The ladies thought she was crying because of the pain from her labor, but it wasn’t that case at all. She held the child, their child in her arms. He was healthy, the gods also saw that he was fit to have some hair. Lovely red hair, and he had beautiful blue eyes, just like she did. It wasn’t the heir she wanted to present him with. His heir needed to have dark hair, like his father and light eyes, like he had. The long face, the solemn look, yet here she held their son, and he smiled and laughed with his red hair and blue eyes. What would he think? They hardly knew each other, how could he ever want to be with her now? She’d give him a nice name, write him a letter telling him the good news only to disappoint him with a child that looked like he didn’t belong to him. It broke her heart, she wanted him to be her Brandon, her strong, always loving protector and it would be ruined when he saw the boy.
“Lovely, lovely Cat. An heir for Winterfell, Lord Stark will sleep better once he hears.”
“Will he? Will he truly be happy… He might have a little too much of our Tully blood in him father.”
“What else could he expect, he was born in Riverrun after all. The man will be pleased. Give him a good name, keep him healthy and strong, he wouldn’t be able to ask for more…”
“He wouldn’t rather his heir favor him father, yours does…”
“And I also had daughters before I had a son. You have plenty of time to give him sons and daughters once he is home. But for now you’ve given him something to lighten up the darkness around him. War is troubling business, the more he has to look foreword to the more likely he’ll come back home all right.”
“What if he never comes back…We sided with rebels, and they lost. He’ll never see his son and I wouldn’t know what to say about his father. What would I even tell him, his father came to honor a contract made by you and his father between me and his brother. Then his sister was kidnapped, they died, and he came to marry me instead. He wed me and bedded me and a day later went off to war.”
“You shouldn’t look at it that way at all.” He replied. “Lord Eddard will come back, and he’ll be plenty happy to see his wife, and hold his son. No good can come of you thinking that he’ll die.”
“But he might.”
“He has the might of the north with him. He has a cause, someone he wants to save and a wife and child to come back to. If a man my age can survive a few battles here, I’m sure your strong husband will be fine. Your just really scared to leave home. When you leave with him it’s very likely you’ll never see Riverrun again.”
She frowned. It wasn’t completely true, but she was scared. She didn’t know a thing about Eddard Stark. He’d been quiet on their wedding night, he hadn’t said much to her during the feast. When he said his goodbyes there was still a bit of tenderness in his eyes even if it was because he was looking foreword to coming back to someone to warm his bed. Oh how she wished he were Brandon, handsome and witty. “They’re good men, the Starks?”
“They are, noble, just, righteous, not a house in the North has wished for another ruler since the age of heroes when their house was founded. He’ll be good to you, I have no doubt about that. We were very lucky Lord Rickard wanted a marriage between our houses.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She found she was fond of being a mother, she didn’t mind that he woke her up in the middle of the night. She liked to hold him, to stroke his hair and look into his eyes. She was sure this was how she had looked as a baby, and she was given the same love and devotion. But her husband was to return that day and she still didn’t know what to think about how he’d feel. Surely everyone was right, he’d take the child into his arms, claim him as his own son and heir and be as pleased as she was with his growth. But, at the same time there was a nagging in the back of her head. He didn’t look like a Stark, he would want a boy that looked like him. But she’d made her best effort to please him. She named him Robb, which would be close enough to Robert, while still leaving some room and a possibly to become a new traditional family name. She’d even taken time to sew him clothes in their house colors. Now she just had to wait, and keep him clean.
He found her in her chambers in the late afternoon. Their son was fast asleep, but when he approached she had to think and remember if she’d seen him before because it had been so long. He looked more tired than any man had a right to be, and he stood in front of her and offered her a small box, with a wedding present he hadn’t had because they were married in such a rush. She took it from him and left it unopened on the table closest to her bed.
“He’s been sleeping, do you want to hold him?” Without thinking she lifted the baby into her arms and passed him over to his father. He held him awkwardly, and she had to help him but once he had it figured out he looked at the boy and smiled.
