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Chapter 8

Jon Arryn arrived in the room designated for the council meeting earlier than the meeting was to take place although he himself was not the first to arrive and he took some time to observe those men who were inside. King Rhaegar had already arrived and was seated at the head of the table speaking to the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. To Jon's surprise, Prince Viserys was seated in one corner speaking with Maester Pycelle. Jon had not expected this nor did he quite know why the younger prince was there, but, he supposed he could ask the king after the meeting concluded.

Jon turned his attention to notice that the king was dressed in dark colored clothing and had a very serious expression on his face. Well, Jon thought, the king mostly always was serious. Jon knew that was not always the case, but, still, Jon did not know what to think of him. Oh, Jon knew the man's reputation and better qualities well enough, but, he was also aware of the king's actions which inadvertently caused him and his, harm. Jon wished he knew more about the man, but, he had spent very little time with him that did not involve others as well.

There were always members of the Kingsguard around the king, although Jon saw the sense in that; their purpose was to provide the King with safety. Of course none of them could offer insight into the king. Even those that were a part of Aerys's Kingsguard also served him just as faithfully, as was proper; though he could hardly deny he hated King Aerys, with good reason. Of course, there were very few in King's Landing that had not known his father's cruelty in one way or another. Jon shudders remembering how his nephew, Elbert, died. Of course, Brandon and Rickard Stark died then as well. He had not quite known Brandon, but, he knew Lord Rickard well enough and he certainly was fond of young Ned. Still, he could hardly assign blame one King for the actions of another, even if they were father and son.

And of course, the king had frequently been in the presence of the queen. That had confused him; he could not begin to understand what their relationship was like; not now. He knew is own marriage was hardly ideal to speak of; it was his third, and borne of necessity. And Lysa was so very young. But, this was something entirely different. Before all of this, he thought they were a rather handsome couple, from what he observed. They were of similar ages, had two beautiful and healthy children together, and as far as he could tell, they had a perfectly amiable relationship before the then the former prince did what most would uncharacteristic of him and eloped with another woman and came back from a war with a child.

Queen Elia, in public, seemed to accept it with grace, but, it was no secret that there were differences between a private and public face. Ned had mentioned a conversation with the queen which was less than amiable, but, one could hardly expect anything else from a conversation between a woman whose husband publicly favored another, sired a child outside of their marriage, brought the child home, and gave the child his name, and the man whose sister was party to that humiliation. Even Ned said she had been nothing but courteous from that point forward, but, Ned had not spent much time with the king.

Of course he could glean no information from Lysa, who spent less time with the king than he had, and she commented, as though she had been affronted, by the queen spending much of her time: in the nursery, with her husband, directing various household duties, and making arrangements for entertainments of the denizens of guests who arrived for the coronation festivities, while spending only a little time in the company of high-born women not Lady Ashara Dayne and Lady Cersei Lannister. His good-sister, Catelyn, argued there was nothing particularly offensive about that. The king was hardly the type to spend much time with ladies, and most definitely not now, and the queen had been rather busy with the upcoming weddings of Cersei Lannister and Ashara Dayne. Jon had heard the mix of relief and distaste in Catelyn's voice when she said the second lady's name.

Still, Jon rather agreed with his good-sister: one lady was the queen's future good-sister; the other was the queen's dearest friend and the sister of a member of the Kingsguard. Lady Dayne had no female relations in King's Landing while Lady Joanna had died years prior; if Oberyn Martell was anything to go by, Lady Genna Lannister would be only of some use to Lady Cersei's preparations. Naturally, the primary assistance with those matters would have to come from the queen, who most thought capable of it. Catelyn had said, rather bitterly, "One only needs to look at the coronation festivities. Even if these were to be if not grand weddings, they would be properly done and the queen most definitely favored that which was properly done." Lysa agreed with that. He, of course heard his wife lament many times their wedding as well as Ned and Catelyn's were hastily constructed affairs. Lysa had not appreciated that.

It was said that that king had been appreciative of the queen's efforts. From what Jon saw they looked to be making a proper attempt at reconciliation; he saw the way they were at the coronation, the tourney, and at meal times when they had been present. Of course this was King's Landing and there was no secret which remained secret; it was said, in whispers and titters, many times, that the king seemed had taken his morning meals in queen's apartments, and on many of those mornings the king's own bed had not been slept in.

