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King of Pain

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Laughter bounced from the walls of the Great Hall and Lord Rickard Stark smiled to himself. Lyarra had already gone down to break her fast by the time he had finished waking up; evidently, she was not the only one.

"What makes my family laugh so?" he asked as he kissed the top of Lyanna's head and clapped a hand to Ned's shoulder.

"Ned was regaling us with the trip into Winter town yesterday." Lyarra offered him her cheek and poured wine into his cup. "Our daughter brought back more than just dress materials."

Rickard frowned and turned his gaze to his eldest daughter, who sat beside her twin brother with a rather ugly looking beast on her lap. "Gods, Alys, what is that?"

"A cat." She muttered, cheeks reddening. "If I must say that one more time, I might just scream. Yes, she's not the most pleasing to look at but-

"She's hideous, Alys." Brandon chortled. "A true beast."

"Speak for yourself." Alys hissed and let the kitten nuzzle her neck. "Her name is Giya and she shall be my most faithful companion."

Lyanna giggled behind her hand. Her sister was worse than a new mother but Lyanna had to admit that having a pet of her own would be splendid.

"Eat your food and stop coddling the beast, Alysane." Lyarra sighed, turning to her husband expectantly. "My love, we need to meet with Vayon to discuss what needs to be packed to be taken with to Harrenhal."

A bubble of excitement rose from Lyanna and Benjen, their faces brightening and bodies twitching with the prospect of hearing something new.

"Have you started packing?" Rickard grumbled and Alys and Ned both nodded absently as Lyanna looked guilty.

"I don't know what to pack!" the young girl cowed and Brandon chuckled. "Don't laugh, Bran, your trunks are just as empty."

"I'll come see you before midday to help you." Lyarra stood and motioned to her husband. The large man frowned at his half-empty plate before sighing and standing to follow his wife.

"I hope Catelyn is nothing like mother," Brandon muttered under his breath.

"Don't let mother hear you say that." Alysane hummed as she set Giya down and practically danced from the hall toward the library.

Lyanna had lessons with Maester Walys and Ned dragged Brandon and Benjen to the tiltyards to work on their little brother's swing. Lyanna would most likely join them later to watch and jeer at them.

Alys was the quieter of the two sisters. She liked books more than needlepoint but was often also found outside embarrassing her younger siblings with her archery skills.

Rickard often commented that she had sucked up all their mother's talent because Lyarra had lost the ability to hit the bullseye the day her eldest daughter had been born.

"Good morning, my Lady." Nan called as Alys entered the library and Alys grinned.

Nan, or Brigot as she'd been named at birth, had been Alys' favourite nurse because of her silly stories and kind heart.

"Good morning! Oh, Nanna, I meant to ask you if you've seen that book called 'Warriors and Kings' by Maester Davith? I can't seem to find it anywhere…"

Nan pondered for a moment before nodded and scuttling off, yelling over her shoulder. "I thought that you had finished with it, my Lady. I put it back on the shelf just yesterday."

Alys followed her, plucking a few short tomes from the shelves to take with her on the journey to Harrenhal and then to read at the Tourney when she wasn't at festivities.

"Are you excited for the Tourney, my Lady?"

Alys sunk onto a bench and pondered her feelings. "Bran and Ned are elated. Lyanna loves the idea of meeting new people from the South but I can't help but feel that it's all pointless."

Nan looked sympathetic as she handed the young girl her book and sat down beside her. "Don't fret on it too much, my Lady. You'll have a grand old time once you're there, you just see."

Alys chuckled and kissed Nan's cheek lightly before gathering her books and leaving the quiet room in favour of her own chambers.

Rhaegar Targaryen hadn't often cursed his luck throughout his life. There was the time his father had had his favourite horse killed for bucking him or when he'd accidentally dropped his favourite book into the hearth in his chambers…

This was much worse.

Aerys was determined, despite his son's protestations, that Elia Martell would wed the Targaryen heir.

Rhaegar didn't like Elia Martell in that manner. Not that his father cared…

"Father, please, I have already spoken of this with you." he stared up at his father on the Iron Throne, who was picking at one of his many scabs. "Elia is lovely but I believe it would be more suitable that my wife be healthy to bear heirs to the Iron Throne."

"Nonsense!" Aerys hissed. "She is the best match and Princess Myna has offered a sizable dowry for the girl."

Rhaegar clenched his fist, watching the blood pooling on his father's arm. His father had stopped seeing reason the day Daeron had died and everyone around him had been suffering since.

"Could you give me until the end of the Tourney at Harrenhal, at least?" Rhaegar offered his father a sincere look.

"Perhaps we can grant him this, Aerys." He heard his mother's soft voice from the side of the room. "He is young still…"

She was standing with her hands demurely folded but her eyes were fiery. Not aimed at him, he was glad to see. His mother knew of – and shared – his reservations to marry the Martell girl.

"Now is not the time for your opinions, woman!" Aerys barked and Rhaegar saw rustling from behind his mother's skirts before Viserys poked his head out.

"Ada, dragons!" Aerys' eyes narrowed but Viserys was already halfway up the steps to the throne. "Dragons!"

Rhaegar shook his head and turned to leave, ignoring his father's terse words towards his younger brother. Rhaella stopped him with a hand on his arm and offered him a sympathetic look.

"I will not marry her, mother." He said icily as he shrugged off her hand.

