The sun was pouring over the hills like water and a warm summer breeze whispered through the Wolfswood. Birds sang their pretty songs and there wasn't a noise to be heard otherwise- except for that of Lyla Stark's horse. They blew through the woods as fast as wind, without a thought on where they were headed. It must have been an hour after sunrise when she slowed, patting her horse's neck and panting a 'whoa'.
She took in the beauty of the woods, the scent of pine and summer snow. It was serene, calming, and it only confirmed that she were a Stark. It was a proud thing to be- a Stark. They were known for their strength and loyalty and honor. And their tempers and cold shoulders and wildness, she reminded herself. But that did not phase her pride in her House. While she had not the ladylike charms that her mother, Lady Catelyn, and sister, Sansa, possessed, she had winter in her blood, and were a wolf at heart. Lyla smiled to herself, rearing Morrow around and galloping back home.
It was not long before she arrived back at the gates of Winterfell. She trotted through the courtyard, inhaling the scent of the stables as she passed them and halting when she saw the boys practicing in the yard.
"And which one of you was a marksman at seven?" her father, Lord Eddard Stark, questioned when Bran missed his mark and the other boys laughed. His eyes landed on hers then and he frowned. Her twilight rides had always distressed the dear Lord of Winterfell. "Another morning ride, Lyla?"
"I simply couldn't waste such a beautiful morn, father," Lyla replied from her seat on Morrow. She patted his neck before swinging from the saddle, handing his reins to the stable boy that stood nearest to her.
"Go on Bran," Robb urged as she drew closer towards them. "Try again."
Bran sighed but did as told, pulling back an arrow and locking his eyes on the target.
Jon observed the young boy's stance and folded his arms. "Relax your bow arm," he commented, eyes narrowed.
Again, Bran obliged, closing his eyes. Just as he was about to release the arrow, Lyla switched her gaze to where her youngest sister silently stood underneath the balcony. It overlooked the yard, made of thick grey wood. She winked her way, and Arya grinned in return before loosing her arrow, smile growing when the mark was hit.
The boys roared in laughter once Bran realized what happened. Above, where their parents looked down on them, chuckles echoed off the stone of Winterfell's walls.
"She's just as wild as you ever were," Robb jested, earning him a glare.
"Pray she doesn't set the sept on fire as you did, Stark," Theon added.
Lyla frowned. "If I hadn't been forced to light mother's candle, it wouldn't have caught the drapes aflame."
The boys shared another quick chortle, but it was halted as soon as they sighted Rodrik Cassel crossing the yard, his white whiskers bouncing as he walked. In his hand was a letter, a report. Dark nerves set in Lyla's belly as the old man, their Master-at-Arms, climbed the stairwell of the balcony to hand Lord Stark the note.
"Robb." Lord Eddard's voice rang clear. He descended the steps and neared them. Lyla could immediately tell something was wrong. His hard, stone gray eyes were as solemn as ever. "There is a deserter. Bring Bran, it's his time."
Lyla's eyes brightened and she grabbed her father's arm as he passed. "Might I come, father," she asked. She'd never seen a man put to the sword, but she felt she was old enough now; fifteen and ready to make what she would of the world.
Lord Stark shook his head. "You are a lady, Lyla," he replied quietly. "I will not tarnish your outlook on the world so young."
A swell of jealousy coursed through her veins and she furrowed her brows. "Father," she reasoned, "Bran's only seven, less than half my age, and yet he may go and not I?"
"Lyla, women's eyes are meant for beautiful things, like needlework or babes, not blood." her father replied, not unkindly but perhaps exasperatedly. He looked to Robb, who nodded compliantly and took his leave with Theon and Jon in tow.
"Father, I have seen more than my fair share of blood." He looked as set in his decision as ever, and she frowned, grasp sliding from his arm to his hand in an attempt to warm him to the idea. "Don't you remember that I was the one who found that dead bear by the Wolfswood? There was enough blood there for at least five men."
Lord Eddard gave her a pained look, and she knew he was thinking of her aunt, his sister, Lyanna Stark, who was her namesake. It was not uncommon that she would be compared to the late wolf girl, who was barely older than Lyla herself. She hadn't been the only one to notice that because of her likeness to her aunt she was allowed more than her brothers or sisters. "You will not tell your mother," he told her sternly, giving in as he always did.
Lyla threw her arms around her father's neck and kissed his cheek. "You are so good to me, father," she murmured gratefully, waving for the stable boy to return her stallion to her. The beast whinnied as she mounted him, the laces of her riding boots catching slightly on his flowing mane.
