Tales From The Sand
He can still remember the sight of Princess Elia and her children's bodies at the foot of the Iron Throne. He can still remember how mangled baby Aegon's head was- smashed in beyond- recognition. He can still remember the look of perverse satisfaction on Robert's face as Tywin Lannister laid the bodies at the foot of throne as proof of his loyalty. He can still remember arguing with Robert for days on end about how the princess and her children's deaths were unnecessary, were barbaric. He remembers Robert claiming that Lya would never wish to look upon the Dragonspawn once she became his queen, he remembered arguing- no shouting- at Robert that Lyanna would more than likely be horrified that Robert had condoned such an atrocity, had essentially climbed over the dead princess and her children's bodies to claim his throne. Silently he added that perhaps when Lya came back she might also be carrying 'Dragonspawn' with her, if his suspicions were correct.
It came as a relief then when the missive came from Starfall indicating where Lyanna had been kept by Rhaegar throughout the war. He rode with six companions first to Storm's End to lift the siege there and to get the Tyrells and their bannermen to dip their banners. Then after a month's hard riding they finally came to Dorne, the desert homeland of Princess Elia. In a tower far from the battle, far from the fighting, he found three of the finest knights of the Kingsguard standing in front of the tower, preventing him from rescuing his sister. They fought fiercely, they thought honourably, but at the end of it all they still died, the Kingsguard and five of his companions all dead. He rushed up the tower but was too late to save his sister, Lyanna Stark died in a bed of blood with a crown of blue roses in one hand and a promise on her lips.
Ned took the babe from her, unsure of what he was going to do, how he was going to explain the babe. He rode to Starfall; first to give Lady Ashara Dawn, and her brother back, three horses rode out to Starfall. When they arrived the castle was in a state of mourning, of course they would be the whole of Dorne would be in mourning, for they had lost their princess, lost her to the cold hearted deviance of a man known as a lion, and to her husband's madness. When he meets Ashara Dayne he sees a speck of the woman she was before Harrenhal, grief and motherhood have worn into her, have drawn thick lines into her forehead, though her violent eyes still look hauntingly beautiful, the laughter seems to have died in them.
She says nothing when he hands her dawn, and offers his condolences. But when the babe- Jon he has decided to call him- begins to fuss, she perks up and speaks. "He's Rhaegar's child, isn't he?"
Ned is unsure how to reply, he has a lie half formed on his lips, when she presses a finger to his mouth and says, "Do not think of lying to me Lord Eddard. You were not good at lying at Harrenhal, and I doubt you would have improved since then. The boy is Rhaegar's and your sister's."
Ned simply nods, helpless and unsure of what to say or do now. She always knew how to see past him, even when they danced at Harrenhal. "What will you do with him? You can't very well bring him back to King's Landing with you can you? Your friend King Robert will kill him."
Ned wants to argue with her, wants to shout that Robert is a better man than that. But he knows deep down, in his heart of hearts that when it comes to Targaryens Robert is as mad as Aerys was about them. He is silent for a moment before he speaks. The words coming out as nothing more than a whisper. "I mean to claim him as my own."
Ashara laughs then. "Oh Ned, dearest Ned. You're intentions are honourable no doubt. But what of your Tully Wife, what will she have to say when you bring the boy home, and claim him as your own. She will never understand why you did it, will she Ned? No better to leave him here with me, where he will be safe and protected."
He is stunned by the suggestion. "My lady, I couldn't no. He is my responsibility. I promised Lya."
Ashara looks at him then with a look she gave him once at Harrenhal. "Yes that's all very well and good, but if Lyanna and Rhaegar had had more sense, you wouldn't have had to make any promises, and you wouldn't have to lie. No leave the boy here with me, Ned. Here at least he will know he is loved and cared for. And besides, he can grow up besides our daughter also."
Ned swallows and feels his heart sink in his chest. "Ashara," he begins meaning to beg her to see sense.
But she shakes her head stubbornly. "No Ned, leave the boy here, let him grow up loved and cared for. Let him grow up with his cousin, with our daughter Ned. You can go back to Winterfell with your Tully wife and your children with her. Let me stay here, let our daughter stay here. Let the world think that the two of them are mine, they whisper that it was Brandon who bedded me at Harrenhal, let them believe it. From now on your Lya's boy is mine and Brandon's bastard son, just as our daughter is mine and Brandon's bastard daughter. I won't let you smirch your name for some foolish cause, nor shall I let you take my daughter away from me."
He wants to argue with her, he wants to make her see that their daughter would be well loved for and cared at Winterfell just as Jon would be, though he knows somewhere deep down that that could never be. So instead he swallows deeply and says, "Very well then. But when they are eight, they will come and foster with me and mine at Winterfell. I will do as you say Ashara, but please I promised Lya I would protect her boy."
