Disclaimer: All things recognizable are property of G.R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, & company, & the asoiaf wiki.
He was too curious for his own good. He always had been.
No, not curious, he decides. He used to be reckless.
Not anymore. Never again, he vowed that day, locked in that odious cell in that odious palace.
Once freed, he learned and changed. He could not afford to be so reckless. Not if he is to honor his father, his house, and his people.
The day he was allowed out of his prison he swore he would be vigilant and to think before he acted. He made that mistake once. It nearly cost him his own life and the lives of others. He had not forgiven himself for that, even if they had. And his friends and his father's bannerman had, at least to his face. But, he never would forgive himself for his error in judgement.
His father deserved better, his people deserved better, his wife deserved better. And, so he tried to be better.
And so, aberrant behavior from others does not go unnoticed. He had been careless in the past. Never again would he fail to be vigilant.
This new vigilance allowed him to witness Catelyn and Lady Hornwood exchanging muted, frustrated grimaces before the pair of ladies withdrew swiftly in the direction of Catelyn's prayer room.
He had almost not followed. This room was not one he ventured into freely often even if this one was in his home. Besides, what was the business of women to him? Catelyn would tell him if whatever that disturbed them so was important. He trusted Catelyn, or at least as much as he could trust anyone now. Yet, he had followed, even reluctantly.
Not because he feared what he would find, however, the room itself was not his place. To have the room almost felt like a betrayal of his own gods, but, he cannot keep his own gods and deny his wife her own. His father allowed Catelyn an inobtrusive room for her own purposes.
"Besides," His father concluded, somewhat darkly, "I cannot deny Catelyn her gods when she, at least, proved suitable in every way that matters."
His father admitted to him in private that Robert had been prepared to let Lyanna worship as she pleased for all that their hopes for Lyanna came to naught but ashes.
But, Catelyn was different. She knew her duty which was now to his house.
He agreed, after all, Catelyn has been more than suitable. He will treasure forever the look of awe and gratitude on her face when he presented her with the chambers. And besides, at that time…she had prayed for him. Clearly, her prayers worked. One room was hardly a sacrifice.
She was not the only one pleased by the gesture. The Ladies Manderly seemed charmed by it. The same went for the few Vale guests and cousins who bother visiting anymore. Not everyone felt as he did among the Weirwoods. He, of all people, knew this.
His father, too, enjoyed knowing there was a proper lady in Winterfell to keep it in order. And Catelyn tried in every way to adapt, how could he not give her this when he liked ladies who tried to please him? Even Barbrey-
He inhaled sharply.
He and Barbrey enjoyed themselves in their youth, but, that was all that was ever going to be. Barbrey should have understood.
The last time he was in Barrowton before his return he'd been explaining how he'd gotten the nearly healed his arm. His future good-father's ward had taken upon himself to challenge him to a duel for Catelyn's hand of all things. He had been humoring the boy and Catelyn's brother when he agreed to it. It was never going to be a challenge, after all, the boy was a small slip of a thing. Still, he had not counted on the boy's viciousness even though the result was exactly what he expected.
Barbrey accosts him and they settle in an alcove. "You did not break the betrothal?"
"Why would I do that, Barbrey?"
The boy was no reason to throw away a perfectly good betrothal, let alone court his father's displeasure. He had not expected Hoster to send the boy away and he said as much to him, but, Catelyn had been grateful he went easy on the boy she considered a little brother.
"What about us?"
He frowns. Us? What us? He was to be married and she knew that! He says, "Barbrey, you know there can be no 'us' not anymore. I am leaving for Riverrun in a month."
She hissed. "I gave you my maidenhead!"
"You gave it willingly."
She puffs up and he squints. "We enjoyed ourselves. Surely, you knew that was all it was going to be. My father and I have given our words. I cannot go back on that. You know that."
She had slapped him and stormed off.
He had deserved that. Still, he had been relieved when Barbrey turned her attentions towards her own husband. After all, William was a good man. He wished them well.
He learned his lessons well. Too well, even. He would wish well of anyone who can find happiness where it should be directed.
At any rate, he knew too well that it was Catelyn's desires to keep the match that stayed Hoster's newly reluctant hands. For her, he can unbend enough, he thought at the time. And now, look! In a few months, Catelyn would give him a child.
The very idea puts a smile on his face. Him, a father? Mere months ago, he had not known if he was going to live or to marry at all.
What is a single room in the face of that?
The merriment he felt still melted away. Once, he had not taken his betrothal as seriously as he should have. Now, he knew better and strove to be better. The only other woman he might have concerned himself with was Lyanna, but, King's Landing changed all that.
