It was the first time his father had left him in charge of Winterfell, where he could make all the decisions himself without anyone else’s help. No advice from the Master of Arms, none from their Steward. He alone was in complete control, there were other times he’d been left to manage the castle while his father had business with his Lords. But he’d told him he tended to act rashly and make decisions that were not completely thought through. So Lord Rickard had let the Maester and their Steward do most of the leading. Leaving Brandon little to nothing to do. He had complained, argued, and finally driven his father to the point that he would finally concede.
“If I hear complaints from anyone on how something was neglected, or looked over carelessly, you won’t have to worry about what I might do. These men are the same families you will be working with for the rest of your life, neglect them now and do not expect them to feel sympathetic should something happen when your Lord.” He’d warned.
The first week went by smoothly, the letters were regular correspondence. Small talk, things like I hope so and so is doing well, and the help they received was appreciated. Since things were going well, there was little to do. Maybe that had been his father’s plan, he’d left Winterfell with no business to be done for several months. The only thing he really needed to look after were the finances, their stores, and his siblings.
Benjen wasn’t hard to keep in check. If he needed help he would have likely turned to Benjen. He usually gave his brother the tasks he wasn’t very fond of. If he complained, he could easily be threatened into submission and Brandon was free to do as he liked. The one he had to worry about was Lyanna. If he needed help from her it was a different story. She wouldn’t be forced into anything. He could ask, and if she thought it was nice enough and she thought she might like to do it, she might agree. Chances were she wouldn’t, because she was uaually mad at him. Their father put her in charge of two things when their mother died, making sure everyone at Winterfell was treated with proper respect and the finances. Lord Rickard was known to be a good man, though they had servants he didn’t like seeing them treated poorly. He had a sense of regard for everyone in his service and liked to see they were provided for as well. Since his sister had a good nature, and generally was friendly, he saw her as better fit to this task than his son. She would often play with their children, they liked her and she liked being apart from the other ladies.
Since there was really nothing else to do he was sorely tempted to take the finances from her. She often complained about having to do them anyway. So, while she was playing with the children, and they would keep her there for hours, he decided he’d look through her room to see how she’d been managing. He’d found papers easily enough, but he’d found letters, and some poems, or a song or two she’d decided she’d write. Anything that didn’t look like what he wanted he’d stuffed back in a drawer and went to the next one. He hadn’t actually been reading her letters as much as glancing to them. He was paying more attention to who she was writing to than what it was about. The cycle of things seemed to be letter from Eddard, some sort of attempt at things needing to be filled from the stores, then something she’d written to write, something he’d written to her weeks ago, several more things that might be important, then it went back to more letters.
“How many of these stupid things can she want to keep?” He asked himself with a sigh as he paged through hoping something else of importance would show up. Just so he’d have some reason to scold her and take it away. He leaned against the desk, picked up some of the papers from on top of there and paged through those. He took a few pages out then just about halfway through the pile he found the strangest letter.
Of course I knew it was from you. You had said you were going to write to me, I hadn’t even thought that we might not have a raven trained to fly to you. I am very lucky the book was so light it could come on the wings of a raven!
I have not quite read through the whole thing, but it is very interesting! I am very grateful it arrived safely. I am sorry I sent you back such a hastily written thank you for it before. But when a raven shows up to the castle and our Maester has no idea where it had come from it had brought a whole new suspicion. If I would have waited more than a few minutes, they would have likely written back for me and tried to figure out where it had come from. Our letters will likely have to always be a little out of date with each other.
It is an very clever idea.
“What are you doing in my room?” She asked. For a moment he’d forgotten what he was doing, now he was more concerned on what had happened. Why there was no mention to him of anything, she might have actually tricked them for once. The Maester would have gone to their father and said there was a strange raven delivering something to his daughter. If it were true it seemed like she had finally found a way to get something past him.
“What’s this?” He asked, he held up the letter so she could glance at it then went to fold it and tuck it into his doublet when she got at it and ripped it to pieces before throwing it back in his face.
