To the ill-bred, insane and quite possibly incestuous abomination they call Joffrey,

Greetings, salutations and in the spirit of maintaining cordial pleasantries throughout the duration of the current hostilities, congratulations on your coronation!

Now, to business.

Given your unfortunate decision to execute our father, Lord Eddard Stark, Warden of the North, without the common courtesy of providing for a fucking trial by combat, or even a proper bloody hearing, 'We', the assembled Lords (and Ladies) Declarant of the Kingdoms of the North... and the Trident… are very unhappy.

So much so in fact, that 'We' thought it only polite to inform your royal self, your mummers court and by extension, the rest of Westeros, that as of the writing of this letter, and indeed owing to the horrific and most abominable actions of your 'royal' self, your brother-diddling whore of a mother and the nest of vipers you call a government, that at this most pivotal and dire moment in the history of Westeros, 'We', the assembled Lords and Ladies of the ancient Kingdoms of the North, and of the Trident, and in the name of the people therein, do hereby announce 'Our' formal declaration of independence from the Seven Kingdoms of the Iron Throne, and renounce any and all obligations, oaths and sworn loyalties to the 'King' or Queen that would seat themselves upon it.

Furthermore, it is 'Our' duty to inform you that 'Our' respective Kingdoms now exist in a state of indissoluble union, and are hereby committed together, in unyielding resolution, to defend 'Our' newfound sovereignty, freedom and independence against subjugation and tyranny to a perfidious system of governance which values neither the rule of law nor justice in any real measure.

'We', the assembled Bannermen of the aforementioned Kingdoms, now declare that the North and the Riverlands shall no longer be two separate kingdoms but one united realm. The union of 'Our' kingdoms will provide, henceforth, for joint departments of defence, foreign relations, and financial and economic policies independent of those outside of the realm or its people. Furthermore, every subject of the North and the Trident will, from the signing of this document, enjoy immediate citizenship in both halves of our new realm and all the protections, liberties and benefits that come with it.

Until such a time as peace is achieved, whether through means of overwhelming force of arms or through negotiated ceasefire, 'We', the signatories of this declaration, on behalf of our most honourable and sovereign King, do hereby declare the existence of a state of formal war with the Five Kingdoms of the Iron Throne.

Naturally, it is 'Our' belief that this news will most likely be met with the same peculiar brand of lunacy that we have so far come to expect from your turgid cesspool of a capital and thus, in the interest of preventing any further miscommunications between our two states, 'We' would remind you that Ser Jaime Lannister is still currently alive and growing increasingly familiar with Riverrun's dungeons.

'We' also feel it only polite, again, in the interest of preventing any further 'misunderstandings', to inform you that 'Our' most honourable and sovereign King's sisters, who -if your addled mind hasn't quite made the connotation yet, are currently hostages in your 'royal' court… are now officially Princesses of the Royal Blood. As such, 'Our' sovereign liege feels it only right that we should inform you that any harm, injury, or ill-intent that befalls his sisters during the duration of their 'stay' in your 'care', shall itself, be visited upon Ser Jamie Lannister and the others of your House in 'Our' care. So tread lightly!

Wishing you all the Best!

Signed, 300AC

His Most Royal Highness, Robbert Stark, First of His Name, King in the North, King on the Trident, King of the Rivers and the Hills, High King of All the First Men, King of Winter, Lord of Winterfell, Defender of the Gods Eye and Keeper of the Pact.

Witnessed by,

Lord Jon Umber, Lady Maege Mormont, Lord Rickard Karstark, Ser Wylis Manderly, Lord Roose Bolton, Lord Gregor Forrester, Lord Ludd Whitehill, Lord Edmure Tully, Lord Tytos Blackwood, Lord Jonos Bracken, Lord Jason Mallister, Ser Bryden Tully, Ser Walder Frey, etc, etc.

'The Declaration of Northern Independence',

-Archives of the Winterfell Reliquary

In the week that followed what had become known among the men as the Battle of the Camps, the army of the fledgling King in the North was kept busy.

Not that we had much of a choice.

Orders were given out from up high, Lords bellowed and ditches were dug, trees cut down and a great wooden palisade was built just beyond the massive man-made ditch on the third face of the castle of Riverrun -well, in actuality, three palisades were built, if one wanted to be specific.

Regardless, between repairing the damage Lannister trebuchet had inflicted upon the Tully's stout walls, closing -and in some cases fixing, the sabotaged sluice gates, maintaining the moat and building the new wooden walls, we were all kept busy. Even if some of the men did complain about needless work.

And to be honest, given the flood of refugees that had descended on Riverrun in the earliest stages of the war; fleeing either that monster Ser Gregor 'the Mountain' Clegane, or the two hosts of Lord Tywin and 'Ser' Jamie Lannister respectively, I can honestly say, looking back on it, that I'm surprised there weren't a lot more of them in the beginning.

I can also say, with the gift of hindsight, that we were bloody well thankful we built those great big bloody walls once the war started in earnest. If only for the control it awarded us over the colossal refugee camps that popped up behind them during the latter stages of the war, once the King marched west, and again, after that, following the travesty that occurred in the east.

Still, we all had our orders, and follow them we did, even if the King's orders were a bit on the odd side now and again; like the great big pits we had to dig for shitting in, or the insistence that we boil water before drinking it, or… well, the thousand other seemingly silly things His Grace had his Lords order us to do.

And then there were the rumours that popped up the first night after the Battle of the Camps, and the Frey's reaction to those rumours. Although, looking back on it, might be that there was just a bit more truth to those rumours than we all originally thought...

Memoirs of a Smallfolk Soldier,

Anonymous Author

299AC - Riverrun...

"You want us to what?"

As the Lord of Raventree Hall indulged himself in what I privately suspected was his very best impersonation of the black feathered creatures upon his family's ancestral crest, pale creepy eyes continued to stare silently at me from the chair to his right.

Pale. Creepy. Eyes.

Yes, I can honestly say it, Lord Roose Bolton was way, way creepy. Almost nauseating, really, once you were in his presence. You know, in that honestly 'you do something to displease me and I'll secretly plot to help kill you at your Uncle's own wedding' kind of way.

Ordinarily, I'd have tried my best to never meet the man one on one, or ever, really. But that was unpolitic, and rather impractical, considering the man was one of my biggest, and arguably strongest bannermen. So, here we were. Me, the man, er… boy, he would, in another life help murder, and him, the man who could, still, secretly plot to try and murder me in the future. If he was given enough incentive.

Which is why the three of us were meeting together, here, in my 'Grandfathers Solar'. There was, after all, a modicum of safety in numbers. Kind of.

"I," I said slowly, still facing the creepy dead eyes of my would-be-murderer. "-would like you to be my emissaries on a diplomatic mission to the Iron Islands. To Pyke, to be more specific."

"Pyke!" Lord Blackwood squawked, his salt and pepper moustache quivering in outrage. "I… Pyke? Your Grace, surely-"

"You are the only bannermen I have suitable for the task, my Lords," I explained calmly to the pair of them, well, more to Blackwood to be honest. Bolton hadn't said a word other than 'Your Grace' since he'd entered. The Bastard.

"Suitable?" Lord Tytos blustered. "Surely the Mallisters would be more suited to this, this… Or the Mootons? Maybe even-"

I raised an eyebrow amusedly at the man as he floundered. "The Mallisters, you say?"

At the man's assertive nod, I snorted.

"Perhaps I should go 'all out' and send Lord Jason Mallister, hmn? The slayer of Lord Greyjoy's eldest son? That would go down rather spectacularly I imagine. No, you will go. You, and Lord Bolton both."

The Lord of Raventree Hall opened his mouth to disagree and I pressed on before he could start protesting again, well… anymore than he already had. I'd learnt my lesson regarding argumentative bannermen. Never let them get a word in, it really did tend to make things easier when you wanted them to do things they'd rather not.

"-and as for the Mooton's," I said with a shake of my head. "Officially they've yet to declare for us-"

"But the Mountain attacked their town!" Lord Tytos spluttered. "The Lannis-"

"Peace my Lord Blackwood, peac-"

"But, Your Grace!"

"Peace," I said again, a little firmer, and like a small child being reprimanded, the man's mouth slammed shut with a resentful glare.

It was time for a different track.

"I understand I ask a lot of you, my Lord, truly, but I am sincere in my sentiment," and out of the corner of my eye, my focus now solely upon the Lord of Raventree Hall, I saw Bolton curl his lips in amusement.

"Were I," I went on, ignoring the unpleasant sensation seeing the Lord of the Dreadfort smile had unleashed within me. "-to send a Mallister, or a Mooton, or any of a House with any sort of reliance upon the sea trade, to treat with the Ironborn, I might as well send a Mormont or a Manderly. The results would be the same in the end. There's just too much bad blood on both sides."

By the end of my little explanation, Lord Bolton was fully smirking; a horrible, twisted little thing with as much emotion behind it as a corpse.

"You, on the other hand," I pointed to him. "-have little to do with the sea, most of your trade is done through Seagard, or through Maidenpool, or down the Blackwater, where the merchants there purchase your goods, and then the Ironborn become their problem."

"You also," I smiled. "-had very little participation of note in the Greyjoy Rebellion near ten years ag-"

"What do you mean little participation?" the Raven Lord bellowed, puffing up like a balloon as his face turned red. "I called my banners the same as any Lord, I did, and if that blasted Bracken says otherwise then he's a filthy stinking lia-"

And there we go, I thought sourly, realising my misstep in an instant. Really, it was almost comical just how touchy people were in this world, whether they be smallfolk or Highborn.


