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Will Endure

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"The winters are hard. But the Starks will endure. We always have."
- Eddard I, A Game of Thrones

***

HOUSE STARK shortly before the Targaryen Conquest

KING TORRHEN, of House Stark, the King in the North

QUEEN SANSA, of House Manderly, cousin and queen to Torrhen, the daughter of Princess Arsa Stark and Lord Wylfryd Manderly

PRINCE BRANDON, of House Stark, the Prince of Winterfell, firstborn of King Torrhen and Queen Sansa, a man of three-and-twenty
- his princess consort BARBREY, of House Hornwood
- their son PRINCE CREGARD, of House Stark, a babe of one

PRINCE BARTHOGAN, of House Stark, second child of King Torrhen and Queen Sansa, a man of twenty
- betrothed to Lady Jeyne, of House Karstark

PRINCE JONNEL, of House Stark, third child of King Torrhen and Queen Sansa, a man of seventeen

PRINCESS LYANNA, of House Stark, youngest child of King Torrhen and Queen Sansa, a maid of fifteen

BRANDON SNOW, adviser to the king, the younger bastard brother of King Torrhen
- his mother AREGELLE SNOW, called LADY AREGELLE out of courtesy, the daughter of a Stark prince with a candlemaker

KING ARTOS III, of House Stark, deceased, father of King Torrhen and Brandon Snow

DOWAGER QUEEN JONELLE, of House Glover, mother of King Torrhen, rode south for a winter raid on the tenth year of Torrhen's life, never to return

PRINCESS ARSA, of House Stark, Lady of White Harbor, older sister of King Artos, architect of the match between Torrhen and her daughter Sansa

*

It seemed like Lyanna was growing up to be an unremarkable princess.

Her stitches were worse than the wiry silver hairs escaping from Lady Aregelle’s braid. Her songs could best be described as plain and tedious enough that they had put listeners into a drowse more than once. She had no patience for the harp, had even less patience for dancing, and would rather stay in her chambers and paint her ladies’ faces with rose pigments. Lyanna also felt nauseous with nerves at the prospect of entertaining guests in the Great Hall. She was only an adequate rider, a hopeless hunter, and would only hold a knife to skin a boar if she also got to complain about the smell and the filth and the fuss.

Unremarkable people never inspired songs, Lyanna would often reflect, as she squatted in the yard and drew shapes in the snowy mud with a stick.

It would be very sad indeed if everyone now alive in the family, even old Lady Aregelle, would inspire songs – all of them, except for Lyanna.

But Lyanna loved songs even though she sounded like a wheezing horse when she sang. She knew all the songs about House Stark. There were plenty of them. Her father King Torrhen had said that you could not sing about the North without singing about House Stark. And even the southron kingdoms did sing of the North, especially near the coming of every winter.

 

I.

On the morning of Father’s departure, when he rode south to defend their kingdom against the invaders, Mother put aside her sewing and took Lyanna to the godswood.

The icy breeze stirred the red leaves of the weirwood and Lyanna’s loose hair. She huffed and puffed and brushed aside her hair from her face. Mother glanced at her with a frown. Mother was a very neat and elegant queen: her dark hair was always bundled inside a net made of silver and pearls.

“Let us pray to the old gods,” Mother said, in her gentle way, “for your father and brothers to come home to us.”

Though she was from House Manderly, Mother kept to the old gods, the gods of her own mother the Princess Arsa Stark.

Lyanna had always thought of Mother as a soft-spoken queen, rather like the quiet and steady falling of snow on a brilliant morning. Mother, meanwhile, often despaired of Lyanna’s lack of initiative to hold a knife and skin a game.

“How can a Stark princess not know how to skin a prey?” Mother had asked one horrible afternoon. Mother had looked as disapproving as she had been that time Lyanna could not properly enunciate the letter R as a very young child, or that time Lyanna had stuttered her way during Lord and Lady Umber’s visit and accidentally said, “Very pie to meet you.”

Father and Uncle Brandon and the rest of the hunting party had been standing around the oaken stump with the dead boar whilst Mother had loomed over Lyanna.

And Lyanna, gingerly holding the knife, had mulishly replied, “I hate the smell. Smells like turd. Hate skinning turd.”

Uncle Brandon had thrown back his head and howled with laughter. Father had only shaken his head and said that Lyanna was still a child.

Mother had frowned, but when she had glanced over to see Uncle Brandon still sniggering she regarded Lyanna again. Mother’s brow had been smooth.

