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Chapter 24: The Ashes In My Wake

Oh but I
Need some time off from that emotion
Time to pick my heart up off the floor

Sleeping At Last – Faith

She woke up sometime in the night, tasting something sour on her tongue. She vaguely recalled reaching for the chamber pot and heaving into it before rolling over and falling back to sleep again. But darkness did not greet her this time. This time, she dreamed.

The light filled the sept, beautiful rays of pure light shining down through the windows and reflecting off the polished floor. She'd been here many times as a girl, but time had withered most of her memories to dim shadows of the sept's true brilliance.

In the light, she felt safe, and so she stayed in it, twirling a few times on the middle landing which led down to the low lying center of the sept. From her position on the steps, she could see everything—the great statues of the Seven standing tall in a circle, the candles flickering in the breeze, and in the dim light, she could spot the shine of the grates covering the crypts.

But suddenly, the air grew colder, and the shadows darker and the sept felt more like a tomb, like a great black pit ready to swallow her whole. She watched, transfixed, as one grate began to jerk and wiggle, large fingers threading through the squares and pushing the heavy metal upwards. The corpse inside crawled out of their tomb and into the shadows, their large figure outlined by candlelight. Sylvia felt herself tremble. Then, another body climbed up from the darkness, smaller this time. The bigger corpse reached down to offer a hand to the smaller creature.

Sylvia felt her knees go weak, and her belly twisted with horror when the two, joined hand in hand, began to descend the steps, creeping steadily towards the natural light. Their features became clearer with every step. The bigger one was tall, burly with bushy hair and the other was a tiny child, with no shoes on. She could tell by the sound of skin slapping against stone every time the little creature took a step. Every step taken brought more fear clawing up her throat. She was sure she'd never been so frightened, yet she could not look away.

Finally, with one foot sliding forward, the two stepped into the light and she could see their faces. Sylvia's heart raced in her chest, and she fell back in horror at the monsters before her. She was going mad, she was sure of it.

Her father stood there, his guts spilling out into his hand, dangling just off the floor and dripping with black blood. He did not look pained, but rather, he looked...content. She had never seen such a look on his face in life, but wherever they were now, he could somehow smile even as he held his shredded flesh in his hands. The child that stood next to him, a little boy, about six or seven with a mop of messy black hair, was a horrible, choking blue. The kind of blue every mother feared, because that blue meant your child had no air.

A strange, strangled sound escaped her, a scream that had become trapped.

Yet at once, the boy was beside her, a hand on her shoulder, and a sweet smile on his pale, cracked lips. Were he not such a horror, she might have felt comforted. Instead, she wanted to flinch away, to run and hide. But, deep in her heart, there was the queerest sense of wanting to protect him, of wanting the blue in his face to fade. Perhaps it was a womanly instinct, or maybe it was because he would not be as terrifying as a normally pigmented child.

"Father found me!" he exclaimed to her, childish mirth in his voice.

That voice echoed in her ears as she woke with a jump, panting and blinking away the nightmare. Her eyes darted about wildly, looking for any sign of the boy, or her dead father. But when her heart began to slow, relieved that she was alone, she became painfully aware of the pounding in her head, and fell back onto the pillows with a thump. The woman groaned as the room began to spin.

The sun on her face felt wretched, and she turned away with a groan. She burrowed her head deeper beneath the pillows, all too aware of the gritty, foul taste in her mouth. With a grimace, she remembered the wine she'd drunk...the singing...Robb finding her, and Mini crying. She wanted to cry again, she was so embarrassed and ashamed.

"What have I done?" she whispered miserably as she tugged Robb's pillow towards her and pulled it over her body. Her right wrist ached sharply at the movement, and she remembered falling on it. It was bruised now, purple clouds colouring her wrist and palm. Sylvia curled it close to her chest, cradling it gently, feeling the throbbing ease. If Robb were to come back, she didn't want to see him and she was half certain he didn't want to see her. If he did, it would not be a pleasant exchange.

