Jon had never seen such a sorry group of men in his life as the ones whom he passed traversing through Castle Black. The dregs that had been left behind by the Lord Commander looked as if they would drop their weapons and run at the first sign of a wildling child, let alone an army. Half of the brothers of the Watch cowered away from Jon, attempting to avoid eye contact. Jon could only presume some were seemingly afraid that a royal had shown up to reinstitute their original sentences and take their heads. He could only think that sending the worst criminals in Westeros to defend the realm was perhaps not the most prudent policy.

Jon's men were working to set up camp outside the Castle and to reinforce its defenses while he sought out the maester. That cunt, Ser Allister, had bristled at each of Jon's commands, but he couldn't be concerned at the man's damaged pride. There were more important things to worry about. He had been told that the old maester was likely to be found in the library, which was located underground. Inside the room, which reeked of mold, were shelves of scrolls and books, some of which looked as old as the Wall itself.

There was a small table in the middle of the room. Seated, face buried in a large tome, was a rotund young man with unkempt dark hair. Though Jon was already halfway inside, this man had failed to notice him. Jon loudly cleared his throat, and the man jumped, his mouth letting out a high-pitched shriek. Noticing Jon, he attempted to stand, but lost his balance and tipped backwards in his chair. Jon winced as the stranger hit the stone floor, but he quickly stepped over and offered a hand.

"Are you hurt?" Jon questioned, struggling to pull up the man's weight.

Finally, upright, the man nodded quickly. "I'll be fine. I think I may have been too engrossed in my reading."

"Probably safe to say. You don't appear to be the Maester."

"No, no. I'm his steward, Samwell Tarly."

"Tarly," Jon mused. "Are you related to Lord Tarly of Horn Hill?"

"You could say that, though he probably would not admit it," Sam answered, clearly uncomfortable. "He's my father. I'm his eldest son."

"Why is the heir to a great house tucked away in a library at Castle Black?"

"My father didn't think I was fit to be his heir, so he gave me the choice of taking the black or having a deadly accident…whichever would allow my younger brother to be the heir."

Jon, slightly stunned at the story, could barely think of an appropriate response. "That may be one of the most awful things I've ever heard."

"Yes, well…I don't disagree that my brother is likely to be a better Lord."

"If it's any consolation, I doubt your Father has been having an easy time of it. He serves Mace Tyrell and the Lannisters…my brother has been making their lives hell for over a year."

Sam looked confused. "Who is your brother?"

"Robb Stark, King in the North. I'm Jon."

"Forgive me," Sam almost begged. "I would never have been so informal if I had known, your grace."

"You can call me Jon, Sam. There's no need to be so formal up here at the top of the world. Except perhaps for Alliser Thorne. I have a feeling he'll need to be put in his place on occasion."

"May I watch when that happens?" Sam asked eagerly. "I think he plots ways to kill me daily."

"Why is that?"

"I'm not much of a fighter," Sam confessed. "Reading is more my strength, which Ser Alliser doesn't consider a strength at all."

"We all have our roles," Jon consoled. "Speaking of roles, I was looking for your Maester. I need to send a letter to my brother in Winterfell."

"Maester Aemon is resting in his chambers. The man is a century old, and he tires quite easily these days. I assist him with his duties."

"Would you be able to send a raven out with my letter?"

"Of course. Let me just grab some parchment."

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

With his letter off to Winterfell, Jon finished his exploration of the Castle Black. The view from the top of the Wall had been nothing but extraordinary. Forgetting all of the context around its necessity, looking out into the wild north was a worthy experience. Even Ser Alliser's grumblings next to him were not enough to ruin the sight. Jon's soldiers were now lining the top, acclimating themselves to the defenses. Jon looked down the Wall's face, and he could not imagine trying to scale it. It may have been possible with only the remnants of the Night's Watch defending it, but with Jon's reinforcements, such an endeavor was unlikely to be successful, even against a much larger force of wildlings.

