The first time she saw him, he was wrapped in a bundle of blankets, only his head peeking out. He was the tiniest thing, dwarfed by Ned’s arms and the blue wool. All she could think was Stark-like he looked, a reminder of the dead: Lyanna’s smiling mouth, Brandon’s twinkling eyes, Lord Rickard’s long face.
“His name is Jon,” Ned told her, a sad look on his face. “He is Brandon’s son.”
“Aye, Brandon's son, indeed,” Cat said slowly. The babe was a Stark if she’d ever seen one. Brandon, come again. “Who is the mother?”
Ned’s expression was grim. “I know not who, my lady, I’m afraid.” Something told Cat that he was hiding something, but she did not want to press. He just rode home after a year of war; he did not deserve bombardment right now.
They walked to their chambers arm in arm. She reminded herself to have another crib made for Jon. Until then, he’d have to share with Robb.
“Ned,” she murmured, tugging gently on his sleeve, “you have a son.”
Her husband’s expression softened as he put Jon in the crib next to his sleeping cousin. “He’s beautiful.” He stroked the tufts of red hair on Robb’s head.
“Robb Stark,” Cat said, intertwining her fingers with Ned’s. “Robb and Jon. The gods have blessed us.”
Robb and Jon had recently learned to walk. Robb was adventurous, crawling and walking wherever he could before he got caught. Jon, however, was much more frightened about the world and what was out there. He would clutch onto Catelyn’s skirts and follow her around, sitting dutifully in her lap when she did her needlepoint.
Robb spoke first, crying “North!” at the top of his lungs. He would stomp around for for weeks after, chanting “North, North!” Eventually, he cut the word down to a simple ‘no’, which would be his response for everything.
Jon was always much quieter than his cousin. He barely cried as a babe, and wouldn’t put up a fuss when it was time for bed. He was three when he first spoke- by then, Robb was already able to carry on a simple conversation.
Jon was sitting at Catelyn’s feet, watching her sew a blanket for the babe, who would be coming into the world soon. Jon’s fingers were in his mouth, making quiet suckling noises. His other hand was reaching up, splayed on her swollen belly. “I’ll make you and Robb new tunics after,” she promised in a whisper to the dark haired boy. From his spot across the room, Robb perked up at that, a toothy grin on his face.
Jon looked up at her with those grey eyes of his, wide with childish wonder and curiosity. His voice was soft as a feather, but it was there nonetheless; “Mama.”
She smiled at him, tears brimming at the back of her eyelids. She did not have the heart to correct him; he was too young to understand. But he would learn soon enough. He would learn to call her ‘aunt’, but she was the closest thing he had to a mother now.
“Aunt Catelyn,” Jon said, pulling the furs up to his chin, “can you tell me a story? You know I can’t fall asleep without a story.” The six-year-old was the picture of innocence, and she couldn’t possibly say no to him. It was well past his bed time; even Robb was asleep by now. But she had the tendency to spoil little Jon; he got sick often, and she’d feel guilty if she refused. He beamed when Cat climbed onto the bed, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “Tell me of Riverrun!”
She laughed, fondly pinching his cheek. “You must know all about Riverrun by now, little one.” But she cleared her throat, shifting on the bed. She would tell his favourite story of all; he could never get enough of it. “A long time ago, there was a redheaded woman and a wolf, who she was meant to marry. They cared very much for each other, but there was someone who was not happy with the arrangement.”
“Petyr Baelish!” Jon chirped, finding her hand to grasp it.
“That’s right.” She squeezed his hand in return. “Now, he and the redheaded woman were very close friends. Despite this, he was jealous, and he was very headstrong. He challenged the wolf to a duel for the redheaded woman’s hand, which may not have been the best idea. Petyr was much younger and smaller, with no experience in battle.”
“My father was a great warrior,” the child declared proudly. “Nobody could beat him.”
“Aye, and Petyr did not. As the wolf raised his sword to strike Petyr down, the redheaded woman stopped it before it could happen.”
“My father loved you, that’s why he didn’t hurt Petyr.”
“Perhaps that’s why.” Catelyn paused, her fingers running through Jon’s wild hair. “I once heard that true courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but to spare one."
Jon smiled widely, showing off his missing teeth. “Then my father was the most courageous in the land.”
“Aunt Catelyn, Aunt Catelyn!” Jon called, running up to her. He was eleven years old and growing fast, all elbows and knees. He looked more and more like Brandon and Ned with each passing day.
“Jon, go back to practice!” she ordered, although she could not help the smile on her face. “Robb and Theon are waiting. And I’m sure you don’t want to disappoint Ser Rodrik.” Sansa, Arya and Bran were with her, marvelling at all the different fruits in the marketplace.
“Practice is over.” Jon smiled with a little roll of his eyes, as if she should have known.
“What about lessons with Maester Luwin?”
He cringed, shaking his head. “I…I left. I wanted to talk to you.”
She was instantly worried. “What’s wrong?”
