The day Robb is born, the bells of Winterfell ring from dusk to dawn.
For those who remember, it is much like the day that Robb’s mother, Sansa, was born.
Sansa had a difficult pregnancy, and an even more difficult birth, and Maester Wolkan tells she and Jon that another child would be likely fatal to both mother and babe. The news brings only more celebration for Robb Stark, the heir to the Northern Throne, the next King of Winter.
A cherished babe, by parents and Kingdom alike.
Three years later, in the Kingdom of the Stormlands, the bells of Storm’s End stay silent when Queen Arya welcomes her daughter Argella into the world. A child for she and Gendry, her pregnancy had been a quiet and uncelebrated affair. There are whispers of excitement through the Lords and people, but the Kingdom is only newly established, a surprise outcome following the Wars, and independence to them is full bellies and warm beds – it is not a cause they’ve fought for, not something that means riotous celebration or excitement.
Robb grows up surrounded by other post-war children, living in the North happy and carefree, much like his parents when they were his age. He is curious and smart, yet an exuberant child, with the playfulness and restlessness of his aunt, and the keen and intelligent eye of his mother. He inherits his father’s stormy gaze and disposition, and as he grows the people whisper that he will be a handsome man and a kind husband to whomever the lucky girl is to be.
Argella isn’t quite quiet and subdued, both parents far too adventurous for a quiet nature to be truly passed to her, but she is will mannered and studious, and Arya once remarks that she reminds her of her sister, though without the spoilt air about her. She plays well with other children, but if Arya can’t find her she’s more likely to be hidden away in her room drawing or playing with her figurines alone than she is to be muddying her skirts and trousers with the other children.
Argella isn’t joined by a sibling for almost five years, but that doesn’t happen until after she meets Robb for the first time.
“What’s aunt Arya like?” Robb asks curiously from beside Jon.
Jon pauses running his whetstone down Longclaw. “She’s a fearsome warrior,” Jon says. “Perhaps a greater swordsman than me.”
Robb shakes his hand. “No, I know the stories,” he says. Jon’s lips twitch at the impatient tone of his son. “The Princess that was Promised, the Night King Slayer, Queen of the Stormlands. But what’s she like?”
Jon blinks. He puts his whetstone down, then Longclaw, and purses his lips, turning to Robb. A light summer snow drifts down around them, the godswood peaceful and quiet.
“Well, she’s as fierce as the stories paint her to be,” Jon replies slowly, thinking of the sister he hasn’t seen in so many years. The last time he saw her is tainted by the argument she’d had with Sansa, the bitter words that spilt from her lips, but Jon still longs for her – though the her that precipitated what happened between them all. He dearly misses the sister she was before. The sister he’d had an affinity with, who had been so like him and so unlike him at the same time. The one he’d spent years dreaming about being reunited with, the one he’d fought beside, the one who had slain Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen and turned to him afterwards as if seeking his approval – or perhaps his forgiveness, he still hasn’t quite figured that one out. “Kind, though.”
“Like mother?” Robb asks eagerly, blinking up at Jon.
“A different sort of kind,” Jon answers, eyes drifting around the godswood. Robb has always been a curious person, and about the smartest child Jon’s ever come across. He often feels outmatched by his eight year old, but as Robb has grown older and only become more curious and even smarter, Jon has learnt to just answer each question Robb asks as best he can, and direct him to Sam or the library when he can’t. “While your mother has a gentle and sweet kindness, your aunt’s is more . . . she’s very loyal, and very protective. She’s kind in that she loves fiercely, and is very giving to those that she loves. She’s a true warrior, and a very intense woman.”
Jon still believes all these things, despite no longer being on the receiving end of her gentler nature.
“If aunt Arya learnt how to use a sword, why didn’t mother?” Robb asks, reaching his hand to try and catch snowflakes. Jon knows better than to think that Robb’s preoccupation with the snow means he isn’t listening.
“Your mother isn’t that kind of fighter,” Jon replies. “Arya was always restless as a child, and she always sought to prove herself with weapons. Her father encouraged her, but women fighting wasn’t common at the time. Your mother didn’t want to fight, and their father wouldn’t have expected it of her.”
