The perfect companion never
has fewer than four feet.
"He's just a boy," she said quietly to her brother Robb as their horses climbed the hillside. "He's still far too young to–"
"Spare me, Eleonora. I was his age, younger even, when I saw my first," said Robb, turning his head to meet his lady sister's uneasy gaze, "as were you."
The cool morning alluded to the end of summer. A large group set forth at the break of dawn to see a man beheaded, twenty in all, nineteen men and but one woman. It was the first time young Bran Stark had been told by his lord father that he was old enough to see the king's justice done.
The man cut down from the wall and dragged before them looked terrified and defeated as Lord Stark lead his party to their destination. Robb and Jon sat tall and still on their horses. Eleonora rode closely between Robb and Bran as the little lord looked almost gleeful upon his pony, trying to seem older than seven, experienced and worldly. A faint wind blew through the holdfast gate. Over their heads flapped the banner of the Starks of Winterfell: a grey direwolf racing across an ice-white field.
Lord Eddard Stark sat solemnly on his horse, long brown hair stirring in the wind. His closely trimmed beard was shot with white, making him look older than his forty years. He had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day, and he seemed not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest.
Eleonora was three years her brother's senior, nineteen and wise beyond her years. She dawned long black hair that fell just above her waist in loose glossy waves and a small but formidable stature. She was undeniably beautiful, her icy blue eyes inherited from the Tullys of Riverrun, served as one of her most striking features. Her crystal blue orbs had pierced the very souls of Robb and many others in her time. She was more of a second mother to many of her younger siblings, but not to Robb – never to Robb. He was her best friend and her confidant. Robb Stark had always been her equal. When Lord Eddard Stark brought his bastard son home from war, shattering Lady Stark's heart, it was Eleonora and Robb who never allowed Jon Snow to feel anything less than a brother. Their hearts would always beat as one.
Bran galloped innocently ahead on his steed, blissfully ignorant to the gruesome sight he was to behold. "I survived it. And for pity's sake, Nora, you're a girl and you fought your way to see your first long before I did."
"Because I was ready," she snapped, "and if I remember correctly, it was you –Robb– who released a scream only heard from the mouths mating goats as soon as you saw Father grip his sword your first witness to the king's justice."
Jon released a snort that he instantly tried to conceal as soon as his half-brother shot him a particularly nasty look. Nora smirked in a very satisfied manner to herself, dug her heels into her horse's side and galloped ahead of the men. Lord Stark eyed his daughter as she appeared as one upon her steed. She was a skilled horsewoman, wolf blood coursing through her veins. For a moment, just a moment, Lord Stark forgot he was watching his eldest daughter. He saw Lyanna. She looked so much like his sister had at that age, wild and unrestrained, handsome and protected by the frozen north. She was so very much like Lyanna that at times it frightened him. Arya, his youngest daughter, was much like his late sister as well, but she was not bestowed with the beauty or the effortless charm that Eleonora attained. She was his eldest child, and she had lived up to her birthright by serving as a strong, maternal figure to her sisters and a wise, capable fighter to her brothers. He would break every bone in the body of the man who ever dare compromise his first child's happiness and unadulterated spirit, but he knew Eleonora would have accomplished such a feat in her own honor long before her lord father would have the opportunity.
"Do not wander far ahead, Daughter," Lord Stark shouted. "I do not find any urgency or excitement in reaching our destination this morning, would you agree?"
"Of course not, Father," she replied, pulling harshly on her reins and begrudgingly returning to Robb's side. "I apologize."
Lord Stark nodded his appreciation for her apology and returned his attention forward once again. Robb raised his eyebrows in a smug manner.
"Shut up," she muttered, simpering to herself.
When the group of northerners did reach their destination, Eleonora positioned herself closely behind Bran. The young boy did not appear grateful for his sister's cosseting, sending her a warning glare that was far too mature for his age. He did not want to appear weak in front of his lord father. There were questions asked and answers given there in the chill of morning, but afterward the edler Stark children knew by the hazey look upon Bran's face that he would not be able to recall much of what had been said.
