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The Bastard and The Spare

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The old wives never seemed to agree on what the birth of twins foretold. Some said they brought luck - a double blessing on a family - a sign of plenty to come. Others swore twins were a bad omen – an unnatural trick from the Children of the Forest - an indication that the future held peril and deceit.

When she found out she was pregnant with twins though Catelyn Stark didn’t think about any of those things though. Admittedly, she didn’t think about much in those days, at least not much beyond Ned and the excitement of running a home on her own. But when they told her that her womb was swelling so because it carried two babes she did think, but not about omens or signs of the future. No, Catelyn’s thoughts were all taken up with one dreadful topic – the possibility of her own death.

She wasn’t a small woman, by any means, but more than a fair share of women died delivering just one child. Just two weeks before she found out she was carrying two the butcher’s wife had died delivering the fattest baby boy she had ever seen. No, as far as she was concerned two babes at once was nothing to celebrate.

Her labor came late one snowy night. Ned had just returned from King’s Landing, where his father and older brother were serving King Aerys. Lyanna was still in the Erie and would be for the foreseeable future. Cat had been afraid for a time that she would deliver alone, in this cold Northern hell, with no one she knew anywhere near.  That more than anything made her hold out in stubbornness until Ned's party arrived. She was already having contractions when he slid off of his horse.  She saw him through the tower window go to Ser Rodrik anxiously, before glancing up to her window with a look of wide-eyed panic on his face, and then rushing into the keep. She heard him lumbering up the stairs two at a time, making more noise than an invading army, and she couldn’t help but laugh, despite her fears and discomfort. He was here, and if he was here, she would be alright.

The pain was unlike anything she had ever experienced. Her body was wracked with contractions for hours, sapping her strength and leaving her spent and terrified as Ned paced anxiously outside the door. Finally, as dawn was approaching, the first child came. His hair was a blaze of glory, mirroring the red rays of sunlight that had begun to stream into her room. He was perfect, and beautiful, and all she could think was that if the gods were kind she would be done now. Bu they had not been kind, and so instead of holding her baby, her boy, to her chest and resting she had to continue on.

The midwife was alarmed with each passing minute, assuring her over and over again that the second one would come any second now, but with a worried look on her face that told Catelyn that this was not normal for a double delivery.  With each passing second she felt her strength leaving her and her body giving up as her first son screamed for her and was finally silenced on the teat of a wet nurse.

No. No he’s mine. He’s mine and I’m missing it. I’m missing it because of this accursed second child.

Finally, forty-eight minutes after her first son was born the head of the second baby began to crown. As soon as he heard the second wail Ned burst through the doors, unwilling to wait any longer.

The second child was still pink from birth but with skin that would clearly be pale as milk when he calmed. On the top of his head sat a thatch of dark brown curls, so dark it was almost black in the hazy sunlight of dawn. Ned took him from the midwife in awe, marching straight past the wet nurse in the corner, all eyes on the newly delivered babe.

“Jon,” he breathed, eyes brimming with tears. “Welcome to the world, little wolf.”

For some reason, the scene, which should have melted her heart, made Catelyn burn with fury.

That’s the wrong son. She thought angrily.

“You- Woman!” She snapped at the wet nurse, who jumped to her feet. “Take the second babe. He’s hungry. And give Lord Stark his firstborn son and heir – Robb.”

The woman scurried over, taking the dark haired infant from Lord Stark and replacing him with her boy, her ruddy cheeked, Tully colored babe. She knew then that she could never love the second son as much as she loved her boy, even when Ned took the lighter-haired baby with the same look of glorious awe that he’d worn when he’d first held Jon. Still she couldn’t help but notice that the babe, though precious and perfect in every way, looked far less like the mirror of his father than the second child did. Should Ned want the darker boy as his heir, all he’d have to do is say so and it’d be done.

Catlyn realized then what twins meant. For her at least – twins meant competition. And she would see that her boy won.

 


 

 

Eight months after the boys were born, Ned left for War. His sister had been taken, taken by the son of the King, and his father and brother were killed for daring to ask for her back. He and Robert Baratheon led the Realm in a rebellion, plunging the seven kingdoms into a state of civil war that had not been seen for hundreds of years. Catelyn, whose stomach began to grow four months after her husband’s departure, could do nothing but worry and wait.

