Jeyne Westerling sat tall on her horse, graceful, like the noblewoman she had learned to be. Her posture, however strict, screamed misery.
“For the Seven’s sake, Jeyne,” Sybell snapped, shoving a piece of cloth in her daughter’s face. “Use this. And smile, widowhood suits you.”
“Yes, mother,” Jeyne said flatly, but inside, she was seething. The woman who had birthed and raised her had proved to be a spiteful turncloak. She had plotted Robb’s death and ensured that there would be no heir to inherit his crown.
Jeyne had never hated someone more than she did now. This woman was her mother, but she was also her fiercest enemy. Betrayal was a bitter pill to swallow.
The Crag was an less than an hour’s ride away; Jeyne could see the castle rising on the horizon, looking as bleak and crumbling as always. A fresh ache surged through her heart, white-hot and unyielding.
Elenya was sniffling at her side, fresh tears on her face. Wordlessly, Jeyne handed her the same piece of cloth and urged her horse forward to return to Sybell’s side.
“Do you even care?”
“About what?” Sybell answered absently, her eyes on the looming castle. It angered Jeyne that she could be so distracted.
“Robb. Raynald. Me,” she hissed, demanding her mother’s attention. Her grief and fury had lit a fire inside her, scorching her insides to a crisp.
Lady Westerling turned her head slowly, smiling, to keep face. No one in the party surrounding them could have guessed her true feelings now, save for Jeyne. “Excuse me?”
Jeyne lowered her voice, but her tone remained icy. “You plotted to murder my husband and my brother died trying to save him. Are you happy now? Did you get what you wanted?”
Sybell smiled guilelessly. “Are you insinuating that I wanted my son to die?”
Jeyne shrugged. “You had no qualms about murdering my husband or my unborn son. Rollam, Elenya, and me are just pawns in your stupid game. Why couldn’t you be happy with what you had?”
The slap that followed her words drew blood; Jeyne could taste it on her tongue. “You’re lucky that your father rode ahead to inform the servants of our return. If he heard that tone from you, he’d place you in the care of the silent sisters.”
“He wouldn’t,” the former queen said defiantly. “He loves me, unlike you. Father cares about my happiness; all you care about is yourself.”
With that, she rode back to her Elenya’s side and didn’t speak again. She could still taste the coppery blood in her mouth, and nursed it with a surge of pride.
It wasn’t until she was alone in her room did Jeyne allow herself to cry. I’ve wept so much that the Trident will never dry up, she thought. No more. No more tears.
The last time she had been in this room, she had been with Robb. It had been their first time together; her desire to comfort him had changed into something else. There were no regrets, but Jeyne couldn’t help but wonder what could have been. If she hadn’t come between him and his kingdom, there would have been no need for Lord Edmure to marry a Frey girl, and if he hadn’t married the Frey girl, Robb might still be alive.
Memories engulfed her, taunting and teasing. A flash of sky-blue eyes and copper hair, smooth white skin and a wound she had sewn herself. She closed her eyes, her chest tight.
Her dreams were red and bloody, like they had been for weeks. She woke up with a scream on her lips, and at last, her decision was made.
Only one word could describe it neatly: revenge.
All of her teachings as a child taught her to take things like a lady. Be gentle, be kind. Be forgiving. Keep your head down. Listen to your elders. Obey. Marry, have children. Listen to your husband. Don’t say four words when two are needed. Leave justice to the gods.
Jeyne was tired of having her destiny decided by others, let alone to the Seven. If there were just gods in the world, Robb wouldn’t be dead and butchered; posthumously crowned with his wolf’s head, a cruel joke for all the kingdoms to see.
It was easy to find the concealed knife that Raynald had given her years ago, brown and rusted with age. Easy to slip into her mother’s room through the window and cover her mouth. Easy to drag the old dagger across her white throat.
Enough, she thought. I’ve had enough.
Sybell Spicer Westerling stared at her daughter as she died, drowning in her own blood. Jeyne stared back, savagely happy that the woman who had betrayed her was no longer a threat.
Kinslaying was a grave offense to the Seven, but Jeyne considered herself accursed already. Cursed to live with a greedy mother, a grieving father, and an ache for a husband who was dead and gone.
The easiest part was seducing the Lannister guard stationed outside; he was no more than a boy, perhaps a year older than her. He was eager, but the dagger wanted him more. Calmly, Jeyne stifled his cry into her cloak, twisting the handle through and through. When his shivers had subsided and he was truly dead, she posed him near her mother’s corpse.
When the servants would find them in the morning, they’d find the lady of the house, attacked and murdered by a lusty Lannister sword. They would find her killer dead as well, killed bravely by Lady Westerling, her last act being to preserve her honor.
Jeyne snorted. The motto of her house came to mind: Honor, not Honors. Her conniving mother deserved far less than that, but it would suffice.
Jeyne had never unpacked her trunks; sadly, she couldn’t take very much. The first order of business was to find her oldest dress; it was threadbare and brown, almost like a maid’s. With a hood over her face, her hair loose and a gown that blended into the wall, she looked more like a servant than the Queen of the North.
Father had taken most of the men to reestablish the boundaries under the Lannister sigil earlier that day. There was no one to stop her from taking a horse, food, coins, and a fresh dagger. There was no one to stop her from leaving with her mother’s blood on her hands, and a cold heart that yearned for more.
Hours later, with the Crag far behind and mountains looming before her eyes, Jeyne searched for shelter. She was a noblewoman, born and raised by the sea. Survival in the forests was going to be difficult, but not impossible. At one time, she had been Queen of the North. Northerners were used to harsh weather; she was determined to do the same.
After her horse was safely tied and fed, Jeyne leaned against a tree, drowsy. The fire inside her was still burning, but it was sealed within a wall of ice around her heart. She would turn this ice and fire into a song of sweet revenge, even if was her last act.
She dreamed of Robb with his bronze crown, Grey Wind sitting at his feet. His blue eyes were stern, and yet, he was pleading with her.
“Stop this, Jeyne. Go home.”
“Soon,” she whispered when she woke, her fingers tracing the rough bark. “Soon, my love.”
Jeyne couldn’t fall asleep after the dream; she assumed that this wakefulness was just a taste of the Seven’s wrath. That didn’t matter to her; she had time to think about where she was going, and what she wanted to do.
“Queen Cersei,” she said aloud, imagining the rusty dagger at the throat of the Lannister lioness. “Walder Frey. Roose Bolton.”
Cersei Lannister, Walder Frey, Roose Bolton.
Jeyne could live without Robb, but she could not live in a world where his killers roamed free. It wasn’t fair.
If this revenge proved to be her death, Jeyne was not afraid. There are worst things than death, she thought bitterly. Husbands, brothers, and children slain for that iron chair.
Winter was coming for them, Jeyne promised herself. She pricked her finger with the new dagger, watching the blood seep down into her palm.
This was a blood oath. She would honor it until her last breath.
It was for Robb, for Raynald, Lady Catelyn, and all the others slain in the game of thrones. She would change her name, change her strategy, but her goal would remain the same: vengeance for the innocent and justice for the wicked.
I am Jeyne Westerling Stark, Queen of the North.
And winter is coming.