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Northern Brides

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Tyrion watched as Catelyn Stark looked at the message from King’s Landing. It was too much to hope that she read it out loud. She didn’t even move her lips as she looked at the message. Tyrion hated being left out of any news, and especially news that could put such worried looks on the faces of both Lady Stark and her maester.

He rose from the table and bowed as they left the great hall, even though neither was looking at him anymore. Then Tyrion followed Lady Stark at a discreet distance. Hopping to be overlooked long enough to overhear whatever news the raven had brought.

Catelyn looked uncomfortable when she entered the godswood. It had to be the godswood, thought Tyrion. They had a godswood at the Rock, but not like this. This was a large forest, and an old one. It did not seem the sort of place to make japes, or even to speak out loud.

It was a dark, primal place that smelled of earth and decay from a hundred years of leaves dropping out of a canopy overhead that blocked the sunlight almost completely. Tyrion could almost feel the old gods as he entered the brooding shadows. It was not a place that welcomed foreign gods. The seven had never done anything but shit on Tyrion though, so he welcomed the strangeness of the old gods and wondered if they would be kinder to him than the seven. He hoped to the old gods that he would not be caught spying on the Lady of Winterfell.

Catelyn found her husband under the largest wierwood that Tyrion had ever seen, probably the largest this side of the wall. Perhaps the largest on both sides. It was possible, Winterfell was that old if the history books were correct.

The godswood at the rock was inside the mountain fortress, small and rarely visited. The wierwood there was more twisted roots than tree and nearly filled the whole cave.

He paused as far away from the Stark couple as he could and still have a chance of overhearing their conversation. They did not appear to be worried about anyone spying on them. Tyrion wondered if it was the godswood that made them feel safe, or if life in the North was truly that much different than life in King’s Landing or Casterly Rock where everyone was spying on someone.

The Lord of Winterfell was cleaning the giant greatsword in a dark pool beneath the wierwood.

“Ned,” she called softly.

Tyrion could hear and see from where he was standing in the dense underbrush. Perfect!

“Catelyn,” he said. “Where are the children?”

She spread her cloak and sat beside the pool, her back to the wierwood. Was it wise to turn one’s back on these nameless northern gods? Tyrion shivered slightly, he did not believe in the gods, but he standing in this godswood made him wonder if his disbelief was misplaced.

“Arya is already in love, and Sansa is charmed and gracious, but Rickon is not quite sure.”

“Is he afraid?”

“A little,” she admitted. “He is only three.”

So much small talk. Tyrion wondered if the raven was really as important as it seemed in the great hall or if it was just a convenient excuse for the Lady to escape his company?

“He must learn to face his fears. He will not be three forever. And winter is coming.”

“Yes, ” the Lady of Winterfell agreed, but looked uncomfortable at the thought. Tyrion was beginning to feel uncomfortable as well. It was not his intention to intrude on any intimate moments between the Lord and his Lady and so was preparing to sneak away when the conversation turned to the deserter.

“He was the fourth this year. The poor man was half-mad. Something had put the fear in him so deep that my words could not reach him.”

He had been deeply frightened, that man, Tyrion had never seen anyone that afraid – not even when criminals were brought before his father, who was known as one of the least merciful lords in the seven kingdoms.

Lord Stark seemed to think it had something to do with wildings, but could the wildings really be more terrifying than his own Lord Father? Tyrion doubted it. As much as Tyrion resisted believing the Others could exist, he would have said the same of the old gods an hour earlier too. At the moment he was not so sure.

“Until this morning, no living man had ever seen a direwolf either,” Lady Stark pointed out. She was beautiful and smart. Could there be an eligible maiden somewhere up here in the North that could grow into a wife like Catelyn Tully had turned out to be? Tyrion would enjoy matching wits with a woman like her.

“You did not come here to tell me crib tales. I know how little you like this place. What is it, my lady?”

Finally! Enough beating around the wierwood tree. Tyrion turned back to watch the Starks closer. And there it was; Jon Aryn was dead.

Lord Stark looked devastated, as if the news were his own father had died.

“Jon…” he said. “Is the news certain?”

Interesting, Tyrion just realized that the bastard shared a name with Lord Stark’s brother-in-law. A man about whom he appeared to care a great deal. Whatever the connection between the two it was too old for Tyrion to have heard about it first hand, but too new to be in any history books.

