The crowd turned like a wave crashing against the shore, gasps resounding throughout. He heard his name whispered again and again as slowly one man, and then the next, fell to his knees. Then they were all bowing, leaving only one standing. This was the boy everyone whispered about, the one they called King in the North. Standing amidst the bowing crowd Rhaegar Targaryen, rightful heir to the Iron Throne, took a good look at Robb Stark.
The boy was nothing that he had expected. From the wild stories that flowed like wine through every tavern Robb Stark should have been between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. He was powerful and dangerous and every inch the king Joffery Baratheon claimed to be; merciless and cold. In the safety of his mind Rhaegar had pictured Robb Stark as Jaime Lannister but with Stark coloring. The real Robb Stark was much different.
Robb Stark couldn't be more than fifteen. He had the auburn Tully hair and brilliant blue eyes of his mother but looked otherwise like what Rhaegar had always pictured a young Eddard Stark to look like. He was standing stiff legged, alone in the crowd, a massive grey direwolf next to him. Rhaegar could see Robb's white knuckles clenched in the fur. His eyes were nervous and uncertain, as if he wasn't sure whether to fall to his knees of turn and run. An iron crown rested in his auburn curls, looking as if it were too heavy a burden for any fifteen year old to wear.
Kneeling next to him was an auburn haired woman that could only be Catelyn Tully. She was a Stark now, he supposed. Rumor told him that she had married Eddard Stark after Brandon's death. She looked tired, worn from the loss of her husband perhaps. On the other side of Robb was a dark haired young man, also kneeling. It wasn't hard to guess who's son he was. The young man was a mirror image of Balon Greyjoy when he had been younger. "Rise." It wasn't easy for Rhaegar to force the word out. He had waited for his return so long that he wasn't sure what to do know that he had it.
The people around him stood slowly, enveloping Robb Stark in a crowd once more. "I would speak with your lord, alone," he told them and there was a shifting of unease. Robb Stark had been a king to them and though they may not have seen him as one now it didn't diminish their love for him. No one moved. At Rhaegar's side Oberyn Martell, brother of his wife Elia of Dorne and his close friend, shifted in annoyance, reaching for his sword.
"I'm sure we can find a room to suit your Highness." Catelyn Stark's voice cleared the crowd, calm and composed. The tension leaked out of the camp on the brush of a chilly breeze as Catelyn placed a hand on her son's shoulder. "If you would be so kind as to follow me?" Rhaegar nodded once and Catelyn turned, steering her son away. Eddard Stark's widow led them to an open room at Riverrun overlooking a stream below. The Greyjoy, whichever one he was, had come as well and so had the direwolf. Catelyn gave a practiced curtsey and swept out of the room, sending a meaningful glance at Greyjoy as she left. The dark haired man hesitated but Robb waved him away tiredly. Now only Rhaegar, Oberyn, and Robb Stark remained in the room with the direwolf.
Rhaegar took a step forward and the direwolf growled, stepping between his master and the one he had perceived a threat. Oberyn stiffened, reaching for his sword once more, but Rhaegar knelt before the massive creature, offering a hand. "I am no threat to your master," he told the wolf softly and slowly the snarl faded away. Rhaegar stood and looked at Robb then, unsure of how to begin. When he had been the Prince of Dragonstone he had understood how to deal with the nobles and he had been loved. Only one family had ever eluded his understanding. The Starks. Quiet, noble, and cold, rumor had it that they were much like the north they so loved. That had been true of Lord Rickard Stark but his eldest son, Brandon, and his only daughter, Lyanna, had been full of fire. Eddard Stark, however, had been silence and ice, and he had seemed to pass that down to his son.
"King in the North, or so they say," Oberyn commented from his position standing by the door.
"So they tell me." Robb's voice was tired and he sounded far too old for his young body.
"Do you stand in opposition of the true heir?' Oberyn asked sharply, stepping farther into the room, and the direwolf growled. Part of Rhaegar wanted to tell Oberyn to be calm but the rest of him wanted to hear the answer. He waited.
Robb Stark let out a bitter laugh. "Which heir do you mean? Joffery Baratheon who is really a Lannister by bold? Or perhaps Stannis Baratheon or his younger brother Renly who even now fight over a throne?" Then was a pause and Rhaegar could see the Red Viper of Dorne clench his teeth but the Targaryen prince held up a hand to stop his friend from speaking. He sensed Robb Stark was not finished speaking and a moment later he was proved correct. "But you mean your own prince and not any of the others." Robb turned to Rhaegar, his eyes tired as he pulled the crown off his head and let it drop. It hit the ground with a clang that echoed about the room and rolled to a stop at the true heir to the Iron Throne's feet. "Take it. It was forged from grief and has brought me nothing but grief. May it bring you more luck than it has me." Then he turned and walked to the window.
The direwolf breathed out a melancholy sigh and lay down on the ground. Rhaegar stepped carefully over the crown and walked to join Robb at the window, Oberyn on his heels. "What grief has it brought you then?" he asked.
A breeze stirred Robb's curls and the heir to Winterfell sighed. "It was forged after my father's execution. My sisters were at King's Landing at that time. Sansa is still held there and Arya is presumed dead. She has not been seen since my father's death. My younger brothers, Bran and Rickon, are trapped in a besieged Winterfell which my forces are too depleted to turn back and save, and my half brother Jon and the company of men of the Watch that he left with to scout beyond the Wall have not been seen or heard from in four days."
"It is times like these that breed misfortune such as this," Oberyn said, his tone softened now. There had been raw pain in Robb's voice, pain and a helplessness that made Rhaegar's heart ache.
"If you want the crown take it," Robb said, his voice emotionless once more. "I give it to you gladly. I do not want to be the King in the North any longer."
"What do you want?" Rhaegar asked but he was not fully prepared for the answer.
"I want my sister's returned to me safely. I want to free my brothers from their imprisonment and starvation in Winterfell. I want to go beyond the Wall and bring Jon back safe to Winterfell." There was a broken pause as Rhaegar and Oberyn both watched Robb choke down a sob. "I want my father back."