It didn’t matter what he said, Winterfell was cold. There was a constant chill in the air, the inside was warmer. He’d arranged things nicely enough for her. She was given the warmest chambers in the castle, she was pleased he’d been so thoughtful. But the warmest days in Winterfell still felt like the coldest nights in Riverrun, even in her chambers.
He came into her chambers, mostly with simple talk. But she was having difficulty coming to terms with their situation. Her Ned wasn’t affectionate, but he liked to touch her hair, sometimes her face. Then he’d give her kisses, they started as soft as his touch. Then they became more deliberate. They became more heated. She knew why, she knew what he wanted from her, but she refused to give it to him the pleasure. She’d tell him she had a headache, or that she was having woman troubles. Then he’d give her one last kiss and retreat to his chambers.
Illogical, but it was a sort of simple jealousy she couldn’t ignore. The easy way to get over her feeling would just be to give in, to let him have his way. Then they’d have another child. Surely she’d give him another son, one that favored him and he’d cast that bastard aside, sending him away and she’d never again see him. Ned wouldn’t hold him, he wouldn’t smile for him and he certainly wouldn’t push her to have him play with her precious Robb.
It broke her heart the first time she saw Jon Snow. That was the trueborn son and heir he should have. Dark hair, light eyes, like a Stark, just like his father. She just held onto Robb tighter. She left herself alone with him. Her husband dismissed it as how ladies act, so she kept herself with him. Not because she was angry or upset but because Winterfell was new. The ground was harder, the breezes had more of a chill, she knew no one but him, and adjusting took time. He took the time to show her where everything was, but in those first few months she’d get lost without him. That’s how they eventually feel into the easy routine they had now. She had time to enjoy the fresh air, and he’d find her.
She remembered the first time well. She went downstairs through the courtyard and to where she hoped was the library. But she’d gotten all turned around then ended up at the armory. Then she’d wandered to the gods wood, just as he’d been coming back. She’d never been so happy to take his arm.
“Where were you off to?” he asked with a small smile.
“Just to the library. I thought I might look for something to read to Robb.”
“You do know, we have a woman in our service who specializes in telling young Starks stories. I must have brought you to her…”
“But I would like to read it to him.” She replied, the tone in her voice casual.
“Then read to him, my sweet wife. I’m just reminding you for next time. Incase you’d like the time for something else.”
“I’ll keep it in mind my lord.” She replied.
“How are you getting along?” he asked.
He didn’t seem pleased with the answer. “Are some of the ladies unkind? Did someone say or do something cruel?”
“No! Not at all…Ned…I just…I don’t feel right here. I’m still adjusting…I’ve only ever known Riverrun…” She almost sounded frantic.
“Surely there is someone in our service you are a little fond of. You didn’t bring Robb with you, so you must trust someone to keep him safe.”
She nodded and replied timidly. “Poole. She has daughters, one not much older than him. He has a lot of energy, they might still be playing in the courtyard.”
This far in their marriage he’d been content enough not to push her. He let her take her time, but now it seemed that four months was a long time. While they weren’t quite newly married, because he’d been at war for almost a year at war, they were still strangers. Maybe they should have moved past it by now, but he had been so patient this far. Now he put on a more serious face, she’d learned at least that much when she dined with him. He liked to show his men he listened to their thoughts and ideas, but it had been the first time his expression changed like that for her. She didn’t want to feel like they were talking business, or politics. So, she smiled sweetly and rubbed his arm. It wasn’t overly affectionate, but his face warmed at the gesture.
“What was it? You looked ready to say something.”
“I just thought it might be a good time to introduce him to Jon Snow. He is almost two years old. It would be nice to see him play with someone his age.”
“There are other children.”
“Yes, there are but I had hoped we could have more children.”
“We will….I…I worry for his safety. You know how everyone feels about bastards. There’s something that makes them…less than good natured.”
“What harm could a boy his age do? Jon can be taught, we’ll mold him into a fine man. Robb will never have reason to fear him. They’ll play together…they’ll grow together.”
“I won’t do anything for him. He’s not mine.” She replied firmly.
“But he’ll learn from Robb. He’ll be nursed by your love and affection and he’ll share it with Jon. They’ll be so happy together.”
“How can you be so sure?” She replied.
“How can you be so sure he will be insidious? I pray to the gods they love each other like brothers, how can my prayers be answered if they never try?”
She could deny her husband many things, but this couldn’t be one of them. Robb would find Jon eventually anyway. Once he could run around on his own, it was only a matter of time. “I want to keep him safe…”
“As do I, he’s my heir after all. Tomorrow morning bring him to my chambers. We can all break our fast there and you can see Jon is just like any other infant.
She frowned. “I don’t want him there.”
