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Dreams, Truth, Choice, and Fate

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He could feel her moving beside him, her restless movements becoming more agitated as she murmured in her sleep. It was happening again. He reached out to wake her, but then she said quite clearly in a voice filled with terror, “No. Ned . . . please, no!” Startled, he stilled his hand. He wanted to ease her distress, but he found himself waiting to hear what else she might say. Why would she be frightened of me?

She didn’t speak again, however. Instead, she screamed—a wordless sound of anguish that surely was loud enough to be heard even outside her thick-walled chambers. Quickly he gathered her in his arms, holding her tightly against him.

“Cat! Cat! You’re all right! I’m here. You’re safe.” He kept saying such things to her as she trembled against him, and when she finally opened her blue eyes to look at his face in confusion, he saw them fill with tears.

“Oh, Ned,” she said. The words were half a sob, and she pressed her face against his chest as she continued trembling.

“It’s all right, my love,” he said, running one hand soothingly up and down over her back. “I’ve got you.” He hesitated, but then asked softly, “What frightened you so badly, my lady?”

He felt the shake of her head against his chest. “Nothing, my lord. Only a dream. It . . . it doesn’t matter.”

Ned Stark knew better than most how deeply dreams could hurt a person. His own nightmares had come for him almost nightly after his return from Robert’s Rebellion until he’d finally begun sleeping most nights in his wife’s chambers as they found their way to each other. Even then, he’d awakened her on many nights with his own thrashing and crying out. She’d held him and kissed him and given him comfort, never asking him to tell her of the terrors which haunted his sleep.

He’d done the same for her. She’d first suffered nightmares while carrying Sansa, waking in the night trembling, sometimes sitting straight up in bed and gasping as if she couldn’t breathe. She’d murmured in her sleep then, too, but never anything he could understand. He’d hold her until she drifted into easy sleep again, speaking to her of nonsense or making love to her on those nights when sleep was difficult for her to find.

He’d asked Maester Luwin about the nightmares then, and he’d said it was a common occurrence for a woman with child—the stress of carrying a babe could trouble her sleeping mind. The maester had made Catelyn a tea which he said would help her sleep more soundly, but the dreams had continued in spite of it, occurring at least every fortnight. Cat, ever practical, had stopped taking the tea within a moon’s turn, seeing no purpose in it as it didn’t stop the dreams, and telling him, “You are here when I wake, my lord. That is enough.”

Those words had warmed him at the time, even as he hated to see her suffer ever. They had only just begun to acknowledge the feeling between them then. A part of him even felt grateful that he could care for her and offer her the same comfort she gave him when battles, and murdered babes, and his sister’s pale and pleading face returned to him in slumber. Once Sansa was born—a daughter, just as Catelyn had predicted—the nightmares had ceased.

Until she carried Arya.

The dreams occurred no more frequently then, but Ned feared they were worse for sometimes she would cry out, “Where are you?” with a desperation and longing in her voice that broke his heart. She never told him what she dreamed, and he never asked, but she clung to him at night even more tightly than she had when Sansa grew in her womb.

When he’d left her to fight the Greyjoys, she’d raised her chin high and promised she’d be fine. She’d promised to care for Winterfell and their children and to have all in order for him when he returned. She’d done an admirable job of it, too. The woman so many Northmen had still somewhat disparagingly called Lord Eddard’s southron flower had more than proven her mettle as she ruled the North in his absence while carrying their third child. Yet, when he’d lain down alone at night wherever his army was encamped, he’d found himself wondering if she were frightened and crying out in the night without him there to hold her. Craven that he was, he’d never asked her about it afterwards. Arya had been born less than a fortnight after his arrival home, and Catelyn hadn’t dreamed since his return to her bed.

Until this child--this child that she swore to him with an expression of fierce joy would be a boy. She’d been certain both their daughters were girls—a fact that clouded her joy at her pregnancies somewhat in spite of the fact he’d assured her he was thrilled with his daughters. His dutiful wife could not rest easy having given him only one son. Robb was everything he could ask for in a son and heir. Every time he looked at the little boy with Catelyn’s eyes and smile, Brandon’s barking laugh and confident manner, and Benjen’s habit of going very silent when he’d done anything wrong, Ned’s heart swelled with pride and love. Yet, Catelyn seemed determined to fill his castle with heirs.

Ned knew well enough that was at least in part because of Jon. Duty compelled his lady wife to accept his decree that Jon would remain at Winterfell, but duty could not erase her fear and resentment of his presence there, however much Ned sought to reassure her. Of course, his refusal to name the boy’s mother likely tainted his reassurances in his wife’s eyes, but he had made that decision some seven years past now, and he would not take it back. Promise me, Ned.

But this child would be another son. Or so Catelyn believed. And while he was not a man who gave much credence to fortune tellers or prophetic signs, he had to admit she’d been accurate about the first three. She claimed to have known Robb was a boy as well. He hadn’t been with her then, of course, having ridden to war within a fortnight of wedding and bedding Catelyn, but when she had written to tell him she was with child, she had spoken of carrying his son.

Now, the trembling, tearful woman in his arms believed that she carried another son, and he had been thrilled to hear it because he knew it would give her joy. He’d even hoped that the nightmares that plagued her when she carried the girls would not recur as she carried the male child she wished so desperately to give him. That hope had been forlorn. The nightmares had returned with a vengeance, far more frequently than during her last two pregnancies, and Ned found himself becoming increasingly alarmed by them.

He put a hand to her chin, tilting her face upward so that she could look at him. “It does matter, my lady,” he said, almost severely. “You are frightened. I never want you to be frightened, Cat.” I certainly never want you to be frightened of me, he thought, remembering the words she had cried out just before she screamed. Remembering a night he’d just as soon forget when she had asked him if Jon’s mother was Ashara Dayne.

She laughed, albeit a bit sadly. “I am afraid you cannot fight dreams, my love,” she told him. “Although I know you would take up arms against any threat to me if you could.” She reached her own hand up to lay it upon his bearded cheek. “I am well, Ned. I’m sorry I disturbed your sleep.”

“Don’t concern yourself about that,” he said. “If you do not wish to speak of it, simply close your eyes and know that I am here. You and our babe are well.”

She sighed. “You are here,” she whispered. “You are here in my bed, and you’ve no reason to go elsewhere.” She sounded almost as if she were trying to convince herself of those things, and Ned started to protest that he’d never given her a reason to believe otherwise. But of course, there was Jon. If his lady wife believed he longed for another woman’s bed, he had only himself to blame.

“No reason,” he echoed firmly. “This is the only bed I ever desire, my love.”

“What? Oh . . . I didn’t mean . . .” She had stopped trembling, but there was still a deep sadness and some lingering fear in her eyes as she moved to kiss his lips. “I’m only talking to myself, Ned. Talking myself out of the frights of a dream and into the much more pleasant reality that you are indeed right here beside me.”

“You dreamt I was gone, then?” Had she dreamt of his leaving her? Conjured the woman she believed to be Jon’s mother and dreamt of him with her? Knowing his wife as well as he did, he imagined such a dream would provoke more anger than terror. And she had been terrified.

She sighed. “I dreamt a confusing and disturbing mix of things, my love. It scarcely made any sense. But I’m awake now, and I’ve no wish to relive it.” She pressed herself against him once more, this time moving to lay almost atop him. “Would you help me forget about it entirely?”

“I will certainly do my best, my lady,” he said with a smile, pulling her lips down to his once more and endeavoring to show her just how completely he wished to be here in her bed.

They spoke very little afterward. She simply whispered, “I love you so very much,” and curled up against him.

“And I love you,” he whispered back. He didn’t say it often, but that made it no less true, and he believed she knew that, whatever else might trouble her.

She fell asleep fairly quickly then, and he drifted off not long after, hoping that he had indeed caused her to forget her nightmare. He wished he could forget her scream.

The next day, it became apparent to him that she had not forgotten whatever she had dreamed. She was far more silent than usual, and her smiles were all but non-existent save for a few she forced for the children’s benefit. As they prepared to go down to the evening meal, he told her he’d like her to speak to the maester about her troubles.

“Why?” she asked him. “He cannot keep me from dreaming, Ned. And I don’t want to drink that awful stuff he gave me with Sansa. It didn’t help anyway.”

“Your dreams are worse than they were with Sansa, my lady,” Ned countered. “Or Arya.”

She looked thoughtful at that, biting her lip and remaining silent for a long moment. “It is different,” she said finally. “With all the others, the dreams tended to be . . .”

“All the others?” Ned interrupted her, suddenly stricken by something. “You had nightmares with Robb as well?”

“Yes,” she said, looking at him as if that fact were obvious. But he hadn’t been there for Robb. And she’d never told him.

“Why did you never mention it?”

She shrugged slightly. “You never asked. And it’s in the past, Ned. Nothing to be done about it now.”

“I wasn’t with you then,” he said, feeling inexplicably guilty at the thought of her suffering those nightmares alone.

“No, you weren’t with me.” That sentence was spoken with the hard edge her voice took on any time conversations turned to the period of time she supposed he had spent with his bastard’s mother. “But I survived it, my lord. And Robb was born healthy and whole. This son shall be the same.”

Ned chose not to dwell upon any nightmares she’d had while carrying Robb. Nothing good ever came from discussing the year they’d spent apart at the beginning of their marriage. Instead, he returned to his original concern. “But these dreams come every few nights now, Cat! And you were terrified last night, my love. You should have heard yourself. You . . .”

“Heard myself?” She looked a bit panicked now. “Do I speak aloud when I dream?”

He shook his head. “Not usually,” he said truthfully enough. “Not anything that can be understood,” he said somewhat less truthfully in this case. He didn’t want to tell her he’d heard her begging him not to do something—that he’d heard her frightened of him. “But you screamed, Cat. I know you were frightened. I want you to speak with Maester Luwin.”

She sighed. “I’ll go to him if you insist, but I’ve no wish to discuss what I dream with him, my lord. Maester Luwin puts no more credence in dreams than you do.”

“Credence?” he asked her. Then he frowned. “Cat, dreams are merely pictures in your head while you sleep.” Or memories. “There is nothing to put credence in, my lady. I merely wish to know if the maester can think of anything else to give you respite from them.”

