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The North Remembers

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The children wake screaming.

At first he thinks there has been some sort of attack. For why else could they feel such terror? When he gets to the girls’ room, he is confronted with a near rabid Arya, her small form barreling towards him. Sansa is hid in the corner, her knees tucked against her chest.

Robb and Jon burst through the door a moment later, wide eyed.

“Arya!” Jon barks.

His youngest daughter stills instantly in his hold. Sansa whimpers carry in the half darkness.

“It’s him, Arya. It has to be him.”

Arya frowns in response.

“He could be a faceless man, Jon. Whoever he is, he certainly isn’t Father.”

“Arya,” Robb starts, “I saw Mother too. And Maester Luwin. And Jory.”

Sansa steps from the shadows at that. Creeping up to him with soft steps, tilting her head in contemplation.

“It is Father, Arya. He looks the same. I’ll never forget his face. Not after what Joffery did.”

“Fine, you stupid dork. But if you get us killed, I’m going to kick your ass.”

Ned was sure that his eyebrows had disappeared into his hair at that point.

Sansa just shook her head.

“Jon, do you think Theon remembers?” Asked Sansa

Robb swore loudly, “ He better not have. After what he did to Bran and Rickon…”

Ned’s head was spinning. What did the Crown Prince and the Greyjoy ward have to do with him and his younger sons?

“It wasn’t Theon, Robb. Rickon went to Skagos and Bran traveled with the Reeds beyond the Wall. They lived.”

“Aye, we did. And we still do Brother.” Stated Bran, practically materializing in the doorway.

“I sent us all back. In the end, I was the last one left. The Others had overrun Westeros after the Wall fell.”

“Bran, who is ‘us’?” Asked Arya

“House Mormont, House Reed, and House Stark.” Bran turned to Jon, “Cousin, Lord Howland will most likely wish to swear fealty to you. Yours is the Song of Ice and Fire after all. And I’m sure that young Lyanna will wish to crown you King.”

Robb made a soft choking sound, eyes wide as saucers.

Jon chuckled at that. “Bran, I’ve told you. No matter if all the realm Hails me as King Jahaerys and kneels at my feet. I’m still your brother.”

Ned jolted at that. “Do you know, then? How did you find out?”

Jon’s mouth turned down into a familiar scowl, “I didn’t find out until after I had had sex with my Aunt. And my friend Samwell of House Tarly found a bit of text from the Citaedal about it.”

“You’ve met Daenerys?”

Bran answered, “Yes, Father we have. After the death of her children, she was never the same. Neither were we. We all grew up far too fast. We’ve all seen so much violence and death. It changed even the hardest of men into scared, frightened boys.”

Arya wrinkled her nose at that.

Ned cleared his throat. “Yes. Well I believe that you should all get back to your beds. We will speak of this over the breaking of fast in my solar.”

Gods, he needed to get drunk. His children had gone mad. Absolutely stark raving mad.

Chapter Text

The walk to his chambers was quiet. The only sounds were the echo of his footsteps on the ancient stone. Flickering torches cast long shadows in the corridor. The sun cast a faint pre dawn glow on the tops of the Wolfswood trees.

Cat was still sleeping. His lovely lady wife, so gentle and strong. He wondered briefly if he should keep their children’s madness from her. But, he’d kept enough secrets. They needed to handle this together, as a pack.

Sighing softly, he blew out the lone candle, submerging the room in pale darkness. Some days he felt as old as his foster father. He wasn’t meant for this. The Stark mantle was always supposed to fall to Brandon, but the Gods had other plans. Wolves never did well south of the Neck.

He settled beneath the furs covering their bed. The softness easing some of the tension from him like holes in a wine skin. Whatever was to come, he’d deal with it when the sun rose. As he was drifting between sleep and alertness, he recalled that saying of Howland’s, come hell or high water they’d see it through.

When Ned awoke, it was to his lady wife’s long red hair tickling his nose. Her cold feet pressed against his upper thighs. Their furs had migrated to the bottom of the bed, tangling around their legs.

The servants had lit a fire in the hearth, it’s flames glowing brightly.

Ned stood, stretching his battle scarred body. Ice hung in its scabbard next to the mantle. His chest of drawers sat in a corner, opposite the door. His soft lambs wool jerkin and leather britches lay in the bottom. His bear fur cloak from the Mormonts hung with Cat’s dresses in the bordoure.

Stifling a yawn, he laced his britches and ran his fingers through his hair in an attempt to look the part of both stern Father and Lord Paramount.

His stomach grumbled. Some cheese and cold meats would do wonderfully this morn. Perhaps cook would even have some fresh bread available. Sticking his head out the door, he called for a servant to fetch breakfast for them all and deliver it to his solar.

Sighing softly, Ned pressed a kiss to his wife’s forehead and bravely walked out the door to face the coming storm.

He met Sansa in the hall. She looked every inch a lady. Her dress was a light grey wool, with winter roses embroidered round the hem and cuffs. Her hair hung in a loose braid behind her back, barely brushing her shoulder blades.

 

*
He offered her his arm, but she shrunk away from the movement. Her pupils blown wide in fear.

Jon pads from his room down the hall, freezing when he sees the scene.

“Sansa.” He says, softly. “You’re safe. They can’t hurt you anymore. You’re in Winterfell.”

“Where’s Ghost, Jon? I need him.” She asks.

*

Ned is confused. He hasn’t heard of any ghosts wandering the halls.

