A/N: Thanks to my vivacious Viv for the beta work! :) I'm SO SO very sorry for the long time since my last update. Between RL issues, the holidays, and just being busy, my muse ran away. But she's back! I'll do better the next time.
I hope you enjoy this chapter and thank you SO much for the reviews!
The next morning, Catelyn hardly spoke to him, dark circles under her eyes betraying her lack of sleep. Neither of them had slept after the raven about the riot in the capital. Arya was withdrawn as well, likely due to her own worries about Sansa, and she easily agreed to remain with her mother until Ned returned. When he left their tent, he kissed Arya on her temple and she looked up at him, determined. "Sansa will be fine. She's a Stark. Despite her pretty manners, she knows how to protect herself well enough against me and her brothers."
But neither you nor her brothers ever truly wanted to hurt her. Ned attempted to smile reassuringly. "Aye. I think you and your brother have taught her a few things." He looked at Catelyn and saw her bite her lip and look away, tears filling her eyes. Every one of them knew that Sansa was the most naïve and gentle of their children. Ned didn't want to think Sansa was fragile because he thought that if tested, her lady mother's strength would shine through. He walked a few steps to Catelyn, reaching for her. She knew unless she wanted to explain their argument last night to Arya, she had to allow it, but Ned did not wish to force her to act too much for appearance sake. He merely brought her hands to his lips and kissed them gently before whispering, "Sansa is a survivor, like you. I do not doubt her courage any more than I doubt yours." Once again, she bit her lip and glanced up in an attempt to stop her tears. "I shall return, my lady." Reluctantly, he left them in order to meet with Renly and his advisors.
Ned had to force himself to focus on anything other his eldest daughter until the meeting with Stannis was over. Too much was at stake. The camp had been on high alert since the raven with news of the Kingslayer's escape came from Robb during the early hours of the morning, shortly after Renly had told him of the riot in King's Landing, and the messages from Storm's End of Stannis' forces laying siege to the castle. Everything was already in an uproar and Tywin Lannister's men were not yet in play.
Renly paced before the table in cold rage, his handful of advisors remaining silent. Ned watched the awkward shared looks with barely concealed annoyance. They had just learned Stannis had laid siege to Storm's End, a completely unexpected move according to Mace Tyrell. Ned refrained from pointing out that he would have done the same thing and had warned Renly that Stannis would move against him before King's Landing. Stannis didn't have enough men to take King's Landing and needed the ones that Renly had.
"If I may, Your Grace," Lord Tarly spoke, but he received a glare and quick shake of the head from Renly. He had already incensed Renly by questioning him putting so many men under Robb's command when he clearly needed them here.
"I know what you wish to say, Lord Tarly. I will not call back my men from Lord Stark. They are actively waging war on the Lannisters while we await a meeting with Stannis. I don't want to have a hundred thousand men standing around, throwing dice. I have sent my terms. Stannis will meet me at midday or I will take the fight to him. He has fewer than six thousand men, meaning I still have double his numbers with only the Stormlords and their men." Renly sat and was quiet for a moment before looking at Ned. "I want Eddard Stark to come with me to this meeting. Mayhap he can talk sense into Stannis and end this without any bloodshed. Lord Tyrell, you and Lord Tarly will prepare the men for battle at dawn if our negations fail."
"Yes, Your Grace," Mace Tyrell said, rising. Turning to Ned, he asked, "Will the Northmen in the camp ride out with us at dawn?"
Ned quickly calculated how many men he had and how many people needed protection. "I intended for some of them to stay and guard my wife and daughter, as well as the boys from the Night's Watch, if His Grace allows it." Turning to Renly, he suggested, "I trust these men with my family's lives. Perhaps you should leave the queen and Gendry in their care as well."
"No, Lord Stark, I wish to go with the king," Gendry spoke up quickly from his spot near Loras and the rest of the Rainbow Guards in the tent. "I am his squire, and besides, I would like to see Lord Stannis with my own eyes."
"Perhaps this isn't the best time for a family reunion, Gendry," Ned pointed out, still feeling the need to protect the boy.
"I agree that the Northmen should guard the queen if we are called to battle in the morn. If I should fall, they will take her to Highgarden or to her brother Ser Garlan, whichever is safest at the time. Gendry will come with me today, but you're right about him remaining in camp during the battle. Until I have an heir with Margaery, Edric and Gendry will be my heirs to Storm's End, and since Edric is under siege in Storm's End, I must ensure that one of them is safe," Renly announced to a tent full of very skeptical faces. Ned quickly looked at Gendry and saw he was as stunned as everyone else. "It is only right that someone with Robert's blood will carry on as the lord of Storm's End."