“How dare you go through my things!”
“It’s a good thing I did. Wait until father hears about what I read!”
“You could have read a lot of things. What proof do you have this time that I’ve done something wrong!”
He looked at the floor and sighed. When she tore the paper up, it had been irreparable. They both had been outside, and the rain was much too heavy in the past few days. Each separate shred of paper had some mud or water. He cursed softly to himself, for not just taking it after the first few sentences.
“Is this how your choosing to spend your time now? Searching through my room, looking to get me into trouble? I haven’t done anything to you! I haven’t said anything against you! I’ve only done as you asked as Father expected me to when he left you in charge!”
He let out a long sigh and looked back up at her. “I hadn’t meant to search through everything. I hadn’t meant to see your damned stupid letters. I was just looking for what you’ve been helping Vayon Poole with. I found a couple of things…”
“You didn’t find anything because I don’t have any of it! If you found anything, it was only some suggestion I’d made in passing that we worked out together. Brandon, if you had stopped to talk to him, you would of found what you were looking for. We only talk once a month or so, there isn’t any reason for me to be checking every single day! If it makes you feel more lordly, by all means take over that as well.”
He knew she was right, but he didn’t want to admit it. His father had only asked Vayon Poole to be the stewart because when their mother died it they hadn’t been incredibly prepared for Brandon to help manage everything. It was easier to have someone else who could handle it, and both he and Lyanna could be trained in a better manner. After Brandon could handle things on his own he still kept the title and duties because Lord Rickard had been fond of how diligently he handled things. He put her papers back on the desk then he saw it.
I was so lucky it could come on the wings of a raven!
They both grabbed for it at the same time. She got to it first and the last thing he saw of her was a look of hatred in her eyes as she ran back out the door without another word. That was how the problem started. She didn’t come to eat with them, which he understood. She was more than furious at him, and he supposed she had good reason to be mad. The next day she hadn’t come for breakfast either. He didn’t want to panic, so he thought he’d resolve in asking their brother instead. That morning he’d taken to practicing with Ethan Glover, with Brandon acting as Lord, Ethan had little to do. Benjen had been all too eager to suggest for his brother’s squire to talk about technique and practice with him. He’d gone along with it because if he’d spent more time with Brandon, reading and waiting he’d be so bored he’d likely just sleep until Lord Rickard came back and they could finally do something.
“Benjen.” They’d been so busy hitting wooden swords he’d had to call for him three times before he looked back at him.
“Have you seen Lyanna?”
He thought about it for a few minutes and shrugged. “I brought her something to eat last night. We talked for a little bit, about how mad she was about you. Looking through all her things. I’d leave her alone, before she hurts you.”
Ethan started to smile and Benjen started to laugh. “Well, I think I actually did see her this morning. She took some food from the kitchens.”
So he waited until past midday to bother himself again with where she might be. He checked her room, just glancing around this time. He didn’t want to make the same mistake he did the day before. Then he went to check the stables, he wasn’t surprised to find her horse gone.
“Brandon Stark, there you are.” Hullen said. “Good of you to let your sister go riding. She seemed like she was getting agitated. Nothing seems to cheer her up more than that horse.”
“She told you I said she could go riding?”
“She did. She said, that she had begun to agitate you and that you had told her to ride around the castle a few times.” Then his smile faded. “The lady hadn’t been given permission to take her horse?”
“No. She hadn’t. When did she leave?”
“This morning. She was saddling him when I came to check on them this morning. Forgive me, it had seemed like something…”
“How long does she usually ride around the castle?”
“Some days it’s just a little while, if you’re Lord Father is expecting her. If she has nothing to do she’ll make a day out of it. She’ll take something from the kitchens, a book and her sewing and ride a little ways and make herself a little camp.”
He’d spent the rest of the day riding around the castle, but he didn’t find anything. He didn’t see her, he didn’t see the horse. Maybe, just maybe she decided she was done and she went back to the castle by herself. He had no such luck. When he went back to the stables, Hullen was apologizing profusely he’d even offered to help look for her that night.