The fact that Mini had seen her in a drunken mess weighted heavily on Sylvia's mind and heart. Mini was just a baby, and she'd likely never recall this event, but...what if there was a next time? Part of Sylvia was adamant that she'd never touch another cup of wine, but...what if a time came when she couldn't help herself? A time when she couldn't stop, like the night before? When she'd started drinking, she thought she'd had it under control, thought she'd known what she was playing with. But when the first two cups didn't calm her down, she'd downed a third in quick succession. Then a fourth, and then a fifth. The last thing she remembered was crying on the floor, dimly feeling Robb lace up her dress. Her lips had been moving, but she could not recall the words she'd spoken or Robb's reaction to them.

In her bed, the lady shifted a little and noted that she still wore her dress. She took that as assurance her husband kept her handmaids from their chambers.

Robb...Mini may never remember this, but she doubted Robb would ever forget. She hoped he could forgive her, but she wouldn't be very surprised if a little part of him resented her. If the roles were switched, she might never look at him the same. She'd wonder how she could trust him with their child after he'd hidden away, gotten drunk and ignored their baby's cries. She wasn't that sort of woman, and she certainly wasn't that sort of mother. It was one mistake.

What if a gossiping lowborn had seen her? Oh, Gods be good, what if they called her the Drunken Lady? Or Lady Robert? What would Catelyn think when she came back?

Nevertheless, she would still be a Lady of Winterfell, she'd still be Lady Stark, and if they wanted to remain in the Stark household, they'd have to hold their tongues. She would be as strong as her royal mother, who showed nothing but grace and pride when humiliated in public by her husband. She couldn't let this horrible mistake cripple her standing in Winterfell. No. This was her home, and if she had any hope of thriving, she'd have to be brave and face everyone sooner or later.

Even with that in mind, she did not move from her bed. The world still spun and her head still ached like there was a smith going at an anvil in her skull. She couldn't face her husband with grace if she were ill.

Perhaps the coming war will make them all forget about my blunder, she thought darkly.

Time passed slowly for her as she waited for the ache of wine to fade, thinking nothing, but feeling everything. It was as though all the emotion that the wine had kept away the night before had come back with a vengeance. Tears stung her eyes like acid, but she forced them back. She had no desire to cry, not now.

After a long time in her little pillow cave, she began to feel too warm and peeked her head out, half afraid of seeing someone lurking in the corner, watching her warily or with critical eyes. With a confused frown, she spied Grey Wind sleeping by the fire, his massive head settled in his mighty paws. What was he doing here? He had slept in the godswood often as of late. Had Robb sent him in here to keep an eye on her? The idea was absurd, but half of her knew it could be true.

Apart from the direwolf, the room was blessedly free of humans, and Sylvia found the courage to sit up a bit, pushing the ache in her body to the back of her mind.

She looked around a bit more, and found a cup beside the bed, and a note leaning against it. Deciding quickly to read the note later, she reached out for the cup, and sighed happily at finding it filled to the brim with cold water. When she finally set it down, more than two-thirds of its contents were gone and the foul, gritty taste in her mouth was gone.

"Ugh, if this is what happens, why does anyone drink?" she grumbled, lying back down.

Grey Wind woke at her voice, raspy though it was, and trotted over to her. She watched him come to her side, staring down at her with his yellow eyes, full of knowledge and an eerie sort of understanding. He lifted a mighty paw and climbed into the bed, his massive body settling over her legs, warming her, keeping her safe. Sylvia wondered if he knew she felt wretched, and tried to offer a bit of comfort. She liked that idea, and reached down to give him a few pats before scratching behind his ear.

"I made a fool of myself last night, Grey Wind. I just wanted to think of something else for a while. Do you think Robb will forgive me?" Grey Wind heaved a sigh in reply, pressing into her hand. "He has to. I'm his wife." She felt the direwolf shift beneath her hand, felt his head shake and settle down over his paws. "He's going to war against my family. I think he has to give me this one." She heard the wolf make a sound that could only be called a groan, as though in disagreement. "If I'll have to forgive him for this war his mother started, he'll have to forgive me for this."

For a long while, it was silent between them, but as each moment passed by, Sylvia's frustration at herself mounted. "I'm a damned fool, but I am not a coward." She mumbled to herself, sliding her legs out from under the wolf and rising on shaky legs.

The woman frowned curiously. Was that normal? To feel as unsteady as a baby deer after a night of heavy drinking? If it was, she was even more perplexed by people's love of wine and ale. But, she had to admit, before everything fell apart, she'd had greatly enjoyed the loose feeling that had pulsed through her, enjoyed feeling warm, and not caring for once. But any joy she'd found was greatly outshined by her shame.

