”I woke up before the sun, chased your ghost across the yard
Through the fog and tumbling dark 'til you were gone
I can hardly breathe
I've forgotten how to sleep
And your face still haunts my dreams when I'm alone.” - Tightrope, Ron Pope
Her mother put the Young Wolf in her chamber.
“We have to secure our safety,” Sybell Spicer snapped as she yanked too hard on Jeyne's hair, shoving it up into a net, “so you will go into that room and tend to the king. Do you understand, Jeyne?”
Jeyne was rarely called on to do anything, so she nodded, taking the tray of water and hot onion broth up to young king she had yet to glimpse. The largest man Jeyne had ever seen stood outside the door, and the tray began to rattle in her hands as she asked for entry. After a moment, the man - Greatjon, she thought his name was – moved out of the way, and Jeyne froze as the direwolf on her bed rose protectively.
“Grey Wind,” the weakened man in her bed chastised, and the wolf laid back down, resting its large head upon the king's leg.
Jeyne moved cautiously to the bedside, setting down the tray under Greatjon's watchful eye. “W-W-Would you like some water or broth, My Grace?”
“Please,” was all the king could manage, and Jeyne quickly gathered broth on the spoon, gently bringing it to his cracked lips. As the King in the North opened his mouth, Jeyne looked upon him for the first time.
He was young. She knew he was called the Young Wolf, but Jeyne had not expected him to be her age; Jeyne suspected that, if she shaved him of his reddish beard, she would find a boy instead of a man. His auburn curls were plastered to his head, sweaty from his fever, and his blue eyes were foggy from the milk of the poppy, but Jeyne couldn't help but admit he was very handsome, more handsome than the men her father sought to marry her to; the last one had a wart upon his chin and his full grin was nowhere near as nice as the Young Wolf's wan smile.
“Thank you,” the boy-king rasped after finishing his broth and drinking half of the water she brought.
“You are welcome, Your Grace.”
“Robb,” he corrected drowsily before slipping back into dreams.
When she recounted the events in her chamber to her mother, every time Jeyne said “the king,” she thought “Robb.”
Her mother laced her into a dress which was too small before sending her back to the Young Wolf the following day. Jeyne could barely move, let alone breathe, at the tightness of the bodice, her breasts pushed unnaturally high, but she did not dare complain. When Greatjon saw her, he shook his head before opening the door, and Jeyne felt her face turn bright red with shame at her mother's utterly transparent attempt to woo the fevered king.
The maester sat beside his bed, tending his wounds, and, when he saw Jeyne, he declared, “If his fever does not break soon, we may lose the king.”
Jeyne didn't know why that scared her; she did not know Robb Stark, her family swore no allegiance to Winterfell, and his men were currently holding them all hostage. It might be the best thing for her family for the Young Wolf to perish in his sickbed – in her bed – rather than live to fight another day.
“I'll stay with him,” Jeyne volunteered, surprising herself with her words, setting the tray on the bedside table. She ignored the maester's speculative look as she wet a rag with cool water from the basin, pressing it against his burning forehead.
Jeyne was not sure if Robb Stark knew she was there, but that was not why she stayed. When her mother would ask, Jeyne would tell her she stayed to win favor in hopes the king survived; she would wrap up her kindness in loyalty to House Westerling.
Only Jeyne knew she stayed because, when she clasped his calloused hand to lend support, the Young Wolf squeezed it, and it was the first time Jeyne ever felt truly needed.
“Is it true he is more wolf than man?” Elenya whispered across the mattress as she and Jeyne faced each other in her bed.
Jeyne chuckled softly. “No, he is just a man. He is not scary at all, not now.”
“Do you think the Northmen are going to keep the castle?”
“I don't know. Mayhaps.”
Elenya scooted closer, suddenly seeming younger than she was; Jeyne could smell the sweet scent of her hair as she snuggled against her. Her breath was warm against Jeyne's face as Elenya confessed, “They scare me. What if they hurt us?”
“They won't,” Jeyne stated with authority, believing it wholly. “Robb will not let them.”