Catelyn was the only woman he concerned himself with. Perhaps he may have a daughter and that would change but he would freely admit that now.
And so today, he follows Catelyn and Lady Hornwood. He trusts Catelyn, of course, and ordinarily never desires to encroach on a moment with other ladies without him, however, the too quiet words with those exasperated expressions on their faces and furtive glances before they made their carefully orchestrated exit gave him pause. Catelyn would not flee to her prayer room and Lady Hornwood would not look as though she wanted the ground to swallow her whole for something minor.
Though he prays both his gods and Catelyn's remain kind and that he should not be the master of his house any time soon because that would mean that he has lost his father, he has the right to know what happens with his wife. Once he trusted his people implicitly and it landed him in prison. He'd been beaten and bruised and the scars, both of the body and the mind, still remain even though he is no longer in that dank cell.
He waits until he sees Lady Donella exit. When she sees him, her eyes go wide. "Lord Brandon!"
He smiles gently. "Is my lady still in her prayer?" He asks though he doubts they were praying from what he remembered the women had looked like.
Lady Hornwood makes a noncommittal sound and hurriedly leaves him. Liking this less and less, he frowns. Before he goes into the room, he takes a deep breath and knocks.
At seeing him, she pales slightly, "Brandon!"
He shoves down his apprehension enough to ask, "I have not disturbed you, have I?"
She shakes her head a bit too fast, "No". As if she realized his mounting concern, she says, "I was asking the Mother for guidance."
His uneasiness grows. "Is everything alright with the babe? Have you seen the Maester? Shall I call someone?"
She shakes her head and smiles. It is too small. "The babe is well enough; quiet for once."
They both share a laugh. He almost presses his hands against her stomach but restrains himself. Their child has taken to kicking furiously in the morning. "A proper warrior" Greatjon Umber had said when he heard. Perhaps his child would be a girl. He would love to see what the man says then! Then again, does the blood of Arya Flint not flow through him?
Somewhat relieved, he presses, "What then?"
She swallows heavily. Catelyn is usually not so nervous. Surely, whatever it is, it cannot be that bad. "I-" She starts and stops.
He smiles encouragingly. "Best at the beginning, then."
Catelyn's lips purse in some disapproval and no shortage of exasperation. "Your sister-"
He holds in a sigh.
His wife and sister are cordial, but, were too different to be friends and that was before…He could have tried to bring them closer, but, how can he expect something of his wife that he cannot bring himself to do anymore. Not after that one heated exchange.
"You were betrothed, Lyanna! How could you?"
Lyanna's lips curled back. "So were you, but, that did not stop you from bedding others did it?"
From the corner of his eyes, he can see Catelyn's fist bunch into her skirts, but, her other reaches for his. As a warning or a precaution, he cannot say. Neither can Lyanna who has gone white as though she just remembered that Catelyn was in the room.
Catelyn's hand is stiff and he knows they will exchange words later, but, the words that come out of Catelyn's mouth now are as cold as ice and warm him all the same. "And yet, I am the only one he ever called wife."
Lyanna flinches as the arrow hit its mark. She had done the same when the King laughed in her face. That man had been gleeful in reminding Lyanna that his faithless son already had a wife and a family; the only one anyone would ever acknowledge.
Though he had not been forced to witness it, he knew the words their father had for Lyanna had been worse.
Once he might have taken her part. Now, he cannot bring himself to even pity her.
He swallows heavily. "What happened?"
Catelyn licks her lips. "She has been writing letters best left never put to paper."
His heart sinks even as his temper rises. Lyanna knew better or he thought she did. Had she learned nothing!
He exhales. He feels his hands clenching into fists. "She has not been trying to write to him, has she?" Damn Rhaegar Targaryen to the deepest pits of all the hells!
Catelyn shakes her head, not that the denial helps. Catelyn pulls open the book embossed with the symbol of the Seven Pointed Star.
He looks down and reads.
At least she was not foolish enough to write to that thrice damned fool. The man's wife, who clearly is no willing recipient of his sister's correspondence as her own letter shows, is no better! Worse perhaps.
He should be stronger to overcome that and his bitterness, but, he cannot bring himself to speak to Lyanna unless he has to. He should be kinder, but, does he have it in him to be kind to her anymore? The loss of their once easy camaraderie pains him and perhaps it may pain her, yet, he still wakes gasping for breath and the slowly clinking of dripping water he finds himself thinking he's still trapped in the Black Cells.
He had been going to his wedding, from keep to keep in joviality to marry the woman he had been bound to. So eager to marry and be made merry. Lyanna had been his charge while they made their way to Riverrun. His father had trusted him. And he lost her. He searched, oh how he searched…his fear turning to anger.
