Rhaegar Targaryen had been smart as a boy. His tutors and later masters had told his mother more than once (and she him in turn) that he was one of the most remarkably intelligent children they had ever met. It had driven him to read through tome after tome when he was younger that most noble-born children his age wouldn't bother with. Not until they were well into their later life as a lord or a lady. It allowed him a vivid imagination which in turn helped him understand the various historical accounts that present epics and ballads arose from.
This in turn granted him a foundation to try creating songs and stories of his own that his people might enjoy in future. Others could mock him for his harp playing and his singing all they wanted, but to his mind it was often the songs and the stories people told of great men, great women or great events long after they were gone that lived on more so than any sort of any intentional legacy on their part.
But all of that had changed when he discovered the original purpose to the Targaryen family practice of in-breeding and the source of their family words.
It had been a positively ancient book. Whatever color the binding had possessed was long since been worn away to nothing from sheer age. On top of that, it was a thin volume. Barely larger than the palm of Rhaegar's hand. He had only managed to find it by accident, hidden as it was inside a larger collection of scrolls that documented the private history of the Targaryen family: main and branches.
But the first pages gave a clue as to what it was. It was written in a female hand and spoke of growing up on Dragonstone, of hearing stories about the destruction of Old Valyria via the Doom. There was sadness in that tone in the beginning of the book, questions of what to do about regaining a homeland that she herself had never seen. But near the middle, something had changed in the mind of the writer. It had started small, with her discovery that if she spoke her prayers and her thoughts to the morning dawn, she could often feel the breeze and the clouds and the light of the sunrise itself move as if it were trying to answer her.
And then it spoke more about her brother Aegon, the first of his name.
How she had planned by his side the conquest of this land they had seen every day upon their table but scarcely interacted with themselves. She wrote how it had all begun when she had been looking to the fires of her chamber one evening. Torn by indecision, she needed to decide where she should try to convince her brother to begin his war of unification. She spoke of being entranced by the dancing tongues of the fire and as she pondered to herself. In return, she'd been granted a vision of a figure shrouded in flame standing amidst the smoking ruins of Old Valyria. How the smoke had risen from the ground itself to try choking the figure, blasts of fire and gusts of angry wind blowing the raging battle between the land and the man this way and that. How even as the waves that crashed upon the shore inexplicably began to freeze where they landed to create hazardous spike of icy death, the ground itself was unaffected and still visibly smoked and crackled like a blazing inferno raged just beneath the surface.
She wrote of how when she came to, she had heard words not her own echoing within her mind.
When the world of what was becomes wreathed in a crown of ash, the divine fire shall blaze a way through the destruction. When the smoky death of what is lies heavy upon the air, the blood of the sun shall burn all the brighter in the midst of chaos. And when the light of what may be at last illuminates a new world, it shall be held in the hand of the Prince: he who is promised to the world of the mortals by the will of the eternals.
She had taken the vision to heart. Drawing inspiration from it, she encouraged her brother to take his dragons, his army and his sisters to conquer seven kingdoms to remake as one. She had convinced Aegon that he must keep the Valyrian traditions alive through polygamy even if it meant alienating those they meant to rule. They would do this in the hopes that the fire of their spirit and the blood of their line would run true and at last create this prince her vision had spoken of. She was convinced this figure would one day return to Old Valyria and cleanse the land of the evil that had infested it since the time of the Doom.
Rhaegar had retired to his room soon after finishing Viscenya Targaryen's diary: when it ended by speaking of her son's birth and how she so hoped that she could see Valyria again within her lifetime. That left a bitter taste in his mouth, knowing her hope had been in vain.
Knowing that the Targaryen dynasty, they who had taken Fire and Blood as their family words, either did not know or worse did not care about the full meaning behind the phrase and what a responsibility that left on their shoulders.
As he reflected on this, Rheagar remembered that Viscenya had felt a connection to the sun and had only received her vision by staring into the heart of a fire. As he did, he realized that there were two things he could do to realize the prophecy of the Prince Who Was Promised. He could improve himself so that he would be able to provide the best possible instruction to his children when they grew old enough to be made aware of their responsibility to their once homeland and to the Prince himself. (Assuming one of them did not prove to be the fabled Prince of course.) And he could actively seek the same guidance that had spoken through the hearth to one of the first Targaryen queens.
The next day, he had approached his father's master-at-arms Ser Darry to learn how to be a warrior as well as a scholar.