"Lord Stannis is Robert's blood, your blood as well, Your Grace, and has always felt Storm's End should be his. If you fall, he will take it," Ned reminded him, causing the tension amongst the men to increase ten-fold as the other lords looked at him uncomfortably. Renly remained sitting, staring at his hands on the table. No one else seemed willing to say anything that the king didn't want to hear, other than Ned and Lord Tarly, and even Randyll Tarly didn't broach the subject of Stannis being his brother. Ned hadn't kept his silence when he disagreed with Robert. He wouldn't for Renly either. "If you do not resolve this with Stannis, know that he will fight alongside his men. Are you prepared to declare war on your own brother, to whatever end? There is still time to avoid a confrontation if you could pledge loyalty to Stannis. The two of you could defeat the Lannisters easily and perhaps he would make you his heir unless he has a son. Whatever your decision, I will remain loyal to you and your cause, but if I can help end this with less bloodshed, I would prefer it."
Awkward silence filled the tent for a few moments before Renly stood and looked Ned in the eyes, all steely determination. Ned felt as if he were looking into the past at other Baratheon eyes. "I will do what I must to protect my people, even if I have to kill my own brother. He is unfit to rule. He would destroy the Seven Kingdoms and sacrifice my people to his fire god. I won't allow it."
Ned held his gaze for a moment before nodding his head. He prayed that when Robb and Jon found out the truth about Jon's parentage, they would never face one another in battle on opposing sides. Too many families were torn apart over the lure of power. He didn't think that anything could put his sons down that path, for they loved each other dearly, but when Jon found out the extent of Ned's betrayal, it could destroy the honorable man that Ned had raised. How could Jon continue to believe in honor after finding out Ned's honor was a merely façade at times?
"We leave in an hour, Lord Stark," Renly said, walking past him, with Loras, Brienne and Gendry following behind.
Ned didn't wait for anyone to start a conversation and left closely behind Renly. He needed to find Smalljon Umber, Ser Rodrik, and Galbert Glover to give them his orders.
"Lord Stark!" Ned stopped and turned to find Gendry jogging up to him. When he reached his side, Gendry said, "My lord, I hope you know I did not mean any disrespect to you earlier. I just…"
"It's all right, Gendry." Ned resumed walking and Gendry fell in step beside him. "I imagine you're a bit overwhelmed right now. Be careful not to be swayed by the fine clothing and feasts. We're in the middle of a war and, despite our more impressive camp, the effects will reach us soon and we will be in danger."
Gendry nodded silently. After a few moments, he blurted out, "My lord, Renly intends to make me his heir after Edric Storm. I don't know how… I mean, I wouldn't have any idea what to do… I'm a blacksmith. I know how to hit things with a hammer! I'm not even that good with a sword yet, and he intends to leave me a castle with lands and men, if the worst happens, which I hope it doesn't, but I am just…" He stopped suddenly and faced Ned, who stopped as well. The boy looked absolutely terrified.
Ned reached out and grasped his shoulders in a fatherly gesture. "Gendry, if anything were to happen to the king, Edric would inherit first. If you become Lord of Storm's End, Renly's advisors will aid you in that task. My son Bran, who is younger than Arya, is acting Lord of Winterfell right now. If the worst happens, you would do well."
"No, I won't." Gendry shook his head. "I'm a low born bastard. I've never slept on a real mattress, much less in a castle. I've never had a maester teach me numbers or history. I can't even read. I know how to repair armor. But I can't command men or run a castle. You must convince the king to choose someone else, anyone else!"
Ned sighed and nodded his head. "I will talk to Renly as soon as we settle this matter with Lord Stannis and see if he can send for a maester. Until then, perhaps my lady wife or Arya would begin to help you with some of the basic lessons. We will do all that we can to assist you."
"I don't want Renly to think I'm a stupid fool."
Bastards always felt inferior, Ned supposed, especially one never acknowledged or raised by his father. Unguarded, Gendry blurted out when he was uncomfortable, contrary to Jon who tried to hide all his discomfort and doubts behind a wall of stony silence or smothered anger. You've done that to him. You made him a bastard and forced him to live in a world where he always felt inferior. By rights he was heir to the Iron Throne and you made him lesser than a knight. He shook his head. This wasn't about Jon. "Gendry, you said yourself, you never had someone teach you these things. You're not stupid, simply uneducated. There is a difference. If you're willing to learn, I'll see that you're taught. Even if you never become the Lord of Storm's End, it would not hurt to learn these things," Ned replied.
"I want to learn, milord. Anything you can do to assist me, I'd be grateful," Gendry said, looking a bit more relieved. "Even if it's just so I don't embarrass the king by my ignorance."
Ned saw Smalljon Umber and Ser Rodrik walking his way and said, "Go prepare while I give orders to my men." Gendry thanked him and rushed off toward the horses.
Ned finished with his troops and turned to find Arya and Catelyn coming toward him, with Nymeria skulking behind them. Arya ran to him, but his wife didn't hasten her steps.