"I meant no offense, my Lord Blackwood, truly," I said with a grimace, cutting the man's long winded rant into pieces as I held up a placating hand. Again. "I was merely trying to convey, that unlike House Mallister, or House Mormont, or even House Stark for that matter, that the Greyjoy's have little in the way of personal animosity with you and your House."

Well, they held as little animosity as any Ironborn held for a 'greenlander', I thought sardonically, but that kind of thing went without saying.

The Ironborn were, if nothing else, consistent.

As my apology slowly made its way between his ears and into the grey goop he called his 'brain', the indignation Lord Blackwood wore upon his face lessoned some. Not entirely, mind, but some.

Bolton on the other hand, was still looking amused, as if he and he alone was in on a joke nobody else knew, and privately, I suspected he was trying to fuck with me. Or, both of us, me and Blackwood both...

Which… well, wasn't all that surprising really. He was a Bolton after all, and Ramsey must have inherited his genes from 'someone'.

Ignoring the nonsensical desire to shudder dramatically at the images that name conjured, I turned my attention back to the topic at hand just as the Leech Lord in question spoke up, his quiet whisper of a query unexpectedly resounding out across the room.

"And what exactly does Your Grace wish us to accomplish with this visit?"

And wasn't that the question that cut right to the heart of the matter?

Internally, I found myself suppressing my first urge to steeple my fingers and let loose with my finest Dr. No impression. Now was not the time to be channelling James Bond villains, even if I was about to sound like one. Not now we were finally getting somewhere!

Blackwood, for his part, didn't handle the situation with quite as much aplomb as I, no, no. He flinched at the deadly whisper-hiss of a query, he flinched, and rather violently too.

Evidently, and this was just my guess here, but, either A), he was just as creeped out by Roose Bolton as I was, or B), he'd just plain tried to forget that the man was in the room with us, and had just been unpleasantly reminded of said fact. Both options were, again in my opinion, equally likely.

Roose Bolton was a bit like a Dementor in that regard, I supposed. He was creepy as fuck, and everyone in the room with him tried to pretend he wasn't actually there. To varying degrees of success.

Still, the show had to go on… on I rolled…

...all the while ignoring the pleading looks Lord Blackwood was suddenly shooting me...

"Honestly?" I asked the Lord of the Dreadfort in an airy tone, barely managing to suppress my surprise as the man inclined his head minutely with another kind-of-but-not-really-a-smile.

"Not a damn thing. I'll be honestly surprised if you manage to concede anything out of that drowned rat, let alone accomplish anything of note-"

"Then why the bloody hell are you shipping us off to Pyke when there's Lions to be killed, my Lor.. er, Your Grace?"

Blackwood paused uncertainty then, his bluster dying down in an instant as a flush creeped slowly up his neck, the realisation of his misstep in address hitting him rather like a hammer to the face.

"I, I meant nothing by it, Your Grace," the Riverlander Lord babbled nervously. "It, it just takes some getting used to is al-"

"Never mind all that," I found myself snapping back at the man unexpectedly with a scowl, pointing a teenage finger at him. "-you say it takes some getting used to for you! How the bloody hell do you think I'm coping? It's all 'yes, Your Grace', 'n-no, Your Grace', 'by your leave, Your Grace'. I've had it up to here with 'Your bloody Grace's!"

The silence that followed that was so thick in its tension that you could have shovelled it with a snowplough.

Lord Tytos blinked back stupidly up at me. Boltons lips twitched, again, and for the first time that day, I sighed…

...and I was doing so damn well.

"But I digress," I then announced with a calming breath, realising that somewhere, amongst my exasperated and rather biting little rant, that I'd stood up.

"The reason the two of you are going to Pyke," I went on, slowly sitting myself back down into my less than comfy chair. "-is twofold. Firstly, your going to deliver a message to Lord Greyjoy, and secondly, your going to be my eyes and ears on Pyke, the pair of you. Your going to watch every little thing going on, your going to report on every rumour, every whisper, every teeny, tiny, sordid little detail that happens on those turgid waterlogged rocks over yonder, and ifIf it looks like the Greyjoys are preparing to move against us, your going to try and do everything in your power to delay them."

"I don't care if you have to resort to assassination, bribery, or even ferment a fucking coup d'état-" I went on, before Lord Blackwood suddenly interrupted me.

"A… what-now,, Grace?" he asked baffled.

Minutely, I paused. "A coup d'-," I started again, only to realise my misstep and pause...


...sometimes, as a native English speaker you really do tend to forget just how many words in our language are borrowed from other languages. Languages that don't exist in Westeros. At all.


Looking across the desk I was seated behind in 'my' Grandfather's solar, I caught the eye of Lord Tytos, who was staring at me expectantly, and then at Bolton, who was… well, Bolton was just being his eerily creepy self as per usual.

I sighed again.

Fuckity Fuck.

Well, there was no other way forwards. I was going to have to bullshit my way through my blunder, as was unofficially becoming my own modus operandi when these kinds of situations arose.

"A coup d'état, my Lords," I repeated slowly, enunciating the words as clearly as I could while trying to keep my face as straight as possible.

Lord Blackwood still looked puzzled, but he nodded anyway, bless him, while Lord Bolton just quirked an eyebrow in… well, whatever emotion was hiding beneath that cold, oh so cold, creepy, stony façade he called a face.

Evidently, some further elaboration was required on my part, so elaborate further I did. "It's a fancy way of explaining a situation where a group of people overthrow the government of an institution or realm and replace the leading figures in power with either themselves, or with people of their choosing."

"You want us to kill Balon Greyjoy," the Lord of Raventree Hall squawked indignantly, his face turning ashen in an instant. "Forgive me, Your Grace, truly, but that is madness! Utter madness!"

"I never said you had to kill him," I objected reasonably, because really, why the fuck were all of my Bannermen so damn 'honourable' and 'principled'. Would it have killed them to be a bit more… ruthless? Seriously.

"I didn't even say that you should instigate a coup," I went on. "-only that I didn't care what methods the two of you utilized should the worst come to pass and Lord Greyjoy suddenly develop a nostalgic desire to sail north."

"And who would we… conspire with, in such a… situation, Your Grace?"

At the Leech Lords sudden question, Lord Blackwood blanched even further, turning his ruffled persona towards the master of the Dreadfort with a disbelieving look on his face.

"You, you… you can't honestly be considering this? ...can you?"

Bolton smiled thinly back at the pair of us, a sliver of approval flashing across his pale face as he answered quietly. "As His Grace says, Balon Greyjoy is no friend of the North, nor of the Riverlands, why should we not seek to place a more… favourable Lord on the Seastone Chair, should his ambitions prove… troublesome for our own war effort?"

At Lord Blackwood's incomprehensible spluttering, the Lord of the Dreadfort turned back to me. "I assume Lord Balon's son would be your preferred candidate should we be required to… act, as it were?"

"Theon?" I laughed mirthlessly. "Absolutely not, my Lord Bolton. Even if I were inclined to be generous towards him, Theon Greyjoy has spent the majority of his life on the mainland, he knows little of the Ironborn and their 'Iron Price' beyond an idealised childish fancy. No, if… and I do stress if, it becomes necessary for you to attempt fermenting a… 'change in leadership' as it were, Asha Greyjoy would be my preferred candidate-"

"A woman?" Tytos Blackwood wheezed -his expression, if even possible, even more pale and disbelieving than before. "-you wish us to kill Balon Greyjoy and try and seat his daughter in his place?!"

"If," Lord Bolton disagreed. "-if, it becomes necessary."

"As you say, my Lord. If," I agreed firmly. "No woman has ever sat the Seastone Chair before in its history. If it becomes necessary, and should the two of you succeed in it, Asha Greyjoy will most likely require outside support to keep her position, which means that at best, our new Kingdom may very well gain amalleable puppet in the Iron Isles-"

"-and at worst?" the Lord of Raventree Hall asked weakly.

"At worst, we successfully incite civil war in the Iron Isles for a few months, possibly a year or two, depending on the compositions of the varying sides, allowing us plenty of time to wrap up our campaign against House Lannister, and by extension the Iron Throne."

As my two Lords took the time to comprehend my words, I briefly reflected on how well this meeting had gone, or at least, how well it had gone in comparison to my last few meetings. Which… well, 'nough said.

"-a-and… and the message to Lord Greyjoy, Your Grace?" Blackwood croaked, fucking croaked, like he was some sort of toad that had somehow unbelievably discovered the secret of speech.

"Ah, that,'' I said with an exhale, swiftly moving my hands as my fingers grasped the wax-sealed scroll laid out upon the desk I was seated behind, it's contents carefully obscured behind its direwolf seal.

"This," I said with a grin, picking up the scroll and tossing it in the direction of Lord Bolton with a careless shrug. "-is not a pleasant read, nor do I expect its contents to be all that well received once it's been opened. I'd make sure you have plenty of backup when you hand it over to that shrivelled cunt of a Greyjoy if I were you."

Lord Blackwood's eyes widened at that. "Y-your Grace?"

