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"Robert, I beg of you," Ned pleaded, "hear what you are saying. You're talking of murdering a child."
"The whore is pregnant!" The king's fist slammed down on the table, as loud as a thunderclap. "I warned you this would happen Ned, back in the barrowlands, but you did not care to hear it. Well, you'll hear it now! I want them dead, mother and child both, and that fool Viserys as well. Is that plain enough for you? I want them dead!"
The other councillors were all doing their best to pretend they were somewhere else, apart from Lord Renly. Who was struggling, and failing, to hide the growing look of contempt on his face. Given how thoroughly the Stormlands lord had laid out the different reasons for killing Bran, with little in his voice showing that he was discussing the possible death of a child, Ned suspected the contempt was directed at him.
Eddard Stark had never felt quite so alone. "You will dishonour yourself forever if you do this."
"Then let it be on my head, so long as it is done. I am not so blind that I cannot see the shadow of the axe that is hanging over my own neck." Robert argued.
Ned drew breath to try and dispel the idea that there was any axe at all, but someone else spoke up first.
"And yet you're blind enough to choose the one course of action that is guaranteed to bring that axe crashing down." Renly spoke up harshly.
Ned stared in surprise, stunned by the support. So too, it seemed, was the rest of the small council.
"What was that boy?" Robert spat at his younger brother, who calmly continued cleaning his nails with the point of his dagger. Seemingly unaffected by the king's anger, or his disrespect towards his own Master of Laws.
"I said, Your Grace, that out of the many options before you, you are choosing the only one that guarantees a Dothraki horde will descend on the Seven Kingdoms whether it succeeds or not."
"So you too counsel me to do nothing until the dragonspawn land their army on my shores?" Robert argued back.
Ned seized on the part of Lord Renly's statement that Robert had not addressed. The part that might help divert his brother from this madness. "Lord Renly; how is it that dispatching assassins against the Targaryen's will guarantee that the Dothraki will attempt to cross the narrow sea?"
Ned carefully did not concede that the Dothraki would actually succeed in that attempt. Though he was grateful for the reinforcements Lord Renly offered his own beleaguered position, perhaps his contempt had not been directed at Ned after all.
"It will guarantee a response because, succeed or fail, we will have attacked Khal Drogo's wife and child. He can't let that stand, any more than if the Sealord of Bravos was to assassinate Queen Cersei and Prince Joffrey. He would have to strike back at us or else his banners, or whatever passes for banners among those savages, would sense weakness. He'd be facing rebellion before the month's end if he let our challenge go unanswered."
The small council sat silently, absorbing the information. Lord Renly decided to hammer the point home.
Succeed or fail, if you do this, Khal Drogo's horde will be upon us before the season changes. And that's if she's just a trophy, if she's his Lyanna then he'll be on his way before…."
"Don't you dare compare that dragonspawn to my Lyanna! Don't you DARE!" Robert bellowed, standing and slamming his fists into the table as his brother put up his hands in surrender and fell silent. Clearly realising he had overstepped.
Ned waited for Robert to regain control of himself before he asked Lord Renly to speak again.
"You would counsel that we wait then Lord Renly?"
"I would counsel that we send assassins after Khal Drogo rather than the Targaryens." The young lord clarified.
There it was. The difference that always seemed to appear whenever Ned thought that Renly Baratheon might truly be a friend. The willingness to use assassins, to carry out dishonourable acts, to always have hidden reasons for everything he did. They all meant that while Ned might well call the man ally, he could never call him friend.
Though in this case, if Robert couldn't be dissuaded from sending assassins, at least supporting the young lord would see his brother send them after a man grown. A king of sorts as well, someone who would have expected assassins to be sent after him by someone the moment he took whatever the Dothraki used for a throne. It was better than sending them after a child and an unborn babe at least.
"If our assassins fail then surely striking at the Khal directly would invoke even more dire retribution on us?" Varys tittered.
"Then you had best choose our agents well hadn't you Varys." Lord Renly snarked.
"Surely my lord," Grand Maester Pycelle spoke up, "striking against the…the Khal was it?... would see the horde come down on us even if our assassins' blades found their mark."
