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Northern Brides

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Ned looked at his wife curiously, "I heard you mentioned some high-born girls to Tyrion after dinner."

"I did." Catelyn looked as if she were daring him to object.

"Don't you think it might insult the girls if he mentions you suggested he meet them?" Ned did not have anything personally against the Imp, only the rest of his family: his father who had served the old king and came late to the rebellion, his brother who killed that king when he was sworn to guard him, and the sister who insisted on making his best friend's life a living hell. No, Tyrion had not done anything to earn Ned's dislike, but the Imp made him uncomfortable all the same.

"I should think they would be glad to be considered worthy to be the next Lady of Casterly Rock."

"He's a dwarf..."

"I've noticed, Ned. But if Sansa were a little older I'd consider him as my own goodson."

Ned looked at Catelyn in disbelief. "Why?"

"A marriage is an alliance, Ned. Do you think I married you out of love? I did it for duty. Love came later."

"And you don't want that for your girls? For love to come sooner or later?" Ned asked gently.

"Of course I do, but Ned, that is not what marriage is about. It's about strengthening your house by forging an alliance with another house. There is so much bad blood between the Starks and the Lannisters. If Sansa married the Imp it could change that."

"Could it?" Ned had his doubts. Even if they were talking about the golden son, Jaime, if he were free to marry. It was not likely a marriage would mend the fences between the Starks and the Lannisers. If things were that simple they could have married Robert's youngest to the Targaryen princess that had barely escaped Dragonstone and the wold would be filled with flowers and songs. Only Sansa would believe that tale. "Lyanna was betrothed to Robert, you will recall. That did nothing to heal any wounds."

Catelyn sighed. "Sansa is too young. Tyrion is in search of an heir. He needs a girl who has flowered already to satisfy his father's request. But she is not too young for betrothal. We should consider possible matches for her. And for Robb, he will be the next Lord of Winterfell. Lord Tywin is not the only one who should be thinking about an heir."

Ned refused to be cowed, "Robb has heirs. Bran and Rickon are his heirs. And even Jon if it ever came to that."

"Not Jon..." there was venom in her voice. "Never Jon."

Ned sighed. He wished she did not hate the boy so much. "We have three healthy young sons to hold Winterfell if something should happen to me, Catelyn. We don't need to rush the boy into marriage."

Ned tried to put his arms around Catelyn and hold her close, but she refused to move even while she allowed him to encircle her with his arms. He closed his eyes and rested his head on hers. "Come to bed, my love, we can talk about who our children should marry in the morning.

In the morning Ned promised Catelyn that he would speak with Tyrion about a possible match between him and Sansa. Ned was hoping she would forbid him to talk to the Imp.  Catelyn looked disturbed, but didn't say anything.

So Ned found himself searching for the Imp after he broke his fast. His inquiries lead him to the godswood where he found Tyrion Lannister sitting on a log watching Arya and Bran spar with a couple of broken branches. He paused for a few minutes to collect his thoughts and observe the trio.

"Are you really going to marry the Imp?" Bran asked.

"Yes, I want to know too, are you really going to marry the Imp?" asked Tyrion.

"I could if I wanted to." replied Arya as she swung low and hit her little brother's calf.

Bran dropped his stick and fell to the ground clasping his leg. Ned could see he was acting as if it was worse than it was.

"The real question is would you marry Arya?" Bran said, "She's very dangerous you know."

Ned felt the laughter bubble up inside. He did not get the impression either Arya or Tyrion was seriously considering this match.

"Oh, I can see that. I would have to be a very good husband and make sure she had no cause to beat me with sticks."

"It would be a sword. If I marry you, you have to let me have a real sword, and find me a master-at-arms to teach me how to fight. And you can never make me do any needlework..."

"Are you quite finished laying out your terms, Arya?" Asked Ned, alerting them all of his presence. He stepped forward into the clearing and continued, "Marriage is not a joke, Arya. And Lord Tyrion is in serious need of a wife. You should not tease him. Last I heard, you never wanted to get married."

Arya wrinkled up her face, obviously thinking hard. "I don't want to marry a knight or live in a castle. I'm never going to be a lady."

She looked at Tyrion like she expected him to help plead her case.

"It's very likely that my wife will become the Lady of Casterly Rock." Tyrion told Arya. "While I would be more than happy to promise you a sword and an instructor to teach you to use it, I cannot promise that you would not be expected to act the part of a great lady at times too."

Arya looked disappointed, but Ned was relieved. It might be there was one Lannister he could stomach after all.

"Lord Tyrion, my wife wanted me to talk with you." Ned looked to his children, "in private."

Tyrion nodded and followed Ned from the godswood.

"Thank you," said Ned, when he was sure they were out of range to be overheard. "I don't know what has gotten into Aray, she never seemed interested in marriage before last night."

"I don't believe she is interested, Lord Stark. I think she is only teasing me. She seems to enjoy making me uncomfortable."

