“Anakin, dear, your father wants to see you,” Shmi said quietly as she interrupted her son’s forging sessions, her brow furrowed in worry. She was wearing the one set of good clothes she owned, a simple black dress to mourn the loss of another Stark heir. The last Stark heir. Aiden, barely six years old, with so much more to do in his life.
Shmi might not have been the boy’s mother, but she had helped raise him after the death of his lady mother and watched him grow up, following Anakin around. He was, after all, his older brother, though bastard-born. Aiden hadn’t cared for that, he had loved Anakin regardless.
For Qui-Gon, this had been the third child he had lost. The oldest son, Liam, one year younger than Anakin, had succumbed to the chills of a harsh winter. The youngest, a daughter that had taken her mother’s life at birth, had been taken a week later, her little body not strong enough to live despite everyone’s best efforts. Now, Aiden, all that was left of the Stark heirs, taken by a fever. Shmi, even though she was the mother of the bastard son of Qui-Gon, had delivered all these children and had watched them all perish.
“Father?” Anakin set his tools down and wiped the sweat from his brow. “No one has seen him since Aiden’s funeral. Did he say what he needed?” He cleaned his hands in a messed up rag as he brushed up his appearance. Qui-Gon had not wanted him to work, even if he was a bastard, his father had wanted to raise him properly, with his siblings, but Anakin didn’t need to be constantly reminded he was a Snow, not a Stark, and needed to be useful. After a lot of arguing, he did manage to work in the forge to occupy his time.
“He just keeps saying your name, Ani.”
“I’ll go and see him,” he kissed his mother’s forehead as he left the forge and walked towards the keep, on the other side of the courtyard. Snow had started falling and Winterfell was eerily quiet. Aiden’s death was still very recent. Everyone mourned, as he did. He had loved all of his siblings, and he had lost all of them. Climbing the stairs to his father’s rooms, he knocked before he heard his father’s weak voice allowing his entrance. “You asked for me, Father?”
“I have sent a raven to the King.” Qui-Gon stared into the fire, not moving from the great chair where he sat. Anakin quietly walked up to sit in the chair next to him. “And explained the situation. Provided he agrees, you’re to be legitimized.”
“Legitimized?” Anakin’s blue eyes widened. “I will no longer be a Snow?”
“Yes.” His father sighed. “I would have done it from the start, Ani, but…” They both knew why he hadn’t. Lady Stark would not have approved. “You are my only child now.”
“Thank you, Father,” he whispered. For a long time, all that he wanted was to be a Stark. This didn’t feel like a victory to him. “I wish it had been under different circumstances. I would gladly have continued as a Snow if it meant my brothers would have lived.”
“I know, Ani,” Qui-Gon sighed. “You were a good brother. You are a good son. You have it in you to be a great Lord, gods willing.”
“Lord of Winterfell,” he whispered, not having realized what his legitimization and only heir status would mean. “I will do my best to make you proud and uphold our family’s traditions,” he laid one hand on top of Qui-Gon’s. “I wish it had been Liam. Or Aiden. I miss them, Father, I hope you know that.”
“Of course.” Qui-Gon sighed. “It will be some time before the King can reply, but in the meantime, we will start preparing you for the future.”
“Do you believe the Lords of the North will respect me?” Anakin asked. “I have been a bastard for nineteen years, Father, it’s not something they will easily forget. They can claim I have no right to Winterfell.”
“Such claims would be treason. It would be going against the King, saying he was wrong,” Qui-Gon said coldly.
“I hope they can see it that way, Father. From my part, you will have my complete devotion to the traditions of our house,” Anakin vowed.
“Good, because there is something you should begin preparing for now.”
“The lessons with Maester Yoda?” Anakin teased lightly.
“No, Anakin. Provided that his Grace agrees to legitimize you, I’ve also asked him to arrange a betrothal for you, to a daughter of one of the Great Houses. I realize that it is not what you might have wanted for yourself, but such a match will be crucial to your survival.”
Anakin was at a loss for words. “An arranged marriage, Father? So soon after my legitimization?” His voice shook. “Is it really necessary?”
“Yes, Anakin, I’m afraid it is.”
“It could take a while, however, for the King to find a suitable match,” he said, more to try and convince himself of it.
“I’m sure he’ll find us the right match, then, for the future Lady of Winterfell,” Anakin tried to avoid a grimace before standing. “Is there anything else you need, Father?” Qui-Gon said nothing, only pulled him in for a very tight embrace. Anakin returned the hug just as tightly. “Mother is worried about you,” he said in a whisper. “Could I send her to keep you company?”