Catelyn frowned herself. “How do you think I know this child is a son, Ned? How have I known with all the others?” She shook her head. “I don’t know what these dreams mean, my love. But I do know the things I dream when I carry our children are unlike anything else I have ever dreamed. And this time . . .” She bit her lip and shook her head, blinking to keep her eyes from tearing up as they had last night. “I will see the maester if you wish, my lord, but I will not drink that vile tea.”

“Very well, my lady. But mayhap he will have some other suggestion.” He took both her hands in his. “I don’t like to see you suffer.”

She gave him the smallest of smiles. “I know you don’t. I will see Maester Luwin on the morrow, Ned, I promise.”

They said nothing more about it through the evening meal or as they saw the children to bed or even as they undressed and got into her bed themselves. He knew she would keep her word to placate him just as she knew he had no wish to discuss any ‘meaning’ her dreams may have. He was more and more curious as to the content of her dreams, however, but he held his tongue. She would have answered his question last night if she wished.

She did not dream that night, at least not to the extent that it woke either of them, but she rose before he did which was unusual. He woke to see her already dressed and twisting her hair into a braid.

“Cat? Are you all right?” he asked, raising up on one elbow.

“I’m fine, Ned. I’m sorry if I woke you. Since I’ve been waking you so often at night these past weeks, I thought I’d let you sleep in a bit this morning. You deserve it.”

He yawned and sat up. “Deserve it or not, I can hardly sleep in. There are too many things I must attend to.”

She laughed. “I know, my love. By ‘sleep in,’ I meant that I wasn’t going to wake you until I was dressed. It’s not even a full hour past your normal waking. I won’t allow people to say that the Lord of Winterfell is neglectful of his duties!” She rose from her dressing table and came to kiss him quickly. When he reached up to pull her down to him, however, she evaded him. “I am going to see Maester Luwin before I break my fast,” she said primly. “I have a promise to keep.” She arched her brow. “And you have ‘many things to attend to,’ my lord.”

With that, she departed the room in a swish of skirts, and Ned found himself smiling after her for several moments before rising from the bed himself.

He didn’t see her again until after the midday meal. His morning had disappeared all too quickly in the armory as he inspected a shipment of weaponry that Mikken believed to be of poor quality—certainly not worth the asking price. Ned dearly wished Mikken could simply make all the weapons needed for Winterfell as he would put his smith’s skill against anyone’s, but he was only one man. Of course, Ned also trusted his judgment in matters of metalworking, and he had easily seen the flaws in the swords just arrived from White Harbor himself—which meant a letter to Wyman Manderly about the blacksmith shop who’d sold them.

Having completed his inspection of all the weapons with Mikken, he’d called for Maester Luwin to meet him in his solar and had food sent up so that they could deal with that letter as well as all the other correspondence he’d hoped to complete in the morning. By the time they finished, it was late afternoon, and Ned hadn’t seen his wife since she’d left her chambers this morning. He’d seen Robb, Jon, and Sansa in the Great Hall with Old Nan and Septa Mordane when he’d broken his fast, and he hadn’t seen Arya at all.

He decided to go to the nursery in hopes of seeing his younger daughter there. She had only recently seen her first name day and would be scarcely one and a half when the new babe arrived. Ned had feared it was too soon for Catelyn to carry a child again, but Maester Luwin had assured him she would take no harm from it.

When he reached the nursery, a lovely sight met his eyes. Catelyn was there, holding their daughter to her breast and singing softly. Before he could walk to them, however, he saw Catelyn raise a hand to her face to wipe away a tear.

“Cat?” he asked hesitantly. “What is wrong?”

“Ned!” She looked up at him, startled, and Arya jumped in her arms, releasing the breast and trying to twist around to see her father.

“Oh, I’m sorry, my love. I didn’t mean to . . .”

“Da!” Arya yelled, reaching for him.

Catelyn sighed and held her up for him to take. “She wasn’t going to sleep anyway,” she said. “I only wanted to hold her close today.”

“Cat?” Ned asked again, looking at his wife quizzically. Arya had quieted in his arms, contenting herself by tugging at his hair and beard as she liked to do.

“It’s nothing, Ned,” she said softly.

“Maester Luwin told me he believes you are physically quite well, if a bit run down. He wasn’t terribly concerned about . . .”

“My dreams. I know,” she said softly.

“Da!” Arya yelled again, grabbing at his face, apparently tired of his not speaking to her.

“Demanding little pup, aren’t you, my girl?” he said, grinning at her. “Very well.” He then tossed her into the air, much to her delight. He repeated that several times until the child was nearly breathless with giggles, and then he swung her down to the floor. “Where’s your wolf?” he asked her. Immediately, his daughter toddled off to find her favorite toy—a direwolf carved in wood with wheels beneath each paw and a string attached to the front of the neck by which she could pull it. As she began running around the nursery, dragging it behind her lying on its side as often as up on the wheels, he turned back to Catelyn.

“Why are you crying, Cat?”

“I don’t want to lose her.”

“Lose her? Catelyn, what are you talking about? Arya is right here. She scarcely lets you out of her sight, my love!”

Catelyn bit her lip. “Maester Luwin believes I should wean her. He first suggested I let another nursing mother here do her feeds, but she won’t take from anyone but me. She’s old enough to do without, of course. The gods know the child eats whatever she’s given, but . . . she’s still so little.”

“You won’t lose her by weaning her, Cat. Did Luwin tell you this when you saw him this morning?”

She nodded. “I haven’t nearly the milk I had before anyway. He says my body is working too hard trying to provide for both Arya and our son, and I will feel more myself if I stop doing both.” She frowned. “Old Nan said he’s probably right about that.”

Ned raised a brow. “You asked Old Nan to confirm what Maester Luwin told you?”

“How many children has Luwin nursed, Ned?” Catelyn nearly snapped at him. “Or birthed? Nan’s had children of her own and helped countless women in Winterfell with theirs. Besides, she agreed with him so you needn’t lecture me.” Suddenly, she rose from her seat. “Oh, sweetling, no!”

As she rushed past Ned, he turned to see that Arya, behind him, was climbing onto a shelf, having apparently climbed onto the hearth to get to the shelf, and was grabbing one of Robb’s toy swords. Catelyn quickly took it out of her hands.

“You aren’t to play with that,” she said firmly. “That’s Robb’s.”

“No!” Arya said loudly. “Mine!”

“It isn’t yours!” Catelyn said in exasperation. “Here.” She reached up and took a cloth doll from the shelf and handed it to Arya.

“No!” Arya said, flinging it across the room and pointing at the sword in Catelyn’s hand. “Mine!”

“It’s only a toy,” Ned said. “Can’t you just . . .”

“It’s got a pointed end, Ned, even if it’s blunted!” Catelyn said, now sounding as exasperated by him as by their daughter. “She runs around waving it, and she’s already fallen with it and nearly put her eye out. She has no need of a sword!”

“Sword!” Arya shouted, echoing her mother. “Mama! Sword!” She beat her little hands at Catelyn’s skirts, and Ned nearly laughed until he saw his wife’s expression.

Catelyn generally handled all of Arya’s fits of temper with remarkable equanimity. Yet, now she stood there looking for all the world as if she might crumble under the barrage of those little fists.

“That’s enough from you, little lady,” Ned said firmly, swooping her up into his arms.

“Mama! Mama!” she cried as he carried her from the room. He discovered one of Catelyn’s maids in the corridor.

“I fear Lady Arya has taken a fit of temper,” he said. “Would you mind taking her outside? That generally makes her happy.”

The maid laughed. “Certainly, milord.” She took Arya from him without any particular concern for the child’s flailing arms and legs. Any of the maids who spent time with Catelyn and the children were well accustomed to Arya’s rather forceful personality.

Once Arya had been carried to the staircase, he turned back into the nursery and was stunned to see his wife still standing by the toy shelf with tears now running down her face in earnest.

“Catelyn!” He ran to her and took her into his arms. She let him hold her and continued to cry softly for several minutes before she quieted.

“Forgive me, my lord,” she said softly against his chest.

“Forgive you? Catelyn, what is wrong? Please tell me.”

She shook her head and pulled away from him, going to the window and looking outside.

“Catelyn?”

She bit her lip and then spoke as if to herself. “I always want to keep her safe. Always. I try so hard, and yet . . . I’m fighting her. Always fighting her . . . and then . . . she’s gone.” She bit her lip, and the tears came back to her eyes. “She’s gone, and I can’t find her. She’s calling for me. I can hear her . . . she’s so close, but she’s . . . lost. And alone. And I can’t find her, Ned! I can’t find her! Don’t you see?”

She’d turned to look at him as she said the last, and he simply looked back at her, uncomprehendingly.

“My dreams! You asked me what I dream. Well, when I carried Arya, those are the things I dreamt! And I don’t want to lose her!”

“Oh, Cat,” he said, moving to take her in his arms again. “We won’t lose her, my love. You’re upset about weaning her. That’s all. Those were only dreams, dreams from more than a year ago . . . they don’t mean anything.”

She was shaking her head. “You’re wrong,” she said. “I know you don’t believe me. But you’re wrong. And they aren’t from over a year ago. I’m having the Arya dreams again. And Sansa’s. And Robb’s. And the new ones.” She shook her head. “Don’t tell me it means nothing, Ned.”

“Maester Luwin said . . .”

“Maester Luwin knows nothing of it!” she nearly shouted. “I spoke with Old Nan, and she said . . .”

Ned’s face must have looked thunderous because Catelyn went silent at once. “Old Nan said what?” he asked her.

“Nothing,” she said. “Don’t you dare scold her.”

“You told me she agreed with Maester Luwin.”

“That it would be better for me to wean Arya, yes. She agreed with him on that.”

“Catelyn, what fables has that old woman been telling you? I swear you are worse than the boys for believing in her tales.”

“Most tales have some truth if you look for it, Ned,” she said indignantly. “I am not a fool. I am not afraid of monsters lurking beneath the castle floors. Nor do I worry that giant spiders will descend from beyond the Wall and carry the children off as they sleep. But I do know there are more powers at work in this world than we understand. And you know that, too! Why else would you spend hours praying before your heart tree, my love? To whom do you pray? Can you see your nameless old gods, Ned? Can you touch them? Yet, you doubt them not! So why do you deny that other mysteries may find us if we open our eyes and look?”

