The Children Of Ice And Fire

VVSIGNOFTHECROSS

Chapter 015

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Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Ser Gerold Hightower

He had been in the Kingsguard since his twentieth nameday, a proud day it had been when Ser Duncan the Tall, the Lord Commander of King Aegon V’s Kingsguard had placed the white cloak upon his shoulders. That had been during the year of the dragon, the 245th year after Aegon’s Landing, and since then Ser Gerold had seen many things come to pass under his watch. He had fought in battles meant to defend the Targaryen dynasty against the usurpers in the Blackfyres, he had fought in the war for Dorne and had killed men who before had been his friends and brothers. He had seen many Targaryens come and go, King Aegon he who had named him to the Kingsguard had been a good king, perhaps the best of the kings Ser Gerold had served under, he had been kind and just and had known when to pursue a goal and when to let sleeping things be, at least he had until the wood’s witch had come to court.

The wood’s witch who had come with Jenny of Oldstones, the woman who had so bedazzled Prince Duncan the small with some sort of sorcery that he had forgotten his duty to the realm and to his family and abandoned his post and wed a common girl. Prince Duncan would have made a fine king, he was strong and martially minded but he also placed a good part of his sense to learning and the teachings of the past, that he had died in Dorne during the failed campaign was one of the greatest tragedies that Gerold had known. The Prince had loved his wife and his children, and so when Prince Duncan had died, and as Ser Gerold had watched the light leave his eyes he had promised the prince that he would protect Prince Aemon and Princess Daenys with his life, but he had failed in that.

Prince Duncan’s death and the deaths of his children in the tragedy of Dragonsville had meant the ascension of Prince Jaehaerys to the Iron Throne. Though Prince Jaehaerys was of a frail constitution, what he lacked in physical strength he more than made up for in mental strength. Ser Gerold had stood guard over the prince’s father to see how much of his father he had in him. But where King Aegon had hesitated with some of the harsher measures he had had to inflict on the people, King Jaehaerys had gone through with them with a ruthless dedication that would have made Aegon the Conqueror proud. The lords grumbled but in the end they benefitted the most, and peace with the north so long sought after was achieved in King Jaehaerys reign that he died when he did was a shame and a great loss.

Prince Aelix Targaryen, the third of King Aegon’s sons and his youngest child was a man who had been destined for great things. He was great with a sword and had a very good mind for war, and he also had a certain charisma that drew others to him, Ser Gerold had been one of those people he would admit. The Prince had died slain in the Reach, brought low by Blackfyre scum and his death had torn a hole in the fabric of the royal family, one that it had never truly recovered from, and that was something Gerold wished he could have prevented. He had been with the Prince when they had fought the Reacher lords who had declared for Lucerys Blackfyre, but he had been engaged elsewhere, if he had not and stuck to his duty perhaps he would have been able to save the Prince.

Of course the death of Prince Aelix was the not the biggest of the sins he felt. Allowing King Aerys to live after the madness he had shown in the years following Duskendale was. King Aerys had been a good and affable man in his youth, but something had changed in him after Duskendale, gone was the happiness replaced by anger and madness. The King had taken to burning his nobles alive; something that had shocked and scared many for even King Maegor had never done something like that. Of course as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Gerold had had little choice but to stand there blank as a statue and watch it all unfold before his eyes. That was not the worst of it all though, it was the fact that Gerold had been convinced that the King’s son Prince Rhaegar would be different that he would be the one to bring the Targaryens to greatness once more, how wrong he had been. The Prince had been nothing but a rapist and a madman, hell bent on fulfilling a prophecy that had brought nothing but ruin to his house and had torn his family to pieces.

Gerold had been relieved when the King had ordered him to go to Dragonstone and not to the Trident, he did not think he would have been able to stand being in the Prince’s presence without trying to kill him. As such when news had reached them of the Trident on Dragonstone, Gerold had made plans to aid the remaining royal family the Queen and Prince Viserys out of the island fortress and away to wherever they still had allies. However, the Queen had given birth to a baby girl she had named Daenaerys before they could leave, and then the Queen had died, and then the sack of King’s Landing had happened and Prince Viserys had become King Viserys and it was not Gerold’s sworn duty to see the prince to safety.

That was why he had with Ser Willem Darry and Lord Vaemond Velaryon’s help taken the royal fleet all 90 war ships from Dragonstone and set sail for Volantis, where the last of King Maekar’s sons lived. King Aerion the old, a man who had once been mad who had risen to greatness, a man who was King Viserys only chance of getting his birthright back. They arrived in Volantis some three moons after leaving Dragonstone, and upon arriving they had been greeted by the heir to the black throne Prince Maegor Targaryen, King Aerion’s great grandson. They were informed of the crowning of King Robert Baratheon the usurper and of the taking of Dragonstone and how the treasurers of the island stronghold of the Targaryens had been looted and sacked.

