A/N: Hi everyone. First time writing for Game of Thrones, so... don't be too hard on me, lol. I had this idea for a while and just managed to get the gumption to start writing it so I hope I got the characters right.
Let me know what you think, and be sure to drop a review. If y'all have any requests or ideas, I'm happy to read them :)
Slicing through the still air, a decent warmth yet joined by a cooling breeze even during summer, the arrow impacted directly into the center of the target. Only, it wasn't that of the young nobleman practicing. Little Arya took a bow, clutching her own bow - leading Bran to chase after her while the older boys laughed. Life may not have been perfect for the Stark clan, but it came close sometimes.
"Alright lads," cautioned Ser Rodrick. "Clean up dis mess before you head inside!" Both Robb Stark and Jon Snow complied, knowing the drill.
Grabbing a trio of arrows, Jon couldn't help but glance up to catch a glimpse of his father. The lone bastard in the brood of Starks, even the slightly pampered life of an acknowledged son couldn't make up for the missing affection provided to his half-siblings. Lord Eddard Stark loved all his children, and Jon cherished any bit of fatherly pride he gave him. Eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Brother, why are father and Lady Stark arguing?" Catelyn Stark made sure he knew of her distaste for him.
Robb looked up himself, frowning. "This does not look good. They rarely argue like this." The Realm was at peace, so it was rare that disputes led to such contention between the Lord and Lady of Winterfell. Even the death of Catelyn's father hadn't done so, her brother Edmure taking the control of the Riverlands rather easily. "I guess we'll find out when we find out."
"I guess we will, brother," Jon replied, averting his eyes upon Lady Stark's death glare sent at him.
Tearing her gaze from Jon Snow - her husband's bastard, the living reminder of the shame the normally honorable Warden of the North brought down upon her - Catelyn turned back to her husband. "And why in the name of the Old Gods must you do this?" She tried to keep her voice down, feeling it wise not to draw attention to their quarrel.
Worry lines deepened on the brooding vestige of Lord Ned Stark. "I don't have a choice Catelyn. It is my responsibility to see this through."
"But to disappear from the North to journey across the sea? Not a day after we found out Jon Arryn passed away? You cannot leave Winterfell now."
"We have been at peace for over a decade, Cat."
"Times are uncertain now. Ned. All I ask is that you stay. Lord Karstark can see to this. It is his deal that he must follow through on, his people at stake after all."
Ned frowned, slightly stunned that Catelyn would minimize his duty. "Lord Karstark would do this, but the merchants in Pentos would only treat with the Warden of the North for something of this magnitude."
"But it is not your responsibility." Lady Stark had inherited the Tully stubbornness after all.
"I am Warden of the North, therefore it is my responsibility." He remembered the raven from Karhold, telling him of the outbreak of blight. Karstark and his men had eradicated it, but with the result of destroying the current years crop - they had to get more or else there would be starvation in their lands or a depletion of stores for winter. "There is nowhere else for Karhold to get grain this late in the harvest season."
Catelyn grasped his arm. "If this were the Vale, or even the Westernlands I'd understand, but Pentos? You can't travel all the way to Essos simply to oversee a shipment of grain. Send one of your trusted men, or even Ser Rodrick!" she pleaded.
"I gave Lord Karstark my word, and a Stark's word is his bond." He felt hurt seeing the steely look in his beloved's eyes. "Myself and my son will sail for Pentos before the end of the week." Ned might as well drop the other bombshell on his wife.
"You're taking Robb to Pentos too? I see no reason why both you and your heir should leave." If something happened to both of them then Bran would have to assume the Lordship, and he was far too young.
Ned looked down at his two sons, laughing as they put away the archery equipment. How he loved them both, even if only one was his trueborn. "No. Robb will stay here and manage affairs in my name. It is time he get true experience in being a Lord." The second born that he was had won his experience during the furious conflict of Robert's Rebellion. "I will take Jon."
As he expected, Catelyn visibly recoiled as if a fire had engulfed the space between them. "Your bastard?! Why would you soil yourself with him?" she hissed.
"The circumstances of his birth are immaterial. He is my… blood of my blood." Ned hated further dishonoring himself, but he simply had to do so. For everyone he knew and loved. "I need someone strong and trustworthy to assist me on this voyage and Jon is the best choice."
"How could you insult me this way, Ned?" Her piercing gaze returned to Jon Snow, putting away the last of the arrows. He looked up and met Catelyn's eyes once more, feeling the radiating contempt. "First you bring him to Winterfell, humiliating your faithful wife with proof of your adultery. And now you grant him the full privilege of being your son when we all know full well that he is no such thing."
