Chapter 1: Prologue
The Night's King defeated. The Wall's magic returned, the combined effort of the Red God's priests, the Three-Eyed Raven, and the Three Heads of the Dragon. They had raised the sun in the west, and with it, won the war. The White Walkers were subdued...for now. Nothing in Westeros could truly destroy an army of the undead of that size, but they were contained now, leaderless. As long as good and true men guarded the Wall, Westeros would be safe.
Now came the time to decide how to rebuild the nation, and especially, how it would be ruled, and to that end, nearly every important person involved in the war gathered in a large tent near the center of the enormous encampment.
Bran didn't want to be one of those people, but he was. Not only as the Three-Eyed Raven, but as the rightful Lord of Winterfell. He had tried to renounce the title, but Sansa had put an end to that before he'd even begun.
"Before you were the Three-Eyed Raven, you were Brandon Stark. You remain Brandon Stark, the only remaining son of Eddark Stark, and the rightful Lord of Winterfell."
"They've changed the law, women can inherit same as men," Bran retorted sourly. "That makes you Lady of Winterfell."
"No." Sansa smiled, but there was no warmth in it. "I am laying claim to the lands that once belonged to the Boltons. A new line, the Westark, will descend from me."
"She's not fit to rule. Besides, there's another role for her at Queen's Landing," Sansa replied, referring to the new city being built besides the ruins of the old.
"I'm not fit to rule," Bran snapped, gesturing to his legs where they were covered by a fur.
"You can sire a child, you make well-reasoned decisions, you have the blood of our father and the regard of the entire North, especially the Free Folk," Sansa rattled off, including those Wildlings who would settle in lands south of the wall but still weren't quite willing to take on formal lords. They would be permitted to be remain, so long as their disputes with others went through Winterfell, that they followed the laws and gave some in the way of taxes to the King. "Without a Stark in Winterfell that everyone regards, this peace won't last a year. I will hold the West, you the East and the North will be at peace."
He couldn't exactly argue with that, but still he said, "I'm not meant to be Lord Stark."
"No," Sansa's voice gentled. "That was meant for Robb. But he's gone. Rickon's gone. Arya's too volatile. It has to be you."
"Can't you just rule the whole North?"
Sansa half-smiled. "That would be too much of a threat to the Targaryen Queen. Besides, I'd rather not be the one visibly ruling so many. It just makes one a target."
"I.." Bran looked away. He wanted so much just to be the Three-Eyed Raven, to retreat to a secluded place and fold himself into the past.
"Many died to protect you, Bran. I know you feel guilty about that. But you are a Stark first. You have a duty."
And so here he was, seated at the long table, the acknowledged Lord Stark, about the same age that Robb had been when the title had been his. The men and women in this room had divvied up Westeros, with both Dorne and the Iron Isles living as subjects to the Crown, but with less day-to-day interference, with two Stark Houses in the North, and a Stark-blooded Targaryen sharing the Iron Throne with Daenerys. The Dothraki would wander the lands between the Reach and Dorne, bowing to the Grand Khaleesi, and Storm's End would return to Baratheon hands via Gendry, the last surviving Baratheon. He hadn't liked being annointed a Lord anymore than Bran, but had taken it when Arya convinced him.
Once that was all sorted, there came time to debate the marriage alliances. Naturally, Jon - or Aemon Targaryen but he still called himself Jon - would wed Daenerys. That had been agreed to at the start, because the North would never again bow to anyone who did not have Stark blood. Although they would rule jointly, anyone who had eyes could see that Daenerys was in charge. She had agreed to change the Targaryen banner though, to a white dragon, to show the Northern blood of her children. Starting from when they were four years of age, the heirs to the Iron Throne would summer in Dragonstone and winter in Winterfell, to weather the extremes that his Stark and Targaryen ancestors. In spring and autumn, they would be at Queen's Landing, to learn to rule.
But Bran was most surprised to learn that Sansa would honor her first marriage, or at least agreed to have a second marriage, with Tyrion. He too was revealed to be a Targaryen, and that had been the point. Both the blood of the Targaryens and the Starks had proven to be of great importance during this war, and in order to preserve it, more than one line of Stark-Targaryens would be needed. So Sansa and Tyrion would have several children, at least one to inherit the newly named Starkhold as a Westark, one to inherit Casterly Rock as a Lannister (albeit one with Tyrion's new banner, the red lion on a golden field), and one to marry the child of Jon and Daenerys as a Targaryen.
Tyrion had proposed the union, having found an old custom of marriage in the history books along with Sam, wherein a man and woman married for the purpose of alliance and the creation of legitimate children, but nothing more. So he would have no claim to Starkhold, Sansa would have no claim to Casterly Rock, and both lines would continue. Sansa had agreed and Bran was quite sure she had worked out this deal with Tyrion before the current meeting.
Everyone else needed an heir too, and Bran soon learned that Stark blood was at a premium. Both he and Arya were given numerous offers of marriage, but in the end, Arya had selected a man who hadn't even proposed.
"I'll be marrying Gendry."
The young man in question spit out the wine he'd just sipped. "What?"
"Need to make more Baratheons. These ones will be better," she'd tossed off from her seat, idly playing with Needle. She liked to dig the point of it in the sole of her boot, then let it quiver as she pulled it out.
"You want to be Lady Baratheon?" Gendry asked incredulously.
"Of course I don't. I have things to do in Queen's Landing. But I can have a couple of children and you can raise 'em," Arya pronounced, then looked around the table. "Anyone got a problem with that?"
No one did, but Bran noticed both Daenerys' smirk and Jon's quiet smile, which he hid by ducking his head.
"Which leaves Bran. We need Starks in Winterfell," Davos returned to the business at hand, wrapping the table with his knuckle. "My lord. You have several offers of marriage."
"Yes, from men offering me the hands of girls I've never seen." He'd spent years on the run with his beloved Meera, a woman whose strong opinions and fierceness had protected him time and time again. He couldn't imagine marrying some girl whose father made all her decisions, even if he did need to sire an heir or two.
Worse, he couldn't imagine looking at someone everyday for the rest of his life and thinking of how much he'd have rather had Meera by his side. His lady wife would be a constant reminder of her absence, and knew he could quickly grow to resent the woman, through no fault of her own.
"I'll marry you," came the steel-tinged voice of a girl he did know, the Lady of Bear Island, Lyanna Mormont herself, seated on the other end of the table. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, and pale, she was every inch a Northerner. Even though she was not yet thirteen, she had the regard of the entire North, bullied grown men into taking decisive action with ease, and had no shortage of marriage offers herself.
When her Maester went to speak, she held up a hand to forestall him, not even sparing a glance. "A marriage like the one between Lady Sansa and Lord Tyrion, so that we both may serve our people and yet still provide an heir for each."
"It's called a 'marriage without hand,'" Samwell Tarly supplied, eager to discuss exactly what he'd found in the old tome.
Davos coughed to interrupt, but it was Tyrion who spoke to prevent a further historical lecture. "If you would marry a Stark, Lady Mormont, you need to produce more than two heirs. At least three, to insure the line is preserved."
"Three, then," Lyanna quickly proposed, though her eyes remained locked on Bran.
He shifted in his seat, suddenly uncomfortable under the gaze of this pale slip of a girl. She had the steel will, that's for sure, but he was all too aware that she was very much a girl.
"You're not old enough," he finally gave voice to his concern.
"Obviously, the marriage would be when I am of age, sixteen," she told him icily.
"Always cuts to the point, doesn't she?" Tyrion inquired with approval.
"House Mormont has always been loyal to House Stark," Jon mentioned, glancing between Lyanna and Bran, who felt locked in a staring contest.
He was Brandon Stark, the Three-Eyed Raven, Lord of Winterfell, and he was not going to blink first.
"And to me," Daenerys mentioned, her voice touched with a wistful memory.
He had his cousin's approval, and the Queen's.
"So, it's a good match," Tyrion declared. "If Lord Stark would just accept it."
Sansa, seated next to her brother, reached out and laid a hand on his arm, a signal that he should agree. He, who had maintained concentration in the midst of pitched battles, shrugged off her touch easily. She wasn't going to guilt him into this choice as she had the last.
"Your proposal is that you will wed me in four years, produce three children and then return to your Island?" Bran outlined the terms clearly.
"My proposal is that I will wed you in four years, in the old way, rule from my Island, though I will visit Winterfell for the purpose of creating three children. My heir will be born on Bear Island, and I shall return to him when you have your two."
So, a wife in name, but one who would not haunt the halls of Winterfell for long, taunting him with what he could have had with another. His duty done and nothing more, that was the Mormont offer.
Bran nodded once, sharply. "In four years, I will meet you in the godswood of Winterfell, to marry."
"Four years," Lyanna agreed, nodding to him once and turning her attention back to Jon and Daenerys. There were other matters to discuss and, as Tyrion had said, Lyanna did not linger on a topic.
But Bran kept his eyes upon the girl who would one day be his wife.
At least in name.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
In which there is a wedding and a wedding night.
Thank you very much to everyone who commented, subscribed and left kudos. It certainly gave me inspiration in the planning and writing of this chapter.
A special thank you to Rumaan, who graciously agreed to beta and review my work before I inflict it on you all.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Even in summer, the North could be quite chilly, as many of the Southron guests at Winterfell realized rather quickly. They requested extra furs on their beds and wrapped themselves in multiple layers, much to the amusement of the locals. As Bran left the courtyard on his way to the godswood, nearly half a day before his appointed rendezvous with his betrothed, he wondered if they would actually have enough bedding for everyone when all was said and done.
Then he marveled at how he was wondering about the bedclothes on this, the day of his marriage to Lady Lyanna Mormont, Lady of Bear Island. This was the day he had been dreading for four years. He still pictured the small girl from the tent, even though he was well aware she'd grown, otherwise they would not be here. He hadn't actually seen her in all this time, though they occasionally corresponded. Lady Mormont would send terse updates to Lord Stark regarding Bear Island and Lord Stark would reply with short missives about Winterfell for her.
He should be wondering what she looked like now.
"I'm avoiding the subject, aren't I, Winter?" he asked the large direwolf beneath him.
Bran was the only person who ever called the enormous black and white beast by his proper name. To everyone else, he was Legs, since his primary duty was to transport Lord Stark wherever he needed to go. He was one of Nymeria's get, presented to him by his sister Arya. Arya gave them all direwolves, and continued to do so. The rare white ones were Jon's, who now had Frostfire to go along with Ghost. The red ones went to Sansa at Starkhold, who had four, and the rest were sent to Bran. Three were allowed within the castle walls, Winter, Spring and Autumn, while the rest roamed Stark lands.
Winter had no opinion on the forthcoming wedding, nor did his trailing packmates, which surprised Bran not at all. As long as their bellies were fed and they were allowed to run and wrestle from time to time, they did not care for very much at all. Except for Starks. All the direwolves rather liked all the Starks.
Bran closed his eyes, trusting that Winter would get him to the weirwood tree, choosing instead to lose himself briefly in the wind. He'd learned how to drift without sight, to give himself a moment's respite from the numbness of his legs and the weight of his positions. He indulged when he could, when he need the calm. Like today.
At dusk, he would wed.
At midnight, he would have a woman in his bed.
At dawn, with luck, she would leave his bed with child.
"One can hope," he said aloud, grasping at Winter's fur.
"A wedding, even one such as this, is a gathering of hope."
Bran opened his eyes at the sound of Sansa's voice to find her seated beneath the weirwood tree, her daughter, two year-old Alysanne playing at her feet with Valor, her favorite direwolf. Both mother and daughter wore grey dresses in the Northern style, with their family crest over their heart: the red direwolf on a white background, facing in the opposite direction from that of the Stark direwolf. Sansa had designed the standard with care and selected the motto so that the world would know who and what the Westarks were.
The pack survives.
Jon, or Aemon Targaryen, First of his Name, The Resurrected, King in the North, King of the Andals and the First Men, Grand Khal of the Great Grass Sea, King and Warden of Westeros, Slayer of the Night's King, The White Wolf, stood to her side. As always when not in Queen's Landing, Jon wore what Bran thought of his as his "Stark clothes," a look he'd seen on his father and his brother. Longclaw, as ever, was by his side, as were his direwolves.
His dragon, thankfully, was still in the South.
While the wolves circled each other and sniffed their greetings, save Winter, Bran replied to his sister, "And I thought I was marrying just to produce an heir."
"Our heirs are our hope, brother," Sansa told him fondly.
The three of them had stayed up late the previous night, at first discussing the state of the realm and then reminiscing about their childhoods. For a moment, they were as they had been: Sansa and Bran Stark, with their brother Jon Snow. But now they were returned to themselves, Lady Westark, Lord Stark, King Aemon, and they were here, now, for a reason.
Sansa directed Alysanne to stand in front of her and, when the two year-old finally complied, nodded to her brother.
"Who seeks the blessing of the Old Gods?" Bran intoned.
The little girl looked up at her mother, then smiled shyly at her uncle when he pointed to her. "Alysanne Westark!" she practically yelled, eliciting a chuckle from the king.
"And will you honor their laws, Alysanne Westark?"
The girl thought about this. "Yes?"
Bran narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, smiling at his niece. "Are you sure?"
"Yes!" At least that answer she knew.
"Very well." Sansa picked up her daughter and handed the toddler over to Bran, who settled her on Winter and urged him forward. Once closer to the tree, he directed the girl to place a hand on the white wood, put his own on top of hers, and let himself go into the greensight. There, sometimes, he felt he could hear the gods themselves talking to him.
And sometimes, he merely saw the past. Or the present. Or, as now, the future.
The image was sharp, almost too bright in his mind's eye, but not lacking for details. He could feel the pull of the vision, insistent, but he had long since learned to ignore the siren call.
Bran forced himself back to the present, back to the body with the useless legs, and pulled his niece's hand from the wood. "You've been blessed, little queen," he told her, before taking her back to her mother.
"Little queen?" Jon asked sharply.
"Isn't that the point? You've got little Ned, not two months her junior, back at Queen's Landing."
"Starkhold needs its lady," the king denied. "I am sure Tyrion and Sansa will have another daughter."
"No," Bran denied, still watching the little red-haired girl now on her mother's hip. "She is well-named."
Jon and Sansa exchanged a look. "Then who will inherit Starkhold?"
"The boy that now grows in Sansa's womb."
Sansa blinked, as much a reaction as any ever got out of her these days. "A son?" she asked, mild.
"Yes. And another, and another, in time."
"I see," she answered, gazing at her daughter lifting her free hand to smooth some of the little girl's curls away from her face. "Queen Alysanne."
Jon cleared his throat. "Perhaps I can persuade you to visit Queen's Landing soon, then."
"No, I am needed in the North." Sansa's gaze remained locked on her daughter. "When Edgaer comes to Winterfell for his first winter, then, they shall meet." She smiled, then raised a brow at Bran. "I'm only required to have three children, by my vows."
He shrugged in response, not wanting to give unnecessary details away, idly petting Winter's fur. "And yet, I saw four."
"Perhaps this means you and Tyrion might-"
"No, Jon. He's an admirable man, but I am not meant to have a husband, not in the true sense." Sansa pressed a kiss to her daughter's cheek and set her down. "The truest, best men in the world I know are Starks, and if I can't have one of those as a husband, I don't want one," she joked, as she usually did. "I will leave you to it." She placed a kiss on each of their cheeks and walked away in her customary stately manner, Valor trailing her obediently.
"Westeros is no more secure if they are in the same place all the time," Bran noted for Jon's benefit. "Tyrion is Hand of the Queen, Master of Dragonstone, Lord of Casterly Rock. He is too busy to play husband." Despite his distaste for the whole subject, he had become quite well-versed in politics. "He and Sansa are doing their duty, and nothing more." He took a breath. "We're not all so lucky as you, Jon, to marry and find someone we can love in that marriage."
"Your mother and father loved each other very much," Jon replied. "A love that grew in a marriage. I know that what you promise tonight is not a traditional marriage, but I would hope you could leave yourself open to something more."
When Bran opened his mouth to reply, Jon continued.
"We deserve some happiness in life, Bran."
Jon always spoke this way when they were alone. We. We Starks. Certainly, the world thought of them all that way. He was the White Wolf, Sansa the Red Wolf, Arya the Shadow Wolf, Bran the Grey Wolf. The Lame Wolf, by his critics. The Raven Wolf by those who swore by the old gods - both Lord and Greensight, liege and holy man.
"Do I? My foolishness has cost me and many others dearly. Why would I deserve happiness?" Bran bit out, then shook his head. "I don't wish to talk about this. We are here for you to give me advice on my wedding night. Please advise. There is much to do before the sun sets."
He just wanted this over with. This wedding. This wedding night. This marriage.
"Bran." Jon turned and placed a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Lyanna is a fine woman, a credit to her House, to her mother, to her uncle. They call her the She-Bear, and she is that, but she is a woman, a person. You must remember that. This is not just a...transaction."
"It is exactly that." Bran looked down. "She no more wants the trappings of a real marriage than I do." His voice softened. "But, I will respect her. No other woman has known my bed, and no other woman ever will. I will protect her, not just as Lord of Winterfell, and do my best to keep her pleased." He cleared his throat, willing himself not to blush. "And to that end, Jon…"
The king nodded. "Very well," he began reluctantly. Bran knew he did not want to discuss such matters with him, the man he knew as his innocent little brother, certainly not in tandem with a girl he was as fond of as Lady Lyanna. But Bran did not wish to cause his wife unnecessarily pain or discomfort and so he had to know.
Bran would do his duty and honor his wife.
He just wouldn't love her.
Bran didn't like so many torches near the godswood, but unfortunately they were necessary to light the path for the guests. The head of every House in the North, as well as representatives of each of the major Houses in Westeros were there, to see the union of the last unmarried Stark. He nodded to each of them as Winter padded by on the way to the weirwood tree.
Manderlys, Hightowers, Cerwyns, Glovers, a man from their uncle, Lord Tully, of course, Martells even from the south. Of course, his most important guests were closest to the tree itself: Jon, looking rather kingly in his dark clothes, his Hand, Davos by his side; Sansa, resplendent in white with the blood red of her crest embroidered upon her chest; Arya, wearing her own face for once, smirking as she represented House Baratheon. She had shown up only a few hours ago, to his surprise. Gendry, as ever, was home at Storm's End with their children, Jon and Raya.
Only three Houses were missing: Greyjoy and Frey, whose members were forbidden from entering Stark lands, and House Reed, whose line was ended. No one ever spoke of that other House, certainly not within Sansa's hearing.
Mormont, of course, would soon be with him.
The Crone, the oldest living greenseer of the Free Folk, stood beneath the tree, waiting as their officiant. Even the Free Folk had forgotten her name, with Tormund declaring she'd been near death since he was a small boy. Since the Night's King's return, the North, ever faithful to the old gods, had completely pushed out the Faith of the Seven. Some, here and there, might worship the Red God, citing Jon and Daenerys as his chosen, but as a Stark about to wed a Mormont, only the old gods would do. The highest authority for those who would worship the old gods was the Three-Eyed Raven, but he could hardly officiate at his own wedding, so he had asked the Crone.
And it was decided that an officiant was needed, here, in the marriage of equals, in which neither would be presented by a parent and where no one was being given or claimed. So he had asked Ardana, daughter of Kell, as she had been called once, who had cackled at the thought of a Free woman like her overseeing the marriage of a Stark lord. Even now, she looked terribly amused.
When crowd murmured, heads turning, he knew Lyanna had arrived. Bran took a breath and directed Winter to turn so he could watch her approach.
Lyanna Mormont, Lady of Bear Island, strode down the aisle. A part of him was surprised that she was in a gown, having half-expected to see her march in clad in Mormont armor. He had never seen her before in anything other than war attire. But his mouth quirked as he took in the details that signaled that she was no ordinary bride.
Her long, deep mahogany hair had been braided into a loop at the back of her head, a style as suited to battle as to a wedding. Her forest green gown bore accents of gold, with the wider sleeves that were folly on any but a noblewoman's dress. But she also wore the traditional leather breastplate armor of Bear Island, a bearskin cloak and had a sword strapped to her waist.
She was also, Bran noted, rather pretty. Lyanna still looked like herself, with a delicate nose, fair skin and a warm, rose-colored mouth. But she had grown into a lovely young woman, whom, if the whispers he overheard were to be believed, bore very little resemblance to her lady mother, who had been no beauty.
And really, Lyanna was quite beautiful. Not in the in the way of an obvious one, like Sansa or the Martell women. It was in the way she carried herself, the way her eyes locked on his immediately. Otherwise, she'd be just another dark-haired, pale-skinned Northern girl, her prettiness as much a function of her youth as anything else. Instead, she wore the command and power she had been born into easily and it made her beautiful.
And she was going to marry him, a thin, broken thing who would rather heed the call of the greensight.
She deserved better.
And she would have better, once his duty was done.
Winter turned as Lyanna came to his side, and after they exchanged appraising looks, he gave the Crone his full attention. As usual, he couldn't read a damned thing about Lyanna's thoughts from her face, so he could only imagine she was hiding her disappointment at the skinny man who sat by her side.
The old woman said nothing for a moment, so that the sounds of the whispers of fabric and leather, the crack-pop of the torches and the shifting of spectator feet filled the air. Then she smiled.
"Who comes before the Old Gods this night?"
"I am Lyanna, of the House Mormont, Lady of Bear Island and I come here to be wed. I am a woman grown and flowered, trueborn and noble. I come to seek the blessing of the Gods."
"Who comes to meet her?"
"I am Brandon Stark, of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and the Three-Eyed Raven and I come here to be wed. I am a man grown and of age, trueborn and noble. I come to to seek the blessing of the Gods."
"Lady Lyanna, will you accept this man as father to your children?"
"I will," she replied in a clear voice.
"Lord Brandon, will you accept this woman and acknowledge her children as your own?"
"I will," he answered.
In a normal wedding, at this time, they would both kneel before the weirwood and Bran would put his cloak around her. But she was not to become a Stark, would not be the Lady of Winterfell, and he could not kneel. So they had devised something else.
As one, they recited, "We seek the blessing of the Gods for this union and for the children that may come it," before bowing their heads.
The creaks, groans and rustle of clothing and leather signalled that all who assembled to witness also bowed their heads. But where most of them were likely praying or thinking of well-wishes, Bran reached out with his greensight, hoping for a more personal benediction from the gods. Afterall, they sometimes seemed to whisper to him.
Running. The sound of footsteps running. A small person's footsteps. No, two or three. And there was laughter, childish giggles sounding in the godswood, with a low counterpoint of nearly silent padded feet.
Not quite a vision, but a message plain as the strong, but not unpleasant wind that whipped through the grove.
When Bran looked up, the Crone was watching him and slowly, she nodded.
"The gods have answered. Your union is blessed," she announced to general acclaim.
He turned his head, to find Lyanna watching him.
"Lord Stark," she greeted him solemnly.
"Lady Mormont. Let me invite you to the feast," he replied.
He thought, for a moment, that she gave him a ghost of a smile, but she nodded. Together, they led the way back into the keep.
Bran felt decidedly strange to be seated at the lead table in the great hall with someone by his side. Although his family surrounded them, he knew all too soon that they would be alone at this table.
And sooner then that, alone in his bed.
He took a quick drink of his wine, determinedly refocusing his attention on the speeches and gifts that they were receiving. What peace had come to him briefly during their wedding ceremony had quickly fled, leaving disquiet in its wake. But the gifts were a welcome distraction. There were some very nice pieces, and many congratulations and wishes for a productive marriage, of course, and, really courtesy demanded he give his attention, or else be rude. Fortunately, he and Lyanna traded turns giving their thanks.
Tormund, as was typical, rather stole the show with his bawdy but well-meaning advice, as well the gift from the Free Folk of a pile of fine furs to help "keep yerselves warm when you're not doing it yerselves." He also spent a rather lot of his speech making very obvious eyes at Brienne, who was seated next to Sansa at the table and who clearly did not wish to be the center of his attention.
You had to laugh, because otherwise you were just embarrassed.
He eyed Lyanna - his wife! - sidelong, but the young woman took the teasing in stride. She merely inclined her head, a slight smile gracing her lips, and from that, he discerned that she was actually quite fond of the big, red man. "Thank you," she told Giantsbane. "And our thanks to to all the Free Folk."
As the meal dragged on, Bran noticed that Lyanna seemed to not have much of an appetite either. She only sparingly drank as well, small sips when a toast required it and nothing more. Perhaps she was as nervous as he was, though she did a good job of hiding her feelings behind that implacable expression.
Finally it came time for the gifts from his family. Sansa stood first, smiling at the newlyweds. "Although he could not be here today, Lord Tyrion Lannister sends his fondest wishes for your futures together. And he sends a gift, which I have the honor of presenting in his stead." She motioned and a man wearing the Lannister crest of the "Little Lion" stepped forward with a large tome which he laid gently on the table.
"This is a book recording the deeds of the Kings of Winter, the line of Starks beginning from Bran the Builder. He hopes that you will both find much wisdom and inspiration in their deeds although you have already proven yourselves as some of the finest lords the North has ever seen." Shouts and the sounds of fists banging tables in agreement filled the hall as Sansa looked on proudly. "He also sends a boatload of grain, which is making it way up the coast." Grain was a traditional marriage gift, a boon to young couples and a hope for future fertility. "He hopes you will use it in good health."
"Thank you, Lady Sansa. Please convey my gratitude...our gratitude...to Lord Tyrion for these thoughtful gifts," Bran intoned in reply, glancing at his wife who gave Sansa a smile.
"Knowledge is always very valuable, as is grain," Lyanna agreed. "We shall care for it as the treasure it is."
"He will be glad to hear it," Sansa replied. "Not to be outdone, of course, House Westark also has a gift on the occasion of our brother's marriage."
Another man stepped forward, this one clad in the uniform of a man-at-arms the Westark, the red wolf prominent on his right breast. He opened a small chest, revealing a small piece of wood and several bright, shiny nails.
"I could not bring the gift itself into this hall, but House Westark has purchased for your use twenty thousand board feet of lumber and created three thousand iron nails, to help as the North continues to rebuild."
The murmur of surprise that swept through the hall was earned. Sansa had given him - them - a truly expensive gift, one that would have so many uses. A glance at Lyanna's stunned face and he knew instantly where it would best be deployed.
"Lady Sansa, we cannot thank you enough for such a generous gift. We will make arrangements to immediately take this gift to Bear Island."
Lord Glover stood quickly, adding, "If it please my Lord Stark, House Glover would like to make a gift of the transport costs."
"Thank you, Lord Glover. We accept," Bran readily agreed, nodding his head and watching as Glover smiled with his usual slight embarrassment. The man had not forgotten his refusal to help Jon and Sansa once and Bran knew it weighed on him, though none of the Starks ever referred to it. His was such a small betrayal, barely a drop in the ocean which had nearly overwhelmed them.
The pack survives indeed.
He had heard, though, of Lyanna's stirring speech, in which she had chastised the Lords of the North for failing to do their duty. Looking over at his wife, at the way she gazed both at Glover and then himself, he understood how the man could still feel the sting of her words.
"Thank you, Lord Glover," she echoed, pushing to her feet. "And thank you, Lady Westark. Such a gift is truly beyond compare on Bear Island." Gracefully, she moved towards the redhead and the two women embraced while the crowd applauded.
Bran swallowed as he watched his sister hug his wife, noticing for the first time that they were nearly of a height. He glanced down at his legs, all too reminded that he would never move so easily nor be able to stand with his wife and thank those who swore allegiance to him.
When the furore died down and Lyanna and Sansa resumed their seats, Arya stood and began without introduction, not that she needed one. "House Baratheon, as all know, is now lead by a man trained to be a blacksmith. Working with metal is in his blood and he has the scars to prove it." There were guffaws to this.
Gendry occupied an unusual position, beloved of the smallfolk and the noble folk alike. The smallfolk thought him one of them while the noble folk were relieved to have a sane, unambitious man in control in the Stormlands who had absolutely no grudges to settle. Bran liked him too. Plain-spoken and honorable, he thought that the smith was a man his father would have liked very much, not in the least because he seemed to care a great deal about Arya's happiness.
"Once, our father had a weapon called Ice, a great Valyrian steel broadsword passed down from Stark to Stark for hundreds of years. We all know it was stolen from him and cast into two weapons, one now worn by the Lady Knight Brienne who has sworn to return Oathkeeper to House Westark. But the other was lost in the wars...or so it was thought."
She pulled now a longsword from beneath the table, where she had apparently hidden it before the feast. "Tainted as it was by the hands of that disgusting tyrant, my own husband learnt the secrets of working with Valyrian steel and remade this blade in honor of House Stark. Behold, Fang," she presented to the admiring gasps of the hall.
The sword, with a wolf's head pommel, was finely wrought and even from a few feet away, Bran could make out the truly fine edge that marked a Valyrian blade. But more than its craftsmanship, what the sword represented touched Bran deeply.
Ice was now in Stark hands completely, where it would remain.
"Arya, I…" He was a loss for words, trying to control the wave of emotion that threatened to steal his voice.
"Lady Stark." Again, his wife stood. "Words cannot express what this gift means to House Stark, as well you know. But it also means a great deal to House Mormont and all the Houses of the North, for we know as long as there is a Stark in Winterfell, with a Valyrian blade by his side, the North shall be free and safe."
Again, a sister of his embraced his wife and the two exchanged low words he couldn't make out. But Lyanna pulled back with a half-smile on her face, so he hoped that Arya hadn't been inappropriate.
"And, one more gift." Again, she reached down beneath the table, but this time, came up with a single direwolf puppy, nearly all black save for a scratch of white fur down its belly.
"A raven wolf for the Raven Wolf," she called out, and again, the crowd responded with cheers.
Bran chuckled, taking the pup from her hands and cradling him to his chest for a moment before allowing Winter to sniff at him. As always, his "steed" lay next to him at the great table, ready to act at a moment's notice.
"Don't you think I have enough direwolves, Arya?"
"You can never have enough wolves, Bran," she told him, leaning over to hug him.
"I want so badly right now to ruffle your hair, but you're Lord Stark now and I shouldn't in front of all these nobles and your bannermen." She gave him a smirk. "You should admire my restraint here."
"I am. I am admiring you quite a bit now. But then, I always did."
She grinned fiercely and pulled back, so he added more loudly, for their guests, "Shouldn't the Shadow Wolf have a shadow wolf?"
"Who says I don't?"
As the crowd chuckled and Arya resumed her seat, Bran eyed his newest wolf, whose eyes reminded him of Summer. He glanced at his wife, who watched him with that same unflappable expression.
"Would you like to name-" He hastily consulted the pup's hind quarters. "Her?"
"She is a gift for our wedding," he replied, offering over the small animal.
Gently, Lyanna pulled the black-furred pup from his grasp and looked down at her, wagging a finger that she dutifully nipped.
Bran smiled, eyeing the thin-line of white fur the belly. "That's a good name."
Lyanna nodded in acknowledgment, but her attention was soon pulled to the king as he stood. The hall quieted instantly, waiting for the words of the man who rode dragons, killed the Night's King, and helped unite Westeros once again.
"I never know what to say at these things, but I'll start with the usual," Jon began, humble to a fault. He turned towards the bride and groom. "Congratulations, Bran and Lyanna. Nothing could bring the Queen and I more pleasure than to see House Stark and House Mormont united, to see loyalty rewarded, to see these ancient lines continue to serve Westeros, the North and the people."
Bran thought he could detect a whiff of Sansa in his speech. Jon was very good at echoing the words of Ned Stark, or giving a stirring battlefield speech, but these politic ones always made him very uncomfortable.
"Nor could we give you a gift anywhere near as great as that of your service to us, to the Throne, and to the North. The honorable deeds of House Stark and House Mormont truly are the stuff of legend, one to which you have each added to personally. We are ever grateful.
"But, we certainly must try," he finished with a smile, to general applause and cheers. People were nodding their approval and Bran saw Sansa's proud smile. Davos might be the official Hand of the King, but she was as much the power behind Jon as anyone else.
"Our first gift is that of twenty-five Dothraki mares from the finest bloodlines and a Dothraki stallion, so that you can create your own herd." There was a murmur of delight at this. Dothraki horses had swiftly become the premiere mounts of Westeros, expensive and relatively rare outside of Dothraki hands.
"The Queen herself picked out one mare for you, Lady Lyanna. Ever have you had her regard and she wanted to make sure your horse was surefooted, well-trained and hardy enough for the North," Jon described.
The Lady of Bear Island had endeared herself to Daenerys very early, unimpressed with her armies, her Unsullied guards or even her dragons. She demanded and received an account of Daenerys' actions, then grudgingly told Jon that she'd support an alliance. But she'd also made plain that she'd not accept any but a Stark-blooded monarch, so if Jon chose to defy her, she'd back the man from the North.
Her loyalty and her candor impressed the Mother of Dragons and Daenerys had made her regard for Lyanna known ever since.
"My thanks and our thanks to the Queen," Lyanna intoned. "Dothraki horses are a fine gift indeed."
Jon inclined his head and continued, "Our second gift is that of three war galleys and seven longships, in remembrance of the legacy of Brandon the Shipwright, your namesake with whom you were so fascinated as a boy, and to honor the union of Stark and Mormont, so that you may protect the waters of the North."
This surprised many in the hall, since none could remember a time when Starks kept ships. But the Ironborn had again become a nuisance in the Sunset Sea and more and more, ships were needed to protect the merchant vessels that moved up and down the coast, to say nothing of the coastal towns and territories.
Yara had not quite kept her bargain with Daenerys, or rather did so in name but blamed rebels for the troubles in the waters. The Small Council had decided to move a fleet into the Sunset Sea, but could not do so under Targaryen banners without openly breaking the agreement with Yara, who was not yet in open rebellion. And so, a new Stark fleet was born.
Bran knew nothing of ships and had never the slightest interest in Bran the Shipwright. Bran the Builder was the man he wanted to know more of, wanted to know the source of the Stark magic. But this was the story they would use to conceal the true purpose of the fleet and he knew his coastal bannermen, including Lyanna, would all be a resource for him in overseeing the ships.
To judge from the way she leaned forward and smiled, she was far more interested in this gift than that of the horse.
Bran cleared his throat and spoke up. "Thank you. Too long has House Stark been without ships of its own. In fact, I have already made plans to build our own ships, so this gift comes at a most opportune time." Shouts of approval and cups banging against tables met his words. He'd already heard complaints from Deepwood Motte and others on the coast.
When the crowd settled again, Jon continued, "And finally, our third gift is that of three hundred thousand gold dragons." He smiled here. "Because if you cannot shower your beloved younger cousin with money on the day of his wedding, what is the point of being king?"
And there was the money to add to his fleet and to help with the reconstruction of defenses along the coast. In all, the Iron Throne had done very nicely in moving to protect the North while not seeming to violate the agreement with the Iron Islands.
While the assembled guests erupted again at this news, and Jon moved to embrace him, Bran noticed that Lyanna quietly slipped out of the hall after a short conversation with Sansa. His sister met his eyes a moment later, giving him a shallow nod. Although they had all agreed that there would be no bedding ceremony, they had arranged to avoid any calls for it entirely by having Lyanna sneak away at an opportune time.
Bran, of course, would find it significantly harder to sneak out, but he was prepared for that.
His attention turned back to the here and now and he smiled at Jon's platitudes, unheard in the din. "Thank you," he replied, hoping that it made sense.
"We might be cousins, but to me, you are still my little brother," Jon answered warmly.
Bran sobered quickly and blurted out what had been on his mind for some time.
"He should have legitimized you. He should have ignored Mother and made you his son. He didn't know about the Others or the Night's King, that one day your Targaryen blood would make a difference. He gained nothing by making you his bastard instead of his son."
He hadn't really paid attention when he was boy to the way Jon was treated, too self-absorbed. But his memories - his own and those he'd watched with the greensight - told him the truth of it. Catelyn Stark had treated the boy shamefully and Ned had allowed it, even as he encouraged the closeness between his heir and his nephew.
Jon, of course, had a different view. "He raised me, protected me, the son of his enemy. He did right by me, Bran. I will never forget it." Which was why the crown prince was called Edgaer.
Between his ability to inspire, his prowess with a sword and his ability to forgive slights, Jon was more Ned's son and more of a Stark than Bran was. With this on his mind, he shook his head and reached for his cup. "To Aemon the Stark!" he called. "Long may you reign!"
That set off several rounds of cheers, first to Aemon the Stark, then to the King in the North, then to the White Wolf. By the end of it, Tormund had challenged one of the Manderly men to a wrestling contest and Jon was surrounded by both lords and ladies trying to curry favor. Bran took the opening offered to him and slipped from the hall, unnoticed by all except his sisters who each gave him a smile.
It was a testament to both Jon and Tormund's great skills at attracting attention that the bridegroom, riding a direwolf, trailed by two others, and holding a Valyrian steel longsword could escape without much notice.
As Winter led him down the hall, the murmuring of voices caught his ear and, rounding the corner, he spied two men, clad in Southron clothing, standing by one of the windows and smoking pipes. He didn't recognize their heraldry immediately, so he surmised they were lesser bannerman in the retinue of more important lords.
"She's got that Northern look about her. They think she's fair up here but I could show you a hundred whores better looking in the capital!" the one exclaim, face florid with too much wine.
"Oh, but she's got sway. She made one a King and this one she'll make a man!" the other crowed, setting both of them to laughing.
Bran's expression hardened as he nudged Winter closer to the pair. In a testament to how drunk they were, it took them at least a minute to notice the Lord of Winterfell bearing down on them with three direwolves. When they did, they both straightened and began coughing, practically stumbling over themselves to wish him a hearty congratulations and to assure him he had made a fine match. And when he continued to simply stare them, they each offered their apologies, blaming the wine and overindulgence.
He knew his father would have forgiven them, because he was a man who brushed off the slights of lesser men. But Bran felt that his father's courtesy had led to his death, led men and women to plot against a man they considered stupid and loathe to engage in a fight.
Bran was certainly not Ned.
When their words stumbled to a halt, he nodded. "You should leave Winterfell," he told them. "You are not welcome here. The North no longer tolerates the slights of the South." Autumn and Spring each stepped forward, growling lowly. "You have guest right and I'll not violate that, but I don't think you should stay any longer. Take what provisions you need for your journey and go."
They beat a hasty retreat, skirting the edge of the hall to avoid the direwolves, not that any of the three did anything but watch them flee. Bran scratched Winter behind his ears, glancing down at sword lying across the beast's back and snorting. It hadn't even occurred to him to use the blade for show. He hoped his heir, at least, would learn to make good use of it.
When he was alone again in the corridor, he nudged Winter onward. Slowly, the wolf made his way towards the Lord's chamber. Bran still didn't think of it as his own room, and he had even less reason to do so tonight. He paused outside the door, directing Autumn and Spring to wait there before moving inside where his bride awaited.
Lyanna stood by the window, gazing down at the view silently. Her bearskin cloak lay on a chair, along her sword belt, complete with sheathed weapon and breastplate on top. Now, she was simply a lady in a fine dress, albeit with boots better suited to a battlefield than a bower.
She turned slightly, inclining her head. "My lord."
"Am I?" Bran could hardly stop himself from asking. He quickly looked away, directing Winter towards the table and laying Fang upon it gingerly.
"House Mormont would hardly break faith with House Stark today of all days," she answered dryly, though she eyed the sword with interest.
"Yes, but we aren't married the way most are," he answered as Winter moved at his direction and stopped by the right side of the bed. Once there, Bran pulled himself off of the wolf and onto the bed, beside a low set of shelves and a high step he had installed. Since he'd returned to Winterfell, he insisted on doing as much as he could without help, aided mostly by Winter and the other wolves, and occasionally a servant when absolutely necessary.
But he didn't need assistance to undress himself.
Bran grabbed at his right leg, forcing his foot onto the step so that he could pull the laces that climbed from the soles of his specially-made boots to the top. He managed to get both boots off and onto the shelf before he glanced over at Lyanna, who had moved to stand over Fang.
Her head lifted and their gazes met briefly. "May I examine your sword?"
He nodded silently, all too aware that she likely knew how to use it, like so many women from Bear Island. He thought about how interested Arya had been in his weapons training when they were children and he wondered at how fate made her a Stark rather than a Mormont, where her interest would have been more encouraged.
