Reading Time: 176 Minutes
Title: Breaking the Faith
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Fandom: Game of Thrones/ASOIAF
Genre: Time Travel
Relationship(s): Jon Snow/Margaery Tyrell
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Incest, Major Character Death, Slavery, Canon-level Violence, Dark Themes, Major Character Death, Canon Incest, Discussion-Other Trigger Topics (Incest, slavery, rape, miscarriage), Offscreen miscarriage, Minor Character Death
Beta: PN Ztivokreb and Fen
Word Count: 129,100
Summary: When Jon Snow died a traitor’s death for doing the right thing, the Seven had something to say about it—and a mission only he could complete.
“Fuck,” Jon panted to himself in the shade of the heart tree.
He was in the Haunted Forest, across the bay from Hardhome, not far from the Antler River. He had two septons, two maesters, the heir of House Hightower, and his personal armsman off their unicorn mounts. Each man was a descendant of kings. Each man was bound, hobbled, and blindfolded. Each man was against a different weirwood to discourage collusion.
But how was he supposed to sacrifice them by himself?
It was a great deal more work than he had anticipated, managing six prisoners. Slitting their throats, he could handle, easily. Effortlessly, with the ceremonial knife the Old Gods had given him but the hanging of the corpse in the heart tree? The strewning about of entrails? He did not know if that was a necessary part of the process or just the savage exhibition of a time long past.
Not sure what else he could do, Jon took Not-Brandon at his word and knelt before the heart tree to ask for help. He felt warmth settle around him, like a hug from his Uncle Benjen.
“Psst, boy,” someone hissed in the Old Tongue.
Jon looked up from his prayer to see he was surrounded by Wildlings.
He was on his feet with Dark Sister in one hand and the sacrificial knife in the other before he could think again. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Thon son of Theb of the Starsingers,” the lead man said. Then he nodded to the closest spearwife. “She is Mara daughter of Mona of the Treebloods.”
“I am Jon of House Baratheon,” he gave them his name in equal return.
“What are you doing, boy?” Mara drawled. “You ain’t no crow, got white on your cloak. Kneelers ain’t welcome in the true north.”
Jon knew that well enough. “I…” gods, he was going to sound mad but, if they were sent to him by the old gods… “I have been set a mission by the Old Gods only—I do not know how—”
“To make a proper sacrifice?” Thon raised an eyebrow at him. “Otherwise, you would not have come alone.”
“Clearly, I need help.” Jon lowered his sword. “Will you help?”
“What is the mission?” Mara asked.
“In the South, men like these,” he gestured at his captives. “Have been working to destroy magic.”
The Wildlings hissed.
“There has not been an active warg south of the Wall in hundreds of years,” he told them. “And only one greenseer that anyone knows of. We all know Winter is coming and it is going to be a bad one. How can we protect ourselves without the gifts the gods gave us to do so?
“These men have seen to the murder of children to meet their goals.”
“Sounds like a Southron problem,” Mara decided.
“You think these men destroying magic does not affect you?” Jon asked incredulous. “Mostly, they have been attacking fire magic because that was what the kings they hated south of the Wall relied upon. What happens to ice magic when there is no fire magic to counter it?”
“Ice gets stronger,” Thon said. “These men are why the Others walk? They brought the return of the Others?”
“Aye,” Jon agreed. “They are evil men.”
“And killing them north of the Wall does what for you?” Mara asked, still suspicious.
“I am not just killing them north of the Wall,” Jon told her. “I am starting here but I will sacrifice them in the…kneeler North and further south. Sacrifices on both sides of the Wall will make it stronger, protect the Realms of men better.”
“And what about us in the true north?”
“You go south,” he told the spearwife.
“Become kneelers?” she demanded. “Make sacrifices to the crows?”
“You do not have to become kneelers unless you decide to leave the Gift,” Jon told her. “The most anyone can expect from you there is a nod and, even here, that is nothing more than a polite greeting. You can practice your old ways among your own people, just leave kneelers out of it—as you have done for thousands of years on this side of the Wall. No one is demanding bows or courtly manners out of you.”
“Nothing to say about the sacrifices to the crows?”
“Do your hunters not share meat with the guards on your village? Do the brewers not share mead? Farmers, the bounty of their fields?” he asked knowing the answer was that they did. “You are simply gaining a second set of guards—one that we all support in the South, one that protects us all equally.”
Mara was clearly not mollified. It could be simply her nature not to trust anyone from the south—which he could not blame her for—but he hoped she did not get her clan killed for her nature.
He had never heard of the Starsingers when he had traveled with Tormund and Mance and Ygritte. Nor the Treebloods.
“I understand you do not trust the Watch,” he said as he, once again, attempted to broker a peace that got him murdered in another life. “You have been killing them, and they have been killing you for so long, who knows who started it anymore? This is not about that. This is about your children growing up safe and healthy. This is about you being able to live to forty namedays, mayhap fifty and beyond. This is about being there when your child has a child and seeing them grow, teaching them your family songs and ways and markings.
“What were you going to do with these here?” she asked instead of answering that.
“Sacrifice them,” he said simply.
“Aye, how? Cut their throats and leave them? Were you going to hang them? Did you have a plan for spreading their guts out for the trees?”
The prisoners started to shout objections. Jon and the others ignored them.
“What is the purpose of spreading their guts?” Jon asked.
“The tree cannot take them if the bodies are too dense,” Mara said. “Spread proper, a weirwood will take the corpse within three days.”
“We have never been able to watch the process,” Thon added almost cheerfully. “But the closest we can figure the sacrifice is taken into the tree.”
“If spreading is important, then I should not kill more than one per tree, aye?”
“Aye,” the Wildling leaders agreed.
“There are enough weirwoods here but only this one has a face,” he said as he looked around. “Do the sacrifices have to be made to the heart tree?”
“No, it does not have to be a weirwood either,” Mara told him—perhaps thawing a little. “As long as the gods can see them.”
Jon nodded and moved to the Septon that was out of the face’s line of sight after sheathing Dark Sister.
“We help,” Thon decided, and his people started moving to reposition the sacrifices to that the face could see them all.
“I have to strike the blow,” he told the Wildlings. They all stopped to frown at him, so he held up the sacrificial knife. “It is my responsibility. I laid the sentence on them and the mission is mine.”
“Aye,” Mara agreed.
She and Thon stepped up to the Hightower he had kneeling in front of the heart tree.
“This is the highest-ranking prisoner I have,” he explained.
“Good.” Thon agreed. “Below the Wall, you will need to take the highest-raking prisoner last, so that the sacrifices echo across the Wall.”
Jon wondered how the man could possibly know that but shrugged it off. Anything spoken with such certainty in front of a weirwood had to be the will of the Gods—especially coming from a man Jon had specifically been praying for.
Jon used a handful of hair to force the Hightower to bow his head and slit his throat in a single movement. He let the man fall forward and moved on to the first Septon.
When he reached the final sacrifice—the armsman—he helped the Wildlings hoist him into the trees by his ankles and wedge the body in the branches so that he would not require ropes to stay. Then he watched as they slit him open and arrayed his insides like the decorations on an obscene holiday tree.
He could not quite bring himself to help. Not just because of how difficult his armor made tree climbing but because he would prefer to be able to eat meat again sometime in the future.
“Will you come with me?” Jon asked Thon and Mara as Swift and the other unicorns returned to him. He knew not where Ghost had gone but he figured he would not see his friend before his time in the true north was utterly spent.
“Below the Wall?”
“Aye,” Jon nodded as he patted Swift’s mane. “These have agreed to carry you and your people. The flight is short, and they can carry double until more of them join us.”
“Flight?” Thon asked.
Rather than respond, Jon mounted Swift in a single easy motion and they were in the air a moment later. “Flight,” he said.
“You are Jon Windrider,” Mara realized. “The Centaur have spoken well of you.”
“I have found the Centaur to be most helpful and wise.”
“We go,” Mara agreed. One of the mares of the group approached her then and soon she was mounted with another spearwife behind her.
The next set of sacrifices went more quickly as there were only three of them. They arrived moments after Jon and his party, mounted upon unicorns per his instructions to Ser Rolland before he had left Oldtown. Swift had agreed to communicate the timing to his brethren that had volunteered to aid in the mission. How he managed it, Jon knew not, but it allowed them to keep the prisoners caged longer, minimizing their chance for escape and other’s chance to gossip.
North of the Wall each site would be given six sacrifices. South of the Wall would only be three as there were more sites chosen in the South—the exception being Winterfell which was the magical core of the Kneeler North.
“What of Craster?” Mara asked as they mounted up after the day after they made their sacrifices on the northern edge of the forest north of Last Hearth to go to their second site Beyond the Wall. “These are evil men that murdered children. He is an evil man that has murdered children. His own children at that.”
Jon thought about it and wondered if Craster had any king’s blood in him. The Crone told Jon he did, being the son of Bloodraven the Usurper, fathered on the Great Ranging on which Lord Commander Bloodraven had been lost to the Night’s Watch. That made him Jon’s kin, but justice and prudence demanded he end the man’s profane sacrifices to the Others.
More than that, Gilly. She deserved a better life, as a true Wildling woman south of the Wall—not the life he and Sam had sentenced her to in their ignorance.
He took a moment then to mourn for her son who must have already been born and sacrificed to the Others now a year gone because Jon had not thought to go to them the last time he was beyond the Wall.
“I cannot condemn him,” Jon told the spearwife leader. “Though distant, he is blood of my blood and kinslaying brings a curse from the gods themselves.”
He had executed Bloodraven on a god’s order. That had to keep him safe from the curse of kinslaying but no gods had authorized him to take Craster’s head even though it was clearly the right thing to do.
“I will do it,” she swore. “To end that filth and free his daughter-wives, I will do it with a song in my heart.”
“Very well,” Jon agreed. “Let us draw him out and take him. Then your women can go into the Keep and guide the women south. No man shall enter Craster’s Keep. The only man his daughters have even truly known is Craster and there is no need to frighten them.”
The Wildling leaders looked at him in surprise but agreed easily enough.
The Starsingers lured Craster out by making a disturbance among his sheep. When Craster came to investigate the ruckus, he carelessly stepped into a rope trap and was dangling in the air from an ankle. The man passed out from the headrush before he managed to raise any alarm.
Jon nodded and Mara sent three of her spearwives into the Keep. Then she bound her kill and threw him over the pillion behind her saddle.
They flew from there to the grove of nine where Night’s Watch recruits that worshipped the Old Gods would say their vows. Once they assured there were no witnesses, they got to work. Craster was the first sacrifice this time. His Blood of Old Valyria made him the highest-ranking captive they had.
When the gruesome spectacle was completed, he urged those still with him to mount up once again. “We sleep in Winterfell tonight. You will find welcome and comfort in the halls of my fathers,” he promised and south they flew.
“And you need us to stay out of the Godswood for three days?” Lord Eddard questioned with a troubled frown.
“Yes, father,” Jon confirmed. “I am doing what I must do for the health of the land—of all of Westeros. Winterfell is the heart of magic in the North and the sacrifices must be made here. All of the men I have sentenced are criminals.”
“I would that I could blame this on your dragon blood but weirwoods are of the North,” his uncle sighed. “Very well, I will set a guard to only allow yourself and your company in the grove for four days—over the full moon, as you said—but you must slip your captives into the godswood yourself. I wish no one to know of their presence here once they come so that I face no questions on where they have gone.”
“I can agree to that.” Jon shrugged. “Where is Lady Stark? My Lady Margaery sent gifts for the babes she carried to Oldtown. I carried them with me knowing I would come to Winterfell over the course of my duties.”
Lord Eddard’s face grew grave. “She has died,” he said simply. “She bore House Stark twins—Cregan and Lyarra—but she passed in the birthing bed. Your sister Sansa tends to the babes with a pair of wetnurses from Winter Town and Maester Luwin.”
“My apologies, Lord Stark, I did not know.”
“You could not have.” His lord-uncle waved the apology away. “The events came to pass less than seven days ago. The raven has likely not reached King’s Landing as of yet.”
“I would like to meet my new cousins, if I may,” Jon requested gently.
“Aye, that would be fine.” His Lord-uncle stood and led him from the solar. They walked deep into the family wing, through the lord’s chamber and into an attached room with no other entrance.
“A most secure room,” Jon observed.
“Aye,” Lord Eddard agreed. “With my other sons betrothed to future Ladies Paramount, Cregan is my second heir, the future Lord of Moat Cailin. And Lyarra will need to make a good Northern match to secure House Stark’s place in the North.”
“Cregan? Not Arya?” Jon asked.
“Do you not have a match in mind for Arya?” Lord Eddard asked doubtfully. “You have already matched Rickon and Bran, both are younger.”
Jon blew out a noisy breath. “I thought perhaps a Dayne would appreciate her properly, but we have already sacrificed Sansa to Dorne.”
“Trystane is a good lad,” his uncle said. “Not my first choice, mayhap, but he and Sansa are fond of each other and he volunteered for six months at the Wall after his brother swore himself to the Watch. I have received no complaints about him—and I have asked for them.”
“That is good to hear.” Jon looked down at the twins, curled together with in the crib. “They look all Stark.”
“Aye,” his uncle agreed. “I think they will have the shorter faces of House Tully and Lyarra has perhaps Tully Blue eyes rather than Stark Grey but the look of them will please the bannermen.”
“Enough to be a threat to Robb?” Jon asked.
“With his cousin and goodbrother on the Iron Throne?” Lord Eddard asked. “Not with the promise of Moat Cailin and a Northern match in his future.”
“Good,” Jon nodded. “Their matches will have to be carefully chosen. It is unfortunate that the original Lords of the Dreadfort got themselves killed, that would have been an ideal match to show Northern unity.”
“If that House had had any appropriately aged sons, aye,” his uncle agreed as he led him back out of the nursery. “And it is too soon to unite House Stark and House Cassel. They must stand on their own for a generation or two before we do, or it will appear as though we do not trust them.
“And I would prefer to betroth my children to heirs and ladies of an age with them,” Lord Eddard added. “I would have them be peers in their marriages, not beholden in any way.”
Jon nodded. He could see the wisdom. “We will have to wait and see, then. For all we know House Mormont could be having another daughter right now.”
Lord Eddard raised an eyebrow at him but, in the end, smiled.
Jon looked up to see his brother holding out a handpie. “Robb,” he greeted in return as he took the offering. “I should probably complain about you serving venison to a Baratheon.”
Robb chuckled as he took a seat with him on the root their father used to clean his sword beneath the heart tree.
“It is probably treasonous,” Robb agreed. “But also, your favorite, which is why Sansa chose the menu as she did.”
“We do not eat any venison in King’s Landing,” Jon complained. “For obvious reasons.”
“Killing and eating your own sigil is a terrible omen for the rest of your reign.” Robb agreed and they lapsed into silence to eat.
“I will not ask you how you are,” Robb said when they had finished. “You look like you have lost a war.”
Jon snorted. He felt like he had lost a war. “I am sorry it shows.”
“I am sorry it is happening to you,” Robb countered. “Father told me some—about what you will be doing in the godswood soon. So, if you want to talk about it…”
“Thanks for the offer but…” Jon tried to resist the offered support, he really did, but dammitall, he could use his older brother. “I feel like the gods are punishing me.”
Robb made a noise to show he was listening but did not speak.
“I am next in line to take a throne I do not want but I have an obligation to two Houses to take. Three, depending on how you count it—the Houses of two fathers and a mother. Four, if I have to count the Tyrells.
“I just— All I ever wanted was the Stark name,” Jon admitted. “I did not want to leave Winterfell. I wanted to be your confidant, most trusted bannerman. Mayhap Master at Arms, if I was lucky.
“I never imagined having a wife. Or even a holdfast.”
“And now you are going to have a wife and seven kingdoms to rule,” Robb said softly.
“I feel like the gods are punishing me,” Jon said again. “I was cocky, I will admit. Thinking that I could end all corruption in King’s Landing by myself, but I do not see how that earned this.”
“Earned what, Jon?”
Jon turned to focus on his brother. He felt fierce in his fury, but he knew Robb would not hold it against him. “Do you know what I have learned on this trip? What all these Burnings are about?”
Robb just shook his head silently.
“The Faith and the Citadel have been conspiring against the Iron Throne since before there was one. Since before Oldtown submitted and the Conqueror was crowned.
“The Submission of Oldtown was their first move in destroying a throne that had not been built yet. They engineered the Dance of Dragons and Rebellion after Rebellion to wear my House down. They very nearly managed it—and that was not even the worst of their crimes.
“When I arrived in Oldtown, men—at least a hundred—had been having dreams of their mother just…staring at them in disappointment. A disappointment that weighed on their souls until they confessed to their crimes. They all wrote out confessions. Some killed themselves after. All that survived were still weeping from the torture of the dreams when I met them.
“I read every word of their confessions, Robb. Copies will go out soon to each and every House Paramount. I am sure Margaery will have her coterie of bards write songs about them so the lowborn will learn…
“They have murdered children, Robb. Caused miscarriages, stillbirths, fatal fevers—even in adults. And not just in my House. It is… I cannot even tell you all of it. I cannot speak of it; you will have to read it. The details are beyond imagining.
“Perhaps a summary of the crimes can be written for the lesser Houses?” Robb asked.
Jon nodded. “There is a man I trust at the Citadel. I will request he write such a book. I will see the Crown distribute it to the lesser Houses. But…wait for the full one, Robb. I cannot—”
“I will wait for it,” Robb swore. “…Jon, you know this is not a reflection on you. These plans were laid hundreds of years before either of us were born. You found a problem your—our!—ancestors could not even see and you solved it.”
“You are solving it,” Robb corrected.
“I am disposing of the gods’ own refuse,” Jon said bitterly. “It is not the killing of men that bothers me. They are evil men. The most justice we can give them is to undo their plans, I understand that.
“But the process is terrible.
“Cut off a man’s head. Let the Silent Sisters take the parts, that I understand.
“Open him from ear to ear. Hang his body upside down in a tree. Spread out his…parts so the tree can eat him? Absorb his body? This I do not understand.”
“Well, you have never been the kind to play with your food,” Robb offered lightly.
Jon scoffed and pushed his brother off the root-bench in offense.
Robb laughed and went up to his knees. “How may I aid you, my king? My brother? I could go with you, if that would help.”
“It would,” Jon had to admit. “The Wildlings are not bothered by the practice. Having someone around other than the sacrifices to be horrified about it all would help.”
“But?” Robb pressed. “There is a but at the end of that sentence.”
“But you cannot,” Jon admitted. “Your mother died recently. If you left Winterfell while in mourning, it would be a complete scandal.”
“Only if I went south of the Neck,” Robb agreed, then he considered. “Only if I was seen south of the Neck. What are the rest of your destinations?”
“The weirwood grove closest to the Fist of the First Men,” Jon admitted reluctantly.
“Beyond the Wall is definitely not south of the Neck,” Robb quipped.
“The weirwood circle on Sea Dragon Point.”
“Still not south of the Neck.”
“The Isle of Faces on the God’s Eye.”
“South of the Neck,” Robb admitted. “But only the Green Men live on the Eye and Snowstorm flies just as silently as Swift. More silent for her smaller bulk.”
Jon smiled reluctantly. “Bitterbridge.”
“That was the one that used to be Stonebridge before the Faith Militant Uprising under Maegor the Cruel?”
“That was the one.”
Robb frowned, “I cannot justify that one.”
“I hate it, but I cannot justify that one either. I have always wanted to see Starfall. You said it was where you were born, right?”
“We can go together another time,” Jon promised.
“We better,” Robb said with mock severity. “But it sounds to me as though I can accompany you to three of the last five. And I can be here for this one, if you need it of me.”
Jon thought about it and admitted reluctantly, “that would help. I do not want to expose you to this horror, but it would help.
“This is what brothers are for.”
Jon looked up to see Sansa standing at the edge of the sparring yard looking like Fury itself. He was lucky she had not bonded a shadowcat like Arya or Margaery or he would have been tackled to the ground already. As it was, Lady’s hackles were raised to the fullest.
“Sansa Stark.” He frowned at her. “Is something wrong?”
“You—I—You will come with me. Right now, to mother’s solar.” She turned on her heel and marched off.
Jon looked to Robb who had come with Sansa in confusion.
Robb scratched the back of his head sheepishly. “Oops?”
“What did you do?” Jon demanded.
“JON!” Sansa shouted.
Sansa. Shouted. The world was standing on its head.
“We should…probably follow her,” Robb said sheepishly.
Jon shook his head, passed off his practice sword in exchange for a toweling cloth and followed Robb to his mother’s solar. He had never been there before—Lady Stark had never tolerated him very well—but after her death, Sansa had become the Lady of Winterfell. The solar was now hers.
It was nice. Simple and clean in a way he had not expected but clearly the space of a lady of rank.
“Jon—” Sansa rounded on him once Robb had closed the door and leaned on it. All of their wolves were in the hall maintaining their privacy. “Or should I say Aegon?”
Jon shot an exasperated look at Robb. “Jon. I prefer Jon.”
