It had been a long time since she’d stayed and slept in such comfortable quarters. Had it been since Winterfell, during a life she could barely remember ever living? Only thirty-seven, and her bones ached, and not from her time on the road. Her room in the Red Keep was much brighter than the bedroom she’d shared with Ned, but it felt colder too, despite the heat of the southern sun. There were no warmth of the hot springs under Winterfell and no Ned to warm her bed, just herself and the ghosts of her family.
The first three days, after she’d been shoved unceremoniously into the room and locked in, she had sat in a plush chair by the window, staring out unseeingly, picking at her food and refusing to speak to anyone. There had been no time or place to mourn since Ned’s death, not for him or for their daughters or sons, but now that the war was over and had taken all of her sweet children, grieving was the only thing left for her to do. She didn’t see King’s Landing, the buildings or the landscape outside. She had seen Robb swordplaying with Rodrik Cassel; Sansa learning how to dance; Arya looking mischievous with a stick behind her back; Bran climbing a tower; Rickon running and laughing through the halls; and Ned, her dear Ned, lying in bed next to her, his chest slowly rising and falling, letting her know that they were all alive.
(But they weren’t. Everyone was dead and these ghosts would never bring her warmth.)
Catelyn Stark had broken down the fourth day, crawling weakly to the large bed and slipping under the covers where she could weep quietly. The next two days were spent in bed. She wrapped herself up in a protective cocoon of blankets and grief and cried every night until she had nothing left in her. The tears began to vanish and she began to come out of it after the first week passed, but she felt completely hollow. Grief had swallowed her whole and when it was done with her, it spit her out, leaving her as just a shade.
By the end of the second week, Catelyn pulled herself out of bed and slipped into a cool dressing gown. When one of the maids came in with her meal, Catelyn asked for a bath. It had been far too long, since she’d first arrived and they’d washed Robb’s blood off of her. An hour later, she was submerged in steaming water. It scalded her, but she didn’t care, preferring to let the pain wash over her skin. It was the first time she’d felt something since Robb’s lifeless body had been dragged away from her. They dressed her in a beautiful blue southern-styled dress, something she hadn’t worn since she’d married Ned as a girl at Riverrun. Her family’s colors, they’d said, the Tully colors, but she had been transformed into a Stark over the past two years, cold and unforgiving as winter itself.
While she was brushing her long red hair into something much more manageable than it had been for the past months, she heard the door creek open behind her. When she turned to see who it was, about to tell a maid to leave her be, Catelyn was stunned to find herself looking at Tywin Lannister, the Hand of the King, the man who had concocted the plan that murdered her oldest son.
At first, Catelyn didn’t know what to do, frozen in place, the brush in her hand still against her hair. For a wild moment, she pictured herself throwing the brush at the older Lord, screaming that he was a murderer and to get out, rushing to him and clawing his eyes out. She thought of how they would drag her away and lock her in chains. How there would be blood on her hands again and on the clean dress they’d given her. She wanted him to hurt just as much as she did. She’d heard that his son, the Imp, Tyrion Lannister, had fled in the night after murdering the first boy king Joffrey. She knew that he’d lost nephews to a furious Karstark. There was some loss in his family, but not enough, not anywhere close to Catelyn’s, and she wanted him to suffer just as much as she was. She wanted him to burn and die in agony. She wanted to take his dagger from his side and stab him in the eye with the pointy end.
But Catelyn did no such thing. Instead, she set the brush down, dropped her hands to her side, bowed her head, and said, “My lord,” in a soft whisper. It pained her to speak to him like this. She didn’t even know why she was, except for the fact that perhaps keeping like this, remaining proper, was the only thing that tied her back to the world when all other strings had been severed.
“Do you like the dress?” Of all the things for Tywin to say, Catelyn had not expected that. She raised her eyes to him, a slightly puzzled expression on her face. He shut the door behind himself and stepped closer towards her. “I made sure it was Tully colors. It will need to be taken in to fit you more properly, but I thought you might...appreciate it.”
Catelyn mulled over what to say. She had not thought that Tywin Lannister would pick out her outfits especially, but she certainly wasn’t appreciative of it. “It is beautiful,” she finally settled on saying, silently adding, But it will not bring me my children back.