“He’s not here Sans. We’ve gone back, remember?”

“Yes, it just seems odd without him behind me.”

“Aye, it does. In the end, he was as much your Wolf as he was mine.”

Clearing his throat, Ned began “Your siblings are likely already in my solar. We should join them.”

“Yes, Father.”

Chapter Text

The walk to his solar was done in companionable, if slightly awkward silence.

Ned went first, shoving aside the thick wooden door. Then followed Jon, and Sansa.

Robb, Bran, and Arya were already there. They turned with solemn faces. Ned was taken aback by how old they looked.

There was an empty chamber pot beside Robb’s feet. He supposed whatever mad tale the children had to tell him would be a long one.

Settling in the chair behind the large oak desk, he let out a sigh. The servants had already brought breakfast. Slices of cold meat, fresh bread, wolf berries, and a small pot of tea.

“Well, shall we break our fast first and then you all may tell me this tale of yours.”

The children nodded, picking up the worn wooden plates beside the tray of food.

The boys loaded their plates with the gusto of starving men, but Arya and Sansa were slower. Arya settled on a small pile of wolf berries and bread.

*

Sansa barely picked at the food she’d gotten.

Ned was about to encourage her to eat, when Jon intervened.

“Sansa,” he said softly. “ Do you want to share with me instead? And we can give the rest to the smallfolk, like we did during winter.”

His eldest girl nodded, settling across from Jon. Her grey dress splayed around her ankles.

He decided to wait and see what they would have to say before he cried madness.

Sansa still nibbled on her food, quiet as a mouse.

*

After everyone had finished, Ned splayed his battle scared hands across the desk.

“Very well children. Shall we begin?”

Bran cleared his throat. “Aye Father, we shall. The Others are real. They stir beyond the Wall. Horrible tragedy happened to our family. I was the last man alive in Westeros. Everyone else died long ago, I decided to bring the Starks back in time. The Old Gods thought we might need some assistance, so they permitted Houses Mormont and Reed to come back as well.”

“You’re saying you all have come back in time?”

“Aye Father, we are.” Said Sansa.

*

“What happened? Where was I?”

“You were long dead Uncle. I had to discover who my mother was by word of a raven from Old Town.”

Ned felt all his breath leave his body. Gods he felt ill. What could have happened to have his son find out about his own mother by raven?

“Did Robert-“ he asked.

“No, Robert Baratheon was long dead, as were most of the men that supported his rebellion.” Jon said. “They died in the War of the Five Kings. Or the skirmishes and sieges that happened before the war started.”

Robb’s face paled.

“Who won?” He croaked. “Who won after I died?”

“Jeoffry, but he didn’t live long. He was poisoned two years after you died. He died at a wedding, like you.” Muttered Arya

He almost failed to hear the curse that fell from her lips after. His boy? Dead at a wedding?

Ned shook his head. It was too much.

“Sansa. What happened to Sansa?” Asked Robb, in a near panic

Sansa laughed. A rolling, full belly laugh.

“I was beaten, Robb. For every victory you won, I was beaten. Jeoffrey made me look at yours and Father’s severed heads. I escaped King’s Landing, but I was sold like cattle.” Sansa shuddered.

“He raped me. I can still feel it. He never cut me where it would be seen. Said he wanted to keep me pretty. His lovely wife,” She spat. “I’m glad Kyra and the other hounds tore him apart. I’m just disappointed Ghost didn’t get to tear off a chunk.”

Ned felt all the blood drain from his face. His little girl had been hurt and he hadn’t been able to keep her safe.

“Who?” Robb growled.

“Ramsay Bolton. Tommen legitimized him after he killed Roose.” Said Sansa.

And the sordid, blood soaked tale continued. From Arya’s training at the House Of Black and White, to the Red Wedding, to Jon’s journey beyond the Wall and his death and rebirth.

When the children had finally finished, the sun was setting. The chamber pot had been used, mainly to empty Ned’s stomach of its contents. The brutality his children had faced was unparalleled.

*

His lady wife would know, but not all of it. Not of their children’s suffering. He feared it would break her. He sat in his solar long after the children had gone from the room in search of food. He supposed he couldn’t really call them children anymore, they had been grown once.

Letting out a sigh, Ned stood. He needed to clear his head, let off some steam. He also needed to apologize to his sister. He’d gotten their boy injured by not telling him the truth. Jon may have been from Rhaegar’s seed, but he was of Ned’s blood. He had raised him as a son. A son of Winter. A Stark.

Chapter Text

His feet had led him unthinkingly to the Crypts. Even now his sister’s ghost haunted him, baring her teeth. The Faith say that things never happen the same way twice, but Ned disagrees. Everything that happens under the sun has happened before, the Old Gods of the forest had decreed it so. The events of life sounding out echos from long ago.

All of the suffering that his children had experienced was almost inconceivable. He needed to arrange betrothals for them, before Robert’s “children” were pushed towards them. It would not do to have his children wedded to monsters. Stroking his beard, Ned sighed. They had so much to do, so much to plan for. Winter was coming, and fast.

An Autumn Harvest would need to be called. He’d send a letter to Howland and tell him to bring Lya’s maiden cloak and trousseau, as well as Jon’s hope chest. The pounding at the edges of his temples hadn’t lessened. He needed to consult Maester Luwin and determine the calculations for winter harvest and preparation.
Perhaps the children may have some idea of how to proceed. They had supposedly lived through the second coming of the Long Night after all. Ned snorted, letting out a wispy puff of air. Their tale was fucking unbelievable, utter madness, and yet he had accepted them. How else was he supposed to proceed? Ignore their claims that his Gods had sent them back to right unspeakable wrongs and end up dead for it.

