Catelyn Stark - Honorless
There was no Sept in Winterfell so Catelyn Stark prayed in her chambers.
She prayed to the Mother for her unborn child's health. To the Maid, she directed her wishes for Lysa's safe return. And, finally, she turned towards the Warrior to keep her husband safe.
Brandon led the men sent South to protect the Riverlands. "You will go no further South than that," Lord Rickard Stark had told his son. "I forbid you to seek revenge against the King." How Brandon had raged after that. He wanted to bring Catelyn the Mad King's head on a platter and she was far from unwilling to receive it. Her heart ached for justice for her Lord father.
"I am sorry, Catelyn," her goodfather had told her roughly. "I will keep you and your brother safe and help defend your lands and people. But I cannot give you revenge. The price is too high."
"If it were one of your own that had been murdered, would you march to King's Landing?" she had asked rather harshly.
"I would not doom the North. Not even for Brandon, Ned or Lya."
"Perhaps peace is too high a price, even for justice," Catelyn had conceded. "But my sister is still out there and peace won't bring her back. The King prove that he had no sense when he wrote to my uncle after murdering my father and demanded Edmure as a ward. He prove that he had no compassion when, upon Brynden's refusal, he sent men to kill our people and plunder our lands. The Mad King won't exchange Lysa against any hostages, or as a part of any peace terms. If we are to get her back, we must take the city and we can't do that without your help!"
Catelyn hadn't realised she had raised her voice until the end of her tirade. But her goodfather had simply looked at her sadly.
"You are right about the King, girl. And you know just what his madness and cruelty means. He will kill your sister before you even breach the city walls. All the might of the North cannot save her."
"You are a wretched man," she had whispered.
"Hard lands breed hard people. A Northman does not hide from the truth, no matter how painful."
"I was born a Tully, my lord. Family, Duty, Honor are still my words. I will never give up on Lysa."
"And I will keep your sister in my prayers, for there is nothing else I can do for her."
Edmure had arrived in Winterfell a few days after that conversation. Catelyn's heart had leapt in joy to see him well, and away from the fighting. He would be safe in Winterfell and she owed it to Rickard Stark. In her anger, her worry and grief, she had been unkind to him.
"I apologize for my behavior. You already have done so much for us, by welcoming my brother to your home and sending your men South. A less honorable man would have left us to our fate but, instead, you risk bringing about the King's wrath on your own family by helping us."
"By your wedding with Brandon, our two families were united. I have no doubt that, if our positions had been reversed, Lord Hoster would have done the same," had been Rickard Stark's simple answer and Catelyn had respected him all the more for it. They spoke no more of the war until one fateful morning.
The day began normally enough. Catelyn was sitting between Rickard and Lyanna and the atmosphere of their side of the table was glum. On the opposite side, Edmure was whispering excitedly to Benjen Stark. Catelyn was glad the boys were young enough to have fun still but she had no patience for them on this particular morning. She was just bone-deep tired.
She was picking at her food, feeling vaguely nauseous, when Winterfell's maester entered the Great Hall, his hair in disarray and clutching three letters in his hands.
"Why didn't you send these to my solars?" Rickard Stark asked harshly.
"A raven from Dorne, my Lord," the maester said hurriedly. "Two of the letters are addressed to you. One is sealed with a three-headed dragon on scarlet wax, the other with the sun and spear of House Martell." His bloodshot eyes rested on Catelyn for an instant. "The third letter is for the Lady Catelyn and it is sealed with blue wax and the leaping trout of House Tully."
Rickard Stark's eyes narrowed.
"Bring us these letters."
Catelyn snatched her letter from the maester's hand, her heart teeming with fear and anticipation. She recognized Lysa's handwriting the moment her eyes fell on the paper and she tore through the envelope to get to her sister's message.
I am so relieved to finally be able to write to you. I owe my life to the bravest, most honorable knight, ser Arthur Dayne, who smuggled us out of King's Landing in the depth of the night and put us on a boat to Dorne.
I arrived yesterday in Sunspear and Prince Doran Martell has been most kind, welcoming me into his home as an honored guest. However, I do not doubt that we will soon be together again as I will endeavour to join you North as soon as I can get on a ship. Of Edmure and Uncle Brynden, Prince Doran could only tell me little and I pray everyday for their safety and the sanctity of our home.