Robb nods, taking the information in slowly. Jon leans down to pick up Longclaw and his whetstone again, sliding the sharpening tool along the edge in even and precise rings. Robb watches with clever eyes, his gaze following the stone with each pull.
When Jon thinks that Robb has forgotten the conversation entirely, his son picks it back up again.
“What does she look like?” Robb questions.
Jon ponders that for a moment, not pausing his work this time. “Well, she kind of looks like us. Dark hair, grey eyes.”
“Because you’re siblings?”
Jon understands his son’s confusion. He may be an extremely clever child, but Jon has called Arya sister enough times for their relation to be unclear.
“No, we’re only cousins,” Jon explains. Robb likely knows that, but Jon has never properly sat down and explained to Robb his relationship with the Starks like this before. “But I grew up beside her as her brother, and even though we’re not truly siblings it still feels like we are.”
“Oh,” Robb says. Jon wonders for only a second whether Robb understands what he’s tried to explain, but he wonders no further when Robb continues, “but you never thought of mother as a sister?”
Jon chuckles, surprised yet again at Robb’s quick mind. While Jon thinks he’s asking one question, he’s actually asking another, trying to get to the bottom of some puzzle he’s not been able to figure out himself.
“Your mother and I had a complicated relationship as children,” Jon says. “But no, she was not really a sister. I loved her, as you always love family, and she loved me the same way, but we weren’t really siblings.”
Robb goes quiet again, and Jon flips Longclaw over, starting down the other side. Again his son remains so quiet that Jon thinks he has no further questions, but Robb can be unpredictable sometimes. He’s just as likely to silently get up and walk away, bored with an unstimulating situation, as he is to ask a completely unexpected question.
He must be in the mood to do the second one today, because he then asks Jon, “Maester Sam said today that highborn often get betrothed. Am I betrothed?”
Jon blinks, startled, then slowly shakes his head. “No, your mother and I didn’t want that for you. We wanted you to marry someone you love.”
“Well I’ve never met her, but I love Argella, because she’s family. And we’re only cousins, like you and mother. And she’s a princess too. I could be betrothed to her.”
Jon’s whetstone pauses halfway down Longclaw.
Jon didn’t even know Robb knew what a betrothal was until a moment ago, and now he’s talking about marrying Argella? No, there’s no way that Robb has come up with such a notion himself.
“Did someone say that to you?” Jon questions. “That you should marry Argella?”
“Well Maester Sam said today that if I had been betrothed, she might have been who you and mother picked.”
Ah. It seems relatively harmless, Jon supposes.
“Truthfully, you likely would not have been,” Jon replies slowly, trying to work out how to explain it to Robb, imparting the reasoning behind their decision without being too serious. “We would have been more likely to organise a marriage within our Kingdom, strengthen our relationships with one of our more difficult Lords. But you see why we didn’t want that for you. You’re not a bargaining tool, Robb, and your mother and I refuse to treat you as such.”
Robb nods slowly, taking in Jon’s answer and turning it over in his mind. Jon doesn’t say anything more for a few moments, letting Robb think it over, and he continues his strokes down Longclaw.
“Besides,” Jon says finally, “I highly doubt your aunt would have agreed.”
“Why not?” Robb asks curiously, perking up at the mention of Arya.
“She’s as against betrothal’s as we are,” Jon says, and without thinking he continues, “but she also doesn’t really like that your mother and I married, because we’re related.”
“But you’re not actually brother and sister,” Robb says earnestly, brows pinching together. He looks so much like Jon in that moment that his breath catches in his throat. “That would be weird. You’re just cousins.”
“Aye,” Jon agrees, clearing his throat. He probably shouldn’t have said anything about this, likely an insight into his relationship with Sansa that Robb didn’t ever really need to know, but he knows he can’t just stop talking now. Robb will never stop asking if he does. “But your aunt doesn’t really see me as just a cousin, and she doesn’t understand how your mother can either. It’s very complicated, Robb. But your aunt is excited to meet you, probably more excited than you are to meet her.”
“I’m excited to meet Argella,” Robb says, smiling widely. Jon breathes a small sigh of relief, glad he’s managed to steer the conversation away from he and Sansa. “I always wanted siblings. Maybe she’ll be like a sister to me, like aunt Arya is to you.”