He mused that none of that said very little about what type of king the man would be. Before he could think more on the subject the parties inside the council rooms noticed him and they stopped conversing with each other to greet him politely. Thus, he ventured inside to sit down. Soon after, Lord Tywin and his good-father, Lord Hoster, joined the group as well. Lord Paxter Redwyne entered shortly after; rather jubilant. His liege-lord and good-brother, for who he was acting as proxy, sent a raven which stated that Lady Tyrell had given birth again; this time to a girl. They named her Margaery. They all, save Prince Viserys, toasted the birth with wine.

Soon after the meeting began in earnest, though the meeting was not to be a particularly lengthy one. There would only be four issues discussed in this meeting.

The first issue to contend with was the succession. After the succession crisis called the Dance of the Dragons the Targaryen's had practiced inheritances so that males inherited before females. There was no question of Prince Aegon's position of heir apparent. A more complex issue was the placement of the king's second son, Prince Jon, in the succession. King Rhaegar admitted the boy had been born without his marrying the mother; however, it was his intention that his younger son be legitimized. There was an uncomfortable moment when Maester had asked if Queen Elia had been made aware of the king's intentions for his son though the king answered in the affirmative. Naturally, no one questioned that further.

The potential succession crisis became less of one, then, said the Master of Laws. Due to Prince Jon's having been base-born, though legitimized, Lord Hoster reasoned, he should be in succession behind the king's brother Prince Viserys, but, before the Princess Rhaenys, and, of course, the Princess Daenerys. The king looked rather uncomfortable, but, had nodded his assent and the other men considering the idea saw the logic in that arrangement, as well.

Once the issue became fully resolved Jon felt relief. Much to his humor, Jon noticed Prince Viserys had been seemingly bored before that discussion set aside the tome he had been reading when his other nephew's place in the succession was being argued. The slightly frowning young prince became fully attentive. When the king had voiced agreed with Lord Hoster's assessment, a faint smile bloomed on his face. Jon would say nothing. He supposed it was a strange thing to be a younger sibling where inheritances were concerned, even as a male. He had never imagined what his sister, Alys, had thought when their brother, Ronnel, was born, and when Elbert was born and Ronnel died. Of course, there was no question of Elbert being his heir, but, if Jon had not been so unlucky with children, he could imagine Elbert, had he remained alive as well, would have been less than enthused about being displaced as heir.

Jon turned his attention to the next topic being discussed: the seventh member of the Kingsguard had to be appointed and some names were bandied about. There was a suggestion of Gerion Lannister, brother to Lord Tywin. Lord Gerion was more of an adventurer, Lord Tywin argued. Most of the council already knew that Lord Tywin had not liked that his son had donned the white cloak and so that was dismissed off-hand. Another possibility was Ser Lyn Corbray of Heart's Home. He was his as-of-yet-childless brother's heir, however, his character was not particularly known to be convivial and he was the one to slay Prince Lewyn. As such, he was dismissed outright by the king. There was, luckily, a younger brother, Ser Lucas Corbray who was also considered and there was hardly anything to discount him.

Following that, there were appointments for the Small Council. There already was a Hand, a Grand Maester in Pycelle; a Master of Laws in Lord Tully; a Master of Ships in Lord Tyrell; and a Master of Coin in Lord Tywin. There was still a vacancy for the Master of Whisperers. One recommendation was Emmon Frey, son of Walder Frey and good-brother to Lord Tywin. That Lord Tywin had no objection to.

The final topic of discussion was the kingdom's finances. As for debts, the crown would not collect debt incurred form lords who did not pay debts to the crown during the war, though debts incurred prior to the declaration of war were to be paid. Each region which incurred debts from war would pay for the resolution of their own debt by collecting from that region's vassals. It was deemed more or less fair for those liege-lords to collect it from their own lands and people. There was also discussion of loan payments to the Iron Bank. To raise revenue for the city, however, there was a discussion of what was taxed and what would not be and where money could be borrowed from.

Soon after the meeting was disbanded, though the king asked him to stay behind. Prince Viserys had asked if he could attend the next meeting. The king agreed provided the boy keep up with his studies, and he too was escorted out by the Maester.

Jon wondered what the king had wanted him to speak about. The king sat down again and motioned for his Hand to join him. Jon did not know what this was about so he asked a question that had been lingering in his mind, but, he could hardly expect to talk to the man of his personal life.

"I had not expected Prince Viserys to be in attendance."

Yes. It is something of a novelty for him. My father…" The king coughed into his hand, his expression rather solemn and regretful, he tried to speak again, "My brother had never been allowed in council meetings and had wished to attend. I saw no reason to deny him and Her Grace had agreed it would be good for him, to see how things are managed."

