Chapter 1: Robert's Rebellion
Eddard Stark was tired of war. He did not revel in combat like his recently deceased brother Brandon or like his friend Robert. For as long as he could remember, he had wanted peace, however there was little peace to be found in a household with both Brandon and Lyanna and their rampaging Wolfsblood. He always thought it was the other way around with the Wolfsblood possessing them. He sat outside the marketplace near the Stony Sept where all the wounded were being tended to. His eyes glazed over in thought as he stared at the injured and the dead. The men of the North had laid down their lives to save his friend Robert, who was busy hiding in a whorehouse while they fought to save a man who was their liege lord's friend.
He was covered in a disgusting mess of blood and mud and smelled worse than he looked. The smell of the dead and injured had not helped matters. House Stark was fortunate that Martyn Cassel had escaped Kings Landing with Ice after the murder of his father and brother despite attempts by the crown to confiscate the Valyrian Steel greatsword of House Stark. He absently cleaned the blood and grime off the sword and placed it back in its sheath. Hearing his stomach growl, he stood and limped his way to the closest fire with cooked meat on it.
As he ate, he heard his fellow Northman soldiers talking. They had not recognized the new Warden of the North through all the blood and grime covering him. "Why the fuck did we just spend all that time and effort to save Lord Baratheon, while he fucked whores? Not only that he has been fleeing since Ashford", one gruff voice said.
"Well it's not all bad. We get to kill the Seven worshipping fools and show them the strength of the North", a young voice chipped in.
"Don't be a fool boy. The North need not prove its strength. The last time a Stark came south with an army behind him, Cregan Stark led childless, homeless, unwed, or younger sons and secured the Pact of Ice and Fire and became the Hand of the King. Those Valyrian sisterfuckers never fulfilled the Pact and had the sheer fucking gall to burn Lord Rickard. This is about revenge for what they did to our Lord Paramount and his heir, nothing more. The new Lord Stark is already betrothed to the trout and fostered with the Vale. The North is not likely to prosper under him. He knows nothing of the North and the ways of the old gods. Rickards southern ambitions may just kill the North.", the gruff voice continued.
"What do you mean, Mors?", asked another voice.
"8000 years the Starks led the North and we survived without the South. Suddenly the dragons show up and it's only in the last 300 years that we get fucked. The Nights Watch became a joke, the North had to started buying food from the Reach and the Riverlands, the fucking Ironborn continue to reave and we can't go and put the fuckers down because the dragons made Lords out of those squids. That bitch Alysanne and her fucking Wise brother stole the New Gift from the North too. 300 years later The Lord Stark and his heir are dead and the spare was raised in the lands where the Andals landed. The death of the North is in the hands of the Lone Wolf now." fumed Mors.
"I've heard he is more like a Quiet Wolf and is as honorable as an Arryn. Things won't be so bad", said a soldier in Riverlander garb.
"The fuck has that got to do with anything boy?", the Mors asked after sipping his mead, "His honor is isn't going to help him in the North. The North respects strength. Not just of mind and body but of character. It's a hard place and it breeds a hard people. You Southerners wouldn't understand. Your winters are shorter and softer down here. You don't understand the strength of will it takes for an old man to skip meals for his children and walk out into a blizzard in the name of a hunt so his family may eat what little they have. The Northemen march to avenge their Lord and Heir but Eddard Stark would have us save his friend who is betrothed to and claims to love Lady Lyanna and still has a bastard in the Vale and hides in a brothel. This Stark may have been the spare but he is now the Lord and needs to act like it."
Ned had been getting angrier at the turn the conversation had taken however he kept it on a leash and pondered over the last words. The concepts of honor he learned from Jon Arryn would not be enough for him to be the Lord the North needed, he needed to embrace the wolf within. He mutely swallowed food and kept listening to his fellow Northmen talking through the night. That night Ned really understood the meaning behind the words 'The North Remembers'. Every child grew up with the entire history of the North being shared to them by their elders around a fire. Grudges and debts were remembered by every member of the smallfolk. In the south, things were different as the smallfolk cared not who ruled them and only wanted to be left in peace. In the north, every single man, woman and child looked out for each other as the winter was just as harsh to the Nobleman as it was to the smallfolk. He could be Lord Stark tomorrow, but tonight he was just a soldier who had survived a drawn out battle all day.
The next morning, the Riverlanders accompanying the rebels stayed behind with Lord Hoster Tully who was injured and saw to dispose of the dead. Ned and Robert returned with the Northmen and the Knights of the Vale to Riverrun with the corpse of Denys Arryn. Robert was his usual loud self and did not notice his friend being more pensive than usual. That night Robert tried to find Ned after securing a couple whores and wine from Acorn Hall but he was nowhere to be found. The only thought that crossed his mind was 'more for me' before he lost himself in worldly pleasures at hand.
