"All things truly wicked start from innocence."
Caryssa watched as her little brother pulled the bow string until it was taught underneath his fingers, watched to make sure that he counted his breaths before he released the arrow. It sunk into a barrel just to the left of the target, and little Bran stamped his foot in frustration. Her other two brothers, Robb and Jon, circled him, before Jon put his arms around him.
Caryssa supposed that she should be doing something more lady-like. Such as knitting or sewing or planning the future wedding that she was inevitably to have, as she was now nineteen years old. After all, she was Lady Caryssa of House Stark, eldest child to Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn Stark, the Beauty in the North. She hated that nickname. It always reminded her that she was seen as simply something to look at, a woman to marry a lord and bear his children. While she was not opposed to marriage, certain moments in her life had led to the belief that the only honourable men that still existed where those in her family and a few others in her household. So when she inevitably married, she did not want to marry some unpredictable stranger, but a man she knew had enough honour to respect her as a wife, a woman and a person.
So instead of sewing, Lady Caryssa was helping her brothers teach her second youngest brother archery, and thus far, they had been having very little success.
"Go on. Father's watching and your mother," Jon said, and Bran turned his head up to look at his parents standing on the balcony above, watching him with encouraging smiles. "Also, the Lady Archer watches, and as men, we cannot let our elder sister best us, Bran, or the other men will tease us relentlessly."
Bran looked towards his sister, as she leaned against a fence, her bright blue Tully eyes watching him, a beautiful smile on her lips. His sister was the best archer in Winterfell, everybody knew it. Some didn't like that a woman could wield a weapon, but most respected her for learning. Winter was coming, after all. Her smile turned into an encouraging one, a warmth in them that the woman only reserved for her family and loved ones, and she nodded at him to continue.
So he strung his arrow to his bow, pulled it taut again and released it, and they watched it as it flew over the target and cleared the fence behind it. Jon, Robb and Rickon laughed at their brother, as Bran sighed, getting even more frustrated.
"And which one of you was a marksman at ten?" Ned Stark questioned his sons, as all his children there at the time stared up at him in silence. He watched as his daughter came into view, raising her hand, a smirk on her face. Ned shook his head at her, knowing that she was right, but choosing not to say anything. His eldest child, his precious daughter, had begged him when her sixth name day was approaching to have a bow of her own and to learn how to wield it. He never could deny her anything. Not only was she his eldest, his first born, but she reminded him so much of his dead sister. They were both untameable Stark she-wolves, fiercely protective of their own, beautiful, but deadly if opposed. "Keep practicing, Bran. Go on."
Bran looked down, before he pulled strung his bow again. Except this time, long, pale fingers guided his hands, and he glanced behind him to see his sister.
"Remember what I taught you," Caryssa murmured into his ear, as she moved his hand towards his mouth, pushing his elbow down slightly, and nudging his feet apart. "Anchor your hand, relax your bow arm, breathe slowly and count the beats of your heart. Between the beat, is when you should release the arrow."
Caryssa stepped back, letting her younger brothers take control, and turned around to walk back to her leaning post, but spotted her younger sister, Arya, stringing a bow, getting ready to release the arrow. Caryssa immediately stepped to the side, out of her sister's way, but continued to walk towards her. Arya released her arrow, before Bran could, and it whizzed through the air before it sunk straight into the middle of the target.
The men all turned around sharply, trying to see who had made the shot.
"Take your bows, sister." Caryssa whispered to her, and Arya did so, curtseying and mocking her slightly younger brother. Caryssa's eyes narrowed in on the twitch of Bran's now clenched jaw, and stepped out of the way just before he threw his bow to the ground and launched himself at Arya, leaping over the fence and chasing her as she laughed and outrun him.
Caryssa laughed along with her brothers, moving to grab Rickon, settling him on her hip.
"When can I learn archery like you and Bran?" Rickon questioned, and Caryssa chuckled at him, pressing her lips to his cheek. Caryssa was like a second mother to her younger siblings, apart from Robb and Jon as they were closer in age. She felt it was her duty as the eldest to help her mother raise her siblings, teaching them and guiding them through life. Especially with Sansa and Arya. Caryssa helped Sansa become the young, civilised lady that she was, whilst encouraging Arya's wild personality as it reminded her of herself at that age. Catelyn Stark would say that if Caryssa were split into two different people, they would be Sansa and Arya.