Ashara merely nods then, tears beginning to well up in her eyes, and he desperately wants to go and comfort her but he knows that that is no longer his place. He has a wife now, and he must do right by her, he must. So he stands up to leave, passing Jon to Ashara, and just before he leaves though he says to her, "His name is Jon. Lya's boy." He hears Ashara say something in response, and then he has mounted his horse and has ridden on back north with Howland. A thousand thoughts whirring in his head.
Howland is a silent companion for the whole ride north, the only time they speak is when they discuss where to make camp for the night. He had sent a raven from Starfall before leaving informing Robert of Lyanna's death, and that same night swore Howland to secrecy about Lya's boy. When he enters the courtyard in Winterfell, he feels a deep ache begin to bloom in his chest, as he remembers similar entrances made when he would come back from the Vale, those times his father, his mother, Brandon, Lya and Benjen would all be in the courtyard waiting for him, with a hug a smile or a playful smack on the back. This time though, Winterfell is bleak and full of ghosts, he wanders the castle feeling empty, drowning in memories. There are times when he is alone with Benjen and the two of them reminisce about times long since passed, he tells Benjen about Jon, and his daughter Jeyne, though he tells Benjen that they are both Brandon's bastards by Ashara, even though the lie grates on him, and he tells Benjen that they will be coming to foster at Winterfell when they are eight. Benjen nods his acceptance and then tells him that he wishes to take the black. Ned nods his acceptance, all the while crying inside for it feels like his pack is breaking up all around him and there is nothing he can do to stop it from happening.
He has been in Winterfell for a moon when his wife arrives. She arrives with their son, whom she informs him is called Robb, and he feels something beginning to bloom inside of him when he looks at his son's face, something that feels akin to hope. Once she has been settled in and has been in Winterfell for a few days, he plucks up the courage one day to speak with her about the children in the south. He means to tell his wife the truth but instead finds himself speaking the lie, and he hates himself for it. "My lady," he begins, his resolve beginning to falter as he watches Catelyn put her brush down and turn round to look at him. He swallows and goes on. "There is something you need to know," she remains silent, he swallows once more and goes on. "As much as it pains me to say this, Brandon was not faithful to your betrothal. He has two children with Ashara Dayne. They live in Starfall. A boy called Jon and a girl called Jeyne. I met them when I came back from the south." He hopes she will not ask him about his time in the south, for he does not think that he could bear to go on if she did.
Catelyn merely looks at him before asking, "There is nothing more is there, my lord?"
He shakes his head and then says. "I asked for them to be sent here for fostering when they turn eight. I wish to know my brother's children. I hope that is ok with you my lady."
Catelyn smile then and says, "Of course my lord, it is only right."
He smiles at her then. Thankful that she has accepted what he has had to say without too much complaint. He receives updates on how his nephew and niece- daughter- are doing every moon, their progress written in Ashara's flowing handwriting that he knows so well from letters past, and he feels something like pain stab him, though he also feels guilt, knowing that they are being well looked after and cared for. He waits for the day when he can look them in the eye and welcome them to their home. As he watches his own children with Catelyn grow he waits for the day when he can see them all of them at play.
And he prays to the old gods, that they never know the suffering that he and his siblings did.
She watches Eddard Stark ride out of Starfall with his companion the cranongmen Howland Reed, and she feels like a part of her is being ripped apart inside. She knows it is for the best, it is for the best if Jon Targaryen becomes Jon Sand and grows up with his cousin- sister- Jeyne Sand, she knows it is better if the world thinks they are Brandon Stark's children. It will be much safer for Jon, and will at least mean that Jeyne knows something of her father, though of course Brandon Stark never laid with her at Harrenhal. No he introduced her to his shyer, quieter and much less handsome brother Eddard Stark. At first she had been curious, she had danced with Ned for most of the night, and afterwards had invited him back to her room, he had of course declined, and that had only piqued her interest further. She spent the rest of the tournament pursuing him and trying to win him over, until finally the day before the jousting and the day before everything went to pot, she managed to finally break Ned's iron discipline, and she brought him to her bed.
Oh it had been a lovely feeling and sensation, though afterwards she had thought it just a onetime thing. But then he had slowly wormed his way into her heart, he wrote to her constantly and at first she had only written back to him out of courtesy, but then she wrote to him simply because she wished to, and then because she couldn't go a day without writing to him, for he was always in her thoughts, and then she realised she was pregnant. Then she was worried, for Rickard and Brandon Stark had already been killed and the rebellion had already begun, she knew she could not write to him for any ravens would be intercepted and so she had maintained her silence throughout, and then when she heard that he had wed Catelyn Tully in his brother's place, she had wept and wept, and only Elia's soothing words had managed to calm her. Arthur had escorted her back to Starfall before he had been sent with the Lord Commander to find Rhaegar, and so she had given birth in Starfall.
She and Ned's daughter looked exactly like her, dark brown hair and violet eyes, but her smile, her persona was all Ned. She was a quiet baby, as was Jon. She watched as her daughter and her adopted son grew, and she felt herself swell with pride as she watched Jeyne and then Jon hot on her heels take their first steps together, she felt herself cry tears of happiness when both of their first words were "mother". She watches as her children grow up close to her sister Allyria, and her nephew Edric. She watches them play with each other, and then when they visit the Water Gardens she watches them play with Doran and Oberyn's children and she feels her heart swell with love.