Ned remained silent for a long while, remembering the words of a man he considered one of his closest friends although he hadn’t seen him in years or even corresponded with any regularity. Sometimes you must believe more than you see, Ned. Your eyes won’t tell you everything. He could hear Howland Reed’s voice as clearly now as he heard it then, and he could hear his own response just as clearly. That was the response he gave his wife now.

“My eyes are open, Cat. And mayhap they don’t see everything, but at least I know I can trust my own eyes. If I can see it, I can know it. And everything else I’ll just leave to the gods.”

“I’m frightened, Ned,” she said softly. “So much of what I dream makes no sense at all, and what does . . .” She shook her head again. “I have to believe it’s a warning of some sort. Better that than a glimpse of something that can’t be changed.”

A glimpse of something that can’t be changed. Those words sparked another memory of Howland in Ned’s mind. “My lady,” Ned said almost formally. “Has Old Nan been speaking to you of green dreams, perchance?”

Catelyn bit her lip, and Ned frowned at her.

“Cat, I would have you tell me precisely what Nan told you.”

“I don’t want you to scold her.”

“I don’t want her frightening you.”

“She didn’t frighten me. My bloody dreams frighten me! You know that better than anyone, Ned! You said you heard me scream the other night.”

He would never forget the sound of her scream. “You were looking for Arya?” He asked softly.

She shook her head. “No. I had a new dream. One I never wish to have again. Promise me you won’t scold Nan. Or interrogate her about what she told me.”

“If you tell me, I won’t have to interrogate her.”

“Very well. I’ll tell you everything she said.”

“Good. Let’s go to your chambers, though. We’re less likely to be interrupted there than here or in my solar.”

“After you promise not to scold her.”

“Cat . . .”

“That’s my offer. I will tell you every word Old Nan told me about dreams in exchange for your promise not to reprimand her in any way for speaking to me. Otherwise, you can take your chances speaking with her yourself.” She smirked. “And see how far that gets you.”

Catelyn had him there. Nan was by far the oldest person in Winterfell. She spoke her mind or spoke not at all as she saw fit whether she was conversing with a child or the Lord of Winterfell. And while Ned feared her mind had developed a tendency to wander at times, when she focused on something, that mind was as sharp as any he had ever known even if she was given to rather fanciful beliefs.

“I should know better than to argue with a Tully.”

His wife’s smirk became a genuine smile—the first he’d seen on her face since he’d entered the nursery, and it gladdened his heart to see it. “You say that often enough, and yet you persist in arguing with me.”

He laughed. “Well, if you are the most stubborn creature alive, I suppose I am a close second.” He sighed. “You win, Cat. Come to your chambers and tell me what she said.”

“I’d have your word first, my lord.” When he scowled at her, she only smiled gently at him and spoke softly. “Promise me, Ned.”

Promise me, Ned. He closed his eyes against the past and took his wife’s arm. “Nan will receive no reprimand from me over filling your head with her questionable beliefs about dreams. I promise you, my love.”

An hour later, Ned found himself regretting that promise.

“They aren’t my dreams,” she’d told him when they reached her chambers.

“They are your dreams, Cat. I should know who’s dreaming beside me.”

“I’m not the only one beside you,” she’d said, and for a moment he thought she was once again accusing him of faithlessness. “They’re the baby’s dreams,” she’d explained further before he went too far down that uncomfortable line of thought. “That’s why I only have them when I carry our babes.”

“Our unborn children dream things to frighten their mother?” Ned had asked skeptically. “And somehow you share these dreams?”

“Don’t look at me like that. You have no idea how it feels to carry a child inside you. But even Maester Luwin will tell you the babe shares the air I breathe and the food I eat. My body serves to keep the babe alive. So why shouldn’t we share dreams?”

Ned had decided to let the notion of sharing pass without comment. “But why would our unborn children dream of frightening things? They know nothing except the comfort of a mother’s womb.”

“Because they are Starks.”

“Because they are Starks . . .” he’d repeated slowly.

“The Starks have ruled the North for more than a thousand years. The blood of the First Men runs through your veins and through the veins of our children, Ned. Even if the Others died out years ago, they did exist once. Just as dragons did. And it was the Starks of Winterfell who opposed them.”

“Catelyn . . .” Ned sighed.

“Don’t ‘Catelyn’ me. Why were the Targaryens dragon riders? Say what you will about that, Ned, but the only word for controlling such a mighty, mystical beast is magic. And no other word explains the ability of Brandon the Builder to create this castle or the Wall, either.”

“Magic is simply a word people give to things they do not understand, Cat.”

“Thank you, Maester Luwin,” she’d said acidly. “I freely admit I don’t understand why our children dream as they do in my womb. Nor do I understand why they don’t seem to have such dreams once they leave it.”

Ned hadn’t wanted to ask the question, hadn’t wanted to give this crazy speculation any legitimacy, but he’d found himself curious. “You know they have no such dreams?”

She’d looked at him. “Ned, Robb is more than old enough to articulate any dream he has. He’s been in my bed after any number of childish night terrors. Even Sansa has begun recounting her dreams to me. These dreams are like nothing I have ever experienced. And they are terrifying. If the children experienced them still, they would come to me.”

He suspected she was right about that. The children came to her about almost everything. Unless it had to do with Jon. Robb had learned not to mention Jon to his mother years ago, and little Sansa was figuring that out as well. Arya was still too young to understand, of course, and would shout, “Jon!” at Catelyn as frequently as she would shout Robb’s or Sansa’s names.

“So Old Nan told you our children have green dreams, but only in the womb?”

“No,” Catelyn had said. “They aren’t green.”

“What?”

“They aren’t green. Old Nan says green dreams are not uncommon among the crannogmen, and she’s known more than one of them in her time who has them. But they actually look green. The dreams, I mean. She told me of green dreams and told me they always came true, and I . . . I didn’t react well to that, I’m afraid, and she very quickly asked me if the dreams were green. They’re not. They’re . . . very real. As if I am living them.” She’d given a very tiny shrug. “She says they aren’t green dreams then. Thank the gods.”

“Catelyn, I don’t want you to fear for yourself or our children,” Ned had said. “Nan is simply repeating things she’s been told. And even she told you these weren’t green dreams, so . . .”

“But other dreams have power, too, Ned. She told me that some people can reach out in their dreams or be reached by others. And that there are stories of Starks who . . .”

“No Starks in my lifetime,” Ned had said definitively.

“Until now.”

“What?”

“If these dreams are from our children, Ned, then there have been no Starks with this power in your lifetime until now.” She’d bitten her lip. “As far as you know. I wish your mother was alive. I wonder what dreams she had when she carried you and your brothers and sister.”

Ned had thought of his own dreams of Brandon and Lyanna, and prayed very hard that his mother had never dreamed anything of the sort. “Well, if the dreams stop once the children are born, then let them be forgotten, Cat.” His words had sounded hollow to his own ears. He may not believe there to be any magic power behind his own dreams, but gods knew he could not let them be forgotten. Would that he could. “Whatever terrible visions you’ve had—I promise you, I will not allow them to come to pass. Mayhap, the fact that they disappear once the children are born means that whatever might have threatened them has disappeared as well.”

She’d looked at him then with a very grave expression in her eyes. “I thought that once. But this babe is different.” She’d laid a hand over her belly. “This babe dreams of all our children. And . . . other things.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I told you I dreamt of losing Arya again. I’ve dreamt the things I dreamt when I carried Robb and Sansa as well. I’ve had none of those dreams since they were born. Until now.”

“Those are your memories, Cat. You recall those dreams and your mind brings them back to you.” The gods know I know how that feels.

“No. They are almost the same . . . but new somehow. And there are more. I dream of . . . so many people, Ned. Some I know. Some I do not. And I dream of wolves. And dragons. And winter. And being alone. Utterly alone. And cold. Always cold and without hope of warmth ever again.” She’d shaken her head. “I don’t want to speak about my dreams, Ned. I don’t even like to think about them. But Nan told me this new child is likely a dreamer more powerful than those she knew among the crannogmen. He may dream such things throughout his life, and I don’t want that for him. I don’t! It hurts too much! And I don’t want him broken!”

“Broken?” Ned had asked, but that was when the knock had come at the door. The maid who had taken Arya had amused her in the courtyard as long as she could, but the child had resumed her demands for ‘Mama!’ and here she was, all but jumping out of the maid’s arms to run to Catelyn.

Ned had smiled to see the two of them together as he wondered if there had ever been a child more attached to her mother yet more determined to do the opposite of whatever her mother wished. His smile had become a frown, however, as he’d recalled his wife’s description of the dreams she’d had when she carried this child. Nonsense!he told himself. It was enough that Nan had frightened Catelyn. He would not allow her notions to frighten him as well. And while he had promised Catelyn he wouldn’t scold the old woman, he had made no promises not to speak to her at all.

After watching Catelyn half-heartedly attempt to discourage Arya from pawing at the bodice of her dress before giving in to her and sitting down to allow the child to nurse, he’d told her he would see her at the evening meal as he needed to finish reviewing several items in his solar before then. He’d then left her chambers and gone in search of old Nan.

He now stood outside Robb’s room listening to the old woman telling his boys and Theon Greyjoy the tale of the Night’s King. They always seemed to like that one, and Nan told it with relish, always tossing in that the Night’s King was a Stark although there was no record of precisely who the man had been—if there had indeed been such a man. She was near the end of the tale when he arrived, and he allowed her to finish it but made his presence known before she could launch into another.

“Father!” Robb said, jumping up excitedly when he saw him.

“Good evening, Father,” Jon said with a great deal more formality. It pained Ned that at seven years of age, Jon already understood his place in the household was not the same as Robb’s for all that they were as close as two brothers ever had been.