And now with Rhaegar in his cell, there was only one place for his anger to turn and his father's.
Ned, to his credit, does not even look towards him. Probably, because he knew he would not like what he saw. "Lyanna made a mistake."
His father stares incredulously. "I sent her south to see her brother wed, not to make a mockery of our gods or the laws of men. She made no mistake; those were her choices. I will not abide by them when I had not given her leave to make them."
"So, you left her child in the south? Amongst the Faith. The boy is our kin, our pack. The lone wolf cannot survive."
His father's lip curls into a sneer. "Aye, only pack does, but, the boy is born of a dragon."
"And you mean to punish the boy for Lyanna's failings?"
His father's face grows cold. "That boy has our blood, I cannot refute that. What I will not do is give even the appearance of approval for any part of that farce. If that means the boy will stay there where his other grandsire desires it, so be it. Tell me since you spent years in the South, would you demand the same of Jon Arryn?"
Ned's shoulders slump.
Now he feels his face growing dark as Catelyn continues to explain. "It was a stroke of luck that Lady Hornwood was able to bring this back up with her rather than the Princess try to send it through a raven."
It does not surprise him that the cantankerous king would be cautions. If he has changed, how could that man not!
Perhaps it was a blessing of their gods and the Manderlys' that Lady Donella was of an age with Princess Elia and had gone down to King's Landing. Still, he asks, "And she decided to write to you?"
Catelyn huffed heavily. "The Princess knows her correspondence is being checked, even those that go to her brothers. She feared Lyanna would keep trying and in different ways."
He frowns. "Noticeable ways, you mean?"
Catelyn nods grimly.
He would not want the king to find out either. Aerys may have let him leave the Black Cells; it does not mean the man had not put him there or relished the opportunity to find fault in his son or in others, such as his sister.
He turns away from Catelyn, lest she think it was her he was angry with.
Was it not enough his sister violated the hospitality of their hosts; that his sister, betrothed to Robert who was their brother's best friend, claimed to be married to his cousin! There can be no marriage for his sister to man already wed and a father. He said as much to his pale-faced sister and the red-faced charlatan she took up with.
The suspicious king, who had been the one to lock him up, smiled agreeably at him then. The queen and the charlatan's wife, he could see, were stone faced, though the latter had one hand clenched tightly in her gown while the other was linked with the queen's.
His attention had been mostly for the king who then looked satisfied. Aerys had said, as his chains were removed, their gods do not allow for that either, though he directed that towards his fool of a son!
At that time, he had wanted to throw back into those Southron faces that he already knew about what their gods allowed and did not. He was not some ignorant savage! While it was to no great degree, he had studied Catelyn's gods, after all they were also the gods of Ned's foster father and their other Vale cousins.
Catelyn, both in letters and when he visited Riverrun, told him of her gods and their rites. Neither of their ways involve a man with a wife taking another one, even if one party was a Targaryen! There was no one in Westeros who knew did not know that, except it seemed his sister and that fool of a prince!
Then, he held his tongue. He let his tongue get himself and others into trouble. Then, he was too shocked at his sister's betrayal to question his jailer being the one who set those fools straight.
The rest of his attention was for his father who, he knew, was straining not to react to the surprises Lyanna had dealt them.
And now that fresh anger grows in him again, because whatever their father and Aerys tried to impart still has not taken if this is what she spends time doing. He cannot let it continue…especially if she is using people in their service to disobey their master's clear wishes. Someone must have snuck that letter out of Winterfell for Lyanna. She was not allowed anywhere near the rookery anymore. This was even true for Benjen who had known of Lyanna's plans and said nothing.
If Lyanna had not learned from this, he hoped Ben at least had!
Does it make him a poor brother? To Lyanna, perhaps, but, he has a father, a wife, and two brothers to think of. Lyanna's actions has dulled their position in the eyes of the North and Westeros. His own part in that mess will haunt him till the end of his days. In looking for his sister he nearly got himself killed and his friends and some would-be friends who had been Ned's. They'd been in the Black Cells for months. How close to death had he been! He nearly led others to their own demise, including his own father!
And all because he acted without thought to what doing so will cause, just as Lyanna was still doing!
Lyanna's face grows pale when she learns their father waited until Aerys replaced the dowry they did not have the heart to ask Robert for and once she learned of the arrangements made for the child. "Father you cannot!"
His father was a stern man, but, in this, the chilly mien closely resembled Stark kings of old as shown down in their crypts. "It is done, Lyanna, and we will have no more words."
