Robb knows he should be ecstatic right now. Joffrey is dead, his head upon a pike above the Red Keep; Jaime and Cersei Lannister have gone into exile with the younger children, and Lord Tyrion is instilled as Lord of Casterly Rock following the death of his father. Stannis has been slain on the battlefield by Loras Tyrell, and Renly – King Renly now – has agreed to the North becoming its own independent country. Sansa is safe with them, Bran and Rickon are safely held at Winterfell, and Arya has appeared at Riverrun with two other survivors of the massacre upon the Night's Watch recruits. House Stark is as whole as it can ever be again, and Robb knows this war has ended far more favorably than anyone ever imagined.
But all he can think of as Renly lays out the peace terms he'd like between the North and the remaining six kingdoms, is Dacey.
The rest of his advisers are present in the throne room – the Greatjon, Maege Mormont, his uncle Edmure, his mother, Lords Glover and Manderly – but Dacey is nowhere to be seen. When he left her earlier in the morning, she was still asleep, lying face down upon her pillow, dark hair scattered across her back, the furs pushed down to leave her bare; she cannot abide being warm, and it never fails to make Robb laugh as she complains about the “damned Southron weather.” He wonders if she is still in his chamber or has returned to hers; though it is no secret amongst his men that Dacey shares his bed, both actively work to make sure his lady mother remains unaware. It is only now, with Catelyn Stark staying with Sansa in the Tower of the Hand that they indulge in spending full nights together.
Robb adores waking up to her, their limbs entangled, Dacey whimpering in protest when she has to wake with little sleep. He could certainly grow used to it.
And yet he knows he can't, not with Walder Frey sending raven after raven wanting to know when he will wed his daughter Roslin.
By the time he and Renly have reached an accord, Robb is impatient to find Dacey. She is not in his chamber or hers, and, when he asks Sansa if she has seen her, Sansa mentions seeing her visiting the maester. Concerned, Robb returns to her chamber to find Dacey shaking some powdered concoction from a sachet into warm tea.
“Are you ill?” he asks instantly, crossing the room to cup her face, to brush a soft kiss against her cheekbone. It has been nearly a year since they first marched from Winterfell, and they have been lovers for nearly as long; it bothers him to think he has missed some sign of sickness, that he has been too involved in matters of state to recognize Dacey is unwell.
“Sansa says you went to the maester. Do you have a fever or - “
“No, no fever.” Dacey slips from his arms, crosses to the window and pushes it open. Robb can smell the salt from Blackwater Bay, hear shouts of the smallfolk and merchants; he longs for sweet stillness of Winterfell.
“Then what is it?”
Her back is to him, and he can read the tension in her shoulders; it is the way she stands before a battle, when she is anticipating a fight. “I have not bled for two moons. I vomited this morning. I saw the maester for tea.”
Robb jolts at her answer, looking down at the seemingly harmless cup on the table. He has heard of moon tea, of course; there is an old woman at Winterfell who sells it, and Robb has heard Theon sing the woman's praises a thousand times. When he and Dacey first started lying together, she refused to let him finish inside her until she could gather the herbs necessary to brew it; all he knew is one night she stopped making him spill on her stomach, and Robb never considered the specifics again.
Now, as he stares down at the concoction in the cup, comprehends the words Dacey has just said, all Robb can consider is the specifics of this situation.
Anger begins to burn in his chest. “If I had not come in when I did, would you have told me?”
“I didn't have to tell you now,” Dacey retorts, keeping her back to him as she gazes out upon the bay. “I could have drunk the tea, and you never would have been the wiser.”
“Why are you telling me then?”
She shrugs. “Because I can't be bedded for a fortnight after I take it, and you would've gotten suspicious if I stopped coming to your bed.”
Robb does not think, his frustration exploding from his body as he swipes the cup from the table, sending the tea to the floor, the mug shattering. Dacey turns and flatly drawls, “That was uncalled for.”
“Uncalled for?” he echoes, disbelief thickening his voice. “You are going to cast out our child - “
“I can't wait much longer or I could die,” Dacey interrupts, practical as ever. “It's a messy business, and after the third moon, the amount of tansy I'd need could make me bleed too much or ruin my body. It will be better to do it now and be done with it.”
“Be done with it? Be done with it?! How can you say that?”
Dacey crosses her arms over her chest, her pretty face revealing nothing. “I am a soldier, Robb, and one cannot be a soldier when their belly sticks out past their feet. War is no place for a child.”
“The war is over.”
“The fighting is over, but you have to rebuild lands ravished by war; you have to teach your bride about her people, and you have to do so as the first King of Winter in 300 years. This is no time for a child to be born.”
“I was born in a war,” he argues.
“Yes, you were, to a proper lady who stayed inside castle walls and tended to you, the only trueborn son of Eddard Stark. But this is babe is not trueborn, not your heir, and I am not your lady mother. Better to cast it out and spare us both the mess of it all.”
“The mess?” His head spinning, all Robb can manage is, “But it's our child.”
For the first time, he sees emotion flicker across Dacey's face, pain twisting up with something he cannot identify. “I know that,” she murmurs.
“You don't want it? You don't want to have a child with me?”
She chuckles mirthlessly. “I wouldn't be having a child with you, Robb. I'd be having a bastard, the king's bastard, yes, but still a bastard. You'd have your wife and your trueborn children, and I'd be left with a child you'd never see.”
“That's not true,” he instantly objects.
“Isn't it? What, will you keep it at Winterfell the way your father kept Jon Snow? You'll let our child be treated the way your brother was?” When Robb says nothing, Dacey shakes her head. “You know I'm right. You'll see.”
“No.” Shaking his head, trying to figure out how to explain himself, Robb is only able to entreat, “Please don't do this. Please.”
Dacey moves forward, taking his face between her palms. She is the only woman who has ever been tall enough to look him squarely in the eye, and Robb can see the sheen of tears there. He shivers at the gentle brush of her mouth against his, and Dacey sighs as she presses their foreheads together. After a moment, she kisses him again and then requests, “Do not hate me for this.”
She does not come to his bed for the next moon's turn, and Robb aches with a sense of loss so different from any he has experienced. Dacey is the first woman he has ever loved, and, though they both knew he would eventually wed another, it had never felt real to Robb; Roslin Frey is a name and nothing more while Dacey is a flesh-and-blood woman who makes Robb's heart beat fast and his blood warm with a simple look. In the year since the marriage contract was made with the Late Lord Frey, Robb wished half-a-thousand times it had not, that he was free to wed to Dacey and make her his queen. Once he even told Dacey that; she kissed him and then told him he was a stupid boy doing his thinking with his cock.