Lyanna slowly reached out, wrapping her hand carefully around the hilt and sliding the sword from its scabbard. She seemed entranced by the delicate work of the steel, unconsciously moving into a fighter's stance as she swung the blade in a testing arc. Just as reverently, she returned Fang to its sheath and laid it back on the table.
When she turned to face him again, he found himself dumbstruck by the look of joy on her face.
"That is a magnificent sword, finely made, with perfect balance. Fang will bring great honor to your House."
Bran nodded slowly, transfixed by her expression. "Do you...wish that Longclaw were-"
"No," she answered, cutting him off, her tone decisive. "When my uncle left for the Wall, it was agreed Longclaw was his to take and his to give. That the King of the North now wears that blade is a great honor to House Mormont."
Again, he nodded, flushing under her gaze as it flickered to his bare feet.
"Do you wish me to-"
"No." This time, he interrupted her. "I can manage on my own." When he glanced at her again, he was surprised to find understanding rather than pity on her face.
"They said mainland nobles have servants for everything, but that's not how we live on Bear Island," she revealed, walking back over to the chair where her cloak rested. As she shrugged out of her dress, he averted his eyes and refocused his attention on himself.
Once he was down to his simple white shirt, Bran eased himself back against the headboard and pushed his thin legs underneath the cover. Better his wife be spared having to look upon him too much. Only then did he look over at her, to find her standing in her shift, her hair unbound, watching him silently.
Again, their eyes locked but this time, neither of them looked away. In fact, Lyanna simply walked forward, climbing onto the bed and settled by his side, facing him with her legs tucked under herself. He found himself holding his breath as she raked her eyes over him appraisingly, and tensed when she opened her mouth to speak
"Do you….like anything in particular, Lord Stark?"
Everything about the the question seemed ridiculous. The unexpectedness. The forwardness. Addressing him as Lord Stark. So he laughed disbelievingly. "I think, at least in bed, you can call me Bran, if you won't anywhere else."
To his delight, she smiled again, and now, with her hair down and in her shift, she seemed luminous, which heightened his nervousness. She nodded, taking a moment before offering, "Please call me Lyanna." But she still looked askance at him.
"I don't know," he answered her question. "I've never done this."
Lyanna blinked, startled, and pulled back. "What, never?"
"No. Never." He could feel his ears heat up in embarrassment.
"Aren't lords supposed to dip their wicks?"
He blushed at her forthrightness, then wondered how didn't expect it. "Exactly when was I supposed to do that? When I was fleeing Winterfell, or training beyond the Wall, or with the armies of Westeros as we fought to save ourselves, or when I had to become Lord Stark and rebuild the North?" He'd meant to sound flippant, but by the end he was only bitter. His voice softened as he added more honestly, "I didn't want to."
She nodded silently and he was taken with her regard.
"What about you?"
Lyanna shook her head. "I was betrothed to you before I even knew desire."
"So? We don't have a traditional marriage. You are Lady Mormont…" He left unsaid what all knew. The women of Bear Island, even of the nobility, didn't care for the norms of the mainland.
"I'm not completely ignorant, but I promised you I would bear your children as soon as I was of age," she scoffed, brushing some of the hair away from her face. She was not at all embarrassed to be discussing such things. And her forwardness eased his own discomfort.
"But not completely ignorant?" he repeated questioningly.
Now she glanced away, only to meet his eyes again, her head tilted in curiosity at his reaction. "I have hands. I've enjoyed myself," she admitted.
He swallowed and blinked. Having only heard of such things - for women at least - just that day, he knew he should feel shock at her revelation. Instead, he felt only relief.
"Oh good. Then you can tell me what to do," he confided without thinking.
Lyanna half-smiled, one brow lifting. "Oh?"
He didn't know how she could make that single syllable sound so intrigued.
Bran nodded quickly.
"Will you?" she asked, gesturing towards his covered lap.
He shifted. "I'm told I'll probably enjoy everything."
Lyanna bit her lip, then shook her head. "I meant, Bran, will you show me?"
He closed his eyes tightly. "Yes, if you like," he answered, wincing at his own ineptitude.
Her fingers gently closed over his and eased his grip on the furs in his lap. Belatedly, he realized this was the first time they had touched and he eyes flew open to meet hers.
She offered him a small smile, then dropped her gaze to his lap, pulling back the bedding and leaving him exposed.
Bran looked down, noting his skinny legs, too thin for his body from disuse, and between them, his cock, already beginning to grow under her attention. When she said nothing after some time, he eyed her worriedly.
To his surprise, Lyanna seemed pleased, her mouth upturned. When she looked up at her, her smile widened. "You can feel that, yes? Where can you not feel?" she wondered.
"I, yes, ah." Bran tried to get a hold of his widely swinging emotions, but decided it was easier to show her than to explain. He put his hand on his upper thigh, drawing a line with his finger across both legs, noting where he lost feeling.
She reached out, pausing just before she touched him. "May I?" she asked, eyes bright.
He nodded, and with wide eyes, followed the path of her hand as she traced the same line with two careful fingers. Again, his cock stirred and when he looked at her, her smile had grown.
Lyanna met his eyes once more. "I've been very curious about this. About you." And she suddenly wasn't the Lady of Bear Island, but instead, just a willing young woman in bed with a young man. Eager, even.
"You could've asked."
"It's not something I wished to discuss via raven," she answered dryly. Her chin lifted. "Would you like to see me?"
Bran froze, then nodded shallowly. "If you would like to show me," he managed.
She said nothing as she gathered the material of her shift, dragging the cloth over her legs before whipping it off in a single motion to pool on the bed. And just like that, she was naked in front of him. He could see the fullness of her breasts, how the delicate skin around her nipples matched the hue of her lips, and the thatch of dark hair between her legs, two shades deeper than the hair on her head.
Lyanna was more beautiful than he'd imagined.
And she was stuck with him.
And, for the first time, he noticed she was trembling. She met his gaze resolutely and held herself still, but he could discern how fast her heart was beating, could see her body shake every so slightly as she waited.
"Please don't be afraid," he murmured, reaching out to lay a comforting hand on her arm. "I won't do anything you don't want me to do."
"I'm not afraid," she snapped at him and he pulled back his hand, only for her to claim it. "I want to," she continued, softening her tone. "You're my husband and you're not." She paused, looking away and for the first time, he thought she might be embarrassed. "You're rather handsome," she all but mumbled as she squeezed his hand.
"Me?" He almost forgot that he was in bed with a beautiful, naked woman, so great was his astonishment.
"Well, yes," she answered, giving him a little frown. "You're not pretty like the king, but you're still handsome. Don't most men know when they're handsome?"
"I..I don't have the look of my father, exactly, or my brother, Robb, and women thought them handsome. And I can't walk so-"
"What does that have to do with being handsome?" Lyanna insisted. "When I saw you in the godswood tonight, I didn't think 'oh, he's sitting'. I thought 'oh, he's quite handsome. I'm glad.'"
"Oh." Bran flushed under her praise. "Thank you," he added, ducking his head, only to feel her lips, cool against his cheek. "You're very beautiful," he told her.
She snorted in reply and he jerked his head up.
"No, I'm not. I'm regular, common even."
"No, you are anything but common." Bran couldn't quite believe he was having this conversation. "You stare down kings and queens, you rule on your own and have since you were ten, you're strong and smart, and you look…" He swallowed. "You look like a beautiful woman."
Lyanna cocked her head, a half-smile appearing on her face. "We're married, you know, Bran. You don't have to flatter me to get me into bed."
"I'm not!" he insisted, only to quiet instantly when she moved his hand to her breast.
"Then show me," she invited.
"I...don't quite know what to do." Suddenly, he couldn't recall what Jon had told him earlier.
"I'll show you," Lyanna promised, then leaned into him.
Bran knew she was trying to kiss him, but that, as much as his body seemed to want hers, as much as he was growing more and more curious about her body and what they would do, that he could not do. He had kissed one woman in his entire life and he wished to keep it that way. So he turned his head quickly, and she kissed only the side of his mouth.
"I'll please you. Do anything you want," he hastily swore to her, not daring to look at her. "But I don't want to do that."
He felt her lean back and then the gentle touch of her hand as she turned his face towards her own.
"Very well," she agreed, then glanced down at his hand still at her breast. "Would you like to see what I like?"
Bran nodded quickly. "Yes, please."
Lyanna slid around in the bed, lying back and pulling him with her, until he loomed over her. Carefully, she rearranged his hand so that his thumb brushed her nipple, which peaked under his touch. "We'll start here," she said authoritatively.
He wasn't sure how much time passed, as he followed her directions. He let himself revel in the softness of her skin, and felt pride when her eyes darkened with pleasure as he moved his hands. He let himself enjoy the noises she made, when her breath would stutter, or a pleased little sigh escaped. He felt her slickness between her legs and marveled, explored her body carefully and smiled when she gasped in delight and tightened around his fingers. But all too soon, he had to shift his body over hers, had to hold himself steady as she guided him to her cleft, had to push into her as she arched beneath him and whimpered.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Lyanna looked up at him, eyes narrowed. "I'm not," she told him crisply and pushed against him. But she cradled his head against her neck as he began to thrust into her repeatedly, pressed a kiss to his ear when he began to pant and urged him on as he finally spilled his seed inside of her.
Bran only let himself linger on her, in her, for a minute before he pulled back, pushing himself off of her to lie back upon the bed and try to catch his breath.
He could see why men liked to do this so much.
Turning his head towards her, he watched as she closed her eyes briefly.
"Did I...are you hurt?" he asked quietly.
"I'm fine," Lyanna answered, opening her eyes and beginning to sit up until he caught her arm.
"No, you don't have to go. We might not be married the traditional way, but as long as you're in Winterfell, please think of these rooms as your own."
She looked at him inscrutably and nodded. "Thank you, Bran," she replied in a soft voice, then scrambled to get under the covers.
"Of course," he breathed in reply before relaxing against the bed himself.
Bran listened to the sound of her breathing with a palpable sense of relief. If that was how a baby was made, then he was sure he could do his duty. Lyanna was just as honest and forthright in bed as she was everywhere else, and with her taking the lead in bed, he knew he didn't have to fear hurting her or failing to please her. She would always tell him what to do to make sure she was happy so he could do right by her and by Winterfell.
Perhaps the next few years wouldn't be as bad as he feared.
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Chapter 3: Chapter 2
A new routine.
Just a reminder that this fic follows show canon, simply because it is simpler for me to recall the details.
Also thank you once again to Rumaan for acting as my beta reader! And also thank you to any who commented, left kudos or subscribed!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Two weeks after their wedding, Lyanna had inserted herself seamlessly into life at Winterfell, he mused one evening as he made his way towards the bed.
Each day, Bran awakened alone, Lyanna already having taken her leave. He would meet her in the hall where they would break their fast over a light meal, then separate. She usually went to the courtyard, to practice with her weapons, both sword and shield, before the day grew too warm while he retired to the study, to look over the papers and letters with which he had to deal as Lord of Winterfell.
In the afternoon, he would spend an hour in the godswood, using the weirwood tree to look in on the grove in the South, should Queen's Landing need to speak with him, or any other place where the trees still flourished. They had been fortunate in that Daenerys' host had landed so close to one of the few remaining weirwood trees in the South and the grove there now sat in the middle of the new castle for the Targaryens.
Meanwhile, Lyanna retired to a small room he'd set aside for her duties as Lady of Bear Island, reading her correspondence and doing what she needed for her own people. Then he met with whomever needed to be seen, which with many of the wedding guests only just leaving, often meant he had a few hours to review other matters before dining with Lyanna and the household in the hall. After the evening meal, he would retire to his rooms, first to bathe and then to pull himself into bed.
Throughout the day, Lyanna behaved no differently than she had before they were wed. She called him "Lord Stark," treated him with a cool respect, did not glance at him or stare, offered no touches nor affectionate gestures of any kind. Only her place at his table had changed, as she now sat beside him at each meal.
In private, however, once they were alone, was when Lyanna would speak to him as anything other than one lord to another. She was still very much the Lady of Bear Island in their bedroom, but she was also considerate, and funny, and curious. So while she insisted they perform their duty each night, which had ceased to be a chore in a single evening, she was also interested in all the different ways they could enjoy each other. And she had no issue with being in control in bed, directing both of their movements, even if she did so with respect for his comfort and pleasure.
Honestly, it couldn't have been going better for him. The marriage was exactly what he wanted. A transaction, a partnership, to be completed with the production of three children. That Lyanna seemed equally interested in keeping their relationship formal in public encouraged him greatly.
Privately, he enjoyed what they were doing. He'd even begun to suspect that he'd find his hand a poor substitute after their marriage was over. But he was glad that his and her expectations for the marriage turned out to be the same.
Of course, he'd overheard the murmurs about the seeming lack of connection between them, mutterings men might say low but that a wolf's ear could hear, about how perhaps he truly might be the Lame Wolf. But he also heard the replies, from servants, from men-at-arms, from his bannermen, demanding respect for their Lord and inviting any who would say differently to leave.
It seemed as if Bran was not the only Northerner done with tolerating slights.
And he overheard different sorts of whispers about this as well, from the maids who changed the bedclothes every morning to the servants who noted that his appetite increased. The staff of Winterfell very much appreciated their Lord's new wife and showered her with attention. Maude, the woman who ran his kitchens, had inquired about Lyanna's favorite dishes, which soon made their appearance on the supper table. Rimma, who handled the laundry, made sure Lyanna's clothing was washed first. Lachlan, who ran the stables, always inquired at breakfast if Lyanna would have need of her horse that day and would have the mare saddled for her at the appointed hour. All, he'd learned, in the hopes that perhaps Lady Mormont would think of staying at Winterfell even when she was with child, rather than returning to Bear Island as was currently planned.
The consensus clearly was that Lyanna was good for Bran.
Or, as he had overheard, "The Bear's woken the Wolf."
And they preferred the Wolf to the Raven.
But the Raven didn't have to deal with issues like the pleas of various criminals from Stark lands that he was to hear tomorrow. The Raven didn't have to pass sentence upon them.
It was a duty he particularly hated, even more so because he could hear the words of his father every time he decided a case.
The man that passes the sentence should swing the sword.
He shook his head as he eased himself back to lean against the headboard. He closed his eyes, trying to put those thoughts from his mind as he listened to the sounds of the wolves settling in for the night and those that Lyanna made as she readied herself for bed. She already had a pattern and he knew he had only a minute or two before she joined him.
So he was somewhat surprised to hear her light footsteps walk over to his side of the bed. His eyes flew open as she put one knee next to him and swung the other over his legs, so that she could sit back and observe him from his own lap. Not even two feet separated them.
She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped herself as she eyed him carefully.
Now, he'd read more than a little in the past four years and knew that most trueborn ladies would have asked, " What troubles you, my lord? "
Lyanna Mormont, Lady of Bear Island, asked instead, "What's the matter?"
Bran swallowed, keeping his gaze steady with her own. "Nothing." When her eyes flashed in annoyance at his denial, he snapped at her. Who was she to demand answers of him? "I merely was thinking over what I must do tomorrow. Am I not allowed a moment's thought in my own bed? Must I immediately service you every night?"
As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them. In the stillness that followed, he stared at her, tense. When he went to speak, to apologize, she held up her hand, a gesture he recalled from their erstwhile betrothal.
Lyanna betrayed not a single emotion as she surveyed him. "Is that how you think of this? Servicing me?" she finally asked him, voice chilly. It didn't matter that she was only wearing a thin-strapped shift or sat on his lap. She could've been addressing the men-at-arms in the hall for all her carriage betrayed.
"No," he admitted with an emphatic shake of his head. "Not at all. I..don't know what I was thinking."
"You were thinking that I had no right to pry. We have agreed to make children and no more between us. I am not your lady wife; you are free to keep any manner of secrets from me." Lyanna seemed to sit taller as her chin lifted. "I have overstepped. I ask your forgiveness."
Bran was speechless. And when he could speak, the words came unbidden to his lips.
"There is nothing to forgive."
She nodded once, then moved as if to leave his lap before he reached out a hand to rest on her arm. "Lyanna, please. I don't want you to go."
Her brown eyes were seemingly overbright as he added, "I look forward to this now. I was just startled when you changed the routine, that's all."
She considered this as she resettled in her seat on his legs. "You are a creature of habit, I suppose."
Bran nodded quickly. "Yes. I like knowing what's going to happen."
Her mouth quirked at that. "Fortunate then, that such is your gift."
He chuckled, ducking his head, having not quite considered it in that way. "Seeing the future is very rare, even for me. But yes, I seem suited for it." When he looked up, Lyanna had that small smile on her face that he'd begun to think of as uniquely her own. "When you came to me, you were going to say something before all this. What was it?"
She nodded and moved straight to the point, apparently willing to ignore their moment of awkwardness. "We've tried many things since the wedding. So, I will ask again. Do you like anything in particular?"
Bran blushed, immediately understanding her question. "What does that matter?"
Lyanna brushed back some of her hair over her shoulder. "On Bear Island, the women say that it's easier to conceive a child in pleasure."
"I've never heard this," he answered, frowning.
"You've never heard or done a lot of things."
"My maester never-"
"Maesters are all men. Would you rather listen to them or to the people who actually have babies, women?" she asked in exasperation. And he was mindful of what they had just spoken of previously. Lyanna clearly understand what she was about in the bedroom, had taken the time to learn before she came to his bed. He'd been the one to delay, asking his cousin for advice only the day of his wedding. He'd ceded all of the authority in such matters.
Feeling foolish, he gave her a tight nod. He felt she'd neatly trapped him into a conversation he did not want to have, having implicated his duty as Lord Stark as well as having prepared herself much better for a marriage bed.
Though it was nice to not be in charge for a time. He'd much rather simply follow her directions and take his pleasure when it came.
She looked at him expectantly. "What do you like, Bran?" she prodded.
He gazed at her for a moment before his eyes darted way, focusing on the door to their room. It was easier for him not to speak to her directly for some reason. "I like your breasts," he admitted haltingly as his heartbeat sped up uncomfortably, then eyed her reaction.
Lyanna quirked a brow at him, the corners of her mouth turning up. With her eyes on his own, she slowly slid one strap of her shift down, pulling her arm free so that her breast was on display, then repeated the action on the other side. He stared for a moment, watching the rise and fall of her chest and the way her nipples pebbled, and swallowed.
With her shift now pooled at her waist, she asked, "What else?"
Bran sucked in a breath, wondering what she would do next. "I like the way you taste."
That had been a surprise. When Jon had told him about it, he hardly believed that such a thing could give either pleasure. But since than, he'd found he really liked using his mouth between her legs. Everything about the experience was pleasurable, from her cries as he used his tongue to the way her legs would quiver over his back as he worked her. But he especially enjoyed the taste, which was not something he could describe. Though even in their short time together, he'd learned the disadvantage of being too greedy after she'd come, since the wetness eased his way into her afterwards.
A feral little smile danced on Lyanna's lips at his words. "Is that so?" she murmured. When he dared peek, he saw her fingers gently gathering the material over her legs, until she was revealed. As he watched, her hand slipped between her own legs and he heard her exploring herself wetly, a small sigh escaping her mouth.
As if time slowed, while his cock twitched painfully and his breathing hitched, he stared as she withdrew her hand and offered him two slickened fingers.
Before she could say anything, Bran lurched forward, grabbing at her fingers with his mouth, suckling and laving the digits to get every bit of the sweet, heady tang of her. Pulling back, finally, several minutes later, he noted with satisfaction how dark her eyes had become.
"What else?" she asked in a dusky voice, flushed and breathing deeply.
Perhaps there was something to this...talking about it...after all.
He looked down once more, past her nearly naked form to stare at his own lap, his erect cock still covered by the fall of the fabric of his shirt. "I like it when you tell me you like it."
"Oh," Lyanna answered, tilting his face up towards hers with a gentle touch. "So do you wish me to speak more when you're touching me?"
"Yes." His voice nearly squeaked.
"To cry out more?"
"Oh, yes," he breathed.
"To cry out more loudly even?" she suggested lowly, her thumb rubbing against the underside of his lower lip.
" Yes ."
Bran practically quivered under her touch, nerves as taut as their first night together. When her gaze finally dropped to his lap, her smile turned sly.
Lyanna glanced up at him through her lashes. "Shall I begin right away?" she wondered.
"Please," he nearly begged, practically sagging with relief when she scooted closer to him.
"We're both overdressed, don't you think?" As his nod, they peeled off their remaining clothing. Once they were both naked, she reached out to trail her fingers lightly up and down his length, eliciting a low moan from him.
"I like your mouth," she told him, words that made him jerk his head up and stare as his breathing deepened. "Your hands. Your cock," she continued, slowly wrapping her hand around him and pull him flush against her. He could feel her heat, the gentle tickle of her curly hairs teasing the shaft.
"Lyanna," he whispered, hips beginning to move against her. "Please."
"Please what?" She kept him close, even as her hand began to pump in slow, careful strokes.
"Please...let me do things to you," he whined.
"You can do things to me while I do things to you," she pointed out, her hand continuing to work him.
Her words seemed to spark something within him and he lurched forward. His hands began to stroke her skin, spurred on by her words. And she made good on her promise, praising him relentlessly, describing her pleasure at his touch, his tongue, his every move. The first time he thrust into her, she called out his name, which prompted a near-frenzy from him and soon she was practically chanting as he filled her.
Nor was he satisfied by their usual round. After they'd regained their thoughts, he continued to nibble on her neck, licking up the thin sheen of sweat that had formed on her pale skin. Even the salt of her tasted good to him.
Lyanna continued to murmur encouragement as he worked his way lower, until his head was between her legs once more and her fingers entangled in his hair. Then her words changed to cries, then yells of pleasure, begging for her release. "Please, my wolf….please," she whined, hips trying to arch off the bed. When he entered her again, it was only to feel her pleasure as he stroked her center and he grinned when she finally called for him again.
As she relaxed completely underneath him, he continued to move inside of her until his seed spilled deeply. When he finally pulled himself from her, it was only to crawl up her prone form and wipe some of the sweat away from her brow.
Lyanna swallowed and looked up at him. "You are so good to me, my wolf," she told him breathlessly. Her hand came up to cup his face and she smiled. "So good."
"I've had a very understanding teacher," he told her, fingers trailing down her cheek and then her neck.
"We've learned together," she admitted, then arched beneath him once more. "I didn't know a man could spill himself twice in an evening."
"You didn't know something?" he teased, laughing lowly when she pushed at his shoulder. He gently brushed back her hair. "I feel like I could do so a third time," he murmured, ducking his head to kiss her neck.
"Could you really?" she asked wonderingly.
"If given the right motivation," he said against her skin.
"And what would that be?" Her hand smoothed down his back.
Bran lifted his head to look down at the woman he once, somehow, dreaded would be his wife. It was true, he didn't love her. Nor could he. Meera occupied that space in his heart completely. But Lyanna was wonderful, intelligent and honest, open about her desires and fun. She never pushed him too far, never demanded kisses or endearments. She only wanted to do her duty and gain pleasure in the course of it.
One day, she would be swollen with child - his child - and the thought cheered him. His children would have a wonderful mother, even if she was not always by their side. He hoped they would gain her features, that true Northern look, as well as her courage, her strength, her will of steel, her intelligence. He wanted all to look upon the Stark children and see the the North, see their mother in them. They would be formidable.
"You have to ask," he told her finally, only to feel her shift so that she could wrap her legs around him.
"Oh," she said, brows raising in barely contained laughter. "Well then, would Brandon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, the Raven Wolf, care to stick his cock-"
He clapped a hand over her mouth and she nipped at his fingers playfully. "No need for vulgarities ," he told her, chuckling and shying away from her vengeful tickling touch.
Lyanna settled back on the bed, stretching slightly even as she pulled him closer with her legs. "Well, if I must ask without vulgarities ," she mimicked him mockingly. "Would you like to have another go then, Bran?"
He nodded solemnly, though a slow grin soon overtook his features, one that she matched. "I have to put this theory to the test," he informed her.
"Theory?" she asked bemusedly.
"Yes, the theory of the learned women of Bear Island. Let's see if all of our pleasure results in a child," he told her, dipping his head to nose at her jaw even as he shifted his body so he could lay in the cradle of her hips.
"Do you mock them?" she wondered, letting her legs fall more open to him so he could lay his length against her heat directly.
"No, of course not. I wish to prove them right, Lady Lyanna." He pressed a kiss to the underside of her jaw, then to her neck. "I wish to give pleasure. And receive pleasure. And see if a baby does result." He finished every sentence with a kiss to her skin, speaking against her directly. "And if their wisdom proves true, to spread it around the mainland."
Her hands slipped over his shoulders and she scraped his back lightly with her nails before her fingers tangled in his hair. She loved to play with his hair. "Well, my wolf. You are so good at giving me pleasure," she informed him. "Give me my pleasure again and I shall give you yours," she promised in a low, heated voice.
It took quite a bit more time, for both of them, but in the end, they both tipped over the edge together. He was suddenly so glad she had insisted on speaking about this earlier, because what Lyanna said to him in the throes of passion heightened his pleasure considerably. He was especially fond of being called her "wolf" - the title made him feel more powerful, more like a Stark than a man with no use of his legs.
In the end, they made such a mess of the bedclothes that the only clean place to sleep was the edge of the bed on Lyanna's side. Laughing, Bran slid himself into the spot, then invited Lyanna to lie on him.
"And you'll let me sleep now?" she teased him.
"Yes, I'll let you sleep," he agreed, smiling as she tucked her head and laid an ear near his heart. He wrapped one of his arms around her, careful not to trap her hair. "Oh, but, uh, in the morning, I'm often." He huffed, somewhat amazed that he could even feel embarrassment around this woman anymore. "Hard."
"Really?" Lyanna sounded intrigued. "Do you wish to do this in the morning then?"
"Only if you wish it. I know you like to rise very early."
"Mmm, I have to wash myself to be presentable," she admitted, but craned her neck to smile up at him. "I exert myself quite a bit every night, here in Winterfell."
"Sounds terrible," he agreed. "You have an oaf of a husband." His words seemed to trip out of his mouth.
Lyanna pushed herself up to look him in the eye. "No. Not an oaf. A wolf. A wolf who sends me howling," she smirked before laying against him once more. "I rather like him."
Bran closed his eyes at the surge of contentment that washed through his breast. "I rather like my bear as well," he agreed.
His thoughts lingered on the night before well into the next day. He stopped into the hall for a small meal at midday, but soon found himself staring blankly at a corner while he relived the evening's exertions. Lyanna had apparently already come and gone for her midday meal, so he had only his memories to keep him company at his table, at first.
Bran was looking forward to a repeat performance, if he was being honest with himself. Maybe he couldn't manage three times again, but he could try, especially if Lyanna would urge him on again. He shifted in his seat, his erection growing at the memory of her lips so close to his ear, praising his every stroke and calling out his name.
"My wolf...oh...my wolf…"
Until Tormund entered, grabbed some food and plopped himself at the end of the table at the head of the hall. Still, even that unquiet entrance failed to rouse Bran until Giantsbane let his mug of ale clatter roughly on the table.
Bran blinked, gaze refocusing on the red-bearded man. "What?"
"Yer daydreamin'?" the man asked him before tearing a bite out of his bread.
"Lord Stark often feels the call of the Greensight," Maester Timons called disapprovingly from his own seat. Even with his position with the Free Folk, Tormund had no right to sit at the Lord's table.
Not that Bran or Tormund really cared about that right now. Or ever, come to think on it.
Tormund snorted. "The man's just wed a pretty little thing. He's not thinkin' on the Old Gods now." He pointedly motioned towards the young lord's lap.
"That's enough," Bran answered roughly, leaning forward and determinedly taking a bite of the meat in his platter.
"Nothin' wrong with it, son. Woman like that, she'd kill ye if she didn't want ye," the man continued as if he hadn't said anything at all.
At least Bran knew he was referring to the marriage customs of the Free Folk, which could be rather violent. "I didn't steal her in the night. She met me willingly under the weirwood tree," he pointed out.
"No," Tormund denied to his amazement. "I was there in the tent tha' day. The Bear, she picked you . And if a bear changes her mind…" He shook his head, a wide grin coming to his face.
It abruptly occurred to Bran, before he had a chance to get angry, that the big man was teasing him.
So he just sighed and sat back in his chair, before his irritation disturbed Winter and the other wolves. "Do you have nothing better to do than needle me, Tormund?"
"And I heard ye were doin' the needlin', young lord." The man's eyes twinkled with mischief.
Bran groaned at the 'joke'. "What do you want? Because I won't discuss any of that with you, not even in jest."
Tormund grinned and lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "It's good ta see ye happy is all, young lord."
He sucked in a breath in retort but paused. Was he happy? He was about to face the most unpleasant task of his duties as Lord Stark and he hadn't given it much thought since Lyanna put herself in his lap the night before. Perhaps that was happiness, the moments that distracted a man from the unpleasantness of his life.
While the leader of the Free Folk continued to dig into his meal, Bran looked him over. He'd wondered, in those first days after the war, why Tormund had chosen to stay in the North rather than follow Jon to Queen's Landing. But three nights after Jon had left with his host, Tormund, deep into his cups, had admitted that the King had asked him to stay, both for the Free Folk and for Bran himself.
"He wanted ye to have somewhat ye could trust close by."
And Tormund was that. A man who he could trust to see him as a man, and not a Lord, or the Three-Eyed Raven. Nor did he hold with any of the other whispered titles Bran had earned when he re-raised the Wall, cutting off the bulk of the wights' host. Hand of the Gods. If not a God himself.
Not that he ever, for one second, imagined himself a god.
But that was reason why Stark blood was so precious and it had nothing to do with holding the allegiance of the North.
That was why he agreed to marry, to have children. In the hopes that whatever gifts lying in his blood would make it down through the years to the next Stark who would need to use them.
Because it was so easy to be the Raven, but Tormund - and now Lyanna - always reminded him he was a man, that he had a duty to the people here now.
Which is why Tormund was teasing him. Because you teased a man who was newlywed, enjoying the comforts of his new wife.
"Who would be happy watching your ugly mug eat like that," Bran snorted as he finally seized upon the right reply.
Tormund looked up quickly, a bit of stew clinging to his beard. "Ha! So she hasna unmade ye completely, young lord. Good ta see," he guffawed.
"You're leaving tomorrow with the Crone?" Bran asked as he picked up a piece of bread for himself.
"Aye. Though Lally's of a mind te stay. She's taken with one of yer woman's men," Tormund grumped.
Bran looked quickly through the hall, to see if he could spot Lally's hair, nearly the same color as her father's. "I don't see her."
Tormund growled. "She's not here."
It took Bran a moment to understand, but then he had trouble containing his bark of laughter. "I'm sorry, Tormund. That must be uncomfortable for you."
The big man shook himself. "She's a Free woman, can do as she likes. Just doesna mean I have to like it."
"Does she mean to follow him back to Bear Island when Lyanna leaves?" Bran wondered.
Tormund gave him an odd look. "She doesna mean to follow him anywhere. Just have him for a bit afore she goes home."
Bran blinked, not quite sure what to say about that.
"Lally isna built to be anyone's woman but her own. She just wants to have a bit of fun." He shrugged. "Better that way anyway. No man's good enough for her."
"What if she gives you a grandchild?"
Tormund smiled some though he ducked his head. "Better have red hair," he told his stew before taking another bite.
"You could have another of your own too, now that both your daughters are nearly grown."
"Brienne doesn't want children."
Bran smiled. "In all these years, she's never returned your advances, Tormund. I'm sure there are-"
"Brienne doesn't want children," Tormund repeated, looking him in the eye and Bran knew that was the end of that conversation. He nodded and the two went back to eating in silence.
Before he knew it, he was easing off of Winter's back and onto the chair they'd placed in the field just beyond the southern wall of Winterfell. The other lords still in residence from his wedding, Manderly, Karstark and Glover, were arrayed in a line to his left, Lyanna among them as Lady Mormont, while Tormund stood to his right besides Timons. They were each, Bran included, dressed as Lords, with their House sigils prominently featured. Bran even had the new weapon of House Stark by his side, Fang, which he settled across his lap once he was seated again.
When he was settled, he called for the first prisoner to be brought before him.
One by one, the men came in front of him, their arms and legs both bound in irons. Each was accused of some crime on his lands. One had stolen some cattle from a neighbor, another killed his romantic rival in a drunken brawl at one of the few inns that dotted the North. Both admitted their crimes and pleaded for the mercy of Lord Stark.
For the first, Bran sentenced him to provide the money for the feed and care needed for the cattle he'd stolen from his neighbor for three years, even though the cattle had been returned. He also ordered the man's son come to Winterfell for the three years, as a guarantee on his debt. Bran assured him that the boy would be well cared for, but needed to be among people who did not hold to theft as a way of life for a time.
For the second, seeing the man's true remorse for the murder he had committed and taking into consideration his drunken state at the time, he offered him the chance to turn his life into one of service. When given the chance to go to the Wall, to join the Night's Watch, the man eagerly accepted.
The third man, though, was a much different case altogether. Rangy and tall, with a patch of dun-colored hair and a puckered scar on his neck that crawled underneath his thin tunic, he was pushed to his knees by the men-at-arms. He swore he was innocent of the crimes accused, the murder of two women and the rape and murder of another.
"I swear it, my lord! I have murdered none!" he insisted with pleading eyes.
Bran looked towards the man who accused him, a man named Drannick from one of the northern most towns . "What evidence do you have of his crimes?"
"He was seen with one of the women before she disappeared, Arassa, and he was known to frequent the other two. None can say they saw him before each of them was found dead and he's known for his vile temper."
"Plenty of men have been with them, my lord," the accused man, Erlin, protested, his voice thin and plaintive. "They're whores, that's what they do!"
"Two were, my lord," answered Drannick. "But one was not. Arassa was just a scullery maid, barely fifteen years. And the state we found them in, all cut up, butchered, like animals."
"It wasn't me, my lord!"
Bran considered the pair, then glanced at the Lords on his left. They each appeared doubtful, except Lyanna, who wore her customary impassive expression. When he looked left, he saw Tormund scowling at the prisoner.
Perhaps Giantsbane was reacting to the same thing that made Bran uneasy. There was no real evidence against this man, and yet, something seemed off about his begging. Like it was a performance.
Bran watched the prisoner for a long moment. "And if I use the Greensight? If I go to the godswood and see what occurred, if I ask the gods if you are an innocent man, what will I see?"
Erlin blanched and paled. All at once, the shivering man stood a little straighter on his knees and said in a clear voice, "I ask for the Wall."
There was a murmur in the crowd assembled and satisfaction on Drannick's face.
"No, I cannot send one such as you to the Wall," Bran denied, even as dread coiled in his stomach. But he was sure of his decision and put steel into his tone.
Now there were gasps, as even the Lords to his left were surprised at his sentence. A quick glance told him that Lyanna again was the only Lord who remained stern and that Tormond wore a grim smile.
"I am a man of the North," Erlin cried angrily. "I fought with your brother, Robb, and later with the King. I held the North from the Long Night and retook the Throne for him and his Targaryen Queen. Give me my due, give me my right! I want to serve on the Wall."
"No." Bran shook his head. "Too long did Westeros send the dregs of its people to the Wall, unrepentant men who dishonored the Night's Watch and their brothers, and who nearly broke them with their cowardice and avarice for power. If the wights should ever rise again, the Wall must be defended by men who takes their vows seriously. I would not send them a man who cannot admit his crimes, much less feel remorse for them."
"I have a right!" he demanded, trying to stand only for Drannick to push him back down.
"You have no rights!" Bran roared in return, quieting all upon the field. "You slaughtered three women and for what? For what was between their legs? For bloodlust? And you would have me send you to the honorable men who now serve all of Westeros? I will not dishonor them with your presence nor put the integrity of the Night's Watch to shame with a man like you."
He knew what his father would do. But he could not do it in the same way.
His gaze dropped to the great direwolf by his side and he reached out to bury a hand in the black fur. "I do not yield a blade," he began, hearing the uneasiness of the crowd. "My weapons are different. In recognition to your service to the Lords of House Stark, I will offer you a choice of death. My blade, and the hand of another, or my hand and my wolf's teeth."
Erlin's face drained of what little color remained. "B-blade," he stammered.
Bran nodded, at least somewhat mollified that he'd given the man a choice. He pulled Fang from his lap, standing it by the tip on the ground and holding it by the pommel.
As he opened his mouth to ask Tormund to take the blade, Lyanna spoke first.
"It would be a great honor to House Mormont to wield the blade for House Stark."
He stared at the young woman as she stepped forward, her hair up in the same looped braid she's worn for their wedding and her own blade by her side. Having seen her at practice once, and having watched as she swung Fang in their bedroom, he knew she was fully capable of wielding the sword.
And yet, he knew that if he allowed her to take on the horror of taking a man's life, even a man such as this, he might never forgive himself. Nor could she look on him, knowing how weak he was that he would let his wife shoulder the burdens that should be his own.
This is what becomes of House Stark when they let the broken lead.
Lyanna's gaze was fixed on his face and without even meaning to, he told her, "House Mormont has kept faith with House Stark for a thousand years."
"Then let today be another day in which that faith is kept," she responded, walking to his side and reaching for Fang.
He wanted to yank it from her grasp, to tell her stand back, to force Tormund to take the burden of killing. But he, coward as he was, did nothing, let his own hand fall away as she took the sword.
Lyanna turned towards the prisoner, who sneered at her. "That's what Starks do? Let women do their killing for them? They're all whores and liars," he spat, pulling at his chains.
She reacted not at all to this insult and Bran recalled Jon's tale of the disgusted look she'd given Ramsey when he'd offered to forgive her "treason." She merely continued to advance on the man, both willing and able to carry out the duties that Bran could not.
He'd never felt more unworthy of her as when she unsheathed his sword.
"Bow your head," she commanded the prisoner.
"I'll not bow nothing to no whore!"
"I am the Bear of the Island," she informed him, words and tone as cold as the Long Night itself.
Her gaze returned to Bran, waiting for his nod to behead the man he should be executing.
And he did nod, to his own disgust.
Fang slid through the air in one graceful arc, and Erlin's head fell from his shoulders to roll to Bran's feet. He forced himself to meet the dead eyes as he commanded, "Burn the body."
When he looked up, he found Lyanna carefully cleaning Fang of the man's blood. He watched as she replaced the blade into its scabbard, then walked towards him. "Lord Stark, your sword," she offered.
Bran reached out, hand closing on the pommel. "Lady Mormont," he acknowledged.
Their eyes met and try as though he might, he could not read any of her thoughts on the matter.
He, Lyanna, Tormund, Drannick and a few onlookers stayed to watch the body burn. Drannick came to his side momentarily when the body first caught, offering his gratitude for the speedy execution. Bran barely acknowledged him, managing something close to a grunt.
Although it seemed to last an eternity, Bran eventually made his way into Winterfell proper, and once there, to his own rooms. He refused to emerge for the evening meal, choosing instead to take an early bath, where he could stew in the hot water and his own thoughts.
The men had just left him not two minutes before when the door to the bathing room opened. His angry accusation at the interruption died on his lips as he watched Lyanna stride into the room. She still wore her dress from the day, but no longer her cloak nor her sword.
"They said you would not come to supper." Though a statement, there was a clear question in her voice.
How much must she look down on him now, now that she knew her husband was literally incapable of being a true Lord Stark.
"I'm not hungry."
She nodded at his words, walking over to stand by the large tub. He put both hands on edge, waiting for to censure him for hiding.
"Are you always so moody after deciding the fates of criminals?" Blunt as usual.
"Yes," he told her flatly. Best she understand his failings completely.
Lyanna nodded, looking him over critically. "Very well," she answered, turning.
But she did not walk to the door. Instead, she moved over to the table in the room, where clean towels awaited him. With sure fingers, she began to undress, pulling her belt from her hips and untying the laces of her gown.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to join you," she answered. "The tub looks big enough for the both of us."
"What?" he gaped.
"It's been a trying day and I would not mind a soak as well. And no sense in bothering the servants to fill up another bath after you've done your own," she continued pragmatically, folding her dress and laying it on the table.
All too soon, she was bare, and she walked over to the tub with the entirety of her body on display to him once more. "Move forward a little," she commanded and he could do naught but obey.
Lyanna slipped into the tub behind him, easing herself down into the water with a lovely-sounding sigh. Water sloshed over the sides as she sat and he felt the smooth slide of her legs wrapping around his middle. When she told him to sit back, he did so gingerly until he felt the soft give of her breasts.
