Chapter 1: I knew you were coming - Lyanna
095. I knew you were coming.
Lyanna has always imagined a more glamorous death for herself.
It is foolish – a child’s dream, really, and she is no child, not anymore, but she has always imagined falling in a blaze of glory, sometime long from now, when she is old and tired and does not want to fight anymore, anyway. She would greet death with open arms then, and they would sing songs of her, Lyanna the Bold, Lyanna the Brave. A lady knight, something new and exciting – she never wanted to be a true lady, she never wanted to wear a wreath of roses. She’s always loved flowers, but she loves them as she races by them on the back of her horse or on her own bare feet, a whirlwind of colors out of the corner of her eye, all reds and blues and violets and oranges and greens, as far as the eye can see. Roses, she thinks, make poor crowns – they are far too fragile, roses and crowns both.
After all that, everything she has wanted and tried to be, in the end she, too, is fragile, it would seem. A man’s heart does not replace a woman’s body and a woman’s toils and pains, and hadn’t her father always tried to tell her that? Hadn’t she refused to listen to him? Did he think of that, before he died, had he wished that she had but listened more often? Did Brandon curse her name with his final breath, for she had killed them both, killed them all?
When she sees them next, as she must believe she will, she will beg their forgiveness for her folly and will only hope that they shall accept it. She will be young again, for she is young yet but feels old beyond her years, an old woman with heavy limbs and a heavier heart, and they shall love her once more as they did in her childhood. But, she will assure them, she is much grown in her heart now, and she knows better of the world, and would never make such poor whirlwind decisions again.
(Brandon would laugh, she thinks, and challenge her at that, claim she shall always be a whirlwind, and she would laugh with him and twirl with him hand-clasped, two whirls on the wind together.)
Perhaps they shall still sing of her, but now it shall be of Lyanna the Liar, Lyanna the Lost, lying in a bed as her life ebbs away. It almost does not hurt anymore, it is merely a steady throb between her legs, a stickiness on the sheets, the pillow sticking to her sweat-slicked cheek when she turns her face to the window as exhaustion thrums through her bones. Outside the sun streams weakly into the window and barely brushes her lashes, and she thinks how nice it would be if she were a bird and not a wolf, and she could fly away into the vast blueness. Dragons fly, too, she remembers, but she does not want to be a dragon, heavy and full of ire and flames. No, she decides, a bird, a dove, a raven, a canary, something light where the air will catch with ease beneath her wings and carry her higher and higher and away.
Beside her the babe cries, and she wishes she could comfort him, hold him and rock him in her arms, sing him a song that Old Nan sang to her in her own youth. She wishes she could raise sword and shield to defend him, against Robert, against the royals, against the hand of death itself if need be. She wishes again that she were a bird, that she could fly away and take him with her, tucked safely to her breast.
She wishes, in the end, that she was half as strong as she had always fancied herself to be.
Instead she hums, quietly, through lips chapped and cracked from weeping and screaming as she had felt herself torn into pieces, and for a moment he quiets, looks at her with those big grey eyes that are her and Brandon and Ned and Benjen and Father and Winterfell and home. He is a Stark, she thinks, a Stark and he belongs to her, not to prophecy or fate, and a part of her wonders, bitterly, if he would have wished this in the end, before he himself fell and it no longer mattered. Perhaps he thought to remember her so sweetly and speak of her with reverence, but secretly hoped the birth would be too much and she would not be around to raise a fuss about a son that is more hers than his, more human child than vehicle of destiny.
She floats between sleep and wake, and she sees Father, burning, she sees Brandon, choking, she sees Ned at the helm of an army, she sees Benjen alone, the last of them. She floats above her body and she watches below as she runs through the godswood of Winterfell, the leaves red, red as blood, fire and blood and red, so much red. She plunges into the pool of the hot spring, and the warmth swallows her whole, until she climbs out and she is cold, so very, very cold, as the winter wind blows and nips at her nose and ankles and pulls her under its snowy depths. Above where she lies deep below in the frigidness, Benjen practices with his wooden sword, but it is steel upon steel she hears, clashing and scraping, and she looks up through the snow to see Benjen become Ned become Brandon become Father become Benjen again.