Jon saw the logic in that. "Ah, yes. I suppose that would make sense. Her Grace argument was rather practical."

"Yes, I am fortunate, she is a practical person." Judging by the tone, Jon thought it best to drop the topic of the queen. Obviously, the king was not talking just about Prince Viserys.

The king spoke again though his tone was hesitant and unsure, "Speaking of practicality I had thought to ask your opinion on something."

"Oh, please do, concerning what?"

There was a flush to the king's cheeks as he took a rather large sip of wine. "I had thought to speak privately to Lord Baratheon and Lord Stark on certain matters. I am afraid I have left it for far too long, but, I do not know either man particularly well." He could again, but, looked away for a moment.

He resumed speaking. "All things considered, I was hoping you could provide certain insight into how I should approach either man..." The man looked positively pained and guilty at the prospect, and Jon felt a rush of emotion at that.

He thought rather viciously for a moment, that the king would not be so pained if he had not acted so rashly to begin with, but, he suppressed that immediately at seeing the man's obvious reluctance. Voicing that would be of no use, no matter how much he wished to say something to the man. It would change nothing. There was no need to acknowledge the purpose behind the king's request and so Jon sat back to think for a moment.

During the course of the war, Jon had become privy to certain details which contributed to this whole mess and because of this knowledge he knew not all of the blame could be laid at the feet of Rhaegar Targaryen. This man had not been the one to kill the elder Starks or those who came with them to King's Landing. Jon knew what he was doing when he raised the banners, though Robert, in his righteous fury, rode the charge. After the war, more was made known to him. What Ned had told him, and this included some of what his remaining brother, Benjen revealed to him, caused Jon to conclude Lyanna Stark had gone willingly with the former prince and so he could hardly accuse the man of accosting her against her will. As much as he grieved for Elbert, he had grieved just as much for Robert.

Yet, none of that would help Ned or Stannis nor would it help to say any of this to the anxious looking king. He knew Ned was of strong character, but, the loss of his family and Robert, his dearest friend, weighed heavily on him. Jon had not known Stannis Baratheon at all; save for what Robert had told him and none of it had been particularly glowing, though from what he had seen the man was loyal and honorable. None of it meant either man would react well to anything King Rhaegar could say and so Jon only had this to offer the king.

"Your Grace. They are men who faced terrible losses. Be honest with them, but, not unkind. Try for courtesy first. Say your piece, let them say theirs, and let fate dictate the rest."

Stannis Baratheon made his way to the King's solar after the mid-day meal and waited for the knight of the Kingsguard to allow him entry.

It was clear to Jaime that he had come reluctantly, though because he had been summoned by the King, he would be here. That was promising at least.

While the King had not informed any of the Kingsguard the reason why he was meeting with the man, both his father and his Lord Commander revealed the Hand had stayed back after the meeting of the Small Council. Jaime spent enough time in the nursery to where any childish chattering done between Prince Viserys and Lord Renly he was privy to and so it was no surprise to him that the King requested a meeting with Stannis Baratheon. Cersei heard from Oberyn who had thought it worth informing her that the King told the Queen he wished to speak to Lord Stark privately as well. Whatever the reasons for the meeting, they would happen, and that was that.

Still, Ser Gerold had insisted that a member of the Kingsguard be posted outside the solar, without fail. Jaime looked at the man closely and saw that the man had not carried any weapons on his person, although, he was not the type. Though Jaime thought nothing too dangerous would happen as this was a man of sharp words, not brute violence, Jaime though it a very worthy suggestion all the same.

Rhaegar rose when Ser Jaime announced Stannis Baratheon's presence. "Thank you for coming Lord Baratheon. Ser Jaime you may wait outside." Jaime nodded once and closed the door behind him.

Rhaegar motioned to a seat, "Please sit down Lord Baratheon." He then motioned to two carafes. "Would you care for some wine or water, perhaps?"

"You are welcome, Your Grace. No." The young lord sat down. Both men stared at each other, saying nothing. Rhaegar took a long sip of his wine before speaking. He thought it best to start with an inoffensive topic, and his Hand had said to try for politeness, but he struggled for one. This was one of those times he wished he took interest in courtly speech; such frivolity would have served him now. He finally settled on the most innocuous one he could think of.

"I have been meaning to ask, I do beg your indulgence for the lateness of it, your apartments, and they are to your liking?

"Yes, Your Grace"

"Do you require anything?'

"No, Your Grace."