“Robb?” Elenya echoed, and there was something in her voice, her little sister's fears easily dismissed with the promise of being able to tease.
They giggled as Jeyne tickled her ribs, Elenya making kissing noises, and it was almost as if war never came to the Crag, as if they were just the Westerling girls again.
“The king is asking for you.”
Jeyne's heart skipped a beat at the Northman's words, and she saw her mother hesitate for only a moment before she replied, “Well, you must let her prepare. She cannot meet the king looking so - “
“The king don't care what she looks like,” the man gruffly interrupted, “and he wants to see her now.”
Sybell opened her mouth to protest further, but Jeyne rose, forcing a pleasant smile onto her face as she assured her mother, “It is fine. I am certain his grace has more pressing matters than my appearance.” Seeing the uncertainty and the tiniest hint of fear, Jeyne repeated, “It is fine.”
She was not sure if it was fine, but it bothered her, seeing her mother out of sorts.
The Young Wolf was seated upright against the headboard, the color having returned to his face; his eyes were clearer now that he did not require the milk of the poppy, and, as she sank into a deep curtsy, Jeyne could make out the silken bandages on his shoulder, protecting the wound which nearly killed him.
“Rise,” he ordered, his voice still hoarse from disuse. Jeyne obeyed, resisting the urge to smooth out the skirts of her gown, to fidget with her hair, especially when the king said nothing, simply stared for a moment as he took her in. Finally he asked, “You are Lady Jeyne Westerling?”
“Yes, your grace.”
“My men tell me you cared for me during my fever. They say you seldom left my side.”
Jeyne felt a blush rise high on her cheeks. “I wished to help.”
“You must be a kind woman to nurse the man who took your castle.” He smiled then, a softer expression than Jeyne thought a man capable of, and she found herself offering her own in reply. “I thank you, Lady Jeyne. The North owes you a great deal of gratitude.”
“You do not have to thank me, your grace - “
“Robb,” he cut in, and Jeyne felt her breath catch at how blue his eyes shone in that moment. “I must insist you call me Robb, my lady.”
“I shall call you Robb if you call me Jeyne,” she countered, startling herself with her brashness, with the flirtatious hint in her voice.
For the rest of her life, Jeyne would remember how his answering smile made her buoyant with happiness.
“He considers you a friend.”
Jeyne looked at her mother's reflection in the looking glass as Sybell came to stand behind her, taking the brush from Jeyne's hands and taking over. There was a time when Jeyne loved for her mother to tend to her long, chestnut locks, enjoying the peace which came from it; but since the Crag was taken, Sybell pulsed with unease, and her unease made Jeyne's anxiety increase.
“I suppose,” Jeyne replied neutrally.
“It is not supposition. He asks for your company every day.” Her hands began to work with more speed, and Jeyne inhaled sharply as the brush pulled slightly at a tangle. “And why should he not? You are beautiful and sweet, the type of girl he should be so lucky to know.”
“He is the king, and I am only - ”
“He is a false king,” Sybell corrected, “and you are certainly more accomplished than whatever Frey girl he will eventually wed.” Resting her hands on Jeyne's shoulders, their eyes met in the looking glass. “You are to be his friend, Jeyne, and use that friendship to ensure our family's status, but you must not forget the Young Wolf is a danger to us all.”
“He is a good man.”
“Good men can get you killed as easily as the bad ones.”
Jeyne knew her mother was scared, and she wished she could convince her there was no reason to be, that Robb Stark was not going to allow anything to happen to House Westerling, that he was the kindest and gentlest man Jeyne had ever known.
But while he was simply Robb to Jeyne, he was still the Young Wolf to the Crag, and nothing Jeyne could say would change that.
She was playing cards with Robb when the news of Theon Greyjoy's siege of Winterfell reached the Crag. Jeyne sat there, hovering between wishing to remain to offer Robb support and needing to flee, not wanting to think about the two little princes Robb lovingly described being beheaded by their foster brother; this was the reality of war. She suddenly felt incredibly ashamed for worrying about whether or not House Westerling would be able to keep their holdings while Robb's brothers were murdered in their own home.
