A/N: Here's the epilogue! I couldn't cram in news of everyone or it would have gone on forever and I wanted to focus on the Stark's. It's from the POV of an OC I've come up with called Sofia (remember ages ago in this story when Jeyne Westerling went to marry the Greatjon's son? Well she's their daughter!) You'll soon see why she's in Winterfell and I hope you enjoy it.
I just want to say thank you all so much again, everyone who has reviewed/followed/favourite-d or even just quietly read, I appreciate it more than I can say. I can't believe this is my finally post on this story!
To make myself feel better I am also going to be posting up the first chapter of my new story, so check out 'Paying the Toll' if you feel like it. If not, please just enjoy he epilogue and let me know what you think :)
It's been one hell of a journey and I'm going to miss this story (and Ailsa!) so much, thank you again for all the love! :)
Epilogue: Sofia Umber
My heart hammered as I looked up at the Stark banners fluttering high above the turrets of Winterfell, I hadn't visited since I was twelve, and then it was just as a guest. Now I was returning, this time as the future wife of the Prince of Winterfell. I looked to my left and saw my mother give a reassuring smile which I tried to return but I felt sure it came out as more of a grimace. We were almost under the gates now and I swallowed hard as I tried to remember something about Eddard Stark. He was older than me and not at all interested in me the last time I had been here – what if that was still the case? What if he didn't want to marry me?
I tried to calm myself as the guards bowed us through and we stopped our horses, my father helping me down from my own at once. We had already decided to approach the keep on foot, not wanting to make the royal family look up at us as we arrived. It was our place to look up to them and my heart pounded again as I realised that soon I would be standing with them. I had been betrothed to Prince Eddard since I was sixteen and he eighteen, but it was only three years later that it was happening, the Prince having spent the last few years travelling Westeros. On his return it had been decided that the wedding should take place, especially as the Princess Alienna had already married and had a son.
As I approached the keep with my mother and father the doors were opened wide and the figures of the King and Queen walked out, followed by their seven children. I took another deep breath, trying to remember all of their names; Eddard, Alienna, Tristan, Jonah, Rickard and the twins Merina and Serra. I took another breath as my we knelt, our small guard doing the same behind us, daring to peek up through my lashes but not catching a glimpse of my Prince.
"Jon Umber!" the King greeted happily then, "it has been too long my old friend!"
"Too long indeed your Grace," my father smiled, getting to his feet as King Robb motioned.
"There is no excuse not to visit now we are to become kin," the King smiled at me as I too rose.
"It's an honour your Grace," I curtseyed, blushing slightly.
"You remember my son, Eddard," he beckoned him forwards and I managed to nod.
"My Lady Sofia," the Prince greeted softly.
"Your Grace," I nodded again, placing my hand in his so he could place a kiss to it.
"I think perhaps we should all take some wine, you must all be weary," the Queen smiled then.
"That would be most welcome my Queen," my father smiled back.
"Come Jeyne, it has been too long … tell me, how are you?" the Queen asked, gesturing for my mother to walk with her.
Prince Eddard offered me his arm and I took it lightly after a small, encouraging nod from my father who walked ahead in step with the King. I noticed the other royal children make way for Eddard and I and I tried to smile at them, the two smallest Princess' beaming back at me. When we entered the small living room the Queen called for wine and encouraged us to make ourselves comfortable. I sat at my betrothed's side and twisted my hands together until the wine was brought and I had something else to occupy me.
The King and my father were talking about the war, reliving past memories of battle while my mother and the Queen chattered lightly. I noticed that even though they were engaged in their own conversations that the King and Queen kept one of their hands laced with the others. Despite myself I looked down at Prince Eddard's hand and noticed it rested on his knee and wondered if he would ever willingly take my hand in his. He laughed then at something that Prince Tristan had whispered to him and I noticed the Princess Alienna shoot him a pointed look as she rocked her baby in her arms.