“You are allowing Lady Margaery to prepare for the wrong wedding. Do you know how much time and effort goes into a wedding trousseau? How much time she is wasting? Jon.”
“You are upset that I am lying to Margaery?” he asked. “Not that I have kept this secret from you?”
Sansa huffed at him and threw herself gracelessly down on a couch. “I recognize that I have not been the best sister to you before you became Crown Prince. I was discourteous and rude when you were simply my brother. You had no reason to trust me and I had no right to demand secrets from you.”
“So, you are focusing your anger on other things,” he guessed.
“I am focusing my anger on things I can fix,” she corrected. “You will have to pay for materials—you owe Margaery that much for lying to her.
“I do hope you are going to tell her the truth before you marry her,” Sansa said with a frown.
“I intend to,” Jon admitted. “I am not sure how but…that is why I have not married her despite us both being of age. How can I tell her the truth or marry her in my own name while King Robert is alive?”
Sansa’s eyes brightened with comprehension. “He still wants to kill House Targaryen.”
“He does. He admits that he dreams of murdering my father over and over again every night. How can I trust him with the truth? Legally he is more my adopted father than Lord Eddard is, he has every right to kill me for the least offense as both King and the Head of my House.” Jon sat down on the couch and glared at the floor. If Robert Baratheon were a reasonable man… he would not be king, in all honesty.
“I understand,” Sansa admitted. “I hate it, but I understand. It must be a terror for you, the idea of him figuring it out.”
“While I hate the travel, avoiding him does help my feelings of security,” Jon admitted. “I will likely spend most of his reign in the Vale. It is not fair to Margaery, perhaps, to leave her to be Master of Laws and Lady of Dragonstone in fact instead of as a courtesy, but what else can I do?”
“Margaery is much better suited to the game of thrones than you are,” Sansa reassured him. “We write constantly. She tells me how much she enjoys the power you have given her—the responsibility. Perhaps you could find someone to take over Dragonstone for her to reduce the stress upon her? Darling hates travelling—particularly by ship—and so Margaery has come to dread it.”
“I will look for someone,” Jon swore. “I would say Maester Aemon could do it, but he has his first duties to the Watch and I would give Lord Commander Mormont no reason to accuse him of abandoning his duties.”
“He is your uncle,” Robb said, coming over to sit with them.
“Distantly, yes,” Jon agreed. “He is the only other Targaryen I have met. House Baratheon has the Blood of the Dragon, as does House Martell, but it is not evident in them.”
“Thankfully a maester is considered a servant and below the notice of a king unless the king needs his services,” Robb offered.
Jon found himself nodding reluctantly. He did not think of his many-greats grand uncle as a servant, but he knew Robert Baratheon would. Baratheon had no time for maesters. He only tolerated the Grand Maester because the man was a member of the Small Council and by the laws of the Realm he had to.
Of course, Baratheon ignored Small Council meetings as often as he could—which was practically all of them.
“You have no banners, Jon,” Sansa said.
Jon blinked at her, not sure when the topic had turned. “What?”
“Banners?” Sansa prompted. “For House Targaryen? When you take over as king you will need to display your true colors. Honor House Baratheon if you wish but your House is House Targaryen. And House Stark.”
“True,” he agreed reluctantly.
“Are you going to take the standard Targaryen Dragon as your sigil?”
“I…do not know. I know my Aunt Daenerys is still alive. And I have heard rumors of another Blackfyre that I may be able to bring back into my House—to end all future Blackfyre Rebellions before they begin. I should probably consult them before I make these decisions.”
“You are the Head of your House,” Sansa countered. “These choices are yours.”
“Mayhap you can bring them back to Westeros as cadet houses,” Robb offered. “Expand the Blood of the Dragon so the line cannot be extinguished of easily again. Blackfyre has the black dragon on red. Your aunt can take the classic red dragon on black. You could as well but add a golden crown to the beast for the Royal House Targaryen.”
“Once I take the throne, I could grant her the Vale,” Jon said, warming to the idea. “Assuming she has the training…which I cannot. She grew up poor and alone in Essos.”
“I would not discount her,” Sansa argued. “A second female Lord Paramount would be a good thing. It would reinforce the work you have done in placing two women on the Small Council—something every Northern woman I have spoken to and I imagine all of Dorne look upon favorably.”
“I hate how men treat women as property,” Jon admitted. “Not as much as you do, I imagine.
“Placing women on the Small Council and as Lords Paramount opens the door for a Queen of the Seven Kingdoms to rule on her own. Whether it is Margaery should I die early or a daughter or granddaughter of mine.”
“And it has infuriated the Faith,” Robb added cheerfully. “If women are offended by the Faith’s teachings and actions, they will stop teaching their children the ways of the Seven—mother did, before she died. Dismissed Septa Mordane and Septon Chayle too.”
“Without mothers teaching their children…” Jon said slowly, a smile growing on his face. He was doing it! He was breaking the Faith!
“That leaves a smaller next generation of followers,” Sansa finished. “And the generation after that will be even smaller.”
“They will be forced to practice what they preach.” Robb grinned. “If they want to maintain any followers. The gluttonous, decadent Faith is dead—even if it does not know it yet.”
“We could still face a Faith Militant uprising,” Jon cautioned.
“Not if they ever wish to lay with a woman!” Sansa countered in an exasperated tone.
Jon could not help it, he laughed.
When Jon set foot in Hell’s Respite, it was with relief—despite the wailing and gnashing.
He knew the men that had prostrated themselves had been Dothraki, raised on tales of the glorious dead riding forever among the stars. To see a man come down from the sky would make him a god, and Jon was interested in being no one’s god. Especially not the Dothraki’s.
Regardless, his immediate mission was done—the sacrifices were complete and only time would tell if the gods had told him true. His secondary mission with the unicorns was also complete.
Now he could rest. Hopefully.
Oberyn’s family was charming. Arseholes, similar to Oberyn in their own ways, but charming. They welcomed him and Rolls and Uncle Maester as if they were true family.
Meeting his aunt had been…strange. Jarring. He vaguely wished for Margaery’s council—he was no good with women, no matter his relation to them and Margaery was his key to unlocking women—but he could not bring her into his secret. Not yet. Not while Robert Baratheon yet lived.
Jon ate a grape while he regarded his aunt. “You keep staring at that door,” he opened the conversation cautiously. “May I ask why?”
“My…” Daenerys Targaryen hesitated. “My first memory—My only memory of true safety is of a house with a red door. One that had a lemon tree out front.” She focused on him briefly. “I thought it was in Braavos.”
Jon looked at Lady Ellaria’s guest house. It was indeed a house with a red door with a lemon tree out front.
“There are no lemon trees in Braavos,” Prince Oberyn offered from his place in their shaded circle. “Lemon trees only grow in Dorne. It is not a natural fruit—they were bred here by one of my ancestors and we keep the monopoly on them.
“My brother is considering gifting some to Lord Stark to grow in his glass gardens,” his prince-uncle continued as if he had not just re-written his aunt’s entire life. “I am against it. A tree needs wind to grow tall and fruitful. There is no wind in a glass garden.”
“So, I was here?” Daenerys asked. “For the first several years of my life, at least.
“Why did we leave the safety of Dorne?”
“I know not,” Oberyn confessed. “But my brother would have never told me, young hothead that I was. It would have been dangerous to you and your brother to do so. I assume discovery—by the Throne or be the Lannisters. That is the only thing that could have made my brother send you away. But perhaps your brother ordered it? I know not.
“I know my brother knew where you were for some time and he sent me to arrange marriages between yourself, your brother, and persons that no longer live. But I also know Doran lost track of you at some point. I had only rumors to build from when I went to Pentos to recover you for Jon.”
“Good rumors,” she murmured.
“Mayhap,” Oberyn agreed. “We have returned you home, that is the important part.”
“Now, we must keep you safe.” Jon sighed. “I would keep you with me, but that is not safe. Mayhap I can hide you and young Rhaego in the Vale?”
“Dragonstone would be better,” Prince Oberyn countered. “The House Targaryen called it home for hundreds of years. Another dragonseed or two would bring no notice.”
“A dragonseed with a dragon?” Jon asked as he stroked Aerion’s head.
Oberyn tipped his head at the point. “A dragon is concealable. Especially if he continues to grow apace his bonded rider.”
“You think he will grow with Rhaego?” Daenerys broke in.
“Drogon is the smallest of the hatchlings, despite being the fiercest.” Oberyn said. “And the first born. I can think of no other reason he would not be matching his brothers stone for stone, unless he was waiting for Rhaego to be old enough to ride him.”
Jon hummed as he considered that. Aerion headbutted his hand and he started to pet him again.
“I do not understand why none of my children have bonded me,” Daenerys admitted with a frown. “I am their mother. I should ride at least one of them.”
“Mayhap they cannot bond with you because you are their mother?” Oberyn offered.
Jon shook his head. “A dragon is not like a horse. They will not hatch if there is not a rider fit for them in this world. And they will die quickly in such a circumstance as well. Such is what truly caused the loss of the Black Dread.”
“How do you know this?” Oberyn asked.
“I spent the last four moons in the Citadel,” Jon raised an eyebrow at Oberyn. “I found books. I had a man I trust copy them for my personal library. He is making a second copy for the Library at Dragonstone as we speak. Copies, of course, will be made for the Royal Archive and the smaller Citadel Collegiates I will propose to the Small Council.
“Collegiates?” Oberyn asked, sitting up.
“Yes, it…rather started with the idea of a Royal Archive but once I arrived in Oldtown it became clear that Westeros is one fire away from losing our collective written knowledge. Be that a fire caused by an Ironborn raid or a war or an even accident—we cannot let that happen.
“We can copy the knowledge and spread it around. One at Moat Cailin, supported by the North and the Riverlands. One in Summerhall, supported by Dorne and the Stormlands. The original Citadel can be supported by the Reach and the Westerlands. The Royal Archive can be supported by the Vale and the Crownlands. No one kingdom will be able to claim intellectual dominance over the others. Every kingdom can have learned persons to support their Houses and villages that understand them.”
“And you have expanded those learned people to include women,” Oberyn added, gaining Daenerys’s attention.
“Women?” she asked. “Truly?”
“Women of noble blood. At first, at least—the Archmaester did not specify trueborns, though I think that was deliberate on his part. Marwyn has very little patience for the Nonsense of the Seven.”
Daenerys frowned at him. “I thought the Faith of the Seven was the religion of Westeros.”
Jon and Oberyn snorted at the same time.
“Hardly,” Jon told her. “It might have, at one time, been able to claim dominance, but once the extent of their crimes and the number of lives they have willfully sacrificed in their quest to separate the Seven Kingdoms and later in the name of other more terrible goals gets out.” Jon shook his head. “It will be a surprise to find an intact sept once that happens.”
“What…What have they done?”
“I have spent more than a moon executing men in the name of undoing their foolishness. Please do not make me speak of it while I can still feel the blood under my nails.”
Oberyn nodded solemnly. Daenerys silently accepted his decision and refused to make eye contact.
It made him feel terrible, her quick submission to him. Jon knew her brother had abused her, and he did not want to be seen in Viserys III’s image.
“There will be a book, soon, with the details.” Jon told them. “Sent out to every Great House, Dragonstone, and the Red Keep. You may read it if you choose but I…cannot, right now.”
She nodded, looking easier.
His dragon headbutted his hand again even though he had made sure not to stop petting this time. He glanced down at the beast and met his golden gaze.
“Oh,” Jon thought he might have said but was not certain. He pulled his belt knife and cut his palm. Then he placed his bleeding palm on the dragon’s head, just above his eyes. There was a searing noise on contact but no pain.
When he lifted his hand, there was a bloody handprint on the dragon’s head. Aerion made a pleased noise that reverberated in Jon’s bones.
Jon moved his hand down in front of his green beast’s mouth and Aerion breathed fire over his bleeding palm. Again, there was no pain—but when the fire cleared, he was healed.
“Fire and blood,” Jon said in wonder. “That was what it meant, fire and blood. The dragonbond is not a warg bond, it is something else.”
“Jon?” Prince Oberyn asked but Jon only had eyes for his Uncle Maester.
He rolled to his knees and scooted over to where Maester Aemon was sitting on a small camp chair with Viserion’s head in his lap. “Uncle, I need to cut your hand.”
Uncle Maester frowned but offered his right hand regardless. “My prince?”
“Just—Just a moment. It will heal quickly, I swear it.” And Jon cut the old maester’s palm then placed the bleeding appendage on his dragon’s head. The dragon made a pleased sound and nuzzled Aemon’s wrist comfortingly.
When Jon pulled the maester’s hand away, his dragon breathed on the wound and it, too, closed.
“Uncle, focus on the feeling of Viserion in the back of your mind. How does it feel?”
“Stronger,” Maester Aemon answered without hesitation. “He is warm, considerate, and intelligent.”
“Like his rider,” Jon teased and Maester Aemon smiled gently. “Grasp his place in your mind and focus on seeing. Not with your eyes but with his.”
The aged maester frowned but closed his eyes and focused.
It took both less time and more time than he had expected before Aemon’s eyes shot open, blinded not with age this time but with a rolling white smoke. At the same moment, Viserion’s eyes went from bronze to purple with a circle of bronze around the outside.
The dragon immediately turned to focus on him.
“Oh. Jon,” Maester Aemon sighed. “My little Egg. Your Northern blood hid you well, but I can see your father in you. He was truly the best of us…before…”
“Before,” Jon agreed, looking between dragon and rider. Then he turned the dragon’s head to Daenerys.
Maester Aemon reached out but did not touch Daenerys. He allowed her the choice of whether to place her face in his hands or not. She did. “You are the spitting image of your mother, my dear. Your voice is not the same—higher than hers—but she had many years on you when I last saw her.
“Family,” Maester Aemon concluded, reaching out and cupping Jon’s face as well as he smiled through the tears. “Dragons return and so has my family. This is a blessed day.”
“This is my plan,” Jon told those gathered before him. “But I am willing to be swayed somewhat.”
Aunt Daenerys, Maester Aemon, and Prince Oberyn all nodded to indicate their understanding.
“As much as I hate it, all three of us of House Targaryen cannot remain together. Our reactions to each other will give the secret away and we cannot afford such. However, Aunt Daenerys needs training in how to run a Westerosi keep and from there how to grow that understanding into the role of a Lord Paramount. I say that Prince Oberyn goes to Dragonstone to run that keep on my behalf. With him, he will take his Pentoshi lover Naera.
“Dany, you we can claim to be her sister. This will give you reason to be close to the two of them at all times and be a reason for him to trust you with tasks about the keep.”
“You will have to go by a different name,” Prince Oberyn warned her. “Daenerys is known to be the name of Mad Aerys’s last child who was born on Dragonstone before she fled. No one in the Free Cities would dare use it on a child born after that time for fear of Baratheon’s great wrath. I would not be surprised if parents changed the names of children already born to avoid such.
“Keep your name and you will draw unending scrutiny.”
“Do you have a name you suggest?” Daenerys asked after a moment of consideration.
“Naera’s mother was named Maera, so Daera would be a good choice,” Oberyn said immediately. “It is not too different from your true name but fits the…naming convention Naera’s family used.”
“Very well, I am Daera, sister of Naera and daughter of Maera.”
“It is an honor to meet you, Daera,” Jon said solemnly. “Maester Aemon is expected to be with me as part of my household. We will go to the Vale. As I said before, the upper reaches of the Eyrie have been banned to all but family and a select few. We should be able to maintain our dragonbonds there without undue stress.
“I will have to visit King’s Landing several times a year as Master of Laws, but Swift can keep those visits from being excessively arduous.
“I object,” Dany said with a frown. “How am I the Mother of Dragons and yet the only Targaryen without a dragon bond?”
Oberyn smirked at her but Jon just shook his head.
“There are other eggs,” he told his aunt. “I found three Beyond the Wall. They are in a hidden strongroom in Dragonstone. We can see if one of them responds to you and then I will hatch it if I have to.”
“The egg placed in my cradle as a child is hidden there as well,” Maester Aemon told her. “If it responds to you, you are welcome to it.”
“And you cannot tell me that the reason our dear Jon wishes to restore Summerhall is not because of the seven eggs lost there by your mutual forefather Aegon V,” Oberyn added. Then he smirked at Jon. “At least partially.”
“At least partially,” Jon agreed. “Dany has written out every single step of her ritual, been interrogated by us all to ensure no step was missed—my apologies, aunt.” She nodded her acceptance of his apology. “Maester Aemon is in charge of my personal library, it has every book on dragonlore and magic I could find in three great keeps and the Citadel. He will figure out the nature of the ritual that was performed. Your three are not the last dragon eggs that will hatch.”
“We have two dragons clearly on their way to adulthood,” Maester Aemon added. “Gods willing, one will be female and lay an egg not gone to stone that will hatch on its own for you.”
“Gods willing,” she agreed. Then she sighed. “Hiding Drogon will be difficult enough even should he choose to remain as small as he has. Adding another fully grown dragon atop of that would be impossible.”
“Adding another fully grown dragon atop of that will see you to the Eyrie,” Jon corrected. He did not want his aunt to put off the dream of all Targaryens of the name due to convenience. Her desires had been set aside enough in this life for such shortsightedness. “I know not how I would explain it to those closest to me, but if we are lucky and quiet enough, we will not need to explain it to them.”
“There is the matter of the Blackfyre,” Prince Oberyn looking him straight in the eye. “What is to be done with him?”
“I…am considering cadet houses of the Royal House Targaryen,” Jon said honestly. “House Targaryen of the Vale headed by my aunt here and mayhap House Blackfyre of the…Stepstones or Iron Islands.”
“The Iron Islands?”
“Considering Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion against Robert Baratheon—” And his rebellion after Baratheon’s death in Jon’s other future, Jon thought to himself. “—I fully expect him to rebel the moment Baratheon dies. He would consider me to be the son of the king’s saltwife and weak, I do not see how he could resist claiming his revenge against the North for his defeat in his last rebellion with what he sees as a weak king on the Iron Throne.”
Oberyn chuckled meanly. “I would offer to throw him back for you, but I believe you have another plan forming.”
“I would have accepted your offer and joined you in it,” Jon admitted. “But the idea of making Balon the Grey the new Harren the Black has great appeal.”
“It would be a strong statement,” Maester Aemon agreed. “One no Lord Paramount would disagree with—particularly if you have a use that benefits the realm for the islands afterward.”
Jon thought about that. “That… The Iron Islands are known for building the finest ships in Westeros.”
“When they have the materials,” Prince Oberyn agreed. Then he raised an eyebrow.
Jon hummed. “It will take consideration. And negotiation.”
“Make it a Realm-wide affair,” Oberyn advised. “Leave no kingdom out.”
“And the Blackfyre’s companions? Ser Gerold Hightower and Lady Ashara Dayne are here. But Ser Arthur Dayne, Ser Oswell Whent, and mine uncle, Prince Lewyn Martell are still managing things on your behalf in Essos.”
“Things?” Jon questioned. “On my behalf?”
“The Golden Company,” Prince Oberyn answered. “Generations of Westerosi exiles. And…they do not know they do this on your behalf, specifically, but they have a good idea of it. They were all there when you were born.”
“I would like to meet Ser Gerold and Lady Ashara before I leave,” Jon decided. “So, I can evaluate them and learn more of their former companions, for future service to the Realm.”
“Surely you do not expect to hold them to their Kingsguard vows?”
“No,” Jon shook his head. “I firmly believe that once the king they served died, they were free to choose—whether to retake those vows or not. They can make that choice again once I am crowned but…Lady Whent is only growing older and she has outlived her husband and their heirs. Her husband was Ser Oswell’s older brother, was he not?”
“There was quite an age gap there—some ten or twenty years—but yes.”
“That makes him his brother’s heir,” Jon decided. “And House Hightower is all but extinguished. I could not instate Ser Gerold as Lord of the Tower until I am king…but should he prove worthy, I would have him watch over the Citadel. To guard our family.”
“You will find no one more worthy,” Prince Oberyn swore.
Jon silently accepted that and moved on. “Back to the plan at hand. Any objections?”
“Aye,” a voice said from the doorway.
Jon turned to see Lady Ellaria lingering there. “And what would that be?”
“Oberyn must remain here to lead his Unbroken and Dothraki into their new lives. Or at least begin the process,” she said. “I should be the one you send with Naera and Daera to take control of Dragonstone.”
“What reason would I have to trust you with such a thing?” Jon asked. “Not that I would not, but I need a reason I can give my betrothed to keep her off the island.”
“A test,” she grinned. “Clearly, you are testing my fitness for my future service to the Crown with one of the Realm’s least profitable castles.
“I will bring Tyene with me and allow her to represent Dragonstone in King’s Landing, of course.”
Margaery would be in favor of that, he knew. She liked Tyene’s company—they were both sly and clever but in very different ways. He knew it was a comfort to spend time with people you have a great deal in common with. People that did not make you feel lacking for your own nature.
Jon glanced at Dany who nodded her acceptance. Of course, she would be willing to learn from Lady Ellaria. They had all seen that Lady Ellaria ran a very tight ship.
