Jaime Lannister sends his regards . A soft voice, familiar in its emotionless chill. A searing pain in his stomach. Mother screaming and crying, tears mixing with blood as a knife sliced her throat. Black dots everywhere, vision blurring, a squish as he fell to the floor amongst the remains of his kinsmen.
Red, wet, metal, salt --
“Robb! Robb!” beckoned a childlike voice above him, shaking his shoulders. It was a voice he never thought he’d hear again. He snapped his eyes open.
“Arya? Is that really you?” He blinked. He was in his bed, in his room, back at Winterfell. Warm bear pelt covers wrapped him and a sword, sheathed in brown leather, hung on the wall across from him. The cool air was filled with the scent of pine and coal and dirt and freshly baked kidney pies and snow . He could hear the noise of castle workers working on repairs outside and the commanding tone of Ser Rodrick, training his men-in-arms out in the courtyard that faced his window. Most of all, the mischievous little tomboy who he thought he’d lost forever was sitting right next to him, the rebellious glint in her dark grey eyes unmistakeably Arya-esque.
“Robb? Are you alright?” she asked in confusion. It was only then that Robb noticed the wetness running down his cheeks. He frantically wiped the tears away with his hands, but more kept coming, giving way to heaving sobs.
I must be in heaven.
“I’m going to get Mother,” his little sister –- or whatever she was –- decided, scampering off the bed, now more alarmed than perplexed. Ah, Mother. That’s right. She died too. She warned me…she warned me about Theon, about his siblings, about Walder Frey . She was right, and his mistakes killed her in the end.
“What’s wrong with Robb?” peeped another voice at the door, a small face peering in his room. Bran . Bran and Rickon, they had also died. How they begged him not to leave, not to call the banners and go south, not to abandon the castle and leave them alone, without any older family to love and guide and support them. Theon Greyjoy had done the deed, but it was Robb’s fault that his little brothers were dead.
“Let’s go get Mother, Bran. Race you?” Arya commanded, both siblings racing away. Bran has his legs . It was truly heaven, then, for no miracle could cure his little brother’s paralysis in the world of the living. He looked around his room once more, kicking his warm pelt around with his legs. But the furs were longer than he remembered. Or was it… oh . He jumped up and gazed in front of his mirror.
He was shorter, skinnier, far lankier than he remembered. His cheeks were rounder; his beard not yet grown in the slightest – nor any hair outside his head, at that. His hair was lighter and shorter, the curls more tightly knit. His nose was smooth, as it hadn’t yet been broken in a drunken brawl with Theon and the Karstark brothers. Robb pegged himself at roughly eleven years old. Which, come to think of it, made sense. Of course heaven was during the height of summer, while he lived in ignorant bliss of everything that was soon going to hell.
“Robb, Mother’s not feeling well, what with the baby, so she sent me. What’s – oh! What’s wrong? ”
Sansa. She was supposed to live. It had been yet another act of short-sightedness to leave his sisters in King’s Landing, imprisoned in a cage of monsters. He had the Kingslayer -- he had the ultimate key to saving them -- but he resolved to keep him. But at what cost? Guilt consumed him as he took in the image of his sweet, gentle sister who he abandoned, who was forced to marry that odious imp . And that she was already dead, before he...what kind of horrors had the Lannisters put her through? She hadn't even been married long enough to birth a child -- did they kill her before she had the chance? Or had -- had she been driven to kill herself?
“Robb, your face looks like a ghost from one of Old Nan’s stories, please lie down -- can you hear me? Robb?”
“What did they do to you? What did they do to Arya?” he croaked.
“Who are 'they'? What are you talking about?” His sister was earnestly scanning his face, trying to understand him. Her face was full of worry, but her eyes were bright and held no sign of deep sorrow.
“What was Joffrey like?” He asked carefully. Sansa’s face suddenly flushed, her eyes beaming.
“He’s a prince. He’s handsome and charming and gallant and brave, and Father says -- oh! Father says I might one day be his queen ,” she gushed, her smile growing as her mind floated further and further into her daydreaming. “And he’ll win a tourney and crown me his Queen of Love and Beauty, and I’ll have two baby boys and two baby girls like Mother, and -- Robb, are you quite sure you’re alright? Should I get Maester Luwin?” She cried out, for Robb had a terrible thought and his knees had given way, sending him headfirst onto the ground.
Joffrey wouldn't exist in heaven. Sansa would never see him. What if -- what if --
A sinking feeling took hold in his gut and threatened to spread. But he had to make sure. He thought of the one person, the single person he was sure was still alive.
“No,” he gasped, “no, not yet,” he protested, shaking as Sansa helped him up and onto his bed. “Tell me Sansa, which are the most powerful Northern vassals, and who are their current lords?”
At this, his sister’s demeanor completely changed, as if she was in lessons and Mother or Father or Maester Luwin were testing her. She immediately sat up straighter -- if that were even possible -- and clasped her hands together in front of her stomach.
“Well, there are the Karstarks of Karhold, who were our kin once, and they are led by Lord Rickard. There are the Manderlys of White Harbor, who are led by Lord Wyman Manderly. Oh, and the Boltons, who are nearby, and led by Lord Roose Bolton.”
Lord Roose Bolton. The sinking feeling only grew.
“Thank you Sansa, I had a bad dream and it has shaken me. I will rest awhile and come down for the midday meal,” he told her with an air of finality that led her to nod, slide off his bed, and step daintily out the door -- not without doing a proper curtsy as she gently shut the door.
Once she was gone, Robb let out a long sigh. He positively knew now that he was in no heaven at all -- not if the likes of Joffrey and Roose Bolton roamed the earth in prosperity. But where was he, then? Had he truly...gone back in time? How was that even possible -- had the Old Gods done it, or the Faith? No, the gods wouldn't waste their powers on the likes of him -- a boy of sixteen, a reckless leader, a failure to his family. But then what was the alternative? Was this hell instead? No, the rest of his family wouldn't be there. His thoughts wandered, growing no less confused, as he drifted off once more to sleep...
You, Stark boy.
This voice was nothing like Robb had ever heard before. The voices he knew were young voices -- the voices of his siblings, his soldiers, his wife. He supposed the most ancient voice he had ever known was that of Old Nan, her soft croak always weaving tales of magic and horror and winter. But this voice made Old Nan seem like a young child. It was a weary voice of many in one, children and youth and elderly, imbued with thousands of layers of history. And it was most definitely not human.
You’re right; we are not human. How do you think you were sent back? You think humans are the gods of this earth?
The voice let out a strange hiccup, which may have been its bizarre form of laughter. Now some of Robb’s questions were answered. He really had been sent back in time, likely by the Old Gods who roamed the weirwood trees that he had always been terrified of as a young child, their dark red tears and silvery grey-white bark always invoking the image of dead bodies whose blood poured for eternity. But one unsettling thought remained: why? Why him?
You’re a Stark. It is your destiny to hold the North, to keep it from those who seek to ravage it. Your generation failed in another world, but it must not be so this time. Learn fast, for this chance shall be your last .
It let out another strange hiccup laugh, and it was gone. That had been enough, though, for the sinking feeling in his gut was quickly fading. He had been given a second chance -- a second chance to keep the North, to make alliances, to save and protect his family. He would not let Father be killed or his sisters imprisoned. He would not let Theon Greyjoy out of his sight to go to Winterfell and hang his brothers, and he would never let Walder Frey slaughter his mother.
Three years. He had three years before his fourteenth nameday and the start of his family’s demise.
He jolted upright, hopping out of bed and quickly getting dressed. It was time to save his family.