The North was just the same as Jasper remembered it from his last visit there, bleak yet with an attractive wildness to it, a wildness that called out for Jasper, and he wanted nothing more than to go riding through the barrows with only himself, his horse and his swords for company, there he could stay away from family politics and feuds and be free. That was one of the best things that Jasper had felt when he had been his uncle's ward on Dragonstone. Stannis was not a man who had a love of fun, but he was honest and there was no conflict on the former Targaryen Island between his mother's family and his father's. However he had not spent too much time on Dragonstone, and certainly not as much as he would like, he would at most spend three moons of every year on the Island, with another three at Storm's End, the ancestral seat of House Baratheon in the Stormlands, the remaining six were spent at King's Landing, where he would still be learning under Stannis, just not on Dragonstone, with occasional visits to Highgarden Casterly Rock and of course Winterfell, where he was going now.
It had been three weeks since the King's company, royal family included, had departed from King's Landing for Winterfell in the North, four since the death of Jon Arryn and Jasper's return to the Capital from Casterly Rock. Jasper, riding upon the back of his black horse Spectre, was at the rear of the company with Ser Arys Oakheart and several House Baratheon guardsmen. His older brother Joffrey was given the honour of riding at the front of the column and he was to ride at the back. His father, King Robert Baratheon rode in the middle with the wagon that held his younger brother and sister as well as his mother.
"Is something wrong Jasper?"
Jasper looked over to see Jasper's sworn shield, a former hedge knight called Beric Storm approaching. As the bastard son of a Storm Lord, Beric had not expected much, but then he won the tourney to be named Jasper's sworn shield nearly seven years ago now. He had brown hair that framed his face tightly, dark blue eyes and a thin nose and lips. Apparently he took after his mother, which was why Jasper, despite spending several moons of every year at Storm's End, his future seat, could not have worked out which Storm Lord had fathered Beric. It was only two years after they met each other, that Beric finally told him that he was the son of Ralph Buckler. "No", Jasper replied, "I am just bored."
Beric laughed, "you always get bored on long journeys", he pointed out.
"He speaks the truth my prince", Ser Arys added, his helm securely fastened and his white cloak billowing in the wind.
Jasper blew a stray strand of hair from his face, "I suspect that soon my father will pull us over so he can eat more".
"Him or your mother", Beric added, and the two of them laughed. "Where is Devan anyway?" Beric asked, and Jasper looked around for his squire.
"Back with the luggage", Jasper said, upon catching sight of his squire, who was sitting upon the carriage which was carrying all the luggage of the royal family.
Beric raised an eyebrow, "what is he doing there?"
Jasper shrugged, "he is probably bored too, so he decided to sit on the carriage rather than have to expend the effort of riding his horse".
"A pity you have grown out of that my prince", Ser Arys said, smiling at him, "I still remember when you used to do that".
"And got away with it every time", Jasper grinned at the memories, his mother had been so scornful of him when he used to do it, declaring it "unprincely". However, after his first visit to Dragonstone to learn the ways of the sea from Stannis, Jasper had been forced by his uncle to act more like the prince he was with the responsibilities he had. For some reason his mother had been angry when Stannis had changed him, she did not like it when Stannis had more influence over Jasper than herself. But she could blame only herself in Jasper's mind; she doted on Joffrey too much to pay much attention to him Tommen or Myrcella.
When they finally got near to Winterfell, the people of Winterfell were lined up at the road and watched as the Lannister-Baratheon column entered the Castle of Winterfell. As he was at the back, when he entered with Arys and the Baratheon guardsmen, and the people of Winterfell and the men of the caravan were already bowing before his father. He dismounted once they had been told to rise by Robert and headed over to the Starks, who were greeting his father like old friends. It had been two years since he had seen them and he was eager to do so again. So he approached the waiting line of Stark children and Lady Stark, Lord Eddard having taken his father to the crypts. "So", Jasper said as he appraised the line, looking over them from Bran at one end to Rickon at the other, beside his mother. "I travel up the Kingsroad in mostly unpleasant company, for over a month, and who do I find at the end? The Red Rabbits… and Arya", he added after a pause. Rickon giggled at the nickname, Arya scowled, Sansa blushed a little and Robb just smirked. They all liked the name he had given them, due to their hair all being red, apart from Arya's.
"You think you have had problems", Robb said, "we have been slaving away for weeks trying to get this castle ready for the King and his family, and who comes through the gate, the black bird."
Jasper scowled a little before he broke into a grin, laughed and rushed Robb, hugging him tightly. "It's good to see you Robb", he said.
"You too Jasper", Robb replied, grinning just as fiercely. Behind Robb, Jasper could see that Beric and Jon Snow were reconnecting, they had always been lose, both having the stigma of bastardry attached to them.
They pulled apart and Jasper bowed before Lady Catelyn, "my lady", he said kissing her hand when she offered it, "I hope I find you well".
"Very well, thank you prince Jasper", she said, smiling sweetly, a smile that was echoed by Sansa when Jasper reached her, after ruffling Rickon's hair affectionately.
"Sansa", Jasper greeted and then, before anything else could happen, he hugged her, breathing in the delicious scent of her hair as he did. "You look well."
"I am, thank you Jasper", Sansa replied, curtsying after Jasper had released her.
