"Catelyn, please," Littlefinger begged the girl, doing all he can to stop himself pulling on the hem of her dress. Catelyn stared over his head, ignoring him as best as she possibly can.
"Cat," Petyr could barely contain himself; hot tears dribbled down his face pathetically, and he snivelled and moaned. "Cat, I beg of you, do not leave me for the Stark! Cat, please, Catelyn, I-"
"Petyr," Cat still could not manage to glance at him, but her voice was thick with, what with? Love? Regret? Pity? Littlefinger would have hated her if it was pity, but, no, he would not. He could not hate Cat Tully for any conceivable deed she could accomplish.
"Petyr, do not do this to me, I beg of you. My Lord Father requests this of me, who am I to deny him? And anyway, the Lord Stark is strong; he will protect me and keep me safe. Surely you would want that for me?"
"I can keep you safe! I can protect you! You do not need strength to care for another; you only need love, Cat. And I have that, my sweet Lady, I have love! I love you!"
Now Cat did turn her face to meet his, and she grabbed his collar with a force he deemed unlikely. It took him by surprise, and he fought to keep his balance on his bended knees.
"Are you mad, Littlefinger? Have you lost a hold of your senses? If Lord Stark hears your words, the Gods help you!"
"Let him hear!" Petyr screamed, his face turning from a bawling red to an enraged purple. "Let that bastard of the North hear my cries now and forever echoing in his tormented sleep. I love Catelyn Tully of Riverrun, and I will not rest until she is my lady wife. Do you hear me, you son of a Stark whore?"
"I do, young Baelish."
Petyr scrambled to his feet, his heart in his mouth. Dark hair matched onyx eyes that were set in a brooding face. Even in the heat of a Southern summer, the Stark son and heir to Winterfell donned a grey woollen cloak and furs. Even having inherited the Northerner's solemn face, a hint of a smile played at his thin lips.
"If you wish to challenge me to young lady Tully's hand, then by all means, challenge me. Do not, however, clutch at the maiden's skirts and speak brave words with no one around to hear. It is not particularly…well, it does not bode well for you, that's all."
"Brandon," The Stark turned his eyes to Cat as she spoke his name. His smile broke fully at the sight of her, and he held out an arm to welcome her to his chest. She returned the smile and moved toward him.
"Very well, Brandon, of the house Stark and heir to Winterfell. I, Petyr Baelish, challenge you for the right to wed Catelyn, of the house Tully of Riverrun. Do you accept my challenge?"
Cat was in front of him in a flash, seeking his eyes with her own flashing ones. "Littlefinger, Gods damn you, you've lost your senses! Please, I beg of you, do not do this. I would not marry you, whether you 'won' me or not. Besides, you will not win, and I cannot bear to see you harmed. Petyr, do not do this."
Littlefinger sidestepped the girl, keeping eye contact with Brandon. "Do you accept, my Lord Stark?"
Brandon, still wearing his ill-fitting smile, nodded his approval, unleashing his long sword. The pommel was adequately modelled to the head of a snarling dire wolf. "When would you like to begin, Lord littlefinger?"
"To…tomorrow, at dawn?" Petyr felt the blood drain from his face as he watched the glint of metal dance in the setting sun. The rivers that flowed through the palace gardens shone with the anticipation of bloodshed, and the leaves and flowers shivered in the cooling air.
Again, Brandon nodded, before turning on his heel and striding towards his chambers. Cat began to follow him, but she hesitated, allowing her eyes to wander back to Petyr's face. She doubled back, and touched his arms. He trembled at the contact, but kept his face set.
"Petyr, please, stop this. You cannot win against Brandon, look at the size of him! He has trained all his life; you have barely wielded a dagger. My sister Lysa has a better chance against my Stark betrothed than you. If your love for me is true, then you will not hurt me by killing yourself."
Petyr kept an even gaze, but his heart pumped madly at her mention of sorrow, should he fall against the man.
"May I expect your favour on the dawn then, my lady?"
Cat glowered, and went to turn away. "My favour will be given to my Lord husband. Why would you think anything different?"
Littlefinger felt a fluttering in his stomach close to panic at the thought of stepping into the fight without her support. "But, Cat, how am I to win against the man without your love? You would let me go alone?"
"I wouldn't let you go at all! Perhaps you shouldn't fight then, as whether you win or lose, pitting yourself against Brandon Stark guarantees no favour from me ever again. If you do not fight, though, you can depend on my lifelong friendship; a friendship we have both enjoyed since you became my father's ward."
"I do not want to be your friend, Cat! I want you to love me! Give me your favours, for the love of the Seven, give me your favours!"