"We heard you were leaving soon," Arya exclaimed, an accusatory look in her eyes.
"I am and I was coming to tell you and your mother when I finished with my men," he explained, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "You need to remain with your mother in the tent until I return. Ser Rodrik and Jacks will be guarding you, but keep Nymeria with you as well."
Arya asked softly, "Will you be in danger? Perhaps you should take Nymeria with you."
Ned crouched down so that he was eye level with her, ignoring the pain it caused his leg. "I'm not going to lie to you, Arya. There is a war going on and we're all in danger. I'm meeting with Lord Stannis to possibly work out a peace treaty between him and the king. It's unlikely I'll be in more danger today than we were before. But because your brothers are waging war on Lord Tywin and invading his lands, if the Lannisters had an opportunity to take someone Robb cares about hostage, they will do it, so I worry more for you and your mother than myself. Nymeria will remain with you." He kissed her on her forehead and stood, turning to his wife.
He took her elbow and stepped a few feet away from Arya. "If anything should happen to me, the men will take you to safety, then send word to Robb and Jon or your brother in Riverrun," he explained in a low voice. "Do not wait for me if they advise you to go." He hesitated for a moment and Catelyn reached out to grasp his arm. For a moment their eyes met and he could see that despite her terrible anger at him, her fear for his well-being and her love were still stronger.
"We will be fine. Please be safe, my lord," she said quietly.
Ned nodded and kissed her quickly, then strode off to his horse. If he looked back, he was not certain he could leave them.
The slaves had greeted Daenerys not as a conqueror but as a savior, calling her 'Mhysa,' or 'mother' in Ghiscari as Missandei explained. They surrounded her, overwhelming her wary guards, reaching out just to touch her hair or her clothes as they chanted 'Mhysa.' They were her children, and part of her mourned that she would leave them soon. Would Westeros, weary from this War of Kings, welcome her? Would they love her as her people did? She doubted a Targaryen would ever be loved again, if what she knew of her father was true.
When she returned where Missandei and Ser Barristan stood, she found Aegon and another man waiting for her. They both bowed graciously to Daenerys and she had to smile. Aegon seemed good natured enough, even if he was somewhat cocky. As a Targaryen, perhaps that was to be expected. She commanded him to rise and he kissed her hand.
"You've done well, Aunt. I heard you lost hardly any men," he said, then glanced at her in concern. "May I call you aunt or…?"
Dany glanced out over her people for a few moments then looked to him, saying, "I have many names you may choose from: Your Grace, Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Shackles…but until we know one another better and my doubts are gone, perhaps you should wait on referring to me as Aunt."
Aegon waited a beat before nodding. She sensed his disappointment, but surely he understood it was hard for her to trust anyone, much less someone who has just returned from the dead. "We have brought Septa Lemore with us today, but she awaits you with Griff near your tent. She thought it best you two spoke in a less public place," Aegon explained. A young man followed him who he had introduced as Ser Rolly Duckfield but referred to him as Duck. The strange nickname suited him.
Grey Worm, Ser Jorah, and Daario Naharis approached alongside her kos: Jhogo, Aggon, and Rakharo. She told Aegon to meet her in her tent and stepped away from him. He had not earned her trust as of yet so she would not involve him in troop movement of any kind.
"Your Grace, the slave soldiers eventually threw down their weapons as you said they would," Ser Jorah proclaimed with a deep breath, clearly exhausted from the battle.
Dany nodded and smiled as the slaves stared in open mouthed shock at the three dragons flying overhead. They were growing so fast that if she did not leave for Westeros soon, there would be no easy way to bring them with her. While they could fly a great distance, they would need to rest at times during such a long journey, and the ships needed to be large enough for them to do so. Drogon grew so fast, he would be large enough to ride soon.
"Ser Jorah, I must speak with you alone," she said, glancing at him. "Grey Worm, have your men lead the slaves and the rest of our people inside the walls. Then I need a full accounting of the ships they have in their harbors. There will be men within the city, record keepers, who can aid us in knowing what treasures are in the city. Some of the gold and food we will take, but I do not intend to leave people hungry. Daario, gather all the masters that were not slain. I will make terms with them."
Daario glanced at her skeptically. "They are unlikely to want to negotiate…"
"Then they will die. It is their choice." Daenerys began walking toward her tent with Ser Barristan on one side and Ser Jorah on the other. "You should know that there is a man who is claiming to be my nephew, Aegon Targaryen, waiting for us. He arrived last night with Jon Connington and today he has brought a woman he claims is Ashara Dayne."
Ser Jorah glanced at her in shock and said, "That is impossible, Your Grace. They are all three dead."
