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The Interception of Fate

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THE INTERCEPTION OF FATE
PART ONE: THE RIVERLANDS, 1012

 

It was unseasonably warm for Autumn. There was little respite from the heat apart from on the riverbanks, which were generally cooler than in the heart of any town. The River Darry, a thirty-foot wide stream that stretched between the Ruins of Harrenhal and Riverton, gurgled as it crept towards the faster-flowing waters of the Trident, away to the north. Far removed from the popular Red, Blue and Green Forks, the River Darry was quiet and peaceful; idyllic for a lazy day spent by the water. For this reason, the newlywed Mr. and Mrs Baelish had risen whilst the early morning mists still rolled over the hills and, having accepted a picnic from their kindly landlady at the inn, driven an hour away from Harroway towards Darry Village. 

It was not yet mid-morning but the sun already blazed overhead as they parked their Florent-Crane automobile (a wedding gift from her father) at the roadside and then proceeded on foot, picking their way down the trail until they reached the riverbank. The dense forest created a great, leafy canopy overhead that sheltered them from the worst of the sun’s rays. 

Catelyn Tully-Baelish wasted no time in peeling off her shoes and stockings before stepping into the stream, wading deeper as the mud squelched familiarly between her toes. Her husband, Petyr Baelish, remained ashore and busied himself with taking the twilled blanket from the picnic basket and laying it on the grassy bank. He proceeded to remove his jacket, leather driving gloves and bowler hat, placing them in a fastidious pile on the corner of the blanket before walking to the water’s edge.

“You’ll dirty your dress,” he called to his wife in playful warning. 

Catelyn grinned over one shoulder. “As if that ever stopped me.”

Despite having gathered the skirt of her dress in one hand, she could feel that the hem was saturated with river water but found that she did not mind. Catelyn pressed her free hand to the top of her straw hat and tilted her head backwards, allowing the sun to warm her face. The backs of her eyelids shone blood red. Catelyn was content, listening to the ambience of the river and forest which was as soothing and familiar as a lullaby. She had spent her entire girlhood, and much of her adult life too, on the river. Her father, Hoster Tully, was the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands and the sloping lawns of their manor home in Riverton (a town west-northwest of where she currently stood) led straight onto the Red Fork. Catelyn had spent many long summer days at the river either swimming, fishing or sailing with her younger siblings and their childhood friend, Petyr.

Petyr. The boy her brother, Edmure, had nicknamed ‘Littlefinger’ due to his small stature and because he had originally come from The Fingers in the East. The boy whom she had danced the most with at one of her father’s charity balls because the other boys had been disinterested in dancing. The boy she had taught to swim. The boy who had listened as she confided in him about her crush on Brandon Karstark. Petyr, her husband. It felt odd to say, or even think, the word. 

“Remember when we used to sit on the banks at Riverton and practise kissing?” her husband asked, the suggestive lilt in his tone prominent. 

“Remember when Lysa and I made you eat so many mud pies that you were sick?” she retorted without opening her eyes or turning around.

There was a pause before he responded, saying softly, “I would have done anything for you.”

Catelyn couldn’t help the twist in her gut at his words. Finally, with a heavy sigh, she opened her eyes and turned back towards the bank. Petyr still stood at the water’s edge, eying her hungrily. In truth, he had always looked at her this way - or, at least, that was what Lysa had once said, sniffily.

Despite the years that had passed since Edmure had first graced Petyr with the moniker ‘Littlefinger’, he was still a small gentleman (if, at aged seventeen, he could be called a man at all). His face was growing sharp and angular but continued to hold the last, stubborn vestiges of childhood in the roundness of his cheeks. He kept his dark hair well-oiled with a rigid side-parting and a wispy beard was beginning to grow on his chin. Overall, he was not unhandsome and his intellect was outstanding but he lacked the easy-charm and confidence that had drawn her to Brandon Karstark.

She waded back towards where he stood, hand held out to gallantly aid her onto the riverbank. She accepted the kind, if unnecessary, gesture. His hand was warm with slightly calloused fingers from where he counted coins at the bank. 

“You’re beautiful,” Petyr stated, his voice filled with awe. “You are the Queen of Love and Beauty personified.”

Catelyn scoffed and rolled her eyes at his theatrics, just as she would have done when they were children. Whilst Catelyn would not be so modest as to deny that she was pleasant to look at (she was tall and slender, her hair was a vivid auburn cascade and her porcelain skin looked almost translucent despite the occasional dusting of freckles) she thought Petyr should look upon the exotic Martell’s or the blonde-haired, green-eyed Lannister’s before calling her the ‘Queen of Love and Beauty personified’.

“You always were an unashamed flatterer,” she accused lightly.

Petyr grinned and pressed a hand to his heart, dramatically. “You wound me, my lady.”

Catelyn could recall when Petyr would scowl for hours if she did not take his declarations of love seriously so it was with relief that she watched him jest at her response. Catelyn placed her hand in the crook of Petyr’s elbow and allowed him to lead her towards the blanket. Before she could sit, however, Petyr took her by each upper arm and spun her around, pressing his lips firmly against her own. For a moment, she hesitated, transported back to those times when she would dodge his kisses. Now, she forcibly reminded herself that Petyr was her husband and, as her husband, he was guaranteed certain rights which, as his wife, it was her duty to provide. 

Slowly, Catelyn relaxed and allowed Petyr to sweep his tongue along her lower lip before pushing it inside her mouth. He tasted of mint, just as he had when they were children, but now it was tainted with the acrid taste of tobacco from the cigarette he had smoked whilst driving. Petyr’s hands moved from her elbows to her hips, pulling Catelyn closer towards him, but she pressed her palms against his chest, separating them.

“Petyr…” she warned.

He gave a heavy sigh and pulled back, creating a distance between them that was more appropriate for public. “Fine, fine. Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” she lied, glad for an excuse to distract him. 

They sat together on the blanket and Petyr started emptying the picnic basket of its contents: sandwiches, plates, glasses, fruit, cutlery, a bottle of wine, a block of cheese…

“We really must thank Mrs Bulwer upon our return,” Catelyn said, watching as Petyr pulled out the seemingly never-ending number of items.