Princess Rhaenys Targaryen intends to make a claim to the Iron Throne and I beg you to convince your goodfather to support it. It is the only way we can get justice for our father, the only way Edmure's life and his claim to the Riverlands can be secured.
There is so much more that I want to tell you, dearest sister, but none of it can be merely expressed by words on a page so it will have to wait until we see each other again.
Your devoted sister,
"What is it, Cat?" pestered Edmure. "What does it say?"
"Wonderful things, sweetling. Lysa is no longer held in King's Landing. She is in Dorne, among friends."
"Does this mean Lysa will be there soon?" Edmure chirped excitedly.
"It is a long way from Dorne to the North but I am sure she will come as quick as she can," Catelyn replied cheerily. She could feel her goodfather's eyes on her. "I think I have eaten quite enough, if you will excuse me."
"So have I. If you would care to come to my solar, Catelyn, I would like to discuss some things with you."
"I am coming too," said Lyanna sharply. When Catelyn and Rickard both looked at her, she stared back unapologetically. "I am no longer a child and I am the only one of us who has even met the Princess Rhaenys."
"How do you know we will speak about the Princess, girl?"
"Come on, a Targaryen writing from Dorne? Doesn't take a genius to figure it out."
To the solar, they went and, when the door was shut behind them, Catelyn asked:
"What did the Princess write?"
Rickard Stark let out a great, bellowing laugh.
"She apologizes prettily for eloping with Jaime Lannister, branding it as an act of true love and not a political conspiracy. She absolves your father and Tywin Lannister of any wrongdoings and denounces her own father as mad and dangerous. She promises justice to those he has wronged. She wants to change the law of succession to the Iron Throne to the Rhoynish custom of equal primogeniture, making herself her father's heir. And she styles herself Crown Princess Rhaenys of House Lannister and Targaryen! I don't know if the girl has wits but she actually has guts."
"Can she do this? Can she just pass over her own brother like that?" asked Lyanna, sounding both disapproving and more than a little envious.
"If she has enough men to support her, she can do as she likes. The Dornishmen supports her and the Lannisters will too, after what the Mad King did to their family." Rickard Stark glanced at Catelyn. "So will the Tullys."
"Do not think I have forgotten whose elopement started this war," said Catelyn. "But what choice do we have? Someone must sit the Iron Throne. Viserys' claim is better but he is too young and completely under his father's control. If the Princess Rhaenys can unite the Riverlands, Westerlands and Dorne, we actually stand a chance of winning this war."
"What about the others Kingdoms?" said Lyanna. "Rhaenys' daughter is a Baratheon, right?"
Rickard Stark hummed thoughtfully.
"I am sure Lord Baratheon is fond of his granddaughter but any fondness he had for his former gooddaugther must have evaporated when she started romancing the Young Lion barely out of widow's weeds. Furthermore, Lord Baratheon is close to his cousin and he is a loyal man. He won't betray his King. Nor will Jon Arryn. She might have a chance to sway the Reach but she will have to offer them a lot. A greedy bunch they are, the Tyrells."
"What about us?" asked Lyanna.
"I have not made my decision yet. What did your sister's letter say, Catelyn?"
Catelyn summarized the letter and quickly added:
"It was written in Lysa's hands but it was not Lysa's usual style. She is normally much more casual when she writes to me."
"Do you think someone dictated the letter to her?" asked Rickard Stark gravely.
Catelyn shook her head.
"Some of the expressions are pure Lysa. "Smuggled out in the depths of the night", "the bravest, most honorable knight". She just sounds restrained, as if she knew her letter was not meant for my eyes only. She even wrote it. "There is so much more that I want to tell you, dearest sister, but none of it can be merely expressed by words on a page so it will have to wait until we see each other again." She carefully worded it to make it sound like sentimentality, but it was prudence that made her keep her peace."
"Wise of her to be prudent, since she is a hostage in Dorne."
Catelyn startled, and her goodfather promptly added:
"I am sure she will be treated with every kindness and comfort. However, I would not hope to see your sister before Rhaenys Targaryen sits the Iron Throne."