His blood had always been the mellowest of all his siblings’, but his blood had boiled when he heard the tale his children spun. Of all they had suffered and lost. Sleep would not come easy tonight. He padded quietly up to the castle, passing the stables and the lone glass house that stood watch over the grounds. The sky was shrouded with dark grey clouds, nearly blocking out the brightness of the full moon.

The family wing spanned a long, curved hallway in the upper levels of the holdfast. Robb’s room was closest to the Master Bedroom, belonging to the heir. Knocking softly, Ned poked his head inside. All of his children, plus Theon had curled up on furs in front of the hearth.

Arya was tangled up between Bran and Rickon. Sansa was furthest away from the huddled mass of tangled limbs, lying on her side, hair fanned out behind her. Jon sat at the small desk, an inkwell open, and parchment strewn about. His chin pressed against his chest, fast asleep. Faint snores echoed around the room, Ned suspected Arya and Theon to be the culprits.

His room was lit with flickering candles and a roaring fire. They cast the room in shades of bright vibrant orange yellows. Shadows danced in the corners of the room. His lady wife glanced up when he came in, her hands moving deftly as she sewed.

“Where were you and the children all day Ned?” Cat asked.

“In my solar, dear. We had some things to discuss. I’ll tell you of it tomorrow. I hardly understand it myself, but be assured that it is the truth.”

Her breath hitched, “Has something happened? Have one of the children been harmed?”

“No, darling they are quite well. Safe and happy, curled up in Robb’s room by the fire.” he said.

Chapter Text

“Rickon was acting oddly today. He kept crying. None of us could get him to quiet down.” frowned Catelyn

“Perhaps he missed his siblings. He is a young boy, still a babe. He could do with children closer in years.”

His lady wife nodded, and turned back to her sewing.

“I know that Lysa’s boy, Robin, is of an age with Rickon. He is reported to be sickly though.” She says.

“I was thinking of young Lyanna Mormont. Maege’s daughter. It would be good for the children to build ties with the Bannermen.”

His lady wife stops at that, turning to face him.

“Can the children not foster South?”

Ned shakes his head. After all these years, his southron wife still had not learned.

“My father’s southern ambitions nearly ruined our House. I will not make the same mistakes.” He said, “Besides, the children will benefit from this once we are gone. I’m going to ask Howland to foster his children as well. Mayhaps Sansa would benefit from fostering somewhere as well.”

His wife gasps. “Ned! You cannot possibly be thinking of sending our eldest daughter away!”

Eddard huffs, shaking his head. They are interrupted before he can reply.

The door swings upon its hinges, and Maester Luwin enters. His grey robes lined with many pockets and tied with rope round the waist.

“My Lord, a raven came from Highgarden. It bears the sigil of House Tyrell.” says Luwin.

“Thank you Luwin. Let me know if more correspondence comes.”

Luwin leaves, as quiet as he came. Ned strokes the fine parchment and green wax seal. It breaks with a pop.

Dearest,

I hope this letter finds you well. I awoke yesterday in Highgarden, my darling brothers hale and healthy. I am unsure of what happened. Only that you are not a dove, but a fierce example of your House. I write to you in hopes that you remember.

Regards,
Lady Margaery of House Tyrell

“It is an odd letter. It is addressed to Dearest from Margaery Tyrell.” Ned says.

“Why would the Tyrells write to House Stark? Do you think the letter is addressed to Robb?” asks Cat.

He stands from the bed, and clasps his hands behind his back.

“No, I don’t believe so. It is written as though to a close friend, not a lover or paramour. Not even a potential suitor.”

“An odd thing to be sure. Perhaps we can mention it to the children in the morning.” she says.

“Aye, my love. Lets go to bed.”

Ned slipped the mysterious letter in the bedside drawer, and flopped onto the furs next to his wife.

Eyes sparkling, he rolled over on top of her. The rough, calloused pads of his fingers found her soft ribs.

“Eddard Stark! Do not dare tickle me!”

His boyish grin in response was more than enough.

His wife’s laughter echoed in their room, and down the hall.

For now they would be happy. Safe inside their home where no one could harm them.

In the morning, they rose with the sun. The small water basin beside the bed was waiting to be filled with cool water. He picked up the pitcher and poured the clear water into the bowl. Ned lightly dipped the worn cloth into the basin, and brought it to his face. The cloth felt cold, but refreshing, washing away the night’s sleep.

He and Cat would confront the children about the letter today. He honestly had no inkling of which of his children had befriended a Tyrell. In an attempt to recall which of his children had interacted, Ned’s head spun with all of the gruesome details. Had it been Arya or Sansa that was supposed to marry the oldest Tyrell boy? Willas? Or was it Ser Garlan? He had not a clue.

Gods, he needed to write this down somewhere. It was too much information to keep straight. Like something from a long forgotten dream.

Shaking his head, Ned retrieved the letter from the bedside drawer. Ice hung comfortably at his back. The stray thought that popped into his head as he pulled on his boots was that his name day was in less than four sennights.
Huffing, he focused on the task at hand. Interrogate, and possibly reprimand, his children for writing to a member of a House that he had no known affiliation with. If anyone else found out about the rather queer letter, they would have to arrange a betrothal, which needed to be thought upon.