Once he was prone, one arm snaked around him while the other lay on top of his own on the edge. "Are you comfortable?" she asked, her mouth just an inch behind his ear.
Bran was far too comfortable, given his failures during the day, but he merely nodded in response.
"Good," she murmured and he could feel her relaxing behind him. It was a new kind of intimacy, to have her wrapped around him in the warm water, to feel the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed.
"I was ten the first time I judged a criminal," she commented quietly, ruffling the short, fine hairs near his ear.
"As was I," he recalled, from the brief time before Theon's betrayal that he sat as Lord in Winterfell.
"It never gets any easier," she remarked. "Especially when the sentence is death."
"But you at least can carry out the sentence yourself," he admitted bitterly, looking into the milky water of the bath, acknowledging his shame so that she would know he knew of his deficiency.
"And so can you. You offered the man a death by your wolf." Lyanna's voice sounded so close to his ear, he felt like she was speaking to his very soul. "He chose the easier way."
Bran swallowed. "Yes, death by my wife-"
"Your bannerman. Your bannerman swung the sword of House Stark. And you honored your bannerman to permit it," she told him firmly, the arm around him giving him a squeeze of reassurance.
"And," she continued. "It reflects very poorly on those others that they didn't step forward and offer." She sniffed her disdain. "Of course, they rarely step forward at all."
Bran could hardly believe what he was hearing, stunned that did not fault him for failing to swing the sword himself. That the only fault she'd found was that in the other bannerman, who'd just watched, left him amazed.
Still, he felt he had to defend them. "They did what they had learned to do." Which was not to interfere with the justice of another lord, especially their liege lord.
"To hold back and watch as a Stark Lord provided justice? I'd say they did that," Lyanna replied dryly, one hand reaching for the cloth set on a small stool beside the bath. She dipped it into the water, then wiped down the side and back of his neck. "I hope our children have your hair," she mentioned. "With these bits of red."
Her touch, her words, made his cock stir, a familiar sensation to him now. But he tried to concentrate on their conversation, to make sure that she understood.
"They came and supported us in the end."
"But not the beginning. And gods forbid they should get their hands dirty now."
"It was my hands that should've been dirty, not yours," he managed to get out and she froze behind him, hand poised to dip the cloth back in the water.
Finally, her pale arm began to move once more, soaking the cloth and pulling it out of his line of sight to slide over his shoulder. "As your bannerman, my hands were your hands."
"You...you believe that?"
"Yes, of course I do," Lyanna promised. "You are Brandon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, my liege lord. Whatever you command, I am bound to obey. My body is an extension of yours. All of your bannermen are but an extension of you, so that all in the North may know Stark justice and mercy."
Bran knew these things, but had not felt them truly until now. Hearing her say them was like water reaching the gnarled roots of his pride. "Thank you," he told her. "Thank you, Lyanna."
"House Mormont has always kept faith. And now, cannot help but always keep faith," she said softly. "Especially when men like you lead House Stark."
"Especially when the men who lead House Stark will be Mormonts," he replied, though he smiled.
"Even so," she agreed and he could hear the warmth in her tone.
He relaxed more under her ministrations as she carefully wiped away the sweat and the dirt of the day from his body. His eyes fluttered sleepily as the remaining tension fled from his frame when he heard her murmur once more in his ear.
"Oh my brave wolf, you are a fine lord. I could not hope for one better."
That roused him and he jerked with desire under her touch. "Lyanna…," he moaned. "I..want you."
He felt her lips kiss the sensitive skin behind his ear. "You have me, Bran."
"No, right now," he clarified, then leaned forward as she began to stand. Carefully, so as not to fall and injure either one of them, she stepped over his shoulder, until she stood before him, the water running from her body in thin rivulets that became tiny waterfalls off the peaks of her breasts and the curves of her hips.
He stared up at her, marveling at her beauty, her power and calm.
It was hard to believe he was older than her.
It was hard to believe she was only sixteen.
Lyanna gazed down at him, amusement coloring her features, the tips of her hair wet and dripping. "How do you want me?" she teased him.
Bran proceeded to detail everything he meant to do to her, from supping on her cleft to letting her ride him while he sucked on her nipples. Later, when they were done, both panting and breathless, his cock still spasming inside of her as he released all of his seed, she surveyed the mess they'd made of the room.
"There's water everywhere," she noted around a light laugh.
"Someone will clean it up," he assured her, pulling her closer so he could suck a mark unto her shoulder.
Lyanna pushed him away with a laugh, then fished around in the remains of the water to find the long-forgotten cloth. "We must clean ourselves before we leave this bath," she told him, before lifting herself off of him and sitting back in the tub.
Sooner than he would have liked, they scrambled out of the water. Lyanna helped him out onto Winter's back and followed him into the bedroom, rubbing at her hair with a towel. They each prepared for bed, talking easily and when Bran settled back against the headboard, she brought him a small platter of bread and cheese.
"You need to eat something," she told him. "You've no fat to lose on your frame."
"That's your way of telling me I'm skinny, right?" he responded, even as he took the plate from her.
"No, not skinny. But you're not fat either and there's food to be had. So eat it," she directed before she sat on her side of the bed and began to brush out her hair.
Secretly pleased by her concern, he scowled, but layered a piece of cheese on the bread and took a bite. He watched as she smoothed the brush through her thick hair in careful strokes, reminded for a moment of the care his mother took with Sansa's hair so many years ago.
Shying away from those thoughts, he swallowed and returned to a different subject. "You have little regard for Glover, Manderly and Karstark. I don't want discord between my bannermen."
Lyanna's hand paused and she removed the brush from her hair to gaze at him. "There is no discord. But yes, I don't have much regard for them."
"But you have a great deal of regard for Tormund, whose people once raided your own. Because they did not heed Jon and Sansa's call before the Battle of the Bastards?" Bran couldn't think of another reason.
"They claim they had lost so much before that they could not risk answering the call." Her voice was hard. "Mormont...we lost everything. My mother, our army. The Red Wedding took from us nearly every man on the island between the ages of fifteen and sixty. I had sixty-two men when Jon and Sansa sailed to my island. And I gave them over to the cause, because I knew after two minutes of speaking with them that I had Starks in my hall. Not pretenders. Not a man and a woman with delusions. And as Starks, they called for me to join them, to retake Winterfell so that the North could fight the wights and defeat the Night's King.
"And what did they do? They did nothing until Winterfell was again in Stark hands. And who fought for Winterfell? The Free Folk, and the Mormonts, and several others. They have my regard. They fight for what is right, regardless of cost." She nodded resolutely. "I will not fight the other bannerman, but no, I do not regard them. Perhaps their children will learn from their mistakes."
Bran nodded at her. "I wish...I had the luxury of holding the grudge. And I do, against the Freys and the Greyjoys. But not against my own bannerman. I must forgive them so that we can move on, peacefully."
Lyanna nodded in understanding. "I know that."
"I'm not asking you to forgive them either. But, perhaps, begin to think of them with somewhat less contempt? They are trying."
"And failing," she snorted before raising her hand. "I know, I am sorry. My last insult, I promise." A small smile graced her lips.
"Thank you, Lyanna." He returned her smile and then took another bite of his food.
When he finished, and they were both in bed, he turned on her side to face her. "Would you mind if we didn't, ah-"
"We already did, Bran. Unless I simply had a very vivid dream," she replied cheekily.
He grinned at her. "You did not. But, I thought, perhaps we could just sleep?" he suggested.
"It has been an eventful day," she readily agreed and settled under the covers.
A few moments of shifting himself, he mentioned, "I enjoyed waking up with you this morning."
Lyanna immediately moved over in the bed, slipping an arm around his waist and curling herself around him so that her head was just under his shoulder. "I was quite comfortable," she agreed.
He smiled up at the ceiling, using his arm to wrap around her and bring her close. For once, he was content to be Lord of Winterfell and he knew he had his odd, old-fashioned marriage to Lyanna to thank for it.
"Good night, Lyanna."
"Good night, Bran."
I am available for yelling at on Tumblr.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
Bran finds that being married to Lyanna has some other benefits...and possibly one big problem.
Sorry I was delayed in getting this chapter out. Many thanks to @bfl1201 and Rumaan for their beta work!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A month after the wedding, Lyanna was not yet with child and she confirmed this to him one evening as she made ready for bed. It took him a moment to understand what she was saying, but when he did, his eyes went wide.
"Oh, yes. Well." Bran cleared his throat. "Are you...do you need something?" His mind raced as he tried to think of the appropriate words. "Do you wish me to sleep elsewhere for, uh, the duration?"
She watched his fumbling with amusement as she pulled off her dress and laid it aside. "No, I would hardly push you from your own bed. Do you wish me to sleep elsewhere?"
"What?" he asked, surprised. "Well, no, of course not. I said this is your bed when you're here, so it is your bed," he stated firmly, only to sit back against the headboard once he ran out of steam. "Is there aught I should do for you? Will you need to rest for these days? Should I have the kitchens bring you food here?"
Lyanna chuckled. "Bran," she began, unable to keep her smile from growing as she changed into the shift she customarily slept in unless they decided to remove it entirely. "Do you think that the women who work here at Winterfell never go through this?"
He opened his mouth to answer before he closed it softly. Truth be told, he hadn't ever thought about such things before. Finally, he managed. "So you don't need anything."
"Perhaps a hot compress, if the pains are too distracting to let me sleep," she acknowledged, walking over her to her side of the bed and sliding in under the furs.
"Heat helps?" he wondered, already shifting in the bed as an idea occurred to him.
"Yes, often," she confirmed as she stretched out, sighing slightly as she lay back on the pillows.
With some focus, Bran managed to get Onyx to pull herself from the wolf pile of Spring and Autumn by the door. The puppy trotted over to bed, then crouched low and wiggled before trying to jump up. Her front paws scrabbled at the edge of the furs, just shy of the edge, but she was close enough that he could grab her and haul her onto his lap before prodding her towards Lyanna.
"What's this?" she asked doubtfully, though she allowed the pup to climb over her abdomen and snuggle into her.
"Nothing like a direwolf to keep you warm. Or, if you're already warm, to make you hot," he described.
"Oh." Lyanna reached out slowly to stroke the pup's fur, one of her small smiles appearing. "Will she be happy here rather than with Spring and Autumn?" she wondered. "She follows them entirely."
"I think so. I didn't get the impression she was very upset by the request," Bran replied, brow wrinkling in thought.
His wife chuckled, head tilting in interest. "Most do not even wonder about the thoughts of direwolves, much less speak with confidence about them."
"You asked if she'd be happy." He looked down, though he smiled. "Each of us can sense, can know what our wolves are thinking. I maybe have a little bit easier time of it."
He heard her sit up slightly. "Will our children have that ability as well?"
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "I think so. Jon has it and he's half-Targaryen."
"And a good thing he does. His ability to skin-change with a dragon rendered the Dragonbinder Horn useless."
Bran nodded quickly. "I think that's all it really is, though, just an ability to do that, with our animals, that we all use to a different extent. I use it the most, because I need Winter to get around. I think Sansa uses it the least, but even she uses it to-" He stopped, mindful that he was about to give up a secret he shouldn't be discussing with anyone who wasn't a Stark.
Lyanna was his wife but she was not a Stark.
When he finally looked at her hesitantly, she appeared only thoughtful, one hand still stroking Onyx's fur. "It's too bad there aren't anything like direbears. That would be more fitting for a Mormont," she finally said.
Bran snorted. "From what I'm told, all bears are direbears," he answered, drawing a rare full laugh from her that wasn't about sex, which in turn made him flush.
"That's probably true," she agreed warmly. "If my heir has that gift, can warg, will you give him a wolf of his own?"
He knew the answer should be "no." Direwolves were the symbols of the Starks and only Starks should have direwolves padding by their sides. That is what Sansa would tell him. But Jon was a Targaryen and he had wolves. Arya might still use the name Stark, but she was a Baratheon by marriage, and she probably had more wolves than any of them since she allowed Nymeria to breed at will.
"If he wants it, then yes."
"That is training only you can provide," she pointed out.
"The Mormont heir...my son, my daughter, whoever, will obviously always be welcome at Winterfell. Just as you will always welcome," Bran said, impulsively reaching out to take her hand.
Her smile seemed rueful to him, but she nodded. "Winterfell has always been welcoming to its bannermen," she agreed, gently pulling her hand from his to scratch behind Onyx's ears. The pup's tail wagged tiredly in response and Lyanna chuckled at the young wolf before closing her eyes.
"Good night, Bran."
"Good night," he echoed, watching her for a moment and then turning over so he could put out the candles by his side of the bed.
Staring at the maps, or water charts, of the Sunset Sea spread out over his desk in the study, Bran shook his head. Despite Jon's words at his wedding, he'd never taken much of an interest in seafaring and ships before he became Lord of Winterfell. Now, he was responsible for protection of the coastline.
Yara had wanted Sea Dragon Point and the Stony Shore for the Ironborn when they were dividing Westeros at the end of the Long Night, but Jon had been adamant that the people there would not stand for any lord who wasn't a Stark. Bran agreed, knowing full well that those sparsely populated areas were unlikely to take to an Ironborn ruler, man or woman.
Sea Dragon Point was important for the greenseer in him too. The old warrens and ruins of the First Men dotted the peninsula, along with weirwood forests and an ancient sort of calm that every one of the Starks could feel in their bones. He hadn't wanted to give up the Point then and he certainly wasn't going to allow Yara to take it now by default as the Ironborn stepped up their raiding.
The relative peace after the war was slowly fading.
His new fleet had been installed in one of the bays just south of the Point, where they also established a shipyard to build more vessels for the burgeoning Stark fleet. A town was beginning to spring up around the work, as men and women moved their families closer to where there was work to be had building and provisioning ships for their Lord. They were calling it Winter's Dock, the home of Winter's Fleet.
Winter's Fleet had an admiral, a man vetted by both Davos and Manderly, who'd served with Daenerys' host. He'd sent his plan for the deployment of the fleet for approval and now Lord Stark was staring down at it, trying to figure out whether he felt so inclined. Bran felt he wouldn't be doing his duty if he didn't at least try to see if he could find a flaw, especially because the admiral had spent most of his seaborne career on the Narrow Sea.
The truth was he just didn't know. Cahgan's plan seemed sound enough but he couldn't be sure. He thought he might just have to ask Davos, though that man too was more familiar with the eastern seas. Brain didn't care to ask Lord Ryswell for his opinion either. The House that controlled the Rills might have some knowledge of the coast and the waterways, but even though they had been forgiven for throwing in with the Boltons, he didn't feel Rickard merited his complete trust yet. Fortunately, Rickard at least seemed to be of a fairly even temper and Bran was privately quite glad he was the only Ryswell to survive the Long Night.
He also privately felt that Arya might have had something to do with that.
Bran pulled his thoughts back to the charts and the letter from Cahgan. As his eyes drifted over the maps, they caught on the outline of Bear Island and it occurred to him that he did have someone in his own home who might be able to offer a sound opinion. One that he could trust. One that wouldn't betray his own ignorance of the subject to no less a person than the King's Hand.
"Gared," he called out to the man he knew was just sitting on a stool in the hall, waiting for an order. When the paunchy man appeared, he directed, "Go find Lady Mormont and ask her if she will attend me here presently."
Bran kept a straight face when Gared gave him an odd look, but waited until the man left before clapping a hand to his brow. He needed to stop reading the stupid novels that his mother and Sansa had liked years ago, but without his usual bedsport the last few days to lull him into sleep at night, he found the reading of frivolities were just what he needed to fall asleep without resorting to the greensight.
Lyanna walked through the doorway perhaps half an hour later, raising a brow quizzically at him as soon as he lifted his head from where he was staring blankly at the water charts. "Lord Stark," she greeted him, inclining her head.
"Lady Mormont," he replied, sitting up straighter and gestured to a place next to his chair that wasn't currently occupied by a lounging wolf. "Please join me. I wish to you ask for your advice."
Understanding dawned as she approached and saw what lay on the parchments beneath his hands. "This is the positioning of your ships," she correctly identified the various markers he had set down at the points Cahgan specified.
"Yes. The admiral has asked for my approval but I thought that you might know better than I if he's missed something," Bran admitted freely, gazing up at her. "You were raised far closer to ships than I was. You've been on them more often as well, and of course, Bear Island-"
Her hand came up in that gesture he'd seen her give so unceremoniously to her Maester or other subordinates when she had no more need for their words. He knew that another lord might take offense, but he had seen this woman interrupt Daenerys herself. He hardly thought himself above the Queen.
More important, he was relieved that she seemed to grasp the material quickly. With her attention completely fixed on the charts, her dark eyes took in the information. Finally, her hand came down to move one of the pieces that represented a warship to a position more northwest. "That is the only change I would make."
Bran tilted his head in curiosity. "Why?"
That appeared to be the right question, to judge from her approving smile. "There's a current here that runs more southerly, so that the ship can actually patrol somewhat further out while still being in a good position to move closer to the coast or to aid other vessels as need be."
He frowned, trying to discern where such was noted on the chart. "I don't see a current?" he questioned.
"This map only shows the larger ones," Lyanna explained, leaning over his desk and shuffling the papers until she pulled another map from the pile. "This one shows the smaller ones." She plopped the parchment in front of him and he recognized the map he pushed to the side, its wealth of information too busy for him to understand.
"If it's a smaller one, will it be strong enough-"
"For a single ship, even a warship, it is large enough," Lyanna commented mildly. "But if you do not move the ship, I will not be offended that you did not take my advice."
Bran spent a few moments eyeing the new configuration, before nodding. "If you are sure, than I am sure. I will let Cahgan know that I want the ship moved." He reached forward to take a quill and a clean piece of parchment to pen the note to the admiral.
"You trust my judgment enough to move the position of your warship?" Lyanna asked, her tone considering.
"You know more about this sort of thing than I do. I'd be a poor lord if I didn't listen to my bannermen who know more about a subject than I do," he answered, scratching out the words in his cramped handwriting. Maester Luwin had told him to practice his penmanship as a boy but he'd always found something better to do. Now, his scrawl was just another signal that he wasn't fit to be Lord Stark.
She made some sort of noncommittal noise and he turned to look at her, pausing in his writing. "Have I said something wrong?" he asked, puzzled by the distant look in her eye.
"No, my lord. I simply did not expect that your bannerman's opinion would be so respected."
Bran snorted. "I didn't call you here for your opinion only to disregard it. I have some sense." He turned back to his writing, but he managed to add more politely, "Thank you, Lyanna. In all honesty, I don't trust any of my bannerman the way I trust you." Mormont was the most loyal of the Houses of the North and he was not the only Stark to feel this way.
When he finished his note to the admiral, he glanced up to find Lyanna giving him what he thought of as her contented smile. He unconsciously smiled in return, and spurred on by the feeling he should say something, blurted out, "You - Mormont - should have your own warships."
Lyanna shook her head, chuckling. "When you received your fleet, my lord, you also received a large amount of money to pay for that fleet, as well the construction of new ships. Winterfell has the wealth of the North to help support this fleet eventually. Bear Island does not. We have no money to keep ships, nor men to crew them, that are not hauling in food or trade. In times of war, we can arm the largest of the fishing ships if need be, but we cannot keep fully-crewed, armored ships on hand."
Bran felt his face grow hot in embarrassment. Of course Bear Island couldn't afford a fleet. Otherwise, they would have had one hundreds of years ago. Instead, they usually fought the Ironborn or, in the past, the Free Folk, on land, holding off invaders for a thousand years. "Yes, of course," he mumbled, ducking his head under pretense of folding his missive to the admiral.
He heard her begin to move away and before he knew it, his hand shot out to stay her. "Did you have your midday meal yet?"
She shook her head, gaze on his hand, which he hastily removed. They did not touch in public.
"Oh, well, I just thought perhaps we might eat together. If you don't have any other duties to attend to." Now that he was in her presence during the day, he realized that he wasn't particularly interested in going back to being alone, at least not right away.
"That sounds nice, Bran," she agreed, again giving him that small smile of hers. "Shall I meet you there?" She motioned to the note he had just folded. "I should think you would want to send that out right away."
"Yes, that sounds good."
Lyanna inclined her head. "Then I shall meet you in the hall," she said before sweeping out of the study.
As he watched her go, he considered how a mere month ago, he was dreading having Lady Mormont at Winterfell, in his life and his bed. Now, he relied on her for advice about his duties, both in bed and without. It made him chafe at the idea that he might have sooner but for the fact he'd been avoiding her since their betrothal.
Perhaps it was another sign that he was not meant to be Lord Stark, that his natural inclinations pulled him towards isolation. But unfortunately, he was Lord Stark and if Lyanna could help him be a better lord, he'd be foolish to ignore her insight.
When Lyanna was again able, they resumed their nightly activities, though not before she replaced the novels he kept by his side of the bed with the tome that Tyrion had gifted them for their wedding. In it, he discovered that when Winterfell conquered Sea Dragon Point and the forces of the Warg King, he took the man's daughters as trophies.
"Maybe this is where my abilities come from," Bran said, showing the passage to Lyanna as she sit beside him in bed one evening.
"Like as not," she agreed, reading the words for herself. "I cannot imagine a Stark taking an unwilling, captive wife."
"This book talks about all sorts of things the Kings of Winter did. Some of them were pretty horrible, including allying with the Boltons for the Rape of the Three Sisters," he admitted as he turned the page when she signaled she'd finished with it. "I'd like to think we Starks are not capable of these things, but apparently we are."
"Then maybe it is the blood of the Warg Princesses that dulled the murderous impulses of the Kings of Winter."
Bran couldn't help but chuckle at that. "You've met my sister Arya. And I heard tales growing up about your namesake, Lyanna, and her namesake, and Lyarra, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother also named Arya. Of Serena and of Sarra." He shook his head. "I don't think the blood of the Warg Princesses dulled anything. Just made our women as fierce as the men." He snorted. "Except me."
"Says the man who offered to execute a man by direwolf just the other week," Lyanna answered mildly. "Not dulled. Contained, maybe, until an appropriate target is sighted," she teased him.
"I know there's a joke that I should be making in reply, but I'm not nimble enough of mind to find it," he replied, turning back to the book with a smile on his face.
"Of course you are. You are simply too polite." Lyanna's voice was all amusement.
That amusement continued throughout the month, as he grew ever more easy in her presence until they ate nearly every meal together and she spent nearly as much time in his study as in the room he thought of as her study during the day.
But it ended when her monthly flow came yet again.
The day after Lyanna confirmed that once again they had not succeeded, he abruptly recalled a conversation he had not been meant to overhear soon after he'd awakened after his fall. At the time, the words hadn't bothered him so much, but now, he needed to know if they were true.
Bran consulted with Maester Timons, who sent a raven to the Citadel. Due to his newfound prestige as the Three-Eyed Raven, the answer came within the week. The message, simple and direct, was not the news he was hoping for, but it was the news he expected and he chewed over it in his study day after day.
Eventually, the Throne would have to be informed, to say nothing of Sansa. But he found himself most trepidatious about speaking about it with Lyanna, even though she would be the one most personally affected.
Even now, she had begun to drink some noxious smelling concoction during breakfast, a folk remedy that Maude swore by to help a woman conceive. She had also written to someone she knew on Bear Island, a midwife of nearly forty years, for advice and was eagerly awaiting her reply.
That it all might be for nothing because of him made him uneasy. While it was the surest sign he'd received about how ill-suited he was to be Lord Stark, he was far more concerned about Lyanna. She was not a patient woman, by any means, and the notion that he might have been wasting her time caused him more distress than the idea that he couldn't father children itself.
Bran did know she would not thank him for wasting any more time and that evening, once they had both retired to the bedroom, he tried to start the conversation.
"I've had a raven from the Citadel today," he began awkwardly, once he was through getting himself into bed. He'd used the time pulling off his clothing to rehearse silently what he was going to say. "About our difficulties in making a baby," he clarified.
"I've word from Maynsila on the Island as well," Lyanna replied as she threw the last of her clothing onto the pile and then climbed into bed herself. She had stopped even using a shift in bed with him, a luxury she revealed she didn't have at home, which was significantly colder.
Momentarily distracted by the image of her prowling naked towards him across the furs, her hair spilling down over her shoulders to provide him with teasing glimpses of her breasts to say nothing of the heat in her eyes, he paused, allowing her to continue uninterrupted.
"Maynsila said that given our youth, she is not concerned about the lack of a child as yet. She says it can take a year, sometimes, for the first one. But she feels that we must acknowledge who you are, as a warg and as a Stark, and if we do that, I shall get pregnant faster," Lyanna explained, kneeling beside him.
"What does that mean?" he asked, when he could pull his gaze away from her breasts. With great effort, he refrained from reaching out for one, even though his hands itched to trace the full curves and to play with her already peaked nipples.
"You must take me from behind, as the wolves do." She added after a moment's thought. "Bears as well, I suppose, but I'm no warg."
Bran frowned immediately, even as she folded back the bottom of his shirt so that his erect cock was revealed. When she began to trail her fingers up his length, he reached down to still her hand. With difficulty, since she was already quite deft.
"How is that possible with my legs being useless?" His voice sounded reedy to his own ears.
Lyanna huffed, pushing the hair that partially obscured her breasts over her shoulder. He knew she was trying to spur him on, or at least distract him, but he determinedly kept his gaze on her face. Mostly.
"We'll put some pillows under my hips, raising them and you'll be somewhat further back, but it can be done."
He grumbled, still frowning, through the fear that he would be unable to perform as she required. Bran shook his head. "And am I to bite your neck too while we do it this way, like the wolves do?"
Her head lifted defiantly and he swore he could see a flash of pique. "I can take a bite. Can you give one?"
Lyanna was just too skilled at getting him to do what she wanted. Aroused, angry and ashamed, he lurched forward, pushing her back to the bed. He followed her, covering her body quickly with his own, locking his mouth on the fleshy part where her back met her neck and biting down. She jerked underneath him, even as her arms encircled his back.
Bran lavved at the mark he'd inflicted on her, then began to trail kisses down her collarbone. He nipped at the swell of her breast, drawing a delighted murmur from her as her nails scratched down his back. His hand fumbled along her side, only to sweep inward towards her center, awkwardly groping at the slight swell under her belly before sliding lower.
Lyanna bucked underneath him as soon as his fingers grazed her curly hairs, but he barely got got two fingers into her slick when she reached down to grab at his hand.
"No," she panted. "You know what I want," she told him, dark eyes holding his own when he whined against the soft, delicate skin near her nipple. "Then you can do what you want," she promised, brushing at his hair before urging him off of her.
He wasn't sure why he relented, but he found himself rolling to his side while she gathered two pillows. She maneuvered around in bed, until she was lying with her face to one side, her hips propped up by the pillows and her pale back up towards the ceiling.
Swallowing his discomfort with the whole notion, Bran gingerly climbed over one of her legs, eventually getting himself lined up behind her full, smooth ass with his hands gripping her waist tightly. He held himself up in the uncomfortable position with some difficulty, until he could rest some of his weight against her, then asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yes," she insisted, opening her legs wider.
The first thrust was awkward, his body pushing against her rounded flesh, but the second was worse. Watching the muscles of Lyanna's back tense, her arms brace against the bed to keep herself in place, her neck bend when he pushed into her body, didn't sit right with him. It didn't matter that his cock slide into her as easy this way as it did when they faced each other, or that her hot, tight center grabbed at him the same way. He didn't like it and rolled away with a huff, flopping back on the bed and staring up.
Lyanna pushed herself up onto her side to frown at him. "What's the matter?" she demanded.
"I don't..I don't like that. I don't care what they say, I'm not doing it like that," he answered, turning his head toward her at the end of his statement.
She looked gobsmacked. "I thought you would like it more, since you can't see my face," she replied with some surprise.
Bran pushed up on his elbows, grimacing at her. "I don't like not seeing your face. Why would you think that?"
She sat up completely. "I'm not a fool," she told him, her expression suddenly veiled. "I know you think of some other woman when we're in bed."
"What?" Dumbfounded, he quickly pushed himself into a sitting position and he scrambled to think how she would believe this. "Why, what..how..," he sputtered, unable to form a coherent question.
"You won't let me kiss you. You never call for me in bed. You bury your face, whether between my legs or in my neck. You don't care about my face, Bran, so why should it matter to you if you can see it?" As she spoke, her voice grew firmer. The heat left her eyes as well, replaced with that cold fury he learned years ago from the battlefield. "If this is the way to make a child, you will do this," she snapped at him.
Lyanna Mormont was a woman of the North, strong, proud, and true. And she usually directed what they did in bed.
But he was Brandon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, the Three-Eyed Raven, veins filled with the blood of the Kings of Winter, the First Men and ancient wargs, and he wasn't going to take his wife from behind if he didn't want to.
"No. I won't." He sat straighter. "We'll do it the other way, the usual way."
"No. I won't," she replied icily, throwing his words back at him.
"We can't make a baby if we don't actually-"
"You've made your choice," Lyanna cut him off. She gave him a long, cool look before turning away from him and pulling the furs and covers over her body.
The frustrated noise he made was possibly the least dignified thing he had done in years. "Lyanna-"
"Good night, Lord Stark."
Her tone made him shiver.
Bran slept poorly that night, staring into the darkness when he wasn't simply watching his wife's back as she slept. He didn't even try to slip into the greensight, instead keeping himself focused on the task at hand.
He racked his mind, trying to recall when he might have mentioned Meera to Lyanna, but couldn't think of a single instance. He'd been so careful not to mention the girl he had loved so much to his wife, especially because she had never pried. She had seemed so content with their arrangement, a friend in the hall and a willing partner in the bed, that he couldn't imagine that he would have spoken of Meera which he knew would likely only upset her.
Worse, he couldn't quite believe how easy he'd been dissuaded from telling Lyanna that she was wasting his time with him. With just a few words from his wife, as well as her naked body being so close, he'd completely forgotten that he meant to tell her that everything they had been doing had been for nothing. Guilt that he was so willing to abandon doing what was right because he enjoyed being with her so much swept through his body and curdled in his stomach.
He never expected to enjoy...well, fucking his wife so much. Maybe he was just as bad as those Kings of Winter who'd done terrible and selfish things if he was willing to ignore his duty to her as her lord just for the sake of another trip between her legs. Bran could fuck any woman, really, who would have him. He didn't need to be taking up Lyanna's time.
Not that fucking anyone else really appealed to him. The gods knew, he'd never even imagined being with anyone else, not even Meera. Before he knew for certain he couldn't father children, he hadn't even been contemplating taking a lover while Lyanna was away. He might not have sworn fidelity to her, but the thought of bedding someone else made his lip curl in distaste.
Bran spent most of the night tossing and turning, occasionally dozing, before finally finding real sleep just a few hours before dawn. When he awoke, Lyanna was gone and he could see through the windows that the sun was much higher in the sky than when he normally awoke. As quickly as he could, which was not very fast at all, he scrambled into his clothing and rode Winter out into the hall where Gared was waiting for him.
"Do you know where Lady Mormont is?" he asked the man right away.
Although Gared did not know, they eventually came upon one of the maids who had seen Lady Mormont headed towards the godswood not too long before. Bran then dismissed Gared with a wave and directed Winter towards the godswood.
They found Lyanna sitting on the bench near the weirwood tree, angled so that none could approach on the path without her notice. She turned her head as they came into view and watched impassively as they closed the distance.
Bran swallowed, his nervousness in her presence suddenly as keen as their first day together. Certainly, there was nothing in Lyanna's expression or carriage which betrayed they had any connection beyond that of lord and bannerman, even as she rose to her feet.
"Lord Stark," she greeted him flatly. "I shall depart to give you privacy for your duties." As she spoke, she brushed off some unseen bit of debris from the skirt of her dress and took a step forward.
Fortunately, Bran found his voice before she moved further. "If I was interrupting your prayers, I will leave."
She blinked and shook her head. "I don't pray to to the gods."
It was Bran who was taken aback now. "I thought Mormont was particularly religious. Everyone always said that your mother-"
Lyanna cleared her throat. "My mother was. She always said we owed the gods for providing us the rules that most men and a few women need to hear coming from something that could visit retribution on them. The rest of us don't need rules to know not to murder, not to lay with our siblings, not to betray those we've offered guest right." Even though he knew the derision in her voice was not aimed at him, he flushed.
"Then why were you here?" he wondered.
She shrugged a shoulder, some of the tension leaving her frame as she looked away. "Being in a godswood always reminds me of my mother," she admitted.
Bran nodded understandingly, a gesture she managed to see when she glanced back at him. "My mother was from the South, believed in the Seven, but I think she'd come here for the peace of it." He sucked in a breath, barreling on before she could reply. "If you have some time, I'd like to show you something. Tell you something," he added.
Lyanna hesitated, which surprised him even more than hearing she didn't pray. She always seemed to know her own mind and the fact that she seemed to pause because he wanted to be with her hurt him more than he thought possible. But he resolutely ignored the slimy feel of shame and self-loathing when she nodded, to motion to the path before urging Winter to continue.
Eventually, he led her to a particular thicket, pushing through some of the brush that always seemed to crop up during the summer. Bran followed her inside the small, shaded clearing ringed by a set of somewhat younger trees than most in the godswood. Once there, she turned to regard him, curiosity in her eyes.
"I'd come here to hide when I was very little, avoiding my lessons with Maester Luwin or hiding from the Septa's lessons. Mother wanted us to know about the Faith of the Seven, though she didn't insist we follow any of their rules. That was one area where Father was very firm, that we were to raised to follow the Old Gods." As he spoke, he eased off of Winter's back and pulled himself into a seated position, resting his spine against one of the trees. Afterwards, he patted the ground next to him. "Would you join me, Lady Lyanna?"
Just being in the godswood gave him strength, he felt, as if the gods themselves were standing next to him, so his voice was strong and clear. Perhaps responding to that, Lyanna nodded and joined him on the ground, sitting on her cloak to protect her dress.
"This place was always mine, or at least I thought of it that way. I never told any of my sisters or brothers where I would disappear when I hid in the godswood and I never came here after we got the direwolves, so they never thought to track me. Even now, sometimes, when I'm done at the weirwood tree, I come to this spot, so that I'm not easily found."
Bran had spent many hours in the thicket, slipping into the greensight, reviewing the actions of the past. He'd learned a great deal about his father, a man he'd thought of as a paragon, and even more about others in Westeros. Somehow, his sisters and his cousin had found people as honorable as themselves to marry, which he had seen was a rare quality.
Somehow, he had as well and it was time to repay that honor with his own.
"I don't think the reason we haven't made a child is because I haven't taken you from behind," he began, keeping his gaze on one of the trees. "I think - no, I know - that I am the reason."
Lyanna shifted beside him, turning herself slightly to watch him as her brows came together in puzzlement.
"When I was a boy, after I was first injured, I overheard Luwin telling Old Nan that if I never walked again, it would be unlikely that I could father children as well. Cripples don't usually have that ability. Nan had clucked at him, said that she knew a man who'd had no use of his legs after a fall from a horse but he'd fathered two, but Luwin was certain that was rare.
"I wasn't so interested in that bit when I was little, most upset that I might not walk again. And when I was older and I could…" He made a hand motion, as if to simulate an erection. "When I could to that, I figured that I was like the man Nan had known and it wouldn't be a problem, not that I thought about having children." It had occurred one night, when Meera had huddled against him for warmth while Benjen escorted them to the Wall. She'd made a joke about it, saying it was too cold for her, but she figured that wouldn't be an issue for a Stark.
Bran smiled wistfully at the memory but continued. "I even thought I saw, or heard a vision of our children, when we swore our vows beneath the weirwood tree. But now I think I might have been seeing Sansa's children, or Jon's, or even Arya's. I don't want you to go to any lengths to get pregnant when it is I who am the problem." He cleared his throat again, determined to get this last bit out. "And if I am the problem, we will have to divorce, so that you may produce an heir for Bear Island."
"No." Lyanna's voice was firm and steady, her gaze unblinking as she refused his very reasonable solution.
"Lyanna, a Mormont heir must be produced," he tried to reason with her. "I have siblings who have children, and a cousin as well. There will be a Stark in Winterfell regardless if I father a child. But for you, there are no other Mormonts and I don't want your House to go the way of Reed." He swallowed the wave of grief that always threatened when he thought of how Jojen and Meera were the last of the Reeds. "I will order you away if I have to. And I shouldn't have to tell you, of all people, about your duty," he concluded plaintively.
But she just shook her head. "No, I don't believe that."
"You don't believe that you have a duty to produce an heir?" he asked incredulously.
"I don't believe," she corrected. "That you're unable to father a child. Stark blood is too important for that and if the Old Gods granted you your powers, they would not have taken away your ability to have children. There must be more Starks. Not Targaryens of Stark descent. Not Baratheons of Stark descent. Not Lannisters of Stark descent. Not Westarks, or Karstarks, or Greystarks. True Starks."
"What would you have us do then? How long will you wait to figure out that I can't give you children?" Bran asked in exasperation.
"A year," Lyanna responded clearly, as if she had already thought it over. "Maynsila said it is not uncommon to try for a year. If we have tried for a year without success, then I will accept your order to leave. But not before. You are the only living man whose name is Stark and it is your children who should have Winterfell. Arya is Baratheon; Sansa has chosen a new name; Jon is a Targaryen. You are the Stark in Winterfell and we should at least try to give you children."
"Can Bear Island really spare you for so long?" he tried to appeal to her sense of honor to her own people.
She smiled slightly. "Bear Island was given to us by Starks. A year of my life in Winterfell is hardly asking too much."
Bran felt his throat somewhat close up, overwhelmed at her Mormont devotion to the Stark line. He blinked rapidly and dropped his eyes, while Winter lay down next to him and put his head in his lap. He scratched the wolf behind the ears, trying to draw comfort from his constant companion.
"If you are sure," he finally managed, when he could.
When he looked up, Lyanna was gazing about the thicket, a half-smile on her face. "Thank you for bringing me here," she said. "I won't tell anyone about this place, so it can remain a place of refuge for you."
"I know my trust in you was well-placed," Bran admitted. They both lapsed into silence, listening to the murmur of the wind through the branches of the trees around them and for once, it didn't tempt him to reach for the greensight or even close his eyes. In fact, if anything, looking at the line of his wife's profile, it seemed to spur him to say something more.
"There's never been anyone I've thought about like that, except you," he blurted out ungracefully, then grimaced at his own choice of words. "I mean to say, I've never imagined myself in bed with anyone, until we wed and I, and we, uh…" He trailed off, flushing.
"Yes, I was there," Lyanna confirmed, the corner of her mouth quirking.
Bran nodded quickly, then plowed on to finish what he meant to tell her. "There was a girl whom I loved, once. She saved my life, many times, from the Night King and his wrights. But she died. She died before we ever did anything but kiss. Maybe if she had lived, she would be my wife, but I don't know. If Sansa, if Jon, hadn't wanted me to be Lord of Winterfell, maybe I wouldn't be Lord Stark at all. I wouldn't be married at all. I wouldn't allow Meera to spend her life with me if I was just going to be crippled Three-Eyed Raven."
He shook his head. "I loved her and she's the only one I've ever kissed and that's enough. I suppose I just want to keep kissing for her, because of what she did for me. But that's all she is, a boy's first love. I'm sure she'd have wanted someone else in time, a man who could walk and father children." He mustered up a smile. "I don't suppose there was any boy you ever fancied when you were younger? It's probably like that."
She hummed in agreement next to him. "Yes, there was a boy," she confirmed in a soft voice.
"But in bed, I don't think of her," he hastily added to make sure she understood fully. "I don't think about anyone but you. I never have, I never will."
Lyanna watched him carefully, only to reach out and lay a hand on his which rested on the ground between them. "You don't need to swear such things to me. You're free to lay with whomever you like. I simply didn't think that seeing my face was really that important to you, that it being me in bed meant anything."
Bran turned his hand up, to interlace their fingers together. "I didn't know it either," he admitted quietly. "Until I couldn't do it." He sighed. "And I'm not going to lay with anyone else either. Whether you get with child or not."
"Why?" she wondered.
He shrugged, letting his thumb rub over the back of her hand, enjoying the feel of the soft skin there. "If I can't make children, there's no point. If I can, I wouldn't want to do that to you, make you go through this marriage."
"You think I would be ashamed of your bastard?"