"It's pretty much exactly as it sounds really, my Lord Blackwood. A bit of double handed flattery here and there, often interspaced with a few bloody threats, and the odd promise of future violence and retribution should the Ironborn attempt to… sail in a northerly direction, shall we say? Oh, and i've also promised to castrate Balon's son, Theon, if any harm should befall my two envoys or their entourage, so you should be relatively safe," I added cheerfully as an afterthought, for the most part.

Not surprisingly, neither of my two guests looked all that relieved at that, Bolton even grimaced a little. Go me!

"I-I-is that wise, Your Grace? Baiting the Greyjoys is practically tempting fa-"

"Either they're already planning on attacking us, or they've yet to make up their mind, my Lord. Either way, that message there will force him to make a choice, and if it's the wrong one… well, that's why you and Lord Bolton are going to be there. To delay any potential attack, using whatever means are at your disposal, hmmn?"


"We will require gold," Bolton suddenly murmured thoughtfully, fingering the sealed scroll in his hands pensively.

Gold? "Oh?"

"Cutthroats rarely work for free," the Lord of the Dreadfort stated blandly, suddenly looking innocent, or as innocent as a Bolton ever could. "-and bribes are never cheap, especially when considering the fickle loyalty of pirates."

It was at that moment I think I realized just how much I actually liked Roose Bolton. It was fucking lunacy, I know, but strangely enough it didn't change my opinion of the man. After days spent in nothing but the company of fucking so-called 'honourable' and 'noble' men; men who either didn't have the balls or lacked the sheer ruthlessness necessary to indulge in the darker aspects of nation-building and political wrangling, the Leech Lord was like a goddamn blessing in disguise. A creepy, pale eyed and Dementor-ish kind of blessing, but a blessing nonetheless.

Now, if only I could fit him with a shock collar and a tracking chip...

"Done," I said with a clap of my hands, my face all smiles as I met the Dread Lord's gaze directly. "- i'll have a suitable amount of coin set aside for your journey to Seagard. A raven will also be dispatched to House Mallister to inform them of your impending arrival, yes?"

Lord Bolton inclined his head agreeably, another little smirk weaving its way across his face in a shark like manner.

"Well then," I said warmly. "-I think this impromptu little gathering of the minds is done, aye… unless you have any other business you'd like to discuss with me, my Lord?"

Bolton shook his head minutely as he stood slowly from his seat. Seconds after, the dazed Lord Blackwood stumbled upwards to his own feet, a constipated expression plastered firmly across his own face.

"Nah, ah," I waved a hand. "-not you, my Lord Blackwood, if it please you. We still have some small matters to discuss, you and I."

At that, Lord Tytos startled again, looking at me with an expression that was equal parts pained and resigned, while Roose Bolton shot him a brief suspicious look.

Now came the more difficult part, the interesting part…

"Your Grace?" the salt and peppered beard-wearer sighed, flopping back down onto his chair in a huff, his whole countenance practically screaming tired frustration.

"Relax, my Lord Blackwood, tis nothing so grave as all that really, merely a few minor border disagreements Lord Bracken has petitioned me to look int-"

"BRACKEN!" the jumped-up Riverlord suddenly growled with a snarl, his face glowering as he leaned forwards in his seat, his displeasure evident across the entirety of his being. "-whatever 'claims' that thieving, no-good, horse breeding upstart has been telling you, Your Grace -they're nonsense, utter nonsense. Why, that double-dealing, underhanded little-"

As the Lord of Raventree Hall continued his lengthy and rather colourful, it must be said, description of his principal personal nemesis, I found myself tuning the man out, my eyes instead glancing upwards towards the still standing figure of Roose Bolton.

For a brief moment our eyes met, and despite the lack of any real outward emotion on the man's face, I got the strangest feeling that were the master of the Dreadfort any other man, he might very well have been rolling his eyes.

It was a sentiment I sort of shared really.

Readying my most commiserating smile, I shot the Leech Lord a companionable sort of look, even as I continued to hum and 'ah' at the appropriate openings Lord Blackwood was leaving me.

Surprisingly, Bolton inclined his head minutely, and with a quiet, almost whisper like "Your Grace", he left the room.

Which left me alone with Lord Tytos.

"-e's a liar. Missy's Teats are Blackwood lands, Your Grace, no matter what that cur Bracken says-"


Straining my ears above the din of Lord Blackwood's mutinous mutterings, I turned my head towards the door, listening intently for the prearranged signal that would herald the Lord of the Dreadfort's complete departure from our meeting.

"-ever since they attempted to use that whore to replace sweet Melissa in King Aegon's-"

Really, secret meetings, potential assassinations, prearranged signals, was it any wonder I was starting to feel like I'd been uprooted into the literary world of Ian Fleming?

"-utter rubbish is what they ar-"


As if summoned by my own foolish thoughts of a possible alternate career in another universe, the soft scraping of steel on wood echoed on inside from out beyond the solar's door.

To an outsider not in the know, like dear worry-wort[ing] Lord Blackwood, it would be an innocuous sound, audible proof the two guards outside were growing a little restless perhaps.

I knew better.

"Your not here to discuss Lord Bracken's nebulous 'claims' to your land, my Lord," I said without preamble, after another moment's silence from my sentries outside.

"-swindling, land grabbing-"

"You can stop your blustering whenever you like, my Lord," I said again.

Lord Blackwood, ensorcelled in a world all of his own, paid me no mind.

"-all the same those sodding-"

"ARE you quite finished, my Lord?"

"Y-your G-grace?" the Lord of Raventree Hall squawked unexpectedly, visibly taken by surprise

"I didn't invite you to stay to discuss your centuries old squabble with your neighbours-"

"Squabble!? Bu-but you said-"

Impatiently I waved a hand dismissively at the man.

"Forget what I said, that was purely for Bolton's sake. I'm not interested in indulging Lord Brackens exaggerated territorial claims anymore than I suspect you are"

The man gaped disbelieving at me.

"No, instead," I continued on. "-your here to discuss your real assignment, your secret assignment."

"My assignment, Your Grace?" he said. "But… Pyke? You said-"

"Yes, yes, yes," I waved him off again. "Your still going to Pyke, have no fear of that my Lord. That said, it's what you'll be doing on Pyke that requires our little clandestine meeting, hm?"

"Wha? What I'll be… doing?"


"...and, er, what will I be doing, your, er… Grace?"

I smiled. "Your going to spy on Roose Bolton for me."

"SPY! I, Your-"

"Keep your bloody voice down," I hissed at the flustered man, because really, did he want the whole of fucking Riverrun knowing what I was up to?


"Your Grace, I… spy?. What? I don't…"

I grimaced. This really, really wasn't going as I'd reckoned it would.

"It's really not all that hard of a concept to grasp, my Lord," I said with another sigh.

"The Bolton's," I said with continuing exasperation. "-have never really been as leal and loyal as the rest of the North when it comes to their oaths to Winterfell. Their history is one filled with treachery and uprisings, and in all honesty, I trust Roose Bolton about as far as I can throw him."

Blackwood just stared at me.

"Which, when you consider the size of me," I said with a gesture to my youthful, teenage body. "-isn't bloody far."


"Yes, spy," I affirmed with a single nod. "You. Spy. On. Lord. Bolton."

"But, but… I don't know how to spy!" the moustachioed Riverlander wheezed, looking for all the world like a distressed three year old that had just lost their favourite blue balloon.

Wearily, I pinched the bridge of my nose.

"Alright," I said with forced patience. "-alright, lets try this another way, hmm?"

"You," I said, pointing a finger at him. "-and Lord Bolton, are going to Pyke. You both have an 'official' assignment, yes?"

Blackwood nodded uncertainty.

"Right. Good. Now, while the pair of you are 'both' fulfilling your assignment, you, my Lord Blackwood, are going to stick to Lord Bolton's side as if he were a great heaping dung pile and you a flea."

At that particular metaphor, Lord Blackwood opened his mouth to protest, and I overrode him. If we carried on like this I was going to be late.

"Your going to worm your way into his confidence, and if, I repeat if, he suddenly starts acting odd, well... odder, and if he starts sprouting less than loyalist opinions or sentiments, your going to agree with him, and your going to… play along as it were-"

"Your Grace, I-"

"Please, my Lord Blackwood, peace. I'm neither accusing Lord Bolton of disloyalty, or even of plotting hypothetical future treason, this is all merely precautionary."

"The truth of the matter," I explained reasonably. "- is that our new kingdom exists on very shaky foundations, it will only stand firm so long as the Lords and Ladies within it hold firm, in both their belief of independence, and that we can win said independence. If one among our number falters in their commitment to our cause, others will, and then others after them, and from there we'll be facing an avalanche of defectors and turncoats."

"Tywin Lannister burnt our homes!" the Lord of Raventree Hall sputtered in outrage, "he's killed our smallfolk and burned our fields. Surely you don't think-"

"I think Walder Frey has lost very little in the opening stages of this war, and while he now stands to gain a King for a son-in-law should we prove victorious, he stands to lose everything if we fail. Do you think he will remain steadfast in his loyalties should our good fortune take a turn for the worse?"

"Or even Roose Bolton," I pressed on, ignoring the man's bulging expression. "-a man who continues to practise the right of the First Night long after it was outlawed, and whose ancestors were once Kings themselves."

"No, Lord Blackwood, we must remain ever vigilant in these times, especially in these times."

As I clasped my hands in front of me patiently, waiting, Lord Tytos struggled to say something, anything. A myriad concoction of expressions flitted across his face in tandem, until finally he seemed to settle on determination.

