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.
Rhaegar swallowed bile as he kissed his mother's swollen and bruised cheek.
Apparently, she'd made an errant comment about how Ilyn Payne's brutal tongue removal had been entirely too grotesque for Viserys to witness…
Had Rhaegar been there, his father's hand would not be attached to his arm any longer – the only reason it was, was beucasue his mother had made him promise not to do anything.
They were setting off for Harrenhal today. It was only a week's ride and he'd heard that the grounds were already bustling with people from all corners of the Seven Kingdoms.
"Ready, Your Grace?" Arthur Dayne stepped up beside his prince. They were an imposing pair, even more when one added Jon Connington.
"As I'll ever be." Rhaegar smiled at the only man he trusted with his life unequivocally.
Myles already had his steed waiting. He thanked the boy and mounted, waiting for the rest of his travelling party. The King would be riding fifty strong in a carriage behind him – no doubt muttering to himself the entire way…
He turned his head to see his mother rushing down the steps, her silver-gold hair fluttering in the ocean breeze. "Mother?"
"Remember what I told you about the sand at Harrenhal…" her eyebrow rose and Rhaegar smirked at her. She had written to Princess Myna to negotiate with the woman over the marriage agreement between Elia and Rhaegar and had found out that no official arrangement had been brokered.
"I'll stand my ground well enough, mother." He saw Arthur chuckle beside him. "Nevertheless, I shall endeavour to enjoy myself."
Rhaella shook her head and waved him off, praying to the Mother to keep an eye on him and the Father to stay his rash mind.
"You're favouring your right side again, Ned!" Ser Rodrick laughed as Brandon helped his brother up out of the mud.
Alys was helping Benjen sort through the array of flowers Lyanna had picked from a nearby meadow. Lyanna had lost interest and was eagerly watching her two oldest brothers hack at each other.
"I've never seen one like this." Benjen muttered and Alys smiled.
"It's a wineberry plant." She pointed out, "You can eat them when they've flowered."
Benjen hummed and put the plant onto its own pile; they had four already and the white sugarplums were her favourite.
Lyanna preferred blue winter roses and their mother the small yellow flowers that grew on the side of the burned tower – her mother always said that they were 'poisonously beautiful'.
"Lyanna, put down the dagger." Alys called, spying her sister out of the corner of her eye. "I swear to the gods I will turn you over my lap."
Ned and Brandon laughed as Lyanna pouted and slammed the tip of it into the water barrel she'd been skulking behind – no doubt to pounce on Ned or Bran.
"Wilder than a wolf, that one." Brandon said as he dropped to the ground at Alys' feet and took a large portion of her wine for himself.
"You all are." She sniffed. "You know, there is no harm in behaving occasionally."
Giya mewled from her sunny perch on the table and glared at Benjen. The boy had chased her all morning, trying to get a better look at the markings on her fur.
"There is also no harm in having fun… occasionally." Ned smirked, pulling out his whetstone raising a dark brow at her.
"Fun leads to chaos and chaos is what killed the dragons, dear brother." Alys hummed as she stood up and nudged Brandon's head away from her leg. "I am going to bathe; I suggest you do the same."
Ned and Brandon shared a look before dissolving into a fit of laughter.
Alys had become sterner since they'd left Winterfell a week prior and the brothers suspected it had something to do with their mother. Lyarra worried too much about her children and now that weight had been placed on her daughter's shoulders…
"Ser Rodrick, would you keep an eye on Lyanna and Benjen?" Alys asked as she passed the older man. He was around her father's age and acted like an uncle towards the boys.
"Certainly, my Lady." Rodrick grinned. "Though, they are right… a little fun now and then won't kill anyone."
Alys sighed and entered her tent, smiling at the girl who had recently joined the household. She was Poole's sister and so Lyarra had seen fit to appoint her as handmaiden to Alys.
"How was your day, Jaena?"
"Busy, milady." The girl smiled. "I've gotten your things set out and I'm just waiting for the last of the hot water for your bath…"
"Thank you, Jaena." She smiled and then sighed. "Is it strange that I already miss home?"
"Not at all, milady." Jaena was sorting through her trunk. "I think that Lady Lyanna and Benjen are having a grand time, however."
Alys chuckled humourlessly. Yes, they had made chaos the whole way and it was part of the reason Alys missed home. Missed their mother's ability to stop any antics with just a look.
"There you are."
Two men carried in the last of the water and Alys sent Jaena to check on Lyanna. The water was scorching but Alys ignored it in favour of relaxing her road-worn muscles.
She hummed under her breath. An old lullaby that Nan had sung when she got nightmares.
It was about a great king who started a war for the woman he loved. Alys couldn't ever imagine anyone going to war for her – and she didn't want that – but the verses about the love between them were inspiring enough.
She lay in the water for hours, letting it cool around her as she thought about absolutely nothing. It was so resting that she nodded off to sleep a few times; only startling awake when her nose hit the water.
