Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark stood in the courtyard of his home while his children fell in line by age beside him waiting for the royal party to come through the gates. They had been spotted on the road after weeks of preparation and he for one was ready for this visit to begin and end. He grieved the loss of Jon greatly and he wanted nothing more than to shut the world out and wallow for a time, but he couldn’t do that with his foster brother and his good siblings coming to his home.
He had not seen Robert in person in some years, though they still sent letters at least once a month about one thing or another and he spoke with Jon the same way more often than that. Those men were his family and now one of them was gone.
His good sisters were a separate point of tension. When he had been forced to marry his Lady wife he had known in the back of his mind that she was the eldest of four siblings, but that fact had not seemed significant in the beginning of their marriage. Between the war and its aftermath he had not expected to see her family very often, but as the years passed and they remained absent from the keep he began to worry.
He had once been the middle son of four siblings himself before the war left him with no one but his younger brother Benjen who had already taken his vows at the wall to protect the realm. He understood what it was to have siblings and how at times they could seem constantly underfoot, but his Cat did not even speak with hers some years. Her brother would send a raven now and again regarding the health of their father, and once a year around Yule Jon would include a letter from Lysa to Cat with his own, but he had never even met the youngest of them in person. She had been excluded from their wedding due to her age and no one wanted to have either side present entirely in case they were set upon. Both Janyse and Edmure had been taken away to be safe during the war and came back after it was won and he was back in the North where he belonged. Now they were all coming to Winterfell to stay for a time and he didn’t know what to expect.
The sisters would come with the King today and their brother Edmure would not come until a fortnight from now once their fathers health allowed him to travel. Ever since the raven had come announcing the imminent arrival of both Lysa Arryn and Janyse Lannister his wife had been beside herself. At first he had thought it was simple joy at being so close to seeing family again and the stress of wanting things to be perfect, but the longer she muttered to herself at nearly every hour of the day about them both the less sure he became. She seemed to be dreading their coming and he just didn’t understand it. He had even asked her one night why she seemed so worried but she had just shrugged him off saying that having grown up with siblings like his he would never understand how she felt about her own.
As the gates opened he pushed back his concerns, there was nothing he could do so he would simply be here for his wife if things became too much for her. Their marriage was a good one and he would stand with her the way she always stood with him.
The King came first riding on his stead and surrounded by his guards including the very golden Jaime Lannister. He could practically see the hero worship sparkling in his younger son’s eyes and he knew he would have his work cut out for him steering the lad towards more honorable idols after this.
Robert had gotten rather large over the years of sitting on his ass listening to other people speak at nauseam about insignificant things. He was nearly three times the size he had been during the war and at first he hadn’t even recognized him until he noted the crown on his head. His face was red from exertion and the biting cold, and he seemed out of breath. His own breath was stolen by the sight of him, how could his old friend have let himself go so much?
Following along behind him was his son Joffrey, the boy was the same age as Sansa but he could see in his posture that he was spoiled beyond what any young man should be. While he had a sword strapped to him it was clear he had never truly used it and it sat awkwardly against his body rather than being a part of him. He heard his daughter sigh and knew she was lost in her own head, likely reciting her favorite ballad about daring princes or rugged knights, neither of which would apply to this boy in his opinion.
The Queen wasn’t far behind walking in through the gates when it was discovered that her wheelhouse was too large to fit. Given the size of his gates he had to marvel at the idea that it had fit on the road either. She was dressed in finery that held no real place here in the north, but he could tell from one look that she wasn’t going to dress for where she was; she would instead dress for where she wanted to be. She was flanked by both of her younger children who seemed at least more excited than the rest to be with them.
He had wanted to wait at the gates for Lysa and Janyse but Robert was impatient to visit the tombs and he knew better than to delay him. Assured that he would see them at the feast he led his friend below to visit the woman who had changed all of their lives.
Catelyn was not sure what she felt beyond a blind panic at the prospect of seeing her siblings again after so long apart. While they had all been fairly close as children they had never been as bonded as Ned had been with his own, in truth they were closer in practice to the Baratheon siblings than most others. They tolerated one another and at least at the time of their parting they had known each other fairly well including their weaker points, but now they were all but strangers. She received letters now and again from Lysa and Edmure but she had not heard from her youngest sister since the year of her wedding and even those missives were short and hard to follow with her being a girl of just ten-and-two. She knew that her lord husband thought that things would be well because they were family but she was never so sure.
Lysa and she had a troubled past, trust had been broken on both sides with choices she was sure they both regretted by now. Her sister had allowed herself to be seduced into sullying her honor and there had been nothing for it but to tell their Lord father in hopes that he could salvage what prospects she still had for her future. Her sister had never truly recovered from that incident and it showed in the few points of contact they had shared over the years. Each letter had veiled references to the incident and even more about Petyr himself and how happy she could have been had their father not interfered. She never outright accused anyone in particular of ruining her supposed happiness but the rage in her words could be felt from the page until even those had tapered off leaving nothing but polite twattle around yule and name days. While she was sorry for the loss of her good-brother she was not sure what it was she was supposed to do to ease the pain of his passing if in fact there was pain at all. Some part of her liked to think that Lysa had come to care for Jon over the years or at least found some kind of peace with her life with him when her anger finally died but she could never be sure.
Edmure was meant to come later and as little as she knew of Lysa she knew even less of her brother. He was but a boy when she wed and left home to come to the North and their connection was one of obligation more than love or affection. From what she had heard from both her father and uncle Edmure was shaping up to be a poor successor to their fathers seat, but hope was still there for him to thrive once he was given the reins. Something that would be happening soon enough since their father’s health continued to decline. Even still she was worried about how the men of the North would react to her softer brother and his stammering ways and weak willed nature.