Petyr made a noncommittal noise as he twisted the corkscrew into the bottle of wine until the cork popped. He poured them each a decent measure of wine before raising it in a toast. “Here’s to us and the journey we’re about to embark on as husband and wife.”

Catelyn gave a strained smile, touching her glass to his and parroting, “To us.”

 


 

The sun had shifted and now warmed Catelyn’s feet. She lay on the blanket, ankles crossed with a long-abandoned book open on her stomach, the spine stretched flat. She could feel that the bottom of her dress had dried stiff with mud. She had been dozing for awhile when the sound of a heron taking flight, the beat of its wings on the water, disturbed the tranquil stillness that had lulled her to sleep. Beside her, she could hear Petyr skinning an apple with his pen knife.

When the subject of a honeymoon had first been broached, Petyr had spoken of grand plans: a week in Lys or Sunspear. Catelyn, however, had dismissed these fanciful ideas and instead insisted — much to her fiancés chagrin — that they have a simple honeymoon in the Riverlands. Lysa had scoffed with derision and Edmure had wondered why Catelyn didn’t crave more adventure.

“You’ve spent your entire life in the Riverlands,” Petyr had argued, his tone indicating that he found her choice both boring and unoriginal. 

It was true; other than the occasional season spent in the capital, Catelyn had only ever lived in the Riverlands. She had never travelled further north than The Twins or further south than the Stormlands. This, however, was precisely why she wished to remain in her home county for the honeymoon. She had calmly explained to Petyr that, as he had accepted a new position (he was due to become a Junior Banker at the Iron Bank of Braavos’ Gulltown branch) which required them to move to the East Coast, she simply wanted to enjoy everything that the Riverlands had to offer before leaving.

Petyr had therefore relented and booked them a suite at the Inn at the Crossroads as Mr. and Mrs Baelish for what would be their first excursion as a married couple. Now, lying on the riverbank, Catelyn found that she did not regret the decision at all.

She stretched and released a sleepy sigh. “You could almost be forgiven,” she began, the timbre of her voice rich from sleep, “for thinking the Maester’s at the Citadel had made a mistake when they declared Summer was over.” Petyr gave a dry chuckle and she cracked an eye open to look at him. “They’ve made mistakes before,” she reminded him in a sing-song voice.

“Yes, but that was over six hundred years ago,” he pointed out. “Six hundred and thirty… one years ago, to be precise.”

In addition to being a skilled mathematician, Petyr had a keen interest in history. He claimed that being well-informed of the past prevented him from making the same mistakes as another man. “Knowledge is power, after all, my sweet Cat,” he would say. 

Catelyn rolled onto her stomach and rested one hand beneath her chin, propping herself up to gaze upon her husband. Petyr lay on his back, his jacket cushioning his head and his legs bent at the knee. He finished slicing off a long curl of apple peel and snapped it in half, offering her one of the two pieces. The skin was crunchy and sweet on her tongue. 

“Harrenhal is close by, isn’t it?” she asked after chewing and swallowing. 

“It’s a couple more hours down the Kings Road and then we’d have to turn off to the right,” Petyr answered.

“We should go there.”

“What, now?”

“No. Tomorrow, perhaps.”

“It’s only ruins…” he began doubtfully, clearly thinking that such places would have no interest to her. “It’s nothing like Riverrun.”

Riverton had been built around Riverrun Castle which, according to history, the Tully’s had twice-owned. It was now a public museum that the Tully family were patronages of. As children, Catelyn, Lysa, Edmure and Petyr — as long as the latter was accompanied by one of them — had had free run of the parts of the castle which were off-limits to the public. They would often make-believe that they lived in the castle, running between rooms and declaring which one they owned. Catelyn suspected that the four of them knew more of the castle’s secrets than even the curator.

“I’m not opposed to its being a ruin,” she replied. “It could be fun. You can tell me all about the Year of the False Spring and bore me with details of Robert what’s-his-names Failed Rebellion.” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “You can even show me where the walls were melted by dragons.”

Petyr laughed. “How do you find it so hard to believe that dragon’s once existed?”

“In the same way that I find it hard to believe that grumpkins and snarks live beyond the wall,” she said.

“Many reliable sources—”

“Yes, yes; ‘many reliable sources dictate that the Targaryen’s rode dragons into battle’, blah, blah, blah.” She rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “And many other reliable sources,” she reminded him (as she always did when they had this particular debate), “have claimed that history has been romanticised with the inclusion of ‘dragons’ which were, more likely than not, cleverly-built catapults fired by the conquering Targaryen’s.”

“I should know never to argue with a Tully,” he sighed.

She smiled in triumph but it faltered when she saw how Petyr was looking at her; that mixture of hunger and fierce desperation. 

“Or, should I say,” he began, his voice catching with desire, “a Tully-Baelish?”

Petyr leant across and caressed his lips against Catelyn’s in a sweet kiss which made her head spin. His hand came up to grip the back of her chignon, holding her in place. During their engagement, Catelyn had been surprised by how reserved Petyr had been with his affections. Since marrying, however, he had become bolder in making his desire known. In the last four days as newlyweds they had spent long hours learning each other’s bodies but it was not something that Catelyn yet felt comfortable with, still new to the act of lovemaking and bearing herself intimately to another person.

Sharing kisses on a riverbank, however, was almost familiar and welcoming in comparison. It reminded Catelyn of when they were children and she and Lysa would take it in turns to kiss Petyr experimentally before exchanging notes. Even the way he pushed his tongue past her teeth was familiar. Everything seemed to draw together to take her back to her girlhood; the trickle of the river, a distant wolf howling, the breeze lifting stray tendrils of her hair, the plop of a fish diving out of the water…

Catelyn suddenly broke away from Petyr, half sitting up despite how he lounged over her. “Wait, did you hear that?” she asked, a frown creasing her brow.

“Hear what?” Petyr murmured, his lips now ghosting down the side of her neck.

“It sounded as though a wolf was howling.”

Petyr started chuckling, his breath creeping across her skin. “Darling, there haven’t been wolves in this country for more than a hundred years.”

