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Northern Brides

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“You aren't married.” Lyanna stood her ground firmly, looking at her mother and each of her older sisters in the eye. “Why should I marry when none of you have?”

Lyanna felt a moment of pride as her sisters squirmed in their places. She was almost seven and had already learned to use the truth to make adults listen to her. Her secret was to never flinch or look away, whoever looked away first always lost.

Except this time they were not backing down in spite of their unease.

“Your sisters will marry if and when the right opportunity presents itself. Not one of them has received an offer of betrothal from a Stark.” Lyanna's mother Maege was the only one able to stand firm against Lyanna. She seethed inside, but did her best not to let her feelings show on her face.

The Starks are coming to visit. Only partially true, the new Lady Lannister and her husband the Imp, and a bastard named Snow were escorting her betrothed to Bear Island. The youngest Stark was third in line for Winterfell and half her age. It did not seem to Lyanna that it was a good match at all.

“Don't you think the little Stark is too young for a betrothal?” asked Lyanna in her most reasonable tone.

“He is young, but some children are betrothed while still in the womb. We owe house Stark our loyalty. Your cousin disgraced our house not five years past, and the Stark are offering us one of their own children. House Mormont cannot refuse this honor now.” Maege Mormont explained to her strong-willed daughter.

“So I am to be sold to try and regain the honor my cousin lost over his Southern Bride?”

In truth, Lyanna did not remember her cousin. He had run from Westeros and the King's Justice when she was still just a baby, about the age of this Stark boy in fact. They had lived in shame since then. She understood why her mother wanted to strengthen ties with House Stark. She did not understand why she was selected as the future bride.

“There are other Stark sons, older sons. Why can one of my elder sisters not marry one of them?”

“I believe they are already promised.”

“To other Southerners?” Lyanna demanded pointedly. “Why are we accepting third place to Southerners?”

“It isn't third place...” Jorelle offered.

“We have been disgraced,” her mother bit out, looking more like the bear that was the sigil of their house with each passing statement. “do you really think the Starks would offer us their heir?”

“They should. We did not disgrace our house. Should we be held accountable for what her cousin, Jorah did?”

“He brought this dishonor on our whole family and you are the key to removing that taint. Do you refuse the call to serve your family?”

Lyanna struggled with that question. She wanted to serve her family, of course. She was raised to believe strongly in family and honor. She waned nothing more than to serve her family. Entering into a marriage contract was not the kind of service she had in mind. Like most women on Bear Island she was raised to fight. Until this betrothal was mentioned she had always considered fighting to protect her family was how she would serve them, like her mother and sisters did. She was not a delicate lady who needed a husband to take care of her.

“I will answer the call.” Lyanna replied sullenly and then left the hall to find some privacy in her own room. Their guests would arrive soon and she must be ready to face her future husband when they did.

Lyanna stood, grim and unsmiling, as she watched the party from Winterfell enter Mormont Keep. Her mother and sisters stood around her at the top of the hall. The wall behind them was decorated with a giant bearskin and the hall was lit with a hundred candles.

The guests filtered in, quickly filling the hall.

The important guests made their way to the front of the hall where the little Lannister did the presentations.

“This is my lady wife, Arya Stark of Winterfell.”

Lannister. Thought Lyanna. If she is your wife that should be Lannister . And a fine Southern lady from the looks of it. She was dirty and worn from travel, but she wore skirts and had her hair braided at one point not so long ago. She was not of interest to Lyanna.

“This is Lord Stark's natural son, Jon Snow.”

Snow bowed and kissed Maege's hand. Lyanna was annoyed to see her mother blush like a young girl. “You have your father's look,” she told him.

From his smile, Lyanna thought the bastard must be easily flattered. He looked like a northerner, but his courtly manners and vulnerability to flattery told her that his mother was probably just as Southern as the Lady Tully at Winterfell.

Her cousin had taken a Southern woman as wife and she had ruined him. He gave up his honor for her, but before that he had become a slaver just to try to keep her happy. She was too young to remember the woman herself, but she had heard the stories from her sisters all her life about the beautiful young flower who could never be pleased.

“And this,” Tyrion announced with flair, “is Rickon Stark.”