"The Dothraki follow martial strength. With Drogo's child unborn his captains will split his horde between themselves and forget us entirely. Drogo's promise doesn't bind them, and they'll almost certainly turn on each other once they start bickering over who gets what. More importantly, Daenerys will be sent to the great Dothraki citadel to live out her life in celibacy along with all the other former Khals' wives."
Robert stirred. "Where any one of those dam Khals might come to claim her. And that's if her dragonspawn child doesn't grow up to become a Khal himself! Rhaegar was a rapist dragonborn cunt, but he was dam hard to kill. I remember. I kill him every night in my dreams.
Ned tried to keep the scorn out of his voice and failed. "Have the years so unmanned you that you tremble at the shadow of an unborn child?"
Robert purpled. "No more, Ned," he warned, "not another word. Have you forgotten who is king here?"
"No, Your Grace," Ned replied, "have you?"
"Enough! I say that girl will die! What say you all?"
"That you're striking the wrong target." Lord Renly was the first to speak. "As long as you strike at the girl, not the man, I stand with Lord Eddard."
Robert fumed but turned to meet the gaze of the Lord Commander of his Kingsguard.
"Forgive me, Your Grace, there is honour in facing an enemy on the battlefield, there is even necessity at striking against a man from the shadows. But there is neither in killing a babe in his mothers' womb. I must stand with Lord Eddard and Lord Renly." Ser Barristan Selmy spoke grimly.
Eddard reflected ruefully that had Stannis returned from Dragonstone to attend this meeting, the four of them might have had a chance of persuading Robert. But as it was, the three remaining craven members of the small council bowed to Robert's will. With his small council divided down the middle, Robert would not be dissuaded.
Ned barely focused on the rest as the bickering began. He vaguely remembered Lord Renly protesting about the proposed assassin, questioning their competence and loyalty. Ned thought he himself might have berated Robert for complaining poison was a coward's weapon as he plotted to kill a girl and her unborn babe.
In the end, he could only truly remember the moment it came to a head. The moment when Robert ordered him to discard his honour and affix his seal to this despicable crime.
He pushed back his chair and stood. "I will not be part of the murder of a child Robert. Do as you will, but I will not affix my seal to it."
Robert's face when through several changes as he struggled to comprehend Ned's defiance. Ned doubted anyone had told him 'no' since Jon Arryn had died, and perhaps, in truth, it was long before even that.
"You are the King's Hand, Lord Stark. You will do as I command you, or I'll find a Hand who will."
"I wish him every success." Ned replied coldly as he removed the golden symbol of his office and placed it before the king. Saddened by the memory of the friend he had loved. The friend he only saw hints of in the man before him now. "I thought you a better man than this, Robert. I thought we had made a nobler king."
Robert's face was purple. "Out." He croaked, choking on his rage. "Out, dam you, I'm done with you. What are you wating for? Go, run back to Winterfell. And make certain I never look on your face again, or I swear, I'll have your head on a spike!"
The first light of dawn began to fill the courtyard as the sun crept towards the horizon. Alyssa carried the firewood she'd gathered from the stores into the great keep and down into to the main kitchens of Winterfell. The cook was already working hard, creating the breakfast for the young lords and the servants and guards worthy of a seat in the great hall for their morning meal.
Alyssa had already broken her fast earlier in the servants keep, for the kitchen and scullery maids were always the first to rise. She gratefully emptied the large basket into the wood store by the large ovens, before heading over to see what the cook and the kitchen maids wanted her to do next.
She had wanted to be a kitchen maid. They had more privileges than mere scullery maids like her while still working as serving girls too. But the Stark servants, as well as being incredibly loyal, were also very long serving. Her employer had jested that to truly be trusted she'd have had to have had a family member serving the Starks during the Age of Heroes.
That had been a lot closer to the truth than she had expected. Just creating a space amongst the scullery maids had been much more trouble than she was used to. In the end she'd had to resort to spending weeks in Winter Town, encouraging the romance between the young baker's apprentice and one of the scullery maids, before convincing them to elope with a little coin and romantic tales of White Harbour.
