11th Month of 281 A.C. Winterfell

Lord Rickard Stark

The words from the letter before him hit him hard, and he felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him, probably because it had. He could not believe what had been said in the letter, he could not believe the king would do such a thing, he knew the king was mad, but this? This was an act of pure lunacy, something only someone so depraved and insane could do. That he had done it not to just one person but to all of Brandon's companions was something that shocked him. It showed just how far gone Aerys was, he was no longer the smiling and charming man of his youth, in his place gods Rickard did not know what he was. As if trying to shake of the fear and the horror or rather trying to confirm it he spoke. "Can you read the letter again Maester Walys?"

The maester who had been in Winterfell for as long as Rickard could somewhat remember looked at him sorrowfully and spoke once more. "In the name of his most royal highness King Aerys Targaryen, second of his name King of the Seven Kingdoms, we do hereby announce the death of Brandon Stark heir to Winterfell and son of Lord Rickard Stark. Lord Brandon proved to be treasonous beyond measure and threatened not only the life of our son and heir Prince Rhaegar, but has also been plotting to remove us from our gods given throne. For these crimes, we sentenced Brandon Stark to death by fire. We do hereby request that Lord Rickard Stark come with his children to renew his fealty to the throne, and to show us that he is not a traitor unlike his son."

Rickard took a shuddering breath as shock and grief warred inside of him, anger was not even an emotion at this point in time though it would be later. He looks at the maester and asks him. "So maester, what suggestions do you have? What ideas do you have that can help me and my family out of this mess? There are things that should have been done that were not done and there has been a cost to my own family when there should have been none."

The maester to his credit remained silent for a long time considering his options and then eventually said. "Call Lord Eddard home, my lord. King Aerys is more than likely to look to the Vale next, especially with the spider whispering in his ear. The realm knows of the friendship between Lord Eddard and Lord Robert Baratheon, soon enough the king in his paranoia will summon for them as well. And we do not know whether or not Jon Arryn will move to protect them or not."

Rickard looks at the man for a moment and then says. "I do not believe Jon Arryn would willingly surrender Eddard over to the mad man who calls himself a king. But yes, if his hands were tied, then who knows what he would do. That is something I do not wish to find out, after all Eddard is now my heir and must come home. Send the raven out tonight, and send a raven informing him of his brother's death. It will be hard for him but he must come home now. And it is time to assess whether or not Lord Hoster will be true to his word."

The maester who had been nodding with his words looked at him then and asked. "What do you mean by that my lord? After all, House Tully has been nothing but a strong ally to you and the north during the time that you have been corresponding with the man."

Rickard considers for a moment and then holds the letter which the maester had placed on the table in front of them both. "With this letter, Aerys Targaryen has officially named my son a traitor and is suggesting that the same is true of me. Hoster Tully might be a friend but his house's words are not Family, Duty, and Honour for no reason. Should push comes to shove he will side with the king to protect his family. Unless we were to become his family. And for that to come to pass, Eddard must wed his daughter Catelyn and he must do it soon."

"To what extent though my lord? Such things are good, but unless you plan to call a council and discuss whom should sit the throne the father or the son, such alliances will not do much of anything except further worry the realm. And with Lord Brandon's actions having begun a mess, such things would not bode well for House Stark." The maester replied.

Rickard looks at the maester and feels his anger begin to grow, it is finally coming. Keeping his voice as calm as possible he says. "Whilst what you say is true Walys. The realm has seen now the true extent of Aerys madness, and if Rhaegar truly fell off of the rocks as some sources say before he abducted my daughter, then there is no hope for the man. His children likely carry the same taint, and as such so will his brother. It is a shame for we all pinned our hopes on Rhaegar Targaryen. But another means must be found to obtain the justice Aerys would deny."

"What do you suggest then my lord?" the maester asks though it is clear by the tone of his voice that he knows exactly where Rickard is going with this.

Rickard gives the man one of his rare smiles and says. "Well considering that my daughter is betrothed to Robert Baratheon, and the Baratheons are famed for their temper and being easily persuadable, I do not think it would be too much of a stretch to try and convince Robert Baratheon that it would be in his best interest to join the alliance formally. In a way his father never did."

The maester looks at him somewhat and then asks. "You mean to declare war?"