She refused to think about Janyse at all. By all accounts her sister had taken to her good-family with ease and shunned her birth family completely. She avoided Lysa when they were in the same space. She never wrote to Edmure or father, though there were rumors that she had written to their uncle for a time before those letters too seemed to taper off and stop. She was more Lannister than Tully now and an influence she dearly wished to bar from Winterfell and her children.
Taking a deep breath as her husband and the King passed to enter the crypts she shifted her eyes towards the gates and waited for sight of her sisters. She would be the consummate hostess and see to their comfort and hopefully they would only linger for a short time before retreating back to their own homes. She wasn’t sure she could endure this for overly long with all the pomp and bother that followed behind them both.
Janyse walked through the gates of Winterfell with her husband at her side and wanted to turn tail and run back for the carriage. While their wheelhouse could easily fit through the gates once the royal procession began to walk the rest of them were obligated to follow in the same way, which made the entire process all the more tedious. The waiting greeting party was a fair way beyond the walls of the keep and she knew her husband was thinking the same thing she was. That is a long walk. She could see Lysa before her with her son and Catelyn beyond her with her line of children and the only thing the walk did was give them each more time to study each other than was really needed.
Lysa was rail thin and sickly in appearance that had nothing to do with grief and everything to do with a life of hardship and strain. She had endured many miscarriages and losses that eventually sapped her of her figure, her strength, and as far as most were concerned her sanity. She treated her son, Sweet Robyn, a lad of six as though he were still a babe at the breast which if rumor was true he was in a way. She saw enemies and plots at every turn and each of them to her mind was an attempt to separate her from her sweet boy, something she would never allow to happen.
Catelyn was much the same as she had been the last time she had seen her. A bit fuller of figure after birthing her Lord husband five babes and the years had put a few more lines across her face but looking at her was like being back at their old family home waiting for their father to come down to supper. She still had a dower countenance that spoke of a rigid adherence to the social graces she had learned at the hand of their shared Septa, but the laugh lines around her mouth spoke of something far happier. She had made a home here in the North and while it was far from perfect or even farther from what she had likely pictured as a child dreaming of her future husband it was a life she had made her own. She was happy for her, even if they were never as close as they could have been and too much had happened between them for any closeness to form now she still felt a warmth bubbling up within her at the sight of at least one of them being content with the way life had taken them.
“Ready my dear?” Glancing down at her own beloved husband she could find little room for complaint, while she would have enjoyed a less treacherous good-family she could not help but love the man she had called her husband for longer than she had ever been a Tully. With him by her side she could endure anything, even this.
Facing forward she waited behind the Queen and her sister for her time to partake of guest rites and be welcomed into Winterfell properly. If nothing else she would finally be able to meet her nieces and nephews, every cloud has a silver lining of sorts if one chose to look for it.
“Lady Lannister.” The greeting was cold but not wholly unexpected. Most families had an assumed picture of all Lannisters and the Starks were no different, any warmer of a greeting would have been highly suspicious given all that had already passed between them all.
“The hospitality of Winterfell is yours.”
If she had less training she would have flinched at the wording after hearing a more full offering of guest rites given to the others before her. Instead she kept her head high and her eyes steady as she answered the slight in kind.
“Thank you.” The tightening of her husbands hand in hers was enough to ground her and keep her from becoming emotional so publicly. When no move was made to introduce the children she decided she needed a moment to compose herself away from prying eyes.
“My husband and I saw a delightful little hamlet not far from here and were quite upset to not have the time to explore it properly. With the King and her Grace busy seeing to themselves after traveling so far I think we will go and take our chance to explore now before it all truly begins.”
If she was going to be trapped behind high stone walls with enemies at every turn she would not submit to it until she had no other choice. As she and Tyrion walked back towards their waiting carriage without waiting for an offer of escort she tried to keep herself from turning back towards her chattering sisters and offering the glare she could feel burning behind her eyes.
“Not much farther now love and we’ll be free. Who knows maybe we could find a comfortable spot in this Winter town and simply forget to return for a day or more. It’s not as though we would be missed, I don’t think I was even seen at all.” Tyrion was whispering as though they were both coming up with a cunning plan of escape and didn’t want anyone to overhear.
She nearly tripped as she laughed, oh how she dearly wished to just turn and go, she missed her children and strangely enough she even missed the Rock itself, but they could not and they both knew it. They were stuck here and would be for some time yet, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t have fun.
“You might be right dear husband, we could at least stay gone until they send your darling brother after us. What say you, should we time it and see how long it takes?” It was always Jaime that was sent for them when they ran off from the Red Keep, it was becoming something of a game between the three of them now.
“What a marvelous idea, I wager they won’t send him until after the feast has already concluded.”
“I hate to see you lose my dear, but no by my guess it will only be a few hours before someone sends him after us. They won’t want to give offense to the King by having me miss the welcome feast when the entire reason we were commanded to attend was because his Grace wishes to unite my family once more in our collective grief.” She could see him thinking about it and agreeing with her interpretation of things. On most days the two of them could skip out on many events without anyone raising a fuss but this was not most days more’s the pity. This was to be a command performance with an emphasis on the command.
“Right you are dear, what could I have been thinking? Where shall we hide? In the first place he’ll look for us or the last?” If they truly wanted to confound the man they would slip back around and find a place within Winterfell’s walls to hide out, their offered rooms even would do well to hide them since they had learned early on in the game that people rarely checked the places they were meant to be when looking for them.
“What a question, when we all know there is only one place you and I shall go.”
She watched as he made a show of thinking about it with a glint of mischief in his eyes. Every now and again he would open his mouth to speak before closing it again and shaking his head like he was having trouble coming up with the answer.
“Lead the way dear heart, let us see what this frozen north has to offer.”
“Nothing so pretty as you my dear.”
“Of course not love, no one ever is.”