“It is difficult for you.” he stopped, as did she. Then he stepped forward to face her. She looked like she might cry. Gently he put her hand on her cheek and leaned in to kiss her. “Do you trust me? Even a little?”
“You’ve been kind to me. Of course I trust you…”
He kissed her again. “I won’t ask you to hold him, I’m not asking you to love him. All I ask is for you to accept that he’s here…”
“He breaks my heart. Not because he’s here, but because of what he means. At least once you cast the thought of me aside for another woman. Everyday, every time I see him I can’t help but wonder if it will happen again.”
“It does no good to think like that, am I not here for you now?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She hardly slept that night. It was dream after dream about Robb growing up, becoming a good and just lord, then being murdered by Jon, who looked remarkably like Ned. It was hard enough for her to fall asleep after the first time it happened. But she prayed, and when she was done crying, she tried to sleep again. But each time they were worse, he killed more of their children. Or there were ladies and lords of his whispering to each other about how Jon looked like he should be the heir, and Robb looked like a bastard. Finally, when she’d given up she dressed Robb in his nicest Stark colored clothes and lifted him into her arms. The dreams were still fresh in her mind, and every nod in acknowledgement, or greeting of any sort were taken the wrong way. Then finally, once she’d reached his chambers she found he wasn’t alone. There was a lady with him, but she had only ever see him together with that boy and Ned had smiled at his wife. It was almost as if one of the nightmares was becoming real.
“There’s my lady, and my son.” He kissed his wife and took Robb for a moment. She decided she’d come closer to him, and hold his hand.
“Robb, this is Jon.” Jon hadn’t been paying much attention to anything but he turned to look at Ned because he’d said his name. They looked at each other for a moment, and while they were trying to figure out where the other had come from, or what to do Catelyn prayed that Robb start to fuss, that he cry and whine, and not want to have anything to do with that boy.
Then Robb started to laugh, and he was trying to grab at him. Jon responded the same way. So, they set them down by a nice pile of toys which they immediately went after. Catelyn couldn’t take her eyes away from them. She was cautious, she pulled away from her husband and picked Robb back up. He seemed confused at first, then he started to whine.
“No….no…Jon….Down, down….Jon….” He fussed.
“Catelyn…put him down, it’s all right. We’re right here, no harm will come to him.” Ned tried to sooth her. He rubbed the small of her back, and slowly she lost her resolve. She set Robb down and immediately Jon smiled.
She watched as the two boys giggled, and went back to playing like they hadn’t a care in the world, which was true, she worried but Robb didn’t know any better. Then she looked unsurely to her husband. He put an arm around her and led her back to his bed, where they could sit and talk for the first time since they’d been married. She leaned into him, and let her head rest on his chest. She kept her eyes on their son, but she did still feel tired.
“They are happy. Jon isn’t around many people. Let alone a boy his own size…”
“He’s not mine to care for…” She replied.
“I know. Maybe they could find some time to play though. Maybe, I could come to your chambers more often, or you to mine, and we could feel more like a proper family….”
Her eyes started to feel heavy, but Ned didn’t feel Robb was threatened. She needed to stay awake and watch for his sake. “Family…duty honor.”
“My lady sounds tired. Did you not sleep well…?” He asked. His arm had shifted, and he stroked her hair, he liked the feeling of her close to him.
“No…I had a few troubling dreams.” She muttered. “I just, I want to rest my eyes for a moment. I won’t fall asleep…You’ll watch him….won’t you?”
She fell asleep against him, and he continued touching her hair. It was soft, and in the light he noticed there were many shades of red. Then he leaned back to lay on the bed, bringing her with him while she was dozing. He pulled away from her, and for a moment he was afraid she was going to wake up. But she lay still, even after he covered her in his furs and kissed her cheek. She seemed to find comfort there, with his scent, it was like he was still there protecting her.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She opened her eyes and turned to the noise. Her Ned was sitting on the ground with the two boys. A tray had been brought in, she must have slept through their morning meal, and now they were on their noon meal. Robb was pointing to the tray, smiling at Ned, and he continued to repeat that word over and over again. Jon chimed in, likely thinking if he was so happy it was there, it must be such a good thing he wanted it too.
“Cake! Cake! Cake!”
“Shhh. In a minute. Your mother is sleeping.”
She smiled, and held back a giggle. Robb had seemed to understand ‘mother’ and ‘sleeping’ then looked at her, saw she was awake and then looked back at his father.
“No sleeping, cake!”
“Cake!” Jon echoed, and they both laughed.
“Shhh….” She watched him pick one boy up in each arm and stand up. She closed her eyes again and heard his footsteps coming closer. He set Robb on the bed in front of her, Jon close by him and then knelt on the floor beside her. Robb giggled. “You want to wake her up?”