“Sure,” Jon agrees easily, smiling down at Robb. “I don’t see why not.”
Robb rocks on his heels, barely able to contain his excitement. Sansa lays her hand on his shoulder, stilling his movement.
“Be calm, my love,” Sansa murmurs.
Robb glances up at her, then back to the gate. “I’m so excited.”
“I know, honey. They may be your family, but your aunt and uncle are still a King and Queen, alright? Remember your manners.”
Robb frowns at the gate, then back up at her.
“But you’re a Queen and I don’t have to have my manners with you,” he pouts.
Sansa raises a brow at him. That is most certainly not the case, and he knows it. He takes a very informal tone with she and Jon in privacy, but in public they must all remember their propriety, and Robb is no different.
“Robb,” she chastises, squeezing his shoulder again. “I’ve not see them in almost ten years. Until they give you permission to call them by their names, you must address them via their position.”
Robb sighs, shoulder slumping. “Yes, mother,” he says, kicking at a stone beneath his foot dejectedly.
Beside her, Jon smothers a small laugh. She throws him a narrow glare, trying to get him to back her up, and he clears his throat and says, “They’ll be here soon, Robb. Not much longer, then you’ll get to meet her.”
Ah, yes. Jon had told her that Robb had expressed a particular excitement to meet his cousin, Argella, and the ideas that Sam had planted in his head about betrothal. Sansa hasn’t given it much thought, truthfully, for a variety of reasons, most of which boil down to the fact that Robb isn’t a particularly romantic and fanciful person - but also the fact that if Robb’s first crush is on someone who Sansa is sure is going to be kind, then she can think of worst things.
Arya and Gendry enter Winterfell atop their horses, a little girl on the saddle in front of Gendry. The three dismount, Gendry taking his daughter by the waist and lifting her down.
Arya’s hair has grown out slightly, though the top half of it is still pulled back in a tight bun. She’s in her trousers and leathers, sword strapped to her hip, and she looks both entirely the same and completely different. Gendry is more noticeably different, grey peppered in his hair, lines etched around his eyes and mouth, but still tall and broad-shouldered as ever.
Their daughter is absolutely adorable, dark hair swinging down her back, bright blue eyes, and an easy smile. Sansa loves her immediately.
Ten years is a long time to go between seeing someone, even if that person is your sister, and especially when the last time one of those sisters was telling the other that they didn’t agree with their choice of husband.
Sansa still smarts from such an insult, and there’s a small part of her that wonders what Arya is going to say now that she’s had a child with Jon, but – there’s no time left to wonder.
Arya gives her an easy smile, and greets her with, “Your Grace.”
Sansa curtseys in response, the same title falling from her own lips.
When she rises, Arya rocks her heels. Sansa hesitates for a moment, then decides to be the one that steps forward. Arya doesn’t hug her tightly, like Sansa wishes she would, but it’s a hug all the same.
Gendry gives her a hug himself, pulling back with a sad and apologetic smile, and then he introduces Argella.
“Your Grace,” Argella says, lowering herself into quite a well formed curtsey in Sansa’s opinion.
A smile plays on Sansa’s lips, and she squats down, trying to avoid dirtying her knees but feeling the distinct desire to greet her niece like she’s family, not just another member of royalty.
“Princess Argella,” Sansa murmurs. “It’s so lovely to finally meet you. You may call me aunt Sansa, if you wish.”
Argella beams widely, then throws her arms around Sansa’s neck in a fierce hug.
“Hello aunt Sansa,” she says happily.
Sansa smiles, then stands, lifting Argella into her arms easily. She eyes Gendry and Arya for a moment, to see if they disagree with her informality, but Gendry just looks relieved and Arya smiles as well.
“This our son, Robb Stark,” Sansa introduces, placing her spare hand on Robb’s shoulder.
Arya’s smile looks slightly more forced, though over his name or his existence, Sansa can’t be sure. Sansa’s arm tightens slightly around her niece for a moment, before she reminds herself that everything is fine. She’s no need to worry. It may have been ten years, but Sansa doesn’t think Arya is going to make a scene in front of both their courts.