He thinks of that assessment now as his men load up the wagons and horses for the trip north; they will stop at Riverrun before continuing on to the Twins for his wedding and then, finally, Winterfell. Dacey stands beside her horse, packing her saddlebag, and, when she looks up and sees him, she inclines her head deferentially and greets, “Your Grace.”
The last time she called him by his title, she had been astride him, his cock deep inside her. She grinned down at him and quipped, “Is this how you like it, Your Grace?”
Robb is half hard just at the memory of it.
“I have not seen much of you lately,” he says, hoping his words sound casual.
“Lady Catelyn requested I serve as Princess Sansa's guard. She's a bit wary around men after what Joffrey had done to her.”
The guilt which never leaves him flares brightly at the mention of his sister. He has seen the fading bruises and healing cuts on her face, listened as his mother described the dribbles of scar tissue which now mar her back, and Robb wishes he had been given the chance to murder Joffrey Baratheon himself for ever raising a hand to Sansa, who had always been the sweetest, most sensitive of his siblings.
“I am sure she is glad of your company.”
“I am happy to serve.”
Robb is acutely aware of eyes upon them, and he cynically thinks soldiers gossip as badly as old women. Stepping closer so their voices would not carry, Robb whispers, “I miss you.”
Dacey gives no indication she has heard the words, sure hands tying her saddlebag shut. Robb sighs, preparing to leave her, when she whispers in reply, “I didn't do it.”
He freezes, certain he has misheard; when she meets his gaze, sees the vulnerability glimpsed so rarely shining in her dark eyes, a joyful laugh bubbles past his lips. “Truly?”
She nods, brushing a stray lock of hair from her eyes; Dacey says nothing, fumbling with the reins, and Robb does not hesitate to step behind her, the fingers of his left hand ghosting over her middle. He feels her tremble beneath his palm, exhaling shakily, and it takes every ounce of control he possesses not to kiss her then.
“I love you.”
“That's because you're a stupid boy,” she replies, voice soft with sadness and affection.
He smiles as she moves from his reach, patting her horse before returning the reins to a stable boy. “You know, I am your king.”
Dacey's smile is warm and playful, and, for the first time since he learned of her pregnancy, Robb glimpses the woman he fell in love with, the one who is so serious and stoic before the men and who blossoms into someone else entirely when she's with him. “That just makes you a stupid boy with a crown.”
If anyone else ever dared to speak to him so disrespectfully, Robb knows she would bury her ax in their skulls; he has no greater supporter than Dacey Mormont, who believes in him with the sort of blind devotion Robb does not think he will ever fully understand. It is why he loves the way she teases him, as if he truly is just a boy and nothing else.
“You'll return as my guard when we ride in the morn,” Robb declares. “Your mother will be a suitable protector for Sansa.”
Dacey doesn't argue; she never does when he speaks with the king's voice.
They have been at Riverrun for a moon's turn when reality crashes down around Robb's head, courtesy of Catelyn Stark.
It is a bitterly cold night, winter starting to settle across the land. Robb spent his day listening to seemingly endless issues from his men, complaints from the river lords, and yet another raven from Walder Frey wanting to set a definite date for his wedding. By the time Robb finally sits to sup, half the castle is abed, and he barely tastes the food, physically exhausted and emotionally drained.
He is staring into his wine cup when Dacey enters the room; instantly, Robb smiles, eager to see her after such a trying day. She has her hair unbound today, long waves of thick brown cascading over shoulders, and Robb longs to bury his fingers in it, to pull her close and kiss her until he forgets that he has a kingdom on his shoulders. Since arriving at Riverrun, she has taken to wearing gowns, which hide her ever-increasing waistline far better than breeches and tunics; they have agreed not to tell anyone of her pregnancy until after he weds Roslin next month, but the child in her belly is nearly five moons gone now. Only this morning Dacey had lamented how difficult it was becoming to mask her stomach, keeping herself wrapped in furs to add extra camouflage, and Robb touches the fur now, running his fingers over the soft texture before pushing it off of her shoulders.
“You look as if you're going to take me on the table.”
Robb smiles. “A better meal, for certain.” His hands skim over her shoulders, across her collarbone; he moves to cup her breasts, but Dacey twists, face pinched with discomfort as she shakes her head.
“They're sore today,” is all she offers in explanation, carding her fingers through his hair. A wry smile tugs at her lips. “Everything's sore today. I'm going to be as big as an auroch by the time this babe comes.”
“A beautiful auroch,” he teases, running his hands over the swell of her middle. Without the heavy furs, her skirts pulled tight against her body as she leans back against the table, Robb can make out the unmistakable curve of his child. He leans forward, his hands on either side of her stomach, and kisses the swell. “I'm so anxious to meet him.”
“You're anxious? He is not kicking bruises into your ribs every day.”
Settling his hands against her, Robb waits, hoping the babe will move so he can feel it. For weeks now, Dacey has spoken of movement, but Robb has yet to experience it; there is something about knowing the child inside of her can move which makes everything feel real. There is a part of him which still cannot believe he is going to be a father; his own father always seemed so certain and brave, and Robb does not feel he is either of those things.
“Serious boy,” she murmurs affectionately, smoothing his brow with her thumbs, and Robb looks up at her, love swelling sharply in his chest.
“I love you.”
Dacey smiles playfully. “That is a terribly stupid thing to do.”
“Aren't you the one always telling me how stupid I am?”
She nods, and Robb is surprised to see her eyes shining with unshed tears. “Aye, the stupidest boy I've ever known.”
The click of the door opening reaches Robb's ears only a second before the sound of his mother's gasp does; instinctively he pulls away from Dacey, pushing to his feet, but he knows it is too late. Catelyn Stark has seen his face resting against his guard's swollen belly, and there is no way his mother could misinterpret that.
“Mother,” is all he can manage to choke out as his lady mother – his dignified, always composed mother – slams the door to the room shut with such force, it sounds as if the Greatjon himself did it. Her blue eyes are bright with fury, and Robb thinks he has never seen his mother so angry before, not even when he asked his mother why she hated Jon Snow so much.
“What have you done?” Catelyn hisses. “How could you be so stupid?”
“Lady Stark,” Dacey begins, wincing at the cruel glare Catelyn levels at her. Robb cannot remember Dacey ever looking so cowed; on the battlefield, she is as ferocious as any man, but now she is a woman whose hands protectively shield her growing child.
“You are to be married in three weeks,” Catelyn snaps as she approaches them. “You swore an oath to wed Roslin Frey, and you are going to march into the Twins with a pregnant mistress? Have you lost your senses? The dishonor you will bring upon us all - “
“There is nothing dishonorable about what we have done,” Robb interrupts, a desire to protect Dacey and the child inspiring him to find his voice. “Dacey and I love each other - “
Catelyn scoffs, the noise cutting Robb to the quick. “Do you think that will make this situation better? You are betrothed! Had it not been for Lord Frey, you would never have even had the opportunity to fight this war, let alone win it! And you repay his loyalty by putting a bastard in your guard's belly and shaming his daughter?”
