276 A.L.: Winterfell

Lord Rickard Stark

The summer snows were beginning to settle on the ground in Winterfell and the rest of the north. Summer had been going on for some four years now and with it had continued the peace and prosperity of the past decade of King Aerys reign. There had been some minor trouble in the south when the King had been taken hostage by Denys Darklyn, but now that issue seemed to have resolved itself and peace had returned once more. The north itself had been experiencing a rare period of prolonged peace, the wildlings had finally accepted that they were not like to succeed in crossing over the wall, and as such had stopped crossing over the wall and raiding. IN fact, Rickard could not truly remember the last time he had had to deal with the wildlings, it might have been when he was a young lad, perhaps slightly older than Brandon was now. All in all, the land was at peace, his bannermen and his people were happy and he was content.

His family was also happy, Rickard's wife Lyarra had passed away some three years a go from a chill, and Rickard deeply missed her. His wife had been his closest confidant and his best friend, they had shared many a laugh together and had taken great joy in watching their children grow and explore the world. Lyarra had been the only person who could ever truly make him laugh, and now that she was gone, he had become very, very solemn. He knew that much, he knew that perhaps there were times when his children could do with some laughter and joy and yet he found he knew not how to provide it anymore. As to his children, well his eldest son and heir Brandon reminded him of his uncle Rodrik, very wild and brash was Brandon, hot headed as well, and prone to thinking with his heart and not his head. The boy had gotten into a lot of trouble growing up and yet he seemed to be slowly maturing, his time with the Dustins seemed to have done him some good. He might be brash, but just like Rodrik Brandon had a good heart and could be very smart when he wanted to. As for his second son Eddard lovingly known as Ned, well Rickard knew very little about his second son, for Ned had been fostered at the Vale since he was eight, and all Rickard knew of his second son was what he remembered of the boy he had been then, quiet and solemn, from what his children told him when Ned visited and from the letters he got from Ned himself, his son was very solemn and quiet, much like Rickard himself. Lyanna, Rickard's only daughter and the apple of his eye, was wild just like her brother, and often did things she wanted to d regardless of social propeity or the consequences, and though Rickard knew he should be stricter with her he often found he could not be. The one thing he would not allow her to do though was sword fight, for she was not a Mormont and did not need to know such a thing. Of course that often mean she dragged poor Benjen, the youngest of Rickard's pups into all sorts of activities which got them both into trouble. Rickard often despaired about what he was going to do with her.

It did not help that his bannermen had begun speaking to him about possible options of betrothals for both Brandon and Lyanna. Brandon he could understand, after all the boy would soon become a man and would need a wife, as for Lyanna she was only nine and could spend some more time as the wild little girl she was before she would need to be tamed. Of course he had thought it a could idea to speak to Maester Walys about such issues before he made a decision. Maester Walys was a large man, broad shouldered and very smart, and he had become Rickard's most trusted confidant after Lyarra had died. Rickard was sat in his solar as he spoke to Walys. "Well Maester, what do you make of these letters? It could not be more obvious that Ryswell wants Brandon for his daughter Barbrey, though Bethany is still available as well. What do you think could be the reason for that?" Rickard asked, though he had a very good idea of why.

Walys was silent a moment and then said. "It is possible that Lord Rodrik simply wants the best for both his daughters, after all you have heard the talk that the man means to see his eldest daughter Bethany wed to Roose Bolton. Perhaps he wants a more appropriate match for his second daughter, and he means to see her wed to Winterfell." Rickard shuddered at the thought of Roose Bolton, the man was the same age as him and yet something about him seemed off. Walys spoke once more. "Alternatively, it could be Lord Rodrik subtly implying that Lord Brandon is honour bound to wed Barbrey now. After all, if you will forgive me my frankness my lord, Lord Brandon has not been known to think with his head when it comes to the Ryswells and their girls."

Rickard sighed he knew very well what the man meant and once again he cursed his son's hot bloodedness. "Aye, whilst I agree that this most likely has more to do with Rodrik wanting his daughter and blood in Winterfell, were it Bethany that he proposed I would not be so hesitant to agree to a match. The girl is smart and clever, and she knows her duty. Barbrey Ryswell, I am not sure of, and I am sure that the match would be more toxic than good for the north."

"I suppose then that you will reject this offer then my lord?" Maester Walys asked.

Rickard nodded and said. "Aye, though that now means there are few other options for Brandon here in the north. My cousin Brandon only had sons who only have sons, and his brother Benjen's daughters are all wed and bedded with sons of their own so there is no chance of keeping it close. And Donella Manderly is betrothed to Halys Hornwood, and that is a match that must go ahead to reduce Bolton's influence in the east. It seems that there has been a lack of brides from my generation, we might need to do what no other lord of Winterfell has done since the time of my grandfather."

Maester Walys perked up then and asked. "Where were you thinking of looking towards my lord? Riverrun has two daughters; Casterly Rock has one from the main line and many from the other branches. House Tyrell has two daughters from the main line, and countless others as well. And then there is Dorne, with Princess Elia as well."

Rickard was silent a moment and then he said. "If I was to look south and towards the Riverlands, that might be the most beneficial for the north. After all the riverlands are directly to our south and are very fertile, besides relations between the north and the riverlands have always been good, perhaps it is time to renew that alliance. There is also the fact that Hoster Tully's daughter Catelyn is meant to already be a great beauty, perhaps that might be enough to keep Brandon away from Barbrey Ryswell."

Maester Walys nodded and then said. "That is very true my lord. But would it be wise to look to the Riverlands? After all Hoster Tully is an ambitious man and has many qualities that might not be viewed desirably in an ally, there is also the fact that if you mean to wed Lord Brandon to a member of a great house, it might be more strategically sound to wed him to a daughter of a Great house who will not be in the centre of a conflict should one ever arrive."

Rickard thought about this for a moment and then asked. "Then who would you suggest maester?" Looking to Casterly Rock will bear no fruit, for Tywin still wants his daughter to be a queen, and believes his rescuing of the King during Duskendale will make the King more likely to accept the proposal a second time round. And looking towards their cadet branches is nothing but an insult to Winterfell and the north, we are not some second tier house that we must take their seconds. Brandon is heir to the north, the biggest kingdom and as such deserves the best."

Maester Walys pondered that and then asked. "Then would you consider looking towards Dorne or perhaps to the Reach. Princess Elia would bring with her an ancient heritage and a strong ally in the south. Whilst the Reach would bring significant trade and more workings with the citadel and it would also mean significant numbers in the event of war."

Rickard nodded. "Aye, those are two very interesting options. Princess Elia might be slightly older than Brandon but she would bring prestige and strength to the marriage, of course there is her health to consider and whether or not she would last in the cold of the north. That might be too much of an issue to allow a betrothal to take place. SO I think we can discount her. Now, the Tyrells, aye they would make the most sense in this case. They have two daughters do they not?"

Walys nods and says. "Aye my lord, Mina and Jana, and by all accounts both girls are smart and are their mother's daughters to the core. It seems that Lord Mace inherited his father's slowness and his daughters have inherited their mother's smartness and good looks. Definitely something that will be useful for the north and for Lord Brandon."

Rickard considered this for a long moment and then said. "Very well, then I suppose it is time I began speaking to Mace Tyrell and his mother. Send a raven to Highgarden with a proposition of a betrothal, and let us see what Highgarden has to say and offer us."