I don't own ASoIaF or Ranma 1/2. If I did the first would have come out much more quickly and the second would have much less Akane.
This is the intro/chapter 1 of my Ranma/A Song of Ice and Fire crossover. It is in both that crossover section and the A Game of Thrones section for now. The section that gets the most views will be the one I continue to use going forward, if I do. The pairing is as it says in the summary, and I will give more information about that in my ending author notes as well as explaining more about the 'if I do' part, but for now…
This version has been given the Jessolt touch, and is so much better it isn't even funny. Please reread it, with the amount of changes he made it really reads so much better.
Prologue: New Life, New Family, New World
If there was ever another straw that broke someone else's back that had the weight of that damned wedding behind it for anyone else, Ranma never wanted to hear about it. Not only had everyone attacked and turned the entire thing into a battle royal, but Akane had once again proven that she didn't really care for Ranma so much as winning the competition for him.
At first Ranma had thought that Akane was marrying him to help Ranma get the cask of Water of Drowned Man from Jusenkyou, which would've been okay. Not the greatest thing, but okay. Ranma had hoped that by this point that she might have had actual feelings for him, but that didn't seem to be the case.
No, she cared about the winning as she had told Ranma after the wedding when she blamed him for everything that had happened She hadn't even listened to his apology (When had she ever?) before attacking him, causing even more damage to the Tendo house when she smashed him through the wall across from her room.
But that would've been par for the course, and he would possibly have been able to deal with that with only a bit of anger, if not for his parents and the other Tendos. Nabiki of course blamed him for everything, despite the fact that Ranma knew she was the one who had sent out the invitations to all of his other so-called fiancées and rivals, hoping to milk some money from them. What money she made however was probably going to be taken away to go to the repairs of the house and dojo, which was probably the real reason Nabiki was angry at him. Of course, Genma and Soun both agreed about how it had all been his fault, which was again situation normal.
No, it had been his mother and Kasumi that were the final blows. Kasumi was for the first time ever angry and sad about the damage their house had taken. The damage to the dojo and to her mother's shrine got through her aura of imperturbability and peacefulness. She didn't blame Ranma, hell that would have been easier for Ranma to bear, he was used to that. No, it had been Kasumi's sighing look of utter defeat and sadness that had gotten to him. Kasumi should never have worn that expression, she was the only one in the entire house who he felt was a good person, and she put up with too much as it was.
His mother was in a way, even worse. Ranma used to have dreams about what his mother would be like; a kind, gentle woman who would talk to him, tend his wounds, hold him when he had nightmares, or talk to him gently and ruffle his hair. He thought his mother would be someone who would be proud of him, who would encourage Ranma and help him along in life. Sort of like a father was supposed to be, only good with mushy stuff and better smelling.
Nodoka was anything but. Ever since she had learned of the curse, she had been almost as bad as Genma. Always judgmental, always pushing him to be more manly (her definition seemed to change daily), and always dragging the family blade around as if to remind him what could happen to him if Ranma didn't live up to her standards. When she agreed with Genma about the fact that Ranma would have to do something about his rivals and other fiancées (including Ukyo who was completely Genma's fault) and did not even hint at helping Ranma in any way, that was it for him.
So Ranma ran. It wasn't the most honorable thing to, but at this point it was about the only thing he could do without utterly snapping and killing someone. Better to run away than have that on his conscience. He couldn't stay in that house anymore, not with people he was slowly coming to truly hate, save for Kasumi, and he couldn't look Kasumi in the eye anymore, not with that look she had after seeing her mother's shrine destroyed.
He left, leaving behind a note saying he was leaving and why, as well as leaving all the money he had saved up, which wasn't much, about ¥20,000, on Kasumi's desk in her room. He sure as hell was not going to leave it anywhere else with Nabiki in the house.
Since this wasn't the first time Ranma had run off, he knew he would be pursued and not only by his family and the Tendos. Their coming after would probably take a while once it became clear he wasn't coming back. After all they had been the ones to tell him to handle all of his different engagements before continuing with another attempt to marry Akane.
Ukyo seemed a little guilty about her part in the fiasco once it was all over, so maybe it would take a while for her to realize he was gone, and the Kunos were a nonentity as far as he was concerned, neither of them had enough intelligence to trail him or skill to bother him. Now if Ukyo was smart enough to send Kotatsu after him that could be pretty bad. Surprisingly, it was the quiet, unassuming male kunoichi who was the closest to Ranma's level among Ranma's rivals/acquaintances that lived in the district.
The Amazons however were the most dangerous and they were the ones who would be after him the quickest, and Ranma knew it. Cologne was an old crone, but despite her age there was nothing wrong with her mind. She was easily one of the most dangerous individuals in the district and one of the most capable as well. She, Shampoo, and Mousse would be after him probably within a day, and Ranma knew that his skills were not going to be enough to throw them off. All I can do is keep going, maybe head to Europe someplace. I doubt that the Europeans would be very welcoming of the Amazons and their belief their own laws are the only ones that matter. Or maybe America, yeah that's probably the better bet since I can already speak English. (Ranma could indeed speak English, with a horrible southern accent but still…) Heh, they all have guns don't they, maybe Shampoo would get her ass shot and beaten by a random American with a gun. That'd be hilarious, probably wouldn't happen, but still, heh.
Ranma traveled for several weeks, backtracking, looping around, and doing everything he could to throw off anyone on his trail. He did not stop, save to take very quick naps a time or two to keep his energy up until he was in Hokkaido, and there he finally allowed himself a full nights rest before trying to find a ship heading to America.
Ranma had neglected to think of Happosai. After all Happosai wouldn't normally care if Ranma ran off. The pigtailed marital artist had, after all, destroyed the old man's silky darlings several times before and had kicked his butt a time or two dozen as well. Happosai would get angry, come back, fight, and then leave.
Happosai, however, did know how to keep a grudge. This time on top destroying his silky darlings, Ranma had run, something that in the school of Anything Goes was the act of a true coward. The moment the old man had sensed his chosen punching bag er apprentice running, he had gone after him swiftly, using all his skills to track the boy.
"Hehhehe, Ranma," Happosai cackled to himself as he watched the young man rent a room in a cheap hotel for the evening. "You were good, but not good enough. But I'll just stay here for a bit, no need to wake you up for this after all."
He cackled again, looking down at a scroll that he had forgotten he even had. He had found it in some old temple in the UK when he was there very briefly a century or so ago, and while he didn't understand everything about it, the monk or whoever it had been that he stole it from, had sobbed about how it was a scroll of spell of absolute binding or something, which seemed perfect to his purposes.
Happosai wasn't certain about that, since the writing on the scroll wasn't in a language he knew and he could read and speak fluent English, even old English. Still, it could've been a Celtic place, that was a language as well as a religion wasn't it? They were the ones who had to do with trees and stuff right? That was what most of the church or whatever it had been was, just trees, with one huge central tree that had some kind of face carved on it.
Ranma fell asleep quickly, exhausted by his run over the last few days, and Happosai nodded. Stealthily, he slipped inside Ranma's room, lit a bit of incense then wafted the smoke over to Ranma for a few minutes, which would keep the boy asleep.
For a moment, watching Ranma continue to sleep, his body sprawled out on top of the bed, not even covered with a blanket and wearing just boxers and a tee-shirt, Happosai was tempted to just splash the boy to get a good grope in. But he had learned that Ranma's sleep-fu was a fantastic defense because, while asleep, the boy didn't hold back. Happosai had attacked him once before while he was sleeping, and a single punch from Ranma left Happosai feeling like he had been hit by a thousand Amiguriken speed punches. Besides, why try to get in a grope now, when I can put a spell on him that will have him follow my every whim! Hah, at least four hours a day in female form, all of it wearing some of my silky darlings! Heehehehe!
So instead, Happosai simply stood at the foot of the bed, and began to declaim aloud, trying to get his mouth to work on the odd words on the scroll, which was written with English letters at least. Yet after a second, he didn't have any further trouble. It was almost as if the words were helping him say them correctly. Happosai didn't question this, simply moving on, and finished the spell quickly.
For a moment nothing happened. Then a deep heavy thrum began to build in the air. A bright speck of light appeared right above Ranma, a globe of multicolored varied light made of colors Happosai had never seen in nature before. He jumped back quickly, moving towards the window again just in case, but he kept watching.
The pulse began to put out even more light, the light flashing and waving over Ranma's still form. Then suddenly, it descended to right above his chest, enveloping him in its aura before disappearing into his body. The light now came from Ranma's body and it continued to pulse for a few more seconds, putting out even more light. Then suddenly, Ranma was gone. One moment his body was there enveloped by the odd light, the next, he was simply gone without a trace.
Happosai's eyes widened in shock. That wasn't supposed to happen! He quickly opened his notebook, a notebook that none of his students would ever see, filled with notes in his own made-up language. Swiftly he began to look through the notes on that scroll. "Here it is, the Spell of Absolute Binding. What happened?" he muttered. "That wasn't supposed to…"
"What 'wasn't supposed to', Happy?" asked an old and very angry voice behind him.
Ranma had been correct in that the Amazons would be after him, but he had been incorrect about how quickly. Within four hours of his leaving Nerima, they were on the trail, unable to keep up with him but not exactly falling behind either.
Cologne had long felt that Ranma was the best martial artist/warrior of his generation, possibly by a very wide margin and that made him an almost perfect husband for Shampoo. When he defeated Saffron however, that rocketed the young Saotome's importance to a whole new level. The blood of the God-Slayer would make the tribe strong again, strong enough to crush their enemies, and dominate the entire region, possibly enough to stand against the growing strength and technology of the lowlanders.
When Ranma had run she had been ecstatic. A late-night trip like this, coupled with the length of the trip, his attempts to throw them off his trail, and the fact that he kept on going for so long? That meant he was leaving behind his family, everything that had happened in Nerima, and all the people there, which meant that only the Amazons would be in the game from now on.
Oh, she knew it would be tough for love to blossom between Ranma and Shampoo at this late juncture, but the offer of training and the idea of traveling with them without pressure, going for a soft sell rather than forcing them together right away? That would probably have worked very well on the lonely, rather bitter young man. Ranma was very good at hiding it, but ever since Nodoka had found out about his curse, Ranma's mask had slipped occasionally when he thought he was alone and Cologne could see the feelings going through the young man.
So it was with quite a lot of righteous anger that Cologne stared down at Happosai. "What the hell did you do, Happy?"
For once Happosai didn't run, hide, or anything like that, he didn't even try to fight. He simply flipped open his notebook and pointed inside, staring at the scroll that he had dropped at the foot of the bed. "Scroll of Absolute Binding!" he exclaimed shaking his notebook angrily. "That's what it was supposed to be! I double checked it!"
"And what was the scroll supposed to do?" asked Cologne, scornfully opening the window and heading inside quickly. Shampoo crowded in behind her while Mousse stayed outside looking around and making certain they weren't being observed. This wasn't Nerima after all, maybe the local police force was brave/naive enough to try and stop them.
The master of the hidden weapons technique shook his head however, knowing somehow that Ranma was gone for good. Magic was finicky at best, old magic even worse, and Ranma always seemed to have this Murphy's Law aura going on at the best of times. Mousse lowered his head, muttering a brief Buddhist prayer for his frenemy.
"It was supposed to bind him to my orders so that he couldn't disobey me, what the hell do you think 'absolute binding' means, after all?" Happosai whispered angrily, reentering the room with great reluctance.
"Stay there girl!" said Cologne sharply and Shampoo backed away back out of the window while Cologne and Happosai made their way towards the scroll. "Well obviously it didn't work that way, Happy." She muttered, then hissed, still several feet away from the scroll.
She backed away quickly, motioning Happosai to do the same as she stared at it. "Mousse, quickly get me a blunt pole-arm, something long." she ordered then turned back to stare at the scroll. "You've never developed mage sight have you, Happy?"
Happosai shrugged. "Never found someone to teach me, and I didn't pick it up anywhere either. I can tell the difference between magic and ki, obviously, but actually seeing magic itself? No, I'm not that much of a magic user."
"Well I have." She muttered, cursing all dabblers under her breath. There were very few among the Amazon elders that could use magic without the aid of items, scrolls or anything else, but all of them could use mage sight and anyone who wanted to dabble in magic had to have it. "And what my mage sight is telling me is that I have never seen anything this powerful before. Whatever you called up, Happy, is beyond anything that should ever have been stored in a simple scroll."
"I didn't call anything up!" Happosai insisted, thrusting his precious notebook into her face though keeping a hold of it so she couldn't steal it away. "See, Scroll of Absolute Binding, that's what the man said!"
Cologne looked at the chicken scratching Happosai called writing, something she had learned to decipher in their youth. She read quickly through the description and then she frowned angrily. "Did you even ask anyone what it was, or did you just simply assume it was, because I know for one thing that these words, the original words you've copied out, it isn't Celtic! Celts didn't use English lettering, you ass!"
"Well what else could they be? That was the only religion that deals with trees wasn't it?"
Cologne groaned and palmed her face angrily. "No, that would be druids you stupid old man!" She was so angry that she couldn't even think up a good curse. "Now, tell me everything you can remember about wherever you found this scroll."
Happosai did so and Cologne frowned faintly. The description of the woods did sound like a druid temple of some kind, but she didn't know enough about that religion to be certain. She was also wondering why an ancient scroll of a dead religion would have writing on it that used English lettering.
They waited for over an hour until she felt that the magic had faded enough to be safe, and then used the pole-arm Mousse handed Cologne to turn the scroll over to see the other side. It was utterly blank when they turned it over. For a moment, Cologne simply stood staring at the blank parchment, then jumped back again as it crumbled into dust, blowing away on a wind that came through the window behind her.
"Aiyahh, what this mean, grandmother?" asked Shampoo in that cutesy version of Japanese she used for some reason. She claimed it made her sound cute. Cologne felt it made her sound like a bimbo, but she didn't care enough to make her granddaughter change it.
The two ancient martial artists exchanged a glance then backed away. "It means, granddaughter, that whatever happened was possibly the will of a god somewhere and I'm afraid your would-be husband is gone. I'll try some things when we get back to the village to see if I can retrieve him but I'm not holding out much hope."
"Aiyahh!" Shampoo exclaimed one hand rising to her mouth. "But Ranma always survive, yes?"
"Survive maybe," said Happosai grimly shaking his head at his monumental fuck up, "return to this plan of existence, I don't think so."
The two martial artists exchanged another glance, then Cologne shook her head. "I don't think so either."
Without another word Happosai left quickly, followed by the others who split off and went their own way.
Not one of them even thought about telling the people back in Nerima what happened. It would be many months before the Tendos and Saotomes would find out how thoroughly Ranma had disappeared. And when they did, it would be from an off chance comment from Happosai telling Genma that he was once again Happosai's heir, and he was going to train him into the ground. When the fat man, as per normal, tried to defend himself by saying Happosai should hunt down Ranma and train him, the fact that Ranma was no longer on this plane of existence came out, and reactions were varied.
Nabiki was happy that the (literal) home-wrecker wasn't going to be around but also sad because that meant her business took a hit since she couldn't sell photos of him in his different bodies anymore. Akane was angry because this meant she had lost a contest that she saw as a way of bolstering her personal ego and she didn't have her resident punching bag anymore.
Soun and Genma were angry, wondering what they were going to do now that they wouldn't have Ranma around to carry on the schools and live off when they grew old. Nodoka was angry at Rama's running away, calling it a dishonorable act, and disowning him.
Only Kasumi was sad to hear the news and she somehow knew that she had been partly to blame for him running away, at last, and deeply regretted it. She sent a prayer his way, praying for his safety and happiness wherever he wound up. Then, appalled by the way her family responded to this tragedy, Kasumi began to slowly but surely take control of her own life. Even then, she would never return to the dojo, allowing those who remained there to wallow in their willful stupidity and blindness.
Soon, she moved out on her own, cutting all ties with her family. Kasumi went to college, paying her way through by working as a chef. She would graduate at the top of her class and go on to become one of Japan's best doctors, regardless of gender. And every Saturday without fail she would say a prayer for the soul of the young man who she dearly wished she had the courage to get to know, whose passing had given her the courage to at last grasp her dreams.
In a place that was so far beyond what mortals could discern as to not really feel the passage of time or be bound by the concept of place, several beings waited. They waited for a champion that could change the fate of the world they were tied to.
The one the humans that worshiped it called The Seven, had found its champions and they had turned into part of the problem, indeed their whole religion had become corrupt, becoming less than useless. R'hllor had found its champion for the crucial time frame and he too had turned into part of the problem. The drowned God did not take part in the discussion, uncaring of the future and unwilling to take champions, so long as its worshipers fed it the souls and blood it demanded. None of the other gods were strong enough to matter in the nation where the crucial battle occurred. Finally, the champion of the old gods had fallen, unable to withstand betrayal or the calls of his human heart.
This all occurred in the future of course, but to gods the future, past, and present were all like beads on a string, easily discernible in their separate natures. Humans could change the present yet those effects could be predicted after a certain time. Now the future was a blank wall, a wall of cold and ice as the forces of the Others, lords of death and cold conquered all.
This could not be allowed. The Others did not believe in the balance, did not believe in the surety of nature, or the cycle of life. All they cared about was expanding the reach of the cold, the cold of the grave and un-life, to wipe out the realm of men. Westeros would fall first but soon the whole world would be engulfed in ice and snow.
Of course this would take millennia to the humans, but to gods that was a very short time indeed. All their calculations told them this, yet with the pieces on the board they could not change it. They could not change human nature. That was the one factor that made the humans fight one another rather than prepare for the coming of winter and the forces of the Others. But if they could not change the future with the pieces on the board, then they needed to introduce a new one.
So it was agreed between them, discussed in a way that no human could follow, that they would send out bits and pieces of themselves to search for new pieces to add to the game. There were strict rules involved, of course. They all already had their chosen champions for the most important time period, after all, and no god could have more than one true champion at a time. If they found a piece, they would have to replace their champion. And of course, only one such replacement could be allowed. More than one would change too much, possibly being even worse than doing nothing. This was a new thing they were attempting and all of them were leery about what could happen.
So they all sent out bits and pieces of themselves, melding into religions of other worlds, and adding on a bit of their own power to them. Whoever found a champion first would be the one to be able to take the soul of the new champion into their own world and thereby, hopefully, change the fate of the world. For millennia uncounted this effort failed and the cleft point, the time where the world would teeter on the balance of Cold or life, came closer on the world they were all bound to with the slow yet certain pace of a glacier.
Then came the call, one of their scrolls had been used at last!
In Ranma, the old gods, for it was their scroll and their religion that Happosai had stolen from, found a champion. This drew the attention of the other gods and as the old gods examined Ranma's soul, the others watched as well. There was strength there, massive power and indomitable will yet a mind that was almost unformed outside the realm of combat. There was a kindness there and a strange amount of gentleness for one who had been through so much. Plus, there was an ability to change fate, even in his old universe, that drew their attention like a lodestone. Eventually, it was agreed that this one would be the new piece added to the game. As such, he would retain much of his skills and knowledge, the better to change the fate of the world, although much of what he could do would be lost from one world to another as what Ranma called ki acted differently in the world of Essos than it did on Earth.
Because it was the old god's scroll Happosai had found, it was the old god's champion who would be replaced.
As a baby was born to a mother of the Riverlands in the land of the North where the old gods still held sway, a mother whose new husband was not the one she had been prepared to marry. The old gods gently reached out and they took the soul of the baby, returning it to where souls dwelled, awaiting their chance to live. It would return at a later time, hopefully when the world was a better place and its trusting, loving nature would be able to bloom without the threat of betrayal or the unyielding laws of duty.
That done the old gods gently stripped Ranma's body of his soul, the body swiftly dissolving into the ethereal nothingness, and gently placed Ranma's soul into the body of the baby. Their task accomplished, the old gods receded, returning to the ethereal plane, watching and waiting, yet already they could see the future was changing…
Catelyn Stark stared out the window at the snowfall. It snowed often here in Winterfell, despite it still being summer, or at least in comparison to her former home in Riverrun. She stared down at her baby, lost in joy once again at the fact that she had brought a life into this world. Even if her husband wasn't the man she had long thought she would be marrying, even if it was not a love marriage, right now holding her baby, she was content.
The view could've been better though and she felt her lips quirk a little at the thought, but then those lips turned down into a frown. She was not at home in Winterfell, and every time she saw one of the locals she was reminded of it. They saw her as a newcomer, not quite an interloper but certainly new, unusual, and not quite fitting in. And of course, her husband wasn't here to help her settle in.
She had known that he wouldn't be even before their marriage. They barely had a few days together before Eddard Stark had to ride off to join his friend, Robert Baratheon, in his attempt to overthrow the Targaryen dynasty and its allies. The Targaryens, descendants of the dragon riders of Valyria, had ruled for years. However, with no dragons to their name any longer, the awe men felt for the Targaryens had faded and the world had moved on.