"The man I met last night was Lord Jon Connington," Ser Barristan confirmed. "I saw him every day for many years, Ser Jorah. It is him and he has no reason to lie about Aegon. If the woman is Lady Ashara, then I will know it."
Ser Jorah shook his head and said, "They would lie to put their puppet on the throne…or perhaps you are lying for them."
Abruptly stopping, Ser Barristan ignored his last comment and said, "You do not know either of them like I do…like I did. You did not know their love for Prince Rhaegar or Princess Elia. If it is truly Lady Ashara, which I suspect it is based on my faith in Lord Connington's word, this boy is Aegon Targaryen or they raised him believing it so."
"He looks like Viserys," Daenerys said to Ser Jorah. "It would be easy to pass off one infant as another but he is…" Her throat felt as dry as the sand beneath her feet. "I believe he is a Targaryen. Who could he be, if not Aegon? What other male Targaryen is there?" She turned and resumed her path to the tent.
"A bastard? Is it possible that Prince Rhaegar or your father had a bastard?"
Dany didn't answer, for she suspected Rhaegar had another son but it was not this boy. Strangely, she thought of him as a boy yet he was older than she was, perhaps because Aegon was last seen as a babe. If he was Aegon, while she would be glad for him to be alive, she did not know what this meant for her claim. Dany told him she would not back down and she meant it, but she didn't want it to come down to a war between them. Were they no better than the Baratheons who fought each other now?
As they entered the tent and saw the Septa that stood by Griff, Ser Barristan's quick intake of breath caused Dany to close her eyes, for she knew it confirmed that this was Lady Ashara Dayne and, therefore, there was little chance that Griff lied about Aegon.
"Ser Barristan?" the woman whispered, her pretty face a mixture of happiness and apprehension.
"Lady Ashara," he replied, with a step forward. "I cannot…there are no…I am…" His voice trailed off and the silence in the tent grew uncomfortable.
Griff bowed to Dany, drawing the attention away from Septa Lemore, or Ashara as Daenerys now knew. Ashara looked at her suddenly with embarrassment and dropped into a curtsey with such grace it was evident that she had years of practice at court. "Forgive me, Your Grace."
"Please rise," Dany said quietly. Everyone glanced around at each other uncomfortably, but Lady Ashara studied her for a moment before tears filled her eyes.
"I have been told that you are much like Prince Rhaegar, but when I look at you, I see your lady mother. You are as breathtaking and regal as she was, yet there was never a woman with kinder eyes than her."
At that moment, Daenerys felt less like a conquering Dragon Queen and more like a young girl again, eager to know everything about her mother. Everyone spoke of her beauty, and Viserys disclosed many things he remembered, but Dany had come to realize that her brother's memories were quite tainted.
"Everyone, please leave us," she said suddenly. "I wish to speak to Lady Dayne alone."
Jorah cupped her elbow and said low in her ear, "Is that wise, Khaleesi? I don't wish her to fill your head with nonsense and convince you that this boy is your nephew..."
"He is my nephew, Ser Jorah. Whether you wish to believe it or not, I know he is my nephew. But this woman knew my family and can tell me the events that happened that led up to the war and afterwards." Shooting him a glare of annoyance and pulling her arm from him, she added, "And I will remind you of your place, Ser Jorah. You are my advisor. See that I do not have to remind you again." Hurt flickered in his eyes but he nodded, lowering his eyes and turning to leave.
After the men had all left, she had Missandei bring them refreshments. Dany sat down at a small table and gestured to the seat across from her. "Please sit down. I'm certain you're quite tired from your journey."
Ashara sat down with the noticeable grace of a high born lady, obviously not a septa. Dany's mind was racing with all the questions she wished to ask but she forced herself to resist the ones about her mother until she knew Ashara better. "I've heard Griff's…or rather Lord Connington's version of what happened after the Sack of King's Landing, and I know what those in Westeros think happened. As you can imagine, it's difficult for me to reconcile all that I've been told with the stories my brother told me."
"Lord Connington was already in exile when Lord Varys brought the prince to me, so I brought Prince Aegon across the Narrow Sea with a few men still loyal to your family," Ashara explained, a look of sadness on her face. "I had just learned of his mother's death shortly before Varys brought him to me and I was quite devastated. When I lost the man I loved and father of my child, Elia had sent me back to Starfall for my safety. So when I held Elia's little boy, for the first time in so long, I felt something other than grief." Tears filled her violet eyes. "Soon after, Lord Eddard Stark arrived, bringing me news of my beloved brother's death. Then my daughter was born but she never drew breath…"
Ashara could not speak for a few moments. Daenerys couldn't resist reaching out to take her hand. The woman's eyes drifted to hers as she tried to recompose herself. "I don't know why I mentioned her. I have not spoken of the loss to anyone else… Forgive me, Your Grace. Certainly you don't want to hear of my losses."