After Jon was satisfied that things were settled for the evening, he parted from Ser Alliser and headed for the accommodations that he had been provided for his stay. Even with Ser Alliser's hostility, Jon, in his position as Prince, had been afforded the use of the King's Tower. Several of his men stood in front of the tower, standing guard. Making his way up to the chambers, it was plain to see it had not been used for years and hastily cleared enough to be habitable. A flickering light was visible beneath the door to the chambers. Jon was thankful enough that someone had seen fit to at least light the fire. It was even more frigid on top of the Wall, and Jon's hands had barely regained feeling.

The first thing he noticed upon entering was Ghost curled up beside the fire, some sort of bone stripped of flesh next. The beast barely paid him any mind. Securing the door behind him for the night, he turned and took in the rest of the room. Compared to the rest of the castle it was probably luxurious, but by most other standards it was sparse and dusty. Jon grew curious when he saw a pile of furs haphazardly abandoned on the floor. His gaze widened when he saw Ygritte's head sticking out from under the furs on the large bed, propped up against the headboard. He could just barely see bare shoulders peaking out from the covers as well. The mastery of the abandoned clothing had quickly been solved.

"How did you get up here?" Jon questioned, though his eyes barely strayed from the hints of skin.

"Wasn't that hard," Ygritte grinned. "If you think your soldiers haven't figured out we've been fucking, then you're quite blind. They didn't try to stop me. Plus, I escorted your wolf. I think I've grown on him."

Jon rolled his eyes. "I need more discerning guards."

"They can't be worse than the crows. Mance should have attacked this place years ago. Wouldn't have been much of a challenge."

"Is that so?" Jon questioned, dropping his cloak next to the bed. The rest of his clothes quickly followed until he was stood bare next to the bed. As much as he worried about rumors being spread amongst the men, he pushed those thoughts for later. "What about now? Do you think Mance could take the Wall from me?"

Instead of answering, Ygritte slithered beneath the furs until she was laid on the edge of the bed. Her hand emerged, trailing up Jon's thigh before grasping his cock. Jon's breath caught, and the red-haired wildling grinned up at him. "No. I think you're too stubborn to lose. Even if you did, you'd take Mance and his army with you."

That was probably the nicest compliment she had ever paid him, and that, along with her hand on his manhood was enough to light a fire within him. He threw the furs aside, revealing the rest of her form. Gripping her ankles, he bodily pulled her until her legs hung over the bed. Spreading her legs, he grasped himself and entered her, claiming his wildling lover again.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

It was late, and the sky above Winterfell was dark. Robb, like many evenings since becoming King, found himself awake. The past three days had been a whirlwind, and his mind raced with many emotions, such that it was unable to be turned off. Fur cloak wrapped around his otherwise bare shoulders, he walked over to the hand-carved cradle that sat a short walk from his and Margaery's bed. Hands gliding along the smooth wood, Robb looked down into his newborn son's peaceful face. Prince Cregan Stark, Heir to the Northern Throne, had been born just three days prior, and Robb felt as if his entire world had changed.

They had contemplated naming the boy after Robb's father, but the loss of Eddard Stark was still too much of a lingering presence within the halls of the castle. It would have felt like a hollow attempt at a replacement for Robb. Cregan Stark may have never been a king, but his legacy and regard in the histories of Westeros were unquestioned. It was a fitting name to live up to.

Of the many changes that had occurred over the past many months, the birth of Cregan was finally one that Robb welcomed. His eyes followed the steady rise and fall of his son's chest, before straying up the rounded pink cheeks and brown wisps of hair that were closer to Margaery's brunette locks than his auburn. Tempting fate, Robb ran a fingertip gently along Cregan's cheek, but the newborn did not stir. Robb jumped when he felt an arm wrap around his middle but relaxed again when he saw his wife, hair tousled from sleep, smiling up from beside him.

Robb frowned. "You should be resting,"

"And you should sleep while you can," Margeary stated. "He'll be up soon enough for a feeding."

Robb placed a kiss on her head. "I know. It just feels as if every worry I had before he was born has now increased tenfold. He's just a tiny babe, and yet our enemies would see him dead if they had the opportunity to strike such a blow."

"That won't happen," Margaery declared. "We will not let it."