She thought Elenya and Rollam meeting the same end, and vomit rose in her throat.
“Leave me,” Robb rasped to his men, and Jeyne rose as well, tears starting to shimmer in her eyes for the children she did not know – would never know – and what this war was bringing to Westeros.
“Jeyne,” he choked out, and she froze, startled by the sight of tears on Robb's face. She had never seen a man cry before. “Jeyne, will you stay?”
She knew it was not proper to climb onto the bed to sit beside him, but Jeyne had never experienced grief like this before; she hoped to never experience this sort of grief. Robb clung to her as he sobbed, his entire body shaking from sorrow, and Jeyne found herself crying along with him, whispering nonsense words in pointless attempts to soothe, rocking him as if he was small and not the King in the North. His grip upon her was tight, and Jeyne tried to hold him back just as tightly, wanting to offer Robb something solid to hold onto.
“I'm here,” she murmured, carding her fingers through his auburn curls. “I'm here, I'm here, it will be alright.”
It was a lie; Jeyne knew it may never be alright again, but Robb Stark needed a kind lie in that moment.
The heat of his mouth against hers startled Jeyne to the core. She had exchanged brief kisses with a few boys in her youth, but no one had ever kissed her like this, like she was water after wandering a lifetime in the Dornish deserts. Robb's mouth tasted vaguely of the wine they shared earlier in the day and the sting of salt from his tears, and, for a moment, Jeyne let herself be kissed without responding, trying to puzzle out everything which was happening.
“Jeyne,” Robb whispered, half-plea and half-awe, and Jeyne wondered if anyone else would ever say her name like that again, if, when Robb Stark left the Crag, he would say his Frey wife's name like that.
She and Elenya used to whisper beneath their blankets about what it must be like to lose their maidenheads, trying to parse out what exactly men and women did in their marriage beds, but Jeyne found their imaginings were so very far from the truth. They had pictured soft kisses and softer touches, only a vague understanding of the mechanics of it all.
They had not imagined hungry kisses with an edge of desperation, touches which made the body jerk, skin slick with sweat, sharp pain followed by a pleasure which burned; what happened between Jeyne and Robb in her bed was the furthest thing from what she theorized about with her sister, but it was better.
Afterward, while Robb slumbered beside her, Jeyne rested her cheek against his chest and hoped he would remember her fondly.
“I love you,” she whispered, testing the words out, never having said them to anyone who was not her blood, afraid of saying them and afraid of not saying them.
Everything began to happen so quickly.
When Robb awoke, there was a determination in his face Jeyne never saw before, but, beneath that, she saw shame and the lingering traces of desire. Jeyne held the blankets up to preserve her modesty, trying to reach for her shift so she could leave him, uncertain as to what a lady did after sharing her bed with a man who was not her husband, when Robb said, “I am truly sorry, Jeyne.”
Her stomach began to churn with emotion. “You do not need to apologize to me, your grace. I was happy to - “
“Don't do that,” he cut in, catching her chin in his hand and forcing her to look him in the eye. “What happened between us, it did not happen because I am the king and you were simply here. You understand that?”
“I am sorry I shamed you by taking your maidenhead when we are not wed,” Robb clarified. “House Westerling has been kind to me, and I should not have dishonored them. I wish to make amends for it.”
Tears threatened to overwhelm Jeyne as she choked out, “I can fetch my father to discuss payment - “
Robb's eyes widened in shock at her words, shaking his head vigorously. “No, I wish to marry you, Jeyne. Today.”
For a moment, Jeyne was certain she misheard. After a moment, all she could manage was, “Marry me?”
A hint of a smile played at Robb's lips. “If you'll have me, that is. Will you have me, Jeyne?”
“Always, my lord.”
There was no time for grand arrangements to be made. She wore her nicest gown and the cloak her father placed upon her mother's shoulders years earlier; Robb looked every bit the king as they said their vows in the sept, his men and her family looking equally sour. Only she and Robb smiled, and Jeyne was certain she would never stop smiling.
