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Defying Demons

Chapter Text

 Prologue: Dead Heir

Hazelyn stared down at the dry blood caked on her fingers. It seemed like red liquid had touched everything in the room. It had splattered on her dress and stained the sheets. The bodily fluid had flowed all over the floor, covered all the bowls and cups, and colored the water within them.

Servants moved about quietly and efficiently, cleaning up the mess as if it was no more than the leftovers after a messy feast. Everyone acted perfectly calm like nothing horrible had just happened. A gentle tap on Hazelyn's shoulder roused her from her shock.

"Child, I need to take you back to your chambers now to get you cleaned up," the gentle voice of her old Septa Elena crooned. The old nurse's gnarled hand clasped down on Hazelyn's shoulder and pulled her up from her kneeling position on floor next to the bed. She let her old septa guide her out of the room and into the dark stone corridor before it truly dawned on her what had just happened.

"My brother is dead," she whispered quietly to herself. Her tired eyes glanced back at Septa Elena. "Domeric is really gone, isn't he?"

The septa gently rubbed Hazelyn's back as she continued to guide the girl along the corridor. "Yes, my girl, but there is nothing to be done about it. The important thing is that the sweet boy is not in pain anymore and the gods have surely brought him to your mother. She loved you both so much and always took care of you in life. I'm sure she will continue to do so for your brother in death."

Death, pain. The words struck a nerve and roused Hazelyn from her shock. She came to an abrupt halt and tore herself from her nurse's grasp. She looked down at the dark blood splattered across her dress. She reached up and fisted her sticky and tangled hair. Her dark grey eyes widened as she shook her head frantically.

"I told Domeric not to go see him. He was the last person to be with my brother. The bastard did it!" She gasped.

Elena reached out her hand in a calming gesture, trying to calm her charge. Her silver brow furrowed worry. "Child, take some deep breaths and calm yourself. Let us go back to your chambers and talk about whatever you are thinking. You don't want to do anything to set your father off. Especially at a time-"

Hazelyn did not hear the rest of her septa's calming words. She turned from her and ran at breakneck speed in the opposite direction.

Domeric, the heir of House Bolton and to the Dreadfort had just died. He had been a healthy, robust youth of 19 name days. All the members of the household had gathered in the great hall to hear Lord Bolton himself make the official announcement. No one knew what had really happened yet, but the rumors surrounding the boy's sudden and violent death ran rampant.

Servants who had waited on the boy whispered that he had been taken by stomach pains so violent that he had thrown up all the blood in his body. Some speculated that he had caught an exotic illness during his years away from home. Others went as far as to say he had been poisoned, stating that no natural illness could have taken one so young so quickly and in such a horrible manner. A few even claimed the young man had been cursed by a witch when he had spurned her advances. Whatever the reason for the young heir's death, everyone agreed it was horrible and terribly sad.

Many had been looking forward to the day the Bolton heir would become their leige lord. Despite his young age, Domeric had acquired quite a few accomplishments in his life. The lad had been intelligent and well read Maester Tybald had insisted. Folks who had returned with the lordling from the south muttered that he had had the makings of tournament champion too.

Roose Bolton ruled his small folk with fear and an iron fist. His son's more genial nature had promised a brighter future for all Bolton subjects. The young man's death left the future of the Bolton lands uncertain. Lord Bolton still had one legitimate daughter, a kind quiet girl who had been quite charitable towards the small folk, but some of the gossip mongers claimed that a cruel unacknowledged bastard son lived in the lower town, and that Lord Bolton might favor him over his daughter.

The hushed babble of conversation echoed off of the tall vaulted ceilings of the Dreadfort's great hall. The residents of the household all huddled in small groups at the long tables or in the corners. The torches held in the grasp of a skeletal hands jutting out from the wall cast an eerie light throughout the room.

Murmurs quieted as Lord Bolton entered the hall with the steward and Maester Tybald. He made his way to the dias at the front of the room and then opened his mouth to speak when the doors banged open. All the room's occupants looked up with startled surprise.

A young woman coiled like a cobra ready to strike stalked into the hall towards Lord Bolton, her skirts balled up within tight fists . Her bloodied and rumpled attire and her wild hair, matted together into stringy clumps, gave her the appearance of a mad woman. The only sign that gave away her identity were wide grey Bolton eyes. Roose narrowed his pale eyes at her, roughly seized her by the arm, and dragged her out of the hall.

Lord Bolton, neither muscular nor tall in stature, flung the girl over his shoulder with surprising strength and carried her all the way to his own chambers.

Once the doors had swung shut, Roose flung Hazelyn down into a chair. "What was that?" he growled quietly.

The young woman did not raise her voice but hissed in a razor sharp tone, "Your bastard! He killed him! He killed my-"

A crack resonated throughout the chambers as the back of the lord's hand clashed with his daughter's face. She bit her lip as pain flooded her senses, determined not to give the man the satisfaction of her pained cries.

"You will stop your infernal hissing and will begin again. You will calmly and respectfully address me or I will lock you up in a closet for the night for presenting yourself in front of the entire household as a mad widling bitch." His cool gray eyes narrowed dangerously at her as they usually did when she got into trouble.

Hazelyn stood up defiantly and glared at her father. Her fists clenched tightly at her sides. "Your bastard killed Domeric. He was the last to be with him before the stomach pains seized him." Her voice trembled with anger. "They went drinking together. I saw them. I followed them back to the bastard's mill where he offered Domeric a drink! I think he poisoned him! He must've! He-"

Roose held up his hand for silence. He rubbed his brow and sighed as he often did when talking with his daughter.

"You think that my bastard poisoned your brother because you saw them drink together?"

The girl nodded stiffly. The lord studied her face with his pale eyes for a long moment. Her darker grey eyes shone with fierce defiance. A purplish bruise was already starting to form on her cheek. He turned away for a brief instant before facing her again.

With pursed lips and hands held behind his back, he calmly stated "I'll investigate it."

"You'll investigate it!?" Hazelyn's voice rose in volume. "Your true born son was killed by your bastard and you only say you'll-"

"I will investigate to see if there is any truth in your claims and then act accordingly," her father said in an unsettling, quite voice. "Might I also point out that you left the keep once again in direct violation of my orders, and that your little display in the hall has further sullied our House's reputation. You will not disobey me or conduct yourself in such a way again unless you want to lose far more than your brother."

Shivers went down Hazelyn's spine, but she drew her self to her full height and snarled "My brother, your only true son, is dead, and all you can think about is me disobeying you? I guess that murderer is not the only Bolton bastard."

Roose walked over and wrapped smartly on the chamber doors and two guards walked in. He nodded over to the riled young woman standing before him. "Escort Lady Hazelyn back to her chambers, find her septa and maids to mind her, and do not let her go anywhere else in the keep until I specify otherwise." He turned away from them and started to walk towards his desk before glancing back with a smirk. "Oh, but before that, get the master to leech her until she calms down. My poor daughter seems to have worked herself into quiet a state of grief over her brother's death."

Hazelyn's eyes widened in horror at the mention of leeches. Roose reserved the nasty creatures for his worst punishment. The gross things painfully latched onto her skin, sucked her blood to the point of unconsciousness, and left scars. She shook her head and started trembling madly. The guards seized her roughly and dragged her out as she struggled against their arms.

After the door clunked shut, Roose turned and stared at the flickering flames in his hearth. Shadows danced across his face as he became lost in thought. His only true born son was dead, leaving him with a defiant girl that acted like her mad bitch of a mother as his only true born heir, and apparently his uncontrollable, pain in the ass bastard had killed him. He was in troubling situation indeed. His true born son, Domeric, had been a quiet lad, but he'd had potential. He was pliable, easy to control, and could have been shaped. How could he shape the girl into an heir who could further his house's reach and power and keep his untamable bastard from slaughtering her as well, if what she said was true?

He pursed his lips as he pondered his impossible situation for quite a while before a small smirk crept onto his face. Maybe he did not have much to work with now, but he could still manage. He would use his disappointment of a daughter and uncouth bastard to produce a worhty legacy yet. Roose Bolton's mind, just like his house's blades, was quite sharp indeed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 1: Nightmares

The sun lingered just above the horizon and its golden rays bathed the forest in brilliance as Hazelyn walked towards the tall, menacing, figure of the Dreadfort. All seemed quiet and peaceful in the woods, the silence only disrupted by the distant babbling of the Weeping Water.

She yawned loudly as she made her way to a low ivy covered wall surrounding the the foundations of the castle. The four and ten year old had not slept at all the night before. She had been nursing the sick younger sibling of her friend Darren down in the village. She needed to get back to her chambers before the changing of the guard. Surely, Septa Elena would cover for her if it came down to it, but she could only hold off the new guard for so long. If the man was loyal to her father and reported her missing, both Elena and she would have to answer for it. Hazelyn shivered and shook her head, not wanting to think of what horrid and convoluted punishment he would come up with this time if he found out she had snuck out of the keep again.

She reached the barricade and stared up at the ivy hanging from it. She could attempt to pull herself over, but her limbs ached with the exhaustion. Sighing, the young woman propped herself up against the wall and slid down to sit on the forest floor. Marvion, the guard who had escorted her out of the keep and into the village, would follow behind in a few minutes, and he would have the strength to hoist her over.

Hazelyn felt under her skirts for a leather strap on her thigh. She carefully pulled a thin, sharp knife out of it along with a with a tiny pouch. The blade flashed in the light of the rising sun as she positioned it between the fingers of her left hand. She opened the pouch and a small wooden figurine rolled out into the palm of her other hand. Her grey eyes studied the half finished figure of a dragon. She bit her lip in concentration as she brought the knife to the to the wood and began to scrape away bits and pieces to give the dragon more shape.

Hazelyn had been steadily working at whittling the wooden dragon for several minutes when the sound of crunching leaves caught her attention.

"Marvion, where have you been? I was beginning to think you had forgotten to come help me," the girl said as she glanced up. Instead of seeing the tall, stoic guard however, she laid eyes upon a young man. He appeared to be no more than a few name days older than herself and was dressed in simple brown garments, patched and threadbare. She could could not recall seeing him before, but something about his mop of dark hair and menacing gray eyes seemed unsettlingly familiar. The way he leered at her and his sinister smile disturbed her as well.

"Who-who are you?"

He gave no answer as he stalked towards her. She stood up, brandishing her knife, and pointed it towards the threatening man. ''Don't come any closer and tell me who you are!" she commanded in a shaky voice. The young man ignored the demand and continued to move towards Hazelyn. She gripped her knife harder, readying to lunge at him. However, when she moved to cut him, he reached out and gripped her wrist, twisting it sharply. She gave a yelp of pain and her fingers flexed open, causing the knife to fall to the ground. He pushed her roughly up against the wall. She hit the stone barrier with a resounding thud and the breath was knocked out of her.

Hazelyn struggled uselessly against him as he began to grind his body against hers. She felt as if she couldn't breath wedged between his rough body and the hard stone wall. The rocks dug painfully into her back as his course hands groped her hips and chest. He continued to ram her painfully against the wall and his rank breath made her want to vomit. She opened her mouth to scream but he placed a dirty hand firmly across it. His other hand gripped her hip so hard that it would surely leave bruises.

He raised his face from her her dark hair and smiled viciously. His light gray eyes, so distant yet strikingly familiar, shined with sick pleasure.

"You're even prettier than I thought. A true Bolton woman. I really couldn't tell much from a distance, just that you had a nice ass." The hand gripping her hip slid down to give her behind a firm squeeze. She shivered in disgust and struggled vehemently against him. Not knowing what else to do, she acted purely on instinct, opening her mouth quickly and biting down on his hand as hard as she could. The iron taste of blood filled her mouth as the young man shouted and tore his hand away. She let out a shriek of anger as she pushed against him with all her strength. Yet the youth kept her pinned, and now recovered from his pain, simply chuckled darkly at her.

"So you're a fighter, are you? A true Bolton indeed. Should make this all the more fun."

The sick man reached down to pull up her skirts as she wiggled against him. He ran his fingers slowly up her leg. Hazelyn had never felt more disgusting in her life. She closed her eyes tightly as the hand reached her thigh, trying to hold in her oncoming tears, when an angry shout sounded from behind and suddenly the pressure of the man's body was gone. Her legs gave way as she fell to the ground.

Hazelyn awoke with a scream as she sat up straight in bed. She was drenched in sweat and tears streaked her cheeks. She clutched at her chest, feeling as if she couldn't breath. She could not make sense out of the blurred colors and garbled noises around her. She felt strong hands holding her to her bed and a cool sensation on her forehead. As she slowly regained control of her breathing, her vision came into focus to reveal the concerned faces of Septa Elena and her maid Myna.

"Zel! Zel, can you hear me? You're okay, it's just a dream."

"Praise the Gods, she's coming back to us! Sweetling, you're all right! Open your eyes. That's it."

Elena gently stroked damp strands of dark hair from Hazelyn's forehead with a wet cloth while Myna grabbed her shaking hand. Hazelyn's gaze darted around chamber while the maid and septa eased her down onto the pillows.

"What were you dreaming about, Zel?" Myna asked. Her dark brown eyes bored into Hazelyn, compelling her to tell the truth. Myna had an effect on Hazelyn that no one else did. The girl, much like Elena, took no nonsense from anyone and did what she wanted to, damn the consequences. She and Hazelyn had been good friends from the time they were little girls. Myna's mother had served as a hand maid to the late Lady Bethany Bolton and had brought a young Myna along to the castle to keep Hazelyn company. After Lady Bethany's death, Elena had managed to convince Roose to let Hazelyn take Myna on as her own maid.

Hazelyn wanted to tell her friend about her dream, but she just couldn't. No one, not even Elena, could ever know how dirty and disgusting she had truly become. She bit her lip and looked away from her friend, crossing her arms and turning away in her bed.

"I don't remember. I'm fine. I just want to sleep."

Septa Elena's brow pinched into a furious scowl and her lips down turned into a frown. Her voice snapped like the harshest northern wind.

"You will not child! You will not be shutting us out after what has just happened! You've been reclusive enough these past few months. You will not be a shut in like your mother became!"

The old septa's wrinkled hands gripped Hazelyn's shoulders and firmly yanked her back from the wall. Hazelyn's eyes widened in surprise before she cringed at a sharp, aching pain that shot through her shoulders as the septa jolted them.

"Anyway, we need to change out your bandages. Sit up and raise your arms."

Hazelyn stared at her normally gentle septa with a blank expression as she sat up with Myna's assistance. She tried not wince as her night gown was removed from her body, revealing large white bandages swathed across her back and shoulders. Myna pulled the bandages away and Elena moved in with her rag to clean to wounds. Raised bloody welts and numerous puckered pink scars created by leeches covered Hazelyn's shoulders and back.

"Child, why in the seven hells did you storm into the great hall and then bark at your father? The man may be fowl and acted apaullingly towards your brother's death, but you know better than to cross him outright like you did," Septa Elena murmured as she wiped away dried blood.

Hazelyn didn't respond, simply staring at the wall of her chambers with the same blank expression on her face. Elena's brow furrowed monetarily and she gave a small sigh of indignation before her expression softened into one of gentle pity. She reached out and gently stroked the young woman's hair.

"You've been through far too much today for me to be lecturing you child. We will talk more tomorrow. Get some rest, sweetling." She glanced at Myna and murmured "Redress her bandages and then leave her to get some sleep."

Myna gave a small nod and then Elena shuffled warily out of the room. "Zel, are you going to talk to me about what happened?" she inquired carefully as she handled strands of white bandages and began to work on her mistress. Hazelyn shifted her gaze slightly to look at the maid and bit her lip. A steely silence settled into the room as Myna finished fixing the bandages and helped Hazelyn back into her gown.

"You need to talk to someone Zel. Keeping everything to yourself is only going to make you feel worse," Myna said plainly as she sat down on the side of the bed. The two girls of five and ten were caught in a staring match for a whole minute before Hazelyn finally gave in.

She stared down at her lap and her hand fisted at the furs draped across her bed. "I told my father what I saw the other day. I followed Domeric down from the keep when he went looking for Father's bastard. I had to make sure he was alright. Father warned us that his bastard was dangerous and that we shouldn't seek him out. For once I actually agreed with him."

Myna quirked an eyebrow. "Why? You two never agree on anything. I would think you would have gone along with your brother just to spite you dear father." She couldn't help but smirk and gave a small chuckle despite the dark situation.

Hazelyn fixed her friend with a cold glare. "You're not stupid. You know the rumors about my father's bastard better than I do."

The mirth on the maid's face immediately vanished. She frowned again in concern. "I'm sorry, Zel. I was just trying to lighten the mood. It's been a bad couple of days for you."

Hazelyn turned her eyes away and bit her lip as her vision blurred with tears. Myna's frown deepened even more as she reached out to place a comforting hand on the young woman's shoulder. Hazelyn flinched away before she could.

Myna narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Petty rumors never stopped you from doing anything before. I used to think you would rather live in the village with us small folk because you tried to sneak down there so much." Her eyes widened again as she studied her shaken friend with sadness. "You've haven't been acting normally for months, Zel. Something's happened. What is it?"

Hazelyn's eyes hardened as she turned back towards her friend. She sniffed a bit as she used her night gown sleeve to wipe her tears and runny nose. "I haven't been acting normal? Myna, my brother slowly died in my arms yesterday after being murdered my father's psychotic bastard. I think I'm permitted to be a bit upset."

The stubborn maid wasn't intimidated by her mistress' dark tone however. "But even before, you-"

"Enough!" Hazelyn snapped. Her eyes eyes shined with tears but flashed like cold stars. "I will not be interrogated my my maid, no matter how good a friend she is. I said I wanted to be left alone and I meant it. Please find my carving knife and place it on my bedside table next to my book. Then you are dismissed until tomorrow. Is that clear?"

Myna stared at her friend in shock. Hazelyn crossed her arms and continued to level her in a chilling stare. The maid pursed her lips into a thin line before slowly sliding off the bed. Wearing a neutral expression, she walked over to the bedside drawer and pulled out the sharp knife. It clinked against the table top as she sat it down. She curtsied to her friend, eyes still filled with alarm and concern. "Have a good night m'lady. I'll come back in the morn," she murmured quietly. Hazelyn only responded with a steely gray gaze and a curt nod before she burrowed under her bed furs and turned away.

She heard soft foot steps and a quiet clank followed by complete silence, save for the crackling of the fire in the hearth. She turned slowly on to her back, wincing as her bandages rubbed against her wounds. The young woman then lied still and stared up at the dark stone ceiling above her head, knowing sleep would not come.

The moon hung high in the sky as Hazelyn turned in her bed again. The air in the room was hot and stifling. She couldn't get comfortable and feared falling asleep again. Sighing, she gingerly sat up and pulled herself out of bed, careful not to rub her bandages again.

The young woman walked across the room and studied the small number of books tucked in their shelf in the wall. The fire in the grate had long died, submerging in the room in darkness, but it really didn't bother her. Even as a child Hazelyn had never really feared the darkness. Growing up at the Dreadfort gave one many other things to fear.

None of the books caught her interest and her head pounded. She needed to escape the stifling room and breath fresh air. Hazelyn quietly slipped her feet into her boots, strapped her knife and pouch to her thigh, and wrapped herself tightly in her dressing gown. She knelt down and pushed aside a rug. She gripped floorboard and pulled it up, revealing a small compartment. She stuck her hand in and pulled out a small parcel.

Very carefully she approached the door and gently knocked on it. She bit her lip and clutched the parcel tightly to her chest as she waited to see which guard would be standing watch at her door. She smiled slightly when door slung open to reveal a ruddy, lined face with back hair and green eyes.

"M'lady, is there something wrong?" The guard asked, concerned.

Hazelyn let out a sigh of relief. It wasn't one of of her father's men. Bolton men came in two stocks: the gruff, sick bullies like Locke who were loyal to her father and the good men like Marvion who actually had basic human decency. Hazelyn's life became far easier when the second kind was assigned to guard her. They could usually be bribed with some extra food, clothes, or blankets for their families (since Roose made sure most lived in pocerty) to let her slip away and to have extra freedoms. Marvion, though, didn't even need to be bribed. He was more of a father to her than her real one ever was.

"No Marvion. I just wanted to see if I could sneak down to the stables to see Branwen and get some fresh air."

"Are you sure that's a good idea after all that's happened these past days m'lady?" Marvion asked frowning.

Hazelyn sighed and glanced down at the ground. "Please, I can't sleep. I'm restless and I feel sick. I just need to stretch my legs and get a few minutes outside."

"Are nightmares keeping you up again?" The guard looked at her with sympathy and regret.

Hazelyn bit her lip as she gazed at the guard desperately. "I haven't been able to sleep since then Marvion. Every time I close my eyes, he attacks me again and now with Domeric's death... I know he did it. I saw him with Domeric. Knowing that it was him, it just makes so sick I can hardly..." She covered her mouth as a sob chocked out and a her eyes teared up.

The fatherly guard reached out and gently wrapped his big arm around her shoulders. He had guarded her since she was a little girl and had never seen her in such a state. She had always been quiet but tough and stubborn. Constantly sneaking resources from the stores, she spent a great deal of her time making up food rations, clothes, and blankets for the common folk in the village and surrounding homesteads. He and his family had given out more alms to the other small folk than he could count. She had been caught a number of times before and had been chastised quiet thoroughly by Lord Bolton but she had never broken. She had even risked sneaking down to the village one night to help nurse his sick youngest child because they couldn't afford the maester. It was because of his distraction that night that she had been attacked, starting her distress in the first place.

After Hazelyn's tears had subsided, she looked up at him pleadingly and he nodded. "Very well m'lady. I'll take you down for a few minutes. Let's go quickly and quietly though. I happen to know the man coming in the morning is one of your father's favorites. I'll need to have you back in your chambers by then."

Hazelyn gave a weak smile and squeezed his arm gently. "Thank you," she whispered. She then turned rushed off down the corridor. Marvion followed behind quickly.

Hazelyn jogged out the castle door into the refreshingly crisp night. She paused in the empty courtyard to look up at the silver crescent moon and took a deep breath. She closed her eyes as the cool night air filled her lungs. She hadn't been outside in days. It felt nice to finally to be free of those wretched dark stone walls, if just for a few minutes. She heard heavy foot steps from behind her as Marvion caught up.

"M'lady, we should move along to the stables if that's where you want to go. The air has a bitter chill in it tonight and you forgot your cloak. I don't want you to be out for too long."

She shook her head at Marvion's protectivness and let out a tiny chuckle. "I won't catch cold from a cool night. It really isn't that frigid anyway."

"Still m'lady, best not to be gone from your chambers for too long," the man at arms murmured urgently, trying to usher her along.

They hurried quietly across the courtyards towards the outer walls of the keep where the stables were located. Marvion stopped at the entrance and nodded to Hazelyn. "I'll stay out here to make sure no comes this way."

"Thank you, Marvion," Hazelyn whispered, "I won't be long, I promise."

The guard nodded at her as she scurried into the barn. She walked down the long rows of stalls, dimly lit by the occasional torch mounted on the wall. The stables were not the cleanest place and they smelled, but they were one of Hazelyn's favorite places to be. They remained her of her mother. Bethany had been an accomplished horse woman and she herself had taught Hazelyn and Domeric to ride starting at a very young age.

Hazelyn smiled wider than she had in weeks as she approached a stall with a tall black mare in it. She snickered as she quietly opened the stall door and stepped in. The horse looked up and flicked its ears in response. "Hey my pretty girl," Hazelyn whispered, "How are you tonight?". She gently rubbed the mare's snout and giggled when it nudged her hand expectantly. "No, I'm sorry Branwen. I don't have any treats for you right now."

"But I do."

Hazelyn jumped in surprise at the sound of another human voice. She turned around in panic to see a well built youth of ten and seven with black hair and green eyes just like Marvion's.

"Gods Darren, don't scare me like that!" she snapped. "I thought I'd been caught for sure."

The young man opened the stall and stepped in beside Hazelyn, two apples in hand. He gently patted Branwen's flank and then offered an apple to Hazelyn. "Here."

"Thank you," Hazelyn said quietly. She studied Darren as she offered the the treat up to her horse and stroked its snout. "Darren, what are you doing in the stables at this time of night?"

Darren smirked a bit. "Well, my job. I think that's what a stable groom is supposed to to do, Zel." He glanced at the floor as his smirk turned into a frown. "Anyway, I wanted to give Branwen some extra attention since you haven't been down here too much in the past few days. I couldn't really sleep, and I figured I would be helping you a little bit at least if I her gave her a little special care." He looked at Hazelyn with concern and longing. "I heard about your brother and then saw what happened in the hall. I've been really worried about you, Zel." He moved his hand that had been stroking Branwen's coat to cover Hazelyn's. She moved it away before he could reach it.


"Please Darren, don't."

"You haven't been acting right ever since the night you came down to the village to nurse my little brother. What's wrong?" He placed a gentle hand on Hazelyn's arm, but she flinched away.


"My brother just died Darren. I can't deal with this right now. Can't you and everyone else just leave me alone?" Hazelyn growled angrily. She stepped away from him and hugged herself tightly.

"You're barely wearing anything and its freezing. Here, you can have my cloak." Darren said, seemingly ignoring what she had said.

"No, I'm not freezing! I'm just annoyed at you for trying to put your hands all over me and for pestering me when I just wanted to visit my horse in peace! I don't need you to look after me!"

Darren stepped back looking at Hazelyn like she had just slapped him in the face. His expression hardened as he set the second apple down into an empty pale with resounding thud. "Very well, m'lady. I'm sorry for your loss and hope you have a good night."

Guilt overwhelmed Hazelyn. She bit her lip as she teared up. "Wait!"

Darren turned around to look at her from the entrance of the stall.

"I-I'm sorry Darren. I'm just scared. My brother just died but I don't-don't think it was just a simple illness. My father's bastard..."

Darren's brow furrowed as he turned back towards her. "What?"

"I think he killed my brother and..."

Darren walked over and placed a hand on Hazelyn's cheek. She stiffened but tried her best not to flinch away. "What, Hazelyn?"

She wanted to tell him and he deserved to know, but she just couldn't. So she only told a partial truth.

"If he killed my brother, whose to say the bastard won't come for me? I told my father, but I don't know how much good that will do," Hazelyn whispered bitterly.

Darren looked at her tenderly and twisted a strand of her hair around his fingers. He leaned in and brought his lips towards hers but she turned her face away so he only kissed her cheek. He pulled back and looked at her sadly but gently and let his hand fall to his side. He pursed his lips as he studied the small, devastated girl in front of him.

"I'm sorry, Hazelyn. I'm sure your father won't let that happen. Even a cruel bastard like him wouldn't let anything happen to his one remaining heir, and even if he doesn't care, you still have people who do. You'll make it Zel. You're the strongest girl I know. Come on, let's get you back to my father. Best not keep you out to long on a cold night like this."

He offered an open hand to Hazelyn with a small smile. Darren, he was one of her best friends, and had been from the time they were young children. He had become something just a bit more a couple months ago, but ever since...

She just couldn't handle having anyone close anymore. But her brother had just died, and she couldn't do this alone. She returned his faint smile and took his hand with a tiny squeeze. She offered Branwen the last apple and rubbed her snout before walking out with Darren. It had been a dark night full of terrors but hopefully with the rising sun would come a better day.

How terribly wrong she was.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Grief and Guilt

Hazelyn stood next to her father in the courtyard of the Dreadfort, trying to keep a neutral expression on her face. The man had not shed one tear of grief in the days since his only son's death. He had not said a single word to Hazelyn about her accusations against his bastard either. She let out a snort at the absurd thought. As if he would tell her anything.

Roose glared at his daughter over his shoulder before turning his gaze forward again to make eye contact with the arriving party. A middle-aged, yet handsome woman rode at the head of the group, just behind fluttering banners adorned with the traditional ax and crown sigil of House Dustin and the horse head of House Ryswell.

Lady Barbary Dustin, Hazelyn's aunt, had arrived at the Dreadfort to pay her last respects to Domeric. She had insisted on coming to see the boy laid in the crypts when she received the news of his death. She had fostered him for four years in Barrowtown at the request of her sister and had loved him dearly. He had been the closest she had had to a son, since she had never been able to have any of her own after being widowed during Robert's Rebellion.

Barbary trotted through the gates on a handsome red horse, her head held high and proud. Slight wrinkles appeared around her mouth as she frowned at the flurry of activity going on around her. It was a sign of deference for a lord to pause the activity of his household at the arrival of another noble, but Roose Bolton did not extend that courtesy to houses he felt lesser than his own.

Lady Barbary pulled her horse to a stop in front of the Boltons and vaulted down from her steed with the finesse of an expert horse woman. Dust swirled around her black skirts as she walked with a steady confidence over to Roose and nodded her head in a slight greeting.

"My Lord, thank you for having me despite the sad occasion. I share in your grief over my nephew's death and my father, Lord Ryswell, asked I convey his condolences and sorrow as well."

Roose, expression as indifferent as ever, gave a slight bow in return. "Of course Lady Barbary, thank you for sympathies. We will be laying my son to rest tomorrow. My daughter will show you to your guest chambers and I will send someone to let you know when the evening feast begins."

Barbary narrowed her sharp eyes slightly at the Bolton lord's cold, indifferent mention of his son's passing, but said nothing. Roose motioned for Hazelyn to come forward and receive her aunt. She walked up, offering a hand and a sad smile to the older woman.

"Thank you for coming to support our family in our time of grief, Aunt Barbary," she murmured quietly, "Maester Tybald and our Steward, Glynn, will see that your men are settled. You must be exhausted from riding so hard to get here."

The strict lady's expression softened a bit as she looked upon her niece. Hazelyn was pale, drawn, and a bit skinnier than the last time she had seen her. Barbary took her niece's hand and smiled slightly in return. "Thank you. I am quiet exhausted from my journey."

Both ladies glanced over at Roose who gave them a slight nod before proceeding back into the keep. Barbary huffed at his superior, cold attitude.

Hazelyn bit her lip and tapped her on the arm. "Aunt Barbary, shall we go?"

"Aye, of course, " she murmured and the two fell in stride as they entered the keep.

When they reached the guest rooms, Barbary dismissed the servants with a wave of her hand and motioned for Hazelyn to sit on the bed. She pulled the chair from the writing desk around and then placed a hand on the her niece's cheek.

"Oh, sweetling, I'm so sorry you've had to go through this. Tell me, how are you really feeling?"

Hazelyn felt her eyes tear up a bit, but she didn't want to cry anymore. It made her feel like a little girl instead of a maid of five and ten. She contemplated how much she should tell her aunt of the intrigue surrounding her brother's death. If she to told the women everything she knew and suspected, her aunt might try to confront her father and reveal some things to him that Hazelyn did not want him to know.

"It hasn't been easy, but life goes on I suppose. A lot of the small folk have been unsettled since Domeric's death... I've been trying to-"

"Hazelyn, I didn't ask how the small folk felt, I asked about you." Barbary's eyes glittered sharply as she she gently rebuked her niece. "Your father said in his message that Domeric died from stomach pains. Is that true?"

Hazelyn cringed as images of her brother, withering in pain and covered in blood, resurfaced in her mind. "Aye."

Barbary's expression softened as her brown eyes met her niece's gray. "Did the poor boy suffer much? Were you with him in the end?"

"I was with him from the time the pains started until he died," Hazelyn simply replied, blankly staring at the wall as the horrific images replayed in her head. She refused to give her kin a detailed account of the long hours she had spent listening to her older brother's agonized moans and watching him wretch up his weight in blood. She took a deep breath, trying to push the memories back to the rear of her mind and to prevent herself from breaking down yet again.

Barbary stared at the floor miserably and shook her head. "I just can't understand how he could have died so suddenly. He always was such a robust lad."

Hazelyn glanced up nervously, her hands grasping the furs on the bed tightly. Barbary saw the anxious behavior and raised an eyebrow at the girl. "What is it , Hazelyn? Do you know what might have caused it? Did you see anything unusual?"

"Domeric- he... He went down to the village the day before to seek out Father's bastard. He said he wanted to have a relationship with his brother. I followed him and saw the bastard offereing him a drink. The next morning Domeric became sick. He seemed to have more symptoms of poison than any natural illness."

Barbary's mouth hung open in horrified shock and her eyes burned with fury. "Have you told your father this!?"

"Aye, I told him right after Domeric died, but he hasn't said any more about it to me or anyone else, " Hazelyn mumbled bitterly, crossing her arms. "He wanted to investigate with Maester Tybald."

"Has he arrested the bastard!?"

"He's done nothing as far as I know."

"Well, I can guarantee you that your Lord Father will be hearing a thing or two from me on the matter! Of all the-"

"Please, Aunt Barbary, you can't just-".

A firm knock on the door cut off Hazelyn's pleas. Both woman paused and glanced at one another. Barbary cleared her throat and smoothed her ruffled appearance before calling out in an authoritative voice, "Come in!"

The door gently opened and Myna's blond head peered tentatively around the edge. She entered the room and bobbed into a low courtesy, saying "M'ladies, I was sent to inform you that you will be dining privately with Lord Bolton in his solar tonight."

"Thank you, Myna," Hazelyn murmured, "We will be along in a minute."

Myna raised up slightly and shot a sharp and hurt filled gaze at her friend and mistress. Hazelyn turned her head away. She hadn't really spoken to Myna for days outside what was necessary. She felt horrible for treating her best friend so badly but she was just dealing with too much and needed to work things out on her own.

The maid frowned and murmured, "Very well, m'ladies." Then she slipped silently out of the room.

Barbary turned her glittering, sharp gaze back to Hazelyn and squeezed her hands tightly. "Well, sweetling, I suppose we must save the rest of this conversation for later, but you can be assured that your Lord Father and I will be having a very serious discussion about that bastard of his. I will make sure your brother gets justice. Don't you worry." She rose with a flourish and started to make her way to the door.

Hazelyn's eyes widened at the thought of her father's reaction to her aunt's antics. "Please, Aunt Barbary, it isn't-" she began but Lady Dustin had already left the room.

"Damn it!" she cursed quietly as she ran after her aunt.

Two guards standing at the entrance of Lord Bolton's solar nodded as Lady Barbary passed them followed by a rather frazzled looking Lady Hazelyn. The twilight sun slanting through the windows in the dark stone walls bathed the room in a sickening red brilliance. The two women made their way to the table at the center of the room. Hazelyn gazed imploringly at her aunt, but Barbary resolutely stared straight ahead. Roose stood as they approached and motioned to the two places that had been set for them. Maester Tybald, Steward Glenn, and Locke, the Dreadfort's master of arms, sat with him at the table.

"Good evening, Barbary. Please come have a seat across from me. Hazelyn, join me on this side. We all have much to discuss."

Hazelyn felt highly uncomfortable in the tense atmosphere brewing at thet table the meal commenced. Her father and Aunt Barbary sized each other up as if they were to stags ready to charge one another. Locke stared at her with a studying gaze that made her skin crawl. Hazelyn had always thought him to be a very despicable and unsettling type of men. He had penchant for brutality and served her father very well. He had caught her on a number of occasions sneaking out to the village to help the small folk and had gladly ensured she received whatever punishment her father saw fit.

"Have you settled in well, Barbary?" Roose causally inquired.

Barbary stared at him with a haughty glare. "The chambers were comfortable enough, my lord. Though I can't say I'm very settled, seeing as my dear nephew just died."

"Come now. There is no need for formalities here when it is just us and my most trusted men. We are kin after all. And I agree that my son's passing is a very distressing and trying situation for us all, but we must maintain a strong front and not display weakness in front of the small folk." He pointedly glanced at Hazelyn. She sat up straighter as she took a sip of wine from her goblet and narrowed her eyes in return.

"My lord, I believe there is every need to maintain formalities if you insist we do not express emotion towards a kinsman's death," Barbary curtly replied, "I wish to speak on the matter of circumstances of Domeric's death. It has come to my attention that it may have been more than just a tragic illness. I'm sure you've been made aware of the fact, and I wanted to inquire what you planned to do about it?"

Hazelyn's hand tightened around her cup as she glanced back and forth between her aunt and father. Roose, never a man to loose his temper, simply sighed and nodded. "Aye, my daughter's accusations against my bastard. I have made some inquires and had Maester Tybald reexamine the symptoms of Domeric's illness. It seems that you were right, Hazelyn."

Hazelyn's jaw went slack and her eyes widened in shock. Was he agreeing with her? When had that last happened? Barbary looked on with a slightly satisfied smile while the other men at the table waited expectantly.

"I do believe Domeric was poisoned, but there is no proof that my bastard did it."

Hazelyn's knuckles turned white with the force that she gripped her goblet. "I apologize Father, for wasting your time with silly claims," she said in a sickeningly saccharine tone, "Your bastard is such an upstanding and wonderful lad, that I'm sure he was just offering Domeric a friendly drink."

Roose frowned deeply and gave his daughter a chilling glare. Everyone at the table was well aware of rumors from the village that the Bolton bastard was anything but.

"I actually found that he is quite unruly and disruptive. Bastard that he may be, I have not done my duty by overlooking him and letting him run amok among the small folk."

Barbary let out a bit of a chuckle. "My lord, the boy is merely a bastard. I don't believe that entails him to any special treatment."

"It may not, but it would be unwise of me to let him continue to cause chaos in the lower town."

Hazelyn guffawed at his statement. Her father had never shown any concern for his small folk before. What possessed him to do so now?

"Is there something you would like to add, Hazelyn?" Roose asked in an annoyed tone.

"Not at all father. Please continue," she murmured with an overly bright smile.

"As I was saying, I should not have let him cause such mischief. Therefore I have decided to publicly acknowledge him as my bastard and to bring him into my household to train with my captains."

He nodded at his master at arms, who smiled grimly as he stood and walked over to the door of the solar. He opened it and motioned to someone outside to enter. Hazelyn's heart stopped when she saw a familiar young man with dark brown hair and chilling gray eyes enter the room. He looked directly at her and gave her a smirk that sent shivers down her spine.

Roose introduced "My bastard, Ramsay Snow. Ramsay, this is my guest, Lady Barbary Dustin, and my daughter, Lady Hazelyn Bolton."

Ramsay smiled and nodded at Barbary. "M'Lady, it's pleasure to meet you." Hazelyn froze as he turned towards her. His eyes swept over her in a predatory gaze and his smile widened. "Sister, it's very nice-"

"You should address her as my lady, boy. Do not forget your place," Barbary snapped. Ramsay whipped his head back towards the older woman and narrowed his eyes. He opened his mouth to reply when Roose interrupted.

"Ramsay, pull a chair up and join-"

A loud screech echoed across the room as Lady Dustin pushed her chair back violently. She shot up and glared at Ramsay with unveiled disdain. "I am sorry, my lord, but I cannot eat at the same table as a bastard. I cannot help but think that my dear late sister would not want her daughter to be in the presence of such a boy either."

The older lady's words wiped the smirk off Ramsay's face. He grimaced and then glared at her with a fierce hatred that she returned in equal measure.

Hazelyn truly felt as if she was going to be sick. With slightly trembling hands she pushed herself up and said in a quiet voice, "I'm sorry, Father, but I am feeling quite unwell. I must beg your pardon."

Roose, in his usual impassive way, simply pursed his lips at the commotion and said, "You are my guest, Barbary, and are more than welcome to leave if you feel ill at ease, but I must keep Hazelyn a bit longer. The next matter I planned discuss deals greatly in your future, daughter, and you would do well to hear it."

"I suppose I could stay a moment longer for my niece. I don't want her to go back to her chambers alone if she's not feeling well," Barbary said tersely, sitting down once more. Hazelyn sat again as well, biting her lip and clutching tightly at her skirts as she did so.

Roose glanced over at Ramsay who was still standing and said, "I've granted you a great privilege by allowing you to sit with the family today, Ramsay. If you would rather stand and gawk, I can have Locke remove your from the room."

The young man quickly snatched a chair and moved to place it beside his father, but paused when the lord coughed. "Your place is beside Locke."

A look of shame and resentment flashed in Ramsay's eyes before he smiled pleasantly and said "Of course, Father."

A tense silence once again settled in the room. The sun had set and a fire had been lit in the hearth, but the dim light it cast did little to dispell the darkness settling in Hazelyn's mind. She stared blankly at the wall, trying to ignore the chilling glances from her father and leering from the bastard.

"Hazelyn," Roose said, "I have arranged a betrothal for you."

Hazelyn, startled out of her trance, turned towards her father, a look of puzzlement on her face. Domeric had mentioned to her awhile ago that their father had entered talks with Lord Karstark about possibly arranging a marriage with his heir Harrion, but it had never come up again.

"I have come to an agreement with Walder Frey of the Twins that you will marry one of his sons or grandsons. We will be traveling there in a couple of months to choose your groom, and then some of the House Frey will follow us back here for your wedding."

Hazelyn didn't know how to react to this information. She felt overwhelmed by all the emotions and thoughts flying around in her head. "Why?" She managed to choke out.

Roose looked slightly annoyed and sighed. "The strongest alliances between houses are forged by marriage, and House Frey has significant wealth and assets that would make them a valuable friend."

"I think she means why have the wedding at the Dreadfort, my lord," Barbary offered, trying to help her dazed niece.

"Hazelyn has become my only heir and the future Lady to the Dreadfort, making whomever she takes as her husband the future lord. I would like to ensure that the future ruler of my keep and lands is capable. The man who marries my daughter will come to the Dreadfort and I will teach him as I did my son."

Ramsay, who had been visibly amused by the conversation up to that point, narrowed his eyes and snarled quitely.

Hazelyn, on the other hand, had no physical reaction. She felt completely numb. She couldn't think. She just sat still and stared at the wall. She might of heard her aunt's shrill protests and her father's smooth replies in the background, but she couldn't be sure.

After silence settled in the room again, she turned to her father and asked flatly, "Will that be all, my lord?"

Roose turned his gaze about the room, studying each occupant in his cold steady way before replying. "Yes, I suppose you may go, though I will wish to speak privately you later."

"Thank you," she said flatly. She rose and walked out the door quickly.

"My lord, I believe it is time for me also to retire," Barbary stated.

Roose nodded and replied, "Very well, my lady. We lay my son to rest early tomorrow. I will send someone for you."

Barbary nodded as she hurried out of the solar to catch her niece, but the young woman was already gone.

Sun beams filtered through the leaves and dappled the ground of the Godswood. The trees whispered to one another as the wind rustled their branches. Hazelyn sighed at the quiet as she leaned back against the great Weirwood at the heart the grove. A book, a history of the Northern Houses, and a series of newly carved wooden figures lay beside her on the ground. She had retreated to the Godswood outside the castle walls after Domeric's body had been laid in the in the crypts that morning.

Her Father had acted as cold and emotionless as he usually did. Aunt Barbary and many of the castle staff had seemed sad. The stern and proud Lady of house Dustin had even cried. Hazelyn hadn't shed a single tear though. She hadn't even felt sad to tell the truth, just numb. She had felt that way since she had left supper the previous night. After the meal, she had gone to her chambers and barred the door against everyone who tried to get in: Aunt Barbary, Elena, Myna, Marvion, even Darren. Only when Locke came pounding on her door later in the evening, demanding she open it because her lord father wanted to see her, did she comply. She hadn't even felt anything when her father punished her yet again for her public disrespect.

"You continue to disrespect me in front of others. You undermine my authority and shame yourself," he stated in a quiet, venomous tone.

"You disrespect my brother's memory by bringing your murderous bastard into our household," Hazelyn said in a flat, emotionless voice.

A smack echoed throughout the chamber. She did not scream. She felt nothing.

Hazelyn absent-mindedly touched one of the tender spots under her dress as the memory crossed her mind. No one had seen the bruises yet. She had locked her door again after Locke had taken her back to her room and had dressed herself this morning. She didn't want to have to deal with any pitying or hurt-filled glances or questions from those she cared about. She knew she was neglecting and mistreating them, but she just couldn't process anything at this point.

Hazelyn had barely made it through her brother's burial. She had hurried straight to the stables immediately after to get Branwen to ride out to the Godswood. She just needed some peace.

The girl distractedly rolled her knife between her fingers as she stared up at the blood red leaves of the Weirwood tree. She reached for a half finished figure laying in the pile beside her. She had hewn a piece of wood into a flat circle with the basic outline of harp in the center of it.

Her brother had always played the harp quite well. Their mother had too. When they were young, Bethany would sit with them in the nursery every night and play it softly as she sang them sleep. After she died, it had sat in her old chambers collecting dust. Hazelyn had never been able to play it well, no matter how hard she tried. Domeric had mastered the instrument in his years away from the Dreadfort though. So he after he returned, he would let Hazelyn come to his rooms sometimes and he would play it for her, just like Mother used to. Now it would collect dust again.

A loud whinny broke Hazelyn from her strain of thought. She got up to see what had startled Branwen from her content grazing nearby only to find that the mare had disappeared. Hazelyn frowned as she looked around the empty clearing. She had trained Branwen herself and the mare had always stayed put when commanded to do so. What could have scared her off?

"Hello sister. How was the burial?" A mocking voice called behind her.

A chilling sensation traveled down Hazelyn's spine as she turned slowly to see the sadistic smile of Ramsay Snow. He stood confident and cocky, no longer vested in brown threadbare garments, but in fine black breaches and a linen tunic, a new blade resting on his hip.

The numbness in Hazelyn turned into to a silent, icy fury. Her carving knife still in hand, she carefully hid it between folds in her skirt and levled Ramsay with cold a gaze as she could muster.

"You dare you call me sister, Snow?" she asked in a quiet, angry tone.

The young man smirked and stepped forward slowly as he answered, "I am your father's son. I was a little disappointed that you didn't show your pretty face at the funeral feast today to hear father officially acknowledged me in front of the Dreadfort. Of course, the Dustin bitch wasn't there either because you ran off, so I suppose it wasn't all bad."

"You must be so proud that your daddy finally decided to give you a little attention," Hazelyn spat, "and of all the pretty new clothes and toys he's giving you. Maybe he's helping you compensate for something." She took a slow step towards him, her grip tight on her knife.

Ramsay's smug expression faltered and his eyes darkened. "Well, it wasn't very easy to turn Father's head. It took quite bit of work, but I am proud of what I accomplished. Things got a bit...messy in the end, from what I've heard, but it all worked out."


"You would know better than I. Did your brother scream very much in the end? Was there a lot of blood? I'm sad I wasn't there to see it. Such a spineless cunt didn't deserve to bare the name Bolton or the title Lord of the Dreadort." His mouth spread into a sadistic grin of pure joy.

"You are a murderous, pathetic bastard. Before my father's corpse is even cold, I will have you dragged before me on your knees, and as Lady of the Dreadfort, I will make sure you get what you truly deserve."

A flicker of rage appeared in Ramsay's eyes and his smile dropped just a fraction, though he didn't seem to break. He chuckled darkly as he continued to come closer. "Spoken like a true Bolton, sweet sister. You're far darker than you appear. Tumbling with you would be very fun. I've wondered how our little encounter would have turned out a few months ago had we not been interrupted..."

Hazelyn took a calming breath as he closed in, drawing comfort from the coolness of the blade hiddden in her skirts.

She bit her lip and prayed to the old gods standing nearby to guide her hand. When the young man came within reaching distance, she whipped out her blade and managed to get a decent cut on his arm before he tore the weapon from her hand.

"You little bitch!" He shouted as he roughly grabbed her wrists. "I'm going to make you scream!" Hazelyn froze in panic. It was happening all over again. Only this time he would succeed in ruining her.

The sick young man started to push her backwards towards the trunk of a tree when an angry voice called out, "Let go of her now, you fucking little prick, or I'll kill you."

Marvion ran towards the them, sword in hand. Ramsay laughed gleefully and harshly pushed Hazelyn towards the ground. Her eyes filled with tears as she shook her head in denial. Why hadn't she been thinking? Of course Marvion would come looking for her after she ran off! How could she have been so careless?

Ramsay drew his new sword out and turned to face the larger man. "My day just keeps getting better," he laughed as he began circling with the guard.

"I should have run you through the first time you laid a hand on her," Marvion growled at Ramsay, "but I'll more then make up for it this time. I'm gonna beat your ass senseless, drag you before Lord Bolton, and tell him the truth about you everything you've done, you sick little prick. Then we'll see what kind of punishments the Lord of the Dreadfort has for perverted rapists like you."

Ramsay's veneer of gleeful mirth dropped at the threat. "Come at me old man, and I'll gut you from belly to head," he taunted.

Hazelyn watched in petrified fascination as her dedicated guard leaped forward and clashed blades with her would be assailant. The swords flashed in the sunlight and their clang echoed in her ears.

Marvion fixed his green eyes on her in a commanding glare and yelled "M'LADY,RUN!"

She stayed where she was, still in shock.

"HAZELYN, GO!" He bellowed.

The second command roused her from her daze. She breathed heavily as she ran away from the sounds of clashing swords, snatching her knife from the ground as she passed by.

Hazelyn ran as fast of her legs could carry her out of the grove and back towards the keep. As she broke free of the tree line, she heard an agonized scream.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Escape

As Hazelyn sprinted away from the godswood, she tripped several times, scraping her the palms on the rough ground, but she didn't stop. She focused all her energy on getting back to the keep, paying attention solely to the tall dark towers lingering in the distance, not even noticing when she stumbled into the village or when townsfolk that called out to her.

When she reached the keep's main gate, panic flared in her gut. The doors were firmly shut. She turned away, frantically trying to recall what other entrance she could use without getting caught when a firm hand gripped her shoulder.

"M''lady, what-"

Hazelyn's hands blindly beat against the firm chest she was pulled against, trying to push it away. Her strong assailant released her but then she heard a shout.

"Hazelyn, STOP!"

The young woman paused in surprise as Darren's voice registered in her mind. She looked up to see his green eyes staring at her with concern.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

Marvion's face flashed before Hazelyn's eyes. She had to let Darren know his father might be hurt. Yet, when she opened her mouth, no sound came out. She stared up at him with a blank expression on her face, frozen in panic. After a moment of no response, the stable hand frowned and gently nudged Hazelyn. "You don't look too good. Come on, I'll take you back to the keep through the side gate. I was on my way to the stables anyway." He tried to put a hand on her shoulder but she recoiled violently. "Don't touch me!"

The young man withdrew his arm quickly, staring at her in shock. Hazelyn closed her eyes and took a deep breath."I'm sorry. I... don't need support. If you'll just walk with me to the gate," she whispered.

Darren nodded and they walked the rest of the way in silence. Hazelyn tried not to pay attention as they walked past the small, wooden stalls of the market, several shoppers staring curiously at them and bending their heads together to gossip. She shook with tension and and felt on edge, constantly flitting her gaze between the dark stone and earth wall surrounding the Bolton fortress and the wooden shacks of the village. Darren continued to look at her with concern, walking close by her side but not daring to lay a hand in her again.

Hazelyn felt a bit of the tension leave her body when she and Darren finally passed through the side gate into the courtyard, the keep's black exterior actually providing her comfort for once. Yet when several guards spotted them and ran over, fear took over again.

"M'lady, your lord father and lady aunt sent us out to find you. Are you alright?"one of the guards asked as they approached. She just stared at the man blankly, so he turned his attention to Darren. "What happened to Lady Hazelyn, boy? Did you have anything to do with it?"

"No!" Darren exclaimed. "I found her in the village when I was coming to work in the stables. I was just escorting her back!"

The guard narrowed his eyes at him but then sighed. "Fine boy, go." Darren nodded and glanced back at Hazelyn before hurrying away. Marvion's face crossed Hazelyn's mind again and she raised a shaky hand. "Darren, wait!" The boy stopped and looked back at her. "Your father-"


Hazelyn turned to see Lady Dustin bustling across the courtyard. The woman moved with surprising speed over to her niece and laid a firm hand on her shoulder. "Where have you been?" She huffed, a strict frown on her face.

Shaken, Hazelyn stuttered "I-I went..."

"Never mind that. You're a mess. We need to get you cleaned up." She nodded at the guards, effectively dismissing them and started to push Hazelyn back towards the keep. As she was hearded away, Hazelyn looked back towards her friend who stared at her with alarm.

Hazelyn sat at her desk and despondently stared into her looking glass as Myna fixed her hair for the evening feast. Both her aunt and Septa Elena had questioned her quite thoroughly about why she had been found wondering outside the keep in such a disheveled state. She had mumbled something about falling off her horse when a stag scared it, and both women had accepted the explanation, albeit skeptically.

"I've finished your hair, m'lady. Will you be needing anything else?" Myna interrupted Hazelyn's thoughts. She looked at Hazelyn with a neutral expression, her mouth set in a small frown.

"You don't need to call me that," Hazelyn murmured. Myna's brow furrowed and her frown deepened.

"Really m'lady? I thought you wanted to be left alone," she replied, a sharp edge in her voice.

"I-I shouldn't have treated you as I did," Hazelyn said, rising from her chair. "I'm sorry, Myna. I let my grief get the better of me and acted thoughtless towards you."

The maid regarded her silently for a moment before she sighed and relaxed a bit. "Alright, Zel, but you can't just treat people like that or shut them out when something's wrong." Her eyes narrowed into a severe expression and she crossed her arms across her chest. "We're talking tonight."

"Aye," Hazelyn affirmed, swallowing nervously before reaching out to lightly grip Myna's hand. Myna smiled a bit, but then jerked her head towards the door. "You better get to the feast so your ass a father doesn't get on you for being late." Hazelyn chuckled weakly as the two girls made their way through the door. She froze when she saw no guard standing outside in the hall. She turned towards her friend and asked, "Do you know where Marvion is, Myna?" She bit her lip and her heart sped up.

"No, I haven't seen him since this morning. Why?"

"Could you find him for me while I'm at the feast. I want to speak with him before bed."

The maid raised an eyebrow but nodded. "Very well."

Hazelyn gripped her goblet tightly, anxiously scanning the hall for any sign of her favorite guard or the bastard. The crowd of feast goers drank deeply from their cups and their conversations echoed off the vaulted ceilings of the chamber. The hearth burned bright near the head of the room and servants darted in and out between the tables, baring pitchers of wine to refill cups and platters of food to satisfy the hungry guests. Yet, no Marvion or Ramsay Snow. Not knowing the outcome of that fight made her sick to her stomach.


"What?" She yelped as she jumped in her seat. Lady Gwyn Whitehill frowned at her in concern. "I am sorry, what did you say?" Hazelyn asked while trying to calm her nerves.

"I asked if you would show me the library tomorrow. We don't have nearly as a good selection at High Point," the blond replied with a small smile. Her family, Hose Whitehill, was one of the Bolton's most loyal vassals and they had arrived at the Dreadfort that morning to see the young Bolton heir entombed. Gwyn was only a few name days older than Hazelyn and though they did not know each other very well, the young woman had always been pleasant company whenever their families had visited each other.

"Oh. Um...Of course, I'll be happy to show you." Hazelyn managed a small smile before sipping her wine and scanning the room again. Her stomach dropped when she saw Myna, pale and grim-faced, approaching her.

"M'lady," Myna murmured when reached Hazelyn,"There is a rather urgent matter that I would like speak to you about."

Hazelyn took a deep breath and was about to reply when the doors to hall opened. Her blood ran cold when she saw Ramsay Snow enter the room. He didn't come up to sit at the head table, but when he had taken a seat among some Bolton men-at-arms, he directed his pale grey gaze over at Hazelyn. She froze and stopped breathing as their eyes met. He grinned at her before looking away. Hazelyn slowly shifted her attention back to Myna.

"I will... tend to it after the feast, Myna. We will speak when I come to bed." She silently pleaded with her friend to understand. The blond servant looked confused but carefully nodded. "Aye, m'lady,"she murmured before slipping away.

Hazelyn spent the rest of the meal in a trance, only half-heartedly listening to Lady Gwyn's conversation and not touching her food at all. When lively music started up and couples moved out into the open part of the hall to dance, Hazelyn made her excuses to her dinner companions and headed towards the door. Just as she was about slip out, she heard him.

"Sweet sister, the evening has just begun! Don't tell me you're trying to slip out before all the merry-making. That would be rather rude." She turned to see Ramsay right behind her, smirking as his eyes moved up and down her body. "I must insist on you granting me at least one dance before you leave." He reached out and grabbed her hand before she could reply and pulled her tightly against his body, sweeping her up into the crowd of dancing couples. Hazelyn felt her dinner coming up as the bastard firmly placed his hand at the small of her back and forced her along.

He leaned down and murmured quietly in her ear, "As you can see, sweet sister, I'm still here and your guard is not. A hidden dagger helps a person win a fight rather quickly. A very clever move I learned from you." Hazelyn gagged as a sob forced its way out of her mouth. "No need to cry, sweetling. He didn't die in vain," Ramsay replied in mocking tone. "He helped me improve my flaying technique quite a bit. I wish I could show you my handiwork." His gleeful chuckling set off an icy cold fury in Hazelyn. It took all the will power she had to lift her head and look him in eye.

"You won't be laughing for long, you worthless piece of shit," she seethed, "Father may be fine with you slaughtering others, but once I tell him why you slaughtered my guard, you will suffer. Father will never accept his worthless bastard trying to rape his one legitimate heir."

Ramsay's smile turned into a sneer and he squeezed Hazelyn's hand painfully as he replied, "Uh, uh, uh. I'm afraid I can't let you do that sweet sister. You see, I know how special your precious guard's family is to you, especially your little stable hand. You have a pretty little maid and sweet old septa too, don't you? It would be such a horrible shame if something were to happen to them. I know you don't want that so I'll make you a deal. You won't tell anyone about our little meetings in the woods or the little visits I'm going to start paying you after you come back with your little Frey husband, and I'll make sure nothing happens to any of your little friends. Do you understand?"

Hazelyn couldn't respond. She was frozen in terror. "The dance will be ending soon, sweet sister. It's now or never," Ramsay murmured, tightening his grip on her hand and back even more.

"F-fi-fine," she choked out. Ramsay laughed a bit. "Good choice. I knew you were a smart girl." With that, he released her from his grip, stepped back, and smoothly bowed as the dance ended. "Thank you very much for the dance, sweet sister. Have a wonderful evening." He smiled and winked at her before slipping away into the crowd. Hazelyn stood frozen in place, not able to move or think. After a moment she managed to force herself to move her feet, and just like whight, she slipped out of the hall and moved mindlessly down the dark stone corridors of the Dreadfort back to her rooms.

Hazelyn slammed the door to her chambers and slumped against it, staring at the dark stone wall. Did the gods hate her? Her life before hadn't been ideal but it had been manageable at least. Then the bastard stole her brother and dignity from her, and now because of her selfish actions, he had taken the man she considered a father too. Her best friends and Septa were in danger, and one of them had just lost his father.

It didn't take long for Myna to find her. "Zel!" She called while knocking insistently, "Open the door! You promised we'd talk and I need to tell you something important."

Hazelyn had half a mind to to lock herself in and tell the maid to leave. "I'm tired Myna!" She called out, "Come back in to morning!"

"Hazelyn, you promised me and I am not letting you back out of this! Open the damn door!" Myna snapped, banging on the door loudly.

"Child! Open the door! Now is not the time for acting like a babe! Something very serious has happened that we all have to discuss!"

Hazelyn cringed as she heard Elena's shrill voice join the cocaphany of Myna's sharp threats and door banging. She didn't budge though, until she heard someone else.

"Hazelyn! Damn it, open the door!" She heard a strained and cracking voice shout. "Come out here and tell me why the hell my father is dead!"

She felt a sharp ache form in her chest and tears stung her eyes. She took a deep breath and pulled the door open, finding Septa Elena, Darren, and Myna waiting for her. The Septa looked sad and tried, Myna had her arms crossed in annoyance and anger, and Darren's green eyes were red rimmed, narrowed in an accusing stare. Hazelyn bit her lip, looking down the hall both ways before standing aside to let them in.

"Zel," Myna began,"I found out-"

"I know. The bastard told me," Hazelyn whispered.

"He did it!?" Darren exclaimed. He grabbed Hazelyn's shoulders, shaking them firmly. His chest heaved and his eyes looked wild. "What in the seven hells happened, Hazelyn!? What did you do!?"

Hazelyn cringed at the pain his hands caused her still raw shoulders. She started breathing faster, not able to force out a reply. "What in the seven hells are you doing boy!? That's not the way to get answers," Elena snapped, firmly gripping Darren's arm. The tension drained out of the young man's body and he leaned against Hazelyn's desk for support. He looked up towards Hazelyn with tears gathering in his eyes. "Zel, please tell me what happened. I need to know. My mother, my siblings, they need to know. Some of our neighbors found Father in the godswood this evening. He-he was mutilated, practically all his skin ripped off. The blood was everywhere. I couldn't even let my mother see him. He was too-" He choked up too much to continue and buried his face in his hand.

Hazelyn felt a lump form in her throat as she looked at her miserable friend. She thought about Darren's mother Twylla, a pretty and cherry woman who had always been a welcoming and warm presence whenever Hazelyn had sneaked down to her home. A seamstress, she had made some of Hazelyn's dressed herself and had helpled the high born girl when she had had trouble with some learning some of her stiches. Hazelyn thought about her friend's two little sisters and brother, all small, quiet dark-haired children who had clamored to crawl on Hazelyn's lap and beg her for treats from the castle anytime she visited. She had considered them all true family and a comfort throughout a childhood filled with a sick and then dead mother, absent brother, and distant and abusive father. They had largely been instrumental in getting many of parcels of food and clothing she made out to the small folk. And she had repaid them by letting their father die.

She turned to see Myna and Elena staring at her with pensive expressions on their faces. "I think it's time we know what's been going on, child. You need to brave and tell us," Elena said firmly, laying a comforting hand on Hazelyn's shoulder. Hazelyn nodded shakily and sat slowly on her bed. Then, through tears and stuttering, shaking and screaming, she got it all out. She told them everything from Ramsay's first attack to his threats over dinner, spearing no detail.

When she finished, Elena looked sick, Myna's eyes were red-rimmed from tears, and Darren shook with rage. "That-that fucking bastard! I-I"ll kill him!" he spat out out. He started towards the door, but Elena moved into his path.

"Use your head and don't be a fool, lad! If Ramsay Snow could gut your father, a trained guard, what do you think he'd do to you?"

"So I'm just supposed to let him get away with it? He killed my father, attacked Hazelyn, and threatened my family and friends! I can't live like that!"

"But, Darren," Myna said, "You have your mother and younger siblings to think about. Trying to confront the bastard would do no good."

Hazelyn stared at her friends and her old septa, rage and fear welling up inside of her. Images of the life she would lead crept into her mind: Ramsay creeping into her rooms night after night, bedding her after a weasel-faced Frey had his go, her father snatching her new born child out of her arms and raising them to be a little monster, Elena, Myna, and Darren all hanging up in the godswood, flayed bodies bearing a resemblance to her house's sigil. She clenched her hands and shook her head.

"No," she whispered rising to her feet. "No! I will not give in to that bastard or my father! They won't win this game."

The three other people in the room watched as she hurried over to her chest and pulled out her jewellery box. She took out all the chains, rings, and pendants she had, many that she had inherited from her mother, and started dividing them into piles.

"What are you doing, child?" Elena asked over Hazelyn's shoulder.

Hazelyn didn't look up as she replied. "I'm dividing up my jewels so all of us can have sufficient coin to leave this gods-forsaken place."


"I'm not staying here, Elena" Hazelyn snapped. "Neither are any of you. The best way I can ensure all of you don't get hurt is by giving you the means to get out of here." She went over to the loose floorboards in the corner of her room and pulled at them aside.

"I can't just leave!" Darren exclaimed. "I can't ask my mother, sisters, and brother to pack everything and leave after they've lost Father."

Hazelyn ignored him as she fished out empty sacks and parcels of blankets and food from her hidden compartment. She gathered the supplies and brought them over to her desk, dividing them like the jewels.

"Child, you are not thinking sensibly," Elena chided, a deep frown on her face. "Why don't you rest tonight and then we can have a more-"

"No!" Hazelyn snapped, looking up from her piles of supplies, "I'm tired of my father controlling my every move and beating me just because I try to give villagers food! I'm tired of that bastard fucking me with his eyes and slaughtering everyone I care about! I'm done!"

"But, Zel," Myna asked,"where would you go? If you went to stay with any other noble family, wouldn't they be obligated to send you back to your father?"

"I'm not going to stay with any family," Hazelyn mumbled as she put the piles of jewels into satchels. She looked up at the at her friends sadly. "I have to start over. I know enough get by as common girl. I'll find honest work." She tied up the four satchels, grabbed one, and placed it firmly into Myna's hand. She looked at the maid with a icy gaze and a firmly set frown. "And don't even think about stopping me."

Hazelyn sat by a window in her chambers, twirling her knife between her fingers. She stared out at the alpine forest and the rushing Weeping Water below and got lost in thought.

Through a massive amount of pleading and sheer stubbornness, she had managed to bring Elena and her friends around to her plans. It had taken several days to arrange everything (spying on guard schedules and bribing some of the nicer ones to conveniently be gone during their shift) but their plans were now set and soon all of them would be free. She smiled at the thought and laughed a bit when she imagined how her usually cold, calm father would react when he discovered her gone.

She glanced over towards the small sacks in the corner of the room that contained food, blankets, and all the coin she had. She rose from her chair and walked over to them. She picked one up, feeling around inside until she found a small brown book. She returned her place by the window and began thumbing through the pages. She stopped when she reached the two containing a small map of the North and set it down in her lap, studying it thoughtfully.

She had had to spend a lot of time thinking and arguing with the others to come up with a safe and effective plan. Elena had wanted all of them to go to White Harbor together. Darren had insisted on going to Barrowtown and the Rills. Myna had stated that she didn't care where she went, but Hazelyn had to go with her becuase, as an orphan, she wasn't going to let go of the only family she had left. Hazelyn could understand their views and appreciated their attachment but it frustrated her. They all just didn't understand how serious the situation was. They all had to split up go and go separate ways. It was safer that way. Yet, she couldn't sway any of them with anything she said. So, she had decided to make a "comprise".

She placed a finger on the Dreadfort, ran it south over the Sheepheards Hills and Hornwood, stopping at White Harbor. Hazelyn had agreed with Elena and that it would be safer to go to a city where work was plentiful and it would be easy to hide. She had also stated it wouldn't be smart depart all at the same time. "Let me leave first," she had told them. "My father has no time for incompetent servants, and he knows I've slipped away before. If I disappear and he dismisses you from service, he won't question you suddenly leaving village." Sounding logical enough, she had convinced them to wait.

After her disappearance, Elena would retire in"shame" to her original Sept in White Harbor and Myna would serve as the travel companion to the senile, "distraught" old woman. Darren said he needed more time to prepare his family, so they'd follow several weeks after. Hazelyn told them they would meet at Elena's old sept in and that she would leave a message on where to find her in the city. Only, she wouldn't.

She moved finger northwest of the Northern city to the heart and capital of the North of itself, Winterfell. Winter Town was the last place her father would look for her, right under his leige lord's nose. Ever the prideful man, Roose Bolton would keep the humiliating news that he had lost his only heir quiet and would only go begging to the Starks as a last resort. She felt a bit of guilt over the deception and hurt she would cause her friends, but it was safer this she told herself. Also despite what her friends wanted, she wanted to start over completely, and she could only do that one way, alone.

Hazelyn sighed as she watched the setting sun bathe the alpine forest in flame and turn the Weeping Water into a ribbon of gold. Everything would be fine and they'd all be free of her father and his bastard soon, as long as then plan succeeded.

She couldn't bring herself to go the godswood to pray, so she clutched the tiny weirwood charm she had carved with a face resembling that of the heart tree, and bowed her head. 'Please watch over the souls of my mother, brother, and Marvion. Please watch over all my friends and me as we leave this place. Please watch over the villagers and spare them from my house's wrath.'

She opened her eyes and looked with regret into the fading dusk at the village, hidden in the shadows of the coming night. If only she could take all of them from this place...

A sudden chill passed through her as a cold breeze came in through the window and caressed her face. 'Worry not. It will be done,' a small voice seemed to whisper in her head. Hazelyn shivered at the sudden fingers of ice she felt gripping her, but then the breeze died down and the feeling left. She had just felt horribly cold, and she never felt cold. A knock on Hazelyn's door broke her stain of thought.

"Come," she called. Myna slipped in, bouncing with nervous energy over to her friend, several rough spun dresses in arms. "Everything's set, Zel. You just need to finish up packing and get changed. You can't start being one of the small folk looking all fancy." She smirked.

Hazelyn frowned and furrowed her brow. "Myna, now is not the time for joking. Are you sure everything is-"

"Yes!" Myna snapped, huffing as she dropped the dresses on the bed. She turned back to Hazelyn, hands on her hips. "I have everything under control. You wouldn't be leaving tonight otherwise." Her expression softened. "You need to learn to lighten up and trust us more, Zel. Once we all make it to White Harbor, we'll be all the family the other has."

"You're right," Hazelyn lied smoothly, pushing down her nagging guilt. She tried to smile a bit and walked over, picking up one of the old dresses. "Could you help me get ready? I leave tonight." Despite the deception to the people she cared about, Hazelyn couldn't help but feel a building sense of hope and relief, for tonight escape her father and the bastard. Tonight she'd escape the Bolton legacy and all her demons. She'd be free.

The moon shone dimly in the sky, the small crescent giving off barely any light, casting the Dreadfort's corridors deep in shadow. An unnatural stillness and erry silence hung in the air. A sentry walked his usual route around the older section of keep, hand restin on the pommel of his sword as he nervously scanned the halls. He was experienced thug who took joy from breaking bones, not some pathetic cunt, but some thing wasn't right. Phantoms of Bolton Kings long forgotten seemed to flit around corners and sinister whispers echoed off the walls.

He jumped when he thought heard a small shuffling noise in the next hall over. Gripping his pommel tighter, he slowly approached the passage and looked around the corner into the darkness. He failed to see the cloaked figure mere feet away from where he stood, hidden by the shadows and pressed tightly against the wall, still as statue and as silent as a ghost. Once he was confident that no intruder lingered in the passage, he turned away slowly, and after one more look, continued on his route. The figure relaxed and gasped for breath. Then it turned into the corridor and headed the opposite direction.

The cloak maneuvered its way through several sharp turns and down a narrow, steep staircase to a very old looking iron door. It whipped out a knife and jammed it into the small lock, moving it around a few times before the door clicked and swung open.

The figure passed into series of dark and foreboding chambers that were covered with grime and filth, the results of several centuries of forgetful neglect. It passed decaying wooden crosses, dull hooks, and walls with stains distantly resembling blood. One should have been off put by these rooms that were once used for a very sinister purpose, and but the cloaked stranger made their confidently through the darkness, the way only a child who had spent many days exploring those rooms could.

The chambers gave way to a damp tunnel. The traveler trudged down the dank passage to an iron gate. Once again, it drew out its knife and jiggled it in the lock. The click echoed off the wet tunnel walls and the iron gate groaned as it slowly opened to the outside.

The hooded figure approached a low stone wall running along the base of the keep and whistled. A light suddenly sprang to life on the other side. Then it tossed the several sacks it had been carrying over the wall and waited in silence. It looked up at the sky to see the dim moonlight fade away as low-hanging, dark clouds moved in and blocked out the moon. A low whistle came from the other side of the wall. Then, with grunts of exertion, the cloaked individual pulled itself over the barrier. It jumped down on the other side and saw Darren, partially hidden in shadow and raising a hand towards it in greeting.

The light of the touch he held revealed a black horse, pawing and stamping, with the bags hanging off her saddle. "Zel!" He called as quietly as he could. The cloaked figure's hood fell back to reveal the dark head of the Bolton heiress.

Hazelyn began to make her way over to Darren, but paused as her head turned towards of the wall. The bastard's light lusting eyes flashed in the trees. She smelled his rank breath. Her skin crawled. "Zel! Come on!" Darren called.

Her attention snapped back to her friend and she ran over to the him. His green eyes shone brightly in the torch light as they looked directly at Hazelyn. Her heart fluttered and jumped as a distant memory of two young preteens danced in her mind: The bright sun shining as the two of them sat in Branwen's stall looking over a book on old northern tales, the laughing and poking as one teased the other for still being afraid of grumpkins and snarks, the awkward moment when one fell on top of the other, the wet, sloppy kisses that followed in the moments after...

"Zel, it's time to go!" Darren urged. Hazelyn glanced back at the Dreafort one more time before meeting her friend's gaze. They stared at each other for a few seconds, and then she reached up a shaky hand and put placed on his cheek. She smiled sadly and whispered, "There is no way I can thank you and your family for all you've done for me, and I can never apologize enough-"

Darren reached out with his free arm and hugged Hazelyn to his chest. She tensed in surprise but didn't have time to react before he planted his lips on hers in a very brief, chaste kiss. She tensed up even more, but before she could protest, he pulled away and whispered in her ear, "We don't have time for all that. Just be safe, Zel. We'll see each other soon enough."

Hazelyn sniffed a bit, knowing deep down it wasn't true, and whispered, "The same goes for you. Look after your mother and siblings. I'll see you in White Harbor." She pulled away and pressed a piece of wood into his palm. She then rushed over to Branwen and vaulted herself up into the saddle. With one last wave good bye, a sad smile, and lingering look at the Dreadfort, Hazelyn turned Branwen away and urged her into a gallop, riding off into the darkness.

Darren stood still and listened until the last echo of her horse's hoof beats faded into the night. He opened his hand and looked down to study the piece of wood resting in his palm: a tiny horse with detailed features and intricate designs carved into its sides. He smiled briefly before closing his hand and dousing his torch and looked up at the sky as he began to make his way back home. A summer snow had begun to fall, heavier than normal, and a fine mist had slid between the trees. All the while, a pair of eyes watched from a hidden place and lips curved into a sinister smile in the dark.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: A New Life

Hazelyn cowered behind the door, not daring to look as the angry shouts continued. The sickening sound of her father's hands striking her mother echoed off the chamber walls, making tears leak from Hazelyn's tightly shut eyes. The little girl only opened them when the scary noises stopped and then emerged from her hiding place shaking. Father was nowhere to be seen but Mother lay on the bed sobbing with a myriad  of  angry red marks adorning her face . They  would no doubt leave horrible black and blue reminders in their wake. "Mother, please don't be sad," Hazelyn pleaded gently as she crawled into her mother's arms and snuggled into her shoulder.

Mother said nothing, only tightening her arms around her little girl. "Why does Father do that to you?" Hazelyn asked. No response came. The gentle embrace around her just grew tighter, to the point where she could barely breathe. "Please Mother, you're hurting me," she choked out, her voice suddenly sounding much older than that of a young girl. She lifted her head to find herself a woman grown held tightly in the grip of a man. He did release Hazelyn, only to push her back down onto the bed with an excessive amount of force. Her eyes widened in surprise at her new bed mate. Surprise turned to terror, however,  when t he cold gaze of Ramsay Snow met her own.

"No!" She screamed. He held her down with one hand and pulled her  skirts  up with the other. She struggled violently against him, flailing her  arms  frantically and clawing at any part of his body she could reach.

"You're quite the little fighter," Ramsay laughed as he undid his bre e ches. "Good! I like it rough." Hazelyn closed her eyes, prepar ed  for him to violate her body in the worst way possible ,  when the pressure of his hands disappeared. She slowly opened her eyes and found herself in another room entirely. She sat up and gingerly slipped off the bed, tensed and on high alert. The fire in the room's hearth had died down to smoldering ashes, but she had no problem seeing in the dark. She walked about the  chamber , studying the opulent furnishings and light stone walls. It certainly wasn't any room in the Dreadfort. Her Father didn't have the money nor the desire to live this lavishly. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. She turned around as it creaked open slowly. The all-consuming darkness outside hid everything from view except for a pair cold, bright blue eyes staring directly back at her.

Hazelyn screamed as she sat up, sweating profusely despite the coolness of the morning air. She looked around, finding herself on a bed roll, tucked away in a little grove of trees on the northern plain. The patches of sky that were visible above the canopy of green leaves had turned from black into a bright pink, heralding the coming dawn. She let out a tired groan and wiped the perspiration off her brow as she stood up.

She studied her surroundings cautiously when a snicker caught her attention. Hazelyn smiled a bit when she saw Branwen standing only a few paces away tied loosely to a branch. "Hello my pretty girl," she murmured as she stroked the mare's soft snout and untied her lead. Branwen nudged her hand expectantly, making Hazelyn sigh. "No treats," she said softly, patting the sack of coin and jewels hanging from the belt around her waist. "I have to save this to make sure you and I have a place to sleep other than the hard ground once we've reached Winter Town." She pulled away and began packing up her makeshift camp, rolling up her bed and securing her bags on Branwen's back. With a grunt of effort, Hazelyn pulled herself up into the saddle. She wiggled around to get comfortable before gently tugging on Branwen's mane and whistling for her to go forward. She eased the horse into a steady canter as she maneuvered out of the trees and halted once she came to the edge of the grove.

The young brunette looked out across the sweeping moore, which was cast in varying shades of gold by the rising sun. A gentle breeze blew, swaying the blades of moss green grass in rippling waves. Off in the distance, the famous King's Road wound its way through the sea of grass like a long serpent towards a good sized settlement and huge keep. The tall towers of the gigantic castle brushed against the ever brightening sky. Hazelyn smiled a bit and rubbed Branwen's neck. "There's our new home, girl; Winterfell." She snickered, urging her horse into a fast gallop, eager to reach her new life.

The relative wealth of Winter Town amazed Hazelyn. The houses were in good repair, many of them far bigger then the dilapidated shacks of the Dreadfort's village. Several artisan's shops and other thriving establishments lined the main street and the townsfolk seemed happy and healthy despite their lack of colourful embellishments, a welcome change from the hunched shoulders and malnourished frames Hazelyn had seen too often in the Bolton lands.

After asking several locals for directions, Hazelyn finally managed to locate the local inn and tavern, the Smoking Log. She was able to rent a decent room and put up Branwen in the inn's stable for a week at the price of six silver stags. A bit expensive, but with her jewels she should to be able to afford it fine for a little while she presumed. Exhausted, she set her belongings in her room and went down to the tavern to get breakfast and a cup of ale. Many high born ladies would have considered the drink swill, but after countless times of Myna and Darren sneaking it into her chambers for late night merriment, she had come to appreciate the hardy tavern brew.

She smiled sadly as she recalled the fond memories of her absent friends and raised her cup in a slight toast to them before pulling out her money pouch and going through the coin and jewels she had left. She ran her fingers over her mother's fine pearls, shining coins, and rings set with tiny precious stones, keeping track of their value in her head. She frowned when she finally calculated how much time her valuables would be able to buy her at the inn. She'd have a moon at most, and who knew if she'd be able to find work by then.

Rubbing her tired gray eyes, Hazelyn closed her pouch and took a long swig of ale. She crossed her arms and looked across the bustling tavern. A group of slightly dusty farmers sat at the roughhewn wooden counter, waving down the tavern girl to bring them another round of drinks. A couple dressed in simple travel cloaks huddled in the corner, eating their meal quietly. The smoke that wafted around the tavern and stained the rafters surprisingly reminded her of the Dreadfort's great hall.

As crazy as it might seem, Hazelyn felt herself almost missing the dark stoned keep. Father had expected her to start balancing budgets for the household as she got older, but she had never had to worry about running out money before. Maybe she had been foolish to separate from the others. She sat there staring at her plate, trying to figure out where she could possibly find work. She didn't know where anything was in this town, much less where to find a job.

"Ya done with that, miss?" A voice asked Hazelyn, breaking into her thoughts. A dark haired girl, around her own age she noticed, stood before her, hand resting on her hip as she waited for the customer to reply.

"Uhmm... aye, I am," Hazelyn answered. The girl picked Hazelyn's dish and asked, "Would ya like anything else?"

When Hazelyn shook her head the girl motioned to the front of the tavern. "You can go to the table over there and pay your tab."

"Thank you," Hazelyn replied as she stood from her seat. She approached the front table where all the inn's books were kept and was greeted by the same stern, grey haired woman who had checked her into the inn.

"What can I do for ya?" the innkeeper asked. Hazelyn told her the name she had registered under and the food she had eaten. The woman flipped through her book and jotted something down on a page. "One cup of ale and a meal cost ya five coppers. I added it your tab for final payment," she said. Hazelyn cringed at the price as the woman snapped her book shut and turned away to study something else. She glanced over her shoulder at the young serving girl and bit her lip. The job didn't seem too difficult and the girl appeared close to her age. It couldn't hurt to ask...

"Excuse me," she called, trying to put on tiny smile. The innkeeper looked from her up from her books again with a raised brow.

"Do you need anyone to help around the tavern?" She asked in a quiet, slightly shaky voice.

"Ya lookin' for a job?" The woman asked bluntly.


The innkeeper frowned and leaned forward, looking Hazelyn's body up and down and intently studying her face. She leaned back and crossed her arms for a minute, making Hazelyn nervously fiddle with her skirt.

"Ya know how to cook and clean?" The woman asked. Hazelyn bit the inside of her cheek. She had seen Myna clean plenty of times, even helped her out on occasion. She'd also had a bit experience preparing some food to send out to the small folk in parcels. How hard could it really be?

"I can only cook a little bit, but I can clean well," she murmured. The woman narrowed her eyes slightly, making Hazelyn tense. "I can sew really well and read too," she nervously added. The woman's eyes widened a bit in surprise.

"Ya read?"

"I do sums too."

The woman walked around the table to give the young woman's body and face one more glance over before she stated, "I suppose I could use ya as another serving girl. Men buy more drinks when a pretty face is serving them. You could help keep track of bills too. The Gods know how tired I get having to keep reminding on the other girls to remember to tell me their bills."

"Of course," Hazelyn nodded eagerly.

In the end, the innkeeper agreed to hire Hazelyn. She was to serve food and drinks to patrons, write down bills in the book, and clean the tavern when it wasn't busy. "You'll get one free meal per day, but I'm still going to charge your board and for keeping your horse in the stables," the innkeeper had said.

When Hazelyn went to her room that night, she couldn't wipe the smile off her face. She lay down in bed and clutched her weirwood charm tightly. "Thank you," she prayed quietly to the old Gods. She closed her eyes contentedly, letting her worries slip away. She was free from her demons and everything was going to work out.

Hazelyn screamed as yet another nightmare forced her from sleep, her night gown damp with sweat. She pulled herself out of bed and went to the basin to splash her face. She sighed at the sensation of the cool water and looked out the room's tiny window. The moon shone brightly and covered the quiet landscape in soft shades of silver and shadow, a peaceful image in contrast to those in her dreams. She groaned as she leaned against the wall and rubbed her brow.

The nightmares kept her awake every night. They made her dread going to sleep. Yet she desperately needed rest after the long days of work in the tavern. The innkeeper, Rina, ran her ragged from dawn til long after dusk most days. The past few weeks had been a harder adjustment than Hazelyn thought they would be. She had struggled to learn how to properly clean the tavern and where everything was in the kitchens. She looked down at her raw hands. The skin was red and chaffing from all the scrubbing she'd had to do.

At least
Rina was fair employer. There were a few times Hazelyn was sure the woman would fire her for what she herself thought bumbling incompetence, but the innkeeper had given her a pass first time around.

Hazelyn pushed herself off the wall and settled back in her bed. Unable to fall back asleep, she lit a candle and pulled out her money pouch. She counted up her first few week's wages and the little she had left of the valuables had brought from the Dreadfort. She ran their worth against the expanses of her room and Branwen's board and realized it wasn't going to be enough.

She bit her lip as she tried to think of ways to overcome the problem, but swallowed hard when one came to mind. Branwen had come from the finest stock of the Ryswells' horse herds and Hazelyn's mother's birth house bred some of the finest steeds in the seven kingdoms. The mare would fetch a high price at market. That money, plus the saved expense of having to keep Branwen in the inn's stable would be more than enough to cover her board or any other expenses she might have for moons to come. Yet, that horse was her last friend in this new life. Her grandfather had given the mare to her as foal for her eighth name day. The horse was practically a part of her and separating from Branwen would be like cutting off an arm. But then again, this was the life Hazelyn had chosen: a simpler life, but a much harder and lonelier one as well. Sacrifices had to be made.

So with a stiff upper lip and fighting to hold back tears, she decided that the next day, she was going to sell Branwen.

Hazelyn clutched Branwen's lead tightly as she entered the market square, feeling a bit intimidated. She walked slowly among the busy shoppers and merchants that flitted from stall to stall, buying and selling wares. Her gray eyes darted from one wooden stall to another, slightly overwhelmed at trying to find out which one she should approach. Distracted, she walked straight into another woman, startling as the woman gave a shout and stumbled a bit, dropping her basket and thus scattering her various purchases all over the ground. Branwen stopped and whinnied, eyeing a particularly shiny apple that landed near her hoof.

"Oh Gods!" Hazelyn groaned. "Branwen, no!" she snapped at her horse, quickly leaning down to snatch the apple up before the mare could take it. She then dropped to her knees to try to salvage what she could of the woman's purchases.

"No need to get your hands dirty, love. There's no hope for most of that food now," a gentle voice called.

Hazelyn looked up to see a very pretty red headed woman brushing off her green dress as she fixed her basket back on her arm. "You could maybe grab those pears and that lemon though," the woman said, pointing to several pieces of fruit. "They cost me a pretty copper and I can still salvage them."

Hazelyn fumbled to gather up the fruit from the muddy ground and then stood up. "I-I'm so sorry," she stammered, trying to reach for her coin pouch without dropping anything. "I'll pay you the price of whatever you lost!"

"That's quite alright, love. Just put the fruit in my basket first, then we can talk money," the woman sighed, offering her basket to Hazelyn. Hazelyn took a deep breath, carefully placed the food down, and then looked up at the woman.

"How much was it?" She asked.

"Well, there was bread, cabbages, carrots, and a potato...I think it all would be worth one silver," the red head replied.

Hazelyn fumbled through her purse, pulling out a golden dragon instead, and offered it to the woman. "I really want to make it up to you for knocking you over. Take this."

The woman's eyes widened incredulously and she frowned. "Love, it really cost only one stag to replace it all. It isn't necessary to give me a week's worth of wages to apologize. I'm not the kind of woman to steal food from a girl."

"It's really not that-" Hazelyn paused, catching herself before she said something foolish.

"Much?" The red head guessed. She raised an eyebrow and placed a hand on her hip. "You must come from some money, then. It usually takes me at least four really good fucks to make that much."

Hazelyn's mouth opened in surprise, not knowing how to respond.

"Just one silver stag, love," the woman said, holding out her hand. "Then we'll call it even." Hazelyn returned the gold coin to her purse and gave the woman a silver one instead. "Alright then," the woman smiled slightly, "We're all settled. Have a nice day!" She turned and began to walk away but Hazelyn stopped her.

"Mam, please wait!"

"Yes?" The woman asked, looking back over her shoulder.

"I'm new to town and on my own. I have to sell my horse, but I don't have the slightest idea where to go." Hazelyn nervously fiddled with Branwen's lead. "Would you know which merchant deals in horses?"

The woman turned around, her expression softening. "You have no one?" She approached Branwen, looking the horse up and down, and reached out a hand to gently stroke her snout. "Looks like a fine horse."

"She is," Hazelyn replied.

The woman looked at Hazelyn a bit sadly. "It's a shame you have to sell her. I don't know what I would do for a horse like this."

"I would like not to, but I need the coin."

"I can understand that," the red head sighed. "Follow me and I'll take you to the square where the farmers and merchants deal in animals."

"Thank you," Hazelyn said to her with a forced smile. She frowned though as she began to lead Branwen behind the woman. "I didn't even ask you name."

"It's Ros," The red head called over her shoulder. "What's yours?"

Hazelyn bit her lip for a moment. She couldn't very well use her real name. It wasn't one that was terribly common in the north. She'd been named for her grandmother who had hailed from a small house in the Riverlands. Yet, she didn't want to part from her name entirely. It still was the part of who she was. A small smile formed on her lips when she thought of an answer. "My name is Hazel."

Ros had not wanted to linger in the muddy, fowl-smelling square filled with animals, so she had pointed out a prominent horse merchant and taken her leave. "Come by the brothel whenever you like. I know the ins and outs of Winter Town and I'd be happy to help you get settled if you have trouble," Ros had told her. She'd even offered Hazelyn some work in the brothel if she wanted. Hazelyn appreciated the prostitute's kindness but didn't think she was quite ready or desperate enough to have to enter that profession.

Hazelyn tried to calm Branwen as she led the skittish mare towards the horse merchant's stall. "Shush now," she murmured softly, rubbing Branwen snout gently. She herself started to grow nervous as she waited for the horse merchant to finish his current transaction. When it was her turn to approach him, he regarded her with a studying gaze and deep frown. She struggled to keep Branwen under control, keeping a tight grip on her lead.

"I don't deal in farm horses, girl. You'll wanna to go to the merchant on the other side of the square." He waved his hand vaguely in the other direction and looked past her for his next customer.

"She's not a farm house," she quietly but calmly stated as she continued to pull her horse to the stall.

"Girl, I have money to make, so please, move along!" The man sighed.

With memories of her father's condescension running in her mind, anger coursed through Hazelyn's veins. Putting a bright smile on her face, she stepped to the side and quickly snapped her fingers behind her back, letting Branwen walk straight up to the merchants stall, blocking the path of any other potential customers.

"Girl, move your horse!" The merchant snapped.

"I could, if you at least looked her over once," Hazelyn pleasantly replied. Rolling his eyes, he relented and inspected Branwen. Once he was done, he turned towards Hazelyn and crossed his arms.

"She's admittedly a finer horse than I thought. I'll give four gold dragons for her." Hazelyn frowned, recalling her aunt bragging to her that Branwen came from the finest of the Ryswell stock, and that even the worst horses that the Ryswells bred were worth at least ten dragons.

"She's worth at least twice that much," she stated.

"Fine, five golden dragons."

"I know she's worth more and I won't sell her for any less than eight gold. I won't let you con me."

"Girl, don't tell me how much horses are worth or accuse me of being a dishonest! I'll show you-

"Excuse me," a masculine voice interrupted, "Is everything all right here?" Both Hazelyn and the merchant turned in surprise to see a tall, well dressed, stern looking man frowning at them in concern.

"M'lord Stark," the merchant exclaimed, giving a slight bow, "It's a pleasure to see in the market today. How can I be of service?" He side stepped Hazelyn, not even looking at her as he went to tend to his much richer customer.

"I came to purchase a horse for my daughter's nameday, but you were already involved in a transaction," the man motioned back towards Hazelyn, crossing his arms. "I'll be happy to wait."

"It's nothing m'lord. Just a silly young woman trying to sell a horse for more than it's worth," the merchant insisted. "I have some particularly fine horses that you might-"

"Excuse me, sir, but we weren't finished," Hazelyn said in a low, measured tone, gripping Branwen's lead a bit tighter.

"Please, finish with your other customer," the lord said, "I insist." He took a step back and crossed his arms causally.

"Yes m'lord," the merchant said in placating tone, but as he turned back to Hazelyn, she saw the fierce look of annoyance in his eyes.

"As I told you before, I will pay you five dragons, no more, and don't presume to act like you know more about my trade than I do."

"I came from a family that deals in horses," Hazelyn was about ready to burst, "I know this one is worth more than you're offering."

"I'm not in the mood to be swindled today, girl, so if you won't accept my offer, move along."

Hazelyn gritted her teeth to hold back a sharp response. Without even looking at the merchant, she gently snickered and tapped Branwen's snout to ease her into a steady walk away from the stall. She set her tense jaw and forced herself not to look back.

"Now, m'lord, what can-?"

"Girl, wait!" Hazelyn turned to see the dark haired lord walking towards her. She stopped in surprise until she remembered the courtesies Elena had drilled her into her head many times. She swept into as dignified a courtesy she could muster while keeping a hand on Branwen's lead and murmured nervously, "My lord."

She held her breath as Lord Stark walked over to her, her back ram rod straight. While she had never been to Winterfell herself, Lord Stark and his lady wife had come to the Dreadfort once when she was very young. Her father had kept her away from his guests for the most part, so he probably wouldn't recognize her, but that didn't do anything to quell her rising anxiety.

The lord's dull gray eyes swept over Branwen's shining black coat. "Would you mind if I had a look at your horse?" He asked as he studied the mare's muscled back. Hazelyn's jaw dropped in surprise for a second before she shook herself and replied, "Of course, my lord."

She stood quietly, her hands nervously bunching her skirts, as she watched the Lord of Winterfell inspect her mare. Lord Stark circled Branwen carefully, running his hands over her coat and gently feeling the muscles in her legs. He came around to the horse's front, and stroked down her snout before carefully checking her teeth. Branwen acted remarkably calm with the lord, compared to her riled state a couple moments before. The man's gentle hands and quiet demeanor seemed to have comforting effect on her.

"She looks very healthy," Lord Stark stated, looking back towards Hazelyn. "How old is she?"


"And she's already trained?"

"Yes my lord."

The serious lord stepped away from the horse and crossed his arms again. His gray eyes glanced between Branwen and Hazelyn several times and he frowned slightly, thinking.

"You have a very good horse," he finally said. "I'll buy her from you for forty dragons."

Hazelyn stared at him dumbly, her eye wide in disbelief.

"Is that price not good enough?" Lord Stark asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No, my Lord!" Hazelyn cringed when her voice came out louder than she had intended. "That is more than enough."

"Alright then," Lord Stark dug into a pouch on his belt and counted out forty gold coins. Hazelyn removed her own pouch and watched with slight amazement and a sinking sadness as the lord dropped the coin in. She turned to Branwen, blinking quickly to keep the tears from her eyes and coughing to clear her throat.

"I'm so sorry, pretty girl," she murmured, giving Branwen one last pat on the snout and nuzzling her. She pulled back and looked into the mare's dark eyes and firmly said, "You go with him and be good."

She turned back to Lord Stark, offering him Branwen's lead. "Thank you, my lord" she said earnestly.

Lord Stark actually cracked a small smile and nodded as he firmly gripped the rope. "It's my duty to help all those under my protection," he solemnly replied. "Thank you, miss. Have a good day."

Hazelyn smiled a bit, happy to hear a lord's view of ruling so different from her father's. "You as well, my lord." She dropped into a slight curtsey as Lord Stark walked away. She rose and watched as he led her Branwen, the last piece of her old life, away from her. She drew a shaky breath to keep herself from tears and began her walk back to the inn.

"Well, Locke?"

"The patrols haven't found anything yet m'lord."

Roose closed his eyes and faced the wall to keep from losing his cool demeanor. How in the name of the old gods and new could that girl have just disappeared? She just vanished one night. He had sent men out as soon as he found out she was missing, but the unusually heavy summer snow and thick fog had deterred their search for a full day after. Now weeks had passed, and yet after many rough interrogations and sending out countless patrols to search for her, nothing came up.

He turned back towards Locke with a tightly set jaw and said, "I want you to double the patrols and start searching beyond the border of our own lands. But be discrete about it. I don't want any other house to find out she is missing."

"Yes m'lord," his loyal captain replied.

"Go," Roose dismissed with a sharp wave of his hand, "And send my bastard in."

Roose studied the dark stones in the walls of his chambers as his master at arms bowed and left. He glanced towards his door as he heard it click shut. The shadows cast by the dying fire burning in his hearth hid the face of the young man that entered.


When Roose turned around and saw his bastard standing before him, head bowed, he smirked a little. Good, the boy was finally learning proper courtesies. He had a natural talent for weapons and combat, but when it came to teaching him manners, it felt like pulling teeth. "What did you find out from the villagers you interrogated?"

"Unfortunately, nothing important. They were stubborn, even under the knife. You should have let me have go with the old crone and the maid. I'm sure I could have gotten them to talk," The boy replied.

Roose frowned in annoyance. "Locke interrogated them before I dismissed them from the household. He did not need your assistance."

"But I would have-"

"Locke didn't need your assistance," Roose interrupted. "If you ever wish for me to entrust you with more responsibility in my household, Ramsay, you will learn to take orders without question. You are not to ever question me in private or public. Do you understand?"

Ramsay's fingers slowly curled into fists. "Yes Father, but-"

Roose narrowed his pale gray eyes ever so slightly as he held his hand up for silence. "You will not question me or Locke when we give you orders. Do you understand?" He said in a low tone.

The young man visibly flinched. "Yes Father."

Roose held his hands behind his back as he began to casually pace in front of his bastard. "Your interrogation methods are crude and the very opposite of subtle. Yet subtlety is what is needed in a situation like this. With my only heir missing, House Bolton is vulnerable, and the more families that know, the weaker my house is. I was nearly not able to keep Lady Dustin quiet after your actions. What do you think she would do if she heard you had flayed her old Septa or her missing niece's maid?"

"But Father, the saying of our House is a naked man has few secrets but a-"

"Flayed man has none. Yes, those are words of my house, but you are not a Bolton. You are my bastard, a Snow." He looked Ramsay in the eye. "You'd do well to remember that the next time you decide to play games and flay one of my guards unnecessarily, just because he annoyed you." He then took a seat at his desk and looked away from his bastard in disinterest. "You will help Locke organize the extra search patrols for now. Do not cause me such a headache again, Ramsay, or I may decide you're too much trouble to be a part of my household at all."

Ramsay's pale gray eyes stared hard at the ground as he ground out, "Of course, Father."

"You may go," Roose dismissed him with a wave of his hand. The young man was almost out the door when Roose said, "You should heed my lessons. If you listen to me and prove your loyalty, you will be repaid in kind. "

Ramsay glanced back over his shoulder at Roose, a deeply hidden glint of hope in his eyes. "Thank you, Father," he said quietly. He nodded his head slightly and Roose gave him a nod in return. Then the boy slipped away.

Roose turned his attention back to his desk, where a map of the North laid spread before him. He crossed his arms as he studied it intently, trying to think where his one heir could have gone. After a while, he gave up and walked over to his window and looked out into the dark night. The moon gave off a dim silver light, but it did little to dispel the deep blanket of shadow draped across the landscape. A bone chilling breeze disturbed the quiet night and whistled through the window, but the Lord of the Dreadfort remained unaffected. He had to admit to himself, his daughter had to be quite clever to pull this off, but if she thought she could play games and win, she would be sorely disappointed. She may have gotten ahead this round but he would win the game.