“Yes, but I heard…” she trailed off as she felt him push her skirt and petticoat up towards her thighs. She swallowed and said in a cautionary tone, “Petyr.”

“We’re alone,” he reasoned, his voice rasping with need.

“We’re not far from the trail. Anyone could — oh…” All thoughts fled from her mind as he pushed her undergarments aside and stroked the flesh between her legs. She allowed herself to succumb to him. “…Petyr.”

 

Chapter Text

THE INTERCEPTION OF FATE
PART ONE: THE RIVERLANDS, 1012

 

The Inn at the Crossroads lay at the junction where the Kingsroad, running north to south, parted the River Road to the west and the High Road to the east. Built of a pale stone with turrets and chimneys, the three-storey inn was hundreds of years old and stood on the northern bank of the Trident. Petyr had bored his wife silly by listing off every name that the inn had been called during its existence then detailing how the town had only extended to include the inn less than a hundred years ago. Mrs Bulwer, a widower, owned the inn and ran it with her two grown-up daughters. The youngest daughter was exactly like her mother; plump, rosy-cheeked, fair-haired and jovial whilst the elder daughter was tall and thin with dark hair and a haughty temperament.

Catelyn and Petyr had arrived late on Saturday night, exhausted after driving straight from the wedding reception in Riverton, nearly four hours away. The front door to the inn had opened as Petyr took their bags from the car and Mrs Bulwer had greeted them in housecoat, hairnet and slippers, holding a gas lantern aloft. She’s led them on a quick, hushed tour (that both had felt could have waited until the morning but said nothing for fear of appearing rude) before finally showing them to their room which was light, airy and decorated tastefully.

Five days later and they were spending a leisurely Thursday morning within their room. When their breakfast tray had arrived at ten o’clock, Mrs Bulwer had given Petyr a positively roguish grin when he opened the door in naught but his dressing gown. Catelyn had flushed scarlet when she overheard Mrs Bulwer make a crass comment before bustling away with a hearty laugh. They’d breakfasted in bed and she’d barely finished before Petyr had removed the tray and taken her in his arms, his seemingly insatiable desire rekindled.

Catelyn now rose and wrapped a dressing gown around herself before postcoital lethargy could claim her once more. Her husband, on the other hand, continued to lay in bed, lazy and content. She knotted the silk sash around her waist and untucked her hair from the collar. “We should get up and wash or else we’ll never leave this room.”

“A whole day spent in bed; how dreadful!” Petyr teased.

Catelyn rolled her eyes at him. “I seem to remember someone promising to take me to Harrenhal.”

“Fine, fine,” he waved his hand dismissively. “Start getting ready and I’ll follow your excellent example.”

Catelyn disappeared behind the ornate shoji screen where a ewer, basin and washcloth waited on a stool. She began her morning ablutions, taking particular care when washing between her legs and wincing at the tenderness. She breathed evenly through the uncomfortable pain but noted that the feeling was slowly subsiding. The worst had been the morning after her and Petyr’s first night as man and wife. That night, Petyr had been frenzied and a little overeager; he had pushed into her harder than she’d been expecting and then seemed surprised at her cry of pain and discomfort. She’d known it would hurt — Governess Mordane had warned her so, years previously — but could not help but wonder if it would have been quite so bad if Petyr had shown a little more restraint (although she would never tell him this). 

A part of her had to wonder whether Petyr realised that the first time for a woman was uncomfortable and painful. The look of horrified surprise on his face when she’d cried out had suggested that he hadn’t known. Apologies had then followed, tumbling over each other in their earnestness to be spoken, whilst he held her. In that moment, the calm and confident mask had slipped away and she’d seen Petyr for what he still was - a seventeen-year-old who knew little of the world, despite what he may profess. Tenderness had swollen in her chest and she’s kissed his brow softly before taking charge, as she always had done. Catelyn had whispered reassurances to him, building his confidence back up, as they continued — slowly and with more caution than before.

The following morning, she had returned from the shared bathroom down the hall, to find him inspecting the bloodied sheets, his mouth set in a grim line. Catelyn had felt mortification gnaw at her stomach.

“I suppose we will have to replace those,” she’d said, bracingly. “Unless you think I would be able to wash them before housekeeping arrive…?”

Petyr had jolted upwards as though waking from a deep and, if the line between his brow was anything to go by, unpleasant thought. His expression had relaxed and he’d taken each of her hands, squeezing them reassuringly. “Nonsense, darling. A new bride losing her maidenhead is surely not an irregular occurrence to Mrs Bulwer.” He’d pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Do not worry yourself.”

Catelyn laid the washcloth over the side of the basin with a sigh. Her husband had been correct, of course; the bedsheets had been replaced and they hadn’t spoken of them since. She picked up a towel and thoroughly dried herself before pulling open the wardrobe that also stood behind the room divider. She rifled through the contents, picking out an ivory and olive-green striped dress with a cinched waist. She pulled on stockings and chemise but then hesitated, looking at the corset that she would usually ask one of the inn’s servants to help her into — first thing in the morning. 

Whilst Catelyn knew it wasn’t unreasonable for a newly married couple to get caught up in all of the perks of wedding bliss, she also knew that she didn’t want all of the servants speculating as to what has kept herself and Petyr from dressing earlier in the day. It was bad enough that Mrs Bulwer knew, let alone the rest of her staff as well. Catelyn forwent the corset, therefore, and instead chose to wear a basque which she could hook for herself at the front. 

Once dressed, she stepped out from behind the shoji screen and sat at the dressing table. She picked the silver-handled hairbrush up and began to drag it through her autumn tresses. Through the looking-glass, she could see that Petyr still lay abed, the wrinkled sheets gathered at his waist as he smoked a cigarette. The tip blazed before smoke unfurled from the corner of his mouth, curling through the air whilst he watched her intently.

“You look lovely,” he told her.

“Thank you,” she replied.

“Do you realise how happy you have made me?” 

There was a pregnant pause as Catelyn held his grey-green gaze for a moment longer before looking away. She busied herself with looking for a pot of moisturiser so as to avoid him. “Go and get ready,” she commanded brusquely. “As soon as you’re finished we’ll leave for Harrenhal.”

