Ned Stark Lives! Chapter 45 Eddard

All the news of the realm came to Winterfell eventually, by wing or on foot. News came from the raven letters of lords in the north, and also those in the south still friendly to Winterfell, especially from Riverrun, the Twins, and King's Landing. News also came from the mouths of riders coming up the Kingsroad. The words received spoke of the Lannister failure before the capital, of the Lannister army retreating, of the ironmen's attack on Lannisport, of Tyrion Lannister being named the Hand of the King again for the pretender Tommen, and even stranger still, his call for the Warrior's Sons and the Poor Fellows to be reinstated. That had little meaning for the North, where most men worshiped the old gods, and would never join the militant brotherhoods. But Ned Stark knew it meant trouble for the future, as the most faithful who followed the Seven would leave their lands and head west to join the Lannisters.

"A bold move," Robb said, as he sat next to his father in Ned's solar, reading the latest raven messages Maester William had brought them. It had been almost a moon's turn since Robb had killed Ramsey Snow, and had almost died himself. Had died, Ned corrected his thoughts. He had died, and Thoros of Myr had brought him back to the land of the living. Robb did not look any worse for his terrible journey, and Ned wondered on that.

After it was done, Ned had demanded answers from Thoros and Dondarrion and answers they gave him, and afterwards he wished he had not been so persistent. Thoros did not reveal how he had such powers, and would only say they were a gift from his god. They did reveal that Dondarrion had died several times, as was claimed by their enemies, and each time Thoros had brought him back. But Dondarrion was a shadow of his former self, pale and scarred, with little appetite and with no joy for the extended life the red god of Thoros had given him. They said Robb may not be so affected because during his brief moments of death Robb's soul had been inside his direwolf.

And Robb did seem like his old self, smiling and full of the life, enjoying what he was given back. Many in Winterfell looked at him in awe, the stories of his demise and resurrection soon well known, despite Ned's efforts to prevent the tale from spreading. Robb's young wife Roslin almost worshiped him in the way she looked at him and tended him and would hardly leave his side. Catelyn and Roslin had both bloodied their knees on the stone floor of the sept in prayer, a penance to their gods for letting Robb live. Or maybe they were trying hard to restore their own faith in the Seven after seeing what Thoros' god could do.

Ned had said his prayer of thanks as well, in the godswood, to the heart tree, to the old gods of the North. Ned did not believe in miracles. He believed that life in this world was balanced, and that for a man's good deeds he was rewarded and for his transgressions he was punished. Was his renewed life Robb's reward for being a good and kind man? Or was something more involved? Had Robb somehow cheated the gods of what was their due? As Ned sat there thinking deeply on all that had happened, he wondered if the gods would not some day come to claim their price for letting his son live. He had other sons, and daughters, and many others dear to him. Would the price for Robb's life come at the cost of another's?

"Father?" Robb said, looking at him strangely. Ned's mind came back to the present, to the raven scroll in Robb's hand. It was from Riverrun, and carried much news, mostly unpleasant. The Lannisters had stopped the latest shipment of gold, the Golden Tooth was strengthening its defenses, Harrenhal was under the command of the Mountain, Tyrion Lannister had called for the reinstatement of the militant sects, and King Tommen had signed the decree. Already six minor knights from the Riverrun region had painted the seven pointed star on their shields and were making their way west to Casterly Rock, Edmure Tully wrote.

"Aye, this is a bold move," Ned said at last. "It will divide those who would oppose the Lannisters."

"None of our northern men will join," Robb said with conviction.

"No…but there are those in the Twins and White Harbor who worship the Seven. Some will go, especially those without land or titles awaiting them. Second and third sons, hedge knights, and free riders."

"King Stannis must renounce this!" Robb declared.

"Aye, I am sure he will," Ned answered. "But that will do little good. The Targaryens did the same but the militant orders still carried on."

"The Imp is too clever for his own good…or the realm's," Robb said with worry. "These orders could grow powerful again."

"The Imp is clever, we always knew that. Devious as well. He is grasping at anything that will keep his family in the game. It just might work."

"What can we do?"

"Nothing. Winter is coming and I will not lead our men south again before spring."

"Maybe the ironmen will strike Lannisport again."

"Balon Greyjoy is dead," Ned reminded his son. They had word of that as well, and of how Theon had reached Deepwood Motte and how he and his sister and their men had escaped from the advancing Glovers, but not before burning the wooden fortress to the ground. Already the Glovers were rebuilding, but all they could hope to raise before the snows came would never equal the greatness of the Motte. "The ironmen are squabbling over the succession," Ned continued. "If what we hear is true, Euron Crow's Eye has returned and will not give up his claim, even though Theon and Asha still live."

"Theon and his sister will join the fight," Robb said. Then he let loose a curse. "Damn his very soul! We should have had his head on the walls of Winterfell!"

"Aye…and maybe we will some day…or perhaps his uncles will do us the favor."

Robb snorted. "Having another man kill your enemy…there is no joy in that."

Ned looked at him carefully. "My son…no man should take joy from killing. You, who have been closer to death than any of us, you above all should know that."

Robb nodded. "Aye, Father. Just…he was my friend…almost like a brother. And he betrayed us."

"And the gods will judge him for it justly. Just like they are judging Ramsey Snow now in whatever hell they reserve for rapists and murderers."

Ramsey's body had been taken by Lord Bolton and his men immediately after the fight. By dawn the next day they were gone, without even a word of goodbye or anything else to anyone in Winterfell. In the several weeks since, there had been nothing but silence from the Dreadfort. Ned knew Roose was angered. How much, only time would tell.

Lord Umber and his men still stayed at Winterfell. They were still finishing the repairs on the winter town, and awaiting the return of their men who had gone west with the Glovers to help reclaim Deepwood Motte. Once his men returned the Greatjon told Ned it was high time he and his men returned home before the snows came. Ned gave him leave to go whenever his wished.