"My child, Father. You cannot-"
His father's face hardens. "I can and I will and there will be no more words from you! Our business here is settled and now you, Brandon, and I are going to the Eyrie to collect Ned and the four of us are going back to Winterfell along with our men. You have disrespected me and our house long enough. When I am your father and your lord, you will do as I require. Just remember, if you decide that is not to your liking, then you will have none of the privileges being my daughter and my subject offers."
His face darkens. Obviously, that warning had been ignored. He takes another steading breath even as the parchments crush together in his fists.
Of course, she had learned little. Before, whatever misdeed she had done was always forgiven. Even in this, they squared the result of that farce away, but, they still brought Lyanna home in the hopes that their humiliation fade away. They tried to watch her more closely; clearly, it was not enough.
His father will not take this well. Father had taken none of this well and made no secret he expected better of all of them.
His father had asked, "How much longer do you think our men would look to us for guidance if our own house was not in order?"
Those words had been for Ned, but, he felt them keenly. He is his father's heir. He should have acted like it, no matter what Lyanna's actions were.
Ned, however, sighs. "But Father surely there was another-"
Father cuts him off. "Supposing one of our own bannerman arranges a betrothal for his daughter, as is his due, only to have it broken by the wayward girl. Supposing it is your own daughter one day. Would you let your own children disrespect you so? Or perhaps you should like to see me brought low again when any man refuses to give me their daughters for you or Benjen because they fear what their daughters would turn into should they marry into our house because they believe Lyanna's licentiousness is excused."
He feels his face heat. Had he listened to tempered advice he would not have found himself in Aerys' clutches. His now Good-father's words of caution were with merit, as it turned out. But, he too knew that if he had not been betrothed to Catelyn already Hoster Tully would have not entertained the thought now.
If he is to be a father one day…if he deserves to follow his father, these decisions would be for him to make. And he means to be deserving of that privilege.
Benjen argues, "That would never happen. You are respected."
The speed by which his father's head turns is a shock. But, not so much the heat in his father's glare.
His father, it seemed, had the same lesson for Benjen. "How long will that be when our own friends, such as Robert, cannot trust our given word? And, do not for one moment think I forgot your part in this, Ben."
All of them lowered their heads. Even though Benjen was still young, he was not so young that he should not be made to realize the ways of the world. Their father deserved better.
Now that he was to be a father, he felt this knowledge more keenly. If Catelyn graces him with a daughter, he will have her taught better. The same would go if he has a son. His children would do their duty; to understand that their privilege comes at a cost. It was a lesson he was almost too late in learning.
Catelyn urges him, "Calm yourself, Brandon."
Despite that, he lets out a growl. He'd been a fool rushing towards the Red Keep. He will admit it freely. But, would he have gone had he not feared for his sister's safety?
And now Lyanna dares this? Hasn't she done enough?
Gods. Does she think that they are all fools? That they would not have found out? Or that Aerys does not check letters coming into the Red Keep? Does she think at all? Does she even care? Was there not enough damage done to their standing?
"I have to do something."
They have only just been making things right.
He turns intent on seeking Lyanna out Catelyn grabs his wrists. "Brandon. Do nothing hasty, no matter what it is you decide to do."
Seeing her warm eyes, he takes a breath and clamps down on his anger. Catelyn does not deserve his ire or for him to cause her worry, especially now that she is heavy with child. Though Catelyn's gods were not his, he looks at the altar and the Seven Pointed Star and thinks of his own gods. He needs guidance and he cannot go to his father in his current state.
"Will you come with me to the Weirwoods?"
Catelyn agrees. This warms him. His father and mother had the same gods, but, they shared a life until she passed. As close has he came to losing his life, he is hoping to have one worth sharing, and he must share it with Catelyn as he swore he would. As he does not feel at peace in front of her gods, she is not comfortable with his yet. Still, he is glad.
Before they leave the prayer room, he gives her the letters back. "Put these back in the book until we it is time to meet with Father."
Catelyn asks, hesitantly, "Are you certain?"
He had thought to confront Lyanna first, but, that would do no good. Lyanna would just ignore him and find another way to go behind his back. They cannot afford another mistake and she intends to continue making them!
He also does not want to show his father of Lyanna's continuing perfidy, but, he must. He nearly got his father murdered because they were left ignorant. He will not disrespect his father or the household he will be lord to one day.
He nods. "Yes, Father must know. I cannot know what she thinks but she should never write to that woman. I do not know how far the Princess' kindness and discretion will extend. Or for how long, but, I know Lyanna. She will persist in this foolishness and it needs to end as soon as possible. I will not keep my father unaware."
Before this, he had never been the type to see pain on his sister's face but, his father made opinions known. They could not seem weak. The cannot even appear to let anyone think that they agreed with Lyanna's actions. Ned, too, found out that their father, once a steadfast man was less eager to be accommodating to his children.