'Aye, he is not,' Ned thought, sighing inwardly. He hated fighting with Catelyn, but Jon was a constant source of disagreement - to put it mildly. "Look Cat, I understand Jon isn't your favorite person." She huffed and crossed her arms, averting her gaze. "But long ago I made a promise that I would take care of him no matter what. He is my blood and I love him as… just as much as I do Robb, Sansa, and all the others." It warmed his heart that his eldest and three youngest accepted Jon with open hearts, though he wished Sansa wouldn't be as cold. "He has no birthright. No prospects for anything other than the skills he can bring to bear for this House."
"Your bastard," she spat, "Can join your brother at the Wall. We all know that he wants to. There is no more perfect place for him that the Night's Watch." To tell the truth she had been looking forward to the day when he would be shipped off there, never to be seen again by her or anyone.
Ned's heart broke, thinking of Jon at the Wall. "He could, aye, but what if it isn't his destiny. Seeing new places and learning new skills would be good for him, give him a new outlook on life." Wanting more for his son than a dreary life at the Wall, an exile to the end of the world nor befitting what a great man Jon was, Ned knew he was grasping at straws but willing to try. "It is decided, Cat. I am taking Jon to Pentos, that is final." Catching the pained look on his beloved's face, Ned hated to hurt her but knew it needed to be done.
The cool sea breeze whipped Jon's matted hair behind him, counteracting the unhindered rays of the summer sun. He rested his hands on the caravel's railing, watching the vast expanse of dark blue water as far as the eye could see - no land having been in sight since leaving White Harbor and the open arms of House Manderly. He smirked, having rather enjoyed being part of the festivities for a change.
Looking back at the hustle and bustle of the Manderly crew - the aging Lord Wyman more than happy to provide his fastest ship for the great Ned Stark - Jon knew there would be much to enjoy about this journey. Sure he missed his siblings, even Sansa though he doubted she returned such feelings, but being away from the presence of Lady Stark and the other longtime stalwarts of House Stark was more than welcome. Here, out on the open sea he was not Jon Snow, the Bastard of Winterfell. He was the son of Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and Wolf of the Trident. His idol, along with his Uncle Benjen.
"Such an amazing sight, isn't it?" Jon was interrupted out of his thoughts by the presence of his father, joining him on his right. "Living inland, we don't get this sort of view."
"Aye." Despite knowing his father loved him, Jon still felt sort of cowed in his presence. Seemingly sensing the thoughts, Ned reached out and clasped the lad's shoulders, giving them a fatherly shake. Jon couldn't help but grin. "Being away from the North for the first time, seeing everything, it puts things into perspective doesn't it?"
"That it does son, that it does." Jon's heart skipped a beat at being called 'son.' With the life he had, a bastard took whatever affection sent his way with open arms. "Jon…" he turned and looked at his father, studying him. The normally proud Eddard Stark seemed… conflicted. Pensive even. As if he was fighting within himself.
Protocol dictated that a bastard call his father by his title - yet, it was just him and his father, no one else to contradict or scold him over it. "Yes, father?"
Opening his mouth, nothing came out. Luckily for his dignity, a yipping ball of white fur bailed Ned Stark out. The Warden of the North glanced down to find Jon's new dire wolf - the runt of the litter - begging for attention. "I see your new child is calling you," he said in a rare moment of jest.
Jon laughed and hefted up the pup. "What's wrong Ghost? Let's see if the ship's kitchen has something for you." The pup wagged his tail excitedly as his master led him away.
As soon as Jon was out of sight Ned let out a breath that he didn't realize that he'd been holding. 'Was I just about to tell him…" He shook his head. Now was not the time, never the time. Ned Stark knew it in his bones that trouble was on its way, and the status quo was the safest for all.
The ship turned south, making course for Pentos.
Blinking her eyes, the silver-haired young girl didn't think she heard him correctly. "I'm sorry, brother. I don't think I understood what you were saying." If it was what she thought it to be, then the barely-eaten lamb and vegetable milieu in the style of Western Essos didn't look as appetizing.
Viserys laughed, a piercing, cruel laugh - as if he enjoyed his sister's confusion and dejection. "Well of course you didn't understand me, sweet sister. A weak and frail woman wouldn't understand the schemings of her male betters." He speared a cube of meat in his fork, scarfing it down his skinny gullet. Unlike what the stories said of the toned, muscular Crown Prince Rhaegar, his younger brother was as skinny as a reed. However, he had enough haughtiness to spare. "I shall go slower for you, though. For the first time in our wretched life you shall be of use to me, sister."