Lyanna sighed and used all the willpower she could muster not to roll her eyes. She was not impressed. The boy was barely weened. She kept her face still and bobbed her head quickly in acknowledgement.

When the greetings were over and the guests were seated and she and her sisters brought out the feast.

“They don't have servants?” Lyanna overheard Arya whisper to the Imp.

“Apparently not, my lady, not all families do. I would think it's impolite to comment on it.”

Arya rolled her eyes and grabbed a roll from one of the serving dishes. The bastard slapped her wrist and she dropped it.

“I'm hungry,” Lyanna's future husband said loudly.

“And so we shall eat, my Lord.” Maege proclaimed as she sat down at the head of the table, with the Lannister at her right hand. Her daughters followed in order of age, each of Lyanna's older sisters sitting across from one of the honored guests. Lyanna seated herself last, at the foot of the table across from her mother, and next to the young lordling she was supposed to marry.

She looked him over. He was pretty for a boy, prettier than her probably. And soft like she would expect of a chid of the Southern Lady that Lord Stark had married. Well, she always expected to protect herself without the help of a man. And it was clear this little boy would be all but useless. With luck, she could train him to stay out of her way at least.

Just then Lyanna heard a low growling from the entrance to the longhall. She turned to see three large wolves pacing up the center of the longhall toward their table.

“I'm sorry milords, miladys, I couldn't keep them out,” one of the Stark guards was babbling.

Lyanna sat still and eyed the wolves. Three of them. And three Stark children. How interesting.

The wolves stopped, one by each of the guests with Stark blood and then settled by their feet under the table.

“Your wolves are quite large,” observed Dacey.

“Direwolves,” the bastard corrected.

Disrepectful , thought Lyanna. She decided she liked him best of all the Starks.

“Can I pet your wolf?” Lyanna asked Rickon.

“His name is Shaggydog!” Rickon proclaimed. Snow smiled at that, and Arya rolled her eyes.

“And what is your wolf called, Lady Lannister?” Lyanna asked in an icy tone.

“Nymeria,” Arya answered shortly. “And I'm not a lady!”

The Mormont sisters laughed, and their mother smiled. Lyanna just glared at Arya and answered. “You look like a fine Southern Lady to me.”

Shaggydog lifted his head and nuzzled Lyanna's thigh. She took that as permission to pet him. The wolf's fur was rough and dirty. She could feel the wild energy in the beast and looked at Rickon again, reconsidering her opinion. Perhaps he would not grow up as useless as she thought.

There was a tradition in the Mormont family that their ancestors had been wargs. Alysanne claimed she warged into a bear and mated with a wild bear to get her two babies. Lyanna did not believe her story, but she was not as skeptical about the mythology of Bear Island.

“Can you warg into your wolves?” asked Alysanne.

Tyrion laughed. Arya looked thoughtful. Snow looked away blushing. Rickon just looked confused.

“Mormont women can turn into bears when they want.” Alysanne continued, bragging.

“That's not how it works,” Arya blurted, and then looked around like she was trying to see who just said that. Jon Snow glared at her.

“Then you are a warg,” Alysanne pressed. She was seated directly across from Arya, smiling at her as if they had some kind of special bond.

“That's enough, Alysanne.” Maege broke in. “Our guests must be tired after their long journey. They don't need to deal with your nonsense.”

Tyrion Lannister cleared his throat. “I've always found ancient tales from the noble families fascinating.”

Lyanna turned her attention to the dwarf. She doubted that he would have been allowed to live if he had been born in the North. What strange people these Southerners were, not only to keep the baby and feed it, but also to make him the heir to their family home. Or perhaps she had misunderstood that part, and Arya truly was not going to be the Lady of Casterly Rock some day.

“All the first men were wargs.” Lyra declared.

Tyrion laughed. “My family as little of the blood of the first men, but there is surely a drop or two. Do you think we may have been wargs as well?”

Lyra and Jorelle both nodded, but Lyanna would not stand this false pretense. “You think you could warg into a lion, my Lord?”

At that Tyrion let out a belly laugh. “Oh, not me... I'm only a little lion!”

“We have some barn cats,” offered Jorelle. “Perhaps you could warg with one of them.

Jorelle could be such a baby, even if she was three years older than Lyanna.