“Be happy for me, Mother,” Jeyne pleaded at the small feast which had been assembled to celebrate her marriage. Across the room Robb danced with Elenya, her sister laughing at something he said, and Jeyne wanted desperately for her mother to recognize the kindness in Robb.
“This is not the way things are done.”
“But this is what you wanted, is it not? The Crag will remain ours, and I am a queen now! What better possible match could have been made for me?”
“And if the Iron Throne crushes him?” Sybell countered. “What will become of us then?”
Goosebumps broke out upon Jeyne's arms at the question. “That will not happen. Robb has never lost a battle. He will win, and we will be King and Queen in the North.”
“I hope to the gods that is true, Jeyne.”
“It is,” she stated, trying to make her words as hard as steel. “Robb will be the greatest king the North has ever seen.”
To believe anything else would drive Jeyne mad.
Catelyn Stark intimidated Jeyne. It was nothing she did or said; though cool at times, Lady Stark was always polite to Jeyne and her family. But Jeyne knew her marriage to Robb broke the contract he made with Walder Frey, and, though no one would tell her otherwise, Jeyne suspected it was a far more important matter than she was being lead to believe.
She could see it sometimes in Lady Stark's eyes, in the eyes of Robb's men. It was as if they were asking, Do you know what you have cost the king? Do you know the allies you have cost him? Jeyne wavered between wishing to defend herself and wishing to chastise them; she had not tricked Robb Stark into marrying her nor had she even asked him to do so. Robb married her because he loved her, and she loved him in return; Jeyne refused to feel guilty about it.
When I give Robb a son, they will love me, Jeyne thought one evening as she waited in her chambers, hoping Robb would come to her. They will see what a good queen I will be.
Robb was quiet when he came to her rooms, and Jeyne saw the shadows which were beginning to creep into his eyes. War was aging him before her eyes, and, with every passing day, Jeyne felt further and further away from her own youth. As she watched Robb wearily remove his sword and clothing, stripping down to his skin before slipping beneath the furs. When he reached for her, Jeyne expected him to reach for the ties on her shift, to try to lose himself between her thighs, but Robb only held her tightly against his body, his face clouded with thought.
“Is something wrong, my love?” Jeyne murmured.
He did not answer for a long beat before stories began to pour from his lips; for hours he told her of Winterfell, of hawking with his father, of learning swordplay with his bastard brother who took the black, of his sister Sansa and the fears he had for her being held by Joffrey, of his sister Arya who was missing and presumed dead, of Bran who used to climb everything before losing his legs, of Rickon who clung to his legs and begged Robb not to leave him. There was such love in Robb's voice, Jeyne's heart began to ache for all he had lost, all which was taken from him.
“When the war is over,” Robb said after he exhausted himself with stories, “we will return to Winterfell and our children will never know this sort of life.”
Jeyne's hand fluttered to her empty womb, a sense of failure tangling itself around her heart, but she nodded, picturing all the sons she would give him, the ones whose names she recited to herself when the fears of the war began to overwhelm her: Eddard, Brandon, Rickon, Stark names for Stark sons who would rule the North.
When she voiced her desperation to conceive to her mother, putting into words her fear she was disappointing Robb, Sybell clucked her tongue.
“Do not worry, my dear. I will take care of it.”
From then on, every morning, her mother brewed her a tea which would help her to conceive, insisting Jeyne never skip a single day or risk jeopardizing their careful work.
“If you wish to conceive a son, you must be prepared to do whatever it takes,” Sybell chastised one morning when Jeyne did not want to choke down the concoction.
Jeyne so desperately wanted a son, and she knew her mother only wanted to do what was best for her, so Jeyne continued to drink the tea, certain her mother knew best.
She did not want to be left at Riverrun while Robb and his men traveled to The Twins, but Jeyne understood her presence would only further agitate Walder Frey. And so, like a good wife and queen, Jeyne said her goodbyes to Robb and watched him ride away.
The sense of foreboding hit her hard, stealing her breath and driving her to the stables. She ignored her mother's cries as she rode out after the party, needing to reach Robb, needing to warn him.
But warn him of what?
