Chapter Nine

Robb Stark had spent the day hacking at the straw dummies in the courtyard, giving him an unobstructed view of the Hunter's Gate when the green and blue merman's sigil rode in. The small procession was headed by a man of considerable girth, a prod of memory supplied a name. Why would Ser Wylis Manderly, Heir to White Harbor, be riding to Winterfell on this day?

As soon as the question was posed, an answer provided itself. Father had sent out letters to his bannermen. Had they found…?

The auburn-haired boy, tall and broad-shouldered but not yet a man, hurried towards the gate in eager, unsteady steps. He scanned the procession for a smaller figure, light and slender, her violet eyes as familiar to him as his own river blue ones in the looking glass. Lyarra, Lyarra, Lyarra. Where was his sister? Why did she not show herself to him?

The brief flicker of hope, dying embers as they were, fell to silence when each rider stopped. Four men were here. Four men and none of them with a dark-haired she-wolf to jump down from the horse and embrace him. None to share in his laughter as he spun her around and welcomed her home.

'Lyarra would have hit me had I tried that,' Robb thought unwittingly. 'Her eyes would be brimming with displeasure for being caught. She had fled her childhood home willingly.'

All of the signs pointed to that, however little the Stark Heir had desired to believe them. It shamed him for how, briefly, he wished Lyarra kidnapped instead. The other possibility tasted of failure, ash in his mouth for the little sister he had failed to keep safe. As the eldest brother, it was Robb's duty to protect all of his younger siblings, was it not? Lyarra had been one of them and yet not. She had been closest to his age, more close friend and equal partner than someone to be taken care of. His earliest memories had been of poking her awake in their shared crib. Lyarra had been such a grumpy babe.

'Mayhaps that is where I went wrong?' Robb wondered. Independent of his thoughts, his body fell into a proper bow, his mouth formed the words to welcome the riders to Winterfell. 'Had I protected her more, told the servants off when they whispered bastard or reassured her of her place here, would Lyarra not have left?'

He should have rode after her. Father had assured him that the bannermen would look in his stead but they hadn't managed to find her yet. How had they failed that? Lyarra was talented, yes. She had attended almost every lesson he had and taught herself those skills that hadn't been allowed her but she was four-and-ten! These men should have found her by now.

Robb's internal recriminations on the matter were brought to a close on the man's last words. "Ser Wylis, can you repeat that? You have a letter? From my sister?"

The man looked at him with sympathetic eyes. He reached into his coverlet and withdrew folded parchment. He may have preferred lance to sword and sword to bow but Robb's eyes were quick enough to see the words written on the side. He knew that writing. He had spent more hours than he cared to count reviewing her notes. It was startling how pleased he was by the familiar script now.

"Please come with me." However politely said, there was steel in his voice, a hint of the man Robb Stark would one day become. "My Father would like to see this."

Ned Stark was still in his solar. Had someone told him a man could age a decade in a day, Robb would have believed them. His Father looked that way now, grey streaks in his hair evident and the sorrow in his eyes palpable. Ser Wylis looked taken aback by the grief-stricken man in his liege lord's place.

For a moment, anger was added to his own medley of sadness. 'Lyarra, for whatever led you to cause our Father this much pain, I hope it was worth it.'

A spark of hope entered Father's eye when he saw the letter. "She's alive," he whispered quietly.

'She is,' Robb knew. 'I would have known otherwise.'

He didn't know how such a claim could prove true but he would have known. Lyarra was such an integral part of his life. If she had died, how would there not be an emptiness where part of life used to reside? Robb was adamant on this, if nothing else.

Ser Wylis made his apologies and receded from the room. He was in desperate need of sustenance and rest after the arduous journey here, he claimed. A lie evidently but one Robb was thankful for, as it moved him ever closer to hearing those words. The knight was scarcely out the door before Ned Stark, foregoing his letter knife, tore it apart by hand.

'What did it say? Where is Lyarra now? Will she come back home?' The auburn-haired not-yet-man impatiently stood before the desk as his father read the letter. Once it was done, the man soundlessly passed it over.