Finally Lord Stark gave the command, and two of the loyal guardsmen dragged the ragged man to the ironwood stump in the center of the square. They forced his head down onto the hard black wood. Lord Eddard Stark dismounted and Theon Greyjoy brought forth the sword. "Ice," that sword was called. It was as wide across as a man's hand, and taller even than Robb. The blade was Valyrian steel, spell-forged and dark as smoke. Nothing held an edge like Valyrian steel.
Lord Stark peeled off his gloves and handed them to Jory Cassel, the captain of his household guard. He took hold of Ice with both hands and said, "In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, I do sentence you to die." He lifted the greatsword high above his head.
Eleonora did not dare cover Bran's eyes, but as soon as her lord father raised Ice in the air, she maternally rested her arms across Bran's chest. She would never tell the older boys how fast his heart was beating or how he ever so subtly cringed as the blade sliced through the ragged man's neck with ease. Bran did not pull away from her, not because he didn't want to, but because he feared his buckling knees would betray him without her arms to balance him.
Lord Stark took off the man's head with a single sure stroke. Blood sprayed out across the snow, as red as summerwine. One of the horses reared and had to be restrained to keep from bolting. The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as the group watched.
The head bounced off a thick root and rolled. It came up near Greyjoy's feet. Theon was a lean, dark youth of nearly twenty who found everything amusing. He laughed, put his boot on the head, and kicked it away.
"Theon, control yourself for the gods' sake," Nora hissed.
"Arse," Jon muttered, low enough so no one but Robb and Nora could hear. He put a hand on Bran's shoulder, and Bran looked over at his bastard brother. "You did well," Jon told him solemnly. Jon was newly fifteen, an old hand at justice in his own right. Nora nodded her agreement and gently led the young boy back to his pony.
It seemed colder on the long ride back to Winterfell, though the wind had died by then and the sun was higher in the sky.
"The deserter died bravely," Robb said. He was big and broad and growing every day, with Lady Catelyn's coloring, the fair skin, auburn hair, and blue eyes almost as piercing as his sister's. "He had courage, at the least."
"No," Jon replied quietly. "It was not courage. This one was dead of fear. You could see it in his eyes, Stark."
Jon's eyes were a grey so dark they seemed almost black, but there was little they did not see. He was of an age a year younger than Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.
Robb was not impressed. "The Others take his eyes," he swore. "He died well. Race you to the bridge?"
"Done," Jon said, kicking his horse forward. Robb cursed and followed, and they galloped off down the trail, Robb laughing and hooting, Jon silent and intent. The hooves of their horses kicked up showers of snow as they went.
Bran did not try to follow. His pony could not keep up, and he knew this. He had seen the ragged man's eyes, and he was thinking of them now. After a while, the sound of Robb's laughter receded, and the woods grew silent again.
"Are you alright, pup?" asked Eleonora, pulling her eyes away from the distancing boys before returning to the quiet expression of her little brother.
"I wish you wouldn't call me that, Nora," he sighed.
"Do not avoid the question, Bran," she replied, never missing a breath. "Are you quite well?"
"Yes," he said with little confidence, "stop asking."
Bran dug his heels deeper into his already struggling pony in order to distance himself from his older sister. Nora frowned and wisely chose not to catch up to the little lord. She was so deep in her thoughtful concern that she never heard the rest of the party until her father moved up to ride beside her.
"You would do well not to coddle him. Your mother is already more than capable of that," said Eddard Stark, not unkindly. "He'll end up resenting you for it."
"I treat him the same as I did Robb and Jon," she replied, keeping her gaze forward onto Bran.
"Bran is not like Robb and Jon, and you know that as well as I," he retorted. "He feels as if he has much more to prove. Robb and Jon never had two older brothers to intimidate him."
"I believe he is far more intimidated by his father than his brothers," Nora half-grinned, only chancing a sideways glance at her father.
"Perhaps," he smirked down at his daughter, "and rightfully so. I am a daunting figure of a warrior."
Lord Stark, wrapped in his furs and leathers, mounted on his great warhorse, loomed over her like a giant, puffed out his chest and raised his chin in a comically arrogant manner. He quickly released his enormous breath and joined in a shared chuckle with his daughter. Lord Stark was intimidating to all his enemies (though few in number they may be), but he was merely a kind and honorable lord to those who truly knew him.
