It's a love story for the ages, but one that hasn't been told. At least, not from beginning to end, in a coherent manner. Game of Thrones has handed it to us in chunks of Bran's visions, a few memories of Ser Barristan and Littlefinger, and then a dry passage in some old maester's logs. A Song of Ice and Fire fills in a few more angles of the tale, but not many. All fans want to know is: Did Lyanna love Rhaegar? Did Rhaegar love her back? What really happened that set off Robert's Rebellion and the fall of House Targaryen after nearly 300 years of unbroken rule?
Gather round my children, let us gather all the pieces part of this story that have been given to us over the years, from a story told to pass the time by Meera Reed to Bran and Rickon Stark as they traveled in A Storm of Swords, to the last log read by Gilly aloud to Sam as he wasn't paying attention in Season 7 of Game of Thrones. It begins in the year 281 AC, as Aerys II Targaryen began to really lose his grip on sanity. It was "The Year of the False Spring."
The Tourney At Harrenhal
Known as the Greatest Tourney of All Time, it was held by Lord Walter Whent supposedly to celebrate his daughter's name day. It ran 10 days and was believed to have been partly conceived and executed by Rhaegar Targaryen, elder son of the King, in order to privately meet with the other lords and depose his unstable father.
The tale, as told by Meera tells of a young knight known as "The Knight of the Laughing Tree," who wore an emblem of a white weirwood with a laughing red face. He might have been a crannogman, as he was so small.
It starts when Meera's father, Howland Reed, was beaten up by other squires. He was rescued by kindly Lyanna Stark and got to hang out with her. Meera says he then saw her crying that night at dinner because Rhaegar played his harp and sang so beautifully. (Howland also saw Benjen teased her and she poured wine over his head.)
Three days later, the Knight of the Laughing Tree appeared out of nowhere and proceeded to beat three knights who had won the previous days before. Their squires were the ones who had beat up Howland. The Knight took their winnings, said they should have trained their squires to have better manners, and disappeared.
Many book readers believe this was Lyanna, that Rhaegar figured it out, and that he was bowled over by her skill in beating those knights, her bravery and her loyalty to her friend.
Littlefinger tells another, shorter version of this story to Sansa in the show. He does not tell of Lyanna's tears over Rhaegar singing, but he tells the other important part, how Rhaegar won the tourney, and rode right past his wife, and crowned Lyanna Stark The Queen of Love and Beauty.
Ser Barristan's Memories
These do not pertain to the story of Lyanna, as much as they are course correction of the reader's. the viewer's (and Dany's) knowledge of Rhaegar. Up until then, Robert (and everyone else) had portrayed Rhaeger as a bloodthirsty madman, who kidnapped and raped Lyanna. According to Barristan, that's all wrong. Rhaegar loved music, and beauty, and poems. He was thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive.
In short, he was everything Lyanna Stark could have wanted in a man.
In fact, we learn through Ned's memories in the books, and other's offhand remarks, Robert seemed to have been projecting onto Rhaegar. He was the one who loved nothing better than war and would have loved kidnapping women.
Lyanna was also clearly not enamored of Robert. She pointed out to Ned right after she was engaged to his BFF, that Robert already had a bastard in the Vale, which Eddard knew was true.
Ned also tells Robert early on that he never knew Lyanna, never saw her for who she was. In the crypts the scene in short. But in the books Ned elaborates a bit: Robert only saw her beauty, "but not the iron underneath."
Lyanna never wanted to marry Robert and would find a way out.
Bran has several visions of Ned Stark's past, seeing Lyanna at Arya's age, and then Ned's fight to get his sister, locked in the Tower of Joy. But it's the final one, where Ned is given her newborn son, with the words "Promise me, Ned" that matters most. This is the proof that Rhaegar had a child with Lyanna, and that child was loved enough that she wanted to keep the baby safe.
Would a child of rape be loved that much? Maybe. But the show suggests it was not, and that Ned knew the truth of it in that Tower too.
Our last and latest clue, Gilly's readings from the scrolls Sam is copying. She discovers the High Septon during Robert's Rebellion not only annulled Rhaegar's marriage to Elia Martell, but then immediately performed a new one. She does not say to who, but we can guess -- Lyanna Stark.
So many questions remain though. Obviously, this means that Jon Snow is the legit heir to the Iron Throne, but we have to ask:
Look, princes don't just go around annulling their longtime marriages to other strategically important houses like the Martells (one that have produced heirs to the throne!) and somehow no one knows about it. That. Doesn't. Happen. Elia had to have known, if nothing else.
Perhaps Aerys might have been too insane to understand. But rumors had to fly through the castle. Did Tywin, the Hand of the King know, and keep it secret? Is that why he turned and joined Robert? Is this why Elia just let the Mountain kill her without a fight? And what about Robert? We always guessed his insistence on Lyanna being "raped hundreds of times" and "kidnapped" was because he couldn't handle the truth.
But what if it was all a lie to begin with? What if Robert knew the truth and was so furious at the betrayal, that he lied to everyone and went to war to kill the man who Lyanna gave her heart to because he couldn't handle the pain of rejection?
We must know more, and we must know it soon. Bran Stark, vision up, please!