Clearly the man did not care for trappings of comfort as other lords Rhaegar knew would. Rhaegar took another sip to give him some time to think of anything to ask. Rhaegar did not know what to say next. How does one man approach another and bring forth the topic of having been the man who killed their brother. They were never friends to star and as far as he could remember Lord Stannis had been at Court once while he was present. None of that knowledge helped him now and he was not particularly verbose himself, but, he asked for this meeting, he had to act the host. Another safe topic, then.

"Have your wedding preparations been settled?"

"I suppose some preparations are settled and others have not." The man was obviously curious about why the king was asking him questions on guest apartments and weddings, but, would not ask why the king would be interested in any of that, except that Rhaegar supposed the other man felt it was logical for him to say something to the prospective groom about weddings, as his betrothed was a friend to the queen. Still, Rhaegar's expression must have demanded a better explanation as the man continued, "Lady Ashara informed me that they are progressing as they should. I care not to question her on it."

Rhaegar, dismayed at the less than engrossed tone of the man, wanted to try again. He knew he had been trying to prolong the conversation but, the direction of the conversation aroused his own questions. It just figured that Ashara would demonstrate an independent streak and Lord Stannis could not care to be troubled about formalities so long as they efficiently served his purposes. He knew he was the one to suggest the match, but, this, he could not have imagined. He knew he took interest in his wedding and it was rather shocking that others did not, of course, he could hardly take anyone to task about lack of interest in his marriage; he ran off with another woman, with a woman betrothed to this man's brother.

"But certainly, you have thoughts on your own marriage ceremony…"

The man frowned. "Not particularly, Your Grace. I had been informed by my betrothed she will arrange everything and that I am simply required to be present at the Sept on the appointed day and time. I do not care for feasting arrangements afterward and I certainly have no intention of being late."

He knew that the man would do things properly. That still does not give Rhaegar a quaint opening for the conversation he truly wanted to have with the man. "I see."

"Yes." This was a man of direct speech and brevity, in the extreme. Rhaegar would normally appreciate this, but, given the circumstances, and the topic he hoped to speak about, it unnerved him. He had heard men describe Stannis Baratheon before, but, now it occurred to him why some had characterized him as dour and humorless. Most men in his presence were, if not loquacious, at least, were prone to less terseness. Any member of his Kingsguard was easily approachable as was Jon Connington, most of the time. He had come to learn his younger brother never quieted. Even Doran would bend enough to turn a pretty phrase or two. And of course, Rhaegar thought unpleasantly, Oberyn always had something to say.

Still, he invited the man to speak to him, though he could hardly broach the topic of Robert Baratheon so easily. So he spoke of wedding plans he honestly had little interest in. He supposed he counted himself lucky in that his mother took the time to impart to him some knowledge of the running of Storm's End which could be useful.

"The Queen had informed me that you consented to have the wedding at the Great Sept. Is that correct? I suppose the Castellan and the Maester at Storm's End will be disappointed. They have known you since you were young. I should like to think they would enjoy being a part of your wedding festivities. Certainly they would like to see your vows?" Rhaegar knew the Castellan and the Maester had been the ones to raise Stannis Baratheon after Robert was fostered at the Eyrie after the deaths of Lord Steffon and Lady Cassana.

"Ser Harbert and Maester Cressen are of an age to have seen enough weddings. The vows will be the standard ones to the Seven; it was the same for my lord father and lady mother's ceremony and for Lady Dayne's lord father and lady mother. I doubt missing this one will do harm. As it is I think it would be best if my marriage to Lady Dayne is an accomplished fact. Of course Lady Ashara and they wish to have something at Storm's End once we return from the Vale, I suppose that will be acceptable."

Rhaegar concentrating on the fact that the lord was being somewhat sensitive of the subject of Alya being born a bastard almost missed the rest of what Stannis had said. The man looked flushed as though realized he had said something he had not meant to say.

"The Vale? Had Lord Arryn been meaning to return to the Vale? He had not said anything to me about it."

The man in front of him closed his eyes tightly and sighed. "No, the Arryns are not leaving. It is something of a necessity for me to go." Rhaegar frowned. What necessity would drive Stannis Baratheon to the Vale when he had never sojourned there much if at all? Rhaegar, then, remembered Lyanna telling him of Robert siring a bastard at the Vale; a girl child; if he remembered correctly, and for a moment made him think of the other girl he expected to have. Here was a good way to start speaking of Robert, but, Lord Stannis did not appear to be willing to speak of any of it just yet, so he took a rather subtle chance at broaching the subject of Robert Baratheon.

"If you do not mind my asking, what in the Vale is a necessity?"

