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Family, Duty, Honor

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276 AL

 

Catelyn Tully wholeheartedly loved the Riverlands. The torrents that roared day and night and were a cooling for her, Lysa and Petyr on hot summer days. She loved how the birds in the green trees sang their songs, and how sometimes a small breeze blew through her auburn hair.

She loved Riverrun. For almost a year she was even the lady of her house, since her mother had died. And yet Catelyn knew that it would not remain forever. That it might not to stay forever. Because she had her duties as a daughter of a high lord, and one of them was marrying a man of equal birth.

Early on, she had begun to imagine how her life might be.

She imagined a brave knight, who was a lord over large tracts of land. A man, tall and strong, but tender and loving, like her father.

She imagined how her children played in the shadow of their castle, laughing. Girls with the same thick, red hair like hers. And boys, just as brave and honorable as their father.

But each time she imagined her desired home, she saw Riverrun in her mind.

Now, however, her dreams had become reality.

Only a few days ago was it when her lord father had ordered Catelyn to see him, so he could speak with her about her future.

"I have news for you, little cat," he had said and told her about her betrothal to Brandon Stark of Winterfell.

"He is a good man, tall and strong and noble. One day he will be Lord of Winterfell and you his Lady, assuming you want to, of course," Lord Hoster had added. "And? You agree?"

Catelyn had accepted without hesitation. Although she had thought it would be some years later, but her father certainly had his reasons to already promise her to someone.

She did not knew Brandon, but what was said about him was only favorable, and he seemed to her like the man – the Lord – of her dreams. I will be happy, she thought. I will make him happy.

The only thing that worried her was Winterfell. Not that she did not like this place. She had never been there. No, the problem was that it was located in the north, high up in the coldness. Catelyn could not imagine it nearly as nice as Riverrun. Also, she was not sure if she could ever be a Lady of the North.

But she knew she had no choice and it was her duty to try at least.

Petyr was the first Catelyn had told of this news.

They had lain on the riverbank, he leaned against a tree and she with her head on his lap.

Catelyn had joyfully told about Brandon and Winterfell and how she pictured their future, but Petyr had not been very impressed.

"But you don't know him, Cat," he had said, sounding disappointed, as if he had never expected that Catelyn would decide that way.

"But soon," she had replied. "Father says he will be able to visit us in the near future. There are years passing before will be married and father would like us to know each other by then."

She had smiled, but Petyr had seemed unconvinced.

"He's much older than you," he had said.

"Only three years. And Father was several years older than mother and yet they were happy."

Then Petyr had said nothing and Catelyn had been grateful to him. He knew how hard it was for her to talk about her mother.

It was not even a whole year ago since Lady Minisa had died, and the wound was still fresh.

Catelyn could exactly remember everything. Her mother had been pregnant, again. Actually Catelyn thought Edmure would be the last. After all, her mother had not been that young anymore and Edmure had already been quite a surprise for all of them. Until then, Catelyn had believed she would be the heir of Riverrun, but with Edmure it had changed.

And then her mother became pregnant again, with her sixth child. Everyone had been convinced it would go well. With so many children, although the eldest were no longer alive.

But after the birth she had been weak and as Catelyn visited her, she could not hold back any tears. She had been so lifeless, like Catelyn had never been her mother before.

Two days later, when her mother still had fought, Catelyn had gone to her father and had asked whether everything would be fine again. And Lord Hoster – full of hope and sadness at the same time – had answered that everything seemed well and her mother would soon be with them again. But only hours later, all hope was gone.

Of course Edmure could not remember it, and although he had asked for his mother in the first weeks after her death, it had stopped eventually. Edmure was too young to understand such things. Therefore Catelyn would not even talk to him about her betrothal.

So she had gone to Lysa next. Unlike Petyr she had been completely over the moon, as if she would be the lucky one.

All night they had talked about it until they could voice no more sound due to tiredness. And, like many times before, Catelyn had then stayed in her little sister's room.

Chapter Text

278 AL

 

Catelyn stood excited in the courtyard of Riverrun.

She wore a long, dark blue dress with small, red fish inwrought in her sleeves. Her auburn hair was only slightly pinned up, so the majority of her waves fell over her narrow back, and she knew that her blue eyes shone. Even if one was not aware of who she was, everyone would realize that she had to be from Riverrun.

Catelyn had a slight smile on her lips, and it got wider as the first horses rode across the courtyard.

He was among the first, his dark hair blowing wildly around his face and a charming smile on his lips, which were surrounded by a light beard.

Brandon Stark had announced his visit for the day and another two weeks to get to know his betrothed, after they had been promised to each other for two years.

Brandon was seventeen now, a man indeed, but he almost looked like a boy when Catelyn caught sight of the man beside him. He had the same gray eyes as Brandon and the hair was as dark as the one of a Stark. Catelyn was certain that this had to be Lord Rickard Stark, Brandon's father and Lord of Winterfell. Catelyn had never seen him before and his appearance made her almost speechless. He reminded her of her own father. A real Lord who radiated power and respect, simply by standing and watching.

Father, son, and a dozen other Stark men dismounted. Lord Rickard went to her father, who bowed slightly.

"Good to see you, Lord Rickard. I hope you had a pleasant journey,” Lord Hoster said politely.

"We could not have wished upon better weather," Lord Rickard replied with a cool voice that made Catelyn shudder. "Every day, the sun had been shining for us, I'll take that as a good sign. I'm glad that we are welcome under your roof, Lord Hoster, and that you have accepted the invitation of my son."

As if by command, Brandon took a step forward.

"My son, Brandon Stark," Lord Rickard introduced him.

When Catelyn's father shook hands with him, she felt as if he would try to discern everything about Brandon with his glance.

When he released Brandons hand, Lord Hoster pointed to his right side where little Edmure stood, trying not to be intimidated by the visitors.

"This is Edmure Tully, my son and heir."

The Lord of Winterfell shook Edmure's hand in the same way as he had done with his father. Edmure tried to hide it, but he seemed deeply frightened by this strange man. Catelyn knew that she would later have to talk about it with her brother and assure him that no one would harm him.

Now Lord Hoster pointed to his other side.

"And my daughters," he proclaimed. "Lady Catelyn and Lady Lysa."

Catelyn always found it amusing when her father called her Lady, as she was usually just his little Cat, but this time she did not laugh, but only bowed, as he named them.