Dear Father,

If this letter should be in your hand, then know that I am with friends of my House that have offered me shelter and succor. Know that my journey has been swift and without any mishaps, that I am hale and healthy and far from the domains of any who may wish me harm. Know also that I have learnt of my mother's name and that I hold no ill will to you for keeping her from me all these years. Above all, know that I love you and I love my siblings and Uncle Benjen and Winterfell. No matter the wyrd that the Gods have written for us, the last shall always remain true. You are and shall always be my family.

For my mother, her identity has come as a surprise. All I know of her was that she was beautiful and died tragically. It is not enough to mourn her as a daughter properly must but the little knowledge I know, I do treasure. You must have loved her greatly to protect me as you had and that, I think, will state more of her character than any other words can express.

You may wonder why I chose to leave Winterfell as I had. It wasn't a path chosen easily; if nothing else, I regret sneaking away under the cover of darkness. I should have explained the truth to you and had it been solely to affect me, I would have. But I know you, Father. I know that you are honorable and good and just and that you shall protect your family above all else. I also know that a second life would depend on your decision and that he was not yet family-

Robb abruptly broke off reading as a murderous intent filled his soul. "Lyarra was with child?!"

He was going to kill him. Robb didn't know who it was yet but when he found the man that put a child in his sister, the Stark Heir was going to kill him.

His Father waved at him to continue reading.

-not yet family to us. If you should read this aloud to my siblings, please take this moment to assure them that I am still a maiden. And that I have not ridden off with a man to be wed or that even if I had (which I have not!) murder remains an unacceptable solution.

I left with a babe, Father. A babe hatched not from the misery of a sire's birth but happenstance. I am certain the Gods must have been laughing at us all that day.

One day I should like to introduce you to this babe. Arya has already met him, so I confess you shall not be his favorite wolf. Ask her of him, if you should not know yet, and thank her for the words she has yet to say. I know it was a painful truth to keep but necessary, for all that I despise my demands.

There are matters that I must accomplish, Father. Wrongs to be righted and freedom to be found. A better world that I will try to forge, through flame and steel if needed, for this babe. My promise to you, however little peace it may bring, is that I will seek to do so with all of the honor you have instilled in me. I will never forget what it truly means to be a Stark. I will never forget the debt I owe.

My only request, and if you love me at all, you must grant me this, is that you shall burn this letter. He is a babe, Father. He is a babe and his death would be over my corpse alone. Remember that.

Finally, if you could share them, words each for my siblings.

To Robb, my older brother and closest friend, please forgive me…

He read the short paragraph quickly, promising him that she was safe and apologizing repeatedly for her actions. She even promised to return to Winterfell one day, if he should still have her. If Arya was here, she would declare that a stupid question. Robb agreed; his home would ever be opened to her.

Declining to continue further out of respect for his siblings- though a single glance proved Arya's paragraph two lines longer than his!- Robb focused on the curiosity of it all. "Babe, Father?"

Ned Stark was looking quietly out the window. "Rhaegar was born in the Tragedy of Summerhall."

"Father?" Old Targaryen history wasn't Robb's specialty. A love of stories had been Lyarra and Bran's.

"Son, there lies a truth that I should have spoken long before this day." His Father's eyes were closed but there was a wetness to the edge of them. "A promise made to a sister that I kept to my breast for four-and-ten years. One that you must never share with anyone, lest it mean all of our deaths."

"Father?" Aunt Lyanna? House Targaryen? Why was Father looking around the room, ensuring silence?

"Not even your mother, Robb. Promise me."

The auburn-haired boy looked down at the letter briefly. Hatched. He swallowed. "I promise."

"Someone must know this should the kingdoms fall to war again. If… If I am not alive to declare for your sister, than you must. Whether she goes by Lyarra Snow or her true name… Visenya Targaryen."

x

Lyarra balanced carefully on the tips of her feet, hands braced against the rail and body tilted forward, to watch the horde of white-and-black striped beasts running across the Flatlands. They were near enough to the coast for the sounds of their stampede to reach her ears. Never having seen one before, the dark-haired girl was enraptured by the stumpy legs, stubby tails and striped fur.