Help me, she opens her mouth to implore, but there is snow in her mouth, choking her, freezing her from the inside out, snow a hundred feet deep – hadn’t that been as Old Nan said, hadn’t she thought it just a silly tale?
The door creaks open and as she turns her head, Lyanna thinks feverishly that perhaps her father had been wrong, perhaps all the Starks have been wrong and the strange southron gods are the true gods. For the shadowy figure in front of her, swathed in darkness and caked in mud and blood, tall enough to block the light that tries to pour into the room so that he is all that she sees - he must be the Stranger they speak of with such fear. Perhaps it is because she worships them not, but she does not fear him, and she smiles.
“I knew you would come,” she says to death (to the final winter, to the winter of always), and Ned takes off his helm and blinks blood from his eyes.
Chapter 2: The girl who ran so fast - Minerva McGonagall
Spoilers for Minerva's Pottermore backstory
067. The girl who ran so fast
From her first day at Hogwarts, Minerva is told that she is extraordinary.
A hat stall is an extraordinary thing, they tell her when the Sorting Hat finally, finally announces that she is a Gryffindor and with cheeks blazing at the hundreds of eyes that watch her curiously, she strides towards the table to join her new house. The Sorting Hat knows the very recesses of your mind, after all, and it is so rare for a person to be the equal sums of two separate houses. Are you truly as smart as you are brave? We shall see – that would be extraordinary.
She is set the challenge on that first day, and she spends her life striving to meet it.
Extraordinary does not come easily to Minerva, however. She spends hours in the library pouring over her texts, the stack as tall as she, until the candle has burnt low and she must conjure another (and she is the first in her year to learn how to conjure fire, extraordinary, her Charms professor beams). She commits the spells to memory, reading long after her eyes ache behind her spectacles, she arcs her hand in perfect precision, and relishes in all that has been denied to her for her entire life. Learning magic is like drinking from a cool well after years in the desert, like coming home to the warmth of family and hearth after running through the town in the pouring rain. It is sating a long hunger that she only somewhat understood before she first crossed the Great Lake. Learning magic, for Minerva, is healing a wound she did not even know she had.
And when she practices for hours upon the Quidditch pitch, swooping and diving and racing, she wonders how anyone, anyone , can go their entire life without flying with the wind upon their face.
When Minerva arrives at Hogwarts, she is certain for the first time that she is destined for something greater than hiding those things that make her so different from the folk of her tiny town, she is meant for the extraordinary that is all around her, bursts of color and light and life. And if she works to be the very best at all she does, if her efforts make her talented, she is at least ordinary looking enough that she fades in with her classmates, and that in itself is something new and exciting. How often had she felt eyes boring upon her and her family as she watched her father preach, the preacher’s strange wife, they whisper of, and the children, too, there is something wrong with the children.
Here, there is nothing wrong with Minerva, she is a face in the crowd – a bright face, a promising face – but just a face, and anonymity makes her glow with pleasure. She advances, she grows, she is hung with awards and accolades that make her mother simultaneously beam and weep, and when she leaves Hogwarts she is every inch what they said she would be. She goes home with her head held high and her wand tucked into the pocket of a long red skirt, and when they whisper about Reverend McGonagall’s odd girl and the strange school they ship her away to, she pays them no mind. She feels for the first time, with her education at her back and her future looming in front of her, extraordinary.
And yet eighteen and full of pride, she falls in love with an ordinary boy.
Dougal is not truly ordinary, though – he is handsome in a way that makes her strangely self-conscious, he is humorous in a way that makes her laugh until her stomach hurts (and she has always been so solemn, she is told, with her father’s serious long face). He likes to end a fight with a kiss, which should, she tells herself with all her careful practicality, enrage her and not entice her. And fight they do, and yet he loves her all the same, all the more, all the more when she bests him as she so often does. The timbre of his laughter settles in her bones and steals into her heart.
And when he falls to his knees in the field before her, for a bright blinding instant of optimism she sees their life stretching in front of them, and that moment is enough so that she says yes. It is a madness she never thought she would partake in, and it makes her feel as alive as she did the first time she was allowed to freely flick her wand.