I smiled slightly as I watched her, she was a true beauty; everything a Princess from a story should be with golden curls tumbling down her back and blue eyes exactly like her fathers, like Prince Eddard's. She was married to Torrhen Karstark, a man near her father's age, it had been a love match and the story was legendary. It had been her eighteenth name day when the King had ordered a hunt to celebrate the arrival of spring. My father had gone alone to Winterfell and had returned with the most extraordinary story of the feast that had followed the hunt.
The way he told it the men had all got drunk and rowdy, all pleased with themselves after a successful ride out. Princess Alienna had stormed into the dining hall in the small hours clad only in her nightdress and demanded in no uncertain terms that they needed to be quiet because she could hear them in her chambers. Torrhen Karstark, who was the drunkest man in the hall, had told her to shut her pretty little mouth else he would find another use for it. My father believed that Torrhen had been so drunk he hadn't realised it was the Princess he was speaking to. Everyone assumed that the King would have his head there and then but the Princess hit first and hit hard, slapping him across the face so hard it left a bruise that lasted a week.
My father told me the following minute was the longest of his life as the hall had gone deathly silent, but then Torrhen Karstark had roared with laughter and grabbed the Princess a cup of wine. She had taken it and he raised a toast to her, the most ferocious woman in the North. The next day it was said that she had flown into her father's council chambers and told him that the only man she would ever marry was Torrhen Karstark. To everyone's surprise the King had agreed, my father told me that the King had never once said no to the Princess Alienna. I watched her now as her husband twirled a lock of her hair around his fingers, his eyes not leaving her as she fussed over their baby son Hallan. There was such a softness in his expression that I had never seen grace the face of any Karstark and I couldn't help but smile at the genuine love between them. Prince Eddard cleared his throat slightly then and I turned my head to look at him.
"Forgive me my Lady, can I offer you some more wine?" he asked me.
"Thank you your Grace, that would be most welcome," I replied, I hadn't realised I'd drained my cup.
"You're welcome," he smiled, standing to pour it himself instead of calling for a servant.
"Thank you," I said again when it was full, he merely smiled again and sat back next to me.
"How was the journey from Last Hearth?" he asked after a moment.
"Much as we expected, the weather held good for us," I answered.
"I'm glad," he said and I noticed him glance towards his sister who nodded encouragingly.
"I wonder if perhaps you could show me the Godswood tomorrow?" I plucked up the courage to ask.
"Of course my Lady, it would be my pleasure," he smiled and I returned it, my heart pounding.
It wasn't until later in the evening when I finally got a moment alone with my mother. She was brushing my hair through for the feast, wanting me to look my best. I bit my lip slightly as she worked, wondering how best to phrase my question.
"What's bothering you?" she asked before I could find words of my own.
"How do I know if he likes me?" I replied and she smiled in the mirror as she twisted my hair.
"He likes you," she said knowingly, "he wouldn't be marrying you otherwise"
"Yes he would, it's duty … just like when you married father," I countered her and she sighed.
"Sofia … the King and Queen would never force their firstborn son into a marriage he didn't want, and I won't force you either," she assured me.
"You can't refuse a King!" I said aghast.
"My darling I would refuse the Gods themselves to keep you happy," she told me.
"I don't want you to," I said in a small voice and her smile widened.
"You like him?" she asked, her eyebrows slightly raised in anticipation.
"He seems kind and courteous … and …" I trailed off with a blush.
"Handsome?" my mother supplied.
"Well yes," I confessed, "he is very much so"
"You do make quite a striking match," she smiled as she pinned my hair.
"He will no doubt have met many beautiful women on his travels," I said quietly.
"But none so beautiful as you," she said, kissing the top of my head, "there now, you're ready."
The morning after the feast I rose late, the dining hall was almost deserted and I ate my breakfast quickly before walking out into the yard. I didn't see my mother or father anywhere but the Princes seemed to be practicing archery, the Queen and Princess' sat out with tea watching them. The Queen noticed me then and waved me over, I did as she bid; curtseying before her before taking the seat she indicated.