Years later, he managed to become an accomplished swordsman in addition to a renowned poet and singer. On his own, he devoted more and more time to the study of fire worship. Both in the history of Westeros itself and in the lands to the east that had once housed Old Valyria.
He sought out places that had been touched by fires of unusually intense strength. The Dragon Pits. The Red Keep's Catacombs. Harrenhal. As well as the Field of Fire.
He had even chosen his wife Elia Martell based on her kind motherly nature rather than her beauty as others thought he should've with Cersei Lannister. But Rhaegar wanted to be sure that if he found the Prince in his lifetime, he would be unashamed to have his queen stand beside him when it came time to tell the Prince of his destiny.
She hadn't been entirely convinced when he had first declared his son Aegon the Promised Prince. And he had to admit later that she was likely right. That he had let himself get carried away since any sign that would lead to him actually finding let alone raising the foretold Prince that Viscenya's vision had spoken of was a remote and distant possibility at best.
That was, until he met Lyanna Stark at the Harrenhal Tournament. The day was sunny; the energy of the crowd had brought the festive atmosphere to a fever pitch. And in the midst of it all Rhaegar had become acquainted with and befriended (he liked to think so anyway) a wild Stark girl who had given him advice on how best to unseat his Royce opponent in the joust.
Without her advising him that Yohn Royce leaned slightly forward and to the left when he was charging his opponents, Rhaegar could not say with certainty he would've noticed the unconscious habit in the veteran warrior.
When she initially pointed this out to him, Rhaegar had promised that if her advice proved true that he would repay her for her help. And he was nothing if not a man of his word. He rode past his sickly but loving wife and awarded the crown of love and beauty to Lyanna Stark. As he gave her the flowers, he bowed his head toward her to let her know he had fulfilled his promise. He was sure not to smile least his gesture of respect be mistaken for something more.
But his effort was unsuccessful.
As he later tried once again to explain to Elia that he had simply promised to repay Lyanna Stark for her role in his victory, he saw a shadow move out of the corner of his eye on the darkening tournament grounds.
He moved to the tent flap to see what it had been, his intuition telling him that something was happening. Something that he needed to see.
Near the jousting grounds half hidden by the sunset, there was the girl Stark. And standing by her side was a man with hair the color of newly settled ash. He had never seen that kind of hair color on any who were not in some way related to his family.
He hurriedly excused himself from Elia, ignoring her calls to return. He needed to see who this person could be. Was it an as of yet unknown family member that had come to the tournament? Someone who intended to reveal themselves in the midst of his father's belief that the world hid all sorts who constantly conspired against him? (Including but by no means limited to himself, his mother, the highborn lords, the lowborn smallfolk, the gods, the faith, the Hand, the Master of Coin, the Master of Whispers and just about everyone but his Grand Maester.)
As he moved out onto the grounds without encountering anyone, he saw Lyanna Stark and the unknown man walking toward him. He slowed his pace so that he could seem to encounter them by chance.
But the unknown man gestured for him to join them without even looking in Rhaegar's direction.
Lyanna had quickly whirled toward him in surprise, obviously unaware of who it was the man was gesturing to. When she saw Rhaegar, she tensed further. She was visibly unsure how to address his presence here; a first for Rhaegar's limited interactions with her. As he came closer the ashen-haired stranger at last turned to face him.
"At last we meet you face to face Rhaegar Targaryen." He greeted with an enigmatic smile on his somewhat thin lips. Rhaegar was surprised to note how young and light-hearted his voice was. Young but crisp, like a lordling complimenting a junior officer among his sworn swords.
His eyes were such a dark brown they could easily be mistaken for coal black, but they seemed to have no trouble seeing in the semi-darkness or the shadows at all. His skin was bronze by torchlight and somewhat weathered from exposure to the elements. He had the build of a warrior, with calloused hands and a wiry strength in his every movement. Rhaegar seemed to vaguely recall seeing this man compete in the melee earlier in the tournament.
But none of that was what truly caught the crown prince's attention about this man.
The thing Rhaegar noticed most of all was the sense of just how large he felt. The sheer force of presence that he exuded was almost tangible in the air, as though he was standing not in the company of a human being but a force of nature. He wondered briefly how it was no one else had noticed this man before remembering that obviously Lyanna Stark had.
"What an occasion this is! To at last see the lone Targaryen who searched for us before our very eyes." He said. His toothy smile was at once welcoming and foreboding.
"Who are you?" Rhaegar asked guardedly, his left hand inching toward the dagger that hung at the small of his back. His gut told him that it wouldn't matter if this man really wanted to attack, but he preferred to be caught ready as opposed to unawares.