Stannis Baratheon looked as though he wished to be anywhere else. At Rhaegar's expectant look he answered the question; though not to Rhaegar's satisfaction.

"There is a girl at the Vale; a bastard, but, she is of my blood. She is now orphaned, and the Lady Ashara and I agree that she should be raised with me." The man answered evasively.

Rhaegar fell silent. He looked at the man in front of him. Rhaegar wished he could just finish this, but, the man was being reluctant to even ask why he was here, much less even speaking to him truthfully, except in the vaguest manner. Rhaegar went to take another sip of wine, but, stopped when he observed the reactions of the man sitting in front of him. The man had a perpetual frown on his face, but, when Rhaegar went to take his glass the frown deepened. Rhaegar returned his hand to his lap. The last thing he needed was giving credence to a potential rumor that he was overly fond of his drink.

Rhaegar for lack of anything else to distract himself spoke again. "I do not believe I had the opportunity to ask, have you enjoyed the coronation festivities?"

"Well enough." Noticing the perpetual frown deepening, he would have to do better.

"I remember you left the tourney early." He hoped the observation would encourage the man to talk. It did not.

Rhaegar asked, "Was it not to your liking? I do remember, you, your brother and Lady Ashara left as well. I hope none of you were taken ill?"

The man started to grind his teeth. "No, my brother was being impertinent. As such, it would not have done to reward him by allowing him to partake in frivolities." The man's cold tone was not welcoming.

"Ah." He tried to school his face into what should be a sympathetic expression, which he hoped would invite confidences, even from Stannis Baratheon. As the man ground his teeth even more, Rhaegar knew he failed spectacularly. He soldiered on and just decided to be direct. "In what was he impertinent? Because he had been thinking of your brother and your parents?"

That got a shocked reaction from the man. The man sputtered and looked as though he sorely was tempted to ask for a drink stronger than wine. Rhaegar waved his hand negligently and got the man a goblet of water.

"So that was it?"

The man was reluctant and his face flushed, but, his personal sense of honesty compelled him to answer. "Yes. But, Your Grace, I would hope that you do not concern yourself with the relationship I have with my brother". Rhaegar could not feign to fail to understand what the tone indicated. Stannis Baratheon clearly did not want to have this conversation at all. He could read the expression on the young lord's face: What is it that you desire from me?

"Tell me true, Lord Baratheon, certainly you did not reprimand him because you feared my reaction? I would not begrudge you your feelings and you have no reason to spare mine."

The man took a long sip from his chalice before he answered. "My parents died in an accident and my brother died in war. That men die in such ways are natural; still, death is not a suitable topic for a boy his age, much less in a celebratory setting." Stannis said stiffly, edging around the topic.

"Lord Baratheon, certainly no one would not deny a man's right to speak about his family."

"Given the circumstances, I did not think mention of my family, my brother, in particular, would be welcome, by you nor those around us. It certainly would not do for a traitor's brother to speak about the man the King felled himself." Unsaid was, I certainly had no interest in acknowledging my dead family in front of supporters and kin of the King.

Remembering that conversation with Viserys and Elia and knowing the answer he still asked, "I understand it must be painful, but, certainly, you do not feel the need to deny your brother from speaking about Lord Robert or your parents?"

He put down the chalice with some force and looked Rhaegar in the face and spoke coldly. "My relationship with my remaining family should be no concern of yours, Your Grace."

"I did not mean to imply that I should dictate your relationship-"

Now, Stannis Baratheon looked furious. "If it means so very much for you to know, as I told Ashara, though it seems cruel now, in time, perhaps, I can be honest with him. Now, however, he is a child. The past would only confuse and disturb him. I do not have many memories of my family which are untainted by the way they were taken from me. I have been in mourning for many years and what good memories I have of my family are not separated from the horrific ones. I am a man made bitter by the losses I have suffered and I do not wish that for him or anyone else. What is it that you require of me? Certainly Your Grace does not concern himself with why I do not speak of my family? Here of all places? Is that why I am here in this room with you now? Fear not, Your Grace, I will not describe the circumstances which surrounded my family's deaths without consulting you first if that is your wish".

At the raised voice Ser Jaime entered, but, Rhaegar waved the knight back outside.

"No, that is not my wish. I wish to speak to you about Robert. I understand that it must not be easy to be here with me after you have lost."

"You wish to know my feelings about my losses, Your Grace? Why now? You never have before!"

At Rhaegar's incomprehension, he was positively vibrating with unspent energy. "It truly escaped your notice? My parents died in service of your father, for what he wanted for you, and now my brother died a traitor and I am a living one. I have no desire to relive any of it or distress my family, when it was all for nothing." The last was said so softly.

