Arya had been screaming for two days.
Maester Luwin refused to give her anything to make her sleep, said that this was normal for a child of two name days and that she needed to learn for herself before it was too late. Cat, despite the fact she was heavy with another child, another child due any time soon, gritted her teeth and accepted his words and so Ned had as well. He could hardly overrule the maester for his own comfort when Cat was so determined to ignore hers.
It was difficult though. The servants crept around the castle, faces drawn, trying to be silent so as not to wake Arya when she had screamed herself into brief moments of exhausted sleep. None of the other children had been like this, not Jon or Sansa or even Robb, who was the most likely of the three, and Ned did not know what to do. Cat spent all of her time with Arya and Old Nan, endless and patient hours trying to soothe the tantrums. He had taken a turn, at the beginning, but he had only made it worse; he could not stand to see a child so distressed and Arya had picked up on his anxiety and screamed even more. Cat had gently ejected him from the chamber and he had not seen his daughter since.
When he was in his office with the heavy door pulled shut, he could only hear them a little, but he could not work, could not concentrate. He blamed lack of sleep but knew it was really probably guilt, guilt that he should not be suffering as his wife was. On the second day, he sent for Jory and told him to take Robb, Jon and Theon out for a long ride and perhaps a little hunting, and that he could take with them as many of the men who wanted to accompany them. Jory’s face sagged with ill-disguised relief and he was gone, as quickly as he could. A good number of the men went with them and, with the servants hiding in the warm kitchens, the castle could almost have been quiet.
After seeing the men off, he returned to his office and tried to do some work, read some of the letters Maester Luwin had sent up to him. He was only halfway through the first, a report from Lord Commander Mormont at the Wall, when there was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” he called, throwing the parchment aside with relief. Septa Mordane stepped neatly inside, leading by the hand his oldest daughter. Sansa was crying, although not noisily. She cried tidily, as tidily as she did everything else, but her misery was plain to see. Ned’s heart twinged.
“I am sorry, my lord,” the septa said, “Lady Sansa is a little distressed and was asking for her mother. My lady is busy so I thought perhaps you would-”
“Of course,” Ned swallowed hard as Sansa finally lifted her eyes and looked at him. Blue eyes, the mirror of Catelyn’s, full of exhaustion and…fear. Fear of him, he knew. At four name days old, Sansa had already made it plain several times that she was afraid of him. Cat told him not to worry, that most of it was awe rather than fear and that all little girls felt the same about their fathers. It did not mean Sansa loved him any less. Ned appreciated Cat’s efforts but it did not make it any easier.
“Leave her,” he nodded at the septa, “She can stay with me for a time.”
Septa Mordane smiled and bowed her head, gently freeing her fingers from Sansa’s small hand. The child turned to watch her leave and when she turned back to her father, her eyes were once more fixed on the floor. For a moment, Ned did not know what to say and the silence stretched out between them. Eventually, Sansa took the initiative.
“Why is Arya crying?”
“Maester Luwin says babes of her age often have days of tantrums for no real reason. We just have to wait, I’m afraid.”
“So she isn’t hurt?” Sansa said, relief plain in her voice, and Ned’s heart swelled. Of course she had been worried for her sister. She was that kind of child.
“No, my sweet. She isn’t hurt. Come here.”
Sansa took a hesitant step towards him, her soft slippers silent on the stone floor. Ned opened his arms and she came quickly to him then, clambering up on his lap. He wrapped an arm around her waist and for a minute they sat quietly. Sansa was stiff at first but when he stroked her hair, she relaxed and leaned back against him. Again, Ned felt guilty; he’d seen to the boys, made sure that they were free from the castle for a little while, because he knew that they would cause trouble if they had to creep around quietly. He had not thought of Sansa; she was such a well-behaved child, so lady-like, that he had not even considered her.
“I’m so tired, Papa,” she said suddenly, “I can’t sleep.”
As if to demonstrate her point, she yawned. Her chamber was close to Arya’s but her silence had led Ned to believe that she was coping. Of course she wouldn’t complain.
“I’m sorry, Sansa.”