Petyr stubbed his cigarette out in an ashtray on the bedside table, stood and walked towards her, completely unperturbed by his nudity. He stopped behind the stool that she perched on, placed a hand on each of her shoulders and bent to kiss her temple. She gave him a tight smile before he disappeared behind the room divider. A moment later she could hear him washing and slowly allowed herself to relax.

It wasn’t as though she didn’t care for Petyr, she honestly did; but his affection for her was so much more intense. Until recently, she had looked upon Petyr as another younger brother and convinced herself that — once he saw more of the world — he would realise that his feelings for her were merely a child’s infatuation. Yet here they were, married, and it seemed as though Petyr’s persistence had won after all.

Her father and Petyr’s had met whilst fighting abroad in the War of the Ninepenny Kings and, when they returned home victorious, Hoster Tully had offered to foster Petyr as a ward. Catelyn, Lysa and Edmure had been scrubbed, polished and dressed finely before being forced to stand outside their home with their father, uncle and the household staff to greet Petyr and his father. She could still vividly remember the small, sullen boy who had stood behind his father and scowled with resentment. Later, Petyr would vehemently deny this but Catelyn had caught his expression and thought that she understood it: the Baelish’s were lesser Lords who owned the smallest of The Fingers, to the east, whereas her father was the Lord of Riverton, the Riverlands and the Trident. Their inherited wealth was something that Petyr had always thought he deserved. 

After embracing warmly, the two father’s had introduced each of their families to the other. Hoster had welcomed Petyr to their home and introduced the small boy to his brother, Brynden Tully, and three children. Petyr’s sneer had faded when he looked upon the eldest Tully daughter, his gaze lingering on her face covetously before he had solemnly taken her hand and placed a kiss to the back of it.

Catelyn sighed and picked up the front sections of her hair, carefully wrapping them and pinning them in place so that the rest fell in soft waves to the small of her back. She recalled how Lysa had giggled almost cruelly, causing Petyr’s ears to glow red, before thrusting her own hand beneath his nose and wordlessly demanding a kiss too. Their first meeting, Petyr had insisted, was the moment that he knew he was in love with the eldest Tully and nothing — not her insistence that their relationship was purely platonic, nor her declaration of love for Brandon Karstark, or even their short-lived engagement — could dampen Petyr’s determination. 

It had been over a year but thoughts of Brandon still brought a hollow ache of loss to her chest. Brandon had been everything that she had once hoped for in a husband: lovable, handsome, charming, humorous and even, she would have to admit, a little dangerous. He had perfected her kissing skills during their brief engagement, his tongue slipping past hers as Petyr’s had also once done but with assured confidence as opposed to Petyr’s bold exploration.

Catelyn dabbed rosewater behind each ear, in the hollow of her throat and inside each wrist. She recalled when her father had told her that Brandon had asked for her hand in marriage; at fifteen, she had nearly burst with excitement and love whilst Petyr seethed with jealousy. At their engagement party, Brandon had led her out of the ballroom of Riverton Manor and onto the terrace overlooking the gardens where, away from the prying eyes of their guests, he had plundered her mouth with total abandon, making her ache sweetly for him. His hands had roamed her body a little more freely than usual and at her weak protestations, he had merely purred into her ear, “But we’re to be married, Cat. Worry not, your honour will still remain intact.”

With that promise from his lips, Brandon had proceeded to kiss a blazing trail down the side of her neck, his hands cupping her still-emerging breasts through the material of her dress. There had been thirty seconds of delight before Petyr had stumbled upon them, wrenching Brandon away with a roar of indignation. Petyr threw punches which Brandon easily deflected, swatting them away as though the younger boy was no more than an annoying fly. This only enraged Petyr further, however, whilst Brandon seemed amused by the whole affair.

A crowd of onlookers had been drawn to the commotion and Catelyn stood to one side, fearful and embarrassed. By the time Hoster Tully arrived to intercede, however, Petyr was accusing Brandon of lacking honour and preying on fifteen-year-old girls. “You’ll have Cat’s skirts up and reputation ruined long before you ever take her up the wedding aisle,” Petyr had spat. 

The amusement had drained quickly from Brandon’s face and he’d punched Petyr once, twice, three times in the gut until he was doubled over. Brandon had then thrown Petyr to the floor and savagely kicked him in the face and ribs until the younger boy was bloodied and groaning on the floor. The guests circled around the fight had worn expressions that ranged from shock to embarrassment to keen interest. Finally, sobbing, Catelyn had stood between Brandon and the bruised, beaten mess that was Petyr with her hands out.

“Stop,” she’d begged her betrothed. “Stop, please! He’s just a boy! He doesn’t know what he’s saying. Please, he’s just a boy.”

Brandon had breathed slowly and deeply, regaining his composure. He’d smoothed his hair back and glared down at Petyr. “You’re lucky my fiancée has such a gentle heart, Littlefinger.”

Catelyn and Brandon had reentered the ballroom, drawing their guests inside with them. Lysa had streaked past in the opposite direction and Catelyn had ignored the moaned call of her name from the boy who had once been her closest friend. Hoster Tully had been furious and, once Petyr was somewhat recovered, had sent him back to The Fingers in disgrace. Catelyn had not seen him again for nearly two years. 

“You look deep in thought.” 

Catelyn broke from her reverie when Petyr reemerged from behind the shoji room divider, fully dressed with his hair neatly parted and oiled.

“Nothing important, I’m afraid,” she lied. 

“Are you finished?” he asked.

“Nearly.” She smiled at him and offered her cheek for Petyr to kiss. He did so obligingly and left to find his shoes whilst she quickly donned the pearl necklace and matching, drop earrings that she had inherited from her mother, coupling them with the ivory bracelet Petyr had gifted to her as a wedding present. 