"No, Lady Dayne, quite the contrary. You and I share that burden. My son…" Dany's voice trailed off and she shook her head, looking down. "I lost my son as well." After a moment, she returned her gaze to the other woman and said, "Please continue. I did not realize you knew Lord Stark as well. I've heard conflicting stories about him."
"I can imagine." Ashara nodded. "Please understand. So many things became confusing and loyalties were conflicted by the war. Lord Eddard Stark was an honorable man who would never have committed treason against the king…"
"But he did. Everyone talks of his honor yet he committed treason against my father, the rightful king. Even if the stories are true about my father, my brother, the crown prince, should have inherited the throne, not Robert Baratheon. Lord Stark helped him steal the throne and murder my family." Dany couldn't help the bitterness in her voice.
Ashara studied her hands and remained silent for a moment causing Dany to regret her tone. She wanted to know the truth and people were unlikely to tell her if she bit their head off every time what they said displeased her.
"Your Grace, please know the Eddard Stark would never have rebelled against your father if he had any choice. The king had called for his head after killing his father and brother," Ashara said quietly and Dany saw the raw pain in her eyes. "His sister was lost to him as well. I do not know how much you know about Lyanna Stark and Prince Rhaegar, but Brandon thought the prince had kidnapped Lyanna and held her against her wishes. Naturally, he came after his sister, only to be murdered after watching his father die for his folly."
"And did he? Did Rhaegar kidnap her?"
Ashara sighed heavily. "I do not know how it happened. Perhaps we'll never know. But I do not think he forced Lyanna, for Elia knew of their relationship. Rhaegar wanted another child to fulfill a prophecy. It didn't please Elia, but she was not naïve in the matter. They had a political arranged marriage where they had grown to care about one another. But your brother fell in love with Lyanna Stark. And in the end at least, she loved him as he much as he loved her. Lord Stark told me his sister admitted that when he brought me my brother's sword."
"And what were Lord Stark's feelings toward my family at that point?"
"He…we were both devastated by the loss of our family and friends. In addition, Lord Stark felt guilty about what happened in the Sack of King's Landing. He thought that the Lannisters should have been punished, not rewarded. I don't think he understood the level of malice felt by Robert Baratheon toward your family or his ambition. Lord Stark was trying to rescue his sister and avenge his family. In the end, Ned lost almost everything and Robert stepped over bodies of Elia and her children to sit on the throne. I think that more than anything is why he helped me escape with Aegon."
"He betrayed Robert Baratheon to help Aegon?" Dany exclaimed and Ashara hesitantly nodded.
"I didn't think of it as a betrayal. I always thought of it as the only honorable option. I suppose it was treason. I have never told anyone other than Aegon about Lord Stark's part in our escape, not even Lord Connington," she whispered. "Lord Stark was more than just my friend. My daughter would have been his niece had she lived."
Daenerys felt the blood run out of her face as the realization of what Ashara was telling her hit her. "You were at court when Brandon Stark died, were you not?"
Ashara looked visibly stricken. "Yes, I was in the throne room when your father…when it happened. That is why Elia sent me away, fearing the king would discover whose child I carried. I would likely have died with her, if she hadn't. Lord Stark stayed with me for the birth of my daughter, Elia Dawn, knowing that she was the last link to his brother. I think the loss of his niece was as much of a reason as the guilt of what happened to Elia and Rhaenys that convinced him to help me escape with Aegon."
Dany wondered what the man who killed Arthur Dayne had done to earn so much respect from his own sister, but then she still loved Drogo after he killed Viserys. Perhaps she needed to accept that Lord Stark was not the Usurper's dog after all.
"Tell me about the child," she said suddenly.
"My daughter? Or Aegon?"
"I know that Lyanna Stark had a child with my brother," Daenerys insisted. "Where is he?"
Ashara paled even more and Dany saw her hand shaking. "But…how could you know that? I never told anyone. As far as I know, no one knows of the boy but Lord Stark, a septon, and a Northmen, Lord Reed."
"It was a vision. I was not certain what it meant until now," Dany admitted with a deep breath. "There are three of us then, even if he is a bastard."
"But he's not a bastard," Ashara answered nervously. "Prince Rhaegar took Lyanna Stark as his second wife, as your ancestors have often done. The septon, who was with Lyanna when she gave birth to the boy then later died, was the one that married them. That is why the Kingsguard were at the Tower of Joy. They would only protect legitimate members of the royal family and they knew Prince Rhaegar, his son, and his father were dead, so they were there protecting his second son."
Daenerys had not suspected this. Her brother Viserys had never been the rightful heir nor was she even if Aegon had been dead. And now, she was third in line for the throne. "Where is he?" she repeated.