At the sound of her name, Brandon stepped forward, took her hand in his and kissed it lightly.

"My lady," he said quietly, looking into her eyes. Catelyn was trying to keep her smile under control, but was not sure if it actually succeeded.

"My lord," she replied.

When Brandon turned to Lysa, Lord Rickard went to her.

"Lady Catelyn," he said, and also kissed her hand, but it did not feel the same as when Brandon had done it. She wondered if it was allowed to her to spend some time alone with her betrothed. Really alone, without the eyes of her septa, no matter how far away they might be.

*

After the welcoming, Lord Hoster announced that there would be a feast to honor their guests tonight, which were no news for Catelyn. She already had a suitably gown, blue as well, but lighter. Though she was not sure yet what to do with her hair.

"Should I wear it that way?" Catelyn asked her sister as she stood before the mirror, viewing herself.

"Doesn't matter," Lysa said. "You look beautiful anyway, Cat."

The sadness in her sister's voice made Catelyn turn around

"What's wrong with you?" Catelyn asked Lysa who lay on the big bed and apparently did not care what happened to her hair which Catelyn had done just a few minutes ago.

"Nothing," Lysa replied, but before Catelyn could respond, she continued, "I mean, I'm happy for you. Brandon looks great and he'll be a great husband. But when am I going to be betrothed to someone?”

"Lysa, you're twelve. Surely father will soon find someone for you. He'll know when the time is right. Just show him that you're already a grown lady, than he'll also see you as one."

Catelyn smiled encouragingly at her sister, and after a while she returned that smile.

"I think you should let your hair stay down like that," Lysa said after some time. "I heard that in the north they like it that way. And besides, it makes you look even more beautiful."

This time Catelyn heard no bitterness but a seriously meant compliment in her sister's tone.

*

When it was time for the feast, Catelyn started to feel excited, which was pretty rare. She would have the opportunity to really talk to Brandon for the first time, and hopefully to dance with him as well. At this thought, an incredible feeling of happiness flowed through Catelyn's entire body.

She could think of no better husband, and she knew he was the right person for her. He had everything a man needed to make a woman happy.

When Catelyn entered the hall, she immediately noticed Brandon. He sat at the end of the long table, next to his father. He appeared to have a conversation with one of his companions, who suddenly pointed at Catelyn, and Brandon turned around, looking at her. He smiled and she felt how the blood shot in her head. She quickly looked away, although she did not want to. Why was she unable to control herself? Usually it was not that difficult.

Her father sat besides Lord Rickard, next to little Edmure, and Cat's place would be at the right side of her brother. Too far away from Brandon to start a conversation, but she did not have to stay there.

Catelyn ate very little as she focused too much on what she might say to Brandon. What did one talk about with her betrothed? Or almost betrothed, because Catelyn knew that until now it were only words between their fathers. However, this would change tonight.

What if he doesn't want me?, Catelyn suddenly asked herself. She did not consider this before, but it was not impossible. And instantly she felt sadness rising inside of her.

Brandon had now seen her and heard her speak. That might be enough to dissuade him from the betrothal, though Catelyn did not think that she had behaved badly or that she was an unpleasant person in general. But you could not be liked by everyone.

Now Catelyn had even less appetite and stopped eating for good. She did not like the thought of Brandon watching her eating anyway.

Some time passed until Lord Hoster leaned over to his daughter.

"And Cat, how do you like Brandon?", he asked her. "Do you still want to marry him?"

Catelyn nodded with a smile that was full of tension. When she saw the relief on the face of her father, she suddenly realized that she had given him the only answer he had expected of her. It was not that Catelyn did not knew that she had no choice in this part of her life. And even if it was not Brandon Stark, she knew that she would and must agree. Nevertheless, Lord Hoster had always made her feel like she had a choice.

They were betrothed since two years, without ever meeting before. It was an agreement between their fathers, between their houses.

And now she was sure again that Brandon would give the same answer as she did, because this marriage would be quite advantageous for him, and even if he did not like Catelyn at first sight or did not see any direct benefit, Lord Rickard obviously did. Her father had once told Catelyn that the Starks were extremely honorable and did their duty. And Brandon would probably not be an exception.

And so it was that a few minutes later, Lord Hoster asked for silence.

"I want to joyfully announce the betrothal between my daughter, Lady Catelyn, and Brandon Stark, the heir of Winterfell."

This was followed by cheering and yelling and clapping throughout the hall. With the words heir of Winterfell Catelyn felt some kind of pride blooming inside of her. She would thus be the Lady of Winterfell, the Lady of the North. Even though just a few years ago she had believed that she would remain in Riverrun forever and inherit its castle and lands.

Suddenly Brandon stood in front of her. She looked up at him and his extended hand with wide eyes.

"Do you want to dance, my lady?" he asked with a smile.

"With pleasure, my lord," Catelyn told him and took his hand.

Together they went into the middle of the hall, where it was already considerably full.

When they began to move to the rhythm of music, Catelyn realized that next to everything Brandon already was, he also turned out to be a gifted dancer. To be honest, Catelyn could not remember if she had ever had a better partner. But that was possibly because her partner was mostly Petyr. Or Littlefinger as Edmure had started to call him recently. She wondered where he was. She had not seen him all night. Catelyn was aware that Petyr, for some reason, was not pleased by her betrothal. She understood why Edmure did not like it, because he was still young and wanted her to stay here. But Petyr was already eleven now and described himself as a man.

"You're an excellent dancer, my lady," Brandon said, and Catelyn realized were she actually was.

"I can only return this compliment, my lord," she replied with a smile.

"I doubt that I'm better than you," he said. "Someone who is that deep in thought, and still knows where to step, truly must be talented."

Catelyn knew that she blushed and she cursed herself for it, but replied, "It is difficult to preserve a clear mind in your presence, my lord."

At that, Brandon laughed.

"But perhaps it is also the stuffy air and the loud music," Catelyn added as she was not sure how to interpret his laughter.

"I prefer your first explanation," he said with a smile that Catelyn could only return.

Catelyn did not know how long they danced. It seemed like hours, but at the same time it was way too short.

As Brandon then said he had danced enough for today, he added: "You can show me the castle tomorrow, if you want. The air will be clearer and we certainly won't hear any unpleasant music."

"It would be an honor, my lord," Catelyn said, hoping again that her grin was not too wide.