As Ned and Robb sat mulling over this latest news a knock came to the door.

"Come," Ned said and Arya entered. She was dressed in her boy's clothes and had a wooden practice sword strapped to her belt. She was sweating and had dirt on her hands. Ned knew she had been teaching Sansa and Jeyne how to fight in the courtyard below.

"How goes the training?" Ned asked before she could speak.

"Ah…not too bad. Father, Ser Rodrik has returned!" she blurted out.

"Thank the gods," Robb said. They rose at once and followed Arya outside to join a growing crowd of people. The sky was grey and the ground was muddy from rains they had had yesterday. The wind was cold and everyone was bundled up in warm furs and leathers. There standing by his horse was the great bulk of Ser Rodrik, with many of his men nearby, being greeted warming by many, including Catelyn and Sansa and Bran and Rickon, and especially his daughter Beth. As Ned approached, Rodrik dipped his head.

"My lord," he said and as he raised his head Ned could see he was troubled.

"Welcome home, my friend," Ned answered as he reached out his hand. With what seemed like reluctance Ser Rodrik took it.

"My lord…I must apologize for my failures."

That took Ned aback for a second and then he realized what he meant. "Come now. There was no failure. You did as you thought right."

"I should have been here when they came, my lord," Rodrik said.

"There is no one to blame but the ironmen," Catelyn told him.

"Especially Theon Greyjoy," Robb added.

"He burned Winterfell and killed many including Maester Luwin. Now I hear he got away. Is it all true, my lord?" Rodrik asked, hoping it was not.

"Aye, it is," Ned told him. "Galbart Glover wrote that his people saw Theon with his sister and her men, fleeing the burning Motte and making for their ships nearby. Come, let us have food and drink and tell us all that happened."

And so they ate and drank and Rodrik and his men told all about their battles at Torrhen's Square, and the search for the ironmen. They had joined up with Lady Mormont's men and had sent large parties into the Wolfswood and west as far as the Stony Shore. They had found several fishing villages that had been plundered, most of the men put to the sword and the women and children who had not fled hauled away as captives. After that Lady Mormont and her people turned north to head for Deepwood Motte to search for Greyjoy and then they would go home to Bear Island. Ser Rodrik helped the survivors of the fishing villages as best he could, but knew there was naught else they could do about the ironmen, who were long gone, and so they turned back to Winterfell. They were saddle and footsore, and their provisions had barely held out.

Ned thanked them all for their service and promised their good work would not be forgotten by the people of the North. And then Ned and Robb and the rest told their own stories, of all that had gone on in the south and at Winterfell, including Robb's fight with the Bastard of the Dreadfort. When Rodrik heard that Ramsey Snow had caused more trouble but was now dead he shook his head in disgust.

"I should have killed that bastard myself!" he said with anger.

"You did what you thought was right," Ned replied. "He was Roose's son. You could not have killed him without dire consequences."

"Aye," Rodrik replied heavily. "Still…he got away and did more evil."

"That was Greyjoy's fault," Robb told him. And then they talked long into the night on what was happening on the Iron Islands and what it would mean for the people of the North.

That night as Ser Rodrik and his men finally retired to their homes, Ned was returning to the Great Keep when he came across Thoros and Dondarrion at their nightly ritual. The fire was already lit and Thoros was saying his prayers as those around him repeated his words. Dondarrion's men were here, as were several Winterfell people, and Ned knew they had been drawn to Thoros and his god because of what had happened to Robb. Among them was Gendry.

The young blacksmith hung about at the fringes of the group and did not repeat the words of Thoros, but he listened and watched it all. Ned had heard Arya say Gendry was spending time with Thoros and Dondarrion, and she had also told Ned that they knew he was Robert's son. Dondarrion's men who had left King's Landing on Ned's orders to bring the Mountain to justice had been a mix of the north and south, following the old gods and the new, but now all of these survivors were followers of the Lord of Light. Ned tolerated the nightly rituals, for the debt he owned Thoros for his son's life. Catelyn disapproved, he knew, but she did not ask him to try to stop the rituals, perhaps for the same reasons.

But others muttered their disapproval more loudly, and there had been arguments over religion while men were in their cups during the evenings. To forestall any fights or even bloodshed, one evening at supper Ned had to tell an assemblage in the great hall of Winterfell that all religions were to be tolerated and that each one of them had the right to choose their own faith but not to impose it on any others. Anyone who disagreed could make their home somewhere else. As expected, not one left.

Ned walked up to Gendry as the ceremony continued. "Evening, lad."

Gendry turned, a bit startled, and dipped his head. "My lord."

They were silent for a few minutes as Thoros spoke on. Ned watched the fire and could see nothing but fire. Arya had told him what Thoros had said the night before Robb and Ramsey had fought, of the images he had seen in his fire. Ned knew there was something behind what Thoros could do, his living son proof of that beyond any doubt. Magic, or the power of the gods, Ned knew not. But it was there still the same.

"You follow the old gods, do you not, my lord?" Gendry asked him.

"Aye, as do many in the North," Ned replied. "My wife tells me you follow the Seven."

"Yes, but I was never very…ah…I don't know…how to say…"


"Yes…I think that's the word. My mum followed the Seven and so did I but I never knew much more than the names of the gods. When I became an apprentice I would say a small prayer to the Smith to help me in my work but that was all."

"I think many men are the same," Ned replied.

"Not Thoros."

"No, not him," Ned said. "Arya tells me you have been spending time with Thoros and Dondarrion."

"Yes, my lord." Then Gendry looked about to make sure no one was nearby and listening. He lowered his voice. "They have been telling me about my father."

So that was it. "Good things, I trust?"