"I assume he is with Lord Stark. Ned intended to raise him as his bastard son. He felt that was the only way to guarantee his safety and his sister wanted him raised at Winterfell, far from Robert Baratheon's wrath. He looked like the Starks, not even a hint of Targaryen traits, so Ned felt he could never be suspected of being Rhaegar's son."
"Ned Stark took the throne away from his own nephew," Dany said, feeling anger that her nephew had been denied his place in her family and forced to live as a Stark bastard. Lord Stark should have put him on the throne, not the Usurper.
She didn't not understand her protective nature over this boy…no, he was a man now, older than her …despite the fact that they had never met. In a matter of two days, she had transformed from an orphan with no family to an aunt of two more heirs to the Targaryen dynasty. But that left her no longer the only rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
Ashara shook her head, looking pained. "Lord Stark saved his life. The boy, his name is Jon, he was the son of Rhaegar Targaryen – the man who had taken his sister from her family and started a war that caused Ned to lose his family and friends. But he held him no grudge, only love. No matter what is said about your brother, I know that Lord Stark would prevent others speaking ill of Jon's father as much as possible. I do not think he would not want Jon to grow up hating his father, even if he did not know who he was." She paused a moment before saying, "Forgive me for saying this but Lord Stark is a good man, Your Grace. He would not wish harm on you or Aegon for he knows that now that both Targaryen and Stark blood flows in Jon's veins, forever uniting your houses. It would have been hard for him, as much as it is for you, but I know that he saw Lyanna with that child and could not help but love him."
Daenerys remained silent thinking of Jon and Lord Stark. Everyone was telling her to trust Ned Stark, to put her faith in an alliance with his son, Robb Stark. Knowing what her father did to Brandon and Rickard Stark, she would not blame him for hating her, just as she could not truly forgive his actions. But if Robb Stark was willing to help her claim the throne, she would attempt to trust him.
Glancing at Ashara, Dany wondered how Aegon would accept that she did not intend to yield to him. She would win the Iron Throne just as Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters, Visenya and Rhaenys, had. Unlike her ancestors, she hoped to win the love and trust of the people of Westeros, not rule by fear. But she would do what was necessary to reclaim the Targaryen rule of Westeros. She would be the dragon, like Rhaegar before her.
Missandei announced Aegon stood outside the door. She motioned for him to come in and waited until he took a seat by Ashara. He smiled at her and took the older woman's hand, placing a light kiss on it before returning his gaze to Daenerys. She could easily see the fondness and love between the two. Ashara had been his surrogate mother when he had none. The thought filled her with pain, edged with bitterness. Daenerys had never had that luxury and, while others cared for and helped rescue Aegon, she had been forced to live as an orphan, dealing with Viserys' increasing madness. Why had Lord Stark not protected her? Why had Lord Connington not sought her and Viserys out sooner? Because before she had dragons, she was nothing to them. Only now do they want your alliance.
Aegon's smile faded as he said, "Your Grace, surely you realize now that we spoke the truth. I am Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen, and your nephew. I wish us to be allies … no, I wish us to be more than that. We are family. Lady Ashara has assured me that Dorne will stand with us. You have mentioned you have allies in Westeros already…"
"I know you wish for me to become your bride so we can conquer the Seven Kingdoms together. But I will not marry you, Aegon. And you should know there is another: your brother. We must find him. Only then will the prophecy be realized. Your father, my brother, died for that prophecy. Only by fulfilling it will we be successful." Daenerys rose, her head held high, looking regal and powerful. "But hear me now, nephew. I will let you rule by my side, but I will not surrender the throne to you. I did not endure all that I have to give it away."
"The Iron Throne is mine by rights. All those who deny it are my foes," Stannis declared loudly, his blue eyes hard.
"The whole of the realm denies it, brother. Old men deny it with their death rattle, and unborn children deny it in their mothers' wombs. They deny it in Dorne and they deny it on the Wall. No one wants you for their king. Sorry," Renly answered, looking as if he hadn't a care in the world.
"My lords, you are brothers and you share a common enemy. Can you not resolve your differences and fight the Lannisters together?" Ned said, glancing back and forth between the two. "Between the two of you, you have alliances with everyone but the Lannisters. Joffrey would not hold King's Landing if…"
"When men in my ranks wondered aloud if you were a traitor, I defended you, Lord Stark, even though you were no friend to me," Stannis interrupted. "But I see I was wrong. If Lord Tyrell had not been so power hungry, perhaps you would have offered your daughter up to my brother instead. One pretender or another makes no difference to you."
"How dare you," Ser Loras spat, his horse urging forward.
Ned noticed that Renly's cool exterior had vanished and his guards were all tensing. Quickly he moved his horse in front of Ser Loras and called out, "Lord Stannis, I was never your enemy, nor am I now. Robert would not want his death to lead to you two attempting to kill each other. While you are laying siege to Storm's End, Lord Tywin is likely planning his return to King's Landing and then our chances of defeating Joffrey are diminished greatly."