"No, no," Bran quickly denied, squeezing her hand. "I wouldn't, I couldn't do that to children." Not after watching what Jon went through. "I mean to recognize any child I have. It would just be terrible of me to drag you into this marriage with a cripple if it wasn't necessary."
"If you had not been made to marry me, it sounds as if you would never have had children," Lyanna pointed out, a strange note in her voice.
"I was made to marry. Marrying you was my choice," Bran answered, digging his fingers into Winter's fur.
"It was my choice as well," she reminded him, drawing a smile out of him.
"Thank you," he murmured. "For trying. It's more than I deserve."
Lyanna seemed about to reply to that, but subsided, instead choosing to squeeze his hand in return.
They sat in companionable silence for a long time, until the position of the sun indicated that he needed to speak with Queen's Landing. With a little assistance from Lyanna, he mounted Winter once more and they left the quiet little thicket. When she appeared ready to part with him at the weirwood tree, he asked her to stay for the daily briefing, and afterwards, they went into the keep itself together.
That night in bed, Lyanna settled herself in his lap, riding him with a steady pace and keeping her eyes locked on his own even when her pleasure overwhelmed her. Bran kept his own head up when he spilled inside of her, watching as a ghost of a smile crossed his wife's face. Afterwards, breathing heavily, she rested her head against his own and he cupped her cheek gently.
Whatever awkwardness that had been between them since the start of their marriage had been erased completely that afternoon in the godswood. Despite his initial resistance to a marriage of any kind, and an attempt to keep his distance from Lyanna herself, he now found himself relieved. It was so much easier to simply trust in her, to speak with her openly, to have a peer rather than a servant to talk to and he was grateful to her for putting up with him.
Even if their marriage only lasted the year, he would be forever in her debt for reminding him that life as man could be enjoyable even with the responsibility of the North on his shoulders.
Bran fell asleep easily that night.
A week later, Lyanna was too ill to eat breakfast.
Just for those of you who are interested: Lyanna was in fact pregnant for most the chapter. She had spotting that she mistook for a period. But she's sixteen and he's twenty and they don't know half of what they think they do about pregnancy. Their entire concern was really academic.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
Lyanna is pregnant! Now what?
Thanks to Rumaan and @bfl1201 for the beta reading!
After all of his fears about his own fertility, Bran had trouble believing at first that Lyanna was pregnant. Or rather, he believed she was pregnant, but couldn't quite believe that he was not as broken as he had thought. Especially because the smallfolk at Winterfell were quite vocal about it.
"Just like his father," he'd overheard Maude say. "Just has to be in bed with his wife and she is with child!"
"They said the Young Wolf had put a child in his wife's belly within a month of their marriage too," Gared gossiped one night in hall, far from the head table but close enough for Autumn to overhear with Bran listening through him.
"Starks. Fertile lot," Aline, one of the older maids sniffed quietly, as she changed the bedclothes with Raycel, a young woman new to the household staff one evening while he was in his bath in the next room. Spring kept an eye on the women from his usual corner, smelling the caution of the younger one, who was unused to the presence of direwolves. "His sisters produced children fast, even his cousin. His father, his brother, his grandfather. Ech. Good thing too, or else we'd have none of them now."
Apparently, getting Lyanna pregnant so quickly after their marriage was the most Stark thing he could do.
He didn't know how to feel about that. On one hand, this was the goal of their marriage, to produce children, heirs for both Houses. On the other hand, there was significantly less bedsport, though it hadn't gone entirely, to his surprise. And the fact that her being with child meant she had no real reason to stay at Winterfell.
He mulled over this one afternoon in his study about a month after Lyanna had informed him he was to be a father, slumped in his chair and ignoring the latest reports of tax collection on his desk when a knock sounded on the door.
Bran pulled himself more upright, trying to look more lordly, before calling, "Come in."
To his surprise, Lyanna herself walked in, trailed by Onyx, who rarely left her side these days. The lady paused by the door until the young direwolf went past, then closed it firmly before moving towards the desk and beginning without preamble. "The midwives say the pregnancy is well-rooted and I am fit to travel. I'll be leaving for Bear Island tomorrow."
He barely had time to process her words before she continued. "If I leave tomorrow after breakfast, I should be back on the Island within the month, assuming a good wind. I'll be leaving my mare, Zephyr, here though. She's not likely to be useful to me on the Island and better that she contribute to the bloodlines here in your herd than waste half a year in a pen at home."
Bran gaped at her for a moment, then shook his head. "Are you sure? Not about the horse," he waved that away as irrelevant. "About traveling. I don't want you to unnecessarily risk yourself."
Nor was he quite ready to be left alone again. He'd grown used to her presence, in the keep and in the bedroom. They rarely spoke about frivolities, and she never pressed him in the way he thought a wife would, but she provided him valuable advice in the three months she had been in Winterfell. He did not want her to be so far away from him again.
"The midwives say I am fine. I feel fine. There is no reason not to travel. And I must return to my people. I cannot lead them from the mainland permanently." Lyanna paused, as if realizing what she said may not have sounded so good to the man who would be staying on the mainland himself. "I have to do my duty as your bannerman, to make sure the laws of the North are upheld on Bear Island," she rephrased, meeting his gaze directly.
He nodded dully in response. Naturally, she would want to leave. Theirs was not a marriage where she swore to be by his side. Indeed, the only thing they had sworn was to have children, which they were doing.
"Of course. Your duty is done here for now and you have the people of the Island to oversee." As much as he enjoyed having a friend - and she was that to him, he'd realized - he couldn't keep her from her own responsibilities any longer. He reached for a quill and some parchment. "I'll send word to Cahgan, to have one of the warships escort you."
Her expression flattened. "Not necessary, my lord, but of course that is your call. Since I am carrying your heir," she replied, a brittle note in her voice that he didn't understand, as her hand settled on her midsection protectively.
Bran looked at her sharply. "You are the last Mormont and I'll not have another of the North's bloodlines lost due to Greyjoy treachery," he practically snapped at her.
She blanched, but then inclined her head. "My lord. Thank you," she answered, somewhat surprised.
He just nodded at her and turned back to his writing. As he scratched out his words, he added, "If I could, I'd send a dragon with you. As it is, I will certainly have to tell Queen's Landing now that you are no longer in Winterfell. You know how the King and Queen are your devoted friends."
"Yes." As usual, she was unimpressed that the Throne had any particular regard for her. Lyanna added with a touch of humor in her voice, "I'm glad not to be traveling with a dragon though. We would have trouble feeding such a beast on Bear Island. Our cow herds aren't as large as those here and our sheep are needed for their wool."
Bran snorted and nodded his head in agreement as he finished his missive, calling for Gared to come in and take it to be sent to Cahgen at once. Having traveled with the Great Host, as the combined armies of Daenerys and Jon were called, he knew well how much a grown dragon could eat.
When they were alone again, he regarded his wife before motioning for her to take a seat. "If you have time. I don't know how long it will take to prepare you for traveling."
"I'm not Daenerys; I can travel in less than a hour. My staff is already seeing to the provisions and arrangements we need," Lyanna informed him, easing into a chair they'd pulled into his study for her use when visiting him.
"And you're quite sure you're ready to travel? You said you were more tired than normal," he seized upon one excuse, recalling how she'd explained how much faster she appeared to grow weary now.
"I'll be sitting on a horse and then a ship, not walking and swimming to the Island. I shall be fine," she denied wryly.
"Perhaps a carriage would be more appropriate. We don't want to-"
"Bran." She gave him a fond smile. "I will be fine."
As he sat back in his chair, they regarded each other before he ventured, "Tell me about Bear Island. I know about your exports, the taxes you pay, but I want to know more about the Island itself." Why she was so eager to leave him for it, at any rate.
Lyanna blinked, as if surprised by the question, but nodded at him before her gaze drifted. "Bear Island is a beautiful place, made mostly of mountains and shoreline. We've misty forests and hallowed glens, cold, clear mountain creeks and a warren of hot springs, if you know where to look. There's all manner of fowl in the forests and on the shore, deer, and of course, bears, though not as many as folks might think." She smiled softly. "We don't hunt them, you know, only kill those who come into the settlements when they're too hungry. Most of the bears on the Island die on each other's claws or by the ravages of nature itself.
"Most of my people live near the coast, since fishing is the best way we have to support ourselves. There's good fishing off both north and south coasts, and different kinds too. Fresh fish is a staple of our diet there, though as you know we smoke quite a bit of it and send it on to the mainland."
He nodded, letting her continue. She spoke so warmly of her home, the way he would speak of Winterfell, he felt a pang of guilt at having kept her with him for so long. And another for wanting her to stay regardless.
"So a lot of our people work with fish, either fishing themselves, or making nets, or building and repairing our ships and boats. Of course, we have that good pine that grows well on the Island, so we have men and women who fell trees and give us the lumber we need, though we don't sell much of that. Too much need at home for it." She returned her gaze to Bran. "Sansa's gift is very useful to us too. We're building two new ships and reinforced some of our defenses, the palisades along with the most likely targets for the Greyjoys.
"We've crofters too, inland, but not so many as you have here. There isn't too much good farming land, so the whole of the grain we make we eat." She smiled again, slowly. "Or make into a fine whiskey which also doesn't leave the Island."
He chuckled at that. "I'd like to try some, sometime."
"I shall bring a bottle with me when I return," she promised him immediately. "I think you'll like it." She took a moment, then continued. "We've got cattle herds, though they're small, the herds, not the cattle. A lot of sheep, and their wool is what gives us the other main export, as you know. Bear Island wool is the best in the North."
Bran nodded sagely. That was certainly true. Not only was the wool itself a superior quality, they had a method of spinning and weaving that resulted in a strong, waterproof cloth that nonetheless had a fine, soft feel. According to the histories, for hundreds of years they only made near-white and grey wools, but finally, in the last century, they'd begun dyeing batches. Now ochre, yellow, maroon and green Bear Island wool cloth was in high demand throughout the North.
"We've some deer, some fowl, again, enough to give us some food but not enough for trade. We have a few mines as well, a single iron mine that keeps us supplied well enough in nails, hooks and swords, and a coal mine as well, so we can make the coke we need for our few forges. If we had no contact with the mainland, we'd survive well enough."
He wondered if that had been the Mormont plan, after the Boltons had taken over. Certainly, it would have taken a concentrated effort from more than a few Northern lords to take the Island, given its rough terrain and battle-hardened people. Maybe Lyanna would have made a deal with the Free Folk who had escaped the Wall. With the destruction of the Mormont army at the Red Wedding, they would be in need of good, strong men.
Which led to another question. "Since the war, how have these industries survived?"
Lyanna gave him an unimpressed look, having immediately grasped his meaning. "War or not, women work on Bear Island, same as the men. Our best blacksmith is Allase, a woman near my mother's age. She's trained her daughters up too. Women hunt the deer, raise the herds, mine the ore, sheer the wool and weave it, mend nets, build ships, chop down the trees, same as some of the men. Most of the men on Bear Island fish because it's men we prefer to risk on the sea, not women," she acknowledged. "Of course, now more women do that then men, but when the generation of children we have now grows, it'll switch back a bit."
Perhaps because he was soon enough to be a father himself, Bran wondered, "Who are the fathers to this generation? If there are so few men left."
"Some are the dead, of course. Lot of children were made fatherless by the war. And now, well." Lyanna huffed in amusement. "You mainlanders might not have this, but it's not unknown for a few families to share a pair of brothers, or for the women to come to the mainland with our traders and see what they could catch here. Sometimes they bring men back with them, people looking for an honest life and honest work. Sometimes they just come back with a babe inside of them and that's fine too." She eyed him for his reaction to this.
"There's no stigma to not knowing your father there? Not at all?"
"No. People are important on Bear Island, too important to be treating some badly because their parents might not have been married. 'Course, it's the woman's bloodline that's more important anyway and that's always known," she tossed off before pausing.
"The woman's? But why?" Bran asked, confused.
"We." She shrugged. "We usually have inheritance with a woman's bloodline, not a man's. Especially where a man's been shared over a few families."
Bran could scarcely believe it. Not just because it was so unheard of in Westeros but because it was so unknown to him that Bear Island could operate so differently than even the rest of the North.
"How is this not more well-known?" he demanded.
Lyanna raised a brow. "Maesters don't write much about Bear Island, but then, they aren't very welcome past my keep. We use maesters to train us to read, to write down what we need to write down and to keep us informed about what we need to know about the mainland. But we have no septons there, no septas telling us women are wrong or unclean or must bow to a man. And no maester stays on Bear Island for long if he can't talk to a woman the same as he would to a man. Life is tough but good on the Island and we have no time for someone to be shaming us for how we live."
"I..I'm surprised they've ever had a Lord then," he breathed.
That made Lyanna laugh outright. "Oh, we don't look down on men. A good man's the same as a good woman, except he can't bear a child. But all in all, women keep our Island running, in good times and bad, and they've rights and standing as a result." She shifted in her seat, adding, "My mother, she was a Mormont through and through, but people on the Island still talk of Jeor. They liked him. He knew what needed to be done. Only problem they ever saw with him was the coddling he gave his son. Jorah." She made a face that gave him no illusions to how disgusted she was with her cousin.
"He was a fine warrior, a good knight, but a terrible lord. He got too full of tales, wanting a refined mainland lady for a wife, like he could bring the court of King's Landing to our Island. She was useless, a true Hightower lady, and the people hated her. They were mad at Jeor for giving up his title and leaving us with a besotted fool. They said my mother had no trouble yelling at her brother when he was the Lord Mormont and no trouble yelling at Jorah when he was the Lord Mormont, both for their stupidity. When he disgraced us trying to please that stupid wife of his..."
She snorted. "I'd have killed him for what he did. Not just trying to sell our men - our men! - to slavers, but to punish men for hunting on 'Mormont lands'? The whole Island's our land, but so long as the people pay their taxes, obey our laws, they have run to hunt on our lands. Poaching is a mainlander's crime," she sneered contemptuously.
He frowned. "We've laws against hunting in the godswood. Against hunting out of season. And I've made laws against hunting direwolves. " Now that they were literally an army he could call upon.
"No one hunts in a godswood," Lyanna agreed. "But Mormonts, we know we were commoners just like everyone else once. That our lands come from Stark generosity and they are meant to support our people. We must simply organize it all, so all are cared for. There's no such thing as poaching on the Island because everyone there works, and they get to keep everything they work for, except the tax. Mormonts aren't poor because we've nothing on our Island, we simply don't take more than a fair share of the bounty. We sit in judgment when there's a crime or if there's a disagreement. We provide the training for fighting, keeping men-at-arms that all can call upon if there's need and that drains the coffers more than anything else, since most tax is taken in kind. A Mormont's profession is war and management and I've been training in both since I was five."
Bran gave her a grin suddenly, feeling now as if he had a better understanding of his remarkable wife. "Arya should have been a Mormont."
"Too bloodthirsty. Sansa, maybe, if she learned to wield a weapon other than her words," Lyanna responded easily. "We don't pick the fight, we just finish them."
"Now those should be the Mormont words: We Finish the Fight."
"What do you think 'Here We Stand' means?" she countered.
He chuckled, acknowledging the truth of her words with a nod. But his thoughts soon pulled to the words of his own House. "Winter is Coming," he said, though he hadn't meant to speak aloud.
"And only the Starks can stand against Winter," Lyanna agreed with a small smile. "As much a warning or a threat as any other House."
The color drained from his face. "Honor us, or have no Starks to protect you from Winter," he completed the thought, his heartbeat speeding up as the realization took root in his mind.
"Winterfell," he continued, looking past Lyanna, feeling the song of the greensight calling to him. "Here is where Winter fell. The Long Night died...here…," he murmured, body going still as he began to dip into the past.
And he saw what he hadn't before, what no one had understood, because no one knew. Because the facts had been lost to time. It made so much sense, he couldn't believe no one had guessed, but mostly felt upset that they had forgotten. How could this have been forgotten?
He thought to move to a different time, to see when this knowledge had been lost but then there was a soft touch to his cheek and he turned his head to find Lyanna - his Lyanna - looking at him.
For the first time, they stood together. She seemed surprised to see him standing at all, but then, she had never known him when his legs worked. Nor had he ever mentioned that he could walk in his dreams.
Taller than her, but not by all that much, Bran looked down at her lovely face as they stood in the courtyard of Winterfell. Or what would be the courtyard of Winterfell, but now, in this time, was simply the end of a battlefield, where the line had held against the forces of the Long Night, near the end of a godswood with some hot springs.
He blinked and they were back in his study, he in his chair and she crouched by his side, that hand on his face. A thin line of concern marred her brow, but he couldn't help but think she was still very beautiful.
"Where did you go?" she breathed. "What battle was.."
"Did you see?" he asked, startled. He grabbed for her hand, squeezing it insistently. "Did you see what I saw?"
No one had ever seen his visions with him, no one but the old Three-Eyed Raven.
"For a moment," she began cautiously, gaze darting over his face as she tried to reassure herself that he seemed to be fine. "I thought I saw the bodies of giants and men, almost like the Battle of the Bastards, but there were no walls. And more than one giant."
He nodded. "You saw the end of the Long Night. When Brandon Stark defeated Winter." He swallowed and looked into her bright brown eyes. "Where my line began."
"You saw Bran the Builder?" she asked, wonder in her voice.
"No. I saw Brandon Stark, first of his name. Bran the Founder." He chuckled without humor. "That man for whom half of us are named. The man with the blood of the First Men and the blood of the Children of the Forest in his veins."
"What?" Lyanna almost swayed and he realized the awkwardness of her position. Carefully, she stood and he sat back in his chair in invitation, only then to consider that perhaps she would not want such a seat.
But she merely folded herself onto his lap, settling with her legs to one side and looping an arm around his neck to stabilize herself. Once steady, she prompted him in a low voice, "You think you have the blood of the Children of the Forest?"
"I know I do. I saw it. Brandon Stark...did not look quite like other men. But his mingled blood is what gave him the strength to raise the magic in this place, where Winter fell the first time." Bran looked around the walls, though he felt he was seeing beyond them, to the godswood and the springs. "Stark blood binds us, Stark blood is the pact between the Children and the First Men, Stark blood links to the power of the earth itself here."
"There must always be a Stark in Winterfell," Lyanna said, clearly following his meaning. "So that the magic can be called upon when needed."
"And there always are, in the crypt, but yes, a living Stark in Winterfell is what we need when we're really using the magic." He smiled without humor. "How lucky then, that we left Sansa in this place when the Great Host moved to fight the wights, because dragons and dragonglass and Valyrian blades wouldn't have worked if I couldn't have accessed the fullness of the magic of the earth without a living Stark in Winterfell."
He thought about how reluctant Sansa had been to stay behind, how much she didn't want to be separated from her relatives again. How it had taken Jon - dutiful, solid Jon - to tell her that if they failed, it would fall to her to lead their people south and then across the seas. That it was her duty as a Stark to remain in Winterfell, to prepare for the worst.
"We could have failed so easily," he breathed.
"But we didn't. Because there was a Stark in Winterfell. And there is again," she pointed out.
He shook her head. "We always say the North remembers, but we didn't, did we?"
"We did enough to have these sayings. 'Winter is coming,' 'there must always be a Stark in Winterfell', 'the North remembers'." Lyanna nodded resolutely. "We remember a little. We remembered enough." She ran her thumb along his jawline. "The power of the Children, the First Men and the Wargs. I am glad that there is a Stark on the Iron Throne. No Mormont shall ever bow to any but a Stark again."
"Mormonts will be Starks," Bran reminded her, feeling suddenly the heat in her touch. He nodded vaguely in the direction of her abdomen, but she only smiled and took his hand to place on her belly over her dress. Her body seemed yet unchanged to his touch, but he knew that she was different.
"All the more reason to never bow to any but a kinsmen," she acknowledged, a touch of smugness in her tone.
He knew they had much to be smug about: winning the war, repairing the Wall, restoring the rule of law to Westeros, even the babe in her womb. But mostly, in this moment, he felt smug about having Lyanna as his wife. He couldn't imagine having to put up with a woman less intelligent, or less forthright, or less competent in anyway.
For all he felt like a fool so often in her presence, she always gave him the benefit of her knowledge and wisdom.
"Everyone will be Starks eventually," she added, breaking him from his reverie. When he blinked in confusion, she noted, "Targaryens are Starks now. So are Baratheons. Westarks are Starks, of course. Lannisters will be Starks. Mormonts. I'm sure at some point Tyrells and Martells and Tullys...Westeros is Stark land now."
He huffed before nodding. "I didn't think of it like that."
"But only your children will be full Starks. Born of Winterfell, raised in Winterfell, where the magic resides." She sounded so pleased that he couldn't help the smile that came to him.
"Thanks to you and your Northern blood, they will be more Northern than any other." He held his breath then, as an insidious thought wormed its way into his mind.
And she seemed to sense it, because she just gave him an amused smirk. "My father was a northerner, yes."
"Oh," he said in a expulsion of breath. "I..I.."
"I know who he was," she confirmed.
"He died, in a squall off the south coast of the Island, when I was two." Lyanna reached out to finger some of the hair that framed his face. "My mother liked his look, said he was very pretty. Kind, but didn't say much. Worked hard. His mother had gotten herself a babe on the mainland and my mother thought he looked a bit like the Ryswells, but he was a Northerner, through and through.
"Oh." He suddenly grinned, wondering what his mother would have thought about him married to a woman whose father was a Snow. Or could have been a Snow. "What was he called?"
Lyanna folded her lips in restrained amusement. "Jon."
Bran barked out a laugh. "Jon Snow?"
She merely shrugged. "None are ever called Snow on the Island, but."
"Will you allow me to tell my brother?" He stopped at her knowing look acknowledging with a nod that the King was technically his cousin but he thought of the man as his brother, had been raised to think of him as his brother. "He is still my brother. Will you allow me to tell him this? I think it might make him smile."
"If you want," Lyanna allowed, continuing to play with his hair. "He is your brother, yes. A true Stark."
"They say he's quite like his father too, Rhaegar," Bran felt compelled to mention.
"He's a Stark, through and through. It's wolves by his side more than dragons and the pack that runs to him."
He watched with interest the curve of her lips and the way her tongue darted when she spoke, and for the first time, wondered what her mouth tasted like.
But that thought was interrupted by a knock, so Lyanna pulled herself to her feet and straightened the fall of her skirt. When she gave him a slight nod to show herself as ready, he called for the visitor to enter.
When Gared came in with the messages from this day's ravens, Lyanna swept out, no doubt to see to her travel preparations.
Bran never expected he would be sorry to see her go.
All too soon, Bran sat on Winter's broad back just beyond the gate to see Lyanna and her entourage off. He'd hoped to speak with her again privately in their room after dinner, but he'd been stopped by Maester Timons for a few minutes and by the time he got to the bedroom, she'd been asleep.
Being pregnant made her very tired and she did have a few weeks' travel ahead of her, so he'd let her rest and hoped to speak with her again in the morning. But morning hadn't allowed him any time with her either, and now, he was saying goodbye.
A somber mood seemingly shared by everyone kept the courtyard very quiet, though only certain members of his household frowned openly at the sight of Lady Mormont leaving. Maude, for example. He could feel the waves of disappointment coming off the woman, who had made one of her rare ventures from the kitchen or the keep to see the lady off.
"Safe journey, Lady Mormont," Bran intoned formally as Lachlan held at her side the gelding that Lyanna had ridden into Winterfell all those months ago.
The lady herself inclined her head in thanks for his well-wishes and began to close the distance between them despite the fact that the rest of her party were mounting their own horses already.
"My lord, may I ask a favor of you?" she inquired softly, so that her voice would not carry beyond the two of them.
He nodded quickly, brow furrowing in concern. He motioned anxiously for her to continue.
"You have asked that I see out the heart tree in the Mormont godswood each afternoon, to speak with you and I will do this." He'd had presence of mind to discuss that at least with her over dinner and she'd fortunately seen the wisdom in daily contact with Winterfell. "But I ask that you invite Lords Cerwyn and Manderlay, and Lady Westark, to Winterfell for the harvest, if no other of your bannermen. In the years before the war, it was common for Winterfell to host a great-"
"Yes, I know." Bran sat back on Winter with a heavy sigh. One of the things he hated most about being Lord Stark was the idea that he had to host other lords and he had avoided the harvest festival for years under the excuse that no one had time to devote to such frivolity when the North had to be rebuilt. "I can't invite Sansa though. She'll be too far gone in her pregnancy by then to travel comfortably."
A pleased and surprised smile spread on Lyanna's face. "Really?"
"Yes." Belatedly, Bran realized he'd never told Lyanna of his sister's expectation. "Most likely after the harvest, perhaps when the first snow falls," he explained.
"Then Lord Cerwyn, Lord Manderly," she pressed. "The first, he is your nearest bannerman and you should encourage a…" She groped for a word. "A closeness. And Manderlay. His House exists today because of Stark generosity, the same as Mormont exists. You should renew his loyalty."
"Sansa is closer to Lord Manderly than I and I would hardly-"
"You are the Warden of the North, not Lady Westark. She is your bannerman. I know you don't press that matter, and I don't think it necessary to do so with her, but with Lord Manderly and your other bannerman in the west you should. And you should be speaking with other lords more frequently, in person."
"I will think on it," he answered shortly. The thought of hosting without either Lyanna or Sansa beside him made him uncomfortable at best.
Lyanna nodded shallowly. "At least, invite Lord Cerwyn to dine from time to time. He's but a half day's ride."
"I said I will think on it," he retorted, only to see that blank expression settle upon her face. Chastised, he added quickly, "I always value your counsel, you know that."
"I know, my lord," she intoned. Lyanna stepped back and bowed her head in acknowledgement. "Thank you for your hospitality during my stay," she continued in a more normal voice.
"Mormont is forever welcome in Winterfell," Bran answered, trying to scramble back into a more friendly footing with her and failing completely. He didn't have Sansa's way with words.
"Mormont has never broken faith," she replied before giving him a little nod to signal she was done speaking. Smoothly, as if she was not wearing a dress or pregnant, Lyanna mounted her horse and waved her people onwards. The group rode through the gate and made for the road in a flurry of noise and wind.
When the last horse was out of the gate, Onyx trotted after them, only to pause by the stone and look back at Bran. She paced for a moment, then reluctantly returned to his side, dwarfed by the full grown height and breadth of Winter himself. Unable to sit still, she fidgeted and finally whined as she shimmied in agitation.
Bran didn't need the greensight or his warg power to know exactly what Onyx wanted. Although he hadn't spoken about this with Lyanna, he grunted and gave the young wolf a wave. "Go on with you. Behave."
Onyx shot out after the Mormont party with no delay, running flat out until she caught up with Lyanna's horse. Since all horses stabled in Winterfell were made to lie with blankets that had the scent of direwolves on them, the gelding didn't shy or startle when the nearly black wolf pup appeared by his side.
From a distance, Bran could see Lyanna pull up, turn in her saddle and raise a hand. A thank you, or a promise to take care of the wolf, he couldn't be sure.
He was only sure about how utterly lonely he was at this moment, surrounded by his staff and his wolves, in his childhood home.
With autumn truly arrived, even hardy Northerners felt compelled to start keeping the fires going a bit longer, to keep the flames a bit higher, all in an attempt to keep the creeping cold at bay. The first of the smallfolk began to take up residence in Winter's Town, the collection of stone buildings that had grown up against Winterfell's walls in the centuries past, so that farther ranging crofters and herdsmen would have a place in which to wait out the winter season. That, as much as anything else, told folks that harvest was nigh and winter on its heels at some point after that.
Bran never minded the cold. To him, to all the Starks, the cold was more a feeling than a temperature. But he felt cold now, seeing his bed empty at night and the chair besides his removed from the hall. Seeing and hearing her once a day, when he spoke to her through the weirwood tree, almost made the separation worse.
Each day, after he'd spoken with Queen's Landing and passed along any messages to other lords as necessary, he would use the tree to speak with Lyanna on Bear Island. As soon as he had the raven that assured him she had arrived safely, he spent a portion of each afternoon conversing with his far-away wife.
Lyanna had laughed the first time, marveling at seeing his likeness in the tree. But she'd told him of her journey and gave him an update on her people with that slight smile on her face that showed her to be content. And each day, he could see her health and demeanor for himself, even as her waistline began to expand.
One day, he even relayed words from Queen's Landing that Daenerys was with child again herself. "She's likely to have the child before you have ours," he said. "They were keeping it all quiet until she began to show." Apparently, there was a concern about an attempt on the Queen's life, but Arya had taken care of the threat.
"Please convey my congratulations to the Throne. Your cousin must be pleased," Lyanna answered from her seat beneath the tree on Bear Island. He watched as she continued her knitting, using the time they spent each afternoon in conversation to do something else useful with her time.
"What are you making?" he wondered.
"Socks. You can never have enough socks."
But afterwards, no matter how easy or light the conversation, the weight of loneliness pressed at him, pushing him to seek the comfort of his bed ever earlier. And in the mornings, to linger longer in the furs and in the state between wakefulness and slumber.
Bran grew something of a beard, no longer seeing the point of the daily scrape of a blade against his cheek. He also found his patience wearing thin more quickly, particularly on judgment day. The criminals brought before him were lucky indeed that none were accused of killing or rape; he wasn't inclined to show mercy in the slightest.
He ignored the staff's attempts to cheer him as well, once they were over their own disappointment. He ate no more of his favorite meal than his least favorite. He left his discarded clothing wherever it happened to fall and encouraged the wolves to join him in the bed, which made more work for the staff.
One day, he found himself reading correspondence in his study, only to crumple each letter into a ball and toss it towards the fire crackling in the hearth. They were all polite inquiries from his bannermen or other lords from the South, expressing their happiness for him at the word of Lyanna's pregnancy, or otherwise trying to engage in gossip.
The only one worth paying any attention to was the one from Storm's End. Gendry had written to him personally, as Bran could see from the blockly lettering that was Lord Baratheon's trademark. He spoke about his own children, Jon, now three, and Raya, almost two, how quick they were to learn and to fight and the family's hope that he would meet his nephew and niece someday soon. It was the only letter to which he wrote a reply, indicating that he could not leave Winterfell, but that if the children were taken to a place with a weirwood tree, he would happily meet them and give them the blessings of the Three-Eyed Raven.
He had just finished sealing his letter when a booming knock sounded at the door.
"What?" he demanded crossly, even as the wolves all raised their heads as one.
Tormund strode through the doorway, only to pause before the fire and look around the study with great distaste. "How can you lock yerself in here?" he asked contemptuously.
Bran glared at the leader of the Free Folk. "I have work to do. What do you want?"
When the man turned his attention to Bran, a grin lit up his face. "Och, lookit you!" he exclaimed. "Lookin' more and more like a man of the Free Folk," he approved.
Scratching at his beard self-consciously, Bran merely frowned. "What do you want?" he repeated.
"I've brought ye our taxes," Tormund acknowledged, nearly spitting out the last word. The Free Folk hated this part of being south of the Wall, but they didn't want to live in the land of the wights anymore.
"Yer in a foul mood," the big man observed before understanding dawned. "No woman to warm yer cock at night, ah! The Bear's gone back to her Island, I heard. Shame. Feisty girl. I like 'er. 'Course, you could always take another…"
"No." Bran glowered at him. "And you'll never speak of such things again," he informed him icily. Just the thought of another woman in his bed made him coldly furious.
The wolves picked up on his anger and began to growl warningly, with Autumn and Spring even rising to their feet. Tormund took a step back into almost a defensive posture, blue eyes wide before raising a hand. "Aye, I'll not," he promised.
Bran let the wolves growl a moment longer before sending them a sharp, but silent command. They subsided, though their eyes continued to watch Tormund, who did not relax much. Instead, he merely assessed Lord Stark carefully.
"Ye know, the gods took yer legs so ye couldn't walk with them."
Bran blinked, stunned at the man's words. "What?"
"Oh, damnit man. How can ye see the past and the future but not this?" Tormund shook his head. "Yer Lord Stark. The Three-Eyed Raven. Never knew a man could command more than a single animal or warg with more than one 'til I met you. Ye wield packs of direwolves the way I would a blade! Ye raised the bloody Wall what was destroyed! If yer weren't without yer legs, we'd be thinking there's a god among us."
Sitting back in his chair, Bran expelled a breath. "There are some who think Jon is a god. He returned from the dead."
"Aye, but they're fools. You've a lot more power. I'll take Stark blood over Targaryen any day." Tormund clucked, a sound made more comical for coming out of the mouth of this huge warrior. "Good thing we all know yer a man 'cause of yer legs. Otherwise, the gods would be jealous."
Bran scratched at his cheek again, considering the man, who apparently, he was beginning to resemble with his disheveled hair and unkempt beard. "You're full of shit, you know that?"
"Oh, aye, just not that," he returned with a grin.
"I'm hardly a god." No one knew that better than Lyanna.
"I just said ye weren't! If you had use of yer legs, then aye, maybe." Tormund grinned at him.
"You know," Bran mused, some of the tension leaving his frame as he watched Tormund with some amusement. "I think you're the only man who speaks to me like I am a man."
"Aye, yer kneelers are afraid of ye," Tormund agreed.
"But not you."
Tormund just grinned at him. "Ye ain't as bad as the White Walkers."
Bran chuckled, perhaps for the first time since Lyanna had left. "Fine then. I take it the taxes are in the hall?" He never received money from the Free Folk, only furs, meat, sometimes weapons or other crafted items.
"Aye, awaiting yer approval." Tormund didn't care for a public inspection, but once it had been explained to him that the other Lords also had their taxes publicly counted, he'd been somewhat mollified.
"I'll meet you there shortly. I'm going to get cleaned up first," Bran informed him.
"Och, gonna make yerself look more like a Stark, ain't ye?" Tormund dismissed his intention with a wave.
"Yes, I am. I am Lord Stark, it's time for me to look like it, if nothing else."
Tormund smirked and Bran could predict he was about to say something foul about him getting a babe on Lyanna as proof of his lineage. "I don't want to hear it, Tormund," he added. "I'll meet you in the hall. I'm sure you'll be able to find a barrel of ale in the meantime, while you're waiting."
"Oh, aye," Tormund agreed.
When he was alone again, Bran penned out a quick note to Lord Cerwyn. He didn't want, and indeed, didn't think he could manage to hold a true harvest festival, but Lyanna's words coupled with Tormund's had gotten him thinking.
He needed more peers around him if he was going to be Lord Stark in more than just name, going through the motions. There was too much deference given to him in Winterfell without Lyanna by his side. Although Cley Cerwyn certainly wasn't a peer, exactly, he'd likely feel more at home talking to Bran than the smallfolk.
It was just too bad that Lyanna wouldn't be here to see him take her advice.
"This is truly delicious. I do not think I've ever tasted the like," Lady Oona Cerwyn declared after trying another bite of the crusted fish on her platter.
"One of the delicacies of Bear Island," Lord Cley Cerwyn informed his wife with a fond smile. "I had not thought to buy it, but if there is some for sale, we can certainly procure some for our own home," he continued, looking at Bran hopefully.
"Ah, I believe another shipment will be coming soon. If you like, I can direct my own buyers to put some aside for you," Bran answered, trying to recall if their stores were sufficient enough that he could just gift them a few barrels. "At the very least, I believe I can spare some for you out of our own stores," he finally decided as he fingered the design of a direwolf on the goblet before him, part of a set that had been the Cerwyns' gift for his wedding.
"Please do not trouble yourself, my lord," Oona answered with a soft smile. "I needed only to know the source, so that we can instruct our own buyers to get us a supply. There's no need to raid your own stores."
Bran had invited Lord and Lady Cerwyn to dine at his table, only to receive their enthusiastic reply within a day's time. In rather short order, his closest neighbors had descended on his home, to spend a few days in his company, which is why he was in one of his nicer tunics and why his beard and hair had been trimmed into something far more befitting a lord.
They had also brought little Medger Cerwyn with them, to seek the Three-Eyed Raven's blessing in a small ceremony. The dark-haired baby had fussed a little in Bran's arms in the godswood that very evening, just before this meal, and though marveling at the strength of the tiny one's lungs, Bran declared him blessed, assuring his parents that he would grow to manhood.
He knew it was no little comfort to Lord Cerwyn. His parents and uncle had been flayed by the Boltons for refusing to swear allegiance, and he'd done so as much to protect his sister Jonelle as himself. Even though he'd soon returned to the Stark banner after the Battle of the Bastards, everyone knew he was haunted by what he had witnessed, and that was before the great clashes with the armies of the White Walkers.
His wife too was a great comfort to him. Oona Cerwyn had been the daughter of a merchant from White Harbor, trained to keep her father's books and bearing a sensible head. When the North rose again under Jon, she'd been part of the caravan of weapons, food and other supplies that came from the eastern coast and she'd caught Cerwyn's eye almost immediately with her efficient but warm manner. Oona had more of a Southron's coloring, with fair hair and green eyes, but she'd shown through the war that she was a Northern woman at heart, managing the supplies and keeping everything well-organized. Her steady hand had helped Cley both during the war and after it, as Cerwyn lands recovered from the effects of the Bolton rebellion and the war with the wights.
"I want to thank you once more for your hospitality, Lord Stark," Cley began. "While I agree that this first harvest after the war isn't a time for a full festival as the North rebuilds, it is good to dine with our neighbors and give thanks."
Bran opened his mouth to reply but a clatter at his back had him turning in his chair. Maester Timons soon ran over, a message in his hand. "This just arrived from Bear Island, my lord. I knew you would want to see it right away."
Feeling as if moving through a sea made of dread, Bran took the parchment from the man's hand and slowly opened it to read the hastily scrawled message.
Under attack by Greyjoy forces on the shore by the Keep. Will hold. - L
Bran looked up to find the anxious faces of his visitors watching him. "Bear Island is being attacked by Ironborn under Greyjoy banners," he informed them, before turning to Timons. Open raiders meant only one thing: Yara had approved the missions.
"Send word to Cahgen, in case she didn't get a message out in time. I want Winter's Fleet to destroy those Greyjoy ships. Tell Glover and Ryswell that they should have ships in the water to assist within an hour of receiving my orders," he continued harshly, already pulling his body from the chair and onto Winter's back.
Lord Cerwyn immediately rose. "Shall I raise my bannermen and move towards the coast with reinforcements?"
Bran shook his head. "No, there's no time to put them on ships. But we may have need of them in time." Though he didn't have the head for tactics of Robb or Jon, he suspected that this was part of Yara's offensive to take the less inhabited parts of North for herself and her men. "I'm going to the godswood, to see what I can about the battle."
He didn't wait for a reply before urging Winter out and soon found himself in the godswood itself, even as his mind raced. Lyanna had said nothing to him this afternoon about sighting ships, but then, he hadn't spoken to her for long, as he expected guests shortly. But he was sure if they had known, she would have told him.
Or, perhaps she didn't because she knew he had no aid to give her. Even if he'd given orders that afternoon, his ships wouldn't be all that much closer to Bear Island now. At best, they might be able to destroy some of Greyjoy's ships as they fled the Island, but there was no hope that any mainland forces would reach her before then.
Even he, with powers that might actually be of use, was stuck at Winterfell, as much because he was the only Stark nearby and his powers would be greatly diminished if there was no living Stark at home. Even if his legs had worked, he wouldn't be able to get there fast enough to make a damned bit of difference.
For the first time, he wished he had a dragon.
As soon as Winter neared the tree, Bran reached over to slap a hand to the trunk, not bothering to dismount. Soon enough, he opened what would be his eyes in Lyanna's godswood, straining to see what he could, if there was any information he could give the Fleet that might help.
He immediately saw the plumes of smoke coming up from the bay. He could hear too the shouts and the telltale clang of metal which signaled a fierce battle. Try as he might, he could glean no more information, and finally, he pulled himself back into his body only to sag against the wood.
Lyanna had said she would hold the Island and he believed her. But that he, Lord Stark, her husband, couldn't help in her hour of need, left him anxious and worried in a way he hadn't felt since the Sack of Winterfell.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
In which we find out the consequences of an attack on Bear Island.
Thanks to my betas, Rumaan and @bfl1201!
Sorry for the delay, folks!
After an agonizing night, an hour's rest, and a fitful morning, Bran received word around midday that Bear Island had withstood the Greyjoy attack. Lyanna sent ravens to both he and the coming fleet, letting them know which course she felt the ironborn were taking to Pyke, in the hopes that Winter's Fleet could destroy or capture the rest.