"Oh, we've had so many names in our time." The man answered easily. He clapped his right hand to Rheagar's shoulder, as though unafraid of the possible consequences to a lowborn for touching one higher in station then themselves.
"Lord. Father. Sun." He continued, as Lyanna appeared to be asking him with her eyes to stop talking to Rhaegar. She seemed afraid of what he might say. "But our favorite is perhaps the most personal we have been given in this world."
"And what name is that?" Rhaegar was unable to resist taking the bait.
Lyanna pulled him away from Rhaegar as he began to open his mouth to answer.
"What does it matter what his name is?" She demanded defensively.
"There is no need dear one." Came a deeper voice with a slight rasp from behind her. Rheagar almost couldn't believe his ears.
There was such a marked contrast between the two voices that he would've sworn they were separate people. But he had been looking right at this man as he spoke in the second, older and more serious voice. So he knew them to be one and the same logically. He began to think that perhaps this was actually a demon of some kind. He had read of such things in his stories when he had been young, but had never thought to actually encounter them.
"The king-who-would-be has sought an audience with us for some time now." He said, stepping around Lyanna, whose gaze sharpened and looked at Rhaegar with new eyes.
"You seek the Prince we once spoke of." He stated. "The one your song of fire and ice was written to honor."
Rhaegar forgot how to breathe for a moment. He hadn't revealed that song to anyone but Elia and his extremely young children. How did this absolute stranger know about it?
"Alas, our young flame still requires the first sparks to kindle him." The man said, holding his hands up in a gesture that Rhaegar took to mean fond resignation. A gesture that seemed to ask the rhetorical question: what can you do about it?
"What are you talking about? What prince?" Lyanna sharply asked the man, spinning to face him. He only grinned in the face of her confusion fueled irritation.
"Have we not given our name as R'hllor dear one?" He asked, deep voice tender for a moment as his right hand gripped her left.
"You. You're-" Rhaegar didn't know what exactly he thought to say here. To be in the presence of one such as this, a god descended the mortal realm…
"A great many things." R'hllor finished, turning to face the awestruck prince while holding his right hand out to Rhaegar to shake.
Rhaegar's hand found this man's, a barely noticeable tremble in his limbs.
"But most of all," The man who called himself a god continued. Lyanna leapt back in alarm as a fire sprang up where their hands joined, covering them to the wrist. It lasted only half a minute at most before it was gone as quickly as it had come.
"We are family." He finished, his grin becoming genuinely friendly as he pulled Rhaegar close for an unexpected hug.
The crown prince was caught completely off-guard. The royal family was not one for shows of open affection. And while he loved his wife dearly, she too was reserved in how she expressed her loving feelings for others. (Though that was perhaps just around his own family. He had seen the love she expressed toward her Martell brothers firsthand after all.)
"Come." R'hllor said, clapping his hands enthusiastically as the hug ended. "Walk with us descendent. We would speak to you away from prying eyes and ears."
Lyanna looked from one man to the other; seemingly unable to comprehend the exchange that had occurred between the deity and the Targaryen prince.
R'hllor glanced at the Stark in their midst with amusement twinkling in his eyes.
"Do you intend to continue imitating a statue dear one, or do you intend to walk with us?" He asked rhetorically as he chuckled a bit.
She shook her head quickly before drawing alongside him.
"So why didn't you tell me you could do…" She gestured vaguely to his hand.
"This?" The self-proclaimed R'hllor finished, igniting his hand again as he held it up for their inspection.
Rhaegar couldn't look away, watching as the fire seemed to span the spectrum of colors as the disguised deity's fingers shifted and moved.
"We prefer to draw the most fire we can from the smallest possible spark." R'hllor answered as he closed his right hand into a fist to snuff out the fire. He let his hand drop to his side again before continuing. "And if that meant allowing you to merely think us a mortal who speaks strangely, than it was an unimportant yet worthwhile thing to accept in the long run."
His smile grew slightly wider before he added onto his statement.
"That and it amused us greatly to see how you treated a…how did you put it again? Ah yes:" His voice shifted into an almost exact copy of Lyanna Stark's. "A strange little man with an ego that just begs to be punctured."
"Prick." Lyanna swatted his shoulder in annoyance.
"We much prefer Lord Prick." R'hllor answered, unfazed by her physical chastisement.
Lyanna laughed, nodding her agreement with his classification.