Or at least, that's what I hoped it was.

"You, you really think they might turn their cloak, Your Grace?"

"If given enough incentive?" I asked rhetorically. "Absolutely. Tywin Lannister has a truly terrifying reputation for ruthlessness and pragmatism and his vaults beneath Casterly Rock hold more gold than the collective population of Westeros probably has common sense."

Blackwood made another face at that, but I ignored him, again. Now wasn't the time to be worrying about overly prickly bannermen, not when it seemed like I was finally getting through to the man.

"Understand my Lord, that I'm not asking you to betray Lord Bolton's confidence without good cause, or even without hesitation on my part, but I am sending a man whose family has, in the past, shown no real love or loyalty to my own, into a veritable vipers nest. In this instance, precautions are not only needed, but required."

"A-and how will I gain his… confidence, Your Grace? To be honest, I rather get the feeling Lord Bolton doesn't much care for me."

"I rather get the feeling Lord Bolton doesn't like anyone," I said dryly. "But I'm not expecting you to become best friends. Maester Hibberd, have you ever heard of him?"

"Ah… your, ah… Master of Scribes, Your Grace?"

"That's the one," I agreed with a smile. "-you see, despite his protestations, and quite a few of his own inhibitions -a very disagreeable man he can be, good, loyal Maester Hibberd has been recruiting literate able bodied folk from among the refugees for a little project of mine."

"...and what does this have to do with Lord Bolton, Your Grace?" Lord Tytos asked suspiciously, his bushy brows raising a fraction in confusion.

What indeed, eh?

"Well, it seems to me that the biggest problem in warfare, aside from the losing of battles that is, is piss poor communication, a lack of decent organisation and no kind of accountability for piss poor commanders who make stupid decisions that cost good men their lives for no bloody point, that kind of thing."

Lord Blackwood nodded hesitantly, although his eyes tightened somewhat in…

Fuck knew.

"To that end, each commander of men, in each theatre of this war, will each, from this point on, be assigned one of my new Master of Scribes', well, scribes. Now I know what your going to say," I held up my hand, forestalling whatever the Lord of Raventree Hall was about to splutter.

"-and your right, they're hardly worthy replacements for a good old fashioned Maester, but, alas, we have neither enough Maesters to make such a thing possible, or even feasible, or at least, not without denying the various noble households of the Riverlands access to raven communication, eh?"

Blackwood looked appalled at the very notion of my proposal, and more than a smidge suspicious, but it didn't matter. Not really, everything was already in motion.

This was happening.

No exceptions.

"And what, exactly, will these 'scribes' be doing?" Lord Blackwood asked, leaning forward in his chair somewhat threateningly.

I shrugged my shoulders non committedly. "Oh nothing overly intrusive my Lord, reading and composing orders, writing messages, organising records taken during war councils for perusal by my royal self, that sort of thin-"

"Spies! Your placing ruddy spies in the council of your Lords!" he breathed out in outrage, knocking his chair aside as he jumped to his feet.

"From a certain point of view," I said agreeably, because at that accusation, well, what could I say? It was kind of true. If a little unfair.

"Certain point of view?" Lord Blackwood growled, leaning over me. "What other bloody point of view is there?"

"We have a finite amount of men my Lord, and little in the way of readily deployable reinforcements. We cannot allow our manpower to be squandered in pointless campaigns and battles commanded by men who have no fucking idea what they are doing. Or who place their own agendas above the greater strategy of this war!"

"Like Roose Bolton, you mean," Lord Blackwood snarled.

"Or like my good nuncle Ser Edmure," I corrected sharply. "Seven know I love the man, he is family, but his current track record is hardly something to be commended, let alone encouraged."

"-and as for Lord Bolton," I sighed, waving the towering pillar of fury in front of me back down onto his toppled seat. "-the man is at best, an unpredictable and opportunist factor with the third most men of my northern bannermen, and at worst, a very real, and very dangerous threat should he decide he'd much rather be Lord and Warden of the North under Joffrey Waters than yet another bannerman among hundreds under Winterfell. The same could be said of the Freys, the Mootons, or even the Brackens of the Riverlands, they all have plenty to gain from betraying our cause and turning their cloaks and little to gain from staying loyal to us, more so in fact, because the better we do and the more desperate the Iron Throne becomes, the greater the potential rewards become. It is a fact, my Lord, not an idle fancy festering around in the empty recesses of my mind. It. Is. A. Fact."

Upon finishing my little tirade, the rather red faced Lord of Raventree Hall looked a little ill, although I personally thought that might just have been down to the heat in the solar. It was rather stifling, and not in a good way.

"What," my rather intractable companion started, righting his chair with a rough yank before grudgingly seating himself in it. "-what would the Bracken's gain from… from betraying us? The Mountain burnt Stone Hedge along with a dozen of their holdfasts. Jonos Bracken is many things but-"

Inwardly, I grinned.

Brackens and Blackwoods, I thought. The easiest way to get either to do something they'd rather not was to appeal to their paranoia and dislike of the other.

"If my numbers are right," I said with a forcibly calm tone. There really was no way it would go down well if I sounded as amused as I felt at that moment. "-then you Blackwoods have had the upper hand in your feud with the Brackens for the last… eighty odd years, aye?"

Blackwood's brow furled as he nodded. "Aye, what of it?"

"Hmn, and many of the lands your family hold lordship over on the north bank of the Red Fork are disputed are they not?"

"Baseless claims," Lord Blackwood ground out, his posture a picture of agitation as I continued.

"Perhaps, although I doubt Lord Bracken would say the same."

Blackwoods nostrils flared.

"Anyway, moving back to hypotheticals, let us say the war as it currently stands turns into something of a stalemate. Winter is all but upon us, the men are tired, the various Lords and Ladies of our cause are growing restless. There's no end to the war in sight, not for the foreseeable future at any rate."

"Now," I said with a faux somber kind of voice. "-let's imagine that at some point during this war, the brothers Baratheon have come to blows over 'King' Renly's usurpation of his elder brothers claim. Rather than putting aside their quarrel and concentrating on the Lannisters however, they fought each other. Men fought, blades were swung, and now 'King' Renly is worm food. You still with me, my Lord?"

Blackwood looked a tad disjointed, but he nodded along anyways bless him, even if he did look a mite confused.

"Aye, Your Grace, I'm with you, but what does any of this have to do wit-"

"What happens to House Tyrell?"

"I-ah… House Tyrell?"


"Well, I, they… ah, they… bend the knee to Stannis?"

"Do you really think Stannis Baratheon, a man Mace Tyrell drove to eat rats whilst he feasted and laid siege outside the walls of Storms End during the rebellion, would be willing to allow the Tyrells to bend their knee to him without some form of punishment? After not only that, but after disregarding his own claim to the Iron Throne in favour of his younger brother?"

To Lord Blackwoods credit, he didn't look very certain of it at all. In fact, from the mildly horrified look in his eyes, I suspected the man had even started to put two and two together.

"You- you think they'd turn to the Lannisters," he wheezed. "After everything they've done? They're rebelling against Joffrey just like we are!"

"But they're not trying to secede from the Iron Throne are they?" I asked pointedly, to which Tytos just frowned. "What's more, how many men can the Reach field, an easy sixty thousand? A hundred thousand? With those kind of numbers, in addition to been the most fertile region in Westeros, Tywin Lannister would never turn them away if they became 'available'. I wouldn't, so why would he? Especially if little 'Maid Margaery' was in the offering."

"But, but she's married to Renly," the Raven Lord protested, his eyes wide.

"Who is, if you'll pardon my impertinence, a well known sword-swallower."


"Now, picture all that. Are you picturing it all my Lord?"

Lord Blackwood nodded hesitantly.

"Good. Now, imagine that very large, very menacing host of… oh around a hundred odd thousand men lets say, all of them advancing out across the Riverlands without a whiff of fear or of defeat. You still picturing it, my Lord Blackwood?"

The man frowned, and then nodded, again.

"In addition to all that," I went on. "-the Redwyne and Lannister fleets are blockading all of our ports, and they are transporting even more men onto our undefended stretches of coastline. Winter is firmly upon us all. We cannot import food, the southern reaches of the Riverlands are still burnt out, the North is buried under ten feet of snow. Our new kingdom is slowly starving. You still with me, my Lord?"

Another hesitant nod followed.

"Now tell me, given everything that i've postulated so far, and given the increasing likelihood in this scenario that we'd all either be buried under a mountain of marauding enemies hungry for vengeance, or simply starve to death, do you honestly think that none of my oh so 'loyal' bannermen might not try to save themselves at the expense of our cause? Truly? Especially if there was a chance of agrandanising themselves at their neighbors expense in return for their renewed 'loyalty' to the Iron Throne?"

Tytos Blackwood, blusterer extraordinaire, said not a word in response, his blotchy red face a picture of stony silence as he stared back at me unblinking.

...and the bastard that I was, I stared unflinchingly right back at him.

It went on for a minute or two.

"You've thought about this a great deal, Your Grace," he conceded slowly, grudgingly.

"As a king, I now find myself having a great deal of free time to think," I said stonily. "Mostly about all the different ways we'll all be executed if we lose this war."

Blackwood grunted in response, before falling silent once again.

"And these 'Scribes'," Lord Blackwood stressed, leaning forwards toward me intently. "-they would be a temporary measure?"