Catelyn was livid but she nodded curtly.
"Lysa used to rave about the Princess and call her by her first name. In her letter, she merely addresses her claim to the throne and uses her full title. At least, she is now wary of this false friend."
"Let's talk more about the Princess' falsehoods. Lyanna, yours was but a short acquaintance but I think you mentioned that the Princess told you she was interested in a political match with Jaime Lannister, am I right?"
"She said it was to please Lord Tywin and keep the peace."
"And now, in her letter, it becomes an act of true love! How convenient." Her goodfather turned towards Catelyn. "I am not accusing your father of any treachery but it is actually possible that Rhaenys and Lord Tywin plotted together. The Old Lion was always a little too eager to put his son on the throne and, when she married Jaime, Rhaenys essentially bought House Lannister's support."
"Do you think she actually plotted all this?" said Catelyn, utterly disgusted.
"I do not think she accounted for Lord Hoster and Lord Tywin's deaths. They could have been very valuable to her. No, it just sounds like the Dragon Princess just went way over her head in plotting. What did you think of her, Lya?"
"She seemed sweet and melancholic. Very polished. But she also told me that we women fight with everything we have. I think that, if she does want the Iron Throne, she will do everything to get it. And why shouldn't she? She was born first. It's her right."
"She has no right to let her ambition cause destruction in its wake," said Catelyn sharply.
"So she should just have accepted to be traded by her father like a morsel of meat?"
"She should have", said Catelyn harshly. "It was her duty. If she had done it, my father would still be alive, as would many good, strong men. If she had chosen to stay a Princess instead of fancying herself a Queen, the Realm would not bleed. And do not speak to me of her being traded like a morsel of meat when she is dangling my sister in front of our eyes to make us behave, as if Lysa was hers to use!"
Lyanna flushed and bit her lip, but she did not protest her goodsister's words. Instead, she asked:
"What about the third letter?"
"A pretty piece from Doran Martell, ensuring me of the continued friendship of House Martell. He is pressing for a betrothal between you and Oberyn." Lord Rickard looked none too pleased about it.
"I will marry him if I have to," said Lyanna, eyeing Catelyn defiantly.
"I won't force my daughter to marry a whoremonger, nor do I have the intention of seeking an alliance with House Martell right now. I refuse to be a puppet dancing on the Targaryen girl's strings. If she wants me to bend the knee, she will have to give me something worthwhile in exchange."
Catelyn sighted. She knew that trying to change her goodfather's mind would be an exercise in futility. House Stark would stay neutral. I am sorry, Lysa.
The war kept going as Catelyn's belly swelled. Kevan Lannister finally managed to break the siege of Lannisport with the help of many a company of sellswords. Her uncle was slowly riding the Riverlands of its vermins. Further South, the Dornishmen were skirmishing with the Reachmen at their joint border.
They were not losing but they were not winning either. The flow of the war had slowed down to a trickle, as each party held firmly to their positions.
Of course, it would not last forever. In the bowels of Casterly Rock, the Lannisters were mustering another host. In the depths of their desert, the Martells were readying themselves for open warfare. And, though many of her father's – no, her brother's – bannermen had returned to their holdfast, Catelyn knew they had not forgotten the Mad King's crimes.
They were waiting. For what, Catelyn did not know, as she was not privy to the minds of battle commanders. But even she knew the course of the war changed when Princess Rhaenys Targaryen came to Winterfell.
She first wrote to Lord Rickard from Sunspear, to request a meeting with him. Her lady-in-waiting Lady Lysa of House Tully would come with her, as she was eager to visit her sister. Prince Oberyn Martell had kindly agreed to be their escort. Would the Lord of Winterfell receive them?
Rickard Stark had laughed while reading the letter. "Does she truly think that a second son will be enough to convince me to bend the knee? That your sister's coming will placate me enough to make me declare for her? Foolish girl."
"I don't think that a marriage between Lyanna and Prince Oberyn is the only think she has to offer to you," said Catelyn quietly. She held Lysa's letter in her hand. Her sister was so excited at the prospect of seeing her again that she almost sounded like her old self. "Lysa wrote me that the Princess just gave birth to a girl. Both mother and child are healthy."