Hazelyn tried to pull her dress up a bit as she rushed back to the kitchens to get another mug of ale. It was just a little past dusk and business in the tavern was in full swing with many of the folk of Winter Town eager for a drink after a hard day's work. The loud babble of conversation buzzed in her ears as she tried to weave through the many tables and patrons between her destinations. When she reached the kitchen she quickly grabbed two cups and filled them with the inn's hearty brown ale, fresh from the keg. She carefully watched the frothy liquid as she brought the cups back to the waiting patron.

"Took you long enough, love!" Ros exclaimed as Hazelyn arrived back at the table tucked in the corner of the tavern. The brunette smiled slightly as she sat the two cups down and took a seat next to the red head. In the fortnight since they had met in the market, Ros had stopped by the tavern every evening to share a drink with Hazelyn while she was on break. She'd come at first because she felt sympathy for a girl all alone in a new place, and she wanted to tell Hazelyn about the town, but it had turned into a meeting between friends. Hazelyn had not been sure how drinking with a whore would be, but Ros turned out to be quite a funny and engaging individual.

"So, what wondrous tale of Winter Town will you be telling today?" She chuckled lightly.

"Well," Ros whispered conspiratorially, leaning in towards the younger woman, "I had a rather interesting customer at the brothel today." She giggled a bit. "As long as you can promise to keep quiet, it's a great laugh."

Hazelyn blushed a bit, but nodded. "What goes on in the brothel, stays in the brothel."

"Good girl," Ros clicked her cup to Hazelyn's, "Now, today happened to be a certain young-"

"Ros!" Someone shouted, distracting the two women from their private conversation. They looked up to see a well-dressed, sandy blond lordling approaching their table, wearing a roguish smile.

"M'lord Greyjoy, I didn't know I'd run into you here," Ros coyly greeted him. Hazelyn suddenly felt increasingly uncomfortable as the young man sauntered up to them.

"I missed you today. I came by the brothel and they told me you weren't there," he flirted.

Ros gave a tiny smirk. "Even whores need to get out for a cup of ale and good company sometimes, m'lord. But if you really missed me, I would be happy to take you back to the brothel for some good company after I finish my drink." She smiled and slowly raised her cup to her lips, taking a long sip as the young man leered at her. Hazelyn began to edge her way out of her seat when the lordling's gaze tracked over towards her.

"You have some very good company indeed," he commented as his hazel eyes gazed at Hazelyn's breasts. He smiled at her and said, "I don't believe I've ever seen your lovely face around here before, and I know all lovely faces around Winter Town."

Hazelyn tried to hold back the bile rising her throat she as continued to scoot out of her chair. She looked away from his leering gaze as she replied, "I'm new to town, my lord."

"Oh, and has anyone been showing you around? I've lived here for many years and would be happy to help you out," he said with a small smirk on his face.

Hazelyn finally managed to slip out of her seat and stood up, bobbing slightly at the lordling. "Thank you my lord, but Ros has already helped me out plenty. I'm sorry, my Lord, but I have to get back to work."

She turned to go, but young Lord Greyjoy stepped in her way. "You could at least give me a name to go with your pretty face."

"Hazel," she replied shortly, trying to look anywhere but his face. "I really am sorry, my lord, but I'm a server here and really must get back to work."

"Alright," the lordling relented with a slight chuckle. "If you could though, take three cups of your best wine over to my two friends over there."

He indicated to a table across the tavern where two other young men sat, "I'm sure they'll enjoy the drink more with such a pretty face serving it."

"Of course, my lord," Hazelyn hurriedly mumbled as she stepped around him and walked away. She threw a nervous glance over her shoulder and let out a small sigh of relief when she saw he had turned his attention back to Ros.

After retrieving the three cups of wine from the back, Hazelyn carefully balanced them in her arms and her made her way to the table to lordling had indicated. She tried put a convincing smile on her face, sending a small prayer up to the old gods that the lordling's friends were not as flirtatious as him.

The two young men paused their conversation when they she arrived their table. Both were extremely well dressed like their friend, Lord Greyjoy. One had unruly black locks and dark eyes, strongly resembling Lord Stark. The other had dark auburn curls and bright blue eyes, quite unusual for a Northman. They must be Starks, she concluded, her eyes slightly widening.

"My lords," she bobbed in slight curtsey, "Lord Greyjoy asked that I bring you these drinks. Our best wine," she murmured as she carefully set the goblets on the table.

"Thank you, miss," the auburn haired lord replied with a slight smile and nod. The brunette nodded in thanks as well.

Gods, those eyes were so blue, someone could just get lost in them Hazelyn thought for a moment. A blush spread on her cheeks and she shook her head slightly to get rid of the silly thought, smiling at them and replying, "Of course, my lords. If you need anything else, please just ask." She then went to go make note of the drinks in the books and tried to ignore the wink Lord Greyjoy gave her as he passed her on the way to his table. She shook her head and sighed. It was going to be a long evening.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Of Taverns and Brothels

The sun had gone down hours ago, and business at the tavern was in full swing. A cacophony of voices and laughter filled the large room as tavern girls ran to and from the kitchen, carrying mugs of ale and plates of food. Most patrons were enjoying themselves thoroughly after a long day of work, except for one particular dark haired young man.

"We should've left already," Jon said to his brother, crossing his arms over his chest. "Father won't be happy if he catches us and your mother will be furious." He cringed as an image of Lady Stark's icy glare and menacing scowl appeared in his mind.

Robb glanced out the window at the dark sky and then over towards a severely drunk Theon before he responded. "Maybe you're right, but we can't just leave Theon. We'll have to find some way to get him into the keep in secret."

Jon followed his brother's gaze across the room to the inebriated Ironborn who was leaning against one of his favorite bar maids, whispering something in her ear that made her giggle madly. Jon's eyes narrowed slightly and a feeling of revulsion made his stomach twist. "We're always have'n to get him out of trouble, but he's never the one who gets punished," he said bitterly.

"What's this?" Theon slurred as he stumbled up to the table. He saw Jon's scowl and let out a hardy laugh. "You really need to lighten up, Snow. Have another drink! Find a pretty girl to stick your prick into!" When Jon only responded with an even deeper scowl and tensed posture, Theon jested, "Come on, Snow! Don't be such a cunt! You're not a real man until you've fucked a woman! Even Robb has been to the brothel a few times by now!" He gestured grandly towards the auburn haired lordling who squirmed uncomfortably.

Jon stood up, his face growing red as he fixed Theon with a venomous glare. "Well, at least I'd stop to consider the woman. You never even give a thought to what happens to those girls after you're done with them!" He exclaimed in a low voice.

"Theon, lay off Jon. We've stayed long enough, and Mother and Father won't be happy if they find us stumbling into the keep drunk in the morning," Robb said carefully as he stepped between his two friends. He turned to his brother. "Jon, I'm going to go pay our tab. Could you help get Theon out of here?"

Jon, though, wasn't done arguing with Theon. He always put up with the Ironborn lordling's constant goading for his brother's sake, but even a bastard could only take so much. "Just because you spend a fortune on whores and con a few cleaning maids into bed, Greyjoy, doesn't make you the gods' gift to women."

The barb wiped the mirthful expression off Theon's face and replaced it with an angry glare. "I could get any girl I wanted into my bed, " he slurred. He looked out across the room like a predator scanning for prey. Jon frowned when Theon smirked and pointed at one of the tavern girls, the pretty, timid brunette that had served them all night . Theon had been flirting with her all evening, every time she had come back over to give them more drinks, but she had only responded with a slight blush and grimace. "That girl, she's a shy one. But I guarantee, Snow, that within ten minutes of me talking to her, even she'll be falling into my arms. Watch and you might learn something." He took a step in her direction, but Robb quickly got up and put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Theon," he said firmly "We have to get back to the keep now. We don't have time for this."

Theon brushed Robb's hand off and chuckled. "If you and Snow want to go back to cold beds tonight, go ahead, but I'm going to keep mine warm."

Jon watched with apprehension as Theon staggered up behind the dark haired tavern maid. "Hello Hazel!" he said a bit too loudly as he put a hand on the girl's shoulder. "You know, I was terribly rude earlier, ignoring someone as beautiful as you." The brunette server almost jumped out of her skin as she turned around, her body tensed and and her face frozen in what seemed to be an expression of absolute horror. "Would you let me properly apologize to you?" Theon slid his hand down to lightly clasp her arm. The girl started shaking her head back and forth. "Let go of me!" She exclaimed.

Jon looked over at his brother. "We have to stop that before Theon makes a fool of himself," Robb said. Jon nodded quickly in agreement and they attempted to make their way through the crowded tavern to stop the situation before it escalated, a useless feat.

The girl's blank expression turned murderous as Theon gave her arm a small tug, pulling her towards him. "Oh come on. I don't mean any harm," he chuckled with a lazy smile as she bumped against his side. "I just want-"

There was a flash of silver, a pained shout, and a thunk. With as drunk as he was, the girl had managed to break free of the shocked blond lordling and catch him off balance, pushing him to the ground. Jon would have laughed if it weren't for the crazed expression she was wearing and the small blade she was pointing at Theon. Everyone in the tavern seemed to freeze as they watched the scene unfold. The maid was in an almost trance state as she looked at Theon and hissed, "I will not let you win, Snow! I swear I'm going to kill you for what you did to my bro-"

"What in the seven hells are you doing!?" The innkeeper's angry voice boomed out, breaking the girl out her trance just as Jon and Robb made it over. She looked confused for a moment, but then her eyes widened in horror when she saw the knife in her hand and the Ironborn lord struggling to stand up. She dropped the blade, put a hand over her mouth, and backed away, her chest rising and falling rapidly.

Jon and Robb were trying to help a drunk and still shocked Theon off the ground when the innkeeper ripped into the girl. "I did not jus' see you pull a knife on one of my best paying customers! Are you mental, girl?"

The maid shook her head and choked "Oh Gods!" Her eyes darted rapidly from the innkeeper to the three young lords. She focused her gaze on Theon. "My lord, I- oh gods- I-"

"I'm so sorry m'lords!" The innkeeper cut the stuttering maid off, approaching the trio with an apologetic expression. "I assure you I had no idea the maid was like that and I will make sure nothing like this ever happens again." She looked over at the violently trembling girl, her eyes narrowing menacingly. She looked back at the boys and motioned to some chairs. "Please m'lords, have a seat and have as many drinks as you wish, free of charge. And if you need anything, please just let one of the girls know!" She smiled pleasantly before turning to regard the brunette maid with a furious sneer. "The kitchens now, Hazel!" She snapped as she walked briskly out of the room.

The girl turned her grey eyes towards the trio, her expression filled with regret. Then she took the very knife she had pointed at Theon a minute before and cut a small strip of cloth from her skirt. She hurried over and faced the young men as they finally managed to get Theon upright. "My lord," she murmured to Theon, "I'm so-"


The maid cringed at the loud shout from her employer, and hurriedly offered the small cloth strip to the trio, nodding to a small cut on Theon's arm. "Something to cover ithe with and stop the bleeding," she murmured. Theon just looked at her suspiciously, so Robb reached out and accepted the scrap. Then, before any of the them could say anything to her, the maid bobbed and hurriedly slipped away.

Having had enough excitement for one evening, Robb and Jon decided it was time to leave. They had managed to drag Theon out of the tavern when he finally got over his shock enough to exclaim "What was in the seven shells was that!?"

"Probably one of the worst rejections you ever received from a girl," Robb chuckled slightly, trying to make light of the somewhat shocking and unsettling end to their evening.

"That doesn't count," Theon grumbled. "She was bat shit crazy!"

Jon frowned as he listened to the other two speaking, thinking about the girl. "There was something not right about her," he murmured.

"Yes, I think we've already established that, Snow," Theon said in an annoyed tone.

Jon narrowed his eyes at Theon and replied, "I don't mean like that! It was somethin' she said. She called you 'Snow'. I don't think she was seeing you when she pulled out that knife." Theon rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to argue when Robb interrupted.

"Hey, that's enough! The ale has gone to both of your heads and I won't put up with anymore of it tonight." He glared at both of them, daring either to argue. Jon looked down at ground guilty with pursed lips. Theon on the other hand, too drunk to be affected by "Lord" Robb, sighed and grumbled, "Alright. This night was shit anyway. After Snow's whining and that crazy bitch, I might not mind a cold bed after all."

Robb shook his head before looking forward as they neared Winterfell's walls. "Just be quiet Theon." Jon bit his lip to prevent himself from adding to conversation, distracting himself by scanning the gate ahead and the courtyard beyond.

"Doesn't look like there's anyone nearby," he whispered to Robb. After checking for himself, Robb looked at Jon and nodded. He turned a stern glare at Theon and firmly said "Not a sound." He then nodded to Jon one more time before they moved towards the gate.

Jon and Robb walked as quietly as they could with Theon slung between them and successfully slipped through the deserted courtyard unseen. Jon dared to hope that they would actually make it back to their rooms without getting caught. Yet, just as they were about slip through a servants' entrance into the keep, someone called out to them. "I'm pleased you boys decided to finally make an appearance this morning."

Jon and the other lordlings cringed as they turned around to meet the furious scowl of Rodrick Cassel, Winterfell's master-of-arms. They cowered under his stern glare as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Lord and Lady Stark asked me to keep watch to make sure you made it back safely. They also wanted me to ensure you got back to your chambers and stayed there the rest of the night. Lord Stark will speak to you in the morning."

The boys let out a collective groan. Jon knew that whatever Father was going to say to them, it was going to be bad. He shivered as he thought about what Lady Stark would want to say to him. Something about him being a bad influence on her son and their ward, he was sure.

"Come on boys, let's go," Rodrick said as he motioned towards the main entrance of the keep. "It's late and I would like to get few hours of sleep before I have to get up." Jon looked over at Robb and shared a miserable gaze as they began the march of shame back to their rooms. Tomorrow was not going to be fun.

It didn't matter what Hazelyn said. She had pulled a knife on one of the tavern's wealthiest patrons, and in Rina's book, that was unforgivable. She told Hazelyn that she refused to have such a liability working in her tavern or staying in her inn. She gave the young woman half an hour to gather up all her possessions and leave.

Now, Hazelyn stood in the dark streets of Winter Town, having no idea where to go. The main street was empty, and except for the din coming from the inn, all was silent. Hazelyn glanced back once more at the noisy tavern, an island of light and life in the still darkness. Then she bit her lip and swallowed hard, pushing down her fear as she walked away.

She wandered down the quiet main street, the flickering shadows and pale rays of moonlight her only company. Her feelings of panic and anxiety faded away as the minutes past, leaving a bleak numbness in her mind. She felt the leather strap holding her knife rub against thigh as she walked. Why had she pulled her knife on a damn lord of all people? She couldn't even explain that to herself. She only knew that as soon as he had gripped her arm and pulled her against his body, all she had seen was his face, pale gray eyes glinting. All she had heard was his laugh, mocking her.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let the coolness of the night air wash over her, cleansing her mind of the distressing thoughts and quelling the rising anxiety in her chest. She then opened her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself tightly, feeling more alone than ever. She'd been a fool, not going to White Harbor with the others. She'd thought she'd been protecting them and that she could survive on her own. And now, here she was, wandering the streets of Winter Town with nowhere to go because of that self-righteous stupidity. On top of that, she had been here for more than a moon and had made no friends to speak of, save Ros.

Ros, Hazelyn's grey eyes widened as the red headed whore's words replayed in her mind. "Come by the brothel whenever you like. I know the ins and outs of Winter Town and I'd be happy to help you get settled if you have trouble."

Her mind began to race and her foot steps quickened. She scanned the buildings alongside the road as she passed by, searching for the only other establishment that would be open at this time of night.

After a few minutes, she spotted the well kept, two story house that Ros had said was her home and workplace. Even from outside, Hazelyn could hear the lewd grunting of men and the whores' fake whimpers of pleasure. Bile started to rise in her throat, but she forced it back down.

Her fingers tightened around her sack as she breathed deep and slow. She shook her head to shed any feelings of fear buried in her breast and proceeded to the entrance of the brothel.

When she opened the door to the house and entered, a dark haired woman sitting behind a table looked up to greet the new patron but frowned when she laid eyes on a young girl. Several men waiting to be "serviced" looked Hazelyn up and down with approving smiles on their faces.

"She a new girl, Mary?" One of the men asked the dark haired woman as Hazelyn passed by him. "If she is, I'll take 'er for the night." Hazelyn turned red with shame and tried not to flinch as she walked across the room.

"I'm sorry Gren, she's not," Mary said distractedly as she regarded Hazelyn with a confused frown. "You're not here for a fuck I take it?" She asked with a raised eyebrow.

Hazelyn stiffly shook her head and whispered, "I'm a friend of Ros's. I was wondering if I could speak to her." She bit her lip and stared hard at the ground, trying to discount the men eyeing her.

Mary pursed her lips and then nodded, reaching out a hand to place on Hazelyn's shoulder. "She's with someone right now, but should be able to talk to ya after that," she replied as she guided Hazelyn towards the back of the room. She glanced over at the waiting clients and then opened a door to reveal a small sitting room. "Best you wait in here," she said, "So the customers don't hassle ya."

"Thank you, " Hazelyn murmured as she slipped into the room. Mary gave her a small smile and said "We girls have to look out for each other." She then shut the door with a click, leaving Hazelyn alone. The little room was not richly furnished, the seats a bit worn and the wooden tables simple, but it seemed pleasantly cosy. A low fire burned in the small hearth, an arrangement of purple and yellow flowers sat in the center of one table, and there was even a few small, worn books laying on a shelf next to a basket holding thread and needles. Hazelyn gently laid her two sacks on the floor next to one of the seats and approached the shelf. She ran her fingers over the spines of the books until she came across one that was familiar.

It was a children's book filled with northern legends, very similar to one her mother had read to her as a little girl. She took it off the shelf and took a seat on the chair next to her bags. She flipped through the pages and found her favorite tale, the legend of the Night's King.

He saw her a top the Wall, a beautiful woman with skin as pale as moonlight and cold as ice, and eyes that shone like blue star sapphires. He gave chase to her and loved her. So he-

"I loved to read too, as a child." Hazelyn looked up, startled to see Ros standing before her, arms crossed and a small smile on her face. She snapped the book shut and jumped up for from seat. "I-I'm sorry for messing with it. I just-just-"

"It's alright, " Ros said gently, extending her hand in a calming gesture. "The few books I have in here are meant to be enjoyed. This room is a shelter for the girls away from..." A loud groan in the next room over interrupted her. "Well that."

Ros looked curiously at the book still clutched in Hazelyn's hand. "Which one were you reading?" The younger woman silently offered the book to her. The red head smiled fondly as she took it, a nostalgic gleam in her eye. "Ah, the legends of the North. My father spent a small fortune to get this for our family. He used to read it to us all the time before..." Her eyes darkened as the smile slid off her face. She looked over at Hazelyn and pursed her lips. "It holds fond memories for me," she said abruptly, promptly returning it back to its shelf.

Ros then turned around to regard her guest. Her frown deepened and brow furrowed in concern as she took in the disheveled appearance of the bar maid, as well as the nervous and terrified expression on her face. "So, Mary said you wanted to speak to me, Hazel. What brings you to the brothel at this time of night?"

Hazelyn chewed on her lip and both of her hands clutched nervously at the folds of her dress. She swallowed deeply before muttering, "I wanted to know if your offer of a job and place to live still stands?"

Ros's frown deepened even more and her eyes widened in confused shock. "You want to become a whore? Hazel, just this evening we shared a drink at the tavern where you had a steady job and bed to sleep in. What happened?"

A strange numbness and disconnection permeated throughout Hazelyn's mind as she accounted her incident with Lord Greyjoy to Ros. The emotions were just too much for her to handle, so she shut down. By the time she was done, all she could do was stare at the wall blankly. "She kicked me out, and I had no where else to go," she finished flatly.

Ros's eyes shined with concern and her expression was deeply troubled. She looked at Hazelyn sadly for a moment before sighing. "Why don't you sit, Hazel." Hazelyn sat down in the chair she had previously occupied, keeping her blank mask in place to hide the fear and anxiety boiling beneath the surface. Ros took a seat opposite her, crossing her arms and licking her lips, before saying in a hesitant tone, "Hazel, I know what I offered when we first met, but... Well, I don't think you have what it takes to be a whore."

The fear that Hazelyn tried to hide came out as anger. "What? What's wrong with me? Am I not pretty enough?"

"No," Ros said plainly, her expression turning serious, "But, Hazel, you've got an innocence that would be destroyed in the brothel. Girls that come here have seen trouble, been through trouble, and come out clawing like a cat being drowned."

Hazelyn fought against the horrible sinking feeling of forming in her gut, pushing her emotions down and saying with as serious a face possible, "I can do this. I need to do this. And whatever "innocence" you think I have, I lost a long time ago." She narrowed her eyes slightly for effect.

"I don't doubt that you've gone through your share of hardships," Ros replied firmly, looking Hazelyn straight in the eye. "But you still have a light in your eye that girls who have to become whores don't have. Hazel," Ros reached out and gripped Hazelyn's hand tightly in her own. "Once you cross that line, there will be no going back. You'll lose that light forever."

Hazelyn withdrew her hand from the red head's strong grip and looked away. She fixated her grey eyes on the fire in the hearth as she replied in a flat tone, "I need the job, please. My innocence is already lost."

Ros looked at Hazelyn in slight disbelief before an expression of great grief came over her face. She remained silent for several moments. All the while, Hazel focused on the red embers glowing in the hearth, fighting to hold down her feelings of panic and to keep her blank mask on.

"Fine," Ros finally relented warily. Hazel looked back at her to see a look of defeat on the older woman's face. "I'll get you a place to sleep among the other girls and I'll begin teaching you tomorrow. It'll take a week at minimum for you to learn how to fuck a man properly. " She rose from her seat, a pained expression in her eyes. "Gather up your things." Hazelyn stood and picked up her satchels, numbness the only emotion in her mind.

When Ros reached the doorway, she glanced over shoulder and asked, "Are you sure about this?"

With a vacant expression, Hazelyn replied flatly, "Aye."

A couple days later, the sun shined brightly in a clear blue sky, and the northern air had an uncharacteristic warmth to it. With such pleasant weather, Ros suggested Hazelyn take a break from their "lessons" and go to the market and buy something. "You still have some coin and you'll make much more soon enough. It wouldn't do you harm to indulge in something start seeing clients."

The fresh air did do Hazelyn some good. The chaos and din of the market square gave her a sense of freedom that she felt she was losing more with each passing day. It had taken all her will power to keep her panic and fear inside her as Ros taught her how to seduce and...pleasure a man. It wasn't too bad when Ros made her practice with some of the other girls, just utterly humiliating. But every night she couldn't prevent a few tears from running down her face, and her nightmares still kept her wide awake, filled with images of Father, that bastard, and a pair of blue eyes.

Hazelyn lazily wandered among the clusters of merchants and shoppers, just enjoying the warm breezes and brightness of the day. She admired how the sun reflected off the wares of the silver merchant and studied some fascinating weapons another merchant was peddling. She particularly liked the book booth, looking at the various titles and briefly flipping through their pages. She then moved on to the cloth merchant, intending to find some green material to make into a new dress for Ros as a thank you gift for taking her in.

She walked over to the table with cloth samples, biting her lip and narrowing her eyes as she focused in on the green ones. She studied the different shades intently, and was just about to make a final decision when a frustrated sigh broke her concentration. She looked up in annoyance to see a familiar young man staring helplessly at the vast array of cloth samples before him. Hazelyn recognized him from a couple days before. He had been one of Lord Greyjoy's companions, the Stark with the bright blue eyes. She pondered wether she should help him, truly torn between the shame she still felt over the incident he had seen and the rising pity she had for his hopeless expression. Despite her reservations, her pity won out becuase her stupid bleeding heart just couldn't leave him in such an abject state.

She bit her lip as she walked over behind him, noticing his gaze fell on the blue fabrics. "You look rather lost, my lord. Do you need some help?"

The lordling looked up in surprise. She met his blue gaze with a small smile that she hoped conveyed good humor. He turned to face her, his expression rather sheepish and his face slightly red. "Aye, I don't know the first thing about fabrics."

Hazelyn pursed her lips slightly to keep from chuckling, greatly amused by his embarrassment, and turned to look at the samples. "What are you trying to find?"

The Stark lord looked back at the myriad of blue cloths with slightly narrowed eyes. "My mother wanted something blue for a new dress for my sister."

"What color are your sister's eyes and hair?" Hazelyn asked.

"Her eyes are like mine, though her hair is a bit lighter," he replied, a hopeful expression on his face. Hazelyn looked at his eyes, gods they were so blue, and then quickly turned back towards the fabrics. She regarded them thoughtfully for a moment before she picked up a square of sky blue cloth . She looked at the lord and offered it to him with a smile. "This should suit your sister splendidly."

"Thank you," he said with a relieved grin on his face. "You've saved me a lot of trouble."

Hazelyn actually managed to give genuine smile in return. The afternoon in the market and this simple light hearted conversation made her feel lighter than she had in weeks. She could almost forget what she was about to become and what she had run from, if only for a moment.

She smirked as she smoothly replied, "It was my pleasure, my lord. I couldn't possibly just pass by someone in such distress." She raised an eyebrow slightly as she added, "Though I am curious as to why a lord such as yourself would be out shopping for your sister's dress fabrics."

He grinned sheepishly and shrugged. "It's not something I'm used to. I was forced to go because I might have stayed to long at the tavern."

Hazelyn let out a nervous chuckle at the mention of the tacvern. "Well, my lord, you have my solemn promise that I will come save you again if I ever see you stranded in such a perilous situation."

He laughed and shook his head, "Thank you, though I hope to never be in one again."

"Of course, my lord," she replied, starting to back away. His smile dropped, hearing the phrase, and he looked at her confusion before his eyes widened in recognition. "You're the tavern maid from the other night!"

Hazelyn's face flushed red with shame and her palms turn sweaty."I think I need to be on my way, my lord," she said hurriedly, bobbing quickly and then turning to make her get away.

"Wait," she heard the young Stark lord say, feeling a light pressure on her wrist. She turned to see him frowning at her, his blue eyes filled with concern. She stopped and faced him, her posture tense and her mouth set in a firm line.

"I just want to know, are you alright after what happened?" he asked. "I'm sorry about Theon's behavior and any trouble he caused you. He didn't mean any harm but sometimes he can be..." He awkwardly trailed off, not really knowing what to say about his best friend.

"I am no worse for wear, my lord. " Hazelyn tried to force a smile, though it came out more of a grimace.

"The innkeeper wasn't too happy with you when we left. Did everything turn out alright? Because if it didn't-" He said carefully.

"Thank you, my lord, but we settled the issue," she tried to reassure him in as calm a tone as possible.

"Oh," the lordling replied, relief evident in his tone, a small smile returning to his face.

"I really must be going," Hazelyn insisted in an even tone, her hand fiddling frantically with her skirt.

"Of course, don't let me keep you," the young man replied. "Thank you for your help today-" He paused, looking at her questioningly.

"Hazel, my lord," she murmured, already focusing on the road ahead.

"Hazel," He smiled. "Well, then thank you, Hazel, and if the innkeeper does give you trouble-"

"All is well my lord, but thank you." Hazelyn managed a weak smile as she bobbed and backed away. "Have a wonderful day, my lord," she called before rushing off, leaving a perplexed lordling in her wake.

After a week of training, as promised, Ros arranged for Hazelyn to see her first client. The red head frowned as she looked at the girl sitting on the bed, inspecting her scantily clad body and done up hair. She nodded in tentative approval, but her green eyes stared at the younger woman with grim seriousness.

"You're really sure you want to do this?"she asked. Hazelyn, with emotions buried deep, met Ros's green stare with a blank expression and firmnod. Ros stared at her a whole minute longer before sighing and shaking her head. "Alright, I'll send him in," she sighed, glancing back once more at Hazelyn as she left the room.

Hazelyn exhaled slowly and bit the inside of her cheek. She could do this, she could. He was a farmer named Joran, Ros told her. He came in every month for a simple fuck and sympathy as he complained about his fat wife , and then he left shortly after. An easily satisfied patron who never wanted anything more or took any longer than an hour. She could do this. She could do anything as long as it kept her away from...

The door opening, causing Hazelyn to nearly jump off the bed. A short, unassuming man came in, his eyes fixed on her body as he strolled around the bed. She bit the inside of her cheek again as he stepped towards her, shedding his shirt as he went. "Ros said you were a new girl, but that you'd be a tight fuck. Though ya don't talk much do ya?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to-"

"I like em' silent anyways. You're pretty enough, so just lay back and let me have my fuck," he casually said as he shed the rest of his clothes and reached the bed. "I'll have you screamin' soon." He grabbed Hazelyn's shoulders and yanked her towards him. She froze as his lips smashed against hers, not responding as he proceeded to slobber all over her and pushed her down onto the bed. She stared blankly at the wall as he placed his entire body over hers and yanked the skimpy gown off her shoulder. She swallowed back down bile as one breast was exposed to the air and his hand roughly seized and pawed at it. She even managed to stay frozen when he pulled her gown up and rubbed his hard cock on her thigh.

But then he suddenly stopped, pulling back to look down at at her with a frown. "You're a worse fuck than my wife, and that's saying something. You're supposed to be a whore, not a block of ice."

Hazelyn closed her eyes in relief when he moved off her. That relief didn't last long however, when he seized her head and pushed it down between his legs. "If you won't respond in the normal way, you can take care of me with your mouth. That should loosen you up." Panic flared in Hazelyn's chest and she lost the frigid control she had over her emotions. She snapped.

"I think you need a good fuck to feel like a man again after your mother made you play her maid for a few days," Theon insisted to Robb with a hearty slap on the back. "I know I could use one after being locked up with Maester Luwin." He scrunched his face in disgust as they walked towards the brothel.

Robb felt bad for leaving Jon behind, who was still stuck mucking stables, probably courtesy of mother. He grimaced at the thought. This whole outing made him a bit nervous, when they'd just been freed from their various punishments for the tavern. But Theon had said it was his treat, and visiting the brothel would help bolster his self-confidence after being subjected to sitting with his mother for a week, watching her sew and going on embarrassing errands for her.

The two walked quickly though the busy main street of town, the mid afternoon sun shining down on them. Surely Mother and Father would be busy with their duties for hours yet, and they woudn't even notice their son's absence, Robb reasoned to himself.

Theon pushed his younger friend through the door of the brothel. "Make yourself comfortable." He gestured to the various chairs around the front room. "I'll get us some girls." He smirked as he pulled his coin pouch out, sidling up to the desk with confidence. "Hello Mary!"

Robb didn't bother to listen as his friend bargained for the whores, sitting down and trying to tune out the groans, grunts, and wails carrying through the walls. He'd been here several times, and while he enjoyed the experience, hearing others' enjoyment made him feel uncomfortable. At five and ten, he wasn't nearly as experienced with all this as Theon, whom was two name days older and a very loyal patron of brothel.

The heat on his face only deepened the harder he tried to block out the noises. He felt relief when he saw Theon coming over, his arms wrapped around the waists of a brunette and red head. "Robb, you're in for a real treat today," he chuckled, pushing the brunette whore towards Robb. "You get Carya, and I'll spend time with Ros." He then turned away, much more interested in Ros's ass then his younger friend. Carya took Robb's hand and smiled, her bright brown eyes glancing over him in appreciation. "You look a bit tense m'lord. Why don't you come with me someplace more comfortable and I'll help you relax."

Robb swallowed hard, his breeches suddenly feeling tighter, and was about to take her up on her offer when he heard sounds not usual to the brothel: a cry of pain and angered shouting, followed by the distinct bang of a door opening. A man clad in only a pair breeches came lumbering down the hall, his face red and eyes livid, as he dragged a partially naked qirl along by her hair. "What in the seven hells are you trying to sell?!" He shouted, as he stalked towards Theon's whore, Ros. A look of concern sprung into her green eyes as she disentangled herself from the Ironborn lordling and approached the angered man, extending her hands in a placating gesture. "I'm sorry Joran. She's must need a bit more training. Let me-"

"You said this bitch was new, but at least a good fuck! I paid full price for her and she can't even stay still for that. She hit me!" He jerked the girl around so her face came into view. She shook like a leaf and her gray eyes shined with fear.

Robb's eyes widened in shock as he recognized Hazel. He had just talked to the tavern maid a couple days before and she had told him the incident with Theon hadn't caused her any trouble! Now she'd become a whore?

"Joran, please just let her go," Ros pleaded gently. "I'll make sure you get all your coin back and I'll take care of you myself."

"Oh, I'll get my money back," the man growled, but then he sharply yanked at Hazel's hair, causing her to cry out in pain. "But, I'll get to break this bitch in too."

"That's enough!" Robb shot up from his seat and gently pushed past the brunette whore in his way. He glared at the man, Joran, as he stalked over. "Let her go " He commanded firmly.

"Stay out of this boy," the man spat. "If a whore doesn't do her job, I have that right to put 'er in 'er place."

Robb's eyes hardened. "I said, let her go."

"Don't test me boy, or I'll put ya in your place as well."

Theon came up beside Robb, his expression uncharacteristically serious. "I think that you'd better do what he says friend," he said in a grim tone. "If you don't, he'd be within his rights to have you dragged to Winterfell and thrown in the dungeon. I wonder what Lord Stark would say about a man who tried to attack his oldest son and heir?"

Joran's face went slack with shock and then filled with fear, "M'lord, I didn't know- I,"

"Let her go and I'll forget all about this," Robb interrupted bluntly.

Joran released Hazelyn's hair and she stumbled to ground, shaking as she tried to use her flimsy gown to cover her chest. Ros nodded at Carya and said calmly, "Joran, why don't you take Carya with you, and you'll get what you came for." The brunette very quickly took the man's arm and disappeared, relieving some of the tension in the room.

Robb took off his cloak and knelt down next to Hazelyn. "Here, take this," he murmured, throwing the garment over her shoulders. She looked up blankly at him, her gray eyes wide and face pale, but she nodded slightly, pulling it tight around her. "Are you alright?" he asked as he offered a hand to help her up. She nodded slightly again as she rose on shaking legs. "Hazel," the red headed whore said as she approached the two of them.

"How long has she been here?" Robb asked Ros as she placed hand of the shoulder of the small, shaking brunette.

"A week, m'lord," she murmured. A horrible feeling rose in Robb as he looked over at Theon. They'd been at the tavern a week ago. He looked back at Hazel. "Did you lose your place at the tavern?"

She stared at the ground, her face turning red with shame, and gabe him a small nod yet again.

"Wait," Theon interjected, "Is she the same girl that-"

"It was only her first client, m'lord," Ros cut Theon off, looking Robb boldly in the eye. "If you could help her out in any way..."

Robb met the pleading green stare of the red headed whore and then looked down at the tiny brunette huddled under his cloak. He looked at Theon with a grim frown. "We've got to make this right."

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Close Encounters

Hazelyn's hands shook as she shed the tattered gown hanging from her body and replaced it with one of plain dresses packed away in her satchel. She stiffly ran her fingers through her dark, tangled hair and then sat on the bed, staring at the wall as she tried to push down her frantic emotions. She closed her eyes and bit her lip, willing her racing heart to slow.

After she had snapped yet again (That damn bastard haunted her even now!)and struck the man that was to be her first client, she'd been sure she was ruined. Ros would let the man beat her and then cast her out on the street for causing trouble, just as Rina had. And yet, Robb Stark had been there once again. He'd stepped in and defended her against a man twice his size and then covered her with his own cloak. Even Lord Greyjoy had intervened, probably for his friend's sake rather than hers, but still. Then Ros had defended her, even after the inconvenience she'd caused.

Lord Robb had brought her and her possessions to the keep, his arm slung around her the whole way. He had set her in an empty servant room and had left her with the promise that he'd send his mother to speak to her about a job. She hadn't ever seen so much kindness from strangers in her whole life, certainly not for a fool like her. She couldn't even process the lingering panic, shame, joy, and relief coursing through her, so she breathed deeply and tried to compose herself before Lady Stark came.

She rose slowly off the bed and walked over to the small shuttered window in the corner of the room. She unhooked the latch and flung the shutters open, sending a torrent a bright sunlight and crisp northern air rushing into the chamber. She tentatively leaned her head out and took a deep breath, letting the cold air wash over her and the distant sounds of busy courtyards echo in her ears. The wind wafted a scent of sawdust and pine to her nose. She could almost imagine herself back at the Dreadfort, hanging out the window of her own chambers on peaceful afternoon before all the chaos that had followed her brother's death.

The sound of the door opening caused her to turn back towards the small room's entrance. Lady Catelyn Stark, an elegant woman with eyes as blue as her son's and sleek auburn hair, stood in the doorway and studied her with an even gaze that gave away nothing. Immediately, Hazelyn attempted to curtsy, but her shaky legs gave out and caused her to stumble.

"My lady," she murmured as she tried to push herself up and curtsy again, but a firm hand gripped her shoulder and pulled her upright. "There's no need for that," Lady Stark said in an firm, but not unkind tone. Her blue eyes continued to study Hazelyn, sweeping over her face and dress.

"Yes, my lady," the young woman muttered in reply. She straightened her back to stand as tall as she could, but cast her gray eyes towards the ground, unable to meet the Stark matriarch's intense gaze.

"My son told me quite a tale," Lady Stark said. "He said my ward upset you at the tavern last week, that you pulled a knife on him and lost your job. This forced you to go to the brothel?" Hazelyn nodded slightly. Lady Stark's brow furrowed a little and a frown crossed her face. "He told me that when he saw you there, it was only your first time with a man, and that the man attacked you. Is that true?"

"Yes, my lady," Hazelyn replied quietly, daring to look up slightly at the older woman's face. Lady Stark gazed down at her with a slightly hardened expression and faint frown, crossing her arms over her chest. "Robb also asked me to give you a job in our home. He claimed you weren't violent. Did you intend to harm my ward when you drew that knife? I can't hire someone who could hurt my family."

A surge of desperation gave Hazelyn the courage to snap her head up towards to Lady of Winterfell and look her straight in the eye. "I would never harm a soul, my lady," she said in a voice far more confidant then she felt. Her gray eyes met blue and they stared at each other for a moment before Lady Stark sighed. Her eyes softened and her posture relaxed as she rubbed her forehead tiredly.

"My ward has not always treated woman appropriately. I am sorry that he caused you to fall into such circumstances." She looked at Hazelyn thoughtfully. "I think I could manage to find you a position somewhere in the castle. What are your skills?"

"I can clean, my lady," Hazelyn said in a steady voice, hope rising in her chest. "I can also sew and cook."

Lady Stark cast her gaze out the open window, her dark red hair shimmering in the sun as she pursed her lips in thought. "We already have enough kitchen staff, but I suppose it couldn't hurt to have another laundry maid. Could you do that?" She replied a moment later.

"Yes, my lady." Hazelyn nodded enthusiastically.

"Very well, I'll send someone to settle you in then," Lady Stark promptly finished. "Gather your things an they'll be along shortly." Hazelyn bobbed into a much steadier curtsy and Lady Stark nodded in acknowledgment as she began to make her way to the door. Just as she was about to pass into the hall Hazelyn looked up at her and said, "Thank you, my lady, truly." The older noble woman cast her bright blue eyes over the young woman one last time and said with the barest hint of a smile, "Your welcome and welcome to Winterfell."

Hazelyn scrubbed the floor with vigor as she tried to remove an unusually stubborn stain. She grit her teeth as she pressed down on the brush hard. She sighed in relief when the dirt finally gave way to the soap and water. She sat up and used the back of her hand to wipe away the sweat beading on her forehead. Her eyes swept across the expanse of the great hall, and she smiled as sunlight pouring through the windows created a golden gleam on the newly cleaned and polished floor.

In the weeks since she had arrived at Winterfell, Hazelyn had fallen into a routine with her new job. She spent her days running around the castle collecting dirty linens, washing them, and then delivering dry and folded clothes back to their respective owners. Since she had proven her skill with a needle, she had gotten to work with the seamstress as well. She spent those days mending tears and repairing holes in clothing, quite similar to the needlework she had done at the Dreadfort. All in all, it was not a horrible job. Her bed was comfortable, the food was excellent, and she had a bit more personal time than she had had at the tavern.

Unfortunately, laundry maids were often called in to help with larger cleaning projects, such as preparing the great hall for a feast. Hazelyn cringed as she looked down at her aching hands, the skin even more red and chaffed than before. She thanked the gods that scrubbing wasn't a regular duty for her. Standing up with a sigh, she dragged her heavy bucket of water to a different part of the floor. The liquid sloshed over the rim and splattered as she put down the pail. With a huff, she lowered herself back down to her hands and knees to scrub away more grime.

While the other maids working in the hall talked to each other, Hazelyn remained solely focused on her job, eager to finish her task and to be dismissed for the evening. She worked quickly and made it all the way to the hall's threshold. She had just scrubbed away the last bit of grime from her assigned section when the echoes of heavy boots and masculine voices overtook the high pitch chatter of her fellow maids.

Hazelyn looked up to see the heir of Winterfell, Robb Stark, and his family's ward, Theon Greyjoy, coming in from the tilt yard with mud on their boots and laughing smiles on their faces. And they were heading directly towards the section of the floor she had just cleaned. Hazelyn prayed they would notice the women scrubbing the floors and walk around. Yet the young men continued to trample towards the hall's entrance, leaving muddy boot prints in their wake. Hazelyn exhaled in relief when, at the last moment, the Stark lordling noticed her at kneeling at threshold and put a hand out to stop his friend right before his dirty boot landed on Hazelyn's gleaming floor.

"What is it?" Theon asked with a frown. Robb's blue eyes glanced down towards Hazelyn as he said, "The servants are cleaning the hall for the evening feast. Let's just go around so we don't get in their way."

Theon followed his friend's gaze to Hazelyn and then rolled his eyes. "They're servants. It's their job to clean, Robb." He gestured his thumb towards Hazelyn. "Especially would be whore should be happy she's scrubbing floors. Otherwise, she'd still be spreading her legs in the brothel ."

Hazelyn's eyes widened as several other maids turned their heads and looked at her. Her cheeks flushed and she stared at the ground. With a small yawn Theon stretched his arms behind his back. "I'm tired, Robb. We shouldn't have to walk all the way around the keep just for their sake." He brushed off the younger man's hand carelessly and walked right past Hazelyn, leaving a fresh trail of muck behind him. Hazelyn's glared daggers at the iron born's back until he disappeared through the room's huge doors. She then spotted the other maids gathering up their buckets and brushes, having just finished their parts of the hall, and grit her teeth as she realized he had only walked across her area.

The young woman bit her tongue to keep a nasty stream of insults from escaping her mouth. She dragged her bucket over toward the line of muddy boot prints and dropped it with a hard thud. She dropped to her hands and knees and slammed her brush to floor. She began to scrub furiously at the grime but paused when she heard the sloshing of water next to her. Thinking one of the other maids had come over to help, Hazelyn glanced over her shoulder and said warmly, "Thank you for staying, it's really kind of..." She stopped short when she saw the future Lord of Winterfell with a brush and bucket on the floor beside of her.

Her jaw dropped and her eyes widened. "I beg your pardon my lord, but what are you doing?" She questioned, turning entirely around to meet his gaze.

Robb looked at her and sighed, "Cleaning up my friend's mess again, it would seem."

"My lord, please, you don't need to-"

"No, let me help you. It isn't much," The lordling interrupted Hazelyn with a creased smile and raised brow.

Hazelyn raised a brow in return and bit her lip to keep from smiling back. "Very well, my lord. Whatever you wish." A few minutes of silent scrubbing later, the mud was gone. Hazelyn frowned as she gathered her bucket and then turned to look at the lord that stood beside her.

"Why did you do that?" She asked, her fingers flexing around the handle of her bucket.

"It was the honorable thing to do," Robb replied with a small shrug, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Hazelyn bit her lip but couldn't stop a short laugh from slipping out . "I wasn't aware honor required great lords and knights help charwoman clean the floors."

Robb smirked as he reached and grabbed the bucket from her hand. "A Lord does whatever's required to help a lady."

The mirthful light in Hazelyn's eyes faded and her posture tensed. Frozen in momentary terror, she glanced over the young lord's face as his smirk dropped into a confused frown. Had she done something to give herself away? Her heart pounded as she looked into his blue eyes but it slowed a bit when all she saw was confusion. She then firmly set a cold mask on her face to conceal her anxiety. "I'm no lady, my lord." She reach out took both pails from his hands. She bobbed in a small curtsy and said, "Thank you again for the help my lord, but you needn't trouble yourself on my behalf." She then turned and walked away as quickly as she could, not daring to look back at the young man's incredulous expression.

Catelyn's mind raced as she hustled towards the great hall to check on the preparations for tonight's feast. Lord Umber was set to arrive with a considerable party in just a couple of hours, and there was still a thousand things she had to get done. She prayed to the gods that the servants had managed to clean the hall well enough, because she knew after several days of feasting with the boisterous Umbers, even a shining hall would be a nightmare to clean.

She sighed in relief when she reached the entrance to the great hall and saw the gleaming floors. Yet, right as she was about to stroll in to inspect the ongoing preparations, a rather interesting sight caught her eye. Her eldest son Robb was down on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor with a cleaning maid.

She watched in silence from the side passage as they finished their task and rose. She realized as the girl began talking to her son that she was the maid Robb had convinced her to hire several weeks ago. She narrowed her eyes slightly as she saw her son smile in amusement and the girl laughing lightly in return. She crossed her arms as her son quipped something and snatched girl's bucket. When the girl tensed, snatched the bucket back, and rushed off, Catelyn couldn't help but feel a bit of relief. Nothing good could from Robb taking up a dalliance with a common girl like her. She didn't want her honorable son to become a scoundrel like her ward or for her son's future bride to have to deal with the pain of raising her husband's bastard child like she had.

She shook her head as she watched her bewildered son stare after the girl before stalking frustrated from the hall. Luckily the little encounter has come to not, but she would have to keep a closer eye on her son and this maid in the weeks to come.

In the following couple of days, Hazelyn didn't run into any member of the Stark family as she attended to her duties around the castle, which she supposed was for the best. Even though she had enjoyed her brief conversations with the attractive Stark heir, he'd said things that hit too close to the mark a number of times. She had realized that the more time she spent around the noble family, she increased the likelihood of her real identity being discovered. She had given up too much already to let that happen.

So she contentedly devoted herself to her duties, keeping her head down and avoiding direct contact with the noble family as much as she could. Though her job did require her to sometimes visit the chambers of the Stark family when they were not present, so she shouldn't have been surprised when she encountered another one of them.

On duller summer days, the blue sky always hid under a low blanket of thick gray clouds. The wind would whip, and the air held a distinct chill. While most preferred the warmth of the sun, Hazelyn enjoyed such colder days. She rushed towards one of the younger Stark boy's rooms to remake the bed so she could get off for the day and enjoy the refreshingly cooler weather. She waltzed up to the chamber door and rapped on it to make sure no one was inside. To her surprise she heard a young voice call out, "Who is it?"

She opened the door a crack and called in softly, "I've come to change your bed, my lord, if you will allow me."

"You may," the young voice called back, so Hazelyn silently slipped in. She cast her eyes briefly over to little lord that granted her entrance, meeting the doleful brown eyes of Brandon Stark. He sat at a desk with a book of laid out in front of him. Hazelyn gave him a small smile and bobbed slightly in respect before turning away to complete her task. She approached the bed and quietly pulled off the sheets and coverlet. She moved gingerly to not disturb the little lord's studies. Silence settled over the room, only disturbed by the soft rustling of the sheets.

Hazelyn had almost finished when that silence was broken by a frustrated shout and bang on the desk. She looked up startled to see the young Stark boy groaning in frustration as he stared hatefully at his book.

A frown creased Hazelyn's lips. Her heart ached at seeing the young boy so unhappy. She'd caught glimpses of Bran Stark playing around the keep and he'd reminded her so much of her friend Darren's little brother. Boys were meant to feel joy. Plenty of anger and pain awaited them when they were older. It wasn't her place, but Hazelyn felt she had to do something. She placed the dirty sheets she was holding onto the bed and walked carefully up to the young boy's desk, peering over his shoulder to see what subject was causing him such vexation. She cringed when she saw the colorful pictures of many house sigils lining the pages.

"Is everything alright, my lord?" She tentatively inquired, trying to offer a disarming smile when the boy looked at her in surprise. He lowered his guard when he saw she had a friendly demeanor. An angry frown crossed his face as he returned his heated gaze to his book. "No," He said stubbornly.

"And why would that be?" Hazelyn had to bite her lip to keep from chuckling at the boy's adorable pout. "You seem to in good health, and it's a fine day outside. Why would a boy such as you be so unhappy?"

The boy of eight name days looked at her hesitantly for a moment, but the faint smile playing on her lips and her gentle voice coaxed him to open up. "Maester Luwin and Mother said I had to memorize five of these stupid sigils before I can go out and play," he grumbled as he crossed his arms. He looked longingly out his window at the gray and green landscape beyond.

Hazelyn shifted her gaze back to the pages of the book and ran her fingers over the many pictures. "Hmm...Those do look pretty difficult to memorize..." She said thoughtfully. She softly smiled as she recalled how she had learned her sigils. The memories of Elena's clever instruction made her laugh. "Do you like stories, my lord?"

"What?" Bran asked, tilting his head in confusion.

"Do you like stories?" Hazelyn asked again in a cheerful tone.

"Yes, but what has that got to do with these?" Bran cast a look of disdain at his book.

"Well," Hazelyn began as she looked at the book, noting it was open to the major Northern houses. "Why don't you make a story for your sigils? Try to imagine each of them a character," She pointed at the dire wolf, the sigil of the young boy's own family. "With a name," she shifted her finger to his house name. "And something they say in the story." She traced over to the house words.

The boy looked at her with a hopeful, but pleading expression. "That doesn't sound too bad, but I've never come up with a story on my own before." He ducked his head bashfully.
"I'm not good at making things up."

Hazelyn's small smile grew into a full grin. "It's really very easy and quite fun. Here, I'll show you." She gently grasped Bran's hand.

She laid his finger on the page and traced it from house to house as she spoke. "The great dire wolf named Stark saw the white sun Katstark, who called himself the sun of winter, rising over the horizon. The dire wolf realized winter was coming, and he had to warn the other creatures of the North. He called them all to a great meeting. Once they all arrived, they all spoke their piece. Mormont, the black bear said 'Hear we stand Stark. What must you say?' Stark replied, 'Winter is coming. You must prepare.' Ryswell, the red horse, said, 'You cannot command us! We are wild and free!' "

Hazelyn whinnied like one of her grandfather's uppity steeds, causing Bran to break in a gale of laughter. She giggled, but her smile faded when she moved his hand to the next house. She swallowed hard, glaring down at the Bolton sigil. "But then a horrible monster, the red flayed man named Bolton, stepped forth and stated-


Lady Stark's voice caused Hazelyn to jump away from the young lord. She dropped her gaze to the floor and sank into a deep curtsy as Lady Catelyn walked into the room, her brow raised high at the scene before her. "What's this?" She asked as she put her hand on her hip.

"I.." Hazelyn stuttered, trying to think of a reasonable explanation. "My lady... I-"

"She was helping me memorize my house sigils, Mother," Bran brightly interrupted with a smile. "She started to tell me story to go with house names and words! Do want to hear it?"

Lady Stark reciprocated her son's smile with a gentle one of her own. "In a moment Bran," she replied. She then turned her curious blue eyes upon Hazelyn. "Do you know how to read, child?"

Hazelyn looked up tentatively and nodded. "Yes, my lady."

"Well, that's a fine skill for a serving girl to have," Lady Stark replied gently, motioning for Hazelyn to stand up straight. Hazelyn raised her head and looked at the older woman shyly. Lady Stark gave her a faint smile and nodded. "Thank you for assisting my son."

"Of course, my lady," Hazelyn murmured, desperately glancing towards the door. To her relief, Lady Stark causally waved her away and said, "You may go."

Hazelyn bobbed quickly to her employer. "Thank you, my lady," she murmured. She then rushed to gather the dirty sheets on the bed. As she passed Bran, she glanced at him softly and said, "Good day, my lord." She saw Bran cast her a grin as she hurried out the door. Lady Stark stared after her with a curious expression until her son reclaimed her attention.

Another thunk echoed throughout the empty courtyard as Jon hit the dummy again with his practice sword. He grunted as he barraged the target with several more hard strikes. Out of breath, he took a step back and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He stood silently in the cold summer night as he listened to the distant sounds of lively music and raucous laughter coming from the great hall.

Tonight was the last in a series of feasts the Starks were hosting during Lord Greatjon Umber's visit to Winterfell. The Umbers were rougher than the average Northerner, but they had a good sense of humor and loved a good time. So, Lord Stark had decided there was no better time to discuss business with Lord Umber than when the music rang loudly and the ale flowed freely. Thus, every night of Lord Umber's visit had been a festive occasion of song and drink. And Jon had not been permitted to come to any of them. Lady Stark had banished him from the hall to take his meals in his room. She said it would be inappropriate and offensive to let her husband's bastard attend the feast.

Jon shouted in frustration and hit the practice dummy once more. He knew he was lucky. Most lords wouldn't have taken in their bastards like his father had with him, but Jon still had to deal with some of the consequences of his baseborn birth. He saw the way many people looked at him, treating him kindly to his face out of respect for his father, but glaring and whispering insults when he turned his back. Lady Stark had never tried to veil her disdain for him. From the time he was a young child, all he could remember was her sharp rebukes and icy stares.

After years of never knowing a mother's love, watching his legitimate brother best him in everything, and receiving hatred from the world only for the way he was born, his bastardy had become a very sensitive subject for him. So at times like this, when he was ostracized and so blatantly reminded what he truly was, he couldn't help but feel shame for existing and anger at the world.

He sighed and stared up at the black sky, the small stars shining brightly in the darkness. He needed some peace and knew there was only one place he could find it. He put away his practice sword and made his way to the Godswood.

Jon began to feel at ease as walked among the trees of sacred wood. A calm stillness hung in the air, and the moon had cast everything in soft shades of silver and shadow. A serene smile crossed his face as he made his way to the heart tree in the center of the small forest.

The massive heart tree of Winterfell had stood for 8,000 years. Countless generations of Starks had prayed to and wed before it. As Jon approached, he felt the strong presence of the old gods calling to him. He walked around the enormous weirwood so he could pray before the heart tree's sacred face, but paused when he saw someone already knelt before it.

The young woman's features were hidden in the shadow cast by the tree. She was on her knees with her head bowed in reverence. She didn't move an inch as Jon approached. Jon wasn't too surprised to find someone else here. Father allowed the castle staff to pray before the great weirwood whenever they wished. Jon walked over and knelt next to her. He maintained a respectable distance between them, but was close enough to see her face clearly.

His eyes widened when he recognized the former tavern maid that had caused his brother frustration lately. Robb had told him about seeing the girl at the market, saving her from the brothel, and meeting her again in the great hall. Apparently the friendly maid had turned cold on him for no reason and had run off. Jon didn't understand why Robb had been acting so irritable over a simple maid that he barely knew. He supposed it had something to do with 'saving' a pretty girl who afterward rejected him.

The girl wore a worried expression, her eyes tightly shut and brow furrowed. Her pained look brought a memory back to Jon's mind. The girl had called Theon 'Snow' that night she had pulled a knife on him. She had seemed to be in a nightmare rather than a tavern. He felt sad for her and figured maybe he could help and get an explanation of her strange behavior so his irritable brother would start acting normal again.

"Miss," He gently enquired. The girl's gray eyes snapped open. She looked around in alarm before her gaze settled on Jon.

"Yes?" She asked with slight irritation in her tone.

"It's Hazel, correct?"

The young woman raised a brow at him as she nodded.

Jon raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "I'm sorry if I interrupted a prayer. I just wanted to have a quick word. I can wait until you're finished if you like."

Hazel stared at him in vexation as she stood up and faced him. "Well, my lord, my prayer has already been interrupted, so you might as well make your request now. What could I do for you?" She asked in a saccharine tone.

"Have you settled in well?" Jon inquired.

Hazel pursed her lips in annoyance and nodded stiffly. "Yes, I have my lord." She fiddled with her skirt and glanced up at the moon high in the sky. "I mean no disrespect, my lord, but it's late, and I need to get some sleep before my duties in the morning."

Jon held out a hand as she turned from him, "Please, I only have a few questions to ask."

Hazel sighed deeply and bit her lip before replying, "Very well, my lord." She looked at him expectantly, crossing her arms firmly.

"At the tavern," Jon began cautiously, "Why did you call Theon Greyjoy 'Snow'?"

Hazel's body tensed up and her eyes widened. "Pardon?"

"You called him Snow, when you attacked him," Jon reiterated.

Hazel's expression shifted from horrified shock to defensive anger. Jon knew the look and feeling too well, as he too had often held it when others jeered at him for being a bastard.

Hazel's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Maybe I thought he was a bastard," she snapped.

Jon pressed on with a light, careful tone. "No, it didn't seem that way. It was if you were not-"

"Do you know why I thought him a bastard?" Hazel hissed.

"No. I.."

"Because only a Snow would act like that. All bastards are vile. Rejected by both their parents and the world, why wouldn't they be?"

Jon gazed at her in shock, but his own defensive anger quickly replaced it. He frowned at her with a lowered brow. "It seemed as if you were not speaking to Theon."

Hazel's features darkened. "Maybe I thought I was speaking to you, bastard," she replied in a quiet, cold voice. She fixed her eyes upon Jon, meeting his gaze with a chilling stare. With a frustrated sigh she then stalked off into the shadows. Jon stood alone, still shocked at the girl's cutting insults. Also, he could have sworn that her eyes flickered to a shade of deep crystal blue when she glared at him and that the moment he saw it, a bitter cold had swept over him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Knives and Needles

In the largest sept of White Harbor, two old septas knelt before the seven and prayed fervently. One prayed for more good in the world, while the other prayed something far more selfish. Elena glanced up at the tall golden statue of the Mother, gilded with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and many other types of precious stone, probably courtesy of the city's wealthy ruling family, the Manderlys.

The main sanctuary had a serene sort of quiet in the mid afternoon, with most septas and septons busy doing good works and laymen laboring away at their jobs. As Elena gazed at the brilliant stain glass windows of the hall, her thoughts strayed to a couple of particular laymen. Young Myna and Darren had done well for themselves since they had arrived in White Harbor. They lived with Darren's family in a house by the docks. Myna had been able to find employment as a maid in the Manderly's keep and Darren worked as a hand for a local horse merchant. He had to travel a bit, but Elena suspected that he took the job so he could try to find Hazelyn. She pitied the boy.

Elena sighed heavily as her thoughts settled on her former charge. Darren and his mother had started to worry that something had happened to Hazelyn when they discovered she had never made it to the sept in White Harbor, but the old septa believed differently. Hazelyn had been insistent that they all go their separate ways to be safe, and it had truly shocked the septa when the young woman had acquiesced to the plan to stay together. Elena should have known that she wouldn't give in that easily.

Hazelyn had always been a particularly stubborn girl, in her own quiet way, much like her mother. The old woman's blue eyes shined a bit as she reflected on memories of Bethany and Hazelyn when they were young. Little dark haired beauties with a quiet fierceness, both mother and daughter had proved challenging to take care of at times, but Elena had loved both of them as her own.

She bowed her head to the Mother and prayed fervently. She begged forgiveness for her own neglect of the faith and promised to dedicate the remainder of her years to deep prayer if only Hazelyn would be shown mercy, despite her foolishness.

A great commotion from the adjoining room made Elena pause her prayer and look up. Her sharp blue eyes narrowed as she heard the heavy tread of boots and rough laughter. Always a quick thinker, Elena scanned the hall and located a shadowy nook next to the statue of the Stranger, of all places. She stood with surprising speed for a woman her age and dashed over to the hiding place.

Just as she slipped from sight, a beastly looking young man with dark brown hair and a sinister grin stormed into the sanctuary. Two other armed men followed, adorned in Bolton livery. Elena watched in horror as the dark haired leader fixed his eyes on the other old septa who had been praying next to her. She gazed intently at the hostile young man and his companions, and her mouth fell wide open in shock when it dawned on her. She recognized the boy by his eyes. She knew them well. Dark but pale, they were the eyes of Ramsay Snow, the bastard of Bolton.

Elena cringed as the young man casually flicked out a knife. He twirled it between his fingers as he approached her fellow sister, like a predator moving in for the kill. She wondered why the bastard would single out the other woman. It then occurred to her that the sweet old sister looked similar to her, blue eyed and skin severely wrinkled from long years of stress. Elena gasped and put a hand over her mouth as she realized the bastard had mistaken the woman for herself!

"Thought you could hide, old woman?" Ramsay chortled mockingly. "Father has been rather unhappy since my sweet sister disappeared. As you can understand, all of us at the Dreadfort have been quite worried. He was very kind to let you off as easily as he did, seeing as you were responsible for minding her when she vanished."

"I-I don't know what you're talking about! My son, I-"

"Of course you know!" Ramsay laughed coldly. His eyes shined with a sick glee as he pressed his knife against the old septa's throat. "You play the part of the feeble old woman well, but I think you're more clever than that. I'm willing to bet you know more than you told Locke, and I am rather anxious for my sweet sister's safe return, so you're going to come with me somewhere more ... private, so we can have a little chat."

"My son, I have no idea whom you are speaking of. If you need council -"

Ramsay made an admonishing clicking noise. "Don't lie to me. Lying makes me very angry, and when I get angry..." He pressed his blade into the poor woman's neck and a small trickle of blood sprouted from the cut. He looked at the red for a moment before abruptly withdrawing the blade. He began to walk away when he casually looked over his shoulder and commanded, "Luton, grab her."

One of his men swept the weak women up and tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. Elena felt sick as she listened to her holy sister's fading pleas as the Bolton men vacated the sept. She lingered in her hiding place for a few moments after the sounds disappeared and only emerged when the head septon ran into the hall, alarmed and disheveled. "Sister Elena!" He called as he hurried over to her. The holy man placed a hand on the old woman's shoulder. "Are you alright?" He urgently asked.

Elena nodded. "Aye, father. Though, I am ashamed to say I hid when I heard the noises and simply watched as Sister Ila got taken."

"No, no," the septon reassured her, patting her shoulder. "You did well to get yourself out of harms way. There would not have been much you could have done for her." His frown then deepened and he shook his head. "I cannot even comprehend why Bolton men would violate our sept like this. You served at the Bolton seat before coming here, didn't you? Do you know?"

Elena felt guilt form in her chest as she replied. "No, father, I haven't the slightest idea," she lied smoothly, her devotion to her charge once again overtaking her devotion to the faith.

The septon bowed his head warily. "I'll have to consult Lord Manderly on the issue to see if he can intervene on our behalf."

"Father, would you mind if a went for a walk? The whole attack has me feeling a bit overwhelmed," Elena inquired, her thoughts straying to a maid, stable hand, and family who might also be in danger.

The septon looked at her sympathetically and sighed, "Of course, whatever you need to settle your nerves."

"Thank you, father." Elena nodded her head respectfully and made a gesture of reverence to the Seven before striding quickly towards the sept's exit.

Hazelyn sat in the seamstress's workroom, trying to focus on a particularly long tear in one of Lady Arya's dresses. She hissed loudly when the needle pricked her finger for the fourth time. The other maids looked up at her with annoyed stares. Hazelyn bit her lip and looked away, quickly wrapping her finger in a scrap of cloth as a bead of blood swelled from the wound.

"Hazel?" The head seamstress, an older, matronly woman, looked at her with a questioning expression. She approached Hazelyn and put a hand on her shoulder. "You don't seem yourself today. I have never seen you struggle with your sewing. Are you alright child?"

Hazelyn looked down at her bleeding finger and sighed. "I'm sorry, mam. I admit I've not been feeling my best lately." In truth, it was guilt that twisted her gut and made her head hurt. The venomous words she had spat at the Stark bastard a couple of nights before troubled her greatly. She hadn't meant to say such cruel things. They had just slipped out in desperation. She may not have the best opinion of bastards, but he didn't deserve her insults when she didn't even know him.

The seamstress nodded and patted Hazelyn's shoulder. "Perhaps you need a little rest. You may retire for the remainder of the day." Hazelyn gazed at the ground feeling embarrassed. "Thank you, mam, I do appreciate the kind offer, but I feel fine, really I do." The older woman tutted and shook her head. "Never have I known such a dedicated girl as you, Hazel. We all catch a chill once in a while, but if you feel you have the strength, I'm sure I can find something for you to do." She tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Ah yes." She snapped her fingers and motioned for Hazelyn to follow her to the back of the room.

Hazelyn watched the seamstress reach into a basket and pull out a beautiful sky blue dress. Her eyes widened as she recognized the material she had picked out at the market a month earlier. "I just finished this new dress for Lady Sansa. I would appreciate it if you would take it to her for fitting. I've already had her try it on, but if her lady has any further objections to the fit, just note the measurements and bring it on back. I find her often in her own chambers round this time of day," the seamstress explained with a soft smile.

"Of course mam," Hazelyn replied, glad she still could be of some use. She took the dress and a measuring string and set off towards Lady Sansa's rooms, her shoulders sagging in relief. As she made her way across the keep, the fresh air pouring in from the open windows beckoned to her, so she decided to cut across a few of the courtyards. She stepped out into the cold, sunny day with a smile on her face. The nip in the air felt nice against her skin and the busy noises of the household sounded pleasant to her ear. She began to feel considerably better and was able to push her nagging guilt to the back her mind.

At least, she was until she passed the tilt yard. When she glanced over towards the sound of deep laughter and clanging metal, she saw Jon Snow finishing up a sparring match with his brother Robb. The two young men slapped each other on the back as they walked towards the keep, heading towards the same door she was . She lengthened her strides to reach it before they did, but that only ended up getting her there at the same time.

She paused when her eyes met theirs. "My lords." She bobbed slightly and looked at the ground, waiting for them to pass through before her.

"No, please go ahead, miss," the voice of Jon Snow replied in a clipped tone. She hazarded a glance up at them and saw grim expressions and hard eyes guarded against hostility.

"Thank you, my lords, you are most kind" Hazelyn murmured, slipping past them. As she walked away, she glanced slightly over her shoulder once more. "Theon may have been right about that one," she heard one of them mumble. Her guilt came back in full force, making her head pound. She grimaced, this wasn't who she was. She had to set things right. But the question was how?

Hazelyn pondered it the rest of the way to Sansa's rooms, but nothing came to mind. She sighed in lament as she knocked on the chamber door. Perhaps an answer would come to her later.

She waited in silence for permission to enter the room. When none came, she knocked again. "My lady, the seamstress, sent me to fit your new dress," she called. Cautiously, she gripped the door latch and turned it. "My lady?" She called again as she opened the door slightly.

When no one answered, Hazelyn peeked into the chamber. Her eyes widened when she saw a huge banner hanging on the wall, covered in a plethora of ornate designs and colors. The stitching portrayed the scene of a direwolf walking along a river. Her curiosity getting the best of her, Hazelyn pushed the door further ajar and crossed the neatly kept chamber to inspect the banner closer. She reached out a hand and ran fingers across the smooth material. The thousands of tiny stitches lined up perfectly. How could a girl of ten and one have created something with such elegant beauty? The dire wolf was particularly stunning. She'd seen depictions of the creature all around Winterfell. The Starks seemed to take great pride in their sigil. The notion gave her a splendid idea...

"What are you doing?" A sharp, high-pitched voice asked from behind Hazelyn. She jumped and almost dropped the dress in surprise but managed to keep it clutched in her arms. Trying to catch her breath, Hazelyn turned around to see a young girl with the looks of Lady Stark standing before her. Her eyes were the same bright blue as her mother's and brother's, and her hair an even brighter shade of red. Just like her mother, the girl had the regal baring of a great lady even though she'd yet to come into womanhood. She regarded Hazelyn with narrowed eyes and a stern frown, the features of a mistress demanding an explanation from her subordinate.

"Forgive me, my lady. I was sent by the seamstress to deliver your new dress." Hazelyn unfolded the garment and presented it to the young noble girl.

"Oh," Sansa replied, suddenly distracted. She took the dress from Hazelyn and held the it up against her body. "Mother said she was going to some new dresses made for me, but I didn't expect any would be so beautiful," she murmured.

"Would like to try it on, my lady?" Hazelyn offered with a small smile. "The seamstress wanted me to see if any alterations were still required."

Sansa looked up at her, broken out of her dreamy daze. "I suppose I should," she answered in an even tone. She handed the dress back to Hazelyn and then faced her looking glass, waiting expectantly. Hazelyn gently laid the garment over the back of a nearby chair and quickly began to assist the younger girl with undressing.

As her fingers fiddled with the lacings, she glanced back over at the ornate tapestry on the wall. "My lady, I apologize for entering your chambers uninvited. I was just admiring the fine needlework on your banner. Did you sew it all by yourself?" Hazelyn asked in an effort to make conversation.

Sansa sniffed incredulously, and her shoulders tensed. "Of course I did. I thought that would have been obvious."

"That's quite amazing my lady. I've never seen such work from a maid so young" Hazelyn commented as she finished unlacing the dress, her brow raised slightly.

Sansa squirmed a bit as she slipped out of her clothing "Well, I didn't do all of it myself. My friend Jeyne did the flowers and clouds, but I sewed the dire wolf without any help."

"That's still quite an accomplishment, my lady. Your lady mother must be very proud of you."

Sansa's chest puffed out a bit in pride. "Mother did love it. I made one for her and father's rooms as a gift for their anniversary last year," she replied as she stepped into her new dress.

"Really?" Hazelyn asked curiously. "At your age I could barely sew a curved line. You're very talented, my lady."

"You do needlepoint?" Sansa looked back at her with an interested gaze.

"I attempted it when I was younger," Hazelyn chuckled deprecatingly. "Though I was always as a lost cause. I could never sew the intricate stitches straight, let alone master them. I stick to practical ones now. Ones I know I can handle" Hazelyn smiled as she tightened the final lace. "All done, my lady. How does it fit?"

The young noble girl smiled wide as she stepped back and studied herself in the mirror. The light blue material of her outfit contrasted sharply with her red hair and made her blue eyes seem even brighter. "It feels perfect!" She exclaimed gleefully, twirling gracefully on the spot so the full skirt flared out from her body.

Hazelyn laughed, "That shade of blue suits you very nicely. I knew I picked well."

Sansa stopped and looked at her with a confused frown. "What do you mean you picked it?"

"Oh," Hazelyn nervously picked at her skirt. "I met your brother in the market when he went to get the material for your mother. I just helped him out."

The red head looked at her incredulously. "Mother let Robb pick out the material for my dress." She pursed her lips as if she was trying to keep from laughing but a rather unlady-like snort still escaped. She clamped a hand over her mouth as she giggled, her cheeks turning red. "He must have done something horrible. Thank you for making sure he didn't ruin everything"

"You're welcome, my lady," Hazelyn chuckled. "Though I'm sure your mother wouldn't have let it come to that." She smiled in amusement at the proper little lady's red face and informal merriment as she asked, "Would you like me to help you change back into your own dress or do you want to leave that one on?"

"I want to leave this one on so I can show it to Mother tonight."

"Very well, my lady," Hazelyn bobbed slightly, smiling. "I'll leave you then and tell the seamtress-"

"You can't leave yet," Sansa interrupted. "I'm designing a new banner but can't seem to pick out the right colors for it. Since you seem so good at that you can help me out." She didn't even look up to see Hazelyn's reaction as she went to retrieve her sewing basket from the corner of her room.

Hazelyn looked at her hesitantly. "My lady, I have to report back or-"

"You won't get in trouble if you're helping me. You have to stay, please," the younger girl insisted, fixing Hazelyn with pleading bright blue eyes.

Hazelyn sighed, knowing she couldn't win. "Of course, my lady," she obliged. She spent the next hour sitting with Sansa, discussing fabrics and thread. She didn't find needlepoint anymore exciting than she ever had, but she admired the Stark girl's immense talent and ambition to sew a bigger banner for the great hall. Helping her come up with designs and color schemes also gave Hazelyn ideas on what she could do as a peace offering to the young lady's older brothers.

The two girl's were deep in discussion when they were interrupted by a knock at the door.

"Sansa," an older woman called as she entered the chambers. Hazelyn's heart panged when she looked up and saw the woman's white septa head covering, thinking of Elena. "I've come to help you get ready for the evening feast, though it appears you already have some assistance," the septa observed with a raised brow.

"She's just helping me design my next banner," Sansa replied as she stood up to greet her governess, "And look Septa Mordane, she brought the new dress Mother ordered from the seamstress! Isn't it beautiful?" She gave a twirl to show off the outfit in full.

"You look lovely, Sansa," Septa Mordane said to her charge before shifting her gaze toward Hazelyn. She placed a hand on her hip as she said, "I saw the seamstress and she said one of her maids had disappeared with the dress. I told her I'd send you back if I found you."

"Of course Septa," Hazelyn said as she stood. She looked at Sansa and smiled. "I best get back to my duties my lady. I wish you best of luck on your new banner." She curtsied and turned to leave when Sansa called, "Wait! Tell me your name."

Hazelyn looked back. "Hazel, my lady," she replied as she faced the younger girl again.

"Will you come back tomorrow and help me with my banner some more, Hazel?" Sansa asked eagerly.

Hazelyn's eyes widened. "I'm not quite sure, my lady. I have other tasks around the keep."

Seeing Sansa's dissapointment, Septa Mordane said, "Perhaps I can arrange for her to join us in the sewing room one afternoon, Sansa, but you should let her let back to her duties."

"Alright," Sansa murmured, a pacified expression on her face. She turned to Hazelyn and said, "You can go. Thank for bringing my dress and helping me with my banner."

"It was my pleasure, my lady." Hazelyn bobbed into a deep curtsy and smiled. She then turned and gave Septa Mordane a nod of respect before leaving the room. As she made her way back to the seamtress's work room, she found herself feeling quite happy. While she wouldn't call an afternoon of discussing needlepoint exciting, the elder Stark girl was surprisingly sweet, and their discussion had given Hazelyn the perfect idea on what she could do to make things right with the oldest Stark boys.

The following afternoon, Hazelyn yawned and rubbed her eyes as she folded linens with the other laundry maids. She gazed out the room's single, small window, yearning to be outside under the grey sky.

"Ya been spendin' your nights do'in somethin' other than sleepin, Hazel?" Anna, a vivacious black haired maid, asked. Hazelyn rolled her eyes and huffed. Anna and she had been assigned to work together the first day she had reported to the laundry and they had become partners of sorts. Hazelyn liked her well enough. With her forward nature and bawdy jokes, Anna somewhat reminded her of Myna and Ros. Unfortunately, unlike either of them, the raven haired maid could sometimes be too intrusive with her questions.

Hazelyn sighed and looked at Anna with a neutral expression. "Aye, I didn't get too much sleep last night, but what I did is a bit too exciting to repeat here." Anna's eyes widened with delight as she exclaimed "You've got to tell me now!"

"Some things aren't meant for maiden ears," Hazelyn dead panned as she focused back on her folding. The truth was, she'd stayed up all night carving. The products of her efforts were tucked away in her small pouch of figures, strapped to her thigh. Her conversation with Sansa had given her an idea on how she could apologize to Lord Robb and Lord Jon. Also, her nightmares never strayed far from her mind, so she barely ever got sleep anyway.

"Please," Anna pleaded with Hazelyn with a pouting lip.

"No," Hazelyn shook her head as she finished yet another shirt and placed in a basket.

"But Hazel-"

"Hazel!" The head laundress called as she bustled over, interrupting the other maid. "The seamstress sent for you. She wants your assistance for the rest of the afternoon."

"Oh? Alright," Hazelyn nodded as she wiped off her hands. "I'll go right away."

The stout laundress nodded shortly before she bustled back off to work.

"I'll see you later Anna," Hazelyn waved as she left.

"Alright, but I'll get that story out of ya at dinner." The dark haired girl narrowed eyes in a slight challenge.

"Perhaps," Hazelyn called over her shoulder as she walked away.

The seamstress had heard from Septa Mordane how well Hazelyn had gotten on with Sansa and she wanted the maid to go visit the girl again to take measurements for a for an additional gown. She also mentioned that Sansa was in sewing lessons and might require her to stay for awhile. As Hazelyn set off towards her destination, her shoulders from drooped a bit. She'd had hoped to finish her work early so she could spend sometime outside, perhaps even catch the elder Stark boys in the tilt yard. Now she'd very likely face spend a very dull afternoon of embroidery.

Hazelyn opened the door to sewing room to find a very strict Septa Mordane minding a group of girls. "Pardon me, Septa, but the seamstress has sent me to remeasure Lady Sansa's waist. She isn't quite sure of the measurements needed for the sash on one of her new dresses," Hazelyn said as she stepped through the doorway. Septa Mordane received her with a nod. "Of course." She turned her head towards her charges "Sansa, Hazel is here to measure you for a dress. Could put your work aside for a moment?"

"Yes Septa," Sansa said primly as she set her embroidery hoop down and rose. She beamed at Hazelyn as the older girl approached her. "Can you stay and help me with my banner today?" She asked with a hopeful look in her eye.

Hazelyn sighed internally as she knelt and brought the string around Sansa's waist, but forced a small smile. "The seamstress gave me leave, so I think I could for a while, my lady," she replied. As Sansa exclaimed in glee, a little huff from behind her made Hazelyn glance over her shoulder. A small, dark haired girl that she recognized as Lady Arya, rolled her eyes at her sister. Sullen in face and posture, she, unlike the other girls who so gingerly pulled their needles as they worked on their projects, forcefully yanked her thread upward as if she had no care for her work.

Arya's misery reminded Hazelyn of an afternoon not too long ago when her father had forced her to try on over two dozen gowns in order to find one he deemed attractive enough for her first meeting with Freys . "The best way to secure our house's future is through this marriage, and you need to appear a suitable match," he'd said, as if she was some prize heifer. She shook her head at the bitter memory. What a horrible experience it was to be forced to do something you loath. She decided in that moment that Arya needed saving.

"25 and three-quarters," Hazelyn noted softly as she removed the string from Sansa's waist. As she stood up, her mind scrambled to find a way to break the younger Stark girl out of her lessons. She glanced at Septa Mordane, then smirked as a little trick she and Myna used to use to escape her own septa's lessons came to mind.

"Pardon me septa, but the seamstress required measurements for Lady Arya's waist as well," she said innocently to Septa Mordane.

The already sour expression on Arya's face darkened. "Tell the seamstress not to waste her time on something I don't need. More than one dress is far too many," she snapped, glaring up at the Hazelyn.

Septa Mordane fixed Arya with a deep frown. "Come now Arya, stand so she can measure you," she chided.

Arya sighed dramatically and threw her embroidery hoop down on her chair, earning a disapproving tut from Septa Mordane. Hazelyn's smile widened as she knelt down and placed the string around the young Stark's waist. "21 and a quarter," she said. Arya looked at Hazelyn with a petulant scowl, but it dropped just a fraction when Hazelyn winked at her. Putting a on slightly exaggerated front of concern, Hazelyn frowned and gasped. "Oh my, Lady Arya, you look quite flushed. Did you not say earlier you were feeling ill?"

Arya frowned in confusion. "Remember earlier, when I was filling your chamber basin. Perhaps you need some air," Hazelyn prompted her with raised brows.

Arya eyes widened as she caught on. "I do feel poor," She said, hiding a smile.

"Oh, really?" Septa Mordane's expression suddenly switched from vexed to cautiously concerned. She walked over and placed a hand on the back of Arya's forehead. She narrowed her eyes as she studied her young charge carefully and then glanced back at Hazelyn. After moment, she dropped her hand and sighed. "Perhaps you should go see Master Luwin if you have felt ill for so long," she relented.

Arya nodded to Septa Mordane but kept her unflushed face low to hide her barely contained grin.

The Septa looked away from her charge, towards Hazelyn. "Hazel, do you mind taking her to the maester's chambers?"

"Not at all Septa." Hazelyn bobbed in a curtsey.

Sansa, who had been watching the whole exchange with a suspicious scowl, crossed her arms and stood. "Septa, I thought you said Hazel could help me with my banner today," she said sweetly with imploring eyes.

"I did, Sansa," Septa Mordane soothed, "But your sister needs to go the maester and I cannot leave you and the other girls unattended. Now, why get back to work on that lovely pattern you were doing earlier and I'll help you in a moment." Sansa's sweet demeanor twisted into a pout and she shot a dirty look at her younger sister as she silently sat down again.

Hazelyn couldn't help feel a bit bad for letting Sansa down. "My lady," she said, "Perhaps, I could come back tomorrow to help you, if Septa Mordane would allow."

Sansa's dour expression lightened a bit as she looked over at Septa Mordane.

"Yes, I'm sure I can arrange that," the Septa reassured with a nod. Sansa smiled, her anger mollified. "I suppose that's alright," she said softly as she settled in her seat like a proper little lady and picked up her embroidery again.

Septa Mordane rubbed her brow and sighed as she focused back on Hazelyn. "If you would take Arya to Maester Luwin, and if he doesn't keep her, take her back to her chambers and mind her until supper, I would be very grateful."

"Of course, Septa.' Hazelyn nodded her head obediently.

"She can be quite a handful," Septa Mordane murmured in a lowered her voice as she cast a furtive glance over at Arya.

Hazelyn smiled disarmingly. "I believe I'll be able to handle her."

"Very well," the Septa replied. She then faced Arya with her hands on her hips. "You are to listen to Hazel, Arya. I expect you to be in Maester Luwin's chambers or your own resting. No sneaking off to the tilt yard."

"Aye Septa," Arya said calmly, though a mischievous glint twiwnkled in her eye.

"Alright then," Septa Mordane said. "Off with you." She made a slight shooting gesture towards the door. Arya rushed out the room perhaps a bit too quickly for someone feeling ill, and Hazelyn bobbed before going after her.

"My lady!" Hazelyn called as she picked up her skirts to catch up with nine year old girl. Arya stopped in the middle of the hall and looked at her curiously. "I need to stay with you, my lady," Hazelyn said pointedly as she reached the young Stark.

Arya pouted and crossed her arms. Hazelyn mimicked her gesture with little sympathy. "You owe me at least a little cooperation for getting you out of there."

"Fine," Arya grumbled before she resumed walking at a more reasonable pace. She tilted her head at Hazelyn who fell into step beside her. "Why did you help me?" She asked. "We both know I'm not ill."

"Let's just say I know what it's like to be trapped," Hazelyn said, shrugging slightly.

Arya nodded, "Fair enough." She looked forward again as she sped her pace up. "I am going to tilt yard, despite what Septa Mordene said. I want to see my brothers spar. You'll just have to come with me."

Hazelyn felt pleased but nervous at the same time. She'd be able to apologize the older Stark boys then. She sighed, trying to seem nonchalant. "Alright. I suppose I can carve while you watch them."

Arya cocked an eyebrow at her. "Carve? I thought only boys did that," she inquired with interest.

Hazelyn chuckled. "A bit of an unusual hobby, I know, but I've done it since I was young girl. I have my own knife and everything."

"A knife?" Arya's eyes sparked with excitement. "Can I see it? Can you show me how you use it?"

Hazelyn smirked a little. "I thought you wanted to watch your brothers?"

"What fun is watching someone else use a blade if I can handle one myself?" Arya exclaimed.

"I don't use it as a weapon, my lady," Hazelyn cautioned the girl with a frown. Most of the time at least, she thought grimly.

"If I can hold a knife, I don't really care," Arya dismissed.

Hazelyn looked out an open window as they neared the tilt yard and bit her lip. "Well, it's a nice day out," she conceded. "Why don't we go find a nook on the edge of the tilt yard, and I'll show you how to hold it and a few basic strokes. Then you can watch your brothers too and I'll still get you back to your rooms before supper."

"Alright," Arya nodded eagerly before running out the door leading to the tilt yard.

"Slow down!" Hazelyn called as she picked up her skirts to follow.

Jon narrowed his eyes and held his breath as he pulled the bow string taut and aimed at the the target. He had to get a bullseye if he had any hope at beating Theon in that bet tomorrow. Otherwise he'd not have any coin to spend for quite a while.

He was grateful that Robb was caught up in his lessons with Father and that Theon was off Gods knows where, probably fucking some maid. It gave him the opportunity to practice at the archery range undisturbed.

He steadied his aim and then loosed the bow, grinning widely when the arrow hit its mark with a satisfying thunk. He might actually have a chance to beat Greyjoy at his own game, and win the satisfaction of wounding the cocky ironbron's pride, along with all of his coin.

As Jon walked out towards the target to collect his arrows, he looked up at the dusky gold sun hanging low in the clear sky and judged that he still had an hour or two before supper. Perhaps he'd go sneak Arya out of her lessons early today. Lady Stark disliked him interfering with her daughter's education, but Jon couldn't give up his quality time with his sister. He loved all of his siblings, but he'd always been closest to Robb and Arya. Robb and he were peers and had grown up together, but in some ways Arya understood him better than his brother did. She was an outsider like him.

He smiled at the thought of spending the rest of the afternoon with his sister as he put his bow and arrows back on their racks. His step had slight spring and his normally brooding demeanor lightened up a bit as he walked towards the entrance the keep. Right before he went inside however, an interesting sight drew his attention.

Someone else had already freed Arya from her septa's watchful gaze. He observed silently as Arya interacted with Hazel, the dark haired laundry maid that had insulted him just a few nights earlier. She had been nervous, crazed and devastated in the tavern. At the heart tree, she had regarded him with annoyance and then cold anger. With Arya she looked completely different. The two girls sat by side on the ground, leaning their backs on the castle wall. The grey eyed maid smiled gently as she talked to Arya and adjusted his little sister's grip on a knife.

Curious, he quietly approached the two and coughed slightly to get their attention. Arya greeted him with a satisfied smile and the laundry maid looked at him with shock. "I was about to rescue you from Septa Mordane, but it guess you managed fine without me" he said lightly to Arya as she jumped and rushed over to hug him

"You never rescue me. You just help me escape," Arya squinted up at her brother and placed a hand on her hip. "And since you couldn't be bothered to come earlier today, I found another ally."

"I'm sorry, my lady. I beg your forgiveness," Jon said in mock humility, barely hiding a laughing smile as she rolled his eyes.

"Shut up," Arya grumbled as she affectionately punched her brother in his stomach. He smirked and grabbed her around the waist, pulling her against him so he could muss her hair. "Stop it!" She shrieked, beating her hands against his side. Jon let her go with chuckle and looked at her with a smug expression. Arya narrowed her eyes and raised her hand.

"You'll just lose again if you try," he cautioned. Arya huffed and turned away from him, not willing to admit defeat. Jon then looked up and saw Hazel standing off to the side, a small smile on her face. He took a step towards her and nodded his head. "I suppose I should thank you for getting Arya out. I sometimes get in trouble when I try," he said carefully.

The maid bit her lip for a second before she replied. "I couldn't leave her. She looked miserable and it was too a nice day to stay inside." She cast a nervous glance at Jon before turning to Arya. "Well my lady, it appears your usual "ally" has come to your aid, so I will leave you in peace."

"Alright," Arya nodded with a small smile, "But you better free me some other afternoon." Her eyes narrowed. "I want to know more about carving."

Hazel laughed and shook her head. "I'll try my best."

"Good," Arya nodded briskly. She then turned towards Jon. "Where do you want to go today?" She asked.

"Perhaps your brother should spend time with you in your room, my lady," Hazelyn suggested. "Your Septa thinks you're resting in your chambers, so it might be a good idea to be there when she sends someone to fetch you to supper."

"Hmm... I guess your right," Arya sighed. She looked up at her brother and commanded, "Come on Jon! I bet I can beat you there." She then turned on her heal sped off towards the keep.

"Arya!" Jon called after her, shaking his head. He saw Hazelyn smile slightly and roll her eyes. He regarded her awkwardly for a moment before he spoke. "Arya seems quite taken with you, which is a rare thing. She usually can't tolerate people any more than they can her. Whatever you did to win her over must have really been something. Thank you for taking such an interest in her." He nodded and then proceeded to retreat quickly to the keep before the sharp-tounged girl could insult him again.

"Lord Snow!"

He turned back around to see the laundry maid looking at him nervously, her hands tucked behind her back. "Lord Snow, I-" she paused momentarily. "I owe you an apology for what I said to you a couple of nights ago. I haven't had the best experience with bast...Snows." Hazel flushed as she mostly she looked to the ground. "I pre-judged you, and I was wrong to do so."

Jon's eyes widened in surprise. After a moment, he sighed and helplessly shrugged his shoulders. "Its alright. Others have said worse."

"But that doesn't give me an excuse to act like that!" Hazelyn insisted, a firm expression on her face. She brought her hands around front, both clutched in fists. She glanced down at them before looking back at Jon ."I made something for you as a peace offering of sorts," she murmured hesitantly. She extended one hand towards Jon, opening her her fingers to reveal a small wooden direwolf, similar to the Stark sigil, resting in her palm. "I saw many direwolfs around your family's home, so I thought you might like to carry one with you."

"I'm not a Stark," Jon denied, shaking his head.

"But you are, Lord Snow," Hazel insisted. "You look just like your Lord father and I've seen you around the keep with the others. You're part of the their family and act with as much honor."

Jon stared at the tiny dire wolf, thinking of. her words for a moment. He then slowly reached out and took it. "Thank you," he said as he studied the carving closely.

"Uh," Hazel lost her confidence again and a slight blush spread across her cheeks. "I-I also made one for your brother. There was an incident where he tried to be kind to me and I acted rather rude towards him. I would be grateful if you'd give the other direwolf to him along with my apologies."

Jon looked up at her with a serious expression and took the other wooden creature. You have my word."

Hazelyn's posture immediately relaxed and she smiled brightly at him. "Thank you, Lord Snow." She looked upwards and released a sigh of relief before glancing at the door. "I should get back to work and let you find your sister. Unattended, she seems she could get into a great deal of trouble."

"You have no idea," Jon laughed. Hazelyn chuckled and then gave bobbed in a slight curtsy. "Well, good day Lord Snow."

"And to you," Jon said as she began to walk away. Before she entered the keep he called, "It's Jon by the way. I'm may be part Stark, but I'm no Lord." She looked back at him with a friendly smile. "Very well, Jon," She said before slipping out of sight.

As Jon strolled to Arya's room, he contemplated the strange maid. Something about her was odd, but he didn't know what. He did know though, that he had possibly made another friend.

The next couple of days kept Hazelyn very busy. Between her duties and fulfilling her promise to help Sansa with her banner, she hadn't been able to find time to teach the younger Stark girl more about carving. Then the thought occurred to her that she might be able to find a book on the subject for Arya. She heard that Winterfell had an extensive library and that Lord Stark had set up a system to allow literate servants to borrow from it. If she could find the right book then perhaps the young Stark girl could learn how to do it herself.

Finally off for the evening, Hazelyn skipped dinner with the rest of the castle staff to begin her search. She quietly opened the door to the library tower to find it silent and dark, the weak light of the low hanging moon doing little to illuminate the room. However, Hazelyn found she didn't really need a candle. Her eyes had always adjusted well to the dark and she could see perfectly well. She took in the maze of tall shelves filled with tomes and books of every size imaginable and the winding stair case that lead the the tower's second level. She felt amazed and impressed by the vastness of the chamber then it dawned on her that it would take quite awhile to find what she wanted in a library this size. She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. She didn't sleep that much anyway.

She spent several hours wandering through the labyrinth of shelves and scanning pages of various books, only to be disappointed. She bit her lip as she snapped shut a particularly heavy tome and peered out a nearby window. The moon had climbed almost to the top of the sky. She sighed in defeat. Perhaps it was time to give up for the night. She was just about to push the tome back into place, when footsteps echoing down the stairs and yellow candlelight startled her. She cursed quietly as the tome slipped from her fingers and landed on her foot with a resounding thud. The foot steps and candlelight moved towards the commotion and then Robb Stark came around the corner with questioning look on his face.

"Hello?" He called. He looked tired and clutched two or three heavy books in one arm while he held a candle in the other.

"My lord," Hazelyn murmured, bobbing quickly and looking away nervously as he brought the candle in her direction.

"I hadn't expected to find anyone in here at this time of night," he said, a curious look on his face. "Especially not a laundry maid."

Hazelyn looked back up at him with a small frown. "Why is that?"

"Well, I don't know many maids that can read."

"Well, perhaps some can," she replied with a quirked brow as she leaned down to pick up the heavy tome she'd dropped. "Anyway, what reason does a high born lord have to be in here at this time of night?"

"Looking through old land disputes so he can help his father rule on farm borders."

"Very exciting," Hazelyn scrunched he face. Robb shook his head, "Not in the slightest."

Hazelyn snorted as she turned away to put the tome back on the shelf. Robb barked out a an amused laugh but then looked up at the heavy book she was handling and frowned. "If you don't mind me asking, what are you looking for? I could help you find it if you like." Hazelyn opened her mouth to decline the offer, but paused when she over her shoulder to see a kind smile and warm blue eyes.

"I think I would," she murmured, glancing at the floor and fiddling with her skirt. "I was trying to find a book on carving for your sister, Arya. She expressed some interest in it a couple days ago but I haven't had the time to teach her anything myself."

Robb chuckled. "Jon did tell me about that little escapade Arya had with you. That was quite clever, the way you two escaped her Septa."

"She looked to pitiful to leave behind" Hazelyn shook her head. "You Starks seem to have a habit of needing to be saved."

"Oh really?" Robb scoffed jokingly. They both laughed a little, sharing wide smiles. "Well then let me return the favor."

Hazelyn followed Robb down aisles of shelves for several moments before he stopped and pointed out a couple of books. "One of these might be what you want."

Hazelyn scanned the titles quickly before picking out one and skimming its pages. "Aye, this one is perfect. I'm sure she'll love it," She smiled as she snapped it shut.

Robb looked her with an amused smile but then his expression turned serious. "Thank you for treating Arya so kindly. She tends not have to many friends because she's different then the other high born girls and many of the servant children are too nervous to approach her," he paused for a moment, seemingly thinking on something. He reached into a pocket and pulled out one of the tiny direwolves Hazelyn had given to Jon. Her eyes widened and she frowned as she waited for him to finish. "Jon also told me that you apologized to him and gave me this." He looked down at the wooden wolf. "It's not often someone tries to make amends with him."

"It was the right thing to do," Hazelyn said plainly. Robb looked at her with a slight smile, and then looked down at the wooden direwolf and said, "This is fine work. Where did you learn to carve so well?"

Hazelyn's expression grew slightly distant as her mind wondered back to memories of Marvion, teaching how to carve and properly use her knife after he had found her playing it one afternoon. "A old friend," she sighed.

She then yawned and gazed out one of the tower's windows at the darkness. "It's getting late, my lord, and I need to sleep before another long day of work." She gave Robb a small smile. "Thank you for helping me find the book. I might've been here all night otherwise."

"It was my pleasure," Robb nodded his head, studying her with a thoughtful expression. A little uncomfortable under his stare, Hazelyn, bobbed slightly and said, "Have a good night my lord."

She started to make her way to to the library doors when Robb called "Wait!" Hazelyn gLanced back at him, slightly surprised. He walked over to her, a strange look on his face. "I..." he trailed off. "I could show you where everything is in the library one evening after you get off." Seeing her eyes widen he added hastily, "if you'd like of course. Just in case you needed to find another book."

Hazelyn thought a moment before responding. She shouldn't be doing this, for a number of very good reasons, but... "I would like that," she murmured.

"Alright," he gave her a small smile, "Perhaps tomorrow then?"

"Well, neither of us value sleep, apparently, so I suppose so."

They both laughed quietly as they stepped from the dark library into the lighter hallway.

"I hope you have a good night my lord," she said as she grinned at him, not even realizing she was doing it.

Robb looked warmly at her and nodded. "You as well, Hazel."

As Hazelyn walked away, her eyes widened. Gods, what had she just agreed to? Hadn't she determined being around the Starks was a bad idea?

"Please Hazel!" Anna begged as they folded a sheet together. "Ya hav to tell me what ya did with him. How'd ya get his attention in the first place?"

"There's nothing worth telling, Anna," Hazelyn replied, looking anywhere but the other maid's face.

"Come on," Anna urged. "Over half of the maids in the castle 'ave had Theon Greyjoy for a night or two, but no girl's ever been with Robb Stark.."

"Anna, really, there's nothing to tell," Hazelyn said, though a deep blush spread across her cheeks. She'd met Robb in the library again last night, like they had agreed the day prior. She'd had a fun time, sharing a few laughs with the lordling and finding out more about him without giving away to much about herself, but that was it.

"I will get it out of you," Anna insisted.

Hazelyn bit her lip and closed her eyes. "Fine, Anna," she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest. "I didn't fuck Robb Stark or do anything else of the sort. Is that enough for you?"

Anna didn't answer as she looked past Hazelyn with wide eyes. Hazelyn turned to see the head laundress standing over her with raised brows.

"Hazel," she said calmly "Lady Stark wishes to speak to you privately in her solar."

Color drained from Hazelyn's face as she looked up at her overseer. "Of course," she murmured, ducking her head. The other maids whispered as she left the room. Hazelyn felt somewhat like a prisoner headed to the gallows as walked her down long passage ways towards Lady Stark's rooms. What had she done to lose this job? Had it been taking Lady Arya out of her lessons or talking too much to Lady Catelyn's eldest son?

Her hand shook as she raised it to knock on the door. "Come," a woman called from inside. Hazelyn tried to school her face into a composed expression as she entered. The solar was fairly large and well furnished, with several nice chairs and a couch in the center and a small desk covered in various books and ledgers tucked in one corner. Lady Catelyn stood in front of her desk, ready to receive her visitor. She looked at Hazelyn with a analytical gaze, her brows scrunched and lips pursed as if she was trying to decide something. After a long moment she finally addressed Hazelyn. "I have noticed that you've taken interest in several of my children since you arrived, Hazel," She said in a neutral tone. Hazelyn's heartbeat sped up and her skin felt clammy. She opened her mouth to apologize but the words didn't come out.

