We have assembled a misfit band of sell swordsmen, prisoners, farmers in search of glory and riches, and a small pack of hardened warriors, long ago cast off by the Lannisters. I fear that it will not be enough and that at the slightest hint of the fight turning against us, they will be gone. Robb is morose; the lack of support from those he considered his kinsmen along with the riff raff we have assembled has him concerned that victory is not assured. We need more men. Will House Mormont, Greyjoy, Reed, or Westerling not join our our cause? Lannister rulers have been no friends of theirs.
He is wavering, Cat, and I fear that postponing will drive him more deeply into despair.
What of the marriage arrangement? Will the former queen not assent to a marriage before the battle? It would be a show of good faith and could rally more banners to our side.
We await your word.
I remain yours, as ever,
Catelyn tossed the scroll into the fire, watching it burn and smoulder among the flames until all that remained was a wisp of smoke.
Pacing from one corner to the other she allowed herself a brief moment of pity. Once she’d inhabited an estate nearly as large as a palace, she’d been the head of a staff of hundreds, and her every comfort and need was attended to. And then the wars had come and the Starks, unflinchingly faithful to the true king, Grayson Tully, had lost the head of their household, their estates, and been forced to flee to The Isles with the last living heir to the throne and Catelyn’s only child, Robb. When Ned Stark had fled his homeland, taking his then ten year old nephew with him, Catelyn had been forced to remain behind in the Winter Kingdom, married off to some newly knighted lord of his majesty’s. Once of the royal house herself, Catelyn Tully Stark, now Catelyn Arryn, was nothing more than the widowed wife of a knight.
And now, now they were so close. So close to restoring a Baratheon king to the throne, so close to bringing her son, her boy, home. But Ned’s letter, his fear for Robb and what lay before them, his plea for help all lay before her like the shattered pieces of a glass bowl. Never one to shirk from a challenge, Catelyn called for a horse to be saddled. She’d pick up every last piece of that bowl even if her hands bled. She had not come this far and endured so much to not see this through to the end.
The Winter Kingdom
Thatchers Cove, Darbyshire
“Isa!? Isa? Wherever have you gone?” Lyanna Lannister’s voice rang out.
“Here. I’m here, Mother,” the response came, carried on the wind before her daughter appeared as if from the mist that rose from the gardens.
“Why are you out wandering the gardens so late? You know it’s not safe for you, for any of us right now,” Lyanna fretted, wrapping her daughter’s cloak more tightly against the cold.
“I needed...air. I needed some air,” she said, though her troubled eyes and the worried set of her brow said something else.
“You had a dream?” Lyanna prompted.
“A wolf, a bear, a Kraken, and a lizard all gathered in a circle around a lion with the face of a dragon. From the darkness another wolf approaches to place a crown on the lion-dragon. And then there is a great gust of wind and sleet and hail and bodies litter the ground and it’s quiet and still except a hand from the ground reaches up, holding a crown.”
“And then? What else do you see, Isa?”
“Nothing. There’s nothing else, Mother. Just a hand holding onto a crown. I can’t see who the hand belongs to, I can’t see the faces of the bodies, it’s all a blur,” the girl sobs, her body racked with violent shaking.
“Shh, it’s alright my sweet, it’s alright,” Lyanna soothed, arms wrapped tightly about this girl who she has loved and protected with an intensity so fierce it has seemed to border on madness.
This girl, her daughter, her eldest child is nearly all that remains to her. There are two little ones, evidence of the great love shared between her and her long dead husband, King Henry, but the others, the two boys she’d borne, the two daughters who’d come later, one after Isa and the other after the boys, are gone now. Ellaria is married to an Islander and it has been three years since she has seen her daughter. The boys, Matthew and Anthony, had been captured and executed in secret, their bodies paraded about the kingdom as a symbol of what would befall anyone who dared voice support for Henry, his wife, or his children. The last girl, Margot, had been a frail thing from the start and the years spent in the sanctuary of the Abbey crypts had finally taken their toll. Now, all that remained of a once royal family was three girls, an eighteen year old beauty with the dark looks of her mother but the poise and ease and gentleness of her father and two little girls, Marianna and Brigitte.