Yet for all the madness of the King, for all the people he has put to death by fire, it is the love of a woman that is at the core of this rebellion. Catelyn often wondered how many other people knew that, knew that it was because of Rhaegar Targaryen's kidnapping of Lyanna Stark that the war truly began.
Or at least her kidnapping was the catalyst. Then Bran, the man Catelyn was set to marry and heir of Winterfell, had gone to the Kings Landing to demand her return and been thrown into the dungeons awaiting torture and death. Then his father Rickard had gone south to plea with the king for his son's life only for both to die horribly. Rickard was burned alive in his armor, while Bran was placed in a device that choked him if he moved. Forced to watch his father die horribly Bran choked himself to death trying to break free and save him. Those unjust deaths, along with the deaths of the other highborn men who had traveled with the two Starks, was the spark to the tinder.
That was a little over ten months ago and since then the rebellion had begun, led by Robert Baratheon. It had been bloody and brutal from the outset. Through it all, Eddard had been beside his friend, helping, leading, and often times in the thick of the fight. She had heard the war was all but over now, yet still Eddard had not returned home.
Catelyn wondered what sort of man he would be when he did, changed by war and strife. She wondered if she would ever come to love him as she had started to love Bran, and dismissed it from her mind. In the long scheme of things, this was a political marriage. All that really mattered was that it bound their families together and that she would get him children to continue his line. Love might blossom between them but in the end wasn't really important in comparison to her duty. That was part of her family's motto after all: 'Family, Duty, Honor'.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the baby in her arms opening his eyes and looking around, beginning to wail. Catelyn took a moment to look into his eyes, eyes of a slightly deeper, darker blue than was normal for her family's eyes yet closer to that than her husband's dark brown eyes, despite the black hair that was a Stark trait. The baby started to move his arms, flailing around and she shushed him gently. "There, there baby, momma's here."
Catelyn had decided not to name the boy until her Lord husband came home, so simply had to call him 'baby'. "Is baby hungry, hold on a moment..." With that she began to unbutton her blouse.
Ranma woke up, and immediately knew that something was wrong. His thoughts were jumbled in a way that he had never run into before. He couldn't, he couldn't think, couldn't understand, hunger was dominating his thoughts in a way that had never occurred before, even in times vaguely remembered now, his mind couldn't quite grasp the memories, when he went hungry due to his old man's gluttony. He forced a thought through that something was odd physically as well, his hands and feet were not moving as they should.
He opened his eyes and found even that hard. He stared up at a face that he had never seen before. The face was beautiful, with dark red hair, blue eyes, and striking features. The woman was smiling down at him in a way that made his insides go gooey in a way that he had never experienced, save for those few times when he was playing the part of Ranko-chan and Nodoka smiled approvingly at him. Those smiles had gone away the moment she found out about the curse and the way Genma and he had been tricking her.
The woman opened her mouth and spoke. Ranma tried to think, tried to understand the words. Baby, wha?
But thinking was so hard, he couldn't quite form the thoughts, he was hungry, so hungry, and his thoughts were everywhere at once, unable to form. He felt the woman move him around for a second, then watched, the corner of his mind appalled and embarrassed beyond belief when she opened her blouse to reveal a large (at least to his perspective) breast. That little part of his mind, the part that had been able to think despite the fact that a baby's mind was simply not developed enough to take the mind of a 19-year-old man began to think. Wait, wait, I'm hungry, but wait, I'm a baby, wha.. but…
The woman brought him closer and the body's instincts took over. His mouth began searching, latching on to a nipple even as that bit of Ranma he had barely began to construct died of embarrassment. It was so bad, he nearly lost concentration, almost letting his thoughts be washed away again by his baby body's instincts and lack of development.
The hunger began to recede, however, and his thoughts became slightly easier to grab onto. The phrase 'What the hell happened?' ran through his mind but he had no answers and no way to even ask them aloud. Almost as soon as his hunger faded, a tremendous exhaustion came to him. It was all he could do to stare up at the woman whose eyes were bright blue for a few more moments before succumbing once more to sleep.
Eddard Stark, new Lord of Winterfell, shook the reins of his horse, slowing it down slightly to let him stare at the town and castle that was his home. It had been his home for his entire life of course, but this was the first view of it that he had had since becoming its lord.
He had never anticipated he would become Lord of Winterfell. He was the second son, a full three years younger than Bran. Now because of Aerys, the mad king, and Bran's own impetuous nature both he and their father were dead, leaving him the Lord of Winterfell with his younger sister Lyanna having passed as well. His younger brother Benjen had been ruling here in his stead up till now but Eddard well knew he wanted to take the black and join the Night-Watch. In fact, he would probably leave soon after Eddard entered the castle, so great was his desire. It would be hard to see the last member of his family leave home, but at least he would be relatively close as well as alive. As a Stark, Eddard knew the importance of the Wall and maintaining a strong presence there.
It had had been as Lord Stark that he had married Catelyn, his older brother's fiancée. Eddard wondered what the woman thought of him now, having left her here for over a year as he campaigned in the south against the Targaryen forces alongside his friend Robert.
He also wondered what she would think of the little bundle that a young maid following behind them carried, and hoped that she would not press him too hard on it. Regardless, Eddard had a duty, and if they did not come to love one another or if she took it badly Eddard was prepared to deal with the consequences. He might not have wanted any of this thrust on him, but he was a Stark, and he would do what was right.
After passing through the town of smallfolk around Winterfell, Eddard passed underneath the portcullis of the main castle into the clear area beyond it and saw the castles servants, his wife, and brother waiting for him.
The lady Catelyn is indeed most beautiful he thought, and he hoped once again that the two of them would come to love one another. This thought was reinforced as he saw the little bundle she held.
Wordlessly, Eddard swung off his horse and walked forward, his face, which had been carved from granite for so long, cracking at last. He reached them and pressed a gentle kiss on Catelyn's forehead, not commenting on the slight flinch at his cold lips or possibly something else this inspired in her.
"My lord, welcome home. May I present our son?" Catelyn said her formal words and tone belying her happiness at the bundle in her arms, and her lord's return.
Eddard peeled back the bundle of blankets to look at the baby and smiled, a small but infinitely warm smile that stilled Catelyn's heart for a moment. Seeing that smile, her worries about how the youngest Stark was all about ice and duty receded greatly. She thought to herself that maybe, just maybe love could be possible between them.
The baby's eyes opened, showing eyes the color of the bright blue sky, and the baby began to move around his arms waving around. The eyes looked like Tully eyes, but the rest looked pure Stark and the baby already had a head of black hair. The sight caused Eddard's smile to widen slightly. "He's so full of life and energy, a perfect mix of our families my lady. Does he have a name?"
"I thought to wait until you were home to name him, my lord." Catelyn smiled down at the bundle in her arms and the baby wordlessly giggled at the sight, causing her smile to become a grin.
Benjen chuckled, reaching forward to grasp his older brother's forearm. "He's already crawling all over the place, a right terror he'll be when he grows up." His smile faded as he caught sight of a single small wagon carrying a closed casket at the back of the procession of soldiers with Eddard. "Is that Lyanna?"
Eddard nodded, broken out of his happiness for a moment. "Yes, I brought her home as she would have wanted. She'll go down in the crypts and join the rest of the family." He looked over at Benjen. "I know you want to leave for the Wall as soon as possible to join the Night-Watch, but you'll stay for the service at least? And I would like the chance to exchange news with you."
Benjen nodded, his eyes still on the casket, his face now lined with suppressed grief. "I'll stay for another few days, Ned, then I'll head north to the Wall. Now if you'll excuse me…" With that he walked off towards the casket, intending to pay his respects to his dead sister.
Eddard, or Ned to his friends sighed sadly, then very visibly turned back to the much happier subject of picking his firstborn son's name. "Now, where were we?" He thought for a moment. He was tempted to name him Robb, a strong, good family name, but at the last moment was reminded of a name from the language of the First Men he was descended from. In their language, names often had special meanings, and looking at the vitality and life in the young baby he knew the name to use. "Ranma."
Catelyn looked up at him quizzically and he elaborated. "It is a name from the First Men, it means Wild Storm. With his eyes and energy I think it fits."
His wife looked down at their baby and nodded. "It does indeed my lord. Especially," she rolled her eyes as the newly named Ranma began to move in her grip. "Since as your brother said, he's already taken to crawling around. A little bundle of energy this one, he seems to never be still."
Eddard chuckled lightly, then sobered. "I have something to show you milady." At a nod from him the maid holding the baby he'd brought back with him, a girl he had hired to care for the baby on his northern trek, came forward.
As Catelyn began to freeze at the sight of her new husband's bastard child, Ranma's eyes locked onto the other baby. It had been a few days, and he had started to think slightly clearer, not a lot, most of his previous life was still a dream to him. But he knew his name and could understand some of what was said. He wondered if it was fate or something that he was given the same name in this new life. That didn't matter now, and he stared at the other little baby, whose eyes opened to show brown eyes in a rather serious face.
Above him he could hear the man's voice, the man who was apparently his father in this world, say in a calm but caring way, "This is your brother Ranma, his name is Jon. I hope you two get along."
Ranma felt a rush of feeling through him, this time coming entirely from his old life, just like every time Catelyn smiled at him. 'Brother', that word, much like the word 'mother', meant a lot to him signifying things he had never had before all tied into another word that he had never truly had either. Ranma looked up giggling happily in the manner of all babies as he stared at his parents waving his hands wildly. Brother, mother, father, family. I have a real family!
The years passed, and as they passed Ranma began to be able to think more clearly with each passing month. Motor control came back to Ranma first of course, which would have surprised no one who had known him in his previous life. By the time he was eight months old, he was walking easily under his own power. By the time he was two, he was running. By the time he was four, he had the speed and dexterity (body not finger dexterity) of a ten-year-old, as well as the strength and durability, although no one was aware of those last two.
Ranma also started to train himself in secret in his room at night (jumping up to the handle of his door was irritating but doable) and during the mornings when he could get away from his watchers. He was so good at getting away from his minders that they had nicknamed him the 'Wild Wolf' for his ability to run away and get into trouble.
As he grew, he determined a few things about his new life. First, he was definitely not in the world he had been born into in his previous life or whatever you wanted to call it. He had seen a map in his father's room one time. They had been playing together in one of his father's few free moments, and Ranma had been looking around avidly at this room he had never been in before. The map had been up on a wall and not a bit of it could he recognize. The continent of Westeros had a look to it a little like the United Kingdom all mashed together into one with more bits added on, but that was all. Ranma determined from that that he was not in his old reality, that he had been sent here somehow and he wondered why.
For the most part, however, Ranma was content to simply be a little boy again, having fun running around and of course having a loving family. His mother, the Lady Catelyn was an utter joy to him, for he had no memories of Nodoka from this time of his previous life, having been taken away on the training trip at two. A part of him loved her all the more because he knew what it was like to not have a mother or one who didn't care for you. He wasn't certain why she was so nasty to Jon sometimes, so aloof and uncaring when Jon was around, or why he lived in a separate part of the castle, but he hoped to find out the reason one day when he was older.
His father too, was fantastic. Ned was a stern man yet warm despite that, and he always made time for his sons, playing with them and simply spending time with them in a way that wasn't martial arts related. Genma had never been one to bestow hugs, kisses, or pick him up and simply carry him around laughing in the safety (and isolation) of his bedroom or office. His earliest memory of Genma was of being taught the martial arts, almost literally before he could walk.
Jon too, was great. It was fun having another kid around. Even if they couldn't do much yet, their playtime was fun, even to someone who had a 19-year-old mind inside him. Especially to a 19-year-old who couldn't remember ever having played around like a normal child.
Then when he was four, his mother suddenly began to balloon. The 19-year-old in him knew that this was meant he had a little sibling was on the way and he looked on proudly as his parents announced it to the family and to the retainers. Months passed, which Ranma spent getting stronger and training himself even harder, pushing his little body to the limit in a way that even his self in his previous life would've been surprised by.
After all, the younger Ranma back then had never really realized why he was doing this, only that his father was telling him to. This Ranma was getting stronger to get stronger for a reason. Ranma felt he had to be here for a reason, to do something. Some kind of quest, some kind of enemy, he didn't know yet what, but he would be ready for it.
Soon Sansa arrived, and he looked down at the little pink baby that was his sister and he looked up at his mother with wide eyes. "Was I that small?" he asked in a loud voice, a question fueled by both his lives, having never been around babies when he was back in his old body.
Catelyn laughed. "All babies are that small, my dear." She said leaning down to kiss him gently, being careful not to dislodge Sansa in her blanket.
"Indeed," said his father pulling Catelyn into a hug from around the waist from one side of the bed. "You and Jon were both that small. I could pick either one of you up in one hand."
Ranma pouted and they chuckled, then Jon and Ranma, who Ranma had insisted come in with him looked down at the baby and up at his parents.
It doesn't matter, he realized suddenly. The reasons I'm here do not matter a damn. I have a new life, a new family: a brother, a sister, a new mother and father. I will, by all that is holy, do all I can to protect them and make them proud of me as a brother, as an heir, and as a son.
Chapter 1 Normalcy and Ranma are a Contradiction in Terms
"Ranma! Get back here!" shouted a voice from down in the courtyard and Ned looked up from where he was working with his chief seneschal. The two men chuckled and moved over to the window to stare out into the courtyard below.
Sure enough there was Ranma, once more running away from his lessons, showing far more dexterity and energy than a five-year-old boy should have. His hair, which was rather long for a boy at present, whipped behind him as he dodged the grabbing motion of Maester Luwin. "I don't want to!" he exclaimed, "It's a lovely day, why do I have to spend it inside!?"
With that he ducked under the man's reaching hand and ran far faster than a five-year-old should be able to move, dodging around some of the guards who were there practicing in the courtyard.
The seneschal chuckled. He was an older man, who had served Eddard's father before him and his grandfather before that. His rheumy eyes were staring at a memory as much as the world around him. "He reminds me so much of your older brother, my Lord, a wild little thing Bran was, always running around getting into trouble."
"Yes," said Ned, though his own voice was more thoughtful as he watched Ranma dodge a wild swing from a swordsman who hadn't heard Ranma coming, ducking underneath the blow with a dexterity, speed, and body control well beyond his years. "In many ways he is, in many ways, not."
He excused himself, and he went downstairs to corral his wayward son. Almost as soon as he stepped out into the courtyard, Ranma ran up to him smiling happily. "Hi dad!" He didn't even look behind him as he dodged another last gasping grab from the maester. "Have you come out to have fun, too?"
Eddard smiled faintly but went to his knees and said seriously as he pulled his son to him, "What have I told you about running away from your lessons? You need to learn how to read and write and you need to learn our history. The subjects you learn now will stand you in good stead later on. You are my heir Ranma, you need to know these things to be a lord worthy of our house."
Ranma looked down, kicking the ground. "I know, it's just a such a nice day out I wanted to get out and have fun."
"I know," Ned said, smiling his small smile that he only showed to his family. "Perhaps you could take your lessons outside? Do you promise to try and concentrate if Luwin does that?"
Ranma nodded eagerly. "I promise."
Behind him he heard a giggle, and he turned to see his wife leading their daughter out by the hand. Sansa was now two years old and thought that her big brother was very funny. Maybe that was just because he would make faces at her in an attempt to get her to laugh, yet even when he wasn't trying to be funny she would giggle at him.
"You spoil him so." Catelyn said a little disapprovingly. "He can't always have his lessons outside, after all, and he does need to learn how to pay attention to Maester Luwin and sit still."
Ned shrugged unrepentantly. "He is a five-year-old boy who has more energy than any grown man. It's a wonder that he can sit still at all."
Catelyn was about to respond rather sharply, saying that he needed to learn now or else he would never learn later on, but the maester spoke up quickly. "If, if I may?" he said gasping a little still. He was a middle-aged man, but he was never very athletic, and keeping up with Ranma was enough to drive even a trained soldier into the ground. "I think, I think I have a suggestion. If I can start giving him things to do with his body while he listens to me it may help. You're right, Lord Stark, it's obvious he has too much energy to sit still for very long. That's not an unheard of occurrence after all."
"Hi mom!" said Ranma looking around his father and dancing to one side before rushing forward to envelop her legs in a hug.
Catelyn looked down at him smiling, her former irritation disappearing. Her son was a sweet boy, always happy and handing out hugs to his family like this. And it never failed to calm her down or make her irritation fade.
Her face stilled the moment Jon came out, moving quickly to join Ranma at his side. The two were constant companions, though Ranma had much more energy and dexterity then Jon. Still, Jon was trying to keep up with him and it was fun to watch despite her dislike for the young bastard, the constant sign of her husband's infidelity.
"Still, I'm afraid your mother is correct" said Eddard, "You need to learn how to pay attention now, so I'm afraid no lessons outside for you. Maester Luwin, if you can put his body to work at the same time that will probably help." He looked at his son. "Keep up with your lessons in the mornings and you will have the afternoons free."
Ranma thought about it with a thoughtful frown on his face as if he was trying to copy Eddard and both his parents chuckled. "Fine," he said, "I'll go back in, so long as I can do something while I'm listening to the lessons."
"Then we have an accord," said Ned gravely then spoiled it by smiling that small, warm smile of his before reaching forward to rub Ranma's hair affectionately, nodding at Jon next to him.
Ranma grinned to himself as he snuck back to his room with his burden. They aren't that heavy, but I can start training with them anyway, and replace the bits later on.
"What are you doing?" said a soft voice, a whisper on the wind as he snuck down the hallway towards his room. Ranma turned swiftly, staring at the doorway where Jon stood, having opened the door of his own room to peer out sleepily.
"Are you doing something you shouldn't?" said Jon, a serious little boy who Ranma had taken to making certain lightened up. It was having quite a bit of success, but when he was startled or tired Jon reverted to his serious nature. Ranma still wasn't certain why his mother didn't like Jon, why he was his father's son but not hers, or why he had quarters away from the rest of the family. But that didn't really matter. To Ranma, he was simply his brother, something he would've cheerfully killed for in his old life.
Ranma raised a finger to his lips for quiet, then motioned Jon to follow. They moved up several stairs from where Jon had a room, surrounded by a few of the servant's families, and up to the private quarters of the lord's family. They moved through the darkened castle quietly, even past a few guards who patrolled the keep at night. Soon enough they arrived at their destination. Ranma silently opened the door to his room, motioning Jon inside.
Once inside his room, Ranma opened the bag he had been carrying, which held several leather armguards that he had taken from a guardsmen's supply room. They were ones the guardsmen had several on hand at all times, so they weren't going to be missed. "We can cut these down to fit us and use them to carry these."
The other things he carried were four iron bars the length of his forearm. Ranma gestured at them. "Weight training." he said simply. "You get stronger if you lift weights a lot, I think a few exercises at night wearing these and maybe wearing them underneath our clothing at times would be good." Ranma had intended to wear them on his arms and legs, but was willing to share his leg weights with Jon.
"Training." said Jon thoughtfully, then his eyes lit up. "You mean like sword training!?" And he made gestures with his arms as if he was holding a sword. "Chop, chop, chop!"
The 19-year-old mind that was in Ranma six-year-old head shook his head, but physically Ranma simply chuckled. "Yep, this will help you when we start learning how to use swords."
"Can I do it too?" said Jon pointing at himself.
Ranma nodded and the two conspirators began to talk about what they would be doing with them. Jon couldn't really follow everything Ranma said, but Ranma didn't try to explain everything either, simply stating that working with weights would make them stronger later on and moving with them would make them faster when they took them off, which was enough for Jon.
About three months later, Catelyn was once again pregnant. A month after that, Ned was called away to war. The Greyjoys, Lords of the Iron islands, had rebelled against the king, taking to raiding the coastline up and down all Westeros.
With Eddard gone, Ranma stepped up his training times even more, not noticing that he was now being watched by several people of the castle, maids, soldiers, and workers. They saw him training to build up his strength by carrying around rocks and building up speed by racing the dogs or catching the chickens in their coop. They all whispered that it was because Ranma felt he was the man of the Castle and had to protect everyone. To the maids, it was sweet. To the soldiers and the other men, it was amusing, but they only saw the tip of the iceberg. None of them realized how much other training Ranma was putting himself through.
With Catelyn busy with her duties as lady of the castle, Jon, Ranma, and Sansa spent more time together although the girl was not really old enough yet to run around with the boys. She didn't seem as interested in outdoor excursions, either. Seeing as Ranma couldn't remember a time of his life where he spent any time at all around little girls, he didn't know if that was just the difference between boys and girls or what. It was also at this point that Ranma found the godswood.
Maester Luwin and Catelyn both worshiped the Seven, but the predominant religion in the North, by a wide margin, was the worship of the old ones. This wasn't an organized religion like worship of the Seven was, with a set hierarchy and priests. It was a very personal religion, passed down from father to son. Rather than worshiping in a sept with seven statues, it was based on worship of nature spirits represented by the godswood, ancient woods that were built around ancient trees that had been here long before the First Men. One tree in particular was larger and older by far. It was a different kind of wood called weirwood and in its solid trunk was carved the face of an old man.