"My oldest daughter Sansa has become particularly fond of you," Lady Catleyn continued, not noticing Hazelyn's terrified state. "I'm planning on giving her her own maid, and when I asked her whom she might want for the position, she mentioned you."

Hazelyn's terror turned to surprise. She still couldn't speak, so she just looked dumbly at Lady Catelyn.

"Both the head laundress and the seamstress have told me that you are hard worker and Septa Mordane said you get on with Sansa very well. However," Lady Catelyn fixed her with a firm stare "I will not let someone serve my daughter if I don't know who they are. You can read and apparently do embroidery, among other things. A simple tavern maid never gets such an education. If I hadn't known better, I'd say you act more like a high born girl than a common one."

Hazelyn's entire body tensed and she held her breath as she waited for Lady Stark to finish. "I want you explain to me where you lived before you came to Winter Town and how you managed to get such education." With a perfectly impartial expression, Lady Catelyn sat in one of the chairs in her sitting area and folded her hands in her lap.

Hazelyn stared at the Stark matriarch for a moment, scrambling inside to find the right words. She couldn't tell the truth but couldn't say she was from somewhere unfamiliar either. What if Lady Catelyn asked her details about her "home"? God's, the woman was more intimidating than Aunt Barbary. Then it clicked. Aunt Barbary, Barrowtown.

"My mother served as the personal of Lady Dustin for many years, my lady. They were close and my mother brought me along with her to work from the time I was a babe. Lady Barbary dotted on me, and treated me almost as if I was her own child since she had none of her own. She gave many opportunities that only high born girls normally have. I even worked as her maid myself for awhile after my mother's death." She swallowed after she finished, biting her lip as she glanced at Lady Catelyn.

The woman appraised with her narrowed eyes and raised a brow suspiciously. "If you had such favored place in Lady Dustin's household, why did you leave?"

Hazelyn took a deep breath. "I had a rather persistent suitor, my lady, who didn't take refusal well. It got so bad that I felt didn't feel I or my kin were safe. I thought it better to leave so he wouldn't have any reason to hurt them or me." She stared at floor, feeling sick to her stomach.

Lady Catelyn frowned and her expression softened somewhat. "I'm sorry that happened to you," she murmured in a tone of genuine sympathy. Hazelyn looked up and watched anxiously as Stark matriarch considered her story.

Finally, Lady Catelyn sighed and rose from her chair gracefully. "Well, Hazel, thank you for explaining. I'm satisfied by your story, so I don't see a reason not to give you the position."

Hazelyn's heart finally slowed and she breathed deep as an overwhelming sense of relief swept over her.

"So the only question remains then, would you like the position?" Lady Catleyn asked with a quizzical glance.

Hazelyn bit her lip, hesitant to reply. She knew most women would jump at the position, but could she risk being so close to the Stark family? What if one of her father's men came to Winterfell, or her aunt? But then again, would any of them bother to look in the Stark's keep? Aunt Barbary had always disliked the Starks and avoided them as much as she could. As for her father, the last thing he wanted was for the Starks and the rest of the North to know he'd lost his one remaining heir.

Hazelyn lips curled into a smile as she looked at Lady Catelyn. "I'd be honored, my lady."

Roose Bolton sat at his desk and stared down at the angry letter from Lord Manderly, thinking carefully how to respond. As he contemplated his words, he wrapped his fingers around a silver goblet and brought it to his lips to take a sip of wine. He normally never drank, but his bastard's latest actions drove him to it.

He grabbed a quill, about to begin his effusive , when someone knocked on his solar door. He leaned back in his chair an called, "Come." Locke walked into the room at a brisk pace and bowed slightly to his lord.

"Do you have them?" Roose asked in a calm tone.

"Aye, my lord," Locke nodded.

"Bring them in then."

Locke turned towards the door. "Bring em' in." Three pairs of guards entered the room, dragging Ramsay and the two soldiers that had gone with him to the White Harbor sept between them, all three men severely beaten.

Roose stood with a measured composure, though his jaw tensed as he walked over to face the prisoners. "Ramsay," he said as he stopped right in front of his bastard. The boy had bruises and cuts covering his face but he seemed to have weathered the beating better than his two companions. He blinked a bit as he cast his grey eyes up to meet Roose's.

"What did I tell you last time you disobeyed me?" He asked in a low voice, barely more than a whisper.

"I only was trying to find-"

A resounding smack echoed across the room as Roose backhanded Ramsay.

"You disobeyed my orders," the Lord of the Dreadfort hissed, his grey eyes glinting with uncharacteristic fury. "You have disgraced my house with your foolish antics in the Sept. And the Septa that you flayed wasn't even the right woman."


"Perhaps I made a mistake letting you live as baby," Roose said. Anger flared in Ramsay Snow's eyes and he began to shake.

"I only did it for you Father, to prove I am worthy of your name."

Roose let out a humorless chuckle as he turned away from the idiot boy to study the map spread across his table.

"A lord would have the intelligence to think about their actions before doing them." He walked over and picked up the strategic markers with the Manderly mermaid, the Dustin crown, and Ryswell horse head on them and brought them in front of Ramsay. "Do you know what these signify, Ramsay? Three very prominent and powerful families who have you have upset and attracted the attention of. Lord Manderly is wondering why men wearing my sigil violated a holy Sept under his protection. Lord Ryswell and Lady Dustin have written me to ask why I flayed a woman looking suspiciously similar to my late wife and missing daughter's old Septa."

He set the house markers back on the map firmly and faced his bastard son again. He gave quick nod at Locke who ordered his men to push Ramsay and his cohorts to their knees.

"I'm going to offer you a choice Ramsay. Either you follow my direction and obey my command from this day forward, or I will take back all I have given you. I will leave you with nothing but a miserable life, and you'll be lucky if I don't take that as well. There are no alternatives. Therefore, I recommend you choose wisely."

A brief look of surprise crossed Ramsay's face before his eyes flashed with determination. "I vow, m'lord, I will serve you better then any other man if given another chance."

Roose looked down at Ramsay and raised his hand as if to strike him again but then presented his knuckles adorned with his signet ring to the boy instead. Ramsay kissed the ring and bowed his head. "Very good. Then you are forgiven." The Bolton lord laid a firm on his son's shoulder.

With a the barest hint of a smile on his face, Roose walked over to his desk and had a seat. He crossed his and observed his master at arms and soldiers standing obediently before him, with his bastard and his two cohorts beaten into submission.

"Locke," Roose spoke finally and with a carefree tone, "My bastard is to be flogged, see that he receives fifty lashes. Then have him sent to the kennels. Perhaps cleaning up after the dogs will remind him of where he'd be without my generosity." He paused to observe his bastard's reaction, pleased to see Ramsay simply bow his head in acceptance. Roose's lips formed a smug smile, though it faded as he continued, "Escort his companions to the chopping block and have my sword readied. Send word to their families, notify them of their kin's execution. State their crimes and warn that I do not condone showing devotion toward my bastard or his command."

"Aye, my lord," Locke nodded his head, though conflict flirted in his eyes..

"M'lord, please!" One of Ramsay's accomplices begged. "I only did as Lord Ramsay commanded. My family will starve without me."

"Then they'll starve," Roose replied in a bored tone, already focusing back his letter to Lord Manderly. He did not pay even the slightest attention to the pleading man or the other prisoners as they were dragged from the room.

Chapter Text


Chapter 8: New Friends and Old Family

Hazelyn closed her eyes and hummed as a cool breeze brushed against her face. She leaned her head back to enjoy the warmth of the hazy noon sun. The creaking wheels of the heavily laden cart she sat in lulled her into a peaceful trance as it made the short journey back to Winterfell.

On a normal day, Hazelyn would have just finished tidying Sansa's chamber and would be joining the young girl in the sewing room for the afternoon. This morning, however, she had offered to join some of the other servants going on supply run in order to fetch some items Sansa had requested personally. "Only you seem to know what I really like" Sansa had told her. In the weeks since becoming the eldest Stark girl's maid, a comfortable trust had formed between them. The notion was rewarding, to know the shy girl had connected with her so fast. Hazelyn rolled her neck and smiled contentedly as she listened to the creaking of the cart and its horses' clopping hooves. For the first time in a long time, she felt at ease. Happy even.

She opened her eyes and looked down at the contents nestled in her basket . Multiple spools of colorful thread and a little bauble she'd thought Sansa might like sat in a nest of various pieces of patterned cloth. Hazelyn chuckled as she recalled something else amusing the girl had said that morning. 'I'm glad I have you now to get my fabric. That way I know my clueless brother can't ruin anything.'

Hazelyn sighed as she thought about Robb. She had mixed feelings when it came to the Stark heir. Somehow she had let the one time they had met in the library turn into a weekly occurrence. He hadn't finished showing her everything in the Starks' vast collection the first visit and had asked her if she'd wanted to meet him again. Then the next time he'd offered to show her some books he specifically liked, and so on. She knew she was taking a risk in meeting him so much but it was nice to have a friend. He was intelligent and liked a lot of the Northern histories and legends that she did. Having discussions with him about them always made her feel refreshed after a long day of work. Anyway, she'd managed not to get too personal on her side of things, and the few stories she had told him she'd been able to shape to fit her supposed life in Barrowtown.

Hazelyn's musing on the eldest Stark was cut short when a loud cracking noise splintered the air. The burdened cart lurched violently to the side, spilling her and many of its contents out onto the road.

"Are you alright?" Valen, an assistant steward, asked as he rushed from his seat in the front of the cart. She panted heavily from the shock and her knee and hands ached from hitting the ground so hard, but she wasn't terribly hurt. "I'm fine," she assured. She blew out a shaky breath and knelt down to gather up her scattered purchases. Once she had settled everything back in her basket, she stood and looked down at the mess on the road. Dust still rose in clouds and mud had splattered everywhere."What happened?" She asked with a frown. 

"Looks like we snapped a spoke on the wheel, darn near shattered. We'll need a spare," the other man servant who had come called.

"That was the a spare wheel. No one replaced it last time this happened," Valen grimaced. He sighed deeply as he looked at the scattered supplies. "We'll have to fetch another cart out here in order to get these supplies to Winterfell before afternoon's end. Town's not too far behind, probably be our best bet to head back."

Hazelyn pursed her lips as she looked up at the sun and towards the keep in the distance. "I need to get back to Lady Sansa. I can walk back to the the castle and ask someone to send one."

The men shrugged in agreement. They needed to salvage the supplies anyway. Waving her farewell, Hazelyn began down the road at a steady pace, taking her time enjoy the coolness of the day and the calmness of the grey skies overhead. It had flurried the day before, and the air still carried a lingering chill that the weak sunlight hadn't yet dissipated. The ground squished breath Hazelyn's feet, damp from melted snow, and the hills appeared even greener than before. Beauty like this was just one reason Hazelyn felt pride for hailing from the North.

She began to hum to herself as she walked along, and didn't pay much mind when she heard steady hoof beats coming up behind her. She moved to the edge of the road to allow the traveler to pass, but instead of galloping onward, their horse's gait slowed. Hazelyn held her breath and a flash of fear ran through her as she whipped around to see who it was. She exhaled when she laid eyes upon Robb riding up.

"My Lord," she smiled slightly, bobbing. She eyed the tall brown stallion he sat on, snorting and prancing as he settled it. She felt a little ache form in her chest as she thought of Branwen. "Coming in from a morning ride?"

"Yes," he returned her smile briefly before looking around the wide open moor with a confused expression. "Why are you out here all by yourself? Usually around this time of day, I thought you'd be with my sister. "

"She sent me to fetch some fabrics from the market," Hazelyn motioned to the basket. "I seem to remember that you very nearly messed up everything that one time. We couldn't run the risk of Lady Stark sending you out again." She smirked as a frown pulled on Robb's face.

"Neither of you are ever going to let that go, are you?" He groaned. Hazelyn laughed at him as he shook his head. "A lord shouldn't have to fetch fabric for his sister. Really, it's a task no man should ever have to suffer."

"I'm so sorry you did," Hazelyn said in mock sympathy . "I'm sure it was like being in one of the seven hells."

"All of them actually," Robb laughed. "Luckily, thanks to you, I'll never experience such torture again." He grinned but then sobered as he looked at the open road again. "Did you walk to Winter Town yourself? I'm sure you could've used one of the horses had you asked."

"I went on the supply wagon to market, but they broke a wheel," Hazelyn shrugged. "The men went back to town. I was just walking back to the castle to let someone know."

A look of concern crossed Robb's face. "Is everyone alright?"

"Some of the supplies were jostled, but none of us were hurt."

"That's good to hear," he sighed, a look of relief in his eyes. "Did you need a ride back to Winterfell?"

Hazelyn looked the short way down the road towards the castle. "I appreciate it, my lord, but the walk won't do me any harm."

Despite her dismissal, he'd already swung himself down from his saddle. "Come on. I wouldn't feel right leaving you behind."

Hazelyn bit her lip. "I'm sorry but-"

"Don't tell me you're scared to ride a horse." Robb's blue eyes glinted with humor.

Hazelyn scowled fiercely.
"I am not! Many of my kin worked with horses. I could ride circles around you!" She snapped before she really thought of what she was saying.

"I'd like to see that some day," Robb challenged her. "Come, let me take you back. It's just a short distance, and I'll get you there all the quicker." A smirk formed on his face. "And I could show you how to properly ride."

"I doubt that you're as good as you think you are," Hazelyn scoffed.

"The only way you'll ever know is if you hop on up here." Robb patted his horse's saddle.

Hazelyn internally groaned. Why did she have to open her mouth? "Alright, but only to prove my point," she conceded. Robb smiled victoriously as he offered a hand to help her up into the saddle. Hazelyn reached out to accept it, but just before her finger tips brushed his, a sudden uneasiness swept over her. Warm bright blue eyes turned to cold grey. Her hand curled into a fist and dropped limply to her side. He stood there waiting for her, his smug expression dropping a fraction at her hesitation.

Thinking on her feet, she whipped around to the other side of the horse and vaulted herself up. The lordling looked at her in surprise as she settled herself into the saddle. His expression was so amusing that she was able to push the unsettling feelings to the back of her mind again. "Well, my lord," she quipped, "You promised to get me back to the keep quickly. So are you going to stand there all day or show me how fast this horse really is?"

An amused grin split Robb's face as he shook his head in response and turned to get back on the horse. Hazelyn's body stiffened as he pulled himself up in front of her, her unease coming back with a vengeance. Her heart rate picked up and she scooted back as far as she could to put space between them. Her stomach tightened uncomfortably as she felt his body heat. She leaned back and tightened her legs around the horse's flank so she didn't have to hold on to him.

"Are you alright?" Robb looked back curiously, sensing her fidgeting.

"Aye," Hazelyn replied stiffly.

"Then why are you acting like you haven't been on a horse a day in your life?" He frowned.

"I have!" Hazelyn huffed. "It's just been a while, and I haven't ridden double that much."

"I'm not going to bite," he said with a gentle smile, "And I don't think Sansa would appreciate it if I threw her maid from a horse. Just wrap one arm around me so you don't fall. It'll be fine. I promise."

Hazelyn inhaled deeply as she wrapped her free arm around his front loosely, fighting off her instincts that screamed for her to leap off the horse and run. She slowly pressed her hand into his side and turned her head to look out across the grassy green hills.

Robb kicked his horse and shook the reins to push it forward into a steady canter. They settled into silence as they went down the road, making it easier for Hazelyn to relax. She made herself imagine she was riding Branwen, flying through rolling hills of her grandfather's lands, the Rills. The rocking motion of the horse's gait and the blurry green scenery helped her calm and the tension slowly left her body. Soon enough they passed through the castle gates into Winterfell's bustling courtyard.

Robb pulled on the reins to bring the horse a halt. Hazelyn couldn't help but sag in relief as she felt him move to get off. He slid to the ground and handed his reins off with a nod a waiting stable boy before turning to offer her a hand down. Just as she was about slide off herself, his blue eyes caught her grey. She paused and glanced at his offered hand. Her fear told her to not reach out and take it, but then she looked at his face again, into the eyes of a man who had been nothing but kind to her, someone she could perhaps trust. Slowly she moved her hand and set it down into his lightly.

The lordling's fingers firmly closed over hers as she hopped down to the ground with his support. Their eyes remained locked for that brief instance of contact, but as soon as her feet hit the ground , she let go and turned away. She fiddled with her basket and then brought her hand up to briefly rub the brown stallion's flank, not wanting to make eye contact with Robb for a moment.

She walked around to the front of the horse and rubbed his snout. "Thank you for the wonderful ride," she said fondly. She then bit her lip and faced Robb again, forcing a grateful smile. "Thank you for the ride as well, my lord. He's a lovely horse." She motioned weakly back at the stallion as the stable boy led it away.

Robb looked down at her with a serious expression, like he was trying to find an explanation for her odd behavior. She firmly fixed her mask back into place though and smiled as she waited for a response.

"Of course," he nodded, his expression lightening. A humorous twinkle sprang in his eye. "I have to say though, given how badly you were fidgeting, I fail to see how you could out ride me."

Hazelyn pursed her lips into a frown and grumbled, "I was only fidgeting because someone was in my way. After seeing how you had handled the reins, I don't think I'd have any competition at all if the contest was fair."

"Is that so?" Robb chuckled and crossed his arms. "Alright, perhaps you can show me sometime."

"What?" Her eyes widened.

Robb raised a brow and nodded towards the stables. "I've grown tired of the library and it's books. Next evening you're free, join me for a ride. Then you can actually prove you're a better rider, or perhaps admit that I'm right."

Hazelyn narrowed her eyes and raised her chin. "Perhaps I would, my lord, if I thought you could handle it."

"And why couldn't I?"

"I doubt you could keep up with me," Hazelyn said as she placed a hand on her hip.

The sass made Robb grin, "Oh really? I guess we'll see soon enough. Though I wouldn't get too cocky, " he jeered with a smirk. They held each other gaze for a moment before a shout came from across the courtyard.


Both jumped at Ser Roddick's booming voice. "I've had people looking for you all morning, lad! You said you wanted to spar with steel, yet the day I let you, you're no where to be found. Lord Stark even said he'd take some time to help you boys. I won't have you wasting your Lord Father's time. Now get yourself over to the tilt yard and start practicing if you don't want to look like a bloody fool when he comes to watch." The Cassel looked fierce, his mouth twisted in an impatient scowl and his narrowed icy blue eyes fixed on the pair.

Robb's face lit up with excitement."Right! I'm coming! " He looked back at Hazelyn apologetically. "I'm sorry to cut our conversation short."

Hazelyn shrugged. "That's alright. Lady Sansa and Septa Mordane are already expecting me as it is." She smiled as her cheeks flushed. "Thank you again for the ride."

"Anytime Hazel. Oh, and I'll be sure to send out a wagon for those supplies." He smiled back and then turned to walk away towards the Stark master at arms, but glanced over his shoulder once more. "I expect you to keep your word about the ride."

"Absolutely, my lord," Hazelyn nodded again. Satisfied, Robb gave her a small wave and then jogged away to join an impatient Ser Roddick. Hazelyn pursed her lips to hide a smile.

Silence always made time go by more slowly during Septa Mordane's sewing lessons. While many of the conversations Sansa had with Jeyne Poole could be dull, Hazelyn always enjoyed their light chatter far more than the quiet as she worked. Bored, she looked up across the tiny room from her stool in the corner, her hands continuing to ball yarn as she she studied her surroundings.

Sansa and Jeyne looked intently focused, moving their needles in quick, fine strokes over a large piece of fabric. Sansa wanted to present her banner for the great hall at her name day feast and was hard pressed to finish it in time. In sharp contrast, Arya barely moved her needle at all, lazily pulling it through in sloppy strokes as she 'd glanced Hazelyn's way several times, silently imploring the maid to help her escape. Hazelyn had responded by slightly shaking her head. Arya had to realize she couldn't get her out sewing every day. Otherwise, Septa Mordane would never trust her to mind the youngest Stark girl ever. When Arya looked at her again, Hazelyn felt bad as she shut the girl down once more. At the rejection, Arya's expression soured and her lip curved into a pout, but she had little time to sulk before Septa Mordane approached.

"You seem rather restless, Arya. Is there somewhere you need to be?" The septa asked, her hand on her hip and her brow raised.

"No," Arya grumbled, "But I've been in here for hours and my legs feel numb from sitting so long."

"Hmmm...well let's see what you've done with all that time then." Septa Mordane held her hand out. Arya rolled her eyes as she handed her embroidery hoop over carelessly.

The septa glanced down at the work and frowned. "Why would you use black thread for flowers dear?"

"The needle was already threaded." Arya shrugged as she looked towards the room's small window and listened for the more exciting sounds of the tilt yard.

"Arya, that's sheer laziness."

"I'm not lazy. I'm efficient. Look how quickly I got them done without taking the time to thread new colors." Arya raised her chin proudly daring her septa to contradict her genius. A smile crossed Hazelyn's lips. The girl's wit and cleverness never ceased to amaze her.

"Maybe it takes you so long because your nails are bitten down to stubs," Sansa interjected, having picked up on the bickering going on between her sister and the septa.

"I haven't bitten them in over a year," Arya snapped, jumping to her feet.

"Than maybe its the caked mud under them," Sansa said, her eyes narrowing. "Why can't you just behave for once and act like a lady?"

"We can't all be as perfect as a doll, or as dimwitted," Arya spat as she took a dangerous step forward.

"That's quite enough, girls," Septa Mordane snapped firmly as she placed herself between the two sisters. She fixed them both with a stern stare before glancing out the window where the faint sunlight had changed from gold to orange. "I have some things to do before supper," she announced to all the girls sewing. "You may find a stopping point, and then you are free to go." All the young ladies nodded obediently except the two Starks whom were still glaring at each other. "There will be no fighting," she said in a slightly quieter tone to the two of them. She waited until both gave reluctant nods and then walked away with a weary expression on her face. Her eyes caught Hazelyn's as she stepped out the door, and she nodded towards the two little wolves, silently tasking the maid to play peacekeeper until the Stark girls were no longer in the same room.

As soon as Septa Mordane was out of sight, Arya moved to put her sampler away. Hazelyn watched her carefully and got a sinking feeling when she saw the young girl pause over the supply basket. She rose to her feet as Arya picked up a pair of scissors with a devilish gleam in her eye, but was too slow to reach the youngest Stark girl before she cut the thread on Sansa's needle short with a single snip.

"Arya!" Sansa shrieked.

"Whoops, Sorry."

"Arya, you did that on purpose!" Sansa's voice rose as her anger increased.

"You can rethread it easy," Arya mocked. "Just use your perfect nails." She smiled and tossed the scissor back into the supply basket. Hazelyn opened her mouth to admonish her, but, quick as a flash, the youth rushed out the door. Hazelyn sighed and shook her head before going to tend to Sansa.

Sansa's pretty young face was twisted in an angry scowl as she tried to undo the stitches that Arya had messed up. When her normally graceful fingers just fumbled the needle and material, she threw her work aside with uncharacteristic force. Jeyne Poole jumped slightly, startled by her friend's outburst. Sansa moved her hands to cover face, her eyes growing shiny with tears. Frowning, Hazelyn glanced at Jeyne and the Cassel girls and motioned towards the door for them to leave. As they shuffled out of the room, she went to sit next to her young mistress and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Here, let me see it," she pointed to the tangled thread and needle. Sansa handed the material to her, and she silently undid stitches as she waited for the younger girl to calm. A moment passed before the young Stark wiped her face and crossed her arms. "Why did the gods have to grant me Arya for a sister? She's the absolute worst. I can't stand her."

Hazelyn sighed as she finished undoing the ruined stitches and looked at Sansa sympathetically. "You shouldn't say such things, my lady. Siblings are a blessing. I would be thrilled to have Lady Arya as a sister." Looking down at her hands, frowning, she mumbled, "I always wanted one."

"Trust me, you wouldn't want Arya," Sansa retorted bitterly.

"My lady," Hazelyn chided as she folded up Sansa's sewing and went the other side of the room to put it away. She then sat back down next pouting girl. "You don't understand how lucky you are to have so many siblings."

Her voice, coming out a more wistful than she intended, caught Sansa's attention. She gave Hazelyn a sideways glance, curiosity replacing anger. "What do you mean?"

"I just-" Hazelyn closed her eyes as memories of Domeric and Myna rushed back to her.

Sansa turned to face her maid. Her head tilted in anticipation as she waited for Hazelyn to elaborate.

Hazelyn bit her lip and closed her eyes to tighter to fight the tightness forming in her chest. "I had one brother, my lady, just one... and he... he died." She swallowed hard before looking at Sansa again. She took the younger girl's hand, a deep frown on her face. "He was taken from me suddenly, and I never got to say goodbye. We'd been fighting the day before, and the last words we exchanged were angry ones. I've had to live that regret."

Sandra gripped Hazelyn's hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. I didn't mean upset you."

Hazelyn gave Sansa's hand a squeeze and stood up. "You didn't, my lady. Just never take your siblings for granted. They understand you in a way no one else ever can. To lose that connection... it's a horrible feeling I wouldn't wish on anyone. Brothers and sisters are a thing to cherish, even if they do annoy you at times." Hazelyn smiled weakly. "Now come, let's get you back to your room to prepare for the feast."

Sansa frowned as she rose and smoothed out her dress. "I don't hate Arya, not really," she muttered, looking at the ground. She glanced up sadly at Hazelyn. "I just wish she and I had something in common. I hoped when she got older, she'd calm down and we'd get along more, but she's only frustrated me."

"I think all siblings do at one point or another, my lady," Hazelyn chuckled as they walked towards the door.

"Your brother, what did he do to annoy you?" Sansa asked.

Hazelyn smiled wistfully. "Oh plenty. When I was little, he always tried to scare me by..."

Myna wrung her hands as she trudged through the busy streets of White Harbor in the fading twilight. The salty smell of the sea and the reek of raw fish grew stronger the closer she drew to the city walls. She sighed when the tall barricades finally came into view, an indication she was almost home. Myna had never had an aversion to hard work, but she'd discovered working in the Manderly's kitchens meant much longer hours and far more scrubbing than working as a hand maid to a lady did. Her lips twisted into a deep frown as the particular lady she'd served came to mind. She shook her head angrily, not wanting to give even a passing thought to the girl who'd been her best friend, almost a sister, until she'd abandoned her.

Myna brushed her blonde hair out of her face and pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders as she quickened her pace. She turned into a narrow ally with white stone houses on one side and storefronts on the other. As she passed a tavern that was already buzzing with patrons, she tried to ignore the group of young men and women laughing as they walked in together. Despite her determination to do otherwise, the sight made made her recall memories of two giggling girls and a boy.

Somehow evading the severe gaze of Elena, she and Hazelyn used to sometimes slip through the dark stone halls of the Dreadfort and meet a grinning Darren ,whom had a giant container of ale, at the base of the tallest tower. They would race each other up the narrow stair case, however foolish it was, and then climb, out of breath, into the gaps of the battlements to watch the fiery red sunset reflect over the Weeping Water. As the brilliant fire faded away and they watched the silver stars sprout up in the sky, they'd pass the ale between the three of them, seeing who could come up with the wildest tale until Elena or Marvion found them.

She ground her teeth as she shoved the bitter memory away. They hadn't done that for a long time before they left the Dreadfort and would never do anything of the like again. Hazelyn had betrayed her trust and run off to only the Gods' knew where.

The two of them had been companions since the cradle and had told each other everything before Ramsay fucking Snow had messed with Hazelyn's mind. Myna didn't know if the anger over her friend's abandonment or worry for her well being hurt worse. But the fact remained that Hazelyn Bolton had left behind the people that cared for her most, and Myna would put the fear of both the old and new Gods into her if she ever saw her again. Her anger getting the best of her, the maid stomped up the steps of the tiny stone house she now called home and slammed the door open loudly.

"Seven Heavens, has a giant entered the house?!" She heard Elena's voice exclaim. The old septa sat at a small table in the corner of the single downstairs room, Darren and his mother Twylla seated next to her. Elena's icy blue eyes studied Myna with a knowing gaze that made the maid feel uncomfortable. She squirmed a little under the intense scrutiny and ducked her head.

"Sorry. I had a long day in the castle kitchens. Lord and Lady Manderly threw a feast for their daughter's name day," she grumbled as she plopped herself unceremoniously into the empty chair next to Darren. She leaned back and crossed her arms, studying the table's other occupants. Darren and Twylla looked tired and worried, dark rings under their eyes and deep frowns creasing their faces. Elena even looked off with her usually straight head cover hanging askew and several silver hairs poking out. And of course, all of them leveled their heavy gazes on her.

"What? Did I wake the little ones?" The maid asked bluntly. She knew Darren's younger siblings would be asleep upstairs by now but didn't think she'd entered the house that loudly.

"No, dear," Twylla replied, her usually cheerful tone remarkably forced. The brown haired seamstress had become a major maternal figure in Myna's life after her own mother had died when she was eight. As she and Hazelyn had grown closer to Darren, they had spent more time with his family, and Tywlla had welcomed both the motherless girls into her home as if they were her own. A bright and cheerful soul, the woman had always been able to put on a smile for her children, even in the darkest of times, so her strange tone and nervous expression made Myna feel very uneasy.

"Then why is everybody looking at me like I did something wrong?" Myna snapped defensively. Darren sighed deeply and rubbed his weary green eyes. He only ever looked miserable and tired these days, and had ever since Hazelyn disappeared.

"We were just talking about the Bolton soldiers that came to the Sept. Elena's been worried ever since Ramsay Snow-"

"Has that fucking bastard shown his ugly face again, Elena? If he has, I'll be glad to down to the Sept with with my bow and kill him myself." Myna sat straighter in her seat, her muscles tensed. What she wouldn't give to put an arrow through the bastard's eye for all he had done.

"No," Darren replied in an annoyed tone. Myna, not convinced, glared back suspiciously. Darren rolled his eyes. "Look, Elena's learned that the Bolton master-of-arms is coming to White Harbor to give Lord Bolton's apologies to Lord Manderly and the head septon."

"I heard talk in the kitchens about it," Myna shrugged. "What of it?"

"Well," Twylla said cautiously, placing a gentle hand on Myna's shoulder, "With what Ramsay Snow tired to do Elena and the Bolton men coming back to the city, we thought it might be best to get you out of harm's way."

"Out of harms way?" Myna repeated, her brow rising with her disbelief as she processed the words. "I don't understand. You can't seriously want me to leave my position at the keep. I earn a good wage, and I couldn't be safer anywhere else in the city."

"No," Elena finally spoke in a calm tone. "We want you to leave White Harbor."

"You're jesting!" Myna laughed derisively, shooting up from her chair. When she turned and saw three completely solemn faces staring back at her, she barked out another disbelieving laugh and crossed her arms. "Why? We all agreed to stay together I thought. Now you want me to leave? I don't see what's so dangerous about my situation that I can't handle it myself!" She spat.

"Myna, your looks make you stick out in a crowd," Darren replied, motioning to her blonde locks, "and Bolton men will likely remember you and Elena a lot better then they ever will us." He pointed at his mother and himself. "You were Hazelyn's maid and best friend. You did practically everything together. You'll be one of the first people they'll drag back to Dreadfort to question if they can't find her. They already tried to get Elena, and we don't want them to try to grab you too."

"They won't," Myna stated stubbornly. "They wouldn't dare try another stunt after the Sept, and I refuse to let that lying, ungrateful bitch Hazelyn turn my life upside down anymore than she has!"

Tywlla gasped and put a hand over her mouth while Darren's usually calm face contorted into an expression of anger. He pushed himself up, gritting his teeth. "Its not all about you or her! My family and I were barely noticeable back at the Dreadfort. We can blend into the city. But if you were to lead Bolton soldiers back to this house, who knows what they'd do to us!? I've already lost my father!" His voice choked up. "I've lost Hazelyn! I'll be damned if I lose anyone else I care about, including you!"

Myna might have had sympathy her friend's pain had she not already been swept in her own anger. "Fuck Hazelyn! She lied to us and abandoned me! She's nothing to me anymore." Her brown eyes burned with rage.

Darren drew in a deep breath to yell again when Elena's voice cut across him. "Enough! Both of you!" Her voice wasn't loud, but the sharp steel in her gaze made both young people freeze. She swiveled her blue eyes between the two of them a couple of times before they softened and looked at Twylla. "Twylla, would you mind if I had some privacy with Myna? We need to discuss somethings alone."

"Of course," the brunette woman nodded, relief evident in her face. She rose from her seat and placed a reassuring hand on Myna's shoulder once more before glancing back at her son. "Come on, dove. Let's check on your brother and sisters." Darren hesitated for a moment, but after one more look from Elena, followed his mother toward the stairs, his head hung in defeat. He caught Myna's gaze on his way out, looking more pained than angry now.

Once mother and son had vacated the room, Elena exhaled wearily and pinched her nose. She looked at Myna with a frown. "Please, child, sit down. I am old and don't have the strength to fight anymore. So listen to me without interrupting. "

Feeling guilty, Myna slowly sat in her chair again. Her arms still crossed, she waited for Elena to speak.

"When those men came for me at the Sept, I felt frightened, more so than I have in my whole life, but not for myself. I felt it for you," Elena said passionately. Myna's eyes widened as she watched the strong old woman tear up. "Myna, I held both you and Hazelyn in your swaddling clothes, I rocked your cradles, and I promised your mothers I would care for you when they were gone. When they died, I was devastated. I have seen the Stranger take far too many of my loved ones while they were still in their youth." She closed her eyes as a single tear slid down her cheek. She wiped it and then continued with an earnest sincerity, "Roose Bolton will take the rest if he can. He is a cruel man. He felt nothing for Hazelyn's mother, Bethany, or Domeric, and he feels nothing for Hazelyn. She is but a pawn to him. I worry that if that if he gets a hold of her, he will break like he did her mother."

Myna shook her head. "I know all of that, but I'm not Hazelyn. I'm just a maid, so why should I care?" She frowned obstinately at Elena, but worry for Hazelyn had already started to eat away at her.

The septa looked at her with serious gaze. "Child, Roose Bolton is a dangerous man. He needs Hazelyn, and will do whatever he deems necessary to get her back. I can't even contemplate the horrific things he'd have done to you to get information about her whereabouts." Elena grabbed Myna's hand in an tight grip. "I promised to keep both you girls safe. I raised Bethany from her youth and your mother, Kyra, was my niece and the only kin I had left in this world. I need to keep my promise to them both, but now I've failed Bethany by letting Hazelyn disappear. Must I fail your mother as well? Please, child."

Completely shocked by the vulnerability of the iron clad septa, Myna could only nod. Elena released the maid's hand and fished several items out of her robes to hand to the younger woman. Myna didn't look down but felt paper and something hard pressed into her palm.

"Lady Barbary Dustin, Hazelyn's aunt, wrote to me after the Sept incident. She wants to find Hazelyn as much I and you." Myna pursed her lips, not willing to admit she did still worry about Hazelyn a lot. "I wrote back that you could help with her search. I also voiced my concerns for your safety. She offered to give you a position as an assistant to her personal maid and sent coin to pay for your passage to Barrowtown."

Myna finally looked down and studied the items Elena had set in her hands. She saw a letter of introduction with the Dustin sigil and a heavy brown coin satchel. The third item, though, was what grabbed her attention. "I wanted to give you this for luck," Elena said. Her withered fingers curled around a golden chain and lifted up a necklace that sparkled in the light of the hearth. "This was your mother's. It was her most prized possession, and I promised to give it to you when you were old enough."

Myna eyes widened as she reached out a to touch the golden necklace. Elena gently nodded and then laid it in her palm. The chain was a small, simple strand of gold, and hanging on it, a gold bear with tiny obsidian eyes. "I remember her wearing this," Myna mumbled, closing her fingers around it.

Elena smiled sadly. "Your father gave it to her. Kyra said it was the only thing she had left of him."

Myna got a strange feeling in her gut at the statement, but Elena quickly continued. "You are brave, child," she put a hand on Myna's shoulder, "And strong. I love you far too much to see any harm come to you. I would like to ensure Hazelyn is also safe before the Stranger takes me." She gave Myna a little shake. "I'm too old now to roam the North to undermine the Boltons and find Hazelyn, but you certainly are not. Will you help your old aunt keep her promises? Will you search for Hazelyn?"

Despite the jumbled emotions in Myna's head, she knew she could answer with only one word. Determination filled her as she looked at the septa. "Yes. I will find her."

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Feasts and Friends?

Hazelyn laughed as she urged her mount into the final stretch to the tree line. The breeze created by the horse's speed whipped her hair around wildly. The brilliant colors of dusk and the shadowy landscape passed by her in a blur as she raced towards victory. She grinned as she slowed to a halt at edge of the woods and slid down from the saddle. "Good job, pretty girl," she praised the mare she'd ridden out, running her hand up its snout. She smiled when the mare nuzzled it's nose in her palm.

Hazelyn turned when she heard pounding hoofs come up behind her. A satisfied smirk crossed her lips. "I'm glad to see you made it, my lord. I've been waiting for awhile," she said.

Robb grinned as climbed off his mount. "I can keep up. You simply had the better horse."

Hazelyn raised her brow. "Really? And yet you had first pick."

"Alright," Robb admitted. Maybe you are a better rider."

Hazelyn chuckled as she continued to rub her mare's snout. Robb patted his horse and glanced around at the shadowy trees, then to the sky, where the color had faded into twilight. "Let's stop for awhile," he casually suggested. Hazelyn's smile froze. She glanced at the young man in front of her and the woods beyond. All this was too familiar. She couldn't stay here with him. She just couldn't.


Hazelyn jumped when she felt a hand touch her shoulder. She looked behind her to see Robb staring down at her in concern. She closed her eyes briefly and exhaled. She was with Robb, someone she could trust, not him.

"Sorry," she smiled weakly. "What about stopping?"

"I thought since we're both missing supper, we could eat while the horses had a rest." He looked away nervously and dropped his hand from her shoulder. "If you would like to."

Hazelyn's smile widened, and her unease ebbed away. "Alright."

They settled beneath a massive oak tree as their horses grazed nearby. Robb removed a knapsack from his saddle bag and laid out the light fare he'd gotten from the kitchens. Hazelyn hummed as she smelt the delicious aroma of brown bread and freshly aged cheese. They ate their meal silently and watched brilliant golds and reds of dusk fade into darkness. A pleasant coolness permeated into the air as night settled.               

"I thought I asked the cook to put two apples in here." Robb frowned as he pulled a single green apple out of the bag. "Here, you have it." He smiled as he offered it to Hazelyn.

"Why don't we split it?" She suggested. She carefully reached under dress and pulled her knife from its strap on her thigh . She wiped the blade on her skirt and then handed it to Robb.

"This is an impressive little blade," he complimented. He adjusted it in his hand and then cut neatly through the apple. He hissed as one of his fingers accidentally pricked the tip. "A sharp one too," he chuckled as he gave Hazelyn half of the apple. He briefly studied the golden plated, detailed handle of the dagger before handing it back. "It looks expensive. How did you come by it?"

Hazelyn couldn't tell him the truth, that she'd found it playing in the old dungeons beneath the Dreadfort, so she thought up a quick lie. "I-I won it betting during a tourney. Lady Dustin's nephew, Domeric, was a squire in her household for a number of years. He and I were not far apart in age, so we became friends. I made a bet with him over two knights fighting in a melee. He was a good lad, but an arrogant little prick, thinking himself an expert on combat as a twelve year old squire." Hazelyn rolled her eyes. "Of course I won, and he had to be a bad loser. Instead of giving me gold," she scowled, "he gave me a knife." She smiled wistfully, shaking her head. The story had some truth to it, so she didn't feel completely guilty about her fabrication. She had changed the details, but it had been a real bet. Her brother had not had any coin to spend for a moon after and had refused to bet against her ever again.

Biting into her apple, Hazelyn leaned back to gaze at the silver stars springing to life in the dark sky. "The sky's finally cleared up enough to see the stars. I thought those storm clouds would never leave."

Robb leaned back next her. "Maester Luwin often took Jon, Theon, and I up to his observatory on nights like this when we were lads. He said we needed to know the constellations for-"

"Navigation most likely," Hazelyn interrupted unknowingly. Robb's eyes widened in amused surprise. Hazelyn shrugged. "The Ice Dragon is the most useful for land travelers." She pointed a finger upwards to trace it out. "The tail points south, and the eye leads north." Her gaze settled on the crystal blue northern star, both scared and fascinated. "I've always imagined the eyes of the white walkers looking similar to the eye of the ice dragon," she murmured.

Robb tilted his head to look up at the star. "I suppose they could. I've never really given that stuff much thought." He bit into his apple with a loud crunch.

Hazelyn turned her head to the side to look at him. "Surely you heard the tales about the white walkers when you were a child."

"Of course, those stories have always been Old Nan's favorites. She loves telling Bran tales of the Long Night. How peasants froze in their huts and lords in their castles while the white walkers roamed. They always frightened me as a boy, so I tried not to believe in them. I still don't."

"You don't believe there's any truth to them?" Hazelyn quirked a brow.

"Of course not." Robb laughed. "I'm not as superstitious as Old Nan. There's no such thing as white walkers. They're a myth. As for the Long Night, it was probably just a horrible winter."

"Well, they've always been my favorite legends," Hazelyn said. "Lady Barbary never liked me reading such tales, but they drew me in when I was young. I couldn't help but read all of them. The best story is the one about the Night King and his pale-skinned bride with star sapphire eyes. The night queen they called her." An involuntary shiver went down Hazelyn's spine.

"I remember that one. Old Nan always insisted he was a Stark, the brother of Brandon the Breaker," Robb mused.

"I guess that means you and the white walkers are kin then," Hazelyn jested. They both stared at each other a second before bursting out laughing. Hazelyn didn't know why, but it was so easy to talk with Robb.

They looked up at the sky once more. The moon hung low on the horizon. "We probably should be getting back before it gets too late," Robb sighed. He stood and offered Hazelyn a hand. This time, she grasped it without hesitation and he pulled up. Once standing, Hazelyn loosened her grip on him, but he didn't let go. Frowning, she glanced down at their still joined hands as he tightened his fingers around her knuckles. She didn't know if she felt terrified or exhilarated at the sight. She looked up at his face, and just as she expected, his bright blue eyes drew her in. He stared at her with an expression she couldn't decipher. Her heart raced as her sense of terror and exhilaration grew. She didn't understand what was happening.

The momentary spell was broken when a pleasantly cool breeze whistled through the trees. Hazelyn smiled as it whipped her hair about and brushed against her face . She glanced at Robb and her eyes widened. He was shivering. "It's getting colder; the wind is picking up," he observed with a grim expression as he looked out into the darkness. When he glanced back down at her, his eyebrows raised in alarm. "Gods, I didn't even notice you didn't have a cloak! Would you like mine?"

Hazelyn looked at him oddly as he began to take off his cloak. Why did he feel so cold on such a lovely night? Weren't the Starks supposed to have ice in their veins? "I'm fine, but thank you for the kind offer."

Robb looked at her, uncertain. "Are you sure? I can do without it riding back to the castle-

"No really, I don't catch a chill easily. I have the cold in my blood. My family has lived in the North for many generations." Hazelyn smiled reassuringly.

"My family dates back to the first men, and I'm freezing," Robb laughed. She watched as his breath rose in white puffs into the frigid air. When she breathed out a deep sigh, she saw nothing.

Jon took a sip of ale he as observed the festivities going on around him. The great hall glowed with bright lights and festive colors for Sansa's name day feast. Minstrels sang the cheerful songs of brave knights and fair maidens that Sansa adored. Jon watched quietly as those around him laughed, mingled, and enjoyed the abundant feast Lady Catelyn had ordered for her daughter's special day.

Luckily enough, Jon had not been banished from the hall for this celebration. Lady Catelyn had not wanted him to attend, but Father had put his foot down. Jon was Sansa's brother, so he had every right to be there. If it had been any of his other siblings' namedays, he'd probably even be sitting up at the head table. He and Sansa had never been particularly close though, so he'd been relegated to a place at a lower table with some of his father's soldiers. He enjoyed sitting with Roderick and Jory, they'd always treated him as a Stark, but it still stung having to watch his family from a distance rather than be with them. It reminded him that no matter how much they loved him, he would never would be a Stark.

The clatter and conversation stopped as Father stood up and raised his hand for silence. He gave an uncharacteristically wide grin and raised his cup. "I would like to propose a toast to my daughter. Ten and two years ago today, the gods blessed my lady wife and me with our beautiful girl." He raised his cup. "To Sansa."

"To Sansa." Cheers rose as everyone raised their cups in honor of their lady.

Lord Eddard held the crowd after the toast. "My daughter wishes to present a gift to Winterfell on her special day."

All eyes turned towards towards the front of the hall where Sansa stood conferring with Jeyne Poole and her maid Hazel. After a moment, they broke apart, and together they unfurled and held up a large banner. It was bigger than any Jon had seen around the keep. The ornate stitching depicted a family of direwolves standing on a hill on a dark night, the father howling up at the moon as the rest of the pack stood united behind him. A river below the hill shimmered with silver thread, and blue winter roses lined its banks.

The hall erupted into applause. Jon watched as Father smiled and Lady Catelyn rose from her seat to embrace her daughter. Several men hoisted the banner up and draped it across a barren wall, its grandeur making the room all the more festive.

Sansa clasped the hands of her maid and her best friend as the banner was set into place, smiling and hugging both of them in turn. Jeyne accepted the affection with ease, though Hazel seemed a little stiff.

After a couple of minutes, the feast began to resume as normal as people finished coming to compliment Sansa on her amazing work. Hazel smiled at Sansa and embraced her lightly before turning to leave, but Sansa grabbed her arm. Jon raised a brow in interest as he watched Sansa tug Hazel back to the head table. The family looked up as the guest of honor pulled her maid down into her seat next to her. It looked humorous and strange to see the blushing, talkative noble girl sharing her chair with her plainly dressed, pale maid.

Jon frowned when he saw Robb eagerly wave down a servant for an another goblet of wine and place it into Hazel's hands to draw her attention. Dismay filled Jon as he watched his brother enthusiastically talk to Hazel, ignoring everyone else. Even after the maid had turned away to speak with Sansa and accept the lemon cake she'd offered, his brother quickly drew her back into a conversation. With the way Robb smiled at her, and the way Hazel started to blush and laugh after a few moments, Jon felt like he was looking at Theon talking up one of his conquests. Robb had claimed that the many evenings he'd slipped away to spend time with Hazel had been purely friendly. Theon hadn't believed it for a second, and now Jon was starting to have doubts.

After a while, Hazel put aside her cup, hugged Sansa, and departed from the head table. Jon watched his brother's eyes track the maid as she walked around the edge of the hall.

"Hello Jon!" Jon jumped and finally looked away from the Starks when he saw Hazel approaching him, a warm smile on her face.

"Hazel," he greeted with a nod as he stood.

"I'm glad you're here," Hazel said in a sympathetic tone.

"Sansa's my sister. I wouldn't miss her name day." He shrugged casually, trying not to think about the implications of the maid's comment.

"Of course, you wouldn't," Hazel nodded. When she said nothing more, Jon began to fidget. "Arya's made some real progress on her carving," Hazel said, trying to change the subject.

"Aye," Jon grinned. "She carved me direwolf the other day. She's still waiting for me to finish something for her." Arya had become so enthusiastic about carving, she'd forced Jon to become her own student. Hazel had agreed to help him some, so his youngest sister didn't pester him anymore. She'd proven to be an excellent teacher, and a friendship had started to grow between them. Despite her initial insults, they got on quite well now. Jon smiled and showed Hazel a cut on his thumb. "Turn's out I'm not so good with handling tiny knives. I prefer to work with the larger ones."

The maid laughed. "I think you're coming along well. It just takes practice."

The two looked up when they saw some tables being cleared away to make a dance floor. Father bowed to Sansa, and people clapped as he led her out for the first dance.

"Are you going to stay for the dancing?" Hazel asked.

Jon shook his head. "I don't think so. I might go one round with Sansa for her name day, but then slip out. What about you?"

"No," Hazel immediately replied, shaking her head emphatically. She looked warily towards the dance floor, a haunted look in her eyes. "I liked dancing at one time in my life, but that was a long time ago."

"Shame, I suspect Robb was rather eager to share one with you this evening," Jon commented lightly. He carefully watched Hazel's expression to grasp the nature of her relationship with his brother.

Immediately Hazel's eyes widened and she frowned. "Why would you think that? There's too many ladies here this evening for him to pay me any mind. Anyway, he's just-"

"Hazel!" Robb grinned widely as side stepped a few people to reach her and Jon. "You slipped off before I could ask you for a dance."

Hazel's cheeks flushed. "I don't really dance, my lord."

"Grant me the honor of just one," Robb urged, offering his arm. "Sansa would be disappointed if you left her feast early, and I have to thank you some way for helping her make such a beautiful banner for our hall."

Hazel bit her lip for a moment before sighing. "Alright." She smiled shyly as she took his arm. Robb's eyes lit up, and he grinned even wider. He looked at Jon and put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't you slip off either. I'll catch up with you right after this dance."

Jon smiled and nodded. "I'll be here."

"It was lovely to see this evening, Jon," Hazel said as Robb led her off. Jon gave her a small wave goodbye and then watched as Robb took her out among the other couples and put an arm around her. She looked nervous at the beginning of the song, but within minutes, his brother had her laughing and smiling again as he twirled her around effortlessly.

Jon worried for both of them. It was evident by the way he was looking at Hazel, that Robb was feeling something other than friendship for her. Jon would have to remind his brother to be careful to not do something he'd later regret.

Despite his apprehension, Jon also felt a slight twinge of jealously when watching the pair. He frowned as he took in theirs grins and bright eyes. He'd always been jealous of Robb about a great number of things, and this was just an addition to that long list . He wished he could make a girl smile and laugh they way Robb did, that he had someone he could dance with and rush off to see in the evenings. But he was a Snow, a bastard, and he wouldn't burden any woman or her children with his name.

Robb grimaced as yet another one of his arrows hit way off its mark. "I've never seen a more pathetic sight. Even Snow is out shooting you today Robb," Theon laughed.

Robb shrugged. "I didn't get a lot of sleep last night." He'd stayed out late riding with Hazel again, though he wouldn't mention that in front of Theon. The ironborn had been pestering him ever since he'd started spending time with the maid about why hadn't bedded her yet. He almost groaned when he saw a devilish grin spring up on Theon's face.

"So did you finally bed a girl without me having to drag you to the brothel?" Theon slapped Robb on the back and laughed. He then looked over at Jon and motioned to the target. "Snow, you can go ahead. I have some things to discuss with Robb that you wouldn't be interested in."

Jon rolled his eyes, "You're right, I'm not. If its you that he's talking to, it can't really be a very intelligent conversation." He laughed as he picked up his bow.

Honestly, Robb wasn't interested in having this conversation either. In the past , he'd always found Theon's talk about woman harmless and amusing, even useful at times. Yet, all the Greyjoy had wanted to do for weeks is get under his skin about Hazel.

He went over to weapons rack and tried to seem busy, pulling out more arrows and inspecting other bows, but Theon wasn't about to give up. Causally leaning on the rack, the ironborn smirked. "So, was it that Hazel girl? What was she like?"

"What do you mean?" Robb asked distractedly. Maybe Theon would back off if he avoided the topic long enough.

"You know what I mean." Theon nudged Robb and winked.

"No, I'm afraid reading minds is not within my skill set," Robb said sarcastically, fixing the older boy with an annoyed look. Gods, he hoped Theon would just get bored and move on to something else.

"Don't tell me you haven't fucked her yet."

"No," Robb answered swiftly as his shoulders tensed.

"Moons now you've been spending with that girl, and you haven't bedded her!?" Theon exclaimed, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "What do the two of you do then?"

"We talk about things," Robb said vaguely as he gave up on his attempt to ignore the conversation. He faced Theon with arms crossed tightly across his chest.

"You talk about things?" Theon repeated, raising a brow.

"Yes, Theon," Robb emphasized sharply. "We have conversations " It seemed Theon had a hard time understanding the concept that you could spend time with a women and not bed her.

Not soon enough, Jon rejoined the conversation. "I've used up my arrows, so one of you can go"

Robb immediately picked up his bow so he could focus improving his shot again and not having to justify his decisions to Theon for the hundredth time. He walked over towards the target and notched an arrow, purposely not looking as Theon came up behind him.

"Listen, next time you two have one of your conversations," the ironborn drawled, "Some advice, find a way to bring up your cock."

When Robb heard Jon laugh, he glanced over his shoulder to shoot his brother a dirty look. Jon just shrugged and gave a small apologetic smile.

Frustrated, Robb looked back down the archery range, viewed his target and brought his bow arm up to aim. He wasn't even going to encourage Theon with a response. What he did with Hazel was his business, and he shouldn't have to waste his time to explain it to his prick of a friend."

"So, is it that you think she's ugly?" Theon persisted as Robb released the arrow. It landed even farther from the center of the target than the last one had.

"No," Robb ground out. "I'd say she's the opposite, but I won't use her like that." He faced Theon with a firm stance and hard scowl. He'd be lying if he said he didn't find Hazel attractive. She had a pale kind of beauty that reminded him of the North, but her laugh could brighten the darkest room. So, yes, he'd had thoughts, but he would never act on them like Theon did.

"She's a kitchen wench," Theon pointed out .

"No," Robb corrected, "She's my sister's maid-"

Theon rolled his eyes and waved the younger man off. "Its all the same. Girls like her don't care how a lord a uses 'em, and if they do, there is nothing can do 'cept talk."

"Aye, they talk plenty about you, so perhaps I don't wish to be added to the mix," Robb snapped as he narrowed his eyes.

"Robb, we found her in a brothel," Theon reminded him, his implications obvious.

"She's not that type of person," Robb restlessly replied. Tired of arguing with Theon, he went to retrieve his arrows

Theon smirked. "Well, next time I see her, I'll pull a silver out of my pocket and tell you what type of person she really is."

"Theon, just leave her alone," Robb sighed as he yanked an arrow out of the target. "Can you do that?" He raised his brows at his friend.

Theon hummed. "I don't know. Maybe if-"

Finally, Jon decided to take pity on Robb and intervene. "Leave her be, like Robb said," he stated firmly, staring down Theon with his usual brooding expression.

"Fine," Theon finally capitulated. He shook his head as he helped gather up the remainder of the arrows. "You Northerners just don't know your way around women. I'm surprised you were even born, Snow."

After they'd put everything away, Theon ditched the two younger boys for the brothel. Robb felt relieved. He thought of Theon as a brother but didn't think he would've been able to take any more of his goading.

He and Jon headed towards the great hall to get something to drink before supper. They got two mugs of ale from a passing kitchen maid, and then sat together in comfortable silence as they cooled down. That was, until his half-brother decided to make it uncomfortable.

"You should think before you do anything with Hazel," Jon said abruptly.

Robb half choked on his ale. He coughed as he set his cup back on the table and looked at his brother with wide eyes. "What are you talking about?"

"You can't just bed her," Jon said seriously.

Robb felt his cheeks flush. "Why would I-"

"Robb, you can deny it to Theon all you want, but I watched you two as Sansa's name day feast." Jon frowned at him sternly. "A man doesn't look at women the way you looked at her if he just wants to be friends."

Robb's temper flared, and his frustration hit a new high. What made Jon and Theon think they had the right to butt into his private affairs? "Alright, maybe I do like her a bit more than that!? Is it that wrong of me?" He slammed his cup down on the table and glared at Jon. "I meant it when I said I didn't want to bed her. I'm not in love with her or anything. But I do feel something for her, and I don't think I can ignore it anymore." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe I should tell her."

"No, you shouldn't," Jon said. His stern expression turned angry as he stood up. "You shouldn't even think about it. The fact that she's just a common girl with no name-"

"That doesn't matter to me," Robb bit out stubbornly.

"It may not now, but what if you were to sleep here and put a bastard in her belly? Do you think Father or your mother would let you marry her?" Jon snapped.

"I already said I wasn't going to bed-"

"You say that, but if you two start something, you will want to at some point," Jon's voice shook. "Then there'll be a chance that you get her pregnant. Tell me, is that what you want to do to Hazel, put a bastard in her belly?"

The guilt hit Robb like a punch in the gut. He frowned as he tried to explain himself. "No. But Jon-"

"Robb, your mother's filled your father's den with direwolves. But there's a mutt that sits among her pups, and your father won't let her toss it out, even though he's so ashamed of its mother, he won't even utter her name," Jon said meekly as his anger faded to concern. He looked at Robb sadly. "I know you like Hazel, but do you want to subject her to that kind shame and have her children treated like mutts by everyone they meet?"

"I will always have a place in my heart for mutts Jon," Robb said as he stood and put a hand on his brothers shoulder. "But no, I don't want that for her. I'll be careful."

A relieved smile spread across Jon's face. "Good."

The two eldest Stark children had name days only a moon apart. So right after she finished making sure Sansa had a wonderful gift, Hazelyn had to turn her thoughts to getting one for Robb.

Ever since Hazelyn had arrived at Winterfell, the Stark lordling had done so much for her and become a good friend. Hazelyn smiled every time she thought about all the rides they'd gone on. He had made her feel safe again. She knew she'd never able to repay that kindness fully, but she could at least try to get him a decent name day present.

She'd carved him a small Weirwood charm with a face identical to the one on Winterfell's heart tree, similar to her own. Yet she hoped she might find something nicer for him at the market. A piece of wood just didn't seem like a fitting gift for the son of a lord. Especially not for Robb.

Hazelyn been able to get the entire day off to go to Winter Town because Sansa had needed her to find a present for her to give Robb as well. Apparently the eldest Stark girl was just as clueless about what to give her brother as he was about her fabrics.

Hazelyn had spent the day traversing the vendors, looking at about every type of item in the market to find the right gift. She'd found a doublet that she thought Sansa might like to decorate for her brother, but Hazelyn hadn't found for herself. She had given up as the sun sunk towards the horizon and resigned herself to giving him the plain weirwood carving.

Hazelyn had been on her way back to the keep, when she'd spotted the brothel and remembered Ros. She recalled what her friend had said to her the day they bid each other farewell. "I won't be seeing you too much anymore now that you're a proper serving girl in the castle, but if you can ever sneak down to visit a poor sally, I'd love to see you."

Hazelyn wasn't one to forget about her friends and didn't think she could let another one go. So, now she found herself tucked in Ros's private room, laughing over bawdy tales and a cup of ale.

"So how are things in the fancy castle with the lords and ladies? You tired of pampering that lot yet?" Ros asked.

Hazelyn took a sip of her ale and grinned. "I actually enjoy it." She grimaced when she heard a loud moan from the room above them. "Serving isn't that bad. Perhaps you'd consider it."

"Ha! That'd be the day," Ros guffawed. "I'd rather be serving customers on my back," she took a drink and winked. "Or knees."

"With scrub brush in your hand, you'd do fine," Hazelyn persisted with a frown.

Ros smiled reassuringly and placed hand Hazelyn's knee. "You're sweet, luv, but I'm alright where I am. After getting through with a chore on all fours, I don't have to lug away a dirty bucket, and that's the way I like it. But I'm glad you're happy."

Hazelyn sighed contentedly. "I am. The Starks have been good to me." She bit her lip as she thought of Robb. "Honestly, I've grown rather fond of them."

Ros's eyes had mischievous sparkle as she smirked. "A sure nice lot I bet, but how bout that Robb Stark?" She hummed. "I think I'd grow fond of em real quick if I got to see him all the time. Still waiting for him come around again."

Hazelyn felt her stomach twist. "Come around again?"

"He used to come here with Lord Theon on occasion, but I haven't seen him in awhile," Ros sighed. "When I broke him in, well... I didn't even consider it work. Hells, I'd even let that one sample the merchandise again for free if I got the opportunity."

Hazelyn's eyes widened and her cheeks flamed bright red. "You were his- he..." She trailed off as she looked away, not knowing exactly what to think.

"Haven't you ever let your skirts up a bit when you're scrubbing the floor around him?" Ros waggled a brow. "Just innocently show him a bit of skin?"

"No!" Hazelyn fiddled restlessly with her skirt. "I-I've never done that. I probably wouldn't consider it, but..." She trailed off as she thought of the times Robb's hand had brushed against hers and when they'd danced at Sansa's nameday feast.

"But!?" Rose urged, leaning forward in interest.

"What? Nothing," Hazelyn mumbled.

Ros let out a tiny disbelieving chuckle. "Oh no luv, come on and spill it."

Hazelyn glanced at the friendly redhead and bit her lip. "He's got handsome eyes," she muttered as she looked at the ground.

"Mmmhhm, that he does," Ros smiled knowingly. "Hazel, I don't think you're as innocent as you lead on. Look me in the eye, and let's have the truth."

Hazelyn rolled her eyes. "Oh come on. Who wouldn't like him, Ros? I haven't done anything." She pursed her lips. "I think I should be getting back to the keep soon." She stood up with a tiny smile.

"Alright luv," Ros laughed as she rose. "I won't bother you anymore this time, but we will continue this chat."

"You'll be disappointed," Hazelyn quipped. The two shared a secret smile as Ros escorted her silently to the front door of the establishment.

"Don't be a stranger." The redhead tapped Hazelyn's arm in farewell.

"I'll try not to be," Hazelyn laughed as she stepped out the front door of the brothel.

"It's a nice gesture but, I'm not sure if I'm up to going this year," Robb sighed as Theon pulled him out of the tavern and down the street toward the brothel.

"This has been my gift to you for your past two name days," Theon complained. "Don't ruin the tradition!" He patted Robb's shoulder. "You're six and ten, a man now! You need bed a woman to make it official, and we won't be able to get away to do this on your actually name day! Unless," he smirked impishly, "You have a certain maid back at the castle in mind."

"I already told you, no," Robb mumbled. Hazel's bright laughter rang in his head. He'd rather spend his time with her than between the thighs of some random whore, but he couldn't forget his conversation with Jon. His brother did have a point. It would only turn out badly if he told Hazel about his feelings. He couldn't do it, even though it might drive him insane. Maybe he did need to go to the brothel. "Alright, let's go," he sighed.

"That's the spirit," Theon grinned. "I'll even let you have Ros tonight. She'll cheer you right up." He winked and pushed Robb lightly.

As walked down the road from the tavern, Theon continued with his bawdy antics to liven the mood. They exchanged a few japes and Robb actually began to enjoy himself. The sky had grown dark, and the moon had just peeked over the horizon when they arrived at the brothel.

"After you, Lord Stark," Theon chuckled, stepping to the side of the entry. Robb shook his head and reached for the door, but it swung open before he could grasp the latch.

"I'll try not to," a familiar voice laughed. Robb froze in panic as he came face to face with Hazel. She stood quite and still, her smile stuck in place. Robb felt sick as he watched her mouth drop into a deep frown and flashes of hurt and disappointment pass through her eyes. Within seconds though, she'd composed her face into a blank mask, and her usually sparkling grey eyes hardened into a icy stare.

"My lords." She nodded as she stepped out into the chilled evening air. "I know this may look bad but I was just visiting a friend. I would be very grateful if you didn't mention it to anyone back at the keep," she explained in a quiet tone.

Theon glanced at Robb's panicked face and tried to be helpful. "We never saw you," he said with a small shrug.

Hazel smiled blandly. "Thank you." Her blank eyes looked straight into Robb's as she she said, "I hope you have a fun evening." She then pursed her lips and walked away as quick she could.

Robb felt blood pounding in his ears as Theon gave him a push. "Come on Robb, Let's just go have us some-" Jolted from his shock, Robb didn't even look at his friend as he tore off in the direction Hazel had went.

His eyes scanned the shadowy street frantically as he ran. She couldn't have gone far. When he finally spotted her, he called out her name. He saw her head turn briefly in his direction, but couldn't make out her face in the evening shadows. He did see her increase her pace to get away from him though. He lengthened his own strides to catch up with her. "Hazel," he said again as he reached out and placed a firm hand on her shoulder. She jerked away and whipped around to face him, her face still composed in that unsettling blank mask.

"I have to get back to the keep, my lord," she said in a flat tone. Robb studied her, trying to figure out what she was thinking, but she didn't crack.

"I-I didn't expect to run into you this evening, Hazel," he said lamely, at a loss for words.

"Nor I you," Hazel stated flatly. "But I guess I shouldn't be surprised."

A strange desperation tore through Robb as he ran his hand through his hair. "I don't visit there often. Theon was just taking me to celebrate my nameday. It's a gift he always insists on giving me."

"Then I hope you enjoy it, my lord," Hazel said. Still, no expression crossed her face. She began to turn away. Before he could think, Robb reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Please don't go." He begged.

"My lord, it's late-"

"Then why are you so angry?" Robb asked impulsively.

Hazel tensed as she looked down the hand that gripped her and then back at him. She yanked her wrist away and narrowed her eyes. "I'm not angry, my lord. Why would I be? You're welcome to celebrate your name day as you wish."

"I didn't even want to go." Robb took a step towards her.

"Oh yes, you looked miserable walking through that door," Hazel spat. Her mask broke and she gave him a chilling glare.

"I went there to get my mind off someone else."

"I don't care!" Hazel hissed, stepping forward to get into his face. "Why are you even telling me?"

Robb had promised to be careful, but gods, she was right there. He couldn't control himself. He pulled her against him and closed his eyes tight as he crashed his lips onto hers. She remained still for a moment, not moving a muscle or even breathing. He blinked when he felt her finally respond, leaning into him and moving her mouth just slightly. Before he could do anything else though, she ripped herself away and pushed him back violently. Neither said a word as they both stared at each other, panting.

Her face, so blank a moment before, now filled with too many emotions to read. Her grey eyes shined with fear and panic as she backed away from him, shaking her head.

"Hazel," he said gently, taking a step towards her.

Hazel's eyes widened, and like a frightened doe, she jumped and dashed off into the night. Robb cursed and ran a hand through his hair. Gods, he was a fool.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Heated Words and Cold Stares

Barbary stared up disdainfully at the black turrets of the Dreadfort as she road through its gate with her men, her Dustin banners fluttering ahead of her in the light breeze. The keep's dark stones clashed with the summer blue sky and lush greenery surrounding them, and when she passed beneath the castle's shadow, it was like the sun ceased to think, the first time she'd seen this place, she'd been envious of her sister Bethany, that she'd married the lord of such a grand castle and would have such a huge home to rule over. What a stupid girl she'd been. This castle had become her older sister's prison, with her lord husband as serving as her warden.

Roose Bolton had seemed a good match for Bethany at first, but they then they had started disagreeing on certain matters, and quickly, it turned into full blown arguments. Bethany blatantly defied her husband's order. In retaliation, Roose slowly broke his fierce Ryswell wife piece by piece over the years of their marriage, removing her quirks, her interests, her opinions, until she was only shadow of her former self, a sickly woman who expired in the birthing bed after delivering yet another stillborn had watched her sister lose her spirit and passion for everything, save her children. The two precious babes that Roose Bolton had not managed to beat or leech out of his wife's womb had been everything to Bethany. Barbary had also adored Domeric and Hazelyn from the day they were born, and would have felt envious of her sister if not for the horrible man that had sired them. She thanked the gods that none of Roose's cruelty had passed onto his trueborn children.

Despite her her own difficulties, Bethany had always been there for her little sister. She had shushed Barbary when she'd fallen from her horse for the first time and supported her through the series of miseries that the Starks had subjected her to in her youth. So when Bethany, at death's door, had asked her little sister to look after Hazelyn and Domeric, to protect them from their father's cruelty, Barbary had vowed to do all she could to nurture the good their mother planted in them. She'd promised she wouldn't let Roose damage them the way he had Bethany.

Up until a couple of moons ago, Barbary had done decent job keeping that promise. She started to foster Domeric at Barrowhall a year before Bethany passed, and then sent him far away to squire for the Redforts in the Vale when he got older. When he finally returned to his father's house, he was a man grown, kind, intelligent, and hopefully beyond his father's corrupting influence. Though she'd not been able to foster Hazelyn, Barbary had had the girl come for extended visits to Barrowtown and the Rills as often as Roose would allow.

Thankfully unlike her gentle and laidback brother, Hazelyn had inherited Bethany's fierceness and perseverance. It had always reassured Barbary that her neice would not be easily swayed by her lord father. But it also had worried the Dustin widow that the girl acted so similar to her mother. She had followed in Bethany's rebellious footsteps from a young age and Lord Bolton had begun to break his daughter as he had her mother.

Then, Barbary had utterly failed her sister when that damned bastard killed her nephew. Lord Bolton insisted that his baseborn hadn't done it, but he'd never arrested anyone else for his son's murder. He had instead rewarded the bastard and sentenced her neice to dwell in this damn prison for the rest of her life. Then, Hazelyn had disappeared into thin air.

The prideful prick Roose Bolton was, he'd refused to let anyone outside their kin know of his daughter's disappearance. The combined forces of Houses Bolton, Ryswell, and Dustin had searched for the girl for moons now and found nothing.

In Barbary's opinion, they'd never find Hazelyn this way. She was too clever, like her father ironically. As much as Barbary loathed their leige lord, she knew they needed the Stark's assistance if they were ever going to find her niece alive.

Her face set in conviction, Barbary slid down from her charger's saddle and blindly handed it off the to the stable boy as she focused on the keep's entrance. Smoothing her greying pinned up hair and brushing the dust off her black skirts, she glided forward, barely acknowledging the steward Lord Bolton had sent out greet her. Of course her good brother would think himself too high and mighty to greet her himself.

"Lady Dustin, welcome, I-" the steward struggled to address her and keep up with her brisk pace as she strided through the fortress's main doors. "Lord Bolton is sorry he couldn't receive you. He is preparing to leave-"

"Please dispense with the formalities and take me to Lord Bolton," Barbary ordered. She'd developed a strong authoritative air over the years to hold her own against the other Northern lords as the head of House Dustin.

The steward nodded quickly and cowered as Barbary fixed him with a hard stare. "Of course, my lady. Right this way." He shuffled along quickly, not daring to glance at her once as he led her down the winding black corridors. When they reached the door of her good brother's solar, she dismissed the man with a wave of her hand. He bowed and scurried away like a rat. Pursing her lips and holding her head high, Barbary opened the door to find the Lord of the Dreadfort waiting for her expectantly. He stood perfectly still next to his empty fire place filled with grey ash. White sunlight pouring in from open windows struck the room's black stone walls and reflected onto his already pale skin, making it look like ice rather than flesh.

"Barbary, to what pleasure do I owe this this visit?" Roose asked in his usual controlled tone. He bowed to her slightly, his hands tucked behind his back and his icy grey eyes already studying her to discern her motives.

"I wanted to discuss our findings or lack there of in our search for Hazelyn," Barbary clipped sharply. She tried to hide her anger behind a neutral mask, though some of her displeasure sparked in her brown eyes.

"Yes? What about them?" Roose raised an eyebrow, acting as if they were talking about the weather.

Barbary strained to keep her disgust hidden. She needed to remain civil if she wished to achieve her goal. "It's been moons since Hazelyn has disappeared, and we've found nothing my lord, not a trace." She narrowed her eyes as her mouth dropped into a hard scowl. "What we're doing isn't working. We need to change tactics."

"I completely agree," Roose conceded. Barbary had to purse her lips to hide her shock. She had come prepared for an argument. "You might have seen some of my men preparing to ride out," the lord explained. "You caught me at a rather inconvenient time, actually. I'm about to depart to seek some additional help."

Barbary narrowed her eyes. Roose Bolton never capitulated so easily. He was too prideful a man. "Have you come to your senses and finally decided to ask the Starks for assistance then?" She asked suspiciously.

"Of course not," Roose dismissed . "I'm going down to the Riverlands to discuss this problem with Walder Frey. He was offended enough when I sent him a raven postponing the wedding. He will back out the betrothal all together if I don't enlighten him about the situation."

Disbelief and anger swelled up in Barbary and she was unable to hold back her indignation. "Pardon me my lord, but why in the seven hells are you concerned about preserving a damn betrothal when you don't even have the bride to uphold it?" She glared at Roose, her brown eyes flashing dangerously.

Roose sighed wearily. "Walder Frey needs to be handled carefully. He can be a rather unforgiving man when crossed, but a valuable ally when treated with respect. He has armies as vast as my own and will help us double the search efforts if his men join ours." He used a condescending tone, addressing Barbary as if she was a simpleton child.

Barbary Dustin had a great amount of pride herself, and would not be talked down to, especially not by this soul sucking leech, who cared not a whit about his children's safety. Her anger flared in full force and her face twisted into a frustrated sneer. "We need the Starks, not the Freys! If your men, combined with the forces of House Dustin and Ryswell can't find her, Walder Frey's men won't make a difference either! We need the whole damn North looking for her. We can only do that with the Stark's assistance. They can enlist the help of the other houses."

Roose's grey eyes started to glint dangerous as his tone grew sharper."Telling the Starks would do more harm than good. My daughter's disappearance would make my house look weak in the eyes of other Northern lords, and Hazelyn would be put at more risk than she already is."

"How so?" Barbary demanded, crossing her arms.

"As my heir-apparent, she is one of the best matches in the North, possibly even Westeros. A very tempting prize for any young lordling or poor knight that might find her first. They could very well bed and wed her against her in an attempt to steal my lands. Only kin and the Freys can be trusted." The Bolton lord's posture had grown stiff and his voice strained as his patience wore thin.

"And you think Lord Frey's bastards would not be tempted by the prospect?" Barbary challenged, twisting the man's logic against him. What she wouldn't give to see him lose his cool composure just once.

"Lord Walder keeps all of his sons in line and has no reason to wed her to one of them in haste when her hand has already been promised to his house. They're all Freys, it makes no difference who exactly she bleeds for," Roose explained.

"Fine, but I still do not believe Lord Frey's assistance enough," Barbary sniffed with an air of superiority, not impressed by her good brother's finely crafted argument.

Something akin to fury briefly flickered Roose's eyes, but the damned man regained cold composure all too quickly. His lip turned up in the slightest of smirks."When did you become such a staunch supporter of our leige lords Barbary? If I can recall correctly, your rather resent the Starks. I remember a certain Stark lad that dishonored you and threw you aside for a Tully girl, and then his younger brother that neglected to return your loyal husband's body to you after the war."

Barbary felt as if a white hot dagger had been driven into her chest. Painful memories welled up in her mind. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath to push the haunting images away. She thought of her small, dark-haired niece. "Yes," she replied in a shaking but determined tone. "But I love my niece more than I resent them. You, on the other hand, seem to care very little about what happens to your daughter. Do you not realize every day she's not found, she is more likely to end up dead? Even if we're lucky enough to find her alive, her condition could be even worse. Men would pay almost anything to say they had a night with a lord's daughter. She could be torn apart, her honor destroyed, half a hundred bastards planted in her belly." She glared at the Roose Bolton, her burning eyes daring him to contradict her.

And contradict her he did. "He who tells that tale would pay indeed. Though you do make a point that concerns me. If my daughter has had her maidenhood defiled, whoever committed the offense would be robbing her and I both."

"Have you no concern for her well-being?!" Barbary exclaimed, not believing anyone could so callous.

"She is my daughter," Roose said calmly, as if that obvious fact justified everything.

"Aye, she is, but you stating the fact has doesn't make me believe it matters to you," Barbary seethed.

"I have been searching for her since she disappeared. By now, she's probably dead or deep in hiding, so there is no need to rush and handle matters clumsily." The lord's eyes fixed Barbary with a heavy gaze. His quiet tone carried a note of finality that barred further discussion.

However, Lady Barbary Dustin wasn't one to back down. "For the love of my niece, I pray for the latter, as should you," she said calmly, her earlier fury dying down to cold resolve. "If you were to lose Hazelyn, you'd be fixed with a bastard as an heir. I should do away with that boy to provide you an incentive for finding my niece. Of course, I'd be a fool for having such a crime carried out. I do not share your talent for burying transgression." She smirked when she saw the cold and calm Lord Bolton slip.

His eyes narrowed dangerously. The temperature of the room seemed to drop with his chilling stare. "I admire your leadership, Barbary, and welcome your opinion because most of the time, it has merit, but do not push me. Even my patience only goes so far," he warned quietly. "You are neither my daughter's parent nor guardian, so you will not make the final decisions on this matter. If you find you cannot abide my judgment, you are free to withdraw your assistance, but I will not let you interfere."

Barbary made a decision in that moment. She was going to find niece herself, take her to Barrow Hall, and never let Roose Bolton lay a hand on his daughter again. So she bit her tongue and ignored the bile rising in her throat in response to the courtesy she'd have to placate him with. "I apologize for causing such offense, my lord. I suppose my distress over Hazelyn's disappearance has gotten the better of me," she murmured in feigned exhaustion.

Roose's cold grey eyes analyzed her for a moment before he was satisfied that he'd won. "No offence has been taken, my lady, but I'm afraid I must be off. Lord Walder is expecting me and he will take offence if I arrive later than I promised," he said with a smooth and practiced civility.

Barbary could barely contain a hidden smirk as she nodded politely. "I'll trouble you longer then, my lord. I wish you safe travels."

Robb took another gulp of wine before looking out across the room. The hall buzzed with laughter as people continued to indulge in fine spirits and food. He knew he should feel totally content and happy right now. He sat at name day feast thrown in his honor, surrounded by all his family, his best friend and brother on either side of him. Father had gifted him with a brand new sword and spent the whole afternoon sparring with him and Jon in the tiltyard. Mother had given him a brand new cloak she'd made herself. The smell of venison, his favorite food, filled the hall and he had a cup filled with the fine Dornish wine that was only brought out for special occasions. He should be enjoying himself right now, but he mainly just felt frustrated.

"Robb, what's wrong?"

Robb looked towards his brother who was regarding him with a concerned frown.

"I'm just bored," Robb sighed, looking away to hide his agitation.

"Is that your excuse?" Theon chimed into the conversation with a smirk. "I think it has more to with the other night. You turned down my gift, and then your pretty little maid rejected you. Can't even get her to speak to you now. So, what is it really, the humiliation or your blue balls?"

Robb sent the ironborn a death glare. "Shut up, Greyjoy." As much he hated hearing those words, Theon was partially right though. After he'd blundered and kissed Hazel a couple of nights ago, he had tried to find an opportunity to apologize to her and make amends. The maid had mastered the art at avoiding him, however, so he'd not gotten the chance.

Theon laughed while Robb tried to shove him. Jon's frown only deepened. "You did the right thing, Robb, giving her space. Don't let Theon tell you otherwise." He put a supportive hand on Robb's shoulder.

Theon snorted at Jon's comment. "And yet again Snow, you prove how hopeless you are when it comes to women." His expression sobered a bit as he looked back at Robb, though a small smirk still played on his lips. "Since you didn't accept my first gift Stark, I'll give you another one by telling you how to get back into your little maid's good graces." He grabbed Robb's wine goblet and pushed it front of him. "First of all, drink. This won't work with you looking as miserable as Snow always does."

Robb looked at him skeptically for a moment before gripping his cup and downing the contents in one go. The wine felt warm going down his down his throat. "Second," Theon leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, "You need to have an actual conversation withher. Though that may be a problem, seeing as you don't even know how to track her down."

"And you do?" Robb snapped. "Lets hear it."

"She's Sansa's maid, so she's bound to go to your sister's chambers to ready her for bed. Simply wait wait down the hall until she's finished with Sansa and leaves, then pull her aside for that chat you've been putting off."

"I have not been putting anything off," Robb mumbled angrily, but then his brow lifted slightly in curiosity. "What would I say to her?"

"Nothing really," Theon chuckled. "Just use some of that innocent charm of yours that half the maids in this castle swoon over. She'll fall right back into your arms. Believe me." His smirk widened into an arrogant grin.

As Robb processed the information, Jon scowled. "Theon, lay off it," He shook his head as he looked at his brother. "Robb, don't listen to him. It'll only make things worse if you were to corner her."

Robb glanced over at the couples dancing on the other side of the room and felt his stomach tighten. He thought about Hazel's bright laugh and wide smile when he danced with her at Sansa's feast. "Jon, I just want to keep her as a friend. And to do that, I have to talk with her and make things right."

Jon frowned in consternation. "Robb, you already tried to do that once, and it didn't turn out well. Give her time to-"

Theon rolled his eyes. "Snow, do you ever shut up? Woman don't ever get over things without a little coaxing. Especially not that maid. She'll ignore Robb for the rest of his days, unless he takes the initiative."

Robb didn't entirely agree with the statement, but he didn't like the idea of just sitting around either. When he had a problem, he took action as soon he found solution, and Theon had just given him one. He didn't pay attention as Jon and Theon started quarreling, focusing his attention on Sansa instead. After just a few minutes, Septa Mordane approached his sister and Jeyne Poole and said something he couldn't make out. When Sansa stood in response, he downed rest of his wine and rose himself.

"I'll be back in a little while," he said to his best friend and brother. "Say I stepped out for air if anyone asks." Theon raised his goblet in a salute while Jon crossed his arms and scowled.

Robb quickly made for the entrance of the hall that he'd seen Sansa pass though. Staying far enough behind so she wouldn't notice him, he followed her into the Great Keep. About half way to her room, Hazel met Sansa from a side corridor. Robb watched carefully as the two girls fell into step and Sansa chattered excitedly about the feast. He smiled when Hazel grinned and laughed in response to something his sister said. Gods, her laugh and smile were beautiful.

As they neared Sansa's room, Robb slipped into a side passage and peaked around the corner to watch the two girls pass out of sight. Now all he had to do was wait. To pass the time, he thought about what he'd say to Hazel when he caught her. He'd apologize, explain himself, and then ask her if they could continue to be friends. It seemed so simple, and yet the thought of it made stomach twist into knots and his pulse race. After what seemed like hours, Robb heard the door to his sister's room open again. He exhaled and nervously ran a hand through his hair. He readied himself, and when Hazel passed by him, he easily caught her arm.

The maid shrieked as he gently pulled into the side passage. "Let go!" She snapped, automatically clawing at her assailant's hand.

"Hazel, calm down, it's only me," Robb hushed as he let he released her. He looked down at fresh red starch marks on his wrist before looking up at her again. She was shaking with tension, her gray eyes narrowed into a cold stare and a snarl on her face. "Hazel, its just me," he assured her calmly, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender.

The maid's angry confusion slowly faded and her posture relaxed, but her cold stare remained. Robb almost cringed when that vacant mask settled over her face. "Is there anything I can I assist you with?" She asked flatly. When he didn't respond right away she nodded. "If not, I should be on my way."

As she started to leave Robb delicately grasped her arm. "I'm sorry for frightening you," he frowned apologetically. "But I had to talk to you. You've been avoiding me for days."

"That could be because I didn't want talk to you," Hazel replied in a neutral tone. Her face remained blank, but Robb could feel her body tensing up again.

"Hazel, I'm sorry I kissed you. It was rash and foolish, but please know, I had no bad intentions."

A flash of pain went through Hazelyn's eyes. "You had no bad intentions? I think I know exactly what your intentions were and they're very bad. I'm not some whore you can charm into your bed, Lord Stark." Her mask broke as she laughed derisively. "I was such a fool to believe you were different. Turns out you're just another randy lordling. You're kinder than Greyjoy to be sure, but that just makes you so much worse. You think by being kind, it doesn't hurt as much once you cast a woman aside? At least Theon keeps his business with whores just that: strictly business."

"Its never been like that between us!" Robb exclaimed. "I spent time with you because I legitimately enjoyed your company. I never thought once about bedding you." He ran his hand through his hair. "What happened the other night... I... I wasn't thinking. I regret my actions and would take them back if I could. I just want to be friends. Could we forget about this and-"

"No," Hazelyn snapped, her hands balled into fists at her sides. "I don't trust your definition of friendship. I can't risk the life I've built here just to be some lord's personal whore. I won't allow you to risk my safety." She glared coldly at Robb.

He didn't know if he imagined it, but he thought he saw something strange flicker in her eyes. Though he didn't pay too much attention her angry gaze, focusing instead on something odd she'd said . "Risk your safety?" His brows furrowed and he frowned, perplexed. "What do you mean?"

Hazel's eyes widened and her breathing quickened. For a moment she remained silent, a fearful expression on her face. She pursed her lips and closed her eyes to compose herself, and then addressed at Robb with a tense demeanor. "Didn't you ever wonder why I came to Winter Town all by himself when I had such a good life in Barrowtown? Why I left such a good job?" Her voice shook and her eyes shined with tears. "Why I left my friends and family?"

"You said something bad happened with a suitor-"

"It was more than that! I gave up everything because I had to escape my father's abuse and a 'suitor' who killed someone I cared about and tried" She choked and covered her mouth to keep a sob from escaping.

Robb felt a ripple of shock run through him. "You're father abused you and stood by while another man threatened you?" He frowned in anger as a surge of protectiveness flared in him. "Hazel," He took a step towards her, but she cowered away. "Hazel, you don't have to be afraid of me. Your under my family's protection now. We won't let anything happen to you. I won't let anything happen to you."

Hazel's vulnerability slipped away as she tensed back up. Her face twisted into an expression of anger as she let out a mocking chuckle. "I doubt even your father could protect me."

"My father is Warden of the North! I'm his heir. I can help you, Hazel. Please-"

"You're just a boy!" Hazel spat. "My father wouldn't let a some green lordling or anyone else get in his way! You'd only make things worse if you got involved!"

Her sharp words stung like a slap in the face. Anger and hurt rose in Robb, urging him to give her an equally nasty reply. But then he remembered the vulnerability she'd shown the moment before. She was just a scared girl running away from something. Jon had been right about everything. He needed to keep his distance and let her be. Lashing out at her would help no one.

His jaw tensed as he studied her face. Her hard expression and cold glare held none of the natural warmth he'd grown so fond of seeing. Pushing down his hurt and regret, he fixed her with a stoic expression. "Good night miss." He then stepped out of the corridor and strode quickly towards the great hall, intent on drinking a lot more wine to forget about the disastrous evening. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Truths and Treating

The great hall of the Twins normally bustled with activity, the voices and movements of the many Frey children creating a low undercurrent of energy in the air. The quiet stillness that lingered after it was emptied would have felt jarring to most people, but Roose preferred it that way. It brought every word and slight shuffle into sharper focus, making it much easier for him to read and deal with Walder Frey.

He nodded graciously as one of Walder Frey's daughters poured him wine. He didn't usually indulge in spirits but couldn't afford to offend the old man. In order to maintain any sort of alliance with the prickly Lord of the Crossing, he'd have to consider each act and gesture carefully. Walder Frey liked to play the old fool, but Roose saw the calculating glint in his blue eyes. He could always pick out a schemer. He studied his host's facial expression carefully as he raised his goblet in appreciation and took the smallest sip possible to limit the unsettling warmth and fuzziness it brought on.

Roose had had to ride hard to get to the Twins after the troublesome discussion he'd had with his good sister. Barbary seemed a shrewd and sharp ruler, but he sometimes wondered if she was even more haughty and brash than his late wife had been. He slightly rolled his eyes, pushing the woman to the back of his mind. Her tantrum was a nuisance at worst and didn't deserve any more of his attention when he had more pressing matters to think on.

He'd luckily arrived at the Twins on time and had been received amicably by Walder Frey, though the old lord was known to nurse hidden grudges. Thankfully, Roose had not detected any signs of resentment from Lord Frey as he went through the guest right ritual and then harshly dismissed his many spawn and very young wife from the hall.

Nevertheless, Roose continued to observe carefully. He almost smirked in amusement when Walder grumbled some insult at his daughter for moving too slowly as she made her way over to refill her father's cup. The young woman ducked her head in shame and tried pour his wine more quickly, only to fumble her pitcher. It clattered loudly as it hit the floor, puddles of red wine spilling everywhere.

"You useless little twat! Get out of my sight and fetch someone who actually has half a brain to clean this mess up!" The Frey Lord barked. The girl flinched as if her father had hit her. She scooped up her pitcher and did a pitiful attempt at a curtsy on trembling legs. "Go on, get out here!" Walder yelled after her as she scurried out of the hall.

"I apologize for that nonsense, Lord Bolton," he said as the door shut. "Most of the lot in this castle are pigs that don't have one but sense in their heads. That's why I'm so desperate to get some of them married off, so they can be someone else's problem." He laughed and took a drink of wine. Roose chuckled with him and nodded of acknowledgement to put the Frey Lord at ease. He could understand the pain of having a displeasing daughter. Though, he was starting to realize that his probably had too much in her head.

"So, speaking of marriages," Walder rubbed his hands together as if he was about to get them dirty. "What about our arrangement did you so urgently need to speak to me about, Lord Bolton? I hope it's not to tell me your daughter's died of that nasty fever that's postponed the wedding for so long."

"No," Roose said evenly as he set his cup on the table. He rested an arm across the flat surface. "Though I'm afraid there have been some complications."

Walder tensed and his blue eyes narrowed slightly. He leaned back in his chair and his mouth drew into a thin line "How so?"

Roose smoothly explained the events surrounding his daughter's disappearance and the need for discretion and secrecy for the issue.

"What!?" Walder's faced reddened in rage.

"I and her mother's kin have been searched for her for some months now. I had hoped to find her without incident and go on with our arrangement, but we've not been able to locate her thus far." Roose crossed his arms as he prepared for the outburst.

"And you want my men wasting their time looking for your little ingrate daughter who thought herself to good for my sons?" Walder sneered.

"It would make things easier, yes," Roose said, unfazed by the other man's fury. He had watched Walder Frey enough to know to that it would be all to easy to get what he wanted. The Lord of the Crossing was an ambitious man, but simple minded too. His greed made him easy to steer. "It would mutually beneficial for us both."

"I don't see how I'd get anything out of it," the older man growled. "Maybe I should just go tell Lord Stark about this, say that you made false promises of marriage to me. With how bloody "honorable" he is, he'd ensure you gave me decent payment for the dishonor you did my family."

Roose took a sip of wine to hide the smirk on his face. "He very well might, and have the whole North look for my daughter too. Then when another Northern Lord finds her, his son will be rewarded with her hand in marriage, along the title, land, and wealth that should have and still could go to one of your sons."

Walder's brow raised at the mention of wealth, and rather suddenly, his anger faded. He regarded Roose with an attentive look.

"If you contribute men to my search efforts, we will more likely find her before some other lord does. If you honor my need for discretion, I will ensure that only your son will have her hand and all that comes with it, a far better reward than any "decent" payment Lord Stark would have me give you." Roose watched as the old man thought on his words.

"I suppose I could see the sense in that. I can't blame really you for wanting to keep it a secret from Stark," Walder conceded. "The fine Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms, they're all arrogant twats. Tully ruined my reputation and the rest of them have only enforced over the years." He swished his wine around, thoughtfulness and bitterness playing on face.

"I can understand you reluctance to continue with our agreement," Roose falsely reassured, further leading Walder into his trap. "A girl wandering the country alone. The dangers are endless. I honestly admit I can't guarantee her virtue remains. She may no longer be a maiden when we find her."

"That's never been an issue to me." Walder waved the notion off. "Your girl could be uglier than my whole lot and fucked by a hundred men for all I care. As long as she brings my son a title and can bear true sons, I'd be satisfied. What I'm concerned about is what I'll get out of the deal if my men help you and she's never found."

"I have a bastard, my only other child. He will most likely be my heir should my daughter not turn up. I'd be willing to arrange a union between him and one of your daughters should Hazelyn not be found within, say a year?" Roose suggested. He watched as Lord Frey leaned forward, interested but not yet fully committed. He felt a rush as pleasure as he opened his mouth to finish his proposal, luring in his prey. "If our alliance proves profitable, I might even find a need for a new Lady wife to run my keep, if my daughter is not found, and could find a very suitable bride among the ladies of House Frey."

"That does sound like a very fair arrangement," Walder smiled. "I'll give you 500 men to start and make sure they keep their mouths shut about it if you keep to your terms."

"I'm pleased to hear that," Roose smiled and nodded. "Rest assured, you will have all that I've promised."

"Well then," Walder chuckled. He grabbed his goblet and raised it towards Roose in a toast. "To our continued alliance."

"Here, here," Roose smirked as he raised his own cup and drank with the other lord. He had had caught his prey, and despite the continued problem of his missing daughter, the Lord of the Dreadfort was well on his way to getting his plans for his legacy secured once more.

The late afternoon sun cast a golden hue over the trees of the peaceful Godswood. The crunching of leaves beneath Hazelyn's boots was the only sound to break its serene silence. Hazelyn sighed heavily as she trudged towards the heart tree in the the center of the grove, intent on finding some guidance.

The words that she had spat at Robb two nights before lingered in her mind and made chest ache. The whole matter made her chest ache. She should've seen that kiss coming after all the time they'd spent together. She'd lied to herself about the awkward moments and long stares, so, when the tension finally broke, she hadn't been prepared. She'd panicked, and as always, she had hurt someone she cared about. She didn't even know where the cruel words came from half the time. She just spit venom until she wounded the other person and they backed away.

The kiss kept repeating in Hazelyn's mind too. His tentative grip on her shoulders, his rough lips on hers, the warmth of his breath on her skin. It had made her feel warm inside. She had feltsafe, for one fleeting moment, from her father, from his bastard, from every terrible thing that had ever walked in the sun. But then fear had crept back in, strong as she'd ever felt it.

A shiver went down Hazelyn's spine as she blinked away the image of cruel grey eyes leering down at her, full of some monstrous hunger she never wanted to see again. She hugged herself as the fear and doubt coursed through her, sharp reminders of why she had to push Robb away, why she had to run away in the first place.

She didn't want to give up her friendship with Robb. She wished she was able to find out where that kiss could have lead them. But he was the heir to Winterfell, her father's future leige lord. If she didn't put some distance between them, she'd slip up. Someone would find out who she was and she'd be sent back to her father. Back into his bastard's clutches.

Despite all that, Robb had been kind to her beyond measure and deserved far more than the vitriol she'd spat at him. Hazelyn had to put an end their relationship, whatever it was, but she owed it to him to end it on better terms than she'd left it. Yet she didn't know how to even approach him after their last meeting had ended so horribly. Thus, her current journey into the Godswood, to seek answers from the gods since she had no one else to turn to.

The perpetual ache in Hazelyn's chest lessened the moment she glimpsed the blood red leaves and bone white branches of the heart tree. A small smile curled her lip and her strides quickened as she drew nearer to the peaceful presence of the gods. She stopped dead at edge of the clearing though, when she realized she wasn't alone.

It was almost as if the gods had decided to play a joke on her, putting the very person she wasn't ready to face right in her path. Robb sat at on a stone near the base of the hear tree, his sea blue eyes focused intently on the glassy pool in front of him. His serious facial expression made him look like a younger version of his lord father, despite favouring his mother's Tully features.

Hazelyn bit her lip and fiddled with her skirt as she she stared at him. She had come seeking answers from the old gods and they'd set it right in front of her. She closed her eyes and prayed for the right words before cautiously approaching.

"My lord," she called, standing on the bank of the pool opposite him.

Robb jumped, startled from his thoughts. When he laid eyes on her, his face hardened into a grim expression and he quickly stood, his posture stiff. "What can I do for you, miss?" He asked formally.

Hazelyn frowned, a pang of regret making her stomach twist into knots.

"I..I hope I didn't interrupt your prayers," she murmured.

"No. I just came out here to think," Robb stated plainly. Hazelyn swallowed, not knowing what to say. The silence hung heavy in the air as they stared at each. Finally, Robb glanced in the direction of the Great Keep. "I should be getting back," he muttered. He then looked back at Hazelyn, a bitter glint in his blue eyes. "I'll give you space."

Hazelyn felt her face redden in shame as he turned away.

" don't have leave," she called desperately.

"Really?" Robb faced again, his arms crossed defensively. "I thought you wanted me to stay away from you. I am just a boy after all, and I would only make things worse," he bit out, a mix of hurt and accusation on his face.

"I'm sorry," Hazelyn blurted.

"For what?" Robb asked with a raised brow.

Hazelyn bit her lip and looked down at her feet, her face flushing even more. "I should never have said those horrible things to you. I oft say things that I later regret, especially when I feel trapped."

Robb frowned in confusion. "Why would you feel trapped? I was trying help you."

Try as she might to remain calm, Hazelyn felt her hackles rising. "You don't know my situation, my lord. It's not-" She paused and took a deep breath, struggling to keep her cool. It wasn't Robb's fault, he didn't know. It wasn't Robb she was angry at. But who was she angry at, truly? Her father, his bastard, or herself? "Gods," she sighed in frustration, "What I'm trying to say is that the things I said about you were wrong." She looked at Robb with a serious frown. "You're nothing like Lord Greyjoy. I shouldn't have even made the comparison. I know your a man of honor like your father."

Robb's expression softened and his posture relaxed. He looked down regretfully. "I didn't handle the issue the way my father would've," he shook his head. "The way I acted, kissing you like that and getting you alone, it was foolish. I can understand why you thought those things."

Hazelyn smiled weakly. "Both of us acted like fools. My Sep- grandmother told me all young people do, and that the only cure for it is age and wisdom." She pursed her lips as she imagined Elena's sharp blue gaze.

"How old was she?" Robb asked.


The pair laughed quietly, a bit of the tension between them relieved. "Well, I suppose she was quite cured then," Robb chuckled. His smile then dropped a bit, though his eyes shone with relief. "I'm sorry about everything," he sighed. "This whole situation turned into a mess. Could we put all the foolishness behind us and be friends again?" He extended an arm to Hazelyn in a hopeful gesture. It was a gesture normally exchanged between men, friends and brothers. But he didn't think Hazelyn would appreciate it if he were to press a kiss to her hand.

The ache in Hazelyn's chest intensified as she took a step back from Robb."I-I cant," she murmured ruefully. "There'd be too much at risk. I wanted to set things right between us, but it doesn't change the fact that I can't be near you any longer. Our friendship draws too much attention."

Robb's hand dropped limply to his side and he frowned in bewilderment. "You're not making any sense. I thought you were angry because you believed I wanted to bed you. What's suddenly changed to make it so dangerous for us to spend time together?" He took a step towards her, a small grin on his lips. "I'm not a big bad wolf," he jested, trying pitifully to relieve the rising tension.

