The first days of a new spring were gently entering the country of Westeros as the snows of winter were melting into the earth, nurturing the life that would soon blossom all throughout the nine realms. In the North however, it would be at least another year before the snow would completely vanish. It was the one place in Westeros that would have snow when every other kingdom would be suffering under the heat of a blistering sun. Today though, the sun’s heat was blocked by the clouds that filled the sky. One would hope that the weather would be fair, but the falling snow destroyed that hope completely.
Riding on the soft cold mud of the Kingsroad, Petyr gripped the reigns of his horse tightly as a sudden chill rushed down his body. He made the mistake of wearing too light a cloak when he left the capitol. But hopefully when he arrived at his destination, his host would be kind enough to supply a thicker one. At least, if she would welcome his surprise visit.
Winterfell finally came into sight. Petyr had never been nor seen the great castle of the North before. compared to the castles of the other realm it was fairly plain, but unique enough that it was its own shape and design.
Petyr sighed as he continued along the road, glad that he finally arrived, but also worried that he would be unwelcome by the smallfolk. There were some in the North that knew of his duel with Brandon Stark for Cat’s hand, and many found it dishonorable that he tried to at all. Honor, what a disguise for pride these days. The Northern barbarians just use that word to say that what their country lacks that the others have, the people make up for in character.
Petyr never would have come to the North now that Cat was married and having children by the litter, but fortunately her husband was off fighting off another Greyjoy rebellion. The Ironborn were the only ones probably more stupid than the Northerners. They have the means to be a great and powerful people, but their way of the so-called Iron Price is what kept them from achieving that. They were prideful, but they were honest about it.
He slowed his horse down to a stop as two guards standing vigil at the Winterfell gates blocked his path.
“Halt,” one of them said, holding up one hand while keeping the other on the pommel of his sword, “no one may enter the castle at this time until the Lord of Winterfell returns or by invitation of Lady Stark.”
Such a precaution was to be expected. Ironborn spies and assassins could be anywhere in the North, ready to exact vengeance on the wives and children of the men who fought them at Pyke.
“I will admit, I have no invitation, but if you could please inform the Lady of Winterfell that Petyr Baelish of the Riverlands is at the gate, I would be most grateful.”
The guard looked at the other one and nodded, signaling him to go do as Petyr asked. At least some of them were intelligent. It didn’t take long for the guard to return.
“You may enter. Welcome to Winterfell, milord.”
Petyr forced a smile to both of the guards as he dismounted his horse and led it through the gates. The moment he stepped foot into the castle, a feeling suddenly rushed over him. He felt uncomfortable being in such a place in a way he could not explain. He didn’t feel that he wanted to leave the castle, but the castle wanted him to. Walking to the stables, a large man as big as the Mountain walked up to him with a gleeful smile.
“Hodor?” he said.
“I beg your pardon?” Petyr asked, confused.
“Hodor.” The hand extended out a large hand and gently took grabbed the reigns of Petyr’s horse while gesturing to the stables.
“Are you a stable hand?”
The big man’s smile grew larger and said the same word again. “Hodor.”
“He wants to tend to your horse.” A child’s voice said. Petyr turned his head and saw a small boy with a head of black curly hair and dark eyes. For a brief instant, Petyr saw something familiar in the boy’s face. “Hodor can’t say anything else. He’ll take care of your horse from you.”
“Oh, well that will be just wonderful then.” Petyr let go of the reigns to the big man who gently handled the horse into the stables. Before Petyr could give some words of thanks, the small boy was hit square in the head with a snowball.
“Ow, no fair!” the boy shouted.
Not to far away, hiding behind a small wall of snow, another boy of the same age was laughing as he threw another snowball. The black-haired boy ran away to the cover of a post to avoid any more attacks already dealt.
“Petyr!” A familiar voice said. He turned around and smiled happily when he saw Cat approaching him swiftly.
“Cat,” Petyr opened his arms and the two of them embrace in a tight hug. It had been far too long since he saw her. Eight years of rising up in King’s Landing were well worth a small visit. They let go of each other and each took a moment to see how the other has changed. “You haven’t aged a day.”
“The same can’t be said of you. You’ve grown a beard.” Cat said while smirking.
“Aye, but not as thick or lengthy like the ones in the North.” He kept his facial hair trimmed and shaven like every person with position in the capitol should.
“Why on earth are you wearing such a light cloak? You must be freezing.” Immediately she turned to a servant girl who was close by. “Could you get something warmer for our guest.”
“At once, milady.”
“Eight years,” Cat reminded, “how have you not had a visit in eight years? We’re practically family.”
“I’m sorry Cat. King’s Landing is a cruel place. If you want to be anything other than a beggar, you must forfeit all of your time to the city. That, and I don’t think your husband would take kindly to my presence.”