"He's actually letting you come?" Theon raised his brow watching as Lyla worked to free her poor mount's mane from the laces. After a moment he leaned down and helped, and she thanked him with a kind smile.
"He is," she replied, settling into the saddle and gripping the reins, lacing her fingers through Morrow's midnight black mane.
Lord Stark reared his steady bay around, checking to see if all was prepared, and nodded when he was content. "Let's on," he announced, kicking into his steed. Everyone followed, as though they were extensions of him, and none said a word on Lyla's presence.
They rode off to the basehill. Robb was just behind their father, and Lyla was not far behind him. Theon galloped easily at her side, and Jon was tailing them with Bran at his flank, trying to stay amount on his pony. The guards surrounded them, and Ser Rodrik was beside Lord Stark.
It did not take but for a moment to reach the prisoner, the deserter, who wore worn black furs and seemed to see right through whoever spoke to him. Lyla caught his eye only once and shuddered, glancing away. His stare entered her and touched her soul like a brand iron.
"Don't look away," Lyla heard Jon whisper to Bran as their father called for the family sword, Ice. "Father will know if you do."
The man looked young, lanky and thin with a tall willowy stature. Lyla frowned as he went on about the white walkers, saying how he'd seen them with his own eyes. A lie, she thought to herself. White walkers were just a children's tale.
Eddard looked grim as he whispered the titles of their king. When he proclaimed the sentence of death, Lyla instinctively reached her hand out to Bran's and squeezed it. "Be strong, little wolf," she whispered to him, her eyes reaching the deserter's just in time to see the lights leave them as Ice sliced through his neck. It only took her father one blow to get the job done, and she couldn't help but stare in wonderment as the blood danced about his corpse.
"You did well," Jon encouraged solemnly. Jon was her bastard brother by title, but as true a brother to her as Robb, Bran, or Rickon. He looked more like their father than any of her 'true' brothers; his hair was thick and so dark it was nearly black, his face long and serious, and his eyes were the same silver gray as their father. Arya could have been his full blooded sister, for how similar they were, and I were of a likeness to them as well, but for my Tully blue eyes and smaller, more refined, features.
Bran said nothing of Jon's comment, only swallowed and followed Robb as he rode off with their father. Theon kicked the head as it rolled to his feet and Jon shot a heated glance his way. "Ass," he grunted, riding away with Lyla at his side.
After a while's ride, they curved the riverbank and stopped. Nearly ten feet away from them lay a wolf, and not just any wolf, a direwolf. It was white as snow where gray didn't dapple it, yellow eyes wide open and blank. "Gods!" Theon breathed, dismounting and staring at it in awe. "What in the seven hells is it?"
"A wolf," said Robb.
"A freak," Theon retorted. "Look at the size of it!"
Lyla's eyes never left the carcass as she dismounted Morrow, crossing to it and burying her hands in its fur- much to Jory Cassel's disposition. "It's a direwolf, not a freak," she murmured, more to herself than as a reply.
"Lyla, get away from that!" Eddard commanded, dismounting only seconds after everyone else.
She did not listen, only took in the sight of the beast before her. Its body was half buried in the snow, ice forming on its fur and maggots crawling from its eyes and mouth, the wound infested the worst, and yet Lyla only saw the beauty of its long, sturdy legs and thin, lithe body. The way it's snout was slightly longer than a regular wolf and how large it was. It was grander than Bran's pony.
Nor did she miss the pups that were suckling from its teats.
"There's not been a direwolf sighted south of the Wall in two hundred years," marveled her father's ward, who eyed the little pups with suspicion.
Jon raised his brows at the boy who was his elder physically but his lesser mentally. "I see one now," he told the ironborn, voice hard.
Robb gingerly picked up one of the pups, holding it at arm's length from the scruff. The tiny thing was yipping and pawing at the air, silver furred with milky yellow eyes. Little Bran eyed the pup yearningly, and Lyla placed a warm, gloved hand on his shoulder.
"Go on, you can touch him," she whispered encouragingly to the young lordling.
Jon pushed another pup, smaller, a pale peppered brown, into their young brother's arms as Robb held his closer. "Here you go," he said softly, looking up to their father. "There are six of them."
"Direwolves loose in the realm, after so many years," Hullen muttered, "I like it not."
Jory was clutching the pommel of his sword with white knuckles but shook his head at Hullen. "It's a sign," he insisted.