Alarmed, Rhaegar queried, "For nothing? And what did you mean when you said your parents 'died for what my father wanted for me'?" This was not what he expected at all when he decided to speak to this man.

The younger man shook his head and took a deep breath and multiple sips of water before continuing when he noticed his king would not relent and so he spoke in the most tired voice Rhaegar had ever heard. "My parents died having failed your father. They died failing to secure a bride for you. King Aerys did not acknowledge their deaths overmuch only to say that it was rather disappointing that they were unable to find you a bride before they died. Their sacrifice, their deaths, meant nothing. Then, you married and had children I had thought perhaps my parents had not died for nothing as the goal had been realized, but, not even that stopped you from leaving your wife and children and fleeing with another man's betrothed."

Rhaegar wanted to protest that the Windproud sinking was not his of his doing; that he was not even the one to ask them to go and find him a bride; or that any bride that was chosen would have meant he did anything differently; but, Stannis Baratheon's gaze boring into him as he continued to speak forced him to remain silent.

"Then, I was at Storm's End when it all happened, when the news of the Stark's deaths and the rest was delivered. The most difficult choice I ever had to make was to choose between my duty between my brother and my king. When my brother rose in rebellion he was a traitor. I never thought it would ever be possible or that I would be a traitor one day as well. Do you know what that choice cost me? That my king had killed innocents made the choice easier, but, still, when I sided with my brother I became a traitor. I thought I forsaken my duties for the right reasons. What a fool I was. In the end my brother became a traitor and died for the Starks when the girl had not loved him to start with; she had not even bothered to tell him she did not care enough about him to do her duty or that the prince, who was our albeit distant kin, ignored his duty to his wife, children, and the realm so that he could take my brother's betrothed for his own despite knowing she was not his to take. Then, the girl died as well. Tell me, Your Grace, how or why should I tell anyone, much less the one brother I have left that everyone I, we, cared about died pointlessly for nothing except foolishness?"

Rhaegar was stunned to silence and his indignation deflated. When he finished speaking the new Lord of Storm's End stood up. The man looked flushed and he seemed rather shocked by his own outburst and slightly fearful as well.

Rhaegar had been silent as the words spoken by the younger man washed over him. His thoughts were a jumbled mess; grief, guilt, and shame warred within him. Before Lord Stannis made it to the door Rhaegar called out to him once more and the man turned.

"Lord Stannis, I know this means very little in the face of your grief, but, when I eloped with Lyanna I had not set out to hurt or betray Robert or to start a war though I admit I was selfish, foolish, and callous. As you say I was, am, your kin and I was the realms prince and you all deserved better from me. No amount of apologies I can make will erase what has been done and I do not expect that you forgive me, but, know that I am truly sorry for what I have done to Robert, you, and yours. I am also sorry for what has been done by my father and in our names, but, know that I had not meant to hurt anyone by my actions."

Stannis Baratheon stared at him for almost a full minute before nodding. "Your Grace, if we are being honest, I think that you had not set out to hurt anyone. That is what makes everything most difficult. You were never the type to be deliberately cruel and I suppose that is why I was quick to agree to the peace brokered with you which was broken when we rose up against your father, the former king. However, that does not excuse what you did or what was done. I do suppose I am grateful in that you willingly allow my brother friendship with yours, you have given me a beautiful wife, there is no longer a man burning others for amusement, the war has stopped, and my home is no longer surrounded by those who wish to see me dead, yet I do not know if I can forgive you; however, I can offer you my fealty. I hope you can accept that."

The man left quietly after that, leaving Rhaegar to his thoughts. Rhaegar felt some relief as Stannis Baratheon left his solar though there was no complete relief. He had accomplished what he intended and spoke to the man and apologized. He even received answers to some questions even if some of what Lord Baratheon had said was not quite what he expected. Though he suspected they would never be friends Rhaegar supposed he had admired the man's brutal honesty even if the man was reluctant at first, but, he knew he earned the man's mistrust. Oh, he full well knew he earned it quite thoroughly.

Rhaegar was thankful he could count on the man to be civil, even if only because the friendship between Viserys & his brother and Elia & Ashara, though it had disheartened him that a man so young felt guilt at wanting to aid his brother because of the duty he felt he owed to a madman, because the madman was his king. Of course, the madman wasn't the only one who harmed him, even if it was done indirectly, and nothing he could do now would change that at all. The man's fealty would have to be enough. That was something, at least. It was more than he deserved.