Ranma moved around the woods, looking around in awe at the amount of energy he felt. It was old and it was, like the energy of a tree itself only everywhere, in the air, slow, ponderous but alive and strong flowing all around him like a solid fog of power. The peace of this place was something that he had never felt before and he sighed as he let it fill him.
As he moved in deeper, he felt a sense of welcome fill him and Ranma smiled. Not the wide, friendly, and oftentimes mischievous smile of his current age, but a smile of peace and serenity that would have looked at home on his old body, if he had ever felt those feelings in his old life.
Soon Ranma found himself standing in front of the weirwood tree, or heart tree as it was called, its wood smooth and bone white. Its leaves, which grew from every branch of the massive tree, were five-pointed leaves and blood-red, which, according to what he had heard, was also the case of the sap. The face of the old man, carved there by the children of the forest long before Winterfell was even built, looked down at him. Near its base was a small, dark pool of water around seven feet across.
Ranma stared up at the heart tree, then knelt down, getting into the lotus position, looking back up at it silently. All around him he felt that wave of welcome intensify for a moment and he smiled, then spoke. "You were the ones who brought me here, weren't you?" The feeling of welcome intensified again at his words and he nodded. "I have to thank you then. I, I never knew what a real family was like until I came here. My old man, Genma, he wasn't a real father to me, just a trainer. And the less said about Nodoka, the better. Even with how serious dad is, he's better than Genma ever was. I can tell he loves me and my siblings. He's a fantastic role model and my mom is great. But I have to ask, why? I don't think there was anyone who worshiped you in my world. I certainly didn't so it couldn't be because of what I did in my old life. So why am I here?"
The feeling of welcome faded as if it had never been and then images came to him: Images of war, of strife, of blood, betrayal, treachery, and death. The images were nothing permanent, flashes of emotions of a bleak future, nothing concrete until right at the end, when two eyes of pitiless ice looked back at him, accompanied by a cold so intense Ranma gasped.
Then it was gone and Ranma shook his head, gasping again, and trying to regain control of himself. After a moment he stood up and nodded, his five year old face firm. "I see. My family's motto is 'Winter is Coming', I didn't realize how true those words could be. But it isn't just the winter we need to fear, but other men, huh? I was brought here to change that fate?" A warm feeling filled him and he nodded again. "I will be ready."
"Why do I have to learn this stuff?" Ranma complained while continuing to perform jumping jacks in place. "It's boring and it's not as important as reading and writing, is it?"
Maester Luwin rubbed his forehead, knowing this was level one of his charge's progression toward running off. Luwin had become quite adept at seeing the signals in Ranma. The question would come first, then would come even faster exercises, and then, suddenly, he would bolt for the door. And as fast as Ranma was, despite being only five years old, there was no way that Maester Luwin was going to catch them. Despite the fact that chasing after Ranma had forced Luwin to get some exercise, he was not anywhere near what anyone would call fast. And of course even grown soldiers had trouble catching Ranma these days.
So he needed to figure out a way to convince Ranma that learning about the history of all of the different houses and the differences between them was important. Luckily, however, Maester Luwin knew exactly what would get his charge's attention, the same thing that got his attention talking about mathematics, geography, and everything else: war and combat.
He looked over at Jon and winked at the other boy, who grinned back at him. Jon too knew the signs and had become somewhat of a co-conspirator with Maester Luwin in trying to keep Ranma from bolting during his classes. Not so much because Jon didn't understand why Ranma was doing so, but because he didn't like the way that the Lady Catelyn looked at him when he joined Ranma in his escapades. Ranma would get blamed a little, but the look in Catelyn's eyes made it clear that she would dearly like to blame Jon, for some reason.
"Now Ranma," Maester Luwin began, "while you may not think this is important, manners and how you carry yourself can be very important when meeting other people. It could mean the difference between insulting someone and having a fight to the death or making new friends." That didn't seem to interest Ranma but Luwin went on quickly. "And learning all of the different major houses can tell you a lot about how the kingdom is run and everything else, including how the house might pursue personal combat or a war."
Ranma frowned a little seeing this as a rather blatant attempt to convince him that this stuff was interesting, but he sighed and nodded. "I guess I can see that, still seems boring to me though."
"But useful. Now, let's start with something simple, house Tully. What is their motto, and what do you think it means for the people themselves, both in relation to how they rule and how they would fight?"
Ranma frowned, then replied "It's 'family, honor, duty', I think, or 'family, duty, honor'."
"Jon which one is it, do you think?"
"The second one, Sir." Jon was always courteous.
"That is correct, now what do you think that means in terms of leadership?"
An hour later the boys vacated the premises quickly and Maester Luwin leaned back with a sigh, massaging his forehead again. Once you got Ranma interested in something, he would bring a focus to it that was that was beyond surprising in a barely five-year-old boy. Ranma was incredibly intelligent for his age, but his attention span worked against him. Yet, since he had promised his father he would concentrate more on his lessons Ranma's abilities had gone up by leaps and bounds in every test Luwin gave him. It was almost bizarre how much focus he could bring to learning.
"You just have to know how to get his attention.", he muttered to himself, chuckling a little. For Ranma, he obviously wanted to make his parents proud of him. He was eager to please, and once he truly realized that he needed to learn to read and write to become a better leader and lord, and thus make his father happy, he took to it quickly. Math had been harder of course, until Luwin connected it to logistics.
Luwin was not the only one astonished by Ranma. Ser Rodrick, the castle's master at arms and leader of the guard while Eddard was away, was as well. He stood outside now watching Ranma and Jon play a game that looked silly on the face of it, a slap game based on trying to catch one another's hands with a slap. However, Ser Rodrick had been around for a long time and knew what it really was; a game to teach hand-eye coordination and speed.
Ranma was simply fast! Rodrick had known that the boy was fast on his feet but this was the first time he had seen him practicing something like this. Jon was nowhere near as fast as Ranma but he was quite a bit faster than normal and had better hand-eye coordination than a boy twice his age. "I think I need to talk to Lord Stark when he gets back." he muttered. "We might want to put these two into real sword training earlier than normal."
Later that evening Ranma stole up to the maester's room in the tower where the ravens that were used as messenger birds stayed, knocking on the door gently. Ranma had just spent dinner with his mother, younger sister, and Jon, and had finally decided that enough was enough. Throughout the dinner his mother had ignored Jon, who just seemed resigned to it. When he asked Jon what was up, Jon didn't answer.
The maester opened his door and looked at Ranma in surprise. "Ranma, what can I do for you? Shouldn't you be preparing for bed?"
"Maester Luwin, why is Jon named Jon Snow if he's my brother and why does my mother hate him?"
Maester Luwin winced a little at the innocent questions. Everyone had basically hoped that Ranma would figure out the answer to those questions by simply observing everyone around him, but it looked as if he hadn't or maybe wanted clarification to the point. "Come inside, Ranma. I could wish you had waited to ask your father this question, but I understand that he would probably not be as happy about that." He chuckled a little sadly.
When the explanation was over, Ranma was a little angry at his father, at first, for betraying his mom like that. But it isn't as if they had been married for all that long and maybe he had had a lover before they were married. But Jon's a little younger than me isn't he? So that means he was born after me, which means dad was with this other woman after marrying mom. But that goes against everything he's taught us about keeping your word and honoring your vows. So instead Ranma asked a simple question to himself: would a man like Eddard, who preached about honor and dignity and duty, go behind his mother's back, even if he wasn't in love with her at the time, to have another baby with another woman?
The answer to that, he knew almost immediately, was no. So, he thought to himself, looking around at Jon at the next day as they sat in their lessons, there's something else going on here. He looks like dad, but that doesn't mean much does it? I mean, surely dad had some siblings or something.
The questions festered for a few days, then when they were discussing the history of the great families, Ranma asked, "Maester Luwin, did my father have any siblings? I've heard people comparing me to someone named Bran?"
Maester Luwin chuckled a little. "Yes indeed, I never knew Bran Stark. I wasn't assigned here at the time, but he was supposed to be a little wild creature when he was younger, much like you today. But he wasn't their only sibling, there was Lyanna as well, your father's slightly older sister, and, of course, Benjen, who is now commander of the Night Watch."
He briefly detailed the revolution of Robert the Usurper against the Targaryen dynasty and then said briskly, "But we will cover that in more detail in later lessons, now let us return to the First Men and discuss how they were able to push the children of the woods out of most of Westeros, and why the First Men took up their religion."
Ranma nodded and went along with it, but inside his mind was already racing ahead. He made certain not to look at Jon as he kept thinking, while a wild surmise came to him.
Catelyn looked out of her window, patting her now bulging stomach, sighing a little sadly as the sun went down. Eddard had not returned, though the news they were getting said Stannis Baratheon had crushed the Iron Born fleet. They had been pushed off of most of their islands and back to Pyke, where they were now besieged. Hopefully, that meant that he would be coming home soon. But that wasn't all that was bothering her and she knew it.
Why has Ranma been so cold to me? Catelyn thought disconsolately. Her son was affectionate, warm, and loving to his family, despite being almost entirely Stark in his body he had a Tully soul or, at least, that was how she thought of it. But for the past few days he had been distant with her during the few times she could spend with him and Sansa. Where before she would always exchange hugs with him before sending him off to bed or even going up to read to him before he fell asleep, now Ranma didn't even try to kiss her or come close to her, and when she went up to read to him, Ranma was already asleep with his lights out.
She wanted to put it down to worry for Ned or one of those odd humors that children go through at times Maybe something he had heard in their history lessons had bothered him and he was trying to think through it alone. But somehow she knew that wasn't it. Her musings were interrupted by a knock on the door, well below the height a grown man would knock on, and a young voice saying, "Mama, can I talk to you?"
Catelyn smiled happily, hoping that this meant that whatever had bothered her son he had thought through it or come to her for advice at least. She responded instantly. "Of course Ranma, come in."
Ranma came in, moving to her swiftly and hugging her around the waist before leaning back and sitting down the footrest opposite her. "Mama," he said slowly, "I… I found out why Jon isn't really my brother."
Catelyn tried to stop it but she could feel her face closing down. Despite the fact that they had not been in love when they married, despite her love for her family and her husband, the fact that Ned insisted on keeping the visible sign of his infidelity around almost like he was a regular family member stuck in her craw and was just the one wound that would never heal. It had been over five years now and she still couldn't get over it. What woman could? Now her own son was asking and his father was nowhere in sight to explain it to him!
Ranma went on before she could say anything. "I asked Maester Luwin, and he explained things, but I don't think he's right!"
Catelyn frowned, trying to keep her expression and voice calm as she asked softly "What do you mean, you don't think he's right?"
"Well, dad always told us about holding to honor and duty, and how important family is right? Sort of like your family's motto? He's…" Ranma paused before going on, laying it on a bit thick for now. "He's kind of hard at times I guess, is that a right way to put it?"
Catelyn found herself smiling slightly and she nodded. "That is exactly the correct way to put it yes. Your father can be a hard, harsh man."
"Yeah, but what I mean is, he's not the kind to… you know to just do that…" he stammered, blushing hotly, "with someone when he's already married to you."
Catelyn's small smile disappeared and she said, "Yes, it's not an act you would normally ascribe to a man like Ned, but sometimes a man's desires catch them in a weak moment. Your father has never explained to me what happened, but I can imagine and it isn't exactly unusual for Lords to have…"
"But it is for dad isn't it?! I mean it's so weird coming from him."
"The phrase is 'out of character' and yes it is. But sometimes people act like that when they are in a war or having just finished a war. Their emotions run high and override their sense of honor."
"Maybe," Ranma frowned, but then said excitedly, now sharing his own idea about what happened, though he was still acting like a child. "I had a better idea, what if Jon isn't dad's son, but someone else's in his family?"
Catelyn had never thought about it, simply taking Eddard's word at face value but now she frowned, wondering why it hadn't occurred to her before.
She frowned further, thinking it through. If it was his father's son gotten on some whore or other in Kings Landing thanks to a final night of pleasure before his murder at the Aery's hand that could explain it, but then Rickard's wife had passed well before then. So why wouldn't he just tell me that? Why does he insist on telling me that Jon is his bastard? Though he could be covering for Bran, but that makes no sense. And of course Benjen never went south.
"It's a nice theory," she said, still calm, "but I don't think it holds much weight, Ranma. I'm afraid you're just going to have to accept that there was one moment in his life were your father wasn't the perfectly honorable man. If it had been his brother's or his father's after all then he would have been within his rights to legitimize Jon, though he would never be in line for the succession."
"But there was another older sibling, wasn't there? That's what Maester Luwin told us when I asked. Lyanna was her name right, the one that was supposed to marry Robert Baratheon before the rebellion?"
That thought struck like a lightning bolt, and Catelyn reared back nearly pushing her chair off the ground as if the thought had hit her with physical force. Lyanna Stark had been betrothed to Robert Baratheon but she had been instead stolen away by Rhaegar Targaryen. That marked the start of the downward spiral that eventually led to the death of so many people in Kings Landing, including Rickard and Bran Stark. If Rhaegar had put a child in Lyanna, then what would Robert do?
She knew the answer to that, the news of the sack and massacre of the Targaryen dynasty, their children hacked to pieces by Lannister men had spread throughout the nations of Westeros. And Ned would never have killed a child, or blame the child for the sins of the father even if he was a child of rape. Though if Jon is a child of rape from Lyanna, Ned's a better person than I am, Catelyn thought guiltily, recalling all the times she had been cold or stiff or simply dismissive of Jon.
Calm down, she thought to herself, calm down, we don't know if that is the case. And Jon has nothing of the Targaryen features about him, he's pure Stark, more so even than Ranma! Still, the idea refused to leave her, as well as the fact that the consequences if it ever came out that he shared blood with the Targaryen dynasty. Robert, close friend and boyhood companion of Eddard, would turn on him the moment it came out to so as to slake his thirst for Targaryen blood.
Catelyn leaned forward earnestly grabbing Ranma by his shoulders, a little surprised at how firm they felt under her hands. Her young son was a wiry little thing and surprisingly strong for his size. "Ranma," Catelyn said earnestly, "you must not share this wild theory of yours with anyone else, do you understand?"
Ranma shook his head, this time not acting at all. "No mama, I don't."
"You'll understand when you're older, but right now it is important for you to promise me, promise me, Ranma, that you won't share this idea with anyone, not even Jon himself!" She frowned a little then pulled him into a hug. "I'll try to act better toward Jon, but you have to promise not to share this theory with anyone."
"If you promise to treat him good then I'll promise to keep quiet about it," said Ranma resolutely. "I won't even ask dad when he comes back, if it's that important."
"Good," said Catelyn sighing in relief and kissing his forehead. "Very good, my little man," she said ruffling his hair fondly. "Now, do you want me to read to you before you go to bed?"
Ranma grinned impishly and pulled her to her feet "I think Sansa's still awake, let's read to her instead."
Catelyn chuckled and let Ranma pull her along putting the entire conversation to the back of her mind for now.
Two months passed since that conversation. Jon was ecstatic that the distance between him and Catelyn seems to have shrunk dramatically. She still wasn't as kind to him as she was to her own children, but it was much better.
It was at this point that Ser Rodrick began to train both boys, trying to build up their muscles and reaction times in anticipation of sword training, something that would normally start at age eight and go on for two years. As he had expected, their reaction times and strength were twice that what it should have been for boys of five, not just Ranma, but Jon too. He was a little leery of starting them on practice swords without talking to lord Stark in person, first, but bows and arrows at least were safe enough.
After a single day, he could tell that neither Jon nor Ranma had a true archer's eye, but they were fast, strong, and could handle the pull of the practice bows without any strain. Afterwards, Rodrick called them over to him and he shook his head, looking down at the two. "I don't understand, it's as if you've both been training for years, but I've never seen any sign of you taking the weapons or sneaking away somewhere. Care to share why that is?"
The two young boys shared a conspiratorial grin but didn't reply and he laughed. "Away with you then, I can hear Maester Luwin calling you in for extra lessons." Rodrick watched as they both ran off, shaking his head. He had heard of natural talents before, Jaime Lannister was supposed to have been one such, the youngest person to ever be elected to the Kingsguard, who had killed four men in the kingswood. And Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning was another, one of the trio that had fallen against Lord Stark and his companions at the Tower of Joy taking all but Lord stark and Lord Reed into death with them when Eddard went there to retrieve Lyanna's body. Yet even so… I have to speak to Lord Stark when he returns, there's just something strange about how good Ranma is at anything to do with fighting.
Three weeks later, Ranma was in the godswood. He normally came here to practice early in the mornings before anyone else was up as well as deep into the night after everyone else had gone to sleep. Today however, he hadn't done much more than his starting routine of upside down sit-ups (dangling from a tree limb) when he heard a voice shouting for him near the edge of the woods.
He flipped out of the tree, landing lightly and racing towards the voice to find one of the servants looking for them. "There you are, young master." The maid said, looking relieved. "Your father has returned from the war. He is within an hour's ride from here, already. Your lady mother wants you and your siblings to bath and prepare for him."
Ranma nodded with a smile on his face, then shot off like a arrow from a bow. The maid stared after the small child racing faster than a grown man through the trees, maybe even faster than a horse, and she chuckled. "Little wild wolf," she said affectionately following after him at a much more sedate pace.
Ranma soon found himself standing with his mother beside him, one hand on his shoulder while Catelyn's other hand held Sansa's little one. Sansa was dressed in a very good dress and looked the perfect image of a pretty little lady. Jon stood to one side, dressed in some clothing cut to his size that had been Ranma's. Both his and Ranma's hair was combed and they both stood to attention as their father cantered into the castle's courtyard.
Ned Stark was bone weary, but the sight of his family waiting for him made Ned raise his head and smile faintly before dismounting easily and moving forward. He looked at his pregnant wife, his dark eyes warm as he kissed her forehead with his arms going around her gently. "My lady, I hope you are well?"
"I am very well, my lord husband. Your castle has had no problems while you were gone, though I hope that it will be a long time before we need to supervise it without your presence again."
"You and I both, my love." Ned's arms tightened for a moment before he turned to Sansa, kneeling down to her level. "Hello my daughter, how are you?"
Sansa smiled tremulously, then wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him fiercely. "Missed you daddy!"
Ned smiled his faint, warm smile then stood up, lifting Sansa in his arms. He looked over at Ranma and Jon, who both smiled up at him, happy to have him back home where he belonged.
Ranma however, had also noticed that among the returning soldiers with his father was a small, wiry boy who was now scowling around at Winterfell.
Eddard noticed where his son was looking and waved his hand at the boy. He came forward, rather sullenly Ranma thought, and Eddard nodded his head gravely. "This is Theon Greyjoy of house Greyjoy…."
Catelyn waited, wrapping herself in calm until late that evening when the servants and everyone else were all-a-bed save for the guards on the walls and roaming the castle, a constant here in Winterfell. She waited, still calm as her husband joined her in bed before beginning. "While you were gone Ranma came up with a very shocking idea one I am astonished never occurred to me," she murmured, snuggling into his side and holding him tightly.
"And what is that?" he murmured.
"He wondered whether or not Jon isn't your son, but your sister's." She said looking at his face, waiting for his reaction.
Eddard turned to her sharply, his eyes wide and he made to stand up but her grip on him kept him where he was in their bed. "It is the truth?"
"I…" he shook his head, looking a little pole-axed at the suddenness of the questioning. "That is, I made a promise. I cannot …"
"So Jon is Lyanna's," Catelyn said slowly, "I understand, though you are a far better man even than I thought, Ned Stark. I'll keep your secret and I'm sorry for doubting you for so long." She leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips. She was much too far along in her pregnancy to let them do anything serious, but cuddling was safe enough.
She doesn't know the full truth, Ned thought to himself after Catelyn fell asleep, sighing almost sadly. Robert and all the other who had suffered under the edicts of the Mad King would try to put Jon to the death again if they knew even that much. It would be nice to share his burden with someone else, someone else who had heard his sister's final confession, but that could not be allowed. If Robert found out that Lyanna ran away willingly with Rhaegar, then his hatred would possibly be turned to all of the Starks, his friendship with Ned would not be enough to stay his wrath.
Ned all too easily remembered those dark days right after the sacking of the Red Keep and Kings Landing. When Tywin and the other Lannisters were so proud of themselves for their bloody work, for the way they slaughtered children and the way Robert agreed with them, saying that the only good Targaryen was a dead one. How enraged Robert was by the fact that even two young children had escaped.
No, Eddard thought as he snuggled down next to his wife, kissing her neck gently,there were some secrets that he would take to the grave, even if both Ranma and Catelyn already knew that Jon was not his own.
Theon, Ranma decided, was a bit of an enigma. He seemed courteous enough, if a little sullen, which was to be expected given the reasons behind his wardship in Winterfell. In the week since his arrival he had also proven quick to anger, quick to insult, and quick to fire back at any perceived insult directed at him.