His father shakes his head, "Would you respect a Warden of the North who cannot control his own children? Do you think Aerys will not strip me of the title and give it to some other lord to see us brought lower than Lyanna's actions have caused us to be?"
Ned puffs up. "He would never do that. It was his son who lured Lyanna."
His father huffs. "Starks have ruled the North for many years but go look for the Flints of Breakstone Hill. And as for the wayward prince, ask Brandon where he is, and that is the man's son, his first born."
As they made their way towards the Godswood, slowly and carefully, because he had linked his arm with Catelyn's and she could not walk as swiftly as either was used to, he wonders what Ned would have said if he had been told Rhaegar Targaryen now occupied the same cell Aerys previously thrust him in.
Perhaps Ned had understood he would dislike the answer because Ned never asked.
When he settled Catelyn upon a fallen log in front of their Heart Tree, he took in the expanse their woods; the deep blackness of the pool; the red of the leaves; and most importantly, the aged, carved face of the Weirwood who has been here before the Starks and will be long after all of them are gone.
He let himself be calmed in these woods in the presence of his wife who was heavy with child. These woods speak of the past and the now. He knelt and prayed for guidance from his gods, for continued peace and prosperity for his house, and for wisdom about how to best achieve it.
Upon their return and those accursed letters in one hand and the other still wrapped in Catelyn's, he knocks the door to his father's solar.
His father rises as he dismisses the Steward. He looks between them as he waves them in chairs. "Brandon?" Father hesitates, "Is everything well with the babe?"
He wishes the relief on his father's face at their assurance would turn into serenity and remain that way. It will not because he will destroy it. But, he must destroy it if they mean to arm themselves.
He offers his father both the letters.
His father's face grows from white to red and back to white. "I see."
His voice is colder than the frostiest of snows. Otherwise, there is no reaction from his father who turned to Catelyn. "You received them how?"
She tells Father the same thing she told him. "Lady Hornwood had gone to pay her respects at the Great Sept and the Princess, I believe, thought it better than to trust response to the Red Keep's ravens."
His father nods calmly but the weariness makes him seem so much older than he ought to. Father grimaces, "Do you think the Princess let anyone beyond Lady Hornwood know of this?"
Catelyn shakes her head. "I doubt it. She might have sent the raven if she wanted this known."
His father seems to consider this. He almost wants to ask how Catelyn could be so sure, but, he thinks better of it.
He thinks about what would have happened if he had remained a thoughtless fool and went about fathering a child on a woman only for her to dare write Catelyn as Lyanna has done.
He shakes his head. Catelyn would be furious, deservedly so. But, would she have been so discreet? He cannot say, after all the women of the South have their own understanding of the ways of the world and of how they venture in it while he is of the North. The only time he ventured south was for Catelyn and he has no desire to go again unless it was to present any children bears him to his Good-father.
Even so, if he had made that mistake, if he learned of such a thing, he doubts he would react with anything approaching discretion, mother of his child or not!
Father turns to him, "It matters not I suppose. Since you brought this to me, what are you thinking Brandon."
He frowns. "We went to the Godswood."
His father nodded approvingly. "You came to a conclusion?"
He had, but, will his father agree? Will his father take such a risk?
Even with Catelyn's hand in his, he feels outrage that Lyanna would even dare to compare their actions. More than that, guilt filled him. Had he been a better man during his betrothal, perhaps Lyanna would not have disgraced herself by blatantly disrespecting their ways and their gods.
But, he quickly pushes the thought down.
They had not been the same. He married the woman he was promised to. He honored the vows he made to his gods in the proper rights with his family as his witnesses.
He lifts the hand joined in his and gives the back of Catelyn's palms a kiss. "I have not always been a good man. In that she speaks true, but, I claim only one wife, and that is you. When we spoke our words, I meant it then and I mean it now. There will not be another."
Once he married, he had not strayed. Having watched the princess at the King's side, stiff-backed and he knows full well it was not worth the strife it would cause for those who can claim to be his. He was no Rhaegar Targaryen.
He takes a breath even as he takes Catelyn's hand into his own. "It was only after my marriage that I fully realized where I should stand. It tempered me. There was no other choice and there will be no other choice."
It was not entirely marriage that caused this change in him and they all knew it, but, Lyanna has not come to understand that her actions affect more than just herself.
Father frowns. "That would be wise, but, we tried that remember. As much as I would like to see my daughter wed in the proper way…" His father's frown deepens. "You know the Baratheons will no longer entertain the match."
He almost laughs. They will not. He shakes his head. "I do," he answers. That marriage is dead and perhaps any tie between them. If Robert has written to Ned since that time, Ned has not mentioned it.