When she sat down at the table – away from her father and Lord Rickard, who seemed lost in a deep conversation and already had one or two cups of wine – Catelyn suddenly noticed Petyr who came towards her.

"Where were you all night?" she asked, still with a smile on her face and a more cheerful voice than she had intended.

"Didn't feel like celebrating," he muttered. "I've been around for a while," he added, "but you were dancing with Brandon Stark." He spoke the name as if it were something very unpleasant to say.

"We are, after all, betrothed," Catelyn said and drank some of the wine in her glass. Her father did not set any limits for her in terms of wine, because he knew he could trust her. Catelyn still could not remember when she had ever drunk that much. Her entire body felt heated.

"Let's go outside, Petyr, if you wish. I need some fresh air."

When Catelyn stepped onto the balcony, on which one could see far beyond the Red Fork, a gentle breeze blew through her hair. It felt good not to be among all these people anymore and to enjoy the view of the Riverlands.

For a while, neither she nor Petyr said anything until he suddenly asked: "Do you really want to marry him?"

"Of course," Catelyn said, half lost in thought. "I have to and I want to. He's good looking, kind and polite, can dance very well and is going to be Lord of Winterfell." Realizing Petyrs skeptical face, she added, "Besides, I like him."

"How do you know that?" Petyr said then. "You hardly know him."

"Good enough," Catelyn replied and folded her arms in front of her chest as she looked down at Petyr.

"Because you talked with him one evening?" Petyr snapped.

"First impressions count as well,” Catelyn insisted. "And it will take a while until we get married. Until then he will visit me more often, or maybe I'll even visit him. And we can write letters."

Then Petyr paused until he said, "He doesn't deserve you."

Catelyn was puzzled and angry at the same time.

"Why are you saying something like that?"

"Because it's true."

Catelyn said nothing but turned around and went back into the hall.

On her way through the room she almost collided with Lysa.

"Oh, there you are Cat," she called. "I've been looking for you. It's time for Edmure to go to bed."

Catelyn sighed. "Could you get him to bed tonight, Lysa? I'm a little tired."

The idea of taking little Edmure to bed like mother seemed to please Lysa, and she immediately turned around.

"But don't forget to sing him his song," Catelyn shouted, somewhat uncomfortable. Catelyn knew her little brother. He was quite stubborn and if something was not like it should be, he could easily turn angry. And sad.

Catelyn almost regretted her decision, but then her head started to swim and she looked for a place at the table where she could settle down.

"A bit too much wine and sweet looks from Brandon?" said a voice near her and she looked up to see her uncle Ser Brynden Tully. He smiled at her.

"A bit," Catelyn murmured.

"Go to bed," said her uncle, which was still quite sober for his standards.

"But it's not really late yet, and most people are still here. Even Edmure has just been sent to bed," Catelyn said, almost upset. She could not leave the feast while everyone was still celebrating. She was still the Lady of Riverrun and therefore responsible for everyone in this hall.

Uncle Brynden just shook his head.

"I'm staying here, and your father as well. You're still young, Cat, and no one can expect from you to stay awake until the last, drunken Stark passes out."

Actually Catelyn wanted to say something, but then just nodded. She was really tired and her uncle was probably right.

So she made her way to her chambers, and before she fell asleep, her thoughts were with Brandon and with Petyr's words.

Chapter Text

Catelyn could not remember the last time she had woken up that early to get dressed. She wanted to leave a good impression on Brandon, and of course on his father, Lord Rickard. Therefore, she would not leave anything to chance, which is why she immediately summoned her favorite maid, Alyssa, after she had been more or less awake.

Alyssa did her work no better than the others, but she was a by far more pleasant dialog partner, almost like a second sister, and Catelyn loved spending time with her.

Alyssa helped Catelyn with her hair, which Catelyn would rather let down again, since Brandon had apparently fallen for it. Only two strands – the left and right side of her temple – were braided and tied together, so that she wore a crown of hair. The strands were tied together with a silver clip in the form of a Tully trout.

Alyssa advised her to a dress in a dark olive hue, which covered her whole body, up to the sleeves. Not that it was particularly cold, but Catelyn's septa had told her that in the presence of men it would be more appropriate to dress accordingly covered. However, in Riverrun she knew most men since she was born and except Petyr almost no one was her age, so Catelyn loved to wear airy dressed, especially on warm days. But her septa would have a particularly keen eye on Brandon, Alyssa had assured her.

Catelyn liked to dress beautifully, but just as much to not care about her appearance at all. And until this day she had only taken care of her look for herself and due to her role as Lady of Riverrun. For the first time, however, she did so in order to please others, and soon she realized that this made an impact.

When she went into the hall and discovered Brandon at the long table, she could almost not hold her laugh when he looked at her. His eyes seemed to widen and the smile faded from his face for a brief moment, until he had recovered. He smiled at her charmingly and nodded towards her.

Catelyn would have loved to sit down beside him, but he was in a conversation with both, Lord Rickard and her father, and Catelyn knew it would be discourteous to interrupt them. Certainly they were speaking about politics, something girls and woman should not be interested in, at least according to her septa. Though Catelyn had some interest in it, and neither her uncle Brynden nor her father appeared to believe that this was a bad thing. Her uncle had even once said that he appreciated this trait in women, though Catelyn had never seen him with a woman. He had never married, much to the chagrin of her father. Lord Hoster wanted Ser Brynden to marry, but the younger brother did not obey. He was then called Blackfish, the black sheep of the family Tully, and Catelyn's father never actually spoke to him, although he lived with them. Yet Catelyn loved her uncle more than anything. She loved his nature, his stories of battles in which he had fought, even if she was less interested in the actual battles, and that he always had a sympathetic ear for her concerns and problems.

Catelyn looked around the hall. Edmure was not there yet. Perhaps he was still asleep, or he was with Brynden or Lysa, as both were not here either. Only Petyr was sitting all alone at the edge of the table, and Catelyn went to him.

“Good morning,” she said cheerfully as she sat down besides him. She simply wanted to forget their conversation yesterday, hoping that Petyr did as well.

“Morning,” he mumbled. Catelyn wanted to admonish him to speak more clearly, but she decided to let it be. She did not want argue with him again, and she knew that her reproofs annoyed him. Often she tried to be like a mother to Edmure, as he would never have one, and mostly she used this motherly behavior when talking to Petyr and Lysa as well. While Edmure saw this as self-evident – for he had never known anything else – the other two could get rather annoyed by it, although Lysa never replied but only rolled her eyes.