Then he glanced to Oberyn who frowned but nodded. Jon judged that he knew his lover capable of running the keep and teaching Daenerys but had no desire to be separated from her and Naera and their children all at the same time.
“How do you feel about being Master of Coin?” he asked.
Ellaria blinked at him. Then she grinned.
Jon watched Dragonstone draw closer with trepidation.
He did not want to lie to his betrothed more than he already was lying to her about his identity…but his aunt and cousin were on his ship and their safety was paramount.
Thankfully, Ser Marq Ambrose was waiting for them to dock. Margaery would never send Dragonstone’s castellan down to greet him if she was there to do so—whether it fit her self-decided schedule of not.
“Ser Marq,” he greeted as he walked down the gangplank and they grasped arms.
“My prince,” the man greeted in return. “You missed Lady Margaery by mere hours. There is a Small Council meeting on the morrow and she returned to King’s Landing to prepare.”
“Tomorrow?” Jon questioned. “I must have mixed my days somewhere. I will fly over in the morning to attend. Now, you and I have much to discuss. Let us leave these to get settled.”
Ser Marq glanced over his shoulder and blinked. “Dornish, my prince?”
“One of the things we have to discuss,” Jon assured the man. “Have your people place her and her companions in the family quarters. We also have five hundred Unbroken that will be garrisoning here on a temporary basis.”
“Unbroken?” the man asked.
Jon gestured for the man to lead him into Dragonstone. The man nodded and turned, shouting orders to his people on the way.
Once they were ensconced in the Lord’s Solar—which Margaery had clearly turned into her territory—Jon sat behind the desk. “Lady Ellaria Sand is taking over governance of Dragonstone,” he said without preamble. “This is not a show of doubt in your abilities or those of Lady Margaery. This is a test of Lady Ellaria’s abilities. She impressed me in my time in Dorne but I want to have her more thoroughly evaluated before I place her on my Small Council in the years to come.”
Ser Marq’s eyebrows shot to his hairline. “The Small Council?”
“As Master of Coin,” Jon confirmed.
Ser Marq swallowed and considered that. In the end, he nodded. “I have wondered, of late—since becoming familiar with Lady Margaery—what we have cost ourselves as a…people, as a Realm, by consigning Ladies to the birthing bed and giving them no…larger duties. But if we expand their rights and responsibilities limiting that to Master of Whispers or serving as proxy for their men seems…hateful in a way I have no words for.”
“I agree.” Jon was shocked, honestly, that a man—a knight—in the south, sworn to the Seven could learn to think in such a way.
It gave him hope for the future.
“I trust you to give Lady Ellaria all the help she needs to find her feet,” Jon told him. “But I also want your honest opinion once she has had some time on her own feet to run the castle.”
“How long do you expect to leave her here?” Ser Marq asked.
“I want to make a decent trial of it.” Jon sighed. “A year, perhaps two. We will see.” We will see however long it took Robert Baratheon to die, he corrected in his head.
Robert Baratheon had outlived his reign in Jon’s other life already by two, soon to be three years. The difference, of course, was that Eddard Stark had never become Hand of the King and the least trustworthy Lannisters were all dead before any of them had left Winterfell.
The Death of Cersei Lannister had saved her husband, he decided.
He tried to be bitter about it but saving Robert Baratheon’s life and preventing a war of succession had saved thousands of smallfolk from senseless, violent deaths and therefore he could not.
Had Robert Baratheon been anyone but the killer of his father and a terrible king, Jon could have liked him, he knew. If he had just been a lesser lord that enjoyed drinking and hunting, they could have been occasional companions. Mayhap uncle and nephew, in another life. It left him conflicted and he tried not to think about it—but every once in a while, the truth stared him in the face, and he wondered how to fix it.
There was, yet again, no solution that pleased him, so he forced himself to move on to something productive.
To business. “How fares Dragonstone?”
“Construction on the Royal Archive continues apace,” an unfamiliar voice was saying as Jon approached the Council Room in the Tower of the Hand. Bookshelves are being installed as the carpentry team finished them and they are being secured to support beams as ordered. The first wheeled iron ladders have been received and installation will begin on the morrow, after they have been inspected.
“When do we expect the first shipment of books?”
“They have been received,” he heard Margaery said. “They are being kept in a strong room here and will be sent over when the first book room is secure. When will that be?”
“A moon, mayhap less.”
Jon tapped on the door and entered the room.
“Jon!” Margaery said in greeting and every lord around the table—and the man in rough cotton and leather—stood. Though the unknown man bowed as well.
“Be comfortable,” he ordered them. Everyone but Margaery and the stranger sat back down.
“My prince, be known to Maester Woodard,” Margaery smiled and that was when Jon noticed the chain around the man’s neck. Four of the seven links were the same metal, indicating an intense devotion to a single subject—Jon assumed it was Keep Craft.
“Maester Woodard, I am Prince Jon.”
“I am honored, my prince,” the maester said with what seemed like honesty. “And I am deeply troubled by the things my order has put you through this last year. May such corruption never be found in Westeros again.”
“May it be so,” Jon agreed. “Have they shared with you my plans to reduce chances of such corruption in the future?”
“Spreading out the Citadel,” the man confirmed and finally took a seat when Jon gestured for him to. “A sound plan. I have altered the original design for the Royal Archive to serve as a…collegiate, I believe is the chosen term?”
Jon nodded and pulled a chair from the wall to sit beside Margaery. “It is.”
“When we are closer to completion, I will leave one of the others in charge of…the external look of the archive and go to Summerhall to evaluate it for rebuilding myself. I cannot promise it will be the same palace, my prince.”
“I do not want it to be the same palace,” Jon told him. “Is there any way to protect a building from wildfire?”
“Mayhap?” the builder blinked. “Magic? Possibly?”
“I will speak to the Lord of Runestone and see if they can help,” Jon decided. “Both here and at Summerhall.”
“Wildfire and natural fire,” Margaery added.
Jon gave her a small smile and took her hand under the table.
“How many copies of books are being made?” Lord Wyman Manderly asked, making a note on some parchment.
“It depends on the age of the books,” Jon told him. “If they are truly old and in danger of decay, extra copies are being made. Currently we are planning copies for the Archive, Summerhall, and Moat Cailin. Though I have not received word back from Lord Stark confirming space for our use in Moat Cailin.”
“The raven arrived here,” Margaery told him. “Lord Eddard has confirmed that three inner towers will have a keep built within them for the Citadel’s use. He also confirmed the first thirty candidates have left the North for the Citadel?” she asked.
“Ah,” Jon sighed. “As the Citadel is facing a manpower shortage.”
Everyone around the table nodded, which told him they had received at least some of his ravens on his progress.
“To address this issue, I purchased an inn in Oldtown and had it converted to a boarding house. With the assistance of Maester Davith, your brother, boys selected by maesters around the North will be living there until they have achieved their first link and have been accepted into Citadel housing as acolytes.
“Maester Davith is managing the list of volunteers, to keep it moving, and ensuring the boys can read.”
“Boys of noble birth?” Lady Olenna asked.
“No, my lady. Boys of all births…and a few girls that I have persuaded the Seneschal to allow into their ranks on a trial basis.”
Lady Olenna raised her eyebrows as though impressed. “Very good, lad.” Jon swallowed back a laugh when she rolled her eyes and corrected herself, “My prince.”
“I would like to see your plans for the Archive,” he told the builder.
“You will need copies for whatever Rune Masters Runestone can still claim,” Maester Woodard agreed. “I imagine, at least.”
“I imagine you are correct,” Jon agreed.
“Is that everything for that piece of business?” Lord Tyrion asked. The lords and ladies around the table waved fingers to indicate they were ready to move on. “Very well. Maester Woodard, we thank you for your time today and bid you fair well until next moon.”
“Thank you, my Lord Hand.” The Maester stood, bowed to them all, and left.
Lord Tyrion checked something off on his list. “Very well, our next item is recruitment among the City Watch. Lord Paxter has come to provide testimony. Clegane, if you would show him in…”
“I should have known you were coming when Ghost showed up and started following me around,” Margaery said ruefully once they were alone in Maegor’s Holdfast together. “How long are you here for?”
“I am unsure,” Jon admitted. “Clearly, I need to return to the Vale and see what magicks we have available to protect the Royal Archive, but I do not consider that matter an emergency.”
“Important,” she agreed. “But not an emergency, no.
“We received the Red Keep and Archive’s copies of The History of Conspiracy in the Citadel your Sam and Archmaester Marwyn have finished.” Margaery focused on him entirely. “I have read it. It must have been disturbing to you, to receive this terrible information in person from the most recent heirs of these terrible crimes.”
“It was difficult,” he agreed and felt like he deserved accolades for downplaying the hurt and betrayal. “The things they did to House Targaryen can never be allowed to happen again.”
“Clearly, we need to place someone we trust in charge of Oldtown,” she decided.
“Agreed but finding a person that can protect the Crown from the Citadel while allowing them to grow and explore academically, without exhibiting or exerting any undue religious influence will be a daunting task.”
“Agreed,” she echoed him.
“Tyene Sand is coming on my ship,” he told her. “I flew ahead to see you but Prince Oberyn informed me that you had asked about her, so I asked that he allow her to her come along.”
“You were in Dorne?” she asked curiously.
“Yes,” he answered honestly. Or, as honestly as he could. “The last executions were done at Starfall. I took a rest at the Water Gardens and later Hell’s Respite after that. I needed it.”
“You did execute nearly forty men.” She leaned into him, silently offering comfort. “Was it so difficult? I do not understand why you…completed their sentences in so many different places?”
“Because they were not just executions,” he told her.
“What else were they?”
“You understand what the Citadel was doing? Killing magic, specifically fire magic because that was what House Targaryen was built upon? This gave ice magic leeway to grow as it wanted, unbalanced and unchecked.”
“That…makes sense, I suppose,” she agreed.
“We researched it, Sam and I. That was why my library has so many books on magic now. To counter what they did, we needed to…reinforce the basic fabric of magic. Green magic. The power would then overflow into ice and fire magic but more into fire magic because its levels were so low. As would water, flowing on uneven ground.”
“I understand,” she confirmed.
“The only way a human can…add to green magic is through life or death. Siring and birthing children or…”
“Killing men,” she realized. “So, you had to kill them in specific places?”
“Before heart trees. Weirwoods are directly tied to the magic of the land. I effectively sacrificed those terrible, guilty men to old gods.”
“You were very discrete. We have not heard a word of it,” she commended.
“I expended a great deal of effort to go unnoticed,” he told her gratefully. “I would rather this stay between us, if at all possible.”
“Of course, it is,” she scoffed. “You are Master of Laws. You executed criminals. That is all that need be said about it.
She searched his face silently. “This was very hard on you.”
“It had to be done. It was the right thing to do. But, no, it was not easy.”
She dropped her head on his shoulder and gave him the silence he needed.
“I have…” he hesitated. “Is Lord Wyman still hinting that he would like to be released as Master of Coin?”
Margaery snorted. “Hinting? I would be surprised if he does not send a proclamation to that effect in the next six moons.”
“If we can keep him in place until I am king, I have a replacement in mind for him, one I do not think King Robert will accept at all.”
“Lady Ellaria Sand,” Jon told her. “She is Prince Oberyn’s longtime paramour. He and I stayed at her keep, Hell’s Respite. She has made it quite prosperous despite it being a desert settlement with only one well.”
“And you want her to be Master of Coin?”
“It was her or your brother—I do not think either of us want to deal with the fallout of a Small Council dominated by a House other than the Royal one.”
“Not when we are still cleaning up the mess left by a Small Council dominated by House Lannister,” she agreed.
“I have placed Lady Ellaria in charge of Dragonstone,” he told his betrothed and she looked up at his sharply. “I believe that if we allow her a year to prove herself in my service there, I can place her on King Robert’s Small Council with only minimal objections.”
“I would not count on it,” Margaery muttered. “But I see the wisdom of it, and it takes a great burden off of my shoulders.”
“I am sure you will fill that time with ease. Would you like to come to the Vale with me?”
“You still have not named a new Lord Paramount for the Vale,” she reminded him. Then she frowned. “Though I am fairly certain King Robert does not intend to do so until you take the crown for yourself.”
“That is my understanding as well,” he confirmed. “I have a new lord in mind, but they are not ready, and they will not be for some time. I do not wish to disclose who it is yet, for their protection but…training a Lord Paramount is quite a task.”
“You are more than equal to this task,” she assured him. “Yes, I would love to go to the Vale with you. At least for a respite. Then I need to return to cultivate some little thorns of my own. Grandmother will not always be here, and we may someday need to hear the whispers of the Realm for ourselves as well.”
“Any word?” Margaery asked urgently.
“None, my dear,” her grandmother said. It would be reassuring except for their circumstances. “How fares the King?”
She and her grandmother turned together to Grand Maester Edam. He was a bastard of the Vale that Jon and the Seneschal of the Citadel had sent to the capital not long after the Burnings nearly three years gone.
The man flushed under their attention. “His Grace is resting comfortably. I have done what I can with the milk of the poppy, but his wound is septic. It is only a matter of time before the Stranger claims him.” The man hesitated. “He desperately wishes to see his son before he goes.”
“We have sent the fastest messages possible,” she swore.
“Ravens?” The maester asked. Probably confused because he had not been used to send them.
She handed the man a scroll. “A raven, now, to the Eyrie, but Ser Barristan agreed to send a message through Lovely to Swift and Dancer. We know the unicorns have a unique way to communicate—with each other and with their bonded riders. And they are never far from their bonded riders.”
“Warg bonds,” the young—for a Grand Maester—man frowned. “I wish we understood them better. But I will send the raven regardless. Mayhap multiple ravens to various locations. There is no true way to be sure where Prince Jon is at the moment.”
“He may only come to King’s Landing twice a year, but Prince Jon sends regular messages to the Small Council,” her grandmother disagreed. “And he is in regular correspondence with my granddaughter.”
“I believe we may have accidentally started a Guild of Messengers,” Margaery agreed with a small grin. “They have expanded their services throughout the Crownlands, Vale and Riverlands. With oaths sworn on the Iron Throne to deliver messages entrusted to them with utmost privacy and security. Even the small folk recognize their livery.”
“The Eagles,” the Grand Maester nodded. “Colors: dark blue and white. Words: We Deliver. The Royal Archive has documented the establishment process most thoroughly.”
“The Eagles are unique in this world,” a voice broke in and they all looked over to see the Lord Hand approaching. “I just received word. What do we know?”
“The king and my father were out hunting.” Margaery took a shaky breath. “They came upon a feral sow and a boar with three younglings. My father, Ser Gurnar Holt of the Kingsguard, Ser Jayse Blackbar of the Reach, and the sow were killed in the ensuing confrontation. The boar and the King wounded each other extensively.”
“Will the king recover?” Lord Tyrion pressed.
Margaery turned the question over to the Grand Maester with a glance. The man silently shook his head.
“Very well, we will prepare for a funeral and a coronation.” Lord Tyrion looked up at her. “And a wedding. Has Prince Jon been recalled?”
“He has, but we are sending ravens as well,” the Grand Maester answered verbally this time.
“Send them at once,” Lord Tyrion ordered in a tone that had the maester all but fleeing down the hall.
Tyrion took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “When Prince Jon arrives, we will need to press him to find a proper lord for the Vale,” Lord Tyrion said eventually. “His place is there no longer.”
“Agreed,” Grandmother nodded pertly. “And we need an heir in the offing soonest. We should have had one years ago.”
Margaery flushed. She had no shame in taking time to come to know her betrothed, to help run his father’s—their future kingdom as Acting Master of Laws but…her grandmother had a point. She and Jon had both been of age for four years and they had allowed other responsibilities to keep them unwed. They had not even been in the same place for most of those years.
It was reckless. And foolish. The regency depended on them.
“We will do our duty, grandmother,” she promised the woman that she admired more than even her own mother.
“I know you will, my rose,” her grandmother agreed. “Now all we can do is wait for your wandering prince to return.”
It took three days for Jon to arrive on Swift with Ser Rolland and Dancer as his only escort.
“My ship is bringing the rest of my retinue,” Jon told them as they moved with purpose down the corridors to Maegor’s Holdfast. “My castellan is overseeing the Eyrie and I have a new lord in mind for the Vale—they are finally ready.”
“Ready?” she asked him in surprise.
“A Lord Paramount is an important thing,” Jon told her. “They require more training than your average lord or knight. This one has had three years of training and I have been assured they are well prepared.”
“Very well,” Margaery stopped Jon with a hand on his wrist outside of his legal father’s bed chamber. “Jon, he is…very weak. He may not be awake when you see him.”
“I understand,” Jon said gently. He shifted his grip so that they were holding hands rather than her grasping him. “Come with me?”
Together, with Ser Barristan Selmy as a distant white shadow, they entered the king’s bed chamber.
“Father,” Jon said gently, taking King Robert’s hand in his free one. “I am here, father.”
The king’s big hand closed around Jon’s though he otherwise did not stir. Ser Barristan had servants bring them chairs so they could sit their vigil comfortably.
She was not sure how long they sat there for. An hour? Mayhap two? But, in the end, Robert Baratheon took three labored, straining breaths and…collapsed in on himself. As if a tent with the poles suddenly pulled.
“The King is dead,” Ser Barristan said after checking for the pulse himself. “Long live the King.”
Jon nodded, extricated himself from his adopted father’s grip, and led her from the room.
Lord Tyrion and the rest of the Small Council were waiting in the corridor for them.
“My Prince?” the Hand of the King asked.
“My father has passed,” Jon told them all. “Prepare for a Great Council. At Harrenhal in three moons.”
“My King?” Lord Tyrion demanded.
“Not king yet,” Jon disagreed. “We will have the Council in three moons.”
“Three moons will give every Lord that wishes to attend the necessary time to reach Harrenhal. As well as provide you and Lady Margaery time to lay supplies in to feed so many lords with their families and armsmen.”
“I meant, why a Great Council?” Tyrion clarified peevishly. “There is no question on the succession. There is no need for a Council to be held.”
“Do you know the greatest complaint against Robert Baratheon taking the throne after the Rebellion?” Jon asked. “Out there? Amongst the average Lord, Lady, or Knight?”
Lord Tyrion paused. “I do not.”
“It is that Robert Baratheon did not wait for a Great Council to crown him. You cannot argue that there were no questions on proper succession after the King and his first two heirs were killed during the Rebellion. The proper thing for him to do would have been to hold a Great Council. Considering the other choices, I do not doubt Robert Baratheon would have been crowned regardless but he did not handle the situation properly and that is the point.
“I will do this properly. To keep the anger and resentment out of my rule.”
“But…” Tyrion looked to her for help, but she felt just as helpless.
She had not seen this coming.
“Tyrion, I have plans.” Jon clasped the shorter man on the shoulder. “Do not fear, I trust the Lords of the Realm will see that I am the only true choice. Have faith.”
“Faith in my fellow man is not something I have ever been good at,” Lord Tyrion muttered.
Margaery could not help but agree.
“That was the last of them,” Lord Tyrion said as the Lady Delonne Allyrion of Godsgrace moved to join the rest of the Dornish party in Harrenhal’s great outer yard.
Margaery shot him a significant look before turning to Ghost. “You heard him, Jon.”
The direwolf’s eyes turned from a red-purple back to red and he turned to the south east. Margaery turned to match him, towards Dragonstone—where Jon was coming from. She was not sure what to expect. She knew he was going to fly in but, honestly, so many had seen him flying about on Swift it was not much of a spectacle anymore.
Reusing a tired trick would win him no votes in the Great Council.
When she saw it, she was not sure what she was seeing. Two forms, much too large and much too fast for unicorns. And Jon was the only unicorn rider missing from the gathered throng.
Belatedly she noticed the flying beasts had wings.
Then the one in the front breathed fire and she knew exactly what she was looking at.
Dragons. Somehow, Jon had hatched dragons!
The two great beasts landed with surprising grace—one green and gold, the other cream and copper. Jon slid off the green one and landed lightly on the ground. He was dressed all in black with something red on his chest that she was too far away to make out.
He walked over to the second dragon, held up his arms, and shouted, “Hup, hup, hup.”
A figure slid down the side of the dragon and Jon caught them easily. Jon turned back to the dragon while the woman he had caught pulled off a leather over-robe.
“Hup, hup, hup,” and a second figure slid off the dragon. This one too was wearing a leather over-robe.
After a brief conference—and the removal of leather robes—Jon led the other two forward. To Jon’s right and back a step came Maester Aemon in a fine robe of black silk that seemed to frame his Maester’s chain which had been polished to a shine. To Jon’s left was a beautiful woman of classic Valyrian looks—all silver-gold hair and breathtaking purple eyes—with a small blue and gold dragon draped across her shoulders.
The red upon Jon’s chest was a red three-headed dragon—the sigil of House Targaryen. She was not quite sure why that surprised her at this point, but it did.
“My name,” Jon said as he closed with the group, loud enough for all to hear, “is Aegon Targaryen. I am the seventh of my name. My father was Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and my mother was his second legal spouse, Lyanna Stark.”
“The Seventh?” Lord Edmure Tully asked with a frown.