Carefully, she padded towards the dressing screen, and once she was behind it, she started on the laces of her dress. The night before, she'd felt too warm and thought it a very clever idea to take her dress off. Thankfully, she'd given up half way through her ties and had sat with her corset and under dress exposed until Robb found her. She tossed it over the top of the screen, letting it hang while she momentarily inspected the rip in the skirt, the cold nipping up her legs and down her back. Sylvia sighed. Mending it would leave a noticeable seam, a scar that couldn't be hidden. She'd have to throw it away.

As she reached for a new gown—a plain woolen thing of pale blue—she realized she had no one to help her dress. Still slightly shaky, and too stubborn to call upon a maid, she slipped her arms into the sleeves, drawing it close to her body and tying it closed at her side. It still felt loose, even as she took up a metal belt and secured it around her waist.

With a sigh she sat before her vanity, eyes lingering on the contents laying on top, before slowly dragging her eyes up to look at herself in the mirror. She watched the sad face in the mirror contort into a grimace. Her hair was a rat's nest, half undone braids creating a tangled black mess. Her eyes were a little swollen, no doubt from the tears she'd cried the night before. The black circles beneath her eyes were testament to the poor sleep she'd gotten, and she looked away, ashamed.

Tentatively, she began tidying her hair—unweaving the braids and combing through the knots with her fingers until her black tresses hung lifelessly around her face. Looking into the mirror once again, she thought she looked a bit more herself; more like she'd had a restless night, and not like she'd passed out after drinking an appalling amount of wine. It was a marvel that she could become so undone after drinking, how she could become someone so unlike herself, and she hated how hints of that person lingered on in the morning.

After smoothing down her hair with a brush, Sylvia was momentarily at a loss of what to do with her hair. She'd never fashioned it into a style herself before, at least not an elaborate one suitable for a lady. The most she'd ever done was braid it back before bed. After a few moments of experimenting, she managed to secure two twists of hair at her temples, and thought she looked presentable enough, though not as elegant as she liked to be.

Deciding she'd put it off long enough, Sylvia stood and walked back to the bed, sitting down before taking up the note left for her. Eyeing the note for a moment, she picked up the cup and drained the rest of the water in one go and opened the folded parchment quickly.

One line of words greeted her, and as she read them, she did not know what to make of them.

Come to my solar when you are able.


Dressing was one thing, but finding the spine to leave the room was quite another. She'd gotten from the Guest House to the Great Keep somehow, but she couldn't remember if anyone had seen her. Sylvia did not want to leave the emptiness of her chambers if it meant having to encounter accusing, judgemental eyes that didn't understand anything. Experience had taught her that even the lowest of the low devoured gossip and scandal as hungrily as they devoured bread. Looking back, how many times had she been the subject of such unflattering whispers?

But the only thing worse than enduring foul gossip, would be to hide from it, especially so soon after finishing her period of grief. The young lady took a deep breath, gave Grey Wind a parting scratch, and opened the door, walking from the chamber with her head held high.

As Sylvia slept off her drunken night, Robb had managed to doze off a few times in his chair by the fire. His solar was dark, but every few moments, he'd open his eyes and find it a little brighter, the black fading into dark blue, then into light blue, before finally settling on a soft grey. He'd left his daughter in care of the handmaid, Elane, and could not find it in himself to sleep next to his wife. Not that she'd even left him much room to sleep in his own bed if he'd wanted to.

The petty thought flittered through his mind and he silently scolded himself. Of course there were bigger issues to face, but the minor grievance gave him a small sense of normalcy. As though she hadn't gotten so drunk the night before she couldn't hear their daughter's cries.

When the sun began peaking over the moors, the young Lord made his way down to the Great Hall, sitting with Theon and eating their breakfast. Bran and Rickon would take their food in their rooms today, so Sylvia's absence was less significant.

Robb snatched a roll from the array of food the servants had laid out and sat back in his father's chair. He could feel Theon's gaze upon him, curious, wondering if his mischievous nature would relieve the tension. The young lord stared hard at the wall across from him, feeling a glare mar his face.