Robb bows before them, like he has before every other monarch they’ve hosted at Winterfell, and it is Gendry rather than Arya that greets him and tells Robb to call him uncle.
Sansa’s eyes slide up to Arya, to see what she’ll say, and for a few moments Arya says nothing.
“Aye,” she agrees finally, easily, as if nothing had ever happened. “Aunt Arya to you, little one.”
Robb smiles widely, then turns to Sansa.
Sansa gently puts Argella down before Robb.
“Hello!” Robb greets eagerly.
“Hi,” Argella says back shyly, tugging at the skirts of her dress. “I like your hair. It’s very pretty.”
Sansa chuckles, and beside her Jon’s lip twitches upwards as well.
“Oh,” Robb says, blinking, slightly taken aback. He regains his footing quickly and compliments back, “I like your name. The Storm Queen, yes?”
Argella bites her lip and nods, eyes wide in wonder.
“Mother, may I take Argella to the godswood?” Robb asks, turning his bright eyes to Sansa.
Sansa glances over to Arya, who nods, and then Robb takes Argella by the hand and rushes her out of the courtyard.
Jon places a heavy hand on her waist, and Sansa forces herself to pull her eyes from the two children and back to her sister.
“You must be tired and hungry, Your Grace,” Sansa says, her smile suddenly feeling much more forced. “I wasn’t sure if you’d prefer your old chambers or guest chambers, so I had both prepared for you.”
Gendry opens his mouth to respond, but Arya beats him to it.
“Guest chambers will be fine, thank you, Your Grace.”
A pit of dread sinks low in Sansa’s stomach, but she ignores it as she turns away, discreetly dropping Jon’s hand from her own.
Argella and Robb become fast friends, and Jon is incredibly pleased by it.
Argella is quite the character, a little body full of dichotomies, and Jon is as surprised and intrigued by her as he is by Robb. She’s very pleasant, and extremely well mannered – reminding him of his wife, truthfully, but without the need to prove herself different to her siblings that had marked a rather cruel streak in Sansa as a child. Argella also has a sharp wit, however, and while she never turns it on he or Sansa, and rarely onto her parents, she has no issue tearing Robb to shreds. She’s not cruel, she doesn’t make fun of him, but she see’s through his attempts to impress her and has no compunction about putting him into place.
She teases him constantly, and one night Jon tucks Robb into bed after reading him a story, and he asks whether he’s getting along with Argella.
“I like her,” Robb says quickly, easily, without needing to think about it. “She’s funny.”
“She is,” Jon agrees. He wonders how to ask how Robb has been reacting to Argella’s strong personality, whether he’s feeling a boyish need to impress her and prove himself. There’s no innate issue with such a thing, not at eight years old, but bad behavior starts young and the last thing Jon wants is for Robb to be crafted into a man and King that can’t handle someone telling him when he’s wrong.
“She’s very different,” Robb says thoughtfully, nuzzling his face into his pillow. “I like it though. She disagrees me with me a lot, but she’s not mean to me.”
That probably answers Jon’s unspoken question well enough.
“She makes a good sister, then?” Jon asks, mouth curling up into a smile.
Sansa struggles with their inability to have another child, and Jon certainly does as well, but not like she does. Sansa longs for a big family, and in the dark of night Jon wishes they could have had more children as well, but he doesn’t want it so badly that he would get Sansa with child knowing she’d be so likely to die from it. What truly saddens him, however, is the resentment Sansa harbours for herself over her inability to have another child. Jon would never think such a thing, would never even contemplate blaming her, and he hates that Sansa does. He’s tried so hard, for so many years, to convince her that their situation is out of their control, that there is nothing Sansa could have done differently, that they’re just unlucky. Sometimes she believes him, sometimes she doesn’t, but Jon isn’t foolish enough to believe that her grief will every truly go away.
When he’d been younger, Robb hadn’t helped. As a small child he’d spoken often and freely about how much he wanted a sibling, and while Jon has been able to convince Robb to stop asking his mother, Robb is still just a little too young to understand the hurt that he unknowingly inflicts when he makes a sly comment about siblings.