“Lord Stark,” young Greyjoy said with a perfunctory bow of the head as he rose from sitting. At eleven, the heir to the Iron Islands was truly too old to be a playmate for Robb and Jon, but even after a year here, he wasn’t comfortable with too many people. Being a glorified hostage did that to you. Ned did his best to treat the boy well and teach him what he could of lordship and justice, but both of them knew Theon’s life was forfeit if his father rebelled against Robert again, and Theon had accompanied Ned on enough executions to know well enough who would swing the sword if that should happen. Ned cursed Robert for putting the boy and himself in this position but there was nothing to be done for it. He would do the best he could to walk the line with Theon Greyjoy between ward and prisoner and hope the boy managed to grow up with honor.

“Did you come to find us, Father?” Robb asked. “Maester Luwin kept us at lessons forever, but we finally got to leave, and then Nan said . . .”

“Peace, son,” Ned interrupted him firmly, but gently. “You’ve not even allowed me a word.” Turning to Nan, he acknowledged her with a nod of his head and she bent her head in return. She had not risen from her seat at his entrance. Her knees did not bend easily anymore, nor straighten again without great effort once bent. Her back never did entirely straighten. She scarcely could manage the stairs of the Great Keep anymore, and Ned often wondered if the day approached when she’d no longer be able to climb them at all.

Robb stopped bouncing and stood almost at attention, holding his chin up and looking Ned straight in the eye. “I beg your forgiveness of my discourtesy, Father,” he said, only the slightest quiver in his voice betraying his embarrassment.

Ned smiled at his firstborn, proud of the way Robb would always look him in the eye even when he knew it was difficult for the boy. He took after his mother in that. Ned laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. “You were not discourteous, son,” he said. “Merely a bit overly eager to tell me of your day. Did you learn anything during this exceptionally long lesson with Maester Luwin?”

“History,” Robb said, rolling his eyes. “And no battles. Just a bunch of kings and the laws they made.”

“Laws are important, Robb. Without them, there is no system of justice. And without justice, no man is safe to live his life in peace.”

“I suppose so, Father, but it’s still dull.”

Ned thought for a moment. “I think you should sit with me the next time I hear grievances in the Great Hall. I should like to hear your opinion of justice in practice.”

Robb lit up like a lantern. “Truly, Father? I can truly sit beside you?”

“You shall, provided you can keep still enough. I warn you, dispensing justice is often every bit as tedious as reading whatever text Maester Luwin sets you. But it will be your place to do so one day, Robb, and you are old enough to see what sorts of complaints are brought to me and how I choose to address them.”

“Thank you, Father! I shall be very still. I promise. And courteous.”

While he spoke, Robb had begun to bounce ever so slightly on his feet again in his excitement, and Ned could not contain his smile. “I have no doubt about it,” he responded, grinning down at the bright blue eyes that looked up at him with anticipation. When he turned to look at Jon, however, he saw another emotion entirely in those grey eyes so like his own. So like Lyanna’s.

Ned didn’t fault Jon the occasionally envious thought toward Robb. He’d felt such things toward Brandon at times himself when they were young. But generally, Jon kept such feelings from his face, and that was all to the good. If Catelyn saw the expression the boy wore now . . .

“Did you find today’s history lesson as dull as your brother did, Jon?” he asked.

“It wasn’t too terrible, Father,” Jon said, looking downward. Jon normally would meet his eyes as well, so Ned knew the child was ashamed of what he felt now. “It wasn’t as dull as memorizing House sigils and words.”

Ned laughed. “I never liked doing that either, Jon,” he said. “Too many of them look and sound alike! But if you are ever on a battlefield, knowing who’s marching toward you is very helpful indeed.” He put his hand on Jon’s shoulder just as he had done to Robb moments before, and Jon looked up at him although he did not smile. Ned couldn’t help but wonder if the boy hoped that he would now be invited to sit with him in the Great Hall to hear petitions, but as much as he included Jon in life at Winterfell, that was something he could never do. Far more people than Catelyn would look askance at the Lord of Winterfell instructing his bastard in ruling.

“I actually came here to seek out Nan,” Ned said, leaving that topic behind. “Why don’t you boys go outdoors. There is time still before the evening meal, and between lessons and wild tales, you’ve been cooped up indoors quite long enough.”

“Yes, Father!” Robb replied enthusiastically. Turning to young Greyjoy, Robb asked, “You wanna come play swords with Jon and me, Theon?”

Theon gave Robb a sly sort of smile. He smiled often although, as Catelyn had pointed out, his smiles rarely reached his eyes. “I think not, Lord Robb,” he said, much more formally than he normally spoke to Robb, likely for Ned’s benefit. “Ser Rodrik has given me permission to train in the yard with the soldiers.”

Robb’s face fell. He and Jon were both anxious to begin formal training with swords, but at their age, their games with wooden blades sufficed well enough. They would train for war soon enough, believing it grand and glorious as all young boys did, and Ned did not look forward to that day. “Blunted blade only, Theon,” Ned admonished Greyjoy. “You have no need of live steel at one and ten.”

“Yes, Lord Stark,” Theon said respectfully enough.

Ned and Old Nan watched all three boys file out of Robb’s room, and then the old woman spoke to him for the first time since he’d come in.

“You have need of me, my lord?” Her voice was rough with a slight wheeze to it when she spoke such mundane sentences. Ned could remember it being much stronger in his childhood. It seemed her voice only mustered its former vigor now when she recounted tales for the children. Or for Catelyn, it seemed.

“Yes, Nan,” he said. The boys had been seated on the floor at her feet, but he pulled the second chair in Robb’s room over to face Nan’s and sat down in it. “I want to know precisely what you told Lady Stark about the bad dreams she’s been having.”

The old woman grinned. Her white hair was so thin that her scalp was plainly visible through it, and her skin had the appearance of old leather, but as she smiled, a mischievous spark lit her grey eyes that belied her age and infirmity. “I only answered her questions, my lord. It seems she wasn’t quite satisfied with Maester Luwin’s answers.”

Ned frowned. “No,” he said. “It seems not. Although I do thank you for lending your support to the idea that she wean Arya. I fear she’s exhausting herself, and gods know she isn’t sleeping well.” He shook his head. “I promised her I wouldn’t scold you, but I don’t want her frightened, Nan. She’s anxious enough about the new babe and the nightmares without your encouraging her imagination to run away with her."

“Well, my lord,” the old woman said thoughtfully, “If you must scold me, go ahead and do it. Gods know I scolded you on occasion when you were just Young Ned and not Lord Stark. To be fair, I probably never scolded you near as much as I did your brothers and sister.” She paused a moment. “Or your father, for that matter!” She laughed then—a dry sort of cackling sound which would likely sound frightening to someone who didn’t know the old woman. “As for your lady wife, Lord Stark, I’d wager you know better than the gods how well or ill she sleeps at night, but it isn’t imagination that keeps her wakeful. She’s not given to flights of fancy, that one. She’s got a good deal more sense than most highborn ladies even if she is an Andal.”

Old Nan’s remarks on about Catelyn’s ancestry could be construed as disrespectful, but Ned had known the old woman all his life. She liked Catelyn. And she truly respected her rather than simply respecting her title. When Catelyn had first come to Winterfell, Nan had watched her very closely. She was no more enamored of the idea of a Southron lass becoming Lady of Winterfell than most who’d lived their lives in service to the Starks, but she judged people fairly. And she’d judged Catelyn worthy of respect fairly quickly—speaking in her favor to other castle residents who were not quite so quick to accept her. From Nan, the words she’d just spoken were high praise indeed.

“She is certainly sensible,” Ned concurred, “But she is almost as bad as the children when it comes to your tales of magic and monsters. As I said, I would not have her frightened.”

“Begging your pardon, Lord Stark, but Lady Catelyn is not a child. And she came to me because she already is frightened. Some frights cannot be helped, but we are all more frightened of things we don’t understand than things we do. So I tried to help her understand.”

Ned frowned again and reminded himself of his promise to Catelyn not to chastise Old Nan before he replied. “By telling her that our unborn children dream frightful things? Scaring her with tales of green dreams and legends of ancient Starks whose dreams had power? She’s with child, Nan! And that makes her much more susceptible to fears and . . .”

The old woman began cackling again, and Ned stopped speaking and glared at her.

“Forgive me, my lord,” she wheezed. “But you sound like that maester.” She shook her head. “He’s never carried a child, Lord Stark, so what does he know about how it feels?” She took a deep breath and looked away toward the window for a moment, and Ned feared she’d lost her train of thought as she did on rare occasions, but she suddenly turned back to look him in the eyes and said, “It’s been a very long time since I carried a child in my womb, but I remember it plain enough. It does frighten you, my lord, unless you’re a fool. Just getting the babe safely born is a daunting task—women and babes perish trying to get it accomplished, and you think about that, even if you don’t admit it.”

Ned swallowed. He tried very hard not to think about the risk to Catelyn when she carried their children. The thought of any harm befalling her terrified him. She never seemed to consider it at all, but he thought it likely there was truth in Old Nan’s words—that Catelyn simply refused to admit such fears to him.

“And that’s only the beginning of a mother’s fear,” Nan continued. “The world is not a kind place.” She looked out the window again and nodded her head toward it. “Look at them. I watched you and your siblings play just like that, you know. I stood with the Lady Lyarra as she watched you. Now only you are left here. If she weren’t already dead, it would kill your lady mother to know two of her babes suffered and died so terribly and another will spend all the rest of his days at the Wall.”

Ned couldn’t see what she looked at from his seat so he stood and walked to stand beside the old woman in hers. Down in the courtyard below, he saw Robb and Jon with their wooden swords slashing at each other with grins on their faces. “Thank the gods she did not live to know such things,” he murmured, almost under his breath.

“But she always knew the dangers that awaited them. Every mother does. You see young Robb playing at swords and you smile to see how well he does. Your lady wife sees him play such games and dreads the day he’ll train with real steel because she knows he’ll need to wield that steel on some battlefield against some man who’s trying to kill him.”

“We aren’t at war, Nan,” Ned said, keeping his eyes on the boys at play.

“Not now. But you’ve fought two wars already, my lord, and you’re not yet thirty. I know you pray for peace to continue, but you’ll train your sons for war all the same.”

Ned didn’t respond to that. They both knew well enough the truth of her words.