The jape had the exact opposite affect on Hazelyn. "Don't you dare joke!" She snapped as panic flared inside her. "You have no idea what I ran from, what I gave up."

Robb's jaw tensed in frustration. "I would if you'd stop speaking in riddles and just tell me," he said in a tight voice.

"I can't," Hazelyn stated flatly, shutting down to protect herself. She took another step away from Robb.

Robb threw his hands up. "Why not?" He exclaimed. " You're father and your suitor are only men, Hazel! You're safe here in Winterfell. My Father rules the entire north and I will after him. Unless your father is a king, and your suitor some all knowing god, I doubt they'd be bright or clever enough to get anywhere near you." He let out a humorless chuckle.

That pushed Hazelyn past her breaking point. All the pent up worry, anxiety, and fear she'd held inside since she came to Winterfell surged forward as chilling fury. "That's easy for you to say!" Her voice shook as it rose in volume. "You have a perfect life, parents that adore you, siblings that are safe. You will never understand the things my father does! A Stark could never possibly understand a Bolton's mind!"

"Bolton?" Robb's brow furrowed in confusion, the word so full of bewilderment, it was like he was hearing it for the first time.

Hazelyn stared at him blankly for an instant before the implications of her comment hit her. Her eyes widened and blood pounded in her head. She started to breath faster as she realized she had very likely destroyed everything she'd fought so hard to build, in one stupid misstep. In one stupid attempt to make Robb stop asking her questions she couldn't - wouldn't - answer. "I-I misspoke," she choked out. She started to back away slowly. "I need to get back-"

"No, I heard you," Robb shook his head as he continued to think. "You said a Stark couldn't understand a Bolton mind." Hazelyn felt a wave of nausea sweep over her as he repeated her words. She stumbled away from him, feeling she'd topple if she didn't get out of the Godswood that instant. She almost jumped out of her skin when Robb lightly gripped her wrist.

"Let go!" Hazelyn said as she tried to pull her hand free from his fingers.

Robb's face slackened in shock as he began to put all the pieces together."The first time we talked in the hall, you got angry when I called you a lady." He looked at Hazelyn wide eyed. "You're high-born, aren't you?"

"Just let me go, please," Hazelyn pleaded desperately in one last pitiful attempt to keep her secret.

"Is Lord Bolton the one chasing? The one you're terrified of finding you?" Robb asked.

Hazelyn continued to struggle against his grip, now too choked up to say anything. She'd lost her brother, her home, and all her friends. Now she'd even lost her sanctuary. Lost Sansa, lost Arya. Lost Robb. She couldn't stay here anymore. She'd have to run away again and would never see him again.

"Hazel, tell me who you are!" Robb pleaded.

Hazelyn shook her head frantically as tears blurred her vision.

"Is Roose Bolton your father?" Robb firmly asked.

"Please, let me leave!" Hazelyn implored.

"Just tell me the truth!" Robb pushed.

"Aye, he's my father!" She shrieked, her resolve broken. She stumbled towards the ground, breaking out into full on sobbing.

Robb didn't let her crumble though. He caught her weight in his arms and pulled her up against him. She hardly noticed as he guided her to sit down on the hard rock next to the heart tree. She only vaguely felt his arm wrap around her shoulders as she buried her face into her hands and cried out all the grief she'd held back since Domeric's death.

When her sobs finally subsided, Hazelyn lifted her face and hesitantly stole a look at the man beside her. Robb stared back at her with calm expression, a little crinkle between his brows that proved he was not angry, at least not so much. She remained still as he gently cupped her jaw with his free hand and turned her head to look at him fully.

"What's your real name?" He asked gently. Why did he want her to say it, Hazelyn wondered. He already knew the truth, why did he want her to admit it to him aloud?

Hazelyn blinked and took a shuddering breath, feeling as if such was about to leap off a cliff. "Hazelyn Bolton," she breathed out shakily.

Robb nodded while he moved his thumb along her cheek, wiping away some of the wetness there. "See? That wasn't too hard." He then removed his arm from her shoulder and encased both of her hands in his own. "Hazelyn-"

"Please don't call me that."

Robb frowned. "Why not?"

"No one ever called me that but my father," Hazelyn muttered, her eyes darkening as his face came up in her mind. "Anyway, I left that name behind when I fled the Dreadfort. I'm just Hazel now."

"Alright," Robb conceded, giving her hands a squeeze. He frowned at her thoughtfully. "Hazel, why did you run?"

Hazelyn bit her lip and closed her eyes. She knew he'd ask eventually, and truly she was a little surprised it had taken him this long to get on with it. It felt wrong to reveal her secrets, ones she'd kept for so long, but he already knew who she was, so she might as well tell him everything.

"My father's not a kind man," she began, remembering the hollow, critical eyes of the man who'd sired her. "He's always treated our small folk poorly; taxed them so much that they could barely survive, much less live happily," her voice shook the anger. "Mother never agreed with his actions, so she'd go behind his back help them. She'd change the ledgers and budgets so she could send out extra food and supplies to them unnoticed. When Father found out...he would beat her for it and... do other things." She shifted uncomfortably to think of her mother's bruised face and bloody welts. "He broke her, but she made sure to teach me what was right before she died, how to be honorable and kind, things my father could never be. I started trying to help the small folk when I was old enough to take on some of her old duties. When Father found out, he punished me in the same ways as he did with Mother." She paused and swallowed heavily before continuing. "Then when I was four and ten, one of my father's men show an interest in me." Hazelyn bit her lip as she tried to keep those cold grey eyes out of her mind. "He tried several times make advances on me," She framed it delicately, knowing Robb would likely-

"What?" Robb scowled angrily. Ah, not delicately enough, it would seem.

Hazelyn looked away, her face heating with shame. She bit her lip so hard that she tasted blood. "He never succeeded, but someone very close to me ended up dying to keep me safe from him. And then when my brother died, I suspected that the man had something to do with his death as well."

"Did your father know about any of this?" Robb asked incredulously, squeezing her hands tightly. Hazelyn cringed and tried to pull them away, but he didn't let go.

She shook her head. "He knew about my suspicions regarding my brother's death but dismissed it as an accident. As for the other matter... the man threatened to hurt more of my friends if he I said anything against him." She blinked as her eyes began to sting again. "Then my father betrothed me to a damned Frey and said that I was never going to leave home." Ramsay was suddenly there with her in her head, smirking down at her, eyes crawling over her with disgusting promise. She ran her tongue over the wound her teeth made on her lip, keeping herself rooted there with Robb. "That man, my "suitor", threatened to visit my bed every night after my wedding. I felt so trapped and didn't want any more of friends to get hurt because of me. So I gave them coin to escape and then ran myself."

Robb's expression contorted with anger and his eyes had a fiery look in them. "I'm not going to stand for these vile acts done against you. I promise I'll protect you, and I'll get justice for brother and friend."

Hazelyn's eyes widened in fear. "What do you mean?"

"I'm going to tell to my father," Robb said with a determined look.


"Why?" Robb asked, confused and irritated. "I can't stand by and let deeds like that go unpunished."


"Lord Bolton is my family's bannerman. He answers to my father, Hazelyn."

"That's not my name anymore and the next time you use it will be the last time we speak!" Hazelyn snapped, trembling. Robb stared at her in surprise, startled by her outburst. She used his momentary silence to continue. "My father answers to no one." She fixed Robb with a firm gaze. "I wouldn't have run away if I could have gotten justice. I have no proof good enough to my father for you to charge that man, and in the end only I would suffer for it. Women always do in matters like that." She looked at Robb sadly. "You don't want force your father into conflict with mine. He'd find a way to talk himself out of it. I gave up my life and friends because that was the only way to beat my father. To protect myself, and the ones I care about."

Robb stared at her a long moment and then sighed. He relinquished her hands and crossed his arms. "Then what do you want me to do?"

Relief flooded Hazelyn's heart, and a sliver of pleasure, too, to know that he was taking her opinion into consideration. "Don't tell anyone. At least not until the proper time," she bit her lip, sucking a little more blood out of the tear. "I just want to move forward with my life. Please," she pleaded.

Robb didn't say anything at first, taking time to mull over Hazelyn's words. After what seemed like forever, he finally nodded. "Alright, I won't say anything for now. But if you ever change your mind, I want you to tell me. Until then though," he picked up her hand, "I promise no one will find you. You'll be safe here."

Hazelyn stared blankly at Robb for a moment. Had she really just told him her secret? And then he just agreed to keep it like that? An new ache began in her chest, a sweet one that she wanted never to end. She'd never met a man like Robb before, one so good and kind, but so fiercely devoted to his friends.

"Thank you. I-I didn't expect that you'd truly agree to keep this from your parents," she said lamely.

"I'm not cruel, my lady," Robb began seriously, but then a mischievous glint appeared in his eye. "Believe it or not," he smirked, "I have done a thing or two that I haven't told my parents about."

His small joke broke through Hazelyn's daze. A rush of elation and relief swelled up in her. She stared at Robb disbelieving. She had someone who truly knew her, someone on her side. For the first time in...ages. Letting the emotions sweep her up, she leaned forward, gripped his shoulders tightly, and kissed him. His lips felt slightly rough and warm against hers, just like the time before. She held her breath as Robb pulled back, his river blue eyes widened in shock.

Hazelyn involuntarily squeaked when he then suddenly snaked a strong arm around her waist and yanked her against his body. He laughed quietly against her mouth, before returning to her lips to claim them in a heady kiss. Not allowing herself to think, Hazelyn just let herself lean into his firm chest, enjoying the moment of euphoria. He smelled fresh like pines and new snow, and his body felt so warm. He was so different. She laughed gleefully as Robb kissed her again after taking a quick breath. Several moments passed before they managed to pull away from each other, breathless and joyful.

"What's this mean?" Robb asked her breathlessly, his expression slightly dazed.

"I don't know," Hazelyn murmured wonderingly. "I just wanted to kiss you to say thank you."

"Please just say you're not mad anymore," Robb groaned slightly.

"No," Hazelyn shook her head as she slid one hand from his shoulder to his chest. She placed the other on his cheek and let her fingers trace the course hair along his jaw. "I actually enjoyed it the first time you tried kiss me, you know. It's just I was..." She started into his bright blue eyes for a moment. "I was afraid of you finding out who I was. But now that you know everything, we could keep spending time together, and... add this to what do we do during that time." Hazelyn bit her lip. She wasn't in love with Robb, not yet. But she cared for him greatly and kissing made her feel better than she had in ages. "We could just see where things go from here." She blushed and looked away.

Rob grinned, his blue eyes shining in the fading daylight. He moved a hand to back of her neck and tilted her face up. "I think I can agree to that, as long as you stop calling me my lord," he laughed before pressing his lips back on hers.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: Tourneys and Tea

Jon panted as he swung the wooden practice sword at his brother, but Robb reacted in a flash and blocked the blow. Sweat dripped off both young men as they tried to disarm one another in an intense sparring match that no one dared interrupt.

"Robb!" Arya called from the sidelines. Well...not everyone. Jon nearly smiled as his brother snapped his head in their sister's direction, distracted, giving him just enough time to secure victory. Robb grunted as Jon hit him in his exposed side and then shoved him on to the ground. Jon grinned as he pointed the wooden sword at his brother's throat.

Arya crowed with glee as she hopped off the railing she'd been observing the match from and ran over. Robb shot a good natured glare at his two siblings. "You two know that doesn't count as an official victory, right?"

"Are you accusing me of cheating?" Jon asked innocently, offering his brother a hand off the ground. "I had nothing to do with Arya distracting you."

"I'm sure," Robb grumbled as he turned to look at their little sister.

"What?" Arya crossed her arms defensively. "Ser Roderick said you had to learn to block out other distractions when you're fighting. It's not like you wouldn't have them in a battle. I was just testing you. It isn't my fault you couldn't stay focused." Jon smirked at Arya and gave her a wink.

Robb rolled his eyes. "You two-"

"Arya!" An exasperated voice shouted.

Jon felt sympathy for his little sister as she cowered. The three looked over to see Hazel walking across the yard towards them, an unhappy Sansa trailing behind her.

"Arya," the maid said as she approached their group, a severe look in her grey eyes. "Did you forget the terms of our deal?"

"Sansa wouldn't shut up," Arya cried at once. "I told her to stop singing that stupid song about Jonquil and her flowers."

Hazel frowned in bemusement. "She did stop when I asked her to."

Arya stomped her foot angrily. "And as soon as you left the room, she started doing it again." She glared daggers at her older sister, who had come up behind the maid, scowling in equal measure. Hazel turned her severe gaze on Sansa, making the girl duck her head in embarrassment. The maid sighed wearily and then looked back at Arya.

"You promised Septa Mordane you'd behave, and you swore to me that you wouldn't cause me any trouble if I took you outside to carve later," Hazel said in a measured tone. "I intended to bring you out here as soon as I got back to the sewing room, but instead, you just took off without letting anyone know where you were going."

"I decided to leave early," Arya replied obstinately, folding her arms and looking away.

"And why couldn't you wait a few minutes for me?" Hazel frowned and placed a hand on her hip.

Arya heartedly glanced at Sansa before looking away once more, stubbornly ignoring the maid's inquiry.

"Arya." Robb stared at her with the same hard gaze that Lady Catelyn did when she berated her children. "What did you do?" He asked sternly. Jon cringed for his little sister.

"I made Sansa stop singing," Arya muttered.

Sansa's face flushed red in anger. "You pulled my hair and broke the comb that Father gave me for my name day!" She shrieked.

Robb rolled his eyes again. "Both of you need to settle down," he stated firmly, glaring at the two girls. They both fell silent, chastened expressions on their faces.

Jon noticed the grateful smile Hazel gave his brother and the quick grin that he returned it with. Robb had been in a noticeably better mood overall for the past few days. It seemed he and Hazel had made up.

Jon felt a strong tug on his tunic and looked down to see Arya pouting up at him. "Jon, tell Hazel I can stay here with you. I don't want to be trapped inside all afternoon, hearing about how much better Sansa is at sewing than I am."

Jon turned to Hazel. "I could take her off your hands," he joked lightly, not really expecting her to consider it.

Hazel bit her lip and sighed. "Arya needs to have some sort of stitching to show Septa Mordane before bed." She glanced pointedly at the nine year old. "Otherwise we'll both be in trouble." Jon understood. Being scolded by Lady Catelyn for interfering with her children's lessons was not something he'd wish on the kind maid. He himself had been the subject of her harsh words more times than he cared to remember.

Arya cringed, fear and disgust battling on her face. "I don't want to go inside though!" She grumbled stubbornly.

"Would you all like to stay out here and watch us spar?" Jon offered to the girls. Arya perked up and bounced on her heels excitedly. "We could pull up a bench for you. You can sew outside can't you?" Arya's enthusiasm dampened a bit but she still looked somewhat relieved.

Hazel frowned thoughtfully before nodding. "I don't see why we couldn't. Some fresh air might do us all some good, as long as sewing gets done." She raised a brow at Arya who nodded eagerly.

"I'll work on my sampler, I promise," the small nine year old pleaded.

Sansa wrinkled her nose in disgust. "We can't stay out here in the tilt yard. It's too noisy and dirty."

"We'll find a clean bench to sit on," Hazel reassured her charge, placing a hand on her shoulder. "And we'll have some fun too. You told me you enjoyed the tourneys that your father took you to."

"Aye," Sansa agreed. Her blue eyes brightened as she remembered the few tournaments she'd witnessed in her young life.

"Watching your brothers spar will be like seeing knights compete in a melee," Hazel suggested. "You can pick your champion and cheer them on while you sew." The maid gave Jon a small smile, but then looked at Robb with a barely contained grin. Jon raised a brow in curiosity as his brother just stared at her in return, a soft look on his face that Jon could only call affection. The bastard looked away, scolding himself for feeling like he was intruding on something private. Robb and Hazel were friends, and of course Robb should have affection for her.

"Alright," Sansa relented hesitantly.

Arya whooped loudly before Hazel tapped her on the shoulder and held a sampler out to her. "You will keep this promise."

The young Stark sighed and nodded as she took the embroidery hoop from the older girl.

"Would you two mind getting a bench for us?" Hazel asked Robb and Jon.

"Of course not," Jon replied. His brother just continued to stare at Hazel with the same focused expression. "Robb," Jon gave the Stark heir a nudge in the shoulder.

"What?" Robb looked at him, his eyes startled and cheeks flushed.

"Let's find them a bench to set on," Jon prompted.

"Alright," Robb nodded, glancing over at Hazel. Her grey eyes lit up as she smiled back at him.

Jon and Robb moved a bench to the very edge of the tiltyard to give the girls a clear view while keeping them out of the way. Deciding to make a grand show of the whole event, Robb jokingly asked Sansa if she'd allow him to carry her favor during the next sparring match. Sansa giggled and offered him a small strip of cloth. Jon didn't fail to notice the strange look Robb gave Sansa's maid as he tucked the cloth into his pocket. Hazel blushed and glanced away. The whole exchange uncomfortably resembled some of the eye games Theon would play with his conquests before slipping away with them. Friends didn't look at each other like that. Surely though, Robb wouldn't do anything like that. He told Jon he wouldn't.

Robb fought harder than he usually did during their next match. Jon could barely parry his onslaught of strikes, and didn't stand a chance when Robb started using the more complex moves their father had taught them. They sparred several rounds, and every time Robb showed him no mercy, knocking him flat to the sound of Sansa's delighted cheers and Arya's amused laughing. Yet after each victory, Robb barley noticed his sisters, looking over intently to see the reaction of the dark haired maid who sat between them instead. It didn't sit right with Jon. Robb might occasionally tag along with Theon to the brothel to bed a whore, but he'd never even considered seducing other girls the way the ironborn did. Surely he wouldn't bed his own sister's maid. Would he?

As they finished up and Hazel ushered the girls back into the castle, Robb's eyes tracking her the whole way, Jon resolved to bring up the issue, just to reassure himself. Hazel was a kind girl and had become a good friend to Jon. He wanted to be sure Robb didn't mess with her the way Theon had with countless other maids around the keep.

"You seem to have made up with Hazel," he casually commented as he and Robb made their way back to their rooms to change.

"What makes you say that?" Robb answered lightly, though Jon spotted a bit of weariness in his eye.

"I don't think that two people who're fighting would be smiling at each other so much." Jon tilted his head curiously.

Robb didn't look at Jon and walked a bit faster as he shrugged. "We talked a few days ago and set everything straight. It was just a misunderstanding." He ran a hand through his hair to push his damp curls from his face.

"That's good," Jon narrowed his eyes slightly. "Though I hope you didn't listen to Theon when he was giving you all those 'tips'. Hazel's my friend too Robb."

Robb's eyes flashed as he looked at Jon. "Of course I didn't listen to him," He snapped in an irritated tone. "And I already told you I have no interest in bedding her."

"I know," Jon reassured, slapping his brother's shoulder, though he had a sinking feeling that Robb was hiding something. Robb slowly relaxed and when they reached the family wing of the keep he smiled at Jon. "I'm missing supper in the hall tonight. But I'll come find you after."

Jon frowned slightly. "Alright."

Supper passed without much incident, though Jon did have to sit through Theon describing another one of his liaisons with a maid in graphic detail. "Anna's a nice tight fit still," the ironborn mused as he took a sip of ale. "Surprising after all the times I've fucked her. She'd be a good starter for you, Snow, if you ever decide to actually fuck a girl. More than willing, pretty in the face, and she's not wild enough to scare you away."

"Thank you," Jon droned sarcastically.

"I'm sure Robb's having quite a bit of fun tonight with his maid," Theon continued flippantly. "Despite her mad streak and the knife, she'd probably be a pretty good fuck. Maybe when Robb grows bored of her...or when he has to set her aside for his lady wife." Theon couldn't imagine a world where Robb Stark kept a mistress after wedding a noble girl.

"Robb's not bedding her," Jon defended his brother.

Theon scoffed and shook his head. "He went from being more wound up than you to laid back in a day, and he's been laughing at absolutely every jest I make, even the ones that aren't meant to be funny. Hasn't been at dinner for two days either. He's fucking her."

Jon dismissed Theon's words at first, but as the hours of the evening drew on, he began to wonder. Robb never did come find him after supper to share a drink like they usually did. Concerned, he went to Robb's rooms just to check on him. The servants had lit the torches for the night and it was completely dark out, so Jon figured Robb would be there. He raised a fist to knock on his brother's door when he heard laughing. High pitched feminine laughing accompanied by his brother's deep chuckling.

Jon frowned. Surely not. "Robb?" He called as he pushed the door open. His eyes widened as they took in the sight of his brother in a lip lock with Sansa's maid, a book laying forgotten beside them. Hazel spotted him first. She shoved Robb back violently with a yelp, her eyes filled with fear. Robb whipped around to look at his brother with an expression of complete shock.

Angry and disgusted, Jon simply shook his head and turned to leave.

"Jon wait! Let me explain," he heard his brother urgently call as he stepped into the hall. He stopped when he felt a strong a hand on his shoulder.

"What explanation could you possibly have?" Jon asked, disdain in his tone as he turned towards Robb.

Robb looked at the ground and ran a hand through his hair nervously. "She's-she's not who I thought she was," he said hesitantly.

"I could say the same in regards to you," Jon snapped. "I thought you were a bigger man, Robb. We spoke about this, and we agreed that you pursuing Hazel was wrong, and no good would come of it. You said you would leave her be!"

A spark of anger flared in Robb's eyes and his shoulders tensed. "Hazel's situation is not at all what we thought it to be. I wouldn't use her like that!"

"No!? Then explain it to me!"

"This isn't even your business!" Robb's face reddened in anger. It was obvious his temper was about to snap. "I know you're sensitive about these type of things, but it doesn't give you the right to barge into my chambers like a prick and accuse me of things I'd never do!"

Hazel suddenly appeared between the two of them, a confused and severe look in her dark grey eyes. "Will you two please stop?" she hissed. She put a hand on Robb's chest and scowled at him. She then faced Jon, extending a placating hand. "Jon, you have no reason to be upset. Robb and I had our differences, but we've resolved them. He isn't doing anything I'm not allowing."

Jon didn't listen and stared at his brother with judging eyes. "Whatever tension you've resolved is great, and I'm happy for you. You're a woman grown, free to do whatever pleases you," he said almost dismissively. Then he pointed an angry finger at Robb. "But he should know better than to risk ruining your life."

"Gods, Jon, it's not like that! You don't understand!" Robb growled. He narrowed his eyes before sighing deeply. "I don't want to fight you on this. You know I'm not like Theon."

"I thought you weren't, but apparently I was wrong," Jon seethed.

"Jon-" Robb looked at his brother, frustrated, and ran his hand through his hair again. "Just lay off ! This has nothing to do with you! I can't explain-"

"Because you have no reason," Jon finished bitterly. He turned away, ready to storm off, but Hazel stepped into his path.

"I'm not a whore who'd spread her legs for any man, even Robb," she murmured in a firm tone, crossing her arms tightly. Her grey eyes stared into Jon's brown. "And your brother's a better man then that. You should know better."

"Yet he has you in his bed chamber late at night, with his hands all over you."

"He was just kissing me," Hazel huffed, "and hardly touching me at all. If you even knew half of what-" She paused mid sentence, biting her lip hard. Jon raised an eyebrow as she glanced back at Robb. The lordling stared pleadingly at her, like he wanted her to do something. She exhaled deeply and then nodded before focusing on Jon again. "Let's go in Robb's room. I don't want anyone to hear."

"What?" Jon asked.

"What I'm about to tell you." Hazel's cold demeanor slipped away, an earnest one replacing it. Robb glanced at her with a grateful expression on his face. She nodded and then motioned for Jon to come into the room.

Robb shut the door behind them and crossed his arms as he faced Jon. "You can't repeat a word of this to anyone," he said severely. "Not even Father."

"What are you talking about?" Jon asked, confused.

He looked at Hazel for an explanation. Her resolve melted away as she nervously played with her skirt. She bit her lip and sighed deeply. "I'm not going to tell you everything, and I don't want you asking any more questions about..." She closed her eyes tightly for a second she spoke again. "I just don't want Robb at odds with his brother. I'm only revealing this to you because Rob trusts you. I hope you won't break that trust."

"I won't," Jon

Hazel studied him for a long moment before she spoke again in the smallest whisper. "I'm really not a maid. My name isn't Hazel either."

"Then who are you?" Jon asked, totally lost. Her words didn't make any sense.

"I'm high born. My birth name is Hazelyn Bolton."

After accepting Lady Barbary's offer at Elena's behest, Myna paid a merchant heading to Barrowtown to let her ride there in the back of his wagon. She would've preferred to buy a horse and travel alone, but her great aunt had already worried enough over Hazelyn. She refused to cause the old woman any more strife.

She pulled her cloak tighter around her body and tucked her knees snugly to her chest as a chilling gale howled across the windswept planes of the Barrowlands. The weak moonlight barely outlined the many hills that served as tombs to the ancient Barrow Kings. Myna barely paid attention to the dark landscape until a huge hill, taller than the rest, came into view. The Great Barrow, on which Barrowtown rested, rose over the horizon, a dark, silver lined silhouette, crowned with the twinkling golden lights of the town.

"We're gettin' close, miss," the merchant called back to Myna as he urged his horses into brisket trot. "Where'd you say you wanted me to take ya?"

"Barrowhall," Myna shouted over the wind. She cringed slightly as she remembered her manners, almost able to hear Elena's sharp rebuke in her mind. "Please," she added quickly.

"Got some sort of job in Lady Dustin's household?" The merchant asked amicably. "You're right lucky. My niece serves in the kitchen an' is treated very well."

Myna rolled her eyes. She was exhausted and still slightly annoyed that she had to make this journey at all. She wasn't in any mood for a conversation. "Lucky for her," she muttered sarcastically, barely containing a yawn. She cringed when she saw the man's raised brow and displeased frown. Damn, why couldn't she keep her mouth shut? "I mean, that's good to know I have something to look forward to. Thank you, sir," the blonde stuttered as she ducked her head and looked away. An uncomfortable silence hung in the air as the wagon made its way into the town and up the broad streets to the keep.

Myna climbed off the wagon when it stopped at the castle's main gate, clinging tightly to her bag and bow. "Thank you again, sir," she muttered to the merchant, grimacing as he looked down at her with a cool glare. The previously agreeable man simply grunted when she handed him the rest of the coin he'd been promised. He then drove without another look at her.

Myna shook her head. She could hear the chiding voices of Elena, Zel, and Twyla in her head, once again berating her for her sharp tongue. Her mouth had gotten her into trouble more times than she'd care to admit. No matter how tired she was, she had to learn to keep it knew Lady Barbary well enough from the many visits to Barrowhall that she'd accompanied Zel on. The Dustin matriarch was a reasonable woman, but strict, and she wouldn't indulge Myna's sometimes blunt mannerisms the way Elena or Zel had. A painful ache filled the blonde maid's chest as she realized that for the first time in her life, she didn't have the old septa or her former best friend to hold her sharp words in check, and she'd likely never see any either again.

Myna began to grow a trifle nervous as she proceeded to the gate. Waving her hand, she got the attention of one of the guards. She repeated Elena's many lessons on manners silently in her head as she handed the guard Lady Barbary's letter.

"Lady Dustin's new maid?" He asked curiously.

"Aye," Myna nodded, resisting the urge to cross her arms.

The guard nodded and granted her access to the castle courtyard. "Lady Dustin's just gotten back from a trip herself. It's late, but it says in her letter that she wanted to speak to you right away when you arrived. Follow me."

Myna pursed her lips as she followed him towards the main keep. The dark wooden walls and square towers had never looked as foreboding as they did now, in the late night shadow and flickering torch light of the courtyard. As they passed through the faintly familiar looking entrance hall and the almost empty family wing of the keep, Myna couldn't help but hug herself loosely. Finally, they stopped at a nondescript wood door, and the guard knocked.

"Come in," a tired voice called.

The guard opened the door and stepped into the chamber to announce the new maid's arrival.

"Thank you," The voice clipped. "Send her in and you may resume your duties. Shut the door on your way out."

The guard emerged from the chamber and held the door open. Myna dipped under his arm, nodded briefly in thanks, and tightened her grip on her possessions as she entered the room. A low fire crackled in the hearth, casting an orange light over the dim solar. Lady Barbary looked as severe as she always had, adorned in a plain black gown with her greying hair bound up in a tight widow's knot. Yet, an air of weariness hung over her now. Her eyes were tired and her posture slouched as she leaned over her desk, intently studying a document of some sort.

Myna stood awkwardly by the door and waited for a moment to be acknowledged before she gave small cough. Barbary's eyes glanced up at the blonde maid, narrowing slightly in reproach. Myna swallowed nervously and quickly dropped into a well practised curtsey. "M'lady." She kept her eyes fixed on the ground as the of her woman stood.

"For heaven's sake's child, there's no need for that formality at this late hour," Barbary chided. Myna looked up curiously and straightened, tilting her head to the side. The two women's brown eyes met in equally tired gazes. Barbary sighed. "You look rather exhausted. The gods I know am. Our discussion can wait until morning if you need to rest," she offered in a gentler tone.

While it was a tempting prospect, Myna could see the worry and anxiety in the older woman's face. Lady Barbary had always been good at burying her emotions and playing the polite host, but her exhaustion cracked her strong facade just enough for Myna to see the desperation underneath. "Thank you, m'lady, but I can manage to stay up a bit longer. I'd rather see Hazelyn found sooner than later."

Barbary's expression shone with relief as she nodded gratefully. "Thank you. Please, have a seat." She motioned towards a series of sitting chairs by the hearth. "Warm yourself and I'll get us some tea, so we can talk and get to bed."

Myna sat down obediently and stared into the hearth's flickering embers until she felt a warm cup shoved into her hand. The tea smelled strongly of mint, waking Myna enough to think a bit more coherently. Lady Dustin sat down across from her as she downed her tea quickly. Barbary picked up her own cup and sipped it properly, making Myna feel like a slob in comparison. Feeling very self-conscious, she rested her almost empty goblet on her lap, wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve, and waited for the noble woman to speak. Barbary set her tea aside and rolled her shoulders before she addressed the maid. "I trust you had a safe journey."

"Aye, m'lady," Myna muttered. "I traveled with a local merchant back from the city."

"Good," Barbary nodded, a ghost of a smile forming on her lips before they dropped into a serious frown. "Now, I trust you know why I brought you here. It was partly for your safety, but I also need your help to find niece." She swallowed as a lump formed in her throat. "No one has been able to find her for near on six moons, and her blasted father is too much of a prideful idiot to get the help he needs. So," she paused to make sure Myna was paying attention. "I need you to tell me where Hazelyn would go, how she would hide. You two were companions from the cradle and spent most days of your lives together. You probably know her mind better than anyone, even Elena, in some aspects." Barbary's brow furrowed deeply. "I am determined to find my niece before that wretch that sired her, and I won't have much time to do that after I bring in the Starks and other northern houses to help search." A determined frown creased her face.

Myna's previous nervousness faded as she took in as she took in the woman's fierce expression. For some reason, she just knew deep down that this was the wrong approach. She frowned deeply at the at the intimidating lady and looked her straight in the eye. "You can't tell the Starks."

Barbary scowled. "And why not? I refuse to waste any more time on a fruitless search with only my men."

"If you go tell the Starks and have them set all the northern lords on her trail like a pack of hounds, Hazelyn will run away faster then a frightened stag," Myna stated plainly. "Pardon me, m'lady, but Hazelyn isn't a clueless little maiden. She's not dead or trapped somewhere like you think," she said with firm certainty. "She came up with the plan for our group to leave the Dreadfort in the first place. She's always been a schemer. I have no doubt that she put a lot of thought into where she'd go herself." Myna paused a moment, toying absently with the bear on her necklace as she tried to place herself in Zel's mind. "She's most likely still in the North, because she wouldn't risk anymore unknowns than she had to. We only went the Riverlands a handful of times and the Vale once. And she's gotten her hands dirty often enough that she could probably pass as common girl and get work somewhere. She could very easily blend enough to evade soldiers and just as easily run farther south, undetected, if she found out the Starks and the other houses were getting involved in your search."

"Then what to you suggest I do?" Barbary asked frustratedly, though an intent look her eye told Myna she was listening.

Myna hesitated a moment, unused to being so candid with the strict Lady Dustin, but then she crossed her arms tightly and pushed on with firm resolve. "Send out a small force of civilians willing to search, myself included. No banners, no colors, no knights, no men to be noticed. We start with the villages on your land and the Rills, questioning the small folk only, inn keeps, tavern wenches, and work our way out from there. If Hazelyn's kept on a low profile, she's surely had interactions with someone, and they might recall her."

"Your plan seems no different than my own, only less likely to succeed. I do not intend to rouse the countryside in search for my niece," Barbary said firmly, her brow furrowing stubbornly.

"The small folk are more likely to reveal information to their own people," Myna pushed back, just as stubborn. "If a man in Dustin garb asks about Hazelyn, they may think she is in trouble or has committed a crime. Small folk will always look after each other before they stick their necks out for some high born. Unless coerced, most northemen especially would never become an informer, a turn cloak, and rat out one of their own." Myna's resolute expression weakened as her tone turned desperate. "Please, m'lady, I ask that you consider what I've said. If in ten moon's time, we have yet to find anything, then use more drastic measures." She looked earnestly at the women, silently pleading with Lady Barbary to listen.

Barbary tapped her chin in thought and sipped her tea. Myna held her breath as the silence stretched out into minutes. Then finally, Barbary gave her answer. "Very well, ten moon's time."

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Shadowed Pasts and Futures

Ten Moons Later

Hazelyn ran away as fast as her six-year-old legs could carry her. She had to escape. Mother had gotten sick again, and another one of her little brothers had gone away. But this time, Elena hadn't said Mother was going to get better, and she hadn't let Hazelyn see her. Even Kyra, Myna's mama, who was always nice, wouldn't take her to see her mother or tell Elena to stop telling such mean lies. Mother always got better. Many of Hazelyn's little brothers had gone away before, but Mother always got better. She had too.

Tears ran down Hazelyn's face as she careened down the dark stone halls. She had told Kyra she wanted to see Mother, not go to stupid lessons with Maester Tybald. When Kyra had simply scolded her, she'd pulled the maid's hair, and now she was in terrible trouble. Elena was going to hit her hands with that nasty stick. Hazelyn didn't want her hands to sting and her fingers to turn red. She just wanted to be with Mother and Dom again. But Dom had left her to go live with Aunt Barbary, and Mother was sick. So Hazelyn decided she was going to go to a place where no one could find her.

Finally, she found the steep staircase Darren had dared her and Myna to go down a few days before. They'd been too afraid then, but now Hazelyn didn't care enough to be scared of whatever lay below. One by one, she stepped down the stairs, until she finally reached the old, rusty door at the bottom. She yanked on the handle with all her might until the door screeched open, swinging backward and making her fall with a thud. Sniffling, she got up from the dirty floor and walked into the darkness beyond. A musty odor filled her nose as she wandered further into the dank chamber, and her feet kicked up clouds of dust with each step.

Hazelyn wandered through a maze of dark rooms and halls, studying the rotting wooden crosses she passed with interest. She made a game of trying to poke the many dull hooks that stuck out high on the walls. The new sights and smells made her forget about Elena and mother. She became lost in her own little world as a strange presence called her deeper into the darkness.

Hazelyn suddenly stopped when her slipper kicked against something cold. She gazed down curiously to see a small object, twinkling despite the lack of light. Tilting her head, she extended her hand towards it, and her little fingers instinctively curled around the cold metal handle of a knife. Her gray eyes took in the thin blade and its ornate golden handle. She gripped it tighter as an unexpected peace settled into her distressed young mind.

She stared at the knife, feeling secure, until a flash of brilliant blue appeared in the dagger's reflection. Two crystal blue eyes peered into the blade from over her shoulder. Gasping in fright, the little girl ran swiftly back the way she came, still holding the knife securely in her grip.

She screeched as she stumbled out the rusty door and tripped over the threshold. Instead of banging against hard stone though, her knees struck soft grass. Looking around, Hazelyn found herself in the middle of the Dreadfort's godswood with Robb standing over her.

"Are you alright?" he asked, his blue eyes wide with concern.

"I think so," Hazelyn muttered. She looked down to brush her dress off and realized she'd become six and ten again. Smiling in relief, she placed her free hand into Robb's offered one. He pulled her to her feet and into a loose embrace. She leaned into his warm chest as his arms encircled her waist.

She had just opened her mouth to thank him when a chilling chuckle fell on her ears. The color drained from her cheeks. "So you'll spread your legs for a wolf pup, but not me sweet sister?" Hazelyn clung to Robb's arm as Ramsay stepped out of the shadows. He clicked his tongue admonishingly as he sauntered towards the couple, twirling a sword in his hand.

Robb immediately shoved Hazelyn behind him and whipped out his own sword. "Don't take another step," he warned.

Hazelyn stood transfixed as Ramsay's pale gaze found her own. Dizziness swept over her as he smirked and took a defiant step towards Robb. "I'll gut you head to belly," the bastard sneered.

Hazelyn shook her head as a distinctly familiar scene played out before her. "Hazel, run!" Robb commanded her as he prepared to lunge at Ramsay.

With a gasping cry, Hazelyn reached towards Robb. "Robb, don't!" Her heart stopped as his sword clanged against the bastard's. She watched in silent horror as they exchanged several blows. The sound of clashing steel grew louder each time their weapons collided.

"HAZELYN, GO!" Robb yelled as he blocked Ramsay's blade. He turned his head and looked at her with a desperate gaze. Her eyes filled with tears, she tore herself away and ran for the tree line. She clutched her knife even tighter, gripping it so firmly that her knuckles grew pale.

Suddenly, an unbelievably cold wind struck Hazelyn, knocking her off her feet. She blinked as her vision filled with glaring white. Snow swirled around her, blocking everything else from view. She struggled to her feet and grimaced as her eyes adjusted. A dark shape slowly came into focus, an ominous shadow that walked effortlessly towards her despite the raging storm. Pure terror filled her heart as it drew near. She closed her eyes and screamed.

Hazelyn's eyes opened wide as she sat up straight, clutching her chest. The terror and cold drained from her body as she looked around her empty, peaceful, warm chamber. She immediately threw her bed covers aside and made her way over to small window across the room.

Her shoulders sagged as she leaned out to gulp in the fresh night air. Her gaze swept across the moonlit landscape to make sure Wintefell's grey towers still surrounded her, and not the Dreadfort's jet black ones. Sighing heavily, she pulled herself back in and went about the nightly ritual she'd done for many moons now. She splashed her face with water from her basin and then settled back into her bed to carve.

Most nights, the familiar activity calmed her down enough so she could sleep a little bit at least. On others though, she'd have to carve straight on til morning to chase her terrors away, and then face the day with no rest at all. But after over a year of nightmares, Hazelyn had become accustomed to functioning on little to no sleep. It just seemed a normal part of life now.

Tonight would be one of the other nights it seemed. As she brought her knife's sharp edge to the wood, those crystal blue eyes reappeared in her thoughts. She simply stared at the blade's silver reflection as that cold gaze stared back at her in her mind's eye, causing the rest her dream seep back in. The blue eyes turned pale grey, and Ramsay's taunting laugh echoed in her ears.

After what seemed like hours, Hazelyn gave up trying to push the images away. She threw her unfinished carving aside with a frustrated hiss and pulled her nightgown up to slip her knife into its strap. She stood, slid her feet into the slippers Sansa had gifted her with for her name day, and headed to her chamber door.

With practiced skill, she slipped silently into the hall and down the dark corridors. Moons ago, she would've considered herself reckless for making this trip, but now, she craved the secure comfort that laid at the end far too much to care.

When she'd become Sansa's maid, she had been moved to a room closer to the family wing, so it didn't take her long to reach her destination. She didn't even knock before opening the door and going inside. She walked past a smouldering hearth to a large bed in the corner of the room and climbed onto it without a word.

The frame creaked as she scooted across the soft furs towards the sleeping individual curled up on the far side. Robb barely grunted as Hazelyn pressed herself against his back and tucked her chin into the crook of his neck. "Bad dream?" He mumbled sleepily without opening his eyes.

"Yes," Hazelyn whispered. She wrapped one arm around his waist and wriggled to bring her body closer to his. "Go back to sleep," she muttered, closing her own eyes. Robb didn't reply, simply shifting one of his hands to rest over hers.

Hazelyn tried to empty her mind as she breathed in Robb's fresh scent, hoping sleep would finally claim her. Coming to Robb's chamber on her worse nights had become a habit over the past few moons. It had started one night when she'd dosed off next to him after a late evening of reading and... other things, and woken up screaming from particularly horrid nightmare. Her old instincts had resurfaced and compelled her to retreat from the room, to push Robb away in order order to hide her weakness. But then he'd had her in arms before she could utter another word of protest. It had taken her a moment to shop struggling against him, but then she had remembered how he kept her safe, how he had told no one her secrets, that she could trust him. She'd admitted to Robb that she was regularly plagued with night terrors. He hadn't let her leave his room until she promised to come to him if the dreams got too bad.

Normally, Hazelyn had no trouble forgetting her nightmares once she curled up against Robb. Tonight however, the image of Ramsay's taunting smirk lingered in her head. She watched the dream duel end several times with Ramsay running Robb through. She heard Marvion's last pained scream, saw Domeric chocking on his own blood. Hazelyn had to shift away from Robb as her thoughts wandered to a dark place to combat the painful images. She pulled her hand from his and laid on her back, staring up at the grey stone ceiling as a sick curiosity filled he mind. Would the bastard scream like Marvion had if she flayed him as her forefathers had done with their enemies? Would he beg her for death if she made him bleed like Domeric had, if she showed him what a true Bolton was capable of?

Hazelyn cringed when she heard Robb roll over to face her. She glanced side ways to see his sleepy blue eyes fixed on her. "How can I sleep with a lovely girl lying awake beside me?" he yawned, supporting his head on his hand. His eyes filled with grave concern as he asked, "What was it about tonight?"

Hazelyn didn't say anything, but her silence spoke volumes to Robb. "It was your suitor, wasn't it?"

Hazelyn bit her lip as he used the nickname for the one horror she refused to tell him about. Little by little, she'd opened up to Robb about almost everything. After having to lie for so long, it had been a sweet relief to have someone she could confide in. She'd been able to recount some of her fonder memories to both Robb and Jon, but only Robb knew of the darker things. Her mother's pain, everything about her father, even Domeric's death. Yet she couldn't bring herself to fully open up to him about Ramsay. The bastard was always just "one of my father's men" to Robb. She'd never told him the details of Ramsay's attacks. If he knew how that bastard had touched her, how he'd wanted to use her, regardless of the fact that they shared a father...if he knew of the dark thoughts that went through her head when she thought of Ramsay, he'd be disgusted. He'd abandon her, and she'd lose someone else. It terrified her to think of what she might become after that.

"I can't recall," she lied lamely, as she turned towards Robb. She fixed her gaze on his ruffled hair so she didn't have to meet his eyes.

"You're not that good of a liar," Robb said jokingly, though his expression was serious. Hazelyn closed her eyes as she felt him lay a hand on her hip and squeeze it fondly.

"I can't go there Robb. Not yet," she replied, trembling.

Robb sighed, probably to tried to push her. "Alright," he relented. Hazelyn shifted her gaze back to his face and laughed weakly as he blinked several times and yawned loudly to stay awake. But then he looked at her with that grim frown that she never liked.

"You've been sneaking in here a lot recently," he said with concern, rubbing her side.

"And you consider that bad?" Hazelyn jested lightly to redirect the conversation.

"For me? Gods no!" he smiled briefly and shifted towards her. "But for you?" He brushed his fingers along her cheek, frowning deeply. "Yes. Someone could see you."

"I like being here," Hazelyn turned her face to kiss his palm. That was partially the truth at least. She always felt better with him. "A pillow can't hold you back."

"I like you being here as well. But every time, it's because something is worrying you, or you've had another nightmare. You always come to me when you're scared." Robb shook his head. "You seem terrified sometimes." He looked at her earnestly. "I wish you trusted me to protect you."

"I do trust you," Hazelyn insisted.

"You have no reason to fear the past. You're safe here, and we could have a great future to look forward to, if you'd let yourself." Robb gazed at Hazelyn with an intensity that made her feel uncomfortable. Why did he have to bring this up now?

"That future isn't certain."

"You could stay here with me always and never have to feel afraid. We can make that future certain if we told my father..."

Hazelyn sighed sadly as she turned away from his hand. "We've already talked about this Robb. It's too soon." She bit her lip as Robb propped himself up on his elbows and stared down at her, frustrated.

"We can't carry on like this forever, Hazel! And I'm not partial to losing you some damned Frey!" He scowled at her, but Hazelyn could see the worried glint in his eye. She knew very well what he wanted. To tell his father she was Lady Bolton so they'd allow her to become Lady Stark. And not only to keep her at Winrerfell. Robb cared very much for her - much more than she'd ever thought he would. He had told her he wanted her as his wife,wanted her beside him, on his council. She even recalled him making a few off hand remarks about children.

Hazel cared a great deal for Robb too and had thought a lot about the bright future he offered. It was all too easy to fall in love with it, too easy to want it. But it was so difficult to see a way through.

Securing it wasn't as simple as telling Lord Eddard. Nothing was ever simple when it involved Roose Bolton. Her father would find out where she was if she and Robb spilled her secret to Lord and Lady Stark. He'd come to Winterfell and somehow find a way to drag her back to the Dreadfort. They had to wait until her father gave up, thought her dead and moved onto other options for an heir.

Carefully, she brushed her foot against Robb's and then rolled onto her stomach to better look up at him. "I know, but can we discuss it when we're both not so tired." She delicately laid a hand on his bare chest and smiled. He simply raised a brow at her.

Gods, he why did he always have to look so damn perfect? Those bright blue eyes, his auburn all tussled like that, and it certainly didn't help that he always slept without a shirt. To prevent any further discussion (and herself from caving) she leaned up and touched her lips lightly to his.

He pressed his lips together stubbornly and turned his face away, but that didn't deter Hazelyn. Giggling wickedly, she started kissing lightly along his jaw and down his neck, right to a pulse point that always drove him mad. Just like Ros had taught her, she added a little teeth as she nipped at it. Robb's body jerked as he let out an involuntary growl.

"You don't seem very tired," he muttered tightly.

Hazelyn rolled away and beamed before she let out an exaggerated yawn. "You know, I actually am. Maybe I should just go back to my own room…"

Before she could even move, Robb firmly grasped her arm and yanked her into his side. Securing a strong arm around her torso, he planted his lips hungrily on hers. "You're not going anywhere right now," he breathed against her cheek before biting her lip.

Hazelyn nodded distractedly as she sighed into the kiss, a feeling of warm contentment settling in her chest. Running her hands up his shoulders, she moved her mouth against his eagerly, letting herself forget the haunting images of her nightmares and the worrisome thoughts of the future.

Myna nodded in thanks to the guard as she hurried into Barrowhall, eager to tell Lady Barbary the first good news they'd had in moons. It had taken a great deal of patience and perseverance, but finally, they might have a real chance at finding Hazelyn.

Myna had been so sure that they'd locate her quickly when Lady Barbary agreed to use small folk to search, but the North had turned out to be far more vast than the maid realized. Sending out a group of smallfolk to visit every inn, investigate every tavern, and find every tiny hamlet in the Northern wilderness had taken longer than Myna thought it would. The commoner disguises had made it easier for Barbary's men to search other nobles' lands unnoticed, but the absence of their livery had made it far harder to gather information.

Hazelyn's looks hadn't helped their search either. A small-statured girl with brown hair and grey eyes didn't exactly stand out in the North. Though, not many carried knives around and violently pulled them on frisky lordlings. A stable boy just returned from Winter Town had told Myna the interesting story that he'd learned from an innkeeper. The incident had occurred a little over a year before, not long after Hazelyn had disappeared. Unfortunately, the innkeeper hadn't seen the serving girl since she fired her and didn't know of anyone else that might know of her current whereabouts. Myna had been disappointed several times by false leads that led know where, but this one seemed different.

Myna barely dodged a woman carrying a huge basket of linens as she hurried down the wooden corridor. She called a half-hearted apology over her shoulder as she picked up her skirts to run faster. She felt confident that if Lady Barbary would allow her to travel to Winter Town to ask around herself, she'd be able to locate Hazelyn. She knew tiny details about the noble girl that no else did and would be able to pick her out in a crowd no matter where she'd hidden.

A strange mixture of nervousness, relief, and anger swelled up in Myna at the thought of seeing Hazelyn again. They'd been raised together since birth, and Myna had been the high born girl's companion since their nursery days. They had always considered themselves sisters rather than friends. They were supposed to stick together, no matter what. That's what they'd vowed to each other after their mothers had died. No matter who else came and went, no matter what happened, they'd always stick together.

Hazelyn had broken that promise. Myna understood in a way why she'd done it. She didn't want anyone else to get hurt in case her father found her. But that did little to ease Myna's hurt. Hazelyn had disappeared without so much as a goodbye, as if their promise had meant nothing. They used to share almost everything, even secrets that Elena and Darren didn't know, before that fucking bastard had messed everything up. Hazelyn had always been able to charm others into a false sense of security, but very few had ever gotten to see past her calm veneer. And they usually had to earn it. From the time they could barely understand what trust was, they'd trusted each other unconditionally. Then it all had suddenly evaporated, and Hazelyn disappeared like a phantom. Myna didn't know if she'd ever fully forgive her, but their bond ran too deep for Myna to give up on her. Family didn't give up on each other, and Hazelyn was her family.

Myna rounded a tight corner into another dimly lit hall, and then rushed up a tower of winding stairs, nearly tripping onto the top landing. She huffed as she picked herself up and ran towards Lady Barbary's solar. Her cheeks red from exertion, she almost collided with Barrowhall's steward as he emerged from the solar. "Pardon, Ben, but is-" she panted as she tried to regain her breath.

"Of course, Myna," the older man chuckled, an amused look in his dark eye. "Lady Barbary's still in there if you're looking for her. Just finished some correspondence that she wanted me to take to the rookery." He waved two small rolls of parchment in his hand, both bearing the official Dustin seal.

"Thank you," Myna nodded with a small smile, though she distractedly bounced on her heals. As soon as the steward departed, she dashed through the door, not bothering to knock.

The sweet aroma of honey and thyme filled her nose, and she saw Lady Barbary steeping the leaves out of a cup of tea. Babrbary scowled as she delicately placed her cup on her desk, clearly annoyed that someone had interrupted her work. But Myna did not allow the old noble bat's mood to put a damper on her excitement.

"M'lady!" Myna said breathlessly.

Barbary's eyes raised with a wide gaze, her brow furrowed as the maid rushed forward and bobbed quickly. "Seven hells, girl! You nearly made my heart give out."

"I'm sorry, m'lady, but I've just heard some very important news from a stable boy that went to Winter Town. I think we might've-"

"Please, spare me," Barbary interrupted in a weary tone, holding a hand up for silence. Myna frowned, her excitement deflated, as she took in the lady's tired and serious expression. "Myna, if this is another one of your 'leads' that you wish to look into, say no more. I refuse to harbor false hopes or waste time any longer." She pressed her lips tightly together and set the quill she'd been holding down on the desk with a finality that made Myna's stomach churn.

"But m'lady, this is different," Myna urged. "I honestly believe the stable boy found someone who has seen Hazelyn!"

"How long ago did they see her?" Barbary demanded.

"It's been a little over a year, but-"

"No," Barbary dismissed as she stood up. "I agreed to wait ten moons to search for her your way, and in those ten moons we've found nothing. Your little legion of stable boys and wash maids have had no more luck in finding Hazelyn than those Bolton soldiers." She gracefully walked past Myna without even looking at her. "I've decided to take the issue to a higher authority. I have just sent a raven to Lord Stark to inform him that I will be arriving at Winterfell in a few days to speak with him on a matter of great urgency. I am going to reveal the truth about Hazelyn and acquire the assistance I need to find my niece." She glanced back at Myna when she reached the door. "I suggest you pack your things, because we ride for Winterfell at dusk tomorrow."

"You can't just give up and hand the search over to the Starks. We're too close!" Myna protested sharply, making Barbary turn around, her eyes narrowed to slits.

"I am the Lady of Barrowtown, so I believe I can. I'm fond of you Myna, but I will not hesitate to remind you of your place if you ever presume to make demands of me again." Her brown eyes glinted dangerously as she scowled strictly at the maid.

Not intimidated by the lady's harsh glare, Myna pushed on. "An innkeeper that the stable boy spoke to described a girl very similar to Hazelyn. She showed up right around the same time Hazelyn fled. She had brown hair, pale eyes, and according to the innkeeper, she could even read. She worked at the inn for a couple of weeks, but was fired when she pulled a knife on a drunk patron." Myna tried to keep her tone even to hide the desperation underneath.

"But you have no actual proof that the girl is my niece," Barbary replied, unimpressed. "Not to mention you're putting your faith in another's word. That stable boy doesn't know Hazelyn anymore than that innkeeper."

"But I do know her," Myna argued, her light brown eyes blazing. "Let me go talk the innkeeper and look around Winter Town myself. There had to be someone else around there who saw her after that! She could still be close by, but if you sick the Starks and other Northern houses on her like a bunch of blood hounds, she could slip away right under our noses!"

Barbary held her chin high as she shook her head. "I refuse to waste anymore time. I will be taking you Winterfell anyway to provide the Starks with the information they'll need to find her, so you may search Winter Town while I am in discussions with Lord Stark. But my decision is final."

Shaking in anger, Myna had to bite her cheek to keep from spitting at the older woman. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth as Lady Barbary glared down at her and motioned to the door. "Be ready to ride at dusk tomorrow and not a word to anyone of our journey. You are dismissed."

"Yes M'lady," Myna muttered before she stalked out, seething with anger, and deep beneath everything else, afraid.

Roose studied the huge map of northern Westeros that lay sprawled across his solar's table for what must have been the hundredth time, trying to pinpoint the location of his daughter. Finally tearing himself away after his head started to hurt, he poured himself a cup of water from a pitcher on his desk, and then sipped it slowly as he focused back on the task at hand. Wooden sigils dotted the large map; Red Bolton flayed men, black Ryswell horses, gold Dustin axes, and blue Frey towers spread out all across the North and even down into the Riverlands. Yet somehow his daughter had managed to evade them all.

It was a very logical possibility that she was now dead, but Roose's instincts told him she wasn't. He'd always thought that, of all his children, her mind was the most like his, but he had always dismissed her. He had believed her potential marred by the soft, womanly heart in her chest and the haughty self-righteousness she'd inherited from her mother. Yet, when she was under pressure, a sharpness always shined through that he had never even glimpsed in Domeric or his bastard. Beneath his displeasure at the increasingly dire situation, he found himself oddly impressed that she had managed to stay hidden for so long. When he found her, perhaps she'd prove more worth than just her name and womb.

An alien feeling began to trickle into the back of Roose's mind, something almost akin to yearning. Perhaps, just perhaps, if he could somehow make her accept his wisdom, embrace his teaching, he'd find a kindred spirit that saw the world as he did...a partner...

Immediately, his cold logic crushed the dangerous thought. He'd gone down that road before with her mother, Bethany. His first wife, some distant cousin of Wyman Manderly, had been a vapid doll that his father had shackled him to for extra wealth. But after a wave of sickness took the sickly girl and his Lord father, he had had the freedom to choose his second bride. The beautiful Bethany Ryswell had brought with her an endless supply of horses that he needed for his cavalry, but she'd also had a quiet fierceness and subtle wit he thought would match him well. A foolish youth, he'd thought her a potential partner, one who might truly understand him. She might've become his equal, a true companion, if only she'd opened her eyes to his wisdom. But after years of him trying to open her eyes, she'd simply withered into a bitter shrew and constant thorn in his side. Their daughter acted much the same.

Moving on to more productive thoughts, Roose evaluated his current problem and the pawns at his disposal. There still was no trace of Hazelyn, and the deadline for his agreement with Walder Frey drew near. Ten moons had passed and the river lord would soon expect a wedding that would guarantee him kinship to the next Lord of the Dreadfort. With no bride to broker the deal with, either Roose or his bastard would have to wed and bed a Frey.

Roose picked up a Bolton marker and rolled it idly in his fingers as he pondered his bastard. Ramsay, the bastard of Bolton, the fruit of a violent union, and one of biggest mistakes of his life. Ramsay represented the one time Roose had lost control, let his emotions get the better of him. Four years into his second marriage, he had tried so hard to get Bethany to come around. He'd wanted her to see, that underneath it all, he did care for her. She'd just lost yet another son in an early labor and had screamed that it was his fault, that he'd killed all the babies they'd lost. She'd said she gave up on him, hated him, and would never forgive him. He had felt more lost and out of control than he'd ever felt in his life. His frustration had filled him a chilling rage. And then he saw the miller's wife. She looked so much like Bethany, and just like Bethany, she and her husband had defied him with their secret marriage. He'd snapped and put all his pent up rage into punishing them. A year later, the miller's widow had presented Ramsay to him.

The boy had always been a pest to Roose when he'd still had two legitimate children, and then merely a pawn and unstable wild card when he was first brought into the Bolton household. Over moons of strict training and careful conditioning though, Ramsay had proven to be a brutal and effective solider. He had picked up on lessons of courtesy quickly enough and had a decent mind for battle tactics. However, the boy still did have certain... unsavory qualities. Reckless bloodlust and melodramatic theatrics that had shown themselves when he'd flayed a guard and then caused that fiasco in White Harbor.

Roose had hoped sending his bastard to the kennels to clean up the dogs' filth would shame those troublesome traits out of him. Then he might have potential as a contingency heir should Hazelyn never be found. Unfortunately, Roose had only heard displeasing reports about Ramsay's activities in the kennels. To see if they had merit, he had summoned the boy this afternoon. He'd test his base born son to see if he was worthy of a noble marriage and a chance to be heir of the Dreadfort.

Roose placed the Bolton marker back on the table when he heard a knock on his door. He didn't answer immediately, taking his time to get another cup of water and seat himself comfortably by his desk. "Come," he finally commanded, smirking as his bastard son quietly entered the room and bowed his head in respect. Good, he had at least learned patience and some respect for authority.

"Lord Bolton," Ramsay said in a quite tone, a stoic seriousness in his cool grey eyes. "You summoned me."

"Aye," Roose said causally. "I have heard from Locke you have a sound mind for strategy and wanted your opinion on a certain matter."

Ramsay's eyes widened in surprise. "Truly? You want to hear what I have to say?

"You are my son," Roose studied the boy's face carefully. "And this is a rather delicate family affair." Ramsay's expression was too slack with shock for Roose glean anything, so he continued with his charade. "Please sit," he motioned to a chair across from his. "And you may call me Father when we're alone. There's no need for formality when it's just family present."

Ramsay's eyes lit up as he sat, though he composed his face back into a serious expression. "Thank you, Father," he nodded gratefully.

Roose studied him in silence for a moment, watched as the tension slipped from his body and he grew more comfortable in his surroundings. Satisfied that he had lured his bastard into a false sense of security, he began the test in earnest.

"You're aware that there's been no progress on the search for my daughter." Roose motioned towards the map. "I intend to change search methods and wanted your suggestions."

A slow smile formed on Ramsay's face. "Well," he began thoughtfully, "I've noticed from the very beginning that many of the smallfolk in the keep and surrounding villages have been conveniently unaware how Sister escaped. They've all been very tight lipped and uncooperative. We both know Hazelyn has a tender heart and took pity on them all. They no doubt feel indebted to her for all the food she bribed them with. Yet withholding information from their lord is a very grave crime indeed."

Roose nodded and leaned in as the boy's tone grew more confident. "And how would you suggest I solve the issue?"

"Your men haven't been harsh enough when questioning them. Taking some the their possessions, beating them around a bit, using some traditional methods of torture that have led to a few understated deaths. It's not enough. The villagers are used to it. We need to make them truly afraid." A spark of excitement lit Ramsay's grey eyes and a dark smile curled his lip.

"What would you have my men do to achieve this?" Roose leaned back in his chair and picked up his goblet to take a long sip of water.

"What our family has done for centuries," Ramsay answered with passion. "The flayed man is the Bolton sigil for a reason. Reopen the old closed off dungeons, enforce the old traditions and flay them slowly until they confess or die. Then hang their skin and rotting corpses out as a warning."

"Anything else?" Roose asked with feigned interest before he took another sip of water. His eyes narrowed at the malicious smirk on Ramsay's face.

"Better yet, make the peasants fear for their families. Since you sent me down to the kennels... I've found other uses for the dogs beyond hunting sport."

"And what would that be?"

"When a man won't talk, grab his daughter or wife and set her loose in the wood. Send some of the blood hounds and handlers out hunt her until yoi get the information you want. It'll give some of the bitches good exercise, and a good meal if the prisoner refuses to cooperate." Ramsay finished with a look a pride.

"So," Roose stood up and looked at his map, facing away from Ramsay. "You want me to openly renew the practice of flaying, an action that was outlawed by the Starks long ago, and to hunt down the wives and daughters of over half my men and household for just a slim possibility of knowing what general direction my daughter went in?" He turned to stare down at his bastard, a perfectly blank look in his eye.

The boy's sickening arrogance faltered as he became unsure of himself. "They're merely suggestions, Father. N-nothing I've seriously-"

"-Thought about? Done?" Roose questioned sharply. "Yes, I'm very aware that don't ever think before doing anything, and don't deny that you haven't already done both suggestions, without my permission." Ramsay's eyes widened and he wilted under his father's cold glare. "Yes, I've heard all about your little dalliance with kennel master's daughter and the hunts you two have been on. I know what you've trained some of my hounds to do."

Roose crossed his arms as he looked down at Ramsay. "It's not uncommon for a lord to bed a wench, but your little hunts are grotesque and unnecessary. You have been indulgent, reckless, and shameless for all the smallfolk to see. No doubt rumors have already spread beyond our lands."

"Father," Ramsay rose, a desperate look in his eye. "Everything I do is in service of our house."

"My house" Roose emphasized. "You have not been granted the right to refer to it as yours." He stepped away from the boy in disgust. "Ten moons ago, I made an agreement with Walder Frey. If my daughter wasn't found in a year, either you or I would wed one of his daughters instead. I had considered granting you that great honor, but you've once again proven yourself too reckless and hot headed to even be a possible heir. I pray to the old gods that the my daughter is found."

A strained look crossed Ramsay's face as he straightened his back, tense and defiant. "My sweet sister has humiliated you and risked this house's whole future, yet you would have her as your heir instead of me, your son, who has tired his hardest to be worthy of your name. Why?"

Roose turned back towards his map, tired of the boy's dramatics. "It's very simple, Ramsay. She is my true born daughter, a Bolton from birth, and you are my base born son, a Snow. Even legitimized, other lords would always view you as a bastard, unless you proved yourself otherwise through your actions. And you haven't."


Roose held his hand up and glanced back at Ramsay. "I will not cast you out of my household because you have use as a battle commander, but if you can't prove yourself, you will never have my name." He looked away again as he said, "You're dismissed."

There was a tense moment of silence before he heard soft foot steps and the door open and close. The Bolton lord shook his head in slight disappointment. Roose did not feel partial to entering into a third marriage after two failed ones, but if his daughter couldn't be found, he would dowhatever it took to preserve House Bolton's legacy.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Discovery

Robb walked quickly through the bustling market, his eyes shifting left and right as he searched for the right vendor. "Remind me again why you dragged us this way?" Theon asked irritably as he lengthened his strides to keep pace with his younger friend. Robb, Jon, and Theon had slipped off to the tavern to get a drink after sparring practice, but on their way back to the keep, the Stark heir had diverted their path towards the market with a very specific purpose in mind.

"You didn't have to come," Robb retorted as his gaze continued to scan the busy crowd. The loud cries of merchants beckoned in patrons to look at their wares as people weaved around each other, laden with their purchases.

"And give you the chance to slip away to tell Snow all the details of what you got up to last night? Not a chance!" Theon scoffed. "Come on, I always tell you everything when I fuck a girl!"

"Aye, we know," Jon rolled his eyes as he fell into step on Robb's other side. "Even when we don't want to hear it."

"Of course you don't, Snow, because you never use the advice I give," Theon laughed. "Robb's never complained about my stories though." He wiggled his brows. "I wonder how loud your maid-"

He grunted as Robb shoved a well aimed elbow into his gut. Robb and Jon both chuckled as Theon stumbled and gasped to regain his breath. Robb shook his head and then started glancing around at the vendors again. "What did you want from the market anyway?" Theon grumbled as he rubbed his tender ribs.

"Just some wood," Robb remarked with a smile as he spotted the familiar sigil of House Forrester hanging off one of the merchant's stalls. House Forrester, one of the largest producers of ironwood in Westeros, had loyally supplied the precious resource to House Stark for millennia, but they also had merchants in their service that sold the valuable timber for trade. Robb supposed he could have taken a piece from Winterfell's shipment, but he wanted some for a more personal reason.

He paid no attention to his brother and best friend as they gave him strange looks. He confidently walked across the small street and greeted the merchant, a heafty, black-bearded Northman. "M'lord," the friendly man greeted. "It's a funny thing to see you here. I'll be coming to Winterfell in a few days to deliver a shipment to your Lord Father."

"Of course," Robb nodded. "'I just need a small amount of ironwood for myself." The merchant eagerly showed him a selection of finely crafted bowls, figures, and even shields, but none of them were what Robb wanted. "Do you happen to have any plain blocks of ironwood?" He asked as his eyes mulled over the merchant's wares. "Nothing too big, just enough to carve a few things from."

The merchant looked a bit confused but nodded. "Of course, m'lord. I keep a few smaller pieces on hand for those that like to whittle." Robb ended up purchasing a piece just small enough to fit into his pocket for a silver stag. The material was expensive but worth the price.

Robb's companions regarded him with curious expressions as he made his way back to them and they started the journey back to Winterfell. "What do you need ironwood for?" Theon questioned with a bemused frown.

"Nothing that would interest you," Rob shrugged.

"Wait, are you buying her a gift?" Robb cringed at Jon's reproachful tone. Why did his brother always have to get involved in what he did? Jon knew very well he'd gotten the wood as a gift. What else in the seven hells would he do with a block of ironwood?

He'd seen the admiration in Hazelyn's eyes when he'd shown her the ironwood shield his father had given him. She'd run her fingers over it as if it was gold, her smile even brighter than it usually was. He'd tried to give her a necklace for her name day moons ago, but she'd refused it, saying a silver chain with a direwolf pendant was too conspicuous. He'd had trouble finding her a gift that she'd accept ever since. Almost everything he'd think to give a lady, she would say it drew too much attention to their relationship.

Frustration flared in Robb as he recalled their conversation from the night before. When he'd tried to bring up their future, she'd claimed it was too soon to say anything to his parents. He should've pushed her more.

His chain of thought was broken by Theon's disbelieving chuckle. "You're trying to charm your bed warmer with a block of wood!?" The ironborn drew closer and placed an arm around Robb's shoulders. "Stark, you really are hopeless with women. You give that to her and she'll be running from your bed before you can blink."

"Our relationship isn't like that," Robb grumbled as he tried to pull away. He glared at Jon for drawing Theon's attention. Jon only looked back with that arrogant, judgmental expression that sometimes painted his face. Robb had seen it a lot since his brother had found out about his relationship with Hazelyn. Jon had accepted the idea of the relationship, but whenever Robb did so much as lay a hand on Hazelyn, Jon tensed up and acted like Mother, brooding and casting disapproving looks. Robb didn't know if his brother acted out of concern for Hazelyn or jealously of what they had. Whatever the reason, he hated that expression and vowed he was going to make Jon pay for it later.

Grinning madly, Theon offered, "I know a far better gift you could give her. Unless she's already had it...How many times?"

"I haven't bedded her," Robb vehemently insisted, starting to walk faster.

"That's horseshit, Stark," Theon scoffed. He smirked as he glanced back at Jon. "Why would you lie about it, because Snow's here?"

Frustrated by both his friends, Robb pulled out of Theon's hold and rounded on him. "What in the seven hells are you implying?"

"Robb, you didn't?" Jon regarded him with a severe frown. It took all of Robb's self control not to punch his brother for making the situation worse. Theon was usually the arrogant one of their group, something the other two could just laugh off. But when Jon got that self-righteous attitude, gods, Robb could barely stand it.

"I don't treat her like that," he snapped, absolutely seething inside. His face burned red when Theon snorted in disbelief.

"Then tell me why I saw her tip-toeing into your chamber the other night?" The ironborn asked with a smirk. Robb's eyes went wide and a heavy feeling settled in his gut. Hazelyn had told him she was always careful when she came to his room, but if Theon had seen her, who else had spotted her?

His frustration and worry mounting, Robb shook his head and stormed off, not able to stand his friends' company the rest of the way to the keep. He could laugh off Theon's ego and tolerate Jon's occasional arrogance, but couldn't stomach the two together. He was already irritated enough by Hazelyn's words last night. Not yet, it's too soon. That future isn't certain.

He knew she'd been hurt in the past and understood why she'd be scared to trust people, but he could only do so much to keep her safe as things were now. He'd promised her that day in the Godswood that he wouldn't let anyone harm her. He could truly keep it if they were wed. And gods he wanted her to be his wife. From the time he'd seen her in the brothel, he'd felt the need to protect her, but as she slowly let down her walls and let him see the beautiful, intelligent, good woman she truly was, those feelings had grown. Somewhere along the way, he'd realized he lovedher. She understood him, laughed with him, and wanted the same kind of world he did. She had a kind of quiet strength that made him know he'd have more than just a bed warmer and hostess in his lady wife. He'd have a friend and partner. If they ever found a way to wed.

Of course, when Robb had tried to bring the subject up again last night, she had cut him off as she usually did. He groaned as he recalled her playful smile and bright laughter, her soft lips moving on his, her curves pressed against him . He shook his head to clear it of the image. He had to convince her that they needed to do something, because for some reason, he felt like they didn't have much time.

Hazelyn looked down at the two ruined dresses slung over her arm. Dark ink stains were splotched all over Sansa's blue dress and Arya's green one. Septa Mordane had told her that she'd actually helped the girls fight less. If that was true, Hazelyn felt a great deal of pity for the septa. She'd swear that the Stark sisters would've killed each other had she not broken them apart earlier.

Sighing, Hazelyn entered the laundry, absently running her fingers along the befouled garments. Clouds of hot steam hit her face. She wrinkled her nose as the acrid smell of strong soap wafted towards her. She'd forgotten how pungent the odor could be.

A familiar voice called out to Hazelyn from behind the wooden wash tub. "So the grea' hand maid's decided to come back and visit," it playfully mocked.

Hazelyn bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Hello Anna," she greeted.

Anna wiped her hands on her apron as she approached, a wide grin on her heart shaped face. Her brown eyes sparkled with their usual mischief as she brushed her frizzy black braid over her shoulder. "You get one of those Stark boys in bed wit' ya yet? As much as you must see them while followin' their sister around..." She trailed off into a giggle. A couple other laundry maids looked over at the two girls with sudden interest.

"Of course I haven't," Hazelyn said with a small smile, trying to push the memories of what had happened with Robb after she'd distracted him the last night to the back of her mind.

"Why not?" Anna pouted. "If I'd been lucky enough to have your position, I'd have my hands all over 'em both by now."

"And you'd soon lose that position." Hazelyn raised her brow as she smirked. "Lady Stark wouldn't allow the girl who warmed her son's bed to tend to her daughter."

"You just don't know how good you have it," Anna sighed. She proffered her hand towards Hazelyn, lazily showing off a rather large, gold seashell ring resting on her middle finger. "Sleeping with Theon Greyjoy's always good fun and I've gotten some nice trinkets out of it, but can you imagine what you could get as Robb Stark's bed warmer?" She got a dreamy look in her eye.

Hazelyn snorted in disdain at the gaudy piece of jewelry. Of course Greyjoy would give her a seashell, an egotistical mark on his territory. The ring looked utterly ridiculous on the Northern girl. Anna had likely never even seen the ocean, let alone a real seashell. "You let Theon Greyjoy bed you for that?"

"Aye," Anna said proudly, not the least bit put off by Hazelyn's disgust. "I've gotten more nice gifts from 'im than any other girl has. I'm his favorite you know."

"But why would let a man who doesn't care about you use you that way?" Hazelyn asked her sadly.

Anna giggled and looked at Hazelyn as if she was stupid. "S'not like I'm some proper lady that needs to stay a virgin to wed. My father will find me a good match soon enough, but in the mean time, I'm not gonna waste my youth and looks. Really, how many of us common girls will ever have the opportunity to say fucked a lord?" She winked at Hazelyn and put a hand on her hip. "You still have a opportunity, Hazel. Don't waste time, or I might just get to Lord Robb before you."

A sick feeling filled Hazelyn's stomach as she thought of another woman in Robb's bed. Her gaze grew icy as envy tore through her. She opened her mouth spit out a bitter retort when a sharp voice called, "Anna, do the Starks pay you to jabber away? Get back to work!" The head launderess approached the two young women, fixing Anna with a harsh scowl.

"Yes'm," Anna beamed and winked at Hazelyn once more before going back to work. The old laundress rolled her eyes and sighed. She then turned to Hazelyn and gave her a crooked grin. "Its nice to see again Hazel. What brings you down here today?"

Hazelyn offered the two ruined dresses to the older woman and told her about the fight the Stark girls had gotten into during lessons. The laundress clicked her tongue in disapproval as she studied the ink stains. "Little Lady Arya ruins more dresses than her brothers do breeches. I might be able to save these, but no promises." She glanced at Sansa' s dress. "It's such a shame, Lady Sansa just got-"

"Excuse me," an old man kindly interrupted. The old laundress looked up with a huge smile that crinkled the many wrinkle around her eyes. "Pardon me a second dear," she said to Hazelyn.

Hazelyn watched with a gentle smile as the old woman greeted and embraced the man as her husband. He'd come from all the way from Winter Town to bring his wife her forgotten dinner. The old couple acted modest but had a very affection exchange.

Seeing it made Hazelyn's heart pang. Immediately, she imagined herself with greying hair, working in her solar, with an aged Robb walking in to remind her of something she'd forgotten. She could see them laughing together, old and grey, surrounded by a brood of grandchildren.

The image remained fixed in her mind she left the laundry to rejoin Sansa in her lessons. She suddenly realized how easily that image came to her, how right it was, how much she really wanted it. The very thought of Robb with another woman made her wish to grab the faceless wench by her hair and toss her out in the snow. Gods, she'd thought Robb handsome from the moment she laid eyes on him, but now she trusted him almost more than anyone, and undeniably cared very deeply for him.

Her steps faltered as it dawned on her for the first time that she actually might love Robb. She didn't want to just wed him to stay safe at Winterfell or to avoid marrying some Frey boy her father chosen for her. She wanted to wed him because of him. Because he was the bravest, strongest, kindest man she'd ever had the pleasure of meeting. Because, somehow, she knew he loved her too.

She wanted to be Robb's wife. She was in love with Robb Stark. And last night, when he'd asked her again to marry him, she'd replied not yet. She hadn't even wanted to talk about it. When she next saw him, she had to-

She shrieked as an arm wrapped around her from behind and yanked her into the small, stone alcove she was passing. Backed up against a wall, she held a hand to her chest and panted as she looked up to see Robb leaning over her with a huge grin on his face. His blue eyes twinkled with humor as she swatted his chest. "Seven hells, Robb, I've told you not to do that!"

"And miss that hilarious little squeal of yours? I don't think so," he chuckled. Bowing his head, he lowered his mouth to hers and pecked her lips quickly before she could turn her face away.

Hazelyn huffed as she reached up to run a hand through his messy auburn curls, her bubble of elation back in full swing. "You best thank the gods for making you so handsome, otherwise you might never hear that sound again."

Robb smiled at her words. "Or I could thank them for the beautiful girl who has the kindness to always forgive me." He moved his hands to her hips and gently guided her closer to him for a deeper kiss. Hazelyn stopped resisting, still buzzing with excitement and joy at her newly realized love for the man before her. She shifted up on her toes and opened her mouth to him as one of her hands worked its way further into his hair and the the other clutched his shoulder. He pulled her up against him with a low moan and ran his tongue along her lip. She hummed in appreciation before pushing on his chest. He reluctantly pulled back and looked down at her intently.

"Am I forgiven, my lady?" He joked.

Hazelyn rolled her eyes playfully. "Alright," she said with a small smile. She frowned slightly as her hands settled on his broad chest. "Though I hope you didn't scare me half to death in the middle of the day just to steal a few kisses."

"No," Robb chuckled as he reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small block of wood and rolled if in his fingers. "I just couldn't to wait to give you this."

"What is it?" She asked curiously as he placed in her palm. The tan wood felt extremely hard yet weighed almost nothing.

"Ironwood," Robb replied proudly as her grey eyes scanned over it. "You wouldn't take that necklace I tried to give you for your name day, so I got you something less conspicuous."

"But my name day was moons ago," Hazelyn said in confusion, but Robb could see the excitement in her eyes, and the small quirk of her lips.

"It took me that long to find something you might actually accept," Robb shook his head. "It's not much, but it should be enough to carve a few small things." He smiled. "You're so good at wood working, that I wanted to see what you could do with the toughest wood in Westeros."

Hazelyn ran her free hand up his bearded jaw to his cheek. "It's perfect. Thank you," she said before pulling his face back down for another kiss. In that moment she decided she was ready to make her future certain. She'd tell Robb next evening they had alone, she was ready to make a plan to tell his father. She was going to marry Robb Stark.

Caught up in their own little world, neither Hazelyn nor Robb realized that they weren't alone. From beyond the bend in the stony corridor, Catelyn watched her son in extreme displeasure. Her bright blue eyes narrowed into a glare as he tenderly murmured something and leaned down to lock lips again with her eldest daughter's maid. She had known for awhile that Robb was fond of the girl, but she'd looked the other way, hoping her son had more sense and self-control than Theon. The display playing out before her proved that he didn't, and hadn't for quite some time.

When she'd first noticed them, her first instinct had been to march right over to the kissing couple, box her son about the ears, and then dismiss the girl on the spot. But after she took a moment to calm down, she realized her eldest son was a man grown, and it wasn't her place scold him on such matters anymore. He wouldn't likely listened to her anyway. Also, Sansa adored Hazel. She'd be heartbroken if her mother sent her away.

Hazel had always acted sensible and polite around her daughter, so perhaps Catelyn wouldn't have to resort to such extreme measures. That didn't mean she was going to sit idly by though. She could always assign the girl extra duties to keep her busy, and as for Robb, he might not listen to her, but his father was a different story.

Ned Stark had always been a simple man and his solar reflected as much. Only a small direwolf banner that Sansa had made adorned the otherwise bare stone walls. A modest hearth gave him light and warmth on cold, dark nights, and there were some sturdy chairs and a table at the far end of room for meetings he held. He usually kept the three large windows of the chamber open to let in sunlight and fresh air. His personal desk was angled towards the windows, so he could listen to the commotion of the tiltyard below as he worked. Ned's solar was simple and peaceful, just like the life he wanted for himself, his family, and his people. A simple room for a simple life.

Ned looked up from the scroll he'd received from Lady Dustin when he heard the chamber door scrape against the stone floor and the rustle of parchment. His eldest son entered the room and walked over to him, a tired look on his face, offering his father a thick ledger. "I've gone through through about half the tax records, Father. The Umbers, Glovers, Karatarks, Mornonts and all their vassals have paid their taxes for this moon."

"Very good," Ned said briskly, though he had to look away to not chuckle. He remembered the long, miserable afternoons that Jon Arryn had forced him and Robert to review the tax records of the Vale banner man. He had told them it was a vital task they needed to learn in order to properly govern one day, but Ned and Robert had wanted nothing more than to burn the dusty ledgers and to go practice more sword play in the tiltyard. Though Robb never complained, he probably felt much the same right now. Ned himself had only realized years later, after the rebellion, how much he preferred going over tax records to using his sword to end another man's life.

Robb stood patiently as Ned scanned over the ledger. As usual, Robb had done thorough, excellent work. Ned nodded in approval as he set the papers on his desk and rose from his chair. Robb looked at him with a passive expression, but Ned could tell from his son's tense posture and twitching fingers that he was eager to be dismissed so he could go spar in the tiltyard.

'Or to do gods know what with that girl,' Cat's sharp voice repeated in Ned's mind, jarring him from his thoughts. After they'd retired to their chamber last night, his wife had told him all about the exchange she'd seen transpire between Robb and Sansa's maid. She had had concerns about the warm interactions between the two before, but Ned hadn't worried. It couldn't have been as torrid as Cat had made it out to be.

However, after his lady wife had observed their son and the maid heatedly kissing in an alcove, Ned could no longer give Robb the benefit of the doubt. Cat had insisted Ned speak to him and make sure the affair came to an end. She didn't want to dismiss the girl, when she'd come from such bad circumstances, but she didn't want the maid in Robb's bed either. Knowing how sensitive Cat was about the topic, Ned had promised he would talk to Robb this afternoon.

Ned could recall the temptations of girls when he was younger. He'd been strong, single, and in the prime of his life with no lady wife to honor. Though he'd been shy, many woman had offered themselves to him. Ned had resisted, though not for lack of trying on Robert and Brandon's part, who had pushed beauties of all walks of life his way. He knew Robb probably was in a very similar situation, with his older foster brother paying frequent visits to the brothel and bragging about all the maids he'd bedded. But Ned had always hoped that his teaching would help Robb act more honorable than his ward. Than Ned himself had been. It seemed not to be though.

Wishing he could simply let his son run off to the tiltyard, Ned sighed wearily and rubbed his brow before saying, "Before you go, Robb, we need to discuss something."

Robb frowned. "Yes, Father?"

Ned leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. "Your mother told me she saw you kissing Sansa's maid yesterday."

Robb froze in momentary shock before a look of panic crossed his face. Ned studied him as he stated calmly, "She's been worried for awhile now that something might be going on between you and the girl. You know how she feels about such matters." Both men knew well how much Catelyn feared that her honorable son might fall for some common girl like his honorable father had, and then bring another Stark bastard home to raise.

"I know," Robb nodded stiffly. He tried to school his face into a calm expression but failed miserably.

"Son," Ned's tone was filled with disappointment. "We've taught you better than this. Do you really want to ruin the girl's whole future over a few nights of passion?" His own thoughts wandered to distant memories of the alluring purple eyes and charming smile of a pale Dornish beauty that he had ruined because of his selfishness.

Robb's expression grew desperate as he shook his head. "Father, please, it isn't like that. I haven't bedded her. I'd never dishonor her like that." Ned could always tells when his children were lying, and right now, Robb being was honest. And somehow that made it worse. The devotion for the girl that Ned heard in Robb's voice would make it even more painful when they were separated from each other.

"Don't hold her responsible," Robb implored. "It's all my fault. I talked her into it. Sansa would be upset if Mother sent her away."

Ned started get a horrible feeling that Robb felt more for the girl than a passing interest, more than primal attraction that would burn out within weeks. He might be in love with the girl. Because even though Robb looked more like his mother, he had so much of Ned him. Just like his father, Robb wouldn't invest himself into something half heartedly. He would commit fully to every responsibility he took, including a relationship, just as Ned had in his youth.

Feeling a wave anguish for his son and over his own past hurts, Ned swallowed and looked Robb in the eye. "You're a man grown, so I expect you make responsible choices without me having to discipline you like a boy. I'll leave this issue for your to handle, Robb, but think about long and hard about the the consequences before you do anything. Because you will have to take a lady wife someday, and you may not get the chance to choose who it is. Don't be cruel and make false promises you can't keep. It could destroy lives if you do."

Robb swallowed hard as his face became unreadable. "I understand."

Ned stepped over to his son and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm proud of the man you've become," he said firmly, "and I believe you'll do the honorable thing. But remember," he squeezed Robb's shoulder hard. "This matter doesn't just involve you. You'll be Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North someday. If you make the wrong choice, you could tear your family, and even the North itself, apart."

Robb didn't respond at first, just staring at his father with wide, conflicted eyes. But then a steely determination slowly seeped into his expression, and he nodded firmly. "I'll make the right decision."

"I know you will," Ned affirmed earnestly. He then gave Robb a sad smile and pat on the back before motioning to the door. "You've done good work today. Go have some time for yourself before the feast this evening."

"Feast?" Robb asked in confusion. "I didn't know we were going to have guests tonight."

"It's a very small affair," Ned replied. "Lady Dustin will be arriving this evening to discuss an urgent matter with me. She asked for our discretion during her visit, so I trust you won't mention it to anyone." He walked back over to his desk and sat, picking up Lady Dustin's letter to read over again.

"Aye," Robb replied, his voice shaking. Ned looked up with a frown. Behind Robb's calm front, an alarmed expression lingered in his eyes. Before Ned could ask what was wrong, Robb hastily said, "I'll see you at the feast this evening, Father. Thank you." And he all but sprinted out the door. Ned shook his head in bewilderment before shifting his gaze back to the letter in hands hands to speculate about Lady Dustin's secretive visit and to maybe reflect on guarded memories of his own past.

Thick clouds of steam and smoke swirled around the kitchen as the cooks busily prepared the feast Lady Stark had ordered. Apparently they had a noble guest coming short notice, thus the kitchen staff had to scramble to produce a finer meal than usual. So fine, in fact, they needed additional maids to aid the cooks. Or so Hazelyn had been told.

She wiped her hands on her apron and brushed sweat off her forehead. She'd not been assigned extra duties since she became Sansa's maid. So it baffled her when Septa Mordane informed her during lessons that she needed to report to the kitchens and that Sansa wouldn't need her for the rest of the afternoon. Whenever the Starks had a feast, Sansa always needed her maid. Hazelyn usually spent several hours helping Sansa choose the right dress and fashioning the young girl's russet locks into an intricate hair style.

Hazelyn scrubbed the dirty pot in her hands with more force than necessary as she felt frustration mount in her. She had not told Robb of her newly realized feelings yet because she had wanted to wait until they had more time to really talk. But Sansa had asked for help with her lessons last night, and this evening, Hazelyn was stuck in the kitchens. The gods really did have a harsh sense of humor, giving her an epiphany and then keeping her from sharing it with the person who needed to know the most. The pot splashed loudly as Hazelyn dropped it into the tub to rinse. Who was this prickish lord who'd come last minute anyway? Aunt Babrbary had always taught her that it was necessary to give a lord appropriate notice if one wished to stay in his castle. Not doing so was irresponsible.

Hazelyn sighed a she smelt the finished roast that one of the cooks was arranging on a platter to be carried out. Almost all the food was prepared now, so she'd wouldn't have any more dishes to wash for awhile, at least until the feast was over. Then she'd be scraping and scrubbing plates with the kitchen maids into the late evening hours, when it would be too late to see Robb.

"Girl," a plump cook called to Hazelyn. She waddled over, carrying a large pitcher. Hazelyn fumbled in surprise when the cook thrust it into her hands. She barely managed to keep the dark wine from sloshing out the over the rim. "Since your not a regular," the cook motioned in the general direction of the great hall, "you'll just be serving drinks tonight. You're more useful out there than you can be in 'ere."

Hazelyn nodded, relief coursing through her. Her mood quickly improved as she divested herself of her dirty apron and washed her hands. Perhaps she might be able to get off duty early enough to see Robb after all. A slight smile played on her lips as she glided from the kitchen to the great hall, pitcher in hand. Many torches and a large hearth lit the room brightly as usual, but no visiting lord's banners adorned the walls. Hazelyn also noticed that the tables had not been rearranged and that only Winterfell's residents populated the hall. It seemed as if there were no guests at all. Why had she been called to work in the kitchens if there was no large party to feed?

Occupied by her baffled thoughts, Hazelyn didn't pay much attention as she made her way up to the high table. She smiled placidly at the Cassel family as she filled their cups and worked her way down. She spotted Robb sitting across from his father at the center, looking terribly tense and troubled. Frowning, Hazelyn tried to catch his eye to ask what was wrong. When their gazes met, desperation shined in his blue eyes. Hazelyn's frowned deeper as she filled Lady Catelyn's cup. She tilted her head questioningly as Robb began to gesture away from the table as subtly as he could.

She shook her head confusion before turning to fill Lord Stark's goblet. Lord Eddard didn't pay her much mind, caught up in an intense discussion with an unfamiliar woman in a black dress on the other side of him. Hazelyn narrowed her eyes as she studied the woman's back and graying, brown hair. This must be Lord Stark's mystery guest. As she approached from behind to fill the the woman's cup, the lady said something to Lord Stark. Hazelyn's heart stopped and she stumbled as she recognized the familiar voice . Then, the lady looked back at Hazelyn to see what the commotion was about.

As Barbary Dustin's brown eyes met Hazelyn's grey, Hazelyn's fingers went slack and her pitcher slid from her grip. Wine splattered all over her dress as the pitcher clattered loudly to the floor, but Hazelyn felt too shocked to care. Before she or her aunt could form a coherent thought, her old survival instincts took over. She turned on her heel and sprinted out of the hall and kept sprinting down the corridors towards the castle courtyard.

The stars twinkled brilliantly in the night sky as Myna aimlessly wandered through Winterfell's vast courtyards. Lady Barbary had told her that once she arrived at the keep, she wouldn't be needed until several hours after the feast. With some free time on her hands, Myna had decided she needed some fresh air and solitude to collect her thoughts.

She'd split off from Lady Babrbary's small party to go Winter Town when they'd neared the Stark's keep a couple hours ago. She'd visited the Smoking Log Inn to question the innkeeper. The sour faced woman had proven barely any help at all, only recalling that the mysterious tavern maid had often drank ale with a red headed whore from the local brothel.

Myna growled in frustration. Hazelyn had never really cared about social class as much as most ladies did, but even she wouldn't spend her free time drinking with a whore. Myna would seek out this whore tomorrow just to be sure, but she was beginning to suspect that she'd ran into another dead end. And she'd had been so sure that that wench was Hazelyn. How many girls carried around a knife and looked exactly like her friend? Perhaps Hazelyn had changed in her time away, and now drank with whores like they were the best of friends. It didn't seem like her, but maybe she'd become someone Myna wouldn't recognize anymore. If she'd truly been desperate enough...

Myna shivered as a frigid breeze rustled her blonde hair. She crossed her arms and hunched her shoulders as the cold and a terrible loneliness overtook her. It had been well over a year now, and no one could find the a trace of Hazelyn. Not Lord Bolton, Lady Barbary, or even Myna herself. For the first time, Myna considered the possibility that Hazelyn might never be found, that she might be dead.

But even as despair set in, Myna couldn't stop looking for her. She aimed her foot at a stray rock and kicked it to vent her anger and frustration. She and Hazelyn had been friends all their lives. Their mothers had had them share a cradle for gods' sake! Myna would know if Hazelyn was dead, and she just felt in her gut that she wasn't. Myna calmed down as she brought her fingers to her neck and toyed with the bear charm of her mother's necklace. Her mother had always had a strange intuition about a great many things. She had always told Myna to follow that intuition in herself, no matter what, and it would never lead her astray. Mother had never been wrong, so Myna was not going to give up. She would find Hazelyn, and then she'd give Hazelyn hell for leaving her behind.

A series of hard knocks and masculine grunts pulled Myna from her thoughts. She realized that in her aimless pondering, she'd wandered upon Winterfell's tiltyard. Most soldiers were attending the feast, so the yard stood empty and quite, save for one person.

The lone young man kept hitting a dummy forcefully with his practice sword, not once breaking his merciless assault as Myna approached. She curiously observed him as he let out all his contained rage on his target. He was handsome, she noticed, even though his face was scrunched up in exertion and frustration. With a grunt, he hit the dummy again. His black hair hung limp with sweat, and his brown eyes simmered with an anger that far surpassed Myna's. The last vestiges of her fury cooled as sympathy overtook her mind. She'd felt so alone moments before, but the loneliness surrounding this boy was like one she'd never felt.

Feeling a need to help, Myna called out, "That dummy must be a fearsome foe if you haven't killed him yet. How many hits does it really take to bring down a man?"

The raven haired youth stopped mid strike and turned his gaze sharply in Myna's direction. Once he over came his initial surprise, his posture relaxed. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and glared suspiciously at Myna as he shrugged. "I don't know? Depends. Maybe two blows."

Myna smirked and placed a hand on her hip. "Two? I've seen you hit that thing about sixty times in two minutes...I think you got him," she chuckled lightly. The boy only responded with a frosty scowl before he turned back towards the dummy and resumed his violent onslaught.

Not cowed by the negative reception, Myna leaned on a fence not to far behind the boy. "I'm Myna, Lady Dustin's maid. What do they call you?"

The boy once again stopped his sword work and let out a frustrated sigh. Without facing her he murmured, "Jon Snow."

Myna's light brown eyes widened in recognition at the name. She reached up to fiddle with her mother's necklace again. He was a bastard... just like... Myna shook her head, not willing to complete the thought, and quickly jumped back into the conversation to distract herself. "You must be pretty dedicated to your sword work to choose it over roast pork and wine," She quipped carelessly, not giving a thought to Jon's increasingly tense posture. "If I were you, I'd be at the feast stuffing my face and drinking my fill, not out here in the cold of night playing with-"

Jon fixed her with a vicious sneer. "If you were me, you'd be just the same. Right here. Lady Stark doesn't allow bastard's to dine with her guests," he spat bitterly.

Taken aback by his biting words, Myna realized her error. But her temper quickly superseded her sympathy when the boy literally turned his nose up at her and snorted. What a prick! She narrowed her eyes and pressed her lips into a thin line. Looks like this bastard needed to be knocked down a peg or two.

Jon turned to fully face the lanky blonde. The maid couldn't seem to take a hint, hanging around him like an annoying pest. Did she think she was actually funny, with her little jabs at his base born status? Gods, she was like a female version of Theon, which he definitely didn't need right now. He'd hoped his glare would scare her off, but from from the anger building on her face, he realized the annoying girl wouldn't be leaving any time soon. His face hardened into an impressive mask as he prepared for the usual slurs people spat at him.

The maid's light brown eyes burned as she snapped, "Maybe you should consider yourself lucky to have ever seen one at all. Bastard or no, you seem like your well off. Better off than most!" Jon felt a small bit of surprise that she didn't go straight to his status to insult him, but she clearly wasn't done yet. Myna sighed, her angry expression cooling to annoyance. A bitter smile graced her lips as said mockingly, "But it must be hard to have a lord for a father, even if you are bastard."

There it was. Jon knew she'd get to that insult eventually. His wall of defensive anger swelled up as he threw his sword to the ground. "What would you know about it!?"

Myna simply let out a bitter chuckle as a dark look entered her eye. "I wouldn't know anything about it, since I never had a father and lost my mother when I was eight," she off handedly remarked. "But I'm sure it's very hard for you, with your nice clothes, plentiful food, warm feather bed, and a father that loves you. The people of my village had barely enough food get by, but they weren't bastards, so they must have far easier lives than you," she retorted sarcastically.

Jon's facial expression dropped as the maid's light brown eyes convicted him. He opened his mouth apologize when a commotion erupted in the direction of the keep. The shadowy figure of a small woman burst through a side door of the keep and sprinted into the darkness. A stray ray of torch light seeping out a window flashed over her face as she ran by, revealing Hazelyn's frizzy dark braid and panicked grey eyes. Robb had been frantic to find her all afternoon but he'd not told Jon why. Yet, Jon knew something was terribly wrong. Seeing his friend in distress, he moved quickly to help her, but the blonde maid beside him moved quicker.

Myna picked up her skirts as she ran towards Hazelyn. The panicked girl's head turned towards the movement, and when she saw the blonde maid pursuing her, she tried to pick up her pace. Myna easily caught up to her and then grasped Hazelyn's arm tightly.

The blonde yanked the brunette harshly around to face her. A tense silence hung between the two girls as they stared at each other. Then Myna shattered it.

"YOU BITCH!" Jon rushed to break the two apart as a loud smack filled the air.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Scandals and Schemes

Catelyn had felt quite annoyed when Ned informed her at midday that Lady Dustin and a small party would be arriving at dusk and would be staying the night. He'd had asked her to prepare a meal and rooms for all of them in a matter of hours, as if it was simple task. He'd never fully understood how much time and effort it took to prepare the keep for guests, even small parties. As the head of the household, Catelyn had to ensure many different tasks happened in a short period of time; the cleaning of the guest chambers, the endless washing of linens, the ordering of meats, wine, fresh vegetables, pastries, and puddings. All while putting up with Sansa's countless requests for lemon cakes to be added to the menu.

None the less, Catelyn had gotten all the preparations taken care of before their guest's arrival. She was not a vain woman by nature, but she'd felt quite pleased with herself, and had felt only more pleased as the evening progressed. Everything had gone quite smoothly, that was, until Sansa's maid had spilled a whole pitcher of wine right at Lady Dustin's feet and then sprinted from the Great Hall in the middle of supper. Then all seven hells had broken loose.

Catelyn still was trying to make sense of the flurry of events that had led up to herself, Ned, Lady Barbary, and her daughter's former maid sequestered away in Ned's solar. A heavy silence hung the air as Lady Barbary fixed Hazel with a furious gaze, her brown eyes burning. Catelyn took note of the mud and wine stains on the hems of both of women's dresses as she recalled the events.

When Hazel dropped her pitcher and ran from Lady Barbary, Catelyn had suspected that the maid was simply embarrassed to see her old mistress. Perhaps they'd not parted on good terms. But then, after sitting for a moment in petrified shock, Lady Barbary had sprung from her chair and tore off after the maid at an ungodly speed, with no explanation. Both Robb and Ned had stood as well and rushed from the hall to see what the commotion was all about. Robb had even leapt over Lady Barbrey's overturned chair. Catelyn had spent the next few minutes calming the unsettled feast goers, until she'd been summoned to Ned's solar. Now, she and her husband waited to hear Lady Barbary explain what the commotion had been all about. Catelyn couldn't begin to guess what is was, but she knew something was off. The severe look Lady Barbary gave Hazel made Catelyn suspect that the girl wasn't a maid at all.