Thoughts of Brandon Karstark would be good to no-one, she reminded herself forcefully. He had died shortly before the wedding in a motorcycle accident which had left her brokenhearted. She had spent two weeks crying in her bedroom, refusing to eat and turning away the company of others. Finally, Petyr had forced his way inside the house and then her bedroom and, to everyone’s surprise (but mainly her own) broken through her grief. He had been gentle, supportive and kind — something that she had rarely seen in him before. Slowly, a friendship had built between them once more until, over a year later, she had found herself accepting his marriage proposal.

Her father had not been best pleased at the arrangement but she had gently reminded him that it had been Petyr who’d pulled her back into herself after Brandon’s passing. Hoster had then requested a private audience with Petyr and, though she did not know what had been said, Petyr had returned with Hoster Tully’s acceptance — if not, necessarily, his approval. Nevertheless, Hoster had provided a generous dowry and wedding present (although Catelyn suspected that both were more for her benefit than his new son-in-laws) and walked her down the aisle, exuding fatherly pride. Edmure had accepted this change of events with the carefree nonchalance of childhood whereas Lysa had been in a terrible temper over it all but, as Lysa had been the same when Brandon proposed, Catelyn rather suspected that it was jealousy rather than opposing the match.

Catelyn turned on the stool to face her husband, smiling at him tenderly. “What you said earlier, about me making you happy,” she swallowed down the memories of Brandon and the pit of despair his death had plunged her into, “well, you've made me happy too.”

The elation that cracked across Petyr’s face before he tampered it down caused a knot of guilt to tighten in Catelyn’s stomach. It was time, she decided, to accept and commend the husband that she had as opposed to mourning the husband she had expected.

 


 

Despite its dilapidated state, Harrenhal still gave the impression of once being a great fortress. Seated on the northern bank of the Gods Eye, it had once been one of the richest and certainly the largest castles in Westeros. Now, only two of its original five colossal towers remained standing: the Kingspyre and the Wailing Tower. The towers looked like gigantic pillar candles that had been burnt for too long, the tops lumped, bent and cracked. A plaque at the entrance to the site showed an artists reimagining of how the castle would have looked, as well as the nearby Harrentown which had ceased to exist many years before.

Catelyn and Petyr picked their way carefully over the uneven ground which was dotted with treacherous rabbit holes and passed huge blocks of stone which once would have been the towering walls of a hall or bathhouse. They reached a tumbledown hall; the floor was a bed of weeds and the ceiling opened onto the heavens. Three of the four walls still stood but the two parallel walls crumbled to nothing. Petyr led Catelyn into the centre and then pointed out the hearths that still lined the walls.

“This was the Hall of the Hundred Hearths,” Petyr told her.

“One hundred hearths? It must have been rather warm,” she replied, drolly.

“Truthfully there were only about thirty-four, maybe thirty-five, in total."

“So why did they call it the ‘Hall of the Hundred Hearths’?” she asked.

“Probably because the ‘Hall of the thirty-four-ish Hearths’ didn’t have the same ring to it.”

Catelyn chuckled and slipped her hand into the crook of Petyr’s elbow. “So, tell me about these ‘dragons’ and how they melted the walls,” she said with teasing skepticism. 

Petyr walked them out of the Hall of the Hundred Hearths and slowly through the grounds of Harrenhal Ruins, nodding politely to a passing family. They took in the partially destroyed structures around them as Petyr launched into his retelling of history. “Before Aegon Targaryen the First conquered Westeros, the Seven Kingdoms truly were seven kingdoms, each ruled by their own monarch. There was Melia Martell, Princess of Dorne; Ronnel Arryn, King of Mountain and Vale; the King of the Reach… whose name has slipped my memory; Loren Lannister the First, King of the Rock; the Storm King… something Durrandon; Torrhen Stark, King in the North; and the King of the Isles and Rivers, Harren Hoare - more formidably known as Harren the Black.

‘King Harren spent forty years building Harrenhal Castle as a monument to himself, boasting that it would be the greatest castle throughout the whole of Westeros. Harren the Black impoverished the Riverlands and Iron Islands in his dream to build such a castle and thousands of slaves from other realms died during its construction; they say men froze by winter and sweltered in summer whilst King Harren lashed at their backs, urging them on.”

“It sounds as though he knew how to motivate his workforce,” Catelyn said wryly.

Petyr chuckled. “He certainly did. On the final day of the castle’s completion,” he continued, “King Harren declared that Harrenhal was impregnable — the walls were too tall to climb and too thick to smash. He did not account, however, for Aegon the Conqueror to arrive. You see, King Aegon had made it known that he intended to conquer Westeros and unite the Seven Kingdoms under one rule but many of those in power refused to submit to him. When King Aegon arrived he gave Harren the Black until sunset to surrender but King Harren refused to yield, perhaps trusting too fully in the power of his fortress.

‘Well, Aegon the Conqueror rode Balerion the Black Dread over the castle walls and all perished beneath the dragonflame. The fire was so hot that King Harren’s impregnable walls melted and twisted like wax. House Hoare was destroyed with Harren and his sons all dying in the tallest tower — hence why it has been known ever since as the Kingspyre Tower.”

“It seems awfully foolish for a man to refuse to surrender when his opponent is riding a dragon,” Catelyn remarked.

Petyr smirked at her. “I thought you didn’t believe in dragons, sweet Cat.”

Catelyn let out a huff of breath. “I don’t,” she insisted. She raised a hand to shield her eyes and tilted her head back to look up at the melted walls of the two towers that still remained. “I supposed ordinary fire launched from a catapult would have just as much power as ‘dragonflame’.”

"They must've been pretty big catapults to reach the tops of these towers," he pointed out.

Catelyn shrugged. "They must've been."

Petyr’s chuckle was the only response to her words. They walked down a dusty path, the Gods Eye on their left-hand side and a grove of trees on their right. The leaves of the trees had already started to turn golden with the arrival of autumn and some were scattered across the path. The trees gave way to fields which stretched away into the distance. Petyr released Catelyn’s arm and pulled a guidebook from his pocket, flicking through the well-worn pages feverishly.