Hopefully they found the city to their liking. Alyssa had never set foot there. Making sure that she was chosen to fill the eloping girl's position had also been far more trouble than she was used to. Simple bribes hadn't worked amongst these honourable northerners, so she'd had to manipulate and manufacture grudges so that all of those mothers with daughters they wanted to get into security and prestige of the Stark household ended up throwing mud at each other. Leaving her as the only relatively unblemished option available to the cook despite her name.
That 'relatively' nearly sunk her plan, but the bastard name was the only way she had been able to enter Winter Town with even a little respectability. The community spirit and connections in the North destroyed any story she tried to weave, so she'd had to create one that no one wanted to look into too closely. Searching for a bastard's parents when they had the surname only given to highborn bastards was unlikely to end well for the smallfolk concerned, so the people of Winter Town had let her be.
One of the stewards' men was talking to Cook, frowning, when she approached. "You're telling me all that the usual girls are ill?"
Her timing had been perfect, as always.
"That's what bad fish does Jory." Cook spoke exasperatedly while she bustled around him. "And when I found out who thought it was a good idea to cook it for the servant's breakfast instead of slinging in the compost like they were supposed to they'll be in for the thrashing of their lives! Believe you me!"
Alyssa believed her. Which was why she had no intention of letting Cook find out that it had been her that whispered the suggestion into the right ear. Or that the fish was poisoned rather than bad.
"But all your maids…are serving girls…surely…" Jory constantly had to dodge Cook as she practically danced around the kitchen, growing more exasperated by the minute. Eventually she noticed Alyssa.
"You want a girl to take it up? Here. Take Alyssa." Cook handed her a tray with warm porridge, honey, nuts, water, and fruit from the glass gardens. "Take this up to lord Bran. Getting down to the high table first thing every day is too much of a struggle for the poor dear."
"I don't know her." Jory muttered mutinously. Shrinking back as Cook suddenly rounded on him.
"Oh dear." Cook said, snatching the tray from Alyssa's hands and pushing it into Jory's chest. "Then you'd better take it yourself, hadn't you? No? Then stop complaining. Lord Robb will be down any moment, the hall's filling up, and half my girls are ill so, if you don't mind…"
Cook gave the tray back to Alyssa and hounded both her and Jory out the door.
Jory looked at her as the door slammed closed and just sighed.
"Lord Bran hates being pitied, and he may speak harshly to you if the black melancholy is upon him today. Don't stare at him, don't speak to him, don't even breathe near him. The guards will search you as you're not the usual serving girl, so be quick before the porridge gets cold."
Alyssa nodded franticly and disappeared up the stairs, displaying what she considered to be an appropriate level of nerves and excitement for the role she was playing. In reality, all she felt was relief that this task would soon be over. It would have been so much easier if the Starks needed fires laying in their chambers every morning like every other house in the North. But Winterfell had the scalding water of its hot springs piped through its walls, keeping the castle warm in even the harshest winters, and, apparently, it was still summer here. So, they needed no fires. Not that you would believe it was still summer unless you knew how cold the North could truly get.
Alyssa smiled sweetly as the guards stationed at the entrance to the family's suite searched her thoroughly. She would have had a great deal of trouble getting one of her usual weapons through, but that wasn't a concern today. Surprisingly, they let her through without accompanying her.
Clearly the Starks weren't used to the game of thrones, as no search could ever find every weapon an assassin could possibly be carrying. Not unless it had the servant subjected to it stripped naked, fully shaved, and force-fed laxatives. Which was why none of the other great houses would have allowed a different servant to usual enter their lord's chambers alone if an assassin had already made an attempt on their life. After all, as thorough as it was, the Stark search hadn't found the small bottle of poison hidden in her hair.
Alyssa stopped dead upon entering Bran Stark's chambers. Musing that the other great houses didn't allow giant wolves to sleep at the foot of their beds either. So maybe the Starks weren't as naive as people thought.
Brandon Stark was still asleep, but the huge wolf was not. It lay at the foot of his bed, watching her. Alyssa was well aware of the fate of the last assassin to run afoul of it and nearly pissed herself when it raised its head and let out a warning growl. Still, she retained control, letting the wolf see her hands as she placed the tray's legs either side of the crippled boy's useless thighs. She quietly withdrew the small piece of parchment from between her breasts and placed it in the sleeping boy's hand, before quickly retreating out of the room.