“Do you know who I am little one? Look how big you are, and you have a head full of hair!” Ned said to the child. He rocked him in his arms and touched him lightly. Robb grabbed at his fingers and giggled and smiled, like he knew who he was.
“…Does he please you…?” She asked unsurely.
“He pleases me greatly.” He kissed the boy on the forehead and smiled. “He’s a beautiful healthy boy. Who would he not please? Strong too, he keeps grabbing onto my fingers.”
She smiled. “I’m glad he pleases you. I was concerned that you might not like the way he looks.”
“Why would I not like the look of him?” He held him up high and Robb giggled then he pulled him in closer. “He looks perfect, full of health and joy. He’s the one who shouldn’t be pleased, I have to smell like the stables…I just wanted to give you your gift. I had a gown made for you in King’s Landing, hopefully it isn’t with my things going to Winterfell.”
“When will we be leaving…?” She didn’t want it to sound as if she were upset she had to leave her home, but it certainly came out in the tone she used a mixture of sorrow and disappointment.
“In the morning I think. Another day of rest would sit well with me, but I’ve already imposed enough on your father’s hospitality.”
“And you must miss Winterfell terribly…”
“When my father sent me to Jon Arryn it took me months to stop missing Winterfell. I hadn’t thought I’d see it in my possession.”
“But now you’ll see it again, and we’ll all start a new life there.”
“Yes.” He took a few steps toward her and gave the child back to her. “Before then I’d like to have a talk with you. Just out in the garden before we sup but after I’ve had a bath. Surely the smell has been bothering you.”
“Not at all, it’s good to see you again.” It was an automatic answer for a lady. He looked like a mess, it looked like he’d left King’s Landing in a hurry after the sacking then traveled straight back. His face looked stern and unforgiving when she met him, and now he just looked tired and worn down, there was nothing frightening about his demeanor where as at their wedding she couldn’t get past his stoney exterior. Now there was no doubt in her mind, the war hadn’t made him stronger, it made him tired and lonely. It was just as her father said, he was more than happy accept anything from her as he was now used to sleeping on the ground in a tent.
“It’s good to see you again.” He took her hand and kissed it. “I fear I’m not very good at courting…”
She smiled. “It might be a little late for courting, we are married. I do appreciate my gift, thank you.” She kissed him, full on him mouth like she though she’d be expected to. But he hadn’t thought her that brave, or himself that desirable and it took him seconds to react. He pulled her closer to him and for that moment when he kissed her back with that intense passion she felt maybe it had changed him just enough. With the war he was just a man, and he was lucky to have survived while others died and it would forever leave it’s mark on him. Had they married, and had he taken her to Winterfell he might not have come to her with some despair looking for something she could give him. He didn’t come to her first out of necessity, or because it was the right thing to do. He came to her in hope there would be comfort in her touch, love in her heart, and goodness in her soul so she could recharge his good spirit and lightheartedness, which was such a difficult task for a man of his rank.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It had only been two hours since she’d seen him last, but she’d dressed nicely for him. She even styled her hair in the northern style as to show she was ready. She wasn’t frightened anymore, he was stern but she now knew he did have a softer side with love and compassion, he would be a good husband. When she thought back to Brandon, she couldn’t remember a time she had been at a loss for words with the emotion she felt with him. They were more physical, she liked when he had kissed her, and he was handsome the ladies in Riverrun seemed to look at her with some envy when he was around. But, with Eddard she had a breakthrough, one in which she was very sure they’d have a good happy marriage. He had told her to meet him by the heart tree. Northerners must find them sacred, he told her he needed to pray, then he needed to talk to her. She couldn’t imagine why he wanted to talk, if it were just a request because he was lonely he could of waited until they went to bed. Then she saw him, and she smiled despite herself, they were still strangers after all.
“I’m sorry if I kept you waiting.” She said, the smile on his face was faint but it was there.