Ned crossed his arms as Lady Barbary sighed and rose from her seat to address them. Pursing her lips and smoothing her graying hair, she calmly stated, "Lord Stark, the urgent matter that I came here to speak to you about was the disappearance of my niece, Hazelyn Bolton."

"When did this happen? I've received no ravens from Lord Bolton on such a matter," Ned's brows scrunched in concern.

Catelyn raised her own brow in shock, glancing over at Hazel. The girl had been acting odd all evening, and she seemed to flinch away when Lady Barbary said the missing lady's name. Catelyn frowned deeply as a troubling thought entered her mind. Could Hazel be...?

"My good brother only wished for his kin to search for her out of misguided concern for her safety," Lady Barbary explained. "But after a year of not finding a trace of her, I couldn't abide by his wishes anymore. I came here to seek out your assistance in locating my niece." Her face darkened. "But you've already found her I see." Her gaze shifted over to the maid cowering in the seat next to hers.

"A young noble girl serving inside our walls? Working in Winterfell without our knowledge? Lady Dustin, you must be mistaken. This girl is my daughter's hand maid." Catelyn shook her head in disbelief and almost laughed at the notion. "Surely you're confusing her with another?"

Lady Dustin eyed the young maid. When the girl looked away swiftly, Barbary turned her attention to Catelyn. "I have known my niece since the day my sister brought her into this world."

Ned's eyes shot across the room, then back to Barbery, "Do you claim this child is your...your niece?"

"If you do not believe me, my lord, then, by all means, ask her yourself." Barbary glared at Hazel once more and sharply uttered," She knows not to lie to a lord."

Ned frowned grimly as his eyes followed her gaze to Hazel. "Child," he commanded firmly, forcing the young woman to sit straight and face him. "Tell me true, are you Lady Hazelyn Bolton?"

The girl shook like a wind blown leaf as she swallowed. In a voice barely above a whisper, she replied, "Yes, my lord."

Shock and fury flowed through Catelyn's veins as she realized this girl had deceived her whole family when they'd welcomed her into their home. Catelyn had entrusted her daughter to this girl. Sansa and Arya had come to look at her as an older sister. Robb had been very fond of her, dangerously so. Thinking of the heart break her children endure when they found out that the maid had betrayed their trust, Catelyn's fury only grew.

Ned sighed wearily. "She's been here at Winterfell for most of the year, my lady, but we did not have any knowledge of her identity." Catelyn bit her lip and tightened her hands into fists to keep herself from spitting a sharp remark. Ned wouldn't appreciate her contributing her anger to the already sensitive situation.

The tension in the room felt palpable as all three adults shifted their gaze to the girl. "I'm glad to know that glad to know that my niece was safe," Lady Barbary narrowed her eyes at Hazelyn, "But I'd like to know from her why she was here in the first place and if anyone did know who she really was."

As Catelyn took in the girl's paled complexion and glassy grey eyes, she couldn't believe she hadn't picked up on the distinctive Bolton features after all the times the girl had reported to her. Hazelyn opened her mouth several times to speak but only choking noises came out. Suddenly the door to Ned's solar swung open and Robb swept into the room.

He must have been eavesdropping right outside since Ned had forbade him to enter, Catelyn realized with displeasure. Everyone looked at him with wide eyes as he faced his father, a determined look in his eye. "I knew who she was. I've known for nearly a year."

The harsh shock from his words left Catelyn breathless. Her oldest boy, her honorable boy, had just burst into a meeting he'd been forbade from and admitted to outright lying to his parents for almost a year. Before she could say anything, Ned addressed him.

"Why didn't you come to us the moment you learned she was Lady Hazelyn?" He asked in a strict tone, a dangerous one that he only used when he grew angry. Ned very seldom grew angry, but when he did, it was a fearsome thing to face.

Robb's determination faltered as he met his father's grim eyes. His voice took on a pleading air. "Father, I wanted to tell you and Mother, and I know it was wrong not to, but Hazel-" he paused and closed his mouth. His gaze wandered over to the still wide eyed Hazelyn as he calmly finished, "Lady Hazelyn trusted me not to expose her identity. I couldn't abandon her faith in my word."

"Aye. And was that for the sake of your honor or your affections towards her?" Ned questioned with a sharp and disappointed glint in his eyes. Catelyn felt the disappointment and pain as well. They'd been so proud of their son, and now this happened.

Before Robb could reply, Lady Barbary shot up from her chair, a fierce gleam in her eye as she glared at Robb. "What exactly is the nature of these affections?" Her face flushed in fury as she glanced back at Ned. "Has your son compromised my niece's honor, my lord?"

Rage filled Catelyn at the blatant accusation and she stood to defend her son. "My son would never spoil a young woman. If anything has happened, it was obviously your niece that threw her honor away."

Lady Barbary's breath hitched as her brown eyes bored into Catelyn. Something akin to pain flashed over her face, making her seem like a wounded animal striking in revenge. "How dare you!? My niece-"

"Silence!" A commanding voice cut through the fighting. The voices died down as Ned stood up and gave them all a dangerous glare that would make the bravest knight cower. "I will not have chaos in my home." He nodded to Lady Dustin. "My lady, I give you my word that Lady Hazelyn's honor remains intact. I apologize for my son's conduct, and that we harbored her unknowingly. I will do what I can to amends to your family and to ensure that she's safely returned home."

Lady Hazelyn, who had seemingly been rendered mute, grew even more pale as her expression went blank. Lady Barbary nodded, a concerned look in her eye. But before she could reply, Robb exclaimed "You can't send her back!"

Ned's eyes flashed towards their son, glinting dangerously in the fire light. Robb's confidence faltered again as his hands flexed at his sides, but then he glanced back at the pale young woman behind him. With renewed determination he firmly stated "Lord Bolton abused her for years, Father, as he did her mother. Hazelyn ran away because he planned to wed her to Frey and keep her at the Dreadfort."

Jon still couldn't quite believe what had happened. He had tried to throw himself in between Hazel and Lady Barbary's sharp tongued maid when the blonde had suddenly attacked his friend. But the maid had sidestepped him with surprising speed, and then seized Hazel in tight hug that nearly knocking the other woman over, similar to the ones Arya always gave him. Strangely enough, Hazel had simply hugged her back, arms wound tight around the fair haired girl in a vice. Jon had had little time to make sense of the strange behavior before Lady Dustin had come tearing out into the yard, followed closely by Robb and Father.

Jon had only been able to watch in dismay as Lady Barbary yanked Hazelyn from Myna like a rag doll, sharply admonished her in a voice too low and too rushed for him to understand, and then hugged her as well. Theon had been right after all. Jon must not get women, because none of their behavior had made any sense to him at that point. Hardly a later moment later, Robb and Father had reached the courtyard. Jon had been relieved that Father looked just as confused as he felt. He had watched on bemusedly as his father calmly directed Lady Dustin and Hazelyn back into the keep, Robb trailing anxiously behind them. The nobles had not even acknowledged Jon or the wild fair haired maid as they departed

In the renewed quietness of the tilt yard, Jon cocked his head at Myna, silently seeking an explanation. She didn't respond, her brown eyes worriedly staring in the direction Lady Barbary and Hazelyn had gone, her face pale and stunned. The blonde only looked back at Jon when he coughed loudly. She raised a brow and crossed her arms.

"What?" she sounded defensive.

Jon looked at her incredulously. "Why did you slap her!?"

"I might have acted a little hastily," the blonde muttered, reaching up to fiddle with the necklace she was wearing. "But," her expression hardened in defiance, "she deserved it after the worry she put me through."

"She was terrified!" Jon exclaimed with a frown. "She didn't need you attacking her like that. And she's a lady! Do you even know who she is?"

Myna rolled her eyes and tossed her blonde hair. "Oh no, the gods will smite me for such an offense," she scoffed. "I know her very well, far better than you do I wager, and she needed some sense smacked into her. She never snaps out of those trances otherwise." She sighed shrugged her shoulders. "And I did hug her after."

Jon stared disbelievingly at Myna as her hair gleamed in the dim torch light of the yard. He'd never met a girl so audacious. "That doesn't excuse you slapping her. Even if you're as close as you claim, you'll be lucky to keep your job."

The maid narrowed her eyes at him and placed a hand on her hip. "You don't know anything about this situation."

Jon threw his hands in the air, "You just slapped a girl, and you have no explanation?"

Myna glared defiantly at him. "I need to find out what's going on and I don't owe you any explanation. So have a good night...and mind your own business." She turned and briskly walked away towards the keep.

Confused and irritated, Jon followed her inside, jogging to catch up. "What are you going to do?" He asked suspiciously.

The maid looked over her shoulder as she kept walking down the long stone corridor. "I already said, I'm going to find out what's going on with my friend. Now where would your father have taken them?"

"His solar, probably, but you wouldn't be allowed in there," Jon replied frowning.

Myna abruptly stopped and turned towards Jon. It happened so fast, his body collided with with hers and they both stumbled. His hands automatically reached out to catch her as he steadied himself on his feet. His eyes widened when he realized he'd grasped her waist, and he drew his hands away like she'd badly burned them. "Sorry," he muttered as his cheeks flushed and flamed.

The maid simply smiled at him as she smoothed her skirts. "It's alright," she muttered as her mouth dropped into frown, "But I really want to know how Hazelyn is. I'm sure you want know what's going on too. Wasn't that your brother following after them?" She cocked her head and smiled coyly. "I'm not going to break into the room."

Her light brown eyes pleaded with Jon as he considered her words. He had no idea what she'd do to hear the conversation, but he did want to make sure both Robb and Hazelyn were alright. It really wouldn't do any harm to wait outside Father's solar for them, would it? "Fine," he gave in. "I'll show you where it is, but don't try anything that'll get us in trouble."

"Thank you," the blonde nodded, her cavalier demeanor dropping for a moment as she flashed him a grateful smile.

Jon felt a strange warmth spring up inside him with such a pretty girl grinning at him. Despite her being bloody annoying, she was quite attractive. Nodding to her, he shifted his thoughts back to his brother and Hazelyn. "This way." The pair quickly navigated through Winterfell's stone corridors to Lord Stark's solar.

Just as Jon suspected, the tall door to his father's study was firmly shut. He and Myna planted themselves on either side of the doorway and listened intently, but the only sound they heard was the crackling of the nearby torches. The door's thick wood didn't allow any noise to pass through. Grunting in frustration, Myna moved herself in front of the door. Jon frowned as she cupped her ear against the wood.

"What are you doing?" He whispered sharply, shooting her a disapproving stare.

"I'm trying to find a spot where I'll actually be able to hear something," she murmured as she knelt and shifted her ear to a different location. She glanced up at him with furrowed brows. "You want to know what's happening, don't you?"

Sighing, Jon leaned his ear against the door, wondering how he had let the pushy maid convince him to something so utterly ridiculous. "This is what children do," he grumbled. "Anyway, I can't even hear anything."

Myna smirked up at him. "Would you like to scale the castle wall to listen out the window?" She quipped as she stood and nudged Jon over for a better position at the door, cupping her ear again. Frowning, she stood still and listened for voices. Hearing only muffled sounds, she finally pulled back and sighed. "You're right, I can't make out what they're saying."

"Maybe we should just wait until they come out, and then ask what happened," Jon suggested. He stepped back and leaned against the wall opposite the solar door. Sighing, Myna let her herself fall back against the wall next to him with heavy thud. "Really?" She asked in a disappointed tone. "I was completely serious about scaling the castle walls. You look strong enough to haul us both up."

Jon looked at her with an incredulous expression. She had to be joking. Taking in his reaction, Myna snorted before her face broke out into grin and she laughed quietly. "You didn't believe me, did you? Gods, you're worse than Zel, and she can be so gullible when she gets wound up."

Her bright laughter was so contagious, Jon couldn't help the small smile that graced his lips. But it quickly dropped when he saw Myna's amusement fade. Her flashing brown eyes grew dim as she glanced at the solar door, a look of worry and pain replacing her confidence. "I'm sorry if I'm trying your nerves. It's just, back at the Dreadfort... whenever things got get bad... whenever Zel... or anyone else got upset... I always tried to make them laugh. My mother always told me laughter was the best remedy for healing hurts," she murmured. Her fingers unconsciously reached up to fiddle with the bear pendant on her necklace as she stared at the door.

"You really are close to Hazel," Jon realized. "How did you know her?"

Myna smiled wistfully at him. "I was her maid back at the Dreadfort, and her playmate before that. My mother was Lady Bolton's hand maid and close friend, so they raised us together. We even shared a cradle as babes."

Jon's eyes widened. "It must've been difficult for you when she disappeared. I don't know what I'd do if Robb ran off without telling me." He frowned sympathetically.

Myna glanced at him, surprise and gratitude crossing her face. "It was hard. But we found her, and despite her ability to be an utter pain in the ass, I'm sticking with her, no matter what happens."

Jon glanced at her with admiration, but before he could speak a word, the solar door opened with a creak. Both Jon and Myna stood up straight, tensing as the black clad figure of Lady Barbary emerged, guiding a pale and expressionless Hazelyn out. Immediately, Myna went over and grasped Hazelyn's free arm. "Thank you Myna," Lady Dustin said crisply. "We're taking her back to my guest chambers."

"Yes m'lady," Myna quietly replied. As they began to walk away, she cast a small smile back over her shoulder at Jon . He nodded before she looked away and slipped out of sight. As he leaned back against the wall again and waited for Robb, his mind wandered. He'd begun the evening feeling frustrated and alone, but, despite all the chaos going on and the concern in his mind, he now felt content. The adventure he'd had with audacious blonde maid had made him feel normal for once. For one brief instance, he'd been able to forget that he was a bastard at all.

Robb breathed heavily and his heart raced as he watched his father's anger ebb. While Lord Stark slowly processed the revelation given to him, Robb forced his face to stay resolute, despite the desperation that roiled inside him. He had to keep himself together for Hazelyn. He'd promised to protect her and he was going to keep true to that promise now.

"Is what my son said true, Lady Hazelyn?" Ned asked, a disturbed expression on his face.

Lady Barbary answered for her niece. "My sister grew very ill from the abuse she endured from Lord Bolton, my lord, and my niece will endure the same if she goes back."

"Let Lady Hazelyn speak," Ned commanded.

Hazelyn closed her eyes before speaking in a trembling murmur. "Aye, my lord." It was as though the admonition gave her pain, and Robb wanted nothing more than to hold her close. He wished he could squeeze her hand to reassure her everything would be fine.

Ned sighed wearily and rubbed his brow, almost as if he didn't know what to do. But Robb knew there was only one action they could take. "I want to marry her, Father," he said firmly, glancing over his shoulder at Hazelyn. They hadn't had time to talk about marriage as he'd wanted too and she hadn't agreed to it, but he had no other options. They couldn't hide any more and the only way he could keep her at Winterfell was as his wife.

Robb watched Hazelyn carefully as she stared at him in surprise as and took in his words. He felt encouraged when her mouth turned up in the smallest of smiles. She nodded at him and then looked towards his father. She opened her mouth say something, but was cut off.

"Certainly not! I will not allow that deceptive wench to wed my son." Catelyn's voice was shrill and loud. Her face grew red with fury as she shoved back her chair. Hazelyn's eyes widened and her mouth dropped into a deep frown. Robb tensed as she rose from her seat, staring at his mother with a look of determination. "My Lady," she forced out, shaky and rough, "I'm so sorry for deceiving your family, but I felt as if I had no other choice. Truly, I lo-"

"I don't care about your reasons and justifications, Lady Bolton," Catelyn interrupted her, fixing the younger woman with a harsh glare. "You actively deceived me and my husband when we gave you a position that put you close our daughters. Such untrustworthy woman, especially a Bolton, doesn't deserve a place in our household, much less to bear the Stark name."

Robb felt a small flare of anger rise in his chest as Hazelyn visibly flinched and wilted back into her chair. He glared at his mother, ready to come to Hazelyn's defense, but Lady Barbary beat him to it. She sneered viciously, looking ready to tackle Catelyn. "Your son still has brought my niece's virtue into question, Lady Stark. Is she good enough for him to bed, but not to wed?" She scoffed in sarcasm. "What does that say about your boy, hm?"

"My ladies!" Ned cut in again, frustration evident on his features. "I asked for everyone to be silent. If you are unable to remain so, you both will leave the room." He waited until both women nodded and took their seats, then turned his tired grey eyes on Robb. "Son, Lady Hazelyn is betrothed and we've already slighted Lord Bolton by keeping her here as long as we have," he firmly stated. All anger seemed gone from his expression, only deep disappointment remaining.

Robb swallowed hard and nodded. "I know, but Lady Barbary is right, I have compromised Lady Hazelyn's virtue. I also vowed to Hazelyn that I would keep her safe. I'd honor that promise and take her as my wife." He looked back towards Hazelyn. Though her face still remained expressionless, her eyes shifted towards him, flickering with something akin to hope. Feeling emboldened, Robb firmly pressed on."I love her," he stated. "You asked me to handle this issue, to make the right decision. I'm making it now." He stood as tall as he could, forcing himself to display confidence he didn't have. Blood pounded in his ears and his hands shook slightly.

"My Lord," Lady Barbary spoke again, now in a tone far softer and calmer. She placed a hand on her niece's shoulder. "I love my niece as my own child, and I do not believe it to be in her best interest to return to her father and to wed one of Lord Frey's sons. Your son's proposal is a wise one, and I would support the union as Hazelyn's guardian if you allow them to wed. My father, Lord Ryswell, and I would be more than willing to pay her dowry." Robb felt a strange mixture of shock and hope as he stared at the older woman. He hadn't thought that she'd so readily support the marriage but knew that it would go a long way in convincing his father.

Ned paused, looking deeply conflicted as he first studied Lady Dustin, then Hazelyn, and finally Robb. Closing his eyes and sighing, he stated, "I understand the potential scandal in Lady Hazelyn's situation, and wish to keep her from further harm, but I cannot not wed her to my son unless I can come to an agreement with her father. Lord Bolton is one of my most powerful bannermen. He holds a position that requires respect, and I cannot alienate him any further. I will send a raven in the morn to summon him here. If I can convince him to grant his approval, I will allow the marriage."

The building hope in Robb's chest crumbled as his stomach twisted in fear. "Father, please, we can't-"

At that same time his mother stood, a desperate look in her blue eyes. "Ned, you can't-"

"I am Lord of this castle and head of this family!" Ned snapped harshly, making both his son and wife cower under his hard gaze. "I will do what I deem best and will not here another word about it."

In the uncomfortable silence that settled over the room, Robb glanced over at Hazelyn and her aunt. All the color had drained from Hazelyn's face, and she looked ready to be sick. Her skin was pale as death and her dull grey eyes stared blankly at the wall ahead. Lady Barbary clutched her niece's limp hand and pressed her lips into a tight line. Her brows scrunched as she studied Ned intently. Glancing back at Hazelyn worriedly, Robb took a step towards her to comfort her. He didn't really care that his parents were in the room at this point. He'd never seen her look so despondent, helpless, and frightened.

Suddenly, Lady Barbary cleared her throat and rose to her feet, hauling her niece up by the arm. Straighten her skirts, she gave Ned a small smile. "I thank you, my lord, for considering the marriage. You've acted very generously, considering the difficult situation. I apologize sincerely for my niece's insolent behavior and my own impropriety. I am grateful for the gracious hospitality."

Ned sighed. "It is a very tense situation, my lady. It is understandable that emotions would run high. The hospitality of Winterfell is yours until we can have Lord Bolton here and sort out this matter."

"Thank you, my lord," Lady Barbary paused and raised her chin. "Though, I would make one request should my good brother not agree to union between my niece and your son. I would like you to grant guardianship of my niece to me or my father, Lord Ryswell. I still hold to the fact that Hazelyn's father will only harm her further if she is returned to his care. She'd be far safer in Barrowtown or the Rills until I or my father can help my good brother find a more suitable match for her." She looked at her leige firmly, her expression clearly showing she would settle for no less.

Robb looked at his father anxiously. After a long pause, Ned frowned deeply and nodded. "Very well, my lady. I will allow her to return with you to the Barrowlands until she weds, should Lord Bolton not consent to a match with my son."

Robb exhaled in slight relief, not realizing he'd been holding his breath. Lady Barbary clutched her niece's arm tighter as Hazelyn sagged against her. "Thank you, my lord," she said cordially. "Would you mind if I took my niece back to my chambers? It is very late, I believe both of us are in need of sleep."

Ned warily rubbed his brow. "I think that would be wise for all us. Have a good night Lady Dustin."

Robb stared desperately at Hazelyn as Lady Barbary bobbed and led the younger woman out of the room. Still in shock, Hazelyn's face remained blank and she didn't even glance at Robb as she was pulled from chamber. When the door clicked shut, Robb swallowed and ran a hand through his hair as both his parents turned towards him.

"I can't believe that you kept something like this from us for ten moons!" Catelyn seethed. "And to ask your father to let you marry such a girl!? You're the heir of-"

"Cat!" Ned reprimanded. He shook his head, a tired expression on his face. "We've argued enough tonight. All of us need to get some sleep. All will look better in the morning."

Sighing, Catelyn nodded and pursed her lips. She looked straight at Robb, the hurt in her eyes harsher than any angry words she could utter. Robb had to look away as she stormed out of the room. He stared at his feet for a long moment before he had the courage to meet his father's eyes again. No strict anger greeted him, only a devastated disappointment that made Robb feel a deep pang of regret. "We will have long discussion tomorrow about honesty, but for now, go to bed," Ned commanded quietly.

Robb bowed his head, his hands flexing at his sides. He'd fought so hard since his name day to prove to his parents that he was a man grown, one they could be proud to call their son. Now he felt no older than Rickon, caught in a horrible lie. "Yes Father."

He had only taken a few steps when Ned called, "And until this matter is done, you are not to talk to Lady Hazelyn. The situation is difficult enough."

Robb winced at his father's tone of voice. He looked over his shoulder and opened his mouth argue, but as soon as he spotted his father's weary expression, the wrinkles greying hair more apparent than ever, his urge to fight evaporated. He nodded briefly before opening the door. He stepped out into the hall, his shoulders tense with anxiety and his head pounding in worry.

"Robb." Robb startled as he snapped his gaze up to see Jon, his brown eyes wide with concern. Absently, Robb wondered if Jon had been outside the door the entire time. "What happened?" Jon asked.

"They know," Robb forced out, too overwhelmed to say more. He wanted to go back, back to the nights when Hazelyn crept into his bed, clutching him close and letting his warmth chase her nightmares away.

Jon frowned as he studied Robb and nodded carefully. "You look horrible," he said sympathetically, placing a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Let's go back to your room, and I'll fetch some ale so we can think of what to do." Robb loved his brother dearly just then. He never imagined that if his...affair with Hazelyn was suddenly severed, that Jon would be joyous. But he had believed Jon might be relieved. Looking at his base born brother's face now, Robb saw nothing of the sort.

"Alright," he mumbled as Jon guided him away.

Hazelyn had tried to stand up for herself, to stand by Robb and show his parents that she could be firm and brave, even in the face of all the anger and fear. But Lady Stark's frigid glare and sharp accusations had done her in. 'Especially a Bolton' the older woman had said.

Hazelyn had wanted so badly her whole life to not be a Bolton. She had always done everything she could to prove to herself and others that she wasn't a part of that dark legacy, that she was different. The older woman's words made her wonder if perhaps she wasn't. Maybe she was like her Father and she'd just not wanted to face it.

Too overwhelmed to grapple with the realization, Hazelyn retreated into herself. She let all thought and emotion fall away as that calming numbness pervaded her mind and shielded her from the reality happening around her. It blocked out the conversation going on between the her aunt, Robb, and his parents, that would determine her entire future.

Hazelyn had no doubt that Robb loved her. He'd stood by her in the face of his parents' anger. She had no doubt her aunt wanted the best for her. Barbary had given her support to a marriage that would unite her niece with a family she detested, and she was still willing to protect Hazelyn from her father, even after all the lies.

But Hazelyn knew none of that mattered. Her father would arrive at Winterfell in less than a week, and then her life would be over. It would no longer be hers to live, but rather, she would become a pawn in her father's power games, a horse to be traded and ridden whenever a man desired. Despite Lord Stark's sympathy for her situation and promises to her aunt, Roose would find a way to get her back. He'd coerce Lord Eddard and her aunt through manipulation, intimidation, whatever it took. He'd then have her wedded and bedded to a feeble minded Frey boy within a moon. Then he could lock her away in the Dreadfort, a prisoner in her own home for him to beat, and his bastard to rape while her husband remained ignorant, until she broke, just like Mother. She'd rather die.

"Zel," Hazelyn flinched as something warm and moist touched her face. "Hold this on your cheek so you don't get a bruise," Myna instructed as she held a warm compress over the place she'd slapped Hazelyn earlier. Despite her wish to remain numb, something stirred in Hazelyn as Myna sat down next to her on the bed. "I'm sorry I slapped you," the blonde girl said sincerely.

"You've always had a temper on you," Hazelyn murmured, smiling weakly as Myna cringed. "And I probably needed a good slap, anyway." She sighed as worry and sadness weighed back down on her.

"Yes, you probably did," a strict vice replied from across the room. Aunt Barbary had finally finished writing some message at her desk, and stood over the two girls, a severe look in her eye. Hazelyn winced as her aunt sat down on her other side, wearing her most fierce scowl.

She felt Myna's hand worm it's way into hers for encouragement as the older woman glared down at her down, her eyes filled with fury and pain alike. "Why Hazelyn?" Barbary's tone came out more hurt than angry. Her stern expression crumbled into one of exhaustion. "What happened that you couldn't come to me? If you were so terrified of your father, you should have told me so. I could've taken you to back to Barrowtown, or you could've stayed with your grandfather in the Rills. We would've fought against the marriage." She sighed as wearily rubbed her eyes. "We could've avoided this whole mess."

Hazelyn glanced back at Myna, a frightened question in her eye. Had Myna told her aunt everything, even about the bastard's attacks and threats? Myna didn't look at her but squeezed her hand, moving her head in the slightest shake. No. Despite the fear and hopelessness swirling around in her mind, Hazelyn felt a small bit of relief and happiness that her friend hadn't given up on her. Myna had kept faith with her despite all she'd done.

"I'm sorry," Hazelyn whispered pitifully, not knowing what else to say. "I was frightened. I just didn't want to be a Bolton anymore."

"Yet you still are one," Barbary snapped. "Do you even realize the seriousness of this situation?" Her strict expression cracked, pure worry shining in her eyes. "I promised your mother I'd save you from your wretched father, but sweetling, I can only do so much. This is more than a family dispute. It has serious political implications too."

Barbary grasped Hazelyn's hand desperately, trying to make her understand. "You've put the Starks in a very compromising position by hiding here. I honestly don't know how you convinced them you were a common girl, but it'll look very bad for them when word gets out."

Hazelyn's eyes widened as she analyzed the situation. He stomach dropped. "Oh gods..."

"And not to mention what your reputation will be when rumors spread about you and the Stark boy." Hazelyn frowned as her aunt's tone faltered and her eyes got distant look in them. Some deep hidden pain shadowed Barbary's face, making Hazelyn feel even more guilt. She'd never gotten the full story, but she knew Barbary had come close to marrying a Stark herself in her youth.

"He's not taken my honor. He loves me," Hazelyn mumbled quietly, squeezing her aunt's hand as she thought of Robb. The comforting numbness inside her further faded, leaving behind a sharp pain in her chest. She would lose him now, if she hadn't already. He might want to wed her, but Hazelyn knew the chances of that happening were heartbreakingly slim. Her eyes glistened as she thought about what it would be like to say goodbye to him... of all the pain she'd cause him and everyone else who loved her.

Her aunt suddenly snapped her brown gaze at Hazelyn, a regretful smile playing on her lips. "I'd scold you, but that boy's love for you may be your saving grace." She stood up and faced the wall for a moment before turning back to her niece, a calculating look in her eye. "You're sure this boy loves you Hazelyn? To the extent that he'd really stand by you in the face of oppostion from his parents, your father, and the Freys?"

"He does. I trust him more than anything," Hazelyn replied firmly. In the midst of all the uncertainty, that was one of the few things she could be certain about.

Aunt Barbary studied her a long moment before nodding. "A marriage to him is the best answer to this situation. The Starks have authority that your father wouldn't dare question. But still," she frowned at her niece. "It will be difficult. The boy will face troubles because of you Hazelyn, and Lady Stark in particular, will not welcome you readily into the family. Life here will not be easy for you."

Hazelyn swallowed and nodded, surprised by her aunt's confidence. She spoke as if marriage to Robb was certainty, but Father would never agree to the match. He would never give up his power and control, especially not to Eddard Stark. "I know, but I'd gladly face all that for Robb, if I had the choice," Hazelyn whispered as the hopelessness overtook her again. Her face started to drain of emotion.

"Very well," Aunt Barbary nodded with an odd sort of finality as she sat down on the bed. Fixing Hazelyn with a determined stare, she said, "I will do everything I can to ensure the marriage happens, sweetling, but you will have to do everything I say without question. Are we clear?" She placed a hand on Hazelyn's shoulder.

Bewildered, Hazelyn nodded, not understanding her aunt's tone. Barbary seemed to have a plan, but what could she possibly do to outsmart Roose Bolton and force Eddard Stark to approve of the marriage? "Aye."

"Good," Barbary's eyes gleamed in the firefight as her fingers traced over Hazelyn's frizzy baird. "You're so much like your mother," she murmured as her face softened into a brief expression of affection. After a moment of silence, she drew away and stood from the bed. "Well, you best get some sleep," the older lady said as she smoothed her black skirts, looking out the window of the Guest House at the dark night sky. "Myna," she looked at the blonde maid, "Help Hazelyn brush her hair into a manageable state and fetch one one of my night gowns for her to wear. Its a bit big but will have to do until we get new ones."

"But I have one back in my old chamber-" Hazelyn protested.

"You are not a common maid, Hazelyn," Barbary clipped. "You're a highborn lady of noble birth and you will not be wearing peasant garments a moment longer. Now, do I say and get some rest." Her sharp eyes allowed no argument as she made her way to the desk on the other side the side of the room.

"Zel," Hazelyn turned when Myna pulled on her arm. Her best friend fixed her with an equally firm stare as she held out a white nightgown. Hazelyn sighed as she took the gown and stepped behind the dressing screen. Why did she get the feeling that her aunt and friend were about to do something drastic?

Robb couldn't get his thoughts straight as he paced from one end of his bed chamber to the other. An overwhelming sense of panic and desperation made his hands shake as he tried to think of something, anything he could do to save Hazelyn from Lord Bolton. But what course of action could he possibly take against his father's decision? His parents would surely have him closely watched now, and with Lady Barbary holding her niece in the Guest House, just talking to Hazelyn would be a challenge. But not impossible. He'd made a promise to her, he loved her. He refused to her let her down.

It would take Lord Bolton over day's ride to reach Winterfell, so Robb had some time. Father just didn't understand what Roose Bolton had done and what he would do once he had Hazelyn in his clutches. Maybe if Robb told his father some of the harsh stories that Hazelyn had told him, Ned would change his mind. But how could-


Robb jumped when a strong hand on his shoulder halted his pacing. "What!?" He snapped as he faced Jon, glaring angrily at his brother.

Jon didn't flinch. Wearing an unflappable expression of concern, he replied,"You need to calm down."

Robb shook his head furiously. "How can I possibly do that!?" He shouted. "Hazelyn trusted me! She stayed here because I promised that I'd keep her safe! Now she's trapped and her bloody father's going to find her because I don't have any damn idea of how to protect her!"

"You don't know that," Jon reasoned in an annoyingly calm tone. "Father could still let you marry her. And even if he doesn't, she'll be safe with her aunt in the Barrowlands."

"Her father won't allow that!" Robb exclaimed. "And what about when he shoves her off on some Frey? If you knew even half of what she told me-" he growled in frustration as he ran his hand through his messy hair for the tenth time. "I'm not going to lose her to her father or any damn Frey!"

"You will if you can't calm down enough to think straight!" Jon snapped in a raised voice. Robb froze and stared at his brother's stern scowl for a long moment. Finally, he exhaled loudly and sat himself heavily into a chair by his hearth. He reached for the empty cup and flagon of ale on the side table, but Jon put a hand out ot stop him. "You've already downed two cups in one go. You won't do her any good if you're drunk either."

Robb sighed heavily as he lowered his head to his hands. He tried to quieten the buzzing in his head to think of something beyond the terror gripping him. His chamber door swinging open broke his concentration.

"What in the seven hells is going on!?" Theon exclaimed as he fixed the two younger boys with an indignant expression."People are saying your maid isn't really a maid, Stark. I've heard she's some sort of criminal wanted by the Dustins."

"She's nothing of the kind! She's Lady Dustin's kin, a noble!" Jon jumped to Hazelyn's defense.

Theon's eyes widened in genuine surprise. "She's high born!?" He looked at Robb. "Did you know?"

"Of course I did!" Robb snapped as he stood up.

Theon scowled. "So you let Snow in on all your secrets and left me out? I thought-"

"I don't give a damn about what you think right now, Theon!" Robb seethed, a wild light in his eyes. He turned away towards the window to calm his pounding head.

"Who pissed in your ale, Stark?!" Robb bristled at Theon's defensive tone.

"Shut it Theon! You don't bloody know-"

"Both of you -" Jon interjected.

"Excuse me!" A feminine voice loudly cut a cross them all.

All three youths froze and turned to see a blonde girl standing in the partially open doorway. Jon groaned as she stepped into the room and shut the door. Her sharp brown eyes darted from Theon to Jon, and then settled on Robb. Robb vaguely recalled seeing her out in the yard with Jon and Hazelyn.

"Do you listen in on everyone's conversations?" Jon asked sullenly.

"Who the hell is she?" Theon demanded.

"I'm not here for either of you," the blonde replied in a flippant tone, not looking away from Robb.

"Whoever you are, get out," Robb growled, glaring at her. He could barely handle Jon and Theon right now, and had no patience whatsoever to entertain a servant, regardless of who sent her.

The blonde frowned at him as she met his gaze firmly. "M'lord, if you want to marry Zel, you best let me speak."

"Who?" Robb frowned in confusion.

"Lady Hazelyn," the girl replied, wearing a frustrated expression. "Look, Lady Barbary sent me. If you want to marry Hazelyn, you need to get out to the godswoods now. You don't have much time and probably won't get the chance again." Robb stared her down for a long moment. He didn't even know who the girl was, and what she said made no sense, but he saw only honesty and urgency in her brown eyes.

Robb always made plans methodically and logically, just as his father had taught him to do. He rarely acted on his gut. But his instincts screamed that every word girl this said was true, and he let himself believe her. Hazelyn would be his wife, he could keep her safe, keep her by his side and in his bed. The promise of that life which he had imagined many times before filled him with joy. So without a word, he grabbed his cloak and sprinted out the door, the godswood and the woman he hoped was waiting there, the only things on his mind.

Hazelyn felt as if she'd only slept a few minutes when she was roused by heavy shaking. "Hazelyn, you need to rise quickly," her aunt's urgent voice pushed. Hazelyn rubbed her tired eyes as she sat up, the blurry shape of her aunt coming into view. Only distant stars broke the darkness of early morning out the window, and a single candle provided a weak orange light to the room. Shadows danced across Aunt Barbary's face as she rushed around about the chamber, gathering a brush front the vanity and then digging through her trunk.

"What's wrong?" Hazelyn frowned as she pushed the covers aside and stood. The too-large night gown she wore gathered at her ankles, and the sleeves hung heavy at her sides, the cold night air ghosting over her bare shoulders. The older woman didn't reply as she pulled something from her chest and hurried back over to her niece.

"Change into this," Barbary said as she shoved a slip and blue dress into Hazelyn's arms.

Feeling alarm rise in her chest, Hazelyn frowned. "Aunt Barbary, what's happening?" Her voice shook as fear seized her. Had something gone wrong? Had her father some how found out where she was and arrived at Winterfell already? Or, she wondered with a fragile hope, was her aunt helping her run away?

"Hazelyn, just do as I say. We must hurry if you wish to be Stark by morning," Barbary commanded with a stern scowl.

Hazelyn started to undress, intimidated by her aunt's glare, but utter chaos took over her thoughts. "What are you talking about?" She asked desperately as she tossed the night gown away and pulled the slip over her head.

"I made a promise to your mother, that I'd protect you from your wretched father, and I mean to keep it," Barbary snapped as she snatched the dress from Hazelyn and undid the laces. "Myna's getting the Stark boy now. If he loves you as much you claim, he'll be out in the godswood when we arrive. You'll say your vows, go to his bed, and all this will be settled by morning. Now," she held the blue garment out to her niece, "put this on."

Her face slack with shock, Hazelyn stepped into the dress under her aunt's hard gaze. She tried to process the older woman's words as she stood still and Barbary did up the laces. She still couldn't get her mind around it as her aunt pushed her down into a chair. "But Lord Stark won't consent the match without Father's approval," she said lamely as her aunt started to brush out her tangled brunette waves.

"Eddard Stark is an honorable fool, just like his brother was," Barbary hissed as she forcefully pulled the brush through a particularly large knot in Hazelyn's hair, making the girl wince. "I will not let the Stark's blasted honor cause you pain as it did me. You will wed Robb Stark, and Ned Stark will accept it, else the entire north will know him for a wretch. He would never send a sweet highborn girl away from her husband in disgrace. Your pain would be his, I promise you that," Babrbary finished with smirk.

Hazelyn's face went slack as it dawned on. Her aunt intended to have her wedded and bedded to Robb without her father's consent, without his own parent's consent. She could very well be his wife by morning if he went along with the scheme. She'd stay here permanently. She'd never be separated from Robb. She'd be beyond her father's and his bastard's reach for good. They would never dare touch her if she were a Stark.

Barbary sighed as smoothed out Hazelyn's now smooth locks. "Now then," her tone softened. "Stand and let me look you over."

Uncertainty mixed with hope, elation, nerves, and fear in Hazelyn's chest as she rose on trembling legs to face her aunt. She smoothed the skirts of her aunt's slightly large dress and let out a weak laugh. "I didn't know you had anything that wasn't black," she murmured.

Barbary's lips curved into a rare, tender smile, and her brown eyes shined in the dim candlelight. For a second, Hazelyn could imagine her mother's loving face in her aunt's. She closed her eyes as aunt's hand cupped her cheek. "You're so much like your mother," Barbary murmured fondly. Overwhelmed, Hazelyn stepped forward and hugged her aunt tightly, tears gathering in her eyes. Barbary pressed Hazelyn held her tightly for the briefest moment, then gently pushed her away. "Alright," she said in a strict tone. "We haven't much time, so let's finish this matter."

Hazelyn could only nod in response as she went to get her boots and knife. Her pulse started to race as she stepped out into the dark corridor, knowing her life was about to change forever. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: Secret Sacrament

All had seemed to blur to Robb as he rushed out to godswood, his two friends and the maid trailing right behind. Dodging the guards and slipping through the shadows, his only wish had been that this scheme would work. He'd held more hope after hearing the promising words offered by the blonde maid, but so much could still go wrong.

Robb held silent vigil by the heart tree while the other three stood off by the edge of the small spring. He watched Jon stab the tall torch he'd pilfered from the courtyard into the ground as the blonde maid quietly tried to explain the situation to a still confused Theon. The golden torch light that filled the clearing made the bright red leaves of the heart tree glow like embers while the moonlight slipping through godswood's canopy made the weirwood's bark gleam like silver. In that moment, the heart tree looked more magnificent to Robb than any sept could ever be.

Drawing in a deep breath, Robb stared up into the bleeding eyes of the heart tree. He took in the presence of the old gods, hoping for their blessing to grant him this one impossible dream. In place of the peace that he usually felt when he came to the clearing to pray, he felt something far deeper and heavier tonight. An older, ancient power lingered over the clearing, and as he continued to gaze upon the the weirwood's solemn face, all of his worries faded away, replaced by a calm certainty. Hazelyn was meant to be his wife. He was doing the right thing.

The crunching of leaves drew Robb's gaze away to the edge of the clearing. Two women walking arm in arm emerged from the darkness. Lady Barbary looked as fearsome as ever with her stoic face and black garb, but she wasn't the one that drew Robb's attention. Hazelyn looked like the Maiden come to life as she slowly made her way towards him. She wore a plain blue dress that was slightly too big, and her hair hung loose in simple brunette waves down her back, but Robb believed there'd never been a more beautiful bride in all the seven kingdoms. Though she wore a nervous smile, when their eyes met, her silver eyes shined with a hopeful joy.

Hazelyn felt like she was dreaming. She'd never imagined anything so...perfect in all her life. It had all fallen into place, by some miracle. Robb would be her husband by the time the sun rose. She would be his wife, and she'd be safe from all the people who would ever do her harm. Her father and his bastard would never be able to touch her. Robb would kill them first.

When she had dropped the pitcher of wine at her aunt's feet, she'd seen the life she'd imagined with Robb, the life of freedom, fall apart. She'd never lose her innocence to a worthy man. She'd never find the pleasure Ros spoke of in her marriage bed. She'd never be in love with her husband. She'd never have children with auburn hair and rich Tully blue eyes. The life she had wanted was stolen without mercy. Yet in the same evening, her aunt, as much a mother to her as her own mother, had gifted it back to her.

Every step Hazelyn took felt heavy. She felt her aunt's firm grip on her arm and could make the figures of Myna, Jon, and Theon standing off to the side, but the only person that mattered was the man that stood before her.

Robb had a serene look on his face. There was no giddy excitement in his expression, though Hazelyn did not take offense. His look of peace meant more to her than any frivolous gleam could. This lasted longer, she knew it. He would love her for the rest of their days and honor her. He was more than she'd ever expected. As she met his intense blue gaze, the doubt and fear that always lingered at the back of her mind slipped away, replaced by joy and peace.

She'd thought some ugly man, old enough to be her father would wed her. She'd thought she'd go to her marriage bed like a woman going to the block. Hazelyn had not expected much from her life, but here was Robb offering her so much more than she'd ever imagined. It was too good to be true.

Robb stood straighter as Lady Barbary and Hazelyn came to a halt a few steps in front of him. The Dusitn matriarch nodded, her brown eyes challenging him to begin the sacred rite if he truly wanted the younger woman she brought before him.

"Who comes before the gods this night?" He asked in loud and firm voice, though his heart was racing.

"Hazelyn, of the house Bolton, comes here to be wed," Barbary replied. "A woman grown, true born and noble, she comes to beg the blessings of the gods. Who comes to claim her?"

A pang of anxiety ran through Hazelyn as she stared at Robb. He glanced at her aunt briefly before looking back at her, an heavy look in his eye. Would he really do this? Everything they'd done before, everything they'd said to each other, had been simple words. But these vows, in this place, were holy, and everything uttered held weight. Once said, they could not easily be undone.

"Robb, of the house Stark, heir to Winterfell," Robb said, stepping forward. "Who gives her?"

"Barbary of the house Dustin, who is her aunt," Barbary replied firmly before she let go of Hazelyn and took a few steps back. As Robb stared at Hazelyn and offered his hand, she felt as if they were the only to people in the world.

"Lady Hazelyn, do you take this man?" Robb asked her. Hazelyn started down at his hand, palm up and fingers open, ready to receive hers. It felt just as it did that day he'd given her ride back to Winterfell. He'd offered his hand to help her down, asking for her trust. But then it had only been for a brief instance, a few seconds until her feet hit the ground. Now as he gazed at her intently, he silently asked her to trust him for the rest of their lives. For once their hands met and they knelt before the gods, they would be seen as one. And she'd never be Hazelyn Bolton again.

"I take this man." Hazelyn's voice echoed off the trees as she stepped forward and laid her hand in his. It all had seemed a dream. And yet when Robb's hand joined hers, everything was made real.

A sense of finality settled in Robb's chest as his fingers entwined with Hazelyn's and they knelt to the ground. Both gazed up reverently at the serious face of the heart tree. A heavy weight seemed set on Robb's shoulders as he bowed his head and accepted the responsibilities of a husband. Yet his heart felt lighter, knowing he'd never carry a burden alone again.

Hazelyn bit her lip as she studied the glowing eyes of the heart tree and then closed her eyes. She sent up a silent prayer to the old gods to honor the vows she'd said tonight. For she meant them with all her heart, and she'd spend the rest of her days helping Robb lead his house and the North, as long as no one tore them apart.

After a heavy moment of silence, Robb squeezed Hazelyn's hand. She blinked and turned to look at him. Her silver eyes pierced his as a serious expression crossed her face. They rose together, the same as before but now totally different. Facing her, Robb had to hide a smile when he realized she wasn't wearing cloak, despite the fact that that it was cold enough for him to his own breath. Hazelyn had a strange resistance to the cold that he'd never seen in anyone else. She seemed to never wear furs if she could help it. She loved the frigid northern air. It was just another thing that added to her strength and showed she had the blood of the North in her veins, just as Robb did himself. With a growing smiled, he swept his cloak off his shoulders and settled it onto her own.

Furs and cloaks normally never made a difference to Hazelyn, but when Robb's heavy furs fell upon her shoulders, she felt remarkably warmer. Not able to contain herself, she laughed brightly and grinned.

Hearing her ringing laughter, Robb had to grin himself. It was done. She was his before the gods and no one could dare challenge that. Not caring that four other people looked on, he pressed a hand to the small of her back to pull her flush against him. He curled the fingers of his other hand at the nape of neck and tilted her face up as he leaned in.

Hazelyn wrapped one arm around his shoulders and slid her fingers into his auburn curls as their lips met. She closed her eyes and smiled as she opened her mouth to his, simply enjoying the moment as their lips easily moved together. She grasped him tightly as the warmth in her chest passed over her entire body. She didn't even care when she heard Theon wolf whistle.

Hazelyn had had no idea what her future would hold ever since her brother had died. She'd lived in the shadows of her father, his bastard, and her birth name for years. But not any more. She belonged to Robb and Robb belonged to her before the gods, and even her clever father wouldn't be able to undo their power. She was a Bolton no more. She was free of the darkness and standing in the sun.

Hazelyn had felt nothing short of euphoric when she'd kissed Robb, every doubt and worry banished from her mind. Yet now, as she stood in his bed chamber and stared into the dying embers of his hearth, the fear consumed her once more.

After the vows had finished, her aunt had pulled her away from her new husband and the others to congratulate her privately, or so she'd claimed. "You know what needs to be done to seal your marriage," Barbary muttered in Hazelyn's ear as she embraced her tightly. "It will hurt at first but I believe the Stark boy will be gentle with you. But you must make haste. You can't be a maiden by morning light." The words had made Hazelyn's stomach twist in nervousness.

Then to make matters worse, Barbary had bid the whole group good night in a way that had absolutely mortified Hazelyn. Her aunt had essentially told Robb in the most formal way possible to bed her and ordered Myna and Jon to listen outside the door to act as witnesses and to ensure no one happened upon them until the deed was done. "An additional witness will be needed to confirm that the vows have been consummated. Lord Bolton and Lady Stark likely won't believe the blood stained on the sheets."

Gods, Hazelyn had wanted to die in that moment. From the way Robb's face suddenly hardened and both Myna and Jon turned red, she knew they'd felt much the same. Only Theon had seemed amused by her aunt's comments. The only comfort Hazelyn had was that Aunt Barbary's death glare had ensured the ironborn wouldn't also try listen in as his best friend took her maiden head. Still, she'd not been able to look at Jon and Myna as she slipped into Robb's room.

Hazelyn hugged herself tightly when she heard the door shut and the latch click behind her. She suddenly felt trapped in the room that she'd previously considered a shelter from her nightmares. She'd only leave this place when she gave Robb the thing that her Father's bastard and the man in brothel had tried to steal from her. She'd have to let him use her the way Ramsay had tried to use her. She had to pay that price to stay with him, to stay at Winterfell. Her head began to throb with the worst possibilities imaginable. What if she couldn't go through with it? What if she struck out at Robb like she had at the man in the brothel? Even if she didn't, what if all this was horrible mistake that backfired? What if-

"Hazel." Hazelyn gasped as two hands removed the cloak from her shoulders and turned her around. She froze when she saw Robb's river blue eyes staring down at her. They seemd to grow several shades darker in the fire light. For a long moment, the couple just stared at each other.

Then Robb's lips crashed down on Hazelyn's as he pulled her tightly against him. One of his hands seized the dark hair at the back of her head while the other gripped her hip. When her mouth didn't permit him to deepen the kiss, his lips ghosted along her jaw. He hummed with urgency as he kissed the side of her neck. The hand on her hip migrated upwards and moved across her breast as it sought the dress lacings that ran down the center of her bodice.

Hazelyn almost gagged at his insistent groping. She bit her lip but couldn't contain the sob that burst from her chest. Her eyes filled with tears as she her thoughts put her back in the woods with a cruel grey-eyed bastard, rather than in the room with loving man before her.

"Robb, wait! Stop!" Her hands pushed firmly on his chest. Robb pulled back, his cheeks flushed but his face contorted in alarm.

"What's wrong?" He panted.

Brought back to the present, Hazelyn felt shocked and disgusted at herself. Her frustration and confusion mounted as she shook her head. How could she even explain how her half brother had touched her, that she was so disgusting? Robb would probably never want to touch her again. "I can't- I..." She bit her lip as a tear ran down her cheek.

"Hazel," Robb framed her face in his hands and used a thumb to wipe the tear away. "Where are you right now?" He asked.

"Are you sure about this?" Hazelyn questioned desperately, her hands coming up to grip his wrists tightly. Her wide eyes stared up at him, pleading him to give her some sort of relief from the fear choking her.

Robb frowned seriously as his hands encased hers and brought them down between them. Quietly, he led her over to the bed and guided her to sit next to him on the edge. "I made a vow before the gods," he said quietly, squeezing her hands. "In their eyes, you are mine and I am yours. You're my wife now and there's no going back for me."

Wife, the title still felt strange to her. Staring down at their joined hands, Hazelyn shook her head. "But the Frey's won't be pleased with losing their tie to House Bolton. Lord Frey may feel slighted and...and my father-"

"What he thinks doesn't matter anymore," Robb said firmly. Hazelyn blinked up at him and smiled weakly at the earnest look in his eyes. She shivered as she felt his hands grip right above her elbows. He slowly rubbed her upper arms as he leaned in to kiss her. "Or at least it won't in the morning," he murmured playfully before sealing his lips to hers. He hummed longingly and gently pulled her closer.

Hazelyn sighed as his hands moved to her hips. Trying to forget everything, her fingers gripped his tunic and her mouth opened to him as his tongue traced along her lip. She started to relax as Robb deepened the kiss, but when she felt his fingers grasp her thigh through her dress, a pang of anxiety ran through her. She shied away, turning her head to the side. "I've never..." She bit her lip and tried to find the courage to voice her fears. "I'm nervous, Robb. I don't know if I can do this. What if I can't-"

Robb pecked her lips before drawing back. "You have no need to be," he reassured. He chuckled nervously as he ran a hand through his hair. "If you wish to know the truth, I am too. I've never lain with a maiden." His face reddened as he admitted, "I've only ever been with girls from the brothel."

Hazelyn was surprised that he didn't have more experience, but also felt a wave of relief. A sly smile formed on her lips as she recalled stories Ros had told her. "Oh, I know all about that," she said casually. "But don't worry, the girls couldn't stop crowing to me about how phenomenal you were your first time."

Robb's eyes widened and his jaw went slack. "What!? But how- how would you know about that!?" He stuttered nervously, his ears and face glowing red in the hearth's faint light.

"I used to work at the brothel," Hazelyn giggled, running her fingers through Robb's auburn hair. "I did make a friend or two while I was there. And women talk about handsome men just as much as men talk about beautiful women." She smiled as her hand came to rest on his cheek. "Surely, you haven't forgotten finding me there," she teased.

Robb replied with a burst of laughter. "I remember well enough. You were the prettiest whore I'd ever seen."

Hazelyn scoffed, nudging him in the chest playfully. She blushed bright red, "I...I never took a client. Luckily I was saved from making a great mistake."

"Saved? By whom?" Robb asked in mock confusion as he wound an arm around her waist.

Hazelyn bit her lip and grinned. "A randy lordling with a kind heart for pretty whore."

Robb took Hazelyn's hand, engulfing her fingers in his own. His eyes shined honestly and he wore a serious expression. "You are no whore, you are no maid, you are no Bolton. You are Lady Hazelyn Stark, now and forever," he said with conviction.

Hazelyn's heart stopped as she looked into his bright blue eyes, the warmth she always felt with him bursting in her chest stronger than it ever had before. All the darkness in her mind evaporated like water in the bright sun. "I love you Robb Stark," she said with just as much seriousness. What else could she say to him?

Robb looked at her in brief surprise before a brilliant grin split his face. He leaned forward, cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her hard. Hazelyn moaned as he bit her lip and fisted her hands into his jerkin to pull him closer. Her heart raced as their moths moved urgently together and their hands began to wander. They quickly kicked off their boots and leaned back further onto the bed as their actions grew more heated.

Hazelyn gasped when Robb's hand ghosted over the mounds of her breasts, this time not pulling away. It wasn't like he hadn't felt there before when they'd kissed in his chambers, but his fingers had never grasped quite as firmly. He pulled his lips from hers as his fingers came the top of her bodice and fiddled the lacing ties. He looked down at her, silently asking permission. Biting her lip, Hazelyn nodded. She stared up into his blue eyes as he began to pull her dress apart, trying to remind herself she was with him. Finally, he managed to pull the front of her dress open, revealing the thin slip underneath.

Hazelyn blushed as he stared awestruck at her cleavage and his fingers flexed at her hip. A strange sensation of heat to began to rise in her. Feeling uncomfortable under his gaze and wanting to get everything over with, Hazelyn pulled away from him and rose from the bed. He blinked at her confusedly, and she almost wanted to laugh at that adorable face. Her stomach twisting in knots, she pulled her arms free of the dress and pushed it down her hips, making it drop to the floor. Not looking up to see Robb's reaction, her fingers quickly pulled the straps of the slip from her shoulders. Robb let out a choking noise that was somewhere between a growl and groan as the slip pooled around her ankles.

Her cheeks flaming in embarrassment, Hazelyn balled her hands into fists at her sides as she stood completely uncovered before Robb. She raised her chin and stared at the ceiling as she heard Robb's weight leave the bed. Let him look, she thought, let him look and see what he's bought. She heard the rustle of fabric and then listened to his heavy foot steps. Her hands shook when she heard his breathing accelerate. She nearly jumped out of her skin as his fingers lightly touch her back. It felt like fire as he traced over her shoulders and shoulder blades, the warmth she normally felt around him turning to flame. But it immediately cooled when he asked, "What are these? Hazelyn sharply snapped her gaze down to see him staring at several of the many puckered, pink scars that covered her back and upper arms. He stood in only his breeches, running his fingers over the rough skin and looking at her with worry.

"They're from the leeching," Hazelyn whispered in shame, closing her eyes tightly as she tried to block out the bad memories. Robb knew about her father's gruesome punishment, but she'd never let him see the scars. The marks on Hazelyn's skin that would always serve as a reminder of her father, no matter where she she went. She moved her arms to cover herself and tried to turn away, but Robb's hands stopped her. One spanned her hip while the other gripped her chin and turned her face towards his. Her eyes opened in surprise as another intense amount of heat rushed over her.

"You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," Robb stated in a deep voice. His eyes were several shades darker than they normally were. Hazelyn's breath hitched as he drew her in and pressed his lips chastely to hers. Her body fell flush against his as their faces lingered a fingers width apart. She felt his hands tremble as they moved to grip her hips. "I love you," he laughed weakly as their noses brushed together. Hazelyn felt a hardness pressing into her thigh and could hear Robb's racing pulse as he looked at her pleadingly. The heat on Hazelyn's skin spread to between her legs and her body became taught with tension. Then the madness struck.

Flinging her arms around his neck, she smashed her lips to his. Robb growled and immediately deepened the kiss. Hazelyn squeaked when his hands cupped her bottom and brought her up against him. He lifted her from the ground and walked backwards towards the bed. He sat when his calfs bumped into the edge and laid back on the furs, pulling Hazelyn with him. His large hands ran over her back, filling her with warmth at the gentle touch. As their tongues danced together and teeth clashed, Hazelyn's own hands became bold enough to wander. One moved over the clenching muscles of his chest while the other worked its way into his curls.

Her fingers traced his auburn chest hair down to his stomach, learning and taking in every scar, every hard plain, and every soft curve on his body. Robb groaned when she accidentally brushed against the hardness in his breeches. Hazelyn was rather curious of it, never having felt such a thing before. But before she could explore that part of him, her new husband rolled them over, his mouth moving over hers with fervor. While one of his hands tangled in her hair, his short nails scratching softly at her scalp, the other ran over her body, as though trying to discover every secret. Hazelyn gasped when she felt him grind his hips into her, the heat inside her becoming an uncomfortable pressure. She almost couldn't breath as his knee pushed her legs apart.

Ripping her mouth away from his, she pushed on his chest urgently. "Wait!" She panted.

Robb's hands stilled and he looked down at her with dazed eyes. "What-what is it he?" He forced out in a raspy voice.

"You're crushing me, just like-" Hazelyn trailed off, pleading with him to understand.

Immediately Robb rolled off her and sat up. He wiped his sweaty brow and breathed hard as he stared down at her wide eyed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean too-"

"It's alright," Hazelyn cut him off, using her arms to cover herself. She bit her lip as her eyes started to glisten.

"Hey, don't get upset," Robb gently commanded as he laid on his side next to her.

"We have to do this, Robb!" Hazelyn hissed in a sudden burst of frustration. "If I don't let you take my... everything we said in godswood will have been pointless!" She frowned. "But I can't help thinking, every time we get close, of-"

"I'm not going to let that man haunt you tonight," Robb growled as he laid a finger on her lips. He then cupped her cheek. "We will be together before the sun rises, but I want you to enjoy it as much as I do." He smiled as he brushed some dark brown hair away from her face. "You just need to relax."

"I don't know how," Hazelyn sighed sadly.

Robb looked at her a long moment. "Do you trust me?"

"Of course I do!" Hazelyn automatically replied, frowning indignantly.

"I want to try something," Robb said slowly as his hand trailed down her neck. "I promise I won't hurt you, and if you want me to stop at anytime, just say so."

Hazelyn nodded in assent. She closed her eyes as Robb's hand moved further down to rub her shoulder. She sighed happily when she felt his rough lips kiss along her jaw and down her neck. She enjoyed the sensation so much, she didn't notice his hand trial further down to her breast. A sudden burst of heat traveled down to her toes and pooled in her stomach when he tweaked her nipple. Her eyes widened as her body jerked and a whimper left her mouth. Robb continued to play with her breast as he lightly bit her neck, making her squirm and pant. Slowly he eased himself over her as he pressed light kissed across her collar bone and her other breast. When he latched on to her nipple, she made a sound she never would have never thought herself capable of and her back arched.

She caught her lip with her teeth as his hand to her breast became more insistent. She squirmed and whimpered under his attentions, getting lost in haze of heat and pleasure. The pressure between her legs continued build, and her muscles started to tense.

A gentle gasp escaped when her husband pressed closer to her body, bringing his leg in between hers once more to part her thighs. Her worry the last thing on he mind, she spread her legs wide enough let him settled inside them. Hazelyn hummed when she felt him gently press his hips forward into hers. She could feel him through his breeches, and quickly, any lingering doubt fell away. There was no father, no bastard, no danger, no fear. Jon and Myna were not outside the door, listening to them. There was nothing else in the world but Robb. And Robb was warm, and gentle, and kind. He defied his father for her, to keep her safe. Because he loved her.

She cried out protest when Robb's hand slipped away from her breast and moved down her stomach. "Just trust me," Robb breathed in her ear as he reached towards the apex of her legs. He kissed her hard as his fingers clumsily ran through her womanhood. Her whole body twitched as she let out a shriek into his mouth. The heat building inside her turned into burning fire when his thumb brushed over one spot and she moaned loudly.

Her hands fluttered over every inch of Robb's skin she could touch as he his fingers continued to work on her. Her fingers grasped at his shoulders, back, and arms as she writhed beneath him, unknowingly making sounds that Myna and Jon could surely hear. Her entire body flushed and her brow dampened with sweat as the pressure and fire continued to soar to impossible heights. She barely even noticed as Robb eased her legs wider and sank deeper between her thighs.

"Hazel," Robb said in a choked voice when she felt ready to explode. She looked up at his face inches above hers. His eyes burned dark blue, his face cheeks were flushed, and his brow gleamed with sweat, possibly the most amazing sight she'd ever seen. His thumb then pressed harder over that one spot, his lips crashed down onto hers, and suddenly the fire burst from it's place in her groin and outwards to the very tips of her fingers. Her body convulsed as the flame ran through her veins and made her feel as if she'd seen the gods. She shrieked as her nails dug into his lower back and her thighs clenched against his hips. The pleasure she felt overwhelmed her almost to the point of pain.

Then it was suddenly gone. Her body went limp and dreamy lethargy overtook her mind as she tried to catch her breath.

Jon shifted uncomfortably as he leaned against the wall outside Robb's door. Myna stood on the other side, her fingers frantically fiddling with her necklace. Jon cast her a side glance as she yawned and he rubbed his own eyes tiredly. What he wouldn't give to be sleeping in his own bed right now. Instead, he was standing outside his brother's bedroom, trying to hear him fuck his friend. He felt like more a pervert than Theon.

"Soooooo..." Myna trailed off awkwardly as she glanced up at the ceiling, still playing with her bear pendant. "What do you all do around Winterfell for fun?" She asked randomly.

"What?" Jon scrunched his brows as he crossed his arms.

"Do you all hunt, swim, fish?" Myna shrugged. "Around the Dreadfort, the Weeping Water's fun to swim in when the weather's warm enough. Hare hunting is pretty good too."

"Ummm...the Wolf's Wood is good for hunting stag I guess," Jon replied awkwardly. "Why are we talking about this?" He frowned at Myna.

Myna's brown eyes looked at him pointedly. "So you'd rather sit around in silence, waiting to hear my best friend and your brother fucking?"

Jon shook his head emphatically. "No." He huffed and glared at the wall. "All this was really horrible idea anyway. Going behind Father's back is-"

"Smart," Myna retorted with an eye roll. "You really think they'd get to marry otherwise? Lady Barbary wouldn't take a risk if it wasn't necessary. The whole idea's rather brilliant, even though we have to-"

High pitched keening carried through the door followed by a moan. Jon and Myna stared at each other wide eyed. Jon felt sick as the feminine moaning grew louder and culminated in a high pitched shriek.

"Seven hells, that was my best friend. I have just been scarred for life I think," Myna stated as her face paled. She looked at Jon with a traumatised expression.

Jon nodded in sympathy. "I think I'm about to be," he grimaced, trying not to imagine the noises Robb would make. "At least we know that they're doing what they're supposed to do."

"I guess," Myna snorted. They stared at each other for a minute before they broke out into quiet laughter, probably from going insane.

Robb ached to the point of pain as he watched Hazelyn's face go slack with bliss and felt her hips insistently pushing up into his own, searching for more pleasure. It had taken every bit of self control he possessed to not pin her down and take her right then and there. He'd imagined her like this more times than he'd care to admit, but gods, nothing compared to the real thing. When she'd gotten up and shed her dress suddenly, he'd thought he'd spend right there. Her soft curves had felt smooth against him and her breasts had fit perfectly in his hands. Her moans still rang in his ears. The knowledge that he'd caused them, knowing he'd given her that first taste of divine pleasure, made him want her even more. But she was a maid, and she had already been frightened. He had to be patient with her. He groaned and shut his eyes tight as her pressed his forehead into a pillow.

Hazelyn let out a breathy laugh beneath him as her mouth curved into a satisfied smile. "Gods, you're even better than Ros claimed. I actually pity her now that she's lost you for good."

"How in the seven hells are you finding that stuff out?" Robb grumbled against her neck. "I'm going to have to tell Theon to stay away from the brothel if he doesn't want his secrets revealed."

"You seem a little bothered," Hazelyn hummed as she ruffled his sweaty hair.

Robb let out a weak laugh as he raised himself on his elbows to look at her. "Is it that obvious?" He asked pitifully.

Hazelyn's chest shook under his as she laughed, her nose scrunching up in a way he'd always found adorable. "Maybe I can help?" She offered innocently. Her silver eyes sparkled with happiness and trust as her pink lips turned up in a half smile. Her damp brown hair frizzed around her face and was splayed in waves out across his pillow. Robb had always thought her most beautiful in her brief care free moments, when no trouble dampened the light in her eye. She'd never looked more beautiful to him than now.

His breathing grew more labored and he felt dizzy. "Gods yes!" He exclaimed before attacking her lips. He rested one hand beside her head to hold himself up while the other traced over her hip and down her thigh. Hazelyn sighed as she melded her soft lips to his and ghosted her hands over his shoulders and back. The tension in Robb's muscles built and his skin dripped with sweat as the heat filled his entire body. He needed to be inside her soon, otherwise he'd humiliate himself by ending it all before it even began.

Robb tried to concentrate on breathing as he kissed her in order regain some control, focusing on her lips, the feel of her arms around him, and the softness of her body against his. Hazelyn expected him to be experienced, not some green lad that finished after a few sloppy strokes inside her. He doubted, or at least hoped, that she'd not know the difference, but she wasn't clueless. But even if she wouldn't know the difference, he still wanted this to be good for her.

Just when he'd thought he'd calmed down, Hazelyn's fingers wandered down his side and moved to the front of his body. His stomach muscles clenched as she lightly traced the hair trailing down it, and then, to his delight and frustration, she lightly touched his manhood though his beaches. He moaned loudly as he tore his mouth away from hers. He grit his teeth, the familiar pressure getting worse. "Hazel," he tried to warn her.

Ignoring him, Hazelyn reached her whole hand down, a curious look on her face, and cupped him. Groaning, his hips automatically jerked forward as a flash of fire went through him. "Hazel," pleaded. She tried to grip him harder. His hand immediately grabbed her wrist and pulled it away, pinning her hand to the sheets beside her head. "Hazel, stop," He gasped.

"What?" Hazelyn's eyes widened in panic and her body tensed up breath him. "Oh gods, what did I do wrong? I'm so sorry Robb. I-" Robb silenced her with a brief kiss. He shook his head as his thumb traced over her wrist reassuringly.

"You're not doing anything wrong," he laughed miserably. "You're doing everything too well."

Hazelyn frowned in confusion for a moment before her eyes widened in realization. "Oh," she said lamely as her cheeks flamed.

Robb shook his head fondly before sighing. "It's alright, but maybe if you're comfortable enough we could..." he trailed off and slightly pressed his hips into hers, trying his hardest not to frighten her but also praying to gods that she'd let them move forward.

Hazelyn's breath hitched as she stared up at him with an unreadable expression. Gently, he ran his fingers through her brown hair, hoping to soothe any fear she had. Robb held his breath in anticipation until she slowly nodded. He felt relief, nerves, and excitement pulse through him as he exhaled and smiled. "Gods, I love you," her murmured before catching her lips in a bruising kiss. His body erupted in a flurry movement as his mouth clashed with hers and his trembling hands scrambled to unlace his breaches. Their knuckles knocked together in a joined haste to free him and he felt her laugh against his mouth before pulling her hands away to let him do it. He groaned in relief when he managed to free his length and struggled to kick his breaches off his legs. Hazelyn let out another small giggle at his eagerness.

Robb kissed her hard as he pressed himself into her, feeling the slick heat between her legs. Her breath hitched as he ground against her.

"Ready?" He asked in a tight voice, trying to appear confident and keep his nervousness and excitement in check. Hazelyn nodded and smiled hesitantly at him, but he could see the apprehension in her eyes. Exhaling slowly, Robb traced a hand along her cheek bone. "I'll go slowly," he promised, praying for the strength to stay true to his word.

As he hovered over her, his hand found hers, their fingers linking together, palm to palm. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath before leaning down. He moved his lips slowly across her jaw as he brought their hands above her head. He had to suppress a moan as her legs parted further and she allowed him to settled even deeper between her thighs.

Awkwardly, he shifted his tense frame to get himself in position. His cheeks flamed in embarrassment as he reached down and fumbled clumsily to align himself. He grimaced, barely able to think straight as he felt the heat between her legs. She simply pressed her lips into an adoring smiled and nodded bravely. For a moment Robb froze, taking her in one last time before he sealed their vows. A gentle blush stained her cheeks red, and he could feel her heart racing in her bosom. Her chest heaved against his own as they stared at one another for a long moment, letting the weight of all they'd risked, all the consequences that would surely come from their clandestine marriage...they let it all fall away, until there was nothing but warmth and lightness. There was enough here and now to get them through the tumultuous time ahead.

Robb gasped and closed his eyes when she shifted her legs up higher around his waste, urging him to proceed. Breathing hard, he couldn't bear the tension any more. "I'm sorry," he whispered against Hazelyn's lips before he kissed her hard and pushed into her all the way, breaking her maiden head.

He lost the ability to think coherently as he slid into her tight warmth. He dropped his face to the soft skin of her neck as she tensed around him and whimpered in pain. "I'm sorry," he muttered weakly between light kisses as he rubbed her hip reassuringly, trying to comfort her through his haze of heat and pleasure. He felt her nails dig into the meat of his back. He'd always found himself satisfied after visiting the brothel but it had never felt this good, not even his first time.

His whole body shook as he battled the intense urge to start moving too soon, sweat building on his brow. Still, he waited, muttering lame apologies into Hazelyn's neck and feeling selfish, until her muscles eased off around him and her breathing settled slightly. With a tense jaw, he raised his head to look at her. She gave him a tight smile and reached up to bush his damp curls from his face. The intimate gesture made him shudder with delight.

Groaning, Robb started to thrust into her. He closed his eyes and gave himself up to the pressure and heat, establishing a rhythm after the first few awkward beats. He breathed heavily and grunted as he got lost in her warmth, the heat inside him continuing to build higher than it ever had before. He couldn't comprehend anything but the girl below him, and the feel of her against him and around him. Mustering the strength, he lifted his head from her neck to look her in the eye.

A wave of guilt rushed over him as observed her uncomfortable expression. When he thrust into her again, she grimaced. Even with as gentle as he was, she let out a pained little moan. Desperate to have feel the same pleasure, Robb reached his free hand down to where they were joined and tried to find that spot that Theon had told him about again. He smiled when he found the bud and pressed his thumb against it, making Hazelyn's face relax a bit. She released a moan that had more pleasure in it than pain. When she moved her hips up against his, a surprised smile broke across her face, and another blissful moan escaped her lips.

Grunting at the sharp shock that ran through him, Robb started to roll his hips faster. Soon his stomach got the familiar burning feeling that let him know he was reaching his end. He pressed his thumb against Hazelyn more firmly. Her moans grew louder, and her hips moved against his eagerly while her hands scratched desperately at his back.

Robb shook and clenched his muscles as his pleasure increased ten fold, trying his hardest to hold back, to let Hazelyn get there first. He clenched his jaw as Hazelyn's face contorted and she arched against him, her mouth open in a breathless cry. He wanted to stay like this forever, just him and her and the indescribable pleasure flowing between them. He thought he could die he felt so good. But too soon the heat and tension overcame him. He let out a strangled shout as the burning in his stomach spread throughout his entire body, and he released his seed into Hazelyn's womb with a few last sloppy thrusts.

Completely devoid of energy, he collapsed over her, tucking his face into her hair as he panted.

"Robb, you're crushing me," Hazelyn whispered as her fingers lightly tugged at his hair.

He rolled off of her promptly, groaning as he slipped from her warmth. Immediately he turned his head to study her. "Are you alright?" He breathed, scanning her for any signs of pain.

Hazelyn's grey eyes shined as she smiled at him."A little sore, but not anymore than after a long horse ride," she shrugged. "And it was worth it. You really do live up to your reputation from the brothel," she giggled mischievously.

Robb shook his head and laughed. "Come here, wife," he ordered fondly, extending an arm to her. He helped her out of bed and pulled back the furs. They slipped under the covers and Hazelyn curled into his side. He wrapped his arm around her as she rested her head on his shoulder, both of them enjoying the new intimate closeness as they stared into the dying embers of the hearth.

"I still can't believe we just got married," Hazelyn muttered after a few minutes. Robb tightened his arm around her and pressed a kiss to her dark hair.

"We really did," he reassured her with a blissful smile.

"What are we going to do tomorrow?" She asked quietly as her hand traced patterns on his chest.

"We'll tell my father the truth. Your aunt and the others will back us. Father will bless our marriage and we'll go on with life." Robb replied calmly, completely at peace as he imagined that life play out.

"That simple?" Hazelyn questioned as her eyes started to droop.

"That simple." Robb nodded as he pulled her closer and began to nod off himself. He'd almost drifted off completely when Hazelyn tensed against him and groaned.

"Hazel, what's wrong?" He asked as he sat up swiftly.

His wife stared wide eyed at the ceiling, a look of horror on her face. "We made all those noises. Myna and Jon..."

Robb cringed as he remembered the pair standing right outside their door.

Chapter Text


Chapter 17: Binding Vows, Sudden Bonds

Hazelyn blinked rapidly as bright rays of sunlight struck her eyes. She gasped, confused and alarmed that she'd slept so late. She always rose before dawn so she would be ready to help Sansa prepare for the day. How in the seven hells was she going to explain her laziness to Septa Mordane? Yet, when she tried sit up, something held her down. She felt a muscled arm tighten across her bare waist and an irritated grumble sounded in her ear. Startled, her eyes flew open as she wiggled and kicked to get free. She heard a sharp grunt as her heel came into contact with a hard shin. The arm slipped away, and Hazelyn rolled off the bed, taking most of the furs with her.

She felt even more confused when a horribly sore ache erupted between her legs. Her hair hung loose, wavy dark whisps framing her face, and most shockingly, she was sitting naked as babe in the middle of bed chamber that wasn't hers. "That's not exactly the way I'd hoped to wake up this morning," a grumpy voice muttered. Hazelyn panted as she turned her head to see Robb sitting up and stretching unabashed, his toned chest and sculpted stomach in full view for her to see. For a moment, she thought of a preening stud, showing off for a lovely mare.

Hazelyn just continued to stare him as memories of the previous night came flooding back to her. Her face flushed in embarrassment. She swallowed uncomfortably and pulled the furs up to cover her breasts. Robb looked at her with a mix curiosity and concern. "What are you doing?" He laughed. "It's not as if I didn't see all of it last night."

Hazelyn's breath hitched in her throat as Robb's blue eyes darkened slightly. The ache between her legs changed to tingling warmth, vaguely reminiscent of their marital pleasures. Swinging his feet over the edge of the bed, Robb stood up with a yawn and ran hand through his messy hair, raffling his curls further. "Gods, I don't usually sleep this late," he commented, glancing at the sunlight streaming through his shuddered window, entirely at ease. "But we did have long night I suppose." He gave Hazelyn a proud smirk as he walked over to her and offered her a hand up.

Hazelyn bit her lip as she let go of the furs and grasped his fingers. "I remember," she said, rising to her feet. She grimaced in pain as the soreness between her thighs increased.

Robb frowned as she leaned into him. "Are you alright?" He asked, wrapping an arm around her waist as he helped her to the bed.

Hazelyn gingerly sat on the edge of the mattress. "I'm sorer this morning than I was last night," she admitted. Cautiously, she parted her legs and studied the dried blood and seed on her inner thighs.

Robb's eyes widened in alarm. "Did I hurt you?" He asked anxiously. "I tried not to..." he awkwardly trailed off as his own cheeks colored red.

Hazelyn looked up at him, surprised at his lack of knowledge. "Of course you didn't! Last night was wonderful!" She blurted. Robb's eyes widening at her outburst, she looked away nervously. Her fingers slowly traced along the sheets to the matching blood stain in the center of the bed. "All maidens bleed their first time. I didn't expect it to be as good as it was, never knew it could be until Ros told me. Even then I didn't really think it could be that fantastic." She smiled shyly at Robb.

His eyes lit up and he chuckled lightly. "I've learned a few things here and there," he remarked as he turned towards his side table.

Hazelyn looked at him in puzzlement as he wrung out a cloth from his water basin, and then her face went slack. "Please tell me you didn't learn that one thing from Theon," she pleaded. "Did you?" Robb laughed as she threw herself back on the bed and covered her eyes. "That's another person I can never face again. I've utterly humiliated myself," she mumbled into the furs.

Robb smiled apologetically as he sat beside her, offering her the wet cloth. "No one as beautiful as you could ever humiliate herself," he quipped, pecking her on the cheek.

Hazelyn snorted loudly as she cleaned her thighs, rolling her eyes playfully at her husband. "You certainly know how to lay it on thick, don't you Stark?"

"Only with you," he shot back with a merry expression.

They broke out into a joyful laughter that went on until Hazelyn's eyes watered. Gasping for breath, she wiped her face and slowly stood up. She ran her fingers through her hair as she scanned the floor for her dress. "Well, we've overslept long enough. We best get up."

She squealed when Robb grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back onto the bed. Pinning her down to the pillows with his body, he looked her up and down with a wolfish grin and then caught her lips in a hard kiss. Hazelyn's heart sped up as his tounge traced her lip but she turned her head away. "Robb, stop!" She giggled as she ran her hands through his hair. "We need to get dressed before someone walks in on us. It'd put the the whole keep in an uproar."

"I had to wait for moons-" Robb leaned down to pepper her neck with kisses. "To be with you... My parents... can wait...A sane man... with a beautiful... as you... wouldn't let... her leave their bed... without making love... at least once."

Hazelyn hummed in pleasure before she pushed on his chest. He paused and looked down at her, his blue eyes pleading as their noses brushed together. "And we will have plenty of mornings where you can do that my lord," Hazelyn kissed his nose. "But, right now we have to go speak to your parents."

"Fine," Robb pouted. "But we're turning in early tonight." Hazelyn laughed at his strict scowl and pulled him down for one last kiss. Their lips were still connected when frantic knocking came from the chamber door. Hazelyn froze when she saw the door latch turning. Hadn't Robb locked it last night!?

Robb tore himself away from her kiss as the door creaked open. A head of bright red hair peaked through the doorway. "Robb? I'm sorry for disturbing you but I need your help-"

Sansa stopped dead when she saw them. Her face screwed up into an expression of absolute horror. Her blue eyes widened as they took in the sight of her favorite older brother's bare back side as he leaned over her completely naked maid. "Hazel?!" She exclaimed loudly. "Robb, what are you doing to her!?"

Robb quickly slid off Hazelyn and began to get up, but she promptly yanked him back down back down to prevent him from showing his little sister his naked front side. Hazelyn turned towards the wall and hugged herself to hide her chest from Sansa, panic tearing through her.

"Sansa," Robb tried his best sound calm. "This isn't what it looks like. Just turn away for a moment so we can cover up and then I'll explain-"

"Why would you need to cover up!? How could you-" Sansa sputtered, disgust and horror twisting her lovely face into a scowl.

"Sansa," Hazelyn pleaded desperately as she looked over her shoulder at the girl. "Please-"

Sansa's gaze filled with a mixture of confusion, alarm, and hurt as she backed away, her face flushed in embarrassment and anger.

"Sansa, wait!" Robb called as his sister tore off. He cursed, sprang from bed, and grabbed his robe hanging nearby. He threw it on and made for the door.

"Robb, you're not going chase your sister through the halls in your robe and bare feet!" Hazelyn hissed as she seized her slip from the floor. "Just get dressed so we can get your parents before she alerts the whole bloody keep!"

"But-" Robb shut his mouth when he saw Hazelyn's cold stare.

"Now!" she commanded, frantic with embarrassment. Gulping hard, he nodded stiffly before scrambling to find his breaches. The young couple stumbled about as they tried to locate their discarded clothes and get into them.

"I thought you latched the door last night!" Hazelyn snapped as she did up the laces on her bodice.

"I did!" Robb exclaimed, yanking on his second boot forcefully. "I just opened it this morning to tell Jon and Myna they could leave. I didn't want them standing out there all night. It-" He paused. "Bloody hells, I forgot to latch it again!" He groaned as he stood up.

Hazelyn simply shook her head as she reached for her knife strap and secured it around her thigh. "We'll just have to salvage the situation best we can," she sighed. She bit her lip as she reached for her boots. "Maybe-" The door to Robb's room suddenly slammed open.

"What is this!?" Lady Catelyn's sharp voice cut through the conversation. Her face red with fury, the woman shot Hazelyn a look that could kill.

Robb stood between his wife and mother in a protective stance. "Mother-"

"Did you bed her!?" Catelyn demanded as her husband emerged into the chamber as well, a grim expression on his face.

"No, I married her," Robb said firmly. Hazelyn quickly rose to stand beside him. She slid her hand into his as his parents looked at them in disbelief.

Lord Eddard fixed his son with a hard glare. "Did you exchange vows before the heart tree?"

"Aye, we did," Robb said, immovable resolutness in his voice.

"Who witnessed them?"

"Jon, Theon, Lady Barbary, and her maid," Robb responded swiftly.

"Both of you," Ned cast a grim scowl over younger couple, "Go to my solar. Now."

"Alrignt Father," Robb nodded briskly, not even meeting his mother's furious gaze as he tightened his grip of Hazelyn's hand and led her out of the chamber.

Panic overtaking her mind, Hazelyn's face went blank, and the only things she could do were follow after Robb and squeeze his hand tighter.

After Robb had told them they could leave, Jon had suggested to Myna that they get some breakfast from the kitchens. Famished, she'd been more than happy to agree. Soon enough, the pair had settled in a corner of the Great Hall, merrily conversing as they nursed cups of ale and shared a plate of bacon. Myna had known Jon less than a day, but it felt oddly...intimate to be there with him, sharing a drink and food together after their mutual traumatic experience.

Jon let out a disbelieving laugh as he grabbed another piece of bacon. "Wait, so you're telling me that quiet, timid Hazel got up drunk before your whole village tavern and sang The Bear and the Maiden Fair?!"

"Aye," Myna affirmed with a devilish grin before taking a swig of ale. "Barefoot and everything. She even did a little dance. And seven hells, she sounded horrid! She can't normally carry a bloody tune when she's sober, but her screeching that day made my ears bleed! Even the White Walkers would've died hearing it, but all the drunks and whores loved it so much, they asked for another song."

"So that's why she never sings," Jon mused. "I know Sansa has asked her a time or two, so has Robb, but she's always refused." He shook his head. "Still, it's hard to imagine her doing that."

Myna chuckled as she snatched some more bacon from the plate. "I could tell you a hundred stories about that proper little lady you wouldn't believe." She waved the piece of meat at Jon to emphasize her point. "The little show she put on last night is far from the worst she's ever done."

After the utterly disturbing experience Myna and Jon had been forced to endure, it felt very cathartic to laugh at their newlywed friends. She and Jon had been doing much of that over the last few hours to forget about the awkward noises they'd heard.

Myna smiled as Jon let out another laugh, his face lighting up with a genuine grin. Hard to believe he was the same mopey youth she'd first encountered the previous night. He definitely was a handsome one, especially when a scowl didn't mar his dark features.

"Well, next time I see her, I'll ask her to sing, but I'll blame you for revealing her secret," Jon chuckled.

Myna gasped dramatically and put a hand over her heart as she exclaimed, "I told you that in good faith. Where is your honor, ser?"

Jon yawned in response. "I probably forgot it when I woke this morning. But, then again, I never slept."

"Look at you finding a sense of humor," Myna quipped, licking drops of ale from her lips. Jon grinned impishly at her. She giggled before taking another sip of ale.

A pleasant silence settled between them for a moment. Then suddenly, Jon said, "Gods, my brother sounded like a pig last night."

Myna chocked as she slammed her cup back on the table, covering her mouth as she shook with laughter.

"It sounds as if I missed out on something hilarious," someone called. Myna opened her eyes to see the same haughty lordling who'd been with Lord Robb the night before. The boy wore a lazy smile as he strolled up to them. ""You going to introduce me to your new friend Snow?"

Myna's light brown eyes met Jon's. He glanced away, purposely not acknowledging the other young man. His mirthful demeanor vanished like smoke as he fell back to his somber scowl.

Myna ignored the awkward silence and extended a hand across the table to greet the lordling. "I'm Myna," She replied lightly. When the boy took her hand, his fingers gently messaged her knuckles. He have gave her a sensual smile, his gaze flicking over her body so quick, she barely caught it. Her brow rose in surprise at the man's blatant attempt at seduction. She couldn't deny that he had mastered a look that would make most women melt.

"Myna, this is Theon," Jon caved bitterly.

"Leave it to you to not give a proper introduction Snow." The lordling rolled his pale blue eyes at Jon before settling them on Myna. "Please forgive him, I am Lord Theon Greyjoy, heir to the Iron Islands," he said grandly.

"And ward of the Starks," Jon interrupted, so promptly it was amusing.

Myna tried not to laugh. "It's a pleasure Theo- I mean- m'lord."

Jon chuckled at Myna's smile. Theon briefly shot the dark-haired boy an annoyed scowl before his gaze returned to the maid. His icy blue eyes roved over her form, hungry as a starved dog. She suddenly felt like a a swine being inspected at market. "You are lovely. Has anyone ever told you that?" Theon asked. "Not many northern girls have blonde hair. Are you from the south?"

Myna rolled her eyes. It was always the hair they went for, she thought. She glanced away from the ironborn when she heard shifting beside her. Jon had noticeably tensed up, his signature scowl fixed on his lips. His brown eyes narrowed ever so slightly, though he didn't say anything. She wondered why he was so perturbed by innocent flirting.

"No, m'lord. I was born at the Dreadfort," Myna said demeurely as she looked back at the ironborn youth. Her mouth formed a placid half smile as Theon grinned rougeishly at her.

"A rare beauty then." He smiled wider and inched closer to her, still rubbing her knuckles all the while. He was a bold one Myna noted. She'd interacted with enough young Bolton guards and lads from her village to know what wanted. Not that she was idiot enough to give it, but she had to admit to herself, she was impressed by his confidence.

"Will you lay off Theon? Seven hells, it's barely breakfast time," Jon grumbled, shooting the ironborn a dark look. Myna frowned at the exchange between the two boys. There didn't appear to be a great deal of kinship between them despite their shared friendship with the Stark heir. Perhaps it was his dislike of the ward that annoyed him so, and not the man's attempts at luring her into bed.

"I'm just being friendly to our guest Snow," Theon laughed causally as he released Myna's hand. "We didn't have the chance to talk properly with all the chaos last night." Turing his attention back to the maid, he queried, "So Myna, is this your first time at Winterfell?" He leaned against the table, bringing his body slightly closer to hers.

Myna glanced at Jon again. He was watching the exchange with a sour expression, hidden resentment in his brown eyes. Another wave of a sympathy went through Myna. Seeing the way the lordling smirked at the bastard's disdain, she couldn't help but remember the time Hazelyn had sharply dismissed her.

She'd simply been trying to crack a joke, bring a little light to the darkness Hazelyn had fallen into right after her brother Domeric died. And then Hazelyn, the girl who'd always been her best friend, suddenly transformed into a lady as cold as her father, reprimanding Myna for not following orders and dismissing her with an implied threat in her tone. Myna had been reminded that day that no matter how long she and Hazelyn had known each, how close they were, they never could truly be family, could they? They might choose not to acknowledge it, but there'd always be a divide between them that set one above the other. It had to be even worse for Jon in the company of his lordling friends. He even shared blood with one of them, but he could never truly be their equal.

Even if she did take up with some lord, she'd always be just a serving girl, wouldn't she? Even if he fell in love with her, got children on her, even if he asked to marry her...she'd still be nothing. If you were born nothing, you died nothing, because no one ever forgot the circumstances of a bastard's birth. Such were the ways of Westeros.

Smiling sweetly, Myna batted her lashes as she rose and stepped close to Theon. "Aye m'lord."

Pleased with her actions Theon replied, "I happen to have some time this morning. I could give you a tour of the castle." He moved his fingers to brush against her hip. "Show you some of the secret, more private places, that a lovely girl like you would never get to see otherwise." He smirked, his tone heavy with implication.

"That sounds wonderful m'lord," Myna said breathily, moving her hand to accidentally bump against his thigh. "But," she stepped back, wearing an innocent expression. "Lord Jon has already kindly offered to do so, and I've accepted. My mistress Lady Dustin says it's terribly rude to go back on one's word."

Myna smirked as the Greyjoy's arrogance withered into shock. She had done this routine on quite a few Bolton guards, repeatedly, and perhaps a few Dustin men as well. Men, some only thought with their cock and never learned. When she remarked this to one of those over confident boys from the village, he'd replied that all the blood in his body was too busy flowing to his massive cock. She'd replied that there wasn't much of a mind for coherent thought to form if he really believed that and no girl would stay with him.

Glancing back at Jon, she felt a small thrill run through her when as his stoic scowl dropped into surprise as well. It somehow pleased her to know she, simple maid Myna, could make the scowl on this boy's face disappear. She had a feeling not many had that privilege.

"In fact, we were just about to leave before you walked in," she prompted Jon, giving a slight movement of her head when he just gazed back in confusion. As he slowly rose, she stepped towards him and winked. He smiled with realization as she grabbed his hand and tilted her head towards the the still stunned ironborn, giving the base born youth a rare chance to taunt the lordling. She didn't mind being the prize that allowed him to gloat.

"I did," he half laughed, grasping her hand a bit more firmly. "I'll see you in the tilt yard, Greyjoy," he said briskly, but Myna could spot the barley contained amusement in his dark eyes as he took in Theon's annoyed glare.

"Have a good breakfast, m'lord," Myna called sweetly as Jon led her toward the great hall's doors. As soon as they were out of ear shot, Jon released her hand. Myna turned towards him, crossing her arms. Jon's face split into a wide grin as he broke out into a surprisingly loud and deep laugh. And seven hells, it made him even more attractive. Myna followed suit, both laughing so hard they were gasping for breath and clutching their stomachs. It didn't seem it'd ever end, until a serious voice cut through their mirth.


Immediately, the merriment vanished from Jon's face as he snapped to attention. "Jory?"

A tall, muscular, Stark solider with brown hair looked at the pair with a serious expression. "Your Father wants you in his solar lad." Myna was surprised when he shifted his hard gaze to her. "Are you Lady Dustin's maid, lass?"

"Aye." Myna unconsciously reached up to fiddle with her bear pendant, a ball of restless snakes twisting in her belly.

"Lord Stark wants both of you in his solar immediately. Come on now," he commanded. Myna glanced Jon towards as they followed the guard down the corridor. They shared a look of concern, knowing there was only one thing Lord Stark would summon them both for.

Barbary smiled as she as read the message written in her father's sharp script. Satisfied, she rolled the small scroll up and placed it on the desk. She'd sent her lord father a raven as soon as she found Hazelyn, asking his support for a union between her and the Stark boy. Early this very morning, his response had arrived in an unassuming scroll bearing Ryswell horse sigil, attached to a raven's dainty leg. He vowed to back any decision Barbary made regarding Hazelyn.

Though he never would admit it, Barbary had seen the gazes of shame and pity he gave both her and Hazelyn when he thought they weren't looking. He was hard pressed to deny either woman anything. It probably was his way of paying penance for allowing a wolf boy to bed Barbary for his own ambitions and for binding Bethany into such a horrible marriage. Barbary sighed deeply, tucking her father's letter into the pouch on her hip. She'd definitely need all the support she could get to convince Lord Stark to uphold her niece's marriage, since Roose wouldn't back it, nor Lady Stark.

Pushing aside the bitterness that welled up in her, Barbary rose from the desk and walked over to the window of her guest chamber. Throwing open the shutters, she wrapped her arms around herself as cold air rushed into the room. She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight. Massaging her forehead, she tried to sort out her swirling thoughts.

Truthfully, she had never been so satisfied as when Hazelyn and the Stark boy had said their vows, even though she cared not a whit for his family. The lad seemed to love Hazelyn, and Hazelyn seemed devoted to him. Barbary had wondered when Hazelyn had told her about her and the boy's love affair, whether he truly did love Hazelyn enough to fight for her, or if all his promises and vows were for naught, like his Uncle Brandon's had been. Surprisingly, the boy proved to have more honor than either his uncle or father did in their youths. More than his bloody grandfather had had in his entire life. Brandon, with his hollow promises and weak resolve, Rickard Stark, the greedy bastard he was, and Eddard Stark, with his false front of honor and selfishness.

Barbary laughed at the thought of good, old, honorable Ned Stark. Some said he was the most honorable man in all the seven kingdoms, next to Stannis of course, the bleak old sod. He'd certainly not always been so noble. The honorable reputation Ned had established in his later years was probably to make up for the questionable actions of his youth. Barbary smirked darkly to herself. That damn fool's guilt inspired honor was his weakness, and she intended to exploit it as much as she could to save her niece.

"My lady," a strong voice called, accompanied by a firm knock on the door.

Shuttering her window and smoothing back her greying hair, she opened the door with a strict frown. A silver whiskered man, with a forked beard, and garbed in Stark colors stood next to her own guard, a severe look in his eye. It took her a moment to realize this was one Roderik Cassel, the master-at-arms who'd served the former Lord Stark and trained and fought alongside Brandon Stark. Her own man looked unsure, tensed as he glanced back and forth between the his lady and the Stark commander.

"Yes?" She asked calmly.

"Lady Dustin, Lord Stark requests you to join him and Lady Stark in his solar immediately."

Turning her chin up in a superior manner, Barbary smiled blandly. "Very well Ser Cassel. Stout," she waved her man off, "You're relieved of duty for now. You've worked hard enough for one night. Go break your fast." Bowing, the warrior let her go with her Stark escort.

When they entered Lord Stark's solar, the scene was about what she expected it to be. Hazelyn stood like a berated child in the corner, staring at the ground as her young husband crushed her hand in his, an somber Stark look on his face. The lad's raven haired bastard brother wore a similar expression as he stood before Lord Stark, while Myna lingering quietly in the background.

"Lady Dustin," a tight voice greeted her. Barbary turned her head over her shoulder to meet the furious gaze of Catelyn Stark. The Lady of Winterfell had ruffled appearance, her face so flushed in anger, it almost looked as red as her hair.

Barbary couldn't keep the corners of her mouth from turning upward. "Good morning Lady Stark," she replied, smoothing her dress to emphasize her calm appearance.

The woman snarled. "How dare you come into my home-"

"Cat!" Eddard sharply warned his wife, setting his heavy gaze upon her before turning it on Barbary. "Lady Dustin, I need to ask you some questions about your involvement in some strange events last night."

Barbary's face remained neutral as she calmly replied. "Are you referring to the marriage of your son and my niece, my lord? If so, aye, I witnessed them say their vows before the Gods, just as your other son and my maid did." She glanced over at Hazelyn, giving her a small motherly smile. Hazelyn nodded weakly in return, though her face was still as stone.

"You went behind my back and married your niece to my son inside my own castle." Barbary turned back towards her leige as he repeated her statement, his grey eyes glaring at her in disbelief. "I must know, my lady," he asked in a dangerously controlled tone, "What drove you to disrespect me with such an audacious act of deception?"

"I did nothing but bear witness to the vows and give the hand of my niece to your son, my lord. I offered him an opportunity, and he made the decision for himself to take Lady Hazelyn as his wife," Barbary challenged.

Catelyn scoffed loudly. "That's ridiculous. They're barely more than children and my son is infatuated with your niece. Of course he took her when you dangled her in front of him," she hissed as her face grew even more red. "We did not even forbid the marriage. My lord husband simply asked you to wait. But you blatantly defied his will for your own selfish reasons, you harpy! You, Lady Dustin, are a deceptive snake and your niece a promiscuous strumpet-"

"Mother!" Robb protested, though his father's sharp glare and Hazelyn's hand prevented him from entering the fight.

"I mean no offense, my lady," Barbary said coolly, her eyes narrowed and voice not at all sincere. "But I happen to know from experience that Stark men do not always honor their vows. I myself have felt the scorn of House Stark, and I refuse to let my niece that same shame and pain." Barbary's eyes shifted to Eddard. "My lord, your own brother spoiled me in my youth. Then his promises to save my honor were made into lies by your father because he thought his son better suited with another." She shot a dark side glance at Catleyn, half heartedly looking for a reaction. "That and his death broke my heart. A broken heart is something I will not subject my niece to."

Catelyn looked at her strangely before a shadow of recognition crossed her face. Balling her hands into fists at her side, she turned to her husband. "Ned this can not stand. They have no evidence this marriage is valid. We-"

"Lady Stark, I and several other saw your son and my niece say sacred vows before the Gods. There is also testimony, and I'm sure evidence enough on your son's bed sheets, to confirm they consummated those vows, making this marriage very valid," Barbary challenged softly.

Catelyn scoffed, a sound similar to a victorious laugh, "You had no septon to bind them as one."

"The old gods require no such nonsense, as I'm sure you are aware, Lady Stark. We are of the North," Barbery snapped. Then her eyes shifted to Eddard as she appealed, "Your son and my niece were married before Winterfell's heart tree. The gods that reside in your wood saw them speak the words. My niece is married to your son in the sight of the old gods, the gods of the North."

"May the others take your gods!" Catelyn spat. She then cast her husband a desperate look. "Ned, please."

"She's my wife!" The three older adults jumped at Robb's outburst. It seemed the lad couldn't stand others discussing his marriage without his input anymore. "Father," he looked at Eddard earnestly. "I said vows to Hazelyn and I bedded her last night. She's no longer a maiden and might already have child in her belly. My child. I must take her as my wife."

"She can drink moon tea," Catetlyn snapped thoughtlessly. Everyone suddenly went quiet. Robb looked at his mother, shocked hurt and fury building in his eyes. Hazelyn's expressionless mask dissolved as she looked up with horrified surprise. Barbary watched as her niece's hand unconsciously settled on her stomach.

"Enough of this!" Eddard exclaimed. He cast a disproving gaze over his wife, son, and then Barbary, his serious Stark expression giving away nothing. "There will be no more talk of moon tea, breaking vows, or quarreling of any other kind in this keep today. However much I may not like it, Lady Dustin speaks truth. The power of the old Gods cannot be challenged and the marriage cannot be undone, lest they rain their wrath down upon me and mine."