“My father was heir to the throne but died before his father, making my older brother Aegon crown prince. When my grandfather Aerys the Second died, my brother automatically became king as there was no dispute to be had in regard to his blood rights. Being king made him Aegon the Sixth. When he died, I was not yet born, and my uncle legally became King Viserys the Third. However, as we all know, Robert Baratheon displaced him and claimed the throne through the blood of his Targaryen grandmother, the Princess Rhaelle.”
“Robert Baratheon usurped the crown of a seven nameday old child,” one of the Dornish she did not know said and spit on the ground.
“He did,” Jon confirmed. Then he continued, “When I was born, I legally became my Uncle Viserys’s heir as my Aunt Daenerys had not yet been born.
“Now, my uncle was killed by a Dothraki horselord in the year 298 and Robert Baratheon—who, I remind you, claimed the Iron Throne through his Targaryen blood rights—died with no legal issue. Baratheon did, however, adopt me and name me his legal heir. Through every law of inheritance Westeros has ever entertained, the throne is rightfully mine and I formally request the Great Council of 303 confirm my rights and true inheritance of my grandfather’s throne.”
“The voting does not begin until the day after tomorrow,” Lord Tyrion offered.
Lord Stannis snorted. “There is no point in waiting.”
Stannis drew himself up formally and stepped toward Jon. “I, Lord Stannis of House Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands, hereby move to name my nephew, King Jon of House Targaryen, Lord of Westeros and Defender of the Realm.”
Lord Eddard stepped forward next. “I, Lord Eddard of House Stark, Lord Paramount of the North, hereby second the motion to name my nephew, King Jon of House Targaryen, Lord of Westeros and Defender of the Realm.”
Prince Oberyn pushed the chair of his brother, Prince Doran’s chair forward. Prince Doran said, “I, Prince Doran of House Nymeros Martell, Lord Paramount of Dorne, hereby endorse the motion to name my nephew, King Jon of House Targaryen, Lord of Westeros and Defender of the Realm.”
Margaery blinked. That the Dornish were immediately ready to claim Rhaegar’s second son as their own and endorse his crown said many, many things…All of them that she would have to figure out later.
History was happening right in front of her.
Jon glanced over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow at the woman behind him.
The unknown woman raised an eyebrow right back and stepped forward. “I, Princess Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons and Heir to the Lord Paramount of the Vale, hereby endorse the motion to name my nephew, King Jon of House Targaryen, Lord of Westeros and Defender of the Realm.”
Margaery felt dazed. Four lords Paramount were claiming Jon as their nephew and the youngest child of King Aerys the Mad—Jon’s grandfather, apparently—was officially back in Westeros for the first time since her birth.
And she was the Mother of Dragons? Margaery was not certain she wanted to know what that was supposed to mean.
For a moment, Margaery worried that Jon was going to set her aside to marry his aunt. It would be a thoroughly Targaryen thing to do. But Jon had made her a promise, she reminded herself, and Jon kept his promises. Even the unfortunate ones such as ‘I am going to cut your head off’ which she had heard him make more than once.
Her brother then stepped forward. “I, Lord Willas of House Tyrell, Lord Paramount of the Reach, hereby endorse the motion to name my future goodbrother, King Jon of House Targaryen, Lord of Westeros and Defender of the Realm.”
Jon smiled softly at her brother and nodded. Margaery let herself relax. Jon was not denying Willas’s claim of him as goodbrother, that was a good thing.
“I firmly believe that you saved my family from ruin,” Lord Edmure said as he stepped forward.
Jon inclined his head. “What happened at the Twins was the gods’ own mess.”
“I agree,” Lord Edmure confirmed. “And I, Lord Edmure of House Tully, Lord Paramount of the Riverlands, hereby endorse the motion to name my friend, King Jon of House Targaryen, Lord of Westeros and Defender of the Realm.”
That left the Iron Islands and the Westerlands. No one had come from the Iron Islands, voiding their voice in the Council which left only the Westerlands.
Tyrion stepped forward, mocking amusement writ large on his face. “I, Lord Tyrion of House Lannister, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, hereby endorse the motion to name King Jon of House Targaryen Lord of Westeros and Defender of the Realm.
“The motion is unanimous and it carries,” Lord Tyrion concluded.
All the Lords Paramount pulled their swords—except Daenerys who took Jon’s Dark Sister for she had not had her own sword—and knelt to swear their fealty to Jon’s crown. Doran of Dorne went first as was Dorne’s privilege. Everyone waited as his brother and guard had to help him back into his chair after. Then Eddard of the North made his vow, all the way around the group until Tyrion of the Westerlands went last.
The moment Tyrion stood Jon was King of the Seven Kingdoms. The coronation he would surely have later was window dressing and circus to appease the small folk.
“I thank you all for your trust and support,” King Jon told them. “As she said, my aunt, Princess Daenerys, is my legal and true heir until I claim a child of my own. I hereby name my Aunt Lady Paramount of the Vale and Head of House Targaryen of the Vale, the first cadet line of the Royal House Targaryen. Should my line fall, House Targaryen of the Vale shall take our place. Their House Words are Fire from Stone.”
“I will make myself available to speak with all of you over the coming days. Tomorrow you may lodge your interest in meeting and time will be found for you regardless of your rank. For now, I will speak with my betrothed and my Kingsguard.
“Rest well, we have much to do before we must face down whatever madness is certainly brewing in the Iron Islands.”
Several lords chuckled though Margaery was sure Jon was completely serious.
The fact that not a single Ironborn lord had shown up was proof, to her at least, that Jon was right to be concerned.
When Jon silently held out his hand for her, she stepped forward and took it immediately. No one would take her place in Jon’s life. She would not tolerate it if they tried—and she had the feeling she was going to have to make that entirely clear to Jon.
Ser Rolland subtly motioned for them to follow and led them into Harrenhal, directly to the solar they had set up for whomever was elected King’s use.
“Wait here,” Jon ordered the gathered white cloaks as he tugged her into the solar.
“I have no wish to set aside our betrothal,” she told him the very moment they were alone.
“Are you sure?” he asked delicately.
“It would not be unreasonable,” he told her. “I have lied to you the entire time you have known me. You came into this expecting to bear stag seed not…”
“Your dynastic name is clearly going to be Jon the Just,” she teased him, and he groaned. “While I appreciate your concern, it is misplaced. I did not step into this to bear the sons of a stag or a wolf. I came into this to bear your sons, Jon, and you are still you. In fact, the fact that my comfort was your first concern after regaining the Iron Throne for your House shows that you are still the youest of yous to ever you.”
“You are certain?” Jon checked one more time.
“Entirely. Miffed that I will have to remake my wedding raiment,” she admitted only half-jokingly, “but certain none the less.”
“Sansa took care of that for you, once Robb failed to conceal the truth from her and she learned my true identity, that is,” Jon admitted.
“Your family is a gift to me,” she said earnestly, and he laughed. “When did Robb find out? Just to satisfy my curiosity.”
“Robb found out while we were Beyond the Wall all those years ago, before the Tourney at King’s Landing where we met. The Children of the Forest call me Dragon King but call him King of Winter. It did not take much for him to figure it out from there.”
“But you already knew?”
Jon nodded. “Lord Eddard had a crypt carved for me in Winterfell. I found it half-hidden behind a rockslide and read the inscription the very day King Robert arrived in Winterfell on his progress. I found it while the rest of the Starks were entertaining the king and court at the welcoming feast, to be exact.”
“That must have been terrifying.”
“Just a touch,” Jon confirmed. “Particularly when you consider Robert Baratheon’s obsession with Winterfell’s crypts and my mother.
“Did you wish to remain for this next part or leave?”
“Leave and deal with questions I cannot answer or stay and remind everyone that I am the King’s betrothed without having to say a single word?” she asked rhetorically. “I will stay as long as I am welcome.”
“Very well, let me call in the Kingsguard.” Jon sat her behind the desk and went to the door himself.
He waved the Kingsguard all into the solar. Jon and his predecessor had agreed to expand the Kingsguard to seven-and-twenty but had only recruited twenty swords. Even being short on heads, the Kingsguard left the solar rather crowded.
Jon leaned on the far side of the desk with his back to her—as though he were the guard and she were the royal—and regarded the white knights before them. “I have reviewed the content of the Kingsguard Vows and while most kings have been content to accept that the vows made to previous kings simply transferred to them, I find I cannot. Our circumstances are unique. The Crown has transferred from my family to another family and back within the last two decades and while I am sure history will recall all of us as the reign of House Targaryen, I find I cannot follow in the footsteps of my predecessors.
“This provides all of you with a unique opportunity.”
Several of the Kingsguard were frowning at Jon but he was undeterred.
“Tomorrow, I will ask you all to retake your Kingsguard Vows to me in the Hall of the Hundred Hearths. Yes, this means the wording of the vow will no longer be secret. No, I do not believe that is a problem, as the general content and origin of the vow are already known. Having your vows witnessed will simply provide clarity to your Order, which I do not find to be a bad thing.
“The opportunity in this is that I will allow any of you that wish to leave the service of the Iron Throne and return to their Houses to do so without rancor. No oath breaking, no treason, no punishment for you or your House. Do you understand?”
Several among the Kingsguard exchanged looks and nodded to Jon. “Yes, your Grace.”
“There are none of you I wish to remove from my service,” Jon told them. “I am doing as I feel honor requires, placing us all on the most just path forward.”
“Of course, Your Grace,” the gathered men and women agreed more readily this time.
“Good. You are all dismissed except for Lord Commander Barristan and Ser Rolland—Rolls, if you would wait in the hall, I will need to speak with you after I speak with Ser Barristan.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Ser Rolland led the group out of the solar and held the door as Ghost and Darling entered behind them.
Jon joined Ser Barristan on the couches by the fire, but Margaery remained where Jon had put her. She had the feeling that this was supposed to be a private moment.
“Ser Barristan,” Jon said.
“I recognized your father in you several times over the last five years,” Ser Barristan told her betrothed. “But I told myself again and again that I was seeing only what I wished to see. That there were no sons of Prince Rhaegar left in this world. I have never been so glad to be wrong.”
“My father thought highly of you,” Jon said. “That is true of all three of the fathers I can claim in this life. That is part of why Prince Rhaegar did not involve you in the actions he took that lead to the Rebellion. He did not wish for you to feel pressed to stain your honor.”
“And yet, I stained it regardless,” Ser Barristan frowned. “By swearing myself to a new king while your grandfather yet lived.”
“That is the source of the conflict I feel within me,” Jon admitted. “I like you as a person. You are an honorable man and the best of knights, but you turned your back on my family. How can I trust that you will not turn your back on my family again?” Jon sighed. “But I also have no wish to dishonor you by stripping you of the cloak the White Bull gave you. Do you understand my position?”
“I do, your Grace.” Ser Barristan sighed. “I see no satisfactory path before us. It is my own fault, I admit, but I have no desire to leave your service. Since the moment you were named Crown Prince, you have been a better king than your grandfather or your second adopted father. My only wish is to help you reach your full potential. If my sword or my council can aid you, they are yours. Until I draw my last breath.”
“I have a path forward that will meet our needs, but it will not please you,” Jon admitted.
“Tell me and I will follow it, my king.”
“If it remains your wish, you will stay in my Kingsguard, but you will not be Lord Commander. To prevent any perceived dishonor on you, I will name Ser Rolland Storm my Lord Commander. He is my personal friend, and was so before he swore himself to Robert Baratheon as a Kingsguard. By naming him Lord Commander of the Kingsguard over more senior knights, to all others I will be following in the footsteps of my great, great grandfather Aegon the Fifth rather than dishonoring you.”
Ser Barristan considered that for several moments before he nodded his acceptance. “That is a sound solution, my king. I appreciate your consideration.”
“We are family, you and I,” Jon told Ser Barristan. “Perhaps not in a traditional sense but, in a better world, I would have grown up in the Red Keep under your watchful eye. I would have squired and become a man under your guidance. You would have been a grandfather to me as you were a father to my father and it would have been the proudest moment of my life to receive the white cloak from you, to serve as my father’s and then my brother’s Kingsguard at your side.”
“It would have been a beautiful world.” Ser Barristan rapidly blinked his eyes several times and Margaery could not blame him. The imagery and the passion for it in Jon’s voice left her a little misty-eyed as well.
“But we do not live in that world and we can only do our best in the one we inhabit.” Jon sighed. “If you decide to join my Kingsguard, this is the path we will take forward. You have the right to return to the House of your birth as much as any of the others. Please do not take this plan as pressure to step down if you do not wish to.”
“I will not, my king, never fear.”
“Very well.” Jon stood. “I will bring in Ser Rolland and tell him his future should he decide to stay. I will tell him nothing of this conversation and I do not wish to hear it spoken of again.”
The better to protect Ser Barristan from any perceived dishonor, Margaery assumed.
Ser Barristan nodded. “As you say, my king.”
Jon returned with Ser Rolland in short order. Ser Rolland sat on the couch with Ser Barristan and Jon sat down across from them.
“As I was telling Ser Barristan, should you decide to remain in my Kingsguard, I will be making you Lord Commander of the Order.” Jon said more bluntly than he probably should have.
Ser Rolland blinked at him. “Ser Barristan is still the finest knight in the Realm,” he started to object.
“This is not about that,” Jon waved off the complaint. “This is about honoring the legacy of Aegon the Fifth, calling back some historical traits of my House that have always been found honorable by those outside it. Aegon the Unlikely named his closest companion Ser Duncan the Tall Lord Commander of the Kingsguard and it proved to be a wise decision—one that saved my House from utter ruin during the Tragedy at Summerhall.”
Ser Rolland nodded slowly. “Very Well. I was thinking it would be best with how you want to continue to expand the Kingsguard to place someone entirely in charge of training. With seven-and-twenty knights it would be too great of a job for the Lord Commander to handle on his own.
“Perhaps Ser Barristan could take over as the Master of Arms for the Kingsguard. And work with your household guard and Master at Arms of the Red Keep as he has time?”
“I find that entirely acceptable,” Jon turned to Ser Barristan.
“Aye,” Ser Barristan agreed. “But how are we going to fill out the rest of the Kingsguard? There are eight empty posts with the death of Ser Gurnar. And we will have to semi-permanently split our numbers if you intend to have us guard your heir as well as yourself and your bride.”
“Agreed.” Jon considered things for a moment and the said. “We are bound to hold a tourney after the Lady Margaery and I are wed and crowned. We could turn the melee into a War for the White Cloaks—a tradition set by Jaehaerys the First and never re-used.”
“Further calling back Targaryen pride and history,” Ser Rolland seconded. “I like it.”
“I do as well,” Ser Barristan concurred.
“Then we shall. I will announce it in the morning and send out ravens to those that have not come to ensure everyone that wishes to join the Kingsguard will have the chance to compete,” Jon confirmed. “You both should go. You still have the night to decide if you are remaining in my service or not.”
“Who will guard you without us nearby?” Ser Rolland asked.
Jon and Ghost snorted at the same time. Ser Rolland and Ser Barristan turned to look at the wolf.
“I have my own white brother guarding my back whether you are here or not,” Jon said. “I will be well. You have a night to enjoy.”
The two Kingsguard stood to demonstrate their obedience.
“And send Lord Tyrion in, if he is still in the hall,” was Jon’s parting shot.
Lord Tyrion joined them quickly and Jon motioned for her to join him on the couch.
“Do you wish to remain Hand of the King?” Jon asked Lord Tyrion bluntly.
“I do,” Lord Tyrion confirmed.
“And do you wish to remain Lord of Casterly Rock?”
“Good, Myrcella and Bran are too young to take over for another five years at least.”
“It is my intention,” Jon told Margaery and his Hand equally, “to spread out duties to the Realm more than my predecessors. The Warden of a direction is effectively Lord-General of all the armies of their area should any conflict arise. I want no one to feel the pressure of being both Warden and a member of the Small Council and Lord Paramount and Lord of their Keep. That is simply too much to ask of a single person in the service of the Realm.”
“It is rather a lot,” Tyrion agreed. “But what man does not wish for his king to heap him with titles?”
“A wise one,” Jon snorted.
“Who are you planning to have as your Wardens?” Lord Tyrion asked.
“Lord Eddard will be Warden of the North, of course.
“As the Wardenships were assigned before Dorne joined the Seven Kingdoms and have been maintained nearly hereditarily since then, I feel it would be wise to adjust Warden of the South to account for them and name Prince Doran Warden of the South. His gout, however, makes him unlikely to be able to carry out the duties, so perhaps Prince Oberyn could take the Wardenship?”
“I would speak with Prince Doran before making such an announcement,” Lord Tyrion counseled.
“I will,” Jon agreed. “With you on my Small Council, that leaves Lord Willas to be my Warden of the West, but I wonder if his knee injury would keep him from fulfilling the role?” Jon turned to her, making it clear he wanted her opinion.
“My brother is reliant on a brace and a cane, yes, but he can still ride and his mind is very fit for any sort of service you require of him. But I imagine he would serve the Realm better as Master of Coin? Lord Manderly has expressed his desire to return to White Harbor.”
Jon snorted a laugh. “That was one way to put it. He told me before Robert Baratheon was even confirmed dead that he wanted out of the Red Keep. And I have no desire to hold a man in a service he no longer wishes to provide.
“I will discuss Master of Coin and Wardenship with your brother,” he assured her.
“When will you be meeting with which lords?” Lord Tyrion asked.
“I imagine that was rather up to you,” Jon told him. “At breakfast tomorrow, I will announce that you are in charge of my schedule. I would, however, prefer to speak with the members of my Small Council first tomorrow so that I can announce the rest of their places at dinner.”
“And those lucky lords are?”
“Lord Tyrion Lannister as Hand of the King.”
Lord Tyrion rolled his eyes and nodded.
“Lord Stannis Baratheon as Master of Ships unless he wishes to become Master of Laws, but he has done a fine job as Master of Ships and I would rather keep him there.”
“Agreed,” Lord Tyrion inclined his head.
“Lord Willas Tyrell as possible Master of Coin.
“I believe Lady Olenna wishes to leave the post of Master of Whispers, but I will want to confirm that before I go too far. Mayhap Prince Lewyn Martell, should she wish to retire.”
Lord Tyrion spit his mouthful of wine and Margaery blinked. “Prince Lewyn Martell?” Tyrion coughed. “He died at the Trident, killed by Ser Lyn Corbray.”
“Hardly,” Jon scoffed. “Prince Lewyn Martell, Ser Gerold Hightower, Ser Arthur Dayne, and Ser Oswell Whent all survived Robert’s Rebellion and have been living in Essos.”
“How?” Lord Tyrion demanded.
“And how did you find out about it?” Margaery asked.
“You will find out at the wedding,” Jon told them both with a mischievous sparkle in his eye. “They have affairs to settle in Essos and will not return to Westeros until that time.
Margaery decided then and there she and Lord Tyrion would be keeping this news a secret. If Jon wanted to play a game on the Realm, they would help whether Lord Tyrion wished to do so or not. “Very well, keep your secrets,” she said with a significant look to Tyrion.
“I will,” Jon agreed, and Lord Tyrion nodded his understanding.
“Will they be joining your Kingsguard?” Tyrion asked.
“No, I have other duties in mind for all of them.”
“Prince Lewyn for Master of Whispers,” Margaery reminded Tyrion. Then she guessed. “Ser Oswell will take Harrenhal?”
“Lady Shella is an old woman,” Jon confirmed. “She has survived her husband and all of their children and she does not have the men to hold Harrenhal should someone decide to take it from her. Lord Oswell will be returning from the east with a number of men behind him.”
Margaery nodded and considered that. “Ser Gerold will take over House Hightower? And then my brother Garlan can become Warden of the West?”
“Perhaps,” Jon agreed. “Ser Gerold has a good reputation and is entirely loyal to my House. It would be simple good tactics to set him to watching the Citadel and the heart of the Faith—both of which have proven to be enemies of my House.”
“We could wed one of our daughters to one of his sons to ensure the line’s loyalty,” she offered.
“And Ser Arthur?” Lord Tyrion asked.
“Master of Laws, mayhap. I cannot think of a more honorable candidate and his House is mostly secure.”
“Agreed.” Tyrion frowned. “I believe that is everyone? The Grand Maester is elected by the Citadel and the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard is well known.”
“We may open up the Dornish Seat,” Jon told him. “But not if Prince Lewyn becomes Master of Whispers. With Ser Arthur as Master of Laws, opening the Dornish Seat would give one kingdom too great of a voting block on the council which could cause unrest.”
“Your Hand is Western, Coin is Reacher, Ships is Stormlander, Laws and Whispers might be Dornish.” Lord Tyrion frowned. “Should we put a Northerner on the Council?”
“What if we made Lord Yohn Royce Master of Laws?” Margaery offered. “It would allow more Kingdoms to be represented on your council and the Royce’s are a First Man House which is not Northern but most Northerners are blood of First Men and it would pay homage to them.”
“House Royce has long been loyal,” Lord Tyrion agreed. “And elevating their Lord should soothe any feelings that might have been hurt by you placing your aunt over them rather than elevating House Royce into House Arryn’s place.”