The feast went on like that with small talk and jokes relaxing everyone around her. Lyanna was relieved when one of the women came to tell Alysanne that her little bears were hungry too. She left to feed them, and then the others began making their excuses to find a place to bed down for the night.

The next morning Lyanna's sisters woke her early so they could prepare another meal for their guests. Lyanna was not overly fond of cooking and hoped their guests would not linger long at Mormont Keep.

They were supposed to decide whether her betrothed would stay on Bear Island or she would return with him to Winterfell. Becoming a ward at Winterfell was ridiculous. She was not marrying the heir after all. There was no need for her to leave Bear Island. Besides, if she was in Winterfell, it would appear that the Starks had taken her hostage for her family's good behavior.

That might have been the point of offering the match.

But if the Starks allowed one of their children to foster on Bear Island it would be a clear sign to the North that the Mormonts were not being held accountable for her cousin's misdeeds. That was obviously the more desirable outcome.

Her mother and sisters discussed these things while preparing the meal. Lyanna just listened. She would have to go along with whatever decision was made, and there was no point in saying anything unless she could offer a persuasive argument.

The conversation continued over breakfast. The Lannister Imp was the one asking the most questions. What would Rickon's role on Bear Island be if he were to stay? He had even asked her how she felt about wearing dresses and doing needlework.

Lyanna replied that she did what work was needed regardless of her personal feelings toward the activity, thinking more about preparing breakfast than needlework. And that her personal attire would suit that activity whether it was needlework or sword play.

Arya had joined the conversation then, asking Lyanna if she had ever done any training with a sword. Lyanna cooly replied that all Mormont women were trained to fight with any weapon at hand.

“Would you like to spar with me?” Arya asked with a bright smile.

“Arya...” the Imp tried to hush her.

“I would not want to hurt my lady.” Lyanna replied cooly, sizing up the older girl and seeing no threat.

“You wouldn't hurt me, I'm very good with a sword. I can even disarm my brother Bran, who is about your age.”

“And you think I should be concerned about you because you can take a sword away from a little boy?” Lyanna retorted. “Have you ever killed anyone?”

“Lyanna...” this time it was her mother who tried to intervene.

“No. Have you?” Arya shot back.

“I have.” Lyanna said, deadly serious. It was clear the other girl did not believe her.

“That's enough, Lyanna. This is not a conversation we want to have over our meal,” her mother warned.

Lyanna hushed, and fumed. She wanted to show that soft little slip of a Lannister lady that she should respect the she-bears.

After the meal was cleared away, Lyanna sought out the Lannister girl. She found her with her bastard brother playing at swords. They had wooden practice swords and he was showing her how to defend herself.

“You call that a sword?” Lyanna called out as a greeting.

“It's a practice sword.” Snow answered.

“I know what it is. I heard that's how you Southerner's learn to fight. Up here we use real steel.”

Arya reached for the small sword she always wore, but her brother stopped her.

“Real steel is for real fighting. We are only practicing and don't want to hurt anyone unnecessarily. Would you like to practice with us?” Snow offered. Lyanna thought he was talking to her like she was a child.

“Have you ever killed a man?” Lyanna asked Snow.

“No,” he admitted.

“Then why do you talk to me as if I was a child?”

He actually laughed at her then. “You are a child.”

Lyanna fumed. She marched towards Jon Snow and grabbed the wooden toy from his hand. Then she turned on Arya and attacked her with all the ferocity of a cornered bear combined with the frustration she had been feeling at being forced into this unwanted marriage pact.

Arya barely got her sword up in time to ward off the first blow.

Lyanna had her backing around the clearing with a satisfying look of surprise on her face. And the surprise was quickly turning into respect and possibly even a little fear. That was what Lyanna wanted from the other girl.

She pushed her attack and began studying the other girl's defense. Lyanna could hear voices shouting at them, but tuned them out. A crowd was gathering, but she didn't care. Let them all see her put this girl in the dirt.

Arya did have some skill with the blade, but Lyanna was better. She knew it and toyed with Arya until the crowd was sufficiently large, and then she renewed her attack in earnest. She jumped forward and swung low, telegraphing every move as loudly she could.