"You, little pup, are too young, but when you are old enough, I promise that I will teach you." Caryssa promised, smiling at the beaming boy, kissing his cheek again, before placing him onto his feet.
"Why do you always call me pup?" Rickon asked, and Caryssa began to run her fingers through his light auburn hair.
"Because we are wolves, and you are the youngest. You are my pup, Bran, Arya and Sansa are my little wolves, Robb and Jon are my young wolves and I am the she-wolf. Mother is the Old She-Wolf and father is the Old Wolf," Caryssa explained, smiling down at him as he gave her all of his attention. "We are the wolves of the North, Rickon, don't ever forget that. Now, let's go help Robb and Jon collect the arrows."
Rickon immediately set off, anything to impress his older siblings, and Caryssa watched with a soft smile, as her youngest brother bounced around, though stopped when he held the arrows in his grasp. He remembered that his sister had warned him about hurting himself on the sharp ends. He picked up a few before he rushed back over to his sister, and handed them to her. Caryssa took them, and handed them to a distracted Jon.
He was staring upwards, and Caryssa followed his line of sight to see that her mother was glaring disdainfully down at him. She gave her mother a disapproving look, like always, and placed her hand on Jon's arm.
"We're wolves, we're strong and whether she likes it or not, you're part of this family. You are my brother, Jon, not my father's bastard, not my half-brother. You're my brother. Do not ever let her make you feel any different." She whispered, and Jon gave her one of his rare, beautiful smiles. Jon's smiles only ever seemed to be reserved for Caryssa and Arya. Jon didn't feel like he was a Stark, mostly because Lady Catelyn Stark seemed to push her husband's war transgressions from him to his guiltless child.
They worked on, collecting the arrows and putting bows away, when Theon Greyjoy, ward of Lord Stark, approached the three eldest Stark (and Snow) children and smirked.
"Go get ready for a ride. An oath breaker is being held awaiting the King's Justice. Bran is going with us as well." Theon announced, and Caryssa and Robb exchanged a concerned glance. Well, she gave Robb a concerned look and he shrugged his shoulders.
"He's too young to experience such things." Caryssa stated, and Theon gave her a smirk.
"You saw your first death when you were younger than Bran, if I remember correctly, Ryssa." He said, watching with glee as her eyes steeled with her anger, and her jaw muscles clenched.
"Speak of that again, Greyjoy, and your whore will have to find new business. Do we have an understanding?" Caryssa glared at the man, only a couple of years her senior, and he gulped, eyeing the dagger at her waist. Normally, she would carry a sword strapped to her hip, though she couldn't really use one. Jory had tried to teach her when she was a little younger, but she could never quite grasp it, so had stuck to her bow and dagger. The sword was simply a warning to any man who thought that they could easily attack her. "Run along, Kraken. Go find Bran and get him ready. I'll meet you all at the stables."
Caryssa did not like Theon. While she usually tolerated his sense of humour, as crude as it was, he did not seem to have an ounce of propriety or decency. There were two moments in her childhood that were seemingly traumatising. One was the first time she saw her father give the King's Justice and she had been nine. The other no one dared discuss in front of her or Lord Stark, as it was both traumatising and infuriating, and the very reason she carried a sword around with her.
She nodded to her brothers and stormed past Greyjoy, purposefully bumping shoulders with him roughly as she passed. Ryssa headed to her room, to put on a thick green wool dress, her fox fur cloak, pinning her wolf brooch to keep the material together, her leather gloves and to get her weapons. She tied her vambraces to her arms, and opened the oak trunk that held her weapons.
She supposed it was unladylike for her to wield a weapon, but she had learned that while it was not appropriate for her to carry a weapon, she could still die upon one. Caryssa did not like being unprepared for anything, so she always slept with a knife under her pillow, and carried a dagger always.
She pulled out the new weirwood bow that her father had commissioned for her last namesday, and the quiver of arrows that had come with it. When she was finished collecting everything that was necessary, she strode from her room, and hurried to the stables.
Her horse was already saddled and waiting for her upon her arrival. Her horse was a beautiful snow white steed that she had received on her twelfth namesday, which is why the steed bore the highly original name of 'Snow'. In truth, Caryssa had named her after Jon, because she wanted to show him how much she loved him, and always thought of him. Her father nodded to her from atop his horse, knowing that she was not happy that Bran was accompanying them, and she mounted her horse and followed him out of the stables.
She just hoped that Bran was as ready to see the execution of a man, deserter though he may be, as the men believed him to be.