When she arrives home, flushed and giddy, she creaks open the old wooden door and looks around the tiny manse and she thinks , Dougal will want a home such as this. Her mother kisses her forehead before she goes to sleep, and Minerva thinks it stings of regret, and suddenly she is less overjoyed, and more overwhelmed.
She has heard the murmurs about her mother, about her brothers, about herself, and she has seen the way her parents fight against the disillusionment of broken trust. This is what awaits me, she realizes. She has never asked her mother if she wishes she had made a different decision, if she dreamed she had never married a Reverend from the rolling Highlands and she had instead moved to London and encased herself in the world that was her own.
Minerva does not need to ask – she sees it sometimes in her mother’s eyes, when Isobel looks out the window, the world stretching before her and the windowpane between them. It is glass merely, but for a Muggle glass must be shattered and destroyed – for a witch, it can be vanished, easily, painlessly.
When Minerva climbs the narrow steps to her room she sits upon her bed and puts her broom in her lap. I shall never fly again if I marry him, she realizes, and her stomach twists, and the weight of the broomstick in her lap is suddenly too much to bear. She sets it aside and takes up her wand, her best companion – fir and dragon heartstring, firm and unyielding (much like her, her father had said when she told him, the small bit that he can understand of it). If she marries Dougal she will return to a world without dragon heartstrings, without the wind whipping in her face, without that contented feeling of belonging deep in her stomach that warms her like a mug of tea.
To marry him, she realizes then, is to life a world apart, to give up herself and all that she is.
Her breath comes in short bursts as she paces her tiny bedroom, three steps one way, four steps another, around and back again, the wand gripped so tightly in her hand that her knuckles turn white. She remembers her mother’s face when her letter arrived and thinks that she never wants to be that mother, that woman, on the outside looking in, always silently resentful and always aching for what is lost, for what is locked in a box under the bed.
Minerva presses her wand against her heart – she loves him, she knows, but she loves her world and what it has given her – the freedom to be simply herself – all the more.
They tell her she is destined for extraordinary things, and the next morning she races away on frightened feet from those who seek to tether her to a world made for less than that.
Chapter 3: The partition of an inheritance - Catelyn & Edmure
038. The partition of an inheritance.
Catelyn is their father’s favorite child.
She is the most like a Tully, Edmure thinks – she is brave, not shy like Lysa, but she is also the most likely to remember family duty honor and therefore the least likely to be making trouble, and their uncle says that she most closely resembles their dead mother. When Lord Tully’s bannermen come to Riverrun, Catelyn is the one who makes the easiest conversation, who is charming and graceful and nearly regal as the standing Lady of Riverrun, who their father kisses on the forehead before bed and calls a credit to their house. Catelyn, he says, will make a great match one day, will be a great lady of a great household, and he sets about finding her a husband high-born and well-placed enough to be worthy of her.
Edmure knows that Lysa is jealous, at times, but he is not. Perhaps it is because he is her brother and not her sister, he thinks, and therefore there is less to compare. Or perhaps it is because he scarcely remembers his mother and so it has always been Cat he has run to with a scraped knee, Cat who soothed his hurts and upsets, Cat who made the others include him in their games. He is not jealous because Catelyn is his favorite, too.
He is six when he realizes for the first time that for the seven years between his sister’s birth and his own, his father raised Cat not to be merely a great lady of some other castle but to be his heir, the Lady of Riverrun in truth. When he thinks of it, at six, he does not give it much thought, as young children rarely give thought to those things that precede them. He is here now, after all, and surely that is all that matters. There are more important things to attend to, like learning to hold his bow steady, like sloshing in the river with the water up to his waist, like catching a frog to slip into one of his sister’s beds.
It is when he is nine that he wonders for the first time if his father would have rather he not been born at all, if Cat was still his heir. It is after a rather miserable lesson at the archery butts, where his arrow overshoots the target and no amount of gentle tutoring or firm instruction can force his arm steady and make his shot land true. His aim only worsens when he notices Lord Tully watching, a small frown creased in his brow, and Edmure realizes that he never looks at Cat that way, with an air of confusion and vague disappointment.