“I have not shamed anyone! I do not even know Roslin Frey. Arya is still contracted to Lord Frey's son. If we agree to wed Sansa to another son - “
“What, he will forget his daughter was to be your queen?” Catelyn shakes her head is disgust. “This is how you wish to start your rule, by betraying those who stood behind you when you had no crown on your head so you can keep another woman in your bed? What do you think your father would say if he could see this?”
Robb physically recoils from the words, and he sees Dacey look at the floor, her face twisting with shame before transforming into the stoic expression she wore when she first told him of her pregnancy. He wants nothing more than to reach for her, to kiss her and tell her how wrong his mother is, but there is no chance; his mother is rushing on, her words cutting deeper with each syllable.
“You knew this was wrong; the fact that you have gone to such lengths to hide it proves that. And what do you plan to do now? Because you cannot break the contract with the Freys.”
“I am the king; I can do as I wish,” Robb retorts, hearing the petulance in his voice.
“Well, you are not a Targaryen, so two wives is certainly not an option,” Catelyn caustically replies. “Roslin Frey is to be your wife, and you may as well slap her across the face by doing this! By the Seven, Robb, how could you be so stupid?”
“You have no idea what you are talking about, and you have no right to speak to me this way. I am a grown man - “
“Bedding down with a woman does not make you grown!”
“What I do is not your concern! It is not your place - “
“Not my place?” she echoes, and Robb cannot tell if he has further angered her or wounded her by the peculiar tension in her voice. “I have been at your side throughout this entire quest, have done everything I could do to ensure we all returned safe to Winterfell, and you are telling me it is not my place to be concerned with my son, with the futures of all of my children which are endangered by your careless actions?” As Robb lets Catelyn's words truly sink in, she turns to face Dacey, whose face gives away nothing. “And you...You are a woman-grown; you know better than this. King or not, he is just a boy. You know the realities of the world; you know there is no place for you at Winterfell now.”
Dacey is quiet for a moment before softly declaring, “With all due respect, Lady Stark, it is not for you to name my place.” Twisting her head to look at him, she murmurs, “May I have your leave? I'm quite tired.”
Robb is not sure what he says, only sees Dacey gather the furs and wrap them tightly around herself before leaving the room. His mother looks at him as if he is the greatest disappointment to ever walk the earth, and, for the first time, Robb feels the urge to apologize for loving Dacey Mormont.
“She cannot come to the Twins, Robb. Everything you have fought for, everything your men have fought for, will all be for naught if you break your marriage contract. If your father was here - “
“If my father was here, he'd understand,” Robb blurts out. The moment the words have slipped past his lips, he wishes he could take them back; he sees his mother flinch as if he has struck her, a hand fluttering against her chest. It has always been unspoken amongst the Stark children that they do not mention Jon's mysterious mother, especially within hearing of Catelyn; Robb remembers as a child how angry he was for his mother once he fully understood what it meant that Jon was a bastard. Now, he wonders about Jon's mother, if his father had loved her the way Robb loves Dacey, if he had been as torn about what to do.
“I'm sorry. Mother, I'm - “
Catelyn holds up a hand, her fingers curling into a fist before she grits out, “I understand you want to do the honorable thing in regards to Dacey Mormont, but there is nothing to be done. If you bear any love for your people, for the North, you'll send her away.”
“I love her. She loves me.”
“You're her king, Robb. Of course she loves you! She could hardly have said no, could she?” Catelyn shakes her head. “I thought you a better man than this.”
Robb stays alone in the empty dining room until the candles burn out.
The sun has not yet risen when Robb goes to Dacey's chamber. She is already awake, as he knew she would be, and, when she sees him, she stops braiding her hair, looking at him expectantly.
Finally, he asks, his voice small, “Did you only lay with me because I am the king and you could not say no?”
Dacey blinks in surprise. “What? Of course not. Why would you think that?”
Coming to sit beside her on the bed, he says, “My mother - “
“Your mother just discovered her little boy is a man-grown who has the wants of a man and the ability to put a babe in a woman's belly,” Dacey cuts in, her tone utterly dismissive. “I'm sure she said a great many things, most of which were not true and came from a place of anger.”
He takes her hand, tracing the lines of her palm. It had been he who initiated their affair, he who had kissed her after the first battle, so drunk on adrenaline, he could only look on her with desire; if he tries, Robb can still remember the way she quirked an eyebrow as she pulled away, touching her thumb to his lower lip before declaring, “You're battle drunk, my king.” For weeks after, he could barely look at her, so humiliated at the way he behaved; and then one night Dacey simply looked at him and asked, “Do you still want to kiss me?”
The first time they slept together, the night Dacey teasingly refers to as the night she “stole his maidenhead,” Robb had spent as soon as he was inside her, blushing and sputtering apologies as she chuckled breathlessly with a shake of her head. Instead of pulling away, she had taken his hand, placed it between her thighs and showed him how to touch her until she shook and sighed his name so sweetly, Robb found himself hard all over again.
“Eager boy,” she breathed against his mouth even as she pulled him atop her. “Let's try again, hmm?”
Robb does not think he ever felt more alive than he did the first morning he woke up with Dacey in his arms, her face tucked into his shoulder, puffs of warm breath tickling his skin.
“She isn't wrong about everything though,” Dacey says, bringing him back to the moment at hand. Her face is calm, her eyes sad, as she elaborates, “I cannot go to the Twins.”
He immediately shakes his head. “Dacey - “
She presses her fingers to his mouth, stilling his words. “Just listen.” Cupping his face, she declares, “I love you. Not because you are the king or the Lord of Winterfell or anything else; the love I have for you is the love any woman has for any man. Do you understand that? Do you believe it?”
“Yes,” he whispers.
“You're a good man, an honorable man, and I know you want what is best for our child and for me. But what is best for us is to be kept as far from the Freys as possible. The Manderlys are returning to White Harbor; I will sail there with them and continue on to Bear Island.”
“I can and I will.” She kisses his forehead, the bridge of his nose, his upper lip; Robb can feel the tremble in her lips. “You know, I've thought so many times of when we must have made this child. I like to think it was the night in the godswood, the night you put your cloak on me; I never felt as close to you or the gods than I did that night. When I brewed the tansy tea for the second time, it was all I could think about is how much you care, how hard you try to do well by everyone.”
“Then let me do well by you,” he insists, his fingers clutching at her nightgown.
“I don't need you to do well by me; I'm a grown woman and can fend for myself. But our child...You saw what it was like for Jon Snow at Winterfell. Is that what you want for him?”