"Oh!" A sudden fierce turn of the waves had mist spray into her eyes, leading the she-wolf to lose her footing. Lyarra would have toppled backwards onto deck had it not been for the arms catching her.

"Be careful, my Lady," Aurane warned, an amused smile on his face as he steadied there, "The sea is a tempestuous mistress."

A red flush painted her cheeks as she straightened up. "I wanted to see the animals there."

"The zorses? They're foul-tempered beasts but hardy and useful for travel across the plains."

"Zorses," Lyarra tasted the word on her tongue. It seemed fittingly exotic for such a beast. "I've never heard of one before."

"I'm not surprised. They'd been specially bred by the Jogos Nhai for the last few years, though the population grew rapidly in the wilds. You wouldn't have seen one in Westeros."

"Jogos Nhai?" Seeing the question on her face, he quickly explained them to be a Yi Ti tribe living east of the Bane Mountains. Lyarra listened in quiet fascination about their custom of binding a child's head from birth leading to the distinctive pointed skull and their marriage custom where women stole their husbands, often from other tribes.

"The wildlings north of the Wall have a similar custom," she said excitedly, "Though in their case, it's a man kidnapping a woman for their bride."

"Like many nomadic tribes, the Jogos Nhai afford more agency to women. Part of the reason may be due to their religion of moonsingers."

The captain continued on how priestesses were afforded great respect in their culture, nearly on par with the chieftain of the tribe and the duties they performed. It was a role primarily held by women though men were allowed to hold it if they dressed and lived as a female.

"Robb would never believe that," the Snow noted, briefly feeling a pang of homesickness for her older brother. She determinedly set is aside to shake her head regretfully. "You know so much about the world. I feel rather ignorant in comparison."

"Don't. I was fortunate enough to travel in my life. Not many men or practically any women have that opportunity. And Westerosi knowledge of the many cultures of Essos is woefully limited."

"If… If I should return to Winterfell, I would like to update their library," Lyarra returned her eyes to the zorse herd. "We- that is, Azantys and I- would like to visit every notable site in the world and write books on our travels. Like the explorer, Lomas Longstrider."

She peeked up at him through her eyelashes, uncertain of the thoughtful expression on his face. "It's silly, I know. Aegon will need help to regain the throne and should I ever marry, my husband isn't likely to accept… what is this?"

"A spyglass." There was a genuine kindness to Aurane Waters' smile. "Do you draw, my Lady?"

"A little," Lyarra answered bemused.

"There are spare journals in the captain's cabin. I mainly use them as ship's log and merchant record or occasionally to record my own thoughts but they should do well for sketches. The second mate, Trysil, also has some Yi-Ti blood from his father. He may know a little more about zorses."

"Oh?" She looked down confused at the smooth copper of the spyglass in her hands. "Oh! Thank you!"

Pausing briefly to shoot a radiant smile at the young captain, receiving a reaction that was one part flustered and two parts charmed, she turned on her heel and headed to the cabin. The sailors were busy at work but moved to clear her pathway regardless; Lyarra was relieved that their awe and wonder from before had settled into a happy sort of respect. Not that they didn't still light up in glee whenever Azantys stretched his wings by flying lowly around the ship for the journey.

He wasn't flying around now but balancing on stubby, weak legs by the porthole, staring longingly out to sea. The dusk-colored dragon didn't even look up when she entered. 'One day…'

Outside were dozens of flying fish, translucent wings batting seawater away as they made incredible leaps across the ocean. Each thrust of tailfin preceded a graceful glide over an expanse of dark blue, each dip back into water tracked by glittering amber orbs. Azantys slid his forked tongue over sharp little teeth, the smugness of an alpha predator watching his prey flee oozing from every pore despite Lyarra's strict orders that he not practice 'splashing' outside of her tub.

When a bird swooped down and caught one in its talons, Azantys finally looked away. The sheer enthusiasm on his features were reminiscent of her middle brother, though Azantys a newborn dragon and Bran, a boy of seven namedays. Either case had Lyarra Snow smiling back indulgently.

'Did you see that? One day, I will be able to do that,' he declared excitedly.