“There are things we need to discuss,” Tywin stated, no longer beating around the bush. Yes, she preferred it this way. She didn’t have the desire to dance around with all the proper politeness. “I’ve come to broker a truce with you.”
“With me?” It wasn’t a question so much as incredulity.
“Yes, a truce, with you.” Tywin stepped towards her, proud and unrelenting. This was a man who was used to getting his way; and Catelyn was a woman that knew how to deal with men like that.
She refused to move, even if he was trying to intimidate her. She had never been a timid maid; she would not be one now. Besides, she mused, she had nothing left to lose. What else could they take from her? Here, the only person they could hurt was her, and she did not care about that any longer. “Why would you want to do that? Why would I want to do that? You killed my son, kept my daughter hostage, lost the other, burned my father’s land and tortured his people. I have no peace to strike with you.”
“It is not your peace that I seek, Lady Stark,” Tywin explained, “but the peace of the North and the Riverlands.” She pressed her lips together. The North had only been her home when she gave birth to her children and came to love Ned. She didn’t know what it was to her now, but she had started to lose pieces of it with Bran’s and Rickon’s deaths until it vanished completely with Robb’s. And while the Riverlands had been the place of her birth, she felt a foreigner there as well. “The Riverlands are a disaster and there is no peace in the North. It has become a wild mess, nearly as bad as beyond the Wall. Most of the families there have sworn fealty to the Iron Throne, and Roose Bolton is now the Warden of the North, but the hold is tumultuous at best. I need to solidify it, before winter takes over completely.”
“And what does this have to do with me?” Catelyn asked, feeling edgy. She had a suspicion about what he was going to say, but she didn’t want to believe her thoughts. They were absurd. There was nothing she could do to help contain the North. It had always been wild and untamable. Surely he knew that there was nothing a woman could do to bring them to their knees, especially a woman that did not want to do anything of the sort to begin with.
Tywin stood there, for a moment, looking her in the eyes. He was a cold man, she knew that, but two could play at that game. If she did not want to lose herself in her grief, she could lose herself in her anger. “The Tullys will hold no power in the Riverlands anymore, once Riverrun is taken from the Blackfish, but that does not mean they have lost the respect of the people. You also married a Stark. You cannot get any higher in the North. You walked with the men; you spent time in their camps; you broke bread with them. There is not a woman in the North that commands as much admiration and respect as you. Even Jaime said he had never seen a woman stronger than you.”
“What do you want?” she demanded. “No more games, no more flattery, Lord Tywin. Tell me.”
“I want your hand in marriage, Lady Catelyn. If I have that, then perhaps the rest of the men that still struggle against me will finally give up and bend to my will.” Without thinking, Catelyn went to slap him in the face, but he caught her by the wrist and pulled her closer to him. “You can do this willingly, or you will find out what your daughter Sansa went through.” She struggled against him, but he only tightened his grip. Once she realized it was futile, she stopped fighting and glared at him heatedly. “You may not realize it now, but this will benefit both of us. We both lost the one we loved. You have lost your children; and I need an heir. Peace will be a wedding gift, so that we may prepare for the coming winter.”
Catelyn finally jerked herself from his grasp. “Do you think I will just go to bed with the man that killed my son?”
“I think you will do your duty and whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of your remaining family,” Tywin replied coolly. She wanted to strike him again, but kept her fury at bay. “If you do this, then your brother Edmure will be pardoned; your uncle Ser Brynden as well, as long as he gives up his hold of Riverrun. We’ll even give Edmure a little bit of land in place of Riverrun, so that he may continue to be a Lord. I heard a rumor that his Frey wife is with child. Will you choose to protect them or keep your pride? What are the words: Family, Duty, Honor? Family and Duty come before Honor, it appears.”
Tywin knew as well as Catelyn that she would. Her brother and uncle were all that she had left. Her sister Lysa was hiding in the Vale, supposedly with Petyr at her court, and had proven to be no sister or friend to her. Sansa had vanished in the night and Arya was presumed dead. She didn’t think she was strong enough to handle being the only one remaining from two once proud families.
“I will leave you to consider your answer.” Tywin walked to the door, but turned before stepping out of it. “You have one night,” he told her, “to decide if you will fight or follow.” And then he left, leaving Catelyn alone with her fears and thoughts.