AN: This story starts in the year 293 AL. A Game of Thrones begins in 298 AL. King Robert was crowned in 281 AL.
Disclaimer: I own neither Harry Potter nor A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones.
He ducked behind a tree, his breath quiet, an arrow notched and ready to release. He waited a three count, then peered around the the trunk to look upon his prey.
The stag hadn't moved, but it's wariness was apparent in its twitching haunches and flaring nostrils. It had been startled by the sudden sound of a twig as it snapped beneath his foot, but it didn't flee, and instead watched the surrounding thicket with wide, shining black eyes. 'Though if I should misstep again...' The stag lifted its mighty head to the sky and breathed n the scents of the forest.
If he had been a better archer, he could have taken the shot from a further distance, but he was only eight - soon to be nine - and his aim was barely a touch above mediocre. He had only just begun practicing.
He was much better at sneaking - you had to be in the keep, lest you get caught doing something you weren't supposed to. He had let his excitement get the best of him and hadn't been paying proper attention to his surroundings. Ser Aron always reprimanded him for such inattentiveness during weapons practice, as it could 'spell death for even the skilled', but Harry was only hunting deer, not fighting for his life. At worst he'd waste a few arrows and a few more hours.
'Now or never...'
He moved with purpose, as he'd been taught, drawing the string as he spun from around the trunk. The stag lowered its head and seemed about to charge, but he loosed an arrow into its face just as it took its first step. The broadhead cut deep, but the wound wasn't fatal. The beast averted its path in mid-step, dashing off into the dense wood across the meadow. 'Deep breath, aim, and...' He let another arrow fly before the stag could pick up speed, and gave chase when it failed to go down.
It didn't run far. The second arrow seemed to have caught a lung, or nicked one at least, and the stag, so proud and strong, could barely stand let alone bound away. Blood leaked from it's flank leaving a crimson trail through the undergrowth. Harry watched it collapse to the ground with a pitiful grunt, saw it kick and writhe, trying and failing to fight off impending death. He counted the seconds as he drew nearer; by the time he reached thirteen, the stag was dead.
His brother, Joffrey, had tried and failed to bring down a stag only the week before, and had earned even more scorn from their father. Harry hoped to earn his praise instead, even though he wasn't, under any circumstances, to venture into the Kingswood alone. Not without a guard, and especially not when at the expense of his lessons. Maester Pycelle, the old toad, would be terribly disappointed. If his mother had any say, he;d be locked up in the Red Keep all day, just like little Myrcella, playing at court with the other sons and daughters of the lords who visited his father's keep, or worse, with Joffrey and his cruel games.
No, better to hunt in the Kingswood, even if it meant a punishment. And since he had managed to bring down a stag, all the better.
It was truly magnificent, the stag, much larger up close than he'd first realized. 'Three hundred pounds, at the least.' That was far too heavy for him lift, let alone carry back to King's Landing, and he'd ditched his guards and servants before he had snuck out the city. 'But I can manage this, I think.'
He stared intently at the carcass, willing it to move - he was a wizard after all, in his past life and in this one, and he'd learned enough to manage a wandless charm or three.
The corpse rose up to his eye level, and when he went to walk back to the copse of trees where he'd left his horse, Flatfoot, it trailed along dutifully behind him, hanging from invisible threads.
He'd have to create a makeshift sled for the deer carcass, or tie it across the back of his courser - he didn't think he could ride and maintain the spell, not without being noticed, and not without a wand; he had yet to find the right ingredients to craft a lasting one. The trees in the godswood were decent enough, but he couldn't find a material to serve as a stable core. His blood wouldn't do - it made for too volatile a conduit.
He thought on his problem as he walked back, wondering when the men from the menagerie in Pentos would return to Westeros. Last year they'd had a unicorn, and a basilisk - nothing like the one from his dreams - but he hadn't been allowed to see them, only hearing of the show from hus uncle, Ser Jaime. Hopefully, if they came again, he could go and speak to the men who handled the animals, and maybe solve his dilemma. One of them, in any case.
