Gasps and squeals of shock.
I sighed and waited for the inevitable onslaught of questions as I held a small chunk of meat over my right shoulder. Immediately, the offered meat was snatched up and devoured by my newest companion, a baby dragon by the name of Hestia.
Her blue scales gleamed in the early morning light filtering in the Great Hall of Winterfell as Hestia nudged my shoulder, her tail pointing to my lap.
I smiled, and obliged her.
“A dragon!” Arya was the first to say, standing on her chair and leaning forward to get a better look. The Lady Catelyn didn’t reprimand her, too shocked to be able to form any words. “Where’d you get it?”
“Found her egg on the way here.” I answered easily, feeding Hestia another piece of meat. “Hatched her last night.”
Bran seemed to be warring between looking at me with anger, to gazing at the dragon in awe. I met his gaze, and he looked away.
I guessed he still blamed me for not healing his father.
“Can I touch her?” Arya asked excitedly.
“Ah… I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I smiled apologetically before Catelyn could yell out a no. “Maybe if she gets more used to you.”
A few moments passed, and then—
“Just who are you?” Robb asked slowly.
Everyone’s excitement died down at the loaded question, and I licked suddenly dry lips as they looked on worriedly between the two of us.
This would be the deciding moment in my bold move. Jon and I had argued extensively on what was to be done about the newest addition to my small family. Jon had said that she should be hidden, in case any lingering hatred of anything Targaryen remained.
After all, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen had burned the Lord Rickard Stark and his son Brandon to death, indirectly caused the death of Lyanna Stark as well as countless others in the Seven Kingdoms.
And, Jon had a point, so I’d given him an out, a way to avoid any of the stigma I was possible to carry after revealing this secret. I told him that he could act as shocked as the rest of them were, thereby removing any wrongdoing on his part.
Jon refused instantly, looking visibly upset at the thought of betraying me.
Not going to lie, it was really heartwarming to see that kind of devotion and trust.
I had smiled and told him why it was better to reveal the existence of Hestia as soon as possible. The longer I kept this a secret from everyone— and with magic, I figured I could do that for at least a few months before Hestia grew too big and too powerful for my magic to effectively hide her— the worse the betrayal will feel for them.
This way, I would demonstrate that I trusted them with this secret.
And that was why I walked around most of Winterfell, with Hestia on my shoulder trilling loudly and proudly as the residents took turns gaping and gasping in shock at the sight. There were even a few screams of shock mixed in with fright.
But no one dared to make a move on the little one, my smoldering emerald glare rooting them all on the spot. The fact that Lightning flew out of my body, scorching the earth around me with ease, as well as my black blade exuding an unholy dark light helped as well.
In for a penny, in for a pound, I had grimly thought to myself, then.
I stared Robb down for a few seconds, telling him without words that any attacks on my new companion would be construed as an attack on me. He would not enjoy the aftermath.
“I descend from the ancient and noble Dragonlords of Valyria.” It was a lie, but there was no one who could refute my claim. “There’s a reason I am capable of magic, and there’s a reason I was able to forge my magic sword. No ordinary man could do these things.”
Robb’s eyes widened at the claim.
“You’re a Targaryen descendant?” The Lady Catelyn said in dismay.
I turned my gaze to her and shook my head. “The Targaryens were one of the Dragonlord families, but they were far from the most powerful.” I paused for a second, before continuing. “No, if my parent’s stories were true, then I am a descendant of a man named Aurion. He’d survived The Doom and attempted to retake his lands— I believe he declared himself the Emperor of Valyria.”
“What happened to him?” Came the question from Arya.
“He’s believed to have died at the Valyrian Peninsula.” I said easily. “Took his dragon, and an entire army, and headed to Valyria— or whatever remained of it. They never came back.”
“And you’re his descendant?” Robb asked, a little doubtful.
“As far as I know, yes.” I said with a shrug. “I’d thought it was fanciful thinking on my parent’s part, and had dismissed it out of hand, until I hatched this egg and got little Hestia, here.”
“That’s her name?” Arya asked with a smile, the atmosphere lightening up slightly.