Catelyn opened her mouth, but her husband held up his hand. "We'll talk later Cat. For now, I need to speak to Lady Barbary and Lady Hazelyn alone. Robb and Jon, both of you wait outside. We're going to have a very serious discussion right after." His voice sounded tired, but his face was so somber, no one dared challenge his directive.

Barbary straightened her posture as Catelyn Stark shot her look of hatred and filed out of the room. Barbary smiled back, for once having one upped the snobby Tully fish. Myna and the Stark bastard slipped out behind her. Robb lingered, not leaving Hazelyn until she squeezed her hand and nodded, flashing him a reassuring smile. Barbary smiled when the boy murmured something in his young wife's ear and brushed his lips across her forehead before leaving. The tender action made something long forgotten stir in her heart. Secretly, though she'd never admit it, they reminded her of what she and Brandon had had, or at least what they should've had.

As the door shut, Barbary moved to stand by her niece. "Lady Dustin," Eddard said, his tone thick with judgement. "My lady wife brought up a just point, that you disobeyed my ruling. As one of my bannermen, you swore me an oath, and have knowingly broken it. That is a serious offense that I cannot look past."

Taking a deep breath, Barbary raised her chin proudly and grasped Hazelyn's hand. "Lord Stark, I've only done what any parent would do for their child. I'm sure you can understand that." Glancing sideways at her niece, she squeezed the younger woman's fingers tightly. "I may not have birthed her, but the moment my sister left this world, she became mine. I will gladly accept any punishment to protect her, just don't make her suffer."

The words gave Eddard pause. His solemn mask remained unmoved, but his grey eyes softened ever slightly. "I understand family is important my lady, but so are vows that one makes. I-"

Barbary knew she shouldn't have, but to hear those hypocritical words out of the mouth of Eddard Stark, made something snap inside her. All her pent up bitterness and resentment boiled to the surface. Laughing coldly, she mocked him with a grin. "It is a very strange thing indeed to hear you talk of such morals Lord Stark, when neither your father, brother, nor you adhered to them in the past. Your father claimed honor but made his son leave a woman he had spoiled. Your brother promised to wed me before I gave him my virtue, but he abandoned me without a fight. And you... you called my husband, a good and loyal man, your close friend, and asked him to go on just one more mission with you after the war was over, when most lords were marching home. Then when he died to bring home your sister's corpse, you couldn't even be bothered to bring his body back to me."

"Enough!" Eddard growled. Barbary's eyes grew wide with shock. She'd never seen the quiet wolf lose his temper. For a moment, she saw a flash of Brandon in him. "My lady, tread carefully. You are my vassal and have broken vows. For that-"

"My Lord Stark," Hazelyn pipped up. The older lord and lady fell silent when the forgotten young woman in the room, who'd been the catalyst of this whole controversy, finally spoke, in a voice barely above a whisper. Pulling her hand from Barbary's with surprising strength, Hazelyn stepped in front of her aunt and dropped before her good father in a low curtsey before rising again to look him straight in the eye. Barbary frowned in concern but waited.

"Whatever my aunt has done, my lord, whatever angry words she has said, is out of no disrespect for you, but to defend me. I was the one who deceived your family and abused your trust. I am the one who ignored your wishes and married your son without your consent. I did what I though was right, but I disrespected you and caused great trouble for your family in the process. I am truly sorry and ask you to lay the blame with me, if you must lay it anywhere. I will accept whatever punishment you see fit. But do not hold my aunt accountable for my actions, please."

The hearth fire crackled as a long moment slipped passed. Hazelyn steadily held the hard stare of the taller man before her. She'd always had that strange trait, Barbary noted. One moment she could be a frightened girl, too numb to say a word to defend herself, the next she could be a strong lady, staring down lords far wiser and more powerful than her. Sometimes Barbary forgot Hazelyn was a Bolton. Her niece was very much like Bethany, but underneath it all, she had many qualities of her sire as well. Perhaps so many years living in fear of Roose, had hardened whatever soft, ladylike reservations Hazelyn had.

Eddard's serious Stark expression finally broke, softening into one of exhaustion and slight respect. "That's not necessary, my lady. I will not shame my son's wife. But I must ask, why did you take such drastic actions?"

"My father is a monster, my lord," Hazelyn replied calmly as though she were speaking of the fairness of the weather. "A fine enough lord, he's broken none of the king's laws or oaths to you, but he was horrid husband to my mother. He beat and leeched her just for feeding and clothing our impoverished small folk. I have only memories of her losing one babe after another, sicker with each loss, because of what he did to her. He's done the same things to me when I helped our small folk, and would cause me more injury if I married a Frey and continued to dwell in his keep. He'd take my children and make cold and hard, show them no kindness or affection as a parent should. I did not want that life for myself or anyone else. Nor did I want my aunt or grandfather going up against my father for my sake. Your son wed me to protect me from all of that. Because I love him and he loves me. He is not to blame either."

Conflict played over Eddard Stark's face. Looking over at Barbary and then back to Hazelyn, he sighed. "It is not against the king's laws for a lord to treat his family so, though it is not just. In light of such circumstances, I do not think it necessary to take actions against your aunt or you, my lady. However I must reach some settlement with your father to keep peace. He wields the most strength of any of my my bannermen and is not a man to be disrespected."

"Lord Stark," Barbary reached into her pouch and pulled out her father's scroll. "My father, Lord Ryswell, supports the union between my neice and your son. We can pay you a dowry if my good brother will not, to make the marriage more proper...and perhaps we can also give the marriage a proper ceremony as well. It might pacify Lord Bolton, somewhat at least. My father suggested a ceremony for the northern nobility, to hide unwanted shame for both Houses Stark and Bolton."

Eddard took the letter and scanned it. "Your Father is a wise man, my lady," he complied. For once, Barbary had to agree with Eddard Stark. Slightly more at ease, he looked up with tired eyes and nodded. "I will talk to Lord Bolton about arranging such a ceremony when he arrives. Then we will proceed from there."

Barbary turned towards Hazelyn and frowned. "We will have to hide your marriage until the new ceremony. You will have to act as if you are only betrothed and uphold propriety. Is that clear?"

Hazelyn frowned a moment, but then nodded heavily in agreement.

Folding up the Ryswell scroll, Eddard bowed his head to them."The matter is settled then. Thank you my ladies. I will write Lord Bolton immediately after I speak with my sons. I must beg your pardon."

"Of course, Lord Stark." Barbary bobbed along with Hazelyn and then led her niece from the room. As the Dustin stepped into the corridor, she surprisingly felt a new found respect for Eddard Stark. Perhaps the Starks did have some honor after all.

The normally bustling main courtyard of Winterfell was quiet as the Starks, their guests, and their household stood quietly in front of the keep, waiting for the gates before them to open and reveal Lord Bolton. Hazelyn's fingers played nervously with the hem of the cloak her aunt had insisted she wear. The unsettling silence buzzed in her ears. Not a single breeze stirred the bitterly cold air, but darkening clouds brewing on the horizon indicated a storm was on its way.

Hazelyn snorted to herself. How fitting, her father brought a storm at his back as he rode into Winterfell to tear her new life apart. She sighed and stared ahead with a passive, clam expression, while a whirlwind of emotions spun underneath.

The last few days had not been easy for Hazelyn. Lord Eddard had sent a raven to the Dreadfrot immediately after their conversation, summoning her father to Winterfell. Then he'd taken Robb and Jon away on a hunting trip that had lasted two whole days. Hazelyn had not even had the chance to say goodbye. Part of her was hurt by that, but the other part of her was angry. The flippant act of not giving her the chance to bid her husband farewell, even in private, made her wonder how long the Starks would see her as a burden, as an unwanted addition to their house.

Then, while Robb was away, she had had to endure her awkward introduction to the Stark household as Lady Hazelyn Bolton, Robb's betrothed. First his younger siblings were gathered together to meet their new good sister. Without Lord Eddard or Robb there, it was up to a resentful Lady Stark to explain the truth about Hazelyn to her children and why they had to keep it secret. Every word the Lady spoke had been laced with annoyance, at best.

Glancing at the two younger Stark children, Hazelyn smiled. Her eyes glazed over with boredom, Arya kicked a pebble by her boot. Bran bounced restlessly on the balls of his feet. They had taken the revelation well for the most part, more confused than anything else. Little Rickon didn't know Hazelyn, so everything simply went over his head. It was Sansa's reaction to the news that had made Hazelyn's heart break.

Hazelyn bit her lip as she dared a side glance at her former charge. Sansa stood straight and tall next to her, already near Hazelyn's height despite their four year age difference. She must've sensed someone watching her, because she turned her head towards Hazelyn. Her bright blue eyes glared at the older girl, full of resentment and hurt. Hazelyn looked away as shame twisted her gut. The girl she'd spent the last year tending to, who'd become like a little sister to her, hated her now. After hearing the news, Sansa at first had tried tell her mother she was wrong, that Hazel would never lie to her like that. But when she'd looked to her maid for reassurance, Hazelyn had only been able to stare back with a sorrowful gaze. With tears in her eyes, Sansa had called her a traitor and liar before being ushered away by Septa Mordane.

When Catelyn had presented Hazelyn to the castle staff later, Hazelyn had known from the looks on their faces that no one had been convinced that she'd only recently been betrothed to Robb and had arrived during the night. Only a few guards really knew the whole truth, but the rumors made few doubt whom Hazelyn really was.

Part of Hazelyn was quite irked at Lady Catelyn's blatant hostility and at her unwillingness to make their situation any more comfortable by even pretending to be civil. The servants followed their lady's example, and though they treated her respectfully, Hazelyn knew they were wary and unsure of her. Not able to handle both Lady Catelyn's hostile gaze and the whispers of the servants, Hazelyn had kept mostly to her guest chamber, spending time with Myna, thankful that she was there.

Looking over shoulder, she spotted her fair haired friend standing right behind Jon. Amongst the utter chaos of the past few days, Myna had been a comfort and steady constant for Hazelyn. She always had been, even when they were children together at the Dreadfort. Though even with her maid and best friend, Hazelyn felt a certain discomfort. She saw the hurt that still lingered in Myna's eyes, felt the imposed distance that the maid had put between them.

"Hey," Hazelyn jumped as someone grasped her hand. She snapped her gaze to up to meet Robb's. A serious look in his eyes, his fingers linked firmly with her and his thumb rubbed the back of her hand reassuringly. "Everything will be fine. We're in this together."

Just as he said the words, Hazelyn's ears picked up the rumbling sound of many hooves hitting the ground. Her father had arrived. An old feeling of fear crept back into Hazelyn's mind and the protective instincts that she'd thought she'd buried as she opened up to Robb suddenly came back. Drawing her hand away, she let that unfeeling numbness overtake her emotions and a blank expression settled over her face. "Together? That's new," she said flatly. "I've barely seen you for the past few days. You went off hunting with your father without so much as a goodbye."

Robb frowned, hurt crossing his face. "I didn't exactly have a choice," he whispered defensively. "It wasn't fun going off into the woods for two days so my father could lecture me on honesty and admonish me for being an irresponsible, rash boy. Yet I gladly endured it for you."

The sharpness in his tone made her feel a prick of guilt. He had risked a lot and didn't deserve her ire. Frowning slightly, she said, "I-"

Hazelyn swiftly closed her mouth, and her eyes shot forward as the creaking of Winterfell's opening gates drew her attention away. When a man rode into the courtyard bearing the black and red banner of the Bolton flayed man, her face froze into a cold mask and her eyes hardened to ice. Reaching down, she grabbed Robb's hand again and gave it a squeeze, hoping he understood her apology. She just couldn't find the words in that moment. She would have felt relieved when she felt the pressure of his hand squeezing back, but she could sense nothing else as Roose Bolton came into sight, sitting tall on his impressive Ryswell stallion.

Cold grey eyes locked with hers in a cold gaze. The two Bolton's stared at each other with hallow expressions, both determined to not give anything away. Father and daughter had been reunited, and a new round of their game had begun.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Riddles and Reunions

The silence in Lord Stark 's solar weighed so heavily on Hazelyn, she could hardly breath. Only the feeling of her aunt's long, smooth fingers kept her anchored to reality. While Lord Eddard and Robb sat on one side of the table and her father on the other, Hazelyn was forced to watch from the side as these men determined her entire future. She remained still as a statue as the two Starks and Bolton studied each other. She prayed her father would no weakness in Robb's armor to burrow through and infect with lies and cunning.

Finally, Roose's whispy voice broke the silence. "My lord," he nodded to Eddard."You have my eternal gratitude for the safe return of my daughter. Though, I must say I was a bit surprised when I read in your messages that she'd been wed to your son." He turned his cold stare on Robb and crossed his arms.

A small bit of anger flared inside Hazelyn. To the Starks, the gesture seemed nothing, but after years of living with the her father, she knew at least one of his tics. He was judging Robb and his father, arrogantly contemplating in his subtle way how to use them in his endless game. Her husband would never be apart of any game of his, she vowed silently.

"You will not be taking her from Winterfell, my lord," Robb ground out, his eyes narrowed dangerously. Roose simply looked at him with a slight raise of his brow, not at all perturbed.

"Son," Eddard warned quietly. Robb didn't say a word more, but his jaw twitched and his blue eyes glared at Roose with open hostility. Sighing, Eddard nodded to Roose in return. "It is true Lord Bolton. My son and your daughter said sacred vows before the heart tree in my godswood several nights ago in the presence of witnesses, and then consummated the vows soon after."

Frowning, Roose tilted his head. "I mean no disrespect, my lord, but I find it odd that this union was made without my knowledge. As Hazelyn's father, I should have been the one to arrange her marriage, and I had already promised her to Olyvar of House Frey." Hazelyn's jaw clenched. She knew what Roose was doing. Lord Stark wore his honor like armor. To question it like this was to rub salt into a tender wound. Her father was trying to throw him off balance. Luckily her aunt came to the rescue.

"That betrothel was not in her best interest," Barbary interjected sharply, her eyes narrowed. "So I arranged a more suitable match for her." She clutched Hazelyn's hand tightly as Roose shifted his cold gaze in their direction. His nostrils flared, and his eyes grew thin as he focused on Hazelyn. She stared back with equally cold, calm, grey eyes, refusing to give anything away.

"Lady Hazelyn served as my eldest daughter's handmaiden for the better part of a year, but neither I, nor my lady wife, knew whom she truly was until a few days ago when Lady Dustin recognized her," Eddard said honestly, his face serious and grim. "Concerning the marriage, the wedding was a... " he paused, glancing back at his son, "rushed and quiet affair."

Roose shot a suspicious look at Robb "Was there a particular reason for the secrecy and urgency?" He asked, playing the role of the concerned father surprisingly well.

His face turing red in rage, Robb appeared ready to rise to his feet, but it was his father that stood, striking an imposing figure that would make even the bravest man lose confidence.

"Not for the reason you might think, Lord Bolton," Eddard said in a calm but severe tone. His dark grey eyes stared at Roose with heavy judgement.

"My son did not steal your daughter's virtue. He wanted to protect her. Lady Hazelyn has claimed that harsh treatment at your hand made her fearful enough to flee from her home. Lady Dustin has supported her accusations. So I allowed her to stand as your daughter's guardian and directed for the marriage to proceed. I do understand that Lady Hazelyn is your heir, and will grant you a sum of gold to compensate you for any trouble you may have with Walder Frey, but the union will stand. I have kept it private in hopes that you would agree to a second ceremony in a few weeks, to preserve her reputation, and yours, Lord Bolton. You would be granted the honor of giving her hand to my son before the Northern Lords, but if you do not agree, your daughter will still remain with us."

Hazelyn felt shocked at her good father's unconditional support of the marriage. He'd even gone as far as to partially lie to her father. Side glancing to see Barbary's dropped jaw, she knew her aunt felt equally dumbfounded. Even Robb 's eyes widened slightly. To Hazelyn 's disappointment however, Roose's expression remained passive. Even with one of his darkest truths exposed to his leige lord, even though Hazelyn had finally managed to beat him at his own game, she didn't get the pleasure of seeing him break, as he'd broken her, and Mother, so many times in the past.

She became nervous as Roose calmly rose to meet Lord Eddard in an even gaze. He had something else up his sleeve, didn't he? He had thought of some way to make her look like a silly little girl and to force Lord Stark dissolve her marriage to Robb, she thought in horror. She held her breath and gripped her skirts as her father spoke.

"If that is your judgement Lord Stark, then of course, I shall abide by it."

Hazelyn felt as if she'd entered a bizarre dream. She knew she had to be dreaming when her father bowedto Lord Eddard. "I will also be happy to escort my daughter in your planned ceremony. I thank you for the honor of such a grand match for my daughter and House Bolton." When Eddard nodded in acknowledgment, Roose held up a finger, "Although, " Hazelyn's stomach twisted as her father continued, "I would request two things in return. I will be wedding a lady of House Frey myself since my daughter will not be able to. I ask for leave to bring her and several members of her family to the ceremony as my guests."

To Hazelyn's dismay, Eddard conceded. "Very well."

"And I would also like to very briefly speak to my daughter alone. I will then depart for the Dreadfort to collect her possessions and to share the news of her upcoming marriage with our people. Our small folk love her dearly and will be glad to hear of it."

Everyone in room stilled and looked at Roose, but he focused solely on Hazelyn, an unreadable look in his pale grey eyes.

"No," Robb growled as he shot up to his feet, shaking his head. "I won't allow my wife-"

"Of course Father," Hazelyn interrupted with a queit, pleasant tone. Staring at him with a sweet smile and blank eyes, she stood and folded her hands in front of her. No matter how much Robb protested, she needed to do this. She needed to face Roose Bolton herself and bring his games with her to an end.

She refused to look at Robb or Barbary as Lord Eddard made them leave the room. She simply focused her gaze on the wall, letting all her emotions go. Then the door shut and an unnerving silence fell over the chamber . For a moment, father and daughter stared each other, twin pairs of pale grey eyes trying to decipher the other's secrets.

"You said you wanted to speak to me alone, so speak," Hazelyn finally said in a quiet voice, her face passive, trying to cover the unease she felt underneath. Truly, what she felt was much closer to fear, but what had she to fear of this man anymore? He couldn't touch her without facing Lord Stark's wrath, and her husband would be Lord Stark after him. Yet, even knowing that, it soothed her little. But she had to end her father's games and show him that he couldn't use her anymore.

Roose smiled blandly, no emotion in his eyes. "Can a father not spend time with his daughter after being parted from her for so long?"

Hazelyn wanted to laugh, but she kept her voice flat. "Not you. Do you really think I'm daft enough to believe that you don't want something, that you're just going to accept this marriage without trying to get something out of it?"

Roose nodded, a smile still on his face. "So you really did out play me. Perhaps you have my intelligence after all." Hazelyn frowned as he chuckled, not sure what to say. His confidence made her feel uneasy. He had no reason to act as though all the pieces on the board were in his favor.

He walked over towards one of the windows, looking at the grey blanket of storm clouds covering the sky. The wind blew a cold draft into the chamber, but neither Bolton shivered. "I will bring your possessions from the Dreadfort when I return for the wedding," Roose stated, turning towards Hazelyn with his hands behind his back. "I'd bring them sooner, but I have a matter to attend to in the Riverlands"

Hazelyn knew that matter had to be the Freys. "So you picked out a groom for me even after I went missing?" she asked evenly, trying to hide her disgust.

"Aye, Olyvar, Lord Walder's eighteenth son," Roose nodded. "The boy seemed less empty-headed than the rest of them and is only two years older than you. It would had been a fine match."

"I doubt that," Hazelyn murmured beneath her breath. Crossing her arms, she looked away. "I assume Lord Walder won't be happy to hear of my marriage."

"I doubt he will be pleased by your actions," Roose replied calmly. "Both Lord Frey and I desired an alliance between our two houses. As it is, I still intend to keep our bargain."

"How?" Hazelyn snapped her gaze back towards Roose. What other child did he have? Then she remembered, how could she forget..."You mean to push your bastard onto some poor Frey girl?" she questioned sharply, narrowing her eyes.

"Of course not. I've already stated that I'm going to take a Frey lady to wife," Roose denied with an annoyed expression. "Ramsay is baseborn. His status is too low for such a marriage."

"I don't want that bastard at my wedding," Hazelyn snapped. If Roose dared bring his monster to Winterfell, she'd see to it that the bastard never set foot in either the godswood to bear witness, nor the great hall to celebrate. Why should he be there at her wedding when Domeric couldn't? It would be the perfect wedding gift to her if the bastard froze to death in the icy weather.

Thinking of Domeric, Hazelyn then spat, "I swear to this day he has Domeric's blood on his hands. He's monster and if you were wise you wouldn't trust him. You should've taken his head long ago." A dark sneer formed on her face. "Better yet, you should have strapped him to a cross and made him look like our sigil."

"Your know well that the Starks outlawed flaying centuries ago. It is not to be used lightly," Roose glared at his daughter. "And as I've told you before, there is no evidence that my bastard poisoned your brother. I will not shed blood pointlessly."

Hazelyn laughed bitterly, not able to hold in her anger. "You would've killed him if you didn't have use for him. You'd come up with some excuse. But he's your pawn, just like I was, so you won't get rid of him, will you?" She cast a chilling glare at Roose.

Roose smiled nonchalantly as he studied his daughter. "A valid observation. You've learned much in past year. I have to say," he approached Hazelyn and put a hand on her shoulder. "I never truly realized how much potential you had. I'm impressed with what you've accomplished, despite the trouble you've caused me."

Hazelyn made a face and shook his hand off. "What do you mean by that?" she demanded.

Roose had what almost looked like admiration in his eyes. "You've shown a remarkable resiliency and talent for deception. You managed to convince the Starks you were a common girl, gained a trusted position in their household, evaded my men, and seduced the Stark boy within a year. If I had known the true extent of your talents, I would've sent you to court in the capitol. Perhaps you could have even turned the head of the King."

"I didn't seduce anyone!" Hazelyn hissed, cold fury building in her like a rising storm. "And I didn't marry Robb for his title. I love him and care for his family deeply, much more than you ever cared for yours."

Roose raised a brow at his daughter. "Do you really expect me to believe you married him purely for love? A fine tale for a song, but I know you daughter, and you would have never wed him if he was a common boy with no position of power to protect you."

Hazelyn drew in an angry breath, ready to deny it, but then the image of a boy with black hair and green eyes flashed in her mind. Her childhood friend and sweetheart, Darren had always harbored affections toward her. He had remained loyal to her even when she had treated him like shit and gotten his father killed though her reckless behavior. He'd risked his own personal safety to help her escape the Dreadfort. She'd seen the love in his eyes and felt it when he kissed her that last time. Not too terribly long ago, she'd believed herself in love with him too. But she had never even considered the possibility of marrying him. Even when they might of had a real chance to be together in White Harbor, she'd dismissed the idea as a folly without a second thought. And she'd reasoned over the last few moons that a marriage Robb would keep her safe.

Hazelyn's eyes widened when she realized Roose was completely right about her. But she could't let him see that he'd managed to find a way past her armor. Pressing her lips together, she hardened her face in resolve.

Roose shook his head, disappointed. "You out maneuvered me daughter, and that is a feat indeed." His eyes met Hazelyn's. She saw a fierceness in his stern expression. "Don't waste such abilities on frivolous passions."

"I'm not wasting anything because I will never be like ," Hazelyn replied coldly.

Roose smirked in amusement. "I'll always be your father. I've always been a part of you. Without even realizing it, you played me like a pawn. I searched for you for over a year. Sent my best hunters after you. Yet still, you won. You play the game well. Its a part of your nature, as it is mine."

"Game?" Hazelyn huffed in disbelief. Her hands curled into fists. "Life is not some game and people aren't your pawns to play with," she hissed fiercely. Drawing herself to her full height, she stepped closer to her father. "I'mnot your pawn, not anymore," she sneered, her grey eyes hard as ice. Roose's gray gaze reflected back the same emotionless chill. A moment of tense silence passed, and then Hazelyn tore herself away. Filled with determination, she raised her chin and stalked towards the door. She was ending this conversation on her terms.

She felt a rush of triumph start to rise in her chest as she wrapped her fingers around the door latch. But then as she turned it, he spoke.

"Hazelyn," Roose called out. His calm voice sounded almost like the crackling of ice, filling Hazelyn with a sudden chill. "Allof life is a game, and all people are players or pawns. You can tell yourself what you like, but the blood of the Boltons flows strong through veins. The gods gave you the talents to win, and you are in the position to take what you want, so do so. Otherwise, you'll simply end up a pawn in someone else's victory."

Hazelyn closed her eyes. Her knuckes turned white as she squeezed the door handle. She wanted nothing more than to slap Roose Bolton and to spit in his face. But that's what he wanted. A reaction, to manipulate her. If she difingied him with a response, he'd know how close he came to the truth. She did scheme, but he could never know. Then he would win.

So she bit her lip, drew in a deep breath through her nose, opened the door, and walked away without a word. Yet even as she stepped out of the room, his words echoed in her ears.

" I 'll always be your father. I 've always been a part of you. "

Would she ever be free of Roose Bolton or his legacy?

"And the plants in those glass houses grow all through the winter?" Myna asked Jon with awe in her voice, "Even through blizzards?"

"Aye," Jon nodded as they approached the tilt yard. "Last winter, even during the worst storms, Robb and I would spend hours playing in the glass gardens." He smiled as he recalled a distant memory of him and Robb wrestling in the dirt while howling winds raged outside. That winter seemed so long ago now. It'd before Arya was even born, but it still held some of his fondest memories.

"No wonder there was fresh fruit at breakfast. We had to wait for ages for new shipments at the Dreadfort," Myna pouted, though there was a playful glint in her brown eyes.

Jon had taken Myna on an informal tour around Winterfell, just as he'd told Theon he would a couple days before. With Robb under Father's watchful eye and Hazelyn sequestered away with Lady Dustin, they'd found themselves in each other's company quite a bit over the past few days. Myna had a lively temperament and laughed easily, and she was certainly a more enjoyable companion than Theon.

The sounds of clashing weapons filled Jon's ears as they entered the tilt yard. It was full of drilling soldiers and smelled of sweat and mud. Jon had spent many hours here with Robb and Theon, learning the art comabt under the wathful eye of Rodrick, Jory, and Father, and countless more by himself, practicing to become the greatest warrior he could be. He had to be a good fighter if he ever hoped to achieve his dream.

As soon as Father allowed, he'd travel north to the Wall with Uncle Benjin. He'd take the black and become one of the greatest rangers in the history of the Night's Watch. A bastard could never inherit titles, but might rise high and find glory among the black brothers, where all past sins and associations were forgotten.

Jon listened to the ring of the blacksmith striking an anvil in the forge nearby as his blonde companion eyed the tilt yard. He'd never met a girl other than Arya that really liked spending time there, so he thought the maid would lose interest quickly, but she didn't.

Jon curiously followed Myna as she wandered over to the corner of the yard with practice swords and dummies. She inspected the dummy that he'd been hitting when they first met and then glanced at him with a playful smirk. "You really did a number on this poor lout. A few days later and he's still not recovered," she quipped as she traced her fingers over a dent in the rough wood. Jon shrugged and looked at the ground, still embarrassed about his childish behavior, but Myna wasn't even looking at him, inspecting the rack of practice swords instead.

"You really can swing a sword," Myna chuckled, running her hand over the the sword pommels. She looked up at Jon, her light brown eyes almost twinkling in the sunlight.

"Well, I practice quite a bit." He shrugged. "I guess my arm is decent."

"How much is 'quite a bit'?" Myna mocked in good humor, raising her brow at him. She gestured to the dummy once more. "Judging by the damage you did to that poor sod, I'd say your better than 'quite a bit."

Jon smiled slightly, but shook his head. "I've just been swinging a sword since I could hold one."

"Well, I've been sewing since I could hold a needle," Myna shot back with gusto. "And yet I'm no expert seamstress."

"I," Jon laughed, embarrassed, "I wouldn't know... But I didn't claim to be anywhere near an expert swordsman."

"No, I was the one who gave you that compliment, you just chose not to say thank you." Myna pressed her lips together and looked at him expectantly, admonishment in her tone.

"Thank you," Jon said earnestly, still not used to genuine praise from a stranger.

"You're welcome, " Myna smiled as she looked away, blushing. Jon found he couldn't stop himself from staring at her in that instance. She did look quite pretty, and he could understand why Theon would try to get her into bed. Standing at a middling height, she had a slender figure, but muscles from her work as a servant. Her flashing light brown eyes and lively temperament, paired with her gold blonde hair, a color that was rare for Northerners, were sure to make her stand out. But Jon found himself more intrigued by her sarcastic wit and blunt kindness. It made him desire a friendship more than a quick, meaningless romp in the sheets.

Suddenly, she lifted her gaze back towards him. He jumped and distractedly fidgeted with his belt.

"Is that real steel? " Myna questioned, studying the sword that hung on Jon's side. "It looks like a good weapon."

"Errm.." Jon held up his sword. His eyes swept over the blade, hilt to spine."It's nothing special, really. But thanks."

"Can I touch it?" Myna asked bluntly.

"Wha...?" Jon flushed red and his eyes widened. Had she just asked...

"Can you teach me how to hold your sword?" Myna clarified, pointing at his blade. "I grew up in a castle, but never got the chance to even hold a practice sword."

Jon shrugged. "Okay," he replied, feeling flustered and relieved at the same time. Drawing his sword, he motioned to her. "Come here." Cautiously, he handed her the blade. He tried not pay attention to the spark of heat he felt when his fingers brushed against hers, and wondered if that would have happened had he worn gloves. He waited until she had both hands on the hilt before he let was surprised her arms didn't drop the weapon into the dirt immediately. The first time he'd ever held a real sword, he'd barely managed hold it upright. It had taken him months to be able to wield it one handed. "Show me your stance," he ordered, crossing his arms. He chuckled when she tried to awkwardly raise it, her arms shaking with effort.

"Funny, am I?" she scowled playfully. "Then show me how to do this right!"

Grinning, Jon walked behind her and used his boot to push her feet apart. "First widen your stance." He had a great deal of fun poking and prodding at her as he corrected her position. "Now tighten your grip, and keep your knuckles held firm," he instructed. Myna stuck out her tongue as she focused, but her fingers slipped and she almost dropped the sword.

"No," Jon shook his head. He stepped behind her, reaching his arms around so his hands rested over hers. "More like this," he mumbled, moving her fingers into the correct place. He swallowed hard as his breath moved some stray hairs at the nape of her neck. He heard Myna's breath hitch, and nearly jumped away, but he knew that would make it worse. He had to struggle not to squirm at the warmth he felt radiating from her body.

For an endless moment, both stood there in silence. Jon felt the breath move through her chest. The closeness completely caught him off guard, for he found he almost wanted to move in closer, but he couldn't. He wasn't going to take even step down that path.

Suddenly, somone yelled out loud. The sound rang across the tilt yard and made Myna gasp. Alarmed, she jumped out of Jon's arms and dropped his sword with a thud. Jon scanned the tilt yard for the source of the noise as he resheathed his blade and spotted Bran standing by the the archery targets, glaring down at a bow lying in the mud. Frowning, he headed over to his little brother, Myna just steps behind. "Bran, what's wrong?" he asked.

The young boy looked up at him with a frustrated scowl and dejected eyes. "I could loose a hundred arrows and never even get close to the target," he moaned as he stubbornly kicked the dirt. "I'm pathetic. I'll never be an archer."

"That's nonsense, of course you'll be one." Jon glanced curiously at Myna as she approached Bran, hands on her hips.

"Bran, this is Myna... my friend," Jon introduced with a slight smile. "Myna, my little brother Bran."

"It's nice to meet you, my lord," Myna grinned as she knelt and extended her hand to the seven year old.

Bran cautiously accepted it before looking back at his bow. "Nice to meet you too," he mumbled glumly.

"There's no need to act like that," Myna admonished. She picked Bran's bow and inspected it for a moment, pulling at the string. "You need to treat your bow gently if you want it to shoot straight for you," she instructed. Handing it back to Bran, she stood up and pointed at a target. "Show me your stance, like your about to loose an arrow." Jon watched in surprise as she adjusted his brother's body and murmured pointers to him. Placing her hand on his arm, she helped Bran pull the bowstring taught. She then stepped away and nodded. "Loose."

Jon's eyes widened as the arrow sped through the air and struck the target nor far from center. "Well done! " he called to his brother, but his eyes were on the grinning maid. Bran let out a whoop of excitement as he turned towards the pair.

Jon smiled as his little brother thanked Myna profusely and she directed the boy back to practice. "How did you learn to use a bow?" Jon asked the maid as she came to stand beside him.

Myna smirked. "Through the teaching of a very patient friend and years of hunting hares. Though I didn't actually hit anything for the first year." She shrugged as she watched Bran prepare to loose another arrow.

Jon scrunched his brow. "What, Hazel and you went hunting back at the Dreadfort?" he asked jokingly, still a bit confused.

"Actually, we did," Myna said seriously. "We wanted the small folk in the village to have meat without having to poach on her father's land."

Jon frowned at her. "Things were that bad?"

"For some," Myna nodded, fiddling absently with her bear necklace. Then glancing up at the sky, she sighed. "Well, I need get to back to Ze-Hazelyn and Lady Dustin" Pressing her lips together, she placed a hand on Jon's shoulder. "Thanks for the tour and make sure your brother keeps practicing." She flashed Jon a smile, and then set off before he could say another word.

Without a thought, Jon called her name. Myna stopped mid step and glanced over her shoulder at him. For a second he didn't know what to say, but the twang of Bran's bow reminded him. "Have you been fishing before?" he asked .

"Aye," Myna faced him, tilting her hear.

"It's not the Weeping Water, but there's a pond not to far from the castle with a good supply of trout. It freezes over easily, but if you don't mind ice fishin-',"

"Say the day, and I'll come," Myna smiled.

"Alright," Jon felt his own lips curve up.

Myna nodded. "Well, I've got to go but I'll be seeing you." She winked in farewell and then resumed her trek towards keep.

Jon watched her retreating figure with a frown. She was a strange girl. Acting lively one second and serious the next, she seemed full of contradictions, somewhat like Hazel, but completely different. She was riddle, and while Jon normally didn't like riddles, he found that oddly enough, this one, he wanted to solve.

Hazelyn closed her eyes and leaned back against the soft pillows on her brother's bed, rolling her knife absently in her hand. Domeric's rich, deep voice sang "Brave Danny Flint" while his fingers plucked at the strings of their mother's old harp, producing a haunting tune that filled her with an odd sense of peace, for a moment at least. The tragic tale of the ancient Northern girl reminded her that no matter how much her father's bastard haunted her, no matter how tainted she felt by his touch, it could've been so much worse. She was alive and still had some of her dignity, while Dany Flint had been violated by so many men, and then left in the snow to die. Hazelyn had to keep reminding herself, it could have been so much worse.

Hazelyn blinked back tears as the song ended and then smiled at her older brother. "I always love it when you play that one."

"You love all the sad ones, Zel," Domeric laughed quietly. He smirked and glanced at her with a mischievous expression. "But then again, you've always been over dramatic."

Hazelyn gasped and narrowed her eyes. "I am not!" Setting her knife aside, she shoved her brother in the shoulder.

"So dramatic," Domeric sighed. He rolled his light grey eyes playfully before he reached over and ruffled Hazelyn's hair.

"Stop it Dom!" Hazelyn laughed as she tried to pull away, but he just leaned forward, chuckling as he messed it up more. Biting her lip, Hazelyn reached for his black hair to get her revenge. A few minutes later, both sister and brother flopped back onto the bed, breathless from laughter and with very ruffled hair.

"Dramatic as always," Domeric shook his head as he got up to put their mother's harp away.

Hazelyn scrunched up her face and stuck her tongue out at him. But when he sat back down, her pout faded into an earnest expression. "Thanks, Dom. I've missed hearing Mother's harp."

Domeric frowned, a haunted look in his eye. "I have too. I always think of Mother when I play." Both Bolton children sat in silence, the ghost of their mother feeling more present than ever. Domeric was truly the only person Hazelyn could bear to talk about Mother with. He was the only one who understood what it felt like to lose her.

"Zel..." Domeric said hesitantly. "S peaking of family, there's something I want to talk to you about." He smiled, though Hazelyn could see the uncertainty in his eyes.

"What?" She raised a brow and frowned deeply. Most likely he wanted to talk about their father. And they'd been having such a pleasant evening. She loathed to wonder why he wanted to spoil it.

"You know we have a half brother, don't you?" Domeric asked.

Hazelyn froze, the memory of the bastard's vicious sneer and hateful grey eyes taunting her. She bit her lip, pausing for a long moment before nodding. "I know Father has a bastard."

"Did you know he's lived nearby all these years? At the old mill up the river a ways. His name is Ramsay." Domeric's tone contained building excitement, but all Hazelyn felt was growing trepidation.

"I've heard rumors about him, but why are we even discussing this Dom?" she asked sharply, an annoyed expression on her face.

"I want us to go meet him," Domeric replied with a smile. He then frowned and shook his head. "I can't believe Father never introduced us when our brother's a short horse ride away. I asked him why, but he simply told me to stay away from Ramsay."

Hazelyn shivered and hugged herself tightly. "Maybe we should. I've heard stories about him. The small folk say that the bastard of Bolton is dangerous, violent, " she murmured, her face going blank. She had half a mind to stand and leave, to put an end to the mad notion of meeting her father's monster. But what if Dom didn't get it? What if he did something foolish like going to meet him?

"But Zel, he's our brother," Domeric pleaded. "He couldn't have had it easy, growing up a bastard. Father has never reached out to him, so I think we should." He smiled and winked at his sister. "We'd have a new brother who could spar with me and look after you."

Hazelyn shot off the bed and rounded on Domeric with a cold glare. "I already have an older brother and don't need another," she snapped. "Dom, he's dangerous! Folk that live along the weeping water, they say he's a murderer, that he's attacked girls." Her eyes started to grow glossy with tears.

Domeric looked at her with a disappointed and angry expression that reminded Hazelyn of their mother when she had gotten upset. "Zel, he's a bastard, and people don't speak kindly of them. A lot of folk would paint him a monster. The rumors are probably baseless, mayhaps even rooted in jealousy. Anyway, I thought you of all people would have the kindness to look past gossip for your brother."

"He is not my brother! " Hazelyn hissed. "But if you want to be an idiot and put yourself in harm's way, by all means, go meet him." She stormed towards the door, but regret quickly filled her heart. She glanced over her shoulder, one last plea for him to understand on her lips. What she saw made her eyes grow wide. She froze in terror as she took in the sight of Ramsay looming behind Domeric, a large knife in hand.

"DOM!" Hazelyn screamed as Ramsay slashed the blade across her brother's throat. Tears ran down her cheeks as she watched Domeric clutch at the red ruin of his neck, collapse to his knees, and then, finally, fall heavily to the floor. His legs writhed in agony. His hands stained red as he tried to breathe. Choking gasps filled the room as Hazelyn's brother drowned in his own blood. Ramsay laughed and strode towards her with a disgusting leer in his eye. "Now that he's gone, you're all I have left to play with. I hope you put a fight. It'll be so much more fun fucking you that way."

Terrified, Hazelyn turned and ran. She didn't think, she just ran. Her feet carried her through the halls and down a familiar steep staircase. At the bottom she was met with an old iron door, the entrance to the deepest dungeons of the Dreadfort.

Forcing the rusty iron lock open with her knife, she stumbled into the darkness and slammed the door behind her. She dropped to the floor and started to sob, no mind that that monster could be just behind her, listening for her. Domeric's choking gasps still filled her ears, and the fact that he was suddenly gone was all she could comprehend. She hid face in her hands and cried until her throat felt raw.

She startled when so mething cold touched her shoulder. Lifting her head, she glanced over to see a hand. Smooth, pale, white fingers laid on her shoulder in a soothing gesture, though It felt as if each slender digit was driving a shard of ice into her skin. Hazelyn gazed upward, finding the courage to face the hand's owner. The sight made her eyes widened. She froze, her heart stopped, and she screamed.

Hazelyn woke up in a cold sweat, clutching the bed furs tightly in her fists. Her cheeks felt wet and she could the taste the saltiness of her tears on her tounge. Laying awake in the darkness, she felt a painful loneliness suddenly spring in her chest. And she felt cold. She glanced around the chamber. All the windows were shuttered and the hearth fire still burned, yet she felt the presence of ice. She felt freezing, but it wasn't from a chill in the air.

She was so frightened and overwhelmed by the foreign sensation, she didn't even take time to slip on shoes. The only thing she could think of was Robb, and the urge that drove her to go to him. The late hour, her state of undress, the danger that would come if anyone caught them together, none of it mattered. The memories of the warmth and security she felt in his arms made running through the halls of Winterfell towards his chambers, seem like a good idea.

She was so desperate to get to her husband, she didn't notice any obstacles in her path. Almost to the family wing of the castle, she didn't see the grey spectre in the shadows until it was too late. Colliding with the solid mass, she yelped in surprise as she toppled backwards to the hard ground.

"Lady Hazelyn?" A quiet voice asked. Hazelyn stared up wide eyed into kind face of Measter Luwin. He studied her with a raised brow. "Are you alright my lady? " he inquired as he helped her up. He frowned in concern as he took in her state of undress, noting how she looked quite disheveled after her tumble. "You seem quite distressed. Is there something you need assistance with?"

"Uh- Yes... I.." Hazelyn stuttered, mortification rendering her speechless. She gripped her nightgown as she looked down at her bare feet.

"I've seen many weary castle folk walk through these walls, feeling their way through the darkness, but never a lady at this hour," Maester Luwin murmured. Hazelyn looked up at him sheepishly. The old man's soft comment wasn't accusatory, and she heard a hint of suspicion in his tone.

She opened her mouth a few times before uttering, "I couldn't fall asleep. I-I was just going.." She fell silent as her cheeks flushed in shame.

"Another man might be tempted to ask where m'lady was headed," Maester Luwin commented, a knowing look in his eyes. Hazelyn bit her lip as awkwardness filling her belly. She knew the elder would not ask, for he was not of a high enough status to question the doings of a noble girl. But still, with those wise eyes fixed upon her, she felt as ashamed as a scolded child. He knew where she was going, what promises she was about to break. "Might I escort you to my tower my lady?" he asked. "I'm sure I can find something to help you sleep."

"Of course," Hazelyn nodded in defeat. The journey was long and silent. Soon enough, he sent her off to bed with a vial of nightshade in her hand .

Frustrated, Hazelyn headed back to the Guest House. She trudged up the stairs to the second level, ready to face another sleepless night. She knew Maester Luwin was right in stopping in her, though her heart didn't want to admit it. The thing in her breast still longed to be by Robb's side, to curl up around him, and find comfort in his warmth. But she couldn't get caught sneaking to his chambers if they wished to convince the whole North they'd had a "proper" union. And cooperating with this damn wedding scheme would hopefully help her gain favor with Lord and Lady Stark, though she was going to lose a lot of sleep over the next fortnight for it.

Lagging slowly down the long corridor, Hazelyn sighed. She could carve and read all night, but she already knew the memories of her nightmares wouldn't go away. Only when she was with Robb, when she wasn't alone, could she put her mind at ease enough to sleep.

She rubbed her eyes as she made her way through shadows back to her lonely chamber, dreading the night of solitude ahead. But then a dim glow caught her eye and halted her thoughts. Myna had been set up in the small servant room beside Aunt Barbary's chamber. A faint light shined though the cracks in the maid's door.

A spark of hope grew in Hazelyn's chest at the thought of her friend being awake. Dimly, she remembered that noble ladies sometimes had a close companion share a bed with them at night, and recalled the odd night when Myna slept in her bed at the Dreadfort. Maybe she wouldn't have to spend the rest of the night alone after all. She knocked on the wooden door as quietly as she could. For a moment, there was only silence, but then she heard foot steps and the metallic click of the latch.

Hazelyn tried to smile as the door opened and Myna peered out into the hall. The young woman frowned when she spotted her mistress and opened the door wider. Clad in only a linen night gown, her blonde hair hanging loose and wild, the maid appeared quite silly as she curtsied. "Is there something you need assistance with, m'lady?" she muttered, regarding Hazelyn with a distant expression.

Hazelyn would've laughed and dismissed Myna's formality as a joke had she not seen the pain and defensiveness in her eyes. Myna had been a pleasant companion over the past few days, talking with Hazelyn, doing whatever she asked, and even sharing a few small laughs with her. But after the night that they'd reunited, she'd acted so distant. She hadn't called Hazelyn by name, and had avoided anything but small talk. Her brown eyes hadn't had their usual twinkle, and her jovial smiles had become hallow. She'd not shown any of her true self, her sarcastic humor nor her hot temper. Myna had been acting as a servant rather than a friend. Yet Hazelyn needed her friend desperately right now.

"I can't sleep. Can I come in, please?" Hazelyn asked, staring at Myna with imploring eyes.

Myna frowned for a moment, hesitating, but then slowly nodded. "Of course, m'lady," she said cautiously, stepping aside to let Hazelyn pass.

The room resembled the one Hazelyn had slept in for the past year, not very spacious but comfortable. A small bed sat against one wall and a plain wooden chest and water basin sat along the other. A few candles burned low, casting a faint golden light on the stone walls. Hazelyn sat down on the bed and waited silently for Myna to join her.

"So what are up doing this late at night?" Hazelyn inquired with a tentative smile once the her friend settled beside her.

"Just some needlepoint, m'lady," Myna murmured as she pulled a piece of cloth and a needle from beneath her pillow. She didn't bother to glance upwards as she threaded the needle.

Hazelyn leaned a bit closer to study her work. The outline of a rabbit was stitched in brown thread. "I always found it odd that you could handle both a needle and a bow so well," Hazelyn mused with a grin.

"Of course, m'lady," Myna replied quietly, giving Hazelyn a bland half smile.

Hazelyn's fingers grasped at the wool blanket beneath her as frustration flared inside of her. "Myna, I've already told you several times that you don't have call me my lady. Stop with the damn charade already." She scrunched her brows and scowled at the maid. "You're not some timid little serving girl. You're my closest friend."

"Your closest friend, really?" Myna scoffed as she pulled the needle through her material. Hazelyn almost sighed in relief. Finally, she was beginning to see the true Myna.

"Aye," Hazelyn snapped, an annoyed expression on her face. "So if you have something to say, just say it. I need my friend, not some simpering maid."

"Alright," Myna assented, setting down her needle work calmly. She turned towards Hazelyn, arms crossed, her brown eyes flashing. "You're a selfish bitch."

Hazelyn's mouth opened in surprise. "Excuse me?"

"You told me to say what I had to say," Myna shrugged, fire burning in her eyes, yet there was a hint of pleasure there too.

"So you're still angry? Even after the conversation we had the night you found me?" Hazelyn frowned.

Myna barked out a laugh. "Of course I'm still angry. My relief at finding you alive was just greater that night. Did you really expect me to just forgive you after you abandoned me and every other person that cared for you?!" Her anger made her stand, not wanting to be at the same level with her mistress and friend.

Hazelyn narrowed her eyes at the accusation, her defensive instincts starting to kick in. "I did what was necessary to keep all of you safe," she said fiercely, standing as well.

"Aye, what you thought was necessary, with no care with about how it would affect the rest of us," Myna spat, her voice shaking. "I trecked all over the bloody North looking for you, worrying that one day I'd find you dead. Elena prayed day and night for your safety and blamed herself for your disappearance. Darren always acted miserable, believing he'd lost two people he loved instead of one." Hazel's chest began to ache, and she opened her mouth in defense, but Myna wasn't half done. "Your Aunt Barbary has aged ten years, racing around to find you before your bloody father." She momentarily paused, panting for breath, then continued . "I know you were went through some fucking horrible shit, but you got so caught up in yourown pain, that you didn't think of anyone but yourself." She glared at Hazelyn angrily, but her eyes shined with tears.

"I'd rather you all hate me than die," Hazelyn hissed, her own eyes tearing up. "Or be caught at that fucking bastard's mercy." She had to make Myna understand. She'd already lost so many of her family. She couldn't lose another.

"Do you think I liked being alone Myna?" She asked harshly. "I almost became a whore just to feed myself. I'd would've been a fucking sally had Robb not intervened at the last moment."

The fire in Myna's eyes dissolved as her jaw dropped.

Hazelyn chuckled weakly. "I wished almost every night that that I'd gone with all of you to White Harbor, but if my father had caught us, I can't imagine how he would've of punished you all for helping me. Marvion already died because of my foolishness," Hazelyn paused, swallowing hard so she wouldn't cry. "I couldn't let that happen again. But for what it's worth," she looked sadly at Myna, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I made a mess of all this, that I took you all for granted. I just-" She bit her lip and closed her eyes tightly as a sob shook her chest.

She was surprised when she felt an warm hand grab her cold one, fingers curling softly around her own. "Me too," she heard Myna mumble. "I understand why you did it, Zel. I shouldn't think what you did was selfish. Deep down, I don't, not truly. I just felt hurt... and sacred. I didn't want to lose my sister." Hazelyn blinked her eyes open to see her friend staring at the ground with fear written across her face.

"You never will," Hazelyn vowed seriously, squeezing Myna's fingers. She felt a tentative bit hope rise in her as she asked, "Would you be willing to take up your old job and stay here at Winterfell with me?"

Myna didn't respond immediately, a thoughtful expression on her face. Hazelyn bit her lip as anxiety built in her chest. But then an impish smirk appeared on Myna's lips. "Of course. You can't get rid of me that easily." She paused a beat, and then glanced slowly at the door. "Besides, someone's got to protect you from the she-beast, Lady Stark."

Both girls genuinely laughed and fell back on the bed, breaking the tense atmosphere. "I'm glad," Hazelyn sighed as she laid flat on the matress. "It'll be good to have someone else who knows everything that happened." She wouldn't carry that heavy weight alone anymore.

Myna turned her head towards Hazelyn, a questioning frown on her face. "You haven't told your husband everything?"

"I did tell him most of it, but Robb doesn't know the details, of what..." Hazelyn swallowed. "Of what the bastard did. I didn't even mention that he was my father's bastard. I just said he was one of my father's men."

"Why keep it secret? Don't you want justice for Marvion and your brother? For yourself?"

Hazelyn stared at the ceiling as pain surged her. "It's too late for that. I don't have enough proof for him to be rightfully accused, and if Robb knows I was touched by my...half brother... " she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "If I said anything, that bastard would just come back to haunt me."

Myna looked at ceiling as well and sighed, "Alright. I'll take your secret to the grave," she promised. Then she glanced over at Hazelyn seriously. "As long as you keep mine."

Hazelyn grabbed her hand again and squeezed. "Always have and always will."

Myna squeezed back and their dark secrets were thus locked away in the deepest depths of their minds. But the truth cannot be held back forever. Dark secrets fester like wounds, and always return to haunt those that would've kept them in the dark.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19: A Place and a Purpose

Hazelyn bit her lip and clutched at her skirts as she walked towards Lady Catelyn's solar. She felt like she was about to enter a pit of vipers, though she'd probably stand a better chance against a serpent than her good mother. Not that she should comparing Catelyn to a venomous reptile in the first place, yet with the way the woman treated her, it almost seemed a fair comparison. Despite that fact, she'd heard from a steward that large shipments of supplies had come in over the past few days for the wedding, and felt she should help with at least some of the arrangements for the ceremony. If Catelyn would let her, she sighed internally.

A stubborn, prideful part of Hazelyn was irked that she even had to ask to help. It was her wedding after all. And yet her annoyance was always tempered when she remembered the fact that Lady Stark likely thought that she'd stolen something from her. A better marriage for Robb, a say in who her son would marry, even Robb himself. He'd never truly rebelled against his parents before he wedded her. Whatever the case, were Hazelyn in Lady Catelyn's place, she might feel the same.

Hazelyn sighed and shook her head. Honestly, she hadn't known what to do with herself over the past few days. After Lord Stark had declared the second wedding would take place in just one moon, she'd been happy to see her father leave Winterfell, but had felt less pleased to see her aunt depart. Barbary had claimed she needed to settle some matters in the Barrowlands before the ceremony, but Hazelyn thought it far more likely that she just wanted to get away from Lady Catelyn. The two women could barely stand to be in the same room together.

Myna had luckily stayed behind at Wintefell to take on her old job again. Her presence was the only thing keeping Hazelyn sane. Everyone else in the keep regarded her with discomfort or disdain, and any place she went, she felt unwanted and useless. She'd even tried to join her good sisters in the sewing room one afternoon, but had found she couldn't really stomach Sansa's angry glares and Arya's hesitant, awkward behavior. She felt like a stranger to them, unannounced and unwelcome, and was too aware of her lies to attempt to win their trust back so soon. On top of all that, she barely saw Robb anymore because his father constantly demanded his presence or had some other miscellaneous task for him to do.

Under normal circumstances, a young lord's betrothed should be spending time with her good mother, starting to learn about the household, but Catelyn had made it clear in the hard glares she'd cast Hazelyn that she wouldn't welcome her good daughter's company. People would begin to talk if Catelyn didn't stop soon, and Hazelyn wondered if that was her goal: to cast a shadow onto her good-daughter's already suspect character. Hazelyn bit her lip even harder as she stopped before Catelyn's solar door.

She hesitated a moment after she raised her hand to knock on the oak wood. She almost turned away but then stopped herself. She was Robb's wife and would have to face Catelyn eventually. And despite his anger at her, Robb loved his mother deeply, so Hazelyn had to at least try to make peace. Catelyn was probably running herself ragged to arrange such a huge ceremony in one month. Perhaps she'd appreciate the gesture if Hazelyn offered to help lighten the burden.

Blowing out a deep breath, Hazelyn knocked. "Come!" A tired voice called. Slowly, she pushed open the door. Her eyes widened at the sight of papers and open ledgers haphazardly strewn across every flat surface of Catelyn's normally neat solar. The lady herself sat at her desk, hunched over some thick book, making quick notations in it's margins with her quill. Hazelyn felt guilty when she spotted the dark circles under the older woman's eyes. The short notice ceremony and recent discord amongst her family were sure to have caused Catelyn a lot stress. Hazelyn could only hope that her good mother would accept her offer to relieve some of it.

Not bothering to look up at her visitor, Catelyn said, "Vanyon, just put the ledgers on my side table and we'll go over them this evening. If you could find Maester Luwin for me, I would be grateful. I need to speak to him about-"

"My lady," Hazelyn interrupted softly. She tried her best to not let her hands ball up into fists as Catelyn's sharp blue eyes snapped upwards and narrowed.

The older woman put her quill down with force and stood up, her posture stiff and her expression stoic. Lady Catelyn may have been born a Tully, but her years at Winterfell had turned her into a pure Stark . "Lady Bolton," she formally addressed Hazelyn. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"I actually wanted to ask if there is something I could do for, my lady," Hazelyn tried to strengthen her voice and stand straighter. How was it she could find the metal to face her father, but could barely speak above a whisper around this woman? "I heard that large amounts of supplies were coming in for the wedding, and with it happening so soon, I thought I could help. I've managed aspects of the household at the Dreadfort and Barrowhall before." She nervously clasped her hands in front of her.

"Both of those keeps are far smaller than Winterfell, Lady Bolton. I'm afraid your experience would be of little help to me," Catelyn dismissed her stiffly, already turning her gaze towards another ledger.

"But my lady, surely there's something I can do for you. I really would like to help," Hazelyn pleaded, stepping towards the desk with an imploring expression. Her voice sounded timid even to her own ears. She could only imagine what her good mother thought.

Surprisingly, Catelyn paused a moment, and Hazelyn's spirits lifted a little in hope. But when she replied with a stiff "No thank you," Hazelyn deflated, yet was still determined enough to try again. "I've seen the store books, so perhaps I could assist in planning the wedding feast?" She pushed. She chose every word carefully, hoping nothing she said offended the woman any further. Alas, Catelyn's blue Tully eyes flashed to hers, coldness set in their normally warm blue. "I think you've already done quite enough to my family, little Lady Bolton."

Hazelyn bit her lip, tempted to defend herself, but the harshness in Catelyn's gaze stopped her. It felt so similar to her father's disapproving stare. No matter what she said, she wouldn't win. Forcing an unconvincing smile on her face, Hazelyn stood as tall as she could. " Of course, my lady, " she replied calmly, backing slowly towards the solar's entrance with what little dignity and pride she had left.

She closed the door softly and took a deep breath to keep her self from hissing. Taut with frustration, she hiked across the keep and up one it's tallest towers towards the rookary. Hopefully, some fresh air would help calm her disappointment and anger.

She walked up the stairs so fast, she was out of breath by the time she reached the top. Pushing the door open with force, she didn't bother to glance to the side even as a raven squawked in surprise. Ignoring all the large black birds' chirping, she went straight for the large open window. Leaning out over the wood railing, Hazelyn took in the vast expanse before her. The courtyard below clattered with activity while the grasses of the green moors further out swayed in the same cool wind that brushed against her face.

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, letting the different scents fill her nose. The gamey odor of the rookary mixed with the smell of dirt, the scent of pine, and the district fresh smell of ice and snow. A storm was coming, Hazelyn could tell. She could picture the dark clouds rolling over the Wolf's Wood from the north, casting a shadow across the Wall, leaving a path of frigid ice from the massive trees of Haunted Forest, to the jagged peaks of the Frostfangs, and to frozen wastelands beyond. Those wastelands, dark, cold, still, but beautiful... Not lifeless either...

Hazelyn gasped and jerked backwards when a hand grasped her shoulder. She blinked up wide-eyed into the old face Maester Luwin. "My lady, are you alright?" He asked. Wrinkles creased across his face as he frowned gently at her.

"Yes! Uhm, thank you," Hazelyn stuttered as she stood up and straightened her dress. She self-consciously smoothed back whisps of her wind blown hair as the old master studied her. "I just thought I would came up to see the view and get some fresh air." She trailed off.

"Ah," Metaster Luwin nodded in understanding. Something in his calm tone told Hazelyn that he didn't believe her. She squirmed like a child caught under the gaze of a strict caretaker. Gods, she must appear so childish to him, trying to sneak off to Robb the other night and then hiding away up here.

But instead of shooing Hazelyn away like a young child, Maester Luwin gave her a small smile. "My lady, would you like to assist me with these?" He asked, pulling dozens of small scrolls with Stark seals from his voluminous grey sleeve. "They're invitations to you're wedding. I could send them all off far quicker with an extra set of hands."

Hazelyn's eyes widened at the old man. Someone actually wanted her help with something. Pleasant surprise sprung up in her chest. "Of course." He instructed her how to bind the paper to a raven's leg, and they began to work in silence. Hazelyn smiled slightly as she gently gripped one raven's tiny appendage and secured an invitation to it. It felt nice to be useful again, how ever small the task.

"You appeared rather tired when I came up here, my lady," Maester Luwin commented after a few moments. "Have you been getting enough sleep? I could find you something stronger if the nightshade hasn't been effective."

Hazelyn bit her lip for a moment, and then shook her head politely. "No, it's been quite helpful, thank you," she murmured.

"Then perhaps there is something else troubling you?" The maester prodded further.

Hazelyn shifted away from the man as she studied him suspiciously. Was he trying to trick her into trusting him so he could report on her to Lady Stark? Master Tybald had done that many times to her when she was younger. She would tell him how angry she was at her father for taking so much from a certain family in the village, or ask him where to find certain supplies, only for her father to summon her to his solar for questioning the next day. Though he'd always seemed kind, she'd learned Maester Tybald could never be trusted, so why should she trust this maester?

Noticing her hesitant behavior, Luwin frowned at her with and an earnest expression. "I have served House Stark for many years, my lady, in many capacities, including listening when no one else would. And you are a Stark now, even though there are few in the world who know it."

Hazelyn bit her lip in thought. There was something about the old man's knowing gaze, his subtle wisdom that reminded her far more of Elena than it did Tybald. Maybe not all maesters were the same.

Cautiously, she began, "I'm just a bit lost... and frustrated."

"How so?" Luwin inquired.

Sighing, Hazelyn's shoulders sagged as she fastened another scroll to a raven. "I have the greatest admiration for Lady Stark, but, she's been very resistant towards me. Any attempt I've made to reach out to her, she turned me away."

Luwin nodded. "Lady Stark can be quite... protective, when it comes to her family, sometimes, overly so," he stated diplomatically. "Despite Robb being a man now, he still is her child. She's simply worried for his well being and needs time to see you're not going to hurt her son."

"I want to show her that, but she hasn't given me a chance." Hazelyn sighed hopelessly. "I don't want to cause a rift in her family, or her household. All the people here have been so kind, but they all act uncomfortable or angry around me now, and I've no idea how I can fix it."

"It was quite a shock to everyone, to find out your real identity, my lady. Once the Starks and their people see that Lady Hazelyn is no different from Hazel, they'll welcome you back as they did before."

Hazelyn felt slightly better at the old man's wise words, but she still wasn't completely certain. "But how do I show them when Lady Stark won't let me have anything to do with running the castle? If I can't do learn to lead the household competently, and they see Lady Catelyn won't accept me, how can I ever find a place here?"

Luwin studied her for moment before replying. "I'm sure Robb will do all he can to help smooth matters over with his mother. In the meantime, if you would like to assist me, I would be more than happy to share my knowledge of Winterfell with you."

Hazelyn opened her mouth in surprise. "Really?"

"As much as I hate to say it, I'm not as young as used to be, and not many young acolytes from the Citadel are willing to come this far north. I'd be very grateful to have your help," Maester Luwin said, good humor in his brown eyes.

"I'd be happy to," Hazelyn said eagerly, a wide grin crossing her face.

"Very good, my lady," the maester smiled in return. "First let's get these ravens sent off and then you can assist me in feeding the others."

With a small grin on her face, Hazelyn helped urge the birds from the tower and felt a tiny bit of accomplishment as the last raven took flight into the grey afternoon sky.

"Now," Luwin directed, "If you could get that basket from the corner, there should be a board and knife that we can use to prepare the meat I've brought for the birds."

Hazelyn nodded and laid out the tools on the table, grateful to feel useful again. But when Maester Luwin removed a parcel from his bag, she suddenly felt very different. As he unwrapped a slab of raw meat, a horrible stench filled her nose. Hazelyn gagged as a wave of nausea wrenched her stomach, and bile rose to the back of her throat.

Luwin gazed at her in concern. "My lady, are you feeling ill?"

Hazelyn nodded as she pinched her nose, glancing at the bloody meat. "I don't know, I think it's just the smell... It-" she closed her eyes as he stomach twisted again.

"Perhaps I should do this task myself," said the old man. "I often forget young ladies can be a bit squeamish around raw meat."

"But, I've helped handle meat before" Hazelyn protested. What was wrong with her!? She'd always skinned Myna's kills when they used to go hunting. Now she couldn't even look at blood? If Luwin thought she couldn't even help him do simple tasks, he might take back his offer. She couldn't be turned away twice in one day! Cringing, Hazelyn forced out, "I'm fine, I can help!"

"My lady, you're turning green. Why don't you down to my work room, and I'll follow shortly. We'll find something to settle your stomach and then you can help me look through some of the budgets," Luwin advised , a firm expression on his face as he guided her by the shoulder towards the tower door.

"Oh," Hazelyn breathed, out, relieved she wasn't rejected completely and that she didn't have to put with the nauseating scent. "Alright." With a nod from Luwin, she slowly made her way down the stairs. Despite the her still rolling stomach, she began to believe that things might be getting better.

Fastening the ties of her cloak, Myna stepped out into Winterfell's courtyard just as the sun peaked over the castle's outer wall. She shivered slightly as the cold morning air brushed against her neck. The keep was already bustling with activity as she walked towards the stables. She could hear the grunts of pigs being hauled towards the kitchens, the ringing of an anvil being struck in the smithy, saw soldiers already out drilling with swords when she passed the tiltyard. Winterfell was like a small town unto itself, filled with hard working people, each carrying out their purpose with vigor.

Myna sighed when she stopped near the stable entrance and looked out over the busy yard. Purpose, everyone seemed to have one around here, from the maids scrubbing the floors, to to the guardsmen up on the battlements. Even the little ravens that flew to and from the rookary had an important purpose that defined them. Alone, surrounded by the ruckus, Myna felt she didn't have one anymore.

From the time her mother had fled to the Dreadfort, round with child, seeking Lady Bolton's protection, Myna had been set apart to be the Hazelyn 's companion and playmate. She'd never even given it a thought when she'd later became the noble girl's maid. Serving Hazelyn had always been the purpose on which her whole life revolved.

But then Hazelyn had suddenly disappeared and taken Myna's purpose with her. With no real family but Elena, Myna had then floated from one job in White Harbor to another in Barrowtown, angry, lost, and bitter, with no real home, fulfillment, or true connection to another person to speak of. And then, just as suddenly, Hazelyn had stumbled back into her life, and she had a place again. But even as she accustomed herself to the new keep and settled back into her old position with Hazelyn, she didn't feel complete like she used too. She felt insignificant. Hazelyn had changed, made a new life with the people here, and she had a bright future ahead of her, while Myna remained the same, her whole life tied to a girl that could be gone again in an instant. It just wasn't enough, not anymore. She had nothing to call her own like Hazelyn did, no set purpose to hold on to if Hazelyn left, no other people beyond her friend to truly care about and protect.

"Myna," a quiet voice called to her. She turned around to look into the darker brown eyes of Jon Snow. The Stark bastard wore warm fur cloak draped across his shoulders and he was guiding a mule behind him with a bag and basket strapped to its sides.

The sight of him cheered Myna from her pensive mood. "Hi," she greeted with a friendly smile.

Jon's lips quirked up slightly. "Good to see you could make it out this morning. Hazel didn't have anything for you to do?"

"Zel rose early to go help Maester Luwin and doesn't need me until this afternoon," Myna shrugged. A mischievous glint sprung in her eye as she sighed loudly, "I thought spending the morning fishing with you would be better than wandering the castle at least."

Jon rolled his eyes. "Well then I'm glad I could save my lady from such boredom," he shot back sarcastically.

"I'm no lady, Snow," Myna raised her brow as she put a hand on her hip. "And I'm certainly in no need of saving."

"Gods, you sound exactly like my little sister Arya," Jon shook his head.

"Well, she must be a very smart lass then," Myna smirked.

Jon huffed. "Aye, she is." The pair exchange a momentary smile before Jon jerked his head towards the mule. "The pond we're going to isn't far out the castle gates. I just thought it be easier to carry all the supplies on an animal. You mind walking?"

"Of course not," Myna shook her head. " Zel and I used to trek long distances through the woods when we went hunting."

The two strolled towards the gate in companionable silence. But when they passed the tiltyard, Myna spotted something a bit strange. A little girl in a fine woolen dress had planted herself brutishly onto a barrel and picked at her nails with vigor, nipping one or two with her teeth, as she watched soldiers carry drills. Frowning, Jom and pointed at the girl. "Is that Arya?"

"Aye," Jon answered with a perplexed expression on his face. "But she shouldn't be out here this early in the morn. If Lady Catelyn finds out that she's not in lessons... "

Myna pursed her lips worriedly. "What's wrong with her you think?

Jon frowned in concern. Arya looked as miserable as a dog that'd lost it's bone. He quickly tethered the mule to a post as he said, "I don't know." He then walked across the yard to where his sister sat, Myna trailing behind him. "Hey you," he tapped the barrel with his boot. Arya turned her head to glance up at her brother, but continued to bite at her nails. "What's got you down?" Jon questioned gently. "Is it Sansa again?"

Arya hesitated a moment, as if she was contemplating if she wanted to say anything. "No," she began, "It's not Sansa, It's..." She paused when she spotted the blonde standing at Jon's shoulder, and then pursed her lips stubbornly, crossing her arms. "Nevermind," she snapped.

"You want to talk about it?" Jon asked carefully.

"No!" Arya barked.

Jon took a step backward, raising his hands in surrender, "Alright." He turned away from her, scratching his chin in thought. "Would you like to come ice fishing with Myna and me?"

Arya's demeanor transformed instantly. "I- Really? Really, I can come!?" She asked excitedly, perking up, her blue eyes twinkling with liveliness.

Jon hummed, an amused smile rising on his face. "Can you be ready in ten minutes?"

Arya grinned, hopped off the barrel, and took off running. "I only need five!" She shouted back over her shoulder.

Jon smiled as he turned to Myna. "I hope you don't mind that I asked Arya to come. Something's bothering her, and she won't tell me yet, but I know she'll come out with it once she pulls up that first trout."

"She seems a lively little thing. Should make our outing more interesting," Myna chuckled with good humor.

No less than five minutes had passed when Arya had joined them again, a cloak and rod in hand. Myna suspected she'd pilfered them from some poor servant to get back that quickly. Friendly introductions were made and then the three set out.

Before long, they were settled on the bank of a partially frozen pond, fishing rods baited and cast out into the still water, waiting for something to bite.

"So what was bothering you earlier?" Jon asked as he sat down on the ground beside his sister.

"Nothing," Arya shrugged, suddenly far more interested the still water than her brother.

"Arya," Jon coaxed.

"I'm fine," the little girl retorted sharply, glaring at him.

"No you're not," Myna commented causally from her other side.

"What would you know about me?" Arya transferred her heated gaze to the older girl.

"I may not know too much, but your brother knows you better than anyone, doesn't he?" Myna challenged.

Arya sighed and looked at the ground. "I guess."

Myna gave her a small smile. ""You know, I've found talking to someone when you're upset is a whole lot better than keeping everything bottled up. And," she smirked, "Your brother's mentioned how much you want to learn to fight. I happen to know how to shoot a bow, and I might be able to teach you how if you tell us what's bothering you."

"Really!? You'll show me how to shoot a bow!?" Arya exclaimed, her eyes growing wide in wonder.

"Sure," Myna shrugged. She cast a glance at Jon. He had to cover his mouth to silence his chuckling.

"Alright," Arya agreed. She paused for a moment as her expression dropped, and then she glanced towards her older brother with troubled eyes. "I don't..." she sighed, jerking her rod up in an attempt to snag up a fish. "I just don't understand this whole thing about Robb and Hazel."

"What about it?" Jon frowned at her.

"It's all stupid and confusing," Arya scowled at the pond. "Father's always taught us never to lie. He says it's not the honorable thing to do, but both Hazel and Robb told big lies. They're liars. And now Father and Mother want all of us to lie too, to everyone! I don't get it. How is lying to everyone about them getting married the right thing? They're already married, what's the point? She looked to her brother questioningly.

Jon opened his mouth but hesitated, unsure how to explain to his young sister the intricacy of the situation, so Myna decided to step in. She fiddled with her bear pendant as she interjected, "Normally, lying is very bad, but things aren't always that simple. It can get tricky sometimes."

Arya hugged her knees to her chest as she tilted her head at Myna. Her rod now hung limp in her hand, much of her previous vigor to catch a fish now forgotten. "What do you mean?"

Myna pursed her lips, trying to think of way to explain it. "Life isn't black and white. Sometimes, you find yourself in a really bad situation, where no matter what you do, even the "right" thing, people will end up getting hurt. You have to choose the action that will hurt the fewest people."

"But why would Hazel have hurt us if she told us the truth? And who would we hurt by telling other people who she is?"

Myna frowned sadly. "Where Hazelyn and I come from, there are a lot of bad people. The worst of them all is her father, " Myna looked away. "He isn't a good man like your father. He hurt Hazelyn and many others under his rule. She couldn't take it anymore, so she left. But she knew wherever she went, her father would follow her and try to harm others in order to find her. When she came here, she didn't him to hurt all of you. So she chose to lie so your family would be safe. And your parents want you to lie so other people won't get mad at Hazel and Robb, and hurt them."

"But who would hurt them? Robb will be Lord of Winterfell one day, and Hazel is a Bolton and now his wife."

Myna licked her lips, wondering how to put it so a ten year old would understand the complexities of politics and reputations. But before she could think of a way, Jon replied. "If everyone knew about Robb and Hazel's secret, people would look at them the way they look at me."

"Oh, " Arya said. "I didn't think of it like that."

"But you still should tell the truth if you can, Arya," Jon added in a serious tone. "Don't use this as an excuse to lie to Septa Mordane or your mother." He glanced at Myna and gave her nod in gratitude.

"I don't-" Arya began, but then her fishing rod suddenly jerked. "I got something!" She yelped excitedly. Jon quickly tossed aside his own rod to help his sister reel her catch in. Myna laughed as the two siblings pulled a huge trout from the icy water.

After Jon helped his sister unhook the wiggling creature and bashed it's head on the hard ice, effectively killing it, they stowed it away in their basket and cast their lines out again. The trio enjoyed each other's company until the sun had nearly reached the top of the blue sky. They then packed up, despite Arya's protests, and started back towards the keep.

"We have to store the fish away soon before they start to rot." Jon told his sister, giving the mule's snout a few strokes.

"The ice is keeping them frozen through the basket," Arya replied snarkily, slowly starting to follow when Jon began to lead the mule forward.

"But if we don't return you to Septa Mordane soon, your mother will hang my skin like a tapestry in the Great Hall," Jon shot back. Despite the rather vivid and horrifying notion, his light voice had the two girls laughing.

Strolling in the tall green grass ahead of Jon, Arya turned to Myna and asked, "Will you be staying at Winterfell after Hazel marries Robb again?"

Myna sighed and shrugged. "I suppose so. I've served Zel pretty much my whole life. I don't really know what else I'd do. Its not like I have any exciting plans for the future." Twirling her bear pendant in between her index finger and thumb, she looked towards the grassy hills ahead. The plains were empty, never changing for far as the eye could see. Just like her future.

"Good," Arya nodded in approval, "Because you'll need to stick around for awhile if you're going to teach me to be a master archer. I'm going to be become a warrior when I grow up, so I'll have to know to shoot an arrow really well. I just have to convince Father to let Ser Roderick teach me how to use a sword now. Then I can practice with Jon in the tiltyard, and when I'm old enough, I'll leave here and ride all around Westeros and compete in tourneys and I'll be the most famous shield maiden who ever lived. You can come with me and be my squire if you want. "

Myna grinned, amused by the young girl's fantastic imagination. " I'd be honored," she agreed graciously, "But wouldn't your older brother make a better squire? And be it'd be rotten to leave him behind after he spent all those hours sparring with you." She glanced back at Jon and smiled to see him quietly laughing as he pulled the mule behind him.

"Oh, he can't," Arya commented, "He's going to join the Night's Watch."

Myna snapped her gaze towards the girl, her eyes wide in surprise. She was taken aback by the notion that the Stark bastard intended to leave Winterfell to spend a lifetime on the Wall, and surprisingly disappointed that he wouldn't be around in the years to come. "Oh."

Jon scrunched his forehead and frowned at her hollow response. "Oh?" He questioned.

Myna glanced back at him, trying to mask her disappointment when she said nonchalantly, "Well, I never actually met someone who wanted to take the black. Most men are just forced to join up."

Arya smiled, "Jon's not most men...He's better."

Jon forced his lips into a false grin, "Aye, I'm not like most," he said quietly. "Unfortunately, not in a good way. I'm a bastard."

Myna frowned deeply as she watched the same loneliness enter his dark brown eyes that she'd seen so much in the short time she'd known him. It made her sad to think that he thought so little of himself that he'd give up his family, and sentence himself to a life of cold isolation on the Wall. His sister was right, he was good man, better than most, and he deserved so much more out of life. He had the potential and opportunity to be so much more than some crow, to have a greater purpose than guarding a wall from wildlings and becoming brothers in arms with rapists and thieves and murderers. Why did he have to punish himself, just because he was bastard, a fact that he couldn't control? A spark anger flared inside her.

Myna knew much of his trouble came from that she-beast Lady Stark, who set the standard for how many people around Winterfell treated him. Which servant wanted to risk offending their lady by showing kindness to the one she hated? But, then again, no one who mattered would treat Jon so and the current Lady Stark wouldn't remain in power forever.

Myna nervously traced her fingers along her lower neck to fiddle with her bear pendant. "Just because you're a bastard, doesn't mean you're a bad person, or that you're worthless," she said in a tone a bit harsher than she intended.

Jon blinked and stared at her strangely. Cringing at his expression, Myna bit her tongue. She had to learn to think before she spoke. Otherwise she'd slip up and reveal her mother's dark secret to the world. "I just think you're a good man, Jon. There nothing wrong with taking the black, if that's what you truly want, but you shouldn't do it just because you feel you have no other choice," she said earnestly, holding an apology in her gaze.

Surprise crossed Jon's face, then he studied her skeptically for a moment. Convinced she meant her words, he nodded. "Thanks," he muttered quietly, a ghost of a smile on his lips.

Myna smiled back and then looked ahead to spy Winterfell on the horizon. Perhaps her future wasn't as empty as she thought. A tiny spark of warmth sprouted in her chest, and the seeds of a new purpose sprouted in her mind. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 20: Stables and Sallies

Robb ran a hand through his already messy hair as he sorted through various tax scrolls and trade ledgers to calculate the keep's total income. He'd already been at the task for days, and still had only gotten half way through it all! He couldn't even think of the last time he'd spent a decent amount of time in the tiltyard, sword in hand, his blood singing in his veins as he lunged and pivoted in an attempt to best his opponent.

A task so crucial and lengthy as his required more than one man to attend it. Robb knew this, and so the reason why his father had tasked him alone to do it, seemed a punishment. It seemed as though his lord father had been keeping him prisoner in his solar for weeks, assigning him one tedious task after another. Robb probably knew more about the history of farms borders around Winterfell than Maester Luwin did! And when he wasn't buried in paperwork, his father had sent him to the armory to maintain the weapons, under Jory or Roderick's watchful eyes of course. When not doing that, he'd been in the Maester's Tower, listening to Maester Luwin instruct him for the hundredth time on the duties expected of him when he one day became Lord of Winterfell. Robb was a man grown, and married, and yet his father was treating him like a young boy. Frustrated, he sighed loudly and held his head in his hands.

"Is there something wrong, son?" Ned called. Robb pursed his lips as he turned in his chair to meet his father's stirct grey gaze. The elder man frowned at him sternly from his desk across the room.

Heaving in a deep breath to gather his courage, Robb pushed himself up from his seat and walked over to his father. "Have you finished finding our income for this moon? Your mother will need them for the household budgets," Ned inquired, crossing his arms as he faced his son.

Robb scratched his head uncomfortably. "I'm about half way done," he replied, his voice withdrawn and miserable, but Lord Stark chose to ignore the fact that his son wanted to be anywhere but here.

"Well, let me know when you're through," Ned replied, turning back to some letter on his desk.

"Father," Robb swallowed as his sire glanced at him wih a raised brow. "I've been in books since this morning. I was wondering if I could turn my attentions elsewhere for awhile?"

Eddard set his letter down, his eyes trained on his eldest son and heir. "Your mother needs the income so she can manage the budgets for the wedding," Ned told him. "I know this paperwork is not the most exciting, Robb, but it's important that you learn how to do it in order to properly run our lands." His voice was stern, leaving no room for another word.

"I know," Robb nodded, "And I promise to get straight back to work. But," he sighed, "I wanted to go see Hazelyn. I haven't seen her since supper last night, and even then we barely got to speak."

"You have work to do right now," Ned said curtly. "You'll see her this evening at supper, I'm sure." He tried to turn back to his desk again.

"I've barley seen her days!" Robb protested, a bout of temper getting the better of him. It was true. Of the time he'd been married to Hazelyn, he'd only seen her a little less than half of it. He missed her, and it infuriated him that he should. He was her husband, and she his wife, it defied the laws of gods and men that his parents should restrict them from each other. "I've barely left your solar for weeks!"

Yet as soon as the words left his mouth, Robb wished he'd kept his temper in check. The eyes of his father, cold and stern as a steel blade, turned back to him. He recognized the anger on his sire's face, as he'd been on the receiving end of it quite often these days. It was borne of disappointment. Robb had defied him and dishonored him, and there was no balm for that wound. Even time may not fully heal it. "And that's for the best," Ned replied quietly. "Until the wedding takes place, we can't risk you two being seen together."

"She's already my wife," Robb argued mildly, still wanting to argue, but not guiltless enough to be passionate. "And regardless, there's no scandal in us simply being seen together." Being with his wife was the most natural thing in the world. They loved each other, and surely now that they were "betrothed" it would suit the lie if he and Hazelyn appeared to enjoy each other's company. It would encourage the idea that they had been friendly before their parents arranged a match. It would be less strange than if he should suddenly adore his wife so soon after their abrupt marriage.

"No," Ned sighed irritably, shaking his head slowly. "Only our family knows you wed her. We have to treat this situation with caution so we don't give Lord Bolton further cause for offense," he stated calmly. "If people find out that you've wedded and bedded Lady Bolton in some corner, Lord Bolton will be the first person at our throats, just to save face."

"What was the point of defending my marriage to him then if I have to pretend it didn't even happen!?" Robb scowled in frustration. All he'd asked was to see Hazelyn. That was all he wanted: to be with her. He was certain this separation wasn't easy for her either, especially when most viewed her as a stranger now. If he could only go to her now... "Father your Lord Bolton's liege lord. Why should you have to answer to him when he swore oaths to you?" It was a feeble protest, even though his voice was strong. Robb knew why his father had to accommodate Lord Bolton, he'd been taught these lessons all his life, and he'd gone against every lesson for love. For Hazel.

Ned glared sharply at his son and stood. Robb took a step back as he saw a passionate anger well up onto his father's face. "Aye, son, Lord Bolton has sworn oaths to me, but if I do not answer to my banner men, and deal with them fairly, they will not honor those oaths. You cannot command loyalty without respect." Robb stared at his feet like a scolded lad. "Lord Bolton is a very powerful and proud man, and is not be dealt with lightly. Given the bloodied history of our families, I would have expected you to have more discernment and self-control in the first place."

Robb flinched internally, but kept his face stoic to hide his wavering resolve. "I just wanted to protect Hazelyn." He met his father's eyes again, renewed with determination. "I love her, and she loves me. Her father was hurting her, and you've always taught me to defend people in need," he reasoned earnestly. "How can any honorable man not strive to protect the woman he loves?"

"You still could have done that had you come to me in the first place and asked for help," Ned reprimanded him, a grim expression on his face and hardness in his eyes. "But instead, you rushed into this situation recklessly, like a foolish boy, without one thought for the countless others you could affect."

His face filled with pain as he continued, "Almost twenty years ago, your Uncle Brandon also acted reckless, trying to defend a woman he loved. He rode to King's Landing without a word to our father, and threatened Rhaegar Targaryen, in order to retrieve our sister. He had the best intentions, but his recklessness brought on his death and that of our Father. His rash decision led to a war that caused the deaths of thousands that might have been spared had he been more patient."

Robb stared at his father wide eyed. Eddard Stark rarely talked of his dead brother, father, sister, or the rebellion. Feeling a mix of guilt and confusion, Robb frowned and dipped his head. "But no one was hurt by me wedding Hazelyn." Nothing but her father's pride, but Robb hoped it hurt him the rest of his wretched life.

"Yet someone could have been," Ned stressed. His angry tone faded into urgency. "I took a huge risk, alienating Roose Bolton as I did, but I could not let his wrath fall down you...Or Hazelyn..." He stared at his son intensely. "You need to understand, you took more from him then his daughter. Hazelyn was his only surviving, legitimate child, his heir apparent. You've stolen the future of his house, and his ability to direct it. He could have rallied his men to arms over that."

Robb crossed his arms defensively. "If he rebelled against House Stark, we would put an end to it within a week's time."

"Aye, our armies could subdue him easily enough," Ned narrowed his eyes, "but how many soldiers and innocent small folk would've had to die before then?"

"I-I..." Robb trailed off as his cheeks flamed in shame. Gods, what had he been thinking? He had not thought of the casualties of a conflict with the Boltons, at least none beyond Hazelyn and his family. But, by all the gods, in his heart, he could not bring himself to regret wedding Hazel, not even in the way he did. If they'd brought her true identity to light, his father would have marched her back to the Dreadfort in a heartbeat, and there was no guarantee Lord Bolton would agree to a match between Robb and his daughter. He knew, given the choice-to gamble his future with Hazelyn as his wife-he'd choose the clandestine marriage in the godswood every time. It twisted his gut with guilt, for what kind of lord would that make him?

"Robb," Ned placed a heavy hand on his son's shoulder. "You're more than just my oldest son. You're my heir, and will one day be Warden of the North, with thousands looking to you for protection. Being a lord is like being a father, but you have thousands of children, and you should worry for all of them. The farmers in fields will be yours to protect, the charwomen scrubbing the floors will be yours to protect, the soldiers you order into battle will be yours to protect. That is why you must be cautious."

The faces of every servant Robb had passed in the keep that morning, soldiers he knew, and people from Winter Town filled his head. His temples began to throb, he felt so overwhelmed. "How do you handle it all thinking like that?"

Ned squeezed his son's shoulder as a weary smile crossed his face. "I rise with fear in the morning and go to bed with fear in the night."

But you're the bravest man I know, Robb thought as he raised a brow in confusion. "How can a man be brave if he's afraid all the time?"

"That's the only time a man can be brave," Ned squeezed his son's shoulder again. For a moment, neither man said a word, a gaze of keen understanding passing between them. "I think you've spent enough time in here for now," Ned finally stated, withdrawing his grip.

"Really?" Robb asked, his face slack with shock.

"Aye," Ned nodded as he sat down again at his desk and began to sort through some papers. "I want you to take the afternoon to reflect on my words, and we can work a bit more after supper."

"Thank you," Robb nodded, still not quite believing his father was letting him go.

"I want you to truly think about what I said," Ned reminded him sternly. Robb nodded and then Ned smiled slightly. "Alright then lad, go, and I'll see you at supper."

Eagerly, Robb departed his father's study and made quickly for the stables. He had a new vigor in his stride as he savored his newly found freedom. As he stepped out into the courtyard, he breathed in the fresh air and soaked in the warmth of the early afternoon sun. The sky was blue and a slight breeze stirred the air. The weather was perfect for a long, hard ride, and it just what he needed to release his pent up energy and to focus on his father's teaching. Entering the stable, he fetched a saddle and headed towards the stalls.

His eyes swilveled left and right as he walked down the isle, scanning for one of the steeds he liked to ride. Suddenly, he paused and listened when an unusual sound caught his ear. A gentle voice hummed some sad tune softly and horribly off key.

Cringing, Robb followed the noise to the stall that housed the black mare that Arya had been learning to ride. Peering through the gateway, a grin crept up on his face. Inside stood a short young woman with long dark hair, brushing the mare's sleek black coat. Setting his saddle down on the ground, Robb quietly crept into the stall and leaned on the door frame.

"In the old stories, aren't all the lovely young maidens supposed sing beautifully?" He chuckled, playfully mocking the girl's utter lack of talent.

Hazelyn glanced over her shoulder, her mouth open in suprise and cheeks flushed in embarrassment. Robb laughed quietly, making her grey eyes narrow. She focused back on her horse and shook her head. "Well, my lord, perhaps I would have a beautiful voice if I were still a maiden, but alas, some rough brute came along and stole me away." She glanced at him and smirked. "... And now I'm far from being a pure I'm afraid."

Robb tried to mask his mirth as he slowly stepped towards her. "I can't let such a vile offense against you stand, my lady. Tell me the name of the brute, and I'll hunt him down to restore your honor."

Hazelyn turned towards him and crossed her arms, brush still in hand, raising a playful brow. "And what price must I pay for such a valiant service, good ser?"

"I don't know," Robb smirked, stepping close to her. He placed one hand on her hip while the other lightly gripped her chin. "I'm sure I could think of something," he quipped as he tilted her face up.

Hazelyn grinned as she dropped the brush and brought her arms up around his shoulders. "I think that seems like a fair offer," she murmured.

Chuckling, Robb dipped his head to bring his lips to hers. He let out a groan as he felt her mouth open and her hands moved to his chest. He closed his eyes and shifted his hand down lower to pull her firmly against him, pride rising in him as she let out a little hum of satisfaction. He started to feel uncomfortably warm and his breaches suddenly grew tighter as their teeth and tongues clashed. Gods, it seemed an eternity had passed since he'd kissed her like this, even though it'd only been a few weeks. It wasn't until Hazelyn let out a startled moan that he realized he'd walked her back against the wall of the stall. Just as he pulled his lips from hers to see if she minded, a loud snort filled the stable, and a black snout bumped against his head.

Dazed, Robb frowned over at the black mare. The horse almost seemed annoyed at him for taking its caregiver's attentions. Hazelyn let out an exasperated sigh, and much to Robb's chagrin, pulled out of his embrace. He flexed his hands at his sides, feeling an ache of loss as he watched her walk around to the horse's front.

"Branwen," Hazelyn said in a low voice. She gently pulled the horse's snout down so she could look into its dark eyes. Frowning, she pressed on its nose and grumbled, "No." She seemed to be speaking in another language as she silently held the horse's gaze with her own. Robb watched her handle the animal as well as a stablemaster. She finally released the mare after she lowered her head, snorted, and flicked her ears. Grinning, Hazelyn rubbed the animal's snout, her eyes warm as they regarded her faithful companion. "That's my sweet girl. Now don't cause anymore trouble." Turning away, Hazelyn shook her head and returned to Robb.

Quickly, he encircled her waist in a loose embrace. He smiled contentedly as she leaned into him. "You have quite a way with horses," he commented.

"My mother was a Ryswell," Hazelyn shrugged. "Horses are simply a way of life for them." She frowned sadly as a far-away look entered her eyes. "She used to spend all her time in the stables when she was my age and had Domeric and I in saddles before we could barely walk." She sighed wistfully and glanced over at the black mare. "Grandfather gave me Branwen on my eighth name day."

Robb scrunched his brow in confusion. "But father bought her for Arya."

"Aye, because I sold her to him," Hazelyn sighed. "A few weeks after I arrived in Winter Town, I needed extra coin." Her her mouth turned up slightly, and Robb could see by the light in her eyes how happy she was. "But Arya came to talk to me this morning and returned Branwen as a wedding present."

"Really?" Robb smiled at the thoughtfulness of his little sister. At least some of his family was warming up to his wife again.

"Well, as long as I teach her to ride like a Ryswell," Hazelyn rolled her eyes, "... And to carve like a Bolton."

Robb shook his head amusedly. Arya always had had a knack for making deals. She'd made them often enough with him and Jon to let her stay in tiltyard.

"So how'd you manage to away from your father?" Hazelyn smoothed hands over Robb's jerkin.

Sighing, he looked at the ground. "He released me for the afternoon. We had a talk and he wanted me to reflect on it."

"Is everything alright?" Hazelyn gazed up at him in concern.

"It came to a head," Robb admitted, "But I think things are starting to get better between us." Their argument had ended on a positive note he thought, and his father had given him some freedom back finally.

"What happened?"

Robb glanced away as he replied. "Father said I was reckless, like my Uncle Brandon was, and that I might've started a war by marrying you. He never talks about his brother, or the rebellion. He wasn't angry in the end, but I think he now doubts that I'll be able to lead the North one day." Robb cringed, pained by the fact that his father might not believe in him anymore. Growing up, he'd often felt the pressure of his parent's hopes and the weight of their expectations. As his father's heir, he had always felt the need to excel at everything. He'd had to prove to his parents that they would leave their legacy in good hands and to himself and everyone else that he'd be a worthy and capable successor to his father. And now he couldn't help but believe that he'd ruined everything.

Hazelyn frowned deeply at Robb. "No, he doesn't," she murmured gently, placing a hand on his cheek. "I've never seen a man more proud of his son than your father is of you. You already said things have gotten better between you and they'll continue to improve. Both your parents adore you, and their anger will pass soon enough." 

Robb smiled briefly and gripped his wife's hand, squeezing it in gratitude. She was right. His father was already starting trust him again, though his mother was different issue altogether. His mouth dropped into a frown. He hadn't spoken to her since the morning after his marriage. He could not seek her out while she still looked at Hazelyn with hatred, not while her words against his beloved still rung in his ears. But then, maybe his wife's mention of both his parents meant his mother had started to warm back up to her as his father had him.

"Have you and my mother made amends then?" He asked with the slightest bit of hope in his voice. 

Hazelyn's face froze and he felt her muscles tense. Biting her lip, she refused to make eye contact with him. "What did she do?" Robb asked grimly.

"Nothing..." Hazelyn answered quietly. She always tried to avoid topics that troubled her.

"What did she do?" Robb asked again, his thumb rubbing softly on the skin of her hand.

Hazelyn hesitated before carefully stating, "She just didn't need my assistance when I offered to help with the wedding arrangements, so she sent me to help Maester Luwin instead." Her eyes were soft when they met his, placating and sweet, and he could sense she wanted him not to be angry.

Nevertheless, Robb clenched his teeth as a new wave of fury rose in his chest. "Robb," Hazelyn soothed. She framed his face in her hands andfirced him to look at her. "Don't get upset over this. It's going to take time for her and everyone else to adjust to me."

"Why are you defending her?" Robb snapped in frustration. Hazelyn should be angrier than him. Yes, she had lied to his family, but she had simply been trying to protect herself. She hadn't hurt anyone, she was not some vile criminal deserving of their contempt. She was Hazelyn Stark, formerly Bolton, his wife and lady, and a wonderful woman. She deserved to be treated as such.

Hazelyn looked up at him with a wary smile and pain in her eyes. "I caused a mess for your family with my foolish actions, one that could have hurt a lot of people. I don't want my mistakes to mar your love for her."

Robb scowled. "But what my mother said about you and..."

"It doesn't matter," Hazelyn cut him off with a serious tone. "She'll eventually have to accept me, one day. After all, I'm not going anywhere. But don't berate her, you'll only make it worse for both of us." Robb remained silent, a sigh escaping him as he took in her words. Resolve filled her face. "You should talk-"

"No," Robb stopped her, giving a stubborn shake of his head. He pulled away from Hazelyn and faced the wall. Frowning, he recalled what his mother had said the morning after he'd gotten married. He could look past the insults thrown at his wife, even the dismissal of the Old Gods, as monetary anger, but there was one comment that he could not forgive his mother without a sincere apology.

"I told her and Father that you might already be with child and she wanted to kill it. I will not make amends with her until she apologizes for that." His voice shook with anger. He turned around and settled his gaze on Hazelyn's stomach. When they'd knelt at the heart tree, he'd seen their children in his mind, pictured holding them in them in his arms as he brought them to Gods to be named, setting them on his knee and teaching them how to pray, just as his father had with him. After he'd made love to Hazelyn for the first time, he'd watched her sleeping figure, a delicate woman curled into his side. Even then, he'd been able to imagine her stomach swelling with their child.

He'd never given much thought to being a father before, just as he'd never given much thought to being a husband, because those parts of his future had never seemed real. But when he'd realized that he loved Hazelyn, those parts had become as real and important to him as his future role as a lord. Then his own mother, who'd only ever nurtured and protected him, had suggested killing his child, in order to free him from a marriage she didn't approve of. That, he just could not forgive.

His gaze moved up to Hazelyn's face when she covered her stomach and stepped back. Her eyes widened in surprise as they glanced downward, and then filled with fear. Swallowing hard, she insisted nervously, her voice trembling,"She surely didn't mean it, Robb, and there's no point in getting angry over an imaginary child."

Robb raised a brow in confusion. "Imaginary? But you could be with child already, and if you are-"

"I'm probably not," Hazelyn retorted sharply, a hard look in her eye. "Children are rarely conceived on the wedding night."

"But you could be," Robb frowned at his wife, perplexed by her reaction. "My parents were together for only one night before Father rode off to war, yet my mother fell pregnant with me."

"I'm not your mother," Hazelyn snapped, her glare turning cold and icy.

"Why are you getting so upset about this?" Robb questioned. "Would it be so bad if you were already pregnant?" He frowned deeply and took a step towards Hazelyn. It almost seemed like she didn't want the possibility to be true, like the idea of having his child distressed her.

"We-we just don't need to talk about that right now, when it's not a fact," Hazelyn dodged.

She was avoiding the topic, just like when she tried to hide her identity from him. Robb pursed his lips and shook his head in contradiction. "Yes, we do," he pressed, "Since-"

He couldn't get another word in because Hazelyn's mouth was suddenly smashed against his. She bit at his lip as her arms wrapped around his neck. His arms automatically wrapped around her in return, crushing her to him, all his words gone for the moment. Only when the need to breathe became paramount, did she pulled away, her lips brushing against his as she spoke. "Let's just forget all that right now," she whispered breathily. "Not waste what little time we have alone."

Robb pulled away a little more, his eyes flickering down to meet hers. His stomach dropped when he saw the desperation she was trying so hard to hide. "No, Hazel," he panted, yet his wife was not deterred as she shifted her lips down his jaw. Heat sparked low in his belly. He groaned when she nipped at the pulse point on his neck. "Hazel," he weakly protested, lightly gripping her shoulders.

She pulled back just slightly, blinking up at him innocently as she pressed her soft curves into him. "Can we please not talk about it now?" She pleaded quietly. Her fingers came up to trace along his cheek. "I haven't gotten to spend any time alone with you in weeks, and I've missed you." She seemed genuinely distressed as she begged, "Can we put off the worrying until after your parents stop watching us like hawks, and just enjoy this opportunity?"

Robb sighed. He didn't want to put off discussing such a serious topic, but the affection in Hazelyn's gaze made his chest pang. Whatever was troubling her seemed dire, but a liaison in the stable might not be the best place to talk about it. "Alright," he nodded reluctantly, already resolving that he would bring it up first time they were alone after that blasted fake ceremony.

His worry faded away as Hazelyn flashed him a brilliant grin. All thought started to fade away as she kissed him hard again and his body responded. As their lips moved furiously, his hand traced over her hip and her fingers worked their way into his hair. Gods, after he had her that first time, it'd been torture to go weeks barley laying a hand on her. He'd thought he would go insane.

Growling when one of his wife's thighs rubbed against his groin, Robb slid his hands down to her bottom and lifted her up against him. Hearing her moan as the angle of their heads shifted only increased his arousal. Propping her back against a wall, he managed to grip her thigh through her skirt and traced downward. Finally finding the hem of her dress, his fingers brushed against the bare skin of her calf. She sighed as he hooked her leg up over his waist. His heart sped up as he felt her soft skin on his and he pressed his hips into hers.