Father seemed unconvinced. "This is only a dead animal, Jory." He had troubled eyes and moved around the shewolf's body slowly, snow crunching freshly under his feet. "Do we know what killed her?"
"There's something in the throat." Robb informed him, "There, just under the jaw."
They went on endlessly about the tales they'd heard, of how pups had eaten their way from their mother in histories past, but Lyla heard none of it, watching in wonder as a fuzzy light brown shewolf crawled onto her skirts, suckling at her fingertip and looking up at her with big brown eyes. It was so helpless, so sweet.
"No matter, they'll be dead soon enough," Hullen said decidedly.
Theon nodded, drawing his sword. "The sooner the better." He looked over to Bran who was still nursing his pup close and thrust out his arm. "Give it here, Bran."
"No! This one's mine." Bran was fierce, blue eyes vivid and furious. He was as strong as a northman, though he held the auburn curls and delicate features of House Tully, where their mother had been borne of.
Robb's voice boomed and for a moment Lyla thought he was their father. "Put away your sword, Theon. We will keep these pups."
Hullen's son, Harwin, raised a brow. "You cannot do that, boy."
"It be a mercy to kill them," Hullen agreed.
"No!" Bran cried, and Lyla could see the tears welting up in his eyes. He looked to his sister pleadingly, his grip on the direwolf Jon had given him desperate.
"Ser Rodrik's red bitch whelped again last week," Lyla spat out, hurriedly, trying to mend the situation, "it was a small litter, only two live pups. She'll have milk enough, though."
Her father did not waver. "She'll rip them apart when they try to nurse," he replied gravely.
"Lord Stark," Jon interrupted. All turned to him and Lyla could see Bran pursing his lips out of the corner of her eye, his eyes begging more than words could convey. "There are six pups. Three male and three female."
"What of it Jon?"
"You have six true born children," said Jon. "Three sons and three daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord."
Lyla hated that he didn't count himself as one of her siblings- he may not have been a 'trueborn' but he was still a son by her father, her true half-brother. "You want no pup for yourself, Jon?" she asked, though knew he was too humble to think that he was a real Stark.
Jon only shrugged, looking away. She could have sworn there was a glint of sadness in his silver eyes. "The direwolf graces the banners of House Stark. I am no Stark."
Eddard regarded Jon thoughtfully, solemnly, and she interjected before he could change his mind. "We will nurse them ourselves," she suggested hopefully, running her hand gently down the back of the summer-brown wolf she held. "We can soak towels with warm milk and give them suck from that."
"I promise," Bran added quickly, holding his little pup even closer.
"Easy to say, harder to do," sighed Lord Stark, eyeing his children carefully, weighing his decisions. "I will not have you wasting the servant's time with this. If you want these pups, you will feed them yourselves. Is that understood?"
Bran, Robb and Lyla all nodded in understanding. "You must train them yourselves as well," their father said. "You must train them. The kennelmaster will have nothing to do with these monsters, I promise you that. And gods help if you neglect them, or brutalize them, or train them badly. These are not dogs to beg for treats or slink off at a kick. A direwolf will rip a man's arm off his shoulder as easily as a dog will kill a rat. Are you sure you want this?"
"Yes, father," Bran answered, smiling down at his pup.
Lord Stark's eyes switched to his eldest son and daughter, who both replied with a firm, "yes."
"The pups may die anyway, despite all you do," Lord Stark reminded them soberly.
Lyla held the warm brown wolf closer to her, cradling it. "They won't die," she all but hissed in defense, "I won't let them die."
Their father's eyes flashed with momentary amusement at his eldest child's outburst. "Keep them then. Jory, Desmond, gather up the other pups. It's time we were back to Winterfell."
Bran wrapped his arms around their father's legs and followed him as he went, and Lyla and Jon helped Jory and Desmond gather the other three pups. Even Theon helped, regardless of his readiness to end the pup's lives. He carried the last pup, the largest of them all, that was too much for either Jory or Desmond to hold.
We mounted with the help of some of the guards, who held the pups until we were saddled, and then returned them. It was not uncomfortable having the little dirt brown wolf in my lap as we prepared to depart for Winterfell
Before they could ride out, there was a soft, whisper of whining that altered both Lyla and Jon. She turned to where the dead wolf rested, wondering, for a moment, if it were not truly dead. Jon spurred his mount towards the massive body, as if reading her mind, but it was not the giant beast that lived.
Lyla gasped alongside the others as her half-brother pulled a tiny, malnourished, white wolf pup from the frosty summer snow. Its eyes were a bright, glistening red, like that of two bloodstones. "He must have crawled away from the others," Jon reasoned as he cradled the tiny thing.