“Ah, yes,” he said, nodding emphatically and excitedly, “yes, this is the spot. ‘Located on the north-western bank of the Gods Eye’,” he read aloud, gesturing around them, “‘are the fields that once played host to Lord Whent’s Great Tourney. Arguably, the most famous tourney in Westeros history. Held in 281 A.C., more commonly known as the Year of the False Spring, the tourney lasted for ten days and included a five day joust.’ This is it, Cat,” he said in wonderment, gazing around the empty fields. “This, right here, is where the initial start of Robert Baratheon’s Failed Rebellion started.”

He took Catelyn’s hand and dragged her to a greener patch of grass, forcing her to sit upon the ground whilst he paced before her. He gestured wildly. “Imagine it: the fields all around the castle filled with pavilions; banners of houses that are long gone fluttering in the wind. Royalty, lords, ladies, peddlers selling goods, perhaps a prostitute or two, all milling around to enjoy the show. The grandstand would have stood there,” he drew a rectangle in mid-air directly across from them, “with the Mad King sat in the central seat of highest honour, surrounded by the noblest of lords and ladies.”

Petyr sank down heavily beside Catelyn as though suddenly struck, panting with overexertion from all of the excitement. He laid back, propped himself up on his elbows and crossed his legs at the ankle. It was rare, Catelyn mused, to see Petyr so caught up in something; usually, he was very reserved and in-control of himself. She laid back, mimicking his pose, and gazed around. She tried to imagine the empty fields and ruined castle holding a major social event over six hundred years ago. 

“Did you know that the Mad King wasn’t even supposed to be in attendance?” Petyr asked.

She rolled her eyes to him. “You know fully well that I would not know that.”

Petyr chuckled. “Point taken. They say Aerys II’s Master of Whispers informed him that his son, Prince Rhaegar, was planning to gain favour with many of the high lords during the tournament and then convince them to support him in removing his father from the throne.”

“Why would the Prince do that to his own father?” Catelyn asked, interest piqued.

“He knew that his father’s madness and cruelty was growing. You see, six years prior to the tourney, Aerys II had been held prisoner during the Defiance of Duskendale and, following this, he descended deeper into madness. He was paranoid and convinced that there was evidence of treachery everywhere,” Petyr explained. “That made for quite a poor ruler. Isn’t that why your family moved to Essos?”

“Yes, I believe so,” she replied.

In 260 A.C., the Tully’s had crossed the Narrow Sea to live in Pentos and had remained there for the next three generations until Westeros was stable again, ruled by Aegon Targaryen the Sixth — Rhaegar’s son. They had returned to find House Frey in Riverrun, declaring themselves the true Lord’s Paramount of the Trident. Unfortunately for the Frey’s, there had been no official declaration — they had simply taken the title and no one had opposed it — so the return of the Tully’s led to a dispute between the two families. Finally, Axel Tully had travelled to King’s Landing to plead his case, taking his only daughter, Alannys, who was said to be beautiful. King Aegon’s youngest son had fallen in love with Alannys — as Catelyn presumed had been the plan all along — and proposed manage. Sad and beautiful Alannys, however, had declined the prince and told him that he deserved a wife whose family was held in high regard. Therefore, the Tully’s were restored to their ancestral home and position, their daughter became a princess and the Frey’s were sent back to the Twins. Even now, so many years later, Old Man Frey liked to grouse at the unfairness of it all during social functions. 

“So Prince Rhaegar’s plan to hold an informal Great Council was scuppered by the arrival of his father,” Petyr continued, “and the tournament went ahead beneath the shrewd and hateful eye of the Mad King. Ser Jaime of House Lannister became a member of the Kingsguard and Lord Robert Baratheon proved his worth during the seven-sided melee, unhorsing many of his opponents. The real drama, however, came with the joust which Prince Rhaegar Targaryen won.

‘After unseating Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard, Rhaegar was required to crown the Queen of Love and Beauty. The prince rode straight past his own wife, Princess Elia of House Martell, and dropped the laurel of blue winter roses into the lap of Lyanna Stark. Many historians state that as the moment when all the smiles died. Her betrothed, Robert Baratheon, was reportedly livid whilst Lyanna’s brothers attempted to alleviate the tension by laughing it off as a mere jest.”

“It sounds as though it was quite the scandal,” Catelyn remarked.

“It certainly was, sweet Cat, but the worst was yet to come; some time after the tourney, Rhaegar abducted Lyanna from Winterfell. Her eldest brother, Brandon Stark—” here, Catelyn felt a twinge of discomfort at hearing the name that was so similar to her own Brandon Karstark “—rode straight to King’s Landing with some friends to challenge the Prince. The Mad King had Brandon and his companions arrested for threatening the Crown Prince then demanded that each man’s father present themselves to him to answer for the crimes committed by their sons. 

‘I’ll skip the more horrific details of the story and instead tell you that Rickard Stark and his eldest son were brutally executed. So then Lord Jon Arryn, who was fostering Lyanna’s betrothed and her other brother, Eddard Stark (who was now the Lord of Winterfell), rode to war with his two wards and Robert Baratheon’s Failed Rebellion began.”

“If Jon Arryn declared war on the Targaryen’s then why is it called Robert Baratheon’s Failed Rebellion?” Catelyn asked.

“Well, Baratheon fought against the crown in the name of love,” Petyr explained. “Over the years, people began to hero-worship his memory so that he became the figure-head of the rebellion.”

“I see what you mean. It seems almost a shame that he didn’t win, seeing as he was fighting for his betrothed,” she said.

“For a while they were actually winning,” Petyr said. “The first battle was in Gulltown—”

“Gulltown?” Catelyn interrupted. “But that’s in the Vale — Arryn would have been their lord.”

“Yes but not all of Jon Arryn’s bannermen answered the call, you see. Don’t forget that these men were traitors to the crown, no matter how noble their actions may have been. Gulltown had been barricaded by loyalists with House Grafton leading them. The Taking of Gulltown was, by all accounts, a relatively easy defeat once Robert Baratheon scaled the walls and slew their leader in combat. Perhaps after winning that battle they thought that winning the war would be all too easy.

