The rebellion was over at least officially, after Robert Baratheon had smashed Rhaegar Targaryen's chest in and killed him at the Trident, the royal forces either scattered or bent the knee to the rebels. Robert Baratheon injured during the fighting sent his best friend and the Lord of Winterfell Eddard Stark south with a force of men to take King's Landing by any means necessary, along the way Eddard learnt that Tywin Lannister was marching with a host of men toward King's Landing also, and given the fact that Lord Tywin had remained neutral throughout the war and had of course been King Aerys hand for the majority of the mad king's reign Eddard did not know whether or not Tywin would fight to protect the city or not and so raced against time to get to the city ahead of the Lannister host. However, he arrived late and found the city gates already open and King's Landing being sacked by Lannister men, it became clear that Tywin Lannister had chosen a side, the victorious side. Ned and his six guards as they were rode hard for the Red Keep and upon entering it found a scary sight, gold cloaks were lying dead on the floor as were simply servants and other members of the household, Eddard rode hard for the throne room and at that point simply wished to be the one to end Aerys Targaryen's life or reign himself he did not much mind which it was. However, upon entering the throne room he found to his horror and surprise the Mad King lying in a pool of blood on the steps leading up to the Iron Throne whilst Jamie Lannister sat on the throne with his armour on and his lion's head helm on his lap and his sword drawn and bloodied it did not take a genius to figure out what had happened, Jamie Lannister had broken his vows as a member of the Kingsguard and had killed the King he had sworn to protect.
Once Robert arrived in the city, to a hero's welcome he was sat on the Iron Throne and Lord Eddard was also present when Tywin Lannister laid the lifeless corpses of Elia Martell and her children Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon at the foot of the throne as a sign of the Lannister's fealty to their new king. Eddard was horrified the princess and her children had been innocents and their deaths did nothing to the cause of the rebels, they solved nothing they proved nothing. Eddard spent the next five days arguing with Robert about this and Jamie Lannister's actions, he argued that Jamie Lannister should either be sent to the wall or have his life declared forfeit for betraying his most solemn vow as a member of the Kingsguard, Robert and Jon Arryn the man Eddard considered a father argued stringently against that saying it would be wrong to reward the Lannisters with the execution of Tywin's son. Eddard was also so stunned and haunted by the sight of the Princess and the children's bodies that he argued stringently for Tywin Lannister to be severly reprimanded, this was of course shot down by Robert who argued that Tywin Lannister had done the right thing and had removed "Dragonspawn" from the capital and that the Targaryens would be gone for good once the siege of Storm's End was lifted and Stannis could sail for Dragonstone. Eddard could not agree with Robert and the two fell out over it and were not speaking to one another when Eddard received a raven from Ashara Dayne informing him of where his sister had been kept throughout the rebellion by Prince Rhaegar, granted permission by the new hand of the King Jon Arryn, Eddard rode with six other companions first to Storm's End where the Tyrells dipped their banners and bent the knee, and then onto the Tower of Joy to rescue his sister.
What he found there both worried and confirmed much of what Eddard had thought had actually transpired between his sister and Prince Rhaegar and so he tried to get the knights of the Kingsguard to stand down but alas they would not relent.
"I looked for you on the Trident," Ned said to them.
"We were not there," Ser Gerold answered.
"Woe to the Usurper if we had been," said Ser Oswell.
"When King's Landing fell, Ser Jaime slew your king with a golden sword, and I wondered where you were."
"Far away," Ser Gerold said, "or Aerys would yet sit the Iron Throne, and our false brother would burn in seven hells."
"I came down on Storm's End to lift the siege," Ned told them, and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dipped their banners, and all their knights bent the knee to pledge us fealty. I was certain you would be among them."
"Our knees do not bend easily," said Ser Arthur Dayne.
"Ser Willem Darry is fled to Dragonstone, with your queen and Prince Viserys. I thought you might have sailed with him."