Arya saw her intentions and tried to block the obvious blow, but at the last moment Lyanna changed her direction and hit Arya's wrist so hard that the other girl dropped her sword. Then she advanced, beating the defenseless girl around the shoulders and on her thighs.

Finally, she backed the girl into a log and she tripped.

Arya sat hard on the ground, looking up at Lyanna. Lyanna shoved the wooden sword right toward Arya's heart.

“If this was a real sword, you would be dead.” Lyanna announced.

“And that is why we practice with wooden swords, my Lady.” Tyrion Lannister chided her as he waddled over to help Arya up.

“Are you hurt?” he asked his wife.

“A little,” Arya admitted, breathing hard and not taking her eyes off of Lyanna.

“How did you learn to do that?” Arya asked Lyanna in amazement.

“My sisters taught me,” replied Lyanna.

“All of the women on Bear Island are warriors,” her mother broke in, glaring at her youngest daughter before checking Arya to see if she had any injuries beyond bruises that needed tending.

“Even Alysanne's daughter has a toy sword,” the mother bear continued.

“But I thought she was still nursing,” Arya objected.

“She is. And when she's old enough to walk she will quit playing with a toy and learn to fight in earnest.”

“Why?” Arya asked, her voice filled with awe. Lyanna was grinning now. This was what she hoped for from the Stark girl. Respect and awe. The Mormonts were not to be looked down on.

“Wildings, dear, they raid us constantly. And our men are often away, so we must protect ourselves.”

“Was that the man you killed? A wilding...” Arya asked Lyanna, looking at her with a new-found respect.

Lyanna nodded. “I was five, and Alysanne's son was newly born. One of the wildings was about to take him, but he didn't see me, or maybe he didn't think I was a threat. I stabbed him in the back with a dagger while he leaned over the crib.”

“Can you teach me?” Arya asked.

The Mormont women all shared a laugh before Dacey answered. “What we know comes from a lifetime of training, girl, we could train you if it was you who fostered here instead of your brother, but it would take you years to learn.”

Lyanna could see the jealousy in Arya's eyes. The girl might lack training, but she did have spirit. And she had not cried or even yielded to Lyanna when she attacked.

“Did you train at Winterfell?” Lyanna asked.

“A little, but we had to do it in secret. My parents did not want me to learn to fight. They wanted me to learn to do needlework and be a proper lady.”

“And now you are.” Lyanna pronounced. “But I can see that you also have a warrior's spirit inside. It's too bad that your lady mother would not let you learn both.”

“I'm learning now,” Arya told her. “I married Tyrion because he promised to let me learn to fight with a sword. He's sent to Braavos for a master-at-arms to teach me.”

“Braavos?” Lyanna asked.

The others were leaving now that the show was over and the two girls began to exchange stories. Arya explained that her small sword was actually a Braavosi blade, and Lyanna learned how limiting a life in Winterfell could be and worried that she would be sent there to foster and forced to lay down her sword for a needle.

“Jon named my sword 'Needle' because he knew how much I hated needlework.” Arya confided.

“I don't want to leave my home. Or to be married. None of my sisters are married.”

“Not even Alysanne? Did her husband die?”

“She never had a husband. When she started showing with her first babe she came up with this story about warging into a bear and claims both her children were fathered by bears.”

“They are bastards then?”

“No.” Lyanna shook her head, “They are Mormonts the same as any of us.”

“How can that be without a father?” Arya seemed truly puzzled. “We don't know who Jon's mother is, so he is a Snow. But if children took their mother's name then wouldn't the rest of us be Tullys instead of Starks?”

“My mother was the same. We do not know who are father was, or even if we have the same father. But we are still Mormonts.” Lyanna shrugged. It did not matter to her if someone was a bastard or not. Those were Southern concerns. She had to understand them in order to navigate the politics of various houses. She did not have to agree with them.

“Would you train Rickon to fight if he stays here?” Arya asked.

“Of course. Our women are not warriors because our men are not trained. Our men are trained better than the men of any other house. They learn from both mother and father and from the time they are in the cradle. You told me yourself, you can disarm your brother who is my age. I must be better than him, but I would not disarm Alysanne's boy as easily as I did you. He is the same age as Rickon.”

“Rickon has not even started training with a sword yet. Do you think he could survive here? Would he ever be able to catch up in the training he lacks?”