It was all very strange, his existence. He had almost two hundred years of memories swimming around in his head, memories of a strange place, where people used owls as messengers instead of ravens, fought with magic instead of swords and drank beer of butter instead of wine of grapes. He'd thought them just dreams, very realistic dreams, but his gut had said otherwise.
He'd known for certain the truth of his dreams when he'd done magic for the first time, and he hadn't looked back since. Oddly enough, despite all the years he could remember, and all the things he dreamed of, he still felt like a child. He was smarter than his peers, more mature, less inclined to tantrums... but he still enjoyed a good game of tag, he loved to play and train at swords, and he hated sitting still for any length of time. He didn't feel like an old man, but his memories and his dreams detailed a long, long life. It was strange, to say the least; something undefinable by words, only explicable to those who had experienced it.
And as far as he knew, only he had experienced it.
Flatfoot, his big, gray courser, was still tied where he left him, his shining black mane a match for Harry's own, in color if not length. As theft was rewarded with mutilation, he wasn't surprised his horse hadn't been bothered. Besides that, he was well-liked by the smallfolk of the Kingswood, the only people who frequented the forest - he doubted they would bother his things.
They called him "Harry the Kind", and he tried, for them at least, to live up to the moniker. It was easy enough to do - they were simple people, with simple needs, far removed from the gilded tongues of the Red Keep. He enjoyed being able to relax without thought of proper decorum - among the smallfolk, he could yell and shout and fart just like the rest of them and not be scolded for it. He had half a mind to go deeper into the Kingswood to celebrate his kill with them, but he had been gone for at least a few hours now, and he was certain his absence had been noticed.
"We're going back to the keep, boy," he said to his horse, patting Flatfoot's head when he leaned down to accept his hand.
Flatfoot whinnied in response, turning his huge gray head back to look at Harry. Green flashed in his coal black eyes.
Harry decided to lash the stag to the horse's back, and pulled a rope from his pack. He cleared his mind, leaving only intent, and the rope twisted about horse and stag all on its lonesome, tied by invisible hands.
Flatfoot bore the stag's weight with little issue. His horse was big, too big for a boy his age to ride and control, but his magic made the beast malleable, and he had never once fallen from the saddle. It was easy to control Flatfoot, to mold his magic to the horse's mind and set him to purpose. It was even easier than moving things with magic, though not as easy as setting things on fire.
He climbed into the saddle, checked his packs and his sword, just as he had been taught, and kicked Flatfoot into a nice canter back to the city. King's Landing was visible even from here. The Red Keep stretched high above the city, its seven massive drum towers like stout fingers reaching up to grasp the sky.
The three beat gait of his horse's trot was a calming staccato rhythm, and it carried him up the Kingsroad, pass the hovels and gutter rats, across the ferry and the Blackwater Rush, dotted with fishing and trading ships, through the huge river gate, and into the city proper.
From what he had learned of Westeros, King's Landing was rather unsightly in comparison to other great cities. It was too cramped - the buildings were too close, the streets were too narrow. It was closed in by tall ramparts and massive parapets, and he could make out a few archers manning the crenels as he rode through the gate.
King's Landing was as filthy as ever, and in the midday heat, the odor was quite noticeable. Horse shit, slop and worse things riddled the streets, the smell so sharp and pungent he wanted to gag. He didn't think he would ever grow accustomed to the many smells of the city, and how could he? Servants kept the Red Keep pristine, and scented oils and candles burned in every room and every hall. It was one thing to play in mud and dirt, quite another to go willingly traipsing through puddles of shit.
Flatfoot didn't seem to mind, however, and trotted gaily along the road, the stag still lashed firmly to his back. They went first thru Fishmonger's Square, where the smell of fish almost overcame the smell of shit, then along the Hook and its curving cobbled road, where he was hailed by children running the streets, women washing in the windows and even the men as they worked, pushing carts and selling wares, before finally arriving at the Red Keep. He imagined his Mother was waiting for him, with Maester Pycelle at her heels like the shiftless fool he was, frowning down at him from the castle steps.