“Yes.” I lifted Hestia slightly, who snapped at me at the interruption of her meal. I sternly glared back and hissed. §None of that, little one.§
She stopped, bowed her head, and returned to her food.
Discovering that Parseltongue allowed me to speak to dragons was also quite convenient.
I turned my gaze back to Robb.
“So, what do you wish to do now?” I asked bluntly. “I know I promised to help you against the Lannisters—” The Starks scowled at the name. “—but if you feel my presence will hinder your efforts, I understand.”
And, I did.
“Hinder my efforts?” Robb repeated dumbly. “You healed Bran. You saw that justice was served to those who attacked him. You and Jon saved Sansa and Arya, helped get Father’s body back to Winterfell, as well as our family’s sword, Ice.”
Robb paused to let all of that sink in. I noticed Bran absorbing his words as well, giving me an unreadable look. At least it was better than the veiled resentment he was giving me earlier.
“How exactly have you hindered me?” Robb asked, looking faintly amused. “Because you have a dragon, now? Though what you’ve shown me is disconcerting, you have done nothing but good to my family, Harry. Only a dishonorable pile of filth would turn you away, after all you’ve done.”
My spirits lifted, and I smiled.
I was about to say something, before Hestia trilled affectionately, climbing onto my shoulder once more, before alternating between staring at Grey Wind and Ghost, who was standing next to Robb and Jon respectively, as if they were the most interesting creatures in the world.
The large direwolves approached me, returning the hatchling’s stares with equal interest. I felt her claws grip my indestructible shirt a little tighter, as she huddled closer to me.
“Aww.” I smiled and gently pried her off of my shoulder, putting her in protective embrace on my lap. ” Look. She’s scared of them.”
§It’s okay, Hestia.§ I hissed at the little one and she looked up at me fearfully. Emerald met emerald. §I won’t let anything hurt you. Not while I’m alive.§
That seemed to do the trick, as Hestia crawled over to the side of the seat and poked her head out to see the two large direwolves staring at her still. She squeaked carefully.
Grey Wind moved away, seemingly losing interest, while Ghost rolled over to his back, panting and waving his tail happily. Hestia squeaked again, her tail poking the albino wolf’s nose.
Ghost sneezed, startling Hestia who quickly crawled up my shoulder.
“Shhh…” I calmed her down as Ghost ran back Jon. “You’re fine.”
Hestia calmed down once more, though she kept a wary eye on the two direwolves.
“Are you sure I can’t come pet her?” Arya requested again.
I smiled again, and shook my head no.
The news of my capabilities and ancestry travelled all over the North like wildfire in the weeks that followed.
Lord after Lord answered Robb’s call to arms, proudly displaying their banners as they were welcomed by the Starks.
The Karstark Sunburst. The Manderly Merman. The Glover Fist. The Mormont Bear. The Cerwyn Battle-Axe. The Bolton Flayed-Man. The Hornwood Moose. The Umber Chains. And many others.
All there to answer Robb’s call— and also see the rumored Dragonlord with his very own dragon. The famed Harry of the Blackscale, who had defeated both Jaime Lannister and Barristan Selmy, arguably the best swordsmen of Westeros, as well as The Mountain That Rode, a legendary fighter in his own right.
The meetings were short, as feeding and raising a quickly growing dragon turned out to take up the majority of my time.
Hestia, while kind and gentle at times, could also be quite frightening when roused. Right now, the damage she was capable of inflicting was minimal at best. But, when she was fully grown…
Well, I’d seen what a Hungarian Horntail was capable of— and I remembered that dragons here could be at least five times larger than the Horntails, though that would take quite a while.
Quicker than I was expecting, though, as Hestia had already grown in size. About thirty percent larger, if I was being modest; fourty percent, if I was being generous. Hestia’s appetite proved more and more voracious as the days passed.
Not wanting her to get fat, I began to devise a series of exercises to keep her active. I had her crawl laps around the courtyard. After that, I would have her attempt to playfight with either Ghost or Grey Wind, sometimes with Summer— whom she had quickly learned to tolerate.