"Save your words of brotherly love, Stark. Robert would not care if Renly or I kill each other. He cared little enough for us in life."
"That's what all of this is about though isn't it, Stannis?" Renly said with a smirk. "All of this righteous indignation is because he loved me enough to name me Lord of Storm's End and he named Lord Stark his Hand of the King. Perhaps you think you will have the respect you feel you're entitled to if you become king."
"He is the Lord of Light's chosen and your rightful king," the red priestess declared.
Renly chuckled. "Only your Lord of Light seems to have chosen him. I judge he barely has five thousand men if I were being generous. I have the full might of the Reach, the strongest of the Stormlords, as well as the Riverlords and the Northmen. There is no way you can win this, Stannis. I will offer you this, since it wounded you so severely. If you swear fealty to me, I will give you Storm's End as long as you name one of Robert's two remaining sons as your heirs since you have no son of your own. I will be legitimizing them when I take the Iron Throne." He held out his hand to gesture to Gendry. "This is your nephew, Stannis. He wanted to meet you again, although I warned him you'd not be as generous or accepting as I."
Stannis barely glanced at Gendry before snapping, "Robert had so many bastards, any fool could claim he was one and I will not…"
"I never made any claim," Gendry replied, anger flashing in his eyes.
Ned's patience now gone, he replied, "You know Gendry is Robert's bastard because you met him in King's Landing. Explain to me why, when Lord Arryn was murdered, you didn't tell Robert the truth. All of us might have been spared this madness if you had. Perhaps Robert would even still be alive."
Stannis glared at him and replied shortly, "And my beloved brother would have believed me if I had told him? You know he wouldn't. He had more use for Lannister gold than he had for my loyalty. Now hold your tongue, Lord…oh I forgot you're not a lord anymore. Perhaps your son would have had more sense than to throw in with my fool brother if he wasn't so eager to win glory with your men fighting for him."
Ned did not answer, simmering angrily but realizing trading more barbs with Stannis would do no good. He turned to Renly and said, "Forgive me, Renly. I had thought to help you with this meeting but I fear my presence has made no difference."
Stannis gave him a glare and Ned could never see more difference between the three Baratheon brothers than in his stiff back and cold eyes. "If you want to help, talk some sense into him." Stannis then turned to Renly. "For the mother that bore us, I will give you until first light tomorrow to surrender to me, Renly." Turning his horse, he motioned his men to withdraw.
The red priestess watched Renly until Stannis was galloping away before saying, "Look to your sins, Lord Renly." She studied Gendry for a brief moment and said, "Come with us if you wish to learn the true power of king's blood. The Lord of Light will show you."
Gendry shook his head, saying, "I'm not interested in power or your Lord of Light. And Lord Stannis made it pretty clear he would not be interested in another bastard around." She nodded with a smile before riding away.
Renly turned and rode away angrily. Ned took a deep breath of the cool sea air blowing in even at their higher elevation. He prayed that his daughter was on the sea traveling toward them now. Ned had never felt so torn in different directions as he did now with his children scattered across the Seven Kingdoms. He wished they were all home in the north, preparing for the winter.
"What will you do when you reunite me with my parents? Will you go back to Bear Island?" Sansa asked, before moving her Spearmen on the Cyvasse board. The captain's son, Miro, had been teaching Sansa and Dacey to play during their journey to pass away time.
Dacey reached for her Dragon and Miro clucked his tongue at her. She cut her eyes to him in frustration then returned to studying the board. After a few moments, she picked up the Heavy Horse instead. She had little patience for the game and had already grown tired of being trapped on a ship doing nothing.
"No. I will go back to fight for your brother. After my time in King's Landing, I'm itching to kill some Lannisters," Dacey replied.
Sansa sat forward and studied the board for some time before she smiled triumphantly. She reached for her dragon, positioning it so there was no move for Dacey, causing her to groan aloud.
"You're too good as this game already, Lady Sansa. Perhaps Lord Stark will want you to help him plan his battles."
"Only because you're inpatient. You're too quick to bring out your strongest pieces and end up sacrificing them to my minor ones." Sansa sat back in her chair, studying Dacey. "You're fond of my brother, aren't you? Very fond." The corners of her mouth twitched as she held back a smile.
"He is my lord. It is my duty to respect him," Dacey answered vaguely, gazing out to watch the sun melting into the sea. After a long silence, she glanced over at Sansa to find her grinning mischievously. "What is it?"
Sansa giggled. "You think I haven't seen that look before when girls watch my brother. Your feelings are not just as a warrior for her commander. It's clear to me that…"
Dacey shook her quickly. "Lady Sansa, you forget: I am not a girl. I'm a woman and I know the way of the world. It wouldn't be proper for me to have the feelings that you're implying that I have. Your brother is a high lord, the Warden of the North and my commander."