“Carrying a child does not make a woman more susceptible to fears, Lord Stark. Nor does it cause her to think less clearly. It merely forces her to acknowledge the dangers her child will face in this world. And pray she can protect that child.”

Ned turned back around to look down at the old woman in her chair. “So it is fear that feeds these dreams of Catelyn’s. However justified her fears might be, I’d ask you not to add to them with wild tales.”

“No, my lord. I only sought to tell you how it feels to carry a child—it doesn’t make you a more fearful person. It merely gives you cause to examine fears you might otherwise push aside. The dreams are not born of Lady Catelyn’s fears. They aren’t Lady Catelyn’s dreams.”

“What the devil do you mean by that?” Ned snapped in irritation. “Of course, they’re her dreams! I’m lying right beside her when they wake her in the night!”

Old Nan sighed and shook her head. “Your lady wife does not have a fanciful imagination, Lord Stark. But, unlike yourself, she does believe there is more to this world than what she knows. And she trusts that some truths are cloaked in mystery.”

“Unborn children do not dream, Nan,” Ned said flatly.

“How do you know, my lord? Do you recall your time in your mother’s womb? Lady Arya was far more restless in the womb when Lady Stark carried her than Lady Sansa was. Surely you recall that. Being unborn did not alter that. Why should it alter the ability to dream?”

“But it is Catelyn who . . .”

“A mother and a babe in the womb share more than any other two people, Lord Stark. More than a man and a woman share in the act of bedding, even. They share their very blood. Your children all bring their fears and hurts to their mother. Why should they not do the same before they are born? When she is all they know?”

“But . . . this is nonsense! Even if unborn babes could speak to their mothers through dreams, they know nothing! Their dreams could have no substance, no purpose. They have no memories.”

Nan looked at him very carefully then, and as her eyes seemed to bore into his, it occurred to him they were precisely the same color as his. “Not all dreams are memories, my lord,” she said sadly, in a voice little more than a whisper. “Although memories can become both the best and worst of dreams.”

“Don’t speak to me of green dreams, Nan. I’ve no desire to hear it.”

“I’m no crannogman and neither are you, my lord,” Nan said with a snort. “I’ve never had a green dream in my life, and your lady wife’s dreams aren’t green. She told me that.” She shook her head. “No . . . these dreams aren’t clouded visions of an inescapable future. They are . . . something else.”

“They’re nightmares,” Ned insisted. “Dreams have no more power than what we give them.”

“Is that what you told Lord Reed about green dreams?” The old woman laughed then, and Ned realized the shock must have shown on his face at her mention of Howland.

“Oh, I don’t know what the Lord of Greywater Watch may have told you, my lord. But I know there’ve been a lot of green dreamers in his family. He wouldn’t agree with what you just said.”

She was right in that. Ned and Howland had argued about this very thing. But that was irrelevant now. Those days . . . those dreams . . . were done, and only his own nightmares remained. He knew what spawned those well enough. And he knew he’d be a liar to claim they held no power over him. But it wasn’t magic.

“Your lady wife’s dreams are different, especially with this new babe.”

“She told me you said so. You’ve got her worrying our child will have such nightmares all his life.”

Old Nan sighed. “They needn’t all be nightmares, my lord. Such dreams are . . . part warning and part prophecy, I guess you’d say. Some you understand, and some you don’t. Some you realize you understand only years later. But most often there’s a choice to be made . . .” Her voice drifted off, and she looked out the window toward the boys once more.

Most of what she had said up to that point had been an echo of what Catelyn had told him. This sounded like something slightly different. “Choice?” he asked quietly, a part of him regretting seeking the woman out at all as he had no wish to give credence to any of this. He only wanted his wife to sleep without fear.

She nodded. “My boys are all gone now,” she said, still watching Robb and Jon at play. “My sons died fighting the dragons, and my grandson on Pyke.”

Ned felt sympathy for the old woman. Her daughters were all dead, too, he thought, although they had married and left Winterfell long ago. Only her great grandson remained to her here in Winterfell.

“But I kept them safe a long time,” she continued, looking up at him now. “My boys were old men when they marched south with you to fight Robert’s war. They had good lives. Even Mat had seen a lot more name days than you have when he lost his life to that reaver’s sword. I remembered. I tried to understand. I tried to make the right choices.” She looked out the window again. “Your lady is no fool. She’ll make the right choices if she understands.”

Slowly, Ned realized what the woman was implying. “Are you telling me you had similar nightmares when you carried your own children?” he asked her. “I thought you told Catelyn this had to do with our children being Starks.”

The old woman laughed again. “Well, all Northmen have the blood of the First Men, Lord Stark. The Starks of Winterfell just seem to have a powerful lot of it.” She grinned at him. “And there have been enough Starks through the years that I’d wager anybody whose family’s been at Winterfell for generations has at least a bit of Stark blood anyway.”

Ned looked at Old Nan’s eyes, strikingly similar to his own in color, and thought there was likely truth in that statement, even if he couldn’t bring himself to believe this nonsense about dreams. “Did you tell Catelyn this? That you’d had the same dreams?”

The old woman shook her head. “They aren’t the same. Your children aren’t the same as mine. She didn’t tell me precisely what she dreams, but it wouldn’t be the same. My dreams . . . and what I chose to do over my life . . . wouldn’t help her. Besides, I don’t think Lady Catelyn particularly needs reminders of Stark blood outside of Stark marriages.”

Nan looked directly at him as she spoke, and Ned found it difficult to return her gaze. There was no condemnation in her voice, but she could not have reminded him any more plainly of the shame he had brought upon his wife. “She does not,” he said stiffly.

He should not let her speak so freely, but Nan had been there when he was small. She had been there when his own mother died, and he loved the old woman, for all that she exasperated him at times. “So you did not tell Catelyn you believe these dreams are warnings then?”

She pursed her lips together. “I told her that these dreams hold truth. They do not set the future, but there is truth in them, my lord. If she can understand the truths they hold, the dreams may be gifts rather than curses, for all they are unpleasant.”

Unpleasant. Ned recalled Catelyn’s scream in the night. Unpleasantdid not begin to describe what his wife experienced. “Well, I don’t want her dreaming such dreams at all, so while I’ll not say a word against you for having said as much as you have, I will ask . . . no, I will insist . . . that you not speak of this with her again. Do you understand?”

“Yes, my lord. And so will she . . . if I refuse to answer her questions.”

Ned sighed heavily. Catelyn would be furious at his forbidding anyone in Winterfell to answer her. He had never done so save the one time. You must never ask me about Jon! “Well, guard your words then,” he said wearily. “Say as little as you may. Please, Nan.”

She laughed. “You always were a good boy, Young Ned. Too grave, by far. But a good boy. I’m glad to see you care for your lady. She cares for you as well. You’re good for each other, I think.”

“I hope so, Nan,” he said softly. “I hope so very much.” He turned and looked out the window again to see the boys now chasing each other about the courtyard, wooden swords discarded somewhere. “I should probably go and fetch them in to wash up before they are late for the evening meal,” he said.

“Very well, my lord,” Nan responded. “Could I beg the favor of your assistance before you go? I fear my old bones don’t move as well as they once did.”

Ned smiled at her. “Always.” He reached out his arms and assisted the old woman to rise carefully from her seat. She then stood looking out the window a moment while he watched her carefully, making certain she was steady on her feet before he moved away from her.

“He wants so much to be like you,” she sighed, still looking out the window. “He has more his mother’s look, but it’s plain he models himself on you.”

Ned always smiled to hear such words about Robb. He loved that his son had his mother’s looks. Robb was a beautiful boy and would grow to be a very handsome man. But he had to admit to a certain satisfaction in others seeing the ways in which the boy took after him as well.

“I’m well enough now, my lord,” Old Nan said then, bowing her head a bit in a gesture of leavetaking. “I can make it to my room just fine.”

Ned smiled at the old woman as she walked from the room and then turned to the window himself once more. The sight that met his eyes caused him to turn back again quickly to look for Nan, and he nearly called out after her as she disappeared into the corridor. He swallowed hard, hoping to slow his heart and looked once more toward the window, thinking of what Nan had said only a moment before.

Robb was no longer in the courtyard, having seemingly wandered off somewhere. There below the window, holding his little wooden sword high with two hands as if the toy were a greatsword, stood Jon, all alone.

Catelyn was quiet through the evening meal although she smiled readily enough at the children when they spoke to her and laid her hand over his when he placed it on her thigh beneath the table. She spoke very little, though, remaining nearly as silent as Jon. Neither of them spoke unless directly addressed which was typical of Jon but very unusual for Cat. Even when Robb asked if he and Jon could be excused together, Catelyn merely nodded, smiling absently at him without the usual tightness in her face which usually occurred when the children included Jon in their requests of her. Not one to question good fortune, Jon had bowed his head and mumbled, “Thank you, Lady Stark” and gotten halfway out of the Great Hall by the time Robb had bowed formally to both his parents and run to catch up with him.

“Shall we take the little ladies to their rooms, my love?” he asked, squeezing Catelyn’s thigh gently.

She turned to smile at him then. “Yes, my lord. I fear I haven’t been very good dinner company. I confess I’m rather tired.”

He grasped the hand that laid atop his and brought it to his lips, the only kiss he could offer her in the Great Hall. “You need to rest, Cat,” he said very softly. “Would you like me to see to the girls?”

She bit her lip. “Why don’t you see if Arya will allow you to put her down in the nursery? If I’m there, she’ll want the teat, and I truly am trying to get her to stop, Ned. I promise.”

He laughed. “But you’ll not be able to deny her if you’re there to hear her cry, I know. Very well, my lady. I shall take our wild wolf pup and leave Sansa to you. Unless you’d like me to take both.”

“No, my love. I’ll take Sansa. I’m with child, Ned—not ill.” She stood then and reached to pull Arya from the little seat beside her. Ned realized their youngest had been half dozing already, but she mumbled, “Mama,” and put her arms around Catelyn’s neck as Catelyn held her against her and kissed the brown hair atop her head.

“Sweet dreams, my sweetling,” she said, before loosening the tot’s arms from her in order to hand her to Ned.

“Mama!” she said more loudly and clearly as she gripped her mother more tightly.