He imagined his father as he always did - as the king always was - drunken, surrounded by whores, mind absent of worries for wife or children. King Robert wouldn't care what Harry was doing, so long as he stayed out of his way.
Despite that, he couldn't wait to show his father his kill. He hadn't had a father in his past life, and this one was proving a disappointment... but he still longed for his approval, craved it even, almost as much as, if not more than his brother did. King Robert paid his sons little mind, and his daughter even less, and though he had more words for Harry than he did for Joffrey, it wasn't as many words as he had for the whores who warmed his bed.
It hadn't always been that way. When he was very young, his father had played with him, and Joffrey, and Myrcella too, when she was born... but as they grew older, so too did he grow distant, till sometimes he seemed not even a father at all.
Joffrey was most affected by the King's dismissal, and found solace in their mother and her honeyed words of encouragement, whilst Harry turned his efforts to impress upon Jon Arryn, Hand of the King and a true noble man, then to Ser Barristan and Ser Jaime of the Kingsguard and even his grandfather, the one time he'd met him. Stern as he was, Lord Tywin had many stories to tell, and despite the macabre nature of war, and the cruelty Lord Tywin had spoken of so casually, Harry was thoroughly enraptured by the tales of battle.
He remembered battles. They were different, in his dreams, than what Lord Tywin and Jaime described. The Lannister men spoke of swords and blood, of death and glory, of reaving and raping and all things in between.
But wizards weren't made of the things the Westerosi were; very few wizards killed, in proportion to the people of Westeros, and even less deigned to rape. Harry would be surprised if there was a single ser in Westeros who hadn't killed at least one man. In his dreams, though, he could count on two hands the number of wizards he'd witnessed take a life, himself included. The Battle of Hogwarts didn't hold a candle to even the smallest of Westerosi wars.
"Prince Harry," a gruff voice announced, cutting his musings short.
Ser Brenden, one of the Gold Cloaks at the gate, stepped forward to aid his dismount, while the other, Ser Connell moved to take the stag down from his horse. Ser Brenden was young, just one and twenty, with dark brown hair and a plain, flat face. He was the captain of the gate guard, and had become something of a familiar face over the years. He had been knighted in service to Lord Rosby, after being assigned to guard his retinue; something to do with outlaws, on the road to Maidenpool. Harry had heard the story from Ser Brenden himself, after he'd pestered the man about his knighting, but had since forgotten the finer details. Ser Brenden wasn't much of an orator, and not one for boasting either; the tale had seemed rather dull with him telling it.
Ser Connell was older, six and twenty, and bald of head, with features as sharp as a dagger and a nose as long as one. He rarely said anything save to complain, and was more prickly than he had any right to be. Harry didn't know how he had become a knight, and hardly cared to ask.
A group of people waited for him at the entrance to the Keep, but neither his mother nor the Grandmaester stood amongst them. 'Thank the gods,' he thought.
Instead it was his uncle Tyrion's ugly misshapen face that he saw first, his pretty little sister Myrcella with him, and Sers Aron and Arys and...'Bloody hell.' His Uncle Stannis stood with the group, the few feet between him and the cluster of bodies seeming as if a vast chasm. Stannis was the single most dour man in all the Seven Kingdoms, and by far the most boring, carrying his belligerence about him as a buffer. He never laughed nor smiled - Harry rather thought that he didn't know how.
'Why is he here?', he wondered, before shrugging away his dread at seeing his uncle. He preferred his shorter, blonder uncle to his taller darker one. Still, Stannis was a good man - just, and lawful, though he would never be accused of being likable.
Ser Connell staggered under the weight of the deer, and Ser Brenden rushed to help him. Ser Connell turned a confused face down to Harry. "How did you get this up here?" He seemed annoyed by the weight of it, as if he'd been done some grievance.
"The smallfolk of the Kingswood helped," Harry said.
"You killed it yourself?" Ser Brenden asked.
Harry nodded in return, and the young knight let out a low whistle.
"Quite impressive," he said. "I was twice your age when I killed my first stag."