Rickard looks at the man and says. "I mean to have justice. A chance to regain what was taken from us so long ago and I mean to see that the man who killed my son, my little boy is served his just deserts."

Walys Flowers is silent a long time, and then when he does speak there is no reproach in his voice only a note of caution. "That is all well and good my lord, but unless there is more to it than simple revenge, then the realm will stand against you. Whilst, they might be horrified by what Aerys has done to your son and his companions, they will not want to risk upsetting the status quo to remove Aerys. His son is no longer around to become the shining beacon that we all thought. People will look at Viserys Targaryen and wonder if perhaps he could be a tool to manipulate. All in all trying to get Robert Baratheon on the throne might not be an easy task, after all none really know him and his house is famed for being hot-headed. You, yourself know just how comfortable people can get with established houses. Just look at what happened when the Ironsmiths and the Whitehills tried to rebel when your father died. They were crushed, because even though none were truly happy with Edwyle Stark, they were safer in the Stark name then allowing anarchy to come through."

Rickard grits his teeth his anger growing and looks at the man once more. "Thank you for the history lesson Walys. I am perfectly aware of what happened, I lived through it and saw to it that they were punished. But this is different, Robert Baratheon is a young man who knows what's what, and he is not a Targaryen and does not show any signs of madness. Sooner or later the loyalties fostered in Jon Arryn will come through and marrying Eddard to Catelyn Tully will bring the Tullys onside."

"And what of Tywin Lannister? Mace Tyrell? And even Doran Martell? They all have something to gain by protecting the Targaryens they will not fall over themselves to aid a man they know nothing about. Jaime Lannister is a man of the Kingsguard sworn to protect and obey and a hostage. Doran Martell's sister is Rhaegar's wife and as such a hostage as well. Mace Tyrell, Tyrell is someone who could be swayed I believe. But it would require a lot of effort." Flowers says.

Rickard nods and then says. "What do you have in mind for the Tyrells? After all they are kin to you are they not, albeit distantly. How would you bring them to realise their future lies with Robert Baratheon and not with Aerys Targaryen?"

The maester smiles and says. "Oh I have my ways my lord. I know things about that family that would send shivers down the others if they existed. There are secrets, and then there are secrets. Some are dark, some are completely frightful and all are things that none in that family want brought to light. I need merely remind them of this and they will come crawling."

Rickard nods at the man and says. "See it done. It is time for them to move and get active. It is time we took a much more active part in the realm. Now has there been any word on Lyanna and where she and that bloody silver haired fool might be?"

The maester shakes his head and Rickard feels his heart drop even further. "Unfortunately not my lord. There has been nothing since the letter came from Lord Brandon. All of our allies are looking and they have found nothing."

Rickard nods and says. "Very well you may leave Walys. But be sure to send word to Eddard and ensure that once he has left for White Harbour that you send the ravens calling the banners. I do not want anything bad to happen should Lyanna be in King's Landing." The man nods and then leaves.

Rickard sits in his solar alone for a long time, brooding and worrying, his eldest son and heir is dead. Brandon, so full of life and joy, someone who gave him so many headaches but someone he loved dearly, his firstborn, gone, gone because Aerys Targaryen could not see reason, gone because Rhaegar Targaryen was an oaf and a fool. The door opens and Rickard sees his wife Lyarra standing there in the doorway. He wants to get up and comfort her but he cannot move, and so almost as if she can read his mind she walks towards him and holds him as he shudders into her chest. "They took our boy Lya, they took our boy. And now I do not know what I am going to do."

His wife, the daughter of Rodrik Stark a fighter and the wandering wolf, holds him and then tilts his face to ensure that they are looking into one another's eyes. There is a fire there when she says. "You will do what needs to be done my love. You will make those who have wronged us pay. And you will ensure that Brandon gets justice. And that Lyanna is found. You will do what you have always done when the north is in crisis, or when the children have needed you. You will be strong and carry on for though they may be dragons, the Targaryens will wilt in the face of winter's Wrath."

Rickard looks at his wife then and says in a very soft voice. "I am so sorry my love. My ambitions are costing us our children, and that was something I had sworn would never happen again. Not after the she wolves. And yet I am seeing it happen, and I fear what could happen next I truly do."

His wife looks at him then and says. "There is no need to apologise my love. When the time comes, you will be remembered with admiration in the north. When your grandson sits the throne, all will remember the name Stark."