Ned shook his head. “I’ll get her, but let me bid Sansa good night before we make her cry.”

Catelyn looked as if she might cry herself, so Ned quickly went to Sansa who was still nibbling at her lemon cake. The child loved the tart dessert better than anything. Ned silently prayed that this summer might be a long one so that lemons could be procured for his sweet daughter for a long time.

“Time for bed, my little lady,” he said, kneeling down beside her chair.

“But I’m not yet finished, Father,” she said. At three and a half, her sweet little girl’s voice already echoed her mother’s, albeit in a higher pitch. “May I have just a moment?” she asked, quite courteously.

“You may have a moment, if you give your father a goodnight kiss, my lady. Your mother is going to take you to your room while I put baby Arya to bed. I’m certain your lady mother won’t object to allowing you to finish your cake first.”

She smiled at him and jumped down from her chair. Sansa now insisted in sitting in a full sized chair at the table even though her feet didn’t come near the ground and she required a cushion to raise her high enough to reach her food well. She threw her little arms around him and kissed his bearded cheek. “Goodnight, Father,” she said, smiling up at him. “Will you come to my room after Arya’s asleep?”

“Probably not, I’m afraid. I doubt she’ll fall asleep quickly without your mother. But I promise I’ll come with you at bedtime tomorrow evening.”

“All right,” she said cheerfully, kissing him once more and then raising her arms for him to lift her back into her seat. His elder daughter was possibly the most content child he had ever known. She seemed to believe that only good things would come to her in this world, and Ned prayed he could make that true all her life. That thought brought his earlier conversation with Old Nan to his mind, but he quickly pushed it aside.

“I’ll make certain the boys go to bed as well,” he said, standing and turning back to Catelyn. Arya was quiet once more with her head on her mother’s shoulder.

“Perhaps I should . . .”

“I will take Arya,” Ned said quickly. It sounded like a command. “We’ll manage, Cat,” he said more gently.” Before his wife could protest, he reached for Arya whose eyes were closed. He carefully lifted her into his arms so that her head rested on his own shoulder, and she didn’t move. “See? She’s fine.”

He then quickly left the Great Hall before that changed. Arya woke and began demanding her mother halfway across the courtyard, and Ned prayed that Sansa was eating her lemoncake very slowly so that Catelyn would not come out and hear her.

Much later, Ned finally left the child sleeping soundly in her cot in the nursery convinced that however much she looked like him, she had certainly inherited Brandon’s or Lyanna’s temperament. And her mother’s resolve. She’d been determined not to go down without Catelyn present, and he’d worn a groove in the floor walking back and forth with her as she struggled to escape his arms and beat at his chest with angry little fists. Of course, once she’d exhausted herself and he’d laid her in the cot, she’d looked the very image of peaceful innocence, and his irritation with her had evaporated. As eager as he was to lie down beside his wife, he felt a brief, sharp pain in his heart at walking away from his daughter. He’d known that same feeling with all his children, and it still amazed and sometimes frightened him that he was capable of such overpowering love and protectiveness toward each of them. As he walked from the nursery to Catelyn’s chambers, her words about Arya from earlier came back to him. She’s gone, and I can’t find her. It had only been a dream, but the terror and despair on his wife’s face as she’d spoken had been real enough, and Ned found his own heart beating more forcefully as he recalled that moment.

He silently berated himself for such irrational fearfulness when he knocked upon Catelyn’s door and heard her bid him enter. Apparently, Arya had detained him as long as he thought for Catelyn was already abed. She’d left all the candles burning for him, however, and she was only semi-reclined upon her pillow. She looked beautiful, and at her smile, all his troubling thoughts fled.

“I had almost decided to come and rescue you, my love,” she said teasingly.

“I am fully capable of putting a child to bed,” he said as he closed the door behind him and began unfastening his doublet.

She laughed. “I never doubted you. I simply know how trying our daughter can be. And I wanted you here sooner rather than later.”

Those words, and the low purr in her voice as she spoke them, chased any lingering dark thoughts from his mind as he smiled at her and removed his boots and clothing. When he straightened up after removing his smallclothes, he watched her eyes move over him.

“It would seem you want to be here as well, my lord,” she said as her eyes lingered on his cock which had already begun to harden in response to her voice and her expression as she gazed at him.

In truth, he’d expected merely to sleep beside her this night as tired and troubled as she’d been, but he could not deny his pleasure at discovering she didn’t wish to sleep quite yet. He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her up to kiss her, taking his time and allowing their lips to move against each other slowly and sweetly before holding her more tightly against him, deepening the kiss and reveling in her response to it.

“Given a choice,” he whispered somewhat breathlessly when they finally broke apart, “I would seldom be anywhere else, my lady.”

Smiling, she raised up onto her knees and lifted her arms above her head so he could easily remove her nightshift. She wore no smallclothes beneath it, and the sight of her there in the candlelight with her pale skin, full breasts, long legs, and small firm roundness just becoming more easily discernible in her lower belly caused him to catch his breath.

She pushed him gently back onto the bed and moved to straddle him, her hair falling down upon his face and chest as she bent to kiss him. His hands reached up to her breasts, moving his thumbs over the dark pink nipples which already stood up firm beneath his touch. She moaned softly, and that sat up maneuvering herself over him and taking his cock into her hand to guide herself slowly down onto it.

She lowered herself onto him excruciatingly, deliciously, impossibly slowly, until he was completely sheathed and then remained still for a long moment, closing her eyes and leaning her head back, first opening her mouth as a short gasping breath escaped and then biting her lip as she began first to rotate her hips, pressing her sensitive little nub hard against him with every movement as her breaths came shorter and shorter. It was torture and pleasure all at once, and he never wanted it to end. Yet, after a few moments, he couldn’t keep from grasping her hips in his hands and encouraging her to move herself up and down along his length. As she began to move more and more quickly, he moved one of his hands to press his thumb against that most sensitive spot on her and she shuddered and cried out a bit before biting her lip again. Then she suddenly stopped moving, and he looked at her in some puzzlement.

“I want you on top of me,” she said, the words coming out with almost no voice between panted breaths. “We won’t be able to . . . like that . . . for much longer.”

He looked up at her blue eyes, wide with desire, the pupils large and black in the candlelight, and she didn’t have to make the request again. With almost one motion, he flipped them both so that she lay on her back beneath him. His cock had barely slipped out of her before he thrust into her again, moving with more force and abandon than he normally did. She didn’t object, however, raising her hips to meet his again and again, writhing beneath him and wrapping her arms around him as if she’d never let him go.

He felt it when her climax took her, and he stilled himself just a moment, just long enough to watch her face. He loved her like this—so completely undone and utterly at the mercy of what their bodies made each other feel. In years past, she had tried to temper her own passion, fearing he would somehow find her body’s response to his lovemaking shameful or unladylike. As he pressed a kiss to her lips before moving his hips again, he thanked the gods he had long ago convinced her nothing was further from the truth. Then he stopped thinking entirely, and within a very few more thrusts was lost in his own climax.

Neither spoke for a few moments after that although when he’d quickly rolled off her to keep his weight from pressing down upon her belly, she’d rolled right with him, still seeming loath to let him go. “Are you well, my love?” he asked her when his breathing had finally slowed enough for speech.

“You are here. I am well.”

She often huddled close to him at night, seeking his warmth as she forever felt colder than he did even in this unbearably warm room, but now she seemed to cling to him as if she feared he might disappear, and that was not like her at all. He wondered at it, but hesitated to question her about what she had dreamt again.

“I am here,” he said simply. “And here I shall stay. Sleep now, Cat.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, and held her against him, disregarding the heat of the room as he wished only for her to feel safe enough from whatever haunted her to sleep well through the night.

He didn’t recall the moment she had fallen asleep, and he certainly didn’t recall falling asleep himself, but he was suddenly startled awake by the sound of his wife shouting his name.

“Ned! No!”

He sat up disoriented for a very brief moment before realizing that he was in Catelyn’s bed and that she was no longer lying against him. The candle he’d not extinguished before falling asleep must have gone out for the room was dark. He could barely see his wife as she moved restlessly beneath the furs on the other side of the bed, but he could hear her. She no longer shouted, but a continuous stream of terrified pleas escaped her lips.

“Please, no. No. Oh gods, please no.”

He moved to touch her. “Cat! Cat, wake up, my love. You’re safe. Nothing can harm you. Wake up.”

Now that his eyes had begun to adjust to the darkness his face was only a few inches above hers, and he could see that her eyes were tightly shut as she shook her head back and forth, emphasizing every ‘no’ that she voiced. She trembled beneath his hands. Frightened, he pulled her up into a sitting position and held her to him, patting and even shaking her gently as he continued telling her to wake.

After what seemed a very long time, she seemed to startle, and when she spoke his name again, it was a question. “Ned?” she asked tremulously, sounding both frightened and confused now.

“Yes, my love. I’m right here. I have you, Cat.”

“Oh, gods be thanked!” she exclaimed before throwing her arms tightly around him, burying her face in his neck and beginning to sob in earnest.

At a loss as for anything else to say or do, he simply held her, murmuring nonsense and running his hand over her hair—not unlike she would do herself for the children when they were upset beyond reason. Finally, her crying slowed and stopped, and she became very still and silent in his arms.

“Cat?” he whispered hesitantly.

“Forgive me, my lord,” she whispered back in a voice still thick with tears.

“Hush now. There’s nothing to forgive,” he said, continuing to stroke her hair.

She went silent again, clinging to him as if afraid to let go, and he waited for her to speak again.

“I will be all right now,” she said finally, raising her head up to look at his face. “You need to sleep.”

“I will sleep when you do,” he said. “Cat . . . tell me what you dreamt.”

She bit her lip and looked down, but still did not remove her arms from him. She’d been terrified in her dream. Terrified of him. Yet now, she held him as if he were her only protection. That made no sense, and he needed to understand. “Cat . . . I . . .”

“Please don’t make me speak of it, Ned,” she whispered. “I can’t bear it.”