He called for servants from the Keep, and as Harry approached the small crowd assembled to greet him, two servants, young men the both of them, scurried out to take hold of the carcass. He hadn't seen exactly where they had come from - behind the curtain walls the keep was a maze, dotted with courtyards and bridges and barracks and even dungeons, as if one wasn't enough.
"Wait for me in front of the Great Hall," he instructed them, and they hastened to do his bidding. They weren't as bad as house elves, but it was still strange to him for people to be so subservient.
"Ah, you've finally decided to grace us with your exalted presence," Tyrion quipped. "Let us all bow before the great lesson-skipping Prince." And bow he did, his big head almost touching the floor. "And celebrate his arrival with wine and women. More of one than of the other, though I'm not quite sure which..." he trailed off as if seriously contemplating the matter.
Harry grinned, even as Stannis drew his face into a sneer.
"Really Harry, what possessed you to run off this time? Not that I blame you, this Keep is an awfully dreadful place... and the company!" Tyrion continued, sounding appalled. "Some are no better than brick walls, for all their ranks and titles -"
"Quiet, Imp." Stannis glared at Tyrion, barely sparing Harry a glance.
Most people couldn't stand to look him in his eyes; especially those with secrets. He could see them sometimes, their secrets, and they could feel the weight of his gaze, judging the things they would rather hide away in the shadows of their mind. Stannis, however, didn't seem the sorts for secrets. Harry surmised his avoidance of eye contact to be a different matter entirely.
"The King wishes to see you," said Stannis. "You've skipped out on your lessons. Again."
"I haven't missed my arms lesson, have I?" Harry asked Ser Aron, seemingly ignoring Stannis. The Dornishman wasn't his favorite knight, but he was Master-at-Arms for a reason. He nodded in greeting to Ser Arys standing dutifully in Myrcella's shadow, and winked at his sister.
"No, my prince," Ser Aron began, "but do you recall what the Queen said about missing your lessons?" He was a vain man, but so too was he honorable, and he would not disobey the Queen. Not in this. "No arms practice until -"
"After my book lessons." Harry finished sourly. He pouted dramatically, trying to get a laugh out of Myrcella. She was easily amused, and hid her giggles behind her hand, trying to muffle the sound.
"Don't pout, boy. You're a prince - act like it," said Stannis.
Harry's face curled into a frown. He wasn't pouting just to be pouting; he was entertaining his sister! Her laughter was a precious thing. Would that he could make music of it, men and women across the continent would flock to listen.
"Master-of-Ships and messenger; my lord, where do you find the time to manage it all?" Tyrion said.
The dwarf was a master of mockery, having spent his entire life the butt of jokes, and Harry silently thanked him for his quick wit. For all his dislike of Stannis, Harry didn't like to goad him too much. It didn't seem fair... that didn't stop him from enjoying his uncle's discomfort at the hands of others, however.
But Stannis wasn't a man who took insults lightly. Instead of replying, he settled on a glare so full of vitriol that Tyrion said nothing else to the middle Baratheon brother, and instead bid his niece and nephew goodbye.
"I've a woman to see about a particular itch," was all he said, and then he was waddling through the gate, into the city and away from the keep.
Harry raised a questioning eye at Myrcella, wondering why she was present. He asked her as much.
"I was waiting for you... you promised to play with me, remember?" She sounded put out, a frown marring her pretty face.
'She looks just like mother,' he thought.
But he didn't remember his promise. How could he? Aside from lessons in history and law and language, he practiced with sword and lance and bow everyday, and all the free time he could spare was spent pondering the mysteries of wand-making. Or exploring the mysteries of the keep, and sometimes, the mysteries of the people within. They were very intricate, those mysteries, and he was no closer to solving them, for all his efforts. All the wands he crafted snapped after a few spells, he had yet to find the hoard of dragon eggs the Mad King whispered of, and he still didn't know if Varys was a fat, manly woman, or a fat, womanly man, and the Spider never looked him in the eyes.
"Well I can't now, but later I'll come find you and then we can go on an adventure, ok?"