"And you're the heir to Bear Island. I highly doubt Robb cares about proper or not. He must trust you, if he sent you on this mission," Sansa argued. "My brother isn't like the men in King's Landing. He's more likely fall in love with a brave and strong woman like you than a lady like me."
"Love?" Dacey laughed. "Your brother isn't in love with me. Life isn't a song, Lady Sansa. Trust me."
A dark shadow passed over the younger girl's face and her smile faded, as she glanced down at her hands. "I've been told that so often. I know people think I'm a naïve fool, but nonetheless I'm aware life is not a song. I know that more than you realize."
Guilt washed over Dacey and she attempted to remedy her comments. Sansa was so young and seemed so innocent, Dacey often forgot how much horror she had suffered in the capital. In fact, thanks to their unwelcome guest, she continued to put up with unkind comments she should not have to endure. She had tried more than once to encourage Sansa to leave the Hound's care to her or Darren, but Sansa feared he'd rile one of them to the point where he ended up dead at their hands. He knew exactly the right words to say in his acerbic tone to upset the gentle Stark girl.
"Forgive me Lady Sansa. I did not mean to insinuate anything. You're a gentle soul who sees the world more generously than I do, I suppose. But I know you're not a fool, innocent or otherwise. Your soul and manner are gentle but you're not weak, despite what that cur below says. You're northern born, with the blood of the First Men, just like myself. And you're the daughter of Lady Catelyn Tully as well: a woman of immeasurable grace and iron will. You will always be strong, even if those delicate flowers of the capital are blind to it under your gracious courtesy."
Sansa smiled demurely, but Dacey saw the flicker of pride in her eyes when she called her strong. Over the time they had been on the ship together, Dacey had grown very fond of Sansa. So unlike her sisters, Sansa seemed to need to be reassured that she was strong in spite of being a lady. Dacey and her sisters couldn't care less about courtesy or grace. They knew they'd never fit in at court, nor did they want to. On Bear Island, survival was more important than dresses or manners. But Sansa wanted to be strong like the rest of her family and not some frivolous pretty face.
"All I am saying is that if you feel affection for my brother, you would be foolish to not at least let him know. You're not only brave and fierce; you're also beautiful and kind, even if you attempt to hide it. I would be proud to call you sister one day."
Dacey quickly changed the subject, but Sansa's words stuck with her for the remainder of the evening. Lord Stark…Robb had gone out of his way many times on the journey from Winterfell to the Twins to seek her out, even if they just rode side by side talking of random things. Sometimes he would help her dismount and his hand would linger on her waist or he'd watch her closely for a few moments too long before blushing and turning away. He was handsome and kind as well as brave. But he was also very young and inexperienced, both as a new lord and as a man.
Unlike her sisters, Dacey wasn't very experienced with men in a romantic way. She grew up thinking any man that wanted her only wanted to rule over her, and no man would do that but the lords of Winterfell. But Robb was different. He asked her advice, he admired her strength and abilities, and he laughed even when she was unladylike or improper. The way his eyes twinkled with mischief when he saw her dueling with one of her fellow soldiers or challenging them in drinking games made her feel like he truly saw who she was and enjoyed her differences.
But did he think of her with love or merely lust? Did he just want to satiate his curiosity and take her as his lover, perhaps his first? It was common knowledge that the Mormont women weren't like other women in the respect of remaining innocent until they married. Her sister Alysane even had two children and was unwed. Robb wouldn't be the first if he merely wanted her as a lover. But Dacey wasn't like her sister. She would never lie with a man for mere lust. She wanted a companion more than husband or a lover: a man who admired her for her skills with an ax or her strength, not her beauty. Even though she thought she was too tall and lanky to be considered beautiful, men frequently told her of her beauty. Her only lover, Lance, had been many years ago and he had told her that she had a rare and powerful beauty, but she thought he was just a fool who enjoyed the pleasures of her body enough to flatter her with false words. He had been the youngest of four children and the only son so headstrong women didn't intimidate him. He died shortly after their affair began during an attack from the Ironborn. His mother had hoped he'd rule beside Dacey someday.
As fond as she had been of him, though, Dacey had seduced Lance out of mere curiosity, and once that was satisfied, she enjoyed his company physically but kept him at arms' length out of self-preservation.
Robb was the first man to make her feel this way, whatever this feeling was. Her pulse increased when his blue-eyed gaze landed on her, and his smile made her warm. Even his scent or the warmth of his hand made her feel excited and slightly sick. She did not want to fall in love with a boy who needed to marry a lady, not a bear. Unfortunately, her heart did not seem to care whether she wanted love or not. Even now she was painfully aware that the thought of being reunited with Robb caused her to feel a flush of heat course through her body. But was she willing to become his lover if that was all he sought?