"A temporary wartime measure," I lied wholeheartedly, ignoring the voice in the back of my head that sounded suspiciously like my mother. The one from Earth.

She'd never abided liars, bless her, and like the good son i'd never professed to be, I ignored that little voice just like I'd mostly ignored her reprimands in my previous life.

I guess the Ironborn weren't the only ones who were consistent, huh?

"You swear it?" Lord Blackwood pressed on.

"On my honour as a Stark," I swore solemnly, placing my hand on my heart, ignoring the teeny tiny little fact that I wasn't actually a Stark.

"And we'll not be expected to allow them to follow us into our homes?" Blackwood asked keenly, a little too keenly in my opinion, which was rather suspicious in itself really, but oh well. Another problem for a later time no doubt.

"Not unless you grow particularly fond of them, no," I said with a smile. Which wasn't really lying to be honest.

Once my envisioned military divisions were implemented, sometime far in the future no doubt -assuming we actually won the war that is, then the bulk of my 'scribes' would be recalled to my side to form the nucleus of a new Royal Beaucracracy. Though a few would still be assigned to the appointed Wardens of said 'divisions', once they were named, and the system in place, and all that rot.

Not that Tytos Blackwood needed to know that.

Not yet at least.

"So," I said with a small clap and a winning smile. "-does your interest in my 'scribes' mean I can count on your cooperation in this most earnest of internal security matters, My Lord?"

Whatever Lord Blackwoods personal view on my latest attempt to whittle away at the autonomy of my many, many Bannermen, he was obviously troubled by the scenario I'd painted a not-so-pretty picture of for him, and truth be told, it was probably the best outcome this conversation could have had.

Outright support and understanding notwithstanding, of course. But then again, I was in the fucking medieval period for Christ's sake, so how bloody likely was that?

"And Bolton, Your Grace?" Blackwood sighed, sounding like a man thrice his age as he hunched back into his chair with an undignified slump. "How am I to 'gain his confidence', as you say?"

I waved a hand dismissively at the man. "We've already laid the groundwork for that," I said simply. "-now all we need to do is sell the illusion of division between us."

Blackwood hesitantly nodded, "And how do we… do that?"

"Ah, in truth, tis but a small thing. All it requires is a little acting on your part, you see, when you leave this room, all I need from you is to look utterly furious," I admitted with a little grin.

"...furious, Your Grace?"

"Hmn. See, it's like this," I said. "When Lord Bolton left, I specifically said that you and I would be looking into some border disagreements Lord Bracken had petitioned me about, remember?"

Tytos' face darkened at the name of his arch nemesis, but the man nodded along.

"Excellent, and to be entirely honest, Lord Bracken did ask that I… help... resolve your little… 'quarrel', shall we say? Just last night, in fact."

A purple vein pulsed threateningly along the Lord of Raventree Hall's neck.

"So, given that I promised Lord Bracken I would raise the issue with you, and the fact that Lord Bolton now knows about it, what conclusions do you think both men will draw should you leave this room blustering and spluttering and indascant with rage, hmn, my Lord?"

"… you want me to play a mummer's farce!"

"In a manner of speaking-"

"Manner of-, Lord Blackwood started, his eyes bulging. "I am a Lord, Your Grace, not a Mummer. I don't know how to act! It would be unbelievable, it would be… un-Lordly! It would-"

His protests went on, and on, and I in turn ignored them all.

Until, that is, inspiration struck me, and I had a thought. A horrible, horrible, wonderful thought.

"-bloody farce!"

"You have a daughter do you not, my Lord Blackwood?"

At my sudden shift in gears, Lord Tytos blinked stupidly at me.

"Aye, Your Grace," he said slowly, confused. "My Melissa gave me two girls, Alyn and Bethany… but I don't see-"

"And Lord Bracken has a son doesn't he?" I interrupted, waving the man's question off.


Lady Bethany Blackwood, to be more precise, and what was more, I was pretty sure that she was the girl Lord Bracken had attempted to convince the Kingslayer to take hostage once he'd switched sides in the books...


...kind of...


"You mean the Bracken Bastard, Your Grace?"

Yes, I realised with an internal grin. Yes, it just might do the trick.

"Hmn," I said thoughtfully, glancing at the Riverlord's distasteful expression. Really, what was it about 'bastards' that got people so fucking touchy, hmn?

"You love your daughter dearly, yes?"

"O-of course I bloody love her," Lord Blackwood blustered, his posture rapidly embracing a stance of rigidity that in other, less serious circumstances, might very well have been rather humorous.

"What kind of question is tha-"

"-and your daughter's very, very pretty, aye?"

Lord Blackwood's eyes narrowed warningly at me. "She is, aye, takes after her mother," he said gruffly.


"Now see here," Lord Blackwood suddenly thundered, his bushy eyebrows drawing tighter across his brow as his temples throbbed ominously. "King you might be, Your Grace, but if you think I'm going to whore out my-"

"Yes!" I cried out, pointing a finger at the suddenly flabbergasted man. "Yes, that's it! That's the expression we need. Wait! No, go back, do the other face!"

"I… ah, wha-"

"The other face man, the one that was all righteous fury and 'I'm going rip off your head and shit down your throat!'. That's the expression we need."

"S-shit down your-?"

"Never mind that," I waved the man off. "That expression just then; the one you had on your face when I suggested your darling Bethany and Lord Bracken's little bastard straddling each other over the desk in your solar and-"

"My What?"

"There! You've done it again! Masterful, Lord Blackwood, truly masterful. You, Ser, are a natural!"

"My- You!- I- My daughter is having NOTHING to do with those ruddy horse buggerers!"

Staring up at the quivering, six feet tall incarnation of wrath, rage and all things unpleasant, for a brief -albeit awful, second, I wondered if I might have gone a tad too far in provoking the man.

I then dismissed the errant thought with a mental swat.

Lord Blackwood was the key to keeping an eye on Lord Bolton after all, or rather, he was one of the many keys I'd recently taken to cutting, all in order to keep an eye on several of my 'oh so loyal' Bannermen and their potentially dubious loyalty.


"Hmn? Sorry, Lord Blackwood, I tuned out for a minute there. You were saying?"

"You- I- eh?"

Staring up at the confused, red faced, salt and pepper bearded behemoth leaning over me, I sighed.

I was going to be lateif thingscarried on like this. Like, really, really late. Walder Frey late, even.

"Look," I said to the man, adopting my most conciliatory tone as I attempted to try and placate the big guy. "-it's all fairly simple really…"

"-when you leave this room, you need to look angry. If anyone asks you about what we discussed in this meeting, all you need to do is bluster, look angry and then stomp off-"

"But my Bethany," Lord Blackwood wheezed, still standing. "-you- you said- and the Bracken bastard- and in my Solar-"

"Yes, yes, yes," I waved the man off. "That was merely to get you in the right state of mind, my Lord. Trust me, people in general tend to be idiots, they'll draw their own conclusions based on the evidence available to them, and if you go bright red in the face and start scowling whenever this meeting is mentioned, coupled with the fact that they think they know exactly what this meeting was about, well… what conclusions do you think they'll draw?"

"Ah," Tytos exhaled, lowering himself back into his seat stiffly. "You think people will assume you favour Jonos Bracken and his claims, Your Grace?"

I grinned at the man.

"I do."

"Hmn. And do you, Your Grace?"

Hmn, well that depends on you now doesn't it Lord Blackwood, I thought with a mental frown, cursing the nature of feudal politics even as I readied my response.

"Would I have a sealed document signed and affirmed, granting royal recognition of all of House Blackwood's current territorial holdings if I did?"

Tossing the sealed scroll at the quite clearly shell-shocked Lord of Raventree Hall, I shot the man a smirk.

"Stick with me, my Lord Blackwood, do as I say, when I say, and I'll guarantee you this; you and your descendents need never fear the Seven-worshipping Brackens or their exaggerated claims on your land ever again."

For a moment afterwards, the only thing Lord Blackwood could do was stare at me in disbelief, clutching the wax sealed scroll in his hands as if he were a drowning man and the proclamation he held a life raft.

"Jonos Bracken won't take kindly to this, Your Grace," he warned me solemnly.

I shrugged unconcerned. "So long as you smother your joy and stick to the plan, he'll never find out -at least, not until I've found another way to shower his family with accolades and new lands to compensate him for his 'loss'."

"You focus on Pyke and Lord Bolton, My Lord," I said with a small smile. "-and I'll worry about Lord Bracken, aye?"

"Aye, Your Grace," he agreed with a small blossoming smile all of his own.

Needless to say, our meeting became much more productive after that, so much so in fact, that by the time Lord Tytos had left, the details of his secret assignment still ringing in his ears and the contact information on his new 'Scribe' tucked away in his jerkin, did I find myself running only a little bit late.




Hearing the familiar call of my good Uncle behind me, I found myself slowing down my pace, Hallis Mollen and his fellow guardsmen following likewise.

"It's Ser Blackfish, yer Grace," Hallis mumbled to me, his square beard twitching as he did so.

"Thank you, Hallis," I said dryly, hearing the approaching clip-clap of armoured footsteps as Ser Bryden grew closer. "I hadn't quite noticed."

"Not a problem, yer Grace."

A few of the guards -those who were actually from Winterfell, snickered.

"Good meeting, lad?" the Blackfish asked, jovially clapping a hand on my shoulder as he stepped into stride with me.