"You look well too Arya", Jasper greeted, "the dress suits you, you should wear them more often". Arya scowled and aimed a kick at Jasper, but he laughed and sidestepped it, she would forget the comment by dinner, that much he knew. "Now then", he said as he approached Bran, rolling up the sleeves on his black tunic, and holding his hand out, palm open and facing Bran. "Can you hit it this time Bran?" Bran nodded and aimed a punch at Jasper's hand, Jasper quickly swept his hand up tapped Bran on the head, spun around behind him and lifted him up from the waist. "Still too slow Bran", Jasper said, giving a fake roar. Then Jasper saw that Tommen and Myrcella were approaching, both looking sweet and shy and, since they had never met the Starks before, Jasper decided to introduce them. "Okay then, Starks, this is my sister Myrcella and my brother Tommen, greetings all around", he indicated them, "Myrcella and Tommen, these are my friends, Robb, Sansa, Arya and Bran and Rickon is…"Jasper looked around but Rickon and Lady Catelyn had disappeared. "Not here, anyway greetings to you as well." Jasper then shuddered and turned back to Robb, "is this the sort of thing that will happen whenever the king goes to visit a friend?"
'Yes it is', Robb replied, smiling at the grimace on Jasper's face.
"So I would have to do this sort of thing when my brother is King and he comes to visit me?" Robb nodded, still smiling as Jasper's grimace. "Jasper Baratheon, this is a very large skin of wine, greetings", Jasper took a large swig from the drinking skin he had just pulled out from behind his cloak.
"Mother let you have wine?" Myrcella asked in a sweet young voice.
"No", Jasper replied, "I was just pretending for you my sweet little sister, it is actually just water in here", he shook the skin, "wine comes later dear sister." He stroked his sister's hair in an affectionate way, with a loving look in his eyes, before looking back to Robb. "Shall we go inside then Robb, my siblings here have yet to see the delights of Winterfell."
It was several hours later, and Jasper was now waiting outside the great hall of Winterfell, with Arya Stark by his side. He still remembered from his previous visits how Arya wanted to do everything a boy would do, swords interested her more than needles and embroidery bored her as much as it did him. He got on well with Arya, but it was because he was the second son of the guest and that she was the second daughter of the host that they were to accompany each other to the feast. They were to go into the hall just ahead of Robb and Myrcella, who had barely taken her eyes off the auburn haired future Warden of the North, who were just in front of the pride and joy of the groups, Joffrey and Sansa. The first Stark daughter was gazing at Joffrey just as Myrcella was at Robb, if not more so. He turned from them to see Arya had been looking as well. He mimed retching with his hand and she giggled before the doors opened and Lord Stark and Jasper's mother led the way in, followed by his father and Lady Stark, then the three youngest children, Bran Rickon and Tommen, then he accompanied Arya, neither of them particularly happy with the occasion down to the main table, where they took their seats to watch the desired couples to follow their path and take their seats.
The feast was wonderful, with delicious meats, as good as any from the south, and fish as well, Jasper did not often get to enjoy fish, but he took the opportunity whilst he could, throughout the entire feast he and Arya held small competitions, big enough to enjoy themselves, but not so big that it caught the unwanted attentions of their mothers. It all started when Arya said, "you cannot fit that much meat in your mouth", indicating Jasper's fork which had a lot of meat on it.
Jasper grinned back at the young Stark. "I bet I can."
"Done", Arya replied and she watched as Jasper crammed a forkful of venison and pork into his mouth.
Cheeks bulging triumphantly, he tried to speak, but instead what emerged was"m mmm", mumbled through the mouthful.
"I win", he grinned once he had swallowed it all, which was uncomfortable to say the least.
"Not yet", she declared angrily. Jasper wobbled his lower lip and mimicked fear, but his face quickly turned to a grin. "Give me a bet then", Arya challenged him. Jasper wondered whether he should, but then shrugged, he could always blame it on the wine later if he had to.
Jasper looked around before pulling Arya's cup towards him and filling it to the brim. He then pushed it gently back to Arya, "down that in one, no pauses, no spills." Arya simply took the cup and began to drink, Jasper watched intently but no spills came and she did not pause. It continued from there and, due to them sitting opposite them, Tommen and Myrcella also got involved, or they had moved down the table to avoid the drinking games of the older boys, which Jasper could see were rapidly getting out of hand. But, despite everything, it eventually became the three young ones ganging up on Jasper. "Go and kiss Jeyne Poole", Arya dared, "not a small one either, a big one".
Jasper looked down the table towards Sansa, for he remembered Jeyne Poole was a friend of Sansa, but he could not remember what she looked like. "Which one is she?" Jasper asked. Arya pointed her out so Jasper got up, walked over to Jeyne Poole gripped her upper arms and pulled her to her feet to the sounds of gasps, then he kissed her full on the lips. Her lips were unmoving in reply, so he wrapped his arms around her back and held her tightly never one to back down from a challenge, finally, just as she was beginning to get over the shock of kissing a prince, at least, from past experience, Jasper assumed that was what it was, Jasper parted, smiled at her and returned to his seat. He grinned at Arya when he sat down looked her in the eye, trying to work out, from his previous visits to Winterfell, exactly what he should make Arya do that she would hate, and it was in that manner that their game continued.
Next they made him dance with Lady Stark, his siblings knew full well that he hated dancing. But things finally came to ahead when Arya declared. "I bet I can hit Sansa from here."
"Your arms aren't long enough", Tommen pointed out.
"I think she means throwing food Tommen", Jasper replied and he looked at the grinning young girl to see her nodding. Jasper looked at the distance. No way a girl can get that range and accuracy, even Arya, he thought. "Go on then", he said. A few seconds later, Sansa was screaming about her dress and Arya was being marched off to bed, Jasper mocking a bow to her as she went.
It was not long after that when his mother indicated for him to take Tommen and Myrcella away, so he did and, feeling the tiredness wash over him all of a sudden, he went to bed himself.