He wanted his children to wed for love, not for duty or to escape a fate they thought was unavoidable. But they should at least discuss possible matches, keep an eye open, so to speak.

He also needed to move before his lady wife skinned him like a rabbit for being late to his own meeting. He practically ran to his Solar.

Once he stopped in front of the door, his cheeks were flushed and he was out of breath. Running a hand through his hair, he appeared to look presentable.

His grooming was interrupted by the clearing of a throat. Robb stood as still and immaculate as a statue, but with a grin that curled over his teeth like a wolf’s.

“Hush Robb. You and your siblings are giving me grey hairs. Spare your old man the pain of having his six and ten year old son laughing his arse off at him.”

His eldest son snorted, shaking his head.

“I can’t help it if you aren’t as put together as you seem Father. Perhaps it’s all those wolf berry pastries First Cook makes you that affect your appearance.”

“That was very funny, son. Very funny. Let’s go in now, I believe we’ve made your mother wait long enough.”

And so they went in together, to face the coming storm, shoulder to shoulder.

Chapter Text

The children sat in a semicircle of chairs surrounding his desk, while Cat was in a chair beside his. Stepping around his desk, he brushed Cat’s shoulder and tried to determine his children’s reactions to being summoned.

Clearing his throat, Ned started to speak, “Children, I’ve decided to inform your Mother of what you told me yesterday. I have also considered telling her of Jon’s Mother, but I’d like your opinion first.”

His children appeared shocked, all but Brandon.

They recovered quickly, stoic masks falling back into place.

“I for one, am all right with it. As long as Jon is too.” Said Sansa, glancing at Jon.

Jon nodded, his lips pressed tightly together.

Everyone else nodded their assent.

Before he could let his most closely held secret slip, his wife interrupted.

“Ned, what does the bastards mother have to do with anything?”

Letting out a deep breath, he leveled his gaze towards his wife.

“Everything. She has everything to do with what I am about to tell you. Gods. I loved her. More than anything, I loved her.”

His wife’s face slowly crumpled, holding back tears.

“She’s dead then.”

“Aye. She is. I’d give anything to speak to her again. I’d do whatever the Gods willed. She was beautiful. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think of her.” He said with sigh.

“What was her name, Ned? Was it Ashara Dayne? Tell me the name of the woman you’d rather have taken to wife!” Cat cried.

“I would never have taken her to wife. If I’d shown that sort of madness, she’d likely have cut my balls off. She was my sister! My little sister!” He yelled.

“My sister ran away with Rhaegar Targaryen and started a damn war Cat! Jon is of my blood. He is my son, no matter who’s seed! I swore to protect him! To keep him safe! From Robert, From Tywin fucking Lannister, I promised! It was the only way to keep him safe! Do you know what happened to his half siblings Catelyn Tully? Do you?”

By the end of his tirade, Ned’s hands were curled into fists, his breath coming in short huffs, teeth bared like a wolfs.

Cat had fallen limp into the chair, her face pale. Her hands were shaking and tears were falling freely.

“It’s treason.”

“Do you see why I kept it from you now, sweetling? Jon is the rightful King. But he is a Stark. He belongs in Winterfell, with his siblings.”

“Is this what you told the children yesterday Ned?” Asked Cat breathlessly.

He shook his head. Smoothing his beard, he answered. “No, Cat. The children told me that the Gods had sent them back. To fix the ruin that had become of our House. To end The Long Night.”

His wife gasped, her hand coming to cover her mouth.

“Ned. This is madness. Sheer utter madness. How can you believe them?”

“They knew of Jon’s mother. And of a great many things I made sure to keep from them.”

Catelyn shook her head. “Eddard, You are my husband and I trust your word, but not in this. I cannot. It is hearsay and madness.”

Ned’s eye was caught by his children fidgeting on the other side of the room.

Turning to face them, he raised an eyebrow.

“What is it?”

Grins split their faces. It was the happiest he’s seen them since the night they woke screaming.

“Everything before the word but is horseshit.” They chimed, even his darling Sansa.

“Language!” Snapped Lady Stark.

Ned coughed awkwardly, fighting down the blush that bloomed in his cheeks.

He was a grown man damn it, he wasn’t going to blush like a boy who’d been caught with his trousers round his ankles.

“We’ll tell you more of it later Mother. For now, I believe we should go get ready for the midday meal in the Hall.” Said Robb.

And so the children filed out of the room, heading to their respective rooms to freshen up, leaving he and Cat alone in the Solar.

Once the door was closed, they both started to speak.

“I’m sorr-“

“I don’t-“

Cat waved a hand, motioning him to continue.

“I’m sorry, my love. I wanted to keep you safe from Robert’s wrath. I wanted you and the children safe.” He said.

Cat swallowed, and began. “I don’t blame you, Eddard. I was a stranger to you. A southron woman, your brothers betrothed. It doesn’t lessen the shame that my actions make me feel. I have forgotten my house words.”

She laced her fingers together, settling them across her knees. “My Uncle once told me, Little Cat, you must never forget that Family comes first. Before Duty and Honor, Family must always be first. For it is your family that will keep you safe once winter comes. Duty and Honor are well and good, but they will not keep you fed, nor warm. Family will provide.”

Ned chuckled.

“My Father said something similar to that. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. It came from my mother’s mother. She was Free Folk you know. Clan Flint took her in, but she was as wild as the lands of Always Winter. It was why I named our youngest daughter Arya.”