He bit the corner of his lip, a nervous habit he’d developed. “W-we were talking about House Stark, and…I thought of my father.” He chuckled a bit at himself, though the laughter was hollow. “I was about to cry like a babe. I don’t know why.”
Catelyn pulled him in for a hug right then and there. He was almost taller than her, though not quite, so his face fit into the crook of her neck. His arms wrapped around her waist and they stayed that way for awhile.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Jon whispered. She could tell that he was fighting tears; it broke her heart. All this time, the subject of Brandon had never come up that often. He was only in Cat’s late night stories, and even then, he did not question it.
“I’m sorry, my sweet boy,” she breathed, kissing his cheek. “We never told you the whole story, and I’m so sorry. We’ll talk about it more…when you’re older.”
He pulled away and smiled half-heartedly. He curled a lock of her red hair around his finger; he’d always loved her hair. “Things could be worse.” He sniffled and put on a brave face. “I have you and Uncle Ned. That’s more than I ever could have wanted.” They exchange watery smiles and hug once more, comfortable in each others’ arms.
Sansa, Arya and Bran came over to them, after seeing the fuss. Catelyn and Jon laughed when the three children joined the hug. “I don’t know what this is for,” Arya admitted in a whisper, “but I like it.”
She shooed Jon’s squire and the handmaiden away upon entering the tent. She took over the job of cleaning her nephew’s wound, her hands gentle. Kneeling beside him, she took a good long look at him; he had seemed to age five years during the war. He left home, was appointed King Robb’s Hand and fought three battles within a turn of a moon.
“You don’t have to do this,” he murmured, wincing when the damp washcloth came in contact with his wound. His curly hair was plastered to his neck and forehead with sweat. Grime and blood were on his skin, and Catelyn could only hope that the rest of the blood was not his.
“Hush, now. Don’t question your aunt.” They shared a smirk, the tension in the air dissipating. She finished cleaning the wound on his arm and applied salve to it, cringing when he hissed in pain. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.” After she wrapped the bandage around the cut, his hand found hers. “Aunt Catelyn,” he whispered, looking like a young boy once more, “I’ve never been that scared before. I thought I would die.”
She shook her head, her red hair flying from side to side. “You will not die, my boy. You are a wolf.”
“I’m a coward,” he spat, his face twisting in disgust. “I was afraid. Uncle Ned would never be afraid…my father would never be afraid.”
“Jon,” she said sternly, making him look up at her. “You are one of the bravest men I have had the pleasure of knowing.” She mussed up his hair like she used to when he was a small lad. “A man can only be brave when he is afraid.”
The wedding was a rather small affair, held in the godswood near the Twins. King Robb stood proudly next to Jon, and Catelyn felt her heart swell up in pride. Her two oldest are finally grown up; brave, gallant, honorable and handsome men. Her eyes stung with tears as she wished for Ned to be there. But he was looking down on them from the heavens above, and Cat knew that he would be just as proud of them as she was.
Queen Jeyne looked lovely next to Robb, her dark hair pulled back into a long braid. She looked like a true queen, standing tall, her head held high. Her belly was swelled with child under the elaborate dress, a blessing from the gods themselves. A prince or princess would be born soon, to carry on the Stark legacy.
Jon Stark was bouncing anxiously on his heels, gnawing on the corner of his mouth. Cat playfully smacked his stomach, murmuring reassurances. “Aunt Catelyn,” he groaned, teasing, “don’t embarrass me.”
She gaped at him, trying to hold back her laughter. “Is my nephew too grown up to spend time with his aunt?” She would have ruffled his hair, would it not mess it up. She wanted him to look presentable for his wife.
“Only if you embarrass me.” He shot her a lopsided grin, his grey eyes sparkling. Cat could not believe how much he looked like Brandon. His father would be proud.
Roslin Frey was a petite thing, shy and quiet. Nonetheless, she was quite comely and was talented with the lapharp. She looked radiant in her wedding gown, a coy smile on her face. Catelyn could tell that Jon thought so, too, if his sharp intake of breath was anything to go by.
They said their vows in front of the heart tree, binding themselves together for life. Tears persistently pricked at the back of Cat’s eyes, and she furiously wiped them away with her sleeve. First Robb had gotten married, and now Jon. It wouldn’t be long before her other children would be married.
Once the vows were said, they were all ushered into the Great Hall for the feast. Catelyn pulled Jon aside before they entered, wrapping him in a tight hug. “I wish your father could see you now.”
He hugged her back, and she could feel him smiling against her cheek. “Thank you, Aunt Catelyn. For everything. You’re the best aunt and mother I could have ever wanted.” Slowly, he slipped out of the embrace, going to join his new wife on the dais.
The evening was bittersweet for Cat. A marriage was the turning point in every man and woman’s life. Jon was a man grown, the Hand of the King in the North, husband to Lady Roslin Frey, and a war veteran. Yet as she watched him on the dais, all she could see was the motherless child brought to her all those years ago.