“She has to be somewhere around here. She knows better than to go off down the Kingsroad by herself. She’s likely in the Godswood.” The only thing he could do was send a few men out just incase. Then pray that she’d come back, he should be okay. There were still four more days at least until his father had planned on being home. Even if he’d lost her he’d find her, and he’d lock her in the dungeon until their father came back. No one would likely be opposed.
He went straight to his room. There was more than enough excitement going on. He’d had more than his own fair share. So much for him thinking it was boring. Now he had more to do than he could possibly think of. They’d all have to search tomorrow. It would probably be best to send two of his more seasoned riders down the King’s road. If he sent anyone else, she’d likely out ride them. He could trust Benjen and Ethan to look for her in the Wolf’s wood. The two of them together could drag her back and she wouldn’t be too angry. He was going to be miserable, but he was going to be in the worst amount of trouble if their father found out. All he needed at the moment was a good story. He’d have to say he found her at some point, then she’d decided run off and he’d lost her again.
That’s how it would go. She didn’t run away, she’d like that because it wouldn’t get just her into trouble. If he lost her, he’d already ruined any plan on her leaving. But of course if he lost her, he’d likely be in more trouble than she was.
“You need to be a little more respectful toward her.” His father had told him. “She’s your younger sister, I know. It’s hard to see her as a Lady after so many years of her trailing behind you. But she is a Lady. If you can handle Lyanna, you can handle anyone. Besides, soon you’ll have your own you’ll have to manage.”
He was lost in his own thoughts, he hadn’t heard Benjen come in. He just continued with his thoughts. Benjen was nervous to approach him, he sat on his bed his head in his hands. He didn’t want to think about being married. He’d do fine with Catelyn Tully, she’d listen, she’d obey, and she wouldn’t get upset and run off. Benjen knocked on the side of the door and Brandon’s head snapped up. Hoping someone had found her, and she was coming to laugh at him for being worried. He could apologize, and they would be done. That’s how their father would have them handle it. Then his brother gave him a sad smile and held out a sheet of parchment.
“More bad news.”
“What do you mean more bad news!” He grabbed at the parchment and froze, a look of panic struck his face.
We finished things early. I’m not going to overstay my welcome. Expect me in no more than two days. I need to stop by Castle Cerwyn, it seems Lord Medger Cerwyn has something he’d like to return to me. I want a full report on everything that has happened since I’ve been gone.
He let the letter fall to the floor and for the first time in his life, he really regretted that Lyanna wasn’t pestering him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
They searched all day, no one had found a trace. It was like she had vanished. There was every reason to panic. He wanted to scream. He only had a few hours left and their father would be back. Before they left he’d asked the M. Wylis to send word to the castles within a day’s ride. However by the time he personally came back, there seemed to be some sort of commotion. Then he saw him, his father was greeted warmly by many of the men, the household guard. Once he was close the older man turned and put an arm around his son.
“Where’s my sweet daughter?” He asked.
“Well…I….I lost her. We, we went riding and she ran off.”
He hadn’t said anything a nod from him and Brandon wasn’t sure if he should run, or if at the time he was safe. “Well, let’s get our catching up out of the way.”
There was something wrong. Something was terribly wrong. His father loved Lyanna, she was the most trouble anyone could have but she was full of wit and charm. But she did like to run off, she’d sleep in the Godswood or the crypt. When she was eight or nine, he couldn’t remember which, she’d happily told her father she knew every secret passage in Winterfell. He entertained her intelligence and let her tell him each one was and she’d been so happy he seemed proud. Then the next day when she went to play in them she’d found them all sealed off. That had been the end of her sharing secrets with him. He felt the same way at that time. As they walked the long hallway to his chambers.
“On the matter of your sister, that was the only thing you had wanted to say? That you went riding, and she ran off?”
“Well….we had an argument.”