Lyanna reflected that may be why her mother was so upset that she attacked Arya, even though she had clearly been invited to do so. Lyanna looked into Arya's face then, afraid the other girl would consider Bear Island too dangerous to leave her little brother. She didn't think it was concern for Rickon that she in Arya when she asked if it was too late to start training.

“He will be slow for a year or two, but eventually he should be just as good as other boys and girls his age. Someday he may even be better if he has a talent and applies himself. I hope he will, if I am to marry him.”

Arya looked relieved.

“I will tell Tyrion that Rickon should stay here. He should get the best training possible. It's not likely that he would ever be Lord of Winterfell. My oldest brother Robb is about to be betrothed as well, so he will have his own children soon. But I think Rickon is a fierce little boy and could be a great warrior someday.”

Arya paused and looked thoughtful.

“I don't think you would like life at Winterfell that much. You would not have to get up early and cook breakfast, or wait on guests, we have servants who do that. But you would be expected to learn to be a lady like my mother. If you aren't going to be Lady of Winterfell eventually, then I don't see why you should have to do that.”

Lyanna smiled and nodded. “My thoughts exactly.” As much as she disliked some of the work they did, she felt having servants would make her soft. Like her cousin's southern bride had been. And she would cook a thousand meals before she let herself become that.

The Stark party stayed at Mormont Keep for a week. Lyanna found that she grew in her appreciation for each of them, even the Imp of Lannister, who while still a dwarf seemed to be a satisfactory husband for Arya. He was smart too. In the end, he was the one who had written the message and sent a raven to Winterfell that it would be in everyone's best interest for Rickon to remain on Bear Island to foster with the Mormonts until he was old enough to marry Lyanna.

One day, Tyrion brought the barn cat to Lyanna.

“I've finally caught the beast,” Tyrion told her. “Now tell me how to do this warging trick of yours.”

“That was Jorelle's idea, not mine.” Lyanna dismissed him.

“I think this marriage is not your idea either.” Tyrion observed.

“No. But it is my duty. I will do what is required for the sake of my family.”

“I have heard of another girl named Lyanna that may have said the same thing once.” The Imp was looking at her closely, waiting for a reply.

Lyanna sighed, annoyed. “My namesake started a war. I am aware of the history. I do not intend to repeat it. War is not a game I long to play.”

“Really? You seemed quite anxious the first day you spared with Arya.”

“That was not a war. That was training.” Lyanna replied cooly.

“It was more than training, my Lady.” Tyrion insisted. “My wife still wears the bruises from your personal vendetta. You will be a Stark yourself before you know it. You should consider making peace with them.”

Lyanna closed her moth and pulled her chin in. She gave Tyrion Lannister her best 'don't mess with me' look. “I will not fail in my duty,” she promised.

“Good,” he said, handing her the cat, which immediately clawed it's way out of her arms and bolted.

The details of the betrothal and the fostering were ironed out between the two houses. It was agreed that Rickon would foster on Bear Island and receive his training there as he was likely to end up living on Bear Island with his bride once they were married. It was also agreed that Lyanna would spend some time each year at Winterfell with Rickon, for his mother's sake. Lyanna only agreed once there was a clear understanding that the Mormont women were all warriors from a young age and they would be allowed to practice their skills in Winterfell's training yard while they were there.

On the day of their departure, Arya knelt by Rickon and hugged him tightly, tears in her eyes. “Be good,” she whispered.

The little boy hugged her back and nodded.

They all said their farewells, much like they had said their greetings, except that all of the she-bears gave Tyrion Lannister a kiss on the cheek leaving him extremely flustered as they departed. He actually ran into the side of his horse when he tried to mount, even though no one had seen him drinking that morning.

Lyanna watched more than one of her sisters boldly kiss Jon Snow right on the lips. She surmised that he may have been asked to play the part of 'bear' more than once in the last week, but from the way he blushed, he must have preferred to remain a wolf. That was too bad. Another niece or nephew would not have been unwelcome, and she hated to see the disappointed looks Alysanne and Lyra wore.

Lyanna, on the other hand, admonished Jon Snow to make sure the watch did a better job of keeping the wildings on their own side of the wall. "Remember your brother is here now, and he has not learned to defend himself yet."