“And he has two sons of age to fill in as Lord of Runestone in his absence.” Jon squinted at her. “Do you think the younger would join our Kingsguard?”
“Robar Royce?” she asked. “Mayhap. It would be an honorable place for a second son.”
“Some would argue joining the Kingsguard is less dangerous than joining the Night’s Watch,” was Lord Tyrion’s opinion. “And Bronze Yohn has already lost one son to the Watch with no objections.”
“Lost him twice,” Jon agreed looking melancholy. “Ser Waymar came back to Castle Black from a ranging beyond the Wall as a wight. I saw his body burned to ensure his second death after he was used in the attempt to murder Lord Commander Mormont.”
…There was nothing she could say to that, really. “Mayhap we should have a representative of the Night’s Watch on the Small Council?”
“We can say that is Uncle Aemon?” Jon offered. “I will send a raven with Lord Commander Mormont to confirm.
“What do you both think of rather than expecting lords to send support to the Night’s Watch, we increase taxes across the Realm and send the support of Westeros directly?”
“I think it is manageable as long as the increase is not too extreme,” Lord Tyrion agreed. “Your campaign with Maester Aemon to increase the reputation of the Watch in the south has been somewhat successful.”
“Several second and third sons have gone to the Wall to swear themselves of their own free will according to the letters I have gotten from Lord Commander Mormont,” Jon confirmed. “And the plan to employ Wildlings in the Gift to supply the Watch has been successful. The Watch has restored and reopened four new castles along the Wall—Sentinel Stand, Deep Lake, Oakenshield, and Rimegate. Your brother Ser Jaime has command of Deep Lake, Lord Tyrion. Lord Commander Mormont has agreed to my request to assign your nephew Tommen there after he has finished his training at the Citadel.”
“Good,” Tyrion seemed at a loss for what to say. “That is very good.”
“It is,” Jon agreed. “I know he had to be punished for his crimes but…I feel your brother has it in him to be a good man. I know he slayed my grandfather but he did so for good reason, and I would rather he prosper, if at all possible, in his exile. From all reports it seems that he is.
“Perhaps you should write to him to make sure?”
“I will,” Lord Tyrion confirmed with a small smile on his face. “Mayhap he will even be Lord Commander one day?”
“Of the Night’s Watch, certainly,” Jon agreed. “Deep Lake is the largest and strongest keep along the Wall. It was built to replace the Nightfort and being its commander named shows a great deal of trust in him on the part of Lord Commander Mormont.”
“That is a good sign,” Margaery added.
Jon walked the length of the Hall of the Hundred Hearths to reach the high table for breakfast. Everyone stood respectfully as he passed—he was their king through oath, even if there had been no coronation yet.
He was rather relieved that he was not required to wear a crown yet. He was not looking forward to it.
The Hall was hung with House banners. All of the Lord Paramount’s banners, including his aunt’s, which was a gold three-headed dragon on a field of blue to match her bonded dragon, Rhaeon and some from the lower Houses. His own banner was there behind the center seat at the high table—a dragon body with a single direwolf head in white with red eyes on black—along with the new banner for Royal House Targaryen. Adding a single gold crown to the center head on the old House Targaryen sigil had been a toddle for Sansa and the maids Lady Ellaria had employed at Dragonstone.
He would have to remind someone to send a raven to Dragonstone and have his banners sent to the Red Keep for display. Jon refrained from shaking his head to clear it and focused on the dais ahead of him.
The center seat at the high table had been left for him. Lady Margaery was standing at the seat that would be to his left and Aunt Daenerys at the one to his right. Uncle Maester Aemon stood on the other side of Aunt Daenerys from him and Lord Tyrion mirrored him on the other side of Margaery.
He took his seat with all the dignity he could muster. “Be seated.”
As the lords and ladies of the Realm began to obey, he nodded to Tyrion who signaled for serving to start.
The meal was simple but well made. And the atmosphere was lively, friendly. No one seemed concerned to have a Targaryen back on the Iron Throne, which he hoped was the result of his hard work and transparency in the five years since he became Crown Prince but he had to admit was probably—at least partially—because of the songs Margaery had had commissioned of his many deeds.
“My King,” Prince Oberyn stood to address him toward the end of the meal. “I have heard some idly wondering about why your mother would choose to give you the same name as your half-brother, my blood nephew.
“I have been told by yourself and your uncle, Lord Eddard Stark, that this was done not to disrespect my sister but rather in an attempt to save her son from his horrible fate. I would be in your debt if you would explain this to me.”
Which Jon mentally translated into assure these people that your mother was not a grasping harlot.
“There is no debt for the sharing of simple facts, uncle,” Jon answered evenly. “In the North, there was once a belief that a child had to be named before the sun transitioned—from night to day or from day to night—on the day of their birth. Naming would invite a soul into the body and secure a strong, healthy life for the infant.
“Now, that belief has largely fallen out of favor but the belief that the name influences the soul within the child remains. This is why there are so many Brandons within House Stark—Bran the Breaker, Bran the Shipwright, Bran the Burner, Brandon Ice Eyes. Even my uncle, Brandon Wild Wolf—these are all attempted to recall Bran the Builder or another beloved Brandon from the long list.
“As you know, uncle, my mother loved your sister before she ever loved my father. She admired Princess Elia greatly and they had intended to wed to become a true ruling trio before I was born.
“That plan was upset by my grandfather, King Aerys, keeping my second mother as hostage to ensure Dorne’s cooperation during Robert’s Rebellion. Then word came that my father, second mother, and siblings were all dead. The news sent my mother into an early labor that I was fortunate enough to survive though she was not.” Jon took a deep breath before he continued. “Lord Eddard found my mother with me as she lay dying. She insisted I be named Aegon Targaryen for my brother. In the attempt to save him in accordance with our Northern faith, as you have said.”
“Are you your brother?” Lord Edmure Tully stood to ask with a frown. “Or are you another Aegon? The Conqueror, mayhap? Or are you your own Aegon? My king?”
“I know not,” Jon admitted. “Several past Brandons have exhibited knowledge they could not explain in their lifetimes. That was why there are three Brans called the Builder within House Stark.
“My brother was very young when he died and no one left, save Maester Aemon,” Jon gestured at his uncle, “remember any of the previous Aegons. Additionally, there was another born not long after myself, who was called Aegon Targaryen upon his birth. He was a false claimant, and his father confessed the truth, but he was still born to the name and that is all the magic of naming requires.
“It is an interesting belief,” Lord Edmure said as he sat down.
“And a fairly common one, though most of our Houses cannot articulate it so clearly,” Uncle Oberyn agreed. “Afterall, our king is the seventh Aegon to be crowned. More than that have been born to House Targaryen over the years. And I know of a half dozen daughters named Nymeria without my own House. I am sure we can all speak of at least once of such an occurrence.”
There was a general murmur that sounded like agreement to Jon and he nodded. Uncle Oberyn bowed and returned to his seat.
“Before we adjourn and begin our days,” Jon called out, standing up to be seen. “We have a matter I wish to have settled publicly. If the knights of the Kingsguard would all step forward.”
All nineteen living Kingsguard stepped forward in their white armor and took a knee before the high table.
“Kingsguard vows are for life,” he told the room severely. “However, your vows were made to another king, in the name of another House. Therefore, I offer you something that has never been offered to another Kingsguard. If you do not wish to remain within the Brotherhood of White Cloaks, stand. You will be allowed to relinquish your white cloak without any censure or rancor and take back up the mantle of your House.”
After a few moments of silence, Ser Harlan Horpe stood. Jon nodded to him as he removed his white cloak. His uncle Lord Richard Horpe approached with a page bearing a cloak in his family colors. The page brought Ser Harlan’s white cloak to the high table and surrendered it to Lord Tyrion with all due dignity.
Ser Tommen Jast stood and a similar ceremony was engaged.
Ser Meryn Trant stood as well and Jon found he had to speak, “I am glad you can see sense, Ser Meryn.”
“My king?” the knight blinked owlishly up at him.
“You cannot think I do not know about your wife?” Jon frowned. “Or your three sons. I am certain your House will gain a better standing to be acknowledged at its true numbers.”
“But… my king… you never…” Ser Meryn stared at him, clearly at a loss.
“Your vows were to King Robert, not to me, and not to the Realm in general,” Jon explained patiently. “It was made clear to me that the business of keeping your oath was between yourself and King Robert. Had you given your vow to me my first act would have been to remand you to the Wall. As it stands, I suggest you abandon your mistress before she pressures you into marrying her. Only men of House Targaryen are allowed two wives and Lord Stannis is not as inclined toward the Wall as I am.”
Ser Meryn paled but nodded. “I will heed your words, my king.” Jon noted that he did not don the cloak of House Trant after his white cloak was returned but he did follow his lord-brother back to the table holding their family.
Lord Andren Trant looked furious and Jon would bet Ser Meryn would be riding for the Wall before the end of the day regardless—or mayhap because of Jon’s words.
Jon looked over the sixteen kneeling knights. Their focus and devotion was clearly his for the taking—but he had to ask. “Anyone else?
“No, my king,” they answered as one.
“Your oath,” he commanded.
His sixteen knights all stood, pulled their swords, and knelt once again, laying their swords at his feet. “My King commands, and now my watch begins. My first duty is to defend the King from harm or threat. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall live and die by the King’s commands. I will keep the King’s secrets, serve the King’s pleasure, and provide true council when asked. I shall defend the king’s name and all honor; all glory I claim shall be his. I will ward the King with all my strength. I will give my blood for his. I am the shield that guards the King of the Realm, from this day until my last day.”
“And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth, and meat and mead at my table,” Jon returned even though he knew it was not the custom with this oath. “And I pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you dishonor. I swear it by the Old Gods and the New.
“Ser Rolland Storm, arise and take your place at my right hand as Lord Commander of my Kingsguard.”
Ser Rolland stood and came to him.
“Ser Obara Sand, arise and take your place at the right hand of my heir as First Sword of my Kingsguard.”
Ser Obara stood and went to Aunt Daenerys.
“All of you, arise, Kingsguard of the reborn Royal House Targaryen.”
The remaining fourteen stood, stoic in the face of the crowd’s cheering. Jon could not have been more proud.
“How are you?” Jon asked his aunt as they took seats in his temporary solar.
“I am well, nephew,” she gave him a small smile. “I have made the decision you said you would require of me.”
“I will wed Lady Ashara. Her brother, Ser Arthur, has agreed to be the father of my children. We have agreed to create two more to ensure the continuation of House Targaryen of the Vale.”
“Good,” Jon nodded. “When will you marry?”
“As soon as you are available to stand at my side,” she answered immediately. “The paternity contract is ready for your review as well.”
“Good. I will review it this afternoon and you may marry tonight unless you prefer to do it in a sept. Finding the Septon that will send the correct message politically will take some time.”
“We would rather not wait,” she admitted. “Lady Ashara and I have discussed it and your heathen tree worshiping ways will suffice.”
Jon rolled his eyes. His aunt knew damn well it was not the trees Northerners worshipped but she still liked to tweak his nose. Honestly, few people were brave enough to tweak the nose of their king that he was not offended. At least she only did it in private.
“We will wed you tonight then, as long as all is prepared. If you would join Lady Margaery at my desk? I will send for Sansa and the three of you can confirm everything is in order before I announce your pending wedding at luncheon.”
“Thank you, my king,” she smiled softly, and he wondered if she had thought he would object.
He was fairly certain he had made it clear Lady Ashara was his preferred match for her a year ago, but mayhap he had not been explicit enough.
“I will be having meetings in here all day,” he told her as he escorted her back to his desk. “You three do your best to pretend you are not eavesdropping the entire time.”
Margaery and Daenerys gave him smiles that promised nothing of the sort. He vaguely regretted introducing them, but his aunt had had so little to smile about in her life that he found he could not work up an ill temper about it.
He opened the door to the hall and found his first meeting waiting for him as well as a few young pages.
“Fetch Lady Sansa,” he ordered the pages. “She is to consult with my aunt and my betrothed on a matter of state.”
“Yes, my king,” two of the boys agreed and scampered off in opposite directions. Two more moved to the bench by the door to await their turn to serve.
Jon signaled for Lord Tyrion, Lord Stannis, and the heir of Storm’s End Lady Shireen to join him. Tyrion placed himself on the tall chair Jon had had brought in for him to one side of the couches on which Jon and Stannis sat upon. Lady Shireen sat with her father.
“I would prefer to retain your services as Master of Ships,” Jon told Stannis bluntly, as was their way. “I know the position typically goes to House Velaryon but their Lord is weak. The bastard of the House only serves to strengthen the Faith’s opinions of baseborn, and the heir is entirely too young for consideration. You have done an exceptional job since your brother entrusted you the position and I see no reason to change something that works for sentiment.”
Stannis nodded once. “Agreed.”
“That said, if you would prefer to stand as my Master of Laws, that is open to you and I will find another lord in command of a port to take your place. I do not expect it to be easy—that is why I chose to have you for my first meeting.”
“Appreciated but unnecessary.”
“Concerns?” Jon pressed.
“My brother,” Lord Stannis asked immediately. “What is to be done with my brother’s body?”
“As he claimed the Iron Throne through the blood rights of your grandmother, Rhaelle of House Targaryen, he was cremated by House Targaryen and has been interred on Dragonstone as all Targaryen kings before him.”
Lord Stannis frowned. “My brother was a Baratheon. He should be returned to Storm’s End.”
“Would you rather he be known to history as King Robert the Rebellious or King Robert the Usurper?” Jon asked.
That drew Stannis up sharply. He considered it and blew out a breath. “King Robert the Rebellious.”
“In that case he must remain in Dragonstone as a Targaryen King,” Jon told him. “If we do not acknowledge his Targaryen blood first and foremost, he is a usurper. I believe it would be…kindest to his memory and everything he did for me for history to look back on him as just another Targaryen King. But he did kill my father and took his throne when he had committed no crimes.” Jon blew out a breath. “If we acknowledge Robert as a Baratheon King, we have to change the narrative to focus on that murder and how House Targaryen was broken and then remade.”
“It would be more honest,” Lady Shireen interjected.
“It would,” Jon agreed. “But it would also stain your house in a way that may never fade.”
“Is that not why I was betrothed to the cousin that was raised as your brother?”
“You were betrothed to the cousin that is my brother because he was young enough at the time that he could be raised to respect your authority and never try to usurp your place as Lord of Storm’s End.”
“But the betrothal can serve both purposes,” Lady Shireen countered.
“It can,” he agreed.
“I think you should return my uncle’s ashes to Storm’s End and record the more honest official history,” she concluded. “You do not have to include every detail, but I know that if I were born two hundred years from now, I would be vexed not to know the true history.”
“And there is enough idealization of our ancestors to be found at the Citadel,” Lord Stannis added bitterly. “There is no reason we should add to it.”
“I will consider it,” Jon promised. “How does the Citadel project fare?”
“Well, Ser Kevan Lannister took charge in my place so I could attend the Great Council. When I left, we estimated another year for all the books to be copied but he is doing an independent book census while I am gone to ensure nothing has been miss placed.”
“Good.” Jon felt some relief. He would be glad when all of the Realm’s knowledge was no longer solely in the grip of the Citadel at Oldtown.
“My father said you were making three copies of every book,” Lady Shireen started. “But only one copy is going to King’s Landing?”
“The other two copies are going to Summerhall for now,” Jon answered her oblique question. “We have erected stone buildings that are fire and waterproof to hold them until permanent structures at Moat Cailin and Summerhall can be completed for maesterly training.”
“That is wonderful.”
“Have you heard this talk of a Printing Press?” Lord Stannis asked.
“No?” Jon drawled.
“Your Samwell found the design of a device to aid in the copying of books,” Lord Stannis explained. “It is similar to how we press our seals into wax but using ink and metal letter blocks on pages. The type plates, he called them, can be used to print two pages at a time, greatly increasing the speed at which books are copied.”
“Much more clearly than handwritten books,” Lord Stannis confirmed. “He and his blacksmith companion have been fabricating the machine for the last six moons. They finally have a working prototype. The Conclave is discussing selling copies of their books for additional revenue.”
“I see no objection,” Jon admitted. “Making knowledge more readily available is the entire reason behind our Citadel Project. As long as their prices are not unreasonable.
“How long has the Citadel had the plans for this printing press and never shared it?”
“Long enough that it would infuriate you,” Lord Stannis offered, and Lady Shireen huffed her outraged agreement.
“I will order such a press created for each collegiate,” Jon told his cousin by law, mollifying her. “And women are now allowed to study at the collegiate, you would have a home in King’s Landing should you decided to study at the Archive. I cannot endorse you taking the Maester’s Oaths, however.”
“No, I rather look forward to expanding House Baratheon,” Lady Shireen agreed. “To that end, have you considered legitimizing any of Uncle Robert’s bastards?”
“I have,” he admitted. “But I am reluctant for they might attempt to challenge my rule. Or be used by others to challenge my rule. They could also be used to challenge your rule and that is also unacceptable.”
“No one can challenge a Targaryen that rides a dragon!” Lady Shireen protested.
“And yet, they have before.” Jon sighed but he allowed himself to relent. “If you and your father find one of King Robert’s bastards that you would like to have as a younger brother that will swear in writing that he will challenge neither of us, I am willing to entertain the petition.”
“And a sister?” Lady Shireen pressed.
“Younger than you,” Jon agreed. “One that will not take your place in the succession of Storm’s End.”
“Thank you, cousin,” Shireen smiled.
“You are most welcome.”
“Who is the Stark in Winterfell?” Jon asked. He did not bother pushing anyone to sit down as he did not expect his meeting with his uncle to take long.
“Your uncle, Benjen,” Uncle Eddard answered. “He was injured by a spooked horse some time ago at Castle Black. He has always been a terrible patient, just like the rest of you, so the Watch’s Maesters banished him to Winterfell for recovery. Maester Luwin is well aware of how to deal with Starks, after all.”
Jon smirked. No one was a worse patient than Arya…other than Uncle Eddard himself, of course.
“Benjen is about recovered enough to return to duty but I asked Jeor to allow him an extension. He is guarding Winterfell, Cregan, and Lyarra in my name until I return.”
“Good.” Jon nodded. “Do you wish to still be my Warden of the North?”
“It would be my honor, my king.”
“I have a delicate balance to strike with the other Wardens,” Jon told his uncle. “One between pride and ability. I would like you to name a proxy and consider sending your proxy in your name the first time I have to call my banners.”
“Lord Willas?” Uncle Eddard asked. “His knee injury must make riding difficult.”
“And Prince Doran,” Jon agreed.
“Robb will be my proxy,” Lord Eddard decided. “He will be standing as the temporary Lord of Moat Cailin upon our return North and he will be faster to respond, should you call for aid.”
“Good. What of his betrothal to Ser Loras?”
“Lord Willas and I signed the contract last night. We also agreed Lady Elinor Tyrell will serve as the mother for Robb’s heirs. She and her two young Storms will return to Moat Cailin with Robb and his husband once they wed.”
“Godswood or Sept?” Jon wondered.
“Godswood. The Warden of the North must be wed in a godswood and the Faith has no ceremony for two men.”
Jon decided that was fair enough. “We already have a wedding in the godswood for this evening but Robb and Loras could wed on the morrow?”
Lord Eddard glanced to his son who nodded. “I can agree to that.”
“I will see the Tyrells next, if you want me to bring it up to them?” Jon offered.
“That would be fine, Your Grace.
Margaery joined her brothers and grandmother for the next meeting while Sansa and his aunt left to arrange the wedding feast for that evening and the following one.
“My King,” Lord Willas gave him a small smile as he sat at Jon’s gesture. “How may House Tyrell serve the Realm?”
“A few things.” Jon sighed. “They will go more quickly if I am allowed to use Northern directness without worrying about Southron manners.”
“My siblings Loras and Margaery have spoken to me of the charm of Northern directness. Consider me prepared for my own taste of such a treat,” Lord Willas agreed.
“You are not going to be Warden of the South,” he told them bluntly, gaining him a shocked gasp even from Margaery. “Wardenships were given long before Dorne joined the Seven Kingdoms but they have been our ally for over a hundred years, and I feel it is past time to correct this. That said, I have also decided it is time to spread out titles of power within these lands. One man with too many causes a great strain on the individual—just look at Tywin Lannister, who lost his head and murdered a queen when something unexpected upset him.”
“Meaning…?” Lord Willas drawled.
“Meaning no man on the Small Council will also be a Warden. You will not be Warden of the South, but you will be Warden of the West.”
Margaery smiled at him as Willas and his twin Garlan both relaxed.
“I have also decided that every Warden will be allowed an official proxy—whether the proxy serves because the Warden determines a greater need to stay in his keep such as Lord Eddard deciding to remain as the Stark in Winterfell or because of a lack of physical ability to fulfil the duties such as Prince Doran with his gout.”
“Your Aunt for her…lack of ability?”
“I think you will be surprised by just how able my aunt truly is,” Jon cautioned the man. “But she will have a proxy as well. She has chosen him, but he is completing some business and will not return to Westeros until the coronation.”