Still, Ranma at last got him to play some games with him and Jon. Theon came upon them in the courtyard one day, standing up and trying to slap one another's hands. Jon was quick and had an excellent eye, but Ranma was simply faster and better. He still let Jon win sometimes of course, he didn't want to crush his brother's enthusiasm for training.
Theon looked on for a moment and then sneered. "Don't you know any better games? That's kids stuff."
"Well, that would make sense, wouldn't it," Jon replied drolly, sounding far older than his years would suggest. "We are kids, after all."
"Speak for yourself, I'm an Ironborn warrior!" Theon replied. "If I was still among my people, I'd already be training with knives."
"Yeah, but you're not." Ranma broke in, slapping Jon's hands at the same time, then trying to slap his face but Jon ducked aside. "And besides, what if you were playing this game and your hands were holding those knives of yours?"
Theon paused thoughtfully for a moment then asked hesitantly "Er, I don't suppose I could play?"
Thus began the tentative friendship between the three boys.
Above them Ser Rodrick and Ned stood in his office, looking down on them, speculatively.
Soon enough the Stark family had a new addition and to Ned looking at his second daughter it was like Lyanna had come back to life.
Ranma was a mix between the Stark and Tully blood. He was stern at times, forthright and blunt spoken, yet warm and friendly with the Stark features of dark hair and high cheekbones, yet he had eyes of Tully blue. Sansa was a near perfect copy of her mother. Tully auburn hair and blue eyes coupled with the building mannerisms and attitude of a proper little lady, all quiet and earnest. Arya however was all Stark in her features, with the same gray eyes of his line and dark brown hair.
Catelyn smiled down at her new daughter, her little face scrunched up in sleep, then up at the rest of the family crowding around her bed. Ranma, for one, was smiling brightly, his arms holding Sansa back from climbing onto the bed to see the little baby, while Jon and Ned stood behind them. "My dears, this is your new sister. Her name is Arya."
The next five years passed peacefully, with little of the rest of the world making itself known in Winterfell and several more additions coming along.
Ranma, Jon and Theon began to learn swordplay, which Ranma took to like a duck to water. At least that was the way it appeared to Ser Rodrick, who had talked Lord Stark into testing the boys. Ned had been astonished by how strong and coordinated they both were already, and reluctantly agreed to let them start actual sword training. The sooner you started, after all, the better your instincts would become.
Theon was stuck still doing exercises to bring his strength and coordination up, although he had already learned how to use a bow. He was a better marksman than either Jon or Ranma, though nowhere near as good as he thought he was.
Wrestling, fisticuffs, sword work, all these Ranma dominated easily. Sword work seemed to come less easily to him, as if he was fighting himself, but still he took to it far faster than any youth Ser Rodrick had ever trained before. Despite his skills, there was no arrogance in him. He simply kept on pushing himself even more and always encouraged Jon and Theon to become better, pushing them ever on. Jon responded positively to this, while Theon seemed to resent the way Ranma outclassed him. Nor was that the only thing that put a strain on their relationship.
One day, Ranma bested both Theon and Jon in a mock wrestling match, controlling the match so they got in one another's way, then rushing forward to push them both down in a heap, with him sitting on top of them. "I think that's my victory!"
Jon grumbled good-naturedly before pushing Theon off him, poking what he thought was gentle fun at the Iron Born boy. "It would seem that working together is something they don't teach on those ships of yours."
The other boy, however, responded with a surprising amount of vitriol. "I don't need to hear that from you Snow! It was your own clumsiness that cost us the match. Are all bastards this clumsy or is it just you?"
Theon had learned of Jon's status early on, but hadn't really understood it until he had overheard Septa Mordane, who had taken over Sansa's lessons in embroidery and etiquette from Catelyn, telling the girl how she shouldn't be so friendly with the bastard born boy. Once he had figured it out, the fact that Jon was welcomed into house Stark despite his status rankled on Theon. Despite having lived here for years, he was still seen as an outsider by most of the staff, as well as Lady Catelyn, who never quite seemed to warm to him. That and the fact that Ranma and Jon were so close rankled. He wanted to be Ranma's best friend, not this bastard born. He wanted to be getting the sword lessons and the attention that Jon got just from hanging out with Ranma.
Jon flushed angrily, never liking having his dubious birth rubbed in his face. He stood up angrily, about to take a swing at Theon which was what the other boy wanted. Ranma stepped in quickly however, pushing them both back and standing between them. "Hey, that's enough you guys. If you can't work together that's fine, but I don't want any of this stupid name-calling or anything else!"
The other two boys glared at one another angrily, but subsided. Ranma sighed, knowing this was probably not the last time the two would clash. He was proven right the very next day. Over the next few years Ranma would find himself in the very odd position of peace maker countless times.
Nor was the fact that Jon had already claimed the place of Ranma's best friend the only thing that stood between them. Several months after that first incident, Jon and Ranma were training again with their swords, this time under Ser Rodrick's watchful eyes. They wore heavy padding on practically every part of their body and the swords were training blades, slightly heavier than normal ones and with no edge. Yet for all that, the two were still able to move around easily enough and the clangor of their blades slamming against one another was loud in the training ground. To one side, Theon waited for his turn, having at last proven that he was strong and dexterous enough to start training under Ser Rodrick.
Ranma's sword swept up and the two blades locked above the boys' heads for just a moment before Ranma twisting his blade, catching his opponent's and pulling it out of his hand.
Before the blade could fall to the ground, however, Jon's other hand shot out catching it in midair and bringing it back into play swiftly, forcing Ranma to guard himself. He slashed at Ranma several times and Ranma's eyebrows rose as Jon made no move to switch hands. He also didn't seem to have lost any of his dexterity or strength, which was astonishing, and he was pushing Ranma.
"Hold!" Ser Rodrick bellowed, and immediately the two boys stopped and stood back. Rodrick strode across the training ground until he stood before them, looking down at Jon. "Why didn't you switch back to your other hand, boy?"
"I felt no need sir, and I thought that maybe using my other hand would throw Ranma of his stride." Jon replied, wondering if he had done the wrong thing
"It did, I was so surprised you were able to take the initiative from me." Ranma laughed, slapping his brother's shoulder. "If the bout had continued who knows, you might have won." Of course I was holding back a heck of a lot, but still…
Ser Rodrick stroked his beard thoughtfully. "It seems that you might have been born with the gift to have two dominant hands instead of one, Jon. I'll need to think of some training exercises for you to take advantage of that." He stood there for a moment thinking then shook his head and moved away. "You have another ten minutes, then its Theon's turn." The two boys nodded, put on their protective helmets again and waited until the master at arms exited the training area, never noticing how Theon was scowling jealously.
Despite this and other moments, the three boys continued to learn together, both in the training ground and in the classroom. Ranma spent far more time in the classroom than the other two now, learning about statecraft, tactics, strategy and law, all things he needed to learn as his father's heir. The lessons right now were easy ones, but with each year they became more in depth and much harder. One such lesson was history, and Ranma learning about the rebellion, began to have a good idea why Jon's birth was kept such a secret.
"Wait!", Ranma interrupted that lesson, staring hard at Maester Luwin. "The Lannisters betrayed the king? And then massacred his family? That's not right!"
"Many things happen in wars that aren't right, Ranma," Luwin replied sadly. "Although the deeds on that day were particularly bloody, they are not an exception, but merely an example of a general rule of warfare."
"Not that, I understood that part." Ranma scoffed, though he had some ideas of his own about what was right in warfare, what wasn't, and ways to enforce those rules, as well. But that wasn't what he concentrated on. "But isn't Queen Cersei a Lannister?"
"Yes she is. Besides being one of the most beautiful women in the kingdom, she is also the daughter of Tywin Lannister who is the lord of Casterly Rock, as well as Warden of the West."
"But isn't that like he rewarded them for their butchery? That's just wrong!" Besides, Ranma thought, remembering that day several years back in the godswood. That puts way too much power into one family's hands.
"Perhaps it does sound that way," Luwin replied diplomatically. He knew Lord Stark had his own misgivings in that area, and had argued vociferously with his friend about it. "But at the time, the Lannister forces were rested, and they had control of the city. Robert had to do something to appease them, and to connect them to his reign in as strong a manner as he could."
Ranma's eyes narrowed angrily. "That doesn't make it the right thing to do. At least he should've demanded this Gregor Clegane's head, the children at least were utterly innocent!"
"Robert didn't think that way and he is the king," Luwin reminded Ranma. "He was there and you were not. Any child of the Targaryen line would have served as a rallying point for those still loyal to them, and the war may well have continued for years. As vile as the way of their deaths were, they were necessary."
"Using the word necessary like this is the way people try to explain away actions they know are wrong! It doesn't mean it was the right or honorable thing to do." Ranma replied fervently, with all the experience of a life lived in another time, another place, where he lived his life by the martial artists code. It was a code remarkably similar to that a knight was supposed to hold to, but if this Ser Clegane was a knight, then Ranma wanted nothing to do with the title.
"Enough!" Luwin barked. "You were not there, you did not live through the war, and Robert is the king. That is the end of it."
Ranma subsided, but his eyes told Luwin he didn't agree. Thankfully however, the rest of the lesson passed without further incident.
Ranma and Jon also did their best to stray friends with Sansa, yet this was made much harder by their great enemy: Septa Mordane. She was an elderly woman who had very certain and hard rules about propriety and the way a woman of standing should act. She had arrived a few months after Arya was born to take over teaching the womanly skills to Sansa, who had taken to them like a duck to water, almost like Ranma had to combat but not nearly at as high a level.
The Septa also had views about bastard born children thinking above their place and made no bones about it. That had caused her to have words with Catelyn, who had eventually ordered her to keep her opinions to herself.
She also felt that all boys, even brothers couldn't be trusted. After one incident involving Sansa sleeping in Ranma's bed with him during a thunderstorm, she refused to let Sansa spend anymore time then she possibly had to with the two boys.
To Jon and Ranma this just wouldn't do and a sort of low key war began. They did everything in their power to get Sansa away from her lessons or time with the Septa, making significant headway in some way, not so much in others. Sansa's opinion on her big brother was unchanged, he was still the best and funniest boy she knew, but in other ways Sansa was moving in a different direction.
The boys routinely convinced Sansa to come out and play with them during their free time, which was something Septa Mordane hated. She wanted to keep her charge inside learning how to sew, paint, or other things, not running around like a wild thing like the two boys did. It took Catelyn putting her foot down and Sansa actually telling them that she enjoyed sewing and other 'girly things' to stop the duo. She promised she would remain friends with them, but this was something she wanted to do.
So the two boys reluctantly stopped trying to convince Sansa to join them for their games, but they realized soon enough that not all girls were created the same.
Eddard shook his head, looking down from a second story window at his youngest playing with his oldest, the same type of slap game he had taught Jon and Theon, which seemed to be building up Arya's hand-eye coordination very quickly. The two had been playing tag for a while. Now they were sitting there simply playing with their hands and Arya's bright merry giggle rose to the window.
"I don't like it," Catelyn said, looking down at them as well from next to him, her belly now visibly pregnant again. Next to her a maid played with young Bran, now four years old. Normally he would be trying to keep up with his older siblings, but he had caught a cold the morning before, so Catelyn decided to keep him close for a few days until he was better.
"I don't like it one bit! I think it's wrong to fill her mind with such nonsense." Arya was absolutely nothing like Sansa. At eight Sansa was a proper little lady, always willing to listen to others, always wearing a dress, perfectly willing to stay inside and learn to sew, paint, or other things all day; the epitome of what a highborn girl should be.
Arya on the other hand… At six years old Arya was a right little hellion. She was completely uninterested in sitting down for long and loved running and playing outdoors with her older brothers, even Theon when he made time for her. "He shouldn't be encouraging her like that. Septa Mordane and I have enough trouble keeping her in her lessons without Ranma encouraging her in this wild idea of being able to learn how to fight eventually."
"And Jon," said Eddard looking at over where Septa Mordane had just come out of the keep, having been led a wild goose chase through the castle by Jon trying to keep her from finding out where Arya was. Jon had actually volunteered for this duty, saying the Septa already hated him, so she couldn't hate him more regardless. "I'll talk to them, though I don't think he'll agree."
"We can but try," his wife said sighing a little sadly. While Ranma was mostly a biddable young boy and eager to make his parents proud, when he got his teeth in the bit he tended to pull you along rather than the other way around.
In many ways, they were both extremely proud of their oldest son, not only because his moment of insight sealed a rift that had infested the bedrock of their family in healing the distance between Catelyn and Jon (who despite this they couldn't' formerly recognize for safety's sake). Ranma was a very intelligent young boy. Once Maester Luwin got into his head a little, figured out what interested him, and how to make their lessons interesting, the maester hadn't had a word to say against him. Septa Mordane was another matter entirely of course, but thankfully Ranma didn't actually have lessons with her. Jon, too, was extremely intelligent, but it was pretty obvious which of them was the leader and which of them the follower.
Such was the way it should be of course, though without Ranma around Jon would probably have taken the leadership role himself. They occasionally fought, but their friendship was deep and the brotherhood strong, and they had extended that to Theon (to a lesser extent admittedly), Sansa, now Arya, and even Bran, young as he was. Despite the fact that Sansa didn't enjoy their games or do a lot of the activities they found so fascinating such as exploring the woods, climbing trees, or swimming; they still took time out of their day to hang out with her and she had fallen in love with Ranma's ability to spin tales for her.
As they watched the Septa tried to drag Arya back inside, but Ranma wouldn't let his sister go, holding her around the middle and then racing off with her in his arms faster than even a grown man could run despite the weight of his sister. Arya in turn was screaming out gleefully, "Faster, faster!"
Later that night Eddard did call Ranma into his office and set him down for a talk. He tried to explain Catelyn's position; that young women of their station needed to act in a certain way, that acting otherwise would cause them to have a reputation, or not to be able to be married off to good families.
Ranma stared up at him with that serious expression he sometimes had as if he was a much older boy and shook his head. "I understand that marriages are important father and that as your heir, even I will have to marry someone of a certain station. But Arya will do what Arya will want to do, the more you try to change her the more she'll fight back. Why not try to control what she's becoming rather than trying to change her?"
Eddard sat back, wondering about another young woman, and wondered if Lyanna would've run off if their family had been able to bend enough to let her be who she wanted to be. "I, I'll talk to your mother about it, though I can't agree right away. Possibly she can start having some exercises with you during the afternoons if she promises to pay attention to her lessons in the mornings." That would switch out the lessons that Arya hated most (decorum at the moment) with something that she would enjoyand hopefully she would also learn in a controlled environment. Who knows, maybe after she realized how serious she had to be to be any good at it, she would lose interest. It could happen right?
Catelyn was not happy with this decision, and they argued about it for days, but in the end Arya was allowed to learn from Ranma in their spare time and under the supervision of Ser Rodrick so long as she didn't make a fuss during her lessons with Septa Mordane. To Catelyn's shock Arya continued to take to her training with Ranma very well, and actually concentrated on her lesson with the Septa as well. She was nowhere near good, and you could always tell there was something she'd rather be doing, but with the carrot in front of her, she was able to concentrate well enough. And to further her shock, this seemed to help Sansa and Arya's relationship somehow. They still didn't understand one another very well, but they got along much more peaceably now that Arya wasn't trying to always act up in Sansa's favorite lessons.
A year and a bit past that conversation, and this idyllic time was broken. Nearly a month after Catelyn had given birth to another little boy they named Ricon, word had come that one of Eddard's vassal lords had been caught engaging in slavery. Slavery was something that had been outlawed in Westeros for centuries, one of the most heinous crimes ever: a crime against the laws of the old gods, the Seven and man, in the opinion of those in Westeros at least. In Essos, slavery was very well known and, in fact, was a core of the continent's economy, but not in Westeros.
"I must go, Catelyn," he said, kissing his wife on the cheek. "I am the one who passed the sentence, I will be the man to wield the sword. That is the way of the North, the way of my family.
"I understand," she said sadly. "I just wish you didn't have to go. But I well understand duty."
"Can I come with you father?" said Ranma waving his hand in the air.
Eddard and Catelyn shared a glance and Eddard nodded faintly. "It will be good to get him out of the castle, see a bit of the Northern lands beyond what he can in a single days trip. He'll be perfectly safe with my guards and me."
"He's an 11-year-old boy, he shouldn't have to see what you're going to do."
"I was younger when I first saw my father carry out a sentence," Eddard replied grimly. "Now is as good a time as any. I won't force any of the others to come along though, but Ranma and Jon yes." After a moment's thought, he added, "And Theon." Despite being with them for over six years, Theon was still a sort of outsider. Ranma and Jon had warmed to him at first but his own attitude and his continued needling of Jon had driven a wedge between them, cooling their budding friendship. Now they were close, but not that close, and it was obvious that Ranma and Jon were simply brothers and that was all there was to it to them. Many of the guards and servants (and Septa Mordane) saw it differently, but made little headway in changing Ranma's mind seeing as the rest of the family was happy treating him so.
Not ten minutes later, the trio joined a group of sixteen guardsmen, Eddard's personal guard as well as ten more men added to help guard the boys. Eddard leaned down briefly to kiss his wife again on the forehead and then said softly "We'll be back."
She nodded, and stood there watching the trio as they rode out of the castle's portcullis.
The ride continued for several hours and soon Ranma was getting bored. With a grin, he pulled his legs out of the stirrups on both sides of the horse and then pulled his legs underneath his body until he was actually standing on the horse's back. Then he pushed off quickly, leaping over the horse's head to land in the road a full five paces in front of it.
The guards all around him goggled, but he kept on running, now pulling the horse along easily. Eddard stared down at him in astonishment, so astonished he didn't even think of pulling up and asking his son what the hell Ranma thought he was doing or where he had learned had to do that.
Ranma grinned up cheekily at his father and said, "I was bored."
Theon and Jon broke out into laughter and Eddard shook his head. "If you want to tire yourself out trying to keep up with us on foot that is fine, my son. It'll simply mean you'll sleep better when you stop at night."
All around him his guards laughed as well. One of them asked, "Where'd you learn to leap like that, boy?"
Ranma chuckled. "Taught myself," he said, racing along easily.
The men looked at one another and shrugged then continued on their way at a canter. The hours passed but Ranma didn't seem to feel them, simply running on with a wide grin on his face as he looked around, seeing more land and areas that he had never seen before. He wished they could stop and explore, but for now simply running along was good enough.
Eddard looked down at his son from time to time, more and more astonished at his endurance and speed as the hours dropped away.
The master-at-arms who had come with them pulled his horse up and alongside his lord's muttering, "You see what I mean, my liege? Physically he is simply beyond anything I've ever seen before. And I've spotted him training in the early mornings and deep at night in the godswood."
"In the godswood?" Eddard said sharply, turning his head to stare at Ser Rodrick.
"Yes, Lord, he always hides in there."
"Interesting," said Eddard, looking down at his son who smiled up at him. Eddard smiled faintly then shook his head before leaning over to talk to whisper to Ser Rodrick. "I'll talk to him about it, there is something special about Ranma, not only his physical skills but everything else."
The ride continued. They exchanged horses twice along the way to keep going at a high speed. They stopped that night, camping out under the stars, before starting out early the next day. While Jon and Theon were weary and rather sore in their saddles, Ranma again seemed to be almost chipper. Jon wasn't nearly in as much pain as Theon was, which made sense given that Theon had spent his early years on an island and boats, so had never ridden a horse before he came to live as a ward of the Starks.
Ned noticed this, watching Jon pull himself up into the saddle easily despite his small size and the soreness from the day before, then looked over at Ser Rodrick.
The man shrugged. "He's trained with Ranma several times that I know of and I think they've been doing some kind of weight training as well. They're both past ready to switch to real blades in terms of strength, skill not so much just yet."
Eddard shook his head. "Well, if Ranma can teach someone else to be that much better than a normal boy his age, then it's obviously not some kind of magic or anything like that," he said just loud enough for the man behind him to hear and pass on. That would stop any rumors that his son was abnormal, though gods-touched, that would be harder to combat. It would also be nowhere near as easy for others to spin tales about and be believed however. Even if it might be the truth…
As fast as they went however, moving from Winterfell to the Mormont clan's island in three weeks (a very fast time considering the terrain of this area of the North was even worse than elsewhere in the hard land), they arrived too late. Ser Jorah of house Mormont had already left, running away with his wife to the free cities of Essos.
While his father was dealing with this, Ranma went around exploring. Jon and Theon, with nothing better to do, followed him. Theon looked around, snorting in contempt. "This place is supposed to be a noble house? HAH!"
"There is more to nobility than the castle they live in or the clothes on their back." Jon retorted, though even he was surprised at house Mormont's seat. It wasn't a castle or anything like that; it was simply a massive longhouse made of timber and rock.