"Daunting, indeed," she smiled. "I fear if you were to inhale any more air into your stomach that you'd resemble King Robert... well, air and any additional meat and ale."
Lord Stark betrayed himself with a curt chuckle but then thought better of it. He attempted to play off his laugh as a cough stuck deep in his throat. His daughter smiled to herself and allowed her father to do so.
"You know better than to speak ill of the king, Eleonora," warned Lord Stark.
"Do I?" she replied with an upward inflection.
"I also know that you would never think of making such a joke in the king's presence," said Lord Stark confidently.
"I will try to restrain myself," said Nora.
"See that you do," he replied.
"The king would never travel this far north," she said. "Thus he would never have the opportunity to relish my humor. Pity."
"Alas, perhaps that is a blessing in disguise," said Eddard. "I will go and see to Bran, mind to your brothers."
Eleonora nodded to her father, clicked her tongue and raced gracefully ahead after Robb and Jon. Lord Stark watched her for a instant before seeing to Bran. Lord Stark hoped his daughter would never come before the king again. Lady Eleonora resembled Lyanna Stark far too much for Eddard's liking and he knew Robert would share his sentiment in a much different way. Lord Stark blinked suddenly and quickly led his horse after Bran, his fleeting thoughts dwindling with the distance between himself and his daughter.
"Oi, Nora, come and see what we've found," called Robb from below the underside of the sedgy knoll.
She eased her steed down the hill, the horse's muscular legs crossing with great skill. She slid down from her saddle and hurried to her brothers' side, lifting her heavy skirts to ease her strides. Robb stood near the riverbank north of the bridge, with Jon still mounted beside him. The late summer snows had been heavy this moonturn. Robb stood knee-deep in white, his hood pulled back so the sun shone in his hair. He was cradling something in his arm, while the he and Jon talked in hushed, excited voices.
Eleonora slowly approached the large figure before them. Half-buried in bloodstained snow, a huge dark shape slumped in death. Ice had formed in its shaggy grey fur, and the faint smell of corruption clung to it like a woman's perfume.
"Jon, go call to father and the others," she said in a stern tone that silenced the fevered chatter between the boys. Jon swallowed awkwardly and rushed his horse back over the hill.
Eleonora glimpsed blind eyes crawling with maggots, a wide mouth full of yellowed teeth. But it was the size of it that made her gasp. It was bigger than a pony, twice the size of the largest hound in her father's kennel. She knelt down before the beast, cautiously placing her long, thin fingers on upon the animal's coat of fur.
"Robb, it's a direwolf," she breathed, pulling her chin inward against her shoulder as he looked down at her from behind. "It was a direwolf. No one has seen a direwolf south of the Wall in hundreds of years."
The riders picked their way carefully through the drifts, groping for solid footing on the hidden, uneven ground. Jon, Jory and Theon were the first to reach the them again. Theon was laughing and joking as he rode, but all could heard the breath go out of him.
"Gods!" he exclaimed, struggling to keep control of his horse as he reached for his sword. Jory's sword was already out.
"Nora, get away from it!" he called as his horse reared under him.
Robb grinned and looked up from the bundle in his arms.
"She can't hurt you," he said. "She's dead, Jory, unless you mean Nora. In that case, you'd need far more than a sword to slay her."
Nora tore her eyes away from the beast, shooting Robb an amused look before noticing the bundle in his arms for the first time. There was a pup that looked more like a tiny ball of grey-black fur, its eyes still closed. It nuzzled blindly against Robb's chest as he cradled it, searching for milk among his leathers, making a sad little whimpery sound.
"There are six of them," said Jon, referencing the small collection of pups upon the thick mound of snow.
Eleonora placed a greyish colored pup in Bran's arms from the ground, allowing him to cradle the pup like his older brother. She spotted a small black ball of fluff in the opaline snow and plucked it up from the ground. Nora instantly questioned how she had survived nineteen years without this tiny mongrel. The pup nuzzled its tiny head against her fur shawl.
"Direwolves loose in the realm, after so many years," muttered Hullen, the master of horse. "I like it not."
"It is a sign," Jory said.