Willas looked over his brothers for a moment before he nodded. “I would name my brother Ser Garlan as my proxy.”
“Very well,” Jon agreed. “We will have a meeting among the Wardens within the week.”
Jon regarded the man for a moment and considered offering him the Master of Coin position but decided to stay with his original choice of Lady Ellaria instead. Margaery had complained about a lack of women on their Small Council before she had suggested her brother for a seat. He was certain she would understand.
“Do you have any concerns regarding the wedding?” Jon asked. “I can offer you the godswood tomorrow for Lord Robb and Ser Loras.”
Margaery left her brother’s couch and joined Jon on his. Hopefully, this would not take too long.
“Would you be willing to stand with your…cousin beneath the tree?” Lord Willas asked. “It is quite a risk wedding my brother to a man, having the open support of the king would be beneficial.”
“Of course,” Jon agreed. “My own aunt will wed a Lady this very evening.”
Prince Oberyn was grinning when he pushed his brother’s wheeled chair into Jon’s solar.
“Your Grace, we have heard this talk of Wardens and Proxies,” Prince Doran said once everyone was settled in with wine and some refreshment. “We have also heard that Lord Willas is not Warden of the South.”
“Your spymaster is very good.” Jon shot Oberyn a glare. The man did not bother to look repentant. “I intend to make you my Warden of the South. Who is your proxy?”
“My brother Oberyn, of course. Though mayhap someday my son Trystane will be ready to take his place.”
“There is no reason he could not shadow his uncle the next time I call my banners.”
Prince Doran set that full razor-sharp focus upon him. “And when will that be?”
“That will be something we discuss at the Warden Meeting I intend to have at luncheon tomorrow,” Jon deflected. “Are there any problems in Dorne? With my sister’s betrothal to your son?”
“Less, now that your dragon blood has been revealed.”
“I hope you were not too disturbed when Oberyn warned you of my secret,” Jon offered.
“Disturbed? No. I cannot blame you for telling so few while Robert Baratheon yet lived. The slightest whisper could have ended your life… Irritated I did not realize it for myself, mayhap.”
Jon…did not get that. “How would you have realized it for yourself?”
“The only people Oberyn has ever showed the level of concern he has for you are his family. Our dear sister chief among them. I should have thought it through.”
“I am rather glad you did not,” Prince Oberyn teased his older brother.
“I must admit I am as well,” Jon admitted. “I hope taking up the Wardenship on my behalf will soothe any hurt feelings between us.”
“I am no child to be placated,” Prince Doran scowled.
“Then you will not mind when I make Lady Ellaria my Master of Coin.”
Lady Ellaria gave him a rather charming look of surprise.
“Ellaria Sand?” Prince Doran and Prince Oberyn verified together.
“The very one. I told you I was taking her to Dragonstone to test her for her future placement as Master of Coin. Did you think she had failed?”
“I thought it was a…distraction from her true purpose of training your aunt to be a Westerosi noble,” Prince Oberyn admitted.
“So did I,” Lady Ellaria agreed.
“If you do not want it…”
“I did not say that,” Lady Ellaria said sharply. “I am pleased to be offered a position on your Small Council, brother. For us and all of our passion-borne brothers and sisters. Further I am pleased to not be offered Master of Whispers.”
“It seems rather…hateful,” Jon admitted, returning mentally to what Ser Marq had said so many years ago. “To allow women on my Council only to fight the war of whispers when so many are talented in any number of ways.”
“In that case, I accept your offer, Your Grace,” Lady Ellaria said with a seated bow from the neck.
“I have an offer for you,” Prince Oberyn interjected, looking not at Jon but at Margaery.
Margaery blinked at him in surprise. “You do?”
“I do,” Prince Oberyn confirmed. “Should you decide you need assistance managing my nephew here, I offer you my daughter Tyene’s hand in marriage. She is fond of you both and would make a Princess-Consort suitable for any dragon queen.”
“I am not that difficult,” Jon protested. Surely Margaery would not—
His betrothed shot him a peevish look that he hoped was playful and nodded to Prince Oberyn. “Have her attend our wedding and I shall consider your offer.”
“As I have told those I have already met with,” Jon addressed the assembled lords and ladies before luncheon was served. “I believe it wise to spread to power base in our lands. One man or woman holding too many positions leads to chaos and strife in the event of an untimely death and excessive strain upon a single person’s shoulders.
“To that end, no member of my Small Council will stand as a Warden. And Wardens will not serve on the Small Council. As well, every person serving as Warden or upon my Small Council will have a second to serve as their proxy should their attentions be divided among their many responsibilities.
“As of this day, the Wardens of Westeros are:
“Warden of the North, Lord Eddard Stark.” His uncle stood and nodded at the applause he received. “His proxy is his heir and acting Lord of Moat Cailin, Lord Robb Stark.” He brother stood and nodded as well.
“Warden of the West, Lord Willas Tyrell.” His future goodbrother stood and gave a shallow bow. “His proxy, Ser Garlan Tyrell.” His other future goodbrother also stood and mimicked his twin. The only difference between them was the brace on one of Lord Willas’s legs and the number of large golden roses embroidered on their green doublets—one for Willas, two for Garlan.
“Warden of the South, Prince Doran Nymeros Martell.” Prince Doran pushed himself to his feet using his cane and inclined his head at the applause. The Dornish contingent was, of course, pleased at their Prince being recognized. The rest of Westeros was cautious. The North was not the only place that remembered the more than a hundred years of Dornish Wars. “His proxy, Prince Oberyn Nymeros Martell.”
Prince Oberyn of course bowed with a flourish like the foppish showman he pretended to be.
“And Warden of the East, my aunt and heir, Princess Daenerys Targaryen.” Aunt Daenerys stood but kept her head high, neither bowing nor nodding as her male counterparts had before her. “Her proxy, Ser Arthur Dayne.”
The man in question, of course, did not stand as he was in Essos, but Jon was amused by the faces of shock around him.
The hall fell into bedlam. Everyone had questions. Those that had answers had been instructed not to give them.
His aunt shot him an amused look at she sat down.
They had discussed using Bronze Yohn Royce as her proxy, but he would not have held the position for long, assuming he accepted to place Jon would offer him as Master of Laws, and Jon did not wish for the proud Lord Royce to feel played for a fool for Jon’s amusement.
He was not prepared to give away their Essosi secrets yet. Not all of them. But Lady Ashara’s survival would be given away this evening when she came out of hiding to wed his aunt. Aunt Daenerys had felt, and Jon had agreed, that mentioning Ser Arthur’s survival and future in Westeros would set the stage for Lady Ashara and herself.
Jon held up a hand and waited for the Hall to quiet down. When they did, he spoke again, “It is my honor to announce that my Aunt will be marrying in the godswood before the evening meal.” Jon held up his glass in a toast.
Many confused but obedient lords and ladies raised their glasses with him.
“I am sure I am not alone in wishing my aunt and her betrothed all happiness and a fruitful marriage.”
“The Marriage Law of 303 has officially passed.” King Jon brought the small gavel down signaling the finality of his judgement. “In all Seven Kingdoms, marriage is now defined as a bond sealed with vows said before the gods between two willing adults. The specification of one man and one woman is hereby stricken. All institutions that receive funds from the Realm or any person within the Realm will fulfill this service or they will lose their tax-exempt status.”
Oberyn smirked as Jon glared down at the Septon seated in the second line of tables. He was the highest ranking Septon to survive the Burnings and he had never given into the lush decadence of his predecessors, but he had vehemently protested his nephew’s new marriage law.
Oberyn had the feeling the man was going to regret gaining Jon’s ire in the years to come.
“Does anyone have any other business to bring before the Court?” Jon asked, making a show of surveying the tables.
They were in the Hall of the Hundred Hearths. For the court, the tables had been arranged into concentric horseshoes. The inner most ‘u’ held Jon’s personal maester, Maester Samwell, and two other royal scribes. The second line held three ranking septons, a Green Man, and a handful of archmaesters—many of whom were also acting as scribes for the historic first Court of His Grace King Aegon VII Targaryen. The line beyond that where the Lords Paramounts, each with two guests. The furthest out tables were for the significant houses in each kingdom with the minor lords and knights standing beyond them.
“Very well,” Jon stood and stepped away from the small dais his temporary throne had been placed upon. “It is time for the naming of the Small Council.
“First, my soon-to-be queen, Lady Margaery Tyrell, will be joining my council as my ancestress the Good Queen Alysanne did for her husband, Jaehaerys the Wise.” King Jon held out his hand and Lady Margaery left her place on the dais to stand with him and take it. She gave the gathering a brief curtsey and was giving a boisterous round of applause in return.
“My Hand is and will remain Lord Tyrion Lannister.” Lord Tyrion stood from his place on the third row of tables and joined King Jon and Lady Margaery on the dais.
“Master of Laws, Lord Yohn Royce.” The Vale Lords nearly exploded with applause as Bronze Yohn stood from his place and joined his king and the rest of the council.
“Master of Ships, Stannis Baratheon. Master of Coin, Lady Ellaria Sand.” Oberyn felt fit to burst with pride as his lover left the last line of tables and made her way to the dais where she would be honored and recognized as the strong and clever woman she was.
“Master of Whispers, Lady Sansa Stark.” Oberyn was surprised when the fiery maid joined the dais. Last he understood, Jon had wanted his uncle Lewyn for his Master of Whispers…but his uncle had not returned to Westeros yet. Nor had he set foot on the continent in over twenty years. And he was one of the commanders of the Golden Company. Giving Lewyn time to return and find his feet—and grow his spy networks—made sense.
Lady Sansa had been trained by the Queen of Thorns herself off and on for years. She would be able to take up Lady Olenna’s work most easily.
“The Lord Commander of my Kingsguard, Ser Rolland Storm. And last but not least, Maester Edam will retain his position of Grand Maester.”
Oberyn looked at the line of the Small Council with a surprising amount of interest. Three women and two bastards stood shoulder to shoulder with the King of Westeros. And, of course, many still regarded Jon as a former bastard himself despite the proof that he was never baseborn and that was nothing more than a lie to keep him safe from the Usurper.
Mayhap it was time the specifics of Jon’s birth were slipped into common knowledge, Oberyn mused. He would need to discuss the matter with a Stark or two.
“My king!” An aged voice called wildly. “My king!”
With everyone else, Oberyn turned to see an elderly maester making his way to King Jon with a strange, almost jumping, high footed gate.
“My king, a raven,” the elderly Maester of Harrenhal held out a small scroll. “It is most dire.”
Lord Commander Storm took the scroll, ran bare fingers over it to test for poison, and handed the missive to the king when he survived. King Jon read the missive with an impassive face but Oberyn could see he it was making his furious in the minute tensing of his shoulders.
“If you will excuse us, my lords and ladies, the matter is indeed most urgent,” Jon said as he waved a dismissal at the waiting maester. “If my Small Council and Martell uncles would join me in my solar? My Aunt Daenerys and Theon Greyjoy, as well.”
Jon immediately escorted Lady Margaery from the room, surrounded by Kingsguard and council members. Oberyn took the handles to his brother’s chair personally as they followed.
When everyone called for had entered the solar save Lord Theon, Jon turned to face Doran. “You were right,” he told his prince.
His brother Doran merely nodded. He did not look pleased to be correct about whatever the matter was.
“Lord Stannis, Lady Ellaria?” King Jon called.
“Yes?” they both answered, stepping forward a little.
“Plan: Iron Harbor is now in effect.”
“Already?” Ellaria asked, sounding surprised.
“They were never going to survive my reign,” Jon shrugged. “My predecessors may have been content to ignore that thralls are slaves, but I cannot. And there is no reason to waste the opportunity Balon Greyjoy has given us.”
“What has he done?” Lord Tyrion asked.
Jon passed his Hand the scroll. “Balon Greyjoy has declared himself King of the Isles and the North. His forces have burned several villages along the Stoney Shore and attacked Moat Cailin but were thrown back. First Ranger Benjen Stark is the one the wrote us, he is leading the defense of the North.”
“And what are you going to do?” the Imp asked cautiously.
“I am going to force the Ironborn to retreat under threat of dragon flame. Then I am going to turn Pyke into slag and disband the Iron Islands. They will no longer exist as anything other than the Iron Shipyard. I will free the thralls, see all salt wives returned to their true homes if that is their desire, and give the Iron Lords a choice. They will join and blend with the Royal Navy or they will build my ships.”
“And if they refuse?” Margaery asked.
“The Wall or beheading,” Jon answered promptly. “They are slavers and rapists. I am being generous.”
“Aye,” she agreed.
“Do we need so large a navy that we require a dedicated shipyard?” Lord Tyrion asked. “Several islands worth of shipyard?”
“If we are going to take and keep the Step Stones, yes.”
“We are going to take the Step Stones?” Lord Tyrion asked.
King Jon ignored him. “Dany, prepare nuncle, we fly after lunch and it will not be an easy journey. We will need at least a week’s worth of food for four men.”
“Of course, nephew,” she curtsied and at Jon’s wave, left the room at a trot.
“Margaery, I would appreciate it if you sent out the invitations and completed the plans for the coronation and wedding. Yes, there will be a tourney. You decide the purses and events, but I want there to be a War for the White Cloaks. I need to round out the rest of my Kingsguard—make it clear that men and women are welcome to compete.”
“Mayhaps multiple rounds by random draw?” Margaery frowned but nodded. “I will take care of it, Jon. Will you return in three moons?”
“I should. Continue the meetings with lords with as much of the Small Council with you as you can. If I do not return in a moon and a half, you will need to lead the procession back to King’s Landing.”
“I will, Jon,” she promised. “We are getting married in four moons. Do not dare be late.”
“I would not dream of it.” Jon smiled at his betrothed.
“Lady Sansa, if you would reach out to Dragonstone for the sigil you had made? I would like to see my banners flying over my keep when I get there.”
“Of course,” Lady Sansa agreed immediately.
“You will need to push forward on Iron Harbor alone, Lady Ellaria. I am taking Lord Stannis with me.”
“As you will,” his love agreed. “All is prepared, my king. I simply need to pay for the first shipments and choose the date.”
“A moon,” Jon told her. “Or as close to it as the lords in question can manage.”
Ellaria nodded once decisively.
“Lord Stannis, Prince Oberyn, you are both coming with me.” Oberyn found himself signaling his agreement with Stannis Baratheon.
If six years ago someone had told him he would be not only on the same side but working with a Baratheon, he would have laughed and checked the immediate area for hallucinogenic substances, but that was the quality of king his nephew was. King Jon was a man that brought old enemies together and got them pulling in tandem as if they were born to share the harness.
“Concerns?” Jon asked.
“A member of the Kingsguard needs to go with you, my king,” Lord Commander Storm said.
“I will be on a dragon.” King Jon very nearly rolled his eyes. “And none of the Kingsguard have enough dragonblood to be tolerated by a dragon even with the dragon’s bonded on their back. Prince Oberyn and Lord Stannis both have Targaryen forebearers.”
Lord Commander Storm sighed. “We will have to correct that.”
“Good luck,” Jon said with some amusement. “Neither of my uncles would allow any harm to come to me but I will take Ghost with me, if that will ease you.”
“Very well,” Jon acquiesced. “Lord Commander, if you would send Greyjoy in. The rest of you are dismissed except for Prince Oberyn and Lord Tyrion.”
Lady Sansa took the handles of his brother’s chair before Oberyn could protest that he needed to wheel his brother out. The little fire serpent she had bonded to the last time she was in Dorne seemed to be laughing at him from where she was wrapped around Lady Sansa’s neck, but he was not pouting about separating from his brother with no time to conspire. He was not. Honestly.
“Jon?” Theon Greyjoy asked, looking uncertain. “I mean, my king?”
“Theon,” Jon waved the other young man over to his desk. “Balon Greyjoy has declared himself King of the Isles and the North.” Greyjoy fell into a chair as if he were a puppet with his strings suddenly cut. “The Ironborn have burned four villages on the Stoney Shore to the ground and tried to raid Moat Cailin.”
Greyjoy gave a high, hysterical laugh. “I am dead.” He laughed again. It was…a disturbing sound. “I am already dead. Lord Stark—He swore—His honor…”
Jon came around his desk as sat next to the hostage that he had been raised with. “We know well enough how fiercely Lord Stark clings to his honor. I cannot release him from his vow to Robert Baratheon and you know why, but the does not mean I wish to stand by and watch as our father is forced to take your head.”
Greyjoy’s head whipped around, and he stared at King Jon with wide eyes. There were tears, shining and obvious in the lad’s eyes, just on the edge of falling. “What else can we do?”
“Father vowed, specifically, to take the head of Theon Greyjoy should his father rebuild his fleet and raid Westeros again.
Lord Theon blinked, causing one tear to fall. “What…do you mean?”
“If you give up all claim to the Iron Islands—if you renounce your father, his name, and any inheritance you might gain from him—that could allow you the time necessary to reach the Night’s Watch safely. As long as you do not abandon your oath, our father will never be forced to take your head.”
“Give up everything,” Lord Theon said like he was trying it on for size. “Leave my father behind. Become a Pyke?”
“Or a Snow,” King Jon offered. “I promise you; Snow is not a bad name to carry.”
Making the boy symbolically, at least, Lord Eddard’s bastard, further leaving his Ironborn lineage behind. “Was not there a Stark Lord named Theon?” Oberyn could not help but ask.
“A king,” Jon corrected.
“The Hungry Wolf,” Lord Theon agreed.
“The Night’s Watch has gotten quite prestigious these last five years,” Lord Tyrion offered, supporting his king’s efforts as any good Hand should. “You could rule your own keep or have your own ship. The Night’s Watch trades extensively with Braavos.”
“But no wife,” Lord Theon said lowly.
“Did you actually want one?” King Jon asked.
Greyjoy shrugged. Oberyn did not know his well enough to know if it was agreement or just a response to show he had heard.
“What do you say?”
“I…how can you be sure I will make it to the Wall?” Theon asked. “I have to ride through half the Riverlands and all of the North to get there.”
“I will send two Kingsguard with you,” Jon promised. “And I will keep Lord Stark in a meeting with me while you leave. You can write him from the Wall to say goodbye.”
“Okay,” Theon agreed.
He and Jon stood together, and Theon Greyjoy took a knee.
“My king, I implore you, release me from the burdens of my family name and inheritance. It is my wish to become a true man of the North and join the Night’s Watch.”
“Very well,” Jon rested a hand on his almost-brother’s shoulder. “Rise, Ser Theon Snow, future man of the Night’s Watch.”
“Heard and witnessed,” Lord Tyrion called out.
Suddenly, Oberyn understood why he had been asked to stay. “Heard and witnessed,” he repeated.
“Thank you, my lord, my prince,” Ser Theon stood. “My king.”
“Very well. Allow me to arrange your escort with Lord Commander Storm,” Jon said. “And send a page for Lord Stark. When I return, you will leave. I cannot promise you more than an hour to gather your things.”
“I will make it work,” the new Ser Snow promised.
Jon nodded and made for the door.
Oberyn studied the newly dubbed Snow and wondered if he was actually going to head for the Wall. He decided Ser Snow would. And not because of his Kingsguard escort but because he truly was Ned Stark’s son where it counted.
“Good luck, Ser Theon.” Oberyn held out a hand.
Ser Theon blinked at him a little dumbly but took the hand and shook it. “Thank you.”
“I am sure you have made the best possible choice,” Lord Tyrion added, holding out his hand.
Ser Theon shook his hand as well. “I made the choice I could live with,” he joked weakly.
Oberyn and Tyrion gave him the smiles the attempt deserved.
“Time to go, Theon,” Jon said as he came back. “Ser Brienne of Tarth, Ser Preston Greenfield, and Ser Arys Oakheart.”
“That was three Kingsguard?” Theon asked.
“Ser Preston will be remaining at the Wall with you,” King Jon said darkly. “I hope you do not mind escorting him on my behalf. He has taken a draper’s wife as his paramour and she recently gave him a son.”
Making him an oathbreaker, Oberyn realized. “And he still took the Kingsguard Vow despite your offer to release him?”
Jon sighed. “Perhaps he thought I did not know of her because I did not say anything before he took his oath. Regardless, he is an oathbreaker and he has chosen the Wall over death. Theon, will you see that he gets there?”
“I would be honored, my king,” Ser Theon agreed and turned to leave. Then he stopped and looked by at Oberyn’s nephew. “Jon? Thank you.”
“You are welcome.” Jon gave him a small smile. “Brother.”
“Her name is Aerionys,” Jon was saying the next time Oberyn caught up with him. He was standing close enough to Lady Margaery that—betrothed or not—he would get told off for it by the first relative to find her.
If he was not the king, of course.
Jon gently took his betrothed’s hand and placed it on the dragon’s upper lip. “Her name was Aerion but then she laid an egg and we realized she was a she.”
Lady Margaery laughed gently with his nephew, not at him like many so-called Southron Roses would have for the admission of ignorance. “You could not tell? Before she laid an egg?”
“There are no outward signs of gender on a dragon.”
“Dragons do not suckle,” Oberyn told his future goodniece. “They are born with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, ready to eat meat.”