Rhaegar felt that the meeting with Lord Ned Stark was bound to be different from the one with Lord Stannis Baratheon. For one thing; Rhaegar had Jon in common with Ned Stark, though that was probably the only thing they had in common. Still, this conversation was bound to be difficult in other ways.

Rhaegar did not even have the benefit of his wife being friends with the Lord's lady-wife or a kinship or friendship between families to allow some civility. Then again, those benefits had not provided Robert Baratheon any cushion from Rhaegar. Now that Rhaegar had the time and the inclination to think on it, it rather shamed him that he never even considered Robert at all when he eloped with Lyanna. He could imagine Elia's thoughts if he mentioned that. If you had not considered mine what chance was there of considering Robert's?

The Starks and Targaryens, however, were not family, not even distantly, and the Starks before Rickard, tended to refrain from much Southron interaction, so there had never been a shared loyalty which was broken between them, but, that would not make this conversation any easier than the one Rhaegar had with Lord Stannis. Lord Stannis was a firm believer in duty, even to the point where it was only until his brother asked had he sided against his king. Lord Stark lost his sister, his brother, and then his father, and that is when the trouble escalated to war; that was something quite different. Still, Rhaegar had to see the man before he left for Winterfell.

He knew Elia had spoken to the other lord slightly of Lyanna and him that once, but, never again about them, after that. She said she had not been particularly kind to Lord Stark that first meeting, but, she had not been particularly kind to him when he first arrived either; although he knew she would not be welcoming. Had she been a different woman, he was sure, at the very least, she would have insisted Jon be sent north as soon as she could find someone to take him the second she had set her eyes on him, yet she had not.

He had wondered at what he told Jon was "her practicality", but, could not come to ask her so he asked Ashara one day while he had happened to cross her path.

She laughed. "What would you have her do, Your Grace? Curse that foolish, dead girl, publicly? Continue to rant and rave at you? Be cruel to the child? She is your wife, the mother of your children, and your queen. Tell me, if she continued to do that she would no longer be welcome to remain any of that for very long, now would she?"

He had taken offence to that. He had said Elia was his wife and would have always remained so and Ashara snorted in derison, but said nothing more before leaving.

As it was, Ned Stark had said nothing to him about it, nor had he complained to anyone else. Of course, Ser Darry had informed him, when he visited the nursery alone, that Lord Stark and Elia were polite to one another though it had been very awkward in the first few days since the Starks arrived, but, their relationship thawed immensely after that. He, himself, had never seen Lord Stark in the nursery and they were never alone before this appointment would take place.

Finally a knock interrupted his musing and Ser Oswell announced Ned Stark. Rhaegar saw the knight glance curiously at the younger man before leaving them alone.

"Please Lord Stark, sit." Ned Stark seemed poised to wave away the offer of the drink, but, thought better of it and Rhaegar saw the ornate cup was filled, almost to the top.

Ned Stark spoke, "Your Grace wished to see me?"

"Yes. I do apologize as I have not have seen you privately since you have arrived. It had been my intention to see you sooner, but, I have not had the opportunity before today.'

"It is quite alright, Your Grace."

"Have you enjoyed your stay so far? I do hope your apartments are comfortable?"

"The apartments are quite comfortable, Your Grace." Formality in every sentence and a tense expression did not bode well for this conversation. Rhaegar mentally cataloged the other man did not answer the other question, but, did not remark upon it.

"And your lady wife, she is well? I have not had the chance to speak to her since the coronation feast. I hope she enjoyed her stay thus far."

"She is quite well, Your Grace. She is well at home in King's Landing having spent her youth in the Riverlands, but, she too is anxious to return to Winterfell and our son."

"Ah, yes, of course. Robb is the name, yes?" Robb for Robert. The man nodded, but said nothing. Both men sat silently for a while.

"I see, then, I take it you will be leaving soon?"

"Yes, Your Grace, within a fortnight."

"Oh, so you will not be staying for Lady Ashara and Lord Stannis's wedding?"

"No, Your Grace. My brother, Benjen, though he is capable, we, that is my lady-wife and I, are anxious to return to Winterfell. As it was, we had initially thought to stay until the coronation and since that is done, it is time we begun to prepare to leave.

"I see. How unfortunate. I am sure Jon and Lady Alya will miss your presence, though I will ensure you are regularly updated on Jon's progress and I am sure Lord Baratheon and Lady Ashara will do the same with your niece."