“He doesn't have to be a Snow,” Robb swears. “I could legitimize him or – I don't have to wed her. We could wed - “
“We cannot,” Dacey cut in, her voice sharp. “You need to marry Roslin Frey and honor your promise.”
“But I do not want to marry her; I want to marry you.”
“And your father didn't want to wed your mother, but to win Hoster Tully's banner men, he honored your uncle's betrothal and it won them the war. Marriage contracts are made every day between people who have no love for each other; the love will come later.”
“There's no room in my heart for anyone but you,” Robb swears, a lump rising in his throat.
“When you see her with your sons, you will find room.”
“I won't!” Climbing off of the bed, pacing as a sense of helplessness steals into his limbs, he pronounces, “There is nothing on earth which could make me love Roslin Frey!”
“You sound like a stupid boy right now,” Dacey retorts, anger beginning to burn in her dark eyes. “You're setting your marriage up to fail before you've even met the poor girl!”
“Yes, I want it to fail! I want it to fail, so I can be with you and our child! Is that so terrible?”
Dacey shakes her head, plainly exasperated. “You know that isn't how it works! You made a promise, Robb.”
“Fuck the promise!” Robb exclaims, his frustration bubbling over. “Walder Frey wants his daughter to be queen? Fine! I'll abdicate, let Bran take the throne and - ”
“Have you gone completely mad? The North did not follow Bran into war. I did not follow Bran to war. You were born to be the king, Robb. I just wasn't born to be queen.”
Robb can feel the tears slipping from his eyes, but he does not bother to wipe them away. All he can think of is the sharp pain in his chest, the way panic is beginning to zip through his blood. “But you love me; you said it. I don't want to be king, not at this cost. We can go to Winterfell or Bear Island or even the Free Cities. We'll raise the babe together - ”
“Do you honestly believe I would run off with an oathbreaker and a craven?” Getting to her feet, taking his hands in hers, she asks, “When our child is born, do you want him to hear stories of Robb Stark, the Young Wolf, who threw away 8,000 years of House Stark's honor all because he didn't want to marry the girl he promised to wed? We needed to cross the Trident; you swore the oath.”
“What good is honor?” he spits, his bitterness so overpowering, he can hardly breathe. “My father was an honorable man, and the Lannisters took his head for it. My grandfather was an honorable man, and the Mad King cooked him alive in his armor. There is no point in honor in a world this rotten.”
Dacey draws him against her body, stroking his hair as he rests his head against her breasts. “Honor brought me you, did it not? If I had no honor, I never would've come from Bear Island to march beside you. If you had no honor, I could never have loved you the way I do. And I know your heart, Robb Stark; I know you'll want our child to be honorable as well.”
“I don't want to lose you,” he whimpers, one hand settling over her stomach as he presses his lips against the soft skin of her throat. “I don't want to lose our child.”
“We will be safe and sound on Bear Island. No one will care there if he is a bastard; he'll be a Mormont, not a Snow, just like the rest of us.” Urging him to lift his face, kissing him softly, she breathes, “Would you rather he be the Lord of Bear Island or the bastard of Winterfell?”
“I'd rather he be the Prince of Winterfell.”
Dacey's eyes are sad as she smiles mirthlessly. “That's because you're a stubborn boy who is used to always getting what he wants.” She kisses him gently, coaxing his lips apart to tease his tongue with hers. Robb responds as he always does, slipping his fingers into her hair, and he gasps as Dacey pulls back, meeting his gaze steadily. “You can't be a boy anymore, Robb.”
He tugs at the ties of her gown, loosening the neckline, peeling the sides back to kiss her collarbone. Gathering the material in his hands, pulling it over her head and leaving her bare, Robb walks her back to the bed, urging her to sit as he begins to shed his clothing. “I'll always be yours. You'll always be mine. Promise me.”
“Promise me,” he repeats, sinking to his knees before her, pushing apart her knees as he brushes his lips against the inside of her thigh. “Promise me you will love me for as long as I will love you.”
“I promise,” Dacey whispers, her eyes closing tightly as she leans back on her hands, inhaling deeply through her nose as Robb's tongue glides up the center of her. Robb can feel her body shaking, but it is not until he hears the hitch in her voice as she chants, “I promise, I promise, I promise,” that he realizes it is tears, not pleasure, causing the reaction.
It is the first time sex has ever felt sad.
In the end, she doesn't say goodbye.
Robb wakes from only a few hours sleep, still bone tired and longing for his bed at Winterfell. Grey Wind is restless, spinning in circles on the floor, nudging the door with the flat of his head, vocalizing in a mixture of growls and whines. When Robb opens the door to his chamber, Grey Wind takes off at full speed, and he can hear the startled shouts of men and servants as his wolf disappears down the corridors.
Arya and Sansa are breaking their fast together, Arya devouring a plate piled high with bacon and eggs while Sansa nibbles daintily at a handful of berries and a lemoncake. As he drops into the chair beside Arya, ruffling her hair and earning an irritated slap for it, he asks, “Where's Mother?”
“She went to see Lord Manderly off,” Sansa answers, sipping her tea.
Robb's heart stops. “What are you talking about? Lord Manderly is not due to leave for another week.”
Sansa lifts a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “Lord Manderly and his party were up before the sun, and Mother rode out to see them off with Uncle Edmure. She said she'd return before midday.”
“Was Dacey with them?”
Sansa nods, opening her mouth to respond, but Robb is already on his feet, hurrying towards the entrance to the castle. The morning air is frigid, startling him to full alertness; if his men see their king without so much as a cloak, they do not mention it. He runs for the stables, needing his horse; if he rides hard, he may be able to catch them before they board the ship.
“You'll not catch them,” a voice says from behind him. Robb whirls to see Maege Mormont grooming her mare, her body bundled beneath furs, her short, white hair a shock in the darkness of the stables. “Your lady mother and uncle will be halfway home by the time you even hit the road.”
“Why?” is all Robb can choke out, his chest aching so sharply, it is as if he has been run through with a sword.
Setting down the brush, the older woman sighs heavily. “I know you may not believe this, but Dacey is far more sensitive than she lets on. She was seven when her father left, and she did not speak a single word for an entire year; then my brother Jeor took the black, and Dacey found herself left once again. It is easier for her to say nothing than have to go through a goodbye.” Maege reaches beneath her furs, removes a piece of folded parchment. “She asked me to give this to you, Your Grace.”
Robb accepts the letter with a trembling hand, opening it without hesitation. In Dacey's bold hand is only one sentence: I do not regret a single moment.
Robb fears all he will be left with is regrets.