"You look about as joyful as your bastard brother this morning." Theon jested, lightly. But upon hearing no snarky reply or hearing a snort of amusement, Theon sobered. "Long night, I'm guessing?"

Robb sent him an irritated really didn't want to get into a serious discussion about all his troubles this early in the morning. Maybe he should have just taken breakfast in his solar. "I didn't get to much sleep last night," he grumbled before taking another vicious bite of his roll to vent his frustration.

"Well, perhaps you should have had your lady wife sing you to sleep," Theon sighed, voice devoid of mirth as he sluggishly picked up a hardboiled egg and cracked it on the table. "I heard she could out sing a tavern bard with a cup in her hand."

Robb turned to his friend, frustration and worry rising quickly in his belly. "What exactly did you hear?"

"I might have heard how Lady Stark marinated herself in wine last night."

Robb's mouth hardened into a stern line. "And who'd you hear that from?"

"One of the guards. Went on about how she smelled like she drank more than a Dornish man at his daughter's wedding."

Robb wanted to find the guards they'd encountered the night before and throw them from the castle for speaking about his wife that way. Perhaps later he would. "Whoever said it shouldn't have so loose a tongue," He growled, fist clenching."He should not be talking about my lady wife in such a way, and neither should you. So please, Theon, I don't need to hear it." Robb didn't want to think of the foul rumours already sweeping the halls about his wife.

He missed his base-born brother sharply, then. Jon would lend an ear and offer sound advice. He half expected Theon to advise him to slap his lady wife for her mistake, but he knew Theon wasn't so foolish as to suggest that.

Theon asked, ignoring Robb's request as he began to peel off the shell. "Guards said they'd spotted you dragging your drunken wife up to bed in the middle of the night." He bit into the egg, brow raised in a challenging manner, as though waiting for his friend to deny the allegations.

Robb bristled. He hadn't been dragging her, had he? Yes, he'd had to pull her an awful lot since half the time her feet wouldn't move, but he hadn't intended to be rough.

"That's not—it wasn't-" Robb trailed off in a frustrated growl as he dropped his roll onto the table. He took a deep breath and ignored Theon's comments. "Sylvia wasn't pleased with my choice to call the banners," Robb said above a whisper. He glanced around for lingering servants and he saw no one of concern, no one who'd strain their ears for his secrets. The servants who'd brought them breakfast had scurried off, and all who remained were household guards, men he trusted. "Syl went to the Guest House to be away from me and..." got drunk off her arse, woke our child with her obnoxious singing, and ignored her wails for comfort. "...Overindulged." He sighed as he glanced back at his friend.

Surprisingly, he found sincere concern in the ward's eyes, nothing resembling smugness or disgust. Robb relaxed a bit as he rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I don't know what I'm going to do with her when all the lords arrive." He confessed, at once wishing he could shove those pathetic words back in his mouth. He was a Lord, meant to be strong as his father, to not waver, to have control of his household.

"She can't let her object to your plans when your banner men arrive. If your men think you can't control your own wife, there's no way they'll trust you to command an army. You need to set her straight." Theon said seriously with a frown.

The muscle in Robb's jaw twitched as he clenched his teeth. He knew he had to talk with her, but the idea of speaking with her just made him angry. His father was in chains; his sisters were in the queen's claws. Yet his wife clearly opposed his call for an army, and then she'd hidden instead of facing him, drinking her emotions away while their infant daughter slept not four feet away.

Why should I need to worry about how she acts?" he questioned aloud.

"A lord's Lady is a reflection on him." Theon informed bluntly, before taking another bite of his egg.

Robb rolled his eyes. Of course. One more thing that required worry. The young lord let his head fall back with a thud, a weary sigh huffing through his lips a second after. "I already have enough to keep me up at night."

"Clearly," Theon smirked.

"It's not a humorous matter, Theon! My wife is acting as if I'm the one who started a war, when it's them," he dare not say the name, not until he had his army rallied. "who have my father locked up in one of their Black Cells, labeled a traitor. You know the stories about those cells. Men actually die of thirst in there. And she—" he broke off, anger taking his words. His hand dropped onto the table with a loud thud. "She's my wife." He ended feebly.