“Do not be silly. Ned is not the kind of man to turn away friends of the family. Come, walk with me.” The two of them began a slow pace, Cat taking the lead and making her way up to the balcony surrounding the courtyard.
“It’s so glad to see a familiar face again,” Cat admitted. “There have been days I’ve longed to go home to Riverrun for a week or two, to see father and Edmure. But the North is so much more complicated than anyone knows, it’s hard to find time for one’s self. How long will you be staying?”
“Not long I am afraid. I’m not just here for friendly visit, but business as well.”
“Business? What kind of business could bring you here? In fact, what kind of business do you run?”
Petyr cleared his throat and was hesitant to answer. “I own three establishments in King’s Landing, soon to be four.”
“What kind of establishments?”
Cat gave a lecturing glare at him, knowing she wouldn’t like the answer. “It is not the most of honorable of positions, but I own brothels.”
“Brothels.” Cat confirmed. “You own three brothels?”
“I know how it must sound, but I have become a very rich man, and high amongst the nobles in court. The Master of Coin has even taken notice of me and considering making me an apprentice of his, maybe even a successor.” Cat sighed, not knowing to be disappointed or glad for him. She leaned her hands on the railing of the balcony and looked out to the courtyard.
“I am not ashamed at you, I just feel uncomfortable.”
“Do not get the wrong idea. I do not take pride in owning pleasure houses, I take pride in my success. Kings Landing is a viper’s nest. If you don’t do what the snakes desire, they’ll devour every bit of you and spit out what’s left on the streets of Flea Bottom.”
Cat shook her head. “The world we live in is a sick one, and we hardly do anything to remedy the illness.” She turned to look Petyr. “I’m happy that you’re rising up in the world. Maybe you will be the one to turn your House into one that known throughout all the Seven Kingdoms.” Cat gave a pleasant smile, pleasing Petyr greatly. She turned to gaze back at the courtyard and her smiled died quickly.
“What is the matter?” Petyr looked out and could see more of the castle’s children playing in a snowball fight. The two boys Petyr first saw were teaming up against of a group of three girls.
“Mother,” a little girl’s voice said. Petyr and Cat turned to see a small girl with red hair looking up at Cat. “Can I go play with the others?”
“No Sansa,” Cat said firmly, “I don’t want you playing with the bastard.”
The little girl looked absolutely crushed at her mother’s denial. “Cat,” Petyr said, “who might this be?”
“Petyr, forgive me, this is my daughter, Sansa. Sansa, this is Petyr of the House Baelish. He is an old friend of mine I grew up with in Riverrun.”
The little girl looked at Petyr and gave a curtsey to him. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”
“Such grace,” Petyr commented, “are you sure she’s your daughter and not the princess of the North?”
Sansa gave a little smile and blushed at his remark.
“Cat, you must not be cruel to her. To let the other children play and not her, it would be a sin against the Seven to not let her have fun with them on a day like this.”
“She won’t be a little girl forever Cat. Let her enjoy it while she can.”
Cat sighed heavily and knelt down to her daughter. “You may go and play with them, but I better not hear of you falling asleep during your lessons anymore after this, alright?”
Little Sansa smiled brightly and tightly hugged her mother around the neck. “Thankyou! I promise I’ll pay extra attention to Septa Mordane.” Sansa gave another curtsey to Petyr before running off to go join the other children. Instead of evening the odds and joining the boys, she and another girl joined the others, making it five against two.
Cat rose up and continued to watch the children play but wasn’t at all pleased.
“Which one is your husband’s bastard?” Petyr asked.
“They one with the dark hair next to my son, Robb.” She was referring to the same boy who helped him at the stables. So he was the famous Jon Snow, the Bastard of Winterfell, Eddard Stark’s only stain on his honor. “Ned could sire a dozen bastards and I would overlook all of them, so long as not one was in sight.”
Had Cat chosen him over the Starks, she would not have had to at all. “I cannot imagine how it feels. To be constantly reminded of husband’s dishonor must be a tough strain on your marriage.”
“I do love him Petyr, and he does love me. But this damn honor of his can be so irritating. He won’t even tell me the name of the bastard’s mother. All he ever says is ‘he’s my blood, and that’s all you need to know.’ Sometimes I wish Ned just left him in Dorne where he was born with his mother, whoever she may be.”
Petyr suddenly became greatly confused. “Dorne? But his name is Snow, isn’t it?”
“I brought that up once myself. Why give the boy the name Snow when he is a Sand? I got the same answer I get every time I asked about the bastard’s mother followed by ‘he is the blood of the North, and the North will be in his name.’”
Things began to make sense now. Petyr knew that Eddard Stark brought the little bastard to Riverrun from Kings Landing when the rebellion was over, but it never occurred to him to think he was born anywhere but the North until now.