"Or maybe driven away," their lord father remarked darkly.
"An albino," Theon noted. "That one will die even faster than the others."
Lyla glanced his way, her eyes cold as she showed her anger at his snide remark freely. He looked downcast and pursed his lips. Jon stared at him with a similar, albeit icier, look in his eyes. When he spoke, it was like a sharp ring of a bell. "This one belongs to me."
"You did well, watching that deserter. Better than Robb had done his first time out." Theon brought it up nonchalantly, riding up beside Lyla.
She looked to him and allowed a small smile to grace her lips, forgiving his remark about Jon's little wolf. "I remember you told me that he flinched. Father didn't like that, I'm sure."
Theon laughed. He always laughed, when he weren't crude, and it oddly soothed the young Stark girl. She could be as cross as the seven hells, yet still find comfort in his laugh. "Your lord father was bothered, but not angry. He could never be angry with any of you."
Lyla playfully pushed at his shoulder with her free hand as they pulled up to the Winterfell gates. "He's never been angry with you either, Greyjoy. Don't seek my pity."
He smiled at her shove and after he'd dismounted his stallion he released an exaggerated gasp. "You wound me, my lady! It is below me to seek pity."
"Wound you? What a hurtful assumption," she teased lightly. "I'm a lady, Theon Greyjoy, I couldn't dare harm a fly." She handed her pup to Jory and slid from the saddle, then plucked it from his hands and kissed its nose for good measure.
Robb was beside her then, holding his little grey pup. "Of course," he agreed, "my darling sister is descended from the gods."
Lyla smiled at her brother, only her younger by a year. They were so alike in temperament, but carried many differences physically. While she and Robb shared the river blue eyes and slender, delicate face of Tully, her dark brown curls were of the wild North, her height and slimness also northern. Robb, on the other hand, was all Tully, from the ringlets of auburn atop his head to the bulky strength that made him.
Robb dusted pines from her shoulder and grinned. "Best not tell Sansa that you were with us when we witnessed the execution," he suggested, and she nodded. Arya she could trust with a secret, but it would be a lie to say the same of Sansa. She loved her younger sister, who looked as delicate and red as a rose, but her lady-like nature betrayed her loyalty to her siblings, which was something Lyla would not chance. Her mother would be cross, surely. She decided not to tell Arya, either, lest Arya knowing something Sansa did not spark jealousy in the latter and cause a fight, between they who already fought endlessly.
She opened her mouth to reply, but the distant, shrill, call of their names caught her attention. She turned and smiled in greeting to little Arya, whose wild brown hair was ratted in matts around her face. Sansa met them after, having paced herself slower than Arya to keep her gown fine. She inclined her head, auburn curls falling over her shoulder as she did so. Her eyes, the same shining blue as Lyla and Robb's, grew wide with curiosity.
"Wolves?" questioned the second Stark daughter, who tentatively took the dainty silver-white pup that Jory placed in her arms. She wrinkled her nose at their smell, which was of their rotted mother, and sighed angrily at the dirt that speckled her arms.
"Direwolves," Lyla corrected, a grin tugging at her mouth as Arya eagerly reached for the wolf that Desmond held.
Rickon was tickled to see the pups and quickly proclaimed that the black one in Theon's arms was his. "Pup pup," he called it cheerfully. It was what he called all dogs.
We brought the pups to the kitchens and crowded around them so they could not escape and terrorize the castle. Lyla had not taken her eyes from the sweet little brown wolf that had so deliberately crawled onto her lap in the woods. She was playful and lively and panted as she chased her littermates.
Sansa's wolf, the finest of them all, was watching its brothers and sisters carefully, picking the safest times to jump in and play, then retreating when it became too rough. Arya's wolf, much a match to her own personality, growled playfully at everyone and everything. Rickon's wolf was terrifying, even as a pup, and bared its teeth often.
Bran's wolf was as gentle as Lyla's, and Robb's was thoughtful. Jon's stared at its littermates quietly, not making a sound as it sat at his side, where he stood in the corner.
They were named as quickly as they'd been set down to play. Robb called his steel wolf Grey Wind, for his color and because he was faster than his siblings. Sansa's was Lady, Arya's was Nymeria, Rickon's was Shaggydog and Jon feigned to call his pet Ghost.
It were only Bran and Lyla who had yet to call their wolves anything.
"Lyla, what if I never think of a name for him," Bran murmured quietly, watching as his pup spun around hers.