Suddenly, a voice shattered the mood. "Decide to give to the horses a show, Stark?"

Gasping for breath, the couple jerked apart as Theon howled with laughter. Cursing loudly, Robb spun around to face his best friend, a furious scowl on his face. "Seven hells, Theon!"

"Don't let me stop you! I love good entertainment, and she was trained in the brothel," Theon smirked as he glanced past Robb at Hazelyn, her dark hair wild and lips swollen. Robb opened his mouth to tell the ironborn to fuck off, but before he could speak, Hazelyn whipped out of the stall. A loud smack filled the air as she slapped his friend across the face.

"I am not a whore Theon Greyjoy," she hissed, "And it might be a better damn show then you've ever had, but only one man gets to see it." Robb briskly followed his wife out of the stall to prevent anything from escalating between Hazelyn and Theon. He tensed when Theon clutched his jaw, an angry look in his eye. He was about to say something when Hazelyn moved quickly again and planted her lips on his in brief kiss. Withdrawing just as swiftly, she said, "Maester Luwin needs my help this afternoon, so I'll see you at supper." Both men stared in shock as she then turned on heel and flounced away.

After she'd rounded the corner, Robb glanced at Theon. He glared at Robb, a large red mark on his cheek. "You married a real bitch, Stark," he growled.

Not able to contain himself, Robb let out a hearty laugh. For a second time, his wife had put Theon in his place. He shook his head and grinned, despite his friend's ire. "God's I love that woman."

"So why are we sneaking out?" Myna asked with a frown.

Hazelyn raised a brow as she slipped out of her silk gown. "You're the girl who used to always drag me down to the village tavern when I was trapped beneath the thumb of the most vicious prick in all of Westeros. Now you're cautious?"

"I'm always up for an adventure," Myna shrugged, "But the other noble families will start arriving any day for your "wedding". I just don't think Lady Stark would take kindly to her good daughter sneaking off into town," she cautioned as she offered her friend a rough spun dress.

"That's exactly why I want to go tonight, before soldiers start to fill up the inns and I have to sip tea with ladies from every Northern family," Hazelyn emphasized as she stepped into the garment and pulled her arms through the sleeves. "Can you do up the laces?" She turned away from Myna and swept her hair over her shoulder.

The days until the fake wedding had sped by after Hazelyn had started helping Maester Luwin and she was beginning to feel content again. With less than a week to go before the ceremony, it wouldn't be long until she truly took her place as Robb's wife. She also had Myna back, Arya and Bran seemed comfortable with her again, and some of the servants had grown used to her, their suspicions abated somewhat.

But, there was one person whom Hazelyn still wanted to settle things with personally. She'd not been able to make it down to Winter Town since her identity had come to light, and she wanted thank Ros properly for the friendship she'd shown her when she'd first arrived in the Stark lands. A noble woman being friends with a whore might seem ridiculous, and there were few things Hazelyn wanted less than to risk losing respect... But she did not wish for the Ros's good deeds to go unnoticed. Just as she would not forget injustice, she would neither forget great kindness. She didn't know when or if she'd ever get the chance to see Ros again, so she had to see her now.

Hazelyn grimaced as her breath was suddenly forced from her lungs in a woosh, her entire torso aching from the stiff bodice. "Myna, do you really have to pull the laces that tightly?"

"What?" The blonde maid asked with a bemused expression. "I didn't do them up any tighter than I normally do."

Hazelyn pursed her lips skeptically. It had been over a year since Myna had last tended to her. They were bound to have some readjusting pains. "Just loosen them some."

After Myna's quick fingers finished their task, Hazelyn dug to the bottom of her trunk and pulled out her old, simple cloak.

Myna squinted her brown eyes as Hazelyn draped the garment across her shoulders and pulled up the hood. "Alright, where are we going? Because you never use a cloak unless you really don't want to get caught."

"You best put yours on too. I can't have you catching a chill," Hazelyn mysteriously smiled at her friend.

"Or have people see my blonde hair," Myna shot back, her brow raised knowingly. Hazelyn chuckled in response.

It was surprisingly easy for two girls to slip out the castle gates when they appeared of no merit. The evening shadows had stretched out over the landscape by the time the pair entered the quiet streets of Winter Town. As they passed the tavern, Hazelyn remembered the night she'd been tossed out of her job. That evening she walked the same road towards the brothel, ready to become a whore rather than return to her father. It had also been the first night she met Robb. She smiled slightly. If only she'd known what that brief meeting would lead to.

"Are we going to the tavern, Zel!?" Myna exclaimed with excitement. Hazelyn bit her lip in amusement. The blonde maid had always been a little too fond of the nights they stole away to the village tavern with Darren.

Unlike her two friends, Myna could not only drink men twice her size under the table, but she could befriend them just as easily, thriving like a flower among all kinds of people. It was plain to anyone who went out with her for a night of fun, that Myna greatly enjoyed those outings.

"No," the high born girl laughed. "Come on, it's just a bit further."

"Damn, and I was looking forward to you ordering a pint from that batty innkeeper and telling her that she fired a lady!" Myna quipped with a mischievous smirk.

Hazelyn rolled her eyes. "Aye! It'd be hilarious until Lady Catelyn found out I'd gone out drinking and blew my secret to all of Winter Town. She'd then murder me in my sleep." She tugged her hood down further over her face just for good measure. While she was enjoying this last rebellious outing with Myna, she would prefer not to get caught. Because if she did, her aunt and good mother would finally find something to agree on: their wrath towards her for ruining their carefully crafted plans.

Hazelyn very well knew that sneaking out at all and revealing her secret to just one more person was a risk, but she felt she owed her friend the truth. And not that she'd ever admit it, but she also wanted to feel one last rush of rebellious freedom before she had to become a proper lady wife in earnest. After her conversation with Robb in the stables, some strange and heavy feeling had come over her and she needed to relieve it.

"I already promised I'd defend you from that old she beast," Myna grinned as she kept pace with Hazelyn's brisk stride.

"Of course you would," Hazelyn retorted sarcastically, scrunching her nose before glancing back at the road. She smiled as they finally came upon the house she'd been looking for. It glimmered like a beacon in the darkness. Loud, lewd noises pouring out through it's walls, indicated business was quite good tonight. "Here we are!"

"We're going to a brothel?!" Myna blinked at Hazelyn. "I don't know what you're thinking of-" she then gasped suddenly, reaching for Hazelyn's hand and pulling her to an abrupt stop, looking hilariously horrified. "Are you going looking for bedroom tips" she whispered out, eyes so wide that it was difficult to tell if she were joking, or truly appalled.

Hazelyn's lips twitched and her brow furrowed slightly. "I told you that I worked in this brothel for a short time and that I made a friend here," she replied, feeling Myna's hand relax. "I wanted to see her, say hello perhaps for the last time."

"Oh thank the gods," Myna rushed out. "I don't know what I'd have done if you brought me out here for that," she mumbled, fiddling with her bear pendant uncomfortably.

Hazel rolled her eyes, tugging her friend forward towards the brothel.

"Oi, I'm not going in there!" Myna protested suddenly, jerking her hand from Hazelyn's.

Hazelyn sighed, stopping the two once again, a sudden guilt rising within her. She knew that despite all of Myna's bravado, teasing of lads, and usual boldness, places like this could be a sore spot, even though she did not wish to show it. She hid all her insecurities with jokes.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you before hand. I knew that if you found out, you'd talk me out of it. But I think you'll really like Ros... She was a true friend to me when I needed it," Hazelyn gently said. Myna gave a tight smile, unease finally breaking through the joyful mask she'd had on just moments before. "Myna, if not for her, I wouldn't have gotten a serving job at Winterfell. She's far more than just a sally, and all the girls in there... They're actually very kind, they just fell on bad times, or they couldn't get into a trade, or lost their family...or their family discarded them like garbage," she murmured quietly.

Myna stared intently at Hazelyn for a long moment, fiddling with her bear necklace. She narrowed her brown eyes slightly before letting out a long breath. "Fine," she grumbled, "But we're not staying for long."

"Thank you," Hazelyn smiled and took her friend's hand again, giving it a firm squeeze before pulling her through the brothel door. Ignoring the calls and stares from waiting patrons, Hazelyn approached the desk and pulled her hood back slightly. "Hi Mary," she greeted quietly. "Is Ros entertaining?"

"Well well." The woman smiled brightly. "Your lucky night!" she exclaimed. "She's freed up."

As had become the usual routine whenever Hazelyn visited Ros, Mary took the girls to the small private parlor in the back.

Hazelyn let her hood fall from her head entirely when the door shut behind them, smiling as she spotted Ros at a tiny table by the hearth, sorting through coins and writing down numbers in a ledger. Her smile grew a bit more when she glanced back to see Myna's eyes widen in surprise. "Is she doing sums?" The blonde asked.

"A brothel is a business like any other, and someone has to keep track of the payments and expenses," Ros said in a matter-of-fact way as she glanced up and rose from her chair. She returned Hazelyn's bright smile as she walked over to greet her visitors, extending her arms to bring Hazelyn into a light embrace. "Hazel, luv! I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me" she joked lightly.

"Never," Hazelyn laughed. Myna watched the whole display with a suspicious pout, a spark of jealously in her eye, her fingers still frantically playing with her necklace.

"And you've brought a friend," Ros studied Myna with intrigued green eyes, not at all put off by the younger woman's standoffish demeanor.

"Ros, this is my best friend, Myna," Hazelyn grabbed Myna's hand and squeezed it. "Myna, this is Ros," she nodded. Myna pursed her lips and stepped more into the room.

"It's a pleasure," Ros said warmly. She extended a hand to Myna, who after hesitating, took it in a brief shake. "Well, I have some ale if you girls would like to sit down," Ros gestured to a couple of worn chairs by the small hearth. Placing full cups in their hands, she sat across from the pair and studied Hazelyn with a surprisingly serious frown. "I'm actually glad you came Hazel, because I've been hearing the most outlandish rumors from the castle about a Botlon girl for the last few weeks. I was gettin' worried! So maybe you can shed some light on what really happened between Lord Robb, this lady, and you."

So shed light Hazelyn did. While she didn't tell her about Ramsay of course, Hazelyn told to Ros every other part of her story, Myna quietly listening. When Hazelyn had finally finished, Ros regarded her with only solemn scrutiny.

Hazelyn fidgeted nervously with her skirt as the red head's green eyes narrowed slightly and her full lips pursed. She knew she had damaged so many relationships with her lies, and wondered if Ros's name would be added to the list.

Slowly, the redhead nodded and spoke. "I knew there was something different about you, I just never wanted to prod about your past. I can't honestly say I'm surprised."

"I'm sorry I lied," Hazelyn said earnestly.

Ros simply frowned sympathetically. "I understand better than most the desire to leave a bad past behind, not wanting to look back."

"But how is that a good thing if you leave people who love you behind? That hurts them," Myna spoke up in harsh tone, though her eyes betrayed pain and even more jealousy.

Moving her gentle gaze to Myna, Ros responded sagely, "Sometimes you have to leave loved ones behind to protect them. But I'm glad Hazel was fortunate enough to have a friend with the loyalty to not let her go. That's a rare treasure that occurs only once a life time."

Glancing at Hazelyn, Ros raised her cup. "To loyal friends." Hazelyn grinned at Myna's astonished face. She could only recall a few times in their whole lives Myna had been rendered speechless. "To my loyal friend and sister," Hazelyn raised her cup toward Myna and nudged her.

Blinking slowly as she came out of her daze, a small smile formed on Myna 's lips. She then grasped her cup and touched it to Hazelyn's. "To loyal friends." All three woman drank and much to Hazelyn 's relief and joy, Myna loosened up and the evening turned to lighter topics.

"So now that I'm in on your little secret, how'd you enjoy your first romp in the sheets, with young Lord Robb no less?" Ros grinned wickedly at Hazelyn.

Flushing in embarrassment, Hazelyn stared at her feet as she murmured, "It wasn't too bad."

"Wasn't too bad!?" Myna barked out a laugh. Smirking, she leaned towards Ros and whispered loudly, "As someone forced to witness her bedding, I can say from the sounds she was making that she either enjoyed it much more than she claims, or someone let loose a barn animal into the bedroom."

Both women giggled as Hazelyn narrowed her eyes at the blonde. I'm going to kill her she thought darkly to herself. Finishing off her second cup of ale in one last swig, she yawned loudly. "Well, I think we best get back to the keep before Lady Stark hunts me down." She smiled at Ros sincerely. "Thank you, for understanding so much, and if you need anything in the future..."

"I'll just send a message with Theon," Ros quipped. The trio shared a hearty laugh at the Greyjoy's expense, bid final farewells, and then rose to leave. But as Hazelyn raised herself from her chair, a sudden spell of dizziness seized her senses. With her vision blurring, she would have stumbled to the floor had Myna not caught her.

"I didn't realize ya couldn't hold your cups very well, luv," Roe said in concern.

"But she isn't such a light weight normally," Myna frowned. "Usually gets through three cups before she starts to keel over. You alright, Zel?"

"Aye," Hazelyn breathed out, rubbing her forehead as she sighed in frustration. "I've just felt a bit off lately."

"How so?" Ros asked curiously.

Hazelyn bit her lip, shrugging. "I've just been sore and jumpy," she thrn wrinkled her nose in digust. "And gods, I can't stomach the stench of beef now either. I feel like my stomach is always churning, especially at daybreak." She'd considered asking for Luwin for something to help with nausea, but he'd probably just write it off as nerves for the ceremony coming up. "It's just nerves," she repeated aloud.

"Luv," Ros gazed at Hazelyn with concern. "I've seen this before and I think it might be more serious than that."

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: False Feasts

A motley assortment of colored cloth decorated the Great Hall for the wedding feast. Every house in attendance, great and small, covered the walls with their banners, even some from the Riverlands, far off. Yet it was the sigils of the newlyweds' kin which were most prominent in the hall. The Dustin crown and axes, the Ryswell black stallion head, and the Tully maroon and blue trout all hung in places of honor above the dias, next to the grey direwolf of House Stark and the bloody flayed man of House Bolton. And Hazelyn hated all of it.

The grandiosity of the celebration impressed her in an ironic sort of way, seeing as her good mother had arranged it all in one moon's time, without her help. Hazelyn had reviewed the wedding expenses in some of the household accounts with Maester Luwin, but Catelyn had still managed to keep her out of the planning for the most part, her cold attitude towards her good daughter unyielding.

This whole affair felt wrong to Hazelyn. It was a necessary lie, but a lie all the same. Walking into a godswood full of strangers, clutching the stiff arm of her father, paled in comparison to her real wedding. She and Robb had simply gone through the motions of the ceremony, their vows awkward and forced, both of them all too aware of the hundreds of curious and critical eyes upon them. Their wedding had been sweet, full of love and promise, but this farce was...well, perhaps now there would at least be no speculations that they were not truly an arranged match she admitted to herself.

The bride and groom now sat at the high table, forced to smile and greet the long parade of guests that wished to congratulate them. Minstrels that had traveled North for the wedding had already started to play music, the noise making Hazelyn's head pound. She could smell the beef dishes servants were bringing in from the kitchens too, and it made her want to vomit into her stew. Any sort of beef, whether it be raw or cooked, seemed to have that effect on her as of late. Gripping her skirts tightly, her knuckles turned white under the table as she repeated the same monotonous routine of a polite smile and demure thank you for each wedding guest while Robb did most of the talking. If she said more than a few words, she was sure she'd gag and offend someone.

She slid a hand down to rest on her stomach and mused to herself. She still couldn't quite believe what Ros had told her, the speculation feeling like a filthy accusation the more she thought of it. The idea made her almost as sick as the stench of beef. She couldn't face the truth right now, it was too real...too frightening.

Hazelyn nearly jumped out of her chair when Robb gently squeezed her hand. "Are you alright?" He asked quietly, his bright blue eyes filled with concern. Hazelyn shifted in her chair, feeling uncomfortable under his gaze.

"Of course," she muttered, forcing a strained smile. Robb raised a brow in suspicion, but as he opened his mouth to protest, another lord came up.

"Lord Robb, I must congratulate you on such a lovely bride," someone said. Hazelyn's smile turned genuine when she recognized the warm voice, her fear and worry melting away at once, as though the man whom had just spoken could do away with all that troubled her, much like he once had when she was very small. "Grandfather!" She shot up from her chair eagerly, despite her churning stomach.

Rodrick Ryswell's lined face crinkled as his mouth curved upward under a thick silver beard. A tall, broad shouldered man nearing his sixtieth year, his merry brown eyes glowed in a way Barbary's never could. Hazelyn always saw the likeness of her mother, during her happy moments, in her grandfather's laughing face.

"My dear girl, you are a sight for sore eyes." His voice was tinged with joyful relief. He'd been well aware of his granddaughter's disappearance and many of his very own men had searched frantically for her over the past year. Hazelyn internally cringed when she realized how much worry she must've caused him too. Especially after Domeric's death, she was the last piece of his eldest daughter that remained in this world.

Hazelyn had to resist the urge to run around the table and to embrace her grandfather as she had when she was little girl. She couldn't act so childish in public any longer because she wasn't a child anymore. She was the lady wife of a future great lord and would soon have his chil- She didn't have it in her to complete the thought. It brought too many dark memories and fears to the fore of her mind. So she opted instead to reach out and warmly clasp her grandfather's arm.

Rodrick encased her fingers within his broad hands. "Your skin is as cold as ever, lass," he chuckled. Hazelyn couldn't help the giggle that bubbled up from her chest as he narrowed his eyes at Robb. "Has your lord husband been letting you freeze at night?"

"Never my lord," Robb replied good naturedly as he rose from his chair to place a hand on Hazelyn's shoulder. "She'll never want for anything here in Winterfell."

"I should hope not," Rodrick stepped back, smiling. He bowed slightly to Robb before glancing back at Hazelyn with pride. "She is a treasure," he stated in a slightly wistful tone.

"I bet he'll make sure you're kept very warm tonight, eh cousin?" Someone chimed in jokingly from behind Rodrick.

"Rolan!" Hazelyn glanced over her grandfather's shoulder to see Barbary standing between to two men, glaring at the younger one as she slapped his shoulder.

"Please pardon my son's crude remarks, Lord and Lady Stark," the older of her aunt's companions said as he stepped forward. After casting his son a stern frown, the middle aged man, whom bore a striking resemblance to Barbary and Rodrick, bowed respectfully to Hazelyn and her husband.

"It's quite alright, uncle," Hazelyn smiled as she extended a hand to him.

He returned it gently as he brushed his lips across her knuckles. "You look more like your mother everytime time I see you, niece."

Hazelyn swallowed hard as she nodded and glanced back at Robb. "This is my Uncle Roger, my grandfather's heir," she introduced quietly. Her uncle had the same reserved, gentle nature as her mother. She always felt a bit closer to her when he was around.

"And I am Lord Roger's son and the lovely bride's favorite cousin, Rolan Ryswell, my lord," the younger man, that Barbary had chastised, announced in a boisterous tone . He stepped away from his and Hazelyn's scowling aunt to give the young couple a sweeping bow. Hazelyn sighed in fond aggravation. A year older than her and two heads taller, Rolan was her least and most favorite Ryswell cousin. He had always seemed to get her in trouble with his antics whenever she'd visited the Rills, but he did know how to have a good time and had helped her pull off some memorable pranks on Domeric over the years.

"It's good to see you again Rolan," she muttered as he took her offered hand.

"It's always a pleasure my lady," he grinned charmingly as he kissed her knuckles. Standing straight, he turned to Robb. "Your family's stables are quite impressive, my lord. I noted many of them were from the Ryswell stock."

"Aye, the Ryswells have always provided us with many an excellent steed," Robb replied politely.

Rolan nodded with his chest puffed out in pride, and then smirked back at Hazelyn. "Zel, if you have time after the festivities, I would greatly enjoy riding out with you and your husband one day. The lands around Winterfell seem ideal for racing."

"Of course," Hazelyn agreed sweetly. "If want to lose miserably again, I'd be more than happy to find time."

Rolan barked out laugh, "I look forward to the challenge." He smiled back at Robb with flashing green eyes. "She's always been a hard rider. I'm sure you'll find that out tonight though."

"I'd think we best take our seats," Rodrick abruptly interrupted. Rolan laughed and winked as his scowling father and grandfather led him away to a table close by. Hazelyn simply shook her head before turning to greet her aunt. Barbary hugged her and clasped Robb's hands warmly as she congratulated them on such a wonderful match. Hazelyn had to force herself not to laugh at the prideful smirk on her aunt's face. She was so elated that she got credit for arranging the marriage that she'd even forgone her usual black garb for a dark green gown.

Hazelyn smiled in relief once her aunt left, allowing her and Robb to sit down again. Robb threw a side glance at her with a furrowed brow. "Your cousin's...interesting," he commented.

Hazelyn waved him off with a small smirk. "Rolan is an arse, but good one. I'll have my revenge on him once I utterly humiliate him in that race."

"With your riding skills, I have no doubt you will," Robb chuckled, gripping her hand.

Hazelyn grinned as he intertwined his fingers with hers and pecked her on the cheek. "But if I didn't I win," she leaned in and whispered in his ear, "Would you chase down my scoundrel cousin to restore my honor? I'd pay well, just like last time."

"I might have to raise the price," Robb murmured. Hazelyn bit her lip as his palm settled on her hip and his head bent towards her.

"Then perhaps I'll find another knight to defend me," she challenged, fighting the urge to smile as their foreheads touched.

"You better not," Robb grumbled playfully, a dark tint in his blue eyes. Hazelyn giggled quietly. Running her her fingers along his jaw, she brought his face to hers. Just as their lips touched, a quite cough interrupted them. Reluctantly, the couple parted and faced forward, only to be met by the cold gaze of Roose Bolton.

Roose was finely dressed in a black surcoat and a grey cloak, fastened with a bronze flayed man clasp. He'd given Hazelyn a matching bronze necklace with their house sigil before ceremony as a "wedding present". Something to remind you of where you come from he'd said as he secured it around her neck. Or of the legacy I'll never escape her mind had whispered in repsonse. She shivered. The cold metal of the pendant seemed to burn into her skin as she met her father's blank stare. He wore a small smile, but as usual, it didn't reach his pale, hard eyes.

"My lord," he acknowledged his good son with a slight nod. "My compliments to your lady mother on arranging such a fine ceremony and feast on such short notice. She runs her household well."

Hazelyn felt Robb tense and glanced over to see his face to assume that grim Stark mask. "Of course, Lord Bolton," he replied in a measured tone.

Her father smiled slightly as he turned his attention back to her. "Hazelyn, I wanted to formally introduce you to your future stepmother before the feast began."

A heavy set young woman stepped forward, adorned in a garish dress of bright pink. "This Lady Walda Frey, my betrothed." All plump curves, rosy checked, and a sweet smile on her face, she was the exact opposite of the kind of woman Hazelyn thought her father would choose, the exact opposite of a woman like her mother.

The heavy brunette bobbed timidly, a hopeful expression on her face. "Lady Hazelyn, Lord Robb, its such a pleasure to meet you. The wedding was lovely. And the castle is quite magnificent, I've never seen anything quite like it."

"Thank you, my lady," Robb replied in a slightly warmer tone.

"Daughter, you must make time to become acquainted with your stepmother," Roose suggested, giving Hazelyn a promoting look. She snapped her eyes back to his and studied his expression, trying to decipher his motives, just as he did her, though neither dared to give anything away.

Robb, on the other hand, made his mood very apparent. Hazelyn felt as his hand clasped hers tighter, the muscles of his forearm twitching. His brow furrowed and his gaze grew heated. Well, at least he was making an effort to control his temper. "I'm afraid Hazelyn uses her time as she chooses nowadays, my lord."

"Does she use it wisely?" Roose queried, raising a brow at Hazelyn. Robb's jaw tensed, his fingers squeezing hers even tighter.

Desperate to avoid a confrontation, Hazelyn quickly replied for her husband. She wouldn't allow her father to catch Robb in one of his ugly webs, spun with the intent to strangle it's victim. "I would love to get to know you lady," she cordially told Walda. She flushed, it too felt odd to call the young woman mother. "May I call you Walda?"

A scoff turned Hazelyn's attention aside. Right behind her father and his future bride stood two poor excuses for men. They were rather ugly, with their weaselish looking faces, and such drab clothing, that she could've mistaken them for pig farmers, were it not for the twin tower sigil emblazoned on their chests. She surveyed them quickly, the ridiculous leather caps on their heads catching her eye.

"Are you uncomfortable calling Walda mother?" The taller Frey mocked drunkenly.

His shorter brother snorted, "You could have been calling her cousin. Perhaps that term would have suited you better."

"As would have Olyvar," The taller mumbled. Hazelyn could feel the heat of anger flowing from Robb as the Frey men spoke. She squeezed his hand hard, hoping it he'd stay his wrath, and that the two fools would shut up.

Thankfully, Walda softly intervened. "-It's quite alright." Her eyes met Hazelyn's warmly, "Of course, you must call me Walda... And I would love to get to know you better as well. Nothing would please me more."

"And surely Hazelyn, you wish to please your new mother." Roose nodded.

Robb grit his teeth, "Hazelyn already said-"

Hazelyn dug her nails into the back of Robb's hand. "Why, yes father." She spoke with a false obedience in her voice, but wore an honest smile when she met Walda's eye. "I look forward to our time together," she said, watching the Frey men out of the corner of her eye.

As the two weasels skulked away, one spat a curse under his breath, "Wolf's whore."

Robb rose to his feet violently, yanking his hand from Hazelyn. "Did you have something to add?"

"Nothing worth your while, my lord," the Frey taunted. The pair walked away snickering.

Hazelyn gripped her husband's hand again. "It's alright " She whispered, coaxing him to his seat.

"You have your uncle Brandon's temper. You must tell me, Lord Robb, should I fear for my daughter?" Hazelyn's eyes snapped back to her father. He wore the barest hint of a smirk, having a very amusing time trying to make her husband lose his cool. She really shouldn't be surprised. Finding weaknesses to exploit was her father's favorite pastime.

"What is it you imply, my lord?" Robb's voice shivered with barley contained rage. The Starks had all but mastered the grim, stoic look of indifference. But one sure way to make them falter, was to question their honor. Stark men held honor like a shield, and all of life was a battle. To challenge the strength of such a virture, was to test their patience.

"Merely a father's concern," Roose responded in perfectly neutral tone. "Members of your house have not always... Conducted themselves with honor around her kin." A pulse of fury went through Hazelyn. He'd dare to use her aunt's humiliation as a weapon in a petty game with Robb? She narrowed her eyes dangerously.

"I would never lay a hand on my wife," Robb ground out through his teeth.

This time, Hazelyn made no attempt to hold him back. She'd savor her husband ripping into her bastard of a father.

"And yet, I hear she may already be with child," Roose raised a brow. Hazelyn turned pale as his gaze shifted back to her, challenging, probing. Her head began to pound again and her nausea returned with a vengeance. Oh gods, how did he know? He had to be bluffing, not even Robb knew. She didn't even know for sure. Oh gods... She tightly gripped the edge of the table.

"My lady, are you alright? Walda asked in a sympathetic frown. Hazelyn grimaced as she swallowed the acidic bile rising at the back of her throat.

"Of course," she cringed. "It's just stifling in here, with all the people. If you'd excuse me, I need to step out for some air." She rose, clutching at her stomach as her head spun. She didn't care if her father saw anything, or Robb. She just had to make it out of the hall before she got sick in front of all the guests.

Not waiting for any response, she pushed back her chair, and took off. "Hazel?" She heard Robb call after her. She walked even faster, hoping he'd allow her one moment of peace. She wasn't ready to talk about this yet. She'd just gotten her head around being a wife. She couldn't be a...

"Hazelyn!" She stumbled as a strong grip on her elbow yanked her back. Landing against Robb's chest, she didn't look up as he wrapped his arm around her. "Something is wrong, I know it," he said in a low but firm voice.

"But -" Hazelyn protested.

Robb gripped her chin and forced her to look into his scowling face. "Don't tell me it's not." His expression softened as he pleaded, "Let me get Maester Luwin to look you over."

"No!" Hazelyn hissed, pushing away from him. Taking in his shocked expression, she soothed, "Not in the middle of the feast. You know I don't handle heat well. Just let me step out for a moment, please."

She bit her lip as Robb stared at her. Finally, he sighed with a severe frown. "Fine, be quick about it though," he grumbled.

"I promise," Hazelyn agreed, before turning and making a beeline for the hall doors. She desperately hoped he'd forget all this by the end of the night.

The marriage feast was truly a grand affair and Jon was right in the middle of it. Robb had stubbornly insisted he be seated at the head table, despite Lady Catelyn's vehement protests, but Jon now despondently wished his brother had heeded his mother.

Unused to such a place of honor, Jon squirmed uncomfortably as he took another sip of wine and stared across the hall. The music rang merry and the guests were beginning to grow rowdy as the drink continued to flow. Though a false wedding, Lady Catelyn had spared no expense. Rich food covered the tops of the tables. The kitchens had served dishes of beef, chicken, venison, and pork along with every type of vegetable from the glass gardens and fruits that had been imported from other holdfasts. He'd even spotted a barrel in the kitchens with the speared sun of House Martell on the side, a rare vintage saved for special occasions such as these.

Jon grunted as he received a hard slap on the shoulder from Theon. "Snow, it's your brother's wedding, don't act so miserable! You get to sit at the high table today! Grab yourself a wench and be thankful Robb's wife isn't half crawled in his lap already!" Jon glared over his shoulder at the Stark's tipsy, laughing ward. Aye, he'd finally gotten to sit at his family's table, but Lady Stark had made sure to place him at the far end with only Theon beside him for company. And with Robb caught up in the middle of the festivities, there was little chance of that changing tonight. Jon had half a mind to slip out of here before Greyjoy called over a woman for him to chat up, or Lady Stark found a reason to dismiss him.

"There are a lot of fine girls tonight, Snow," Theon said with a knowing look in his eye. He raised his goblet and gestured out over the crowd of feast goers below. "Prettiest serving wenches are out on display, and I've seen a few pretty lord's daughters, unattatched to a man. You could maybe bed a high born tonight with my help," he offered with raised brows.

Jon leaned away as the ironborn nudged his shoulder. "Not interested," he grumbled before taking a giant gulp of wine.

Theon laughed as he shook his head. "Typical. More for me then." He smirked as his hazel eyes swept the crowd. "And that one will be my first course." Jon scowled as Theon waved over a young black haired maid serving wine.

Not in any mood to watch Theon seduce another girl, Jon rose from his chair. "Tell Robb I've retired for the night if he asks."

"That's a piss poor way to thank him for getting you into his wedding feast," Theon chuckled, already wrapping his arm around the giggling servant girl. "But if you want to miss out and go brood in the tiltyard as usual, that's your problem." He shrugged before turning his attentions back to his conquest.

Jon shook his head and stalked off, but paused to glance back at Robb. Perhaps he should let his brother know before he slipped away. But the servants were already clearing away some tables for dancing and Robb was leading a tired Hazelyn out for the first. He'd probably not even notice Jon's absence.

Jon excited the hall without trouble, but before he was more than a few steps out of the entrance, someone touched his arm. Startled, he turned to see Myna frowning up a she gripped his arm. "Jon, what are you doing out here?"

"I was leaving," he shrugged her off lightly.

"Did Lady Stark send you away already?" Myna asked in concern. Her amber eyes flickered with annoyance.

"No!" Jon said sharply, crossing his arms defensively. "Robb's just too caught up with guests to talk and I couldn't stomach a whole night in Theon's company."

Myna smiled a little, tilting her head. "Bedding a girl already now, is he?"

"He's working on it," Jon mumbled bitterly. A mixture of disgust and jealousy stabbed at him. He hated Theon's treatment of women, how he just used and discarded them. But the older boy never seemed lonely, always able to lure girls to fawn over him. It made Jon feel all the more alone. And Gods, all the girls had been practically drooling over Robb for years. One smile, or compliment, he'd had ladies, maids, and whores alike panting for his company.

He'd always envied Robb's ability to do that with no consequences. He didn't have a wretched base born surname that hung over his head, nor did he have to endure the hardships that went with it. His brother would never understand the worry about forcing another child to go through the treatment he'd endured, or the fear of shackling some woman with his shameful name, along with any children she might give him.

But, seven hells, he'd only felt more envy over the past year, watching Robb with Hazelyn. The way they laughed together, the intimate touches, shy smiles and sly glances, it was obvious to anyone how much they loved each other. Jon wished he could have that with someone, but he couldn't.

"Jon, are you there?" He jumped as Myna squeezed his arm. She giggled as he looked at her in slight confusion. "Am I so boring that your mind wandered off to find something else to do?" She placed a hand on her chest dramatically, though her eyes twinkled.

"No!" Jon shook his frantically, "I just- I was thinking about, uhm..."

Myna shook her head, grinning. "You poor thing, you really don't know how to talk to girls that you don't share blood with. Suppose I have to teach you then," she laughed. "First lesson," she held a finger up. "Learn when to stop talking so you don't dig yourself into a deeper hole."

Jon's face grew slightly red, but the corner of his mouth twitched up at her teasing tone. "What makes you think I need those lessons?"

Myna raised her brow at him. "Jon Snow, no matter where you go, from the Wall down to Dorne, or across the Narrow Sea, you will always have to deal with women. If you want to survive, you'd best take my words to heart," she scolded mockingly. Glancing around, she smirked, a scheming expression on her face. "In fact, we're going to start those lessons this evening. You're going to go pilfer some of that feast food from the kitchen, I'm going to get some of that Dornish wine, and then you're going to meet me back in the main courtyard."

"I am?" Jon questioned, trying not to smile.

"Aye, you are, and we'll have a much better feast than those bloody high borns," Myna said with an easy confidence. The pair held each other's gaze for a moment, then broke out into laughter.

"Alright," Jon gave in easily. Myna left him with a wicked smile, before turning and skipping away to get the wine. Pushing his broodish thoughts on his base born status away, Jon strolled to the kitchen in a much better state of mind. There was something about Myna, an ease about her, that made him feel content, even if they sat in silence.

He got some chicken and a few pieces of fruit from the cooks easily enough. They'd never turn down one of Ned Stark's sons, even the bastard. Gathering it all in a sack, he made his way to the courtyard and settled himself to side of the Keep's main entrance to wait. Maybe they could eat in the Godswood and he could show Myna the heart tree again. She'd been so fascinated with it the first time. His thoughts were broken by the sound the keep doors creaking open. A drunk lordling wobbled out, laughing obnoxiously as he tried and failed to sing the words from "The Dornish Man's Wife".

Jon rolled his eyes, prepared to ignore him, when someone else stepped out into the darkness. Myna's braid shined gold in the torchlight, catching both Jon's and the drunk lordling's attention. "Who do we have here?" The high born young man asked with a charming smile, despite his intoxicated state.

"Just a serving girl, m'lord," Myna murmured as she bobbed respectfully, balancing a pitcher in one of her arms.

"Wait," the brown haired youth frowned, narrowing his eyes at her. "Myna, is that you?" He laughed in surprise. Jon felt a sudden surge of annoyance at the familiarity in his tone.

Myna gave the boy an easy smile in return. Jon didn't like the playful look in her eye or the relaxed way she crossed her arms. "I'm surprised you remember me, Lord Rolan." Jon wondered where Myna could have met the young lord.

"No need for titles when others aren't around," Rolan winked at Myna. "And how could I forget such a blonde haired beauty as you?" Jon's hands curled into fists when the young man reached to catch the end of Myna's braid with his fingers.

"There are a lot of girls with blonde hair," Myna retorted lightly, gently tugging her braid away. She took a small step back from Rolan as she rolled her eyes. Jon felt a small sense of relief, both to see she did not appreaciate the man's advances, and to see she did something to spurn him.

"None as pretty as yours," Rolan persisted, moving towards Myna. Jon's annoyance changed to anger as the boy leaned close to the maid, and whispered, "Do you remember the last night we were together Myna?"

Jon's stomach dropped. He hadn't known Myna for too long, and in the time they'd spent in each other's company, they'd never talked of such things. She did have a vivacious personality that drew attention though, and she'd spent her life around keeps and high borns, just like Jon had. But unlike him, she'd warmed some of their beds it seemed. She was a friendly, sociable woman, and it did not shock him too greatly to know she wasn't chaste, but to hear it...he hated it, far more than what he'd consider reasonable.

"Somewhat," Myna shrugged, her hand traveling up to fiddle with her bear pendant. "It was quite a while ago though, a lot has happened since then." Her tone was relaxed but she took a step away from her admirer.

"Less than two years ago," Rolan recalled fondly. "The night of Dom's nameday feast. That was a good night." He snickered, "You were a maiden then, if I recall. Even after everything we did."

Myna's brow raised as her smile faded, and she looked a bit shaken. She continued to play with her necklace. "And I'm still a maid thank you. I think what we did was quite enough." Jon tensed even more at the statement. What did they do exactly?

"That's even better," Rolan grinned.

Myna barked out a defiant laugh. "Uh, Pardon?" Jon was just about ready to emerge from the shadows and intervene. He didn't want to get into a fight with his brother's wedding guest, Lady Catelyn would kill him, but if the lordling tried to do anything to Myna...

Rolan smirked at Myna, taking her hand in his, and acted cordial, "-Would you like to see my father's horses. The stable's full of them. Come with me."

Myna rolled her eyes, "Are you so drunk that you've forgotten where we are?" She huffed. "The Winterfell stable is full of Stark horses."

Rolan grabbed her waist with a devilish grin. "Aye. Stark owns them. But they're Ryswell bred. We're good at what we do. Breeding horses...breeding in general." He caressed her lower back. "Have you ever seen a stallion mount a mare?"

Myna nudged him off, crossing her arms, "Can't say that I have, but I bet your grandfather would never pair a stallion with a common workhorse."

"Gods no!" Rolan laughed suddenly, taken aback.

"Then surely a maid like me, is not worth the bother."

"Oh, but you have more than proven your worth Myna," Roland smirked as he reached for her again. "How about we just see where the night takes us, for old times sake?"

Jon had had enough. He wouldn't let the other lad lay a another hand on Myna.

"Myna!" He called loudly, striding over to them with purpose, a forced smile on his face.

Myna and the Ryswell boy looked up at him with surprise. "Who're you?" Rolan scowled, displeased at the interruption. He tried to stand taller and put a hand on Myna's shoulder, to intimidate his rival and mark his territory, Jon presumed. But he swayed as tried to keep his balance, and Myna easily evaded his grasp. Jon could smell the wine on his breath. Still, feeling the urge to upstage to drunk lordling, he grasped Myna's hand, gently tugging her farther from the other boy. She shot him a strange side glance as he glared at the Ryswell.

"This is my friend Jon," Myna awkwardly introduced before Jon could say anything. "Lord Stark's son."

Rolan pursed his lips for a moment as he studied the pair. Jon tightened his grip on Myna, ready to take action if needs be. He didn't expect the laugh the other man let out.

"So you've taken up with Jon Snow, the Stark bastard?" He chuckled at Myna, amused, though the girl shared none of his mirth. "I'm surprised you'd go for a bastard when you had an offer from a real lord. Always thought you to be more sensible."

Jon narrowed his eyes, a spark of fury rising in him. He pushed Myna behind him as he took a step towards Rolan. "I'd never-"

"You think I'd spread my legs for you in some stable, m'lord?" Myna snapped, cutting Jon off. She stepped right in front of him, blocking off his path to the drunk Ryswell. "You want to wet your cock? Go buy a sally, or better yet, go fuck a horse since you're such an expert."

Rolan opened in his mouth in surprise before he scowled angrily and waved his hand in dismissal. He glared at Jon as he sneered, "Alright, fine. Since you've turned into such a bitch, it makes sense you'd be fucked by a wolf mutt anyway."

Jon gritted his teeth, seething in fury. Normally, no matter how angry he felt when someone made a dig at his status, he had enough self control to let it go, but he wasn't the only one who'd been attacked. As the lordling stumbled away, Jon moved to grab the scruff of his collar so he could drag him to give him a well deserved punch.

Suddenly, a strong grip on his shoulder halted him. "Don't," Myna commanded. "He's a drunk prick, not worth getting in trouble over."

Jon looked at her angrily. "But what he just said to you- He can't get away with that!" He spluttered.

Myna narrowed her eyes as she put her hands on her hips. "They were just words, drunk words he most like won't even remember in the morn. It's not worth it."

"It didn't bother you, what he said!?" Jon pushed.

"Not like I haven't heard it before," Myna huffed, fiddling with her bear pendant.

Jon frowned in dismay. "So you've... been with others besides him?" He asked cautiously, finding he greatly disliked the thought.

"What do you mean been with?" Myna asked defensively. She lightly tugged at her necklace. "Aye, I've kissed, maybe done a little more, with different lads, no different than a lot of maids, but I'm not a whore." She glared at Jon. "I never lifted my skirts to anyone for some pointless romp, and I never intend to."

Her voice shook with the last sentence, a flash of vulnerability crossing her face.

"I didn't mean to imply you were one," Jon said quietly, a little floored by the outburst. He studied her for a moment as she relaxed, wondering what brought it on.

"Oh," Myna flushed red in embarrassment, looking at the ground. "Well," she muttered awkwardly, "Maybe we should go find a place to eat ..."

"Aye," Jon agreed to save her from discomfort. "We could go to Godswood again. It's peaceful this time of night."

"Sounds good, " Myna gave him a tiny smile.

As they walked across the courtyard in silence, he glanced nervously at Myna. "I think you're more than just a common work horse," he said quickly.

"Huh?" Myna stopped, tilting her head in confusion.

Jon fumbled with his words. "I're not a horse...I didn't mean to call you a horse...I...I don't know what I meant by that..I" He scratched the back of his neck, laughing in embarrassment and blushing.

"It's okay, I understand," Myna smiled. Jon's eyes widened when he felt her fingers grip his hand. He felt something strange tug his chest as Myna looked at him. "It's really sweet of you to say that, and thank you for at least trying to defend me," she giggled.

"Trying?" Jon raised a brow as they continued to walk.

"Well, I obviously was the one who finished him off." Myna smirked.

"I don't know about that," Jon quipped, "Because it looked like to me..."

Robb sighed as he glanced over towards the high table where Hazelyn sat, making conversation with her aunt. After letting each important guest twirl her about the room once, she'd declined anymore dance offers, stating she needed a rest. She'd not looked quite right all day. Her face was paler than usual and she had dark circles under her eyes. Not to mention, she'd left the feast several times to "get air", but when she returned, she was red faced and flushed. He'd asked her multiple times what was wrong, but she had refused to give him a straight answer. She'd hardly finished one glass of wine all night, so he knew she wasn't drunk. When he'd suggested they have Maester Luwin look her over, she'd vehemently insisted she was fine. Robb knew she was hiding something, but he couldn't imagine what. He was starting to grow frustrated with her.

"Are you tired of me already, my lord?" His dance partner asked heartily.

Robb laughed in self depreciation. "My apologies, my lady." He shook his head as he led her through another turn.

Dacey Mormont smirked as she continued to gracefully move through the steps of the dance. "I'll accept it this time, my lord, because it's your wedding. I'd be concerned if you were more entranced with me than your bride, though I wouldn't blame you," she jested. Her light brown eyes flashed with good humor.

"You are quite fair, my lady, but don't worry, I've only eyes for my wife," Robb chuckled at the slightly older woman.

"As it should be," Dacey nodded. "She's quite a lovely little thing."

Soon enough the song ended and the pair parted. "Thank you for the dance, my lord," Dacey curtsied.

When she stood straight, she met Robb's gaze evenly, her height equa to his own. "My family would be honored if you and your lady wife would pay us a visit on Bear Island soon. I would greatly enjoy sparring with the heir to Winterfell and teaching its future lady a thing or two about weaponry."

Robb smiled. The women of House Mormont were fierce warriors, and had been since their house's conception. They were as good in combat as any man in the north, and as mighty as the bears on their island and banner. It would be a great honor indeed if the Mormont heir taught his wife her skills. "You have my word that we will," he vowed.

"Very good, my lord," Dacey stated. The she-bear's amber eyes glanced at the high table. "I don't want to keep you any longer from your lovely wife, so I give you leave. Congratulations again, and may your marriage be blessed with many years," she grinned cheekily, "And many children."

Robb bid her a fond farewell and then quickly made his way to the dias before anyone else could claim his attention. He spotted Hazelyn, still in her seat, nodding absently as Lady Walda chattered away to her. Her silver eyes had a glazed over look.

"Grandfather has wonderful taste in music," Walda gushed. "He only hires the best musicians. A great number of the bards here today we brought from the Twins. In fact, two of them-"

"Lady Walda," Robb interrupted cordially. Hazelyn's shoulders relaxed as her future stepmother turned away from her.

"My lord!" The plump young woman exclaimed in delight.

"I'm sorry to cut into your conversation-"

"It's quite alright, I understand the desire newly weds have to be alone," Walda giggled. She glanced back at Hazelyn. "Though grandfather is always more public with each of his brides, I know must couples would rather have privacy for their activities. I'll leave you both to it then." Robb grimaced as the Frey lady walked away tittering. The thought of his own marriage being compared to any of the old lord's infamous beddings of girls younger than his own granddaughters made him slightly sick.

"Gods, thank you," Hazelyn breathed as she slowly stood up, "I don't know how much longer I would've lasted." She gave Robb a wan smile as he snaked a loose arm around her waist.

He frowned when she wilted against him and pressed her forehead to his shoulder. "Hazel," he gently pulled her back. He furrowed his brow as he took in her drawn features. "What's wrong? Please, just tell me," he pleaded with her, brushing a lock of dark hair from her forehead.

Hazelyn bit her lip, fear flashing in her wide grey eyes. "I don't know what you mean," she muttered as she glanced away from him.

"You-" Robb began, but he was cut off by a raucous call.

"To bed!" Hazelyn's face drained of what little color it had, her eyes wide in terror. Robb tightened his grip on her reflexively and snapped his gaze across the room to see one of the drunk Frey men from earlier smiling with horirble glee as he roused other guests to take up his chant.

Robb's face heated with anger. He'd already made plans with his father to have no bedding. Most of the time, the ceremony was truly just a harmless, amusing tradition, one he'd even taken part in for fun. But with Hazelyn's past history, he didn't want to her to go through it. Also, he didn't want dozens of other men putting their hands parts of Hazelyn that now belonged to him alone, and when he explained as much to her, she told him she had no intentions of letting other women undress him either.

Unfortunately, rowdy wedding guests, men and women alike, were closing in of them like an unstoppable herd of cattle. The taller of the Frey weasels, drunk on Dronish wine, placed a spindly on Hazelyn's shoulder. "Come on, boy, no need to be greedy. You get 'er the rest of the night. We'll just warm her up for ya'!" Shouts of agreement echoed throughout the hall as fingers pinched Hazelyn's hips and bottom. She stiffened in Robb's grip even more, her jaw clenching as her face went blank.

Robb growled, drawing Hazelyn tighter against him as someone grabbed her arm. "There's not going to be any bedding."

Most guests ignored him, making sounds of protest and throwing out crude jests. A few women grabbed at his shoulders and tried to pull him away from Hazelyn, but he didn't budge. The tall Frey laughed loudly to crowd, "You want to shirk tradition again, boy? After you disgraced it before-"

"Lothar," a calm voice cut through the goading, "You heard my good son. There will not be any bedding tonight."

Robb's eyes widened in disbelief when he spotted Roose emerge from the crowd of nobles, the sudden tense air in the Hall souring their merriment.

"But my lord, it's tradition!" Lothar jested feebly. No one laughed. "Dated back to the time of our forefathers."

"Such a tradition is demeaning, and unnecessary," Ned declared as he came up beside Roose, a grim frown on his face.

"How will we know your boy's capable, or if the girl's even honest in the first place?" The shorter Frey defiantly defended his brother, ale and some flawed sense of entitlement driving his bold words. Robb knew he had done the Frey's wrong in wedding their family's marriage prospect, but that gave them no right at all to insult his wife.

"Do you doubt my daughter's honor, Walder?" Roose asked in quiet, dangerous tone. He let his question hang in the air as he stared at the Frey. Walder squirmed, desperately looking around for support, but all the northern lords and ladies had halted their antics, frowns on their faces, waiting to see how the scene would unfold. Defeated, he huffed angrily and motioned to his lame brother to follow him back to their table.

Robb eyed his good father uncertainly. He'd never expected such a cold, pragmatic, merciless man to defend his daughter at all. If he were honest, a part of him was ashamed that this man, whom held little love in his heart for Hazelyn, had come to her defense, and not him, her husband who loved her well. When he glanced at Hazelyn, he saw the tiniest bit of surprise color her blank expression.

"There will be no bedding tonight," Ned announced firmly. "Only kin will accompany the bride and groom to their bed chamber." Though no one openly defied Lord Stark, many grumbled in disappointment.

It was the Greatjon that saved the merriment. The tall, drunk Umber towered over the crowd as he raised his tankard and boomed, "You 'all bloody 'erd Ned. So wish 'em well and let's get back to drinking!" He gestured towards Robb, some wine sloshing over the edge of his cup. "Here's to hoping you can last the whole night boy!"

Robb's ears turned bright red, but he laughed as the other nobles joined in calling out lewd jokes and well wishes. He glanced down at Hazelyn as his father ushered them towards the door. Her body had relaxed somewhat but she still wore a tired frown, impervious to the renewed festive mood.

Robb's brow scrunched in worry. As he led her to his room in a silent, strange procession containing both his parents, Roose, and Lady Walda, the worry only intensified. His wife just stared ahead vacantly as they walked, gripping his arm tightly. Despite all her weak assurances, Robb knew something was wrong with her, but she refused to confide in him still.

When they finally reached his bed chamber, he and Hazelyn exchanged a very uncomfortable good night with his parents and Lady Walda, followed by a tense farewell with her father.

"I trust you'll treat my daughter well," Lord Bolton said in a brusque tone, giving his good son a a firm handshake.

"I alreadydo," Robb ground out through a forced smile. Unlike you.He wanted to rip Hazelyn away as Roose wrapped his daughter in a formal embrace.

"Sleep well, daughter."

"Enjoy the rest of your evening Father." The two Boltons used equally neutral tones.

Robb sighed in relief when he finally shut his chamber door, that sham of a wedding over. Now he could finally get Hazelyn to tell him what was ailing her, and after that, he smirked, they could enjoy their second wedding night, this time undisturbed.

Hazelyn sat down at the vanity that had been moved into the room the day before and stared into the looking glass as Robb added wood to the fire in the hearth. After stirring the flames, he went to his side table and poured two cups of wine. "That was certainly a long night," he said with a smile, offering his wife one.

Hazelyn accepted it with yawn, "Aye, I thought it would never end." She leaned back in her chair. "At least we'll get to see each other everyday now," she winked at Robb, "And you won't be buried in paper work...hopefully."

"That I can drink to," Robb chuckled, raising his cup before taking a swig. Hazelyn gave a small smile, returned the toast, and raised her own cup to her lips. Robb jumped when she let out a gagging noise. The goblet clattered to the floor as she dropped it and shot out of her seat, sprinting for the chamber pot. Robb grimaced at the horrible wretching noises coming from behind the divider.

A few moments later, she emerged, her face drawn and pale. She didn't even look at Robb as she wearily plopped down on the side of the bed. Frowning in concern, he sat down beside her and placed a gentle hand on her knee.

"What's the matter?" he asked, making his wife look at him, the firelight making the chamber flicker with orange light and dark shadows. Hazelyn bit her lip, glancing between his hand and face before she scooted away. Everything about her body language screamed she was hiding something. She'd been evasive all evening, and Robb couldn't understand why.

Hazelyn scoffed, not meeting his gaze. "What makes you think something is wrong?"

"You've gotten sick at least five different times tonight," Robb replied dryly, motioning towards the chamber pot as he tried to keep his mounting frustration out of his voice. They were married, he'd done everything he could to protect her. So why was she pushing him away? How could she not trust him?

"So?" she asked, her voice high and shrill. She immediately stood up and went over to her trunk. Robb watched her silently as she opened it and kneeled to fish out a night gown, seemingly ignoring him. Only when she faced him again and saw his serious frown did she relent. "I've had an upset stomach all night, it's only nerves playing up on me," she huffed, flinging her garment across the back of her chair.

"If it were only that, why not just say so?" Robb questioned, raising a brow in suspicion at her. Hazelyn just rolled her eyes before turning away to undo the ties on her white dress. Sighing in defeat, Robb stood and shrugged. If she wouldn't accept his help, she'd have to accept the maester's. "I'll fetch Luwin then, maybe he can give you something to help with your stomach."

Hazelyn growled, glaring him though narrowed eyes. "No, I already told you I don't need him!" she suddenly hissed. "I can have some secrets, can't I?! You don't need to know every aspect of my life!"

A little stunned at her outburst, Robb raised his hands in a placating manner. "Aye, alright. Right." He silently considered dropping the issue to avoid a fight, but quickly discarded the notion. She was acting exactly as she had right before he discovered she was Bolton. She always got defensive when someone closed in on her most guarded secrets. Well, they would not begin their marriage keeping secrets from one another. If something was wrong, he had a right to know. As her husband, he wanted to share her burdens. "You know, I've seen you ill before, and you weren't half this miserable," he prodded.

Hazelyn glanced sharply at him, her gaze growing frigid. "I'm fine," she said tightly.

Robb ran a hand through his hair to quell his annoyance. Gods, she was stubborn! Glaring back at her, he shook his vehemently. "I think I know you well enough by now to see you're not." He crossed his arms sternly. "I'm not dropping the issue, Hazel, so if you don't want to continue this all night, you'll have to tell me."

Hazelyn's anger faded, desperation taking its place in her grey eyes. She silently pleaded with him to change his mind, but when he simply continued to scowl at her, she sighed, covering her face with her hands. Robb remained silent, waiting expectantly.

"I'm pregnant," she admitted finally, letting her hands falling from her face, though she still didn't look at him.

Robb's eyes widened, shock coursing through him. For a moment all he could do was stare at her, trying to process the revelation. Only when she glanced at him could he find his tounge again.

"What?" he grunted.

"I-I..." she sighed. "I don't know for sure but...a bloody expert said she saw the signs in me," she huffed angrily, throwing her arms up.

An immeasurable joy started to rise up in Robb as his eyes traveled to her stomach. "A baby?" Hazel nodded, crossing her arms. "This...This is wonderful," he laughed breathlessly. He could hardly believe it. Their baby, a child they'd made together, was growing inside the woman he loved right now, already, when they'd barely been married. He laughed again at the wonder of it all. He'd always wanted a big family, like his own. He was going to be a father! And for them to be blessed with such a gift so quickly, the gods surely favored their union.

He reached out to embrace Hazelyn, but she stepped away. "No it isn't," She bit out, her eyes averted to her feet. Robb frowned in confusion. "We've been married- truly married and allowed to show affection without reprimand-for all of a few hours! Do you know what they'll all say when I give birth so soon!?" She exclaimed.

"We'll say it came early." Robb said easily, trying to reassure her.

Hazelyn snorted. "How many others have used that same excuse?! I'll be humiliated! might actually gain some small amount of glory as the man who evidently got his wife with child within hours of her having that title." The coldness in her voice doused Robb's joy. Why was she acting like this? And why had she tried so hard to hide such a wonderful thing from him in the first place? Was she worried about the child's and her own safety? That had to be it.

Tenderly grasping her hand, Robb drew her into his arms. "None of that matters to me, Hazel," he soothed. "You're my wife and our child-"

"I don't WANT a child!" Hazelyn screeched into the stillness of the night, violently shoving him away. "I don't want the pain, or the damn responsibility! I want to be your wife and partner, I don't want to be a milk cow for a dribbling little creature!" She panted hard, her expression as cold as ice. Something dark flickered her in eyes, and the air in the room seemed to take on a biting chill, despite the fire in the hearth burning bright.

Robb felt like he'd been slapped in the face. He couldn't speak for a moment, his disbelief was so great. She couldn't mean that. "You're just worried," he denied with a stern expression. He just had to reason with her, calm her down. But some odd sense of hurt flared within him to hear her refer to their child as a dribbling creature -unwanted by their mother, unloved. Had she always been so cold about babies? If he had known she was so disgusted by the idea of having children...deep down in his heart, Robb knew he might have thought twice about marrying her.

"No I'm not!" Hazelyn hissed at him. "I'm angry! With all the other shit that's happened, I don't need this on my plate too!"

"How can you say that!?" Robb's voice rose as his pain turned to anger. Though it was not truly confirmed, he could not help but think of his poor child being nothing but an ugly inconvenience for it's mother. Robb had seen how warm and kind and affectionate Hazelyn could be with his own siblings, but now he wondered if she was capable of any warmth for her children.

Hazelyn's expression hardened into a wall of impenetrable ice, her face as pale and blank as death as she stated him down. "You had to keep pestering me for the truth, my lord, so don't blame me if you don't like it," she sneered.

Something inside Robb snapped. "You're lying!" He yelled. "You knew well that this would be part of the deal when marrying me and you said the vows without hesitation! So cut the horse shit and tell me the truth!"

"That is the truth," Hazelyn in a dangerously quiet tone. "I married you for protection, not to grow fat and miserable for some little leach, just for the sake of your stupid legacy and ego."

The pain in his chest made Robb breathless. He loved Hazelyn, he wanted a family and a future with her, and he'd been sure she wanted that too. Had been wrong though? Had she just used him and lied about everything? He desperately scanned her face for contradictory signs, for some of the kindness or warmth of the woman he knew, but he only saw the cold, grey eyes and indifferent expression of Roose Bolton staring back at him. The air in the room suddenly grew frigid, and Robb wanted to be as far away from this wretched stranger as possible.

Tensing his jaw, he covered his sharp pain and growing rage with a stoic mask. "Well, I guess I should've expected it from a Bolton," he chuckled darkly. "I must have a fool for not noticing how much you're like your father."

Hazelyn flinched, her icy composure broken for an instant. Shock flickered in her eyes, followed by confusion and realization. An immense devastation flashed across her face briefly before it hardened into an expressionless mask. "Excuse me, my lord, but I believe I'll go find another place to sleep tonight." She turned and made for the door.

Feeling hollow inside, Robb called out as she grabbed the handle, "Good, run away like you always do. That's what you're best at," he mocked. Hazelyn flinched again, choking as a sob forced itself out of her chest. She glanced back to say something, but closed her mouth, a single tear running down her cheek. She shook her head, opened the door, and then stormed out.

Robb realized only then that he'd gone too far, but he refused to be sorry. Why should he be? He doubted she was sorry about any of the horrible things she'd said. So why did he feel like running after the horrible woman? Overwhelmed by all the anger, pain, guilt warring inside him, Robb seized his cup from his desk and threw it at the wall with an angry shout. The goblet shattered, wine running down the stone like blood. He dropped into his desk chair and held his head in the hands, praying his marriage hadn't just shattered as well.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22: New Bonds

"Theon was drunk off his arse, so when he tried to worm his way into her bed, she threw him down in front of the whole tavern and held her knife to him. Even cut his arm a bit. It felt like justice," Jon said, a smug expression on his face.

Myna laughed brightly, "That's a sight I would've paid to see! I can hardly believe Zel did that. That squid boy is a right arrogant bastard though, so he had it coming."

Jon grinned and chuckled deeply. "You have no idea." He rolled his eyes as they entered courtyard. It was well past the hour of the wolf, and the moon had begun to make its descent hours ago, so they'd regrettably had to end their small feast and return to the keep. They'd eaten and drunk their fill in the godswood, by a small hot spring Jon had shown Myna. It was his place, hidden by brush at the edge the wood. He'd found it as lad after he'd run into the godswood to escape Lady Catelyn's wrath, and it had become a haven to him ever since, a place to escape the world and forget a little while, all the things which troubled him. He hadn't shared it with anyone before, not even his brother Robb or his sister Arya. An odd sort of pride filled Myna's chest to know she was the first person he brought there.

She smiled as she watched the silver light of the stars dance across Jon's face, casting parts of it in shadow. It made him look even more handsome, if that was possible. Contentment filled her when he gave her a serene smile. And to know that she was the one who'd pulled his brooding shroud, it made her feel like a missing piece had fallen into place.

Impulsively, she grasped his arm and leaned into his shoulder as they walked. To her surprise, he didn't push her away despite his normal aversion to intimate contact, though Myna didn't know if that was out of fondness for her, or the influence of the Dornish wine they'd just consumed. His body felt warm against the biting night air.

Gods, she wanted to kiss him, just once, to see what it would be like, but Jon had spoken quite often and frankly about why he'd never been close to a girl, about his plans to join the Night's Watch. Myna had come to hate the black brothers. She still couldn't understand why Jon felt the need to punish himself like that, or to prove himself with such vigor. She well knew that some bastards acted as vile as stories made them out to be. Ramsay Snow lived up to the reputation very well, but it wasn't the circumstances of his birth that made him that way. Having shitty luck at birth did not make you an abomination.

But Jon...did he believe that it did? Did he have contempt for all bastards? Would he have contempt for her if he knew her mother's secret? The truth about her birth?

"Is there something wrong?" Jon questioned.

Myna blinked in surprise. "No, why? "

"You look upset," Jon scrunched his brow.

"I was just thinking of my mother, I miss her sometimes," Myna glanced down at her necklace, running a finger over the gold chain.

"I always see you wearing that necklace, even when you're working," Jon noticed. "Was it hers?"

"Only thing I have left of her," Myna murmured. "My aunt gave it to me before I left for Barrowtown. It makes me feel closer to my mother, I guess."

Jon squinted at the pendant. "What is the charm, a bear? It looks familiar," he frowned curiously. "How'd she get it?"

"My father gave it to her apparently," Myna stared at the ground, forcing her bitterness down.

"Where in the North was your Father from?" Jon squinted as he studied on the bear charm, like he was trying to recall something.

"He wasn't a Northman. He was a merchant or something, from Oldtown like my mother," Myna shrugged, trying to put on a causal air. "I don't know much else about him."

"I'm sorry," Jon stated sympathetically.

Myna frowned at him, was he pitying her? Buried resentments bubbled up in her. She slipped her arm from Jon's. "Why?"

Caught off guard, Jon tilted his head. "What?"

"Why are you sorry?" Myna turned on him, crossing her arms up, stopping short of the keep doors.

"Well," Jon swallowed, a pained look in his eye. "I know what it's like to not know one of your parents." He stared at the night sky wistfully. "Father hasn't ever told me anything about my mother. He won't even tell me her name or if she's alive."

Myna huffed, why did he care about the woman who'd given him up? Why did he want to know about a woman who'd probably not want anything to do with him? "Does it really matter?"

Jon's shoulders tensed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Myna raised her hands, an angry glint in her eye. "I just dont see the point in agonizing over the past. What does it-"

A clattering of hooves interrupted her as a single rider galloped into the courtyard. She and Jon watched the stable hand stationed at the entrance rush forward to take reigns from the lone traveler, a tall man cloaked in black.

"Uncle Benjen?" Jon smiled gleefully, walking right past Myna to the stranger.

Despite the shadows, she could see the warm grin that appeared from under the man's thick dark beard. "Jon," he laughed, greeting the younger man with a firm embrace. "You're half a head taller than when I last saw you."

Jon chuckled. "Father didn't mention you were coming."

"I couldn't miss your brother's wedding!" Bejen exclaimed, but then his smile fell some. "And I have some important matters to discuss with your father."

Myna felt unsettled with the way Jon's eyes lit with interest. "Is there something going on at the Wall?" He asked eagerly.

Benjen shook his head fondly, clapping Jon on the shoulder. "Nothing you need to worry about." He gestured towards the keep doors, the disrant of echo of festive music ringing from inside. "Why're you out here in the cold?" A spark of annoyance entered his tone. "Catelyn didn't bar you from the celebration, did she?"

"I was at the feast," Jon cut in quickly. "I left on my own," He trailed off, scratching his head awkwardly as he glanced back towards Myna. Benjen followed Jon's line of sight, his dark grey eyes widening when he saw her. "I was showing my friend the godswood."

"Ah," Benjen nodded to Myna, a gleam in his eye. "Well, I best go in and greet your father."

"I can go with you-"

Benjen shook his head. "I'll be here for a few days yet." He grasped Jon's shoulder once more. "They'll be plenty of time to talk of the Watch if you wish too."

Jon frowned. "If you need more men, I can go back with you." Myna's fingers grasped her necklace hard.

Benjen sighed. "Jon, you're still young. This isn't a decision to rush."

"I'm six and ten! There are boys years younger than me that have already said their vows."

"Aye, the ones pulled from dungeons and that are starving orphans, " Benjen frowned. He gave Jon's shoulder a small shake before releasing it. "I promise we'll talk of it tommorrow, hm?"

"Alright," Jon complied, disappointed.

His uncle nodded again, grinning as he said, "The Wall's not going to melt before tomorrow." With that, the elder man walked away.

"He's right you know," Myna blurted before she could stop herself.

Jon turned back towards her, an frustrated scowl on his face. "How?"

Myna flushed, but continued. "There's more to life than the Night's Watch. Why'd you want to go there when could do a thousand other things?"

"It's honorable, and a chance to make something of myself, to make a difference," Jon said defensively.

Myna knew the desire to change things, to right the wrongs of world, but people like them couldn't do that in one sweeping gesture. "You couldn't be any more honorable," she huffed. "And you make a difference already."

Jon stubbornly glared at her, his brown eyes sparking with confusion. "To who?"

"To your brothers," Myna took a step towards Jon. "To your sister, " she murmured as she leaned towards him, laying a hand on his chest. His eyes widened in surprise. He was so unaware of so many things, it seemed there was only one way to open his eyes. "To me."

Myna framed his face with her hands and pulled his head down towards hers. When she pressed her lips to his, they were surprisingly warm and soft. She closed her eyes and breathed in his smoky, earthy scent. She only held the kiss for a moment, but in that moment she felt as if her heart would beat out of her chest, and something euphoric rushed through her veins.

She stepped back and giggled at Jon's utter look of shock. He really was adorable. "You could make something of yourself and be happy. Think about it," she suggested. She winked at him and then scurried back towards the keep before he could say another word towards her, elated at what she'd just experienced but too nervous to face his reaction yet.

Hazelyn curled up in a dark tiny alcove, her body shaking with sobs. She pressed her face to her knees, screwing her eyes tightly shut as the tears continued to flow. She had intended to go to Myna's room a little ways off, to seek solace from her friend, but her composure had crumbled before she could make it that far. She couldn't let anyone see her like this. Not if she ever wanted to be respected by the household and other nobles. But she couldn't stop the tears from coming. Robb's words felt like knives cutting through her, slicing apart her heart each time she recalled their argument. Yet she knew after the horrid things she had spat at him, what she felt was well deserved.

Hazelyn breathed unevenly as she leaned back against wall, hugging her knees to her chest. She could taste the bitter saltiness of the tears that still trickled down her cheeks as she stared up at the ceiling. Slowly, she placed a hand on her stomach, as if to defend the baby from her own dark thoughts. It was true that she didn't feel thrilled about the pregnancy. She hadn't wanted to have a baby so early into her marriage, before she and Robb had gotten settled. And already, the child was taking a physical and emotional toll on her. Maybe they knew their mother wasn't pleased with their existence and decided to make life difficult for her?

Just the idea of being a mother terrified Hazelyn more than she'd ever been in her entire life, for a multitude of reasons, but that didn't mean she hated her child or didn't want them at all. Yet she'd said she didn't want them, screamed it, demeaned her baby and belittled her husband, and... She pinched the bridge of her nose as her head pounded. The woman who'd said those things was not her...and yet it was. It was as if she'd lost control of herself and something dark and terrible had possessed her lips.

Hazelyn let out another sob and her vision blurred with fresh tears. She had ruined her marriage already. She could feel it. Now Robb saw her for the monster she truly was. He would resent her for the rest of their lives for tricking him into wedding her. Gods she loved him, and she did want to have children with him... eventually, just not now. And despite her words, despite her fear and uncertainty...she wasn't angry at her baby. Deep down, she knew that. She was terrified for them. After all, what innocent child deserved such monster for a mother, one who couldn't protect them from her own monstrous family, or even herself?

Sighing, Hazelyn reached under her dress for her knife. She pulled it from it's strap on her thigh and held it up to inspect. The silver blade and the golden handle twinkled in the light and shadow. The metal felt cool and familiar under her fingertips. A comforting peace passed over her as she ran her thumb along the sharp edge of the blade to the finely curved tip. She pricked herself and a small bead of blood welled up from the wound.

She smiled in mild wonder. The knife remained just as sharp and untarnished as the day she'd found it, forgotten and covered in dust in the Dreadfort's oldest, deepest dungeons. She'd never once polished it or run it against a wet stone, because, strangely, it had never needed it. It had always served her well, without fail. She closed her fingers around the handle.

"What in the world is this?"

Hazelyn gasped, startled by the sharp voice. She looked up to see Catelyn Stark looming over her in the corridor, her red hair glowing like flame in the torchlight while her blue eyes flashed like a raging storm.

"Lady Stark," Hazelyn croaked out, her voice raw from crying. She stashed her knife away and tried to rise quickly, but stumbled when her feet got twisted in her skirts. Only her good mother's quick grip on her elbow prevented her from falling.

"Why are you out here in such a state?" Catelyn demanded, a disapproving scowl on her face. Hazelyn heaved in a deep breath as she blinked to clear her blurry vision. She cringed when she looked down at her wrinkled wedding dress, half the ties on the bodice still undone. And her hair must be a sight as well. "I'm-I..." She lowered her head in embarrassment.

"You should be with my son," Catelyn raised a brow as she released her good daughter's arm and placed a hand on her hip.

Hazelyn bit her lip anxiously and glanced at the ground. "I was, my lady, but we had a... disagreement."

"You had a disagreement," Catelyn narrowed her eyes. "And you thought it best to hide out here and sulk like a child in response?"

Hazelyn frowned as she met her good mother's gaze. "Both of us said things we shouldn't have, my lady, and I believed it wise to quench our fires before sleeping in the same bed."

"What did you say to him?!' Catelyn snapped. She wore a furious expression, but her eyes were filled with fear, a mother's fear for her son.

Hazelyn had hoped that once the wedding had passed, that she might be able to make peace with Catelyn, find some common ground, for Robb's sake. But now she somehow knew that would never happen. Catelyn would always hate her, for Robb's sake, because she viewed Hazelyn as a extension of her Bolton father, sent by him to tempt, corrupt, and destroy her precious boy. And a part of Hazelyn almost agreed with that. Hadn't she just proven that she was a monster by the horrid things she'd uttered to Robb about their own child?

But then that dark presence crept back into her thoughts like a subtle mist, a small whisper. She wasn't a monster! She'd tried to make peace with Catelyn, but the woman had refused to listen! Starks always refused to listen and had ruined everything for her! Well, this one would listen now.

Hazelyn's face hardened as a cold fury overtook her. "That is between my husband and I, Lady Stark. It does not concern you," she said quietly.

Catelyn paused in shock at Hazelyn's new found boldness, but it only took a moment for her anger to return, even hotter than before. Her cheeks tinged red and her hands balled into fists at her sides as she sneered, "I am Lady of Winterfell and Robb's mother, Lady Bolton, and if you think I'm going to let you-"

"I am a Stark," Hazelyn cut her off firmly, her glare absolutely frigid. "Twice over after this second ceremony. And yes, you are my husband's lady mother, but he's no longer some babe you can shelter. He is a man grown, who can cope with hardships without you!" She hissed. She panted as the sudden burst of cold rage ebbed, and the dark presence faded away, the tiniest sliver of satisfaction going with it.

Catelyn stared at her, lips slightly parted as if she didn't know what to say. Hazelyn honestly felt just as surprised, even though she refused to show it. Had she just said those things aloud? She'd thought them plenty of times but hadn't ever have the gall to speak them. Regardless of where she'd found the sudden courage, it had made Catelyn listen, and Hazelyn would take advantage of that. She would not run away this time.

She regarded Catelyn with a pleading frown. "I truly love Robb, my lady," she murmured, "And I am sorry that I caused a rift in your family. I never meant for any of this to happen. But your son offered me shelter and friendship when I needed it desperately, and I had to return that kindness." She paused and swallowed hard. And a right good job I've done with that, she thought darkly as the guilt ate at her. Her stomach turned. "I never meant to meddle with your family, or for things to go as far as they did with Robb, but he...all of you...showed me such kindness...he protected me, even before he loved me, just because he's a good man, with more honor than he knows what to do with. How could I not love him?" She bit her lip as her chest grew tight and her eyes started to prickle. She'd shown all that love she had by telling him she didn't want their child, and that she'd only married him for personal gain.

Catelyn's harsh facial expression softened, though a reprimand remained in her eyes. "He is a good man, and I am proud of him. But the passion you stirred up in him drove him to act foolishly. A wife should council her husband with wisdom and reason, not encourage him towards folly. The man may lead the family and hold the title, but a wise wife can make the difference of whether he is good lord or a worthless tyrant."

The words struck right at Hazelyn's deepest fears and worries. "I want to be a good wife, my lady," she whispered, her voice shaking as she tried to hold back her tears, "But I don't know how. I-" Tears trickled from her eyes and she had to take a gulping breath to keep from falling apart completely. "I loved my mother, but it was impossible for her to good wife to my father. He didn't care enough to listen to anything she said, so she defied him at every turn. He beat her, leeched her. He's the reason all my younger siblings died in the womb, no matter how he liked to torture my mother with lies that it was her fault. She died after losing so many babes...My aunt was widowed almost twenty years ago...Both my grandmother and my grandfather's other wife died before I was born... The septa that raised me knows nothing of marriage. I've never seen someone be a good wife, or a good mother.. I'm terrified I'll do something to hurt Robb...hurt the baby... Or lose the child like my mother..." One hand covered her lower belly, while the other rushed to her mouth, to muffle the sob that burst out of her chest.

Catelyn's brows shot up and her mouth twisted into an alarmed frown. "Baby? You're with child? So soon after..?" She asked.

"I-I think," Hazelyn chocked out as she tried to compose herself. "My moon blood hasn't come yet, and I've been ill... A-a..." She paused a moment. She couldn't ever tell her good mother she'd been in the company of whore, no matter how wonderful Ros was. "A wise woman told me the signs were there." She hesitated before adding. "Robb and I fought about the baby... Robb pushed me until I told him...I was so frightened... He didn't understand and I got angry... We said things..." She took a shuttering gasp of air.

She was shocked when Catelyn sighed and shook her head. A look of understanding entered the older woman's blue eyes. "Men often don't understand the fears a woman goes through when having her first. I was scared to death when I found out I was carrying Robb." She didn't even look at Hazelyn now, a distant expression on her face. "My baby's father was a stranger that migh've died before I ever knew him, and my child might've been killed had he lost his war."

She then raised a hand and hesitated a moment. Hazelyn almost jumped when Catelyn tentatively laid it on her shoulder. "My own mother also died on the birthing bed when I was quite young, and I witnessed her lose many children, some early on, and others that came too early, or were too sickly to survive. I worried that I would end up like her and lose all my own children or die birthing them, leaving them motherless. But then I had Robb without any trouble, and gave my husband four other beautiful children as well.

Women don't necessarily take after their mothers when it comes to bearing children. And Ned waited on me hand and foot when I was with child. The only thing you'll have to worry about is Robb being too protective."

Hazelyn blinked in surprise at the other woman's almost tender words. She sniffled while Catelyn withdrew her hand and turned away, a conflicted look on her face. "Thank you, my lady," she murmured.

Catelyn's strict veneer fell back into place, though there was a softer edge in her voice as she said, "Of course. Now, let's get you back to your bed chambers so you can talk about this properly with Robb. It's never good to let a fight brew overnight."

Hazelyn nodded gratefully as she glanced downward at her abdomen and pressed her hand over where the baby was. She held it there as she followed Catelyn back to Robb's chambers. She hadn't planned on this baby. She hadn't wanted them so soon. She still wasn't sure she could carry them to term or that she would be a good mother, or a good wife, or a good lady, but she would try. She would try with everything she had. And with her new bit of wisdom and new possible ally in Catelyn, she might succeed. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: Risk and Reason

Catelyn sighed as she sorted through the papers on her desk, purposely avoiding the budget ledgers. She'd gotten better at balancing the household accounts over the years but had never particularly enjoyed dealing with the sums involved. She'd started to consider asking her good daughter to assist her in her duties, if only to have an extra hand to deal with the thick ledgers. She shook her head, smiling slightly in thought was almost humorous, for not so long ago, she had vehemently shunned the girl's offers to help. Yet, perhaps it was time to set her anger aside.

Hazelyn still spent her days learning from Luwin, but since Catelyn had found out over a fortnight before that the girl was possibly with child, she had softened towards the her son's wife, some. They could at least carry on a pleasant conversation now. Resentment did not froth from her mouth at the mere sight of the younger woman as it had before.

A cool breeze rattled the closed shutters of Catelyn's solar, making her shiver. Even during summer, the Northern weather could be too cool for her taste at times, and the years she'd called this place her home had not changed her aversion to the cold. It made her feel like an outsider in yet another way. She was well liked by the common folk, had Ned's love, and had birthed him five Northern children, but even with all that, especially when she spotted her husband's Stark looking bastard skulking around the castle...Catelyn sometimes doubted she would ever truly feel at home in the North.

A quiet knock pulled her from her heavy thoughts. "Mother?" She turned in her chair to see her eldest son peaking his head through the door.

"Robb, come in," she smiled warmly. He had only started to speak to her again since the wedding, after she'd helped smooth over his fight with his wife. She had truly missed him during the time they'd been at odds, and, in the future, she was determined to be more civil to her good daughter, if it only meant keeping her son happy.

Robb returned her smile, though it didn't quite reach of his eyes. "I wanted to ask if you'd excuse Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon from lessons this afternoon."

"Whatever for?" Catelyn frowned.

"Hazel and I were hoping to take them out to the Godswood for a picnic to celebrate the news." He paused and ran a hand through his hair. His smile widened a bit. "Maester Luwin just confirmed the pregnancy. You're going to be a grandmother in about seven moons."

Catelyn rose from her chair and pulled her son into a tight embrace. "Congratulations," she said against his shoulder. She felt surprisingly excited and happy about the child, despite the anger and resentment she had felt towards the union that it came from.

"Thank you, mother, that means a lot."

She frowned when she felt the tenseness in her son's frame. She pulled back and put a hand on Robb's cheek. "Is everything alright?"

He nodded, trying to imitate that stoic expression that Ned did so well, but she could see straight through it. She pursed her lips , "You always look to the left when you lie."

Robb sighed, uncertainty flickering in his eyes. "It's nothing really Mother. I'm just worried-"

"And you will do plenty more of that in the years to come with your children," Catelyn chuckled, squeezing her son's arm. "You should celebrate before your first one comes. Just tell Septa Mordane and Luwin you have my permission when you go collect siblings."

Robb grinned as his eyes lit up again, full of excitement. "Thank you, Mother." 

Catelyn smiled indulgently, "Go have a fun afternoon."

Robb gave her hand an earnest squeeze before practically running out the door. Sighing, Catelyn sat down at her desk once more. She knew something was troubling him, he was her son, but he hadn't wanted to talk about it. She had to let him work through problems on his own now. As much as she wanted to fix all his hardships for him, he was a man grown, and soon, would be a father, and his children would look to him to assure them, and comfort them and fight off their troubles.

She shook her head. She could hardly believe that the precious boy she had brought into the world almost seven and ten years ago would soon have a child of his own, just as she found it hard to believe that the young girl she'd found crying in the corridor was to be her grandchild's mother. Her son and good daughter were still children in so many ways. They had obvious affection for each other, just as she'd had for Brandon Stark during their betrothal, but it was young and untested, so she couldn't help but worry whether their marriage would be able to handle the storms that life would surely bring them.

The summer chill had turned bitter overnight, and a light flurry had begun to fall over Winterfell's mild landscape, pure white snow melting into soggy puddles, until the frozen fluff began to stick. By midday, a thin blanket of snow covered the ground, making it hard for Hazelyn to keep her slippers dry in the mush. She hiked up her skirts as she trudged through the frozen godswood with Robb and his younger siblings.

She smiled as tiny flakes caught on her lashes and a cool breeze brushed her skin, happy at the prospect of spending a whole afternoon in such fantastic weather. But then a loud snort made her pause. Close by, Sansa wrinkled her nose in disgust as she daintily stepped over a mud puddle. "Why do we have to come outside on a day like this?" She whined.

Hazelyn gently smiled as she fell into step beside the girl. "Robb and I just thought it would be nice for all the kids to spend the afternoon together. My maid Myna is going to get some food from the kitchens, and Robb is bringing out some blankets we can sit on and a few pelts we can wrap ourselves up in. Jon and Theon are coming too."

Sansa apprised her stiffly, her blue eyes hard, before looking away. "I'd rather be sewing with Jeyne and Septa Mordane."

Arya rushed by her sister in a blur, knocking her shoulder as she passed. "Go then! No one"ll miss you for long with the way you act!" She mocked.

"Stop it!" Sansa shrieked.

"Arya!" Hazelyn called sharply after the young girl.

Sansa turned her angry gaze on Hazelyn. "I don't need you defending me, especially after what you did to our family."

Hazelyn clenched her teeth, but bit down any annoyance that prickled to life with the stern reminder she likely deserved Sansa's resentment. But truly, she was growing wearier of Sansa's sour attitude everyday, and was starting to lose hope that the stubborn child would ever warm to her again. Hazelyn could feel herself giving up-the last few days, she had dreaded attending supper, knowing the eldest Stark girl would be there. Thrice now, she'd simply stood and left the sewing circle when it became clear Sansa was growing irritated with her presence. "Sansa, I didn't -"

"She didn't do anything to harm you or anyone else in this family," Robb sternly admonished as he came up on his wife's other side, the boys trailing behind him. He furrowed his brow just like Lord Stark did when angry. "She's your sister now, and just as much a part of this family as the rest of us."

Sansa glared at her brother and lifted her chin. "Only because you took her to bed." She stalked away angrily.

Hazelyn clenched her arm around her husband's when she felt him attempt to jerk ahead to admonish his sister, biting her lip as she stared after the auburn haired girl a moment. Would she ever be able to atone for her lies? Did her deception even deserve this kind of resentment?

"Don't worry about her," Robb sighed. Hazelyn turned to see him give her a small smile. "Once she finds out about the baby, I'm sure she'll come around, just like mother did. They'll all be happy about it."

Hazelyn's eyes met his, and his smile faltered. She frowned. "What's wrong?"

Robb stared at her for a brief second, his blue eyes getting that intense look that always made her squirm. He then glanced towards his little brothers, waiting until they ran ahead out of sight before his gaze settled back on her, the rustle of leaves the only sound to disturb the wood's solemn silence.

"Are you happy about this?" He asked in a calm, quiet voice. He wore a serious expression, but Hazelyn noticed uncertainty and vulnerability in his eyes. "Is thereany part of you that wants this?" He whispered.

Hazelyn hesitated, playing nervously with her skirt. "Want what?" She muttered. She felt so tempted to just brush off his worries and run, but something in his facial expression told her she needed to stay.

Robb had accepted her apology after their fight, but he had acted distant and guarded ever since. They both had agreed not to discuss the baby again until Luwin confirmed it and gone out of there way to almost avoid each other for the past few weeks. When they were together at night, they only talked of shallow matters. They hadn't even... Her cheeks flushed a bit...been together after the second wedding.

She had missed him and didn't want their marriage to be this formal and cold. But with him now opening up for the first time in weeks, she felt unsure if she was ready to face the emotional issues that they needed sort out in order to move forward.

Robb must have seen the reluctance on her face, and her heart almost broke when his expression grew sad and fearful. "Hazel..." She didn't move as he grasped her hand. "I need to know the truth about your feelings for the baby," he paused a moment, drawing in a shaking breath before continuing, "About our marriage, about your feelings for me." He swallowed hard and stared down at her with heavy eyes. "I want our marriage to be a partnership, like the one my parents have. I want us to be happy, but that can't happen if we don't trust each other. Even if it's what I don't want to hear, I'd rather you tell me a harsh truth then feed me pretty lies."

Hazelyn froze. Had she ever completely trusted someone in her entire life? No, with a father like hers, she never could. She had kept secrets from even Elena and Myna in the past. Could she change for Robb? Her eyes slowly trailed down to her stomach. There was a little babe in there, a little Stark, that she'd created with Robb, one innocent, and pure, that would depend on them both when it came into this world. She had to change, for them.

Curling her fingers around the nape of his neck, she pulled Robb down and kissed him, longer and harder than she had since before their fight. He tensed, too shocked to react.

When she pulled back after a few beats, she smiled at his surprised expression. "I did marry you for protection," he flinched at her statement. She ran her hand through his hair to reassure him. "Because you protected me when you didn't have to. Because you made me feel safe again after I'd spent moons alone and terrified. Because you are kind, caring, brave, and honorable." She rested a hand on his cheek. "And your pretty face didn't hurt either." He frowned, uncertainty still in his eye, so she pushed up on her toes to give him another kiss. Luckily this time he relaxed and slid an arm around her waist.

When they parted, she smiled sadly. "I can't say I didn't see the practical advantages of marrying you, but I wouldn't have risked it if I didn't love you and been sure you felt the same for me." Gods, that had been hard to say, but there was something liberating about not running away.

She bit back a smile as Robb stared at her wide eyed, his lips slightly parted like he hadn't been expecting that response. Grasping one of his hands, she guided it to rest on her her lower stomach, right where the baby was, and pressed it firmly. "Nothing has brought me more peace than knowing there is a future for me with you, and our children," she murmured.

She squeaked as husband's arms suddenly snaked around her waist, lifting her feet off the ground. Clinging her tightly against him, Robb leaned down to capture her lips again. Laughing in relief, Hazelyn wrapped an arm around his neck. Her heart beat a little faster when Robb paused to grin against her lips.

"Thank you," he sighed. "That means more to me than you could ever know." Both grinning like fools, their lips moved furiously as they clung tightly to each other. Hazelyn moaned as he bit her lip, and started to trace one of her still dangling feet up the back of his thigh.

"Ew! You two are gross!" The couple parted with a gasp to find Arya observing them a few paces away, her nose wrinkled in disgust. "Jon sent me to find you two before the food gets cold, but I'm not sure if I want you two around if you'll be doing that."

Robb chuckled as he set Hazelyn back on her feet, "We'll behave, Arya, I promise."

"You better," Arya leveled them both with a severe look before running back towards where everyone else was gathered.

Robb turned towards Hazelyn, a grin still on his face. Sliding an arm around her back again, he whispered, "We best get on." He smirked, "We can continue this later tonight."

Hazelyn simply looked ahead, bumping him with her hip, as they made to follow Arya, happy to have her husband back.

Jon headed out towards the godswood, looking forward to an afternoon with his siblings. He fixed his cloak on his shoulders as he strode down the corridor, mindful of the layer of snow he'd seen gathering out in the courtyard. Even during the heart of summer, flurries commonly occurred in the North, an ever present reminder that winter, for the North, never truly left them.

Jon had felt relieved when he learned that Father and Lady Catlyn wouldn't be at the gathering. He could always relax a bit more when not caught under his stepmother's judging gaze. Yet, there would be another person there that he was reluctant to face.

He frowned as the memory of Myna's lips played in his mind for the hundredth time. He had actively avoided her for well over a fortnight, afraid of how he would react if they spoke again. No matter how much he tried to forget it, he couldn't get that kiss out of his head, but he had to. He was going to join the Night's Watch soon, and the black brothers took no wives. It wouldn't be fair to either of them to start a relationship, knowing he'd have to end it not long after that. Anyway, Myna deserved better than a bastard who could offer her nothing.

He had been shocked at first when the maid had kissed him. It hadn't even occurred to him that she might like him in that way. They had spent quite a bit of time together since she'd arrived at Winterfell, but he hadn't done anything to indicated he wanted more than companionship, even though admittedly a part of him secretly wondered what it would be like to hold her, what it would be like to end the day and slip beneath the covers next to her.

She was lively and clever, and she made him laugh easily, something few people could do. He felt happy in her presence, he felt like he mattered to someone beyond the ties of blood, beyond the string of duty. Myna didn't have to like him, didn't have to look at him twice, but she did, and she had. She didn't even mind that he was bastard. And seven hells, she was beautiful, and if he was more selfish he might've kissed her back.


Jon frowned at the loud exclamation, glancing around for the culprit. Sticking his head around the corner into an adjoining hallway, he saw Myna on her knees, gathering up pieces of fruit and wrapped parcels that had spilled from a large basket. Despite himself, he chuckled quietly as he listened to her mumbling under her breath and took in the petulant pout on her lips. His mirth instantly died though when she turned her head sharply in his direction. He drew back behind the corner so she wouldn't see him, but the rustling of his cloak let her gave him away.

"Oi! Think me dropping everything is funny?" She challenged her unseen observer. "Why don't you show your face, you prick, and we'll see if you're still laughing when I bruise your balls, and have you pissing blood for a week!"

Jon stood completely still as she listened for a response. After a moment he heard her huff and resume her task. He peaked around the corner and watched her gather the rest of the food and rise to her feet. Precariously balancing her large basket on one hip, she leaned down and struggled to pick up another basket sitting on the ground beside her. Jon felt torn between the desire to help her and his fear of facing her again, but when she stumbled with a yelp, he felt his feet move forward without volition.

He caught her elbow and pulled her upright. "Steady there!"

She whipped her head around in surprise, her light brown eyes widening at the sight of him. Jon coughed and let go of her, backing away quickly. He grew uncomfortably warm as Myna continued to stare at him a moment, taking another step back as he nervously adjusted his cloak. "Uh, you look like you're carrying a lot there," he uttered. "Are you headed towards the godswood? I could take one of the baskets for you."

Myna pursed her lips before slowly nodding. "Alright." She handed a basket to him, and then they resumed their trek in awkward silence. Jon stared straight ahead, hoping that if didn't look at her, they wouldn't have to talk anymore before they met the group In the Godswood. For a few minutes, his plan worked, but then, right before they reached the door to the courtyard, Myna's foot steps stopped. With a sense of foreboding, Jon finally faced her.

His stomach dropped when he saw her staring at him with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow. "Did I do something wrong?" She asked abruptly.

"What?" Jon blinked at her, caught off guard by her question.

"Did I do something wrong?" Myna frowned, putting her free hand on her hip. "You've been avoiding me ever since I kissed you."

"No," Jon shook his head, flushing as guilt twisted his stomach into knots.

"So I'm just not pretty enough for you?" Jon cringed at her deep frown and hurt expression. "You can tell me. I won't-"

"No!" He denied automatically. "You're one of the prettiest girls I've ever met!" His eyes widened when he realized what he'd said, flushing even more.

"Then why haven't you talked to me?" Myna tilted her head, a scowl on his face. "Did I do something that offended you?"

Jon shifted the basket he was holding, and opened his mouth before closing it again. If he had ever had the chance to settle down like Robb had, he would've wanted to do it with a girl like Myna, but that wasn't in his future. Guilt, regret , and pain ached in his chest as he tried to explain, tried to tell her it was him and not her.

He lifted a brow when Myna grasped all the sudden, her face going slack. "Oh gods," she covered her mouth. "You like boys, don't you?

"No!" Jon protested in horror. "I like girls!"

Myna shook her head as her fingers grasped at her necklace.

"But I've never seen you looking at any other girls! That would explain why-"

"Myabe because I was looking at you!" Jon exclaimed. He scowled in frustration. "I like bloody girls, I like you! I just can't -"

"Then why have you avoided me!?" Myna interrupted, anger and confusion playing on her face. Her gaze traveled down to his crotch. "Is there something wrong with your -"

"No!" Jon retorted. He dropped the basket he'd been carrying on the ground and stalked up to the blonde maid. His ears turned red and he began to breath faster as he glared down at her. "It works fine."

Myna brown eyes glinted and her face grew hard as she glared back. "Prove it."

Acting on an angry impulse, Acting on an angry impulse, Jon ripped the basket from Myna's arms, threw it to the ground, grabbed her hips, and smashed his mouth onto hers. He pulled her flush against him to show her that it worked very well, unfortunately.

His heart pounded and a wave of heat rushed over him as he bit her bottom lip. He acted purely on instinct, forcing her to open her mouth so his tongue could trace hers. It was sloppy and messy, but made him feel something amazing that he'd never felt. Heat coursed through his veins as more blood rushed to his lower body. He pushed Myna back against the stone wall, pressing their bodies closer together. Only when she moaned and brought an arm around his neck did he rip himself away.

He stared at Myna, panting hard, not able to believe that what he'd just done. His gaze immediately went to her swollen lips, and then dropped to her heaving chest, the outline of her... He turned away, shutting his eyes tight. What in the seven hells was he doing!?

"Jon-" Myna began.

He whipped back around. "I can't do this," he stated firmly, shaking his head emphatically.

Myna furrowed her brow at him. "Why not?"

"Because I'm a basrard!" Jon exclaimed, shame making him flush even more. "And I'm joining the Night's Watch! I can't do-" he made a vague gesture between them "this. I'm leaving here soon enough! And I did something to hurt you and then left ... " he trailed off for a moment, his fury fading. "I'd regret it the rest of my days," he finished quietly.

Instead of spitting back some smart retort, Myna gazed back at him with a soft frown. "That's always a possibility," She conceded, "but I think we'll regret it even more if we don't at least try to figure out what our feelings are, what this even is."

Jon stayed planted where he was as Myna stepped towards him. She hesitated before she laid a hand lightly on his chest. He tensed but didn't move, his eyes transfixed on her pleading, beautiful brown eyes. "I'm not asking for you to never go to the Wall, or to do anything other than give us a time to figure this out"

He regarded her a long moment, searching her face for any flicker of apprehension or doubt, looking for some sign that she thought this was as bad an idea as he did. But there was nothing but softness in her gaze, something sweet, and warm and kind, something that tempted him like nothing else ever had. So when she started to rise on the tips of her feet, her eyes lowering to his lips, he did not flinch back or give any protest.

Her lips brushed against his, a mere whisper in comparison to the passion he'd showed her not moments before. Then she pulled back a finger's width and studied his face a moment before sighing in defeat. Just as she began to step away, Jon wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her back, capturing her lips in another kiss, harder than Myna's, but softer than the first.

As he clutched her even closer and she slid her fingers into his hair, a part of him vehemently protested that this was wrong, that this wasn't honorable and would only lead to heartache for both of them. But the other part didn't give a damn and knew Myna was right. He might as well gamble and take the risk, and maybe, just maybe, when he looked back on this time, years from now, there would be only fondness in his heart, bitter regret having no root in the memory.

Everyone had almost finished eating when they decided to reveal the news. Hazelyn silently stood beside Robb, his arm wrapped firmly around her waist as he proudly stated, "You all are going to be aunts and uncles in a few moons." They'd discussed how to announce this at length, going over how to spring the surprise on the Stark children and Theon. After much light hearted bickering, they'd decided simply to announce it bluntly.

Theon clapped as he laughed out loud, not seeming surprised at all. "That quickly? Well done Stark! You'll have to tell me how-" He grunted when Jon elbowed him in the gut.

Hazelyn rolled her eyes and Robb nodded at his brother gratefully, who simply have them a warm smile in return. "He meant to say congratulations."

"What does it mean?" Little Rickon tilted his head, his five year old features scrunched in confusion.

Hazelyn smiled in amusement, kneeling in front of the young boy. "It means your big brother and I are going to have a baby soon, a little wolf just like you."

"How?" Bran inquired from behind. The nine year old glanced at his eldest brother in curiosity.

"What do you mean, Bran?" Robb asked with a frown.

"I was too little to remember when Rickon was born, so where does the baby come from?"

"Well," Robb turned red, "Uh, its.."

"It's in my stomach right now," Hazelyn interrupted. She faced Bran and moved closer to him, laying a hand over where Luwin had said the baby was. "Right here," She smiled as the boy reached out to poke her stomach inquisitively. "I'll get a little bigger as the baby grows, and when the baby is big enough, they'll come. Like the mares in the stable, or the cats in the kitchens."

She glanced at Robb with a smirk, almost laughing at his relieved facial expression. But Bran wasn't done in his quest for knowledge. "But how did it get in there? Where did it come from?" he asked again, too smart for his own good.

Both Hazelyn and Robb blushed as they looked for the other to answer. Robb chuckled uncomfortably as he ran a hand through his hair. "I think Father should be the one tell you that Bran."


Hazelyn bit her lip as Robb's face grew as red as his sister's hair. "I just think that's something they would want to-"

"I can tell you Bran," Arya said bluntly. Hazelyn stared in horror as the youngest Stark girl told her brother. "I've seen hounds and horses do it. They-"

"Why don't you all go play?" Robb cut his sister off. "We're here to celebrate a new Stark arriving soon, not how they get there."

Theon howled with laughter as the there younger kids looked at him in confusion. Hazelyn glared towards the Greyjoy, wanting to strangle the prick. Luckily not everyone was as unhelpful as he was.

"Let's play a game, little wolves!" Myna exclaimed with a big smile. She glanced around at all the younger Stark children before declaring, "Winter roses grow even in the coldest weather. First one of you to find one find a wild one here in the Godswood, I'll take to the kitchens later to get an extra sweet of their choice."

Immediately, Arya sprang up and sprinted off, calling "I saw a patch on the way here! I'll be right back!"

"I'll be back before you!" Bran shouted as he hopped to his feet and ran after his sister.

"No, I will!" Rickon argued as he chased after his brother, both boys rushing off into the trees.

"Don't run farther away than we can hear," Robb yelled at his younger brothers who ignored him and disappeared out of sight.

Hazelyn turned towards her friend, who had an arrogant smirk on her lips. "You are a true tamer of wolves, and a life saver," she breathed as she gave Myna a firm hug.

Myna laughed, parting Hazelyn on the back. "I know. Thank the gods that you'll have my help to tame your other little wolf when they come."