Time had flown after their reconciliation. It was time for midday meal in the Great Hall. Ned offered his arm to his lady wife, and she accepted. Her dainty hand curling around his bicep.

Her blue grey skirts swished around her ankles as they walked. The servants had prepared a meal of thick sliced bread, stew, and a smattering assortment of jams.

Most of the children, save Arya and Theon, were already seated. By the time they reached the head table, Theon had arrived. His clothes were disheveled and hair unkempt. He appeared as though he hadn’t a care in the world that he look’d as though he come from a whore house, and knowing Theon, he probably had.

Theon passed Sansa on his way to settle between Robb and Jon. The heavy grunt that followed the impact of Sansa’s sharp elbow into Theon’s spleen carried across the hall, mixing into the noisy din of the servants chatter.

Ned nearly missed the way his eldest daughter fluttered her eyelashes and Theon’s face drained of color because his attention was captured by the heavy doors to the Great Hall banging open.

His wild daughter dashed in, in a rough spun blue tunic and leather trousers. Her hair was cropped above her shoulders, nearly reaching her chin.

She pressed a kiss to his cheek and apologized for being late before plopping down beside Bran and Rickon. She shoveled food onto her plate like a man starving.

He shares a glance with his lady wife and fights the grin that wants to bloom upon his face. He’d surely be sleeping in the kennels tonight for not presenting a united front to their daughter for her actions. Ned couldn’t find it in himself to care. His mind drawn back to Lyanna and the mischief she and Benjen got up to.

Lightly snorting into his goblet of mulled wine, Ned fondly recalled the time his siblings had given their father tea with salt instead of sugar. Or the time Lyanna had stained Brandon’s teeth blue because he said he was a better swordsman.

Chapter Text

Cat glared at him from across the table, not wanting to make a scene. He needed to draft those Harvest Feast invitations. The books needed to be balanced and assessed for the coming crop harvest. He’d assign Sansa that job, she was always best at sums. He also needed to speak with his bannermen about glass houses and their winter stockpiles. Perhaps Arya could research new crops that could grow in the hardy Northern soil.

An alliance with the Reach would be tremendously useful, but he was getting ahead of himself. The children would help bare some of the heavy burden, not the worst of it, but some.

There was too much to think on. The swirling mess of it all made his mind numb, but perhaps that was the wine. He needed to visit the Godswood after dinner, still his thoughts, ask the Old Gods to help. The wolves could not bear this burden alone.

If what his children said was true, then the North needed to be fortified, and make allies. The Harvest Feast and the renewal of the fealty pledges would be the first step towards solidifying the North. But Ned knew well enough that some bonds had to be solidified in blood and iron.

His brother haunted him when the moon was as full and round as Cat’s belly. Brandon carried with him the stench of burning flesh and thick smoke like a cloak. Sometimes Lya would appear as well, her shift soaked with blood and the cloying scent of winter roses would fill his nose and threaten to drown him.

His breaths became shallow and his forehead beaded with sweat when they visited him. For the first six years, Ned had flashes of Jon’s mangled body wrapped in Lannister red. After Greyjoy’s rebellion, it was of Jon and Theon’s heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Robert’s voice booming around him in the summer snows. The nightmares made him sick, bile rising in his throat to splatter in the chamberpot.

 

Ned was snapped out of his nightmares by a wet splat against his face. Rickon had catapulted his mashed peas onto his Lord Father’s face. Taking the nearest kerchief, Ned wiped his face free of the babe’s food. The hall sounded with Rickon’s joyous laughter.

He let out a few chuckles at his youngest son. The servants would have a difficult time cleaning the hall after Rickon’s mess. The bread on his plate was still warm when he bit into it. The fresh cow’s butter complimented it well. The cooks had done wonderfully.

Glancing over at his children, Ned saw that Arya was stuffing her face while talking animatedly to Jon, Sansa was daintily spooning candied berries onto three small, plain cakes, and Robb was staring with melancholy into his bowl of stew.

His lovely Cat was ruffling Bran’s hair, grinning ferociously. ‘Mother of Wolves indeed’, He thought.

Dinner was soon over, the servants staying behind to clean up the Hall, the children long put to bed.

The walk from the Hall to the family wing was a short one. Ned flopped onto the bed with all the grace of a destrier stuck in mud. He watched with half lidded eyes at Cst got undressed. Stifling a yawn, Ned burrowed his face into the pile of furs. They’d need to be aired out soon, with all the lovemaking he and Catelyn did. They smelled of forest pine, musk, and something distinctly Cat.

The phantom pains of war plagued him, hounded his bones like dogs of war. Ned let out a grunt as Cat’s weight settled into his left side. Her nails came up to scratch his scalp, gently teasing his roots. He leaned into her touch like a man starved of water.

Rolling over, Ned found his head placed squarely on his wife’s strong thighs. Nuzzling her, he mumbled “I need to go pray my love. I have too many ghosts to care for you tonight.”

Cat hummed in response, his eyes flicked open and steel grey met river blue. His wife pressed a kiss to the tip of his nose, as she might do to Rickon.

“I understand my dear. I pray the Gods ease the burden they have seen fit to bring upon our family.”

And so Ned went.

The walk to the Godswood was quiet. He passed chattering servants, heard the banging of the hammer from Mikken’s forge, let the sound of the crunch of fallen leaves that lined the dark path to the Heart Tree fill his ears.