“Why? You haven’t kept me awake.”
So simple, a child’s mind. So very simple.
Ned pulled her a little closer to him and then made up his mind. He stood, cradling her in his arms, and left the office quickly, only stopping to sweep his cloak from the hook behind the door. As soon as the door opened, they could hear Arya again and Sansa flinched, burying her face in his neck.
He walked as quickly as he could, pulling his cloak on awkwardly with one hand. They went out to the Godswood, the quietest place in Winterfell even on a normal day, and he settled down in his usual place by the heart tree. Sansa looked around with interest as he made sure that his cloak was covering her as well.
“Why are we out here, Papa?”
“So you can sleep, sweet. It’s quiet here, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she murmured, her eyes already closing, “Are you going to stay with me?”
“Yes, I will.”
She sighed, a happy little sigh, and smiled. Ned brushed her hair back from her face and began to hum, a little tune he barely remembered, something Old Nan used to sing to them and that he knew she must sing to the children as well. Before too long, she was sleeping soundly.
For several hours, he did not move, apart from to uncurl his legs and stretch them out in front of him. Sansa slept on, her face a picture of serenity, a little smile occasionally tugging at her lips. Her dreams were good ones then. Ned was glad. He imagined she dreamed of beautiful princesses and daring knights, of unicorns and tourneys and castles in the sky. He imagined she dreamed of all the things that he dreamed of for her.
He must have slept himself, his eyes creeping shut as he listened to her soft breathing, because the next thing he knew, Cat was standing over him, her hands clasped around her belly and her face remarkably calm for one who was suffering so.
“I knew I would find you out here,” she said softly, perching on the earthen mound that Ned was leaning against.
Her fingers found the short hairs at the back of his neck and slipped easily into his hair, stroking it almost absently, “Arya is sleeping. Old Nan is watching over her.”
“I am sorry you have had to deal with it alone,” he said, leaning his head back into her touch, “Tonight you should sleep, regardless of the child. Septa Mordane will take a turn with her.”
“Perhaps,” she said, something in her voice suggesting gently, but firmly, that she would make the decision for herself, “It seems you have taken on a task just as important as mine.”
“But not as difficult,” he murmured, his eyes drawn down to Sansa’s face once more, “She was tired but had not told anyone she couldn’t sleep.”
“She is a Stark,” Cat said, “They have a tendency for stubborn ways.”
His chuckle was louder than he meant for it to be and Sansa awoke, confusion clouding her blue eyes for a moment until she remembered where she was. Sitting up, she held tightly onto his hand.
“Mother,” she said, “Is Arya better now?”
“She is asleep, my love. We might be over the worst of it. Have you had a good rest?”
“I’ve never slept outside before,” she mused, looking up at her father’s face with what Ned could only call curiosity, “Father let me sleep on his lap. It was very warm. I had a nice dream.”
“What did you dream about, my love?” Cat asked, her voice tender.
“I was a bride,” Sansa said matter-of-factly, “And I couldn’t see my husband’s face but you were there and you helped me to dress and Arya was there too but grown up like I was and she was pretty like Uncle Benjen said Aunt Lyanna was and then Father –”
She stopped, blushing to the roots of her hair.
“And then what?” Cat smiled, “You can tell us.”
“F-Father cried when he saw me. He said I was the most beautiful bride he had ever seen and I had to give him my handkerchief because he didn’t have one and then I woke up.”
“That is a nice dream.”
Cat’s fingers gave his hair a last gentle tug and then her lips brushed his ear. She stood up slowly and helped Sansa to her feet, “And maybe one day it shall come true. Come now. Let’s go and have some lemon cakes, shall we?”
“Yes please!” Sansa bounced up and down on her toes, gripping Cat’s hand and leading her over the uneven ground, “Be careful, Mother. It’s slippery here.”
Ned watched them leave, warmth from Cat’s lips surging through him, and tears clouding his eyes. His sweet Sansa, who held his heart in her hands. His sweet princess, who dreamed of him and her mother and her sister and her husband. Those dreams could be real, and that was all he had ever wanted for her.
For her dreams to come true.