They are met at the Twins with music and cheering. As Robb enters Lord Walder's hall, he does not smell the scent of the feast or hear the beat of the drums; all he can think of is Dacey, undoubtedly on her way to Bear Island from White Harbor, their child nearly six moons gone in her belly. He hates the fine velvet doublet his mother had made for him for this wedding, and, as a pretty maid is trotted forth like a prize horse, all Robb can do is compare her to Dacey.
She is not as tall, her hair is not as thick, her eyes are not as dark, her body will not fit perfectly against mine.
“Your Grace, my daughter, Roslin.”
Roslin Frey sinks into a graceful curtsy, the very picture of a lady, and Robb knows he should be grateful to be given such a lovely woman to marry. Most men were nowhere near as fortunate as he, and as she smiles, looking at him through her lashes, Robb is certain she is likely quite sweet. If circumstances were different, he may have even been happy to wed her.
“And you feared she wouldn't be pretty!” Edmure japes, slapping him on the back after Robb has placed a Stark cloak on Roslin's slender shoulders, his face flush from wine.
“Aye,” is all Robb can manage, draining his wine cup.
She is a maid; Robb did not doubt she would be. His bannermen bring her to him in nothing but her smallclothes, blushing from head to toe; Robb pours her a cup of honeyed wine, tries to put her at ease and calm the minute shaking of her body. She confesses she does not know what happens between a lord and a lady in the marriage bed, but she wants nothing more than to please him; it is so opposite of what transpired with Dacey, Robb finds he has no words. Never once did Dacey cater to him and would, in fact, have laughed at the suggestion of it; the second time they lay together, when Robb sputtered through an assurance that he was not using her, Dacey laughed and challenged, “Who says I am not using you? You are not the only one who finds pleasure here.”
“I would like to please you as well, my queen,” he chokes out, hoping his voice sounds sincere. It is not Roslin Frey's fault she is not Dacey Mormont; he has said the words and made the vows, and now he must be the man Ned Stark raised him to be.
She doesn't nip his lower lip or play with the soft curls at the base of his skull; she does not roll her hips to meet his thrusts or whisper filthy suggestions into his ear with a smile in her voice. Roslin Frey whimpers as he takes her maidenhead, and then she lies still, her hands resting on his back as Robb forces himself to get through this, to look into her blue eyes and not picture they are brown.
Roslin Frey is the Queen in the North.
Robb wonders how long it will take for him not to flinch from that truth.
Jon Snow returns to Winterfell with Maege Mormont just ahead of the first snows. It had taken 100 men given to the Night's Watch to free Jon from his vows, not to mention Maege Mormont treating with her brother to promise an additional 50 men to be sent every year; his mother said it was too steep a price to pay for his bastard brother, but Robb knows he needs men around him he can trust and, as Theon Greyjoy demonstrated, there are few Robb can trust with everything he has.
Robb laughs as Arya nearly bowls him over in her rush to reach Jon, flinging herself into his arms and squealing with the kind of excitement Robb has not seen since before the war. By the time Robb reaches Jon, he is laughing, Rickon balanced on his hip, and Ghost is romping with Shaggydog, Summer, and Grey Wind. He embraces Jon tightly, grateful to have all of his siblings in one place once again, and Jon's arms hold him as tightly as they had when last they parted.
“Your Grace,” Jon greets with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Robb playfully glares, pressing the Hand pin he had one of the smiths craft into Jon's palm. “Lord Snow.”
Jon has been at Winterfell for only a fortnight when Maege Mormont seeks Robb out in his solar. He expects the Lady of Bear Island to discuss her upcoming departure from Winterfell or the plans to increase the coffers for House Mormont; the last thing he expects is for Lady Mormont to hand him a piece of parchment and say, “Congratulations, Your Grace. You have a daughter.”
The letter, written by Alysane Mormont, states that Dacey has delivered a healthy daughter she has named Rhella. Dacey is weak following a hard labor, but the maester expects she will recover without incident. Robb reads the lines a half-dozen times which describe his daughter's looks, tries to summon up the image of a babe girl with auburn hair and blue eyes. By the time he looks up, he sees Maege Mormont has poured him a cup of wine, which he drains in one gulp.
“Why did she not write me?”
Something akin to pity flits across Maege's lined face. “You know why. The whole castle would be abuzz before nightfall.”
Eying the letter, Robb states, testing out the words with a touch of awe in his voice, “I have a daughter.”
Maege refills his cup and pours a drink for herself. Raising the cup, she says, “To Rhella Mormont. May the gods watch over her.”
Rhella Stark, Robb nearly corrects before remembering Dacey's daughter cannot be a Stark, that only Roslin's children will be Starks.
“If I write her a letter, will you include it in your reply?” he finally asks.
Robb stares down into his wine cup, swirling the liquid around before throwing it back in a hard swallow. He holds out his cup and Maege refills it, her face as impassive as her daughter's ever was. Draining the cup for a second time, he murmurs, “Rhella...It's a pretty name.”
Maege leans forward, squeezes his shoulder, and Robb feels a lump starting to rise in his throat. As the eldest Mormont leaves him, Robb tries to gather his thoughts, tries to summon up the strength to rise from his chair and face this news like a king. But Robb was not raised to be a king, and all he can think of is Dacey, tired but happy, with their daughter at her milk-swollen breast.
Robb is certain the gods are having a laugh at his expense when Roslin announces her pregnancy that night. He sits in the dining hall, hearing the words without feeling a thing, and he suddenly irrationally hates his wife for doing this so publicly. Sansa gasps and claps her hands in excitement while the men in the hall cheer; the North has not quite taken to Queen Roslin, a Southron woman who eyes the North warily, but she is now the queen carrying the future prince. Robb sees his mother rise from her place to embrace Roslin, and his mother all but glares at him over Roslin's shoulder, gesturing for him to do the same, spurring him to action. He presses a kiss to Roslin's cheek, his lips catching the corner of her mouth, and it breaks his heart at how happy Roslin looks in that moment.
He loses track of how many times toasts are raised to the child in Roslin's belly, and it makes guilt and anger churn in his gut. There is a healthy babe girl on Bear Island no one will ever raise a cup for, a babe girl whose blood is as much Stark as Roslin's child will be, but Robb knows it does not matter; his little girl will never be a Stark, and, if he tried to decree it so, it would only anger Dacey and hurt Roslin.
I have a daughter, and her name is Rhella, Robb wants to say, but the words do not pass his lips.
Edwyn Stark enters the world during a heavy snowstorm. When Maester Luwin steps out of Roslin's chamber, inviting Robb to enter, he sees the squalling bundle on Roslin's chest. He is a big babe, dark hair capping his head, blue eyes shining. His arms shake as he holds his son, and Robb is shocked by the tears which fill his eyes. Roslin and his mother are both smiling through their tears, and Robb wonders if this is how his father felt the first time he held him.