“Up mother, wake up. It’s morning, mother.” He replied.
She smiled despite herself, and Ned stroked her hair again. Her eyes fluttered open and he smiled warmly. He liked the deep blue color of her eyes, he would never get tired of seeing it, or touching her hair, or her smile. She picked their son up and smiled.
“Cake.” he reminded them.
“What cake does he want?” She asked.
“Lemon cake. It’s with our noon meal, you must be famished since you fell asleep before we broke our fast.”
“Did Robb eat well?” she asked curiously, the tone of her voice sounded overly concerned.
“He ate everything I gave him, so did Jon. A couple pieces of sausage, toast, an apple. Drank some milk. He talks so much, not sentences but words.”
She smiled. “He’s very smart.”
“He learned a new word…” Ned started. Catelyn sat up and smiled.
“Did he? What did you teach him?”
He wasn’t sure he’d been smart in telling her. But it felt like the right thing to do. He picked Jon up again and sat on the bed, with the on his lap. He put a hand on Jon’s head then looked at Robb. “Robb, who is this?”
“Jon!” He replied happily. “Mother…..mother, father….father, Jon….brother.”
She seemed to pull Robb closer to her, her hand move to his head as if she were soothing him from a bad dream. Then Jon repeated, like he had been most of the day. They played and said words.
“Robb…Jon brother. Brother play.”
“Ned please…” She sounded upset.
“He likes Jon…He’s harmless. The only thing he’s done the entire morning that’s caused Robb any problem was when he was pulling on his horse. I gave him the same thing and the problem was solved, he has no malicious intent he won’t hurt Robb.”
“I don’t like it….”
“What specifically don’t you like?”
She sighed. “What he is…”
“If I could make him yours I would.” He replied. “He’s so small, and Robb thinks he’s so much fun.”
Tears filled her eyes. “He looks like you….”
“We’ll have more children, the gods will make sure one favors me.”
She set Robb on the floor, and Ned put Jon down as well. They both ran back to the toys and started to play again. She sighed and wiped the tears away. “Every time they see our son, I wonder if they don’t think he’s the bastard. He looks like you, he looks like lord of Winterfell and I didn’t give him to you…”
He reached his hand out and stroked her cheek softly. She moved closer, and he pulled her close. He rubbed her back, and stroked her hair, she cried softly against him. But he was comforting.
“Your lovely. I’m glad he favors you. You have such beautiful eyes, and your hair is so soft.” he kissed her. “When he’s married, his wife will love being around him, he’ll be so handsome. Like how it would have been had you married Brandon.” Then he kissed her again.
“What does that mean…That isn’t fair, I never said anything about it…”
“It isn’t fair you dislike him so much. But what am I to think? I’ve given you plenty of time. I need a wife, Do you have need of a husband? I know I’m not Brandon, and I could never be Brandon. But, don’t you think anything of me? I’ve made my best effort to make you happy and show I care about you, what exactly is it about him that makes him a better man than me?”
He’d made her angry, it was plain in her eyes when she looked back up at him, but she’d stopped crying. “I didn’t say anything about him. I never said I preferred him to you…”
“But your actions speak contrary to that, my lady. I’ve always come to you, this is the first time since we’ve know each other you’ve came to me. And it was only because I asked you to.”
“….Your being unreasonable. I like to be around you, your very comforting and kind.”
“Your not yet fond enough of me to seek me out.”
“Lords are very busy men….” She defended.
“Not at night…If you had trouble sleeping last night, you could have come to my bed. I slept through the whole night the last time I had you in my arms. All my life has been since we went to war is remembering all of that pain and suffering. I know your concerned about Jon Snow, he is still a baby. Can’t you see what this will do to us?”
“I didn’t know. Our talks have always been so happy. I…I didn’t know you felt like I didn’t want you around. You’ve always been good, and kind, and affectionate. I could hardly expect anymore.” She took his hand, and let their fingers intertwine. “I’ve been foolish, it isn’t always him that makes me anxious it’s the whole of how we’ve been acting. I haven’t been good to you…this just isn’t how I thought our marriage would be.”
“So, you agree. We should start over and be a little better, maybe we could talk about us, and not just on Robb. Maybe after I’ve done some work, and we’ve supped we can come back to my chambers…”
“No.” She said firmly. He looked back at her with a mixture of hurt and confusion. “We’ll go to my chambers, it’s far too cold in yours.”
He smiled. “Northern men like the feel of a nice chill in the air. Keeps us alert, for other things.”