"No, we won't. I'll bury anyone who seeks to try," Robb promised. "Yet, it does nothing to ease my mind that we have Tyrion Lannister and a host of enemies on the way to our home." Getting a raven saying the Lannisters wished to negotiate the terms of peace was a complete surprise, and Robb was nothing but mistrustful over the gesture.

Robb continued, "I have no personal spite against Tyrion outside of his family name, but Tywin certainly does. Should it not be seen as an insult that the man would send the source of his embarrassment as his envoy to treat with me?"

Instead of answering right away, Margaery took his hand and led him back to their bed. Sitting him down on the edge, she crawled behind him, wrapping her arms around his front, chin nestled into the space above his left shoulder. Her hands soothingly ran along the hardened muscle on his chest. "You are a king, my love. There may be others claiming such right, but you are the only one of them who has proven themselves worthy of the title. Tywin is desperate. He knows that if you desired it, you could march on King's Landing and take it from him. You've already taken his home. It would be foolish to attempt some manner of trickery when you have retired from the battlefield to see to the well-being of your people. Were he to plot against you, in your own home, the North would unleash its full fury on him."

"You think my worry is uncalled for?"

"I think you worry because you love your family. That is never uncalled for. But don't let it consume you. We will be vigilant, and take nothing for granted. No one except for Tyrion will enter Winterfell. The rest of his men will sit outside the gates…with a hundred northern bows pointed at them. Should they even breathe in a threatening manner, our archers will use them for target practice."

Robb reached an arm over, suddenly pulling Margaery until she sat across his knees, cradled in his arms. "I think you've spent too much time amongst northerners, my love. Our savage bloodlust is beginning to take over your sweet disposition. I have to confess, it drives me mad."

Margaery patted his chest. "I'm afraid my body isn't ready to satisfy your brutish northern desires. Childbirth does take its toll."

Robb lazily placed his lips against hers, lingering for several moments before pulling back. "That will do for now."

"Your mother is intent on having a grand feast to celebrate Cregan's birth," Margaery stated, shifting the topic to lighter matters.

"I know. While I would prefer not to be frivolous with our resources, I don't see how I can refuse her the opportunity to play the proud grandmother."

"There is value in giving the people something to take joy in as well."

"I do not disagree," Robb conceded. "I've also been thinking about other pressing matters. Now that we are independent, we will have to take a more active role in expanding the north's economy and trade. Our connections to King's Landing will never be the same, despite whatever peace the Lannisters may offer. It does not benefit them to help us flourish."

"Have you considered any plans?"

Robb nodded, and he could not contain some measure of excitement. "We have more land than any other kingdom, yet we do not take advantage of it. We should look to cultivate it and expand our exports. The south has bustling cities with markets, and we should have the same. We need more ports, and to increase our trade across the Narrow Sea. It would make our long winters easier to endure."

"I think that it is a wise plan, Robb. And why not start close to home? An expansion of Winter Town would be a worthwhile project…more craftsmen, more trade. It would put men to work, give them purpose rather than simply hunkering down and waiting for winter to overtake them."

"I like the idea," Robb answered. "Especially with more soldiers at Winterfell, having expanded barracks would also be prudent, rather than makeshift camps. I'll speak with Vayon Poole and Maester Luwin about logistics and getting experienced builders to offer input on the matter." Robb glanced over towards Cregan, who slumbered on. It was time to consider building a legacy beyond war for his son to inherit one day.

Xxxxxxxxxxxx

Becoming a father had been an enlightening experience for Robb. It had brought him moments of joy and pride every time he saw little Cregan do something new, which seemed to be a constant, a new expression or noise revealing itself daily. Being back amongst his family, it had also brought about the reminder that he had young siblings who had been robbed of growing up with their father. Robb had learned and grown to be a man under the watchful eye of Eddard Stark, but Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon would never have such a blessing.

Robb could never fill such a hole, but he still made a more concerted effort to be such a figure for his siblings, dedicating portions of his days to spend time with them. Sansa was blooming into a woman, so there was only so much guidance and useful words he was able to provide, but still, he made the effort. Bran was still fighting through the depression of the limitations caused by his loss of mobility, but Robb did his best to involve him in talks of strategy and administration, trying his best to make him understand that a learned mind could be just as valuable as a knight.

