A/U: This was a plot bunny that came to me after reading 'A Dance with Dragons,' awhile back and I couldn't dismiss it. I've read the books and seen the show, and even though this is in the ASOIAF category, I will blend certain aspects of the television show into this story.
I own nothing. George R.R Martin is the master of this great universe.
This is a story that addresses what if Roose Bolton's trueborn son and heir had lived.
This story starts two years before King Robert rides to Winterfell.
Our Blades Are Sharp
The Dreadfort, the seat of House Bolton, his family's house, it had been years since he looked upon his family's ancestral home. He had spent the past three years in the Vale, squiring for Lord Horton Redfort. He was sad to see it end when he received his father's summons. He would miss Jasper, Creighton, Jon, and Mychel. The sons of Lord Redfort had become his brothers during his stay.
Domeric Bolton understood why he needed to return. He was the heir, and one day he would become the Lord of the Dreadfort. It didn't lessen the sadness of him leaving. What boosted his spirits was the idea that Lord Redfort proposed of his sons travelling to the Dreadfort at some point in the future. The possibility made the departure easier to handle.
Getting closer to the gates of the Dreadfort, he urged his destrier to go faster, a gift from Lord Redfort. Domeric believed the gift was too much. Destriers were considered the most valuable horses in Westeros. They were well bred: tall and strong and were highly trained.
He loved horses; his Aunt Barbrey said that passion and appreciation came from her sister and his mother, Bethany Ryswell. After all, House Ryswell chose the horse for their sigil.
Lord Redfort insisted he take the beautiful destrier. Lord Redfort told him that with more practice and training, Domeric could become a tourney champion. A boast that Domeric wasn't sure he believed, but nonetheless appreciated. During his return trip, he and his horse instantly bonded, he had decided to call him Shadow. Unoriginal, but fitting, Domeric believed with his horse's dark coloring, great speed, and quiet demeanor it deserved the name.
Often while he rode atop Shadow, he understood the reverence the Dothraki people had towards horses. They were majestic and beautiful creatures. The confidence that flowed through him and the sense of elation he had that only could be found when riding. Domeric was certain that Shadow could hold his own against any of the horses the Dothraki had.
Looking back to see Shadow had easily distanced themselves away from the small retinue of riders that his father had dispatched to escort him home. He eased up on Shadow's reins leaving his destrier to pass through the castle gates at a trot. A large group of servants and soldiers had been waiting for the return of the heir to the Dreadfort. A few of the guards were holding the banners of House Bolton- a flayed man on a blue field.
They all bowed when he approached. It was then that he saw his father, The Lord of the Dreadfort, Roose Bolton. He was just as he remembered: short dark hair, clean shaven face, pale eyes that never conveyed what he was thinking or feeling. He was dressed in dark wool, the flayed man sigil emblazoned on his doublet. His father, was one of only two who did not bow, the other was standing right beside him.
Domeric couldn't help but smile when he saw his Aunt. Barbrey Dustin stood tall, her hair brown, wearing it tied behind her head in a widow's knot. She was dressed in black, behind her, one of her guards held up the personal banner that she used to show her allegiance to her family's house-Ryswell and her husband's house Dustin. Two corner of the coat of arms was of House Dustin: Two rusted long axes with black shafts crossed, with a black crown between their points on a yellow field. While the other two were of House Ryswell: a black horse's head, with red eyes and made on a bronze field.
After allowing a stable boy to take Shadow, Domeric made his way to where his Father and Aunt were standing. When he was close enough, he stopped and bowed his head to his father, the Lord of the Dreadfort.
"Stand," his father's voice was soft. "Let me see how my son has fared in the Vale."
Domeric obeyed. Straightening up and raising his head to allow his father a proper inspection. He stayed still and quiet as his father's pale eyes took him in. He thought he saw a flicker of approval, but after a moment he was sure he imagined it.
"Let's go inside," his father instructed, without decreeing if Domeric had passed his silent inspection. "We have much to discuss."
"Of course, Father," Domeric said even though his father had already turned around and was making his way up the steps.
"Dom," Aunt Barbrey greeted him warmly. Holding out her arms and hugging him fiercely.