She woke up before him the next morning. He’d had his rights as her husband, as she expected he would. But she didn’t expect when had happened after. She’d done her duty, he seemed to get overly affectionate. He seemed to be a man of simple comforts. He was still holding her, as far as she could remember he hadn’t let go of her all night. She let her fingers brush some of the hair from his face, then they trailed down his jaw line. Maybe she had been too over jealous he had come to marry her, as custom said he should.
She needed to not compare him to his brother. It hadn’t been intentional but as long as it felt like she was, the harder it would be to accept him. Her engagement with Brandon hadn’t been rushed there was time for sweet words. When he came to marry her, he was solemn and she hadn’t felt much of anything. But, if he’d been half as talkative on their wedding night, she would have been devastated to let him go to war. With a sigh she put her head on his chest and now she let her fingers trace out his scars. All new since they’d been married. He hadn’t said anything about them, and less about the war. It had made her happy, she certainly wasn’t ready to hear such troubling thoughts. But now thanks to their friendly talks she knew which foods he liked at feasts, what his favorite places in the castle were, and things he’d done as a boy. They also talked about her girlhood, but every time she had felt warmer towards him, and happy to share, somehow Brandon would come into their conversation. His name would stick in her throat, but he’d known.
All along she and Brandon had been strangers too. He talked about himself, how strong he was, how good with a sword he was, and a terrific leader. But the more she remembered him, the more she realized she did prefer Ned. He seemed to want her, she didn’t know if Brandon would be the same way. But she was sure about one thing. They’d spent in some sort of communication was about the same, his regular conversations were about equal to how long she’d been engaged. Only she’d been in constant contact with her husband. So, she should know, should the time come how to coerce her husband to leave his lordly duties should she need to because he was far too tired or stressed. Ned, it wouldn’t take too much, and he would be opposed, but he’d be mush more inclined to go with her then to stay. But, she couldn’t in fact say she knew how she’d get Brandon to take a break even if he needed it. She didn’t imagine he would want her to come to him.
She smiled. “My lord.”
He moved to sit up, she moved with him. “Did I wake you? I took the blanket I was cold…”
“No. That I wouldn’t notice. I like the chill in the air.” He leaned in and kissed her. “You could have woken me.”
“I’ve only been up a short while. I thought you’d appreciate the rest. I hadn’t thought you’d need to be awoken for your lordly duties.”
He smiled. “I have the feeling nothing spectacular is going to happen. What of my lady’s duties?”
“Well,” She smiled. “We’ll have to break our fast with Robb. Then he’ll be ready to play, but he’ll need a nap at some point.”
“If he were to not need him mother for…a little while. I think I have something you’d like to read.”
“What would that be?”
“Nothing interesting….just a few letters ravens had brought to me on Riverrun. You’ve never heard of that place before though, surely.”
She started to giggle. “Listen to you jape! I believe I’ve heard of it once or twice.”
“I had asked to remain posted on events in the Riverlands, I think there might have been a girl who was born into house Tully around here. I might need her to help me understand who these people are.”
“Oh? I might know who your talking about. She came back to Winterfell, married to some war hero.”
“She was supposed to marry his much more handsome, older brother.”
She touched his face and drew it closer to hers. He looked solemn, the same jealousy she’d shown the day before. Her blue eyes drew him in and he was starting to feel silly. “I’m sorry. I, I had been looking through his things. You were very fond of him in those letters….”
“I was. But, you are right. We need to over come this if we’re ever to do our duty as husband and wife.” She kissed his cheek. “I am very lucky, Brandon was told to marry me. You had a choice. You chose to come for me, whether or not it was just for his swords….”
“We did need the swords…But…My father had wanted the marriage in his death it was the last thing I could do for him to honor his name.”
“Swords and honor. But you chose to be with me. You said the words, we joined our houses. I was lucky to have two Starks show interest in me. You’re a good husband, I am well cared for.”
“But you’ve been on your own…”
“I must admit, I miss my home, I miss being a girl….I had duties, but the duties as your lady, it is much harder than I had though. Nothing like I’d imagined.”
“Winterfell is large, it is hard to get used to.” He agreed.
“Don’t you miss being a boy? When you weren’t responsible for everything because it fell to him?”
“I think we long for these when we are unhappy.” He replied. “I’ve been quite content. But I had been worried on you. I though if we held good communication between our houses, we might have more to say to each other.”
“But you have little idea who these people are?” She teased.
“No. I have heard of some of these houses, but who is this, Walder Frey, and why is your father so unimpressed he is getting married.”
She started to laugh, “Again! He’s been married five times already! But, what would I do with Robb? He won’t care for any of this. He’d rather be outside.”
“…I think you know…”
“I can’t trust him this quickly….” She got up and started to dress.
“Can you trust me?”
“I do trust you.”
“Then, lets see what Robb would rather do after we eat.”