'With all the practice you have done, that day will not be far off,' Lyarra replied, leading him to preen outwardly. 'Aurane suggested that I sketch the zorses on the shore.'

The dark-haired girl stilled for a moment, allowing an alien presence- Lyarra-but-not- passage to her mind. The selected moment was lifted soon, a flash of silver pale hair and the word 'spyglass' heard once, before she recollected herself. As her settings came back to focus, she saw Azantys cock his head to the side, not quite absorbing the memory but gaining from it, a knowledge lacked before.

It was eerie how unsettled she was not. Surely there should be more of an instinctive backlash against opening her mind to a foreign entity, however intimate their bond? This distress was mild but in the next second, near doubled in panic and then a second later, felt all-consuming in its worry. Lyarra bit her tongue and forced the anxiety bubbling upwards down.

'Calm down, little one, calm down,' she thought fiercely. 'I am not angry with you. I love you. I will always love you.'

The Snow concentrated for a moment and then mustered a wave of deep affection to drown their connection. 'You and I shall fly higher than the stars, further than the sun. We will rise above the clouds and all the world shall be our playground.'

It took more time than she was comfortable with but eventually Azantys, having fallen down to the cot situated near the wall, could reply. 'I'm sorry Lyaa…'

'Hush, little one. You are a child and I should not have forgotten that.' The anxiety receded and from the mess of emotions left behind, she could pick out relief and shame. It was difficult to pick out where her own ended and his began. 'We must do something about our connection.'

The flare of sheer panic then was most certainly not her own, so she quickly added. 'Not end it! Little one, I could never deny the bond that we share. It is a balm to my mind to know that you are healthy and hale… but if we're not careful, then this gift can become a curse.'

'They echo off of each other.' Lyarra sat on the cot, drawing the dragon closer. 'When you felt my distress, your own raised, which affected me. And from there, a dangerous cycle was born. An ever-turning wheel of misery and despair. We needn't break the wheel but we must find a way to direct it or, at the very least, slow it down before it overcomes us at the most inconvenient moment.'

'Like when we're fighting?' Azantys shuddered at her solemn nod. ''How do we do that?'

'...I haven't a clue. Many of the secrets of the dragonlords died with House Targaryen or mayhaps even before that in the Doom of Old Valyria.'

'It is not easy to be alone in the world, Lyaa.'

'No, Azantys.' Her eyes moved involuntarily to the disguised chest built into the floor of the Captain's cabin. An iron necklace around her neck alone could open the lock and within it, laid the two remaining dragon eggs in her possession. 'Being alone in the world is a terrible thing.'

There was a moment of silence and while she knew naught of those thoughts her familiar held, her own was a wistful desire for a man with silver hair and aster eyes. Ned Stark remained her father in her mind but Rhaegar Targaryen held a place there himself and he, unlike the reserved man who raised her, would have been gleeful at the prospect of dragons. As a scholar, he would have likely run all manner of experiments to discover the depth and strength of her bond…

'Azantys, I have it!' Gently pushing the young one off of her lap, the dark-haired girl sprung to her feet and headed towards the logs. As Captain Aurane had promised, there were spare journals aplenty on the desk. A few had a messy scribble across the cover that piqued her interest but while Lyarra was born with a damningly burning curiosity, she hadn't yet lost all respect for other's privacy. 'If you look out the window, can you see the zorses?'

The puzzled dragon responded in the affirmative. The Snow then offered her proposal; her mind had been opened to the latter many times but she had never ventured into his own. Their first order of business was to test the connectivity of their bond. Could either enter each other's minds? Could she observe the zorses through his eyes and if so, for how long could she hold it?

Azantys had been eager to test it as well. He balanced back against the window, the white scratch marks littering the wood evidence of his presence, and gemlike eyes focused unerringly forward. Lyarra sat cross-legged next to him, closing her eyes and trying to focus on that ball of warmth inside of her. The second heartbeat that hummed far more quickly than her own ever did.