“I hope I do not sound out of place when I say I can understand your husband’s dishonor to you now. He went to Dorne to rescue his sister, but her death must have grieved him so much that he fell into despair. In my experience of running my business, sometimes a woman’s warmth is the only thing that can bring men out from that darkness and back to themselves.”
“If that was how it was, I think in my heart I could find it more tolerable to have the boy here, but he was conceived before Lyanna died.”
Cat shook her head and regained her composure. “Forgive me. Here you are, freezing and visiting after years and I have you talking about the bastard. Let’s get you settled in the guest chambers. I would love for you to meet my youngest, Bran.”
Petyr put on his smile that he always wore in Kings Landing. “Yes, that would be wonderful.” A they both began to walk to the inside of the castle, Petyr took one last look at Jon Snow, wondering what kind of woman was able to make a Stark break his vows.
“Five against two isn’t fair!” Robb shouted after a snowball pelted him on his nose.
“What’s wrong?” Jeyne Poole shouted at them. “A couple of boys mad that they’re going to lose to a bunch of girls?” All five of the girls began to giggle behind there fort of snow. They were nested right below the balcony, and none of them but Robb and Jon noticed a certain two-year-old sister of theirs with a wooden bucket of snow. While everyone was playing, Arya was gathering snow, but everyone thought she was going to play by herself. With the help of Ser Rodrick, Arya tipped the bucket over and rained a large soft block of snow on top of Sansa’s head while he made sure she didn’t fall too.
Robb and Jon started to burst out laughing while Sansa started to fuss. She looked up and saw who the culprit was. “Arya!” The baby Stark girl started to laugh uncontrollably at Sansa’s defeat. Ser Rodrick picked her from the balcony and handed her over to a wet nurse who was looking for her.
“She’s a little she wolf that one, just like the late Lyanna.” Ser Rodrick said to the wet nurse.
As Sansa brushed the snow out of her hair and off her dress, Robb and Jon got out of their cover and approached the girls. “What should we play next?” Robb asked.
“How about Aegon the Conqueror?” Jon suggested.
“No, that game is only for boys.” Joy Cassel spat. “Honestly, bastards can’t think of anything good.”
“Shut up!” Robb shouted. “If anyone calls Jon a bastard again, then they don’t play anymore.” Some of the girls scoffed at Robb for defending Jon. Jon personally didn’t care. He was always reminded by Lady Catelyn of what he is, it was all she ever did when she addressed him.
“How about Hide and Seek?” Sansa suggested.
“Oh that’s a wonderful idea.” Sarah, daughter of Tommy the barber, said.
“Yes, let’s play that.” Joanna Holt agreed.
“Alright,” Robb said, “Since Joy thinks she knows everything about games, she’ll seek and we’ll hide.”
Before Joy could object, everyone already ran away to find a place to hide. She would have one hour to find them all or else she would lose.
Jon let his feet take him wherever they felt like going. He wasn’t very good at hiding and was always found very quickly, but this time he had a spot that no one would be able to find him. Sneaking into the castle, he barrowed a lantern that wasn’t being used and while no one was looking, descended down into the crypts of Winterfell. He began a long dash down stone steps into darkness that was only illuminated by the light of his lantern.
Entering the Crypts, he searched for the biggest statue of his ancestors he could find. “Why aren’t there any fat Starks?” He openly asked as he passed the statue of his grandfather Rickard.
After many twists and turns, Jon became lost. Maybe it would’ve been smarter to hide somewhere else rather than this. His father said that the crypts spread out farther than the castle itself. Trying to find his way back, Jon spent far too long than he hoped being in the crypts. He started to become scared and worried that he might not make it out. He looked for any familiar statue he could find, but the stone made them all look very similar. Some of them had direwolves at their sides, others held a steel replica of the Stark greatsword, Ice.
While trying to get his bearings, Jon tripped over his boot and fell on the ground. The lantern he carried broke and the light of the candle went out. He was now in complete darkness and had no idea where he was. He could be a mile away from the castle for all he knew.
“Somebody help me!” His shouts echoed throughout the crypts. He didn’t think he would get lost, he just wanted to win at Hide and Seek for once. He crawled on all fours all felt the ground with his hands, searching for anything. He cut some of his fingers on the glass of the lantern and winced back. Finally, he found the foot of one of the tombs. Feeling scared beyond his imagination, Jon curled up at the base of the statue in front of the tomb and began to cry. He didn’t know how long he was in the crypts, but it felt much longer than an hour.
He lost track of whether he was awake or not, but he did feel the ethereal presence of someone near him. He shivered as the cold depths of the tombs pierced through his cloak to his skin. But in the cold, felt a warm hand over his face. A thumb caressed his check and wiped at his tears. Whoever it was holding him was a woman. The hand was far too soft and small to belong to a man.