Gendry laughed slightly. "Mostly drinking stories, my lord. But also about the rebellion and Pyke and some tourneys he was in."

"Aye, he loved to drink and war and fight," Ned told him with a chuckle. He could have added 'whore' to that list, but the lad knew that well enough already. "He was a good friend to all, and loved with all his heart, but he was an implacable enemy if you lost his favor."

"Like the Targaryens?"

"Aye…them above all," Ned said, his mood turning grim again as he thought on what the Targaryens did to his family.

"My lord…Thoros tells me that he believes the Lannisters killed my father."

Ned sighed. "Aye…I believe so as well. They did not rip his stomach open but they did all they could to make sure he died. Varys the Spider warned me they meant to kill him, but we had no real proof. And then I was hurt and he went hunting and…"

"He died."

"Aye. That day, he was drunker than usual, Barristan Selmy later told me. It was the strong wine, no doubt. Given to him by a Lannister. Lancel Lannister, cousin of the Queen."

"But they did not make the boar charge him, my lord."

"No, that was luck…for the Lannisters. They could say he died in an accident. If the boar had not done the deed they would have found another way. Another accident."


Back on the Kingsroad after they had left King's Landing Ned had promised him someday he would tell him and Ned knew it was time. "Because of my own stupidity, and Jon Arryn's. We started asking questions."

"About me," Gendry said with a heavy sigh.

"Aye…and his other natural children, and about who the real father of Cersei's children was."

"The Kingslayer," Gendry said in disgust.

Ned nodded. "I knew the truth and I was going to tell Robert when he returned from his hunt. But the gods took him away and…I am sure you know the rest."

"Aye," Gendry said. They were silent for a few moments, still watching the fire and half listening to Thoros and his followers. "Arya…she told me things, my lord. About the Kingslayer…and Bran."

Ned ground his teeth in anger as he thought on that. "It's all true. The Kingslayer tried to murder him. And later paid someone with a knife to finish the job. Or Cersei did it. One of them. I have written to King Stannis and all the other great lords. They all know now. When we win this war, the Kingslayer will pay for his crime. As will the rest of them."

Suddenly they heard a voice behind them. "There you are!" Arya said as she came into the circle of light. She was looking at Gendry and seemed mad. "I waited for you!"

"What's this?" Ned asked before Gendry could answer.

"My lessons, my lord," Gendry replied. "Sorry," he said to Arya, seemingly abashed at the rebuked.

"I can't teach you if you don't come!" Arya said in a huff. "And now it's too late to start!"

"There is always tomorrow, my daughter," Ned told her. "Don't be mad at the lad. I kept him here. We had to talk on things."

"Oh," Arya said, her tone softening. "Talk on what?" she asked, a bit worried.

"About my father," Gendry told her. They hadn't been talking that long, Ned knew, and maybe Gendry had just forgotten about his lessons. Or maybe he hadn't wanted to learn his letters and how to read today.

"Oh," Arya said again, this time with some relief in her voice. "Good. I mean…yes, it's good to know about him. I guess we can have our lesson tomorrow."

"Time for bed," Ned told his daughter and after they said good night to Gendry they made their way to the Great Keep.

"How goes his lessons?" Ned asked her as they climbed the dark stairs, Ned carrying a torch to light the way.

"Slow," she said with a hint of frustration. "He's busy working all day and the only time he can study is at night."

"Give him time."

"I will."

"And what about Sansa and Jeyne."

She rolled her eyes. "Very slow. They are still being silly. Not as much as before, but it will take forever."

"Be patient, with all of them. I know you can do it."

They reached her bedroom and then after he helped her light a candle with his torch, Ned said goodnight, kissed her cheek, and he made his way to his own rooms. The room was already lit with many candles so he placed the torch in a wall bracket and blew it out. Inside, Cat was standing by the window, the shutters opened, as she looked out over the courtyard. The room was very chilly from the cold air entering the window.

"Thoros is done," she said as she closed the window. "The fire is out."

He could hear the disapproval in her tone. "I cannot send him away or deny him the right to worship, Cat."

"I know…and we owe him much. But it will cause more problems."

"I have dealt with that already." Ned sat on his bed and removed his boots.

"Perhaps," she said and then crossed the floor and sat beside him. "Ned…how long will they stay?"

"As long they wish," he replied, unwittingly using his stern lord's voice. "Sorry. But I sent them from King's Landing to do a task and I feel responsible for them."

"They have their own homes, in the south, do they not?"

"Aye, that they do. Maybe they will head south again, now the battles are over around King's Landing. Stannis is calling for men. Perhaps they can return to King's Landing and enter his service."

"Stannis will welcome Thoros," Catelyn said. "They worship the same god. Perhaps you can suggest it to Thoros. And Dondarrion. The rest will follow them."

"The road they took here was long and hard," Ned reminded her. "They will go when they are ready."

"They best go before the snows come. It is getting bitterly cold already."

"Aye, that it is. Come, let us to bed and keep each other warm this night."

She smiled and then stood. "My rooms are warmer." She took his hand and then Ned followed her and spent a sweet night in his lady's arms.

The next morning he awoke alone. He was about to sit up when he heard a retching sound of someone being sick. He swiftly got out of bed and saw his wife bent over her chamber pot, being ill.

"Cat? What is it?" he asked in worry

"I…I am just a little ill," she gasped. He brought her a cup of water from a flagon on the nearby table and she eagerly drank it down.

"When did this start?" Ned asked her.

She looked at him. "This is the third time this week."

"Gods," Ned said. He knew what it meant. "Why didn't you tell me?"

She managed a weak smile. "I was not sure."

"I will get the maester."

An hour later and Maester William confirmed what they suspected. "She said her last moon blood was over a month ago, my lord," he told Ned outside in the corridor by the stairs, while inside Cat slept in her bed. "Almost two months ago."