She had looked at the parchment of course, but for the life of her she could not figure out what 'the three eyed crow is not to be trusted' meant. Nor why Lord Baratheon needed it delivered so secretly. In all her years in service to Storm's End, 'Alyssa' had never been given a stranger task. But at last it was done, and soon she could make her way back south.
Brandon Stark still being asleep was a boon she hadn't dared hope for. It had allowed her to be much more direct with the placement of the message, rather than placing it discretely before waiting in Winterfell several more days to be certain he had found it. She quietly made her way through the slowly waking Winterfell and slipped through one of the postern gates, disappearing into Winter Town. Her supplies were waiting, and soon she would be unrecognisable with the help of dyes, makeup, and props.
After all, anyone searching for 'Alyssa' would be searching for a serving girl trying to flee Winter Town. Not a farmer's wife who had just entered it. 'Looking is not seeing' was a lesson that few people ever learned.
Loras had demanded that I shave the moment I returned from the small council meeting. My stubble had got so long it was causing him beard burn when we kissed for any length of time, which was not something that he could easily explain away. As much as our relationship had been an open secret at the court long before my arrival, it was still a secret. We had to at least look like we were trying to keep it that way if we wanted others to continue to turn a blind eye.
Which is how I'd ended up seated in a chair in my chambers, telling Loras what had transpired at the small council as he shaved me. He'd insisted on doing it himself as it meant he would be able to shave me all over. Loras apparently preferred me hairless, and to be honest, I preferred being that way too.
"Lord Stark's lucky he still has a head." Loras commented as he dragged the razor across the last unshaved part of my face, my actual hair held back in a topknot to stay out of the way.
"Robert will rant and rave, but he won't do anything. He adores the man." I replied as Loras scouped up more shaving cream and spread it over my chest in a far more sensual manner than was necessary.
"You're jealous." He remarked, surprised, fingers playing with my nipples as he forgot the razor for a moment.
My breath hitched as Loras continued to play with me while he bit his lip. "Only…ah…because he treats me as a spoiled child because I haven't been to war. It's not like there've been any wars since I came of age, so it hardly seems fair."
"You did vomit in that melee." Loras laughed, abandoning his teasing and returning to shaving.
"His eye was dangling out of the dam socket! Blood I can deal with, broken limbs I can deal with, even missing limbs at a stretch. But I draw the line at dangling eyes." I shot back as Loras simply smirked lovingly.
"Shut up and hold still." He laughed, raising one of my arms to remove the hair there as well.
"You're lucky I like being hairless," I grumbled, "it takes so dam long to shave everywhere I wouldn't put up with it otherwise."
"Oh, I'm sure I could make it worth your while." Loras teased, taking one of my nipples between his teeth for a moment and raising his eyebrows at me.
"Ah! Yes…I suspect you could." I relented as Loras bit down, before drawing back and continuing to shave me.
"So, how did it end up? Will the Targaryen girl die?"
"Unfortunately. Robert refused to go after the Khal, you know, the actual threat, instead focusing on a girl because her brother angered him nearly twenty years ago. Bad enough that doing so is mind numbingly stupid, but he's so tasteless about it as well. Every time he mentions killing her I swear the table rises six inches."
"Only six?" Loras grinned. "It seems I won the draw with the Baratheon brothers then. Still, it's a shame he can't muster the same enthusiasm for his wife."
"Well, he certainly has a deep and abiding lust for her money if not for her." I replied, closing my eyes as I read from my vague memory of the script, approaching the moment of no return. "The Lannisters may be the most pompous, insufferable twats the gods ever suffered to walk the world, but they do have an outrageous amount of money."
"I have an outrageous amount of money." Loras snarked, sitting back on his heels and pouting adorably.
"Not as much as the Lannisters my love, no one does." I pointed out, smiling indulgently as I cupped his face for a moment.
"Maybe, but I do have a lot more than anyone but them." Loras replied thoughtfully as he pulled my breeches down. Ostensibly to begin shaving my legs, but instead he contented himself with laying his head in my lap as I played with his hair and changed the subject.
"Robert's threatening to take me hunting next week."
"Uh huh." Loras grunted in acknowledgement. His eyes still closed contentedly as I pulled my fingers through his curls.