“Well, fish,” Jon corrected. “Aerionys has a special fondness for squid, the bigger the better.”
Lady Margaery wrinkled her nose. “Ew.”
Jon and Oberyn laughed.
Oberyn noted his nephew was wearing mostly leather armor with a Northern style gorget of hammered bronze bearing the dragon of House Targaryen and shiny silver pauldrons… it was not the most kingly image Oberyn had ever seen. It certainly was not the most Targaryen look he had ever seen despite Jon openly carrying Dark Sister as he always had.
He glanced over and saw Stannis Baratheon regarding their shared nephew as well. There was concern in his blue eyes when they looked at each other in silent agreement. They were going to have to fix this.
“Lord Stannis, Prince Oberyn.” Jon nodded to them, leading his lady away from his dragon. “Are you prepared?”
“We are,” they agreed together.
“Very well. Lord Stannis, if you would ride with Uncle Aemon. Prince Oberyn, you will start off with me. Nuncle, we will trade off passengers everyday unless the dragons form a preference.”
“Of course, young one,” the aged maester replied. He had surrendered the long robe of his order for some well-made leather pants and a silvered cuirass.
Oberyn noticed that the man’s usually unfocused purple eyes were misted over white. As he watched, Maester Aemon swarmed up his dragon’s saddle harness not quite like a squirrel but more readily than any other blind man in his ninth decade Oberyn had ever met.
“Nuncle can share Viserion’s vision,” Jon explained to Lord Stannis in a low voice.
The Storm Lord raised a surprised eyebrow and nodded before going over to the other dragon.
“How do we do this?” Oberyn asked.
“Always allow the bonded rider to mount first,” Jon said as he took a hold of a leather grip hidden in the chain-and-leather saddle strap. “Once I am seated and sure she will accept you, I will signal for you to come up.”
Well aware that dragons had a history of throwing riders they were not bonded to from great height, Oberyn agreed.
Riding a dragon was surprisingly comfortable. And surprisingly warm. When he had thought about it, Oberyn had imagined that flying high in the sky would be cold as swimming in deep water—the proven masterly theory of as above, so below—and it was but the dragons put off so much heat he was able to forego a jacket completely.
And then, on Aerionys there was Ghost as well, wearing a harness that secured him to one of the shedragon’s neck spikes just behind the saddle. The direwolf gave everything an additional layer of warmth, making Viserion his preferred dragon to ride on if one did not wish to suffer for their armor.
Unfortunately, Viserion preferred Stannis fucking Baratheon.
It took them a day to reach the middle of the Westerlands from Harrenhal. And a second to go from the Westerlands to the Stony Shore of the North.
The burned-out villages were easy to see from the sky. So were the bonfires the Northmen used to send the dead and defiled to their rest.
The Ironborn presence was not easy to see.
At Jon’s behest they continued up the coast. At Sea Dragon Point, they find a pair of Ironborn ships at anchor. On the Point, there are Ironborn trying to reinforce one of the First Men ruins for a holdfast while Northerners cut down trees. The Northerners were in chains and clearly being mistreated. The Ironborn had made them into thralls, into slaves.
“They are logging?” Jon said, outraged.
“Tall, straight pines cover this land,” Oberyn observed. “Ideal for building ships.”
Jon growled. “Fly to Deepwood Motte!” his nephew shouted to Maester Aemon. “Tell them the Ironborn are here. Have them send a repelling force!”
Maester Aemon held up a fist to signal his agreement and his dragon veered off.
It was not the first time they had shouted at each other to communicate between the dragons. Oberyn still was not sure if they could actually hear each other over the wind and the distance or if the dragons heard their words and passed the information between them to their riders.
“Ships first? Or the fort first?” Jon asked, almost sounding amused.
“The fort,” Oberyn decided. “They might kill the captives if we strand them, and there is no reason to waste good boats. The North could claim them easily enough.”
“The fort it is,” Jon agreed.
It was a rush, riding a flaming dragon. Mostly because she dove quickly and at an angle to hit her target but also because he could not smell what was burning.
He hated the smell of burning hair with a passion matched by few other things in life.
Oberyn could see that burning Ironborn encampment left Jon frowning severely. “You did not enjoy that?” He had to ask
Jon huffed in irritation. “Part of me feels as though this should feel like justice. Ironborn are slavers and rapists. Oathbreakers, kinslayers, murderers, and thieves…but it did not. It felt cruel, unreasonable, to strike men down when they had no chance to fight back.”
Oberyn considered that. Part of him was glad—glad that Jon was showing himself so different from his grandfather. The last Targaryen king to sit on the Iron Throne had been mad and cruel with it. He would have loved nothing more than to sit a dragon and flame his enemies until all of Westeros was a smoking ruin.
…But these were Ironborn. Every advantage that could be had over them had to be taken because they would certainly do the same. Any weakness, no matter how it was perceived but the owner of that weakness, could be the death of them all.
“They are Ironborn,” he reminded his nephew. “They have more than earned their fates. This is justice. It only seems cruel because they have not been properly punished in the history of the Iron Throne.”
Jon made a sound of disagreement. “Their fleets were torn asunder in the Greyjoy Rebellion. The heir of House Greyjoy was stolen and raised far from his people.”
“And yet they did nothing to get him back. In fact, they have clearly rebuilt their fleet despite the fact that doing so would cost their heir his life. This is not some strike back for freedoms unjustly stolen. This is an attempt to subvert your Throne. They want to take and destroy a much of Westeros as they can. You must make an example of them. A better one than Robert Baratheon managed.”
“A harsh but not unreasonable one,” Jon agreed. Then he shrugged. “Plan Iron Harbor requires it.”
“What is Iron Harbor?” Oberyn said, blatantly giving up on figuring it out for himself.
“I am going to turn the Iron Islands into our shipyard to expand the Royal Fleet. Once we have enough ships, we are taking back the Step Stones for my cousin Aegon Blackfyre.” Jon tipped his head to one side. “Then I figure we will keep going and let you truly earn the moniker your Unbroken gave you.”
“The Breaker of Chains,” Oberyn could not help but feel amused. It was a good name, but he had not had to fight for it which sat poorly on him. “You mean to take on the Free Cities?”
“Tyrosh for true,” Jon agreed. “The city is practically one of the Step Stones.”
“And Lys,” Oberyn agreed. That city was on an island and might have actually been part of the Arm of Dorne before it was broken into the Step Stones.
Jon nodded his agreement. “We can let Braavos have Pentos and Myr. We need something to negotiate with to gain their cooperation with a dragonlord over their fellow Essosi but I do not want them to know I do not mind them having the two cities as long as their slave economies are ended. It would ruin their value in negotiations.”
“Ending slavery has been a dream of Braavos since before it was built.” Oberyn was amused with his clever, cunning nephew. “You are certain this will not turn into another Dornish War?”
Jon made a dismissive noise. Clearly, he did not see the possibility of this turning into an impossible task. “That is why we need Braavos.
“And we need to figure out what we will replace their slave economies with. How to make it an economy based on freed persons. The security of…not business as usual but keeping everyone housed and fed, and now paid, will keep the Free Cities from revolting and reverting.”
“We will need strong, stubborn, cunning people to manage the cities,” Oberyn said with a frown. “Ones with wise and powerful bodyguards.”
“And armies,” Jon agreed. “Many armies. But we have had the longest summer in known history. Our population has never been so large. Lord Manderly did a Realm-wide census. Most lords are like you, or Uncle Ned, five or more children, and the small folk have reproduced even more prolifically. If we do not give them something to do soon, there will be problems. There is only so much land and so many holdfasts Westeros can support.”
Oberyn could see the wisdom in that. “Send me and Ellaria to negotiate with Braavos for you. We will get it done how you want. And perhaps even keep Myr for you.”
Jon chuckled. “I do not want Myr or Pentos or any of them. I would just rather the war that is coming one way or another to not happen on Westerosi soil.”
“Why are we still up here?” Oberyn asked.
“Deepwood Motte is the closest keep that can render aid and it is over fifty leagues from here,” Jon explained. “It will be days before Lord Glover and his men get here. I want to be sure there are no more Ironborn surprises before we leave to drive off the rest of the raiding parties.”
“Your Uncle Benjen does not have men out here?”
“Not that Uncle Eddard knew of,” Jon sighed. And of course, he did. Even with the use of ravens, whatever information they had was at least a few days old. “If he does, Viserion will find them.”
Oberyn had to agree with that. The dragons had both proven themselves more intelligent than most men. They were also more steady in temper than most men, which Oberyn could not remember being the case in the Targaryen dragons of old. Perhaps it was one of the ways the dragon was supposed to reflect the rider.
Which meant House Targaryen had been mentally unstable for longer than Dorne had been part of the Seven Kingdoms.
No wonder dragons had stopped hatching for the Blood of the Dragon.
Aerionys gave a bit of a roll and Jon raised his fist at the Northmen on the ground. Even at their height—perhaps as high as the walls of Winterfell—Oberyn could hear their cheers for the new Dragon King.
“Let us seek out those rebellious Ironmen,” Jon said in grim determination.
“Let us,” Oberyn agreed.
They had to burn two ships while much of their crews were raiding the Northern shore, stranding them there to face Northern Justice on his uncle’s blade because their Captains had refused to bend to his will and return to the Iron Islands. The other ships in the raiding party had the sense to immediately sail for home.
They did have to burn a third when it made to escape toward the Riverlands, teaching the Ironborn that just because they could not see the dragon, did not mean it was not watching.
When the Unbroken and Westerlands ships that had come to support them militarily had surrounded their collection to escort them back to the Iron Islands, Oberyn breathed easier. They were flying a large perimeter around the convoy when Oberyn saw something that made his blood go cold.
It was a ship, alone, with a red hull and a single mast baring black sails.
“Go up,” Oberyn urged his nephew. “Into the clouds, before we are seen.”
Jon shot him a queer look but Aerionys ascended quickly enough for Oberyn to relax a little.
“What was that?” Jon demanded.
“The Silence,” Oberyn told him. “Euron Greyjoy’s ship.”
“Balon Greyjoy’s mad brother?” Jon asked, looking a little pale. “A sorcerer, bloodmage.”
“So the rumors say,” Oberyn agreed grimly.
“I thought he was exiled.”
“Clearly not as exiled as we would like.” Oberyn glanced back down in the direction of the ship even though there was nothing to see but clouds. “He is said to consort with warlocks and all manner of evil men. He raped his younger brother on a whim when they were younger. Later, he raped that same brother’s wife and planted a child within her. That was why he was exiled, so Lord Balon and the brother in question, Victarion, would not become kinslayers for punishing him for his crimes.
“We cannot risk such as him gaining control of a dragon.”
Jon scoffed. “You think it is so easy? To take a dragon from their bonded rider?”
“I think that if he has explored the Ruins of Old Valyria and Asshai-by-the-Shadow that we cannot guess what magics he may have learned. And dragons only make magic stronger.”
Jon considered that. “Two ships of Unbroken should be able to take that ship.”
“We will circle around, and I will get you as close as I can to the Elia. Ghost will go with you. You will take the Silence. Kill Euron Greyjoy and any other man you find with magic as quickly as you can.”
“We will need to burn the bodies,” Oberyn agreed. He did not want to believe the tales he had heard about men magical enough to revive from their own death. They were foolish rumors that made no logical sense. And yet, he was seated on a dragon, using a direwolf as a chair back.
“Once the deed is done, you can take the ship to land and do what you need to.
“Congratulations on your new ship, uncle.”
Oberyn rolled his eyes. The things he did for his family.
When all the ships were finally docked, Oberyn felt he could take a full breath again. It was foolish, because he was surrounded by the most violent and vicious raiders to ever sail the seas but he was on land and that was his preference.
“In two weeks,” Oberyn told the Iron Captains that surrounded him. “There will be a meeting of all Lords and Captains on Nagga’s Hill.” Several Ironborn hissed at the usurpation of what to them was a holy spot.
“A kingsmoot?” the rare female captain asked.
“A lordsmoot,” Oberyn corrected. “The fate of the Iron Islands depends on it.”
“King Balon is not dead!” the same captain objected. “You burned his brother but there will be no kingsmoot while we still have a king.”
“That is easily corrected,” Oberyn said flatly.
The captains all jumped when the roar broke through the air. Aerionys and Viserion both came screaming down from the clouds in all their glory. As they watched, the dragons turned their flames on the keep called Pyke.
The fate of Harren the Black was nothing compared to that of Balon Greyjoy.
Rather than a single great tower being burned by one great dragon with the House Hoare inside, the entire keep was rendered to slag by two dragons.
It took hours.
Those that could screamed and fled across the stone bridges connecting the various Keeps to each other and the closest island. His family left that side of the castle to last, allowing the escape but started with the Sea Tower which, according to Jon, was where Balon Greyjoy kept his solar. Jon started with the Iron Mast that flew the Kraken banner of House Greyjoy, making a very clear statement. Aemon started with the rope bridge, ensuring no escape for House Greyjoy and its most trusted.
When the last of Pyke’s great island keeps was nothing more than liquid stone dripping into the steaming sea, Oberyn asked. “Any questions?”
There were none.
“My terms,” Jon told the gathered Lords and Captains of the Iron Islands. “For their second rebellion against the Iron Throne, every living member of House Greyjoy has forfeited their lives. The name will be forbidden, speaking the name will see a man sent to the Wall for the crime.”
“That was not an Iron tradition,” the one Oberyn now knew was Aeron Damphair objected.
“It is a Northern Tradition,” Jon agreed. “And fitting due to that House’s most recent crimes against the North.”
The drowned men grumbled but Jon was king in every possible way and he had a dragon at his back. They had no ground to stand upon to argue.
“Aeron Damphair and Yara Last Daughter, step forward.”
Damphair and the female captain Oberyn had almost managed to respect stepped forward.
She swaggered, really. “You do not have the guts to kill a woman,” she spit at him.
“You would hardly be my first,” Jon countered as he pulled Dark Sister from her sheath. That Jon had killed women was news to Oberyn. He had not thought Jon had such violence in him, not that he saw that as a weakness as the last daughter of Balon Greyjoy seemed to. “You can kneel, or we can do this the hard way.”
Yara sneered at him. “I challenge—” Her head was off with enough speed to make Ser Barristan Selmy proud.
Jon turned to focus on the Damphair with his niece’s blood still drying on his face. “And you?”
The last Greyjoy knelt almost meekly. He opened his mouth the speak—Oberyn assumed to incite his followers to madness—as he bent down over the stump but Jon had his head off before he could utter a word.
Thank the gods for Valyrian Steel.
“Anyone else?” King Jon asked.
There was silence.
“Now, to the fate of the Iron Islands. You have all—to a man—been found guilty of slavery, murder, and rape.” There was a rumble of objection from the back and Jon glared. “I do not care what you call it, Thralldom is slavery. You take men, women, and children from their homes against their will, you never allow them to return, you force them to work in cruel conditions without pay—that is slavery. You rape your salt wives, no matter how you dress it up. And you have been making war on the rest of Westeros since these islands were settled—that was murder.
“By all rights, I can take your heads and raise up your thralls over your seats, but I am willing to be generous.”
“Generous?” one of the Lord-captains near the front, the Reader, Lord Rodrick Harlaw asked.
“As your lives are forfeit, your ships are now property of the Iron Throne and part of the Royal Navy. Your crews will be split up and reassigned to serve with my men on my other ships. Most of you will have the opportunity to earn your captaincy again.”
That got some grumbles, but Oberyn felt it was fair.
“You will serve my throne and wage war on my behalf until you die or until I personally allow you to retire. You will serve in the Narrow See and not see these islands again without my express permission.
“Or?” Lord Harlaw asked.
“Or you can stay here on your Islands and oversee the building of more war galleys for the Royal Navy. With the goods and equipment that I have already ordered and paid for from the other Kingdoms of Westeros.”
“Why,” Lord Harlaw asked cautiously, “do you need so many ships?”
“We are going to war, of course,” Jon answered almost snarky and Oberyn had to smile. “You will learn where when I am ready for you to do so.”
“And if we refuse your…generous offer?” the man Oberyn thought might be Baelor Blacktyde asked. They had not been introduced but not many men on the Iron Islands had the balls or the faith to pin their cloak with a seven-pointed star.
Oberyn did not think Blacktyde would refuse King Jon, he did not have a rebellious air about him.
Blacktyde and Harlaw both seemed to him to be interested in finding a new way of life for their people. One Jon was offering was a way of service rather than cruelty that gave respect and offered the more violent among the Ironborn a ready, necessary outlet.
The kind of relationship Jon was proposing between the Iron Islands and the Iron Throne was a thing to be envied. Direct service to the Crown with their land’s needs met to ensure that service was completed. Other Great Houses would have vied ruthlessly for the opportunity Jon was handing them despite their recent rebellion, if only the Iron Lords other than Harlaw and Blacktyde could see it.
The fact was that if any of the Ironborn could be said to be reasonable, it would be Blacktyde and Harlaw. Oberyn was almost certain Jon would put them in charge of different shipyards within the Islands.
Unless they chose to raid on Jon’s behalf at least.
“If you refuse my generous offer, you have two more choices,” Jon allowed. “Your head or the Wall.”
Margaery stood on a balcony above the grounds of the godswood within the Red Keep and watched Jon kneel in the grass and leaf debris down below.
It felt like a lifetime since Harrenhal. So many times, she had contemplated writing Jon and telling him to marry his cousin Tyene Sand or Aunt Daenerys and her bride Ashara Dayne because being an uncrowned queen was a lot of work.
But she knew Jon would never abandon her. That he was loyal and strong, and he respected her. He was a rare man, and he was dealing with something far worse than a court of stubborn but mostly cooperative nobles. At least the lords and ladies of Westeros pretended to be civilized.
Jon had not been so lucky while dealing with the Ironborn.
She was still not clear on how many Ironmen he had been forced to execute. More than that had gone to the Wall but thankfully even more had decided to accept Jon’s judgement of them and the sentence he had laid.
Jon was dressed in black armor with the dragon of House Targaryen laid out in shining red rubies on his breastplate. It was his father, Prince Rhaegar’s armor, reforged and given to Jon as a gift from House Baratheon. He pulled Dark Sister, the only remaining ancestral sword of his family, and laid it on the ground as he knelt.
Lord Eddard Stark, one of the few allowed to stand on the grounds of the godswood for the event, pulled his own Valyarian steel sword Ice and rested the tip of on Dark Sister—a clear threat if Jon were to try and take up his own sword.
“Who comes?” Lord Eddard demanded. “Who comes before the gods?”
“I, Aegon of House Targaryen the seventh of my name, come seeking the wisdom of the Green Man.”
“What would you have of us, Jon of House Targaryen?” the Green Man asked, stepping forward from the shadows. His voice was a strange thing. It held the snap of twigs, the grasping of roots, and the blooming of leaves. Things she had not known had sounds were there in his voice. It left her in awe and shamelessly grateful that Jon was facing him without her.
“I come before you with an open and honest heart,” Jon told the Green Man with enviable equanimity, “asking the gods to claim and keep for all those here my vows as King of the Seven Kingdoms.”
“The old gods are best pleased with you, Jon of House Targaryen,” the Green Man proclaimed, “they will hear your vows.”
Daenerys Targaryen stepped forward with a crown and held it aloft. It was not Robert Baratheon’s golden crown—the thick, heavily-wrought gold twisted with antlers would be in appropriate for a Targaryen king. No, Jon’s aunt held aloft the crown of Aegon the Conqueror—another gift to Jon, this time from House Nymeros Martell.
“Aegon of House Targaryen, do you swear upon your life, honor, and line to defend the peoples and lands of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros from all comers be they man, god, or creature?” the Green Man asked.
Targaryen Kings had never made vows to take their position before, they had just accepted blessings from septons and took the crown. This was an adaptation of the old Kings of Winter traditions and Margaery found it fitting for the official rebirth of House Targaryen.
“I so swear,” Jon agreed solemnly.
“Aegon of House Targaryen, do you swear upon your life, honor, and line to rule the peoples and lands of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros with justice and fairness from this day until your last day?”
“I so swear.”
“Aegon of House Targaryen, do you swear upon your life, honor, and line to honor all the gods old and new and to defend the rights of all to worship by the guidance of their own hearts as allowed by the laws of the realm while maintaining those same rights of all other citizens within the Seven Kingdoms?”
“I so swear.”
Daenerys Targaryen lowered the crown upon Jon’s head and Lord Eddard lifted Ice off of Dark Sister. They shifted to flank Jon as he stood and saluted the audience—saluted her—with his sword.
“All hail King Aegon of House Targaryen the seventh of his name!” Lord Eddard called with a voice fit to muster an army. “King of the Rhyonar, the Andals, and the First Men. Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. Protector of the Realm!”
“Hail to the King!” Prince Oberyn was the first to shout but the entire throng joined him before the first call was finished. “Hail to the King! Hail to the King!”
Jon saluted them with his sword again and sheathed it. “Come!” he called as the shouts started to die in response to his raised hand. “We have a tourney to begin!”