Petyr Baelish did not know what he was doing, but he found himself grappling at Lady Tully's skirts, pulling at the fabric for something to don at the duel. A shriek from the girl's lips sent the guards running toward the pair, and Littlefinger pulled away just in time, empty-handed, to make a deft escape. Tears in his eyes and his hair and clothes dishevelled, he ran straight to the armoury to ready himself.
Morning. Littlefinger was heavily clad in armour branded with the Tully sigil and a sword he could barely lift. Cat was right, he was not strong, but he could hope his love for the girl would win out.
He glimpsed not only Brandon Stark appearing over the grassy merge, but also his lovely Catelyn Tully, and even her sister, Lysa, a girl he thought would champion his cause with her sibling. Even their brother Edmure laughed and swaggered along with the sombre looking Brandon.
Cat caught sight of Petyr at the same time Edmure did, and while the latter stifled a laugh, the former turned to her betrothed, leaning in close.
"Like you promised, my love? Like you told me?"
Brandon nodded once, a serious young man, and turned to littlefinger, a morsel of pity evident on his face. Littlefinger's blood boiled at the sight. He will not pity him for long, not if he could help it.
Petyr stationed himself in front of the large man, his sword trembling in both hands. "Will you advance, Lord Stark?" He fought desperately to keep the tremor from his voice, as he eyed his opponent swinging his own weapon deftly from hand to hand.
Brandon stalked him slowly, toying with the novice by darting forward and retreating quickly. The swoosh of the wind through the river reeds and Edmure's intermittent whoops and laughs, followed swiftly by a hush from either of the girls was the only noise accompanying the duel. Petyr flinched and shied away from the blade, his vision slowly turning red as the piteous, condescending expression played on Brandon's face.
Petyr growled angrily, and rushed toward the man. "Enough playing, Stark bastard!"
"Enough playing, young Baelish? Very well!"
The clamour of swords deafened Petyr, and he stifled a few squeals of fright and pain. His helmet slowly began to cling heavily to his skull as Brandon pummelled it in, and his arms began to sag from the weight of his dull sword and the pain of the bruises and cuts.
It was a small triumph to see the agitated frown on the Stark man's face, and the beads of sweat on his forehead. "Yield, damn you," Brandon spoke breathlessly, never ceasing on hitting his opponent, "Cat asked me not to kill you, but the Gods know how that hope is dwindling! Yield, and save face! Yield and save your own skin!"
"No!" Petyr replied in a rush as another blow knocked the air out of him. The fight had taken the pair down to the shore of the great river, and sand was crunching under their boots. Petyr was surprised he even knew that, for his sight was failing him and his mind was in a whirl.
Brandon sighed, and continued relentlessly with one blow after another. This time, littlefinger couldn't help but to yelp in pain and cover his face and chest. He dropped his long sword in the process, and Brandon raised the blade high over his head, poised for the fatal move.
"Brandon, no!" Cat's voice danced over the river, and Petyr glimpsed her auburn hair shining in the sun and her beautiful reflection winking at him a thousand times in the ripples of the tide. Brandon, lowered his arms, and looked back to the company on the other shore. Petyr Baelish took his chance, and ran into the Northern wolf with all his might.
It was not enough, and Brandon did nothing but stumble a little. His self-righteous face dropped with the cheat move littlefinger had played, and a low, guttural snarl escaped through his pursed lips. The sword raised again, and fell hard into Petyr's right shoulder. He screamed in pain, dropping to the floor, and writhing in agony. Brandon moved toward him, preparing for a final attack.
"I yield! I yield!" The words flew from his mouth in a high-pitched wail before he knew what he was doing. He was on his feet and cowering from the victor, and Brandon nodded, dropping his sword to the floor, still awaiting another deceit.
Petyr's heart sank in his chest, and he looked over to the other shore at a smirking Edmure, a concerned Lysa, and an unreadable Catelyn Tully.
"Cat." Petyr moaned, and he fell.
"Cat." Petyr jolted awake, and was gently pushed back into the bed by Lysa.
"She's not here, littlefinger. Please rest."
"Where is she?"
"She's…she's gone, Petyr. To Winterfell."
"Winterfell…" Littlefinger echoed, numb. The sun shining through the open window of his chamber darkened, as if it knew what the young Tully daughter had said. How she had shattered his whole existence with one sentence.
He allowed himself one sob, a singular aural recognition of his abysmal love for the girl, and only that. He pushed it deep down inside him, to be saved until…he did not know when. When the time to strike the Stark's was nigh. He did not have strength, or courage, or lands, but he had cunning, and cleverness. And sooner or later, he would have vengeance.
Petyr Baelish is not a piteous thing, and the seven Kingdoms would come to realise that. In time.