"And you're her husband." Theon pointed out. After a bear of silence, he snorted disbelievingly "But, did you honestly expect her to stand with you, and support you? She could barely support herself last night, especially after drinking half a barrel of wine." He shook his head. "She'll just hand Winterfell over to her bloody prick of a brother as soon as we march off."

"Shut your mouth." He spat at his friend, a look of warning on his face. "She would never do that. She might be stubborn, and she might resent me, but she wouldn't ever betray me." His heart clinched as the doubt on the edge of his mind pulled at him. What was last night, if not a betrayal?

Theon looked at him oddly. "She's Cersei Lannister's daughter, Robb." Cersei's daughter and Robert's. Robert, who loved his lord father more than he loved his royal wife. Robert who died after a pig ripped his guts out, and made his daughter so distraught, she needed nightshade to sleep. Her love for Robert will not let her leave my father to rot. "A wife is supposed to be loyal to her husband." Theon continued. "If she's this opposed to your cause before the war has begun, you mustn't put anything past her." Theon warned. "Blood always tells." It was that that made Robb's sharp eyes snap to his friend's.

"She's a Baratheon, born with the same blood as her father's running through her heart." Robb let the word linger in the air for a long, tense moment. "Never bring my wife's allegiance into question again. I won't be taking lessons in loyalty from a Greyjoy." He kept his voice low and steady, refusing to acknowledge the spark of hurt in his friend's eyes.

But at once, the Greyjoy's features settled into a sour look, the expression of a man angry to have been reprimanded by one he called friend. He had much more to say, and many more harsh truths he could bring up, but Theon's pride was deeply cut, and so he stood from the table, causing the chair to tumble back, and stalked away.

All Robb's righteous anger deflated as soon as his friend was out of sight. His shoulders slumped as he sat heavily back into his seat and brought a hand to rub his aching head. It was a low blow to bring up Balon Greyjoy's ill attempt at rebellion. He knew he should not feel terribly for reminding Theon of his place, but it was done out of spite, a petty barb, spat out because he could not say such hurtful things to his wife. Yet Theon had crossed the line, in speaking of his lady in such a way.

Robb left the table, feeling wearier than he had been when he sat down.

It was near midday, yet surprisingly, Sylvia had yet to reveal herself. But Robb knew his wife, and suspected that she'd soon bite down her embarrassment and face him. It was only a matter of time. So Robb sat in his solar, reviewing his father's books, detailing the number of men he'd have to fight with. When his head began to ache, he set one book down and took up another, this time reviewing their stores of meat, making sure he'd have enough to host his bannermen.

Of course, in overseeing the household books, reading his wife's delicate handwriting, his mind wandered once more to Sylvia. Theon's words at breakfast still lingered in his mind, and now that his temper had cooled some, he found himself wondering if Theon spoke what others thought.

Because of her blood, would his people think Sylvia disloyal? Would they look at her and see the enemy? If other northerners didn't think she could be trusted, how would she possibly run Winterfell, much less the North while he was gone? How could he trust his own people not to rise up against her? He ought to trust his people, but Northerners might not trust a young southern woman, especially the sister of the king they rode against. Northerners did not trust outsiders so easily, and Sylvia could very easily become an outsider again, despite her long years living in the North and the northern child she birthed.

But it wasn't like he could take her to war with him. No, that would be absurd. A war camp was no place for a gentle woman like his wife. But she would have to run Winterfell and the north by herself when he marched off, and take care of his brothers and their daughter.

The recent events involving his wife made him wonder, suddenly, if leaving her was wise. Maester Luwin would remain at Winterfell as well, to offer her guidance and council her. But would he be enough to stem whatever harmful impulses had driven her to drink? Was that a one-time mistake?

"My lord," the voice of his guard slashed through his thoughts. "Lady Sylvia requests to see you." He continued. Robb's back straightened in his chair, hands tightening around his quill as he called out for her to enter.

He was still scribbling down notes into a store book when his wife closed the door behind her. The awkward tension mounted as he continued writing, not looking up or acknowledging once she was there. Sylvia's hands clenched nervously around each other as she waited for her husband to look at her. Suddenly, she began to worry if she looked presentable enough. Did her hair still look remnant of a rats nest? Were her clothes wrinkled? Did her breath stink of wine? Subtlety, she pulled the sleeve of her dress further down, hoping the bruises on her wrist were hidden. She wanted no part of last night to shine through her. She wanted it all to be forgotten.