Jon came first; Robb knows this, has always known Jon's name day is a full six moons before his own. Robb also knows the story, of course, how his father returned from war with Jon in his arms while he and Catelyn awaited him at Winterfell. As Robb rocks his trueborn son, he wonders if it would feel differently to hold Rhella, if Ned Stark felt differently when he held him as compared to Jon.
He's never had much of a taste for beer, but Robb finds himself drinking mug after mug tonight. By the time Jon enters his solar, Robb is aware he is drunk, perhaps the drunkest he has ever been in his lifetime, but he still refills his mug, raising it to his half-brother and ordering, “Celebrate with me.”
Jon wears the same expression he has worn since returning to Winterfell: equal parts unimpressed with his ascendance to the throne and amused by it as well. Robb knows his mother has not made Jon's transition to Hand easy; it offends her on her very deepest level that he has named Jon Snow the Hand of the King, that he has given Jon the title of Lord Snow. He has grown exhausted with discussions and arguments over Jon's presence at Winterfell, and Robb is not sure if he is upset over Catelyn's treatment of Jon – treatment which has been the same for as long as Robb can remember – or if he is upset over her treatment of Dacey.
“I am a father,” Robb slurs, throwing his arms grandly, sloshing beer over the rim of the mug.
“Arya tells me he's a beautiful boy.”
“Arya said that?”
Jon smiles. “Well, I believe her exact words were, 'He's not as ugly as most babies.' That may be as close to complimentary as we get from Arya.”
Robb barks out a laugh, taking a few heavy swallows from the mug before blurting out, “I have a daughter, you know.”
Genuine surprise fills Jon's face. “What?”
“Her name is Rhella. Isn't that a pretty name? Sounds a bit like mine, doesn't it?” Robb drains his mug, slamming it the table with a enough force to make Jon jolt in his chair. “They say she looks like me. I don't know. I've never seen her. She'll be a year old in a few moons. Time just seems to fly.”
“Where is she? Who is her mother?” Realization dawns on his face almost the moment the words slip past his lips. “Dacey Mormont. Dacey Mormont had your child.”
“How did you know?”
“I've heard whispers. A few men thought it suspicious your most loyal guard left you right before the wedding; they thought Lady Stark sent her away. But a child?” Sharp judgment fills Jon's Stark grey eyes, and Robb's stomach begins to churn. “How could you get a bastard on her? How could you do - “
“I love her,” Robb interrupts, voice thickening with emotion. “I love her so much. I've sent her a dozen ravens since Rhella was born, and she never answers. When Maege returned to Bear Island, I sent an entire bag of gold dragons with her, and, when Lord Glover came to Winterfell, he returned them to me. Oh, she hates me, Jon, and I love her and I miss her.” He wipes at the tears on his face, ashamed and embarrassed at his show of emotion. “Stop looking at me like that.”
“Like Father!” Robb pushes away from the table, stalking back and forth across the floor as he growls, “I did not do anything wrong! I was unmarried and she was unmarried, and if my mother hadn't made that damned deal with Walder Frey - “
“Robb - “
“I wanted to marry her! I wanted to marry her and hold our babe, and now I'm married to Roslin and holding her son - “
“Shut up!” Jon snaps, startling Robb into silence. He can count on one hand the amount of times he has heard Jon speak harshly, and he has not raised his voice to Robb since they were Bran's age. “Do you want the entire castle to hear? Do you want Roslin to hear?” Grasping Robb by the shoulders, he orders, “You have a perfectly sweet wife who just gave you a healthy son. This is how you thank her?”
“How can I celebrate Edwyn's birth when all I can think about is the child I have not seen even once? You tell me that!” Crumpling beneath Jon's gaze, he laments, “I do not even know if she is alright, if she is healthy or happy. I am her father, and I should know!”
Jon leads him back to his chair, urging him to sit. The muscle in Jon's jaw is jumping from tension, and Robb knows he is gritting his teeth, trying to compose himself so he does not say something unkind. After a moment, his brother offers, “I cannot imagine what it is like to have a child and know nothing of her, but that is the reality of your choices. Punishing Roslin and Edwyn for something they had no control of would be like if Father had punished you and your lady mother.”
“It is not the same,” Robb insists. “You were here; Father always knew how you were. I need to know how they are, Jon. I cannot sleep, I cannot focus; I need to know Dacey and Rhella are well.”
Jon sighs. “What if I go to Bear Island, see them both and report back? Would that ease your mind?”
“Yes,” he instantly agrees. “Yes, please.”
Jon tightly grasps Robb's hand, and, even through the haze of beer, Robb feels as if it is anchoring him to the earth, holding him steady. “I will go to Dacey, make certain she and the babe are well. But you must swear to me you will be the husband and father you need to be here. Our father wouldn't have wanted you to neglect any of your children, least of all the trueborn son bore by your wife. Will you swear it?”
“To the old gods and the new.”
Jon shakes his head with a smirk, urging Robb to wrap an arm around his shoulders as he heaves his brother and king to his feet. “Come on. Let's get you to bed, hmm?”
“You're a good brother, Jon,” Robb proclaims as he falls back on his bed, Jon bending before him to remove his boots. “And you're a better man than I.”
He is only dimly aware of Jon tugging the furs over him, tending to him as if he is Rickon's age and not a grown man and king. “Go to sleep, Your Grace. You're a drunken mess.”
Robb knows the drunkenness will pass.
He is not certain the mess will.
They say Jon is visiting holdfasts to hear grievances from the lords. Robb expects him to return in a moon's turn, flush with details about Dacey and Rhella, but the trip seems to linger, spanning several moons, stretching to the point that Robb is starting to wonder if something has happened to Jon. And then, when he is half-mad with worry, Jon rides into Winterfell's yard with Ghost at his side.
“Tell me everything,” Robb orders the moment they are alone, more impatient than Rickon during his lessons.
Jon shifts uncomfortably in his chair and says, “I do not know where to start.”
“What is Rhella like? She had her name day while you were there. Is she tall? Is she walking? Tell me everything.”
His brother is quiet for a long beat, as if he is measuring his words, before venturing, “She's a pretty thing, looks like Sansa did when she was a babe. Her hair is curly like yours is, and she's got freckles on her nose. She can't quite walk yet, but she crawls faster than you can keep up. She chatters constantly, but you can only understand a few words; she spent most of the visit calling me Jaw. And she loved Ghost, kept trying to sit him like a pony.”
Robb grins at the image he paints, substituting Grey Wind for Ghost. “And Dacey? How is she?”
There is something in the way Jon drops his gaze which unsettles Robb, something which tugs at the darkest fears in his heart. After a moment, Jon simply says, “She is well.”