Hazelyn pulled back, her face sobering. "I do," she nodded. "And I wouldn't have gotten this far without you," she said seriously.

"I don't think that this is anything worth celebrating," Sansa spoke up for the first time, having not moved from her spot on the blanket since Robb made the announcement. She stood up and delicately brushed off her skirts with a angry frown on her face. Hazelyn was baffled by the girl's harsh words. She didn't think Sansa would still be angry enough to say such a thing about Robb's coming child.

Both older girls and the three young men looked at her in shock for a moment before Robb stepped away from his friends, an equally angry scowl on his face. "How could you say something like that Sansa!?"

Hazelyn already could tell from both siblings' blazing blue glares that this wouldn't end well. She knew she should intervene before Robb said something to harsh to his sister, but she was honestly too hurt and shocked to know what to say.

"It just means we have to let her stay here, after she lied and hurt us, and she'll disgrace our family even more." Sansa wrinkled her nose as she glared at Hazelyn.

"She's my wife, so she's staying here no matter what," Robb told his sister sharply. "And she will only make this family better by bringing a new child into it."

"You're stupid if you think that!" Sansa spat. In that moment, the child Sansa still was shone through her lovely appearance. "She forced all of us to lie to save her after she lied to us, and she influenced you to treat Mother and Father horribly! Our family was perfect before she came along! She ruined us!"

Robb narrowed his eyes. "You're the only one ruining things with how you've been acting. If you can't feel happy for us, then you need to go back to the keep Sansa."

He turned his back on her, walking away with a stubborn scowl.

Sansa's bottom lip trembled as she stared at her brother with genuine hurt. Hazelyn felt her heart rip in half as the young girl's face crumbled and tears started to fall. The protective instincts that she'd built after caring for this child over the past year took hold.

"Sansa!" She called out as her good sister ran off. She didn't even look to see the others' reactions as she followed Sansa into the trees. For a proper little lady, Sansa knew how to run surprisingly fast. It took a whole five minutes and calling her name several times before she stopped.

"Sansa, please," Hazelyn panted, clutching at her chest.

Sansa turned towards her, cheeks flushed from exertion and shiny with tears. Her blood shot eyes glared at Hazelyn with anger. "Why can't you leave me alone!?" Her hands curled to fists at her sides.

Hazelyn sighed in frustration. And most people thought Arya and Robb were the stubborn Stark children! They didn't know Sansa well! "Sansa, you're a part of this family. It's not right for you not to be with all of us. Even if you don't like me anymore," she swallowed hard, "Please come back for Robb's sake. This means so much to him, he wanted all of you there to celebrate."

Sansa's eyes burned with fury. "He doesn't want me there! He said it himself!" Her voice caught for a moment. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve as her lip quivered. "No one wants me there! They never have!" She let out a sob. Fresh tears began to fall from her pretty blue eyes as she cried, "They've always made fun of me and left me behind just because I don't like to get muddy or sweaty. Then I finally found a sister who understood me, whom I could tell things that I didn't even tell Jeyne, whom even helped me grow closer to my other siblings. I trusted you, and you lied!" She sobbed, her face contorted in pain. "You never cared about me, you just used me to get to Robb! And now he and everyone else thinks I'm stupid and hates me. I'm all alone again!"

Hazelyn bit her lip and blinked back her own tears as she watched the twelve year old cover her face. Slowly taking a step towards the younger girl, she said, "Sansa, your siblings could never think that about you. You're their sister. You're sweet, and clever and, they love you as much as you love them. And so do I."

Sansa shook her head as she looked away. "No they don't. Arya called me stupid and Robb told me to leave. And you lied to me."

Hazelyn frowned. "Sansa, Arya acts angry because she's jealous of you. She's feels she'll always live in your shadow, because you make being a proper lady look so simple, while it's so difficult for her." Sansa's eyes widened in surprise at that. Hazelyn smiled, a little hope blooming in her chest. "Robb would go through the seven hells and back to protect you. So would Jon. And Bran and Rickon adore you." She stepped towardk Sansa as the girl's blue eyes shifted to her again. "I adore you. I never had a little sister growing up but always wanted one," she sniffed and blinked to clear her watery vision. "The gods gave me my little sister when I found you."

She laid a hand on Sansa's shoulder. "I didn't want to lie to you, but I couldn't ask you to deceive your parents the way I asked Robb too. I shouldn't have asked him to do that even. But I was a scared and selfish girl who wanted to stay with the wonderful family that I never had growing up. I didn't want to lose them, or your brother, or you. I don't want to lose you now. I'm still the same person, and still want to have my little sister when I have your niece or nephew. Please stay the rest of the afternoon at least." She pleaded.

Hazelyn held her breath as Sansa looked at her , frowning with uncertianty. Hugging herself, the younger girl stared at Hazelyn with searching eyes. "You have to promise to never lie to me again."

"I promise, I won't ever again," Hazelyn insisted.

Sansa frowned for a moment but then nodded. "Alright, I'll try."

Hazelyn smiled. "Thank you."

"But I still don't know if I should go back with you," Sansa murmured, staring at her slippers, "Robb got really angry, and I don't want to ruin -"

Hazelyn grabbed Sansa's hand, shaking her head. "Sansa, you're coming back to the picnic with me. All brothers say stupid so stupid things somehtimes," She then grinned as wicked glee shot through her. "Including yours. I mean he didn't even know what dress fabric to get his own sister."

Sansa giggled. "I guess you're right. I better make sure-"


Both girls jumped in surprise as Bran burst into the clearing, a distressed expression on his face. "What is it?" Hazelyn asked in concern.

Robb watched Hazelyn run off after Sansa, caught between following his wife and just letting her deal with his sister. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. He knew he'd probably spoken too harshly, but why couldn't everyone just be happy about the baby? Was that too much to ask? He shook his head. He loved the women of his family, but at times like these, he had to acknowledge the wisdom in Theon 's words. No man can ever truly understand women.

"Stark!" His best friend beckoned him over to where he and Jon sat, holding up a tankard of ale. "Let your wife deal with that womenly matter, and come have a drink." Sighing, Robb complied with the request.

"Congratulations," Theon heartily clasped shoulder of the Stark heir as he handed him the ale with a grin. "So, how did you did you manage to whelp a pup on her so quick?" He asked.

"The gods just blessed us quickly, I suppose," Robb shrugged off the question.

"It must've been hard to sneak around your parents to bed her so much," Theon sympathized. "I have difficult time getting my whores into the keep."

"I didn't," Robb denied, his ears turning red. He took a drink and looked away as Theon chuckled .

"So you've just been making up for lost time then over the past fortnight? I almost feel bad for little Hazel. At least my girls can share the load of satisfying my needs."

Robb felt his face grow hotter as the iron born grinned impishly at him. Truth be told, he'd not touched Hazelyn since their wedding night. The first moon of their marriage, his parents had kept them apart. And then, the night they finally got to share a bed, they'd had that fight. The sharpness of her words still stung over a fortnight after.

He had seen Hazel's reserved anger before, but she'd never acted so cold. The detached tone of her voice, the ice in her gaze, the unfeeling harshness of her words... the very air in the room had seemed to grow frigid. After she'd stormed out, he'd been terrified, thinking that the girl he'd come to love had never existed, that everything that had passed between had been a lie.

That creature that had uttered those cruel words, so reminiscent of Lord Bolton, had not been his wife. Something hateful, cruel, and cold had taken her place, leaving no trace of the woman he loved behind. But then not an hour later, she had come back to him, tears running down her cheeks, soft and warm and herself again. And no matter how angry or hurt he felt, he couldn't turn his back on her tears. She'd apologized for everything, rambled that fear had made her say those terrible words. He'd simply nodded, too tired to say anything, and held her close until she cried herself to exhaustion, . After they'd settled down to sleep though, he couldn't pull her close, nor could he draw her near in the days after. She had acted perfectly normal in the weeks since, but images of that creature's cold eyes and expressionless face still plagued his mind, and made a small part of him fear that perhaps that thing was what he had truly wed.

"Not really," Robb mumbled, messing with his hair again. "I don't really want to talk about this."

"Wait, so you are saying you got her with child after one night?!" Theon laughed, his eyes wide. "Stark," he gave his friend a playful shove. "That's even more bloody impressive! You can't deprive me of this tale!"

"I can," Robb smiled and shoved his friend back. Teasing Theon always lifted his spirits. " I think my lady wife already made it clear to you how she felt about providing you with that sort of entertainment. Do you still have a tender spot from where she slapped you?"

Both he and Jon chuckled as the iron born scowled. Theon rolled his eyes at the pair. "Oh piss off, both of you! And you're one to laugh Snow! You're so hopeless with woman, that you should be begging him to tell you."

A loud snort came from a little ways off, and the three boys turned their gazes toward the servant girl nearby. Hazelyn's maid didn't say a word as she continued to gather up the remnants of food off a blanket.

"You have something you'd like to add, love?" Theon called to her. Myna glanced up with a small smirk, but shook her head.

"Of course not, m'lord," She murmured. Robb glanced at Jon when his brother chocked on a laugh. Myna's smirk grew into a smile as her eyes met Jon's, making the bastard look away, his cheeks flushing. Robb raised an brow at the exchange.

He had noticed his wife's hand maid flitting around Jon quite a lot during the moon leading up to his second wedding, but Jon had said he was just being friendly to the new comer. Having plenty of other matters weighing on his mind, Robb had just assumed that was the truth of it, given Jon's strict stance about girls. Robb tilted his head, maybe he should ask Jon about her again later.

Theon had picked up on the odd exchange too it seemed. Glancing between the pair, he smiled charmingly and closed in on the blonde maid. "I think you might actually. Since you serve the lady in question, I'm sure she's told you her side of the story. So tell us love, what did the new little Lady Stark think of her lord husband on their wedding night?"

Robb glared at his friend, but didn't have much to worry about. Myna stood up and frowned with an expression of feigned confusion. "I don't know what you even mean, m'lord. What would they be doing other then sleeping?" She said sweetly, though there was something wicked in her brown eyes. Both Stark men chuckled.

Theon rolled his eyes again at younger boys before taking a step towards Myna, a mocking leer on his face. "We going to play that game, are we?" The confident maid jumped when Theon put a hand on her arm. "Why don't we go back to the keep love, and I'll show you, if you're really so clueless."

"Get your hands off her, Greyjoy! She doesn't want you groping her!" Jon snapped, stalking forward with a scowl on his face. Robb's eyes widened a bit at his brother's sudden outburst. Jon usually rolled his eyes at Theon's more bawdy antics, and his touching of the maid was relatively innocent. He only usually only became angry if the ward antagonized him.

"How would you know that?" Theon mocked, sliding a his fingers down Myna's arm. "I bet she's flattered to get attention from a lord."

"Actually," The girl pulled herself from his grip.

"Come on love, krackens don't rut the way wolves do," Theon teased, trying close the distance between them again. Robb sighed, about to tell his friend to lay off his wife's companion when Jon pushed Theon. "She made it clear she doesn't want yourattention Greyjoy, so back off!" Jon sneered, getting in Theon's face.

"Why should I do that Snow?" Theon challenged him, not moving an inch. "Unless your giving her attention of your own." He raised a brow interest. "But then again, you act as if you don't even have a cock most of the time so-"

Jon tensed, looking about ready to punch Theon, and Robb did not want the afternoon to go worse than it already had. "Both of you stop," he used his hands to move them apart and then stood between them. "No one is going to fuck my wife's maid," he narrowed his eyes at Theon. "Or fight over her," he looked pointedly at Jon. What had made his brother so aggressive all of the sudden? They would have to have a talk later.

He glanced at Myna apologetically. "I'm sorry about them. Please don't-"

"Robb!" Sansa sprinted into his line of sight sight. She ran right through a mud puddle without care, soiling her slippers, and didn't stop until she careened into older brother. Grasping her forearms, Robb took in her wide blue eyes, flushed face, and disheveled hair with concern.

"What's wrong?" He asked her gently. He looked around and noted his wife hadn't followed her back. A pang of fear went through him. "Where's Hazel?"

"She went with Bran," Sansa panted. "We were talking when he came and got us," her voice started shaking. "He said Rickon fell in the ice pool while they were playing, and he can't swim! He's drowning and-" Robb's eyes widened in horror. The godswood had multiple pools, most extensions of the hot springs, but there was one towards the edge of the godswood that wasn't. Deep, still, and always deadly cold, old Nan had told them all as children that it was the remnants of an ice dragon that had helped a girl defend her village long ago, cold as the heart of winter itself.

"Stay here," he commanded his sister, squeezing her shoulder firmly before sprinting off. Yanking off his cloak so he could run faster, he prayed to the old gods and the new to spare his little brother. To have mercy on him for not looking after his siblings like he should. Dread filled his heart as he raced through the trees. He'd never forgive himself if he failed to protect his family.

Breathing heavily, he tore into the clearing where the pool was, just in time to see a foot make a splash as it slipped beneath the water's surface. "Bran!" Robb called to his little brother, whom stood terrified on the bank. "Who was that?"

"You were taking too long!" Bran said shakily. "Rickon sank to deep for us to see, so Hazel went after him."

Robb's heart seized with panic. "What?!" He dropped his cloak and started yanking off his boots, noticing his wife's cloak and slippers tossed haphazardly nearby. "Stay back," he told his brother, just as Jon and Theon ran into the clearing. "One of you get Maester Luwin," he snapped. Theon wordlessly nodded and took off back towards the keep in a sprint. Robb took a deep breath as he prepared to dive, but then something broke the surface of the pond, and A loud gasping sound filled the air.

Hazelyn panted as she pulled Rickon up so his face stuck out of the water, and kicked furiously towards the bank. His heart pounding, Robb jumped in and swam out to help her. As soon as he hit the frigid water, a painful searing sensation shot through his entire body, but he didn't stop until he had wrapped an an arm around his wife and unconscious brother and hauled them on to the bank. His entire body was numb and shaking as he leaned over Rickon and tried to wake him.

"Rickon!, he shook the little boy's shoulders. When he got no response, he repeated himself, louder, desperation taking hold as he stared at his brother's slack face and blue lips. "RICKON!"

"We need to keep him warm!" Hazelyn gasped. She snatched her cloak from nearby, wet from the slush on the ground, and proceeded to wrap the Rickon in it as she cradled him close to her body. Robb turned to grab his own furs.

"Let me," Jon rushed forward while he yank off his pelt. "You both are dripping wet and those cloaks are soaked. I'll keep him dry at least." He picked Rickon up and swaddled him like a babe.

Robb breathed hard as he rose on shaking feet. His whole body trembled at sensation of his wet clothes against the freezing air. He could see his breath, and felt ice shards forming on his beard. Gods, he'd only been in that water for an instant, Rickon and Hazel had been in there for longer. Immediately he glanced over to where his wife still kneeled on the ground, trying to catch her breath. A new wave of worry crashing over him, Robb reached down and scooped her up. She let out a squeal in surprise as he brought her against his chest and strided over to where he'd left his furs.

"Robb, put me down!" She exclaimed.

"No," he shook his head briskly, scanning her over for any injuries as he grabbed his cloak and draped it over her. He didn't feel her shivering at least, even though she was as soaked as he was.

"We need to get Rickon to Maester Luwin's tower," Robb said to his brother.

Jon frowned grimly as he pulled Rickon closer. "Best we all get out of this cold."

Robb nodded in agreement as he shivered against the frigid air. "Go on, I'm right behind you." He then turned towards his other little brother, who had huddled silently at the edge of the clearing, a frightened look on his face. "Come on Bran, everything's alright."

Bran slowly walked towards him. "Rickon, is he-"

"He'll be fine little wolf," Hazelyn reassured gently. "We got him out in time."

"What about you and your baby? Robb is carrying you like Jon is with Rickon."

Robb tensed at the mention of the baby. "She'll be fine," he said calmly, trying to reassure himself just as much as his little brother. "Maester Luwin will look them over right after he's taken care of Rickon, and you know he's the best healer in the North." He gave a weak smile. "Now let's get on to the keep before Mother thinks something has happened to you too."

He remained mostly silent the rest of the way to the keep, trying to not focus on the biting cold he felt on the outside or the growing fear he felt on the inside. What if something had happened to the baby? He had just found out today that he was definitely going to be a father, and already his child faced a risk, one he could've prevented had he done a better job looking after his brothers.

The fearful thoughts stewed in his mind as he carried his wife to the maester's tower, ignoring her protests all the way, waited to hear Luwin proclaim that his brother would make a full recovery and that his wife and child were surprisingly fine, and endured a lecture from his parents. He remained quiet through it all as his worry swelled. But after Maester Luwin had sent him and Hazelyn back to their chambers for the day to rest so they avoided catching a chill, he reached a breaking point. They were sitting by warmth of the hearth wrapped in furs, him brooding and her carving, when he asked, "Why did you risk it?"

"Hm?" Hazelyn stopped moving her knife and looked at him with a frown.

"We just found out today that you truly are pregnant and you jumped into that water after my brother without even thinking about what it could do to our child. Did you want to lose the baby?" He demanded suddenly. He should've been watching his brothers better, but shouldn't she have been thinking of her own safety, of their baby's, before risking herself like that? A part of him knew he was simply looking for a way to a pacify his worries about his own ability to protect their child, to pass the blame, but the doubt that still lingered in his mind also made him question Hazelyn's intentions. What if all her soft reassurances this afternoon had only been more pretty lies fed to him by that cold creature he'd seen during their fight? How could he protect his child from the very woman that carried them if she hated them? What kind of life would they have with an incompetent father and a hateful mother?

Hazelyn frowned, brows furrowing as her hands fell to her lap. "How can you even ask me that question?"

Guilt immediately stabbed at Robb when he heard the hurt in her voice, but his worry made him stubborn. "Its a fair question to ask," He crossed his arms.

Hazelyn's eyes widened for a moment, then they narrowed as she stood up. She stared down at him, shedding the pelt on her shoulders and tossing her knife onto her seat as if she was readying herself for a brawl. "Its a daft question to ask," she snapped. "I was saving your brother's life."

Robb glared at her. "I could've gotten him out fine. You didn't need to take the risk, you just wanted to."

Hazelyn's face hardened, but unlike their previous confrontation where it had become blank and unmoving as ice, he could see a cold fury akin to the worst blizzard build up in those grey eyes, betraying more emotion than her father would ever dare. "He'd already sunk below the surface when I got there, and I grew up swimming in the Weeping Water on days colder than this, so it is a risk I had to take. I wanted for you to not feel the pain that I did when I lost my brother," she hissed, her eyes growing shiny in the hearth light.

His guilt eating away at his anger, Robb's severe resolve weakened. "But you have a responsibility-"

"To protect my family," Hazelyn sneered, "Whether it be my child or good brother. I felt the water before I dove and have swam in far colder. I would've never done it had I thought the baby would be hurt. " Her voice began to shake, a single year sliding down her cheek. "I've lost too many people to risk losing anyone else, including our child. I would sooner die than-" a sob burst from her chest.

"No," Robb shook his head, the sound anguish making him sick to his stomach. What kind of husband made his pregnant wife cry, right after she saved his brother's life no less? "No." He grabbed her wrist and yanked her down into his lap. Embracing her, he kissed her firmly. For a second she tensed, but then her body relaxed against him. She felt sweet and soft, her lips cold and smooth and against his chapped ones.

Pulling back, he pressed his forehead to hers. "I'm sorry," he murmured, closing his eyes. "I was just scared today that I would lose my brother, or that we would lose the baby. The last fortnight, I've been a fool, wondering if you didn't want the baby or me or any of this."

He opened his eyes when he felt her fingers intertwine with his and then stared down at their joined hands. Her hand looked so small against his own. The skin felt as cold as ice, but was smooth and pale, compared to his, still red and chapped from the cold. "I've always been afraid that one day, I'd fail to protect the people that depended on me, that they would die because I didn't do enough," he admitted quietly. "If I lost you or our child, I don't know what I'd do."

He felt cold fingers trace a long his jaw as Hazelyn's other hand turned his face towards her. Her grey eyes shined silver against the flickering gold and bronze fire light. Her lips formed a sad smile as she sighed, "You're going to be Warden of the North someday, so that will inevitably happen, Robb, maybe to even me or one of our children. You won't be able to protect us from everything," Robb's eyes widened, but she continued, running her fingers through his hair gently. "No one man can save everyone. What matters is that you keep trying. And I've never seen you once stop trying to keep your people and family safe. That's what made me love you in the first place." She kissed him softly.

They shifted as their lips moved, and she somehow ended up straddling him with his hands on her hips by the time they pulled back. "We can't keep lashing out at each other like this," Robb breathed, his face a fingers width from hers. "Just promise that you'll tell me if you're scared, so we can work through it together instead of fight."

Hazelyn bit her lip, staring down at him a moment, and then pressed her lips lightly to his, "I promise." She smirked and rolled her hips lightly into Robb's, making him groan. "I think this new beginning calls for celebration. We never did have our second wedding night, and the wise woman who told me I was pregnant also shared some other valuable knowledge with me."

"Who was she?" He raised a brow. "You never mentioned that detail."

"Her name is Ros," Hazelyn giggled. "You might be familiar with her. I had to inform her you wouldn't be visiting her establishment anymore."

Robb felt his heart beat pick up. "Gods, I love you," he growled, gripping her hips harder as he captured her lips in a firm kiss.

Ramsay wiped the bright red blood off his knife, gently running the rag along the blade as if caressing a lover. A bloody blade was a beautiful sight indeed, and the screams of its victim were... ah, no sound was ever so sweet as the sound of breathless pleas that would go unanswered, hope dwindling from their voice with every slice of his knife.

The blood belonged to a serving girl with an attitude that needed mending. And mended it Ramsay did. She'd called him a bastard, acted as if he was beneath her. Ramsay glanced down at the crimson stained rag in his hand and smiled. He had made sure that whore learned her place. No one spoke down to him and got away with it, no one but father. Ramsay was a Bolton, with the Red Kings' blood flowing through his veins, no matter what any kitchen wench said. He thought himself Roose Bolton's only true son. His father's true born son had been meek and his other legitImate child had the soft heart of a woman.

Ramsay scowled as recalled more of the servant girls words. That Lord Roose and Lady Hazelyn were the only people recognized by gods and men as Boltons, the ones with true power. Lady Hazelyn, his sweet little sister. What was he to do with that little bitch? It's not that he hated his sister, in fact, he loved her. He loved the sound she made when he touched her, the shrill of her scream and the detestable tone of voice that echoed from her sweet, thin lips when she called him...bastard. Ramsay grit his teeth each time he heard the word. How dare she use it. How dare she threaten to take what was rightfully his.

A small part of him wanted to bleed her as he did her cunt brother, for her defiance, but a larger part of him thought it would be a terrible waste. Reaching into his doublet, he pulled out a strip of white cloth and brought it to his nose, inhaling the sweet scent. He'd torn it off a shift he'd stolen from her trunk as her possessions were being packed for their trip to Winterfell. He had to be careful to hide it from Myranda, his bed warmer. She didn't much like the fact that another woman occupied his thoughts as he fucked her. cord

But Myranda couldn't really ever hope to compare to a real Bolton woman. He'd taken up with her because of their shared love for blood, and because she had passing resemblance to his sister from behind. Same small stature, similar brown hair, but Myranda, nor any other woman, could ever be as beautiful as Hazelyn, because no one had her eyes. She had Bolton eyes, the same haunting shade of grey that he had, that their father had.

He'd also seen the murderous intent, the blood lust, in those beautiful eyes of hers. She had the same love for blades, blood, and power as he did, he'd felt it. He licked his lips as he traced his fingers over the scar on his arm. She even carried a little knife of her own. Gods, he got hard just thinking about taking that little bitch to bed, hissing, clawing, scratching, and biting. And once he dominated her, watching that lust enter her eye as she helped him carve another victim, like the Red Kings and Queens of old. He bet the Stark boy wouldn't treat her like that, he'd suppress that nature, turn a potentially magnificent creature into a simpering little cunt. He growled, he'd have to send for Myranda this evening to vent his frustrations, after dining with father of course.

He tossed his bloody rag onto the table as he rose to his feet, inspecting his handiwork one last time. Not as neat as he wanted it to be yet, but practice made perfect he thought with a smirk.

He turned around when he heard the metal door to chamber screech open. Locke stepped in, eyeing Ramsay and his work with a mixture of weariness, admiration, and morbid curiosity. "What did this one do?" He asked, looking the body up and down.

"The little cunt thought that she could talk down to the son of her lord," Ramsay smirked, glancing over his creation.

"Well, you definitely showed her," Locke chuckled, crossing his arms. "Need some men to get rid of the body?"

"I think she might still be alive," Ramsay looked down at his knife with a disappointed frown. "My knife wasn't quite sharp enough to do a clean job." But then a grin spread across his face as a wonderful idea came to mind. "Father has said a little mercy is a virtue. Perhaps someone could return her to her family in the village. They must be worried about her!"

Locke smirked. "Aye, I think I could find some men to do it." He then sobered a bit as he stated, "Lord Bolton sent me down here to fetch you to his solar. Supper has been served," A deep frown appeared on his face, "And he's grown rather impatient."

Ramsay swallowed and tried to hide his nervousness from the Bolton master at arms with casual confidence. "Well, I suppose I better go then," he said with a easy smile.

"Good luck," Locke warned him, clasping hands with Ramsay before the base born left the dungeon. As made his way down the dark corridor, Ramsay brushed himself off to make sure he looked presentable. He tried to quell his dread at his father's coming fury, but his fingers fumbled as he forced open the old rusted iron door. He sneered at his own cowardice, stalking up the steep staircase from the bowels of the castle two or three steps at a time. As he walked to his father's study, he closed his eyes and thought of his work to calm down. The red gleam of torchlight off the bloodied muscle, the blood dripping from the slashes across the girl's once comely face, the jagged piece of hide with all her long lustrous brown locks pooled at his feet on the floor.

Ramsay hoped that she did live, so she could serve as a walking, talking reminder to all the people of the Dreadfort what happened to those who got in his way. By the time he reached his father's solar, he wore a satisfied smile on his face. But that satisfaction didn't last long.

"You're late," his father said calmly, but Ramsay saw the annoyance in his narrowed, pale eyes.

It took all the courage he had to maintain his casual smile as he approached the table and bowed. "Apologies, my lord, I was just helping Locke deal with some insubordination among your staff."

"How so?" Roose leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.

"Just trimmed a few bits and pieces off a defiant servant," he scuffed his boot on the ground and glanced away.

Roose's brow furrowed, "You've been flaying again," he stated as a comment, not a question.

Ramsay shrugged, still not able to look up. "I didn't kill her and made sure to do it more discreetly this time." He then glanced at his father, fighting the instinct to cower under his icy gaze.

Roose studied him for a long moment before shaking his head. "Fine, I don't have time to deal with your nonsense. I have more important matters to discuss with you. Sit down and eat," he commanded.

Ramsay complied quickly and happily focused his attention on devouring the meat, potatoes, and fruit on his plate. They ate in blissful silence for a few moments, but then his father spoke again.

"You're still stuffing your face like a ravenous dog," Roose observed as his son bit a mouthful of flesh from a turkey leg. Quickly putting the meat down, Ramsay wiped his mouth with his sleeve and finished chewing. "Does it really matter? I'm not some prim and proper lady."

"No, but a Bolton doesn't act like an animal at the table like an Umber. If you ever wish for me to grant you more responsibility and authority, you will improve your manners."

"But I'm not a Bolton," Ramsay retorted bitterly, his eyes narrowed at his father in challenge.

Roose looked back at him with a raised brow. Sighing, he picked up his goblet and took a sip long sip of water before shrugging with a bored expression on his face. "I suppose you're right." He then glanced at Ramsay with an equally challenging glare. "Curtesies always came naturally to my true born son and daughter."

Ramsay couldn't contain his sneer. "Well, I've only had a year to learn. Their bitch mother and her cunt septa probably had them trained up like little lap dogs before they could read."

Roose put his cup down on the table slowly as he stared at his son with same expressionless mask Hazelyn had taunted Ramsay with. "You will not insult my late lady wife or any other member of House Bolton again," He said in an unsettling, even tone. "As my true born children and heirs, that was their right and duty. You are neither of those things. I have gifted you every luxury you have. Do not make me regret my generosity."

Ramsay shivered involuntarily as all the fight left him. He stared at the ground and nodded silently, submitting to Roose. Only then did the Bolton lord's expression relax, though he still glared coldly at his son. "I wanted to speak to you about an urgent matter. Now that your sister has wed the heir to Winterfell, House Bolton will have stronger ties to the Starks, and be under more scrutiny. You will not carry on with your vices as publicly as you have been. The Starks outlawed flaying, and I won't have you put me in a position that will cause tension with their house."

Ramsay crossed his arms. He almost laughed at the hypocritical statement. "From what I hear, my sweet sister already did plenty of that when she you hid away from you in their keep and spread her legs for the Stark boy."

" Hazelyn won the favor of one of the most powerful families in the seven kingdoms, and made a match far greater than the Boltons have had in generations. All by herself. " Roose's mouth curved up into a small smile. "It's reassuring to have my heir show such promise, even as a woman."

"Can she do any wrong in your eyes?" Ramsay snapped as frustration and envy seized him.

"She has made mistakes," Roose conceded with a nod, "But unlike you, she knows how to turn them into victories."

Ramsay knew he'd regret it later, but he couldn't handle his father's condescending smirk.

He fixed a charming smile on his face and took a sip of wine before commenting, "Sister is quite skilled. Its such a shame everything will go to her Stark husband and Stark sons after your death."

The comment did nothing to ruffle Roose's cool confidence though. "That won't be a concern for long. After I wed Lady Walda, I have no doubt she'll provide me with many sons. Frey women may nor be known for their beauty, but their fertility is renowned."

Ramsay snorted in disgust at the thought of that fat Frey couldn't believe his father had chosen that pig as his bride. With all the women Walder Frey and his sons had fucked, surely one of the bitches had whelped a girl more pleasing than that sow. Ramsay had barely been able to stomach her annoying presence when she and her idiot brothers had come back with his father from Winterfell to tour the Bolton lands. He couldn't have felt more relieved when they finally left the day before.

Roose frowned slightly. "Don't think I didn't notice your disdain for Lady Walda during her visit. You will not show her disrespect again."

Ramsay wrinkled his nose. "Well, it's hard not be disgusted by her. Surely Lord Frey had granddaughters better than that. I mean, how will you even manage to do it?"

"Do what?" Roose raised a brow.

"Impregnate her. Surely no one could find-"

"I will not indulge in your crude talk," Roose cut him off with with a level voice. "You will show only respect to your betters, and remember your place as a bastard from now on. And no word of your vices will pass beyond these walls. You are dismissed." He punctuated his words with a cold, blank stare that dared Ramsay to contradict him.

Bitterness raged inside of Ramsay, wanting to him to fight back, but he wasn't a bloody idiot. He would never have any hope of gaining the Bolton name if he incurred his father's wrath. He already had killed one heir and run off the other. He'd gone to far to give up now. So he forced the most pleasant smile he could muster, bowed his head as he stood, and said "Of course Father," before calmly walking out with the small amount of dignity he still had. He would learn to play the lord's game, as his father wished. He'd learn to be a charming and humble lad to all those lords' faces, and then when they turned their backs, convinced he was no threat to their power, he would sink his knife in and bring them all to their knees. Those cunt lords as they begged him not to flay another member of their families, and his bitch sister, sucking his cock and serving him alone. He would rule as a Bolton and make them all regret calling him a bastard.

Chapter Text


Chapter 24: The Passage of Time Part 1

She found herself in the godswood, still and beautiful under a blanket of snow. All the trees but the evergreens had lost their leaves many moons ago, and now a thin layer of ice coated their bare branches with icicles sparkling like diamonds in the weak northern sun. She picked up her skirts as she treaded lightly over the snow with bare feet. The cool slush felt soothing against her aching, swollen ankles.

Glancing down, she couldn't see her feet over the broad curve of her belly. She sighed and rubbed her bump absently, making her way to a little, green garden hidden away among the trees. She studied the rows of wheat, potatoes, carrots, and greens carefully as she passed them. Green stalks, shrubs, and vines poked out of the snow, and though a fine layer of frost covered their leaves, they looked vibrant with life. Stopping when she reached the berry bushes, she plucked a few red holly berries from a branch and popped them into her mouth. She closed her eyes and chewed slowly, savoring the sweetness on her tongue and the cool against the soles of her feet.

"You and your odd habits." She didn't even flinch as his fingers gripped her hip. Brushing her hair aside, he tucked a delicate flower behind her ear, a winter rose probably. He always called her his winter rose, a beautiful blossom sprung up from an icy waste. "Are you sure it's safe for the baby?" He asked as he rested his chin on her shoulder.

"Of course, I would never risk our child," she huffed fondly, only slightly incensed. She smiled as he turned her around in his embrace.

And everything suddenly went dark. She lay in the dirt, her bare skin freezing against the brutal winter air. They stared at her with those unnatural eyes as agonizing pain continued to burn in her chest. She screamed as the sensation spread throughout her entire body, making her limbs contort in unnatural ways. She could feel the life leaving her as shadow danced at the edge of her vision. She was going to die, just like the ones before her had, and the others after her would. She was going to die without ever saying goodbye... The pain started to ebb as everything faded away... but then abruptly, something yanked her back from the brink of death. She breathed in sharply as the cold fled from her skin. Her eyes shot open to reveal a pale hand splayed on her chest and a pair of star sapphire eyes staring down at her.

Hazelyn gasped as she opened her eyes, clutching at her chest. The dream had already started to fade, but vague sensations of sweetness, light, and darkness, and an echo of horrific pain lingered, along with the crystal clear image of a pair of unnatural eyes that caused a deep chill in her bones. No natural creature had eyes like those.

Despite the heat of the large body curled up next to her and the heavy furs covering them, her teeth chattered and a shiver went up her spine. She extricated herself from the strong pair of wrapped around her waist slowly in an effort to not wake her bed mate.

She smiled when she looked down at Robb's peaceful, sleeping face, his mouth hanging open and some of his curly, bronze hair swept over his forehead. He hated it whenever anyone called him a boy, but he really did look like one laying there, totally vulnerable and at ease with the world, no fear or worry weighing his heart heavy.

He'd begun to help his father govern Winterfell and would be a father himself soon enough, but he really was just a boy in so many ways. And she was just a girl. They were both so young, but here they were, married, playing at being a lord and lady, and about to have a child. True, other boys and girls their age were already settled, starting a family, just as they were. But things would be different if she and Robb were lowborn; Hazelyn had no illusions life would be easier, but they wouldn't have to concern themselves with an entire region of people, and the inter workings of the lords, if Robb had been a simple sheep herder. Would they be able to handle all of it? Hazelyn bit her lip. Robb, she had no doubt would be a wonderful father and had the makings of a great leader. It was herself that she worried about.

Slipping on her robe to cover her naked body, she hugged herself as she crept over to the hearth. She tossed some wood from the grate on its dying embers and prodded the logs to bring the fire back to life. She then got her knife and some wood from the side table, curled up by the flames, and carved. Staring into the flickering light, she tired to recall the hazy images of her nightmare. Her fingers moved intuitively and after a few minutes, she looked down to see she'd etched a circle with a line slashing through it into the hard material. She frowned, turning the wood chunk over in her hand so her fingers could trace along the odd mark.

"Hazel?" Hazelyn looked up as Robb slowly sat upright, rubbing his tired face. "Why aren't you in bed?" He yawned.

"I just felt a bit stifled," she called out quietly. "You can go back to sleep."

"I will as soon as my wife joins me," he smiled, patting the empty space on the mattress beside him.

"I'll probably be up for awhile, and you have to rise early to ride to Torrhen's Square with your father," she reminded him. "You need to get some rest."

"You're growing our child inside of you, so you need rest as well," Robb retorted playfully. He smirked. "And if you were really concerned about me getting sleep, then why did you jump me as soon as we turned in?"

"I didn't hear you complaining," Hazelyn snorted as she rolled her eyes at him.

"I definitely didn't," Robb chuckled, "But since I wore you out, I won't get any rest unless you're getting the sleep you need."

Hazelyn stood, tilting her head to the side. "I believe I was the one who wore you out. You fell asleep first." She smiled.

"Fine," Robb laughed. "But that just means you slept less then me, and I'm not going to fall asleep knowing something is bothering you, so," he patted the bed again.

"Nothing is bothering me," Hazel denied even as she slowly walked back towards the bed.

"Hazel." Robb raised his brows and looked at her knowingly, reminding her of the promise she'd made a moon before.

Sighing, Hazelyn untied her robe and dropped it on the floor before getting into the bed. Robb rolled onto his side and propped his head on his hand. "This isn't the first night you've gotten up. You looked exhausted."

Hazelyn laid her head back on a pillow and stared the grey stone ceiling. "I've just felt restless, you old nag."

She glanced down when she felt his hand on her. "Is it something with the baby?" Robb asked gently as he rubbed her still flat stomach.

Hazelyn turned her head to look at him, biting her lip. "No, I've just been having strange dreams."

Robb's brow furrowed. "About your father and that man? You know I'd never let-"

"No! I know you wouldn't," she smiled at him before frowning again. "They're different. I can't remember what they're about. I only recall vague feelings. Sometimes they're good, but sometimes..." She closed her eyes as she recalled the echo of pain, the cold she'd felt. "They're unsettling."

"Maybe Maester Luwin can give you something to help you sleep," Robb murmured. His hand stopped moving as he stared at her. "You know, you're safe, right? I won't ever let anything happen to you, either of you." He pressed on her belly to prove his point.

"I know that," Hazelyn smiled. "And I promise you they're not about that anymore. It's probably just a side effect of the pregnancy. I'll ask Maester Luwin for something tomorrow."

"Good," Robb sighed in relief. A smile crept back onto his face as he looked down at her stomach. "I think she's starting to show," he rubbed over her naval fondly.

Hazelyn snorted. "I'm not even three moons along yet Robb. I still have a few weeks yet until I start to grow fat. And what makes you think the babe is a girl?"

Robb grinned, reaching an arm around her to draw her closer to him. "Firstly, you're not getting fat. You're having a child, and second, I'm her father, I can sense it."

"I am getting bigger," Hazelyn scowled, hands falling to her belly. She swore the supple flesh felt rounder. But she didn't think Robb would notice so soon! "And the baby is literally connected to me, so I'd know better, and I say it's a boy."

"Well, whatever the babe is, I can't wait," Robb leaned in press to a kiss to his wife's hair. "And I actually like that you're getting bigger."

Hazelyn frowned in confusion but when Robb's eyes slipped down to her breast, as well as his hand, she grasped indignantly. "Robb Stark! Don't you even-"

Robb silenced her with a deep kiss, his hand still on her breast, fingers pinching at the nipple. Her eyes widened as he rolled her under him. Panting hard as they separated, Robb grinned wolvishly at her. "I don't want to sleep anymore tonight," he breathed.

"Well, as long as you don't act grumpy when you have to rise in a few hours," Hazelyn smiled as she stroked his hair.

"As long as you don't get cross with me. In fact, Let me show you just how much I like the bigger parts of you."

Hazelyn's giggle turned into a whimper as he kissed down her neck, her strange dreams slipping from her mind.

A thrill rushed through Jon's veins as he swung his wooden sword again at Theon's side. He let out a laugh of victory in response to the ironborn's pained grimace.

"Theon , you need to move quicker so you don't leave your side exposed to attack. Armor won't always protect you!" Rodrick instructed firmly. "And Jon," he directed his stern blue eyes at his lord's base born son, "Don't ever act cocky in a fight. You already let you guard down, see?" He nodded at Jon's relaxed sword arm. "If you grow overconfident and underestimate your opponent, you'll be cut down before you can blink." He crossed his arms. "Alright then lads, no one's yielded yet, so keep on!"

Jon jumped back into the brawl with joy, pivoting quickly as Theon jabbed at his back. It took a great deal of effort not to smirk as he easily deflected the parry and advanced on the Greyjoy again. Every lunge and strike Theon made, he readily met with one in return. The iron islander made it far too easy, always glancing at where he'd strike, giving himself away. Jon could end this sparring match in an instant, but he wanted to savor the moment. Sword fighting was one of the only activities that he bested the cocky ward in. It was the one thing that Theon couldn't taunt him about.

Jon almost let out another laugh as Theon sneered and over extended himself in a desperate attempt to trip his foe. Side stepping the wooden blade easily, Jon swung his practice sword with force at the back on Theon's legs. When the ironborn stumbled, he rammed his elbow down hard into the center of his Theon's back, making the ward fall face first into the dirt. He couldn't hold back his triumphant grin any longer as he pointed his weapon at Theon's neck. "Yeild."

"Fine, I yield," Theon wheezed as he pushed himself up on all fours. Jon 's grin only grew wider as he extended an arm to help the older boy up. They might always compete in the tiltyard, but Rodrick and his father had always taught them that once an opponent yielded, you treated them with fairness.

"Well done Snow!" Robb praised his brother with a firm clap on the shoulder.

And even Rodrick gave him a slight smile of approval. "Very good, Jon. Since you won, you and Robb can go a few rounds with steel swords. Theon, you need to work on your footwork with one of the guards. Now get on, I've had enough of looking at you three this afternoon," The old master at arms said with a cheeky smirk as he left the trio to attend other duti es.

As soon as Rodrick walked out of hearing range, Theon huffed, "Well I'm done with blades for the day! I'm going to the archery range."

"Can't handle another blow to your ego, Greyjoy?" Jon laughed. He knew he shouldn't goad Theon, but couldn't resist. When else did he have the upper hand?

"You beating me in one sparring match hardly dents my pride, Snow. I just think archery is a more practical skill to invest my time in," Theon retorted. "You need to see the whites of a man's eyes to strike him. I only need to see his shape. And women love a man who knows how keep his aim steady far more than those that just know how to jab with their swords. It's no wonder why all of them love more me than you," he smirked. "Either of you," he glared at a snickering Robb.

"Not all women, Greyjoy," Robb shot back. "I convinced Hazel to marry me, where as you could only get a slap and knife to the face from her."

"That's one woman, Stark," Theon held up a finger. "You fucking one girl from outside the brothel doesn't suddenly make you King in the North. And the only reason you can make your woman scream so bloody loud is because told you how."

Robb's face and ears grew redder than Sansa's hair. Even though Jon felt for him, he had to chuckle his brother's expression.

"What are you laughing at Snow? You're as hopeless as eunuch," Theon snapped. A slow smile spread across his lips as Jon scowled. "I guess you could say that I'm more skilled at using one kind of sword than you, so in the end, I win out over both of you. Have fun swinging your toys around lads, and I don't mean the ones in your breeches." He laughed and sprinted towards the archery range before either other man could strike him upside the head.

Jon stared after him darkly. Why did Theon always have to win? "You did well," Robb said resolutely to him, seeing the storm brewing in his face. "He just doesn't want to admit defeat." He grinned and shoved Jon lightly in the shoulder. "No brooding this afternoon. Let's get our swords and have ourselves a real fight."

Jon chuckled at his brother's persistent optimism. "Aye, lets."

"Anyway," Robb continued as they trekked towards the armory. "Neither of us are hopeless with girls."

"Well, you certainly aren't," Jon said with a smile. "Theon did have a point about the noise. You and Hazel aren't very shy about what you do at night. Everyone's just too polite to tell you we're all tired of hearing it."

"And you're completely innocent?" Robb raised a brow at Jon skeptically.

"What do you mean?" Jon's eyes widened, he could already feel his cheeks heating. True, he wasn't completely innocent anymore. A certain blonde maid had seen to that. Not that his brother or anyone else would know.

"You sneak away an awful lot these days, and then my wife always complains she can't find her maid, only to tell me later why."

Jon's jaw dropped. Surely Myna hadn't told someone. "Myna's a friend, we don't do anything like that."

"I said the same thing to you about Hazelyn moons ago and you knew it wasn't true. Besides, you're not half as convincing with that lie as I was. And your friend tells Hazel all about what you do when you spend time together. Not details, but we both know Jon. Does this mean you're not joining the Night's Watch?" Robb frowned curiously.

Jon opened his mouth but couldn't think of a proper answer. "I...don't know." He thought of Myna and her soft hair and sure hands, her mouth soft but heady against his. He thought of the Wall and the honor he'd earn for himself, thought of the life he'd always wanted to leave behind in favor of it. Hesitation twisted inside him, and Jon wondered for which path it was for. He had only known Myna for three moons. He liked her a great deal, and always looked forward to spending time with her more than anything else. And gods, she was good kisser. He felt warmer just thinking about. But he still wanted to join the Night's Watch. He didn't have anything offer Myna in terms of a future. How could he dare dream of a life with her when he knew full well other men could offer her better, offer her more?

Robb must have seen his conflicted expression, because he said, "I won't interrogate you about something you don't want talk about Jon. Just be careful, because I really don't want Hazel getting upset at me over you jilting her friend." He then smiled. "Now let's get to sparring so I can beat your arse."

Jon laughed and shoved Robb. "I wouldn't get your hopes up Stark."

Once they fetched their swords and donned some light armor, they found a less busy spot of the tilityard and began. The clash of metal on metal sounded like a song to Jon's ear. His blood coursed with excitement as he and his brother exchanged blows.

"You can yield any time, Snow," Robb taunted as he easily blocked another one of Jon's parries.

"Feel free Stark," Jon barked with a smile. Robb always used to beat him, but as they'd grown older and Jon had spent extra hours practicing with a blade, he had begun to win almost as many matches as his brother did.

"Beat him already, Jon!" The pair looked over to see Arya running towards them.

Gesturing to his brother to hold, Robb looked at his little sister and frowned sternly. "Arya, you're supposed to be in lessons with your septa, aren't you?"

"She was, but I got her and Sansa out so we could sew outside. Its to lovely a day to waste inside the castle walls," Hazelyn called as she walked up from behind Arya.

Just like a woods witch, she immediately caught Robb under her spell. "Hello there," the Stark heir grinned as he went to rest his hand his wife's already slightly rounded stomach, his fingers rubbing over the dark material of her gown.

"Sickening, aren't they?" Jon glanced up to see Myna standing in next to him smirking, a basket of sewing supplies over her arm.

"They're having their first child, so I think they get an excuse," Jon smiled back. Winterfell's bastard didn't think he'd ever seen his brother so happy.

"Perhaps," she nodded before turning to Arya. "You have to sew, little wolf, remember?" She fished out a sampler and offered it to the dark headed girl.

"Can't you or Hazel do it for me? I want to watch the sparring," Arya pleaded.

"No, you're already behind on your cross stitching, and if I did it for you, I'd lose my job," Myna pushed it into her hands. "Maybe if you finish the border pattern today, I could convince Hazelyn to get you out of lessons early tomorrow so we could shoot a few arrows."

"Fine," Arya sighed dramatically, snatching the sampler and trudging off.

"You sure bribing her is the best way to go?" Jon teased Myna.

She glanced up at him with a faux annoyed expression. "You do it all the time, so don't question my judgement."

"Of course, my lady," Jon mockingly bowed at her. "I'm sorry for causing offence."

"Maybe you will be sorry if I decide to not meet you in the godswood tonight," Myna challenged with a playful gleam in her eye.

"You don't show up, and I'll track you down," Jon shot back, trying not to laugh.

"That sounds fun actually," Myna raised her brow, making Jon flush. He started to grow heated just thinking about what Myna implied.

"Jon, help me move a bench so the girls can watch," Robb called to him.

Jon jumped a little, turning towards his brother with abruptly. "Right."

Placing a bench where the girls could see, Jon and Robb then resumed their match. As Jon suspected, his brother started attacking him more aggressively. He always did that when he knew Hazelyn was watching, to show off Jon supposed, but now he had someone too show off too as well.

Eventually, Robb did win the first match, but then the brothers fought another round and Jon won that one. The girls cheered them on in background.

The two men decided to go one more round to break their tie for the afternoon. Robb asked Hazelyn for a favor, and after she slipped a small bit of cloth in his pocket and pecked him lightly on the lips, the Stark gave Jon a smug look. "You can't possibly beat me now."

Jon glanced towards a certain blonde maid, who gave him a subtle wink. "I wouldn't get to cocky," he replied.

Their blades clanged together once more, both boys giving it their all. Jon felt sweat trickling down his back and his muscles burned, but he was confident he could wear his brother down . He soon had Robb on the defensive, attacking more than blocking, and he even managed to land a few blows that he knew would leave nasty bruises. But then he looked over at the girls. Hazelyn and Arya both watched the match with interest, and even Sansa had put her sampler aside to see how it would end, but Myna, the person he had wanted watching, wasn't focused on him at all. Instead she was caught up in a conversation with Theon Greyjoy. The arrogant young man said something and smirked as he gestured his bow suggestively, making Myna cover her mouth and giggle.

Jon scowled as a surge of anger went through him. Suddenly he felt an intense desire to hit Theon with his sword rather than Robb. And that distraction gave Robb the opportunity to strike. Jon grunted as the flat side of his brother's blade struck him in the stomach and knocked the wind of him. Before he could get his bearings a strong shove in the chest sent him flailing to the ground. He landed on his back in the dust, blinking as the metal tip of his brother's sword pointed to his face. "Told you that you couldn't beat me, Snow," Robb laughed breathlessly, grinning from ear to ear.

"Guess that's fair," Jon grumbled as he accepted defeat, taking his brother's offered hand to get back on his feet. Immediately, he looked over to where the girls stood, Theon still by their side. Thankfully, Myna didn't seem to be paying him mind anymore as she gathered the sewing supplies and prepared to go in.

"Well done you two! That was a well fought match," Hazelyn grinned as they made their way back to the bench.

"It was almost watching a tourney," Sansa agreed.

Robb chuckled in response, "Well as champion, I know who I'm crowning as my queen of love and beauty." As always, Jon got the feeling he was being intrusive as he watched his brother wrap an arm around his good sister's waist and pull her into his chest.

"Get off me, you're sweaty and dirty!" Hazelyn demanded playfully as Robb leaned down and kissed her cheek.

"Too late! I guess you'll need to bathe with me!"


"You two are gross!" Arya shouted.

Jon finally looked away from the pair, but instead of mulling over loneliness growing in his gut, his eyes sought out Myna's. Sure enough she'd been watching them too, and when they their gazes met, he felt connection and contentment. She gathered up her basket of supplies and walked over to him.

"So, Lord Snow, who would you have named Queen of love and Beauty had you won that grand tourney? One of your sisters?" She smirked.

"I don't know," his lips curved upward. "Maybe if you do actually meet me in the Godswood this evening, I'll tell you."

"Maybe I will," she shrugged causally, as though he were asking her something painfully ordinary, but the gleam in her eyes was full of cheek.

Jon raised a brow. "Or I could always track you down."

Myna opened her mouth to reply when an interloper injected. "What's this? You harassing an innocent maid Snow?"

Jon's cheeks went red as Theon sidled up to them, bow slung over his shoulder.

"I'm just helping Myna track down supplies Hazel wanted," Jon snapped. "You don't need to butt into every conversation Greyjoy." He internally cringed when he spotted the disappointment that flashed through Myna's light brown eyes.

"Oh, that's all it is?" Theon questioned in a skeptical tone. "Well then," he turned towards Myna. "Are you sure I can't convince you to join me on the archery range this evening? I am the best archer in Winterfell and you'd be apt to learn a thing or two. I have excellent aim." His voice was heavy with implication as he side glanced at Jon.

Jealousy roaring inside of him, Jon sneered, "No, she doesn't Greyjoy."

Theon raised a brow at him. Myna scowled. "Thank you Jon, but I can speak for myself." She back turned to older lad. "Thank you for the offer m'lord, but I have other duties requiring my time tonight. Perhaps another time," she said with a tense smile.

"I'll remember that," Theon winked at her before walking away to talk with Robb.

"Why did you say 'another time'?" Jon asked Myna in annoyance.

Myna crossed her arms. "What else was I supposed to I go say to him? Unless you wanted me to say that I'm already kissing around with you."

"No, I don't anyone to know yet," Jon shook his head. "But you don't have to encourage him."

Myna glared as she fixed the basket of sewing supplies in the crook of her arm. "You can't have both ways, " she snapped, and he could hear the hurt that carried in her voice. She then called over to Hazelyn, "Zel, I'm going to return the samplers to Septa Mordane and then I'll get fresh linens to your chambers right after."

Hazelyn looked over from her conversation with Robb and frowned at Myna's disgruntled tone. " Alright. "

Without even looking at Jon, Myna nodded and stalked off. Immediately, Jon knew he'd screwed up. His regret and frustration with the situation compelled him to follow after her.

Dodging around other servants and workers, he didn't catch her until she had slipped into one of the lesser traveled servant passages of the keep. "Myna," he said as he gently grasped her arm.

Myna stopped on the spot and whipped around aggressively. Taken by surprise, Jon stumbled and collided with her. Automatically, he grasped her waist to keep her from falling, much like the night they'd met. But unlike then, once they both found their balance, Jon didn't pull his hands away and Myna didn't smile.

"Seven hells, Jon!" She scowled at him, her voice low and breathy, so as not to draw unwanted attention. "What do you want?" Her golden brown eyes burned and her nose scrunched up in a way that made a smile creep up on the bastard's face despite his frustrations.

Jon glanced down at her lips, pink and pouting, and then grasped her hips tighter. Pulling her closer to him, he did the only thing he could think to do, and pressed his mouth to hers. Myna almost immediately responded, her free arm wrapping around his neck. Feeling the heat spreading throughout his body, Jon drew her in closer and kissed her again. One of his hands traced up her spine and neck until he was able to work his fingers into her soft blonde hair, feeling the pull of the braids that kept her hair so lovely and neat. Myna sighed as he pulled golden strands loose, arching herself further into him.

The swell of her breasts pressed against his chest drew a groan from Jon. When they did things like this, everything else faded away. Suddenly, he was not a bastard, not a lords son, not a man with nothing to offer. When he kissed her this way, when she kissed him back, it felt like he could give her the world, give her anything her heart desired. The Night's Watch was distant, and Theon Greyjoy's advances didn't matter, because he was here with Myna and she was here with him. Beyond the pleasurable heat building up inisde him and his heart galloping like a horse, Jon felt closer to her than he'd ever felt to any other person, and for just a moment, all his worries, frustrations, and sorrows fell away.

But then Myna dropped her basket and brought her other arm around Jon's waist. Jon grunted when he felt her lower body press into his, and blood rushed towards his groin. He tried to ignore the building sensation, biting at Myna's lip, but then her leg rose and her thigh brushed against his hip. With a gasp, Jon turned his face away from Myna's and pushed her off him. He clenched his eyes shut as he tried to forget the ache his groin, knowing he absolutely couldn't go there.

He had been kissing her quite a lot over the past moon, but they hadn't particularly talked about it. He couldn't stop, but knew it would absolutely tear him apart if he bedded her out of wedlock, especially since he still harbored hopes to join the Night's Watch. Everything involving Myna confused him, he didn't know what to think of do.

"What was that?" Myna panted, looking up at him with flushed cheeks.

Jon stared at her, just trying to gather his thoughts. "I'm sorry I for acting like a prick," he blurted bluntly.

Myna frowned and placed a hand on his cheek. "Alright. But for the gods sake Jon, you can't get angry just because Theon Greyjoy makes a pass at me. You can't expect men to not look at me if you want to hide what we have, whatever it is." She stepped away from him and reached up to fiddle with her ever present bear pendant. "If you can feel that jealous, I can't understand why you're still so intent on hiding our relationship." Her frown deepened. "Are you ashamed of what we're doing?"

Jon sighed at Myna's pleading and hurt expression. How did he explain his jumbled thoughts and feelings to her when he couldn't make sense of them himself? "No," he shook his head, reaching to grab Myna's hand. He stared at their intertwined fingers as he said, "Its just...I'm not ashamed of you, but it wouldn't be right if we just came out with this." Myna tilted her head in confusion, so he tried to clarify. "I have spent so long wanting to join the Nights Watch, I don't know what others will think if I suddenly don't." Myna tensed at his mention of the Watch, so he squeezed her hand. "Myna," He tried reason, "Lady Catelyn hates me and would do what she could to get me out of the castle, maybe even getting Hazel to fire you in hopes I'd follow you out of Winterfell."

Myna pulled her hand away from his, an irritated expression on her face. "That would never happen, this is all just about the Night's Watch, isn't it? You're not entirely pure anymore, so you're afraid your father will question your plans to join the bloody watch."

"Myna," Jon grabbed her hand again. "Its not that! Its-"

"Well isn't this cute?" Jon's eyes widened in horror as Theon strolled up to them. "You do fancy this one Snow, don't you?"

"No!" Jon denied dropping Myna 's hand like a hot coal.

"You sure?" Theon asked while looking at Myna's face. Jon felt sick when he glanced at her and saw the hurt in her eyes. Jon looked back at Theon and then Myna again. A challenge appeared on both of their faces, to tell the truth they all knew or deny it and look the fool.

After a moment of silence passed, Myna shook her head. She turned away from him while Theon raised his brows in interest but then Jon said. "Aye, I do fancy her Greyjoy, so if you try to bed her again, I'll give you a broken nose and a blackened eye." Myna whipped around to stare at him while Theon laughed.

"I knew it!" He clapped his hands. "Well far be it from me to prevent from you finally taking an interest in a girl." He then he then turned to Myna. "But if he ever bores you too much, you know where to find me." Then with a mocking salute and smirk, he ambled off.

Myna continued to stare at Jon with wide eyes. "You know he's going to tell everyone in the bloody keep don't you?"

"That's the idea," Jon sighed before smiling. "Now I have an excuse to punch Greyjoy or any other man that gets to friendly with you."

"Oh that's the only reason," Myna grinned as she put a hand on her hip. "Nothing to do with me?"

"Nope, just so I can punch Theon," Jon chuckled. He crossed his arms, "Seeing that beautiful smile and getting to kiss you more are just unintended perks."

Myna scoffed. "That's total horse shit Snow."

Jon couldn't help the laugh that rumbled deep in his chest. Myna joined in, her giggles sounding like the clear babbling of a brook. "Come 'ere," Jon wrapped an arm around her waist, leaning in to catch her smiling lips in another kiss.

Chapter Text


Chapter 25: The Passage of Time Part Two

She felt a rage greater than she'd ever felt before. As the wolf howled over the walls, an icy storm of fury brewed up inside her, just as fierce as the blizzard raging outside. She had never been a monster, despite what many had said. She had been a queen, she had been a wife, she had been a mother. She traced a hand over her now flat stomach. But no more; all her hopes and dreams had been destroyed. They had been stolen from her, ripped away from her without mercy.

He had stolen them from her. They had stolen them from her. They claimed crowns of winter, made of ice, and iron, and bronze, but they knew nothing of true winter, merciless storms with blinding icy winds that ravaged the landscape, or the storm that ravaged her heart. But they would. She would make sure they suffered the cold, felt their tears freeze on their cheeks, felt their howls of despair die in their throats. She would make sure that their children froze in their sleep, until all who lived begged for her frozen kiss.

She stared down at her hand, small and so pale, it might have been mistaken for ice, except for the patches of frozen skin that had turned blue in the cold. She sat alone in the dark, still hall, letting the frost claim her, waiting, waiting, waiting. Time and agony had made her patient. The winter winds drew closer, and the wolf's howl grew louder, so she rose to her feet. She had not been a monster before, no, but they had made one of her.

A shout came from beyond the barred door of the hall, the wood shaking as men beat their ram against it. She walked over to her only companion, loyal beast that he was, and stroked his grey pelt. His ears pricked and he woke from his slumber with a growl. His golden eyes blinked open and stared into hers knowingly. She leaned down, and one last time, laid a lingering kiss on his snout. Then she swallowed back her pain and pointed to the door. He rose on his massive paws and prowled over to the entrance. She turned away from him to look at the polished bronze shield that hung on the wall nearby. Her lips were turning blue in the bitter cold, and out of the darkness, a pair of glowing sapphire eyes stared at her. She gasped, but in the same instance, a splintering of wood shattered the silence, and a direwolf howled in rage. She turned around and screamed with all her might.

Water sloshed over the edge of the copper tub as Hazelyn jolted awake. Her hands automatically went to her stomach to steady herself. She hissed as a sharp pain sprang up in her lower back. Sighing loudly, she sank back into the bath water and let the pleasant coolness sooth her aching muscles. She moaned in relief as a cool breeze wafted in through the open window of her bed chamber, providing further respite from the pains.

"You know if you kill me before I've birthed you, you won't get to ever see the light of day," Hazelyn grumbled as she looked down at her now curved belly. She could hardly believe she'd been a wife for five moons, and carrying this child just as long. She had hoped to enjoy life as a wife for a time, to explore and indulge in the pleasures men and women could share in bed, but the gods had had other plans. She spread her fingers over her taught skin, absently tracing patterns on her stomach as her mind wandered back to the dream.

Screaming, darkness, cold, and rage. That's all she could remember this time. She felt unsettled every time she woke from the dreams, but vague sensations seemed to be all she could recall when she tried to think of what disturbed her so much. It was like trying to picture a memory from early childhood, you have a faint inclination of what happened, but it happened so long ago, your mind can't form a clear image.

These nightmares were completely different from the ones she used to have too. After she started sharing a bed with Robb, the nightmares about her father and his bastard had all but stopped. Yet, the more her belly swelled, the more these strange new dreams had plagued her. She groaned. She had thought she'd get a decent night's sleep once she was properly married, but apparently it wasn't meant to be. Even Maester Luwin's sleeping potions had done her no good. If anything, they only had made it harder for her to wake from the dreams, so she'd stopped taking the tonics all together.

She submerged herself deeper into the cool water, letting her long brown hair float on the surface as she blew bubbles out her nose. Almost instantaneously, a fluttery sensation sprung up inside her.

Before she could jump, she assured herself it was a natural feeling. She'd asked Catelyn about it when she first felt it, a few days after the woman had finally asked her to assist in her duties. Her good mother had grinned and told her it was the baby. She had felt the fluttering several times in the fortnight since, but had decided to keep it a secret until she could feel the baby move from the outside too, otherwise Robb and everyone else would be pawing at her stomach constantly, and she could only take so much crowding. Gods above, there was nothing for them to feel, any how.

She sat up and rubbed her bump, chuckling quietly. "You like swimming, little one? Maybe once you're old enough, I'll take you to the Rills to swim in Saltspear, where I learned with your Ryswell cousins and Uncle Domeric."

Her smile fell at the thought of her brother, and her stomach twisted when she realized that he'd never meet his niece or nephew. He would have made a wonderful father, singing his children to sleep while playing their mother's harp. She bet he would have played it for his nieces and nephews too. They would have loved it. Domeric had always been strong, steady, and gentle like their mother had been. He would have been a thousand times the father their own had ever dared to be.

She wasn't like her brother, she would never be the wonderful kind of parent that her mother had been, that he would've been, or that Robb would be. It was a simple fact, one as clear as the color of the sky, or the beat of a heart.

She brusquely wiped the tears from her cheeks, frustrated at her emotions. No, she couldn't think like that. She would do the best she could raising her child, and with Robb's help and the grace of the gods, they would only have memories of a happy childhood and no regrets. She at least hoped.

She suddenly felt another little flutter inside her, as if the baby wanted to encourage her. Hazelyn glanced down at her belly. "You must be a little witch or sorcerer. You make me ache all over and have given me swollen ankles. You're making me fat, and keep me awake with the foulest dreams. Sometimes, I hope you endure such torment when your own children come." Another flutter, and a smile came. "Yet one little kick makes me melt. Gods, you're going to be a handful."

She leaned against the back of the tub and closed her eyes. She just wanted to sleep, but those weird dreams... The nightmares about her father and the bastard had stopped when she told Robb about them and made sense of them. Perhaps if she could recall what these dreams were about and put them in perspective, they'd stop too.

Breathing deep and relaxing her body, she tried to pull the images to the forefront of her mind. She saw light, and heard whispers? No, someone talking, in a language harsher and more guttural than the Common Tongue. Yet, they spoke tenderly, and she felt a sudden warmth in her chest at the words she didn't understand. She remembered snow, and ice, lots of snow and ice. And a hot spring. Lights in a dark sky. Pale fingers braced against stone, heat and pleasure. Then total darkness, fear, pain, terrible pain, cold, then...anger, and eyes of... brown? No, grey? Green? No. Bright and glowing sapphire, and gold... Cruel gold-

"Hazelyn! Gods be good!" Hazelyn cried out in surprise when she was suddenly scooped from the water, dripping and as naked as her name day. Blinking as she came back to reality, she found herself in the arms of a frantic Robb.

"What are you doing!?" She exclaimed in annoyance.

"Seeing that my wife and child don't die of cold!" He snapped, a scowl on his face..

"What are you talking about?" Hazelyn frowned as he sat her down on the bed.

Robb snatched one of the towels Myna had set out on her vanity, and started drying her off. "It's colder in here than beyond the Wall!" he shot back.

Hazelyn tried scoot away from him, pouting. "Robb, you're being ridiculous! Its just a little cool. It won't kill the baby or me"

Robb looked incredulously at her. Shaking his head, he wrapped one their bed furs around her and then walked over to opposite side of the room to shudder the windows. Shutting them with more force than Hazelyn thought necessary, he then pointed at the tub. "Cool weather doesn't make water freeze."

Hazelyn leaned forward and squinted to see what he was gesturing at. Her eyes widened when she saw a small bit of frost on the copper rim. "But," she faltered, "It didn't feel that cold." She would have known if it was that cold.

"It doesn't matter," Robb shook his head emphatically as he busily moved about, trying to start a fire in the hearth. Hazelyn sat there awkwardly as he arranged the wood and struck the flint, all with that unpleasant "Stark scowl" on his face. Once the flames flickered to life, he turned back towards her, his hard expression softening only a little as his studied her critically. Grabbing her robe from a nearby chair, he offered it her. "Here, put it on."

"Fine, my lord," she replied in irritation at his gross over reaction, standing up to put on the garment. After she tied it shut, she glanced up at Robb with pursed lips. "See? All better," she gestured flippantly over her body. She huffed and headed to her vanity. She plopped into the seat, trying not to cringe at the pain that shot up back. She reached of for her hair brush but a hand on her knee stopped her.

Robb kneeled down in front of her, his blue eyes filled with worry. "Are you alright? Do you need anything?"

Hazelyn's annoyance faltered at his fearful expression. She had planned to give him the silent treatment for a few hours, but gods, those eyes of his. "Yes," she sighed heavily, gripping his hand firmly. "We both are," She guided their linked fingers to rest over her bump. Like every other time he touched her belly, the corners of Robb's mouth tuned up into a grin.

Hazelyn had grown annoyed at how protective he'd become over the past few moons, especially since she'd started showing. His mother hadn't lied when she said he'd become overprotective. But just like the baby with their little kick, one smile from him made her heart melt and any remaining irritation she harbored towards him fell away. Smiling, she rubbed his hand and murmured, "I'm sorry if I scared you. I dozed off and just didn't realize how much the temperature had dropped."

Robb's smile faltered as he glanced up at her, his cheeks flushing. "I might of overreacted a little bit. It's just," he stared at her bump. "I came in here and it was freezing. I could see my own breath. Then I saw you asleep in the tub, and the water felt like ice. I was afraid you had fainted, or... I don't know. I just don't want anything to happen to you or our babe." He rubbed his thumb against her stomach. "Are you not sleeping well still? You look tired. Did the draught Maester Luwin give you not help?"

Hazelyn glanced into the looking glass on her vanity morosely. Her brown hair had tangles and snags, and she had dark circles under her eyes. She looked horrible. She shook her head. "Not very much. I keep having those odd dreams. That's why I dozed off. I thought if I could remember what they were, I might rest better."

Robb looked at her thoughtfully. "Did you?"

Hazelyn shrugged. "I saw parts, but I couldn't make sense of any of it. The dreams don't even particularly frighten me, but it all feels off. It might just an effect of the pregnancy though."

Robb gently rubbed her belly, "I think you should talk to Luwin again. Maybe he'll know what's causing it, and be able to give a something little stronger for sleep. "

"I suppose," Hazelyn nodded, though she still didn't feel a stronger potion was the answer. She'd never had such strange dreams, and she didn't think she'd rest easy until she knew what they meant. But Robb was right. Maester Luwin was the smartest and most learned man in Winterfell, and he had taught her well while Catelyn has still rejected her. If anyone could help her make sense of it all, it was him. "I'll go see him soon."

"Good," Robb sighed in relief and then leaned up to kiss her, his fingers still splayed on her stomach. Hazelyn closed her eyes and smiled as she ran her hand through his curls, giggling when she felt the babe make a strong flutter inside her, like he approved of his parent's affection.

Robb drew back, his eyes wide. "What was that?"

"What?" Hazelyn asked in confusion.

Her husband stared at her bump and pressed his palm more firmly against it "Didn't you feel it? It felt like a tiny push or nudge!" He exclaimed

Hazelyn's brows raised. "You felt that?"

"Was it the baby, you think?" Robb's expression grew eager.

Hazelyn bit her lip to hold back a smile. "I know it was. I've felt him moving for a fortnight. I think you're the first to feel him through the skin though."

"You already felt her moving and didn't tell me!?" Robb moved his hand frantically around her belly as she laughed.

"I didn't want you constantly doing this until I was sure you'd feel him too."

Robb didn't even seem to be listening as he focused on her stomach. He pulled her robe apart splayed both hands on her bare skin. "Come on, pup, give me just one more nudge," he pleaded.

"Don't tell our child to kick me!" Hazelyn chuckled.

"You've felt her move for weeks," Robb retorted fondly. "I just want to feel her one more time now that I know...There!" He exclaimed excitedly as Hazelyn felt another flutter.

She placed her hand next to his and gasped when she felt a nudge. "It feels so different through the skin."

Robb only laughed in reply as he felt yet another nudge. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to her stomach. "Thank you, pup." He then looked up at Hazelyn, his grin brighter then she'd ever seen it and his blue eyes filled with joy. "That's our baby, Hazel!" He laughed. He stood, pulled her up with him, and kissed her firmly.

When they pulled managed to separate, they rested their foreheads together. Hazelyn smiled. "This is really happening isn't it? We're going to be parents."

Robb grinned like a fool. "Aye, we're going to be parents." That statement scared and amazed Hazelyn at the same time. Everything about this moment was perfect, nestled away with a man she loved, in a place she'd come to see as a true home, with a babe kicking her stomach that she was starting to love too. But she worried, they lived in a shit world and nothing could stay perfect forever. She worried she would ruin this, that she would fail Robb or their child, hurt them in some way, or that something else horrible would happen.

That's why she needed to get rid of her odd dreams. Whatever they were, they carried a sense of foreboding, anger, and grief. She had to figure them out so she could cast them from her mind and fully enjoy all the love and happiness in her life before it inevitably was snatched away.

The arrow hissed through the air and hit its target spot on. "And that," Myna smirked, "Is how you win a bet." She savored the feeling of Jon's shocked stare on her as she rose from the ground and brushed off her skirts. It filled her with a silly feeling of glee to see the expression of awe on his handsome face, to know that she had impressed this solemn young man.

Slinging her bow over her shoulder, she grinned at Jon, his dark brows furrowed in a perplexed expression. "We best get my kill before crows feast on it. You can carry the food and game since I won." She turned dramatically, flipping her golden braid over her shoulder, and trounced off without even waiting for him. The smile stayed fixed on her face as she searched through the foliage for her kill, listening to his heavy tread behind her.

When she found the hare, she picked it up by the ears and yanked her arrow out. "Biggest one yet today," she exclaimed, studying the fat, black rabbit with pride. "And my fourth kill to your third. What did you say again?" She lowered her voice to mock Jon, "'I've never heard of a girl that could hunt better than a man.'"

"I didn't mean it like that," Jon grumbled as he held out the game sack, though the corner of his mouth was raised.

"Oh I know," Myna rolled her eyes in an exaggerated fashion and dropped the hare into the bag. "You're far too honorable to ever offend a lady." She then leaned in and kissed his cheek. She laughed when he turned red, as if they hadn't been locking lips for moons now. "Come on, let's go eat that food I nabbed from the kitchens before we head back to keep."

Jon and she walked in pleasant silence to the edge of the godswood and settled on the banks of his hidden spring to eat. Really, their spring, now that she thought about it. Myna smiled contently at the thought as she sat down on the pelt Jon had spread and grabbed a roll from the sack. They had come here a lot over the past few months when they wanted privacy. It beat her quarters, right down the hall from Lady Catelyn's maid and the pious Septa Mordane, and his chambers, where Arya, Bran, Rickon and Robb had all almost caught them at least once. Here they could be more relaxed, and louder.

Myna's smile turned into a wicked smirk as she recalled some of the noises she'd forced out of Jon. He had to be one of the most disciplined lads she knew, but he was still a man. A very honorable, kind, caring, brooding, serious, man, but still a man, and she knew men well. While she may not have let them bed her, she'd done other things with lads, and even handled a few cocks. She didn't feel ashamed to have done it, even had enjoyed making them shout, but she'd never cared about them that much, not like she did about Jon. They hadn't gone too far, but she found that she wanted to do more with him.

"You look awfully pleased with yourself," Jon leaned back on the pelt as he bit into a plum.

Myna turned to him and smiled. "I won our bet," she shrugged, "And I like winning."

"What did you win exactly?" Jon asked her dryly.

"Hmmm..." Myna hummed as she laid on her back and tucked an arm behind her head. "What should I demand from you as my prize? It needs to be something good..." She taunted. She ate the last bit of her roll and chewed it slowly, staring above where a slight breeze rustled the leaves of the godwood's green canopy to reveal patches of light blue sky.

"If you can't think of something," Myna glanced towards Jon as she felt his fingers play with the end of her braid. "I have an idea."

"And what would that be?" She asked.

Jon grasped her shoulder and pulled her back upright. "This," he mumbled before kissing her gently.

Myna breathed deeply through her nose as she scooted closer to him. Jon had this smokey sort of scent that she loved, and gods, he had hair that any girl would die for. She grasped a handful of the soft black curls as he pulled her onto his lap.

As her pulse sped up, she experienced a thrilling rush of warmth and pleasure. Feeling bold, she swung one of her legs over Jon's thighs and straddled him. He drew back, his brown eyes wide in surprise. Myna simply grinned at him before attacking his lips again. She let out a mewl of excitement when he responded, threading his fingers through pieces of her braid and pulling hair loose. She rested one hand on the side of his neck while her other rubbed up and down the taught muscles of his torso. She didn't think they had ever gotten this far, and the fact that Jon had allowed it filled her with an unexpected amount of joy. She really hadn't ever cared this much about the men she'd kissed or felt as happy or at home as she did with him.

Despite all that, Myna was careful even as their kissing grew more passionate to not move her hips against his. She was smart enough to know she shouldn't push him too far in a single encounter, and she didn't want this one to end anytime soon. So it certainly surprised her when Jon ground up against her. The sudden heated sensation made her whimper. And Jon froze. Damn.

Panting hard, the young man removed her from his lap and turned away, gripping his hair in his hands like he was going insane.

She knew it was probably pointless to ask, but she did anyway. "Jon, why do you always do that?"

Jon turned back towards her, a tight frown and panicked look in his dark brown eyes. "You know why."

But did she really know? Yes, Jon didn't want to risk taking her maidenhood and getting her with a bastard child, she knew. But why? Was it because he wanted to waited for the proper time or because he was going to leave her? Up until now, they'd avoided the topic, but after almost four moons of doing this, that needed to change.

"Because you're practicing celibacy for your beloved Night's Watch?" she snapped.

Jon turned back towards her, scowling and flushed. "What?"

Myna internally grimaced. Why did she always have to run her mouth? Gods. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I-"

"What did mean you it like then?" He narrowed his eyes at her. "It's a great honor to join the Night's Watch, and good path for someone like me."

"Someone like you? You mean a bastard?" Myna could see the angry spark ignite in Jon's eyes when she uttered the word, but her own anger was already a steady flame. "Jon, being a bastard isn't a crime. You don't need to punish yourself because people like your she beast stepmother act like pricks." Jon cringed at the mention of his stepmother, and almost immediately Myna's anger dimmed into guilt. Damn her mouth. He didn't need her to punish him too, when he'd had to endure years of isolation, prejudice, and scorn that she had gotten spared from.

Sighing, she laid a hand on Jon's shoulder. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said it that way. I just... I just want to understand." Jon turned his head to look at her. Myna frowned at him pleadingly.

"What do you want me to explain?" He asked quietly.

Myna tried to be gentle. "What is for you at the Wall?" She made sure this time that her tone carried no malice, but the genuine curiosity in her voice set Jon's jaw on edge. She fiddled with her necklace, almost hesitant to continue. She wasn't foolish, she knew that life at the Wall would be filled with more honor and opportunity than would be offered to him as just the bastard born son of a lord. If he was lucky, Robb might find a place for him as a guardsmen, and someday he might be able to work his way up to captain. But people were cruel to bastards, a fact he'd known since he was old enough to know what 'bastard' meant. But Myna pushed on, her reasons sprouting up like weeds in a garden. "Besides a cold bed and company with Westeros' criminals? Besides the threat of malformed wildlings, and vows that deny you any of life's godsgiven rights?"

"Having a wife, and child isn't a right," Jon countered levelly. "It's a responsibility, a vow to protect them from any harm that may befall them, be it a threat from enemies or starvation. Any man who can't keep those simple promises ought to do the world a favor and keep to their own company."

Myna huffed in frustration. He didn't get it, did he? There were other life paths a man of Jon's standing could take besides the Night's Watch, even if he didn't have wealth or lands or titles! She'd told him multiple times, but he was too stubbornly blind to see that one path might very well be sitting right in front of him! Truly, if he was not again denying her, she might have admired his resolve, his honor. But that damned honor of his is what kept his heart from hers! She then decided, it was time to make this blind man see clearly, and she would make sure he wouldn't look away.

She took a step back, feeling almost in a dream as she began to speak, her voice soft and lilting. "A union between a man and a woman is an equal commitment, Jon." Her fingers reached for the laces at of her dress, running down the front to her waist. She pulled the tie, watching as Jon's eyes followed the motion. "A woman protects her husband just as much as he shields her." The tie went slack. "The talk, the whispers..." she started to pull her bodice apart, revealing her dull shift.

"Myna, what are you-?" he did his best to come across as firm and forceful, but it came out more a strangled croak.

"...a woman defends him. She stands with him, and together," she shrugged out of the dress, letting it pool on the ground. "A life is built," She finished firmly.

Jon fidgeted nervously, appearing uncertain of what she expected of him now that she was down to her under garments. Before he could think, she turned and took a running leap into the hot spring.

The glorious sensation of warmth washed over her as she crashed under the water. She smiled as she came back up for air, shaking her head to let the last bits of her half untangled braid come free. She blinked to clear eyes and then laughed at the site of Jon gawking at her on the bank. "Care to join me? It's warm." She called as she treaded water.

"Myna, this is a bad idea," He shook his head.

"No, its fun," Myna corrected. "And its my prize."

"But I already-"

"That was your suggestion. It was lovely, but not what I want for my prize. My prize is you swimming with me in this spring. So if you're a man of your word, you'll join me."

A moment later, another loud splash sounded throughout the clearing as Jon, stripped down to his breaches, dove in after her. She cackled triumphantly, for despite his faults and quirks, Jon Snow was a man of his word.

Putting all serious thoughts, she dove under the water and went straight for Jon's legs. Yelping in surprise when something grabbed his ankle, Jon reached down and pulled Myna up to the surface, and of course that resulted in a huge splash of water to his face. Thus the splash war began. The laughing and shrieking and growling that came from the clearing might have made an unknowing passbyer think ghosts haunted the wood. It felt to Myna as if she was a girl of five again, splashing Zel and Darren in the Weeping Water, in a simpler, happier time, when she still had her mother and innocence.

"Enough, you wildling!" Jon laughed as he seized her around the waist.

"I'll never give in to defeat!" Myna loudly declared before throwing water back into his face.

Grinning wolvishly, Jon growled, "You will." Myna shrieked as he easily tossed her over his shoulder. "I'll see to it," he stated in a grim voice as he began hauling her towards the bank. Myna was laughing so hard, she could barely breath. Instinctively, she clutched at her chest, her fingers reaching out to grip her necklace, but she felt no chain.

She paused. Her eyes wide horror, she glanced down at her neck, only to see pale, wet skin.

"Jon, put me down," she commanded.

Jon placed her back on her feet in the shallows. "What's wrong?" He asked concern. "Did I hurt you?"

Myna ignored him, clutching at her bare neck as her eyes scanned the water frantically. "Where is it?" She mumbled to herself. "Where is it?" Desperation seizing her, she waded out towards the center of the spring again and then dove under water. Her eyes swept over then murky bottom, searching for a golden glint in the muck. Only the need to breath forced her back to the surface.

"Shit!" She cursed loudly. "Where is it?" Her heart raced in panic.

"Where is what?" Jon laid a hand on her arm.

Myna jerked away from him. "My necklace!" She faced him, her eyes filling with tears. She started breathing faster.

Jon frowned. "It was a bear wasn't it? I'm sure you find one in the market that's similar. Hazel could help," he flushed, "Or I could -"

"No!" Myna exclaimed. Angry tears flowed down her already red cheeks. "You don't understand! It was my mother's! It's all I have left of her!" She tore away towards the bank. "She always wore it! All my memories of her, she was wearing it! I can't lose it!" She yanked at her blonde hair as she stepped out of the water, her fingers feeling utterly empty without the pendant to toy with. "I have to find it! Even if I have to stay out here all fucking night! I-"

"Is this it?" Myna turned to see Jon crouching in the grass near her discarded dress, and on his fingers, hung a delicate chain of gold with a tiny charm that twinkled in a stray ray of sunlight. "Must've fallen off before you got in the water."

Myna gasped, relief flooding through her along with an intense affection for the young man before her. She ran over to him as he stood up and almost knocked him off balance as she embraced him. "Thank you!" She murmured as she burrowed her head into his shoulder. Drawing back, she grinned at him, but then frowned when she saw him squinting at the necklace. "What is it?" She asked as she took it from him.

"I don't know," Jon said, frowning while she secured the chain around her neck. He scratched his chin in thought, "It's just the charm on the necklace, it's familiar. I think I might have seen -" He paused when realization entered his eyes. "Didn't you say your father gave it your mother? That he was a merchant from the Reach?"

Myna's stomach dropped, she didn't like where this conversation was going. "Aye," she replied curtly, covering the bear charm in an almost defensive manner .

"Are you sure that he was?" Jon questioned. "Because the charm on your necklace looks like-"

"I don't want to know!" Myna snapped. She glared at him and took a step away. "It's all in the past, so there's no use talking about it."

Jon scowled at her sudden outburst, his dark brows lowered severely. "Why are you so angry? Don't you want to know about your father or where you came from? I would give anything just to know a little about my mother-"

"I don't care about my bloody father, and you shouldn't about your mother! They didn't raise us. They never kissed us when we fell ill, or picked us up when we cried!" Myna shouted, pausing a beat to set her jaw. "Has she ever once sent you a letter or shown up to claim you Jon? Has she had any impact on your life, other then tormenting you by her absence and always making you wonder if the reason she's not here now, is either because she didn't want you or if your father's so cruel as to take a babe away from his mother? Well, I am not going to waste my time wondering about a man who has never been or ever will be a part of my life! I do the smart thing and focus on my future and the people that are here now. Maybe if you did the same, you wouldn't always be so damn miserable!"

Jon just stared at her, his entire face slack, but then his jaw tensed and his brow furrowed. He narrowed his eyes and shifted his stance. Myna immediately regretted what she said. What exactly had her words accomplished? Only antagonizing him and almost exposing her secret. "I'm sorry," she fiddled with her bear pendant. "That crossed the line."

"Aye, it did," the young man sneered, his dark brown eyes lit with fury.

Myna swallowed and took a step towards him. "I shouldn't...I shouldn't have said that. It's-It's understandable that you'd want to know about your mother. I just..." She paused and shook her head. "I know that my father will never be a part of my life, and thinking of all that he missed... It hurts too much, so I try not dwell on it. And I know you never made me any promises about the future. I pushed you into whatever we have in the first place..." She pursed her lips. "Perhaps it's better to just focus on the present for now," She offered her hand to Jon, but he made no move to take it.

Myna's belly ached at his rejection, so with a heavy sigh, she withdrew and turned away. "I'm going to head back then. I have things I need to do for Zel."

She shrieked when he suddenly swept her off her feet.

"No, right now, I'm going to make you admit defeat," Jon growled, the barest of smiles on his face. Myna grinned at him in relief and managed to give him quick peck on the lips before he tossed her back into the hot spring and jumped in after her. As the splash war commenced again, Myna began to realize that she might just be in love with Jon Snow, but if she wanted a future with him, she might have to tell him a secret that she'd promised never to tell.

"You and your child are in perfect health, my lady," Maester Luwin declared with a small smile, pouring the little clay cup of urine into the chamber pot. Hazelyn had long since relinquished her embarrassment about these things with Maester Luwin. It was nothing the old man hadn't seen a thousand times over, and it eased her mind to know that but six years ago, Lady Catelyn had been in her exact place with little Rickon.

"That's good to hear," she nodded as she sat up. "How far along do you think I am now?"

The grey haired man looked down at her swollen stomach thoughtfully. "I would say that you're a little over five moons, and have about four more until the babe arrives."

"Good," the young noblewoman grunted as she slid down from the maester's exam table. She sighed as she smoothed her grey dress back down over the swell of her belly. "Between this babe's fondness of keeping me awake and their overprotective father, I don't know if I'd last much longer than that."

Luwin frowned, his brows knitting together. "Is the child still keeping you up at night, my lady? The essence of nightshade I gave you isn't working?"

Hazelyn paused, wondering if this was the time to bring it up. Perhaps it was. "Well, I actually don't know if it's the baby per say."

"Is something else troubling you?" Luwin asked.

Hazelyn bit her lip before she nodded. "Aye. I've been having unsettling...dreams. All I can remember is jumble of images really, and I don't know what to make of them. Could the pregnancy cause them?"

Luwin nodded thoughtfully. "It's not unknown for a woman with child to have strange dreams due to stress and unbalanced humors."

Hazelyn looked down at the ground self-consciously. She had felt enough like a fool when she talked to her own husband about this. She'd surely sound mad to the wise and logical maester. But something in the back of her mind told her if she could just find out what fear was causing these dreams, that she could overcome it, just like with the ones about her father and his bastard.

"I think stress might be causing them. But I don't know what about. I've been as happy and at ease as I ever have been."

"Well, first time mothers are often anxious about the change that occurs once the babe is born," Maester Luwin supplied. That sounded perfectly logical, and yet it did not strike a cord within Hazelyn.

"No, isn't like that," she explained. "I don't think it is. Can you please help me find out what it is; I need my sleep."

The old man frowned in concern at her. "What do you recall about the dreams?"

Hazelyn clenched her eyes shut to focus. "Bright light, and deep darkness. Some sort of rough speech not from the common tongue. And...there are all these feelings.Anger, loss, grief, pain. A lot of snow and ice, a wolf howling, cold, and eyes." She opened her eyes and shivered. "Sapphire eyes and gold eyes," she finished and then waited with baited breath.

Luwin rubbed his chin in contemplation and after a moment of silence said, "Sometimes fears can manifest in strange ways when a person dreams. And with the hardships you've told me your mother had with childbearing, you might still fear the losing your babe in the child bed, or during their first winter.

But with as young and healthy as you are, I don't foresee you having difficulty delivering the child, and I have delivered quite few babes, so I can help you if any do arise. And Winterfell is probably the safest place to ride out a Northern winter. With the hot springs warming the castle and the amount of food the Starks store, the child will thrive even during the darkest and coldest nights."

Hazelyn played with her skirt anxiously. His reasoning seemed sound, but that couldn't be it. She still worried about the birth, but it didn't terrify her anymore. Pain didn't frighten her, for what pain from the birth of a child could possibly compare to the pain she'd suffered under her father and his bastard, a pain that had been intended to destroy her? At least in the birthing bed, once the pain was done, she'd have her baby.

She didn't fear the winter or the cold it brought with it either, not like Robb or the rest of the Starks did. She'd always loved and welcomed it. She somehow knew her child would too. It had to be something else. "Perhaps," she said slowly, "But... the eyes."

"What about eyes?" Maester Luwin tilted his head.

"I always see blue and gold eyes. They frighten me. I've never known anyone with golden eyes, or seen blue eyes so bright, dark... And cold." She looked at the maester, pleading with him silently to give her an answer.

"I don't know my lady," Luwin shook his head. "But I can assure that you have nothing worry about, really. You're in perfect condition to birth a child, and Robb would sooner bleed himself than let any harm come to you. You're in good hands here at Winterfell. The Starks care for their pack." He gave Hazelyn a grandfatherly smile. "Let me fix you some wine with a bit sweet sleep in it. I promise just a sip each night will give you a deep and dreamless sleep."

Hazelyn accepted the concoction with thanks, but ended up leaving the maester's tower more confused and worried than when she entered. She trudged into her chamber with an unhappy scowl on her face. Was it too much to ask that she get just one decent night of sleep, not haunted by one terror or another?!

"You look rather put out." Hazelyn glanced up to see Myna sitting on a stool by her bed, one of her dresses and a needle in hand, and a few more piled on the mattress. "Did Maester Luwin say there was something wrong with the little wolf?" The maid inquired.

"Myna, I'm not birthing an animal, and can you please not ask me 'How are you'? I'm not made of glass, even if everyone thinks I am, p" Hazelyn snapped.

Myna raised a brow. "I don't think that. I know very well you're made of flesh and bone, and that you can act like a bitch at times, like now."

Hazelyn glared at her. "I'm not a-"

"I said 'like' a bitch, not that you are one," Myna shrugged as she began to mend the dress in her hands again. She then looked pointedly at Hazelyn. "Now why don't you have a seat and help me finish mending the dresses your husband keeps ripping, so you can tell me what's put you in such a fowl mood."

Hazelyn paled and her eyes widened. "He doesn't rip them. I-"

"Don't even start," Myna dead panned. "He's mad for you, and half time I see you two together, you're practically eye fucking each other. You can't keep secrets from me."

"Gods, sometimes I wonder why I put up with such a fowl mouthed maid," Hazelyn groaned as she plopped down on her bed and grabbed a dress from the pile.

"Because I'm the only one with the ability to snap you out of your sulking, and I have the tavern dancing story to black mail you with," Myna smirked as she handed Hazelyn a needle and thread.

Hazelyn glowered at her as she threaded her needle. "That wasn't my fault. You set me up. You and Darren both."

"Precisely, my scheme went perfectly to plan," the maid grinned evilly.

Hazelyn dropped her dress on her lap as a laugh burst from her chest. Myan's mouth trembled as she started to laugh too.

"Now that you're not acting so fowl, tell me what happened," the maid said once she got her breath back.

"Maester Luwin said I was healthy," Hazelyn glanced over at the new vile she'd put on her vanity. "But when I told him about my dreams, he just said it was stress and gave me another bloody sleeping potion."

"What were you expecting to hear from him?" Myna asked.

"I don't know," Hazelyn raised her hands helplessly. "I just need to know what the dreams mean, where my mind is conjuring all this up from. It's the eyes, the sapphire and gold ones. They won't leave my head. And the voice, I don't even understand what it's saying but it makes me feel...different."

"Sapphire eyes... Maybe you're seeing ice dragons in your dreams, or white walkers," Myna pondered with a curious expression.

Hazelyn blinked in confusion. "Ice dragons and white walkers? Where are you getting that?"

"From you," Myna answered. "In our games as children, in the stories you'd tell, you always brought one of them up. You've always been obsessed with those legends. You always said they had sapphire eyes like Simeon Star Eyes and the ice dragon star."

Hazelyn frowned at the realization. "You're right I think. But why would I be dreaming about our childhood games? And what does the rest mean?"

Myna shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe we could dig some old story books out of the library and find out. All this might simply be that overactive imagination of yours combining fears with childhood memories."

"Alright," Hazelyn agreed, still a little confused. "Its better than nothing I guess."

"I'll ask Jon to help me find some books in the library when I see him tonight," Myna offered.

Hazelyn grinned. "Again tonight? You two are nearly inseparable these days."

"Yes, tonight," Myna sniped. "I'll set out everything you need for bed before you retire, because I'd rather be spending time with Jon then walking in on you and your husband already half undressed or him already inside you." She made a small gagging noise.

Hazelyn's cheeks turned turned red, but she ignored her friend's words. "Myna, what's really going on with Jon?" She asked with a frown. "I know you two enjoy...spendingtime together, but where are you heading with this? I don't mean to pry but your both family to me, and I don't want to see either of you hurt."

Hazelyn had been surprised at first when Myna had told her about her fondness for Jon. They seemed so different on the surface. But once she'd given it some thought, she had seen why they'd be drawn towards one another. Both of them were the closest friend and companion to a high born, right at edge of that world, but never able to be a part of it, even though both had noble blood. They could understand each other in a way not many others could. And both were good people who'd been hurt in the past, that deserved someone to make them happy. But she didn't want their own insecurities to break the other.

Myna stared at her, her perpetual smirk gone and her flickering brown eyes dimmed. She reached up to fiddle with her necklace, and Hazelyn saw the insecure girl that Myna hid from most come out. "I won't hurt him," she said quietly. "I don't want to hurt him, Zel. He's..he's... I really care for him. I have for awhile."

"But where is it going Myna?" Hazelyn urged. She shouldn't push, but she knew neither Jon nor Myna were the type to carry on an intimate affair for this long without it meaning anything.

Myna's amber eyes glinted. "He hasn't bedded me, if that's what you're worried about. I wouldn't just let him do that."

"Aye," Hazelyn narrowed her grey eyes in a skeptical gaze. "But neither of you are Theon Greyjoy. For this to have gone on for moons, its serious."

Myna's cheeks flushed as she scowled, crossing her arms defensively. "You think I haven't asked him what he wants!? I can't just come out and ask when he's planning to marry me, Zel! I've asked him about the fucking Watch and he never wants to talk about it."

"You want to marry Jon?" Hazelyn's eyes widened.

The more Myna said, the more she saw a familiar situation forming. Hadn't she and Robb been in a similar spot just a few moons back? She glanced down at her now prominently rounded stomach, amazed how fast life could change, thankful it had changed in such a positive way for her. But had her hand not been forced, she might have still not had the courage to marry Robb, even now. Neither Myna or Jon would have anyone forcing them to make a choice, and that might end up hurting them both terribly.

"I didn't say that," Myna snapped. She fiddled with her necklace and looked away. "But I think..." she swallowed hard and then continued in little more than a whisper, "I think I might actually love him, as stupid as it might sound. But I can't even think about marriage if I don't know how he really feels about me." A look of genuine fear filled her eyes. "I'm scared to ask. He's so hesitant to say anything about the Night's Watch when I'm around, like he's afraid I won't like what he'll say. But if he's still so set on running off to the Wall, maybe I don't need to ask. Maybe I should just cut my losses," she said bitterly.

A surge of protectiveness went through Hazelyn. Myna was the girl whom had always saved her from herself and talked sense into her before she did something stupid. No way was Hazelyn going to let Myna hurt herself and Jon now. "No you shouldn't," she seized her friend's hand.

The blonde maid looked at her in surprise. "Why not?"

"Myna, Jon's wanted to join the Night's Watch his whole life. Robb hardly believed me when I told him about you two, because his brother never even kissed a girl before you. The fact that he's been carrying on with you for this long, and that he can't openly talk about the Night's Watch anymore, means that you matter a lot to him. He can't even tell his brother anymore that he's going to the Wall. You've made him question the path he's been on his whole life. Maybe if you tell him you love him, that'll be enough for him to stay at least."

"But that also means I'll have to tell him about the other thing."


"I'll have to tell him about my father. He's asked before and I've shut him down. He won't talk about the Night's Watch it I don't tell him the truth. But then he won't want anything to do with me," Myna whispered as she clutched her necklace.

Hazelyn tilted her head. "He's been one his whole life. He of all people wouldn't hold that against you." If he could do that to Myna, Hazelyn didn't think she'd ever look at him the same.

Myna let out a hollow chuckle. "But he hates that about himself. He goes on and on sometimes about how horrid it is being a Snow, that's why he wants to join the Night's Watch and never wanted to get close to a girl. He didn't want her to be labeled as the wife of a bastard or to pass his bastard name to their children, even if they were legitimate." Her eyes started to water, but she didn't remove her gaze from Hazelyn's. "Do you really think he'd want his children to have a bastard for a mother!? And if I ask him to not tell anyone, he'll resent me and think me a craven for hiding who I am." She cast her eyes to the ground, glossy with unshed tears.

"Myna," Hazelyn gripped her friend's shoulder. The other girl looked at her hesitantly. "Tell him the truth. About how you feel, about your father, everything. If you show him you're willing to bare yourself to him, he'll open up to you. I know it. These Stark men, they value honesty almost as much as their blasted honor. So if you want an answer, give him an answer. And if he's still to craven to give you one, and I doubt he is, then he's not a man worthy you."

Myna wiped her nose and smiled slightly. "What 's happened to us? I'm supposed to be the one giving brilliant advice to you, not the other way around," she joked.

Hazelyn grinned as she rolled her eyes. "Pardon me, but I'm the brilliant one of the two of us, so I would of course give brilliant advice. And I can tell you how to tame your wolf, because I already tamed mine."

Myna snorted. "Really?" She held up Hazelyn's torn dress. "Because he seems pretty damn wild still to me."

"Shut up!" Hazelyn laughed as she shoved Myna. The blonde maid simply grinned in response.

A breeze, suddenly, rattled the shutters, but the icy chill of the northern air didn't draw the notice of the two young women at all. Yet farther north, in freezing lands most men had never even looked upon, a force beyond their reckoning stirred up more unrest, and for the first time in a thousand years, a direwolf made her way south of the Wall, desperate to find a place safe enough to birth her litter. A warm den that was not invaded every night by icy creatures reeking of death. She would not let the cold ones claim her pups.

And to the south, hidden troubles brewed as well. In a keep of red stone, a traitor slipped poison into the Hand's cup. Winter was coming, and a game of thrones was about to begin...