Finally, when Robb was through with his note, he set down the quill and looked up at her, regarding her a moment with unreadable eyes. Sylvia twisted her wedding ring around her finger.

"Where's Mini?" she asked, her voice low and gravelly. She delicately cleared her throat.

"With your maid." He answered, leaning back into his father's chair.

Sylvia hesitated. "Is she well?" she asked tentatively, half afraid to hear the answer. If Mini were hurt because of her, she'd never forgive herself.

"She is." Robb replied. For a moment it was quiet, the husband and wife regarding each other over the desk. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

Sylvia was quiet for a moment, unsure of what to say. She certainly hadn't expected such a stiff pleasantry when she first saw him after last night. At last, she answered, honestly, though hoping a bit of humor would cut through the awkward air. "Like death." Her mind flashed to the horrible nightmare she'd had, to her father with his guts spilling into his hands, to the boy whose face was a terrible shade of blue. What in the seven hells had that been?

A hollow smile quirked her husband's lips. "You sound like yourself again, at least." There was a little barb in there, and Sylvia didn't know if it would be better to not have heard it, because then, at least, that one statement wouldn't be filled with hidden meaning.

An uncomfortable silence settled between them. It seemed endless, and she was tempted to yell at Robb just to end it, to scream at him for his deeds, his deceit, his treason, for this was treason: him calling the banners to contest the king's ruling. To intimidate the king into submission.

Well, Sylvia didn't know the law to a letter, but she knew somewhere it must be written that Robb's plans were treasonous. And traitors were hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered...all number of brutalities were done to traitors, and it terrified her that her husband would have that cursed title on his head. She didn't know what she'd do if he died, and she never wanted to find out.

But he was doing it for reasons that made sense to her. The accusations against Ned Stark were false. Of that she was certain, for there was not a bone in Lord Stark's body that did not love Robert Baratheon, and so no part of Ned Stark would do harm to Robert's legacy. For whatever reason Joffrey arrested her good-father, Robb had the right to want him freed. It was his duty, even.

She tried to see it that way. The entire journey to his solar, she'd tried. But it always came back to the fact that he was raising an army, hungry for blood and justice, against her family. Her mother, her little sister, sweet Tommen with his rabbits who love sweets. Uncle Tyrion, who was always kind to her.

And Stannis and Renly...what of them? There was no news of Stannis since Jon Arryn's death. She'd heard somewhere that he'd retreated to Dragonstone, irked at not being chosen as the next Hand. The last letter she received from Renly was dated before the king's hunt ended her father's life. Would Renly move to help her good-father, or would he stand with Joffrey? Renly loved her more than Joffrey, but would that be enough to earn his support in this endeavor?

Even if Robb hadn't called the banners, the country was in confusion. Her grandfather slashed and burned through the riverlands. Her uncle Imp was off in the wild, making his way home. Her wretched, kingslaying uncle had assaulted Ned Stark, and butchered his guards on the steps of a brothel. In her heart, Sylvia knew her husband was not to blame for this coming war. He wasn't even the first man to call his banners.

Her family was tearing itself apart, one side determined to destroy the other in a rain of blood, and she was caught in the center and didn't know what do. She felt helpless.

She was ashamed for not being able to support Robb fully, and she was feeling angry at him for the offense of trying to rescue his father

"I'm sorry." She murmured, her voice small. "I'm sorry, Robb. For all of it."

"You should be." He replied, his voice cold as ice, his eyes flashing up to meet hers. He paused as he stood from his chair. "Mini was screaming her lungs out, reaching out for you. Wanting you." Sylvia's heart ached and her toes clenched in her boots. "I could have taken care of her if you hadn't hidden away like a fitting child." His words stung.

"I didn't mean to," she pleaded weakly, hoping to make him understand. "I ju-just wanted to relax for a while. Forget." Her blue eyes pleaded with his to understand, but they didn't soften. "I love her; I'd never do anything to hurt her."

"I thought so too." His voice was hard, cold as the steel of a blade and just as sharp.