“Who’s there?” Jon asked.
In a pure instance of silence, the faintest voice sounded in the darkness, quieter than a whisper. ‘I am.’
“Jon!” Ser Rodrick’s voice echoed throughout the crypts. The light of a torch appeared at the end of the hallway Jon was in. All senses shot through Jon as hope rose within him.
“Over here!” Jon replied. Ser Rodrick and two other Stark guards found him lying down at one of the statues.
“Seven hells boy,” Rodrick told him, “what possessed you to come down here alone?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get lost.”
Ser Rodrick handed his torch to one of the men with him and picked Jon up in his arms. “No one ever means to get lost, Jon. That’s why you make sure you know how to find your way back.”
Jon nodded to Ser Rodrick as he was lifted off the ground. “There’s someone else here.” Jon told him.
“A woman, she was behind me.” Jon turned his head, but only saw the statue of his aunt Lyanna.
“The darkness can play tricks on your mind Jon,” Rodrick told him.
Jon was certain that someone was with him, but maybe it was only a dream. By the time they came out of the crypts, the snow stopped falling and the skies cleared. The world was on the edge of night, the light of the sun almost faded from the sky.
“Jon!” Robb shouted as the entered the courtyard. “Where was he?”
“Asleep in the crypts in front of Lady Lyanna.”
“Will he be alright Ser Rodrick?”
“He’ll be fine. He just needs a bath to warm him up.” Ser Rodrick assured Robb.
As Jon was being carried to the castle, he saw Lady Catelyn on the balcony. She looked relieved, but probably only because his father would blame her for whatever happened to him. Standing next to her was that man who he helped with Hodor, looking at him curiously.
Night gathered over the lands and all were nearing their time to sleep with the rest of the world. Resting comfortably on his bed, Petyr found himself unable to feel the weight of sleep pulling his down on his eyelids. He was more awake than he ever was, all because he couldn’t manage to get Jon Snow out of his mind. Something about that boy bothered him in his deepest thoughts, yet he couldn’t tell what it was.
‘I’ve Met Ned before Robert’s Rebellion at Harrenhal. He never struck anyone as the kind to break a vow or do anything even as little as tell a lie. He was a man among ten thousand people said. He had a great attraction to Ashara Dayne, and so did Brandon. I think I once heard a rumor that she was the boy’s mother, but little do they know what I do about her and Brandon. It truly was a tragedy that about their child that drove her to kill herself. Tough Ned killing her brother is probably what drove her over the edge. Now that I think about it, I used to think Arthur was like how Ned is now. But he did his duty to his prince and kept Lyanna a prisoner. One would think he would be sensible and let free a woman kidnapped and raped by the son of the Mad King. No one would’ve thought that Rhaegar had the madness in him. He was too beautiful of a man for anyone to care. Maybe the maddest thing he did was crown Lyanna his queen at the tourney. Robert was furious and all Rhaegar did was smile at her. I can still remember how his face looked. Just like Jon Snow…’
A thousand thoughts flooded through Petyrs head when he had a sudden epiphany. As if in an instant, all possibilities showed themselves in front of him. He sat up from his bed and gaze at the walls around him. That familiar part of Jon Snow’s face, he looked exactly like Rhaegar, but with Lyanna’s colors. ‘What if Ned Stark’s bastard isn’t his? He has never said to Cat that he is his father, only his blood. What if a fever isn’t what killed Lyanna Stark, but childbirth? Why would Ned claim the boy as his? Elia’s children were butchered by the Mountain, and he was rewarded by Robert for it. There would be no way that a bastard of Rhaegar and Lyanna would be given even a once of mercy, but Ned would protect his family at any cost, even his honor.
Petyr started to uncontrollably chuckle quietly to himself. With a secret like this, it could start another war. There would be no situation that Eddard Stark would hand over his blood to be executed by Robert, and there would be no situation that Eddard Stark wouldn’t forgive and forget if an assassin killed the boy.
‘But then again, what if the boy isn’t? What if it is all just sheer coincidence? If the boy is indeed Stark’s bastard, then it will be even more pleasurable. Robert will be easy to convince, and Eddard won’t forgive him for killing his blood. Targaryen or Stark, the boy is still a bastard who can make wonderful things happen. At least for me.’
If a war broke out between the North and the crown, it would be as bloody as the rebellion. But if things played out right, maybe both the King and the Warden of the North would be out of the picture, and the Iron Throne freed from the Baratheon’s and the Lannisters, leaving it empty for someone better to claim its seat. But everything rested on the bastard’s life. If he was killed, and a faint trail lead to someone, say the Lannisters, to be thought responsible, then all the North will cry for war. And if things played out perfectly, then the woman he loved would be widowed, and free for him to claim what should have been his long ago.
“So the game begins.”