Judging by the wyry look he then shot me, I figured he already had some sort of idea, although that might have just been from the sour look I shot back at him.

"I suppose."

"Hmm. On your way to see Lord Umber and your mother off, I take it?"

"Yes," I said with a sigh, grimacing as we passed a truly awful tapestry of a fish in a basket.

Because really, why the fuck would anyone pay for a tapestry of that?

The Blackfish scoffed. "Might want to work on that face, Your Grace," he said with a snort. "Your mother's in a right snit at the moment. Might be best to try and look like you actually want to be there."

"She still complaining to anyone who'll listen that I'm a cruel, awful son, who's sending her into exile, I take it?"

"And more besides," Ser Bryden agreed cheerily, ignoring the strange look Hallis shot him.

"You seem awfully chipper nuncle," I noted cautiously. "-any particular reason?"

As we passed a suit of half-polished and slightly dented platemail on a stand, the Blackfish glanced around fleetingly before he passed me a scrap of parchment.

Henryk Hill. Father of Lyman Hill. Both Captured. Willing. Able. Look's the part. Ten Dragons and safety for his wife and other children -the note said.

I smiled.

"This is good news."

"Thought you'd like it," he said with another grin, before his smile faltered a little. "Although there are a few other… problems-"

"Yer Grace, milord" a passing servant curtsied, busying past us as she scurried up the hallway behind us.

I ignored her.

"What kind of problems?"

"The Piper's aren't happy Robb, nor the Brackens, or the … …,


"And, they want to liberate their homes, Your Grace. While they understand what your strategy is trying to accomplish, it's… well it's cold comfort when their homes are occupied and their families prisoner's of the Lannisters."

"Hmn, and Uncle Edmure?" I asked, flicking a glance at my men as they fanned out towards the corner we were approaching.

"Ah, he's… well, he's-"

"He's still pushing to give the Riverlords leave to disperse with their men, I take it?"

Ser Bryden nodded tiredly, shooting me an odd look as Hallis -who had rounded the corner we had nearly reached not moments ago, suddenly shouted, in a crisp clear voice, "Clear!"

"New security measures," I explained to the clearly baffled Blackfish as we rounded the corner.

"Right," he nodded, his lips twitching upwards into a grizzled sort of smile. "And what's prompted all this then?"

"A deep seated knowledge of Tywin Lannister's past treachery and a healthy dose of self preservation?"

My... Robb's, uncle snorted.

"Look, lad, in many ways I agree with you," the Blackfish started up again, cursing a little as we reached the top of the west tower's curved stairwell and started to descend… towards my mother.

"-but abandoning the-"

"We're not abandoning anything," I interrupted the man sternly, shooting my most tolerable 'relative' a flat look. "-but the very geography of the Riverlands works to the Lannisters advantage. We cannot and should not try to defend everything, it'd be a fools errand and we'd only leave other castles and holdfasts in the north open to the same kind of butchery that we've already seen to the south. A defensive line along the breadth of the Red Fork and then along the Tumblestone to the Bay of Crabs will close off every ford, bridge and ferry to the Lannisters, especially if we sabotage the latter two during the process. It'll trap Tywin and his host in the southern Riverlands and cut him off from the west. Which is, if you recall, the whole point of our strategy, especially with the planned expedition west in a few days time. You know all of this Uncle, and I know you know this."

"Aye, and while it's a sound strategy for penning the old lion up, it also leaves a lot of untouched towns and villages to the mercies of Tywin's raiders. Gregor Clegane has already been seen near-"

"-Lambswold, yes, I know. Unfortunately there are at least four bands of raiders currently on the loose and short of barring their access back across the Tumblestone we have no chance of limiting their ability to sow chaos. Sacrificing lands that are already burnt, plundered and occupied allows us keep the rest of our untouched lands safe-"

"-and will result in thousands of needless deaths we might have prevented," the Blackfish pointed out headedly, eliciting a grimace from myself.

"Nonetheless, Lord Glover and the Northern Foot are already marching south to reinforce the rest of our infantry here. Once they're in place and we hold all the fords we can look towards recapturing the south at our leisure without leaving ourselves open to new attacks."

Ser Bryden huffed. "Edmure won't like it," he warned me gruffly, as if I wasn't already aware of such knowledge.

"Considering he wants to allow a boy of nine namedays to leave the safety of this castle and go and try to retake his own castle -a castle that's already fallen once, might I add, in a region that is currently plagued by 'The-Mountain-That-Rides', I'd say Uncle Edmure's opinions are rather moot."


"You disagree?"

"No," the Blackfish breathed out wearily, catching himself on a worn step as we descended lower. "I just hope this expedition west is worth it."

He chanced a look at me wearily.

"Your mother's not going to like this either," he admitted sourly. "You do realise that, aye?"

I shot him a bemused look, and checking to ensure that Mollen and the others wouldn't overhear me, I cracked the old man a smirk. "Why do you think I'm sending her back to Winterfell?"

To the side of me the Blackfish snorted.

But he was right. Lady Catelyn was not going to like this. Or what I was going to do once we marched west. Or what we would do after that.

But as a certain Lannister once said, 'When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die', and I had no intention of dying.

Not any time soon anyway.



Catelyn Tully was in a bit of a quandary, and it was starting to bother her. Not that she would ever admit it out loud.

It had started -like most of her problems these days, with her son. Well-mannered, mindful, respectful, Robb had always seemed like a good boy, a dutiful boy.

Family. Duty. Honour. Her house words, words Catelyn had tried to instil into all of her children just as much as Winter is Coming, and until recently, Catelyn had never had reason to suspect that she might not have succeeded quite as much as she'd previously thought.

But Robb had changed, and not just in the obvious ways. Her son slouched, his posture was gone, and more worryingly than that, her eldest had apparently started to read.

Which was rather the point.

Robb hated reading, and he always had, from the moment Maester Luwin had started to teach her eldest his letters her little boy had stubbornly declared his hatred of the written word, and yet now he was reading.

And not just about Dragons, or White Walkers, or the thousand and one other silly superstitions she and Ned had tried to use in their attempts to cajole their darling firstborn to take more interest in his studies.

No, her 'son' was reading treatises. On law, and economics, and the last time Catelyn had seen him, she had even spied a later edition of Grand Maester Kaeth's The Lives of Four Kings in his possession -one of the driest, dullest books Catelyn had ever had the misfortune to read during her own childhood.

It just didn't make sense.

At first she'd brought her concerns to Edmure, but her brother, her irresponsible, lovable, roguish little brother had brushed her off with a smile and a teasing laugh. "He's a grown man Cat," he'd said with a grin, "-Robbs just at that age, you know? Next you'll be complaining he's going to a brothel without telling you, or having one more goblet of wine than usual. It'll be fine, trust me!"

And then he was gone, leaving her alone in the hallway with only the muffled giggles and shrieks from within his chambers for company. Obviously that had made his words have rather the opposite effect he'd probably been hoping for, so with a fond burst of exasperation and -not that she'd ever admit it, a bit of mirth, Cat had then turned to her Uncle Bryden for advice.

That conversation had hardly gone any better.

"Cat," her Uncle Blackfish had murmured, his face solemn and grave, and Catelyn knew, she just knew what was coming.

"Robb's a King now, Cat, a King, and truthfully, while your boy has a good mind for battle he wasn't raised to hold the throne he's been thrust upon. Trust me, this is a good thing, it shows he's making an effort, taking things seriously and-"

At that Catelyn hadn't had the stomach to listen to anymore empty platitudes, because why didn't anyone understand?

Her son had changed overnight. Not upon being declared King in the North -and Cat still didn't know what to think about that, but earlier. Much earlier by her reckoning, sometime between leaving the swamplands of the Neck and arriving at the 'Twins'.

At first Cat had thought it was merely a case of nervousness, a boy too young and inexperienced marching off to war for the first time. Ned had been the same back during the days of the Rebellion's opening stages, but-

But it hadn't been, Cat was sure of that much now. He'd been skittish, and awkward, and the easy japes her son often shared with the Greyjoy Heir had rapidly faded to the wayside to be replaced by wariness and -and distaste. The army's parting at the Crossing had been the last time Catelyn had seen Theon Greyjoy and whenever she asked her son about his whereabouts, Robb's smile would tighten and he would mumble something about, "Putting his skills to good use" whatever that meant.

It was utterly maddening, and now she was being forced to endure the indignity of being forced out of her own childhood home and 'escorted' back to Winterfell, away from her father whose health was on the decline, away from Edmure who was in no way ready to assume his rightful mantle as Lord of Riverrun and away from her girls currently held hostage in King's Landing.

The thought of Sansa; bright, beautiful carefree Sansa -who dreamed of knights in shining armour and flowers and chivalrous values that had long since fallen out of favor made her heart clench painfully.

And then there was her little Underfoot, her boyish, mischievous, always adventure-seeking youngest daughter. Arya, who hated dresses and despised needlework, Arya who loved nothing more than the dirt of the earth and the feel of the bark and moss of the godswood.

And she was leaving them, her -their mother, was leaving them -no, she was being forced to leave them behind, and despite her best efforts, Catelyn found herself hating her son for forcing her to do so.