"Princess Rhaenys is barely out of the birthing bed," she replied, a hand on her own pregnant belly. "Yet, she would come all the way here, a long and difficult journey for a woman who has just given birth. She's obviously in a hurry. Whatever she wants of you, she wants it badly and, if she's smart, she will offer you much."
Catelyn did not know what it was and truly did not care. Her fears had grown with the child within her, memories of siblings lost too soon, nightmares of her mother's kind smile drowning in blood. She hoped Lysa would be there when she gave birth. She prayed that she would have Rhaenys Targaryen's luck in the birthing bed.
The day of Lysa's coming dawned fair but chilly. Spring had returned to the North but it was still colder than the bitterest winter in Riverrun. Catelyn shivered as she stood between Benjen and Edmure, waiting for the Princess's party to arrive.
The riders that poured from the castle gates were not many. There were Manderly men at the head of the column and some knights with the look of Dorne about them, dark of hair with suntanned skin.
Finally, Catelyn saw bright red as Lysa rode through the gate of Winterfell. She had left her hair completely unbound and they flowed behind her like a fiery banner. Edmure saw her too and waved at her enthusiastically. Lysa smiled and spurred her horse, riding past the head of the column. She dismounted before her siblings with ease and wrapped them both in a bear-like hug.
Words failed Catelyn as she hugged her sister for the first time in months.
"Lysa... I am so glad... To have you back... To see you safe..."
"No heart could be gladder than mine in this instant, Cat."
Lysa relinquished her hold on her siblings and look at them with bright eyes.
"Edmure, you have grown so much. And Cat... you are soon going to be a mother!"
"And you will soon hold your nephew or niece in your arms!"
Lysa laughed, part happiness and part sheer relief. She looked at Benjen and seemed to notice for the first that they were not alone. She immediately dipped a perfect curtsy towards Lord Rickard.
"Lord Stark, you have my utmost thanks for welcoming me into your home."
"As you have mine."
Lysa jumped and turned towards the speaker. The Princess Rhaenys was just behind her, looking very regal atop her white mare. She had braided back her hair in a simple Northern style and she wore heavy furs. Next to her, Prince Oberyn Martell sat on a black stallion, looking both cold and bored out of his mind.
A Manderly knight offered to help the Princess dismount and she accepted graciously. Once Rhaenys was standing right before her eyes, Catelyn noticed that her chest seemed oddly-shaped, as if she was carrying a bundle behind her furs.
"My Lord of Stark."
Catelyn was proud to say her goodfather's tone, while not being overtly disrespectful, contained no small amount of irony.
"My daughter Lyanna and my son Benjen, you already know. This is my gooddaughter Lady Catelyn Tully Stark and her brother, Lord Tully."
Rhaenys bowed her head deeply to them.
"I offer my deepest condolences for you loss, my lord, my lady."
How dare she?
Catelyn had to bite her tongue not to say something cutting. She was saved from having to actually thank the Princess for her words by Oberyn Martell's intervention.
"Do we have to make conversation standing in the middle of courtyard?"
Rhaenys' eyes danced with amusement.
"This is Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne. He was kind enough to escort me."
"I am ever my brother to command," replied Prince Oberyn lightly, but Catelyn thought there was an allusion there that she did not quite catch.
The Princess pushed back her furs to show them the head of a little girl. She was about three years-old and had lush black hair.
"This is my daughter, Princess Visenya of House Targaryen and Baratheon."
Catelyn's eyes narrowed. The journey from Dorne had to have been difficult for young Visenya. Why hadn't Rhaenys left her in Dorne with her newborn sister? If it had been any other woman, Catelyn would have thought that the reason was a mother's heart, unwilling to be parted with both of her babes at once. But the Princess Rhaenys had yet to prove herself capable of any kind of love.
Rickard Stark also looked thrown off by Visenya's presence but he quickly recovered.
"The nursery will be arranged to accommodate Princess Visenya. Now, you probably all want to rest after your journey. Please follow me."
Once they were in the keep, Princess Rhaenys and Prince Oberyn were led to their chambers by servants. Lysa stayed with Catelyn and Edmure. After the boy was reassured that Lysa was well and not going to disappear any time soon, he scampered off to play with Benjen. Catelyn was almost glad to see him go, as she had much to discuss with her sister.