A small figure was slumped beneath the Heart Tree. As Ned crept closer he heard a haunting melody.

“And the wind itself was their song”

The words floated up to meet his ears and he was enraptured by the war ballad. He stood not a long sword’s length away from the figure when the clouds parted and moonlight spilled through the branches of the Godswood. The summer snows glowing like milk glass. The figure perched upon the boulder was his eldest son, Robb’s eyes red from sobbing.

“I miss them.” He said, hoarsely. “Grey Wind, Talisa, Little Eddard. We were going to name him after you.”

“Their ghosts never get any easier to carry Son. I still am haunted by my siblings and the stench of war.”

Robb hummed in agreement and went back to fiddling with his jerkin in the half darkness.

“They murdered me you know. Shot me full of arrows after they stabbed my pregnant wife. Right in front of me!” He yelled. “Roose Bolton and Walter Frey broke guests rights and slaughtered my family. Slit Mother’s throat to the bone and threw her body in the river!”

Ned’s face paled. The girls hadn’t told him that, but then who could blame them? His wife dishonored and shamed in such a way. The wolf in him snarled and shook awake for the first time in fourteen years. Since the Throne Room and three bloodied red cloaks, and dragonspawn.

No matter if Ned had wanted to rip Rhaegar’s head off with his bare fucking teeth, the man’s children hadn’t deserved such a fate.

“Come, Robb. We shan’t shed our burdens here. The Old Gods have no need of so much wolfsblood tonight.”

Robb followed silently, a faint wind whipping up around them.

The stables were quiet. The smell of fresh hay and horseflesh filled both men’s noses. The silence was broken by Robb’s sneeze. Ned turned to look at his son and had to stifle laughter.

Snot dribbled down Robb’s chin in thick green strands. Some of it dropped with a wet thwack to the floor. Then his son did the unthinkable.

He rushed forwards, and before Ned could blink, had wiped his snotty nose on his father’s shirt.

Ned groaned in disgust.

Robb grinned at him in a dazzling approximation of his youngest brother.

Chapter Text

Robb grinned at him in a dazzling approximation of his youngest brother.

“You’re what? Six and Ten now? You’re a man grown Robb! There’s no excuse for acting like Rickon.” Said Ned with raised brows.

His eldest son ducked his head in embarassment. Ned decided to let the incident go.

“Let’s go riding, son.” said the Lord of Winterfell. Ned saddled his own mount while Robb did the same. They were soon riding out the gate that led to the Wolfswood.

They rode between the trees, laughing as they went. By the time they reached the clearing, the sun was over the mountains. The clearing was covered by a blanket of heavy frost and it looked like glistening glass in the morning sun.

Ned unmounted and walked to the middle of the clearing. Once he was there, he unclasped his cloak and Ice’s scabbard. Robb made a queer noise behind him. Ned ignored his son and continued to derobe until he was in only his leather pants.

“Come, Robb.” Said Ned, “I want to teach you something my own mother taught me. She learned it from her grandmother.”
“My great, great grandmother was Free Folk. That fact is kept well hidden, but it doesn’t mean we can’t still practise.”

“Practise what Father?”

“Hand to Hand combat and endurance training.”

“All right, Father. But I’m not disrobing.” Muttered Robb

Ned nearly let out a loud snort.

He moved to stand behind his son, and adjusted Robb’s stance.

“Before you can learn how to fight, you must learn how to take a blow. Where should you aim to be hit to do the least amount of injury.”

“Father that makes no sense! If a man must learn how to defend himself against threats, then why must he learn to fall first?”

“How about I show you instead, Son?” said Ned. “Hit me.”

And Robb swung.

Ned crumpled to the ground, seemingly under the force of the blow.

Robb walked to his father’s side, and then it was Robb who was on the ground instead of Ned.

Ned grinned, rubbing his jaw. “You pack a hell of a punch son.”

Robb was staring up at him from the ground, dazed and mouth agape.

“How’d you do that?” asked Robb breathlessly.

“I learned how to fall.”

“Teach me!”

And so he did.

Hours later, they were both drenched in sweat and covered in fresh purple bruises.

Ned took Robb’s hand and hauled himself up off the ground.

He used his jerkin to wipe the sweat off his face. After wrapping his scabbard around his waist, Ned paused.

Years of war training kicked in. Something was in the woods. Their horses felt it too. They were wide eyed and pawing at the ground.

Robb nattered on, oblivious.

“Robb. Hush. There’s something in the woods.”

Then Ned sees it.

Yellow eyes gleaming from the underbrush. Whatever it is, it’s big. The eyes are level with Ned’s.

When it steps out of the brush, it takes all of his willpower not to piss himself and run screaming.

The dire wolf is the size of his destrier, and her belly is round with pups. Ned feels his heart about to beat out of his chest.

The mother wolf’s muzzle is stained red from a kill. Blood coats the fur around her paws and chest too.

Ned notices Robb is behind him, mouth agape.

The mother wolf trots forward and butts her head against his stomach. He tentatively reaches out a hand and pets her.

Something in his blood snaps free, then settles back into place. Ned knows instinctively that though this creature may never be a pet, she is his bonded.

Robb lets out a guffaw behind him. The she wolf starts and darts back into the underbrush. Ned lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.

“Let’s go before she decides to come back and make a meal of us son.”

“Somehow I don’t think she will Father.”

And so Ned calms his stallion and they rode off through the woods.