Her Uncle Bryden had tried to console her with the knowledge that Bran and Rickon still needed their mother, especially now given what had happened to Ned, but the anger remained. It fortified itself deep within her and wrapped itself up in a mixture of confusion and terror and a thousand other emotions she could hardly comprehend, and now she was here, waiting on the son she was starting to resent and hardly seemed to recognise anymore.

Looking around the outer courtyard of her childhood home for what very well might be the last time, Catelyn gathered her resolve and tried to look unaffected by the slights -imagined or otherwise, that her sonKing had heaped upon her. If His Grace wanted to pretend he was doing no wrong in this, well, Catelyn could pretend likewise. She had had little enough choice in the matter, but in how she departed this castle, this she could choose, and Catelyn Tully was nothing if not a proper Lady.

"It'll be fine, lad," The Lord of the Last Hearth was saying from aside one of the wagons of their soon to be departing convoy. "His Grace has bestowed our House with a great honour, and House Umber will do its duty!"

The Smalljon nodded hesitantly from his place next to his father, although Catelyn noted he eyed the large retinue of soldiers that would be accompanying them warily.

"It's still a lot more men than you'd need for an escort though," the smaller of the two Umbers reckoned thoughtfully, and privately Catelyn agreed with the lad.

"Aye it is," the Greatjon rumbled, glancing around his surroundings before he leant forwards a touch as if to confide a great secret. "-though I'm only taking three hundred men with me to Winterfell."

At that Catelyn's eyebrows rose a little in surprise.

Three hundred? She thought with a frown, there must be at least double that here already, so where are the rest of them going?

As if to prove her point, a banner featuring three woolsacks, all of them white on a purple background and surrounded by a white border flashed in her vision, its sudden appearance accompanying another ten men who quickly joined the assembled group with nary a word.

Catelyn stared at them all baffled. What on-

"You'll all be ole Woolfield's men then, eh?" Lord Umber suddenly barked out, directing his question to a man Catelyn could only assume was their commanding officer.

"Ah, ye-yes, Milord," the armoured man stammered, shooing his men towards the baggage carts as he turned towards the annoyed Lord of Last Hearth.

"Well you lot took your ruddy time, didn't ya?, What's the 'oldup this time?"

The captain winced at the volume. "Ah, well, you see milord, there was a mix-up with the rosters for the scouting parties, you see?"

Catelyn didn't see, and by the looks of it neither did Lord Umber, though he did snort derisively.


"Well, see, it's like this milord, we were-"

"Your Grace!" a male voice suddenly piped up from the inner gatehouse, his tone a tad startled to Catelyn's ears, as if the man it belonged to had been caught in an act he shouldn't have been, and as if by an act of magic, the entire courtyard burst into a frenzy of hurried action and whispers.

"The King!" One of the newly arrived soldiers within hearing hissed, hefting his bulging sack atop the cart with a huff.

"I hope that bloody wolf isn't with him."

"Quiet, Henrick, do want to be eaten?"

"That thing eats people?" another rather strangled sounding voice wheezed, it's speaker bearing a banner displaying the heraldry of two bronze keys crossed on a white pale on purple.

Catelyn barely had the time to identify it as the sigil of House Locke, let alone the time to ask what exactly was going on with the size of their party, or what scouting parties had to do with the apparent lateness of their newest arrivals, or even what said scouting parties were scouting.

It was all a rather disheartening reminder of just how out of touch with everything currently going on she had become. Or how confused she was with… well, everything.

The Greatjon however, was not one for subtly, and as her son descended the last of the steps out of the inner gatehouse, her nuncle the Blackfish following lockstep behind him along with a handful of the Winterfell Household Guard, he beat a fist heartily against his chest and grinned.

"Yer Grace!"

"My Lord Chancellor, Smalljon… Mother. I trust everything is ready for your departure, My Lord?"

Whatever the Greatjon responded with was sadly lost to the eldest daughter of Hoster Tully at that.

Because… that was it?


One word. Catelyn and her son had not spoken a single word in three days, three days which had themselves been preceded by weeks of increasingly dysfunctional exchanges between the two of them as Catelyn struggled to figure out what the seven hells was wrong with her son, while said son absconded himself beyond her reach in meeting after meeting and that was all she got? One word?

Catelyn felt her heart break a little.

"-and you have the letters for Lord Manderly and Maester Luwin, yes?" her son was saying, looking the Lord of Last Hearth in the eye, completely oblivious to her own inner turmoil. As had apparently become the norm recently.

"Aye, Yer Grace, all in the lockbox nice and secure," the Umber man affirmed.

"Good man. White Harbour, Deepwood Motte and Barrowton have already been informed of your impending arrival and we've received a raven from Lord Manderly detailing the reinforcements bound for Moat Cailin, so your men should have at least some comfort once you arrive there."

The Greatjon grimaced a little at that, no doubt picturing the horrors ahead while traversing the narrow threadbare causeway that ran through the Neck.

Catelyn could almost commiserate with the man, were she not currently trying and failing to catch her son's gaze.

"And the muster, Yer Grace?"

"Already underway," Robb answered firmly, a pleased look cementing itself upon his face as he continued. "Ser Roderick informs us that House Lake has mustered a third of their men and are marching to Winterfell as we speak, and runners from both the Knott's and Liddle's say the same. So, I suppose the Winter Town will be rather full by the time you arrive."

"So long as there's still a keg or two of ale left it'll be fine," Lord Umber rumbled in response, cracking a grin at a few of the surrounding men who laughed good naturedly in return.

For her part, Catelyn ignored the good natured banter that cropped up in the aftermath, instead focusing intently upon her son.

Her serious, studious, son -who Mother be praised, at least seemed not to be slouching anymore, even if his posture was as stiff as a board.

Still, Catelyn noted, sparing her eldest a quick once over as he continued to ignore her, he was looking better, healthier, even. He wasn't quite as skittish as he had been the last she saw him, nor quite as nervous -which was good, but there was something that still wasn't quite right. Cat couldn't put her finger on it, but some part of her just knew-



With a deep surge of embarrassment, Catelyn suddenly found herself looking directly at her own eyes, two pairs of them in fact, and became quite aware of more than a few other pairs of eyes watching her.

"Mother, please, I know you're not exactly happy with this decision, but say something," her son prodded quietly, the look on his face stiff and awkward.

It was yet another difference in her son that Catelyn didn't know how to respond to, because Robb had never been awkward, not with her.

Not until recently, and she said as much to him, stalking towards him even as she tried to ignore the way his shoulders tensed in response, and then tensed even further as she lifted her hand to cup his face in her hands.

"What has happened to you?" she murmured softly, her resolve to remain firm crumbling down around her as her anger at him softened a little.

Stiff, formal, and almost a stranger her son may have become, but Catelyn could still find traces of the little boy she'd raised in the man before her, and while it wasn't enough to let her forgive him completely for all he had done, she wouldn't leave what could very well be their last encounter together in anger, not when he could die on the morrow, or the day after, or-

Her son sighed. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," was all he said wryly, and then he smiled a half-smile at her, more sad than happy.

"And now I'm a King," he murmured softly. "-the whole army cheered it through the night, the smallfolk too and-"

"-and now I have a duty to see that trust repaid in full," he exhaled tiredly, fidgeting in her grip even if the determined look in his eyes did seem a tad shaky.

"You could still swear to Stannis, Robb," Catelyn found herself pointing out hopefully.

"- or to Renly even," she begged him, thinking of the one hundred thousand men-at-arms House Tyrell could muster. "It's not too late to forget this- this madness, Robb. There are two Baratheons still with honour aside from Joffrey. You could-"

"Do what?" Her son interrupted her rudely. Harshly. "Disregard the wishes of my Bannermen? Swear myself, and by extension them, to a King they don't want?"

Her son scoffed dismissively at the very notion. "I'd be facing internal rebellions from the offset. Half of the Riverlords favour Renly over Stannis and the other half the opposite, which is to say nothing of the Northern Lords who have, quite frankly, had enough of the South."

"I've already talked with them mother," Robb insisted quietly, shooting a sharp look at the back of the Lord of Last Hearth who had apparently, unnoticed by Catelyn, begun to finalise the preparations for their departure, ordering men this way and that as the baggage carts continued to be loaded.

"And what of the realm, Robb? What about the Seven Kingdoms your father fought, bled and died for?"

"Father was murdered," her son corrected her coldy, and at his tone Catelyn winced, lowering her hand from his jaw as she took a wary step backwards in surprise. "He didn't 'die' for the 'Seven Kingdoms', he was murdered, without a trial, and after giving a confession at the point of a sword."

"And all my Lords know it," he confessed in a whisper, his eyes scanning the courtyard for any within earshot that might overhear them.

There were none.

"Every single one of them knows that father was murdered, just as his father was and just as Uncle Brandon was, and more to the point, they all know who they blame for it -and it's not just Lannisters and Baratheons."

At that, Catelyn's mouth opened to respond, but her son didn't let her, he was on a tirade and he wouldn't be swayed from it.

"My Lords are tired of paying increasingly higher taxes year after year to pay off debts that are neither their own nor have been incurred in their lands. They are tired of paying for feasts and balls and tourneys at a capitol that they are never invited to, they are tired of the ever increasing Wildling raids, and the empty stores and stomachs that plague our lands in winter, and more importantly, they are tired of receiving no bloody help from those who profess to 'rule them'!"

"The 'realm' as you call it, is dead -or at least it is in the minds of our Lords," Robb amended quickly, wearily rubbing the bridge of his nose in a tired gesture that struck a painful cord within Catelyn, such was its familiarity to her dearly departed Ned.