'Any moment now, I half-expect Lord Varys will sashay in proclaiming himself King of the Whores.' Rhaegar thought numbly, his knowledge of the old myths and legends failing to help him comprehend this distinctly surreal situation.
As the private walk between the god, the prince and the northerner (and didn't that sound like the start of yet another one of Arthur Dayne's rambling jokes?) continued, Rhaegar was forced to revise his opinion on how surreal the situation was.
R'hllor wasn't there to observe or just to tell Rhaegar the Prince was not yet come. No, he was there to court Lyanna Stark. With a jolt the separate pieces clicked into place for the Targaryen scion. Rhaegar at last realized that R'hllor had chosen the tournament for a multitude of reasons.
He had used it to reveal his true nature to both himself and Lyanna. He had used it to observe the warriors said to be the greatest in the realm. He had used it to tell Rhaegar to keep faith in the promise he had made to his family all those years ago. And most importantly, he had used it to tell Rhaegar that the Prince was almost here. The descended god had even slyly introduced Rhaegar to the woman he intended to be the Prince's mother.
With that Rhaegar knew what he had to do. As the walk wound them back around to the Prince's tent, Rhaegar came close to them both as a bright smile lit up Lyanna's face in the waning light as she listened to a story about the lands across the eastern sea R'hllor was telling. As they were both turning to face him, Rhaegar took R'hllor's left hand and Lyanna Stark's right in-between his own palms.
He noted that the combined heat from their joined hands would've had most normal men's palms sweaty within the first minute or so of holding them.
"Lady Stark," He started, looking directly into her grey eyes. "Lord R'hllor has been kind to my family even as they have lost their view of his light. And he obviously considers you a friend. Any friend to Lord R'hllor is a friend of my family."
Rhaegar took a deep breath before swearing the oath he knew Lord R'hllor expected him to.
"I hereby solemnly swear upon the blood in my veins and the honor of my house that if there is ever anything I can do to assist you in anyway, you need only ask it and it shall be yours. And should you require a sword or a shield, you shall have it. By my life or death I so swear."
He finished, kneeling before them as he kissed the joined hands at the knuckles. First Lord R'hllor, then Lyanna.
"I…I thank you for your words Prince Rhaegar." She answered, caught off-guard by this sudden solemnity to his demeanor and his vow. She looked to R'hllor, a question in her grey eyes.
The god-cum-mortal simply smiled at them both.
"Let us hope it does not come to that young princeling." He said, nodding his head to indicate his acceptance of Rhaegar's oath.
As his blade clashed against Robert Baratheon's shield and the current of the trident river thundered around them, all of that seemed a lifetime ago. Almost like another man's memories of a time that he had only been barely involved in.
Now he was growing tired. His armor was well-wrought, but it was cumbersome. He had expected to face Eddard Stark. He had expected an opponent he could be reasonable with. But it had been so long since he had told anyone the entire truth of the things he knew that he wasn't sure he'd even know where to begin even if they were inclined to let him speak. He wondered for a moment if that was what men like Lord Varys felt like when they woke up every day.
"This is where you die Targaryan bastard!" His black-haired enemy screamed. The Warhammer once again crashed into his shield, this time damaging it beyond repair. Rhaegar threw it at him in an effort to gain some space between them. He was so very tired of the fighting and the strife.
He couldn't help but feel guilty about all of this. His oath to protect Lyanna however he could and his neglect of the situation with his father during his years of searching for signs of R'hllor and by extension the prince had combined to ignite the entire countryside in the fires of rebellion. He should've been in King's Landing more. He should've kept a closer eye on his father. He should've done more with the court's politics. He should've-
A crunching impact on his breastplate. He felt more than heard his chest cave in beneath his armor. He flew backwards, landing on the muddy bank as the rubies flew out of their fixed positions on the now broken dragon that reflected its owner's pitiful condition.
He felt his breaths grow short and his heartbeat slow even as his mind raced. He knew this meant he was already dead. His body just had to finish catching up.
The sun reflected off the reddened waters as Robert Baratheon strode toward him, savage gleam of triumph in his eyes. Rhaegar looked directly at the ball of fire in the sky. He so wanted to reach for it, as if his outstretched hand would be the cry to Lord R'hllor to come to his aid. To help him as he had promised to help the god and his lover in turn.
But he was becoming too weak to breathe let alone move his arm. As he began to fade, he caught one last glimpse of his surroundings. As the darkness encroached on his vision, he thought he saw a flash of ashen hair above him.
And then Rhaegar Targaryan knew no more.