He nodded slowly. “You’re a good son.”
“I have a good father,” he replied, pulling away. “I’ll tell her to come up in a minute. Will you share the news?”
“No,” his father sighed. “No, you should be the one to tell her.”
“Yes, that might be, but I know she has wanted to hear that from you for a long while,” Anakin insisted. “She always understood why you didn’t, though, she did not hold it against you.”
His father simply sighed, shaking his head as he continued to stare into the fire. “Winter is coming,” he pronounced grimly. “And I fear the storm.”
“We’ll all survive it together,” Anakin nodded. “I’ll leave you to rest now,” he said, leaving his Father’s rooms. He took a moment to gather himself, the news overwhelming him. He had wanted to be a Stark, to be equal to his brothers. He never thought of being Lord of Winterfell. Or marrying into another Great House. He had just wanted to belong. As he came downstairs, his mother paced worriedly in the hall. “You should go and see him. Be with him for a while,” he said. “He might have some news for you.”
“News?” Shmi repeated, tilting her head to the side. “Ani, is he well?”
“As well as one can expect with all he has lost,” Anakin replied.
“What are you keeping from me?” Her dark eyes peered at him sharply.
“I’m a Stark,” he said. “Or I will be a Stark. Once the King signs his approval to Father’s request.”
Shmi’s hands flew to her mouth as she gasped. “Oh, Ani.”
“I wish it had been different,” he whispered. “That he was not just doing this because he no longer has living legitimate heirs, but I am honored he decided to do so.”
“The gods work in mysterious ways,” Shmi sighed, kissing his forehead. “You should not speak of this to anyone else before an answer comes from the King.”
“Of course not, I will continue with my work until the King replies to Father,” he smiled. “He needs company, Mother. You should stay with him. I don’t like him alone in that room.”
“I’ll take care of him.” Shmi sighed. “My son, Lord of Winterfell. I cannot believe it.”
“I can’t believe it myself,” he said. “Also… he has requested something else from the King.”
“A betrothal. With another Great House.”
Shmi pursed her lips. “It makes sense. You would need the strength of your wife’s family to support you until you have a child of your own. I do not like it any more than you do, my love, but it is the way lords and ladies do things.”
“I know it, I will just need some adjustment. One thing Liam always told me is that I would be free to marry the love of my life, as he and Aiden would be paired with ladies of the court, that probably will hate the North.”
“Go work in the forge for a while,” she suggested, rubbing at his shoulder gently. “It clears your head. I’ll tend to your father.”
Queen Breha Targaryen, formerly of House Dayne, tipped over her king, conceding defeat with a sigh. “You’re far too good at this game for your own good, my dear friend.”
“Is that meant to be some kind of aspersion as to why I’ve remained unwed?” Padmé Tyrell retorted with a light laugh. “Men don’t want a wife who can beat them at cyvasse?”
“It may be a contributing factor,” Breha answered, her gaze going to the door where one of her maidservants, Sheltay, was speaking with someone outside the door.
“His Grace is here to see you,” she announced, stepping aside to let the King enter.
“Sweetling.” Baelor Targaryen, Second of his Name, known to his friends as Bail, moved to kiss his wife on both cheeks before nodding at Padmé, who had risen and curtsied. “Lady Tyrell. I’m glad to find you here, I’d wished to speak with you.”
“I am ever at your disposal, your Grace,” Padmé answered, her heart hammering in her chest.
“I’ve had a letter from Lord Stark. His last legitimate child has died, and he is seeking legitimization for his bastard son,” Bail answered, moving to take a glass of wine from the table in the center of the solar.
“Poor little Aiden Stark,” Breha sighed. “He was a sweet boy.”
“I shall pray for his soul when next I visit the Sept, but perhaps, your Grace, you could elaborate on what this has to do with me?” Padmé asked politely, though she could already guess, and the thought of it made her uneasy.
“He has asked me to arrange a match for his new heir, to lend further support to the boy’s claim. Provided both you and your lord father agree to it, I intend to suggest you.”
“Me,” Padmé repeated slowly, considering what this meant. Nearly everyone in King’s Landing, if not the whole of Westeros, knew about Qui-Gon Stark’s bastard, a boy born to the midwife who served in Winterfell. There had been whispers that Lord Stark had wanted to marry the woman before his father had intervened and arranged a more suitable union with Sheev Lannister’s daughter, Tyrra, but the boy and his mother had remained in the castle. And provided her father agreed to this, she’d marry this boy. She would go North and become the Lady of Winterfell.