Lyanna and the people of Bear Island had actually captured two of the raiding vessels, although they had suffered the loss of a fishing sloop and twenty-seven of their own people, not including the merely injured. She had prisoners to go with the two Greyjoy ships and requested Bran's counsel on her next course of action.
As soon as he received the message, Bran dashed back to the godswood where he'd spent the previous night, only coaxed back into the keep for a hot meal and a change of clothes around the time the raven had arrived from Bear Island. When he got to the weirwood tree, he had Winter lay down beside it so he didn't have to dismount to connect to the wood.
Within moments, he saw through the tree in the Mormont godswood. A few plumes of smoke, more haze than cloud, continued to climb the sky in the bay. But for that, he would have thought it was any other day on Bear Island, especially with Lyanna sitting calming at the base of the tree, Onyx by her feet.
Except for the blood.
Young, pregnant, blood-spattered, full locks almost escaping her braid, and of course tired, Lyanna nonetheless looked beautiful to him as she nodded towards the tree.
"Lady Mormont. Are you injured?"
"Bruises, at worst." She forced a tight little smile. "Onyx protected my back. Hamstrung a few men, tore an arm off another. Even a not-yet grown direwolf is good protection in a melee."
Gratitude and relief that she seemed well, that Bear Island had repelled the attack, mingled with horror at the thought of she in the middle of a pitched battled, crashed through him, leaving him feeling weak even though he was rooted to the tree itself. "Is there anything you need from me, from the mainland? The Fleet is already moving to intercept the Ironborn as they return to Pyke."
"I need advice," Lyanna admitted wearily, echoing the note from her raven. "We've captured fifty-four ironborn men and, in an hour, after I'm finished here, I mean to return them to their God, but I am undecided about three of them."
A hard knot of dread formed in him. "How are you going to do that, return them to their God?"
"We're going to take one of their ships that we captured, put them in the holds while bound, strap some to the sides, and then run it aground on the high part of the reef that's a bit off our northern coast. I'm ordering the wreck left there, as a warning," she described coolly. "Things that are dead may not be able to die, but they can suffer and be destroyed all the same."
Bran winced as she described the brutal execution she had planned. "You know I am not a man who forgives, certainly not the unrepentant. But-"
"This was an organized attack, meant as much to frighten and cow us as to raid. I lost good people, men and women, to this," Lyanna cut him off sharply, getting to her feet in her anger. A hand curl unconsciously around the swell of her body. "So I will frighten them, show them the consequences of this."
He understood, of course, her anger, her frustration. He had banned Frey and Greyjoys alike from the North, even though Olyvar Frey had been truly loyal to his brother Robb and now ruled over the scant remains of the Frey clan. They had been nearly wiped out in the wars and although Olyvar had sworn that the line would end with him, Bran could not tolerate the thought that any Frey might set foot on his lands.
But that did not mean he wished them cruel deaths, such as those they meted out to his family.
"No," he said then, because he had to.
"What?" she asked, surprised.
"I am Warden of the North. I order you not to kill them in this manner. You may - you should - execute these men. Place their bodies on the ruined ship, even. But we are Northerners. We are a good people; we are not cruel. Others may accuse of us of savagery, but it is they who are the savages, brutal and uncaring."
Bran had never exerted his authority with Lyanna, not really. Refusing to take her from behind had been the only real dispute between them in all the years he had known her. But now, more than ever, he hoped that she would listen to him.
"There is a difference between justice and vengeance. When we regained Winterfell, when the war was won, I wanted very much to burn the Twins to the ground. I wanted Pyke destroyed for Theon's betrayal. I want to destroy Pyke now for daring to come after you. But only more suffering would come of it. More families wanting revenge. And I know that because I have spent enough time watching the past to learn from the mistakes of the Kings of Winter. Vengeance led us to Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne, ruled by the Lannisters. I ask you, learn from this and do not add cruelty to the sentence of these men."
Lyanna's face, frozen into a mask, betrayed nothing of her thoughts. "Are you asking, my lord, or ordering?"
"I'm asking. But if you refuse, I will order it," Bran clarified, wishing that he could be there physically, instead of speaking with her only through the trees.
"Then you order it."
"I would rather ask it." Bran added after the words hung heavy between them, "Lyanna. Please."
She turned away from the tree and he studied her profile as she considered. A smear of dried blood ran down her neck, where she clearly pushed some hair from her face with a stained hand at some point after the battle. He hoped that she would be swayed by his words, that she would not worsen the situation. As it was, he was going to demand serious penalties of the Iron Islands, since this was the third attack in as many years on Northern lands.
If Yara thought she could continue to raid despite the peace, he would educate her otherwise.
"I want justice for my people. Compensation."
"And you shall have it. I swear it."
"They die, but I'll execute them the Northern way." She turned back to the tree, her voice hard. "But none shall see the Wall. You are right, that the Wall cannot take men simply because they don't want to die. Only the repentant deserve that chance."
"Thank you, Lyanna." He put every ounce of relief, of gratitude in his voice, so that she would understand. "Is this what you wished to speak of, then?"
"No." Slowly, she resumed her seat, reaching out for Onyx who leaned her head close by so that Lyanna might stroke her brow. "There are three among the Ironborn. Raiders, but not men. Boys by Northern law. No matter their crimes, I cannot kill them. Yet…" She lifted her chin. "Raising boys from the Iron Islands does not guarantee that they will become good men, as your family knows. Nor can I return them. I don't want them here, but they must be punished."
Bran considered her words, troubled by the thought that the ironborn might be sending boys out to raid the coastline. "How old are these boys?" he asked in concern.
"They won't say, but one appears to be thirteen, no more. Another is twelve or younger, at a guess." Again, she rubbed at Onyx's head, drawing comfort and strength from the black wolf. "And the last is no more than ten."
Somewhat older than when Theon had joined his family, to be raised as a hostage against his father's good behavior, and yet, as she said, that did not prevent Theon from betraying them at the last. As needed as their hands might be on Bear Island, Lyanna did not want to take that risk and he could not fault her for it.
But neither could they be sent to the Wall or killed or merely returned to Pyke to raid again. So Bran seized upon the only idea that seemed left.
"Cahgan is coming to Bear Island. When he arrives, give the boys to him. I'll tell him to put them to work at Winter's Dock. They'll have knowledge that will help the fleet and, hopefully, by the time they are men, they choose a different path. I'll judge them then."
Lyanna looked up at the tree in alarm. "If you pull the fleet to Bear Island, the coast will be exposed. That is why they attacked!"
"Yes," Bran acknowledged. "But I haven't pulled the fleet. Three ships are going to intercept the two who escaped you, while the others, with reinforcement from Ryswell and Glover, will keep watch on the coast. But Cahgan will continue on to you. He has some supplies, but mostly men to help if you need it, to rebuild any defenses that were weakened in the attack."
As she sat back, somewhat mollified, he didn't miss the surprise on her face. While he certainly didn't have the strategic gifts of his brother or his sisters, Bran did often listen to others far better than they. And Cahgan had shown himself the man for the job, arguing a particular course of action, which Bran eventually agreed to.
Because his first thought had been to send the whole fleet, but Cahgan pointed out what Lyanna had, so he deferred to the admiral's judgment. They sent word to all the watches along the coast and nearly at the same time as Lyanna's raven had arrived, so did one from a tower on the Stony Shore, sighting another fleet of Greyjoys. Already, the bulk of the fleet was going to meet them, not that he wanted Lyanna to worry about that in this moment.
"I did not request such assistance," she noted.
"But I give it all the same."
Her expression flattened. "They thought this would work because they thought you too focused on your wife and the heir I am carrying. I do not think any of your other bannerman would get this much concern."
This was a no win situation, he recognized that immediately. If he admitted he cared for her more, she would be insulted as a bannerman. If he denied it, she would be insulted as his wife and the mother to his children. Bran didn't need the greensight to tell him this.
"The security of the North is always my concern. But if you are telling me that my most favored bannerman shouldn't get more of my attention than any other, I'd say you were wrong. Even if we were not married, even if you weren't carrying my heir, you are a favorite of the Iron Throne. If I fail to protect you…" He stopped, honestly unsure how it would all play out.
"I see." Somehow, he didn't feel as if his answer had successfully split the difference given her expression.
But then, she was about to execute fifty men. Maybe she wasn't thinking about his feelings, her feelings, whatever was between them at all, at this moment.
Almost as if she knew his thoughts, she rose from her seat. "I have to prepare for the judgments."
"I understand. You will be here tomorrow?"
She nodded. "As is our custom, but not for long. There is much to do."
"I understand," he echoed her.
"Thank you for your counsel, my lord."
And yet, she paused, hesitating before speaking once more. "I give these men an easy death because you asked it, my lord. Not because I agree with you."
Bran blinked. "Thank you, Lady Mormont."
She inclined her head, then turned to begin walking the path back to Mormont Keep, Onyx by her side.
He watched her go in silence, until she couldn't be seen anymore, then waited a while longer just in case. Lyanna might believe she had everything well in hand but he wanted to see for himself. After the horror of being helpless, he needed every reassurance that Bear Island was indeed safe.
In the months that followed, Bran remained in near daily contact with all of his bannerman on the Sunset Sea, to prevent another raid. He also made his case to Queen's Landing, demanding that Yara pay for the damages and loss of life. Of course, the Greyjoy denied responsibility for the coordinated attack, or any hand in it, claiming that some were rebels or the remains of Euron's men who still had Greyjoy sails.
Loathe to begin another civil war, even one that only embroiled a part of Westeros, Daenerys gave Yara an ultimatum: control her people or find them returned to full control of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, the Queen sent aid - some money but mostly supplies - to Bear Island and to the other areas which had lost men to the "rogue Greyjoys."
Jon, though, made special effort to speak with Bran, assuring him that the Queen was as horrified as he was, but that they had few options at the moment. If a single raid or a single incident could ignite another war in Westeros, it would mean the continent was far more unstable than it appeared. Further, an attack on the Iron Islands would be exceedingly difficult; the ironborn were superior sailors with a better appreciation for the sea and land, leading to a far greater loss of life for what could be very little benefit.
Any attack on the Iron Island would need dragons to be successful, but dragons would not be used for any but a full invasion by the Iron Throne itself. Bran understood they were not yet there.
Neither Bran nor Lyanna were satisfied with this outcome naturally, but for now, they would hold any thoughts of further repercussions, since it was far more important to protect their lands and people than to seek penalties from Yara and Theon. With Rickard Ryswell surprisingly willing to combine their fleets under Cahgan's command, they put three more ships in the water in the intervening months - the repurposed Greyjoy ship, now named Revenge, as well as two new ships, fresh from the yards at Winter's Dock.
Before the attack, Lyanna had planned to return to Winterfell nearly three months before the birth. But repairs to the palisades, the refitting of one of the Greyjoy vessels into a fishing sloop to replace the one they had burned, and the building of new defenses in the water, even with Cahgan's help, had taken some time. She had only just set out for Winterfell, with a fleet escort, when Bran received a raven from Starkhold informing him of the birth of his nephew, Aemon Westark.
"That's two named for the King in the family," Bran remarked dryly in the great hall, where he was half-heartedly eating a late supper. "A well-deserved honor."
"Even so, my lord," Timons began, only to be interrupted as Maude strode into the hall.
It was rare to see her outside of her domain, so Bran immediately sat up as she made her way up to him.
"Nothin's been prepared, my lord," she announced.
"Excuse me?" he asked, confused. A bow of fresh venison stew sat steaming in front of him, with a wedge of bread from that morning's batch.
"How dare you address-"
"Really, Timons," Bran interrupted, weary of the man's constant informing of the status quo. "Have you yet to learn how I run things here? My staff is free to speak with me when appropriate. Enough with that. This is Winterfell, not the Citadel." More and more, he had become uncomfortable with the way the man spoke to folks, especially women.
Timons sat back, flushing, while Maude continued to look at Bran sternly.
"Now what's this about nothing prepared?"
"For a baby," Maude continued.
Bran's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"You've no room setup, no supplies, you've not arranged for a wet nurse nor a maid. Aye, you've got a maester, but I don't think he'll be changing nappies, will you?" Maude demanded of Timons, who look insulted at the suggestion. She turned back to Bran. "Well?"
He rubbed at his neck, uncomfortable under her scrutiny because, frankly, she was correct. He hadn't arranged any of that at all. He'd spent the last few months worried over Lyanna's safety, of the security of the coastline, of the food supplies and materials needed for his people, but not once had he really considered what a baby would need in Winterfell. When he examined that, he found his answer.
"I..thought Lyanna would order whatever is necessary. She would know better than I what a baby needs. I wouldn't even know how to choose a wet nurse."
Maude scoffed. "It's your heir, isn't it? To be raised here, while she returns to Bear Island with one of her own?" She didn't think much of their arrangement, which she held to be Bran's fault entirely for failing to convince Lyanna to stay at Winterfell.
Bran shut his mouth with an audible click, coloring under her censorious glare. She had a point. If the baby was to be raised here, all of those needs would have to be seen to and it made very little sense for Lyanna to arrange anything when she would be going home.
"I will make the arrangements beginning tomorrow," he promised uneasily.
Maude gave him a tight nod, spun around and marched back towards the kitchens, leaving him to worry about all there was to do before Lyanna arrived.
The very next day, he wandered through the old rooms where he and his siblings grew up, were taught, played, conspired and fought with each other. He'd avoided this area of the keep since his return, but now, with Rimma and Aline following in his wake, he inspected each of the rooms and tried to ignore the ghosts of old memories.
"This one," he finally decided, as Winter prowled around the edge of the room that had been Robb's. "This will be the baby's room." How many nights had Robb and Jon and Theon stayed up in this room, talking and laughing, while Bran stewed in the room down the hallway, upset that he hadn't been able to join them? "We'll need to get a crib in here, and, uh, some other things…"
Both women looked at him with something akin to pity in their eyes. Finally, Aline ventured, "Perhaps, my lord, you should hire a wet nurse for the child first. She'll likely know all that the child will need and have a better idea on where to find them."
"Right." Bran glanced down at Winter's back, then flushed. "Uh, I suppose I should..ask around Winter's Town?" How, exactly, did one find a wet nurse? Perhaps he should ask Sansa. Immediately.
"Begging your pardon, sir," Rimma began, glancing at Aline. "She's just one of the smallfolk, never been around a noble, but my sister's girl, Amarey. Her youngest is just beginning to wean now, she's awful good with children, and with her husband taken himself off to Winter's Dock to be part of your new fleet, she'd be-"
"When can she...uh, when I can meet her?" Bran interrupted, relieved that someone around seemed likely.
"I'll send for her right away. She could be here in the morning," Rimma promised, looking relieved that he hadn't dismissed her suggestion.
Fortunately, Bran liked Amarey right away when he met the plump-faced young woman with a thick braid of dark hair, sturdy and tall. Initially shy to meet Lord Stark, especially surrounded as he was by direwolves, she warmed up quickly when he asked her questions about her children.
"Children have to be children, my lord," she enthused, juggling the toddler on her hip expertly. "You tell 'em the truth of the world, 'course, give 'em a sense of the dangers, but best they run around, get strong in the wind and the mud. Life's hard, got to make sure they grow up able to survive it," she explained with a nod.
Amarey had the sort of sunny disposition that he'd often hoped for in Old Nan and he'd hired her quickly. With her around, he was able to get in orders for a new crib, all of the clothes and nappies an infant could need, and even some simple cloth toys, at Amarey's suggestion.
"It's kind of borin', bein' a baby. You waggle some bright colors in front of 'em, let 'em learn to grab on and they're much 'appier," she explained. She had taken to living at Winterfell immediately and Bran knew from her conversation with her aunt that she was relieved that she and her children would have a place of their own, should the worst happen with her husband.
Still, he felt that he had the situation well in hand by the time Lyanna arrived one late afternoon. They had been enjoying unseasonably warm weather, but the clouds gathering on the horizon promised a storm in the night, so with more than a little relief, Bran hurried to the courtyard to receive her party as soon as the calls came sighting them.
To his surprise, Lyanna rode in an open carriage and eschewed assistance getting down once she arrived. She even made her bow to Bran with no little grace, despite the bulge of her pregnancy.
"Lady Mormont. I'm glad to see you arrive safely before the storm. We have a hot meal waiting for you and your people," he described, even as he marked the flush in her cheeks and the glint in her eyes.
How had he ever mistaken her for anything but beautiful?
"I thank you, but, if my lord doesn't mind, I'd prefer a bath first and a light meal only," she answered, glancing at the rest of her party as they dismounted.
He nodded, motioning Raycel forward. "Draw a hot bath for Lady Mormont right away."
Bran followed Lyanna into the keep and up to their rooms. She greeted the servants she knew by name along the way, getting happy smiles and genuine welcomes. Still, she politely declined any help as they made to enter the room with them, though she raised a brow curiously when he shut the door behind him.
"Did you want to join me?" she wondered. "My body is not as it was," she warned, amusement laced throughout her voice.
"I, uh. It's been some time, since we could speak, and I wish to make sure you are truly well..," he tried to explain his unwillingness to leave her in peace.
Lyanna shrugged out of her cloak, tossing it on the chair she usually used, then closed the distance between them, picking her way through the crowd of direwolves between them. "I am well, Bran," she assured him, reaching out touch his cheek. "And you?"
"Yes, of course."
"Of course? I think you're thinner now than when I left," she noted critically, fingers still playing with some of the coarse hairs of his beard. "And this is new too."
"If you don't like it, I can shave," he promised immediately, prompting a wide smile from her.
"I like you smooth-faced, but you're a man of the North, and a Stark besides. It's right you have a beard," she told him with a nod.
He ducked his head, embarrassed, only to fix his gaze on her swollen belly. "And the babe? How...is everything well?"
She chuckled, taking one of his hands and laying it over the swell. "Quiet for now, but there's usually a fuss right as I'm going to bed. I'm sure you'll be able to feel the baby move then."
He looked up into her eyes, trying to find the words for the moment, but they were interrupted by Raycel, who informed Lady Mormont that her bath was ready. Soon, Lyanna lay back in the tub with a happy sigh, her hair piled on her head and a cup of hot tea at her hand. Bran dismissed the maid with orders to bring the meal Lyanna requested to their room in about an hour.
"Bring enough for my lord as well," Lyanna called after the woman, then sat back to regard her husband as he sat by the tub, still on Winter's back. "There will be no more skipping meals for you while I am around," she warned him.
"I don't skip many," he protested, to her snort.
"Enough so I noticed. I know you have many responsibilities, but your health is among them. Have you been sleeping well?" she asked, eyeing him critically.
"Lyanna," he complained. "I don't wish to speak about myself."
"You rarely do," she agreed. "As your bannerman, it is my duty to point out when you are doing yourself ill. As long as I am here, I will remind you of your duty to yourself."
He colored, pulling his gaze from her, only to find himself looking at her breasts. He thought they'd grown somewhat larger since he last saw her, but couldn't be sure.
"I did warn you that I don't look the same," she commented in a light voice.
"You look beautiful, same as always," he dismissed her words.
Lyanna took a long sip of her tea. "You are always a flatterer."
He shook his head. "No, I am not."
She hummed in reply, clearly disbelieving him and deciding to change the subject instead. "I am sorry I was so delayed. There is not much time to ready things for the baby. I can go out tomorrow, looking for a likely wet nurse," she moved right into business, as was her wont. But she stopped at the smile that appeared on his face. "What?"
"I have done that. There is a room prepared, a wet nurse, clothing, all that a babe might need. Toys even."
She looked so startled, he immediately reached out to touch her arm. "Have I done something wrong?"
"No," she answered, shaking her head. "I had not thought that a man of the mainland would take it upon himself to see to a babe's needs." Again, she offered him a comforting smile. "You surprise me, but I am pleased."
"Oh, good," Bran answered, mustering a smile of his own and declining to mention Maude's role. "Tomorrow, I'll show you the baby's room and you can meet the wet nurse."
She nodded agreeably. "Yes, of course. We can see the other rooms nearby as well. Time to start preparing them, I think."
At his confused look, Lyanna actually chuckled. "Have you forgotten that the Targaryen children are to winter at Winterfell when they reach four years? Edgaer could well be four by the time winter arrives."
He had forgotten. Like so many things, if the situation was not urgent, he had not thought of it. Wincing, he turned his head to hide his discomfort at again being found out as a poor lord.
"We shall look over the rooms tomorrow, to see what needs to be done," she decided, reaching out to stroke his hair appeasingly. "I daresay, the worst of it will be finding a place for all the guards and whitecloaks the child will bring with him."
Bran closed his eyes at her gesture, expelling a breath of tension he didn't know he was holding. "I think I'll either have to expand the keep or build a true barracks by the wall in Winter's Town," he began slowly.
"Tomorrow, my lord," she replied, still brushing at his hair. "These concerns will wait until tomorrow."
Eventually, he helped her from the bath and into a shift so she could take a meal with him at the small table in their room. She goaded him into eating more than he would have otherwise, teasing him at his reluctance, but he noted with satisfaction that she ate heartily. After their dishes were taken away, though, she rose, going over to one of the satchels that had been delivered to their rooms while she bathed.
She pulled out a pair of thick, grey woolen socks and presented them to him with a smile. "For you, my lord. Your feet need to be kept warm. You may not know this, but they can get quite cold in bed," she informed him.
He laughed in response, shaking his head. What mainland-born noblewoman would dare tell the Three-Eyed Raven his feet were cold in bed? "You're right, I would never know. Tell me when I should wear them and I will." He fingered the knitting, asking, "Is this what you were making all that time under the tree?"
"I made that and this," Lyanna confirmed, pulling out a small blanket. Clearly meant for a small child, it too was grey, though it had a dark green border. "For your heir. Grey, for Stark, but.."
"Green, for their Mormont mother," he agreed, smiling. "You've got a good hand for these things," he noted, admiring the neat stitches.
"Only the simple things. I can't do anything more complicated than socks or scarves or blankets," she admitted.
"You haven't the time, with an island to oversee and annoying husband on the mainland," he answered wryly.
"Terribly annoying, being my liege lord," she replied with humor, already looking in her bags for another item. When she turned back, she held a dark brown bottle in her hand. "For you, as promised, some of Bear Island's finest whiskey."
"Oh! I'd forgotten about that," he admitted, reaching out to take it from her hands. "I don't drink very much, but I am looking forward to trying this."
"You are free to do so now, Bran," she noted with a nod to his glass.
"Right now, I would prefer to help you into bed, if you'll allow it." He set the bottle down on the table and eased himself onto Winter's back, even as she began her protest.
"I can get into a bed on my own. I am not an invalid."
"This is for the wolves, not you. They've been making themselves at home in the bed since you've left and I need to impress upon them that they are not allowed back up now that you're here," he temporized.
Lyanna did not appear convinced, and he supposed it was a terrible lie, since she knew he could control a whole pack of direwolves with his thoughts. But she allowed him his fiction so he could help her into bed and he joined her soon afterwards.
Just as they were settling in, Bran happy to have a person back in his bed with him, especially this person, Lyanna jumped slightly and smiled. "There's the kick," she told him, motioning him closer. "Always, around this time, after supper."
She huffed. "Of course you can," she chided him, grabbing his hand to guide him. For a moment, he felt nothing more than the heat of her skin, but then, movement jolted underneath his fingers, until he chuckled.
"Everyday around the same time?" he wondered, hardly daring to believe that he had a hand in the fuss he was feeling.
"Creature of habit, like the father," Lyanna confirmed, eye shining. "Tires me though. When this begins, I'm not long until I have to sleep."
"Especially today, with the travel," Bran agreed with a nod. "Rest. As you told me, everything else can wait until tomorrow."
It took longer for Lyanna to settle comfortably in bed, requiring the laying of pillows just so, including one between her knees. Even when she said she was comfortable, he could tell by the pull of her shoulders there was some pain, and after asking, she admitted that the small of back bothered her. He placed his hand there, rubbing small circles until she relaxed, then curled around her back when she pulled his arm over her side to rest on her belly.
He slept better that night than he had in months.
The very next day, while they were touring the rooms for the children and Amarey chattered to Lyanna warmly about her own, he received a note, hurried to him by Timons himself.
Smiling to read the words, he informed Lyanna, "Daenerys has given birth and is well. It is another boy. They have named him Aegon, for Maester Aemon's beloved brother, and for the first of his line. 'He is nearly white of hair but dark of eye,'" he quoted, glancing up at his own wife. Edgaer was the opposite, with the Stark look, save for his eyes, which were a true Targaryen purple.
He knew he must've been making a face because Lyanna asked him in puzzlement, "What is the matter?"
"It is just hard for me to believe that Jon has two boys. He always swore he would never have children at all. He didn't want them to lack a name like he did." But they had been mere children then, back when he had no true name and felt the slight of Catelyn's anger every day.
"He is as you named him, I think," Lyanna answered thoughtfully. "Aemon Stark. I know he is the old prince's son, but everything he is as a man is a Stark. I'd have not supported him otherwise."
"Would you have supported him if you knew I lived?" Bran wondered, recalling the circumstances. "It took my alleged death to get Robb to recognize him as a Stark."
It went very quiet in the room and for the first time, he recalled they were not alone.
Lyanna merely raised a brow. "If I knew you were alive, I would have supported him still, as the Stark in Winterfell. His conquests would have been in your name, as King of the North. But when you did return, you gave that title to your cousin." She paused and corrected herself. "Your brother, you named him, even after you confirmed him to be a Targaryen."
"But you're right. He's a Stark." He took a breath, smiling slightly. "Which is why his children have the standard of the white dragon."
"And yours will bear the grey direwolf standard," she agreed.
"Or the black bear. At least one of them," Bran pointed out, getting another smile out of her.
Not two weeks after they received news of Aegon's birth, Gared came running from the keep as Bran made his way back from his afternoon with the weirwood tree. Immediate tension clutched him at seeing the portly man hurry and he urged Winter to close the distance more quickly.
"Lady...Mormont….giving...birth…," Gared panted, red-faced and frantic.
Bran left the man behind as he prodded Winter to run, the great wolf's claws clattering loudly on the flagstones as soon as they hit the keep itself. Timons waited by the threshold, assuring him as soon as he appeared.
"She is in the birthing bed, her maester attends nearby but the midwives have her." Timons sounded torn between reassurance for his lord and disapproval at the fact that Lyanna had demanded midwives rather than maesters at her bedside.
"When?" Bran demanded. "How long?"
"One cannot say, but the lady is young and strong, and we are quite hopeful she and the child will survive the birth," Timons began carefully, raising his hands to counsel patience. He cleared his throat. "I daresay, my lord, that you might know better than we, since you have the ear of the Gods themselves."
He merely stared at the man, unable to form an answer. He'd never dared seek out his own future, mindful of the old Three-Eyed Raven's words. And scared of what he might see. Life had taught him hard lessons about tragedy around the corner and he'd long since decided that he could not live his life at all if he knew what tragedies waited for him in the years to come.
Timons blanched, mistaking Bran's silence for anger, and took a step back. "Uh, perhaps my lord would care for some wine? There is nothing to be done but wait at this time."
Bran nodded tightly, heading towards his chair at the front of the hall. Once again, he regretted the loss of his legs, that he had not even the outlet of pacing to work off his nervous energy. Going on a hunt was out of the question. He would not be able to concentrate on building plans or the movements of the fleet. Reading...he doubted he'd be able to focus on the words on the page.
Perhaps sensing this, Timons trailed him to the head table. "My lord, perhaps now would be a good time to read some of the drafts of my histories of the wars. I would most appreciate your perspective."
He nodded quickly, motioning for the man to get on with it, then dutifully sipped at the wine brought to him, tasting nothing of it before swallowing. Having Timons droning in the background would be just the thing to get him through this time.
Fortunately, he did not have long to wait. Timons had only managed to describe the Battle of Blackwater when one of the midwives appeared.
"My lord, the lady is resting. You have a daughter, healthy and full of life."
Bran took off nearly before she finished, Winter charging through the halls, with Autumn and Spring at his back. Only when they approached the door to the room where Lyanna had given birth, one adjacent to the baby's room, did he slow and demand the other two wait in the hallway with Lyanna's maester.
When he entered the room cautiously, he found the other midwife by the bedside, while Onyx sat politely at the foot of the bed. Lyanna lay propped up on some pillows, cuddling a dark-haired little baby on her chest, the child's hand just under her shoulder. She gazed down at her daughter, already swaddled but with a single, tiny arm free to rest on her mother's breast.
Lyanna didn't look up at him, too caught up in staring down at the little one on her chest. Reverently, she stroked the girl's brow. But she clearly knew he was in the room, because she said softly, "It's a girl. If you would prefer a boy as your heir, I can take this one. Mormont is used to strong women."
Bran directed Winter to crouch by the bed, so he could reach out and touch the baby's head with a careful finger. Fine hair, almost too thin to be called that, met his fingertip and he smiled. "No. We said the first was to be a Stark and she is," he denied quietly.
Lyanna tore her gaze off the small girl then to peer at him, her expressionless mask settling over her features. Then she nodded solemnly, calling for the midwife. "Show Lord Stark how to hold his daughter," she commanded.
Before he quite knew it, the baby rested in his arms, her small head supported by his hand. Now, up close, he could see her tiny nose and small rosebud of a mouth. When her lids fluttered, he could make out dark eyes.
"She looks so much like you," he breathed, afraid of disturbing his daughter.
"What do you name her, my lord?" the midwife wondered, even as Lyanna watched him carefully.
"Lyarra. She is named Lyarra," Bran answered, still marveling at the baby in his arms.
Despite having belatedly realized the child would need a wet nurse or a room or a crib, it had taken him still longer to realize he would have to name the child. He had tried to give the honor to Lyanna, who laughingly told him that she would be naming the Mormont, but the Starks were up to him.
So he had read through the great book again, and remembered the stories of his father, settling on the name of his grandmother, should the baby turn out to be a girl.
He glanced at his wife, only now pulling up her shift to cover herself once more. "No. Lyarra Stark, for her great-grandmother. A Stark name for a Starkborn. A Northern name. A name of the wolves."
"One day," he told his daughter. "You will be the Lady of Winterfell, Warden of the North. Be a better one than your father," he murmured.
The baby in his hands gave a big yawn at this pronouncement, so he chuckled and looked to Lyanna, to offer her their daughter again. But Lyanna had turned onto her side, away from them, curled away from her daughter.
"She's very tired," the midwife interjected, smoothly taking the baby from his arms. "I shall see to the child. Her nurse stands ready to hold her."
"Uh..yes, of course," he answered, brow furrowing. He watched as Amarey took the baby into her arms, cooing over her beauty and then sat in a chair closer to the fire. When he turned back to his wife, he touched her shoulder.
Before he could even ask after her, she said in a crisp voice, "I'm tired. I must rest."
Nor did she seem herself when she returned to their bed the next night, Onyx nowhere in sight. The black direwolf had abandoned Lyanna to rest by Lyarra's side, a fact that the smallfolk commented upon immediately. His wife spent the next two days practically locked in her study, going over correspondence and sending ravens back and forth with Bear Island. She checked on her daughter once a day and by the time he joined her in bed at night, she would be curled away from him. He practically had to order her to accompany him to the weirwood tree when he took their daughter to seek the blessing of the gods.
But he couldn't take her silence any longer after the short ceremony, not after what he had seen.
"Lyanna," he called to her after dismissing the maesters who had come to witness the blessing. He still held Lyarra in his arms, suffuse with the knowledge of not just her survival to adulthood, but her thriving.
"My lord?" Lyanna replied, an undercurrent of bitterness in her tone.
"Will you walk with me, to my spot?" he asked, hoping that by returning to the place where he'd confessed, she might be more forthcoming with him.
"I would rather not. It's rather chilled today." She glanced at him briefly. "And it's not good for the baby, as yet. She needs to be a bit older, several weeks, before you take her deep into the godswood."
"I didn't know that," Bran answered, chastised, staring down at the child in his arms. Even though he'd just seen her future, he couldn't help the worry that shuddered through him at the thought that he might have put the baby in danger.
"Then let us return to the keep. Stark she is, but I am sure even she could take a chill," she advised, already turning towards the path.
He lost the last of his patience then, barking at her, "Not before you tell me what's wrong."
His shout startled the baby, who began to cry. Without a moment's hesitation, Lyanna hurried to his side, pulling the child from his arms and cradling her close.
"So you do care for her?" Bran asked, almost relieved at her response.
"Of course I care." Lyanna blinked away tears. "But in two months, I have to return to Bear Island without her and-" She cut herself off, closing her eyes.
"Wherever you are, she will always be your daughter." He reached out to touch her cheek, a mirror of her own gesture of comfort to him so many times. "Whatever may happen between us, she is your daughter. I would never deny you the right to see your daughter, even if you and I do not speak as husband and wife. And one day, I hope she shall visit with you and her sibling on Bear Island. "
"I don't know if I'm strong enough to leave her behind," she admitted in a small voice.
"You are the Lady of Bear Island and you have ruled since you were ten. You've stared down Ramsey Bolton, the Night's King, Daenerys herself. You are strong, a strength that I hope our daughter will have." He took a breath, making another hasty decision. "And if it truly is too hard for you, then she shall go with you to Bear Island."
Lyanna looked up at him sharply. "But she is a Stark, to be raised at Winterfell."
"A Stark, yes, regardless if she is raised here or on Bear Island. Either way, she will be a woman of the North, able to stare down whatever comes her way, like her mother."
"I...thank you…," she answered and he wiped away the tears from her lashes.
"Let's go inside," he invited, knowing that she must be feeling the cold as well as whatever emotions were roiling through her. "We can sit in her room by the fire to keep you both warm."
"She probably doesn't feel the cold, like her father."
"No need to figure that out today," Bran replied, turning Winter so they could walk back to the keep together.
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
Will she stay?
Thank you to my betas, Rumaan and @bfl1201, as always.
As a reminder to my readers, this story follows the Game of Thrones show canon, and not ASOIAF. This is simplicity's sake, as well as the fact that I read the books far too long ago now to accurately recall the details.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Everyday, Lyanna took the baby with her into her study, Lyarra either lying in the small crib they placed there or being held by Amarey while her mother worked. So this was where Bran found them one afternoon, not six weeks after Lyarra's blessing at the weirwood tree.
Their routine with the baby did not differ much compared to before her birth, but Bran supposed that simply meant they had all the help they needed. Certainly, the wet nurse seemed an excellent choice and he thanked Rimma more than once for recommending her niece. Amarey's children, meanwhile, joined the others in and about Winter's Town. There were enough now that he'd ordered Timons to start giving them all lessons, to the man's shock. But he didn't want the North forgetting the battles they'd fought and their reasons in the future.
Lyanna approved and that's how he knew it was the right decision.
"Do you intend to hover in the doorway or is there something I can do for you?" Lyanna asked, not looking up from her tallies.
"Gifts have arrived from the South, from Baratheon, from Tully, from the Iron Throne. I thought you might like to open them with me," Bran answered with a smile.
She looked up at him, quirking a brow. "Are any of them heavy enough to be a very large sum of money?"
"At least one, yes," he laughed. "Yet somehow, I doubt those are the contents."
"So far, the heaviest was Tyrion's gift of books," Lyanna noted as she rose and walked over to check on Lyarra. With the girl fast asleep, she nodded at Amarey. "Stay with her here and let her sleep a bit."
"Of course, milady. She'll be up soon enough, wantin' her food," the woman answered pleasantly, happy to keep knitting by the cradle in a comfortable chair.
"I have a feeling he will keep sending us books at every opportunity," Bran agreed as soon as they were on their way to the hall.
"As long as he does not send any of those ridiculous novels that you like to read, I don't mind," she teased him in return.
More than simply thankful at the return of Lyanna's good humor, he hoped that he would be able to convince her to stay at Winterfell. She seemed to be able to manage Bear Island well enough from the mainland, and although due to leave in two days' time, she hadn't yet mentioned or begun preparations to travel. He hoped it signaled that she might be open to staying here with the baby.
Even if she did tease him about the stories he read at night. They eased his mind, when otherwise he might slip into the greensight, not that he told her this.
Once they reached the hall, Lyanna walked up to the nearest gift, the one with the Tully sigil. With little fanfare, she handed over the small letter to Bran.
"Uncle Edmure is going to marry again," he read as Lyanna opened the man's gift and eyed the contents.
"It is a small bow and arrow set," she revealed, pulling out the miniature weapon. She pulled back on the string and nodded slightly. "Very little weight for an adult, but for a small child, something to learn on."
He read through more of the note. "He said this is so our daughter can practice at an early age. Apparently, he's terrible at it himself, but he made sure his sons have the right training."
"And he's to marry again, you said?" she asked, testing the sharpness of a small arrow with a careful finger. Edmure Tully had set aside his first wife, Roslin, shortly after the war ended. The smallfolk said it was the weight of the shame of her family that caused her to take her life after, but Bran had seen that his uncle had given her very few options.
At least he did not take out his anger on his son, Alyn, whom he still named his heir.
Since then, Edmure had taken a string of mistresses, producing two more sons, Axel and Hoster, and a daughter, Celia. Axel and Celia bore the name Rivers, but for some reason, he'd acknowledged Hoster. What little honor and sense the man possessed after the war fled before the new Keep at Queen's Landing had even been built and it was commonly thought that the treatment he'd received at the hands of the Freys had tipped his mind in the wrong direction.
Given what he'd learned with greensight, Bran doubted he ever would have made a good lord, Frey treachery or not.
Fortunately, most of the running of Riverrun was in the hands of Edmund Blackwood, a man raised with more sense in his father's keep at Raventree. Everyone knew he ran Riverrun, that he oversaw the education of the children. It allowed Edmure to act like a sodden fool, to hear Arya tell of it, but at least the Riverlands had a sensible man at the helm.
Or, as the smallfolk of the Riverlands said, "The one Ed covers the other Ed's mistakes."
Bran did not think he could look could look his uncle in the eye though, after knowing about his behavior towards his first wife or his illegitimate children, and had been quite glad when the man hadn't turned up for his wedding to Lyanna. He didn't hold with a man who thought only about what pleasures his station in life could afford him and almost never saw to his actual duty.
"Yes. To a Bracken, Bess."
"Brackens and Blackwoods don't get along. How's that going to work with Edmund?"
Bran tried to control his smile as he read the additional words on the missive, clearly written by Edmund rather than his uncle. "Bess is apparently quite the beauty and already with child. Her father rather insisted, I see."
Lyanna rolled her eyes. "That'll be five for him then. Stupid for him not to acknowledge the other two, seeing the implied insult to the King, even to Lord Baratheon, Lord Martell, Lord Lannister." There were a rather high number of bastards in positions of power, these days.
"He's not known for his wisdom. Or courage. Or honor or...really any other virtue." Bran thought about it for a moment. "He's tall," he added. "That's about all I can say for him."
She favored him with an amused look, then moved onto the next gifts. They both liked the collection of toys sent from Gendry, including the stag and the wolf figures on wheels that a child might particularly covet. "Seems a shame that she will not play with them for months," Bran noted, spinning one of the wheels with a finger.
"We could allow Amarey's children to play with them, in the room next to Lyarra," Lyanna suggested. "I am sure they would enjoy it."
"Timons won't like that," Bran commented wryly as he set down the wolf in his hand.
"Timons dislikes everything. I think he only stays because he hopes to figure out the secret of your powers," she replied, mouth quirking.
"He did request the assignment specifically," he agreed. "I like your maester though. He seems…"
"Used to Mormont, that's all," Lyanna interrupted dryly. But her features softened as she admitted, "He once told me of his mother, a strong woman in her own right. I think he is more used to the idea that a woman can have sense."
The gifts from Daenerys and Jon, however, were naturally the most ornate, including a small table and gifts suitable for a child and inlaid with the direwolf design. However, the puzzle included in the gift was the true masterpiece. A map of Westeros, with each House and its crest noted in the position of their seat, it would be a great learning tool when the time came.
"A message," Lyanna observed, then glanced at Bran who nodded solemnly.
"A land, united." He returned her look. "Message received," he added, fingering the Greyjoy symbol over Pyke.
"It is they who need the message, not us." Her tone shifted, growing cool and he touched her shoulder gently to gain her full attention.
"Daenerys knows this. I am sure their reminder is not so cordial, or useful." He took a breath and changed the subject. "I want to thank you for arranging for the gifts from Winterfell as well as Mormont for Aegon's birth." As with many things, he had completely forgotten.
The smallest smile graced her lips. "I noticed such matters tend to escape your attention, Lord Stark."