"Last time we were out there for two weeks. Not that I mind spending time outdoors, but he wouldn't even let me bring a book. Nor swim in the Wendwater, nor climb one of the hills. Nooo we had to trapse through the forest day after day, armed to the teeth, till he could find something to stab his spear into."
"I've always rather enjoyed a good Baratheon spear stabbing." Loras murmured cheekily, nuzzling my half-hard manhood through the thin cloth of my smallclothes.
"Mmmm….well trust me, I'd far rather spend my time here playing 'hide the spear' with you. But Robert loves his killing, and he's the king."
"Yes…how did that ever happen." Loras murmured, mouthing my now aching hardness through the cloth.
"Because he loves his killing, and he used to be good at it." I shot back, enjoying his attentions.
Loras pulled away, sitting on his heels again as he looked at me seriously.
"Do you know who should be king?" he asked, raising his eyebrows and looking at me pointedly when I remained silent.
"I'm fourth in line!" I exclaimed exasperatedly.
"And where in line was Robert when he took the throne?" Loras responded sarcastically, running his hands over my thighs. "Joffrey is a monster, Tommen is eight, and Stannis has the personality of a lobster."
Both of us burst out laughing at that rather accurate description of Stannis' people skills.
"You're certainly right about Joffrey," I allowed, "and Stannis could certainly never hold the Seven Kingdoms together in a time of peace, no matter how skilled a battle commander he is. You've no idea how many problems with his lords Jon Arryn had to smooth over."
"Oh, I think I can guess." Loras smirked.
"But Tommen is only eight," I continued, "and he's a sweet child besides. I could be his regent, teach him how to rule, become his Hand when he comes of age."
"As if his mother and grandfather would let you." Loras scoffed, and I had to concede he was right. Whether I took the Iron Throne for myself, or held it for Tommen until he came of age, either way I would have to fight.
Loras seemed to sense my thoughts. "Stannis may be a better commander, but it's far easier to find a good commander than it is to compensate for a bad king. I'd fight for you, command for you, and my father would be your bank. You could focus on ruling and bringing the kingdoms to your side. People love you. They love to serve you because your kind to them, because you want what's best for them, not just what's best for you."
"Your father would demand I marry Margery." I noted
"Would that be so hard?" Loras frowned.
"Not as long as she knows about us, and knows I'll never love her as a husband should."
Loras smirked. "She knows about us already, and my sister loves a crown more than any man. As long as she is your Queen Alysanne, not your Queen Cersei, she will find no hardship in being married to you."
Loras leaned in again, nuzzling my manhood back to full hardness as he spoke. "King or regent, they'd follow you because you do what needs to be done, but you only strike down those you have to. You don't love killing."
Loras used his teeth to pull the front of my smallclothes down and spoke quietly as he looked up at me from below my newly released manhood, letting it rest hot and heavy on his face. "Thrones aren't only made for the hated and the feared. You would be a wonderful king."
Loras licked all the way up my shaft and gently swallowed me to the root before I could make an articulate reply.
I only had time for one thought before I gave myself over fully to the beautiful knight's attentions. I grabbed his hair and pulled, stopping him for a moment.
"Nngghh. If….If we do this. Its because I chose it. If it goes wrong, I won't have you blaming yourself, convinced you pushed me into it."
Loras' eyes darkened with desire. He nodded as well as he could with his mouth so full, before simply sucking harder.
Fanfic Recommendation: The Journal of King Joffrey Baratheon, First of his Name – By Hermionechan90
This absolute gem sees a 4 year old Joffrey gain the memories of an SI, and rather than a traditional SI the result is a normal boy with 'a pool of information about another world, two interpretations of his own world's future, the thought processes of an adult, and all the emotions of a toddler child who wanted hugs and kisses and the attention of his doting mother.
As you can imagine, while he doesn't cause any huge ripples early in the story due to his age, the Joffrey that approaches the start of the GOT time is a very different one to canon, and he has very different relationships with those around him, which will really make the upcoming interactions fantastic to watch unfold.
Best of all, part of each chapter is the historians of the future who have found the journal, commenting on it with a modern perspective and how it matches with what 'modern history' tells them happened in the Second Long Night. It's a fantastic read.