That had been some two moons ago now, and finally King Aerion was well enough to see Gerold. Prince Maegor came to escort him to where his great grandfather was sat, overlooking the pools of the royal family, Prince Maegor announced him and then left. “Ser Gerold Hightower,” the king said his voice barely louder than a whisper. “The Lord Commander of my great nephew’s Kingsguard. Tell me Ser, why has my family lost the throne?”

Gerold was silent for a moment and then he said. “Because of the actions of the usurper and because of the folly of your great nephew and Prince Rhaegar.”

The old king laughed and replied. “At least you are a straight talker. Yes that does seem to be the case, and yet the usurper Robert Baratheon, he is one of Aegon’s descendants Rhaelle’s grandson, he would not have had to do what he did had Aerys not done as he had done. And Prince Rhaegar, yes that name rings a bell. Aemon often mentioned that boy in his letters, what foolishness did he do to cause the war?”

That the old king corresponds with his equally old brother should not surprise Gerold as much as it does, after all it seems it was only King Aegon who continued to despise King Aerion long after Aerion had left Westeros. Ser Gerold swallows and then says. “He took Princess Lyanna Stark, in order to fulfil something or the other Your Grace.”

“Ah so that was what it was? Aemon did not mention that in his letter. Then again I suppose he did not know. None of them could have known. I suppose Daemon Stark sent his full strength south then, after all he always hated my family. But I digress, what happened is in the past now. We cannot change the past, but we can take lesson from it and act better in the future.” King Aerion says.

“Your Grace?” Gerold asks uncertainly.

“We can learn from what mistakes Aerys and Rhaegar made and we can make sure they never happen again. I maybe old but I am not stupid Ser Gerold. I know why you have come to Volantis of all places. Viserys and Daenaerys are Targaryens, and though I would keep them safe, I know that one day they will grow up and ask questions of where their parents and brother are. They will want revenge when they know the truth of what has happened. And it is our duty as their guardians to make sure that they are as prepared as they can be for the task that lays in front of them. The Usurper cannot be allowed to sit the throne that my ancestor built for long, he must be removed and order must be restored. And I shall train my men and my great, great nephew in the ways of ruling and I shall make sure when the time comes he is ready. And you and your fellow white knights will make up for the failings you have had and you shall train him to be a better soldier and commander than his brother was.” King Aerion says.

Ser Gerold nods and then asks. “My fellow white knights Your Grace? Are Ser Arthur and Ser Oswell here?”

The old king laughs. “Oh did I not mention this before? Forgive me I often forget small things. I shall have Maegor show you to where they are staying. Maegor!” The king calls, and his great grandson appears. “Show Ser Gerold to where Ser Arthur and Ser Oswell are staying and then return here I have things I must needs discuss with you.”

The Prince nods and then walks with Gerold to a room at the far end of the palace, near the servants quarters, he thinks the message is quite clear, they did a most unfortunate task and as such will be regarded as such. The Prince leaves Gerold at the doorway, and when Gerold knocks a tired sounding voice calls him in. He finds Oswell and Arthur sat on chairs facing each other looking haggard and worn but they both stand up when he enters. “Lord Commander.” Ser Arthur says. “We were not sure if you and the Prince and the Queen had arrived safely we have been asking for you all for some time.”

“When did you arrive in Volantis?” Gerold asks.

“This morning Lord Commander.” Ser Oswell replies.

“You know of what has occurred since we last met?” Gerold asks.

“Aye,” Ser Arthur says his voice somewhat pained. “Rhaegar died on the Trident, King Aerys, Princess Elia, Prince Aegon and Princess Rhaenys died in the sack of King’s Landing. And the usurper Robert Baratheon now sits the throne with Cersei Lannister as his bride.”

“Who was it who killed King Aerys?” Gerold asks.

“Jaime, it was Jaime Lord Commander.” Arthur says his voice pained.

“A false brother if ever there was one.” Oswell says though they all know he does not mean it.

“We all know what Aerys was, but Jaime should have given the task to someone more deserving and not broken his vows. Still that is neither here nor there now. We have a duty, King Aerion has agreed to house us and King Viserys and Princess Daenaerys for the time we need. It is up to us to teach them both in the ways of the world and in the ways of their family. We must make sure they do not make the same mistakes as their predecessors made, and we must make sure we raise a King that the people of Westeros would wish for, the King Rhaegar could have been.” Gerold says.