Nevertheless, the wound those simple words inflicted ignited a burst of anger in her heart, defences rising quickly at his implication. "She's my daughter. Our daughter. You don't really think I'd ever intentionally hurt her, do you?" She asked, eyes wide with question.

"She could have been hurt last night, Sylvia." He said after a long moment of thought. The southern woman clenched her eyes shut as shame once more washed over her, turning her head away so he couldn't look at her face. "That must never happen again." He told her sternly, but there was something...gentler about his voice then. Some soft, pleading undertone that she almost missed.

"It never will." She vowed at once, meeting his eyes again. "I swear, on every god men pray to. Even that morbid...goat god the savages of Qohor believe in." Robb sighed and looked away, and Sylvia could tell he struggled to believe her. "I was a fool, I know that. A shameful, drunken, pitiful fool and I hate myself for it. I will water the earth with every barrel of wine in Winterfell before touching it again."

"How can I trust that?" he asked suddenly, leaning forward so his hand rested on his desk, his eyes boring into hers.

"Because I'm your wife." It was the first thing that came to mind. Who could he trust, if not her?

"My wife, who got so drunk when I called my bannermen that I needed to half drag you back to our chambers."

Sylvia's cheeks burned, and she felt a sting behind her eyes again. But she would not cry, not here, not now. Her teeth bit into her lip, angry and hurt and ashamed. "I thought we were finally getting past all this horrible business with my family and your family." She said. "Then Joffrey ruined it."

"We were never past it." He murmured softly. "Tell me Lord Tywin would have let my mother get away with kidnapping his son. Tell me my father could forgive your uncle for butchering his men, and sending a spear through his leg."

"It never seemed like war was a true possibility. Then you called for your men to gather their forces."

"Because your brother threw my father into a dungeon." He reminded her coldly, his brows narrowing.

"Yes." She admitted softly, wishing, for what must have been the thousandth time, that Joffrey was not her brother. "My brother. My stupid, pigheaded, wretched little brother. But still my brother. And next to him, stands my mother. And next to her, my sister, and youngest brother. Can you not see why I might oppose this?" she asked her voice gentle and pleading. "Why it might be difficult for me to support you?"

Robb's glare softened some. "I understand." He finally admitted, and Sylvia felt a weight lift from her shoulders. She took the soft confession as an opportunity to close the gap between them, to step around the desk so she stood beside him.

"Believe me, when I say I want your father and sisters back, at least half as much as you." His eyes stared into hers, and she stifled the urge to look away from the penetrating gaze. "But I beg you; tread with caution, especially when toiling with Tywin Lannister." Her grandfather had only grown wiser in his old age, if rumours could be believed. Wiser, and harsher.

Robb regarded her for a moment, considering her words. "Tywin Lannister is not the most powerful man in the kingdoms. Joffrey is." She nodded, unsure of where he was going. "No king wants to face open rebellion, and if your brother sees that a single man's arrest can rally an entire countryside, as a king, he must do what is necessary to prevent war. He wouldn't allow his grandfather to insight further discord in battle."

Sylvia thought of this, and then shook her head. "I am that boy's sister, and I hardly know his intent half the time. And my grandfather," a hollow laugh escaped her then. Grandfather was a gentle word, meant for soft, kind men who had love in their eyes. Her grandfather had frightened her. "He was Hand of the King for twenty years, and after Mad Aerys, I doubt he will let another inept monster have much power over him. He is cruel to his own son, Robb. What makes you think he'll be any kinder to the family of the woman who wounded his pride?"

Robb considered the distressing possibility for a moment. The notion of facing such a brutal man, quite honestly, terrified him. Tywin Lannister was known for his wealth, and his (very effective) brutality in battle. The Old Lion's gold could pay for weapons of better craft than what his northern smiths could forge. Gold would pay for rations, tents, armor, clothes. Doubt prickled inside him, doubt he could not afford to show.

"I cannot say what is for certain." He admitted after a beat. "But," he paused, taking in his wife's face. Her beautiful blue eyes were soft, and filled with understanding. When next he spoke, vulnerability leaked through his tone, and into his words. "Syl, I can't just...sit here and do nothing while Joffrey holds my father prisoner, and does gods know what to my sisters."