His father next says, grimacing, "But, you must have thought on it if you bring it to me. I do not think you meant a Southron match, let alone a high one. Even our Blackwood cousins…"
He and Catelyn look at one another in silent understanding about how fruitless such a thing was. Catelyn's sister is to marry Elbert, they had learned. Edmure was still a boy, not that Hoster would have agreed to such a thing. No other great house would touch Lyanna now that she repudiated Robert and in such a fashion. If the Martell princess told her brothers about this, even a wild second son like Oberyn Martell would probably try to poison Lyanna more than extend a proposal of marriage.
And the matter of faith…
He shakes his head, "No, a Northern house would be best." Expecting Lyanna to flourish in the South now would be a fool's errand and they have already been made fools.
His father looks at them both, and guesses, "I take it you both discussed options?"
He and Catelyn share another glance. "Yes," they reply in unison.
He and Catelyn discussed potential matches at great length, trying to come up with a solution to this matter.
He knew what he was doing when he married Catelyn; he had been prepared to overlook their differences. Lyanna, too, had in a way, when it came to that fool, but, the things she should have not overlooked were far greater in number than a matter of their practiced faith.
Once a man who had heirs in need of a mother may have suited Lyanna. Now, such a man, or rather, his deceased wife's people would fear Lyanna would try to supplant their kin in favor of children she would give her would be husband. After all, Lyanna tried to claim her sham of a marriage and the issue from it was legitimate while the man she called 'husband' had a living wife with two healthy children, one, a son even! No, not even that would do. He was staring at proof that Lyanna was still trying to get the wife to agree to the farce when Aerys all but laughed in Lyanna's face!
His father warns, "Our people are just as proud."
He says, "It need not be a lord or an heir."
That dream was dead even if none of them could say as much aloud. Their own people had expectations about the brides they brought into their own houses. Of the houses that were suitable for Lyanna, the Glovers or those in their service will not have her. The same went for Greatjon's line, the Tallharts, and the Manderlys though latter, he dismissed first. They were not the only ones he dismissed.
Still, a Stark, the daughter of the Lord of Winterfell was worth something even if she was soiled in the eyes of many. He and Catelyn agreed upon that much.
His father exhales, looking pained. "What were you thinking, Brandon? If not that."
By virtue of their kinship and their ambition to keep their familial ties strong, they would at least consider it. They were also plentiful in number to consider a match, no matter that Lyanna no longer had her virtue.
His father shakes his head. "Our cousin Rickard will not agree for his sons. Too prideful."
His father sighed the last words, but, there is a truth that they all knew: in this, they were the ones who could not afford pride. Not anymore. But, he needs peace for his house and Lyanna cannot be left unattached.
What one does in their childhood home is different when one is married into another. After all, that is the point: things cannot go on in the way they have.
And so with a heavy heart but a clear mind he says, "Arnolf has a number of grandsons, by his sons and his daughters."
His father stares. For a moment, he wonders if he mis-stepped. Then, to his relief, his father nods, rubbing a hand across his forehead, looking far too tired. "Under the circumstances that should be agreeable."
Agreeable where before even Rickard Karstark might have seen it as an honor. If that thought pains him, he shudders to think about what his father feels.
He asks, "When should we write to them?"
His father's spine straightens. "I will write myself. It is a father's and a lord's duty. One I am glad at least one of my children begin to understand."
He wishes he could take joy in the praise but why he is receiving it will not allow for none.
As if his father understood, he says, "Go now, both of you."
He and Catelyn rise. But, before they do, he asks what his father wants them to do about the letters.
His father grows hard once again. "I will keep them or now, but, tell no one about this, not even Lyanna. Understood?"
He escorts Catelyn out of the room feeling just as hollow as when he entered it.
A few weeks later Arnolf Karstark, along with some of his grandsons of appropriate age, joins them in Winterfell. While less frequent visitors than Rickard Karstarks children, their presence is not remarked upon.
When he knows his father means to settle things with Arnolf his father demands his presence. "You are my heir. I would have your council".
All of the ones Arnolf brought with him are hard in the way that proves they are true men of the North, but, he cannot say he cares for all of them. Arnolf, himself, is not the kind of man he could ever call a friend. Neither was Lord Rickard, but, they could not be particular in this as they could have once.
Cley, the second son of Arnolf's eldest daughter, is the one he likes best. And he is an Umber too, through Mors' second son. Cley has a sharp mind and even has the grey eyes which speak of his Stark blood. He supposes Rodrik, Arthor's eldest, would have suited, but, Cley enjoys riding horses far more than Rodrick does and has a more enjoyable wit. The rest left plenty to be desired even if this was his idea. Catelyn had nearly laughed herself sick when he admitted as such.