He still can’t quite be jealous, and instead he is ashamed and nearly guilty, believing that he took something that belonged to his sister and that perhaps she is better suited to anyway. “Don’t be stupid,” Petyr tells him when Edmure confesses his worry. “Every family wants a boy.” But Edmure wonders if that is strictly true, if the boy is a boy like himself and the eldest girl is a girl like Cat.
But it does not matter, for either of them or for their father as well – Edmure was born and he is the heir and so instead of worrying about the might-have-beens he throws himself into his lessons, into his trainings with sword and shield and bow and upon horseback. It is Cat who his father allows to sit in upon his councils (the better, he says, that she may be an asset to her lord husband someday) and it is Edmure who begs Cat to ask their father to let him attend, too.
“You must be quiet,” Cat instructs him, and he sits beside his sister and watches his father hold court as he shall be expected to do one day, and he tries to understand.
Cat turns fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and though their father found that high-born, well-bred match for his first-born daughter years ago, when Lord Rickard Stark presses for a wedding date, Lord Tully hems and haws and delays. “Next year,” he promises at Cat’s nameday, and again at the next. Edmure is still a boy of barely eleven and his sister is a woman grown, and his father depends on her good sense and better graces in managing the household since their lady mother’s passing. He does not want to manage without her, Edmure thinks. He is certain then that his father would much rather he never had to send his best-loved daughter to the frigid north, no matter how well-made the match is, that he would greatly prefer to hand her the inheritance that is Edmure’s through an accident of birth alone.
Sometimes, Edmure wishes it, too, wishes for the freedom from the crushing responsibility that hangs like a weighted collar around his neck. It is a thing Cat is suited for – duty, always duty – and there are times that it chokes him in his sleep.
Cat is nearly twenty and he is just twelve the day she leaves Riverrun, a babe with the red hair and blue eyes of the Tullys tucked protectively in her arms. Her gown is cut in the northern style, simple and heavy, and Edmure thinks it looks strange and wrong.
He scowls when she bends and kisses his cheek, thinking himself too old for such displays, and his stomach sinks when she smiles ruefully and tells him that he must help Father, that he must do his part to prepare to one day become Lord of RIverrun. They are the duties that Cat had as her own, while he played in the godswood, growing tall and strong but still a mere boy, and though he works and tries, he has never had to do so without her steady, guiding presence at his side, her quiet whisper instructing what he should or should not do.
His childhood is over that day, he realizes, and when his sister departs, he wonders how he shall ever be expected to fill the spaces she left behind.
Chapter 4: The princess in the shroud - Shireen & Myrcella
010. The princess in the shroud
When Shireen flowers, her mother the queen gives her a veil to wear upon her face, to hide the mottled scarring that runs along her cheek and trails down her neck. Men will want to marry her because she is a princess, her mother tells her, but they will still be repulsed by the remnants of the greyscale upon her face, and so she should mask it as best she can. Beautiful women, she adds with a sneer, will always have an easier time of it in the world, and for those less fortunate, like them both, they must make do as best they can.
It is the first time Shireen truly feels disfigured, and as she adjusts the veil into place over her cheeks and nose and mouth, she feels a pang of longing for those days back on Dragonstone, when she ran and played with Edric and Patchface. An ugly princess, a bastard boy, and a mad fool – the unwanted of the world, and they had found a place with one another.
Shireen is glad of the veil now, however – it masks her tears as they drip down her face, sliding off her nose and onto her gown where she pushes away the droplets with her thumb. Her father would be shamed to see her cry, she thinks, he would tell her that royalty does not weep. But here in the dungeons of the Red Keep, it is hard to remember having a father. It is hard to remember being a princess, even an ugly one that must hide her face.
No one calls her princess anymore. She is called traitor, and usurper instead, by a beautiful woman with silver-spun hair and monsters at her beckoning, the ones Shireen would see her in her nightmares. The new queen is the sort of lady songs are written about, and so Shireen thinks perhaps she must be as the queen says, and that she will spend her life down here repenting for her crimes.
That is how it goes in the songs, after all.