Jeyne could tell he was trying to be patient, trying to hide how angry he was that she had done this, but something was wrong. She knew she sounded crazed, but her grandmother, her mother's mother, used to say a woman's intuition was worth more than a man's knowledge any day. Jeyne had never believed it as strongly as she did now when Robb was attempting to comfort her and the panic continued to rage in her chest.
“Something bad is going to happen! Robb, please, come back with me - “
“Jeyne!” His voice was sharper than it had ever been, and a lifetime's worth of being taught to mind her tongue made Jeyne quiet. Robb sighed, cupping her face, softening as he assured her, “I have all my men with me, my love. Even if something ill was to attempt to befall us, do you honestly believe the Greatjon, Dacey, Raynald, or Grey Wind would let something happen to me?” He kissed her forehead. “I am safe, and I will return to you unharmed, but you must remain safe at Riverrun until I do so. Will you promise me that?”
“I promise,” she sighed, tears coursing down her cheeks.
Robb smiled. “I must ride now. Mayhaps when next I see you, your stomach will be so full of child, you will not be able to see your feet.”
She forced herself to smile. “If the gods are good.”
The anxious fear in her stomach did not abate.
The Blackfish was the one who told her.
She sat with Elenya and their mother in one of the solars, embroidering a direwolf upon a blanket for the son she was certain would arrive soon, gossiping about one of the servant girls when Brynden Tully entered the room with a piece of parchment in his hand. His skin was ashen, a stunned expression upon his face, and instantly Jeyne knew.
The noise which wrenched its way free from Jeyne's chest was inhumane, a moan and a cry which did nothing to convey what she was feeling. Elenya and Sybell were sobbing, and Jeyne recognized they were saying her brother's name, but nothing of Robb. She tried to stand, but her knees would not hold her, sending her to the floor, and the Blackfish bent to assist her. It was only then she saw the seal upon the parchment he held, the mark of House Frey.
“Give me that letter.”
The Blackfish did not move to do so, indecision flickering over his face, and it broke something in Jeyne, the propriety and manners she had been raised with giving way to something angry and savage.
“I am your queen, and you will give me that letter!” she shrieked, and she could feel it, the collective thought of those filtering into the solar, the belief that said the queen has gone mad, but the Blackfish obeyed.
Jeyne did not know when she started to scream; all she knew was the bite of hands holding her still while the maester poured sweetsleep into her mouth, strong arms carrying her to her chamber as the lines of the letter chased her into her dreams.
...beheaded the false king...
...sewed his wolf's head upon his shoulders...
...opened his lying mother's throat...
She woke to blood on her thighs two days later, her moonblood arriving on schedule. Jeyne sobbed as she grasped the sheets, her hands slick with blood, heart aching so acutely she could hardly breathe.
There will be no more wolves of Winterfell.
The maester returned with more sweetsleep, and, as Elenya carded her fingers through Jeyne's hair, Jeyne murmured the names of the sons which never took root in her useless womb.
“Eddard, Brandon, Rickon, Eddard, Brandon, Rickon, Eddard, Brandon, Rickon...”
Jeyne never thought much about her crown before Robb's death. He had it made after their wedding, a smaller, daintier version of his, and Jeyne only wore it a handful of times. If she was honest, she found it heavy and uncomfortable, nothing like she imagined a crown to be when she glimpsed Cersei Lannister's crown at Lord Tywin's name day tournament at Casterly Rock, but, with the loss of Robb, Jeyne could not bring herself to take it off.
The King in the North was dead, Winterfell belonged to the Boltons, there were no Starks left, but she was still Jeyne Westerling, the Queen in the North, and the crown was hers.
Like everything else, it happened too fast. Elenya said Jaime Lannister had arrived outside the fortified walls, come to take Riverrun for the Iron Throne, and the Blackfish was gone, having escaped via the waterways. The news of Brynden Tully's escape barely reached Jeyne's ears when her mother came bursting into Jeyne's chambers, demanding, “Take off that crown.”
Instantly Jeyne's hands rose to her head. “No.”
“The Lannisters are here, Ser Jaime is coming, and, if they think we are not loyal, they will kill us all, so take off that bloody crown!”