Yet despite that Ranma, with the mind of a 19 year old who had absorbed every lesson he could about tactics and defense, could tell this place would be incredibly difficult for any normal force to take. It was deep in woods that were rife with rocks and scrub trees, providing little cover for attackers while breaking up any kind of cavalry charge or infantry formation. The hall itself was on a hill that allowed archers stationed on it's roof to shoot down with deadly accuracy. Of course, to get here the Mormonts and the smallfolk they ruled would have to be pushed back from the rest of the island, a tall order considering what Ranma knew about the house, which was surprisingly little considering Maester Luwin's lectures. He knew they routinely battled pirates and always answered the call to arms from the Lord Paramount of the North readily enough, but that was all.
"Hah, what would you know about nobility, Snow?" Theon sneered.
"Enough," Ranma said, not loudly, but definitely, looking ahead of them. After a moment, both of the other boys looked that way as well. Around the back of the hill the longhouse stood on was a large cleared area and there were several people working out there. What surprised Ranma however, was that some of them were women. That didn't match with what he had learned about warfare in this dimension. Although the carving of a woman in a bearskin with a child in one arm suckling at her breast and a battleaxe in the other on the entrance to the longhouse should've told me that this clan is different.
"What're you doing?" Ranma asked, looking at the young woman, who looked about 20 years old and who was practicing alone with a sword at the moment.
She was a stern looking woman, whose features were more striking than pretty. She had curves denoting largish breasts, but her overall body was toned and trimmed for war. She was also taller than most women, with broader shoulders to boot. "Practicing, what does it look like boy?" She said not even looking up.
"Can I join?"
The woman looked up at him, finally registering that voice as one she hadn't heard before. She stared at the little boy who had come with Lord Stark. "I don't think you're allowed, young master. Besides it wouldn't be a fair contest." she said smiling faintly.
"You want to bet?" Ranma asked, leaping easily from a standing position over the fence and into the training area. Jon and Theon immediately raced to the fence, smiling. This looked like it would be interesting. "What's your name by the way, I'm Ranma Stark." His smile widened as it always did when he said his name like that.
The woman sighed and put her sword down. "I am Dacey Mormont, heir to the clan after this business with my uncle, I'm afraid. And I suppose I can show you why no one dares to wrestle with the bear clan."
Ranma smirked. "Yeah well, there's a first time for everything."
The woman smiled a little wider at his confidence then charged forward, intending to give this boy a richly deserved thumping.
Ranma dodged to one side, tucking one foot between hers as he did tripping her to land in the grass. But Dacey rolled with this, coming up to her feet and turning swiftly, jumping forward to try and catch him.
But Ranma dodged to one side, grabbing her arm and pulling her forward off balance, then flipping her to land in the dirt.
Dacey's eyes narrowed then her free hand reached forward as fast as she could move while the hand he still held twisted, grabbing his wrist. Ranma moved with her, grabbing her other hand and, as she tried to get to her feet, flipped her a second time.
She kicked out but he broke her grips on his arms and dodged back, still smirking. With a growl Dacey turned, pushing herself up. This time she moved forward more cautiously, then backpedaled as Ranma went on the attack.
In the background, Theon and Jon began to hoot and holler, cheering their friend on. Several clansmen and women appeared at this point, drawn by the noise.
Five minutes later, Dacey was down on the ground with Ranma behind her holding her arms behind her with one knee on her back, pushing her down into the ground with all his weight behind it. "Give up?" he asked, grinning.
"Yes, now get off me," she muttered, embarrassed beyond belief that this young pup had beaten her like this. Yet, she was also in awe of the boy's strength, speed and skill. Dacey had rarely been beaten in wrestling since she was but a child and this young pup had beaten her soundly. A stirring of interest rose in her as Ranma let go and stepped back sharply, and she resolved to keep an eye on Ranma Stark from now on.
Maege Mormont, new lady of house Mormont, and Ned had finished their meeting quickly, thanks to there being little to do about Jorah now that he was gone. The fact he had fled with his wife had proven his guilt and he was banished from the clan. Maege was his older aunt and had never wanted to be the lady of the clan, but with her brother, Jorah's father, a commander in the Nights-watch, there was no other choice.
Drawn by the commotion, they had both come out of the longhouse in time to see the final few minutes of the match. Maege shook her head, never having expected her daughter to lose, and rather decisively too. "What have you been feeding that boy, Eddard?" House Mormont was notorious even among Northmen for their contempt for titles, even those of men they respected.
Eddard chuckled a little, though inside he was rather astonished. Despite his physical skills, he had not expected Ranma to be skilled enough to take on a trained warrior like Dacey, even weaponless. Despite her young age, she was a blooded warrior, and had seen some action against pirates and a few wandering bandit groups, even a boarding action against a rogue Greyjoy ship. Yet in hand-to-hand at least, Ranma had handed Dacey her head, not something most men could say considering the fact she was larger and stronger than most men, let alone other women even in her clan. I will have to talk to him soon won't I? There is something very odd about my son.
That night, Ranma was surprised when his father told him to follow him after dinner. Normally he, Jon and Theon would be chased up to bed swiftly, especially on this trip. Still, Ranma wordlessly followed his father through the longhouse then out into the wildness of the land around it, and soon enough the two were passing from the normal woods into the local godswood. Like most Northerners, the Mormonts believed in the old gods, which was good since Ranma didn't think much of the Seven. A schizophrenic God, I don't think so was the way he thought of it, and of course, in his past life he was a follower of Confucianism if anything, so the idea of an organized religion was rather bizarre to him.
The two walked on in silence, the silence of the night and the peace of the godswood enfolding them until they stood in front of the weirwood tree at its center. Once they reached the massive white tree, Eddard sat down in front of his son, somehow solemn despite the fact that no adult could ever look natural sitting on the ground with their knees up like that. Ranma sat down at his father's gesture, sinking into a lotus position easily, which made Eddard's eyebrow rise again at the odd seating arrangement, but it looked comfortable enough if you were limber.
They sat for a few moments of silence, then Eddard spoke. "I saw your fight with Dacey earlier. And I've been told by Ser Rodrick, you have taken to lessons about arms-training like a duck to water, sometimes so well it's almost as if you already knew the movements. I've also been told that you sneak out of your room at night to go training in the godswood alone, and that you and Jon get up every morning to exercise together."
"Yet most of the exercises you do and many of the moves I saw you use against Dacey earlier are not taught locally. A few of them look as if they come from Braavosi water dancers, but there has never been one of them in Winterfell as far as I know. Moreover, you're stronger and faster than anyone your age should be and have enough endurance for ten grown men. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Ranma nodded a little worried.
Eddard kept his voice level and firm, making certain that nothing he said came out angrily or with even a hint of condemnation. "So I have to ask, how did you learn to fight the way you do?"
Ranma paused for a moment wondering how to answer then he said "I know it isn't part of our religion, father," he said gesturing at the weirwood tree, "but do you know about reincarnation?"
Eddard nodded slowly, making a gesture for Ranma to continue. With a sigh Ranma said slowly, "I, I dream of another life." It wasn't so much that he dreamed about it obviously. Ranma knew this was a second chance and remembered practically everything that happened to him in his previous life. But he wasn't about to tell his father that he had gone to sleep as a 19-year-old on the run from his family only to wake up in the body of a baby with an entirely new family on an entirely new world. The reincarnation story at least would be enough especially since in a way, it was true.
"And what do you see in this life?" Eddard asked, keeping his tone neutral.
"In that life I wasn't a lord or anything, I was what was called a martial artist. Someone devoted to training in hand-to-hand combat." Eddard nodded, that made sense at least.
"I wasn't happy," Ranma went on. "I mean I was and I wasn't. I was good, really good at the martial arts, possibly the best of my generation, but my home life was…" He shook his head. "My father wasn't really my father. He…."
Ranma paused, "he wasn't very nice or kind or anything. And I don't think he was very honorable either, I have memories of him grabbing me and running away, being chased after we didn't pay for things. And another memory," he shivered a little, completely unfeigned. Since this was a mental issue rather than physical this too had carried over to his new body. "There's a pit, I'm young, I think I was six maybe a little younger, and he fills this pit with something, something I can't see in my dreams, and then he tosses me in."
"There are other dreams that stick out, most of them have to do with, well with pain," Ranma said looking down. "My mother was even worse, though I can't tell why, she just didn't like me. Most of my dreams though, concentrate on the martial arts."
"And is that why you have to push yourself so hard in learning how to fight?"
Ranma nodded trying to keep his apprehension off his face.
Eddard leaned back, gently reaching out and touching the weirwood tree for a moment. A sense of serenity and purpose filled him and he knew that whatever this previous life was, Ranma had his skills for a reason, and it was one the gods of old agreed with. That was enough for Ned. More, Ranma was his son.
With that in mind Ned reached out with gentle arms pulling Ranma into a hug. "Whatever you were in this old life of yours, in this one you are my son, and nothing you learn from your past life will change that."
Ranma sniffled a little, but pulled back and nodded fiercely smiling up at him. Eddard chuckled and stood up. "Now, I believe it's past your bedtime."
A few days later they returned to Winterfell and life continued apace. Ranma began to learn more and more about the duties as his father's heir while devoting as much time as he could getting into what he thought of as fighting trim. At last he was able to begin to control his ki, the life energy of his body, although there were severe differences from how it reacted now to what he remembered he could do with it in his last life. Of course when he was eleven going on twelve in his last life he couldn't consciously use ki at all but still, the differences were very odd indeed.
For one thing, projecting ki, even a little bit, was impossible. Even when Ranma tried using emotion based ki he couldn't do it, not even a little bit. Ranma wasn't certain if that was because he didn't have enough (unlikely, given the fact he knew his current reservoir was about the size it had been when he first learned the Moko Takabashi), there was some mental wall he had unconsciously broken through in his last life that he didn't remember, or that ki just didn't work that way on this world for some reason. Ranma didn't know the answer to that one.
For another, healing his body went slightly slower than it should have been, though that might be because this body didn't have the experience his old one had built up of letting him control its healing via ki. His strength and speed enhancements however, were coming back much faster and he had found that he could channel ki into a weapon for a short amount of time.
At this point, that was as much as he was willing to test out in terms of ki. Ranma wanted to get his base stats, as it were, up much further before he tried anything more.
In terms of Ranma's relationship with other people during this time, the relationship between him, Theon and Jon remained much the same. Jon and Ranma were close like true brothers, while Theon was Ranma's friend but not Jon's, and the tension there was made worse because Ranma made no secret as to who he would back. Jon and Ranma came even closer one day, after Jon had realized his brother was holding back.
That day Jon had just scored a touch on Ranma in the training area, and the two were putting their gear away when Jon stopped and looked at his brother. "You're holding back," he said bluntly, "how much?"
Ranma grimaced, looking around to make certain no-one else was within hearing range. "A lot," he admitted. "Not as much against you as you might think, but I'm not showing all I can do to anyone."
"I can understand that, I guess," Jon admitted, then went on more grimly, "What I don't understand is where your skills are coming from. I know you exercise alone at night and in the mornings, but that alone wouldn't account for it. And where in the world did you learn about using weight training from so young an age or all the odd exercises you've come up with. And don't say you just heard about all of them somewhere. That didn't make sense when I was five. It doesn't make sense now."
Ranma frowned a little then nodded, again looking around. "Meet me in the godswood after everyone else has gone to bed, we'll talk there."
Jon nodded, and that ended the conversation for the moment. Later that evening Jon exited the keep easily enough, then made his way to the godswood, finding Ranma waiting for him near the edge, up in a tree of course. Not saying anything, Ranma motioned Jon to follow him deeper into the woods and the two boys silently made their way through the woods without speaking. It should have been terrifying, all alone in the woods at night, but for some reason Jon merely felt welcome somehow, as if there was nothing here that would harm him.
He had always felt that way about the godswood, it was simply more welcoming, more personal and somehow more elemental than the sept where Lady Catelyn worshiped the Seven. There was something strangely ostentatious about the whole process there when compared to the simple and natural edifice of the godswood.
Soon enough the two boys had made it through the woods and stopped in front of the heart tree. The two sat facing one another directly before it and after waiting a few minutes, Ranma hesitantly began. He told Jon the same story/half-truth he had told Eddard.
After however, Jon didn't immediately rush to reassure Ranma that he still thought of him as a brother. Instead he said, "Why though? Why are you here then? Why do you have these memories? What purpose were you allowed to keep them to fulfill, what enemy were you brought here to fight?" At Ranma's expression he laughed. "Oh, don't get me wrong, I think its amazing and all, but there must be some purpose behind you being here."
"I don't know.", Ranma admitted. "I tried to ask the heart tree, but all the old gods would send me was a very jumbled, distorted vision of what might have been or what might be coming or something like that, I'm not certain. Men are a part of it, that much I'm certain of, but who and how, no idea." He glanced at his brother sharply, looking over to the North and the months-distant Wall. "But the other thing, is something cold, something that's hates all warm things."
Jon looked in the same direction and shivered. He thought for a minute then clasped Ranma's forearm in a warriors grip. "I'm with you." He snorted a laugh at Ranma's face. "Did you think I'd respond any differently? You're my brother Ranma, regardless of this past life of yours. I'll admit it makes me happy to know you're so much better than me because you cheated from the very beginning but…"
"HEY, I didn't cheat!" Ranma exclaimed.
"Of course you did. What would you call having an entire other life to call upon when outperforming someone? In fact, the fact I can keep up with you anyway probably means I'm better than you were at my age, doesn't it?"
Ranma tackled him to the ground and the two wrestled around laughing for a time, ending the serious discussion.
Ranma's relationship with Sansa also remained close despite how different they were, as well as with his other siblings. Ranma made certain to spend time with her, regaling her with 'made-up' stories, tales he had taken from his past life. Ranma was a very good story-teller, and all his younger siblings and even other children in the castle (and some of their parents) loved to hear them, even if they were all very silly. Arya, Sansa and her friend of course liked them the most, though Arya liked the combat while Sansa and Jeyne Poole liked the 'romance' in them, the brave pigtailed warrior fighting to protect the one he cared about from his enemies and their weird, bizarre magics and plots.
Ranma's relationship with Arya, however, became even closer because, despite their mother's disapproval the young girl loved to learn about how to fight, and she saw herself more as one of the boys than anything else. Ranma had a few clashes with his mother about that but with Arya reminding Eddard of his sister so much, their father always took Ranma's side. "And besides," Ranma was fond of saying, "since she's the second daughter, Arya might be able to marry for love rather than for politics, and if that's the case, whoever she marries will love her the way she is, rather than some kind of perfect little girl image of her."
Arya's relationship with her sister faded slightly as they grew up to be two very different people, and oftentimes when they were in the same room they would have issues, but neither of them sought out conflict with the other, and Ranma made certain to not pick sides. Arya also became close to Jon, who encouraged her just as much as Ranma did.
Bran was young of course, but Ranma made time to play with him as he had all his other siblings, though Bran didn't show the aptitude to any of the more martial games that Ranma taught him like Arya had. Of course, Rickon was still very young at this point but still, Jon and Ranma made sure to spend time watching and playing with him.
As part of his ongoing training in lordship, Ranma spent three hours every day with his father on top of his lesson with Maester Luwin. From his father, Ranma began to learn more about the personalities of the Northern houses, as well as the importance of land and estate management, and of course the history of their family, some of which he had already begun to learn from Maester Luwin. Ned, however, covered the family history more than Westeros history, making it come alive in a way the Maester could not.
Ned also started to take Ranma out alone to survey the North and meet the vassal lords that all owed him fealty as Lord Paramount of the North, and it was on one of these, two years after their journey to Bear island, that Ranma's next adventure took place.
"I know you're trying to show Ranma as much of the North as you can, but must you always ride out to arbitrate these disputes? Frankly I think it makes you look more like a supplicant than their lord." Catelyn grumbled.
Eddard looked down at his wife, smiling faintly. "Possibly it might," he allowed, "but that's why I switch it up of course." She opened her mouth and he shook his head. "I know you think I shouldn't, but this is the North, the nobles here are much more independent minded than in the South and very few of them have as capable a lady as I do." He went on much more grimly after that bit of flattery, "Besides it's not as if I'm bothered by small disputes, am I?"
Catelyn frowned irritably. The current issue that they were talking about was a dispute between the Lord of Dread Fort Roose Bolton and one of his neighbors, Lord Hornwood. It was a land dispute naturally. Both Lords claimed a plot of land that was actually one of the better farming areas in the north. It was technically part of Lord Hornwood's territory, but he had let it fall fallow, and several farmers under Roose's allegiance had moved in, then been kicked out, come back again, been kicked out, etc. for several weeks now. It was getting to the point where the local lords were threatening to call up their men, in order to go out and enforce their ownership.
Eddard did not like Roose Bolton. This was putting it mildly, frankly. He could never truly like or even trust a lord whose ancestors warred with your own for ownership of the North and who enjoyed flaying people alive and hanging their skins up. Especially those of your ancestors. There were still tales of Starks being flayed alive and hung up to dry in the halls of the Dread Fort. Yet for all of that, the man had served him well and loyally during the Greyjoy rebellion.
And in this case, at least, Roose was in the right. Farmland was a scarce resource here in the North and any along the edge of one noble's territory with another's could be taken and put under plow, if it was not already in use. In fact, that was one of the issues of the case. According to Lord Hornwood, his people had been using the land and had been ejected by Bolton's. But that didn't match with reports he had gotten from some of his factors in the area and Roose was far too clever to simply try to oust his neighbor's people from their land like that.
This issue was made worse by a report from Roose saying that his heir Domenic had disappeared while on an inspection of that portion of his territory. Roose was loudly declaring that if Domenic was not found soon, he would have no choice but to assume it was Lord Hornwood's men who had killed him, something that if proven correct (or if simply not disproven) would spark conflict between the two, an armed conflict that could spiral out to include the rest of the North.
This was why he and Ranma were leaving Winterfell again. He would've brought Jon and Theon as well, but they were grounded this week for fighting. No outdoor time at all until they could learn to get along. Eddard had not been told what had started the fight but he could guess. The fight had been broken up by Ranma smashing their heads together. When he heard that, Ned had actually laughed aloud in public for the first time in years, because he could picture that moment in his head, and it was hilarious. While he would've preferred Ranma to think more with his mind and use his voice to stop conflicts like that, there was something to be said for a direct application of violence at times.
Ned looked down at his son, who was once again on his feet alongside a horse rather than on top of it. Over the past few years since that first trip everyone had gotten used to the fact that he could run any horse into the ground. Catelyn had been appalled at first, but even she had learned to accept it, though she still thought it most unbecoming. People called him the Young Wolf in truth, since it was well known that wolves could run down horses over a long period of time and house Stark's totem animal was a direwolf.
He smiled up at his father and Eddard's turned his small warm smile down to his son. "Ready to go?"
Ranma nodded resolutely, and the group turned and set off with a final wave of farewell to Catelyn.
After a week's swift travel, the group had reached Hornwood land. They passed through it and arrived at the disputed land in another three days. Despite the distance being almost similar to that between the Glover's clan's castle and Winterfell, it was much easier territory to traverse, being rocky windswept plains and scattered forests rather than near constant forests.
They were soon met on the trail by Lord Halys Hornwood, who spoke quietly for several hours with Eddard, while the group watered their horses.
During this time Ranma wandered off. It should surprise no one who knew his personality, but surprisingly the young armsman who had been assigned to watch him during this break, had gone off. The Lord had brought his lady and one of her retainers along, who was a very comely wench. After several days of hard riding with only men around, she was a bit of fresh air to this group especially, the younger set.
Ranma looked around at the farmland that was stretching everywhere in this small little dale around a single river, surrounded on all sides by rocky hills, the vegetation fading into heavy scrubland in places and heavy, untouched forests in others. He counted at least six large farms in the area, with large two story houses made of stone, most of them looking like they had taken some damage in the past few days. He kept wandering, moving out and away from his father and their men as well as the Lord Hornwood's, until he was well out of sight. Not a one of the armsmen noticed him leave.
About twenty minutes later, Ranma had passed another ten large farms and had just crested a small hill when he suddenly heard a noise in the near distance, a whimper of pain from something nearby. It sounded almost feminine but he couldn't tell.
Ranma rushed toward the sound, speeding down the small hill and finding another separate house set a little ways away from the farmstead. Two men were holding down a woman, while the third was trying to rip off her dress while going down to his knees between her legs. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on and Ranma saw red.
Without any warning, he rushed forward and before the three even knew he was there a kick to the kneeling man's crotch sent him catapulting over the heads of his two fellows. The yowl of the man whose crotch he had just shattered resounded in the air and Ranma rushed the other two before they could recover. One man crumbled under a small fist that slammed into his diaphragm with all the force of a drop hammer, gasping out blood as his insides were smashed.
Ranma then whipped out his small knife (he wasn't allowed a real sword yet, not until he was fourteen by motherly decree), blocking the blow from the other man who had recovered enough to bring out a huge axe from behind him. The man grunted in shock as Ranma blocked his huge axe with a small knife and forced him backwards away from the woman who scrambled away, rushing into the house with a cry of "Sylvia!" on her lips.