The dungeons remind her in many ways of her time at the Wall – it is always damp and cold, no matter how she huddles and wraps her thin arms around her body for warmth, and there is never enough food. But in more ways it is entirely different – she remembers the gleam of the sun off of the white ice and snow, how it glistened and blinded her, and there had always been a fire roaring in the chambers she shared with her mother. Here she is plunged into darkness, a dimness her eyes have only recently seemed to adjust to. And at the Wall she had her mother, and Patchface, and her uncle and the guards who bowed their heads to her and said that she would someday be a queen, before there was a dragon queen instead and everyone was lost.
Here, she is lonely.
“Why are you crying?” a soft voice calls across from the adjoining cell.
Shireen presses her cheek against the bars separating the two, and can feel the icy sting of the metal even through the thin lace of her veil. Just on the other side, but far enough to feel a thousand leagues away, the dim light gleams off of Myrcella’s golden hair. Her cousin does not weep, and Shireen is jealous of her strength. She is not truly my cousin, she tells herself, but it is difficult to remember at times – Myrcella has always been so kind to her, had first boggled at the greyscale but had then learned to not mind it. “I’m sorry,” Shireen attempts to stifle the small peeps that escape her lips, and though she is apologizing to her cousin – her not-cousin – it feels as though she is also apologizing to her father, to Ser Davos, to her mother and uncle and the red priestess and all those that had fallen before her. All those who would have been stronger than her. “I am hungry.”
Myrcella does not answer for a long moment, her big green eyes lingering on Shireen’s face. She moves closer, instead, to Shireen’s cell, crawling on hands and knees towards her so that their faces are mere inches from one another though the bars separate them still. When she does speak, she asks, “Why do you wear that upon your face?”
Shireen touches the veil, self-conscious. Habit, she might say. Or, an equal truth, so that her jailers cannot easily read her expression on the rare times they come to bring food or empty her pot. It is poor enough that she cannot keep the tears at bay, she thinks – at least her father would be proud that she manages to disguise it. There would be no tales of the poor weeping once-princess to amuse the dragon queen.
But she bites her lip, and instead admits the third truth, the truth that had come before the other two, when she had been younger and the world had lay before her. “Because I am ugly,” she whispers.
“So am I,” Myrcella responds at once, and Shireen lets her eyes wander the length of the horrid scar left on Myrcella’s face, back to the ear that is now missing. She had always been so jealous of her beautiful cousin, but now Shireen wonders if it is a worse thing to have always been ugly – for she scarcely remembers life before the greyscale – or if it is harder yet to have been lovely and then have it ripped away. Sometimes Shireen wants to ask what happened to mar her, but she knows better than most how tiresome that question is when the answer is always ‘something beyond my control.’
“Let them look upon us,” Myrcella declares. “Why should we spare them the sight of the two ugly prisoner princesses?”
She wriggles her fingers through the bars, and Shireen reaches out to clasp them tightly. Myrcella’s fingers are cold and rough against Shireen’s own, thin from lack of food.
Her father was right in many things, Shireen thinks, but wrong in this – blood or not, Myrcella is still her kin.
Chapter 5: The girl who does not know herself - Sansa
058. The girl who does not know herself.
They bow their heads and call her ‘Your Grace’, they call her the Winter Queen, the Queen in the North. For all that she holds her head high, that the crown sits well upon her brow, at times the Queen forgets that when they say these things, they are referring to her.
Winterfell is left to ashes, and it is to her to bring it to rights. You are all the North has left, Lord Manderly tells her, and though she rebuilds mortar and stone, she cannot rebuild what once lived there, family and love and home. When she walks the corridors, it is hard to believe that she once walked these paths as a child, as a sweetly spoiled young girl who believed in songs and stories, in knights and princes. Was that me? she asks herself, sometimes incredulously, sometimes truly pondering. Was I ever that girl?
That girl had wanted to be a queen. The woman who became one can scarcely remember being that girl; sometimes, more often times than she will admit, she forgets that she is actually Sansa Stark at all.
They so rarely call her by her name, and the Winter Queen becomes a second skin that she wears, as she once did Alayne Stone. She still sees Alayne in the mirror, at times – in the quick, secretive flash of her eyes, in the tilt of her head and the small curve of a smile full of secrets. Some days her crown sits wrong and heavy on her head, as though it does not belong, and those are the days she feels like Alayne still, like nothing more than a quiet bastard girl who learnt the tricks of the game from the master player himself. Alayne had known many things, and had few responsibilities, the Queen remembers, and sometimes she wishes she could be her again.