“You often do.” He threw open his bedroom door.
Lyanna sat next to Benjen, neither of them seemed too happy. Brandon was dumbfounded, Lord Rickard helped him with a shove through the door. He closed the door behind him.
“Now we talk. Sit next to your brother, not your sister.” He scolded at his eldest son as they awaited their punishment. “I think I’ve heard enough from your sister. A half a day’s ride to Winterfell. But I am also very interested in what has happened since I left. So, since Brandon has explained himself, and I have a different story entirely from Lyanna. Let’s see what Benjen has to say. Go ahead, I am ready to be amused.”
Benjen shifted uncomfortably. “I really don’t know. We were fine, Brandon was doing good. Lyanna said something about…they argued. He went through her things. I wasn’t there.”
“When she disappeared, was he looking high and low?”
“Yes, he didn’t put her out of his mind. Well…actually…he…He waited to make sure she really was gone….”
“I see. So, If I have understood everything correctly. Brandon went into Lyanna’s bed chamber, and searched for who knows what in her room. She yelled at him, then he tried to take something from her. So she went to the Godswood, waited until nearly nightfall then came back to the castle where she packed her saddle bag. Somewhere in between then and the morning, Benjen had come to see why she was angry, but she didn’t want to tell him. And he also felt no inclination to tell Brandon he should apologize. She said it might have been obvious what she was going to do so she felt no need to tell Brandon. Somewhere after she went to the Godswood, but before she talked to Benjen she wrote to Lady Jonella asking if she could still accept the invitation to visit castle Cerwyn. Then I assume in the morning is when Brandon had found her again? And, lost her somehow on the Kingsroad knowing full well I do not allow her to ride on the Kingsroad.”
With their silence he paused. “Now this whole thing seems rather odd to me. First, from what I gathered from Lord Cerwyn his daughter hadn’t met our Lyanna to invite her. Lyanna had told me Brandon had put the suggestion in her head. She wanted to leave and come back when ‘the proper Lord’ was back in Winterfell. She may have been acting childishly, but do you think you acted like a Lord Brandon? Is that how you would have acted if your daughter disappeared? Is it something that would have happened if you and your wife had an argument? Did you think ‘maybe she’ll just go somewhere and I won’t have to be nice to her?’”
“It wasn’t like that at all. I was going to apologize. Ask Benjen…”
“I shouldn’t have to ask him anything. He wasn’t involved in any of this. He acted on your orders, and did as you told him to. Everytime I scold her she packs her saddlebag like she’s going to run off. Every time I know she’s upset with me I give her a moment to calm down and talk to her again. Meanwhile, I was asked to help a days ride from Castle Cerwyn with a small matter. I was asked because I have a talent for…understanding for when people lie. Lord Cerwyn sent me a letter, saying he was glad to have my daughter at his castle. His daughter had always been very fond of Brandon, but he didn’t ever really seem interested in speaking with her. He thought she was very sweet, he told me most Ladies as fair as her are not very kind to his daughter. You had hoped she would act much the same I assume, when you told her that.”
“I never expected her to go anywhere.” He argued. “Yes, we thought it would be funny to tell her that. But you always say she’s a rather good lady when she wants to be….”
“So you do admit it was a joke?”
“Yes, but we hadn’t thought she would act on it!”
“If there is a challenge she will rise to it.” He shook his head. “I am disappointed in all three of you. Benjen, might have done you a good service in telling you she needed you to talk to her. But you’re never very kind to your brother. She shouldn’t have run off, but how can I be completely furious with her when my own bannerman was so delighted in her company that he offered to give her gifts if she came more often. She at least had the common courtesy to refuse and say she’d be pleased to come again without being bribed. She genuinely appreciated talking to his daughter and even told her she would come back for her name day. The lesson you need to learn before you are a Lord is humility, these two were relying on you, you let them down by being careless. You could learn much from your sister, and more from your brothers. You asked for a chance to show me you could work things out by yourself.”