Petyr, however, seemed to have noticed that his greeting had been quite rude, so he added: “I'm sorry, Cat. I was up until very late yesterday and …” He broke off the sentence and looked down.

“And what?” Catelyn asked curiously.

“Well, I … I was drinking a bit too much,” Petyr confessed. He knew Catelyn thought poorly of drinking, and that she liked to admonish him about it when she noticed that he had drunken too much.

Actually, Catelyn wanted to start admonishing him, but held back again. It seemed like Petyr was indeed not very well, and Catelyn knew how horrible the men felt after a long night. She had had a mild headache herself this morning.

“That's alright,” she said instead. “I had a drink too much last night as well. Perhaps this is necessary sometimes.” She had said that last part more to herself, but Petyr had heard it anyway, looking at her with large eyes. That made Catelyn laugh. “That doesn't mean that you shall get drunk every night.”

“All men are drinking,” Petyr said. “It doesn't even taste good.”

“It's not supposed to taste good. At least uncle Brynden told me so once. But I don't know what he meant with that, to be honest,” Catelyn admitted.

“I can definitely live without it for a while, whether it tastes good or not,” Petyr said. “But you owe me a dance for the next time, right?”

First, Catelyn was a little confused by the sudden change of topics, and then she wanted to respond that the next feast meant Brandon's farewell and she would dance with her betrothed that night, but the third time that day she kept her mouth shut. Her father had once told her that one should choose his words wisely and that it was sometimes better to leave thoughts unsaid.

“Sure,” Catelyn said and hoped for a free moment to dance with Petyr.

 

When Catelyn had finished her meal, she got up to look for Brandon. For a brief moment she wondered whether it would perhaps seem intrusive, if she addressed the promised walk around Riverrun, but before she could waste another thought, Brandon appeared next to her.

“My lady, you surely remember that you wanted to show me Riverrun, right?” he asked with a smile. Catelyn wondered if that smile ever left his face, but secretly hoped that it did not. She loved it and in some ways it made her happy.

“Of course, my lord,” she replied, trying to control her expression. She did not want to smile too much, but neither leave a cold impression.

Brandon held out his strong arm and she took it gratefully.

First, Catelyn showed Brandon the castle. She learned that Winterfell was even larger, but Brandon thought the rooms here more beautiful designed and furnished, and also the view to be better. Catelyn did not know if he just said it due to courtesy, or actually meant it. With such an honest smile it was hard to doubt a word.

They talked a lot and although Catelyn led him, he put one comment after the other about Winterfell into their conversation. That was certainly understandable; after all, Catelyn would live in Winterfell and not the other way. While Brandon liked telling her about how Winterfell had been built, what kind of people lived there and what it looked like, so did Catelyn loved to tell him all the stories that were hidden in Riverrun. Whether actually happened or for entertainment purposes only, from tales of its building to ghost stories. But most of all Bradon seemed to like when Catelyn told about how the Tullys obtained their seat. She told how Harren the Black had once ruled over the Riverlands until he and all his relatives had been burned alive in Harrenhal. Then one of Catelyn's ancestors, Edmyn Tully, who had fought at Aegon side, had taken control over the Riverlands and the Trident. Brandon listened to her with interest, although she was sure that he already knew all of this. After all, she knew quite a bit about Winterfell and the Starks as well, and he was a few years older than her.

“Thus Riverrun does not rightfully belong to your family?” Brandon asked, when they both arrived at the balcony where Catelyn had talked with Petyr last night.

Catelyn could see something flaring up in Brandon's eyes, something that almost looked like a challenge. This, she accepted willingly.

“Only if you doubt the current reign of the Seven Kingdoms,” Catelyn said firmly.

“What do you mean, my lady?” Brandon asked curiously, still with a smile, and obviously interested in what she might say.

“Well, from the perspective of our king, Harren the Black was a traitor. He denied the crown that Aegon the Conqueror had given himself.”

“A traitor? But he has lived here first,” Brandon said, still looking pretty interested.

“From Aegon's perspective, he was”, Catelyn said with a calm voice, though she felt some uncertainty rising inside of her. This was not something you should talk about with your betrothed. Or maybe it was? Catelyn never lacked courtesy and manners, but this did not mean that she did not find some manners superfluous or even disturbing. “Aegon made himself King of Westeros and thus anyone who denied him was a traitor to the crown,” she continued. “And Edmyn Tully was therefore the rightful Lord of Riverrun. It depends on the perspective. And since the dynasty continues until now, and we all acknowledge Aerys Tagaryen as our king, the Tullys are the rightful heirs.”

She looked at him expectantly, but Brandon just smiled and shook his head.

“Is something amiss, my lord?” she asked him. Maybe I should better keep my mouth shut.

“There are far too few who think like you, my lady,” he told her. “Most are convinced that they are in the right, but you say that it depends on the perspective from which you look at it. I find that admirable,” he added, and Catelyn looked away quickly, so he did not see her blush by his words.

“You don't need to hide. I think you're beautiful when your cheeks turn red,” he said, and she looked back up to him, even though she knew that even more blood rushed into her head. Catelyn would no longer look away, because she had the feeling that with strength and intelligence she could impress him far more than with any manners.

“You know,” Brandon said after a moment of silence, “I didn't know what to expect, here in Riverrun. But one thing I can say for sure: I'm not disappointed.”

Again he looked at her, deep into her eyes, and Catelyn started to feel like he was doing this on purpose, just to see her blush again. Her suspicions seemed to be confirmed when he chuckled.

“I'm also not disappointed, my lord,” she replied.

Catelyn tried to withstand his gaze. While he looked at her, the smile faded from Brandon's face. Everything seemed too soften, and he slowly leaned forward, so Catelyn was sure he would kiss her. But at the last moment he pulled back, and only looked at her again.

Catelyn did not know if he did not want to kiss her because of her septa, who sat in the hall, only a few feet away, and always glanced over to them, or whether something else kept him from it. She only knew that she could not suppress a certain feeling of disappointment.

“Are you going show me the rest, my lady, or do we want to linger here until my departure?”

Brandon asked. He had put on his smile again, but in his eyes was the same sparkle Catelyn had seen this morning in the hall.

Again he offered her his arm and she took it with a laugh.

 

*

 

“And?” Lysa asked. It was evening and they both sat together in her chambers.