"Aye," he said, trying to remember. "That was about the time we were in Riverrun."

"Not to worry, my lord. She is strong, and still young enough to bear a child."

Ned nodded, but still worried. "She is not so young as the last time. It has been five years since she had Rickon."

"I have brought many children into the world, my lord. And there are midwives here as well. We will take good care of her. You should be feeling proud about this, my lord. The gods have blessed you with another child."

Ned smiled this time and clapped the maester's shoulder. "Aye…I suppose we should tell the children."

Just as he said these words Robb came up the stairs and saw them. "Maester. I need your help," he said without even a good morning. "My wife is ill."

Ned went with them to Robb's bedroom. Roslin was lying abed and looked pale. After a few minutes of questioning, they got the truth from her as well. "It seems you are to become a father, Lord Robb," the maester told him outside the room.

Robb gulped and appeared stunned. "A father?"

Ned grinned. "Aye. A father."

Robb smiled and then laughed and his face beamed. "I suppose that will make you a grandfather," he said to Ned.

"Gods," Ned replied, suddenly feeling very old. "Listen…I have news of my own. Your mother is with child as well."

For the second time Robb seemed shocked. "With child?" he gasped as he looked to the maester for confirmation.

"Aye," the maester said. "The gods have seen fit to bless you both on this fine day."

As their wives rested Ned and Robb gathered the other children in Arya's room, which was the biggest.

"What's going on?" Sansa asked in a sleepy voice. They were all still wearing their bed clothes. Bran was the last to come, carried in Robb's strong arms. Robb placed him on Arya's bed beside his sister.

"We have good news," Ned began. "Roslin is with child."

Their eyes widened with surprised but before they could say a word Robb shocked them even more. "And so is mother."

Rickon was the first to speak in the shocked silence that followed. "I want a brother!"

They all started laughing at once and then talked on it for a long time, with Ned saying their mother and Roslin needed rest and help with everything and they were to behave themselves and cause no trouble in the months to come. They all promised to behave.

The news spread quickly and Ned and Robb could hardly move about the castle without someone congratulating them and praising the gods. The Greatjon demanded they get drunk and that night the great hall rang with shouts of joy and blessings and prayers for the good health of the two Stark wives. Ned drank so much he even found himself saying a toast to Thoros' red god. Everyone was there, and Ned even invited Gendry to drink with them, and for once the boy got drunk. Thoros challenged him to a drinking contest, but Gendry was no Robert, who had years of experience at such games, and soon the lad was asleep at the table.

The next morning found Ned with his head hanging over the chamber pot in his rooms. "Gods," Cat said from the doorway. "You northerners and your drink. I suppose Robb is in no better shape?"

"Aye," Ned said and then he retched one more time.

"Enough with the drink," Cat said as she poured him some water. "I suppose the Greatjon is to blame. I heard him bellowing even from my rooms."

She handed him the water. He drank and then made a face. "Ale…I need ale. My head is pounding."

"No, you will suffer this day and that will be a lesson to you."

"Enough with the scolding, woman," Ned told her as he sat on the floor besides his bed. "I was celebrating your condition."

"My condition?" she snapped at him. "I am not yet even three months along, Ned, and neither is Roslin. It is bad luck to celebrate so soon."

"You have never lost a child," he reminded her.

"My sister did, and so have other women. The gods have been good to us. Let us not mock them now."

Ned nodded. "Aye. There will be no more celebrating. Perhaps you should be abed."

She snorted. "I am with child, not at death's door. I have a castle to run. And you have your duties, my lord. Get up, get cleaned, and eat some food. And no ale!"

It was an hour before he could stir himself from his rooms. A basin of cold water helped clear his head and a change of clothing helped a little more. The day was cold and the skies a bit overcast. He made his way to the great hall and the hubbub of noise there made his head wince. As he sat alone Osha approached him.

"What will my lord have for his breakfast?" she asked.

"A mug of ale," he said at once.

She grunted. "Your wife has already been here, my lord, and ordered us not to give you any ale or wine or mead."

"I am the Lord of Winterfell," he almost shouted at her. "You will do as I command."

"And your wife is the Lady of Winterfell," Osha shot back. "She has left her orders and all the kitchen staff know."

"Damn your eyes, all of you," Ned growled. "Get me some bacon and eggs and bread then."

She walked away and Ned had only a few seconds of peace before Arya came striding with a purpose right up to him. "Sit," he commanded.

"No," she said in a cross voice. "Gendry is a mess this morning. You got him drunk."

"Don't shout, child," he replied, wincing in pain. "The lad is old enough to know when to stop drinking."

"Then it stops now," she said with determination.

"As you wish. Arya…go to the kitchens and get me a mug of ale, for pity's sake."

"Mother told us not to get you anything for your head," she said and then walked away.

"Gods," Ned swore as he sat there. His food came and it helped to settle his stomach but his head was still pounding. But peace did not come as Robb and the Greatjon came into the hall and came to his table. They looked better than when he had last seen them heading for Lord Umber's camp last night.

"Lord Umber has a keg of ale in his camp," Robb told him. "One mug this morning and I feel much better."

"My lady wife wishes me to suffer," Ned told them and the Greatjon stood. "I will fetch you drink, not to worry, Ned."

But Cat was behind them and had heard it all. "Lord Umber, you will do no such thing."

"Lady Stark, a man in Ned's condition needs one more drink the day after to clear his head."

"Perhaps. But not before he reads this," she said and then Ned noticed the look of worry on her face. In her hands was a raven scroll message, already opened.

"Who from?" Ned asked swiftly.

"Maester Aemon at Castle Black."

"Jon?" Ned said, his voice almost breaking.

"Read," was all she said, her tone neutral.

Ned took the message and lay it flat on the table. Robb crowded behind him and looked over his shoulder. The writing was small and Ned had to peer closely to read it.