Domeric returned the hug. He had always loved his Aunt, her impact and influence on his life only grew when he served as her page in Barrowton for four years when he was a boy. "I missed you, Aunt Barbrey."
She smiled. The wrinkles around her mouth became less visible when she did. Her hands on his shoulders, as her intelligent dark eyes studied him. "You've grown into quite the young man."
"Thank you," he said, silently pleased at the adulation that his Aunt was giving him. She had become like a second mother to him when his mother, her sister died years ago.
She seemed to sense it too. She nodded, holding out her arm. "Come, your Father waits."
He took her arm, escorting her up the stairs.
"So how many maidens did you bed during your stay?" His Aunt always spoke bluntly, never shying away from how she felt and was never bothered with speaking her mind.
Domeric squirmed under her teasing stare, despite not wanting to give her the satisfaction.
She laughed softly, "Many, I take it."
Thankfully, he was saved further embarrassment and questions when they stepped into the Great Hall. His father was already sitting at his seat, Maester Uthor stood beside him. He offered Domeric a kind smile.
"It is good to see you have returned."
Domeric returned the maester's smile. "It's good to see you too." He had always liked the old, stocky Maester to the Dreadfort. Uthor had always encouraged Domeric's yearning for knowledge, recommending what history books to read, and had also persuaded his father to allow Domeric to learn the harp.
Aunt Barbrey stiffened at the Maester's presence. Her lips formed a thin line and her eyes sharpened. Domeric had always noticed his Aunt's distaste for Maesters, remembering the cool curtsey she gave her own maester in Barrowton and her interactions with Maester Uthor had never been friendly.
"I have been talking with Lord Stark for some time," His father began without preamble. "And he has agreed to foster you."
Domeric took a seat in front of his father. Aunt Barbrey took the open seat beside him. He wasn't sure what to say. He was surprised. He had only just returned from the Vale, and had been expecting to stay at the Dreadfort for some time to be groomed as the next Lord of the Dreadfort.
The last thing he was expecting was to be sent off again and of all the houses, the one he least expected was the Starks. He knew his family history and was aware of the chilly relationship that his family had with them.
"I do not need to explain to you the importance of this." His father broke through his silent musings.
He looked up to see his father's pale eyes on him. "I understand, Father." He would not disappoint him.
"Good," his father's soft voice barely crossed the short distance between him and Domeric. "This could lead to a stronger relationship between our houses."
"Yes, indeed." Maester Uthor was nodding his head. "This could be the first step to uniting the two great northern houses."
"Uniting?" Domeric repeated, unsure what the Maester was implying.
"If your time in Winterfell goes well, a betrothal could be put in place between yourself and Lord Stark's eldest daughter, the Lady Sansa."
This was Father's ultimate goal, Domeric silently realized upon hearing Maester Uthor's answer.
He wanted a union between their houses. It would strengthen House Bolton's place within the North bringing with it more power and prestige. Domeric had his doubts. It was common and expected for the Major houses to marry with their own bannermen. Yet, the history between these two families did seem to serve as a difficult obstacle to overcome. He couldn't recall few if any times the two houses joined in marriage.
"Would Lord Stark even consider such a betrothal?" Domeric asked delicately.
"Do you not think House Bolton is worthy of such a union?" His father asked coldly.
"No, Father," Domeric answered meekly. Squirming under his father's intense gaze, realizing it had been a mistake to voice his doubts. His time in the Vale had spoiled him. He had forgotten how to speak and behave in the presence of his father.
Aunt Barbrey put a calming hand on his arm. "Lord Stark would be a fool to not appreciate this offer." Her tone had turned cold when saying Lord Stark's name.
"What your Aunt is trying to say," Maester Uthor began to speak.
"Do not dare speak for me," Barbrey warned the Maester with an icy glare.
"I meant no offense," Maester Uthor bowed his head.
"Now where was I before I was interrupted by that gray rat." Her face softened when she turned to Domeric. "You will be the most enticing offer, Dom that the Starks will receive."
"What do you mean?"
"You will one day be the Lord of the Dreadfort," she reminded him. "The second most powerful seat in the north, Lord Stark would not pass on the opportunity to turn his family's oldest rivals into his allies."