“You didn’t keep me waiting at all. I had just finished. Do you know anything of the old gods?” He asked.
“No, I know less and nothing about them. You said you were going to pray by it.”
“It’s the last weir tree left for leagues. The last night I stayed here I prayed to the old gods that I would come back for you. That you would be safe and protected, and if we had a child, they would protect him as well. They responded well, even thought they couldn’t see where I was in the south. The old gods can see through the trees.”
“The face on it always frightened me when I was younger. I grew up with the seven. I don’t imagine I would know what to do with the old gods…”
“I don’t expect you to worship my gods on a whim. I’ll have a sept built in Winterfell, our children can worship them both. It should be the best way for them, when they’re old enough they can chose by who answers their prayers. I wanted you to come here because I don’t want you to hear it from anyone else. I want it to come from me, and I want you to know what I’m telling you is true, it’s a burden on my soul.”
“I don’t understand…”
“By the time we reach Winterfell, there will already be a child there. He is my blood, and I take full responsibility for any anger or ill will you should feel toward this child. He’s still small like Robb, but I wasn’t going to leave him behind. They can grow up together, they’ll play and grow….”
She was beyond furious, she couldn’t take another word. If she hadn’t already been married to him she was more than certain she would be pleased to never see him again. She had been so close to accepting him, to admitting she was pleased she had him and not Brandon. It was all horribly wrong, he was admitting he’d slept with another woman, and she’d given him a son as well. She hated the thought. If he had any shred of honor or love for her he would have left the boy in Jon Arryn’s care.
“Your angry with me….and I expected you to be angry…I wanted to tell you now, in hope it could ease the pain or lessen your anger. I missed you, I long for any moment of time you could spare for me. But my folly puts our marriage in an odd position….”
“It certainly does. Is that how men in the north treat their ladies? Am I supposed to act like it doesn’t bother me you laid with another woman while we were married? While you were gone I prayed for you, I cried at the thought you might never come back and see your son. I guess it wouldn’t of mattered…”
“I love our son. I regret all of this, but it needs to be said, and by me not by ladies at Winterfell while I tried to hide him from you. I want to be honest with you, I want there to be love between us. I did the wrong thing, I know I have. There isn’t a woman alive more beautiful than you…”
“I don’t want to share my bed with you. Not tonight, not for a long time.”
“….I expected as much.” She was surprised in the tone of his voice, it was as if he felt disappointed. Or even hurt by that statement. He hurt her, he betrayed her trust, and even worse he was going to remind her of it everyday.
“I don’t want to see you until we leave…”
“I’ll honor my lady’s wishes.” Now he sounded defeated, and she almost wished he hadn’t said the last part at all. “I just wanted this to happen here, so you could bear witness as I swear to the old gods, my gods. So now I can swear an oath, that I will be a good husband, I’ll always treat you kindly, justly and with the care and love you disserve. I’ve ruined what should have started out as a happy marriage and I’ll never let you down again.”
She didn’t know how to respond. His manner was very serious, firm and deliberate. The look in his eyes was determined, and she realized there were no words she could say. Without thought she’d dismissed him from her for what could be a very long time. She might have been childish in her actions, but she couldn’t help how betrayed she felt. Then he’d decided to make her almost feel guilty by swearing an oath to her in front of the heart tree. She glanced at it again and it still made her shudder like the first time she’d seen it more than ten years ago. What did the old gods mean to her? Still she stared at the tree, taking in it’s white branches and red leaves. She took a couple steps closer, still looking at the branches as they swayed in the wind. Then she looked back at the face in the tree.
“I don’t actually think your watching me, and I really don’t care if you are. I have nothing to hide from you.” The tree was silent, but the branches still seemed to dance in the wind. “I feel like a fool, talking to a tree. But he believes your there. You can let him know he’s not forgiven, and I likely never will forgive him.”