She obviously lost, every time, though Ghost and Grey Wind were gentle in the way they handled things. Summer was a little less gentle, but it was probably for the best, as it would toughen Hestia up quickly.
I would not allow Shaggydog to interact with little Hestia, though, as he was too rough and wild for my tastes. It was no surprise; Rickon was too young, prone to childish tantrums as all children are. His direwolf picked up on it, being just as irritable.
So I didn’t let him come close.
“By the old gods, I never thought I’d see a dragon with my own eyes!” The Greatjon boomed as he watched the growing Hestia crawl alongside me as I headed to the Great Hall, where Robb was holding a meeting.
The Greatjon, or Jon Umber, was the Lord of the Last Hearth, head of his house. He was a large man, easily over six feet tall, heavily muscled— he needed them to carry that monstrous sword over his shoulder. Jeez, and I thought Ice was over the top.
“And now you have.” I motioned for Hestia to crawl up my shoulder. She obeyed instantly, rubbing her head against mine affectionately. “You are the Lord Jon Umber?”
He gave a nod. “And you’re the famous Blackscale.”
I didn’t respond immediately. “Yes.”
“Heard you defeated the Kingslayer and Barristan Selmy in single combat.” He gave me a piercing look.
“Yes.” I repeated, though I didn’t elaborate on the subject. “You are heading to the Great Hall, as well?”
“Aye.” The Greatjon replied as we passed through the courtyard and made our way past the sept. “Lord Robb is assembling a war coucil.”
The Great Hall was as large as ever, though its table layout seemed to have changed slightly to accomodate the war council. Three Long tables were arranged in a broken triangle, with each Lord taking his seat with no order of importance.
Jon was standing by the side. Robb had invited him personally, though he did not assume his seat next to Robb— likely the doing of Catelyn. I guessed even saving her daughters’ lives still wasn’t enough.
He stood by the side, his face stoic, revealing nothing to the world.
“Ah, you’re here.” Robb took notice of our presence, and the remainder turned to look at us. Most of them focused on the Greatjon for a few moments, before onto me, and then Hestia.
They stared in fascination some more, before Robb cleared his throat and motioned for us to take our seats. We both complied, though I took a moment to turn to Jon.
“Come, Jon.” I said, motioning to the empty spot next to me. “You can sit here.”
A few silent moments passed, before Jon nodded tightly and assumed his seat.
Lady Catelyn’s face looked scandalized for a few short moments as Jon, Ice slung over his shoulder proudly for all to see, assumed his seat next to mine. The remainder of the Lords looked on disapprovingly, but were interrupted by Robb, who began speaking.
“My Lord Father is dead.” He said bluntly. “Killed by assassins hired by the Lannisters.”
There was a flurry of motion and almost overwhelming sound at the news, each Lord yelling in shock, dismay, and disbelief, until Grey Wind barked loudly, the sound impacting everyone with the force of a man’s light shove.
“The King, Robert Baratheon, has also been slain.” Robb added. “It was orchestrated by none other than the former Queen, Cersei Baratheon of Houses Lannister and Baratheon— though the latter is debatable, in light of new information— the same woman who had my younger brother, Brandon, pushed off a tower to hide her infidelity.”
Her infidelity was a moot point, as Robert tended to fuck anything with a pulse, but a person was judged by their own sins, not the sins of others. Just because Robert was not loyal did absolve her of her own sin— she was also disloyal and evil enough to consider killing a child to keep her secrets just that; secret.
Robb paused for a few moments, letting the news sink in.
“Why?” Came the question from one of the men. He looked wholly unexceptional.
Robb turned to him, and answered.
“Because Cersei Lannister had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, Lord Glover.” Robb said slowly, before addressing everyone. “During your journeys to Winterfell, my Lords, we have received a few ravens from King’s Landing, as well as other locations, and the contents are… Well…”
He paused for a few moments, eyes unfocussing slightly as he attempted to recall the contents.