Ranma couldn't pay her any attention however, because two men had come out of the woods behind the farm and were rushing to help their fellow. He disengaged from his locked block with the man's battleaxe, ducking away and trying to get in with a stab. The man jumped backwards leaving his axe in the ground to avoid Ranma's knife to his guts. By this time, his two friends had come up and now were ranged against Ranma.
Despite all of his training Ranma had still not regained the situational awareness that he had developed in his old body, which was why he was almost hit from behind by a blow from a mace that would've smashed in the back of his head. He dodged at the last minute, rolling and ducking again as another man came at him with a sword.
He suddenly jumped up, surprising them all with his speed and landing a kick to one man's face sending the brigand flying backwards his nose and jaw broken.
"The little brat has fangs," said the survivor of the first three Ranma had attacked, reaching forward to grab the battle ax from where he had dropped it. "Watch out."
"Don't matter," said another man, as two more men came out of the woods, allowing the group to completely encircle Ranma.
"Idiots!" said another voice coming out of the farmhouse. Ranma turned swiftly, trying to keep them all in sight and saw another man, holding the woman he had just saved. He was an ugly fucker, with sloped shoulders, pink and blotchy skin, a broad nose, a small mouth with wide lips, and small, close set, nearly white, dead looking eyes. "We can't stay here that long."
Another shorter man with the look of a rat about him, who even from where he stood Ranma could smell for some reason, held a younger girl by an arm around her throat. Her clothing was ripped off and even though she was sobbing brokenly, her eyes were wide and unseeing, as if she couldn't quite comprehend the horror that had happened to her.
The man, who was obviously the leader, pressed his blade against the woman's throat snarling at Ranma. "Drop the blade little hero, or the pretty girl gets it."
Ranma snarled, but despite his training, he knew he wouldn't be able to cross the ground before the man could slit the woman's throat. The man was also holding the woman directly in front of him. That left no place for Ranma to throw his knife that wouldn't hit her instead. "Damnit!" he muttered and dropped his knife.
The man with the mace came forward and cracked him a good one across the back of the head. Ranma fell to his knees, shaking his head groggily, but that was all. While he wasn't up to the durability he had achieved in his last life, Ranma was still tougher by far than any normal man in Essos.
The man looked at his mace quizzically wondering what the hell happened there. The leader shook his head. "You hit like a woman, Gorka." He smiled evilly. "Get a rope around him, bind him tight."
The men did so, while Ranma continued to shake his head, trying to clear it. The rope tightened around his neck, and he pulled forward, pulling the man off his feet and throwing him over his head to the ground. A scream from the woman, however, made him stop struggling. He ground his teeth, yet docilely waited while the men bound him. "When my father hears about this," he muttered almost in a conversational tone, "he's going to put you all to death so fast it will make your heads spin."
"Oh, the little hero thinks he's a Lord too," the leader cackled, not having seen that the Lord of Winterfell had arrived in the area. On top of that, while the news of Ranma's endurance and physical abilities had spread throughout the North, they hadn't included a description besides looking like a Stark with blue eyes, which wasn't exactly a good description.
Ranma grinned up at him fiercely. "Winter is coming, bastard." Another blow from the mace to the back of his head sent him down to the ground, but even then he was pushing off his feet before the other men finished tying them up.
"Don't hurt him too much, I think I just found a new favorite little toy," the leader said, smiling sadistically, despite the anger he felt at Ranma's chosen insult. He waited until Ranma was completely tied up, his hands behind his back, his legs tied together, and was being pulled to his feet by the men around him before looking down at the woman he was holding.
"Pity," he muttered, "I would've liked to take my time with you and your daughter, but needs must." In front of Ranma's horrified eyes, the man slit the woman's throat quickly and efficiently, letting her fall to the ground, her hands going to her throat in an automatic and vain attempt to stop the bleeding. The young girl next to her began to scream, but her voice was muffled by the smelly man's hand. At a nod from the leader, the smelly man snapped her neck quickly before letting the body flop to the ground.
Ranma had never felt as much anger or rage ever before as he did at that moment. He realized then that despite everything they had done to him, despite the fact that they were his rivals or his enemies, Ranma had never met someone in his previous life who was truly evil. This man and his followers were evil, vile, and disgusting; dishonorable and cruel in a way that he had never encountered in his past life. And the sight of that woman's body falling to the ground, falling to the ground dead after Ranma couldn't protect her, shattered his self-control.
He surged to his feet, head slamming back with enough force to shatter bone against one of his captors then rushed the leader, snarling. But he was held fast by the men behind them, six of them now holding the ropes trying to control him while a seventh raced up and slammed two more hard blows to the back of his head with the mace.
A third blow landed and Ranma finally lost the battle with his pain, falling forward, his eyes closing as he succumbed to unconsciousness. His last image was of the leader cackling happily, saying, "Oh, my new toy has such fight in him! I hope he can keep it up. My present toy doesn't have much fight in him at all."
It was only after he was finished talking with Halys Hornwood that Eddard noticed his son wasn't around. He looked over at the guard who had been assigned 'Ranma watch' as it was called due to his inability to stand still for very long and was displeased to see that the man was trying to flirt with Lady Donella's maid.
He marched up, waiting until the man noticed him and the man paled visibly. "Where is my son?" said Eddard coldly.
"I, um, he was just here, my l-lord," the man stammered.
Eddard nodded over to Sir Jory, who was the head of his personal bodyguards. "Find him." Jory nodded, quickly moving off in the direction that he had last seen Ranma, cursing himself for not noticing that the boy's minder had decided not to mind him.
"We will speak of this later," Lord Stark said rather coldly to his man. The man gulped but realized that he had screwed up badly. Yet who would've thought the idiot boy would've just wandered off? He thought about that for a moment then groaned. "Anyone who knew him you idiot," the man muttered to himself, and then joined the search.
They spread out and eventually found the homestead where Ranma had been captured. The two dead women and the three dead men scattered around told what had happened here and Eddard cursed Inside the house were another two bodies, both of them very dead as well, an older man and a boy of fourteen or so.
The dead men outside had all been stripped of their clothing and anything that could have identified them, and he frowned angrily. That alone was not something bandits would normally do and he wondered if Bolton might be behind this in some way, despite his earlier dismissal of that idea, but dismissed it again after a moment's thought. There was no way that the Lord of Dread Fort would be stupid enough to continue to push things here with Eddard arriving and there was no chance of him being idiotic enough to take Eddard's son.
He turned swiftly to the Lord Hornwood and ordered, "Get your best trackers here, now. They have my son and I will not rest until I find them." Ned just hoped his son was still alive when he did.
Not five hours later, the men arrived, having used several remounts to keep moving at a gallop. They spread out searching for a trail. These were men who were very good at their job. Some of them had even hunted deserters from the Nights-Watch, who were all cunning and desperate men. They soon found the barest hint of a trail and one of them raced backward to tell Lord Stark and Lord Hornwood the news.
Finding the trail led directly deeper into Bolton lands, Ned grimaced but decided to plan for the worst. "Send ravens to Lord Umber and Lord Manderly as well as Winterfell. I want your and Lord Manderly's ready men-at-arms here within a week, all on horse. I'll… I'll write the message to Winterfell myself. We march on the Dread Fort directly."
The one hundred men from Hornwood arrived within three days with the men of Winterfell on their heels. With scouts around in the nearby woods, their movement was kept a secret, but once they started to ride into Bolton land they would lose that advantage swiftly.
Ned stared down at Jon, who had somehow managed to talk his way into the troop of four hundred men from Winterfell. Winterfell could have called up more men if given time, but the lands of his house could only afford six-hundred permanent men-at-arms and of course some had to be left behind. That wasn't what Ned was thinking about now, however. "Jon…."
"I know what you are going to say, sir," Jon said. He always called Ned sir or Lord Stark in public, knowing that he shouldn't wave his bastard's status in front of other people. "But Ranma's my friend, sir." The word meant more here outside of Winterfell where he couldn't call Ranma the brother he was in truth. "I need to be here, whatever happens. I should have been with you all anyway; it's my own fault I fought with Theon." Theon had tried to come along as well, but he had been caught by Maester Luwin. Jon hadn't been caught until the troop was three days out and had talked Ser Rodrick, who was leading them, into letting him come. "I promised him that I would stand with him and I wasn't! I, I need to be here, sir, please."
Ned frowned but nodded. "Very well, but if there is any fighting, I will want you at the back of the army. Do you understand?" Jon nodded, but Ned somehow knew his orders were in vain. Yet at the moment, he was simply happy that his lady wife had not tried to come along to be too angry about Jon being there.
A day later, the two hundred men-at-arms of Lord Manderly arrived, each with three remounts, led by Ser Wylis, Wyman's firstborn son, a rather obese man in his thirties with a large walrus mustache and bald head. Despite their following the Seven rather than the old gods, House Manderly was among the most loyal vassals of house Stark. They were also among the most powerful in terms of men and riches, controlling many silver mines and the city of White Harbor, the only true city the North boasted. They practiced a cavalry tradition, unlike most of the North, and their stables were among the largest as well.
Ned smiled, seeing that his orders had been obeyed. Wyman may be obese, but there is nothing wrong with that man's mind. He thought almost cheerfully, despite the circumstances. The old Pufferfish probably knew what I had planned the moment he read my missive. I must invite him to Winterfell when this is all over, I haven't introduced Ranma to him yet, and I think he could learn a lot from another example of good governance, and how not to judge a book by its cover.
That thought, however, turned his thoughts to his missing son and he turned to Lord Hornwood, a tall fit man with wide shoulders and a luxuriant brown beard despite being completely grey up top. "Let us ride."
Within minutes, the small army, only about seven hundred strong yet all on horseback despite mostly being trained as infantry, set off into Bolton territory. A raven winged its way to the other side of the flayed man's land and another force of three hundred began their own trek from the other side, Lord Umber at their head personally. The Lord of the Last Hearth had never gotten on well with his southern neighbor and if there was a chance to end the Bolton line, he would grab it with both his massive hands.
Around Lord Stark's army was a massive screen of two hundred scouts/rangers loaned to them from Lord Hornwood, who searched out any spies and scouts, bows at the ready to shoot down any ravens on the wing. Lord Umber's force was mainly infantry and was making no attempt to hide their coming in the hopes of pulling Bolton's attention that way just in case.
Ranma was barely aware of his surroundings for a time as his ki healing began to work on the damage his head had taken. His endurance and durability was nowhere near where it had been when he died or whatever in his old world, although it was actually slightly higher than it had been when he had been his current age there He had practiced over the last two years to get his healing back to the level it was when he ran away from Nerima. It wasn't anywhere close yet, unfortunately.
"I tell you, Ramsay," said one of the men around him, also on horse, "I hit him with all the strength of my arm. I don't what that boy is made of, but it isn't normal flesh and blood. Besides, have you ever heard of a a boy his age able to kill three grown men with nothing but his fists and a belt knife?"
"That just makes it all the more amusing," said the leader, who Ranma took to be Ramsay, in a psychotic tone. "Besides, if his flesh is that strong, then wearing it will empower me as well."
Ranma manfully suppressed a shudder at that as well as vowing that the first chance he got, that man was going to die. The memory of what Ramsay did to the girl and her daughter would stay with Ranma for the rest of his life. He kept his eyes closed, however, keeping his body loose and acting as if he was still unconscious, trying to figure out everything he could about his captors.
The group made great time, using the horses of their dead fellows as well as several remounts they had prepared. Ranma was constantly shifted from one horse to another, though there was always a rider with him as well. The one called Reek also used some kind of chloroform equivalent or something on him every few hours and after every stop.
They needn't have bothered though. While Ranma was strong for even a full grown man at this point, he wasn't strong enough to break the chains that now bound him without leverage and he was completely covered with chains, both his arms and his legs. I'll have to bide my time, he thought, these bastards are taking me somewhere, maybe when we get there I'll be able to break out.
Despite making great time, the group swung wide of their true destination, trying to throw off anyone trailing them, taking a week and a half what would have taken three days otherwise. Of course for some, this had a major upside to it.
Every time they stopped for the evening or to change horses Ramsay would make time to play with his new toy. This time ranged from taunting, punching, and kicking to, one time, running a knife from Ranma's shoulder down to his crotch, pressing it into him at times through his clothing, which had of course become rumpled, dirty, and marked with blood stains and cuts. Ranma however refused to cry out or give him any satisfaction and the man went away displeased only to come back the next time and try again, with each time doing more to Ranma in an effort to get a scream out of him.
All Ramsay got however, was twin blue eyes of chipped sapphire looking back at him, promising death. It was a look that Ramsay despised and it didn't go away whatever he did. He even broke Ranma's fingers on one hand, nothing. He snarled, but refrained from doing anything more as they were on the move. "Don't worry little toy, soon we'll reach home, then we can see what noises you can make when I have the time and tools to make you sing properly." His response was nothing, simply those sapphire eyes staring at him, and Ramsay finally nodded convulsively at Reek, who once more used whatever concoction he had created that was like chloroform to put Ranma out again.
Worse than Reek's concoction or Ramsay's torture was the fact they starved Ranma, giving him only water to drink and a meager bite or two of gruel every other day. Ranma could feel himself weakening and he was forced to shut his body down, falling into a deep trance as often as he could to conserve energy on the trek.
Ranma was startled out of one such trance two days after Ramsay had broken his fingers (which had already healed, though his captors hadn't noticed) when the sound of the horses' hoofs on the ground changed from hitting grass and dirt to hitting cobblestone. He didn't chance looking around, simply keeping his ruse going. The chloroform had worked well, at first, but like everything else he ran into, Ranma's body built up a defense against it. Now it barely worked for five minutes but he wanted to make damn certain he kept that a secret, as he had all along. It would make his eventual escape that much easier.
He felt himself carried inside by two men holding his shoulders but the chains they had put around him were still there, giving him no chance to escape. The sound of the chains around his legs rattling against the stone of the floor was loud in his ears but he strained himself to hear any hint of where the hell he could be or who his captors were.
Roose Bolton, a thin middle aged man with lank black hair and white, almost bloodless skin and white eyes, looked up from some paperwork he was working on at his desk when his bastard son Ramsay came in. The man was smiling that evil smile of his and Roose sighed. His so-called heir, Dominic, had been a massive disappointment, far too kind to be a proper lord, and despite skill with sword and lance not having anywhere near the amount ruthlessness or guile that the Lord of Dread Fort required. His bastard son was much stronger, had a very quick and nasty mind, and a flair for the traditional tools of the Bolton house. Despite this, however, he was also a little too uncontrolled, too sadistic, and far too easy to read. He could not hide his sadism, but that at least could be taught, unlike guile or cunning.
He had given the task of riling up Lord Hornwood to Ramsay a in an attempt to see if the boy could control himself. It was obvious he had failed however, and Roose was wondering if he should cut his losses and offer up the bastard's little group to Halys as recompense, dead of course so as to reveal nothing to him. But then he had heard that Eddard was actually coming here to arbitrate the dispute, and he decided against showing weakness in front of Stark. Reek, his son's putrid second-in-command would probably be sacrificed at the least, though the fact that his own son Dominic had 'disappeared' during this crisis gave him quite a bit of leverage.
"Why are you disturbing me?" he said in his soft, cold voice, which nonetheless carried very well. When the Lord of Dread Fort spoke people listened.
"I found a new toy, father," Ramsay said cackling a little. He moved to one side and two of his playmates as he called them, trooped in carrying a young boy of around twelve with black hair and wearing very good clothing of black leather lined with black and white fur on his shoulders.
Roose frowned then looked at the boys belt buckle, on which was a rampant wolf with a small ruby eye. His eyes widened slightly before he turned to Ramsay. "You fool! This is Eddard Stark's firstborn son! Do you have any idea what could happen now?"
Ramsay looked down at his new toy in delight. "One of those weakling Starks is it?! That makes it even better, father."
"You fool…"said Roose again, slowly walking towards his son, smashing a hand across his face sending the boy to the ground. Not for the first time he thought about simply killing the younger man and somehow finding a way to convince Dominic that Roose had nothing to do with his captivity. That was a dream of course, but Roose had wished almost from the moment he backed Ramsay against his trueborn son that he hadn't. Still that was the past and Roose couldn't afford to look back now.
"This could ruin us. It turns a relatively minor act of brigandry, the sort of testing that noble houses can get away with between ourselves, to an act of war against the Lord Paramount of the North!" He turned to the two men who had dragged the boy in, one of whom he knew has one of the most levelheaded of Ramsay's little group. "Did you leave any evidence, could this be traced back to us in any way?"
The man actually thought for a moment, which was good. Roose would not have been pleased with a quick and simple answer. "I… do not think so my Lord, we covered our trail well, and we stripped the bodies of our dead of anything that could identify them. I have no doubt we could eventually be followed into your lands, but that is all, our destination would be impossible to find, I think. We may…" he paused looking at his Lord levelly, "have to cut a few of the men loose so to speak sir, but that should be enough."
Roose wondered about the dead men part, but figured that the little boy probably had a bodyguard with him when he ran into Ramsay. Ramsay was still on the floor, sniffling a little as he wiped at the blood coming from his nose, but he wasn't really hurt. Roose stared down at him coldly. "Get up, take the boy down to the dungeons." He stared down at the little Stark, and couldn't help himself, smiling a little at the idea of his family once again being able to skin a Stark like his ancestors had. "Do it quickly," he said, not mentioning what it was as Ramsay well knew. "This time tomorrow I don't want him to be recognizable even by his closest friends."
Ramsay nodded but was a little sad that he wouldn't have more time to play with his new toy. Still, he would obey his father for now. Ramsay knew he wasn't strong enough to challenge the old man yet but his time would come.
The Lord of Dread Fort stared at his son, once again lamenting the fact that his trueborn heir hadn't had any of the mental or emotional strength necessary to take over for him. The way he had searched out Ramsay in an effort to befriend him and then been fooled by the bastard of the woman Roose had raped nineteen years ago proved that much. Roose had consigned the fool boy to Ramsay's tender mercies at the time, yet ever since then… Roose shook those thoughts off again, ignoring the small pang of guilt he felt.
Ramsay was closer to Roose's ideal, but in comparison to a true heir it wasn't even a contest. Still, he would put up with the boy for now until he could find another wife for himself and get a child on her. There always had to be a Bolton in Dread Fort and Roose knew that chance and luck could take him at any time, despite his best laid plans.
The two guards followed Ramsay down the hallway, then down several flights of stairs deep into Dread Forts dungeons. Once there they moved towards the back of said dungeons to what Ramsay affectionately called his 'play area'.
Ranma had been awake throughout this entire ordeal. He had heard the name Lord Bolton with some trepidation and then a lot of anger. Whatever game Lord Bolton was playing here, he was part of what had happened to those girls, what had doubtless happened to other people since this conflict between him and Hornwood began, and Ranma's own kidnapping, which meant he was going to die too when Ranma got loose.
Once inside the torture chamber, Ranma's chains were swiftly undone but before he could move, he was as swiftly chained to the wall. His arms were chained at an angle above his head and his legs were chained straight down. However, there was enough give in his chains, and he slumped forward still feigning unconsciousness, while his heart began to beat faster and readied his body for action.
He heard the door close, and then someone smashed him in the face with a hand and he jerked back, his blue eyes opening as a growl rumbled deep in his throat, his teeth bared like fangs.
"Snarl all you want, little Stark, little doggy.", said Ramsay, cackling now. He moved over to some of his instruments of torture, 'toys' as he called them, and pulled out a long skinning knife. "You know what men do to wolves? They skin them."
Ranma coughed a little, leaning forward letting his body slump as if overcome at last at the idea of what was going to happen to him.
The man started forward, ripping open Ranma's shirt and lovingly drawing the knife down one side, giggling as Ranma's blood appeared. "Nothing to say little doggy?" He stopped at his shoulder, and began to cut a slither of skin off there, reveling in the bright blood that began to stream down his toy's side.
Ranma grimaced, coughed again and muttered something under his breath. "What was that? I want to hear you scream little Wolf, not mumble." and he dug the knife deeper into Ranma's chest, but Ranma didn't even flinch, only muttering again under his breath. "That's no fun, I want to hear you scream!" As he had hoped Ramsay leaned forward.
"I said," said Ranma suddenly in a clear voice while his head rocketed forward from where it'd lolled back, smashing into the man's face causing him to reel back a few steps, "you hadn't come close enough!" With a single heave he ripped out the chain binding one of his legs to the wall, kicking up and catching Ramsay in the throat crushing his larynx. He let his leg fall back and he lolled there for a moment, gathering himself and healing what damage the knife had done to his body as well as he could.
Ramsay went to his knees, both hands going to his throat and his small close set eyes opened comically wide, gasping for air through his small fat lips. Ranma stared down at him coldly, and the last thing Ramsay saw was Ranma pulling his arm free from one of side of the change that held him. "It's all about leverage, asshole. You should have let me tied up the way you did on our trip here."