“Things often happen. You had plenty of time to chase after her that night. I had known since she left the castle. Maester Wylis sent me a raven, so I could contact the lord should I not hear she went to the castle safely. The moment you noticed she was gone, you could have sent your brother to fetch her.”
“I don’t want to hear excuses. I want to hear, the next time you are left with responsibility you will act like a man of high birth. I let you make a fool of yourself, you will learn your lesson and treat your sister and brothers with proper respect, if you can not, maybe you’ll learn more from the Night’s Watch.”
He stared at him. “You can not mean that.”
“You and Eddard were raised separately for the same thing. Lord Steffon had arranged before they died that Robert was to go to the Vale. With three sons, I had thought one could be expendable. There was no doubt I could have taught him here, and sent you instead. Your mother had actually liked that better. But you are my true heir, and it’s past time you showed me you’ve learned something.”
Brandon bowed his head and seethed. “I’ll give you time to think. Stay in the Lord’s Chambers, pull yourself together.”
She waited for him, just outside the door. He rubbed his temples and sighed heavily. Brandon didn’t see her right away. Lyanna followed him for several paces, then he turned to look at her. “What?”
“I just wanted to apologize, before Father makes us do it.” She fell into his pace and smiled. “I had plenty of time to calm him down for you. You deserve to be threatened for once.”
“It would have been worse had you not made that up, about telling him that I told you Lady Jonella invited you. Which one of them do I need to watch my tongue around?”
“You can think on that for yourself. I felt I owed you something since I ran off. Do you think he’ll let me visit places now? Now that he’s seen that I act honorably…”
“You don’t understand, it’s not the same for you and I. Boys are expected to act for their father. For you…Well….I suppose it would be different if you weren’t betrothed. You could likely ask him to visit Storms End, or maybe the Vale. He’s not going to send his maiden daughter to any man who has a son. It hadn’t been a problem, letting you ride a little ways down the Kingsroad to see another girl….”
“I don’t understand. I did the right thing, with her, with you, and I seem to still feel punishment.”
“You’re not being punished. You won’t be punished, you’ll keep moving forward, he’ll scold you. He’ll want you to be ready to marry…I’m sure after that Lord Robert would be happy to take you places. Maybe he’ll sail you up to White Harbor, or the Iron Islands. Maybe he’d consent to take you to the Wall.”
“But until someone else decides for me, I’m a prisoner.”
“You’re hardly a prisoner. You..” He cupped her cheek and smiled at her mockingly. “You’re a little Princess. If you think I’m awful when I’m angry, you should see Father when he’s mad. I knew he found you somehow when he didn’t slap me with enough force to throw me to the ground in front of those men. Come on, admit it, we’re both just lost.”
She started to smile. “Now you almost sound like a lord.”
“So….” He asked. His arms fell slack at his sides. “I won’t tell father about what I may or may not have read in that letter. But I do want to know something, that book you’d taken…What was written in it?”
She frowned. “It isn’t any of your business…”
“If you tell me, I won’t need to look for it.”
“You ought to keep your nose in your own business.”
She turned to leave him, and he grabbed her arm. “Whatever you think you’re doing, it ends Lyanna. You can’t play games like this with your husband.”
“I’m not playing a game.” She said sharply. “Don’t you have better things to do than to question me on things that don’t concern you?”
“I’m only thinking on what’s best for you. It looked well worn and beaten…”
“It’s a book, what harm can a book be? I asked a friend to send me something and my friend responded. If you must know, it’s a journal that had been copied. There are bits and pieces of a book called Sign and Portents it has little passages of things from up to Aegon’s Conquest.”
She pulled her arm away and stormed off toward her room. There was only so much he could do, he’d have to protect her like brothers do. So he had to wait, and wait until the day he finally could put together enough clues to sway his father. One day he would find out, until then he’d have to wait for the strange raven to come back, and hope for the best. After all, he had a vague idea of who had sent it to her, he was only interested in why. She would have no secrets.