"I know you can't." She murmured back. Her hand dared to move to his, still resting on the desk, and covered it with her own. "But this is war. Men will die. You—" tears burned her eyes again. "You could..." she dare not word the thought any further. Her fingers tightened around his, the ache in her wrist flaring up again.

Robb's hand flipped over so his fingers could curl around her hand, and Sylvia swore she felt it tremble. Her husband's wide blue eyes stared into hers, so open and honest her heart ached sweetly. How long had it been since he'd looked at her like this? Too long.

"I can't stand to see my father locked up, no more than I can bear to see you like this. Us, like this. The weeks ahead will be hard, on both of us. Syl," he moved closer to her. "I need you by my side."

I can't stand beside him and smile as he plans to war with my family, her mind whispered. But I can't stand by my family and smile while they plan to war with my husband, her heart reminded her. She stood in the middle of a field, her mother and siblings on one side, her husband and child on another. How could she choose, and still find sleep at night? In her heart, she already knew the answer. Wherever Mini was, she would follow.

"You're asking me to openly betray my family." She heard herself murmur, her voice strangely disillusioned.

He shook his head. "I can't do this without you. There's no right way to go about this," he laughed hollowly. "But how can I possibly be sure of anything, when the person who matters most to me can't bring herself to support me, even a little?" he paused. "I don't want you to betray your family, Syl. That's just it. I'd never want to hurt any of them. I just want my father and sisters back, so I can live out my days with you, peacefully and happily." She wanted that too, but they had very different ideas on how to achieve those goals. "I don't know if I can lead an army," he admitted softly, as though ashamed to admit it. "But how else can I get them back? How do I even stand a chance if my own wife can't even stand behind me?"

Sylvia bit her lip, thinking of his words. If Robb had her support, perhaps her family would be more amenable to negotiations? If he had her support, would grandfather stay his attacks? If he had her support, would he listen to her council, and bring a quick end to this folly?

"You must trust me, then." She replied. Unwittingly, she stepped closer to him, their hands still locked between them. Silently, she prayed that the stink of wine was gone. "As I've always trusted you. I know don't deserve it, not after last night." She looked down at their hands, her thumb running over his skin. "But the south was my home. I was born there. I know how it works."

Suddenly, Robb crushed her to his chest, his arms tight around her, his nose in her neck, his entire body pressed against hers. For a long, blissful moment, she let her husband hold her, holding him in turn. The simple comfort of being in his arms, pressed tightly and safely against him, was something she'd had no hope of when she first entered his solar. Knowing this could have gone so much worse, her nails dug into his back as she pulled him closer.

What would she do when he left Winterfell for war? Her face contorted into a grimace and she buried her face into his hair. What if he never returned?

Suddenly, her mouth was on Robb's, her fingers holding to the sides of his face in case he should jump away. I'm sorry, I miss you, please forgive me. For a moment, she could forget about her family, and how her love would raise a mighty host against them. And suddenly, all she could think was that her husband was going to war. He was running towards the danger, towards the blood and swords and carnage, and she could not stand to fight him a second longer. Fear churned in her belly as she kissed him, waiting for his response. Desperation quickly lit in her heart, and she knotted her fingers in his hair, tugging the way she knew he liked, pressing her body closer to him.

Please love me again.

At last his lips pressed back against hers, and she made a little sound of relief as his arms wound around her body.

Her feet left the floor and suddenly her bottom was pressed hard against his desk, the sudden pain of it making her gasp, giving Robb the chance to slip his tongue into her mouth. The sensation made her belly clench pleasurably.

When she pulled away to pant into his ear, he moved his lips over her jaw, and down her neck, his teeth nipping and marking their journey until they met the barrier of her gown.

"I will write my uncles, Stannis and Renly for support in freeing Lord Eddard." She gasped as he began sucking the soft skin at her pulse, feeling her heart beat wildly beneath his mouth. He must not have heard, because in the next moment, his hands gripped her hips and lifted her onto his desk, stepping between her legs at once.

There was need in his kisses, one that matched hers. A need to feel something more than worry and hurt and regret. A need for something happy to come from their time together. A need to forget.

Their families were at odds, war brimming on the horizon. But they could at least have this.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!

So, I am returning to school in January, and so I'll be quite busy :(

I will make an effort to keep on updating, but they may be a bit...slower.

please review, and let me know what you think :D