That was met with more cheers and she allowed herself to be dragged along by Ser Obara and Ser Brienne. Together they got her out of the crowd and through several secret passageways until she was by Jon’s side for the first time that day.
“My lady,” he greeted with a smile.
“My king,” she gave him a curtsy appropriate of the only daughter of a Great House to her King.
Jon made a face. “None of that. I wanted my coronation first so that you would be queen the moment our vows are made.”
“And the delay?” she asked wondering why she had not asked before.
“I figure a day between coronation and marriage should be enough for the celebration of the first to be over so that the celebration of the second will not be overshadowed.” Jon huffed. “You have waited a long time for your wedding entirely because I did not want to make vows to you under a false name. I would not have anything overshadow your wedding now that it is finally here.”
Margaery smiled at him. That was her Jon, always considerate if not the most articulate.
“Come,” she held out a hand in urging. “We have a War for the White Cloaks to commence.”
When they made it out to the tourney grounds, they were seated in the Royal Box and surrounded by all fifteen Kingsguard—both in the box and on the ground before it and to the sides. Those that wished to compete for places on the Kingsguard stood before them.
The grounds were packed so tightly the competitors were standing shoulder to shoulder, nearly touching in their lone neat lines.
That did not truly surprise her. Great Houses and Crownland Houses normally sat on the Small Council, or could be granted audiences regularly with King and Council. The Kingsguard was one of the few ways Houses of lesser importance or further distance could influence the current and future king.
She recognized Robar Royce, the second son of Lord Yohn Royce, from her conversations with Lord Yohn after he had been the surprise addition to the Small Council.
She thought she saw two Mormont Ladies, based on the bears on their surcoats. There were a surprising number of ladies before them, most of them of Dornish descent but by no means all.
And bastards. There were a good number of noble bastards trying to earn their way onto the Kingsguard.
Margaery had nothing against bastards—no one that loved Jon could considering how he had been raised—but she was concerned about what might happen if the bastards outnumbered the trueborn in Jon’s direct service. It was bad enough his Lord Commander was a bastard. If they were not careful in their choices going forward, the rumors would be terrible and divisive. They could not afford such strife this early in their rule.
Not that they could, she thought, forcing herself to relax. They had twelve spots to fill and only two bastards currently on the Kingsguard. If every open spot was filled by a bastard…
But that would only happen if Jon only picked bastards among the winners. That…would be a problem.
Margaery would have to talk about it with him later, before any choices were made.
Jon stepped forward to address the crowd.
He gestured and two pages stepped forward holding thick, heavy sacks full of tiny gem stones.
“As I am Aegon the Seventh,” Jon started, “we will have seven rounds in our War for the White Cloaks. In the bags being passed around you will find seven gemstones—dragonglass, ruby, pearl, sapphire, emerald, amethyst, and sunfire diamond. You will pick one and that will determine which round you will compete in.
“Two of my current Kingsguard will compete in each round, so be prepared and take the opportunity to familiarize yourself with your possible future brothers and sisters in arms.
“I thank all of you for coming to compete. I am humbled and gratified to see such a large company willing to serve both the King and the Realm.
“Now, let us see who is going first!”
Margaery pulled the small pouch from her belt with one of each of the gems she had chosen for the occasion. Jon reached in and pulled out one but held it in his closed fist until the last page left the field having completed his assigned task.
Jon opened his fist, and she could see the small piece of dragonglass resting on his palm. Surely it was a sign of favor from the gods that the first stone picked was one of that held the color of both Houses that had given him his rights to the Throne—House Targaryen and House Baratheon.
Jon picked up the piece of dragonglass—about the size of the tip of his first finger—and held it up in the air with a finger and thumb. “The first round is black,” Jon explained to those that could not see the tiny stone. “Dragonglass.”
Men and women that had the stone held it aloft as well, echoing Jon’s pose, as all the others vacated the field. Lord Commander Storm and Ser Brienne left the Royal Box to join their competitors that were lining the edges of the melee field, waiting for the call to charge.
The battle was shorter and more intense than Margaery had expected. Certainly, the battle was more intense than any typical tourney melee she had ever witnessed—and being from the Reach, she had seen more than her fair share.
Lord Commander Storm eliminated Rickon Tarly and Ser Brienne eliminated Ser Horas Redwyne—two noble heirs that had no business competing for a white cloak. Ser Robar, the second son of House Royce, and Ser Dacey, the first daughter of House Mormont knelt to take their oaths and joined the rest of their white brothers on the dais.
“Your mother made Alysanne her heir?” Jon asked Dacey the moment the first round of archery eliminations started.
“Yes, my king,” Ser Dacey tipped her head to one side respectfully. “Alysanne already has a daughter and son to inherit after her. And my mother has three more daughters besides me and Alysanne.”
“I saw Lyra pull a stone from the bag,” Jon told her flatly.
“Two more daughters besides,” Dacey corrected herself easily.
Jon rolled his eyes and glanced over at her. Margaery just grinned.
“Very well. Join your new brothers and sisters. We will have plenty of time to get to know each other properly in the coming days.”
They had luncheon on the tourney grounds. Princess Daenerys came up from the Vale section of the stands to join them. Tables were set out for the nobles to feast upon and handpies were passed to the commoners.
“My king!” Prince Oberyn called before the first course was served. He left the Dornish section and came to stand before the Royal Box.
“Uncle,” Jon greeted with a nod.
“Nephew, as you know, I spent am extensive portion of the last three years in Essos, hunting the enemies of your House to ensure a peaceful transition of the Crown from House Baratheon back to House Targaryen.”
Margaery had not thought of Prince Oberyn’s time in Essos in that way but…it made sense, if you thought at it sideways as Martells were prone to do.
“I am aware,” King Jon agreed.
Prince Oberyn gestured and five men in golden great helms joined him. “On the hunt for your enemies, I found many of your friends long thought lost.”
When Jon gestured, all five removed their great helms and, as one, took a knee. Four of the men, the older members of the throng should recognize though they would likely doubt their own minds if they did—Margaery knew she did even though she had seen the paintings of them in the White Sword Tower.
The fifth was a mystery to her but he had the legendary Targaryen looks. She focused on Jon, hoping he would introduce them all.
“Ser Gerold Hightower,” he said.
The man on the far right of the line bowed his head, as she had expected he would. “My King.”
“Your line has been brought low. It was found to be in conspiracy with the Faith of the Seven and the Citadel to end the Dragon’s protection of Westeros for all time. A plan hatched by the very Great Septon that crowned Aegon the Conqueror so long ago.”
“I would never be part of such a conspiracy, my King,” Ser Gerold protested. “I swear it on my honor.”
“I have faith,” Jon agreed. “As I see it, we have two paths before us, now that it is known that you live. Many would expect you to fulfill your vows as Kingsguard but the King you made your vows to is long dead. I will give you a choice. Remain a member of my Kingsguard or rise and take your place as the Lord of House Hightower. I would have your line guard my House and the Realm from future betrayal at the hand of the Faith and the Citadel.”
“It would be my honor, my king.”
“There is no heir for your House. You are the last of your line for all that Oldtown is prospering under the steward I placed in charge of your House, Ser Garlan Tyrell. Should you choose to accept this duty, you will need to marry and create an heir soon or your duties will fall to Ser Garlan permanently.”
“No matter my choice, I will always be your loyal servant, my king,” Ser Gerold vowed.
“I thank you for your courage and your loyalty in my service. Please, rise and speak your choice.”
Ser Gerold stood. “I will take my place as Lord of my House, my king. I will watch over your defeated enemies and should they grow so bold as to act again, I will slay them and burn them out—root and branch—until House Targaryen is safe.”
“Then allow me be the first to congratulate you, Lord Gerold of House Hightower.”
The gathered witnesses burst into applause and Margaery wondered if a marriage between one of their future children and one of his would be wise. Something to ensure the line’s continued loyalty and guardianship against the forces that had proven themselves to be the greatest threat in the realm to her soon to be wedded House.
Lord Gerold nodded to them as he made his way to the area guests from the Reach were seated not far from the Royal Box.
“Ser Oswell Whent,” Jon identified the second man in the line.
Like his former sworn brother, Ser Oswell bowed his head, “My King.”
“You are the very last male of your line, Ser Oswell. Your House was brought even lower than House Hightower with only your cousin and goodsister remaining other than yourself. I cannot in good conscience request you to remain in my Kingsguard. Rise, Lord Oswell of House Whent, true Lord of Harrenhal.”
“Very well,” Lord Oswell stood. “During my exile, I worked very hard and rose to the level of Captain-General of the Golden Company.”
The crowd gasped. The Golden Company was a powerful mercenary company that had been started so long ago by one of the Great Bastards of Aegon the Unworthy, the man called Bittersteel. The Golden Company was notorious for supporting their half-brother’s line, the Blackfyres, in Rebellion after Rebellion against the Iron Throne.
“Many in the Golden Company ancestrally come from Westeros, my king. My men are your men.”
“Very well.” Jon did not seem surprised at all. Could he have known about the Golden Company before? Perhaps while Robert Baratheon had still been alive? Had he met these men in secret as he had clearly done with his Aunt?
She studied Jon’s face. He clearly had a plan for the Golden Company.
“The Riverlands, where your keep Harrenhal stands, could use good men,” Jon told the new Lord Whent. “Any man that himself committed a crime and has spent no less than five years in exile in the service of the Golden Company will be considered forgiven of their crime.
“Be clear with them, Lord Oswell,” Jon warned. “They may live in your lands in the Riverlands and possibly earn themselves lands in other kingdoms, but all claim they had to other lands, wives, children, and titles were forfeit with their original crimes. Their original lives are gone from them, their exile has effectively seen them born anew. I will not allow the strife of them attempting to reclaim their old lives to break my peace.”
“Thank you, my king,” Lord Oswell bowed. “I will be clear.”
“For the men that are the sons of those exiled for crimes, I will not punish them for their fathers’ crimes. They will be allowed to settle with you in the Riverlands. I will not restrict their movements, but they must understand the laws of Westeros before they leave your service.
“New crimes committed by any of your men will be punished as they would if they were perpetrated by any other man within Westeros.”
“Thank you, my king. What of the men that have not served for the Golden Company for five years but were banished from Westeros for crimes?”
“I have a campaign in the planning stages that the Golden Company would be well suited for,” Jon said. Margaery assumed this was the Step Stones Campaign he had mentioned several times. “Keep them in your service. Should they survive our campaign—to retake the Stepstones once and for all—I will consider their debts paid in full. If that does not suit and they still desire to return to Westeros, they may join the Night’s Watch.”
“I will tell them, my King.” Lord Oswell bowed and turned to join those that came from the Riverlands with barely a glance at one of the other kneeling men.
Jon skipped the man in the middle of the line and went to the next kneeling knight. “Prince Lewyn.”
“My King,” the uncle of her Jon’s uncle bowed his head.
“I am afraid I have no official cause to release you from your vows to the Kingsguard other than the fact that the King you swore your oaths to is dead.”
“Is that not enough, my king?”
“No, it is,” Jon corrected. “If you wish to leave my service.”
“Any man that lives in Westeros and thinks he is not in the King’s service his entire life is a fool.”
Jon inclined his head, acknowledging the point. “Tell these witnesses what you became during your exile.”
“I was known as Lysono Maar, my King. I was the spymaster—or, in Westerosi terms, Master of Whispers—for the Golden Company. I have stood at Harry’s—that is, Lord Oswell’s—side as a guard, confidant, and steadfast companion.”
“Did you know the laws in the North allow for persons of the same gender to wed?”
“My king?” Prince Lewyn look started.
“I mean to make no implication upon yourself, Prince Lewyn, but I had hoped that as a Dornishman you would be pleased to hear that I have enacted this law throughout the Seven Kingdoms. The only ceremony for such a wedding is part of the faith of the old gods but with the duplicity of the Faith of the Seven being revealed, the Old Ways are becoming popular once again in the south.”
“That is good news, my king,” Prince Lewyn agreed.
“For Lords of Houses the North has a system of breeding contracts to allow the creation of legal heirs, that protects the heir’s mothers and specifies their duties within their House of their children’s sire. My brother and his new husband Ser Loras of House Tyrell will use this method to secure heirs for Winterfell. They have already chosen the bearer of the Heirs of House Stark. The contract has been signed.”
“I…” Prince Lewyn hesitated. “My King, I am not sure what else I can say other than that I am pleased that you are providing your protection to those that have been so harshly oppressed in the majority of the Seven Kingdoms for so long.
“I would be pleased to learn more about the workings and origins of this process, my king.”
“My Maester Samwell has written a short book on the process. I have sent copies to every Great House with my proclamation of the new Marriage and Inheritance Laws of Westeros.”
“I look forward to reading them, my King.”
“Rise, Prince Lewyn, and join your family who has missed you much these long years but be prepared to continue your role in the command of the Golden Company. I cannot allow their disbanding until we have retaken the Stepstones.”
“Of course, my King.” Prince Lewyn stood. “I look forward to bloodying my blade with House the House of the Dragon once again. It has been too long.”
“Our Houses have been united through several marriages.” Jon inclined his head. “I look forward to forging new bonds with my extended family in a greater variety of fields.”
Prince Lewyn grinned, bowed, and joined his nephews.
Once the back-pounding hugs had finished, Jon moved to the man kneeling on the farthest end from where Lord Hightower had once knelt. “Ser Arthur Dayne.”
“My King,” Ser Arthur bowed his head.
“You hired the Golden Company on my behalf.”
“I did, my King,” Ser Arthur acknowledged. “I also raised a boy that was said to be your elder brother from babe in arms to man at arms. I knew the moment I laid eyes on him that he was too young to be Aegon VI but I took him from his true father regardless and raised him to know he had no right yet still a duty to the Iron Throne.”
“I am aware of Aegon Blackfyre, my blood kin,” Jon confirmed and many—including Margaery—gasped. “I thank you for the care and just foundation you have provided my cousin.”
“It has been my honor, my King.”
“Rise, Ser Arthur Dayne, second to the Warden of the East of the Seven Kingdoms.”
Ser Arthur stood and bowed.
His nephew, Edric Dayne, was there when Ser Arthur straightened, presenting Dawn to the Sword of Morning. Ser Arthur bowed to the sword and drew her. Dawn sang as she left the scabbard and glowed like the sun when Ser Arthur held her aloft.
He pulled Dawn close to his face and whispered something to the blade that she could not hear before accepting her sword belt and securing her across his back.
“I understand that my sister, Ashara, has wed your Aunt Daenerys,” Ser Arthur told him after Dawn was settled where she belonged, against his shoulder blade.
“She has,” Jon confirmed. “At Harrenhal nearly four moons past but they must find a sire for their children. My Aunt will need more children than her son if she is to build a proper cadet line for House Targaryen.”
“With your permission,” Lord Arthur said, “I would offer myself as the father to your Aunt’s children. I wish nothing to obstruct my sister’s happiness. She has suffered much since the beginning of Robert’s Rebellion, and I would do much to see her secure in a marriage to a worthy person that suits her.”
“I agree on all points,” Jon said bluntly. “My Maester Sam will consult with them and form your fatherhood contract to meet their needs.
“We will have this matter settled within the week.”
“Thank you, my King.” Ser Arthur bowed and moved over to where his family was seated not far from House Martell.
That left the boy with Targaryen looks. He had to be Aegon Blackfyre, Margaery decided. There was no one else he could possibly be.
“The Iron Throne welcomes Our cousin, Aegon of House Blackfyre to Westeros.”
As she watched, Jon’s cousin pulled his sword from its sheath and laid it on the ground before him. The Kingsguard stepped out before him as Jon moved to his cousin and took both of his hands in his.
“Aegon of House Blackfyre,” Jon started, “do you swear before the old gods and the new to obey your King, Jon of House Targaryen, to hold my lands and keep my laws?”
“I so swear,” Aegon confirmed.
“Do you swear before the old gods and the new to give loyalty, faithful service, and sound council to the Royal House Targaryen from this day until your last day?”
“I so swear.”
“Do you swear before the old gods and the new to defend those that cannot defend themselves, to protect women and children, and to fight bravely when necessary to fulfill other tasks laid before you by the Crown for the good of all Westeros?”
“I so swear.”
“Rise, Lord Aegon of House Blackfyre, Lord of the Stepstones.”
Aegon regarded him with eyes that burned with so brightly with fervent devotion that she could see it from the Royal Box, said “My king,” and stood.
“Let it be known that House Targaryen of the Vale and House Blackfyre of the Stepstones are henceforth cadet branches of the Royal House Targaryen,” Jon announced. “May Westeros never be brought so low again as it was at the Battle of the Trident.”
The crowd cheered.
Margaery took a deep breath as she finally—finally, finally, finally—donned on the wedding dress Sansa of House Stark had made her. It was made of matte black embroidery of dragons and flames on shining black velvet and silk.
“Here,” Sansa said as she brought forth a maiden cloak, mostly green woven with yellow rather than gold in a brocade. It was the softest cloak Margaery had ever touched.
“This is not the maiden cloak of my House,” she said. She could see the great golden and green cloak her family had used for generations still draped over a chair to one side.
Sansa huffed. “The traditional ceremonial cloak of your House is much too harsh to use as a maiden cloak when marrying my brother.”
That…made no sense. “Sansa?”
“Did Jon not tell you?” Sansa rolled her eyes when Margaery shook her head to indicate a negative response. “It is a Northern tradition that the first blanket a child is swaddled in is his mother’s maiden cloak. This is an acknowledgement of the role the mother’s House in the shaping of the father’s House’s heirs. Even Jon was brought to Winterfell wrapped in a white cloak sewn with grey wolves and blue roses.”
“Lyanna Stark’s maiden cloak,” she realized.
“It is shocking that his secret was kept for so long considering how bad my father truly was at keeping it,” Sansa said with some exasperation. “Still. Jon has not spoken against this tradition.”
“He has not spoken of it, either,” Margaery reminded her.
“Then it will be a lovely surprise for him when you give him his first child,” Sansa argued and…Margaery could not argue with that. She allowed Sansa to drape the new maiden cloak over her shoulders and that was it, they were ready.
Her father, Mace Tyrell, had fallen in that fateful boar hunt that had killed King Robert so many moons ago so it was her brother Willas who walked her from the dressing chamber to the godswood.
Jon was standing before the heart tree, looking beautiful in Targaryen black and crimson, with the father of his heart at his side. He looked pale and resolute and something about his clothing or the light made his eyes seem truly purple for the first time since she met him.
In a nod to Southern tradition, their families were with them in the godswood. The Starks and Baratheons stood on one side and Tyrells on the other, forming a path that Margaery’s older brother led her down straight to her soon to be husband.
The rest of the noble witnesses were in the levels of the Red Keep above them. The entire godswood stood within an atrium that allowed the trees to have the sun they needed to grow. The doors on the balconies above them had been thrown open as they had been on the day of Jon’s coronation and the balconies themselves were full to bursting with nobles.
Dorne stood on the second-floor balcony with the best view. Other than that, Jon had not cared who stood where and allowed her to make the arrangements as she saw fit.
It was her wedding, he had told her. It should be exactly how she wanted it, as Southron as he could tolerate, and it was.
Her brother stopped them just past the gathered rows of family.
“Who comes before the gods this night?” Lord Eddard Stark demanded, fierce and steadfast, as a wolf protecting his cub.
“Margaery of House Tyrell comes here to wed. A woman grown, trueborn and noble,” her brother answered. “She comes to beg the blessing of the gods. Who comes to claim her?”
Jon stepped forward so that he was shoulder to shoulder with his Lord Uncle. “Jon, of Houses Targaryen, Baratheon, and Stark, King of the Andals, the Rhyonar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. Who gives her?”
“Lord Willas of House Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden, Lord Paramount of the Mander and Warden of the West—her brother.”
“Lady Margaery,” Lord Eddard said the fated words that would bind them together, “do you take this man?”
“I take this man,” Margaery confirmed with her head held high.
Her brother released her arm and she went to Jon, past Lord Eddard, with all of the grace she could manage upon a ground laced with tree roots. Jon took both of her hands and they knelt together in the roots of the heart tree to pray.
They were supposed to pray to the old gods for blessings, but she had all the blessings she wanted so she counted to twenty slowly instead. Once she reached twenty, Margaery squeezed Jon’s hands once. He squeezed his back twice and they raised their heads at the same time.
They stood together and he released her hands to lift her veil. “With this kiss, I pledge my love.”
She grinned, surprised and pleased by the addition of the traditional ending of a Faith of the Seven wedding to his old god ways. He kissed her cheek and she turned her head quick as a snake to catch his cheek in return before he could pull away.
He smiled at her, finally relaxing and regaining some color. He removed her maiden cloak and replaced it with the cloak of House Targaryen made cloth as black as dragonglass with the Targaryen three headed dragon picked out in rubies.
The bells rang out, announcing their union for all to rejoice.
He gave her a smile and bowed before her. She gasped as he picked her up.
It was tradition for a Northern groom to carry the bride to the wedding feast, Sansa had warned her but she was giggling, regardless, as he led their families from the godswood to the gardens for the wedding feast.
Yes, she had all her blessings and her wedding day was perfect.