"Ser Willem is a good man and true," said Ser Oswell.
"But not of the Kingsguard," Ser Gerold pointed out. "The Kingsguard does not flee."
"Then or now," said Ser Arthur. He donned his helm.
"We swore a vow," explained old Ser Gerold.
Ned's wraiths moved up beside him, with shadow swords in hand. They were seven against three.
"And now it begins," said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.
"No," Ned said with sadness in his voice. "Now it ends."
Ned drew Ice from its sheath and advanced on the White Bull first swinging and slashing his sword for all he was worth managing to nick and dent the man's armour, but the White Bull was still strong despite his age and managed to do the same to Ned, they both danced a furious dance around each other cutting and slashing at one another until they were both tired and perhaps beyond fighting any longer, but then Ned heard a cry come from the tower and drove him on he swung once more and managed to knock the White Bull to his knees and then in one swift notion the White Bull's head was parted from his body. Whilst Ned had been fighting the Lord Commander of Aerys' Kingsguard his companions had been fighting Ser Arthur and Ser Oswell, Ned watched rooted to the spot as a severly wounded Ser Oswell managed to kill loyal Theo Wull and then in the next swing of his sword brought down Martyn Cassel. Ned advanced forward but before he could take on Ser Oswell, he found his path blocked by the Sword of the Morning Ser Arthur Dayne, and soon found himself engaged in a ferocious dance of swords with the finest knight the realm had ever seen. The sound of steel meeting steel was almost enough to drown out the increasing number of cries coming from the Tower, which only forced Ned to swing his sword faster and with more anger, this man was preventing him from getting his sister. However, Ned's fight with the Old Bull had severly drained him and he could feel his energy beginning to drain he feared for the worst when Ser Arthur managed to force him to his knees with one quick strike of his sword, Ned looked at Ser Arthur unable to lift his sword arm to bring Ice up to block what would inevitably be the killing blow only to find Ser Arthur staggering back blood oozing from his throat, as Ser Arthur fell to the ground clutching his throat, Ned looked on amaze, little Howland Reed one of Ned's truest friends since this madness had all begun had buried his spear deep into the Sword of the Morning's throat ending his life. Howland helped Ned to his feet and Ned saw that Ser Oswell was lying on his back on the ground blood oozing out of his helm, his sword buried into Ethan Glover's chest, Willam Dustin however was still alive and was staring unseeingly into the land. Howland looked at Ned and said "Go my Lord, go to your sister I shall deal with Lord Willam." Ned needed no further encouragement and sprinted into the Tower and ran up the flight of stairs all the while hearing his sister's voice get fainter and fainter.
Eventually he burst into her room, and saw her lying on a bed of blood clutching a crown of blue roses in her left hand whilst she cradled a babe in her right, pushing the babe up closer to her breast to feed. She turned to look at him as he kneeled beside her bed and she gave him a weak and watery smile "Ned... I knew you'd come... I'm so sorry I never meant for all of this to happen... Father, Brandon... I'm so sorry Ned. Can, Can you forgive me?"
Ned could only manage to nod he could feel the grip his sister had on his hand beginning to weaken and he feared for the worst. His fears where worsened when she gave a cough that seemed to wrack her whole body and blood slowly began to pool at the bottom of the bed, "Ned, I need you to promise me something." Ned shook his head he'd promise her the world if she could just hold on, Lyanna though was insistent "I need you to promise me Ned. Promise me you'll look after my son, my babe. Keep him safe from Robert, keep him safe from those who would use him. Promise me Ned."
Ned felt helpless what was he to do but looking at his sister who he knew though he did not wish to accept it was going to die, looking at the boy she cradled to her chest his nephew he knew he could not refuse her "I promise Lya. He'll be safe with me."