She nodded happily, but didn't leave until coaxing another promise out of her brother. Afterwards, Ser Arys escorted her back to whatever stuffy room the Septa kept her holed up in.
"Well, Uncle Stannis, Ser Aron, shall we?" Even Stannis's dour personality wouldn't ruin his mood. Today, he had proved himself a hunter.
He walked past them into the Keep, Ser Aron falling in behind him. The doors were opened for them, massive constructs of oak banded with black iron. Stannis seemed less inclined to sneer now that Tyrion was gone, but was no more amicable.
Ghosts greeted Harry in the halls with disparaging oaths, and some tried to scare him, popping out of the black suits of armor that lined the halls. He didn't reply - as only he could see them, it didn't seem wise.
"You brought down that stag yourself?" Ser Aron asked. There was a tinge of disbelief in his voice; he had only just recently begun training Harry in the art of the longbow.
"It wasn't that hard," said Harry. "You just have to be persistent... and quick. And lucky," he added after a moment.
"That you are," Ser Aron agreed. "Though I'd like you to rely less on luck in the future."
"Good job, though... Prince Joffrey couldn't manage it, not now, and not at your age either. Meet me at the training grounds after your lessons."
No doubt for some manner of grueling drill.
"I will," said Harry. "I still need to work on my aim."
"You're only eight," Ser Aron said. "I'm a man grown, and I still work on my aim. A true warrior never stops his practice." And he too departed, turning down a hall, leaving Harry and Stannis alone.
"I know the way, uncle, or did my father bid you to see me all the way to the throne room?" He would rather not have to walk with Stannis. Maybe he was being childish, but his uncle was ruining his mood. His presence, overbearing and unyielding, was stifling to Harry - he was like a mass of dark clouds blocking the sun.
Stannis didn't reply at first, and his face never once softened from the slight sneer he had been sporting since Tyrion left. Harry wondered just what had happened to make Stannis such a man, absent of smiles or laughter, when Renly, his other uncle, was so lighthearted, and his father so often full of drink all he did was make fun.
"Why must you insist on these childish endeavors? Sneaking out of the city to hunt alone in the Kingswood is folly."
Harry blinked. "Erm... I am a child," he replied, and something in his voice made Stannis' sneer deepen. Harry thought he looked rather like a snarling dog. "I don't see the problem. The small folk love me. Nothing would've happened."
"Robert felt the same," Stannis said, and he sounded annoyed at the fact. "But even in times of peace there are men who would strike at the king. Men who would have no qualms taking his son hostage. At least take a guard if you insist on this foolishness." Harry, however, had stopped listening.
"What do you mean, 'felt'... how does he feel now?"
His punishments for skipping lessons had always been light. Usually, he was just forced to do extra reading, on top of what he had missed, which wasn't bad - he rather liked the reading. It was Maester Pycelle who bored him. King Robert didn't care about his son skipping lessons, and no man in the keep would dare lay one hand on either of the princes without the king's permission, and he had never given it. Harry's wet nurse had given him a few smacks here and there when he was young, but they had been well deserved, and she'd apologized so profusely he hadn't done anything about it.
Joffrey had never been disciplined a day in his life. Pate, the whipping boy, took all the beatings for him.
"Go into the Great Hall and find out," Stannis said.
He had said all that he was going to say, it seemed, for he took his leave, abandoning Harry to face his father alone. 'Good riddance,' the boy thought. Now the sun could shine.
The servants from earlier were waiting for him outside the Great Hall. They had managed to find a wooden tray large enough to hold the carcass.
The guards standing at the oak and bronze doors pushed them open and he walked into the throne room. It was completely cavernous, the walls decorated with hunting tapestries and the banners of House Baratheon. Ornate candelabra lined the red carpet leading to the throne, blanketed on each side by massive pillars with vines winding up and down the smooth stone. The room was mostly empty, save for a few dining Lords well into their cups - Thoros, his father's good friend, was surrounded by empty flasks - and a spattering of guards, his uncle, the golden-haired Ser Jaime among them. He was the only knight of the Kingsguard present.