“He tried to kiss me,” Catelyn admitted to her sister.

Lysa screamed with joy and excitement.

“Really?” she cried. “Gods, you're so lucky. Brandon is perfect!”

“Shh,” Catelyn cautioned her sister. “You don't need to wake up everyone in Riverrun.”

Secretly, Catelyn could only agree with Lysa. Brandon was perfect, and she would marry him in the not too distant future, live by his side as the Lady of Winterfell and give birth to his children.

“I just hope that father will find someone like Brandon for me,” Lysa sighed. “But I can't think of anyone.”

“As far as I know, Brandon has two younger brothers. Eddard and Benjen”, Catelyn said.

“Benjen is still a boy,” Lysa said devaluating. “And Eddard is the younger brother. He inherits nothing more than small estates, like where Petyr comes from.”

“What about Jaime Lannister? He's exactly your age. And heir of Casterly Rock.”

“Jaime Lannister.” Lysa let his name melt on her tongue. “Yes, he's not bad. At least what you hear about him. And he's apparently rather handsome. But he has this sister,” she added. “Cersei Lannister won't let anyone or anything get near her brother, at least that's what people say. It's more likely I'll get the younger one, the imp.”

“You mean Tyrion,” Catelyn corrected her. “And father isn't that cruel.”

“But Lord Tywin is” Lysa muttered.

“Stop looking at it with such a pessimistic view. That way you'll never find someone to make you happy,” Catelyn told her.

“There is someone,” Lysa said, but more to herself than to Catelyn.

“And who?” Catelyn asked curiously. She would love to see her sister happy. Catelyn had been lucky with Brandon, but would Lysa be just as fortunate? She could only hope.

“Oh, no one,” Lysa replied, almost sounding sad. “I'm pretty tired. I'll see you tomorrow morning.”

And with that she left Catelyn's chambers.

Chapter Text

Catelyn received the first letter two month after Brandon had left Riverrun. He had promised two writer her as soon as he could spare time, and he had kept his promise.

When maester Kym had handed the letter over to her, it had been hard for her to tone down her excitement. Afterward, she had gone to her chambers at once – running, as soon as she had been sure that no one was watching her – to read it before anyone could keep her back. She did not even want Lysa to be with her. The words in this letter should only belong to her and Brandon, and no one else.

Catelyn opened it with her hands, which trembled with excitement, and read:

 

My lady,

It had been a long journey to Winterfell, and it seemed even longer than the one I've ridden to visit you, because this time I didn't have a goal in mind.

I cannot wait to see you again. Those days at Riverrun had been a pleasant vacation of my every day life, and I have enjoyed each of them with you. Here, however, I have to fulfill my duties again, but this doesn't stop me from thinking about you from the first ray of the day to the setting of the sun.

Would you like it, if our next meeting takes place at Winterfell? You might also take along your little brother and your sister Lysa, if you want to. They'll definitely love it here, and I've got siblings myself they can play with.

I don't know when we're going to see each other again, but I do hope that this day will arrive soon.

Just as joyful I'm going to await you letter, and all the others that will hopefully arrive.

With love,

Brandon

 

After Catelyn had read through the letter for the first time, five more times followed, and every time she felt surprised and happy and touched by his words.

She knew that he was the right one for her. He had to be the right one, for she had never read words as sweet as his, or met a person as gentle as Brandon. She was only fourteen but she would love to marry him immediately. There had been marriages at younger ages.

Catelyn knew that life was not a song, and yet she could not help but believe that her marriage with Brandon would be as close to a song as possible.

While she continued sitting one her huge bed, dreaming, the letter pressed against her chest, as if she would never let it go again, she realized that she had to answer Brandon.

But what should she write? Catelyn had been properly raised, she was able to write letters full of courtesy, but Brandon's letter looked like more. It was full of affection. She doubted that she could create something similar to this letter, but knew that she had to try nonetheless.

Reluctantly, she laid the letter on her table and left the room. She needed a distraction, to think about what to write. Certainly, Brandon had done the same, weighing every word. Although, she could very well imagine that he had a gift for this.

She left her room, leaving the letter behind.

Catelyn thoughts were only with Brandon; his wonderful smile and his loving nature, the letter, which filled her heart, and his enchanting voice which still echoed in her head.

As she went down the spiral staircase that led to her and Lysa's chambers, she was only brought back to the present when she suddenly collided with someone and wavered dangerously, but she did not fall, and therefore escaped a painful landing on the stony steps.

"Oh Cat, I'm sorry," said a voice which she recognized as Petyr's. Catelyn wondered what he could probably want here, as his room was on the other side. Certainly, he wanted to see whether Lysa was here. Lately, the two of them seemed to spent a lot of time together, at least according to Lysa's words.

"It's all right," Catelyn assured him with a smile. Today, nothing and no one could spoil her good mood, this she was sure of.

"What's wrong with you?" Petyr asked completely puzzled and Catelyn noticed that her smile was probably misplaced. She tried to get her expression under control, but there was nevertheless still a faint smile on her lips.

"I've received a letter from Brandon," she told him, knowing that Petyr did not need to ask anymore questions.

However, his face showed no joy, but darkened at the sound of Brandon's name. He snorted, and Catelyn suddenly changed their mind about her sustained good mood. There was something that could ruin her day.

"What is your problem?" she asked irritably, not waiting for an answer, rushing past him and leaving him standing alone on the steps.

Catelyn did not understand Petyr. He was her best friend, like a brother, but he did not seem to share her joy. Especially in terms of Brandon, the best that had ever happened to her, Petyr responded derogatory and never showed any interest. Even if he did not like Brandon – although Catelyn would never understand why – he could at least act as if he did. If he loved her as much as she loved him, he would do so.

At once, Catelyn tried to banish the thoughts of Petyr from her mind, but she did not succeed. She could not pretend that Petyr's thoughts meant nothing to her, because he was an important part of her life.

Now, she did not feel angry anymore, but rather sad. Eventually, she would ride northward, with Brandon as her husband, and Petyr would not follow. Then, letters would be the only way to keep in contact, but if Petyr did not like her decision … instantly, her eyes welled up with tears, but Catelyn wiped them away before they could fall. She did not want to cry, not about something as silly as this.

Catelyn decided to go looking for Lysa. Certainly, she was outsides, as always. She and Catelyn loved nature and preferred to enjoy their days outside rather than inside the castle.