She couldn’t say it appealed to her. She’d been in King’s Landing for six years now with the understanding that she would marry a courtier here in the Capitol, where she could better serve both the Queen and her family’s interests. Being Lady of Winterfell seemed a suitable arrangement for a woman of her station, a daughter of the second wealthiest family in Westeros wed to the new heir of the largest territory in the Seven Kingdoms, but that territory was the North. A cold, unforgiving land that would be as different from Highgarden as ever she’d known.
“Are you willing?” the King prompted.
“Provided my father consents, I will serve you and the Realm as you see fit,” she answered diplomatically. “Your Grace.” There was nothing else she could say.
“Thank you, my lady.” The King bowed, kissed his wife again, and left the chambers. Padmé sank back down into her chair, breathing deeply.
“You’re disappointed,” the Queen guessed.
“It will be difficult to leave behind all I know for this,” Padmé said, picking up her dragon piece and spinning it between her fingers. “But it is my duty.”
“Sometimes I think you are a Tully beneath those Tyrell looks.”
“Not everyone can inherit the Dornish passion you and your husband share,” retorted Padmé, rolling her eyes. “And I think Growing Strong has more than a little in common with Family, Duty, Honor. Both are concerned with the continued prosperity of the House above all else. If my lord father thinks the best way for me to do that is to marry the new Stark heir, then I will do it.”
“Yes, but must you sound quite so unhappy about it? You may like him.”
“I will not indulge the thought until a decision has been made.” Padmé set the piece down and started resetting the board. “Now, shall we play again?”
Anakin shifted uncomfortably in his seat, in front of Qui-Gon. A raven had arrived from King's Landing that morning and he had been immediately summoned by his Father, who now sat silently in front of him His eyes drifted to the parchment roll, with a wax seal of the Targaryen house. Slowly, his father broke the seal, glancing over the letter’s contents.
"It is official, Ani, you are a Stark. Heir of the North. The future Lord of Winterfell."
Anakin released a breath he didn't know was holding. With shaky hands, he took the letter and read the King's order, making him a legitimate heir of the House of Stark.
"Thank you again, Father. This means so much to me. I will try my best to be the heir our house deserves. I am ready. I know I am." Anakin’s eyes went further down the parchment.
In regards to your second petition, I have the agreement of Lord Ruwee Tyrell to offer his second daughter, the Lady Padmé, for your son. She has been attending my wife for six years now, and I know her to be a maid of unmatched virtue, intelligence, and beauty, as dear to us as if she were our own kin. Provided you find this agreeable, I shall have her sent to you as soon as your reply is received.
“He already found me a wife,” Anakin whispered. “The Tyrells. The wealthiest family of the realm.”
“Second,” his father corrected. “But I wouldn’t want you marrying a Lannister if your life depended on it.”
“Ah, yes,” he winced. “The Lannisters. I think the Tyrells are a very suitable match, don’t you, Father?” He tried to hide his grimace.
“The resources that the Reach can offer would be invaluable in the face of a harsh winter,” Qui-Gon agreed. “And the King also seems to have a mind for your future. Sending a favorite of his wife’s, one who’s been in the capitol so long, suggests he chose someone he believed would help you navigate politics more easily.”
“The King is very kind, then. He has never met me and marrying someone like Lady Padmé to me, who has been a bastard for close to twenty years, it’s a very generous suggestion,” Anakin nodded. “Have you met the Tyrells?”
“Once, when I went south for the King’s wedding I remember the lady, she is perhaps six months older than you. And quite spirited when we spoke.”
“Do you think she will enjoy the North?” Anakin raised one eyebrow. “It’s quite different from Highgarden.”
“I think she will come to like it, given enough time. She’s been raised for this sort of thing, Anakin. She knows what is expected of her.”
Anakin sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “When can we expect her arrival?”
“Assuming she comes by the Kingsroad, it will be at least a full turn of the moon.”
“A full turn of the moon until what?” A new voice came from the door to the study. Anakin and Qui-Gon turned to see a familiar black-clad figure standing there.
“Uncle Ben!” Anakin exclaimed.
“I was not expecting you, brother,” Qui-Gon raised his eyebrows. “What brings the First Ranger of the Night’s Watch to Winterfell?”
“Tracking a few wildlings who made it over the Wall,” Obi-Wan answered, moving to embrace Anakin. “My men are already returning. I delayed to come here and pay my respects to Aiden. I am so sorry.”
“We all miss him,” Anakin whispered. “You should visit us more often.”
“I have a duty to the Realm, Anakin, you know that,” Obi-Wan reminded him. “Lord Commander Windu disapproves of me visiting as often as I do.”