Sudden commotion outside startled her from her stupor. She could hear Ned shouting a few feet from her tent and then Jaena was scurrying into the tent.
"Milady, the Prince and his guard have arrived!"
Alys frowned and tried to process the girls' words. Why would the Prince of the Seven Kingdom's be cause for such aggressive shouting?
"Am I to redress and meet them?"
"Aye, milady." Jaena was pulling out a deep red dress that Alys had hoped to save for the opening ceremonies of the Tourney. "Can you believe it? The Prince…"
Alys nearly laughed at the giddy look on her handmaiden's face. It was the face every girl – highborn and lowborn alike – made at the mention of the 'beautiful Dragon Prince'.
Fifteen minutes later, she stepped out of the tent and hurried over to where she could see her brothers conversing with white cloaked men.
"Brandon, Ned." She greeted with an incline of the head. "Forgive my delay, I was not aware that we were to greet guests."
The two Kingsguard members bowed at her and Brandon introduced them as Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Gerold Hightower.
"A pleasure." Alys turned to her brother with a tight smile. "Where are Lyanna and Benjen?"
"Already sleeping." Ned said. "Jaena said that you were still bathing but we thought not to wake them."
"But this is the Prince, Eddard." Alys nearly hissed and heard Ser Gerold clear his throat.
"His Grace understands, my Lady." Ser Arthur said. "We are only passing through and he does not wish to upset your camp any further."
Alys nodded and smiled at the man. He was beautiful in an exotic sort of way. As someone from the North, she had never seen anyone with such beautifully tanned skin and his cheekbones could carve diamonds.
"Your Grace," Brandon said and bent the knee. Ned and Alys quickly followed and she tried very hard not to lift her eyes. Rhaegar Targaryen's beauty was said to rival that of anyone and if Arthur Dayne could stun her…
She saw him grasp Brandon's hand and pull him up. "Thank you for allowing us to set up camp near you, Lord Stark."
Alys and Ned rose as well but she kept her eyes down; her mother's words about etiquette echoing in her ears.
"It is an honour, your Grace." The smile in Brandon's voice was unmissable. "I only wish that my younger siblings were here to greet you as well."
"No, please." Rhaegar chuckled. "I know how tired travelling can make one and don't want to interrupt a good night's sleep."
Suddenly Brandon jerked and he turned his head. "Oh, forgive me, Your Grace. May I introduce my older sister, Alysane, and my younger brother, Eddard."
Rhaegar turned his attention to the woman standing demurely at her brothers' sides and blinked. Her hair was undone and wet at the tips and the deep red of her gown accentuated what he could only describe as moonlight given form.
She raised her head slowly and offered him a timid smile. A smile that said that she was trying very hard to remember what a good, highborn Lady should do in a situation such as this.
"My Lady." He said, offering his hand and marvelling at the smoothness of hers.
"Your Grace," she breathed out, blinking at his hand as well. It was warm and calloused from riding and fighting. "Such an honour to have you with us."
Rhaegar let go of her hand and found Arthur staring at him amusedly. He turned to her other brother then and greeted him as he had Brandon; still trying to remember how to breathe.
Never in his life had a woman – any woman – stunned him in such a way. Not even the beauty of Cersei Lannister had interested him so…
"If you would forgive me, Your Grace." Alys gulped. "I would leave you in the company of my brothers and retire for the night."
"Of course." Rhaegar inclined his head and offered her a bright smile. "I wouldn't wish to keep you from the comfort of a bed."
Arthur cleared his throat and he and Gerold bowed as the Lady departed. Brandon raised a questioning brow at Ned and the two glanced between their sister and the Crown Prince cautiously.
Alys was curled up under her furs with Giya purring against her toes. The cat had insisted on wiggling her way between the bedsheets and so Alys was trying very hard not to kick the poor thing.
Her thoughts kept drifting to Prince Rhaegar. He was… enchanting. Hands so warm and strong with elegantly long fingers and calluses that spoke of many days spent with sword in hand.
His eyes were stunning as well. She had never seen such a strange color and yet they fit him perfectly – with the contrast of his lightly tanned skin and shock of Targaryen hair.
She couldn't hear anything now except the chirp of crickets and the occasional owl. It was almost as if the earlier commotion hadn't happened.
Giya shifted and stretched her back against her owner's legs, yawning loudly before continuing to purr. Alys envied the cat's sleeping abilities and rolled over slowly to stare at the small firepit that was starting to die out.
Perhaps the Prince and his guard would ride with them tomorrow. She might have another chance to talk to him – perhaps about books since she had once heard that he liked to read.
Alys frowned and suddenly shook her head. She was acting foolishly; daydreaming about the Prince. He had no interest in her beyond that of a future king to his subjects, she was sure.
Brandon and Ned had held his interest just as long as she had. No need to go on fanning silly fantasies in which the prince whisked her away and-
"Oh stop it, Alysane." She hissed and closed her eyes tightly to force herself to sleep.