Jeyne never fought before; even when she was small, Jeyne did not attempt to wrestle with Raynald or engage in play which was not ladylike. But when they came for her crown, she was as fierce as any knight, as fierce as Grey Wind and Lady Catelyn and Robb. She clawed open the face of one of the men, sank her teeth into another's hand, managed to slam the heel of her foot into the privy parts of another.
It took five men to take the crown from Queen Jeyne's head, and she screamed Robb's name the entire time, hoping Jaime Lannister could hear, hoping he would know she would never betray the oaths she took in the sept at the Crag.
Sybell mopped at the blood on Jeyne's forehead while the men still held her, but Jeyne did not recoil from the sting. She twisted her head away, the only defiance she had when being held by ten hands, and prayed to the Seven the whole world would disappear.
“Do you know what the Lannisters will do to us if we appear disloyal?” Sybell asked, tension in her voice. “He was not going to win the war, Jeyne, and we all would have died for his treason.”
Jeyne said nothing.
“I had to protect our family. We have already lost Raynald; am I to lose you, Elenya, and Rollam as well? A mother must always protect her children.” Sybell's hands shook a bit as she carefully tended to her daughter's wounded forehead. “You'll understand some day.”
How can I understand when you stole my children from my womb?
Still Jeyne said nothing.
Jaime Lannister looked at her with pity, the young widow of the Young Wolf, betrayed by her own mother. Jeyne fantasized about flying at the knight with a golden hand, tear at his handsome face and scream it was all his fault, the fault of House Lannister and its known cruelty for all which was taken from her. She wanted to remind the Kingslayer that he had been taken prisoner by her fallen husband, that he had been beaten by Robb Stark, and it was only through trickery House Lannister managed to best House Stark.
But Robb was still dead, her womb was still empty, and the Lannisters still won, honor be damned.
How dare you pity me, Jeyne wanted to ask, when you are a cripple knight without an ounce of honor who fathered children on your own twin?
Jeyne did not want Jaime Lannister's pity.
She wanted revenge.
The Crag looked much the same as when she left it months earlier, but Jeyne knew nothing would ever be the same again. She was heavily guarded on the trek from the Riverlands to the Westerlands, Lannister men making sure to deliver her to her father. Jeyne watched as her parents tightly embraced, as her father greeted Elenya and Rollam with smiles and kisses, but she flinched back from her father's touch, another accomplice in the unraveling of her world.
“Your grace,” she corrected, growling the words as roughly as a direwolf. “You show a queen respect.”
When men came to the castle, they called her “Lady Jeyne,” and each and every time Jeyne made certain to chastise them.
“I am Queen Jeyne Stark, and you will address me as such.”
Her mother stopped making her come greet guests. Soon it was as if she was a ghost, existing without anyone seeing her; she spent her days in the chamber she first met Robb, in the bed where he claimed her as his own, in the cocoon of his memory. She made gowns in Stark colors, embroidered the direwolf sigil of House Stark upon pillows; when the white and grey she needed to make such items were kept away from her, she would wander the grounds, an echo of the girl she once was.
Jeyne thought of Sansa Stark, missing since the murder of King Joffrey, and wondered where she was. She thought of Jon Snow on the Wall, the last son of Eddard Stark, the brother Lady Catelyn did not want Robb to name as heir, the one Robb spoke of with such affection. She hoped Lady Sansa found her way to Jon Snow, that they were safe wherever they were. There were rumors Arya Stark had been found and was sent to Winterfell to wed Ramsay Bolton, but Jeyne heard a thousand rumors a day, each more ridiculous than the last.
There were no rumors about the Blackfish, and that gave Jeyne hope. Mayhaps he knew where Lady Sansa was; mayhaps he would help her raise an army and avenge what had been done to all the Starks.
Even me, Jeyne thought as she tossed the last blooms of summer into the sea from the cliffs of the Crag. I am a Stark, no matter what Mother says.
Jeyne shivered as the winds came roaring off the sea, scattering her hair in all directions as a few white flakes began to fall.
Winter has come.