Lord Eddard Stark. I have grave news. The Wall at Castle Black is under attack by wildlings, and maybe soon by the Others as well. This is no raid, my lord, but a full scale assault. Lord Mormont set out with over 300 men to the Fist of the First Men to find out where the wildlings were. His Rangers found them, massing in large numbers. Then the Others attacked, according to the survivors reports. They had to retreat. Lord Mormont was killed by his own men when they tried to find refuge at Craster's Keep. Only a dozen men returned. Jon Snow came in a few days later, his leg wounded, but he is on the mend. I gave the command of the Wall to him. There was no one else. He came in from the south after climbing over the Wall with a wildling raiding party. He claims he killed Qhorin Halfhand at the Halfhand's own command, and joined the wildlings. He learned Mance Rayder's plans and escaped when he could. They have almost 20,000 men, women and children, plus many giants and mammoths with them. We have held off the first few assaults, from north and south. But we are hard pressed and need men. The Shadow Tower is also under attack, and Eastwatch may soon be as well. Even if we defeat the wildlings, the Others will come. Send help. May the gods save us. Maester Aemon, Castle Black.

"Gods," Ned said after he finished. "The Others."

"It can't be true," Robb said, his voice betraying his own shock.

The Greatjon snatched the letter from the table and read fast. "The Others?" he said in skepticism. "The maester has lost his wits!"

"Not Maester Aemon," Ned replied. "He would not say it was the Others unless he was certain."

Cat sat with them. "These men who returned," she began. "They said it was the Others. Maester Aemon was not there."

"Aye," the Greatjon said. "They panicked under a wildling attack. Killed their own commander! Cravens, I call them all! They are spouting lies to cover their own crimes!"

"Never mind the Others," Robb said suddenly. "The wildlings pose enough danger. Lord Umber, your lands are closest to the Wall. If the wildings are south of the Wall…"

"We will kill them all!" the Greatjon said as he slammed his fist on the table, causing the dishes to rattle and the few other late breakfasters to look their way.

"We must keep this quiet for now," Ned told them in a more quiet tone, his head hurting more from the Greatjon's noise. "Robb, get Thoros and Dondarrion and Ser Rodrik. And Maester William. Tell him to bring his inks and parchment. Tell them to meet us in my solar as soon as they can."

"Aye," Robb said and soon he was gone.

Ned looked to the Greatjon. "I am sending you on your way home, Jon. As soon as you can. Return to your camp and prepare."

"As you command, my lord," the Greatjon said with a grin. Then his face fell a bit. "My men will need supplies for the road."

"Aye," Ned answered. "My steward will see to your needs. When the rest of your men return from the west they will rest a few days and then I will send them on as well."

"Aye, my lord," the Greatjon said and then he was up and gone as well.

Ned looked at Cat. "May I have…"

But she was already ahead of him. "Osha!" she shouted to the passing wildling woman. "A mug of ale for Lord Stark."

"Are you sure, my lady?" Osha asked.

"She's sure," Ned snapped at her and Osha dipped her head and hurried to the kitchens. He wondered what the wildling women did to punish their men who drank too much. Maybe they took mercy on them and just cut off their heads.

As they waited for her to return Catelyn looked at him. "What will you do?"

"You know what I must do."

Catelyn shook her head. "No, Ned…we just arrived home. The children need you here. I am with child, I…"

"And what will I say to my children when the wildlings and the Others are at the gates of Winterfell? Close your eyes, it will hurt less?"

"Wildlings? Others?" said Osha as she placed a mug of ale on the table. She had brought a flagon as well. Ned snatched up the mug and drank deeply and nothing ever tasted so good. He quickly refilled his mug

"We have had news from the north," Catelyn was telling Osha. "Castle Black is under attack by your kind."

"My kind?" the wildling woman snorted. "They are not my kind anymore. But what was that about the Others?"

Ned stared at her, his head clearing now, and now he remembered that she knew much about the Others. "Sit," he commanded and she did. "Maester Aemon said there are reports of the Others attacking the Night's Watch."

She grunted. "Now do you believe me…my lord?"

"Aye," Ned said, his face set in his grim way. "That's why you're coming with us."

She blanched. "With you? To the Wall? No thank you, my lord. I ran away from there to get away from that lot. You must be mad to think I want to go back there."

"You wanted to be a spear woman again. Now's your chance."

She thought on it. "Spear woman? Not a servant?"


But then she quickly shook her head. "I got no love for mine or those with blue eyes. But I'm no fool either. You should go, but go south, not to the Wall."

"Yes!" Catelyn said, seizing on Osha's idea.

"That's not our way," Ned told them both. "If we flee, what's to stop the Others from taking over the North? What will stop them if we go south?" Ned asked. "Soon they will be south as well. No, we will fight them at the Wall. That's why it was built."

"Gods," Catelyn said, with a shake of her head and she knew Ned would not change his mind. And then she looked at Osha, a fierce light in her eyes now. "Go with him, I beg of you. Help them, teach them how to defeat the Others."

"I can tell you all that here," she answered, looking at Ned.

Ned stared at her and then nodded. "Aye. I will not force you to go. You saved my sons and have wiped the slate clean of your previous crimes and have your freedom. Come with me now to my solar to tell my commanders all you know."

A short while later the three of them were in the solar with Robb, Rodrik, Thoros and Dondarrion. "Is it true?" Ser Rodrik asked right away and Ned guessed Robb told them all.

Ned handed Rodrik the message and he read it aloud for the benefit of the others,

"May the Lord of Light protect them," Thoros said solemnly when he had finished. Catelyn sucked in her breath and looked at him sharply and added. "The Seven as well."

"And the old gods," Ser Rodrik said, also giving Thoros a sharp look.