“Well? Is she happy? Is she healthy? Did she – Did she ask about me?”
“Robb,” Jon begins with a shake of his head, obviously wanting to avoid the questions. Robb feels anger begin to swell at Jon's reticence, the familiar frustration of the past few years, and it only serves to fuel his fears.
“You were there for three fucking months!”
Jon blinks at his uncharacteristic language before admitting, “She is as happy as a woman in her position can be, Your Grace.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means she's a lady raising a child alone, and it is arduous work.”
“She is hardly alone. Her mother, her sisters - “
“Is that who you think she'd like to be raising her child with, her mother and sisters?” Jon sighs, rubbing his face as he takes a deep breath. “She did not ask about you. In fact, she gave me explicit instructions that I was not to mention you at all. I believe if I was not the Hand of the King, Dacey Mormont would have thrown me into the sea the moment I arrived.”
“But you stayed thrice as long as planned. Why?”
“I spent two years on the Wall with Lord Commander Mormont; I carry the Valyrian blade of House Mormont. They greeted me as family and treated me as such; that is all.”
“No,” Robb argues with certainty, “it isn't. You are not telling me something.” Ice encircling his heart, he breathes his greatest fear. “Are you – Do you have feelings for Dacey?”
“No!” Jon snaps, obvious offense on his face, and Robb instantly feels shamed for thinking the worst. “I went there as a favor to you, and I spent three moons playing with your daughter and helping Maege Mormont repair the damage done by the Ironborn! Is that what you think of me?”
Robb sighs, burying his face in his hands. “No, no, of course not. I just...” He lifts his head, meets Jon's gaze. “I miss her. I thought she might miss me as well.”
“In my limited experience, ladies do not forbid speech of a man for whom they feel nothing.”
The words are out of his mouth before he even has time to consider them. “I am going to summon her here.”
“Do not do that.”
“No, I must.” Getting to his feet, his thoughts swirling, he insists, “I will send a raven to Bear Island, and Dacey will come with Rhella. We will all be together here, and I can tell her - “
“Just leave her be, Robb. Dacey does not want to be here or else she would not have gone to Bear Island.”
“Rhella belongs here the same way you belonged here.”
Jon holds up his hands, trying to still Robb's movement. "You don't know what it's like to be a bastard, what the women who have bastards get called. If I heard my mother called a whore once, I heard it a thousand times all because she had Ned Stark's bastard. What do you think they'll call Dacey? What do you think your lady mother will say?"
So drunk on his idea, Robb cannot hear the logic in the words. “Once they see my daughter, they will love her as they love Edwyn. Have Maester Luwin send the raven at once.”
“Please reconsider this,” Jon implores.
Robb does not want to consider this; he is tired of thinking.
It is time for action.
The air leaves the room when Dacey steps into the hall where he is hearing grievances. She stands behind the men, towering over some of them, her face impassive as Lord Cerwyn rambles on about something. After quickly dispatching Lord Cerwyn with a promise of men to help make repairs to his castle, he motions Dacey forward; Robb hears the buzz of whispers starting, the first time he has ever noticed it, and Dacey's spine seems to stiffen as she curtsies and greets, “Your Grace.”
“Lady Mormont, welcome back to Winterfell.”
“Thank you, my king. I am sorry there was a delay in my arrival; the snow was a bit fierce at times.” Dacey reaches beneath her cloak, removing a heavy piece of parchment bearing Maege Mormont's seal. “My lady mother has sent the accounting of our resources and wishes for me to convey her thanks at your offer of help.”
His steward rushes to get the paper from Dacey, and Robb uses to pause to study her. She wears a heavy, woolen gown of deep green rather than breeches, the laces tied tightly enough that he can make out her ample breasts beneath the bodice; her dark hair is elaborately braided against her head, giving the appearance of shorter hair, and, if he is not mistaken, there is kohl around her brown eyes. A thrill shoots through him as he realizes Dacey took such time with her appearance, and Robb feels as if he is Rickon's age as excitement bounces through his veins.
“I had heard you were with child, Lady Mormont. Did you bring the babe?”
It is a curious thing, how he can still feel his mother's sharp eyes upon him, chastising without uttering a single syllable. Robb deliberately avoids looking at Catelyn Stark, but he sees Dacey's eyes flick towards her chair before she shakes her head. “I did not think it time for her to travel yet, as I am sure you would not want Prince Edwyn to be outside in this weather.”
He hopes his disappointment does not show on his face as he murmurs, “Yes, of course.”
She bobs into a half-hearted curtsy as the next lord comes forward, and Robb watches as she slips towards the back of the room. His heart twists painfully as he sees her smile at Sansa, remembering when such a smile made him ache with happiness; he wonders if he will ever see her smile at him again, if she will ever be happy in his presence. Jon's words of warning echo in his head as he forces himself to answer the remaining lords grievances, dismissing himself abruptly. He ignores his mother saying his name, not wanting a lecture when Dacey is finally here.
Dacey does not look surprised when he catches her elbow in the corridor, but Sansa gasps his name, chastising him for being so rude. Robb flushes brightly but Dacey chuckles, assuring Sansa, “Do not worry, Princess Sansa. I am used to your brother being a boy without manners.”
“I must speak with you in private,” Robb declares. Dacey nods, leaving a puzzled Sansa in the corridor as Robb leads her to his solar. His skin feels too tight, impatience making his heart beat fast, but Dacey shows no outward signs of discomfort. It is not until the heavy door closes that he is able to look Dacey fully in the eye, and it is only then he sees something more than deference to her king.
“I missed you,” he sighs, stroking her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “Did you miss me?”
Dacey's lower lip trembles as she calmly answers, “Every day.”
Her mouth is as hot as fire, her lips pliable beneath his as he backs her up against the door; he groans as her fingers tug at his hair, her tongue exploring his mouth as it has hundreds of times before. Dacey nips at his lower lip as his fingers begin to tug at the laces of her gown, desperate to have her bare, to touch her again after so long; her back arches, pushing her breasts into the palms of his hands, and then Dacey is twisting away, shoving him with enough strength to send him stumbling.
“No!” she gasps, holding the sides of her gown together as she fumbles to re-lace it. “We are not doing this.”
“Dacey - “
“I am not your whore to be summoned!”
“That is not what I think of you! I just - “
She holds up her hand, and it is then Robb sees genuine hurt painted all over her face. “Your wife, my queen, is in the castle, already swelling with your second child. Your son plays with his septa here. Do you have so little respect for both of them that you'd bed me here?”
Flushing with embarrassment, Robb stutters, “I have missed you - “
“So you thought to call me here, fuck me until you had your fill, and send me away?” Robb nearly gasps at the tears which shine brightly in her dark eyes. “I have no place here. You summon me as my king, knowing I had to answer, and then you come to me like this? You don't get to play at being just a man with me, and then use your crown to manipulate me into answering your call.”