And there are other days, days she does not hold court, when she puts aside the crown and other adornments, when she dresses in a simple blue gown cut in a practical northern style. On those days, she sometimes startles when she catches a glimpse of herself out of the corner of her eye and sees Catelyn Stark staring back. The very image of her mother at the same age, she can still hear the pleased purr of Petyr Baelish in her ear, as though he were in the room with her and not long dead and gone by her own command.
She thinks of her great-uncle the Blackfish, of her Uncle Edmure, and how their eyes sometimes glaze when they look upon her, the way their mouths twist in pain. She does not begrudge them their thoughts for a moment, not as she did Petyr, but she wonders if they ever look upon her and think of her by name. Perhaps Sansa Stark is to them, as she is sometimes to herself, the little girl with stars in her eyes, who died long ago. Perhaps she is nothing more now, to what little remains of House Tully, than a walking ghost, or barring that, an entity unto herself – the Northern Queen.
She sometimes wonders if she can be a Stark at all, without her family beside her. The lone wolf dies but the pack survives, she is reminded, and she thinks it is something her father – her real father, not the one built from lies – said, and here she has no pack at all. Can I be a wolf queen without a pack to call my own?
But perhaps he never said it. Perhaps her real father never existed at all, nor Sansa Stark. It was all so long ago, and it is so hard to remember.
A serving maid drops a low curtsy to the Queen one morning, and says that there is a man in Night’s Watch blacks here to pay his respects to Her Grace, if she would receive him. The Queen is surprised – years ago, when she was a different girl, visitors from the Night Watch were commonplace in Winterfell, but with the falling of the Wall, they had all dispersed. Who would come to Winterfell now? she thinks, and her heart seizes. Surely it cannot be.
“Do not bother Her Grace with such trifles,” her steward reprimands, but the Queen is already running, her skirts lifted in her hand and her heart hammering in her throat. Her fur-lined slippers make barely a sound as she races like a child down the corridors, and as she runs, she is suddenly assaulted with the memory of doing the same so many years ago, forgetting her ladylike manners when her parents would return from their progress around the North.
Yes, that was me, she remembers, and to remember is such a freeing feeling. I was that girl, once.
She pushes open the heavy door that leads to the courtyard, and blinks against the bright winter sunshine, reflecting off all the white around her. Behind her, she hears footsteps following, calling for her, concerned for her sudden flight, but she pays them no mind as she scans the yard. She tells herself that she must be braced for disappointment, but hope flutters in her heart and it is such a long forgotten feeling, to hope.
And then the Queen sees him, dismounting from his horse, dressed in black as he had been the day he left Winterfell all those years ago. He is grown so tall, she thinks, and he looks so like their father – their father, who had been strong and proud and honorable, who had loved them, loved her, in another life that she is just beginning to remember belonged to her. They had not been close as children, but his face could not be dearer to her now, his presence could not be sweeter.
“Sansa,” the man breathes. He jerks towards her, a few hurried footsteps as though to embrace her before he pauses uncertainly, as though he just now realizes that he is speaking to a queen, and he bows low at the waist.
But she is already crying and laughing, all at the same time, and she flies towards him, closing the distance remaining. “Jon,” she sobs, and Sansa throws herself into his arms, and is suddenly recalled to herself.
I am Sansa Stark, and my brother has come home.
Chapter 6: A clever boy - Petyr
066. A clever boy.
Catelyn never writes to him.
It is the bitterest pill to swallow, the scar that cuts deepest even after the ones left on his chest and arms by Brandon Stark have healed closed. He had been disappointed, hurt, when Cat had refused him her favor and had instead tied that handkerchief, embroidered by her own hand with the trout of House Tully, to Stark’s arm. But he had told himself that the betrothal had been long, that she had been young when it had been made and it was easier for her to be besotted than disillusioned. He had heard things about Brandon Stark, but Cat had not, and so she did not know the fate he would be keeping her from. He would not love her as I do, he had told himself. He does not understand how precious she is.