"We need all of the gods' help if we are to stop the wildings and the Others," Ned answered them. "I will lead a strong party of men to Castle Black," he then announced. "The Greatjon and his men will leave by tomorrow at the latest. When the rest of us are ready we will head north. We will carry supplies and arms for the Night's Watch plus our own provisions, so we must take many wagons as well. Maester William, you will send messages to all of the lords of the north requesting aid as well."

"Including Lord Bolton?" the maester asked.

"Aye, including him," Ned replied. And if he did not answer he would be branded a traitor to his lord and perhaps after this business at the Wall was finished Ned would turn his force and deal with the Dreadfort once and for all. But that was in the future. "Tell them all to send men and arms to Castle Black, except for Deepwood Motte and White Harbor. The Glovers are to send their men to the Shadow Tower. Ask Galbart to try to get some of the hill tribesmen to join him. And Lord Manderly can send his men by ship to Eastwatch, if the seas are not too stormy. You must also write to Lady Mormont that we have had word her brother is dead. Tell her all we know and that we will send more news when we get it."

"Yes, my lord," said the maester and he sat at Ned's solar table and began to write the letters at once.

"Fierce fighters they are, those hill tribesmen," Ser Rodrik stated. "We could use some of them with us at Castle Black as well."

Ned looked at him. "My old friend, you have marched far and have fought valiantly. But now I need you and the men you returned with to stay here. To protect Winterfell."

Ser Rodrik looked like he was about to protest but then just nodded "As you command, my lord."

Then Ned turned to Thoros and Dondarrion. "I am not your liege lord, but I need good men with battle experience to help us in this time of need. I would ask you to lend your swords to our cause."

"You have mine," Dondarrion said at once.

"And mine," Thoros added.

"Good," Ned said and finally he looked at Robb. "You will be my second in command."

"Aye, Father."

Catelyn looked like she had a protest on her lips but said nothing. Now Ned turned to Osha, who had stood in the back the whole time and said nothing. The others had looked at her oddly when she first came in and now Ned explained why she was here.

"Osha is of the people north of the Wall. She…"

"The free folk," Osha interrupted.

"The wildlings, she means," Ser Rodrik said with a snort. "Free folk? Free to die in the cold and snow."

"We ain't dead yet, old man," Osha said to him. "Mance ain't leading no group of southern knee benders against your Wall, now is he?"

"Stop this bickering at once," Ned said with a low growl. "Osha is here to advise us on how to deal with her people and the Others."

And so she spoke, on how to use fire on the Others and the freshly dead, even the horses, and told them of the dragon glass that Maester Luwin had said was the stone called obsidian. About the wildlings all she could say was that giants were slow and dumb, the mammoths as well, but they both had great strength. Mance more than likely had few disciplined men, but with such numbers perhaps that did not matter.

"The Wall will keep them out," Robb said with confidence.

"Have you been there?" Osha asked him.


"I have climbed it and crossed it," she said. "Aye, it's high and it's treacherous but it can be done. And not all them old abandoned castles is guarded so well anymore. There is plenty of ways over and even under the Wall. Mance was a black brother once. He knows all the ways."

"She speaks true," Ned told them. "That is all for now. Let us prepare as fast as we can. The men of the Night's Watch need our help as soon as possible."

The news spread rapidly throughout Winterfell. Soon the castle was bustling as men and women prepared food and arms and wagons to carry them in. The smithy rang with the sound of hammers on steel. Horses needed to be shod, steel armor repaired, and swords and spear points forged and repaired as well.

By the late afternoon, the Greatjon was ready to go but it was too near dark and Ned told him to wait until the morning. The next morning dawned with a sharp blue sky and brisk coldness to the air. Ned gave Lord Umber his last orders and soon the Umber men were following their lord to the Kingsroad and then north.

The rest of the day was spent in making the last preparations and making last goodbyes. Ned was determined to leave on the morrow, and had to make sure all was ready by then. He could muster almost seven hundred men in and around Winterfell. He would leave two hundred behind to defend the castle, mostly Ser Rodrik's men, and take the rest with him. Plus he took almost forty wagons loaded with provisions and fresh arms for the Wall. Hopefully, the other lords could send a few hundred men each and that would be enough to help hold the Wall for now.

There was one more thing Ned needed to do. He had to write to King Stannis and the southern lords and tell them his situation. As he walked across the courtyard on his way to the maester's tower, Gendry approached him. Despite the cold air the lad was sweaty and grimy from being hard at work.

"My lord," he began with a dip of his head. "I want to come with you. To the Wall."

Ned stared at him. "Why?"

"You'll need an armorer."

"Aye, but they have an armorer there already."

"Might be they'll need more, my lord, with so many men coming there."

"Could be. But Arya will never forgive me or you if I let you come."

"Could be."

"The answer is no," Ned told him strongly. "You stay here and do your work. I will not put you in harm's way again. And she would never forgive me if something happened to you."

He looked abash for a second and then got a stubborn cast to his face. Ned had seen that look often on Robert Baratheon's face. "I just want to see the Wall, my lord. I was going there in the beginning anyways. Before…before everything else happened."

"Aye and so was I. But the answer is still no. The Wall is not going anywhere, lad. When times are better you will see it. I promise. That's my final word."

"Aye, my lord," he said in a disappointed tone and then he turned and walked away.

Ned was still thinking on why he would want to go to the Wall and was just about at the maester's tower when Arya appeared at his side. "Take me with you to the Wall," she said in a low voice.

"Seven hells," Ned said as he rounded on her. "Not you, too?"

"What? Who else asked?"

"First Gendry and now you!"

"I knew it! I knew he was going to ask you," she declared. "He said something about it last night. You said yes?"

"No! Of course I didn't. I knew you would hate me for it."

"Let us come. Please!"