“That was not what I was trying to do! I just...I miss you so much. I thought it would be enough, sending Jon to see you and the babe, but it only made it worse.” He steps into her, one hand settling on her hip while the other cups the back of her head. “I did what I promised you. I am trying to make my marriage work with Roslin, I have gotten two children on her, and all I think about is you and Rhella.”
Dacey takes hold of his wrists, resolutely moving him away from her. “Then try harder, Your Grace.”
She does not ask for permission before she leaves the room.
Dacey has never asked for permission.
It was accidental, the second babe. Maester Luwin had said it was safe for he and Roslin to resume marital relations following Edwyn's birth, and Roslin came to his chamber that very night, clad in a night dress of Myrish lace, the sweet scent of juniper clinging to her body. Within a moon's turn, Maester Luwin declared she was expecting another babe, Edwyn only four moons old, and Robb understood it was not a normal reaction to resent Roslin's fertility.
It is not that he does not like his wife. Roslin Frey is painfully sweet, impeccably mannered, and achingly kind; she is beloved by his mother and Sansa, unfailing gentle with Bran, and dotes upon Rickon. Only Arya has held herself aloof from Roslin, though Robb does not think that has anything to do with Roslin herself; since returning to them, the only people Arya has shown any degree of trust in have been the two boys she reached Riverrun with, the armorer's apprentice and the baker boy. Though they had initially been slow to warm, Edwyn's birth brought the loyalty of the men and women of the North, and everyone speaks of the goodness of Queen Roslin. If circumstances were different, Robb does not doubt he could have grown to love Roslin Frey.
But his heart has been full of Dacey Mormont for years now, and he does not think that is likely to change.
He is genuinely surprised when Roslin comes to his chambers that night, her dressing gown cinched tightly around her burgeoning waist. She perches on the edge of his bed as he finishes writing a letter, and, when he looks up, he sees her soft blue eyes trained on him with more sharpness than he can ever remember seeing.
“Is something wrong, my lady?”
“I thought she'd be prettier.” When Robb only looks at her in confusion, she clarifies, “Your mistress, the Mormont heir. From the way the men whisper about her, I thought she'd be prettier.”
Robb freezes, stunned. “Roslin...”
“I am quiet, my lord, not deaf. Did you think I would not hear them talk of her, of the bastard you got on her?” Her eyes narrow. “I had hoped you held me in enough esteem you would not bring her here, but I can see I was wrong.”
“Wait, Roslin, please - “
“You are the king, and I know kings have different desires than normal men,” she rushes on, speaking with more steel in her voice than Robb believed she possessed, “but I will not be shamed in my own home. If you are going to take other women to bed, I only ask you do not do it at Winterfell. Not even King Robert brought his women into the Red Keep.”
“I am nothing like Robert,” Robb objects, horrified she'd think it. “You must understand - “
“No, my lord, I do not have to understand this, nor do I want our children to ever have to understand this.” Brushing a lock of light brown hair off of her forehead, she states, “I want you to send her away. I have never asked anything of you, but I ask this. Do not shame me and our children by conducting your affairs here.”
“I...I will not.”
Roslin nods, getting to her feet, her hands resting on the small swell of her stomach. Genuine pain floods of her face as she queries, “What is so special about her?”
He tries to answer the question, tries to summon up an answer but finds he does not have the words. Finally he can only offer, “I am sorry.”
His wife and queen purses her rosebud mouth before decreeing, “I want her gone within a fortnight.”
Robb wants to argue, but he knows there is no point; Dacey does not want to be here any more than Roslin wants her to be here.
What Robb wants has ceased to matter since the crown was placed upon his head.
He finds Dacey in the godswood, a meeting arranged courtesy of Jon so they may say their goodbyes away from prying eyes. She stands tall before the heart tree, a heavy, bearskin cloak around her body; her hair is loose today, and the strands seem to bleed into the furs, making her look like the bear of her house's sigil. The frigid air makes pink bloom on her cheeks, and Robb longs for the last days of summer, when the air was still warm and they'd steal away to swim in the waters around Riverrun. Their blood may be the blood of winter, but Robb longs for summer the way a starving man hungers for food. The world made sense in the summer.
For a moment, all they do is look at each other, the silence of the godswood deafening before Dacey murmurs, “I think the thing I missed the most when we were in the south were true godswoods. The one on Bear Island is my favorite place in the world. The night Rhella was born, the moment I could walk, I went there to pray before the heart tree.”
“What did you pray for?”
“That all Rhella would know in her life is peace, happiness, and security. That I would be able to give her everything she needs.” Dacey smiles wryly. “That you have a long and peaceful reign.”
“You pray for me?” he asks in surprise.
“Of course I do.”
“Because I am your king?”
Dacey steps forward, cupping his face in her gloved hands. “No, because you are a stupid boy.” She leans forward, taking his mouth in a long, soft kiss. “And because you gave me the most beautiful little girl in the world, and I can never thank you enough for that.”
“I want to know her,” Robb says, his voice thickening with emotion. “I want to be in her life. You could stay in Wintertown, have one of your sisters bring her - “
“No,” Dacey cuts in crisply. “No, Rhella will never come here.”
“But she would be loved - “
“By who, Robb? By your wife? By your mother? Will she treat our girl with the same kindness she still shows Jon Snow?” Dacey shakes her head, snowflakes melting in her hair. “I wish you could know her; I wish she could know you. But the gods have something else in mind for us.”
“It is not right. You belong - “
“I belong on Bear Island, where I will one day be its lady and Rhella after me. Our girl has a place there, the same as me. Do not worry about us, Robb Stark. We Mormont women are quite used to doing this without men.”
“I'd have been a good husband to you.”
“Well, I would have been a terrible wife.” She smiles, a hint of the woman he knew in the summer shining through for a brief moment. “Is that bundle in your hand for me?”
Looking down at the hastily wrapped package, he hands it to her. “It is for Rhella. I do not know much about girls, but I thought a doll...It has red hair.”
Dacey tugs at the ribbon, staring down at the doll he had made. After a moment, she looks up, her eyes shining with tears, and asks, “Have you ever been to Bear Island?”
Startled by the change in subject, Robb just shakes his head.
“It is a beautiful place in the spring. The whole island seems to bloom at once.” Wiping a tear from her cheek, she pointedly adds, “A king should know all of his kingdom, don't you think?”
Robb instantly realizes what she is saying, what she is offering, and it makes his heart swell with hope for the first time since she left Riverrun. “Yes, a king should.”
As he watches Dacey and her men ride north on the kingsroad, Robb begins to count the days until spring.