Lyanna smiled at that and then her grip on his hand completely loosened though he still held onto her and she closed her eyes and died with a smile on her lips. Ned would never remember how long he spent there just kneeling beside his sister's body, but it must have been a long time for he found himself being shaken out of his stupor by Howland, and found that his nephew was crying obviously hungry for more food, but of course his mother was unable to provide it for him. Ned looked up from where he was kneeling to find Howland looking at Lyanna's child and then at him, Ned was about to say something when Howland merely said "There is a wet nurse waiting outside the room my Lord, she calls herself Wylla says she has been here for the past few days. Do you wish for her to come in?" Ned merely nodded yes he supposed she ought to come in. And so it was that Howland helped Ned stand up as Wylla the wet nurse took Lyanna's child away from her and fed him, Ned merely stood leaning on Howland looking at his sister's lifeless body for a long time trying to think of what he was going to do to explain this to Robert, to Catelyn. He could not tell his friend the truth for all though it pained him to lie, Robert would want the babe dead and that was something Ned could not and would not allow. After a time when the babe had quietened down Ned merely asked Wylla to wear something warm and to make sure the babe was warm as well for they would be riding out shortly. Upon hearing this Howland turned to him and said "Where are to ride to my lord?"
Ned merely looked at his friend before saying "Starfall." And so it was that Eddard Stark, Howland Reed, Willam Dustin, Wylla and the babe whom Eddard named Jon rode for Starfall where Ned intended to give House Dayne their sword back and inform them of Ser Arthur's death. Upon arriving at Starfall he was greeted by Ashara Dayne, he had danced with Ashara at Harrenhal and thought himself half in love with her, she had been beautiful then, she was still beautiful now but she looked like she had lived through hell, and had just about survived he supposed she had they all had. She did not react when he informed her of the nature of her brother's death merely thanked him for informing her and for bringing Dawn back, and Ned was about to leave had already mounted his horse when she said "And what do you plan to do about your sister's bastard Lord Stark? I am sure your child killer of a friend will not appreciate you keeping the product of his love's rape?"
Ned merely looked at her before replying in a voice as cold as he could make it "I know not what you mean my lady, for Jon is mine own child sired during the war. Robert shall have no cause to wonder about his parentage." Ashara merely snorted at that and walked inside.
As Ned and his small party made their way back to north to Winterfell they stopped at night at inns and at one of these inns Ned sent a raven to the capital to inform Robert of Lyanna's death and begging leave to bury her in the crypts of Winterfell. The journey north took them a month and a half, in which time Ned had managed to perfect the lie that Jon Snow was his own bastard child, though the lie grated on him, he knew that there was no risk of the truth of Jon's parentage getting out for he had had, Howland, Willam and Wylla all swear oaths to the gods both old and new to keep their silence. When Ned arrived in Winterfell he was greeted by his younger brother Benjen, who informed him of all that had been going on during the course of his absence, Ned noted with some pride that Benjen had truly grown up though he did seem to be rather too serious for a boy of fifteen though he supposed the amount of tragedy that had befallen their family was only bound to have some sort of affect on them all. It was therefore no true surprise to Ned when one day a few days before Catelyn and Robb's arrival that Benjen came to his solar and informed him that he wished to join the Night's Watch Ned merely nodded his acceptance and said that if Benjen ever changed his mind then he would always have a place waiting for him at Winterfell.
The day Ned's wife and son arrived in Winterfell had been one Ned had looked forward to with equal parts excitement and dread, excitement because he would be seeing his newborn son for the first time, dread because of the lie he would have to tell Catelyn about Jon in order to protect all of them from Robert's wrath. After Ned had greeted his wife and met his son for the first time, he was leading them both to the nursery when they heard the sounds of a baby crying, Ned felt Catelyn stiffen beside him, and heard the hurt and the anger in her voice when she asked "What was that?"
Ned turned to look at her and said the lie he had been practicing ever since he had ridden from the Tower of Joy "That was my son Jon, he shall be staying with us."
Catelyn as expected took the news badly, even more so when she saw Jon close by for Jon looked startlingly like Ned and like Lyanna, she turned to him and said "You intend to raise your bastard with your trueborn son? What have I done to deserve such an insult my lord?!"