‘Here, I think, is where they made their first mistake. You see, once they’d taken Gulltown it would have been all too easy for Lord Eddard Stark to travel to Winterfell via White Harbour. Or, if he’d wanted to get to Winterfell sooner, then he could have passed through the Mountains of the Moon to The Fingers and travelled to Winterfell from there. Instead, he stayed with Jon Arryn and Robert Baratheon; I suppose he thought there lay more glory in fighting alongside the man who fostered him. Glory often kills men.

‘If Eddard Stark had returned to Winterfell — instead of leaving his youngest brother in charge — then perhaps more northern lords would have responded to the call of their liege lord. Instead, they delayed and many houses remained loyal to the crown — or, at least, neutral until the outcome of the war became more pronounced.”

“If one House has declared themselves loyal to another House then aren’t they honour-bound to follow them into combat?” Catelyn asked.

“Usually,” Petyr agreed, “but what happens when the house you are loyal to turns against the Crown? What happens when it isn’t your liege lord asking you to fight but his younger, inexperienced brother?”

Catelyn nodded. “I see your point. So, what did Eddard Stark do instead?”

“He rode with Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn and their army further into battle. Baratheon led Stark and Arryn to his seat at Storm’s End where he called upon his banners but the divide in the Stormlands was even more pronounced than in the Vale. Whilst at Storm’s End, Baratheon received a message from Lord Fell who urged the Lord of the Stormlands to march on Summerhall where loyalist forces, including House Grandison, were amassing in secret. 

‘But House Fell betrayed them. When they arrived, the rebels found themselves in a trap,” Petyr said. “The combined forces of House Grandison and House Fell descended upon the rebel army and were soon joined by House Cafferen in a second wave of attack. Jon Arryn and his heir, Denys, were both slain in battle thus ending the line of House Arryn. Eddard Stark was hit with a shower of arrow but continued to fight until one of Lord Cafferen’s sons killed him. Robert Baratheon fought Lord Fell and managed to deal him a life-threatening blow with his war hammer but it left him open to an attack which sliced him through the gut. Lord Fell then dashed his head from his shoulders.

‘And thus ended Robert’s Rebellion,” Petyr finished succinctly. “I believe the Mad King had the heads of Baratheon, Stark and Arryn mounted on the battlements of the Red Keep until the crows and flies devoured them — a demonstration as to what would happen to those who tried to overthrow the crown. The Hand of the King, Connington, travelled to Storms End and Winterfell to accept their surrender. The last Stark boy was allowed to remain Lord of Winterfell but he was stripped of his position as Warden of the North — a title which, as you know, was given to House Bolton (one of the houses who remained loyal or neutral, we don’t know).”

“Bolton’s — are they not the ones who used to flay the skins of their enemies and wear them into battle?” Catelyn asked with a little shudder.

Petyr nodded. “They say that the current Bolton family still has a room in the Dreadfort of human skins. Roose Bolton, the lord who was made Warden of the North, was the one who reintroduced First Night until it was abolished for good some two hundred years ago.”

Catelyn swallowed hard and tried not to think of rooms full of human skin or raped brides. Instead, she said, “House Stark still faded into non-existence though, didn’t it? Despite the last son being allowed to live.”

“I believe that somewhere along the way Lord and Lady Stark only produced girls and one of them married a Karstark — that’s the closest you’ll get to a Stark these days, anyway.” Petyr stood and dusted off his trousers. “I’m getting awfully stiff sitting here. Shall we move on?”

Catelyn stood up and wordlessly took Petyr’s arm, thinking about the whirlwind history Petyr had just taken her through. They exited the tourney ground and made their way back towards the two towers when another thought suddenly struck her. “Wait, what of Lyanna Stark? You never mentioned what happened to her.”

Petyr gave a shrug. “No one knows,” he said. “It’s said that after the war Rhaegar returned to his wife and children and never spoke of Lyanna Stark again. It’s been theorised that after Rhaegar abducted and… used her, shall we way, that she died of her injuries and was quietly buried in an unmarked grave.”

“That’s awful,” Catelyn murmured. She paused and looked back towards the tourney ground where the start of this sad tale had begun. 

After a moment they continued through the grounds until they reached the Wailing Tower, which Petyr insisted they must enter. Her husband led her round to the stone archway entrance and disappeared into its gloomy depths. Catelyn hesitated before following, shivering as she entered the draughty tower. She paused within the doorway, waiting for her eyes to adjust then peered through the shadows owlishly.

The entryway was made up of cracked stones and wooden beams, some of which had broken or rotted away, and ivy crawled up the wall. The walls of the tower were so thick and the archway so long that the blaze of the sun outside barely penetrated the gloom. Across from Catelyn stood another arched doorway but she could not see further into the darkness. 

“Petyr?” she called quietly, stepping further into the tower. Her voice echoed through the rafters, disturbing a pigeon that took flight, its wings beating eerily through the still air. Two fingers jabbed into each of her sides, between the ribs, and Catelyn jumped around with a strangled cry of fright. Petyr’s laughing face loomed out of the darkness and she swatted at his arm, scolding, “Oh, don’t do that!”

Petyr laughed once more before turning contrite — an expression he had perfected as a child whenever he had been caught in one misdemeanour or another. “My apologies, Cat, but I simply couldn’t resist.” He looked around the tower room, his face filled with awe. “Incredible, isn’t it?”

“Yes, if you like dark, draughty towers,” she said dryly.

“It’s a good thing that I am always prepared then,” he said and pulled from the inner-pocket of his jacket a flashlight. He tightened the brass cap on the end until light spilled from the incandescent bulb. Petyr smiled triumphantly at Catelyn until the light flickered and died. “Ah, that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Gripping the flashlight tightly, he vigorously shook it until light reemerged once more and burned steadily. Petyr offered his arm to Catelyn and led them through the archway, guided by the beam of light. They explored the other storerooms — each one more rundown and crumbling than the last. 

“Did you hear that?” Catelyn asked in a hushed tone, looking over her shoulder.

“Hm?” Petyr, who had been inspecting the arrowslit looked up at her question. “Ohh, yes, that’ll be the wind. It whistles through the cracks in the walls and sounds like wailing, hence why this tower is the Wailing Tower. Some say that it’s the cries of Harren the Black but that’s just superstition, seeing as he perished in the Kingspyre Tower.”