"Tea Lady Sofia?" she offered.
"Yes please your Grace," I smiled and like the Prince she poured it herself, "thank you," I added when she passed it to me.
"You're welcome," she smiled back before turning to watch her sons again.
I watched her as she watched them, she was still a very beautiful woman, even though she was near forty she had very few silver wisps in her dark hair. There were some lines around her eyes and I imagined if I looked close enough there would be a few around her mouth. I could see how the young Robb Stark must have fallen in love with her all those years ago, despite the fact that she had been a penniless orphan from a near extinct house. The story of King Robb and Queen Ailsa had been my favourite when I was growing up, my Septa would despair of me never wanting to hear anything else. 'Not all marriages are happy, duty comes before love!' she would scold me but I never listened to her, I went on dreaming of true love.
"You are still a terrible shot Tris!" I heard Prince Eddard laugh then.
"Shut up," Prince Tristan growled back.
"Still, you cannot be as bad as father!" he exclaimed.
"Cheek!" the King cuffed the back of his head playfully, "watch your mouth, you know I could still have you with the sword!"
"Very true father," Eddard conceded and Tristan smirked slightly before loosing another arrow.
"Better," the King nodded approvingly.
"Still a long way from being the best in the family though," Eddard grinned.
"No one will ever be as good as Uncle Theon," Prince Rickard put in.
"No?" Eddard questioned.
"You can't mean you?" Tristan asked with a frown.
"No," Eddard smirked, "I mean Nena – Nena come over here!" he called towards us.
The Princess Alienna rolled her eyes but made to stand, handing her son over to her mother before making her way over to her father and brothers. I watched her curiously, she did not look the type to shoot an arrow, she looked far too proper decked out in fine silks and jewels, not a blonde hair out of place. Her husband made his way from the smiths as she reached the targets and strolled towards her, not looking at all surprised as she took Tristan's bow from him with a smirk and a shake of her head. The King winked at her as she took an arrow from Jonah and notched it and her smirk turned to a wide smile as she aimed.
"You know I have not shot an arrow since before I had Hallan," she said.
"You never forget," Eddard told her, his eyes watching the way she moved her arms.
"We'll see," she smiled, drawing the string back even further.
"Whatever happens you won't be as bad as father," he said and the King smacked his head again.
The Princess loosed the arrow then, a satisfied smile spreading across her face as it landing straight in the centre of the target. Her father and brothers all cheered and I saw the Queen smiling at them, encouraging baby Hallan in her arms to clap his mother. Torrhen Karstark came and put his arm around her then and she beamed up at him as he said words to her that I couldn't make out.
"Lady Sofia do you shoot?" Tristan shouted over at me then.
"Oh," I said, unsure of what to say, "I … uhm … a little I suppose"
"Come and have a shot!" Jonah shouted happily and I hesitated, glancing at the Queen.
"Go on," she told me quietly, "They'll not leave you alone until you go"
I stood then and walked slowly towards them, crossing paths with the Princess and her husband as they made their way to sit with the Queen. Alienna murmured her good luck as I passed and I beamed at her, glad that she seemed to approve of me, her and Eddard seemed close and I wanted her to like me. It was the King who handed me the bow, telling me quietly not to worry, that he was by far the worst shot in Winterfell and I couldn't help but laugh slightly. I could feel Eddard's eyes on me as I thanked Jonah for the arrow he passed me and I took a deep breath as I notched it and drew it back. I had never been a bad shot but I hated having a crowd watching me, I took another breath and tried to pretend I was alone before taking aim and releasing the arrow. I knew from the cheers that I had hit it well and when I looked I saw it not an inch away from Alienna's and I allowed myself to smile.
"Best not ever get on the wrong side of her Ned!" Tristan laughed and Eddard punched his arm.
"Would you like to see the Godswood now?" he asked me quietly as he walked away from his brother.
"Please," I smiled and he offered me his arm to take.