“Lord Commander Windu disapproves of everything,” his nephew muttered.
“We were speaking about Anakin’s duty to the Realm as well,” Qui-Gon cleared his throat. “As you know, he is my only living child.”
“Father asked the King for my legitimization,” Anakin said. “The King has granted it.”
“I am sorry it comes at such a cost,” Obi-Wan smoothed back Anakin’s hair, “but I think the North will be in good hands with you as its Warden one day.”
“I too wish it had been different,” he nodded. “I’ll do my best to make Father, and my brothers, proud.”
“Obi-Wan, you will have to visit us again for Anakin’s wedding ceremony,” Qui-Gon pointed out. “I’m sure Lord Commander Windu will understand if I, or the King, request your presence,” he said with a sly smile.
“You’re to be married?” Obi-Wan looked more shocked by that news than by the legitimization.
“The King was quite fast in finding me a suitable match so I can solidify my claim to the North and my position in the Great Houses,” Anakin grimaced. “Lady Padmé Tyrell. Have you heard of her?”
“Truth be told, I’ve met her,” Obi-Wan rubbed his beard thoughtfully. “Accompany me for a ride and I’ll tell you about her.”
“I will prepare myself,” Anakin said. “I will gladly accept everything you are willing to tell me about my future wife. May I be dismissed, Father?” As Qui-Gon nodded, Anakin left the study, Obi-Wan falling in step with him.
“You’re not looking forward to marrying her, are you?”
“I am that transparent?” Anakin sighed.
“No, nephew, I simply know you too well.”
“I didn’t think about an arranged marriage,” he confessed. “I know Liam complained about it, and I felt so free knowing that at least, I wouldn’t be forced to do that. I do not know this woman. I don’t know if I will feel anything for her. How miserable will we be?”
“Love is a luxury the highborn are forbidden,” Obi-Wan agreed softly as they entered the yard and headed towards the stables. “But I think you may find friendship with the Lady Padmé, if nothing else. She was a very kind soul when I met her.”
“I have only been highborn for a few hours,” Anakin commented. “I’m still getting used to the perks and downsides,” he sighed. “Tell me more about her. How could I please her so she doesn’t hate me at first sight?”
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow as he readied the black horse he always rode. “I am not a man to ask about pleasing a woman, Anakin, you know that.”
Anakin had to wait for one of the stable hands to finish preparing a horse for him to ride, standing and watching awkwardly, and blushed furiously at the suggestion. “I was not speaking about that sort of pleasure, Uncle Ben, I was referring to a way of befriend her, making her comfortable with me so we don’t live in bitter agony,” he mounted his own horse.
“Ah.” Obi-Wan passed a coin to the boy who had helped them. “I only met her briefly. She came with a few of her maids to see us off when I was in King’s Landing, collecting convicts from the Black Cells to serve at the wall, and offered us food and supplies for the journey, then thanked us for serving the realm and said she would pray for all of us.”
“I can imagine that she is not at all happy with her change from King’s Landing to Winterfell.”
“She is very like the rose her family uses for their sigil,” Obi-Wan agreed as they started riding. “But we have roses here too, Anakin. I’m sure she can adapt.”
“I hope I can make her happy,” he said. “I hope we can secure the longevity of House Stark together.”
“I’m sure you will, House Tyrell is generally known as a large one,” Obi-Wan said diplomatically.
“I have a month to prepare for her arrival. I still have a lot to learn.”
“About being a husband, or the future Lord of Winterfell?”
Anakin laughed. “Both. The only thing I have some knowledge of so far is how to conceive a child,” he rolled his eyes, a light pink color in his cheeks.
“I’m told that is the most important part of marriage,” Obi-Wan chuckled.
“I don’t want my marriage to be all about that. I want to be a good husband to her. She will be the future Lady of Winterfell and I will need her support. I will want her support and companionship. I don’t think it’s just by bedding her every night that I will gain her trust,” Anakin said. “But I know… I know providing an heir is what will be held over our heads first and foremost.”
“Find something you have in common and work from there,” his uncle suggested. “You’ll have plenty of time for such things.”
“I have yet to tell my mother the news,” Anakin mused.
“I’m sure she will support you, as she does in everything,” Obi-Wan predicted. “You were blessed with parents who love you, Anakin, use their knowledge.”
“Yes, I’ll try,” Anakin nodded.
“Good man.” Obi-Wan turned his eye to the road that led north to Castle Black. “I will try to come to your wedding, Anakin, but I cannot make any promises. But you know my thoughts are always with you.”
“Thank you, Uncle Ben.”