Oh, and Lysa Aryn had run back to the Eyrie. That sounded just like her, to run and take that sickly boy with her. Lysa shared none of her sister’s attractive qualities, with the exception of the rich auburn hair. But even that did not seem as attractive on Lysa Aryn as on Catelyn Stark.

“I know my sister. She needs the comfort of family and friends around her.”

Tyrion could barely hold in the derisive snort that comment provoked. He had been in King’s Landing a time or two with his father, and Lysa Aryn did not have friends, unless you wanted to count Littlefinger, but he was no one’s friend. Nor did she seem to take any comfort in her family from what Tyrion had observed. He wondered how long it had been since Lady Stark had seen her sister?

“The king is riding to Winterfell to seek you out.”

So that was the news. The king on his way to Winterfell. The king who was suddenly short a hand. Tyrion could see what was most likely behind that trip.

“The royal family travels with him.”

Oh, that was not good. The royal family meant his sister. The one person he would want to see even less than his father. She would see him rot in the Night’s Watch if she found him here looking for a wife. Why, she would bring up all those old stories about tales and wings herself and swear they were true before a maester had them cut off.

“Robert will keep an easy pace for their sakes,” he said. “It is just as well. That will give us more time to prepare.”

Tyrion did tiptoe back away toward the main keep then. He had heard enough to satisfy his curiosity and realize that he had better make some plans of his own before his sister showed up and ruined it all.

He was lost in thought as he walked back into the courtyard and was suddenly hit from above with a large quantity of… horseshit.

He wiped his eyes and looked around, but could not see anyone nearby. Nor did it appear that anyone had noticed a load of flying horseshit land on the dwarf. But he did hear giggles and footsteps on the walkway above him.

Tyrion sighed. Nine years in the sewers of Casterly Rock. This was not the first time someone had seen fit to play such a prank on him, and Tyrion was afraid it would not be the last either.

He brushed himself off the best he could and tried to see where the walkway lead. If he were the owner of those footsteps, where would he make his appearance? He made his way in that direction and ran into the younger Stark daughter and her direwolf.

“Your wolf looks like it needs a bath.” Tyrion commented dryly.

She blushed. She knew he knew. Good.

“You smell like horses. Maybe you should take a bath.”

Bold little thing.

“That sounds like a lovely idea. I’m afraid I’ve lost my way though. You don’t happen to know the way to the guest chambers, do you?”

There it was again. A little blush at the word guest. It must have been her. He wondered if she really meant to drop her load on him, or if it was perhaps meant for one of her siblings.

“There’s more than one room for guests, stupid.” she said. Then covered her mouth and blushed again.

Tyrion laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” she hissed.

“Are you aware that you blush when you misbehave?” Tyrion puffed out between snorts.

“I do not.”

“You do…”

“Arya!” A loud voice cried from below.

“Oh, no, that’s the Septa.” Arya whispered. Then she looked at him and her eyes grew wide with concern. “We need to get you cleaned up before dinner!”

“Me?” Tyrion started. He wasn’t the one the Septa was looking for. But Arrya had already grabbed his sleeve and was pulling him along a hallway behind her, and then into a bedroom. A well occupied bedroom from the piles of clothes and other debris scattered around on the floor.

Arya shut the door and barred it.

Tyrion was about ready to piss himself at the absurdity of it all. This was the first time in his life a young girl had ever barred her door with him on the same side!

“Okay, here’s some water…” Arya said. “It’s only a little dirty. I think it will clean you good enough.”

She was digging around in the piles of clothes and picking up one of the smaller items and handing it to him. It appeared to be some kind of female undergarment.

“Arya!” the Septa’s voice was right outside the door now.

“Go away!” Arya yelled back. Looking toward him and putting a finger against her lips.

Tyrion wondered what Arya thought would happen if the Septa found him in her room? It was likely to be his head on a stump waiting for a giant great sword to separate it from his body.

“It’s time for dinner, Arya.” The voice from the other side of the door called. “We have guests tonight. Your mother wants me to make you presentable.”

“I’m already getting cleaned up. Go away.”

“I’m going to tell your mother, Arya.” The voice huffed and then steps disappeared down the hall.

“Does she always give up that easily?” Tyrion asked, the undergarment still in his hand.