Hands in her lap, Daenerys Targaryen avoided looking at her older brother. If she looked ungrateful then he would undoubtedly 'Awaken the Dragon.' That she grasped that he only had done so to those weaker than him - mostly women - was something he failed to see. "There is nothing in the world I wouldn't do to be of use to you, dear brother."
She felt his clammy hand cup her cheek, forcing her to look up. "That is good, because our near term plans have changed. It is not I that you will marry in the near term."
This did surprise Dany - as her mother had once called her in the few hours they had known each other. As with their parents, and grandparents before them, Targaryens had largely upheld the custom of Aegon the Conqueror to marry siblings. Keep the bloodline pure, even though the Targaryen blood joined that of the Baratheons and Lannisters in its strength. Though she would have done it for her family, inside Dany was relieved that it was not to happen. Then a thought hit her. "Who… who am I to marry?"
A sickening grin - more hyena than Dragon - formed on Viserys' face. "The Khal of the Dothraki barbarians. You for an army to put me back on the Iron Throne. My birthright."
Daenerys had to bite her lip to keep from screaming.
"I am not happy with this arrangement Illyrio," Ned Stark ground out, his lips pursed in a dark glower. His northern clothes baked in the heat of the Essos sun, sensing that Jon would join him in relief to head inside. For now, his annoyance at the merchant distracted him from the discomfort. "You were supposed to have the grain ready yesterday morning. I don't see enough to fit even one silo."
Hands clasped together underneath the flowing red/yellow shift, Illyrio Mopatis snorted. "It is not I that controls the weather, Lord Stark. Nor do I have any control over the slaves that grow the wheat. Pentos has trouble feeding itself for now." Given the thick neck and flabby belly underneath the scraggly, braided beard and flowing garments, Jon observed, the Master of the Pentos Merchants Guild had no trouble procuring enough food for his table.
His father was having none of it. Ned was normally even tempered - even when executing the deserter from the Night's Watch, Jon hadn't seen him bat an eyelash. Now though… "We had an agreement," Ned seethed. "I will not let Karkold starve on my watch." A smirk found its way onto Jon's face watching his father grip the hilt of his sword. A move seen by all.
Gulping, Illyrio backtracked with a beaming smile on his face. "But of course, Lord Stark. Forgive me. We have been working at a vigorous pace to fill Lord Karstark's order, but it will take more time than we expected."
Letting go of the sword, Ned let out a deep breath, calming himself. "And how much more time will we need?"
"A month, give or take a week… the harvest at Karkold, limited it may be, can last for that long if my estimates are correct," the merchant hastily added.
Sharing a look with Jon, who merely shrugged, Ned knew this was the best he could do. Illyrio was right, Karkold's harvest would hold. It wasn't what he desired, but… "Alright. But given the order of this magnitude, I will oversee that you fulfil the amounts that you promised. Both myself and my son, Jon."
Having been preoccupied observing the strange sights of Essos, Jon immediately turned back to his father. 'Not Jon Snow, or my bastard… but Jon." Essentially, Eddard Stark had claimed him as his son without clarification. Suppressing outward emotion, inside Jon was beaming.
"Of course," Illyrio conceded, bowing slightly to the Warden of the North and personal friend of the King of Westros. "As a sign of my apologies for the delay, allow me to offer you and your son the use of two of my spare bedrooms. My house is at your service, and there is more than enough room to house both you and my other guests."
Both northerners raised a single brow. "Other guests?" Ned inquired. The merchant guilds - and the bankers guild in Braavos - were the most powerful organizations in the free cities. Illyrio, who commanded his guild, wouldn't open his home to just anyone.
The smile on the oily merchant's face was disconcerting to Jon. This was not a man to trust. "Right this way, Lord Stark." He guided Ned into the atrium of the mansion, Jon following close behind. "Allow me to introduce you to my other honored guests…" He stopped, smile widening. "Ah, there she is now." Color drained from Ned's face at the first glimpse of silver hair.
Sitting by herself at the fountain, Daenerys still hadn't processed what her brother told her. 'The Dothraki.' All in the known world knew of them, the barbarians on horseback. Terrors and land pirates that built nothing - only sowing destruction in their wake. She was so consumed with her thoughts that she didn't spot the two northerners until they were nearly upon her. Clearly Westerosi, one sported the hardened, weathered looks of an experienced fighter while the other - was far younger and far more handsome. Dany blushed, looking away.
She was beautiful. In all his life, Jon had never seen such an exquisite woman. But why was his father so ashen upon seeing her?
Illyrio would soon dispel any doubt. "Lord Stark, allow me to introduce Princess Daenerys of House Targaryen."