"Most things do."
"No. Some mundane things. But you use your gifts to keep Westeros safe, to speed word of attacks. You concern yourself with the most important matters, and yes, they distract you from gift-giving. This is not a terrible failing."
He knew instantly that now was the time to ask her to stay with him but he found his tongue frozen as he stared at her.
He could control hosts of animals, talk across the whole of Westeros, could even raise the damned Wall , but talking to his wife was beyond him.
Lyanna broke the silence that descended, calling for a few men to take the gifts to the children's rooms and picking up the letter the Targaryens had sent with their gift.
"They've given us some instruction as to what accommodations will be needed when Edgaer comes with his guards," she remarked, reading the words quickly. "This lines up very well with what you've already planned, my lord, but it is thoughtful of them to give some direction before you are invaded."
He frowned and held out his hand for the parchment, wondering at how he'd missed those words and eager to be distracted from his own incompetence. As he read, he added, "It looks like a barracks will be necessary. I'm glad I already spoke about this, made sure there was a likely place against the wall."
"And set aside some lumber and stone, in anticipation. You are well-prepared."
Her approving tone and gaze warmed him, but she turned away quickly. "I must check on the baby and see to a few more items for Bear Island. You have this well in hand, I'm sure, my lord." She inclined her head and strode away, leaving him annoyed at himself at failing to speak with her about what was truly on his mind.
He resolved to speak about it that evening, in their room, and so he waited patiently for her to join him after supper. She wanted to check on Lyarra before retiring, since Amarey reported that she seemed rather fussy that evening. He thought he had a very good chance to convince her to stay, given her attachment to the baby, her concern for her wellbeing.
Bran prepared himself for bed, rehearsing in his mind. He didn't think that speaking to her as "her husband, Lord Stark" would work at all, but if he spoke as a friend, as a parent, maybe she would listen. If she was willing to spend a year with him trying to conceive, then the chance she would dismiss out of hand the possibility of staying here until Lyarra was at least a year old seemed remote.
He looked up as the door opened and Lyanna entered, wearing that soft smile she often showed their daughter. "She's well, just fell asleep again. Dougal-" Amarey's youngest "-assured me he'd 'potect her'," she reported, closing the door behind her and picking her way over the lounging direwolves that carpeted the bedroom. She raised a hand to still him when he started to admonish the wolves, adding, "Let them lie. We are quite used to each other."
"If you are sure…"
She threw him a sardonic look and he flushed, knowing very well that she did not temporize. Ever. By the time he regained his composure and settled on his opening words, he found Lyanna standing directly in front of him in her shift, her hair down.
"I wanted to thank you, Bran," she spoke quietly, though her words gained volume and surety as she continued. "For indulging me these past months, in the idea that I could take Lyarra with me to Bear Island. It was very kind of you. I know, of course, that she must stay here, with you, in Winterfell when I go home next week."
Bran stared at her, dumbfounded. "..next week?" is all he could manage after the shock of her words, which seemed to crush his dream that she might remain indefinitely.
"Yes. I should have left today, but I think I needed this time, to believe that I might have her with me before I could acknowledge the reality that she must stay," she admitted, almost sheepish and certainly disappointed in her own behavior. "I'm sure you had no intention of letting me take your heir across the Sunset Sea to Bear Island, not with the Greyjoys still so unsettled."
He could not dispute that, exactly, so instead forced himself to finally venture, "I simply thought..perhaps you would stay longer."
"But we both know I cannot. Bear Island cannot rule itself. And I cannot model strength for my daughter if I do not show strength." Lyanna sounded more wistful than anything else, reaching out to brush at his hair. "So I thank you, for allowing me this fiction, so that I could grow accustomed to my burden."
He closed his eyes in pain, realizing that he'd likely missed whatever opportunity there was to persuade her to stay. She knew her own mind, and really, what was here beside the baby to keep her? A drafty keep? An endless set of problems with his bannermen? A crippled husband?
"Lyanna…," he all but whispered. "I'll do whatever you want." Because he could not allow himself to be selfish with her time. She deserved better than the flimsy excuse of their marriage; she deserved someone who could stand beside her.
Bran felt her huffed laugh wash over him. "Whatever I want? And if I want...you?"
He jerked his head up in shock, only to see her gaze darken. "I know my body is not what it was exactly, before Lyarra, but I think we could still please each other. I would very much like-"
"Yes," he blurted out, seizing upon the thing that might convince her to stay. Not that she could not take a lover on Bear Island, but she seemed intent on not doing so before she fulfilled their bargain to have three children. And he knew he could please her in bed, if nowhere else.
He allowed her to pull off his shirt and watched as she let her shift slip off. She seemed almost shy for a moment, but he tangled his fingers with hers to pull her closer and she returned to her confident self, sliding onto his lap with a grin on her face.
"I see you missed me," she murmured, glancing between them and arching a brow.
"Lyanna..," he breathed, ducking his head. "You know there's-" He winced and shook his head.
"I know. You only do this with me," she soothed, placing a kiss on his temple. "Shall we go slowly?" she asked gently, nuzzling at his neck.
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. It was very much like their first night together, the two of them cautious, though eager. Even though her body had changed some, he enjoyed running his hands over her curves, brushing his lips against the swell of her hips and coaxing his name from her lips with his fingers between her legs. But sliding into her, feeling her arch beneath him, gave him new hope that he could entice her to stay in Winterfell.
Afterall, he mused, as she curled into his side contentedly afterwards and he pulled up the covers to keep her warm, Winterfell would have two people that Lyanna appeared to like very much and that Bear Island did not: he and Lyarra.
So, as much as possible, Bran encouraged Lyanna to spend time with their daughter or with him, often urging her to stay longer in bed in the morning or hurrying her after supper to their rooms. Subtlety not being one his strong suits, he was unsurprised to hear her call him out about his behavior one evening in bed.
"I know you will miss me, Bran, but you were hardly this amorous when we were actually trying to make a child," she remarked lightly sometime after he'd had her panting his name one evening. She threaded her fingers through his hair as he rested his cheek against her belly, the rest of his body laying between her comfortably splayed legs.
"You directed us, our activities, in the bed. I didn't want to..impose on you," he mumbled against her skin, too comfortable to lift his head.
"And now?" she chuckled.
"Since you like this as much as I do, there's no reason not to ask," he admitted. Seeking pleasure in each other without the burden of trying to make a child from it added something to their bedsport, he thought.
She hummed beneath him and he smiled to be able to feel it. "It is nice to feel desired," she acknowledged in such a tone that he turned to look at her, resting his chin on her.
"You know I want you." He tried to put the weight of his feeling behind the words.
"Yes, I do," she acknowledged, letting her hand drift down to smooth over his jawline. "But it is nice to see it, hear it."
Bran's heartbeat sped up and his chest constricted almost painful as he stared at her. "You should stay," he blurted out all at once, only to be overcome with a chilly wave of anxiety.
But Lyanna didn't scold him, only looked sad. "And who will rule the Island in my absence?"
"You're in contact with them. They still follow you from here-"
"Bran." Lyanna cut him off softly and he subsided immediately. "If you lived in Queen's Landing, would the North continue to follow you or suspect you too influenced by the South?"
He knew, without a doubt, the answer to that question and swallowed. Already, such things were being said about Jon by the smallfolk in the North.
"It is the same for Bear Island. I cannot rule from afar." She buried her hand in his hair again, rubbing the back of his head comfortingly. "Bear Island was given to Mormont to rule for Stark, and we do, but we can only do it there. Otherwise, we would be as Skagos is...an island of the North in name only.
"But I will return to you soon. We have more heirs to make and my daughter lives here," she continued, but he had already turned his face away to hide his disappointment.
"I will always be your faithful bannerman," she said before a long silence descended in their room.
As he closed his eyes against the message of her words - his faithful bannerman and nothing more - he wondered why he ever thought he had a chance.
Lyanna's departure cast a pall over Winterfell, worse than her first. Everyone seemed to recognize the brightness in her eyes as she said goodbye to Bran and their daughter in the courtyard. The glares he received as she rode off were pointed but he ignored them as he turned Winter back towards the Keep.
He didn't need to hear Timons explanation that Maude was furious with him; he could see it in the almost bland nature of the food on his table. Only when he lost some noticeable weight did the meals return to their former flavor, with Maude fretting anxiously in the doorway long enough that he began to eat some more just to calm her.
The only happiness anyone seemed to have near him was his daughter, who never failed to coax a smile out of whomever looked upon her. In keeping with Lyanna's habits, Bran instructed Amarey to spend part of her afternoons with the child in his study with him. At first, he was all too aware of the woman's presence but before long, he eased into the routine which kept his daughter close to him.
One afternoon a week, he'd also take her into the godswood. At first, mindful of what Lyanna had said, he took her only as far as the great weirwood tree, there to sit against the wood with his daughter in his hands while he told her the good tales of Starks gone by. Later, when she was nearly five months old and able to sit up, if only for a moment or two, he would take her to his secret spot, so she could feel the peace of the place.
"The Children of the Forest, some of our ancestors, believed that the souls of their dead, and their knowledge, passed into these white trees when they died. So that they were not truly dead, because a piece of them could not die. It is why they fought the First Men, also our ancestors, because the First Men cut trees like these down. They didn't know what they were doing."
Bran could hear Spring and Autumn chasing each other through the trees a short distance away and grinned down at his daughter, who smiled back at him, flashing the white top of her first tooth at him and waving a half-clenched hand. Lyarra rested on a cloak, propped up against the dozing Onyx. Bran sat next to them, his back up against a tree and Winter on his other side.
"And you know, it's true. I can see the memories of folks who lived a long time ago, Children of the Forest, because they still are here…." He rubbed one of the crooked roots nearby. "They told me how we can defeat the Night's King. They told me the truth of our blood. They told me how to reach out and warg with any animal, not just the wolves." He chuckled. "Well, not a dragon. I'll leave that for your cousin. His blood sings for wolves and dragons."
He reached out a hand, so that Lyarra could grab one of his fingers like she preferred to do. "And you have the greensight too, you know. I saw it. Not like me, but enough so that I know you can hear the wisdom of the past too, learn from it. I can't teach you to walk, but I can teach you to see, to warg, to be Lady Stark."
She gurgled a reply, a happy sound to his ears and he took it as a signal to continue telling her stories.
An hour later, when he emerged from the godswood with Lyarra in his arms and rode into the keep, he found his sister Arya in the courtyard, as well as a host of Unsullied. She wore the sigil of House Stark on her cloak, as she usually did when she wore her own face.
"That your heir?" she asked without preamble, striding over.
"Yes. Welcome home, Arya," he replied dryly, handing over the baby to her.
She eyed the baby in her arms critically. "You're sure she's yours? Looks all like Lyanna." Arya's humor tended to cut, at least a little, lately.
There was a ripple of laughter in the courtyard, from his people, and Bran smirked at his sister. He gestured to Onyx. "That one began following Lyanna obsessively once she got pregnant. As soon as she gave birth, she began to follow Lyarra. No one doubts she is a Stark."
"Huh." She looked up at her brother, mouth quirking. "She got any other Stark qualities?"
Bran shrugged a shoulder. "She has the sight, yes."
"You know this, already?"
He nodded but didn't elaborate, just to needle her since she spent so much of her time gathering information. But she simply smirked at him and offered his daughter back to him.
"Stark blood runs true then."
Arya's visit, it seemed, had two purposes: the first, to deliver the rather large sum of money Lyanna had hoped for months ago, though its purpose was to fund Winter's Fleet, and the second, to be present when Bran blessed her children through the weirwood tree. They were in Queen's Landing, with their father, especially for the purpose.
"I'd have brought them with me here, but I'm not going straight back to Storm's End," she explained the next afternoon as they made their way to the godswood.
"Do you miss them, when you're away?" Bran wondered as the moved towards the weirwood tree.
Arya frowned. "You wouldn't ask me that if I was a man," she accused.
He didn't deny it, but he clarified, "I ask because I wonder if Lyanna misses Lyarra. She worried that she would miss her too much if she returned home."
She paused by the tree, looking down for a moment. "She misses her but she does what she must, all the same."
Bran placed a hand on her arm and she permitted the gesture, giving him a slight nod. But she soon waved to the tree. "They are waiting, I am sure."
When he connected through the tree to the one in the godswood in Queen's Landing, he found himself looking at Gendry Baratheon, two black-haired children wearing the Baratheon stag on their clothing, and the King's Hand, Davos, and the Queen's Hand, Lord Lannister, Tyrion. The latter two gave the apologies of Jon and Daenerys, who wanted to be there, but were called elsewhere.
"The Queen assures me, however, when Edgaer travels to Winterfell, she will be in attendance for his own blessing ceremony at the Stark tree," Tyrion noted.
"I had thought Jon would escort him to Winterfell," Bran said through the tree, watching the fascinated faces of his niece and nephew. Gendry, even though he'd seen this "trick," before, wore a similar sort of expression.
"The Throne thought it best that the Queen herself make the journey. She has not traveled to the North since the war," Tyrion explained glibly.
"In fact, they feel the Queen's escort to Winterfell and the King's when Edgaer returns to Queen's Landing is the best course of action."
Bran restrained his snort. "How many dragons should I prepare for?"
"One, no more than one at a time," Davos rushed to assure him. "The Throne would hardly want to impose more on the hospitality of the North."
Until the eggs currently in Dragonstone hatch and Edgaer received a dragon of his own, Bran disagreed, but did not voice the thought. But then, he planned to give the prince a direwolf pup upon his arrival in Winterfell, unless Jon beat him to it.
"Very well," he said instead. "I see two very well-behaved children waiting to be blessed. Shall we begin?"
When he asked who sought the blessing, the boy spoke first. "Jon Baratheon," he stated firmly, walking up to the tree with his head held high. He looked so much like Gendry, Bran almost made a joke at Arya's expense, but held his tongue once again.
"Place your hand on the tree, Jon Baratheon," he directed.
Normally when Bran blessed a child, he would place his hand over the child's on the tree and slip into the greensight, hoping that the Gods favored him with a clue as to the child's future. But this time, when little Jon's hand touched the wood, Bran found himself standing in the godswood in Queen's Landing, alone with the boy.
Jon's eyes were wide as he looked around him in shock. Dimly, in the background, Bran heard Gendry gasp and rush to hold his son as the boy's eyes apparently turned the milky white of one using the greensight.
Bran crouched down and offered his nephew a smile as he beckoned him forward. After a moment's hesitation, Jon moved to stand right in front of him.
"Do you know how I am?"
Jon nodded solemnly. "You're my uncle, Brandon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. The Three-Eyed Raven."
"That's right. And it seems as if the Gods want you to know that you have some of the greensight too," he confirmed. "I think just enough to talk to me through the tree."
Jon swallowed. "Where's my father?" he near whispered and Bran was struck by the knowledge that this little boy was only four.
"He's still here, right next to you. Only when you're in the greensight, you can't see anything but the greensight." Bran considered the child for a moment. "Would you like to see your mother?"
Jon blinked and nodded quickly.
"Arya," Bran said, through his body, startling his sister who hadn't yet learned about his ability to ground something of himself. "Touch the weirwood tree."
When Arya appeared beside them both, Jon launched himself at his mother, who caught him reflexively and stared at Bran.
"Does this mean that I-"
"You've enough of the sight to use the tree to communicate with someone else with the same blood, I think. Not like this, but even if I weren't here, I think you'd be able to hear each other at least," Bran hazarded. Certainly, that's what had occurred in the Age of Heroes.
Eventually, Bran managed to tell Gendry to have Raya touch the tree as well, and soon, Arya had a reunion with both her children. As touching as the moment was, Tyrion and Davos were far more excited to know that Jon, the king, might be able to talk to other Starks across Westeros without Bran's intervention. They vowed to test the theory the next day, when Sansa would be at the weirwood tree in Starkhold's godswood.
Bran did finally recall the purpose of their communication and in due time, both Baratheon children were blessed. Arya harassed him later over supper until he revealed what he'd seen of them, to know that they had the Old Gods' regard.
"I saw Jon, as a man, tall, a bit leaner than his father, but unmistakably Baratheon, unmistakably Gendry's son. His manner is easier than Gendry's, but he had that goodness," Bran described as he fed Winter some of the food from his own bowl.
He leaned back in his chair. "She is, will be, a beauty. The way men look at Sansa, they will look at Raya. But she's fiery and strong, a true Stark woman. Has her mother's harsh tongue."
"Who would have thought I would have given birth to a beauty?" Arya's voice held no little derision, though her slight smile acknowledged his words about her own temperament.
Bran snorted at her self-deprecation. "I'm not nearly so handsome as Robb was, but that's not why he was a better Lord Stark than I am. You need not be so shallow."
She tossed a small bone from her plate at him, which he dodged just in time and Autumn happily snapped up a moment later. "Is this how Lady Baratheon acts? I'm pretty sure our parents would be disappointed in you."
"I married far beyond Mother's expectations and actually bore two children. Thrilled is what she'd be, not disappointed." She focused on her goblet, tracing the direwolf design with a finger. "The rest of it, though…"
"You slaughtered many of our enemies. I am sure she would be proud, as proud and grateful as I am," Bran answered, knowing her thoughts. "Mother, ultimately, was quite vindictive. Jon can tell you that."
Arya chuckled without a humor before taking a sip of her wine.
A contingent of the Free Folk arrived the next day, led by Tormund. He couldn't say exactly why he was there, nattering something about the Crone, but Bran got the sense that Giantsbane was bored of life south of the Wall without a war to fight. He toyed briefly with the notion of granting Tormund and his people Skagos, but he knew they did not wish to become "kneelers" or bring anyone else to heel.
But they were an effective fighting force, he considered as he rode out to the weirwood tree for his daily communications. Perhaps he could convince them to become the North's own standing army, of sorts.
He went through his usual contacts, getting updates from Queen's Landing and sending them to various lords across the North. As usual, he saved Lyanna for last.
But when he connected to the tree at Mormont Keep, Lyanna was not there. Instead, he could see a pitched battle out in the bay, between Greyjoy banners and Lyanna's people. In an instant, he knew were his wife would be.
Somehow, he controlled his rage enough to send word to Cahgan and Queen's Landing before he thundered back into the keep. Tormund and Arya were in the main hall and both jumped to their feet when he burst inside.
"I'm marching to the coast with your men, Tormund, and your Unsullied, Arya. Bear Island is under attack again and this time, I will make sure it is the last," he snarled. He felt Winter tense beneath him, while Autumn and Spring took position on his flanks.
Whatever objection Tormund might have had at Bran's conscription of his men fled as soon as Bran mentioned Bear Island. "Aye, been spoilin' for a good fight," he smiled grimly.
Arya was less impressed. "You're going to do what, attack Pyke on your own?"
"No. I'm taking my Fleet and my men, and the King's men, to protect the bannerman who stood up for him when no one else would. You will go to Pyke and deal with the Greyjoys once and for all, once Sansa arrives to take your place here as the Stark in Winterfell. I'll tell Lord Cerwyn that his men should take up defensive positions around Winterfell until Sansa arrives with her own host," he pronounced coldly, feeling every ounce of fury for which the Kings of Winter were known.
She smiled mercilessly in return. "Why should I wait until Sansa comes?"
"Because I need a Stark in Winterfell and one who is not a babe in her nurse's arms." He nodded at Tormund. "We'll leave at first light. I will send ravens to my closest bannerman and collect their men along the way." Gesturing for Arya to follow him, he turned Winter and began to walk towards the rookery to send the necessary messages.
As they walked, he explained in a low voice, "A Stark is needed in Winterfell in order for me to access the full power of our bloodline. Lyarra is but a babe, and she could be my anchor to this place, but she needs a Stark to protect her. If you remain, I can access my power and trust that there is one in Winterfell to keep her safe. I trust none but our own family."
"What do you mean, access your power?"
Briefly, he explained about their blood, the pact with the Children of the Forest, the importance of Winterfell's location, only pausing before they entered Timons' domain so that he would not hear of their conversation.
"How could you not tell me, tell the Throne, of this before?" Arya hissed.
"No one must know that my power, Stark power, is limited by Winterfell. Only Starks may know. Jon's surrounded himself with too many who aren't Starks. It is safer for us, for the pack, if none but we know."
She eyed him critically. "Does your wife know?"
He held his temper, barely, in snapping, "Yes."
"Then Jon will know. Whether he tells his wife, that will be up to him."
"I am Lord Stark-" he began, raising his voice, heedless to the sound of Timons scrambling inside and hurrying to the door.
"You are asking me to stay here, as a Stark, while you go. He's a Stark too, and he will know," Arya growled back at him. "His children are Starks."
As the maester yanked open the door in surprise, he glared at his sister. She'd reminded him forcibly of what Lyanna had once said to him.
All of Westeros is Stark land .
As Timons gaped at them both, Bran felt some of his anger subside. "So be it," he acknowledged his sister's decision. "You will stay?"
"I will. Send for Sansa and then I will take care of the rest."
He nodded, then turned his eyes to Timons. "Prepare ravens. I march to the coast tomorrow."
This has been a very tough week or so for me and I wasn't sure that I could write. This chapter is short and choppy as a result. I don't know what my writing schedule will be in the coming weeks and months, but I will continue to update this story when I can.
Chapter 8: Chapter 7
When Bran sails to Bear Island with an army at his back, it wasn't with the expectation that they might not be needed.
Much thanks to Rumaan and @bfl1201 for their beta work.
Bran's army of one thousand came together on the march to the sea, faster than most thought possible. They left Winterfell with two hundred men, but gathered forces along the way to the coast, from Dustin, Glover and even Ryswell, who sent men north to meet Lord Stark's host.
But the largest contingent of men came from smallfolk from Stark lands, from the Stony Shore, Sea Dragon Point, even men streaming south from the lands between Winterfell and Last Hearth. Once word spread of further Greyjoy treachery, the people of the North seemed eager to defend their territory and with the harvest already in, men were free to join the effort.
Mormont forces had successfully repelled another attack, only for Deepwood Motte to be the next target. That had been enough for Glover, who'd offered Bran all the men he could spare along with his most trusted man. Cahgan finally had located the Greyjoy fleets whose members had been harassing the coast, and armed with the ships and men to board the others, they were ready to destroy the threat on the Sunset Sea.
Most were veterans of the war itself, able to fight alongside the Free Folk and the Unsullied without issue. What few disagreements cropped up between the men ended before Bran ever need get involved, with Tormund, commander of the Free Folk, WhiteRat, the Unsullied commander, and Glover's man, Evandir Bole, commander of the rest.
Well, except the wolves. Bran had called for more direwolves to join them, so in addition to Winter, Autumn and Spring, he had another seven of the beasts which made up his own retinue.
Now, Bran found himself on Cahgan's ship, set to engage a Greyjoy fleet on the horizon. They planned to attack the Greyjoy formation, then board the ships with their superior soldiers. Eager to destroy the force that had spent the last few years killing his people, he drummed his fingers on the rail as he eyed the enemy ships with malevolence.
"My lord, perhaps you would care to go below deck? With your, ah, wolves?" Cahgen called to him. The man had more than a little fear of the pack and had even balked when Bran informed him they would be traveling with him.
"We are fine up here," Bran answered flatly.
"My lord, you and your wolves are quite a sight. And a rather obvious target for our enemies. Again, I ask that you reconsid-"
But Bran had already dismissed the man's words, attention caught by a few birds - gulls, perhaps - flying near the Greyjoy sails. He waved Cahgan's concern away, instead asking him, "Would you like to know what the enemy is saying right now?"
Cahgan gaped at him. "Yes. But how could we-"
"I can warg with more than just wolves, Admiral."
Bran knew that his ability to take over the body of another depended on the subject's strength of mind. Animals could not resist him very well at all, but men could, unless they were feeble or weak-minded. Unsure if such existed in the Greyjoy fleet, he hoped that he could get one of the birds close enough to overhear the orders being shouted to the crew.
He reached out, casting to find a mind to take, and seized on the familiar-seeming consciousness of an animal just on the edge of his range. He could feel himself slip into a new body and when he opened his eyes, he found himself staring into a murkiness and unsure of his footing. When he tried to turn his head, his whole body seemed to move.
It took awhile for him to understand that he was swimming.
Seeing the fish in the distance helped.
It took another few minutes before he managed to look...up.
There, at the very edge of his vision, he saw light and he moved towards it as fast as possible. Impatient for how long it took, he kept his eyes on the surface, gradually perceiving the undersides of ships in two groups. After a moment, he thought he could sense himself in one of the groups, so he turned his attention to the other, swimming just underneath.
In his own body, he heard Cahgan swearing distantly, "By the Gods, do you see that shadow?"
Bran suddenly understood he, in this other body, was the animal casting that shadow beneath the waves. That he was truly enormous.
So instead of trying to spy on the Greyjoy fleet, he merely surfaced in the middle of it and thrashed about. In the light, he could see that he was easily the size of three warships, so even in diving down and resurfacing, he could play havoc on their hulls. Greyjoy ships toppled over, crashed into each other, even split down the middle if he managed to hit them just right. After a mere quarter of an hour, he sank down into the waters. Only when he felt he had returned the beast to the same level he'd taken him from did he release the creature and open his own eyes.
He knew he'd destroyed a few ships, but he did not expect to see nearly every ship with a Greyjoy sail lame, splintered or capsized. Bran gaped at the ruins of the ships before him, taking in the havoc he'd wrought with stunned eyes.
"Winterfell!" called one of the sailors in the rigging above him.
"Winterfell!" replied some of the soldiers on his own vessel, before more took up the chant and it spread through the whole of Winter's Fleet.
Cahgan carefully eased around some of the wolves to stand by Bran's side. "I saw you during the war, my lord, saw the things you could do. But...to raise a beast of legend and-" He swallowed, nervous, eyes as spooked as a frightened horse. "Is...is it true, that you're the son of the Old Gods, as they say?"
Bran had never heard such a rumor, though belatedly he realized that Tormund tried to warn him once what some of the smallfolk thought of him. But all he felt now was a great swell of anger, to think that his parents, whose blood flowed through his veins, would be so easily dismissed.
Without thinking, he lurched over, grabbing at the man's tunic and pulling him close. "I am the second son of Lord Eddard Stark and Lady Catelyn Tully and do not let any man say otherwise!" he roared at the startled admiral before shoving him away to stumble and fall to the deck, the wolves growling around him.
Cahgan scurried back on his hands, scrambling to his feet as soon as he could manage to get his legs under him. "Aye, my lord, aye," he babbled.
Bran waved to the wreckage of the Greyjoy fleet. "I want the survivors, all of them. And get me one of those ships, make sure it's seaworthy. Let's send a few back to tell Yara what exactly what happened here," he ordered, still furious but willing to focus his temper on the pirates rather than his own man.
Tormund found him pacing the deck some hours later as the sun began to set in the sky. The big man had come over from a ship where many of the Free Folk were boarded.
"Ye ruined our big fight, ye know," he boomed, getting Bran's attention quickly.
"I meant only to get some insight into their tactics but when I understood the size of the beast I caught…," he shrugged, acknowledging that such was not his plan. "Felt good though," he added, smirking.
"And what now, Raven?"
"The Greyjoy prisoners to shore for judgement."
"And the children among 'em?"
Bran sighed, looking out at the remains of the Greyjoy fleet. The only fly in the ointment of his victory had been the discovery that nearly every pirate ship had children aboard, conscripted into the duties of men. "We've three already at Winter's Dock, but I don't think they're equipped to handle another two hundred," he admitted.
He tried not to think of the bodies of children still in the water.
Tormund scratched at his beard. "We could take 'em."
Bran frowned. "What, to raise? That didn't work for my father."
"Aye, but we're not kneelers. And them boys-" He smiled thinly. "They just survived an attack by a sea monster controlled by you. Their God nowhere to be found. Ye've got a lot of converts among 'em. Free Folk'll use that."
"The Free Folk don't worship me," he denied, annoyed at Tormund's cavalier attitude.
"Don't be daft, 'course they do. Ye just can't tell 'cause we're not respectful even to our Gods."
The red-bearded man just laughed, leaning on the railing and eyeing the wolves arrayed around Bran. "Stark. The Old Gods and the Starks. Them's the gods of the Free Folk. Jon, back from the dead, wargs with wolves and dragons. Ye raised the Wall, warg with pack and, fuckin' monsters from the deep, see the future and the past. Arya's a ghost, wears other mens' faces, flits in and out of wherever she wishes, controls her wolves like ye do."
He snorted, shaking his head, even though Tormund hadn't said anything but the truth. "Sansa's normal, eh?"
"Sansa's the judge. Ye can't lie to her, sees right into yer soul," Tormund denied, looking uncomfortable. "She bewitches and commands and-" He shuddered, and Bran realized that Sansa might be the one Stark that the big man actually feared. "Her powers are hidden but there, anyone can see." He forced a chuckle. "And ye don't make us kneel or pray, just pay some taxes."
"Tormund," Bran began reproachfully. He thought Giantsbane was the one man who would treat him as any other and the idea that he thought of him as something….other...bothered him greatly.
"Aye, I know yer men and women, flesh and blood, but if ye have the power of the Gods, there's not much of a difference." Tormund grinned. "I like being friends with gods. Makes my life more interestin'...and easier."
Bran chuckled without humor and eyed the water moodily. "You sure you can tame them?"
"Tame? Nah. Harness, maybe." He scratched at his beard. "We'll march 'em back to you when they're older, ye can see for yerself if they be changed."
In the end, most of the fleet, loaded with prisoners, turned for the coast, with only two ships, filled with Stark men, continuing to sail on towards Bear Island. Bran hoped that Lyanna would be glad of the extra hands to help with the rebuild and fortification of defense.
More personally, he hoped she might be glad to see him. He wanted to show her how he could use the trees to see those of his own blood. Of course, he now understood that she could slip into the greensight with him when she was with his child, so perhaps this would make her more amenable to making the Mormont heir during his visit. He could then show her Lyarra through the trees before he made his way home and she would be able to visit with her daughter until she gave birth.
Odd, how killing so many had given him this powerful need to make another child.
He longed for land too, like his wolves, growing restless on the sea without the ground beneath his feet. Bran ignored the call of greensight, even though warging with a sea creature would make the journey go that much faster. He was never so thankful to see a shoreline as when the telltale curve of Bear Island came into view.
As the ships were being tied down by the dockworkers, Winter and the rest of his wolves leapt onto the dock. There, near the shore, stood Lyanna's maester, who blanched at the number of direwolves streaking towards him but bowed all the same.
"My Lord Stark, welcome to Bear Island. I can escort you to Lady Mormont."
Bran merely nodded as several of the wolves bounded past the stationary maester.
"Ah, should we wait for your men, my lord?"
He chuckled. "I am on Bear Island. What threat do you think waits for me here that my wolves could not protect me from?"
The maester gave him a thin smile. "Of course." He straightened and turned, so that he could walk by Winter's side as they moved through the town which had grown between the docks and Mormont Keep. "We have already heard of your great victory at sea, Lord Stark," he continued, gesturing to the people who paused in their work to stop and stare.
The crowds which lined the street held mostly women and children. Bran easily saw there was scarcely a man between twenty and sixty among them, and those that he did see, he recognized from the days of the war.
Lyanna had truly taken the last of the men with her when Jon and Sansa called on her, it seemed.
The people of Bear Island, though decidedly matriarchal, seemed quite like mainlanders in one respect. They marveled and whispered about Lord Stark and his wolves, wondered if the Three-Eyed Raven might bless their children or ease their troubles, destroy them like he did the Greyjoy threat. He quickly realized that as long as he was on the island, he would need to make time for those of Lyanna's people who wanted to see the Three-Eyed Raven.
Fortunately, however, none called for his attention now and so he soon found himself escorted into the courtyard of Mormont Keep. Lyanna stood there, ready to receive him, along with a number of her men-at-arms.
His attention fastened on one of the men closest to her. About Lyanna's age, the young, broad-shouldered but beardless man stood tall. Fair-haired, with a strong jawline and blue eyes, Bran didn't need anyone to tell him the man was uncommonly handsome. He tried to tamp down his instant jealousy at seeing someone who looked like that so close to his wife, standing so close to his wife, if only because his emotions tended to bleed through to the pack and he didn't want to cause an incident.
Well, he did want to cause an incident, but he knew better.
Instead, he tried to focus on Lyanna herself and soon, all thoughts of the other man fled as he got a good look at her for the first time in months. Bran could see Lyanna barely maintaining control over her anger. Her chin up, her frame set with tension, he knew he would be yelled at rather thoroughly. But even as they got closer and he steeled himself against her words, surprise threatened to overwhelm him as he finally spotted the telltale swell of her belly.
"Why has Lord Stark come to Bear Island?" Lyanna demanded as soon as he was close enough to hear.
"Why has Lady Mormont not told us of her condition?" he retorted, unable to believe that she wouldn't have mentioned being pregnant to him at any time in the past few months.
She clenched her jaw and gestured to one of the men-at-arms close by, not the handsome one. "Make sure all the visitors are settled. Lord Stark and I will be in the godswood." Her gaze flitted over the wolves arrayed around and behind him. "Along with his pack," she added, pressing her mouth into a thin line immediately afterwards before turning and striding away.
They walked in silence, both of them fuming. Bran's own thoughts raced, as he tried to calculate how far along she would have to be. At least six months, to judge from the last time they had been together. That meant she had kept this from him for at least five months, all the while dealing with attacks by the Greyjoys.
Before they even reached the weirwood tree, Lyanna bit out, "You can't run to my defense every time something happens, Bran, not when you don't do the same with your other bannerman. You want us to respect each other, but they will grow to resent me terribly if you do this at every attack."
"I won't even speak about the attacks until you say why you wouldn't tell me that you are with child," he denied, stopping Winter and staring at her, hurt beyond words that she'd kept this a secret.
"Because I knew your response would be to come here, to leave Winterfell to come to my defense, when it is the whole of the coast that needs defending. That knowing you had a child, another Stark blood in danger from Greyjoys would spur you to act rashly-"
"The entire coast has joined in this effort, Lyanna! Glover and Ryswell, even Dustin, the Free Folk. We destroyed the Greyjoy fleet. The threat is over. I should've done it before; I don't know why I didn't-"
Lyanna interrupted him crossly. "No, you destroyed the fleet. We've heard how that 'battle' went. And now you've brought how many soldiers to the Island and for what? If the Greyjoy fleet is destroyed, why are you here?"
Bran gaped at her. "Because...I thought you could use the manpower. To rebuild."
But that was a lie of omission. He looked away, because he knew she would see right through him, would see that he was as weak as any other, even if he could raise sea monsters.
He heard her blow out a breath. "No other lord needs help with rebuilding?" she asked skeptically.
"No other lord has so few men." Bran forced himself to look back at her. "No other living lord has sacrificed as much as Mormont." He sighed, adding, "I've brought money. Or rather, it's on shore, waiting for your direction as to how it should be spent."
"What? The other bannermen will be furious, you don't-"
"Lyanna. It's not from me. It's from the Throne. They've authorized me to take some of the money meant to support the fleet and give it to you instead, since you've borne the brunt of the Greyjoy attacks." In this, Bran was simply a messenger.
She paused, then shook her head. "You ask me to...if you treat me better than all other bannerman, they will resent me and you. The North won't stand for Mormont to be your primary concern." Lyanna reached out a hand briefly before pulling back. "You said so yourself, once, that you didn't want acrimony between your bannerman and gestures likes this will make-"
"The North didn't stand for us until you did. Everyone knows this, just as everyone knows that Mormont had the least to give, yet gave. It's like..Longclaw. Mormont's blade in Stark's hand, that's what holds the country together! Everyone knows this, no one blames me or you for my giving more of a damn about Mormont than Ryswell!"
"Dragons hold the country together," Lyanna corrected, but he could see she took his point.
"Starks hold the country together," Bran retorted, but then subsided instead. "Let me show you." He turned Winter so that the wolf walked towards the weirwood tree, trusting that she would follow him, though he all but held his breath until her heard her footsteps behind them.
Once at the tree, he directed Winter to kneel, so he could sit with the tree at his back. Without even waiting for his direction, Lyanna took the seat next to him, smoothing her skirt underneath in a fluid motion before looking askance at him.
"Sansa is currently the Stark at Winterfell," he informed her as he offered her his hand. "Arya was there until she arrived, so Lyarra is always protected. Stark blood does more than link us to Winterfell and the pact, so that I can use the fullness of my power. It allows any with Stark blood to talk to each other through the trees."
Lyanna's hand slipped into his own and he intertwined their fingers. "This means that our children, Targaryen, Lannister, Westark, Baratheon, Mormont and Stark will be able to talk to each other through the trees, now and even after I am gone. And as long as you carry my child, you will be able to speak as well, because you will have Stark blood within you."
Bran closed his eyes and reached out, feeling himself slip into the greensight with ease. Soon, he seemed to be standing in Winterfell's godswood, Lyanna by his side, her hand gripping his own tightly. When they turned, Sansa appeared to be watching them, Lyarra on her hip.
"It is so odd, to watch someone appear where they were not a moment before," Sansa remarked, closing the distance between them to offer Lyarra to her parents.
While Lyanna sucked in a breath, Bran reached out to pull his daughter into his arms, smiling when she called out, "Da!" He tucked her head underneath his chin, watching as Lyanna gently touched her daughter's arm. Lyarra seemed curious about her mother and seemingly only minutes later, sat in her lap beneath one of the trees.
"Congratulations, Lady Mormont. I did not know you were expecting once more," Sansa ventured after mother and daughter had some time together.
"Thank you, Lady Westark. My congratulations to you on, on the birth of your son."
Sansa inclined her head. "Thank you. Perhaps tomorrow you can meet him. If the weather is fair enough, I will bring him to the tree."
"I'd like to meet him myself," Bran put in, even though he didn't take his eyes off of his wife and child. Watching Lyanna play with her daughter satisfied something within him that he couldn't quite describe.
"I warn you, he looks like a Tully," Sansa remarked with some amusement. "Lungs like a Stark, though."
"And named for the King," Lyanna put in, glancing up at the siblings.
His sister eyed him briefly before admitting, "We decided, after the war, that only Starks born in Winterfell would use the name Brandon."
"You decided. I don't care," Bran disagreed. "But Aemon isn't named for Jon. He's named for the Maester of the Wall, the Targaryen who helped shape Jon into the leader he is today. I know Tyrion met him and like him. He also had a great love of books and knowledge."
He shrugged at Sansa's penetrating look. "I'm not quite as oblivious as you think I am." It might have taken him a couple of months to figure out, but he did.
"No, you aren't. At least, not since your wedding," she murmured in reply.
After giving Lyanna a few more moments of peace with her daughter, Sansa turned the conversation to more pressing matters. She gave Bran an update about the defense of the North and the business of Winterfell itself, while he gave her a more direct account of the battle with the Greyjoy fleet and his decisions regarding the prisoners, especially the children.
"So many children? Rather than men?" Lyanna seemed surprised.
"There may be some truth to the excuses coming out of Pyke about the raiding," Sansa admitted. "The families who supported Euron, they don't want to become part of a navy, with a wage instead of what they can steal. But their numbers were decimated by the war, so they're pushing their sons onto the water."
Bran frowned. "So we can expect another fleet to replace this one, except crewed by even more children?"
"Not if their leaders are eliminated," Sansa informed him matter-of-factly and he recalled Arya's mission with a grim-faced nod.
"And for Greyjoy's failure to put down this...rebellion without Winterfell and the North?" Lyanna asked as she adjusted how her daughter sat on her hip.
"The Throne intends to insist on reparations," Sansa confirmed with a short nod. "Both Jon and Daenerys are in agreement. Until then, there is a sum of golden dragons here at Winterfell for your use in rebuilding. You need only direct me as to how the money is to be spent and I will arrange for the purchase and transport of whatever you require."
Lyarra fell asleep at some point while they talked and Lyanna regretfully asked Sansa to take her back into the keep. "I am sure we will be able to do this again soon," she added hopefully.
"Everyday that the weather is fair, we will be at the weirwood tree in the afternoon," Sansa promised, reaching out with her free hand to touch Lyanna's shoulder with a reassuring gesture. "You may even see Jon or Arya, or our children. We want them all to be comfortable using the trees. For as long as you can join us, you should."
Lyanna inclined her head, then kissed her daughter's brow in farewell. "Until tomorrow," she agreed with a smile.