Thus, as Catelyn was brushing her sister's hair soothingly, Lysa whispered to her about a prophecy and a three-headed dragon that was more than a sigil.
Catelyn was extremely trouble by her sister's word. She had always thought that, though Rhaenys was a bad person, having her on the throne would be a blessing compared to the Mad King. Now, she was not so sure. Rhaenys' obsession was with prophecy and not with fire and blood but Aerys had not always been a raving madman. Once, he had been charming and full of promises, just like his daughter seemed to be. Who could tell who the Princess would become? Would the babe in Catelyn's belly wage war against the Mad Queen, twenty years from now?
At least, Catelyn now knew why the Princess had come to Winterfell. Rickard Stark did not tell many but he told her.
"She proposed a match between herself and Ned. A crown for my son against the allegiance of the North."
"Any Southron Lord would beggar his house to see his son King," replied Catelyn truthfully.
"I am no Southron Lord."
"You wanted Southron matches for your children. This is the ultimate one."
"Ned will marry the girl, if I ask him. Even if he were not besotted with her, he would do his duty. But will this match bring him power or death and ruin? Rhaenys Targaryen has a bad track record for husbands. Robert Baratheon did not last two year and Jaime Lannister did not last a week."
Rickard Stark looked at her gravely.
"I did not accept or refuse yet. Instead, I made a counter-proposal. A match between Princess Visenya and your future son."
Catelyn reflexively brought a hand to her belly.
"We don't know if it will be a son yet." Or if it will live.
"Princess Rhaenys refused, anyway. She said that betrothing children before their tenth name day was dangerous and that she would not jeopardize her daughter's happiness by agreeing on a match too early."
"Sounds like an excuse to me. During war, babes can be married still at the breast for the sake of an alliance."
"I agree with you. I would have thought Princess Visenya to be already promised to Quentyn Martell, as payment for Dorne's support. However, if that were the case, there would be no need to use an excuse to hide the betrothal. The Princess Rhaenys just seems dead set on marrying Ned, though I cannot for the life of me figure out why."
I think I know why, thought Catelyn. But Lysa's secrets were not hers to tell.
I need to get to the bottom of this. She wrote a note to the Princess, telling her to meet her in the godswood after the midday meal, and sent it through a servant.
Rhaenys was sitting in front of the heart tree when Catelyn arrived. She looked up at her curiously.
"Why did you choose to meet here?"
"So the gods can see."
"I thought you kept the Seven."
"I do. But there is no Sept in Winterfell so the old gods will have to keep watch instead of the new."
Catelyn had been raised in the Faith of the Seven. The smell of the burning incense, the light of the candles and the murmurs of prayers were comfortable and reassuring to her. But she did not want Rhaenys to feel safe.
Winterfell's godswood chilled her to the bones and the face of the heart tree made her shiver. She hoped Rhaenys shared some of her discomfort. She did not look like she was.
Catelyn sat next to the Princess to be at eye-level with her.
"Lysa told me about the prophecy."
"I thought she would."
"How can you believe it?"
"I know my duty, lady Catelyn."
"What about laying a claim to the Iron Throne? Is that also your duty, or merely ambition?"
"It is my fate. I simply embraced it."
"What about your brother, Viserys? Don't you have any compunction about stealing his birthright?"
"Viserys is my younger brother. It is only fair that I inherit before him."
"Not according to the laws of six of the Seven Kingdoms."
"Are laws always just? You are capable, smart and the eldest of your father's children. Yet, your ten-year-old brother is Lord of the Riverlands and you are Brandon Stark's wife."
There was the slightest edge at the end of Rhaenys' sentence. It was barely noticeable but it was there. Catelyn smiled and looked at the Princess squarely in the eyes.
"It will be easier if we agree to be honest with each other, Your Highness."
"Very well, replied Rhaenys coldly. If laws were just, you would be the Lady of Riverrun. Instead, you were sent away from your home to marry a man that will never respect enough not to dishonor you."
Catelyn flushed as if she had been slapped.
She did not end her sentence as she knew it to be a lie.
"I know your husband's kind, my lady. I was married to Robert Baratheon once," said the Princess bitterly.