“The missive from King’s Landing stated that Cersei’s son, Joffrey, has been installed as the King.” Robb said gravely. “Joffrey, who had been stripped of his Heirship by his father for demonstrating a tendency to abuse his power as prince. On the late King’s bed, a letter had been found with his seal, declaring that Cersei and Joffrey were to be pardoned, and Joffrey was to be reinstated as the Heir to the Seven Kingdoms. It is now being loudly proclaimed as truth that my late father was a traitor to the realm who had killed his King in an attempt to usurp the throne and mold the King’s son, Tommen, in his image.”
Now, that got a response.
“Ned Stark, a traitor?” The Greatjon boomed over the rest of them, his voice easily drowning theirs out, hitting the table and leaning forward aggressively. “The North will become a great, bleeding desert before that day comes.”
A chorus of “Aye”-s were heard, echoing in the large hall.
“Another set of letters came in, from Highgarden, as well as Storm’s End.” Robb continued unabashed. “Apparently, Lord Renly Baratheon has laid a claim on the Crown, stating that the children of Cersei are not of Baratheon descent. He claims that they are bastards. He’s already allied himself with the Tyrells of the Reach, and intends to crown himself as King.”
Again, the room broke out in an uproar, though much more subdued than before, the various Lords having realized that this wasn’t just Robb trying to play at revenge. The Kingdoms were fracturing themselves.
“Surely, not Stannis? He is the elder.” Catelyn asked, and a few among the gathered people nodded in agreement.
“Aye, I agree.” Robb said. “By the laws of succession, and, if Renly’s claims are true, then Stannis Baratheon is to become the King of Westeros. But, there’s more.”
A few grumbled “what now?” as Robb pulled out the final missive.
“It came in this morning.” Robb said, eying the message for a few seconds. “From Lord Stannis Baratheon of Dragonstone. Like his brother, Lord Renly, Lord Stannis claims that Cersei Lannister’s children are not of his family— but that they’re the product of incest, between Cersei, and the Kingslayer, Ser Jaime Lannister.”
Robb only nodded in response.
My eyes widened, remembering an old conversation with Balthazar on the subject. He had made the suggestion that Jaime was having sexual relations with Cersei, and that’s why he looked so conflicted.
“Lord Stannis Baratheon has also staked a claim on the Iron Throne, proclaiming himself to be the King, as well.” Robb added, looking at each and every Lord and Lady present.
“Three Kings, then?” A soft voice spoke, its source an average sized man with a plain face, beardless and ordinary, and pale eyes. His skin was equally pale, and pasty. I almost mistook him for a vampire, with that appearance. “Renly Baratheon with the might of the Reach and the Stormlands. Stannis Baratheon with his large fleet of ships and the vassals of Dragonstone. And Joffrey Baratheon with the backing of the Westerlands. All three claiming to be the King of the Seven Kingdoms.”
“Aye, Lord Bolton.” Robb said. “That is correct.”
“So, it’s obvious what must be done.” I pitched in, nudging and poking at Hestia, who tried to fight against it, but failed, resigning herself to being poked with as much dignity as she could. “The Lannisters are the enemy. That leaves Renly Baratheon, or Stannis Baratheon, as possible allies. But, who to pick? By laws of succession, Stannis should be the King. But, then again, by laws of succession, the Mad King’s children should have been the Heirs to the throne. Renly has the backing of two kingdoms, one of which sells grains and livestock to the other realms.”
There were some murmurs at that.
“Lord Ned was dear to me.” I said honestly, ignoring the strange looks I got at the way of addressing their previous Lord Paramount. “He was a wise, and good ruler. He always listened to people, before making his judgements— and his judgements were always fair, and honorable. And they killed him. Lord Ned tasked me with getting his children back home safely, and I did. He wanted the world to know the truth, that it was not him that killed the King, but Cersei Lannister, with the help of her own family’s gold and resources.”
“That leaves us no closer to knowing who to ally ourselves with.” An old man with a massive belly and fingers the size of sausages said, though his eyes were calculating and shrewd.
“I was getting to that.” I said and gently pried Hestia off of my shoulder, placing her on my lap, instead, noting that they all stared at the creature, still fascinated by Hestia’s very existence. “Lady Catelyn’s family control both of the Riverlands, as well as the Vale. That makes three allied kingdoms, who can also ally with the Stormlands, and the Reach against the Westerlands.”