"Boys!" the King called as one of them whistled loudly, "back to practice"
"Yes father," I heard one or more of them mutter.
We walked in silence to the Godswood but it didn't feel uncomfortable, I felt content I supposed, walking in step with the Prince. When we entered the Godswood I almost stopped dead, a wide smile spreading across my face as I looked around. It was utterly beautiful, the most beautiful Godswood I supposed I had ever seen. I caught Eddard looking at me as I took in my surroundings and I felt the sudden urge to blush.
"Do you like it?" he asked me.
"Yes … it's wonderful your Grace," I said quietly, touching one of the roses growing near the pool.
"You can call me Ned," he said after a moment.
"I really shouldn't …" I said, a blush definitely rising in my cheeks now.
"You're to be my wife, of course you should," he said gently.
"If you wish it," I said, trying not to feel giddy at the way he'd said 'my wife'.
"I do," he said softly, coming to stand closer to me.
"In just a few days," I said, managing to keep my voice even despite my pounding heart.
"Yes," he nodded, plucking one of the roses and hesitating before tucking it into my hair.
My breath hitched in my throat as his fingers brushed the skin of my ear and I could have sworn that in the still air he would hear my heart battering against my chest. I tried to find words, to say something else, anything else, but then I looked up into his eyes and I felt like I was drowning. I had no words, no words came as I stared into those blue pools, the beauty of the Godswood forgotten as he gazed back at me just as intently.
"You're very beautiful," he whispered after the longest time.
"I expect you've seen many beautiful women on your travels," I said quietly before I could stop myself.
"None like you," he said, shaking his head, his dark curls glinting in the sunlight.
"None at all?" I asked despite myself.
"My father taught me the value of honour," he told me and my eyes widened slightly.
"So … you mean … you …" I trailed off, unable to believe we were speaking of such things.
"You will be the first and only woman I lay with," he said and my cheeks burned.
"I don't know what to …" I began but he stopped me with a kiss.
It was a soft kiss, a gentle, tentative kiss, no more than a light brushing of lips but it made my stomach jolt in a way I had never felt before. When he pulled back I wanted to go with him, I wanted his lips on mine again; it had felt so right. Somehow I managed to keep myself still and return the smile that he was bestowing on me. Whatever nerves, whatever lingering doubt about marriage that I had held inside me was suddenly vanished as I looked up at Ned Stark. I would be happy, I knew that just as sure as I knew that the sun would always rise and set. I would be happy. He would make me happy.
Merina and Serra came charging into the Godswood then and Ned and I both took a tiny step back from one another as they ran at us. They were their mother in miniature, almost everything about them was identical to Queen Ailsa, their eyes sparkling just like hers did.
"Do you need something?" Ned asked, his voice irritated.
"Mother said something about wedding clothes," one of them sang.
"And wine," the other added and I smiled at Ned's sigh of frustration.
"Tell her we're on our way," he said grumpily and I took his arm again as they ran off ahead of us.
"Must be nice having so many siblings," I smiled as we walked after them slowly.
"Not always," he said darkly and I giggled slightly.
"It's just my brother and I at Last Hearth and he is being fostered at Riverrun at the moment," I added.
"Winterfell will be a shock for you then," he smiled and I nodded my agreement.
"In a good way," I said after a moment.
"I'm glad," he said meaningfully, "it will be our children running around here in a few years"
"I'd like that," I said, a blush on my cheeks again.
"You would?" he asked, turning to me and gazing into my eyes again, our pace slowing.
"Yes," I said honestly, "my mother said the one thing she wanted more than anything was more children … but things went wrong when she had my brother, she almost died – my father was beside himself, but thankfully the Gods saved her"
"But she could have no more children?" he guessed.
"No," I said sadly, "which is why she is determined to have dozens of grandchildren"
"Dozens?!" he repeated with raised brows, "we are going to be run ragged!"
"I expect your mother was with seven," I said, smiling at the look on his face.