Lyanna trembled at the image her daughter had explained. Most of its meaning was clear to her but Isa’s inability to see who the hand belonged to or who the bodies were gave her pause.
“What should I do, Mother?”
“We must pray to the old gods, my sweet. Pray that they send us guidance and wisdom and that they let you see the face of the hand holding the crown.”
Isa nodded slowly. She had been praying for just that and yet the dream always ended before she could make out anyone.
“Come along, love. Let’s get you inside and warmed and then you can rest,” Lyanna said gently.
Turning back towards the house Isa watched the mist rise from the ground and another shudder rippled through her body. “He is near,” the wind seemed to whisper in her ear and she gasped. A moment later the ground seemed to rise up before her, a gigantic chasm of darkness opening its mouth to swallow and then everything went black.
The Winter Kingdom
Tower Hall, City Proper
The king was in a state. Pacing the length of the room he looked worriedly from the bed back to the doctors, back to the bed.
“And there is no more to be done?” he questioned, unable to meet their pitying eyes.
“There is nothing further we might do, your grace. Bleeding her would only weaken her body further and Doctor Marcus and I have tried every medicine and ointment available to us,” the larger man said.
“And you have availed yourself of....other remedies used among the commoners?”
“Sorcery and magic, your grace. The queen would never have consented to such treatments,” Marcus said.
The room fell silent as King George swept a table full of small bottles onto the floor, his face red with anger as he turned back to face the doctors.
“I do not care what the queen would have consented to. You try everything there is and perhaps when she is well again her feeling about these other...treatments, will change. Do I make myself clear?” he bellowed.
The two men bowed low as the heavy door banged against the stone wall.
“Tyrell!” the king roared and his private secretary appeared as if from thin air.
“Yes, your grace?”
“Send a letter to Darbyshire informing Lady Lyanna that she and her daughters are summoned to court immediately.”
“Yes, your grace,” the man said, rushing off to do his lordship’s bidding.
“Clegane, take twenty of your best men and ride for Thatchers Cove at once. Bring the Lady Lyanna and her daughters back to court at once. Unharmed and unmolested, Clegane.”
The knight, as tall and as broad as an ancient oak tree bowed and went in search of his party.
“Majesty?” a voice questioned from the shadowy corners of the hall.
“Speak Pycelle or I’ll have your tongue!”
“It is only that I wondered if it would be wise to bring the Qu...the Lady Lyanna back to court with the queen so gravely ill. Some may see it as a sign that you intend to marry the prin..the Lady Elisa.”
George faced the bowed old man who had been his brother’s most trusted advisor. It had been a foolishly placed trust that led to Henry’s downfall in the end but George had kept the old man about for his connections and his secret web of informants who knew what happened from the kitchens all the way to the Isles.
“She is my niece, you old fool. I have no intention of marrying her or any of that whore’s bastard progeny. I have a queen.”
“Forgive me, your grace but the queen’s condition seems unlikely to improve and as you lack an heir, a wife, particularly one of Lady Elisa’s breeding and connections, would only serve to strengthen your claim.”
Pycelle found himself slammed back against the wall, gasping for breath as the king’s arm cut across his throat.
“Do not speak to me of claims and connections, Pycelle. I am well aware that if left unguarded and unwatched Lyanna may seek to arrange a marriage between her daughter and that whelp of a usurper, Robb Stark. It is the very reason I am having them brought here so that I may ensure their obedience and loyalty to the crown.”
Releasing the man from his hold, Pycelle fell to the ground, hands rubbing at his throat.
Storming down the hall to his chambers he shook with rage. If Elisa wound up in Robb Stark’s bed, Mormont, Reed, Westerling, and Greyjoy were all likely to join his cause. And with so many of the great houses behind him, it was nearly improbable that Stark would lose.