Arya and Rickon, on the other hand, were an easier duo to spend time with. Both were unstoppable forces that could barely be contained and out of mischief, so Robb knew the best place for them was the training yard. That was where they could be found almost every morning after breaking their fasts, and this particular morning was no different. Robb looked across at Arya and Rickon, each wrapped in padding and wielding their practice swords. Despite the frigid temperatures, each had eager smiles on their faces.

Robb knew if he looked up in the tower overlook behind him, he would see his own mother's stern and disapproving face. Fortunately, she had not stood in the way of her children's training time, but seeing young children turn into warriors was never easy on a mother. Margaery and little Cregan were no doubt bundled up next to Lady Catelyn, and her only grandchild would be enough to keep her distracted, and her ill feelings at ease.

"Rickon, we'll start with you today," Robb instructed, raising his training sword. "Remember what you've learned. Keeping a balanced stance is paramount. You want to defend from a position of strength." He watched as his brother took a medium step back, raising his sword. "Good, now defend." Robb carefully brought his sword down in varying angles, letting Rickon get comfortable with his footwork…something that took immense concentration for a wiry young boy. "Eyes up," Robb ordered, tapping Rickon on the shoulder when the boy's gaze drifted down. "Never take your eyes off your opponent. If you become overwhelmed by an attack, disengage and drop back into a better position."

Robb put Rickon through his paces, then turned his attention to Arya, who was practically bouncing with impatience. "When do we get to hit you?" Arya questioned.

Robb looked at her sharply but without actual ire. "You would hit your King? That does not seem wise, Princess."

"Ugh, don't call me that," Arya groaned. "It's the one thing worse than a lady."

"Well, princesses only get to swing their swords at their King when they've proven they can defend themselves. A strong defense is the best foundation to counter from with an attack. Now are you finished complaining?"

"No, but I'll just complain quietly to myself."

"Fair enough," Robb conceded. "Now prepare yourself." Robb put Arya to the test, admittedly very impressed with how agile she was. She moved more comfortably than Rickon, which was no great surprise given the years she had on him. Robb pushed her harder, his strikes more forceful and less predictable. Arya took a painful blow to her thigh, but merely righted herself and prepared for the next assault. When Robb saw her stance begin to waiver, he surprised her with a quick jab to the stomach, which she was unable to fend off. It sent her stumbling backward onto her backside.

There were a few laughs from the other men in the training yard, which immediately ceased when Arya fixed them with a deathly glare. Robb tucked his sword under his arm, then reached a hand down to his sister. Seeing no mirth in Robb's eyes, she reluctantly let him pull her to her feet. "You did well," he complimented.

"You killed me," Arya countered, her disappointment evident.

"Better a false death in the practice yard than a real one on the battlefield," Robb stated. "Take the failures here as lessons, so that they will not be failures in the future."

Arya frowned for a moment, clearly not liking the concept of ever failing, but nodded her head all the same. "Can we go again?"

Before Robb could respond, he noticed Ser Rodrik approaching, an intense look on his face. "Unfortunately, it seems my attention is needed elsewhere." Robb turned to where several members of his Kingsguard were congregating. "Dacey, would you mind taking over?"

The heir to Bear Island immediately strolled over. "Not at all, your Grace." She took Robb's practice sword and immediately began her instruction.

Robb met Ser Rodrik away from the activity. "What is it?"

"Our scouts have spotted a small Lannister host on the road to Winterfell, your Grace."

Robb's posture stiffened. "You know my orders. Send a host of men to meet them. They are to escort Lord Tyrion into the castle alone. His men wait outside the walls, eyes on them at all times. Bring Lannister to meet me in the godswood."

Without waiting for Ser Rodrik to respond to his commands, Robb turned and walked over to Lucas Blackwood. "Your Grace?" He inquired.

"Go to my chambers and retrieve Ice. Bring it to me in the godswood."