Of White Trees and Blue Roses

I own nothing. This all belongs to GRRM, and I'm just playing with the story he gave us.

~X~

Chapter Forty Five – Sealing the Bargain

Lord Hoster Tully took a draught of his wine and stared at Lord Arryn sitting across the table from him, mulling over what had been said.

"So you want me to commit treason, to join your cause and fight against my king. And for what? What will that bring me, other than the same fate as Lord Stark?"

"The king is making some unwise decisions. He roasted Lord Rickard alive in his armour, tortured his son, and put the heads of most of the northern lords on spikes. If the Warden of the North can be murdered for treason, why not the other great lords of the realm? You know as well as I do that Rickard was as reasonable a man as you could wish to know."

"But his son was not. Brandon Stark was rash and hot-headed...and chose to ride on King's Landing on a foolish errand rather than finish the journey here to wed my daughter. What are the Starks and their treasons to me, other than a lucky escape from an unwise alliance? And what do you expect to achieve? The king wants your head, and the heads of your two wards. Give me a good reason why I shouldn't take you captive now and earn his favour."

Lord Arryn shifted slightly in his chair. "Yes, my head is called for, and yes, I am acting you to commit treason...against a king who has lost his mind and has plunged the seven kingdoms into civil war. He chose to offend Tywin Lannister, a Hand who did nothing wrong other than do his job a little too well, and in his place he's set up a flattering half wit. Now the north has risen against him, and the Stormlands. He has an impressive force at his disposal but not the sense to wield it.

"The new Lord Stark marches down the Kings Road, and Lord Baratheon has called his banners and is engaging the loyalist lords of the Stormlands as we speak. War is upon us and it will no doubt touch us all. It is time to choose sides, and choose carefully."

Hoster smiled. "That's a fine speech, Lord Arryn, and I do intend to choose very carefully. But you haven't said much to convince me why I should join your side. Why should I pitch my lot with two young, inexperienced lords and an old man? You don't have numbers enough to win a civil war—you could find that in the Riverlands, I know. Maybe you plan to woo Casterly Rock, too. Yes the king and his new Hand might not have the mind for strategies, but many of his loyal lords do. What are your intentions?"

"You're right. We do need numbers. And my plan is to see King Aerys' throne taken from him and force a peace with Rhaegar Targaryen when he ascends in his place. And if he will not, then Lord Baratheon's grandmother was the daughter of Aegon Targaryen, the fifth of his name. He has a claim..." Jon Arryn leaned forward. "And you ask why you should fight on our side. Once you intended your daughter to be the wife of the Warden of the North—"

"Yes, and I know how that ended. I have no interest in betrothing Catelyn to another Stark with his mind set on marching to King's Landing! I won't be part of another Blackfyre rebellion and risk being on the losing side for such a small price," Hoster blustered in annoyance.

"Eddard is not like his older brother. There is much more of Rickard in his temper. He will make a good husband."

"Provided he survives the war. His head already has a price on it, and I won't see my daughter jilted by a Stark again," Lord Tully retorted, taking another sip from his cup. But in his mind, he was already seeing the benefits of having Lord Stark as a son-in-law. In the North, Lysa's madness would be hidden from view, and if he was a patient man, able to handle her unsettled temperament, it could be a good match. "I have another proposal for you. You have two wards, one of whom you intend on placing on the iron throne, so it seems, and Catelyn would make a fine queen..."

Jon shook his head instantly. "No, I cannot promise you that. Robert...Lord Baratheon will never agree to marry anyone other than Lyanna Stark."

"You ask me to commit treason. I have two daughters to be wed, and that is the price of an alliance with the Riverlands."

Lord Arryn looked conflicted. "I cannot give you what you ask for. Robert is betrothed and he won't be persuaded to break the agreement unless he sees Lyanna Stark's bones with his own eyes. I know my own ward, and Robert is set on his betrothed. Ned will do his duty in place of his brother, and maybe I could find another lord who would be a suitable husband for your other daughter..."

"Catelyn and Lysa are my daughters, and I am lord of the Riverlands. Their hands command more than some minor lord. I will give my eldest daughter to the Warden of the North, no less, and I will only see my youngest wed to another great lord."

"I told you, Robert will not marry anyone else but Lady Stark."

Lord Hoster gave a serious look. "I wasn't talking about Robert Baratheon. I figure the climate at the Eeyrie will suit her well..."

Jon took a few moments to comprehend what he was hearing. "But she must be very young...and I am too many years her senior. No, you cannot wish..."

Hoster heard what Lord Arryn was saying, and the same thoughts had past his own mind. But Jon was a good and honourable man, and Lysa was very much soiled goods.

"What I am about to tell you does not leave this room. My eldest daughter will be a good match for the young Lord Stark. She is young, beautiful, and sensible. My youngest...she is not far behind her sister in being easy on the eyes, but there was an incident not long ago that has made her a little more...difficult to manage."

Jon Arryn held eye contact and Hoster knew that he would have to elaborate.

"I took in some little upstart—the son of a minor lord from the Fingers. I always thought he was struck by my oldest daughter but I knew she didn't think of him in that way. When I betrothed her to Brandon Stark the little shit thought he'd challenge him to a dual, and Stark put him back in his place. That was the end of it I thought.

"But Lysa...the cretin put his child in her belly." Hoster paused to judge Lord Arryn's reaction. "I gave her moon tea, of course, and the babe was stillborn. And I sent him back to his father before I could put my hands around his throat. But my daughter...her mind struggled. It struggles still."

Jon put his fingers to his temples and looked as if he was struggling. "All the more reason not to give her a marriage she cannot be happy in."

"Older men have married younger. Should you survive this rebellion you can give her a comfortable life, and you can keep her away from where her ravings might cause offence and lose her her head...or mine. The daughters of men such as ourselves accept that they are more likely to marry for politics rather than romance. You will treat her well...and she has proven her fertility. Your two previous wives have given you no heirs. King Aerys put your nephew's head on a spike and successors to your title are now thin on the ground—a precarious position when at war. Your seat could be a pretty prize for the king to dangle, with no one able to raise a valid claim in the event of your death..."

Lord Arryn thought quietly and Hoster was keen to force an agreement.

"You want me to join your cause. I have a daughter that will be difficult to marry off otherwise. Wed your Stark boy to my Cat and take Lysa's hand yourself, and we have a deal."

The pause continued.

"The still babe she delivered was a boy..."

Tentatively a hand stretched across the table.