Lord Rickard Stark

The war had waged on for close to two years, ever since King Aerys Targaryen had refused to answer King Daemon’s calls for justice for the deaths of Brandon’s companions and the injuries done to Brandon as well as the kidnapping of Lyanna. His little girl who had been so wilful and beautiful on her wedding day and a loving mother after giving birth to a boy she had named Benjen, everytime he had closed his eyes for the past two years he had seen horrible images of Rhaegar Targaryen doing unspeakable things to his little girl, and the thought had made him more than angry, he had wanted blood, and he had wanted Rhaegar’s blood. Of course the bookish prince had not dared come forth to answer for his actions until he had been forced to, and when his head had been presented to Rickard by Prince Aemon his goodson Rickard had nodded in approval before allowing the body to be cremated.

From there they had marched on King’s Landing where Tywin Lannister had shown why he was known as the bloody lion, the city of King’s Landing had been violently sacked by Tywin’s forces before the northern host had had a chance to arrive. Princess Elia and her children had been killed brutally by Tywin Lannister’s men, and then King Robert had done nothing but turn his eyes away from the sight of the bodies presented before his throne. Jon Arryn had nodded at Tywin Lannister and rewards had been given, Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer had retained his place in the Kingsguard, though his white cloak was soiled according to the southerners though Rickard felt he had done a good job, and deserved that white cloak more than someone like Ser Barristan who had stood by and allowed the mad king his indulgences.

Still there were other things that had kept Rickard’s thoughts away from the actions in King’s Landing. His eldest son Brandon had died during the battle of the Bells, having never truly recovered from the wounds he had taken during Rhaegar’s abduction of Lyanna. His eldest son had been his pride and joy, true he had been wilful and wild, but he had also been a strong and kind young man when he wanted to be, and he would have made a good lord of Moat Cailin and a good high steward. His life had been ended to soon, and now his daughter, Rickard’s granddaughter Berena Stark was now the heir to Moat Cailin. Rickard was not sure what he made of that, having grown up in a culture where ladies where allowed to rule in their own right, and were not faced with open challenge due to their ability to defend themselves, he knew that Berena if he raised her right could become a great lady and ruler in her own right. The one thing he was nervous about was the ambitious lords trying to get a claw into Moat Cailin and the wealth that it had, Rickard was also not a young man anymore, this war had more than anything had aged him quite considerably, and he did not know how long he would live for or whether he had the strength to raise yet another child to maturity. Still he was a Stark and he would do his duty and he would make sure his heir was raised well and with respect.

He certainly knew that should he die before Berena reached maturity, that she would not be open to manipulation from all corners. For Prince Aemon, his goodson was also Berena’s uncle through Brandon’s marriage to Princess Daenaera, having known the crown prince since he had been a boy, Rickard knew that Aemon would do all he could to ensure that Berena’s inheritance was protected and that she got her rightful due. Rickard’s goodson was a good man; he had proven himself a great commander as well as a great warrior, a man who had done both his father and mother proud. From what he had seen of Prince Aemon’s interactions with Lyanna he would also be a good husband, a good and caring father, and someone that Lyanna would be able to count on once they got her back from her ordeal.

In complete contrast to Robert Baratheon the new king of the southern kingdom,. Robert Baratheon was a man made for war, Rickard had heard of his prowess and skill in Dorne, and had seen firsthand the ruthlessness with which he carried himself in battle. The man had singlehandedly driven back Jon Connington on his advance during the Battle of the Bells, and had also been the one to break the royalist’s right flank by slaying Lord Randyll Tarly and several other prominent Reacher lords. It had become obvious to Rickard that the man lived for war, and that he preferred that to the tediousness of ever day life. Still there was hope for Robert Baratheon, he was a good man, and had a way with people that could win him many allies and perhaps help improve relations between the north and the south. He had wed Cersei Lannister, giving Tywin Lannister what he had always wanted, and Ned had been named to his small council as master of laws. Rickard had heard all of this through a letter that Jon Arryn had sent to them at Blackhaven when they had written of where they were.

It appeared that Ned’s betrothed Lady Ashara Dayne had held more loyalty to his son than to her friend’s husband. And when they had arrived at Blackhaven to find Lyanna and Ned’s betrothed and bastard son present, he understood why. It was clear that his son and Ashara Dayne were in love from the way they acted around one another, always around one another and never leaving for more than a moment, Rickard had met his grandson Jon Storm, a boy who looked so much like Ned and like himself that Rickard had had to chuckle at it all. Of course he had spoken to Lady Ashara’s brother Lord Ullrick Dayne and they had agreed that the marriage between Ned and Lady Ashara should take place as soon as possible.