Ned had disguised himself as a common soldier and joined his men at the campfires. It was time for him to learn about the North from its very heart, the people. As much as he wished it was not true, Ned knew he was not supposed to be or prepared for the responsibility he had inherited. In the nights that followed, Ned learnt about the culture of the North and their views of the South. Try as he might he could not refute some of the views the Northerners held. As the rebel army moved towards Riverrun, Ned started growing into a Lord Stark the North needed.
Ned's heart broke for his foster father after he saw the body of Denys when they reached Riverrun. Another life lost due to the rash actions of a mad man. Ned did not spend much time inside the castle but instead sought refuge in the Godswood of Riverrun. There was a single weirwood with a carved sad face that Ned thought fitting for the times they lived in. He eventually admitted to himself that he was hiding in the Godswood from his betrothed who he had still trouble thinking of anything other than his good sister-to-be. The injured Hoster Tully returned to Riverrun in a moon's turn and had immediately betrothed his second daughter to the grieving Lord Arryn.
Ned could only think of Lyanna and the tantrum she had thrown after being betrothed to Robert. In contrast, Lysa Tully seemed almost lifeless on hearing the news of the betrothal. Hoster insisted both marriages take place before any advances were made. Ned had suddenly grown to despise the power hungry Lord and his blatantly shameless grab at more power. The message was clear. Should either Jon Arryn or Eddard fall in battle, the Tullys got to rule an entire kingdom through their heirs. Ned bristled at that thought but duty and vengeance compelled him. However, he decided to send his own message in return. He demanded the wedding be held in the Godswood in the old ways.
Lord Tully and Catelyn were none too happy about it and made many attempts to have the wedding in the Sept but, after a couple shouting matches, acquiesced. Ned passed through the wedding and bedding ceremonies in a daze. Before he knew it he was standing before Catelyn in their small clothes. He decided to finally break the silence, "You're aware I'm only here out of duty?"
"Yes my lord" Catelyn replied demurely.
"Very well". No more words were shared that night and the next morning Ned was the first out of the room at the crack of dawn and practicing in the training yard. Robert ribbed him relentlessly all day but his japes and jokes did not break the solemn resolve of Eddard Stark. As the days passed, Northern Lords joined and swelled their numbers in the coming months, plans began being drawn up for the battle that was coming. The anticipation of the bloodbath was in the air and Robert Baratheon's blood sang. He made his intention to take the crown known soon after to Jon Arryn and Hoster Tully. Eddard said nothing for his focus was now only on his family and the North. His father's Southern ambitions had led the North at this point and Ned was eager to get it over with.
The army of the rebels moved out of Riverrun and moved east towards the trident. They hoped to take Harrenhal and resupply there before the final assault on Kings Landing. Word had spread about how Tywin Lannister had called his banners and had them positioned right along the border of the Westerlands. The Lion would not engage them. However, scouts soon reported that Prince Rhaegar had moved to intercept them with ten thousand Dornish spearmen joining the host of thirty thousand force made of levies raised in the Crownlands, Reach, Riverlands, Stormlands and the Vale. The Rebel forces numbered at a little over fourth thousand matching the royalist forces.
Ned found two injured Umber soldiers too exhausted to drag themselves out of the river after their successful chase and capture of a group of Royalist scouts. Ned pulled them out of the river and gave them his horse to ride back to the camp. Back at the camp, he found out they were a pair of brothers named Donnel and Brandon. That night he joined them both around the campfire without his disguise for the first time.
The men were apprehensive and awkward in the beginning. They did not know anything about Ned and did not know if he would appreciate them joking around with him like they did with Brandon. Or if he would take offense due to his southern teachings and punish them. Ned's outings in disguise helped him as he had already overheard the soldiers' apprehensions about him. The Umber brothers thanked him for saving him and Ned remarked with humor how the North will never run out of Brandons but it cannot afford to lose more of them.
The men slowly relaxed as conversation and ale flowed through the night. By the next morning, Ned had endeared himself to the men around him and gained their respect. From that night on, he made it a point to eat at least one meal with his men every day and break bread with them not as Eddard Stark but as the quietly charismatic Ned. The fact that he could hold his liquor and frequently got into drinking matches with his men also helped. He had plenty of practice in not only holding his liquor but also saving Robert's hide when both of them were deep in their cups. Ned put that to good use during drinking games with men like Mors 'Crowfood' Umber and the near obese Lord Wyman Manderly.