He sighed and gently unwound her arms from him, easing her down onto her pillow. Then he rose from the bed and walked across the room, opening the window a small amount. He’d suddenly become very warm and felt unable to breathe. He took several gulps of the cold night air from the window before turning back to look at his wife. He couldn’t see her face clearly, but he could tell she had raised herself up on one elbow and was watching him.

“Why are you frightened of me, Catelyn?” he asked her flatly.

“What?” The utter consternation in her voice was plain enough even without his being able to see her expression.

“Your dream, my lady,” he clarified. “In your dream, you were terrified. You were shouting my name and begging me . . . not to do something. I must know how I’ve frightened you. Even if it is only a dream.”

She moved a little, and he thought that she bit at her lip again. She sat up then, pulling the furs with her for warmth. “I am not frightened of you, my love. Neither dreaming nor awake.”

“But I heard . . .”

She shook her head violently enough that he could see it easily enough in the dark, and said, “No. I do dream of you, Ned. I never did before. I mean . . . not these dreams. I never dreamed of you when I carried the other children. But this time . . .” He didn’t need to see her face clearly to know she had pressed her lips tightly together. He waited in silence until she continued. “The first dreams of you were confusing as you seemed to be many places, and at times both younger and older than you are now. Once I even thought I dreamt you at the Wall—in the black of the Night’s Watch. But you were very young and . . . different . . . somehow. And . . .” She inhaled sharply. “What I saw in that dream couldn’t be true for you because . . .” She shook her head again. “I know that never happened,” she whispered after a moment.

“What never happened?”

“You’ve never been to the Wall, my lord. And . . . the young man I saw . . . I think he’s dead in the dream. You are not.”

She said the last almost as if she were trying to convince herself of that fact.

“I am not,” he said firmly, reaching to close the window and then walking quickly to the bed to hold her once more. “I am quite well, my lady, and I intend to remain so. Is that what you dreamt tonight? A young man dead at the Wall?”

She shook her head. “No. I haven’t had that one in awhile. And it’s only ever a very quick image, really. I don’t even see the young man’s face very clearly. Just enough to see that he has your look. Younger than even than you were when we wed, though. He’s lying there in the snow and then . . . a wolf howls, and then other images appear and take his place, always ending with a dragon.”

“A dragon?” Ned said with a start.

“A dragon. It makes no sense, I know. But I always thought the man was you when I first dreamt it because I see those images after I see you in the desert.”

“The desert?” Ned said. “I thought you said I was at the Wall.”

“I think it’s the Wall, where the young man dies. I can’t imagine anything else that would look like that. But I told you I dream of you in many places. Before that, I see you in the desert, fighting.”

“Fighting?” Ned again felt as if he couldn’t quite breathe, but he felt oddly cold now instead of too warm.

She nodded. “You fight a man who wields a greatsword. It’s as large as Ice, but pale. I’ve never seen the like. You’re both in armor, and I cannot see the man’s face. I can’t see yours either, but I know your armor well enough. I saw it first when you came to Riverrun to wed me, remember?” She paused once more. “And then you’re inside a small room. Stone. I can’t see any windows, but there must be windows because there’s light. You’re leaning over me, as if I’m lying down. You’re still armored, but your helmet is off, and you . . . you’re . . .” She looked at him closely, although he doubted she could see him any more clearly than he could see her.

“I’m what?” he asked when she didn’t speak.

“You’re crying,” she said, her voice incredulous. “I’ve never seen you cry, my love. But you are crying in the dream.”

I did cry, he thought. And I haven’t wept since. Not like that. But she couldn’t possibly know that. She couldn’t possibly dream of the Tower of Joy. He’d never told her all that took place there.

“And then you promise me something,” she said.

Ned actually made a sort of choking sound then. “What do I promise?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. You’re looking at me. You’re crying. And you say, ‘I promise.’ That’s all. Nothing else.”

“You don’t see anyone else in this dream?” he asked carefully.

“No. Not in that part.”

“That part?”

“Most of these dreams or images or whatever you want to call them last almost no time at all, running into one another before I have time to consider what they mean.”

“They mean nothing, Cat,” he said, feeling uncomfortably as if he lied now. “They’re only dreams.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Ned.”

“You still haven’t told me what you dreamt tonight, have you?”

“You’ll tell me it doesn’t matter!” she flung at him. “And it does! It matters to me, and I can’t make you understand that! When I carried Robb, I dreamt of a child that looked like Edmure playing with a wooden sword. Only he was somehow riding to war with that wooden sword, and then a blade pierces him through. He’s only a child! And a wolf howls, and there are birds . . .”

“Birds?” Ned asked her. He feared she was becoming hysterical. Certainly dreams of children going to war with wooden swords held no real meaning. Wars were fought with steel. By men.

“Birds,” she repeated. “They attack me and I can feel them clawing at my face, and I . . .” She shook her head. “I told you I don’t want to talk about these dreams anymore.”

Ned sighed. “You obviously aren’t going to sleep, my love. Let me light some candles. Mayhap we can chase away these dreams if we chase away the dark.” He handed her her nightshift and pulled on his own shirt and breeches before going into the corridor to light a candle from one of the torches that were kept burning there.

Once the room was bathed in candlelight, Ned did feel less inclined to be frightened by his wife’s nightmares, but one look at her face told him the light had done little to soothe her. “Catelyn,” he said softly, sitting beside her on the bed and taking her hands in his. “Do you not trust me to keep you safe?”

“Of course I do,” she answered without hesitation. “But it is not myself I fear for.”

“Do you not trust me enough to tell me what you fear?”

“I fear Arya will be lost to me and that Robb will go to war before he’s even truly a man.”

He took a heavy breath. “I will not allow Robb to go near a battle before he’s a man, my love. As for Arya,” he shook his head. “I fear she’s likely stubborn enough to try both of us at times as she grows, but we’ll not lose her.” He grinned at her. “And she’ll scream ‘Mama’ if she gets lost loud enough for the entire castle to find her. You know that, Cat.”

He watched Cat’s face as she tried to return his smile and failed. “You don’t believe there’s anything to my dreams,” she said sadly. “You don’t believe they mean anything at all.”

I could tell you what your dreams of me in the desert mean, he thought darkly, but he didn’t want to admit even to himself that she had actually dreamt of that cursed tower in Dorne. Aloud, he said, “I think they mean that you worry about our children, my love. And that is only natural for a mother to do.” After a moment, it occurred to him, she had not mentioned their elder daughter. “What do you dream of Sansa?”

“Why do you care? If it means nothing except that I am a woman prone to worries?” She sounded irritated with him.

“I did not mean that. I . . . I cannot give credence to these dreams being prophetic, Cat. I can’t. But I see how they affect you, and I do believe there is something in your love for our children that causes them to occur when you carry the babes. That is not ‘nothing’ to me.”

She regarded him carefully, and he knew she sought to discern whether or not he was merely attempting to placate her. “She’s hurt,” Catelyn finally said. “Sansa. She’s far from home and alone. She wants to come home, but she can’t. She has to hide.” Her lip trembled a bit. “She must hide from people who hurt her.”

“Gods, my love! These are terrible dreams.”

“And now they are all back, with more besides.” She shook her head. “He wants to fly, this one. He’ll never settle for being on the ground.” She laid her hand upon her belly. “But he’ll be broken. And I don’t know how to fix him. I don’t know how . . .” She started crying again, and Ned held her once more. He wondered how long it was until morning. He should try to get her to sleep.

“Forgive me,” she said when her tears stopped just as she had after waking from her nightmare to cry in his arms.

Her words reminded him that she still had not spoken of whatever she’d dreamt this night. He wanted very much to know what sort of dream about him had reduced her to such terror and anguish, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask.

“There is nothing to forgive,” he said, just as he had before. “Whatever I believe or not about these dreams, Cat, you’ve trusted me with your fears, and I promise I shall do all in my power to see that none of them ever come to pass.”

“Thank you, my love,” she whispered, gratitude evident in her voice.

“Do you think you can sleep now, my lady?” he asked gently.

She looked pensive for a moment. “I know you don’t truly believe there is anything to this, Ned, but even if you make this promise only to soothe me, I know you will do your best to keep it nonetheless. And so I must tell you the rest of it.”

“The rest of it?”

“I didn’t tell you all of my dream about the Wall.”

“The Wall, my lady?”

“I told you I thought the young man I saw was you, and I did . . . at first. But then I realized he couldn’t be.” She took a deep breath. “This child . . .” she put a hand on her belly again. “These are his dreams whether you believe that or not. He sees what happens at the Wall although I don’t think he’s there. And I’m almost certain it’s his voice I hear.”

“How could he . . .”

“Don’t ask me to explain it, Ned!” she exclaimed in some exasperation. “I don’t understand it any more than you do! But as I’m living it, I have a bit more reason to believe the things Old Nan says even if I don’t understand!” She paused and took another deep breath. “I told you that when this young man falls bleeding to the snow, I hear a wolf howl. Wolves now howl in all of the dreams of our children except Sansa’s. I don’t know why I never hear wolves when I dream of her. I didn’t hear them at all until I carried this child. But after the wolf howls, before I see the dragon, there are blue roses in the snow where the man has fallen, and there’s a whisper almost like the wind, but somehow I know it’s our son’s whisper. And he says a name. Jon.”

Ned felt ice close around his heart at those words. Nothing could explain such a dream except the truth. A truth Catelyn knew nothing of. She knew he’d been to Dorne and fought the Kingsguard there as he strove to reach his sister. Her dreams of him there could have been created by her mind from the few facts she knew, filling in details that just happened to fall alarmingly close to the truth. Or at least he’d been trying to believe that. But nothing could explain this. Nothing except Old Nan’s assertion that his wife was being gifted with dreams of prophetic power. For what else could explain a wolf, a dragon, and blue roses at the Wall with a young man who looked like him? He and Benjen had even discussed the idea once as the Wall was one place Jon’s bastardy would not count more than his character. Having Jon join the Night’s Watch once he became a man would keep him far from Robert’s reach, and Benjen could watch over him. Ned hoped to find another option to at least offer the boy, but . . . it was certainly possible that he might choose to go there. But to die there? Ned shuddered.