"Yes," he agreed, "after the twins she told my father no more, she even threatened to castrate him, although at the time I had no idea what that meant"
"She threatened to castrate the King!" I spluttered through my laughter.
"Yes," he said, laughing himself, "don't worry … you'll get used to it"
"I didn't think it would be so …" I struggled to find the right word.
"Unconventional?" he suggested.
"Yes," I nodded.
"That's how it's always been, hopefully how it will always be … I'd like us to be like them, you know … years from now when we're King and Queen," he told me, his eyes not leaving mine.
"I'd like that too," I said honestly and he beamed at me.
When we arrived back in the courtyard they royal family had been joined by a rather tired looking dire wolf. I recognised him as Grey Wind, he had been rather more lively the last time I had been at Winterfell, still, I thought, the King had had him since he was sixteen years old. Grey Wind was older than Ned and yet he still plodded around the yard with something akin to a grin on his great face. The King had placed baby Hallan on his back and everyone seemed to be in stitches of laughter, aside from Princess Alienna who looked rather nervous about the whole thing.
"Just please be careful with him!" Alienna eventually burst out.
"Do you really think I'm going to drop my first grandchild?" the King asked her.
"No … but Grey Wind could get overexcited and …" she tried.
"Alienna I am not going to drop him, please relax," he laughed at her and she managed a smile.
"Such a worrier," Ned said beside me and she scowled at him.
"Don't expect sympathy from me when it's your son he's doing that with!" she shot back at him.
"Behave, your father did it with all of you and never dropped any of you," the Queen told them.
"And I bet Grey Wind was quicker on his feet then," Rickard grinned.
"Less of your cheek, he's plenty quick," the King mock scolded.
"Maybe ten years ago," Jonah muttered under his breath.
"Hey, without him you wouldn't have been born," the King said then and Tristan laughed.
"Neither would you," the Queen told him with a raised eyebrow and he stopped at once.
"Right that's it!" Alienna darted forward and took Hallan out of her father's grip, pulling him away from Grey Wind, "I'm sorry! No more, my nerves are shot!"
I was trying on my wedding dress later that afternoon, my heart pounding again as my mother fussed over me. The Queen and Lady Stark were also with me, sipping quietly on wine as my mother tried to decide how best to fix my hair.
"Your Grace, how did you have your hair?" I plucked up the courage to ask.
"It was all twisted up and fixed with a clasp," she told me, coming to stand at my other side.
"I thought half loose?" my mother suggested, looking at the Queen questioningly.
"Yes," she nodded her agreement, "such pretty hair shouldn't be hidden"
"Thank you your Grace," I said, a blush rising in my cheeks again as she smiled at me in the mirror.
"You will look beautiful Sofia," she told me, "Ned will be proud indeed"
"You really think so?" I asked, desperate for her approval and assurance.
"Yes," she squeezed my shoulder, "I am his mother, I know well enough how pleased he will be"
"Thank you your Grace," I said quietly.
"You're most welcome," she smiled reassuringly.
At the feast the night before the wedding I could barely speak, my hands shook every time I took a sip of wine and my heart beat against my chest so hard I thought at any moment it would burst through. Ned was sat away from me as was tradition the night before the wedding, I avoided his eyes on purpose, looking into them would only make things ten times worse. Instead I kept my eyes on the King and Queen, they were utterly absorbed in one another as the feast continued around them. They seemed to mirror one another, taking a sip of wine at the same time as one another, their eyes seemingly drawn to the same place at the same time. Their smiles even matched, if the right corner of the King's mouth twitched up so did the Queen's. I found myself silently praying that in twenty years Ned and I would be like that, that we could be half as happy as them. I would be content with that, more than content, I would be overjoyed.