Ned felt himself get angered at her accusation and replied in a tone of iron "He is of my blood, he is a stark if not in name then in blood and he deserves to be raised in Winterfell."
After that a month passes by where Ned and Catelyn are cordial to each other but nothing more and Ned worries if perhaps theirs will not be a happy marriage because of the decision he has made and the lie he has had to tell. One day however, Catelyn enters his chambers at night after Robb and Jon have been put to bed, and Ned finds himself looking at her and drinking her in, she blushes at his attention and says something that he had not been expecting "Have I displeased you my lord?"
"Whatever do you mean my lady?" Ned asks confused.
"Have I displeased you? Is that why you no longer visit my chambers?" Catelyn asks.
Ned is rendered speechless for a moment before saying "No my lady, its just that I thought that perhaps you would not want, that you would not want to lie with me?"
Catelyn laughs nervously before replying "But my lord it is your right and besides the castle will begin to talk unless we sleep together." And so it is that for the first time in a month, Ned and Catelyn make love passionately and furiously, afterwards when they are both sated and are trying to calm their breathing, with Catelyn's head lying on Ned's chest, Ned's fingers absentmindedly playing with a stand of her hair, Catelyn turns up to face him and asks a question that he has dreaded anyone asking him for the longest time except the way she phrases it catches him off guard he will reflect later "Is Ashara Dayne, Jon's mother my lord?" It is the first time she has mentioned Jon since she arrived at Winterfell and saw him in the nursery, and in that question Ned can hear the hurt in her voice and the need to know the truth. Ned is silent for a moment thinking about everything that has happened to his family over the past four years, the death and the tragedy, and how he swore a vow to always be faithful and truthful to his wife and how everything that was his was hers, but surely the secret that he keeps is too much for him to share, for the secret itself and the fact that Jon lives is treason and Catelyn and Robb could pay for it with their lives, but then Ned looks down into Catelyn's stunningly blue Tully eyes that seem to beseeching him to tell her the truth that Ned finds that he cannot deny her.
Taking a deep breath, Ned says "No my lady, Ashara Dayne is not Jon's mother." He hesitates unsure of how to phrase the next bit, then decides to go for the truth and sighs then says "What I am about to tell you must not leave this room, no one else can ever know or it would mean our lives. Do I have your promise my lady." When Catelyn nods her head in the affirmative Ned continues "Jon's mother is, is my sister Lyanna." He stops and waits for what he has just said to sink in.
Then she speaks "Lyanna my lord? I don't, but then that would mean." Ned nods
"Yes Rhaegar Targaryen is Jon's father, he and my sister ran away together, and after the sack of King's Landing Jon became, Jon Targaryen, first of his name, rightful king of the seven kingdoms. I promised her I'd keep him safe my lady, I couldn't just leave him there for anyone to find and Robert would have demanded his death no matter that he was Lya's. " He knows he is talking quickly is practically begging her to understand the reasons for why he has done what he has done.
She says nothing for what seems like an age but then opens her mouth and says "I understand my lord, and since half the people here seem to already think he is your bastard it would serve us well to keep it that way, it will draw less attention to him and keep him away from Robert and the Lannister's attention."
Ned breathes a sigh of relief when he hears her say that and though he will wonder later why she did not demand that he claim Jon as Brandon's bastard he will be grateful for the love she shows to Jon, and how she accepts him into their family, and how Jon and Robb grow up close as brothers can be, and though Ned knows the day will come when Jon will want to know, will have to know the truth he prays for that day to be far into the future, for watching Jon play with Robb and Sansa and later Arya is something that Ned holds close to his heart and he prays that his children and his nephew will never know the suffering that caused Ned's family to be ripped apart in the past. Though he knows somewhere in the back of his mind that perhaps that is a fantasy for as their house words say "Winter Is Coming."