Jon has been able curb a lot of his comments by talking about it as openly as possible with his son when it’s just the two of them, and for the past few moons since Arya said she was coming, that has been by saying Argella could be a sister (rather than a betrothed, which, truthfully, was a comment that Jon didn’t ever think much on again after his conversation with Robb that day in the godswood; a careless misstep he would come to regret over the years, as things play out the way they do).
“Sister?” Robb says, furrowing his brows. “Oh. Aye. I suppose. I don’t know, she doesn’t feel like a sister.”
“You’ve not known her very long,” Jon says amicably, ruffling Robb’s hair. “Give it some time.”
(This moment, too, Jon comes to regret. It was the earliest sign that Robb and Argella were not falling into the relationship everyone expected them to, and he likes to think that if he had known what would later happen, then he might have made the decision to either encourage or discourage a familial relationship between the two).
“When are they leaving?” Robb asks, turning onto his back to look up at Jon with imploring eyes.
Jon sighs. “Shortly, I think. A fortnight, perhaps.”
Jon isn’t even sure they’ll stay that long. He and Arya have hit a tentative stride, an ability to pointedly ignore what had transpired between them by never talking about their respective partners, but it’s tenuous and uneasy and Jon is finding it harder and harder to stop himself from taking Sansa’s hand, or putting his hand on her knee under the table, or giving her a chaste kiss when he enters or leaves a room.
And he’s finding himself more and more resentful that he has to.
Sansa and Arya, however, have not managed to repair their relationship at all. They’re not frosty, not cold, but Jon knows his wife well enough to know that Sansa is quickly losing her patience with Arya’s not-so-hidden glares, or her sparse-but-still-there snide comments. The real issue between Sansa and Arya is that they have nothing common.
While Jon is much a culprit as Sansa is to Arya, they’ve been able to mend their relationship slightly because he and Arya can spend hours upon hours sparring together in the training yard, silently or not, but still putting in time that naturally becomes companionship. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that they’d been so close as children.
But Sansa and Arya have only one thing in common, and that is that they’re both Queens. But even that has proven to be a point of contention between them, because their type of ruling is so different that anytime Sansa brings Arya along in her daily duties, it ends with Sansa coming to him so frustrated she’s either in tears, or she demands he release some of her tension by fucking her against a wall and making her come apart as many times as he can manage in the short amount of time they have.
Gendry has found himself awkwardly in the middle of it all, having formed a tentative relationship with Jon and Sansa ten years ago, during the Wars, but not wanting to anger his wife over a friendship that had never truly taken root. He spends a lot of time alone, running his Kingdom from afar, trying hard not to become too involved in the mess of the last of the Stark’s.
“When will they be coming back?” Robb asks. “Or maybe we can go to them? We never leave the North, and Argella says that Storm’s End is amazing.”
Jon isn’t sure they’ll come back. It will be all too easy for Arya to deny coming North again, citing an ability to make the time to travel for so long. And Robb is very correct in saying they never leave the North; they’ve travelled once to the Riverlands, and once to the Vale, for the coronations of Edmure and Robin almost a decade ago, but since then they’ve not stepped a foot south of their border.
Jon has almost as little desire to go as far south as Storm’s End as Sansa does.
But he would. For Robb.
“I’m not sure,” Jon says truthfully. “But even if we don’t see them again for a little while, you can write letters to Argella if you miss her.”
“I don’t think she knows how to write. Or read.”
She’s only five. That’s probably true.
“This won’t be goodbye,” Jon promises, because he’s not sure what to say – but he’ll make sure that that is true. Jon cards his hand through Robb’s hair, then leans down to kiss the top of his head. “Now, get some sleep, alright?”
Robb sighs, but closes his eyes dutifully. “Okay, papa. Sleep well.”
A smile tugs on his lips, and Jon doesn’t even try to fight it. Gods he fucking adores his son. Jon gives him another kiss, then stands.
“You too, Robb. And – and please don’t worry about seeing them again, okay?”
“If you say so.”
Jon shakes his head fondly, then retreats from Robb’s room. The door closes quietly behind him, and free from Robb’s clever eyes, Jon purses his lips.
He hopes he hasn’t just made a promise he can’t keep.
(And, ten years later, Jon almost wishes he hadn’t been able to keep it).