Ned laughed. "She does have a bit of the wolf's blood in her."

"The wolf's blood?" asked Tyrion.

"Yes," Ned suddenly serious. "There is something I want to show you."

He led Tyrion down into the Crypts, mentioning the Lords of Winterell and the Kings of Winter as he passed them. At the end of the long line of serious faces they came to the statue of his sister, Lyanna.

"This is her. This is my sister Lyanna. She was promised to Robert Baratheon when she was younger than Arya."

Tyrion nodded, looking thoughtful. "Not much good came of that match," the little man stated.

Ned took a deep breath, still feeling tears gather in his eyes when he looked at his sister's image. "No. Nothing good."

"Catelyn and I were lucky. Love grew between us. But what about Robert and Cersei? What about Catelyn's sister and Jon Aryn? Catelyn seems so sure we should arrange marriages for the children, but how can I, knowing the odds are they will turn out badly?"

Tyrion was silent and nodded. "You do seem to be one of the lucky ones. Would you have married someone else if you had the choice?"

Yes. Ned thought. I would have. "Maybe, he said. Catelyn was supposed to marry my brother. I suppose I would have had to marry someone else."

"I do not wish to force myself on any woman." Tyrion stated. Ned raised an eyebrow at that. He had heard that the Imp was as frequent a visitor to the brothels as his friend Robert ever was. Tyrion noticed the look and added, "Not even whores, if one doesn't want my coin I can easily find another who does."

Ned grinned, that was not the kind of confession one make to one's future goodfather. Perhaps he could talk with the Imp after all. "Catelyn seems to think that Sansa might be a good match for you."

"Sansa?" Tyrion seemed surprised.

Ned just looked at him and waited.

"My father mentioned your oldest girl was likely to be of an age to be married, but now that I am here I see she is still only a child really."

Ned relaxed and let him continue.

"She is a sweet girl. I talked to her after supper last night. It seems she wants to marry a prince, or at least some handsome knight. And I am neither. Not all dreams come true, and she may find that not all princes are quite as valiant as she believe. But I do not want to be the one to spoil those dreams, Lord Stark."

"Good." Ned said. "I do not think you would be a good husband for Sansa either.  I understand that you may inherit Casterly Rock some day, but I would rather see her married to a man she can love. I do not think you are that man."

"No." Tyrion did not look pleased, but did not disagree.

"Who would you suggest for Sansa then?" Ned asked. "Prince Joffery?"

Tyrion looked up in surprise. "Joffery? The boy is spoiled beyond belief, and cruel besides. I have not met a girl I misliked enough to wish Joffery upon."

Ned was surprised again, Joffery was the Imp's own nephew and his words could be taken as treasonous if they were heard by the wrong people. "I see..." Ned started. Not that he would be happy to see Sansa with any Lannister, even one with a Baratheon surname, but Catelyn was right, they would need to find her a good match somewhere.

"There are princes in Dorne," began Tyrion.

"The Red Viper?" Ned started.

"Is far too old, and has a paramour who seems to hold his heart as well," finished Tyrion. "I was thinking of Doran Martell's sons, Quentin and Trystane. He has a daughter too, older than them, and the girls can inherit in Dorne, so neither son has a claim to offer, but both are princes, and undoubtedly more handsome than I."

Ned looked at the dwarf with interest. He seemed to have Sansa's best interests at heart, possibly more than her own mother did. Ned would like to find both his daughter's husbands who considered their interests above their own, but knew that was a rare quality.

"It seems your younger daughter takes after her aunt quite strongly." Tyrion broke the silence.

"She does." Ned loved Ayra as fiercely as he once loved Lyanna.

"Do you think King Robert would notice it? The resemblance?"

"It would be hard to miss. They don't just look alike, Lyanna was just as fierce and wanted to ride and fight just like Arya does. She didn't resist learning to act like a lady as much as Arya, but she was older by then too..." Ned drifted off into his memories of his sister.

And then he remembered Robert too. "Why do you ask?"

"I had overheard some talk at court about a Highgarden girl who might resemble your sister. It seems there are some that think Robert would set aside my sister for another woman if there was enough of a resemblance."

Ned's face darkened again. He would rather see Arya married to the Imp than Robert. He spent the rest of the day talking with Tyrion about children of many families, north and south. They discussed the daughters Tyrion had met on his way to Winterfell and those Catelyn had mentioned to him the night before. And they discussed potential matches for all of the Stark children as well.

Ned was impressed that Tyrion did not seem to press his case as a future son-in-law, but rather offered honest criticism both positive and negative where he had any knowledge of the families. I the end he told Tyrion he thought the woman who ended up as his wife would be lucky to have him. And then he faced a more difficult challenge, proposing his favorite matches to Catelyn who was thinking beyond each child's happiness to political alliances as well.

In the end, they sent ravens to Dorne, the Eyrie, Highgarden, Casterly Rock and Bear Island.