But as she went through a corridor – that was decorated with tapestries of House Tully – she, again, met someone. This time, however, she liked the sight of this person far more, as it was her uncle Brynden.

He seemed to notice that Catelyn was somehow upset, but before he could say anything, she said: "If you, too, want to tell me that Brandon isn't right for me, than I'd prefer you to not say anything." She knew her words sounded sharp, and she almost apologized, but decided not to. After all, she had her reasons to be mad.

"Says who?" her uncle asked, but something in his eyes told her that he already knew the answer.

"Petyr," she replied. "I don't understand what's wrong with him. Brandon is flawless and the best betrothed I could have hoped for, but he doesn't realize that. I don't know what to do."

"I doubt you can do anything," Ser Brynden said. "Unless you call off your betrothal with Brandon, and run off with Petyr. The problem isn't who you marry, but that you're doing it."

First, Catelyn was confused by he uncle's words, but slowly she realized what he meant. "You mean he's …" she started, but was not able to continue this absurd thought, so she said: "This is ridiculous. We're like siblings."

"Better don't tell him that," Ser Brynden said with a grin. Catelyn still looked at him in disbelief. "You know, sometimes this happens." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Petyr's still young. Don't worry, he'll find another girl soon enough."

Hopefully, Catelyn thought. She still could not believe that her uncle was right with what he had been indicating. Perhaps, even he was wrong once.

However, Catelyn did not want to dwell on it, and so she asked: "Do you know where Lysa is? I got a letter from Brandon, and you know she's always so curious."

Her uncle laughed. "Which, of course, you don't like at all," he said, adding, "You'll find her in the godswood."

Immediately, Catelyn went to the godswood, but when she arrived there, her sister was nowhere to be found.

"Damn," she muttered a little bit too loud, so she slightly looked around, to make sure that no one had heard her.

Catelyn looked at everyone of her and Lysa's hiding places, but she was not there. Just when Catelyn needed someone she could tell about everything – truly everything – Lysa had vanished. She was her sister, her closest confidante. Moreover, Catelyn thought of them to be very similar, even though her uncle said the exact opposite. But at least Lysa was the only one that actually showed interest in her betrothal with Brandon, and rejoiced with her. She could not count on Petyr, Edmure was too young, she was not always sure if she should tell her uncle everything, and while talking about many matters with her father, she would most certainly not talk with him about how wonderful Brandon was. She did not exactly know why, but somehow it felt weird sharing her feelings for Brandon with her father. They only talked about him when Catelyn thanked her father for this great match, again and again.

After Catelyn was certain that Lysa was nowhere in the godswood, and the maids told her that they had not seen her either, Catelyn went back to her room. She still had to reply to Brandon. She also wanted to cheer herself up with this letter. It had made her smile once, it would definitely do so a second time.

When she opened her door, she immediately noticed that someone was inside the room.

"Lysa," she said with an uptight voice. "I've been looking for you everywhere. What are you doing here?"

Lysa raised an eyebrow. "We always share everything. Usually, I'm welcome here." There was some sadness in her tone. That immediately worried Catelyn.

"Is something amiss?"

Lysa just looked at her. Suddenly, Catelyn realized a piece of paper Lysa was holding in her hand. Brandon's letter.

"Did you read it?", Catelyn asked her sister, pointing at the letter. She was not sure whether to be angry at her sister for reading the letter without permission, or to share the joy with her. She tried the second option.

"And, what do you think?" she asked with a half forced smile after Lysa had nodded.

"Fine" were her only words. Immediately, the false smile on Catelyn's face disappeared as she recognized the tears in her sister's eyes.

"What's wrong?" Catelyn asked her again. Lysa sat down on the bed, and then began to cry, the letter laid aside and her face buried within her hands. Catelyn went up to her and comfortingly put her arms around the quivering body of her sister.

"It's just," Lysa sobbed after she had calmed down a bit, "Brandon is great. You're so lucky. But what will become of me? Yes, I know, I'm still young," Lysa added when Catelyn wanted to say something. "But I'm twelve. Just as old as you were back then when you got betrothed to Brandon. But I don't get anyone. Nobody wants me!"

She started crying again and Catelyn waited a few minutes until she had regained control, and then said quietly: "We were betrothed shortly after mother died. Father had to make a quick decision, a good decision, because I was now the Lady of Riverrun, and Edmure had just passed infancy, making him the heir of Riverrun. It was important who I was going to marry." She paused, then continued. "In addition, Brandon's older. Even back then he was already fifteen, ready for a betrothal. And as the heir of Winterfell certainly very popular. Father therefore had to act quickly. But you've got boys your age, Lysa. Jaime Lannister, for example. He would be perfect for you. And certainly there are not very many contenders Lord Tywin believes to be suitable. Father knows what he's doing."

Catelyn encouragingly nodded at her sister, but she did not even look up.

"I wish I were you," Lysa suddenly said. "You get everything you want. You're beautiful, already a lady – and not just according to your title. You have a great betrothered, a bright future lies ahead of you. Father loves you more than me and Edmure, do not deny that! And uncle Brynden well, I think, even though he doesn't show it like father. Everyone loves you. You are beloved. And smart and kind. You have everything. And yet you're mean to Petyr, who just want to be nice to you!"

She had started quietly, but become louder towards the end, so that she almost screamed.

Catelyn tried to understand Lysa's earlier words, but it were the latter that confused her.

"Petyr? It's about Petyr?"

Suddenly, Lysa blushed as if she regretted her last words. For a moment she said nothing, but then she looked directly at Catelyn: "It's not about Petyr. At least not solely. It's everything. It doesn't matter if it's your fault or not, that doesn't change how I feel about it. But it's always about you anyway.”

And with that, she swept out of the room, leaving behind a puzzled Catelyn with a mixture of confusion and sadness.

Her sister's words hurt her; on the one hand, because they were unfair to Catelyn, and on the other because Catelyn could not deny the truth of them.

Catelyn wanted to go to her sister and comfort and encourage her. However, with the knowledge that she was the reason for Lysa's tears, Catelyn could do nothing more than to sit in her room, helplessly, and hope that someone else was there to alleviate Lysa's suffering.

Chapter Text

280 AL

Catelyn was restless with excitement and joy. Her father had told her that Brandon was on the way to visit her again, even though Lord Hoster's words had been, “Brandon is on the way to pay Riverrun a visit.”