Falling onto the stool in front of her vanity, Alys picked up her fine bristled comb. Her cheeks were bright pink and she had a slight look of shock mixed with panic decorating her face.

She hadn't meant to catch the kennelmaster and his wife rutting when she'd gone down to the kennels to see the hounds. They'd been so intensely engaged in their activities that they hadn't even noticed the gate slamming behind her.

She jumped suddenly when she heard someone knock rapidly against her door. "Alys, are you in there?" Lyanna called out through the wood.

"Just a moment!" Alys got up from her stool, fixing all the scattered knick-knacks before opening the door with a warm smile. "Yes?"

"I haven't seen you all day?" Lyanna sighed and Alys watched her sit on the edge of her bed before she could close the door. She'd always had a habit of doing that; Alys suspected she'd learned it from Ned. "Where have you been all this time?"

"The library. Why? Did you need me for something?"

"You know you're a terrible liar, Alysane. I checked the library and you haven't been there all day. It's not the first time you've disappeared for hours on end, either!" Lyanna raised a dark eyebrow and stared her sister down. "Come on, tell your sister where you've been hiding all this time. I promise I won't tell mother."

"My habits are none of your business, last I recall." Alys sniffed, picking up her comb again.

"You tell me everything Alys… why not this?" her brows furrowed before her face brightened and she started bouncing like a child. "Is it a boy?"

Alys blanched and then scoffed. "Not at all! Why would you think that?"

"It's only natural that I would… you, sneaking about to heaven knows where. What else would you expect me to think?" Lyanna wiggled her eyebrows. "My big sister, in love!"

Grabbing the closest objects to her, which was one of her leather gloves, Alys threw it at her sister and watched as it hit her in the face; silencing her laughing and teasing. "That's improper, Anna, and you know it."

Sitting, still, Lyanna wrapped an arm around one of the wooden bed posts; her head leaning onto it. She looked serious and deep in thought. "You know, eventually this is all going to change. You're far beyond marriageable age and before long you'll be married with a babe in your arms…"

"Do you think that is why father is so eager to send me along to the tourney?" Alys had thought of a thousand different ways to convince him to let her stay home but he was stubborn. Steadfastly insisting that she attend.

"Perhaps." Lyanna murmured. "I heard him and mother whispering the other night about… well, your age and potential matches."

"It scares me. To think that one day I'll have to leave everyone behind to go to some strange place. Be with someone I barely know… and what about you?" Alys' throat felt thick as she turned her gaze towards the ribbons she had laid out to be packed the following morning.

"What about me?" Lyanna was playing with the hem of her sleeve now, biting her lip.

"You'll have to leave too after you marry Robert…"

"But it'll all be an adventure, won't it? For you and me." she said cheerily. "And father will find you a good man. Someone who can take care of you; someone who will love you unreservedly…"

They hugged each other and suddenly Alys felt as if she were a little girl again, worrying over her future whenever her mother brought up other Lords' sons.

"I hope so…" giving one final squeeze, they parted and Alys wiped the stray tear that had wandered down her cheek. "We ought to go, they'll be waiting for us."

They pair walked arm in arm to the hall where their family waited at the large wooden dining table; candles and plates of meat and vegetables laying in the centre. Alys ended up between Ned and Brandon with Lyanna and Benjen opposite them with mother and father.

Eating a strip of chicken and some freshly cook vegetables, Alys sat with her back straight and elbows off the table – a proper lady. All lessons learnt from Septa Gertrude. She drank water instead of wine; having once tried it when Brandon had offered it to her at a feast, but she found it left an awful after taste and he'd laughed at the face she had made. She hadn't touched another glass since.

Lyarra watched her daughters intently. They looked sombre and Alys refused to speak more than a few words to anyone. she was worried what would happen once they all returned from the Tourney and the marriage proposals came.

She and Rickard had hoped to have a contract for Alysane by her sixteenth birthday but Rickard was so soft towards her sometimes that he cowed to her wishes when she refused each offer.

Now she was nearly twenty-and-one and still unmarried. Lyarra knew some of the other Houses' ladies laughed behind their hands – that they could not settle their own daughter but-

"I received a letter from Jon Arryn." Ned said jovially. "He requested that our tents be set up near his when we arrive at Harrenhal."

Brandon nodded and glanced at his older sister for a moment before clearing his throat. "We'll let the men set up and you and I can show our sisters and introduce them to those we know."

Alys sent him a questioning look but Lyanna perked up and immediately started chatting everyone's ear off about the excitement of it all.

Giya, who had disappeared for most of the day – as she did every day since she had been brought from town – arrived just in time for the last of Alys' chicken and sat happily as her pseudo-mother fed her small pieces.

"I suppose we should send you all to bed now; there is a long journey ahead." Lyarra said as she kissed Benjen's head and stood. "Make sure that all your belongings are packed – wouldn't want to leave something behind."

Alys hummed as she walked with Giya twining around her legs but stopped at the hand around her arm. "Mother?"

Lyarra sighed heavily and cupped her daughter's cheeks. "I know that I needn't ask but would you take care of Benjen whilst you are all away?"

Alys flushed and offered her mother a smile. "Of course. The gods know that the others would only see to it that he lands himself into more trouble."

Lyarra laughed and kissed her cheek lightly. "You'll be a wonderful mother someday, my love."

Alys swallowed thickly and looped her arm around her mother's waist as they made their way into the Great Keep for the night.