About a mile into the trip, their horses begin to snort and neigh in fear. This time it is Robb that sees the danger.

Wildings are creeping through the wood, cloaked in dark furs.

Ned turns his destrier around and motions for his son to follow.

He recalled his foster father’s words from boyhood.

“Diplomatic solutions are always first,” said Jon Arryn “But if you must, fight.”

And then a memory resurfaced from even further back.

His mother wore a Stark grey gown with winter roses embroidered on the sleeves. She sat, her knees tucked under her, upon a large fur beside the fire. “Never forget that a wolf has teeth and claws for a reason my children. The mighty lion may have a boisterous roar, the viper it’s Southron cunning, but only the wolf shall roam when the lands are covered in snow.”

Ned took a deep breath, and felt fear coil itself in his chest.

Old Nan with her few teeth, white hair, and wrinkled, liver spotted skin. “Fear is for the winter little lordling. When the snows fall a hundred feet deep. When men, women, and children live and die all in darkness.”

It is that reminder, and the tale his children told, that help him formulate his plan. If the Long Night was truly coming, they all needed unity.

Ned’s plan goes to shit. The wildlings attack upon sight, and his horse takes an arrow to the throat.

His world is lopsided shades of brown and mottled green. He sees Robb’s eyes reflect the sun and turn gold. A blur of brown-grey flies over his head and there is screaming. So much screaming.

Blood coats his face, Robb is even worse. A spear wife hits him in the face and he stays down.

Ice is heavy in his hand as he slices at the woman’s legs. Ned feels the rush of the wolfsblood under his skin, prickling like cold fire. He lets out a savage cry and swings towards her belly.

A mix of blood and guts falls out from the dead woman.

When all the wildlings are dead, the three wolves are coated in blood. Both he and Robb are breathing heavily.

“We’d best head home and clean up Son.” Said Ned.

Chapter Text

By the time they reached the gates, Ned had given up on attempting to shoo the mother direwolf away.

Ned feels the tired ache of war settle in his bones. He can only be grateful that there is not an empty cavern in his chest, nor the noose of grief wrapped around his throat. His mind recalls the last time he felt such a feeling. His sister’s bones behind him, the heavy weight of a babe in his arms.

He is pulled from his reverie by a guard shouting from atop the battlements. The oak doors swing inward and Ned sees his family waiting in the courtyard.

Cat lets out a cry at the sight of them, and Robb flinches.

The direwolf trots at his side, Faint surprise flits across his children’s faces. Rickon runs full tilt towards the mother wolf before Catelyn can grab him.

“Shaggy!” cries Rickon.

All of the Courtyard is frozen in horror and unable to move. His youngest son stops short in front of the wolf, and tilts his head.

“Why’s he so fat?”

Ned can’t help himself and bursts out laughing. The tension eases quickly, like a hot knife through butter.

“She’s going to have pups Rickon.” whispered Ned. “There are going to be more direwolves soon.”

His youngest son turned towards him, eyes as wide as saucers.

“Shaggy’s in his mummy’s tummy?”

“I-” He cleared his throat. “I suppose so Rickon.”

Rickon hummed softly in contemplation.

Ned clapped his son on the shoulder and led the way into the Hall. The servants dispersed and carried on with their respective duties. His family filed behind him like a well oiled machine.

The walk to his Solar was becoming too familiar. The mother wolf trotted behind them all, slowing to keep pace with Rickon and Cat. His youngest son’s peals of joyous laughter echoed around the halls.

Ned felt a spark of warmth fill his chest. He shoved open the door, and settled behind his desk. His family, the direwolf, and Maester Luwin followed a moment after.

“My Lord, you have several letters. Two from the Wall, one from the Mormonts, one from the Reeds, and surprisingly, a letter and a package from House Martell of Dorne.”

Ned made a noise in the back of his throat. His children looked equally surprised.

Setting aside the letters from his bannermen, Ned bid Luwin leave, and broke the orange seal of House Martell.

In brief, the letter was a request for trade of furs and wood from the North, in exchange for a hefty sum of gold and casks of Dornish Red, as well as preserved fruits and olives.

It was a most unexpected, but welcome, business venture.

The letters from the Reeds and the Mormonts both assured their loyalty to House Stark and accepted the invitation to the Harvest Feast. Howland had written that he’d be bringing his eldest, and his heir to the Feast.

His friend had amusedly told him that both his young children were chomping at the bit to see Brandon. Ned told him so, and watched as smiles bloomed across his two youngest sons’ faces.

Jon fidgeted uncomfortable at the mention of the Mormonts. Sansa just glared at him and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “I told you so.”

Whatever the issue was, Ned hoped that it wouldn’t cause too many conflicts.

Jeor Mormont and Benjen had also written that they’d be coming in for the Feast. Benjen had transcribed a letter from Maester Aemon Targaryen, indicating that the old maester would also be attending.

What a headache this was turning out to be!

So many people whose family conflicts needed paying attention to! Ned drummed his fingers on his leg in concentration.

Pulling out a piece of parchment and a quill, Ned made a list of all the Houses that were coming to the Feast. There’d need to be several hunts, to provide food and entertainment. Careful consideration of House conflicts and alliances needed to be taken in making sleeping arrangements.

“Father. It might be best if we all freshen up before supper, yes?” said Sansa.

“I’ll do whatever needs arranging, since I need the least amount of time to freshen up.”