He does not spare a single sorrowful thought for Brandon Stark, when he hears of the manner of his death. The condolences he starts his letter with are brief and false-hearted, and small as they are, he still must force quill to parchment, his face screwed up in distaste. He leaves it as his regrets for her sorrows – that, at least, is less of a lie.
With the unpleasant necessary courtesies out of the way, he pours the last piece of his romantic soul into that letter. He promises that he will come for her, if she but asks him (how he will do so, he will determine later), assures her that he forgives her for not championing him and for not bidding him farewell when he had been carried in a litter from Riverrun (and he promises himself that he will in fact forgive her, by the time he leaves to fetch her). He assures her that he has learnt his numbers so well that he is sure he will get a position in the town, and that his home on the Fingers is not as meager and poor as Edmure had always teased.
(This is, perhaps, his greatest lie – he need only look around his tiny room, with the threadbare furs and the damp floor to know that it is nothing like Riverrun, nothing she is accustomed to. But he has always been called clever, and there is nowhere to go but upwards and onwards.)
We will be happy here, he tells her. And only happier once I bring us from this place onto greater and better things.
He sends the letter, and he waits, he waits for a fortnight and then a moon, and the only answer he is granted is deafening silence. His first fear is that the raven was wayward, that it never reached Riverrun at all, and that now it is too late to rescue her. So he sends another letter, to Edmure this time (to write to Lysa would certainly be a messy affair, and he has had enough of such disasters). It is a short letter, for he may be working to forgive Catelyn (and perhaps it is a blessing in disguise, that he is granted an extension in which to come to terms with her betrayal), but Edmure had chosen to squire for Brandon Stark as well, and Petyr has only so much forgiveness to dole out.
Edmure’s response is as painfully clueless as he has always found the boy, as though everything has not fallen apart, as though Petyr were not sent away in shame. He writes excitedly of anything and everything, but mostly he speaks of the looming war with that sort of childish excitement borne of those who never held true steel. At the mere thought of battle, the scar on Petyr’s chest, still angry and red, burns in memory. It is nearly at the bottom of the letter that Edmure answers Petyr’s direct question, that yes, Catelyn had received his letter but to his knowledge she had not read it. She is to marry Eddard Stark, Brandon’s brother, he says, and so seal their house in alliance to the rebel cause. (It is so exciting, Edmure writes, and Petyr sneers.)
Petyr has always been called a clever boy, and he cannot believe he has been so stupid as to have not foreseen this. He looks around the tiny bedchamber with fresh, scrutinizing eyes, and thinks he cannot imagine Catelyn there, that truly, he has nothing to offer a great lady of Riverrun. He has so little but his own heart to give, that Cat would choose a stranger over him.
With Brandon he had created excuses, reasons, pardons, but he has no such thing to offer at the news of Catelyn’s new match. A nobody from the Fingers, thinking he should marry amongst his betters, he remembers Brandon Stark spitting in venom, and he had never seen such sentiment in his Catelyn’s sweet blue eyes – but perhaps it is so. Perhaps he is too poor, too meager, too little, for all that he is clever and for all that he has love to give.
But he is clever, as they say, and when he crumbles Edmure’s letter and throws it in the fire, as he imagines his own went, he vows that he will use his skills to step on the stupid and brash of the world, stand on their shoulders to climb to the very pinnacle of power in the kingdom. These lords and ladies put such stock in their high birth, he thinks, but how they rest on it rather than strive to make themselves invaluable.
He shall be invaluable, he decides, and rise as those people so desperately needed do. And one day, he thinks, Cat will come to him and beg him for his forgiveness, beg him for a rescue from a frigid castle in the north and a man she does not know, and one day, perhaps, he shall grant her request. (Or perhaps not – but he has long to decide.)
He thinks the moment comes years later, when all is changed and he sits upon the royal council, and Catelyn Stark rides into the capital. He has her brought before him, a king in his castle of whores and sin, and he waits for the pleas that do not come, the smiles that he once swore were just for him. He searches her face for signs of misery, and finds few, and he smiles a bitter smile at the chasm she throws between them.
He watches when she runs to a Stark yet again, when she buries herself in his arms, and he thinks it is a good thing he has always been clever.