Allem, Doran, Oberyn and Ellaria help she thinks. Oberyn it seems is particularly understanding of the situation she finds herself in, though of course he knows not the truth of either of her child's parentage, only Allem knows and he knows not to speak of it openly. So she finds herself worrying when Oberyn tells her that Doran wishes to see her. Doran's illness has slowly been getting worse, it had been present before the rebellion but since Elia's death and the subsequent uproar caused by it his health had been slowly failing. But he still was an imposing man and not one to underestimate despite what the Lannisters and Robert Baratheon might think.
He was seated on a chair overlooking the water gardens and the children at play. Areo Hotah his guard stood in the shadows behind him. "Ashara, it has been a long time since you played there has it not."
"Yes my prince it has. I used to play there with Oberyn and Elia." She replied cautiously.
"Yes so it has. Tell me Ashara, have you thought about perhaps sending Jon to squire for Oberyn? It would be an invaluable experience I'm sure."
She swallows nervously before saying. "Whilst it would be an honour for Jon to squire for Oberyn my prince, Jon will be going with Jeyne to Winterfell very soon to foster there and to get to know his cousins a bit better."
Doran sighs and says "Of course, forgive me. I'm forgetting more and more with my old age. Very well then, I wish Jon and Jeyne the best."
"Thank you my prince." She says as she bows and walks out.
It feels like the years truly have flown by when she gets into the wheelhouse with Jeyne, Allyria and Edric with Jon and Allem riding on horseback and Jeyne's sworn sword Arthur riding on horseback as well. Exactly eight years to the day that she last saw Eddard Stark and now she and her family ride to Winterfell so that Jon and Jeyne can be fostered there, she feels a pit of nerves beginning to grow in her stomach, she looks out of the wheelhouse to where Jon sits and he smiles at her, that cheeky smile that reminds her so much of Ned's smile it almost breaks her heart, and then their journey begins.
They stop off at various inns and keeps along the way to Winterfell, at one point they stop at the Twins and are greeted most hostilely by Walder Frey, who makes countless insults and poor timed japes about Dornishmen and their promiscuity. Only Allem and Arthur's calming presence restrains Jon and Jeyne and Allyria from lashing out at the old man. When they leave the Twins to begin the journey north, Ashara makes sure to tell Allem to book passage on a ship for their return journey.
Winterfell appears on the horizon two weeks after they set out from the Twins and Ashara feels a lump begin to settle in her throat, this should have been hers not Catelyn Tully's all of it. But she can't think of that now, so instead she puts on a brave face, and helps introduce herself and her family to the Starks of Winterfell. Ned is the same as ever, gruff and somber, his wife Catelyn Tully is all fiery red hair and beautiful, Robb Stark the heir to Winterfell looks like his mother except more masculine and little Sansa Stark looks exactly like a miniature version of her mother. Arya Stark is the only one of the Stark children to look like Ned, even at two she seems to be a fierce thing with lots of life, Ashara remembers another Stark girl who was also as fierce and how that ended with a bed of blood, and a broken promise, she shakes the thoughts from her head to prevent them from taking root.
She and Allem watch from the high table during the feast as Jon and Jeyne nervously speak with Robb and Theon Greyjoy, Ned's ward from the Greyjoy Rebellion. Jeyne was born smaller than a normal baby and as such suffers from ill health, she is frail, just like Elia was and just like Elia, she has a brother who is fiercely protective of her. Jon nearly hits Theon Greyjoy in the nose when the boy says something about Jeyne's frail health, and she and Allem share a knowing look, though she can tell from the expression on Ned's face that some memory must have been stirred up at the scene.
Overall their time in Winterfell is pleasant albeit a little awkward, for the north and Dorne will never truly recover from what Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark did. Though before she leaves her children for what could possibly be the last time, she speaks with Jon the night before they are set to leave.
"You wanted to see me mama?" Jon asks, and Ashara can tell he is impatient to go off and play with Robb and Theon.
She smiles then and brushes back a loose curl from his forehead. "Yes I did Jon," she pauses and then takes a deep breath before going on. "I just want you to know how proud I am of you and of Jeyne. I know that this might seem very scary, but I want you to know that you will be fine, and if you ever, every need anything I am only a raven's letter away, and I will come."
Jon looks at her through his curls, and she can swear she sees a little of the Targaryen in his eyes, they seem momentarily purple in the light. She continues, "I want you and Jeyne to look after each other okay. Don't leave each other alone. You are strongest when together ok sweetling."
Jon nods and says "Ok mama."
She smiles and kisses him on his brow and then says "Goodnight Jon."
The next day she, Allem, Allyria and Edric ride back for Starfall leaving Jon, Jeyne and Arthur behind.