After Ramsay's eyes clouded over in death, Ranma turned back and pulled his other arm free as well. The chains fell to the ground making a clanking noise, having been pulled out from their places on the walls rather than Ranma breaking the cuffs around his wrists. He let them fall for a moment, then played with them in his hands for a bit, getting the feel of their weight. "These'll do."
The ones on his legs though, had to go. Ranma reached forward quickly grabbing Ramsay's head and snapping his neck just to be certain. "That was for that woman you killed," he muttered, "The kick to the throat, that was for me." Then Ranma began to search the body for the keys to his chains. He found them of course. Ramsay always kept the keys to his toy's chains on him so that he could rearrange them to his liking. With them, Ranma unlocked the chains around his ankles and his wrists, but kept his hold on the chains in his hands. They would make good weapons until he got something better. He wasn't about to touch any of the tools in here.
He walked over to the door, peering out of the small opening at head height. He smelt that foul man who had been Ramsay second-in-command coming closer before he saw him. He backed away quickly, waiting.
Reek had to stable the horses first before joining his master to have some fun with the young Stark boy. Now he made his way alone through the dungeons, thinking sadly of the fun he could have had with the pretty little boy's body if they had time, but with lord Bolton's orders that wasn't going to happen. He would have to take his fun now and be happy with it.
He was about to open the door to the torture chamber, finding it odd that he couldn't hear any screams when Ranma kicked open the door with such force that its hinges came out and the entire door slammed into Reek, throwing him with an echoing 'Crash!' against the far wall. Before Reek could recover or try to push the heavy oak door off him, Ranma leaped forward, landing on top of it, one chain whirling down to crush Reek's skull.
With that, Ranma stepped off the door, pulling it up with one hand, while using the other to grab the putrid man and toss him into the torture chamber to join his master's body. With that done Ranma put the door back gingerly.
Ranma then made his way down the dank and dark dungeon corridor. About halfway down the deserted corridor, he heard a cough from one of the dungeon cells and he looked inside. All the others had been empty as he passed them, but this one had a young man who had obviously been very badly tortured. One arm was bent at an angle that was completely unnatural, each portion of it bent in a different direction including his fingers, and that hand was wrapped in gauze up to its elbow. The gauze, from the faint light of the torches outside the dungeon cell, Ranma could tell was soaked through with blood and the man looked emaciated.
Ranma looked around, making certain there was no one to hear, and then reached forward, wrenching the door's lock off before opening it quickly. He raced forward to release the man, using the same keys he had had taken from Ramsay to unlock his chains. The man stared at him woozily, seeing bright blue eyes under black hair, not the lanky, unclean black hair or light gray, almost dead eyes that he was used to seeing, and he wondered if he was dreaming.
He actually spoke that part aloud, and Ranma answered him quickly. "No you're not dreaming and if this is the kind of thing you dream about, I don't want to see your nightmares."
That line actually caused the man to chuckle a little. "A nightmare, yes, that's what my life has been. Possibly for far longer than I knew. I am Dominic Bolton stranger, and you are?" He paused fuzzily, looking down at Ranma. "Aren't you a little short for a rescuer?"
Ranma chuckled, remembering a line like that from a movie he saw once back in his old life, but didn't dwell on it now. "Not so much a rescuer as a fellow escaped prisoner. Ranma Stark, at your service."
Dominick's eyes widened. "Stark? My father has gotten bold indeed, or possibly lost his wits."
"If by father you mean Roose Bolton, I think that's his first name, can't quite remember from my lessons about northern lords anyway, then no. He was very angry when Ramsay brought me in."
That name caused a shudder of fear and revulsion to go up Dominick's back. "And where is the bastard?" He said looking around fearfully. He had been down here for three weeks, and for much of that time every time Ramsay was not out doing his father's dirty work he was down here 'playing' with Dominic. Some scars would never heal, and not all of them were physical, not even most of them in fact.
"Dead," answered Ranma, and Dominick's eyes widened in shocked joy. "I killed him when he came too close as he was trying to torture me." Ranma touched the scar on his side, and then the bit of scar tissue that covered the sliver of flesh Ramsay had removed from his shoulder. While his ki healing was able to heal the damage, at Ranma's current level with that particular skill, it wouldn't get rid of all the superficial scarring. Ranma would have a scar there for the rest of his life and that was the way it should be in his opinion. It would give him something to remember the day he finally saw an example of true evil.
"Anyway, I think we need ta get out of here. I'll clear a path, follow behind when you can, but grab yourself a sword as soon as you're able. There's one down the hall with that smelly guy, I'll just keep using these," he said holding up his chains.
Dominic looked askance at the heavy chains, which Ranma was holding as if they weighed little to nothing. "You're not exactly a normal young boy, are you?"
"What was your first clue?" asked Ranma, chuckling a little. Then he became much more serious. "Seriously, we need to get out of here. If we're lucky, we can get out of here before they sound the alarm, but the longer we stand here the worse our chances get." Dominick nodded fervently and got to his feet unsteadily, moving towards the doorway after Ranma.
"Alright, we've come this far without being spotted and it is only by the luck of the forest folk that we have. But for this last stretch, we will be in the open almost immediately." Eddard Stark stared around at his officers, Lord Hornwood, Ser Wylis, and Jon, who stood next to him protectively. All of them nodded grimly and he went on. "Jory, you take your men and break off now. Remember to loop wide around the Dread Fort. The rest of us will try to keep the defender's attention on us, but your attack is the key. We can't afford to let this turn into a formal siege, we don't have the supplies, men or time. Hopefully, Roose will simply tell us he knows nothing and open his gates, allowing us to use Dread Fort as a position to search his land for the brigands that took my son. But if he's in anyway involved, he'll try to play for time. If anyone else answers anything from the wall but Bolton, that will be your signal to go in. I know you've heard him speak before, you'll be able to recognize if it isn't him."
Jory nodded grimly, one hand on his sword hilt. Beyond it being their duty, Ranma was well liked by every guard in Winterfell and the hazing the brat who hadn't watched him was going to go through when they got back to the barracks didn't bear thinking about. If it meant getting Ranma back, Jory and the rest of his lord's bodyguards would do their part.
"If it does come to a fight, and at this point my gut feeling is it will, stay out of my way, all of you." Ned went on even more grimly, his hands crossed on the pommel of his greatsword Ice as it stood point first in the ground. It was a Valaryian blade, its features smoky, a mix of shades of grey, and its edge was preternaturally sharp to go with the strength of its steel. It had been the Stark family blade for uncounted generations and this would not be the first time it tasted Bolton blood. If my son is in that fort however, I mean for it to be the last, Ned thought grimly.
"You all have a description of my son, when it comes to a fight watch out for him in there." He breathed in deeply, then nodded. "Let's get this done."
The first two guards died before they even realize their prisoners were escaping. Ranma was on them like a whirling dervish, his chains flashing out smashing into their faces and throwing them back.
Despite the fact that he could've stopped and taken their weapons, Ranma decided not to, the chains were good enough for now. That and the fact that neither of them actually carried swords, they both had knives on their belts but they carried spears. A spear inside the enclosed space of a castle was a rather stupid weapon in his opinion, but then again he was all about mobility and he brought his own stopping power to the game rather than relying on a weapon to keep his enemies at a distance.
Unfortunately this assault was seen by a few of the guards down the hallway, and one of them rushed off to sound the alarm while the other made his way forward confidently. That confidence died as he did, his spear smashed to the side by one swing of Ranma's left chain while the other swung in and took him in the chin with such force it snapped his neck and threw him backwards.
Four more guards stormed down, but Ranma ran to meet them before they could get set. Their spears thrust forward, but he jumped above them.
"By the Gods old and new!" One of them exclaimed before Ranma's chains slammed down with lethal force on the top of two of their heads crushing their skulls and their helmets in one blow. Then he was in among them pushing the dead bodies to one side as his fists, now empty of chains flashed out catching both of the survivors of his first attack in the crotches bringing them down to where his elbows could slam into their faces shattering their skulls.
These two had both swords and shields, and Ranma smiled grimly, picking one sword up and testing its balance for a moment before grabbing a shield. The shield was actually a little over a third his own height and he decided against it, letting it fall. The sword was enough for now.
He chuckled quietly wondering what Genma (he never called the fat man his father anymore even in his own mind, not after so many years having a real father in Ned) would say if he saw his son wielding a blade. Not even a katana, the swords in this world were all styles more closely resembling European blades. This one was a common one-handed longsword. For a normal thirteen-year-old it would be too heavy to really use, but to Ranma it was actually a little light.
With Dominic following in Ranma's wake, the older man's face showing shock and a sort of slowly rising fear as Ranma continued his rampage, Ranma made his way up the stairs.
He ran into guards in several places, and the news of his escape and rampage spread before him as he forged up to the first floor of the keep.
"Damn it, why did they attack him!", said Roose angrily. "If the Stark boy had just broken out and you had surrendered or called out for him to halt this could possibly have been kept quiet." Now, however, with Ranma having killed some guards that were wearing Bolton livery there was no way he would be able to sweep it under the rug except by killing the boy. He might have even been able to wring some concessions for saving the boy from his captors, possibly storming down with a group of his own guards and killing a few of the other guards in front of him, then delivering him to his father personally?
But now the only way forward was to kill him. And that wasn't going to be very easy, apparently. Roose wondered what kind of training the young boy had to get this good, that he was mowing through his men like this.
"B-but sir, the other prisoner, the one who we weren't supposed to name anymore, he's following the Stark boy," stammered the sergeant in charge of the prison guards.
Roose's eyes widened, his heir was still alive down there after so long under his bastard's tender mercies? Perhaps the boy had some steel in him after all, he thought,sadly. Other than the lack of a spine and his kind nature, Dominic could have been a better lord than Ramsay any day, but then he stupidly tried to befriend Ramsay. I thought... And now it's going to bite me in the ass just like letting Ramsay take control of poking Halys about those farms.
Roose's day was about to become even worse because just then a runner came in from the walls of his fortress. "Sir, Lord Hornwood and Lord Stark are coming down the road, they're bringing at least 600 men maybe more."
Bolton cursed. "Alright, I want two thirds of the ready guard to the wall, the rest are to head down to the dungeons and kill that boy. Make certain his body is utterly unrecognizable, then when you're done take all the bodies and stow them down there, wall them in someplace. There must be no hint of what happened here."
He turned to his seneschal and nodded his head toward the door. "Eddard won't attack quickly, he'll try to get us to open the doors. Stall him as much as you can but order the men on the walls to prepare to defend the castle." The man, a small weaselly sort who was utterly terrified yet utterly devoted to Roose at the same time, nodded and rushed out.
For the fifth time that day alone, Roose lamented once again not having killed his bastard-born son when his mother turned up at the gates to his castle. Still, he hoped that this could still be gamed and he turned pulling out his own sword from where it was over his hearth in his office, then moving over to don his armor. The armor was dark grey plate armor over a quilted tunic of blood-red leather with rondels shaped like human heads, their mouths open in agony. Bolton and his house knew the value of fear. His armor was an extension of that belief. There was a reason, after all, why his banner was still that of a flayed man decades after flaying had been outlawed.
Ranma battled his way through the guards, tirelessly dodging this way and that, always attacking pushing his captors back, leaving a trail of dying and broken men in his wake. In an open battle, this number of men would have been able to kill or at least overcome him, but in an enclosed space, with only four of them able to come at him at a time and with the ones behind them pushing them ahead and getting in their way? In a way, his smaller body actually helped, letting Ranma be more maneuverable and have enough room to swing his blade in much more cramped locations than the men in front of him while at the same time making him far harder to hit.
A time or two, he was almost taken by surprise from behind as he passed doors leading into cells and storage areas, but Dominic had taken a spear from a dead armsman and guarded his back well enough. Despite the fact that his one ruined hand didn't really lend any strength, Dominic still had one good hand and the bleeding and flayed hand was enough to help him at least direct his spear to stab his enemies. "If we get out of this, the bards will write a song of your heroism!" he shouted over the clangor of battle.
"Why the hell would I want that!?", asked Ranma, cutting one man from one side to the other as his fist smashed into another soldier's kneecap from the side sending him screaming to the floor. A kick to that man's face finished him off and Ranma brought his sword up and around flashing it out to catch another blade as it slashed forward pushing it to the side then shoulder ramming that man back into two of his fellows before bringing his sword around to rip into the man's chainmail slicing his chest open.
"What, why wouldn't you want to be remembered in song and story for all time?" Dominick asked almost whimsically. So far the battle had been relatively easy for him, and that was all to the good since he wasn't really up for much activity given his stay in the dungeons and his bastard brother's 'care'. Still even with that he could feel his body giving out around him, and it made his attitude very odd. "I wanted to be a bard you know, I never really wanted to be my father's heir, that was part of the reason why I sought out my half-brother."
"That's nice," Ranma said, not really having the attention to spare to hear the young man's sorry tale, "but if you make a song out of me you better be accurate, no flowing blonde locks or anything like the bits that are so popular in the songs and stories my little sister likes."
"Would you mind howling a bit then?" Dominic joked. "The 'Wolves of Winter' I feel would be a magnificent name for the tale."
Ranma laughed, and then began to howl "AWOOO! Winter's coming for you! AWOOO!" The phrase and the howling was enough to scare the guards in front of him even more then their normal (and very understandable) fear of their lord and they began to give ground.
Soon Ranma came to the stairs leading up to the first floor. Dominic slumped against the wall, weakly pointing upwards. "Up, up there it's going to be much harder. They won't be able to attack us from just one direction or hide in the cells and wait, they'll be, be able to, to attack us from every direction at once."
The dimensionally displaced martial artist nodded, looking at him closely. "Alright, you don't look like you're going to be good for much more. Find a room, barricade yourself in, and see if you can stop your bleeding." Above them he could hear shouts and curses as more men tried to psyche themselves up to come down and face the wild beast they had let into their castle, and he smirked. "I can watch my own back well enough, get yourself hidden and safe."
Dominic nodded weakly, his every movement taking far too much energy from him, and he turned back, entering the nearby guardroom, which only had one entrance, and whose door was heavier than the doors of the cells. He could see there was also a bit of food left on the table, and he fell on it ravenously.
Now alone, Ranma stormed up the stairs, his eyes alight with battle fever and a new longsword in his hand, the first having shattered moments before. "WINTER IS COMING! AWOOOOOOO!"
Normally, Roose would've been correct that Eddard would have tried to talk his way into the fort of one of the lords owing him fealty rather than simply bully his way in, but he was a worried father now not just a lord. He and twenty men raced ahead of the rest of the force, which was coming on at a canter toward the closed portcullis of the door. "Open in the name of Lord Stark, Lord Paramount of the North!" one of his men bellowed.
The seneschal had reached the wall above the gate, and he shouted down "What is the meaning of this? Even the Lord Paramount must send word ahead to his vassals if he expects to be welcomed."
"Open," said Eddard in his booming voice, staring up at the man with hard brown eyes. "I have business with lord Bolton."
While Eddard kept the attention of the men of Dread Fort himself and his forces, Jory led fifteen handpicked men around the back of the Dread Fort, having split off before they were in sight of the fort and moving through the forest and scrub brush to the back of it. Now that all of the attention was on his Lord at the front, they began to repel up the wall of the fort at the back, moving swiftly.
Only three guards had not abandoned their post at the back to join their fellows at the front of the castle. Jory swiftly subdued all three one after another. He was one of the better blades of his lord's retinue, though he secretly wondered if Ranma was already his better in that area. Jory took a moment to stare down into the fort towards the main castle, a four story squat stone edifice that did not have anything in the way of grandeur or accoutrements to it. Instead it squatted here and the entire castle gave of the air of a man hunched against his surroundings, teeth bared in a snarl, an impression enhanced by the triangle shaped balustrades along the outer wall.
Behind him his men came up and Jory nodded. "Follow me, we'll open the door for our lord, and then he and the others can finish this." The men around Jory all grinned back at him fiercely and he nodded.
They raced down and around the wall to the gatehouse, barging in and swiftly subduing the men stationed there. They were under orders not to kill anyone, but their lord was too worried for his son to even try to tell the men to obey that one. If his son wasn't here he would probably have to pay Roose quite a bit of money for the dishonor and the probable loss of life his assault caused, but that was for later.
Even as Jory and a few of his men began to raise the portcullis to shouts of alarm from above them, a some of the rest began to barricade the door while two more looked out the window facing the entrance to the inner castle. Several dozen men had been in the courtyard but rather than racing towards the wall they had all been racing into the Castle. "I wonder what's going on?" one of them muttered.
Another, one of the ones who had recently taken to sparring with Ranma shook his head smiling faintly. "I think the Young Wolf is causing issues with for them."
At that moment Jory finally finished opening the portcullis, and the 700 men with Eddard stormed in.
Roose usually had about 400 men under arms at any given time in his fortress, a very large amount and the upper limit of what he could support without disrupting the economy of his territory. By the time the news had reached him of Ranma's attack, Ranma had killed about 80 men moving up from the dungeons. By the time Eddard arrived, that number had rocketed up to a little under 150, and more and more men were being thrown down into the dungeon to stop his advance.
That left a little over two-hundred or so to stop Eddard and the 700 men he led into battle today. Without Roose to command the defense and keep all the men at their posts, it had been easy for Jory to sneak in. Once the portcullis was opened the battle was, like many of the defenders already knew, practically over.
Among the shouts of 'Our Blades are Sharp', 'Winter is Coming', 'Stark!", and other shouts, Ned and a cadre of his best stormed through the battle towards the entrance to the keep. One of them dragged along the seneschal, who was still protesting this unilateral assault on his Lord's dignity, but Eddard was past hearing. The moment they entered the keep they could hear the howling and roaring of battle. Ned drew Ice with one hand, his other carrying a shield and he roared, charging toward it. Next to him, Jon raced along, his face pale but determined to help save his brother.
Ranma had just broken out from the dungeon area up to the first floor, which contained kitchens, pantries, and other things of that nature, fighting his way through them. Here he got bogged down however, because many of these rooms connected to one another allowing the men to circle around behind him, much like Dominic had predicted.
He grunted taking a blow to the side as he twisted out of a doorway, pulling the man who had struck him with a mace forward by grabbing his hand, and bringing his sword around to cut the soldier's head off. He kicked the headless corpse back out of the doorway, dropping the now somewhat mangled sword and grabbing up the mace, slamming it into the chest of a man who had just tried to jump over the dead body, throwing him back.
Two more men came out from the kitchen behind him, but Ranma turned, leaping into the air over their questing blades, slamming a kick into one soldier's face, then bringing the mace down on the other. Both fell dead and he used the momentum of those blows to flip through the doorway slamming bodily into two more. His mace rose and fell swiftly, but then he had to roll to the side to dodge a sword thrust.
Another soldier came at his back, and even though Ranma dodged, the man's sword caught him along the back, slicing a narrow cut down his side before Ranma's mace came back in a massive blow, caving in the man's head. A kick sent the man in front of him reeling backwards, his chest open for the returning swing of Ranma's stolen mace.
Ranma cocked his head, jumping up at the same time when someone tried to stab his legs from below bringing down his mace on the man's head almost absentmindedly as he heard the sounds of battle coming closer. "I think Bolton has other issues now!" He shouted, "Winter is coming, winter is coming!"
He was answered by a shout of someone else saying the same thing followed by "Hang on my son, we're coming!"
Another lighter voice shouted out, "Ranma, brother, we're here, stay strong!"
The men between Ranma and the attacking forces of his father melted away, trying desperately to regroup and get to a higher level of the keep, but most of them were too slow. Many of them were surrounded and ordered to surrender. If they did not obey that first shouted order, they were cut down without mercy and Eddard's men stormed forward. He was slowly losing control since half these men were from Lord Manderly and Lord Hornwood rather than Winterfell. They had long hated Bolton and wanted to put an end to the entire family, but Eddard was not a man anyone in the North would disobey lightly and he was able to keep the reins well enough to keep the servants at least, from being killed along the way.
Jon had trained with Ranma for practically his entire life. He was faster and far stronger than his age or size would suggest, by far, which stood him in good stead in this battle. He ducked under the sword of the first man who attacked him, burying his own blade into the man's chest, before kicking the new corpse in the chest, sending him back against one of his fellows, who lost a limb in a small economic blow before his sword returned to defend him from another soldier's blade, which he turned before shoulder charging the man, opening him up for a stab from the knife in his other hand.
Like Ser Rodrick had thought, Jon was truly ambidextrous and had learned to fight with both sword and knife. This wasn't unheard of in the North, but it was unusual in one so young. His speed with both blades coupled with his strength proved enough to see him through.
Yet even as he fought, he had to push back a feeling of awe as he watched his father cut his way through Bolton's men.
Eddard Stark had not survived against three of the best blades of Aery's Kingsguard by chance alone. He wasn't one of the best blades in Westeros, but the difference was very narrow indeed, and he was both quick and strong for his size and in the prime of his life. Ice was a two handed weapon for most, but he wielded it with ease in one, taking three men in quick succession, using his shield to block blow after blow from others, though it began to falter under the continued pummeling.