He took her by the shoulders and stared at her. "Arya…the Wall is no place for you or Gendry. You have fought enough and are lucky to be alive, the both of you. I need you here, at Winterfell. You keep training the girls, and teaching Gendry his letters, and watch your mother and Roslin."

She kicked the dirt and then bit her lower lip. "I just wanted to see Jon…to thank him, too. For Needle."

"I can do that for you. Or you can write him a letter."

She brightened at that suggestion. "I will. Is he really commander of the Wall?"

"For now it seems," Ned told her. "Once things are more settled the Night's Watch will have a vote for a new commander. There are many older and more experienced men than Jon there."

After that she left him and he went in to see the master. They wrote a letter for King Stannis asking for aid and telling him what was happening. They also wrote to Riverrun and the Twins and the Vale and Ned asked them to pass the news to others further south. Ned debated on writing to Casterly Rock but knew Stannis would think ill of that so let it go. Finally, they wrote a long reply to Castle Black explaining what measures they had taken, telling them to be strong as help was on the way.

That night in the great hall the mood was somber as many of the men and boys would be gone by this time on the morrow. Ned rose from his seat and addressed all of the people in his lord's voice.

"Once more we must leave to fight our foes," he began. "Through the long history of the North, Winterfell has sent aid to the Wall in time of need. It pains me to take these men away from their families after being home such a short time. But if we do not send aid to our brothers on the Wall, soon the wildings and maybe even the Others will go where they will in the North. We will do our duty once more." He picked up his mug of ale and raised it high. "For the North!" And they all raised their cups and mugs and shouted in return, "FOR THE NORTH!"

Dawn came too soon and for what may be the last time Ned Stark lay in his wife's bed. He sat up on the side and for a long moment he just sat there, not wanting to move but knowing he had to. She sat up and held him from behind and kissed the nape of his neck. "You come back to me," she whispered, her breath hot on his ear. "You don't do anything foolish. Remember you still have young children here who need their father. And one more to come."

"Aye, my lady," he said and he turned and kissed her lips. "I will do as you command." And then once more he took her in his arms and they made love and when they were sated, he finally rose and washed and dressed and left her rooms as she rested.

As he walked down the stairs of the Great Keep he stopped on the landing where his children's rooms were. He first knocked on Sansa's door and she bid him enter.

She was sitting on her bed in her bed clothes with her long auburn hair flowing over her shoulders and Ned could tell she had been crying. "Good morning," he said, feeling awkward.

"Good morning, Father," she said in a thick voice and then her pretense cracked and she sobbed and he rushed to her side and held her close as he sat on the bed.

"Hush my child," he said in soothing tones. "We will be back before you know it."

"I know," she said in a less than convincing tone.

"And when I return it will be high time I found you a husband," he said next and that surprised her.

"A husband? Who?" she asked as she wiped away her tears.

He hadn't really thought on that yet. "Is there anyone you fancy?"

She hesitated a second and then shook her head. "No…no one."

"Well…there are plenty of young noble men in the North that would be honored to have your hand. I will sound out the other lords and soon find you a match. Would you like that?"

She nodded. "But I must meet him first and get to know him and see if he is a man of honor or a…a monster."

He knew who she meant. "I did not know what he was when I matched you to Joffrey, my daughter."

"I know. But I will not make the same mistake again. Ever. I'd rather be a septa or a silent sister or marry a blacksmith!"

"You think marrying a blacksmith is so bad?" Arya said from the doorway, her face and tone angry.

"I didn't mean…no, sorry," Sansa quickly said. Then she grew angry as well. "And what are you doing listening at my door?"

"Looking for Father," Arya shot back. "I heard his voice."

"Stop it. At once," Ned told his daughters in his lord's voice. "Arya, come here. Sit."

Arya sat on his other side on the bed. "Now I want you two to get along while I am gone," Ned told them, looking from one to the other. "No fighting, no bothering your mother, and no foolishness. You are to help look after Bran and Rickon as well. You do as your mother tells you. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Father," they both said.

"Good. Now I want to go see your brothers before I leave and then we will see you for breakfast."

"Wait," Arya said and she pull out a letter from her pocket. "My letter for Jon."

Ned took it and then they left Sansa so she could dress. Arya went downstairs while he went to Bran and Rickon's rooms. As soon as he opened Rickon's door the little boy ran into his arms, laughing and giggling. Ned carried him to Bran's room across the hall.

"Will Bran ever walk?" Rickon asked before they opened the door.

Ned sighed. "No, he will not."

"But Jojen said he will fly, right?"

Ned raised his eyebrows. "Is Bran a bird?"

Rickon laughed. "No, silly!"

"Then he will not fly." He set Rickon down and went to open the door but it opened and Hodor was there, carrying Bran. "I will take him," Ned told Hodor and the big stable boy said his usual, "Hodor" and handed Bran to his father. Rickon and Hodor ran down the stairs ahead of them.

Ned could feel that Bran was getting bigger and heavier. "I will fly," he whispered as they walked down the stairs. Ned stopped and stared at his son in his arms. "Jojen says I will fly, Father."

"Just dreams, my son."

"Dreams that come true," Bran replied. "You are going to the Wall. Take me with you. Send word to Jojen and Meera to met us there."

He shook his head. "No. The Wall is no place for a …a boy."

"You mean a crippled boy, don't you?"

Ned hesitated and then nodded. "Aye, my son. I am sorry, but there it is."

"How will we ever know if I can fly if I don't go to the Wall?"

"There is a war at the Wall, Bran. Your brother Jon has been hurt. Many men have died. It is no place for children. I have said what I will say and ask me no more of this."

It was a bitterly cold, dull overcast day outside the warmth of the castle walls. Breakfast came and went and few words were said as once more the Stark men and many others were off to war. Catelyn put on a brave face and Roslin was trying as well, not nearly so well, not being so experience with this fact of their hard life.