After a beat, Mother had courteously asked Uncle Brandon to show Lyanna how he skinned a boar. Father had smiled at that. Mother had urged Lyanna to hand over the knife to Uncle Brandon, and Uncle Brandon had shown her how, and Mother had urged her some more to look closer and look carefully, and Father had started talking of how the boar would make for a very delicious supper that night.

Halfway through the whole thing, Lyanna had been so disgruntled she could skin a turd.

Lyanna’s most prominent image of Mother, though, was of Mother sewing and sewing and sewing. She sewed endlessly: to clothe their family against the cold or as treats to herself. Mother sewed for herself numerous gloves and handkerchiefs, all embroidered with a graceful and lacy “S,” for Sansa.

No thread was out of place in Mother’s sewing, no stitch strayed from a designed line. “I do not like lose ends,” Mother often said. “Do your stitches again, Lyanna.”

Lyanna often caught Mother sewing in a lot of places.

Mother sewed in the rookery as she waited for an urgent letter, with Lady Donella of House Manderly holding the spool of thread for her and Lady Sybelle of House Ryswell going over the gossip in the yards.

Mother sewed in the solar as she talked and shared jugs of ale with Father. Lyanna had caught her gently laughing as she sewed, her grey eyes shining as Father tucked winter roses behind her ears and with her net of silver and pearls. Father had been smiling too, singing in his funny off-key way about the “Rose of his heart.” Lyanna had swiftly backed out of the door before they saw her.

Mother sewed in the glass gardens as she instructed the gardeners on which new seeds she wished to be planted. Lady Donella still held the spool of thread for her, and Lady Sybelle had gossiped of the wager in the stables.

When Father made his visits to the other Houses, Mother would always send him off with a kiss on his cheek and a bundle of gloves for the inhabitants of the castle to be visited. Father would kiss Mother on her lips, give her a winter rose – “A winter rose for the Rose” – before riding off.

“Would they like that?” Lyanna had wondered.

“Of course. The gloves are from their queen.” Mother had softly smiled. She had been sorting her old needles – the rusty, or the crooked, or the blunt needles – from her new ones. “The gloves will keep them warm, besides.”

On one such time, when Father was away with Uncle Brandon and Lyanna’s oldest brother Bran, the ironmen had descended on the nearby villages and sacked winter town.

Mother had had to hold Winterfell against the invasion, during which she had locked Lyanna in a secret chamber with some women and a few guardsmen. Barthogan and Jonnel had not been with her for they were locked in other chambers.

Lyanna had been seven, and had cried a lot. She had soaked her direwolf pup’s fur with snot and tears.

After four days of complete isolation, the door to the chamber had opened with the news that Queen Sansa had managed to capture the ironman commander, the one named Greyjoy.

Lyanna vividly remembered that afternoon. The terrible smell of burnt stone and flesh and wood. The hundreds of Northmen howling for justice. Greyjoy dragged in chains before Mother as his fellow ironmen prisoners were pushed down on the snow to await their fate. And Mother, the queen in the North, standing tall beside the ironwood stump where criminals had lost their heads to Father’s greatsword Ice.

“Reaver,” Mother had addressed Greyjoy, her voice mild so that those gathered around had to keep silent and strain to hear.

Lyanna remembered how the silence had cascaded around them, wrathful and reverent and hungry. Lyanna had been standing between Barthogan and Jonnel, her brothers looking as weary as she had felt. Mother herself had been wearing an old gown beneath her furs, and dark grey shadows had been smudged under Mother’s eyes.

Mother’s eyes had scared Lyanna that day.

Lyanna had grown up with her brothers under Mother’s stern frost-coloured eyes. Lyanna had grown up with a feeble assurance that Mother couldn’t be as cold as she seemed to be, if her eyes could shine warmly for Father.

But Mother’s eyes had scared her that afternoon, there near the ironwood stump, surrounded by the exhausted and mournful and furious faces of their people. Lyanna had never seen Mother’s eyes so hard and so cold.

“You admit,” Mother had said to Greyjoy, “that you have given command to sack Northern homes on Northern lands and put Northern people to the sword?”

Greyjoy had only glared at Mother, and had spat near her feet.

The howls of the Northmen had trampled on the silence at once: they had shouted for Greyjoy’s head, for his innards to be ripped out and strung for the gods. Jonnel had hissed beside Lyanna. Barthogan had raised his fists with a snarl, and Lyanna had scurried to Jonnel’s other side and tugged on his sleeve, more frightened than ever.

But Mother had only put her hand on Barthogan’s arm, which had greatly relieved Lyanna. Even at twelve, Barthogan would have gone to war for Mother without question.