"I thought you got along well with him."
"I did, after a fashion. However, I would not have chosen the man for my husband, if I had had any choice in the matter."
"It isn't about the prophecy, isn't it? It's about being Queen. It's about being in control of your life, isn't it, Your Highness?"
"Everything is about the prophecy," replied Rhaenys coldly.
"Is that why you chose Jaime Lannister? Why you chose Eddard Stark? One of the head of the dragons must be a Lannister and the other a Stark."
"A good guess. It is truly a shame to see you wasted on Brandon Stark."
"I do not want Edmure's lordship."
"You are a trout. I am a dragon."
"No. I care about others and you don't. How many people died for you and your schemes, Your Highness?"
"I will repay their blood by my service to the Realm. I will live a life of greatness while you birth Brandon Stark's children and keep his castle."
"So be it. At least, I won't have my husband's blood on my hands."
This time, it was Rhaenys who looked as if she had just been slapped.
"What exactly are you accusing me of?"
"Robert Baratheon was hale and strong. It seems awfully convenient he died the way he did, leaving you free to have your Lannister babe."
Rhaenys' eyes filled with tears.
"I mourned Robert. I did not love him but I had affection for him, as he had for me."
"Did you like him the way you like my sister? Your affection for her sure didn't prevent you from using her. Robert was in the way of your destiny so you got rid of him, plain and simple."
"You have no proof. No one will ever believe you."
"But rumors could spread, and harm your reputation."
The Princess' eyes grew even harder and colder.
"You have nothing to gain by undermining me. Your brother's bannermen fight for me and soon, your goodfather's will as well."
"Indeed, why would I spread such tales?" said Catelyn with a smile so thin that it could have cut through ice. "But people might start to suspect the truth, especially if some harm were to befall your third husband."
Rhaenys laughed. It was an ugly sound, high and brittle.
"Is it your purpose here? Defending Ned? Do you even know him?"
"Not very well but he is my goodbrother and a good, honorable man by all accounts. And he is the only member of my family that is not safe from you."
"This is the game of thrones. Everyone is player or piece. No one is safe, not even the babe in your belly."
"Do not even..."
Catelyn was struck silent by the feel of liquid running down her thighs.
"I think your water just broke, my lady. Please get up. I will escort you to the maester."
Catelyn let the Princess pull her to her feet. It felt like a nightmare, a surreal nightmare.
"I will help you birth this babe, lady Catelyn."
"No", she said softly. "No," she repeated in a stronger voice. "I do not want you there. I want Lysa."
"Lysa is sixteen and a maid. She will be terrified and useless. I will stay by your side. The debt of blood that I owe you for Lord Hoster will be repaid."
This debt can never be repaid.
Yet, Catelyn pursed her lips and said:
"I might as well make use of you, Your Highness."
The birth was long and painful and Catelyn often thought she would share her mother's fate. Yet, Rhaenys kept telling her everything was happening normally and so did the maester.
"You're doing very well, my lady. Just one more push."
There were many more pushes before Catelyn finally heard the wails of her newborn babe.
"A healthy girl, my lady. What is her name?"
"Sansa", she whispered the name Brandon and she had agreed on. "Give her to me."
The maester handed her the babe gingerly and Catelyn got her first look at her sweet daughter's face. A Tully face, with bright Tully hair to match.
Catelyn had never been allowed to see her lost siblings, the sons and daughters her parents had quietly buried into the ground. But she could feel Sansa's weight in her tired arms and hear that her cries were not feeble. She was indeed a healthy babe.
Catelyn muttered a prayer of thanks to the Mother while the maester took Sansa from her arms.
"You can go to sleep, my lady."
"I promise you the Lady Sansa will be well-taken care of. Her wet nurse is waiting just behind the door."
Catelyn nodded weakly before surrendering to sleep.
The following morning, her first sight was a pair of Tully blue eyes. Lysa was anxiously peering at her sleeping form.
"Cat! Are your well?"
"Very well", she replied through a parched throat.
Lysa hurriedly fetched her some water. Catelyn assured her she was not an invalid and sat in her bed.
"Where is Sansa?"
"Asleep in her crib. Do you want me to fetch her for you?"