His father stood before the twisting, hulking mass of swords that was the Iron Throne at the foot of its raised dais, his back to the door, a flask in hand, one foot propped up on the narrow steps. He was a massive man, six and a half feet tall, with wide, broad shoulders and a monstrous belly. His hair was as black as night, his beard thick and bushy. His skin was flushed, no doubt from wine, but he didn't seem that far into his cups yet. Jon Arryn, old and weathered, with a lined, craggy face and thinning gray hair, stood at his side facing the door, awash in his house colors of blue and white. They appeared to be in conversation. Joffrey's whipping boy, Pate, stood off to the side, arms folded behind his back, his whole demeanor dejected, and his mother sat on her stool beside the Iron Throne itself, in the shadow of its thousands of swords, sipping red wine. She was as beautiful as she always was, and her golden hair shone especially bright, her lips red like fire. She looked deep in thought, far, far away, eyes half closed as if dazed, but she perked up as he drew nearer.
"Your Grace," announced the guard at the door. "The Prince has arrived, and he bears tribute."
Robert waved him over, only briefly glancing at Harry before resuming his conversation with Jon. Pate, Harry saw as he approached, appeared to be preparing himself for some daunting task.
His mother finished her wine in one mighty gulp, then rose to greet her son, descending from the throne with all the grace of a moon dancer.
"Harry dear, come." She beckoned him closer. She mentioned nothing of the stag the servants carried behind him, and she didn't seem to be mad about his skipping his lesson. She just looked relieved, but she wouldn't meet his eyes. She almost never did, in fact, and he wondered if it was because she had figured out what he could do, or if she just didn't like the look of them. How could she not, though - they were her own green eyes, set in a face like his father's, with thick, dark hair to match.
"You skipped another lesson," she began without preamble.
He opened his mouth to protest but she shushed him with a finger.
"I warned you to not defy me, and you ignored my warning. Now you will have your father to answer to." She seemed remorseful, an odd emotion for his mother to show, and patted his head affectionately, blessing him with a soft kiss against his brow. "Visit me later, love, and tell me what sort of adventure could call you out of the city absent a guard. I assume it had something to do with the dead stag?"
He nodded, expression sheepish, and she smiled, a slight, crooked thing, truer still than the smiles he had seen her give to others.
"I hope it was worth it." She kissed him again, on the cheek this time, and caressed his face, fingers dancing along his jawline, her gaze distant once more. "Such a willful child... even more so than your brother." She sighed. "What ever will I do with you..." Her voice softened. She seemed to be talking more to herself than to him.
What did she see in him that made her treat him so much differently than his brother and sister? Sometimes she wouldn't even acknowledge him, went of her way to avoid him, and other times... other times she held him close and whispered sweet nothings in his ear, played with his hair and trailed her long fingers along the contours of his face, her eyes alight with wonder. Sometimes she was scathing, as sharp and cutting as Valyrian steel, and other times she was nice, soft and sweet and loving. It was another mystery he had yet to solve.
"Anyway," she began, shaking herself from her reverie. "I have meetings to attend and ladies to entertain. Be good, love, and don't forget to visit." She patted his cheek and left the room, followed by a trail of hand maidens and ladies who'd apparently been waiting for her departure.
Harry turned his attention to his father, who had yet to acknowledge him. He waited in silence, and as the time went by, he began to fiddle nervously with the buttons of his jerkin. He had already been apprehensive about being summoned, and the prolonged silence didn't assuage his feelings. Just as he was about to speak up the King turned to face him with a bored expression, his fat face visibly brightening when he caught sight of the stag. His eyes lit up, cheeks spreading into a smile.
"You brought that down yourself? Without help?"
Harry nodded once, his eyes shifting to Lord Jon to gauge his reaction. Jon appeared impressed.
"Look at that, Jon," the King said. "Eight years old, and already hunting stag. You'll be coming with me on the next hunting trip."
Harry was pleased, and he smiled so wide his face hurt. "Thank you father."
"But," Robert continued, "you skipped your lessons, again, after your mother forbade you to do so. This is the fourth time in as little as two weeks, and since no other punishment has worked..." Pate stepped forward, and revealed that he had been holding a rod behind his back. He handed it over to the king. "We'll try a new one."