Sansa was born on a beautiful spring day while Ned was off fighting in the Reach. She’d never thought she could love anything as much as she loved Robb, but when her daughter locked her beautiful eyes on her she just knew, knew that she would go through hell and back for this girl. She had a moment of guilt, feeling herself fill with such love for Sansa, knowing that her ability to love another made her indifference towards Jon all the more inexcusable - but she couldn’t help herself.

For the next year and a half she waited for Ned to come home, living with her children and watching them grow from babes into toddlers and finally into children. She delighted over how Robb would call Sansa “my baby” and kiss her on the forehead before scampering off play with Jon, laughing and running around the keep without a care in the world. She had to admit that the boys were perfect together, the closest companions anyone could hope for. Jon sensed her distance towards him – and she guessed the household did as well – and so he learned to turn to others for his comfort or, if she was being honest, turn inward for support. He was quieter than Robb, less self-assured, but every time she felt herself feeling pity for her second-born son she would catch Old Nan calling him over and ruffling his dark curls, exclaiming how much he looked like his father, and her heart would harden again. No, he was too much of a risk to Robb for her to waiver.

Then one day a raven came – proclaiming the impossible. They’d taken King’s Landing, Aerys was dead by the hand of his own King’s Guard and Robert Baratheon of all people had been crowned King. It was the first good news they’d had in a long while – especially after Ned’s tear stained letter about losing Lyanna two months before. Not all the news was purely good though. There was less settling news as well – the King’s whole family, the whole Targaryen line including the babes, were dead. It was a chilling reminder of what could have happened if things had gone the other way.

But the real news, the only news she truly cared about, was that Ned was coming home. She loved her children, but she was a shell of herself without Ned. All would be well when he was back in her arms, she was sure of it. Maybe when he was home she could even find it in her heart to love Jon.

She had the boys lined up and clean (no small feat with three year old twins) with the whole household waiting anxiously in the court yard when Ned’s party came riding up the road towards Winterfell. She was so excited she could hardly breathe. He was so close.

She had to stop herself from running to him when he came riding into the keep. She could tell that her energy was contagious became the boys were looking up at her fidgeting with curious glances and Sansa was giving her a look that would be described as condescending if it was possible for an eighteen-month-old to condescend.

Then she saw what was cradled in Ned’s lap and it was as if someone had doused her heart in ice water. Curled up against his chest, grey eyes surveying its surroundings in awe, was a baby. She couldn’t have been more than three months old, but even so, her wispy dark brown curls, cream colored skin, and grey eyes made the truth of her lineage clear for all to see. She was a Stark. Ned had been unfaithful.

Catelyn was frozen, rooted to the spot in shock. The household was glancing at her nervously, not daring to greet their lord (and their loved ones who followed in his retinue) until a member of the family made the greeting first. Jory Cassel – Ned’s young Sargent at Arms - dismounted and came around to his liege lord’s right side. Carefully, Ned handed down the precious babe to his waiting knight before moving to dismount.

Suddenly there was a murmur behind her, and Catelyn felt a rustle to her left. She looked down to see Jon running towards the Sargent at Arms. She was still too stunned to do anything, but she did feel a moment of worry as the three year old darted right in front of Ned’s proud destrier. But then he was out of danger, looking up at the proud young soldier with a determined look on his face. He tugged on Jory’s sleeve, and the young man, not knowing what else to do, sunk to his knees and presented the baby to her expectant son. Jon peered at the little thing for a moment before a radiant smile broke out on his face – causing his beautiful grey eyes to crinkle into slits of glee.

“My baby!” he proclaimed, bending over to press a kiss on the little girl’s forehead.

Ned, who’d come around from the other side of his horse to watched the spectacle, smiled down warmly at his son.

“Good Man,” he said, clapping Jon on the shoulder. Cat recognized the look in his eyes as the same one of awed love that he’d worn when he first held Jon in his arms.

And that's when Cat realized that the Gods were punishing her for rejecting the spare by forcing her to take in the bastard.