"You'll think of something Bran," she assured him, squeezing his hand. Her eyes moved to her own little wolf, as nameless as Bran's, and smiled. "We'll both think of something."
"The king? He's coming here, to Winterfell?" Lyla's eyes narrowed suspiciously as she locked eyes with her father, nerves making her fingertips numb.
Her lord father looked onward, no longer meeting her eye, and nodded. Her mother pursed her lips, fine red hair glinting like flames in the firelight. "He's coming to ask your lord father to be Hand in place of Jon Arryn."
"What's happened to Lord Arryn?" Robb asked, pacing the room once more before sitting beside Lyla in a thickly cushioned chair that matched the one she inhabited, curled around herself with her green riding gown fanned out beneath her.
"He's dead, Robb. Why else would he be replaced?" Lyla replied dryly, looking downcast after she met her mother's ice hard eyes.
Eddard sighed and slumped further into his chair across the table, less padded, more wooden. "I've not accepted to anything yet, do not fret."
"I heard he's bringing half the capitol," said Sansa under her breath, looking into the fire that roiled across the room. Her eyes were filled with gleaming excitement, but the rest of us only felt dread.
Lady Catelyn raised her brow. "Where did you hear that, Sansa?"
"Jeyne Poole, no doubt." Lyla murmured to herself. She was no fan of idle gossip, and this was no subject to be taken lightly.
"Lyla," her mother reprimanded sternly, her voice wavering. She was as terrified as we all were that the king would whisk away our father to the capitol.
"Perhaps Sansa should be sent to King's Landing with father, so she might know of our worry," she remarked in her cold way. Her anger about the possibility of losing her father overrode the love and tolerance she held for feather-headed Sansa.
She snapped her eyes up to her mother's still icy glare. There was no way to come out of an argument with the Lady of Winterfell as a victor, so Lyla turned towards her sister, who sat on the other side of the room beside Arya, both of their direwolves warming their laps. My words were sword on stone. "I'm so very sorry, Sansa, that you have let your childish dreams of the south cloud the fact that father might well never return from the capitol."
"Enough Lyla." It was her father who spoke then, and she shrunk under his harsh voice, as cold as the winter winds. "We are a family, we must not be at each other's throats, especially now."
Lyla frowned and looked again to her younger sister, who all but tried to miss the point being conveyed. "Might I truly go to King's Landing?" she asked of their lady mother. It made Lyla sick to hear how giddy her sister was. Perhaps it was because Sansa was all their mother's creature, while Lyla preferred her father's company, that the little auburn haired girl was so excited to hear of the King's arrival. The eldest Stark daughter was not so convinced, and being near such happiness when she felt so very gray made her light headed.
"Father, I am tired. May I go to bed?" Her words were nearly a whisper.
Lord Stark waved his consent, and it was not but a moment before she had pushed her way through the door and departed the solar. A whoosh of cold air chilled her, and she sighed gratefully, for the rush of icy northern wind immediately soothed the anger that burned within her.
Robb followed her out, two little direwolves padding after him, and they found Jon standing out in the yard, whacking a sword to a dummy. The only give away to their silent approach was that of their yowling wolves, of which Lyla bent down and lifted her, petting it to keep herself busy lest she take Jon's sword and swing it herself.
"Jon," Lyla greeted coolly. He looked over his shoulder and smiled, staying his blade and closing the distance between them. When he caught sight of their disgruntled faces, glowing in the dim torchlight, he frowned.
"Lyla, Robb," he greeted them anxiously, looking at his siblings through his nearly black curls. Ghost stared at them with dark ruby eyes, respectful but curious. Awfully humane, for a direwolf, Lyla thought. He sat silently, though his siblings ran over to him, licking his cheeks and yapping delightedly.
"The king is riding to Winterfell to take our lord father as Hand," Robb confessed, for though she opened her mouth to speak, Lyla could not find the words.
It certainly didn't go over her head that he said take. Her tongue felt heavy. She honestly, and probably truthfully, assumed that King Robert Baratheon would never take no as an answer.
Jon looked down, sighing, and hmph'ed. "I see."
"None of us is pleased," Robb sympathized.
But for Sansa, Lyla thought bitterly, holding her wolf closer. She sighed. "I feel I will be of no jolly company tonight," she told her brothers quietly. "I'm going to bed, goodnight." They didn't stop her as she made to leave and she lay in bed that night with her direwolf beside her, curled up and snoring softly. "Goodnight, you," she said with a sob caught in her throat.