Margaery’s warmth at her side and Olenna’s fierce grip on her hand kept her from sinking into despair. She knew, already, in her bones that Lord Frey would not be found and neither would Jaime.

Something was really, really wrong.

 

 

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2 Comments:

  1. I am loving this series! Jaime is great and I love how you’ve written Lyanna. She’s the perfect blend of a feminine woman and tomboy without making her seem fake.

  2. Just finished rereading this series. Can’t wait to see what’s happened to Jaime!

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