My mother spoke to me about what to expect from my wedding night after dinner, I listened to her quietly, wishing she would just leave me alone. I knew that she meant well, and that she had to tell me so I would be prepared but I was nervous enough as it was. Eventually she seemed to cotton on to my mood and told me not to worry, pulling me into a tight embrace and kissing my cheek before leaving me in peace. I thought I'd feel better once she'd gone but I actually felt worse and was glad when my father dropped by. He didn't stay long, he was a man of few words but he told me how proud he was before embracing me awkwardly for a moment, promising when he left that he would have some strong wine sent to me in the morning. I laughed at that and he looked much more settled when he bid me goodnight and I realised with a jolt that things weren't just changing for me, they were changing for my whole family.
I couldn't sleep, every time I closed my eyes I would think of something else that could go wrong, of something else to worry about. I wished my brother Jon was with me, he always managed to soothe me, even if it was by telling me crude jokes that my mother hated. He was being fostered at Riverrun though and the party from there would only arrive in the morning, I would make sure he told me plenty of jokes then. I had just given up on ever sleeping and got out of bed when someone knocked on my door, I crossed to open it and my heart pounded when I saw Ned on the other side.
"I know I shouldn't be here," he began and I nodded, suddenly aware of my thin night slip.
"No," I managed to say.
"I just … I really wanted to see you before …" he continued and I swallowed.
"I can't sleep," I confessed after a moment of silence.
"Neither could I," he smiled slightly.
"We'll be alright won't we?" I whispered, finally looking up to meet his eyes.
"Of course we will," he said firmly and I believed him, my nerves deserting me again.
He cupped my face gently then and my breathing sped up as he let his face come closer to mine. I could feel his breath on my lips as he came closer and I twitched forward involuntarily and he pressed his lips to mine at my movement. It wasn't a shy, tentative kiss like the one in the Godswood, it was deep and passionate and full of promises that had my stomach tightening in knots. He pulled my body up against his and I almost felt as though I would melt, somehow managing to supress the moan that rose in my throat as he tightened his arms around my waist. After what seemed like an age he pulled away and left me breathless, his lips still only a fraction from mine as he gazed down on me again. "Tomorrow," he whispered and I managed to nod my head, not trusting myself to speak. At my action he pressed a lingering kiss from my forehead before releasing me and walking away without another word.
I watched him out of sight before turning to walk back into my room, I jumped when I saw the Queen approaching, had she seen us? Would she be angry? Would she call me a whore and call off the wedding? My heart pounded as she came closer, unable to see her expression in the darkness.
"Your Grace I …" I began.
"Don't apologise," she said kindly, "you have no need to"
"But I …" I began again and she held her hand up.
"Ailsa is that you?!" I heard the King's voice floating through the door next to mine.
"Just a minute Robb!" she called back.
"You said that over an hour ago!" he retorted grumpily and she smiled.
"Ignore him," she said to me.
"I heard that," his voice sounded again and she rolled her eyes.
"Your Grace I really am sorry," I said quickly then before she could stop me.
"Sofia … Robb and I did exactly the same the night before our wedding," she told me with a kind smile, "I had no doubt Ned would come and see you, he was worried about you at dinner … I tried to tell him that you would just be nervous … that all brides are nervous"
"I was nervous," I told her.
"Do you think you'll sleep now?" she asked me.
"Yes," I nodded, trying not to blush.
"Then go … sleep, I will see you in the morning," she said gently.
"Thank you your Grace, goodnight," I said, turning to open my door.
"And Sofia," she said.
"Yes?" I asked, turning back to look at her.
"You and Ned are going to be just fine," she smiled.
When I closed the door I leant against it and took a deep breath, allowing the Queen's words to wash over me again as I calmed myself. She was right, I knew she was. Ned and I were going to be just fine. More than fine. We were going to be wonderful. I smiled to myself then, allowing myself to think of the future, the wonderful future that would be waiting for me in the Godswood when I woke up. The wonderful future I was going to have here at Winterfell with Ned and all the Stark's. That is what was coming for me and as I climbed into bed I let it consume me, finally managing to close my eyes and slip away into sweet dreams that would soon be my reality.