“That’ll be wonderful, Sansa. Thank you sweetling.” Said Ned.
Dinner was a rather somber affair. The cooks served rabbit stew with the bread leftover from the midday meal. A small sweets course of blueberry tarts and cinnamon cakes was served afterwards.

Ned hummed under his breath as he kissed all his children on the crown of the head.

Baby Rickon reached his pudgy, sticky coated fingers and patted Ned’s beard. He groaned internally at the work such a thing would take to remove.

The brief meeting in his solar had brought up events that were to happen soon. His foster father had been murdered and there was nothing he could do. The King and half his court travelled to Winterfell, not to mention the Harvest Feast that was due to happen next week.He’d need to write to his bannermen and inform them to bring extra foodstuffs to supply the swarm of Lannisters descending upon the castle.

Sleep didn’t come easy to him, but when he awoke, Ned Stark found himself immersed in even more chaos than when he had fallen asleep.

Blinking blearily, Ned rubbed at his eyes. Cat’s soft laughter ran shivers down his spin.

“You look like Rickon, Ned. Half asleep as you are. Everyone else is up, the wolf whelped in the night. Gave the cook quite a fright this morning, mind you.”

Ned hummed on agreement. Yawning, he nuzzled his face into the crook of his wife’s neck.

“Come on, sleepy head. You need to get up and get dressed.” Said Cat, giving his shoulder a shove.

Ned just groaned and flopped back on the furs. After a while of Cat’s giggling, he heaved himself up and set to getting dressed. There was a deserter to speak to after all.

Chapter Text

Sansa sighed. Her palfrey was a pretty white mare, stabled next to Father’s black destrier. The stable grounds were tracked with mud and dirty summer snow. Hay littered the ground and the air reeked of manure.

She patted her reliable horse on the nose, laughing as Jonquil snuffled at her fingers.

“I don’t have an apple Jon. I’ll have to bring you one next time I visit.” murmured Sansa.

Bannermen had been trickling in from all areas of the North. Mother was running ragged with all of the prep. Father and the others had left as soon as Ser Rodrik brought news of the deserter. Everyone except her, Arya, and Rickon had gone.

Arya had been wrangled into a new dress by Mother, that had been a sight to see. Sansa tittered with regret. She hadn’t been able to finish Arya’s clothes in time for the arrival, but thankfully they’d be ready for the King’s.

Her sister despised being small again. Sansa supposed she didn’t like it either. Her clothes were silks and fine southron things. Things that reminded her of how foolish she’d been.

Jon had been recruited to go lay down traps in order to find furs to sew cloaks for them. Arya had badgered Theon into picking up skeens of wool the next time he was in Wintertown. The Ironborn had been rather bewildered but nonetheless complied. She thought it was partly because Robb had declared that he wouldn’t speak to Theon for three weeks if he refused.

Robb understood that discretion was needed. The Heir to Winterfell couldn’t be seen romping around in whorehouses and doing what he pleased. A King most certainly couldn’t.

None of them could come up with a solution of who was to be King. Bran had laughingly suggested that they should arm wrestle for it. She had rolled her eyes at their foolishness. Boys would remain boys, brothers most of all.

Sansa shook herself from her thoughts and walked to the Courtyard to see who had arrived now. Large banners waved in the air, the banners of House Karstark. A blazing white sun on a black field.

A greying man rode forward and swung off his horse. He bowed before her.

“Lady Sansa. Where is your Lady Mother?” asked the Lord

“She is still attending to the Umbers, Lord Karstark. House Stark apologizes if this is an inconvenience.”

“An inconvenience?” barked the Lord, stepping closer. His grey eyes were stormy and Sansa was suddenly glad that Robb wasn’t here.

She drew her posture up, eyes fierce. “Lord Karstark. My Lord Father has ridden off to do his duty to the Realm. He, this very moment mayhaps, is executing a deserter of the Night’s Watch. If you consider this such a slight, complain to him when he returns.”

The older man deflated. “My apologies, Lady Sansa. I should not have taken out my anger on a child, especially not the eldest daughter of my leige lord.”

“All is forgiven, Lord Karstark. Kin does not hold enmity towards kin, especially in winter.” said Sansa, the lie rolling bitter off her tongue.

She flagged down a stable boy to take their horses, and led the Karstark men to their rooms.

Sansa thought of the rage simmering in her chest at the sight of Robb, the bitterness towards Jon. Her brothers meant well, but they did not hold grudges like she did.

She who was raised at the lioness’s heel, who built her crown on the bones of her dead family, who was sheltered under the mockingbird’s wing. They shaped her more than her parents ever did. It was they who showed her what not to become.

She felt her memories of the past fading, like some long forgotten dream that was just out of reach. Her siblings had recounted the same thing happening to them. Rickon was the most affected, being the youngest.

None of them had mentioned it to Father. They had all agreed that it was best not to worry him. She recounted her tale in a leather bound journal that she kept locked in her strongbox buried beneath her clothes.

The memories of Ramsay were faint now, she could barely recall what he looked like, let alone the horrible things he had done to her. The only thing left was a feeling that felt like waking up right after a bad dream. A sense of terror and blue eyes the color of ice chips.

Sansa shook herself and found that she had wandered to the glass houses. The winter roses were in bloom, the light blue, nearly white petals falling to blanket the soft soil of the gardens.

“Father is home.”

She turned to her sister, her skirts disturbing the petals as she went.

“Good. I am glad he is home safe.” she said.

She took Arya’s arm and allowed herself to be escorted away.