First, it had slightly confused Catelyn, because she had been sure that Brandon would write her before his next visit. And as she then had not heard of him for a while, she had worried that she had chosen the wrong words in her letter. But now she knew that he had not been able to write, because he was already on his way.

She wondered how he might look. It had been two years since his last visit and even though he had told her a lot in his letters, it was something completely different to actually see him. She hoped that he did not change but she knew that this was impossible. People always changed, especially in their younger years. At least her uncle had said that to her after she had more or less told her about her thoughts. Somehow he managed to read more off of Catelyn's face than she wanted him to know.

Catelyn herself knew that she had changed. She had got remarkable curves which she had realized herself, but for a long time she had not realized the stares of others. Petyr always looked at her as if he had not seen her in years, and Lysa's gazes were as hostile as longing. Catelyn wanted to talk about this with her younger sister but Lysa always avoided such a conversation.

Ser Brynden had also told her that she was a woman now, and not only physically.

Catelyn could only agree. She would never say it out loud but she did feel grown up. Since her mother had died, she had tried to be the Lady of Riverrun as well as a mother to Edmure. Her father had not married again and while that astonished many people, Catelyn was simply happy about it. She did not want a new mother and definitely not a new lady. She knew she should not think that way, after all she would leave this place soon. But still, she could not help it. Catelyn could not imagine anyone else at her father's side.

However, he uncle had stilled her fears, like always, as he had told her that Lord Hoster did not feel like marrying again. Catelyn liked that thought that he father had loved her mother so much that there was no one else for him. But at the same time it made he sad, because he father would never see his wife again, no matter how much he loved her. Catelyn hoped she would never have to feel that way.

“I think they're here”, Lysa whispered next to Catelyn. And there were indeed a few riders coming through the gate, one of them was Brandon.

His beard had gotten thicker, so he looked more manly than he had done before. Otherwise, he looked the same, and the smile he gave her had not changed within these two years. She smiled back.

*

“You're so lucky, milady,” Alyssa told her in the evening as she prepared Catelyn's hair for the feast. “Brandon is an admirably good-looking man.”

Catelyn smiled.

“I can only agree on that, Alyssa,” she said.

Both were silent for a moment. Then Alyssa asked, “Aren't you worried that other women like him too?”

Alyssa had chosen her words carefully. She was almost two years older than Catelyn, so Catelyn liked listening to her advice, but less than half a year ago Alyssa had made a remark about Petyr which Catelyn had not accepted. Even though she was younger Catelyn was sure she had frightened Alyssa with her reaction back then, and since then Alyssa's words were full of caution.

However, Catelyn did not think this question to be out of place. She had thought about this herself a few times but did not want to waste too much time at these thoughts. It was not exceptional for a man to have more than one woman in his life, even after marriage. Catelyn did not like this thought – she wanted to have a husband who only wanted her, especially as this husband was Brandon – but this was reality and she had to live with it, one way or another. So she did not want to waste her thoughts on something she could not influence anyway. And she could very well imagine that a lot of women liked Brandon.

“I'm not worried, Alyssa,” Catelyn said in a soft voice. “Brandon meeting other women, even after our wedding, is not a nice thought, I admit that. But I can't change it anyway.”

Alyssa did not reply after that and continued with her work on Catelyn's hair.

*

“This place is even more beautiful than I remember,” Brandon said as he and Catelyn walked through the godswood of Riverrun, Catelyn's septa always a few steps behind them so that they barely noticed her. “In the North, the godswood is a rather dark place that is mainly meant for prayers and not a nice walk.”

“Here you pray in the sept,” Catelyn said simply. She had already thought about the strange religion of the north before but never as clearly as she did now. She wondered whether it would be a problem if she kept her own gods, even as the Lady of the North.

As if Brandon had read her mind, he said with a smile, “No one will expect of you to to renounce your known culture and religion. We don't have any septs but I can build you one if you want.”

Catelyn smiled and nodded. “That would be great … my lord,” she added. Even though she felt comfortable around Brandon she should not forget her courtesy.

However, Brandon just laughed. “We already know each other quite well. Why not use our given names? Catelyn.”

“I'd be honored, my- I mean Brandon.” It sounded right and wrong at the same time. It showed some kind of trust, and Catelyn was happy that Brandon wanted her to call him by his name and not his title. But at the same time she was not sure if she should already talk with him like that. “But as we're using out given names, you may also call me Cat.”

Cat.” It sounded as if her name was melting on his tongue. “It fits you. You're as graceful and beautiful as a cat.”

Catelyn had never looked at it this way. Her father always called her “little cat” which sounded cute and childish and not at all graceful. Brandon let her name look completely different. She did not know how to answer, so she just smiled.

“Let's sit down,” Brandon said as they went past a bench. Catelyn accepted the offer and sat down next to Brandon. Her septa was looking for a place somewhere behind them so that she was almost out of sight.

“I wish she wouldn't follow you everywhere,” Brandon said, nodding his head towards the septa. “I'd rather spend some time with you alone. Truly alone.”

Catelyn was not completely sure if she would like that as well. On the one hand, she would love to spend the whole day together with her betrothed. On the other, however, did her septa give her some kind of security, even though she did not believe anything would happen to her while Brandon was around. It was merely a weird feeling.

“She doesn't bother us or listens to our conversations,” Catelyn replied.

“Sounds as if you're happy she's here,” Brandon said with just half a smile. Catelyn blushed.

“I didn't say that,” she replied quickly. “I love spending time with you. It's just...”

Catelyn could not find the right words. What should she tell him? She was not scared of him or something like that. It was simply improper. Would he laugh at her for that?

“It's just that you should not leave a young lady alone with a man,” Brandon finished the sentence for her. “Did you want to tell me that?” His smile was back, though it seemed different to Catelyn.

She just nodded.

Now Brandon laughed, an honest laugh. “I understand your septa. “You should really not be left alone with a man.”

Catelyn did not understand what he meant. “What you want to say by that?”

“I want to tell you that you're beautiful. There are many men who would love to be me right now.” He slightly bent forward, so that his face was near enough for Catelyn to feel his breath on her skin. “To do this.” And then he closed the gap between them and put his lips on hers. Their were soft and warm, different than Petyr's when he had played kissing with her and Lysa. Petyr had always been intrusive and greedy, he always wanted more. Catelyn did not knew what Brandon wanted but his lips stayed on hers for a while and it was impossible for Catelyn to tell how long the kiss lasted. She wished it was an eternity. She felt the warmth in her stomach spreading through her whole body up to her head, and she knew that she was blushing. Catelyn realized how Brandon had wrapped one of her red curls around his finger and that he slowly stroked her arm.