Catelyn felt a shiver crawl up her spine and thought that the eery surroundings were starting to affect her. In her peripheral vision she noticed something flutter to the floor. Catelyn pulled herself away from Petyr, who was back to examining the arrowslit, and crossed the room. She stooped and picked up a square of cloth that looked like a simple handkerchief. Turning it over, however, she found that the handkerchief had been embroidered with small animals; a blue fish, a grey wolf, a red fish, a grey wolf… over and over until they created a circle. There was something familiar about the precision of the stitches but Catelyn pushed that aside as she heard footsteps in one of the far storerooms.

“Petyr, I’ll be right back,” she told her husband, who was still absorbed in looking at the architecture of the room.

Convinced that whoever now moved around the rooms had dropped the handkerchief, Catelyn followed. She stumbled through the dark, clasping the square of embroidered cloth in her hand, and followed the sounds of footsteps which seemed to be moving away. Finally, Catelyn reached the entryway to the tower and stepped outside. She shielded her eyes against the sun which blinded her and waited until the dull pain eased before looking around. The only person close by seemed to be a child who was disappearing around the side of the tower.

“Excuse me,” she called politely, hurrying after the child. When she rounded the tower she found that the child was now retreating past the grove of trees that Catelyn and Petyr had passed earlier that day. No matter how quickly she moved, the child always seemed to be just out of sight. Catelyn threw all propriety to the wind and cried, “Hey, wait!”

Reaching the path that she and Petyr had walked earlier, she expected to see the child already reaching the fields and disappearing across them. She was surprised, therefore, to see the child stood by the waters edge — seemingly gazing across the Gods Eye at the Isle of Faces. Catelyn felt another chill run down her spine as she cautiously approached the child who stood with inhuman stillness. She realised now that she had been expecting this child to be from the family that she and Petyr had passed earlier that day but now knew that not to be true. This child had nut-brown skin that seemed patchy and wore an odd arrangement of clothes; a shirt of leaves and trousers that looked wooden. Catelyn followed the child’s gaze towards the Isle of Faces and saw the weirwood trees with their blood-red leaves sway in a breeze which then snapped across the Gods Eye. A handful of leaves tore from their branches and danced through the air before settling in the water. 

Catelyn hesitated. She was not a superstitious person; she didn’t believe in fairytales or hokum but something deep and unsettling pulled her ever closer to the child stood at the water’s edge. She held out the embroidered handkerchief. “I believe you dropped this,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.

The child did not respond. There was a moment suspended in time before she pitched forwards, headfirst into the Gods Eye.

“No!” Catelyn couldn’t help the cry that burst from her, her hand reaching up to claw through the air uselessly. The handkerchief fluttered to the ground, forgotten, as Catelyn ran to the water’s edge but she could not see the child through its murky depths. Without pausing to think, Catelyn plunged into the water after the child.

The Gods Eye was deeper and far colder than Catelyn would have suspected. Beneath the surface, the sun barely cut through the gloom so that Catelyn was squinting into the depths. She cast herself deeper into the water and paused, treading water as she turned to desperately search for the child. 

Catelyn could feel the too-familiar panic starting to claw up her throat. Shortly after their mother died, when Catelyn was nine and Lysa seven, the latter had gone through a rebellious and resentful phase. One day at the river, Catelyn had cautioned her younger sister not to swim out of her depth to which Lysa had shrieked that Catelyn was not her mother. She had proceeded to swim further into the river and been caught in an undercurrent which had dragged her beneath the surface. Catelyn had leapt in to save her and nearly drowned herself as she brought Lysa back to shore, lying her lifeless body on the bank and beating her on the back until river water spewed out of her mouth. The young girl had barely taken a breath before she’d promptly burst into terrified tears and Catelyn had held her, also crying.

Now, she turned in the water once more, desperately searching for the child but to no avail. When the need for air became too much, Catelyn reluctantly started pushing back towards the surface but something seemed to be pulling her down; a force that increased in strength even as she fought against it. Was this what had dragged the child so quickly beneath the surface? Catelyn kicked her legs, hard, but continued to slowly sink further into the depths of the Gods Eye. Her lungs burned with the need for oxygen and Catelyn knew that soon it would not only be the child that would die in these treacherous waters.

Catelyn looked back up towards the surface and faltered; above her, on the bank of the Gods Eye, was the unmistakable outline of the child that Catelyn had tried to save. Her features were distorted by the water separating them but the child seemed to be staring straight through the depths to Catelyn, watching and unmoving, even as she drowned.

“Help me!” Catelyn silently begged. "Please!"

The child tilted her head to one side  and then turned away, disappearing from the water's edge and Catelyn knew that no help would come from above. She thought of Petyr; had he realised that something was wrong yet or was he still in the Wailing Tower, unaware that his wife was drowning? She thought of her family in Riverton and the loved ones they had already lost; three sons dead within a few hours of being born, their mother who had died in childbirth and their uncle who was lost at sea during a voyage. 

Ever so slowly, Catelyn allowed her body to relax as she succumbed to the inevitable — soon, she would inhale a lungful of water and that would be the end. She continued to sink until her feet rested against something solid and immovable. Looking down, she saw that she now floated inches above a giant rock. With a final stubbornness of will, Catelyn planted her feet on the rock and pushed off of it, launching herself towards the surface. She fought desperately, scrabbling through the water until she broke through the surface. Immediately, she gasped for air and sucked in greedy lungfuls.

After regaining her breath, she reached out and grabbed onto the bank, her fingers digging into the soft mud, but lacked the necessary energy to pull herself out of the water. Half-sobbing, Catelyn could do no more than cling to the grassy verge. She was unaware of the commotion her resurface had caused until two firm hands gripped each of her upper arms and started to drag her out of the water.

“Here, allow me, my lady.”

Catelyn was lifted onto the grassy bank and immediately a blanket of sorts was wrapped around her trembling shoulders. She looked up into the face of her rescuer to thank them and felt her chest constrict painfully, for looking back at her was none other than her dead fiancé, Brandon Karstark.

“You...” she croaked hoarsely before falling into his arms in a dead faint.