When they came back to themselves, sitting between the weirwood tree on Bear Island, Lyanna surprised him by wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his shoulder. "Thank you, Bran," she told him, voice muffled by his cloak.
He managed to get an arm around her to hold her close, looking over her head to see the pack of direwolves lounging around them both and the tree in protective circle. Saying nothing, he gave her the time she needed to compose herself and allowed her to break the silence when she was ready.
"Thank you. For letting me see her, showing me how."
"If I had known of the child you carry, I would have told you before I left the mainland, as soon as I figured out all Starks could use to trees to talk."
She chuckled weakly, pulling back from him. "I will not…I will tell you as soon as I know in the future," she promised, glancing at up at him from beneath her lashes. "I thought if you knew I was with child before, you would not want me to risk myself in coming to Winterfell," she acknowledged quietly.
Bran nodded understandingly, but assured her, "You are always welcome in Winterfell. I hope you believe me now when I say this."
"I do." She laughed, a thin sound. "Though I do not think I can travel to Winterfell now and back again before the birth," she admitted. "Thank you, for showing me how to be with my daughter. I had begun to fear it would be another year or more before I saw her again."
"It seems the women of Bear Island were right," he answered, only to smile at her questioning look. "Easier to conceive a child in pleasure."
Her smile turned sly. "True. After this one, I think I will have to insist we wait several months, give my body a chance to rest." She rubbed a hand over her belly. "This one grows bigger than Lyarra. They say it's likely a boy."
"Oh? Will the women of Bear Island be satisfied with a boy as your heir?" he teased.
"The son of the Three-Eyed Raven, hero of the war, destroyer of Greyjoy raiders? I believe they will be thrilled." She leaned her head against the tree, eyeing the wolves around them. "I only ask that you wait until the child is at least four before giving him a wolf."
"Whatever you want," he promised. "We can talk about it with Sansa tomorrow. I know she and Arya have been talking about the appropriate age to give the children their own direwolves."
She shook her head, amused. "It is hard to believe that I will be able to see her - and Lyarra - again so soon without leaving the island."
"They're not the only people you can see," he offered, almost shyly, even as he clutched at the idea which popped into his head. "With my babe in you, I think you can see the past with me, like before."
Lyanna gave him a sharp look, immediately grasping his intention. "You could..show me my mother?"
Bran nodded. "Yes. You wouldn't be able to talk to her, but yes, you could see her again."
"Could...would you do that now?" She gestured back towards the keep. "There is so much to do, I do not know when we will get so much time uninterrupted again. What time we will have, I would rather spend with our daughter."
"Of course." He more than understood the impulse to try immediately, but she was right that they would be uncommonly lucky to have so much time in the coming days. He offered his hand to her again, smiling as she quickly laced their fingers together once more.
"Do I need to do anything?"
"Ah, no, I don't think so. But it wouldn't hurt, perhaps, to think of your mother," Bran answered as he settled back against the tree and closed his eyes. He had to admit, reaching for the greensight while Lyanna's touch grounded him to his own body was a decidedly comfortable experience. He hoped that when she did return to Winterfell that she would accompany him to the weirwood tree each day even if she was not pregnant at the time.
Lyanna, all of nine years of age or so, stood before her mother. Maege Mormont had truly been a bear of a woman, tall and thick with muscle. She kept her hair in a braid and dressed very much like her daughter: armor over a functional dress, a bearskin cloak on her shoulders.
"You're the Lady of Bear Island until I return," Maege informed her daughter as she signed and added her seal to a message to give to the waiting maester. "I'll be leaving him here with you," she added before motioning the man away.
Lyanna nodded silently but Bran could see her distress - and her resolve - at the being left to govern the island without her mother.
"Now, I'm taking most of the men with me, but the women know what to do around here, as you know. Mind what they say about their trades and business; they still know more than you," Maege continued as she came to stand in front of her daughter. "And listen to the maester. But always, make up your own mind. Get the information you need from them, but you make the decision. You're the lady, not them."
Lyanna nodded again quickly. Bran stole a glance at the elder Lyanna by his side, saw her eyes grow bright with unshed tears at being able to see her mother again, even if this was the moment of their farewell.
"Now, when this war is over, and our Lord Eddard is avenged, I'll return with our men. When Mormont has again proven our loyalty, I'll bend the Young Wolf's ear about his younger brother Bran being a match for you. He hasn't got use of his legs anymore and I can't say there are many mainlanders who'd want that married into their families, Prince of Dorne aside. We could use some Stark blood in the line and closer ties to Winterfell besides. At the very least, he could give you a few children and help with the record keeping, while the Young Wolf thinks well of us for taking him in."
Bran took a step back and found himself back in his body, resting against the weirwood tree. When he realized Lyanna's hand remained in his own, he shook his hand free. He heard her take in a deep breath beside him, about to speak, but he ignored her in order to pull himself onto Winter's back.
"Bran," she began, only to stop when he glared at her. Her eyes flashed as she scrambled to her feet and he looked away as Winter turned towards the path back to the keep.
"Ours is a marriage without hand, Lady Mormont," he tossed off over his shoulder. "I am glad you could honor your mother's wishes while retaining your independence."
He didn't wait for her reply, urging Winter to speed. He didn't want to hear her confirmation, that her choice had been motivated by her mother's desires. And their marriage was in fact nothing more than a way to produce legitimate children for both lines with ties to the most powerful family in Westeros. He had only himself to blame - and perhaps those damned novels - for thinking that perhaps she might have just wanted him as a man.
Everything he had learned as the Three-Eyed Raven about his history, about the bloodline that the Children of the Forest and the First Men intended to watch over the country, should have prepared him for this realization, he knew. Although they had thought if they had the North, it would be sufficient to protect the Wall and prevent Winter from enveloping the whole of Westeros. But they were wrong. Control of the entire continent was the only way to insure that the defenses of the North were not weakened.
So they had strategic alliances. Stark to Targaryen, so that Starks are on the Iron Throne. Stark to Lannister, to gain their cunning for future generations. Stark to Baratheon, to gain their bravery.
Stark to Mormont, to preserve a line of Northern blood.
As Tormund, and Sansa, and Arya, and so many others had pointed out, he was not a man. He was Brandon Stark, the thousandth of his name, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, the Three-Eyed Raven. He had title, and power, and money. Lyanna, shrewd and mindful of her mother's wishes, had merely seized upon an advantageous alliance and a chance to be in the good graces of Winterfell and the Iron Throne.
And he had seized upon the chance to do his duty without the encumbrance of a wife for the rest of his pathetic life. Now, he had to live with that choice.
It took the rest of the day to off-load the Stark men and find lodging for them all, as well as feed them and decide how they were to be deployed in the coming days. When Lyanna returned to the keep, Bran kept all discussion focused on the men and the rebuilding efforts. In the end, they decided that the men would be here to help for a mere six weeks, two months at the very longest.
While the maester finalized the building and assignment schedules, Lyanna eyed Bran and Cahgan across the table. "We will have to have a feast, perhaps the day after tomorrow," she announced. "To celebrate your great victory."
"What? Why?" Bran asked irritably.
"The morale of the men. They might not have fought, but we are asking much of them," Lyanna explained crisply.
When Bran glanced at the admiral, he found the older man nodding solemnly. "Yes, you see-"
"Fine then. I'll make sure that all that is spent on the feast is returned to you, Lady Mormont. You should not have to bear the cost on your own."
"Mormont is more than able to feed the guests who come to her aid," she denied. "Your generous offer is declined."
"It's not an offer. It's how it's going to be," he snapped, feeling Cahgan tense beside him as the wolves bristled around the room.
But Lyanna was unfazed as she got to her feet. "No, it is not. Lord Stark cannot force me to take money from him, no matter what powers he may have." She motioned to her maester, who hastily stood. "We have much to do to settle your men this evening. Meals will be sent to each of your rooms, gentleman," she added before sweeping from the room.
Annoyed at how she'd had the last word, he fumed internally until he was led some time later to an expansive bedroom after directing his wolves, save his usual three, to settle in the godswood. When he recognized the room as Lyanna's, he turned to inform the maid he'd been led to the wrong room, only to see her close the door behind him.
"Don't get comfortable," he informed the wolves, even as they began to arrange themselves by the fire.
Fortunately, the door soon opened again, this time to admit Lyanna herself, followed by another woman who laid out a tray of food on the small table before excusing herself with a bow. As she worked, Bran exchanged glares with Lyanna, until they were left alone.
"I don't need to be staying in your rooms."
"You've invaded my island with two shiploads of men. Where do you think I should put you?" she bit out the response even as she folded herself into a seat at the table. "Sit," she commanded, motioning to the other chair.
He snorted and shook his head, but she simply informed him, "If I don't allow you to skip meals in Winterfell, I certainly won't allow it in my home." She tapped the table imperiously with a finger, then pulled her own plate closer to her.
Annoyed, but admittedly somewhat hungry, Bran pulled himself into the chair and then eyed the food set in front of him. Unsurprisingly, the meal consisted of fish, though there was also a piece of venison as well as some roasted vegetables.
"You'll forgive the plainness of the meal, but you can rest assured the feast will be suitable for celebrating your victory," Lyanna said without looking up from her own plate.
Bran rolled his eyes. "It's not necessary."
"Of course it is. These men have followed you across the Sunset Sea to a place they've never been before to offer their lives and their aid. If you don't celebrate that, you're a poor lord," she answered, stabbing at her own venison with her frustration of him.
"Naturally, I'm a poor lord," he answered snidely. "I wasn't meant for this. Maybe if the Young Wolf had survived-"
"Oh, stop," she interrupted him crossly, reaching for her cup. "You're not a bad lord, no matter that you didn't want this. Do you think I wanted this? I didn't have a choice in the matter." She sat up a little straighter, her gaze piercing. "The only choices I've made as Lady Mormont was to honor the ties to Winterfell and you."
He snorted at her lie. "I was your mother's choice."
"Maybe, but when she died, I became Lady Mormont and whatever choices she'd made about my future were nullified. I didn't chose you because my mother wanted this alliance. And I didn't chose you to make sure the Iron Throne didn't forget what Mormont had done for them. I can do that by myself," she practically snarled at him.
He thought about that handsome man-at-arms of hers, the one that practically dogged her footsteps in the keep. "Oh yes, I know. The women of Bear Island barely need men, certainly not husbands, so it must have been a relief to know you could-"
"Shut up, Bran." Lyanna slammed her cup on the table, nearly trembling in fury. "I am trying to explain to you why I spoke up in the tent that day."
Stunned at being told to shut up, something that hadn't occurred since he was a child with two parents back in Winterfell, he merely gestured for her to continue.
"When my mother died, I knew then that I didn't have to marry at all. She didn't. She wanted me to marry a Stark because of what my cousin had done, because she thought Mormont was still trying to shake off the dishonor. And it's not like we wouldn't absolutely know that my children would be Mormonts."
When he went to speak, she held up her hand. "I'm not finished. After we retook Winterfell, I knew without a doubt that whatever Jorah had done had been completely erased, that Mormont would only be known for standing by Winterfell and the Starks, and I didn't even think of a husband or children until after the Night's King fell. Until that day in the tent.
"You weren't the only one with marriage offers. Everyone knew that the Iron Throne liked me and they wanted to ally with me to get into their good graces. I had my choice of an Umber, a Dustin, a Manderly. But I didn't want to marry at all. I wanted to go back to my Island and rule as my mother did, and when the time came, have a child as she did. I didn't want a mainland husband who'd think he was my master," she explained icily.
"But then Tyrion spoke about the marriage without hand, and I could see how much you didn't want to marry either. And no matter what you did during the war, raising the wall, killing wights by the score with your wolves, no matter that the blood of Eddard Stark flows in your veins, I knew you were just a boy who had been handed responsibility far too young and somehow found the strength to go on after everything had been taken from you.
"So I offered myself in that, in this marriage, because I saw you for the boy you were and I thought you'd understand the girl I was, and it could work. Honestly, after your cousin assumed the throne, I didn't think they'd approve of any kind of marriage alliance with so small a house as Mormont, but I figured you'd appreciate the fact that I wouldn't impose on you the way others might. My mother might have wanted you, the Stark, but I wanted you, the man. That's why I offered myself to you in this marriage, not my mother's wishes."
Bran slumped back in his seat, feeling very small for assuming that she'd simply wanted his bloodline. "You don't care that I'm a Stark?" he asked, to confirm.
Lyanna shook her head. "No. You could've been anyone. I won't pretend there aren't some benefits to being married to Winterfell, but…" She shrugged, looking away and for the first time, he could see that she seemed to flush. "I just liked you enough to think this wouldn't be horrible."
Except for now, he understood, when they were fighting and generally being, well, he was generally being awful. But otherwise, Bran realized that his wife was telling him that she liked him for himself, not because he was Jon's cousin, or Lord of Winterfell, or the Three-Eyed Raven. That those things were pleasant, but there was something about he, himself, that she liked well enough to propose marriage for and to welcome into her bed.
"It might have been nice," Bran eventually offered quietly, poking at the fish on his plate with the fork. "To be simply the husband of the Lady of Bear Island, without all the rest of it."
"Do you really think you wouldn't have magic if Robb had lived?"
"No, I'd have that, just...perhaps not as well-trained. Without the old Three-Eyed Raven, I don't know that I could have been as powerful," he admitted.
"I don't think you were meant to live anywhere else but Winterfell," Lyanna replied, though when he looked up, he saw her faint smile. "It's as you said, your bloodline is the pact between the Children of the Forest and the First Men. Winterfell is your home, the place you belong. Like this is my place."
He nodded and silence descended for a time, until she reached out a hand to touch his own. "Please eat. You've lost weight again."
He laughed briefly, shaking his head. "As my lady wishes," he agreed.
The rest of dinner passed more easily, but Bran only truly relaxed once they were in bed. Just as he settled into a comfortable position, Lyanna rolled over to rest her head on his shoulder and loop an arm around his waist.
"Thank you for coming," she near-whispered.
"I'm sorry for being an ass about it," he replied as his heart clenched.
"I'm sorry for not telling you about the child."
"I think..I think I'm going to stay, until he is born. Send the men back when we said we would, but I'll stay. That way after he's born, we can show him to Lyarra through the trees." As he stared up in the darkness, he hoped she'd allow him that fiction, at least.
He felt her swallow against him. "If you wish it."
"I do," he confirmed, the tension leaving him in a rush. "I do."
Chapter 9: Chapter 8
Bran is on the Island. Now what?
Much thanks to Rumaan for being my beta on this long-delayed chapter. And my apologies to everyone who was kept waiting. This story is not coming very easily to me lately.
Nothing on Bear Island gave Bran a moment's fear that the people were anything but loyal to Winterfell, but he could immediately sense the inhabitants were far more interested in him as the Three-Eyed Raven than as Lord Stark. The Mormonts had always been good to them, except Jorah, who'd tried to impose mainlanders’ ways on them, and worse, and gotten his comeuppance. So Bran Stark, the mainlander Warden of the North, wasn't so interesting. The greenseer who could raise the wall, warg with monsters and had a pack of his own direwolves by his side was infinitely more intriguing.
His second day on the Island, they began to come to Mormont Keep to see him, in small groups, asking for his blessings for their children or sometimes just to touch his hand, and there was a steady stream of them each day following. Some came just to ask if the Old Gods needed anything more of them, the way the Seven had demands of their followers.
"No. Merely follow their simple laws and they are well-pleased. It's on you to make your way through the world, as a good person or not. They give us the tools to be our own salvation," Bran assured one woman, who'd come with her two children and admitted she'd never given the gods much thought at all before the war.
"That's a relief to hear, milord."
Her son looked to be about twelve and stood by his mother's side uncertainly, but her daughter, a girl of no more than six, stood a pace apart and stared at the direwolves that sat further back into the treeline of the godswood. Seeing this, Bran asked her, "Would you like to touch one?"
The girl nodded eagerly and the boy seemed intrigued, so with a smile on his face, Bran called Autumn forth. He let them stroke the wolf for nearly a quarter of an hour while he spoke with the mother, who turned out to be one of the weavers of the special Bear Island wool. Even though her husband had died in the war, at the Red Wedding, she freely offered that she made a good living, something she attributed to way Mormonts ran the island.
"They're not here to take advantage," she said with a knowing nod.
Eventually, she led her children away, passing Lyanna on the path.
"You've very good with children," Lyanna told him as she approached, a small smile on her face.
"I think most of the time I still am a child," he responded dryly, ducking his head at her compliment and then turning Winter so that she couldn't see his face.
"Mmm, I think we have put the lie to that," she answered, resting her hand on her belly.
Flushing in remembrance, he didn't trust himself to reply. Finding his voice finally, he asked, "Shall we to the tree then?"
"Yes. I hope the weather is fair at Winterfell," she acknowledged, always eager to see their daughter even if the conversation tended towards matters of governing the North. Fortunately, Sansa was an excellent replacement and Bran doubted the North felt any major effect for all he hadn't been in Winterfell in weeks.
In fact, he fell into a comfortable routine rather easily, one that wasn't terribly disrupted when the Stark smallfolk left the Island after having rebuilt a number of homes, several storage sites and helped with repairs to the dock. In the morning, he would go to the godswood after breaking his fast with Lyanna in their room, there to receive any Islanders who wished to speak to the Raven as well as keep an eye on his wolves. Around midday, someone from the keep would come with some food for himself and soon after, Lyanna would join him as he used to the tree to communicate with Sansa and then Queen's Landing.
Afterwards, he'd retire to the keep, there to do what scant paperwork needed to be done or required his signature. Lyanna tended to see her people in the afternoon, if needed, and she invited him to sit on the proceedings, though he never interceded unless Lyanna asked for his opinion on the matter.
She did. Once.
Then they would retire for a quiet meal. Mormont Keep certainly didn't have the library that Winterfell possessed, but what reading was available, Bran made use of in the evenings before bed. And once in bed, depending on Lyanna's mood.
That had been a revelation, Lyanna's continued appetite for bedsport, at least until she grew too large and the midwives warned against their activities.
He contemplated her rounded belly one evening as she made ready for sleep. Already under the cover, but still sitting up, he watched her movements closely until she asked him, "Why are you staring at me?"
"I think you're so much bigger than last time. Are they sure there's only one in there?" He knew this pregnancy was taking a larger toll on her, or at least, was more uncomfortable. He spent part of each evening rubbing her back for her after she joined him in bed.
Lyanna chuckled lowly as she finished pulling on the warmer shift in which she slept. "I know you mean no offense, Bran, but you should know that telling a woman she looks big is usually considered an insult." She blew out several candles in the room before joining him.
He flushed, belatedly realizing that he hadn't considered his words carefully. "Yes, I'm sorry, I-"
"I am not offended. I just wanted you to know. But yes, I am bigger, but Maynsila assures me that is only one child in there," she continued, sliding over in bed to rest against his side, her back to him. He placed a hand on her lower back immediately and she sighed gratefully when he began to move it in small circles.
"I'm..sorry." He winced at his phrasing. "I feel responsible."
Again, she chuckled. "You are responsible. But so am I."
He worked in silence for a few moments, smiling slightly as she relaxed under his ministrations. But an insidious thought wormed its way into his mind and he found himself asking, "What would you do, if I was not here to provide this service?"
Images of that handsome man-at-arms, whom he'd learned was called Ifeald, in this very room, laying hand on Lyanna's naked back taunted him.
"Suffer, most like," she answered dryly, though her eyes were closed. "Unless it was very bad and then I'd likely have a midwife here with me, most nights."
"Good then, that I insisted on staying."
Lyanna huffed a laugh. "Perhaps. I am sure you are missing Winterfell, though."
"I miss Lyarra," he admitted, fingers continuing to move over her skin. "I think if we were in Winterfell, you could use the hot spring there, to your benefit, right now."
"He must be born on the Island to rule the Island," she answered almost absently. But she seemed to tense up beneath his hand a moment later. "If you are unhappy here, you could return to Winterfell. We have a ship leaving for the mainland in two days."
"I'm not unhappy," he protested, pulling back from her and gently tugging at her shoulder so she would lie back and he could see her face. "If...if Robb had lived, I don't think I'd have been unhappy here, as your husband while you ruled."
Lyanna smiled sadly. "So you could be the holy man of Bear Island?" she asked doubtfully, reaching up a hand to cup his jaw. "No, I don't think it suits you. Nor do I think your brother would have given you up. I daresay, after the war, that he would called all his siblings home, even Jon, who he thought was his brother."
Bran had shown her a bit more of the past, including some meetings that Maege had sat on with his brother. They'd seen him write his will, naming Jon his heir and the heir to Winterfell, when Robb thought Bran and Rickon dead.
"Jon was at the Wall. His vows-"
"Even if he had not died, fulfilling his vow, the Stark at Winterfell is the ultimate authority at the Wall. Starks raised that wall, Starks sent provisions and made the first Gift, Starks keep that wall manned, Starks even went themselves. The Wall is Stark and the King of the North can call any man off that wall he wishes."
He swallowed, suddenly buzzing with the meaning behind her words. "Do you really believe that the Wall is mine? Mine to command?"
"It's your Wall, Bran. You raised it. You, and Bran the Founder. He is no longer around to command it, but you are. It is your right, not just from his blood, but from what you have done yourself." But her smile was knowing. "Though perhaps no more will Starks be permitted to take the black. Your blood is too important to waste on celibacy."
"I am demonstrably not celibate," he noted, motioning to her belly.
"You are not. But Starks." Lyanna sucked in a breath. "I mean no offense. But Starks often send their younger sons and their bastards to the Wall. When Lyarra rules in Winterfell, I don't want that for the child I will have after this one."
"Oh. You don't…" Bran flushed, realizing he'd never told her. "Daenerys..well, the Throne, really, signed a law. No Stark and no Targaryen may join the Night's Watch unless they have produced a child whose blood is verified by wolf and cold or by dragon and flame and gained his or her majority."
Lyanna blinked, then struggled to sit up and so he did as well. "But...that could create too many lines, too many in the succession. Wars of Targaryen succession have killed many in Westeros."
"Yes. But the bloodlines are too important. We almost didn't have Starks or Targaryens when we needed them and we can't risk that again."
"But the answer cannot be for every Stark and every Targaryen to have children," she persisted. "In every generation."
"The law doesn't require you have children, only that you have one if you going to the Wall."
Lyanna gaped at him. "So, if you do not go to the Wall, you are free to never have children. But if you are going to the Wall, you must have a child first. How does that make sense?"
Bran shrugged. "I think the point is that those Starks and Targaryens who are noble enough to sacrifice their lives in defense of the people are the very people who should be having children." He paused and offered, "Like Maester Aemon. And my uncle, Benjen."
"I hadn't seen it that way," she admitted after a moment of staring at him. "Though, being a good man is no guarantee of having a good child. Jeor was a good man; Jorah was not."
"But, well, with the exception of the slavery bit, he wasn't an awful man. Though that sounds wrong. Anyone who tries to enslave any other is a horrible person." He frowned. "I understand why the people of Bear Island won't forgive him. Shouldn't, even. But he had an important part to play in Daenerys' ascension and that, we cannot dismiss."
She rubbed at her belly absently, thinking over his words. "I know the White Dragon banner will fly as the Targaryen banner once Daenerys is no longer Queen, but if it were not a Stark on the Throne with her…"
"That is why the Westarks are the next line with claim to the Throne." Bran sighed, thinking over all the lines of succession as they had been identified and the new laws governing them. "Targaryen, than Westark, then Lannister, then Baratheon. But none shall ascend to the Throne without Winterfell's approval."
Lyanna sucked in a breath in surprise. "Why...was not announced?"
"Because, as you said, the King of the North is already the King of Westeros. And the title shall remain with him, or his descendants, unless Winterfell takes it from them due to...well, they called it dilution of the blood, but really, it's a way to prevent Targaryen madness from seizing the Throne again. When Edgaer assumes the Throne with Alysanne, I will or Lyarra will have to agree. This way, we won't have any other Mad Kings or Queens."
"I cannot believe Daenerys agreed to this."
"I showed her what her father did. And she knew her own brother, Viserys, was not sane. Only she and Rhaegar had sense, and Rhaegar had.." He sighed. "He was not unaffected. Stark blood will save the Targaryen line for a time, but we cannot know that it will save them forever. She did not want the people of Westeros to suffer another mad Targaryen tyrant."
Lyanna looked towards the fire in the hearth, and he wondered if she was imagining Daenerys' hand playing in the flames. "She wants me to accept the Greyjoy's current offer of reparations."
They had been negotiating the amount for sometime. Lyanna had pressed for more, since the lives of the people lost in the raids were so valuable to Bear Island, but Daenerys thought anymore would be unnecessarily harsh as punishment. Bran knew that Glover and Ryswell, among others, had already agreed to certain sums from Pyke, but Lyanna was the lone holdout.
"I'll support whatever you want to do," Bran told her. "Glover isn't an evil man and Ryswell...he's a pragmatic man. But when you lose people, it means more to you then it does to them. You know what Bear Island needs. If they need more, then I will tell Daenerys that Winterfell doesn't agree either."
She didn't reply right away and soon, the only sound in their room was the crackle of the fire and the occasional shift of one of his wolves on the floor. But Lyanna eventually nodded. "I'll accept their payment. But for now, I want to sleep."
Bran nodded in return and they settled into bed, him curled around her body. And he wondered how he'd gone from dreading marrying this woman to telling her the near-secret accords of Daenerys' and Jon's rule.
Funny, what marriage could do.
By Lyanna's reckoning, she was eight-months along when she woke Bran one night and urged him to find the midwives. Soon, he was told in no uncertain terms to stay out of the room while they did their job. When he protested, asking, "But, isn't it too early?", he got an unimpressed look for his trouble.
"Lyanna's body knows when the babe is ready, now go and take all the wolves with you!"
He might not have been allowed in the room, but they couldn't force him to go far, so he slumped in the hallway nearby, Winter under him and Autumn and Spring nearby. Then he bowed his head and hoped that this delivery would go as smoothly and quickly as the last.
It did not.
But he refused to leave when he could hear her yelling and he refused to leave when the midwives began to scurry in and out of the room, getting herbs and bowls and rags. At some point, he knew that the sun had come up and that Lyanna's Maester had joined him in the hall.
He wasn't sure what time it was when he heard the distinct sound of a baby crying, but his head jerked up as soon as he did. The door to Lyanna's room opened shortly thereafter after and one of the midwives appeared, looking grave even as she held a wrapped bundle in her arms.
"It's a boy," she announced, walking over and offering the baby to him without ceremony.
Bran carefully took the swaddled baby - so much bigger than the newborn Lyarra - and cradled the boy in his arms. Wrinkled and crying, with a patch of dark red hair on his head, the baby didn't seem like a child born early.
Blinking, he asked, "What of Lyanna?"
"We're doing what we can," the midwife answered and swept back into the room, shutting the door firmly behind her.
At some point, the maester cleared his throat, even as Bran couldn't stop looking at his son. "My lord. If Lady Lyanna should...be unable to rule…"
Bran's head came up quickly, his blood running suddenly cold. "She will be fine."
"Do you know that, my lord?" the maester immediately questioned him and he was forced to shake his head.
"Then, should she-"
Bran took a breath. He knew instantly what would have to be done. "Then I will stay here, to raise her heir as a Mormont of the Island. Sansa will remain at Winterfell and raise my daughter as my heir." He paused, looking over the boy in his arms. "But that will not happen."
The maester didn't try to raise the subject again and sometime after the baby fell asleep, the door to the room opened again and Maynsila beckoned him inside. "She's resting but she wants to see the child."
Bran urged Winter up, steadying the child in his arms and proceeded into the room carefully. Lyanna lay in bed, her hair plastered to her head with sweat, looking so wan that he almost startled. But she motioned for him to come closer with a weary hand, smiling slightly when she caught sight of the bundle in his arms.
"Let me see him," she directed, her voice thin and tired.
Gently, he laid the boy down on the bed next to his mother, who brushed at his forehead and smiled down at him. "He has the red hair."
"Yes, like a Tully," Bran agreed, watching her. "I know you wanted that."
"Jeor had red hair, in his youth, it's said. He's a Mormont," she answered, still stroking the fine hairs.
"And what do you name this child?" he asked, relieved that he could ask that question.
"Rodrik. For the Stark to who gave Mormont this Island."
Bran thought briefly of the man he'd known by that name and smiled. "That's a good name." He regarded his son, who'd begun to squirm some in his swaddling. "Rodrik Mormont, the Red Bear."
That drew a half-laugh from Lyanna. "More like the Red Cub, but one day…" She closed her eyes, then seemed to struggle to open them again.
"She needs rest," Maynsila called sternly. "We've a wet nurse for the boy and you'll have to find somewhere else to sleep until she's recovered."
Bran nodded and started to pick Rodrik up again, but Lyanna's hand stopped him with a touch on his wrist.
"Go, have him blessed." Her eyes seemed unusually bright.
"No, not until his mother can come to see it," he replied softly. "Sleep. We will be here when you wake," he promised.
Lyanna closed her eyes again and he took the baby up in his arms once more before following the midwife out of the room. As soon as the door closed, and the baby taken from his arms by the woman introduced as a wet nurse, he demanded an explanation of Maynsila.
"Will she recover?"
"Yes. It was a hard birth. Your son was the wrong way around, among other issues. She's lost some blood and she's weak, but assuming a fever doesn't set in, she'll recover."
Bran blinked. "How long will she take to-"
She silenced him with a withering look. "As long as she takes. I know you two are young and eager, but she needs her rest."
He could feel his face flame up at the insinuation. "No, how long until she see is up and about? If she is unable to govern, then I will do so in her stead until she can, but I want to know how long I can expect to rule Bear Island for her."
Maynsila stilled, regarding him critically until he snapped, "It's hardly as if Rodrik can rule for his mother right now. Someone has to and I am-"
"Yes, you are. A week or two, unless fever sets in. Then, I don't know," she answered honestly. "Right now, she needs rest and care."
Bran nodded. "Then she shall have it."
The very next day, when Islanders came into the Keep seeking Lyanna's judgment and counsel, it was Bran they found in her chair. At his insistence, the wet nurse stood nearby, holding the bear fur-clad Rodrik in her arms.
"Lady Mormont is unable to hear your petitions. You may wait until she can hear them, which may not be until several weeks from now, or I can hear them now, as regent to Rodrik Mormont," Bran offered, motioning to his son. He knew, from his life with Lyanna, that her people often traveled to her from all over the Island and could not afford to be away from their lives for very long.
One of the women eyed him distrustfully. "Yer a mainlander. Lord of Winterfell. Ye'll just rule like one of 'em would."
Bran shook his head. "I will rule according to the customs and laws of the Island, you have my word."
After some murmurs and discussions among themselves, only one of the petitioners left, a woman Bran knew lived close to the Keep. She could afford to wait to speak to Lyanna herself, but these others apparently decided he would an acceptable substitute.
Naturally, he tried to make decisions as she would. Fortunately, having watched Lyanna since his arrival, he felt comfortable that she would agree with his rulings. Only one of the petitions gave him trouble, involving the very woman who had spoken up at the beginning.
A man stepped forward along with the woman and one other, though it was clear from their angry expressions they were opposed to each other. They all appeared of an age, perhaps as old as Eddard would have been had he lived. With the women was a younger man, perhaps of sixteen years of age.
"My name's Tirlen. Years past, I agreed t'give these women babies and they gave me some pasture land. That one -" he motioned to the blonde woman - "she had the land an' wanted t'move with 'er woman to the coast, but they wanted babes, the both of 'em. So we struck a deal."
Lyanna had spoken of similar arrangements with him in the past, but Bran did not expect to see such spoken of openly on the Island. But he marked that none in the hall blanched as the man's description of their pact and so merely nodded to indicate he understood.
"I were married, I had sons with my wife already But she died, and they died, at the Red Wedding one, one of the cough. I want their boy, my boy, fer the farm, get it when I die, help me run it now."
"That was not the deal," the blonde woman denied. "We gave him the land. We're sorry his children have died, but that's not our concern." The darker-haired woman beside her wrapped an arm around the shoulders of the young man by her side. "He's not his son. He's our son."
"Ye've got a daughter to inherit from ye. I need the boy now, need 'elp on the farm, need an 'eir," Tirlen retorted. "That boy is my blood . I want it declared he's mine."
"And we want it declared that our contract is binding and he's got no claim to the boy!" the blonde woman retorted. "I'm Maresh, and this is Arlene, and this is our boy, Gress. You can't take him away from us now, order him to live in a place he doesn't know and give him to a man who he has-"
"I'm his father. 'E'll know me soon enough," Tirlen interjected as soon as she turned the argument. They bickered amongst themselves for a few minutes until Bran raised his hand to silence them.
"If you have no heir, what becomes of your lands, according to law?" he asked Tirlen.
The man frowned. "It goes back, back to Mormont."
That, at least, was the same as the mainland. Bran nodded slightly, asking questions about the location of the man's farm, his crops and how he ran the place, as well as of the women. He learned they lived on the northern coast, owned part of a fishing vessel and were part of the many Islanders who worked in the fishing industry. They also had a daughter, who married last year and was currently with child, back in their village.
Finally, Bran motioned the boy to step forward.
"I've heard from your..mothers and from Tirlen here. But I've yet to hear from you. How old are you?"
Gress stepped forward nervously. Bran observed that the boy seemed healthy, with well-made clothes, and though unsure of the lord sitting in front of him, raised his chin determinedly when their gazes met.
"Hmm, I thought you a bit older," Bran admitted. "You're taller than most fourteen year-olds I've met."
"Yes, sir, uh, milord."
Bran offered him a small smile. "You've not quite reached your majority, but I am curious. What do you want to do?"
"I-" He glanced over his shoulder towards Tirlen first, then his mothers. "I want to go home, milord. Land's valuable here, but I like the sea. I want to live on the coast."
"He's just a boy, 'e doesn't know what 'e wants," Tirlen answered angrily. "They've turned 'im against me, I am his father!"
"No," Bran responded, pushing himself to sit taller in his chair. "You are not. Not by Island custom. On the mainland, yes. But not here. You agreed to give these women children in exchange for some land. That deal was completed and you were happy with it. That later you became unhappy with it does not alter the terms of that deal. The boy is not yours; he is the son of two mothers. Nor do I see a reason to change the deal, when you are so...uninterested in the boy, except as he is an extension of yourself. That you have no heirs, at this time, is not enough to make me take him from his parents. You are, of course, free to adopt a child. I know there are some who are orphaned in the recent raids."
"They aren't my blood!" Tirlen cried.
"If adopted, under the law, they would be," Bran replied simply. "I declare that you have no right to this boy, Gress. If someday Gress should want your farm, you would have to adopt him, regardless of the fact that he is your blood."
When Tirlen seemed ready to dispute the ruling, Ifeald stepped forward first, and then another man-at-arms. Tirlen subsided before they had to intervene and left, but Ifeald immediately offered to escort the women and their son to their home on the coast to ensure their safe passage. Bran granted the request and thanked Ifeald for volunteering, though he assigned another man to go with them just in case.
After the hearings, Bran went back to their room to check on Lyanna, only to see her sitting up in bed and demanding to see her son. Though still pale, she looked much more like herself and he sighed in relief as she took Rodrick from the wet nurse and asked him to tell her how the hearing went.
"You're not...upset that I heard them?" he asked as he settled Winter by her beside.
She snorted. "No. So many travel far and life on the Island doesn't stop because I am forced to be in bed," she answered, glaring at Maynsila briefly.
"You're not strong enough yet to be up and about. Perhaps the day after next," Maynsila replied mildly, unperturbed by Lyanna's temper.
Lyanna snorted, then turned her attention back to her son. With the wet nurse's help, she learned how to feed their boy, who turned out to be a tremendous eater and tired his mother more quickly than she would have liked. But she got to feed him and hold him for a time, and Bran didn't need to see her eyes bright with unshed tears to know how deeply it affected her.
Within a week, Maynsila allowed Bran to return to the bed with his wife, though with a strong admonishment to "let her be" for months. Within two, Lyanna had regained enough strength to accompany him to the weirwood for Rodrik's blessing. Without a babe in her belly, she could not join in the vision, but she watched with pride and asked what he'd seen as they walked back to the Keep.
He hesitated to tell her everything and her gaze sharpened on him as he paused. Finally, he decided, "He is blessed. I saw him as a man grown, tall, broad, strong."
"But that is not all," she pressed him.
"No," he admitted. "But I will not tell you more. His future is his own." He smiled wanly. "We cannot protect our children from the future, Lyanna."
"Only give him the tools to survive it," she said, a pensive expression settling over her face before she nodded determinedly. "He will have every advantage we can give him," she promised, looking down the infant in her arms.
"He has the greensight," Bran volunteered. "I don't know how strong, but I know he has it."
It had been much like his vision of the Tower of Joy.
A man, muscular and strong, stood near the regular woods by Mormont Keep. A large grey direwolf lounged nearby as he angrily chopped wood, muttering to himself. He'd thrown off his cloak, the bearskin pooled some distance away and his shirt hung loose as he tried to keep himself from overheating even in the coolness of the autumn.
"Rodrick," Bran named him, standing some distance away, smiling to himself.
The man paused in his swing and turned immediately, eyes going wide as he saw Bran. He looked him up and down with recognition, clearly surprised not only to see him, but also to see him standing. "Father," he named him.
But his attention shifted quickly, looking past him, so Bran turned and saw smoke coming up from the bay.
Turning back, he saw Rodrik already in motion, running towards the Keep, his wolf by his side.
It was not an image he wanted to share with Lyanna.
"Good," Lyanna approved. "I am glad his Stark blood runs true."
Bran had convinced himself that he needed to stay until Lyanna was well, but once she resumed her duties, he found himself torn. As much as he wanted to return to Winterfell and Lyarra, he found himself wanting to stay with Lyanna and Rodrik. Daily, he spoke with Sansa through the weirwood tree, who reminded him of his duty at home, but at the same time, Lyanna did not mention any kind of departure, apparently content to allow him to stay.
And really, with Sansa at Winterfell, a mere touch of the weirwood tree away, what need did he have to rush home?
Until the day a Greyjoy sail was sighted off the coast. The single ship flew a white banner and approached slowly, allowing two Mormont ships - albeit fishing ships - to flank it as it approached the dock. From the keep's wall, Bran and Lyanna watched as several men disembarked and she called for her maester's glass so that she could see more clearly.
Bran waited, his gaze never leaving the small figures in the distance, but he started all the same when Lyanna announced, "It is Theon Greyjoy. There is a chest with him."
His blood boiled instantly. Rationally, he knew that Theon was likely merely a courier for the payments due to Mormont under the agreement negotiated by Daenerys. But all he knew is that Theon retained responsibility for Robb's death, for his mother's, for Lyanna's mother's.
Their children had no grandparents thanks to this man.
Lyanna placed a hand on his arm. "I will go down to him, see what he wants. You should not be in his presence. He doesn't deserve that."
"He doesn't deserve to be in yours," Bran answered thinly. "Nor do I trust him. I'll send the wolves with you."
She raised an eyebrow. "Will they follow me, without a Stark babe in me?"
"They will if I order it," he vowed, already reaching out to call to the pack in the godswood. "Let him know you and this Island are protected by Winterfell at all times." He did not think they had forgotten the last time he was roused to defend the Island and he wished to rub their faces in it.
His face, especially.
To ensure the pack did not act to rashly, he remained connected with them, particularly the lead wolf, a female he called Northwind. Through her, he could see and hear the meeting and react right away if the ironborn tried anything.
But he did not expect Lyanna's opening words.
She strode down the dock, her men by her side and her back, and wolves in front of her and standing in the spaces in the guards' formation.
"How dare you approach this Island when you know the Lord of Winterfell is here?" She gestured angrily to the Stark banner fluttering on the keep walls, beside that of Mormont. "You know of his ban and yet you defy it."
Theon stiffened. "We cannot...Yara will not allow this payment to be given to any but you. We could not simply wait for Lord Stark to leave the Island."
"You gave no word that this would be arriving soon," she accused.
"We could not alert the world that we would be moving such an amount of money. Unlike the Iron Throne, we have no dragons to protect such a sum," he answered. When he would continue, she stopped him.
"That you cannot trust your own people tells me much," she said, disdain in her voice. "Leave the chest there and depart now."