Lord Stark frowned. "This is only a dead animal, Jory," he said. Yet he seemed troubled. Snow crunched under his boots as he moved around the body. "Do we know what killed her?"
"There's something in the throat," Robb told him, appearing proud to have found the answer before his father even asked. "There, just under the jaw..."
Their father knelt and groped under the beast's head with his hand. He gave a yank and held it up for all to see. A foot of shattered antler, tines snapped off, all wet with blood. A sudden silence descended over the party. The men looked at the antler uneasily, and no one dared to speak.
His father tossed the antler to the side and cleansed his hands in the snow. "I'm surprised she lived long enough to whelp," he said. His voice broke the spell.
"Maybe she didn't," Jory said. "I've heard tales... maybe the bitch was already dead when the pups came."
"Born with the dead," another man put in. "Worse luck."
"No matter," said Hullen. "They be dead soon enough too."
Young Bran gave a wordless cry of dismay that made Eleonora's stomach lurch.
"The sooner the better," Theon agreed, drawing his sword in an almost gleeful manner. "Give the beast here, Bran." The little thing squirmed against him, as if it heard and understood.
"No!" Bran cried out fiercely. "It's mine."
Eleonora, never missing a beat, reached for her dagger from her waist holster and extended it against Theon's throat, a threat that was far from uncommon to the young ward of the Iron Islands. He froze in place, his Adam's apple sliding up and down his neck no matter how hard he tried to remain unaffected.
"Theon Greyjoy, may the gods have mercy on your forgotten soul if you lay one hand on that pup," Eleonora threatened. She motioned for Bran to stand behind her with the pup held tight against his chest.
"Put away your sword, Greyjoy," Robb agreed firmly. For a moment he sounded as commanding as their father, like the lord he would someday be. "We will keep these pups."
"Daughter, put your dagger away," said Eddard Stark, smirking slightly, "you're embarrassing the boy."
Nora slowly lowered her dagger, glaring at Theon like a menacing wild beast. Theon released a sigh of relief and returned his sword in his holster.
"It be a mercy to kill them," Hullen said.
"Lord Stark," said Jon. "There are six pups, three male, three female."
"What of it, Jon?"
"You have six trueborn children," said Jon. "Three sons, three daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord."
Eddard Stark's face instantly changed as the other men exchange glances.
"The pups may die anyway, despite all you do," said Eddard begrudgingly.
"They won't die," Robb said.
"We won't let them die," Eleonora added.
"Keep them, then," said Eddard. "Jory, Desmond, gather up the other pups. It's time we were back to Winterfell."
Before the group was halfway across the bridge, Jon pulled up suddenly.
"What is it, Jon?" their lord father asked.
"Can't you hear it?"
All that could be heard was the wind in the trees and the clatter of their hooves on the ironwood planks, but Jon was listening to something else.
"There," Jon said. He swung his horse around and galloped back across the bridge. They watched him dismount where the direwolf lay dead in the snow, watched him kneel. A moment later he was riding back to them, smiling.
"He must have crawled away from the others," Jon said.
"Or been driven away," their father said, looking at the seventh pup. His fur was white, where the rest of the litter was grey and black. His eyes were as red as the blood of the ragged man who had died that morning.
"An albino," Theon said with wry amusement. "This one will die even faster than the others."
Jon Snow gave his father's ward a long, chilling look.
"I think not, Greyjoy," he said. "This one belongs to me."
A/N: So here we go again. I am obsessed with Game of Thrones, and I had this idea hanging around in my noggin for awhile... so here it is. I feel like this chapter was stilted and terrible. I used a bit of book dialogue towards the end, but I hope to not rely on much at all after this. Please don't berate it based on that. I just wanted to establish Nora's role in the family, so we have an idea why she makes the decisions she will make. You'll see...
P.S. Eleonora is pronounced "Elle-oh-nor-uh" like "Eleanor" with "a" at the end. I hope that makes anyone who was confused, less confused.
P.S.S. Anyone who is like "WTF get to work on 'Double Crossed NOW forget making a new story' – I am still working on the next chapter. I'm like 70% done. Stay tuned. I have not abandoned them!
Coming Soon: Eleonora meets King Robert, Queen Cersei, the Imp and the Lannister Lion.