“Ned?” Catelyn’s voice pulled him back to her. She was looking at him quizzically, and he wondered how long he’d been silent. He found himself unable to speak and simply stared at her, remaining silent. “Do you know what those images might mean, my lord?” she asked hesitantly. She almost never questioned him about anything regarding Jon. Not since he’d frightened her half to death when she dared ask about the child’s mother all those years ago. He wondered if that’s what she’d dreamt of when he heard her pleading with him. He hoped not. He couldn’t stand the thought of that terrible night still haunting her as it did him.

“No,” he managed to say finally. Even the single word stuck in his throat. He’d never be able to lie to her with more words. “It’s a dream. A nightmare. Such things rarely make sense.” All of those things were true, but he still feared this particular nightmare had contained more truth than he wished to admit. More truth in it. That thought called to his mind Old Nan’s words from earlier. They do not set the future, but there is truth in them, my lord. Ned felt a terrible lurch in his stomach. Gods! How much truth might be in all these terrible dreams of Catelyn’s? He thought of Jon, his three precious children, and this new babe in Catelyn’s womb and prayed there was not much. “We must sleep now, my lady,” he said, no longer having any desire to discuss her dreams.

“We can’t until I’ve told you what I dreamt tonight.”

“I thought you didn’t want to speak of it.”

“I don’t,” she said without hesitation. “But I must. Now that I have your promise, I must. Because I would have you stop it, Ned. Please. You must listen to what I tell you and promise me you will never allow it to come to pass. I beg you.”

“If it is within my power, I will prevent anything that would cause you such distress. I can promise you that readily, Cat.” He paused for a moment, struck by a thought. “Did you tell me of your dream of the Wall to prevent me from ever sending Jon there?”

“I would love for Jon Snow to join the Night’s Watch. He could serve with his uncle and find honor in such service, whatever honor a bastard can find. And he would father no children. He would be no threat to your trueborn heirs on the Wall.” Her voice wasn’t cold, precisely, but it still chilled him that she spoke of Jon with such detachment, considering him merely a problem that needed to be solved.

“Then why did you tell me about . . .”

“I am not a monster, Eddard Stark!” she interrupted him, blue eyes flashing. “I won’t pretend I have any love for the boy, but I would not see him dead. I am not that cruel!”

“I never said you were cruel, Cat. I only . . .”

“And even if you don’t believe these dreams mean anything, I do. I may not hold any affection for Jon Snow, but I do love you.” Her expression softened just a bit. “And for the love I bear you, I would not allow you to send your son to his death if I could stop you from it. For all I wish you would send him somewhere.”

It was more than he deserved from her. He’d offered her only secrets, lies, and shame. And faulted her for not loving a child she believed had been conceived in a betrayal of their marriage vows. Yet, if she believed she had the power to do so, she would seek to prevent Jon’s death for the sake of her love for him. He swallowed hard, thinking bitterly that these terrible dreams of hers had given her more truth than he ever had. “I love you, Cat,” he said, unable to say anything else, fearing that if he said anything more at all, he’d tell her all of it. And that was not something he could ever do without a great deal of thought about the consequences.

“Good,” she said quietly. “Now I must tell you my dream of the Great Sept of Baelor.” She reached to take both of his hands before she spoke again, holding them so tightly, it was almost uncomfortable. “I’ve only dreamt this twice. The other night was the first time. I recognized the Great Sept because my father took us to King’s Landing once when Lysa and I were girls, and I thought the sept was the most incredible place I’d ever seen. I’d thought the sept at Riverrun was grand before that visit.”

“The sept at Riverrun is beautiful,” Ned said softly. “I wish I could have given you one half so lovely here.”

“I love the sept in Winterfell. I have no need of any other.”

“Still, I should take you to King’s Landing someday. When our children are older. I could take you to pray in the Great Sept and . . .”

“No!” She gripped his hands even more tightly and her face looked panicked. “No,” she repeated more quietly after taking a deep breath. “I’ve no wish for you to ever set foot there. Let me tell this, Ned. It isn’t easy for me to speak it.”

He nodded and waited for her to continue.

“I see you there on the steps leading up to the sept. Only, you’re older. You have a bit of grey in your beard. And you look . . . not well. I can’t see anything except you. I mean I see the sept, but once I see you, I’m only looking at your face, and you . . . kneel, I think. And then I see Ice.”

“Ice? In King’s Landing? Is it winter?”

She shook her head. “Not ice. Ice. Your greatsword. And I wonder why you need such a weapon to go to the sept. Only . . .” Her breathing became more rapid and her voice began to sound almost panicked. “Only I realize . . . you aren’t holding it. It’s . . . it’s above you. And then . . . Oh gods, Ned, I can’t stand it! The sword falls and . . . and . . . your head . . . I . . .” She was nearly sobbing by the time she spoke those last words and throwing her arms around him just as she had done when she’d first awakened.

She’d dreamt of his execution. The realization struck him as she held him in her arms. She’d dreamt of his losing his head in King’s Landing. He’d love to tell her such an idea was ludicrous, but she’d dreamt of a dragon, a wolf, and blue roses, and Jon dying at the Wall. Did it mean Robert would somehow learn his secret? Would he have Jon killed and then punish Ned for his treason? Would he punish Ned’s children? Is that what all these terrible dreams foretold? Ned felt his own breathing become nearly as distressed as Catelyn’s. Would all the terrible things she dreamt come to pass because he had hidden Lyanna’s son from his king? My friend, he thought. He’d likely kill Jon without a thought. Such is his hatred of the Targaryens. He might even kill me for such a betrayal. But Catelyn? The children? They were innocent. They had no knowledge of his treason. Surely, Robert would not punish them. And how would he even find out about Jon? No one else alive knew save Howland Reed, and Ned knew the Lord of Greywater Watch would die before he’d breathe a word of it. Benjen suspected, of course, but he had never asked and Ned had never told him, so he didn’t truly know. No one else . . . Old Nan. Robb had no longer been in view of the window when she spoke those last words today. Only Jon. He has more his mother’s look, but it’s plain he models himself on you. If the old woman had figured it out, who else might have?

Ned had brought Jon to Winterfell to keep him safe. But he’d brought him to the place where more people remembered Lyanna well than anywhere else. He thought of how frequently she’d escaped into Winter Town. His father had forever complained of how he had to drag her out of some shop or cottar’s hut on numerous occasions. Many of those people came to the castle frequently enough. Might one of them look too closely at Jon and see his mother?

“Promise me you’ll stay away from that place, Ned,” Catelyn implored him, her tears now stopped again and her blue eyes looking up into his. They looked nothing like his sister’s, and yet the plea so evident in them recalled Lyanna’s last moments to him with painful clarity.

“I promise I’ll do everything in my power to keep my head upon my shoulders, Cat.” He meant that with all his heart, but he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d already committed the act that would cost him his head. “I promise.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “And thank you for making me speak of it. I was afraid you’d dismiss my fears entirely. But honestly, I feel better having shared them with you.”

“Good. That’s good, my love.” He kissed her forehead. “But now we should take what’s left of the night and sleep a couple hours before Arya wakes and demands your presence.”

She smiled. “I feel I might be able to sleep now. With you beside me. Mayhap, if I can share our little son’s dreams, he can share the comfort I take in your promise and your presence, and he’ll rest dreamless til morning.”

“I certainly hope so, my lady.”

He extinguished the candles he’d lit and lay down beside her. “I do worry about him, Ned,” she whispered as she snuggled up beside him. “He has so many frightening dreams. If they do continue after he’s born, he’ll need both of us to help him. I don’t want him broken.”

“How precisely do you think he might be broken, Cat?” Ned asked, no longer bothering to remind himself that the child might be a girl or that a dream was nothing more than a set of pictures in the mind. Much against his will, he now believed everything Catelyn said about these dreams.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “It’s all very confusing. Honestly, what I dream of the children is as much feelings as images. But I know we need to protect him. Whether these dreams continue or not . . . he’s . . . he’s different from the others somehow. He will be a special boy, my lord. I know it. And he will need us.”

He kissed her gently on the lips. “They are all special, Cat,” he assured her, not wanting to examine closely what might make this child different than his siblings. Not wanting to know what extra fears or dangers might await a child who dreamt of things he could not possibly know. “And we will be here for all of them.”

She made a contented sound and then sighed, speaking no more.

After a time, Ned realized she’d fallen asleep. He, however, lay awake, thinking on everything she’d told him, wondering how any of this changed anything. He wouldn’t ever send Jon to the Wall. That was for damn sure. He had half a mind to find Robb’s wooden sword and snap it in half, but he knew that was ridiculous. What else had Nan said about these dreams?

They do not set the future, but there is truth in them, my lord. If she can understand the truths they hold, the dreams may be gifts rather than curses, for all they are unpleasant. She’d said something else about them. Something about choices. Your lady is no fool. She’ll make the right choices if she understands.

Catelyn was not a fool, and she would endeavor to make the choices that best protected all of them. I could help her to understand those dreams if I told her. But would she thank him for the truth? Or would she be bitter about the lie she’d believed so long? Worse yet, would she blame him for her nightmares, believing as he did that his treasonous secret might be what caused her terrible visions to come to pass? He couldn’t answer any of those questions although he lay awake turning them over in his mind. It occurred to him that having Catelyn share all her dreams with him meant that his choices now were as important as her own in choosing a path that avoided the calamities she saw. How were they to do this together if he kept such an important piece of information from her? But how could he make her party to treason knowing a sword might already hang over his own head?

When morning dawned, the Lord of Winterfell had not slept at all. Nor had he come to any decisions. But as he watched the sunlight slowly creep across the bed, setting the auburn hair he loved so much alight with color, he knew some things beyond any doubt. He loved the woman beside him with his entire heart, and he loved his children, including Jon, as well. He would keep the promise he’d made to his wife and do whatever it took to keep those frightful visions at bay.

As Catelyn stirred beside him, yawning and stretching before opening sleepy eyes to and smiling at him, he realized he knew something else. Regardless of what he decided to do about Lyanna’s secret, whatever decisions he and Catelyn made regarding the children, Winterfell, or almost anything would now be influenced by what she (or their unborn children, if Old Nan was to be believed completely) had dreamt. And that would change their fate. He prayed to the gods it would change it for the better.