"This sentiment didn't exactly come out of nowhere, mother," her son muttered darkly, his voice low as he stepped closer, offering her the crook of his elbow in a motion that took her by ill-disguised surprise.

Gingerly, Cat took it, shooting her Uncle Bryden a questioning look as the man moved off towards the Greatjon on some errand or another.

"What exactly is going on, Robb?" she whispered calmy, forcing her voice into obedience despite the tumultuous cascade of feelings warring inside of her.

Her son didn't answer, at least not right away.

Instead, he steered them towards the sloping base of the inner walls, away from the bustling mass of men and wagons and horses and further -Catelyn suspected, from any who might potentially overhear their conversation.

"Several of the more… traditional Lords," her son started after a few steps. "-have begun arguing in council for… somewhat more drastic measures to be taken -other than just independence, I mean."

"Like repealing the entirety of the Conciliator's reforms," he added meaningfully, noticing the look of confusion on Cat's face.

"And what does that mean?"

Her son smiled tightly, though Catelyn thought the look to be rather more pained than amused.

"It means, at a minimum, a repeal of the ban on animal sacrifices-"

Catelyn started badly. "The Faith would never-"

"I know," her son said warningly, squeezing her arm briefly.

"-but it's already been proposed. I hummed and hawed and managed to delay any serious discussion on the matter until after the war is over, but it is an issue, and one of many that won't be going away anytime soon," her son admitted solemnly.

"Robb, the ban on sacrifices is perhaps the reason the Faith even tolerates the worship of the Old Gods anymore," Cat hissed fearfully, her mind racing as the implications of what her son was suggesting began to dawn on her. "If you repeal that then-"

"I know, but many don't care; Lords Fenn, Wull and other like minded men among them. As I said, this has been brewing for far longer than I think you realise. King Jaehaerys' reforms primarily relied upon the Lords of the North enforcing his laws, and while they were not popular, while the Targaryens had Dragons it wasn't a problem, fear kept the peace, but now…"

Now there were no Dragons, Catelyn realised in horror, her arm trembling as her son continued to guide them along the base of the courtyard's inner wall.

"The Iron Throne is arguably at its weakest since the Dance of Dragons," Robb started again, glancing at her with a pointed expression. "Renly and Stannis have risen in rebellion and taken the Stormlands, the Reach and the Narrow Sea Houses with them, Dorne is more likely to do nothing than side with anyone given the claimants involved in this conflict, and with the news you brought from the Vale, well… for some, it's the perfect opportunity."

"An opportunity for what, exactly," Catelyn demanded, ignoring her son's shushing as she scornfully twisted to face him, appearances be damned."Chaos? If you repeal that ban, Robb, the Faith will respond. Please tell me you do understand that, don't you?"

"I do, but it's not the only thing many want, some Lords -Lord Flint in particular, has questioned the necessity of maintaining Westerosi Common as the official court language of our new Kingdom, citing the majority of Old Tongue speakers inhabiting his lands -a sentiment Lords Umber and Karstark have both echoed to lesser degrees."

Cat gaped at him.

Madness, she thought, madness upon madness.

"Others still," her son went on, re-entwining their arms anew as he steered them onwards, oblivious to her own feelings on the matter. "-feel that now would be a good time to restore the Witenagemot that Aegon the Conqueror dissolved. Which is to say nothing of the Riverlands as a whole."

And Catelyn did not like the sound of that, not one bit. In fact, she was rather starting to like this newfound line of communication with her son less and less.

"And what are you not saying about the Riverlands, Robb?" she asked him sharply, shooting him a searching glance as if to divine the nature of what he wasn't saying merely by sight and sight alone.

"Aside from the fact that none of the Lords ruling these lands were invited to any of these talks? Or that their opinions were not really considered important despite them declaring me their King too?"

Cateyln felt herself tense a little more, though her general unease at the conversation began to turn to disbelief the more she heard.

Was this what her son had been so busy dealing with? She wondered absurdly, was this the reason for so much of his odd behaviour?

And for just how long had this all been happening under her nose?

And had Ned known of any of these… these… sentiments his Bannermen held?

Did she actually want to know?

"The entire situation is a mess," her son admitted humorlessly, squeezing her arm a little as they passed by the steps up into Riverrun's keep, shaking Catelyn from her ponderings even as they walked on.

"But it's made an even bigger mess by the fact that most of my Northern Lords assume that the Riverlands are simply being annexed by the North and are not, in fact, equal partners in this whole mad venture of ours. Many of them won't admit it, but there's already a growing faction of Lords who dream of a new Northern Empire in the making. I can personally attest to Ser Wendel Manderly even making the odd comment about possibly securing the Sisters at some unidentifiable point in the future-"


"I'm telling you all of this," her son cut her off sternly. "-because you need to know what's been happening before you go home."

"I've talked repeatedly with the Lords on the issue of independence, and I've failed, miserably, to find a way to undo this. I've tried to broach the issue of the Riverlands perhaps gaining their own independence under Uncle Edmure and the reactions I've got seem mostly to be along the lines of, 'The Stormlands ruled the Trident, the Ironborn once ruled the Trident, now it's the North's turn," he admitted grimly, ignoring the way his mother's mouth gaped at him like the sigil of her family's crest.

"-and the Riverlords themselves are little better on that front," he snorted amused, though what he found so amusing was quite beyond Catelyn. She was just horrified, and angry, but mostly horrified.

"In fact, they seem only united in their agreement that Uncle Edmure not be their King, which is apparently why I'm now stuck with them in the meanwhile. But that's by the by, the point I'm trying to make here is that we are now firmly committed to this course and no other. There are no other alternatives here, mother, none. I have no Heirs aside from Bran and Rickon, the former being a cripple and the latter a babe. If I die on campaign, the next King, or Lord of Winterfell, or whatever title they bear, will be a child, which means a long regency in any case and I need you to be prepared for that possibility. This war has barely begun and I'm already drowning in petty politics and personal ambitions and I need you to make sure that nothing happens to my brothers should the worst happen to me. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

For a moment there was silence between the two of them, tense and charged and more than a little uneasy at all that had been disclosed between mother and son, but Catelyn finally managed to nod shakily in response, even if all she actually wanted to do was rage. Rage and mourn.

Mourn for the son that she had always thought she'd known -or at least, that she had thought she'd known before this whole mess began.

Robb was good at swordplay, this Catelyn had known, but she had never suspected him to so easily be able to take a life. The Battle of the Whispering Wood and then later, at the Battle of the Camps, however, had proved otherwise.

Catelyn had also suspected, but never admitted, that her eldest son took after Ned when it came to the knife and dagger world of politics, but once again she found herself admitting that maybe, just maybe, she didn't quite know her son half as well as she'd thought she did, and she found that the thought terrified her.

"I-I will do this, Robb, if this is what you need me to," she admitted quietly. Firmly. While staring into the eyes of the stranger wearing her son's face.

"A mother's duty is to support her children," she added almost as an afterthought, the Greatjon's voice bellowing in the background as she contemplated her next words carefully. "-but youbring your sistershome with you or don't come back at all."

And then without waiting for a response, the acting Lady of Riverrun lunged at her wide eyed son and embraced him tightly.

"You be careful, Robb, you hear me?" She sniffled into his shoulder, ignoring the fact that he had yet to embrace her back.

In fact, if anything, her son seemed rather confused at the entire gesture, standing stock-still and statue-like, his arms flat along his sides, as he looked past her at the waiting column of men and carts.

"You be careful," Catelyn whispered wetly into his ear. "I'll keep Bran and Rickon safe but you bring back my girls," she cried a little more.

Slowly, hesitantly, Catelyn felt rather than saw her son lift his hands and lay his arms around her back, the palms of his hands patting haltingly atop the fabric of her dress as he held her awkwardly, like she was a stranger that had had the temerity to ambush him.

"You bring your sisters home, Robb," she implored him again, more forcefully, ignoring the voice in the back of her head screaming about wrongness, and danger, and warning.

Because while her two youngest sons might need her, and while perhaps they were still as she remembered them, right now so did her eldest child, and Lord Umber could bloody well wait a little longer.

Winterfell wasn't going anywhere.



Right, so, er… Hi, surprise, I'm not dead (and i've got a new chapter for you and everything after nearly two years so Surprise (Again)!)!

Anywho, yeah… I got nothing, zilch. No excuses. At. All. Except maybe a bad case of writer's block, which became general laziness and then wham, Covid-19 turns up, suddenly I've got loads of spare time in between not being at work -you know, on account of the lockdown and everything, and I started writing a bit and then in three days I write near seven thousand new words, flesh out my plot a whole load better, and can't seem to stop, so… yeah…

Anyway, sorry for the extremely long wait, I shall endeavour not to take so long on the next chapter and I shall leave you with the parting knowledge that next chapter we catch up on the whereabouts of a certain Ironborn Princling we all love to hate (or vice versa).

Also, if, like myself, you are from good 'ole Blighty, stay safe, stay isolated, and save our NHS!

(Oh, and I suppose the rest of you stay safe too!)

Next on OKAC:

"Theon Greyjoy hated trees. And leaves. And Crannogmen. Which was all a bit unfortunate really, considering that he was lost, in a forest, with a bunch of Frog Eaters, while surrounded by leaves.