And then it was time to leave. In a short time the wagons and men were assembled outside the East Gate and it seemed like all of Winterfell and the winter town was there to see them off. Many men were making final tearful goodbyes to family and friends. Ned was on the ground beside his horse, his family beside him. He said his goodbyes to his children, giving them all hugs. They were brave as well and tried not to cry but Sansa shed the first tear and then Arya did as well, and soon Rickon was sobbing and Sansa picked him up and hugged him. Only Bran did not cry, cradled in Hodor's big arms.

"Now Bran," Ned began. "While Robb and I are gone you are the Lord of Winterfell once more. But you listen to your mother and Ser Rodrik and Maester William. They know what is best."

"Aye, Father. I will do my best."

"I know you will," Ned told him and then he turned to his wife last. He hugged her tight and whispered he loved her and she did the same and then she shed one tear, quickly wiped it away, and then smiled. "Be well, my lord," she said.

"And you, my lady," Ned replied as he kissed her forehead and held her once more. He looked over the crowd and saw Gendry and gave him a nod which the big lad returned. Gage was there and Mikken and Old Nan and Jeyne Poole and Ser Rodrik and many others and all looked at him with love and respect and Ned knew they were his people and he was going to defend them as well as the brothers of the Night's Watch.

Behind him Roslin was saying goodbye to her brother Olyvar, who was squire to Robb. "Don't be stupid," she said to him. "Stay out of the fighting."

"I'm a squire. We don't fight," Olyvar assured her and then he mounted his horse after she kissed his cheek.

"I'll protect him," Robb told her and then they hugged once more and he kissed her, and she tried to fight it but soon began to cry. Ned could not help but be reminded of when he first went to war, Catelyn with Robb growing inside of her. Many tears had been shed then as well.

Robb hugged his mother once more as well and then mounted his horse. He rode to the head of the column where Thoros and Dondarrion and their men already awaited, with Olyvar riding behind him and Grey Wind loping after them. They had had to chain the other direwolves up to prevent them following Grey Wind.

As Ned was about to mount his horse someone came striding through the crowd. "Lord Stark!" Osha shouted.

The tall wildling woman was dressed all in furs and leathers and had a big spear in her hand and a short sword belted at her side. "I will come," she said. "But I have no horse."

"Ser Rodrik! Find her a horse!" Ned commanded and Rodrik moved off to obey. Ned looked at Osha. "Catch up when you can."

"Aye…my lord."

He was about to mount up and then stopped and looked at her. "Why did you change you mind?"

"Got tired of the kitchens," she answered. "Besides, a spear feels better in my hands than a knife."

"Spear woman you shall be from now on then," Ned told her and then he mounted his horse. After final goodbyes to his family, he rode to the head of the column and gave the order to move out.

Soon they reached the Kingsroad, and Ned turned his horse to the north and the long column of men and wagons followed. As he took one last look back at Winterfell, wondering if he would ever see it and his family again, a cold wind blew from the north, and a chill set into his bones. Ned looked up to the grey sky and then felt something soft and wet touch his face.

Robb was looking up as well. "It's starting to snow," he said.

"Aye," Ned replied to his son as he turned his grim face to the north. "Winter has come."



But before you move on, a few comments.

I got the idea for this tale after I began reading A Clash of Kings again while waiting for Season Two on HBO to begin last spring. As I watched the new season my mind was set on fire by the idea of what would have happened if Ned had lived. And so comes this story. I plan to continue, with events in places people have asked me about, including the Wall and Slaver's Bay. My intention with this story was to write about what could have happened if Ned Stark had lived. As for the missing people and arenas of the tale, the more I thought about it, the events with Jon Snow at the Wall and Daenerys Targaryen in the east were not influenced very much by whether Ned lived or died. Not as much as what happened in southern Westeros, at least, so I stuck with what was happening there , with little mentions of the Wall and the east as I went along. Also, Dorne and the Vale were only on the side in this tale, so perhaps more will be shown about them in the future.

As I began to think about this story and what would happen I gave myself three goals to reach.

1. The Stark's reunite and return to Winterfell. All of them, alive.

2. Stannis Baratheon seizes the capital and the Iron Throne, but cannot win a total victory before winter comes.

3. The Lannisters are defeated, but not totally, and retreat to Casterly Rock. Joffrey and Tywin die, Tommen becomes King, and Tyrion becomes Hand of the King and Lord of the Rock.

From these three major premises, the rest grew in an organic fashion, coming to me sometimes before I wrote and sometimes as I was writing. Some things were logical, growing from events in previous chapters, such as Varys leaving Westeros when he finally realizes he has done all he can and is in danger from all factions. Others came to me because I wanted to explore what would happen. For example, Arya meeting Nymeria again and all of the direwolf stuff was not planned, it just happened, as I wanted to explore more of that dynamic of the story. Ramsey and Robb fighting to the death was not planned either and I racked my brain for a while thinking of a way to kill Ramsey and thought Ned just chopping off his head was kind of anti-climatic. And then I remembered Tyrion in the Vale and thought, why not have Ramsey asking for trial by combat? And so that's how some ideas came about.

I know everyone did not love all parts of the story. The deepest divisions came over Arya and Gendry…some of you loved it and others hated it. And well, I won't apologize. I had fun writing them interacting, and seeing how they would get along. Some people have said that the Stark's reaction to this romance was too modern, that Ned would never act that way. Maybe not. But I am a father with two daughters as well and thought about what I would do if my daughter fell for a man who was not exactly my idea of a perfect husband, even if he was kind and good to her…and I knew I would not object as long as she loved him. So Ned did not object either.

There were other complaints and even suggestions for ways the story could unfold (which I never follow…sorry). For the most part those of you who commented were kind and gave some good compliments and constructive criticism. I thank you all for that. And I also thank you all for reading and your support.

Steve, in Seoul, Korea