He ducked under one slash, bringing Ice up to block another, ramming his shield forward throwing the man off his feet and bringing Ice around in a blow that took the man in the chest, throwing him backwards in a splash of blood. His shield intercepted another blow, finally cut through, but it was enough and Ice returned swiftly, taking the man in the head with a blow that clove his helmet open, spilling half his head onto the castle's stone floor.
Ned used his sword two-handed now, throwing off the battered remains of his shield, hacking and slicing his way forward, his face covered with the gore of his victims as he stalked forward. "I'm coming my son!"
He suddenly stopped however, seeing a group of nine men breaking from the doorway up to the higher levels of the keep, heading straight for the doors, cutting down the men in front of them. One of them was Roose Bolton. He could tell from the plate armor he wore, as well as his dead eyes. "Roose!" he yelled angrily, "To me! Face me traitor!"
Roose turned, and for a moment, Eddard could almost see the thoughts flashing over his face. He had been close to breaking out, if he could break out, he may rally the men of his land to him, possibly even force Eddard to back off, now that he had his son. Perhaps even be able to blame the whole thing on the fact that his bastard son had been acting out, but then he saw Ranma burst out from another doorway following three of the Stark men, including Ser Jory, who cut down two men as they forced their way through the bedlam of combat. And then suddenly the keep's door was filled with more men as Lord Hornwood led his own personal guard in.
With that, Roose knew that his time was up, and he decided that if he was going to go down, he was damn well going to go down swinging. "Our Blades Are Sharp!" he shouted and ran towards Eddard.
Ranma saw his father and Roose clashing, and darted forward, slamming his shoulder into one man's side, throwing him up into the air to catch him on the back swing with his mace whose haft shattered under the force of the blow. The man's face completely disappeared and Ranma dropped to the ground, using the piece of the haft still in his hand to stab a man in his side, causing him to scream. Ranma grabbed the man's sword and brought it around to cut into his throat.
He let that body fall as Jon leapt in, taking up position at his brother's side. Jory tried to keep up, but Ranma didn't even notice him and he grinned wildly at Jon. "Together brother! AWOOOOOOO!" The two boys charged forward, taking two of Bolton's personal bodyguard, driving them away from their lord, as Ser Jory danced forward blade flashing and taking another two.
The other four became embroiled against Lord Hornwood and his men. Halys shouted happily, "We've got your back Lord Stark, kill that undead leech!"
The two lords circled one another, their blades flashing out a time or two to test each other's defenses. "Why?" said Eddard. "Why did you take my son?"
"I didn't," said Roose, blocking a blow with the speed of a striking snake as Ice quested for his face. "My bastard son brought him here, I could say against my orders and it would be the truth, but would that matter now? Events have come too far to back out, much too far for me." Roose loosed a vicious thrust toward his enemy's chest.
"No," said Eddard, smashing his blade aside and moving swiftly forward, "it wouldn't." It became swiftly apparent that Roose did not have enough skill to truly hold Ned off for long. And he fell back, wincing as Ice sliced into his armor, cutting it away like butter.
He attempted a parry then a thrust, trying to catch Eddard off guard, but Ned danced back swiftly, and Ice flashed forward. Roose tried to dodge, tried to pull his hand back, but he was too slow. He gritted his teeth as Ice slashed into his wrist, cutting his hand off cleanly right behind the vambrace. He tried swiftly to pick his blade up with his other hand, but stilled as Ice came back, the tip pressing into his throat.
Behind him all of his guards had fallen, and Ranma dropped his liberated blade to the ground. All around, the clangor of battle slowly receded, as the few remaining Bolton guards either surrendered or died where they stood. Two men came forward grabbing Roose by the shoulders and pulling him up and away. Eddard slowly pulled his sword back, before kneeling down to wiped the blade off with a bit of cloth. Then he swiftly left it there and marched forwards towards his son pulling him into a hug, reaching out with one hand to ruffle Jon's hair. "I thought I lost you boy!"
Ranma fought back tears, once more realizing that his father in this life truly did love him, and his arms went around the older man with enough force to make his ribs creak. One hand then loosened enough to sneak out and grab Jon, pulling him into the hug for a moment before Ranma pulled back to look up at his father. "Sorry Father, I went off for a walk like normal but…" The whole story came out from Ranma's perspective, including what he had overheard when his kidnappers thought he was still unconscious when he first arrived.
After that, Dominic was quickly found and brought up from where he had forted up in the dungeon, the men whispering in awe at the droves of dead bodies from the men who had tried to fight Ranma. On unsteady feet while two healers worked on his arm Dominic told his own tale.
This took several minutes during which Eddard's face went from joyous at his son's survival to grim. He once more looked down at his son as the murmurs began at his survival and victory, and at how many soldiers he had killed this day among the men around him. What do the old gods have planned for you my son? He thought to himself as he ruffled the young boy's hair.
Ranma looked up at him with a smile, dim now as the memories of the battle hit him, but still warm and Ned smiled down at him with that small but warm smile he reserved for family. Jon too earned a smile, having fought hard and well, and the two boys stood side by side next to their father. What do the old gods have planned for you that they would challenge you this way at so young an age, Ranma?
For some reason, Eddard knew that answer to that question would terrify him, but he purposefully set it aside for now. Whatever would happen in the future, right now Ranma was a young boy who had just been through an experienced no man should ever face. And until whatever comes, he will still be my son, as I told him two years ago, he thought grimly, and I will defend him with all the breath and all the power of my body.
He moved away from his sons rather reluctantly, picking up Ice again from where it had lain on the floor. "You have heard the witnesses against you, Roose of the house of Bolton. Do you have anything to say in your own defense?"
Roose stared up at him angrily, cradling the bleeding stump where his right hand had once been. But then his eyes went to Dominic and he sighed, all his anger leaving him. "Chance, fate, and one ill-chosen choice have brought me down. I backed the bastard born Ramsay against my own trueborn son because I thought him the better choice, closer to the ideals my house has used to rule this land. I was wrong and that has proven my downfall. I have nothing more to say. Do your duty, Stark."
"So be it." Ned looked over at his sons for a moment. "Our family has been the Lords of the North for thousands of years, my son, and throughout all that time there has been one unofficial law that we have adhered to: the man who passes the sentence must wield the sword."
He turned back to Roose. "Roose of house Bolton, you are condemned for your crimes of conspiracy to commit murder, murder, inciting war with your neighbors, and abetting torture. The sentence is death and it is to be carried out immediately." With that Ned raised Ice into the air and brought it crashing down. With a single blow, he decapitated Roose Bolton, the undead man, the Lord of Dread Fort of the flayed man banner.
After a moment's respectful silence, Eddard turned, wiping the blade off again, and pointed at Dominic with his free hand. "You will come with us, you are now a ward of Lord Hornwood, who now owns the land from this fort back to his former border with the former house of Bolton. By my decree, when you marry you will change your name to that of the lady you marry, or you can take the name of Snow after three years. There will be no more Boltons in this land. House Karstark and house Umber will be given the rest of the land to hold in faith, in this way no one lord will benefit too much from the fall of your former house."
Dominic smiled, tearing his eyes away from his father's body. "I would like nothing better my lord. I never wanted to be a lord anyway, I will become a bard, and bards cannot own land."
Eddard nodded then looked over at Halys Hornwood, looking the man in the eye. "Your first order of business," he said, waving his hand around, "is to tear this place down, root, and branch. Within a year I want not a single stones set on stone here. I want there to be nothing of house Bolton remaining but in the history books. Only the godswood is to remain untouched."
Halys smiled grimly and nodded. "I will see to it my Lord." Of course he probably wouldn't be able to keep all the Bolton land, Roose did after all have other neighbors but if he could keep even a portion of it he could enrich himself tremendously. Moreover, the idea of tearing this place down had been a dream of his family for generations. Plus while house Umber may be even gruffer and lacking in polish than house Mormont, they were good and friendly neighbors, and the Karstarks were old allies of his house.
With that, Eddard turned back to his son putting a light hand on his both his sons shoulders while Jory came forward with a cloak and shirt for the boy. "Now, we need to think about what we're going to tell your mother."
Of course it wasn't that simple. Ned needed to stay there and apportion the former Bolton land himself so that none of the three lords felt slighted. This took several weeks as both Lord Karstark and Lord Umber had to actually travel to (or in BigJon Umber's case finish traveling to) the Dread Fort. The men who had served lord Bolton had to be paroled, his minor lords and land owners needed to be told about the change of ownership and why, and any spurt of rebellion quelled before it could occur.
Yet Ned was smart enough to know that keeping Ranma with him for this part, while undoubtedly a good experience for him, would lead to Cat not speaking to him for months. Even with a raven being sent to Winterfell the moment the battle ended, Catelyn and the rest of the family were beside themselves with worry. So Ned sent a hundred of the men from Winterfell back with Ranma and Jon.
Of course by the time they set off the rumors of what Ranma had done had spread throughout the small army. For once, a tale did not grow in the retelling. After all, it was very difficult to add to the tale of a thirteen year old boy wiping out over 150 trained men-at-arms in close quarter combat and that after having been starved for over a week and tortured occasionally during that time, besides.
Jon's deeds, too, were a tale, though a far smaller one. He wasn't the first thirteen year old to fight a battle after all, but in that short battle he had accounted, according to rumor, for twenty dead. This was an astonishing number considering how short the battle had been and second only to Ned Stark.
Still, with the apportioning of the Bolton lands to think about and work beginning immediately on tearing down Dread Fort, the rumors slowly subsided, replaced by other ones as the secret rooms of the Dread Fort were aired out and their secrets found. It would still solidify the start of Ranma's legend however and the lords of the North would start to send their heirs and sons to meet their future lord and learn from him. This would solidify the hold of the Stark family on the North, making vassals into allies and allies into friends. A cancer had been cut from the north before it had chance to bloom and the whole was stronger for it.
Yet for all the fact the tale spread over the North, it didn't make it south. It might have, if a certain spymaster had any of his little birds in Bolton land, but he didn't at this point in time. Tales of the sack of the Dread Fort did of course make it to King's Landing and beyond, but the news of Ranma's skill did not, save in fireside bards tales, heard but not believed. After all, there was no way a boy of thirteen could kill over a hundred and fifty men was there? No, the story was obviously made up.
That was for the future however. For now, Ser Jory and a hundred chosen traveled back to Winterfell with their young charges. During this time Ranma was almost constantly eating every time they stopped to water their horses, a reaction to having been starved for a week. Jon stayed close to him the entire time and on the third day finally blurting out, "I'm sorry! I should have been with you! If I hadn't fallen for Theon's stupid teasing, I would have been with you, and we could have beaten off that murderer Ramsay and his men."
Ranma took a moment out of his eating to look at Jon for a moment then replied, "It wasn't your fault. It was no one's fault but Ramsay. And Roose too, for letting him do whatever he wanted unchecked. Would I have liked for you to be with me, sure, but it wasn't your fault I was captured." He frowned, remembering how Ramsay had taken that woman hostage and used her as a shield, forcing Ranma to surrender.
Jon frowned, unwilling to let go of his guilt and Ranma sighed. "Jon, trust me, it wasn't your fault. Try not to let Theon's taunts get to you from now on and that'll be enough. You know he only needles you because he doesn't like the fact that a 'bastard'," Ranma rolled his eyes at the word, taking any sting out of it and actually making Jon chuckle, Ranma always did that when his birth status came up for some reason, "is so much stronger and better at him at everything but archery. It's been the same problem since the beginning."
That caused Jon's smile to widen slightly but that was all. "Alright, I'll agree it wasn't my fault, but I'm still not letting you out of my sight from now on. Who knows what kind of trouble you could get up to next time!"
"Hah, as if that's ever worked before!" Ranma laughed, pushing his brother in the shoulder. Then Jon responded in like kind and they broke out into laughter.
Soon enough however, they were back at Winterfell, and for the first time in either of his lives Ranma had to deal with being smothered in motherly worry. Catelyn actually pulled him off his horse into her arms, saying "Oh my baby, what did those animals do to you, I'm never letting you out of my sight again!"
Hearing Lady Catelyn say the same words he had used caused Jon to nearly fall off his horse laughing, while Catelyn kept hugging and smothering her son with love for a few minutes before pulling back and looking at him.
She could see he was still slightly gaunt from his time being starved, and while she could not see the wounds on his body, his eyes told a different tale. Despite the smile on his face and the warmth in his deep blue eyes, there was a new-found maturity and experience there. My boy has become a man, she thought sadly, far too soon, and in a way no mother would ever wish for such to come to pass.
After that little Arya and Sansa rushed forward to hug their wayward brother, followed by Bran and even a toddling Rickon. Ranma smiled happily, once more surrounded by his family again. The darkness of the memories of his time as captive and what he had done in the battle faded under their combined warmth like snow under warm rainfall.
Theon waited on the sidelines, looking uncomfortable both at the family reunion, and the fact he hadn't been with Ranma both at the start and at the finish, unable to escape as Jon had. He would have to wait to give his own apologies, and maybe, just maybe he'd promise to be nicer to Jon. He might even keep the promise, for a while at least.
Thankfully for lady Catelyn's sanity, that was the only major upheaval for a time. The next three years fell back into a busy but somewhat more normal routine. Ranma and his siblings continued to grow and learn, each of the youngsters now forming their own distinct personalities.
Sansa continued on her way to becoming the perfect noble's daughter. Her sewing and her embroidery were top notch, her manners and bearing perfect, and her face and body began to blossom into what everyone could see would be a gorgeous womanhood. Despite this, and despite the fact she looked down her nose on some of the things Ranma still did (climb trees, roughhouse with Jon, Theon, and others) Ranma still remained her 'favorite big brother'. He would take time out of his week to spend with her, either reading with her or telling Sansa a story, mostly made up at this point to make her laugh or smile.
Bran grew up enough to chase after the older boys and Jon and Ranma smoothly introduced him to their play, though he wasn't nearly interested enough in arms-training to be given their old weight set as Ranma had predicted early on. Theon sometimes resented their new follower but for the most part put up with the youngster easily. Rickon, too, was now able to at least follow the other boys around, and did so as often as he could get away from his nurse.
Just like Ranma predicted, Arya was a wild little thing. She learned hand to hand and weapons training from Ranma almost as well as Jon and made war against Septa Mordane and her mother's attempt to change her into a proper little lady. With Ranma and Jon's connivance, which didn't end no matter how many times Catelyn took them to task about it, she continued to learn what she wanted to rather than merely what she was forced to. Ned now kept clear of it, knowing his youngest daughter had him wrapped around her little finger and, unfortunately, also knowing that Catelyn had a point.
Ranma, now with Jon and, to a lesser extent, Theon continued to learn statecraft, strategy, logistics, and tactics from Lord Stark and Maester Luwin. Despite this and his ordeal under the Bolton's Ranma's personality largely remained the same; irreverent, easy-going, caring, and eager to please his parents. To this was added a new fierce protective streak and a certain amount of maturity when dealing with matters of his future lordship. Jon was a little more introspective, somewhat more brooding at times, but still a good friend and brother.
Theon had given up trying to match the other two in swordplay, although he did so with ill grace. He instead delved into another area to prove his superiority: womanizing. Once he hit puberty, not a day went by when he didn't have a tale to rub into the other boys's faces about his time with one girl or another. Yet despite this, neither of the other boys were dismayed by being shown up in this area.
Jon had no desire to leave any Snows around. While the Stark family, even Catelyn, were supportive and welcoming to him, Septa Mordane and those like her had never ceases to make certain Jon knew his place in no uncertain terms, and at one point had almost corrupted Sansa to their way of thinking before Catelyn put her foot down hard.
Theon did, however, convince Ranma to come with him. But this wasn't because Ranma wanted to use the whores, (after all, he had seen Genma use whores on their training journey and nothing good came from it) but because he wanted to learn what girls liked.
The whore was slightly older than the normal fare, and had actually been surprised and rather amused when the Young Wolf had chosen her when he came in with the Kraken boy. Every whore knew Greyjoy by this point and knew how to handle him. The young wolf was a surprise but not an unwelcome one. He was after all very comely and every girl in Winterfell except Arya (though it included Sansa thanks to her friend Jeyne) wondered if his well-known endurance translated into other things. "So what will it be, my lord, a little bit of the mouth, the tit, or the full service? You paid for it, your choice."
Ranma smiled, more than a little embarrassed by this but his desire to find out what girls actually liked overrode that. Once more, he cursed the fact that for whatever reason, he had never really been interested in girls in that way back in his previous life, not even to the extent of looking at porn. If he had, this trip would have been unnecessary, but he would be damned if he didn't please his partner when he actually got one. "None of that, actually. I just have one request: teach me what women like, in y'know, like in bed."
The older woman stared at him for a moment, then began to laugh gently. It was a rare boy indeed who cared about his partner. She reached out to cup his chin and pull the boy's embarrassed face up to look into her own. "That will take some time my lord, but you've paid for it already. Now, to begin with, many women like a man who kisses in a certain way…."
Ranma spent the entire day with the woman and left a very embarrassed but much more knowledgeable young man. The whore was asked by her fellows what the young lord was like, but she would merely smile, shaking her head and leaving them to guess.
Needless to say he was ribbed about this trip constantly by Theon and Sansa though for different reasons. Sansa was appalled her favorite brother had gone to a whorehouse, but eventually decided to blame Theon's bad influence. Theon on the other hand was more amused and astonished that Ranma didn't want to go back, but when pressed about what happened would not reveal anything.
More importantly, Jon, Ranma and, to a lesser extent, Theon made friends with several of the young nobles of the North, especially the heirs that began to visit Winterfell on their parent's orders. SmallJon Umber, the Karstark boys Harrion, Eddard and Torrhen who were welcomed as family with open arms by Lord Stark and his family, even the older Robett Glover who was a man grown and married, Daryn Hornwood, Roger Ryswell and others. All of them showed up to learn what they could from the Young Wolf and the Twinblade, as Jon began to be called when he started to use two shorts swords rather than a longsword and knife. Edd, SmallJon, Daryn and Roger became friends with Jon and Ranma, appearing often to hunt, train or simply spend time with the two brothers, to the approval of all their houses.
Yet, the one heir who most often resided in Winterfell was Dacey Mormont. She appeared at Winterfell a month after Ranma was freed from his captivity and stated simply, "I'm here to see if the stories about the Young Wolf and his culling of the leeches of Dread Fort are true."
After that Dacey challenged Ranma to a fight with swords, and was soundly beaten. This didn't dismay her, instead the two were often seen together, and she too, became a friend to Ranma, Jon, and Theon. She stopped by at least once a month, sometimes more, to learn from Ranma and to see him. In fact rumors of the two being lovers began to circulate, but if that was the case neither gave any sign of it.
Catelyn had been somewhat worried about the relationship, hoping that her son had not fallen for the nearly thirty year old Dacey, who despite being an accomplished warrior was still striking to look upon. A marriage to house Mormont however was unnecessary, they were already counted among the most loyal vassals and friends of house Stark, so there was no need to bind them to house Stark through marriage. Ranma's hand, like that of Sansa and to a lesser extent Arya was a potent tool that could be used to strengthen the house.
When asked, Ranma had simply smiled, kissed his mother's cheek and said, "We're just friends, that's all, neither of us are interested in marrying." It was only later that Catelyn realized that this didn't mean the two weren't physically interested in one another, but as no evidence to back that up came to light, she let the matter drop. Theon didn't, of course, and needled both Dacey and Ranma, but the two bore it stoically, firing back as well as they took.
And so time passed, until one day when news of a deserter from the Night's Watch reached Winterfell.
So there you have my attempt at the start of a Ranma/A Song of Ice and Fire crossover. My muse thought this story up and would not let me alone until I wrote it, and since I am in a holding pattern on my job, I figured why not let my muse loose, so here you are. If you are expecting a bleep ton of dark shit, go elsewhere. If you are looking for a cocktail (mmm…. B-52's) mix of comedy, drama, violence, warfare (three parts warfare –strategy, politics/espionage and combat), a bit of romance with more than a hint of lemons eventually, then please go to my profile and vote for this story to be continued after I am finished with Horse of the Dead. The other choices are my other newly posted story, Gods, Devils and Wild Horses, Oh My a High school DxD/Ranma crossover, or continuing my mass effect/Ranma crossover. The poll is like all my others, vote = one point for your choice, a PM that tries to convince me that this story or that one is the best one to go with other than for reasons like 'I think this is good, write it' will get that story five points. I had help for this from Trinel, N0mster and several others, so that automatically gives this story 45 points. Thanks again for letting me bounce ideas off you guys and for all the facts you hooked me up with Trinel!
Be warned, I may make up a few names for heirs to houses like House Dustin, who don't have one designated, I'm thinking of the name Hathan- kudos do anyone who recognizes it. If I do continue it I would also be eternally grateful for a beta reader, one good at spotting small mistakes and who has a knowledge of the world of Westeros, and in particular Daenerys and her journey.
As always read and review please.