Lyarra imagined a pale yellow sun, softly glowing inside a room of darkness. She mentally prodded it. It slipped through her grasp as fine as air and she reached for it again. Again and again. Warmth and familiarity but ever further from her reach. 'I cannot touch it…'

'I flew through it.' The sun pulsed lightly, whirring around, a snow shrew after its prize when the words came through. Lyarra brushed her hand over it, light slipping past her fingers. 'Trying too hard.'

'How can I ease myself into the sun?'

'Turn it into a lake.' The pulsing sphere disappeared, melting into an expanding pool of crystal water. Roots extended beneath it all and bone white wood rose up. From heavy branches were laden crimson red leaves, palm's width and looming over a crying face. Lyarra tried to immerse herself into the water but recoiled when glittering ice swept over it.

'Not the right one.' She looked to the face. It peered back with blood-dripped eyes. 'Let me in.'

'Don't be afraid.' Azantys claws nicked the ice, click-clack, spiderwebs spiralling outwards. 'We can breathe here, you and I.'

'The face isn't right.' Lyarra touched the base of the tree and the weirwood stopped crying. A laughing tree and shadows of men, three all with dragons on their breastplate. We died for a dragon, they said. Become a dragon. Fall and the wind will catch you.

She slipped in. Water spreading across her face, into her mouth, clear as air. When she opened them, she was flying. When she blinked, Lyarra was gone.

Colors were much sharper here but also wrong. The sky was not the pale blue of before but azure, so bright it almost hurt her eyes and wide and empty. She yearned to spread her wings across the vast emptiness before her, knowing instinctively that this was where she would be King. Her eyes moved from the sky to the black and white blurs in the distance, sharpening until she could she blades of grass whispering in the wind. Each stripe melted into the other seamlessly but she could find the places where it had turned, hair lightening black than grey than silver than white on the zorse. More than color was movement. She knew where they would run. She knew how they would run. She knew she could swoop down and bite her jaws into unprotected flank. Not yet, not yet but soon. The zorse-

The knowledge that she had succeeded was what eventually broke her link. Lyarra nearly jerked off the cot with how hard she toppled, Azantys falling over yet again in a bout of dizziness. They stayed still for a minute or two, the dark-haired girl's temple throbbing inwardly with a building headache as the room reoriented itself. Was it supposed to feel like the floor was swaying?

'I'm on a ship,' she reminded herself. 'Of course it is.'

Giddily, she sat back up and checked the dusk-toned dragon over. 'Are you okay?'

'Yes. That was… that was… can we do that again?' At her raised brow, he explained. 'You and I were looking through the same eyes. It was amazing. I could feel everything you did and I think you were the one to look at the zorses' hides? I didn't look at it last time.'

'Then we have some influence over each other's bodies,' Lyarra noted. 'If you are ever in mine, promise that you won't eat anything raw?'

'Promise! And no shrimp in my body.' She chuckled. He hadn't taken as well to shrimp as he had crab.

'Azantys, do you remember how you pluck memories from my mind?' The dragon nodded, his body curling into a more comfortable position and making it evident that his eyes were no longer open for study. 'Can you do that again for the zorses? But instead of taking the image, hold it inside my head?'

It wasn't something they had tried before, so Lyarra was a little astounded by how quickly her little warrior managed it. He gave off a well-founded sense of pride when the picture was plucked a second later, brought to the forefront of her mind until the dark-haired girl could close her eyes and view it in perfect clarity. The near-seamless blend of white into black and back again… the possibilities that this held were nigh astounding.

'Does it take much effort to hold it there?' When she received a negated response, she requested it to be held on from there. Then Lyarra reached for a reed pen and a pumice stone. Looks like that spyglass wouldn't be necessary after all.

x

Young Griffin, better not-known by his true name of Aegon Targaryen, smiled brightly at the pretty maid lining the food stall. She had the sun-kissed skin of the local Pentoshi but an accent more the lines of the Summer Island and her Mistress owned the best damned skewered aurochs in all of Pentos. A few manners every now and then and Griffin ended up with skewers laden end-to-end with choice cuts of meat and occasionally a kiss on the cheek as well. He personally preferred the former but sometimes one had to compromise one's honor for the best skewered aurochs in Pentos. He wouldn't have done it for the second best though.