To his relief, his father agrees on his preference even though the dowry Arnold, and by extension, Mors, demanded is much higher than his father would have hoped to settle on for the youngest son of Hoarfrost Umber's second son. Even if it stings, and it does, as Catelyn reminds him, they had expected that.
It was on that very last evening of the men's stay his father gathers him, Catelyn, and Lyanna to his solar.
As he expected, when they learned that the wedding would be in a month, Lyanna was aghast. "What? No!"
It moved his father little and moved him less when Lyanna looks to him, perhaps in the hopes that he would counteract his father's wishes. If only she knew.
His father continues, "It had already been arranged." To Catelyn, his father says, "I do not wish to burden you unduly in your state, but, I would appreciate it if you took charge of the preparation though I know that Cley's mother will be joining us shortly."
Catelyn nods swiftly, not looking anywhere else besides their father.
Lyanna's eyes narrow. "That is why you had them brought here? To sell me off to anyone who would have me now?"
Once, that tone of betrayal might have stung. No longer.
His father straightens and stares at Lyanna full in the face. "Were I a better father, you would have understood your responsibilities long before now. Mayhap, you will learn your duties under a different roof."
Even he winces when Lyanna's face crumples. She says, "How can you say that, Father?"
His father pulls out the offending letters and thrusts one at her. As she takes it in hand and starts to read it, Lyanna's face pales. "Where-" She swallows and stammers, "Where did you get that?"
He grimaces. Of course, that is what she is concerned about!
Father growls, "It is enough that I did."
To Catelyn, his father asks as he plucks the letter out of Lyanna's hands, "Good-daughter we have kept you long enough. Go rest. But, dismiss the servants as you go, please?"
He takes a deep breath. The fewer people around the better it will be. His father, clearly, is of the same mind.
With a quick squeeze of his hand, Catelyn, seeming relieved, leaves the three of them. How he longs to be able to go, but, he is his father's heir and this was his idea even if his father is his lord.
By this time Lyanna's face is entirely white. "So, you are just throwing me away, like you threw my son away."
Father snarls. "I am arranging for your future, the best I can manage now, thanks to your own efforts. Of course, you may refuse the match; but I doubt you would like the consequences."
Brazenly, she asks, "And what happens when I do?"
He longs to shake some sense into her, but, does not so much as flinch when Father only says, "Then you will no longer be welcome in Winterfell!"
Her face quickly crumbles, "Father, you cannot be serious!"
His father's face may as well be made of stone as he rises to hurl those letters into the grate. "I have had enough!"
When Lyanna lurches forward, his father steps between her and the grate. "What a poor father I must have been to have such a disobedient daughter."
Father shakes his head, looking defeated. "Brandon, my son, from now on, I leave her to your charge and your wife's. I grow weary of trying to be both Lord of Winterfell and her father when she refuses to be my daughter. Would that you have more strength than I."
With that his father flees his own sanctum and his own throat goes tight.
Lyanna looked ready to cry. "Brandon, please? Can you make Father see sense? If anyone can make him understand, it is you!"
He snarls, "Are you happy now? Look at what you did to him! Our own father!" Has she not put them through enough?
"I cannot marry father's choice-"
He sneers. "Cley is mine!"
Her eyes snapped towards his, "What? No!"
He snorts. "Why not? Cley has no baseborn children you can hold against him like you did Robert. He is of the North and follows our gods. And do not say you are married. We already know that was no true marriage despite what you or that whoreson prince tried to squawk about."
Her cheeks flush red. Anger? Humiliation? Frustration? Possibly all of them and nothing she has not given to them in spades and so he is not bothered in the least when she hurls her accusations. "So, what you are just going to let Father sell me to the Karstarks! He's not even a Karstark, his mother is!"
He laughs. Oh, that is what she finds offensive? What about the offenses his father had to suffer? The scorn of other houses…the sneers…Southron goods are slower to flow North now. Not so long ago the lumber and iron of Winterfell was sought after by most, now, he heard some have started to turn to Bolton and other houses.
While knowing that Karhold and Last Hearth are the keeps nearest the Dreadfort who sits between them and Winterfell did not feature heavily in his choice of Cley, it is not something he can ignore.
Before…Father had been in talks for Sybelle Locke for Ned. Now Lady Sybelle is a Glover. If Lyanna throws away another match, perhaps Ned might not even warrant Jonelle Cerwyn! And what about Ben?
Keeping his voice level, he asks, "Yes, you are correct, he is an Umber by his father. What of it? Would you prefer Rodrik, then? Arthos? Surely, not Martyn?" That one was odious. Even his father had not liked him and Ned, usually the most cautious of them all, had not taken to him.