Rickard had also treasured reuniting with Lyanna once more, his daughter appeared shaken but otherwise fine, she made jokes and she laughed and cried, and when Rickard had met his granddaughter, the product of Rhaegar Targaryen’s obsession, Rickard had not been sure what to think. A mixture between anger and pity for the child had been present and when he had asked Lyanna what she wanted to do with the girl, his little girl had looked at him and said bold as brass that she would be raised in Winterfell along with her trueborn son Benjen. Prince Aemon had agreed and seemed to have taken very well to the girl who they had named Shiera, treating her as if she was one of her own.

His son had married Ashara Dayne in the sept of Blackhaven a week ago, and Rickard had never been prouder of his son than he had been on that day. Ned had looked every nice the lord as he had said his vows before the septon and Lady Ashara had shone beautifully; they looked a regal couple as they said their vows to one another. Rickard knew that Brandon and his own wife Lyarra would have loved to have been present. Still, after all the war and death that they had seen over the past two years it was good that there was still some happiness left in the world. Something that had been added to when a raven had arrived from King Robert who had given Ned and his wife half of the Connington lands as well as a new keep with which they could live in as well as legitimizing Jon, and making him a true Stark.

“What are you thinking of father?” His daughter’s voice took him from his thoughts.

He turned round from the rail to see Lyanna with Shiera on her hip, his granddaughter was fast asleep, Rickard smiled at them both and said. “I was just thinking about how things have gone for us all for the past few years sweetling. I have never felt older than I did the other day when Ned married. All of my children apart from Benjen have children now; there is nothing left for me to teach you all.”

“You cannot be thinking of taking the black can you father? Benjen still needs guidance and little Berena will need someone to teach her how to be the Lady of Moat Cailin. And besides we still all need your advice. We always will, you’re our father, father. We will never stop needing you.” Lyanna replies.

Rickard smiles then and says. “I had forgotten how wise you were Lyanna sweetling. Yes there is still much I need to do. King Daemon continues to ail in health and I know not how much longer he has left to live, though we are all too proud to admit it, losing King Daemon now will be a very big loss. Aemon is a smart man and will be a good king, but he needs his father to teach him one last valuable lesson. One I did not get to impart to Brandon.”

“And what is that father?” Lyanna asks.

“That a good lord knows when his people need him, but a great one knows when the need of his people is greater than his own need. There will be hard times ahead for all of Westeros with the Targaryens gone, and it will be our duty to make sure that all goes well and smoothly. We cannot afford another war, and we must work to ensure the peace remains as it was.” Rickard says.

“I see,” his daughter replies. “I think I will go to sleep now father. I shall see you in the morn, when we depart for Winterfell.”

Winterfell, the north, it has been so long since he has been home, he looks forward to leaving the south and resuming his rightful place in Moat Cailin and as the king’s advisor in Winterfell. That they are leaving tomorrow is a great relief to him. He turns round and sees his son Ned stood where Lyanna had been stood only moments before. “Eddard,” he says. “I had thought you would be with your wife and son.”

“Ashara and Jon are sleeping father. I had thought to speak with you before you left for the north on the morrow.” Ned says softly, almost as if he is a boy once again.

“Oh, and what did you wish to speak of with me, my boy?” Rickard says.

His son is silent for a long moment, and Rickard sees more of himself in his son than he ever has before, for all that Lyarra and Daemon used to joke about it before. His son hesitates and then says. “Are you disappointed in me father?”

Of all the things his son could have said to him, this takes him by surprise the most. “Disappointed in you? Why on earth would I be disappointed in you Ned? You have carried yourself well and with honour throughout the war and though you argued with Robert Baratheon you held back the anger that I or Brandon would have let through.”

“For dishonouring Ashara and sleeping with her when we were not betrothed or married. You and Lord Arryn had raised me to be better than that.” Ned says.

Rickard laughs then and says. “Oh Ned, I am not disappointed in you because of that. Whilst yes knowing you fathered a bastard was a bit of a shock, I am not disappointed in you. If anything I am relieved. For it shows you are a person and not a inanimate thing. No I would have been disappointed had you not fessed up to doing the deed when presented with the evidence. That you have now wed Lady Ashara and claimed your son and had him legitimised, I see no reason to be disappointed in you son. You have done me and your mother proud, and you should be proud of yourself for taking responsibility when other men would have shirked such a responsibility.”

His son smiles then and says. “So you will come and visit us when your duty permits father?”

“Most definitely son. Now I must get some rest before the long journey tomorrow.” Rickard says, bidding his son goodnight.

The next day, just as the sun begins to rise through the clouds, the northern contingent rides north from Blackhaven, to meet up with the rest of the northern army camped at the Brindlewood, and from there they begin the long march back north and back home. Two years after the whole issue with the Targaryens began, it has come to an end, the people of the north cheer when they see their prince and princess riding side by side, and when Prince Benjen runs out to greet his parents Rickard smiles, a smile that remains on his face for a long time to come.

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