"You are such a glutton," the orange-haired Duck chuckled, paying for his own lesser stick.

Griffin shrugged. He had suffered enough japes for his comely face as a child. Why not let it pay off now? "I am a growing boy."

"Growing rounder day by day," the knight snorted. "Do you even know her name?"

The young man did not. To be fair, he knew very few people's names or even the locations of where they arrived most times. This was auroch-skewer street, to the left would be sweetbread street and two stalls next to that had fresh blood oranges every time they visited. Griffin rather wished they were in Qohor now. There was a melon juice stand there that would taste divine with these sticks.

"Sela," Griffin guessed, after some brief thought. It was a common name amongst the smallfolk of Pentos, meaning 'amber stone' and it would fit her Mistress' lofty attitude. Now there was a woman who wouldn't give him a single discount, no matter how prettily he spoke. He tried to schedule his visits here in between her shifts.

"Lucky guess." Duck shook his head. "Be careful how you play with these women's affections, boy. The Gods have a way of righting such wrongs. If you continue than mark my words, you will lose your heart, swiftly and painfully, one day."

The currently blue-haired boy ignored him, devouring his stick with ease, then turning soft violet eyes to the one still in Duck's hand. "Duck…"

His sworn knight took one look at him and flatly replied, "No."

Griffin wilted. How could Ser Rolly do this to him? He knew Griffin was allowed only one day a month to eat whatever he pleased, every other meal carefully crafted by the attentions of Septa Lemore and Maester Haldon. How could his most dutiful sword, devoting his life to his king as he ought, deny him even a single bite of this most glorious…

"I can read the plea in your eyes, boy, and it does nothing to me." To prove his point, the burly man took a large bite out of auroch meat, chewing slowly and making exaggeratedly loud smacks of his lips. Griffin looked away with a pout. "Where shall you drag me to next then?"

He perked up. "A daily ice runner should walk by the following street in a few minutes. We shall buy pinchfire ices from him and after that, a stand…"

Duck listened to his ward's ramble with a fond grin on his face. It was a rare pleasure to see Griffin act as a child of his own age should.

Any plans that had been made swiftly shattered when a high-pitched scream broke through the air. Not even pausing to take a breath, the hidden dragon swiftly drew his sword. He fell into the shadow of the older man, a position he had accustomed himself to until Jon deemed him skilled enough to take point, and chased after the sound. They turned to a road, shopkeepers all pressed back against their wares and people scrambling out of the way, as a tall, bald man tried to steal himself a merchant's purse. Try being the keyword as another interfered before Griffin could.

With surprisingly flexibility, the black-hooded figure slipped under the man's knife, his smaller height assisting in that task. Rather than stab the man as he himself would have done, the stranger used the hilt of his sword to move the robber's arm out of the way, grabbing it with a gloved hand and twisting hard. With a sharp crack, the arm signalled itself broken. A second later, the man's brain caught up and he howled in pain, dropping the knife. The short man then shoved him backwards against a stall and kicked him in the shins. The bald man went down shortly afterward.

It took less than twenty seconds and the stranger was left to stand victoriously over his vanquished foe. Less impressive was when his companion got close enough to pull him aside, dislodging his hood in the process, as he hurriedly checked over the stranger's body for any possible injuries.

"Wow," Griffin breathed quietly. Near silent, the stranger still turned to look at him. The awe were for a different reason now. "Wow."

The stranger was a woman. No, a girl with an oval face framed by dark brown curls and dominated by light lavender eyes. Bow-shaped lips, a gently curved nose, sweetmilk skin and a sword in her hand. He had never seen her before- he would have remembered a face like that- but looking at her felt as if waking from a dream. He wanted very much, desperately so, to know her.

Griffin promptly turned and smacked Duck with the side of his blade. "This is your fault!"

"My fault?" The man repeated, baffled.

"You invited the Gods to right their wrongs, damn you!"

x

I was going to write a scene starring Aegon the future King, all noble and tragic and serious, and then I remembered that he's fifteen. So you get a little more realistic Aegon instead.