“She knows I mean what I say.” Arya told him. Now you better wash up. You can use that old thing for a wash cloth. And the water. There. In the basin.

Tyrion wondered why it was so important to her to get him cleaned up. She didn’t seem all that concerned about the Septa’s threats over her own grooming.

“And if I don’t?” he asked, curious.

“Then they will want to know how you got all that horseshit all over you!” she hissed.

“And that might lead them to wonder what games you were playing this afternoon?” Tyrion finished. So that was what she was worried about.

Arya nodded, then added, “please?”

Tyrion looked at her under garment and sighed. “Well, I wouldn’t want to get you into any more trouble than you are already in.”

He did his best to wash off the last of the manure from his head and hands. Arya swipped at his shirt and looked him over critically.

“Good enough?” Tyrion asked.

“Probably,” Arya said. “You won’t tell, will you?”

“Of course not. And if anyone asks, I’ll say I was in the stables and got knocked over when a stable boy opened a stall door without seeing me. I’m easy to miss you know. I don’t think the lie would get anyone else in trouble. Do you?”

“As long as the stable boy wasn’t Hodor.” Arya said, smiling at him.

“Now, there is a price for my silence, my lady”, Tyrion began.

“I’m not a lady.”

“It’s just a courtesy, Arya, not an accusation…”

Tyrion took a breath and started over again as seriously as he could manage. “There is a price. For my silence.” He looked her in the eye to be sure she was listening.

“What price?” she asked.

“Two things. I need some information.”

Arya looked toward the barred door with a worried look on her face. “They are expecting us for dinner soon.”

“I know. I need information, but not this moment. Later, when we can talk privately. I have some questions maybe you can answer.”

Arya nodded.

“And right now, I need you to go unbar your door and peek out into the hall.” Tyrion shifted his weight uncomfortably. “I think it would be better if no one saw me coming out of your bedroom.”

Arya looked critically at his hair and shirt and nodded. Then turned back and rummaged in another pile until she pulled out a comb.

“You better use this while I look.”

Tyrion ran the comb through is hair while Arya checked out the hallway.

"The coast is clear," she said, motioning him to leave.

It was with great relief that Tyrion escaped the younger Stark girl's room. He trusted his nose to help him find the dining hall and was greeted by the rest of the Stark family and given a place of honor at the table between Lord Stark and his wife.

"Ned," Catelyn leaned uncomfortably close to Tyrion to speak to her husband in a low tone. Tyrion only hoped he did not still smell too much of horseshit. "Did Lord Tyrion mention to you that he has come north in search of a wife?"

"No." Tyrion flushed at the look on Lord Stark's face. "It has been a busy day," Lord Stark spoke slowly as if not quite sure how to approach the subject of marriage.

"My father sent me north, hoping I might find a likely maiden to marry." Tyrion started his story, which he had practiced a dozen times at smaller holdfasts along the way. "It seems my brother and sister have disappointed me father in the matter of an heir for Casterly Rock, and so now he has turned to me in hopes that I might find a suitably high-born girl who may make up for my personal failings and provide a satisfactory heir."

Lord Stark leaned back in his chair with a far-away look. "It's been a long time since I had to worry about arranged marriages. My lady wife was promised to my brother and I married her in his place. My sister..." he sighed. "Well, we all know what came out of my sister's betrothal. I'm not sure arranged marriages are such a good idea."

"Ned! You can't mean to leave our children on their own to find appropriate matches. That would never work." Catelyn seemed outraged.

Just then Arya walked in, "I'm going to marry the Imp." She announced, and then shoved her brothers over to sit between them.

"Arya!" Sansa was aghast. "Why would you marry the I... Lord Tyrion?"

"Because he smells like horses. I like horses."

Lord Stark looked amused while Sansa and her mother were both socked and outraged. He laughed and then told his daughter, "Well, you don't have to go all the way to Casterly Rock to smell of horses, Harwin might consider taking you to wife."

"Ned!" from Lady Catelyn.

"She can't marry Harwin, he's a servant." from Sansa.

"He'll be master of horse someday, in his father's place. If Arya's first criteria for a husband is to smell of horses then I can't think of anyone better."

Tyrion was not sure if he should be offended at being placed lower than the future master of horse at Winterfell or laugh at Lord Stark's humor.