Catelyn shook her head. “My sister, the Lady Lysa, has not sent a single letter from the Eyrie. Moreover, my uncle, Ser Brynden Tully, has confided in me that Lysa refuses to leave the Eyrie, and has closed the Vale’s borders to any outside influence. I believe she does not wish to participate in the war to come, despite the death of Lord Jon Arryn, another suspicious death linked to the former Queen Cersei.”
Murmurs rose once more at that declaration.
“Isolating her kingdom?” I mused aloud. “That still leaves the Riverlands.”
Here, Robb smiled. “Lord Hoster Tully has agreed to join forces with us. Likely, he understands that a war between the Westerlands, Stormlands, Reach, and the North will lead to the decimation of the Riverlands; he wishes to prevent it.”
A cheer broke out at that declaration, and more plans were made to meet up with the nobles from the Riverlands and join forces.
“But, that still leaves us in the same predicament as before.” I noted grimly. “The way I see it, there are three choices: the first choice is to follow the laws of succession and join our forces with those of Stannis Baratheon, who has little in the way of fighting men; the second choice is to discard the laws of succession and join with Renly Baratheon, focusing your forces to destroy the Westerlands and claim their riches for your own.”
“And the third?” Robb asked calmly, not swayed by the prospect of riches, though some of the others perked up.
At least he was willing to listen to advice.
“Arguably the most dangerous option.” I said, and looked at every single person in the room. “Make allegiances to no one. Rule over yourselves like the Winter Kings of the past.”
A deafening silence ensued.
“The most dangerous option, indeed.” Lord Bolton agreed with a tiny nod of the head in my direction. “The possibility of both Lords Renly and Stannis declaring the North as enemies is there, which would mean our allies in the Riverlands would be attacked from all sides, thus negating their potential usefulness.”
I felt a bit of admiration creep into me. Despite his vampire-like looks, this was a man with a brain, and he knew how to use it.
They all turned to Robb, who had his eyes closed in deep contemplation.
He opened his eyes.
“Lannisters took my father.” Robb said in a deceptive calmness, though his eyes were furious. “I will not allow any of their brood to sit on the Iron Throne— I mean to see them dead. My father’s death will be avenged!”
That drew a cheer.
“And, the Baratheon Kings?” Roose Bolton asked softly.
“Here’s what I think of these two Kings!” The Greatjon boomed, before spitting to the side, garnering a laugh from those attending the war council.
Lord Bolton frowned, but said nothing in return.
“I will not alienate the Baratheon brothers, just yet.” Robb decided after a few moments of deliberation. “We will claim neutrality on their end, at least until we have taken our revenge on the Lannisters and their Westerlands. We will finally get to see if it’s true that Tywin Lannister can shit gold.”
That got another booming laugh from the Greatjon.
“You’re a Stark, all right!” The large man said boisterously. “No give in you, whatsoever!”
The meeting continued for a few hours longer, going over the various details involving war preparations. Whoever told you that war was simply about gathering and army and leading it to a fight was an idiot.
The logistics of it was a nightmare, which was why Maester Luwin— as well some other Maesters who had accompanied the invited Lords— had joined us, helping everyone figure out what the expenses would be in terms of food, equipment, mounts, and supplies. Which roads needed to be maintained, where to raise more levies and where to find more men.
That was when Theon burst in the Great Hall, dragging something behind him.
“Theon?!” Robb said as a few Lords shouted “What’s the meaning of this!?”
“Look who I found wandering towards Winterfell.” Theon moved sideways to show us what he was dragging.
It was a familiar looking dwarf, though unconscious. If he was, he would shit his pants at the death glare Robb had immediately given him.
“The famed Tyrion Lannister.” Robb smiled dangerously, getting up and approaching the dwarf in question. “Just fell into our lap? How… Convenient.”
I winced, soothing Hestia’s agitation by caressing her spine delicately.
Tyrion was probably going to have a very bad day when he woke up.