Theon's jaw rippled. "We need fresh water and supplies, if we are to make the journey to Pyke. My men need-"
"I don't care." She turned slightly, nodding to one of her guards. "Have them bring two large casks of fresh water and two barrel of the oiled sturgeon immediately." Returning her gaze to Theon, she added, "As soon as they are delivered, you will leave. It will be enough to see you to the mainland for more supplies. Mormont will not insult our guest Lord Stark by inviting you to step foot on our shores."
Theon's gaze flickered, clearly eyeing the figure on the wall, before nodding. "Of course," he replied, voice tight. He ordered two of his men to set down the chest of gold, which he opened to show Lyanna that all the money promised was indeed there.
After her acknowledgement, they lapsed into silence until the barrels were delivered. Only then did Theon bow to her and take his leave, reboarding the Greyjoy ship which pulled anchor quickly and sailed back into the bay.
Bran met Lyanna back at the doors to the Keep. "You didn't have to do that, refuse him and his crew a night's rest. I would have understood."
"Of course I did. Greyjoy's errors are not forgotten and we will not forget them just because they have paid us for forgiveness," Lyanna disagreed, watching as the wolves streamed back to the godswood with a shake of her head. "I did not need seven wolves to guard my back."
"He needed to be reminded what treachery would bring him," Bran denied and for a moment, he felt transported back to when they agreed to marry and the staring contest in the tent all those years ago.
But mostly, he felt shame, for having put her in such a position.
His presence on the Island, as much as it provided security for Lyanna and her people, also made them a target. Bear Island was far less protected than Winterfell, with far fewer soldiers. Even this exchange, which should have been routine, with the Greyjoy ship being allowed to restock normally, became another tense moment, and all because he lingered on the Island when he should be home.
Lyanna was recovered, mostly. Maynsila had even assured them she felt confident the lady could bear more children, though she warned them not to even try until Rodrik was at least six months old. There was no reason for Bran to remain, not when he had an heir of his own at home, waiting for her father.
Lyanna didn't need him in the slightest, now that she was well.
"I should not have been here. It could have provoked an incident, if he had been less...diplomatic," Bran finally broke the silence.
Something flickered across her face briefly, but she nodded with a blank expression. "Of course." She glanced at the chest the men were hauling into the hall. "Perhaps my lord would be willing to accompany some of the money to the mainland, so that it can be safeguarded on its travels to the markets."
"Yes, of course. I will take it and your instructions as to its use as soon as you are ready," he promised, even going to far as to bow his head to her.
True to the Mormont style, all was made ready for his departure in a few days. Those days felt much like the first after their marriage, when they each occupied themselves with their own business during the day and only met in the evenings for supper and then bed. They were unflinchingly polite to each other, seemingly reserving all of their smiles for Rodrik, whose eyes matched his mother's.
His final night on the Island, he lay in bed, alternatively grateful that he would be seeing his daughter in the flesh again soon and upset at the thought of leaving his son behind. Lyarra had met her brother through the trees and, after an initial fascination, had ignored him to focus on her father.
He felt Lyanna shift next to him. "When Rodrik is six months old, we shall come to Winterfell," she announced into the darkness.
"It need not be so soon, if you do not feel ready," he answered, even if that would put both his children together in a few short months.
"I have not forgotten our agreement and I mean to honor it. Three children," Lyanna replied, a touch of steel in her voice.
Bran felt the chill slide down his spine. Three children and their marriage would be over, it was agreed. They'd sworn it, the presence of many. "Of course," he answered woodenly. "Whatever my lady wishes."
Two heirs for him, and one for herself, and there was no more need for Lyanna to share her bed with him, her life really. He huffed as he turned over onto his side, thinking how much she must long for the day when she need not consider him or the constant travel to Winterfell. When she could concentrate on her heir and her Island. Maybe her other children would visit one day, but her connection to the mainland would only be Mormont's allegiance the Stark family and two small children.
Why would she continue their...false marriage when she could have a true marriage with a man of her choosing? Or no marriage at all, he belatedly recalled her words. She could take whomever into her bed and do as she wished, of course. Perhaps take Ifeald as her lover. He was certainly pretty enough to get her attention. Kind. Good with a sword, what what Bran had seen of his practicing in the courtyard.
They fell asleep with their backs to each other and when he awoke in the early morning when a servant came to deliver his breakfast, she had gone. After he broke his fast and dressed, he made his way to the gates of the keep, calling his wolves to him.
There, he found Lyanna waiting for him, bundled up in the early morning cold, as well as Rodrik, well-swaddled in Bear Island wool. "We shall accompany you to the ship, my lord," she informed him in a voice that would brook no argument.
Their group traveled in silence, with men to carry the money as well as the few things Bran had brought with him to the Island. Mostly, he'd come with ten direwolves and all ten would leave with him. When the ship was loaded and all but Winter were on the ship, Bran turned to Lyanna and held out his arms.
"May I hold him?" he asked.
Lyanna nodded and carefully handed over the babe, who dozed easily even when slightly jostled.
"He is a contented child," he remarked, gazing down at the son he would not seen for some months. There was no reason to insist that someone place his child at the tree everyday, just so he could look at him. "Be good for your mother, Rodrik."
Bran kissed the boy's brow and then handed him back to Lyanna, who cradled him close to her. They exchanged nods before he boarded the ship himself and when he turned back to look at the dock, he found her watching him closely.
"Safe travels, my lord. Please inform us when you return to Winterfell safely."
"I will. And I will send confirmation when I do as you have asked with the coin," he promised.
The slightest of smiles graced her face. "Thank you, Lord Stark."
"Thank you for your hospitality, Lady Mormont."
As the ship cast off, he continued to watch her and their son, not turning away until they faded completely from view.
Chapter 10: Chapter 9
Lyanna returns to Winterfell and Bran finally makes a decision.
Thank you very much to Rumaan, my beta for this chapter and the epilogue!
Bran signed the parchment in front of him as a knock sounded at his office door. The last missive of the day, he was looking forward to changing into some more formal attire for Lyanna's arrival to Winterfell. Not so much for the clothing, but because it would be the last he did before he got to see her again. "Come in," he called as he reached for the wax to affix his seal.
Gared stepped inside, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry, milord, but, uh, the little lady, she's...she won't get dressed and the Lady Mormont will be here soon, and well-"
"My intervention is needed, yes, I understand," Bran allowed, sighing. Even though she was half a year away from being two, Lyarra had already reached a stage of horrific tantrums and often, only the presence of her father, astride a larger wolf than her own, could calm her. Afterall, a toddler who had a protective direwolf was not a problem dealt with lightly. "I'll be there shortly. Is everything else prepared?"
"Yes, milord. Lord Rodrik's room is ready and space for the Mormont men. We await only her arrival."
"I will see that Lady Lyarra is dressed and ready to receive her mother," he assured the man. "Once I give you this to give to Timons to send, feel free to get a bite to eat before the Mormont contingent arrives."
Within minutes, Bran moved through the halls towards Lyarra's room. As he rounded the corner, he saw Amarey and Rimma standing anxiously near the doorway, Amarey's children behind them. Onyx guarded the door, occasionally bearing her teeth if she felt the women ventured too closely. He could hear Lyarra playing with one of her toys just out of sight, a horse whose legs moved with the wheels that Gendry had made for her which made a distinctive clacking noise.
"I will take care of Lyarra," he announced as he approached. When Amarey tried to apologize, he waved her away. "She's stubborn, both Stark and Mormont, and Onyx has taken a liking to her. It is not your fault."
Bran subdued Onyx quickly, first with a look and then using Autumn to usher her out of the room. Lyarra continued to play with her horse until the dark wolf left, then stumbled to her feet and called out for her, "Onnie!" When the wolf didn't return instantly at her call, she looked at her father and began to cry.
"You're being very mean to your nurse, Lyarra," he admonished her, though not harshly, as he directed Winter to lie down so he could pick up the child clad only in a long shirt. "Your mother is going to be here soon and we're going to meet her in the courtyard. Now, I don't care if you meet her naked or clothed, but other people do. And I'm very upset with you that you think you can bully your way to what you want to do. So I think we're going to have Onyx stay out of the keep for awhile."
He wasn't sure that Lyarra really understood what he was saying, but she did understand that she wasn't going to get to keep playing with her toys at the moment and that Onyx wasn't going to be next to her anytime soon. She started crying harder then, arching in his arms and then reaching for Amarey, who she felt would comfort her.
Amarey immediately did so, taking the toddler into her arms and holding her close.
"Now I'm the bad guy. I figure you can get her into her dress now," Bran told the woman as Winter rose once more.
She smoothed down Lyarra's hair and nodded at him. "Poor little thing. She'll miss 'er wolf terribly."
"I'll not have her using Onyx to terrorize," Bran answered simply. "I should have removed her the first time Lyarra here used to her to get her way. I promise you, she won't be a problem anymore." The next time he let the dark wolf into the keep, she'd be kept with his own wolves to prevent any more problems. "Thank you, Amarey, for your patience."
He left his daughter sniffling in the nurse's arms, only to meet her again in the courtyard about an hour later. She had calmed, though she still squirmed uneasily in his arms on Winter's back. Behind them, the household stood arrayed to receive the Mormont party, who rode in with Lyanna at the front.
She dismounted smoothly and his heart clenched to see her move with such grace despite the fact Rodrik was strapped to her chest in a sling. She walked towards him immediately, offering a near regal inclination of her head to both Bran and Lyarra.
"Lady Mormont, as always, you are welcome here."
Her gaze immediately went to the small child seated in front of him. Lyarra eyed her mother warily, even after Bran reminded the girl of who Lyanna was to her, until Rodrik was revealed.
"Baby," she said, reaching out to him with a curious hand. She patted his red hair and added, "Aemon."
"This is your brother, Rodrik," Bran explained, giving Lyanna an apologetic look. "You know Aemon is your age, Lyarra," he added for his daughter.
She balked when he tried to hand her to her mother, but Lyanna merely smiled slightly. "She needs to get used to me before all that. Let us go into the keep. You Starks may be immune to the chill in the wind, but others are not." She nodded to his household, but for the first time, he noticed the bright red of her cheeks.
Bran nodded quickly, motioning for her to proceed inside first. Naturally, Lyanna's first task was to make sure the children were well-settled. She inspected the room to be used by Rodrik and his nurse and gave it a nod of approval before allowed their bags to brought. Then she toured Lyarra's room, finally pulling Rodrik from his sling so he could lay on the floor and his sister show them both some of her toys.
Watching Lyanna interact so easily with their children from the doorway, even if Lyarra took some time to warm up to her, he began to almost hope that they would have a harder time conceiving in the coming months. If Lyanna had to stay longer, perhaps Lyarra would make real memories of their time together.
Maynsila had warned him that Rodrik's birth had been difficult and sometimes, it was harder for a woman to bear a child after that. Sometimes it took years to have another child. Sometimes not at all.
He closed his eyes at the prickling of shame that started at these thoughts. How horrible a person was he, to wish such things on his own wife, just so she would stay at Winterfell longer?
Maybe if he had the courage of his brothers, he would be able to say something to the woman he wanted.
To the woman he suspected that he loved.
He thought about her nearly all the time, even when he wasn't reading her messages or considering the defense of the North or looking at her daughter. And not just when he was in bed, missing her presence beside him. Lyanna was smart and capable, knew her own mind, didn't simper or bow to him just because he was Three-Eyed Raven or Lord Stark. She was an honest voice, one who freely admitted when a decision would benefit or hurt Mormont.
She wasn't afraid of him at all.
She liked him because he was himself, not because of what he could do for her.
When Lyanna rose to take Rodrik so he could be fed, Amarey took Lyarra for her supper as well and Bran took that as his cue to leave. On his way to his own rooms, he ordered that the bath be filled for his wife and that her supper be brought as well, knowing that she didn't want to eat in the great hall after traveling.
By the time she joined him in the bedroom, the bath was steaming in the next room and her meal waited on the table. Lyanna smiled at both gratefully, inclining her head towards Bran as she shrugged out of her dress. "Thank you."
"Are the children well-settled?" he asked, turning Winter towards the bed.
"Yes. Rodrik went down easily and Lyarra is drowsing with her nurse now," Lyanna confirmed. "I didn't see Onyx. I hope nothing is wrong with her."
"Ah, no," Bran replied, easing onto the bed from Winter's back. "She's in the woods. She's well-bonded to Lyarra and when Lyarra is upset, Onyx growls and frightens Amarey and the staff. This why most of the children don't get wolves until their older," he mentioned regretfully.
"It is hardly as if you gave her the wolf; Onyx chose her before she left my womb," Lyanna chuckled and he turned to find her only her shift. She twisted her hair up into a knot and padded towards the bath. "Will you be joining me?"
He shook his head. "No. I bathed earlier."
She paused and reached out with two fingers to brush at his smooth cheek. "Is that when you did this?"
Bran huffed and looked away, embarrassed. "I, uh...trimmed it the other day and got startled, cut out a patch by mistake. I decided to just shave rather than trim everything to that length."
That she preferred him without a beard only entered his mind immediately when the accident had occurred, but he refrained from adding this.
Given the knowing look she wore, he didn't think he fooled her.
"Then I won't linger in the bath." Her gaze turned towards the food. "Please eat something. You do yourself and Maude a disservice when you don't eat enough."
Of course, so distracted by thoughts of her, he didn't eat anything, didn't even move from his seat on the bed. He just bowed his head, trying to muster up the courage to speak his thoughts. But just the sound of her bathing in the next room distracted him so that the only thing he could think about was her, naked, and how long it had been since they'd done anything of the sort.
Before he quite knew it, she stood before him, barefooted and wrapped in one of the large towels. She tipped his head up with a careful touch and asked him quietly, "Why have you not eaten?"
"I don't want to eat. I just want you." It was, perhaps, the most honest thing he'd said all day.
Lyanna's eyes crinkled as she smiled sadly. "I...I've had two children in less than two years. I don't look the same, not like you do."
"Do you think I would...care about that?" Bran wondered, stung by her words.
"I don't want to disappoint you," she admitted, though she kept her gaze locked on his.
"You can't. It's not possible," he denied, hoping that she believed him.
Perhaps four heartbeats passed before she nodded shallowly and unwound the towel from about her body. Immediately, he could see the changes that she'd spoke of, the faint lines on her belly, the swell beneath around her hips. He glanced up at her face, saw her faint frown of concern, and deliberately leaned forward to press his lips to her stomach. He stayed forward, leaning his head against her as she threaded her fingers through his hair.
Bran felt nearly every part of himself relax, an ease which had everything to do with the woman in front of him, who was finally with him again. He'd not truly relaxed since his departure from Bear Island, worried for her, for their children, for the new, fragile peace that had come over the North. Even with Sansa or Jon to consult with, he always found himself a bit uncertain until he could get Lyanna's opinion on his decisions. Without his child in her, though, that meant using ravens to send messages, a far slower process and one he did not like.
Lyanna seemed to know that he needed reassurance. "You've done so well, my wolf," she murmured, one hand sliding down his neck to rest on his shoulder. She plucked at his shirt, adding, "Shall I join you in bed?"
"Yes," he agreed enthusiastically, allowing her to pull the shirt from his body and crawl onto his lap. He kept her there only for a moment, flipping her over onto the bed and busying himself with sucking marks into her body. She laughed, cautioning him about the sensitivity of her breasts, and then lay back to enjoy his attentions, her breath stuttering when he moved between her legs.
Only when her back arched off the bed and she called out his name repeatedly did he lift his head to smirk at her. Even as she caught her breath, she beckoned him to crawl up and fit himself to her. He slid into her with a sigh, then grinned when she wrapped her legs around his hips to urge him on. He managed to get her tighten around him once more before he spilled himself inside of her, rolling to one side soon after so as not to smother her with his weight.
"I missed that," Lyanna admitted and he turned his head to grin at her.
"We are getting good at that."
It drew the laugh out of her he expected and she turned towards him, draping an arm on his chest and tracing the line of his collarbone. "Getting good? Do you think we need more practice?"
"It couldn't hurt."
She chuckled again and blew out a breath. "Well, let me get a moment's rest, perhaps a bite to eat and then we can try again, if you feel us so lacking," she teased, pressing a kiss to his shoulder before rolling out of bed and walking over to the table.
Bran pushed himself up to lean against the headboard, watching her as she gathered a plate of food and a cup of wine. She returned to the bed quickly, offering him the cup first and then folding herself into a seat by his other side. As she settled back right next to him, she offered him first pick of the food on the plate.
Reluctantly, he layered a thick slice of cheese on a piece of bread and ate a bite. Lyanna smirked and ate a few bites of the venison slices before she commented, "I am glad our son hasn't inherited you distaste for eating."
"I don't have much of an appetite is all," he protested.
She poked one of his hips, noting, "I think you just let yourself become consumed with your duties. You must give greater care to yourself. Like the care you give to our daughter. She's done well here. You've done well by her."
He shook his head. "She is a brat. I love her, but she's stubborn and often poorly behaved, even for a small child. No one says such, but I know it. She reminds me of my brother, Rickon. He was...willful, loud, very much like her."
"Amarey says that she misses her cousins, particularly Aemon. Having Rodrik around will do her good," Lyanna said as she lifted a piece of cheese to her mouth.
Bran offered her a sip of the wine, which she took, as he complimented her. "You've done so well by him. He's so big, seems very contented."
"Yes, as long as he is fed often, my cub is contented. And if he is not…." She shook her head ruefully. "His screams are chilling, even as a babe."
"Mmm...so if I keep you here tonight, I will get to hear this?" he wondered with a half-smile.
She smiled in return. "No. His nurse is with him, so that I can give Lord Stark my complete attention."
"Lord Stark thanks you for your consideration," he replied dryly, only to get her elbow in his ribs.
She coaxed him to eat more and they traded more tales of the children, and then of their own dealings with the various lords of the North. She gave him a rather accurate impression of Lord Glover, one that almost made him spit out his wine, and they commiserated about the Barrows while they polished off the rest of the food.
And afterwards, plate and cup discarded, he watched as she crawled into his lap and rode him steadily, her lips by his ear as she whispered encouragement and praise as they raced once more to the edge and tumbled over together. As she drowsed in his arms afterwards, he pulled some of the furs over her and reveled in the fact that his friend, his lover, his wife was once more home.
He didn't know what he would do without her.
Bran awoke the next morning, only to find Lyanna already gone. Recalling their old schedule, he was first surprised to find her with the children and then felt foolish not predicting that of course she would go to them first. She spent an hour there before moving through her routine, first practicing with her sword in the courtyard and then breaking her fast. She retired to her study thereafter and only emerged in the early afternoon to see the children again, eating lunch with them in their rooms. He shared a quiet supper with her in the hall, where they chatted intermittently about their day and then retired to their rooms.
Having spent nearly the entire day stalking her, and aware of her constant pace, he understood when she demurred in bed that night, claiming fatigue. He assured her he didn't mind and settled into bed beside her, content enough to have her close by.
He did not expect her to plead a headache the next night and furrowed his brow in concern. He offered to send for the maester or even inquire if Maude had a tea that might ease her, but she declined, asking only that she might be left to sleep.
Naturally, he agreed.
Her fourth night in Winterfell, he could have sworn she feigned sleep when he came to bed. He spent ten minutes trying to decide if she was truly asleep, and then another ten, chiding himself for wanting to check if she was not. In the end, he let her be, since either way, she seemed clearly disinterested.
And each day too, she seemed strangely formal, even when they were with the children. Just as he'd begun to wonder what he'd done wrong, if he'd afforded her some insult that first night in bed, she practically tackled him on her fifth night in Winterfell. It seemed a repeat of her return, all heated whispers and passionate embraces. Three times, even.
But then, again, after that night, for two she refused him, one way or another, only to react enthusiastically on the third. And so it went, with two or three days of her turning her shoulder to him, and then welcoming him as if there had not been a coolness between them.
He didn't understand it. When he tried to broach the subject, he found himself tongue-tied, unable to ask why she didn't want him very often anymore. Did she need all those days in between to convince herself to lay with him again? Were all her cries merely a performance for him, since he'd told her he liked it so much?
Was she really just looking forward to end of their marriage, when she wouldn't have to suffer him any longer?
Because to him, the question really was, why she wanted him at all. He should be thankful for the time she did give him, not demanding more from her. She knew herself and her body, and surely, she knew exactly how often they had to be together now to conceive. They had two children already, she consulted with the learned midwives of Bear Island and in general, knew far more than he did about the process. He absolutely had no standing to question her decisions about when they were together.
Despite that, and the fact that she was only in Winterfell to fulfill that promise to have a third child, he was relieved when her flow came, because it meant at least another two months of her residing in Winterfell. Perhaps it would be enough time for him to work up the nerve to speak to her honestly, about what he wanted. About what he felt.
Bran shook his head. He'd faced the Night's King. Raised the wall. Rebuilt Winterfell and Winter's Town. He was the Three-Eyed Raven.
That he should be afraid to speak to his wife honestly was a disgrace. She deserved better than that.
Before he could lose his courage, he sent a note to Lyanna, asking her to meet him by the weirwood tree after his daily calls on a particularly nice day.
He had just finished speaking to Sansa in Starkhold when his wife appeared on the path. He watched, Winter fidgeting under him as he picked up on his unease until he laid a comforting hand on the wolf's head.
"Courage," he murmured, as much to himself as to Winter.
As soon as she stopped just a few yards away from him, Lyanna resettled her bearskin cloak and began to speak. "I know what this is about, my lord."
He blanched and dug his hand into Winter's fur. "Is that so?"
Lyanna nodded, her face a chilly mask and his heart sank. Why did he think she would even want to continue their marriage longer than necessary? Observant, smart, of course she would have noticed how he stared at her, how annoying he'd been in bed.
"I won't shirk from my duties to you in the future. I have been...derelict, but it will not happen again. You have my word."
Bran sat back on his wolf, some of the tension leaving his frame, only to be replaced by confusion. "Your duties…" He couldn't think of a single thing that Lyanna Mormont, of all people, had refused to do as Lady of Bear Island and-
He flushed as the meaning of her words dawned on him, then shook his head quickly. "I'm not here, I didn't call you here to talk about that. If you don't want to...do that...anytime, that's...I mean, I don't want to, sometimes."
He was certain that might occur, at some point.
"Then why have you called me here?" she asked, expression growing darker.
He shifted nervously and blurted out, "I was thinking, it's not fair. That I get two heirs and you just the one. We should have four children, not three."
Bran could hardly believe what he was saying, even wincing at the end of his sentence. Disappointment, in himself, washed over him, but also some hope. It was a reasonable offer, clearly. And trying for four would give him more time, of course, and would mean that she would return to Winterfell even after birthing his second heir.
She blinked and her expression cleared as she noted in an odd voice, "That was not the agreement."
"But our vows, those only spoke of my recognizing your children...not of a number," he responded logically.
She considered while eyeing him carefully, then nodded. "Very well. Four." She turned, apparently believing their discussion done.
Lyanna turning away from him so definitively provoked something inside of him. "Wait," he called after her immediately. Swallowing his nerves, he began to speak as soon as she turned back towards him. "I..didn't mean that. I mean, that's not why I called you here. I." He took a breath, so nervous his heartbeat thundered in his ears. "I want to be married to you, regardless of how many children we have. Just..married to you, the normal way."
Her reaction - to freeze - struck him hard. Almost as hard as her words.
"I cannot be a wife, not in that way. My first duty is to Bear Island, to my people. I cannot have a husband who is a lord with his own duties, who expects me to be by his side everyday."
"No, that's not what I want," he interrupted when she would continue, desperate, and yet hopeful. Because he didn't need her by his side everyday, not physically. As long as he knew she would return to his side eventually, he would be content, happy even.
It was that she might not return to him at all that he really feared.
"What we have, what we do, I want that to stay the same. Just...not to end, just because we have three or four children. You are Lady Mormont and I know your people won't be ruled by a mainlander. You have your duty, and I have mine, but there's no reason to not stay married. It's better for Bear Island, for Winterfell...for you, for me. I am your husband and your lord, but beyond all that, honestly, I want you. If you don't want me, then go, with my blessing, my love even. I will never stand between you and your duty. But I wish to stand with you, even if it on the back of a direwolf and at Winterfell, instead of by your side at Bear Island."
Lyanna's mouth opened slowly, her eyes wide with shock, and he could see the pink of her tongue for a moment. But she regained her composure quickly, closing her eyes tightly for a moment. She swallowed, then spoke as if selecting each word with care. Which, she likely was, he thought.
"I will not deny that there are great benefits to being your wife, Bran, for Mormont, for me." She paused again, struggling for the right words and it broke his heart to see that he had put her in such a position, flailing when she was normally so unflappable. "You speak of love. And I think I do love you. I know I do. But I don't know that you really love me, or simply enjoy what we do in bed. I know you don't want to take a lover and you have your reasons, but I just can't...I can't be married to man, truly married, who is always looking past me at a ghost. You loved her and you still do and I want more than that from someone I would call my true husband."
Meera. She was talking about Meera, he belatedly realized, even when his heart soared at her admission of love, then crashed at that dreaded word, "but."
He hadn't thought of Meera for months, but Lyanna reminded him forcibly of the woman who'd saved his life beyond the Wall. The woman whom he'd told her on their wedding night would always be the only woman for him.
Cursing his past self for a fool, he explained, "I'll always be grateful to her, but...she was just my first love. I want you..to be my last." It was, admittedly, a sentiment he'd read in one of those novels Lyanna disdained, but he doubted she'd have heard it before. "Because you are. I love you."
"Bran…," she nearly whispered, looking so miserable that he knew she did not believe him.
He would have to show her.
Lyanna preferred actions to words anyway.
Winter moved forward almost as the thought occurred to Bran and as soon as he could, he reached out for one of her hands to pull her closer. Once there was almost no distance between them, he bent down to kiss her. To really kiss her, his lips to hers.
They had been married for over two years, but this was their first kiss.
Her lips were soft and cool, but soon warmed under the touch of his and the heat of his mouth. She stilled for a only a moment, then pressed into him, the tip of her tongue poking through her lips to lick at the seam of his own. Without thought, he opened his mouth to her and tasted deeply of her own, unable to quite describe the sweet, sharp taste of her.
He lost himself in that kiss, until he realized he needed to breathe. When he pulled back, he saw her own quick intake of air and dumbfounded smile, an expression he knew looked something like his own.
"Do you believe me now?"
Lyanna flushed and he knew that the redness in her cheeks had more to do with her emotions than the cold. "Yes," she confirmed.
"So...can we stay married?" he insisted, needing to hear the words. She said she loved him, she understood how he felt about her, but...he needed the words.
"Yes," she assured him, hand curling into his cloak to pull him closer, brushing her lips against his again.
This kiss lasted longer, as they explored each other and got the hang of doing so while still breathing. They hardly even broke it when he pulled her onto Winter's back, Lyanna helping and twisting until she was seated in front of him, her legs dangling over one side, her arms looped around his neck.
When they finally calmed themselves, their heads resting against each other, he knew he had to ask two more questions.
He needed to know that she wasn't just acquiescing, even if she was a Mormont and unlikely to agree to anything she didn't want. He pulled away to look her in the eye, sucking in a breath. "I know you said you never wanted a husband, certainly not one like me. You spoke of a boy you liked, once. I don't want..just because I'm Lord of Winterfell and we're already married, I don't want you to agree because of that."
She opened her mouth, blinking in disbelief for a long moment while his heart seemed to stop in his chest. But then she began to chuckle.
"You want me to want you," she told him, going to the heart of the matter as she usually did. "The way I wanted that boy, once."
When he ducked his head, she reached out to cup his cheek. As he met her gaze once more, she smiled. "I do want you the way I wanted that boy. Because you were the boy."
His brow furrowed in confusion. "What?"
"Bran…," she began, her voice filled with exasperation mixed with wonder. "Please, believe me when I tell you that you are handsome. That you were handsome then too. And to see a boy who was supposed to be dead ride in on a direwolf in the middle of a snowstorm might have been very impressive to a girl of twelve. And you didn't cry or weep when you saw your family, you just told them of the threat to come and the knowledge you had and what needed to be done." She smiled sadly. "You weren't like other boys. You weren't a child. You were...like me."
"I couldn't have been more frightened, of what was to come," Bran denied, recalling that day vividly. What happiness he'd felt at seeing his family again was quickly subsumed by fear at the coming army of the Night's King.
"So was I. So was Jon. So was anyone with an ounce of sense. But you and I, we had to command regardless, as children."
He could hardly believe what she was telling him. Absolutely nothing she had done or said all those years ago indicated she had anything but her usual near disdain that she seemed to have for all the Northern lords who'd lost something to the Boltons. "Why didn't you say anything?"
She scoffed. "When? When I was twelve and you sixteen? Or after our wedding, after you made clear that I could never be anything to you other than the mother of your children?"
When she would have continued, he decided to stop her well-reasoned words with another kiss. That he'd denied them both this, kissing, for so long, bothered him and he wished to make up for lost time. It was only their third kiss, but he felt he'd gotten the hang of it, especially when she gave him that little contented sigh he was more used to hearing in bed.
"Is that what you will do every time you are in the wrong, kiss me and try to distract me?" Lyanna asked, an amused smile on her face.
"It seems an effective strategy," he answered, drawing another laugh from her as she buried her head in his shoulder.
Tightening his grip on her, he decided it was a good moment to ask his second question.
"Will you marry me, again?"
"Are we not married?"
"We are. But I wish to saw the vows the way we ought to have the first time." Bran paused, and added hesitantly, "I would offer you my cloak this time."
Lyanna opened her mouth, then closed it before looking away. "But I'm not going to become Lady Stark."
"But you will have my protection, regardless." He smiled down at her, brushing at her cheek with the back of two fingers. "I'm not claiming you. I just want to...give you something that is already yours."
When she looked back at him, her eyes were bright. "And if I give you my cloak in return? Will you take it?"
A slow smile curled over his face. "Yes, of course. Stark...we wouldn't exist anymore, but for you, and Mormont. Your support regain us Winterfell, put Jon on the Iron Throne. I would be proud to wear your cloak."
"It isn't right though. You are Lord Stark. You should wear the wolf-cloak," Lyanna replied, even though she smiled at the thought. "And I am Lady Mormont and I should wear the bear-cloak."
"So...we shall have new cloaks made," he decided. "But these...these we exchange, as a symbol of our bond and the bond of our Houses."
Lyanna nodded her agreement, her smile bright and warm, but glanced up at the sky. "Do you mean to do this today? We have hours to go before the sun goes down."
He took a breath. "Actually, if you would permit it, I want to do this now. The witnesses we need are you and I and the Old Gods. If others know, they will want to make a spectacle of it and this is not an alliance. This our marriage, me to you."
"We are both Lyanna and Bran, and Lady Mormont and Lord Stark, and we cannot separate them as you seem to wish to," Lyanna told him, all practicality. "If you wish this marriage to last beyond the birth of our third child, then we will need witnesses to the vows." She smiled slightly. "If you can wait a day, the Cerwyns can be here to witness. But if you cannot, if it must be today, then at the very least, your household should be invited. You are Warden of the North and the Three-Eyed Raven and you cannot marry in secret, not even to your wife."
He nodded in understanding, even agreement. Of course, Lyanna was right. Their agreement, and their marriage, would end with the birth of a third child. In order to show the world that they had a new agreement, they would have to marry with witnesses.
"But is very romantic of you to wish to marry immediately, here and now. I...appreciate your haste," Lyanna concluded, stretching herself to capture his lips in another, long kiss, only to break away and slip off of Winter's back.
"Where are you going?" he wondered.
"To the keep. Rodrik is likely to need feeding again soon." She glanced up at him through her lashes. "I think you'll have noticed that your son is rather large. He eats a great deal."
"You could ride with me," he immediately offered. If she wasn't going to marry him that very moment, at the very least, he could hold her close as they went back inside.
"No. Let us save that for the wedding," she answered, laying her hand behind Winter's ear to give him a fond scratch. "Since it is traditional that the man carry his bride into the wedding feast."
"As you wish," he agreed, though urged Winter to walk on as she began to move. "Of course, since we will be exchanging cloaks, we can hardly say our wedding will be traditional."
"Nothing about our marriage is traditional," she answered and smiled up at him. "I think it's better."
He beamed down at her, reaching for her hand and entwining their fingers together. He couldn't agree more.
Chapter 11: Epilogue
A look into the future.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Bran didn't know the last time the hall at Winterfell was so filled. With Jon in Winterfell to pick up his children and escort them back to Queen's Landing, as he did at the beginning of every spring, the lords of the North had made it a tradition to come and meet with the King. They tended to bring their children too, to show them off and discuss possible alliances in the future.
The smallfolk had already dubbed it the Spring Festival and he knew that this tradition would last for a long time.
Still, with all the nobles, including the King and the royal children, at his home, Bran was thankful of the army camped outside. Between the men each of the nobles brought with them, the Unsullied, the detachment of the Targaryen troops, even the Free Folk who traveled with Tormund, he felt that his home and those within were well-protected.
Watching from his seat in the front, Bran stroked the fur on Winter's head. The old wolf's coat was shot through with white now and he knew his faithful steed didn't have much longer in this world. He'd already started to use one of Winter's younger get as his mount, a male named Swift, but Winter still trailed him dutifully everywhere, if a bit more slowly. Autumn had died last summer and Spring had passed over the winter, so poor old Legs was the last of what he thought of as his Old Guard.
Onyx, her own coat speckled with lighter fur, sat by Lyarra. True to her responsibilities as his heir, his daughter was speaking with some of their most important guests, Aemon by her side. The cousins tended to drift together and even at ten, they'd both already gained some skill in diplomatic small talk.
Lyarra looked so like her mother at that age, she constantly startled the older lords, much to Bran's amusement.
Edgaer, who at thirteen had already started to attract the attention of girls, sat near his father, who held court at the side of the hall. While Jon listened intently to the words of Lord Manderly, his eyes were only for Alysanne, who stood near her mother as Sansa spoke to Lord and Lady Cerwyn. The world now knew the two would be wed, had known since Sansa gave birth to her twins around the same time his own wife had given birth to their son, Benjen.
Benjen sat with his cousin, Aegon, since Rhaegar Lannister and Robb Westark were with their father, at Queen's Landing. The occasion of their birth had caused not only the dissolution of Sansa and Tyrion's marriage, but also a feud over the possession of the fourth child, Robb. Eventually, the Iron Throne had weighed in, giving House Westark the bloodline but allowing House Lannister to raise the twins together.
Sansa had never forgiven Daenerys for the decision and hadn't stepped foot in Queen's Landing since the day Robb left Starkhold.
Bran tried, to some extent, to play the peacemaker, often inviting the twins and their father north to Winterfell. But he also reaped the rewards of Sansa's machinations on behalf of the family. The North, already only loyal to the Iron Throne because Jon had married Daenerys, now looked more to Winterfell and Starkhold before answering missives from the capitol.
In some ways, it was an ideal situation.
Rodrik, who at nine was already taller than Lyarra, listened with interest as Tormund told him how he'd gotten his name, Giantsbane, while Prince Jaeherys and Maege Mormont, just a year apart themselves, played with a wooden maze game the Ryswells had brought with them.
Winterfell's own twins, Serena and Sarra, were being shown off by their maids. Identical, unlike their blonde cousins, the three year-olds already delighted in confusing people as which was which, a game made easier when their maids dressed them in the same outfit. They too strongly favored their mother, while Maege had more of his look.
He frowned when he couldn't spot Osric, his five year-old, nor Princess Lyanna, who was the same age and the favorite of the Queen, who'd hoped for a girl above all else. With a quick pull on the senses of his wolves, he found them both when he flipped up the tablecloth to see them sitting underneath the table. Osric was showing off a picture book that Tyrion, of course, had sent north as presents for his nieces and nephews, and Lyanna furrowed her brow as she tried to read along with the words.
Just as he looked over at his wife's chair, currently empty, the crowd began to murmur and then hush quickly. Bran's attention focused on the doorway to the rest of the keep and the crowd parted to reveal Maynsila.
"You have another son, milord. Your wife is doing well, resting well," she announced without ceremony, turning on her heel and leaving as soon as the last word was spoken.
A great cheer went up in the hall, and among the congratulations, Tormund's voice rang out.
"That's eight! Think ye 'ave enough wolves in your pack yet?"
"That is my lady wife's decision," Bran answered with a smile, drawing more laughter from the crowd. "Thank you all for your well-wishes. I will go meet my new son and return later to tell you his name. Meanwhile, please, continue to enjoy yourselves."
Applause broke out at his words, but he didn't miss Jon raising a cup to him and he returned the gesture with his own goblet before mounting Swift. Lyarra came up beside his seat and he nodded, watching with pride as she sat nearly dwarfed in the throne-like chair.
"Watch over our guests while I am with your mother," he instructed, knowing it was unnecessary to do so.
Lyarra gave him a tight nod, wearing a thin-lipped smile. He knew she detested the public pageantry these large gatherings, but she knew her duty and did it all the same, regardless. He leaned over, offering in a lower voice, "After our guests have all left in a few days, we will go hunt in the wood, you and I at dusk. Just don't tell your mother."
She gave him a happy smile and a quick nod, settling back into the chair. "Thank you, Father." One of her favorite things was to go hunting with the wolves, using them to take down a deer. She'd grown more agile, of late, in her control of Onyx, and he knew she'd soon be ready for a second wolf.
He guided Swift into the hall and paused, allowing Winter to catch up with them, and then maintained a slower pace for the old boy as they walked to the room where Lyanna had given birth to nearly all their children. After receiving permission from the midwife, he entered the room and directed Winter to lay by the hearth before approaching the bed.
Lyanna sat up, looking down at the dark red haired child in her arms, cradled close to her body. When Bran eased onto the bed beside her, she gave him a smile.
"Another with your hair," she noted, pleased.
"You did say you wanted our children to have it. But I like it when they come out looking like you," he answered, reaching over to gently touch his son's head. "Did you still want to use that name?"
She nodded. "Yes. Jeor. Jeor Stark," she named before pressing a kiss to his brow.
"Not Mormont?" Bran asked.
"Mormonts are born on the Island, you know this. Besides, Rodrik and Maege are enough for House Mormont. There can never be enough Starks," she teased.
He chuckled, then leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Thank you, for giving me another son. Another child."
"Mmm, you know I quite like making them. And I don't suffer so in pregnancy, as some might," Lyanna allowed, shifting in the bed so she could lean against him and gaze down at their son at the same time.
"Tormund asked me if our wolf-pack was big enough now," he related in some amusement.
"I'm not even thirty yet. Unless we take steps, we're likely to have more," she answered with a soft chuckle of her own. "Do you not want anymore?"
"I want whatever you want."
He could almost feel her smile, but also the slight tension that entered her frame. "It is the spring. I have to return to the Island as soon as Jeor is fit for travel. I'm afraid we won't have time to make another very soon."
"I understand." Because that was the way of things. Mormont needed to rule from their island. "Even the half a year we spend together is a gift to me," he assured her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders to hold her close.
"I was thinking...I should take Osric with me this time," she mentioned as she used a finger to wipe a small bit of drool from Jeor's face.
"Actually, I think you should take Lyarra. She hasn't been to the Island in years and some time there with you, Rodrik, Maege and Jeor would be good for her, I think. When you return, I can then take her to some of the other lords' holdings. She should see White Harbor and Deepwood Motte and Barrowtown."
As usual, Lyanna called him out. "You want some more distance between her and Aemon," she noted, turning her head to smile at him. "I would like to have more time with her, but I don't think you have to worry about them."
"I'm not afraid they will want to marry, only that they look to each other too much in the eyes of the other Northern lords. They will think Aemon follows her out of love, not because she is Warden of the North and makes good decisions. They always see them together. Let them see them apart for awhile."
"And who will you name as Stark in Winterfell, while you tour the North with your daughter?"
"Benjen, of course, with his lady mother as his advisor."
She shook her head. "That will keep us apart for some time, you know," she reminded him.
"Yes, but I will make it up to you by traveling back with you to the Island and leaving Lyarra as the Stark in Winterfell for a few months," he promised.
"I shall think about it. Tomorrow," she replied, returning her attention to Jeor as he began to fuss. "You should send in the children soon, to meet their brother."
"Later. For now, just rest," he offered, enjoying the feeling of his wife his arms and their son in hers. No matter how many times they did this, it always felt new and special.
It was good, being married to someone he loved.
Thank you once again to Rumaan and @bfl1201 for being my betas throughout this work. Thank you too to every commenter and followers whose encouragement helped me finish this work!