"When do I leave?"
During his time with Lord Redfort in the Vale, it was the Godswood of the Dreadfort that Domeric missed the most. It rested in the heart of the Dreadfort, containing oaks, elms, and birch that rivaled the stone walls that were enclosed around it. The heart tree, a massive weirwood was nestled deep in the heart of the Godswood. Its branches climbed higher than the walls. An angry face was carved into the bark that was as white as bone.
The Redfort had a Godswood, but it was more a small garden. There was no weirwood in theirs. He was well rehearsed in history to know why. When the Andals had first come to Westeros, thousands of years ago, during their war with the First Men they destroyed the old kingdoms, burning down the weirwood groves as they went. They tossed down the Old Gods and supplanted them with the Faith of the Seven.
The only Kingdom of the First Men that successfully resisted was the North. The First Men had been able to toss back every Andal attempt, forcing the Andals to realize that their attempts were futile. The North would not bend to Southern will. It was one of the first lessons that Maester Uthor had taught him. It had always been one of his favorites. He was a Bolton. The blood of the First Men flowed in his veins. He was proud of his ancestors who did not yield to the Andal Invaders.
He knelt beneath the heart tree. He felt a sense of peace under the gaze of its red eyes. For the first time since arriving at the Dreadfort, Domeric Bolton finally felt like he was home.
"You do not like your father's plans."
He looked over his shoulder to see his aunt approaching, "I just wasn't expecting to leave so quickly."
"You see it as a slight."
"No," he stopped when he noticed the amused look in his aunt's eyes. He knew better to lie to her. He could never fool her. She said it was because he looked so much like his mother, and she had never been able to fool her when they were children.
"When he summoned me, I just thought it was because he believed me ready."
"That's the reason why he's sending you." She came up alongside him.
"I don't understand."
She smiled, "He trusts you enough to send you to Winterfell to secure this alliance."
He hadn't thought of it that way. Domeric in his pride had seen it as a reminder of his father's disapproval. That his father didn't think he was capable of becoming the next Lord of the Dreadfort. Domeric never considered it an opportunity.
She brushed his brown hair away from his equally brown eyes. "It was your glowing reviews from Lord Redfort that prompted your father to write to Winterfell."
This was the first he had heard of this. Domeric enjoyed his time immensely in the Vale, and did his best to be a proper guest and to show his gratitude to his host family. He knew by going there he was reflecting on his father, on his house, and of the North and did his best to only exemplify the best.
"I had no idea," he mumbled.
"Lord Redfort believed you had the making to be a Tourney champion at jousting," she observed, her tone turning teasing when she added. "Not that I'm surprised, you get your riding skills from our side of the family."
He smiled at that. Knowing how much his mother and Aunt Barbrey's house, the Ryswells prided themselves on their horses and their riding skills. It was said the best riders and horses could be found in the Rills, the home of the Ryswells.
"Why else did you think Lord Redfort would bestow upon you such a grand gift as that beautiful destrier you arrived on?"
Of course, his Aunt would notice Shadow, he thought with a smile.
The more he thought about it, the more sense she made. His father trusted him. He was confident that Domeric would be able to make a good impression on the Starks that would potentially lead to an alliance that the two powerful Northern families had never really had with one another.
An alliance in the form of a marriage between him and the Stark's eldest daughter, Domeric wasn't bothered at the thought. He understood at an early age that his father would arrange a marriage for him to secure an alliance with another noble family. It was his part to play that would help strengthen his house. Domeric considered it an honor.
"Now, no more fretting, Dom," his Aunt's voice broke him out of his musings.
"No more fretting," he agreed, turning to see her smiling at him.
"There's a good boy." She squeezed his shoulder.
That night found Domeric with ample free time. He had no need to pack since he would be taking what he brought with him from the Vale; so he walked the halls of the Dreadfort, not knowing the next time he would get the chance. He found himself stopping in front of a large banner portraying the Bolton's infamous sigil: a flayed man on a blue field.