Mother had said, “On your command, reaver, hundreds of my people have suffered. Yours are wicked words. Yours are wicked lips and tongue.” She had looked up from Greyjoy’s eyes long enough to command the guardsmen: “Bind him well. Hold his head.”

Cassel and five other guards had tightened Greyjoy’s chains. They had gripped at Greyjoy’s head.

Then, calmly, Mother had produced her old rusty needle from her handkerchief and proceeded to sew together Greyjoy’s lips.

*

After a long silence, Mother asked, “Have you finished praying to the old gods?”

Lyanna nodded. “Yes, Mother.”

She had prayed for the safe return of Father, and Uncle Brandon, and Bran and Barthogan. Lyanna dared not think of what would happen if they didn’t return. It would be devastating, and Bran’s son Cregard was only a babe and no fit to be king.

Mother gave her a brief nod. Lyanna could see in Mother’s pale lips that she was anxious as well.

A pause, then Mother stepped closer. Her hand was stiff as she brushed away a red weirwood leaf from Lyanna’s furs and tucked a stray dark lock behind Lyanna’s ear. “I have always wanted a daughter.”

Lyanna managed a smile. “Thank you, Mother.”

Mother said nothing. She was already looking away. She withdrew her hand and turned back to the long melancholy face of the weirwood. From Mother’s other hand peeked the winter rose Father had given her that morning, for she loved roses and she was Father’s Rose.

Mother was silent for so long that Lyanna wondered if Mother even heard what Lyanna had said.

And then, her eyes still on the blood-red sap creeping down the snow-white trunk, Mother murmured, “Something must be done with the king’s brother.”

 

II.

“Your mother the queen,” chattered Lady Aregelle, “is quite an ambitious woman. Did you know that Her Grace once had it in her head to marry one of her sons to the Vale king’s daughter? Well, now that king is dead, and so is his daughter, and so Queen Sansa is now making noises for an alliance with one of those barbarian river kings. Did you know that, princess?”

From her sprawl on the rug, Lyanna munched on her wolfberry and said, “No.”

Lady Aregelle cackled. Her silver knitting needles clicked and clicked, clicked and clicked, just beneath her cackle, so that it all sounded like a song to Lyanna.

Since she was an old person, Lady Aregelle had the most frank laughter in Winterfell and she had the most stories. Naturally, Lyanna tended to visit her tower room. There Lady Aregelle would always be sitting near the fire, with a lamp on her other side, mumbling to herself and squinting at her knitting.

“I remember your grandmother, princess.” Lady Aregelle’s needles clicked busily. “Queen Jonelle. From House Glover, she was. Restless. Went raiding south one winter. The southron dread those raids, did you know, just as we Northmen dread the winters. Her Grace rode south and never came back. Your father was only a boy of ten, and King Artos’ only child.”

Lady Aregelle paused. She peered down at Lyanna with faded grey eyes on a long craggy face.

It was a Stark face, Lyanna knew, though Lady Aregelle was not a Stark in name. She was not really a lady: she was only a bastard daughter of a Stark prince on a candle maker. But Lady Aregelle had been King Artos’ lover longer than Queen Jonelle had been King Artos’ queen, and so she was called Lady Aregelle.

“I didn’t fall into King Artos’ bed before his queen rode south, let me tell you.” Lady Aregelle prodded the black ball of yarn with her toe, and resumed her knitting.

“What’s that you’re knitting, my lady?” Lyanna finished her fruit and licked her fingers.

“Why, a wrap of course. For my old bones. What colour goes well with this, do you think, Your Grace?”

Lyanna surveyed the knitted shawl around Lady Aregelle’s shoulders now, black lined with silvery grey. “Blue is good. Perhaps white. Perhaps green.”

“Queen Sansa prefers dark green with her greys and whites,” Lady Aregelle mused. “Might be that blue looks good with this dowdy old thing.”

“It does,” agreed Lyanna. She started to paint with rose pigments on the coarse canvas cloth she had brought up with her. “But my lady was telling me a story.”

Lady Aregelle chortled. “I used to sew woolen sheets with Poole’s wife. And dye the woolens too, but I did that with the other washerwomen. Red colours were costly, and so were yellows and oranges. How cheery it was to dye the woolens with them bright colours. It was a bit better than my mother’s lot in life, the gods bless her good soul.”

The black ball of yarn turned and turned on the rug beside Lyanna.

Dimly, Lyanna could remember a song about Lady Aregelle “swathed in yellow.” It went on with Lady Aregelle’s “cheeks warm with the king’s kisses”, and “fingers warm with the king’s rings,” and her “smile warm and bright” like the “sun gracing the North.” But it was a very old song, and Mother didn’t like it.