Shocked by this, Lyanna shakes her head wildly. "This is not you, Brandon! You would have never-"
You are supposed to be my brother."
He shakes his head, "I was my father's son first. After you leave Winterfell, married as is proper with our father's blessings or by your own volition, I will be the future Lord of Winterfell though that will not happen for years if our gods remain kind. Until then, Father and I must also see to Ned's and Ben's futures, not just yours."
She laughs bitterly, "Is this where you tell me that theirs will be tainted if I don't marry where Father demands. Are you going to ban me from Winterfell too?"
He squares his shoulders. "I will not allow you to make a liar of our father again any more than I will let you disturb the peace of this house further."
She brushes back tears. "How could you do this to me?"
He thinks back to that awful cell his own brashness led him to. He thinks about his father, his wife, and his future child. He thinks of his brothers who have yet to find their way.
Before he can even answer, Ned comes through the door looking disturbed.
"What happened to Father?"
To Ned, he explains, "Lyanna is marrying Cley Umber."
Ned blinks in surprise. "What?"
He tells them both: "Within a month. Here. It's been decided."
To Ned, he says, "Once we get her to her rooms tonight, she is not to leave them without an escort."
Disturbed, Ned looks between them. "What happened?"
His jaw clenches. "Rhaegar's wife did not take kindly to Lyanna writing her."
Lyanna's face grows white. "She sent it to Father?"
He holds in a snort. Was her horror now because she thought the woman would take any action besides what Lyanna demands or because she thought no one would find out? Either way, he will not clear Lyanna's misapprehension. If she wanted father to never found out her misdeeds she should have committed none.
Ned, aghast, demands, "Lyanna you did not!"
To that, Lyanna had no reply except to cross her arms against her chest.
He shakes his head, "Did you think a woman whose own children live on Aerys' sufferance will extend herself for you or yours? That woman in particular?"
Without waiting for an answer, he turns to Ned, "Until the wedding, if she needs to leave her rooms, it will be only to the Great Hall for meals or the Godswood. Even then, it will be with Father, one of us, Catelyn, Serena Poole, and Cley; not even Ben. Am I clear?"
Ned grimaces, but, remains silent. Lyanna declares, "Father did not even say that!"
Ned looks to him in askance. He sets his jaw, "You are welcome to see if he disagrees with what I say."
Seeing her flush deeply and Ned's resignation, he suspects neither will. If they do, remembering his father's newest task, he doubts they will like the answer.
Once he knows his brother and sister are where they should be, he checks in on Catelyn. Even though he hoped she would be asleep, he suspected she would not.
She frowns, "It's done then?"
"The announcement will be made tomorrow. The ravens will go to every keep after that. Lyanna and Ned know."
She nods, though she looks apprehensive. "How did she take it?"
He scoffs, "Not well, but, she will do her duty. Father will not allow anything different and neither will I."
The Starks ruled in the North for centuries. They are respected. He means to ensure that it remains true. He had been betrothed to Catelyn since she was two and ten. Lyanna was older than that when Father sought to tie Robert to her. That still proved too long. There will be no mistakes this time. He means to ensure it. They cannot afford another one, not one Lyanna causes.
He takes Catelyn's hand. "With our fathers' blessings we married in a union that neither of our gods can deny and now look at us. We will have a child who will be beloved and welcomed by all of Winterfell and, perhaps, the whole of the North. Am I so wrong in wanting that for her? And for my brothers when their own time comes?"
She smiles ruefully. "No, you are not." Even if Lyanna does not see it that way.
But Catelyn was always mindful of her duty. Just as he was now.
Ever since he was a young boy, he had known the course his life would take. He freely accepted the privileges, reveled in them even. Yet, he nearly lost everything he had because he ignored the responsibilities those privileges were tied to. He believed himself to be impervious to all that came his way. He cannot be that anymore. His family and his people need him to be something else. He grew up. He hopes this teaches Lyanna to do the same.
"Can I stay the night?"
She smiles softly at him before she shuffles back. He waves away her attempt to lift up the furs.
She looks at him in askance as he settles himself atop the bed after taking off his shoes.
He says, "You always overheated the room dreadfully."
She slaps at his arm, defending herself, "It is not warm at all. You are just made of ice."
"Ice is down the hall. Would you like me to go get it? Perhaps, show you how well I can wield it?"
She snorts, "If you keep talking about the way I keep my rooms, I will wield it myself."
Tomorrow, he can weather the strength of Lyanna's glares or even the responsibilities of being his father's heir. Right now, he just wants to share a laugh with his wife.