This was the legacy of his family. Whenever he was introduced, the subject of his family's history of flaying men would always come up. It was a morbid curiosity to everyone. They called it, 'brutal' or 'evil' but they were hungry for details about the practice. They wanted stories of the deed. They always asked if it was still practiced behind the walls of the Dreadfort.
Domeric viewed his family history with a mixture of pride and regret. He didn't want his family's name to be synonymous with this bloody, brutal practice. There was more to his family then that.
He traced the flayed man with his fingers. He couldn't help but wonder what would drive a person to commit such an act. He noticed a shadow had fallen over the banner; he didn't need to turn to know who it was.
"I thought I'd find you here," his father stated.
"Father," he bowed his head.
Roose Bolton, Lord of the Dreadfort came up alongside him. His pale eyes inspected the Bolton banner. "Your mother never cared for it either." He turned to him. "It's not for outsiders to accept or understand. It is for them to fear and respect."
"Yes, Father," Domeric replied, knowing his father expected him to agree.
"The flayed man serves as a warning to our enemies," he paused, "and to our allies of what happens if you cross House Bolton. And how far we will go to get what we deserve."
"Flaying is outlawed," Domeric pointed out.
"So is rape and murder," Roose countered darkly, "but still it happens." He gestured to the Bolton banner, "They fear the flayed man because they fear that it could be them." He shrugged, "whether it's still practiced or not is inconsequential in their mind."
Still practiced or not, stuck out in Domeric's mind looking over to his father to see his pale eyes were on him. As if daring him to speak up, challenging him, but Domeric didn't.
A look flickered over his father's face in the dark corridor that Domeric was sure was disappointment. The Lord of the Dreadfort abruptly began walking down the corridor, away from the banner and his son and heir.
Uncertainty rooted Domeric to his spot. Unsure, if he should follow his father or not. In the end, the decision wasn't his to make.
"You're nervous," his father called back.
"I am," Domeric followed after his father.
"You are ashamed of your family," his father said bluntly.
The coldness coupled with the conviction in his statement struck Domeric silent for a second, "I-I'm-"
"Don't lie to me," his father warned, spinning around to face him, his cloak rippled behind him.
"We are looked upon with disdain and mistrust by the other Northern houses," Lord Bolton shook his head, "Did I not answer Lord Stark's call when he rallied the Bannermen to the Usurper's cause? I fought and I bled at the Trident." He moved inside his study. A fire was roaring in the fireplace, providing light and warmth. Candles were burning on his desk, and on a few stands throughout the room, providing enough light to read and write, but not so bright as to hurt the eyes so late at night.
Seeing the lit candles, Domeric knew this was where his father had been before finding him. He noticed the piles of parchment scattered about the desk. It brought back scattered memories for him as a boy, always finding his father in his study pouring over parchment.
"When Lord Stark called on his bannermen again this time to deal with the filthy Greyjoy. I followed and I fought." He took a seat behind his desk.
"The Dreadfort shed their share of blood for the Starks," He rested his hands on the top of the desk, "As much as the Mormonts, Umbers, and Karstarks, but still we are looked upon with suspicion."
Domeric quietly sat down across from his father.
"Do you know why that is?"
Domeric had an inkling of what it might be, but thought it was better to have his father say it rather than him, so he shook his head.
"It is our ambition," Roose said plainly, "We are loyal, but that does not mean we must be satisfied with our position." His eyes gleamed in the candlelight. "Do you understand?"
"I do, Father," Domeric answered quickly.
His father offered a stiff nod, "Head back to your quarters," he instructed, "You're to be riding at first light." He gestured to the exit. "I won't have you ruin your first impression to the Starks by arriving haggard or late." He paused, "Neither will I allow you to sully the Bolton name."
"I won't, Father." He felt a slight chill at his father's harsh words and cold warning. He left his father's study, the last thing of his father he saw was his unconvinced expression.
When he was halfway down the corridor, he stopped and took a shaky breath. He wouldn't allow his father's indifference or distance affect him. When he settled his emotions, he looked up to see he was back where he started where the large Bolton banner hung.
Looking at the flayed man, and remembering his father's words from tonight, he swore to the Old Gods, that he'd prove to his father he was ready for this task, and that he would not fail.