The wind seemed to get stronger all of the sudden. It was a cold wind, and it lasted far too long. She held her arms and wished she hard brought her cloak. Once it died down, she looked back at the tree. For a brief second it was as if they had spoken to her, Winter is coming, it seemed to say with that very cold gust of wind. She watched it a few seconds longer, almost as if she expected another message. Then she turned to walk away, hoping she’d erase the memory from her mind.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She hadn’t bothered to change, there was no point in doing so. If she looked less like the lady of Winterfell, she knew her father would say something. Above all else she wanted to feel like he had taken her side in this disagreement of sorts. Her husband had been careless and tactless. She strode into the dinning hall with some confidence. She wouldn’t sit by him, her father would make a point to scold him and she wouldn’t have to lay with him at all for a good, long time. The sound of her father laughing was the last thing she expected. Eddard Stark standing next to him was another thing that made her unsure. When she finally got to the table, she realized she would have to sit next to him. For a moment she thought she might try and take Edmure’s spot. But she’d only pulled the chair out before her father gave her a stern look that made her feel like she was a naughty child. So, she resigned to sitting next to her husband, but he had been true to his word. He hadn’t touched her or made any acknowledgement to the fact she was there.
She ate in silence, as her father talk to the Lord of Winterfell and they caught up with everything he had been thought during the war. Except of course the bastard he’d brought back. There was still some hope left after all. Maybe there was so hope after all, maybe, just maybe he hadn’t mentioned anything about bringing that bastard home. Surely her father would side with her, he certainly wouldn’t do anything like that. It was a comforting thought. So, with some enthusiasm she tried to enjoy the rest of her meal. But the later it became, she noticed he was looking weary. He yawned and apologized, but her father wouldn’t have it. He knew he had meant no disrespect, then came the words she was dreading.
“Cat should show you to her room. The two of you have hardly said anything to each other today. I’m sure you’ve been looking foreword to her company.”
“I have, but my lady is rather reasonably upset with me…”
“Nonsense. Cat will have you, if she’s in my castle she will do as I say.” Neither he or she made a point to argue, the issue was settled. He rose from his seat and left the room. She was reluctant to follow, but she rose once she knew he was outside the doors. Her father took her hand and she looked over at his stern expression. “I am not pleased, but I will not have you treat him like this. Remember our words Catelyn, you will do what you must. You’ll be happier and safer for it, the man went to war, likely thought he’d never come back. Not that it justifies keeping it…Let him earn back your affections, you have plenty of time for more high born children. Keep him happy and he won’t find someone else to warm his bed.”
She pulled away and left the hall. She felt like she was going to cry, the tears stung in her eyes at the realization of the least sentence. How could she have kept him happy while he was away? She wrote to him when she found out she was with child, if it wasn’t soon enough for him it wasn’t her fault. She needed to be sure after all, if she had waited only a month she might have found out she hadn’t been. Then she felt his hand against her cheek, he lightly took a handkerchief to her eyes, drying the tears she didn’t know were falling.
“I know it hasn’t been enough time. But, I hate seeing you in pain, you have such a lovely face and pretty eyes. Everything seems better when you smile.”
She did manage to smiled for him, and he took her hand and kissed it, unsure if he were allowed to be more affectionate because of the circumstances. He offered her his arm, as if she needed to be escorted to her own room. But what choice did she have, like her father had said if she kept him happy, there would be no reason for him to have another. So, dutifully she took it and let him lead the way.
“I am sorry. If I hadn’t said it already, if it helps I had offered to sleep in the stables if he didn’t have extra room.” He said if only to break the ice.
“Was it my fault…”
“Was what your fault?” he asked she gave him a meaningful look and automatically he shook his head. “No, no never. I don’t want to relive it. My actions are not something I am proud of.”
“What was her name?”
She ignored him. “What did she look like?”
“I don’t think it was something Brandon would do.” At that he stopped dead in his tracks. She looked over at him cautiously, she broke him with those words, she knew it. That had hurt him more than anything else could. If she had married his brother, he wouldn’t of gone off with another woman.