Rhaegar waited before saying more as the man briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"I ought to tell you, as you are Jon's uncle you should hear it from me, that Jon has been legitimized as a Targaryen and a prince, though he has been placed in the succession behind my brother Viserys."

The man flinches and remains silent for a long moment, but, eventually whispers, "Legitimized, your Grace? I see. Thank you for informing me." Rhaegar knows he is thinking about Lyanna.

"Yes, it was a necessary formality, though had circumstances been different there would have been no need for that." The man was startled and he looks confusedly him for a moment.

"When we eloped I had thought to marry Lyanna." That confuses the man even more because he asks, though his tone was rather angry, "Certainly you had no plans to put aside-"

Rhaegar is horrified at the thought, "No, no, no, my Lord, you misunderstand my meaning. Though the practice was not common, there have been instances in my family of taking more than one wife, and that had been my intention with Lyanna, but, before that could occur, war had been declared." That did not comfort the younger man.

"Had you known what happened to my father and brothers, Your Grace?"

Rhaegar flushed. "Not until later, until after I left the Tower. Not even the Kingsguard knew then as the King had ordered them to find me and it happened after they left King's Landing. It should not have happened. I deeply regret that I had not been in King's Landing to stop that from occurring. I…" He trailed off, what he should have done will not change a thing.

Ned Stark took a large sip from his glass before asking his next question. "Did my sister know of what happened to our brother and father?"

"She and the Kingsguard who were at the Tower learned of it much later, but, by then she had fallen pregnant, and it was unsafe to travel, even under the best of circumstances."

"I see. How did she take it?" The sound of the man's voice as he asked this was broken, but, he did not look in Rhaegar's direction.

Rhaegar closed his eyes. This was a question he did not know he would have to answer. In a shaky voice, he responded. "Ser Gerold said…He had said she was greatly distressed when she had come to know."

As if to distract himself from those thoughts, Lord Stark asks another question. "You said you intended to marry her, why had you not?"

"We had tried to find a Septon who would marry us, but, the Tower was in such a place that none could be located nearby and none returned the ravens we sent and by then the banners had been raised. I thought there would be time once war was finished."

"You thought you would win", Ned Stark stated flatly. Rhaegar laughs so hollowly that even Ned Stark could not find it in himself to be offended much. "It was the one thing I was right about."

"I think she loved you or at least she did not love Robert. Did you love her?"

Rhaegar ducked his head. That was the crux of the matter. He knew it was expected that he answer the question. He wondered about it often. At Harrenhall he had honored Lyanna, but, then, he had not loved her, though he admired her spirit and her fire. When they were at the Tower, when she said she was with child, he knew had been in love with her. But, when he went back to the Tower after his victory and he can remember he grieved for her, but, even that pain was eclipsed by the disappointment that she had not given birth to the daughter he hoped for; though he knew he loved his son. When he returned to King's Landing Elia asked him if he loved Lyanna and he said he had not, but, she countered that if he had not loved her, he would have never run away with her, but, when he did take Lyanna with him, all he could remember was that he had been infatuated by her and that he needed her. It tears at him, but, he does not know. Unbidden, Stannis Baratheon's words come back to him: All for nothing.

All that of those deaths, the war, and he does not even know if it was truly love, madness, or some of both. Ned Stark stares at him. The man's eyes demand an answer: his brother, his father, his friend, his sister, and those men who fought, bled, and died; was there at least love so they did not die for nothing? No answer Rhaegar gives Ned Stark will give him or the other man peace and the truth is obscured in his head and so he gives the only answer he could. "Yes, I did." Not I do, but, the man does not know his thoughts.

Lord Stark sags in his seat and it seems as though can not help himself as he asks another question, "And the queen?" That is easier; the frenzied need to fulfill the prophecy does not cloud his feelings towards Elia. "Yes."

"I see, well…" The man slowly rises from his seat; the usually stoic young man's eyes are red. "Thank you, Your Grace. I have taken much of your time. I only have a few requests. Please when Jon grows I should hope you allow him to visit Winterfell and I hope that you will let him learn of Lyanna."

Shakily, he responds, "Yes, of course."

Before Ned Stark leaves his presence Rhaegar stops him, his voice hoarse. "Lord Stark. I am truly sorry for Lyanna, Lord Brandon, Lord Rickard; for everything. What I meant to do… I had not meant any of this. I am so, so very sorry. At least, know that Jon will be safe and loved with me. He will want for nothing." He does not say it is the least he could do, but, it is.

As Rhaegar stops talking, Ned Stark nods silently and leaves the room.

Chapter 9: A new day and bad dreams.