Harry gulped. A whipping? He wasn't afraid of pain, but it seemed rather extreme for skipping a lesson. Maester Pycelle was an old fool anyway, and despite his less than stellar attendance, he was even further along in his learning than Joffrey, who'd had a full year head start.
Stranger still was his father's participation in the first place.
"I noticed your displeasure last week, when those criminals were flogged in the city square," Jon Arryn said. "And so after much deliberation between your mother and I, we devised this punishment."
Harry was horrified. "My mother... and you," he said, staring unblinkingly into Lord Jon's face. The old man stared back, eyes apologetic, but whatever he saw there seemed to shake him, for he looked away first.
The King tossed the rod at his feet. "You'll beat him," and he nodded at Pate, "until I say stop, and then you'll attend all your lessons, or you'll be made to do it again, and again, and again."
Harry opened his mouth to argue, a rebuttal on the tip of his tongue, but Jon's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Even a Prince must be held responsible for his actions, and all the consequences that arise thereafter. You brought this on yourself Harry. Pate did nothing wrong, and deserves no punishment, but it is often that the innocent take the blame for the wicked. That is the way of the world."
"No," he said, aghast. "I refuse." He couldn't believe Jon, of all people, would betray him in such a way. Jon, who never failed to preach on the virtues of honor, who implored him to be fair and just in all that he did, who had more hand in raising him than his own father. "I skipped the lessons," he continued. "Not Pate." He spoke to Lord Jon, but his eyes were on the King.
He expected his father to be angry, to lash out at him as he lashed out at his mother, but instead, the king leveled him with a look he couldn't decipher. As if he was seeing someone else.
"You would deny your king?"
"I would," Harry said. "The innocent take the blame for the wicked in things beyond our control... this isn't such a situation. I will not whip Pate." He stood as straight and tall as he could, eye riveted on his father's form. The blood rushing in his ears drowned out the sudden silence that had fallen over the hall from his declaration. He felt a multitude of eyes on him but ignored the sensation in lieu of focusing on his father.
"You've got some nerve, boy." Robert gestured to the rod. Pate retrieved it with shaking fingers, and presented it to his king. "More nerve than any man in all of the Seven Kingdoms. See here, boy, if you don't whip him, I will, and it'll be a lot worse coming from me."
Harry was beyond shocked. "You - you would do that? Just for skip - "
"This isn't about those bloody lessons!" Robert yelled, and his thunderous voice reached every ear within the hall, and some without. "You have a kind heart," he began again, quieter, and he sounded weary, older than his years. "Too kind, some say, and I agree."
Harry had never seen this side of his father before. So full of regret. 'Is that why he drowns himself in his cups?'
"Better to be kind than cruel," Harry replied. "Would you rather I be like Joffrey?"
The King seemed to really be considering his question, or rather, reminiscing about something. "Gods, no," he said after a moment, shaking his head.
"But you are two sides of the same coin," Lord Jon cut in. "I would rather you learn to harden your heart, find a middle ground. A King can be both loved and feared," he said. "Loved for what he does, and feared for what he might do."
"A King? Me? Maybe you've forgotten in your old age -" and Robert laughed, a loud guffaw, startling Harry "- but I'm the second born son. Joffrey will be king." 'What the hell is going on with these two?'
"The Seven help us," Jon muttered quietly; so quietly Harry almost didn't hear him. "And yet you still must be prepared. You may not become a King, but you will always be a Prince. Your every action will reflect upon the throne. Mayhaps you would follow in my steps, and be Hand?" He paused, old bones creaking as he shifted to look Harry in the eye. "I've seen something in you, Harry. We all have. You are a very special boy, and it's good that you are kind, but this world has no place for kind men."
"Then I will make a place," Harry said.
"And to do that," Robert started, "you will have to change a lot of opinions. You'll need respect. Men respect steel. They respect death, but kindness? They'll take you as a craven."
They were pushing him awfully hard, Harry surmised. What was their purpose? What were they trying to get him to see? To become?
