The Starks raised their ward as they raised their bastard, as one of their own.
Theon Greyjoy ate at their table and practised the sword with their heir and any notions of neglect or cruel captivity were mostly in his mind.
Occasionally there were harsh words from people around the castle, things like ‘squid’ and ‘traitor’, even though Theon had been too young to participate in his father’s rebellion.
The unspoken hardships took their toll too, warm family evenings by the fire that Theon was not invited to and a kindness in peoples’ eyes that was directed at Robb but was absent when they looked at Theon.
He spent so many evenings watching people care for each other that he became used to the bitter loneliness of it.
Then one evening a young girl joined him in his cold corner by the window. A girl that was called things like ‘bastard’ and ‘whore’s girl’. She was only ten, but she knew most of the hardships Theon was familiar with. She was not able to join the cosy-looking family either. They were only half hers. And maybe Joanna Snow had some things Theon did not – the love of a father, the warmth of half-siblings – but he had some things she did not – steel in his hand, a future.
Without really thinking, Theon took her delicate little hand in his own.
In that moment, and many more to come, they stood together apart from the rest.
The loneliness slept for a while.