Suddenly, there was a voice. Brandon broke off the kiss and looked sidewards. Catelyn did the same. With horror she realized that her septa came towards them, her head scarlet. “May I ask what you are doing?” she asked and Catelyn knew that it took her a lot of strength to not start screaming.

Catelyn wanted to say something but Brandon was faster. “My apologies. I was fascinated by Lady Catelyn's hair. It is beautiful.” He seemed to hope that it had not been possible for her to actually see the kiss from the distance.

However, Catelyn could see on her septa's face that she had indeed seen the kiss.

Still, she did not want to contradict Brandon and replied, “Yes, she had exceptionally beautiful hair.” She cleared her throat. “It would be better for us to go inside again. You should change your clothes for the evening meal, my lady.”

The septa turned around and went ahead, Catelyn and Brandon following her. From the corner of her eye Catelyn could see the smile on Brandon's lips.

*

It was late in the evening and Catelyn was already wearing her nightgown as a knock came from the door. Catelyn wondered who visited her that late at night. I could not be Lysa, because Lysa never knocked. And her father and uncle did not enter her chambers that often anymore. For a short moment Catelyn wondered if it could be Petyr. He had give Brandon sullen looks this whole time and as he wanted to talk with Catelyn, she had simply ignored him. Before Brandon had arrived, she had asked Petyr to be nice to him but he had not even tried. She did not want to talk with him again, but of course she would at some point.

As she opened the door rather reluctantly she realized that she should have asked who was there before opening it. But now it was too late. However, the person standing in front of her door was not Petyr but Brandon. Catelyn felt relieved than happy than horrified.

“Brandon! What are you doing here?” she asked a bit too loud.

“Psst!” he said. “Or do you want someone to hear us?”

She shook her head and made some space so he could enter. What does he want here? He should not be here. If father knew…

“What are you doing here?” Catelyn asked again.

“Seeing you, obviously,” he said with a charming smile. “I've told you I'd love to spend more time with you alone. Maybe now you know what I meant.”

Catelyn could imagine what he meant but she did not say anything.

“Come on, you've liked the kiss,” he said and took some steps towards her. Instinctively, Catelyn took a step back. Brandon raised his eyebrows. “You know you don't have to be afraid of me.”

“I'm not,” Catelyn protested, knowing she sounded like a child.

“So why you flinch away?” Brandon took another step and this time Catelyn forced herself to stand still, so that he was barely a step away from her. Brandon smiled again. “It's a shame your septa has interrupted us. What if we continue now?”

Before Catelyn could reply, she felt Brandon's lips upon her. They were as warm as they had been a few hours ago but something had changed. The kiss was not just gentle anymore. There was something else.

Brandon ran with one hand through her hair, and before Catelyn could think about it, she instinctively but her arms around his neck to draw him closer. He was so warm. Slowly – like she had once done with Petyr – she opened her lips so Brandon's tongue could find his way through them. First carefully, but then more certainly as Brandon realized that Catelyn liked it. A quiet moan crawled up Catelyn's throat and she felt Brandon's lips smile against hers.

One hand still in her hair, Catelyn felt the other gently stroking her arm until it found its way down her body and continued at her hip. This made Catelyn moan and Brandon smile again but he did not withdraw his hand but let it stay there to draw lines along her bones. It was not until she felt Brandon's second hand going down and the other closing around her bottom that she jumped back.

“Brandon.” It was only a whisper. Brandon apparently had not even heard her as he came back towards her, with large pupils, to kiss her again, but Catelyn pushed him away.

“No!” she said louder and Brandon stopped. “We can't do this. We're not married yet. You shouldn't be here. If anyone finds out-”

“What then?” Brandon asked sharply but not angry. “We're betrothed, Catelyn. I'm not some random man. I should have the right to kiss you.”

Catelyn was pretty certain that Brandon did not just want to kiss her but she did not say that. “You do,” she said instead. “but not in my chambers in the middle of the night.”

“But when? We're never alone.”

“My septa won't always be present,” Catelyn replied. “Also, we're going to get married soon. You just have to wait a bit.”

Catelyn could see the disappointment on Brandon's face. “I knew you would say that,” he said. “I just wanted to try.”

And with another smile he left the room.

Catelyn sat down on her bed, breathing heavenly and feeling rather confused. 'I just wanted to try.' Has Brandon planned all that? Has this been a test to find out how far she would go? Catelyn did not knew how she should feel about this. She just knew that no one must ever knew about this night, not even Lysa.

*

Luckily, Catelyn entered the hall before Brandon on the next morning. She was not certain whether he wanted to talk about last night but she would definitely not try to do so. Secretly she hoped that her septa would follow them again today. Not that she did not like Brandon's kisses. It was the exact opposite and that was the reason why Catelyn was scared. What if he could convince her to do more than just kissing? Horrified, she had realized last night that she had been wet down below. She still did not know whether it fear or happiness she felt.

“Slept badly?” her uncle, who sat next to her, asked.

“A bit, yes,” Catelyn answered him sleepy. She felt as if she had not slept for the whole night.

Ser Brynden shortly looked around him and then bent towards her. “May this have something to do with your nightly visitor yesterday?”

Catelyn looked at her uncle full of surprise and horror, but he just said shrugging, “I've seen him going into a certain direction yesterday evening. But I doubt anyone else knows he's been with you,” he tried to soothe her. “And?”, he asked.

“What?” Catelyn asked confused.

“What happened? Last night, I mean.”

He looked at her meaningful but Catelyn just shook her head.

“Not anything you may think,” she said quickly. “He has just kissed me.”

“Just kissed you,” Ser Brynden repeated his niece's words. “And that's it?”

Catelyn hesitated for a moment. “Well … I think he wanted to do more.”

“But you didn't let him?” he uncle smiled.

Catelyn nodded.

The smile on her uncle's face vanished again. “Be careful,” he told her. “I know, you're in love, but men like Brandon tend to enjoy their lives to the fullest. I don't want to tell you that he's using you,” Ser Brynden added as Catelyn wanted to say something. “But I want to protect you. There's nothing worse than a broken heart.”

And with these words he got up and left her.