“You truly thing so?” He asked, his tone stony she looked into his eyes for a moment for some sense of emotion and found nothing. It seemed to make her reply a little less certain.
“Well if he manages to come back to life before he reaches Winterfell you can ask him yourself.” He replied in the same stony tone. She suspected that hadn’t been the smartest topic of conversation and tried to think on something else to talk about. But what else was there? The weather hardly seemed appropriate and she didn’t know what he liked. So they’d walked in silence. He opened the door for her, and she went inside first. Once he was inside she looked over Robb’s crib and sighed. He wasn’t asleep, meaning simply she couldn’t sleep.
But her husband had come to the same conclusion, and he’d been first to reach in and cradle the boy. She muttered a silent prayer to the new gods he would be happy, that he wouldn’t fuss and he wouldn’t cry. Even as Eddard rocked him back and forth in a very different way than she did, he seemed content.
“Aren’t you just perfect?” He asked. Catelyn smiled and finally settled on getting ready for bed herself. When she looked for her husband again, he was sitting next to the bed, still holding their son. It was if he’d forgotten how tired he was in the first place. Robb hadn’t been demanding for his attention, he just looked up at his father while he spoke softly to him, every once in a while he’d stroke his hair. She had to remember she was mad at him, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with him, not right now. Not until she felt he wasn’t going to betray her. So she laid down, facing the wall, as far away from him as she could. Then he rocked the boy, and in the lightest, softest tones she could hear him trying to sing.
She turned back around to face him and just watched, as he held Robb and continued with his melody. Robb’s eyes started to get heavy, and it warmed her heart. She hadn’t thought he’d sit with their son and rock him to sleep, she thought for sure she would do everything in her power to get him to sleep. The longer it would take her the more he’d be displeased with his wife. Just as he went to sing his song again, he looked down and noticed the boy’s eyes were shut, and he was breathing heavily, because he was in a deep sleep. He laid the child back in his bed, and covered him. Then he leaned in and kissed the top of his head. He’d melted her heart, she just couldn’t be mad at him. Once he laid in bed next to her, she’d moved closer and wrapped her arms around him.
“I though you…”
“I’m sorry, from before in the hallway. I don’t care what he would have done. You’re the Stark I have, and I’m glad I have you…faults and all…”
He smiled and kissed her cheek. “Thank you. I…It’s not that I don’t want to share every thing in my life with you. But, talking about it won’t ever help us. All you need to know is that I’m happy I’m married to you, and I hope very much we’ll love each other. I won’t do anything to harm you again.” He ran his fingers through her hair and she smiled lightly.
“I take back what I said before, our son might require most of my time at Winterfell, but I would like to see you when I can.”
He continued stroking her hair but his eyes were getting heavy. “As would I…”
She tried to think of something else to say, but she didn’t need to. She heard his breathing slow and she looked back over at him. She sat up and touched his face, he wasn’t handsome. But he was kind, he wanted to be gentle, so he told her as soon as he could. Then when he told her to meet him by the weir wood tree, it was if he was bearing part of his soul to her, and she’d thrown it away like it had meant nothing to her. She settled back into his arms and sighed. What was coming wouldn’t be easy, but he would make his best effort to put her first, he said he wanted to treat her like she should be treated. She could trust him, or she could shun him. Every marriage had it’s challenges, and someone had been kind in seeing she had a man that would be good and had a kind soul he would share with her. It would be a shame to let the compassion he’d shown for their son go to waste, let alone what loving her would entail. She would trust him, she wouldn’t let a bastard wedge it’s way between them. Maybe one day she would stop blaming him, maybe she could convince him to send the child somewhere else. Where he wouldn’t remind her of her uncertainty toward him, and his unfaithfulness toward her. Winter was coming after all, and who better than a Stark to keep her safe and protected when it did.