“I should’ve been named Branda,” Lady Aregelle was saying, “but she not quite dared. Oh no. She was a candle maker. Anne. Born there outside the castle gates, in winter town. She used to say that them smallfolk have a saying. The Kings of Winter never die, they say. Oh no. The Kings of Winter only grow as old as they can until the night, and then come morning they turn young again. But they are always there, with their greatsword and their direwolf. They are always there. The Stark kings are as eternal as their stronghold Winterfell, they say. And so my mother never quite dared to name me after Brandon the Builder. My father, he was a Stark, he gave me a suitably fancy Stark name: Aregelle.”

Lyanna had long stopped dipping and swirling her pigments on the canvas, intently listening to Lady Aregelle’s tale.

“But I,” continued Lady Aregelle, “I named my son Brandon. Have I not the Stark blood in me to name him so? More than a dozen years younger than King Torrhen, he is. But King Artos’ sister never forgave me. And so her daughter Queen Sansa never forgave me, too.”

Lady Aregelle slowly shook her head as her needles clicked. “King Torrhen had no mother but Brandon has one. Twice the Stark blood in my Brandon, too, but alas not the Stark name.”

Lyanna tilted her head. “So if Mother’s mother is a Stark princess – does that make me twice a Stark as well?”

“I reckon it does,” said Lady Aregelle. “Princess Arsa, that one’s a she-wolf. She insisted on the match. They needn’t have worried, though.”

Lady Aregelle did not raise her faded grey eyes from her knitting, but Lyanna caught the subtle shift of Lady Aregelle’s wrinkled eyelids, the subtle and sly glance at Lyanna’s way. “I did not raise Brandon to be a kinslayer. The wolves who murder their pack are fools.”

 

III.

The old gods answered Lyanna’s prayers.

One evening when the wind had stilled and only a dark grey light cast frilled shadows across the snow, the banners of Father came cresting over a distant hill.

Lyanna and Jonnel scrambled to a tower window. Behind them peeked Barbrey with Cregard cooing in her arms. But Mother had immediately hurried down from the solar.

Father had come home.

Even Uncle Brandon, and Bran and Barthogan.

It soon became apparent that everyone who had ridden south managed to come home.

“My king,” Mother breathed, fiercely embracing Father in the entrance hall, “my love.”

Jonnel was already grinning at Mother and Father, and he beamed at Lyanna and squeezed her hand.

But there was a wry twist to Uncle Brandon’s mouth which Lyanna did not understand.

“My love.” Father embraced Mother as well, pressing his dark whiskers and beard against her dark hair for several heartbeats. But then he gently disentangled himself, took her hands in his, and murmured, “I am no longer a king, I am afraid.”

Father told a long tale that night. He had already started telling the tale even before Uncle Brandon and Jonnel finished assisting him out of his furs and leathers.

A tale of dragons, and of Targaryens, one brother and two sisters, and a field of fire during which the vast armies of the Lannister and Gardener kings have perished. Of Uncle Brandon offering to kill the dragons in the night. Of Queen Jonelle riding south and never coming home. Of the rushing waters of a great river, and of Father laying down his bronze and iron crown at the feet of Aegon Targaryen, of going down on his knee to ensure that no league of Northern land burned. Of the invader demanding no Northern swords to be surrendered to him.

“Targaryen pulled me up to my feet,” Father was saying. His eyes were dull, and his fingers were listless around his cup of mulled wine. “And he named me Lord of Winterfell, Lord Paramount and Warden of the North.”

Mother had her face turned away, her brow smooth and her lips an unreadable line, even as she clutched at Father’s other hand.

The lamps were lighted in the solar, but their shadows were drooping across the tapestries and the rugs.

Bran was stood by a window, his forehead leaning against the wall, silent for the last few hours. Barthogan was out with Uncle Brandon, the both of them simmering with rage. Jonnel kept filling Father’s cup with a helpless look in his eyes, and Lyanna could only stand in a corner, unremarkable amongst the drooping shadows, wringing her sleeves.

“Every moment of it, I loathed,” Father said. “I loathed it as much as Brandon did. Thousands of years as kings in the North – and they an unremarkable minor House from ruined Valyria. How I loathed it.”

Father took a breath. It rattled. His hand with the cup trembled. “But I cannot let thousands of Northmen die. Not after what I heard of the Field of Fire. Winter is coming. I cannot let my fields and smallfolk burn. We need all the men we could spare. Winter is coming.”