"Ned. This is a serious matter. I had not thought of it until today, but our children are of an age where we should be planning for their future. Robb is almost a man grown. Lord Tyrion has done us a great service to remind us of our duty as parents."

Ah, so he was not a potential suitor, just a reminder of their own responsibilities as parents. Tyrion supposed he should be grateful. They did not see him as an immediate threat to their own children and had welcomed him as a guest at Winterfell with more honor than many other, lesser families had. He would be content with that for now.

After dinner, Catelyn had caught his attention and mentioned to him Alys Karstark, Wynfryd and Wylla Manderly, Joelle and Alasyne Mormont, and Donnell Harwood, although she thought the Harwood widow likely too old and likely to be more interested in protecting her own lands than in Casterly Rock.

Tyrion thanked her and begged to retire for the night as the day had been a very long and busy one.

On his way to his room, he noticed Sansa staring out over the courtyard.

"My lady," he greeted her.

"Lord Tyrion," she returned politely.

"I wonder what is on your mind tonight, my lady." Tyrion hoped he could start a conversation with the girl.

"I was thinking about marriage."

Oh, could it be any better? Tyrion grinned. "And what were you thinking, my lady?"

Sansa turned away and looked over the courtyard again. "You see that man over there, by the stables?"

Tyrion looked and nodded. He was a reasonably well-built fellow. "Is that the man you want to marry?"

"Me? No!" Sansa was quick to say. "That's Harwin, the one father said Arya should marry. Do you think she would? Marry him?"

The way she said "him" made Tyrion wince. "I've always found what young girls dream of marriage to be a bit of a mystery. My sister married the King, but only because my father forced her to."

"She didn't want to marry him?" Sansa asked, amazed, if not as shocked as she was with Arya's taste for the smell of horses.

"I don't believe so. Although, I hear he was nicer to look on when they were married. I have an idea that she may have loved another more."

"I wish I could be Queen." Sansa sighed and looked dreamily off into the distance.

"And if this Harwin was a prince, would you marry him then?" Tyrion inquired.

Sansa took another look at Harwin, considering. "He is somewhat handsome. I suppose if he were a prince, I might want to marry him."

"And if I were a prince?" Tyrion ventured.

"If you... " Sansa's mouth fell open and she blushed. True, he wasn't as handsome as Harwin, nor as any other man at Winterfell, but he might be a great lord when his father died. If that made a difference to Sansa then he would consider speaking to her father about a possible match.

She shook her head. "But you aren't a prince."

"No, no I'm not a prince. But I might be the Lord of Casterly Rock someday, and my wife would be very rich and very powerful, if not quite a queen."

Sansa seemed to consider that, but had no answer. Which was answer enough for Tyrion. Not even the Rock would persuade her to marry a man quite as disfigured as himself.

"You don't have to answer, my lady. It is a task my father asked of me, to find a wife. I was only inquiring to see if you thought a young girl such as yourself might ever look kindly on me."

"There are a lot of young women in the world, my lord. I'm sure many of them would want to be the Lady of Casterly Rock." It seemed to Tyrion that Sansa was trying very hard to be polite.

"Do you think that's why she wants to marry you?"

Tyrion was not quite sure what Sansa was referring to. "Why who wants to marry me?"

"Arya," Sansa said as if it were obvious.

Tyrion bent over laughing and shook his head, "No, no. I think she truly likes the smell of horseshit... "

Sansa's eyes grew big and her mouth dropped open again, "She didn't..."

Tyrion only laughed harder when he realized he was not the first one Arya had played that little prank on. "Can you imagine the Lady of Casterly Rock greeting her guests that way?"

"Oh, my sister will never get married!" Sansa wailed as if that was the worst thing that could ever happen.

Tyrion laughed some more, and said, "Perhaps it would be good for some guests, my sister for instance."

Seeming even more shocked, if that was possible, Sansa whispered, "but your sister is the Queen."

"She is, lady Sansa, she is. And I would dearly love to see her covered in horseshit someday. But tonight I must retire, if you will excuse me?"

Tyrion walked to his room with a smile on his face at the thought of Arya giving Cersei a proper Winterfell welcome. Perhaps he would stay long enough to see the King's party arrive after all. Maybe she would give his little nephew a nice welcome present too. He wondered if Sansa would want to marry him then, if he would still seem a handsome prince. Tyrion supposed she probably would.