"What does that have to do with Pate?" he asked. "The punishment doesn't fit the crime. If a man is worthy of a beheading, then I'll have him beheaded. If a man rapes a lady, then I'll have him gelded, but I will not whip Pate for my transgressions." He took a breath. "I'll take the beating, but spare Pate." He could've heard the wind whisper, so silent was the hall.
"He's a whipping boy, he's for whipping," the King said, sounding almost amused. Robert turned to Jon. "Hard to believe he's barely seen nine namedays." He sounded proud.
"Not really," Jon returned. "He's just as stubborn and hardheaded as you were at his age." His voice was rueful.
"He's smarter than I was," Robert admitted. "And he hasn't got the weight of the kingdom resting on his shoulders!"
"You didn't either; not back then," said Jon. Harry was struck by how old Lord Arryn was. The lines on his face had never seem so long.
Robert looked back at his son then, and his eyes went right through him. "Reminds me of Ned."
Lord Jon agreed wholeheartedly. "Another stubborn, honorable fool."
"That he is, the bloody runt." Robert chuckled. "How long's it been since I last saw him? A decade?" The king took a long pull from his cup, wine dribbling down his bearded chin. "But you, boy... I can't decide if you're the worst of Cersei and I, or the best..."
And then he struck Harry across his chest with a blow so strong it knocked him from his feet. It was so swift, so sudden, even Jon was caught off guard.
"I've said my peace. Either you whip the boy, or I will." He leaned forward over Harry and held out the rod. "And that was just a warm-up."
Harry scowled at his father and picked himself up from the ground. Jaime, he noticed, had edged closer. "Just do it," his uncle mouthed.
Harry sighed. "Fine," he spat, accepting the rod from his father. He'd never dared to show such insolence, not to his father, but he'd never been in this situation before, and he found that his years of memories and experience paled in comparison to the emotion he felt, the hot anger coursing through his veins.
"Scowl at me all you want, boy. You'll thank me for this when you're older."
Harry almost laughed - he would have if he wasn't so furious. He was quite certain he was the oldest man in all the known world. Or a part of him was, at least.
The rod was light, but solid and smooth, unlike the barbed whips and rods used for criminals. He looked to Pate and saw resignation on his face, knew it was mirrored in his own. This was an argument he couldn't win - he was surprised he'd managed to argue as much as he did. He had only seen one man openly disagree with the king, and Jon Arryn occupied a place and status none could match.
He thought of the story his mother had told him, the warning she had given him, about when the King had struck Joffrey in a rage. She spoke of how angry he'd been, and how much it took for her to talk him out of a beating.
"You wouldn't remember," she had said, "for you were barely more than a babe."
She had never told him why Joffrey was hit, only mentioned 'some nonsense over a cat', but he'd later discovered the truth from his brother's own mouth. Joffrey had murdered a cat and her kittens, and thought to impress his father with their corpses. With one mighty blow, Robert had knocked two teeth from his mouth. He shuddered to think of how badly Joffrey would have been hurt if not for his mother.
Joffrey had murdered a cat, and Harry had argued with the king - in front of an audience, no less. Which was the greater transgression? Harry rather thought Joffrey's was. That cat and those kittens hadn't done anything to anyone, and kept mice out of the kitchen. His grievance against his father, however, was just in his eyes. And from the things he'd heard whispered of his father, things he refused to believe, Joffrey was just following in his footsteps.
Jon Arryn never sat with Joffrey, never spoke with him, never gave him lessons on ruling, or kingship, or leading men. Joffrey needed such lessons far more than he.
Surely they didn't mean to make him king?
"Get on with it boy!" Robert demanded, breaking him from his reverie.
"Yes, your Grace," he ground out, wholly unable to hide his anger. This wasn't fair, not by far, but he'd rather whip Pate himself than let his father do it. He'd find a way to make it up to Pate. 'I'm sorry.'
He never skipped another lesson.
Harry is 8. Your first nameday is the day your are born; in that vein, his ninth nameday is actually his eighth birthday.