Catelyn nodded eagerly and Lysa returned with her niece in her arms.
"She is very beautiful, Cat. She looks just like you."
Now that she could get a better look at Sansa's face, Catelyn could see that there was no trace of the Starks in her. Catelyn didn't mind; her daughter would have been beautiful and perfect to her no matter whose looks she inherited. But would Brandon think the same way? She had given him a daughter instead of an heir, and a daughter who didn't even look like him.
She was distracted from this unwelcome train of thought by her sister's voice.
"You slept in so you missed the announcement. Your goodfather has bent the knee. The Princess will marry Lord Eddard and Lady Lyanna will marry Prince Oberyn to strengthen the alliance."
"Lyanna is marrying Oberyn Martell? Are you sure?"
"The servants said she went to her father herself and asked for the match to be made. It seems that they spent some time together and got along well."
Rickard Stark had no enthusiasm for that match. He would not have accepted it if it weren't Lyanna's own wish. Catelyn was glad that her goodsister had been able to choose her husband herself, that she had been mature enough to understand the necessity of that choice.
"The ravens are already flying to the Riverlands to recall Lord Eddard home for the wedding. Brandon will be attending as well so you will be able to see him again in a few weeks. Isn't it wonderful, Cat?"
Catelyn nodded. It would be good to see Brandon again and the sooner she knew his thoughts about Sansa, the better. Catelyn vowed to herself that, no matter how Brandon felt about his Tully-looking daughter, Sansa would never lack a mother's love.
As for the birth, her worries were thankfully proven wrong When Catelyn presented his daughter to him, Brandon got one look at her before exclaiming:
"Gods, she's beautiful, Cat! Just as beautiful as you."
"You don't mind that I didn't give you an heir?" Catelyn asked quietly.
"Nonsense, Cat! It doesn't matter if our firstborn is a girl. We have years and years to have a dozen of boys."
Brandon then kissed her breathless in front of the whole of Winterfell. Catelyn did not mind the impropriety. Right then, her husband's arms was the one place she most wanted to be and the one place she felt happiest.
She was not the only one to feel joyful. With Brandon and Eddard's return and the preparations of a double wedding, the atmosphere in the castle was one of celebration.
The only one who seemed to grow glummer as each day passed was Lysa. She put on a brave face but sometimes Catelyn caught her looking forlornly at the sitting arrangements for the wedding feast or at the material chosen for Lyanna's gown.
Catelyn knew she was thinking about her betrothal with Baelor Hightower. It was terribly unfair that the match that made her sister so happy was so uncertain now. But still not impossible.
"Once Rhaenys Targaryen sits the Iron Throne, the Hightowers will bend the knee and be forgiven. They will be even more eager to marry you to Baelor, as it will give them a tie with a loyalist House."
"If we win," had replied Lysa. "If he doesn't die," she had whispered.
Her sister no longer was the naive child that had left Riverrun, her head filled with songs and stories about knights and lovely maidens and the glamour of the capital. Instead, the Lysa that had returned to her was a beautiful woman with enough ice in her heart to match the fire in her hair.
Yet, it was she who wove a crown of blue roses in Lyanna's hair before the wedding.
"It looks like the one Princess Elia wore as Queen of Love and Beauty at the Tourney at Harrenhall," said Lyanna.
"I thought it would suit you."
"It's beautiful. Thank you, lady Lysa."
Tears came to Catelyn's eyes and she thanked the Gods that her sister's strength and compassion were enough to overcome the seeds of bitterness and hatred that her ordeal in King's Landing had planted in her heart.
Lysa stood tall and proud between Catelyn and Edmure as Rickard Stark removed the Stark cloak from his daughter's shoulders. She did not falter when Oberyn Martell wrapped Lyanna in his House colors.
There were no cloaks for Rhaenys. She could not take the name and colors of the Starks, as no Southron House would accept to be ruled by a cadet branch of House Stark. Instead, it was Eddard Stark who laid down his old name to become Prince Eddard Targaryen.
The Maiden's hand had sheltered Lysa, the Warrior had protected Brandon, the Mother had given her sweet Sansa. Now, Catelyn begged the Seven to give her goodbrother protection. He would need it.